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.
About half of Slav, the left half, missed the bushes. His right foot hit them dead on, and they received him gently, but his left foot kept going until it collided with the concrete path leading to the front door of Pardew’s building. And so Slav came to a tilted, thudding halt, legs akimbo, left hand and forearm, which he used to break his fall, scraped and slightly bloodied, left knee throbbing. His head aligned perfectly so that he looked straight through the window out of which he had recently departed, in which stood Pep, Jose, the Left One (or maybe it was the Right One; Slav’s sense of direction wasn’t so reliable when he was upside down), Pardew and one other man Slav didn’t recognize. After what felt to Slav an unlikely amount of time (time, he was also beginning to learn, passed more slowly when you were upside down) spent with the two sides of this standoff merely looking at the other, he managed to dislodge himself from the bush and come to a second, more forgiving halt on the concrete. As he did this, he heard activity through the window, now behind him. He didn’t need to look to know they were on their way down the stairs. He got up to run, stumbled, grabbed his left knee, which was not working as intended — though, mercifully, he was too full of adrenaline to feel it — got up again, and limped as fast as he could toward his car.
The man sitting in the black van opposite Pardew’s apartment didn’t notice Slav slip past him, or hear the sound of his left foot scraping against concrete, but the group from the window were closing in, he could hear, from the shouting and sound of moving feet behind him. Slav didn’t look, was afraid to look, and this meant somehow they felt simultaneously closer and further away than they were. If he didn’t look, they couldn’t be there, but if he didn’t look, he only had more time to consider the implausibility of his outrunning anyone, let alone four people, in his current state. He made it to the car, got in, started the engine, hands shaking, and focused as hard as he could on his immediate field of vision, meaning when, just as he turned the key and the engine revved into gear, Jose — who for the last minute or so had ceased, in Slav’s mind, to exist — when Jose banged on the window and grabbed the door handle, Slav screamed, a loud scream, several tones higher than either he or Jose had expected him to scream. (How often, he would wonder later, does one hear oneself scream?). The scream also had the effect of jolting Slav’s foot down on the accelerator, and the sudden forward movement of the car had the effect of jolting Slav’s mind back into the moment.
Having, it seemed, reached a sort of rock bottom of terror, Slav’s mind was suddenly clear. His car had moved forward only a couple of feet, but this meant Jose was no longer at the window. Slav looked over his shoulder, saw the van turning around and Pep and one of the other’s getting into a blue Ford, license no. LN90 INV — the same car that had followed him to breakfast three days earlier. He looked again at Jose, who seemed unsure whether to try to open the door again or to go join his colleagues. Slav didn’t wait to find out what he decided, and drove away, as fast as his miserable little car would carry him.
In all his years as a detective, Slav had never been in a car chase, of any speed or duration. The first thing Slav learned about car chases was that, contrary to their representation in popular culture, you have to have some idea where you’re going. Directions do not, as it turns out, follow themselves, no matter how many people are chasing you. Slav, in the process of learning this the hard way, did the only thing his tired, scared mind could think to do, which was to drive in a circle around the block until he thought of a better plan.
The first lap was a success, but as he embarked on the second Slav began to wonder how long it would take for his would-be captors to realize what was happening and simply stop and wait for him, or to start driving in opposite directions so as to catch him in what he supposed the technical term for was a pincer move. (Little did Slav know, driving in a circle is an effective strategy in a car chase, provided there are relatively few cars involved and the circle in question has a sufficient number of exits: it minimizes decision making; if one of the cars chasing you stops, or goes another way, and you exit the circle, there is one fewer car left in pursuit; and of course it appears, even in the heat of such a hot moment, so childishly implausible as to cast the chasers in a sort of thrall; he can’t keep doing this, can he? they ask themselves; yes, you answer, I can.) By the third lap he made up his mind to go to the only man he could think of that these people might leave alone, Chief Inspector Sean M. Dyche. Halfway through the fourth lap, Slav picked a side road that looked empty and spacious and took a hard left. The Ford stayed close, but the van had some trouble making the turn, disappeared briefly from view and was shortly back again.
Why Dyche? Slav’s relationship with him had broken down since he left the force, but there was a time when he considered him a friend, and even now he thought of him as someone who could be relied upon, at least for a little discreet, short-term assistance, which at that moment was exactly the sort of assistance Slav was looking for. He made up his mind to take the long route to Dyche’s home, which involved a lot of twists and turns and other maneuvers that, it turned out, were simply ineffective at such low speeds. Slav needed to find a way to ditch the car, to make them think he was still inside. This, he concluded, would have to involve crashing. If he could get out of their view for a moment, even a moment, he could drive into a tree or a lamp post or a fence, duck out before making contact and slip away. This was almost exactly as difficult said as done. It is a desperate man who deliberately crashes his own car; even desperate-er who thinks he can get away unscathed.
Slav found a tree he thought was appropriate — sturdy enough to do some damage to the car, but brittle enough to give him hope it wouldn’t kill him if he didn’t make it out in time, in a little park off the side of the road. This, he decided, was as good as it was going to get, and once again began circling the block, trying to put some distance between himself and the car and the van. It dawned on Slav at this moment that he had no idea what he was doing, that ten minutes deep into the first (and, as it would turn out, only) car chase of his life his bright idea was that he was going to crash into a tree. As he passed the park a second time he noticed a group of children playing football on the grass, two sticks driven into the ground for goalposts. They looked wet and muddy and happy and completely oblivious to the fact they were about to watch a strange man drive his car into a tree, not twenty yards away from them.
After making up his mind to crash, Slav found himself working through the five stages of grief, and was consequently too preoccupied to realize how lucky he was fate chose to intervene while he was bargaining. You give me a sign, I’ll hit the tree. The sign was a fox that darted into the street as he prepared to make the final turn toward the park. He heard the Ford, and then a half-second later the van, screech to a halt, horn blaring. This gave Slav maybe twenty seconds to do his thing, fourteen of which he used to work through depression. He arrived, happily, at acceptance when it was time to unbuckle his seat belt, open the passenger door and fling himself out of the car.
The children stopped to look, in that absent way children sometimes look at strange things, as if they might, in fact, be normal. Slav rolled to a stop a few yards away from them, smiled, ran back to the car, closed the door and scurried off, looking for cover. Behind him, he heard the car and the van come to a stop, doors opening and closing, some shouting and, for the second time on that cold, grey afternoon, he dove into a bush.