Among the many questions that have puzzled football scholars over the years, perhaps none is more important than this: why do so many Premier League managers look like detectives in various states of disgruntlement? This story doesn’t provide an answer to that question, but it does imagine a world in which Premier League managers are not Premier League managers at all, but detectives in various states of disgruntlement. This is The I’s for Investigator, the speculative noir crime periodical you almost certainly haven’t been waiting for.
The two of them stood looking at the spot the body should have been, wondering where it might have gone. An upturned chair; a single shoe, laces still tied; a china lamp, shattered; ceramic and glass scattered across the floor, twinkling; a pool of blood; and finally, where the body should have been, nothing.
He squatted down, looked at the blood, which lay in a roughly Africa-shaped puddle, soaking into the wooden floor.
“I’ve seen bigger,” he said.
“What does that mean?”
“As far as pools of blood go, I say it’s maybe three out of ten.”
“So he’s ok?” she said.
“I don’t know, Ms. Wilshere. But he didn’t bleed to death.”
He walked to the window to see outside, but saw only his own face, looking maybe three out of ten, as far as faces go.
“Turn off the light,” he said, watched her reflection shimmer to the switch.
Someone, his detective’s eye told him, or more likely someones, had lately walked across the front lawn, from driveway to window. The window had been forced open from the outside and left there a few inches, through which he now looked, bent over at the waist, hands in pockets. He closed his eyes, let the wee-hour breeze lap at that three-out-of-ten face of his, opened them and noticed, on the damp grass, something that shouldn’t have been there.
“What’s that?” pointing.
“What?” she said.
“I don’t know.”
They went outside, the two of them, approached the object slowly, side by side, stopping a few yards away. He turned.
Furrowing his brow, to no one in particular: “Who brings a coaster to a kidnapping?”
“Did you call the police?”
“No,” she said.
“Then why are they here?”
“I had to. You know that.”
He pocketed the coaster, tried to arrive at some conclusions. The big picture was this: someone, or more likely someones, had broken in through the window, subdued the victim, carried him back out the window and off and away. The other big picture hung on the wall opposite: Jack at his best, eyes only and always for the ball, his number then the same as his age: 19. Which meant there was every chance the last thing he saw as these someones whisked him away was himself.
But the little pictures weren’t so clear. Why didn’t Jack, sitting in his chair, hear the window open? Why were there no other traces of blood? How had they, who had planned and executed the kidnapping of a very important person without anyone so much as batting an eyelid until several hours after the fact, how did they get so careless all of a sudden as to drop a coaster in the middle of a crime scene?
“What do you think happened?” he said.
“I don’t know, Slav. That’s why I called you.”
“If you had to guess.”
“Looks like he was kidnapped,” she said.
“Who would do a thing like that?”
“Lots of people, probably. I’m afraid Jack is … not a popular man.”
The sirens grew louder. Police cars — one, two, three and counting — appeared through a gap in the trees at the bottom of the road leading up to the house. He ran inside and up the stairs and watched from a second floor window as they pulled up. This was not a promising development, thought Slav, peering red-eyed and gloomy down at the driveway, where his sad little car sat decrepit amid the decadence.
She stood barefoot on the grass in her dressing gown, watched without moving as the doors opened and policemen spilled out of their vehicles and onto the lawn. Slav tried to count, got to seven, lost track. The officers stood in the dark, grinning fatly in their too-tight suits, as Slav thought, not unpleasantly, of the mess it would make should their heads all of a sudden pop off, one by one, like champagne corks. He was given to these violent flashes of imagination. But they were brief, and he usually felt bad about them afterward.
The man in charge, strutting about very much like he owned the place, which even from sixty yards in the dark you could tell he couldn’t afford, approached her and, arriving at his destination, removed his hat. From the second floor, with a melodramatic little gasp, Slav now recognized chief inspector Sean M. Dyche, standing wide-legged, hands on hips, stink-eyed, angry. They walked together into the house, constables trailing sheepishly, and stopped in the foyer.
“I’m going to have the lads look around while I take your statement, ok?”
“Date of birth?”
“Fifteenth of November, 1991.”
Lads began looking around, starting with the scene of the crime, taking pictures of the chair and the lamp and the window and the blood, chatting quietly under their various breaths. It was an impressive house, garishly decorated. Chandeliers and white marble, quote-unquote historical artifacts, collected, it seemed, entirely at random, as if history’s gift shop had vomited into a mansion, and the people who bought it assumed the mess came with the house. Dozens of lads, it seemed to Slav now, plural, flooding the place, practically falling over each other up the stairs, grinning and talking and even one of them belching as he stared wide-eyed at a Ming vase, a Mongolian wall hanging, a rug from some third century altogether.
Slav was old-fashioned, certainly, but he believed in a certain level of decorum at a crime scene. He had stood once in a dark alley, the sort of place only the deeply unimaginative could commit a crime, and looked between two dumpsters at the victim — male, mid-20s, suited, spectacled, stripped from the waste up — lying on a pile of trash, something scribbled on his chest, which you had to lean in close to see in the dark: afwrgwrtrewy, as if someone had fallen asleep on their keyboard, except their keyboard was a dead person. It made him laugh, which made him choke on the cigarette he was smoking, which made him laugh even harder, so as to bring the choking to as elegant a conclusion as possible. He got in trouble with top brass after that — unprofessional, was their word. He’d tried to explain he wasn’t really laughing at the corpse so much as what the corpse happened to be attached to, but they weren’t particularly interested in the intricacies of that argument. Adjacent to corpse is corpse, was their line of thinking. So anyway: a crime scene should be a serious place, was his feeling, and here were lads scampering all over, grinning like idiots.
One of them took a picture on his phone of an England shirt, signed and framed and hanging on the wall. Another, looking quickly left and right, slipped something into his pocket, a pen or a paper weight, and sidled away, whistling, looking right and left.
Slav was standing in a small closet off the second-floor landing, watching the ladding around through a crack in the door. As they moved closer, he stepped backward, let himself become submerged by coats. He was blind now, had merely to listen to the grinning and the gawping and the shuffling feet.
Downstairs, Samantha was giving her statement, which he heard only in fragments: “ … no, not unusual … Jack liked to read before bed … that’s when I woke up … ” That wasn’t interesting. He’d heard it already. What was interesting was that one of the lads had opened the closet door and was looking at his feet, which were attached to a pair of legs that disappeared somewhere around mid-thigh into the contents of the closet, but also that any police constable worth his salt word surely surmise were attached to a body, as this one presently did.
“Hey,” forceful, nervous.
Sensing defeat, Slav removed himself from the coats, took a long, hard look at the lad in front of him, saw his hopeful eyes, his smooth face — this face was new to the game, he could tell, varnished with optimism — looked right into them, took out and lit a cigarette, breathed in the smoke, blew it straight at the young man’s nose and, finally, returned the favor: “hey.” The lad looked over his shoulder, “Craig, come here … Shakes … oi, come here.”
Here came Craig, who was emphatically not new to the game, who was even perhaps pushing the boundaries of the jurisdiction of the term lad, who had the vacant look of a man who has determined not to take life too seriously, lest it confirm to him one too many of his own suspicions. Which is to say his amiable-looking face, with its amiable-looking smile, did little to conceal the large reservoir of fear within. Craig seemed to recognize Slav, but he kept his mouth shut. The two constables looked at each other.
“Chief,” Craig shouted over his shoulder. “Chief, you need to see this.” This was loud enough to attract the attention of the other lads scattered around the house, and soon he was faced with a whole herd of them, waddling over like cows in a field, blankly curious.
Dyche scowled up the stairs, pushed through the crowd and faced Slav.
“F—k’s sake,” he said, “what are you doing here?”
“In a closet?”
“You’ve got to start somewhere.”
“Come on Slav, get out the closet.”
Slav did as he was told, handed his cigarette to one of the constables, who passed it back and forth between his two hands, looked uneasily at his colleagues, all staring at the disheveled man in front of them, before dropping it on the rug behind him, and stubbing it out with his heel.
“How are you Sean?”
Sean, not in the mood for small talk, narrowed his eyes.
“What are you doing here?”
“I’m working,” said Slav.
“What kind of P.I. would I be if I told you that?”
“A prudent one.”
“That’s not how this works, Sean. You know this.”
There was a lengthy silence, during which Slav took a moment to look at the lads surrounding him. He thought about his time on the force, wandering thoughtlessly from crime scene to crime scene, doing as he was told. That was his excuse, anyway, for how it happened.
“You know Sean, I—”
Dyche cut him off: “what are you doing here?”
“I’ll give you a clue,” said Slav, smiling. “The I’s for investigator.” He walked through the crowd, down the stairs, out the door.
“Oh yeah,” said Dyche after him. “What’s the P for? P—k.”
But his heart wasn’t in it.