Alpha Test; Title Pending.

Not sure if I’ve posted this before. Looking would take, you know, effort so sod that noise.

Usual alpha test disclaimer applies.

And, no, I really couldn’t think of a better picture.

My car ticked and pinged as it cooled, the engine mumbling itself to sleep. I caught my eyes in the mirror and noticed that I look just as tired and haggard as I felt. I hadn’t had time to put on makeup or put a brush through my hair. My mouth tasted of three-in-the-morning breath and still stung from the too hot coffee I managed to drink before leaving.

The road outside was dark and the October night made it cold as well. The only light came from the fading glow of my headlamps and the pub opposite me. I didn’t think places like this existed outside of films. Ranks of motorcycles stood outside like sleeping attack dogs and music that sounded like kitchenware being slammed together blared out into the night whenever someone opened the door.

There must be laws about this? Keeping a drinking establishment open late into the night, keeping people awake with loud music, there must be a law like that? But there were no houses for a half mile and, as I looked at the clientele that stood outside, I didn’t think the owners would have cared if there were.

Marla turned her head to me.

“Are you going in?”

“Yes.”

“Good. When do you think you’re going to do that?”

“I’m thinking about it.”

“Think faster, Janie.”

I rested my head on my hands. I wasn’t scared of this place. I wasn’t. It was just a pub with people, that’s all. I pictured the peeling wallpaper, tattooed and surly drunks and the knife scarred bar. I swallowed.

“You’re sure he’s there?”

“When have I ever been wrong?”

Hardly ever, but I wasn’t going to tell her that. Marla had led me here. She’d done all the leg work to find the man that could help me. It hasn’t been easy. Trev Kingsford was the sort of man people thought they knew a lot about. In the end what they knew was either rumour or just stupid.

I’d been aware of him ever since I’d seen him on the beach one morning. He’d been picking through a patch of flotsam, turning stones over with his hands and teasing out the strands of rope and wire. At first I thought he was a tramp, but the quick and efficient way he had moved made me think otherwise. It had been between five and six and on the wrong side of sunrise on New Year’s day, maybe three years ago. The air had been cold and smelled of salt. I’d never forgotten the feeling of being near him. I couldn’t describe it with any level of articulation, but it had scared me.

“He’s not known for being helpful.”

“Janie,” Marla put her hand on my leg and I shivered at the feeling. “We need him.” She had such big, lovely eyes, I thought as I looked at her. She was beautiful. If I didn’t go in there and try to talk to this man then she wouldn’t have her problem solved any more than my own.

“He lives under a bridge,” someone had said, and it was said with the same awe most people reserved for ‘he killed a man’. Another one of her friends had told her that Trev Kingsford had killed a man. Another said that he’d eaten one as well. Some people said that he was a monster.

“I’ll go,” I said. I didn’t want to, but I knew I had to. “But everyone says he’s a bad man.”

“Better than the alternative,” Marla said, seeming to read my mind.

“Do you have any better idea what that alternative might be?”

Marla shrugged.

“What do you think?” So far all our research had gone nowhere. People, my friends at least, were scared, but they didn’t know what of. The had been coming to me over the last month and trying to get me to help them. None of them knew what it was they needed help with or what might be causing them to be afraid. It was as if a sudden neurotic fear had gripped them.

And, of course, there was the other problem I had to deal with. I’d got one of Alan’s letters in my pocket, its rumpled magazine letters spelling out just what he wanted. I had five now.

Marla patted my leg.

“I’ll come with you.”

I smiled, but I still felt the rolling in my tummy. I wasn’t scared of this place. I wasn’t scared of this man. I was going to go in and get his help. “You’d better.”

“Ok. Ready?” Marla nodded and we stepped out of the car. I wanted to yelp as the cold got me and my breath burst from my mouth in a cloud of mist. I tucked my coat tighter about me, wishing for once that I was bigger. Marla stood as she always did, her dress simple yet elegant and her shoes equally as practical and stylish. She would wear anything well. The cold hadn’t bothered her for as long as I had known her.

It was at that point I realised that I hadn’t put on a bra.

 

Smoke stung my eyes and I had to stop myself from coughing with every breath. The music hit me like a fist in the ear with each throb from the massive speakers set up either side of the door. Marla had to push me forward through the press of people towards the bar.

Men who looked and smelled like gorillas dressed in old denim and leather gave me the once over before making room for me. It felt like I was being groped.

“Do you see him?” I asked Marla.

“No.”

Someone knocked into me and half a pint of beer went down my coat. The man started to snarl something but Marla pulled me aside and into a gap in the crowd.

“I want to go,” I muttered. Swallowing my pride had been bad enough. This felt like I was treading it into the carpet.

“Not yet. I’ve found him.” Marla’s eyes shone and her dark skin almost glowed. “He’s there, in the booth.” I caught a glimpse of someone in faded blue denim sitting in the corner before someone started swearing over a microphone and a stampede of people jostled me and blocked my vision of everything that wasn’t huge and greasy men.

Jesus, the body heat and the smell! It pushed and bumped me as much as the men did.

“Excuse me.”

I tried to squirm my way through a gap between two people, but at that point someone started speaking on a microphone and I found myself in the centre of a whirlpool of bodies, noise and body heat. More beer splashed into my face and someone that looked like a parody of a punk anarchist started swearing at me. And then he stood on my toe.

I managed to struggle towards the bar and then shimmy along it towards where Marla waited. She never has to deal with crowds like I did. The bartender, a woman that looked like a bulldog in a tank top, gave me a sneer.

“Out of your depth, love?”

I am out of my depth. I am so out of my depth that I need scuba gear. I wanted to tell her to go away or stop being rude, but honestly, I knew it would turn into a fight and I really didn’t want one. Especially with her; she looked like she could pop my head off.

“I can’t see him anymore,” Marla says. “He’s gone.”

So, in addition to yanking me out of bed, burning my mouth and getting my foot hurt, now the only person who might be able to help me had run off?

“Let’s go home,” I could feel myself putting more whine into the words then I knew I should. I don’t whine. Whining was for children. Whining was for people who don’t have it together. I had it together. I had it in writing from my therapist.

“Fuck that,” Marla pulled me away from the bar and through a low archway into a place with more seating. More men and a few women were sitting here and, in blatant defiance of the smoking ban, were all puffing on cigarettes. The ashtrays on their tables looked like deformed potted plants.

They all sniggered at me as I hurried through, Marla dragging me along. I felt so delicate and fragile here, so completely not like myself. It’s because I’m scared and tired and up at three in the morning!

“Where did he go?”

“Not far, I can still feel him somewhere close.” Ah, Marla’s feelings. They were great investigatory tools.

In the main room behind us the band started up and, I swear to God, the world went white. Speakers that I had thought were just slovenly heaped boxes started spitting out sound that was only music in the loosest sense. There was suddenly more people, more noise, more bodies all standing up and getting in my way again.

Marla dragged me outside through a door to our left. The cold hit me like it had a personal grudge. I stopped on the steps that lead down from the door, my skin going into taught gooseflesh. Below me was a short patio area filled with frost touched wooden benches and tables. A few of the more conscientious smokers were standing around or looking off at the road or into the distant tree line.

Trees. As far as I was concerned trees were as good a reason never to come here again.

“Marla, let’s just go home,” I said, hating the sheer amount of whining in my voice.

“Janie,” she mimicked back, “do you want to get this done or not?”

I almost swore at her. I think I would have if some of the people outside hadn’t started giving me funny looks.

“Let’s just try this again another time, like when it’s not so late.”

I descended the stairs started walking around the pub, heading back to where my car was. This could wait. Marla could send me on pointless errands during the day.

“Janie, come on!”

“No, you come on, Marla. I’m tired, I have work in the morning and I’m stressed, ok. I can’t cope with this right now.” I knew I sounded like a bitch.

I rounded the corner of the building, stepped onto the pavement that would lead to my car and…

… saw him.

Trev Kingsford was big. He was the sort of big that you only saw at zoos. His face was turned away from me, looking out at the road. I could make out his worn clothing and big, grubby boots. He could have been anywhere from forty to fifty. The rumours about him started to run through my head again; he killed a man, he ate him, he lives under a bridge, he’s a monster.

He was leaning against the driver’s side door of my car.

“Oh,” Marla said behind me. “That was easy.”

Especially if he wants to kill me with an axe or strangle me and dump my body in the sea or beat me to death and eat my head. How easy would it be for this man, this man that knew exactly which car was mine, to kill me and dispose of my body?

He turned and looked at me, like he knew where I was standing. His head dipped in a nod and he beckoned to me, like I was child he was about to tell off.

“What do we do now?” I said.

“We came here to talk to him, and I’m guessing he wants to talk to us.”

“How do you figure?”

“He went straight to your car. This is just him showing us that he’s in charge. It’s a man thing.” I swallowed. He wasn’t doing anything threatening. He didn’t need to though. He was on my car. I had no idea how he knew it was mine, but he did. He was looking directly at me.

“Go on,” Marla urged.

“If I get murdered, then I am going to seriously haunt you,” I said and she laughed. If people ever think I’m strong or tough, then it’s because I have Marla at my back, pushing me forward or giving me ideas.

I walked the last few yards towards him. My heart felt like an alarm clock about to ring.

“Mr Kingsford?” God, he was big. His hands looked like they could wrap around my thighs.

“You wanted to see me?” He had a Londoners accent. Weren’t there a lot of murders in London? Lots of thugs? He looked like a thug. He wore a baseball cap with the brim pulled low. His worn jacket was sleeveless denim, covered in badges and sewn on patches. He looked like he belonged in a garage, opening an engine or pulling apart a bike to see what the problem was. His hands seemed made for grease and oil.

Marla was behind me again.

“This is what you wanted. Just talk to him.”

This was not what I wanted. I wanted to sort this thing out myself. I wanted to be at home in bed or at least have more coffee in me than I do. I wanted so very little of this.

“Mr Kingsford…”

“Trev.”

“Trev…” I didn’t know where to start. “I want to know if you can help me.”

“Help you with what?” He folded his arms and I saw the muscles

I’m being blackmailed. Just start with that and go on. It shouldn’t be as hard as it is. It was a weakness, a weakness that I didn’t want to admit to, especially to him. It seemed stupid and absurd.

“I’m in trouble.” God, was this what I was reduced to? I sounded like a frightened little girl, begging for some big strong man to come and help her.

“What sort of trouble?”

I took out the letter that Alan had sent. I handed it over.

“I’ve got another five just like it.” He opened it, his eyes moving over the cut out letters. He folded it up and handed it back.

“What do you want me to do about it?”

That was the million pound question, wasn’t it? What do I want you to do about my blackmailer? What could he do? Kill Alan? That might be nice. No, Janie, don’t even think that! Kingsford might hear your thoughts and do it. I don’t want Alan killed. Just dissuaded.

“I want him to stop. Can you stop him?” Frighten him, threaten him, do what any two bit thug might do, only, you know, do it in a special way. The special way you’re really famous for.

“Sounds like a police matter to me.” He had his head cocked to one side and his jaw was thrust out. His blue eyes met mine and I could have sworn he was bored by me.

“I can’t really go to the police with this.”

“Why?”

“He’s blackmailing me about who I am.”

“And who are you?” There was frustration in his voice. He thought I was silly. No, he thought I was stupid. Some stupid little woman coming to him to complain and bitch about my predicament.

“You can tell him,” Marla said. She hovered over my shoulder, her hands on my body in a way that was both intimate and protective. It felt so good to have her there now. I couldn’t have done this without her.

Trev looked at her. He really looked at her, just like I would have. He saw her.

“You’re a necromancer,” he said to me. “You’re a necromancer, and that woman behind you is dead.”

 

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