As a Halloween treat, please enjoy this brief snippet from the forthcoming Jake Fletcher book, Necessary Evil…
Chapter Nine: Beef Sleeve
‘Stay,’ I told the zombie. ‘Good boy.’
It was really more of a demand than a request, what with the fact I’d handcuffed the thing to the cast-iron radiator in the funeral home’s dilapidated bathroom.
I was late meeting DCI Stronge at the crime scene, so in terms of security, this was going to have to do for the minute. Given time, I’d come up with a better solution for keeping my rotten runaway indoors, but for now, I was satisfied that the manacles would keep it from going AWOL any time soon.
The homicide job was important, and not just to Stronge. If I could bring the victim’s killer to justice, maybe I could win back some points with the Big Man. That would be a real coup. I’d just been responsible for a zombie taking a bite out of one of His flock, so my halo could definitely use a polish. Yeah, this case had the potential of being a real win-win.
But first I had to get that body.
Mark Ryan was my go-to guy whenever I needed a physical form to possess. So long as I was working with the boys in blue, it was Mark’s face I wore, his mitt that made the handshakes. Not that he knew it. Even though I’d borrowed his bones a thousand times, Mark had no idea that he was my meat suit. My skin sock. My human glove puppet.
Now, you might think picking on one particular bloke every time I had a public appearance to make was a bit out of order, and in some ways, you’d be right. After all, I was enslaving a living person to further my own selfish needs, wasn’t I? Well, no, not exactly. That might be the clickbait headline, but the truth was a little more nuanced. To put it simply, Mark Ryan had it coming, and then some. Why? To understand the reason I felt justified using Mark as my mule, you’ll need to know the long and storied history I have with the geezer. So here goes…
Me and Mark went way back; all the way to our school days. We weren’t friends. Far from it. For three long years, week in, week out, he was my bully. My personal tormentor. Back then he made my life a living hell—the kind that left scars, some mental, some physical—so these days, whenever I needed a living body, he was my weapon of choice.
Sometimes, I’d feel a twinge of guilt about carting him off without his permission and putting him in harm’s way, but not often. I mean, didn’t Mark deserve some retribution for the way he treated me back then? Wasn’t he owed some payback? Why should I be the only one subject to the laws of karma?
It wasn’t hard to find Mark. It never was. I’ve been inside his body so many times since I died that I’ve developed a sort of… well, let’s just call it a link. Wherever he is, no matter how far or how deep he goes, I can home in on him. Not that I really need a psychic bond to find the berk, what with him Instagramming his whereabouts every mealtime.
I found him in a Soho strip club. Of course, I did. It had only just gone half ten in the morning—they hadn’t even brought out the breakfast buffet yet—and yet there he was, watching a bit of crumpet with an epic prow perform aerial yoga on a greasy metal pole.
I guess this was his day off. Mark was a hedge fund manager by profession: a corporate wraith who contributed nothing to society and sent most of what he made up his soon-to-be-collapsed snout. Like most bullies, Mark was a shitty kid who turned into an even shittier adult.
I watched him from across the club as Def Leppard’s Pour Some Sugar On Me shook the speakers. He had the collar of his pin-striped suit popped and wore a pair of Prada sunglasses. Indoors. He’d styled his hair into a man bun today, which I knew for a fact was nothing more than a futile bid to disguise a rapidly-developing bald patch.
The club was almost deserted at this hour, but the emptiness wasn’t blunting Mark’s enthusiasm any. He sat right by the stage, straddling the back part of his chair like a football manager giving his team a half-time pep talk. In one hand he held a sloshing JD and Coke, in the other he waved a folded tenner, pointed in the direction of the dancing girl.
‘Hey, you,’ he brayed. ‘C’mere.’
At this point, can we all agree that me making use of Mark’s worthless hide was not only justified but worthy of applause? I mean, seriously, has the phrase, “Life is wasted on the living” ever been more appropriate than when describing Mark frigging Ryan?
The dancer slid off the pole and moved haltingly in Mark’s direction. He tucked the note into her g-string and beckoned her ear to his mouth.
‘Don’t worry, I won’t bite,’ he yelled over the din.
I moved in closer and watched as the dancer reluctantly dropped to her haunches and settled into a crouch. ‘What do you want?’
‘Give me your digits and there’s another tenner coming your way,’ he told her.
This guy. Did he really think twenty quid was going to persuade that poor woman to let him throw a dick in her? Honestly, you could die a death falling from the bloke’s arrogance and landing on his IQ.
‘Piss off,’ said the dancer. She did a sharp heel turn, making a squeak that set my teeth on edge. ‘Wanker.’
‘Hey, I’m sorry, okay?’ Mark blurted as she strutted away and slipped through a curtain backstage. ‘Okay, fine, be a bitch, see if I care.’
Nice. A real tabloid newspaper apology, there; written in small print and buried in the footer of page twenty-two.
But our boy wasn’t done yet.
A waitress came over to his table and gave him a nod. ‘Can I tap that?’ she asked.
Mark looked her up and down, evidently liking what he saw. ‘Play your cards right and maybe you can,’ he replied.
The unsmiling waitress gave him the kind of look that leaves a mark. She produced a card reader from behind her back and nodded to his wallet, which lay on the table beside him. ‘I meant can I tap your card? With the machine. So you can pay for your drinks and go.’
It was painfully obvious to everyone but Mark that he had grossly outstayed his welcome. Right on cue, I saw a bouncer made of gristle and fists start in the direction of the disturbance, cracking his knuckles as he went.
If Mark carried on the way he was going, he was taking a trip to the hospital. Was there ever a more deserving patient, you might wonder, and you’d get no argument from me if you did. Quite honestly, I feel roughly the same amount of affection for Mark as a bomb disposal officer might his remote-controlled robot. Except, like that same officer, I know the robot, used correctly, has the power to do good. To save lives. So, much as I’d have liked to, I wasn’t going to stand by and let Mark get his brains kicked in just for being a dickhead.
I surged forward and seized control of Mark’s body. It wasn’t hard. Even if the bloke had wanted to fight me, he’d have been onto a loser. After all, you know what they say: possession is nine-tenths of the law. Ha, I kill me (not literally, of course, someone already beat me to that).
Mark’s senses fused with mine, sending a barrage of signals my way in a great, heady rush. I tasted bourbon on his tongue and felt the dull throb of last night’s hangover prodding at his brain meat. Through his half-caved nostrils, I caught the first whiff of my surroundings: stripper sweat mixed with the smell of stale beer, hoppy and sour and cut through with a janitor’s cheap detergent. Most of the time, I consider these rare moments of having a corporeal form a blessing. On this occasion, not so much.
Having fully taken possession of Mark, I stood up, swiped his wallet off the table, and settled the bill with his personal credit card (not the company one). With that done, I smiled warmly, pulled out every note he had, and handed the whole mess to the waitress.
‘That’s for you,’ I said. ‘Oh, and please make sure the young lady who performed for me gets this…’ I tugged Mark’s Rolex off his wrist and placed it on the waitress’ silver tray. ‘Thank you very much, and have a lovely day.’
The waitress and the bouncer stared at me, eyes agog.
I winked, threw down the last of Mark’s drink, and left.
That’s all for now, folks. Look out for Necessary Evil, the brand new chapter in the Jake Fletcher story, coming this December.