The Goth had plenty of time to get out of the way of the screaming juggernaut. So why did he just stand there and let it mow him down?
That was the question DCI Stafford asked himself. “Why did he just stand there and let it mow him down?”
DS Ringer had a different question. “Why didn’t the driver brake or swerve?”
“The driver didn’t see him,” said Stafford bluntly. They were standing on the spot where Victor Todd had been hit by the 40-tonne articulated lorry. It was an isolated stretch of country road, just beneath the brow of a hill.
Stafford sent Ringer off in the direction the lorry had come from. The Detective Sergeant was soon out of sight. “OK,” he shouted after him. “Turn round. Can you see me?”
“No,” came the shout back.
“Run back towards me until you can.”
“Point taken,” said Ringer as he came back into view.
“Now imagine you were a long distance lorry driver on the home stretch. No chance of stopping in time, even if you hit the brakes. Plus this geezer was dressed all in black, wasn’t he? Mind you, he would have heard the lorry. And seen its lights. The incident took place at night, remember. But the driver would have had no idea that he was here, until it was too late.”
“So… was it suicide?”
“It’s looking that way. He picked a cruel way to do it, if it was. The poor driver was in pieces. What do we know about Todd?”
“Seemed to have everything going for him. His business was doing well. Just got a new girlfriend. Been out with friends that evening. In the local pub, The Cricketers’ Arms. Everyone said he was in good spirits when he left. Round about midnight.”
“What was that about business? He didn’t look like a businessman to me?”
“You’re referring to his fashion sense? He was a Goth, yes. And his business was designing and selling Goth accoutrements and accessories. Actually, it’s not quite true to say he was a Goth. I think he was more what you would describe as a Robot Goth. He incorporated a lot of metal in his designs. His speciality was reclaimed scrap iron.” Ringer stroked his chin thoughtfully. “Come to think of it, perhaps he was more a Post-Industrial Neo-Steampunk Robot Goth than a straight forward Robot Goth.”
Stafford raised an eyebrow in a whiplash flicker. “You can make a decent living out of flogging that crap, can you? I wouldn’t have thought there was a lot of call for it around here.”
Ringer rolled his eyes. “Todd’s clientele was international. Thanks to a little thing called the internet. Have you heard of that, guv?”
“Heard talk of it, yes.” Stafford’s humour was gruffly self-deprecating. “Never actually seen it. They’re a miserable bunch, though, aren’t they – these whadyam’callums.”
“All that dressing in black and listening to depressing music. If you can call it bloody music. Bound to get you. Maybe he’d had enough.”
“Why not just change your wardrobe? And your CD collection? Not really enough to throw yourself in front of a speeding lorry.”
Stafford guffawed. “CD collection? Who has CD collections these days? It’s all mp3 downloads.” He gave a sly smirk as he took in his young subordinate’s amazement. “Don’t you know anything?”
To look at Ringer’s open-mouthed stupefaction, it was hard to believe he was the philosophy graduate.
But Stafford had moved on past the bantering. His eyes were on the road surface, scanning the skid marks. “What do you make of that?” He dropped to his haunches over a manhole cover, on which a yellow X had been painted.
“What about it?”
“X marks the spot.”
Ringer hesitated. The feeling that his boss had just made a fool of him made him reluctant to offer either an opinion or a smart-aleck response. However, his curiosity to know what Stafford was thinking drew him out: “Must be the water company. They often mark out manhole covers. I’ll look into it, if you like.”
“Look into the manhole?”
“I meant check with the water company.”
“I don’t think that will be necessary. Just get me the crow bar from the car.”
Ringer gave a terse nod that somehow suggested he only obeyed because he consented to.
“So how come you know so much about all this?” said Stafford as he worked the tip of the crow bar into a small gap in the manhole cover.
“Part of the job, isn’t it? To know about popular sub-cultures.” But Ringer was blushing.
“Is this what you get up to at the weekend? Fancy dress?”
“No, I…” Ringer fidgeted. “However, I have attended one or two Goth conventions. Undercover. In an unofficial capacity.”
“You don’t go to them fetish parties as well, do you?”
But before Ringer could answer, the cover sprang loose. “That was easy,” observed Stafford. “Which makes me think someone has had this cover off recently.”
“I told you, the water company. That’s why there’s an X painted on it. Obviously they were doing some work down there.”
Stafford turned over the manhole cover and let it drop. It clattered to a standstill like an over-sized coin. “Is that the water company?” said Stafford, indicating a strange mechanical contraption that had been fixed to the underside of the cover.
“I don’t think so,” said Ringer. “It looks very… well, Post-Industrial Neo-Steampunk, for want of a better word.”
“Looks like a basic electro-magnet to me,” said his superior. “So, tell me, was Todd alone when he left the pub last night?”
“No, he was in company with his long time business associate, Aneesh Kakkar.”
“I think we should talk to Mr Kakkar.”
“In the statement he’s already given to officers, he said that as they were crossing the road, Todd stopped suddenly and remained in the middle of the road, as if rooted to the spot. Apparently, Mr Kakkar called to him, but he took no notice.”
“There was no one else with them?”
“I think we have our man. The way it looks, this Kakkar led him here. He’d already primed the manhole with the electro-magnet, which could be activated by a remote control device or mobile phone. The manhole was marked out with luminous paint, so he could find it in the dark. Somehow, he managed to get Todd to stand on the X – probably as a joke. Todd was drunk. He would have thought it hilarious. Given the amount of reclaimed scrap iron that Todd was wearing – his boots I seem to remember were covered in the stuff – once the electro-magnet was switched on, it would have been impossible for him to move.”
“But why? Kakkar was the business-side of the relationship. He relied on Todd’s creativity. Without Todd, there was no business.”
“We won’t know the answer to that until we talk to Kakkar. But you mentioned something about a new girlfriend? I suspect that will provide our motive. Sometimes, love is a greater mover of the human heart than money.” Moody lifted the manhole cover and hefted it over to the car. “Get the bobbies to put some cones round that hole, will you? Then we’d better go and pick Mr Kakkar up, find out what he has to say for himself. We’ll stop off at your place first so you can get changed.”
“Yeah. I thought if you put your Goth gear on, he might be more likely to talk. You know, set him at his ease, and all that.” But Stafford’s grin suggested he had other reasons for insisting on a change of clothes.
He dropped the manhole cover in the boot, then slyly touched his jacket pocket to check his camera phone was where it should be.