The sunlight shuffled through the apartment’s rains-streaked windows, painting the rooms with dappled light. It struck three letters on the kitchen worktop telling Martin Andrew Kerr that he had lost his home, job, and partner in quick succession.
And there the last shards of the newly single, newly unemployed history teacher’s old life sat until a 10,000lb wrecking ball demolished the whole kitchen diner with one swing.
One or two catastrophes, and he could probably cope; but three within days was too much. He decided to move back to the house he’d inherited from his parents but hadn’t seen since the funeral. He’d packed everything into his Skoda but at the last left the letters laying on the breakfast bar. Let the wrecking ball take them, he resolved. I’m not quite done.
“Not quite” was how Martin was usually described by his friends. His not quite brown hair didn’t quite part in the centre. His wire-rimmed glasses, which were not quite round, did not quite sit level on his face because his ears were, apparently, not quite level. His trademark tie was never quite harmoniously centred, just as the pattern on his ties were never quite harmonious with his shirt, suit, shoes or the principles of graphic design. In any situation Martin did not quite fit in, generally walking a fine line between looking not quite startled and not quite shifty. Like a John Huston gumshoe he lived in crumpled suits and was always uncomfortable; a film noir Adrian Mole.
Despite his almost totalitarian ordinariness, his friends quietly remarked between themselves that utterly bizarre things kept happening to him.
Google Maps said the journey would take three hours. As he left the motorway Martin was precisely on schedule, and that made him feel very calm. His intention was not to go straight to the old house but stay in a hotel. The house could wait. He would rather face his demons in the sunlight.
It was dark, cold and the end of November, and there were no cars in sight. Names on signs that he hadn’t seen for several years but felt like yesterday’s memories swept past, and he smiled. In a good mood he punched the car stereo up from six to eight, and eight to ten. He had never enjoyed odd numbers.
An errant noise disturbed him. He tweaked the EQ and balance but it was not a rattling speaker and there seemed nothing different about the car’s usual hum of operations. When a faint glow from the passenger seat distracted him, he realised it was his phone. He reached for his bag but his phone slipped into the foot well. The vibration was much louder, and that irritated him. He made a failed grab for the phone, and, swearing imaginatively, struck something at exactly 70mph.
His car scooped whatever it was straight up in the air. He skidded to a halt, looking back at the large black shape which landed and rolled over and over on the dark tarmac.
He watched it in the rear view mirror. As his eyes acclimated to the dark, he first thought it was a dog but then perceived an arm. His working hypothesis, that it was a large dog carrying a severed human arm, was unable to withstand serious academic scrutiny and swiftly abandoned. He feared that his revised hypothesis, which was that he had hit someone whilst exceeding the speed limit and driving without due care and attention (his head was in the passenger footwell), was very close to being proven.
The academic part of his brain congratulated him for arriving at a solid, verifiable hypothesis.
Fuck you, brain, he thought.
He approached the shape meaningfully, which is to say that he meant to approach it. He suffered a momentary doubt and wondered whether this was some elaborate car-jacking plot, but could recall nothing on the news that suggested criminal gangs were willing to sacrifice themselves to get stylish hatchbacks of Eastern European origin.
The deceased was a white male with piercing green eyes. Martin returned to the car, retrieved his phone, made a brief 999 call, and lost his dinner down the side of his stylish hatchback of Eastern European origin.
Ten minutes later and suffering from shock and vomit stains, Martin was squatting by the ambulance. His eyes were red, tendrils of bile oscillated from his lower lip, and he’d managed to rub puke through his hair. It was quite the ensemble look.
“Martin Kerr?” enquired a stern, Northern female voice.
He blinked in affirmation because nodding could well have restarted the projectile chundering.
“Martin Andrew Kerr? Of Church Lane, Kings Hill?”
He looked up, but could not make out the owner of the voice as it was silhouetted by car headlamps and flashing blue lights.
“Yes…”, he stumbled.
The voice thrust a clear plastic bag at him. He took it with a puzzled expression. It contained a creased and quite blank postcard-sized piece of paper. Martin looked up, squinting at the light, and handed it back.
“For fuck’s sake,” the voice said, deploying it at sub-optimal volume. Turned over, the bag was thrust unappreciatively back at Martin. He could just make out that it was a hand-drawn map with scrawled directions that looked achingly familiar.
“I don’t understand,” he stammered with factual accuracy and slightly recovered composure. “What is it?”
“I’m asking the questions, dipshit, and I have two. One, why was the deceased carrying directions to your house and literally nothing else?”
“What the…” he paused, but the pause did nothing to aid his comprehension. He had killed a man with his car, on his first trip home for years, and the man was carrying directions to his house. There was more what the fuck contained in that statement than most people came across in a year, but he was depressingly used to that.
“Two!” the owner of the voice yelled at some volume. “Why didn’t you call me after graduation ball, you wanker?”