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One day, perhaps years from now, Bentley assumed he would be able to put all this behind him, get on with his life and finally master the fascinating skill of tightrope walking. But right now, sat in a bush in Hopkins Municipal Park, the adrenaline now dormant in a body that hasn’t run at such a speed and with such verve since he was eleven, Bentley was scared and emotional. He shivered. It was quiet and there was no sign of a waif-like assailant – there hadn’t been for about an hour now. He stood up gingerly, allowing tired and aching joints to reacquaint themselves with their deserved blood flow again.
The Voice had been silent for a while but was now back.
“Well we can’t go back home, they’ll be looking for us. Oh yeah, and Star kicked you out. Good job there, honeybunch.” Bentley frowned and ignored it, stretching his legs and peering around the park.
“So that means we are currently destitute and unable to find a decent hair gel. I hope you are pleased with yourself, mister. Nevermind that you are probably a murder suspect now….” said The Voice, dripping in accusation. Bentley suddenly sat down again.
“Listen, Voice, I have this awful, awful feeling that I am stuck with you, so would you do the courtesy of just shutting up. I am working on it.”
“But I’m right. What are we going to do?”
“We? I don’t plan on taking you anywhere. You are a figment of my imagination. You are something made by….well, by something.” He shook his head to clear it. This was strange. He had to do something – Cujo might even be alive, although by the looks of him last time he saw him made that more unlikely than finding jam at a rave. The Voice tutted, muttering under Bentley’s breath – quite a trick, and one prone to making Bentley sneeze. Bentley suddenly strode out with the intention of going to Cujo’s. Something had to be done. The police, or someone.
He had gone five steps before a figure appeared from behind a tree. Bentley yelped. It was the woman.
“You…you!” he spluttered. She stood there, the black of her overalls hugging her figure in a way that was mildly disconcerting. Disconcerting when worn by a murderess anyway. She smiled.
“Ah, Bentley.” Her voice was like molten silver wrapped in molasses. He gaped for a moment before her hand snapped forward and he fell backwards, a dart in his forehead. Suddenly all was dark. All he could hear was The Voice telling him he should have ducked.
“Ugh,” said Bentley. It wasn’t exactly incisive but it sufficed to sum up how he felt. As far as terms of definition go it is vague and imprecise, although that is exactly what Bentley felt. Right up until the time when his stomach decided to make him feel even worse.
“Ugh?” he said, managing to pack four separate emotions and a small question into three little letters.
“Open your eyes, Benders, that may help,” said The Voice. Bentley opened his eyes.
“Ugh,” he said, “Nope, that doesn’t seem to be helping much” He shut his eyes again and allowed his fevered brain to ponder what he saw in those brief and amazingly painful moments of visual clarity.
He remembers…yes, that’s it…flock wallpaper. Flock wallpaper? God, he hated Flock wallpaper – so did Bentley. Wallpaper was never meant to be furry. Furry?
What else does his mind tell him? He pondered in his own well of misery before realising he had missed one essentially important aspect of his local area. It was the sweet looking girl who was sat staring at him. He opened his eyes, disregarding the violent rebuttal that happened to his brain. Sat on a chair overlooking the crippled form of Bentley lying on a bed was a young girl, about seven or eight. She was dressed in a fairy costume had in her hand a wand and her hair was a mass of unruly red curls.
Bentley internally set up a small discussion group with the remaining cells in his head and they were on their fourth coffee and twelfth rich tea biscuit before a decision was reached and the word was passed that she did, in fact, exist and Bentley was not, in fact, stretched out in a funk. He frowned.
The little girl laughed and got down off her chair, cast a spell on him and ran out of the room, a room that Bentley definitely did not recognise. He heard the girl shout from outside that “…the man is alive, granny” before his brain decided that he should get up.
The problem with the brain is its inability to adapt to the vertical plane after a large concoction had been applied to its innards via dart. In fact, such was the state of Bentley’s brain that he pitched up and ended up on the floor staring at the ceiling.
“You should wait a while before you try to move, Bentley,” said a voice. It wasn’t a nice voice and it belonged to an old woman. A very old woman who was bent over him, smiling the sort of smile that would have had you arrested in any reasonable society. She wore thick scarlet slippers and three or four layers of socks. An apron covered the inevitable layers of grey knitted cardigans. Her hands wore black woollen fingerless gloves. Her hair was severely lacking in genuine order. It was almost as if this old woman was permanently connected to a van de graaf generator and the split ends were trying their best to escape from the hell that was the scalp.
Bentley lay on his back for a moment or two more, unwilling to admit to himself that something wasn’t right.
Self deception is a great thing and one of the foundations of Bentley’s life. He looked up and self-deceived himself into thinking that this old women, a smile like a cobra, had not just drooled a globule of spittle which was at this moment acclimatising to gravity and accelerating with hateful speed towards Bentley’s unsuspecting face. Unfortunately this particular self-deception was shattered as the drool landed on Bentley’s cheek with an uncomfortable splat noise. He looked up in shock.
“Hungry, darling? I am,” she muttered, ignoring Bentley’s horrific look and frantic wiping. She turned away and headed out of the room the door slamming behind her.
Loudly and with appropriate menace a bolt slid into place.
Bentley started to have that panicky funk feeling. His stomach dropped and his heart lurched like a best man at a wedding with a free bar. He looked around him.
This room had been designed by a blind incontinent druid with a chintz fixation. The ceilings were high, the windows old and the décor frightening. Luckily Bentley did not see the picture on the wall of the dogs playing poker or he may have been violently sick. He got up slowly and stood there a moment swaying back and forth. His head hurt like he had been darted in it. He went to the window. Some rudimentary pushing and grunting confirmed they were well and truly painted shut. He considered smashing them until he registered the sheer hundred foot drop to the streets of London below.
The rest of the room was bare – there was a chest of drawers, a bed and the chair.
“Are we fucked or are we fucked, man,” said The Voice. Bentley hated to agree with himself.
He went to the door and strained to listen but it wasn’t going to open and it was thick enough to withstand his shoulder-shoves. He gave up and went to the chest of drawers, pulling out each one, the panic rising in him all the time. The only possible weapons were the sachets of Lavender in the drawers, but he soon discounted these. Through the window it was getting dark so Bentley surmised it must be, well, whatever time the sun sets – about eight, he reckoned. That means he had been out for a few hours at least.
And….rest, he thought. He sat down and began to wonder very seriously what the hell had happened last night. It was a Friday night, he and Star (ah, the star-girl – perfection in perpetuity!) had gone to the pub and…..and…….and that’s it. Nothing.
It’s amazing, thought Bentley, how much I miss her. Especially now.
The bolt slid back and the door opened suddenly. There, dressed in red and wielding a cattle-prod, was the woman. The murderess. She smiled – it seemed to be her calling card.
“Be a good boy,” she said before throwing a small white pill box at Bentley, “Eat this and I won’t have to fuck your innards up with this cattle prod.”
Bentley tried to casually catch the container but ended up scrabbling under the bed for it. He took a small look at the cattle prod and resolutely decided that the pills were preferable and dropped them into his palm.
He paused. “Er, have you got any water – I’m terrible at pills.”
She flicked a switch on the prod and suddenly Bentley had downed the pills. The sight of a live cattle prod with designs on body restructuring proving to be lubricant enough.
“You know,” he said as his vision started to blur, “You could have just put a blindfold on.”
She shrugged, smiling again.
“And where’s the fun in that?
He had to agree.
Detective Inspector Crabbins was going places. Oh yes. Cadet school had broken his feeble, unfocused, slightly bewildered spirit but left a vacuous shell of pure, blinding ambition behind it. That and an unappreciated ability to evade doing any real work. Many people had marvelled at the way Crabbins resolutely failed on every assignment so spectacularly and with so many witnesses yet still achieve promotion every nine months since he joined, regular as clockwork. He was twenty seven, tall, recklessly skinny and was, at this time, nurturing a fledgling beard and doing his best to start smoking.
It was very, very important to start smoking in the police force, Crabbins believed. Every decent, respectable and cool detective wore dirty suits and smoked. Smoking was how your voice got gravelly, he surmised, and therein lay the roots of respect. A gravelly voice. Yet every time he tried to suck in a lungful of the Silk Cut Ultra’s he managed to cough up enough phlegm to block up a small fox hole. He persisted, though. At times he was convinced he could hear his voice getting deeper and more gravelly as he spoke and smoked.
Crabbins was at this moment safely holed-up in his office smoking a cigarette and messing about with the angle-poise lamp when the Chief walked in.
The Chief was short, tubby and about fifty, glowing cheeks and a bloodshot nose testament to the intense relationship he had with alcohol. He had a moustache. This, in itself, is not a crime but the way this particular moustache slithered unhealthily over his upper-lip was. People could look at the Chief’s moustache and wind up waking up in a field in Somerset, completely unaware of what had happened and complaining of a headache. Crabbins shot to attention.
“Goodness sake, man, this isn’t the army,” said the Chief waving him down. He looked around Crabbins office and mentally moved a finger through the dirt.
Crabbins noticed the moustache and started to sweat.
“Right, young Crabbins, how are things, eh?” said the Chief. He didn’t wait for a response. “Dreadful thing, boy. Dreadful thing,” he tutted.
“Yes, sir, er –“ started Crabbins, nervously.
“Getting to grips with the old job, are we?”
“Good, good. Now. Thing is, I have a job for you. A case I believe, yes. That’s it, a case. Good thing too. Dreadful thing.” The chief faded away, apparently asleep where he stood. He spluttered just as Crabbins was about to cough discreetly.
“Where was I?” he asks, in such a manner as to suggest he really doesn’t like where he is and hopes it’s not home. He shook his head.
“Right, young Crabbins, you will be joining MacMaster at Divisional – there has been…” he paused for dramatic effect, “…a murder”
Quite honestly the Chief was very good at the dramatic line and had been planning it since he had seen the angle-poise lamp at such a “film noir” angle and the smoky pillars rising from the cigarette in the ash tray.
“Great lighting, Crabbins,” the chief admitted, grudgingly. Crabbins rallied with a grin.
“Thank you sir, excellent line, sir,” he offered
“Quite. And stop smoking in the damn office, Crabbins, it upsets the lawyers.”
“Yes sir, sorry sir.”
The Chief gave the office one last sniff and left. Crabbins sunk into his chair and blew out a breath. A – murder, he thought, a grin clinging to his vapid features. He gave himself a celebratory air-punch and managed to stop giggling just long enough to cough violently. He wondered, briefly, what his old school friends would think about that before conceding he couldn’t remember anyone he actually liked or who would even remember him.
Divisional was the sort of municipal building designed by accountants, built by monkeys and paid for by the terminally stingy. A red-brick monstrosity that acted as a hub for the numerous surrounding police stations. If this building had been an actor, it would have only been picked for roles portraying the dead. Either that or Ben Affleck. Crabbins arrived having left a full quarter of his obligatory black trenchcoat in a taxi door. He looked up at the building and sighed.
Here was where his Daddy had worked. A legend in the force, was Harold Crabbins – talked of with reverence and the focal point of a million stories. Everyone remembers where they were the day Harry Crabbins arrested the Donetti family and sent down the biggest mafia outfit in the city. On his own. With just one set of handcuffs he arrested the forty three members of the Donetti family and their extended family of seventy muscle toned henchmen. To this day no-one knows how he did it.
Crabbins’s father had died in mysterious circumstances with his head firmly wedged up the anus of Titan the elephant at London Zoo. There are some ways to die that hurt more afterwards.