the lock at my side. But Sophie had no chance of doing the same.

“Darling, please lie down on the floor behind the seats,” I said firmly. “Get as low as you can and brace yourself with your feet. Just in case we have an accident.” I glanced over to her and tried to give her a reassuring smile.

“When will all this stop?” she cried.

“We’re on our way to the police station right now,” I said. “It will stop there.”

But it didn’t. Because we never reached the police station.

Beyond the village of Leek Wooton, the road to Kenilworth is straight, flat and narrow, but only about a mile in length before it reaches the outskirts of town.

I worried briefly about how I would deal with the many road junctions ahead, but, for now, it was as much as I could do to keep my car straight and on the tarmac surface as the silver hatchback continually thumped into the back. Why couldn’t he lose control or terminally damage his car?

So far, we had not encountered much other traffic, but our luck ran out as we left the village. A line of four cars was following a slow-moving builder’s flat-bed truck that was piled high with sand. I could see a van coming the opposite way, but it was still some distance off. I swung out and overtook all four cars and the truck as if they were going backwards, with my hand firmly on the horn to stop anyone else pulling out. Kipper tried to come through behind me, but he ran out of room and had to brake hard and dive in behind the truck in order to miss the oncoming van.

Suddenly, I was away from him. But not for long, and not by much, and I watched in the mirror as he quickly swept past the truck and set off in pursuit.

I looked ahead in absolute horror. In the distance, there was some roadwork, with temporary traffic lights, and I could see a line of waiting vehicles.

I was doing about eighty miles an hour, and the roadwork was looming large. I glanced in the mirror, and even at this speed the silver hatchback was gaining on me fast. Again I looked ahead. Traffic was coming towards us, headed by a huge eighteen-wheeled semi, and there were rows of trees lining both sides of the road.

I made a quick decision.

“Sophie, my darling,” I shouted, “brace yourself against the seats as hard as you can.”

With about four hundred yards still to go to the temporary traffic lights, I took my right foot off the accelerator and stood hard on the brake.

My old Volvo 940 station wagon weighed a little over one and a half tons, but, in spite of their age, the brakes were in excellent working order. With a small amount of shuddering from the antilock system, the car pulled up in a much shorter space than that shown as the stopping distance for eighty miles per hour in the Highway Code. I wouldn’t have been surprised if the tires had actually dug grooves in the road surface, so quickly did the car come to a halt.

Kipper hadn’t a hope of stopping in time. For a start, he had been going faster than I, and he’d still been accelerating in his attempt to catch me.

I looked in the rearview mirror. The Volvo had almost stopped completely before Kipper realized what I’d done. White smoke poured from his tires, as all four wheels of the hatchback locked up, but, by then, it was far too late.

I had hoped that he might have hit a tree, or the oncoming truck, but his locked front wheels meant he couldn’t steer, and he came thundering straight towards the back of the Volvo. I watched him coming ever closer, almost as if it was happening in slow motion, and in the last moments before impact I flicked off my car’s ignition, pulled the seat belt tight, clasped my hands firmly together in my lap and put my head back against the headrest, all the while shouting at Sophie, “Brace! Brace!”

There was a tremendous bang as the vehicles collided. I don’t know how quickly he was traveling, but it was fast enough to throw the Volvo violently forwards and sideways onto the grass verge in spite of me still having my foot pressed down hard on the brake pedal. At the same time, the air bag in front of me inflated with another bang and a cloud of white gas.

Then there was another huge thump from somewhere behind me. Something else had collided but not with us, the Volvo hadn’t moved again.

“Sophie, Sophie,” I shouted urgently, fighting to undo my seat belt and turning around in my seat. “Are you all right?”

“Yes, Ned, I’m fine,” she said almost calmly from the back. “Is it over?”

“Yes, my darling, it’s over.”

But I didn’t know that for certain. I couldn’t even see the silver hatchback from where I was, let alone know the state of its occupant.

“Can you please untie me, then?” she asked.“I’m bloody hurting.” She still sounded remarkably unfazed by the whole affair.

The driver’s door wouldn’t open, and I began to be a bit panicky as I could smell petrol. The last thing I wanted was to be trapped inside a burning car.

I pushed and shoved, but the door wouldn’t budge, jammed shut by the collision. The windows were electrically operated, but I didn’t fancy turning on the car ignition with flammable fuel all over the place. I struggled over the center armrest into the passenger seat, and, thankfully, the passenger door opened easily. I scrambled out of the car onto the verge.

“You all right, mate?” shouted someone from behind me.

“Yes, fine,” I said, turning around. “How about him?” I pointed at the crumpled mess that had been the silver hatchback, which was now some ten yards or so behind the Volvo.

“Doesn’t look too good, I’m afraid,” he said. “I’ve called the ambulance and the police.”

I looked around. The road was completely blocked, and the traffic queues were beginning to build up in both directions. People were spilling out of their vehicles to come have a closer look at the crash. I didn’t really care.

I tugged frantically at the nearside back door of the car, but it wouldn’t open, so I went back in through the front and knelt on the passenger seat, looking over.

Sophie still was curled up on the floor with her hands tied together with the plastic garden tie. I needed some scissors or a knife to free her. I thought fleetingly about the knife Kipper had with him, but I decided it wouldn’t be such a good idea to go fetch it, not just now. I needed to get Sophie loose as soon as possible, and before anyone came snooping around asking why I had a tied-up woman in the back of my car.

I knew that there was a pair of scissors somewhere amongst our bookmaking equipment. We often used gaffer tape to affix the odds board to the umbrella pole when it was windy and we always needed scissors to cut it.

I looked towards the back of the Volvo. Our equipment boxes, which had been neatly stowed at Bangor, were now all in a jumble. The collision had completely buckled the big top-hinged back door of the Volvo, but, amazingly, the back window was still intact. I slithered on my stomach over the top of the passenger seat and then over the backseat into the luggage space. I found the scissors in the second box I tried.

I soon had Sophie cut loose and safely out of the car. I sat her down on the grass verge and told her to wait.

“Please don’t leave me, Ned,” she wailed.

I looked lovingly at my battered, sore and frightened wife. “There’s absolutely no chance of that,” I said, kissing the top of her head. “I’ll be back in a moment.”

The road was rapidly filling with people from their cars as I walked around behind my Volvo to inspect the damage. It was pretty bad, with the rear far corner of the car completely caved in. The back wheel on that side was at the wrong angle and the tire was burst, and I could see petrol still dripping out onto the road from the ruptured fuel tank. But it was not half as bad as the near-total destruction of the silver hatchback.

It seemed that Kipper’s car had collided not only with my Volvo Tank but also with oncoming traffic, the first impact having bounced the hatchback onto the wrong side of the road and straight into the path of the semi tractor trailer. The driver of the truck was walking amongst the crowd in a bit of a daze. “I had no chance,” he kept saying to everyone. “That car came straight across the road. I had no chance.”

Nor had shifty-eyed Kipper. The eighteen-wheeler had plowed straight into the driver’s door of the hatchback, mangling the whole of the vehicle almost beyond recognition. A couple of men were leaning in through the broken

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