The Nurse Diaries – Parts 16 and 17

The Nurse is thrilled to reveal parts sixteen and seventeen of her black comedy novel, The Life and Times of a Brighton Serial Killer. You can find out more about The Nurse and her secret career as Britain’s most prolific serial killer here.

Part 16 – Pandora’s Box

Tantallon

Goodbye Daves, you fuckers. The gang’s number one clear and present danger has been dealt with. The Nurse, Phil and Lavinia can relax. But not totally. In Brighton, the Pandora’s Box of suspicion has been flung open, and The Nurse knows it will never slam completely shut again. There’s no Statute of Limitation on murder, and definitely no forgiveness on the cards for literally hundreds of killings and maimings. Maybe close to a thousand? She has never bothered to count.

While danger adds spice to their lives, their secret sauce as it were, the gang discovers there’s a delicate balance between shitting yourself 24/7 and being realistically hard-headed about one’s potential punishment. It takes Phil in particular some time to get used to the dizzying highs and black, trough-like lows that accompany the thought of being relentlessly pursued, then locked up to rot.

The pair go through the list of risks they’ve identified with care, ticking things off methodically. They think they’ve done it. Shitty is still living down south, but he has lost the plot completely, committed to a private mental hospital in East Sheen. He’s a long way from the action, effectively silenced by his own madness.

Anyone else? Lisa has been paid a fortune to stay quiet, and she’s far too wise to fuck things up for herself. The Romleys are long gone, as are Betty and the Chief Surgeon. Lavinia is on their side, as is Crazy Mary. The locals at the Pedestrians Arms are perpetually drunk, therefore wholly unreliable as witnesses. The ex-love of The Nurse’s life, Steve, has lost himself in the back streets of Brambles Farm, not far from Middlesbrough. Isn’t it queer how she can barely recall the passion she felt for Steve not so long ago? The feeling has completely disappeared, just like she tells her Agony Aunt customers theirs will.

Anyway, it looks like they might have stemmed the tide of discovery. Or at least forced it to stay still, Canute-like, for a while.

Businesswise, Phil and The Nurse had imagined things might tail off eventually, but combining Agony Aunting with the Dunbar Euthanasia Club proves surprisingly profitable in the long term. There’s a never-ending flow of new people with ridiculous problems requiring common sense advice. Existing clients return time and time again to lay fresh issues at The Nurse’s feet. Phil is coming along nicely, developing his own brilliant lack-of-empathy skills so quickly that it isn’t long before he becomes almost as much of a cunt as his employer.

The problem is, when life gets this smooth and easy and frictionless, The Nurse gets bored. And when boredom strikes, mischief is never far behind.

Taking a random day trip to Tantallon Castle one autumn day, she and Phil realise that the simple act of discreetly pushing unwary tourists off the edge so they plummet seawards past the achingly high red sandstone cliffs into the crashing waves below provides just enough of an extra thrill to keep them sane.

The pair soon fall in love with the castle on its lonely, lethal promontory and send a good few Japanese tourists – complete with expensive cameras – hurtling into the surf far below, wailing hopelessly all the way down. Wheeeeeeeeeeee, it’s really funny. The Nurse and Phil laugh so hard, their stomachs hurt.

After the first few casualties come to sticky ends, the castle managers build a tall fence around the cliff edge to prevent more deaths. The Nurse and Phil are forced to operate from nearby cliffs, nowhere near as much fun, and not exactly discreet either. Never mind.

The Inspector calls

Meanwhile, in Brighton, the Inspector is smoking a fat one while collating a list of potential witnesses to the killings he has become obsessed with. The project is taking over his life. It’s on his mind night and day. Every tiny clue makes him more determined not to let the matter go.

He has listed, so far, four hundred and eighty three people found wandering in rural areas with holes in their heads and no clue what happened to them. Interestingly, they are not exclusive to Sussex. There appears to have been a rash of similar, more recent maimings and weird burials up in the industrial north east, in and around Middlesbrough, and he is beginning to suspect there’s a pattern beginning to reveal itself in East Lothian, too.

Holy fuck.

Almost five hundred potential witnesses is an awful lot of humanity to question. It’s a very long job indeed, but it’s a fascinating one, and from the first interviewee onwards, he is hooked.

Nick Stewart is the first surviving Sussex trepanee to be interviewed, and it’s an eye-opener. There he was, minding his own business down the Lion and Lobster, a bit pissed but hardly off his face. The next thing he knows, he’s propped up against a fence on top of Newmarket Hill in the cool moonlight, his own hot blood running down his face, fully clothed and totally baffled. What the fuck?

‘WTF’ proves a common theme. It becomes clear the victims must’ve been drugged by an expert, someone who knows how to create very specific memory-altering effects. It must be a surgeon or a consultant, a senior medic of some kind or other. The Inspector hares off down a dead end, questioning everyone at the local hospital and generally making a dick of himself. It’s no good, of course, since The Nurse is not a surgeon or a consultant. She isn’t even a nurse. And she has never had to resort to theft, since she mixes most of her drugs herself.

The three hundred and thirty-third potential witness, Max, proves useful.

The Nurse, who was running a bit short of memory-loss preparations at the time but couldn’t resist a random trepanning session, grabbed Max at Brighton station and discreetly manhandled him into her car before he knew what was going on.

Back in Hove, she did the deed, did it well, then drove the still-alive Max onto the Downs at Devil’s Dyke, throwing him out of the car while it was still moving, which was enough to shock him awake. He sat up, his exploring fingers discovering a weird bloody hole in the top of his head, and watched the car’s headlights disappear up the road, filing the registration number in his excellent memory before dropping, exhausted, back to the ground, rooting around for his phone and calling his partner Mauricio to come to the rescue.

The next morning, the couple decide the incident sounds too mad for words. There’s no way they’re going to the cops with such an unlikely tale of kidnap and injury. They’ll be laughed out of John Street. On the other hand, they ought to report the incident, being responsible citizens.

A few days later, they turn up at the nick and tell their story. As they expect, the rozzers laugh them out of the police station, and that’s that. Max gets a private surgeon to fix his head and develops a slightly unhealthy obsession with hats. Gradually, he and Mauricio forget about the incident and carry on their lives without giving it much thought… until the Inspector calls and brings the terror and bafflement rushing back.

Sitting on the edge of his seat at the nick, Max furtles around in his memory for the registration number of the car that dumped him and – remarkably – finds it. The Inspector is so excited, he almost wets himself.

One step forward, two steps back. That’s criminal investigations for you. The car registration number turns out to be a dead end, the vehicle written off some time ago and squashed into a small, tinny cube down at the local scrap metal dealership on New England Road. Fuckity fuckfuck. Back to the drawing board.

Black Spider Gang

The notorious Brighton girl gang, the Black Spider Gang, delivers the first proper, concrete clue, the only one worth having so far. The Inspector is reluctant to interview them. They’re really scary. But he suspects one of them might have survived the carnage he is uncovering, and he cannot let it lie.

Hopping nervously from one foot to the other on the doorstep of their gang hut, he risks a light tap on the door, then a louder one. The door flies open, and there’s the gang leader, Jacky Langford, as large as life and as horribly attractive as ever. Fuck, she’s frightening. He gulps hard, explains his mission, and she slams the door in his face. It’s what the gang always does, even to friendlies. They have a bad reputation to maintain.

Thirty seconds later, the door flies open again, and an elegant hand beckons. Curiosity has won, and the women have decided they’ll hear him out. He takes a deep breath and stands straighter to make himself look bigger, stepping through the door into the dim hallway beyond, then turning right into the front room, where the women are sitting.

Ange pours a large whisky and hands it to him, then passes even larger measures to her fellow gang members. They each take a swig and look expectantly at the Inspector, who begins his story. As he talks, the ladies’ eyes get wider and wider. Fucking hell.

Kate has to sit down and take a breath, fanning herself with a magazine, and the fourth gang member, Nicky, fetches more booze and shares it around generously, emptying the bottle.

While lost in admiration at the skills of the murderer and maimer the Inspector describes, the Black Spider gang decides, on balance, it’s better to cooperate with him than throw the cunt out onto the street with his hair on fire, which is what they usually do to those who create irritating waves by throwing unwanted pebbles into the smoothly violent pond of their life. Ange readily admits she once found herself wandering the South Downs near Newhaven with a hole in her head and carefully parts her dark hair to show the Inspector the shiny pink, ten pence piece-sized scar.

The incident took place three years ago, when Ange was on her way home from a gang meeting. Because it’s what bad people are supposed to do, she had confidently walked the dark, spooky short cut along Clifton Street Passage, a slim twitten halfway up Guildford Road, just up the hill from Brighton station. Before she reached the end of the twitten, she felt a hand on her shoulder, swinging around in shock to catch a glimpse of tweed and a slash of red lipstick before being felled like a tree by a half-brick clutched in a smartly-gloved hand.

Good tweed, a navy blue leather driving glove and red lippy. So the killer’s a woman? The Inspector is thrilled. When Ange, pressed for more information, recalls another smoke-like wisp of memory in the shape of a neat helmet of well-set reddish-brown hair, he can barely contain himself. He rushes back to the station.

The Black Spider Gang members are left feeling deflated. Their mojo has taken a proper beating. They must be losing their edge. The Inspector wasn’t particularly scared of them, nor was he the least bit interested in their own crimes. What a selfish cunt. It is obviously time to up the ante. They slam the door behind him and huddle in the living room, planning a fresh four-woman crime spree of epic proportions designed to redress the balance.

Over the coming weeks, then months, potential witnesses flock to John Street police station, looking sheepish, scared or guilty. Not that they’ve got anything much to feel sheepish, scared or guilty about. It’s just the way being in a police station makes most people feel.

Every one of them has a hole in the head, some neater than others. Because most of the time the slice of skull that was removed to make the hole has gone missing, the victims’ shiny pink scars look like tiny moon craters, little depressions that spoil the nice, otherwise eggy shape of their heads to leave them slightly lopsided. Needless to say, most have grown their hair long, and the few balding or bald victims always wear hats.

When the Inspector consults with Mary, one of the city’s best-respected GPs, about the unusual scars and wounds he is seeing, he’s surprised by her lack of interest. He claims he may have uncovered a serial killer, and she yawns delicately, cat-like. She gives his theories about why someone might have revived the ancient art of skull trepanning short shrift, actually laughing it off.

Confidence crushed by the bright, attractive doctor who seems to know her stuff, he leaves the surgery disappointed. But deep inside, the Inspector can feel that special psychic itch he gets, the one that indicates he’s forgotten something really important, missed something crucial. Scratching the itch a bit, finding nothing, then giving up for now, he makes his gloomy way home.

Fuck me. The Inspector, lying in bed the next morning, shoots into a sitting position, his heart thumping so hard, it hurts. He has remembered what was bothering him.

What was that strange case he’d been briefly involved in a few years back? Some fat bastard of a Chief Surgeon had disappeared, and when the rozzers broke into the man’s flat for a poke around, they’d found a leather bag of brutal Victorian tools, the kind once used for trepanning. The Chief Surgeon had never turned up, and the investigation quickly stalled since nobody seemed to give that much of a shit about the man’s whereabouts. Now, where did the Inspector’s predecessor stash those weird old tools?

Clattering down the stone stairs to the basement evidence room two steps at a time, the Inspector fills in a form and waits, foot tapping impatiently, until the plump, sleepy rozzer on the desk hands over a box file containing a few scant bits of paperwork – no use at all – plus the tools in their leather bag.

He tips them out, cutting himself. Sticks the bleeding finger into his mouth and sucks hard. There the tools sit, gleaming and silvery on his palm. He stares at them, willing them to deliver a clue. They don’t, so he pockets them very carefully and goes back to his office.

Taking his lunchtime orange from his sports bag, the Inspector throws it into the air a few times experimentally, catching it deftly in his right, then left hand. He chooses the sharpest tool and holds the orange firmly in one hand, steadily bringing the blade closer to the skin of the orange, and makes a confident slash.

The orange flesh parts and reveals the pale, pithy under-skin beneath, then the vivid orange segments themselves. The tool cuts right through the fruit like butter and nicks the palm of his hand. He starts in shock and snatches his hand back, dropping the tool on the floor before sucking hard at the second wound of the day, mopping large, welling jewels of blood from the short,, deep cut he’s made. Shit, these things are fucking sharp.

It is entirely possible that a tool like this could cut through bone and leave a neat hole. Is this an actual clue, or another dead end? Musing, he stashes the tools safely back in the evidence box. Then gets them out again. He’ll take them to show Mary. As a GP, she might have some insight.

Part 17 – A Waiting Game

Knackers

The Nurse and Phil are getting thoroughly bored. Life is too short to be careful and sensible for long, and their appetites are powerful.

Before the distant danger signals reached them from down south, Phil was fast becoming a highly skilled lobotomiser. Now he’s keen to take a bigger role in the game. Why bother, he suggests, with memory-suppressing drugs when he could easily lobotomise the failures instead, leaving them wholly unable to sprag and highly unlikely to recover any level of autonomy or even consciousness? Safety first and all that.

The Nurse weighs things up and can’t help agreeing. It’s dangerous making drugs, too easy to blow oneself and one’s premises to kingdom come. It is hardly discreet. It feels just as risky nicking drugs from pharmacies. And it is super-dodgy risking one of her trepanning successes waking up fully aware, the cocktail or drugs having failed to impair their memory. The thought of it makes the pair shudder with fear.

They put their new plan into action, creating another layer of obfuscation between themselves and the rozzers. Then, confidence restored to the magic place just short of the point where fatal over-confidence kicks in, they ramp up their work.

Because The Nurse adores the beach at Barns Ness, it remains uncluttered by the dead. White Sands, on the other hand, might look innocent and fresh, but underneath, a mere foot or two down, it is a seething horror of maggots, jumbled bones, scraps of rotting fabric and stinking corpse-liquid.

On the surface, it doesn’t smell so you’d notice, but dogs start refusing to go on the beach, yapping with canine terror and pulling puzzled owners back towards their cars. White Sands eventually acquires a reputation for being haunted. Tourists stay away in their droves as the bodies melt away under the fine, pale sand.

Boredom affects killers in different ways. When Phil starts to takes an unsavoury interest in victims’ knackers, The Nurse has to put her foot down and reel him back in. It’s one thing trepanning and lobotomising, quite another removing people’s goolies and preserving them in acrylic.

OK, there’s a small but keen online market for doorstops and paperweights made from bollocks set in crystal clear plastic resin. They can be marketed very effectively to the masses on the premise that they’re incredibly well-made plastic knackers manufactured in China, not genuine testicles. But come on…

The Nurse sits Phil down and slaps him around the jaw a few times with her studded iron glove on. “No. You. Will. Not. Remove. Dead. Men’s. Knackers. Before. We. Bury. Them.” Phil’s head snaps back and forth with each slap as the message is forced into his sulky brain. Hmph. The fucking Nurse is nowhere near as much fun as she used to be.

When you throw a metaphorical stone in a pond, the ripples reach a long, long way

Back in Brighton, Crazy Mary is worried. The Inspector has been to see her a couple more times and it bothers the shit out of her. The trouble is, anyone who examines her computer or dives into the guts of her smartphone will be able to trace her connection with The Nurse across time and distance, and ask questions. And, of course, there was Finchley. She mustn’t forget Finchley.

In a world this small, a world folded up like a Chinese fan by the internet so that every fold touches every other fold and there’s no distance between them, you only have to throw a tiny pebble into the water for the ripples to keep going for fucking ages. When a butterfly flaps its wings on the other side of the world, unexpected things happen somewhere else. Mary does not like the unexpected, and life has started to feel slightly scary.

The next time the Inspector calls, Mary offers tea. He accepts, sitting with a gusty sigh in the chair her patients usually occupy. He’s a handsome, kind, clever man, and she struggles to remember he’s no pushover. He is a very dangerous person indeed.

Mary needs to defuse The Inspector for everyone’s sake, including her own. But before she has time to make a plan, he’s off on a tangent whose direction she can’t grasp at first. Then he reaches down and brings The Chief Surgeon’s trepanning tools out of his bag, unsheathing them carefully from their worn leather pouch and lying them carefully in a shining row on Mary’s desk.

If he notices Mary going milk-pale, he doesn’t say a thing. He just waits, head cocked enquiringly to one side. Mary thinks fast and calmly reaches out to touch the tools, picking them up gingerly and turning them over with her long, pale fingers. She knows fine well what they are, but she plays the game.

He asks if she’s ever seen the like of these tools before, and Mary shakes her head, doing her best to look both baffled yet helpful. The Inspector wonders at the expression that fleetingly lights her pretty face with alarm, but because he trusts Mary, fancies her a bit and sees her as a confidante, he isn’t particularly suspicious. Wasted opportunity number one passes him by unnoticed, and he leaves Mary’s office feeling vaguely dissatisfied but not really sure why.

Mary sits motionless for five minutes after he leaves, breathing carefully, trying to calm down. Her hands are shaking, as are her knees. Her breath’s all raggedy, and she feels hot-cold-hot-cold. Not much happened, but the whole thing felt very, very bad. Does The Nurse need to know? Yes, she does.

Mary pops out to buy a burner phone, then gives Lavinia a ring, explaining about the Inspector’s previous visits, today’s shocker with the trepanning kit, and the worryingly casual questions. Lavinia tells The Nurse, who isn’t surprised – shit happens. But she realises they’re heading for danger yet again. A plan flashes into her head. She has to act fast. She needs a brace of seriously talented robbers. She needs Julie and Mark, and she needs the fuckers now.

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