The cold steel of the railings condensed the fog and turned the black paint graphite. The sodium lamps blurred as they fought a losing battle of enlightenment against the dark soul of night. Damp gnawed at Harris’s bones and a wind whipped his unkempt hair across his face. He leaned with his hands on the bridge, his head was bowed as he looked at, but didn’t see, the river below, oblivious to the machinations of man, as it cut a swathe through the city lights. Stepping back and turning to face the road so he could see both ends of the bridge; Harris pushed the hair out of his eyes, drew the cigarettes from the inside pocket of his jacket, lit one and watched the smoke couple with the fog.
He checked his watch. Again. Then, in an attempt to calm himself, took another deep drag on the cigarette. She was late and he didn’t know what it meant. In truth he didn’t know her at all, not beyond an insistent voice on the other end of the telephone.
If he stopped to question too long Harris knew the doubts would become fear and he would be dancing to someone else’s tune once more. The same fateful soundtrack that had been playing since before he knew this, whatever this was, had began.
The day it began, or at least the day he became aware of it, was no different from any other. The radio dragged him out of sleep and he lay in bed longer than he should, making promises to himself: up after the news, after the next sports bulletin, after the traffic report. Until he begrudgingly accepted he was late and everything then became a barely controlled but finely honed routine. Out of bed; shower; get dressed; eat breakfast; style hair; clean teeth; check wallet, keys, pass for the office; and then a final look in the mirror to make sure the tie was straight and the hair perfectly imperfect.
It was as he spun away from the mirror after the final inspection that he kicked the suitcase and stumbled. It was an old style case, a rectangle with a looped handle on its long edge. No wheels, navy blue canvas with faux leather bands and a gold, plastic logo: Marco Polo. Harris couldn’t remember where it had came from, it had moved from house to house with him so often it was a wrench to actually get rid of it but it had become so out of sync with the rest of his life it was now incongruous. So he had filled it with old clothes and had intended to take it to the nearest charity shop at the weekend. Now he cursed himself for only doing half the job, and used his foot to push it hard against the wall. It was only when he did so that he registered the case was heavier than one would expect for a contents of some sweat stained shirts and a shiny suit. Then he noticed the smear of red, vivid against the pale laminate flooring.
Harris cursed again, realising he had thrown the black bag of clothes in the communal waste bins and placed the rubbish bag, complete with the remains of a beetroot salad, into the case. Another curse, he was going to be late, he knew if he didn’t take the rubbish out now he would come home to the fetid stench of decay. Flipping the case on its back Harris undid the buckle and unzipped the top, throwing it open with no small amount of irritation.
That was the moment he became aware of it beginning.
There was no black bag. No rubbish. No beetroot. Only two legs, each cut in two just above the knee; two arms; a torso with a head nestled just below the breasts, and blood. A lot of blood. Blood which now stained his shirt and hands.
Harris stared at the head; it had been at least six months since he’d seen Kath. Six months since their not so amicable split when she kicked him out of her house, forcing him to take refuge in an upmarket, west end apartment. They’d never spoken again, only exchanging a few terse emails to sort out the car insurance and shared money. Now here she was, staring at him with lifeless, glassy eyes out of a bloody suitcase in his living room. Disbelieving he sat back on the floor, reached out and tentatively touched her face with an index finger. It was cold, it was clammy and it was real. He barely even had time to consider how she’d ended up there, when, simultaneously, the door buzzer and his mobile phone cut through the shock.
Automatically he jumped up to answer the door, fumbling with his phone as he did. The phone showed withheld number and the grainy intercom video screen unmistakably displayed two police officers. Harris never took his eyes off the police on the screen as he answered the phone, they buzzed again.
There was no introduction or preamble, her tone was urgent and her accent clipped but she resonated calm and control:
“If you don’t want to die in a prison accident you need to leave now.”
“Wh-who is this?”, Harris stuttered back.
“Stop fucking about Harris. Leave the flat, go down the fire escape and over the back wall”, she instructed. “They don’t know for certain that you’re in here so they’ve only sent two, the rest are heading to intercept you at your work. Leave your phone; your credit cards; keep moving; and don’t meet anyone you know. I’ll meet you on the bridge in the city, three am, two nights from now.”
Then the phone went dead, Harris stared at it as he tried to comprehend what was happening but another impatient buzz on the door sent him down the fire escape and over the wall.