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The ShortRead: Anthony Horowitz

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The ShortRead of 28 May 2014

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Caught Short from OxCrimes

Author: Anthony Horowitz

What's the story:

We love a good crime story here at ShortList, so it shouldn't come as a surprise that our attention has been arrested by OxCrimes - an assembly of 27 shorts from a host of crime authors (including the likes of Ian Rankin, Peter James, Neil Gaiman and Louise Welsh) collected together to raise funds for Oxfam's work.

For our extract, we've turned to the prolific talents of Anthony Horowitz. Caught Short is exactly what you want from a short blast of crime fiction - an accident, a body and a man on the run.

Should you be at a loose end on 30 May, you can catch Horowitz at the Hay Festival.

Release date: Out now

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Extract

It had been a good evening for Johnny Maslin – Jazz to his friends. No. It had been a truly great evening … three awards including Campaign of the Year and Agency of the Year, the two biggies and by any account his work, his babies. No wonder he felt jaunty, walking tall as he made his way to the underground car park at the Clarence Hotel where the awards ceremony had taken place. He had loosened his black tie so that it hung rakishly around his neck and the top three buttons of his shirt were open in a sort of devilmay-care, chest-hairy sort of way. He knew he’d had much too much to drink. The third bottle of Krug had definitely been a mistake. But then again – three awards, three bottles. All good things come in threes.

He had taken the lift to basement level one and tumbled out, none too steady on his feet. He paused to light a cigarette and at that moment caught sight of his own reflection in a puddle of water skimmed with oil. He followed the flame of the match as it arced upwards and watched himself suck in and then blow out smoke. Johnny was not a very good-looking man. Examining himself with the same ruthlessness that had taken him to the top of his profession, he was the first to admit it. Thin and wiry, he sported a shock of curly hair that was almost clownish and black spectacles that were equally out of proportion to his face. It didn’t matter how long he spent in the sun (Los Angeles recently, and then his flat in Antibes). His skin was always pale, slightly lifeless. He had the smile of a dead man and used it to his advantage. He would smile when he threw out your work. He would smile when he fired you. And the pleasure of the moment would dance in his little blue eyes.

Three awards. One, two, three...

Johnny found his car keys and pressed the electronic fob. Across the car park, his Audi R8 Spyder clunked and flickered into life as the doors sprang open. ‘Here I am, my lord and master. Take me home.’ For Johnny, it was a delicious image. The £110,000 charcoal grey car on its own in the empty car park, surrounded by concrete pillars and neon strips... a bit of a cliché perhaps, over-used in American TV shows, but still undeniably atmospheric. He had once filmed an ad in a car park just like this. What was the product? Ah yes. Australian butter with cows parked next to each other instead of cars. That had been more than twenty years ago. Blake Shailer Mathieson. All three of them were long gone but Johnny had survived. Leibowitz and Leibowitz. Then Leibowitz, Leibowitz and Maslin. Then Maslin Associates and finally Teapot – the single appellation so far ahead of its time.

He slid inside the car, relishing the soft, full-grain leather as it rubbed against his thighs. The Spyder was less than a year old and still had that wonderful smell of polish and engineering. He thumbed the starter and the 4.2 litre engine rumbled into life, the dashboard and sat nav system lighting up. Johnny didn’t drive away quite yet. He sat in his personal cocoon, examining his surroundings, feeling comfortable, affluent and safe. How remote the car park seemed, a different world when viewed from this side of the (tinted) glass with the air triple-filtered and the heat of the evening kept at bay. For a moment, he hesitated. It was probably mad to drive home tonight. The trouble with a car like this was that it was a magnet for every under-paid plod in the city and after all he’d drunk he had to be way over the limit. He could easily have booked a room at the Clarence.

On the other hand, it was two o’clock in the morning. Monday morning already. He only lived a few miles away, on the other side of Hyde Park, and he preferred to wake up in his own bed. He would go very carefully, making no mistakes. He was confident that he had the self-discipline to fight off the alcohol in his bloodstream.

He drove out of the parking slot and knew at once that he had made the right decision. The deep, sexual power of the engine transmitted itself through his arms into his chest, re-animating him. He had an early start tomorrow, a crisis conference on a new strategy that one of his clients had just rejected. A copywriter and three art directors would be there, waiting for him, wondering if their jobs were on the line. He wouldn’t want to be late for that – no, thank you. He cruised towards the exit in the far corner. Don’t take it too fast when you get onto the road, Johnny. A couple of miles per hour under the speed limit. You’ll be fine.

But it all went wrong before he had even left the car park. First there was a barrier, then a ramp that rose steeply towards an alleyway running all the way along the side of the hotel. Impossibly, a single person had been crossing the exit at exactly the moment he had driven – perhaps a little too quickly – over the hump. It wasn’t his fault. They were in his blind spot. They obviously hadn’t been looking where they were going. And he’d needed to accelerate to get up the slope. The impact was sickening. Johnny had no idea that the sound of human flesh hitting metal and carbon fibre could be so loud – despite having once art directed a road safety campaign. The woman – he was fairly sure it had been a woman – was flung into the air and landed some distance away. He actually felt the weight of her. Without knowing it, he had slammed his foot on the brake and the engine had cut out as it was designed, doing its little bit to save the planet. The Spyder had come to a halt with just half of it poking out of the car park, the back wheels still on the ramp…

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