Part three, Ruby.
Arresting her husband was the hardest thing Ruby had ever had to do.
“Why you?” he’d asked as he’d meekly let her handcuff him. “There’s a hundred boys at the station. Why you?”
“Because you would have fought anyone else Chic.” She was right, he would. She didn’t know what hurt more, that he hadn’t told her, or that she hadn’t known the man she’d married. The man in front of her, this Bulldog, was a stranger, a violent psychopath. Sure her Chic was a bit of a tough guy, but this? She thought about the eighteen year old boy that they’d scraped of a toilet floor the day before. Could Chic have done that?
When he started gabbling on about superpowers and magic belts, she realised: he’d lost his mind. Her heart broke for the third time that day. Poor Chic. It wasn’t really his fault then, was it? Poor Chic. How had she not seen it? Still, he could plead DR, they’d get him help and she’d look after him, make him better.
New Girl had never seen a dead body.
“Do they all die like that?” she asked, horror-struck. She meant the expression of terror frozen on Chic’s face. Halle ignored her, covered him back up, her bladder turning to ice as she put the pieces together.
“Look, someone’s been through his stuff,” she nodded towards the wardrobe.
“How do you know?”
“It’s all messed up, look, Chic was meticulous.”
“Is anything missing?” asked New Girl. Halle’s eyes scanned what Chic had called his locker.
“No, I don’t think so, no.”
“Maybe he was looking for something before he, you know.” offered New Girl.
“Yeah, maybe.” ‘Chic would never leave his stuff like that’ she thought, ‘Even if he was dying he fold his shirts.’ The thought brought a smile to her face, followed by a tear.
It was a cold night, Ruby’s lungs puffed little clouds into the dark of the alley. Why had he wanted to meet here, and why did he want her to bring the case?
Before she had left him in that cold, black cell, Chic had begged her to do one thing. It had seemed harmless and she couldn’t stand him thinking she had betrayed him any longer. So she took the little disc of metal with the star map from the evidence bag and hid it, exactly as he’d asked. It was just a bauble, a stage prop to his madness, it meant nothing but he might start to trust her again, and let her help him.
Why was Gourko so furious that it wasn’t there? How did he even know about it? And why was he screwing a silencer onto his pistol? She was suddenly very scared; he was pulling on gloves.
“Where is it?” he screamed into her face covering her in hot spit, digging the pistol hard into her ribs. She feigned ignorance. It was how she’d found it, she swore. It was convincing enough to send him back to the case to check.
Had they both gone mad? She looked around desperately for an escape route.
They had told Halle to go home, said that she was not well, that Chic’s death had affected her more than she realised. They hadn’t believed her. She was told to take a few days off, see how she felt, maybe go see her GP.
They hadn’t believed her but he had spoken to her. As she’d left his room. Three terrifying, croaky words, her address. Why? Then she’d frozen on the spot realising, and he’d added
“You know what I want you little bitch.” She’d turned round, trembling, he was just lying there, covered in bandages, like he had been all along, staring into space. She’d run, tumbling into the office, and told them. Of course they hadn’t believed her. He’d known they wouldn’t.
She went to see Chic in the funeral parlour and told him what had happened. They had managed to remove the mask of terror from his face somehow, although not completely, he still looked a little worried. She held his hand as though he really were feeling that way and patted it.
She told him her plan, to get the old devil Gourko, how she would be recording with her phone the next time he spoke, she would make him talk, she wasn’t scared, not any more. Chic would be proud of her, but he still looked worried.
Then she sat and let the tears fall, silently, not trying to stop them and when she was done she sat in a bookshop drinking cappuccinos.
A large spider crawled onto her table. She cupped her hand over it and felt it wriggle. Then she brought her hand down, very gently, until she had it pinned. It wriggled harder, tickling her palm like raindrops. She continued to press down, as slowly as she could, shuddering as the little creature burst and spilled against her palm. Bits of her tingled. She turned over her hand staring closely at its contents, a little leg waved at her from a pile of goo. She wiped it clean with a napkin. Outside it was getting dark. ‘Soon,’ she thought.
Gourko shot Ruby in the throat, and he watched her die in silence. She had tried to say something, but all that came from her mouth was a plume of thick red bubbles. When it was over, he tore off a piece of the Bulldog’s, easily recognisable, costume, and put it in her hand, jamming her nails into it, breaking them. ‘She would’ve put up a good fight’, he thought.
Then he found a phone, called the station and told them to release Champion.
Getting into the home was easy. They never locked anything. Halle crept silently down a half lit corridor. The would be three members of staff on duty, probably only one awake. She knew him, Kyle, he would be in the TV lounge.
He sat in a big armchair, tugging at himself frantically in front of the big plasma TV. He was easy to sneak past. Halle watched him for a moment, disgusted, fascinated.
She imagined she was a giantess, crushing him slowly, like the spiders. She tried to picture him all squished and twitching in her powerful hand. To think that, at school, she had fancied him. Yuk!
But then an urgent beeping made her start. One of the residents had pulled their chord. Down the corridor a red light blinked over a darkened doorway, Pearl’s. Kyle was getting up, walking her way. It was dark though and she was in shadow, She pushed back into the wall until it hurt.
He stopped, she thought he’d seen her but he was just adjusting something inside his trousers. He sniffed at his hand, and disappeared into Pearl’s room, his flies still gaping. She breathed again and made her way to the door where she’d stood shaking in fear that morning.
A wanted cop killer and hated by the press that had so adored him, Chic Champion ran. From the law and from Gourko. Country after country, never stopping, always looking over his shoulder, sleeping with one eye open, for nearly forty years.
Until one day, in bar in Bandung, he’d been ignoring a documentary about DNA or something when he’d heard the presenter mention his name. He’d made everyone in the bar shut up. He’d been cleared of his wife’s murder, apparently.
They showed old black and white footage of his shiny precious Ruby and he’d gone out and got blind drunk, staggered out in front of a tram and never walked again.
He came back to England and moved into Chestnut lodge. He had four peaceful, almost happy, years before the devil found him, but he’d always known he would.
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.
max: look! a police car!
me: i don’t think it is
max: but it was going so fast
me: i don’t think it was
max: it had its sirens on
me: i don’t think it did
max: woo woo woo *runs round like a police car*
So, they wanna put Mickey’s lovely little staf, Britney, down. Just cos she bit some cunt. I mean, she’s a dog, what the fuck do you expect, know what I mean? Ok, so she ‘alf tore off this fucker’s face and sunk ‘er gnashers so ‘ard into ‘is bollocks that you could’ve ‘eard ‘im screaming in Deptford. Wish I’d got it on me phone, funny as fuck, it was.
So, we go round the cop shop to sort it aht. an’ there’s this little dicksplash, Dembrow, I fink it is. ‘E’s allright though, ‘elped us shift’a load’a snuff movies last year, an’ I ain’t abaht to bubble him for this or nuffin’. I mean, you don’t fuck with a man’s trade, it ain’t respectful, know what I mean? We’re all nice ‘n’that. I ask ‘im how ‘is kids are. I know their names, their ages, wot schools they go to, wot grades they get. ‘E looks proper uneasy, know what I mean? I tell ‘im ‘ow pretty ‘is four year old Emily is.
Cunt gets the message, paperwork gets lost and sweet little Britney, ‘oo is brilliant wiv kids by the way and would kill any cunt just for looking at Mickey’s wrong, gets to live another day. You gotta ‘ave respect for life, is wot I say. Know what I mean?