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Some swearing - sorry! Oh, some murdering too!
Welcome to Bentley’s world. It is a world of fascinating ambiguities and cheap home furniture. It’s a melody within a song that you can’t remember. It blends nicely with the colour blue.
In fact, Bentley’s world exists entirely between his two ears.
As do you!
Bentley had awoken that morning with that insatiable urge to get up that happens so rarely it has been suggested that it does not exist at all. But it does happen and it did this morning. Bentley’s blue eyes opened immediately and fully for the first since Christmas 1978, eye-crust exploding in all directions. Bentley shoots upright, his messy brown hair going in some angles as yet unimagined.
Before he has time to work anything out he can hear Star pottering about maliciously in the kitchen and the reason for the spasm-awakening introduces itself to his conscious mind. He jumps out of bed, looks for his underpants or trousers but can’t find them, wonders briefly why he is in the spare bedroom, throws a t-shirt on, sucks in his gut and heads out commando-style to the living room with ill-advised haste. And there she is - her hand on the doorknob, about to leave. His star-girl.
Bentley was thirty years old, owner of a Vauxhall Astra, a dining table and two Cappuccino mugs. He also owned a number of socks of varying quality, some rudimentary underwear, and a bin-bag full of shirts and jumpers.
Never at any time in his life had he been so utterly, abjectly poor.
Star emanated beauty in ways not seen since Goddesses roamed the world. Okay, so she isn’t perfect – the eyes are too blue, the teeth ever so slightly uneven and she is only really blonde if you are very, very drunk – but to Bentley she was perfect. His star-girl. And she was apparently mad and looked like she would be forever.
Bentley has a theory about “Forever”. He has a theory on absolutely everything. Even if he hasn’t, he’ll make a slightly plausible one up. You never quite know if he’s telling the truth or if he’s metaphorically fallen down a hole on Fib road. Suffice to say the theory on “Forever” was going to be made-up but it would have featured Welsh Quadraphonic singers and a vast smelly room.
“Well – I tried, Bentley. But it’s just not meant to be. You hear? What you did in the pub last night was beyond the pale” she said, the finality of it making Bentley wish he’d actually got fully dressed. He could sense the impending statement before she’d actually thought.
“I want you gone when I return. I’m off to work.” She looked at him closely and said, in as devilish-a-voice as ever was heard, “Its over.”
Bentley’s mind was shaken into something remotely faster than sluggish and infinitely quicker than stop. “But…” he whined. He hadn’t meant to whine. He cursed himself that Star-girl’s last memory of him would be of him tackle-out, wearing a t-shirt and some socks and whining. The door had slammed, and Bentley’s whine continued in the oppressive silence of the flat, settling in the corner and sharing mental space with the shouting and vomiting. Right now that whine was probably cosily wrapped up, smoking a cigar and looking down at Bentley stood in the middle of the room without any pants on.
He stared at the door and wondered what the hell he could do to rescue this failed romance. Their argument in the pub last night was going to go down in legend. So much screaming and bitter recrimination. It’d been on the cards for ages. Perhaps he should have avoided kissing that barmaid.
But the day was about to get ever-so-slightly more crappy. Well, more-so then.
Postie is the man than delivers the post. It would almost be a misrepresentation were we to call him Baker, yet that is his name. Baker the postie. He is short and squirrelly and his name is ironic.
Although I have taken the time out to describe and personalise in very imprecise detail a non-contributing member of the cast of this book, you should all be aware he does not feature any further in the slightest. If this were a movie it would be good if postie were to be played by Matt Damon.
And, lo, the mail drops on the mat seconds after Star’s emotive exit. A bewildered and slightly shocked Bentley lets out his gut and picks it up. In it, along with a pile of shiny-paper is a letter for him. This letter is with an expensive envelope. No window. Bentley last received a letter without a window when his application for the Dennis the Menace fan club was rejected on the basis of it having too much swearing.
The envelope was even watermarked. The name and address (they even spelt his surname correctly) was written in fountain pen. It had been written by someone infused with enough pedantry to write “Esq” after his name. This was a concern.
His dislike of letters is formidable. He has a similar dislike of antique steam engines, and if faced with one chugging noisily and slowly down the street he could easily lose his rag and start screaming at the driver, demanding to know why, for the love of God WHY? He opened the letter.
Dearest Bentley, this is your mother. Your Great-Aunt Vera died this afternoon. Cancer, as you know. Funeral is at Bishops Cemetery on Thursday at lunchtime. Try to dress appropriately. Mum.
Bentley had no idea who Great-Aunt Vera was. Presumably one of the dribbling masses of flesh that had surrounded him at childhood birthday parties looking for kisses. Of all his relatives he’d only really got on with his father even though he’d hardly been around when he was a kid with his work and all that. His mother was the sort of mother that would threaten to sell him to the gypsies if he ever did anything even vaguely wrong in her eyes. She wasn’t exactly tender and the word ‘nurture’ applied to her as ‘fridge’ does to a badger. But his dad was different.
He sat down on the couch, slightly disturbing a small corned-beef sandwich and stared at the letter. At least he’d get to see Dad, he thought – a brief glimmer of light on an inevitably horrific afternoon surrounded by the dead and dying.
Bentley hadn’t seen Dad properly since that fateful day when Mother had found Bentley’s hidden store of pornographic magazines and had thrown him out portending that he was evil and a sinner and, should Bentley be ungracious enough to father children of his own, he would know why this was “…the fairest thing for the family”. Dad had handed him twenty quid as he was ushered out of the door in a spray of hail marys. Totally dominated by Mother though he was, his Dad was the only person who really knew about everything and would call Bentley on the few times a year Mother was out. Once Bentley had phoned home and Mother had answered. Cue the longest eleven seconds of Bentley’s life as a good three years of guilt was absorbed at supersonic speeds. But now there was one act he would have to do that scared him even more than the way that corned-beef sandwich appeared to be edging towards him.
He would have to wear the fucking suit.
The suit had been handed down to Bentley by another aunt who had never met him. Possibly it had been styled by Massey Ferguson. Almost certainly the last owner had died in it. It was a vague shade of brown and Bentley harboured such resentment and ill-feeling when wearing it that it could often offend a waiter without Bentley having to say a word. Well, offend him enough to ensure your main course has phlegm in it at the very least. The suit lived in a box in the attic and had done for all the good times in Bentley’s young, spring-heeled life. Its appearance usually predicted a chain of events that would leave Bentley in some way worse off than he is today.
While the less conscious parts of Bentley’s mind were working on a potential battle-plan to cope with the suit, the rest of his more immediate concerns were that, in fact, Star-girl had left and he was now officially destitute.
Bentley needed to get dressed, pack his things into his car and find Cujo. He hated to weep alone….
Cujo lived along the same terraced street in North London that Bentley did. As he walked down the pavement and studiously avoided the take-away foam containers left to trip him up Bentley thought some more about his father. It was funny, he thought, that despite loving the old geezer to bits he could barely even picture him. The past is a distant land said a famous person. Or was it no man is an island? Anyway, the point being that Bentley stepped over the remains of someone’s discarded kebab and wondered just why he didn’t so much feel anything at all. Just a vague amorphous black space in Bentley’s shattered emotional mind.
“That’s shock, darling,” said a voice.
Bentley stopped in mid-pace. He hadn’t heard that voice in a long time.
“And that’s because you never needed me before today, lover” it said, humour poking at the edges and failing to land so much as a titter.
Bentley resumed walking and as he did he said, “I do not believe you to be real, you are not real.” The voice laughed and began to hum the cha-cha-cha. Bentley’s pace increased.
The Voice (as it preferred to be known) had always been hanging about when Bentley was a child. It offered advice of a colourful and quite frankly disgusting nature at the most appropriate or inappropriate moments, depending on its mood. Then some therapy would wash it from his mind. For some reason it was back.
Bentley was afraid to wonder too deeply into why a mental projection of his subconscious mind would choose to be gay. He was even more afraid of what it was doing talking to him and why he could actually hear it.
“Go away,” he whispered. It changed from humming the Cha-cha-cha and began to fade away as a chuckle, until finally he heard the words “I will see you soon, stud.” Bentley grimaced as he approached Cujo’s front door.
“Cujo?” he ventured. When an Englishman shouts it takes him three attempts to get up any sort of real volume. Mostly they just whisper loudly or shout softly, afraid to surprise or embarrass anyone in their immediate vicinity. Well, I say Englishmen, but possibly the Japanese too. It must be something about ex-empires.
“Cujo?” No response. Finally, “CUJO!”, which elicits the same puzzlingly silent response. Nothing. Bentley pushes the door and it swings open over several copies of the local advertiser and envelopes for putting camera film into. This, in itself is not strange, as Cujo is a peculiar bloke in every possible meaning of the word. Peculiar, not bloke…The state of Cujo’s flat has been described, even by estate agents, as a “Fucking Waste of My Time and Yours”. Cujo is to tidying up as Fidel Castro is to lounge furniture. If “Tidying” were a technological engineering advance, Cujo was an extremist fundamentalist luddite.
Bentley walked in and down the passageway to the “Living room”, only so-called because Cujo “lived” here and not because you would want to. Two doors down was the ‘Shit room’, according to Cujo’s lexicography. He knocked and went to open up the door when The Voice reappeared. “You don’t want to be doing that, Benders”. Bentley sighed. “Don’t call me Benders, you bastard,” he whispered. The voice did the mental equivalent of feigned shock (hard to do, but rewarding, The Voice felt). The door swung open.
The sight that greeted Bentley was one that would rank in his memory somewhere near the top and significantly behind the time he once witnessed his parents involved in coitus and could hear the squelches. Pretty disgusting in all manifestations, I’m sure you will agree.
Cujo lay on the large red-leather sofa, a big battering-ram of a man with blond hair so white as to attract immediate membership offers from most right-wing holocaust–denial groups. Suffice to say Cujo did not get his name by being small, weedy and unable to beat up small collectives of drug-crazed maniacs. This man could have punched you in the face with a pec if he had the desire to, such was his physique.
Cujo was making choking noises and scrabbling at his neck with hands so beefy as to turn on cows.
“Told you,” said The Voice. Bentley ignored it.
“Cujo?” he ventured quietly.
Cujo’s face was now the colour of a cherry and his eyes bulged out of his head. He croaked some moments more before going still and silent and a surprising figure rose from behind the sofa uncoiling the piano wire from a neck so large that….well, you get the idea. The reason for the surprise came when Bentley dragged shocked eyes from the sight of his newly murdered best-friend to the figure behind the sofa.
It was a woman dressed in black overalls. Not massive in the slightest. One might have called her a waif, although if you had done it to her face you would be leaving the room carrying your bollocks in a bag. Her hair, which was tied back in a severe bun, was red and her eyes were some kind of piercing arctic blue. Eyes that, at this moment, looked straight at Bentley. She smiled and somewhere inside Bentley work began to take place that started his heart beating fast and adrenaline to course through his system.
As a psychological experiment one day Bentley had told Star that he thought she was getting fat. Just to see what would happen. It was that day he learned to listen to his instincts and began to understand the finer intricacies of the fear and flight reflexes.
So he turned and ran.
Behind him the woman looked thoughtfully at Bentley’s swiftly retreating back and went back into the house to finish up. They never run far, she thought.
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 treacle. He gaped for a moment before a hand grabbed him from behind and a needle was jammed in his neck. Suddenly all was dark. All he could hear was The Voice telling him he should have been listening and how The Voice would never have fallen for that amateur ploy.
“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 awake, granny” before his brain decided that he should get up. Other voices started swearing from further away.
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 tranquiliser. 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.
“She never uses the right dosage, does she?” she asked rhetorically, 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 feeling that was becoming too much like second nature. 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 but it had been boarded up. Some rudimentary pushing and grunting confirmed they were well and truly immovable.
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 slats between the boards at the window it looked like 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….relax, he thought. Then his mind turned to Cujo and his murder. He should get to the police. Or maybe “they” were going to kill him? The idea did not rank that high amongst Bentley’s desires right now. For no other reason than hope he suddenly thought of Star-girl.
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 overalls 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 dropped it ended up scrabbling under the bed for it. He paused for a moment but 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 it hummed in a electrifying manner. Suddenly Bentley had downed the pills. The sight of a live cattle prod entirely capable of rearranging your innards apparently being lubricant enough.
“You know,” he said as his vision started to blur, “I won’t tell anyone what I saw.”
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 the often 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 manly 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 McMaster at Divisional – there has been…” he paused for dramatic effect, “…a murder.”
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. 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 anecdotes. Everyone remembers where they were the day Harry Crabbins arrested the Donetti family thus eliminating the biggest mafia outfit in the city. On his own. With just one set of handcuffs and a truncheon made in 1937 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.
He walked through the doorway and into a foyer that smelled of mild disinfectant and was eventually taken to see MacMaster.
MacMaster was beefy, grizzled and in his late thirties. His hair was short and stood to attention and his eyebrows attempted to do the same, giving him a curious surprised look. It was having a face like a question mark - and placing it above a body like a greased wrestler from 1979 made MacMaster the king of the interview. He just looked at people and they usually got so flustered they filled in the gaps in the conversation with confessions. Some called him taciturn, some called him ignorant. It didn’t matter to him. As an interesting post-it on the notice-board of this description MacMaster had more body hair than a Greek politician.
“MacMaster,” he said as Crabbins walked through the door. He wasn’t one for words. More precisely he wasn’t one for sentences - words he could do.
“Sorry, no,” said Crabbins, “Crabbins, actually. Funnily enough it was MacMaster I was supposed to meet.” He chuckled, the irony deep and comfortable.
“No. I’m MacMaster,”
“Oh, er, in that case I’m Crabbins. Nice to meet you.” Crabbins stuck out a hand which was resolutely ignored.
There was a pause in this thoroughly engrossing meeting. Crabbins looked at MacMaster and was suddenly driven by the urge to confess something. He was just about to when MacMaster pointed to a chair. Crabbins sat down, MacMaster sitting opposite him.
At one time McMaster had been a cheerful, talented, vigorous man. A man with the quick wit of an Australian pig farmer after eight cans of super-strength lager and the sense of “fun” only the Americans and the Belgians seem to have. What turned him into the sullen, docile character we have before us is not a mystery. One day, they said, MacMaster had been at a pool party and had fallen, banging his head. The doctors found nothing wrong but he started demonstrating peculiar habits. He found himself purchasing garden gnomes. He began buying tartan blankets. He even found himself filling out an application form for the Salvation Army and developing a sense of civic responsibility. Out went the crazy hula shirts and into the bin went the training shoes. He went out and bought some cheap brogues. He threw out the jeans and bought some badly-fitting casual slacks. He booked onto a course teaching Canasta.
Through all this upheaval he suddenly stopped thinking about Friday nights and began thinking, longingly, of slow Sunday mornings reading The Sunday Mail.
In short, he grew old overnight.
“Right,” said MacMaster. There was another interminable pause as he opened a file up with careful deliberation. Crabbins half expected it to contain grisly photos of a corpse on the slab. It did. MacMaster handed the photos across to Crabbins shaking hand.
Crabbins considered himself to be a good, old fashioned MAN in the hetero sense of the word. He thought that if he saw proper corpses he would look at them closely and, without waves of nausea, happily tuck into a steak and kidney pie, maybe let out a chuckle, fart and tell an inappropriate joke.
In reality Crabbins took one look at Cujo’s interestingly bizarre neck wound and was promptly sick over MacMaster’s austere desk. Crabbins managed an unhelpful burp and apologised. Things were going swimmingly, he thought.
The year is, in itself, unimportant. All we need to know is that Bentley and Cujo met one summer holiday. Saying that, I’ll still manage to drag this out for a chapter. They were both nine years old.
The place is the park. It has a more precise name than that, but to Bentley it was just The Park. After all, at that age there wasn’t more than one was there?
Cujo and his mother had moved into the area a week before and Cujo had been ordered to go and find himself some friends. He had found some straight away, but the only game they seemed to want to play was the “Run away from the new kid” game (invented by a low-brow thug called Clarky who died in a bizarre incident with a top loading video player some five years later). It was later that the game changed to being “Chase and kick the shit out of the new kid” (also invented by Clarky but based upon ideas taken from his older brother) and it was then that Cujo managed to escape. He found himself deep in the woods that lined the park. Cujo had just got his breath back and sat himself disconsolately at the foot of a large tree
“Er, hello.” It was a child’s voice. It came from up above. Bentley sat in the tree and waved cheerily at Cujo who stared upwards in concern.
And that was the moment Cujo met Bentley. It was a friendship made from necessity that grew into familiarity, stopped briefly at a shop to buy a diet coke and then sprinted all the way to being ingrained. They could break wind in unison and not feel that it was unusual or even perverse. When one forgot a word, the other knew what it was.
Cujo turned out to complement Bentley perfectly. Cujo was big, but one of those quiet-spoken, confident ones. He would never take the lead, but he would do his absolute best for his team and he could take any form of abuse and just grin at it happily. Bentley was a naturally overbearing character given to hissy fits and periods of excessive whining. They suited each other.
All was pretty as a small woodland glade viewed through lenses that had been in accidental contact with spermicidal lubricant. That was until the 3rd year at the local comprehensive when Bentley decided to become a drug dealer. When he finally got caught forcing the first year kids to buy chalkdust it was Cujo who had taken the rap and had been suspended for two weeks. Being the significantly bigger kid the teachers fell for it. Bentley was free and Cujo had his fortnight off playing darts in his garage and setting fire to plastic airplanes – his mother didn’t believe in holidays.
Unfortunately while Cujo had been going through lighter fluid at a prodigious rate Bentley had got himself a girlfriend. She was called Monica and was part of a huge family of gypsies that lived on the dump outside town. She had an unhealthy obsession with voodoo. He had kissed he unexpectedly and she had been at his side ever since, proclaiming her love for Bentley in ever increasingly mental ways. It was over the day Cujo returned to school and she moved away soon after, but Cujo had fallen out with Bentley for the first thirty five minutes of that Monday morning when he had seen her clinging onto Bentley like a slightly overweight boil.
Both of them would later recall that thirty-five minutes as being the most lonely of their life. Until today. One of them would be thinking nothing ever again.
When a man wakes up after thirteen hours sleep he usually smiles, yawns, casts back the sheets and opens the curtains - breathing in deeply, stretching. The smugness of torpidity should be tingling in his finger-tips as he massages his genitals.
This time Bentley was attempting to rub off the effects of being doped twice in quick succession. This made waking like trying to swim upwards in dark water wrapped in wool and weighed down by a huge pill-shaped anchor.
It was the splash of warm tea and then the slap to the face that finally broke the anchor rope and drew Bentley, spluttering and swearing, to consciousness. His eyes shot open and he found himself staring at a young face with a patchwork beard. The face smiled and Bentley found himself being slapped again.
Crabbins had been looking forward to doing that since they’d confirmed who the unconscious man with the piano wire in his pocket. He didn’t overly exert his mental faculties in trying to reason WHY the murderer had chosen to drug himself to the nines and lay down nice and easy like on the steps of the police station. His was not to reason why, which was a shame as it way this fact that prevented Crabbins from being even a passable policeman.
He gave Bentley a thorough slap. Strictly speaking, of course, he didn’t do it and Bentley had run into a wall or something, but you have to take the rough with the smooth.
“What the hell are you doing?” spluttered Bentley. Crabbins started pacing back and forward, the knuckle of his right hand tapping his front teeth in thought. He was grinning. He stopped and put his hands on his hips.
“You are in SO much trouble!” he said, as if it were the best thing in the world. Bentley’s head was still getting to the part where he was reaching for the curtains.
“Eh?” Bentley looked around him. He was in a police interview room. This didn’t necessarily bode terribly well, he thought wretchedly. The door opened and MacMaster walked in, casually scratching his armpit. He looked down at Bentley.
“McMaster.” he said. Bentley didn’t answer for fear of allowing panic to knock at his conscious mind’s little red door.
“I am here to caution you. You are under arrest for the crime of murder. Anything….” Crabbins interrupted him.
“Oh can I do this part. I love this part.” He pressed his hands together and made puppy-eyes at McMaster. McMaster shrugged and resumed his scratching. Crabbins readied himself and thought deeply of Cary Grant.
Bentley was sinking into his own little puddle of misery. What was so wrong with his life that such bad things happen to him? As Crabbins did his best to secure best supporting actor Bentley tried to block him out.
Bentley’s reverie was suspended as Crabbins thrust something under his nose – something in a plastic bag.
“What’s this?” asked McMaster, quietly. Bentley looked, squinted.
“It’s a piece of bloodied wire,” interjected Crabbins. McMaster barely managed to cover his annoyance.
“I could have got that,” said Bentley.
“Yes, well - ” said Crabbins,
“You never gave me a chance.” Crabbins snatched the packet away.
“And do you know this man?” said McMaster, as Crabbins stalked incessantly behind his back. He pushed a photo of Cujo onto the table. It was the photo of Cujo that his mum used to keep tucked into the corner of her prized Phil Collins photo (signed, of course). Oh God, thought Bentley, I’ve been stitched up.
“Yeah, of course. It’s my best mate Cujo,” he said quietly.
McMaster sat back in his chair and folded his arms across his chest. They were so hairy it looked like he was carrying a family of ferrets. Bentley began to squirm. The silence went on for so long Bentley nearly confessed to the gunpowder plot, killing Lord Lucan and having unlawful sex with a blindfolded ram.
Crabbins, however, could stand it no longer, though. He blurted, “You were seen fleeing the scene of the crime, son!” He banged his hand on the table for emphasis. McMaster sighed, Bentley jumped. Crabbins went on, “And then you turn up on our very doorstep.”
“It wasn’t me!” he said, with as much sincerity as he could muster.
“That’s what they all say,” said Crabbins. The victorious smirk of victory briefly alit beneath his moustache.
Quietly, and with as much gravity as you could pack into a sentence Bentley said, “But I was there when it happened.” McMaster allowed an eyebrow to briefly flutter while Crabbins gaped. It was Crabbins, naturally, who decided to break the silence.
“Are you telling me that you were there when it happened? Confessing?” Crabbins voice had risen a couple of semi-tones. Bentley lowered his head and allowed himself a brief moment to grieve as the memory re-established itself “No,” he mumbled aghast at the fate of his friend.
Crabbins, misinterpreting the grief for acceptance of guilt, was gleefully rubbing his hands, but McMaster noticed Bentley’s pain and gestured that he and Crabbins should leave the room for a chat. Crabbins left after gifting Bentley the sort of stare that doesn’t so much scare as make you wonder if there is something wrong with his face.
Bentley was left wondering and quite seriously concerned for his future. He tried to sort out the last couple of days in his head, just to get some clarity.
Voices were raised in the corridor but Bentley couldn’t quite make them out. Crabbin’s whiny voice and MacMaster’s torpid grumble. Then the door suddenly opened and MacMaster entered. Sitting down opposite he looked at Bentley.
“So what really happened,” he asked. Bentley sighed and then told him everything except about his own gay internal voice which was, currently, thankfully non-existent at this time. MacMaster took all this in with barely a flicker on his slab-like mien.
At the end of the story Mac Master sighed. “Very, um, interesting. I don’t know whether to believe you or not.”
Bentley would have agreed.
The cell seemed dim and sterile and the bed seemed thin and excessively uncomfortable, even for a jail cell. Bentley was a small mound of unhappiness wrapped in a shawl of doom and gloom.
“Oh dear!” said The Voice. Bentley tried to ignore it by wrapping it in layers of self-obsession and gloom. The Voice was having none of it.
“You know…” it asked. Bentley said nothing. “You know that you will likely get life in prison for this. A good looking boy like you…sweet ass…”
“Shut up,” said Bentley miserably. Suddenly the viewing screen on the door popped open, closely followed by the actual door itself. Before stood MacMaster, a study in contemplation and sturdiness.
“Come with me, son,” he said. Bentley was guided down a corridor to another interview room where he sat separated from MacMaster by a table, a tape recorder and a cup of brown liquid that smelled like coffee but would turn out to be Bovril in taste alone.
MacMaster opened a file and took out a few pieces of paper and began to read them. Bentley waited for a few minutes and he was just about to admit he’d done the Brinks Matt robbery when the detective spoke in his slow and moribund fashion.
“You are to be released,” he said.
Bentley allowed a small spasm of hope. “So you believe me then,” he asked. MacMaster shrugged.
“Forensics say it couldn’t have been you. You have no blood on you anywhere, there was another witness who saw you being chased down the street by this red-head in bloody overalls – further corroborating your story. There are footprints at the scene that fit a woman’s stature and, most importantly the cctv saw you being hurled out of a moving van outside the police station. Aside from possession of the murder weapon we cannot say you actually murderered”
Murderered? Despite the outrageous abuse of the English languagethe relief to Bentley was almost insurmountable. “So why aren’t I just free to go?”
“You are. Of course we’ll need to see you soon as we go about our investigations – for questioning, like. We need to get as much as we can from you about the woman and the accomplices.”
Bentley mentally whooped.
Soon he was standing at the top of the steps outside Divisional viewing North London in its finery, an almost free man (although not allowed to leave the country) with the wind of freedom massaging the heat from his brow. Oh, and he was destitute. And he was dumped.
“Oh, Bentley,” said a voice behind him. Star-girl! She smiled up at him and he let himself smile back. She hugged him.
“Sorry about Cujo,” she said. She looked like she meant it too. That tiny movement of her lips that started the dimple off ever so slightly. Bentley nodded.
“I just can’t believe it,” he said with feeling. There was a moment of calm. Then she said, “Oh yes, I forgot…” and punched Bentley in the face.
“What was that for?” gasped Bentley, massaging his cheek. She had a punch like a cruiserweight when she was really angry – that was a tap, Bentley knew.
“For kissing that barmaid,” she said, her face stern.
“I kissed a barmaid?” Bentley asked, genuinely ashamed and impressed at the same time.
“Well….she did sort of kiss you. But that’s not the point. Why didn’t you call me when you found Cujo?” she demanded.
“I was dumped as far as I knew.”
“Yeah well. You’re un-dumped. You never could tell when I was just teaching you a lesson.” She squeezed his arm. He felt suddenly so happy. Then a thought occurred to him.
“What day is it?” he asked. As is usually the case for Bentley, days consist of week days and weekends. The precise name of each day is generally un-noticed for reasons of apathy.
The cogs whirred. Somewhere deep inside the brain of Bentley a neuron woke up, stretched its legs and hurried to catch the next synapse.
“Great-Aunt Vera!” he cried. Then came a sob as full realisation dawned.
“The fucking suit!”
Crabbins was apoplectic. His amateur beard was quivering (his moustache more-so) and he kept getting a mental image of MacMaster being ripped apart by a Blackpool hen party (oh the filth, the nudity, the raucousness, the laughter scarily similar to a murder of crows).
“You just let him go?” he asked, unable to believe that all police work wasn’t as easy as just turning up and waving a warrant card. MacMaster was sat at the canteen drinking super-strong tea from a mug proclaiming him to have just returned from Benidorm.
“Yes. Read the report.” He pointed with his chin. Crabbins did his best to swoop towards it, picked it up with a flourish and spent the next ten minutes reading it with what he hoped was a look of contemplative understanding. To other people it looked like he was simply staring at the paper and trying not to shit himself.
“But I wanted to let him go,” he whined. MacMaster sighed and got up. At that minute Chief walked in. Crabbins speared to attention while MacMaster rubbed his genitals and grunted a greeting.
“Good morning, gentlemen.” From Crabbins point of view it appeared that the Chief’s moustache, in its regal glory, was fighting a silent battle of wills with MacMaster’s hairy placidity. It was like watching two lions fighting, but with less claws and significantly more hair. The Chief broke off and cleared his throat, much to Crabbins relief.
“Terrible bad luck having to let the suspect go, old boys. Terrible. Shall have to have a word. But does one? Who knows.” He stalled again. MacMaster grunted, breaking the Chief’s reverie.
“Quite, young MacMaster. Quite. Anyway, you are both off the murder case as of right now.” Crabbins began to protest until a quiver from the chief’s moustache essentially clogged up his head with thoughts of terror and displacement.
“It seems the victim was no normal victim,” the Chief said, dramatic timing executed perfectly.
There was a pause. It seems as though the Chief had expected the episode to end and the words “to be continued” to float across the screen accompanied by a suitably dramatic musical score. But this was no screen (but there may have been a musical score).
“So, um, what was he, sir?” asked Crabbins a little tentatively. The Chief ignored him.
“Needless to say, you will both be sent to guard a certain suspect you recently released. You are to make sure he is not followed or interfered with in any way. It seems this Bentley character may know more than he lets on.” Crabbins was confused.
“You want us to tail and protect Bentley?”
“Yes that is what I just said. Goodness me, Crabbins, your father was never this dense.” Crabbins flushed briefly as he normally did whenever compared to his father. As usual it was MacMaster that asked the more pertinent questions.
“So what is this information he is keeping from us?” he asked. The Chief shook his head.
“Chances are that he doesn’t know he is in possession of this information. My colleagues at the agency suspect something happened the night prior to the murder and we suspect the murderer tried to get it out of him by drugs when they kidnapped Bentley, but failed and tried to have him take the rap for it all.”
MacMaster seemed to be somewhat ahead of Crabbins who was starting to wonder what time lunch was.
“Chief, Bentley is to be used as bait?”
“Precisely, MacMaster. Wonderful! I cannot tell you much, however, there are certain forces out there beyond that of normal policing to whom this woman and the knowledge she has of her own organisation is priceless and could save the world…possibly. Don’t quote me on that,” he added.
MacMaster and Crabbins looked at each other. Ironically they were both thinking different things. MacMaster was wondering what these mysterious forces were, surmising they were probably MI5 or something similar and that the woman was a terrorist. Crabbins was trying to discern from MacMaster’s expression what the hell was going on.
“Get to it, boys!” said the Chief, who turned on his heels and left a bare moment after his moustache.
TO BE CONTINUED!