The Pen is Mightier than the Nerd (part eight)

Find enclosed part eight of ‘The Pen is Mightier than the Nerd’.  Nothing much to say about this bit, apart from I’m (understandably) having trouble with how Mervyn recounts events.

I think it’s probably called a ‘past-and-present-tense nervous headache’.

When you’re tweeting in ‘real time’, reporting events as they happen, as they’ve just happened, and when they’ve happened some time ago all at the same time, it’s not surprising I have/had/am having a few problems.

PART EIGHT

As I went to the station my mind buzzed with the events of the last few days. So I now had two murders on my hands; one strangled by a telephone cord without a telephone, the other bludgeoned to death by an autograph.

This looked like it had all the makings of a surreal killer.

Sorry, couldn’t resist. 

Clive greeted me. He had my boots ready, all secured in one of his evidence bags. I thanked him and stowed them away in my satchel.

I asked him about Craig’s murder, and he was happy to furnish me with some details.

‘He was strangled by a Groolian subspace communicator,’ he said. I looked at him with surprise. He blushed.

‘Sorry,’ he said. ‘Bit of a fan myself.’

‘You lot get everywhere,’ I said, smiling. ‘Does this mean you’ll keep D. I. Wells from re-arresting me?’

Clive laughed. ‘Oh I don’t think Derek will do that. ‘The more evidence turns up, the more your story checks out. In fact, he’s just found out who drugged you that night.’

‘Really?’ I was amazed. ‘Who?’

‘Alistair Guffin,’ he said.

Clive explains that my glass of wine – given to me by Alistair that night – was drugged.

But the bottle and Alistair’s glass had nothing in them.

Ergo: I had either drugged myself or Alistair had drugged me. The question was, was the murderer in on the plot to drug me?

Or was it just dumb luck that he came to kill Alistair while I was snoozing?

—————————————————————————————–
I’ve been living in dread of Mary’s threat to me; waiting for a flood of hate-mail from internet junkies castigating me for playing a cruel sick joke on a poor woman.

My deadline is up. So far, nothing.

Until five minutes ago.

I get a message on my Facebook page.

Just a direct message, mark you, not a public one.

MEET ME AT THE COSTA IN THE HIGH STREET. THE ONE NEAREST THE SHOP. 4PM. MARY

I let loose a sigh. Another trek to east London. Still, it’s a good sign. I’m leaving now. Tweet you later…

———————————————————————————————–

I stagger into the coffee shop; I’m ten minutes late. I look around, and for a moment I think she’s left.

But there she is, scrubbed clean of make-up. She’s twisting a piece of paper in her hands like it’s a stress toy.

She sees me, and waves me to sit, and as I do she asks if I want coffee.

Of course I do. I’m a writer. ‘Free’ and ‘containing caffeine’ are three of the five words guaranteed to get us shaking with anticipation.

Don’t ask me what the other two words are, but if you guess, you’ll be right.

She asks me how I want my coffee – which involves more questions than the process of getting a passport – and then she gets up to buy it.

As she passes she thrusts the bit of paper into my hand.

It’s a letter. From Alistair.

‘April fool!’

‘Did you really believe that ‘Outcasts’ had its own convention? Did you wonder why you didn’t sell any stuff in Coventry?

How an ‘Outcasts’ convention might look.

The whole thing was a fake! Cost me a packet, but it’ll be worth it to see your face!

From your big loving Wookie…Alistair.’

She comes back with my coffee. I can see she’s been crying.

‘I’m sorry,’ I say.

‘That’s okay,’ she says, nodding at the coffee. ‘It wasn’t that expensive.’

At least she’s kept her sense of humour.

We talked at length, and I learned something very interesting, but I’m low on juice, and I have to get home. Tell you later.

———————————————————————————————–

Mary has worked out her husband has died. She’d found the letter pasted to a wall in the office.

It had been stuck up there while she was in Coventry attending her fake convention. Unfortunately, it had been covered up.

Stacey’s Neanderthal boyfriend (name of Gary, apparently) stuck a photo over it. A new photograph of me, Alistair and Jennifer McLaird.

How ironic.

Not only is she fulsome in her apologies to me, but she also asks me to find her husband’s murderer. My reputation precedes me, as usual.

Not for writing, of course. Just my reputation for solving murders as I stumble through life.

I say that if there’s anything I can do to bring the murderer to justice, I’ll do it. She starts to cry again.

Big wet tears falling and dive-bombing the chocolate sprinkle pattern on her cappuccino.

The first thing I ask her, is the matter uppermost in my mind; was there any reason she can think of as to why Alistair drugged me?

‘I can’t even begin to guess,’ she said, snot bubbling from her left nostril.

‘He was pretty pissed about having to give you back your boots. I did a feeling he was up to something, but he didn’t tell me what.’

She thinks hard for a minute. I wait politely, sipping my coffee.

‘But there was one thing,’ she said at last. ‘Just before I left for that huge April fool’s joke of a convention, I picked up a call.’

‘It was from a man who wanted to speak to Alistair. I asked if he wanted to leave a message, and he took a long time to decide.’

‘He said no, then yes, then he said, just tell him ‘boots’. That’s it. Nothing more.’

I pull an ‘interested’ face. ‘Oh, that could be important…’

‘But that’s not the end of it,’ she says fiercely, grabbing my hand and staring directly into my eyes.

‘It was only after I put the phone down I realised I recognised the voice.’

‘It was the same guy who kept ringing and ringing and wanting to buy that Perspex block with that autograph inside.’

‘That’s it!’ she says, pounding the table with her tiny fist. ‘It’s the same guy. He wanted the autograph, and he made a deal with Alistair, they had a fight, and my husband was killed.’

‘This guy murdered my husband because he wanted that bloody autograph.’
‘That could be true,’ I say kindly, ‘but…’

Her face falls like an anvil, and she supplies the rest of my sentence. ‘Why didn’t he take the brick after he killed Alistair? That would have been the obvious thing to do.’

‘Yes,’ I sigh. ‘And let’s not forget the other murder. Craig Jones. Strangled by another piece of memorabilia. It looks like there’s a psychopath out there, rather than an overzealous collector.’

She jacks up an eyebrow. ‘Believe me, sweetie. In a lot of cases that’s one and the same thing.’

She sighs. ‘I suppose it could just have been a burglary gone wrong then, like the police think’.

I sidestep the fact I know it’s definitely NOT a burglary gone wrong and ask; ‘I wonder what’s so special about this autograph?’

She sips her coffee. ‘That’s easy. It’s worth a fair bit, because it’s the only example of a ‘Gertie McKnutt’ signature in existence.’

‘Who’s Gertie McKnutt?’ I ask.

Mary smiles. Her face blossoms through the tears, like flowers opening after a rain shower. ‘Don’t you know that?’

‘I don’t know a lot of things, ‘ I say. ‘It gets pointed out to me more and more each year.’

”Gertie McKnutt’ is the original name of Jennifer McLaird.’

‘Really?’ my face stretches in surprise.

‘I had no idea.’

‘She had it for about a week, when she was a dancer for the Gillie Girls, then her agent changed her name for spotlight.’

‘That autograph is believed to be the only professional signature she did as Gertie McKnutt. So it’s quite prized among people who care about those sorts of things.’

I rack my brains to think of more things to ask Mary. ‘Did he have any arguments with anybody else before you left?’

She shrugged. ‘He had a bit of a shouting match with Stacey, but they’re always butting heads. He doesn’t like Gary much.’

‘Thinks she can do better. But Stacey loved him…Oh God, she doesn’t know. She thought the same as me. That it was just a big joke.’

‘I have to go and talk to her.’

She gets up to leave and practically runs for the doorway. I follow. It’s just a short walk to the shop, and when we get there Stacey is at the till. Gary is mooching around the graphic novels, and as soon as he sees me his eyes burn…

But then he sees Mary with me, and withdraws into the back of the shop.

Mary takes her daughter to one side. ‘Stacey, I’ve got to talk to you. In Private.’

Stacey shrugs off her mother’s arm. ‘What? No. I’m busy. Leave me alone!’

‘Don’t bloody argue with me,’ Mary snarls. ‘I’ve got something to tell you.’

Gary advances, but Mary holds a finger up. ‘Don’t even think about it, lover boy. You stay here and mind the shop.’

She leaves, dragging her still-protesting daughter out of the shop.

I’m left alone with Gary.

I don’t know if I should leave quietly or wait for the women to come back Mary has just asked me to find Alistair’s killer, after all…

But I don’t like the looks that Gary is giving me. He obviously has anger issues.

I look around nervously, trying to avoid his stare.

Then I see Dermot.

The owner of ‘Battlestore Galactica’ cult shop is lurking behind a cardboard cut-out of Wonder Woman.

He beckons to me.

I saunter over, keeping one eye on Gary, making sure he doesn’t notice what I’m doing, but he’s busy serving a customer who seems to be buying about half the shop.

‘I know I’m next to die,’ he hisses.

‘So I’m getting out of here. Packing my bags and I’m off. Catching a flight tonight.’

‘What? What do you mean?’ I crouch by Wonder Woman’s cardboard buttocks so I can hear Dermot better.

‘Look,’ he whispers. ‘I know we all hated each other, Alistair, Craig, me, we’re rivals .But we’re all in the same business.’

‘I KNOW that Alistair was getting calls from a guy wanting that autograph. And Alistair wouldn’t sell.’

‘I know that…’ I say.

‘Yeah, maybe you did. But did you know that Craig Jones was also getting phone calls? A guy was demanding that Craig sell him one of his prized collectible items. A Groolian subspace communicator.’

‘Something that looks like an old telephone cord?’ I mutter, my stomach plunging so far down it’s about level with Wonder Woman’s boots.

‘Yeah,’ he hisses. ‘So Craig’s dead. Strangled with it. And Alistair’s dead. Killed with his autograph. And guess what?’

‘I’ve been getting phone calls from a guy. Demanding I sell him Arkadia’s Neutron Rapier from season seven.’

‘But this is amazing,’ I say, I little too loudly. ‘If he’s coming for you – that means we can trap the murderer!’

‘You can piss off,’ Dermot stands up, ‘I’m going. No-one’s going to use me as bait.’

‘I only told you so you can get the murderer while I’m sunning myself far, far away. I’ll be back when you’ve cracked the case.’

And he walks out of the shop, his eyes twitching in every direction for a potential psychopath.

But as we’re inside a shopping centre, everyone looks like a potential psychopath.

I run after him.

…Only to have my way blocked by Gary.

‘I thought I told you not to come back to this shop,’ he says.

I’m sorry, but sometimes I can’t resist. ‘No, you didn’t say that. You just ran after me.’

‘Perhaps you just thought you thought you said it. Or perhaps you like to think you think. Either way you’re mistaken.’

And he punches me in the stomach. Hard. I go down heavy.

All I can see from down there is boots and shoes. His, the customers, Wonder Woman’s. I’m trying to focus. I’m staring at his boots.

Big ugly black things. Scuffed and worn. The toe is damaged where, presumably, he’s been kicking small fury animals.

And then an idea occurs to me. But it’s not a good time to have an idea, because I need to concentrate on finding that next breath.

And then there are more shoes around me. Trainers, sand shoes. I hear voices. Lots of voices.

‘You can’t do that.’ ‘That’s Mervyn Stone. He created ‘Vixens from the Void’.’

‘He wrote ‘Expiration Point’. That one’s my favourite.’

While Gary is cornered by a wailing wall of Nerds, I stagger to my feet and leave. I have to go home and check out my idea.

Once home, I get out my Chelsea boots. The ones returned to me by the police. I put them down on the table and examine them.

As I suspected. The scuff marks on Gary’s boots made me realise something was up. The toes on his were worn through, presumably from the way he behaved – putting the boot in, so to speak.

My boots always wear out on the inside of the heels first, because of my peculiar duck walk.

The boots on my table were worn through on the soles, and the heels were pretty much unscathed.

If a collector stole my boots, then I find it very unlikely he’d wear them, and even if he did, he’d hardly do that and repair the soles.

These aren’t my boots!

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