Part two, Halle.
Halle pedalled energetically up the drive to Chestnut Lodge, enjoying how the dancing gravel stung her thighs under her skirt. Chic sat at the top of the slope smoking a woodbine, beaming; she was the nearest thing he had to a friend. She beamed back. She thought Chic was great, he told amazing stories.
She’d ask often to hear the tale of that night in Lapland, when they’d been surrounded by the SS and how he’d fought off an entire platoon, thanks to the alien belt he’d put on and the power it had given him.
“Bowled them over like skittles,” he’d told her grimly. She enjoyed especially the bit where he’d punched one soldier “thirty feet into the air and left him dangling from the branches of a tree like a forgotten kite, his life spilling onto the fresh snow in a long red tail.” He had such an imagination. She liked the war stories better than the masked crime fighter ones, they were a bit silly. She’d tried to get him to write it all down once, but he’d told her that there was an act of parliament banning him from writing an autobiography. Old people were so funny.
She’d wanted to join the army, the year before, when she’d left school, but her boyfriend, Bailey, had pointed to Afghanistan and Iraq, he’d said there were no honest wars any more, and she’d seen his point. Still, she thought, the opportunities for heroism were poor in the bum wiping industry, and she wished that Chic’s stories were true.
After the war, their unit was dissolved, peacetime Britain had no place for their brand of .38 calibre diplomacy. Like a lot of ex servicemen, they had both joined the police.
Ruby Catarrattis was the detective inspector directly over them. She hated having ex squaddies in her team. She’d believed that modern policing was about brains, not brawn, and DC Champion was about the brawniest creature she had ever met. He had been like an overgrown, untrained, puppy. There had been times when she’d honestly thought that he was going to jump on her and lick her.
Quite the opposite of his friend, Alexander, who had been sophisticated and respectful, and handsome. No one could ever say that of Chic. But she’d never met a more genuine man, or one more passionate, and he had adored her, from the word go. She’d been like a ruby herself he thought, bright and sharp and precious.
The two men had joined the police at a time when London’s criminals were evolving into something nastier than their pre war ascendants. More organised and more dangerous, the new gangland bosses threw out the rulebooks of the old order. Chic and Ruby saw the death and misery the guns and drugs had brought, and had fought back against the rising tide.
Gourko, on the other hand, had admired this new breed of celebrity gangster. He’d respected their ruthlessness and envied their lifestyles, and he transferred to the flying squad, to put himself in a position where he could become a part of this new felonious royalty.
Halle been told to have a word with Chic about his behaviour, he’d been shouting at poor old Albert again. He was confusing him with someone from one of his stories, called Gorky, or something. If it hadn’t been so sad it would have been funny, a great big bloke like Chic, afraid of a puny little man like that.
The conversation wasn’t going they way she’d hoped.
“I am not going to snoop around another resident’s room for you Chic,” she insisted again, “and that’s that!”
“Just see if its there,” he carried on, “I’m not asking you to do anything, just look. Please?” Most of the residents that had dementia, arrived at the home like that. She had only known them as shells and remnants of their old selves.
She’d never seen it actually happening to someone, it was dreadful.
The odd thing was, that there actually was a military looking attaché case, just like the one Chic described, in Albert’s wardrobe, but old people always had odd stuff like that in their wardrobes, didn’t they?
Chic knew the belt was there though, he’d have to find another way.
Ruby read the headline again, ‘Masked Hero Rescues Orphans from Inferno.‘ There had been a spate, in America, of people dressing up in undignified costumes and fighting crime. The last thing she needed was some clown pulling the same stunt on her patch. The desk sergeant chucked another paper onto the pile. This one read, ‘Costumed Avenger Makes Streets Safe Again.‘
“God almighty!” She sighed.
“They’re saying he can fly in the Mail,” he told her, grinning widely but mirthlessly. “To be honest Ma’am, most of the boys think he’s pretty neat.”
Well, she didn’t. She thought the Bulldog, as he called himself, was a dangerous lunatic.
“We’re supposed to be putting men in prison not hospital,” she pointed out, “remember those little things we used to have, called trials?”
“Gets them off the streets,” said the sergeant, chewing something that hadn’t been in his mouth a moment before. “I had two last week just begging to be banged up: that scared of him they were.”
Several of the residents were due to attend the local hospital. Chic watched as one by one they were parked, to wait for the transport, in a neat row at the top of the gravel slope that led down to the busy main road. Finally New Girl wheeled out the man he was waiting for. What’s more, she only applied one of his brakes.
‘Should be fired,’ smiled Chic to himself as he flipped the brake off and, with a gentle elbow, nudged his foe onto a traffic bound trajectory. ‘Let’s see him keep up the act with a number thirty-seven bearing down on him,’ he thought.
After a cautious start, the chair began to pick up speed quickly, and within a few feet it was going at a slow jog, its occupant oblivious to his chair’s sudden bid for freedom.
First to notice was New Girl. She let out a squeak of horror and set off in hot, chubby pursuit, wheezing inaudible pleas for assistance as she went, clutching at herself to keep her phone and change from springing from her inadequate pockets and her jewellery from slapping her around the face. Her large breasts, taken by surprise, bounced angrily in opposition to her momentum, fighting her and each other. She fought back, bravely.
The path steepened slightly and the chair, as though aware of its pursuer, picked up the pace and broke into a trot. Its wheels were small and thick, not designed for speed and it began to bounce and rock, playfully almost, over the white gravel.
‘Let’s see who’s helpless now,’ thought Chic, lighting a cigarette. Arms could be seen either side of the cantering metal chair, flailing lifelessly like a rag doll in a tumble dryer. ‘Any second now,’ thought Chic. Two other girls joined in the chase, but with little hope. Any. Second. Now.
“What good is a confession from a man who’s had his hand plunged into a chip pan and been scared half to death by some deranged nut case in pantomime costume?” Ruby had complained to Chic over supper. It tore him up.
“He’s on your side love.”
“Without rules, he’s no better than they are Chic, you should know that.” He ached to tell her that it was him.
Whatever happened to those simple times?
When he’d been a child he’d stood in a ring and punched another boy in the face until he couldn’t stand up any more.
Everyone had cheered and he’d been given a big silver cup.
His dad had tussled his red hair and said “Champion by name; Champion by nature!” Whatever happened?
“Sorry darling, I’m not cross with you,” his wife was saying, “its just that costumed prick makes me so angry. God! What kind of childhood must he have had?”
The chair lurched, continuing down the drive like a drunken robot antelope, balancing skilfully on two wheels for a moment, hurtling towards the busy road.
‘He’s cutting it mighty fine,’ thought Chic with reluctant respect, fully expecting the man to leap from the chair at any second.
And then the macabre spectacle reached its gruesome climax.
A wheel hit a particularly large piece of gravel, and the chair sprung several feet into the air, and toppled forwards, crashing down, with a skidding crunch that ended at the feet of a woman who had been walking her dog and who then ran around in little circles calling for an ambulance as though there were one within earshot. Bloodied and broken, mouth and nose full of driveway, the man under the wheelchair closed his eyes.
The dog, eager to share in the excitement, ran around, barking enthusiastically. First at the man lying in the reddening gravel, and then at the three panting women in blue uniforms, holding in their heaving chests, bent double, hands on knees. This was great, thought the dog, relieving himself on the man.
Gourko had known all along who the masked man was, he’d encouraged him. He’d hoped to manipulate the great lump to his own ends. The fear that the Bulldog had created amongst the underworld had been very useful to the scheming cop. Chic, though had proved too principled, and too dumb.
“I don’t care about ‘the grander scheme’ Alexander,” he’d told him, “a heroin dealer is a heroin dealer.” They looked down, the floor of the public toilet was awash with blood, a panicked gurgling emanated from behind a cubicle door, “He needed teaching a lesson,” Chic explained. He had flushed the brown powder down the pan, no idea that his friend had bankrolled the deal, then he’d angrily smashed the toilet bowl to pieces with the dealer’s face. He would have to go, thought Gourko. He’d become a liability.
It took just a single phone call.
Chic looked up at Halle’s disappointed face. He was defeated, he knew that. It was over and he’d lost. His eyes stung with failure.
“Its a bit late to be sorry now,” she said coldly but hating seeing him so distraught. “They’re gonna move you to another home Chic.”
“I know,” he said, not looking at her, “The CO told me,” he meant the matron.
“It won’t be a nice home Chic, it’ll be a home-” she was going to say ‘for people like you.’ The thought of him in a psycho-geriatric ward filled her with sadness “I’ll come and see you.” she said quietly.
“He’ll come for me now,” he told her, “tonight probably.” What was he on about? “Apotoxin.” he explained.
“Apotoxin 4869,” it was Gourko’s favourite poison, untraceable and irreversible. It attacked the brain’s fear centres. The victim died in terror, the expression frozen on their face forever. She’d never seen Chic look so scared before, it unsettled her.
Ruby found it, just as the call had told her, in a military attaché case under the floorboards in their flat. The Bulldog’s costume, and some daft looking belt. It could’ve been a plant of course, but then there were the photos. There was no mistaking her husband’s brick wall features. She sat down. She didn’t move for a long time.
Halle hadn’t wanted to take the buckle, but he’d almost begged her. It was encouraging his fantasies, she realised, but he’d been close to tears. She’d made things worse though, hadn’t she? He’d wanted her to throw it in the river or bury it somewhere, anything to stop him getting hold of it. She wouldn’t, she decided, she would give it back, say sorry, explain, in the morning.
But she didn’t, because in the morning, Chic Champion was dead.