Posts Tagged ‘detective’

Part One: The Fate of Nyctimus

The door creaked open, swollen slightly in its frame from the wet of the summer storm. The petrichor scent was still rising from the hot streets, strong enough that it even masked the copper-rust smell of the room.

“I’m afraid I’ll get in trouble for this, but I’m fresh out of ideas, and this whole affair made me think of you.”

He was a tall, lanky man, surprisingly graceful and topped with a shock of red hair that – other than its colour – wouldn’t have looked out of place on a negro. It was – somewhat haphazardly, pushed down beneath a rolled derby and otherwise, his appearance was impeccable.

“I’m flattered Detective Constable,” Gathercole smiled slightly and picked his way over the threshold like a ballerina en pointe, careful to disturb little.

“I’m off the clock old boy, call me Charlie,” said the detective, following in Gathercole’s wake.

Gathercole paused and covered his hand with the bright blue handkerchief from his breast pocket, quite the contrast to his pale cream jacket. So protected, he flipped on the electric light and revealed a shocking scene.

The rooms were of impeccable taste, a fascinating – but balanced – the contrast between the old and the new.

There were shelves, heavy with books and ornaments, some of which seemed like nothing but rubbish. There were fragments of broken pot, pieces of stone, a few old coins. These were presented just as proudly as the modern clock on the mantle, or the standing lamps in the shape of half-naked dancers, scandalous – but rendered slightly more tasteful by the angular form of their sculpting.

The furnishings, similarly, were tasteful and modern, sleek and angular. This sense of tension between the old and new, the tastefulness of the décor, the stylistic ornaments, the artefacts upon the shelves, it was all disrupted by just one interrupting element.

Everything had been splashed with blood. It was as though some geyser of gore had erupted in the centre of the room. Blood splatter reached as far as the ceiling, and despite the best efforts of the police thus far, there were still fragments of viscera dashed about the place with the liberal abandon of wedding confetti.

Gathercole picked his way across and around the room, taking everything in with cold and precise detachment. A magician’s flourish and his notebook and pen appeared, conjuring the chicken-scratch shorthand of his notations across the page.

Detective Constable Wentworth held back, letting Gathercole work, following him with his gaze as the man in white went over the room with methodical, mechanical precision.

Finally, Gathercole stepped back to the detective, and his pen paused against the page.

“The body has been removed, but it is clear that this was a particularly violent death. One that would put a frenzied butcher to shame. The room tells me surprisingly little about the victim, though I would guess that they were a man,” Gathercole glanced to the standing lamps. 

“A man who did not hurt for money,” He continued. “I note that the poker is missing from the fireplace and not to be found, suggesting that they grasped it to defend themselves and that it has been removed from the scene with the body.”

Gathercole moved past Wentworth to the door. “I can’t say I’m much of a fan of open-plan living, though of course, the upper floor is more private. A general-purpose room all but directly off the front door suggests certain things about their character, but I do hate to speculate. The windows are all fastened, and there is no sign of damage, at least down here. The front door, however, is a different matter. I see the wood has been snapped where the door has been forced. There are deep scrapes in the carpet and on the back of this kitchen chair. That suggests that it was barricading the door when it was forced.”

“Ah, that was us Gathercole. He had to force entry to get to the corpse.”

“I see,” Gathercole swiftly crossed out several lines of shorthand.

“In which case, I see no sign of forced ingress on this floor. Wait here.”

Gathercole carefully stepped across the bloodstained room and disappeared into the back rooms for a time, then – leaving his shoes behind – he made his way in stockinged feet up the stairs. It was some time before he returned, sitting on the stairs to re-tie his shoes before he continued.

“No forced windows upstairs, no signs of struggle there. Nor at the back door, though another chair is braced against the rear door. They certainly knew something was coming for them. No soot, so nothing got in down the chimney. What can you tell me about the victim?”

Wentworth fetched his own notebook from his pocket and thumbed through the pages. “Professor Noel Bradley, forty-four years of age, the presumed victim as this is his residence and he hasn’t been seen today. A professor of archaeology at Birkbeck College, University of London. This only happened last night, so we’re still phoning around and gathering statements.”

“What can you tell me about the state of the body?” Gathercole’s pen paused again.

“Well, since I know you’re not squeamish… the poor bugger was torn the shreds. Throat ripped out, guts torn open. There were bite marks all over him. Now, I’m something of an amateur naturalist, and to me, I don’t think this was any dog I’ve ever seen. Not at that size and with the shape of the jaw. If it were anything, it was a freakishly gigantic german shepherd, and personally, I’d put money on a wolf.”

“Not your typical murder weapon, d’you have any theories?” Gathercole screwed the cap back onto his pen, tucking it back into his pocket with his notebook.

“Those sorts of things are well above my rank old boy, but between you and me nobody has the slightest clue. So I called you.”

“I think you were right to,” Gathercole stepped past Wentworth and out onto the damp flagstones of the path. It was steamy and humid now outdoors, and he loosened his tie, blinking at the bright sun.

“If anyone asks, you didn’t hear anything from me. Honestly, though, it seems to me that it would take something unnatural to sneak a dog or dogs into a closed house like that anyway, let alone not to leave any paw prints or hair. It’s all yours.”

Crispin was waiting by the Bedford, smoking a cigarette and frowning slightly against the sun.

They climbed into the car and started it up, Crispin tossing his cigarette out of the window to concentrate on turning the wheel. “Something for us then?”

“I think so, though we’ll have to play it carefully. The police aren’t the most understanding of my experiments.”

“Except Charlie there. He seems quite open to your ideas. How do you know him anyway?”

Gathercole glanced across the car and smiled slightly. “Drag ball near White City, you wouldn’t think it for those sideburns, but he makes a halfway decent flapper in the right dress.”

Silently Crispin’s grip on the steering wheel tightened, and the car began to pick up speed.

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My first audiobook is available for download from Audible.com (and soon from other places). You can get it HERE.

It’s a short(ish) story (about half an hour long – so sort of like a radio play in length) about a grubby, disheveled and broadly disliked London detective who’s given a shit case that leads to an interesting place.

This appears to mean that my setup is now good enough for recording audiobooks and voiceovers. So if anyone needs that kind of work done, let me know!

Art for Stain by the lovely Rowena Aitken.

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Stain is your stereotypical washed-up cop. He’s good for nothing, surfing a life of indolence and drunkenness on past glories until he can get to retirement. Then, weirdly, he gets given a serious and important case and may have to reassess his life and career.

Stain is one of a series of ‘neopulp’ short stories I have written, updating the pulp tropes of the 20s-40s with a more modern sensibility, though not necessarily a more modern setting.

You can buy Stain HERE.

It is also bundled with my other short stories HERE

It will be available on other vendors (Lulu, Kindle etc, soon).

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There are pubs for all sorts of people. There are pubs for cops, sportsmen or criminals. There are pubs for politicians and barristers. There are pubs for the Irish and the Scots. I suppose I should drink with other policemen, but I don’t often feel like it. Sometimes I do. Sometimes I want to commiserate and bemoan the state of the world, to listen to the self-satisfied assertions that we’re the thin blue line against the chaos.

Most of the time I drink somewhere else.

There’s a pub in Camden where the freaks and the geeks, the trannies and the fetishists, the queens and would-be artists like to get together before and after they go clubbing and it’s here. Amongst the freaks that I get to actually feel vaguely normal. They’re a surprisingly accepting bunch and they know to leave me alone. The music’s atrocious, but I feel that way about all music, so that’s not a big problem for me.

The best thing about it is, with a clientèle of students and starving artists, the drinks are cheap – at least by London’s standards. That means I can afford the decent whisky long enough to get me too drunk to care about the cheap crap. Once you’re numb, even supermarket vodka tastes fine. You’ve just got to get there first.

I was working on getting there.

I’d managed to camp out a seat at the bar before the black-clad night people emerged from their clubs like bats and by the time they swirled in around me bickering and having loud, melodramatic, teenage drama I was already half-cut.

“ROUGH DAY EH?” The barman, Bob, shouted over the caterwauling music.

“YES,” no point saying much more, finesse wouldn’t be heard over the deafening hubbub.

He took the bottle down from the optics and filled my glass, waving away the twenty I tried to give him. Bob earned himself a place as patron saint of drunk cops in my personal pantheon.

I drank until Bob closed up. He let me stay an hour after and I worked my magic, making most of the rest of the bottle disappear. Even Bob’s largesse runs out after a while though and then you’re out on the street in the evening air with the rest of the drunks, the tramps the cleaners and the freaks. My people.

What was waiting for me at home? Fuck all really. A broken kitchen window and neighbours I should be arresting for one thing or another. I didn’t feel like going back there so I just wandered all through the night. I remember some of it. Finding a late-opening bar that kept me drunk until five in the morning. A garage where I picked up some B&H and a small bottle of awful Canadian whiskey that tasted like molten earwax. I remember a kebab and I remember being sick but apart from that a lot of it is a hazy blur until I was coming to, halfway through a four-pack of Red Bull with the sun coming up over the houses.

I had the Godzilla of hangovers. I was exhausted. I stank. My face was as rough as wholegrain granary toast and I was busting for a piss something chronic. I was also angry. Really, really, really fucking angry. I took a hosing slash in the bushes next to a drive-through KFC and bought a cheap coffee and that made me feel a lot better.

The Corsa was back home, where it belonged. I was in no fit state to drive anyway. I had to take the tube back to the station and some early commuter must have taken pity on me because when I woke up at my stop, some well-meaning fuck had put a two pound coin in my cup, that I nearly swallowed. That just put my anger over the top. I kept it and I used it.

No matter how bad I stank my warrant card got me into the station and I swayed my way to my desk, falling back into my seat with a thump and took care to make several, very deliberate, coffee-ring stains on the table before I passed out.

I woke up after, maybe an hour, with Cord wafting a cup of bitterly gag-inducing coffee under my nose. “Ugh, fuck, green lipstick Cord, really?”

“You alright Sir?” She pressed the hot polystyrene cup into my hand and I gave it a shot, but it was foul.

“They’re out of the good stuff again I suppose?” I grimaced and set it aside. My face must have looked like one of those old Tom and Jerry cartoons when they eat some Alum, whatever the fuck that is.

“Yeah, sorry…” She actually, genuinely looked contrite.

“Is DCI Baker in yet?” I grumbled, standing up. The shift must have wafted some of my funky street smell her way because Cord visibly paled and held her hand in front of her nose.

“He should be, it’s eleven.”

“Christ…” I gulped back the coffee, holding my nose, and slapped my face a couple of times to wake up. “Right, I’m going to see him. Hold the fort Cord and, uh, thanks, I guess. For the coffee.”

The nap had robbed me of some of that ‘wrath of god’ anger I’d been feeling but the headache I still had and the long walk to Baker’s office brought a lot of it back. I didn’t knock I just waltzed right in, leaving the door ajar behind me. Startling Baker as he sat behind his desk, tapping away at the computer like a life-long secretary, the smug shit.

“Stane? What the hell do you think you’re doing just walking in here? I could have been in a sensitive meeting!” He sniffed the air. “You’re drunk. You stink. Just who the hell do you think you are? You’re on duty. You have a duty to uphold certain standards, to reflect the force in a good light!”

I shut the door while he ranted away, all bluster and public-school diction.

Then I gave him a slap. That shut him up, at least for a moment.

“Baker. The Penfold case. It’s bollocks. You know it’s bollocks. That’s why you put me on the case. That’s why Jones’ is watching over me. That’s why you’ve given me an MIT made up of fucking kids…”

He raised his voice, started forming a word, I think it was going to be ‘How dare you?’ but I cut him off with another slap. “I’m not done talking you fucking cockweasel. You listen to me for once.”

“You think I’m fucking stupid? I checked the records. Jones works the child porn cases and him and his little gang of mates have a hardon for busting the nonces. Must be frustrating when things don’t go their way eh? I bet it gets so frustrating they stamp their little feet and if someone’s head happens to be under it at the time… well, can’t be helped, right”

“I don’t think…” I slapped him again. He didn’t seem to be able to believe someone would do that to him. He wasn’t even trying to defend himself. It was like it was a bad dream or something for him.

“Jones’ tried to keep me from seeing the CCTV footage, but everyone keeps digital backups these days. So all I had to do was go back, flash my warrant card and get them to tell me all over again. Blamed it on computer error. People will believe anything if you say that.”

He raised his hand and I grinned. It was nice to be dishing out the shit for once. “Yeah, you can speak.”

“Why the fuck do you care Stane? What’s it to you if one unprosecutable child molester gets stamped to death?”

I blinked at him, stared into his affronted face and shook my head. “If I told you all human life is precious and everyone deserves our protection you probably wouldn’t believe me and I don’t know that I would either. No, I’m happy to sit on this one for you and have it go unsolved. Like you said, nobody gives a shit about a dead nonce.”

“Then,” he spread his hands over his desk, wary that I was going to slap him again. “Why do you care?”

“I care because you’re treating me like a cunt. You didn’t think I’d work out what was going on. You did everything you could to make sure I wouldn’t. You thought I was incompetent, washed up. I’m fucking not, am I Baker? Am I?”

“No,” he admitted. “You’re not.”

“So, I’m going to keep all this information in a nice safe place, just in case, and you’re going to bring me back in permanent. You’re going to get me an assistant, and I don’t give a pint of bear’s jism if they’re scared or superstitious. I need someone to do my donkey work.”

“Blackmail Stane? Really?” His brow furrowed deep and he seemed to regain some of his dignity, getting back up onto his feet. “Sure you wouldn’t like a promotion too? Perhaps a cake?”

I flipped a B&H into my mouth, I was going to need a smoke after this. “No Baker, I’m not greedy. That’s all I want.”

“Alright then. I don’t like it, but I can live with it,” the cheeky cunt had the temerity to offer me his hand to shake, to seal the deal. I reached for it, but stopped, just short.

“Oh, there’s one last thing guv.” I slapped him again, hard, knocking him off his feet onto the blue carpet tiles. “Never underestimate me again.”

I slammed the door behind me as I left. This, was going to be the best cigarette ever.

Now where was my damn lighter?

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You’ve seen police offices on television right? The jocularity, the shitty coffee, the philosophising around the water cooler or in the lift. It’s all bollocks. Modern policing is much like any modern office job. Most of the time seems to be spent sat in front of a computer filling out spreadsheets, or going to endless meetings. It sucks balls, especially since so many of the support staff were let go. I can’t type worth a shit and I can’t find my way around a database with a detailed map and two digital sherpas.

There’s no escaping it these days though. Targets and work assessment, meeting the needs and perceptions of the public, serving the politicians, anything but actually nailing crooks and putting them away. Unless they’re nice, dreddlocked middle class kids objecting to tuition fees. Then it’s time to put on the riot gear and break some fucking heads.

Early for me when I’m not at work is two in the afternoon. Eight or nine in the morning is another country and getting in to work by car – which for some fucking reason I thought seemed like a good idea – was a trial an a half. Congestion charge… it’s bollocks. It’s like the tax they slap on tabs every fucking budget, captive audience, dress it up as something socially progressive to justify sucking more cash out of your pockets. Not that I can smoke in the office any more either. Bastards.

My desk might as well have been in any number of cubicle farms from any number of firms in the city. Flat screen monitor, filthy keyboard. The bastard cleaners had taken the opportunity to clean my desk while I was on forced leave and without my filth layered over it, it was like it belonged to someone else.

Hunt and peck, that’s my typing style. Slow as buggery, but I’ve never gotten used to the damn things. Other than the office computer the last electronic device I spent any time with was a Nintendo 64 and typing’s not a big issue when you’re playing Goldeneye. I open the files and see what we have. Specs and his crew have been busy and have filled a load of hard-drive space with pictures, results, speculations and waffle. He hadn’t listened to my post-it note comment and I was forced to wade through all his crap to get to anything that was actually pertinent.

What we did have confirmed what I’d thought, four assailants, their approximate shoe sizes, the likelihood of the victim being brought in by car. Everything I’d seen and said but justified by pages of jargon. It was a snooze-fest, especially without a cig. At least someone had bought in some of the better instant coffee. It almost made it bearable.

Jones stopped by with bad news. There’s was bugger all on the CCTV cameras, nothing useful anyway. Nor were there any witnesses. Which was just fucking typical. It was a bullshit case and we all knew it. They’d just brought me in as a token, a sop, to make it look good on the reports that quarter.

When Jones left to go back to his desk there wasn’t anything else immediately pressing on me to do. So I sloped off out for a fag with the rest of the reprobates. Wouldn’t you know it though? Lost my fucking lighter. Again. Fortunately one of the girls had one and held it up to give me a light.

“Cheers luv.”

“Aren’t you Stane?” She asked, so I actually paid attention to her. Short, pretty strong looking woman. Red hair in a short bob that didn’t suit her, made her face look fat. A mess of freckles. Rumpled women’s suit and that same bright-eyed look specs had.

“Yeah, you?”

“DC Cord. I’m supposed to be on your MIT. I was just going to bring you something on your case after I finish up here.”

“Yeah?” If she put having a fag above work maybe she wasn’t so bad after all, even if she was young.

“We got an ID from the teeth the forensics guys managed to find,” she reached into her suit jacket an pulled out a crumpled few sheets of print out. “I’ll add it to the case data when I finish up, but you may as well have this.”

I took another long drag on my cig, staring lustily at her Marlboro and tucked the bits of paper into my trouser pocket, “Can you just give me the short version?”

“Samuel Penfold. Couple of convictions for indecent exposure. Suspected kiddie-fiddler and child pornographer. Nothing recent though.”

“Penfold? Ooh, eck!” I laughed a cloud of fag smoke and coughed. She looked at me like I’d fallen off the fucking Moon. “Before your time I suppose,” I sighed. Getting old is a shitty, shitty thing. “Well that explains the severe cock-stomping he got I guess. Some sort of revenge thing. Just got to find out who he pissed off. Nothing recent you said?”

“Not for a handful of years. Either he’s cured or he got careful.” That lipstick didn’t suit her either, but I’ll be damned if the smoke blowing from her mouth wasn’t holding my attention.

“Under investigation for anything?”

“Perpetually, but nothing’s stuck for a long, long time.”

“Anything serious?” I tossed the butt of my cig down on the ground with its fallen brothers and ground it out with my shoe.

“No, just a suspect in trading child porn online lately. I mean, that’s serious, but nothing ‘real’ if you see what I mean.”

“Alright, cheers Cord, guess we’ll get the word out and see what happens.”

I left her to finish her cig and went back to my desk. I made the calls I needed to and I suppose the information must have gone out on the radio or something, because by the time I went out to buy myself a chicken wrap from Marks’ for lunch there was a sweet little angry mob outside the station. A handful of men and women with hastily made placards. Turned out they were protesting us spending any police time or resources trying to find out who’d murdered a known nonce.

The Great British public, god love ’em, hang ’em and flog ’em and bugger the consequences of a miscarriage of justice. I tried not to let them put me off wrap but it did get me to thinking. Really, honestly, nobody gave a shit that this guy was dead. Nobody is as hated in the public eye, or even by other criminals, than a nonce. This case was smelling even more of bullshit than before.

I might be shit at computers, but I’m dogged where it counts. I was, literally, the only person who gave a shit about poor, peanut-headed Penfold, the kiddie fiddler. Nobody else working the case gave a tinker’s cuss. Jones’ wasn’t even a murder investigator. Specs and his team were well-meaning, but clueless. Even Cord, it turned out when I checked her record, had only been made a detective constable a week ago.

It wasn’t like I had anything better to do though. My brain was itching for a puzzle. No point wasting Jones’ or Cord’s time. They probably had other stuff going on. They’d probably appreciate a slow day anyway. I took it upon myself, then, to go over absolutely everything. Finger-pecking away on the keyboard and writing copious notes in my scribbled handwriting over the backs of the never-ending supply of memos and notices.

I read all of Penfold’s previous cases, even though his name made me snigger at my desk. I looked over the open case investigating him on child porn charges. They had nothing on him. It certainly seemed like he’d gone straight. I looked into Cord and Jones, it was obvious why a washed up fuck like me had been put on this case, it wasn’t so obvious when it came to them.

The last thing was to go back to the scene of the crime and check it out again for myself. To check Four-eyes’ work and do a follow up on Jones’ investigations. That’s when it all fell neatly into place and I figured out what the hell was going on.

That was also when I decided to get drunk off my tits.

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My car is the one thing I really have going for me and given that it’s a five year old Corsa, filled with the slowly composting remains of paperwork, Burger King detritus and Starbucks’ cups that should give you some sense of where I’m at in my life. She runs though and she’s bought and paid for, so that’ll do for me. I don’t ask for much.

The city never really sleeps. There’s always something going on at any hour you care to mention but between three and five in the morning is about as dead as it ever gets. What would have been a three or four cigarette trip across town was only one. That gave me a bit of time to think, wake up and clear my head.

Why did they bring me back in? My arrest record was pretty good, that was something I supposed. Nobody wanted to work with me though, so why bring me in? Too much workload? That could have been it. Budget cuts meant there wasn’t a lot of spare room in the system when things got hectic. Sure, they say it’s not front line staff that gets cut, but that’s being a little ‘economical with the actualite’ as the French might say, if I could speak the lingo.

My brain didn’t have anything about the case to work on. The address wasn’t residential, but that was all I knew about it really. No wonder I was preoccupied on trying to figure out ‘why me?’ I’m no one for religion but ‘because god is a bastard’ is always a tempting reason to fall back on.

I was so wrapped in my thoughts I almost didn’t see the black and white tom cat bounding across the road. I had to slam the anchors on so hard all the sludge in the bottom of the card shifted forward, like a wave. I wasn’t used to this shit. You never normally get much above twenty in the city and having to suddenly stop has all the heart-stopping novelty of being kidnapped by aliens.

Fuck it, it wasn’t that far from here. I parked the car at the side of the road with flagrant disregard of the yellow lines – one of the few perks of the job – and stopped to give the unperturbed cat a scratch behind the ears. He had a collar, no stray this one, just a shame people still think you should put the cat out at night. A singular purr and a flash of its arse an it was away into the street. I envied him more than a little.

If you’re not first on the scene the lights, hubbub or onlookers make it pretty easy to find the site of the crime and that was the case this time. No crowds, thankfully, just the flashing lights and vans of the support team. It actually felt good to be back on the case. At least until I flashed my warrant to the constable and rounded the corner into the alley.

Kids watch these procedural cop shows and grow up wanting to work in forensics. What that means is you end up with whole units crammed full of fresh graduates who don’t know their arse from their elbow but still feel that they’re the most important person on the case. It’s the job of cynical old bastards like me to disabuse them of their delusions but it’s hard fucking work and not something you want to be dealing with on top of a murder investigation.

Looking over the crew that was backing me up, not a one of them seemed to be over half my age and they all had that, deadly-serious, CSI look about them. CSI Aberystwyth maybe.

I slapped my hand to my forehead, “A shower of useless cunts,” I muttered to myself and my shoulders slumped. This was going to be shit.

“Aye mate, that they are.”

Thank fuck for that, one competent face at least. Sergeant Jones. I sort of knew him. Drinks after work a couple of times. He wasn’t part of my unit but he’d been around for a while at least. Knew what was what. If nothing else he was someone I could commiserate with over a pint about the self-important crime scene nerds.

“Alright Jones? Didn’t know you were working murders these days,” I offered him a cigarette but he shook his head.

“Giving up. I’m not on murders officially, but staff shortages, what can you do? Baker didn’t want you working this alone and I caught the short straw,” he laughed an tossed some of that horrible nicotine gum into his mouth.

“Hope you’re wearing your knife vest then,” I grizzled, gallows humour, especially since Brightman had been stabbed and was the whole bloody reason I was on leave in the first place. I left Jones trying to find a witness and girded my loins for dealing with the fucking hipster graduates working over the scene like it was the Kennedy assassination.

“You, specky, what’ve we got here then?” Another cigarette to fortify my against the spiel I just knew was coming.

“Specky? It’s Philip sir. Philip Henry.”

“Don’t give a shit. Give me the Cliff notes.”

“One victim, multiple assailants. Looks like he was stamped to death. It’s going to be hard to get an ID due to extensive cranial trauma and the assailants seem to have singled out his genitals for a lot of their attention. We’re sweeping the scene but since it’s a public place with a lot of foot traffic in the day it’s going to be hard to identify what samples relate to the assailants,” he rattled it all off, the smug prick and then smiled at me, like a dog hoping for a biscuit.

“Specs, if it doesn’t fit on a single post-it note, I don’t need to hear it. He was curb-stomped so hard his skull caved in and they kicked the shit out of his balls. That about cover it?” I puffed smoke in the jumped up little nerd’s face.

“Yes, sir,” he coughed. “You shouldn’t really smoke on scene sir.”

“Oh fuck off. Show me the fucking corpse.” He was right about the smoking, little shit, so I flicked it away into the main road after one more long drag, wishing for a Marlboro and followed him to the tarp.

I could see I was a mess before he even lifted the damn thing. Blood was run down he gutter, thickened and black around the cigarette butts, dropped receipts and bottle tops that littered it. I would be surprised if there was any blood left in the poor dead fuck. Four-eyes lifted the tarp for me, he retched, obviously a fucking noob.

Yeah, this cunt was dead alright. His head had been stamped into the kerb stone so hard it had taken on the shape of a peanut shell. Unrecognisable, teeth protruding from the pulpy mess at odd angles. Glasses smashed so deep into the flesh of his face it looked like a half-hearted attempt at making a Play-Doh stegosaurus. As to the mess between his legs, the stamping had reduced his meat-and-two-veg to something the consistency of the inside of a Melton Mowbray pie.

I crouched down for a closer look, against my better judgement, not that I really needed to. Just doesn’t hurt to show the crime scene nerds you’ve been around the block and can look at a corpse without having a Technicolour yawn.

“Right, four-eyes, make a note and then take it over to the sergeant. We can lift fingerprints, his hands are intact… though bound in a strip-binder. Cross check against people arrested for rape and other sex crimes in the last six months. That should narrow our field a little. Someone went to town on his todger and I’d lay good odds that’s why.”

Christ I wanted a cigarette. Right or wrong this jumped up university tit had made me waste one, half smoked. Time to rub his nose in it a little. Experience was always going to trump paper.

“He’s tied. That’s fucking conspicuous unless you’ve been out for a night at the Torture Garden and Mr Peanut here isn’t wearing latex, so I doubt that very much. Looks like he was stomped from all around but the blood splatters are only a hundred and eighty degrees, not three-sixty, plus there’s no blood trails. Whoever stamped the shit out of this guy would need hosing off to get rid of the blood, brains and bits of bollock. They must have drove down here, kicked the shit out of him and then drove off again. Tell the sergeant to get the CCTV footage from the lights and the shops both sides of the road from this turning. We might get lucky.”

“Sir,” specs was affronted, not impressed. Mission accomplished. Putting his back up would get some callouses on the snotty git’s emotions.

“I’ll leave you to it then, I’ve got all I need.” I paced back away from the scene, heading back to my car. I passed by Jones taking a statement from some impenetrably Jamaican street sweeper. “All yours for now Jones. I’ll meet you tomorrow at the station and we can compare notes and go over footage.”

“Not sticking around Stane?” He held up a hand to the sweeper and… smiled. That seemed odd.

“Don’t want to get you stabbed Jones. Plus I need my beauty sleep,” I didn’t wait for an answer. I just waved him off and found my car, clambered in and headed home. No point fretting, nothing more we could do without more information.

Just another dead guy.

Nobody special.

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An Englishman’s home is his castle. It’s a phrase that’s overused to the point of driving me to fits of rage but there’s a kernel, a smidge, a chewy centre of truth to it. You don’t talk shit about a geezer’s home any more than you would dare raise your voice about the way a woman raises her kids. If you do either of these things, however deserved, you’re going to get a fucking slap. You’re also going to be ignored, so he whole bloody exercise is pointless from the get-go. You can only get away with either faux-pas if you’re a close friend or family and even then there’s going to be bitter resentment for months and a lot of hard, silent stares. The kind that can peel paint.

The thing about being a policeman, even a detective inspector, is that the money’s shit and everybody hates you. You can’t afford a good gaff which means you end up living around the scum that hate you the most. Most have more sense than to fuck with you, but they wouldn’t be scum if they had a lick of sense.

If you’ve got a shit house, or in my case a flat in a leftover, Stalinist, block of concrete you’ve got little motivation to keep it clean and tidy. If you’re single – and a lot of coppers are – you’ve got no extra income and even less inclination to keep the place tidy. Compound that with being a drunk and having a reputation for getting other officers killed and it goes some way to explaining the state of the place.

I’m not making excuses, I’m just offering an explanation. There’s no excuse I just, really, can’t be fucked keeping the place tidy and that’s nobody’s business but mine. That’s why there’s washing up up every flat surface and dirty laundry everywhere there isn’t washing up. That’s why there’s a clear foot of mould growing out of the mug on the kitchen windowsill – I call her Ermintrude – and why that stack of pizza boxes is arranged like a card house.

Hey, a bloke gets bored when he can’t afford Sky and there’s fuck all on the telly but ‘I’m A No-Talent Cunt, Get me a Career’.

So, to recap: Policeman, shitty house, no money.

Imagine my surprise, then, to wake up at 3:20 am to some fucking chav scumbag clambering in through my kitchen window. Ermintrude didn’t survive the experience I’m sad to say, joining a long line of partners and assistants to die around me and feeding the ‘legend’ of DI Stane. She didn’t die for nothing though, the smash woke me up from my slumber on the couch with a start.

The street light shines right in my kitchen window and without even pulling off the blanket and rolling out onto my pile of socks I could see what the twat had done. He’d tried to climb in through the kitchen window and gotten himself stuck. I could see his silhouette in black and orange against the wall. There was no rush.

I swung my legs off the couch and peeled my bare skin off the worn leather with a sound like tearing Velcro. There was a rattle and a clang as he tried to free himself, but I think his expensive trainers were stuck in the swampy sink. How the fuck do these kids afford them anyway? I fumbled for my cigs and tossed one into my mouth, snapping it out of the air and lighting it with a match, since my fucking lighter had gone walkabout again. I used to be a pack a day man, but these days I’m on two packs of Silk Cut. That doesn’t actually count as smoking, right?

I scratched my arse and wandered through to the kitchen and yep, there he was. A greasy little hoodie thug ticking all the boxes of the disadvantaged underclass who make it so fucking hard to feel sorry for them.

“Oi, cunt.”

His head turned and he rattled and twisted in the window, desperately, knocking my Mr Men tea mug out of the sink to smash amongst the remains of dear departed Ermintrude.

“Christ bruv, at least put some fucking pants on, innit?”

I took a tug on the cigarette and plugged my kettle in, clicked it on to heat up and then I turned back to the little scrote. “You break into my house and tell me what to wear you little shit? I don’t fucking think so.”

I reached for my moby, which I keep in my bread-bin, obviously. I flipped open the lid and hauled it out, thumbing the keylock and squinting in the sudden light from the screen. “Fucking things. You’d think they’ make it come up slowly so you don’t get blinded.”

“Like I give a shit. What are you doing anyway?” He struggled again, rattling the window and dislodging a couple of forks coated in dried-on spaghetti hoops to clatter on the tiles.

“Calling the police. People still do that,” I fumbled with the screen, shitty fucking smart phones never work right but at least mine doesn’t talk to me. It rang before I could dial though. It figured. I rolled my eyes and hit the little green thing that lets you pick up a call. “Stane. It’s three in the fucking morning so his better not be about double glazing.”

It wasn’t.

“Stane, we need you on an MIT. We’ve got a murder that you’re uniquely suited to dealing with.”

I sighed and took out my frustration by stabbing the shithead in my sink with a fork.

“Fuck man, that’s my arse! You’re a mentalist!”

“That your boyfriend Stane?”

“Never you fucking mind. I’m on leave remember?” I gave the shithead an extra stab for squealing.

“Nobody else wants it and I know you. You’ve only got the work.”

“I don’t work alone DCI Baker, you know that.”

“No fucker will work with you. You’ll have to make do with the forensics people. Look, nobody gives two shits about this case, we just need to show willing for the press and the brass.”

Batman, wise but made-up geezer that he is, tells us that criminals are a cowardly and superstitious lot. They haven’t got anything on cops. Just because three people who’ve worked closely with me have ended up dying, none of these cowardly bastards will work with me any more. Baker must have been desperate to pull me in.

“Alright, alright, give me the fucking details.”

I tossed the fork back into the sink between the kids feet and wiped my hand over the whiteboard on the fridge, jotting down the address as Baker read it out over the line to me. “Right guv, I’ll be there as soon as I can.”

“Don’t call me guv you cheeky fuck,” he rang off and I put the phone back down on the counter.

The kettle was boiling now, rattling away in its cradle and giving a loud ‘snap’ as it automatically switched off. “It’s your lucky day shithead. I’m too busy to deal with you.”

“What do you mean?” He wiggled again, rattling the window, jostling the precarious pile of filthy pots, pans, plates and cutlery in the sink.

“Look. Just fuck off.”

“I’m stuck.”

“You’re not stuck shithead. You’re just lacking motivation,” I yanked the bubbling, rumbling kettle from its cradle and moved over to where he was hung, half in, half out of the kitchen.

“What? You wouldn’t man, that’s torture!” He rattled more, twisting and writhing and knocking another poor mug onto the floor.

“Hey, I’m the one with his John Thomas swinging in the breeze you little shit. If it splashes onto me I’m going to be in more pain than you are.” I lifted the kettle and tipped it slowly, pouring a slow stream of boiling, steaming water next to him.

“Fuck man! Fuck! Fuck!” He wormed around, desperately, and I let the boiling water touch his leg. He screamed at a pitch only dogs can hear and suddenly seemed to get his motivation, jack-knifing like a drunken truck driver and falling out of the window face first onto the balcony.

I watched him scramble up and run and found myself a clean(ish) mug to make a cup of tea. I was going to need it.

“Right then. Suppose I’d better get some fucking trousers on before I save the world.”

Tea, t-shirt, trousers, phone, coat, bugger the socks, shoes, fresh cig and out the door. Into the wee, small hours and the dark. Off to see some poor murdered cunt.

Oh the glamorous fucking life of the policeman.

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St. John stirred sexily in his sleep, the satin sliding from his sleeping shape. Mimsy was restless, despite their reciprocal rapture. Sweat still slicked her skin, stinging the scrapes she’d suffered in the psycheverse. She kissed and caressed his chest, creeping from the cot so as not to concern him. Naked she nimbly nipped across the nest and knelt, lotus natured. A backward look at her languid lover and she lidded her lamps, leaning into the lunatic land of luminosity. She felt the world whirl away as she went, wilful to seek the wickedness within.

The psycheverse here was hers and her mind was filled with the scattered remnants of recent thoughts. St John’s face, massive, carved into the red rock of her imagination, contorted in remembered ecstasy. This island in the void smelt of sweat and sweetness, butter and incense, a low note of old spices, warm and christmassy. Her mind was never the same landscape twice, wide open to the world this island in the void was always hers but always different. Her fears were manifest here too, a tinge of yellow – primrose rather than mustard – laid here and there. Cracks in the firmament beneath her feet, a chill wind of disquiet fluttering her diaphanous salwar kameez around her body as her unease made her manifest clothing.

If the deaths were to stop, if Mr Mustard were to be stopped, she would have to sacrifice herself. Her mind, her essence, her energy, her vril, her prana was stronger than others. Her third eye a blazing beacon in the psycheverse. If he took her mind he would have to take no others. He would be real and it would only cost her, not however many others he killed in his quest. It was a worthwhile sacrifice.

She turned out, towards the teeming sea of minds and opened her third eye wide. It blazed as the prismatic light shone out deep into the psycheverse, a beacon, a line of rainbow light that slowly tightened down to yellow, calling her enemy.
There was a creeping sense of dread, of terror, she swallowed it back knowing the sacrifice that she was going to make – assuming that he took her up on her offer. She felt him approach, the world around her turning yellow, save for a little patch under her feet. A stink like a Friday night stairwell, rot and piss and nicotine smoke and he appeared again, riding on a tide of jaundiced light until he alighted at the edge of her mind, wary, flexing his mental muscles, a yellow steam wafting around him as she shuffled closer, step by step, that hideous face snarled into a contemptuous sneer.

“You called?” The laugh that accompanied the comment was grotesque and utterly humourless, it was the laugh of a boy plucking the legs from a spider one by one and watching its hopeless struggles.

Mimsy nodded gently and inclined her head, looking humble, even though her stomach was convulsing in terror. “I have an offer for you.”

His greasy fingers cupped her chin and lifted her eyes to look into his mustard glare. It stung all three of her eyes to look at him that closely and stroboscopic tears crept down her cheeks from the pain and the fear. “I can eat you up the moment I choose to. What can you possibly offer me?”

She wetted her lips with her tongue and tried to close her eyes, feeling his ragged nails scratch as he tightened his grip, stopping her. “My mind is more powerful than most. If you take me you can become real without having to kill anyone else. You can leave, through me, enter the real world and it’ll be over. You’ll get what you want.”

The disgusting tulpa raised his other hand to his own chin, mirroring the way he was holding her as he scratched and thought, flakes of dead yellow skin falling like snow and clinging to her, making the bile rise in the back of her mouth. “Maybe I like killing. Maybe that’s the way I want to do it.”

“Can you wait that long?”

The creature pondered a moment longer and then simply nodded. “I accept. Open wide.”

Mimsy’s two eyes closed and her third eye gaped wide, blazing with light, wider and wider, brighter and brighter. Mr Mustard laughed over and over and over, louder and louder, his paper clothes rattling in the wind as the portal grew wider and wider and he was reduced to a sallow-edged silhouette.

Through the coruscating light her room could be seen beyond, the vague shape of St John, asleep in the bed, not that Mr Mustard cared. This was his promised land, the really-real, a place to be physical, set, to experience everything first hand through his own senses rather than through anyone else’s. He began to shuffle forward, into the light, closer and closer to the other side.
A burst of cardamom scent and an inverted flash of darkness behind him and he was caught between two Mimsy’s, one blazing light, the other blazing dark, hauled in two directions between them. “What? What’s going on, what are you doing?”

The two of her spoke as one. “She is my self image, that is a memory, a recent one, a short term, forgettable memory, a night of passion with a man, one night of many. Forgettable in its detail, part of a continuum, a memory that will not last. Once you’re in there and its forgotten, you are forgotten.” The two of her began to slowly pace together, sandwiching him between them.

“You forget Miss Burogrove… am I stronger than you.” His own yellow light began to glow anew and he began to grow, bigger and bigger, reaching out his hands to deflect the light and dark in scattered rays from his tawny, stained fingers.

“Anywhere else in the psycheverse you are stronger than me, but this is my mind and you came here willingly. The more real you become, the more like me you become. The playing field is levelled and here, in my mind, my memories, my dreams. I am more, I am stronger.” The mirror twins grew as fast as Mr Mustard, faster, dwarfing him, rejoining, flowing into a swirling taijitu as her palms closed together around the fading yellow light. “I’m sorry, you deserved a chance to be real, but not like this… I love you.”

And he was gone.

Mimsy stood, shakily, a single shed tear shearing from her chin and sliding down the slope of her breast in the shadows. Timidly she tottered across to the trundle and tipped into it. St John stirred and stared as she slipped against him.

“Everything alright luv?” He murmured.

She nestled her noggin in the nook of his neck and nuzzled at him. “It’s over. He’s gone now. I dealt with it.”
His hands hold her, hug her, her hips hove back and she hooks her heels behind his shanks. “Make me forget,” she says.
Eyes meet and for a moment he has misgivings, a merest mote of yellow in her gaze, but lips meet, bodies move and immediately all is marvellous, magnificent and mean Mister Mustard, but a memory, melting away.

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