Dire Straits

A flash fiction story by Brian Robinson.

Large droplets of unforgiving rain lashed against Anne-Marie’s windscreen causing her wipers to go into their customary flap. She had planned to have a relaxing drive home while thinking about the cut and thrust of her late evening meeting in Chichester. Instead, she found herself craning forward trying to look past the glare of the oncoming headlights. Whispered curses followed.

Suddenly, out of the blue, the figure of a man loomed large. She had to break hard to avoid him. Her whispered curses found new voice. He was wearing a high visibility jacket and waving what looked like red trade number plates. He’s not just trying to get a lift she thought, he’s deliberately trying to stop me. The man came to the passenger window.

    “I could have bloody well killed you. I only saw you just in time,” Anne-Marie said.

    “I would have forgiven you,” the man said smiling. “I’m afraid there’s been a bad accident up ahead. I didn’t want you ploughing into it. I’m sorry if I frightened you.”

    Anne-Marie mumbled something half-heartedly but still wasn’t at all happy about being flagged down.

    “I can’t get a signal on my phone,” the man said.

    “Are you trying to call the emergency services?”

    “Oh no, they’re already there. I’ve been trying to call someone to pick me up.”

    “I take it you’ve just delivered a car and you’re on your way home?”

    “You could say that. There’s a service station about three miles ahead, I’d like to get to that. I can show you how to get in front of the accident if you wouldn’t mind giving me a lift? I’d be really grateful, but please, don’t feel obligated. I realise it’s a big ask.”

Anne-Marie wasn’t in the habit of giving lifts to strangers, but the trade-plates, combined with his pleasant manner seemed to swing things. He’s harmless enough she thought.

    “I need to put these plates in the window before we move off. I hope you don’t mind,” the stranger said.

    “I do have insurance you know.”

    “Yes of course, but it’s company policy. I have to display the plates when accepting a lift from a member of the public. It’ll give us extra protection.” Anne-Marie wasn’t about to argue. She just wanted to get on.

    “Right, so if we do a quick U turn and take the first left that should get us on our way. Then, it’s just two more lefts and we’ll be back on the A27.”

    Anne-Marie switched on the radio. She wasn’t in the mood for polite conversation. Dire Straits were playing ‘Sultans of Swing’. A few minutes later, the music was interrupted by some traffic news. “I’ll find us another station,” the man said quickly.

    “No, please don’t, we might hear something about the accident.”

    “There has been a major accident on the A27 West of Arundel and the road is blocked in both directions. A car skidded into the path of an oncoming lorry and two men are believed to be dead. The lorry driver is uninjured. Another car plunged down a steep gulley but the driver has yet to be found. Police are appealing for witnesses and are asking the public to look out for this driver who may be injured.”

    The man sitting beside Anne-Marie made no comment. Is this the man the police are looking for she wondered? Was he somehow involved in the accident? Perhaps that’s why he left the scene? Best to play dumb, she thought. “Oh my goodness, how terrible, those poor men,” she said.

    They reached the A27 again in what seemed like no time at all. Traffic was queued back towards the accident, but fortunately, someone had the common sense to leave a gap so they were able to move out from their junction and continue their journey Eastbound.

    She noticed a helicopter searchlight shining erratically from above. “They’re probably searching for that missing man,” she said.

    “What makes you think it was a man?” the stranger said. “It could just as easily be a woman?” Anne-Marie didn’t reply.

    “Okay, so the services are just ahead. You’ll need to pull right in to let me out.”

    Once she’d parked up the man got out then leaned in the door to thank her once more. “This really is so kind of you. Not everyone would be brave enough to pick up a complete stranger on a night like this.”

Anne-Marie wasn’t fooled by the man’s politeness. She was convinced he had something to do with the accident. She put the car in first gear ready for a quick get-away and said, “You’re the man they’re looking for aren’t you? And I don’t believe you deliver cars either.”   

The man smiled. “No Anne-Marie, I don’t deliver cars: I deliver justice,” and with that he walked away. She watched him as he entered the service station and wondered if she should call the police straight away. She decided to wait and see who came to pick him up. She could then pass that information on to the police.

After waiting half an hour or so she decided to go into the service station herself. She wanted to go home. But on the other hand, she felt duty-bound to see this through. The man was nowhere to be seen, and according to the man serving the public toilets were empty so he couldn’t be in there. He seemed to have vanished into thin air.

It was well after midnight by the time Anne-Marie pulled up outside her flat in Brighton. Alice, her partner, had waited up. “I’ve been worried about you,” she said.

“It’s a long story. What a night though! Lousy weather, hold-ups, and strange encounters.”

“Tell me all, but before you do, let me tell you my news. There’s been a bad accident on the A27. I was worried you might have been caught up in it. The police were chasing two men who were known to be people traffickers. They befriend vulnerable young women and then force them into prostitution. One of the men began shooting at the police so they had to pull right back from the chase. Then, out of nowhere, another car appeared on the scene and side-swiped the people trafficker’s car causing it to swerve over onto the other carriageway. It was then hit by an oncoming lorry and both men were killed instantaneously.

They haven’t been able to find the man who caused the accident. His car went down a ravine but when they got to it he was nowhere to be seen.”

“How do you know it was a man?” Anne-Marie said. “It might just as easily have been a woman.”

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