||Purely for your reading convenience – an easy way to get through the chapters. Alex Trepan investigates a series of mysterious clown killings.I hope you enjoy the story!|
Clive’s attention was drifting away from Alex. This was a good thing; he doubted there was much he could say that would soothe the powerful feelings of anger and shame that emanated from the embittered amoebic man. Alex hoped their earlier bonding would stand the test of time, or at least the next ten minutes.
The two mutant men’s eyes were locked on each other. The fresher second growing more and more alert, gripping his own leg and jerking them both with desperation. With every second the new clone looked smoother and cleaner – newer and stronger, while the primary, Clive seemed weaker and more tired. The palpable hatred of Clive for his identical twin meshed with the fear that sweated from Clive2. Though that fear was ebbing as he neared biological freedom.
While fascinating and horrible, it was a fine opportunity to creep away. But Alex had left it too late. With an appalling stretch of skin and tendon the men’s ankles and heels snapped free; the recoil of flesh made Alex retch. The mutants faced each other like a creepy pornographic version of the Marx Brothers’ mirror gag. They dispensed with the dancing and face-pulling, instead posturing, trying out their independent musculature. They both looked hard and dangerous. New Clive was tense, covered in a film of some bodily secretion alien to ordinarily-sexed humans. Old Clive still had a horrid fleshy rift down his side where the clone had torn himself free, and a sad murderous expression on his face.
Should he try to save the clone? Alex already had an imminent doom vibe and the thought made it vibe all the harder. But right now it looked bad for them both. Maybe if they ran for it Clive wouldn’t be able to hunt them down… in his super-fast flying car. Yeah, great plan. A deep hum rose from outside the barn. Oh… they weren’t even alone. Somehow, between being dropped on a pile of metal tubes and watching a man hatch out of another he’d managed to forget there was an even bigger jet outside. Alex didn’t know if that was good news, but the as the hum grew to a whine it made the trepanned discs of bone he wore round his neck vibrate. He fell to his knees to vomit an instant before the wall behind him dissolved in a violent shower of pulverised iron and brick, burying Alex in a pile of barn powder.
He felt, rather than heard, the massive footsteps thunder past him, but definitely heard the deep lisping of Man Ho-Tjusk.
“Vat’s enough Clive. Y’ain’t killin’ anovver one.”
Clive’s voice rose to a desperate shriek, “Fuck you elephant boy. It’s my clone. I didn’t ask for this.”
“Dad says no Clive.”
Alex excavated just enough powdered brick to see what was going on. Good view. The twin-things were dead ahead; nakedly glaring at each other. Just to Alex’ left the giant shaggy form of Man Ho-Tjusk rose up in the air, looking like a woolly mammoth on its hind legs. Next to him slouched his Beastlie Brother, Mu-Tant Ra’koon. The smaller, but brutal looking beast man was idly carving spirals into a helium can with his extended claws. On Alex’ other side the hissing beeping Boytronic Wonder toted a weapon that for its brutal compactness and branded lethality (Kills What You Want 100% of The Time) was evidently what had killed the wall.
“Just leave me alone. I just want to be alone.”
“Probably shouldn’t have started knocking off clowns then, eh Clive?” the Boytronic Wonder chimes in, ”could have just stayed at home instead of running off. You know that thing,” he pointed his gun towards the Petulance, “you do realise it’s trackable right?”
“Shut up Boy Toy.”
“I mean at least be smart about it, make some plans. Don’t just run off in Daddy’s car and go on a clown hunt. Don’t make me come and bring you back again.”
“Yeah I alwayth liked the clownth at the partieth Dad threw for uth. Remember Mithter Bimbolino? He wath a good one.”
“Oh yeah, I remember him – didn’t you two eat him or something?”
“Only his fingers.” Ra-Koon smirked at the memory.
“Come on then, let’s get the two of you back to the lab.”
“Stay the fuck away from me Wonder-Bot.”
“Hey, happy birthday new Clive! I wonder what you’ll get?”
“For pity’s sake Boyt’. What number’s this one Clive, twenty-three? Twenty-four? Where do they all go?”
Ra-Koon’s idle question visibly shook the clone, who had been watching his twin/father intently during the exchange, no doubt trying to figure out where he stood in this awkward family reunion. Alex also grasped the implications, they were definitely the same wavelength as his doom vibe.
The clone sprang into action, diving onto Clive with his arms spread and fists balled. Ra’Koon bellowed, “no!” and leaped forwards as the clone reached for his progenitor. Man-Ho Tjusk merely snickered, a curious sneezing laugh that bounced down his trunk, blowing dust off the top of Alex’ head. With swiftness that seemed incredible for a naked man with a hole down his side, Clive spun and seized from the floor a vicious bladed instrument that probably had a medical name. The blade whirled and flashed down at the clone. In a flash Alex caught the clone’s terror at the imminence of death and the miserable, hated shortness of his existence. As the gleaming edge descended towards the clone’s face a blinding bolt of violence spurted out of the Boytronic Wonder’s arms and Clive exploded in a spray of bloody wetness, evenly coating his clone and the insides of the barn.
“Fuckth sake Wonder Boy”
“What? He’s literally, exactly the same as Clive. Dad’ll never know the difference.”
“That’s really not the point. And you know that’s not true.” Ra’Koon looked seriously annoyed, teeth bared at his metallic sibling.
“Whatever. I’ve had enough of keeping an eye on that tool.” The Boytronic Wonder didn’t seem the least bit chastised. “Hey,” he called to the blood-soaked figure, “hey, Clive. Yeah, you. Think you can manage not to be a dick?”
The clone looked shocked, which was no great surprise. Still dripping with the pulp of his predecessor he took a step backwards. Alex sympathised; such casual annihilation of the clown slayer wouldn’t fill him with confidence either, but then nor would being attacked by your own mother-brother-dad-thing. Asexual relationships looked complicated.
“Mmm. Come on, Dad wants to see you.” Mu-Tant Ra’Koon retracted his claws and took the new Clive by the arm and dragged him, bloody footprints and all out of the barn. The Boytronic Wonder clicked, beeped and thunked off after him.
Alex breathed out slowly and started to dig himself out. He stopped when a gruff laugh came from right behind him, blowing the brick dust off his head. He turned slowly, into the face of Man Ho-Tjusk crouched in front of him. The man’s eponymous tusks were inches from Alex’ eyes. They looked at each other for a moment. All he felt from the mammoth man was a mild amusement. The giant man snorted and lifted a massive finger to the tip of his trunk, “Shsss. Lucky little man. Be watching you.” He snickered again and stomped off.
Alex cautiously stood up in a shower of ex-barn particles. The Vortex had vanished from outside, leaving him alone in a big room covered in blood and gas cylinders. An interesting day. He had no idea where he was and no way to get home. Unless… the Petulance… Really? Had caution entirely escaped him? Given his surprising bout of luck that night there was no reason to push it any further. Alex sighed, and started walking. After a few paces he scrabbled frantically through his pockets until he found his mobile phone. Still recording. Excellent. He turned off the sound recorder and granted himself a little hop and heel kick. Maybe he’d have something for Neil after all, as long as he could find his way back to town.
The barrage outside continued for a few seconds, the roof and walls flaring purple and white as the blasts discharged into the timbers and arced along the corrugated roofing. The sparks fizzled out before they hit the floor. Then it went quiet. The barn was silent, except for Alex’ moans and the hollow clanking of empty gas bottles as he crawled out of his pit of bruising. Combined with the creak of the barn’s walls flexing themselves back into shape, the place sounded like an ‘80s horror soundtrack.
The Petulance‘s hatch cracked open with a hiss and a high-pitched shrieking. If anything, the man-beast looked even worse than before – more stretched. Half of the fourth arm was now visible and both of his heads seemed to be talking at once. It seized a helium bottle and, twisting the valve, inhaled mightily. The other body squealed in pain and tried weakly to wrest the bottle from its twin’s grasp. The stronger twin ignored the grasping rasp of its pair and tossed the empty bottle down angrily. Lots of anger. Alex just let it wash over him for now; it was better than the spinal pain he was suffering.
”You fool”, the Siamese man squeaked (menace leaked surprisingly well into the helium pitch), “that was my last bottle”. Frantically he rooted through the other cylinders like a junkie scraping dirt from a sofa onto a spoon. The emerging man was growing slowly more animated, swatting at its progenitor as he dragged him around by the hip.
”What the fuck are you?” Alex hissed accidentally. This was counter to Alex’ plan which was to blend into the background and get out alive – being here was in no way an indication that his plan was likely to succeed. The rooting man ignored him, but the other croaked out a piteous “help me”. Immediately the primary guy (Alex had a desperate need to label them, at least for his own mental reference) jerked upright, declaring “that’s enough from you” and slapped it hard across the face. Both men flinched from the blow. Weird(er). The secondary man began to struggle more seriously, wrenching his flesh loose. It wasn’t pretty. Alex was pretty sure this was going to lead to a lot of poor quality sleep and possibly therapy. The primary lunged towards Alex, seized him and shoved him back on the ground.
”And you, wasting my precious time. But you’re not police – what’s your problem?”
“Oh, hi. Um. I’m Alex,” (he resisted the urge to wave) “I’m a private investigator. It’s… lovely to meet you”
“Investigator? What, the clowns? You’re investigating clowns? Even the police don’t care about clowns”
“Oh well – no, not really. It’s just the clowns seemed, y’know, odd.”
“Of course they’re odd – why would anyone behave like that?”
“No – I mean. It was a lot of clowns to um, die suddenly like that.”
“Do you have any idea how hard it is to get enough helium to suppress this bastard?” he indicated his self-extracting twin, “Once he’s out there’ll be two of us again. And that is not something I want. Helium slows it down. But they won’t let me have any, no. Dad and Pip got plans.”
“Wait – you’re in Galaxy Team though right?”
“What’s the matter, struggling to grasp the internal politics of someone else’s family? Not heard of the really freaky kids? Just the pretty ones for the camera.” He sneered bitterly. “You can call me Mutanto.”
“That sounds like a Mexican restaurant.” Alex needed to learn when to shut up.
“Better than Clive”
“Yeah, that’s fair enough. I never liked being an Alex”
“Right. Great. Well, we’re definitely going to be best friends now.” This sounded like a lie, but Alex was oddly reassured when Mutanto continued, “Once I’ve taken your head off, obviously.”
“Look, I get that you’re angry and uh, busy with your…” Alex gestured vaguely at whatever it was that was happening to Clive; the outgrowing Clive waved back, “But, clowns?”
“Don’t you even listen? What kind of investigator are you? The helium.”
“Right. Helium.” It seemed worryingly like Alex might actually have been right all along. Of course, he was in a distant barn with a maniac, so being right wasn’t especially good news.
“Yes, helium” Clive broke off for a quick scream at as his nouveau-him tugged its pelvis free. “It slows this down long enough for me to get away, keeps it quiet and passive so I can deal with it myself.”
“It’s a gift, right? A gift from Dad, the marvellous Alpha Strangemind. No one remembers he’s just a jumped-up geography teacher now do they?” Wow, the sarcasm positively dripped off this guy.
“I. I didn’t get on well with my Dad…” Alex felt obliged to
“Oh right, that must be tough. Did you grow up without a strong role model? Aww. Well my Dad’s a generous soul. He gave us all gifts you know, those of us who survived. Those few who didn’t die during their experiments. And this is my gift – the gift of asexual reproduction. Thanks Dad. The man’s a psychopath.”
“You know, I hate to bring up pots and kettles…”
“Back to the clowns again? Who gives a damn. Do you cry for them Alex? I hate fucking clowns with their I’m crying on the inside, but I can make you laugh and that makes everything all right. They had what I needed and I took it. Do you want something to cry about – try automatically fertilising yourself every six months and waiting for this thing to grow out of you, eating up your body and tearing itself loose. Any idea how much that hurts?”
“I’d guess lots.” Alex had all the answers he needed to questions that had not occurred to him to ask.
While Clive had been ranting at him his clone had almost completely separated from him. An awful snapping sound made Alex wince as the clones’ knees parted.
Alex was right; a pleasant novelty. Just as he’d wildly guessed, none of the previous crime scenes had any mention of gas cylinders. Not even the tiny ones for self-inflating balloons or bicycle tyres. Motive acquired – the criminals were obviously breaking in and murdering people for their gas. You can’t mine helium, and unless you’ve got some radioactive rocks and access to a lab then balloon wranglers are the best source. The brutal collateral damage pointed to someone mental, or desperate. Not desperate enough to dress up as a clown and buy the stuff in bulk though. Which brought Alex back to Galaxy Team. It seemed a bit petty for them, but who could explain the motives of the people responsible for the cactus prairie in Wales, the animatronic squirrel army which devastated Hemel Hempstead, the buttercup laser guns or the screaming waterfall in Denmark?
It was time to take some action. He had a real chance to get at least one decent photograph and find out what was going on. Alex felt himself getting swept up in the excitement of the chase. He was not a good detective, being both impatient and rather lazy, but he did have recklessness on his side. So, to options. One: stake out some clown homes or a card shop. Bollocks to that. For one thing, there was no pattern. If you’re in a flying machine (and you’re crazy) why bother being systematic? Far better for Alex to take option two and provoke the killer. It was both easier, cheaper and appealingly stupid.
A day later and Alex had his fake business splashed over the local papers, a website and business cards in every supermarket business slot (even killers need bread). Trepan Balloon Menagerie – Fill Your Kids With Fun. A nice font surrounded by dozens of unlikely inflated beasts and the office address in huge letters. The office was an empty shop front in the arse end of town. He’d filled it with the office supplies from the skip next door. It looked like a fine balloonery. Alex settled down in the building opposite to keep watch.
A real stake-out is even less glamorous than when depicted on TV. This was only his fourth stake-out included the night drinking rosé in a patio armchair looking out for a missing cat. He’d never stalked a killer before and was hopeful that he’d qualify for beginner’s luck. He also hoped he wouldn’t die. It had occurred to him several times, while photocopying posters and tapping in the business card details that there was an element of risk that he hadn’t fully evaluated. This is one of the problems with drilling holes in your head, or even with needing to perforate your skull: sure, you escape some of the voices, but there’s always the chance that you’ll take out something useful – like common sense.
The apartment he’d broken into, to keep an eye on his fake premises (which he’s also broken into, to keep his expenses down) backed onto a Chinese takeaway. The smell of oil and meat was making him terribly hungry. The sheer invective of the chefs seeped through the walls like a grease stain. Alex hoped the killer came soon, this was too much like being at home. As a nod to caution he’d taken care not to dress remotely clownishly, to the extent of not even wearing a drab overcoat such as a man might wear when abducting children from the see-saw.
Luck chose to make another unscheduled appearance in Alex’ life at midnight. The Angered Dragon shut up shop for the night and the vengeful chefs faded away. Soon after, as Alex was relaxing with his Thermos of tea, the exact sound Edna had described made the windows shudder in their frames. Alex rushed to the window and pressed his face to the window as if looking for Santa’s sleigh. With his nose flattened, he could just see the sleek, deadly shape of Strangemind’s Petulance gliding downwards. He took a couple of quick pictures as it sank behind the ballooning premises. Game on.
Alex was somewhat disappointed that the killer was using the backdoor. He was perfectly comfortable keeping a road between them. Of course the back was a smart move – parking a flying machine in the front street would be stupid. Oh well, time to get moving. He bounded down the stairs and across the road to press his face up against another window, camera in hand.
Unfortunately, in the interests of greater exposure (and to conceal the discard-décor) Alex had smothered the windows in posters and flyers, all he could see were vague shadows. If he just open the door quietly he might be able get a few surreptitious snaps. He tugged the padlock keys out of his pocket with a loud jangle. He froze, but the crashing sounds from inside suggested his quarry was already engaged. There came a roar of rage from within and Alex dropped the keys with fright and a loud burst of Christmas music (the key fob was a gift and had sentimental attachments). The killer had apparently discovered the notable lack of helium on the premises.
The door exploded outwards as Alex scrabbled desperately back into the road. The wash of anger and pain kept him down. Stepping through the cloud of splinters was a man – two men. Maybe. Something fucked up had clearly happened to them. It looked like one man trying to climb out of the other, half unzipped taking his costume off. A hideous gory pantomime horse. The street lights cast an unnatural hue over the Swiss cheese skin and wet magnified cell texture. The creature(s) bellowed at him. Mostly from one mouth, the other agape wordlessly but enragedly. In one hand was a wickedly retro-futuristic gun – all vents and flashing lights. In another a crowbar and in yet another fist was one of Alex’ posters. The fourth arm was still inside the man-sleeve.
“Your advert?” The thing-man rasped, holding the poster up to compare Alex’ face with the grinning photograph of him inflating a duck.
“Ah yes, about that…” Alex was keen to distance himself from the unfortunate lack of helium cans, but could think of no reason why his innocent and unrelated features would be on the poster. He was spared an embarrassing babble because the street lights suddenly blacked out and with a deep drone the street was bathed in cold blue light. The duoman snarled, tossed the poster and crowbar at Alex and darted/dragged himself back into the shop. The poster was sucked up into the air, but the crowbar bounced off the kerb and hit Alex on the knee.
Oh yeah, the light. Alex looked up . The blue fluorescent cone ended in a vast ovoid above the rooftops, howling with all the forces of science. Galaxy Team. Cool. Despite himself Alex was overwhelmed. Then the shooting began. He’d briefly forgotten about Strangemind’s reputation. Sure, they were heroes… kind of. The kind that took no prisoners, or spectators, or even people who weren’t really nearby. Beams of force erupted from behind the balloon house, tearing it to pieces. The Vortex (for it surely was the flagship) responded by battering the rest of the house and its neighbours into a glowing dust. Alex was by now desperately grappling with the awkward handle at the door of his stakeout. What the fuck were Galaxy Team fighting each other for – weren’t there enough people to vaporise?
As Alex managed to drive the latch down he felt a grip on his shoulders. Cock. He was whipped up into the air, dangling at the end of a claw extending from the belly of the Petulance. The ship took off at speeds high enough to deprive him of air. They dashed across the rest of town in moments and were into the countryside before he’d re-filled a lung. Alex struggled to stop his limbs from flapping at unnatural, breakable angles and tried really hard to ignore the Vortex as it continued to rain fire upon them. With enough air Alex would have been screaming. Minutes later though it felt like a lifetime, the Petulance drew to a violent halt, pivoted and dropped through a long gap in the roof of an abandoned farm’s barn. The claw released him and he fell a storey onto a table covered with helium cylinders. Painful. He lay sprawling and gasping for breath while the Petulance settled into a cradle overhead.
The bus deposited him in a one of the nicer suburbs, leafy and full of post-war detached and semi-detached houses with either pretty bay windows or ghastly hobbit style front door arches. Alex stalked off the bus stench into a dead man’s cul-de-sac along a path which forked off to the local supermarket. A place for old people. Mostly bungalows with absurdly neat gardens. A weak-wristed riposte to nature and the march of death.
Neil, and the bus ride had turned Alex’ loathing of Starbucks into a foul temper. That was one good reason for catching buses. The residual bitterness and anger of its occupants provided a shell which would help to buffer him emotionally from the murder scene. Of course it was also extremely distracting, being forced to feel the inane gibberish spewed out by the teenagers who infest public transport. It’s a tough call whether their emotional immaturity or their tinny phone speakers are more irritating.
Dark bungalow windows, no car. No one home. Well that was a given. The guy was a fucking clown. Who could live with that? Any relatives were either too embarrassed or busy mourning to be picking over his fun supplies. All that was left of the clown was his face splashed over on a goose egg in Wookey Holes. Not much for a life of laughter. Or tears. There was no crime scene tape around the house. No one seems to bother leaving that up in England, but then there’s plenty of red tape to compensate. He’d never quite figured out how paperwork saves lives, although he did prioritise his expenses claims. According to the newspaper the crime scene was just the garage. Easily closed and easily cleaned.
With a sigh, Alex opened the garage door with his knife and raised it up and over so it slid into the roof space. He loved this kind of garage door. As a child he’d had enormous fun hiding just above that area so when people came in he could scare the crap out of them. Brilliant fun. That was before the voices of course – it’s substantially less enjoyable to startle someone when you get their fear roaring through your head too.
The police hadn’t cleaned up well. Alex had seen a few of these scenes and they’d made even less effort to tidy up this blizzard of paper, sticky stuff and other detritus the police left behind. It was like a disappointing snow shower. Beneath the cop flakes were Thomas “Wacky” Spoons’ prize possessions. A lifetime of irritating magic tricks, wigs, stilts, boxes full of jokes. Drawers and cupboards labelled enticingly rubber, gags, puppets, greasepaint, kiddy. An empty rack of gas cylinders presumably for balloons and whatever other creepy stuff a clown gets up to.
The blood started in the middle of the room. It crept up the side of a workbench and lumpily terminated in a box of hysterically long shoes next to the cylinder rack. Alex’ was still heavy with the fragile but intense feelings of the sub-literate future criminals on the bus, but the violence of this place was displacing them as it seeped into his skull. He rubbed the holes in his scalp absently, blurring the trapped sensations of fear and pain. They mixed like a cloud filled with screaming.
A sudden noise behind him almost left Alex gripping his own head like a bowling ball. He whirled round, fisted phone ready to battering a clownicide.
“Jesus’ shit” he exclaimed, startled. The fierce curiosity of the aged preceded the blades of secateurs which snapped towards his throat. The elderly garden warrior jabbed at him as she spoke,
“And who the buggering arse are you, young man? This is a crime scene.” Great, a fucking Marple. Alex smeared on his most bureaucratic smirk. “Indeed madam, perhaps you could explain why you’re seen fit to encroach on the area”.
“Don’t get smart with me you little twat. I live next door and I heard everything.”
“Really? Would you mind talking about it?”
“I’ve been trying to talk to the police, but they don’t listen, couldn’t give a frigid bollock for what I know”. Alex glanced up and down the street.
“Look, would you like to come inside?” The lady mimbled for moment and then stepped into the garage. Alex swung the door down behind her.
The old lady was Edna. Mrs Edna Millwax (widow). She talked interminably. Alex had been right to close the door – should she fail to shut up he’d be able to kill her in privacy. Still, she’d had a marvellous marriage (until Ted died – cancer, sad) but she had two beautiful sons, one of whom (David) lived nearby, unlike James (the selfish little bastard) who lived in London as an architect or a rent boy; it wasn’t clear which. Mr Spoons had been her neighbour for fifteen, no sixteen years come April. He was a lovely man, not a paedophile at all. He made lovely balloons for Cherie, Adelaide and Charlie (but not Dennis because he’s allergic to latex) her equally beautiful grandchildren (though even at the age of six Edna knew that Adelaide would be a slut – she had the mouth for it). There was a still a half-full baboon balloon in the eaves of her conservatory.
Two nights ago she’d been gardening (of course) late at night. Edna had heard a subdued roar, followed by a rush of air like God farting which had ruffled her conifers. Then a sound like two drunk men staggering up the path (it reminded her of Ted and his brother Bill – the best of friends until Bill died in that lawn mower incident. Their lawn was the envy of the street that summer). The garage door screeched up, then slammed shut again. At first Edna assumed it was just one of Thomas’ long-footed circus friends. And then the screaming started. It didn’t last long. The garage door opened and the two men came out again. It sounded like they were dragging something. It made a hollow rasping on the concrete drive. Before she could peer between her beloved conifers (which she’d planted only six, no seven years ago that Spring, oh how they grow), the wind came again and a flying car nearly took her weathercock off the roof (she gestured at the wall, behind which presumably was her prized ‘badger rampant’ weather vane – artisan crafted).
A fascinating account… Flying cars weren’t exactly common place so Alex had no doubt that he was finally, deliberately, on Galaxy Team’s trail. He might even get a snap of Strangemind’s runabout, The Petulance. No idea who the two man team might be. Dragging things. A simple question emerged:
“When did Mr Spoons make the baboon?”
“Last week. He had ever such a devil of a time twisting the buttocks just right”
“So he had lots of gas then?”
“Oh yes he always had gas, but then don’t we all. It’s a sin to deny it but that doesn’t mean we should embrace it, like Adelaide.”
Alex got himself and the mad Marple lady out of the dead man’s garage as quickly as her rambling would allow. He promised to come back and tell her anything he found out. He would not be returning. There were indeed drag marks (which he’d failed to notice before) down the path. They looked pretty much like the marks a gas cylinder might leave. Gas. Helium gas. Good for making your voice squeaky. Time to review some crime scene photos. He didn’t have any of those. He did have access to the web though and the local newspapers loved a crime scene.
Alex choked on his coffee. It tasted like someone had dripped night soil into a cup. Hard to believe Starbucks could get away with selling this crap. Their incredible drive for ubiquity had left him a stark choice: Starbucks or a woman made of hair spooning instant with a grimy fist. He wasn’t convinced that he had chosen well. He grimaced and spat a tooth-scraping mouthful of grains back into the cup and glared at the de-pierced barista. He blew crumbs from the dried turd-log of biscotti off his notes and shook out the newspaper buried beneath.
Two more dead clowns and a burned down Happy Cards. That made a total of fourteen clowns, three kids’ “entertainers”, plus the incineration of two greetings card shops, a Big Joke Shop and a Mister Wowz Party Supplies. All in a fortnight too. At face value it was no great loss. Clowns are creepy – just one step up / down from mime artists and living statues. Still, that’s a good score by any nutter’s reckoning. On the plus side this was one of those killing sprees where the public didn’t seem to be freaking out. It’s possible they were on the killer’s side. The police were reportedly “baffled” and had no leads except for noting that the murders all involved parties. The prospect of a future with paedo-fear free parties and cards without children dressed as flowers was bright. Only a sex offender lynching party would cause less public consternation.
But Alex wasn’t there for the clowns – not specifically. It was hard enough to see them as people, let alone go that step further and care about them. Ever since Mr Fucking Bimbolino had made Karen Mingsy pull an endless scarf out of his flies at her birthday party…. well. Alex was glad they were crying on the inside. Before he could leave the vile coffee house his phone rang. Once more it had reset to the factory default ringtone. He answered it by slamming it onto the table, at once scaring the crap out of hole-faced girl and stopping the beeping sounds that tell mothers to drown their children.
“You still in Derby, yeah?”
“No one gives a shit about clowns”
“This isn’t about clowns”
“Yeah. Galaxy Team, yeah?”
“Well clownicide is certainly weird”
“Yeah. Weird enough to bring ‘em out?”
“If they’re not already here, yes I think so. Maybe.”
“Don’t give a shit about maybes Alex”
“Thanks Neil, I appreciate your support”
“Get me a picture yeah. Nice shot of Strangemind or one of the freaks. Doing something. Don’t want pictures of them drinking tea or taking a dump.”
“Hey – that picture of Talon was a good photo.”
“She was putting sugar in her tea yeah. You couldn’t even see her wings. Not a good picture. Do better”
Well that was cheering. Neil had little faith in Alex’ photographic abilities. Which was fair. His phone wasn’t very high resolution and his hands tended to shake. Shouldn’t have had coffee either. It was making his scalp itch. Alex’ last few years had left him with few useful avenues of employment. He’d been signed off with epilepsy, paranoid schizophrenia and obsessive compulsive disorders. Apparently that’s the sort of diagnosis you get when you drill holes in your head to let the voices out. Hadn’t worked. Investigation seemed the best way to go. Mostly, you got to avoid people and when you did meet them it was sometimes handy to be able to sense their emotions. Less fun in crowds or offices though. So now Neil had him on a retainer to investigate anything related to Galaxy Team. It hadn’t gone very well so far. First the sighting of Talon which he’d rushed to, and then managed to miss the ensuing story – her abduction and dramatic rescue. He had gotten pictures of crazed office workers attacking police, but it just looked like every Friday night in Nottingham.
Then there had been the Yorkshire Debacle – an awesome pitched battle between the Beastlie Brothers and the Boytronic Wonder against Lizzie Damocles and the Amalgamator. As the latter had hoovered up the grass and earth beneath him, gaining enormous mass Lizzie Damocles had gone sword and knife against Mu-Tant Ra’Koon with frightening force. Alex had only been there by accident. An old friend had lured him with wine to a shockingly dull cricket match. The show had been enlivened by the casual butchery of both teams and the green. Alex had hidden under the scoreboard, clutching the foiled bladder from the wine box, snapping away until the Boytronic Wonder had taken the Amalgamator down with a massive electro-magnetic pulse which put Alex back in touch with the Elder Gods. When he was finally dragged out from the rubble by emergency teams his phone and camera were useless. Apparently describing it really well wasn’t good enough.
Tracing Galaxy Team wasn’t easy – Alex was at least doing better than the other detectives Neil had hired. Two were dead and another was busy escaping from mental institutions. Their astonishing disregard for human life made the endeavour risky as well as difficult. But he’d discovered that by discarding almost all available information about them – conspiracy loons, newspapers, government disinformation (which didn’t leave much) and locating the few people to have met a Galaxy Team member and lived, he was left with the hint of a shadow of ghost of a pattern. Well, a trail of mostly stamped into the mud bread crumbs: just follow the weird. It turns out there’s a lot of weird stuff going on. Luck and whatever passes for instinct in Alex’s strange empathic head were his guides. They weren’t especially good guides.
Mass events, like the water in Liverpool that caused homicidal hallucinations, the accounts of a herd of unicorns running through night, the sudden dwarfism that afflicted Belgium, the diamond house in Bromley, the return of pikestaffs and chain mail as fashion had all been linked to Galaxy Team, or their numerous enemies. So the clown killings seemed promising. On the one hand, this seemed entirely normal – who hasn’t had the urge to strangle a clown? But the crimes were apparently motiveless. Despite allegations of impropriety on the fun-meisters’ parts there was no substance to the claims.
The intensity of the fires in the shops was screwing with the police investigations. The police couldn’t understand it – they couldn’t tell if anything had been stolen although why you’d steal greetings cards was baffling. Surely reading just one Purple Ronnie card makes you want to torch the lot. From what he’d seen on CSI fire was a great way to hide what you were doing, unless you set the fire with something really distinctive, like your Dad’s homemade vodka. Less interesting, too hard to investigate, and in a thoroughly amateur detective move would be entirely ignored. Alex was more interested in the clown executions, which seemed a little odd, and not obviously connected with the shops. The clowns were all killed in their own homes, which “showed signs of disturbance” – read “utterly trashed”. Alex had broken into a fair few of them now in his haphazard search for clues and seen the wreckage left. The deaths themselves showed opportunism, having been variously attributed to plastic bags, blunt force trauma, knife, strangulation, battery, being hit with a car (in their living room).
Alex’ list of possible motives was struggling to get beyond some guy who hated clowns because they were clowns. But the killer was obviously looking for something, and maybe taking it away when he found it. Alex was hoping for a world-wide (Derby-wide) ancient clown conspiracy where the secrets of Columbine had been passed down for generations, in which the truth about Jesus’ mum being a mime was withheld from the rest of the world. Perhaps he’d read too many terribly historical thrillers.
The second corpsey clown, “Wacky Spoons” (whom Alex now despised) lived just a short bus ride away in Allestree. With a sigh Alex gathered his papers and headed for the suburbs. He could probably just guess at what he’d find, but he was pretty sure that good detective work (as opposed to what he did) involved looking at things. Besides, what else is there to do in Derby.