A Paper Tyrant

I done a short story, look!  Slowly working my way back into getting the brain cogs rolling, hopefully so I can actually finish a second novel.

This is quite a dark story, be warned.

———————————————————

It’s seeing them break that’s the fun part. Murder is a means to an end, and that end is the supplication of the target. Ending a life is quick, easy and boring, but ruining a life requires a delicate and precise touch. Too much pressure and the target will fight back, lock down and become unbreakable. Too little and you’re no more than a nuisance.

The man in the chair was teetering on a very literal knife point. He was closing in on the moment of truth, the point at which the artist becomes distinct from the amateur. Anyone can torture information out of someone, the liberal application of pain is a simple thing to do, but to truly get inside someone’s head is an art. You can’t teach the sort of skills you need, it’s all innate knowledge. Psychological training can help, or any sort of ‘science’ that deals with human interaction, but in the end it all comes down to God given talent.

Not to sound egotistical, but I am the Rembrandt of my field. Perhaps not the top of the tree (there is a man in the North who I reckon could hold that spot) but certainly close enough to brush the highest leaves. Take the man in the chair, for instance. Teddy Brunswick, P.I. Word on the street is that the real police have started roping in these whores of justice to do some of the more boring legwork, leaving the boys in blue to do the real detective work. Running files, taking statements, interviewing witnesses, that sort of thing. I didn’t realise they were so short of officers down at the station.

Of course, a man with such a pitiful job has nothing to fear from me, at least under normal conditions. I’m not a psychopath, I don’t go hunting dark alleys for meat to carve up. I deal with people who have the capacity to become loose ends, or people with the ability to track me down. A speculative killer. The bright, the brave, the unique all have reason to fear me, but a glorified receptionist in a trench coat can consider himself off the hook.

This is unless he starts showing initiative.

Common practice does not usually involve keeping track of every detective trying to bring me in, that would be tiring. In the early days, that may have been possible. Back then I was young and inconsequential, not even worthy of a throwaway column in a newspaper, and certainly not of a high enough rank to warrant a nickname. To be fair, my early killings were the scribblings of a child, certainly not something to be rewarded, so a small cadre of coppers, no more than four, was enough for me. But the more you kill, the larger the task force grows to bring you in. You get more lines in the press, more armchair psychologists trying to explain your motives, and more penniless private detectives thinking they can make their name by getting clever.

Teddy had been one such man. I had caught him breaking into one of my many flats, an act which in and of itself would have warranted some serious repercussions had he not flashed his badge at me. Members of the union get special badges rather than cards, probably to appeal to notions of importance and mystery that are fostered by all good noir films, but they don’t actually have any legal power. Not that it would have mattered if they did.

I subdued him and set to work.

I won’t go into detail on the physical aspects of the act. I understand that many people are of nervous dispositions, and the cut and thrust of it all might be a little too much for them. It is the mental aspect that I prefer in any case. When all the bones are broken, the flesh neatly sliced and perhaps and eye carefully attended to, you will still have someone ready to fight you. The human mind is designed to stand firm against physical pain, enough so that mind over matter is quite applicable. Take out the mind, however…

Teddy had been in the chair for upwards of seven hours, only two of which had been with me in the room. The remaining five had seen me mingle with the people outside, acquiring provisions and generally building up the appearance of a well-adjusted, normal, ignorant member of society. Teddy used this time to steel himself against the fear of a repeat of my earlier concerto of pain. I dare say that the image of myself, straight razor in gloved hand, striding through the door, would run around his battered little head for as long as I allowed.

Upon my return, the good eye lazily swivelled towards me in a groggy frown. I pulled up a chair and sat across from him, barely an inch between our faces.

‘Are you a policeman?’ I inquired.

‘What?’ he replied.

‘Are you a policeman?’ I repeated. ‘It’s a simple question. I’m quite sure I haven’t induced amnesia, that would require considerably more force that I applied.’

‘No…’

‘Yet you have a badge,’ which I deftly plucked from my coat pocket and waved in front of his face. ‘I assume you wanted me to at least believe you were a policeman, else why would you bring this little thing along with you?’

His eye dropped to the floor. I allowed him a moment of self-reflection, not too long, then slapped him hard across the face.

‘Answer my fucking question, Teddy,’ I said politely.

The eye flicked back up at me, much more awake than it had been before. ‘I’m a private detective.’

‘Oh I know that, Teddy. I’ve met a few of your kind, actually. Very few have flashed a badge at me, however. You’re in a minority of one there.’

‘I don’t… I…’

Confusion is not necessarily a helpful tactic, but it is fun. It spreads seeds of fear around the mind like a dandelion clock caught in a strong breeze. Tiny pellets of fear that you can nurture, grow them so that they crack the mind like a paving slab. Art should be fun.

‘You may not be a policeman, but you certainly want to be, don’t you? It’s why you have the badge, why you flashed it to me, why you were poking around my home without cause. You like the idea of being the hero, yes?’

He nodded slowly.

‘I’m glad you agree. I imagine you don’t often agree with people. You’re an arrogant shit, yes? You probably tell people that you were “too good” to be tied down with the rules and regulations that come with a real badge. An intellect as great as yours needs the freedom that comes with being your own boss, the lack of accountability that comes hand in hand with a lifetime behind a camera lens. The perfect job for a man whose criminal record precludes him from a position in the police force, I suppose.’

What remained of his eyebrows rose.

‘This is all supposition of course. I only know your name from your rather extravagant and garish business cards, after all. Still, if I had to guess, I’d say you are a pervert, a sexual delinquent. Perhaps even the sort of man who would take his telescopic lens up into a tree one evening, or to the skylight on his loft conversion, point it at a neighbours window. That about right?’

I had lit a fire behind his eye, which more or less validated my suspicions. The man was a pervert, a braggart, and generally a difficult man to be around. He had decided he was important, a delusion he clung to so strongly that no amount of evidence could tell persuade him otherwise. The self, above all else. Typical human being, a perfect example of the breed.

‘Fuck you!’ he screeched. ‘You don’t know me!’

‘Oh but I know exactly who you are,’ I said with a smile. ‘You’re a child with a plastic badge and a popgun playing policeman amongst the rapists and the murderers. A king of an insignificant kingdom, one with no subjects. A pile of meat and calcium with no purpose. A paper tyrant in a world of scissors.’

I leant in a little closer and attended to his other eye.

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