“We shouldn’t be here, blood. I’ve heard stories about this bird. She’s proper whack. All mixed up in some serious, offside ju-ju. You know what I’m saying?”
I knew what Off-Kilter Kris was saying. I knew all to well. The rain was coming down in fine sheets, it made the world hiss; a teasing white-noise that filled your brain and washed all other sound awful. Well, almost all other sound. The needle sharp, keening of a nervous Yardie cut through everything, the hiss, the still night air, my patience.
“I thought I made myself clear? I’m doing this. You don’t have a say in the matter.”
Off-Kilter Kris hissed through his teeth. “I’m warning you, blood, no good is gonna come of this.”
I snapped round and slammed the Yardie into a wall, forcing my forearm under his chin, right up against a quivering trachea.
“I don’t have the time, or the patience, for your quaint superstitious terror. If you so much as think about waning me off again, I will take you down to the Warrens myself, and I will leave you there. All alone with the rats and the white eyed Trogs. Do you understand?”
“Right, right.” He coughed, I eased the pressure on his throat. “You’s the boss Mister Kelden. I said my piece, it’s all on your head now, you get me?”
“I bloody well ‘get you’ you spineless toady. Now move!” I hissed in reply.
The two of us wound through the dark and grimy bowels of the Nuevo Expanse, row after row of crumbling tenements, smashed or boarded windows and over flowing storm drains. It had been a long, long time since this place had been even remotely ‘Nuevo.’
The Yardie eventually led me to the mouth of a cul-de-sac fringed with the dead, skeletal husks of old government housing blocks.
“This is as far as I go Mister Boss-Man. Ain’t enough money in all of Old London Town to get me to walk down that street, you get me?” said the Yardie, nervously shifting his weight and glancing about the night shrouded streets. “She be in the end block, top floor. You can’t miss it.” He added. His nervous silence was thick in the air, eventually he broke it, clearly uncomfortable remaining at the head of the cul-de-sac. “We square now, yeah?”
“For now…” I replied “Now get your sorry hide out of my sight.” Without further encouragement Off-Kilter Kris bolted off into the night, running like all of hell was snapping at his heels.
None of the street lamps here worked, they’d all long ago been smashed, shattered, stolen or knocked over. The only light was that of a wan and sickly strip at the far end of the street, high up in the blackness. It beckoned to me. That light in the dark drew me towards it like a moth to a flame.
The entrance to the tenement lacked a door, it was just an empty frame, half swallowed by a drift of old under-city news-sheets and crushed cans of pep milk or buzz juice. The entry hall was a featureless womb of inky nothingness, I couldn’t see a damn thing and my nose was swamped by the overwhelming wet, bitterness of mildew and rot that hung in the air. I fished my small hand-lamp out of my pocket and began to climb stairs slick with unidentifiable decomposed mulch. As I climbed the smell of decay began to be replaced by the rich and heady scent of joss. At the very top of the stairs a faint light spilled out from beneath a battered and flaking door. Switching off my hand lamp I knocked. Shortly after my knock the door was opened and light flooded out into the landing, sending unnamed things skittering into whatever dark recesses they could find.
The door was answer by a young lady with deathly pale skin. I assumed she was the fabled mystic I was looking for. She rested her shoulder against the door frame, starring at me with empty and distant eyes. Her hair was short and shaggy, badly coloured with fading dye. The only clothes she wore were a drab and wrinkled green vest and a pair of woolly pink socks that reached to her thighs; she was completely naked about the waist, I averted my eyes with embarrassment. She just kept standing in the doorway, not giving a damn. Pushing herself off the doorframe she turned and sashayed, buttocks wiggling, back into her squat, not saying a word. She hadn’t bothered to close the door, so I assumed she was inviting me in. I followed.
The small flat was a surprisingly neat, although it had the same run down and worn out look of the rest of this blighted area, it lacked any of the more pungent signs of decay. As opposed to the rest of the building this room was just old, not dead. The strange woman who had answered the door had slumped into a chair upholstered in a faded, burnt orange. It was a voluminous thing, almost perfectly designed to wallow in. Dragging an old stool from the side of the small sitting room I found myself in, I sat down opposite her. She gazed at the ceiling, oblivious to everything and anything around her. I coughed to try and attract her attention, her eyes rolled slowly down from the ceiling towards me. They didn’t look at me though, they looked through me. Having gotten something approximating to her attention I launched into the reason I had come here.
“I’m sure, like me, you’re well aware of the nature of people. How, in even the best of us, there’s something dark lurking inside us, a small rotten chancre, a black spot; the bit where all of our malice and hate is locked away, the place we try each and every day to pretend just isn’t there; the heart of darkness and the doorway to hell. A hole to the realm where all the secret evils of man are swimming around in a big soup of sin”
She sat impassively, her arms sprawled over the shoulders of her saggy chair. Her only response was to sniff loudly through her nose, as if to say without words ‘yeah, so?’
“I’ve found myself in a difficult situation. I need answers, but I just can’t find them. That’s why I’m here.”
Her eyes seemed distant, glazed over with disinterest, for all she cared I may as well not even have been there, none of this really concerned or affected her.
“I’ve got fifteen bodies in the morgue. There’s a serial killer out there and I want to know who it is. I want you to…” I paused, nervous about my request and that perhaps she’d just laugh at me, or dismiss me out of hand. I couldn’t afford that. I was too desperate for that. I tried to swallow, but found my mouth and throat painfully dry. “I want you to touch the black. Go fishing in that nightmare realm for the answers I need.”
This elicited a raised eye brow from the shabby lady I’d sought out as the answer to my woes. The seconds she spent pondering my request stretched out like a yawning chasm that promised only the crushing fall of disappointment. Eventually she stood and disappeared into what I assumed was the kitchenette. So was that it? Had I come all this way only to be dismissed out of hand so quickly? But before I could rise from the stool she came swaggering back into the room holding a single cigarette with a bright green filter. Slumping back into her chair she produced a lighter from the folds of the cushion and lit it. With the strange cigarette pinched between her thin lips she pulled her legs up onto the edge of the chair, clasped her hands over her stomach and gazed at the ceiling once again. As the smoke curled from its lit end I noticed it didn’t look like normal cigarette smoke. It didn’t have that characteristic grey colour tinged with a washed out blue. It was a spiral of greens, blues, pinks and oranges, spreading out into the empty air like the flow of spilled paint. As it spread through the air it washed the away the colour of whites and creams and pastels, desaturating them into mottled, dull greys. Other colours it brought into stark and brilliant clarity. The faded dye in her hair burst into a vibrant teal, her vest and socks, even the fabric of her worn and battered chair flowered from their drab hues into shades of glorious and eye watering neons. As I was swept up in the breathtaking beauty of these riotous colours she chose to speak. Her voice was as rich and beautiful as the colours flowering before my eyes. A sinuous and languid chorus that filled the sense with spice and honey. It was like she was making love to my ears.
“I’ll get you your answers Mister Blue-coat. I’ll get you answers. And they will, blow; your; mind.”