Extract: Taming the Alien by Ken Bruen

If you turned right on the Clapham Road, you could walk along Lorn to the Brixton side.

Few do.

Brant had his new place here. The irony didn’t escape him.

Lorn. forlorn.

Oh yeah.

Since he’d been knifed in the back, he’d been assigned to desk duty, said: ‘Fuck that for a game of soldiers.’

His day off, he’d go to the cemetery, put flowers on PC Tone’s grave. Never missed a week. Each time he’d say, ‘Sorry son. I didn’t watch for you and the fucks killed you for a pair of pants.’

What a slogan – Trousers to die for.

The Band Aid couple had gone to ground or Ireland. No proof it was them. Just a hunch. Some day, yeah. some day he’d track ’em.

Only Chief Inspector Roberts knew of Brant’s hand in the murder of the boy. He wouldn’t say owt. Brant’s own near death had somehow evened it out for Roberts.

Odd barter but hey, they were cops, not brain surgeons.

Chief Inspector Roberts was ageing badly. As he shaved, he looked in the mirror, muttered: ‘Yer ageing badly.’

Deep creases lined his forehead. The once impressive steel grey hair was snow white and long. Clint Eastwood ridges ran down his cheeks. Even Clint tried to hide them. Wincing is cool. sure. maybe till yer dodgy forties, but after that it comes across as bowel trouble.

Roberts loved the sun, nay, worshipped it – and cricket. Too many summers under long hours of UV rays had wreaked havoc. Worse, melanomas had appeared on his chest and legs. When he’d noticed them he gasped, ‘What the bloody hell?’

He knew. oh sweet Jesus did he ever. that if them suckers turned black, you were fucked. They turned black.

The doctor said, ‘I won’t beat around the bush.’

Roberts thought: ‘Oh, do. if necessary, lie to me – lie BIG – beat long around any bush.’

‘It’s skin cancer.’

‘FUCK!’

After, he thought: ‘I took it well.’

Was ill as a pig when he heard about the treatment.

Like this: ‘Once a week we’ll have radiation.’

‘We? You’ll be in there with me?’

The doctor gave a tolerant smile, halfways pity to building smirk, continued: ‘Let’s see how you progress with the ‘rad’, and if it’s not doing the business we’ll switch to laser.’

Roberts wanted to shout, ‘Beam me up Scottie! Signpost ahead. The Twilight Zone.’

He let the doctor wind down. ‘Later on, we’ll whip some of those growths away. A minor surgical procedure.’

‘Minor for you, mate.’

The doctor was finished now, probably get in nine holes before ops, said: ‘We’ll pencil you in for Mondays, and I’d best prepare you for two after effects:

1. You’ll suffer extreme fatigue, so easy does it.

2. It leaves you parched – a huge thirst is common.’

He had a mega thirst now.

Right after, he went to the Bricklayers. The barman, a balding git with a pony-tail and stained waistcoat, chirped, ‘What will it be, guv?’

‘Large Dewars, please.’

‘Ice. water?’

‘What, you don’t think I’d have thought of them?’

‘Touchy.’

Roberts didn’t answer, wondering how the git would respond to rad. As if abbreviation could minimise the trauma. Oh would it were so. Dream on.

Robert’s other passion was film noir of the forties and fifties. Hot to trot. Now, as he nursed the scotch, he tried to find a line of comfort from the movies. What he got was Dick Powell in Farewell My Lovely:

I caught the blackjack right behind my ear.

A black pool opened up at my feet.

I dived in.It had no bottom.

Yeah.

He’d given the git behind the bar a tenner, and now he eyed the change. ‘Hey buddy, we’re a little light here.’

‘Wha’.? Oh. took one for me. I hate to see anyone drink alone.’

Roberts let it go. Londoners. you gotta love them. Bit later the git leans on the bar, asks, ‘You like videos?’

‘Excuse me?’

‘Fillums, mate. Yer latest blockbuster – see it tonight in the privacy of yer own gaff. Be like ‘aving the West End in yer living room.’

‘Pirates, you mean.’

‘Whoa, John, keep it down, eh?’

Roberts sighed, laid his warrant card on the counter.

‘Whoops.’

Roberts put the card away, said, ‘I thought in your game you could spot a copper.’

‘Usually yeah, but two things threw me.’

‘Yeah, what’s those then?’

‘First, you have manners.’

‘And…?’

‘You actually paid.’

Click to visit the ‘Taming The Alien’ page

About Ken Bruen

Also by Ken Bruen:
The Hackman Blues
A White Arrest
The McDead
London Boulevard
Blitz