Fiction, the Wild West, different planets and getting suspended from school for writing erotica...
One of the real positives about working with a publisher is the opportunity to speak to other authors - all far more established and experienced in the murky world of making stuff up than I am. Recently I had a chat with the best-selling US author TJ Brearton and it turned into a rather fascinating insight into the world of someone who writes for a living:
Q: T J Brearton. The author of many-a-thriller. How many books do you have out?
Uhm. Let me just look that up for a second…
So, eleven. But that’s eight novels, one omnibus, one “deluxe” version of a novel, and one short story collection.
Twelve, if you still count an older self-published book I still have hanging around – though that’s not on my Amazon author page. I sort of abandoned that one. It’s like I had only one friend for a while, and then I got a whole group of newer, “hipper” friends, and I stopped hanging around with the old one.
I’m a jerk.
Q: And are you happy with being labelled a ‘thriller writer’?
Sure. Though I don’t think anyone has ever called me that to my face. I go by daddy, babe, and Tim, in order of daily frequency.
But I guess what you’re asking is am I happy with that as a label. Absolutely.
Q: Have you ever written in any other genres?
Yes. All of them.
Seriously. In twelfth grade, I wrote erotica.
Unfortunately, it referenced real people from the high school.
One day I opened my locker to get the erotica notebook, and it wasn’t there. I realized I’d left it in physics class the previous afternoon, where I did most of the writing. But, of course it was gone.
Someone had stolen it, then made copies of several pages and pinned them up in the bathrooms.
I was suspended.
Otherwise, I wrote lots of sci-fi and horror as a young man. I’ve also written plenty of bad poetry, experimental or, “speculative” fiction. But these all killed each other off and what was left standing was crime fiction.
Q: As you write more and more, do you find it easier or more difficult?
Boy that’s a good question. I ask myself this quite a bit.
But I’m going to have to go for the non-answer answer, Charlie, which is that it’s a bit of both.
Q: You’ve just released ‘Dead Gone’. Using this as an example, how did you make a start? Do you make plans, write some scenes or hang upside ’til all the story’s fallen out of you?
Usually it starts with two ideas. Two things, and so there’s a conception of an idea. Then I try to rocket through, fast as I can go.
I like to be surprised when something happens as I write. If the ending comes as a surprise, and it all works without major revision, that’s the best.
One book, DARK WEB, just started with the opening couple lines. I had those in my head for several weeks before another idea joined in, and then I got moving on it.
Occasionally, I’ll write a scene or two off to the side and then fit it in. But usually the story comes together in scenes written consecutively, daily.
DEAD GONE was written somewhat politically. Meaning, I almost wrote it as an exercise. Things that I wanted to do with a story, improvements on past books. I actually started that one, got twenty thousand words in, then basically erased all of that and gave it a second go.
I’ve read a compelling argument that a writer made about outlines. He said that we all outline, even if we don’t think we do. If you’re not writing an official outline for weeks before you start going on the actual prose, chances are you write more drafts. In this way, your rough draft is your outline. So, I guess that’s me.
Q: How long does it take you to write a book - on average. And do you find this is becoming longer or shorter as you write more?
The longest published book took about two years from day one of the rough draft to publication. That was HABIT, my first commercially published novel. So, part of that time was spent submitting.
The shortest one went from the first-word-written to actual publication in about six months. It wasn’t my latest, but recent. So I guess they’re going quicker.
I’ve definitely gotten faster writing rough drafts, but this may be circumstantial; I’m writing full time, so I have no excuses. Also, I’m very impatient.
Q: What’s your inspiration for writing?
Richard Wright said “All literature is protest,” and I think that describes some of it – I’m very inspired by people overcoming adversity and inequality and injustice. But mostly, some idea will just get stuck in my craw. For example, one book (BLACK SOUL, not released yet) really rode on this one conversation I had with my sister, about her experiences as a cop, and the frustrations, the limitations of the system. It also might be some cutting edge technology that greases the gears, or something controversial in the news. I’m veering away from conspiracy theory, but that shit is like catnip to my fiction-writer’s mind.
Very often, this happens – I think psychologists call it “frequency illusion” – when you’re thinking about something and suddenly it’s everywhere. When I was working on Dark Web, I was just learning about the deep net, the dark web, and hadn’t heard much of anything about it. But then I’m in the middle of the third draft and I’m in the car and something about the ‘dark web’ is on the radio. Then it’s in a magazine. Then a friend brings it up to me. Suddenly it’s all over! And I’m thinking, Go! Must publish this book nooowwwww!
And then of course, the book comes out and it’s like, Oh. Okay. Most readers didn’t really care about the internet parts of the book anyway.
I have to remind myself of this. I get all nerdy-infatuated with some new piece of tech, or breaking controversy, or conspiracy about the FBI, but readers tend to be reading for the characters and story.
(I just peeked at Google and the “frequency illusion” is called Baader-Meinhof phenomenon. And now suddenly I’m feeling this bit of frisson about a story . . . something to do with the Baader-Meinhof phenomenon…yesss…and these people start seeing the same thing everywhere, only it’s more powerful than anything anyone has ever experienced! . . . See, now I wish I was writing science fiction instead of crime and no one called me a “thriller writer.”)
Q: When someone reads your stuff, what emotion do you most want them to feel as they go through it?
Well, that follows nicely from the last question. I mean, typically I’ve wanted people to be really blown away by the ideas. (Frequency illusion! Yesss!) Not because they’re my ideas – they’re not. I’ve just stolen and repackaged them into a story.
But lately I’m focusing on smaller, everyday things. Or, trying to. Some writer once said something like, you could spend your whole writing career just writing about this one street in the neighborhood. And you should.
There’s just so much. You can feel how big the world is when you are trying to cram it all into a book and realize you probably should only focus on this one little tiny piece, right here, that this one tiny piece is everything.
Like, uhm, frequency illusion.
Q: Talk about the editing process. Is this something you enjoy? How does it work for you?
Oh God, editing.
Alright. Let me pull it together. So, what do I say? I think the lines are: “writing is not rewriting…rewriting is writing.”
But, it’s true. I used to think of a book as something I wrote, and it was grand, and it needed a few tweaks and it was good to go. I mean, I would go through it and everything, but without having an outside editor, it’s like you’re teaching yourself to practice medicine. To some extent, okay, you can figure it out. But why are all those people you practiced on walking around with one shoulder drooped, one eye twitching, and they’re all grossly overweight?
So, I don’t know. What is editing? I mean, what is it, at its essence? *passes the joint*
I write about six or seven drafts these days. Then it goes to the editor. That’s all I have to say about that.
Q: In your opinion, what means that a book of yours is a success?
If readers love it and it sells really well.
That’s the easy answer. And it’s true. But there’s another answer that’s more personal, and comes with hindsight – and that is if I truly realized the story. If I took enough time and care. If it holds up, basically, after the blush is off the bloom, and I’m proud of it. Then it’s a success.
Q: In regards to sales - the best books sell the most copies. Discuss!
Not true. Or, maybe it’s true, but I just have a hard time accepting it.
No, I’ll stick with my gut. Not true. I think there are tons of good books out there that didn’t sell well. Partly I think it’s about market muscle.
But that doesn’t necessarily mean a big publisher. I’ve seen some authors very buoyant on the charts and they’re self-published. I’m not talking buoyancy like they cracked the top 10,000 on Amazon Kindle – they’re in the top 100.
Some of that has got to be loyal following. You get loyal readers from writing good books, so yes, the best books sell. But I think those self-published authors with high sales must really be investing in their marketing, too. I think you really have to. There are so many books.
And, for this reason, not-so-great books probably sell quite well, too. I’m not naming any names, but I’ve seen some recent books from major publishers with loads of terrible reviews and they’re still in the top ten or twenty.
Q: You clearly know a little about the US market. Have you read British or European authors? If so, do you think there are major differences and what are they?
I can’t say I’ve been a good writer in this regard and read much contemporaneous British thrillers. Just a couple put out by my same publisher, Joffe Books. And of course the colloquialisms are different, and I think there’s a different relationship to police, or the concept of police in the UK, and it seems there’s lots of perverted sex happening among the baddies, but otherwise the flow is the same. The story beats are very similar.
Q: You would have spent some time writing before you worked with any publisher, when it was just you and a keyboard. How has your attitude changed towards your writing at all. And the content, is it different?
I spent about ten years from the time I first sat down to seriously write a novel and when my first one was published. Up until then I’d written very extemporaneously. But my son had just been born, and other than that, my life was a wreck. I started writing one day and looked up about two or three years later and had this 130,000 word tome I called “Chimera.” It was everything – sci-fi, fantasy, experimental, and very autobiographical.
Each book after that got a bit shorter. I read this one author who described the process of refinement as getting bored with their own writing. After a few books, there was no more justifying why it took the first twenty pages to come to the point. As the writer, you get leaner, and this is partly because you’ve been there and done that.
At least for me. I have to go through it all. You can’t tell me anything. I have to learn it for myself.
This is wonderful for me as a father now that I’ve passed these traits onto my three children.
Q: Who's the perfect fiction character in your opinion and why? You can use book, tv shows or film.
My first thought was, Oh boy, let me think about that.
My second thought, about 2.8 seconds later was, Clint Eastwood as Bill Munny in the movie Unforgiven.
He's tried to start his life over. He's a widower taking care of two small kids. His past is bloody and violent. His wife had reformed him of his ways, but now she's gone. His little dust bowl farm is dying. He needs money. Then opportunity comes knocking.
I think that movie probably sunk deep into my brain and has informed every character I've written since.
Though I write crime fiction, I think there's an element of the American West in every story I tell. There's something about the West that's so perfect for these types of characters. The only other setting that would come close is a world after a major catastrophe, or colonizing some distant planet.
TJ Brearton's latest book DEAD GONE is available via this link:
Whenever I finish a book I always have a short break where I read a few others, some from authors that are similar, some that aren’t at all; but always ones that are popular. What I notice from the literary world is that (sweeping generalization warning) my chosen genre seem intent on writing the big story, the all encompassing thriller that takes you round the world and involves world leaders, international conspiracies, MI5, SO15, the SAS and the end of the world as we know it.
As part of my day job I get inspired by the small stories. We are all a story; you are, I am, your day today had a beginning, a middle and will have an ending and it may be entirely insignificant, just another Monday; or it may change your life forever. You’ve probably interacted with, or at least walked/driven past hundreds, maybe thousands of people today and that means you’ve taken some sort of part in their story and who knows, maybe you’ve even influenced the ending.
I once drove a man to a mental health unit who had suffered a severe breakdown and ordered a bottle of water in a shop with which he was going to swallow a fatal amount of the pain killers he had loose in his jacket pocket. The man next to him could tell he was agitated and upset and offered to buy him a coffee instead. There was no further interaction between them but that gesture of kindness was enough that he didn’t swallow the pills; instead he flagged down a marked police car and wept for help. His faith in humanity restored just enough that he felt hope; like maybe he could survive in a world that was so darkened by his depression while there were people still willing to buy him a takeaway coffee.
My third book is about the small stories. It’s about the drug addict that you walked past and threw a filthy look without even meaning to, it’s about the man rushing past you to a doctor’s appointment that will condemn his seven year old son, or driving in front of you stiff with tension because of the bag of class A drugs on his passenger seat, wondering how the hell he got himself into this situation. It’s about a father who won’t speak about a daughter beaten by a violent man while he is powerless to stop it. It’s about people out buying lunch on an ordinary day whilst the girl in the queue behind is about to have her story changed forever.
I love the smaller stories. The ones that show up the intricacies of life, the interactions that mean nothing to one man and everything to the other and how they fit into normality. There’s a place for the big story, a lot of people want the big story and I dig that, I’m entertained reading them myself but I hope you agree that sometimes the little story is the one that resonates with our own life. I know an addict; he said to me ‘we’re all just one moment away from being addicted to something’ and from I’ve seen he may well be right. Certainly we’re all one moment away from starting the chain of events that leads us to a hopeless addiction of some sort. And that moment may well be hidden away in a normal day, in the little story.
Look after your story and you’ll have a good chance of making it a happy ending. But we will all have a varying influence in other people’s story too and we can help make theirs go the same way. And everyone likes a happy ending right?
This is a short blog, to give a few examples of how reality bleeds into fiction and much of what is below is lifted from an entry in the diary.
I may make them public one day in their entirety, they could be good toilet reading I reckon. Most of them are a lighter look at it all but some have a slightly more serious slant when events require it:
The day after getting back from my Honeymoon and I'm called in to assist with searching for a murder victim. The working theory being that the victim has been dumped at a landfill site in a number of plastic bags in the hope that it wouldn't be discovered amongst the everyday, household filth. I'm tasked with searching a silo from the green waste area and I'm told that it should only contain rotting grass cuttings, garden debris, soil and the like. I quickly discover this is massively compressed and what is actually in front of me is a steaming cube of quickly composting animal faeces, mud, nappies, food stuffs, children's outdoor toys and broken gardening implements.
It's packed so hard I use a garden fork to pull it apart bit-by-bit, sweating against a full forensic suit, stood on top of the steaming mass which had been dragged into a hushed, dingy barn with windows only down end and pigeons fidgeting above in the rafters.
It's a funny old game, searching for a body. One that plays with your mind, knowing every swipe of the fork might reveal a hand, a foot or worse of all a pair of eyes forever jammed wide by the last thing they witnessed, by the terror they could see unfolding in front of them, by the helplessness; by deep sadness and regret.
I remember being with a colleague of mine and we were both stood over a corpse at a separate job. It was a young man who had met an aggressive and sudden end when his vehicle had come to an aggressive and sudden stop courtesy of a thick-trunked tree. We found him sat up against a second tree, his eyes were flared wide that night, it was an awful image on a dark, rainy country lane where the blue lights flickered in his pupils, almost feigning signs of life.
We were both silent me and my buddy, who looked at the dead man for a period, then he squatted so he was level with him and he said
'I always reckon the soul leaves out the eyes. You know what I mean?'
I did. At least I thought I did. I nodded solemnly. My colleague farted, loudly, and we both paused; for me it hadn't completely ruined the moment.
'Or maybe it's the arse?' He shrugged.
He got back to his feet and walked back towards the car, his radio already in his hand for a update and I watched him go.
Both scenarios have stayed with me. The ones with emotion attached always do and both feature in my books, the car scene I used bits of at the end of the second book and the environment created by the landfill search was the scene for an early part of the third.
I cut out the fart.
Out of respect.
I forgot I wrote these. I was planning on putting a fictional diary together at one point, a lighter look at the job, the sort of book that gets read on the toilet!
Also note the first use of 'Peto Court'
(They are unedited)
Week 9, day four. A Thursday:
Peto Court, Door number four, ground floor on the south entrance. I was just walking past, the door flashed open, a 5ft 6" figure appears, apparently having a break from her bridge-guarding duties she looked me up and down with the eye that moves, her moustache fidgeting from the effort.
'Hello' I said 'can I help'.
She huffed dramatically shaking large breasts that were untethered and pushed a 'Pink Floyd' t-shirt firmly downwards towards ill-fitting tracksuit bottoms, her breath like the inside of a communal fridge.
Her hands found her hips.
'do you want me?' she demanded, her eyes blinking out of time as she waited for the answer.
It was my turn to look her up and down
'No!' I said, a little too panicked.
'Only there were some of you here earlier and my mate, 'e said that youse wanted to speak to me' behind her several cats made a bid for freedom, she shooed them back and only the smell of their piss made it out.
'I can assure you that I don't want you' I reiterated, my tone almost pleading, hands outstretched.
That was when the conversation with the colleague who had sent me here flashed through my mind. 'Can you do me a favour' he'd said 'I need a witness statement for a job' he'd said 'she's down Peto Court, I went there earlier but she wasn't in'. I had declined at first 'no way' I had said with my own diary already full for the day.
'Ok mate' he'd said 'no worries, to be honest I was quite looking forward to seeing her again anyway. She was a witness to that assault outside the night club; great tits'.
I think it was at this point that I had realised my diary had some gaps, maybe I could fit it in.
Now, as I checked her name and door number I suddenly became very aware that the only great tit was the one now stood in amongst the cat shit, piss and vomit on the floor of room 4, Peto Court and dressed like a police officer. I had been had.
It's known at 'the old tit trick' on station; I'll fall for it again too.
I also attended a death reported in an impressively sized home in one of the posher areas of the town. An elderly couple were present, the female half having been the unfortunate member to have slipped away overnight and her husband having the shock of waking up next to her for the last time. These sorts of things always tug away at the heart strings; they were a married couple for almost 70 years; a lifetime together and now an 88 year old fella is left all on his own. I'm not sure where you go from that. I don't think its internet dating.
Lovely old fella too, a soldier who saw a lot of action and still has a sharp mind. I spoke to him in the kitchen when he insisted on making me and the attending undertakers a cup of coffee. He said he'd lost a lot of friends who had been fighting alongside him and he'd lost a lot since to various illnesses. He then fixed me with watery eyes and said with absolute honesty 'I wish they'd let me go back out to the front line; when I go it'll just be another passing' he had looked around to where his wife had been bagged and was being silently carried away 'I always wanted to die for something' he said.
Seeing an elderly man cry for his wife is something that really stays with you. Like her wristwatch.
I kept a diary in the early part of my career. I found it in an old laptop. Thought I would share a 'day in the life':
Today was a bit of a quieter day and me and the rest of the team had to entertain ourselves by playing 'Showaddywaddy'. The rules of which are very simple in that the first person amongst the team to say the word 'Showaddywaddy' over the radio would win the pack of biscuits. As long as the control centre didn't challenge the use of the word; so it would have to at least appear legit.
The shift was just fourty minutes old when I got called to a shoplifter who had made off. There was a very sparse description so I used a little artistic licence and broadcast the descritption as 'male, early to mid 30's, large build and wearing a Showaddywaddy t-shirt'. I had no idea these t-shirts still existed, let alone that there would be a totally innocent, youngish lad with learning difficulties and an old Sony Walkman walking down the high street sporting a Showaddywaddy t-shirt with a personality disorder that did not mix well with police.
I later heard there was a hell of a struggle and the town beat officer came back in with a dent in his 'tit' hat, a scrape to his cheek and holding a broken walkman.
I did consider walking one of my victory biscuits down to the lad in custody but at this point he had stripped himself naked and was smearing his mother's maiden name in large letters of the wall of the cell with his own faeces. This is impressive at any time but his mother was Russian and he had to go round a second wall.
I also had a call to a blob of a man who lived in the top flat of a busy road and told me he is registered disabled due to his weight. He went on to say that he has been fighting the council for 18 months to get moved to a flat on the ground floor as he struggles with the stairs. I agree with the man that this is a worthwhile fight and I told him so, what I didn't tell him is that I believe he should indeed be moved to a ground floor flat but that his fridge should stay at the top. Then he can at least get a little bit of excersise on a daily basis. I have very few rules and I pride myself on not judging people, but when your eating habits have you so large that you are registered disabled; change them.
And what does being registered disabled get you? A parking space closer to the food on offer at Tesco.
Anyway, he said he had been assaulted by being punched in the face. I believed him because his torso was still wobbling. The alleged offender lived just a small walk away and when I knocked on the door his wife let me up. She apologised for the mess, said she hadn't had a chance to clear it up. I assumed this meant since the the 80's. Cat shit had been left so long it had fertilised the carpet, there was left over food on every conceivable surface and the smell was so bad I was half expecting to find a relative sat up in a chair and long dead.
Instead, in a high back chair pointed at Jeremy Kyle I found my offender. Somehow managing to smell worse than a long dead relative he offered me a smile but couldn't offer any teeth to go with it. I told him I had information that he had assaulted someone earlier in the day by punching them. His reply?
'I never touched the fat c*nt.
People; why can't they just get along.
Today our eyes are more open than they have ever been. I don’t mean this in a literal sense, although I have two young children and between them they seem determined to prevent mine from shutting for any length of time, but we see more, know more and are empowered with more information than ever before.
When I was younger I used to read all the time. Books generally. The classics for adolescents, Roald Dahl, Enid Blyton and that bloke who wrote all the Hardy Boys books. I say wrote ‘all' the Hardy Boys books, looking back I think he wrote one then regurgitated the same story over and over using slightly different locations, but I enjoyed them. And that was the point. As I matured so did the choice of books, Michael Crighton (who's name may, or may not be spelt like that), Ian Rainkin (same applies to the spelling), Simon Kernick, Stephen King and loads more. More than I’ll ever remember.
I would read at ever opportunity. Passenger in a vehicle of any sort, sitting in bed, sitting on the toilet, waiting for a plane, waiting for anything at all really. I even used to do that whole walk-while-reading thing that you had to do when you were reading a really good book and from this you could develop an astounding sort of sixth sense that would steer you safely through even the busiest high streets.
Now I, like the rest of us, read Facebook. Or Twitter. Or The Internet. Twenty years ago I would have been lost in another world as part of my morning ‘private movements’ in the bathroom, the wonderful world of structured stories with their beginnings, middlings and endings; this morning I was informed that four of my friends had enjoyed an extremely healthy breakfast as part of a ‘new me’ regime, two had already ‘smashed’ the gym, four others were jetting off to New York and one has a very important meeting in London, attended by people who are very important indeed.
And then there’s me. I’ve had chocolate spread on toast, my next holiday will be probably when the kids have finally had enough and move me into a retirement village, I vaguely remember the gym – it was nice there – and the most important meeting I have today involves a hoover and a dusty utility room. And if I’m honest that probably won’t get done.
This, I find, is the problem with Social Media. The average person has 300-500 ‘friends’ on facebook and for obvious reasons we generally only post the stuff that shows us in a positive light. Like our healthy breakfast (always with pictures, in case we don’t believe them), our gym visit as part of the ‘new-me’ philosophy, the important business meeting and the holidays and this queues up on our timelines one after the other. So I’m sat in just my pants and a loosely tied gown, changing a piss-soaked sheet whilst my daughter runs round with a nappy that drags behind her at the start of a grey, suddenly cold day which will see me eventually finish work at midnight tonight having slept for four hours and yet my mind tells me that EVERYONE is jetting off to New York, or having important meetings where they will emerge even more important, or changing their lives for the better. And they’ve even made it to the gym. Fatty. FML, I’m 34 and it’s all over.
I hate social media. But not for its constant reminders of how fat, lazy, incompetent, unadventurous, insignificant and unimaginative I am compared to you people, because deep down I know we all feel like that, I know that we all work hard to make the positive memories and we want to share them, because, well why wouldn’t we? The reason I hate social media is because it’s taken away the stories. For me at least, but I bet for a lot of you. I love reading, always have, but now I read snippets of your life, 140 characters at a time. Or I watch a video you shared, some are funny, some are amongst the most awful things I have ever seen (the recent clip of the two lads in the speeding car anyone?) and it leaves me feeling empty. A great chasm where once stories stuffed themselves and had me walking down a high street, meandering through you people with a book covering my face because I had to know how it all ended.
You’ll say that you could just stop. Come off the social media sites. Go back to your story books. I Can’t, I‘ve tried a couple of times but you just can’t. Addiction is something that has constantly fascinated me since I moved into a job where it is very much relevant and I remember speaking to a man who was addicted to something that needed to be burnt on a spoon before being consumed. He said to me ‘We’re all addicted to something. Just with me society gets to label it and tell me I have a problem’.
That’s always stuck with me. I never knew why, until now.
I am guesting in this years anthology for Folkestone Writers; a talented group indeed and this was the entry I submitted around this time last year.
The story was any subject but had to be within 2000 words. This doesn't really suit my style so it was quite a challenge and after numerous edits it came in at 1999!
Count them if you don't believe me...
The Anthiology will be available to buy very soon. I'll post a link up when I know it.
‘In my experience, those who beg for mercy seldom deserve it’ Police Constable John Crouch stepped out of the driver side of his patrol car where he found a long, satisfying stretch. His colleague’s balding head appeared the other side of the roof.
‘That might be true, but you were kicking him in the bollocks.’
‘Which is exactly what he did deserve’. Crouch turned away and made for their target address.
Police Constable Darren Tainton watched him go. The spring air had a real freshness, for Tainton this was the best time of the year where the shackles of winter had been shaken from the world and it seemed like everyone was stepping out again, blinking in the strengthening light and feeling a sense of hope and wellbeing. He took a moment just to close his eyes and feel the sun’s rays.
‘Oi! You got love eggs in or summin’? We ain’t got time to be standing round smiling at the sky. Let’s get this done and get in for a coffee.’ PC Crouch continued his stomp up the path to number 17 Blackbell Road, an address where they had been asked to check on the welfare of the old fella who called it home. It was a common call; elderly occupant, not been seen for a couple of days, not answering the door or the phone, letters piling up, feint whiff maybe. This would often end with one or both of the officers sat in the living room flicking through television stations whilst the other goes through the moralities of making a cup of tea in the kitchen. The tea would then be quietly consumed whilst a corpse sits wide-eyed and lacking in conversation in its favourite chair.
Undertakers were always 45 minutes. Plenty of time.
As the door went in on Blackbell Road a stale stench met their noses.
‘HELLO... MR ANTRIM? POLICE!’ a small pile of letters slipped underfoot as Tainton made for the living room. He pushed at the frosted glass door and the disturbed air seemed to increase in pungency.
‘I don’t think he’s gonna be answering us mate’
Crouch turned his own nose up. ‘Maybe, but all old people’s houses stink don’t they? I reckon all old people smell like they’re dead, the only thing that makes that worse when they actually are is that they don’t cover it up with the lavender body wash or whatever any more’
‘That’s an interesting theory.’ Tainton was no longer affected by his colleague’s bluntness. ‘Well he isn’t in here’.
‘Or in here.’ Crouch had leant round into a kitchen diner that was next to the living room. His torso was distorted black and white behind more glass frosting. ‘Shall I put the kettle on now or come back down?’
Tainton didn’t reply as he placed his foot on the first step leading to the first floor. He never enjoyed these situations; he would rather stride down a pitch-black alleyway after a knife wielding suspect than pace up a set of stairs with the possibility of finding someone dead and rotting. Tainton had never been good with the concept of death, as a child he could recall finding a dead cat scraped up by a car driver who believed he was being thoughtful when he had placed it’s little body by the side of the road. It was the eyes that had stayed with him, the image at least; it was always the eyes that told such a sad story.
Tainton moved up the stairs with deliberate movements, tensing his neck so that should anything be lying on the landing he could snap his gaze away. He paused at the top and he heard his colleague start at the bottom. He turned to face him and noted he was chewing. ‘What’s that?’
‘Tell me you ain’t eating his biscuits.’ Tainton already knew the answer and Crouch smiled in response to the disapproving look.
‘Well he ain’t gonna need them is he’.
‘What if it was the biscuits that killed him?’ Tainton found himself whispering, still stood at the top of the stairs holding the high ground and forcing his mate to stop.
‘Well there was no sign of a fucking struggle’
Tainton shook his head once again before climbing the remaining stairs and stepping onto the empty landing. Gingerly he made his way to the room directly in front of him. The door groaned on its hinges as it swung open to reveal a bathroom empty of corpses, if a little unkempt. Tainton was a little surprised; he’d had a run of discovering bodies in the bathroom and he had fully expected this to continue. Many popular conditions such as heart failure and pneumonia tend to fool the unfortunate recipient into believing that they are in need of emptying their bowels when in fact all it serves to do is ensure that they shed their mortal coil in such a fashion as to leave it sat upright on the toilet with trousers round its ankles.
Or worse, slumped forward. With trousers round its ankles.
Perhaps fate had shown mercy and allowed this gentleman the quite literal deathbed, gently slipping away overnight as outside of his bedroom window the world spun madly on.
‘Hello... Mr ANTRIM’ Tainton called out again ‘POLICE’ his voice lacking in any conviction as he stepped across the landing to the only closed door on the top floor. The door when pushed open revealed drawn, thick curtains, which blocked out the daylight into what was actually a relatively small room. The door’s swinging movement was halted very suddenly and both officers looked down to see a slipper-clad foot pointing directly upwards.
‘Here we go’ Tainton knew that he couldn’t hesitate or he simply wouldn’t enter, he wiped at his nose as the musk of the room was disturbed by movement and tried to step over the prone figure to reach the curtains. The sudden change from the bright light of spring to a darkened room rendered him almost blind and two sure ingredients for Tainton’s worst nightmare would be a dead body and darkness.
Tainton kept his head and eyes up and slowly reached toward the window to tug at the curtains, quickly he realised they were beyond his reach and Crouch expressed his usual patience.
‘Come on mate, get in there, fucking hell.’ Tainton rocked back onto the flats of his feet and fixed his colleague with a stare. He slid his asp from his load vest and snapped it to the open position before taking up the stretch position once again. This time the additional reach of the asp put the curtains just in reach. Tainton spoke as he tried to get a grip of one of the curtains.
‘You know how I am around bodies, I really don’t like it. Freaks me out’
The curtains had been twitched enough to open them up by just an inch or so, but with the sun so bright it was enough to increase visibility tenfold.
Mr Antrim was wearing a grey robe with blue piping, expensive looking. His face was mercifully tilted away from Tainton who now hesitated, he needed just to step over the old fella and tug the curtains open fully. He took a breath then lifted his foot far higher than was necessary and swung it quickly over the body, now off balance his foot fell back to the floor with a thud.
In an effort to get both his balance and his composure back Tainton paused to shift his weight. And that was when it happened.
Some time later, both officers would admit to it happening so fast they have had to piece it all together retrospectively. It is believed that Tainton firmly placing his foot on the floor had the effect of jolting Mr Antrim who’s eyes suddenly bulged wide and terrified; Mr Antrim, not fully conscious but confused then snapped up to a sitting position and raised his arms, wrapping them firmly round both of Tainton’s legs in a vice like grip. Tainton, on edge due to circumstance and now believing that he was being dragged to the underworld by a dead-eyed corpse reacted without conscious thought and screamed at the top of his voice, firmly shut his eyes and slammed down the asp that was still in his right hand, striking Mr Antrim.
The blows, designed to free him from the tight grip, connected with the top of the skull and forced the man’s head back down to the floor and for Mr Antrim death followed very quickly.
Blood flowed freely from two wounds, pooling on the surface on the cheap, non-absorbent carpet and around the boot of shocked Police Constable Crouch whose trousers were also smattered with blood and tiny skull particles.
‘Why..? Why did you do that?’ Crouch’s eyes beamed wide and staring. The very same expression was mirrored on the ashen face of his colleague. He flicked from the scene laid out on the floor to his bloody asp and back again as he struggled for a word, a sentence, an explanation.
‘I didn’t mean to. I mean, he just caught me out, I thought he was dead’
‘He fucking is now!’
‘Well maybe he isn’t.’ Tainton fell to a squatting position making a two finger salute to find a pulse. ‘Jesus, fuck, there isn’t a pulse. He’s dead! He really is dead! Get an ambulance, get an ambulance here quick!’
The radio strapped to his chest burst to life. ‘Alpha two one, alpha two one are you receiving?’
It was their call sign; the two men exchanged a look like for a second they believed that the Control Centre knew that they had just clubbed a man to death after he was found lying down in a bathrobe. The pause went on too long.
‘We have to answer them’ Crouch said.
‘And say what?’ Tainton had changed his mind about the ambulance.
‘Alpha two one, alpha two one for a status update please?’
‘Our status! What the fuck do I say that to that!’ PC Crouch turned and moved back onto the landing, feeling like he had to step away from the scene, from what had happened before he could transmit a response.
‘Think of something, you can think of something can’t you?’ Tainton was pleading as he slumped onto the bed, the asp, still in his hand lolled against his leg, smearing blood on his trousers.
Crouch lifted his radio to dry lips ‘Alpha Two One, we’re all in order here control, we’ll update shortly’
Tainton’s head snapped upright and towards his colleague who turned to meet his stare as the radio kicked in again.
‘All received two one. Have you managed to locate Mr Antrim?’
Crouch was held in Tainton’s desperate glare as he replied. ‘We’ll update shortly’
Tainton broke his stare as his head fell into his hands. He gripped fistfuls of his own hair, tugging at it like the pain might be some sort of retribution for what he had done. He closed his eyes. ‘Why did you say that? Why would you say we were fine? He’s dead’
‘What would you have me say?’ Crouch demanded ‘Yeah standby, I think my colleague’s just clubbed him to death!’
‘Something! We can say he was already dead! We found him like this?’
Crouch looked over the scene, his hands rubbed his eyes. ‘You’ve got blood on your asp, hair fibres, probably pieces of skull. Your trousers and mine; both splattered in blood and shit. He’s still fucking warm and he’s bled out within the last few minutes. CSI are gonna want answers; the autopsy is gonna want answers. Every fucker is gonna want answers and right now all we have is that you twatted him with an asp. You stupid, stupid bastard, this is prison time, proper prison time’
Tainton fixed on his colleague, his eyes wide and desperate. ‘Well’ he managed. ‘You ate his biscuits’
'POLICE!' The door went well, two hits and the UPVC surround had had enough and it let go of the solid frame and the door swung inwards as one. I was first in, shoulder first to finish the entry, the door smashed off the wall and shuddered back towards the rest of the entry team as we all piled into the house.
The target was a prolific drug dealer. We'd all seen him wandering round the town, handing out ten bags of 'light and dark' like he was a helper at a Santa's Grotto. He was handy too, according to his record which included 'assault police' and 'firearms' markers.
The plan was simple. Smash the door. Find the dealer. Smash the dealer.
I took a left off the hallway, kicked my way through a reinforced door (turns out it was just an unused entrance to the living room - a settee behind it, not a brace). I shout 'CLEAR' and I'm out the living room turning right and through to the kitchen. Someone else is shouting: 'CONTACT!' Cop speak - means some fucker's found him before I could, it's coming from a room off the kitchen, the very end of the ground floor.
My colleague has found him and I'm next in. He's on the toilet. He's having a shit. He chops it off just as I take hold of his right side, my colleague has secured his other hand. We demand he finishes. I hold his hand while he completes his defecation.
It stinks, the Way only a fresh one could; we both held his hand while he did it, refused him permission to flush. My colleague breaks out into a massive smile, we all (bad guy included) look at him like he's mental. He says:
'Well this is going in one of your books isn't it'
Twenty minutes later we're searching his faeces using adapted coat hangers and pegs for noses. I haven't found somewhere to put it in just yet...