Bob Marley vs. Soft Cell – Is This Tainted Love mash-up…
The reins are jerked clean out of my hand, as the collision with the street lamp catapults me from the roof of the rickshaw, sending me flying backwards with no control whatsoever. The only thing I keep hold of is the driving whip, and as I arc heels over head, pulled inescapably down by the force of gravity, my arms fly up to protect myself against the eventual impact.
It is softer than I expected – warm, crunchy, squishy – and briefly, also screaming.
Makes a change from hearing my own scream, I have to say…
But as I recover, and attempt to get up, I’m aware that some terrible incident has occurred…
“Justin!” I hiss, desperately. The rickshaw has stopped, evidently due to loss of whipping and steering. “Justin! Come here, quickly!”
The inebriated former rickshaw pilot rolls out of the passenger-seat of the cab, and tries to rearrange his legs. I don’t think the word ‘quickly’ is currently in his vocabulary.
Looking back down at the issue on the ground, I notice that the grotesque twitching has already stopped, and a sizeable puddle has also formed. But my conscience kicks in anyway, although even I’m aware that it’s arrived too late to the party.
“Um, Miss?” I croak, stepping aside as the dark puddle heads towards my own feet. “Are you all right, Miss?”
I wonder if maybe I should try to work the driving-whip free, or whether I should leave it in situ. Or does that only count if the victim is still breathing? Damn, I can’t remember…
…And worse, I think I can hear footsteps approaching… are those shapes forming in the smog ahead of me?
“Justin!” I squeak, looking over my shoulder again, at the rickshaw pilot rolling around in the dirt. “Hurry up!”
And then yell in terror, as a hand clamps around my elbow.
“Oh, dear, Sarah Bellummm…”
“Crispin!” I cry out, in relief. My underpants don’t even want to know about it.
“Nice one, Sarah,” the much more unwelcome Carvery Slaughter joins in, leaning over to have a look. “You’ve made a Streetwalker Kebab.”
“Shutup, shutup!” I panic. “It was an accident, I fell off the roof of the rickshaw.”
“So this should have been you, splatted on the ground?” Carvery asks, disappointed. “What a shame. And I would have missed it, too. Oh, well – better luck next time.”
“Where are Ace and Homer?” I ask, ignoring him.
“Ace is having the stress of meeting Lady Glandula earlier massaged out of him at Madam Dingdong’s,” Crispin replies, and my heart sinks that little bit further. “Where Homer is also currently indulging in a make-over session. They will catch up with us soon. Ah. I see that Justin Time has also fallen off the wagon.”
“You mean rickshaw?” I venture.
“No, I mean he is drinking again, Sarah Bellummm.” Crispin lets out a zombie sigh – a cross between a hiss, and a death-rattle. “Well, hopefully he will have sobered up enough by the time his services are next required. Or when Grandpappy catches up with him, to find out the results of his flying experiment. Do you have anything interesting to report in that department?”
“Crispin,” I say, patiently. “There is a dead woman on the ground, with our driver’s whip stuck in her…”
Carvery yanks it free. A stream of blood droplets arcs anaemically into the air between us, like an apologetic low-rent fountain.
“…A dead woman on the ground,” I amend, meaningfully.
“Yesss,” Crispin acknowledges, at last. “We should move her somewhere more respectable…”
“How about in the river?” Carvery suggests.
“An excellent idea, Mr. Slaughter,” Crispin agrees. “But currently the police in the Seven a.m. Lounge are very keen on dredging the river regularly to fill their tea kitty, rather like looking for spare change down the back of a sofa. We will take her somewhere indoors, where passers-by will be less likely to stumble across her, tripping and hurting themselves.”
Crispin and Carvery hoist the poor woman between them, and carry her to the rickshaw, where they make a wrapping around her from the smaller rug, which Justin Time had been using as a blanket. Hopefully that means it does not have any special powers – although the power of divine resuscitation would certainly have come in handy.
Justin is currently snoring into the cobbles. Carvery wipes the driving-whip on his jeans, and tucks it underneath the snoozing rickshaw pilot.
“There are many small boarding-houses and derelict buildings near here,” says Crispin, as they hoist the body between them again. “This way.”
We hurry along the narrow alleyways, away from the riverbanks. Passing bawdy calls from windows, and ragged, solitary market-stalls and sellers of less definable wares. It seems like the least maintained part of the Seven a.m. Lounge.
“Here,” says Crispin, and we go through a low doorway with only half a door and one hinge attached to its remnants, finding ourselves in a filthy abandoned hovel.
Only a small square table and a bunk with one dirty sheet left on it occupy the space. A rat’s nest is in one corner, and mice run out from under the sheet, as Crispin and Carvery deposit the body upon the bunk. Crispin tugs the rug free like a magician with a tablecloth, so that the body rolls face-up on the sheet.
I try not to heave.
“Thank you for helping,” I say, timidly – my conscience vaguely aware that the poor lady’s state is still my fault.
“Not at all.” Crispin passes the rug to Carvery, and seems to size up the body with his eyes, while his stomach rumbles loudly. “It seems a pity to let the spare parts go to rot and waste. Do you have any sharp instruments on you, Mr. Slaughter?”
“Only always,” Carvery shrugs, and shoves the rug into my arms, while he starts going through his pockets.
“What?!” I explode, for possibly the hundredth time already, since last night. “You’re not going to… to… harvest her organs??! For your stupid zombie cure experiments??”
“Not exactly,” says Crispin. “They may also be necessary to revive your housemate. Miss… er… Whatever Her Name Is.”
Ohhhhh… I’d forgotten all about Whatserface. Currently entombed on Lady Glandula’s barge, suffering from a fatal snakebite/zombie mauling/possible Taser burn…
“Well, I’m not going to stay and watch,” I say, repulsed. “I’ll be back at the rickshaw checking up on Justin.”
“You’d rather be back with a questionably drunk witness, and where the murder weapon is, than hanging around with your two most reliable alibis?” Carvery asks, handing Crispin what looks like a Swiss Army knife. “Sure – enjoy your stay in the Seven a.m. Lounge, Sarah.”
I so hate it when Carvery is right… Instead I hover uncomfortably in the doorway, keeping a look-out. Trying to ignore the squelchy sounds, and the men bemoaning the fact that Ace is not here – who has many cargo pockets on his overalls, which could be made use of for transportation.
“Are you nearly done?” I call, nervously. “I think I hear company coming…”
“Stall them, Sarah Bellummm,” Crispin orders. I hear a rip. “We need to fashion a carrier-bag out of this poor woman’s apron…”
I stiffen as the footfalls draw nearer, and hope that I block the part of the doorway that the remains of the door doesn’t.
“Hello, young lady,” says a voice. “Business slow today, is it?”
I look at the two swarthy gentlemen in horror. Both in black, wearing dusty bowler-hats, I can’t tell if they are tramps, businessmen, undertakers, or police officers…
“I’m guarding this room,” I hear myself say, defensively, and a feeling of greater horror overtakes me, as I realise what my mouth is trying to persuade my brain is a good idea. “There’s been a terrible murder. We’re waiting for the police to bring reinforcements.”
“The police, you say?” One of the men takes out a notepad and pencil. “What sort of murder? Nice and gwizzly? Fwont page nooze?”
“Fwont… er, front page? I should think so,” I nod, getting my head around his fascinating impediment smoothly. I tap the side of my nose. “They say it was, erm… the work of – The Whipper.”
Oh, my God. I can’t believe I just said that out loud.
“The Whipper, eh?” He scribbles frantically on his pad. “And what has the dweadful Whipper done here today?”
“A poor defenceless woman,” I tell him. “Eviscerated in her bed…”
“Eviscerwated?” He sucks in his breath between his teeth. “Oh my. Woger, I think we may need the photogwapher – huwwy back to the pub, wake him up, and don’t let the other hacks know we’re onto a biggy…”
“But Ted – what if they won’t let him leave without paying his slate? They only listen to you…”
“You know I can’t cawwy the gweat fat oaf and his equipment on my own, Woger…”
“I’ll be here,” I assure them, as they both look at me like hungry puppy-dogs. “You can both run and fetch him, and I’ll make sure no-one else gets first look…”
“You, my girl, are a diamond,” says Ted. “One more thing – this Whipper – does he have a first name? Weginald? Wichard?”
“I’m sure it’s not my place to hijack the real name of The Whipper,” I say, shaking my head, as Woger – I mean Roger – drags him away.
“Jack is weally the name of The Whipper, you say?” he calls out, disappearing into the smog.
“No, er…” I begin, weakly, but they have gone – shouting about keeping something a secret. Damn it…
“Have they gone?” Carvery asks, jabbing me between the shoulder-blades. “Let’s go. By the sound of it, those two couldn’t keep a secret if they put it where the sun doesn’t shine.”
“Good work, Sarah Bellummm,” Crispin says, much more approvingly, emerging behind him with a large, handmade, bloodied linen bag. “But I think Mr. Slaughter has a point. The residents of the Seven a.m. Lounge are rather more curious than cautious, and the whiff of gossip will have them out like a pack of hounds…”
“It’s them!” a distant voice suddenly hails, echoing along the alleyways. “The invasion has started – from the Six a.m. Lounge!”
“Ah,” Crispin continues. “It sounds like my brother Homer and Ace Bumgang have caught up with us. No doubt smelling distinctly of Madam Dingdong’s Bring Your Own Towel Sauna And Spa Eau de Toilette.”
Trailer for the original ‘Shallow Grave’ with a young Ewan McGregor…
More mindless mayhem: The Zombie Adventures of Sarah Bellum
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