The Nurse Diaries – Parts 20 and 21

The Nurse is dead chuffed to be sharing parts twenty and twenty one of her black comedy novel, The Life and Times of a Brighton Serial Killer. You can find out more about The Nurse and her epic adventures as Britain’s scariest serial killer here.

Part 20 – Four Go Mad in Devon

Utter, utter bastards

There is only one part of the country none of them has ever visited, and it is a satisfyingly long way from East Lothian. The gang members have decided to move lock, stock and barrel to rural Devon, a place so old-fashioned it feels like they’ve been whisked back to the 1950s. When The Nurse and Phil receive the details of the cottage, a lovely place nestled deep in agricultural land in the middle of fucking nowhere, they know straight away they’ve found their next home.

It isn’t long before The Nurse realises the area just happens to be a superb hunting ground. Pun intended. Devon couldn’t be more perfect for her and the gang, and it’s also home to hunters of an entirely different, nastier sort. The Chief Surgeon would’ve adored it here, The Nurse muses, as she observes yet another bunch of utter bastards on horseback chasing yet another a fox through the field opposite the cottage before tearing it to bloody shreds and wiping the bright, hot blood all over the faces of their weeping children

The Nurse and Phil are charmed by the fact that there are so many fox hunters in Devon to trepan and lobotomise. It is a lot more stimulating than knocking off expressionless orange Smoggie lasses or chucking Japanese tourists over cliffs. This time around, for the first time, her work and Phil’s talents will be put to good use. The moral high ground will finally be theirs. At least their Devon victims are actual criminals. No sane fucker is going to complain when members of the county’s rude, belligerent illegal hunting fraternity start turning up bewildered and bloody on Exmoor with holes in their daft skulls. Or better still, disappear for good.

She finds all this enormously invigorating and exciting. Gathering Mary, Lavinia and Phil in the living room of the cottage, they huddle around the laptop together, pointing and giggling. This is brilliant. Surely, the public is going to award them fucking medals for trepanning and killing these cunts. When Phil discovers the mighty fine insult, ‘gammon,’ referring to a red-faced hunt bumpkin of the finest order, they have to lie on the floor and hold their stomachs, they’re laughing so hard.

Like hunt membership levels, hunt supporter numbers are falling fast. Luckily, enough of the buggers remain to keep The Nurse and her friends going for life. The gang vows to rid the area of hunt followers as well, the dickheads on quads who help the hunts do their horrid thing. On the other hand, thinking things through a bit more, hey realise maybe the rural dim and daft don’t deserve punishment, let alone death. They just deserve not to be so fucking poor, stupid, and cruel. Poverty can be taken care of. Bung every hunt follower fifty grand each and they’ll probably never follow a hunt again. As for the stupidity and cruelty side of things, if a hunt follower takes the cash without mending their evil ways, The Nurse knows where they live.

This is the first property the gang has owned together, as a formal organisation. They’re surrounded by an acre of garden and the road is narrow, steep and lumpy. There’s barely anyone around except the farmers up the road, and they’re as taciturn as fuck anyway.

The cottage is painted beige inside and out, which The Nurse and Phil find oddly distressing in comparison with their colourful base in Scotland. Recalling the vibe of the Dunbar premises, the gang does its best to recreate a cosy haven packed with texture, colour and warmth. This is vital. If they leave it to their own instincts, the place will end up looking like a cell. When your secret life is as absorbing and rich as theirs, the stuff of ordinary life – furniture and whatnot – appears fairly pointless. The gang must consciously create a home that looks reasonably normal. This place has to mask their wicked habits while providing the emotional space needed to nourish those self-same habits. If the rozzers turn up, even if they fingertip-search the place, there cannot be anything untoward to discover. Not a single bone, sliver of flesh or tooth. Not even a hair.

There’s a hidden benefit to the gang’s fox hunt target market. It’s early May, so they have six months to prepare before the hunting season begins. In the meantime, detailed discussions lead the four to decide they’re still not wholly into killing just for killing’s sake. It’s too big a risk to take for a cheap thrill. Dangerous as well. Their focus has always been the lobotomy and trepanning side of what’s starting to feel like a Great Experiment. They spit on their palms and shake hands on their new motto: Experimentation Before Extermination. Accidents happen, but killing by design is no longer allowed. Not even the odd one for a laugh, not even for a bet. Nada. Or at least not until the heat dies down and they know for sure the rozzers have fucked off.

Spring starts off lovely, then a merciless heatwave flattens the landscape. The Nurse, Phil, Mary and Lavinia make friends in a loose sort of way with the next-doors, just sociable enough to avoid suspicion, but not so intimate that life turns into a fucking perpetual coffee morning. It works perfectly. Like the gang, the locals didn’t move here for a lively social life.

It. Is. Fecking. Hot. The Nurse is sitting in the shade in a navy linen three quarter sleeve dress accessorised with a silk scarf and a pink straw hat. She’s loving the blonde bob, the new lips and the frown-free thing. Not because it looks good. Seriously, it’s fucking frightful, but it is a dazzlingly good disguise. Who the fuck would connect this blonde car-crash-face of a lady with the tweedy, red-haired, mannish woman the rozzers are after? No fucker, that’s who. Not even that cunticle of an Inspector, not even that clever cunt.

Their large Devon garden is proving an unexpected joy. The gang tears down a series of many-layered sheds, each evolved organically from an original single-skinned core, added to through the generations. Some of the shed walls are at least eighteen inches thick, layered like toxic filo pastry.

Phil recycles zinc water butts and animal feeders into planters and fills them with colourful annuals. The Nurse and Lavinia sweat a few early summer days away taking up the paving around the old swimming pool – now a wildlife pond – and re-laying it so there’s no longer a risk of breaking their fucking necks. Or tripping up, off their faces, and drowning in the bastard thing. The same goes for the many drainage ditches the previous owners have carved into the land. There’s obviously rain on the cards over here, and a lot of it, so the gang clears the drains out. It’s nice to be prepared. That’s them: like fucking Boy Scouts on Angel Dust, a mental image that makes them laugh like drains for a week.

The Nurse is not surprised when some cats turn up. In her experience, cats have a communications network that humans cannot see, through which they share stuff with every other feline. That is why, when your cat goes off their favourite food one day for no reason whatsoever, so does every other cat in the vicinity. It’s a thing.

There’s no human mess to clear up yet, no meat or sinew or splinters of bone. There won’t be for a while. For the time being, the cats hang around and accept tinned food, mild-mannered, undemanding and neutral. It is very restful, and the gang likes having them around. The cats help make the place look normal.

The animals are quickly christened Romley One and Romley Two, as a sarky salute to the Romley Brothers, deceased, and as a nod of respect to their mum Audrey, who is apparently healthy, happy, and already on her eighth toy-boy. Such fun.

Analysing The Great Experiment

Relaxing outdoors late one hot evening as the sun goes down, the gang idly speculates about what to do with the vast amount of trepanning data and insight they’ve acquired between them. Collectively, they have an impressive level of experience in lobotomy, shock, trauma, death, sleight of hand, sleight of mind, vintage medical equipment, general medicine, self-hypnosis, burial techniques, and the creation and manufacture of memory-affecting drugs. Mary is a talented General Practitioner. Lavinia kills with style and grace. And they are all fluent in the fine art of keeping secrets. What insight might they glean from such vast amounts of knowledge, such immense quantities of Big Data? First things first. Over the next few weeks, they painstakingly organise their knowledge into a flexible digital data format, which they can ultimately mine the fuck out of.

Once that’s done they put their heads together to analyse the data they’ve mined. But the gang quickly comes unstuck. Turning raw information into knowledge is proving tricky. The Nurse is a talented statistician, but the rest of them are shit at it. They apply ridiculous things like instincts and emotions to the findings. They have gut feelings, they know things in their waters, they get notions, they pounce upon statistically invalid findings, and ignore strong evidence when they don’t like it.

The Nurse knows better. The numbers don’t lie, no matter how much you dislike what they say. As it turns out, once she has beaten some badly-needed common sense into the whole silly lot of them with an iron bar, the findings make fascinating reading.

Thing one: Humans are built to trust one another, which makes deception an easy matter when you don’t have a conscience. If someone trusts you, it is scarily easy to mess with their heads. It’s pretty easy to persuade them to do things they have no intention of doing, because they trust you. And when you actually look trustworthy, as The Nurse well knows, people have a strong tendency to trust you. Dickheads.

Thing two: It takes a fuck of a lot of determination to kill a person unless you take them by surprise. The gang in its various guises has been knocked for six, over the years, by the sheer determination of human beings to stay alive, whatever the circumstances. Life is stubborn. It doesn’t often let go of a body easily, or quickly, or without one hell of a fight. And that’s one of the things that makes the gang’s work so pleasurable.

Thing three: Humans do many, many things to distract themselves from the horrid fact we’re all going to die. That’s why some fight so hard all their lives to make money, more money and even more fucking money. It’s the only thing that soothes the sheer terror they feel when they recall their own mortality. This perpetual fear of death is why humans do charity shit, why they collect weird things like stamps and vintage cars, why they have multiple affairs, or loads of children, undergo cosmetic surgery, or simply buy too many shoes. You name it. Every single thing we do is designed to distract ourselves from the appalling horror of our own demise.

Thing four: Life is short. It makes sense to cram in as many of the things you love as you can before shuffling off this mortal coil. The gang congratulates itself over this one, since it justifies their work in all its glory. The killing, the lobotomising, the maiming and the disappearing are not evil. Not even particularly bad. They are merely down to a bunch of particularly strong-willed characters obeying the irresistible siren call of human nature.

Thing five: Fuck it. There’s an awful lot to be said from saying ‘fuck it’. Do I fancy trepanning this evening? Yeah, fuck it. Would I like to get enormously stoned right now, even though it’s Wednesday morning and no fucker gets stoned this early on a working day? Yep, fuck it, let’s get wankered.

How satisfying. As far as the gang is concerned, that’s five good, solid, basic tenets for a life well lived, a life worth living. They are on a roll.

Cleaning up the mess

Everything’s cool. Unusually so. There’s no news from the ‘Boro or Brighton. Time is unspooling like a fine blue ribbon, delivering day after day of beautiful weather. The gang has grown large supplies of good weed. Life is more chilled than it has ever been. Everyone’s getting on like a house on fire. But The Nurse is perpetually on edge. The Nurse cannot relax.

You know the feeling when you’re sure you’ve forgotten something important but can’t quite put your finger on it? That’s how she feels, every waking hour. It’s affecting her sleep, her appetite for food, her zest for life. She sticks with the discomfort for another week, then decides it’s no good, she can’t live like this, and calls a formal gang meeting. They all agree. They’re feeling oddly edgy, too. And they trust The Nurse’s instincts. If she isn’t feeling right, there’s definitely something untoward on the breeze.

The biggest gap in their defences, they decide, is Middlesbrough. The locals in the Linthorpe pub are safe, far too wazzocked 24/7 to be of any use to the police. And anyway, the Smoggies are too used to being oppressed by The Establishment to waste time or energy on the comings and goings of the boys and girls in blue. The cats up there have disappeared like smoke, and cats can’t talk anyway. Is there anyone else? Nope, anyone who poses a risk is either dead, disappeared, or too drunk to count. Except Steve. Steve might have buggered off to live in broken-hearted obscurity in Brambles Farm, but that doesn’t mean he’s safely defused.

The Nurse and Phil didn’t leave any enemies behind in Dunbar, or at least nobody who’d be happy to share their suspicions with the authorities. There’s no way the taciturn, proud people of East Lothian are going to confess to the police that they’d used the services of an Agony Aunt. Never mind get themselves thrown in jail for aiding, abetting or even merely suspecting the existence of a secret euthanasia ring.

It’s good that the gang doesn’t have to return to Scotland for a clean-up session, or at least not yet. They haven’t been gone that long, and it isn’t worth the risk of being recognised.

They examine the matter every which way several times, eventually concluding The Nurse is probably being overly sensitive to risk. Or is she? Oh God, they can’t decide. Better safe than sorry, they hold another meeting the next day with fresh heads, after a decent night’s sleep, and one thing becomes immediately clear. It is sad but true. Steve stands out as a fly in their ointment. Thanks to him, Middlesbrough feels like an unexploded bomb. He might stay schtum, but then again he might not.

The Nurse is a fucking nasty piece of work. But there’s no way she’s going to do her own ex-boyfriend in, especially when they left each other on relatively good terms. She has no personal desire to kill him. This is a task for someone else. Maybe Lavinia would like to handle it?

Lavinia says yes, and provides the solution. She loves to kill pretty men. She and Steve have never met. She’s the exact type of woman he usually falls for. She is also great at accents and has painstakingly learned how to talk ‘Boro as a bit of fun, along with Geordie and Mackem. Despite the fact that she’s originally from leafy, la-di-dah Surrey, you could easily believe she’s a gritty north easterner, born and bred.

Her skill with accents is a bonus, since this particular killing has to be super-discreet, unremarkable to the point of boredom, and totally unconnected with the rash of trepannings and disappearances the town suffered a few years ago. The Nurse gives her consent somewhat unwillingly, then cheers up when Lavinia promises to return with a lock of Steve’s shiny, thick black hair to remember him by, a silver lining to an otherwise shitty cloud.

Lavinia catches the bus from the nearest town, climbs aboard the train to Exeter, then jumps on a high speed service to Darlington, where she changes onto the TransPennine express to Middlesbrough. Chuffing alongside the industrial landscape, she peers out of the window as the train passes through Dinsdale and Allens West, Eaglescliffe and Thornaby, before pulling into Middlesbrough train station.

Feeling tired and grubby, like she always does after a long journey, Lavinia checks into her hotel – an anonymous chain of a place that looks exactly the same whatever county you happen to be in – throws off her travel-weary clothes, and runs a hot, deep bath. She sits in the steam and reads today’s Evening Gazette, her face going redder and redder until she’s pouring with sweat and has to get out, panting and scarlet. It takes her a good hour to cool down and get back to normal, after which she gets dressed and hits the hotel bar.

The next day, smartly attired in a brand new outfit and only slightly hung-over, Lavinia makes her way by bus to Brambles Farm and walks to the house Steve is renting on Merlin Road. Fixing a demure expression on her face, she knocks on the door, then rings the bell sharply, twice for good measure, standing back to watch as a Steve-shaped silhouette approaches along the dimly-lit hallway. When he flings the door open, she actually gasps. The Nurse has described Steve as a nice-looking fucker, but it is one of the biggest understatements Lavinia has ever heard. This bloke, even though he’s quite a bit older than her, is as horny as fuck. While it’s cool having a penchant for killing the handsome males of this world, few men are as outrageously good looking as this chap. No wonder The Nurse found it momentarily difficult to leave him. Only momentarily, mind you.

Lavinia smiles openly and sunnily at Steve and watches, pleased, as he double-takes, obviously deciding she’s quite a looker herself. A long five seconds pass as they admire one another, each assessing the other’s many attractions, then he motions her indoors and points the way to the living room.

Lavinia perches on the edge of the squashy leatherette sofa and grins secretly to herself as her stockings rub together at the top of her thighs, making a tiny scratching sound, and Steve flashes a glance at her knees. He’s liking the game they’ve started to play, the tension is rising, and she’s confident she can quickly get him in the palm of her hand, from where he’ll be easy to kill.

Steve has never seen this woman before. He is not a hundred percent sure about the tall story she’s trying to tell him about the long lost relative they share who has left them a vast fortune, for which they need to sign together down at the solicitor’s. But Lavinia is stunningly pretty, the thought of an end to a lifetime of financial worries is compelling to say the least, and the long period of mourning he has struggled with after losing The Nurse, his last and greatest love, has left him feeling vulnerable.

He’s also a bit thick, bless him. Like Betty he has never bothered to nurture his intellect. Nobody has ever been the least bit interested in it anyway, they have always been too busy drooling over his glorious exterior to care. Sad, really.

Steve’s combination of stupidity, loneliness and lust proves fatal. But at least he dies happy, and Lavinia has a marvellous time as well. It takes her fucking ages to clean up, though. She has to leave the place spotless, so clean and perfect that the landlord will gladly return Steve’s deposit to the forwarding address she leaves behind on the dead man’s behalf.

Luckily, the house has a patio. Lavinia spends the rest of the day watching shit daytime telly in Steve’s front room while the body slowly stiffens, then un-stiffens again. Then, after dusk, she takes up six of the flagstones in the garden, digs a neat hole underneath and posts Steve into it before replacing them so neatly you’d never know they’d been messed with in the first place.

Goodbye.

Little does Lavinia know that Steve’s neighbour Chardonnay is watching out of her bathroom window, perched on a stool in her highest heels, tottering wildly in an effort to see into Steve’s living room.

She does it all the time. Mostly, she gets to see him wandering around in his underpants, a proper treat. This time, she’s startled, then horrified to see a small, ridiculously pretty woman in an immaculate scarlet trouser suit, snogging Steve on the settee. A second later, she’s belting him around the head with one of those carved wooden tribal clubs from New Zealand that you sometimes see on the Antiques Roadshow.

Open mouthed in shock, Chardonnay cringes as the woman brings Steve to his knees, then, wielding the fearsome club high above her, almost knocks his head clean off his shoulders. Steve crashes to the floor and stays still, blood running out of one ear. The gorgeous woman clicks smartly out of the room, then comes back in and drags him, feet first, into the hallway.

Leaving at nine in the evening, discreetly shutting the front door behind her and popping Steve’s keys back through the letterbox, Lavinia makes the long journey home to Devon.

Chardonnay, still in shock, slides down the wall onto her bathroom floor with her legs splayed like a rag doll, too freaked out to move. She stays there until daylight then stands up, shaking, and totters, holding on to the wall for comfort, down the stairs and along the hallway to the telephone. She sits with a whooshing sigh on the little telephone stool and dials 999, getting the number wrong three times before the bell rings down at the nick on Bridge Street West and the chubby fuck of a desk sergeant picks up.

The rozzers turn up at Chardonnay’s place half an hour later to find her still shuddering with horror. She tells a strange story about a beautiful woman in scarlet, and of gorgeous Steve smashed to bits with a tribal club. As she’s saying it, she realises how mad she sounds. The officers glance at each other, superior smiles on their faces. It’s clear they don’t believe a word she’s saying. They humour her for a bit longer, then send her away with advice about dealing with bad dreams and what drugs not to take. Later that week, they write up a cursory report concerning a disturbed woman suffering from delusions. The police computer system doesn’t make any connections, and yet another decent clue dies before it’s born.

Bugger.

Tally ho, hounds away!

The Nurse and the gang start preying on huntsmen and women as autumn falls, just the occasional victim at first. A trip-wire here, a man-trap there, and the bell-ends are falling off their steeds, struggling to clamber out of ditches before being grabbed, stuffed into sacks like they do to fox cubs, and taken back to HQ for trepanning or lobotomising.

Being without feelings or conscience, lobotomising doesn’t make a lot of difference to the hunters. They’re much the same afterwards as they were beforehand when their brains were intact. So Phil puts aside his work for the moment, instead learning from The Nurse how to trepan like a pro. Mary and Lavinia watch, endlessly intrigued by the difficulty and delicacy of the task.

So far, the hunters have no idea they’re being picked off one-by-miserable-one. Hunt membership is plummeting anyway, and they simply assume the missing members have given up hunting, taking a shot at being decent human beings instead.

Exmoor is the perfect place to dump the successfully-trepanned survivors. It isn’t a long drive, the roads are notoriously twisty and turny, and the population of this part of Devon is so low that nobody spots The Nurse or suspects a thing. Happy days.

Pie of shame

The Nurse, remembering how effective cats are at keeping her work under wraps by eating the clues, decides to open a pie shop in Appledore. Because it’s Appledore, this is no ordinary pie shop. It’s more of a pie-deli. It is a premium pie shop, and the pies on sale are fucking expensive. Mind you, they’re made from hunter meat, expensive meat, rich meat. Meat that had a lot more money than sense when it was alive and still attached to its original owner.

They call the shop ‘Pie of Shame’ for no reason other than it makes them giggle. They are not the least bit ashamed. The well-heeled locals and visitors presume it’s witty without quite understanding why, and they don’t like to ask in case it makes them look stupid, like they’ve missed out on a trendy joke of some kind.

Pie of Shame does so well that the gang soon extends their range to include Cornish pasties. They sell like hot cakes as well. The Nurse starts to believe she could sell a beanie hat full of human turds and the grockles would still buy them. Then she reels herself in as a sliver of metallic fear pierces her breast. Complacency is a killer. She needs to stay sharp, and so does the rest of the gang. It’s no good getting soft.

Part 21 – Things Get Flaky in the ‘Boro

Fierce

Back at Brambles Farm, Chardonnay is falling apart. It’s one thing spying on the gorgeous bloke next door, quite another watching him get murdered and having the police treat you like a drug-infested nutter rather than a witness. She is livid. And when she feels this angry, she feels fucking fierce. Much more fierce than her tiny, slim five-foot high physical self would suggest is even possible.

Waking early one Saturday morning, she finds she is at the end of her tether. Every time she closes her eyes she sees the woman in red, the arc of the delicate arm high above Steve’s head, the club crashing down on his skull with an accompanying maniacal chuckle. It’s always there, as clear as high definition telly: the woman in red raises her arm, and the club comes down on Steve’s head. It menaces her when she wakes up at night – woman, red, Steve, club, head, dead. The GP says she’s suffering from mild PTSD, but when she tries to explain the origin of her flashbacks, he shakes his head in sad disapproval and motions her out of his office. Sort yourself out, lass. You’re going mental.

She’s no fan of the rozzers herself. She’s had doings with them before, and she is not impressed. But at the end of the day, Chardonnay is going to go proper crazy if she doesn’t do something about what she’s seen. She can’t stand the flashbacks for much longer.

Eventually, on a drizzly Wednesday morning, she dresses up smart, locks the door behind her and makes her way to the nick. She stands, determined, on the scruffy lino, tapping a foot while the desk sergeant tries to put her off. Eventually, he gives in, sighs heavily and wanders away, without any sense of urgency, in search of a detective.

The reluctant detective the desk sergeant eventually drags out of the back office is no ordinary detective. It’s the town’s top detective, and he is fucking good at his job. For the first time since the killings were noted, then became a pattern, then a suspicion, the universe starts moving in the right direction, the one signposted ‘law and order.’

Detective Crocker takes in Chardonnay’s body language from a distance, pinning her accurately as a woman at the end of her rope, someone who would otherwise avoid the police like the plague. He can perceive fear along with a boiling fury radiating off her like the heat from a bad case of sunburn. She’s incandescent with it, and it piques his interest. What the fuck?

He leads Chardonnay to an interview room featuring a high, oblong window sealed shut with fluff-sticky dirt and a collection of lipstick-stained polystyrene coffee cups. He sweeps the mess off the scarred wooden table into a pedal bin with an impatient hand and rubs at the wet coffee rings with his jacket sleeve. Then he sits down, indicating to Chardonnay she should sit opposite him.

She pulls out a wooden chair with metal legs, which squeak loudly on the floor, and sinks into it, head in hands. Now then, he says. What’s happened to you, lass? Disarmed by his kindness, Chardonnay breaks down and sobs out her story: the blonde stunner, the red suit, the club, the blood, the death, the aftermath, the burial, the fear, the flashbacks, his colleagues’ disbelief.

Detective Crocker passes her a fresh tissue from the box next to him and waits until she calms herself, then begins his questioning.

As it turns out, Chardonnay is an excellent witness. It’s unusual because statements by eyewitnesses are amongst the least reliable evidence of all. The human memory is not to be trusted. A witness might be wholly confident in their recall, but its faulty nature makes eyewitness testimony something many criminal cases would actually be better off without. Humans are suggestible, easily led, overconfident in our abilities and prone to misremembering the simplest things. Chardonnay, on the other hand, recalls the entire event from start to finish in fine detail, and Detective Crocker finds himself jotting notes like a man possessed, something he never usually bothers with because most of the eyewitness statements he takes are shit.

As Chardonnay takes him through her story for the third time and he jots more notes, something wraith-like flashes past his unconscious and he stops, biro in mid-air. Then he captures the fluttery end of the thought and reels the fucker in. At his last job, before he put in for a transfer to the ‘Boro, he worked down south in Lewes, a member of the team working on the town’s Pretty Boy Murders. There’s something about the things Chardonnay has said that’s ringing bells as loud as fuck.

Having finally ushered Chardonnay out of the building, thanking her profusely, he scoots back into the nick and slumps into his chair, thinking hard and scratching his head. Aha. Then he fires up his computer and dives into the Unsolved Crimes database.

A few hours later, exhausted and satisfied, he cracks the kinks out of his sore neck, gathers his notes, knocks on the door of the boss’s office and pushes it open. Can I have a word, Chief? I think I’ve found something interesting.

The Chief looks up and beckons Crocker in. Crocker continues. You remember the Pretty Boy Murders down south in Lewes? The fella the girl saw being killed was an unusually pretty one, and the MO is similar. If we find her, she might lead us to the tweedy suspect. We know for sure they were in the nuthouse together. Sending the file skidding across the shiny desk like a barman zooming a glass of bourbon down a bar to the cowboy at the other end, Detective Crocker continues. The Chief hears Crocker out, then nods thoughtfully. It’s got to be worth a look, he says and skims the paperwork back across his gleaming desk so it falls off the end and lands in Crocker’s lap. Shuffling it into a tidy rectangle, he gets up, wipes his palms on his trousers and shakes the Chief’s hand. Let’s hope so, sir. Let’s hope so.

Crocker phones his old mate down at Brighton nick, revealing what he’s discovered, and The Inspector feels a thrill of excitement so powerful, it brings him out in goose bumps. Man, this is exciting. This is his first metaphorical glimpse of the ex-loony bin suspect and her potential gang of killers. Pushing the phone closer to his ear with a hunch of his shoulder, he absorbs the facts, instantly makes the connections Crocker hoped he would, and pledges his support. Joined in pursuit of the suspect and her associates, together they’ll create a pincer movement designed to trap their prey.

At least five hundred families who have lost people in and around Brighton are waiting for answers, waiting for closure. Probably more. And at last the detectives can smell a faint whiff of success. It has been a long time coming.

Patterns

Human beings are top class pattern-spotters, a skill we evolved long ago to keep ourselves safe from the stripy tiger hiding in the stripy grass, or the spotty predator hidden amongst the spotty things. The survivors, who noticed the danger in time and escaped being eaten, passed on their genes to future generations. As more and more dafties were eaten they eventually died out, leaving the successful ones, the pattern spotters, to rule the world.

Modern life means pattern spotting isn’t as essential to survival as it was back then, but for some reason we’ve held on to our pattern-spotting talent. Thanks to it, and to crunching vast amounts of national crime data between them, Detective Crocker and The Inspector eventually spot a new, low-key but promising-looking pattern developing over in Devon.

There are only three reports of people going missing in the area so far, all somewhat uncertain, but the killer fact is this: what could potentially be a fourth victim has been found wandering on Exmoor with a whacking great hole in her head, which means they have a witness.

Camilla Trumpington Knowles-Hamster is a bit of a cunt. A lot of a cunt, actually, being the Hunt Master of a particularly nasty hunting gang. But a human being is a human being, she has been attacked cruelly then dumped and left to die, and the police cannot be seen playing favourites.

Late that night, as The Inspector and Detective Crocker dream of a successful conviction, The Nurse wakes up in a cold sweat. Her heart is hammering. She is totally shitting herself, but she has no idea why.

Beans get spilled

Camilla Trumpington Knowles-Hamster has been on the go all fucking day. It has taken her five hours by train to reach Brighton, now she’s sitting ramrod straight in front of The Inspector, who has Detective Crocker on Skype. He swivels the screen so they can both see it, and the fact-finding interview begins.

First, the Inspector takes her through her story once again to refresh it in her mind. Camilla was out on her horse in an area that was nicely foxed, idly keeping an eye open for something to chase and kill. The next thing she knew, she was knocked off her steed by a dirty great chunk of wood thrown by someone out of view. Lying cross-eyed in the claggy orange-grey Devon mud, her horse galloping off with its hooves kicking high, she couldn’t see much, but she did notice a flash of tweed in her peripheral vision. A flash of tweed? Fuck me, it’s not a lot to go on, thinks the Inspector. But it’s a clue of sorts, too unusual to completely dismiss as a coincidence.

As Camilla moves toward the door to leave, she stops suddenly and turns to speak: oh, I just remembered something else. I’m sure it was a woman, unless it was a man wearing Chanel’s Grand Extrait. Darling, I’d know that perfume anywhere.

The Inspector consciously avoids Crocker’s eye, not glancing up from his laptop until Camilla has left the room. Then he gets up to close the door behind her and gives his colleague from up north a virtual high-five. Fucking result.

The killer is definitely a woman. The perfume thing hints that she isn’t short of a few quid. She loves to wear tweed. And they’re more or less certain she knows Lavinia the Pretty Boy Killer, as well as being an ex-jail mate of Crazy Mary’s. Maybe they’re even in cahoots. Detective Crocker rubs his hands together in glee.

The men decide to meet up in person with Chief Castle at Barnstaple nick, to see if he has any local insight to add to the mix. They each catch a train from home to Exeter, meet on platform three for the Barnstaple train, then grab a cab at the other end to the cop shop on North Walk and stride inside. In reception, they’re met by a junior officer, Constable Giles, who leads them along many stuffy corridors, up several flights of stairs to the Chief’s office.

Chief Castle is as keen as mustard, fascinated by the story so far. He pulls the local crime database up on his machine and scrolls through, making a couple of basic queries, and gets an almighty surprise. Since the last time he looked, yesterday, when preparing for his colleague’s visit, another hunt follower has been found naked and hog tied on Exmoor with a ragged, bloody hole in his head. Plus one more confirmed disappearance from the hunting community, this time an actual hunter. They’ve hit on something. There’s no way it’s a coincidence. Hunting must be a connecting factor.

A close call

The Nurse is on her way to Exeter for a vintage clothes shopping spree when she notices two men on the platform at the railway station. They don’t look like locals. Their clothes are wrong. They look like fucking rozzers, that’s what, and they make her skin crawl. So when they walk towards her she freaks, momentarily paralysed by sheer horror.

The Inspector and Detective Crocker see the woman freeze and suspect she’s going to faint. They each grab an arm, muttering kind platitudes as they stand her up straight and try to calm her with their big policeman hands. Then they hand her a spliff, which she takes gratefully and lights, hands shaking.

Looking the men in the eye, she grimaces with fear, trying to make it a grimace of pain, but she notices the older man give her a sharp look from under his neat, greying eyebrows. Is he wondering what the fuck happened to her face, botoxed to buggery and back, massive lips poking out from a thick blonde bob? Or does he sense something innately suspicious about her? Whatever is in the man’s mind, it takes every ounce of control The Nurse has at her disposal to walk calmly away rather than run from them, tearing at her hair and screaming like a fucking banshee.

She just about makes it out of the station without incident, although she’s certain she can feel their clever eyes boring holes into her back every step of the way. Outside, she collapses in relief on the bench next to the bus stop and sighs deeply as the men’s train pulls out of the station. Fuck shopping. Fuck everything. She’s going back home, she’s going to lock the door of the cottage behind her, she’s going to neck a load of Es, then she’s going to get very, very drunk. As drunk as a cunt.

On the way home, watching the countryside blur past the train windows, the men idly speculate about the poor, ugly blonde lady they’d helped. She was obviously not quite right in the head. They both love red hair. What a shame it is to cover up such a magnificent head of obviously-reddish hair with that blonde muck.

That’s the problem with being a decent bloke, like these two are. You’d never imagine, under ordinary circumstances, that someone so sad and ugly and helpless could possibly be evil or bad, let alone a mass murderer of epic proportions.

If you’re going to join the police, it helps if you’re a heartless bastard.

Back at the Cottage, The Nurse is spanked. She is wankered, shitfaced, blevvied, monstered, off her trolley, lost in space. And she feels so much better for it. The longer she spends in her favourite state of mind, the less fearful she is, and the more disgusted she feels with her own pathetic weakness.

How could she more or less fall at the feet of a couple of strange men who probably have bugger-all to do with the rozzers? How come she went into such a blind panic? Is she losing her edge? Right now she couldn’t give a shit, to be honest, but she knows once she sobers up, she’ll feel very bad. She must deal with this odd state of mind before it gets out of hand. This cannot happen again.

But there’s more. There’s a strange, hollow feeling about everything. The work they’re doing isn’t hitting the spot like it used to. Outwit, capture, operate, rinse and repeat. So fucking what. Meh, meh, meh.

The Nurse consults with the gang, and it turns out she’s right. That’s the problem. The rozzers might be sniffing around, too close for comfort, but at the same time they are all getting stale. How come they’re getting bored so fast these days? It’s a puzzle, alright.

Keeping calm and carrying on

The gang members have their suspicions. But they have no real idea how far the rozzers have progressed, and no clue about the recent meeting held at Barnstaple nick, far too close to home for comfort.

Lavinia doesn’t know she’s been fingered for Steve’s murder because of her penchant for scarlet and the fact that he was so very pretty, and anyway, she’s far too confident in her own abilities to worry. Duh. The Nurse keeps schtum about her fearful collision with the rozzers, if that’s what they were, and her subsequent panic attack at the station. Double-duh. There’s nothing to tell, she decides, nothing to see here. There is no need to reveal her own stupidity and weakness to the people who depend on her for strength, security, and inspiration.

Thanks to this sub-standard decision making by The Nurse, and to Lavinia’s overconfidence, the gang’s discovery and arrest edge a teeny bit closer.

By the time the hunting season ends in early March, the gang has managed to knock off many hunters and release plenty more into the wilderness, either on the huge curved grin of a sandy beach at Westward Ho! or on Exmoor, an endless purple moorland so vast and empty that most are never found. The rozzers in Barnstaple watch with frustration as the disappearances and assaults mount up and no more clues come to light.

In Middlesbrough and Brighton, Detective Crocker and the Inspector are seriously pissed off. They too can see the crimes stacking up in Devon, but can’t seem to get a handle on the culprit or culprits no matter what they do. There’s been no sign of the tweedy killer with the expensive perfume. Or Lavinia. They’ve hit a dead end.

The Inspector lays it on his boss. Sir, I’ve pulled out all the stops, but I’m stuck. I know there’s something huge going on, but I can’t grasp it. It’s like trying to grab fog. Fucked if I know. Do I carry on or give up until something useful comes to light? The Chief pulls his lip with a nicotine-stained finger and muses for a while. Tell you what, son, give it another week, then we’ll file the fucker for now. Can’t say fairer than that.

Nationally, the rozzers still haven’t quite connected all the various disappearances, lobotomies and trepannings in Brighton, ‘Boro, Dunbar and Devon with the Lewes Pretty Boy murders or the Red Lady murder case. For the sake of fuck. They’re maddened by the lack of progress, frustrated to hell and back by the whole miserable thing.

Lavinia fucks off

The gang is keeping calm and carrying on in a desultory sort of way. They’ve entered a weird stasis, and as the months pass by, things gradually settle into a comfy yet dull groove. Then the cottage loses a resident.

Lavinia, a thrill-seeker at heart, decides to move on. The soggy somnolence of the last few weeks has taken much of the oomph out of the gang, leaving them drained and dull. Change is their thing, and this latest change – the move from Dunbar to Devon – has been one of the smoothest they’ve ever made, born of much practice. They’ve honed the fucking-off process ’til it gleams, but instead of being satisfying, it is just boring. Lavinia craves a bigger, better adrenaline rush, and Devon isn’t delivering it.

Taking Lavinia’s decision as an opportunity to move things forward in a new and interesting direction yet to be decided upon, the newly-depleted gang of three eases off, stands back and takes stock for a while. It’s good to let go, hang out, read books, neck class As and smoke weed for a few weeks, regenerate the batteries and all that. And it’s just as well they do, because the police are about to land a whopper of a clue.

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