Coup de Grace.
The woman smiled at the tiny plasticine figure sprawled on the passenger seat. “You enjoy yourself there whilst you can.” She nudged his head with her finger so that it lolled on his shoulder. “So sorry about all your friends.”
The woman took a moment to check her bag (what a novelty!) and then started the car. You’ve chosen wisely this time, she whispered to herself and then eased the Mercedes into second, then third gear.’’ I wonder which gear shows most compassion?’ she asked the blue plasticine figure, who now looked all out of shape and slightly forlorn. Unsurprisingly, he offered no advice, so she opted for a thoughtful, slow, third gear as befitting a diligent young physician on holiday.
The car felt beautiful. Sophisticated. Smooth. Enjoying herself now, the woman checked her face in her mirror, easy to do with such a long, elegant neck. Yes, my darling, you are looking mighty fine this evening. Quite the part as always. Well, nearly always. The woman checked herself. Don’t remember that. Not here. Not now.
A few minutes passed before she smiled again. Darkness danced at the edge of her thoughts. Then a welcome recognition dawned. Didn’t people always see what they expected to see? Of course they did.
There was a long bend ahead, so she concentrated on the road and slowed down, buying herself time. Last night’s encounter made tonight inevitable. Was the correct phrase fool proof? She admired her new driving gloves. They felt like pelt sitting on the wheel. They felt alive.
Couldn’t be far to that junction now.
The woman gathered herself, ordering her thoughts. My Dr Beauchamp this evening will be impulsive, with perhaps the merest hint of melancholy. The woman laughed then, because five hundred yards ahead, there were the bright, flashing Police lights she had been promised. Someone in a yellow coat was trying to pull tape across the road to block it. Striped cones were scattered hurriedly, some still on their sides. On the other side of the tape, two police cars sat slewed across the junction, lights on full. Fortunately, as anticipated, there was no sign of an ambulance yet. She had only five or six minutes at the most to make her impression, so she lowered her window.
Thankfully, the crash was messy. A large white van lay on its side with a small car buried in its rear end. A solitary wheel stood in the road. A huge red motorbike lay broken against a derelict farm’s stone wall. The tarmac glistened with broken glass and purple streaks of oil or petrol gave lurid colour to the spectacle. The air was scented with something like fear.
A large policeman approached the woman’s window. “You’ll have to turn around and head back up to Dunstall I’m afraid. We’re waiting for the ambulances. ”
“How awful,” said the woman slowly. “It looks dreadful, Can I help at all? My name’s Grace Beauchamp. I’m a hospital surgeon on vacation. The woman showed a card through the window. The Policeman hesitated, unsure and slightly defensive without knowing why. He was about to reply when another voice spoke from behind him.
‘Dr Beauchamp, could you please look at the drivers?
It was a female police constable. She looked very young and very pale. Probably nauseous too, thought Grace.
‘’It’s my vocation. I’m sure I can do something’ said Grace. (Why are women always such nurturers, she thought.) She climbed out of her car carrying a black bag. “Call me Grace. Show me where they are, please. “
The van driver shivered in a wool blanket drinking hot tea whilst a man watched. Someone from a house nearby, decided Grace and held the driver’s hand appropriately, pretending to check his pulse. He felt cold despite the hot drink.
“Shock, “said Grace to no one in particular.” Keep him warm and hydrated.’’
“Didn’t see him,” said the van driver tearfully. Didn’t hear him either. Nothing’’.
‘’Not your fault at all ‘’said Grace soothingly, for once telling the truth.
By contrast, the car driver seemed remarkably unscathed.
“Your lucky day,” said Grace and squeezed the young woman’s hand meaningfully. “Stay off work, though. Rest. Take your time. Recover yourself. ”
“I will – thanks, “said the attractive young woman and stared gratefully at the blonde Doctor, aware of the pale policewoman at her side and of the gold card in her pocket engraved Resurgam. ‘Thank you, so very much.’
‘’I’m afraid the motorcyclist ended up over the wall. No chance at all, said the policewoman, still looking ill. Just glad no one can see him from the road’’
‘’Horribly fortunate’’ said Grace and intimated with one hand that they should all stay behind with the injured.
‘’May I see the victim?’’
Without waiting for permission, Grace climbed over the wall, trying to remember her new physique. She jumped down and listened in her special way. No one had followed. She was safe. Yet, as she suspected, there was something breathing in front of her that should not have been breathing. Dead things should remain dead, shouldn’t they? That was the law. Their law.
The motorcyclist sprawled out on the ground like a broken doll. His helmet looked intact. His dark amber visor remained closed. Grace crouched beside him, watching. As she suspected, the police had been too hasty in their judgement, too unaware of what they were dealing with. Grace leaned forward closer: there was the smallest trace of condensation in the visor and a small letter ‘D’ acted as the visor’s clasp; unmistakeably marking him as one of Domenica’s own.
Checking behind her again, Grace whispered aloud the mantra she had once learned from a very forthcoming hospital intern: “3, 4, 5 keep you alive.” She crouched lower, and cupping the helmet between her hands, she spat on the visor and then jolted the head abruptly to the left, snapping the neck, suffocation no doubt a surprise bonus. She wiped the condensation away.
“Propinquity,” said Grace, ‘’Propinquity, ’’ and reached down into her black bag.
A few moments later, she climbed back over the wall, now remembering who she was. An ambulance was just reversing into position.
‘’You were right about the motorcyclist,’’ she said to the pale policewoman. ‘’He felt nothing, though. “
Seeing the approach of the paramedics, Grace walked sadly towards her car, offering only a brief, apparently resigned wave to the others. The policeman looked engrossed on his phone, busy at his job.
“Take care Doctor,” called out the female driver, towards Grace’s retreating back. ”Mind how you go on these roads.”
The Mercedes turned around carefully and headed off quickly for somewhere that was not Dunstall, driven by someone who was not Grace.
The uninjured female driver smiled at the paramedics. Life was good.
Beside the blue helmet of the dead biker, sat a tiny, plasticine man.
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The Woman in Black
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