The Nurse Diaries – Parts 14 and 15

The Nurse presents chapters fourteen and fifteen of her black comedy novel, The Life and Times of a Brighton Serial Killer. You can find out more about The Nurse and her hideously violent life as Britain’s most prolific serial killer here.

Part 14 – Scotland

Scoring sausage

Food Safety Inspectors are such chronic knob-heads. Who’d have thought they’d be so impressed by the unusually delicate flavour of the kebab meat sold at Shish Happens that they’d send a lump of it away to a lab for analysis? Who’d have imagined they’d want to score some of her special sausage, and that she’d have to refuse, the sausage meat having nothing to do with actual pigs, but made from long pigs, AKA humans?

Bollocks. What utter crappage. One minute things are going so nicely, so smoothly, the next the business has to be shut down sharpish and disposed of in record time, the cats re-homed – as in turfed out on the street – and the couple’s suitcases swiftly packed.

About to leave the Oxford Road house for the last time, The Nurse stops on the front step and affectionately sniffs the friendly smoggy air she’s become so fond of. Then she taps down the path in her best navy court shoes, the ones with the silver buckles, turning enquiringly at the gate to see if Steve is following.

He isn’t. He has dropped his suitcase, which has burst open, and he’s crouched on the path, weeping. This is his town. He was born here. He belongs in Linthorpe. And he doesn’t think he can just leave, just abandon Middlesbrough without a backward glance. He loves The Nurse, but he loves his home town more.

It’s a blow. The Nurse, whose life so far has mostly been composed of backward glances like this, nevertheless feels her heart aching a bit but sighs, then turns, leaving him crying. She loves him well enough. But she loves her liberty more.

She listens to his heartbroken sobs until she turns right onto Acklam Road and they fade into the traffic noise. Then she neatly sets him aside and forgets him. Where next? The Nurse’s mind whirs. Maybe Scotland? Yep, that sounds good. It doesn’t take long before she’s feeling better, almost skipping along the road. Fuck love. Fuck the Rozzers. Freedom is the bunny.

Barns Ness

Unlikely as it seems sometimes, The Nurse was once a child. That child accompanied its parents every summer on six-week holidays to Barns Ness in East Lothian, a camping site set right on the coast like an eccentric jewel.

Behind the site, which was split into rectangular plots separated by wide, six-foot high grassy banks, was a coal mine and a cement works, but when, like The Nurse, you always faced the sea, the place was a hundred percent magic. The heavy industrial landscape didn’t exist unless you actually turned around and looked at it.

Decades later, The Nurse imagines Barns Ness will be a cool place to lie low for a while until the dust settles. There might not be any dust, of course, but if there is, she doesn’t want any of the fucking stuff settling anywhere near her.

She buys a train ticket to Newcastle, changes trains for Edinburgh and grabs the small branch line service back down the coast to Dunbar. Then she lifts her case wearily once more and trudges southwards along the rugged coastline past the golf links and the campsite of her childhood to the lighthouse.

Striding past the old lime kilns, The Nurse is chuffed to see the magic pond is still there, the weird one that fills up at high tide and mysteriously empties when the water retreats, leaving nothing but sharp, wet black rocks. She stops for a rest on the beach at White Sands, pleasant but dull compared to the interesting rocky bits, then marches around the final pebbly corner, and the campsite is revealed… or what’s left of it.

The Nurse can still see the rectangular camping spaces hemmed in by grassy banks. There are no tents or caravans, though, and no little shop. The concrete hard stand has gone too, the one where Dennis, the perpetually drunk campsite manager, used to park his caravan and watch his tiny battery-operated TV late at night, windows glowing orange in the salty, jockish darkness.

A few pieces of litter blow past her face, and seagulls hover above. The Nurse scents the breeze and enjoys powerful feelings of nostalgia. The creepy, marshy bit of the site where she’d catch huge, wriggling black eels before they slid through the crust of soft sphagnum moss into the egg-stinky water below? It is still there. The massive building-sized chunk of wood she used to think was part of a shipwreck? Probably a pontoon, it is still hulked high and dry on the rocky strip of beach opposite the campsite, at the point the rock formations change suddenly from fascinating in their beauty and variety to boring, sharp, yellow-grey stuff reaching out into the chilly sea in unwelcoming ridges.

On the small, curved beach directly opposite the old campsite, there are beautiful yellow and brown-striped shells to collect along the crescent of the sea’s edge, just like her childhood, and the creepy, deep, dark rock fissures you could only reach at low tide are exactly the same, still populated by sea anemones and brittle starfish. Only the World War Two sea-mine washed up on the shore is gone, eroded to almost nothing by the decades, just the suggestion of a sandy depression sucked by the tide.

There’s nothing here. Nothing but her memories, the wind, the tide and the waves, the sharp dune grass and the spotless gulls. There isn’t even any shelter to be had. The Nurse continues, making her way rather glumly down the grassy track to the lighthouse and discreetly breaking in. Some kindly cunt has left a loaf in the bread bin, butter in the fridge and some jam in a cupboard. Not great, but better than nothing.

Lighting a massive joint and relaxing into a fat armchair next to a narrow window, she gazes back at the view towards Dunbar, avoiding the sight of the nuclear power station to the south, daydreaming until dusk. Then, shaking herself, The Nurse rises, washes her hands, fixes her hair, slams the lighthouse door shut behind her and heads back along the fringe of the frothy Scottish sea to Dunbar for a fish supper, which she eats on a bench overlooking the ancient harbour. Yes, this feels right.

Back at the lighthouse late, following a risky journey in the pitch dark, unable to see her hands in front of her face, The Nurse feels oddly lonely. During the last few years, since she got free, she has done an awful lot of leaving. She has left Brighton, Eddie, Betty, The Chief Surgeon, the Daves, the ‘Boro, the Linny, the Peds, Steve, the cats, the lot. This time, there’s no going back.

While there’s plenty to be said for staying on the move, remaining nimble and open to change, sometimes The Nurse thinks she’d quite like to stay put for more than a couple of years, maybe put down a deeper root or two. In the meantime, she needs an income and somewhere to live.

Agony Aunt

A steady flow of interesting victims keeps The Nurse going while she mulls over ways to fund her trepanning habit in future. Her cash stash is running low, she wants a business idea with legs, and she needs inspiration fast.

Luckily, The Nurse is rarely short of ideas, and this one’s a fucking blinder. She is conscience-free. She has very little notion about what makes people tick. Strange things float her boat. She has an uncanny ability to see the wood for the trees, pin down the real issue and deliver creative solutions that work. The way ahead is crystal clear. She will make a superb Agony Aunt.

The Nurse’s theory goes like this: it’s no good getting worked up about other people’s problems. Empathy is every great Agony Aunt’s worst enemy. It is far better not to give an actual shit, to see things clearly from above, taking a sort of emotional helicopter view. Maybe an outer space view. In her opinion, it is an Agony Aunt’s job to pour lovely, cool logic over steaming piles of irrational emotion-driven shit. To wipe clean the windows of hysteria, to confidently shove ice cubes down the very string vest of fear. She is raring to go.

Having carefully packed away an entire previous life into a capacious metaphorical suitcase and stashed it in a remote corner of her brain, this is the freshest of fresh starts. First, The Nurse needs a business name. “The Nurse” won’t do. That’s her private name for her own self, and for close friends. Her real name is no good either, it must be kept secret. She’s had to ditch the various names she used during the ’90s, in jail, in Brighton, in ‘Boro, and for her previous businesses. The name for her new business has to make people feel safe, reassure them, and bring to mind someone warm and giving. Hm. She decides upon Fucked Up? Buck Up!, since this is Scotland and they appreciate straight talk.

It’s not much fun at the lighthouse. The Nurse hides out there for a week, then another, then makes a few quick killings down the coast in search of ready cash and rents a shop in the centre of Dunbar with a many-storied flat above.

Field of Dreams

The Nurse gradually prepares for her new career. First, a smart website and loads of content written with search engines in mind. No problem with that. She has done it all before. Finished, she sits back and grins, momentarily reminded of that cunt of a solicitor in Finchley. Ha. It remains one of her fave murders and probably always will be.

Dragging her mind back to the present, The Nurse makes sure search engines will Google index her website, sets up Google Analytics, advertises the business online and off, and gets her premises ready. Bricks and mortar, plus email, phone and Skype will cover things nicely. She has built it, and it shouldn’t take long for the people to come.

Downstairs in the therapy room, she wants the troubled of Dunbar to feel relaxed and easy about spilling the beans. This is no time for minimalism. You can only get away with a minimalist look in a therapy context when you’re one of those warm people who loves everyone without even having to think about it. The Nurse decks the room out in deep purples, pinks and oranges, with lots of sumptuous, soft furnishings and two very comfy, elaborate velvet patchwork chairs. She figures the richness and warmth of the décor will subconsciously compensate nervous punters for her total lack of giving a shit.

Upstairs, her own flat is coming along nicely. Never overly bothered by the look of things before, she finds herself collecting so many treasures from the beach that only an intelligent storage solution will stop the place turning into a fucking beach bum’s jumble sale. She does not do messy. Antique wood display cabinets with glass shelves and mirrored interiors do the trick, showcasing her fossils, skulls and crystals, seashells and bones efficiently and attractively.

Inspired by the look and feel of the therapy room, it isn’t long before The Nurse creates a velvety, warm, exotic snug of a home in the flat above, into which she soon allows a cat. Just the one. She calls it Spence.

The real reason she wanted this place, though, is the secret basement. The Nurse, having first hacked into the local authority’s records, has leased the only premises in Dunbar with a basement that everyone has forgotten about. The secret room below the shop premises has fallen off the plans, and she’s the only one who knows about it. Re-fucking-sult.

She buys a huge, splashy abstract painting to cover the half-size door in the therapy room that leads down twenty narrow rock-hewn steps to a small but adequate space deeper below the street than you’d expect, insulated by many feet of solid rock. It is a veritable cave. And it is soundproof, a trepanner’s heaven. She is thrilled.

Time passes. As it turns out, Dunbar itself is quite wee, and the people mostly keep themselves to themselves. Enough stray souls wander along the coast to keep her in trepanning victims. Scatterings of bird watchers, a few workers from the nuclear plant on lunchtime strolls, the occasional geologist drawn by the coast’s complex rock formations. As she waits for people to call, The Nurse’s trepanning failures get buried under the beaches of East Lothian. There are no decent moors around here, so some of the successes are dropped off around the fringes of North Berwick Law, the steep-sided six hundred-foot high remains of an ancient volcano. The Nurse throws others out of her car in the suburbs of Haddington, for no other reason than a town resident was once rude to her and she’s taken a wildly violent dislike to the place. The rest she dumps in the Lammermuir Hills, leaving them either to die, which happens a lot thanks to the crap Scottish weather, or get rescued by passers-by.

Marketing

There was a young man from Kilbride who fell in a shithouse and died. His heartbroken brother fell down another, and now they’re in-turd side by side.

There was a young man from Devizes whose bollocks were two different sizes. One was so small it was no use at all, the other so large it won prizes.

“Farting is fun with bandages on,” mused Johnny the terminally sore. “They seep through the cracks and help me relax. I think I’ll get injured some more.”

A lesbian lass from Khartoum invited a queer to her room. When she turned out the light, he said, “Let’s get this right: now who does what, how, and to whom?”

The Nurse is restless, idly running through her favourite limericks while waiting for her first Agony Aunt customer to bite. Still waiting. Yawn. The problem is, she can market her Agony Aunt services ’til she’s blue in the face, but something’s missing. The good folk of Dunbar are hardly lining up outside her door. Nor are they Skyping her, or emailing her, or anything else for that matter. Bollocks.

On the bus to Edinburgh the next day, she finally realises what’s up. Peering over a fat woman’s well-upholstered shoulder through the gap between the seat backs, The Nurse notices the lady is reading the Agony Aunt column in the local paper, the East Lothian Courier. Aha. Another wee hack or two, a spot of trolling, and she’s armed with some very interesting facts about the current local Agony-Aunting incumbent, a woman called Shirley who it turns out, to everyone’s surprise, is actually a serial fraudster from Shipley called Kenneth. Cosmetic surgery, muses The Nurse, is clever stuff. Maybe one day, if things heat up again, a discreet nip and tuck wouldn’t go amiss. It might just keep the fucking authorities off her back.

A week later, and the Great East Lothian Agony Aunt-Gate Scandal has not only broken, the tsunami of shame has already retreated and disappeared. The Nurse is happily installed as Interim Agony Aunt, “Guest Agony Aunt” to the newspaper-reading public, and the media types she blackmailed into providing glowing references have fucking fallen over themselves to oblige. Kenneth is awaiting trial in North Berwick, and the daft cunts at the paper think she’s a star in the woo-woo firmament. She had better start fucking glittering.

The Nurse’s unique blend of honest relationship support and powerful problem solving skills goes down a treat with the straightforward Scots of Dunbar and beyond. They appreciate someone who calls a spade a spade and a cunt a fucking cunt. In fact, her first weekly column causes a near-riot of praise.

When faced with the problem “I can’t get over my ex,she replies with a brisk certainty which has an oddly pleasurable emotional effect, very like whipping a large elastoplast off a hairy leg. “Stop fucking whingeing. Be honest with yourself. You know as well as I do that the second you find someone new to fancy, your ex will disappear in a puff of smoke, no longer a pedestal-decorating marvel, but just some cunt you once knew. It happens in a heartbeat. Shut the fuck up, and get on with life. It is too short to waste on this self-indulgent twaddle.” The punters love it.

When asked, “Will I ever meet my prince?,” The Nurse has to go vomit before answering. She writes, “Get a grip. There are no princes. Even if there are, you don’t want one. Love is not about some cunt whisking you away on a white horse. It’s a real thing, a human thing, not a fucking fairy story. Try being less fucking fussy, join some internet dating sites and go to the pub more. Get a hobby, for crying out loud. And plaster a smile on your miserable face. Thank you, and goodbye.” The paper’s readers lap it up.

When asked, “How do I finish with my boyfriend without hurting his feelings?” by a woman from Haddington, The Nurse recommends she just fucking goes ahead and finishes it. The dumpee is old and ugly enough to handle his own emotions. His feelings will either mend, or he’ll throw himself off the Forth Bridge, neither of which the dumper has any control over.

When asked for advice by a young man who thinks he might be gay, she tells him to man up and just be fucking gay. There’s nothing wrong with it, and if his family has a problem, they can fuck right off. It works. They fuck right off, and he never has to look at their silly, prejudiced faces again. He’s so pleased, he tells all his friends, and The Nurse’s coffers soon fill to bursting.

Her reputation as a successful and popular newspaper Agony Aunt is made in no time, over a matter of weeks, and now she’s ready to launch face-to-face sessions on the premises, as well as via email and through an app.

This is completely different from therapy. It’s more like going to an oracle or a magic well, but one that answers back. Her customers come in, sit down, get comfy, and once they’re settled, they ask The Nurse their question. She answers. It doesn’t take long, but every no-bullshit, politically incorrect, to-the-point answer is worth twenty quid of anyone’s money, and the profits continue to stack up.

The troubled of Dunbar leave Fucked Up? Buck Up! refreshed, sometimes sheepish at the fuss they’d been making about nothing much but always immensely grateful for a common sense steer.

Imaginary friend

The Nurse’s latest earworm is absolutely chronic. It brings home to her that while she feels mostly good, things could be a lot better. Her worst earworms always hint at internal problems, a kind of emotional weathervane for her feelings.

This one introduces itself quietly. The first part of the song sounds like a train approaching from a long way off, tinny and small. “Who loves you, pretty baby, who’s gonna help you through the night?” Then it repeats, this time louder and fuller with a deep bassline.

The verse itself kicks in next, accompanied by soaring violins. But this song is a right fucking cunt, so there’s more. A lot more. There’s a hard dudududu-dutdut instrumental bit, and an instrumental voice element made up of bobbly doobdoobdoob-doopdoopdoop sounds. And a fucking chorus to top things off.

Combine them, and there are at least six elements hidden within the one tune, and that makes for one heck of an earworm. An utter and complete bastard. A torment. This time, the fucker goes on for days, then stretches to weeks. It is agonising, something’s up, and The Nurse needs to fix it before she goes more mental than she has ever been in her entire, impressively-mental lifetime.

It takes her a while to pin down the issue. But once she does, it’s crystal clear what’s been happening. It’s fun. It’s satisfying. It’s unexpectedly rewarding. But there’s something about resolving people’s problems that makes The Nurse feel strangely lonely.

Here she is, providing an exceptionally popular service to the folk of East Lothian, but she has fuck-all friends. Not that she’s ever had many friends, but there’s always been one or two kicking around, people she can almost open up to. Not fully, of course, but enough to make a difference.

When The Nurse was small, she had an imaginary friend. She decides to resurrect him until a new real-life friend comes her way. Closing her eyes and relaxing into a deep armchair upstairs in the flat, The Nurse bring her old mate to mind and fleshes him out. He hasn’t changed. He has merely grown older. And he’s as much fun as ever, a right funny cunt, an imaginary friend who is completely without conscience. Her type of guy.

It works pretty well, and the feelings of isolation draw back like a black tide for a while. The Nurse and her imaginary friend spend their evenings together chatting about past conquests and exploring plans for the future. But while he proved more than enough company for the deeply unpopular, unpleasantly sullen child The Nurse once was, as an adult he feels thin and insubstantial.

When she was little, she could almost see him, he was so vividly alive in her mind, an incredibly tall and skinny bloke with an air of Ichabod Crane about him, all sharp knees and bony elbows, devoid of any form of softness or roundness or comfort.

Now, after a few weeks of him as an adult, she finds he gets on her wick something rotten. So she sets up a tableau in her mind with him as the star, trepans the imaginary fuck out of him and buries him in a remote corner of her brain, in an imaginary place so deep, he can’t get out.

She still feels lonely.

That’s just crazy talk

When a tall, skinny, dark haired bloke arrives in The Nurse’s therapy room one wintry afternoon and confesses, embarrassed, to an impossible-to-resist urge to lobotomise annoying people, The Nurse is charmed. But she keeps her own counsel and advises him to “get some fucking hypnotherapy fast, before you go and do something really daft.”

He wanders off reasonably happy but comes back a week later, grey around the gills thanks to a lack of sleep, shaking constantly with the growing strain of not-lobotomising.

The Nurse hums and hahs. This is exactly the type of partner she wants to support her ongoing trepanning work, but can she trust him? She thinks so, but to be safe, she needs something on him, some sort of leverage. For now, she advises him to try to find an alternative that’ll maybe give him the same satisfaction as lobotomy but won’t see him banged up for life.

The next week, he’s back, greyer and more fidgety than ever, having failed to find anything remotely as satisfying as lobotomies. She advises he has a lobotomy himself, only partly tongue-in-cheek.

He starts in shock, looks at her quizzically from between shaggy eyebrows, then half-grins uncertainly, not quite sure how to take it. Is she being funny? The Nurse lets a certain look enter her eye, subtly enough so he can either take it or leave it. He makes a leap of faith and takes it, and her heart beats fast with anticipation.

Shutting the shop door and clicking the lock, The Nurse and the man – whose name, she finds out, is Phil – discuss the ins and outs of lobotomy and trepanning. The next week, he brings in a couple of books, which they pore over together. The week after that, The Nurse takes him down to the secret basement and shows him photos of the tableaux she created back in her Middlesbrough days. Fuck me, he says. No, thanks, rejoins The Nurse, grinning. They laugh, shake hands, and that’s all it takes to change The Nurse’s life again.

No more lonely trepanning in the dead of night, no more dragging bodies along the rocky coastline on her own in the pitch black, no more bursting with frustrated desire to tell someone how amazing she is, how clever, how marvellously wicked. Phil makes an extremely able partner from the start. He’s grateful to be saved from a lifetime’s frustration, thrilled to have a partner with the same kind of ambitions. He becomes the lobotomiser, taking turns with The Nurse. Lobotomy, trepanning, lobotomy, trepanning, it’s incredibly pleasurable, and the body count deep under the region’s many remote sandy and pebble-strewn beaches steadily, secretly grows.

The Dunbar Euthanasia Club

Some people’s lives are utter shite. During the course of her Agony Aunt work, The Nurse comes across some proper sad cunts, people who are not merely a little bit miffed, puzzled, disappointed or let down. These poor buggers are horrified by the turns their lives have taken, terrified of a future filled with uncertainty, misery and pain.

A good proportion of them, or so they confess, would be more than happy to chuff off this crappy mortal coil. Euthanasia, of course, is illegal. But The Nurse and Phil can’t resist the thought of the extra dosh. They make a plan and call their secret enterprise The Dunbar Euthanasia Club.

Their first member is Suzanne, a local Dunbar lass whose husband of eight years is the most popular man in town; a big drinker, friend to all, generous tipper, and behind closed doors the most cowardly bully you could ever hope not to meet. Accusing the man of coercive control makes him seem quite nice. He criticises the way his wife walks, her social skills, her opinions, clothes, hairdo, smile, attitude, cooking, hobbies, politics, accent, earrings, telephone voice, everything. As a result, she walks almost bent double thanks to years of being too afraid to stand up straight and call him a cunt like he deserves.

Phil and The Nurse try to talk Suzanne out of it. There’s no need, they feel, for her to actually be euthanased. But Suzanne is hell bent on big revenge. She wants to leave a note for the press detailing everything he’s done to her, and she reckons the biggest impact will be a suicide letter from a dead woman, a woman he has driven to her grave.

It’s an odd cut-off-your-nose-to-spite-your-face type of revenge, but the pair talk things over between them and eventually decide if that’s what she wants, that’s fine. They say yes, Suzanne is thrilled, and they begin to gather the resources they need for the project.

The plan comes together. Phil and The Nurse will kill Suzanne and make it look like suicide. An incriminating note will be sent to the East Lothian Courier with instructions to print it once her body is found.

After dark, the deed done, they ease the fast-stiffening Suzanne out of the back door of the subterranean room and leave her in the position she briefed them with beforehand, propped up like a horrid scarecrow in the centre of The Glebe, in full sight of the Bayswell Road commuter traffic, an unexploded human scandal-bomb waiting to go off.

The impact is extraordinary. Suzanne’s husband, who had always seemed like a good lad on the surface, is revealed as an utter and total rumble-buttock. His business goes under, he has to hand back the keys of his house to the bank, and when he approaches the Dunbar Euthanasia Club on a mission to end it all, a polite yet firm receptionist in the shape of The Nurse tells him to fuck right off.

Nice job.

Alzheimer’s patients prove the trickiest to handle. Talk about herding cats. One day they know exactly what they want to do – kill themselves off before the memory loss gets any worse, and they end up like giant babies, shitting themselves, dribbling and failing to recognise their loved ones. The next day, they’re shitting themselves, dribbling and failing to recognise their loved ones. For fuck’s sake. It’s far too unpredictable. After three goes, none of which ends up profitable because of the hassle they have to go through, Phil and The Nurse decide the demented are of no use to them. From then onwards, they’ll turn them down.

Because they’re demented, none of these would-be clients actually remember they’ve been turned down. Even when they do, they don’t have a clue what they’ve been turned down for. There’s no need for obfuscation.

Lavinia is back

The Nurse has always enjoyed Lavinia’s company, respecting her old friend’s penchant for shagging then murdering the pretty men of Lewes. She has often wondered where her fellow Den of Cunts member got to, hoping she’d broken free of the nuthouse. So it’s a complete delight when Lavinia turns up in Dunbar, looking exhausted and worn out but glowing from the inside like a small blonde volcano. How lovely.

The two women catch sight of one another in the charity shop in West Barnes, do one of those comedy double-take things, then walk faster and faster towards each other until they almost collide, hugging and shaking hands firmly.

Arm in arm, they click on high heels back to the premises for a cuppa and a catch-up. The Nurse locks the door behind them, turns the ‘open’ sign to ‘closed,’ puts the kettle on and sits back in one of the velvet patchwork chairs, motioning Lavinia into the other.

It is fantastic being back in touch, but Lavinia brings disturbing news. She’s been living under an assumed name in Hove, drinking down the Pedestrian’s Arms, where all the best reprobates hang out, and she has noticed things are starting to go dog-shaped.

The Daves have been drinking far too much, on a massive bender fuelled by guilt over their past transgressions. Not too bad in itself. But they’ve just ‘got’ religion, and what started off as a small, insignificant niggling feeling that they’ve done bad stuff has turned into a full-blown guilt trip that sees them drinking the Brighton Tavern dry by day and hanging around John Street police station by night, wearing eccentric home-made religious vestments, desperate to confess but not quite brave enough to actually open their silly mouths… yet.

It’s hard to describe the feeling of horror that overtakes The Nurse when she hears the news. Her hackles rise, goose bumps appear all over her body and her brain feels like it’s shrinking, searingly hot one second, and freezing cold the next. She loses her voice, coughs, coughs again, then has to rush to the bathroom to throw up. But there’s worse to come.

Not only are the Daves teetering on the edge, Lavinia continues. There’s a new Inspector at John Street nick, he’s determined to solve the biggest cold case of the century, and he’s sniffing around the city, getting closer to the truth by the day. Worse still, by all accounts he’s a bit of a genius. If he uncovers a single solid fact, picks up the thread, and starts unravelling it The Nurse will be in real danger.

Yes, The Nurse has always covered her tracks well. But it feels awful all the same, knowing some clever, ambitious cunt down south is making waves. She has left too many people alive. Damn that tiny sliver of compassion that let them live. She should’ve done the fucking lot of them, everyone in Brighton and Middlesbrough. Isn’t hindsight a fucking wonderful thing?

What’s the best course of action? Do the threesome, whose fates are now inextricably linked, high-tail it back to the south coast and neutralise the many living, human-shaped risks The Nurse has left behind? Or do they meet the matter halfway in Middlesbrough and cut that side of the chain so completely that there’s no connection left between Brighton and the ‘Boro?

It’s a conundrum. Any extra murders, disappearances and maimings will eventually attract the laser focus of that twat of an Inspector, whether they take place up north or down south. If he hasn’t already put out an APB of some kind, he soon will. The merest sniff of a recurrence of the old pattern and the ladies – who are, after all, escaped nutters – will be discovered. And Phil, being no angel, will be sent down as well.

They decide that discretion is the better part of valour, then decide valour has fuck all to do with it and stick with just discretion. No murderous joy-fests in Brighton, or Middlesbrough, or anywhere else for the time being. It’s a shame, but this is no time to raise one’s head above the fucking parapet.

What to do instead of killing? Trapped as usual between the moral high ground they think they occupy and the moral vacuum that is their actual home, it’s hard to come to a decision. They’re stuck, and they stay like that for a week. Then The Nurse and Lavinia realise the only way ahead is to get absolutely cosmic and apply a different, drug-fuelled focus to things.

A few excellent LSD trips later, each enhanced with a handful of Es, and they finally see the wood for the trees. Standing on the flat headland at John Muir Country Park looking out to sea towards mighty Bass Rock, hair streaming out behind them, the women stuff their hands in their tweedy pockets. They lean into the wind, which tears their words away and hurls them seawards in a wonderfully discreet fashion.

With a workable plan on the way at last, they trudge back to the house to let Phil know the score: Brighton is the source of everything. Brighton holds the key to their capture, and to their safety. Brighton must be their focus. They start to make plans.

The Nurse, Lavinia and Phil need an Agent, someone who will silence the necessary loose ends on their behalf. An illegal representative if you like, someone who knows how to kill or otherwise shut up any would-be spraggers. Someone who’ll do it so subtly and discreetly that nobody will ever realise the killings and silencings are not merely unfortunate accidents.

All this takes money. Lots of money. The Nurse and Phil call an immediate halt to their trepanning and lobotomising work and focus hard on the Agony-Aunting, which clocks up larger and larger chunks of profit as time passes and the questions The Nurse is asked by East Lothian’s bemused and bewildered become more complicated and tricky to resolve.

Sticky answers to challenging questions are billed at forty quid a go, and nobody bats an eyelid at the price, they’re so chuffed with the sensible – if brutal – answers they’re given. The pair help the despairing end it all, gathering more cash from their euthanasia business. And Lavinia stands by in case she’s needed, a loyal foot soldier, and Dunbar’s newest resident.

Part 15 – Trouble Brewing Down South

Getting religion

Down in Brighton, the Daves are in church. It isn’t an actual church, more of a Scout Hut in a village just outside the city, but it’s where Ruth’s ceremonies take place.

Neither man has a religious background, but a brace of guilty consciences, when combined with free joints of absolutely first class weed, proves to be powerful stuff. The men have been winding themselves – and each other – up for a couple of years. While that in itself wouldn’t have propelled them into a life of virtue, since empathy isn’t their strong point, Ruth, the new regular at the Pedestrians Arms, has been working on them, and she’s starting to have an impact.

Ruth is a religious nut-nut of the finest order. She has made up her own religion and her own gods, and they are abso-fucking-lutely terrifying. Thanks to the pub ghost stories incident all those years ago, the Daves are unusually sensitive to spookiness and woo-woo. This, in combination with Ruth’s fervour and their growing conviction that they’ve done the baddest of bad things, ultimately proves fatal.

The Daves attend the Scout Hut three weeks running while arseholed, drunkenly praying with the other weirdos without really understanding what’s going on. On their fourth visit, when he’s least expecting it, a big, echoing, super-loud disembodied Voice yells into Hairy Dave’s ear, making him leap into the air with shock, scaring the living shit out of him.

How would he like it if his own life was cut cruelly short by some murdering cunt? booms the Voice. Dave’s wavery answer is, Not at all. Then the Voice demands an apology. Not just a private prayer-like apology, either. A proper one done in front of real people. When Dave hesitantly asks the Voice which ‘real people’ it is talking about, it replies in a scathing tone, The families of the people you helped to fucking kill and maim, you bell-end. What ‘people’ did you fucking think I meant? Fucking Abba?

When a deity speaks in a language you can understand and appreciate, the message the deity is trying to get across has an impressive impact. This deity’s fluent swearing does it for Hairy Dave. He is so moved by it that he drags Chemical Dave outside onto the village green to pass the message on.

Chemical Dave, also being petrified of ghosts, is so freaked out by the idea of the Voice that he agrees to a confession plan straight away. The pair decide to hand themselves in the next day and spend the rest of their miserable lives repenting. The sense of impending virtue they feel is quite magical, something they’ve never experienced before.

Down the nick on John Street first thing the next morning, the Daves approach the desk sideways like nervous crabs. The Voice might have scared them into acting so far, but it has gone quiet, and without it, confessing doesn’t feel quite so attractive. Nor anywhere near as urgent. If it’s even urgent at all, they realise, looking at each other in sudden alarm.

They speak to the desk sergeant, muttering something vague about people wandering the South Downs with holes in their heads. He jots it down, sighs at the vagaries of Brighton’s many, many loonies, and enters the men’s peculiar comments into the computer system. Five minutes later, the information is scooped up by the Inspector, the new senior rozzer.

The Daves scuttle off, not sure whether to be more afraid of the Voice or The Nurse, whose liberty they may have placed in danger. Shit. Too busy being tormented by fleeting remorse, they’d forgotten about that. Their consciences are mollified by their part-confession, but the men remain torn between doing the right thing and shutting the fuck up. Being conflicted isn’t a comfortable feeling, so they put their drinking hats on and throw themselves into a screaming bender of epic proportions that goes on for weeks.

The game commences

Brighton feels a long way away. The gang, fatally, have left the mopping up of the remaining risks in Brighton for a wee bit too long. The Daves have spilled just enough beans down south to catch the attention of the Inspector. The man is fiercely, alarmingly intelligent. His understanding of the human condition runs deep, and he has an equally deep fascination for anomalies like The Nurse and her hench-people. He more or less sniffs the fuckers out, which makes him a lethal opponent.

So far, the Inspector has only heard a few wispy rumours that don’t add up to anything much, but they’re still juicy enough to pop into his whirring brain the second he wakes up and potent enough to stop him from dropping off at night. After a week of turning the scant facts over in his mind like sun-warmed beach pebbles, he decides they’re too strange to forget and vows to keep his ears open.

When one of the Daves, hideously drunk and disorderly once more, turns up at John Street nick again, this time yelling about an overpowering need he no longer has to make amends for the sins he may or may not have committed against his fellow man – or, more accurately, many of the poor cunts – The Inspector knows he was right to feel that instinctive fizz in his gut. It goes bone-deep. He’s sensing something massive here, something horrid lurking like one of those mythical medieval worms that curls around a small town somewhere really shit, cruelly singeing the miserable locals with its fiery farts.

The Inspector is determined to be the lucky bastard who captures the monster who has been causing such chaos. Rubbing his elegant hands together with anticipation, he grabs a coffee from the machine in the corridor and starts tapping enthusiastically at his keyboard, bringing up data about the strange rash of murders and disappearances that blighted the city’s hen and stag scene a few years back.

His colleagues leave one by one, some ending up at the Pedestrians Arms or the Waggon and Horses on the razz, others virtuously tucked up in bed with a cool gay or hot cocoa. The Inspector doesn’t notice them leave or hear their farewells. He’s down a Big Data digital rabbit hole, writing database queries like a man possessed, and fuck me, he’s starting to see a pattern. A pattern he can maybe grab the corner of and pull to reveal a solid starting point for his investigations. This is his kind of case. Once he’s started, there’s no stopping him.

I Will Do Anything For You Ltd

Armed with a huge stash of cash and unaware of what’s happened, The Nurse leaves Phil and Lavinia to keep the Agony Aunt and secret euthanasia businesses ticking over and discreetly hot-foots it down to Brighton on the train, paying cash for her ticket.

Grinning and bearing it as she fights her way through tourist-fattened pre-festive London on a nasty grey day, she battles the crowds to Victoria station and onto platform 19. She strides parallel to the train until she reaches the front carriage – old Brighton commuter habits die hard – and sags with relief onto a slightly grubby blue and yellow moquette chair facing south. Stuffing her weekend bag onto the rack above her head, she shuts her eyes and tries to relax, going through the plan one more time.

Fuck solicitors and their costly twatwaffle. The Nurse has decided on a discreet Virtual Assistant to act as her agent. On arrival she sets forth, asking around the city, and meets up with a few potential project managers, but most of the fuckers are far too goody-two-shoes for words. She does not want a ‘yes’ man or woman. Bollocks to ‘nice.’ She’s looking for a strongly-motivated Project Manager-type with lots of good local connections. A person with a mind of their own, someone who will anticipate The Nurse’s needs and plan ahead fluidly. Someone who takes the money and looks the other way. Someone who is loyal to a fault, whose middle name is “I will keep my fucking mouth shut as long as there’s enough cash in it and you are scary enough.”

When The Nurse finally meets Lisa, she quickly realises she has discovered the ideal PM. What a relief. Lisa accepts The Nurse’s brief without batting an eyelid. Yes, she understands the issue. Yes, she’s prepared to help. Yes, finder’s fee of fifty grand is fine. Yes, a hundred grand is a perfectly acceptable bonus for a job well done. No, she won’t breathe a word about the project until her dying day, if ever.

Lisa signs on the dotted line, wisely understanding that keeping this project secret is a matter of her own life or death. Then she whisks herself off to hire a reliable hit man. Or hit woman. She’s no sexist.

Invisible Dan fits the bill. He’s a sneaky fucker with looks so nondescript, he blends into any and every situation like a chameleon. At smart events, he’s the bland guy in a tux who is so forgettable, nobody notices him arrive or leave. At away matches, he’s the one who brains seventeen opposing fans at the home end of the stadium without the police batting an eyelid. Now you see him, now you don’t. Mostly don’t. Better still, Invisible Dan knows his victims – the Daves – from way back and understands their habits, although they have absolutely no memory of ever meeting him.

Lisa meets Invisible Dan at the Basketmakers pub and briefs him with the task at hand. He wipes a strong hand across his mouth, removing a drift of beer foam, and smiles casually. It’s a simple enough job, and ten grand for a couple of easy killings isn’t bad. By the time Invisible Dan has finished his pint and left, Lisa has forgotten what he looks like. She finds herself almost doubting herself, even doubting he exists, the man’s looks and personality are so hard to grasp, so wispy, so insubstantial.

Invisible Dan loves the Pedestrians Arms, even though the bar staff never remember his name and the locals look baffled every time he uses theirs. Who the fuck? He turns up on Saturday night, just as The Nurse is stepping wearily off the train back home in Dunbar, and he manages to remain unnoticed. It’s easy enough, when everyone is so bladdered, to throw a slim, strong arm around the neck of one Dave, then the other, before dragging them down the steep wooden stairs into the cool, damp cellar where the beer kegs are kept.

Having bunged a few thou’ to the barmaid, Invisible Dan knows there are two empty barrels waiting down there for him. The Daves are horribly pissed, incapable of putting up much of a fight. In fact, they’re so drunk that they each manage to jam their silly selves, U-shaped, into a barrel in an effort to escape the scary skinny dude whose face they sort of recognise but can’t quite pin down.

Invisible Dan bangs the lids back on the barrels, seals them with gaffer tape, then lugs them up the cellar stairs before rolling them innocently out of the pub door onto Foundry Street, into the back of a lorry that looks rather like it belongs to Harvey’s of Lewes but in fact doesn’t. The crowd of locals closes behind him as he slams the pub door shut and sets off along the coast road to Newhaven.

Taking the Fort Road to Newhaven Beach, Invisible Dan stops the lorry, opens the back doors and hurls the kegs out of the back none too gently. Then he rolls them noisily over the flinty pebbles to the water’s edge.

There’s nobody around. It’s pitch black. He swivels his head slowly to and fro, listening closely for sounds, then gives the first barrel an almighty push with a long, suede-clad foot. It starts off slowly, then gains speed, pebbles spitting out from either side as it hurtles down the sloping beach and into the surf. The second barrel follows and Dan grins as he hears the hopeless bubbling of the Daves as they meet their watery end. Nice job.

Sighing happily, he rolls an almighty spliff, which he smokes at the water’s edge as the tide rises, then trudges back to the lorry, driving it carefully along the coast to Tidemills and dumping the fucker. Catching the last number 12 bus of the night back to Brighton, he remains to all intents and purposes invisible, so boringly average that nobody even glances his way. When he shoves open the pub door and edges back in, the locals don’t bat an eyelid. He may as well not exist, and that’s the way he likes it.

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