“Angie! Angie, wake up!”
Towelling his wet hair, Grant walked into his bedroom.
Grant reached down to shake her. He really wanted her to leave before his house mates woke. He told himself it was to protect her reputation, in truth it was probably more about his. Like a number of newly qualified doctors he was older than the student nurses he often drank with and was well aware that a reputation could badly impact on his future employment prospects.
He touched Angie’s shoulder. It was cold. He pulled his had away, she rolled on to her back. That’s when he saw the blood on the pillow, dribble from the corner of her mouth.
Grant stood stock still for what seemed, to him, to be hours. Then he grabbed a bag, filled it with some clothes, found his passport, phone and wallet and headed out of the house.
An hour later blue lights strobed across the front of the house. Grant’s housemates stood around waiting for the police to tell them what to do. Grant was at the ticket desk at St Pancras praying that he could get on a Eurotunnel train before the police got his name and address on some watch list. He succeeded. He travelled fast, Paris, Mediterranean coast, North Africa, on and on further South into sub Saharan Africa. Days later, tired, hungry, dirty and unshaven he washed up at a refugee camp. Giving a false surname, he volunteered to help in the field hospital.
He used the internet terminal in the hospital office once a day to check for any news. By the time he’d arrived at the camp the main story, the death of one student in another’s bed had already been archived. The only news story that appeared to be updated daily was the search for him. He swore to himself not to go back.
Six months passed.
Grant stepped out of the operating theatre and into the shower tent. Wet, refreshed, he looked in the only mirror on the camp. A tanned, bearded and haggard man he barely recognised looked back.
Soon afterwards Grant’s boss offered him the chance to work even further into the interior of the desert. After six months there he moved on again, then again, then again. He carried on running from his own past, concentrating on his work. Forever moving to the next trouble spot, never taking any payment except for food and board.
Time passed. The man in the mirror’s beard bleached blonde in the sun, his hair grew first long, then bleached the same colour as his beard. He still occasionally checked the internet. It was clear that the police had stopped actively searching for him, but he was on a number of missing persons databases. He’d never seen anything indicating that Angie’s murder had been solved. He was sure he was still a suspect. He wasn’t sure that in some, unspecified way, he was guilty.
Grant’s boss found him one day, taking a nap in an otherwise empty dormitory tent.
“Grant, I need you to go to the UK on a fundraising lecture tour.”
“I need you to go. You’re intelligent, erudite and most important you could earn a good living in the UK but you’ve chosen to be here. It’s a story we want to cash in on, it’s a great recruiting tool.”
“Grant, I’ve been suspicious for a while that you’re running from something. But please, reconsider.”
“I have no passport.”
“We’ll get you one. Any name you want.”
“You can’t do that.”
“We do it all the time. We get passports for loads of refugees. What’s one more?”
Grant realised he had been cornered. “Ok.”
“Yes, PC Hains?”
“Sir, we’ve got a hit on an old case. Facial recognition on CCTV at Heathrow.”
“Let me see.” He looked over the PC’s shoulder. “That is an old case. Ok, track him and bring him in to a local nick.”
The hotel manager opened the door to Grant’s hotel room at dawn, the PC with him was obviously wary as he entered the room. Grant was awake, reading his presentation for that day at the small desk in his room.
“Sir, please stand and turn to face me.” The PC said.
Grant’s shoulders drooped. His head too. “Ok” he said, and did as he was told. “Am I being arrested?”
“No sir, I’ve just been asked to take you to the station. Someone wants to talk to you.”
The interview room was something from Grant’s worse nightmare. After years of desert life and refugee camp hospitals, the damp, dark room felt like a tomb. An overweight balding man in plain clothes, escorted by the PC who had brought Grant in, came in to the room. Sitting, the detective checked Grant’s name and confirmed his address at the time of Angie’s death.
“Where have you been Grant?”
Grant told the short version of his story.
“You’ve been on the run?”
“The girl in my bed was dead. I am a murder suspect. You’ve never caught anyone as far as I can tell. I’m fairly certain I didn’t do it, but I was very drunk. Anyway you probably think I did?”
“She was murdered?” the detective asked.
“Yes…wait”, Grant frowned, “ I never checked. The internet news stories never actually said murder. I just assumed.”
“Some doctor you are. Didn’t even check. For God’s sake never work on me. Off you go.”
“Wait? What? I can go?”
“Natural causes. She died of natural causes. You would have been back at college that afternoon with a story that you could have dined out on for life. Goodbye Grant, good luck with your lecture tour.”
As he walked back to his hotel the early commuters gave Grant a wide berth as his laughter turned to massive, loud, sobbing tears.
(C) Chris Johnson 2013