First Chapter - Brake Failure

 

                                                                    one

 

 

Shady Acres Retirement Home, Kansas City

11.57 pm.  New Year’s Eve, 1999

 

 ‘There’s a dead man at the door,’ Mrs Whitaker hissed, leaning over the desk.

 

Nurse Betty sighed, took a bite of donut, closed the magazine on “How to get Slim for the Millennium” and heaved herself out of her swivel chair.  ‘Come on, Mrs Whitaker.’  She curved an arm around the old woman’s shoulders and began to guide her along the corridor.  ‘Let’s get you back to the lounge. You’re missing all the fun.’ 

 

Mrs Whitaker twisted away.  ‘Didn’t you hear me?  There’s a dead man at the door!’

 

Nurse Betty stopped, mid-chew.  The doors to the lounge were wide open. Garlands festooned the ceiling; coloured balloons drifted over the carpet, paper-cups lay scattered as if there had been a stampede.  ‘Where is everyone?’ she demanded.

 

‘Where do you think?

 

Nurse Betty pivoted, turned sharp right and into the entrance lobby.  Beyond the glass doors, the residents stood in the snow, illuminated under the porch light. The doors slid open and Nurse Betty was outside, cold biting her cheeks, shoes slipping on ice as she descended the ramp.  She paused when she saw the snail’s trail of blood in the snow.  It came out of the blackness, from the direction of the railroad, and into the light - a red line disappearing into the huddle of residents who were shivering and whispering.

 

She pushed into the throng.  A big man in a sheriff’s uniform lay spread-eagled on the ground.  The snow around him looked like Strawberry Slurpee.  She couldn’t see his face because Mrs Peterson was giving him mouth-to-mouth resuscitation. She pulled Mrs Peterson off him, and gasped.  Hank!   Blood stained his neck, his uniform, his hands.  She dropped to her knees and opened his jacket.  He’d been shot.  Above their heads, the sky exploded in bangs, fizzing and popping.  A high, keening whistle screamed low over the rooftop.

 

The new Millennium.

 

She struggled to her feet to go call an ambulance.  Mrs Peterson was again bending over the body.  Nurse Betty had to shout over the noise of the fireworks.  ‘Don’t give him mouth-to-mouth!’

 

‘I’m not!’  Mrs Peterson shouted back.  ‘He’s delirious.  I’m trying to hear what he’s saying.’

 

‘And?’

 

A huge explosion shook the air. Silver starbursts lit up the sky.

 

In a sudden lull, Mrs Peterson again lowered her head to the sheriff’s mouth and when she looked up her eyes were huge.

 

‘He’s saying:  “Don’t do it, Ruby.  Don’t do it.”’

 

 

                                                                                                                      London.  Fifteen weeks earlier…