You recall that I hate beginnings?
Well, I suppose it's only fair to break that taboo and give you at least the background on the last four days of phantasmagoric fun. Much as it pains me to do so.
I'd been in Bucharest on business and only just got back. It was overnight work, nothing interesting.
A local politician in Brasov (Dracula's home, no less) had escaped what his chagrined colleagues called 'justice' for a string of frauds involving various domestic businesses. One of them was a church. I found that amusing considering the diocese, among others was sanctioning the assassination.
The concensus among the political elite was that the gentleman should pay for his embarrassing indignity.
Which he did, receiving three bullets in his chest as he used the executive bathroom in the Russian consulate building; one for the lung (you don't want them screaming for help) and two for the heart. If he had one.
You may call that excessive overkill and I'll call you a bad judge of character. The crooked politician was at least two-hundred kilos of morbidly obese cellulose. I couldn't be certain that a standard slug would ******* the fat let alone the heart.
In these instances, it's always best to double-tap to ensure at least one of the rounds gets to its target. Fat people bleed quickly; high blood pressure does that but they don't die easily.
Prudence pays dividends.
As it was, I ended up spreading a good portion of his corrupted ticker all over the bathroom mirrors and pristine porcelain basins as he stooped to wash his face. But it costs little to be thorough. You don't want to be infiltrating hospitals and dodging the authorities to finish the job.
It was a textbook operation with hardly a snag unless you count the hat I ruined.
Fair enough, I'd only owned the panama a few hours before it got spattered in blood and bone fragments but I still planned on keeping it.
I'd grabbed it at the inbound airport on impulse after seeing it on a mannequin that looked like Ernest Hemingway. It was a ****** tourist gimmick but it was very finely stitched and had the traditional fawn cummerbund around its middle.
But you can't wear hats covered in human entrails. It's a general social rule although in Romania it may have gone unnoticed, judging by the Lovecraftian layout of the the town itself.
I placed that ruined hat on the the dead man's head as he slumped over the large washbasin, the porcelain plinth supporting his weight and making him look like a drunk. That sink was a miracle of engineering considering his obesity.
Say what's you want about the vampiric balkan land but they know how to build sinks.
I wonder how long it lasted before it gave out?
The flight back was uneventful although they did serve a nice tapioca pudding and cinnamon syrup, a rare treat (good aeroplane food) which made up for my lost panama, I suppose. The eggs and bacon was plastic and inedible, though.
You can't have everything.
The premises I rent in London is high-class low-key solitude. It's what you'd call urban urbane. My apartment is on the sixth floor, the highest level. I like it but often complain about the the lifts.
For two grand a month you expect working elevators.
I was glad to be be home and glad to see my cat. Whilst I'm away, an elderly neighbour (Mister Ncube) feeds him. I pay Mister N for his time and he gives it straight to the ex-servicemen's charity in Bermondsey. Which is nice.
If only everyone was as selfless as my Nigerian neighbour then I'd be happily out of a job.
Call it a righteous calling to offset grandiose corruption in our world. That pays well.
I'd make a good Knight Templar. If I believed in ***. That aside, I'm very noble and courteous.
I would say 'just ask my clients' but then I'd have to **** you.
Joking aside, my immediate problems began in the holiest place on earth. On the throne.
As I sat reading through the World Business news on a vastly oversized tabloid, going about my business discreetly and maturely I sensed something amiss.
Now, I'm not professing to be Spiderman but one develops certain instincts over time, call it a heightened sense of self-preservation. I knew someone was watching me, I could feel their eyes upon me like eager paws. I hoped it was my cat, Jesus but the coldness of my nape told me otherwise.
I'm a firm believer in routine and when I use toilets, I always sit. Even for standing-business, I prefer to sit. That way, I can see what might otherwise be behind me.
As bathrooms are a place of personal vulnerability, they are often the venues for assassination. Showers, toilets, basins, bathtubs... if you're caught short then it's likely involuntary redundancy from life.
I should know. So would a certain Romanian diplomat.
My home is my safe space. It's not my only property but the apartment in London is the cosiest. It's safe because I've made it safe. Not only is it armed with high-tech intrusion systems but it has a secure entry keycard system, bulletproof glass windows and contingency plans hidden in every room.
As I ruffled my newspaper and made heaving noises, I crouched over like a constipated man to conceal my right hand as I fumbled around the toilet rim for a firearm, gaffer-taped to the ceramic bowl.
Finding it, I gave a few more token grunts for posterity then sat bolt upright on the the toilet, dropping the paper and holding the gun firmly.
There was nobody there yet the feeling persisted. My eyes darted everywhere at once and my bowels felt suddenly looser than before. It was a bad time to want to ****.
I'd been sat for ten minutes with no movement whatsoever, reading through the flash business news with distracted irritation:
Bomb in Saudi Arabia, starvation in Yemen, coffee bean fracas in Colombia.
Often, after a shift working nights at the the laundry I suffer a bout of IBS which causes my mood to be as tightly wound as my cramped small intestine.
I find one of my first duties upon arriving home is to take a big dump. Or at least try to satisfy the cramping urge that devils me. Maybe it's just flights but I never suffer it on the inbound journey.
Just on the way home.
I don't use public facilities whilst working nights at that dark laundry. Even though I painstakingly remove all hair from my body there is twice as much chance of dead skin cells or other profiling evidence being left.
In case you're wondering, I use a lining pencil to sculpt my missing brows. It sits on a layer of organic foundation. I hate animal testing. It's inhumane. All my makeup is animal-friendly.
Just like me.
But as I began filling the toilet bowl in constricted trumpeting blasts I couldn't shake the feeling of unknown eyes boring into me from an elusive angle.
"Jesus!" I cried as a wrenching twist of colon twanged inside like an overplucked violin string. It thrummed pain through my entire midsection and the groans this time were genuine.
I felt sick and weak, vulnerable as **** even with a pistol in my shivering hand. I needed to see the doctor about this digestive defilement of dignity. If there was someone hiding in my bathroom then I'd be royally ******.
I couldn't afford ill health in my profession.
"Jeeez-uz!" I moaned from between ground teeth, another wave of griping guts overwhelming my instincts; my fillings pinging with pain as they connected and chafed.
The bathroom door opened surreptitiously and I turned (far too slowly) to ready myself for insurgency.
My cat poked it's piebald head through the aperture and stared at me, unblinking. A wave of disconnection struck me, like I was the star of a surreal comedy. I felt something in my mind loosen and shift, like a mooring rope subtly untethered.
"You ******* answer to that but you ignore your name?!" I said angrily to the cat.
Zeus suddenly drew back his petite snout and hissed at me, his eyes dilating to saucers. I saw his fur visibly stiffen and frowned in irritation.
I pointed the pistol at him and was about to go do an impersonation of Clint Eastwood when I noticed he didn't react to my movement.
My bowels gave a warning squeeze and I knew at once that the cat was distracted by something behind me.
Zeus made a low growling sound in his throat and edged into the room. That told me that the object of his wariness was not coming out any closer. Either it was static or moving away.
"Come on then, you furry ******!" I said boldly, humouring the pretence of distraction. My senses now had sharpened as adrenaline and cortisol flooded my body. The pain became a needling awareness, secondary to the immediacy of danger.
"You know, I feed you, I bathe you, I pet you and this is what I get in return?" I said with a cynical snort of laughter.
I counted my syllabic peals of laughter and on the fifth I turned quickly and fell off the toilet, my mind now in automatic survivalist mode, the pistol seeking a target.
As I hit the tiles with a slap, I saw a blurred form standing in my shower cubicle. I never closed the curtain and neither had the intruder.
If he had, he'd have been dead within the first seconds of me entering the room. I'd have noticed the irregularity immediately.
As it was, he seemed to have a suicidally large set of ***** and didn't move as I fired three rounds into him.
By the time I'd crashed to earth and resumed a defensive posture, I could see the damage caused by the gunshots.
The only problem was, I could see the damage through the body of the man still standing in my shower. Broken ceramic splinters and bits of plaster hung out from behind him and a mound had settled at his feet.
As I knelt and stared at the man, jaw agape and poised with the pistol a piece of tile fell into the shower with a ***** and caused me to fire again. The tiles behind the man's head burst into shards and a puff of dust blew outward like its terminal breath.
The cat had gone, fleeing at the point I fell off the throne and deafened it with the three loud reports from an unsuppressed pistol. I couldn't care less.
I stood up on legs that didn't feel entirely my own, gawping at the intruder who remained motionless. His face was set and somehow familiar. He wore outdated clothes that looked like they'd been hijacked from a charity-shop mannequin. Around his waist was a camera. An old one with a boxy nineteen-eighties aspect to it.
"Who the **** are you and why won't you die?" I demanded, leveling the pointless pistol at the man. My trousers still around my ankles restricted me from moving and I stooped hesitantly and clumsily to remove them, never looking away for a second. My bowels gave a gurgling groan of protest but it was background noise compared to the urgency of my situation.
As I pulled off the trousers I staggered sideways and the man's eyes followed me on my bungling journey like one of those ******* haunted paintings. This macabre development threw my mind into further turmoil and I careered into my washbasin, knocking off the items on the shelf above it.
My liquid soap dispenser cracked into two halves, bleeding pink soap onto the clean floor tiles.
My toothbrush bounced awkwardly and landed in the the toilet with a dismal plop.
"For ****'s sakes!" I cried, tearing off my trousers and underwear and throwing them at the stranger. The indignity of the toothbrush landing in my own **** was a fitting metaphor for my situation. It was a step too far. Now I was upset.
I watched in utter bewilderment as the hurled clothes fell through the silent man and joined the debris on the floor.
Everything in terms of steamroller emotion stopped, like a switch had been thrown internally between rationale and lunacy.
For an unknown period of time, I stood with my limp **** hanging under my shirt and a pistol in my hand, staring at the the impossible thing before me.
My brain just couldn't seem to make any connections, not for want of trying. My head felt heavy, full of mad conjecture and emphasis on the 'mad'.
At one point I tentatively checked my heart was still beating, fearing I'd died on the toilet and was now a ******* spirit. The feeling of being a bit-player in a Dali themed comedy-noir was overpowering to the the extent I began chuckling to the myself, like ******* King Lear at the height of his insanity.
The whole thing seemed so ludicrous it couldn't possibly be happening. I wondered if I'd been drugged but despite the horror of that suggestion I still stood inert and semi-*****, wearing an idiot's grin and allowing my mind to to unwind into madness.
Something dropped like an old penny.
"It's a trick. A projection. That's it!" I said triumphantly, jerking out of my stasis in bipolar excitement. I was almost dancing a jig in glee as I searched the bathroom like a man possessed, flinging things everywhere in a quest to locate a transmitter, some kind of projector lens.
The unsettling movement of the stranger as he turned his head to follow my progress only made me more determined to find this hi-tech device. It was remarkable. The clarity of projection was nothing short of a work of art. No flickering, no deviation of pixels, it was flawless.
The notion that I was actually mentally ill kept jostling for attention but I pushed it away. I didn't feel mad but then again, that's the delusion of it.
One doesn't feel mad at all. So I've heard.
You are mental, urged an internal voice as I tossed razor blades out of a mirrored cabinet and scrutinised it.
That man is a ghost fabricated by your broken mind. Three decades of killing is bound to do some damage. Did you think yourself immune to it?
"Shut up, traitor!" I growled to my conscience, yanking bath towels out of a cupboard and climbing into it for closer examination. It was empty of all but cobwebs.
As I got more frantic, so did my determination to thus prove the mirage was exactly that; a holographic image. I refused to accept that I was crazy.
I kept snatching glances at the man, wanting to approach him but not daring to take the chance. It might just feed the delusion more by trying to make contact. The best thing was to find the projector, I thought.
The only projector is the one in your head, whispered my mind in a voice that I couldn't place. Certainly not my own.
"*******! I'll find it and I'll ******* find whoever put it there." I said sharply, reflecting on that my apartment was sixty feet off the ground on a sheer vertical plane. There were no pipes nor balconies to use as climbing aids.
"I'm not ******* crazy!" I shouted defiantly, now stood on the wash-basket and feeling a round the ceiling coving for signs of tampering.
"Besides, if I'm crazy then so is the ******* cat!" I added, recalling that Jesus had been the first to see the intruder.
I doubted that human hallucinations were virally transmitted to felines. Yes, the cat was the only one who understood me but that didn't mean he shared my mental instability. He's a ******* cat, not Woody Allen.
I felt empowered by the logic but cold paranoia kept me simmering on amber alert. At least the pain in my bowels was gone, superceded now by the the aching pain in my hip from leaping off the toilet. Not to mention the tension in my overwrought mind.
I cast a look at the apparition in the shower, noted the intensity of the stare as his head tilted slightly up to watch me. It made me shiver to the point I simply had to climb down and approach the the ghastly thing.
I knew entertaining the delusion would only feed it but I wanted to poke it or somehow test its consistency.
I don't know why; I knew it would offer no resistance. It simply had to be a projection but how my mind could produce a masterpiece such as this just wouldn't compute.
It was a work of untold skill, a living embodiment of....
I stood a few feet from the the thing, squinting at its face and cocking my head as if this would somehow help me bust the myth like Kate Bush, busting those proverbial clouds.
I'd gone past the point of rationality and the more I looked into those dark unblinking eyes, the more I felt that I knew this man.
We were not strangers, I was certain.
Whoever had planted the holographic device that I couldn't find was likely playing mind-games, trying to psychologically subdue me before they struck. It could mean they were nearby.
I gripped my pistol tighter and circled the apparition in my shower, getting within inches yet not touching its form, lest it left a residual curse upon me. I mentally chastised myself for being so superstitious but I had to admit, it wasn't everyday you found an immortal in your bathroom.
Those ghastly eyes followed me as I stalked around my guest, peering at the the three dimensional detail in his face and clothing.
Underneath a faded demim gilet (festooned with pacifist badges) he wore a t-shirt with a logo that I recognised. I felt a shiver of remembrance seeing that iconic writing, that single word: fame.
"I wanna live forever..." I mumbled, stepping away from the visitor, my thoughts suffused with nostalgic flashbacks, back to my youth in corrupt Michoacán poverty.
I don't like beginnings. I don't like to be reminded of them. This man was an omen, I saw it for what it was and knew I was in trouble.
Of some description.
His eyes where making me feel nauseous, the sheer power of his gaze gave animus to the still-life body, imbuing it with a foreboding aspect. I felt he might lunge for me at any moment.
I could feel myself wanting to scream and thrash about in a primal release of stress. I wanted to destroy the ******* room and everything in it just to make this sensation go away.
Nothing made sense any more. I truly was the fool in a Faustian play.
This man had been almost thirty years in his grave, shot at point-blank range out of the window of a careering Austin Montego with no power-steering.
A child had pulled the trigger once on a rusted Colt and broken the window of the car during the vicious recoil.
The man, a reporter for a national newspaper had suffered a chest wound and died three days later in hospital of a lung infection.
The newspaper launched a legal case for medical negligence.
The child had been chastised by his uncle for incompetence.
"My ***...." I said in incredulity, the words dripping out of my mouth like thick syrup. I no longer felt the frozen touch of paranoia, it had been replaced by a constricting sense of catharsis that made it hard to breathe.
"This cannot be happening." I said, my eyes looking into the man's burning stare but seeing through that and beyond, into the past when life and death were so finely married that they could barely be discerned.
I'd forgotten about everything; about the cat, about the toothbrush and the insidious 'them' lurking unseen with holographic projectors.
This was something on a totally different tier of comprehension and my head was struggling with that understanding.
The question persisted: why was this dead man standing in my shower?
As if in reply to this enigma, a barrage of blows on my front door ****** me into animation.
"Metropolitan Police. Can you please open the door, sir?" Said a an assertive male voice.
My mouth turned down in a comic expression of distraught bemusement and my guts, previously stable now rumbled in disapproval.
Someone has called the Old Bill after hearing the shots. I'd been too wrapped up with the spectacle on the front of me to consider that eventuality.
"Oh ****!" I whispered as I looked about wildly, spotted my bathrobe tossed into my roll-top tub and hurriedly threw it on.
If they searched the apartment and found bullet holes in my walls along with a gun and a ghost, I was going to need more than a lawyer. I'd need a ******* miracle.
I panicked with the the pistol and eventually slung it into the dark toilet gravy to join my toothbrush and last night's meal.
I cast a lingering look at the the corpse of Jorge Mellajo, camera still strapped across his chest as he was back in 1984.
He'd been the second person I'd killed during my fourteen years on the cursed earth. My father had been the first. Since that day, the blood I spilled might fill a swimming pool.
"Sir, I need you to open up, please." Repeated the voice of atonement at my front door. A few stern raps backed up the request and I took in deep breaths to calm my nerves.
I'm a sudden rush of determination to look 'normal' I dashed to the basin and ran the cold tap, dousing my face and soaking my head. I have no hair to wash but it's important to exfoliate often.
Turning off the tap and still dripping, I left the bathroom and it's accompanying revenant behind, giving him one last wary glance.
There was nothing I could do about it; he would have to stay there. I couldn't move him as he had no **** substance. But if the cat and I could see him then so would the police.
"They'll probably get more out of him than me." I mumbled, my head feeling as if I'd taken a cocktail of mood-altering drugs.
On impulse, I dragged myself back into the bathroom and pulled the curtain around the lively corpse. I caught a final glare of hatred in his dark-tinged eyes before I tore the curtain across its rail, separating us with floral paisley patterns.
My mouth went unnaturally dry as I realised I could still see his shadows through the curtain. Holograms don't generally have that property, my treacherous conscience pointed out.
"Thanks for that." I hissed, rubbing my aching head and lurching away quickly.
I closed the door behind me without looking back but the image of the shadow behind the curtain was now burned into my memory.
I staggered across the hallway to my front door as another fusilade of knocking began, now worrying that I'd have to **** the police and leave my home forever.
And my cat.
I had nothing to say, no alibi explaining the gunshots, no contingency in place but then again, I'd not expected company this evening.
My nerves, already a jangling mass of gummy-worms renewed their writhing and jittering. I'd just have to wing-it and hope my charisma put them off.
"Alright, alright for Pete's sakes. I'm coming. " I shouted with what I hoped was subtle irritation. Being annoyed with the Police was not the trait of a guilty man.
Inside, my guts were a boiling stew of anxiety.
"Lord, if you're listening..." I murmured to a *** I never acknowledged as I opened the locks and chains securing my heavy door.
Probably best to read the prologue and chapter one first lol.