Reissued (Available from Amazon where you are)
Back cover copy:
Spiggot, the consummate misanthrope copper, walks a fine line between lovable anti-hero and despicable bigot with very large shoes. His one redeeming feature is his beautiful partner, the seductively-named Francesca Trout. She keeps her one good eye on the job, and her slightly gammy, less attractive other eye on her partner.
Spiggot is catapulted into his second worst nightmare when, on a stakeout to catch criminal mastermind, his soul is sent by means of an ancient artifact into a mad axe murderer's body, who is held captive in a maximum security residential hospital for the criminally insane. Sheez, you couldn't make it up.
His only hope of redemption is to rely on his partner to help catch the villain. The trouble is he's in a nutcase's body, Trout didn't like him in the first place, he's got an insane copper after him and he's afraid of pirates...
We can only hope this doesn't all end on a boat...
Sample (Chapters 1-3)
For my wife
All my life, has been
A struggle, mired in strife
And still, I’ve never been to
‘Fucking idiot. What’s
got to do with it? Could have used ‘Rife’ or ‘Knife’. Maybe even Stife…besides,
aren’t you gay?’
‘Just because of my profession, doesn’t mean I’m gay. And you’ve got to have a dedication. You know, for your agent, or the kids, or your wife. Usually in that order. You’re the one who wanted a bloody poem. Anyway, what, may I ask, is a Stife?’
‘You know, that bloke out of that band, RPM or BPM, or something…’
‘You mean REM?’
‘That’s the one.’
‘Yeah, perhaps we should leave that out. Bit, you know, irrelevant.’
‘I’m just trying to let people know what I know, you know?’
‘Well, write what you know. That’s what they say. Maybe not everything you know. Consider it a sort of disclaimer.’
‘Oh. I suppose that’s sound advice. My go.’
‘I’m not sure you can have two dedications. They probably have to save on paper or something.’
‘It’s my book. If I want a fucking dedication, I’ll have one.’
For the fallen!
‘For the fallen? What’s that? People who’ve tripped up?’
‘No, for those that fell along the way, died honourably in battle, sort of thing.’
‘Why didn’t you just say ‘for the dead’, or something?’
‘I thought I’d go Viking. Like a toast. If they had toasts, and not, you know, axe throwing at maidens with braids.’
‘Well, it’s your dedication. You can put what you like, I’m sure.’
‘Good. I’m glad I’ve got your approval.’
‘No need to be sarcastic.’
‘Whatever. Anyway, can I start now?’
‘Can’t I do this bit? I’m good at this bit.’
‘Well, OK, I guess. Just don’t fuck it up.’
‘Alright, take it easy.’
‘You fuck it up, I fuck you up. I’m warning you…’
‘Trust me. Now, relax. Breath, breath…like the doctor told you.’
A Short History of Spiggot
A bullet’s home is in a body. That’s what it’s born for.
The bullet currently in Spiggot’s ribcage already had his feet under the table, a warm Horlicks to hand and his pipe on the go.
‘Aw, shit,’ Spiggot coughed, sneaking a peek from his hiding place at Sammy ‘The Bastard’ Maloney. The Irishman stood on the front step of his semi-detached shithole whipping his revolver left to right, looking for another target.
A curtain flicked across the road. The gun bucked in Maloney’s hand.
Spiggot slid down the wall. He left no blood. The bullet hadn’t made it to the back door. As he crumpled against the aging brickwork the bullet seemed to wriggle, nestling itself further into his lungs.
‘Come and get it, copper! I’ve got seven more where that came from!’
Copper? thought Spiggot. Nobody called him copper anymore. It would almost be sweet if he wasn’t in agony and stood no chance of wrestling the gun from the crackpot Irishman who either couldn’t count or didn’t know a revolver only held five or six shells to start with and by even an idiot’s calculations, less once you’d fired it.
Shattering glass and a bang vied for Spiggot’s attention, but he was on the verge of passing out and couldn’t figure out the relative velocity of the sounds. They seemed to arrive at his ears at the same time. His eyes felt heavy. He tried to reach a cigarette in his jacket pocket but his arms were leaden, like the bullet was some infection turning like to like. Waves were roaring in his ears, just like the time he’d been to Cromer, walking on the beach. Rain was lancing through his summer jumper…waves were crashing…
No. Not waves. A car.
His eyelids fluttered open. The battle cry of a tuned-up scud coming down the street drowned out Sammy’s deranged ranting. The car flew by him and he managed a smile. His vision might be blurred, but the hunched form of the driver earnestly concentrating ever fibre of her being on controlling the powerful vehicle was unmistakeable.
He counted to three…shortly before he could complete his countdown came the chunky sound of the car mounting the kerb, then, a second passed, and a more meaty thud echoed around the suburban street.
Music to his ears. The finale; a tortured scream of pain and shrieking metal torn on brick.
The big Irishman’s gun fired one last time before it fell silent. Spiggot’s eyes slipped closed, his slowing heart in time with the cooling tick of the scud’s ruined engine.
When he opened his eyes again, Trout was leaning over him. She spoke urgently into her mobile, pressing one hand against his leaking chest. He could barely feel it. He hoped she wouldn’t crush his cigarettes.
‘Trout,’ he said. His voice sounded too soft to his ears. He could barely hear himself over the waves that were crashing in his head. ‘Told you.’
‘Told me what?’ she asked, concern etched in every line of her face.
‘…do…ah…someone an injury…phoo…driving like that.’
She smiled and brushed his hair from his eyes gently.
‘Don’t worry,’ she said. ‘I’m fully comp...’
‘No, no! That’s not how it starts! For fuck’s sake! That didn’t even happen.’
‘I’m trying to make it exciting! The formula. I told you about the formula. We need a bit of heroism. A fiery start, a bit of action…’
‘Balls. Just get out of the way and go and do the hoovering like you’re paid to. I knew you’d cock it up.’
‘If we start where you want, no bugger will read it!’
‘At least I’d be telling the story. Telling it how it happened. There wasn’t any gunfire. It wasn’t like a movie. It’s not bloody ‘Die Hard’. He’s just an ordinary guy. Maybe a dick, but certainly not Danny De-fucking-Vito. Now go on, leave me alone. You can do the interludes, like we said in the first place.’
‘Erm, you sure you mean Danny DeVito?’
‘Who fucking cares?’
‘I’ll just wait ‘til the interlude, then, shall I?’
‘Yes. Shoo. People’ll be getting bored already, if I let you ramble on all day. Bring me my tea at six. I’ll be a while.’
A Short History of Spiggot
‘…and so he says, “Oi! That’s my fucking cat!”’
The room burst into laughter. A few sputtering smoker’s coughs joined the fray.
Spiggot had a knack for playing the crowd, even though the joke was puerile. Francesca Trout gave a small prayer of thanks to the gods of PC that she’d missed the beginning. She let the door fall shut behind her, screwing her eyes up to see through the smog and smiling with no small satisfaction as the laughter drained and gurgled back into throats and all the way down to the bellies where it came from. Then the looks came. The sullen ‘bloody woman, spoiling our fun, what do you think we’ve got wives for…anyway, shouldn’t you be at home making pie?’ looks.
She was inured to their looks. Trout put her hands on her hips and squinted meaningfully at her partner through the dim haze.
‘Spiggot. I’m rolling in five whether you’re with me or not,’ she said, and turned without waiting for his reply. The smoke swirled as she pulled the door open. She let it swing shut on the springs.
Francesca didn’t need to hear the court commiserate with its jester. She knew from her short experience the sort of thing they would be saying. Same shit, different day.
She trumbled down the hall to the elevator, muttering quietly to herself.
A trumble, for those who don’t know, is a kind of ambling waddle, perfected by ladies cursed with knock knees and rotund behinds. Francesca Trout’s behind was shapely, but there is an addendum to the trumbling rule: it can also be achieved by a lady who is in the throws of self doubt. It is a lady’s equivalent of the male shuffle, perfected by everyone with a penis in adolescence when mildly embarrassed or put upon.
Trumbling, she reached the lift and pressed the call button. She heard sniggers from the smoking room down the hall, counted under her breath to ten (in Chinese, English numbers had long since become boring). The sniggers were momentarily louder. The elevator tinged and she stepped in, holding the door open for her partner as he shuffled along the corridor.
Her nails, perfectly manicured, tapped out a rhythm on the control panel.
Spiggot got in beside her, tugging at something, probably earwax, in his weird left ear that looked like half a Spock. He said nothing as she allowed the doors to close. Francesca pressed the button for the basement.
She watched Spiggot out of the corner of her eye. Not many people can manage this with any degree of accuracy while looking straight ahead, but Francesca had been gifted with extraordinary sight. She could watch two things at once, thanks to a lazy left eye which drifted off, most commonly, to the left.
Spiggot, she thought with customary ire. He was perfectly suited to this new world. Old school was back in fashion.
His lips were pursed as he was pulled at his chin, a habit he hadn’t broken since he’d shaved his beard off when grey began peeking through. She knew he’d been proud of it, like a younger man would be off his first pubic eruptions. She thought it had made him look like a slightly dodgy ventriloquist who visited children’s parties and made all the adults careful and uneasy in some indefinable way.
Beards don’t hold the same importance for a woman as they do a man. He’d tried to explain it to her once. All she heard was ‘blah, blah, blah, I like to entertain at children’s parties’.
Spiggot stood staring at the door, seemingly ignoring her. She knew he wasn’t though.
Spiggot, who last night had made a clumsy pass at her over an Indian and two glasses of wine. Spiggot, who thought his shit smelled of Chardonnay. Spiggot, with his grinning and dirty jokes and dirty soul, telling cigarette stories to his fawning audience in the smoking room. No doubt he had told them what a good lay she was, even though she wouldn’t sleep with him if he had ten inches of inflatable flesh between his legs and chocolate lips. In short, Spiggot.
It was like being annoyed with a puppy for taking a dump on your finest afghan rug.
She took a deep clarifying breath. Then she counted to ten, just as her therapist had told her in her weekly appointments…uno, dos, ting.
The door opened and Spiggot pushed past her to get out.
She scowled darkly as the overhead lighting tinkled to life.
‘What do you reckon, Trout?’ he said cheerfully. ‘Your turn to drive again?’
‘Of course I’m bloody driving. You drive like a girl in a tutu with antlers for feet.’
‘What’s got into your pants today?’
‘Nothing, thankfully,’ she said shortly, sliding into the unmarked car and slamming the key card into the ignition. She placed her thumb over the ignition pad. The car roared into life and she gunned the accelerator.
Spiggot ducked in beside her and hastily buckled his seat belt.
Tires squealed. The car fired toward the ramp. Spiggot, as always, clutched his knees hard enough to turn his knuckles white.
‘Do you have to do that every time?’ he said with relief after they had shot out into traffic without a fatal incident but with plenty of cars furiously honking behind her.
‘Every time,’ she nodded.
She couldn’t keep the satisfaction out of her voice. Being a woman in a man’s world had its little advantages. You had to pull back points where you could.
The scud screeched to a halt outside MacDonald’s at . Spiggot unclasped his knees and rolled his shoulders until the knots there eased.
‘Ready?’ said his partner, like there was nothing wrong. Spiggot, not the most perceptive of men (strangely, a lack of empathy was often a good thing in a detective, even if it did make for poor people) guessed that there was, in fact, something wrong. The speedometer had read 170km at one point on the bypass. He couldn’t get his head around kilometres, but he knew it was bloody fast. Faster than normal.
Trout slammed the car door behind her and stalked toward breakfast. Spiggot bolted after her.
His partner did not have a healthy attitude toward anger. She drove at breakneck speed when she was pissed off at something. It couldn’t be him. He’d even paid for dinner last night. Perhaps she’s on the rag, he thought, or one of her ubiquitous nieces had noted how she was beginning to sag around the neck, like the first cracks in the polar caps that preceded an iceberg breaking free. But then that shouldn’t be a surprise to her. He had pointed it out to her just last week.
Spiggot beat Trout to the door and held it open for her.
‘Ladies first,’ he said with a smile.
She threw him a black look and strutted past him.
Bloody hell, he thought. That’s what I get for trying to be a gentleman. She’s definitely on the rag.
He followed her into the stark antiseptic glow of the Macky D’s. He smiled his sweetest smile at Trout and stepped up to the counter.
A young lad with fewer spots than was strictly requisite for a fast food servant greeted him.
‘A big breakfast and two bacon and egg muffins, if you please, young man,’ said Spiggot. Spiggot wasn’t really old enough to be calling anybody young man (that right is reserved for grandparents and the senile, quite often the same people) but that didn’t stop him.
‘Trout, what you having?’
‘Nothing. I’ve got a banana.’
‘Banana’s no way to start the day. You want to keep regular like me. Need a bit more meat in your diet, eh?’
Francesca pretended not to notice Spiggot’s sly wink.
She took a corner table while he waited for his food. Hideously patterned walls and cheerful pictures assailed her as the wafting smell of processed meat and thwarted ambition came from behind the counter. She took her banana out of her purse and took a small bite.
Spiggot came toward her bearing his usual breakfast. ‘Breakfast of champions’, he called it.
‘Here, misery guts. Got you a coffee.’
Like a puppy, she thought. Just a puppy. Ickle wickle puppy, aw, look at his big old droopy eyes, his cutesy flopsy ears…
Nope. It wasn’t working.
She took the coffee with grace and a small ‘thank you’. She drank it black. She’d never had a problem with her weight, but she knew fatness was just a jellyfish lurking in the dark, waiting to sting your ass and make it swell to twice its size if you weren’t careful. She took her coffee black, avoided embarrassing pregnancies, and ate bananas for breakfast and lunch. A girl could go far on a banana.
Spiggot’d have a field day with that one.
‘So, shit duty tonight, eh? What do you reckon? I could do you a favour. You go and keep the drinks coming and I’ll keep an eye out for our bird.’
‘You know I don’t drink on duty, Spiggot, and you know just as well that you don’t drink while you’re on duty with me.’
‘Alright, no need to snap. You’re a bit testy this morning. Got the painters in?’ He took a bite of his sausage patty, cooked with Lo-Lard™ (50% less fat!). You couldn’t even get full fat bloody fat anymore.
Francesca practised her German numbers in her head out of spite. Ein, Zwei, Drei…
Spiggot had a thing about Germans.
‘No, I have not, as you so eloquently put it, “got the painters in”. Also, I would not discuss my period with you if I did.’
‘Oh,’ he said, mildly taken aback. She could see him thinking…perhaps her girlfriend didn’t call her last night…one of the many things Francesca knew about Spiggot was that he automatically thought a woman who wouldn’t sleep with him must be gay. There seemed to be a lot of gay women in the world.
‘Didn’t mean anything by it, of course. Just, you know, wondered.’
‘Of course,’ Francesca said coolly, taking a sip of her coffee. Even the coffee tasted of grease. At least they didn’t actually dunk burgers in it…did they?
‘Free today, then. It doesn’t kick off ‘til three. Dinner’s sorted. Buffet, so I hear. Any ideas what we can get up to ‘til it’s time?’
‘We’re going to get there early, check on the cameras. First, I’m going to talk to my source.’
‘Ah, can’t we take the day off? It was my landlady’s birthday last week. I should really get her a present.’
‘You can do what you like. I’m not your boss. But I’m driving and I’ve told you where I’m going.’
Fucking hell, she’s pissed off at me. That, he thought (with some satisfaction), is why I don’t have a girlfriend. The fact that Spiggot hadn’t had a girlfriend since 2012 didn’t cross his mind. To some extent people whose brains work in a socially acceptable way have to fill in the blanks and make some deductive leaps of tortured reasoning to understand Spiggot’s mental processes.
He reasoned thus: She’s not bad, it’s just that she’s a bit, well, harsh, last night could have been a mistake, thank god I knocked that on the head, not that I wouldn’t mind a bit, but she’d be a real ball breaker, probably a tit wrangler, but then I’d have a pop at a lesbo, even if it was just for a laugh, gammy eye, mind, and my partner to boot, still, I would, I suppose, egg’s a bit rubbery this morning. Hmm, nice tits.
‘Well,’ he said, stretching. ‘Time for my morning sports. Regular as clockwork, me.’
He got up and left Francesca quietly fuming.
Spiggot thought a bit of a cooling off would do her the world of good. He smiled at a couple of ordinary punters on the way to the can, said good morning to a single mother sitting by the toilet who was checking him out, and pushed through the door to the toilets. It was dark for just a second, something Spiggot had yet to get used to about motion sensitive lights. The lights tinkled and he could see again.
He chose the gents, one of the easiest decisions he would have to make all day.
The first cubicle was free, but he checked the rest out of habit. Only when he was satisfied all were empty did he lock himself in the first cubicle.
He dropped his trousers, tugged on his knob for a while, then squatted on the bog.
Whistling a pointless tune to himself, he prepped for his morning Olympics. Nice and comfy. Deep breath. Then, in the closest thing Spiggot would ever get to a Herculean effort, he began his warm ups. Clench, relax, clench, relax. Veins popped in his neck. His face turned red.
Feeling sufficiently prepared for a good effort this morning, he gripped his knees and began.
He strained, relaxed and then twisted his frame on the uncomfortably cold seat. Groaning loudly, he clenched and released in a manner long practised.
Arse-blowing, his own invention, and perhaps paramount among toilet sports, was an art. Once, he had managed a mushroom cloud. His favourite, though, had been a string of sausages. It was no small trick, stopping it from breaking off half way through. Any accidental breakage was an aborted attempt, a technical foul which put him in a bad mood for the day.
Rewarded with a resounding splash and smaller plop, Spiggot rubbed his knees and pulled a wad of toilet paper (twenty-two sheets precisely) from the dispenser. He wiped carefully, then, holding the used toilet paper in his hand so as not to obstruct his viewing, Spiggot finally rose and gazed at the shape he had blown.
A kind of elongated turd with a twist.
A cheese twist, then.
‘Fucking rubbish,’ he chided his behind.
He dropped the soiled paper onto his poor effort, which he awarded a paltry score of five out of ten, flushed, and left the toilet, hitching his trousers and muttering to himself.
Shutting the door behind him, he closed in the smell for the next competitor and headed for his remaining breakfast dabbing his hands on his corduroys.
He sat down and returned to his last McMuffin.
‘Breakfast of champions, eh?’ he said, and took a satisfying chomp of a slightly cold, rather greasy and extremely rubbery muffin.
The scud hurtled along the northern bypass, zipping into the fast lane to overtake, flashing whoever happened to be in front when they didn’t move fast enough for Trout’s liking, but never undertaking. Trout abided by the law she had sworn to uphold so long as it didn’t involve speeding. She wouldn’t undertake, but hitting 200km per hour on the bypass was somehow acceptable.
Small puffs of smoke came out the window. Had there been a movie camera inside the vehicle, it might have picked up Spiggot’s satisfied face blowing smoke carefully through the crack in the window, and a mike, or a boom, or whatever the gaffer or silly third leg in movie circles calls those things, would pick up the grumbles and occasional growls from his partner. But the reality is, this is just a drive-by shot. All sound is whisked away in the instant the car slips past as easily as Spiggot’s bodily functions.
A short shot, then, of a car, speeding, whipping round traffic, rare brake lights twinkling as it recedes into the distance, and then, cut…
‘What’s his name again? I can never get it straight.’ Spiggot flicked his fifth butt of the day into a flowerbed.
‘What kind of name is that?’
‘It’s short for Gorvalski.’
‘What is he? German?’
Spiggot, the world’s greatest misanthrope, thought racism was acceptable as long at it rhymed. It didn’t, Spiggot reasoned, matter what you called people behind their backs. How could they take offence if they didn’t know? He had more racial classifications in his head than the average biologist, but the list always culminated in Germans.
Germans were a sub-class, according to Spiggot, who had never known the civilising influence of a Roman hand. It was like he’d studied history at some BNP rally rather than growing up reading the tabloids and whacking off in the toilet over page three while his mother shouted out from downstairs, “Spiggot, where’s the bloody racing form?!” and thought to her dying day that her son was an avid gambler, rather than a complete wanker, as Trout had soon discovered.
‘No, he’s Lithuanian,’ said Trout, thinking this but speaking on automatic and thus narrowly averting a crisis.
‘What’s one of them, then?’
Spiggot mulled this over quietly.
Trout rang the doorbell. The hallway of the high rise smelled of cannabis. Spiggot wasn’t really a connoisseur, but he thought it had the grubby hint of resin about it. It lacked the pungency of grass.
‘How is Guff short for Gorvalski?’
‘Don’t ask me. I’m not his bloody parole officer.’
Spiggot shrugged. Now she was back on the job, he felt she’d calmed down a little. She got that way, sometimes. He admired that about her. The way she could be professional even though she was on the rag.
He was her first partner out of the academy, and he liked to think a little of his wisdom had rubbed off. She insisted on being a bloody liberal but he’d drum that out of her soon enough. No sense in it. Not the way the tide was turning since the BNP and the end of partisan politics, shortly followed by the total devolution of British Counties into semi-autonomous nation states. New
– Cambridge, Suffolk and Norfolk, at least – had
accepted unilaterally the principles of the BNP’s New Deal, whereby sole power
resided in one head of state. Now the Curfew Bill looked like going through,
and Spiggot, who didn’t often watch the news, knew that it was just a short hop
to forced repatriation for anyone down to third generation immigrants and
asylum seekers. He had nothing against foreigners and their like, himself, but
you had to let the wind blow you where it would. No sense in fighting it. He’d
seen it as a plod in London,
and later in Peterborough
and Leeds. Some might stand against it, but
not him. Follow the crowd and watch your back. He’d learned that in the riots.
Stand against it and you were liable to get crushed, squashed, stamped on, set
on fire, and if you were lucky someone would piss on you afterwards, but you’d
better not count on it.
Footsteps approached the door. Spiggot held his badge up next to Francesca’s in front of the fish eye. The door opened a crack and jinked as it reached the end of the chain.
‘Wha’ d’you want?’ said a man with bleary eyes and drunken English.
‘Guff, it’s Trout.’
‘Open the fucking door, son,’ said Spiggot, not unkindly. No sense in trying to rile a smoker.
Guff scrunched up his eyes to get a better look at their badges, sighed and shut the door. After some fumbling and rattling, the door was pulled aside and Spiggot got his first look at Gorvalski.
The Lithuanian’s jeans hung limply against swarthy yet somehow feminine hips, his ribs were pressing against a tight tee-shirt and Spiggot, in a very detective-like manner, deduced that the man had a nipple ring from the odd protuberance where an ordinary nipple should be. Furvermore, yer ‘onour, I deducted from the preceding evidence, that said stoolie was a nine pounder, a horseshoe, or to speak plainly, a bender…yes, yer ‘onour, a poofter…is what he might have said if he had been an east end gangster circa 1965 giving evidence before the court, or even a copper from said era, but he wasn’t, so he didn’t say that. He settled for taking the higher ground and ensured that his hands didn’t touch anything else in case he caught GAY germs, the fear of which kept him away from GAY bars and GAY criminals.
Despite years of should-have-known bettering, his mum had drummed such fears into him from an early age, along with don’t play with Mr Pee-Pee, always wipe your arse with your right and pick your nose with the left, and the old favourite, broccoli makes your hair grey. Spiggot had never eaten broccoli in his life, and his hair was still turning around the edges, but he’d adopted a slap-dash approach to evidence over the years and Mr Pee-Pee told him to do it, so it wasn’t, strictly speaking, his fault when pages two and three of the Sun had been stuck together that time…times…all the time.
‘Who’s ‘a biff?’ Guff mumbled politely.
‘My partner,’ said Trout. ‘He’s fine. Go and put the kettle on, would you? I’ve got a few questions and I’d like a cup of coffee with no grease in it.’
Guff raised an enquiring eyebrow at Spiggot.
‘I’ll be fine, nothing for me, no, just had a big breakfast…’ Spiggot told Guff in a slightly higher pitch that usual, then watched Guff’s receding back with his Adam’s apple bobbing crazily in his throat.
‘What’s wrong with you?’ asked Trout, concerned. Spiggot didn’t usually turn this shade of grey until his eighth pint.
‘Nothing, nevermind,’ he said, gagging. ‘You could have told me he was a gay.’
‘Don’t see how that makes any difference.’
‘Well, he’s gay. You’re not really going to drink his coffee, right? You just said that, you know, to put him at his ease. It’s a trick, right?’
‘What’s got into you?’
Spiggot sniffed, then panicked as the smell of the flat hit him, full of ripe man smells, BO, a hint of a morning bowel movement, marijuana, bitter tang of coffee…and germs. He’d read somewhere that when you smelled things it was actually tiny particles hitting your nose…he imagined them. Particles, GERMS, floating, drifting unseen through the air, making him GAY…GAY GAY GAY…
‘Arwghleb,’ he said, his throat constricting in panic.
‘Jesus, Spiggot, stop being a dick. We’re going to sit down and drink coffee and we’re going to find out about our lady, so act like a god damn adult for once in your life and sit down.’
‘Can’t. Air. Outside,’ he told her, clipping off each word briskly so he didn’t have to breath in the GAY GERMS. He slammed the door.
She listened to the sound of his footsteps slapping along the corridor until they were gone. She hadn’t known he could move so fast.
‘Fuck me,’ said Trout to herself, a bewildered look on her face. She rarely swore, but sometimes it seemed appropriate.
Guff poked his head round the corner. ‘Where’s ‘a biff gone?’
‘Beats me,’ she said with a shrug, and headed for the kitchen.
Week old washing up was pilled in the sink but the counter was scrupulously clean. A small cat sat on a high chair, eyelids drooping like it was just preparing to nod off and couldn’t really be bothered to check out the new arrival. Trout wasn’t surprised. The air was heavy and pungent. The cat was probably off its tits.
A fat joint sat in an elongated ashtray. Next to the washing up, a set of scales with some residue that looked suspiciously organic in nature. She took a seat at what she charitably called Guff’s breakfast bar, sniffed the joint, and took her coffee.
‘He coming back?’ said Guff. He pronounced ‘back’ like the composer. He sounded like an undereducated extra in a period piece about the Russian tsars, a million years before
had ceased to exist as it had in the 20th Century and evolved into
the Russo-Chinese Confederation.
‘Don’t think so. I think he’s got his period.’
‘She a tranny?’
‘No, just figuratively speaking.’
‘Nevermind. Now, tell me about the lady.’
Guff picked up the joint and raised his eyebrows questioningly at Trout.
‘No, don’t mind me. Just talk.’
He flicked a bic lighter at the tip while he puffed to get the joint going to his satisfaction.
‘You know something ‘bout her, or you would not be here.’
‘Well, the lady, I hear she’s from Stoke. And she’s a gyptian.’
‘Hn? A gypsy?’
‘No, no gypsy. A gyptian. You know. From
‘An Egyptian lady from Stoke?’
‘Zactly right,’ he beamed at her.
God save me when my only positive feedback comes from smokers and therapists, Trout thought to herself.
‘I knew she was from Eurafrica. Didn’t know she was Egyptian, though.’
‘Zat is right.’
‘Keep talking,’ she said with a smile, her eyes beginning to water in the thick smoke. ‘Keep talking.’
‘Well…’ he said.
It went something like this…
‘…So, all in all, the Egyptian lady from Stoke is bad news? Is that what this is all about? I thought we knew all that already…’
‘You’re not listening…’
‘I am,’ said Spiggot, squinting against the sun brightly burning his eyes. ‘It’s just a waste of time and energy. We spent an hour here, and I could’ve been down the pub.’
‘You might as well have been, for all the good you were.’
Spiggot was still shaking from his near miss with AIDS. He looked like a deep sea fish, caught and dragged up onto a boat made of chalk and rolled in flour…and dead.
‘I was watching your back…yeah, that’s it…watching your six, you know, like in the old movies about the war.’
Francesca let it go. She had let much go over the last eight months, and she still wouldn’t complain about him to the boss or IAD. She was a woman in a man’s world, and if they thought they couldn’t rely on her, she’d never be able to rely on them.
So, she grinned and bore it, like a porn star addicted to heroin waiting for her next fix. She liked the analogy, or simile, or synonym, or antonym, or whatever some smart wit fuck nuts professor of grammar would call it (a swear, she admitted to herself, but it wasn’t out loud, and fuck nuts had a nice ring to it). She called it as she saw it.
She got into the scud and waited for Spiggot to settle in beside her.
Trout put the car into gear and pulled sedately away. She sighed. It wore her down sometimes. Sometimes her feet seemed heavy and her eyelids weary on the job. She drove out of the car park, past a fiesta amputated at the wheels, sat on sad stumps waiting a transplant. Even the bright cold sun couldn’t make the paint shine. It just laid dead and dull waiting for a scrap van or a hobo to make it his home.
She nursed the car out of the car park and onto the street.
An old lady wheeled an S & S trolley along the pavement, one hand on its overflowing contents to stop her tin cans and cardboard and worn out old shoes from tumbling out. She couldn’t actually tell what was in the trolley. Everything was wrapped in black bin liners in case of rain. She wondered what she would take with her if she was reduced to living out of a trolley. A clean set of drawers, most likely, but then personal hygiene probably didn’t seem quite so important in crazy old lady world. Maybe she carried the carcass of her first dead cat, or used condoms which she intended to sew into a rain mac, or 90 kilos of first class bubblegum for the local mister big.
‘…off’d her own son? Is that gospel?’
‘Guff said she off’d her own son? And her husband? Just because someone found out who they were? Sounds pretty harsh. And a bit made up. Nobody kills their own family just to make a point. Not these days. That’s just movie shit.’
‘That’s the word. I didn’t make it up. Just add that to a long list of what we already know about her.’
Trout ticked each point of on perfect fingers as she spoke. ‘She’s been making waves. She’s suspected of making of with some of the most valuable religious artefacts in the country, as well of numerous thefts of historical curios. The items she steals all have something in common – folk tales and rumours of mystical powers. Maybe she believes the rumours, who knows? All I know is that the prize of her collection is the phylacteries of the Disciples. The other artefacts she’s stolen are priceless, but the phylacteries are rumoured to have the power of Christ held within. Each one is supposed to contain a fragment of the last will and testament of Christ himself.’
Trout didn’t have any particular religious beliefs, as such, but she recognised the inherent value in the artefacts. In the end, what she believed had nothing to do with it. The phylacteries were expensive, and police work was largely about protecting property, rather than people. Those innocent bystanders that were hurt seemed like an afterthought in the reports. What the police force really wanted was the return of the phylacteries to their rightful owners.
‘From what Guff says, word on the street is she could set up her own museum if she wanted to. She’s got the money to travel the world and set up in any country she wants but she lives here now. This is where the last of the Phylacteries came. New
Anglia. This is where she does most of her work. Sure,
she’s worked abroad before, but she comes back here. If I didn’t know better
I’d think she was some kind of collector. But she’s a psycho, too. Who knows?
Whatever the truth of the matter is, whether she killed her family, whether she
even had a family, even if she really comes from Egypt, we’ll only know if we catch
her. All the rest of it happened in another world. We only need to worry about
what happens in ours.’
Spiggot was looking at her fingers with a confused look on his face. Trout swiftly tucked her fingers back around the steering wheel. She really should have been making coherent points if she was going to count on her fingers. She turned onto the outer ring road into heavy traffic.
‘Funny goings-on they have over there on Eurafrica,’ said Spiggot, thinking about how much the Egyptian Lady from Stoke’s haul was worth. It would be a feather in his cap if he and Trout could crack this case.
‘No stranger than anywhere else, I guess. Remember our first week together? The man with the shoe?’
Spiggot laughed. ‘Yeah. When I were a youngster,’ he said, lapsing into a terrible northern brogue, ‘Two pieces of liver and a peanut’d make do, and you’d think yerself lucky.’
Spiggot shook his head with mock severity. ‘You’re not ready for that just yet, lass.’
‘No, I don’t suppose I am. You really think she’ll be there tonight?’
‘I wouldn’t count on it. She’s too smart. Even if the brass only wants a minimal presence so as not to scare her off, she’ll smell us. We’ve got a woman who’s made off with some of the most valuable archaeological what-nots in the world, never been face mapped, and we’ve never even had a sniff at her. She’s wanted for untold thefts and sixteen counts of aggravated assault. There’re a couple of murders we can’t pin on her, though I suspect most of the violence is the work of her better half. She thinks she’s immune, and I doubt we’re the ones to prove her wrong. She’s been getting away with it for so long she just doesn’t know how to get caught. I reckon it’s become like a habit for her, like smoking or whacking off while searching for a fit quiz show host on late night telly. Erm…’ Spiggot coughed. ‘That’s by the by. She’s an old hand at it, is what I’m saying.’
‘Fat chance tonight, then. We don’t have anything to go on. All we’ve got to go on is rumour and speculation. She’s a ghost.’
‘Nah, she’s no ghost. She’s just a sneaky bitch.’
Trout nodded thoughtfully. ‘I suppose so. Still, even if she does show, we don’t know what she looks like.’
‘We’ll know. She’ll be…’ he paused, pursing his lips thoughtfully ‘…haughty. Exotic, dusky…’
‘You’re just quoting H. Rider Haggard.’
‘Nevermind. So what do we do? Start shopping for the first woman to come in with a dark complexion? You seriously think she’ll look like herself? A spot of camouflage and she could probably look like anyone she wanted to.’
‘Well, we watch and hope for a break. The prize lot’s under guard. There’s no reason for the posh knobs not to go ahead with their little auction, and it’s the perfect bait. Got to have the right bait, s’what my old Granddad always used to say. At least until the pike got his foot, then he didn’t take me fishing so much anymore. Anyway, she goes for the lot, we nab her. Easy as pie. If she shows…if we find her.’
Spiggot cracked the window and flicked his lighter with a practised hand at the tip of his cigarette. He took a long drag, satisfied and confident. It was a look he’d perfected over the years. Trout thought he was just too bloody thick skulled to ever entertain any doubt.
‘Chances are, she won’t be there,’ he said, puffing out a long stream of smoke which blew straight back into the car. ‘She’d be a fool to make a move at a public auction. But then we can’t chance missing her. If she shows, we’ll get her. She’ll stand out like a sore thumb.’
‘Maybe,’ said Trout, unconvinced. ‘There might be a few foreigners there. And third-generation immigrants, for all we know.’
‘You’re forgetting someone special…’
‘No, I’m not. If her henchwoman’s there, we won’t know what she looks like, either.’
‘Sure we will. We just collar the biggest bitch there.’
‘Witness accounts tend to exaggerate. You know that. Just because everyone calls her the Amazonian doesn’t mean she’s actually some seven foot mythological warrior goddess.’
‘No?’ said Spiggot with a smirk. ‘Then why’s she called the Amazonian?’
‘Perhaps she’s from somewhere in Pan-America? You know, maybe the Amazonian basin?’
‘Get real. Nothing’s that tidy. What’s the point in having a nickname like that? Next people’ll be calling themselves ‘The Spic’, or ‘The Liverpudlian’. What’s the use in that? Got to be descriptive, your common or garden hardcase. More imaginative than most.’
Ho-hum, thought Francesca. Just another day in the brave New Anglia with Spiggot this new religion’s unwitting missionary. Spiggot didn’t seem to care or even notice that his less than PC nicknames for everyone offended her sensibilities.
A hell of a way to start the day. She could only pray that things would look up before their shift was over. Perhaps he’d be in traction by the end of the day and she could get a new partner.
Fat chance. Spiggot had such thick skin bullets would bounce off of him.
But, she thought, he can only make it a grey day if you let it. Her therapist was always telling her, carry your sunshine on the inside. Then, no matter what the day throws at you, just smile and sing it in your head…
Sunshine on a rainy day…
She smiled. ‘Okay. Let’s go set up.’
She hit the northern bypass. Driving like the wind, she pulled onto the Coastal Dual at precisely. Only then did she click on the squawk box and call in to update Headquarters on the most successful thief of the
New World; the
Egyptian Lady from Stoke.
‘What? What now? Aren’t you supposed to be making tea?’
‘Well, I’m no expert, but isn’t it a bit…erm…boring?’
‘I meant it.’
‘No, not the profanity. You know, the whole painting him as a bigot thing. He’s supposed to be the hero, the protagonist, the reason people follow the story. And you’ve just made him out to be some kind Satanic copper bent on destroying the world with vitriol and bile.’
‘Oh. Well, he’s an arse. No sense in making stuff up. Anyway, didn’t you just admit you’re not an expert?’
‘Yes, but it’s just common sense. Got to be powerful…emotional. Action packed, start off with a gunfight, perhaps a bit of snogging, you know…some pizzazz.’
‘Pizzas? What’s pizza got to do with it?’
‘No, not pizza, pizz…nevermind. Still, my start was better. Snappy.’
‘Fuck off. How’s that for snappy?’
‘Fair enough. I’ll go and put the kettle on then, shall I?’
‘Right you are.’
Hitchingham Hall stood proud on more than twenty acres of largely landscaped grounds snuggled within private woods where deer, foxes and survivalist free range chickens roamed. A sweeping driveway with a five mile an hour speed limit (the chickens had learned to avoid the foxes but the peril of slow-moving traffic was not, as yet, hardwired into their tiny brains) took up an extra ten minutes of their time. The two detectives took the opportunity to take in the scenery, Trout fuming as she caressed the accelerator with unaccustomed tenderness, Spiggot pontificating on the perils of ‘forgetting where you came from’ and the inherent dangers of being a ‘big knob’, which seemed to Francesca a worse sin in Spiggot’s eyes than being of foreign persuasion.
The scud rode out the speed bumps easily, which back in the old days had been called ‘Sleeping Policemen’, which ADOPTS (Anti-Defamation of Police and Tertiary Support) had lobbied against and successfully abolished. No more would sleeping policemen be defamed.
Shrubbery, as Spiggot insisted on calling the topiary lining the driveway, obscured their view of the grounds at some points. At others, ornamental Japanese cherry trees sprouted in genetically modified autumnal colours, their leaves turning and their second bloom just beginning to fall. Sycamores, oak, beech, elm and many other trees that Trout could not recognise loomed in the distance. She wondered what it would be like, to have, rather than to have not, as the trees hemmed them in, in a, ahem, hemming way.
Slowly, forced into stately speed in keeping with their surroundings, they came onto the final stretch of the driveway and Hitchingham Hall became apparent. At first it was just a hint, a glimpse of a proud Victorian’s bloomers in the distance, until they drew closer still and it became clear that this was no set of bloomers, this was a petticoat…this wasn’t just old ladies’ undies, this was lingerie.
Trout counted as Spiggot moaned about the ‘
four…no, five floors – tucked away in a loft the size of a community centre
more windows poked out. Only one door on this side, and the view of the lower
floor blotted out in places by the cars of those who had already arrived…no,
thought Trout. Scratch that. The cars came with the house. It was too early for
Trout spotted a scud among them, and a surveillance unit cunningly disguised as a caterer’s van.
There might have been just the one entrance, but it was a whopper. It was the only word that seemed applicable to a down-home girl. Whopper. Great double doors, painted a glinting black, framed magnificently by two sturdy pillars. Four windows on each side of the door. Perfectly symmetrical from the front. She knew the stately home rambled unseen at the rear, and below ground where the wine cellar was housed. She had seen the plans during preparation for the evening’s operations. She knew the layout well enough, even though this was the first time she had been there. The servants’ quarters were out the back, once for servants when the house was first built, and now again as foreign labourers were the only kind allowed to work in subservience. But this wasn’t slavery, not like in Old America. This was emancipation. No benefits for Johnny Foreigner, as Spiggot was pleased to announce. No more asylum seekers, no more illegal immigrants. The only way into New Anglia was on a work permit, and checking in with your local immigration office once weekly for retinal scans and a weekly education session on English language and culture, and for the select few speedy deportation. For the unfortunate (or fortunate, as Trout was inclined to think), deemed unsuitable for work or personal presentation, a permanent place on the restricted list and forced repatriation.
It was a thriving era for the rich and landed, even for the moderately wealthy. Never had New Anglia been so prosperous, never had the people had so much time…never had there been so many vampires, thought Trout with venom.
But, ichi, ni, san, shi…the view was spectacular. She pulled into one of many spaces marked out for the occasion (and only this occasion, no doubt) and turned the ignition off with a swipe of her thumb.
‘Right then,’ said Spiggot as he slid out of the memory form seat and leant over the top of the scud. ‘Where do we start? I’m famished.’ He pointed to a small Portuguese man clipping a rosebush. ‘I vote we start on the Pork and Cheese.’
Trout’s mum had been a Spiritualist before it was banned in the Great Resolution, which had effectively outlawed all outward expressions of religion. Francesca’s mother had always said all life was a lesson. Trout thought that was a crock of shit. What could she possibly learn from a man like Spiggot? What kind of life lesson could Spiggot be?
‘Shut up, Spiggot.’
She ignored his wounded look and headed toward the door as a pencil thin man with a small inane moustache sidled up to her. As thin as a shadow sideways, thought Trout.
Shifty, thought Spiggot. Probably drinks Pimms.
‘Sir, Madam. Are you the police officers? We were expecting?’
‘Detectives, son, detectives,’ said Spiggot, with a patronising pat on the shoulder which visibly buckled the unfortunate man’s knees.
‘But of course,’ he said. Not even a hint of displeasure, noted Trout. Now, there was a man she could learn from. ‘Please. This way.’
Spiggot hated him on sight. He clipped off each word in much the same way as Spiggot clipped off a turd at the end of a good session of Arse Blowing. He seemed to attach as much importance to his words as Spiggot did his morning toilet antics. Clipping off a turd. My words are too important for you, his tone said. I don’t want to waste energy talking to you. Do you have to wear that crumpled suit on my Lord’s drive way?
And he was just a servant.
‘So, son, what’s the pay like, working for the big knobs?’
‘I’m afraid I don’t catch. Sir’s drift. I have not had the good fortune. To be blessed with the sight. Of the Master’s manhood.’
‘I’m sure you haven’t,’ said Spiggot somehow managing to imply that he thought the Master was more often than not placed behind the servant, administering (and this full of luridly suggestive undertones) punishment.
‘I believe you will find your colleagues. In the grand hall. Where they are setting up, a, harherm, sting? Is that what one calls such an operation?’
‘Perhaps if you live in the 1950’s.’
‘Ah, it seems my terminology is somewhat. Out of date.’
‘So long as your equipment isn’t. That’s what my old granddad always used to say.’
The gaunt butler/servant/and perhaps sometime au pair led them through the front door, along several corridors that served large rooms of indiscernible function that were barren of people but heavily populated with large busts of ancient ancestors and paintings of battle scenes and hunting dogs, until they eventually came to a set of double doors, heavy and oaken, which opened out into a ‘great big bastard of a room’ as the butler would not have put it.
Spiggot, however, was not a butler.
There was a small lectern at the head of the room, works of art upon every wall, tall Georgian windows and around thirty chairs. Spiggot was mildly disappointed to find that there was no buffet, and he was beginning to suspect that he wouldn’t be getting a party sized sausage roll and a prawn vol-au-vent for his tea.
Francesca slapped his hand away from a marble bust of a well endowed lady overseeing the set up.
‘What? Just seeing if there’s a secret passageway,’ he said innocently.
‘If you would care to…’ began the butler, only to be interrupted by a cry of, ‘What-o, Spiggot!’ from behind a large screen. A small man emerged from hiding with a large grin on his face, waving at Spiggot. He spared an afterthought of a nod for Francesca.
‘Oi-yoi, Big Dave,’ Spiggot called back, and with a pat on the butler’s narrow shoulder wandered over to one of his many cronies, ostensibly to check on his progress, but in reality to talk bollocks and find out where the grub was.
It was as if Francesca had a script.
‘So, do you have a name?’ she asked.
‘Mr Oliphant, Madam. At your service.’
‘The guests are arriving at ?’
‘Yes, dinner will be served in the Marlborough Rooms. At seven-thirty precisely. The auction will begin. At nine.’
Francesca checked her watch.
‘Coming up for two now, I don’t suppose there’s been any provisions made for us, has there?’
‘There have, of course,’ said Oliphant, with mild reproach. ‘There are refreshments. In the
‘Oh. Thank you, I suppose.’
‘It was the least we could do, Madam. To catch such a reprehensible miscreant.’
‘Well, I don’t know about that. I suppose there’s been some gossip?’
‘About the Lady.’
‘Ah yes, but of course. It is commonly believed that she murdered her own family. A rather large deal. Among the criminal fraternity. I believe. Despite her obvious anti-social behaviour. She has become something of a hero to the immigrant helpers. We employ on the premises. They believe she will break the shackles of oppression and instigate a new period of enlightenment in New Anglia.’
Francesca nodded her head, rearranging the man’s tortured punctuation as she did so. ‘Why is it criminals are always heroes, or working class heroines, or thieves with a heart of gold?’
‘Mere fancy, I would speculate, Madam. Perhaps the ultimate unhappiness of the servile heart leaves wide recesses for romantic notions to lurk within.’
‘Perhaps,’ said Francesca with a thoughtful pursing of her lips and a suspicious right eye. Her left eye remained aloof. ‘Mr Oliphant, as pleasant as it is to be called ‘Madam’, I think we should stick to ‘Detective,’ don’t you?’
‘Certainly, Detective. It would be a pleasure.’
Francesca suspected that for Mr Oliphant, having his shins abraded with sandpaper would be a pleasure, as long as it was done in a polite manner befitting the upper classes.
‘Mr Oliphant, will the Holdens be present this evening?’
‘Oh, they are not in residence at this time of year. They winter in
Mr Holden’s knees do not find the British winters. Agreeable.’
‘I see. And will you be present?’
‘I will be presiding. Over the services for this evening.’
‘How many cooks?’
‘Just five for such a small gathering.’
‘Alas, two have since expressed their regrets.’
‘How many serving?’
‘And you know all by sight?’
‘Of course, Detective. They live on the estate. I hired many of them myself. Apart from Mrs Saint. The head chef, and the kitchen staff, whom she presides over and is responsible for hiring.’
And so the grilling continued. Preparation was the key to any successful stake-out, and Francesca was good at it. Spiggot was good at waiting. That was his forte. Sitting still and doing nothing was a perfect way, in Spiggot’s mind, to spend an evening. Francesca was learning her own way of doing things.
She made her excuses and left Mr Oliphant to do whatever it was butlers did. Then she spent some time talking to the staff, wandering the halls, and eventually eating a brie and cranberry sandwich on seed bread.
Spiggot found her in the
‘Hey up, Trout. Got a joke for you.’
‘What?’ said Francesca, before she could stop herself, and mentally kicked herself in the behind for being too slow to head him off at the pass.
‘What’s the best time for a spit-roast?’
I really don’t want to know, she thought…but there was a kind of road kill fascination to the things Spiggot said.
‘No, go on, do.’
‘Two O’Cock! Wahaha!’
‘Hilarious. Dream that up yourself?’
‘No, Big Dave told me earlier…it’s funny because, see, one goes in one end, and…’
And so, in the way of unpleasant afternoons spent as a child in a cold caravan thumped by heavy rain and endless sessions of gin rummy with a despised cousin, the afternoon droned on.
Evening came gratefully, the late autumn sun long gone in a blaze of burnt amber through the western windows.
Two guests among thirty-five. That was all they had to find. Mark them, record their every word, and follow them when they left with a micro dot fastened to their car bumper. Follow them back to their lair, detain them, search the lair for evidence of their depravity while they were in custody for various crimes.
Sounded simple. But the Egyptian Lady from Stoke was far from your ordinary perpetrator of piss-pot crimes. Francesca had heard more than just a few stories of the woman. She was a predator, and you could romanticise what she did as steps on the road to freedom for the downtrodden immigrant population of New Anglia, but she was a cold blooded murderess and a criminal mastermind.
They assumed she was collecting religious icons for some satanic purpose, like reinstating state religion, or elevating the worship of false gods once again, even if only in the eyes of the non-natives.
Perhaps she was a hero to the working classes. Perhaps she did intend to free New Anglia’s immigrant population from their servile positions and bring some kind of equality to the country. Trout almost thought that would be a good thing. She had been raised to think of all people as equal, but she had been born into a world at odds with itself. Immigration had become an issue in people’s minds, and Spiggot wasn’t alone in his views. The newspapers of the early twenty-first century had driven people toward a kind of insanity, frightened by what they read, and led by the fear that the news engendered. Africans would flood
Europe, Eastern Europeans would crash the welfare system,
that Muslim over there oh my god he’s got a rucksack! Lithuanians, Libyans,
Germans, oh my! It was World War Two all over again, but instead of Churchill
at the helm the people had voted in the British National Party, who had swiftly
devolved the states and bludgeoned through the law that people had secretly
wanted, namely that anyone unlike them would have minimal rights AND NOT
ALLOWED TO LIVE NEXTDOOR. For their own good, of course. It was the mantra of
the new age… for your own good.
Trout could sympathise with such views, although she had to keep them to herself at work, because she was a liberal at heart and liberals were the enemy of the state.
No matter her views, she was a copper first and a humanist second. Whatever the Egyptian Lady’s purpose, in her last heist, in which three of the famed Phylacteries of the Disciples had been taken, two guards and the curator of the museum had been assaulted, leaving one with a fractured skull. Which led to the sixteenth warrant and want for the prime suspect, the Egyptian Lady from Stoke (as Trout now thought of her).
The Egyptian Lady was all over the police bulletins. She was the most dangerous criminal still free on the streets of New Anglia. And they didn’t even know what she looked like. Inevitably, the bulletins all led to the Egyptian Lady’s bodyguard and enforcer. The Amazonian.
The Amazonian was also called ‘ama’ by the criminal under classes and criminal upper classes alike. There was a reason, but Francesca didn’t know it. If she’d spent any time in
she would have.
Rumour was she was deadly with anything, from an umbrella to a spoon. Cross her, and chances were you’d wake up in A&E, if you were lucky, and even then she’d only follow you to impale you on a sharpened grape from your own fruit basket.
Francesca ignored Spiggot and focused on the cameras showing the approach to the front entrance while time passed on, each minute cut down by that implacable slaughterer of time, boredom.
One eye watched Spiggot as he stuffed a slice of ham into his maw, the other watched in interest as the first car, a Chrysler Daytona, pulled into a parking space.
and the game was, as they say, Watson, afoot.
Guests continued to arrive, at first in dribs and drabs, and then in a cluster of Rolls Royce Impresarios and VW Statesmans, the car of the well-to-do and the RTV star. Francesca noted one or two notables, but no one worth badgering for an autograph. She saw the RTV star Gorgeous ‘Lefty’ George, whom she had a sneaky admiration for since his performance in
in the summer, a powerhouse performance almost reminiscent of the old days of
ITV dramas. Celebrity
The Minister of Historic Revision arrived in a Ford Relish, a footballer’s car if ever there was one, which Francesca thought slightly odd. But then she imagined when you had as much power as a Minister you could bloody well drive whatever you wanted. In such ways were such cars elevated from humble status to vehicles for the well-to-do gentleman.
Also strange, in her eyes, was that none of the dignitaries had chauffeurs. Everyone drove themselves.
Face recognition software generated face plates for each arrival, matching them instantly through the central hook up to those registered, and as each name popped up on the LuCiD display she shook her head. Everyone was caught on RTV and every other channel, including Channel Five News 5.1.001 through to 5.9.104 and CCTV channels, Daytime and Night Time, regional and national, crossref’d with statistical databases, fingerprint and DNA matches where applicable for offenders, vehicle registration, personality polls, revenue tax, payroll database, Census and Excise Registrar’s office, the government’s voluntary face match and retinal data, income tax stats and projections based on face prints and personality reviews, job application screening, the Bicycle and tricycle’s Licensing Agency (unicycles remained unregulated), Central Medical Records, local addiction service incoming and outgoing matching, the School Photographs Projection Centre, covert and overt surveillance, 3D feature mapping undertaken during any cosmetic or reconstructive surgery, the Dentistry and Ophthalmology undercover departments, Urine and Faecal analysis from public lavatories, and finally Short Feature Eyeballing, i.e. using your own eyes, acronyminimalised to ‘SFE’, or Shit For Eyes, to use the station house vernacular.
To her knowledge, they had no data for either the Egyptian Lady from Stoke, or the Amazonian.
But then the databases didn’t have data for everyone. There was a 0.349 percent chance of a person spending their whole life without ever being mapped. It couldn’t be done without some serious effort, but it was statistically possible. Statistic were shit, though. Computers and nerds dreamed them up for something to do during downtime when either one wasn’t being utilised or using a computer game.
If statistics were right, what were the chances that nine, count them, nine whole guests, had never been mapped? Something was rotten.
Perhaps, by some mystery, the rest of the arrivals hadn’t been mapped. Perhaps this evening was a statistical anomaly. Perhaps it was an occult night when computer projections and databases stopped functioning, like in 2019 when the whole European, Russo-Chinese Confederation and Eurafrican Net had crashed.
But it wasn’t. Some jiggery-pokery was going on, but it wasn’t spirits. She straight up SFE’d Harrison Cummings and Elana Margret from their stint together on RTV’s Ordinary Couples Doing Ordinary Typical Things smash hit two years ago, and the follow up, OCDOTT 2, and the roundup programmes over on RTV 97 and the analysis programme on the Net that she had also just happened to catch one day…or two.
Funny thing was, there was no face print for either of them. A glitch? Possible, but another seven patrons of the auction as well? When each was obviously rich and some no doubt enjoyed some level of fame, however minimal it might be, like maybe a news net reporter, or a sportsperson, or a writer?
Francesca sat back and wiped her lazy eye, which watered copiously and unattractively in air-conditioned spaces and whenever it strained for too long.
‘Put the sausage rolls down for a minute. We’ve got a problem.’
‘Ka-fwumph…bwut ah hadsh – kwauf - to get them to make these special,’ he moaned.
‘Don’t care. She’s here.’
‘You see her? How’d you know?’
‘I haven’t seen her. I just know. Look at the stats.’
He saw she wasn’t playing. She didn’t often pull his chain. More’s the pity, he mused.
‘My thoughts exactly.’
Spiggot sprang out of his chair, moving faster that Francesca had thought possible for a man with such a beer-curry-beer gut.
‘Sit down!’ she snapped at him. ‘What do you think you’re going to do? Barge in there and arrest them all?’
‘Why not? She’s here, she’s got to be. Just hold them all.’
‘You can’t hold the Minister for Historic Revision in a holding cell all night while we DNA search for Egyptian blood, and you certainly can’t hold Gorgeous George, RTV’d be all over us. We’d be finished on the force. It’d be a fuck up on a par with the Whittlesford Prosecution.’
‘I thought fuck was your forte.’
‘That’s more like it. Now,’ she clicked the LuCiD screen with a nail and the picture jumped to a surround view of the dining room, where the patrons were beginning to take their seats, ‘See how many you can recognise.’
‘Right,’ said Spiggot, and fell silent for a minute. Trout tapped a rhythm on the side of the keyboard. ‘There’s seven I don’t recognise. Three women and four men. All white, though.’
‘That doesn’t mean much. Camouflage. I could make myself up black if I wanted to.’
‘I suppose so. What about feature recognition? Surely the computer can recognise Caucasian features?’
‘Nope, not working.’
‘How the bloody hell are we supposed to know who’s a foreigner then?’
Francesca felt for him then. It was his worst nightmare. She imagined him having conniptions about catching foreign germs and forgetting who helped whom in the big war. It was only a moment. It passed, then she saw his point. As much as she loathed the pigeon-holing that went on in New Anglia, she understood that their biggest card was gone. She’d always expected the ELFS to come as a white woman, but she’d expected the Amazonian to stand out like a mile and the computer face-recognition program to do the lion’s share of her work for her. Now she was reduced to eyeballing thirty-five suspects for two who looked out of place, and all them looked like they belonged. Money, if not class, oozed out of each and every one of them.
‘Can’t we put a tag on all their cars and see who turns up where?’
‘Can’t do it. We haven’t got enough tags. They’re not cheap, you know.’
‘Well, the Amazonian’s got to be big.’
‘Four big men in there.’
‘So she’s made up like a man. We watch the big men.’
‘Could be any one of them.’
‘Got a better idea?’
Francesca had to admit that she didn’t.
‘I just bloody wish they’d given us more resources. How are we supposed to nab them with just a team of six and stupid software that doesn’t bloody work?’
‘Relax, Trout. Nothing we can do about it now. We just do our best with what we’ve got.’
Trout sighed and settled back. He was right.
They watched avidly throughout dinner, and gradually became sure that their suspects weren’t together. Three of the men were alone, and the Amazonian could not be any one of the women. It was possible that the word on the street, and their assumptions, were wrong. It also was entirely possible to change your whole appearance, but if the word on the street was right (and at this late stage it was all they had to go on) you couldn’t make a tall person short. Sure, you could hunch over or walk with bended knees, but their information and witness accounts put the Amazonian at over two metres tall. You just couldn’t hide that kind of height.
Their avid watching availed them little. Nothing happened. Well, nothing worth noting, but there’s a word count to adhere to in these kinds of enterprises, namely ‘the writing of the novel’, worshipped in the old world when people had still created new things, lately fallen out of fashion, partly due to the preponderance of RTV and celeb magazines, partly due to the Pre-Dissolution mega-author brand name syndication scandal. So, in the best tradition of Tom Clancy (Pre-Revisionist Defence Prophet for Old America, a position long since defunct, although Mr Clancy still exists ex-potentia in the CryoNet); the Minister for Historical Revision sat next to Harrison Cummings, discussing the Government’s 6.5 billion pound investment in the Russo-Chinese submarine, Class 5 tactical nuclear enabled Hunter-Killer ‘Vladmir’, Elana Margret used her knife left handed, leading Spiggot to believe she was of the lady of subversive persuasion, and perhaps an undercover spy for the internationally-snubbed subcontinent of New Australasia. A caterpillar drone scanned her for illicit hardware but only found metallic blue crotchless panties, which while ill-advised were not strictly illegal. On the far side of the table the Minister for Cultural Re-education took part in a three-way conversation on the benefits of self-improvement software with the techno-genius and renowned philanthropist Marcus Dewlap on his left, and Mistress Carthage the Third, (made famous when she inherited the anchorlady’s role on Channel Five’s late night ‘Dominatrix News’) who seemed out of her depth in the conversation. Spiggot could barely make out the whispered conversation, but from what little he could gleam it seemed to concern a naturalised Georgian coal magnate and a chocolate bar called ‘Sprint’.
The two detectives watched and listened in. Conversation was polite, turning only occasionally to the phylacteries, the prize lots.
Rumours about the Phylacteries abounded, but all had one common theme, that before he died on the cross, according to the banned book ‘The Bible’, Jesus had written a will, and divided his will so that each of his disciples would be in possession of only a fragment, as the whole thing was too powerful for an one man to possess. Whoever held them all would apparently have the last will and testament of the Son of God. There were thirteen in all. Even though religion had been completely debunked, people would still pay millions for one. The evening’s auction was special. There were three on offer. The last three. Seven had gone missing from museums around the world. Francesca was willing to bet they were in the hands of the Egyptian Lady, and she wouldn’t be surprised if the master criminal had the other three as well. After tonight she could easily be in possession of a full set.
Spiggot didn’t believe in the mythology, and Trout wasn’t entirely convinced that the rumours were true, but strange things happened all the time. Even if the Phylacteries were just clever fakes, or a hoax perpetrated two thousand years ago, she recognised the value of owning all thirteen of them. Symbols were power, and the Egyptian Lady would have some of the most powerful symbols in her grasp, as powerful as the Turin Shroud, or a fragment of the true cross, or Thor’s hammer (but that had been traded on e-bay for a signed copy of George W. Bush’s memoir, co-written with James Patterson, since proved to be a fake), or even Sun Ra’s shades.
‘Do you really think that’s a relevant diversion?’
‘It’s central to the story.’
‘Yeah, but who believes in that sort of stuff? I mean, Christian mythology? Norse religion?’
‘People believed in Dan Brown back when people still read books. They’ll believe this. Besides, this is true.’
‘Don’t you talk to me in that tone.’
‘That ‘I’m just humouring you until you take your evening pills’ tone.’
‘OK. But have you?’
‘It’s a rich tea biscuit?’
‘It appears to be a…coffee mug.’
Describing dinner from the perspective of a covert observer isn’t often exciting. Even from the perspective of those around the table, there is little entertainment value to be had from polite dinner conversation. Unless it’s a period drama, when all people seemed to do was talk at dinner and behave like dramatically spoilt children over who was first in line for the inheritance, and perhaps commit a polite murder or two.
Nobody at the table needed an inheritance. They were indescribably rich and pretty tame compared to say, a car chase, a shoot out, or a wildebeest.
People got up during the dinner, wandered off to smoke or visit the toilets, or see the grounds. Spiggot and Trout couldn’t follow everyone everywhere. It was an oversight, but budgets were tight. The Warrant and Want might have been a metre long, but they was still only the two lead detectives, two civvies in the surveillance van outside and Big and Little Dave on the second floor.
And now the tech had let them down. The ELFS could be anyone. It was a big old fuckarow, and all they could do was dream of catching her.
Finally, the butler announced that they would retire to the auction room, which they heard loud and clear through the directional microphones stationed around the room. Each word, each nuance of every conversation, would be recorded and analysed later by the tech nerds and voice pattern software, searching for peaks and troughs, stress notes, trying to identify the two ladies.
If it got that far, it would be too late. Francesca feared the evening was going to go down on her file as a monumental cock-up. She could only hope that she’d be able to live it down. She didn’t imagine for one second that Spiggot cared either way. He seemed immune to office politics. He’d probably just tell some dirty jokes to the Chief and walk away without even a mild reproach.
She sighed to herself and put her game face on. The evening would be over in another hour or so. Time was ticking down. Francesca feared if they didn’t get the Egyptian Lady tonight, she would get away with the whole lot. It galled her. If she caught a break tonight she too would be golden girl with the force. Cock it up and she’d never live it down.
There were no second chances for a woman on the force.
She looked over at Spiggot and wished she’d been given a partner who took the pressure seriously. As long as he had a sausage roll he seemed impervious to stress.
The view switched to the auction room. She rubbed her eye and settled back in her chair. Fine, then. If he wasn’t going to watch the screens, she’d bloody well do it herself.
The ‘big knobs’ began taking their seats. The auctioneer waited politely until everyone had settled and their conversation tailed off, before beating the gavel politely.
‘Wait a minute,’ she said, and whacked Spiggot’s arm. ‘Look, three people’re missing. They haven’t come through since dinner.’
‘Could be in the toilets.’
‘Could be. Could be our couple, as well. Who’d come all this way to the auction and then miss it?’
‘Come on, I say you make your move.’
‘I’m not going down there dressed like this.’
‘Just put on your Spanish accent and nobody’ll know who you are.’
‘I’ll be on the video!’
‘You’re in disguise. The squad won’t know it’s you. You’re just going down the halls.’
‘No, you go. I’ll watch the monitor.’
‘I don’t think so. I’m better at this than you are, and you’re always doing your Spanish accent. You know you’re no good at watching. You go. What’s there to be afraid of? It’s only people laughing at you.’
‘I’m not afraid,’ he said, gruffly.
‘Everyone’s afraid of something. There’s not a human being alive who doesn’t know fear. Nothing to be ashamed of. Just got to rise above it.’
‘I’m not afraid. Not of this.’
‘I’ll bite, just out of interest. What are you afraid of?’
‘Nothing,’ said Spiggot and turned away like a naughty child.
‘Ah, gone on, let’s share.’
‘Bugger off, Trout!’
She laughed. ‘Go on, I’m intrigued now. What is it?’
‘Pirates! Bloody pirates. And you can stop bloody laughing!’
‘Pirates. Shut up.’
‘I didn’t say a thing. Anyway, dangerous Amazonian, no pirates in sight, and you’re a big strapping man. You can handle it.’
‘Fuck. You did have to appeal to my masculine pride.’
‘Get ‘em where it hurts,’ she smiled sweetly.
Spiggot growled under his breath. ‘Si fucking Senor.’
‘That’s the spirit,’ said Francesca.
‘Not a word, right?’
‘My lips are sealed.’
He watched her carefully for a moment, then, grumbling under his breath, closed the door behind him and began to wander the halls looking for miscreants.
Trout switched cameras and watched him walking down the hall in his crumpled suit, a tray of drinks balanced inexpertly in one hand.
Spiggot arm was aching by the time he reached the end of the hall. His trousers rode up between his cheeks and pinched him in private places, and not in a kind way.
Muttering under his breath he wandered the hall, seemingly without purpose but working his way toward one of the many toilets on the first floor. The hall was too long. He could feel time sliding away from him. Trout might not think so, but he had a lot riding on this night. He’d bet Big Dave that he could take the Amazonian down without getting stomped. No bloody woman, no matter how big she was, could whip him. He had no compunctions about hitting a woman if she hit him first.
He didn’t doubt that she was here. He knew she had to be dressed as a man. He’d find her. Chances were she’d be one of the missing. Quid pro quo. Or quo vadis. Or Vini Vidi Vici. Or Vidi Vini Vici…fuck it. He was sure there was something Latin applicable to the situation.
A small lady with a bun for hair wandered past him and took a glass of champagne. He deduced that she was innocent, largely because she had arthritis left over since before the cure, which in most cases involved transplantation. Her fingers were bent at a painful angle, her hair was solid grey, and her eyes rheumy. Pretty good disguise if it was the Egyptian Lady – too good.
‘Thank you, my good man. A little something for the family,’ she smiled sweetly as she tucked a five pound note uncomfortably far into the waistband of his trousers.
‘Si, Senora. Gracias,’
For some reason she looked at him with pity, and walked off mumbling to herself, something about ‘special people, so good to employ people with a lisp’.
He reached the auction room without further interruption and peeked inside, doing a quick head count. Three still missing.
Old lady – one down.
He listened for a moment, his heart thundering in his chest as he heard the price for an old ossuary taken from Eurafrica in the 20th century. He wasn’t sure what an ossuary was, but it seemed to him that if some dignitary wanted to donate back a load of old crap to the old country, they were welcome to.
He listened for another minute. It couldn’t hurt to watch from the back of the room until the missing two turned up. They had to turn up. After all, where could they go?
The next lot was called.
Lot number 17, ladies and gentlemen. An unusual find.
Perhaps the most important religious artefacts remaining in this country since
the Dissolution, especially so following the theft of the other seven known to
exist. Short of the discovery of the last three, this is the only chance to
ever own not one, but three, of the most mythical of bounties. It is said that
they contain the will of a prophet, known as Jesus Christ, revered by
pre-Revisionists cults and valuable in their own right purely as artefacts and
curios. I present the remaining three Phylacteries of the Disciples. You are
all aware, of course, of the import of the last lot, and the legends
surrounding them. They need no further introduction. The telephone lines will
be closed for this bid, as it is a closed lot. Ladies and gentlemen, I will
begin the bidding at ten million pounds.’
A servant left to bring to the artefacts out. The auctioneer brought his gavel down to start the bidding, covering Spiggot’s expletive which wasn’t said in a Spanish accent and would have blown his cover.
‘Do I have ten million?’
A burly man at the front raised his paddle, with a number six on both sides. Perhaps the patrons of the auction weren’t smart enough to know which side was the front.
The servant came back empty handed, and Spiggot’s bump of trouble began to throb. The servant began to whisper into the auctioneer’s ear, and Spiggot was talking to Trout before the auctioneer could even begin to say, ‘Ladies and gentlemen, it seems we have a problem’.
‘Trout, they’ve gone!’
‘I heard! I’m watching the exit cameras. Gorgeous George and Elana Margret have just passed the servants corridors together. It’s them, Spiggot, I’m sure of it. I’m going after them.’
‘Be careful. I’m on my way.’
Spiggot’s feet flew with a surprising turn of speed.
He ran down two corridors before he realised he was heading toward the front door, thought ‘fuck it’ to himself, and bolted through the front door and headed round the great hall toward the back where the servant’s quarters were.
Puffing like he was having a coronary, he was just in time to collide with Gorgeous George flying through a side door from the servant’s quarters.
‘Oi!’ he called from the floor at the big man, or woman, or whatever it was under the handsome face. ‘Halt!’ he shouted from his reclining position, then realised he wasn’t in a war drama, and changed his plea to, ‘Stop right fucking there!’
A foot lashed out at him, catching him in the temple. His head reeled, but he pushed himself back to his feet and put his fists up in a fighting stance learned too long ago, and before beer and cigarettes had turned any muscles he’d ever had to vessels for blubber.
He’d be fucked if he’d get his arse kicked by a woman – even if she was six and a half feet tall.
Gorgeous George smiled at him and a lighting-fast fist crumpled Spiggot’s ear. His eardrum bled and he staggered in a vain attempt to stay upright, knew he wasn’t going to make it, and grabbed the first thing he could…three pendants, hanging round the bullish neck of Gorgeous George (not him, no, it’s her, the Ama…some fading part of his mind knew). Get the pendant…neck.
‘Glurgle,’ he managed. He caught hold of one of the pendants with a flailing first. He managed to stay upright for a moment, but the thin chain could not hold his weight any longer. The chain snapped and he fell to the floor with a solid thump.
He was vaguely aware of someone else saying, ‘Get it!’ in a soft feminine voice, and another kick in his ribs, where he dimly felt something crack.
‘I can’t get it out. He’s got a grip like an ape,’ the big person said. Big bully, Spiggot’s mind thought independently, reverting back to a childhood trauma dimly remembered, a school play, his parents watching, a boy (eye patch…his subconscious dredged up. His sanity pushed it back down) thumping him over and over while the audience cheered, falling from the stage…falling…falling…but he was already on the ground.
A few drops of rain fell onto Spiggot’s staring eyes.
A lady like sigh. ‘Oh, Ama. I hate violence, but break his fist if you must. We have no time for niceties. Come on, let’s go.’
The giant was tugging at Spiggot’s fingers, desperately trying to free the pendant, but his grip was as final as death.
‘There’s no time, Ama! Come on!’
He saw the woman lean over him, for even as his consciousness fled, he was sure it was the Ama.
He could feel his fingers being pulled back. In some dim and distant part of his mind he felt his pinky finger snap. He’d be damned if he’d be beaten by a woman.
‘I just broke his finger and he’s still smiling.’
The lady-like voice sighed again. The Egyptian Lady, thought Spiggot as he drifted deeper. He could feel the Amazonian working at his remaining fingers. Damned if he’d let her get it. Bloody pirate. Wouldn’t beat him again.
He clenched with all his might and felt the pendant shatter in what remained of his grip.
‘No! He broke it!’
There was the sound of footsteps on the gravel, and an alarm going off. Spiggot tried to grip the Amazonian’s trouser leg with his good hand but she batted it away easily.
‘No time, Ama, come on love. We’ve got the others.’
‘I can get it!’
‘No, no time! Come on!’
With a snarl of rage the Amazonian stood up.
‘Keep it, then, pig,’ she spat. ‘Take this with you, wherever it takes you.’
The last thing Spiggot was aware of was the rest of his hand breaking as the Ama stamped on it with one huge booted foot driven down with all her considerable weight, the phylactery shards driven into his crushed and mangled fist.
Blissfully, his mind seemed to fly and the pain was forgotten. For a few brief moments, moments that seemed to him eons, his mind was free.
He looked at his body, blood leaking from his mouth and ears, and in startling detail saw the bones sticking from the back of his hand. Rain trickled through his form, his out-of-body body. Then he was tumbling, aware of nothing. The sense of freedom was exhilarating.
As his soul flew, he saw the land sprawling, whirling, before him. Unshackled, his spirit spun and danced, flying through the fresh rain but not getting wet, across the land…for a time.
But the spirits of the living have weight. Eventually, they must go to ground, like lightning, rain, and even birds. Nothing can fly forever.
He fell, diving like a missile, diving towards any vessel that could take him.
He saw where he was going, and his spirit, somewhat more perceptive outside his body, yelled and back-pedalled as fast as it could.
Some things, like game shows, breast augmentation, and perhaps fettuccini, just aren’t meant to be. But then, even though the Minister for Religious Re-education would hold no truck with the idea, God seems to know what he’s doing.
Even if it is in an autistic kind of way.
If there is a God, Spiggot thought spitefully as his spirit plummeted down, I hope he’s slapping his head and dribbling out of every orifice.
Francesca caught her knee a good one on the way to the back door, on a random piano in the servant’s quarters. Bloody musical furniture, she thought bitterly as she gritted her teeth against the pain. She ran the rest of the way in a sort of ambling hobble.
She slammed the side door open, setting off the burglar alarm, and ran full pelt, kicking up gravel. She called for Spiggot over the hook-up, then gave up as she saw him. She skidded to a halt by the recumbent form of her partner.
At that angle she didn’t think he’d decided to take a customary nap on the job.
‘Spiggot!’ she slapped his face, relishing the chance to do so. ‘Spiggot! Wake up, damn it!’
Then she noticed the crushed hand, the blood dribbling out of his ears, and did the only thing she could. She called for back up and waited for the ambulance.
She sat on the gravel with a thump and turned her face up toward the cooling rain.
It wasn’t supposed to go like this.
Her partner was down. The Egyptian Lady and the Ama were clean away.
Sure, the helicopter would search. They’d bring the dogs in. Then they would go over the tapes, and they’d review their performance, but the end result would be the same.
She and Spiggot would catch hell for fucking it up…pardon me, thought Francesca, screwing…and all the while he’d be in hospital lording it up while she caught all the flack and the dirty looks from his drinking buddies for letting him take a beating.
She checked his vitals – even though she could see his chest rising and falling – just so that she could say she had.
Then, in an uncharacteristic bout of kindness, Francesca took off her jacket and put it over him, pulling it up to his chin as the rain began to fall in earnest. It was cold and wet, but she had a dark shirt on and a thick bra. No ammunition for bullet jibes when the clean up squad arrived and began grilling her.
Besides, it might be cold, but she needed to be sharp. Her career was suddenly on the line.
She swore at herself, but only in her head. They’d been beaten soundly.
The crunch of heavy feet running drifted to her, and she looked up, waiting for Small Dave to arrive.
‘Ambulance is on the way, Trout. What happened?’
‘Spiggot took a beating. He’s out cold.’
‘Jesus, what happened to his hand?’
He nodded. It said it all.
They both sat on the gravel to wait for the ambulance. It was uncomfortable, but nothing compared to what was to come.
Spiggot was originally published by Grand Mal Press - the cover below is the first edition, now out of print, though you might still be able to find one if you're so inclined.
Spiggot was originally published by Grand Mal Press - the cover below is the first edition, now out of print, though you might still be able to find one if you're so inclined.