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Friday, 26 September 2014

Saturday Story - 'Test Nerves'

Some years ago, in the 1970s, while I was still breaking into commercial short story writing, my friend Neil Robson came up with a handful of story plots for me to use. I agreed to write them if we went 50:50 on any sale.

At the time, I was writing as Platen Syder. As these stories were not entirely my own creation, we decided to adopt another penname. Our first sale was ‘The Courier’ and the byline was Jon Teiffort. Yes, it was a simple anagram of Joint Effort.  The following tale didn’t see publication until some years later, in fact, and I adjusted the byline just a little:

Ford Escort - Wikipedia commons

Jon F. Teifort

With great care, Emma Fayne slowly eased the sparkling clean Escort alongside the kerb and as she switched off the engine she felt the butterflies in her stomach do another somersault.  Even though she had parked quite neatly, she was anxious.  She sneaked a sidelong glance at her instructor.

He smiled and that restored her confidence. ‘No need to be nervous, Miss Fayne. I’ll just nip inside, if you’ll wait here.’

‘Thanks.’ She swallowed and wiped her moist palms. ‘I’ll do my best.’

‘Good. We’ll get you through!’ He slid out and strode purposefully into the dreary driving test centre. Frosted windows above the first floor proclaimed that other businesses shared the office building.

As she stood by the car bonnet, she noticed a policeman strolling along the pavement and suddenly tried not to worry about her new dress blowing in the slight breeze. A deep-throated voice from behind startled her: ‘Waiting for your test, Miss – ?’

‘Fayne,’ she supplied automatically.

‘Ah, yes,’ he said, peering through tortoise-shell spectacles. ‘I just thought you didn't look too well.’

Emma forced a smile. ‘A little nervous, that’s all.’

He eyed a yellow Volvo parked on a double yellow line. ‘What’s the number of that car the policeman’s standing beside?’ he asked rather curtly.

She gave the number hesitantly, now quite upset at his incivility.

‘Right, Miss Fayne, let’s get started,’ he said, as though he had no time for nervous candidates.

He peered over his shoulder. ‘Move off as soon as you’re ready. Turn first left after that pelican crossing.’

No such thing as a please, she noted irritably.

Moistening her lips, Emma mentally ran through the sequence with ease, born of repetition. Handbrake still on. Gear in neutral. Switch on – first time!  She sighed thankfully. All clear behind, into gear, brake off – another quick check behind, indicator on – and away we go.

As she passed the crossing and neared the junction she marvelled at herself. No mistakes! With the way she felt – and the examiner’s manner didn’t help, either! – she found this hard to believe.

At the junction’s STOP sign she braked to a halt. Her dress had ridden up her thighs but she fought off an urge to pull the material down: she had no wish to distract the examiner and didn’t want him thinking she was more concerned over her appearance than the test.

They seemed to be at the junction an age and he was betraying signs of impatience, tapping his fingers on his briefcase. Then, at last, a reasonable gap presented itself and she moved off, effortlessly meeting the speed of the traffic stream.

‘Turn right into the high street, at the next junction, please.’

Good heavens, a ‘please’, would you believe? I’m winning him over with my superior car-­handling, she thought.

Her right turn was quite good, if perhaps a little sluggish on the pull-off.

She was beginning to relax. They were heading for the de-populated part of town. Should be no trouble reversing there.

She approached the traffic-lights in the inside lane. Just ahead trundled an old VW Golf on the outside.

The shrill siren startled her!

Wide-eyed, she spotted the flashing blue light of the police car in her rear-view mirror.

In an instant the patrol car swept past.

But the elderly driver of the VW must have panicked. He pulled in.

Emma’s heart lurched as the ancient vehicle veered towards her lovely clean unblemished car! Her foot rammed down on the brake-pedal.

Tyres screeched.

She’d done it – emergency braked in time!

There was a resounding crash from the rear. The wind was thrust out of her by the jerk of the seat-belt and the juddering motion of the car.

The driver following had been too close and he hadn’t braked in time.

She was aware of her examiner swearing, then she blacked out.


Beside her bed stood a police constable, a young nurse, and a man with a moustache who leaned over solicitously. ‘I’m Detective Inspector Stokes.’

‘The gentleman with me,’ she said tremulously, ‘is he all right?’

‘Yes – and now safely locked up!’

‘But... it wasn’t his fault... The old gent in that Volks–’

‘I’m afraid your examiner was anything but, Miss Fayne. He’d just robbed Manny Goldberg – his office is over the test centre.’

‘Robbed? But he seemed so plausible.’

‘You were made use of by a very cunning man, Miss. On leaving the building he must’ve noticed PC Bennett here beside his parked Volvo. He didn’t relish being stopped for a parking offence with the stolen money on him, so he quick-wittedly posed as your examiner.’ DI Stokes looked grim. ‘It’s a fair bet your test route would’ve soon led into the country. And, once there, well...’

Emma paled. ‘Then, my accident... was lucky?’

‘Yes, Miss. And I think that but for your test nerves you might’ve noticed he wasn’t carrying an examiner’s clipboard – only a bulging briefcase!’



Previously published in Costa Life Magazine in 2008.

Copyright Nik Morton, 2014

 Note: If you’ve read my story ‘Two Birds with One Stone’ here then you might have noticed that DI Stokes appears in that, too. A very minor hint of continuity!

If you liked this story, you might like my collection of crime tales, Spanish Eye, published by Crooked Cat, which features 22 cases from Leon Cazador, private eye, ‘in his own words’.  He is also featured in the story ‘Processionary Penitents’ in the Crooked Cat Collection of twenty tales, Crooked Cats’ Tales.


Spanish Eye, released by Crooked Cat Publishing is available as a paperback and as an e-book.


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