“Yes, sergeant. I remember reading about him in Friday’s Post. No one’s come forward?”
“No one useful.”
Inspector Hardwick looked down at the man lying in the Infirmary bed. Late forties, a big man, his mass apparent under white sheets that had seen a thousand boil washes. Short brown hair, whitening at the temples, partly covered by bandage. A lined face, a Roman nose below the closed eyes. Three or four days’ stubble meant he’d been clean-shaven at the time of the accident.
Hardwick picked up the man’s right hand and studied it, careful not to disturb the saline feed. Rough hands.
“Nobody else involved?”
“Not according to the tests, sir.”
Hardwick dropped the limp hand back to the bedsheets. “I’d better take a look.”
“Yes, sir.” Williams closed her notebook.
Hardwick looked out onto College Green from a second-floor window of New Colston police headquarters. Originally it had been Butcher’s Green, Hardwick remembered. Meat animals were herded to Bristol, stopping to feed on the grassy Downs before being led into town for slaughter and sale. He wondered how much blood had soaked into the grass, over the years.
“Here we go, sir.” Finally, Sergeant Williams had triumphed over the computer.
A surprisingly sharp black and white picture of the Portway snapped into a window on the screen. The digital clock overlay read 22:38. The road was empty, as it normally would be, at that time of night.
A figure flared into view at the bottom of the screen, riding away from the camera on the cycle path at the edge of the road.
Hardwick frowned. “He’s not doing himself any favours, is he? A high-vis jacket?”
Williams agreed. “Lights, too. Didn’t seem to care much about being seen.”
Hardwick watched as the figure on the screen jerked his helmeted head upwards, seemingly struck by some sight in the distance, out of camera shot.
The man stopped pedalling, coasting downhill along the roadside cycle path. As Harwick winced in anticipation, the cyclist continued in a straight line. The cyclist held his body held strangely rigid, paying no heed as the path curved inward. Three long seconds later he smacked into the low brick wall that separated the cycle path from the drop to the muddy bank of the river.
Over he went.
“Nothing else?” asked Hardwick.
“Nothing until morning. An ammo truck driver spotted the bike.”
Later, down in the evidence room, Williams hefted a cardboard box from the floor onto a table, and started pulling out clear plastic bags. One stuffed with clothes, the high-vis jacket mixed in with an old shirt and tracksuit bottoms. Others held trainers, an empty rucksack, a pair of safety goggles.
Hardwick resisted the urge to ask Williams about the goggles. She’d have done the legwork, checking the industrial works around Shirehampton, Sea Mills and Avonmouth.
The shoes were interesting, though. “Nikes?” He raised an eyebrow.
“Genuine, as far as we can tell. New.”
“A man with connections, then. Black market. He puts on a swanky pair of trainers, dolls himself up in high-vis, and starts cycling down main roads after curfew.”
He thought. “We’d best go have a look.”
“Always acquaint yourself with the scene of the crime, Williams. Even if you’re not sure there’s been a crime.”
Most people had at least that measure of worth: someone who would miss them. Hardwick increased his grip on the cold metal railing as he realised that for him, it would be his sergeant, or his superintendent.
Not his family.
“It was here?”
Williams checked her notebook. “Right here, sir.”
Hardwick paced out thirty metres from the point of impact, back along the curve of the wall, to where the hooded CCTV camera perched on its post, pointing towards the junction with Bridge Valley Road.
There he turned and walked slowly back towards the city. To his left, the three quiet lanes of the A4 Portway, and the sheer rock face of the Avon Gorge. To his right, the wall, the river, and the green slopes of Leigh Woods.
Ahead, the only feature of note was the remains of the Suspension Bridge, rusting steel cables straggling down the far cliffside from the Leigh Tower. Below it, half-covered by the water, was the unnatural dam formed by the remains of the Clifton side. Fallen red bricks and broken sections of arch.
Harwick had a sudden memory of an August day from his childhood, walking over the bridge with his parents and his sister to the Balloon Fiesta. He shook his head to break the reverie.
The remains of the bridge were an affecting sight, certainly. But nothing to surprise anyone. Not these days.