The I's for investigator

Chapter four: On to freedom

by Jake Walerius

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.

Chapter one | Chapter two | Chapter three | Chapter four | Chapter five | Chapter six | Chapter seven | Chapter eight

Slav woke up in his car, on the street across from Ron’s, still trying to remember what day it was. It was morning, he could tell, on account of the sun was in the sky. He looked around, saw no one, took his keys out of his pocket and drove away, in search of breakfast and a newspaper. He drove for thirty minutes, with the idea of getting an appropriate distance from Ron’s before letting his guard down. He didn’t think Ron was personally involved with the Professor, but that didn’t mean the Professor wasn’t using Ron’s for what it was: a place to conduct unsavory activity without judgment.

As Slav drove, both hands gripping the steering wheel, leaning forward so that his chin was almost due north of his whitening knuckles, he noticed a car behind him, a blue Ford, small and a little ragged, license no. LN90 INV. Slav turned at the last moment down a small side road, and watched with bloodshot eyes as the car followed him. He squinted at his rearview mirror, tried to make out a driver, couldn’t. Not really in the mood for a high-speed chase, or even a medium- or low-speed one, Slav continued on to breakfast and a paper, checking every few seconds to see whether the blue car was still following him, as it always was.

Slav eventually settled for a small greasy spoon, where he ordered a full English and found a paper left unattended on a table in the corner. Whoever was driving the blue car hadn’t followed him in — enough, in his tired mind, to ensure a peaceful breakfast. He looked at the front page: Monday, Jan. 8. He’d been at the warehouse almost three days, had been awake for maybe an hour of that time. This might have alarmed a younger Slav, but he was by now battle-hardened, familiar with the rhythms of the criminal underworld. Everything was performance for these people, who were not in that way so different from anybody else. Projecting the right image was essential. One must create a picture of strength, of authority, of a certain kind of an indifference — an indifference designed to tell those who were paying attention that they would be treated the same as everyone else, without feeling.

Still, whatever he’d stumbled into was flat-out weird. His career as a PI was not without incident, was in some circles infamous for its quantity of incidents, but having lived the whole thing Slav could say with some authority that despite a few flashpoints — just about interesting enough to make it seem to other people he spent his life and times lurching wildly from one adventure to the next, like Indiana Jones or John Barnaby — despite all that, the vast majority of his life was spent alone, driving in his little car, thinking about people whom he did not know or especially like. This was, he knew in a very intimate way, quite sad, to live a whole life arranging and rearranging the facts of other people’s lives, knowing the reward for the correct arrangement was not peace or quiet or praise or love or even much money. It was simply the chance to do it all again, with new facts, with new lives.

Slav drank his tea, read the paper, a tabloid the first twenty-five pages of which were filled with stories so depraved they could only be true, about a man arrested for urinating on his mother’s dog, about a woman, evicted, in whose former house the authorities found an entire closet filled with human hair, about a couple whose divorce led the husband, in some kind of extended, delirious rage, to steal all his wife’s jewelry, exchange it for a black-market ostrich, which he then smuggled into her home, where she woke up one night to a loud banging and went downstairs terrified to find the bird running repeatedly and at full speed at the sliding glass doors leading to the back garden, which it eventually broke through, and on to freedom. All of this was written in a frenzied, leering prose that did little to hide the sheer disgust in which the characters in these stories were held, as if the paper were not a newspaper at all, but a shrine to a particular kind of absurdist humiliation. Slav, who had no strong opinions about the integrity of the press, read the stories gleefully, chuckling to himself occasionally, laughing out loud as the wife told reporters, “the bird simply couldn’t be reasoned with … not unlike Steve, to be fair.”

Eventually, having finished his breakfast and started on a second cup of tea, he made it to the sports section, which was, for reasons Slav suspected were too depressing to fully parse, always of a significantly higher standard than the rest of the paper. City top of the league, running away with it, on for the quadruple, Philippe Coutinho to Barcelona, Arsenal embarrassed in the Cup and, relegated to 150 words four pages from the back, “Eric Dier fined after missing training.”

Tottenham and England midfielder Eric Dier was fined two weeks wages on Monday after missing training for the second time in a week, according to club sources. Dier has been nearly ever-present for Spurs this season, starting in both midfield and defense, but skipped training this past week without any warning to his teammates or coaches. Tottenham made no official comment on the news, saying only that Dier remained a key player and the club were “delighted with his performances.” Dier was last seen on Friday, two days before Tottenham’s FA Cup third-round tie against AFC Wimbledon. He wasn’t in the squad for Spurs’ 3-0 win. This is the second time in a week an England international has been fined for missing training, after Jack Wilshere was absent for Arsenal last week. Dier has recently been linked with a move to Manchester United, and it’s thought his disappearing act may be a ploy to help him force a move to Old Trafford. Tottenham’s next match is at home to Everton this Saturday.

Slav stared at the page a few moments after reading it. He looked around the room, saw another paper on another table, grabbed it, flipped through the back pages. Nothing about Dier. An old man was reading a third paper at a table in the opposite corner. Slav walked over and asked if he could look at it a moment. Nothing about Dier. Slav went back to his table, looked once more at the story. “By Alan Pardew,” it read. The first rule of being a detective, Slav knew from years of experience and years more of watching detective shows on television, was that there are no coincidences. Only more facts to be arranged and rearranged. He left the café, in search of Alan Pardew.

Chapter one | Chapter two | Chapter three | Chapter four | Chapter five | Chapter six | Chapter seven | Chapter eight

Jake Walerius is a Liverpool fan, longtime Nick Punto advocate and he believes DaMarcus Beasley is the most criminally underrated player in U.S. soccer history. Follow him on Twitter @JakeWalerius.