Something rotten an unca.., p.1
Something Rotten: An Uncanny Kingdom Urban Fantasy (The Ghosted Series Book 2), page 1
A GHOSTED STORY
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All around town, artists were dying.
Dying from electrocutions, from hit and runs, and unexplained heart attacks. Dying from falling objects, from bathtub drownings, and walking into open lift shafts. All of the deaths considered suspicious, but none of them suspicious enough to be ruled homicide. I might have sidestepped them myself if the deceased had been your rinky-dink, Camden Market artists selling affordable Banksy ripoffs and blown glass bongs, but these artists were the real deal. High profile painters, sculptors, and whatever the ones that shit the bed and call it an “installation” go by. Big name artists, falling like dominoes, and I had an inkling I knew who was doing the pushing.
A good place to start with any crime is to question the motive, and sometimes, a lot of the time, most of the time, that motive is money. So I got to thinking, who was it that stood to profit the most from putting these artists to bed with a shovel?
The art lovers who measured their love in pennies and pounds. The collectors who cared less about art appreciation than they did the appreciation of their assets. And what better way to see those assets mature than for the artist who created them to suffer a premature death? The kind that caught the marketplace by total surprise and drove the value of their work sky high. The man who owned a work like that—the work of a famous, tragically defunct artist—would stand to make a tidy sum. The man who owned the work of two? Three? A dozen even? He'd be a millionaire a few times over. And a fucking suspect millionaire at that.
That's how it is when a famous artist croaks; it's like their departure trips some kind of mystical inflation switch. A death bump, if you like. It stood to reason that a collector had a hand in these murders, the only question was, which one? Since no one was else was asking, I decided to make the investigation my own and find out.
I had a sniff around. Looked into certain private records, questioned dealers and gallery owners, greased the right palms. And one name kept coming up (well, not a name exactly, a face; the buyer was smart enough to make his purchases using aliases). Picture a London-based artist who died an untimely death in the last ten years and this guy, whoever he was, owned a piece of their work. Their masterpiece in most cases. The guy was making money hand over fist, and something told me he was more than just a canny investor.
If all of this sounds like some tin foil hat, swivel-eyed-loon conspiracy theory, I promise it only gets worse from here. Why wouldn’t it? After all, you’re reading the words of someone who’s witnessed actual demons and visited the nightmare realm of an interdimensional being that steals children’s souls. Oh, and I’m a ghost too, as in a real life, walking the Earth, honest to goodness, phantom. I guess what I’m saying is, don’t expect the needle of your internal Bullshit-O-Meter to sit too still on my watch.
Anyway, back to my art assassin case. Seeing as I didn’t have the killer’s ID, I figured the best chance I had of rounding him up was to catch the guy in the act. Ordinarily I’d lay some bait—cast out a line and see if any sharks came biting—but since I didn’t have anything in my chum bucket tasty enough to attract one, I had to go a different way this time.
Instead of waiting for the killer to come to me, I went straight to the source. I found the hottest artist in town, glommed onto the guy, and became his invisible protector. Since the police didn’t have the resources to play bodyguard for some gadabout artiste, I made it my job to keep an eye on him. It wasn’t an easy gig, but being a ghost means I don’t need sleep, so I was able to monitor him around the clock. Without the artist knowing about it, I’d been on him for the past eight weeks, glued to his tail while he swanned about town like he owned the place. A typical day in his company would involve me traipsing around after him as he went from brunch to lunch to elevenses, interspersed every few days with a flying visit to his studio to ensure that his assistants executed “his” work according to something he had the brass to call, “My vision.”
Eight long weeks of that I’d suffered, hoping like mad that the artist’s would-be killer made a show, and caring less about whether he succeeded in slaying my protectee each passing day. Just being in the guy’s presence was torture. Not only was he an utter prat of a man, he picked his nose, sucked his thumb, and ate an apple so loud that I twice thought about offing him myself.
The artist’s name was Cassey Levant, a sculptor fascinated by the endless oscillation of the zeitgeist, at least according to the artsy bollocks some poor sod had been tasked with transferring letter by letter onto the gallery wall. Tonight was the grand opening of his ten year retrospective, a glittering, champagne reception attended by some of the biggest dickheads in town. Truly, a Who’s Who of the least essential members of contemporary London society.
As Levant strutted about like a peacock I watched the crowd, looking for any signs of impending danger and guarding his six like some supernatural secret service agent. I certainly looked the part in my black suit and tie; the outfit I happened to be wearing the day I died and consequently my permanent fashion choice.
My phone buzzed. I answered the call and a voice only I could hear came through the speaker.
‘Anything to report?’ asked Stella.
Stella was working as my partner this evening, watching the outside of the venue while I kept an eye on the inside. My phone had been enchanted by my magician friend, Jazz Hands, who functioned as my sort of paranormal ‘Q,’ equipping me with items fit for my phantom hands. I have trouble interacting with regular physical objects – my natural state is ethereal, so manipulating the real world is like trying to win a prize on one of those fairground claw machines. A shop-bought phone in these paws would have more cracks in it than a plumber’s conven
I scanned the room. ‘Nothing yet,’ I sighed.
No one besides Stella heard me talking. My voice and movements are inaudible to anyone not tuned into the Uncanny, by which I mean normals. And by “normals” I mean the regular people, the hoi-polloi, the bus-takers. Basically, you.
‘Stay on it,’ said Stella. ‘Keep the line open and maintain contact.’
She sounded like someone from a bloody Andy McNab novel. I thought about ribbing her for it but gave her a simple, ‘Affirmative,’ instead. Stella’s good at what she does, the best really, but she’s not much for levity.
The night crept on. Levant quaffed champagne and pressed the flesh as his adoring fans heaped praise upon his latest sculptures, which looked less like art than an explosion in a mannequin factory to me.
I was beginning to think the evening was a bust when a burly man in an unseasonably large overcoat happened onto the scene. As he made a beeline for Levant I saw his hand go for the inside pocket of his coat, and readied myself to turn corporeal and knock whatever weapon he was packing from his grip.
Levant’s eyes went wide as he saw the man barreling up to him.
I darted forwards, desperate to stop the killer before he could make his move and then—
‘Daaahling!’ squealed Levant.
The man in the coat met him in a big queeny hug and a flurry of air kisses before telling Levant how absolutely stunning he looked this evening.
Great. Instead of bringing down a serial killer I’d been a half second away from clotheslining some hapless art ponce.
The burly man handed his coat to a lackey, who gave him a ticket and squirrelled it away in the cloak room. The man went on to tell Levant that this was his finest work yet, and how every piece on display was a great, crashing triumph.
‘My God!’ he gushed, looking around. ‘Did you manage to hawk the entire collection?’
‘Not quite,’ replied Levant, gesturing to a mannequin with a head sculpted to look like a poop emoji for reasons I could not possibly fathom. ‘This piece remains stubbornly unsold.’
‘What do you mean?’ asked the sycophant. ‘It has a red dot right there...’
I followed his chubby index finger to the piece’s caption card, which had indeed been decorated with little red dot.
The red dot was moving—
Vacating its position on the white rectangle to travel along the gallery wall—
Creeping in the direction of Cassey Levant.
It wasn’t a red dot.
Well, it was, but not the kind you peeled from a pack of stickers.
It was the kind that killed.
I turned from the dot and saw a slim, red beam passing through the gallery’s south window.
Outside, across the road, and projecting from the mid-level of a multi-storey car park, was the source of the beam – a laser sight fixed to the barrel of a sniper rifle. Holding onto that rifle was a dead match for my suspect.
I turned back to see the laser’s red dot had finished its journey and arrived on the gunman’s target. Levant just stood there like a plum, mouth agape as the scarlet bead settled on the dead centre of his forehead. If somebody didn’t do something fast, the gunman’s stock was about to rise as quickly as Levant’s body fell.
‘Everybody down!’ I yelled, though of course no one heard me.
To make up for the intellectual shortfall, I dived into the fray like a goalkeeper. Having succeeded in turning my shoulder corporeal, I collided with Levant’s back and sent him buckling to the gallery’s faux-marble floor.
There was a popping noise, quickly followed by the sound of shattering glass and the appearance of a smoking bullet hole in the mannequin’s poop head.
Then came bedlam.
Champagne flutes rained to the ground as screaming art lovers ran for cover, swarming to the room’s only exit and arriving at a crush in the stairwell. Stunned, Levant rolled onto his knees and went looking for his guardian angel, but found the room empty except for himself. The luvvie he’d been air-kissing moments ago was long gone, rushing to get clear of the building with all the rest. Only me and my perspiring artist left now – and Stella, watching from her post outside.
I scanned the multi-storey across the road and whipped out my phone. ‘Shooter’s running, third floor, dressed in black.’
‘Affirmative,’ came the reply.
I went to the gallery window and waited for the fireworks, and yeah, “fireworks” made for a pretty apt description. As I watched, the entire third floor of the car park flared up in a brilliant vermillion light threaded with molten cords of furious yellow fire.
A second or two passed before Stella spoke again. ‘Threat neutralised,’ she said, calm as you like.
Did I mention that Stella is a witch’s familiar and a tough as nails spell-slinger? No? Well, here goes then. Three hags made Stella out of magic and spit about sixty-years ago – built themselves an enforcer to knock seven bells out of London’s Uncanny bad guys. So far I’d say she’s been doing a pretty bang-up job of it. She mostly looks after the big picture stuff around here—your higher-plane demonic entities, your cannibalistic death cults, your ancient curses—while I deal with the smaller jobs like missing persons and serial killers. It’s not often our jobs intersect, but I’d lent her a hand on that nightmare realm gig, so she owed me this one and a couple more besides.
‘Thanks, Stella,’ I replied. ‘You did us proud.’
I hung up the phone and let out a long sigh of relief. Eight insufferable weeks of tedium had finally paid off. All of that effort, all of that planning, and it was all done in a second. The killer was subdued and ready to be turned over and judged for his crimes. At least here on Earth. He’d have to wait until the day he passed to receive his eternal judgment, and as a multiple murderer, the die had already been cast on that one. His soul was destined for the Bad Place. No stating his case at the pearly gates, no passing Go, no collecting £200, the man was going to Hell in a handbasket.
I turned around to see Levant had taken off, leaving me alone among his collection. I walked over to the emoji mannequin and inspected the hole in its poop head. I could see the assassin’s bullet embedded inside like a little silver nugget. It’s funny; five minutes ago this piece of shit sculpture was unsold, but now the art world would be falling over themselves to get a hold of it. I shook my head. This whole scene was bonkers.
Still, what did I care? I’d put paid to a serial killer and avenged a slew of untimely ends. Thanks to me, the ghosts of a dozen victims would be able to cross over now, freed from the physical plane and released to their final reward. The job was done, the mission accomplished, now I could finally go home and make a dent in that pile of DVD boxed sets sat by the TV.
My phone rang. I was expecting it to be Stella, but the screen said otherwise. The incoming call was from DCI Stronge.
I picked up. ‘I was just about to give you a bell, Kat. We got him.’
‘Glad to hear it,’ she replied, ‘I’ll send a couple of uniforms your way to get him processed.’
‘You do that,’ I said. ‘In the meantime, I have a date with a stack of Good Wife DVDs.’
I was about to hang up, but Stronge wasn’t done talking. ‘Afraid that’s going to have to wait.’
‘Aw come on, what could possibly be more important than me finally watching the big Season 4 finale?’
A second of thought her end and then, ‘Is that the one where Will gets shot?’
‘What?’ I screamed. ‘Why would you do that?’
‘Because you've got work to do, Fletcher. Now get yourself to the Heath, we just caught a new one.’
My name is Jake Fletcher and I’m a P.I. The “P” can stand for whatever you like—“private,” “paranormal,” “platypus” for all I care—what matters is the job that goes with it. Without getting too bogged down in the details, I help my clients find their way to the spirit worl
Why do I do what I do? Well, it’s not to get rich, I can tell you that much. We ghosts aren’t much concerned with the material things – which goes as much for money as it does anything else with a physical property. What use would money be to a spook anyway? What would I buy with the stuff? It’s not like I need to bother watching Season 5 of The Good Wife anymore.
No, the reason I help out other ghosts is to offset some of my own bad mojo. See, back before I kicked the bucket I used to be an exorcist. You know the fellers: “The power of Christ compels thee!” Crucifixes and holy water. Demonic possession. Children scrabbling about on the ceiling on all fours. All that malarkey. I also dealt with other supernatural nuisances, namely ghosts, or what we in the trade called “poltergeists.” Clients would contact me to report a haunting and I’d swing by their property to cleanse it of spooks. Bish bash bosh. They’d get to sleep at night, I’d get paid. Everyone was happy. Well, almost everyone.
by David Bussell have rating 4 out of 5 / Based on32 votes