I glanced around, intrigued. Another character to acquaint myself with. A name I had never heard before. Here I was, I position I’d never have believed imaginable. On the perimeter of a crime scene, cordoning off one shop from the remainder of the high-street. About to be introduced to some senior member.
Besides the stringent security, and police tape, nothing was particularly remarkable about this shop. Only a quietly important bustle of various bodies, in a vast collection of outfits each designating a specific purpose. No shattered windows, wailing alarms, no bloody, shell-shocked witnesses. Exactly as planned.
It was my first experience with the police, and performing swimmingly. Addressed by a man who insisted upon being exclusively referred to as ‘chief’, I was now being directed elsewhere. Having, of course, perfectly detailed precisely how this crime might have transpired. It suited me, detective work. Hence my proposed career move. I was already thinking to the future, and the scintillating cases I might tackle. Were time no object, it would be my intention to trial every occupation, and settle upon a true calling. Sadly, that mission would exhaust me long before completion. Hence my being more selective, immediately infiltrating a profession promising danger. Perhaps it was some concoction of youthful exuberance and folly, but I was feeling inclined to gamble my life.
On command, I revolved on the spot to find Thomas Fairfax utterly absorbed by the transpiration of events, his eyes saturated by the movements. Almost startled from his concentrated stupor by the chief’s beckoning, he moved towards us, before enjoying a brief and whispering conference with the aforementioned chief, finally turning to me.
“You identify as Vance?”
“I prefer Howler. But yes, Vance Howler. You’re the infamous Thomas Fairfax?”
“Pray, don’t slurry my good name so. It’s esteemed, descended from proud English heritage.” I squinted at him, raising an eyebrow, though he failed to react.
“Right. Anyways, probably great to meet you.”
“I’m certain the pleasure will be my sole treasure.”
He barely blinked. I nodded politely, but offered nothing more. I was assuming the initiative rested in their hands, so was content to wallow in the awkward silence erupting from the chasm of distrust between us. In bursts of flaming magma, I was increasingly stung by uncomfortable clarity. I was a civilian, of unproven merit, effectively demanding audience from actual officers. Resting my hopes upon presenting dazzling expertise might just have back-fired. As the silence lengthened, the shifting power dynamic favoured them. Thankfully, the chief parted the bristling tension, with the graceful tact of a two-legged giraffe.
“Great. Fairfax, take Vince to the station. We can grab his statement.” There was an admirable succinctness to his sentences, presumably born of short-tempered necessity.
“It’s Vance. Also, I massively prefer Howler,” but those words were wasted on his turning back. Pausing an additional beat, to re-exemplify the silence, Fairfax eventually divulged,
“My morning has been shockingly haunted by the apparitions of a dreadful hangover. To you, I’ll bestow the honour of illegally driving a police car, should you return the favour through silence regarding this affair.”
He made a curious figure, with a gently frustrating manner of speech. I could well imagine his pointless monologues, flush with tautologies and tangents, boring a ring of impatient grandchildren at family gatherings. Despite the opening hostilities, I sensed that pleasantness about him. I supposed he made a merry drunk.
His hangover must have been truly debilitating, for he stumbled repeatedly, in the short voyage to his vehicle, and staggered past the bonnet whilst tracing an outline with his hand. That said, he still appeared in remarkable shape. Most likely past sixty, he retained a proud head of hair, though surviving black strands now proved the exception against a sea of silvery-grey. There was a contradictory nonchalance in his rigorous, upright stance, betraying an effortless dignity. Until, of course, his hip was snagged by a side-mirror, slapping him against the passenger’s door. Fumbling in a baggy pocket, he retrieved a set of keys and slid them along the roof without looking, perhaps a meter wide of where I stood.
Rested in his seat, slumped but alert, he enacted an open-palmed gesture, in deference to me, and grunted ‘Proceed’.
“With driving or telling you about the case?”
“Amidst our murmured exchange, the chief conveyed your being rather expert on the details of that robbery.”
“Uh huh. I was briefing him on some of my assumptions. I just thought it might be of interest, to give your team a couple of leads. Honestly, I’m beginning to feel sorry for intruding. But, you know, I just thought being a detective would be cool, and I wanted to help.”
“It would expedite our prompt arrival at the station, should you be so inclined, if you manoeuvred left at this juncture.”
“Okay. Well, we’ve missed it now. Next time just say left.” He didn’t react. “I know where I’m going. You want to hear about the case?”
“Yes, I know. That’s what the SatNav is telling me. Are you not interested?”
“Look, it’s evident that some majorly meticulous planning went into their break-in. I was just walking past, even I noticed the cameras covering every corner, the shutters and glass all intact. Whomever was involved was already inside. Which means, absolute minimum, two people orchestrating it. You’re dealing with constrained space, two central display islands for different items. I’m guessing that was also untouched. Phones and tablets, too easily traced.”
“Proceed straight ahead.”
“Yes. Now, the interesting perk to the island, is I’m guessing it casts a blind-spot over sections of the floor. Normally no issue, unless a distracted employee fails to check when locking up. You check the tapes, I guarantee someone walks in, and never leaves. Well, they leave through the back. The employee exit, with a bundle of cash and a handful of unregistered, untraceable laptops.”
“Intriguing. Right.” I glared at him.
“As I was outlining to your boss, I imagine you’ve actually got three suspects involved. Distraction, burglar, support in the back, to maximise what can be stolen, and to double as a look-out in the rear. Two went in before closing, only one left after causing a minor disturbance. It’s probably possible, with that assistance, a second member was undetected in hiding overnight.”
“Spectacular assessment. What of the casualties?”
“A mistake. Few shops, even with high-value contents, employ overnight security. Presumably armed with an understanding of the alarm system, and an ability to evade cameras on the main floor, the back office should have been left unguarded. That a couple of staff members stumbled into the theft was unlucky on all fronts.”
We’d just arrived at the station. I was aware that I’d likely need to repeat that story for a third time, on an official witness statement, assuming it was deemed credible. I was resigned to that possibility, entirely accepting of it. Neither of us left the car.
There was one remaining question still unspoken. We both knew it. I knew we both knew it, but he didn’t necessarily know I knew. So I continued.
“It’s an awful lot of speculation, right? Portrayed with an awful lot of confidence from a regular bystander. I go inside, it’s not to deliver a statement and leave. It’s to sit, waiting in some interrogation room for a couple of hours until you’re ready to examine whether I’m culpable.” His silence continued, unflinching.
“Confidence, indeed, appears in high supply. I have no doubt you will be equipped with a believable response to the truly testing question. Why would you consent to deliver yourself?”
“I’ve already told you. This is my audition. I’m interested in helping as a detective. Clearly, I know what I’m talking about, I think I’d be a valuable addition.”
“Short-cuts into this unit are seldom forth-coming.”
“Take me on in a free-lance capacity. I’ll sign any confidentiality agreement. I definitely don’t need the money. I mean, investigate me all you want. I’m just looking to get involved in some fun.”
“How could you have plausibly known there were deceased staff members?”
Yes, the moment of truth. I had a particularly good reason for being so intimately acquainted with specific details. It was not solely my detective capabilities.
“I know who did it.”
“Only with assurances that you’ll let me consult.”
“Having confessed pertinent knowledge, you lack power in this scenario. Should you enter that building, it will be in handcuffs. Your most favourable option is revealing the full extent to which you understand this case. We cannot consider you trustworthy, especially with your now proving withholding.”
Which I supposed was an entirely fair judgement. My hasty plan had been ill-conceived, and was now rapidly deteriorating, seeming to leave my remaining options scarce. The course of our conversation was increasingly forcing me to reconsider what exactly I was hoping to achieve. True, my immediate object had been obtaining interesting employment. More fundamentally, I was determined to avoid the legal punishment of arrest.
My potential opponent’s gaze was transfixed on some indistinct point directly ahead, far into the distance. Completely relaxed muscles in his arms and legs presumably obscured an impending willingness for battle. He surely had at least forty years on me, which was only an advantage in experience. I was spry, and willing to be ruthless were it necessary. I partially flinched, as his head bowed.
“Come inside,” uttering a wholly neutral tone, before departing the vehicle. As cold air vacuumed inwards through the gaping door, I felt the tension sucked outside, before it was slammed shut, thrusting me into an abrupt and eerie silence. Perching at the bonnet, he was evidently waiting for my move. I was literally in the driver’s seat, after all.
You’d be forgiven for assuming him recklessly irresponsible. Tactically speaking, it was, however, pretty ingenious. That I was desperate to enter the station of my own accord was already being telegraphed, whilst my appearance at the crime scene had already exposed me. They had my name and face acting suspiciously. Were I to hide, I would most likely be successful. But doing so would compel my lifelong seclusion, which I did not intend upon, no matter how occasionally infuriating fellow members of my species proved. Instead, this Fairfax was yielding, freely turning over a semblance of negotiating power. I would march inside on my own terms, even if I were ultimately arrested on theirs.
By ceding initiative to me, he had also cleverly exhausted all my remaining options. Subtracting potential conflict, I had no recourse for ignoring what had originated as my wish anyway. Events had thoroughly overtaken my planning, which had been minimal from the outset.
Oh well. That’s life.
Without reluctance, I followed him out of the car. Hearing the door close, he turned and chuckled, slapping my back just below the shoulder blades. For most of our approach, something resembling an uneasy silence lingered as some pernicious cloud, threatening further danger, until he tripped over a curb, thrusting us both into gentle, instinctive laughter.
Inside, we found his desk, and he implored me to sit in the spare chair at his side, which I gratefully accepted. Our relationship was progressing promisingly, seeming to grant me visitor status, over that of suspect. In fact, we even gravitated towards mutual conversation topics of interest. Of sport, politics, literature, his opinions were invariably hilarious, insightful, or outrageous, usually some combination of that trio. He was fascinated to discover I was the Vance, responsible now for several albums, and the book of which I was considerably prouder. It was delightfully refreshing to encounter a fan more intrigued by the art that the personality behind them.
The pleasantness only blossomed, until I mentioned that the chief had briskly re-entered his office. Stiffening slightly, Fairfax entreated me to lead us in following him. So absorbed by the reignition of our battle, he walked into my back as I paused at the door, knocking politely.
Duly responding to the chief’s barked command, I was face-to-face with the man for the second time in my life and that morning. Perhaps most striking was his age. He seemed barely older than me, in the late-20s, early-30s range. Impressive, given his career achievements, which had surely been expedited by his concise comportment, and dedicated efficiency. I liked him.
“It’s Vince. You’re here.”
“Vance. Howler.” Maybe I didn’t like him. “Good observation.”
Glancing towards Fairfax, before glaring again at me, he remarked with little subtlety,
“I assumed you’d be in a holding cell. But you’re here.”
“Unwise or otherwise, Mr Howler has me convinced. Admittedly, his testimony is unnervingly detailed. Further, by succinctly predicting only accurate and relevant points, my suspicion was heightened. Alternatively, he’s clever, diligent, and blindly foolish enough to believe we’d hire a consultant on merit alone.”
“You’re buying his whole image?”
“I’d wager his intentions are genuine. Certainly, his enigmatic veil must yet be lifted. Crucially, most pertinently, his ambitions seem pure. He might just represent valuable assistance.”
“Well, he’s still told us nothing we didn’t already know.”
During their exchange, despite Fairfax resting opposite his boss, and leaving a second visitor’s chair vacant, I remained standing, my shoulder leaning against the door frame. I felt it symbolic. I was still waiting upon formal acceptance, perched on the threshold until that moment hopefully came. This lull, I perceived, was an opportunity to exhibit new information.
“Amidst my contacts are several unsavoury characters. Ideally, you’d trust that our acquaintance extends only to their transmission of ideas, which I undertook to receive in a research capacity. Far from a criminal myself, it was instead my abundance of innocence necessitating that I obtain believable experience. Hence, my introduction, but never involvement, with figures you might be so audacious to describe, purely by legal technicality, as bad people. My networks still snag whispers from such contacts, hence my being informed on this case. I know the perpetrators.”
“You know who did it? I could arrest you for obstruction of justice.”
“I’m not obstructing justice. I’m freely confessing my knowledge.”
“Who did it?”
“I’m not telling you.”
“In that case, Vincent Howler, you’re hereby placed under arrest. You do not have to say anything–
“Ironic, if that’s why I’m being arrested.”
“Anything you do say–
“I don’t know it. I don’t know his name, or what he looks like. And neither will you. Except for a hat, turned exclusively away from the cameras whilst he served as the distraction. I can, however, give you a lead.”
I had both of their undivided attention, not that it was ever really lost. My theatrics, I could sense, were dancing on the verge of annoyance, but were apparently intriguing enough to have retained their focus thus far.
“His two acquaintances. Two complete idiots. Logan and Leo Hart. Brothers inhabiting the same dwelling.” So, it was basically a lie, but not a complete fabrication. My conscious could survive the distinction.
It successfully piqued their interest. As the chief called a small cluster of additional officers around his desk, it was even a sufficient invitation to being privy to their strategizing. Those names were apparently already floating on the database of thousands of reported, low-level vandals and disturbers of peace, to my great advantage.
It was decided, almost by some implicit understanding, that these two brothers needed an official visit. Volunteering himself, the chief deigned to elect my services, which I had to interpret positively. With Fairfax also in tow, I didn’t mention that, should I be attempting to entrap two senior officers, we criminals would outnumber their forces. Perhaps a visibly nervous Fairfax was alert to that fact. A leap of faith, on their behalf, which I vowed to suitably justify for them.
We drove in two cars, myself and the chief, with Fairfax my passenger again. Though puzzled by the latter’s insistence on sharing a vehicle with me, the chief made no complaint. I was honoured to be considered such delightful company. It did not escape me that my own car had now been abandoned for well over two hours in a short-stay zone, but I already planned to outsource any tickets to my new police friends.
Fairfax and I found common ground again, now at the expense of several of his less intellectually inclined colleagues. I felt such discussions had to reflect an endorsement of me. It occupied us until we reached our perfectly nondescript destination.
The middle of a long, grey terrace devoid of any hint of life. An aggressive swarm of apathy emanating from each doorway stifled the senses. The identical facades could have been positioned interchangeably anywhere in the country, all privately withholding the same story – human life. I could never indulge in such mundane luxuries, as lurking, unknown, in the pits of the suburbs. Save for the regular numbers, further stripping any identity from these brick walls, the Hart brothers would have been impossible to find.
Having parked separately, on opposite ends of the road, the chief had walked towards us, on the opposite pavement from their house, his vision not straying from the pavement. The lacking mention of warrants, or our entry strategy, left me apprehensive.
“Here’s where I see the benefit of a consultant, Mr Howler. You know these two, why don’t you go up and ask them to come outside?”
“Whereupon they see you and bolt, giving cause to pursue them?”
“We’ll need more than that. Have one attack you. I’m sure you can goad them into it. Use your natural charm.”
“Alternatively, I’m a private citizen with no provable connection to the police. What if two officers just so happened to see me breaking into the house?”
“I like that. Except, standard policy is still to wait outside.”
“Do that, and I’ll flush them out. I’m guessing they’ve got two exits, front and back. We’ve got two of you, one for each. Assuming you can handle the brothers – looking at you, old man.” Fairfax scoffed.
“Trust there’s more vigour in me yet than you credit, Mr Howler.”
With the chief stationed in the pathetic plot of grass posing as a garden, Fairfax and I had blocked the pavement with neighbour’s bins to the right of the house. Supposedly, combined with the suffocating congestion of parked cars, anyone flushed outside would be bottle-necked towards Fairfax’s ambush. Neither he, nor the chief, had questioned my precise method of breaking in. Perhaps another test. Would they be reassured by professionalism in this arena, or unnerved? Would it erode my credibility to enact a flawless break-in?
Preferring to risk the potential aftermath of police scrutiny, over bluntly notifying the Hart brothers of my arrival, I suddenly realised a perfect compromise, one I could never have legitimately orchestrated previously. Armed with a bemused Fairfax’s badge, I was welcomed into the neighbour’s house and onto their roof, to clamber over to the Hart property. Each house on this street was equipped with a skylight window, making for convenient access, bypassing the feeble lock. I was inside.
What exactly was the plan now? Well, there was one additional feature of this operation the police were ignorant to. I had been here before. It was during my last meeting with the Harts, well over a year ago. It ended poorly. For them.
Having unsuccessfully attempted to blatantly short us, that’s me and my friend Matt, we had returned and reclaimed our property. Matt had always been a martial arts enthusiast, but there was one particular disciplined he’d always adored. Bare-knuckle, no-rules street-fighting. You won’t see it in the Olympics. But, for those unlucky few, trapped in alleyways or narrow corridors, staring down this beast, arrogant in his malicious fury, was an unimaginably terrifying fate. With psychotic, surgical precision, Matt had dismantled the Harts in a calculated procedure determined to ensure they could never bear to dream of us in their most haunting nightmares. Every bone in Leo’s left arm had been shattered. Every bone in Logan’s right arm had been shattered, by arching scythes of poetic motion.
I could vaguely remember the layout. This top floor was little more than a storage annex, completely disused, measuring less floor space than some wardrobes. The first, unfortunately required, manoeuvre would be the only challenge. I wanted to drop onto the second-floor landing still undetected. Given that I possessed neither Matt’s brutality nor his skill, I deemed to vital to retain any possible advantage.
My ear was planted hard against the splintered wood, seeking any noise, scuffs, or scrapes. Anything to betray their movements. Lurking somewhere within the house was a faint grunting. Someone was home, at least. Not that it was a guaranteed positive.
I knew it would be considerably more than a punch, were I apprehended and attacked. Two dim opponents, whose lives I’d likely ruined. No doubt they would seek physical retribution.
There was no certainty to my actions as I tentatively lowered the thin panel into the main body of the house. The conviction I desperately yearned for seemed reclusive. My hands were trembling minutely, shuddering under the pressure of rushing adrenaline. My hearing was swallowed by the crashing torrent of nervous, hot blood, searing the veins in my extremities, blasting icy panic from deep within my core. I could scarcely bear the intensely toiling knots writhing in my stomach, leaden with dread. I lived for these moments of orgasmic, electric tensions. Each pulse of raw fear tingled along my spine, singing with unparalleled passion and satisfaction. My brain was on the verge of explosion. I jumped down. Empty.
I had the upper-hand. Silently issuing probing feelers to each corner of the house from my ears, I strained for any essence of sound. Abruptly, the earlier grunting renewed, from the bedroom directly adjacent to my right. An entirely horrifying thought flitted through my mind, before I quickly dismissed it.
Increasing in volume and tempo, someone was growing determined to finish whatever job they’d started. Perfect, from the perspective of my catching them with their guard down. Less perfect, that their trousers might also be down.
I gently nudged the open door further ajar, praying it wouldn’t creak, or that the room’s inhabitants would be too preoccupied to notice.
The single most pungent odour I’d experienced in my life slapped me in the face. Blinking away the tears that erupted to stain my vision, I realised the bed was empty. The grunting had been one man, with no accompaniment, coming in distressed bursts from the attached en-suite. The unpleasantness was disorientating. Staggering back and shutting the door with as much caution as could be conjured, I turned and saw Logan at the end of the hallway. I froze. Shit.
In his eyes, I witnessed my exact passage of thoughts mirrored from my own, with the expected, few second delay. An unwanted, familiar face, altered by the passage of only a year. A threatening stimulus, necessitating response. Fight or flight. That’s where we differed.
Launching myself like a missile, I was propelled halfway towards my target before he even registered the incoming projectile. My plan was to drive through his knees with my shoulder, a move unlikely to be blocked, before rising more quickly, and incapacitating him whilst he remained on the ground. Sadly, Logan was a fraction too fast. He chose flight, opting for the stairs and urgently retracing his steps. I bounced off the wall, still upright but resolved not to over-exert myself. It was not my intention to maim first, but to elicit his own fumbling into the path of either Fairfax, or the chief. Darting forwards, Logan selected the front door. With footsteps splattering against the concrete, I yelled a succinct warning to Fairfax, now waiting with open arms. Logan ran straight past him, unimpeded.
Far too late, missing by approximately two whole seconds, an eternity given the stakes, Fairfax turned, and watched helplessly as our suspect reached top speed on the flat straight.
With a habitual lack of overt reaction, which I was beginning to recognise as characteristic, Fairfax turned back to the house and whispered, his volume just lower than ordinary,
“Howler? I think one got away.”
An accurate assessment. I confirmed that analysis for him, suggesting we locate the chief, who was understandably aggravated. Actually, anything less than brimming with rage would be an understatement.
“Did he escape? He was faster than I remember. A better jumper, too. He hurdled the car like it was nothing.”
Fairfax was silent.
“He hurdled a Range Rover?”
“Yep. With this bit of a run-up, here. I reckon I’d be pretty close. Watch, stand back and let me try too.”
“Where’s the other brother?”
“He’s preoccupied with relieving himself. We’ve got time. Hold on and watch me do a jump quickly.”
“No. Come inside and get him with me.”
“Fine, I’ll do it in a sec. He’s not a better jumper than me.”
Leaving Fairfax to his despondent contemplation, the chief and I marched back inside, as I floundered in his furious wake. My intention was to leave a respectful distance, both from the chief and Leo’s bathroom. It seemed reasonable.
From what I gathered, Leo was pretty surprised, and still only partially finished. Various accusations were hurled, whilst threats against the chief’s shoes were made. His colour drained and his bluster instantly ceased as our eyes locked, however, and he was dragged past in a mute stupor. Honestly, I was indifferent as to them both seeing my face and connecting me with the police. They wouldn’t talk to anyone, police or otherwise. In guilty silence, they’d be convicted of robbing the technology shop, regardless of whether the stolen products ever resurfaced. They fit the mould of violent wrong-doer too well. The police would be content, as would I.
Except, of course, this time my plans had outrun events. Logan was still missing from captivity. Proving to be an adequate handler of Leo, the chief dispatched Fairfax, with my promising assistance, to hunt him down.
In the wild, he might prove problematic. Truthfully, my plans hinged upon his continued terror barring him from disseminating an account of his home invasion through the unsavoury networks to which I currently enjoyable unfettered access. There persisted the remote possibility of his exposing my involvement with law enforcement. I was no longer indifferent to them having seen my face. Was I different to it? Basically, I guess I did have to care.
Mercifully, immediate action could be taken. Logan had to be lifted and placed temporarily in an isolated holding cell. Anything else left me vulnerable. I was confident in out-smarting him, and trusted Fairfax to prove capable. It helped that he was most likely still a pedestrian.
“So, I know enough about this guy to make vague assumptions. Never demonstrated much forethought, or willingness to plan things really. I’m guessing his dash was not to an emergency back-up vehicle parked around the corner. Most likely method of current transport is running. Or probably walking by now. He was never one for proper exercise, either.”
“Valid hypothesis. We’ve an entire block of identical housing in which he might be hiding.”
“True, but that doesn’t strike me as realistic. Him hiding, I mean. With enough bodies, it would only taken a few hours to cover it all. He ran possessed, as if fear itself were snapping at his heels. Guarantee his instinct is motion.”
“Powered by his legs?”
“Likely not. I’d imagine either a bus or a train.”
“Would be harder for us to trace, but something says no. He’s panicking, thoughts racing, not that an awful lot will be processing. This is not a guy to have a safe house, or pre-determined evacuation route. I reckon he’ll want to escape the immediacy of any decision making. You get in a taxi and say ‘drive’, that’s conspicuous. Public transport has the comfort of herd mentality, too.”
“By either scenario, reaching the closest high-street makes for progress.”
“The closest train station, highest density of private cabs, and these surrounding roads are devoid of bus links. The high-street, right at the end followed by left, is optimal.”
“Have you been here before?”
“Knowledge of every street resides in my heart, every possible route. In London, of course. I’d be forsakenly lost elsewhere.”
“Huh. That’s pretty cool.” He looked at me inquisitively, expected further interrogation. I thought it rather spoke for itself. Finally chuckling, this time patting my shoulder, we turned in unison, guided by his internal compass. Now perusing his face, I grew increasingly aware that something was unusual. Mixing with other peculiar elements, the cocktail of information they formed had a distinct flavour, perfectly indicating something so utterly absurd I’d never have assumed it. Whilst we walked, I raised my left hand in front of his face, gradually drawing it closer. He failed to react. Until I lightly tapped his nose. Fairfax recoiled.
“You okay?” He paused, weighing his response. Part of him accepted the inevitable, though a stronger urge compelled him to keep fighting, clawing at even the faintest hope of surviving this examination.
“Some dreadful insect assailed my nose.”
“Yeah, I saw that. On that note, I’ve been meaning to ask about what exactly happened earlier. On the street, with Logan bypassing you like a tree. Someone told me you were still pretty vigorous?” He was defeated.
“Truthfully, I possess a ruinous secret. An instantaneous career-ender. Mr Howler, it is deeply imperative these words spread no further than present company.” I felt I already knew, but it was impossible to elude how ridiculous the concept was without his confirmation.
“Absolutely, Fairfax. You have my word.”
“Exactly two weeks prior, I awoke in darkness. Not merely the dark of night, but instead I peered into an all-consuming abyss of nothing. I blinked to little avail. My vision departed, without pain nor regard for my continued existence with senses depleted. I cannot see.”
“I don’t really know what to say. Sorry, I suppose? Look, I can’t testify to the experience, I can only try and empathise. I’d say you’re still a great detective, but there’s no ‘at least’ about this. It’s just irretrievable loss. I know a little about loss. I know a lot about an idea, so captivating it seizes your every essence of being, compelling you towards it. To be enslaved by some abstract notion of desire, praying to some fantastical machination of longing. I’m not a doctor. In all likelihood, you’ll never see again. I can promise you, no matter who’s around you, you’ll never be alone. I feel those clouds of pain, and will bear them with you.”
We walked in understated silence. Together. He’d been my acquaintance for the better part of a day. A day in which he’d revealed a strange, frequently irritating character, overshadowed by a fundamental goodness. He radiated an unmitigated passion for justice, whatever his flaws. I certainly wasn’t a doctor, and I didn’t know if he’d ever see again. Worse, I sensed that he’d never stop hating himself for it. That lingering resentment, at the unfairness of life, would never fade. He’d poison himself, hopelessly dreaming of the impossible.
“Fifty pounds says Logan’s on a bus this very second.”
“Accepted.” We had reached the high-street. “Precisely how do you propose we initiate our search. Surveillance footage is being scoured as we speak.”
“Following my, educated analysis, we ask in the café overlooking the bus stop. See if anyone glimpsed a figure matching his description.”
“A reasonable adventure in futility. Next, we procure access to the private cab destinations.” Look at that. We were all smiling again. I guided him forward with my fingertips, trying to avoid exerting excess pressure. It was astounding, his ability to feign perfect sight, though I now recalled his earlier stumbling in a new light. His memory was super-human.
“Give me your credentials, I want to try something.”
“I believe they’ve remained within your possession. I certainly never retrieved them.”
“Good point. This should be fun.” Leaving him in the doorway, I climbed onto the first table inside. Regrettable, every seat was occupied, each table laden with plates and food, so I really had no better alternative than side-stepping sandwiches and small glasses of water. Holding the badge aloft, I proclaimed,
“Ladies and gentlemen, let me direct your attention this way, please. This is a police emergency. Just moments ago, one of the single most dangerous men alive most likely passed through this direction. We believe he could well have boarded a bus, from this very stop. I want to reassure you, he will be apprehended before further harm can be inflicted upon the innocent public but I must know: did you see anything?” They looked baffled.
“We’re talking about a Caucasian male, average height but large build, bald except for light brown stubble. Probably travelling with speed. What colour was his clothing?” I looked toward Fairfax, who shrugged the same moment I realised the mistake. Whoops. “Likely a grey sweatshirt, and I believe dark grey jogging bottoms.”
I was getting nothing. I hopped back to the floor, paused momentarily, and then left, apologising for the disturbance to their meals, one table in particular. I felt pretty awkward.
“Well, that felt awkward. Not quite so much fun as I’d assume it would be.”
“Might I now relieve you of my badge, please?”
“Only because you asked so nicely. Where to now?”
“Directly adjacent to the train carriages are clusters of private cabs. I suggest we initiate the real search there.”
“Only in jest.”
As we wandered towards the train station, I wondered how exactly we might procure the necessary information. I slightly doubted there was any legal obligation to tell us where each individual taxi was going, if that was even possible. Frankly, Logan had already exceeded my expectations, being smart enough to have evaded us this long alone. Had he switched taxis already, it would become increasingly difficult to track him. We paused, approaching the rank, for Fairfax to answer his phone. It being from the chief, he invited me to listen to the loud-speaker function.
“Fairfax, update. Hart spotted on tape on the 74b bus. Officers dispatched to intercept. I will notify you should the situation change. Otherwise, you’re officially being recalled to station.” He hung up abruptly, without even checking the message had been received. I glanced at Fairfax, who was now wincing.
Evidently, I had been correct from the outset, though my execution in ascertaining relevant information had been unpolished. Still, minor vindication. Fairfax begrudgingly explained that facial-recognition software had identified Logan carelessly riding the bus, enabling live tracking of his progress. Two officers had now boarded the same bus, informing the driver of her scurrilous cargo and enlisting her help. At the next stop, she would claim some issue related to the bus, instructing all passengers to disembark, allowing the actual arrest to occur with fewer injuries. Almost an anti-climatic end to our little expedition. From our perspective, at least, since there was very specifically nothing more we could do. It might even have signalled the conclusion of my foray into police affairs.
One matter remained, at least. My own personal cargo had to be returned to the station.
“How did you make it to crime scene today? We drove your car back.”
“I’ve been forced into habitually extracting favours from cadets. Either they’re disinclined to satisfactorily question why, or my feeble excuses have thus far held under scrutiny.”
“You’ve been hungover every day?”
“Precisely. Familiar though I am with various floor layouts, I could never entrust myself with operating a vehicle.”
“Not sure I blame you. I’ll drop you and the car back off. I might have an issue with my own vehicle, since, when I originally parked in a short-stay zone, I did not anticipate leaving it so long.”
“Entrust to me your registration, you’ll be officially recognised as an emergency services vehicle.”
“Am I officially joining the team?”
“Return promptly tomorrow, that verdict remains with the chief. I’d sleep harbouring optimism, however.”
Against all odds, the day might be resolved as a successful one. Whilst I had never doubted my own talents, I feared they might have been unrecognised by the police. I could be a formidable asset. Allowing me to recruit myself was the best decision they’d ever made, with no contenders. I was great.
Of course, I wasn’t perfect. There persisted one last issue to surmount, before I could truly hold this day favourably in my memory.
Delivering Fairfax unharmed was, however, still my immediate priority. The drive was uneventful, our conversation amicable but increasingly wearied by the finite number of words two relative strangers can exchange without faltering. Still, his silent company was far from awkward, a burgeoning warmth ebbing across the soundless gap between us. He provided a wry chuckle when I suggested my home location was completely secluded. I had attained splendid isolation, in the realest manifestation. Promising that no soul could detach from the established surveillance network currently in existence, he vowed to some day track me down. I admired his spirit. Once more, the chief contacted Fairfax through his phone, before we managed to arrive.
“Another update, Fairfax. Logan Hart’s in custody. You can officially stand down.”
“Is that Vince? Reluctantly, I must partially thank you, too.”
“It’s Vance. Howler. I always prefer just ‘Howler’.”
“See you both tomorrow.”
Fairfax and I smiled at one another. That really was brilliant news, in both regards. I supposed my audition had worked.
In a brief flurry of scene-changes, I deposited Fairfax at the station, and strolled to collect my car, a brisk thirty minutes away. I utilised the time therapeutically, decompressing the various ardours I’d experienced, the emotional turmoil. I had to regain my strength, lest I be incapable of overcoming the day’s final challenge. Reaching my car, I crumpled the ticket prominently slapped onto the windscreen and pulled away. As ever, it wasn’t the money that concerned me, but the principle. Regulation by an authoritarian body was understandable in many respects, but I disliked the overreaching. How intensely hypocritical, given my earlier actions. That was an unnerving awakening.
I preached rebellion and freedom, but had now joined the police with barely a thought, barely a blink. I praised independence and self-sufficiency, but was so often myself revered as the same role model by masses I deemed pitiful for their adoration. In the same breath as lamenting the ills of the world casting major discrepancies between people, I hoarded wealth, separated from the world. I had much to atone for.
Driving hastily, though with caution intact, I poured over different streets until I reached Matt’s gym, and guided my car into an available space. For clarity, Matt’s gym was not just regularly attended by him, but very much his by the definition of ownership. As might have been alluded to, whilst I dabbled in enough fitness to retain a proud shape, he presented an impeccable specimen rivalling the marble recreations of Hercules. He personally conducted regular martial arts classes, which extended, after regular hours, to his preferred form. Despite that, I expected to be greeted by no one other than himself this time, as I entered.
Unlocking the sliding entrance doors, I shut them behind me, and climbed the stairs towards his office without turning on the lights. Visibility was adequate, and I preferred our meeting be clandestine. With forced, transparent nonchalance, I stepped inside without knocking.
Matt was deceptively tall. His broad, contoured frame seemed to match the dimensions of his height such that, even standing relatively close, he appeared less intimidating than should normally be discerned. Side-by-side, he loomed three inches higher than me, proudly jutting comfortable above six foot. Here, he sat incredible still.
I was scorched by his seething rage from across the room. We were both in trouble. He spoke first.
“Did you see the police today?”
It was an unequivocal betrayal. I owed him time to digest, to brim with disgusted vitriol against my transgression. He deserved to burn in the same sorrowful, sickening pain that had wracked the sleepless husk through which my emotions were shredded in shrieking agony. The raw anguish that had compelled me to visit the police.
The same pain once responsible for drawing us together. We met entirely innocuously in a university seminar, purely by coincidence, but found ourselves united by mutual interests existing both within and outside the course. He was similarly orphaned, though he had for most of his life known his parents. I acknowledged that I, a product solely of my own manufacture, nurtured by myself in an apathetic system, was the more unusual. But we both knew tragedy, in a class of perfect homes. Once, his family had incorporated a now-estranged brother. For seven years now, Matt had been my family.
He finally spoke again.
“I assume you confessed.”
“I told them everything that happened.” He sighed.
“Are they coming here?”
There was a momentary rupture in his anger, pierced by unavoidable confusion. I fulfilled his thirsting for understanding.
“I told them everything that happened, with one caveat. I invented a third suspect, modifying who was involved. I did honestly confess to every detail, and expressed my sincere regret for its occurrence. I just helped them find a different target.”
“Remember when we planned our first operation? We needed a fallback, two guys to frame in case it went wrong. We used to be so much more careful. Well, I did, at least. I found the perfect pair. A couple of brothers. We even borrowed them last year.”
“Yeah, the Harts. Them?”
“Being processed as we speak. I have no idea if they’ll be proven guilty. I do know they won’t be eager to talk. They’ll stomach a decade of charges, probably pick up some new hobbies whilst they’re away.”
“Vance, when you said you were out last night, I really thought that was it. You know, I thought you were done.”
“Matt, I’m out. I am not doing this again. Our whole thing, should never have left people dead. Not boring, undeserving people. Those two kids are on us. I know they shouldn’t have been there, but neither should we. I’m out.”
“Then why didn’t you confess?”
“We need to make amends, but we can do better than confessing. Those families, they still have someone to blame. It won’t hurt them any less, but they can at least believe, with the fullness of their hearts, that some justice was done. I helped them get that. But we can do more. We have to do more. I’m not out of us, I’m just out of all of this. You know we can do better.”
“This might all be redundant. I’ve been checking the news pretty regularly, as you might have guessed. The girl is still alive. I mean, she’s in a coma, but she still saw us. If she pulls through, you really are out.”
“I’m not going to wish that she dies. That’s fate. If our time is limited, we’re going to prove ourselves worthy, to spread a positivity that would be impossible if we are eventually removed from society.”
“You want to make a charitable donation?”
“No, Matt, better than that. I want to be a charity. I don’t know. I want to be a pro-active force for good, for justice. We can do so much better.”
His initial shock and scepticism were being gradually eroded. He understood the necessity and value of my proposition. As two troubled youngsters, disillusioned with the world, we had exerted our own powers, always from the perspective of challenging a hegemony determined to oppress. We had always wanted to be better. Throughout the years of exploiting opportunities, flaunting legality, enjoying the truest liberties available, our targets had been considered. We were diligent, never arrogant.
Before he had even fully resolved to agreeing, Matt knew I was probably right.
“So, what, then? What now?”
“I’m not sure. We’ll find something worthwhile.”
Thanks for reading! This prequel was the third instalment of the Harmless Escapism chronicles – catch up on part one, The Solace of Death. Alternatively, I regularly post other short stories, travel blogs, so explore more!
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