Brake Failure by Alison Brodie

Shady Acres Retirement Home, Kansas City

11.56 pm. New Year’s Eve, 1999

‘There’s a dead man at the door,’ Mrs Whitaker hissed, leaning over the desk.

Nurse Betty sighed, took a bite of donut, closed the magazine on “How to get Slim for the Millennium” and heaved herself to her feet. ‘Come on, Mrs Whitaker.’ She curved an arm around the old woman’s shoulders and began to guide her along the corridor. ‘Let’s get you back to the lounge. You’re missing all the fun.’

Mrs Whitaker twisted away. ‘Didn’t you hear me? There’s a dead man at the door!’

Nurse Betty stopped, mid-chew. The doors to the lounge were wide open. Garlands festooned the ceiling; coloured balloons drifted over the carpet, paper-cups lay scattered like there’d been a stampede. ‘Where is everybody?’ she demanded.

‘Where do you think?’

Nurse Betty pivoted, turned sharp right and marched into the entrance lobby. Beyond the glass doors, the residents stood in the snow, illuminated under the porch light. The doors slid open and she was outside, cold biting her cheeks, shoes slipping on ice as she descended the ramp. She paused when she saw the snail’s trail of blood in the snow. It came out of the blackness, from the direction of the railroad, and into the light – a red line disappearing into the huddle of residents who were shivering and whispering.

She pushed in to see what they were staring at. A big man in a sheriff’s uniform lay spread-eagled on the ground. The snow around him looked like Strawberry Slurpee. She couldn’t see his face because Mrs Peterson, who was seventy-five and wore leopard-print blouses, was giving him mouth-to-mouth resuscitation. As Nurse Betty pulled her off, she gasped.

Hank! Blood stained his neck, his uniform, his hands. She dropped to her knees and opened his jacket. He’d been shot. Above their heads, the sky exploded in bangs, fizzing and popping. A high, keening whistle screamed low over the rooftop.

The new Millennium.

She struggled to her feet to go call an ambulance. Mrs Peterson was again bending over the body. Nurse Betty had to shout over the noise of the fireworks. ‘Don’t give him mouth-to-mouth!’

‘I’m not!’ Mrs Peterson shouted back. ‘He’s delirious. I’m trying to hear what he’s saying.’


A huge explosion shook the air. Silver starbursts lit up the sky.

In the sudden lull, Mrs Peterson again lowered her head to the sheriff’s mouth and when she looked up her eyes were big.

‘He’s saying: “Don’t do it, Ruby. Don’t do it.”’


London. Sixteen weeks earlier …

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