Richard Rodney Bennett played quietly from an Icom handheld clipped to my belt. The foot-long whip of which stuck not quite straight up, as if it were dangling in reversed gravity. You know gravity is reversed in the Southern Hemisphere, right? The glow of a fluoro on the wall above me reflected off my jet back red hair. The main lights were off, it would be a waste of power to have the mercury lights on now. An orange glow appeared on my left wrist as I raised my forearm from my lap, elbow pointing away from my body. 17:09, February 6, 2001.
I stood up, straightening my jeans with my hands as I did so.
"Where ya going?" a voice echoed around the otherwise unoccupied old sports hall. I looked around to see who was addressing me. The speaker stood leaning casually against the frame of a door on the far wall. They were tall, taller than the door frame, and olive skinned, with spikey blonde hair. They must have walked in quietly, for I hadn't heard a sound for the past half an hour.
"I had a bad day, and I want a beer." I kicked aside the milk crate my backside had just vacated. "How long ha' you been standing there?"
"'Bout two mins," the newcomer shrugged and began to wander towards me. Wait a second, how did they get in here in first place? I turned to face him, and began to open my mouth to challenge him, but it snapped shut again, a puzzled expression now covered my face. They were wearing a long-sleeve chequered shirt, all the buttons undone to reveal a deep pink, low-cut tank underneath, I hadn't been able to see this before. Cleavage? Perhaps unnoticeable to the untrained eye, but yes. Without thinking, my brain was doing some quick geometry calculations. C cup? Could've been worse, I had a friend with Ds, and she was always complaining about her back and just being stared at.
I looked up, almost embarrassed, suddenly realising she was looking directly at my face, "Sorry, I didn't realise you were a woman. You're Amanda then?" She laughed and nodded, then held out her hand. Her handshake was solid, sincere. I liked that. "Squirrel," I looked down at the dark grey tee I was wearing, or more specifically, the large outline of a squirrel on the front of it. Amanda? A-man-da, ah.
"Half an hour?" Amanda tilted her head to one side as she asked, "Why so early?" We were supposed to meet at five-thirty. I shook my head, I didn't want to talk about it. She smiled again. I liked her smile, it was friendly but not flirting. I figured she must have been twenty-ish, about my twenty-one. We'd been in contact for six months, but I'd never thought to ask.
"I guess you've seen the place now, eh?" I flicked the volume knob on top of my radio anti-clockwise, it reached the end of its travel with a click.
"Uh-huh, looks alright to me. Unless you really want to talk here, I might as well join you for that beer." There was that smile again, almost sort of a grin. I rarely smiled, I spent more time glowering at the stupidity of humanity. We stepped outside, into an unusually cold New Zealand sunset for the time of year.
I nodded in the direction of the adjacent rugby field, "We'll launch from there. Gate swings right open, just drive straight out. They've got no problem with us using it, he's been pretty good about us borrowing the facility for SARAH." I led the way down the roadway that ran alongside, towards the lights of a main road. Amanda's messenger bag swung nonchalantly at her hip as we walked. I could've ridden here, but the fresh air made me thankful I had left my bike in town.
The smell of tobacco and marijuana smoke began to waft towards us as we entered one of the town's main streets. Sounds of a fight breaking out came from inside a pub near the corner, and we walked on. We talked shop in low tones, around us I could hear young males discussing their cars, young females their clothes, a middle-aged man complaining to the girl I'm sure was underaged at the table next to him about his family. Amanda nodded at an art cafe slash bar, and I held open the door for her.
Inside, a young local singer-songwriter belted out motown in an amazing voice. Apart from a spotlight on her, the place was lit in a dim red. We picked a four-seater table near the back wall, and she deposited herself. "Whaddya want?" She shrugged. I puckered my jaw momentarily, I'll just get a pair of pales. "Back in a sec."
I returned to find Amanda with a notebook and a pair of uncased electronic devices sitting on the table in front of her. She sat engrossed in something in the book, and didn't notice me sit down. I placed the glasses down on the table, and picked up one of the PCBs to examine.
"Hybrid scanner," she looked up to explain, "My final year project at uni."
I nodded in understanding, or at least as much understanding as the complicated looking board made to me. I'm an architect, although being a recreational pilot was how I got started on the Special Air Reconnaissance And Harassment project. The concept was a powered hang-glider for use by local police forces. They had approved a trial, to be flown by me in March.
My mobile phone vibrated on my belt, and I looked up with a start. Somewhat confused, I reached to answer it.
"That's Mr Squirrel, is it?" The man's voice sounded formal and apologetic.
Mr Squirrel? I paused. Everyone called me Squirrel, but that was a nickname. "Er, yes, it is. May I ask who's speaking please?"
"This is Police Sergeant Schultz. Sir, I believe a Miss Doyle was on her way to see you. Is that correct?"
"Er, n..." I wondered why he was asking, and the name didn't sound familiar. What did the police want with me anyway? I glanced at my watch. 17:30, the past few minutes must have slipped by quickly. The woman I was meeting should be here soon. I had no idea what she looked like, nor what her surname was. Wait... "Sergeant, what does she look like, do you know?"
"The woman is twenty years of age, very tall with very short blonde hair, I'm afraid we don't know too much else..."
I didn't hear whatever he said after that. "Amanda." It was more of a statement than a question. "Sergeant, that may have been her. Why?"
"She has been in a car accident, and is in a critical condition in hospital. Your name and phone number was on some documents she was carrying."
It must be her. Poor kid. My radio was still on. Beethoven played in the background, building to the end of a symphony. I grimaced silently.