WsIP3 – Novel – Meet the Psychopaths
This book was born out of the main character from the opening short story, Cold Callers from my previous book ‘Not What You Thought? And other surprises.’ Readers of that book will recognise I’ve adapted and used much of Cold Callers to introduce some of the background of a certain sociopathic Mr. Brown in this one so apologies if that small part looks familiar.
Mostly though it it came about from a combination of my love of the macabre and dark quirky humour, think Dexter meets Black Mirror. I also wanted to look at the part – good and bad – that social media and other online technology plays in writing and publishing these days given the explosion in self-publishing over the last decade.
Meet the Psychopaths
Chapter One – The Professor & The Cure
Dave Brown was doing what he loved, his nimble little fingers busily tapping away at his beloved keyboard, writing up the latest case notes of his good friend and some would even say, his saviour, the eminent Professor Sullivan, clinical director of the Sullivan clinic for the criminally insane where our happy little scribe is currently resident. The professor allows him plenty of time to pursue his writing interests.
He’s careful to change various names, dates, and places, adding his own unique spin on them to disguise the truth. Whatever his other faults, not that either Dave or the professor would call them such, he was most diligent when it came to his writing. He had a duty to protect the guilty, even if it had to be at the expense of some entertainment value to his readers … Meet our first psychopath …
“Damn! The bastard’s got that prick Sullivan testifying for him.” The prosecution team were not happy, knowing that their job had just been made ten times harder on hearing the news. Detective Sergeant Nelson looked at the prosecution barrister quizzically. As far as Nelson was concerned it was an open and shut case; Cross was a monster and he’d be going away for a very long time.
“So? What difference does it make, the guy’s as guilty as hell, and with his record what difference does it make who he’s got testifying for him?” The Sergeant asked.
“When it comes to Sullivan, believe me, it does matter.”
“Just who is this Sullivan bod? What can he say? I mean, we’ve already got a guilty plea. Nothing can change that?”
“Ahh, this is your first abuse case isn’t it?” Mr Jackson, the barrister replied, realising now the Sergeant’s confusion.
“It means you haven’t yet come across the renowned professor – eminent psychologist specialising in pseudo aversion therapy for those with sexual disorders – guarantees to cure all is charges – for a price!”
“Oh come on, Cross has gotta be looking at a five stretch at the very least!
Ever since the introduction of sentence hearing legislation for violent and sex offenders, prosecution lawyers now face the double hurdle of not only securing a conviction but also ensuring that such convictions actually mean anything. I don’t suppose I do anything to alleviate their task, at least not from their point of view. But it’s not easy what I do, being hated by relatives, victims, the police, and even my own contemporaries. But someone has to do it, and I suppose the money is a bonus too. But why do I do it, you might ask? I sometimes wonder that myself… I suppose it’s because I’m the best; because the law allows my clients the best testimony money can buy – and I do guarantee my cure. Personally, I can’t see what all the fuss is about; my clients, or rather those of the defence lawyers who employ me, avoid useless spells in prison; I get paid lots of money, and above all, I really do help people. Still, it’s a pity that others have to be deceived into seeing things differently…
“Really, Your Honour. In light of the seriousness of the offence and the defendant’s past history, the prosecution cannot agree to the defence’s absurd request for supervised, but non-custodial treatment.” Mr Jackson can see where this is going. I don’t envy his position, or his frustration at the system that allows such absurd argument, but that’s his problem, not mine.
The judge looks up from the sheaf of papers he’s been reading before pulling his half-rimmed spectacles a further half inch down the bridge of his nose:
“I shall decide what is and isn’t absurd Mr. Jackson.” The judge begins, before turning his attention to the defence barrister: “But in deciding so, I must confess to some degree of sympathy with the prosecution. Do you have anything to say in support of such a request Mr. Harris?”
“Not directly, but I would like to call upon the expert testimony of Professor Sullivan of the …”
“Yes, yes, Mr. Harris. I’m well aware of the eminent Professor and his qualifications. Proceed.”
I enter the dock, calm and relaxed, mentally preparing myself for the all too familiar onslaught.
“Come now Professor, are you really suggesting it would be safe to let loose on the community a convicted child molester?”
“I have not suggested anything as yet,” I reply, waiting for him to say, or rather, state something more concrete, something I can use to my advantage. I don’t have to wait long…
“But that is what you will be asking for, is it not?”
“No, Mr. Jackson. That is what you are asking the court not to allow.”
“Is there a difference?” Perfect, I think, so predictable. My advantage…
“Mr. Cross..,” I say deliberately (subtly separating him from the ‘defendant’ label), “…is an admitted paedophile, someone who is prey (making my client a victim too) to intermittent erotic attraction and fantasies, the subjects of which happen to be prepubescent children.”
“And the difference?”
“Perhaps none. Certainly not a quantitative one from many of the attractions and fantasies of you, myself, or any other member of the public.” I’m careful not to include the judge in that list, whatever the truth of the matter…
“That is not the difference I was referring to.” As if I didn’t know, again so predictable. I say nothing, pausing for him to push home his perceived advantage:
“Is it or is it not your assertion that it would be safe to allow a convicted child molester, a homosexual menace who preys on little boys to essentially walk free from the court, albeit under your supposed supervision at one of your clinics?”
I mentally sigh at the pathetic predictability of his logic; a wonderful but irrelevant piece of rhetoric better saved for a jury. When will these would be actors realise they’re not playing to an audience, I ask myself…
“I appreciate your expertise is one of law, and not of either psychology or psychiatry, and as such your ignorance in these matters can be forgiven. However, a man’s future is at stake here, as well as the well-being of potential victims…”
I must be careful here – mustn’t let it appear that my concern for the defendant’s potential victims’ well-being is secondary to that of my client … but to continue…
“…Firstly, a homosexual as I’m sure you’re aware is simply one who is sexually attracted to one’s own sex. Provided he or she is content with such feelings it is not classified as a disorder. A sexual offence is an offence whatever the sexual preference of the perpetrator, a fact recognised when dealing with heterosexual offenders – one does not hear of a man offending against young girls being referred to as a heterosexual offender. Sexual preferences determined at birth are not considered to be disorders, only some of their many variations which are shaped or developed through experience, social, or environmental influences. Paedophilia is such a variation in that it is volitional, and therefore curable.”
“In that case, surely their conduct is even more reprehensible? At least in the case of the former one can offer the excuse they can’t help themselves, that they’re born like it?”
I inwardly chuckle. The prosecutor thinks he’s got me on the ropes, that I’m digging myself into a hole of which I can’t get out. I know it’s wrong – we’re both on the same side at the end of the day, want the same outcome – but I do so enjoy these little one-sided exchanges; slowly I begin to construct the arguments which will tighten and squeeze the emotional strength out of his equally emotional rhetoric:
“There is some truth in what you say. Even if innate homosexuality was considered a disorder it would indeed be appropriate to proffer the excuse that they can’t help it. But such an excuse is equally applicable to the paedophile. Environmental influences are every bit as powerful as those of our genes..,”
A vague and broad statement, but one which I doubt he’ll see the contradiction in what else I have to say… But I digress…
“Such influences compel the victim to act as he does, and yes, I do use the term victim, for paedophiles are as much a victim as those they offend against…”
A risky but necessary line of argument if I’m to keep the pervert out of jail…
“Paedophiles are mostly the product of society, usually having suffered similar assaults to the ones they perpetrate.”
“By your definition then Professor, any child that is molested will become a molester themselves, your words Professor, not mine.”
“No Mr. Jackson, your interpretation of my words. Of course not all children who are molested go on to become molesters themselves, but other factors can combine to make it more likely. But ultimately it is a matter of choice however compelling those factors – just like you or I are physically free to act in all manner of savage ways, but feel compelled not to act as a result of social conditioning – our choice. But change our environment, the rewards of our choices, and indeed so will our choices change.”
“But the fact remains Professor that recidivism among this type of offender is amongst the highest of any criminal group, sexual or otherwise?”
“In the main, yes,” I willingly agree, knowing what he is leading up to. I read him like a book…
“So you agree also the defendant’s likelihood of re-offending then?”
“Of course, that is if he is dealt with in the way you are suggesting. You see Mr. Jackson, there is ample evidence supporting the correlation between stress and instances of re-offending, and considering the nature of prison culture and the scorn and derision with such people as my client are subjected to in prison, stress levels are understandably higher than even the most well-balanced of us could be expected to cope with. The recidivist levels you refer to are largely compiled from previously incarcerated offenders. My own success rate is one hundred percent – not one of the offenders referred to my care has ever been re-convicted of a similar offence, which is considerably better than any record prison can offer amongst any category of offender.”
“But what you fail to take into account is that the prison service cannot choose its charges in the way you do. It has to try and protect society from all such offenders. At least by imposing a custodial sentence, society – its children – is protected from the likes of the defendant.” The prosecutor looks pleased with himself. He thinks he’s dealt a major blow to my reasoning, but all he’s succeeded in doing is set himself up…
“Yes, but for how long? My aim is to protect society – and its children (two can play at that game) – for the duration of the offender’s life, and not just until the rapid extinction of the limited coercive conditioning of a prison sentence. Unless society is willing to imprison such people for the rest of their natural lives then prison is not the answer. Whatever the understandable strength of desire for retribution, and as a father myself…” I pause for breath, and if I’m honest, for dramatic effect… the bit about being a father myself is always a good line…
“…as a father myself,” I repeat, “I do understand such feelings, but my concern must be for the long-term protection of the innocent.”
How easy it is to pull the rug from under him, I think. My job here is almost done, but not yet…
“But returning to your first point, that my exemplary success rate is based on the fact that I can pick and choose who I care to treat; such an assertion is only half true. The real truth of the matter is that I can only choose who not to treat. But anyone referred to me whom I consider curable, I feel compelled to treat. Mr. Cross is such a person; I feel compelled to treat him. If he were not such a person, I wouldn’t hesitate in recommending a lengthy prison sentence.”
“And what exactly is it that makes such a person suitable?” Poor old Jackson, he’s clutching at straws now.
“A number of factors, but primarily the offender’s desire to be cured. Mr. Cross asked for psychotherapy and psychiatric treatment even before he was convicted.” That last bit is a lie of course, but the doctor-patient confidentiality laws prevent its exposure as such…
“Hmm… you say that your evaluation of suitability for treatment is based upon the offender’s desire to be cured?”
“Yes,” I agree, waiting for the punchline…
“And is that the only criteria, and not the offender’s ability to pay for such treatment? You do after all run a very profitable clinic.” A cheap shot, but just as I expected, I muse smugly. I wait for Mr. Harris’s equally predictable objection…
“Objection!” Right on cue, the defence barrister roars, springing to his feet: “Any question of monetary gain on the part of Professor Sullivan is irrelevant.”
“Overruled, but I would appreciate it Mr. Jackson if you would make clear the precise point you are trying to make.” It was obvious the judge would overrule. Perhaps Mr. Harris is feeling a little side-lined in our verbal sparring, though I can’t think why, I’m doing a far better job of keeping our little monster from the warm embrace of his fellow inmates than Mr. Harris ever could. But wait, Mr. Jackson isn’t done yet…
“Do you stand to benefit financially from Mr. Cross’s attendance at your clinic, not to mention your attendance here in court today?” Mr. Jackson continues, thinking he’s scored a point.
“Of course I do, just as you, the defence barrister, and all the other court officials, along with numerous other auxiliary staff stand to benefit by way of salary for doing their job. But to be more specific, I benefit no more than I would from any other patient, and, as a State referred patient, even less than I would from most of my private patients undergoing much less intensive and demanding treatments. And as for my court attendance, I stand only to receive reimbursement of my travelling costs, some twenty-seven pounds taxi fare from my Harley Street London residence.”
A warm glow overtakes me as I note the look of abject defeat in the prosecutor’s face. I know what’s in his mind, that another monster is about to walk free. I can’t help but sympathise… If only he could understand; he did his best, and I commend him for that, but it wasn’t, isn’t good enough. I watch and listen as he resigns himself to defeat, making one last appeal to the judge’s sympathy, for the right of Cross’s innocent victims for some form of redress, but knowing the battle is lost… Cross will walk free… again, if only he understood…
“I wouldn’t have believed it possible. I was sure I’d get another sentence, a long one this time. You really are the best,” Cross says to me, leaving the dock after being sentenced to two years’ probation under my supervision and minimal attendance at my country clinic.
“I won’t let you down,” he adds, smiling as we leave the court…
I begin Cross’s cure the day following his sentence hearing. His is an easy case to deal with; no immediate family, or at least none that want anything to do with him. I look forward to transforming such a deviant individual into one who can contribute to the good of society. I stare across at him, holding his look as he tries to fathom what I have in mind.
“There’s no need to be nervous,” I reassure him, “I’m here to help, to understand. I know that’s what you want. Now, tell me about… about what you did, what you still want to do.” He stares at me, puzzled: “Please Mark, I can call you Mark can I?” ‘Good’ I say as he hesitantly nods his agreement…
“It’s all about honesty… honesty and trust. Now tell me why it is you do what you do, feel the way you do… I’m not here to judge.”
Cross looks at me, hard – this isn’t what he was expecting. I stare back, just as hard. He averts his eyes and starts to speak: “It’s not like it seems, not like they said in court. I loved those boys, really I did. And they loved me. They wanted me to love them, to give them something special, offering themselves in return. But isn’t that the way of any relationship?” The monster wants me to agree, to absolve him from blame, confirmation that what he did somehow wasn’t wrong…
Even he wouldn’t try to say that what he did was right, at least not to me…
I sit in silence, neither agreeing nor disagreeing. He takes this as a positive indication to continue his rationalisations: “It was they who seduced me… You must know how seductive some kids are, how they use their innocence and cuteness to get what they want… what’s a man to do?” I feel the contents of my stomach turning. As I said before, my job isn’t an easy one; you all have the luxury of openly displaying your disgust at such monsters. I have to actually listen to their diatribes of excuses. But I have a job to do…
“But it was more than that with you wasn’t it? I mean, you say you loved them, really loved them… especially David Franks, the little boy you were caught with?”
“Yes… Yes I did, and they loved me… David most of all. It was special. Maybe that’s why I hurt him – they say you hurt the one you love and someday society will see that, that it’s just as pure and special a love as any other… One day it’ll be looked on as the most special love of all and not the one that dare not speak its name…”
“Perhaps…” I say, wondering if he knows from whom he’s quoting. Of course he does, this is not a stupid man whatever his other faults: “But there’s a world of difference between Oscar Wilde’s definition of the love of an older for a younger man, and that of an adult for a child, a very young child…” I deliberately use the words ‘very young child’ to emphasise the simplicity and innocence he refers to, that such simplicity and innocence is theirs, however deceptive he may perceive it to be. He must understand this before…
“But whatever the rights and wrongs of the matter…” I continue, “…Until things change as you hope they will, you have a problem, Mark…” I let the words trail off, to make him think about it, to place his trust in me to provide the magical cure that subconsciously he believes will allow him to ‘have his cake and eat it,’ for make no mistake, none of these monsters truly wants their desires cured – imagine if you can, being threatened with having your own heterosexual preference replaced by one of the many supposed paraphilia, or simply losing it altogether? Think if in years to come society should change so very much that heterosexual or any form of physical sex was frowned upon, would you be the first to volunteer for removal of that desire, your desire? Of course you wouldn’t …
“It’s society that has the problem, society must change…” He still won’t admit…
“But Mark,” I say reassuringly, “you must see the need to compromise, that I wouldn’t be able to save you from prison a second time.”
“So… But then…W-what, where to from here?”
“That’s good, Mark. You’re thinking of the future, and what can be done to control it… I take it your biggest fear is of going back to prison?” Predictably, he readily agrees with this, surprised and relieved that I’m not probing about the effects of what he did to all those boys… very young, innocent boys, I remind myself.
“What we’ve got to do is make sure you never get caught committing a similar offence again, would you not agree, Mark?” Of course he agree, he says, nodding at the same time. But I can see he doesn’t like it, being in the company of someone who can have him sent back to prison at any time they like if he doesn’t cooperate or do as he’s told… too much like the position of the boys… We’ll see…
“But… How, Professor?” I can see he’s puzzled. No other therapist has ever stated or even implied the simplicity of his ‘problems.’
“Oh, a variety of approaches, all geared to your successful integration back into society.” The word ‘variety’ clearly worries him, it worries them all…
“What approaches? One doctor they made me see suggested drugs… Wanted to chemically castrate me… You wouldn’t do that?”
“No, no, no,” again I reassure him: “They’ll be nothing like that, and nor will there be any of those other out-dated modes of treatment; no group therapy, no EST, no one-to-ones with any of your victims, and no aversion therapy.” He shudders at them all, but the last in particular – I’m not surprised; having electric rings placed round your penis and receiving often quite painful shocks for becoming aroused at the very things that make you you.
“You see, Mark, what we do here at the clinic is prepare you for life, not some artificial psychological interpretation of it, but real life, free of the temptation you’ve had to endure in the past. We deal in the practicalities here; once you leave my care you’ll be provided with the means to make a new start, a new identity, away from anyone who knows your past. You’ll be above suspicion; not only will you be ‘cured,’ you’ll never have had a problem in the first place.”
He smiles, relieved at how agreeable, how sympathetic I am towards him and his kind, that I understand. And he’s right, I do understand, all too well, which is why I do what I do, why I’m compelled to treat him just as much as he feels compelled to do what he does. There! I’ve answered your original question, ‘Why do I do it?’ – Because I really do understand… Perhaps there’s more to self-analysis and all this psychological mumbo jumbo than I give credit for.
“Congratulations, Mark. It’s been a long, hard two years, especially this past six months living away from the clinic (but still well away from temptation, I made sure of that), but I’m sure you’d agree it’s been worth it?”
“Definitely,” he says, thinking that’s what I want to hear. He knows I’ve been keeping his libido artificially low – not so low as to disappear – he’d never stand for that – but low enough for him to control, to still enjoy the memory of times gone by. Yes, he thinks he’s fooled me into believing he’s cured. Not to worry though, they’re all like that at this stage, but the time will come, I silently promise him… Soon, very soon, I promise myself, too…
“As you know, I have to produce evidence that you’ve completed certain prescribed modes of treatment, otherwise the courts wouldn’t recognise my competence to recommend your release from psychiatric probation; group therapy, mild aversion therapy, one-to-one counselling – all those I can fudge the paperwork on, all except one last aspect of your treatment, the victim confrontation one, but that can be gotten round by a simple letter of apology from yourself to the court, asking it to pass on your deepest regrets and apologies to the boys, saying that it was entirely your fault what happened, but that you’re going away somewhere so they need never worry about you again.”
I’m sure you all know what I mean, the courts like that sort of thing…
“Yes, yes I can do that, Professor, Just so long as I don’t have to see any of them… I won’t, will I?”
“No, you won’t have to face them, not ever again. In fact, you just write me a draft of what you feel you should be saying, and I’ll make sure it’s appropriate for what I think will most impress the court. Just leave it all to me…”
I call on Mark to collect the letter. It’s quite early, but he’s already up and dressed; probably hoping I’ll be gone quite soon, leaving him the rest of the day to visit some school he’s no doubt scoped out in my absence… I think not…
Perfect, I say to myself; he’s written it just as I asked. I’m impressed. It could almost be sincere, but even he’s not that convincing a liar, at least not to me. But it will do very nicely, especially should it become necessary to answer any awkward questions into Cross’s whereabouts at some later date, I think, placing it in my inside jacket pocket.
He offers me a drink. I accept. I wait for him to pour himself one before asking if he could fetch some ice to go with mine, knowing that the kitchen is at the far end of the secluded cottage I had set him up in. He fetches me the ice. Long enough, the deed is done. All that remains is for me to wait for the cocktail of drugs I added to his drink to take effect. Five minutes or so and he should be in a semi-state of delirium. He doesn’t know what’s happening, which is more than can be said for those boys – they suffered every minute of their ordeals.
It doesn’t take a great deal of effort to get him to swallow a more than liberal amount of alcohol, and the thirty or so Valium I’ve brought with me. Meanwhile I return my own now empty glass to the drinks cabinet. It isn’t long before he lapses into unconsciousness. I haul him towards the open fireplace. The actual fire has not long gone out by the looks of it, but there are still sufficient hot burning embers for what I have in mind. I lift his body to a semi-upright position before letting it fall towards the edge of the coal grate. His head misses the brass spike I was hoping it would strike. It doesn’t matter. I simply raise it about nine inches or so and direct it myself, making sure of its impact this time. The almost pointed spike lodges in the side of his left temple a full three inches, stopped only by the ornamental criss-cross brass rail that runs round the edge of the grate. I position his hands in the dying embers of the fire in a way that suggests he tried to thrust them forward in an attempt to break his fall. By the time police arrive any trace of his palm or fingerprints will have been scorched out of existence, just like the rest of his previous identity. I’ve already checked that no dental records of him exist from when he was last in prison). It will be my creation they identify, the new life and identity I had promised him.
I’m careful to place a voice altering device over the receiver before calling 999 for an ambulance. I explain that I’ve taken an overdose, slurring my words at the same time. I let the receiver fall to the floor. A line trace will be automatic once the receiver has been left off the hook for more than three minutes; it saves me the trouble of having to give my name and address. There is only one more thing I have to do before I go. I place the organ donation card in his back trouser pocket, clearly stating Albert Peterson’s permission to use any of his organs in the event of his death, and of course, the absence of any next of kin.
You see? I do help people; I have integrated (bits of) him back into society. Who knows, he might well contribute to the successful and productive lives of several members of the community, perhaps even one of the young lives he tried so hard to destroy.
My thoughts return to the immediate task at hand: I leave the cottage. I must remember to add its cash rental costs to my fee from little David Franks’ parents.
Another successful cure!
Of course, this particular cure isn’t applicable to all those I help, no indeed. For the more usual and less complicated cases, such as your average violent bully, wife beater or drug pusher I sometimes sub-contract their treatment to others more suited to such cases, men such as Ronald Hatch, or Hatchet Ron as he’s better known. Old Ron, as I affectionately call him, to all intents and purposes comes across as a hard and brutal money orientated hitman, but I know different – beneath that vicious exterior beats a heart of gold, and a real understanding of what’s right and wrong – I think that’s why I employ him from time to time. And for those less violent individuals but for which the world would be a better place without I’m thinking of introducing them to a patient of mine, a legitimate patient and budding writer I might add, a funny little chap simply known to most as Mr. Brown. I think I should mention at this point I really can’t take credit for all the above, or at least not its entertainment value, I have my Mr. Brown’s gift for poetic licence to thank in that department. I will have to be careful with him though considering his last social interaction resulted in a rather gruesome decapitation – Mr. Brown does tend to over react sometimes. He’s currently being treated in my clinic for that little outburst, but I’m hopeful of using my expertise to allow his release quite in the very near future, but I digress, those stories are for later …
“I suppose you heard about Deakins? Sullivan helped get him off with a year’s probation… Just so long as he undergoes therapy sessions twice a week,” snarled the detective constable who had helped convict Deakins for messing about with a three year old girl, one of Deakins’ own daughters in fact: “The man should have been hung or at least put away for life for what he did.”
“I know, I know,” said the DC’s superior, Detective Sergeant Nelson, “it was only a few years ago I first came across the sodding professor myself. A guy I thought was going down for five years at the very least, walked out free as a fucking bird thanks to the good professor… No one’s heard from since … he’s had more than twenty cases like that… if only he understood the harm he’s doing trying to protect these monsters…”
I can’t help but chuckle at the irony of his little epilogue to the case, and I like how he’s captured my ‘inner voice,’ though I’m none too sure I’m entirely comfortable at his being able to get inside in my head almost as effectively as I get into those of my patients. Still, I am looking forward to a long and fruitful association with the enigmatic Mr. Brown. I’m genuinely pleased one of us didn’t have to die.
Chapter Two – Mr. Brown & The rude Salesman
You can’t imagine my elation at finally being released from professor’s clinic for the criminally insane. Well, perhaps you can if you’ve ever been incarcerated with little prospect of release … ever … but I dare-say that doesn’t apply to most of you but for the small minority of us that it does, you’ll know it’s hardly the norm to be out walking the streets so soon following a particularly gruesome crime, well unless you’re a kiddy fiddler that is, then you get out double quick, given a flat, a job, and a new identity to make a new start, the whole package in fact, jeeze don’t get me started.
Let me get back to what I was saying, oh yes… I say ‘finally’ but in truth it’s been barely a year, hardly a sentence at all, more an extended writing holiday free of distraction to catch up on my reading and hone my penmanship. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not taking what’s happened lightly, I’ve been lucky, I know. Note to self: I must be more careful from now on, try not to act on impulse, and if I do, pause a moment to consider the consequences… and my options for avoiding them.
Had I done that before I might not have lost over a year of my life. It’s not been a total loss though. I’ve made a new friend… well maybe not ‘friend’ exactly but certainly a kindred spirit whilst in the professor’s ‘care.’ The memories of the events that led me there are still a little hazy but with the help of his case notes, which strictly speaking he shouldn’t have let me have, I’ve pieced them together …
Circa one year before …
Time – 08:00: Here I am, Sunday morning, sitting at my keyboard, working on my blog. It’s another short story, not so much a whodunit as a whytheydunit.
The TV’s off, I’ve put my mobile on silent, logged off from Facebook, Twitter, and all the other social media, and locked the wife and kids in the cellar – well, not really, I made that last bit up, but you take my point.
I’m lost in my own little world, the only external contact being my fingers tapping away at the keyboard. The words are flowing, bringing the page alive before my very eyes; I couldn’t be happier… The last time I had a flow like this was a burst water pipe. Disaster… The land-line is ringing. I think for a moment to ignore it. Only my family and close friends know my home number; it might be important. Reluctantly I emerge from my other world…
“Yeah, who’s this?” I ask, making little effort to hide my annoyance at the interruption. If it’s anyone I know, I can make my apologies later. If not, I don’t care…
“Is that Mr. Brown?” The twat didn’t even have the courtesy to answer my question.
“Who is it that’s asking?” I ask, again…
“Oh, I’m sorry, did I not say?”
“Ah, okay, I’m sorry…” He’s lying; he’s not a bit sorry, obviously a salesman of some sort.
“So you said. Now, who are you?”
“Yes of course, my name’s Colin, Colin Smithers.” Smarmy git, he’s trying to control the exchange, like a chess player trying to dominate the middle of the board. Well, I’m not playing…
“What do you want?” I already know what he wants, a sales commission. He won’t be getting one, not from me…
“I’m calling on behalf of Snuggly loft insulation, and…”
“I live in an igloo! I’m not interested.” I say, slamming the phone down. I take a deep breath, just like my therapist advised.
Time – 08:35: I’m back at my keyboard. I can’t help wondering, if I can’t even get some peace and quiet in my own home to write, how the hell did JK Rowling manage it in a cafe? I put the thought from my mind as I resume the sentence I was writing. Now what was it, oh yes I remember, the outline of a murder plot, my fingers returning to the keyboard once more… Dingggg Dongggg… It’s the front doorbell going…
“What the fuck now?” I mutter under my breath, once again having to tear myself away from my beloved keyboard…
“Yes?” I ask, throwing the door wide open. Standing before me are a man and a woman, of African origin I would say, wearing bright coloured clothing and with equally bright beaming white teethed smiles that would grace the covers of Dentistry Monthly…
“We’re from the Holy Hackney Church of the Apostles…”
“And I’m from the Battersea Boy’s Home for waifs and strays, what of it?” The beaming smiles momentarily wither beneath their puzzled frowns. But only for a moment; they’re trained you know, to deal with stroppy unbelievers. The greater the challenge, the greater the reward in heaven, they think. I’m about to throw doubt on their hypothesis…
“Would you be interested in any of our leaflets on the life eternal…?”
I’m glad it’s the man who’s asking. I’m not sexist or ‘owt, but I do find it so much easier being rude and abrupt to another man. It’s a failing, I know; I’m sure if I was a woman I’d feel comfortable with either.
“Not in the slightest!” I reply, about to close the door on this interruption. “You’re not a believer then my friend?” Asks the female half of the double act. I feel my blood pressure rising. I take another deep breath, just as I’ve been told. My therapist is going to have to devise a more effective coping mechanism for me; this one is beginning to fail…
“Oh, but I am,” I reply, treating them both to a broad smirk, “a fully paid up member of the Sun Worshipping Pagan Tree Hugging Society – have you heard of us? No? …Thought not…”
It was amusing to see those ‘far too happy to be true’ smiles fall from their faces as they turned to walk away in sync with my closing the door on them. Another unwelcome interruption satisfyingly dispatched…
Time – 09:15: I’m back at my keyboard. A full stop concludes the sentence I was writing, and indeed the paragraph. It’s also the conclusion of my muse for the moment. My ‘flow’ has become a trickle, and no, that’s not a reference to a prostate problem so please forgive the unfortunate analogy.
The brief satisfaction of my dismissal of the God botherers has worn off. I’m still annoyed at them, blaming them for my loss of focus. I sit staring at the screen, the words on the page a blur, my fingers seemingly paralysed. Another hour passes and still the words don’t come. I fill the following hour with all manner of meaningless tasks: tea making, email checks, Facebook updates, anything to fill the void until the words return. Nothing seems to work; I’m becoming jittery, like an ex-smoker in those first few days of giving up. The deep breathing exercises have lost all effect. I resolve to make another appointment with my therapist. I really should take one of my pills, but I don’t want to blur my imagination even more… I take one anyway.
My morose mood is punctured by the sound of the land-line ringing, my second call of the day…
“Hello, is this Mr. Brown?” A voice asks. With my mind and fingers still not communicating, this time it’s a welcome intrusion.
“Yes it is. Who’s calling, please?”
“My name’s John Hargreaves. I’m calling on behalf of Winter Warm Windows about an exclusive offer we have for your area, Mr. Brown.”
“Sorry, what was that name again…Har…Grove… was it? Could you spell that please?”
“Spell it..?” I can hear the frustration in his voice.
“Yes, that’s right, just so I know who I’m talking to…” It’s only fair; he already knows who I am…
“Errm… Yes, right then… H – A – R – G – R – E – A -V – E – S.”
“Thank you for that. And the name of your company? Was that Winter Warm or Warm Winter?”
“The first one, Winter Warm, but as I was saying…” The resignation in his voice is becoming more evident, I wonder if he has high blood pressure too?
“And is that all one word or two, or hyphenated maybe?”
“Oh, erm, two words, without a hyphen… But, I … what I wanted to…”
“Thank you for that John… I can call you John can I?” I’m enjoying this. Before he can answer I continue: “Tell me John, what’s it like working for Winter Warm? Are they a good firm to work for, it’s just that I’m thinking of a career change, and I quite like the idea of sitting around all day just talking to people…”
“It’s… a bit like that, but…” Again I cut him short…
“And the pay, would you say they pay well? It’s not one of those ‘commission only’ set ups is it? I would insist on a decent basic salary as well, wouldn’t you agree…?”
Time to give him a chance to splutter some blurb about what it is he wants me to buy…
“Yes, the pay’s okay, and yes, there’s a basic salary, but what I was calling about was our special offer to customers in your area…”
“A special offer you say, how exciting.” I hope he recognizes the disdain in my voice.
“Are you offering to double glaze my entire house for free then?” If he says yes I might even start taking this conversation seriously…
“Not free exactly, but we are offering a fifty per discount to the first twenty customers who sign up for six new windows.”
“That sounds good,” I lie, “and the payment, can I pay in installments, would there be a deposit to pay first?”
“Yes, definitely, you can pay in installments, with just a ten per cent deposit to pay first.”
“And the deposit, can I pay that in installments too?”
“Well, not really, we do need the ten percent to be paid before any commencement of work I’m afraid.”
“Oh,” I say, trying to sound disappointed, “I’ll have to give it some thought then. Obviously before making any commitment I’ll need to take a few particulars about your company to verify its legitimacy, you don’t mind do you?”
“No, not at all,” he says, actually believing I’m genuinely interested now.
“First, could you give me the full postal code addresses of both your local and Head office premises, as well as that of any parent company, and of course their respective customer service and administration telephone numbers. I’ll also need your VAT and Company House registration numbers. I trust none of that will be a problem?”
“All the information you’ve asked for would be in the documentation we provide.”
He’s trying to maintain his composure and civility; sales calls are mostly recorded these days. I suspect this is being recorded too, for training and monitoring purposes, otherwise he would almost certainly have either put the phone down by now or bluntly asked if this was a piss take.
“I appreciate that, but I would still require it beforehand, for my checks you see. And another thing I forgot to ask, is it a new company, and who the directors are? You hear so many horror stories of rogue outfits carrying out bad workmanship, closing down, and then opening up again under a slightly different name… Yours isn’t one of those is it?” There’s an uneasy pause before he answers:
“No, we’re not one of those companies,” he reassures me…
“I’m sure you’re not, but you do see I had to ask don’t you? It’s just that while we’ve been talking I’ve been googling ‘Winter Warm.’ According to their entries it was only formed six months ago, and it has… My gosh… Eighty seven consumer complaints against it and an honorary mention on both the Cowboy Builders and Consumer Watchdog TV programs…”
I wait in gleeful anticipation for his reply…. Oh dear, we seem to have been cut off, I conclude as the line goes dead. I’m so grateful for his call though; our little exchange has quite rejuvenated my creativity…
Time – 10:35: The words are flowing again, my mood lifted, and my blood pressure back down in the safe zone. Life is good again as I put together the remaining pieces of my literary jigsaw. The last dilemma was the method to be used for the actual murder committed by my principal character. I had been torn between a brutal bludgeoning or knife attack, and poisoning. The decision is clear to me now as the closing scene comes alive on the page…
Dingggg Dongggg… The sound of the doorbell shatters my tranquillity, again… Deep breaths, in out, in out, fists clenching, blood pressure ready to explode again. I close my eyes in the hope that whoever it is will go away…
Dingggg Dongggg… Why now? Sunday is supposed to be a day of peace and quiet…
They’re still there. I sense an anxiety attack coming on. I’ve not the time to take a pill or ring my therapist. Defeated, I rise from my desk to answer yet another intrusive call…
“Yes!” It’s not a question this time. The man standing before me grins like a Cheshire cat. He’s younger than me, mid-thirties I estimate. His suit is slightly ill-fitting. He’s gone for the executive look, but on a limited budget, it’s more dodgy second-hand car salesman.
“Hello, I’m Colin, Colin Smithers. We spoke on the phone earlier this morning. I think I may have caught you at an inconvenient moment at the time.”
My jaw drops in disbelief. The arrogance of this prick. Was I not blunt enough with him on the phone?
“What is it you want?” I’m bloody pissed; this really is taking cold calling to a whole new level. I’ve had enough. Well, I think my response will also have to be taken to a whole new level too…
“I think we may have gotten off to a bad start on the telephone earlier, and as I was in the area on another appointment I thought I might call on you personally to let you know about our limited time exclusive offer we are able to offer on account of a budget underspend last month.”
“Yes, perhaps I was a bit hasty this morning. Please come in…”
Time – 13:00. I’m back at my keyboard. I’ve just about finished my story. The murder scene came out better than I could ever have imagined, a gory brutal decapitation for dramatic effect…
It was just after 13:20 when the armed response unit arrived at the house. Mr. Brown was sitting at a desk, typing, covered in blood, muttering away to himself, something about ignoring any more interruptions. He hadn’t even noticed when the police came crashing through the door, armed to the teeth, screaming at him to drop to the floor. He just looked over his shoulder and calmly turned off his PC and told them he was now done and would be happy to oblige.
It was the strangest call out they’d ever had; the odd reports of a possible murder, the site of that severed head hanging from the external door knocker when they arrived and the make shift sign saying ‘NO COLD CALLERS’.
One year later… Time – 08:00: It’s great here. I’ve got access to lots of PCs, and even one in my room. I no longer have to work, not if I don’t want to, so I’ve got all the time in the world for my writing. Professor Sullivan has been especially kind in that respect, even allowing me to write up many of his other patient case notes to craft several new stories.
The regular doctors say I could be here for the next twenty years, maybe longer if I don’t respond to treatment but the professor seems to have taken a liking to me. He says I could be a great help to him should it be possible to secure my release. I do hope he can… It had been my intention to dismember and feed him to the other patients after making a purée of his body parts … perhaps I won’t now.
Now what was I doing, ah yes, working on the storyline for the poisoning of an annoying room-mate…
I never did get to finish that last storyline, though from what I understand if I had, my room-mate’s end would have been quicker and considerably less painful than the fate the professor had in mind for him.
Given that I’m sitting here today checking my Facebook group updates I think I was probably right not feed the professor through a meat grinder, though from what I find myself reading now I see many potential candidates for my purée.
Chapter Three – Bad Reviews …
*… ‘What a load of absolute rubbish… confusing, unbelievable, and badly written …’
*…‘The only good thing about this is the description and the freebie pages… the rest of the book is littered with typos and bad grammar like the author decided that all they needed to do was write a first good chapter to get the reader to buy their book and then they could wash their hands of any effort afterwards…’
Dave Brown had fast become a popular and respected member of the on-line blogging and writing community since his unexpected release from the Sullivan clinic for the criminally insane. His tales and short stories were well received by those who enjoyed plenty of murder, gore, and a touch of black humour in their reading. Dave revelled in the praise he received but was equally respectful of and attentive to constructive criticism and advice; and likewise he was more than happy to heap praise where due, offering help and suggestions where he could. His fellow bloggers and friends from the his Facebook groups, the Indie Author Mutual Support Group or IAMSG as they called it, and the other, simply called Alternative Justice, had become like family to him so it was with some anger he continued reading the latest IAMSG posts complaining about the growing number of malicious reviews and that vile phenomenon known as the on-line troll …
The Churchyard Killer – by Joss Miller
*….‘Boring, rubbish, worst story I’ve ever read, save your money… one dimensional characters and more holes in the story than sieve … hours of my life wasted that I can never get back…’
We could have been Friends – by Victor Starling
*… ‘Another wannabe writer who thinks all they have to do is press the upload and publish buttons and hey presto, they can call themselves an author… Awful book that should have stayed buried in the electronic slush pile …’
Pink Fluffy Handcuffs – by Hilary Warboys
*… ‘So this is supposed to be erotica? I’ve been more turned on reading the obituaries column…’
I can’t believe what I’m reading. It’s true I’ve held similar opinions of some of the rubbish I’ve read but there’s a right and a wrong way of how you express those views to the public and these are definitely the latter. I almost wish I hadn’t checked the IAMSG updates now, this has put me on a real downer. I’m tempted to reach for my pills to calm my nerves just like professor Sullivan advises for when I’m stressed but I opt for the deep breath breathing exercises instead. I know I shouldn’t let them get to me, I mean, they’re not even reviews of anything I’ve written but still, poor Joss and Hilary must be devastated, and Victor, they’re such nice people, and damned good writers too. Especially Hilary, she sometimes flirts with me, nothing serious or vulgar, but fun and friendly like if you know what I mean?
I immediately post a comment advising my friends to ignore the trolls, knowing full well I have no intention of following my own advice. I secretly post the bad reviews and comments to my other fb group. Needless to say, the advice there was anything but to ignore them but I’ll come to that later …
I’m glad now I took those computer classes at the clinic, they’ve made me a lot more internet savvy, but my detective skills are pretty good too so that’s where I’ll start, I tell myself. It occurs to me then that I’d actually been planning to write a story about a writer who gets a load of bad reviews… this will be good research for that.
My phone starts to ring. I’m annoyed at the interruption but I suppose I had better answer it… I see from the caller I.D. it’s Professor Sullivan…
“Hello Professor.” I say.
“Hello David, I hope I’m not calling at a bad time or interrupting your writing?” He will have his little joke. He knows he is but I don’t let it bother me. The last time I did that it ended in the decapitation of some loathsome rude salesman, but worse than that, me losing over a year of my life in a hospital clinic, his clinic. I’m lucky not to be doing a life sentence, and I would be too if it wasn’t for the professor so I reluctantly tolerate his call.
“No, not all professor.” I say cheerfully. He knows I’m lying.
“I’m just calling to see how you are? I saw your posts in the AJ group. You’re quite right to advise ignoring the bad reviews… you haven’t received any yourself have you?”
“Glad to say I haven’t but that doesn’t excuse the ones that were posted for the others. Hilary was gutted by hers. They were nasty and downright rude.” Damn! I immediately regret saying that last bit. The professor’s way too sharp not to pick up on it. There’s an uncomfortable few seconds silence before he replies:
“These people really aren’t worth your getting upset over.”
“I’m not upset, just angry!” I snap back.
“Take some deep breaths and one of your pills, they’ll help you relax while you put all this into perspective.” The professor knows I have a tendency to over-react to such things and is doing his best to prevent that happening again quite so soon after the last time. I know as a last resort it would only take a few words in the right ear from him and I’d be back for an indefinite stay in his clinic so I do my best to reassure him:
“I won’t do anything rash or on the spur of the moment. I’m already feeling much calmer.” I’m not exactly lying, the professor would know if I was, just being a little economical with the truth. He knows of course there’ll be a body count at some point but at least this time I’ll be acting with more caution and preparation. I begrudgingly admit I have the professor to thank for that. The professor knows he can’t cure my murderous impulses and thankfully nor does he want to… ‘Just better direct them for a nobler purpose’ was how he put it during one of our sessions.
“Well that’s all for now.We’ll speak again soon if I think we need to, though I’m sure we will anyway. Good bye David.”
I hate to admit it but I do feel calmer after his call. I just wish he wouldn’t call me David, he’s fully aware I prefer just Dave or simply Mr. Brown, he does it quite deliberately you know.
Oh wait, another post has popped up, another stupid one star review for my friend Andy – and simply because the reviewer doesn’t like Andy’s take on climate change. My fists are clenching and I can feel my pulse racing – so much for deep breathing – I’m angry again. This time I do take a pill, just as the professor told me, and then roll a cigarette … quitting will have to wait. I see on the computer screen others in the IAMSG are repeating my advice to ignore the trolls, and making funny comments about them. Thankfully Andy’s not the sort to take things to heart and dismisses the bad review in much the same way you’d swat an annoying insect.
I’m calmer now. Perhaps it is the pill but I suspect it’s more down to the intake of nicotine … at this rate there’ll probably be a cure for lung cancer long before I puff my last ciggie. Probably best if I log off for the night and allow my blood pressure to drop to a safer level.
The morning greets me with the arrival of the Valley Echo, one of the local weekly newspapers. Normally I only skim through it but today is different. My friend Graham has an article in it. That’s great you might think? Wrong! They didn’t pay him for it. I knew it would be appearing today as Graham immediately posted the outrage in our group when he learnt of it. He had sent them a query offering an eight hundred word article which they asked to see. He heard no more about it for weeks then lo and behold, he gets an advance copy with a cursory note thanking him for his contribution. He emailed them saying they hadn’t agreed a fee only to receive this reply:
In response to your email. In your query you made no mention of payment for your submission so therefore no fee is payable, and even if that weren’t the case, there’s no money left in our budget for non-staff fees. I would think seeing your work in print in a newspaper of our reputation and quality would be sufficient payment in itself?
F.U. Tweedle, Editor in Chief.
Can you fucking believe that? Okay Okay, I made up the F.U. bit of the name, but seriously, do you think J.K Rowling would have been happy if Bloomsbury had written back saying we’re going to publish and sell kwazillions of copies of Harry Potter books and make enough money to pay the national debt ten times over but you’ll just have to make do with seeing your name on the cover, and all because you never mentioned royalties in your original submission query? Would she bollocks! And neither should Graham! I’m guessing you can tell from my overuse of exclamation marks I’m seriously pissed at this – it’s not the same as the troll reviewers but it’s all part of the same problem, and we writers have had enough. If nothing else it’s just plain rude, and you know my over-reaction to rudeness, bad things happen.
Chapter Three – The AJs & their Alternative Justice
The members of Mr. Brown’s IAMSG were still debating the impact of negative and malicious reviews and just as critically, the powers that be’s seeming inability or indifference to doing anything about them. Elsewhere the issue had progressed far beyond mere debate, beyond even the wildest imaginings of the IAMSG membership, which given it’s a creative writing group is quite saying something… Well maybe not all its members… Bill, Mr. Brown’s favourite author there, an ex-squaddie who wrote about ruthlessly brutal vigilantes among other things could certainly have imagined what was going on in Alternative Justice, but more about him later…
What most of them didn’t know was that their secret sister group Alternative Justice, not that they knew such a group even existed, were laying the foundations for taking matters into their own hands. All the AJs shared the same passion for writing or being avid readers. Admittedly their tastes, in either case, tended to the more grisly and gruesome but hey, horror’s a popular genre. What they also shared was lifestyle; not jobs, income, social background or the suchlike – they were as varied a group as you could possibly imagine – but a determination to live by their own rules, their own values and morals.
Normal society to them was just a convenience, something to dip in and out of when necessity required it.