Friday, 31 August 2012

White van man

   A damaged, tiny, hopeless figure stood at the bus station like thousands more in this wicked, dangerous world. I could imagine all too easily the events that had led her to this wasteland of a city on a bitter winter’s night: a sudden break with her mother and the latest ‘stepfather’ after months or years of conflict and abuse; a failed love affair that any comfortable, orderly person could see was heading towards a limited menu of ruinations. Perhaps it was an attempt to escape the ‘family life’ of a mother who had been identical to her daughter at sixteen but who was now married to welfare or dependencies even less healthy and a succession of ‘men’ for whom the word manhood represented little more than brief and bloody moments with drab and available girls. This one had most likely been rendered incapable of imagining anything significantly better by the useless and immoral education system and was too dull to remember hurt or was even now seeking its endless, predictable sequels. I was going to change that for her tonight. Only blood can wash away certain kinds of pain.
    She was so thin and draped in the uniform of victimhood; a micro skirt and badly bleached hair that semaphored a welcome to pimps or other exploiters. Base metal rings in the shapes of dragons, serpents or goat’s heads imprisoned hands that had been made to comfort her children when they were hurt and tearful.  Battered Doctor Marten boots and torn, grubby tights completed the livery of vulnerability. Everything about her cried out: Use me up and throw me away.
   Or Kill me
   She turned dull eyes toward my headlights; eyes that could be seventeen or a hundred years old for all the childhood that survived in an existence that was focus of pain for me to cure. I turned the music down a little. “Going into town?” I asked through the window of my unmarked and unremarkable panel van. “I’m heading there on business if you don’t want to pay for a taxi fare. The buses are all done at this time of the night.” It was morning, really; an hour or two before dawn.
    I wondered if her mother had ever given her the advice that you, dear reader, must be willing her to remember and follow right now. I respect your compassion… but some injuries require surgery. 
   “Yes. Are you going near the cathedral? There’s a club there I want to see.”  Alas, there had been no advice about cars and strangers.
   “Sure. My work is close by the cathedral. Hop in.” This was going to be easy.
   As she slid the van door open there was movement behind her and another waif; smaller still and younger-looking, emerged from behind the obscurity of the bus shelter’s advertising poster for sexy lingerie. “Can Dora come too, please? We both want to visit the club.” Perhaps someone had indeed given her the other half of The Talk – the one about not travelling alone at night. It was going to be a little less easy but I know my work and if a man can’t handle them in pairs then he might as well give up, go home and get a less emotionally intense hobby like dog-fighting or kickboxing. Nothing in the world keeps me alive quite as splendidly as The Concert.
   “What’s your name, Miss?” I said to my first guest who was now settling down onto the heavy plastic sheeting that waterproofed the van’s windowless rear compartment. Dora shut the passenger door.
   “Vina, sir,” she replied. “We’re sisters, you see, Theodora and Hervina: Sisters of Shadows.” She giggled at her Gothicism: a joyless noise. I turned the music down further so the powerful rear speakers that are a bachelor’s compensation for lifelong celibacy did not spoil the discussion that I always think of as the Overture.  
   I turned off the main road and onto a trading estate that at that hour contained little more than darkness and privacy; both of which I needed tonight, however briefly.
   Had I been able to see Vina back there in the gloom I would indeed have driven them both to the homeless people’s shelter that I manage in the Cathedral close. I’d also have tried to persuade them not to seek Club Midnight’s perils but rather to accept professional help in the morning when they were safely rested, cleaned and fed. But this was the other kind of pick-up and the salvation I had to offer would be still less welcome than the unsolicited advice of a do-gooding and fussy English clergyman would have been to a pair of teenage runaways. “You don’t look like sisters,” I said. “But your names are similar. I like them: they’re pretty but very old-fashioned.”
   Vina growled behind me. “Not when we were young they weren’t, sir. Not when the Old Queen still ruled.” I heard saliva flooding as Vina’s mouth reshaped itself: invisible in the rear view mirror. My van’s dashboard has two extra controls: one to lower protective covers over the speakers and the other to pump an aerosol mist of Holy Water throughout the interior. The stereo still worked splendidly even so and I turned it up as loudly as possible so The Hallelujah Chorus would drown out the screams.

Monday, 27 August 2012

Cordon sanitaire

   The frightened woman started as a pale-faced orderly slammed the heavy door shut behind her. The sound of the bolts being turned on the other side ended and all was silent for long moments. She had little enough to fear here. The security window had bars on the far side and double screens of wire netting on her side and the person she had come to meet could not possibly break through all that before the orderlies, alerted by the cameras in armoured baskets pumped teargas into the cell beyond the Perspex.
  He was still fit-looking despite the years of imprisonment: the tube steel frame of a bed bolted and welded to the wall and floor showed the kind of wear a man might inflict by many, many sit-ups. He seemed pleasant enough, too, for a man condemned to end his life here.
  “Now I’m scared,” he spoke in a soft West Country accent. “You seem to be a serious type, and educated. But you’re not a forensic psychiatrist or some politician’s thrill-seeking girlfriend, which is a change. Shall we get the jokes over with before this conversation heads downhill? I don’t suppose you brought something to drink? They aren’t forthcoming with alcohol in here and the stuff they push through the slot for Communion is a potion so weak I wouldn’t give it to my pet rat. If I had a pet rat. A Tuscan red, perh -” 
   “Tell me about Eriksay. Tell me about all the people you killed. Tell me about your murdered family.”
   He brushed scarred fingers up over a face that had forgotten why to laugh to  stubbly hair that looked as though it was shorn once a month whilst he lay bound and sedated. “They weren’t human by the time I destroyed them my dear… Undersecretary? Minister? So they weren’t my family. I never saw eyes so filled with malice and despair in my life: not in the Bandit Country; not in the Falklands; not in Iraq.  Never in the eyes of my Rosemary and certainly not in my girls’. They weren’t alive and therefore I couldn’t have murdered them, could I?”
   “And yet the police found the bodies of all the forty-one islanders decapitated and charred on the pyres, plus your wife and daughters and half the ship’s company of the Danube Star, all dispatched by you as your testimony stated, over three nights in June 1991.
  “Nonsense. I did most of them on the first morning after we got there. They’re slow-moving and poorly coordinated when newborn. Newly dead. Whatever. They stumble about a lot and a couple didn’t seem to realize that sunlight was bad for them till they were toasted. All that was good luck because I was still limping from the wound that brought me back from Iraq. Hit as quick and as hard and as fast as you can is what the Regiment teaches you when you’re outnumbered and far from reinforcements or supporting fire. So I got most of them that first morning.  But even on the second night they weren’t all that clever; none seemed to have regained the power of speech and they had trouble operating door handles.”
   “Into homes? Can they can enter private homes uninvited despite the folklore?” 
   “The homes, the shop, and the harbourmaster’s office and the pub. They just smashed their way in. And into yachts at anchor, which is how they must have got to Rosie and the girls while I was heroically searching for a working radio at the lifeboat station.” A long silence then; except for the distant growl of heavy-lift helicopters brought in through the hospital’s air conditioning. “It’s not just your little computer in the briefcase is it, Minister?”
   “It’s ‘Colonel’ actually and no: I have your release papers and your recall to the Colours.
  “I said I was scared, didn’t I? And who else can you call; the Ghostbusters? Found the rest of the Danube Star’s crew have you?”
   “We think we might.” She tapped at a miniature keyboard that was straight out of the science fiction of Benedict’s last days of freedom. “We lost contact with Thurso two nights ago and after looking at the satellite Intel I’d guess you and your colleagues will be given no more than twenty-four hours before the Brass orders the Air Force in. And if four squadrons of HE and incendiaries don’t work it’ll be down to HMS Vigilant to finish the job and after that a twenty-year quarantine of the Highlands. If the French don’t nuke us first and flood the Channel Tunnel to be on the safe side.
   Get moving Captain Benedict, you’re back on duty.”  

Monday, 20 August 2012

A walk in the park

Roll call

“.. and last and definitely least, here’s B-B. So glad you could disturb your slumbers and make it in for duty this month.”
  Good-natured laughter filled the Squad Room as the late-arrival sat down on a squeaking, complaining plastic chair several sizes to small for him.
   “Pipe down. Alright,” went on the sergeant, “We’ll be patrolling by squads today as usual from noon. Yes. I said ‘noon’. This morning after roll call we’re going to muster for a Combined Services Operation. We’ve got a live one in Old Town so it’s all hands on deck today. That’s right baby boys and baby girls; we’re housecleaning so get your hairy backsides down to the armoury. Suit up, tool up and get to the Briefing Room as quick as you like. Today people, before I pop a seam. And hey, hey, hey! Let’s be careful out there, okay?”


   “The Intel is that the bad guy’s holed up at this house,” the Lieutenant pointed to a projection of a dwelling in the middle of a maze of interconnected terraces with small, cluttered back yards and high, uneven roofs. “It’s right in the middle of a densely populated area full of folk we don’t want to wake, let alone frighten, so it’s softly-softly today.”
   The new Lieutenant’s name was a byword for inexperience and naïveté and a few veterans broke their professional glassy-eyed stares to gaze briefly at the ceiling in silent prayer.
    “Insertion will be by the back door here,” he highlighted the entry point with a laser. “Tiny’s up first for that, being our resident housebreaking and general trespassing expert.” Satisfied grunts came from around the room for this. Tiny was no longer tiny at all but he had grown up in a world where strangers just strolled into private homes and stole whatever they wanted. The Service was a great practitioner of ‘set a thief to catch a thief’ and Command never, ever wasted experience. It seemed that the Lieutenant had been reading their service files: not too stupid. “Once inside, Corporal Brown’s section will sweep the ground floor and I want that to be done lickety-split. Got that?” The immigrant NCO nodded crisply at the Lieutenant. “The ground floor being secured, I’ll lead the sweep team upstairs and once Elvis’s Team Two has secured the front room, here, and the bathroom here, Elvis, Tiny and Brown will do the kick-down and I’ll be first through the door to sweep the rear bedroom here.” Murmurs of approval at this: the quickest way for an officer to earn respect is to lead from the front and there’s nowhere more forward than the sharp end itself. Perhaps the new boss would work out before someone got seriously hurt after all... 


   “Too thick.” Tiny discarded the lock-pick and pulled out another. He wiggled it around for a moment. “Too thin,” he muttered. I could be safe and sound working in my parent’s non-destructive testing business, he thought. Ah, here we go. This one’s optimal. The third pick slid sweetly into the lock and in a moment there was a satisfying click and the door swung open silently on well-oiled hinges; much to Ed’s relief as Tiny jumped off his shoulders and waved Brown’s team inside.
   Tiny paused for a moment before going in and looked up to where the glamour boys were flying C.A.P. Pete and T.B. were the best in the sector and if Pete was a little too keen on the juice he didn’t let it show at all when flying top cover. T.B.’s sweet soprano called down: “All’s well up top. No-one’s looking our way. You’d better believe it.”
    The War was almost wholly clandestine and the Service rarely let civilians in on the details. The world was full of children: hurt, frightened children who didn’t need reminding of what they have to fear and if that means hiding their protectors and what they had to do away from sight, then so be it.

Go-no go

   “Front room, clear!”
   “Bathroom clear!”
   It was time.
   The Lieutenant was whistling to himself nervously through hidden teeth. A classic…wood city limits. You go to the fields on weekdays and have a picnic on
   “Okay, it’s time. Brown. Elvis. Tiny. The door, if you please.”
   “Si, senor,” Brown said; his South American childhood burning through the newfound clarity of his Service English. His childhood and the fear.
   And then the door whooshed open from the combined thrust of Elvis, Brown and Tiny’s shoulders and the Lieutenant dashed in…sliding across toy-strewn carpeting to lift the edge of the duvet up with his Service-issue weapon…scanning under the bed but it was clear of everything but dust bunnies and a solitary sock…and then a dash for a low cupboard under the window… he wrenched it open and jumped back to avoid an avalanche of hastily-tidied away books…and last the breathless sprint towards the huge wardrobe in what felt like slow-motion and his mouth felt like cotton wool as he took hours to reach the half-open door that could swing open to reveal the target at any moment; alert and enraged and coming at him… and Elvis, Brown and Tiny’s almost-silent footfalls padding behind him sounded miles away and what am I going to do if the bad guy leaps out and opens up on me at point-blank range and kicks the stuffing out if me and all I have to fight back with is this stupid under-powered Service issue popgun piece of junk and it’s just all too much to bear…and here’s the door and here’s the handle and here’s…an empty space where the bad guy should be…and next the relief and the shock and ordering the sweep teams to double check everywhere in the target house again and calling for extraction and ordering the whole lot of them back to base…


   “…must have exfiltrated scant minutes before we deployed,” the Lieutenant concluded. His troops stared blankly at him; professionally glassy-eyed and expressionless again after the tension and fear of the operation.
   “But, Santa Lucia, sir,” growled Corporal Brown, his English almost returned to the middle-class accent he had acquired recently, “How can the Air Force have missed that one?
  “Look, I don’t want to go all around garden for the rest of the day about this one, but it does seem probable that while the spotters briefed T.B. and Pete when they arrived to set up for Combat Air Patrol the bogie sneaked out under cover of that very thorough briefing. We think he went out of the rear window and across the rooves. However,” added the Lieutenant with a grim smile “our beloved brothers-in-arms of the Air Force have redeemed themselves by reacquiring the bogie in this lightly forested area here.” The laser illuminated a patch of mixed woodlands and rough pasture to the north and west of town. “Command confirms that the Intel’s sound and the order to deploy came down from the very top. Yes, ladies and gentlemen: this is from W himself.”
    Breathless murmurs for this. The Commander-in-Chief rarely interfered with the war at the operational level but when he did it was a sure-fire indication that the op concerned was going to be no picnic.
   “So here’s the deal. The area’s mostly scrubland; full of wild shrubs and tall grasses and herbs with plenty of shadow and cover below waist level; ideal for the bogie to bivvy up in - and to ambush from. We’re in full Covert Ops order this afternoon so you’d better get those disguises right. It’s a popular area for recreation that families visit and I do not, I repeat not, want anyone scaring the children today. Not a single one. We go in, do the job and bring the bogie back dead or alive and without getting the sawdust knocked out of us, okay?” The Lieutenant looked at each of his troops in turn; making eye contact to rub the message home. He went on. “I will remind you that, as the terrain is woodland I don’t want any mess so once you’re inside the tree-line you will follow strict hygiene procedures at all times -…” catcalls and whistles at the instruction that was a byword for redundancy “- and finally that this bogie’s regarded by Command as the hardest of the hard-core. In fact our target is believed to be responsible for most of the nightmares in our sector. So be alert: he’s tricky, resourceful, smarter than the average one of us…and utterly dedicated to prosecuting the War for his side. So expect the unexpected.”
   “Just want to be …,” growled Elvis to the noisy amusement of his comrades.
  “Stow that fluff, Corporal,” snapped Rupert. “I repeat; if you go down to the woods today, you’re in for a big surprise.”

Friday, 17 August 2012


The Flash Fiction just keeps on coming.

The last homebound Earth vessel gained altitude.

   Across town, Ooloonoo blinked upwise and sideways twice. “Well, that’s that,” he hissed contentedly to his First Wife, Cuuccuuruunu. “The Flat-Foots are gone and we're free to live as we choose.”
   Cuuccuuruunu’s true and nictitating lids snapped shut heavily once, contradicting Ooloonoo’s optimistic double blink. “And we are so wise, so well-developed a society that guucuurukind can survive so far from the home planet? Can a colony a mere fifty generations old live so far out here in the cold? Husband, it’s an Old-Year trip home if the power veins fail and there are only three transfer points in the entire Solar System through which Earth can send us the wattage we need. Three! That’s not the multiple redundancy the Connectionists insisted we must build before Independence: that’s not even half of what they insisted on as a bare minimum!”
   Ooloonoo was a Possessivist Party male, born and bred. No tail-dragging, high-spending Conni’s argument would ever persuade him so much that Mars was red. He scratched behind an earhole with as single long claw. “My dear wife, the Transfer Asteroids are in the stablest orbits that guucuurukind’s science and engineering can attain. They’ll be receiving and rebroadcasting power to Phobos Station for seventy million years before we need to relocate them – rather long enough, I think, for your children and your sister-wives’ to live well and breed safely.”  He whistled contentedly and nibbled on some crunchy snack or other, looking up as fireworks glittered and spun in the wake of the earthbound tugboats and the gigantic Population Vessel trailing behind them, high above the dome’s electron shield. His other wives, Allaadaadaa and Xiiniidiaa, were herding the nest’s younglings, who; sick with excitement and the finest carrion their mother’s claws could devise, were running and jumping giddily round and round the nursery paddock.
   “What do you think, Littlest Sister?” asked Cuuccuuruunu of Xiiniidiaa, the most junior wife and bearer to date of only one clutch of eggs for the Nest of Ooloonoo.
   “What do I think of what, Eldest Sister?” Xiiniidiaa replied, smiling toothily, and bowing to her senior.
   “Of there being only three lanes by which power from Earth can be sent to our distribution stations here on Mars. Do you feel safe being 216 million to 1500 million Dhuuras from the only industrial civilisation big enough to generate sufficient power to keep the cold out and the air in?”
   The young guucuuru paused to think, and, petting her smallest youngling - a runt provisionally named Skinny Rib, said “Well, the Council of the Wise has decreed that three satellites are enough to cope with our variable distance to the Mother Planet, and they should know. Besides, Middle Sister herself has produced the solution to your fears, has she not?” 
   They both looked across at Allaadaadaa, who was sprinkling some smoked fur-pouch eggs into a wide, low bowl of blood. Her tail switched cheerfully, as a nest’s ex-officio peacemaker’s must, and she trilled; “Cease to worry, Eldest Sister. Senior son Cluuthuuduulu will protect us all; his mother, her sisters, and our Great Lord and Husband, the mighty Assistant Records Storage Organiser of Dome Four’s Transport Hub Safety Board Ooloonoo, Pride Leader of the Nest of Ooloonoo.”
   The three females twitched tails in the Calming Laughter; content that Ooloonoo had fought and bitten and scratched himself up to a position where he could support them and their offspring in some comfort, and with a little left over to send, for example, the bookish Cluuthuuduulu to Yucatan Peninsula University to study nuclear power systems and to return triumphantly to build a Mars-based generation plant…if a Connectionist government was in office when he returned in eight years, and if the arctic ice/thermal exchange project was producing a big enough power surplus to construct a post-independence atomic programme.
  “So there you have it, Cuuccuuruunu my dear. All will be well  because if those Conni nest-wetters get their way, guucuurukind will be saved by our brightest, softest-feathered male offspring when he returns in triumph: university degree in one claw and plans for a backup nuclear station here on Mars in the other. Besides, this is an election year and the leadership of the Possessivist Party might choose to steal the Conni’s thunder and announce plans to go ahead and build a thermal exchange system in the arctic and we’ll be have a domestic power source even sooner.”
  “But in the meantime, our entire planet is dependent on a single - count it - a single power station in Yucatan. I do not feel the nest is walled high enough.” Then Cuuccuuruunu smiled, not wanting to spoil the party. “But perhaps you’re right, O Husband. Perhaps your old Possessivist dinosaurs will make Cluuthuuduulu’s ambition redundant and build thermal exchanges in the arctic. But if so, what is the poor boy to do in Mexico?”
   “Well, the Gulf of Mexico’s a nice place. The climate’s good and the game’s plentiful and excellent sport. He could put away those silly books and become a hunter or a drover; make a male of him at last. If the Party short-stops the Connectionists on the way to the polls and builds thermal exchangers, then as soon as the Iridium Star is dragged into a stable orbit he can shuttle down and enjoy a long, balmy summer that’s predicted to last for another sixty-five million years. He can herd triceratops if he likes. The Jurassic is a golden age for a young raptor to be alive. What could possibly go wrong?”  

Tuesday, 14 August 2012

Deliveries and deliverance

   The corpse was all ready for me when I entered the mortuary’s preparation room. The coroner’s people had done a good job of sewing her up again with small, neat, skilful stitches and there was very little tissue damage apart from the examining surgeon’s cuts. The deceased was a well-developed girl with breasts so large and firm that one could scarce avoid calling them a rack. She had been a pretty brunette of eighteen or nineteen (as I suppose she was intended to stay that way forever by whatever individual had intruded into her life.) It wouldn’t require much cosmetic work to make her seem smooth and inviolate again as the family would want. The former family, I mean. Pardon my excessive alliteration – it’s a hazard of my lonely lifestyle to play word games in my head.
   Nestled inside a newly-made body cavity were the organs that the medical examiner had removed to test for the poisons or pregnancy or drugs that he probably never found, and then replaced according to the demands of the Human Tissue Act. They’d been squashed up together in a plastic bag; all higgledy-piggledy like the giblets in an oven-ready turkey. Looking at her colour it was pretty obvious that exsanguination had played a large part in her demise even if it wasn’t the proximate cause. I poked at a switch and Mozart’s Requiem Mass in D Minor played while I gowned myself and pulled on an apron and heavy surgical gloves over my usual thin disposables. I ran skillful, professional fingers over the trays to check the instruments of my craft: hooks and needles and thread; superglue and cotton wadding; rubber tubes for the fluids. Gruesome stuff, but it’s a living. I touched another button on the remote control and the ceiling lights came on in bright white panels of sixteen bulbs each (and to hell with your carbon footprint) across the whole ceiling.  There were a couple of unlit squares above the doors to the Chapel of Rest and to the back yard we use for deliveries and taking away.
   Speak of the Devil; at that very moment the outer door was tugged open and there was the silhouette of a man outlined by the security lights of the loading bay. “Will you please let me in?” he asked in soft, self-satisfied tones. “I mean, I know this is nobody’s actual home so I don’t really require your permission , but I firmly believe that following the proprieties is important to  establish and maintain a cordial, courteous - and most importantly from your point of view – a long-lasting professional relationship.” Blue metal glittered in his hand in silent tribute to the police’s success at keeping illegal guns off the streets.
   “Why bring the gun if you can just walk in here anyhow?” I asked, grasping the remote control as if my life depended on it.
   “There’s always the possibility that the undertaker or a member of his staff actually lives on the premises, making it a little home from home. The divorce rate today, the mortgage crisis, high rents; it’s shocking how many folk choose to live above the shop. That can make breaking and entering uncomfortable.”
    I thought of my nest under the rafters of the wing used to garage the hearses. Be it ever so humble, etc. “Okay, I refuse to invite you in, given the context. Are you responsible for this lovely child here?” I waved the remote at my patient who lay there, well, patiently.
   “A new Bride for a new Millennium,” he replied; smugger than two very smug things in a Blackadder repeat. He gave a foxy, toothy smile; sharp but not yet doing the thing with the scrunched-up nose and the eyes. I bet they love doing that bit. ‘Bit’! See? I’m a punster genius. 
“You’re a little late for the new Millennium, aren’t you? It’s been twelve years and, ah, counting?..” ‘Counting.’ Get it? Count? He’s a vampire and I said… Oh, please yourself.
   “It’s been a busy decade for us;  humans are growing  too knowledgeable. I blame electricity generation; with all those well-lit streets at night it gives you too much security and far too much time to read and write and to make films spreading the lore wider than before.” 
Oh, he was a rhymer this one: cute. As if OCD and a Henry Ford attitude to clothing colours weren’t camp enough. It went together with the too-smart suit and dress shirt and the so-fashionable-he-must-be-gay patent leather shoes. 
He went on. “But we’re doing something about the electricity by making them afraid to generate enough of it. Our principal cat’s paw has such an appropriate name.”
   Yeah, yeah; rhymes with ‘paw’. So that’s lights out for Mankind if we’re not careful. Better be careful, then, my girl. “So, this one is going to rise from the dead and join you on your Dark Whatever, yeah? Does it happen often and if so why aren’t the authorities on to you lot and closing you down?”
   “They are - in some places - but they’re prone to budget cuts like everyone else. And where does any modern government do anything efficiently these days?” I thought of the paperwork required to dispose of a single body these days; a task that had been done simply and efficiently in England since Tudor times until they devised this brave new world of managerialism, health and safety, carbon sustainability and light heavyweight tickboxing. “Besides,” he gloated on, “Most mortuary staff are, er, excuse me but what is your name please; Miss? Mrs?...”
   “Dinah. Dinah the diener,” I replied proudly.
   “’Diener’?” he asked; a puzzled frown furrowing that perfect, foxy, hollow brow.
   “‘Diener’; from the German word meaning ‘servant.’ It’s a generic term for those who handle and clean dead bodies. You can Google it if you don’t believe me. And it’s ‘Ms’.” Really upsets the old-fashioned types; that Ms. I like to keep individuals with the power to rip my throat open just a little bit off balance, okay?  
  He shook his head as if to clear his tiny mind. “Where was I? Ah, yes. Most mortuary staff and coroner’s people can be easily persuaded that they’re very poorly paid and so they go along with us. Showing them Polaroids of their children or their wives at the ante-natal clinic intimidates otherwise incorruptible would-be slayers.”
   ‘Polaroids’? Baby Boomers; don’t you just love ‘em? I swear they’re the most conservative generation of them all. And don’t I love pointing that out? I’m Generation X through and through myself; punk and proud. I nodded at the corpse whose long hair was now being ruffled by the draught that Young Einstein was letting into the room. 
“This one was sporty. Look at those thighs and belly; such muscle tone. Her tissues are in prime condition. I’m thinking she took at least two or three swims a week plus maybe a couple of trips to the gym? You must think of her as being practically free range. A looker, too: what a rack. You’ve chosen carefully. ”
   “Organically produced. How she bored me with all her wholefood chatter and vegetarianism. But when choosing a companion to share the Night Hunt for centuries one selects for beauty and physical strength. How else have we remained the top predator on Earth for millennia?”
   Not by recruiting for intelligence; that’s for sure.
 “But if you really are the planet’s top predators, why are there so few of you and why aren’t you already running the whole show? And have you ever wondered why so many of the new ones come back damaged: stumbling revenants that you have to destroy to avoid exposure? Can it be something to do with their innards being mangled during  modern autopsies?” His perfect face showed no sign of understanding; none at all. “Okay then. You can come in,” I said, pressing a new button on the remote control. The darkened ceiling squares above the thresholds flashed ultraviolet for a few seconds and then I walked over to close the door.

   Any gourmet will tell you that - good though free range meat can be - the nicest meat in the world is the strong, gamey flesh of predators. It’s been flavoured over a lifetime of hunting by the fear absorbed from its quarry's blood. It’s nicer still if it’s well hung before eating. That works in a couple of ways, though Mother always taught me that that sort of thing’s tacky. Which was pretty rich coming from someone whose outraged and recently bereaved former in-laws nicknamed The Spider. Predator meat is best of all when lightly braised or flash cooked to seal in all the taste and all the nutrients.
I looked down at hands that despite frequent manicures and a clutch of chunky Goth rings (though I’m thinking of going steampunk – I just love that brassy look!), and despite being habitually clad in gloves,  I can never wholly disguise the evolutionary purpose to which Nature has adapted them. Now that’s a ghoulish thought indeed. No pun intended. 
But here’s a pun for you if you like: Dinah the Diener is also a diner.

Sunday, 12 August 2012

The Story Teller

Another flash fiction challenge from Terrible Minds.

“Three truths will I tell you and one lie.”
   Oh, shit.

   I wasn’t going to taunt him sexually and goad him into telling me where the fifth girl was before time ran out for her too. This was an intellectual game for him; pitting his Criminal Genius against New Scotland Yard’s Star Detective. Players prolong the game to see their opponents squirm and twist and fail and lose and proclaim themselves winners in the greatest game of all; death against life.
   He was also a Story Teller which is the worst kind of player because the thrill is in making the police conform to whatever twisted narrative they have set their black hearts upon. The cops must waste time and energy avoiding falling in with the plot. The Girl Survived must not be the last line of anyone’s story; but rather the first condition for the rest of her life.
   There was no point in delaying. He’d made time pressure central in those four previous, failed investigations before he walked in with his trophies this morning and identified himself as the Taxi Rank Killer. Anything he said now might be the key into whatever part of his mind held the knowledge I needed. I just hoped he hadn’t read my books.
 “Statement Number One is I’ve read all your books,” he said. “Is that truth or lie, I wonder?
    Except for the poetry: who cares how rough Afghanistan was for you? Egotism and Stress in Combat, however, proved helpful in perfecting my little time capsules. I never realized how much the Medical Corps values studying the belief systems of its enemies. Such a pity your former comrades are losing the war just as thoroughly as The Yard missed my four previous deadlines. I can’t wait to see your reaction when time and oxygen slip away from poor Kelly Mason.”
   “Asphyxiation, even when administered remotely, is usually an impotent sexual sadist’s means of execution. But if you’re as potent as you say, why choose live burial rather than - say - hanging or dissolution in acid? Are your resources so small that you can’t afford the privacy of the remote location needed for more thorough, invasive, and above all powerful methods? Should I be seeking your identity from the Benefits Agency?”
   “Statement Number Two is that all this isn’t caused by any trauma, old or new; or any grudge; or any infantile ideological stance against something or other. Looking for the stressor that set me about my work or burrowing into my background won’t help you build a psychological profile and thus invade my mind. I wasn’t abused as a child and I have not been betrayed and have no incurable disease that’s inspiring me to do these things for kicks before it’s Goodnight Vienna and Lights Out. You won’t crack my skull like an egg in the next -,” he looked at a bare wrist for the confiscated watch and then up for the clock I’d had removed from the interview room wall “-oh, forty-five hours or so.”
   Each girl has been missing for a mere hour before his text message arrived at The Yard. Forty-seven hours later the police station nearest to her parents’ home received a ***YOU LOSE*** text and a map reference where pale-faced detectives and Scenes of Crimes Officers were sent to disinter Charlotte McVeigh, Patsy-Marie Dornish, Daisy Brewster and Alice Hope. He must have taken an extra hour or two this morning after picking up night-shift nursing auxiliary Kelly Mason at the taxi rank outside her hospital in his signature stolen London black cab.
  “So if it’s not illness with you, or a political statement or any kind of revenge, why kidnap and murder all these young women?”
   “Is the greatest forensic mind of our age asking such trite questions? Is the war hero and Army psychiatrist whose return to civilian practice and fame on daytime TV drew the attention of baffled British Bobbies who just had to possess his dark insights and experience of frenzied killing and its aftermath to hunt down my fellow philosophers now asking the easy ones as if I was a drugged-up burglar who’d confess in return for a cigarette break? In five years you’ve become a legend amongst profilers and consulted worldwide by baffled foreign investigators. Statement Number Three is that my motive is one of the classics. Think man; think! What are the few basic motivations that oblige human beings to do terrible, wicked, harmful things?”
  “Firstly, there’s anger at powerlessness, as in the crimes of Dwayne Murdoch. Then there’s pride and revenge against perceived detractors like the demented Dominic Ryan. And greed, for example the Sandra Gill kidnappers who just lost it when she half-escaped and they felt it necessary to kill her and abandon their ransom plan. And fear, of course; Colin Drake believed that Linda Berry was in league with his ex-wife and planned to humiliate him further by exposing his tastes in pornography which is why he murdered her.”
  “I’m devastated, Doctor Pryor, I truly am. How can these pedestrian musings be the words of the soldier-physician who stunned the globe with his insights into the human soul at extremes of emotional experience?
   It’s love, Doctor Pryor; the desire to experience, to cherish, to dwell with the beloved one and thus enjoy the brilliance of their light; the thrill of being intimate with a great soul - a great mind at the height of its powers – at the moment of its greatest passion.”
   I realized with dread why he’d taken three hours, rather than the usual one, to text New Scotland Yard today.
   “Statement Number Four, he said “is that your daughter Emily is a bright, happy girl with a long and healthy life ahead of her.”
  I crossed the room towards him.