The two lads marched down the street, swinging their shoulders, cans of beer in their hands and long tartan scarves flowing out behind them, sloshing beer in their exuberance and shouting at the top of their lungs.
“B-A-Y, B-A-Y, B-A-Y C-I-T-Y, With an R-O-double-L, E-R-S, Bay City Rollers are the best!”
“SHUT UP!” Came a hoarse holler from further down the street, the shape of a naked, beer-bellied man silhouetted by a dim, flickering yellow light. “Some of us are trying to sleep!”
“Fuck of you wanker!” The lads shouted back in unison and then ducked into a side alley together, one of them stopping at the mouth to watch the street while the other vanished back into the dark and yanked a can of spray paint out of his pocket, spraying the wall, writing out the name of his idols one giant letter at a time.
He’d just finished the ‘Y’ when he stumbled against something in the dark, fumbling out his lighter and flicking it on, casting a shaky light over the alley. Half – or more – of the street lights were out, it was the only way to see, but you could get away with a lot in the dark. Swings and roundabouts.
The dancing flame revealed a pile of newspaper and cardboard, but there was something underneath it, something heavy that wouldn’t shift. He crouched down, curious, and threw back the card and paper back out of the way, falling back with a little girly shriek as the light revealed the battered black face of a corpse.
“There’s a dead wog back here Derek!”
The other lad came scrambling back and took out his pocket torch, flicking it on and playing it over the corpse. “Fuck me… check his wallet Alan.”
With the torchlight playing over the body Alan crouched down and started to rummage through the corpses clothes, plucking out his wallet. “Christ alive, there’s a Henry and at least a couple of ponies in here.”
“and i am quite certain his family would like both back, if, indeed, they are his.” The voice was strange, quiet, muffled, but it had a way of cutting clean across your perception, right through the sound of traffic and the huffed breaths of the two youths.
They turned, as one, towards the end of the alley and Derek’s torch played over a strange figure. He wasn’t tall, perhaps five seven, five eight at the most. He was dressed entirely in black from top to bottom, a ragged figure in black leather jeans and a ragged old trench coat with a high collar. Even his hands were covered with black gloves. The only colour they could see were gleaming red circles in the dark like demonic eyes, but they weren’t, they were lenses, lenses on a gas mask.
“Who the fuck is this spaz?” Alan stood tall, now he’d recovered from the surprise. Stepping towards the strange man at the mouth of the alley.
“what’s wrong with you that you’d steal from a corpse? What’s wrong with you that you’d have no respect for this poor, dead man?”
“What’s wrong with you that you give a fuck you weird-lookin’ nonce?” Alan stepped up to him and reached out to shove the short man’s shoulder, unsettled by his strange appearance and wanting to feel strong in front of his friend.
The man in black twisted with the shove and balled his left hand into a fist, bringing it hard across Alan’s jaw. It hit him like a steam train, the gloved weighted with lead filings. There was a crunch from his jaw and teeth parted company with jaw as he was bodily flung into the wall of the alley, spitting enamel and giving a strange, gurgling, bloody scream as he slumped to the ground, clutching his ruined mouth.
“Keep the fuck back from me!” Derek stumbled away, keeping the torch on the man as he slowly walked towards him, fumbling in his back pocket for his switchblade, clicking it open and holding it out threateningly in his shaking hand.
“you really don’t want to do that.” The man pushed back his jacket to reveal a dark leather belt around his waist from which hung a half dozen ‘holsters’ each a different shape.
“Is that a utility belt? Do you think you’re Adam West or something?” Derek laughed, nervously, stepping forward, jabbing threateningly with the knife.
The man feinted right with his fist and Derek slashed at him with the blade, scraping across leather only to get his wrist snatched in the man’s other hand. He wasn’t big, but he was strong and Derek was slammed against the back wall, his arm held in that iron grip as the man unbuckled one ‘holster’ with a fluid motion, snatching out a hammer and smashing it into Derek’s hand, shattering small bones and making him keen like a banshee.
“no, it’s a tool belt.”
The red-eyed man in black handcuffed the two men together – no points in wasting cuffs – and left them clinging to each other, weeping and swearing around their wounds and the blood, taking what comfort they could from each other.
Leaving them to their misery he stepped over to the body and respectfully uncovered it, pushing back his sleeve and playing dim red lights over it, plucking up the discarded wallet for a look at it. There was something off about this, the money, the drugs, the way he’d been killed.
The body was covered in long, straight bruises, clustered around the top of his body. A tentative touch confirmed broken, floating ribs, found swollen and bruised flesh, a softness here and there on the man’s skull where the bone had been cracked and shattered. The man had been systematically beaten to death over the course of some time.
The man in black peeled back the gas mask, just up over his nose and his mouth, revealing a broad, bristled chin as he leaned down to sniff at the corpse.
“ganj, so he was a dealer after all,” he murmured to himself, pulling the mask back down and turning back to the wallet. Something didn’t add up.
Opening it up there wasn’t much in there, just some cards and paper, the only notes were crisp and new. The drugs, an eighth of an ounce of marijuana resin, were in a brand spanking new plastic bag, way too large for the small amount of drugs that was there. Something was absolutely, definitely, off.
There wasn’t time right now to think it through, there was the roar of an engine and the squeal of tyres. The man in black darted his head around, the red lenses of his mask darkening in the suddenly harsh light of the beams. The doors flew open and heavy shoes slammed down on the pavement. He scrambled back away from the body but the alley stopped in a dead end, the heavy closed door at the back of a chippy.
“’Ello, ‘ello, ‘ello…” laughed one of the coppers as they strolled up towards him, hand thrust into his pocket, pushing through the sling on his truncheon and dragging it out, slapping it into his palm while his partner hung back a bit.
“i don’t want to hurt you, but i will if i have to.”
“Are you threatening a police officer, squire?” His partner was paying attention now, taking out his own truncheon, the pair of them blocking the whole exit.
“Christ…” said the copper at the back, spotting the rollers and the state they were in. “A body and two beatings? Off to an early start today this evening aren’t we Sir?” The two police looked to each other and their demeanour changed, subtly.
“body?” The penny dropped. Nobody would have managed to get word out about the body yet. They’d barely even looked down the alley yet. They knew. They knew already. They’d always known. “what I said earlier? I’ve changed my mind.”
He pressed back against the chippy door and braced his boot against it before springing forward towards them. They met halfway down the alley, and he brought up his arms, twisting side to side, blocking one truncheon blow with his arm, the other smacking into his belly with a solid thump that surprised the copper that swung it.
That was his chance, snapping out with his fist an spreading the officer’s nose across his face, sending him sprawling with his cap flipping through the air to fall to the dirt. That was all he needed. Now there was space to run, where there were a couple of cops, there’d likely be more, especially if they knew about the corpse.
The man in black hunkered down and ran, heavy boots denting the bonnet of the Rover as he leapt up and over it, ragged leather coat streaming out behind him as he ran, the remaining cop in pursuit, dropping behind him as he wove through the darkened streets at breakneck pace, knowing them like the back of his hand.
When the policeman came to another alleyway and shined his torch down it there was no sign of the man in black. It was empty, nothing but a manhole cover and a piece of card fluttering to floor.
A piece of card with a sketch of a rat and the words “i know,” scrawled upon it.