The following is a draft from The Longest Night, my debut novel! Let me know what you think in the comments or on my Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/MagicOfAStory
Keith Akintola was surrounded by high grey walls, making him feel like he was at the bottom of a deep ravine somewhere in the Himalayas or the Rockies. He sucked air into his lungs, the cloying thickness making him want to hyperventilate. Desperate to climb out and away, he instead got up from the floor and stretched up as tall as he could.
“Your back still at ya?” said Karen, not looking away from her computer.
“Yup. Still at me… That’s such a funny phrase isn’t it? At me… at me… Irish people are weird.”
Karen turned in her chair and gave her cubicle-mate an arched eyebrow with a side of finger wagging.
“Don’t say ‘Irish people’ like you’re not one of us. Black or not, you grew up down the fucking road from me!”
Keith spread his stance and stretched his arms high above his head again. With a loud and deep groan, he slowly brought his long torso down toward the floor and touched the ground with his fingertips. He looked at the boring geometric pattern on the floor as his back muscles slowly loosened. Taking a second, he got lost in its zigs and zags and its astounding ability to crush creativity. He sighed before straightening up and then collapsed into his chair.
Resting his head over the edge of his ergonomically designed seat, Keith let the sounds of Blue Line Insurance’s head office wash over him. The clacking of keyboards, hollow tapping of phones, the low murmur of talk punctuated by the occasional laugh or cough… all of it had a strange and depressing rhythmic quality to it. It felt as if he was listening to the sound of the machine that squashed all hopes and dreams and desires and processed them into spreadsheets, power points and quarterly reports.
“I need a walk to stretch out my back, I’ll be back with coffee.”
Karen nodded that she heard him but didn’t tear her eyes from her screen. How does she stay so focused, he wondered. He ambled about the office, doing a lap, swinging his arms and calculating in his head how many minutes were left until the end of the day. He walked to the far end of the floor and looked out the floor to ceiling window. The Liffey looked particularly green today, cutting the city in half. To his right was the Irish Sea, also looking dirty, but still somehow mesmerising. Keith shook himself awake and went to the coffee machine, made two cups, and went back to his cubicle.
“Good man,” Karen turned to face him, “Which one is mine?”
Keith nodded to his left. “Two sugars, very little milk.”
“You know me so well, cheers.”
The pair of them sipped the initial scalding hot mouthfuls and sat in silence. Anyone passing by their cubicle would probably find their silence to be awkward, but theirs was a silence made comfortable by years of laughter, shouts and screams. As much as he hated his job, Keith loved his co-worker.
Karen broke the silence. “By the way, you got an email while on your excursion.”
“Oh the joys…”
Keith tapped a button on his mouse and the screen quickly blinked to life. There was an email from the Claims Department. This could be interesting! It might mean he’d have to leave the office to investigate if there was insurance fraud!
To: firstname.lastname@example.org From: email@example.com Subject: Antiques Claim Hi Keith, We have a claim coming in from the archaeology department in Trinity. There was a robbery there the other night. They're reporting a lot of damage and a stolen artifact from the Neolithic period! (So when we say antiques we mean it!) Anyway, this is your realm so here's everything you need to know! Sarah Greene, Claims Department. 1 Attachment: Client File 2016/05491080
Trinity was one of the oldest colleges in Europe, and the oldest in Ireland, Blue Line, the insurance company Keith worked for, covered them, but he’d never had to investigate a claim there before. He looked at his watch. It was only two o’clock. If he left now that might mean he wouldn’t have to bother coming back, wouldn’t that be a shame?
“I’m off Karen, and I won’t be back in before end of day, something big just came up!”
A walk, two buses, getting lost in the history department and many stairs later, Keith finally found the door to Trinity’s Archaeology Department. He double checked that he had pulled his lanyard and ID out from under his winter coat and scarf, and politely knocked on the short and heavy oak door. Keith glanced around him, admiring the old flagstone floor and the few pictures on the wall. He leaned closer to the one nearest the door. Recent enough, Keith surmised.
Three people were standing shoulder to shoulder in the picture, each one smiling broadly. Well, they were standing shoulder to shoulder as much as they could, as the height differences between them were considerable. The tallest man stood on the left. He had a warm grin with an oval face, short light-brown hair, and grey-blue eyes. The middle man, who looked to be in his sixties, was quite large. His smile was so wide that his eyes looked closed. He had no hair on the top of his head, but curly grey tufts appeared on the sides of his head. He was wearing a tweed jacket, a white shirt and a red tie. The third person was a very short blonde haired woman. Her hair was tied back in a ponytail, and her arms were crossed over her chest. Her smile looked as though she was trying her best not to laugh, and Keith smiled thinking that it was probably the other two making her laugh when the picture was taken. Keith read the label.
“Senior Staff of Arch. Dept. L-R: Dr Austin Hunter, Dr George Spears, and Dr Sophie Needham.”
Wondering if anyone was there, Keith knocked a second time.
“Yeah sorry, just a minute!” came the reply.
A sudden yank of a stiff door revealed the tall man from the photo. He was stooping in the frame of the door. He looked Keith directly in the eyes, and Keith knew him to be Dr. Austin Hunter. His grey-blue eyes were slightly red and puffy. Looks like he’s either exhausted or crying, thought Keith, Or both.
“Hi, I’m Keith Akintola from Blue Line Insurance? I’m here to discuss the insurance claim of the recent robbery and vandalism?”
“Ah yea, that’s fine. Come on in.”
Keith followed him into the room, not needing to stoop near as much as the client had. A pleasant bookish scent permeated the room. Almost every square centimetre of the wall was covered with full bookcases, and the cold stone floor had a massive threadbare rug in the centre.
Dr Hunter ran both hands through his light brown hair as he walked to the messiest desk, and collapsed into his chair, clearly exhausted. He put his square face into his hands and yawned loudly. Not going to give up on the crying theory just yet, Keith noted.
“Is this a bad time? I can come back later in the week?”
“Hmm? No it’s fine. Just… it’s a really stressful time, you know? But this is important. What do you need to know?”
Keith’s heart went out to him. He did seem really stressed, and didn’t look like he was handling it well. He took a clipboard from his backpack. He didn’t want to seem nosy so he lied when he said, “Well let’s start with your name mister?”
A phone stopped him from answering. Keith’s eyes involuntarily bounced to the screen and saw that it wasn’t a saved number.
“Hello?… Yes, speaking… Can you hang on a second? Sorry eh… Keith wasn’t it?”
Keith looked up from the floor. “That’s me!”
“I’m sorry but I have to take this. If you want to go to that room there,” he pointed to another oak door to Keith’s right, “that will bring you down to the archive room, second door. Sophie is there and she can help you out until I get there.”
“That’s grand, thanks very much.” Keith punctuated this with the overly wide smile that he used only for clients, and turned towards the door.
Keith pushed the door into a short and narrow corridor, and knocked on the door marked ‘Archives’. He could tell that there was something else going on than just a simple robbery. That Austin guy just seemed so exhausted. Keith began to imagine what could be going on when the archive room’s door popped open, and the short blonde woman from the picture appeared.
“Well hello, are you okay?”
“Sophie I presume? I’m Keith from Blue Line insurance. Your colleague sent me through?”
“Here about the robbery then? Come on in.”
Keith followed her into the room. Sophie was shorter than Keith about the same amount that Austin was taller, but she seemed to be distracted and stressed about as much as Austin was. Tears weren’t hiding behind her eyes though. He looked around the room. Considering how old and homely the previous room was, Keith was baffled as to how modern and stark this room was, which was easily larger than the last. A maze of filing cabinets stood at the far end of the room, with a good few oddly shaped cases at the very back wall. Keith could tell the room was normally impeccably tidy, if it wasn’t for the knocked cabinet, smashed window and spray painted drawings on the wall. Otherwise the rest of the room was eerily clean, without a spare pen or page out of place. Clearly Sophie was halfway through cleaning it.
“This must be very frustrating for you,” Keith set his bag down and took out a camera, pen and paper. “I’m sure this is very stressful for the entire department.”
Sophie shook her head and looked to the ground.
“It’s not the only tragedy to strike this department. Our head of department, George, died last week.”
Keith mentally recalled the broad smiling man from the photo out front.
“I’m really sorry for your loss. Was it sudden?”
“Very. He was killed in an awful accident at a dig in Cork. Hunter took it fierce badly, those two were as close as father and son.”
Keith frowned and put his hand to his chest. No wonder the man had tears in his eyes.
“Then this robbery was the last thing you wanted to happen, huh Sophie?”
“Of course. Funnily enough, George was only saying a few weeks ago that we needed to revise the security of the archive room.”
Keith’s investigative instincts noted this, but propriety stopped him from prying too much. He could ask again.
“Well, hindsight is twenty-twenty isn’t it?”
Sophie smiled and nodded, but there was a strong wave of loss emanating from her.
“Well, let’s get to business. George wouldn’t be dily-dalying like this.”
Sophie explained the situation. The night after her co-workers funeral she returned to work to find the doors still locked, the archive room a shambles, and the window broken.
“Straight away I checked for our most valuable pieces, all of which were untouched. Then I checked the second-tier pieces, you now, things that are worth a lot of money, and finally everything else. That’s when I found that the knife was missing.”
Sophie described the missing knife in detail, providing a full history, spec and even a photo. It wasn’t anything very impressive to look at. A rough black stone knife, carved into a point, clearly used for killing and hunting. It did have a dark red line running through it.
“Okay, that’s helpful. If it’s okay I’ll just go look around myself now, take photos, makes assessments… I’ll shout if I need any questions answered.”
“That’s fine, I’ll just be here sorting through that last cabinet.” Sophie walked over to the far corner of the room, and began to read every sheet of paper it contained, occasionally moving it from one drawer to another.
First Keith walked to the back of the room, where the thieves had seemingly entered by the window. Keith tutted inwardly and snapped a few photos with his camera. He walked towards the window and noted how it was looking out onto the roof of a lower part of the building, very easy to climb onto. But how did they get onto the roof?
Looking across the roof, another taller building stood close enough for someone to easily jump from, not to mention all the possibilities for someone to climb high up all around the building, or even by exiting onto the roof from another part of the building. Simply put, there were too many ways in.
Keith clambered up onto the counter and opened the window beside the broken one. He climbed outside and clambered onto the roof. He heard the gravel crunch when he stepped out. He turned and surveyed the broken window. He further documented the surrounding buildings, other windows and took more pictures of the point of entry.
Just before Keith left the roof, he knelt down to take one more picture of the entry point.
“AH!” he yelled, grabbing his knee. He rolled onto his side and looked as a small red patch slowly spread from a cut in his leg. An inch long piece of glass had lodged itself into the soft tissue at his knee, but not deep enough to damage anything seriously.
Confused, Keith pulled it out and clamped his hands over the small wound.
How did this get here?
Keith ran over the story in his head. The door was locked. The thieves had broken the window and unlatched it. But the glass should have fallen inside the window…
Something didn’t connect.
Hope you enjoyed the latest chapter of my upcoming debut novel, The Longest Night! If you’d like to keep tabs of when The Longest Night is coming out head over to my Facebook page, or sign up to my mailing list for updates on the release!