Deus Ex Machina

For the third round of our contest, we asked you to send us original works of fiction inspired by this photograph.


An open newspaper on a cafe table i i
Robb Hill/Robb Hill Photo
An open newspaper on a cafe table
Robb Hill/Robb Hill Photo

It's a good thing I'm not a writer, because everyone knows there's nothing more annoying than Deus-ex-freaking-machina.

"God in the machine," they call it, when an author uses coincidence or fate or some other annoyingly unexplainable plot device to solve a nagging problem with the plot.

Only this isn't a book, and I'm no flipping over-paid author. Just a lowly London detective on holiday in a city even more bollocked-up than my own Big Apple. New York. The city so nice they named it twice.

Right.

Don't let 'em fool you, mate — a city's a city, no matter what side of the pond it's on, and visiting New York feels like a busman's holiday to me.

Not that I'd had a choice. Well, a choice where to go, but as to the holiday? More of a kick in the arse.

"You're obsessed," was the considered opinion of my Oxbridge-educated superior. "Take some time off. Reevaluate. Relax. Get some sun."

"You saying I'm pasty?" I responded, always sensitive about the pale skin that came hand-in-hand with my ginger hair.

"I'd hate to see a good detective lose his pension because he's chasing a phantom. Do yourself a favor; go on holiday. Now."

I got the message loud and clear: Piss off. So I did. Not to Costa del Vino — beaches give me hives. Virgin had a special; New York it was.

The Yanks can have it. At least I know London, know its villains, know which alleyways to avoid, which Hooray Henrys hide their dark secrets and where.

Here I'm just another face in the crowd. I've seen the sights, seen the Statue of Liberty — which isn't in New York at all, as it turns out, bloody lying Yanks.

But now I'm alone in a city of strangers, sitting at a table in a small corner cafe with piss-poor coffee and a sorry excuse for fish and chips.

I'm antsy. Okay, so I'm obsessed. I've got reason to be.

I've been a detective most of my sorry life, and I'm damn good at my job. Simple fact. Experience is part of it; instinct is more.

Instinct tells me the bastard who's been murdering children all over my city wasn't killed in the fire that so-conveniently destroyed his mews flat just as my team was about to close in. The sod killed some drunk and set him to fry in the inferno, leaving only charred bones without enough DNA to prove identity one way or another.

I've been investigating the murdering psychotic for 10 bloody years. Know him like I know myself. Better, probably. Isn't much to know about me, after all. Twice-divorced, good at my job and not much else. My mum is dead and my dad, for all I know, could have been the drunk set aflame in the mews. Dad always had more alcohol running through his veins than blood — he'd have gone up like a Catherine wheel.

So here I am, reading a tabloid someone left on the table — and who reads newspapers these days, anyway? Bored out of my freaking skull, I look out at the passing crowds and there he is.

The murdering sod, strolling along with a cap on his head and a haversack on his back, a tourist like all the rest.

I'm up from the table and out the door before my target has gone past the window.

I freaking love Deus ex machina.

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