‘Give it up, Gunderson! It’s the end of the line!‘ The radium sights of Detective Prest’s revolver glowed faint green against the sparkling rain and the galaxy of neon signs below.
Calmly adjusting his shooting stance, Prest shouted: ‘Just give me an excuse, Gunderson.‘
Silhouetted against a bright blue electric billboard, Gunderson paused for a second. Above the pattering rain, quiet laughter echoed through the air.
Prest fired. Gunderson stood perfectly still. Prest fired again. Gunderson fell backwards into the billboard. Sparks flickered like lightning. Gunderson twitched and jerked like a malfunctioning marionette. With a furious crackle, the billboard went dark. A plume of blue smoke rose into the night sky. Prest allowed the corners of his lips to turn upwards. It had, he thought, been a productive evening.
‘Goddamn it, Prest. You can’t expect me to believe this horseshit!‘ Chief Oakfield’s face went beetroot red as he slammed his fist onto the desk. ‘Not only is the billboard company riding my hide about the property damage, but forensics couldn’t find the suspect’s gun anywhere.‘
Letting a practiced smile cross his face, Prest said: ‘It was pretty high up Chief. He could have dropped it when he fell into the billboard. Some gutter crawler could have picked it up. It could have fallen into a skip. The electricity from the billboard could have melted it. Or maybe a passing pigeon…‘
‘Enough!‘ Chief Oakfield sighed. ‘If I had the spare manpower, I’d suspend you right now. But, Chekhov needs someone for a fraud investigation. Keep it in your holster this time.’
Prest kept the smile on his face: ‘You can count on me, Chief.‘
Half an hour later, Prest found himself sitting in a ground car beside Chekhov. The windscreen was alive with the pattering of rain and the aroma of fried dough wafted gently through the cabin. Taking another bite out of of his doughnut, Chekhov mumbled: ‘That betting shop over there. Pretty textbook stuff really. All we need is for you to go in and try to put two thousand credits on Silver Blaze. I’ll keep watch for the pick-up man.‘
‘Silver Blaze?‘ Prest raised an eyebrow.
‘Mechanical horse. We’ve already got proof that the engine has been doctored. We even sent out an advisory. No respectable betting shop will take bets on it, but…‘
‘It’s a good way to launder money. Got it.‘ Prest flashed Chekhov a quick smile and reached for the door handle.
By now, the rain had really picked up. Prest strolled across the garish street as calmly as a man taking a stroll on a summer’s day. With a single motion, Prest swept the shop doors open and strode into the gloom. The only signs of life were a few glowing embers in an ashtray and a dim lightbulb that flickered behind a counter at the far end of the shop.
Keeping a straight face, Prest paced over to the counter and said: ‘Hey! Is anyone there!‘. There was nothing but silence. Prest raised his voice ‘Hello. Paying customer here.‘
A few seconds later, a quiet rustling sound filled the air. A mumbled voice said: ‘Be with you in a second.‘ Prest smiled. Quick footsteps echoed through the empty shop. A door creaked open. The voice said: ‘You can listen to the race on the radio by the door. I’ll put it on in a second, but I need a name. It starts in five minutes.‘
A man sauntered out of the door and stood under the flickering bulb. Prest squinted at him. It was Gunderson. With a weary smirk, Gunderson said: ‘So, who will it be squire?‘
‘For heaven’s sake, Prest! It was supposed to be a milk run!‘ Chief Oakfield bellowed. His veiny finger jabbed the air next to Prest’s face. ‘Not a bloodbath!‘
Without flinching, Prest said: ‘Sir, the man behind the counter was a known gun-runner, serial killer and parking fine dodger. I would be very surprised if he wasn’t hiding a shotgun under the counter. Perhaps even an automatic rifle too.‘
‘Well, you should be surprised because, guess what?‘ Oakfield’s voice roared to a crescendo. ‘The only gun in that shop was yours! We can’t even identify the man until the medical team get the dental records back.‘
Oakfield let out a loud groan: ‘By all rights, you should be behind bars, Prest! But, the last thing we need right now is another investigation! So, I’ve assigned you a partner. Someone to keep an eye on you. And, if there are any more screw ups like this…‘
Smiling breezily, Prest said: ‘I understand perfectly, Chief.‘
Letting out a weary sigh, Oakfield leant towards the office door and shouted: ‘You can come in now.‘
A second later, the door creaked open and Gunderson strolled in. He flashed Prest a cheery smile. Prest smiled back. Three shots echoed through the hall.
The lady in the lab coat stubbed out her cigarette and offered one to Oakfield. He took it with trembling hands and clicked his lighter ineffectively, his gaze never straying from the body on his desk. Prest didn’t even look dead. Which, Oakfield thought, was more than could be said for poor Detective Green.
As the lady poked at Prest’s nose with a metal tool of some kind, Oakfield stuttered: ‘What… What the hell went wrong?‘
‘Probably the pattern recognition system.‘ She shrugged ‘We’ve been doing research into transistor storage systems, but this seems to be an old disc model. If too much dust gets up their noses, it can cause interference issues with their cognitive plates. You know, like a broken record.‘
Oakfield finally lit the cigarette. Taking a shallow drag, he said: ‘A broken record? You mean, he was repeating the same case over and over again.‘
The lady glanced at Green’s body and raised her eyebrows: ‘And a pretty serious one, from the looks of it.‘
‘Gunderson. It must have been Gunderson.‘ Oakfield sighed. ‘Bet he’s laughing in his grave right now.‘