The Novel 2 that wasn’t.

I’m a bit behind on IKWYDLS right now, largely because I decided to do some work on Novel 2.  I’m not too far in, about 20 pages or so to be precise, but I figured it was about time I did some work on it.  To be fair, I had already started Novel 2 some months ago but I’m not really happy with it.  I looked at it, Novel 1, and a few of my more recent short stories and decided they were a little too similar: they all start with a murder and roll along with the detectives of said killing.

I’m reworking Novel 2 into something a little different now, but there are some aspects of the first draft I quite like, and will probably reuse further down the road.  You never know, maybe this draft is a sneak peak at any further novels I decide to do, should my career ever start proper.

Oh, it’s quite long.  Around about 13,000 words I think.  I don’t think I’ll go through and format it all for wordpress either, so at least the massive gaps between paragraphs should help assuade any eye strain.

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Croggley Steinfast was, in all probability, the worst man of the cloth the Catholic Church had ever employed. He wasn’t a deviant in the traditional sense, no illicit meetings with altar boys or anything of that sort, just a single crippling flaw in his appointment. Technically Reverend Croggley Steinfast was not Christian, let alone catholic.

 

He’d gone to great lengths to hide this from the church itself, taking full advantage of a system that refused to put its faith in computers by forging documents and cultivating human error within the administration. When he had started out he was little more than a novice at this sort of social manipulation, but he learned fast, so fast in fact that it didn’t take him too long to weasel his way into his own parish.

 

Occasionally someone would figure out his scheme and confront him about it (three people had done so as of this point), but none of them would believe his reasoning. To be fair to them, it was rather bizarre and illogical reasoning, but that was how Croggley lived. Besides, he had also worked out that telling someone something as peculiar as his particular reasons tended to break something in their brains, making them much easier to manipulate in the future whilst also fostering an extra layer of trust. After all, he couldn’t possibly have been telling the truth could he?

 

Now, left alone with his own parish far outside the watchful eye of the Vatican, Croggley Steinfast sat in his empty church soaking his long, greying hair in the font. This was part of his weekly routine and had been since he landed himself at the Church of Saint Judy of the Immaculate Complexion almost five years ago. As far as he was concerned it was the most efficient way to create Holy Water and wash his hair. Admittedly the idea to wash his hair in the font had long preceded the idea that it would sanctify the water, but no-one was really keeping track of that stuff.

 

It was Sunday, Croggley’s most hated day of the week. He didn’t preach on Sundays, not anymore at least. He had spent a year of so weaning his parishioners out of Sunday Mass and, in fact, coming to church at all, but there was still the odd die-hard who would turn up just to bang on the door every Sunday at six in the morning. They came in waves, and he had come to identify them by their knocking. It was almost time for the last wave and, despite Croggley’s attempts to slow time using only the power of his mind, this was the one he could always count on.

 

Most of the die-hards would come every week, more or less, but there would invariably be something that would slow them down or take precedence and they would miss a week every now and then. As a result there had never been a week where every die-hard had turned up in succession, there would always be one missing. This final guy, however, had never missed a week and was always perfectly punctual.

 

Lionel Mulally was his name, and the worst part about him was that he wasn’t even that religious. He was the “star” of a daytime TV soap opera, the sort primarily populated by people retiring from more successful soaps because they actually have to travel to them. Lionel was different to those actors, however, due to this being his big break. He had cleverly escalated the popularity of the show to prime time levels, becoming a celebrity off the back of the show’s success. He appeared on all the dreary reality shows purely because it would make him more famous.

 

Naturally the success went to Lionel’s head, and before long he had experimented with the usual vices, some of which stuck with him. Croggley was under the impression that Lionel only came to church as regularly as he did because somewhere, deep down in what passed for his heart, was the fear that he was going to burn in Hell for his laundry list of sins. Croggley couldn’t fault him on his reasoning.

 

He looked at his watch. One minute until Mr Mulally arrived for his weekly appointment with a securely locked door. The noise was the worst part. It seemed to him that only the most tiresome people could actually change the tone of a knock. Ordinarily they were rather direct sounds, conveying the expected meaning of ‘Are you in? If you are I would like to speak with you.’ People like Mulally and the others had more irritating knocking messages. Croggley compared them to a child’s whining. ‘Let me in Let me in Let me in,’ they would say over and over again until, eventually, you were forced to relent.

 

KNOCK KNOCK KNOCK KNOCK

 

‘Ah, right on time,’ Croggley said as he stood up, wet hair slapping noisily onto his back.

 

He strolled across the room at a speed that not even the most optimistic of people could mistake for anything other than a dawdle. The knocking continued, its little drum beat would have been almost pleasant had Croggley not heard it so many, many times. When he arrived at the door Croggley slammed his forehead onto the hard wood with enough force to make a sound, but not so much as to cause him to see stars. It was a difficult skill to master, and one that Croggley had managed purely by accident.

 

‘Go away. No worshipping today, thank you.’ Croggley shouted at the door. It never worked, but that didn’t mean he was going to stop trying.

 

‘Come on Reverend,’ came a voice from the other side of the door, ‘It’s Sunday! You have to hear my sins today, it’s like the law or something.’

 

‘It’s not divine law that I should have to listen to an actor whine about how he neglected to pay a prostitute because her rates were extortionate. God doesn’t want to hear it either. He’s on holiday, get lost.’

 

There was a pleasing silence from the other side of the door. It wasn’t the first time this had happened, but it was pretty rare. It was the blissful moment that gave Croggley hope that, one day, he could get rid of Mulally. He knew that the silence signified Mulally fighting against himself. Part of him would want to just walk away, admit that he had tried to be a good man but that it was just too much effort. Croggley had seen this happen to other people before (had caused it to happen before) and held out hope that one day this part of Mulally would win. Unfortunately, experience told him that it was infinitely more likely that Mulally would cling onto his last shred of decency and fight tooth and nail to be let into the church.

 

‘Just let me in, reverend, please!’

 

Croggley sighed. There was always next week. He unbolted the large oaken door and stormed back across the church to the font. The sound of the bolt sliding across the door must have been loud enough to be heard outside, because no sooner had Croggley turned to walk away than the door creaked open.

 

Mulally was, in all honesty, a very attractive man. Tall and rugged and tanned in the way that only soap stars seem to be able to achieve, just the right shade of orange. His teeth were a perfect pearly white, and flawlessly arranged (he had paid quite a lot of money to ensure that this was the case), framed by a particularly cheeky grin. Most of the time. He wasn’t grinning today, and his tan looked a little thinner than usual. This was something new, something Croggley wasn’t expecting, and he hated that even more than what he was expecting.

 

For people like Croggley there is very little to actually enjoy in life. They get so caught up with being old and cynical before their time that when they actually reach the proper age for it they are already burned out. This results in a strange situation where everything becomes a chore but at least you can count on it to always be the same chore. New chores rake up old feelings of surprise and whatever the opposite of tedium is (having forgotten the actual word long ago), things that should be enjoyable but aren’t.

 

More than a little irritated, Croggley slumped onto a nearby pew and summoned Mulally to join him. The actor strode semi-confidently up the aisle and hovered around next to Croggley’s pew. He kept glancing furtively towards the rotten confessional that Croggley had kept more for appearance than anything else. He preferred to hold confession out in the open because, after all, sitting in a dark box and talking through a grate is hardly a more effective means of contacting the Lord than a face to face.

 

‘Can we… Can we talk in there?’ Mulally finally spluttered, pointing at the abandoned confessional.

 

‘No. It’s unsafe, rickety and pointless. Plus, God’s on holiday. He doesn’t want to hear anyone whinging at him for a bit, ok?’

 

‘But he’s God. He doesn’t take holidays.’

 

‘Look, Lionel. I’m the one with the direct line to the Almighty here. I think you should trust me when I tell you that He doesn’t want to know, ok?’ Croggley lied.

 

It was true that some, if not most, priests had a direct line with the Lord, or at least what they thought was the Lord. The details were a little sketchy. As far as Croggley was concerned there wasn’t a God, which was something he had done well to hide from his contemporaries. That’s not to say, however, that he didn’t believe in some other powers that gravitated towards religious sites. As he saw it, God didn’t know that he didn’t exist.

 

Mulally was starting to fidget now. He seemed more spooked than usual which, admittedly, was rather easy. Still, he didn’t normally ask for them to hold their chats in the confessional. Everybody knew that Croggley hated that thing, so why bother asking?

 

‘Can we just get down to business, Lionel? I promise you that I’ll take a note of everything you say and send it off to the Lord when he’s available.’

 

‘Confidentially? I don’t want anyone to know, you’re not allowed to tell anyone!’

 

This hurt Croggley. Yes, he was a bad priest but he still had some scruples. Unless what Lionel was about to tell him was particularly entertaining at least.

 

‘As long as I’m wearing my collar I’m the Fort Knox of secrets.’ he said.

 

Lionel looked at him quizzically for a moment. ‘But you’re not wearing your collar.’

 

‘Metaphorically, Lionel! I was being metaphorical. Just get on with it. And sit down, for His sake!’

 

Lionel stopped fidgeting and managed to negotiate his way onto the pew. As a result of being stupidly tall, and Croggley’s devious repositioning of the pews one evening, Lionel’s legs were too long for him to comfortably sit. He had to twist his body around in most uncomfortable looking ways just to fit. Croggley had to hide a smile.

 

‘The thing is, reverend, I might have gotten myself into a bit of trouble. I was down on Dockery Street the other day, do you know Dockery Street?’

 

Everybody knew Dockery Street. It was home to some of the cheapest prostitutes in the city. For a start they didn’t tend to have pimps, so there was nothing stopping you actually leaving without paying, assuming they even charged you. The early clients would be forced to shell out for some alcohol to “grease the wheels”, but if you turned up after a certain time the girls were usually so plastered they’d forget to charge. By all accounts they were quite possibly the worst prostitutes money couldn’t buy, but they were who you went to see if you didn’t want anybody to catch you. The one saving grace of a visit to the Dockeries was that the girls were usually too pissed to be able to sell you out to the papers, something very useful for people like Mulally.

 

Croggley neglected to voice this, however, opting instead for a simple nod and a hand movement that signified “hurry up”.

 

‘Well,’ Lionel continued, ‘I was working my way through the, er, merchandise when I was struck by an epiphany.’

 

‘On Dockery Street? Are you sure it wasn’t just a tang of pathetic self-loathing?’

 

‘There was self-loathing in it, but it was more than that. Something greater. It opened my eyes. My life is meaningless, I’m not doing anything worthwhile.’

 

‘I could have told you that without any need for hideously desperate sex.’

 

‘You don’t understand. All I do every day is play the same character on television. People actually think he’s me! I want to quit, move on in my career. Do some serious acting for once!’

 

Mulally wasn’t the first actor that had come to Croggley with this problem, although he was the most famous. Actors weren’t the sort of people who enjoyed steady pay-cheques, which is part of what made them actors. They were, first and foremost, professional liars. Lying is, as any child will tell you, tremendous fun, so the sort of people who are attracted to it as a career tend to be those in need of excitement. You can’t get excitement from a steady pay-cheque, there’s too much security getting in the way.

 

They would never admit that of course. They’re always saying that they want to do something more serious, or more artistic. Some even claim they want to spend more time with their families, which is a clever trick worthy of some respect as far as Croggley was concerned. It always boiled down to the same thing, however, they just weren’t happy unless they were in danger. Croggley knew this because, deep down, what was he but an actor playing the role of a priest?

 

He looked back at the nervous Mulally. Something just didn’t seem to fit.

 

‘I can’t quite see the problem here, Lionel. Just quit the show if that’s all you want. I’m sure your agents can get you something more serious if you whine at them long enough.’

 

‘I just don’t know if acting is the right path for me any more. I mean, I want to do some serious acting but is it even worth it? What’s the point? I want to change things, make a difference.’

 

‘Then you’re in the wrong profession,’ Croggley replied, trying his best to sound sagely. ‘The only people who ever get to change things are important people like politicians and, occasionally, the Pope. Actors can get as far as pretentious TV ads about the third world, that’s your limit.’

 

Mulally seemed to mull it over for a moment, the little cogs in his head whirring away. Some people possess a mind that really does work like a clock. Most people have minds that work like rivers, thoughts flowing in from various tributaries before coming together to form the Decision River, clockwork minds don’t do this. A clockwork mind is much more linear by design, every thought has a little cog that spins when needed, resulting in a sudden and sharp decision. A mental tick, if you will. Often it is followed by a mental tock too, namely the sudden realisation that your previous decision was ridiculously stupid. Unfortunately the gap between ticks and tocks is somewhat varied.

 

The mental tick is quite easy to spot if you know what you are looking for, and Croggley watched as Mulally’s eyebrows fell into the familiar shape of someone who has just experienced such a phenomenon.

 

‘You’re right, reverend,’ he said, ‘Actors don’t have much of an impact on life.’

 

‘Good, now then…’

 

‘I’ll have to go into politics.’

 

‘What?!’

 

‘Politics, it’s the only way! I can’t sit by and let the things that need fixing go unfixed. Thank you, reverend!’

 

Mulally jumped up, reinvigorated by his apparent new purpose in life, and bolted for the door.

 

‘Wait, you stupid bast–’ Croggley began before stopping himself mid sentence. Never a good idea to swear in a church, the saints didn’t like it.

 

Mulally closed the church door with a loud bang, leaving the bewildered Croggley sat alone once more. He’d never actually persuaded someone to change careers before. Usually, when people came to ask for counsel they had already made up their minds, they just wanted someone to provide a cosmic back-up so they had someone else to blame if it all went wrong, they never actually wanted a truthful answer.

 

Mulally had wanted a true answer though, which had been what Croggley had given him. The problem of being on autopilot so much of the time was that you became so used to having it there that you would occasionally forget to check for mountains, and Croggley had just smashed right into one. Mulally would be an abysmal politician. He had the scandalous personal life perfectly arranged all right, but he was lacking all the skill that most real politicians had.

 

Still, it was unlikely anyone would actually elect Mulally. The people still had some political savvy left, at least enough to keep them from voting for “that guy off the telly”.

 

Croggley was still muttering to himself about the whole situation when he was interrupted by the most peculiar noise. It was the letter box.

 

*

 

Hubris McLeod didn’t agree with churches much. It wasn’t that he was an atheist, in fact it was quite the opposite. Hubris was possibly the most devout man in the city, and that was exactly why he objected to churches. There were three within the city limits, which was two more than the city actually needed, and all of them were churches in name only, but that was the norm now. Religion had gone downhill in the last decade, degenerated really. Hubris was probably the last real Christian in the city, and the only person who shunned church with a justifiable reason.

 

The problem was that quite a lot of people still attended the weekly masses (at the churches that still held them), and as a result his job often forced him to drop by and pay a visit to a priest or two. Today he was visiting the Church of St Judy of the Immaculate Complexion, the worst of the three.

 

‘Oh come on Hubris, not this place again,’ came a voice from his side. Doctor Interest, his partner and friend had fallen into step beside him as they walked across the promenade towards the church.

 

‘Got a problem with this place huh?’ he asked.

 

‘The place is beautiful, it’s just the people I can’t stand.’

 

Hubris smiled. Dr Interest and the reverend had history. Not romantic history or any of that sort of rubbish, no what they had was old-fashioned primeval history, deep seated dislike that tends to manifest itself in burning politeness towards the other person. He wasn’t sure what had been the cause of this, as it had occurred before he had met the good doctor and she refused to say, but he reckoned it was something hilarious.

 

‘Calm down, kid. I only need to ask him a few question then we’ll be gone.’ he replied.

 

‘You’re not… you’re not going to bleed on him are you?’ she asked, clutching at the medical bag she kept under her arm.

 

‘I don’t think so, we won’t need any of that business here. We haven’t as of yet, anyway.’

 

Dr Interest sighed with relief. Hubris McLeod was a Suicidal Detective, an expert in the investigative technique known as The Sleeper Procedure. The technique, invented by a man who’s name has been lost to history, relies on the belief that everything becomes just that little bit more real the closer you are to death, allowing you to jump-start the investigation by spotting things you would ordinarily miss. To this end, Suicidal Detectives are known to inflict potentially fatal wounds on themselves purely to take advantage of the result. Naturally, they are partnered with medical professionals who are specially trained to stop them from actually dying, thereby allowing them to actually relay their discoveries.

 

Hubris was one of the better Suicidal Detectives by merit of not actually being suicidal. Most of his contemporaries tended to be recruited because of their propensity to get into dangerous situations in scenarios where none should exist. There was a specific colleague, for example, that managed to find himself in a shoot-out between parents at a creche after having stopped by only to deliver a speeding ticket. Hubris was the only member of this experimental force that got there by being a good detective. He was also the only one who wasn’t an official police officer, having previously been a private eye that the force snapped up as part of their outreach programme. As for using The Sleeper Procedure, Hubris used it only when absolutely necessary, unlike the rest of his colleagues who used it so often they had their own fridge at the blood bank. Each.

 

Old fashioned detective work had led Hubris to St Judy’s Church again, and he wasn’t about to second guess that with a bit of creative bleeding. Besides, he was only after information about the victim, that was hardly likely to be a problem.

 

The pair strode up the multitude of stone steps that led to the Church doors. They stopped at the top for a moment, catching their breathe so as to look suitably authoritative as they entered. The first part of being a detective, Hubris reasoned, was looking as though you already know the answers and are going through the motions, it gives the impression that your target’s testimony is unnecessary and therefore without threat.

 

Hubris pushed the door open and walked into the hall of what had once been his church of choice. It still looked the same: same old tarnished gold, red velvet curtains hanging in the expected places, the depictions of the thirteen Prime Saints (with the thirteenth having been blacked out, as is custom). Across the hall, by the font, sat the familiar figure of Reverend Croggley Steinfast. He was reading something, but tucked it away in his pocket when he saw them approaching.

 

‘McLeod,’ Steinfast said, ‘Who has died this time?’

 

‘Straight to the point, Father,’ McLeod replied, ‘I like that.’

 

‘I find it’s best to get you out of my church as quickly as possible detective, especially when you are accompanied by Miss Interest there. It’s only a matter of time before one of you upsets the saints, leaving me with one hell of a mess to clean up.’

 

Hubris smiled and turned to Dr Interest. ‘He knows us pretty well, doesn’t he?’

 

‘He ought to, we come in here every time one of his parishioners dies, which seems to be quite often.’ she replied, her tone overly polite as he had expected.

 

‘Who was it this time?’ Steinfast interrupted. ‘I do have other things to attend to so I would like to get this over with.’

 

‘Michael Forthwith. Found dead in a local pub, face impaled on a dartboard during the football match last night. Naturally no-one saw who did it.’ said Hubris, reading from a notebook.

 

‘Naturally.’ Steinfast repeated.

 

‘So, know anything about him?’

 

‘Oh, plenty. Turned up every other week with some pathetic confession or another. His last one was quite good, something about inserting parsnips in farmyard animals for a joke. Weird boy, but harmless really.’

 

‘No enemies?’

 

‘None that he mentioned by name. A boy like that probably manages to stir up enemies all over the place. He seemed to think that a little fortnightly confession would get him off the hook, don’t think he understood who they actually go out to.’

 

The reverend had a point, Hubris considered. Most people people believed that prayers and the like went directly to God for him to sort out. In actuality even if you believed that God exists (which Hubris quite vehemently did) you couldn’t really be sure it was He that received every prayer. He had saints for a reason, and it was there job to handle to day to day running of religion. That’s what he had been taught anyway, and it was one of the few things that still held any credence in the modern church. Saints led troubled lives as a sort of job interview for their promotion to celestial managers, and the Prime Thirteen (including that one) were top of the list.

 

‘Nothing of any help you can tell us then, Father?’ he asked.

 

‘Sorry Detective. You’ll have to work this one out without the Lord’s help.’ Steinfast replied, putting a curious emphasis on the word “Lord”.

 

‘Never mind, Father. We’ll see ourselves out, come on Doc.’

 

Hubris and Interest turned and left the church. It was strange, Hubris reflected, Steinfast didn’t seem nearly as abrasive as usual. In fact he seemed almost pleasant. It didn’t sit right. He glanced at Interest and he could see she was thinking the same thing too.

 

*

 

‘Steinfast, McCann, Lillyhammer, Schneider,’ the rusty tannoy demanded, ‘Report to the chapel immediately for your final examinations.’

 

Croggley sighed. He wasn’t really ready for these exams, but they shouldn’t be too much of a problem. He was used to bluffing his way through these things by now, the only difference this time was that it was pretty likely he would have to go first.

 

There were certain rules in any educational establishment, especially when it came to the order of assessment, that the church liked to ignore. Specifically, they didn’t hold with the idea of performing tests in alphabetical order. Despite it being one of the easiest ways to successfully organise a large group of people, the church preferred to randomly pluck names out of the air and test them as and when they were chosen. Some students tried to explain this away as the priests letting God choose who should be tested when, but Croggley wasn’t convinced by such transparent attempts at justification. As far as Croggley was concerned, the church just liked making things difficult for itself.

 

He took one last, lingering look at the front cover of his personalised copy of the bible (provided free of charge to each student) and pulled open his large bedroom door. The hallway was cold, which was a sure sign that exam season was upon them. The school had an interesting way of generating heat that Croggley didn’t quite understand, but what he did know was that every exam season, without fail, it would fail.

 

Croggley padded down the corridor, his hands hidden inside the sleeves of his pullover, his chin pressed tight to his chest in an attempt to conserve as much heat as possible. His brain ran on heat, he knew, and the less of it he had the slower it would run. That wouldn’t be much of a problem if, like every other student at the school, he actually had faith.

 

Faith is a useful tool if you have it. It acts like a battery, a little bit of extra energy to remember or believe something that ordinarily you would not be able to. Croggley, unfortunately, didn’t believe in anything. He had to pretend he had faith, which was tiring in itself. To pretend to be a normally built person wasn’t easy for him but it was doable, after all he was a student of the mind. Well, not really, but he was observant.

 

It really had no business being quite this cold, Croggley decided. His breath was coming out in little puffs of mist, getting more noticeable with each step he took towards the chapel. It wasn’t a long walk from his room to the chapel, a couple of hundred metres at most, but the temperature change from such a small walk was astounding. By the time he reached the chapel door he was convinced that ice crystals had become forming on his head.

 

Schneider and Lillyhammer were already there, but McCann was nowhere to be seen. Croggley sighed again, spitting out a particularly large mist. Lillyhammer wasn’t too bad, they didn’t get on particularly well but they left each other alone. Schneider was the problem. He was the best student in the year, and he knew it. There was an aura of undeniable smugness about him, it was like a cloud really, and it seemed to provide him with no end of slimy, irritating speeches about how awesome he was.

 

Croggley and Schneider had almost come to blows on a number of occasions, wandering priests or intervening students being the only things able to stop them.

 

‘Ah, young Steinfast,’ Schneider began, his tone slightly less condescending than expected,’Ready for you final exam?’

 

‘Come on, Vile, you know me. Always ready when it comes to tests.’

 

Schneider drew in a breath and Croggley saw his right eye twitch. ‘It’s Wilhelm. Must I constantly correct you?’ He pronounced Wilhelm with the Germanic V at the start.

 

‘Vil, Vile. Never could quite get a hang of your language, Schneider.’ Croggley replied.

 

Lillyhammer was trying his best not to laugh. He may not have gotten on particularly well with Croggley, but he had even less love for Schneider. That was something that always soothed Croggley, there would always be someone in the world hated more than him. He smiled at Lillyhammer and then secured himself a comfy spot on the wall next to the chapel door.

 

‘Why are we stood out here anyway? Shouldn’t we be heading inside for our exams?’

 

‘Do you even know what the final exam is?’ Schneider asked, coldly.

 

‘Well, I’m guessing it’s an exam.’

 

‘It doesn’t sound like an exam from what I’ve heard,’ Lillyhammer interrupted. He was extremely Irish, to the point of nearly becoming a parody of his own people. ‘From what I hear they do some special for the last test.’

 

‘And that would be?’ Croggley asked.

 

‘Dunno. Guess we’ll find out when McCann’s done in there.’

 

‘So that’s where McCann is? I thought he was late or something.’

 

The chapel door clicked politely and slowly drew itself open. Inside stood a priest Croggley didn’t recognise (which wasn’t exactly a rarity). Next to him stood McCann, and the priest calmly pushed him through the door and signalled for Lillyhammer to follow him. He complied, doing his best not to look at McCann.

 

Croggley couldn’t blame him, McCann was one hell of a sight at that moment. If there is one universal expression anybody can pull, no matter the individual configuration of their face muscles, it’s the look of absolute terror. Not fear, that can vary from person to person, but unbridled, primeval fear. It’s not an expression you see every day, in fact you may never see it in your entire life, but it is instantly recognisable if you do.

 

McCann’s eyes were wide and his face drained of colour. No, not drained. Drained implied that there had been colour to begin with, this was as if he had been scared so badly the colour had just never existed. McCann was a strong lad too, the sort of student you could see as a priest during the Crusades rather than a parish priest. He was a warrior at heart, using the church to stop him going over the edge, give him some vestige of humanity to hold onto, and it worked remarkably well. The church made McCann a nice guy, but he still looked like someone who could rip you in half with his ears.

 

Until now.

 

Now he looked emaciated, beaten, weak. Croggley doubted that McCann, in his current state, could even take a bite out of a yoghurt, let alone tear someone up with his ears. There was something sinister about that exam, and Croggley was suddenly scared.

 

‘Mac,’ it was Schneider, ‘What’s the matter? What did they do to you?’

 

McCann only said one word. Perhaps that was all he could say but, then again, it was all he needed to.

 

‘Inquisitor.’

 

*

 

For the Immediate Attention of Reverend Croggley Steinfast,

 

You’re slipping, Steinfast. I’ve had reports that there is someone of “interest” in the vicinity of your church. I have also been informed that you have failed to contact them. Unacceptable.

 

I’m dispatching some aid to help deal with the situation and to remind you of the oaths you took upon graduation. I hope he will be sufficient to deal with this situation.

 

Signed,

 

Pope Schneider

 

As letter from the Pope go this was rather bad. He only used the special seal when he was annoyed, and the seal had been stamped onto this particular letter four times. A bull crushing a snake under it’s hooves, an image that Croggley always imagined was designed specifically to spook him.

 

He didn’t like the implication that the Pope was sending aid either. The church’s use of aid was vastly different to how the rest of the world used it. The rest of the world used it as a way to convey that help was on its way, whereas the church used it to announce that they had dispatched an inquisitor to come and judge you. Oh, they would rarely send them with explicit orders to judge someone, but the inquisitor would always find something to judge, and then they would excommunicate with extreme prejudice.

 

And what did he mean by a person of “interest”? Croggley hadn’t come across anyone interesting for years. If Schneider had something important to tell him why couldn’t he just come out with it and tell him clearly? Croggley didn’t like allusions, they were the tool of people too cowardly to be liars and were too confusing to unravel.

 

On the positive side, however, this gave him some time to prepare. The real question was who he should expect. There were two orders of inquisitor: The Sword of Faith, and The Shield of Faith. The Sword were pretty straightforward. They rose through the ranks of the church by being either exceptionally pious or just a little bit better than everyone else at the politicking. They were usually a little snooty, but they understood the pressures of parish life (or could be lead to believe they did). Croggley had dealt with a few of these fellows before, and they were easy enough to deal with. All he had to do was play the good little priest card and he would be fine.

 

The Shield were the ones that Croggley was afraid of, everyone was. They were pretty secretive, even by church standards. There were rumours that they weren’t recruited from within the church, that The Sword would go out scouting for members to fill the ranks of The Shield in some of the most dangerous places in the world. There were even some more rumours that stated what The Sword brought back was not, technically, human. They were just baseless rumour, but Croggley had believed them.

 

He’d only met a Shield Inquisitor once, as part of his final exam. It was not an experience he would like to repeat. One of their unique abilities was the way that, after having met them, you managed to forget all the particulars about the meeting. You remember there had been one, and that it was with a Shield Inquisitor, but no more. There was something very unsettling about the idea that, whatever they did, it was so unsettling that you simply had to forget it.

 

If the Pope was sending a Shield then there was little Croggley could do to prepare. They didn’t function like you would expect of a person, and they almost always came ready to excommunicate. A Shield excursion almost always filtered down the grapevine with the words ‘bloody’ or ‘horrific’, but he had never met anyone who had actually seen a Shield Inquisitor in action.

 

As far as Croggley could guess, however, he was more likely to be receiving someone from The Sword than The Shield. The Sword were the respectable face of the Inquisition after all, and as bad a priest as Croggley was his title still granted him some respect. It wasn’t as if he had killed someone or deeply offended the saints.

 

It was easier to hope that it would be a Sword Inquisitor anyway, he could plan for them. He could set the church up just right so that they got the perfect impression from the moment they walked in, he had gotten very good at that. If it was a Shield Inquisitor, well, no amount of preparation could help him there.

 

He folded the letter up and walked across the church and into his little office. It was, for the most part, incredibly tidy and well maintained. All the furniture was dusted regularly and the floor vacuumed regularly. The one part of the room in conflict with the general view of tidiness was the desk. It was a strong, Edwardian thing, finely crafted from some apparently giant tree, and it was a good thing too. Balanced precariously atop the desk were mountains of paper, all the reports and files that came as part of being a member of the clergy, deftly ignored by Croggley. The desk was, essentially, a large shelf now.

 

He opened one of the desk drawers (in fact the only one that was not also stuffed full of paperwork) and pulled out a small rosewood box. He flicked off the small metal catch and lifted the lid. Inside lay several neatly arranged envelopes, all with torn edges. He placed the new letter inside the box, lowered the lid, flicked the catch back on, and returned the box to the drawer. You should always keep a record of important correspondence.

 

There was a poster on the wall behind him, and Croggley took the time to turn and look at it. The one thing he allowed himself to keep that showed at least part of the real him, from before he enrolled in the church.

 

It was a poster for a ridiculous blaxploitation movie from the seventies called “Cadence Holmes: Dead on Arrival”. It was one of the worst films Croggley had ever seen, yet also one of his favourites. It wasn’t the film itself that made him like it, even with its ridiculously over the top action, but the memories it conjured. He remembered a time from before he spent every waking moment lying to people, and it was soothing.

 

After a moment or two of blissful nostalgia he peeled his eyes away from the poster and tried to wipe all his troubles from his mind by turning to his priestly duties. Amongst all the paperwork on his overcrowded desk there was only ever one form that would get filled in, the death form.

 

Croggley was forever losing parishioners. There was a great deal of crime in the city and it was not uncommon for it to end in someone’s death. As the priest of the biggest church in the city, Croggley was likely the first port of call, which would result in him having to file paperwork.

 

The police never asked for any paperwork from him, and they most certainly would never do so. In the old day the police would be lucky if the church even knew who they were talking about, but they had an understanding of how Croggley worked. He may have disliked being a priest, and everything about his parishioners, but he was a very nosey person and therefore liked to keep an eye on his flock. Ostensibly this was so he could pray for them, but it was very unlikely that anyone believed that.

 

McLeod had a way of requesting a dossier from Croggley without actually mentioning anything that could even remotely hint at it. It was the way he carried himself, Croggley had decided. McLeod had a way of walking into a room as if the talking was merely a formality, that you were going to give him what he wanted anyway, but let’s keep up appearances, eh? It was infuriating, but the right kind of infuriating to keep Croggley from watching him too closely.

 

Croggley fished around in his desk and carefully plucked out the death list. Seven deaths this month, three of them investigated, two of them by McLeod. He added Michael Forthwith to the list, bringing the total up to eight. He put the list back and extracted a file from one of the nearby paper towers.

 

He didn’t have much on Forthwith, and what he did have was incredibly dull. Perfect Christian, at least according to what he had seen. Didn’t really matter to him anymore, perhaps McLeod would have better luck with it, the ball was in his court now, wasn’t it?

 

After a quick check of the file’s contents, Croggley walked to the front doors of the church and stepped outside. To the left of the doors, reading the bulletin board in the way that people who are killing time often do, stood Doctor Interest. She looked up from the assorted notices and smiled at him.

 

‘Every time. Can’t you just hand this stuff over right away instead of making us wait?’ she asked.

 

‘Well I certainly could, but the life of a priest is very dull and I need some way of brightening up my day.’ Croggley replied.

 

She laughed but it was more than a little forced. He held out the file for her and she snatched it up and tucked it under her arm. Then, in a movement that was almost a little too violent, she ripped a bulletin off the board and tucked it into one of her pockets.

 

‘Do you ever vet these things?’

 

‘Not if I can help it, that would require reading them.’

 

She frowned and stormed off, leaving a grinning Croggley to examine exactly what she had torn from the bulletin board. He couldn’t figure out what was missing, but that may have been due to the fact that the last time he had never looked at it before. In fact, he honestly couldn’t remember having even noticed the board before in passing.

 

*

 

Hubris McLeod sat in his car and watched the exchange between Steinfast and Interest with, well, interest. He always sent her to wait for Steinfast’s files rather than do so himself. It just seemed like the right thing to do, Steinfast wasn’t going to talk to him but giving files to someone who worked for him was a completely different matter to anyone who might be watching.

 

Hubris didn’t quite understand how the Reverend’s mind worked, but he did know that a lot of what he did was based on image. If something was important it had to be seen to be important, which usually meant messing people and making them sweat for it. Thankfully he had been kind enough to reign that in a little in his dealings with the police.

 

He still wasn’t sure why he was even working with the police, he’d never really liked them. Sure, they did their job pretty well but they were always a little bit sneaky about it. Their uniform was looking more and more like riot gear, and they were now pretty well armed. The only department that weren’t armed as a matter of protocol was his own, which was probably a good thing.

 

His phone buzzed away in his pocket and he pulled it out to see that he had received a text message. He pushed a button to read it just as Doctor Interest opened the passenger side door. He clicked the message away unread and put the phone back into his pocket.

 

‘So, did you get anything helpful from the kind clergyman?’

 

‘I don’t know. The file seems thinner than the others, maybe he’s getting soft in his old age.’

 

‘That’s always a possibility I suppose. Still, any information is better than nothing, right?’

 

‘Even information that comes from a weird old priest?’

 

Especially information that comes from a weird old priest.’

 

Hubris smiled and Doctor Interest sighed. She was a good doctor but only an average detective. She was too ready to disregard the information of someone who appeared untrustworthy, a habit that good detectives have to train themselves to avoid.

 

A great deal of what an untrustworthy person says will, invariably, turn out to be rubbish but in some of their ilk you’ll get the ones that have a brain, like the Reverend. These people know that lying to the police is something that will eventually come back to haunt them, so they are compelled to slip some truth into their testimony from time to time. Of course, they don’t want to actually help the police so they play upon their image, disguising the truth within the lies in the hope that the detective will fail to detect.

 

Knowing when someone was doing this, and when they were just idly bullshitting, was something Hubris had perfected, and it distressed him to see how few other detectives had done the same.

 

His phone buzzed again but he ignored it, taking the file from Doctor Interest and scanning the contents. There wasn’t much of any use, and certainly not anything that jumped out as an answer to the case, but there was one nugget of information that leapt out at him.

 

‘Doctor, what do you make of this?’ he said, directing Doctor Interest to a specific line on one of the pages.

 

‘We’ve seen that before, haven’t we?’

 

‘I think so. It’s the only lead we’ve got so far, might as well give it a shot, eh?’

 

She smiled, the first proper smile of the day. That was always a good sign, it meant he was doing something right.

 

*

 

Knock, knock, knock.

 

Brian owned a small bookshop hidden down one of the city’s many alleys. His usual clientelle were the sort of people who enjoyed the smell of books rather than actually reading them, and as such had little in the way of profits. What he was not accustomed to, however, was someone knocking on his door on a Sunday.

 

Knock, knock, knock.

 

He staggered down the stairs, doing his best to hide his anger behind a facade of shopkeepery mildness. It wasn’t working too well, and he childishly knocked over a pile of books as he traversed his crowded shop, then groaned as he realised he would have to pick them up. He reached the door and put his eye to the spyhole.

 

Knock, knock, knock.

 

The problem with having your shop situated in an alley was that light was notoriously flaky in such locales. Despite it being a rather sunny day in the real world, alley world only managed to muster a general gloom. As a result, through the spyhole Brian could see someone was there but ultimately failed to see any more important features.

 

Knock, knock, knock.

 

‘Who is it?’ Brian asked.

 

‘Brian Saxony?’ said a voice from the other side of the door. It had the gravelly quality present when someone is affecting a voice quite a bit deeper than their natural one.

 

‘Yes, but who are you?’

 

‘Courier. I have a package for you.’

 

Brian considered this for a moment. He had been expecting a package, that was true, but he certainly had not expected it to arrive on a Sunday. Clearly he had opted for an excellent courier this time, he would have to remember them for further use. He reached up and unbolted the door, removed the chain and opened the door.

 

The man on the other side was indeed holding a package, but he didn’t look like a courier. He was wearing a trench coat for a start, which didn’t strike Brian as the typical dress for a courier. The man was smiling quite pleasantly.

 

‘Well, that was easy.’ the man said, the fake deepness gone from his voice now.

 

The man moved faster than Brian could ever have expected. He swung the package like a club, driving into the side of Brian’s head. It felt like a brick or something equally as hard, and did a fine job of knocking Brian to the ground.

 

As he lay there he could feel the blood start to drip down him head. He couldn’t really see, thanks to the blow sending his eyes out of focus, but he could feel it when the man loomed over him.

 

‘Just a few questions, sir.’ the man said. ‘I want you to tell me all about your time at that special school in the mountains.’

 

‘What school? I don’t know –’

 

Don’t lie to me, sir. I know when you are lying, every single little lie.’ The man spoke with the carefully designed calm of someone who didn’t really see what all the fuss was about, even when it was about him.

 

‘I don’t know what you mean! I’ve never been to the mountains!’

 

‘Hmm. Then I think we may have a little problem here.’

 

*

 

Doctor Interest enjoyed watching Hubris on the telephone. There was something about the way he used his voice that she found extremely interesting. He didn’t change his tone at all, the perfect telephone voice, but would occasionally change the gap between words. There would be times when he would lengthen the pause to put a specific emphasis on something, or shorten it so as to bombard whoever he was talking to with information. It was subtle and very sneaky, and only something you could fully appreciate if you were removed from the conversation.

 

Hubris was currently in a pleasant (and normally spaced) conversation with the headmaster of a private school somewhere in French Alps. He had been trying to get information about the murder victims, as it seemed that all of them had at one time attended the school. Doctor Interest, however, was paying very little attention.

 

She’d been quite lucky really. Most doctors, when they joined the Suicide Detectives, were given one of the more hopeless cases, but she’d gone straight to the top. She had intended to work her way to the top, albeit using more sex than was usual to accelerate her progression, but thankfully that had been unnecessary. She was a good girl at heart, but didn’t see why she couldn’t exploit her assets every now and then. After all, what else were they for?

 

Hubris slipped the first elongated pause into the conversation as Doctor Interest reclined in her seat. As much as she liked watching him, she was bored. She may have the most pleasant partner in the department, but he was also the least exciting to work with. At least with the crazies you got the chance to do some actual medicine, but Hubris didn’t seem to care much for the ‘craft’.

 

The last time he had actually used the ‘craft’ he was so careful that he didn’t even need her help. He’d used a safety razor, which had irked her to end. Safety razors, in the police sense, were carefully designed devices that an officer would place over their wrists. Inside rested a blade that would cut the arteries, and a funnel that would capture the blood. When it detected that a certain amount of blood had spewed forth the device would automatically staunch the bleeding. It was a device that annoyed the doctors to no end.

 

Doctor Interest was getting a pretty decent wage working for the police, but where was the excitement? Her colleagues had their partners bleeding all over the place, but hers didn’t even cut himself shaving.

 

Hubris was in the final stages of his conversation, she recognised the sentence structure. It had taken him a lot longer than it usually did, which was strange, but he seemed happy enough as he hung up the phone.

 

‘What an interesting fellow.’ he said.

 

‘What did he say?’

 

‘Nothing, really. Wouldn’t give me anything about his former students or any real details about the school.’

 

‘So why do you look so happy?’

 

‘You mean, despite working up a massive and completely justifiable phone bill for the station? I like it when people are all cagey and secretive, it tends to mean we’re on the right track.’

 

‘Seriously?’

 

‘Sure! Only guilty people use language as rigidly as that guy.’

 

‘Rigidly? What do you mean?’

 

‘He was very… precise with his answers. He didn’t lie to me at all, but didn’t go out of his way to volunteer any information. If I had known the right questions, though…’

 

Hubris smiled and spread his hands in a sort of ‘c’est la vie’ pose. He enjoyed his job too much, Doctor Interest decided. Then again, it was all he had in his life so he probably had no choice but to enjoy it. As far as she was aware he was quite isolated socially.

 

A phone rang on Hubris’s desk. He had three telephones: one for case specific calls, one for general use, and one for communicating with the department lawyers. In this situation it was the case phone that was ringing. Hubris scooped up the receiver, had a brief conversation, then hung up.

 

‘Yet another murder, Doctor. A bookshop off Dawlington Avenue, the owner had his head smashed in with a brick.’

 

‘Ouch.’

 

‘Very much so. You want to drive?’

 

He tossed his keys off of his desk in one smooth motion, and she caught them. If this was his way of giving her something to do, she thought, then she would be far more grateful if he would just do something productive for once. As much as she enjoyed driving his car she would rather be stitching a wound.

 

It wasn’t a long drive to the crime scene, and they spent most of the journey in silence. Hubris was thinking, she could tell. He was dead to the world. To a casual observer he would have been staring out the window, but his eyes weren’t seeing anything. At the beginning she would have tried to strike up a conversation at times like this, hoping to fill the silence, but not any more.

 

Hubris would often talk to himself when he was thinking. His lips would move, as would his hands, but he would never actually make a noise. It was like watching half a conversation through a double glazed window. His epiphanies were the worst part, that would be when he would get particularly animated a finally shout something. After twenty minutes of perfect silence that would be damn near enough to cause a heart attack.

 

She was spared a coronary event today, and they pulled up to the alley that led off of Dawlington Avenue. She went to get out the car but Hubris grabbed her arm.

 

‘I don’t like this.’ he said.

 

‘Well it is a murder, H. I’d be worried if you did.’

 

‘It’s not that. Well, it is that, but it’s also something else. This guy went to that school too.’

 

‘Another one?’

 

‘All of them had been there, Doctor. None of them in the same year though. The headmaster may not have been forthcoming with information, but at least the background checks can get us that information. This victim is the most recent graduate of the school, but they don’t seem to be dying in any pattern.’

 

‘Are you sure this school thing isn’t just a red herring though?’

 

‘It’s just too much of a coincidence for that to be the case. I don’t know, I think I may need to use the “craft” here.’

 

Something inside her jumped for joy before being stifled by something else. Had she really just celebrated the fact that someone was about to seriously injure themselves? Probably. She checked her equipment bag, it had been so long since she had used it that it was worth a quick once over.

 

‘Ok.’ she said, trying to limit her words to hide her excitement.

 

‘Well, let’s see how it pans out first, ok?’

 

He opened the car door and stepped out into the street and she followed. Ordinarily it was one of the busier streets in the city, but today it was almost lifeless. Granted, the shops were all closed today, but that didn’t quite sit right.

 

It was the knowledge of murder that did it. In most cities you’d get people clambering around to have a look at the body, but Humberside City folk were a little more savvy about it. They reasoned that, in the event of a murder, it would probably be best not to be seen anywhere near the body. It was a city of guilty people, and none of them wanted their guilt to be tied up in a murder enquiry.

 

The alley, however, was heaving with people. Police and forensic scientists were swarming up and down the cobbles in front of the book shop, and it took Hubris and Doctor Interest a little longer than was comfortable to push their way to the door.

 

Murder scenes tend to be a little like a macabre work of art. No matter where the body is, how much blood is present, or whatever state the room itself is in, the eye will always be drawn to the corpse. You can’t miss a body, which is quite ironic really as most of the people who die would have wished that someone had indeed done so.

 

Today’s corpse was of a man of indeterminate age, a little overweight and badly dressed. His age was only indeterminate because his face was more or less paste, having been smashed in by the bloodstained package that rested beside the puddle. There was a forensic scientist milling around by the body, snapping photos from a number of angles and laying down little plastic numbers. It was amazing how easily people could handle death if they thought scientifically.

 

Doctor Interest left Hubris to deal with the actual crime and scanned the room. She was trying to decide if she had shopped here before, but her memory wasn’t co-operating. Then she spotted the detective in charge of the scene and swore.

 

Maxwell Delorean was an outstanding cop. He wasn’t just good at his job, he was just good in general. He was highly decorated, a candidate for honours in the New Years List, had the highest case-to-arrest ratio in history, and was the poster boy for the police force. It was just a shame that this poster boy looked ugly as sin.

 

He was fat in an unusual way, as though the majority of his body had denied the fat entry visas, leaving it to collect exclusively around his waist. It looked like a wobbly pillow was shoved up his shirt, and the Doctor wondered exactly how his legs managed to support that weight being as they were nothing but sticks covered in flesh. She could never decide whether to recoil in horror or study him for science.

 

The big, pink head on top of the body turned to look at her and stretched itself into a wonky-toothed grin.

 

‘Hello Doctor!’ he shouted, cautiously stepping across the room towards her.

 

‘Hey, Max.’ she replied. ‘I thought you were off fieldwork for a bit? Some big committee down in the capitol or something.’

 

‘Oh, I was. I got called back for this case, but I don’t mind. Do you know how boring select committees are? It’s just hours upon hours of people in tweed pretending they know what’s going on.’

 

Doctor Interest laughed, she couldn’t help herself. This was the problem with Maxwell Delorean, he radiated an aura of charisma that was difficult to deal with. It was a sneak attack of charm that caught you completely unaware and could get you into serious trouble. The man was like James Bond trapped inside the body of Albert Steptoe.

 

Despite his looks, the man was quite popular with the ladies for his charismatic personality, and every meeting with him led to Doctor Interest having to fight against herself to not fall into the same trap. Thankfully, today’s conversation was helpfully interrupted by a shout from across the room.

 

Hubris was up to something. He was trying to examine the murder weapon despite the urgings of a member of the forensic team, the same one who had been taking photos. Maxwell Delorean flashed Doctor Interest an unattractive (yet strangely pleasant) grin and stormed off to deal with the situation.

 

Within ten seconds of Maxwell getting involved Hubris called for Doctor Interest. She walked over and, before she could say a word, the forensic team started to usher them towards the door.

 

‘What the hell did you do?’ she asked.

 

‘I was just trying to inspect the murder weapon.’ Hubris replied. ‘Apparently they’ve taken me off the case, the entire thing is in Delorean’s court now. We’re to go back to dealing with the less important murders.’

 

‘But we have leads! We could –’

 

Hubris was giving her a special ‘shut up’ glare. He had been forced to develop it as a way to get her to stop talking about celebrity gossip. Little did he know that she didn’t even like celebrity gossip anyway, and that most of the stories she was telling were made up purely to annoy him. Still, the stare was still useful in other situation.

 

He leant in close and whispered to her. ‘Get ready with your kit.’

 

Before she had time to fully assimilate his message, Doctor Interest was suddenly thrown to one side. She watched as, with a sudden terrifying speed, Hubris drew a surgical scalpel from his coat, deftly removed a guarding piece of plastic, and swiftly cut into his own wrists. The man was a master, and he had hit the floor within fifteen seconds, everyone around him staring in disbelief.

 

Everyone except Delorean, of course, who was barking orders at the dumbfounded scientists.

 

‘Stop him! Don’t let him see anything! Damnable Suicide Detectives! He’s getting blood everywhere!’

 

*

 

They say that running a city is pretty difficult, but ruling one is harder. For the Lord Mayor of Humberside his job had the added element of confusion, primarily because he wasn’t sure if he was running or ruling.

 

It was a very big city, quite possibly the largest in the country but no-one ever bothered to count the population, and the government tended to ignore it. Laws that were passed in the capitol still managed to make their way to Humberside, but only because the police force were paying attention, never as a result of the proper channels.

 

This had left the Lord Mayor in a peculiar position. Technically he had a boss that he was supposed to answer to, but he didn’t seem to care. The Lord Mayor had grown so intrigued by this situation that he tried issuing his own decrees, just to see if anyone was paying attention down in the Capitol. Apparently they weren’t, considering that his first decree banned elections within the confines of the city, but the citizens didn’t seem to notice that one either.

 

He was Lord Mayor for life right now, at least until the day that someone noticed what he was doing, and he had made a few other decrees since then that generally overwrote central government, it was fun.

 

The Lord Mayor had not begun to tap the levels of power that tend to drive someone insane, however. He was quite aware that he was not a king and most certainly did not expect any royal treatment. So it came as a surprise to him when a visitor had arrived at his office to announce his presence in the Mayor’s fine city.

 

The man had been waiting in the Mayor’s office as he came back from his daily squash match (which he always won by decree, of course). The man’s outfit caused the Mayor to stop in his tracks and stare open-mouthed at him for a number of seconds that went past the point of embarrassment for a (formerly) elected official.

 

The general theme of the outfit was crimson. There was a long cape that fell silkily over comfortable looking robes, and a hat which seemed designed to create an entirely non-threatening silhouette. The best thing about silhouettes, of course, was that they were black, whereas the non-threatening image would be instantly questioned if one could see just how crimson the outfit was. There was even the oddly fleeting glimpse of gunmetal from just inside the cape, seemingly attached to a rather bland belt for the outfit.

 

The Mayor made a judgement call, which was something he was beginning to become accustomed to. Clearly this man was not someone who you would like to annoy. Anyone who can dress in such outlandish garments without getting attacked on their way through the city clearly had something powerful on their side.

 

‘You would be the Lord Mayor, yes?’ said the man in a pleasant Irish tone.

 

‘Er… Oh! Yes, that’s me. Peter Secundus Hill, Lord Mayor of Humberside City. How can I help you, sir?’

 

The final word caused the man to twitch gently, as though it had caused him a brief moment of pain.

 

‘Please. It is I who should call you sir.’ he said at last, in a voice that was both neutral and commanding at the same time. A very difficult skill.

 

‘Oh. Yes, of course. Then perhaps I should call you by your name?’

 

‘That would be preferable, yes. I am Patrick Lillyhammer, Inquisitor General of the Sword of Faith. Please, call me Patrick, not Paddy. Never Paddy.’

 

The Mayor’s jaw dropped again, but his political skill managed to force him to reign it back in before he stepped into an embarrassing place again.

 

‘W…Well then, Patrick, how can I help you?’

 

‘Oh, I do not need any help.’

 

‘Then why are you here?’

 

‘I have business in your city.’

 

‘Right…’

 

The two men stared at each other for a moment before something visibly clicked inside Lillyhammer’s head.

 

‘Ah. I see people have become lax in their manners around these parts. It is general practice for a visitor to announce his presence to the ruling lord of an area. That is what I am here to do, to announce my presence in your fair city.’

 

‘Shouldn’t you be announcing that to the Prime Minister?’

 

‘Sir, the Prime Minister has no power here, as I think you are aware. Besides, I have certain… issues with the current Prime Minister that would be best left alone for now.’

 

‘I see. So, er, what’s the protocol here? What am I supposed to do in this situation?’

 

Lillyhammer sighed.

 

‘It’s quite simple. All you have to say is: I give you permission to explore my domain and provide you with the necessary leeway to complete your business unhindered. Then I will be on my way, and the next time you see me will be when I announce my departure.’

 

The Mayor seemed to mull this over.

 

‘And, for future reference of course, if I were to deny you permission you would have to leave?’

 

‘No. I would just continue about my business in a slightly less palatable way, sir.’ Lillyhammer said with a tone that become threatening as a result of the complete lack of threat within it.

 

‘Well that’s certainly cleared things up for me, Patrick. Er, I give you permission to explore my, er, domain and provide you with, er, the necessary leeway to complete your business, er, unhindered.’

 

‘Thank you, sir. Good day.’

 

Lillyhammer bowed slowly, keeping his eyes on the Mayor at all times, then stepped past him and out of the door. The Mayor stood in awe for a few moments before crossing to his desk and collapsing in his chair. Things were starting to get a little bit more involved than he was able to deal with.

 

He pressed a button on his desk and buzzed his secretary.

 

‘Sir?’ came a nasal voice from his intercom.

 

‘Can you find me someone who can fill me in on all the duties of a king? All the protocol and whatnot. Don’t want to look like a fool the next time an important dignitary comes calling.’

 

‘You, sir? Look like a fool? Preposterous!’ the nasal voice replied, deeply sarcastic. ‘I’ll send the intern to go snooping through the archives, there must be something useful in there.’

 

*

 

Everyone experienced death a little differently. The Suicide Detectives had kept a diary which detailed every single use of the craft in the early days, but had discontinued the practise when some of the stories had read just a little bit too weird.

 

The majority of the stories seemed acceptable enough: tunnel of light, gates of heaven, sudden moment of clarity, that sort of thing. Then there were people like Hubris, people who didn’t seem to agree with the conventional image of dying.

 

For Hubris time slowed down as he started to fall. It never stopped, but it slowed to such depths that a single second stretched to an hour, all while he slowly tumbled to the ground. Everything went a little bit monochrome too, not the typical black and white but a sort of metaphysical situation where you realised that all colours were black and white anyway.

 

Then the proper weirdness would kick in. Hubris would take his time to survey the scene, taking in every bit of evidence he could. Then the ghosts would begin. It was his way of working through the evidence, super-fast deduction that could only be achieved through use of the craft. He was the master of it, and that was why he was the foremost detective in the department.

 

The ghosts would start as tiny wisps of smoke, curling up from the floor, before they would slowly begin to form the scene. In this case, the wisps solidified into the victim (prior to his horrible death) and another figure wearing a long coat. The ghosts could never plug all the gaps, only those that could be subconsciously gleaned from the environment, so Hubris found himself wondering exactly what had led him to the idea of a long coat.

 

The man in the coat began to move towards the victim, grabbing him firmly by the throat. The victim didn’t struggle, he just stood there as the other man drew back his free hand. More smoke fluttered through the man, ending its journey in the free hand and forming the shape of the package. Then the man struck, hard and fast, driving the package into the victim’s face. Hubris’s mind filled in the gaps this time, replaying the sound of cracking bone and blood spatter from somewhere deep in his past. The victim fell to the ground and the man in the coat stooped over him to deliver yet more blows.

 

Hubris had seen a lot of murders and always expected that one day he would find one that would be too vicious for him to watch. None had come even marginally close. Even this one. He watched with clinically curiosity as the man in the coat crushed the victim’s head into a fine paste, finally dropped the package, and left the scene. After a few seconds both men dissolved back into the smoke. The package remained for a brief moment more, then vanished too.

 

There was a noise behind him and Hubris turned. It was difficult to turn whilst falling, but Hubris had managed to perfect this skill over time. There was someone there, not a ghost like the others, and certainly not made of the smoke. She was a young girl, then an old man, then a teenage boy, then a baby, then a middle-aged woman. The visage was in a constant flux, and so was its voice.

 

‘Been a while, Hubris. What can I help you with today?’ it asked politely in four distinct voices.

 

‘Hello Dee, I need some of your insight on this case. What you got?’

 

The face of a ten year old asian boy smiled at Hubris.

 

‘There’s plenty of interest in this scene, Hubris. Perhaps you should narrow it down?’

 

‘I need a lead, something about the murderer that I can track. I need to know where to look next.’

 

An old black woman’s brow frowned at him.

 

‘Difficult. He didn’t leave much evidence for that sort of thing. There’s the package of course, have you tried that?’

 

‘Surely that’s just a brick, wrapped up to lull him into opening the door?’

 

‘If that is the case then you may as well leave it to the forensic guys to deal with, yes? But, of course, if it is something more important you may just find a lead. No promises of course.’

 

Now it was Hubris’s turn to frown.

 

‘You do realise that jumping the queue here will mean I can’t use the package as evidence? It’s a big gamble that might not pay off.’

 

‘Of course I am aware of that, I do live inside your mind after all, most of the time. You need to ask yourself whether the risk outweighs the potential gain. He’s racking up the kills, Hubris. Do you have time to waste on procedure?’

 

A rather attractive girl with pink hair and too much make-up was beaming at him now, conjuring up very painful memories.

 

‘Is there anything else you can tell me?’ Hubris managed to ask.

 

‘Not at this juncture. Perhaps if I had seen some of the other scenes myself I could have been a little more help.’

 

The figure seemed to be homing in on the image of the girl and had managed to stay in her form for longer than the others, using her voice exclusively.

 

‘But of course,’ it continued, ‘You don’t much like to use the craft nowadays do you? Just pop in whenever you need something, don’t you? Never a thought for how I feel. Well tough! I can’t help you with everything, I’m not omnipotent!’

 

‘Stop being her!’ Hubris shouted suddenly. ‘You know I don’t like it when you’re her!’

 

The figure blinked for a moment before snapping back into its familiar flux state. The faces it was jumping between all seemed apologetic.

 

‘Sorry, Hubris. I don’t mean to fixate on a single person, but you know I’m not in full control here.’

 

‘I know, I know. Look, can you just try not to be her? Please?’

 

‘I can try, but I don’t really have much say in how I look to you. You’re the one doing it, not me. I’m not really here, remember. I’m nothing more than a misfiring part of your brain, if you recall. Remember what the department shrink said, before you fired her of course.’

 

‘ “Personification of death is a very bad thing, especially when he doesn’t have a scythe or a cloak or anything else that fits the conventions. You start putting other people in your head and it can only end badly.” ‘ Hubris recited.

 

‘That was more or less what she said, yes.’ said the figure, shifting into a very old man.

 

‘But she was wrong, wasn’t she? You’re not Death, you’re just Dead.’

 

‘Loosely speaking, yes. Death is the cause, I’m the effect. More accurately, I’m your own little psychosis. You’ve come up with a pretty good way of dealing with me, all told.’

 

‘Thanks.’

 

Hubris was only mildly accepting of the idea that Dee (or Dead, to give it its proper name) was a psychosis. Certainly, people shouldn’t have company inside their own head, especially company that took on the form of corpses he had seen over the years, but he didn’t figure that psychoses would be big on conversation.

 

Dee had cropped up pretty early in Hubris’s use of the craft, being his private sounding board and direct line to his subconscious. Dee saw the things he didn’t, and would recount them with unerring accuracy. It was useful, but was also apparently an aberration.

 

The other detectives in the department didn’t have a Dee of their own and it freaked them out, and these were people that nearly killed themselves for a living. As far as they were concerned Hubris was getting a little too involved in his work if he was actually interacting with dead people. The worst part about this was that Hubris was more or less in agreement.

 

Hubris enjoyed his job. He liked catching criminals, he liked saving lives, he liked doing things that actually meant something. Unfortunately this also led to moments where he would start to doubt whether he was actually helping, or if he was looking for an ultimate form of escapism. Death is pretty much the limit when it comes to escaping, and Hubris was knocking on the door on a daily basis.

 

So he scaled it back, he tried to avoid his reliance on the craft as best he could. It was surprisingly difficult at first, like waking up one morning and finding your arms gone, but he fought through the discomfort. It wasn’t a long lasting discomfort, and it certainly didn’t tug on the obscure strings of his mind like the more common addictions did, but there was always the feeling of it. The brain has a natural way of dealing with failed suicides (or, in this case, successful half-suicides) and that is to create a feeling of immortality. It was this feeling that you could never really lose. It would fade a little and grow some cobwebs perhaps, but it would always be there.

 

Hubris sighed and turned his attention back to Dee. Self-reflection was bad enough when you were sober, but whilst entombed inside your own head it could do some serious damage. Assuming you survived the experience, of course.

 

Dee didn’t seem bothered by Hubris’s reflection, and was waiting patiently as a twenty-something girl in a soccer uniform. Hubris found himself trying to remember her name, and had to forcibly stop himself from tracking it down.

 

‘They’ll be waking you up soon, I imagine.’ Dee interrupted.

 

‘I hope so. I just hope the good doctor hasn’t gotten rusty. You were right, it has been a while since I used the craft.’

 

‘She’s bored, you know. I don’t see everything going on out there, but it’s pretty hard to miss that.’

 

‘She is?’

 

‘Yes! The other doctors get two or three patch-up jobs a day, Doctor Interest is lucky if she gets one a month. You’re treating her like a detective when she isn’t one.’

 

Hubris’s knee hit the floor. He had forgotten he was falling, it must have been a long time between uses of the craft if he had forgotten such a simple thing. The feeling of revival though, that was something he wasn’t likely to forget any time soon. There was a tug on his arm, roughly where he had cut it, and time began to speed up again.

 

Dee walked closer and gently grasped onto Hubris’s face. Dee was changing into the girl again, the one with the pink hair.

 

‘Don’t take her for granted, Hubris. People like her can be dangerous if they get too bored.’

 

Then time flashed back to normal with a noticeable glare. Dee disappeared, the monochrome effect vanished and the surroundings came back into focus. Hubris blinked and fell onto his back. He could feel a pressure on his wound and turned his head to investigate. There was a hand, which he followed to an arm, which he followed to a body, which he followed to a face.

 

‘I’ve still got it.’ said Doctor Interest triumphantly.

 

*

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One thought on “The Novel 2 that wasn’t.

  1. Dan says:

    Hi,

    found your twitter. Love the gaming/web/literary crossover stuff. I’m writing an interactive novel (The Man Who Painted Agnieszka’s Shoes) on Facebook about how images and ideas become iconic. Love to swap ideas.

    Facebook group is
    http://www.facebook.com/home.php#/group.php?gid=49068587189

    Cheers
    Dan

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