Dear Webcore, to wish you a very Happy 60th Birthday, here’s a long short story written to a secret formula by a team of your fellow Recommenders. We hope you don’t mind making an exception to your non-fiction habit, seeing as it’s such a special occasion. The RR writers’ workshop takes strange delight in presenting:
V Valentino, propelled by a whirl of thoughts, turned and beckoned to his legs, urging them to please keep up. Two steady elements – his non-beckoning hand holding the flat bottle in his pocket, a little more firmly as he crossed the bridge with its view of the drop between the iron railings; and directions committed to memory as he turned right at the bridge end and the river’s murmur emerged from the receding traffic noise. The river reflected muscovado in the last drops of sunset and the early fizz of street lamps. There was a party of special things to do.
None of them to be done in the light of day. The evening sun carried an oppressive heat even as it set. He longed for the cool of autumn, even winter. To steal softly thru’ snow leaving behind him a frozen trail. As it was there was no sign that he had come this way. Only the directions in his head, given by a voice he hoped would turn out to be hers. Even disguised, her voice – if it was hers – was like liquid honey. The photograph he kept in his wallet stared blankly. The expression unfathomable. ”Her eyes are a blue million miles”, he thought. The prisoner number she held for the camera was as mundane as the situation was grave. The road stretched up the hill ahead of him like a pedestrianised rubber band. The setting sun caught the ochre paving blocks, making them shimmer. He wondered if this Yellow Brick Road led to an illusion. But still he made the ascent, despite his tiring limbs. He had to go. He needed to know. He must see her, if only this one more time. Had she really embezzled the corporation ? Had she really poisoned the chief executive ?
DV shook his head. He didn’t believe it. His girl wouldn’t do those things. Her trial date was coming up soon. He needed to talk to her; he needed to find out what she said – and then he needed to make use of whatever rusty detection skills he still retained. He was sure that the police didn’t have the full picture. He’d heard whispers that they had been directed…
The prison house loomed above him, its decorative crenulations ominous against the blood-red sky. Just a few hundred yards and he’d be there. He stopped and took a swig from his bottle, checked the time on his watch. Ten minutes until his appointment. It was good to be early. It was all a question of appearances. Being there early, looking prepared and alert, all these things would help to convince his contact that he was on top of things, that he wasn’t someone to be messed with. He took another pull from the bottle and stepped into the shadows outside the prison gate. Eight minutes to wait.
He thought back to the last time he’d spoken to his girl, during visiting hours at the prison. She had been both frightened and defiant, insisting on her innocence but unable to prove anything. He had been full of talk about how he would solve this murder and clear her name. As he stood up to leave, she had called him back.
“Don’t do anything stupid,” she said, “I don’t want to you to get yourself killed”. He had replied with something melodramatic about doing whatever he had to do, and she had sighed. She whispered “I love you, you big dummy”, and with that their time had ended and she was taken back to her cell.
The sound of footsteps approaching jerked DV out of his reverie. He slid out of the shadows, appearing directly in front of Jimmy the Spiv, a small-time crook and one of his many contacts. Jimmy chuckled.
“You can’t scare me like that, man, and you should’ve learned that by now. It’s funny, I never thought when you helped me out all those years ago that’d you’d ever have to call on me. How the mighty have fallen, eh?”
“Do not act big now, Jimmy,” DV replied, “You were small time then and you are small time now ! ! !”. DV glared at Jimmy and made a dramatic pause before continuing: “Remember you owe me big time for hiding that gun from the police . . . but I still have it and it still has your fingerprints on.”
“Who do you think you are fooling ?”, Jimmy replied, “You were always too soft… Too soft as a cop and too soft with the babes”.
“Never mind that now,” snarled DV. “There isn’t much time.”
Swiftly he laid out what he wanted Jimmy to do. Jimmy didn’t demur.
“And the weapon I’ll leave up to you,” DV said finally.
“No more guns for me,” said Jimmy, smiling his crooked smile. “Orange Claw Hammer – sweet, sharp and straight in the river.”
DV stood and watched as Jimmy’s diminutive figure slipped away down the hill and melted into the shadows of the Parks Department’s finest shrubbery. He looked at his watch again, drained the bottle and dropped it into the recycling bin. There was something else he had to do before visiting time. His watch told him he had half an hour. Circling the gaol’s perimeter wall, he continued his ascent. He just hoped he was doing the right thing by her, by both of them. Damned if you do, blasted if you don’t…
p, up, up he climbed. Right up to Observatory Crest. He found the clearing, no problem. Hell, he could’ve found it in his sleep. He’d dreamt of it often enough, waking up flailing, screaming silently, anxious not to wake her even in his anguish.
He sank to his knees in the dusty scrub, panting. “Hey you,” he croaked, the splinter in his voice catching him off-guard. He coughed his throat clear. “Sorry, been a while. Things to sort, people to do”. He flushed – at his flippancy, his weakness, his sheer goddamn unreliability. He drew the intricately decorated China Pig from his breast pocket, dusted it off, set it down on too-tiny trotters. “Happy birthday, son. From us both. She’ll be here to wish you herself next year. I promise.”
Shards of memory, fragments of birthdays and other celebrations: their shared past, all too brief as it had been, and then, somewhere on the other side of a chasm of blank indifference and alcohol damage, his own childhood. The smells of damp coal and boiling cabbage. The shouting, somewhere else in the tiny house, never far enough away. Cheap wrapping paper from Woolworth that came apart in his hands even as he tried, as she’d asked, to make sure it could be reused. The present: more than she could afford, he knew, and never as good as it had seemed in his daydreams. “That’ll do you fine,” said Uncle Derek, scratching his stomach. “A carrot is as close as a rabbit gets to a diamond.”
But what if a rabbit once looked up at the night sky and was captivated by the sparkling lights above? Carrots, however fresh and juicy, won’t satisfy that longing.
DV got up from his son’s grave, turned and stumbled down to the visitor’s gate at the jail. It was time. He rang. The guard checked the schedule, confirmed his ID and let him in.
itting across from his wife, the plexiglass shield preventing contact, he whispered, “I love you, Moonchild.” That was his pet name for her.
They went over the case again. She was the Chief Accountant at the firm. Money had mysteriously disappeared from the company coffers, siphoned off into some black hole, probably an account in the Caymans. Despite their best efforts, the police forensic accounting team had been unable to find the beans, the loot, the missing simoleons, the moolah. Call it what you want, they might as well be Big Eyed Beans From Venus. The bean counters found no trace.
She had been the first to discover that the money was missing and told her boss, Franz Papka. Franz had asked her to keep it hush hush while they conducted an internal audit. But he was found murdered in his luxury apartment the next day. All the evidence pointed to her. As Chief Accountant, she had access to all the company’s financial information. And she and the boss had gotten into a row at a company office party just a week before.
Her second-in-command in the accounting department, the man she had passed over when Papka picked her for the Chief Accountant job, a fellow named Garland, was doing his best to undermine her. She had demanded that he be fired. Papka refused. Someone had overheard them arguing and reported it to the police after the murder. To the cops that was motive. Never mind that she owed her job to Papka. Why would she possibly want to kill him?
“Is there anything else you can tell me that might help with my investigation?” asked DV. “Anything, no matter how trivial.”
“No,” she replied. “Not unless you want to get into the really trivial. Like Garland always wearing tweed. Everybody always greeted him at work with a cheery, ‘Hey Garland! I dig your tweed coat.’”
“I called in a favour from Jimmy the Spiv,” DV said as he got up to go. “Between us, we’ll figure out this thing.” He pressed his lips to the plexiglass. She did the same, a tear welling in her eye.
He walked away from the prison lost in thought.
It began to rain, a fine drizzle that soaked into his clothes. He needed to get out of the rain. He needed a drink. Hell, he needed a friend. He decided to pay a call on someone he knew, Willie The Pimp, but before he called Willie there was one thing he had to do. Crossing the road, he noticed a bar, a low dive but at least warm and dry.
He entered, the place was packed but he saw a Clear Spot in the corner. He sauntered over and sat on a stool, waiting for the bartender to get around to him.
“OK, Whaddya want, Mac?” the barkeep asked him.
DV looked up, noticing the Long Neck Bottles behind the bar.
“Gimme a beer, and a shot of that rotgut whisky” he ordered.
“Hey, dat ain’t no rotgut, dat’s Safe As Milk.” the barkeep grumbled.
The beer and chaser arrived. DV took a slug. It was the nastiest, meanest whisky he’d ever tasted, but it hit the spot, hard.
DV tried to be anonymous but he realised that someone was standing next to him. Man, she was all Woman. She had the kind of figure that would keep an accountant awake at nights. Her legs went all the way up, and then some. She smiled at him, a kind of smile as old as the Sphinx, and as deadly as a viper.
“Hi there, big guy” she breathed. “What’s a nice guy like you doing in a cheap dive like this ?” DV shrugged and turned away.
“Hey, don’t be like that, big guy.” she said. “Some of us people got a job to do.”
“Yeah”, he snarled, “And some of us just gotta beer to drink.”
“Well, OK, big guy” she said. “But, if you need a friend, call me”.
A business card appeared on the bar, amazing really, because she wasn’t carrying a handbag and her dress didn’t seem to have any pockets, or much of anything else, either. She turned and slid off into the crowd. DV watched her go, sinuously, like someone had removed her bones and replaced them with springs.
His phone rang. Sam With The Showing Scalp Flat Top – what a basket case – was gabbling about a contract being out on Garland for stealing a black swan figurine. With the Sheriff Of Hong Kong now involved, he realized, this was turning into a whole new (and very deadly) game. Sucking down the last of his beer and grabbing a packet of cheese and onion to go, he swung out of the bar and with his easy stride, loped off towards Willie’s place.
I dreamed I was making Kandy Korn for me and the missus last night, he said to no-one in particular as he jogged and ate his crisps. I miss her, he sighed.
But suddenly, he stopped dead in his tracks.
In an oily puddle in the gutter, light reflected off the oceands of the moon and he slapped the side of his head. Of course ! That slippery floozie from the bar; he’d seen her before. Sure, she’d keep an accountant awake at night, all right. She was one of Willie’s girls, last seen at a best-forgotten Christmas party fawning over Garland who had been moaning “I wanna find a woman that’ll hold my big toe till I have to go” and making a complete fool of himself, which wasn’t difficult. She’d certainly got under his tweed coat. Maybe she’d recognised DV, too. Maybe she had some information about Garland that could help him – he pulled her card from his pocket. “Ice Rose”, it said, with a crude drawing and a telephone number. “Lick my decals off, baby.” Perhaps she was a good time gal with a good heart ? He would ask Willie. Willie was kind to his girls and he would know whether Ice Rose could be trusted. Quickening his step, he continued on to Willie’s place to see if he could catch the old fart at play.
illie opened the door with a glass in his hand. “Best batch yet!” he grinned, hauling DV into his sleazy lair. He shooed the under-dressed sources of the room’s blabber‘n smoke into the kitchen, offered DV some of his potent brew and asked why he’d called. “Ice Rose is one of your golden birdies, ain’t she? A prize layer?” Through a snort of laughter at the crude pun, Willie set DV straight. Rose had just become too hard to handle and her getting involved with Dirty Blue Gene had been the last straw. He’d kicked her out. Last he’d heard, she was working for some two-bit zig zag wanderer called Jimmy the Spiv.
DV froze. Jimmy was helping him clear his wife’s name, surely ? OK, maybe out of fear rather than loyalty, but he’d still gone along with the plan. Was Rose hooked up with Jimmy when she was ‘icing’ Garland at that party ? Willie, of course, had no idea: his brain had been driving Dali’s car for so long now that his memory for dates was engaged full-time in its own dropout boogie. He dragged Rose’s card out of his pocket and took a swig of rum from the flask that appeared with it; he needed a telephone.
But first he had to hit the head. Christ this place was a mess! Ah, what’d he expect ? Exactly what he found – layers of filth and failure, stale, rusty water, cracked porcelain, stacks of water-damaged porno mags, fluorescent lights that flickered and buzzed. The smell alone could kill a man. “Why do I hang out with such low-life assholes ?” He looked at himself in the mirror and the answer was obvious. “I’m a low-life asshole.” The mirror was tarnished and splintered, and his face came back to him shattered. “Christ you look old,” he said to the mirror man, despising his sickly pale face, creased with bitterness and disappointment. His gut ached, his head hurt, and he felt like shit. “There’s not one good thing in your life,” he cried, “Not one clean thing, not one healthy thing. When the missus is out of jail we’re moving to the country, we’re crocheting all our goddamn clothes. We’re gonna raise goats. We’re gonna swim in creeks and learn how to play the goddamn banjo.” A feeble dribble of yellow water spluttered from the tap. The pipes sighed. In the living room the heat and stench were overwhelming, he felt suffocated in a thick fug of smoke and squalor. He beat it down the stairs, into the fine, cool, cleansing rain.
Leaning back against the wall he allowed himself a few deep breaths; maybe the banjo was a bit of a stretch, he didn’t want to lose all his cool, but kids, sure, they’d talked about kids back when the world was young and you could still pick peaches in this city.
hen, click clack, a long buried memory of a ten shift Shimano gear set made his head turn. In the distance the wobbling form of a cyclist came into focus, weaving along the silvered streetstream, front wheel erratic and seeming to track a path between the raindrops in profound negotiation with the tarmac. Hunched low on a classic racer the rider made slow progress, in part because the enormous backpack strapped to his shoulders seemed intent on forcing an intimate conjunction of internal organs and crossbar, but also because he was singing as he cycled.
White ants runnin’.
Black ants crawlin’.
Yella ants dreamin’.
Brown ants longin’.
All those people longin’ to be free.
Uhuru, ant, man, bee. Uhuru, ant, man, bee.
All the ants in God’s garden, they can’t get along.
War still runnin’ on.
The rainwashed words confirmed DV’s first thought, that you had to be some kind of nutjob to ride these streets on eighteen millimetre Mavics. But as the old guy wobbled past with the feet of what appeared to be a three-legged boiling fowl protruding from his capacious knapsack, the song suddenly seemed to make more sense than anything in the scrolling script of recent days: He knew exactly what he had to do.
Uhuru, ant, man, bee. Uhuru, ant, man, bee.
Now, the bee takes his honey, then he sets the flower free,
But in God’s garden only.
Man and the ants,
They won’t let each other be.
DV walked and talked to himself. For the first time in a long time, he felt his heart lighten. He was still a lowlife. At least, now, he was a lowlife with a plan ! And now, even the rain had the decency to give a guy a break and die down. But what if that unlikely cycling-singing, poultry-slinging nutjob riding into the emerging sunshine wasn’t just a random rider down this lonely road ? What if he was also part of somebody’s plan ? But whose ?
“Get a grip!” he scolded himself, looking in all four directions, just in case he was being followed. And, lawks-a-lawdy ! Either he was succumbing big-time to his growing paranoia… or he was being followed. There was a Semi-Multicoloured Caucasian half a block behind him who had been window shopping, casually reading a well-thumbed copy of Making Tracks (the Northern Hemisphere’s bestselling weekly for amateur train drivers) and having an unnecessary shoeshine.
DV ambled towards the corner. He’d have less than half a minute to shake his tail. The second he turned it, he made a beeline for the magnificent, rococo entrance to the otherwise modestly Gothic St James’ Church, standing humbly in the vast shadow of Hendricks Metal Works Inc.
e prayed that St James’ unassuming pine door would be unlocked. His prayer was answered. Slipping through the entrance, he ran to the nearest confessional, his feet slapping the concrete floor like a two-bit hood disciplining a recalcitrant moll.
“Forgive me father, I have sinned.”
“Go on, my child.”
“Last night, I dreamed I was Making Love to a Vampire with a Monkey on My Knee.” An unholy lie, but he figured he had to confess to something.
“You cannot sin in a dream, my child. Hell ! Ants, men, bees – we’d all be jiggered otherwise !”
“Sorry, Father, what did you…?”
“Ego Te Absolvo.”
“Bloody – Hell” muttered DV. The words came in a thick slur as if scraped from the back of his throat. Again. “Bloody-Hell-What-game-is-this ?” His words now running together as if bound into one.
“Ego Te Absolvo.” repeated the Priest.
DV strained to peer through the lattice of the confessional screen but could not quite make out the figure on the other side. Glancing up he could see a band of light showing near the top of the screen, a crucifix outlined in its glow. He attempted to rise. Something clawed at his legs. Horror stricken, he looked down where he knelt. The prie dieu was covered with wine red carpet laced in gold filigree. A lovely filigree that had somehow now bound itself round his thighs and was creeping up his body. Mustering all his remaining strength, he grasped the top molding of the confessional screen and hauled himself nearly upright. His forehead fell against the screen, the angles of the lattice imprinting themselves on his skin. The crucifix found it’s way against his cheek and seared as if with cold flame. His eyes gained focus just long enough to make out what appeared to be an odd number of chicken legs thrust along side a Priest’s collar. As he slid into unconsciousness a whisper came to him: The Dust Blows Forward ‘n the Dust Blows Back…
In his dream the click-clack of the derailleur occurred again and again. The cyclist sang to him “Ants, men, bees”. He laboured to awaken but his eyes refused to obey his orders to open. Finally, as if they had been loaned to another and were now acting of their own accord, his eyelids slowly lifted. A rosewood ceiling swirled into view.
“Click-clack, click-clack, click-clack”
DV moaned. Ice Rose gently laid aside her rosary beads and ran her hand over DV’s forehead. It was cool and soothed the fiery, twisted cauldron broiling in his skull.
“What ?” It was all DV could manage.
“Told ya, ya might need a friend big guy. Ya know ya ought to be a bit more cautious drinkin’ what Willy hands ya. Never know what he’s cooked up in that Pompadour Swamp of his. Specially for someone he’s lookin’ to put out.”
Slowly a low rush of words came fom the corner of the room. “A deo et rege, Benigno numine, Deo adjuvante non timendum”. The Priest eyes twinkled. ”You’ve come to us only just in time”.
“Why?” DV croaked. The Priest turned a pale lilac as he folded a corner of the room in half and placed it carefully into his top pocket. ”Best not to look up” he murmured, reaching for the fluted ceiling and breaking off a large crenellated sugared piece which he crunched greedily like watermelon before pulling the light down into his belt loop. The shadows looped back around his head and shimmered gently.
“Sometimes” said the Priest, “The Zig Zag Wanderer gets there faster than the guy walking a straight line”.
“I never walked a straight line in my life”, DV managed before falling straight up through the floor backwards. A familiar sweeping rushing lurching feeling. Oh wow that second was just like a whole fuckin’ day. Upon the My-O-My he heard whispered into his ear. Rose ? Rose ? But it was his wife’s voice, teasing, caressing, haunting his fevered throbbing head. You’re messing with something beyond even your fetid imagination.
DV needed a break. His head was just about bursting. Time for some reflection. He got back to his apartment but before he could fix himself a drink the doorbell rang. “Oh God” he sighed. He opened the door and in came Ice Rose, Jimmy the Spiv, Big Joan and Willie the Pimp. Ice Rose went to the window and began to comb her hair in the reflection.
“Why do you let her do that” said Jimmy.
“She’s Too Much For My Mirror”, said DV, “she does it all the time”.
“Settle down”, said Willy. “We don’t have time for this right now, let’s see what happens When Big Joan Sets Up her projector. She’s got some good evidence about what been going on. There’s been some dodgy dealings in the world of rodents, things have not been what they seem. The market has been flooded with fakes. It’s all down to a guy known as The Blimp (mousetrapreplica). “We’ll sort him out tomorrow”, said DV. “I’m tired. You lot go on home. Take it easy out there, the weather has turned bad. Steal Softly Thru’ Snow”.
That night, DV dreamed. He was on stage, singing with a band – a magic band – but the audience, consisting of white-coated guys who looked like tree surgeons, seemed restive. To DV, the sound of art trip marimbas and glass finger guitar seemed… just right – but something was missing. “Gimme Dat Harp Boy” he commanded of his fast (and bulbous) bandmate, who’d somehow grown so ugly since he’d last hit that long lunar note. “Peon you, DV” smirked Garland (for it was he). “We’ll be a viable touring band long after you’re dead!”
DV was understandably troubled. During yet another steel-appendage guitar solo he slipped offstage and sought out the venue manager Debra Kadabra, who was on the phone to someone named Adam. “Who’s Guru this week?” she was demanding. “Oh, Ella. She’s sure something. What’s your problem, baby? You need booglarizing ?”. “I love this dream, but I’ve got a story to complete – when does this band finish, so’s I can wake up ?”. She mulled the question for a few seconds. “Only when it blows its stacks”, she opined. There was a dull whoomph… and the dream was over.
n the early dawn, a pantaloon duck quacked. It was an inside-out quack, the sound pulled back through itself, like a record deck turning anti-clockwise.
“Webcorewebcore,” the duck seemed to say. “Webcorewebcore.”
“Crazy little thing,” he chuckled.
V lifted his legs to swing them onto the floor but all that did was send his body into a slow, elegiac pirouette on the laminate flooring. He’d not made it into bed again. Hadn’t done since the last night she slept there. DV, baby – she’d held his face, her thumbs sliding across his cheeks, flicking his tears away the way Father Donald would flick holy water at the altar boys he’d be anointing in the sacristy after service – DV, don’t listen to those disturbing analogies, hun, those simplistic expositions of fatal character flaws resulting from predictable childhood trauma. This is where you are, baby. Here and now. Here with me; now and forever….
He pushed at the bedroom door. Even the air in that room was a ghost. Liquid, petalled, it prodded at the stiff, musty sponge he brought with him from the living room, and it told of her. Just hold me, baby – that’s all you need to do. Just know I love you…
His body began to scream at him again, the way it had been doing every day since it happened, screaming at him to run away, kick down every door in town to get to the truth, but leave this door closed. I’m here, DV, I’m here for you… He walked into the bedroom. Everything was in place. Her pillow, folded in half, kept that way by the black hairband she’d stretched around it, her magic band. There was his painting of her on the wall above the bed. She’d often said he’d end up a painter. His old police badge pinned to the dressmaker’s mannequin she’d bought from a charity shop on the Yellow Brick Road. And there, on the bed, her overnight bag, the one she was going to pack to take to the hospital.
“Jesus,” DV began to sob, “I’m sorry, baby, I’m so sorry…”
His phone’s vibration in his pocket felt like someone had taken a lit match to his balls. Using his thumbnails to flick away tears, he pulled out the phone and opened the new message.
It was from Jimmy the Spiv. “There’s been a breakthrough. Meet me at Billie Jo’s Beers and bring some deep pockets cos you is gonna wanna thank me with quite some few drinks !”
“OK. Stay cool”, DV muttered to himself. “It’s been one disappointment after another but maybe this is the day”. He took a quick look around the bedroom, taking it all in, reminding himself (as if he needed reminding) that everything they had together was worth fighting for, and set off into the hazy heat of the afternoon.
The sidewalks were practically melting, the heat penetrating the thin soles of his sneakers, as he made his way purposefully towards Billie Jo’s. He didn’t have long to think – it was only a few blocks away – but he knew that he had to prepare himself for whatever it was that Jimmy had to say. Could he even trust ‘zig-zag’ Jimmy? And what about Ice Rose and Willie ? Were they in bed with Garland ?
is mind was still buzzing as he pushed open the door and found himself in a small but neat and evidently well-kept bar with a counter along one side and a choice of tables and booths along the other. A quick glance around the room told him that Jimmy wasn’t there. A couple of the tables were occupied but nobody looked up as he entered, and he swiftly sat himself down in a booth facing the door.
DV ordered a drink and tried to relax. “Whatever happens next, will happen – it’s out of my control now”, he thought. Five minutes passed and then he heard the door slowly swing open. A solid-looking man in a tweed jacket lurched into the bar and DV instantly froze. The man looked quickly around the room, his veteran’s day poppy, standing out like a sore thumb, and his eyes suddenly caught DV’s. The two stared at each other, and the world seemed to stand still for a moment. But DV wasn’t about to lose everything now. He knew that the man was Garland and he knew that he had to get out of there – right now.
DV broke away from the electricity of Garland’s stare, and looked urgently behind the booth he was sat in. There was only one door at this end of the bar. DV quickly stood up and stepped through it, praying it was a back exit. His luck was out; he found himself stood in a large, but windowless storeroom. As he heard footsteps approach the door, DV ducked down behind a cardboard cut-out sundown, and glanced desperately around him. He saw nothing but bar supplies, crockery, pots and pans. The door opened and Garland stepped in. As he shut the door behind him, DV saw Garland reach inside the tweed jacket and pull out the unmistakeable silhouette of a silenced handgun. He gulped. When Garland closed the door, the room was plunged into near-darkness. The accountant started to move slowly along the rows of shelves. DV felt again on the racks near his knees, and silently picked up an item in each hand. When Garland was only two paces away from his hiding place, DV threw the sugar bowl out low to his left. As the murderer’s head and gun spun round to that side, DV sprang round the opposite side of the cut-out, and hammered the item in his right hand hard against Garland’s head. Garland went down fast: he was out cold. DV looked at the heavy glass ashtray heart still gripped in his white-knuckled hand and couldn’t help but think “That’s a blow for you, my love.”
The vision of his wife then slapped DV out of his trance. Being careful not to touch it with anything but his boot tip, he kicked the gun away from Garland. He was about to leave when he saw an envelope sticking out of the tweed’s inside pocket. DV grabbed it and walked out. He tried to calm himself as he stepped out of the bar into the blinding heat, but as he looked around, panic rose again as he saw the same semi multi-coloured caucasian walking quickly towards the bar. Turning away, DV slipped into the alley at the side of the bar and ran for his life.
When he could run no more, DV had to look behind him. There was no-one around. He tried to get his bearings. Where was he ? Ah, the plastics factory gates were just opposite, and in front of the gates, a taxi from A-Z Cars was dropping off a fare. Subconsciously singing the company’s radio jingle – “♫ Gotta grabba Abba Zabba cabba outta here ♫” - DV jumped into the rear of the car and gave the driver his address. As the driver set off, DV remembered the envelope. He opened the flap and tipped out the contents. There was a thin sheaf of folded papers, a postcard and a key on a fob. Catching the fob before it fell off the backseat, DV read the tab: 81 Poop Hatch. Poop Hatch was the derogatory nickname for the storage garages down at the harbour. He looked at the postcard next. He gasped: it was from Grand Cayman. He turned it over. Typed in the middle was a code that DV knew instinctively had to be a bank account number. Completely enclosing the number was a cherry-red lipstick kiss that smudged slightly when DV ran his fingers over it. Below the kiss was a written note. It read – “G, Don’t forget, my love, 10% owed t’Alex before we get off our Captain’s holiday loveboat ! Then it’s sun, sand, sex and 7% pa. all the way, xxx”.
DV held his breath as he unfolded the papers. Alex Petridis, that p***ter from Wyoming, the man who never travels by plane because he’s terrified of flying. . . he should have guessed it all along. For the first time in days DV felt almost good. He tapped the glass and told the driver he wanted to change their destination – did the guy know the back entrance to the main harbour ? “Sure ‘nuff ‘n yes I do” replied the cabbie. As he pulled up at the next traffic lights to wait a gap for a U-turn, DV relaxed and looked out of the window. A little baby girl of about 18 months, well-dressed in coloured woollens, stared back at him. She was tiny, and Jewish, maybe. Her skin tone was very sallow, much darker than her parents' standing beside her. Her eyes were snapping black, and locked on to DV’s. Mum tried to move her but she wouldn't budge. Finally, her parents moved her on; but not before she held up her right hand, stiffly, like babies do, then lowered all her fingers in a ‘bye bye’. Oh man oh man oh man. Sometimes, thought DV, you're feeling a bit down, and then… your world changes.
He picked up the papers and looked at them again. He’d been happy for the few moments that he had been wilfully blind, but the innocence and purity of that child in the midst of an ugly world changed something in him and suddenly he could see everything with dazzling clarity. He held the postcard up and once more felt the lipstick mark. He’d know the colour and feel of that cherry-red anywhere, and the writing he had seen a thousand times before, on every love letter, Christmas card and shopping list. DV gazed through the postcard, a hot clammy feeling spreading across his brow; “Shit, they’ve been playing me like a god damn harp” he muttered under his breath.
attered by the sense of betrayal, weighed down by the cumulative effect of all of those love lies, DV had long since zoned out of the journey and what was going on around him. The searing burning across his hot head intensified, he felt like his brain was fizzing and melting in his skull. “Is this where ya want buddy?” said the driver sharply, snapping DV back to earth. He looked up, the high brown wall topped with barbed wire that skirted the perimeter of the harbour loomed over the side of the car like a fortress. “Yeah, this is it – pull in those gates there on the left”. The driver signalled and started to slow down. Suddenly a sharp bang filled the cab. The back window of the cab exploded into a thousand tiny white pieces, raining down on DV like a blizzard of sugar n’ spikes. A second whooshing noise passed his head and instantaneously the driver’s neck disintegrated into a crimson cloud and he slumped forward onto the wheel, whilst the car coasted to a slow crash against the gate pillar.
DV fumbled with the door handle and stumbled out into the road, the furious heat of the day felt like a full moon, hot sun and a warship’s searchlight combined as he squinted through painful moist eyes at the long, black hearse like car that had just pulled to a stop next to him, cutting off his escape route into the harbour. Jimmy the Spiv stepped out of the passenger door, keeping the still smoking, silenced pistol trained on DV. Garland stepped out of the driver side, cutting a ridiculous figure with blood still pouring out of the gash on the side of his head and coagulating on the lapels of his tweed jacket, the dried patches glistening like rust in the sun.
“Yup, it’s today DV”, said Jimmy. “This is the day that you stop holding anything on me man. Jesus, for an ex-detective you can be pretty dumb and ignorant – then again where there’s women involved, you could always be guaranteed to lose your mind”. “Shut up and get the damn key back” interjected Garland, “you’ve made enough of a God damn mess of this”. Sensing the tension and mutual mistrust between this unlikely pair, DV knew he had to seize his moment carefully and quickly. “Where’s the key DV?” said Jimmy. DV took a breath. “I had it in my hand when the car crashed, it’s on the floor in there somewhere”. “Well go in and get it, and quickly – do anything stupid and I’ll empty this gun into your back”. DV knew this would be his only chance and he already knew exactly what he had to do. He clambered slowly and deliberately back into the car and started to conspicuously feel around the side of driver’s seat. When he had got in the cab earlier he had clocked the strap of the holster under the driver’s jacket; years on the force had attuned him to the art of spotting concealed weapons and despite his avowed atheism, he found himself furiously praying that this guy was carrying something serious. He continued to make conspicuous, deliberate movements with his left hand, pretending to grope around for the key, meanwhile his right hand stealthily reached under the driver’s jacket. DV felt a pang of adrenalin jolting his heart as his hand reached what he had most hoped for, the warm metal barrel of a snub nosed revolver, a tiny weapon, but perfectly deadly in the right hands.
“I got it!” he shouted with no sense of irony. He backed himself out of the car carefully, pressing the tiny gun tightly against his ribcage and surreptitiously picking up the key fob from the back seat where it has been in plain sight all along. As he raised his torso out of the car, he stumbled forward, deliberately tossing the key at Garland’s feet. As he expected, Garland greedily lurched forward to grab it, and DV simultaneously pulled back the safety catch, jumped forward and pushed the muzzle of the revolver hard into Garland’s head, making sure he connected with the already bleeding wound. Garland yelped in pain. “Don’t be stupid, drop that!” shouted Jimmy, “I swear man, I will kill you”. Despite his racing heart, DV maintained an air of cool composure. “You won’t do that Jimmy. You know if you shoot, I shoot, he dies and you won’t get a slice of whatever shit filled hair pie bake he’s promised you”. Perspiration started to coalesce on Jimmy’s forehead, his mind desperately looking for a way out. DV held his cool. Both starred intently at each other, looking for any ideomotor signal that a move was about to be made.
Click Clack! The unmistakable metallic sound of the loading of a pump action shotgun echoed around the abandoned buildings of the harbour as two figures emerged from behind the pillars of the harbour gates, pointing the long barrels at Jimmy. “Well well, Gentleman” the first body drawled in a heavy Alabama accent. It was the semi multi-coloured caucasian who DV knew had been tailing him for days. “It appears that you’ve found yourselves in the middle of a cliché…”
So it had all come down to a stand-off down at 81 Poop Hatch, DV could have cried as the pieces fell into place. “Upon the my oh my” he snarled as the scales fell from his eyes. “I’ve been had and this is Strictly Personal.” This close up, he could smell Garland’s fine tweeds and even in without looking sensed the traces of lipstick on his poorly laundered collar. He didn’t need to check, he knew the shade – he’d seen it minutes before. The Clear Spot in his mind, the window through which the light was now pouring faster than the water over Niagara Falls, was getting bigger by the second. He dug the muzzle of the gun deeper still into the bean counter’s temple. The urge to pull the trigger was overwhelming, but there were things to clear up, wrongs to put right as best he could before he could do that.
“As I said, It appears that you’ve found yourselves in the middle of a cliché”, repeated the semi multi-coloured caucasian as he stepped out into full view waving his bounty hunter’s credentials for all to see. “Valentino”, he said “there’s someone here needs to talk with you”, as the other figure emerged into the pale circle of light being cast by the Sweet Sweet Bulbs strewn along the port side of the jetty. “Christ ! Willie…” muttered DV, “I shoulda guessed it was you. You blowin’ your cover for me ?”
“Valentino, you know I owe you from way back. I told you to Call On Me but you’re too proud. You’ve been in over your head right from the start and I’ve been after these two since before Tropical Hot Dog Night when you took a fall for me. S’only right I should be here now”.
Jimmy turned white. Whiter than a bleached skeleton. He could see where he was headed and he wanted out. He wanted it so bad he started to sing.
“Valentino, man, I just went along with this. You know me, huh ? Garland had it all figured, he planned the whole job. Fair seduced your gal and got her to fleece the corporation. He set her up and got her sent down for murder. He just got me in to tie up the loose ends – for a cut he won’t give me now. I’m with you now man, give him what he deserves. I won’t say nothing.”
“Skeleton Makes Good”, Valentino muttered under his breath. But not good enough.
“Don’t let him fool you” squealed Garland. “Your gal planned it all, she’s Rock and Roll’s Evil Doll. She faked the Ink Mathematics, I just turned a blind eye…”.
There was a dull thud as Garland fell to the floor. Out cold on the receiving end of a well-aimed rifle butt. Garland, aka Dirty Blue Gene, was in the bag. Willie cuffed him and dragged him over to the car as the semi multi-coloured caucasian handed the shotgun to Valentino. “Keep Jimmy in your sights, chief. We’ll be right back.”
“Chief” thought DV. “No-one’s called me that for a while. Not since I was kicked off the force, not since they banged me up and wouldn’t let me go to my little boy’s funeral. Not since…”
“Hey, Willie. You and the hunter gonna have to book these two on your own. I got stuff to do”; another well-aimed butt had the Spiv out cold. No cuffs for Jimmy, they trussed him like a chicken and threw him in the back next to Garland. “You be gone, now, Willie. Take these creeps down to the precinct. You know they’ll Trust Us and will hold them till we get the reports done. I’ll be seeing you.”
DV knew what to do where to go and how it would end. His heart was beating faster than an Evening Bell. He knew it would still be true even if he took too much time.
So Garland was Dirty Blue Gene. That made sense. He’d used DV’s wife to line his nest, their love nest as the poor gal had thought. And Jimmy was in on the job. He’d been blind not to see that. The spiked drinks, the false leads. The gun. Oh yeah Jimmy had tried to plant that one on him and he hadn’t seen it coming. But the boy. That was different.
s he ran up the hill to the grave he was shaking. This just had to be so. He got there and scrabbled the dirt away with his bare hands. “Please God, let it be so” he repeated over and over again. The grave was shallow. A flimsy tin casket. He pulled hard and flew backwards – not with the effort. But because it was empty. As he and the casket rolled down the hill he was crying. As they hit a rock he broke a rib and the box flew open. There was a note: Bill’s Corpse ain’t here. ‘Cos Bill ain’t dead ! Now, Go Home.
ith a clearer head than at any time he could remember DV floated home. He slipped the key in the lock. The light was on in the kitchen, a young man with a frying pan in his hand was fixing some ham and eggs. “Hey, pop” said Bill, “why d’you send me away with that guy who worked with mom when she got put away ?”
“I didn’t, son. How’d you get here ?”
“Uncle William came for me this morning, told me it was time to come back. Why’s he dressing like that these days ? He looks kinda creepy”.
“It’s a long story, son. I’ll tell you tomorrow.”
They ate and Bill went to bed in the room his father had always kept ready for him. And as Bill lay peaceful and safe in his father’s house, DV poured himself a drink. Relief hits hard, he thought. I’m shattered. And as he took a long slug on the finest bourbon he knew he would ever taste, it came. Forcing its way through his tearducts with almost searing pain followed by another wave of relief, a tin teardrop clinked as it hit the table.
Illustration by RANTaGHOST. Written by DaddyPig, severin, Zalamanda, angryirishpunk, HoshinoSakura, treefrogdemon, bishbosh, Abahachi, Marconius, CaroleBristol, SpottedRichard, AliMunday, Chris7572, steenbeck, TatankaYotanka, chinhealer, fintan28, magicman, bluepeter, ShivSidecar, may1366, ToffeeBoy, DarceysDad, BeltwayBandit and Makinavaja. Chain story idea by steenbeck. Leading character anagram by ShivSidecar. Song titles by Captain Beefheart. Dropped capitals from Daily Drop Cap by Jessica Hische.