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.