The opening chapters of “Eight Days Later”. I hope you enjoy it, Steve Bishop
The simultaneous occurrence of events which appear significantly related
but have no discernible causal connection.
Ben Randal’s mobile phone chirped, announcing the arrival of another message. His left hand hovered over the phone screen, protecting it from the rain, he passed his thumb over the message icon. The pixels displayed a picture that took all his attention. Pulling at the hood of his yellow work jacket, he continued along the dimly lit passageway against the rain as he looked at the image on the small screen. It was a message that would cost him his life. Being so distracted he wouldn’t have felt anything. The short length of scaffold pipe hit him square across the face, breaking easily through the soft nasal cartilage, his skull exploded, pieces of broken bone were driven into the grey cellular mass of his brain, snapping the head back with more than enough force to separate two of the cervical vertebrae at the base of his skull. Just two small bones that encapsulate and protect a fragile spinal cord.
In that same instant his heart stopped, nerve communication between brain and body ceased, vital organs stopped, his body surrendered to the pull of gravity. The mobile phone which moments before had demanded all his attention had fallen from the lifeless hand into the undergrowth. Ben Randal was dead before his body hit the floor, the steel tube that had taken his life so easily, was brought down again and again, on to Ben’s corpse, displaying the killer’s anger and frustration. Rain continued to fall on the phone screen, as the image faded back into a million digital pieces on its memory chip. Confident, in his work, Ben Randal’s killer wiped away any evidence of himself from the weapon, before casting it over the low wall that bordered one side of the alley.
A healthy fit young man had become a carcass, discarded on the rough ground of an industrial estate rat run. Forty yards away, where the passage broke on to the main road, the rear door of a black Mercedes saloon was being held open by its driver, a fat olive-skinned man with rotten teeth and an ill-fitting suit. Sliding across the heated leather seats, without conscience or sense of remorse Ben Randal’s killer shouted something at the driver, the heavy door swung shut. Moments later the car had pulled away, just another big expensive Mercedes with blacked out windows going somewhere in the Friday night rain.
Friday Evening at 5.55 pm:
The glass and brick gatehouse had been there since the industrial estate had opened back in the 1980s monitoring the flow of people and vehicles that moved through the various buildings on the estate. Several mismatched chairs, three filing cabinets, and two large desks were its furnishings with two whiteboards showing a timetable and shifts, a large month view calendar with a picture of a steam train, and a key locker fixed to the wall. Under the sheet of glass covering the main desk a growing collection of notes had been, arranged according to their importance. It was the same as every other Friday evening. Using the same well-established routine, the security guards were going through a shift change. The incoming guards had already resigned themselves to the next twenty-four hours of patrols checking doors and windows.
For Ben Randal it was the end of another shift, he ambled to the half-glazed door of the gatehouse and leaned against its wooden frame. With tired eyes, stared without purpose through the rain spattered glass and out across the tarmac into the distance. Two fluorescent tubes had just flickered into life from behind an opaque plastic shield washing the gatehouse with a harsh, sterile light.
“It’s still fuckin raining.” He mumbled.
Another guard who was busy putting the finishing touches to a handmade cigarette looked over at Ben from the comfort of a fake leather swivel chair that faced the window, flakes of tobacco falling onto the desk.
“Well, Ben we can always rely on you to state the bleeding obvious.” Came the reply.
Ben Ignored him, rested his forehead against the cold glass as the rain continued its staccato tap, tap, tap, and ran down the window gathering on the white plastic ledge and falling to the ground. From a small kitchen area, a kettle whistled for attention as two of the incoming guards discussed which DVDs they would watch that evening. The guard so disparaging about Ben being able to ‘state the bleeding obvious’ fanned out their choices. It would probably be a gun’s blazing, car chasing, feature followed by some German pornography featuring surgically enhanced sexual athletes.
What had set this Friday apart was the other guards had noticed and made some comment about Ben not being his usual self. He was always ready to join a conversation, but since coming on shift the previous evening, he hadn’t said very much at all. Ben had recently left the army and very quickly settled into his civilian life. Always keen and eager to take on any extra shifts, as the birth of his son Jake two weeks earlier was depleting his savings on a grand scale. The other guards had reasonably assumed his sudden change in mood was nothing more than a serious lack of money, and not enough sleep. Whatever they might have thought, Ben wasn’t interested. His shift was finished, he was tired and glad to be going home. Easing the strap of his backpack over his shoulder he muttered.
“See you on Monday morning.”
He didn’t wait for a response, pulling up his collar, pushing his right hand deep into the pocket of his bright yellow jacket. A half turn of the aluminium door handle with his free hand and the weight of his shoulder against the door nudged it open. Stepping from the warmth of the building he felt the rain gently bite into his face, it didn’t bother him, he had two whole days before he was back at work, and if the bus was on time he could be home in less than an hour.
This was to be Ben’s first full weekend alone with his wife Sigrid and Jake until now all he had been able to do was watch Jake sleep in his cot while Sigrid received well-meaning advice on motherhood parents, various aunts and uncles, and extended family all wanting to contribute some nugget of parental wisdom. But for as much as he wanted to spend time with Sigrid and Jake, this weekend would also give him time to get clear in his mind the nagging thoughts about what he had seen yesterday.
Ben had telephoned the office that morning, wanting to speak to Danny the companies managing director, he was a former parachute regiment, warrant officer, he would know what to do. But he was away on business, but he would be coming out to the site on Monday, so maybe they could talk then. His old company commander, Captain Bowers, he was away on battalion exercise until late Saturday morning. He had also left various messages with some old mates asking them to call, however after a week out on exercise, he didn’t hold out much hope of an urgent reply. Frustrated and confused all he wanted to do was speak with someone who would understand and help him make sense of what he had seen yesterday. But for now, he was tired, hungry and wanted to go home.
He Ducked under the red and white barrier of the main entrance and headed towards the alley that cut through the units to the bus stop. He was looking forward to getting some ‘dad time’. Using his left hand to shield his phone from the rain he swiped his thumb across the screen to check the time. The screen illuminated with a picture of Sigrid holding Jake, he was wearing the blue baby grow, that was at least two sizes too big, he had bought it the day Jake was born after the beer fueled celebration with his workmates. He remembered how Sigrid had jokingly told him that to go shopping straight from the pub was never going to be a clever idea. The bold white figures on the phone screen said three minutes after six O’clock, he had just twelve minutes before the bus arrived. Ben turned his head down against the rain, three hundred meters further on turned left, into the short unlit alley bordered by low red brick factory walls. Taking giant steps over the larger puddles he made his way to the bus stop, he would be there with time to spare. He started flicking through the growing collection of pictures from the last two weeks and started to think how Jake had changed so much. Pictures of Jake and Sigrid filled the phone screen as the slowly reducing numbers showed he only had nine more minutes to go, and he would be on the bus. His phone chirped to say a new message had arrived, he ran his thumb over the message icon opening the latest picture message from his wife.
Friday evening at 7 pm:
Strands of blue and white tape fluttering in the light breeze cordoned of the alleyway, a young policewoman standing near the wall who was busy directing the curious towards alternative routes around the estate. Several more uniformed officers using high powered torches were searching the ground by the body slumped against the wall.
Two o plainclothes policemen wearing white overshoes were examining what remained of the corpse’s face. A preliminary search of the pockets yielded a laminated ID card, the top right hand corner had a photograph of a fresh-faced young man, with blond hair who stared back at the two officers from behind its protective laminate cover.
“Who’s going to tell his family Sarge?” Said the officer holding the ID card between gloved fingers
“At the moment who is not important, it’s what are we going to tell them?” Stated the older of the two men.
“Pegasus Security, in Aldershot. The card gives his name as Ben Randal.”
The older man looked at the body on the floor.
“Could you be sure looking at this, that it’s him?”
While the two officers examined the laminated ID card, a hastily erected white canopy was trying but without much success to preserve the crime scene. It had been raining for most of the afternoon and early evening, so any available evidence was being diluted into the ground. Blood on the victim’s collar and shoulders of the bright yellow jacket, just a palette of pinks, bright red’s and black. More blue and white tape was being stretched out across the alley, barring access to all.
“Over here, Sarge.” A constable pointed his torch at a mobile phone lying on the floor about fifteen feet away from the corpse. Its screen had just illuminated, presenting an attractive young woman holding a newborn baby, wearing a pale blue button up suit. The blond-haired face they now thought might be Ben Randal was standing proudly to one side of her, the caller ID displayed one-word, in large white capital letters ‘WIFE’.
It was now seven o’clock on Friday evening, a little under fifty minutes ago Sergeant Spindle had been summoned into the duty commander’s office at Reading police station. A young girl who had been taking a shortcut through the alley to meet her boyfriend had found the body, made a very distressed 999 call and was now being comforted by a female officer in a police car.
As part of an investigating team, Sargent Spindle had been involved with many murder investigations before, but as a detective Sergeant, fresh out of Bramshill college, this was to be his first as lead investigator. In a poorly lit alleyway, under a white canvas sheet, suspended between two brick walls, looking at the remains of a young man’s body.
He had very few ideas on where to begin. A yellow Sulphur street light illuminated the main road in one direction. So, for no specific reason, he walked the hundred and twenty yards away in the opposite direction toward the industrial park. As he exited the alleyway, directly in front of him at regularly spaced intervals, several large plastic signs, each cable tied at head height to the chain link fence, they informed anyone passing that,
‘These premises are regularly patrolled and protected by
A security lodge with dimmed lights was three hundred yards further along the fence line. Drawing on a cigarette and obviously interested in the police activity one of the guards was standing just outside the gates looking in Spindle’s direction. Whoever it was, they were wearing a yellow jacket very similar to the one on the dead body. Sargent Spindle could see the glow of the cigarette cupped in the watcher’s hand, with nothing else immediately visible to work with, the only lead Spindle had was the matching jackets.
Friday evening at seven o’clock
Seventy miles away from Ben Randal’s corpse, the driver of an unbranded white rental van was being kept awake by a CD pumping out ACDC’s greatest hits. He had Prepared for his journey home early that morning, the CD was purchased that morning just outside Stuttgart, together with eighty litres of diesel, a large coffee in a styrene cup, two hot Bratwurst and several bars of sugar rich chocolate. twelve hours later the driver was trying desperately to ease the boredom of a round trip ferry crossing via Dover and over a thousand miles of tarmac, that began the previous morning in Aldershot. Tiredness had been creeping over him for the previous two hours. Danny had been tired many times before during his military service and was more than familiar with the gritty, watery eyes, just two of sleep’s advancing signals. He was trying to understand why so much effort was needed to keep his eyes open. Danny was able to bench press a hundred kilos with ease, yet two eyelids each weighing only a few grams were now taking enormous effort to hold open.
The stiffness in his lower back was a persistent reminder of how long he’d been driving, and now the simplest of tasks seemed to be all-consuming. The beckoning arms of Morpheus were tempting him, teasing, inviting him to rest his eyes behind the thick, welcoming black veil of sleep. Suppressing another yawn, he felt all the muscles of his face tighten, before vigorously shaking his head to stay awake.
Knowing he didn’t need to sleep, it was just boredom, so since Danny’s last coffee stop on the M25, he had resorted to singing along with the CD at the top of his voice. Windows wide open, to force chilly evening air into the cab, his fingers drumming on the steering wheel with the music, anything just to stave off the boredom and stay awake. It was a fight against sleep, a battle, a war against motorway boredom. As he steadily worked through the miles towards home, Danny was confident he would win.
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