The Nurse is thrilled to introduce chapter nine of her black comedy novel, The Life and Times of a Brighton Serial Killer. You can find out more about The Nurse and her astonishing serial killing career here.
The flight of the ego
A blast from the past
Back in Brighton, the Chief Surgeon is a happy bunny. Or mostly happy. Being a Chief Surgeon means he can do all the surgery he likes, and because he’s very good at it, the occasional mistake goes mostly unchallenged. One chap did raise a complaint a few months back, after his wife’s operation went awfully wrong. The Chief Surgeon simply trepanned the man, leaving him conveniently lobotomised, to all intents and purposes silenced.
Life is good, but now and again an odd feeling worms its way into his considerable stomach. At first baffled, he soon realises what the matter is. He’s actually bored. Well, bugger me. You’re given everything you could possibly want from life, and still you are bored? The Chief Surgeon is momentarily disturbed by the thought, then decides to shelve it for now and go down the pub.
Trotting up North Road towards Foundry Street, sweating fatly, he spots a distant, unusually tall and upright figure ahead of him. She turns right and walks briskly along Frederick Gardens. The sight gives him a jolt like he’s been tazered. No way. Yes way… if he isn’t mistaken, that woman looks an awful lot like The Nurse.
Having always had a bit of a crush on his old partner in crime, The Chief Surgeon hesitates, then follows discreetly at a distance, watching the woman’s walk for clues. Yes! There’s that tiny limp she used to have, from that nasty accident with the bone drill. His excitement quickens, and he’s thrilled to feel a little stiffy developing. Oh, joy. He hasn’t had one of them for bloody ages.
Reaching the pub, he clambers aboard a bar stool, buys a pint, nods to the pub bore and sinks deep into thought. If that really was The Nurse and she’s back in town, things could soon get exciting again, the kind of excitement he hasn’t experienced for many years. While the mistakes he makes in surgery are not particularly thrilling, just boring everyday annoyances, trepanning delivers something else altogether, something fierce and powerful and so intense, it’s rather scary. Maybe he could track The Nurse down and they could re-start their experiments?
When, a few days later, after visiting a private patient in Hove, The Chief Surgeon spots The Nurse-like woman walking up the front path of a massive villa and letting herself in, he’s delighted to have his suspicions confirmed. It is true. The Nurse is back, and he can almost feel his life filling back up with meaning. It has been a long, long time.
Things get a little whiffy
Fuck me, it stinks out here. Betty isn’t very good at digging. While they take turns with the burying, and The Nurse remains as strong as an ox, poor Betty’s efforts often end up in shallower graves. Next door’s dog is showing an unhealthy interest, and last night The Nurse had to poke a blackened, claw-like finger back under the soil, temporarily plonking a potted hydrangea on top.
The pair decide they need help, someone they can trust to keep schtum. The Daves come in handy, but the ladies need brains more than they need additional brawn. The rest of Nurse’s old Brighton acquaintances are either dead, missing, in jail or fucked in the head, and any old random nutter won’t do. Loonies are not discreet. They talk too much, and when nutters talk shite, people sometimes listen.
A few weeks later, The Nurse asks Betty what she’s lost. Betty replies, my balance. Betty is bent double in the hallway, her head stuck in the umbrella stand. It’s just the latest in a string of incidents that are starting to make The Nurse feel like an actual nurse, a fucking dementia nurse, the last thing she wants or needs.
At the same time, Betty has started to collect things. Awful things. There’s an entire shoebox full of used condoms under the bed, picked up along the high tide line, then lovingly stored between sheets of scented lilac tissue paper, arranged by order of colour and size. Worse, there’s a similar collection of used tampons, fluffy and grey and sea-worn like a child’s discarded toy sheep. The growing collection of seashells isn’t so bad, but because Betty doesn’t always distinguish between shells with living beings inside and empty ones, the stench is often appalling.
Most days, Betty seems much like her usual self, cheery and smart, chatting away and doing her bit to maintain the team’s challenging trepanning schedule. At times like this, she’s efficient and effective, discreet and fun. But when she’s having a less-than-good day, a demented day, something that’s becoming more frequent, she is impossible.
Betty drags home greasy-feeling six foot lengths of brown kelp washed up at high tide. She goes on make-up and cardigan buying sprees of enormous proportions, coming home laden with glossy, scented cardboard carrier bags. She forgets what she’s doing halfway through doing it, wandering off in a trance to leave the pan on the hob, the taps on, and a massive whale of a fucking shit in the bog.
One afternoon, Betty startles The Nurse in the kitchen, appearing without a sound, as naked as the day she’s born apart from the kind of hat you’d wear to Ascot, beribboned and bowed. Jesus Christ on a bender. For fuck’s sake, Betty, you daft cunt. The Nurse’s inner language, always colourful, becomes a lot worse at times like this. It comes out. She says it out loud. The frequency of the c-word increases directly in line with Betty’s mood swings and state of undress.
As business ideas go, it’s a corker. The Nurse is running out of readies. The money she buried in the city’s parks and gardens years ago isn’t worth much today. She and the Dream Team are developing expensive tastes. Betty is going mental, which could get costly in so many ways: bribes, discreet contract killings, whatever. And with the garden filling up this fast, they need an innovative way to dispose of the growing pile of bodies their experiments are generating. It is not quite a case of turning pockets inside out or fumbling for loose change amongst the grit, hair and peanuts you always find under settee cushions. But financial trouble isn’t that far off.
That’s another of The Nurse’s theories. You have not had a party. You may not have had a party for years. Maybe never. You hate and despise peanuts. Perhaps you are fatally allergic to them. Nevertheless, every time you move the settee, you will discover them. There are party peanuts all over the place, and you have no notion how they got there.
Such is life. There’s probably a moral in there somewhere, if The Nurse could be bothered to think about it.
Anyway. When visiting the garden centre together on one of Betty’s good days, she and The Nurse have a joint lightbulb moment. Locally-crafted high-end, hand-made soil conditioners – ‘fertilisers’ to anyone who isn’t a wanker – are on sale for a fucking fortune. Packaged in fucking hessian with a purple bow, for fuck’s sake. Betty and The Nurse fall about laughing, snorting amid the houseplants. The garden centre staff smile indulgently. Isn’t it nice to see a couple of older ladies enjoying themselves.
One of the posh fertilisers is made from ‘blood and bone.’ It is fish blood and bone, the ladies discover, but why the heck not use human leftovers? Bone is bone, and blood is blood, whoever they happen to belong to, and plants don’t give a flying fuck.
The nice, big villa they share means Betty and The Nurse can run their new business from home as long as they keep the smells and the noise down. They’re sure they’ll be able to persuade Shitty Eddie to provide butchery services. These days, he’s a truly desperate man thanks to his nickname, which doesn’t exactly inspire confidence in potential employers.
Shitty has been unemployed permanently since the trouser incident that led to the nickname. These days, he barely leaves the house in case he’s spotted and people take the mickey. Builders are the worst, and he hates those fucking Romley Brothers over in Portslade with a passion. Every time he walks past the Romleys’ building site, they rip the piss out of him something rotten. The utter and total blunder-guffs.
As Betty and The Nurse predict, Shitty is thrilled to be offered paid employment and instantly shelves what little conscience his ex-investment banker’s brain contains, happily kitting himself out with a set of rather fine butchery knives, a vintage shovel and a good, sharp axe.
The Nurse names the business ‘Angel Soil,’ which makes the team roar with laughter. They decide on the strapline ‘Creating Gardens Good Enough for the Gods.’ The Nurse designs and builds the website herself, taking care to keep Betty and the laptop away from each other. Betty, it turns out, can no longer be allowed anywhere near the internet, having discovered and fast become addicted to a rich seam of foot fetish porn. The Nurse wonders whether her friend’s growing confusion and weirdness merits a GP visit, then shelves the idea. Fuck it.
Betty’s increasing oddness has its upside. She is developing an outstanding imagination despite having had no imagination whatsoever throughout her entire life. And imagination is what’s needed when you’re faced with perpetually updating a thriving business website with ‘lots of lovely fresh content,’ as the city’s beardy hipster digital-hub fuckers call it. Blogging is a chore, but it’s much less of a yawn when Betty gets on one of her stream-of-consciousness trips, vomiting up clumps of dazzlingly good blog post titles like a woman possessed. Actually possessed.
At times like this, The Nurse leans in close enough to catch Betty’s powdery signature scent, jots the ideas down in her fine copperplate handwriting, then transfers the list onto Google Sheets before writing the posts one by one. Slowly but steadily, the website visitors come. And they start to buy.
An industrial unit in Hollingdean proves the perfect order fulfilment facility, an investment The Nurse and her business partners are glad to make. Angel Soil is registered with Companies House under The Nurse’s false identity. With Shitty on discreet post-mortem butchering duty in the back room at home in Hove, Betty and The Nurse busy trepanning most nights and the Daves on tap when required, there’s a constant supply of quality raw materials. The Unit is staffed by homeless people who happily pack, label and despatch the gang’s premium fertiliser around the planet. Profit margins are rocketing. Before long, the Team’s increasingly expensive tastes don’t fucking matter. They’re rolling in cash.
The Nurse has always loved good perfume. Now she buys the best in the world. Betty buys the finest champagne every day, and hand-flavoured gins that must be made by fucking unicorns, they’re priced so high. She spends an hour in the patisserie every lunchtime, stuffing her silly face with tiny, eye-wateringly expensive cakes, and she isn’t the only one to be seduced by the potent presence of loads of money. It’s such a delight to be able to spend, spend, spend, having been worried about where the next penny was coming from for such a long time.
The Daves collaborate on a series of expensive obsessions, egging each other on. One week they’re heavily into high class whores, the type that charge five grand a session to chuck cream buns at Conservative MPs’ nasty little stiffies. The following week they go on a spree, returning to HQ dripping in gold chains and studded with whacking great diamond piercings, having spent fortunes in The Lanes’ many excellent jewellery shops. They stay in the top floor suite at the Grand Hotel for three weeks, then transfer to the Metropole, eventually thrown out for stacking the furniture from their suite into a lift and sending it down to the ground floor and back. Up and down, up and down. Fucking funny.
They hire the Royal Pavilion one night and invite the Russian State Circus in, followed by the Ladyboys of Bangkok, in the city for the Brighton Festival. In an unusual moment of philanthropy, the Daves gather up the city’s homeless and house them in a posh 1930s manor-house-like monstrosity up Dyke Road. It’s a generous move that sees the neighbours apoplectic with middle class rage, absolutely livid with suppressed nimbyism.
That’s the trouble with Brighton. No matter how shit something is, you can’t complain too hard because you don’t want to appear anything less than 100% right-on, 100% chilled out, and 100% cool. Do these faces look bovvered? No, they fucking well do not. But inside, in private, the neighbours are as bovvered as fuck.
As for The Nurse, she salts away most of her share of the fertiliser profits in a sensible mix of high and low-risk ‘investment vehicles,’ as her pretentious yet discreet financial adviser calls them. You never know what the future holds. Life – and freedom – are precarious. Nothing is certain. In her world, the best and only security lies in stashing away loads of fucking cash. Now and again, she drops a grand or so on a bespoke tweed suit from Gresham Blake, but that’s about it.
The ego has landed
The Nurse often wonders about coincidences. Here they are, her and Betty, The Daves and Shitty Eddie, struggling along, finding it harder as time passes despite their business success, or – more accurately – because of it. There are only so many people you can trepan in any one day, after all, and demand for their product is brisker than ever.
Then, out of the blue there’s a knock at the door, and it’s The Chief Surgeon, bumptious and larger than life with his booming voice, twinkling eyes, bow tie, vast, protruding stomach and delicate little feet. A rounded Tweedle Dee of a man, he exudes confidence and trustworthiness. No wonder people instantly relax around him. The idiots.
What a blast from the past. Even though The Nurse, Lavinia and the woman with no name had vowed, back in jail, to kill the fucker, he is going to prove useful for the time being. Very useful. The Nurse decides to give him a stay of execution and see what occurs.
Having learned her craft at The Chief Surgeon’s knee, then overtaken him by miles, The Nurse knuckles down and tolerates him. A man fascinated by ancient medicine, he is a lifelong advocate of trepanning, used since in ancient times. In the old days, holes were drilled into the skulls of nutters, the theory being it drove out the evil spirits causing the nutterdom. It was used to ease fits, and to relieve pressure on the brain. Humans have been doing it since Neolithic times. The one remaining thing The Nurse loves about The Chief Surgeon is, he believes trepanning is a cure for all of humanity’s woes. Given the chance, he’d do it all the time.
You’ve caught a common cold? Trepanning is the answer. Someone’s stubbed their toe? Trepan the fucker. Sunburn? Get trepanned. Depressed? Trepan your way out of it. Suffering from the shits? Give trepanning a go. The Nurse knows it’s bollocks. He’s insane. But his obsession makes him a handy partner in crime. And while she’s an old hand herself, The Chief Surgeon has even more trepanning practice than The Nurse. Holy crap, he’s good. All these years later, she still enjoys watching him at work even though, as she coolly observes, she is actually a whole lot more skilled and delicate.
This is his Big Chance. The Nurse just hopes the Chief Surgeon isn’t going to fucking blow it. Betty is sceptical, but when The Chief Surgeon pirouettes gracefully into position and makes that first crucial cut, the one that guides the gleaming trepanning drill almost perfectly, a mere whisker away from The Nurse’s uber-precise work, she is lost in admiration. Oh, alright then, let’s give him a go.
At long last, The Nurse’s trepanning Dream Team is complete. Betty attracts the victims and knocks them out. The Nurse and Chemical Dave prepare them. Hairy Dave admires the proceedings from the shadows, video camera in hand, his bald head shining, ready to step in if necessary with some muscle. The Chief Surgeon trepans the victims’ skulls to perfection fifty percent of the time while The Nurse plays Theatre Assistant, then they reverse roles the other fifty percent of the vics. It means they both get to practice their trepanning skills, and everybody’s happy.
The Dream Team’s trepanning success rate is hovering around 50% and rising fast. They are shitting wonders and farting miracles. The team processes the failures into Angel Soil and discards the successes, drugged and baffled but alive, to fend for themselves on the South Downs.
Now and again, the Team gets restless and rebels against the smooth, trouble-free routine they’ve created. Instead of merely dumping their successes alive in the countryside, veins zinging with drugs, they get creative.
They leave one victim folded up then jammed in the space between a tree trunk and a branch, resembling a lost paper aeroplane. They toss another into a dew pond just north of Woodingdean to be found two days later, still in the middle of the pond, bloody-faced, thigh deep in mud, and too afraid to move.
One victim ends up posted face down in a ditch, legs pinwheeling feebly in the air until a dog walker discovers her and stands her safely upright before calling 999. Another turns up buried to the neck in a flower bed at Highdown Gardens, a long drive west for The Nurse compared to her usual dumping grounds but worth it for the crack.
Stags and hens
While the detectives at Brighton’s John Street police station are scratching their heads at the sudden rise in missing persons, the likes of which they haven’t seen for years, The Dream Team ramps up its trepanning experiments. The Nurse insists they come up with a strategy rather than go at it willy-nilly. At this stage, it’s no good just trepanning for fun, with no aims, no end-game, no point. What, exactly, do they want to achieve, as well as shitloads of money generated by posh fertiliser? Is there a spiritual element, for example?
The Chief Surgeon just adores operating. He’s not bothered about reasons or findings or insights. Betty likes to see the light leave people’s eyes as they go unconscious, and if they come back to life – which isn’t automatically the case – she enjoys seeing it return. The Nurse loves to trepan and doesn’t really give a shit whether or not the victims survive. Eddie is more than content with the butchering side of things. Hairy Dave and Chemical Dave are along for the ride, ready to help out whenever extra muscle or creativity is required. Roll all this wonderment into one, and what falls out of the bottom? What’s the team’s raison d’etre?
Between the six of them, they decide that their overarching goal is to rid Brighton of the build-up of chronic drunks, the arseholed-many that make the city a lot less fun to live in than it used to be. Doing so will allow them to learn from the inevitable deaths and hone their collective trepanning wisdom to a super-sharp point. Not quite a spiritual reason, perhaps, but more worthy than the soul-less pursuit of cash.
The Chief Surgeon, as egotistical as ever, suggests they could eventually write an academic paper about their findings, but The Nurse tells him to fuck off. It’ll only land them in trouble. Sometimes she worries about his discretion… or his lack of it.
Decision made, they create a plan of action to formalise everything. Their target audience will be ‘stags and hens,’ of which there are fucking thousands arriving in Brighton like locusts every weekend. The girls, wearing barely any clothes, descend upon the city, showing their knickers and getting their tits out for the lads. The young men do much the same. Fifteen of the buggers might get off the train and wobble – already arseholed – down Queens Road towards the seafront. Fourteen of the buggers might wobble their way back up the hill to the station the next day, so phenomenally hungover they’re unaware that one of their number is either wandering the South Downs with a hole in their head wondering ‘what the fuck.’ Or tuned into fertiliser. Or dumped and buried callously somewhere along the A27, concealed in a shallow, chalky scoop high up on the windy Castle Hill Nature Reserve, buried in graves dotted randomly along the South Downs Way, dead in the passenger seat, belted safely in, clunk click, every trip. It depends what mood the gang is in. It can’t all be about gardening. They deserve some fun as well
The plan works beautifully for quite a long time. Because the stags and hens arrive from across the UK, invading Brighton without so much as a by your leave, nobody in the city itself misses them. Not yet, anyway.
Eventually, the members of The Dream Team start to believe they’re performing an actual public service. It feels good up here on the moral high ground. They’re busy, night after night, ridding the city of outsiders who are so very drunk that they don’t know their arse from their elbow, New York from New Year, or – crucially – friend from foe.
Random acts of unkindness, sensible acts of ugliness
Random acts of kindness, senseless acts of beauty? Fuck that. Months pass without incident, but these days, much of the time, The Nurse feels cantankerous, vexed and intolerant. The only way she knows how to handle the growing fury she feels is to get meaner and meaner. She can’t take it out on the Team, she’s aware the balance is already delicate and her style of boat-rocking won’t help. So she takes it out on the Shitwizard, a handy scapegoat down the pub.
The Shitwizard is one of the old-school Pedestrians Arms regulars, a Peds’ veteran. The Nurse pays Kitty, the Peds’ floozie, to rub her tits in the Shitwizard’s face. She ties his shoelaces together, unseen, when he’s arseholed, so he goes flying. Long, ratty, pitch black dreads are the Shitwizard’s trademark, inspiring The Nurse to challenge Mental Ian to set them on fire. Holy crap, what a stink. She nails the toes of the Shitwizard’s cowboy boots, which look fucking ridiculous anyway, to the floor. She lets slip that the locals don’t actually call him The Wizard but have added the ‘Shit’ bit behind his back. It is not big, and it is not clever, but The Nurse cannot help herself. She pokes and prods at him until he takes his custom elsewhere, to The Basketmakers pub down the hill.
Normal Pedestrians Arms culture resumes afterwards, and The Nurse sits back. She should be sated by all the fun, but her psyche still feels as itchy and scratchy as fuck, like it has developed a nasty rash or been dragged through a bed of cosmic nettles.
There’s so much mischief to get up to in a pub. Especially in a pub this stacked with habitual heavy drinkers and actual drunks. When one local woman starts bringing her baby to the pub, The Nurse decides enough is enough. She smiles into the cot, then, expression hidden from the pram-pusher, makes devil-like grimaces into the baby’s face, causing it to fall silent with shock, then shriek ear-splittingly in distress. She keeps doing it until the baby’s mother decides the child doesn’t enjoy pub culture and leaves it at home.
The pub tranny proves even more fun. As does one local’s lover, who is less than thrilled to discover that her man has been having a secret affair with one of the pole dancers down at Pussycats. The Nurse’s mischief knows no end, but still she’s fucking restless.
Wigs is another source of distraction, a fucking brilliant partner in vandalism. The Nurse enjoys a spot of painting now and again, it soothes the savage beast within, and Wigs loves to paint as well. He makes a fortune at it, and he’d be a massive twat if he was a massive twat, if you see what she means. Luckily, Wigs believes his own work is a load of toss and swears he’s shit at art. The dealers still flock to buy his paintings, frequently bitch-slapping and hair-pulling each other outside his terraced house on Upper Gardener Street while waiting for the paint on his latest masterwork to dry.
The Nurse, in contrast, paints pretty watercolours of rural scenes; a hedgehog asleep in a flowerpot, rows of bullfinches on a blossom-covered branch, that kind of thing. She is technically adept, and her paintings are beautiful from a draughtsman’s perspective. But her colour sense is extremely unpleasant for no reason anyone can quite put their finger on. There’s just something deeply wrong with the colours on a profound spiritual level.
She loves to watch people’s faces when they see her work for the first time. They approach with interest, which slows to caution, then turns to distaste and fear. Those who stay to look closer are charmed by the delicate representations of beautifully-observed wildlife and the gentle bucolic ambience of the work. Then repelled again by the colours. Then drawn back in by the sweetness, and back out, and in, and out, and in again, until they have to physically wrench themselves away, exhausted and weepy.
When the pair paint the town weird, it causes a disconcerting blend of horror and delight. Fuck off, Banksy. The Nurse and Wigs see your images, and they raise you a scandal that rocks the art world for weeks. Brighton and Hove police stand guard over the oddly disturbing graffiti 24/7, repelling armies of art dealers who are bristling with tools, hiring heavy plant and trying to carefully shave images off buildings all over the city. Wigs and The Nurse find it very amusing. How they laugh.
None of this, however, ultimately helps The Nurse regain her cool. She still feels edgy most of the time, and more or less every word that comes out of the mouths of demented Betty and the arse of a Chief Surgeon makes her want to scream. Something’s got to change.
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