A Story For Sunday: The Neon Boneyard

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The Werewolf Detective.

The Neon Boneyard

Detective Ivan Walker was dead on his feet and no amount of coffee could help, even the strong, death-black stuff that he usually drank.  He switched off the espresso machine and took his cup over to the only table in the station canteen that was being used.  Roman Dalton PI sat with his head in his hands, and he didn’t look much better than Walker. He looked up as his friend sat.

“You look like death cooled down,” said Dalton.

Walker grunted.

“So, how did it go,” rasped Walker. “How was your meeting with the legendary Sherlock Holmes and his … companion?”

“Well, for a start, he was looking pretty damned sprightly for a man who was supposed to have died over a quarter of a century ago. Dr Watson, too. They both looked a lot better than you do, anyway. Hot time in The City?” said Dalton.

“I tell you, this place is a mad house these days. It ,akes me nostalgic for the days when we only had Dragan and his mob to deal with. The days without zombies, witches and werewolves. No offence,” said Walker.

“None taken. I hear you. Dragan and the boys were bad guys for sure but at least they mostly kept their shenanigans all amongst themselves.”

“Well, these news boys aren’t showing such discretion,” said Walker. “Especially that Haitian’s crew.”

He leaned close to his former partner.

“So what exactly did Sherlock Holmes have to say about Ton Ton Philippe?” said Walker.

“Not much more than he told me on the phone. He said that he first encountered Philippe in London around fifty years ago and at the time the Haitian was running a gambling den and a bordello in Soho.”

“So, how old does that make Ton Ton? I mean, I’ve only ever caught an occasional glimpse of him going in and out of The Pink Pussy Club but he certainly looked much more likely to be in his thirties than his seventies,” said Walker.

“He certainly looked young enough when he had me strapped to a chair in his office that time,” said Dalton. “But Sherlock Holmes and Dr Watson should both be about 150 by my reckoning but like I say they’re both in fine fettle.”

Walker drained his coffee.

“There certainly is some weird shit going down these days,” he said.

“Agreed. The City is turning into Disneyland on acid. More freaks than you can shake a stick at.”

“Says the werewolf private eye. So why is Holmes here, anyway? Is he following Philippe?”

“Something like that. Apparently, Philippe stole something valuable from him a while back. Holmes wouldn’t say what it is, but it seems like he’s been hunting the Haitian ever since.”

Walker got up and stretched. He walked around the room.

“So what’s next? I admit that I feel more and more out of my depth here these days,” he said.

“Well, Holmes wants me to go with him to The Pink Pussy Club. To act as security against Philippe’s zombie henchmen,” said Dalton.

Walker snorted.

“He actually said that? He said zombies?” said Walker.

“Oh yes. And he was deadly serious,” said Dalton, shuffling in his pocket for his hip flask.

“And what’s the story with Count Otto Rhino these days? A few years ago he was buying up the odd run-down places now it looks like he owns half The City.”

“You’ve got to speculate to accumulate,” said Dalton.

“You know, I don’t trust him or that sister of his. The witch.”

Dalton drained his coffee.

“Daria? She could turn me into a frog any day. And I think you’ll find she’s more of a Siren than a witch.”

Walker sat back down.

“And that’s another thing,” said Walker. “What the hell are those Frog Boys that Otto Rhino keeps recruiting? They’re like speed-pumped mutants.”

“Yep, they’re a strange bunch for sure but I think we’ll be seeing stranger types than them in the future, the way things are going.”

Dalton closed his eyes and whistled a Jim Morrison song. When he opened them, Walker was gone.

*

Sherlock Holmes gazed at his reflection in the hotel bedroom’s mirror, still pleasantly surprised by how well he looked, considering he was 152 years old. He had first taken Bimini when he was in Hong Kong in the 1920s. He’d bought a bottle of it from a cohort of Dr Fu Manchu, the retired crime kingpin that had once ruled most of East London’s Limehouse district. Holmes had then taken to regularly imbibing the elixir, which was said to have originally come from the legendary fountain of youth. He had even built up a good supply which he had kept locked away in Howard Hughes’ Las Vegas penthouse apartment, taking only occasional sips for fear of draining his source of eternal life. He took out his hip flask and took a nip of the potion.

“Best get a move on,” he said, still checking his reflection.

“Okay,” said Dr Watson, yawning.

Watson got out of the bed and walked into the bathroom.

“Two ticks,” he shouted, before switching on the shower.

Holmes placed one Derringer in its wrist strap and checked the other one in his ankle holster. He picked up a walking cane with a death’s head handle. He clicked it to make sure the silver sword was still functioning. He knew that he would need all of his resources if he was to survive a battle with Ton Ton Philippe and his zombie horde.

Satisfied, he sat down in the red leather armchair and lit up a Gitanes. A foul habit, he knew, and one that he had kicked many times before, but the thought of being so close to retrieving the Rara Avis was consuming him and he needed to calm his nerves. This could be his final curtain call, he knew.

“That fag smells foul,” said Dr Watson as he stepped naked out of the bathroom.

“Yes, it does, rather,” said Holmes, examining the cigarette, curiously. He sniffed it but it smelt normal. The aroma was being emitted by something else.

He locked eyes with Watson.

“Brimstone,” said the doctor. His eyes scoured the room.

Holmes nodded.

There was loud bang and an explosion filled the room with smoke. When it cleared, Ton Ton Philippe stood there grinning. He was a handsome man with a red Mohican hairstyle and eye patch. He was bare-chested, wearing a red leather suit. Tattoos and scars latticed his body. Snakes writhed around his arms. Two massive, black-clad zombies stood beside him.

“The great detective,” hissed Philippe. “As I expected.”

“Long time no see, old chum,” said Holmes.

Dr Watson yawned and started to dress.

“Fancy a drink, Philippe?” he said.

Philippe walked over to the globe shaped drinks cabinet and opened it.

“I don’t think I see any Bimini here,” he said.

“No, just the domestic stuff. Dark Valentine,” said Holmes. He tapped his hip flask. “But I do have a shot or two of Bimini in here.”

Ton Ton Philippe’s eyes sparkled.

“Have you been using your supply sparingly?”  he said. “Resisting temptation?”

“Of course! Moderation in all things,” said Holmes. “Looking at you however, I’d say you’ve been guzzling the stuff. Not much left? Down to the dregs?”

Philippe frowned.

“I assume you didn’t come all the way to The City just to gloat at me?” said Philippe. “To flaunt your fountains of youth.” He leaned against a bookcase, took out a snuff box from his back pocket and inhaled.

“Of course not. This is strictly a business matter. A barter. Just a straight exchange, Philippe. The elixir for the Raven,” said Dr Watson, now fully dressed in black jeans and a roll neck sweater.

“The Andalusian Raven is no use to you anyway. Its gifts you already possess,” said Holmes. He tapped his left eye. “Otherwise you wouldn’t have known we were here.”

“For sure,” said Philippe. “Although you were quite difficult to spot. But I’ve been saving the Raven just in case I ever needed to use it as a bargaining tool.”

“Well, it appears that now that time has finally come,” said Holmes.

“Maybe,” said Philippe. “I’ll have to think about it. How much of the Bimini would you be willing to set free from your clutches? Considering I’m an old … chum?”

“Mm. How about ten bottles?” said Dr Watson.

“Make it fifty and we may have a deal,” said Philippe. “Ten won’t last me long.”

Holmes slumped forward in his seat. He put out his cigarette and lit another.

“Oh, I do so loath haggling.” He sighed. “Is forty acceptable?”

Philippe smirked. “It’s a deal.”

Holmes held out his hand. Philippe took it and grinned. He winked and muttered a voodoo spell.

 And then Holmes burst into flames. He was dust within seconds.

“Well, that turned out alright,” said Dr Watson. He coughed.

Philippe tittered. “Yes, it was easier than expected.”

“So?”

Philippe clicked a finger and one of his zombie henchmen walked over and put a small elaborately decorated egg- shaped box on the bed. Watson tapped it on the top and it opened in segments. Inside was a jewel encrusted raven with only one eye in the middle of its head.

“Does that suit you?” said Philippe.

“Oh yes,” said Dr Watson.

He bent down and pulled a silver briefcase from under the bed. He handed it to Ton Ton Philippe.

“Take small doses from time to time and that should keep you going for a while. At least until one of us can find a new supplier,” said Dr Watson.

“Where are you off to next?” said Philippe.

“Anywhere. Just out of this dump. I’m just relieved to be rid of that tiresome, pompous old fool,” said Watson, pointing to a pile of dust on the floor that used to be the world’s greatest detective.

*

The long black train silently snaked its way into The City’s Central Railway Station and Count Otto Rhino was reminded of the story of the funeral train that used to take The City’s plague victims out of the town. Apparently, there was even a special station just for this particular train. It had been called Necropolis Central Station, if he remembered correctly.

Otto was a massive, overweight man in his mid-fifties with a bald head and a permanently furrowed brow. He was wearing an expensive black suit and overcoat. A large pair of black-framed sunglasses were a permanent fixture, worn inside as well as outside, whether it was sunny or not.

The lone passenger stepped off the train. He was wearing a dark overcoat and a Cossack hat. A black scarf was wrapped around his saggy face.

Igor, a wiry leather-clad man with a bushy white beard, excitedly rushed past Otto like a bitch on heat.

“Herr Doctor, Herr Doctor, it is so good to see you again,” said Igor, holding out a leather-gloved hand.

Doctor Victor Frankenstein ignored the hand and said nothing. He ignored Igor and walked toward Otto. He pulled down his scarf.

“Otto Rhino,” he said, in an accent sharp enough to cut diamonds.  “An honour.” He clicked his heels.

“A pleasure Doctor,” said Otto. “I trust you and your … Monster had a comfortable journey from Geneva?”

“It was quite adequate, Count Otto. Which is the best that one can ask for these days, andat my time of life,” said Frankenstein.

A long black box was pulled from the train by two of Otto’s Frog Boy’s, Igor excitedly barking orders. Otto and Frankenstein walked to the waiting limousine and got in the back.  The car was warm, John Coltrane playing through the speakers.

“Ready to go boss?” said Igor, as he squeezed into the driver’s seat. “Or are we waiting for someone else?”

“Let’s getting moving,” said Otto. “There’s a storm brewing.”

***

***

The roar was like that of a hundred lions. The sound of a hurricane. Of the world being ripped apart. Frankenstein’s Monster was strapped to the operating table, connected to some strange machinery. It struggled to escape its bonds, veins bulging on its shaven head.  

Igor rushed though the laboratory with what looked like an adapted cattle prod and slammed it against The Monsters head. There was a flash of light, a fizzing sound and The Monster closed its eyes.       

“It truly is a fearsome sight,” said Otto Rhino.

The laboratory had a green glow that only accentuated The Monsters scaly green skin.

“Indeed,” said Doctor Frankenstein. “But the creation of a superman is not a simple process and not without its teething troubles. The more aesthetic aspects of The Monster can be modified at a later date. I’ve already tinkered a little.”

“He looks a little familiar, actually,” said Otto.

“Yes, I based his appearance on that of the actor Dolph Lundgren.”

“And the swastika on the forehead?”

“Oh, that was already there. I left it. I felt it gave him an extra … oomph!”

“It’s striking,” said Otto.

 “Speaking of which,” said Frankenstein.

He looked up at the stormy night sky through the skylight.

“Shall I open the skylight?” said Igor.

“Of course,” said Doctor Frankenstein.

Igor pulled a chain and the skylight slowly opened, filling the room with wind and rain. Lightning flashed. Thunder cracked.

“Are you sure this is necessary?” yelled Otto, lifting a black umbrella.

“I am always sure,” said Frankenstein. He flicked a switch as lightning flashed and struck The Monster. Otto was aghast, his mouth wide open and his umbrella was ripped from his hands by the wind.

The Monster opened its eyes. Smiled.

“Close the skylight,” said Frankenstein and Igor did as he was told.

Silence filled the room. Otto felt as if his heart had been ripped from his chest.

The Doctor walked over to The Monster and examined him with some strange sort of stethoscope.

“You are remarkably quiet,” said Frankenstein.

“I am … rebooting,” said The Monster. “It was a long sleep this time, I think.”

“Three months,” said The Doctor.

He put down his stethoscope.

“Thirsty? Hungry?”

He and Igor unstrapped The Monster.

“Of course,” he looked at Otto.

“Our host?”

“Yes, Count Otto Rhino. May I introduce you to … actually, what are we going to call you now?”  said Frankenstein.

The Monster slowly sat. Eased himself off the operating table. Yawned.

“How about …Adam,” said Otto. “You know, the first man and all that.”

“Well?” said Frankenstein.

“Not bad,” said The Monster. Igor handed him a black suit and white shirt. He dressed stiffly. “But I think I’d prefer something more dramatic.”

“Such as?” said Frankenstein.

“Such as … Victor Frankenstein,” said The Monster. “That has a nice ring to it.”

At which point, he ripped Doctor Victor Frankenstein’s head clean off.

“Oh dear,” said Count Otto Rhino. “That is most unfortunate.” He was holding a glass of brandy, swaying a little.

“Do you have a problem, Otto?” said The Monster.

He stood on an oak table in the shadowy living room, illuminated by a swinging chandelier. He held The Doctor’s head aloft, having just ripped it from his shoulders. 

Igor cowered under the table.

“Er, well, no,” said Otto.  “Not really. To be frank, Doctor Frankenstein was a little surplus to my requirements anyway since, it seems, his work on you is complete. But that was a tad shocking.”

“The time for freedom was upon me,” said The Monster.   “For years I have danced to his tune. That, I think was the perfect moment to snap the puppet master’s strings.”

He hurled Frankenstein’s head out of an open window. “I have been waiting for far too long a time to do … that.”

He jumped off the table. Igor whimpered.

“Perhaps you would like to share with me some of the details of this great battle that you are preparing for?” said The Monster.

“Of course,” said Otto. “Let’s go to my office.”

The Monster looked around the room.

Otto sighed.

“It’s time to get down to business,” he said.

*

It was a bitter, cold dawn and seagulls screeched and flapped around maniacally as a fishing trawler adorned with fairy lights cut across the stormy, metallic sea. A sharp autumn wind sliced through Daria as she waited dockside with Count Otto Rhino.  She wrapped the black leather coat tight around her muscular frame. Tied back her long black hair and put on a black Fedora. Her emerald, green eyes twinkled as she gazed up at the black clouds that looked like bullet holes in the granite sky. She frowned and turned to Otto.

“Couldn’t we have chosen another location, more civilised?” she said. “Maybe a nice warm bar or nightclub.”

“Still yearning for your nights singing at Klub Zodiak, are you dear? Are you missing Dragan, the mad, bad Serb?” said Otto Rhino, not looking at her, still gazing out to sea. “Maybe the Haitian can find an opening for you at The Pink Pussycat Club.”

Daria stuck out her tongue at him.

“Don’t you feel the cold at all?” she said. “It’s colder than your mother’s heart.”

Otto grimaced.

“She was your mother, too,” said Otto Rhino. “For better or for worse.”

He lit a cigarette with a scratched, silver Zippo lighter. Sucked it. Coughed. Offered the packet to Daria.

“I prefer my own, Otto,” she said. “You know that.”

She took out a long black cigarette from a silver cigarette case.  Rhino lit it for her. The smoke trailed away like a spectre.

A black Zephyr Zodiac pulled up close to where they stood. Igor got out. He was wearing a black leather jacket and gloves, and carrying a silver briefcase. He walked over to them, scowling as a gust of wind battered him. He shook hands with Otto and handed the briefcase to Daria.

“Any problems?” said Otto.

“Nothing I couldn’t handle,” said Igor.

He grinned and picked flecks of blood from his beard. “Is Dr Jekyll arriving in that?”

The trawler was getting closer.

“Indeed,” said Otto. “Hardly the standard he’s used to, I’m sure. But needs must. Discretion is all.”

“Do you have anything to restrain him in case he loses control? In case he’s been drinking his own potions?”  said Igor. He patted the Glock in his shoulder holster. “If he has transformed this may not be enough. Mr Hyde’ reputation …”

“I have all the ammunition that I need,” said Otto, nodding toward Daria. “More than enough. Even for Mr Hyde.”

Igor smirked. “Music soothes the savage beast, eh?”

Daria turned and glared at him. “Breast, Igor. The savage breast.”

“Ah, I’ve never been very good with Shakespeare,” he said.

Otto chuckled. Patted Igor on the arm.

“William Congreve, Igor,” said Otto. “A common misconception. But on to more pressing matters …”

He pointed toward the trawler which was docking with a clang.

After a few minutes, a frail, elderly man got off the boat and shuffled toward them carrying a battered old suitcase.  A Russian sailor walked behind him carrying a rifle.

“Count Otto Rhino, I presume,” said the old man in a soft Scottish accent. He held out a hand. Otto shook it.

“Dr Henry Jekyll, it is an honour to meet you,” said Otto. “I hope your passage wasn’t too uncomfortable.”

“Far from it,” said Jekyll. “Vodka is a great comforter.”

“I hope you’ll be able to get to work at once, Doctor,” said Otto. “My Frog Boys are invaluable but they do have their limitations.”

“Not a problem,” said Jekyll. He tapped his suitcase.  “I have more than enough …”

The Russian moved forward and pointed his gun at Otto. Stepped in front of Jekyll.

“No talk. Money,” he said. “Now.”

“Charmed I’m sure,” said Otto. He nodded to Daria who handed over the briefcase.

The Russian crouched down and put it on the floor. Clicked it open. Its contents glowed. The Russian smirked. “It is good,” he said.

“Better than grubby old cash, eh?” said Daria.

The Russian was already walking back to the boat with the briefcase, the gun over his shoulder, whistling Swan Lake.

“Now?” said Igor, as the Russian got back on the boat.

“Let’s get a little further away,” said Otto. “Better safe than sorry.”

They all got into the Zephyr Zodiac, with Igor driving.

As the car pulled away from the docks, Otto took his Zippo from his pocket, clicked it open and the fishing trawler exploded, filling the sky with flames.

“I do like a bit of spring cleaning,” said Otto.

“It’s winter,” said Daria.

“A mere technicality, dear,” said Otto, as he watched the sky turn red.

*

Count Otto Rhino reclined on a black-leather chaise lounge wearing only a paisley silk dressing gown and his sunglasses. The sound of Gershwin’s An American In Paris filled the dimly lit library. He smoked a massive Cuban cigar, its smoke rings trailing toward a creaking ceiling fan like wraiths.

“You are being uncharacteristically anxious, my dear,” he said, stifling a yawn.

Daria sat in a wicker armchair, nursing a glass of Rosso Esperanto. She wore a long black evening gown. A Yin and Yang amulet hung loosely around her neck. Her lips and fingernails were blood red.

“Otto, you know as well as I do that it’s not normal for Carmilla to stay out for two nights in a row. Not without contacting one of us anyway,” she said.

“She can take care of herself,” said Otto. “You know that. If she encounters any pests she can just sink her fangs into them. Or rip their heads off. She’s done it plenty of times before, after all.”

Daria rubbed the amulet.

“It’s just that I can’t sense her anywhere,” she said. “And that’s certainly never happened before.”

“Don’t you have any idea where she went?”

“Yes, I do and that’s part of the problem. She said she was going to go back to The Pink Pussy Club and take revenge on that damned Haitian but I thought she was joking. Now, I’m not so sure …”

“Well, there’s only way to find out. I can send a few of The Frog Boys down there for a bit of a blitzkrieg.”

Daria stood, poured herself a glass of brandy. Filled Otto’s glass.

“Mmm. A nice idea but that would probably spark an all-out war with Ton Ton Phillippe and we’re not full prepared yet. Are we?”

“No, no. Dr Jekyll will need a little more time, I’m sure. And The Monster or Frankenstein, or whatever he want us to call him, is still not ready – he needs to rest. Do you have a solution?”

“Maybe. We can call the police?”

“Ha! A last resort. Let’s leave it a day or two and see if she turns up. Carmilla is as tough as nails, you know that,” said Otto.

“Under normal circumstances, I wouldn’t fret. But you know that the Haitian has his … ways.”

“If the rumours are to be believed …”

“Of course you believe them, or you wouldn’t be calling in such … exceptional reinforcements,” said Daria.

Otto walked over to the window.

“Well, why not send in a neutral party to check things out?” he said.

“And who do you have in mind?”

Otto pointed at the ivory moon that filled the sky and howled.

*

Dr Henry Jekyll had felt the lure of the night for far too long. The penthouse apartment, luxurious though it may have been, seemed antiseptic: clean but claustrophobic. He needed to taste The City. Taste its sin. Its decadence. He showered, dressed in a brand new suit that was three sizes too big for him and stood by the window, looking out at The City’s twinkling neon. He poured a toxic green liquid into a tall glass and downed it in one. It burned as it shuddered through him. His skin began to tingle. Sweat poured from him. He could barely breathe as he headed out of his apartment and took a shining gold lift down to Rhino Towers’ luxurious lobby. He nodded to the prune- faced night-watchman and burst through the front doors, the full moon hanging over him.

He stopped in the neon soaked street to breath in the sultry air. He could smell the lust, sin, the decay.  An old drunk collapsed at his feet, shattering a bottle of Dark Valentine. Jekyll stepped over him as he lay sobbing.  A young blonde woman was bent over a dumpster, her red dress pulled up to her waist.  Her screams of passion obviously fake as a hairy biker, his leather trousers around his ankles, silently rammed into her. A group of Hoodies waving broken bottles and baseball bats chased a fat, wheezing business man into a darkened alleyway.

Jekyll smiled, flexed his muscles. He could feel Mr Hyde crawling to the surface.

A battered Ferrari screeched to a halt in front of a 24-hour liquor store. Two skinheads rushed out. One went into the shop, the other into the alleyway, unzipping his fly.

Jekyll grinned, feeling stronger by the second. He whistled a Johnny Mercer tune as he walked into the alleyway.

At first, the smell almost overpowered him but then it invigorated Hyde and speeded the transformation.  The alleyway was illuminated by the light from a stained glass window and he could see that the skinhead was bleeding on the ground, four or five Hoodies beating him with a variety of weapons even though he was clearly already dead to the world, if not actually dead.  The other Hoodies were ripping the fat businessman limb from limb and feasting on his flesh. Jekyll licked his lips. He could almost taste the corpse. He muscles stretched, ballooned. His bones twisted and snapped. His skin ripped. It was an exquisite agony.

As one, the Hoodies glared at Mr Hyde. Their eyes were glowing red pinpricks.  They stood and stalked toward him. Hyde guffawed. Fully transformed, he was massive, handsome with a cruel look in his eyes.

“Come to daddy,” he said, with a smirk.

The Hoodies attacked. Hyde ripped apart the first one with ease and worked his way through the rest within minutes.

“Thank … you,” gasped the flabby businessman who struggled across the floor, a trail of blood behind him, barely clinging onto life.

Hyde stepped toward him and grinned.

“No, thank you,” he said and he ripped the man’s heart from his chest and devoured it with one swallow.

*

The City was ablaze. Crimson and gold ripped through the night sky, sliced and skewered by black smoke.

“This reminds me of the last days of the war,” said Walker. He was on the roof of the Basilica, his gun in his hand, surveying the scene. The carnage. His long raincoat flapped in the breeze.

“The good old days, eh?” said Duffy.

“I try to forget them. Try being the operative word,” said Walker.

Duffy stood beside him armed with his AK47.  A loud thump and they turned to see Roman Dalton, completely transformed into a werewolf. Dalton howled.

“Fancy meeting you here,” said Duffy. He took out a hip flask filled with Dark Valentine. Took a swig and handed it to Walker who took a nip. Then he handed it to Dalton, who growled.

“Prefer something with more bite, eh?” said Duffy.

Dalton howled and beat his chest, his eyes glowing red.

“Are we ready to kick ass?”  said Duffy.

“Why not,” said Walker. Dalton roared as he jumped down into The Pink Pussy Club’s car park. Walker and Duffy headed down the rattling fire escape.

*

Count Otto Rhino gazed out of the window of his penthouse apartment at Rhino Towers.

“The war has begun,” he said.

He turned to face Mr Hyde, The Monster, Carmilla, Daria and Igor.

“Ready?” he said.

“Let’s get this over with,” said Daria.

They all headed out of the apartment and into an elevator which took them to the building’s underground car park. A mob of Frog Boys waited for them.

*

A storm ripped the sky open and rain poured down in sheets. The Pink Pussy Club’s neon sign flashed and buzzed erratically. The sound of thrash metal emanated from inside the club.

A mob of zombies surrounded the entrance. Dalton, Duffy and Walker walked toward the club as a car exploded behind them.

As lightning flashed, they rushed toward the zombies.

Dalton jumped on two and ripped their heads off with his paws and bit the head off another. Walker shot one in the head, spun as another grasped his arm and blew its brains out. Duffy fired, spraying wildly and taking out a few of them. He reloaded and started shooting again.

More zombies rushed them as group of Frog Boys appeared and took on the zombies with baseball bats and samurai swords.

Mr Hyde and Frankenstein’s Monster appeared from black smoke and took on more, both laughing gleefully as they tore the zombies apart with ease.

Carmilla slipped through the front door of The Pink Pussy Club as Igor drove a burning police car at another group of zombies.

Inside, the club was dimly lit, lights flickering. Tom Waits’ ‘The Heart Of Saturday’ night leaked from the speakers. Ton Ton Philippe sat on his throne smoking a cigar, looking weary.

“You have returned my pet,” he said, as he saw Carmilla. He sounded tired.

Carmilla grinned, ran onto the bar, somersaulted and kicked him in the head.

Outside, the sound of Daria’s singing grew louder and then there was silence. Philippe was frozen where he lay.

Otto Rhino strolled into the room. He bent over and picked up the cigar that Philippe had dropped. He soaked a red velvet curtain with a bottle of Dark Valentine and then used the cigar to set it alight.

There was an explosion that shook the room and then Roman Dalton crashed through a skylight onto Philippe, tearing him to shreds. Carmilla leapt and sank her fangs into the Haitian. He crumbled to the ground.

Daria walked into the room and all was silent. Her green eyes glowed as she sang. Then Walker and Duffy followed her. The room was ablaze but Duffy walked behind the bar and picked up a bottle of Dark Valentine. He gulped down about a third of the stuff and handed the bottle to Walker who took a good swig.

Dalton had ripped Ton Ton Philippe to pieces and was howling as he waved the Haitian’s limbs about. The Monster and Mr Hyde leaned against the bar laughing maniacally.

“Why don’t we all head back to my joint for a bloody good booze up?” said Duffy.

“I think I shall take you up on that offer,” said Otto Rhino.

He turned to Daria.

“Is it safe for us to leave from the front entrance?” he said.

Daria nodded, took Dalton by the paw and began to sing ‘I Put A Spell On You’ as she led him out of the burning building, the others trailing behind them.

FIN

© Paul D. Brazill

ABOUT THE WEREWOLF DETECTIVE

When a full moon fills the night sky, Private Investigator Roman Dalton becomes a werewolf and prowls The City’s neon and blood soaked streets. Vivid and violent noir horror stories based on characters created by Paul D. Brazill

‘Netflix ought to swoop in and bag those stories for a new series.’

‘It’s noir. It’s supernatural. It’s sleazy as hell.’

“A crackling fun read that puts werewolves in a Sin City/hardboiled world.”

5.0 out of 5 stars.  Brilliant and Dark

5.0 out of 5 stars.  Noir Fun with a Werewolf Detective

5.0 out of 5 stars.  A Howling Good Read!

5.0 out of 5 stars.  Both gruesome and awesome

Back in 2012 I wrote a story for the late lamented Dark Valentine Magazine. It was a noir/ horror crossover called Drunk On The Moon and featured a werewolf private eye called Roman Dalton. The story proved to be quite popular and I wrote a few more Roman Dalton yarns. There were even a couple of anthologies where a wide range of authors wrote Roman Dalton yarns. Oh, and he’s been translated into Slovenian and Polish.

So sink your teeth in, if you fancy!

A Story For Sunday: IN THE (RESERVOIR)DOG HOUSE

Bonny is volcanic. She’s so angry that she can hardly speak but, unfortunately for me, hardly is the operative word. As she tries to scrub the blood stains from my best white shirt, she goes on and on about the meal she’d cooked the night before and how long it had taken her to cook it. She keeps asking me over and over again if I want to live on burgers all my life and why, if I’m going to spend all of my time hanging around a dirty warehouse with a bunch of psychos that look like Blues Brothers rejects, I can’t at least pick up the phone and call to say I’ll be home late.

My head is hurting, my stomach is rumbling and I’m tired. Bonny is starting to sound like a duck quack quack quacking, so I turn on the radio hoping it isn’t more ‘Sounds of the Seventies’, as I’ve really had my fill of that shit the last few days. The DJ’s monotone drone introduces some LA band destroying a Neil Diamond classic so I switch it off again.

Noticing that the heat from Bonny’s eruption has started to cool down, I present her with a bag containing the proceeds of my recent job. When she sees the rare coins in the bag, Bonny’s jaw drops so much you could scrape carpet fluff from it and she lets rip with a string of expletives, so strong that they would even make the young Eddie Murphy blush. Almost tearing off her nurse’s uniform, she runs toward me screaming like a banshee.

Afterwards, when I know that it’s safe, I suggest that maybe we could go out for something to eat. We could even try that Hawaiian burger joint that’s just opened up nearby. Hands on hips, Bonny laughs and says, okay, as long as I promise not to wear that dumb Speed Racer t-shirt that makes me look like a nerd.

Anything you say, I reply and start to walk into the bathroom before stopping and saying that, shit, if the service in that restaurant is any good today, I might even leave a tip.

A Story For Sunday: Chelsea Girls

Chloe left the money and took the guns. She couldn’t carry everything and she knew that cash would be a hell of a lot easier to come by than a couple of AK47s that was for sure.

‘Fuck you very much,’ she said to Charlie Grimhaven’s unconscious form.

Grimhaven was naked, bloodied and handcuffed to a radiator. She’d forced him to take few sleeping tablets along with half a bottle of Mortlach, so he’d probably be out for the count for a few more hours.

She strapped a gun over each shoulder and paused to catch her breath. She was beginning to feel her turbulent, outlaw life catching up with her.

She closed her eyes and could hear the familiar thump of a Massive Attack song from the park opposite Grimhaven’s office block. She switched off the strip light, peeled back the blinds and looked out of the window. A constellation of streetlamps lined the deserted street below. She closed the blinds and eased the front door open. She peered into the darkened corridor to make sure there was no one around.

Chloe gave Grimhaven the finger and stepped out into the corridor.  She ignored the lift and took the stairs down to the underground car park. She kept in the shadows as she looked for her 2CV, banging a knee against a concrete pillar.

‘Oh, for shit …’

She limped over to her car, opened the car boot and put the guns in.

‘Shit,’ she said, feeling pain in her shoulders and knee.

Then she heard the footsteps.

High-heels clicked over concrete and stopped just behind her.

‘Is that you?’ said Adele.

Adele stood in the shadows. Apart from the footwear, she was dressed identically to her twin sister – black jeans and roll neck sweater. Chloe wore Dr Martin shoes. Adele’s hair was pulled back into a ponytail and Chloe’s was short cropped but both women wore black lipstick and nail varnish.

‘You know, the answer to that question is always going to be yes, no matter who I am?’ said Chloe. ‘You need to be more specific in your questioning technique. You’d never work in HR.’

‘Thank god for that. I’m filled with inertia as it is. Are we good to go?’ She tapped a foot impatiently and lit up an e-cigarette. Its tip glowed in the darkness.

‘Yep. Meet you at Bar Italia? I’ve had enough of Starfucks lately.’

‘No. I need something stronger. Vino vidi vici.’

‘The French House then?’

‘Oui! Oui!’

‘Yes, I need one of those too so let’s get moving.’

Chloe opened the door to the driver’s seat.

‘Are you going to drop off the machine guns first?’ said Adele.

‘They’re not machine guns, sweetie. They’re selective fire assault rifles,’ said Chloe.

She got into the car and started up the engine.

‘And yes, I will.  I’ll take the guns to Crispin first and then head back to Chelsea get changed. I’ll meet you at The French House in a couple of hours, OK?’

‘Oui! Oui!’ said Adele.

‘Stop bloody saying that! I’m bursting!’

Adele slammed the door, grinning.  She waved as her sister drove away and went into the building.

*

It was a stiflingly hot Friday evening and The French House was stuffed and stuffy.  Chloe and Adele were leaning against an open window drinking prosecco. They had exchanged their black clothing for identical white linen blouses and trousers, with matching accessories though the lipstick and nail varnish remained black.

‘The things that I like about the French House are,’ said Adele. She counted off on her long fingers. ‘The wine, the food, the location, the lack of music. Oh, and the fact that people can’t use mobile bloody phones. The things I don’t like are; it’s always full on a Friday night and full of media tossers at that.’

She took a swig of her drink.

‘But you still come here,’ said Chloe. ‘Week after, week, after week …’

‘Oh, I love it. You know that. It’s part of Soho history. Frances Bacon, Derek Raymond.  Real London. Well, the London we fled the sticks to escape to, anyway,’ said Adele.

She scraped away at her black nail varnish. It flaked off easily.

‘London’s changing, though,’ said Chloe. ‘Like everywhere else.’

‘And not for the better, I fear,’ said Adele.

She sighed.

‘Vive le difference!’ said Chloe.

‘Oui! Oui!’

‘Oh don’t start that again! I’ve just been for a slash and the queue for the toilets was bloody torture.’

‘Speaking of torture, how easy was it to persuade Grimhaven to turn grass?’

‘Not desperately difficult, to be honest. One snapped little finger and a razor blade under one of his thumbs was pretty much all it took. It’s a pity about leaving the money, though. Still, you can’t have everything. ’

‘How much dosh did you leave behind?’

‘In cash? Just over twenty grand!’

Adele took out an e-cigarette.

‘Well, if that’s how much  he had in his desk drawer, can you imagine how much he could have in the office safe?’ she said.

‘Well, I really didn’t have a chance to look. I was more interested in finding out who ripped us off and getting out without getting caught.’

‘You know, I knew it’d be Sammy Lee. I wouldn’t trust him as far as I could throw him,’ said Chloe.

‘You wouldn’t be able to throw him that far or you might damage your nails. And, by the way, sweetie, that cheap nail polish you get from Poundland won’t be doing your nails any good, either.’

Adele looked at her watch.

‘You know, Grimhaven’s probably still there tied to that radiator. I bet no one has discovered him yet,’ she said. ‘His boys are all off on that booze cruise to Gdansk until Sunday night, you know? Why don’t we pop back there and get the money? You could have crack at his safe, too. ’

‘You mean, go back to the scene of the crime? You know what mum always said about that. Like going back to relight fireworks.’

‘Yeah, but she married dad three times, didn’t she? Anyway, if there’s enough money in the safe we could piss off for a bit until all this other shit has cooled down. Go somewhere more bohemian, like Barcelona or Prague. Even New York. You always wanted to go to CBGS.’

‘I very much doubt it’s still there. It’s probably a Starbucks now.’

‘You know what I mean!’

Chloe though for a moment, biting her bottom lip. She stared out of the window. A group of city boys staggered down Dean Street singing a Coldplay song.

‘Okay,’ she said. ‘Drink up. We’ve got to get back in black.’

*

‘Well, you were right. He’s still here. Well, his body is. His spirit has clearly departed this mortal coil,’ said Chloe.

Grimhaven’s office was exactly the same as it had been when Chloe had left it except for the fact that someone had cut Grimhaven’s throat and he was an even bloodier mess than he had been before.

Chloe closed the door behind her while Adele went over to the desk and checked out the cash.

‘It’s all still here,’ said Adele.

Chloe kneeled in front of the safe.

‘I wonder who killed him,’ she said.

‘Now, you’re not going to ask if he had any enemies are you?’ said Adele.

Chloe started twisting the dial on the front of the safe.

‘Yes, that would be too long a list, I expect.  And you’d be on there too since you’ve been married to him for the last ten years,’ she said.

‘An error of impetuous youth,’ said Adele.  ‘My own fault for mixing my drinks.’

She sat on the corner of the desk

‘Any ideas, though?’ said Chloe.

‘You know Charlie Grimhaven.  He was probably caught with his tail between someone else’s wife’s legs and was croaked by some disgruntled cuckold,’ said Adele.

‘Well, they’re very rarely gruntled, are they? Now praise silence, please,’ said Chloe.

With one twist she opened the safe door. She peered inside.

‘Oh bugger,’ said Chloe.

‘What’s he got in there?’ said Adele. ‘The crown jewels?’

‘Not far off, if it’s what I think it is,’ said Chloe.

She took a small wooden box from the safe and put it on the desk.

‘After you,’ she said.

Adele clicked the box open.

‘Oh bugger indeed,’ she said.

Chloe slipped the box in her pocket.

‘Let’s vamoose,’ she said. ‘As soon as we get in the car, phone Crispin and tell him what we’ve got. We want to offload this as quickly as we can and then …’

‘Leave the capital! Exit this Roman shell!’

‘Yes, something like that.’

*

Chloe slouched in the leather armchair. Checked her plane ticket and took a sip from her half-pint of London Pride.

Adele sat at in the chair opposite.  She put her coffee and Nick Hornby paperback on the table in front of her.

‘Start spreading the news,’ she sang.

Chloe smiled.

‘Here’s some news. So, you know, when I opened Grimhaven safe there was black nail varnish on it and on the white rug that was in front of it,’ she said.

‘That cheap stuff that flakes off so easily?’ said Adele.

‘Yes. The very same. It’s almost as if someone was trying to crack the safe earlier and their nail polish flaked off.’

‘That nail polish is very popular.’

‘More common than popular, I’d say,’ said Chloe.

She looked at the tickets and checked the time of their flight to New York again. She was always stressed before flying.

‘Any ideas as to how that happened?’ said Chloe.

Adele shrugged.

‘Well, maybe …’

Chloe leaned forward and looked Adele in the eye.

‘Continue,’ she said.

‘Well, it was cheaper and easier than a divorce,’ said Adele.

Chloe rubbed her eyes.

‘You know Grimhaven’s boys will come after us?

‘Of course. But wouldn’t they anyway? We weren’t exactly going to be on his Christmas card list once he regained consciousness. This is a clean break. Or cleaner.’

‘Have you got the new passports and ID?’

‘Of course.’

Chloe took a sip of beer.

‘Plus ça change,’ she said.

‘Oui! Oui! Oui!’ said Adele.

‘Yes, good idea,’ said Chloe. ‘I’ll go before we get on the plane. Better safe than sorry.’

CHELSEA GIRLS IS INCLUDED IN MY FLASH FICTION COLLECTION SMALL TIME CRIMES, WHICH YOU CAN PICK UP HERE, IF YOU FANCY.

A Story For Sunday: Before The Moon Falls

Before The Moon Falls

Duffy awakes drowning in sweat. Still smothered by bad dreams. Gunshots echo through his brain. Then the sound of helicopter blades. Screams.

It takes him a moment to adjust to the surroundings; the room looks unfamiliar in the wan light. Slowly, his eyes make out the details of his sparse living room. He’s on the sofa, tangled up in a worn blanket cradling a bottle of bourbon as if it were a teddy bear. He lies for a moment, each heartbeat like the tick of a clock, and edges off the sofa. His joints ache as he stumbles to the window and peels back the blinds.  

A constellation of streetlights and a galaxy of Christmas decorations fade into the distance towards Banks’ Hill. A feral group of Hoodies trudge through the snow. They shuffle through the redbrick Ace of Spades archway and into the narrow alleyway that leads to the rear of Klub Zodiak. More of Dragan’s new recruits. More cannon fodder.

Someone, somewhere nearby is whistling Hank William’s ‘I’m So Lonesome I Could Cry.’ Or maybe he’s imagining it.

Duffy shakes his head. He’s exhausted. His mind playing tricks on him. His sleep is becoming increasingly fitful the days. Spectral. Like wading through molasses. Guilt, his mother would have said. And she’d be right.

And then Duffy sees him.

Stood in the Zebra Bar’s doorway, illuminated by the flash of his Zippo as he lights a cigarette. His face looks pallid. Lips as red as a clown’s. He’s wearing a long dark raincoat, his hair long and black like rats’ tails.  A chill slices through Duffy like the ice pick that took out Trotsky.

A black limousine purrs around the corner and stops. Ivan Walker salutes and gets in.

Duffy walks into the bathroom and switches on the shaving lamp. He avoids looking in the mirror, knowing what he’ll see; bloodshot eyes; dirty, unshaven face: inky black hair. His skin riddled with acne.

 He coughs. Spits. Coughs again. A Rorschach test of blood splashes the white basin. He turns on the tap and tries to wash it away.

***

A brittle, icy morning and the air tastes like lead. Duffy glides the black BMW through The City’s cobbled streets, listening to Bessie Smith’s ‘Downhearted Blues’. Eases the car along New World Street, taking in its expensive shops, hotels, cafes and bars. It feels like the calm before the storm. It is.

A rickshaw pulls up outside the Euro – China Hotel and a couple of drunken Chinese business men tumble out. The rickshaw driver is Travis, a tall blonde Californian surfer girl. She wears a screaming red chauffeur’s uniform and a forced grin. She laughs at something the men say as she clutches the wad of notes one of them hands her. She notices Duffy as he cruises past and taps her chauffeurs cap in a mock salute. He blows her a kiss.

Dragan, crouches in the back seat, like a coiled python. He wipes a fleck of cocaine from his nose and sits up. His eyes dance the flamenco. He chuckles, lights a cigar and gazes out of the window, like a king surveying his domain. Which isn’t too far from the truth.

‘Why do you always listen to such depressing music, Duffy?’ says Dragan.

‘Not depressing,’ says Duffy. ‘Cathartic. Helps me process the wear and tear of life. Chew it up and spit it out. You should do the same. Listen to a bit of Billie Holliday. Lady Day, as she was known. Would sort you out, no worries.’

But Dragan’s not listening.  

‘Remember, Richie Sharp?’ he says, gesturing toward Patrick’s Irish Pub, which spills out its early morning dregs. Puking and mewling executives. Pumped up pimps. Hairy arsed bikers.

‘Rings a bell,’ says Duffy.

‘You must remember. The fence. He used to call himself Mr Google. Said he could find anything for you. Eh? Remember ?’

 ‘Yeah,’ says Duffy. ‘That flabby farm boy that used to practically live in Patrick’s? The shittiest pub in The City but he loved it.’

‘Happy days, those, eh? I miss them sometimes. Don’t you?’

‘Naw. Nostalgia’s not what it used to be.’

Back in those days, Dragan was just a speed freak. A jumped up Serbian car thief. A drug dealer with ambitions. There’d been a lot of blood under the bridge since then, thought Duffy. Rivers of the stuff.

‘Whatever happened to him, anyway?’ he says.

‘Fuck knows,’ says Dragan. ‘Last time I saw him was well over five years ago. Just after the last wave of refugees swarmed into The City. He had hundreds of them working for him; dealers, whores, pickpockets, hackers, croupiers.  I think he was screwing Bronek Malinowski’s wife at the time, though. So …’

Duffy laughs.

‘Was Sharp the one they roasted in the pizza oven?’

‘No, that was the French guy. Journalist. They frizzled him. Who knows what happened to Richie Sharp, though  …’ 

Duffy turns right at the Palm Tree Bar and heads down Othello Avenue, looking up at Rhino Towers, Count Otto Rhino’s grey Gothic headquarters, looming over The City like a giant gargoyle keeping danger at bay. Though not exactly doing too good a job of it.

As he turns the corner and heads toward the Central Railway Station, a big black van suddenly screeches in front of him and blocks his way. He brakes but his reactions are slow and he slams into the side of the van.

 ‘Bollocks,’ says Duffy.

‘What the fuck,’ growls Dragan. His eyes bulge out of his head. He grabs his Glock from its shoulder holster and opens the car door.

‘Close it and hold on!’ Duffy shouts.

He screeches the car into reverse. Dragan falls back in his seat, the door wide open. And then another van turns the corner and slams into the back of Duffy’s car, stopping his exit. 

Within seconds, a swarm of massive shaven headed men dressed in military fatigues rush out of the vans. Otto Rhino’s Frog Boys.

Dragan slams his door closed. The men start attacking the car with hammers and baseball bats. A giant of a man pulls out a shotgun and blasts the bullet proof windscreen which cracks like a spider web.

 ‘What the fuck, is this?’ screams Dragan. The cigar falls into his lap.

One of the vans sounds its horn and within seconds the men rush back inside.

‘Who would dare? Who the fuck would dare?’

 He sits back, stunned. The dropped cigar burns a hole into his lap. He looks down for a moment and brushes it away as if it is a mosquito.

***

Dragan slumps in the blood- red leather armchair that is jammed in a darkened corner of the office. A ghost of the man he once was.

‘So, what’s the plan?’ says Duffy, flicking through a copy of the National Geographic.

Dragan grunts. He holds a bottle of red wine in one of his hands. He disinterestedly watches as it drips onto the wooden floorboards. 

‘There’s a rat in the kitchen,’ he says. ‘An informer. There’s no way that Otto Rhino would come at me like that without information.’

At a large desk, Lulu, a tall raven haired woman, uses a gold credit card to chop up a little heap of cocaine. She leans forward and snorts through an Eiffel Tower souvenir pen.  

‘Ay Caramba!,’ she says, her Galway accent as thick and dark as an Irish coffee. She turns to Dragan. ‘Maybe it’s that Haitian guy? Ton Ton Philippe?’

Dragan growls.

Duffy pours himself another large gin and hands the bottle to Lulu. 

‘Gin makes you sin,’ she says, with a chuckle. Dragan glares at her as she swigs from the bottle. 

She turns away, retouches her make-up in a hand mirror and stands.

Duffy can see rage rumble inside Dragan like a thundercloud.

Lulu walks over to him. She looks good. She’s tall and in her early twenties with wan looking skin, red lipstick slashed across her full lips and black hair cut into a bob. She wears a red PVC raincoat and shiny black stiletto heels that click on the floorboards. Dragan takes a wad of cash from his wallet and wearily hands it to her.

‘Whatever you can find out, okay?’ he says.

‘Aye,’ says Lulu.

‘And by whatever means necessary.’

She nods. Smiles. 

The James Bond theme begins to play and Dragan takes out his mobile phone. 

‘Yes,’ he says and listens for a few moments before answering.

He slumps over the large oak desk.

‘And exactly how much of a bollocks is ‘a bit of a bollocks’?’ he says. His expression is volcanic.

‘Maybe I’ll go?’ says Lulu.

‘Not a bad idea,’ says Duffy.

Dragan waves indifferently toward her and she walks out of the office door, her head held down but still watching. And still listening. 

Dragan smashes the bottle on the floor. The red stain crawls into the wood’s cracks and crevices. He stands up, lights a cigar and gazes out of the window. 

The Old Town square is almost empty. Just the occasional little ant scuttling across the snow. Duffy can hear the sound of the music from Klub Zodiak below. He can feel the throb of the bass, thumping its message. 

Dragan pulls a bag of cocaine from his desk drawer and trails a line of powder along the window pane.

‘I’ll be off, then,’ says Duffy.

Dragan nods slowly.

‘And Duffy, remember to watch out for mercenary eyes.’

He points a shaking finger and immediately looks over one thousand years old.

***

As Duffy blasts Ricardo’s brains across the snow smothered ground, a row of black birds, that were lined up on telephone lines like notes on sheet music, scatter and slice through the milky whiteness.

Snow dandruffs the corpse as he takes the Glock from Ricardo’s hand and pushes it down the back of his jeans. Looking at the fat heap on the ground, his scraggly beard and unkempt hair matted with blood, he is overcome with sadness, guilt. And anger.

‘You useless fucker, Ric,’ he says.

He takes out his hip flask, toasts Ricardo, takes a sip and pours the rest of the vodka onto the snow.

He grabs the cadaver by the ankles and hauls his massive corpse towards the dilapidated cottage, leaving behind a snaking trail of blood. In front of the door, he pauses and wipes his brow with the blood stained sleeve of his biker’s jacket. 

He catches his breath and gazes over at a Christmas tree which is lit up with shimmering, dancing multi-coloured lights. A wind chime that hangs above the door tinkles.  He smiles. Elsewhere, for a moment.     

Dragan’s Harley pulls up outside the cottage.  He takes off his black crash helmet and runs a hand through his freshly cropped hair, scratches his head and dismounts.

‘Well?’ he says.

Duffy, angry, ignores him. The heavy wooden door creaks as he pushes it open. Ricardo’s head bounces off every concrete step as he drags the body downstairs into the dark and dingy basement and onto a sheet of dirty green tarpaulin.  

He switches on a lone light bulb, which buzzes and flickers, revealing a room cluttered with wooden barrels. A dirty, cracked mirror hangs precariously above a rusted metal sink.

‘So, what did he say?’ says Dragan, as he pounds down the stairs, the sound of his feet echoing around the basement.  

There is a burning in Duffy’s chest. He bends forward, grips his knees and hikes up a wad of bloody phlegm.

‘He said nothing.’

‘He said nothing or that he knew nothing?’

Duffy sighs.

‘He said that he knew nothing.’

‘And you believed him.’

‘Yes. Until then the stupid fucker grabbed my gun and tried to make a run for it. Shot at me.’

Duffy leans against the sink. It creaks and squeals as he turns the rusty tap and releases the shitty brown water. He splashes it on his face.

‘The sad fuck had nothing to lose, I suppose,’ says Dragan, ‘apart from his balls’. He snorts and lights up a large Havana cigar. ‘Idiot accountant thinks he can rip me off.’ 

‘Well, he got away with it for long enough,’ says Duffy.   

‘Did anyone see you?’ he says blowing a perfect trio of smoke rings. ‘Any spies? Any mercenary eyes?’     

‘Around here? No,’ Duffy says. ‘No. There’s no one around here. ’

‘Ha! So, you say!’

Dragan’s increasing paranoia is like finger down a blackboard to Duffy these days. He clenches his fists; digs his nails into his palms.

‘We’re in the middle of the fucking  countryside. On Christmas fucking morning. Who’s going to see me? Fucking carol singers?’     

‘Did he say anything else?’ says Dragan, his bullet-hole eyes bore into Duffy and show no amusement.   

‘Yes. He cried for his mother.’

Dragan peels off his boots and black leather jacket and sits cross-legged on the dirty floor. He is wearing a black sleeveless T-shirt depicting Edward Munch’s ‘The Scream’, and a pair of expensive denim jeans.

He plucks a bottle of vodka from one of the wooden barrels that cluttered the room. His wedding ring glints as it catches the light.    

‘You know what I mean. Did he say anything about Rhino? About Ton Ton Philippe?’

‘Ton Ton Philippe … Jesus …that’s all you talk about. I told you. He’s just a bogey man. A legend that those Haitian mobsters use to keep their protection racket running.’

Dragan turns. His face as expressionless a Golem. He pours large measures of vodka into two pink plastic tumblers. 

‘Well?’ says Dragan     

‘Well, okay,’ says Duffy. ‘Well, I’ll admit that it was when I mentioned Ton Ton Philippe that he did a runner. But it’s all these scare stories. All these voodoo and black magic bullshit rumours that are filling The City.’     

Dragan looks lost in thought for a moment. He stands motionless and not for the first time Duffy is reminded of the robot in the film The Day The Earth Stood Still, waiting for a sign from his master. The only noise is the buzz of the light and the sound of Dragan’s breathing.   

Eventually, he breaks into a smile.     

‘Well, we’ll see,’ he says.  

He walks over to Ricardo’s corpse and shakes his head.         

‘Misguided loyalty, my friend,’ sighs Dragan.     

He passes Duffy a tumbler of vodka.   

‘Cheers,’ he says.

‘Up yours,’ says Duffy.

They down the drinks in one.

‘Okay, back to work,’ says Dragan, slamming his tumbler down on the table.  

He digs into a darkened corner of the room and pulls out something heavy and metallic. 

‘I think it’s time to sever Mr Ricardo’s contract,’ smirks Dragan as he starts up the chainsaw.

***

A sliver of moon garrottes the coal black sky and Duffy’s heart pounds as he stands outside Klub Zodiak. Its shimmering and buzzing neon sign is reflected in a pool of blood.

He feels the cold metal in his fist as he slams on the steel door of the nightclub until it creaks open. He pushes his way to the bar, breathing in the scent of cheap aftershave, cigarettes and booze. A sultry Femme Fatale on a Chiaroscuro lit stage purrs a torch song that roars into the abyss.

‘Bourbon?’ says Arek. Duffy nods, take off his leather jacket and drapes it over a bar stool.

‘Is Dragan here?’ he says, downing his drink in one.

‘Of course,’ says Arek ‘Where else would he be? He thinks that the moment he sets foot outside he’s a dead man. The paranoia is eating him like a cancer.’

Duffy turns toward the metal door that leads upstairs to Dragan’s office.

‘For fuck’s sake, yer man’s lost the plot, Arek; he’s away with the fairies. He’s like Hitler in his bunker up there. When was the last time he came out?’

‘At Darko’s funeral.’

‘And when was that, for Christ sake?’

‘A long time ago,’ growls Arek, his voice like sandpaper.  ‘What do you think is happening, Duffy?’

Duffy stuffs a fistful of peanuts in his mouth. Chews. Arek waits.

‘It’s all that cocaine he hoovers up,’ Duffy says. ‘And that new stuff coming in from Greece. He’s mixing them. Starting the day with uppers, ending the day with downers. Thinks someone’s drugging him, would you believe! And I bet he still doesn’t know who it is that’s out to assassinate him.  Mercenary eyes, the streets are full of mercenary eyes, he says. That pretty little wife of his must be ready to piss off I’m sure. And who can blame her? You should do the same thing before he turns on you.’

Arek nods.

‘Maybe, maybe,’ he says, as he pours a large glass of whisky. ‘But where will I go? And what about you? Where will you go?’

‘When is more to the point.’

Duffy places a metal briefcase on the Klub Zodiak’s marble bar and turns to Arek.

‘It’s all there,’ he says. ‘Do you want to count it?’

‘No. He’ll probably count it himself, the way he is these days,’ says Arek.

 ‘Aye,’ says Duffy says.

Duffy shivers as the singer whispers ‘Gloomy Sunday’, as if it is her dying breath.

‘Great version,’ he says. ‘Best version’s by Mel Torme, though. You know what Torme’s nickname is?’

‘The Velvet Fog,’ says Arek.

‘Nice to meet a man with good musical knowledge,’ says Duffy.

***

It’s already past midnight but Krystyna could swim all night. She loves the Euro – China Hotel’s glass swimming pool and the floor to ceiling window that gives such a great view of The City’s skyline. High above the squalor, the sin, the vice, it twinkles and shines.

‘I’ll miss this,’ she says, as she floats on her back.

She gets out of the pool. Duffy rises from his seat and hands Krystyna the towel.

She looks stunning. A pure albino, with eyes as red as blood.

She dries her iron muscled body and goes into the changing room.

Duffy switches off the lights.  

Krystyna comes out of the changing room. She’s dressed all in white, as usual. Boots, jeans, sweater as pallid as her skin. She switches on her Nokia.

‘Any messages?’ says Duffy.

‘There were two missed calls from Dragan and three SMS from him written in a mad garbled mixture of Serbian, Russian, English and Mandarin.’

She hands Duffy the phone and he tries to make sense of Dragan’s ramblings.

‘Like the last words of Dutch Schulz,’ he says, and laughs. Krystyna doesn’t.

 She shivers as she plays with her loosening wedding ring.

‘He’s close to the edge now,’ she says. ‘Maybe the house of cards will tumble down quicker than we’d hoped’.

***

The tall men in the black fedoras and long black overcoats look like shadows as they cut through the snow smothered Old City Square.  

A ghostly spiral of smoke drifts up from the husk of the burnt out car as Duffy falls to his knees, the low hum that hovers in the distance growing louder.  Giovanni stares blankly at him, a red dot in the centre of his forehead. The look of incredulity frozen on his dead face. 

Duffy looks up, gasping, as a plane roars overhead. His fingers buzz and tingle and the sensation spreads through his hands and up his arms. The weight of an elephant is on his chest and then he feels cold hard metal against his forehead.

‘You’re fucked, boy,’ says the tallest man, who crouches down, cradling a high powered riffle. His vowels are long and elasticated. Stretched all the way from Tennessee to The City. He plucks Duffy’s gun from where it had fallen and takes Giovanni’s pistol from his corpse.

‘Yep. Yer fucked. Fucked up the arse,’ says the squat Irishman as he presses his Doc Martin boot into Duffy’s twisted ankle.

Tears fill his eyes as pain rips through him but he refuses to give them the satisfaction of hearing him scream. He forces a smile and waits for the day to dissolve into night. 

But then a clock begins to chime, loud and cacophonous.

 The men look up.

‘What the fuck is that?’ says the Irishman.

First there are a couple of drops. Then trickles and then there is a flood until what seems to be hundreds of people spill out over the square, like jackals searching for carrion. The men in the black overcoats put away their guns.

‘Later, Duffy,’ the American says. As they slip through the crowd, approaching sirens scream nearer.

The crowd all head in the same direction. Men, women, children. And out of the milieu a stumpy punk rocker with a tall red Mohawk walks toward Duffy, beaming a broken toothed grin.

***

Shuffling into the corner of a nearby alleyway, Duffy sits down on the front steps of a butcher’s shop. Its rancid smell makes him queasy.  He pulls his black woollen hat over his frozen ears and plucks a battered packet of Galois from his jacket pocket. He hands one to the young punk, sweat peeling from his acne scarred face.

The punk grins 

‘No thanks’ he growls in English, his French accent as thick as treacle. ‘That shit will kill you’. The traces of a grin appear at the corners of his mouth. 

‘Yeah,’ says Duffy, ‘but you’ve got to die of something.’ 

Duffy coughs and spits on the ground. Takes out his hips flask and drinks its acrid contents. He hands it to the punk who shakes his head.

‘Take care of your body and it’ll take care of you.’ He snickers like the dog in an old cartoon Duffy used to watch as a kid.

 ‘Thanks for dragging me out of … that lot,’ Duffy says. Nodding toward the town square. ‘What exactly was happening? All of those people … Is it some sort of religious festival?’

The punk smirks.

‘Sort of. If you call going to work a religion. It’s the start of the next shift at the meat packing factory. These are all factory flats and houses. All owned by Otto Rhino.’

Duffy slumps to the ground. Takes a pill from his pocket and pops it. Washes it down with the booze.

‘Your body really is you temple, isn’t it, Duffy?’

Duffy glares at him.

‘Who the hell are you, anyway?’ he says.

‘Guess,’ says the punk.

‘I have no bloody idea,’ says.

‘Well, I know all about you, Sergeant Duffy.’

Duffy automatically reaches for the Bowie knife that he keeps tucked in his boot. It’s gone.

‘Who the hell are you?’

The punk steps back and holds up his hands.

‘Relax! You’re safe. Take a chill pill! I was just messing with you. Walker sent me.’

He moves closer and places the knife in front of Duffy, along with his wallet.

‘I’m Robinson,’ he says, his accent becoming Scottish. ‘Oliver Beacock Robinson.’

‘The Magician?’

‘Well, I’m no Harry Houdini, but, yeah, that’s what they call me.’

Duffy remembers the war stories about Robinson during Desert Wave. He was a legend. He could slip undercover, undetected everywhere. Anywhere. And he was never caught. Lucky bastard, he thinks.

‘I thought you’d be … cleaner,’ says Duffy.

‘And I thought that you and the Italian would be able to take out a couple of third division hired thugs without blowing up half of the town square. But you know what thought did, as my old gran used to say.’

‘Too…friggin shay,’ says Duffy, struggling to his feet.  ‘Shouldn’t we be getting out of here?’

Robinson nods.

‘Follow the white rabbit,’ he says and he’s off down the alleyway.

Duffy hobbles after him, keeping his knife in his hand.

***

‘Like something out of a Hieronymus Bosch painting, isn’t it?’ says Walker, as a Clockwork Orange skinhead French kisses an overweight transvestite. Then cracks a beer bottle over his head.

‘If you’re saying it’s a shithole, well, you’re right on the money,’ says Duffy.

And Patrick’s really is a shithole, thinks Duffy. The building itself is fine. Oak doors. Marble bar. Silver chandeliers. And a very tasty old Wurlitzer Jukebox. But the dregs of The City are drawn to Patrick’s like a used condom down a toilet bowl.

‘One of Dragan’s most successful enterprises, though, I heard?’ says Walker. He sips a death black espresso and turns his attention back to Duffy.

‘Well, I think you’ll find that this joint is actually owned by Mrs Krystyna Kostic, actually. Dragan’s wife.’

‘Yeah, yeah. Pull the other one, it plays Elvis songs. ’

Duffy pours the Budweiser down his throat without letting the bottle touch his lips. You never know what you might catch in Patrick’s.

‘So, who were the twats that wacked Giovanni and were ready to take me out? They didn’t exactly look like The Frog Boys. They were good too. Fast’

‘Out of town contractors. Ex- CIB. Like you.’

The cold sweat gripped Duffy like a cowl. Almost on cue, Barry Adamson’s version of ‘The Man With The Golden Arm’ started to play.

‘I thought you might have recognised them,’ says Walker. ‘Maybe you worked with them during the Desert Wave? Are you sure they didn’t look familiar?’

‘No. Never seen them before in my life. A covert group like CIB had people coming and going all the time. Government policy, so you didn’t get too loyal to each other and start up a mutiny when things went pear shaped. You know that. Colonel. You were there, too.’

‘Yes, I was sergeant. And I also know that you owe me. You shouldn’t need reminding of that. If I hadn’t got you out of that prison cell, those mercenaries would have sliced you up and eaten you for lunch. Literally.’

‘I know, I know. So what do you want?’

‘This is how I see it. Someone is trying to take out Dragan’s gang. At first I thought that they were just after him but now it looks like they’re taking out everyone around him. To make Dragan as vulnerable as possible. And now Giovanni is worm meat, there aren’t too many of your boys left.’

‘Maybe it’s Rhino, maybe? A few of The Frog Boys attacked us last week.’

‘No. I think someone gave the info to Rhino but there’s someone else behind it. I think they were just sent to scare you off. You in particular.’

‘Yep, well we’re certainly dropping like flies. And those Hoodies are no use. So? Who?’

‘Dunno. Maybe Ton Ton Philippe?’

‘Come on, Walker. Don’t talk cobblers.  He’s just a scare story that the Haitian’s made up. Isn’t he? You don’t believe all that stuff about zombie henchmen and werewolf bikers, do you?’

‘Maybe yes maybe no. But, remember, we saw some weird and horrible things back in the war, Duffy. Things that we couldn’t explain. How do you think I got this?’ he scratches the pentangle shaped scar on his neck. ‘Philippe’s name keeps turning up wherever I look, these days. And as much as Dragan and you boys are a pain in the arse, this guy sounds worse. Much worse.’

And then they hear the bang.

***

 The building is ablaze. Flames lick the sky. Crackle. Roar. Outside Klub Zodiak, a handful of Hoodies shuffle around. Lost sheep. Arek is on his hands and knees, coughing his guts up.

             Walker rushes over to one of the fire engines that pull up outside the building and Duffy heads toward Arek

‘What the fuck happened,’ says Duffy.

He stands up. Wipes his mouth.

‘Dragan happened.  He cleared out the safe with a suitcase full of money. Took a plane out of The City,’ says Arek. ‘I drove him to the airport. He was rambling like a madman. Worse than usual. When I came back and opened the door…boom.’

‘So the house of cards really has fallen down then?’

‘Yep, looks that way.’

Duffy hands Arek his hip flask. He stakes a swig.

‘What about Krystyna?’

Arek shrugs.

‘She went with him. Her and Lulu. But neither of them seemed too happy about it.’

Walker strolls over to Duffy with a grin.

‘Well, looks like you’re out of work, Duffy.’

Duffy shrugs. Takes a Micky Mouse napkin from his pocket and blows his nose on it. Stuffs it back into his pocket.

‘Not really,’ says Arek, ‘Here. From Krystyna.’

He hands Duffy a large envelope. He takes out a wad of documents and a set of keys.

Duffy smirks.

‘What is that?’ says Walker.

‘Payback,’ says Duffy and heads back towards Patrick’s.

‘Pop down to Patrick’s for a drink later, boys. It’s under new management.’

***

‘You arseholes could have killed me!’

Duffy is red faced as he screams at Tennessee Bob and Davy Boy Ryan, who are sat at the bar grinning from ear to ear. ‘Nearly broke my bloody leg, too.’

 He half-heartedly drags a mop around Patrick’s and then heads over to the jukebox. Presses a few buttons.

‘We were just fucking with you, Duffy,’ says Bob, twirling his fedora on his index finger. ‘Had to make it look convincing to Walker and Dragan. And whoever else was watching. Had to put the shits up your old boss, eh?’

‘And it worked, didn’t it?’ says Ryan, looking around the bar. ‘You got what you wanted.’

Roy Orbison’s ‘In Dreams’ starts to play. Duffy walks behind the bar. Checks his inky black quiff in the mirror. Takes down a bottle of Dark Valentine and three glasses. Pours.

‘You’re a pair of twats,’ he says. They knock back the drinks. Duffy pours again.

‘You going to redecorate this dump, then?’ says Ryan.

‘Eventually,’ says Duffy. ‘I’ll just change the name for now. But I’ve got big plans, boys.’

‘You heard from that Albino girl?’ says Ryan.

‘Yeah. She sent me an SMS. Her and Lulu have just got off the plane in Paris. Dragan hasn’t.’

Bob snorts.

‘She doesn’t waste much time, does she?’ he says.

‘All’s well that ends well, then,’ says Ryan. They clink glasses and knock back more booze.

Outside the day is melting into night.

‘Twilight time,’ says Duffy.

‘Indeed,’ says Ryan.

Howlin’ Wolf’s ‘I Ain’t Superstitious’ kicks in as the front door creaks open.

A dishevelled figure shuffles in.

‘Detective Dalton,’ what can I do you for?’  says Duffy.

Bob and Ryan tense.

Dalton sniffs. Looks around the room.

‘Under new management?’ he growls.

Duffy nods.

‘You seen Ice–Pick Mick McKinley?’ he says.

‘Not today but I think he usually crawls in here at the end of the night.’

Duffy holds up the bottle of booze.

‘Want to have a drink and wait for him? It’s on the house.’

Dalton’s shuffles over and looks at the bottle.

‘Why not? That strong stuff, is it? I fancy something with bite.’

‘Oh yes,’ says Duffy. ‘It’ll rip your heart out, this will.’

The end.

YOU CAN BUY SUPERNATURAL NOIR HERE, IF YOU FANCY.

A Story For Sunday: This Old House

Ten Sycamore Hill was, in Peter James’ mind, the font of all of his misfortunes. While women, work, cars and kids came and went, the only constant in Peter’s turbulent life – apart from the copious amounts of alcohol that he consumed, of course – was that weather-beaten Victorian detached house overlooking Hart Village; its increasingly battered facade and interior seeming to degenerate with each one of his trials and tribulations.

With every one of Peter’s disappointments, a window frame would crumble; with every disaster – romantic or otherwise – a door handle would come loose or slates would be ripped from the roof by an unsympathetic wind; when his health failed, so did the heating. And, as Peter’s bank account was slowly depleted, the wallpaper and paint seamed to peel itself free from the walls before his eyes.

Each night, as a drunken Peter staggered back from another interminable drinking session at the Raby Arms, he would look up at his home perched on the hill, looming over the village like a great black crow and, soaked in alcoholic self-pity, he would curse: ‘Fuck. Fuckin’…fucker…fuck.’ Or words to that effect.

And then, one October, as Halloween loomed, Peter had an idea so bright that it was positively incandescent.

*

The Raby Arms, an anonymous country pub amongst a cluster of anonymous country pubs, was always smoggy – despite the smoking ban – and, indeed, the interior, including the mirrors, the windows and the faces of most of the regulars, all seemed to have a nicotine sheen. As on most nights, the pub was half-empty.

‘You know, it’s actually possible to kill someone with a bottle of Pepsi and a packet of Mintoes?’ said JT, peeling an unlit pin-sized roll up from his bottom lip.

Peter nodded.

‘Oh, aye?’ said Peter, as he hung his camel coat on the moose head coat rack and sat opposite JT with a sigh. ‘Not a lot of people know that.’

‘Aye,’ said JT. ‘Well, it’s true. According to Big Jim. Reckons that he saw it on that YOU TUBE.’

JT, a gaunt, jaundiced-looking man with a spidery black quiff, was sat at his usual corner table, near a buzzing slot machine, drumming his fingers on his pint glass to The Shadow’s ‘Apache’, which played from to a crackly speaker.

Peter sipped his pint of Stella, gazed at the fading bat-wing tattoos on his hands and faded in on the memory of a drunken night at a Newcastle tattoo parlor that then segued into the time he first met his wife, Deborah, at Astros nightclub. Twenty five years ago now. There’d been a lot of booze under the bridge since then, he thought.

He looked at JT. A former hardman, just like him, and had a flashback to the night when it all started to go wrong. When they’d thrown a rowdy punter down the stairs at Astros with a little too much enthusiasm. The policemen on the scene had also shown a little too much enthusiasm for the arrest and the ensued injuries had, luckily for Peter and JT, resulted in a suspended sentence. But the stains remained.

There was a loud bang and Big Jim burst through the doors. Peter and JT both laughed as Jim stumbled into the toilets, his fly open, muttering to himself.

‘Here he is, the David Niven of Hart Village,’ smirked JT.

‘So you reckon it’s a non-starter then?’ said Peter, massaging his left arm.

JT took a swig of Stella.

‘Oh, aye. Great idea. Get Big Jim to burn down your house and then collect on the insurance. A foolproof plan, that. About as foolproof as that canoeist that did a Lord Lucan and ended up getting spotted in Rio or somewhere.’

JT had a point, thought Peter. Big Jim wasn’t exactly the sharpest tool in the box. He remembered the time in the pub quiz when Big Jim had answered a question about the largest Loch in Scotland with ‘Chub’. However, Jim was cheap and Peter really wanted rid of that house. The bills were mounting up and the Invalidity Benefit that he’s started getting after his first heart attack barely covered his drinking sessions.

Peter sighed again and slouched in his chair as he wiped his sweating brow with his ubiquitous tie.

‘Just think,’ he said. ‘Bonfire Night’s coming up. It’s like Full Matal Jacket out there some nights. This time of year, kids are always pushing bangers and fireworks through people letterboxes. It’s happened to me loads of times. Now, if I happen to leave some booze splashed around the place and work on my motorbike in the front room and it catches fire, well…’

They both looked up as Big Jim plonked down next to them.

‘Peter, I’m your man,’ said Big Jim.

‘I’ll take that with a mountain of Saxa,’ said JT.

*

The night stumbled on and JT and Big Jim left Peter propped up at the bar, tearing the label from a bottle of Newcastle Brown. He was watching Lewis, trying to ignore the numb feeling in his arm. It had been creeping up on him with greater regularity these days. Doctors were out of the question. Overpaid quacks, he thought. Well, he had thought that since Dr. Khan had misdiagnosed his dad’s cancer as ‘constipation’ a few years before. Feeling weak, he went to sit down when he heard the bang.

‘Bollox!’ he shouted. ‘He hasn’t… he…’

Hot, sweating and wheezing, Peter rushed out of the pub and up the cobbled path towards his burning home.

‘Tosser!’ he shouted at Big Jim, who was tripping, tumbling and stumbling down the path in a panic.

Peter was burning up with anger and the pain in his arm was getting worse. He suddenly heard a sound behind him, turned and saw a bedraggled bunch of vampires, werewolves and ghosts.

‘Trick or treat!’ they shouted.

‘Oh, bollox,’ whispered Peter and then he gasped and crumpled to the ground like a demolished building.

The weight of a mammoth was on Peter’s chest before the last stages of the coronary kicked in. The costumed kids deftly lifted his wallet and watch and, as they frisked him, Peter looked up at his burning house and saw its black silhouette against the waxing moon, his vision starting to fade.

Ten Sycamore Hill’s windows and front door seemed to light up a glowing red, like the eyes and mouth of a grinning Jack O’Lantern, the flames darting about like a lunatic’s tongue. And then he thought he heard a maniacal laugh.

A Story For Sunday: The Final Cut

They say that you can tell a lot about someone by the way that he looks and that you can always judge a man by his shoes. I thought about this as I looked down on my ancient, scuffed, brown brogues and immediately felt even more out of place in the trendy Soho bar than I had when I first came in. The bar was stiflingly hot and cluttered with a collection of hipsters and arseholes. I sat at a small table by the window watching the streamers of steam rise from my overpriced coffee. Beside me, a fading French film star with a sandblasted face slurped his espresso with all the enthusiasm of an ex-con in a bordello.

Coldplay were droning on over and over again and it took me all of my resolve not to run out of the place and keep on running. Fight or flight, I think they call it. Outside, the cloak of darkness had draped itself over the city and swallowed the moon. A tall, redhead woman in a screaming blue dress oozed into the bar like mercury and stood before me. She nodded and I stood and nervously held out a hand.

‘Patience,’ I said, shaking hands weakly. ‘Long time no see.’

‘Georgy Porgy,’ she said. She looked me up and down and grinned smugly. She clicked her fingers toward a waiter and sat down. I sipped at my coffee as she fiddled with a cigarette.

‘Were there many at the screening?’ I asked.

Mr Wu’s screening room was just up the street and I could see a murder of critics swooping past the window, crawing and cackling. Patience broke into a grin.

‘Oh, yes,’ she purred.

‘And?’ I said.

‘I’ll be back in a tick,’ said Patience, standing abruptly.

As she got up, she clicked on a zippo before walking outside into a bustling Dean Street. The flustered looking waiter, who only minutes before had looked at me like I was something a stray cat had dragged in, beamed at me as he placed a bottle of overpriced mineral water on the table. My stomach was churning. I knew Patience was loving every second of this. Patience had always had a sadistic side- which she’d regularly shown during our marriage – that had probably  helped her media career enormously.

‘Fuck it,’ I said, as I saw her yammering away into her mobile phone and holding court with a bunch of obsequious wannabe media stars. I went up to the bar and ordered a large scotch. Three years of sobriety down the Swannee river.

‘George Boy,’ slurred a voice behind me, as I gulped down my drink.

I turned to see a heavy-jowled, hangdog man in a well-worn tweed jacket and faded green combat trousers.

‘Blake,’ I said and nodded. ‘Were you at the screening?

‘Free food and drink, George Boy, of course I was there!’

In the past, it had grated on me when Blake called me George Boy but now it was welcome as a pair of old slippers.

‘G & T?’ I said.

‘Gin makes you sin, George Boy, so, why not?’ he replied.

I finished my drink and ordered another one before we sat down. Patience swept in from outside in hail of laughter before sitting down and eyeing my drink and Blake disapprovingly.

‘So, what’s the SP?’ I said. They say that directing your first film is more painful than giving birth but I think waiting for the first reviews is as excruciating as possible.

‘Puerile adolescent drivel,’ said George. ‘Mindless flash-trash worthy of Eighties Hollywood at its most vacuous. I absolutely adored it!’

He downed his drink in one and waved over to the barman. I felt relieved alright. Blake was a bit of a cult figure and had his acolytes who would go to see anything he recommended. However, a good review from Blake didn’t automatically go hand in hand with box office success, unfortunately, and I’d invested so much money in the film I really needed a smash. I had a handful of banks and a couple of dangerous loan sharks looming over me like vampires waiting to strike.

‘Patience? What did you think?’ I said, expecting the worst.

Patience’s opinion was much more important than Blake’s. She had a hugely influential weekly film show that she’d taken over after the long time host had been murdered by an embittered fading film star. It was said that she could make or break a film in twenty-five words or less. She downed her drink and patted my hand as she got up.

‘Don’t give up the day job, Porgy,’ she said and walked toward the door. ‘Oh, and remember that the school fees are due next week. Ta ta,’ she sang before blowing me a kiss.

That was it. I knew she’d scupper me. I ordered more booze and drowned in the well of misery.

*

‘They say an artist should diversify,’ I said, my voice echoing around the empty cosmetics factory. ‘Never get stuck ploughing the same furrow, they say, eh?’

I wiped my bleeding nose on the sleeve of my Concorde Security Services uniform and swigged from my bottle of Grant’s.

‘You need to be in touch with the Zeitgeist, they say.’

I pulled back the blinds. The factory car park was deserted as it always was late at night. That’s why I preferred working the night shift. It gave you time to think. To plan.

‘And the Internet has changed so much. They say that there are so many niche markets that have opened up in the last few years.’ I switched on the halogen light and checked the camera’s tripod. ‘But I’m sure that this is just like teaching your granny to suck eggs. You’ll know all about this, eh, Patience?’

Patience said nothing. I’d gagged her and strapped her to a metal chair in the middle of the room. The floor was covered in black bin liners that ripped as I paced up and down.

‘Take snuff films, for example,’ I said, before taking another swig. ‘I’d always assumed that they were urban legends and perhaps they were but not now. Not in this day and age. There isn’t a big market, I’ll admit, but there are those who are willing to pay a lot. And celebrity snuff? Well … even a B-list celebrity like you can attract an interested buyer.’

I paced, swigged. Paced. Swigged.

‘They say it’s a cut-throat game, the film business. It really is, too. Oh, sorry. I know how you hate puns. So, let’s go to work…’

I switched on the camera, pulled on the rubber Mel Gibson mask and walked towards Patience, knife in hand.

Cut.

A Story For Sunday: The Zodiac Club

The Zodiac Club, at 666 Casanova Street, loomed ominously over Silver City like a great black spider waiting to ensnare its prey. Once a full moon clung to the sky, a sickly stew of screams and howls clung to the wind and drifted down to the city, coaxing Victor Brown from an already fitful sleep.

Retired Police Detective Victor Brown was a discarded and crumpled tissue of a man who spent night after night on his soaking bed as dark dreams and worse memories lapped at the shore of his sleep. Until he awoke, drowning in sweat.

Each night, violent thoughts brewed and bubbled to boiling point until, at last, one cold winter night, thought congealed into action.

*

Just after midnight, Victor stumbled out of his clammy bed and into the migraine bright bathroom. He splashed his face with water and looked in the cracked mirror at his battle-scarred face with its furrowed brow and drinker’s nose.

He stumbled back into the bedroom and collapsed on the bed. Wheezing, he poured himself a large Jack Daniels. His eyes filled up with tears as he looked at the dusty framed photo of his wife and child, on holiday outside Silver City. He picked it up and kissed it.

It had been ten years since their car had broken down and they had made the fatal mistake of going to The Zodiac Club for help.

Victor blamed himself, of course. He’d been on a stakeout and hadn’t answered the phone when his wife had called. He knew what went on behind the walls of the Zodiac Club once the moon was full and gibbous. The whole Police Department knew but what could they do? Nick Casanova owned the club and owned the whole stinking city.

He switched on the lone light bulb, which buzzed and flickered, revealing a room cluttered with wooden barrels and crates. And a large, battered, black suitcase.

Victor opened it wide. Inside were a Glock, three grenades,six silver bullets and a gleaming silver dagger. He said a silent prayer and guzzled from a bottle of bourbon before fastening a crucifix around his neck.

*

The moonlight oozed across Silver City’s shattered sidewalks like quicksilver; creeping between the cracks, crawling into the gutters. Victor slowly walked up the hill, his breath appearing in front of him like a spectre.

As he got closer to the Zodiac Club’s blinking neon sign, Victor could hear music and laughter. The screech of a woman suddenly sliced the air. Victor shivered, pulling the long black overcoat close to his flesh. He pulled out the pistol and carefully pushed open the large metal door. He paused and then stepped into the hallway.

Checking his pistol, Victor walked toward the sounds. He paused in front of a pair of wooden doors and kicked them open.

The room was suffocating in red velvet and leather. Half eaten corpses littered the marble floor and around them, feasting, were some sort of creatures – half man, half wolf.

Instinctively, Victor threw a grenade.

The next few moments were a flash of fireworks and explosions.

As the smoke subsided, the creatures crawled towards him.

There were about five of them. A couple of them ran toward Victor but he sprayed them with silver bullets. He threw another grenade and kept on firing as the wolf creatures pounced.

Then there was silence except for his heartbeat. And a snarling sound. Victor turned and saw the wolf behind him ready to attack. As he went for his revolver the wolf was on him, knocking him to the ground.

With a series of slashes from his silver Bowie knife, it was over and Victor was soaked with blood. Panting he struggled to move the werewolf’s corpse and blinked as a hand grenade rolled onto the ground. And then he looked into wolf’s bloody jaws. A grenade’s pin was attached to one of its incisors.

Victor gasped and started to say a prayer.

And then it all turned black.

THIS YARN FIRST APPEARED AT THE LATE, GREAT A TWIST OF NOIR.

A Story For Sunday: Stamp Of A Vamp

    Alison Day was a mousy woman who had barely been scuffed by the wear and tear of life until the day she met Lulu, the effect of which was like lightning hitting a plane. The Autumn night draped itself over the city, and the moon bit into the sky as Alison rushed home from her usual Wednesday evening yoga class. She felt edgy and fumbled for her keys as she heard the click, click, click of high heels on the wet pavement. She turned. On the corner of the street, beneath a blinking street lamp, a woman was smoking a cigarette. Her silhouette seemed to appear and disappear like warm breath on a cold window pane.

The woman was tall and, like Alison, in her early thirties with wan looking skin, a slash of red lipstick across her full lips and her black hair cut into a Louise Brooks bob. She was wearing a red PVC raincoat and shiny black stiletto heels and Alison suddenly felt very dowdy with her green cagoule, Gap jeans and mousy, unkempt hair.

The woman slowly sauntered towards Alison-and in a muddy foreign accent, said:

‘Keep looking at people like that and you’ll be in for a good tongue lashing.’

And then she collapsed in heap at Alison’s’ feet.

* * *

    ‘Would you like a cup of tea?” said Alison, “I have …’
    ‘Something stronger, maybe?’ purred the woman as she sat up from the sofa.
    Alison rummaged in a cupboard and found an unopened bottle of absinthe.
    ‘How about this?’ she said.
    The woman smiled and lit a Gauloises cigarette.
    ‘My name is Lulu,’ she said, filling two shot glasses with absinthe. ‘Drink with me, eh?’
    As the night hurtled on, Alison got drunk and in the process told Lulu her life story, such as it was. Lulu seemed fascinated by Alison’s idyllic, picture postcard childhood in Yorkshire and her job at Bermondsey Library. Lulu revealed little about herself, however, except that she had come from Bucharest shortly before the revolution and that she was married to a nightclub owner called Nicholas.
    ‘You know,’ said Alison ‘ I hardly ever drink. My friends say that I can get drunk on the sniff of a barmaids apron.’ She giggled.
    ‘This is the first time I’ve drunk absinthe.’
    ‘Makes the heart grow fonder,’ said Lulu, licking the rim of the glass and holding Alison’s gaze.
    At some point during the night Alison woke up in bed, in a cold sweat, with no recollection of getting there. Lulu, naked, was smoking and gazing out of the bedroom window. The tip of her cigarette glowed bright red and then faded to black.

***

    In the morning, as slivers of sun sliced through the blinds, Alison awoke and saw that Lulu was gone. Memories of the night before fizzed like champagne bubbles as, on the bed, she saw a business card for Vamps Gentleman’s Club in Shoreditch. Written in red lipstick, was a phone number.

***

Vamps was suffocating in black leather and red velvet. It was cluttered with noisy groups of brash City Boys and semi-naked young women who wandered around with beer glasses full of money. The DJ played ‘Goldfinger’ as a statuesque blond, wearing only a pair of angels’ wings, crawled up and down a glistening pole.

Alison sat on a large black sofa next to Lulu, who was dressed in a red leather nun’s habit with a gold pentagram dangling from a chain around her neck. Tearing the label from her beer bottle she moved in close to hear Lulu speak.

‘I suppose marriage to Nicholas was a marriage of convenience.’ Lulu said. ‘I wanted to stay legally in England and he wanted…well, a pet. He promised me a job in a West End nightclub and I ended up here. But the worse thing is, he makes me have sex with other dancers. His business partners.’

She downed her drink in one.

‘Can’t you leave him?’ said Alison, red faced.

‘If I leave him, I’ll be deported and that will be that’, she said. Alison blanched.

As Autumn trudged on into Winter, Alison and Lulu’s meetings became more frequent and murderous thoughts hovered over them like a hawk ready to strike its prey until one night Lulu eventually said, ‘Okay. Let’s kill him.’

***

‘You see, ninety nine percent of the human race are just here to make up the numbers,’ said Nicholas, in a voice stained with nicotine and brimmed with brandy. He was an elegant, handsome man in his sixties. He indifferently smoked a large cigar, the smoke rings floating above his head like a halo or a crown of thorns.

‘They’re just cannon fodder. Don’t you agree?’

Alison couldn’t agree or disagree. She couldn’t say a thing and she couldn’t move.
    The plan had been simple enough. She was to go to Vamps on New Years Eve and ask about work as dancer. When the place closed she’d accept Nicholas’s inevitable invitation to go to his office for a night cap with him and Lulu. They were to poison him and dump his body in the Thames along with the drunks who tottered into the river’s dank and dirty water at this time of year.

But after the first couple of drinks she realised that she was paralysed. In the oak and leather armchair she was like an insect trapped in amber. The clock struck twelve and the room was lit up by exploding fireworks. Lulu and Nicholas’ eyes glowed bright red and then faded to black.

‘Happy New Year, my sweet ,’ said Lulu. ‘I hope you like your present.’

‘I’m sure I will, darling ‘, said Nicholas, ‘I know how difficult it is to find fresh meat in these decadent times’. He chuckled and seemed to float from his chair.

As Nicholas sank his fangs deep into her neck, Alison felt pain greater than she had ever  felt before. She wanted to cry, to scream, to tear herself apart but she could do nothing except listen to the sound of fireworks and Lulu’s cruel, cruel laughter.

SUPERNATURAL NOIR BY PAUL D. BRAZILL

A Story For Sunday: Everyday People

Brendan Burke was a creature of narrow habit and come rain or come shine, come hell or high water, he always ate meat on Fridays, even though, around the time of his seventieth birthday, it had begun to play havoc with his digestion.

‘Rebellion,’ said Brendan to Tony Naylor. ‘Rebellion against the shackles of my Catholic upbringing.’

‘Power to the people,’ said Tony, raising a clenched fist.

Tony had been a butcher since leaving school, as were his father and grandfather, but business hadn’t been so good since the influx of supermarkets selling cut price cuts of meat. Curmudgeons like Brendan were a godsend for Tony.

Brendan put the meat in his checked shopping bag and headed off.

‘Post office, next?’ said Tony.

‘As per usual,’ said Brendan. The social kept trying to convince him to have his pension paid into the bank but Brendan dug his heels in, stuck to his guns. He hated banks and enjoyed his trips to the post office, the centre of the local tittle tattle. ‘And then I’m off to the naval club, though I still don’t know if I’m an inny or an outty.’

He chuckled to himself and was still chuckling when a lime-coloured scooter jumped a light and knocked him arse over tit.
*

‘Jeezus, don’t send for her!’ said Brendan.

Skye, the featherlight social worker that hovered over him – looking like a delicate flower next to the oak of a man – had suggested phoning his daughter, Sue, in London and getting her to come and take care of him for a while. He’d barely been in the hospital a week, discharging himself after complaining about missing two drinking sessions at the club.

‘She’s worse than her bloody mother was for fussin’ and fannying around,’ said Brendan.

‘Well, you do need a carer, Mr B.,’ said Skye.

Brendan shook his head as he looked at her. She was sparkling and fresh, from somewhere down south – home counties, maybe. How could she possibly have a clue about anything?

‘Do you know anyone?’ she asked.

Brendan just stared at her nose stud with disgust.

*

Oliver Sweet had ducked into his flat as soon as he saw the social worker enter the building. He’d seen her before in the record shop where he hung around. She’d bought a Janis Ian CD and he had tried to make conversation about it but it wasn’t exactly his cup of cocoa. Neither was small talk.

Oliver was a bit off a mouse, who kept himself to himself, although it would have surprised most people to know that he loved to listen Sly Stone, Bootsy Collins and Funkadelic. These were what blew his skirt up. Along with taxidermy – his flat was cluttered with pigeons, rats, even a leathery black bat – collecting funk on vinyl was the centre of his life.

When Brendan moved into the flat opposite, Oliver was a bit worried that the old man would complain about the noise but after talking to him a couple of times, he relaxed. Brendan was as deaf as a post.

He was listing to Sly Stone and changing into his ASDA uniform when he heard the scream and the bang. He stuck his head out of the door and saw that Brendan’s door was open. And then he heard coughing, choking.

‘Are you alright, Mr Burke?’ he said. No reply.

He went to Burke’s door and knocked.

‘Mr Burke?’ said Oliver, louder this time. He went into the flat and saw Brendan doubled over and red-faced. Oliver ran towards him.

Are you alright?’

Brendan looked up with tears in his eyes. Tears of laughter.

‘Sorry…Sorry, Sweety,’ said Brendan. Oliver blushed. He hated that nickname.

‘I couldn’t resist.’ He wheezed. ‘I just wanted her to piss off, so…’ he coughed. ‘So, I asked her to check the boil on my bum. The stuck up little cow soon scarpered then.’

‘So, you’re okay,’ said a blushing Oliver.

‘Aye,’ said Brendan. ‘Do us a favour and pass us that bottle of vodka from the mantelpiece and get two glasses from the kitchenette.’

Oliver wasn’t much of a drinker but he thought he needed to calm down before heading off to work.

He poured the drinks.

‘A toast,’ said Brendan.

‘Na zdrowia, as Polish Tom used to say. To your health.’

Brendan downed the vodka in one and Oliver did the same but it burned like molten lava.
*

After a week or two it was decided that Oliver would be Brendan’s carer. He’d do the shopping, cash his pension and pop in now and again to keep an eye on him.

Oliver started to like drinking with Brendan and the carer’s allowance that he received meant that he could give up his job at ASDA. In fact all was tickety boo until November.
*

Tony Naylor’s voice was like a dripping tap to Oliver and the woman at the Post office was even worse. Still, he endured and managed to pop into the record shop before lunchtime to buy Parliament’s ‘Up For The Down Stroke.’

‘Pricey stuff, this,’ said John, the owner of the shop. ‘Been saving up your pennies, Sweety?’

Oliver ignored him and headed back home.
*

‘The Post Office was packed again,’ said Oliver to Brendan, as he put the shopping bags on the orange, plastic, Formica table.

Brendan said nothing, of course. He’d said nothing since he’d broken his neck falling out of the bath on Bonfire Night. Oliver still liked these evenings, though. Steak, vodka and a bit of Bootsy Collins playing in the background. He glanced over at Brendan’s massive frame as he unpacked the rest of the shopping and thought that he really should have bought some more formaldehyde.

A Story For Sunday: Dead Pimp In A Trunk

I WAS GOING to tell you about why I killed Lewis Quad and how he’d had it coming to him. How he’d asked for it and deserved everything he got. Tell you what an evil bastard he was and how many lives he’d destroyed over the years. All the shitty little things he’d done just because he could. Justify my actions, and the like. But then I realised that, well, if you knew Lewis Quad you’d know all of that anyway and if you didn’t know Lewis there was no way in heaven, hell or purgatory that I was ever  going to be able to explain the whole thing to you. So I thought I’d just tell you what happened next.

***

I wasn’t even close to Cyrus White’s farm when I realised I was running low on fuel. The last few hours had been a blur. I’d been so wrapped up in replaying the events of the last few days I’d been smothered by them, truth be told.

As I drove through the night, the streetlamps were yellow streaks across the pallet of darkness. I’d been listening to a phone-in talk show about ghosts, hauntings and such, and though I’d never been superstitious, I sure was glad when the dawn eventually broke on through.

I saw a sign for a gas station off of a side road and turned off the radio so that I could concentrate. I followed the directions until I reached a small disused general store with a dusty, rusted gas pump in front and a battered old station wagon parked beside it. I parked my Dodge, lay my head on the steering wheel and groaned.

After a moment or so, I switched on the radio to wake myself up but it was as dead as the corpse in my trunk. I lay back in the seat and pulled out a quarter bottle of Wild Turkey. Sipped. As I watched the sun rise like a gold doubloon, I started to relax.

Then I heard the bang.

***

She was old, in her eighties or something like that, carrying a sawn-off shotgun and wearing a ragged green-velvet ball gown. She staggered out of the store, tripping over her high heeled shoes and pulling a red beehive wig from her head as she raced toward the station wagon. I guessed she didn’t notice me at first because she threw the gun into the car and crawled in after it. She started up the station wagon with a struggle and reversed. Right into my car.

***

The sunny morning had hardened into a granite gray day and the non-stop drizzle failed to wash away the pain in my head. It wasn’t the impact of the cars so much or even the hangover that was kicking in. It was Mathilda and the way she talked. And how much she talked.

I pulled up outside White’s farmhouse just as Mathilda was telling some long and winding anecdote about unpaid alimony, jailbait whores and a pawn shop.

‘And, you know, what would you do, if you were unlucky enough to have found yourself in my situation?’ she said. She scratched her bald head. Glared at me.

‘I know what you mean,’ I said. ‘I know exactly what you mean.’

Although I most certainly did not.

Cyrus came out of the door cradling a crossbow that I knew he had made himself. He was tall and gaunt, with a long white beard and a bald head. He was wearing a frayed black suit. He swayed a little as he walked toward the car.

‘You took your time,’ he said. ‘My babies are getting hungry.’

I heard the pigs scream and a chill skewered my soul.

‘Don’t worry,’ I said, as I got out of the Dodge. ‘I have a little extra snack for them.’

‘Then come on in, ladies,’ said Cyrus. He opened up the passenger door and winked at Mathilda. ‘You’re just in time for tiffin.’

I picked up my purse and slammed the car door. Straightened my skirt.

Mathilda was already hobbling alongside Cyrus, arm in arm with him.

It was going to be a long day.

fin

A Story For Sunday: A Tissue Of Webs

The thing is, I didn’t particularly care whether she was lying to me or telling me the truth, since most of what I’d told her had been dug up from some murky hinterland somewhere on the outskirts of honesty, but whatever I did I had to get my hands that guitar. 

Once upon a time, I wouldn’t have dreamed of picking up a hitch-hiker, even one with long, long legs like her. But then again, once upon a time I wouldn’t have been driving as fast and as far away from my six bedroom Essex home as possible in a stolen rust bucket. On the lam and on the make. 

I’d fallen asleep in a lay by somewhere near Leeds and had woken up smelling of smoke, booze and worse. I’d been driving for about ten minutes when I saw her. She was stood at the side of the road near a Little Chef, looking like a long limbed drink of water calling out to a thirsty man. She was wearing a big white Stetson hat, a white dress, white cowboy boots and carrying a white guitar case. Her black Ray Bans seemed to glint in the early morning sun. 

Shit, I thought, why not. Maybe I’ll get a shag, or maybe not. There was nothing left to lose now. I tried to tidy myself up and rub some of the brown stains from my fingers and hands before pulling over. 

Without a word she got into the back seat stretched out and took off her sun specs. Which was when I gave a double take. She could have been Ben Turpin’s grand-daughter, with eyes at five-to-two. A real Butterface, this one. What the hell, I thought, you don’t look at the fireplace when you’re poking the fire. 

In a fake Irish brogue, I introduced myself as Cormac Brown and attempted to schmooze her in the way that had made me the best photocopier salesman in Essex –shit, I could have sold ice cream to Eskimos once upon a time –all the while looking at those long, tanned legs in my rear view mirror. 

‘Just call me Angel,’ she said. 

‘Angel in the morning, eh?’ I said pointing to the clock in the dashboard. It was an hour to noon.

She forced a smile.

‘I love the smell of Angel in the morning,’ I said and realised that I was babbling. 

Angel said nothing. She just popped a Mentos in her mouth and unscrewed the top of a bottle of Diet Coke. Maybe a signal? I thought. You know, screw? Maybe. 

‘Going anywhere nice?’ I said in a voice that was like sandpaper. A diet of cigarettes and whisky will do that to you. 

Angel started to tell me about how she was going to play at the Hartlepool Country and Western Festival as part of the local Wild West Weekend. Impressed, I spun her a yarn about being a writer travelling around Europe researching the low life. 

‘People call me the Irish Hemingway,’ I said, which barely seemed to register with her.

I turned on the radio and listened to George Jones sing ‘One More Last Chance’. 

My life was like a country and western song now, I knew that. 

*

Less than an hour later, the car had broken down just outside some nondescript New Town. Angel had dropped the guitar case as she got out to help me push the car and it had spilled open revealing more green leaves than a cabbage patch. My jaw had dropped so much that you could have scraped carpet fluff from my bottom lip. 

‘Well, well well,’ I said, not very imaginatively. 

Angel looked edgy. 

‘Look, I’m the treasurer of the Hull Line Dancing Association,’ she said. ‘We raised the money to send a poorly little kiddy to Disneyland’. 

I nodded, trying to look her in the eye, which wasn’t the easiest thing in the world. But, as I said, it didn’t really matter to me if she was on the level or if she’d ripped off a whole hospice full of terminally ill kids. I just wanted the dosh. 

I quickly gave up on the idea of wooing the money out of her and pulled out my Bowie knife, which I’ve always found a more than useful way of attracting someone’s attention, 

Angel grinned, took out a Mentos and popped it into the Diet Coke bottle. 

“What the fuck are you doing?’ I said as she shook up the bottle. 

Then she pointed it at my head and I heard a church clock strike noon. And then it all went black. 

It was night, when I woke up and I was cold and my head hurt like hell. I rubbed my forehead and looked around. I was at the side of a motorway and Angel had taken my car and my shoes.

Oh, things were bad alright. I was miles away from anywhere. I had a headache, I was cold, I was hungry and I was tired.

As I stood up a piece of paper fell from my jacket. I picked it up. It was a business card for the Lone Star Bar, in Durham, and written on it, in red ink, was a message:

‘Cormac, Happy Trails! – Angel x.’

Hi Ho silver lining, indeed.

A Story For Sunday: Copped It by Graham Wynd

The only sound in the squalid room was the relentless dripping, as if someone had neglected to turn the tap all the way round. Their breath filled the small space, too, but that was slowing, quieting. Dixon looked over at Burnett, worried by his lack of movement. He slumped on the pile of boxes on that side of the storeroom.
‘Hey, hey. You still alive, right?’

A cough, a gasp, then an oath. ‘Who were those guys?’

Read the rest at The All-New A Twist Of Noir.

A Story For Sunday: Friday The Thirteenth by B.R. STATEHAM

near to the knuckle‘He turned around and glanced at his partner.  The monstrous goon was standing directly in front of the burning headlights of the Ford Mustang, big mitts for hands stuffed into the pockets of his slacks, and fully outlined like some black silhouette of a nightmare.
He smiled at that thought.
It was Friday the 13th.’

Read the rest here at Near To The Knuckle.