The Hit-and-Run Man
Greenfield hardly noticed the icy drizzle biting into his face, aware of nothing but the shadowy figure ahead of him. His hand was sweaty, uncannily so in the freezing cold of the night, as it closed around the butt of the automatic pistol in his pocket. In a matter of minutes the man who walked some thirty yards ahead of him along the wet, near-deserted streets would be dead. The nightmare would be over.
Out of Hopdale Avenue and into School Road, Greenfield closed up slightly on his quarry. Never having fired a gun before, he knew he had to get close to be sure of hitting the target, but he wanted to close the gap gradually, avoiding arousing the suspicions of the man ahead.
Greenfield couldn’t believe he was thinking like this. He wasn’t a criminal. Even now the thought that he was about to kill a man seemed unreal, a ghastly dream. How did he allow himself to get into this mess? What was an honest, respectable member of the community doing out on the streets with a gun, on a freezing December night, following a man he was about to blow to Kingdom come? It was crazy.
The time was almost here. Soon the cramped, terraced houses would give way to the empty school buildings. On the other side of the road would be the school’s playing fields, dark and deserted. This was where it was to happen.
Greenfield thought of Pauline and his daughter, Diane. That was where he should be, at home with them, warm and contented, not out on the icy cold streets, a gun in his pocket, stalking the man he had to kill.
He wondered what Pauline was doing at that moment. Diane tucked up in bed, she was probably relaxing with a cup of coffee, watching a film on television perhaps, or reading her favourite magazine. In fact, nothing could have been further from the truth.
Their parting a couple of days before had been far from pleasant, but he couldn’t see what else he could have done or said. How can you tell your wife that you have to go away for a few days to murder someone? His inability to offer an acceptable explanation for his leaving home for a short while had done nothing to allay her suspicions that he was running to another woman. He supposed it was the obvious thing to suspect. Surely, she could know nothing of the night in Barcelona. How much had her fears preyed on her mind since he had been gone? Could she really think he had left her for good? Oh, how he wished he could be there with her at this moment, to hold her hand, take her in his arms, reassure her.
The man ahead paused momentarily, pulling the collar of his coat up around his ears. It crossed Greenfield’s mind that this would almost certainly be the last conscious act of this man’s life. Not much of a final contribution. Yet Greenfield knew he would never forget it. He would see it by night, by day, wherever he was going, whatever he was doing. This man’s last deliberate act before Greenfield squeezed the trigger and brought his life to a bloody conclusion.
A thousand times over the past three months Greenfield has asked himself how he could have been so stupid, without finding an answer. Tonight was no exception. The male ego, that can push a man to such great heights, can so often be his downfall. He could still see now the first fleeting flash of those big, blue eyes and remember the sensation that instantly stirred within him.
Memories of that warm summer night in Barcelona came back to haunt him once more, swirling around his brain with thoughts of Pauline, his daughter, his home and the man he had to kill. Silent tears ran down his cheeks as the icy rain turned to snow.
He was suddenly aware that the houses had disappeared, the dark, empty school buildings looming beside him. Across the road it was impossible to see even the outline of a soccer goalpost in the light of the old, inadequate street lamps.
Greenfield closed up quickly on his quarry. Speed was everything now. His hand tightened on the pistol in his pocket, already primed for firing, his finger now on the trigger.
There could be no hesitating. The time had come. It was the only way to end the nightmare that had begun three months before at the start of a business trip to Spain.
He knew he must not fail.
Howard Greenfield had never got used to flying. Waiting in the airport departure lounge after check-in, there was always a twinge of apprehension. The obvious increased security around London and in Heathrow following the recent I.R.A. bomb attack on the Stock Exchange certainly wasn’t helping that either. He wasn’t sure what made him more nervous; the possibility of being caught up in an I.R.A. blast or police officers carrying sub-machine guns. Even so, he enjoyed his trips abroad, an undeniably worthwhile perk of his job.
He felt no guilt in taking pleasure in such perks, having worked his way up from the bottom to the top by virtue of his own efforts. Joining Impact Publicity Services Ltd., one of London’s leading firms in the field of advertising and public relations, shortly after leaving school, as a voucher clerk and general dogsbody, spending hours mindlessly cutting out copies of clients’ advertisements from the seemingly endless supply of magazines and newspapers that poured into the office, he worked his way up to Senior Account Executive, with special responsibility for overseas accounts. It had meant years of fetching and carrying, hard work and dedication. Now, approaching his forty-third birthday, there was only one step left to make. When Jason Henderson finally decided to retire, he hoped to be a leading contender for the Managing Directorship.
As he had never regarded himself as particularly good looking, Greenfield had always considered it something of a miracle that he had managed to attract a girl like Pauline. That day she first appeared in the typing pool at Impact Publicity is one he would never forget. Only a few days past her twenty-second birthday, she was slim, quite tall, only a couple of inches shorter than he was, with a pretty, round face and long, black hair that hung down her back almost to the waist. Every time she had come near him, in the same room even, he had wanted to reach out and run his fingers through her long, flowing hair.
Always uncomfortable around the female sex, he had spent his younger manhood years immersed in his work. While other men his age were chatting up and dating girls, he had eyes only for Impact Publicity, busily climbing the career ladder. So, at the age of twenty-seven, he found himself still totally inexperienced with women.
The arrival of Pauline in the typing pool had a new and profound effect on him. Because of his discomfort and inexperience, he had tended to shut out the opposite sex, building a mental barrier, but with Pauline this had become impossible to maintain after the first meeting. At work he found it difficult to keep his eyes off her, made excuses to be near her, brushed by her so closely there was just the slightest contact, while at home he lay for hours on his bed, staring at the ceiling, just thinking about her.
His awkwardness made the process of getting to know her a slow one. So it was months before he built up enough courage to ask her out, only managing it then, much to his embarrassment, with a deep reddening of his cheeks. He was staggered when she instantly agreed.
With his shyness and lack of experience making the early dates near disasters, he always expected her to refuse the next offer. To his surprise, she never did.
Greenfield was never able to fathom his appeal. He felt he looked older than his years, his hair already showing signs of thinning on top. With a body that was thin and looked under-developed compared with most men his age, despite a more than reasonable appetite, he had always seen himself as unattractive, his former total disinterest in the opposite sex possibly a subconscious dread of having these feelings confirmed. No man lives happily with rejection.
Pauline, though, seemed to like him and the shy awkwardness slowly faded as the relationship blossomed. They first made love in her parents’ caravan, a weekend retreat set deep in the Kentish countryside. She had told her parents she was going with a girl friend. He had gone with mixed feelings of hope, anticipation, but mostly apprehension. She had aroused in him feelings and longings he had never known before and he was desperate to make love to her, but this brought a new worry all of its own.
He didn’t want her to know that at the age of twenty-seven this would be his first time. Pauline had told him she was not a virgin and he had led her to believe he wasn’t either. Determined as he was to maintain that impression, his resolve crumbled as he looked on a naked woman for the first time. It was impossible to hide the sharp intake of breath or control the spellbound stare of his eyes as they joyously took in every detail of the vision before him. His hands trembled as he undressed.
Concerned that his ignorance of what to do would show him up proved unfounded. Once in bed with the girl he loved so dearly and wanted so desperately, everything seemed to happen so naturally. Pauline gave no indication then, nor had she since, that she was aware that on that rainy Sunday afternoon she was bringing Howard Greenfield’s virginity to an overdue end.
A few months later, shortly after his twenty-eighth birthday, they were married, but his vision of night after night of hectic sexual activity, making up for his lost years, took a nasty jolt when she became pregnant after only three months. Someone once told him that the world’s best contraceptive was a young child in the house and this he found to be undoubtedly true.
Even so, as he waited for his flight to be called, he felt he had little to complain about, entering middle-age with a degree of contentment many would envy. He had a good home, a caring wife whose looks made nonsense of her years, a daughter who was his pride and joy and a career that still had a challenge to offer, still presented a final pinnacle to climb.
So why did the first, accidental, contact with those large, blue eyes, across a crowded airport departure lounge, arouse such a stirring within him? It was only a fleeting instant, a moment’s hesitancy as her eyes met his, before she lowered them, uncertainly, appearing coyly conscious of his stare.
Greenfield felt he should look away, but was unable to. She was beautiful in an almost bewitching sort of way, making it difficult to turn one’s eyes away, as though drawn by an invisible magnet. The momentary meeting of eyes across the room had evoked a stirring within him reminiscent of the feeling he had experienced many years before, when Pauline first came to work at Impact Publicity and for the first time made him want to reach out and touch a woman. It was a sensation he enjoyed, leaving him wishing she would look up again.
At a guess he would have said she was in her mid-twenties, not quite as tall as Pauline, dressed in a black two piece that looked not only smart, but expensive. The black pencil skirt split at the side high enough to attract attention without becoming indecent, hugged the contours of her lower body as it tapered to a point just below the knee. Underneath the black, buttonless jacket she wore a white open-necked blouse. Her blonde hair dropped into curls that danced around her shoulders, but nothing matched the impact of those large, appealing eyes that Greenfield would have defied any man to turn away from.
Seemingly unsettled by his analytical stare, she moved away into the refreshment area, making him feel somewhat embarrassed in the way he used to be. What was it about this woman that she was able to evoke feelings from his past so easily?
Because he was never totally at ease flying, Greenfield disliked the hour or so between check-in and departure, the waiting around serving only to allow time for his apprehension to grow. He tried to convince himself that was the reason for drifting into the refreshment area, not wishing to admit to the alternative attraction. With a cup of coffee he didn’t really want, he sat alone at a table, casting his eyes disinterestedly across the front page of the morning paper he had bought earlier on entering the airport. There was a picture of Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher and a lead story reporting Opposition claims that she and the Government were in denial about the country slipping towards recession. Greenfield found politics tiresome, but he did share the concerns around recession. He was picking up some worrying indicators in his business dealings and wondered what recession would mean for his company. Folding the newspaper up and lifting his eyes, he tried to look around without appearing too obvious. The woman who had stirred his senses so was nowhere to be seen.
He was taken aback at the wave of disappointment that swept over him. This was madness. What would he have done if she had been in the room? When had he ever been able to strike up a conversation with a complete stranger, even a male, but especially a female? In the course of his work it was different. There had to be a reason for every meeting, whether with prospective clients or existing ones, so there was always something to talk about to break the ice and maintain conversation. Outside work, he still, as ever, found it virtually impossible. Smiling, he told himself what a fool he was being and picked up his spoon to stir his coffee.
Before he could do so, someone lurched into the side of the table, sending coffee splashing over the rim of the cup. Only an instant reflex action, jumping quickly along the bench seat, enabled him to avoid the hot, spilling liquid. He looked up at the culprit, but any words of admonishment died on his lips at sight of the concern in those big, blue eyes that he thought were lost for ever.
“Oh God, I am sorry,” the woman said frantically, sliding into the seat opposite him without waiting for an invitation. “I wasn’t looking where I was going.”
“It’s all right,” Greenfield reassured her, “please don’t worry about it.”
“I have some tissues somewhere.” She rummaged desperately in her handbag. “Where the hell are they?”
“Please, it’s all right, honestly,” he insisted. “I was able to move in time. None of the coffee went on me.”
This she was obviously relieved to hear, though the general state of agitation persisted. There was more than a spilt cup of coffee on her mind, he reckoned. She raised her eyes to look at him, but the smile appeared forced. Nevertheless, the same tingle of excitement he had felt a few minutes earlier, when their eyes had met fleetingly for the first time, stirred within him again, only stronger. A female voice on the public address system announced his flight to Barcelona.
“He’s not bloody coming, I know it!” She seemed to be talking to herself, as if she had forgotten Greenfield was there. “And he promised this time. He bloody well promised.”