Monday, November 22, 2010

Short story: Undergrowth

A couple of weeks ago I had a flash piece on A Twist of Noir. Yesterday I decided to extend the piece out into a longer story to make it the same length as the other Harry and Pete stories. It may be a little rough and ready, but the result is below. There are some pretty bad jokes all the way through, but hopefully they'll raise a smile. For once, I think the final punchline is a doozy (if you like your jokes in poor taste). No doubt there are typos. I'll try and pick them up at some point.


Undergrowth

‘For fuck’s sake,’ Pete muttered, ‘how come we always get the crappy jobs?’

The rain was drifting in on a cold, east wind; a fine mist that managed to work its way through outer layers. They’d already scoured the laneway for a knife or bloodied clothes, poking away at the foliage with stakes. Now they were wading through sodden ferns under the canopy of a small copse, their clothes snagging on tangles of brambles, hands stung by nettles.

‘You’d sooner be pushing paper, yeah?’ Harry replied.

‘We’ve got the fucker, so why can’t we wait until it stops fecking raining?’

‘Because Johnny Cronin knows this is the only way a skanky fucker like you gets a shower. We’re just here to make sure you wash the shampoo off properly.’

‘Says the man who only has three pairs of underpants and does a wash just once a week’, scoffed Pete. ‘I say we call it quits. All we’re going to catch is pneumonia. We’re just wasting our time.’

‘Will you two stop bloody moaning,’ Chloe Gaines snapped. She’d no idea what crime she’d committed to be punished by a morning with Harry and Pete, two dinosaurs from another era - unreconstructed, misogynist cops on the slow road to retirement. ‘Jesus, it’s only a bit of rain.’

‘I don’t see you stripping off yer’ wet gear,’ Harry replied, ‘dancing around to some rain god.’

‘Rubbing the shampoo in,’ Pete added.

Several years their junior, Chloe Gaines was the best looking cop in their station by a country mile and neither man would object if she felt the need to strip down to her birthday suit to dance in the rain.

‘For god’s sake - how old are you, five?’ Chloe asked, rolling her eyes.

‘What the ...’ Harry trailed off, picking at the ground with his staff, revealing a withered condom. ‘Ah, Jesus, you could have cleaned up after yourself, Pete.’

‘What?’

‘Well, it looks like your size.’

‘If that was mine you could tie five knots in it and it would still be bigger than that.’

Chloe snorted in derision. She pressed on ahead, wondering how either man had managed to find a wife.

Harry shared a look with Pete and nodded conspiratorially towards Gaines. ‘Here’s one for you. How’s a woman like a condom?’

Pete shrugged and ducked under a low branch.

‘Both spend more time in your wallet than on your prick.’

Chloe swivelled round, her face flushed red. ‘I’ve warned you before. Any more jokes like that and I’ll be reporting you for sexual harassment.’

‘Relax will you, Chloe. It’s just a joke. Jesus.’

‘It’s not just a joke.’

‘What do you do with 365 used condoms?’ Harry continued, as if to make a point. ‘Melt them down, make a tyre, and call it a Goodyear.’

As he uttered the punch line, his footing shot out from under him and he slid down a bank which had been hidden from view by the undergrowth, plunging into freezing black water.

Harry let out a roar. ‘Fuck! Jesus wept!’

Chloe and Pete hurried back and stared down the slope at him, neck deep in water.

‘Relax, you big girl,’ Pete said. ‘I’ll pass you the shampoo.’

‘Fuck you! I’ve found that fuckin’ knife.’ Harry’s hand emerged from the filthy water clutching the blade, blood seeping out between his fingers.

‘Don’t bleed on it!’ Chloe said. ‘You’re contaminating the evidence.’

‘Are you’re taking the piss? I’ve just managed to stab myself.’

‘Yeah, on a murder weapon! For Christ’s sake, Harry.’

‘I’ve just scared the shit out of myself sliding down here; I stab myself, and all you’re worried about is the poxy knife.’

‘It sounds like you better wash you underpants whilst you’re down there,’ Pete added.

‘And fuck you too!’ Harry spluttered, shivering in the freezing pool. Get down here and help me out.’

Chloe kicked the condom, it plopping into water next to him. ‘Here, grab hold of that life raft.’

* * *

Harry’s teeth were chattering like a child’s machine gun, his body shaking with shivers. They were huddled on the side of the lane in the lee of a large oak tree, seeking shelter from the rain, having decided to wait there for the ambulance rather than trudge the half mile back to their vehicle.

‘You need to get out of those wet clothes,’ Chloe said.

‘And ... get into ... what?’ Harry’s hand was throbbing with pain, blood leaking out from under the wad of paper handkerchiefs Gaines had given him to try and stench the flow.

‘Give him your coat, Pete.’

‘What?’

‘Give him your coat, you big pansy; he’s going to catch hypothermia. Come-on, let’s get this stuff off.’ She started to tug at the zip to Harry’s coat.

‘Jesus ... you’ve turned ... a bit keen. We gonna ... share a ... sleeping bag ... to keep ... keep warm?’

‘In your feckin’ dreams, Harry. All the whale fat on you, you’d think you could cope with a bit of bloody cold water.’

‘Where’s the feckin’ ambulance?’ Pete muttered, not wanting to give up the warm cocoon of his coat.

‘Whale fat? ... That’s ... that’s muscle.’

‘It’s beer and burgers.’ Chloe had got the coat unzipped. ‘Right, come-on, you big girl, slip out of it.’

Harry let go of the handkerchiefs with his good hand, closing his bloody fingers around them, and allowed his shaking body to be eased out of the jacket.

‘What’s ... black and white ... and red all over?’

‘Now the jumper,’ Chloe said, ignoring him. ‘Put your arms up and lean forward.’

Harry did as he was told, muttering the answer. ‘A killer ... whale ... eating the ... sarcastic bitch ... taunting him.’

Chloe grabbed the jumper at its base and tugged the material up his body and part way along his arms until the neck opening jammed on Harry’s head, stopping progress. She tried tugging it, but succeeded in only dragging him forward.

‘For fuck’s sake. Give me a hand, Pete.’

‘What do you want me to do?’

‘What do you think! Get the neck over his head. I’ll keep pulling.’

Pete struggled with the jumper, easing it over the jut of Harry’s chin, trying to push back against him as Chloe pulled.

‘Stop! Jesus, fuck. ... Are you ... are you ... trying to ... rip my fa... face off?’ His arms were locked in place above him, the neck of the jumper tight at the base of his ears and caught under his nose.

‘What’s wrong?’ Chloe asked. ‘How do you normally take it off?’

‘It’s ... it’s shrunk.’

‘Stop being such a cry baby.’ She tugged viciously without warning, pitching Harry forward and knocking Pete to the ground where he landed in a pothole full of water.

‘For fuck’s sake!’ Pete snapped. ‘What did you do that for, you silly bitch!’

‘Stop whinging and help me ... at last, here’s the bloody cavalry,’ she said, as the blue swirling lights of an ambulance swung round the corner and raced towards them.

Pete had gotten to his feet by the time the ambulance had pulled to a halt, its back doors just a few feet away. He tugged his sodden trousers from his skin, shaking his legs. ‘For god’s sake,’ he muttered darkly.

The front doors of the ambulance opened and the driver and a paramedic tumbled out and jogged back towards them.

‘I should have known,’ the driver said, unable to stifle a laugh at the scene, Harry bent in half, his arms outstretched, the hem of the jumper still in Chloe’s grasp; Pete hopping from one foot to the other. ‘The deadly duo! You haven’t called us out just to help you get this jumper off, have you?’

‘Fuck you ... Mike,’ Harry said, recognising the voice. ‘I’ve been ... stabbed.’

‘Stabbed?’

‘By himself,’ Chloe said. ‘He picked up a knife by the sharp end.’

‘Contaminating the evidence,’ Pete added.

Mike tutted. ‘Did nobody teach you how to use a knife and fork, Harry?’

‘Stop fucking ... about and ... get me ... get me ... to a ... to a ... hospital,’ he stuttered with cold. ‘I’m ... losing ... blood.’

Mike tugged the jumper back down, freeing Harry’s arms and revealing his bright red face. ‘You’re sopping wet.’

‘No ... shit ... Einstein.’

‘He fell into a pond,’ Chloe explained. ‘We were trying to get him out of his wet clothes.’

‘Not content stabbing yourself, you wanted a go at drowning yourself, as well?’

‘He wanted to be a killer whale,’ Pete added.

‘I’ll bleeding ... stab ... stab you ... unless ... unless ... you shut the fuck up.’

‘Jesus, lighten up, Harry,’ Mike said, helping him up into the back of the ambulance. They were only jokes.

‘He’s all laughed out,’ Chloe said. ‘It was rubbish jokes that got him into this mess in the first place. Isn’t that right, Harry? Perhaps we should just melt you down, make a tyre and call it a Goodyear?’

* * *

‘There you are,’ Inspector Johnny Cronin said brusquely, poking his head between the curtains. ‘I’ve been looking all over for you.’

Harry and Chloe looked up at their boss.

Harry was sitting up on a bed wearing a borrowed t-shirt and a dressing gown, feeling slightly vulnerable in the absence of underpants. The hospital staff were letting him rest there until Pete returned with a fresh set of clothes on the understanding that he didn’t sneak in beneath the sheets, otherwise they’d have to change the whole set. He had just about warmed through in the overheated ward.

Chloe was sitting in a bedside chair reading a copy of celebrity gossip magazine. She rose to her feet, looking sheepish. ‘Can I be excused now, Sir?’ She really couldn’t take any more of Harry’s inane banter.

‘No. Where’s that other idiot?’

‘Garda Cahill?’ Gaines said.

‘Who else do you think I mean?’

‘He’s gone to get changed and get Harry a fresh set of clothes.’

Cronin shook his head. ‘All you had to do was find the knife, not audition for an episode of E.R. How’s your hand, Harry?’

Harry tugged back the sleeve of the dressing gown, pink digits sticking out from a wrap of bandages. ‘Ten stitches.’

‘The doctor said it’s a relatively superficial wound,’ Chloe said, ‘not deep, just long.’

‘Superficial? It took ten stitches to sew it back up.’

‘Don’t be such a baby. They’ve said you can go home, haven’t they? No reason why you can’t go to work; just keep the dressing dry.’

‘So where’s this knife then?’ Cronin asked.

‘Knife?’ Harry said.

‘You know, the thing you stabbed yourself with. The knife that Jimmy Burke used to stab that poor bastard.’

‘Chloe?’

‘Don’t look at me, I haven’t got it.’

‘What do you mean, you haven’t got it. I gave it to you.’

‘No, you didn’t. You must have given it to Pete.’

‘Given me what?’ Pete said, slipping between the curtains, wearing a dry, clean uniform and carrying a sports bag. ‘Sir,’ he said, noticing Cronin.

‘The knife,’ Cronin said.

‘The knife? Harry had it.’

‘I haven’t had it since you got me out of that bloody pool. I gave it to one of you two. You put it in an evidence bag.’

‘Well, you didn’t give it to me. Chloe?’

‘Don’t look at me. He gave it to you.’

‘Uh-uh, I don’t think so. You must have put it in your coat pocket,’ he said to Harry.

‘Don’t try and blame me, I found the bloody thing and I gave it to one of you two.’

‘For fuck’s sake!’ Cronin snapped. ‘I don’t care who’s got it! Just find it, okay. Without it, Jimmy Burke will probably walk.’

Burke was the local gang leader, a hard man with a fearsome reputation for having a short temper and quick fists. He’d risen rapidly through the ranks, eventually wrestling control from his former boss after a bloody coup. He’d been arrested the previous evening for a knife attack that had left a young drug pusher fighting for his life. Only Burke denied all knowledge of the attack, a witness had withdrawn his statement, and there was no material evidence in the form of bloody clothes or the knife.

‘Where’s your bag of wet clothes?’ Pete asked.

‘Under the chair,’ Harry replied.

Chloe reached in under the chair and pulled the bag out. ‘Even if we find it, it’s going to be covered in Harry’s fingerprints.’

‘That’s right, try and dump me in the shit. It wasn’t like I was trying to stab myself with the damn thing.’

‘You didn’t stab yourself, it’s a superficial wound.’

‘How can it be superficial?’ Harry said angrily, turning towards her. ‘It took ten stitches to close it up!’

‘For god’s sake, cover yourself up!’ She said, motioning towards where Harry’s dressing gown had fallen open. ‘You might have the blubber, but you don’t have one of a whale’s other attributes. It looks like a finger puppet that’s withered and died.’

Pete snorted a laugh as Harry flushed red, tugging at the dressing gown.

‘Enough!’ Cronin snapped. ‘I don’t care who’s to blame. All I care about is finding that knife and putting Jimmy Burke away for a very long time. If the knife’s not here, then you better get yourself back out to those woods and find it.’

‘I can’t go out again like this?’ Harry said, waving his hand.

‘Do I look like someone who gives a shit? Just find that knife. And get some underpants on. I agree with Garda Gaines; that thing looks like a shrivelled mole. I’ve seen more meat on a chicken leg.’

* * *

‘Your nuts would be shrivelled to raisins if you’d spent two hours shivering to death.’

‘It’s not me you need to convince, Harry. I couldn’t care less if squirrels had crawled up your leg and nibbled your nuts off. All I want to do is find this knife and go home to bed.’

‘I don’t know what you’re moaning about, it’s me who was stabbed and fell in the pool. Ten bloody stitches.’ He held up his hand.

‘You’ll just have to use the other hand and pretend it’s a stranger. Assuming you can get a grip.’

‘Ha, ha. Very funny, Pete.’

‘Am I laughing? If it wasn’t for you, we’d have been at home hours ago.’

‘If it wasn’t me, we’d have never have found that knife in the first place.’

‘Or lost it.’

‘Oh, no. No you don’t. I didn’t lose that knife. One of you two did.’

‘I don’t think so,’ Chloe said, opening the back of the car and climbing in. ‘You were the last one anyone remembers having the knife, trying to fight off a marauding condom that was several sizes too big.’

‘Fuck you, Chloe.’

‘In your dreams, Harry. And you can go fuck yourself back. Because of you, Johnny Cronin thinks I’m a fuck-up like you two.’

‘Somehow I doubt it. Johnny Cronin thinks the sun shines out of your pretty little arse.’

‘Well?’ Pete interrupted.

‘Well, what?’ Gaines said.

‘Did you find the knife?’

‘No. It’s not reception or the treatment room or in the ambulance. If it got this far, it’s disappeared.’

‘Fuck.’

‘We’ll have to go back to the woods; to that pool.’

‘I can’t get this bandage wet,’ Harry said, holding up his hand.

‘You can wear a glove, or put a bag over it, but you’re coming,’ Chloe said. ‘You’re the one who stabbed himself with the bloody thing.’

‘You make it sound like I did it on purpose.’

‘A fat shirker like you, I wouldn’t put it past you,’ she said testily.

Harry twisted in the seat. ‘You may have the looks, Chloe, but you can be a right royal pain in the arse.’

‘At least I’ve got a pretty little arse, unlike your ...’

‘Knock it off, the pair of you,’ Pete interrupted, starting the car. ‘It’s like listening to a broken record. Let’s get back to the woods and find this bloody knife. And any more bickering and you’ll both be in detention.’

* * *

They were trudging through the undergrowth, tracing the route they’d taken to the laneway, scanning the ground for the knife. The soft drizzle was still falling, but the cold east wind had died to a light breeze.

‘Bloody Jimmy Burke,’ Harry muttered. ‘This is all his fault, stabbing that poor bastard. He’d kill his own grandmother if he had to.’

‘He’d kill her for fun,’ Chloe said. ‘The man is psychotic. He should be locked up in a mental institution.’

‘He’s bad not mad,’ Pete said. ‘He knows exactly what he’s doing. He’s a sociopath.’

‘Psychopath, sociopath, what difference does it make?’ Chloe replied. ‘He’s got a screw loose somewhere. His has scary eyes; they have no life in them.’

‘How do you make a blonde’s eyes light up?’ Harry asked.

‘I’m warning you, Harry,’ Chloe said, her dyed blonde hair tucked up under her hat.

‘Shine a light in her ears.’

Neither Chloe nor Pete laughed.

‘Okay, okay. How about this one instead. What’s the difference between God and a surgeon?’ Harry asked.

‘God doesn’t think he’s a surgeon,’ Pete replied, tugging a bramble free that had snagged on his coat.

‘The guy who sewed up my hand thought he was bloody Zeus or Thor or one of them. A real cocky bastard.’

‘You’d think you were giving birth,’ Chloe said, ‘given the carry-on you were making. He treated you like a child, because you acted like a child.’

‘And he treated you like a teenage girl. Draw your own conclusions.’

They continued in silence for a minute or so.

‘Concerned with her shortness of breath, a man takes his wife to the hospital,’ Harry said, ‘The doctor gives her a thorough examination and then gives his prognosis: ‘Your wife has acute angina.’ To which the husband replied: ‘I know, it’s just a shame about her face.’

‘Give it a rest, Harry,’ Pete said.

‘Do you get it? Acute angina.’

‘For god’s sake, Harry.’

‘I’m just trying to lighten the mood. Jesus. God knows it’s been a crappy day.’

‘Well, those kind of jokes aren’t helping, okay? That’s how you ended up in that pool in the first place.’

‘Jesus, they’re just jokes. Why did the skeleton go to the hospital? To have his ghoul stones removed. Ghoul stones. How’s that? Better? Jesus, it was me that was stabbed.’

‘Harry, we’re not in the mood.’

They had reached the pool. The three of them stared down at the dark water, the withered condom still floating on the surface.

‘Now what?’ Harry said.

‘One of you goes down and checks for the knife,’ Chloe said.

‘One of us?’

‘I trudged round the hospital looking for the bloody thing.’

‘I’ll go,’ Pete said, setting off down the short slope.

Harry and Chloe watched him hunt around in the undergrowth.

‘It’s not here,’ he declared after a few minutes.

‘It must be in the pond,’ Chloe said.

‘Well, I’m not going in to look for it. They’ll have to get the divers in.’

‘For that? It’s only about ten feet square.’

‘I don’t see you in any hurry to dive in. It can wait for tomorrow. It’s not going anywhere, is it?’

He headed back up the steep slope. As he reached the lip one of his feet slipped on the damp leaves, shooting out from under him. Instinctively, he grabbed at Harry’s leg for support. Then both of them were tumbling. Pete hit the freezing water first, Harry landing on top of him, forcing his head under the surface.

‘Fuck!’ Harry roared.

Pete shot up, his arms thrashing.

Chloe had her hands on her knees, unable to hold back the laughter.

‘What’s so fucking funny?’ Harry asked.

‘You. The pair of you.’

‘Get down here and help us get out.’

‘I don’t think so, Harry. Us blondes aren’t very good swimmers. Besides, you’ve still got the life raft from earlier. You better check for that knife now you’re in.’

‘Fuck the knife.’

‘I wouldn’t if I were you. I doubt acute angina will suit you, Harry.’

2 comments:

Margot Kinberg said...

Rob - I absolutely love the give-and-take in this story!!!! I like the way you've woven in the story of the murder, too. I would really like to see a follow-up to this one. Please??

Paul D. Brazill said...

Yep, works really well.Great series you've got going with these two.