I’ve gone through life white-knuckled and knock-kneed, and running away from the Blue Swan was no different. Thankfully Jackie was still playing doggo and staying where I’d told her to, so I wasn’t pursued. As I veered left at the T-junction I heaved a huge breath into my aching lungs and wondered when I be able to stop running away. I didn’t think there was a whole lot of hope unless I’d finally broken my legs. I took the next left, a quick right, and then fell against the first lighted doorway that I saw and only sobbed a little when it didn’t open for me.
No-one had followed me, it seemed. I wheezed heavily, getting my breath back and feeling the aches and pains molest me like an eighties television presenter, but there were no running feet, no cries for people to stop me, and best of all, no sounds of gunshot or angry people hitting defenceless street furniture with heavy tools. Eventually I pulled my legs in, listened to the cartilage in my knees crunch, and wondered what I was going to do next. I was still looking for Boy Blue, if only to let him know that Natasha Monkeybutt was looking for him too, and I was kind of curious about whoever had redecorated his room with sheep’s blood. I knew there were better things to do than get involved with any part of a case more than treating it as just a job: like Miss Sapphire had said, people tend to die around me and it’s better that I don’t let myself get attached. I’ve watched kids get orphaned while I was on their case, and I’ve watched relationships fizzle and die just because I’ve been sat at a nearby table. My record is emptying an entire restaurant on Valentine’s day, with all the men going one way and the women another. It’s not a proud moment, but I ever write up a CV it’s going on there.
Then there was the Jack Horner angle. There was a name I’d not come across before, and I thought I knew all the low-life in this city. From what Miss Sapphire had been saying it sounded like it might be a pseudonym, which is a long word for a small-time crook. And he had to be small time, or Mad Frankie would be putting me on his case in the hopes that he’d be the next victim of the MacArthur curse. Or blessing, depending on who you asked.
The gentle patter of rain started, soot-laden droplets splashing down on the filthy, pot-holed streets and making me glad I was sat in a doorway. I looked out across the street into the fading light of late-afternoon, and the door I was leaning against pushed out squashing me against the wall.
“Move it, you piece of crap,” snarled a woman with a red face like she’d been washing it in the floor-scrubbing bucket. She was wearing a heavy woollen coat and carrying a handbag like a mattock. She swung it at me to make her point, and I ducked, to avoid it. “Get out of my bloody doorway,” she continued. “It’s scum like you that make an honest woman like me afraid to walk the streets at night. You disgust me, you tramp.” Her handbag struck the wall with the clatter of cutlery and she didn’t even have the grace to look embarrassed. I wriggled out from behind the door as she put her weight against it, and I just got out of the way in time. The door struck the wall and the glass in the top quivered with the impact.
“Now look what you’ve made me do, wretch,” she said. Little flecks of white spittle flew out of her mouth, and I flinched away. I have a mild germophobia about other people, which my doctor says he can’t understand given where I seem to spend most of my time. Then he orders me out of his office before he autoclaves me, which is a threat I know he’d like to make good on.
“Harridan,” I said, racking my brains as to why she looked familiar.
“Hah! Big words. What a shame your wallet can’t match your mouth.” Her words dripped with sarcasm the way a cobra’s fangs drip with venom and suddenly I knew who she was; the last time I’d seen her was a few years ago when she was still a stripper at Lucy Locket’s. She’d been hanging upside down from a sequined pole wearing a g-string, high-heels and an ill-fitting wig that didn’t really hide either her dandruff or her cradle cap, glaring at me while I crawled under the seating pursuing the Legless Wonder. She’d spat at me then too, and I’d thrown a handful of change at her.
“Belle Peep,” I said, my cough hacking its way through her surname and dragging it out for a whole six seconds. She didn’t look happy that I knew it.
“The next show’s at nine,” she said. “Pay on the door.”
I looked up: the doorway I was in was the side-door of the Municipal Library. I don’t know if she saw my quizzical face (it’s a lot like my orgasm face, I’ve been told, which fact I ascribe to the infrequency of my orgasms) but she swung her bag at me again. I dodged once more to the sound of crashing cutlery, and then she was past me, stalking off down the street like an old whore with too much pride to pick her breasts up off the floor and retire.
“Jack Horner,” I muttered under my breath, hoping it wouldn’t start my cough off again. My doctor’s written on my records that he’s hoping its consumption and refusing to test me for it so as not to jinx things. “I know how to find you.”