A false start
In a different part of the city Joseph Singer had also decided it was time to head home. It had been a trying morning, and he had achieved precisely nothing, apart from confirming that he did not like pecans following a misunderstanding over pastries.
He’d made an early start and foolishly picked up breakfast from a random coffee shop on the way instead of going over to see Jeannie, hence the croissant confusion. Arriving on site, he unlocked the padlock on the gates and used his van to push them open as he drove through. Now he was sitting on the steps of the church, sipping cold coffee and picking pecans out of his Danish. He watched through the open gates as a young woman dropped her Metro on the pavement without a backward glance and with a sigh he wandered out onto the pavement and retrieved the newspaper. It would pass the time while he waited for his crew. They should have been here already and it was getting late.
The headline screamed out at him – Costa Crisis : Sea Turns Killer. And underneath in slightly smaller bold black type – Riptides new holiday danger, will sharks be next in Med? The story was that two British tourists on holiday in Spain had apparently been splashing in the gentle sun-kissed waters of the Mediterranean when they were suddenly dragged out to sea by a rip tide. The journalist reporting had decided that if rip tides were now happening in the Med then they must have come from Australia, and therefore killer sharks would surely be next. How he’d reached this ludicrous, though suitably sensational, conclusion was not fully explained of course.
Joseph threw the paper down in irritation. This kind of article popped up every so often, it was extremely unhelpful and always meant extra work for him. He pressed his thumb and forefinger against his closed eyelids and sighed, then he opened his eyes again and looked at his watch. The morning sunlight was dazzling him and it took a few seconds to focus on the hands. Nine-fifteen, where the hell were his boys?
Eventually his phone rang, it was Cosmo in the lorry, and he had the other lads following behind in the Transit. They were stuck in traffic a few miles away – a couple of burst water mains according to the radio – they were going to be a while.
Joseph stared down at his mobile frowning. Nothing could start onsite without the lorry, the lads and the kit. Wretched traffic. Hold on, had Cosmo said two burst water mains? He called him back.
“It’s Joseph, what’s happening now?”
“Nothing, we haven’t moved”
“Did you say two burst water mains?”
“Yeah that’s right. Both at the same time they said, very unusual apparently, and very annoying. It’s total gridlock.”
“Okay, listen, I’m going to call it and abandon for today. We need a full day to get the rig up so even if you get here soon it’s too late. I’ll ring the project manager and let him know – try and be here by seven tomorrow.”
Cosmo didn’t sound too disappointed and Joseph suspected that a game of football in the park followed by a sunny beer garden beckoned for his crew. He didn’t mind, they were loyal and hardworking and he knew they’d be there on time the next morning.
“Do you want to catch up later Joseph?”
“No thanks Cosmo, I’ve got stuff to do. See you in the morning.”
Joseph called the project manager who thankfully didn’t seem too concerned about the lost day. Then he thought for a minute and made a decision. He closed and padlocked the big gate, shutting his van into the site. It wasn’t far to walk to the nearest entrance and he made sure no one was watching when he turned down the narrow alleyway. Low to the ground in the wall on one wise was a metal grille, barely noticeable in the shadows. If anyone passing by had spotted it, and had then got down onto their hands and knees – unlikely in the filth of the alleyway – they might have felt a cool draft coming from the grille. They could possibly have detected an unusual smell, might even have noticed what looked like fingermarks in the grime around the edge where the metal touched the brickwork. But no one passed by, no one saw, no one wondered.
With a last look over his shoulder Joseph crouched down and put his hands to the metal. He found the gap at the edge of the grille and squeezed his fingers behind it, working quickly to lift it out from its setting in the wall. He squeezed himself through the opening, manoeuvring awkwardly as he had to keep hold of the heavy wrought iron with one hand at the same time as dropping down the couple of feet to the ground on the other side. He could then replace the grille from the inside, leaving no evidence of his passing. This done, he rubbed his now aching arm – it didn’t get any easier.
He pulled out a small Maglite from his pocket and shone the bright beam around to check the passageway that sloped down ahead of him. The ground was dry, and there was no sign of rats, so he headed off into the darkness.