‘Have you learned your lines?’ His mother called from the kitchen as Dan was slipping into his leather jacket.
‘Yes, but I’ll keep practicing so whatever the outcome of tonight’s dress rehearsal, it will be all right on the night – I hope.’ Dan zipped up his jacket, picked up his helmet and pulled the door shut behind him.
‘Bye’, said his mum to herself. ‘Take care.’ She hated him going out on his motorbike in this awful weather, but there you go, boys will be boys.
The duty-room was quiet except for the occasional radio message from patrol cars. Jimmy Walters, navigator cum paramedic, was at the ops desk writing up the daily log. Doctor Christine Phelps sat reading her latest copy of Lancet and Mike Howard, the pilot, stood studying the large wall map. ‘Anyone for a cuppa?’ The navigator asked, closing the log book.
Dan wheeled his dark blue Honda 650 out of the garage, propped it on its stand and closed the garage door. He pulled his helmet onto his head and wiped the visor. The rain had stopped but a kaleidoscope of colours reflected the lights of houses, streetlamps and passing cars, He cuffed water droplets from the saddle, straddled the bike and thumbed the starter. The powerful engine roared onto life.
Jimmy placed two mugs on the desk and took his to his seat. Just as he sat down the red telephone rang. He snatched up the handset. ‘Helimed.’ He scribbled notes on a pad as he listened carefully to the dispatcher. ‘We’re on.’ He said over his shoulder. The doctor and pilot grabbed their emergency bags and ran for the bright yellow bumble-bee shaped helicopter across the concrete.
Dan crunched his way across the gravel drive, checked and pulled out onto the lane. The time was just after six-thirty and the rehearsal didn’t start until seven; stacks of time. He turned onto the main road and opened the throttle. The road was clear but the rain had started again. Night was closing in fast; it was that difficult time of neither light nor dark. His headlight illuminated long silver streaks which turned at the last second and whipped into his face like ice-cold needles.
Mike had both engines running and the rotor turning as Jimmy scrambled into the left hand seat; he pulled the door shut and strapped in just as the helicopter lifted vertically from the pad.
‘RTA just north of the A620 and B1249 junction, police in attendance. Head 275 magnetic from here. ETA eight minutes.’
Mike relayed the take-off time and estimated time of arrival at the incident, over the radio to the emergency services dispatcher.
Visibility on the main road was already bad and getting worse as the rain became heavier and day turned to night. Dan was mentally rehearsing his lines for the play; he didn’t want to get them wrong and make a fool of himself in front of everyone. ‘Hark I hear a pistol shot!’ He said over and over again. He had tried hard to find a way that created the right atmosphere for the scene. Now he had it. Rounding a bend, car headlights flashed by from the opposite direction, why don’t they dip their lights in this weather, it’s blinding, his thoughts diverting from the play for a second or two.
Rain lashed the helicopter’s windscreen, the high speed wipers slashed back and forth in a vain attempt to keep it clear. Visibility was poor and getting worse. Low clouds scudded across a weak moon; today’s dusk was so much darker than usual. Jimmy pointed out towards a piercing blue flashing light, down to their left.
‘There they are.’
Mike slowed down and manoeuvred the aircraft towards the light. He switched on the powerful landing lamp capturing the area below in a wide cone of brilliant white light. A dark blue motorcycle was on its side in the middle of the road and partially hidden under the front of a badly damaged dark green seven seat people carrier. High visibility jackets shone like golden candles as they moved around the scene.
Dan loved his bike. Come rain or shine he would take every advantage of the narrow twisting roads between his home and town. Tonight was no exception. Along the main road, he opened her up. Leaning forward over the tank to reduce wind resistance, experiencing the thrill of riding fast. The bike reacted well, holding the even surface around each corner with confidence. He would be there in plenty of time. The rain was heavier and coming in gusts. His leather jacket kept his body dry and warm but his legs were soaked. He didn’t care, this was great.
‘Hark I hear a pistol shot. Hark I hear a …’
Doctor Phelps and Jimmy Walters ran from the helicopter across the edge of a muddy field towards the blue flashing lights. Torches flashed across the wreckage, the murmur of voices was indistinct but the sobbing of children cut through with clarity.
‘What’s the situation’ Christine asked.
‘Motor cycle head-on into the people carrier. Two fatalities, the biker and the driver of the RPV. Three others in the car, the wife and two kiddies aged seven and nine, not seriously injured, the airbags did their thing well.’
‘OK. I’ll confirm the two fatalities first, Jimmy, you start with the family.’
Dan could see the lights of town as a subdued orange glow beyond the crest of the hill. He knew the road well and leaned hard into the corners. As he rounded the second half of an S-bend he saw a stationary vehicle directly in front of him, on his side of the road. Its headlights dazzled him. Braking hard, the wet tyres lost traction; the bike weaved and slid towards the car.
The policeman said, ‘Sorry sir, this road’s closed, there’s been an accident.’
‘Damn!’ Dan replied. ‘Now I will be late. So it will have to be all right on the night.’