‘When’s it going to start warming up?’
Out here, driving up this steep road, way out on the furthest lip of it all, where the impressive sweep of the town, its buildings and streets, fans out into the distance and the great, grey mass of the sea, it feels as if we’re heading into the mouth of a bleak and wintry corridor that runs all the way to the Arctic.
It couldn’t be any colder.
- Why did he kill himself?
- Why did he kill himself here?
‘I wonder how easy it’d be to live abroad.’
‘Pretty easy. Let’s face it, anything’s possible if you’re warm.’
We can see the police ahead of us, a patrol car and a van parked up by the side of the road.
An officer in a yellow jacket waves us in to the dirt track that leads to this patch of derelict ground.
- Who called the police? The man? A friend? Did he time it so he wouldn’t be found? Or did he time it so he would be found, but something went wrong?
We park, climb out, retrieve what bags we’ll need. I pull a beanie hat on, glad that I remembered to bring it with me today. I pull it down low over my ears.
The officer comes over to show us where to go.
‘We got in at the top entrance. Down here’s the only way to drive in, but we’ve got to just nip the padlock off first.’
- If the man drove here, did he have a key to get in? Or was the car already here? What connection does he have with this place?
The officer walks ahead of us to a rusted steel fence that bars the way further. The other side of the fence, another officer is approaching with a pair of bolt croppers almost as tall as him.
‘Mind your fingers.’
He positions the massive jaws onto the padlock shackle, and in one smooth movement of the cropper handles, the whole unit falls apart. He unwraps the chain and swings the gate back for us to come through.
‘It’s a formality,’ says the officer with us. ‘The guy’s obviously been dead awhile. Gassed himself in his car.’
‘Can you still do that? With catalytic converters and everything?’
‘You can, but it takes a lot longer. In the old days it was the carbon monoxide that did for you, but now it’s more about suffocation.’
‘It’s an old car,’ says the officer. ‘Before the converters came in.’
I don't add anything. I’ve no idea.
- Did he know that? Did the man specifically buy an old car to gas himself in? Or was it a coincidence?
I’m glad I’ve got my beanie on. The snow is starting in heavy again. I pull it down even lower, over my eyebrows.
The dirt track curves round past some abandoned buildings, graffiti, fly-tipped, overgrown, beaten in, burned out. Even the sheep watching us from a neighbouring field have numbers sprayed on their sides in blue. They chew and watch as we make our way along to where a couple of other police officers are standing near an old Ford estate car. The boot is open. The rear window on this side has been smashed. There’s a length of silver ventilating ducting lying on the ground by the back wheels. A small heap of towels. As we get closer, a flick-stick lying on the grass surrounded by fragments of glass. A pair of booted feet just visible on the carpet in the back of the car.
- The doors must have been locked, or else why would the police have had to smash the window? Why didn’t the officer pick up his flick-stick after he’d used it? Is it crime-scene protocol to leave things where you used them? How did the man secure such a bulky piece of ducting from the exhaust to the back window?
There’s a door open on the other side. We go round there and examine the man. He’s been dead for some while. When we lift up his t-shirt, the post-mortem staining is unmistakable. When we turn him on his side to check for any wounds, his whole body moves like a shop mannequin. His waxy face is fixed in an expression of distress. His glasses have been bent askew; I want to set them straight, but don’t. The only other thing in the back of the car with him is a bottle of vodka. No signs of vomit, pills, notes.
‘His flat mate called us. When he got back from his night shift there was a letter on the table explaining what he’d done. It was all pretty well planned out.’
‘We’ll just do the paperwork and leave you to it, then.’
‘We’ll do it in the ambulance.’
‘Yep – I’ll come with you.’
We pick up our bags again and start back down the track.
The sheep are still there, chewing, watching.
The officer looks at them, then smacks his gloves together to warm his hands.
‘You’re scientific people,’ he says.
‘I don’t know about that.’
‘Answer me this, professor. If wool shrinks when it gets wet, why don’t sheep?’‘That’s a good question,’ I tell him. ‘That’s a very good question.’