The Nurse Diaries – Parts 26 and 27

The Nurse is dead chuffed to present parts twenty six and twenty seven of her black comedy novel, The Life and Times of a Brighton Serial Killer. You can find out more about The Nurse and her hideous deeds as the nation’s most horrid serial killer by clicking here.

Part 26 – Sweaty rozzers

Fuck off Noddy

Down south, the Incident Room in Lewes is crowded to fuck. Twenty-five sweating rozzers hunch over laptops, tapping furiously on keyboards, rubbing tired eyes and picking their noses while nobody’s looking, smearing bogies on the undersides of their desks to make stalactite-like accretions. Some sit with their tongues sticking out in concentration, like large toddlers. Others fall asleep, dribbling, faces laid on folded arms, worn out from endless overtime and long night shifts.

The killers’ trail has gone completely cold. So when Constable Noakes thinks he spots the suspects on video, nobody believes him at first. Fuck off Noddy, they joke. Then he re-runs the film and the entire room goes berserk. Weary rozzers leap up, cheer, and do high-fives. The senior men on the case hear the commotion and run out of their offices, crowding behind the young copper’s chair for a good look.

The film, taken by a public networked video camera in a car park on the coast just south of Hartlepool, reveals a bizarre sight. Two very tall, exceptionally thin people stagger across the screen, holding themselves taut against what looks like a fearsome gale, almost bent double in the face of it. Their clothing is ragged and dirty, their features dark smudges in white faces obscured by the horizontal sheets of rain spattering the lens.

The Inspector, Detective Crocker, Chief MacDonald and Castle, the head honcho from Devon, look at each other, sheer relief on their faces. Thank God for that. Then they draw straws. Crocker and the Inspector win, and the two men high-tail it to the nearest cop car, then scream out of Lewes at a hundred miles an hour, heading north.

Keeping schtum

The good folk of Hartlepool are not having any of it. When the Inspector and Crocker arrive, tyres squealing as they come to a halt outside the local nick, they hit a brick wall. The local police haven’t seen a thing. There are no reports of murders or maimings, no incidents involving vagrants or beggars or weirdos or anything else dodgy. Just one pathetic break-in at the chippy up the road.

When questioned, the locals prefer to keep schtum. They might or might not have seen strangers in and around town. They can’t really remember. The police soon catch on. Even if the locals know something about the suspects, they are not going to help. When the rozzers come knocking around here, people don’t answer their doors. They peep through gaps in curtains, or sneak behind settees and crouch on the floor, holding their breath. They turn the telly down to a mutter, and hide until the fuckers go away.

The Inspector and Crocker do not give up easily. The next day they drive farther north, following the coast and keeping their eyes open. Stopping every time they see a dog walker, their questions fall on deaf ears. Only one man gives them the time of day, the rest deliver the usual short shrift.

The man, a Conservative Party counsellor, reveals he’s heard rumours about a couple of bad-uns who’ve been sleeping rough in the area, and while they haven’t been spotted for a few days, he reckons they must be heading north. On the one hand, the police feel they ought to thank him. On the other hand, he’s obviously a cunt, and nobody likes a spragger. They eye him with disdain, give him a curt nod and move on, leaving him scratching his head. What has he done wrong?

The final kill

The A1018 is a right fucker of a route. The sea, to the east, is unwelcoming, grey and choppy. The tide is unusually high. It’s windy and cloudy, and the gale cuts through their clothes, goose-bumping their skin. Luckily, Jeremy Corbyn’s big breakfasts, Camberwell Carrots and generosity with warm clothing means The Nurse and Phil still feel mellow enough. They keep on putting one foot in front of the other, watching the weather change and keeping an eye on cars passing along the busy road.

When a large, dark saloon car of the type driven by German concrete salesmen draws to a halt beside them and the driver rolls the window down, asking if they’d like a lift, they look at each other and shrug. The people they’ve come across while on the run have been impressively kind and trusting so far. Fuck it, they might as well. They climb into the back and slam the door.

The driver glances back and reaches out a hand to each of them. I’m Ivor. Glad to meet you. I’m off up to Sunderland, will that do you? They say fine, smile in a sociable sort of way – which makes the man feel suddenly uneasy for no reason he can put his finger on – and thank him profusely.

Ivor seems incurious enough at first, but after a couple of miles they notice he’s giving them funny looks, peeping at them via the car mirror, then away, at them, then away. After a while, it starts to feel uncomfortable. They turn their faces from his scrutiny, looking out of the window. When he takes a sneaky left and turns onto Ryhope Road, they stiffen and look at each other, raising their eyebrows, eyes wide. No way! He has recognised them. The cunt’s taking them to the police station.

Weakened by their time on the run, Phil and The Nurse are not at their best. But this is a matter of life or death, and it is surprising what you can do when you’re desperate. In the same way an ordinary person finds the super-human strength needed to lift a heavy weight off a child trapped underneath, they spring into action.

Knowing each other so well, there’s no need for a plan. She hurls herself forwards and grabs the steering wheel, bringing the car screaming to a halt at the side of the road. Then she winds a strong, wiry arm around the man’s neck, pulling his head back until his neck is bent painfully hard against the headrest. Phil grabs the man’s arms and forces them together, securing them with a handy length of hairy string. Together, they manhandle him out of the vehicle and onto the beach, windblown sand stinging their faces and making them blink.

Tying Ivor up even tighter so there’s no chance of escape, The Nurse and Phil drag their prisoner over the soft sand and dump him, breathing heavily with the effort, in a dip between two dunes. Then they sit down, one on each side of him, and think out loud about what to do with the body.

Ivor, who isn’t quite a body yet and isn’t keen to become one, struggles violently, but The Nurse pushes him to the ground and jams a wad of marram grass into his mouth to shut him up. When the muffled protests continue, Phil sits on his head.

Ivor’s mobile phone drops out of his jacket onto the sand, and Phil picks it up, dusts it off and pockets it, just in case. And oops, there the Universe goes again, invisibly moving bits and pieces of heaven and earth to bring justice still closer.

Ivor’s wife, who is certain he’s having an affair, has had his phone tapped. A private detective called Mark is keeping an eye on its location 24/7. Worse still, Mark is following close behind, prepared to take photo or video evidence of Ivor’s infidelity if needs be.

The Nurse and Phil don’t intentionally kill Ivor. Phil, skinny as he is, is heavy enough to stop a person breathing when sitting on their face, and that’s what happens. Not so much a murder, more of a careless oversight that prevents them from carrying out a proper killing.

They kick sand over Ivor’s still form in a desultory sort of way, not too bothered about doing a proper job, then stalk stiffly back to the car and slip into the front. Phil drives off with Ivor’s phone silently beeping its location to the private dick travelling a discreet five miles behind.

Hoist by your own petard

Mark knows his stuff. He takes care to stay well back from Ivor’s car, keen not to be rumbled. Noticing when the vehicle stops for fifteen minutes at a beach-side car park, he slows down, then stops for a while until the subject continues his journey. Ivor’s car gets back on the road and Mark drives off again, now just three miles behind. As they approach Sunderland, wanting to keep his quarry in physical sight as they negotiate the heavy city traffic, he makes an effort to catch up and quickly spots the navy blue saloon surging along Queen Alexandra Road.

Hang on a sec. What the holy fuck? As Mark closes in, he sees two people in the car, both sitting in the front, and neither of them looks like Ivor. They’re tall people, obviously, since both heads are brushing the car roof interior and the exceptionally tall driver has to bend his neck slightly to see out of the windscreen. Not only has Mark lost his prey, he has managed to gain a couple of complete strangers into the bargain. Where the heck has Ivor got to? His fucking wife is going to be fucking furious.

When a police car shrieks past, sirens blaring and lights flashing, Mark thinks nothing of it. He sticks to his plan, following three cars behind the saloon with the strangers in it, thinking furiously.

What to do? He’s definitely going to keep following Ivor’s car, but should he signal the strangers to pull over? What about calling the rozzers? He decides he needs to find out more before contacting the authorities and potentially making a bell-end of himself. Scrunching down in his seat, he drives determinedly on, in it for the long haul.

Ivor’s sleek dark saloon drives across Sunderland and out the other side, with Mark in careful pursuit. The Nurse and Phil have no idea he’s on their tail. They fiddle with the radio, listen to the news, and discover the item of false news planted by the police the day before: the search for them has been called off. The cops don’t have enough budget to spend chasing shadows, so until more clues arrive, they have apparently redirected their manpower, focusing on clear and present dangers around the nation instead. Safe in Ivor’s warm, fast car, the pair whoop and do a high-five, making it swerve slightly. Behind them, Mark’s hands stiffen warily on the steering wheel – shit, are they stopping?

False news has its uses. In this case, it handily masks the fact that the rozzers are boosting their investigative team by one hundred percent. Twice as many police are now on the lookout, studying video footage taken on cameras along the coast between Seaham and Berwick-Upon-Tweed. Coppers are stationed along the main roads in plainclothes and unmarked cars. They’re hanging around in pubs, chatting to the locals, walking the beaches, looking for clues, responding to calls from the public. They are owning it.

When you don’t know you’re being looked for, you don’t feel scared, therefore you don’t look guilty. Several plain clothed officers notice the saloon with Phil and The Nurse in the front, but because the pair look so relaxed, innocent and happy, they dismiss them. An ordinary if unusually tall couple in an expensive dark blue car, smiling at one another in a chilled fashion, does not raise an eyebrow, never mind actual suspicion. Ignorance is indeed bliss. Had Phil and The Nurse actually looked as mad as they are, baring their teeth, hair all wild and eyes all googly, they would have been pulled over long before now.

Mark follows the odd couple driving his client’s husband’s car as far as Whitley Bay promenade, where they park and get out. He leaves his own vehicle a hundred metres back and gets out too, stretching elaborately while doing his best not to stare at them. They grab rucksacks from the back seat, put them on, lock the car and set off on foot in the direction of St Mary’s lighthouse, lonely and bleak, perched low on its rocky tidal causeway. What the fuck? This is no casual car theft. This is becoming way weird. Mark scratches his head, shrugs, then heads for a corner shop to buy a newspaper. He’s going to sit in his car and wait for the couple to return. Bollocks to St Mary’s island, especially in this weather.

The Inspector and Detective Crocker close the gap

Detective Crocker and the Inspector speed along the coast road, sirens and lights blaring, overtaking car after car en route to Sunderland nick. There’s been a call from a member of the public from a beach north of Hartlepool, yet another unfortunate fucking dog walker. Her furry friend has just snuffled out a still-warm body that can’t have been dumped more than an hour or two ago.

Once at the police station on Gillbridge Avenue, they stride inside and shake hands briefly with the boss before transferring to a super-fast Northumbria Police car. Then all three zoom back south, towards the remote slice of sand where a young constable is guarding the freshly dumped corpse.

The Nurse and Phil paddle across the causeway to St Mary’s, the tide rising fast and cold behind them. At the same time the Inspector, the big boss from Sunderland nick and Detective Crocker stand on the soft, pale sand with the wind howling around their ears, puzzling over the poor, flattened face of the victim at their feet. It looks an awful lot like somebody sat on his face and smothered him. How very weird.

St Mary’s island is gorgeous. If they hadn’t been on the run, The Nurse and Phil would’ve had a ball. As it is, they’re feeling chipper enough but they’re finally starting to suffer from the kind of perpetual low-grade anxiety that wears a person down pretty quickly. One thing is clear, though. They are not going to make their beds in the surrounding nature reserve, however attractive its rock pools, cliff top grassland, beach and wetlands. That would be shit. They need to stay warm, conserve energy and keep their emotions in check, such as they are, for the final push.

One way or another, their time as free human beings is about to come to an end. They acknowledge this silently, and they accept it. There’s no discussion necessary. The Nurse and Phil are on the exact same wavelength. Neither will give up without a fucking fight.

The island’s visitors and staff go home with the rising tide, leaving the fugitives with the place to themselves. Normal people would find it romantic here, it’s so lovely. The Nurse and Phil don’t. Fuck all that. As the sun goes down and the darkness thickens, they explore.

A furtive climb up 137 steps to the top of the lighthouse gives The Nurse spectacular views of the north east coast. Phil, wary of heights, experiences the same views live and in colour, via the special video screen at ground level. She runs back down the steps and into the foyer flush-cheeked and bright-eyed, momentarily beautiful in a savagely skinny sort of way, and Phil grins in admiration at his friend. Eventually, worn out, they break into the gift shop and bed down in soft heaps of tea towels, scatter cushions, printed sweatshirts and faux fur throws.

Up well before dawn, refreshed and motivated after a stolen breakfast of posh nosh from the gift shop, they embark on the next leg of their voyage.

The Nurse fills her pockets with Kendal Mint Cake and miniature bottles of sherry, creating a lumpy profile. Phil’s own pockets are laden with miniature Baileys and liqueur chocolates. It’s so long since they’ve eaten sweet things, even longer since they had some decent booze.

Phil rolls a fucking enormous bifter, sitting on a rock facing the open sea with chocolate stains around his mouth, and gets enjoyably twatted. The Nurse checks the arrangements one more time, then joins him for a quiet toke. Then they put their rucksacks on and lug the little wooden rowing boat out from under the overhang where they stashed it the night before, carefully lowering it onto the calm water.

This is fantastic. The Nurse raises her head and scents the air, nostrils flaring. The dawn light is cold and clear, the sky is striped in pale grey at the horizon, then pink, before fading into a vast bowl of delicate pale blue. Night retreats fast to the west in a slim dark blue strand, then vanishes as the first ray of sunshine hits the sea. The water turns into molten gold for a few seconds and they gasp, shading their eyes with curled hands. Then The Nurse gets serious, slams Phil around the head hard with an oar, tells him to fucking get on with it, daft cunt, and they begin rowing steadily out to sea.

The island’s CCTV system, installed coincidentally by the Private Eye Mark in a previous role, is a good one. It can even see in the dark. At the same time as The Nurse and Phil turn and row steadily north, paralleling the coast, arms pumping strongly but bodies still dangerously undernourished, the lighthouse gift shop manager is calling the coppers with solid evidence of the couple’s location. Here the killers are, on the screen, eerily lit bright green like nocturnal wildlife filmed on a night vision camera.

The rozzers swarm the tiny island, quickly realising the suspects have beaten them to it and disappeared. The CCTV footage is great, but it doesn’t cover the whole place. They could have escaped out to sea, or swum back to the mainland after their stolen meal, escaping through the nature reserve to fuck knows where.

This place is hardly a bustling metropolis. Witnesses are hard to find. People around here don’t always trust the pigs. Life is not a bed of roses, the police decide, giving up and making their disappointed way back to HQ.

Nobody notices that the little wooden rowing boat has gone until a day later. Bollocks. Fuck it. Shit. The Inspector and his colleagues quickly put a team of rozzers on watch along the coast as far as the Scottish border, then send yet more of them to ask questions door-to-door.

What a fucking weird picnic

Jon, Jay, Paris, Nathan, Sarah, Chris and Georgia are having a picnic on Alnmouth Beach. The kind of family that relishes sand in their sandwiches, they’re a hardy bunch. Even so, they are lost in admiration at the tall, thin couple who row a boat furiously in from the choppy open sea before surfing to a stylish halt where the sand meets the shallow, frilly froth.

As the family tucks into boiled eggs, punctuated by great blue lungfuls of smoke from a huge glass bong, they remark – as usual – how alike eggy smells and fart smells are. Munching happily, they idly observe the skinny fit people as they climb out of the rowing boat and pull it up the beach, laying it carefully on the spiny grass away from the high tideline.

The family might be rufty-tufty types but they are also unusually kind and generous. They’ve got loads of good food and masses of weed. The strangers look peckish and frazzled. Join the two observations together, and you get the ingredients of a smashing social occasion, unexpected and potentially rewarding for everyone concerned. Jon and Jay wave The Nurse and Phil over and point at the feast at their feet, beautifully laid out on a tartan blanket held down with rocks.

The family members are happy to chat amongst themselves. They’re discreet people. As far as they’re concerned, what happens in Northumberland stays in Northumberland. Not wanting to trust anyone too much at this crucial stage, Phil and The Nurse eat quickly and quietly, then thank the family sincerely with warm handshakes and stride off inland, muttering about walking cross-country to Carlisle. Are they fuck, mind you. It’s a canny scam to fool the rozzers on the off-chance the family decides to overcome its natural reticence and report them.

The Nurse and Phil take a short circular route, arrive back at the beach half an hour after the family leaves, hide in the dunes until dusk, then push the boat out and row off, destination Dunstaburg Castle.

A few days later, frustrated beyond belief by the locals’ sullen refusal to dob anyone in, a large reward is offered by the police. Georgia can’t resist the thought of ten grand for a quick sprag. She does it on the sly, telling the rozzers about the skinny couple, then collects her reward, telling the family she’s won the lottery. Everyone’s happy. Then Facebook does it again. When Paris unthinkingly posts a photo of her folks and their eccentric picnic guests on the network, its algorithm tags the woman as the suspected serial killer. Phil doesn’t do Facebook, but the police know it must be him in the photo standing next to the woman, a worried half-grin on his face.

Result. We’ve got the cunts. The already-strained police forces of the nation send in even more resources and smother the north east in a blanket of blue.

As they row out to sea and the waves get rougher, The Nurse and Phil chat. They’ve noticed something interesting. The more they trust people, the more they themselves are trusted. The fewer people they kill, the nicer people are. Can it be true, or are they kidding themselves?

Counting on their fingers without losing their oars is tricky, but they quickly realise they’re right. They have met some fine people lately. They’ve only killed the one, Ivor, who was about to turn them in anyway, the fucking mofo. Other than that, they’ve been met with more trust, respect and generosity than ever before. People have seen them at their worst, opened their arms and opened their homes, provided them with shelter and warmth and food. The wankpuffins.

Stolen chocs and booze are splendid but low in essential nutrients. Stopping mid-journey, bobbed about in a sick-making way by the sea as they catch their breath, Phil notices The Nurse’s hair is looking wrong. He doesn’t often see her from above. She’s too tall for that. So, it’s a shock to see the flaking bald patches and floaty loose bits on her scalp. She notices his expression, follows his eyes and pats her hair, wincing as a tangled clump falls out, pale reddish brown, thin and wispy. He feels for his own stubble, running a shaky hand over the surface of his head, and finds he is also almost hairless.

Fucking hell. This is going to take a lot more than a few vitamin pills and a fucking salad to sort out. There’s no time for foraging, though. When he waggles a tooth idly without thinking, then realises it’s loose, Phil is momentarily horrified. Look at them. A pair of ageing, skinny, balding, soon-to-be toothless cunts, badly malnutrificationalized or whatever the fuck the word is, with bugger all money and nowhere the fuck to go… except their final destination.

Phil and The Nurse sigh, straighten their shoulders and look at each other. It’s a bit grim, but hey, life’s been a blast so far, and the battle isn’t over yet. No way, ho-zay.

Bucket cunt

Keen to avoid any stray fresh air freaks from the villages of Craster and Embleton, The Nurse and Phil bob around uncomfortably a mile offshore until dusk. A wooden rowing boat with several fast-growing leaks isn’t the best place to spend time, especially with the addition of a strong wind whistling through your clothing like a banshee and choppy waves flicking salty water in your face.

When they finally drag their loyal craft up the beach, there’s no respite from the frigid wind. Dunstanborough castle is exposed by design. This place isn’t built for comfort. It’s about stopping invading fuckers from landing, and if they manage to land, killing the cunts before they kill you. The site’s natural defences, and the earthworks left behind from a much earlier Iron Age fort, make a splendid fortress but a shitty shelter.

The pair huddle inside the remains of one of the great towers smoking fat joints, the sky pitch black above them and violent gusts slapping at the walls like giant phantom fists. They share the last of the booze, which warms them up just enough so they fall into a light doze. Making up new swear-words cheers them up for a while: bucket cunt, titwanker, nojizznob. Ha!

Eventually, they fall into a miserable silence, enduring the cold and discomfort, teeth gritted, until dawn. Then as the watery sun rises they stand up, dust themselves off, stretch, eat the few remaining chocolates and drag their little boat back to the sea.

The coast north of the castle is weird. Long, warty, finger-like peninsulas reach out into the sea at High Newton and Low Newton, then there’s a great loop of bay, then more complex coastlinery past Beadnell and onwards to Seahouses which, from the boat, looks like a series of miniature Scanhooligan fjords.

It takes an entire day to row as far as Bamburgh, where there’s another fucking castle. To be honest, castles are becoming a yawn, safe enough at night but thin on resources and un-fucking-believably uncomfortable. And the weather. Christ in a barn. The locals must be hardy cunts to put up with this shit: the endless wind, the constant cold, the depressing grey of it all.

Reading the noticeboard at the castle, the pair figure the people around here are probably the descendants of the folk who lived in the Celtic Brittonic fort, Din Guarie, thought by some to be the ancient capital of the kingdom of Bernicia. This decides things for The Nurse and Phil, who vow to give the well-hard, scary locals a wide berth. Fuck that for a lark. Severely weakened and Biafra-skinny, they don’t have the spare energy to fight the natives, run, or even hide if the trust and kindness they’ve been getting used to doesn’t happen.

The Nurse instinctively knows she’s arrived in the far north east of England. She finds herself quite fancying a Woodbine and a bottle of stout, a reliable sign her inner SatNav is still working. If they happen to run across a human being, she can pull a ‘Boro accent out of the bag and maybe fool them. Northerners stick together – if they think she and Phil are Smoggies, all will be well. If someone realises they’re from down south, they’re bollocksed.

Armpits

When the call comes through, the rozzers in Dunbar are busy wondering why their left and right armpits smell different. Scottie notices it first. Lads. You won’t believe this. Here, sniff this pit. Right? Now this one, he shouts, laughing at his mates’ faces.

Prooooagh, the lads go. That one smells like our hamster cage, the other one smells like parmesan. No, it’s like fucking smelly feet. Gross. What the fuck, Scottso boy? What you been doing? Dirty fucker.

It’s a thing, they discover. It’s like your left and right armpit are different towns in the same county. Something to do with the skin flora, probably. They’re not daft, this lot, but even though they are themselves the police, they are wasting police time, for which they should be nicked.

Scottie stops giggling when the landline phone rings, hurling himself across the room to answer on the second ring as required by HQ protocol. He listens, the remains of the smile on his face sliding off. His eyes widen in shock. Then he guffaws. Brilliant. Thank fuck for perverts.

The woman on the phone was perched on a roof with powerful binoculars, watching the dogging at Bamburgh castle car park, when she spotted an odd couple dragging a small boat out of the sea. The fast-falling darkness meant she couldn’t see much detail, but they were both unusually tall and thin. This is the act of people who are a slice short of a sandwich, rowing on the open sea up here at this time of year. Unless they’re trying to break some sort of crazy extreme sports record, are refugees fleeing the horrors of Scotland, or simply have a death wish, it must be the suspects.

All personnel to Bamburgh Castle. NOW. A nationwide APB goes out and rozzers from across the country stream into the far north east of England. In Scotland, they hug the coast at the border and dot the banks of the River Tweed far inland on each bank, keen to spot the suspects if they get this far. Tourist telescopes in seaside towns are commandeered by coppers, who are provided with sports bags full of 20p pieces to feed the slots hour after hour. Lifeguards, sailors, fishermen and RNLI stations are put on alert. The Coast Guard knows what to look for. The suspects are almost in sight, and the end of the matter is surely approaching.

Down at the Bamburgh Castle Inn with his colleagues, taking a break from work in the new incident room they’ve set up in the town, the Inspector wipes beer froth off his top lip. It’s bedlam in here, wall-to-wall rozzers of every rank talking over one another, red-faced with excitement. Victory will be theirs soon, thanks to maths if nothing else. Two suspects, fifteen thousand police, something has to give.

Part 27 – Holy Island Blues

The beginning of the end

The Nurse and Phil are shattered by the time Holy Island comes into view. It’s getting dark, their arms are killing them, and they badly need food. Water, too. It’s thirsty work rowing, even when you’re in peak condition.

At the same time, they’re conflicted. They are not going to manage much longer without good food and proper sleep, but they must be especially cautious. They can never forget that they’re being hunted, that they’re on the run. It is not wise to let yourself feel safe at a time like this.

Scanning the coastline and the fast-darkening landmass behind it with care, they decide to spend the night at sea again, just to be on the safe side. They stare towards land one last time before settling down to attempt sleep. Then Phil pokes The Nurse hard with a skinny finger. Fuck. Can you see those clumps of tiny lights dotted along the shoreline?

Some of the lights might be moving, it’s hard to tell. Is that more arriving? The pair squint into the blackness, but the rolling of the boat means everything is wobbling around. Fuck knows. Then, with a thud of internal horror that makes his heart beat like mad, Phil susses it. They’re torches. The coastline is dotted with hundreds, maybe thousands of people carrying torches. It’s the pigs. There’s no other explanation.

If you’ve ever had a really bad night, times that by ten, add a nought, and you start to get the picture. If you’ve ever been homeless, you’ll know how it feels to be this icy, afraid, tense, uncomfortable and unable to sleep night after night. It’s hellish. Add to that the fact that they’re on board an eight foot wooden rowing boat with water sloshing around the bottom and most human beings would empathise with their plight.

The Nurse and Phil can’t sleep. Shaken to the core by the sheer number of rozzers out there, they hook up the anchor and wearily do their best to maintain a course parallel to the land. Chatting helps dull the fear, the agony of loose teeth and scabby skin, the pain of empty stomachs, of eyes so weary it feels like some cruel cunt has flung builders sand into them.

They explore the nature of forgiveness together, but it proves puzzling whichever way they examine it, since neither Phil nor his friend has a conscience. It isn’t really possible to fully understand forgiveness when you don’t give much of a shit about morals in the first place. It’s hard to give a toss when you have never understood why ordinary people get so heated up about your work, your perfectly reasonable medical experiments. At least The Nurse isn’t a Conservative MP, for Christ’s sake, or an arms dealer. Worse still, a fucking lawyer. She upholds certain standards.

Another chilly, windy, grey dawn breaks to find Phil and The Nurse frozen stiff and about as miserable as it gets, bobbing sickly on an unfriendly, rolling sea. There’s rain in the air. It isn’t as choppy as it was, a minor blessing, but rough water isn’t always the cause of seasickness. It’s the type of bobbing about that matters. A big, wild sea that hurls you around violently isn’t necessarily as sick-making as a calmer sea with a steady, smooth roll, as they soon discover. Vomiting bile and rowing, vomiting bile and rowing, vomiting bile and rowing. This is the purest essence of shite.

As Holy Island slips away into the mist behind them and they head slowly and painfully for Scotland, they loudly curse England and the English to high heaven and back. The gulls wheel above, sending greasy shit-bombs raining down on the pair. Such is karma.

A second sleepless night at sea sends Phil and The Nurse careering ever-closer to the edge. They’re too far gone at this stage to realise the dramatic tumble they’ve already taken towards the black hole of madness. As far as they’re concerned, things are chundering along nicely. Yes, they’re a bit peckish. Yes, it’s a bit chilly, and the boat’s full of bath-warm water but hey, they’re having a really nice holiday anyway. Mustn’t grumble. They grin insanely at one another, rowing faster and harder. The little wooden boat zips across the white-capped waves. Now and again, they stop rowing to bail out water with cupped hands. It turns their fingers blue, stiff with cold.

The plot… lost

Five more tortuous, constantly-vomiting miles further north, and their minds have snapped. Bye bye, sanity, it has been nice knowing you. Hello, full-blown manic episode of epic proportions. Phil and The Nurse have forgotten all about food and tiredness, pain and fear. They are steaming-crazy. Two fully-fledged loonies in a dangerously small boat are heading for Berwick-on-Tweed as fast as their wrecked, dying bodies can manage.

An hour of furious rowing later, and The Nurse turns to Phil. It looks like the gods are taking us back to Barns Ness, she cries joyfully, her blue eyes brilliant and wide, bright and insane. Phil chuckles, then nods ecstatically. Let’s get a shift on then, m’lady.

The Inspector is up with the birds. Breakfasted and dressed warmly by seven, he’s on the road heading north with Crocker in the passenger seat by quarter past. The sea remains unrelentingly empty except for three vast ships, their blocky silhouettes punching holes in the horizon.

At the same time as The Nurse and Phil are still rowing ever-northwards towards the Scottish border and the estuary of the mighty River Tweed, the two senior policemen are sucking mints as they speed along, heading for a special conference in Berwick, where they’re going to brief their Jockish counterparts.

You know when you spend too long in a hot bath and your hands and feet go wrinkly? Your skin goes tapeworm-white tinged with a pink the same colour as the sunrise-delicate lip of a sea shell. While the colour is lovely, and wholly appropriate for seashells and sunrises, when applied to skin and wrinkled to fuck, it is not a good look.

The pair’s skin, weakened beyond endurance, is so saponified, so drowned and rubbery that chunks of it rub off in strings, sloughing away like snakeskin as they row, dropping into the sea to be eaten by opportunist fish. If they were not insane, The Nurse and Phil would be completely grossed out. As it is, they’re spanked on madness, oblivious to anything except Barns Ness.

When your skin has been wet for days, it doesn’t convey feeling. Rowing like the fully-fledged maniacs they’ve become, they scud faster and faster over the water, flesh flying off their fingers, feeling nothing more than glee. Pure, absolute glee. This state of mind, their failing bodies, the chase, the tension, the hunger and thirst, and most of all the fucking freezing cold, tears any remaining capacity to tell reality from fantasy to shreds. They plough relentlessly north, red-eyed and manic, sodden clothes flapping, seagulls hovering overhead patiently, waiting for death, recognising fucked-up creatures when they see them.

Bell-end

Some people are such bell-ends. On the island of Iona, one woman, as jealous as fuck of the attention the east coast of Scotland is getting, decides it’s time to generate some publicity for her own area. She makes a hoax call to Detective Castle in an attempt to throw the rozzers off the scent, making up a convincing story about seeing a suspiciously tall, skanky-looking couple in an old rowing boat with an outboard motor puttering discreetly around the Inner Hebrides. Fifteen thousand rozzers and associated hangers-on, volunteers and members of the media circus head west en masse, leaving the coast of East Lothian as deserted as it usually is at this time of year. Only the Inspector, Detective Castle and Detective Crocker remain on the case. For fuck’s sake.

The Inspector doesn’t do gut feelings or instincts. That’s for wankers and woo-woos… usually. But this case is different. He’s getting familiar with the suspects and the way they think. Instead of assessing the evidence, he goes with his guts. If he were the killers, knowing – as they must – that they’re doomed, he’d want to end things somewhere with meaning. His nerve endings are screaming, telling him to drop everything and head for Dunbar. For the first time in his professional career, he listens to them.

He can see the pair in his mind’s eye. As partners in crime, they’ve managed to swerve the law for years, independently perhaps a lot longer. The woman has been at the centre of things from the start, linked by a string of loyal collaborators, supporters, and others with the same sort of unpleasant impulses. Where would she go if she knew in her bones that the end was near? He decides she would stay out at sea. She’ll stick to the coast, avoiding the rozzers. Then she will head to the place she loves best, the place of her heart.

Employing logic, the Inspector thinks fast. There’s been a rash of killings and maimings in and around Dunbar. The criminals he’s after obviously love the place, or they’d have fled somewhere else, somewhere warmer. This is where it ends, and this might be his only chance. Unusually, the Inspector drives like a nobhead, simply because he’s so desperate to reach his destination. Deep inside, he knows he’s right. The suspects are fleeing to Scotland, to Dunbar, and he’s heading for Dunbar harbour. Instincts on fire, he has a strong feeling he’ll need a fucking boat.

Leaving Crocker and Castle at the Incident Room to man the phones in an attempt to retrieve essential manpower from the west of Scotland, the inspector runs like the wind through the rainy streets of the little town, coat flapping. He clambers down a slippery, seaweedy metal ladder and climbs on board a tiny wooden craft with a tightly-furled scarlet sail.

At first he sighs with exasperation, fiddling ham-fistedly with the sail, the tiller, the whatdoyoucallit, the ropes. He hasn’t been in a sailboat since he was a lad down in Sussex, and it takes a while to sort things out. Ah, that’s it. He draws a deep, slow, calming breath, sets her nose in the right direction, shuts the little cupboard so the flares and ropes and stuff don’t get wet, and sets sail towards Barns Ness with Bass Rock in the distance.

Can he see the suspects’ craft? Straining forward, hand shading his eyes, he thinks maybe he can. He grips the tiller firmly and tries to keep the tiny distant speck in sight as it grows. The sea is too rough for comfort, mental-crazy for this kind of craft, a toy-like thing better suited to a boating lake in a suburban park than the actual sea. He smiles to himself as he gets more confident and finally feels the boat get into a position where the wind helps it along, no longer hindering progress with his inexperience. Shortly afterwards, he’s scudding across the waves like a pro’. If it hadn’t been a matter of life and death – of his career, his reputation, his self-respect, his peace of mind – he’d be absolutely loving this.

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