There’s a little frost on the highway this morning so they case along slowly, the older man setting the cruise control around thirty-five and leaning back into the seat. First light just about creeps over the ridge of the distant mountains. A gritting truck looms far ahead.
‘Late this morning.’
Flannery juts his chin towards the truck. ‘Gritting truck. Late start don’t you think?’
The driver looks over his glasses. ‘Fairly.’
They put some more road hissing beneath them.
‘So, Chief. You er, you do anything at the weekend?’
A fox noses out from the edge of the fields, darts back when it sights them. The chief watches in the rearview as it crosses the highway behind them.
‘Saw my son Friday night. Had lasagne. Mostly worked other than that.’
‘Work eh? Downside to being Chief I guess.’
‘I guess.’ They can just about make out a dark figure in the cab of the gritting truck now. Looks to be the older Twain boy, back for the holidays.
‘We went to that new department store at Hoxton, me and Bren. It’s a big place, you been?’
‘Haven’t been yet. No.’
They draw level with the truck, driver waving from the cab. It’s the younger Twain, grown up some little bit though. The chief returns the greeting.
‘Oh you should go. They got just about everything I’ll say. Got myself a worlds sharpest knife.’
The chief glances over. ‘How’s that?’
‘How’s what Chief?’
‘You got yourself a knife?’
‘Oh right, yeah.’ Flannery nods. ‘Worlds sharpest knife, so they say. For the kitchen. TV set right there next to the display, showing what it’ll do. Had a woman cut up a pineapple no problem. Then a tin can.’
‘A tin can?’
‘Oh yeah. An empty one. Can’t say I’ll need to do that, but it underlines their point don’t you think?’
‘Well, I suppose it does.’
They pull off the Highway and enter the suburbs. Early risers scrape car windows or run their engines for a while before setting off. Here and there the streetlights blink and flicker out.
‘You got that address?’
‘Oh yeah.’ Flannery flips open his notebook. ‘It’s 225 Maple. Old couple, name of Harris.’
The chief nods. ‘I know the one.’
They drift past the building, pulling up further along where there’s a space and killing the engine.
‘It’ll go blunt though?’
‘What’s that Chief?’
‘I’m just saying, world’s sharpest or not, you cut up a tin can, your knife will go blunt.’
‘Well I suppose so Chief. I don’t intend to do any such thing though.’
‘No sir. Plain foolish that would be.’
‘Right. Shall we.’
The son answers the door, shows them through.
‘Mother went over to my aunt’s place after calling you folks,’ he explains. ‘Then she called me. In a bit of a state, you can imagine. He’s through here.’ They go through to the kitchen, where the old man lies stiff on the lino. Flannery kneels down, checks for a pulse just in case.
‘Got up for a glass of milk most likely,’ the son continues. ‘Mother said the fridge door was open when she found him.’
‘Was anything else moved?’
‘How do you mean?’
Flannery stands. ‘You say she closed the fridge door- was anything else on the scene disturbed?’
He shrugs. ‘Well I don’t suppose she stopped to make a casserole. But no point letting the fridge motor burn out right?’
The chief nods. ‘Fair enough. Flannery, impressions?’
‘It’s looking like natural causes Chief. Heart maybe, or a stroke.’ He looks to the son. ‘Real quick I would have thought.’
‘Oh yeah? Well, that’s something.’ They can hear the cooing of pigeons roosting in the chimney. ‘Well then, what’s next?’
‘The coroner will come by and take the body. Probably you’ll be his first stop when he gets in this morning.’ Flannery checks his watch. ‘That won’t be for another couple of hours though. Have you got somewhere else you can wait?’
‘Oh yeah. I’ll head on over to my aunt’s, let them know what’s going on.’
‘Well alright then.’
‘Well, we’re sorry for you loss. Be seeing you.’
They get back in the car, wait for an SUV to reverse slowly out of a driveway.
‘Not a good start to their week huh chief?’
‘I said, not a good start to the week, for Mrs Harris, or Mr Harris junior.’
‘Surely is not. Worse for the Harris senior though.’
‘Depending on your beliefs.’
They follow the SUV back to the highway. The sun’s full over the mountains now and starting to give a shape to the day. They cruise a little faster back over the fresh-gritted road making long-morning shadows in the tarmac.