"Keith, Strangler to you."
"You were working in London, but you've been quiet for a while.""Does
the name Connaught mean anything?"
"It did, rumour has it he came to a sticky end."
"Hot and crispy. I discovered he had murdered my sister. He was trying
to finance a drug deal at the time. I just told everyone I had won the lottery."
The man smiled and laughed. "It's good when you can talk shop without
worrying who is listening."
"Fancy a drink, I can shop later? You can regale me with interesting
tales of woe."
"There's a good pub around the corner, so long as we don't talk too loudly."
As he released his trolley he stumbled, grabbed Keith for support. "Sorry."
"No need to apologise." Keith was dressed casually, T-shirt and
jeans, light jacket. Lifting the cotton he smiled. "I'm not wired either.
Though to a trained eye I'd say you had a knife behind your back."
"You're not stupid then. I also have a twenty two in an ankle holster."
"I put a snub nosed thirty eight in my underwear once, followed a guy
into the John. He didn't half look stunned when I pulled something blue and
hard out through the zipper."
"I'll remember that one."
They ambled out, walked three hundred yards chatting like old friends. In
the bar they both ordered a pint, daytime, too early for spirits. Hardly the
case actually. "Chairs by the wall, harder to hear," suggested Keith.
After ten minutes there was a look of consternation on Roger's face. "I
feel odd, bloody beer must be off... Shit."
"I can't move."
"Stop pissing about."
"Seriously, eyes and lips only. I can't pick up my drink anymore."
"Jesus! How well do you know the barman?"
"No, he wouldn't dare. You are the only unknown and you haven't even
attempted to get within reach of my drink."
Keith pulled out his mobile.
"What are you doing?"
"Calling for an ambulance. It must be something serious."
"Sod that, too much exposure and I'd be helpless in hospital, help me
to my feet, I'll get a cab home."
The man was dead weight. "Epilepsy," Keith called to the barman
as they struggled outside. In the street two arms raised and a cab pulled
"Mine I think," said Jack.
"Piss off under a rock," spat the motorless Robot. "Shit!"
"What here?" laughed Jack.
"You bastard Strangler, you've set me up. What the hell is happening?"
"When you killed my third wife you were dealing with forces you could
not understand. Now it is time for a little punishment. My friend here is
John." Jack reached out and put his arm through John's head. "He's
the one that spiked your drink."
The man had paled, and had begun to sweat a little. Jack opened the door to
the taxi, there was already someone inside. Keith all but flung him onto the
back seat. It was only important to make sure that his face wasn't buried,
he could clearly see everything around him. "Police station please,"
Jack said. "No hurry, we will use our own car. I think these two want
to be alone and I don't like the company this man keeps. A word of advice,
do not under any circumstance look into the back, whatever you hear. If you
are frightened just park up and run."
"Your fare has a companion, his name is Lucifer. Only unless you are
an evil bastard you won't be able to see him."
Roger paled further, and as the other passenger's face turned red and grew
horns he wet himself.
"Hard man my ass," sneered Keith. Mind you he wasn't seeing the
There wasn't a desperate need to rush, Jack had brought the car close, it
was parked just around the corner, albeit illegally. John guided them in behind
the taxi. There was little movement from the rear, but as the victim was paralysed
it wasn't surprising. The taxi eventually pulled up outside a quite modern
building, the amount of police cars gave away the purpose. Jack was on the
"Neville, I'm in Manchester. Perhaps you could ring your opposite number
and suggest he walks downstairs. There is a robot in a taxi lacking sufficient
oil to move."
"Jack, Josephine will kill you."
"No, I never got close enough while he could lift an arm. Third party
involvement, you know who."
"State of health?"
"Unknown at the moment."
Jack paid the driver while he waited. "The cab stinks, he must have crapped
his pants," said the man.
"Wouldn't you under the circumstances?"
"The Devil, you're pulling my chain." Glancing in his mirror the
back suddenly filled with an icy mist, the particles outlined a shape invisible
to normal vision. "Jesus Christ!" The man swiftly vacated the vehicle,
ran across the road, narrowly avoided being run over and tried rather unsuccessfully
to pull out a cigarette and light it.
Two plain clothed figures and three uniformed men appeared, the lead man approached
"Yes, the man in the back of the cab shot and killed Alice Hawkins, my
third wife. I dare say you have other cases attributable to his evil hands.
However he is a little the worse for wear."
"DCI Blake suggested we need to approach with open minds. What did he
mean by that?"
"See how things go."
"Can he walk," said a uniformed figure. "He looks like a sack
of potatoes. Oh, I'll rephrase that, a sack of shit."
"He has been conversing with a demon, you would lose control of you bowels
under those circumstances."
"Demon?" asked the man as he and a colleague hauled the helpless
figure out. "It's bloody cold in the back of that cab."
"Characteristic of the other dimension," said Jack softly.
"With an open mind," mused the officer. "See if there is a
wheelchair in the hallway office."
Roger had been placed on the ground, was on his back, twitching. "You
are dead Strangler," he screamed. "All of you." So, scared
as he may have been he had regained a little composure. Maybe Keith had been
close to the mark, tough SOAB.
"Step back, quickly," shouted Jack. There was a black mist rolling
menacingly above the pavement.
"Why?" asked a constable.
"Do it or you will be off sick for months."
As the man retreated rather lethargically he went white, staggered sideways
and fell onto the road. Roger began to scream, like his life depended on his
voice being heard in Birmingham. Despite being incapable of movement his body
began to jerk. Seconds later he was convulsing, begging for mercy. Then his
neck stretched as though he was being lifted up by his head. Keith had emerged,
was standing quite close to Jack. "What is happening?"
"If you can still hear me you piece of shit, the Devil is about to pull
your soul out through your eyes. That I assure you smarts more than a little."
The body went rigid, the sound seemed to increase almost exponentially, beyond
the capability of the lungs to propel it. Seconds later he was a lifeless
heap on the pavement.
"Holy Mother of God," gasped Keith.
The lead officer had lost a little colour, but not his hearing, warily he
glanced across. "He called you Strangler'. That wouldn't be Keith
Strangler Atkins would it?"
"Sorry to disappoint you, I'm a private investigator liaising with Avon
and Somerset. Unless they just call it Somerset now. A personal friend of
"How is the old man?"
"I wouldn't let him hear you say that. At the moment he is living in
fear. My sister told him that if he doesn't get his girlfriend, Rosemary,
pregnant soon she'll knee him in the balls."
"She could too," suggested Jack.
"Sorry, just checking."
"We had to use a name Roger could relate to."
"With an open mind," the officer repeated. "The Devil?"
"Not personally, cohorts. But for the record, judging from what I just
witnessed I would say he had a severe cataleptic convulsion resulting in death."
"I take it you are used to things like this?"
"Somewhat. The man that paid for his services bounced of walls inside
a prison until he was a sack of jelly."
"So, are these services performed by request?"
"No. Self enjoyment, I just make evil bastards aware of a certain ghostly
presence. After all I have heard it said what the eye cannot see cannot
hurt you'. Not that it's true. Just desserts are the appropriate words. I
would imagine the moment he opened his mouth just now someone realised that
the only way to award a punishment he would understand was to drag him to
"So what will an autopsy reveal?"
"There will be a small amount of a naturally occurring drug in his bloodstream.
Death probably heart failure."
"The soul through his eyes?"
"Yes, been there, it doesn't half hurt."
"But you are alive."
"I have a certain immunity. I think I was being taught the way of the
world at the time."
"Neville warned me about your sense of humour."
Jack turned to his friend. "If you want to get smashed I'll drive, I
quite like the feel of the Aston. After all it was something of an initiation.
If we stay away overnight Josephine will think Margery is with us."
"You sound as though your wife, I assume it is your wife, knows you have
"Oh, Margery isn't exactly a girlfriend, especially as she died in nineteen
fifty two." Jack laughed, caught Keith by the arm and pulled him away
before thought initiated a response. Eyes seemed to have locked onto the corpse.
Once in the car he found speech. "Jack, I was a sick bastard before I
met Neville. That wouldn't happen to me would it?"
"I can't say, unlikely if you are being up front with me. If you are
honest to yourself and believe you have changed you should be safe. They need
a way to the soul, fear is the key. The moment Roger became vulnerable he
was in danger. It wouldn't surprise me if he knew what happened to Pratt,
the man who paid him. The drug made it possible for him to see Marley, when
he did an impersonation of Satan his fate was sealed. I imagine they fed on
his fear until he was little more than a shell."
"He still had his anger."
"Different emotional pathway, that was how it broke through to his consciousness.
They could have left it at that, only soul extraction is a party trick, clearly
the only way to teach respect in the Robot's case."
They stopped before the motorway, Keith had a couple of strong drinks.
"You look like you've seen a ghost," joked the barman as he dropped
the second whiskey on the counter.
"No, but I watched a demon kill someone in front of the police station."
"Come on," he laughed.
Keith downed the second drink in one. "Why do you think I need two double
"Feeling better?" asked Jack.
"A little, once they dull the senses I'll get over it." Keith forced
a smile. "I'm surprised you didn't hear him screaming here," he
said to the bemused figure in front of him. "What will get into the press
"Heart attack in the street. Death by Satanic forces would be suppressed
by a government watchdog. Neville told me. Do you have bacon flavoured crisps
please? Maybe a Bitter Lemon."
"It's nice to be the only people in a pub sometimes," sighed Keith.
"I didn't realise we were alone," said Jack, glancing over his shoulder.
"It picks up in about fifteen minutes, people dropping in on the way
home from work. The motorway will be solid already."
"Damn, I don't like heavy traffic, too boring. Do you do food later?"
"After seven usually. If you want to avoid the traffic it gets lighter
about twenty past six."
"I'm alright, but if we stay too long you may have to help me to the
Half an hour later the place was quite full. Jack waved at the barman. "Another
fizzy please. Why are people avoiding that end of the bar?" he laughed.
"Can't say, always the last part to fill."
"Stay here Keith and don't start laughing." Jack walked a short
distance, sat down and started talking.
When the barman placed the drink down he looked at Keith oddly. "Does
your friend often have conversations with himself?"
"Never to himself, there is always someone there."
"You are a sorry excuse for an entity," Jack was saying.
"What," sneered the figure.
"Couldn't you drink enough when you were alive?"
"What planet are you on?"
"The same one as you. How long have you been dead?"
"Are you on medication?"
"Suit yourself, call the barman."
"Joe," offered the man, waving his arm. "JOE!" The shout
"Slow aren't you. Look at your watch."
"So." The man peered at his wrist. "It's stopped."
"It only appears to be a watch, you are a ghost."
"So how come you are talking to me, smart arse."
"Been there, bought the T-shirt. Name, out of curiosity."
"Neat, like the man who opened Tuten... Oh, he was cursed after that."
"If I dead how come I'm drinking?" Jack clapped his hands across
the drink, they met in the middle of the glass without rippling the liquid.
"Go sit at the other end of the bar for a change, I want to see what
Jack walked back, and people filtered around, mirroring the previous pattern.
"You evil sod Jack, that's bloody mean," laughed Keith.
"Joe," called Jack.
"I didn't tell you may name," he said warily.
"Did Gerald die from alcohol poisoning?"
"Gerald Carter! Yes, how the hell do you know that? His wife ran off
with some young kid and he got paralytic, fell off his stool unconscious and
died in hospital."
"Poor sod never left."
"Gerald, come and join us!"
The barman went white, the faces of regulars turned quickly.
"Gerald, you are disrupting trade, if your wife was stupid enough to
pick a toy boy you should be laughing. Once the novelty of a mature screw
wears off he'll be out of her bed faster than you can say cheap tart'."
"I loved her," he sobbed.
"When I was a kid I fell in love. When I was twelve I proposed to my
sweetheart. Three years after we were married I found out she fucked the best
man while getting out of her wedding dress."
"Honest to God."
"I don't do lies, waste of breath and too easy to tie you up by the balls."
"So I'm dead, no wife. I'm still screwed."
The bartender had backed off, there were several people in an arc behind Jack.
"How old were you?"
"Forty six, why?"
The spirited drunk fell off the stool when Laisa appeared. "Hell Jack,
you don't have to shout so loud."
"Laisa, I don't want to risk the exposure, see if you can find a local
woman, late thirties who wants to cheer up Gerald here."
"Sure thing, he's a bit old for me."
"Laisa, you are nearly two hundred."
"Don't feel it," she said as she vanished.
The bar was totally silent. "Jack, we have everyone's attention."
Jack swung around. "Sorry about this, Ghostbusters, the spirit of Gerald
Carter didn't realise that he was dead."
"Straight up," said a voice from the back of the throng.
"Come on, I don't talk to myself."
"Who is Laisa?"
"A dead Negro from 1834."
"Yea, like fuck," said a young man with gelled hair and an attitude
problem. "I don't like Niggers." The drink in his hand solidified,
the glass shattered and his arm went rigid as surface ice hardened the fabric.
"I ain't a Nigger, white trash," she screamed without becoming visible
and he covered his ears, fell forwards sobbing. Maybe nobody had heard the
words, but the brat felt the targeted anger. Curled up in a ball on the floor
everyone backed away, leaving him a little isolated. "Sorry Jack, he
needs manners. This is Felicity."
"Hello Felicity, are you local then?"
"Felicity Matthews?" gasped the barman.
"I have a reputation," she offered, ducking her head slightly.
Jack looked at the shocked figure for an explanation. "Stunning local
prostitute, killed with a broken bottle. The police think it was an irate
"So," she said casually, "a woman needs an income."
"Well take Gerald somewhere quiet and put a smile back on his face."
"I've never had it since I died!"
"Try to imagine nothing has changed, other than you can do it a room
crowded with the living. It works the same, give or take, easier to get higher.
I can't give you a lesson my wife would kill me."
"What do you mean, you are alive."
"Been dead before, still have the talent." Everyone was hanging
on his every word.
"Fought with the Devil, lost naturally. Paramedics did a bloody good
job that time, even if I was out of it for a few weeks. Look, now you know
the place is haunted are you still going to drink here, or would you rather
I pointed them in the right direction."
"Can you teach them to rattle glasses?"
"Probably, not wash them though."
"Well, you are the customers," Joe called. "Theme pub, guaranteed
"Yes, now we know it is only Gerald, maybe Felicity."
Jack burst out laughing, nearly fell over. "Jack?" asked Keith.
"No, I must have eaten something that disagreed with my brain. Josephine
would go ape if she knew what I just thought."
"Which suggests it has something to do with se... No. That is sick."
"Takes one to know one."
Felicity and Gerald reappeared, both were smiling broadly. "Hell, that
was better than the real thing and not messy either."
"Now Jack, that ain't a good idea." Laisa had cottoned on. Jack
was still laughing.
"OK guys, figuratively, if you want to stay here you need to humour the
natives. Watch." Jack reached out and pushed; a glass six inches away
moved. "You need to think only of the glass. Not where it is, but where
it could be. Practice for a while." Laisa appeared to have gone.
"Don't you dare Jack," said Keith. "If anyone found out...
"Jack Hawkins if you teach a dead whore how to give a mortal a blow job
you are sleeping in another house for ten years."
"Damn, Laisa told Josephine."
"How do you know?"
"I just heard the fallout, her voice carries a long way." Jack's
empty glass fell over. "Wonderful, try not to break any. OK, we're done
here, are you ready Keith, it's nearly seven."
"Who are you?" asked a tentative voice from the back.
"The Lone Ranger. Sorry, the name is Jack Van Helsing. I have been known
to bring vampires to book but do not have a fully automatic crossbow."
Steadying Keith as he stood up they swiftly headed out. "Make the best
of them, if I get bad vibes I'll pop back and sweep the place clean,"
he called as the door began to swing closed behind them.
As they pulled away Keith laughed. "You certainly have a way with words.
Parting shots don't come more dramatic. Jack Van Helsing. Ace."
"We should keep an eye on the local papers, see what surfaces. Pity about
spiritual oral sex though, that would have packed to pub wall to wall."