A Travelodge is a budget hotel, part of a popular chain here in the UK. This is one of my earliest attempts at longer fiction, originally published in three parts. I have decided to group it together into one long post, and offer it as something for new followers to discover. If you take the time do do just that, I will be very grateful. I warn you now, it is over 11,000 words.
I have taken some liberties with punctuation and grammar. Where those appear, they are deliberate.
Part One: Chris
Pardew indicated left, to turn into the service road behind the large petrol station. He was craning his neck, to see if his favourite spot was free. He considered it unlucky if someone else was parked in it, though for no good reason. He turned right, following the direction indicated by the blue sign, and was ridiculously elated to see the free space, right at the end, next to the huge concrete planter containing a mature pampas grass. Two weeks ago, there had been a flat bed truck in that space, the one he considered ‘his’, and he had felt deflated. Not only had he lost his spot, it seemed that commercial drivers were now using the hotel, lowering the tone, in his opinion. But then, everything around him was changing.
As he turned off the ignition, and reached over to the back seat, to grab his jacket, and overnight bag, he reflected on how many times he had made this journey, in just over a year. Every two weeks, for fourteen months; less Christmas, and that last summer holiday, naturally. At least thirty times. It seemed a lot more though, and he wondered how he was going to arrange for it to stop.
At first, it had been so exciting. It was not contrived, neither sought, nor even wished for. It had simply happened. The annual conference, at some awful generic hotel, in the heart of what was commonly known as; ‘The West Midlands Urban Conurbation’. Pat had been the new girl, a recent addition to the sales force, and one of only two women employed in this role. She was surprisingly confident, and very straightforward, unlike any other woman he had met. Some of the old hands laughed behind her back, calling her ‘a bloke with tits’. Pardew almost knew what they meant. She had an easy way about her, chatted freely; and she didn’t flirt, or come across ‘all feminine’. He liked that about her. After the conference, they all met for dinner and drinks, normally a stilted affair, where regional factions gathered together, suspiciously eyeing up those who were doing well, or those from the larger cities. Pat brightened the evening, doing the rounds in the room, but not sucking up to the bosses too much. Just enough though.
Even though the venue was bland, by any standards, the management sought to save money, by making everyone stay at various Travelodges, or Premier Inns, a short distance away. This also meant that they all would have to drive later, so reduced drunkenness, and any awkward scenes. When Pat let slip that she was staying at the same Travelodge, Pardew was inordinately pleased, though he couldn’t think why. She had given no indication of undue attraction to him, and he had certainly not propositioned her. He had suggested a meeting at breakfast, before they made their respective departures. As the hotel had no catering facilities, this would be taken at the roadside diner, part of a national chain, conveniently located beside the petrol station. She had not confirmed this arrangement by the time they left the conference dinner, so he thought no more of it. He reversed his Audi A4 out of the tight space, and drove through the darkness, arriving at the motel in less than fifteen minutes. There were no staff around as he entered, so he walked straight to his room, and decided to ring his wife.
It was only 10.30pm, but you would have thought it was the middle of the night, judging by her tone. He guessed that he was interrupting one of her programmes, probably something she had Sky-Plussed earlier. He rambled on about how dull the conference had been, and how crushingly boring it was, to be stuck in the motel, near the junction of three major motorways. Mandy suggested he watch TV, and when he said he would be home the next evening, about six, she ended the lukewarm chat, with a simple ‘bye’. Pardew stretched out on the reasonably comfortable bed, blowing out his cheeks, and releasing the air slowly. They had only been married for three years for Christ’s sake, was that her best effort? He went over to his bag, and took out the half bottle of vodka, purchased in a supermarket yesterday. At least he could relax, and enjoy a drink, maybe it would help him sleep. Try not to think too much Chris, he told himself. It’s the thinking that does the damage. He took mental stock of his life. Almost thirty years old, a reasonably successful salesman, with a nice car, decent salary, and numerous benefits. Married to the lovely Mandy, for three years, no children planned as yet, until she got her business running to a level at which she would feel secure. She was good with computers, and could write and design a mean website. Trouble was, so could thousands of other people, and most of them were a lot cheaper than Mandy. Too much thinking was making his head hurt. Time for sleep.
The next morning, he had a nine o’clock almost forty miles away, so decided to skip breakfast, and try to beat the morning rush. It didn’t pay to be late these days. The world of business computing was getting ever more crowded, and customers would think nothing of not seeing you, if you were five minutes late. He had been chasing this prospect for almost three months, and wasn’t about to let him get away, at least not without a fight. Thinking of the right pitch occupied his mind, and he didn’t even glance into the diner as he drove past. He never saw the woman, looking at her watch in a window seat, wondering what she was going to say to this relative stranger, when he arrived to join her for breakfast.
When he got out of the meeting, he was not in the best of moods. the buyer was a good five years younger than him, open necked shirt, casual jacket, very Silicon Valley. He had made Pardew feel old, and even worse, made his product feel old, and outdated too. In another life, he might have agreed with the cocky youngster. Their stuff had seen better days. Once the brand leader, it was now lagging behind the new guys on the block, and the hardware was beginning to show its age. He had managed to remain positive and upbeat, but was secretly crestfallen when he realised all the work getting in to see this company was pointless. They had gone with the new lot, like so many before them. He would make his next call on one of the old regular customers, just to cheer himself up. He checked his mobile. It was more of a computer than a phone, almost too big to fit into a pocket, and packed with every gadget and gizmo possible. He had a text from an unknown number, but read it anyway. You never know, it might be something good. It was a simple message. ‘Thanks for breakfast. I felt a right prat sitting there. Dickhead.’ He knew at once it had to be from Pat. She must have contacted the office to get his number, probably told them she needed advice or something. He had completely forgotten the promise of a shared breakfast, and felt his face flush with embarrassment, despite sitting alone, in a parked car. This was soon replaced by indignation. After all, she hadn’t confirmed it last night, so how was he supposed to know?
He replied with a text along the lines of sorry, I will make it up to you, or something similar; now long forgotten, and securely deleted. He didn’t bump into Pat for a few weeks after that, during a routine trip into Head Office, for leaflets and samples. He expected awkwardness, but received the friendliest of welcomes, and it put him completely off guard. Before he knew it, he could hear himself blatantly chatting her up, and suggesting a meal later that night, if she could make it. He was staying at the nearest Travelodge, so it would not be too far for her. After all, she had given away that she only lived a short drive from the out of town industrial estate where they were chatting. He had clocked her wedding ring, but tried his luck anyway. What was the worst that could happen? She agreed to meet at the Harvester across the road from the hotel, at 6.30. It was hardly a place he would have chosen; one of this featureless chain of pubs, with their family-friendly cheap meals, all tasting as if they had come straight from the freezer. Still, at least he could have a drink, and walk back across the car park to his room.
He was in the bar at 6, at a table with a good view of the door. By 6.45, he presumed that she wasn’t coming, and constant checks on his phone showed no message, or apology for lateness. He looked once more at the picture-book menu, failing to get inspiration from the photographs of how the meals would appear on the plate, but deciding that he had better have something, as he hadn’t eaten since a skimpy breakfast. As he went back up to the bar, to order another drink, she appeared, coat flapping, all rush and bluster. She was dressed for a ball, with long gown, full make-up, and a hairdo that was probably straight from the salon, before a buffeting in the car park disassembled it. Not really appropriate for steak and chips in a Harvester, he thought to himself. She muttered some apology, and he asked what she wanted to drink; just water please, was her reply. He showed her to the table, and commented on how attractive she looked. She finally relaxed, and with a chuckle, told him that she had used the excuse of having to go to a formal company dinner, so thought that she had better dress as if she actually was.
A dumpy waitress arrived, probably working after school or college, awkward in her too-short black dress and thick black tights, wrinkled at the knees. They both ordered a main course only, and Pardew suggested wine, to which Pat replied, not for me, but thanks anyway. The conversation was surprisingly easy, and flowed a lot better than he had anticipated. Both gave a short history of their lives up to then, as well as their present circumstances. Pat was married, and had been for almost ten years. She had no children. Despite trying hard for a few years at first, it just hadn’t happened. Her husband was called Alan, and he was a policeman, a motorway traffic officer. He was working until 11 that night, so she would have to be home by the time he got in. He didn’t like her being out too late, and naturally frowned on any drinking, when she would be driving later. Without asking her directly, Pardew guessed that she was a few years older than he was. The length of time she had been married, the music she talked about, and how long her husband had been a copper, it all added up to her being about thirty-five. When they were eating the meal, conversation dropped off, but she smiled a lot, and ate casually, without undue speed, or apparent hunger. The long purple dress, matching bag and shoes, and flawless make-up, all oozed class. He felt good, and ordered another glass of Chablis to celebrate this feeling of well-being. After the meal was finished, she declined a dessert, and suddenly interrupted him during the full flow of one of his funnier stories. Please call me Trish, she asked, everyone calls me Pat.
He checked his watch, time to ask the inevitable question. After all, he had nothing to lose. How about coffee or a drink in my room, he suggested, it is very noisy in here. She nodded, and reminded him to ask for the bill. He gave the gloomy waitress a £5 tip, feeling the need to spread the good mood around the room. Pat put her coat on, and followed him out, for the short walk across to the Travelodge. The desk staff didn’t bat an eyelid when he arrived with a glamorous woman in tow. There was little left to surprise them, in the life of an out of town motel, where guests treated them as if they were invisible; most of the time, anyway. In the room, they abandoned any pretence at niceties, and began kissing as soon as Pat’s coat was off. There was the usual frantic fumbling with zips, sleeves, and assorted fasteners, and they were soon on the bed, clad only in underwear. Pardew noted that she was wearing hold-up stockings; a nice touch, he mused. Her body was not gym-hardened and fleshless, like Mandy’s, but womanly, soft and fragrant. If he had imagined a sex-fest of unusual antics, and porn film proportions, he was wrong. But it was all very nice, in a hurried, longing for satisfaction kind of way. When it was over, and they were both replete, Pat retreated to the small bathroom, to tidy up, as she put it. Pardew was feeling pretty pleased with himself. His first extra-marital assignation had gone well. He searched inside for guilt, but felt none present. Despite reservations about his physical image, lack of muscle tone, and slight belly, he had received no complaints. And it was still only 10.15, so he could probably get to see that film at 11, after all.
Pat reappeared fully dressed, hair combed, and make-up reconstructed. She said that she was sorry to rush, and that it had been very nice, not that she ever did that sort of thing normally, you understand. She made sure that he had saved her number, and when he suggested meeting again, in say two weeks, she agreed without hesitation. He kissed her goodbye at the door of the room, as she had declined his offer of walking her to the car. Back in the room, he confirmed his good feelings to himself. This could be nice. A fortnightly diversion, a break from the norm. Was it an affair though? He doubted that. More like a modern arrangement.
It went on much the same, though with the distinct absence of hold-up stockings, and evening wear. Within a short time, it had become a standing arrangement, every two weeks, saving family occasions, holidays, and unforeseen dramas. She would turn up, often in sports clothes, apparently now using going to an exercise class with friends, as a regular excuse. They rarely bothered to go out, or to eat first. Pardew would have a few drinks in his room, and text her the room number. She would arrive around seven, and usually be gone by nine. He would be left to his TV programmes, catching up on paperwork, and the late call to Mandy, to listen to how bored she was to hear his voice. The once frantic sex of the early days had gone. It had been replaced by rapid undressing, a leap under the duvet, then following the usual routine, until they were both satisfied, or Pat had to leave. They couldn’t give each other presents, or small gifts, as they could not explain them. Cards were out of the question, for the same reason. And they never mentioned the word love. It just didn’t seem appropriate. In the same way, the prospect of either of them leaving their spouses was never raised. This was not going to end in divorce, or living alone in a small room, for either of them. It had become a habit, like most things in life always do, eventually.
Fourteen months on, as he waited for Pat to arrive, probably late as usual, Pardew reflected on the complete pointlessness of it all, and resolved to end it that evening. Things were certainly no better with Mandy, but the feeling of freedom that he got from his fortnightly sneaking, no longer existed. He knew exactly what to expect, from the moment Pat came through the door, until the second that she left to go home. He would be kind and considerate, perhaps invent an excuse. Maybe Mandy had an illness that meant he had to be home more. Perhaps he could say that they were moving nearer, and he had no more excuses to stay away. He didn’t know for sure, but he would think of something, and end it as friends.
At least, that was the plan.
Part Two: Trish
The traffic was heavier than usual, probably an accident on the motorway, everything diverted, to just where she needed to be.
Trish was going to be late, as normal. He never moaned about it, but she could always tell that he noticed. At least the rain had stopped, and she could open the window again. Alan had been a bit sullen that afternoon. He couldn’t see why she wanted to go to her imaginary exercise class, then for drinks with the girls later. After all, he was on a day off, and she wouldn’t be drinking anyway. He had offered a lift, but she had been adamant that she wanted her own car there. After all, she had explained, I might want to leave early. As soon as she got in from work, contriving an early finish by cancelling her last appointment, he had been on her as usual. Big deal, he was on a day off. What about all those nights and weekends of her life, when he was out in his Police Car? She had never complained.
She resolved to make this THE night, the one time she got to speak to Chris properly. Forget the sex, they needed to talk. This had all gone on far too long, without any decent conversation, and no planning for the future. She had not intended this relationship to be just a year of stolen assignations in a crappy motel. She deserved more, and she would tell him so. The red lights of the car ahead suddenly blazed bright, and she stood on her brakes. Concentrate Trish, she told herself, watch what you’re bloody doing girl. She couldn’t really work out how she had let it go for so long. There was never any talk of love, or even of like, for that matter. There was some scant affection, and sex of course, but that was all, and occasionally, it left her feeling empty. Every two weeks, she had determined to tell him that she loved him, and to ask what his plans and intentions were for the future. Then it just didn’t happen, and she always mentally kicked herself, on the short journey home. She would not allow herself to believe that all he wanted was routine sex on a fortnightly basis. That was impossible to consider. It had to be more surely? It certainly was, for her.
Compared to Alan, Chris was all she had hoped for. Amusing, relaxed, good company, and undemanding. Of course, Alan had been different when they were young. He was her first serious boyfriend at sixteen, and the first man she ever had sex with, a year later. In fact, until that fateful meeting fourteen months earlier, the only man that she had ever had sex with. There had been lots of offers, naturally. You cannot be a woman in this sort of job, without constant innuendo, inappropriate touching, and even downright suggestions of how about it? Until she met Pardew that night, it had never seriously crossed her mind. It was just that he was the sort she always fancied. Not athletic, a bit cheeky, and rough around the edges. He didn’t think that much of himself, which made others think all the more of him. If she could have gone back in time, and had the benefit of hindsight, she would have waited for someone exactly like Chris. He even referred to himself as Pardew, as if he was talking about someone else, and despite the fact that he was one of the best salesmen in the company, he was suitably self-deprecating. Every time she went to meet him, she felt better, warmer in the winter, cooler in the summer. He had a good effect on her, and she wanted to feel that more than once every fortnight.
She would ask him about leaving his wife. From what little she had heard about Mandy, she concluded that she was a selfish, driven woman, who had a husband as an accessory, and would have preferred a more executive model. Their house was chosen by her, as well as the decor, furnishings, and even the car that Chris had picked from the list of those available. He was there for the journey, a passenger in the speeding train of her life and plans. Trish believed that she had so much more to offer. She would involve him, allow him to be himself, and embrace his friends and family, all currently sidelined by this snobbish woman from Worcester. She had dissected every snippet of conversation, all the snapshots of his life provided by their all too short talks, before and after sex. Over these last months, she had managed to construct an image of Chris’s life with Mandy, in their heavily-mortgaged, larger than necessary house, on an executive estate, on the outskirts of a small Midlands town. Mandy’s own business was hardly doing well. Web Site management, so what? You could do that on your own these days, with free tools provided by numerous organisations. Why pay that shrew to do it for you? Trish expected that Mandy lived on debts, with huge credit card bills, and loans paying off forever, to provide her life with the best of everything. She doubted that Chris knew half of it, and was sure that Mandy kept him firmly in the dark about financial affairs. He was so easygoing, after all, and probably just went along with anything, to get the quiet life he sought.
He would be better off with her. They could force Alan and Mandy to sell the houses, get half of each, if anything was left, and begin afresh. They were still young enough to start again, get a small house somewhere, and maybe even have a family. They both had good jobs, company cars, and expenses, and could work hard to lead a happy life together. She would explain that it was Alan who couldn’t give her children, and that she was in full working order. Since meeting Pardew, she had even had to secretly go back on the pill, to the great surprise of her doctor. She had said it was because of period problems, as she could hardly tell the truth, when her and Alan both went to the same GP. He had never accepted that it was because of him, that they couldn’t have children. He refused to accept his low sperm count, and she dare not even consider broaching the possibility of a donor. He put it down to the doctors taking her side, and grew angry and withdrawn whenever the subject came up. He poured his energies into his job, his training at the gym, his football club, and in cycling. He was always cycling, it seemed to her. He had even spent £3,000 on a special bike of some kind, without even mentioning it to her, until it appeared in the garage one day. He thought nothing of going for fifty miles, and would habitually do a twenty mile ride, even before work. She didn’t go on about it, knowing better than to rile him.
It had been different when they were young. He was two years older than her, waiting to join the Police as soon as he could get in. It was all he ever wanted to be, and he had prepared for it his whole life, even dressing in a small policeman’s outfit on his fifth birthday. The photo of that event had pride of place, alongside his passing-out parade photo, on the unit near the TV. The other girls had been jealous. He was six feet tall, sporty and athletic; square-jawed, and blue-eyed. He came from a good family, and he had a car! What more could she ask for, her friends had all told her. Even so, he had waited a long time to propose. They didn’t marry until he was sure that he had achieved what he wanted, and passed all his courses in the Police. Once he was accepted for the Traffic Patrol, his ultimate goal, he arranged the wedding for the following year. She was twenty-six, and he was almost twenty-nine, when they had the dream wedding in the small church, followed by a lavish reception in the country club hotel. Almost ten years later, and they still lived in the two-bed semi that they bought the year before they married. He preferred to spend any spare money on cars, instead of moving up the housing ladder. Last year, he had gone and spent almost sixteen grand on a car that he said was the best on the road, a Mitsubishi Evolution. Alright, he could afford the loan repayments, but she didn’t think much of it. It was bumpy, noisy, and not very practical. She had to admit though, Alan’s eyes did light up when he got behind the wheel of it.
Then there was the gym equipment, with the spare room kitted out like the local health centre. As well as this, he also paid out a fortune in membership fees, to the swanky gym club on the ring road. What with all that, the cycling, football, and driving his car, for the sake of it, he was hardly home, even on his days off. Despite these absences, he begrudged her any time apart. Over the years, she hardly saw her friends anymore, and lost herself in study. After sixth form college, she worked for a large insurance company, and soon realised that she was good with computers. Studying at home, and one night a week at college, she got qualifications, and decided that she would change careers, and start selling business computing systems. Alan had been against that of course. He thought that she should stick with Insurance, make her career there, and build up a nice pension. For the first time since she had met him, she went against his wishes, and applied for the job with one of the big companies. They had a territory vacant around the area where she lived, so she would always be home at night. After weeks of sulking, Alan finally came around to the idea, and started to look through car magazines. If she could change her job, he could change the car; that was his take on it, anyway.
When she came home with a start date, she also told him that she had chosen her company car, from the list of options available. He almost exploded when she told him that she had picked a Ford Focus. He demanded to look at the list. For God’s sake, she could have had a BMW 3 series for not much more a month, why the hell had she picked such a boring bloody car? To Trish, a car was a car. It was almost free, you just paid a small tax penalty. They even paid for the petrol, insurance, and servicing, so why was he so angry? Alan didn’t think women could drive properly. She never drove when they went anywhere, as she could not bear the constant criticism and superiority. If she went the wrong way, or changed gear too late, he would yell at her, and get red-faced with frustration. She just left it to him, and switched off inside. As he got older, Alan got angrier. Trish didn’t like to admit it, but she was becoming afraid of him. It wasn’t that he was violent; he never touched her, or even threatened to do so. It was the anger that she was afraid of, and it always seemed to be directed at her. He often talked about his work, and would tell her the stupid things people did on the motorways, and how he came along to clear up the carnage that they left behind. If he had his way, no foreigners, women, or anyone over seventy would be allowed to drive. And while he was at it, nobody under twenty-one either. Unless they were Policemen, of course.
It had never really occurred to her to stray. The night she met Pardew, she couldn’t stop looking at him, but managed a good job of hiding it, pretending to suck up to the bosses. When he asked her to join him at breakfast, she agreed, but played it cool, and contrived to be out of the room as everyone left, to avoid returning to the Travelodge together. Inside, she was as excited as a teenager before Prom Night. Was breakfast considered a date? Perhaps she had gone too far,but she really liked him, his easy ways, and the fact that he had changed into a smarter suit, after the meeting, and before coming over for the dinner. He had made the effort to go back to his hotel and change, and he was the only one that had bothered. When he didn’t show up for breakfast, she had been angry at first. She got his mobile number from the office, and sent a shitty text. Then she had felt silly. Perhaps he had misunderstood, or something had come up. She was too embarrassed to text again, and just left it. But she continued to think about him though. A lot. When she saw him at Head Office, she was overjoyed. He was friendly and urbane, every inch the gentleman. The text was never mentioned, and he was obviously coming on to her. When he asked her out, she agreed immediately, not even considering Alan. On the way home, she came up with the excuse of having to go to a formal dinner, to represent the company. She couldn’t get out of it, and she was all in a rush as a result. Alan wasn’t too happy, but would be working until 11, so he couldn’t really do much about it over the phone; especially as he was dealing with a fatal accident at the time.
She chose the outfit in a hurry, one her best ones, together with her sexiest underwear, normally reserved for Alan’s birthday, or Christmas. She spent ages on her make-up, then styled her own hair, using some device bought for her as a gift, long-forgotten in the back of a cupboard. It wasn’t ideal, but at least it looked as if she had tried. She put on her new coat, and left, all a fluster, as she knew she would never make it by the agreed time. She needn’t have worried. Pardew was there, smiling, friendly, and warm, just as she knew he would be, deep down. She must not drink, as Alan would go crazy if he smelt alcohol on her, and she ordered the first thing she saw on the menu, too excited to want to think about food. Chris was the one, she decided over her sparkling water. This was the man she should be with, not that aggressive traffic cop, who was no longer the man he had been, if he ever was in the first place. When Chris suggested going to his room, she didn’t hesitate. She had been disappointed when he had ordered that second glass of wine, in case it meant he was going to stay drinking in the restaurant, and that would be it. Once in the door of his room, it was all she had hoped it would be. He tugged at her clothes, kissed her passionately, and they fell to the bed, both hot with desire. His attraction was obvious, and his love-making was insistent, yet tender, just like those in the books she had read. He covered all the bases, and satisfied her completely, even in the short time they had available. By contrast. Alan had always embarked on sex with the determination of a mountaineer. For him, it was all about stamina, endurance, and physical prowess. Oral sex was taboo, as he considered it dirty. When she had suggested it, a long time ago, he had remarked that she might as well work in a brothel, as only whores did that sort of thing. He was a pumper, banging away on top, until she lost the will to live most times. She was sure that he was timing it in his head, and anything less than thirty minutes pumping, was considered a failure.
When Chris suggested meeting in two weeks, she agreed, and managed to conceal her concerns. She had expected him to declare his love for her, and she had been more than ready to do the same. To her way of thinking, they should be arranging to meet the same week, to talk over their plans for leaving, and being together always. Perhaps there were things he had to arrange first, so two weeks, same place, would have to do for now. Trish had never really worked out how it always ended that way. Meeting again in two weeks, the room number sent to her by text, and never any talk of living together, or how much they were in love. The sex stayed great. It must have been, because it was usually the same, which was always great for her. And Chris seemed to enjoy it. She always meant to have that chat though, and it just never happened. Tonight would be different, she would definitely do it. It must be tonight, she was certain.
The car park was busy, and she left her car in the delivery area. Although she knew she wasn’t supposed to park there, she doubted that there would be deliveries after normal hours. He had sent the text, the room was on the ground floor, one they had used many times. She grabbed the gym bag off the passenger seat, and hefted the heavy handbag onto her other shoulder, pressing the remote to lock the Focus, as she did so. Get ready Pardew, she muttered to herself, as she strode purposefully into the reception area.
Tonight’s the night.
Part Three: Alan
The blood running down from the crushed door was pooling on the tarmac. Looks like a nasty one, Alan thought, as he walked along the hard shoulder towards the small hatchback. He turned, and shouted to his colleague that they would need the Fire Brigade, sooner rather than later. Someone needed cutting out of this mess, alive or dead. He waved angrily at the traffic on the opposite carriageway. There would be an accident on that side soon, if they all kept slowing down to look at the one that had already happened. The driver of the lorry was looking dazed, sitting on the grass verge, as paramedics attended to him. The motorway was closed Northbound, so there would be hell to pay with a traffic backlog later, at the height of the rush hour. He looked into the car. As he had suspected, the young woman driver was very dead, with most of the door and front wing squeezed into half of her body. Her head was undamaged, and she looked as if she was sleeping, in a heavy, deep sleep, like someone who is unwell, or very drunk. Except she was neither. She was in that sleep from which nobody ever awakes.
His mobile was going off, buzzing in his pocket, the volume turned off. He fumbled under his yellow over-jacket, and saw it was Pat calling. He turned towards the car so he would not be seen, and answered. She had to go out after work, she panted, seemingly out of breath. Big occasion, got to represent the company, can’t get out of it. Wouldn’t be a late one though, sorry and all that, but it is her job, after all. He was about to tell her to say no, when the siren from the approaching fire engine all but drowned out the call. He just said OK then, and hung up. No time to sort it now, he would deal with it later. He walked towards the fireman who had jumped out of the rescue truck. You will need cutting equipment, he told him, but no rush, she’s had it.
By the time Alan got home that night, Pat was already asleep in bed. He took her car keys from the hook in the kitchen, and quietly went into the garage, using the back door from the garden. From a box under some tools, he removed the small notebook, where he kept a daily record of her mileage. Outside, he eased into her car, the digital mileometer activating with the entry key. He added the reading, next to the date for that day, then reversed his movements. He was sure that she was unaware he was doing this, as she had never shown any sign that she knew. Later this week, he would casually ask her where the function had been, and calculate the distance accordingly. Back in the house, he checked the washing basket in the bathroom. Black stockings, and lacy knickers; very fancy, for a company dinner.
He didn’t get much chance to chat for a few days, until he had finished the run of late shifts. He was sleeping when she left, and she was in bed when he returned. That weekend, he was off, so started Saturday morning with a forty-mile round trip on his bike. That blew away the cobwebs, and sharpened his thoughts. When he got back, she was at the supermarket, a note left behind a fridge magnet said she wouldn’t be long. Before he showered, he put his bike away, and did an hour on the running machine, followed by some press-ups. She returned, laden with all sorts of stuff, and announced that she was cooking a special meal, as they hadn’t seen a lot of each other that week. As she fussed over the shopping, he quickly checked her mileage, and scribbled it into the notebook. Relaxing later, his sixth sense was telling him that something was not right. He had known Pat for almost twenty years, and he knew her deep down, inside out. He knew what she was thinking, what she wanted, and what she would say in answer to a question. At least he thought he did. That evening, he had lost that connection, that surety. It was as if a radio had lost tune, and the regular station couldn’t be found. His signals were not just crossed, they were totally absent. This was a different Pat, as if she had been substituted with another model, identical in appearance, but completely opposite in character and attitude. It troubled him greatly.
Alan coasted along for the next few days, waiting for the inevitable. On Thursday, it appeared. After dinner, Pat casually injected a chat about the women at Head Office, and how well she got on with two of them. Still gazing vacantly at the TV, she added that they had asked her to go to an exercise class, then for a drink afterwards. You always tell me that I need to take more exercise, she had told him, so here is my chance. What she didn’t know, how could she, was that he had already found the sports wear and new trainers, purchased the previous Saturday, and tucked away in the top of the spare room wardrobe. Strange that she should have them ready, for an invitation to go to a class received five days later. She must think he was stupid, but he would play along, for now. He had told her that he would be on early shift, so he could take her and collect her if she liked. As expected, she said that she would sooner have her own car. She added that it was over twenty miles away, closer to where one of the others lived, so a shame to run him around. She could use the company car petrol and mileage, they would never know. He grumpily conceded, and went out to the garage, stripping down to do some weights. He didn’t want to watch her crappy programmes anyway, let alone listen to more lies.
When she got home on Thursday night, she headed straight for the shower. She said that there were few facilities in the class, as it was held in a village hall, so she had felt sticky and uncomfortable all the time they were in the pub afterwards. He went out to her car, mentally noted the mileage, and then into the garage, to add it to his records. He was amazed how well he controlled his rage. Inside, he was boiling with frustration, and fit to explode. Externally, he remained the same old Alan, slightly aloof, a little preoccupied, the serious policeman. If Pat noticed anything, it wasn’t apparent. Her head was filled with whatever it was she was up to, and he knew that he had to find out just what that was. In his mind, he began to formulate a plan. He had not wasted all his years as a copper, all those courses attended, and the constant reading about crime and punishment, all over the world. There was nothing he didn’t know about, when it came to procedures, detection, forensics, and every other aspect of policing. It would be a new project. He would embrace it, and like everything he did, he would do it well, and be one of the best at it.
When he had met Patricia, all those years ago, he was only too aware that he could have done a lot better. She wasn’t one of the glamour girls who eyed him up as he walked by, tall, fit, and fair-haired. She had been the quiet one, good at maths and lessons generally, but easily overlooked, in favour of those with shorter skirts, or heavier make-up. He had tried a couple of the lively ones, but they were just slags. They had nothing of substance within, no loyalty, and integrity was a word and concept unknown to them. They were happy to give you a blow-job for the price of a Big Mac meal, then count themselves lucky that you would drive them home afterwards. They probably told their mates that you were their boyfriend, and that you were going to get engaged or something. Little did they know. Pat was different. She had no expectations, and no big ideas about a Prince Charming coming along. He would be the answer to all her dreams, and she would be grateful. She would obviously be loyal, as she knew that she could do no better, and he would never have to worry about her, where she was, or who she was with. It all went to plan, until the kids didn’t come along. There was a time, when they had talked about names, always boys names, naturally. Plans to move a bit further out, get a three-bed house with a bigger garden, near some decent schools; the sort of schools who didn’t depend on inner-city dregs to fill their numbers. They worked out the best times to have sex, and stupidly told their respective families that they were trying for a baby.
For Alan, it all changed after that. The family kept on and on, particularly Pat’s family, who seemed to eye him with pity, when no pregnancy appeared after six months. Pat seemed to be obsessed with children, and spoke about nothing else, at every opportunity. On one of his days off, Alan did a full search of their house, just to make sure that she wasn’t on the pill, trying to make him look inadequate. And he constantly checked her handbag and car, whenever she was in the bathroom. Then there were the visits to the doctor, followed by hospital checks with specialists. How humiliating, to have to be inspected by strangers, and deliver samples of sperm in small pots, jerking-off in a side room, with people sitting outside, knowing what you were doing. And those counsellors. Stupid frumps, social workers and medicos who couldn’t do a real job, and probably had no kids themselves. What did they know, anyway. They even had the temerity to try to blame it on him. Low sperm count, insufficient live sperm. There was even a DVD to watch, showing live sperm swimming, and dead ones drifting about; or something like that, he hadn’t really looked. He almost smashed in the TV, and still didn’t know how he managed to endure it all. After that, he just switched off, got on with what he wanted to do, the important stuff. They had a good life; nice cars, a decent house, holidays in Greece and Slovenia, and he was good at his job. What more was there after all. Kids were a sideline, an encumbrance. Better off without them. It had all been OK since then. No more talk of clinics, family and friends put in their place, and life got back to normal. Until now.
So, the exercise class was going to be every two weeks, mostly on the same day. But of course, it wouldn’t interfere with family stuff, holidays, or Christmas. She liked it, getting out, meeting up with the girls, and having girly chats for a change. She worked in a male dominated world, and lived with a man. She hardly ever saw her Mum, and spent a long time alone, when he was on shift, so she would be going. It was only once a fortnight, after all. This little speech was delivered over a forgettable meal of chicken in some sort of creamy sauce, and overdone vegetables. It came out in a rush, and sounded as if it was read from a card. He looked across the small table at her. I don’t even know this woman, he thought. She stabbed a piece of chicken, and he was sure that he detected a tremble on that fork, as she raised it to her lying mouth. He smiled, and said OK, whatever you want love. That fooled her, the surprise was all over her face. If the roles were reversed, he would have been thinking, that was too easy. But she wasn’t him, and could never be.
Working shifts meant that he couldn’t always make time for his investigations, but it did give him some time during the day. He bought maps, very detailed maps of the area, and carefully drew circles on them. Each circle was a radius of a given amount of miles from the house. He knew the area really well anyway, thanks to his job, so could quickly exclude factories, farmland, woodland areas, and public spaces. He marked all these off, with a red highlighter pen. They could be omitted from his search area. What had at first seemed an insurmountable task, soon narrowed down to something that he was sure he could achieve. There were things to buy, but they must not be traceable to the house, or delivered when he was out. Boot sales. That would do it. Go when it’s busy, choose the stalls with more than one helper, a face forgotten in a crowd. The next step was time-consuming, and took months. Every time she went to the so-called class, he checked her mileage. It wasn’t the forty-odd, that would confirm her explanation, but only six miles each time. He got a new map, and worked out a three-mile radius, dividing it into areas, each segment exactly the same as the last. This was a lot easier, and after eliminating all the usual stuff, he only had five areas to concentrate on.
Any time he got the chance, he covered one area. Up and down every street, along all the main roads, and each industrial estate. He was able to continue his process of elimination, but was staggered to see just how much was left. It could be any of the thousands of houses, or hundreds of pubs or shops. Then he had a thought. He went into Headquarters, and asked to check CCTV over a wide area, saying he was checking for a car that had driven off, failing to stop for him. It took all day, even though he was only checking a specific date. But he found it. It was her car, heading towards a large roundabout, a place he knew well. It did not reappear on the cameras on the other side. He had the area, now just to narrow it down. He went out the next day, supposedly on one of his long bike rides. Heading along the same route, he arrived at the roundabout, and dismounted his bike, looking across the junctions ahead. The right turn led down to the motorway, and the first left, to a council recycling depot. The second left was a lot more interesting. It was a services area, with a large petrol station that had a cafe attached to it, and then the road carried on, past a large pub with restaurant, and on to a car park behind. At the back of that car park, was a Travelodge hotel. It had to be the pub, or the hotel, one or the other. It had taken almost six weeks, but his determination had paid off. This had to be the place.
Two weeks later, Alan waited until she left, then got his bike out. He felt calm, infused with justification and righteousness. The ride there was relaxed, the rucksack on his back adjusted for comfort, and he was in no hurry at all. He knew about traffic cameras and CCTV, so was careful not to be caught on film. He cycled the back roads, across fields where necessary, carrying the delicate cycle when he had to. Finding a place under some trees, he concealed himself, then took the heavy binoculars from his rucksack. He connected then to the small tripod, and began to scan the area ahead. It wasn’t dark yet, but that hardly mattered, as they had night-vision capability when needed. Eighty quid at a boot sale, no haggling, and in full working order. Using a small notepad, he jotted down the registration numbers of all the cars parked outside the pub. He then changed position, moving across country, to get a better view of the hotel. He kept himself low, and there was nobody about. Who would ever walk around the back of a service area anyway. He soon spotted her car, parked just outside the reception area. There were at least a dozen other cars there, and he counted them; fifteen, including Pat’s. Every number went into his small book, except for three, that he couldn’t get an angle on, without getting in nearer, and being on camera. That would do, for a start.
A few days later, during a regular trip to Headquarters, Alan looked around for an unattended terminal. Almost everyone left themselves logged on, although it was strictly forbidden to do so. He had waited until lunchtime, when the civilian staff would be in the canteen, or outside, having lunch somewhere. It was important not to do the checks himself, as the Police National Computer was monitored, and his log in code must never appear. Looking for an appropriate terminal, Alan struck gold. It was in the office of the traffic survey department, where hundreds of checks like this were done daily. A few more would hardly be noticed, tagged on to a list of thousands, filed away for who knows what, never to be looked at again. He began to run the numbers through, and stopped at only the fourth one. Black Audi A4, registered to the same company that Pat worked for, too much to be a coincidence. After deleting the checks from the screen, he left. Now it was time to wait; for the right day, the perfect moment, and to see how long it went on.
Months went by, and she continued to go to classes. She didn’t look any fitter, but he didn’t even bother to mention that. Much of his spare time was spent planning. Going over it again and again, making sure no tiny detail was missed, and that everything would be perfect, for the eventual confrontation. The weight of evidence would be indisputable, his victory certain, and the look on Pat’s face would be worth all the time and effort. When the day came, he was full of beans, in the best mood he could remember for years. he made sure that he didn’t let on though, appearing to be his usual grumpy self, quiet and withdrawn. He even asked Pat if she would give it a miss, then offered her a lift instead, but she insisted on using her own car He mentioned that he wouldn’t be in when she left later, as he would be on a bike ride. The rucksack was packed, and he had double-checked that everything was in place. She seemed unconcerned, as if her mind was on greater things. After she had left, Alan checked her sports bag, making sure that all the usual stuff was in there, ready for her to change into later. There was a back-up plan, but he didn’t want to use it. She got in early from work, a bit surprised to see him still there, and went upstairs to change. He repeated the offer of a lift, and she refused once again. He walked out to the garage, collected his things, and rode off.
Alan cycled through heavy rain for a while, and when he got near the motorway, he noticed that the traffic was snarled up all over. Probably an accident, that would slow Pat down a bit. It didn’t bother him, as he was on a pedestrian footpath, crossing the six lanes on a footbridge high above. He arrived long before she did, and found a good spot. The biggest problem was seeing which room she was going into, that could prove to be very tricky. A row of windows on the ground floor would indicate any movement there. Similar rows on the two floors above would do the same, but the exact room was always going to be difficult. He would have to move very fast, but he knew that he could. Some days earlier, he had waited at the back of the hotel, concealed behind the large waste bins. When a member of staff came out, he noticed that the back door took a long time to close, operated by some sort of non-slamming device. After another couple of hours, someone else came out, to empty something into the bins. When they went back in, he rushed forward , and slipped a tiny piece of curved metal over the top of the frame before it closed. It was barely enough, but it would do. The door appeared shut, but a tiny gap had been created by the metal sliver, just enough to slip something inside, and use it to lever the door open. That night, he was hoping that it was still in place.
Pat arrived a long time later. She parked somewhere he couldn’t see, but then reappeared on foot, heading hurriedly towards the entrance. Alan took deep breaths to calm himself down, and scanned with his binoculars. He saw her go past the second window on the ground floor, and he moved rapidly. Using the benefits of his years of training, and superb fitness, he was at the back door in seconds. The thin strip of metal slid into the imperceptible gap, and he was in. He crept to the end of the corridor that led to the rooms. He was too late to see her, but he saw a door closing, and heard voices behind. That was the room, he was sure of it.
Pardew was lying on the bed watching the local news on TV when she knocked. He had kept all his clothes on, as he was determined that they would have a talk tonight. It had gone on too long, and was leading nowhere. Still, they had to carry on working at the same place, so he would have to be careful what he said. She breezed in, face set, not the Trish he had known for so long. Something was different. Chris, we need to talk, we really do, she blurted, unable to contain the need to get it all out of her system. You are right, we do, he replied. There was a knock on the door, sharp and insistent. This had never happened before, but Chris was not thinking about that, as he turned to open it.
Somehow, Chris found himself on his back, and all around him was black. Trish shouted something, then was quiet. There was a weight on his chest, and he couldn’t move. He remembered a dark figure in the doorway, dressed in black, face concealed by some sort of mask, like those that cyclists wear, to combat pollution. Then something covered him, thick and black, and he was pushed over, all in an instant. Alan was kneeling on the man’s chest, his breath coming in short gasps. He quickly tied the feet, then wrapped coils around the body. Soft ropes, nothing that would leave marks, or shed fibres. When he was sure that there would be no movement, he walked over and turned up the volume on the television. Not too loud, so as to upset any other rooms, but enough to cover the muffled sounds coming from under the thick plastic sack that covered the man, from head to knees. Pat was sprawled on the bed, felled by one determined blow to the side of her head. He had hit her very hard, but not so hard as to damage his hands. Anyway, the thick gloves would help, and there should be no bruising. Alan dragged Pat across to the window, propping her head close to the white painted wooden sill. He pulled her top off, then slid down the footless tights, that she pretended to wear for the class. He wrapped the nylon legs together around his hands, then passed them around her neck, pulling hard. She didn’t even wake up before she died. It that was easy. Getting the angle right, he held her head with both hands, and struck it against the window sill, though the closed curtains. It hit with a satisfying thump, and left blood on the material. Then he turned, it was time to deal with the man.
Alan had hardly noticed a detail of the man who had been screwing his wife for a year or more. He was shorter, that was certain, and his black hair was tousled. He was wearing a suit, with the tie loosened, and still had his jacket on. There hadn’t been time for a better look, as he had barged through the door, pulled the sack over him, and kicked his legs away. Pat had started to shout something before he hit her, and as she fell, Alan quickly turned to close the door, before leaping onto this man, to subdue him. Walking around the small room, Alan took in all the small details of the sort of place his wife had decided to use to betray him, and to ruin their lives in. The coffee and tea facilities, with the stupidly small kettle. The wardrobe, not needed for whores and philanderers; no more use than the pointless suitcase stand, clad in mock mahogany, and never used by anybody. The crumpled blue bedspread, the dented pillow, and the small flat-screen TV, with built-in Freeview. Was this what she had wanted, instead of him. He got his rucksack off, and laid out the things that he would need. When he had been lurking by the bins, he had noted the brand of drain cleaner used by the hotel chain, and had found it easily; he had bought two, and left one at home, everyone had it, nothing unusual there. Then the funnel, it had to be metal, plastic might melt. The thin metal tube, with some element of flexibility, and the sharp-bladed carpet knife, all easily found at boot sales, along with ropes, and most other things.
Alan lifted the man onto the bed. It was surprisingly easy, he didn’t weigh that much. With the knife, he cut a small hole in the sack, careful to leave a flap, so that no plastic fell onto the floor or bed. Pardew was really worried now. He was trussed up, had been heaved onto the bed, and was unable to make himself heard. Trish was saying nothing, and he could hear the local news coming from the TV, reports of a bad accident earlier, on the motorway. He felt some pressure near his mouth, and a slight rush of air, indicating an opening. He was about to call out, when something appeared between his teeth. His instinct was to bite down, but the pressure behind the thing was enormous, and it easily slipped over the enamel, and down to his gullet, making him retch. After attaching the thin pipe to the end of the funnel, Alan unscrewed the cap on the drain cleaner, casually flinging it across the room. A lot of muffled gurgling sounds came from under the sack, as he poured the liquid. It was certainly strong, the fumes hurt his eyes, though the cycling mask stopped any of them from being breathed in. The man was convulsing, writhing under the ropes, finding new strength from terror. Alan pressed down on the body, slowly adding more of the liquid, until the full litre was gone. Some had splashed on the plastic, and more was foaming from the small opening in the sack, but no matter, that was to be expected.
Waiting for long enough was really boring. Lying on top of this man until he stopped struggling, Alan found himself craning his neck, trying to watch the end of the news on the TV. He couldn’t quite manage it though, and had to be content to listen instead. When he could sense no movement, Alan stood up, and put his ear to the opening. No breath could be felt coming from the man, and he was no longer spluttering. He removed the tube, placing it, together with the funnel, into the thick plastic bag brought along for this purpose, putting both into his backpack. Uncoiling the ropes, and untying the feet, he put them carefully inside that too, as well as the small knife. It was surprisingly difficult to remove the sack carefully, so as not to unduly disturb the body. Afterwards, he pulled down the suit jacket, and splayed the legs, that would look more realistic. Taking a lint-free cloth, he carefully wiped the insides of the man’s teeth, which would hopefully remove any traces of the metal from the tube. He added to this prospect, by flicking a toothbrush, brought along also, along the backs of the teeth, trying to get all traces onto the cloth. Then the sack was carefully folded, and the flap checked to make sure that it was still in place. Along with the cloth and toothbrush, it was placed in the rucksack. Lifting the man’s lifeless right hand, he pressed the fingers into the canister of drain cleaner, before wrapping the hand around it, then letting it fall to the bed, alongside the body. Alan had worn gloves when he bought it, so whatever prints were found, they would not be his.
One last survey of the scene, and Alan was happy. He opened the door slightly, to see if anyone was about, picked up the rucksack, and left, leaving the do not disturb sign on the door handle, and closing it very quietly. On the way out, he removed the small metal device from the door, placing it with the other stuff he had brought along. Halfway back to where his bike was concealed under a bush, he stopped to collect his binoculars and tripod, finally filling the rucksack. He checked it once again, nothing he had brought along had been left behind, it was all there. Riding home, lights on his bike flickering, Alan was a happy man. They had taken him on, and lost.
Detective Inspector Ann Mather had seen her share of sudden deaths, and even the occasional murder, but this one was different. It was a copper’s wife, so she had to do it right. Murder-Suicide they called it. The bloke had strangled her, then killed himself, by drinking drain cleaner. What a way to go; couldn’t he have just hung himself. They both worked for the same firm, so she must have been over the side, probably going to call it off, and the bloke lost it, strangling her with her leggings. She must have tried to get away, and hit her head on the widow ledge as she struggled. He saw what he had done, and got some drain cleaner from the bathroom, just drank the lot. The hotel staff confirmed that they used it, and may well have left it in the bathroom. They would tell the cleaning staff to be more careful. The two officers that had made the house call said that Alan had been distraught. Pat had said she was going to exercise class, and stopping at the house of a friend from work, so he hadn’t though any more about it. He was still in bed when they called, as he was supposed to be on night duty later. Poor bastard.
Ann called the Superintendent from her mobile. Mather here sir, this is open and shut, murder suicide. Messy though, the husband’s a copper. Yes, he has been informed, I will bring you up to speed later.