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.
Slav sat in the darkness, listened to the muffled sounds of the conversation in the pub above him. Or lay in the darkness, really, seeing as how the cellar wasn’t high enough for him to sit up properly. He tried to glean something from the texture and tone of the voices above him, whose words he couldn’t hear. But other than the identity of the mumblers — Jose, with his clipped sentences, his confrontational tone; Pep, who mumbled like a broken tap, slowly, slowly and then in a great big globbering burst — there wasn’t much to glean.
Still, Slav managed to convince himself things were going well. There was no shouting, no threats — unless they were those very quiet sort of threats Slav had occasionally (just about) heard really bad guys make, there being a well-documented inverse relationship between the volume at which one threatened and the badness at which one guy-ed. He did hear, however, and much to his dismay, the unmistakable sound of barstools dragged away from bar, seats taken, drinks ordered. And so, figuring he had a moment to himself, for better or worse, Slav’s mind began to drift.
First it drifted to the obvious question: what the f—k happened? This wasn’t the first famous client he’d worked for. They’d usually done some low-level stupid thing or other and needed their mess cleaned up with discretion: a crashed car, a crashed motorbike, a crashed boat, a crashed helicopter, a crashed horse, etc. Slav had discretion up the wazoo, he was positively dripping in the stuff, but this … this was something worse, weirder. And, he admitted to himself, he was out of practice. He’d done relatively little real detective work in the past year, preferring instead whatever easy money came his way: crashed jet skis, crashed rickshaws and the like. He thought about giving up, telling Samantha that he’d seen Jack alive but that he wouldn’t put his own life in jeopardy to bring him home. No, he thought immediately after, as the events of the past day flitted through his mind, like butterflies, or killer bees, it was too late for him. He would have to keep digging until he made it to the other side. Or died in his hole. Whichever came first.
Slav, his first line of thought having arrived at its logical end point, took a break from thinking, and looked out into the darkness, which at that point wasn’t quite so impenetrable as it had been. He realized the storage space was bigger than he thought, a narrow room lined with crates of beer and wine and boxes of miscellaneous pub junk. He rifled through a few of these boxes, not really looking for anything, and finding it anyway, a small, framed team photograph, which he held up to a thin sliver of light coming through the floorboards above. “GDFC, 1998-99,” read the inscription.
Slav spotted Jurgen first, in the back row, several inches taller than most of his teammates, arms crossed, grinning. David was in the front, beardless in those days. Next to him, Slav was surprised to see a young, bushier-haired Sean Dyche, looking very pleased with himself as he held a cheap-looking trophy in his left hand. Eventually, Slav’s eyes made it over to the other side of the picture, where stood the manager: Jose. In his shock, Slav dropped the photograph, took a step back and knocked into a crate of beer bottles on the shelf on the opposite side of the room. He stood in silence as the rattling echoed around the cellar, thinking, as he would later reflect with some embarrassment, about rickshaws. And, once again: the unmistakable sound of barstools pushed away from bar, seats vacated, footsteps.
Slav, like the cornered animal he was, retreated to the back of the room, imagined Jose circling around the bar, guns at the ready, giggling with his old players. Slav backed up against the wall furthest from the stairs, hands flat against concrete, head turned to the side, as if this might camouflage him. Alas, Slav was a human person — which is to say not the color or consistency or anything else of concrete — and so when the cellar opened and Jurgen turned on the light switch it had never once occurred to Slav to look for, not only did Jurgen and Pep and Jose see him immediately, they saw him looking like an idiot. Slav was blinded for a moment by the light, but after his eyes adjusted, shortly before it was time to face the music, he made sure to ask himself again: what the f—k happened?