Wednesday, 26 July 2017

Leaving the Office

[Media prompt] The moped menace: how the scooter became muggers’ vehicle of choice. They’re used in phone robberies, bag snatches – and now even in acid attacks. They’re easy to steal and hard for the police to pursue. Is there a way to cut this crime wave?
Leaving the Office

At five o’clock on what had been an emotionally draining day for everyone, Claire Woodridge got up from her desk to look out the window, fearful at what she would see there.

Claire was thirty-one and the head of research at the Refugee Support Centre. She was an attractive blonde, sometimes mistaken in the street for Scarlett Johansson. This was something she complained about to her colleagues, but which she secretly enjoyed. She had recently extracted herself from a relationship with a human rights lawyer, who had returned to Ethiopia, and was now determinedly single. Once, pre-George, she had met Amal Alamuddin and came away feeling inadequate, toying briefly with the idea of studying law. In the end it was another idea that faded away like a summer twilight evening, the sort of dissipation you hardly noticed.

“Look,” said Claire, stepping back from the window, pointing down at the bus stop. “They’re here again.”

Tristan Dougal came and stood behind her. He was a thin man, with a receding hairline and goatee so fair that it was hard to make out. As the director of communications, he had spent most of the day briefing journalists on the story behind the photo of the dead boy washed up on the beach. Every newspaper in the country would run it on the front page tomorrow.

“God, what a day,” he said, looking down at the street below and adjusting his glasses. “I can give you a ride to the tube if you like.”

Claire declined. After Tristan left she tidied up her desk, took a deep breath, and set off for the lift. When she came out of the building, they were there, four of them astride two scooters. Their occasional presence has been the subject of discussion in the office, but at a meeting several weeks ago they had all agreed not to involve the police.

“We know where that sort of thing leads,” said Tristan.

She wondered if she oughtn’t to have made a call to the police during lunch from her mobile phone. Nobody would have known, and she wouldn’t have the feeling her heart was about to stop. Why couldn’t they see she was on their side and leave her alone? One of them, riding pillion, was looking at her. She could see his beard poking out from under the helmet. The gold ring on one of his fingers was as thick as a pencil. She put her head down and walked to the bus shelter, realising as she approached that she was alone.

Claire heard an engine revving, and one of the men in a muffled voice say, “I’m going to fuck this kafir bitch right up.” As she turned to glare at him, she was knocked sideways by a powerful blow to the head. She stumbled, focussing on trying to stay upright. A jolt of fire shot down her neck and back. Nothing had prepared her for such pain. If she thought about it previously at all, she might have imagined coping with it by breathing deeply and calming herself. Another one of the scooters drove past, the man on the back cutting the bag from her shoulder. The tip of his knife sliced her, and when she pressed her hand to the wound it felt wet.

She thought of her brother, James, a Coldstream Guard in Afghanistan. How long had it been since they’d spoken? She tried to think. A year? She closed her eyes, sinking to her knees. Three years? It was difficult to remember. As she lay on the footpath, resting her head on the curb, she thought that James would have known what to do. He always knew what to do. It was why she disliked him so much.

The scooters had gone and the street was quiet again. Claire wondered if anybody had rung for an ambulance. She thought of James, hoping he wouldn’t hurt anyone when her parents told him what had happened.

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