Lauren Bell: Soft Touch!

You fucker. You think you can mess with me, huh? Do you? Do you really? You got a lotta nerve showin’ your face around here, stickin’ your nose in another man’s business. Your mama never taught you any manners? Well I’ll give you a lesson, you won’t ever forget.

The gun comes out, seconds later the barrel smokes; a ghostly feather painting itself in the air. The other guy is on his knees holding his left hand, a perfect hole in his palm. JJ smiles to himself.

Yeah, that fucker shouldn’t have messed with me. No-one messes with JJ.

There is no blood on the other guy’s hand, no blood seeping on to the concrete below. There is no scream either; just a horrified expression similar to the one immortalised by Edvard Munch. It’s a classic look, an even classier shot, but nevertheless, a fantasy. A gun is not his style; it’s much too cumbersome and makes far too much noise. With guns, it’s all about guys trying to be heroes, and failing terribly.

JJ isn’t like that, he doesn’t want to be the centre of attention, he wants to slip through society and remain anonymous. Anonymity is key in this game.

So far, the exhibition has been pretty disappointing. The relics aren’t the real deal, just phoney replicas that any dipshit could have knocked up. The coins are even worse and appear to have been hammered to death with a mallet. The sight of them offends him. JJ curses under his breath.

I paid money to see this shit!

He passes from room to room and continues upstairs to where the “apparent” main attraction is. A large sign to the right reads:

Those of a sensitive disposition are advised not to continue further.

JJ grins.

Well, I’ll be damned. This shitty exhibition may just have something I like.

He enters the room where a strong waft of mildew hits him. It smells as though something is rotting right here under his nose. He surveys the room, trying to locate the cause but there are no stuffed animals, no gangrenous human body parts, nothing to explain the stench. He notes the grubby appearance of the walls, lines of dirt and god knows what else ground into the brickwork. Another difference is the dimness here, as though light is not permitted.

So what do we have here?

His mind races with a medley of strange and sordid ideas.

A burlesque dancer sawn in half? A pig’s head with an arrow through its snout? A starved man eating his own vomit?

gloves

Most pieces here are the same old murals spotted with colour, flooded with incongruous shapes which entwine to create a serious psychological mindfuck. One of them reminds JJ of staring at an empty soul, a broken heart darker and more infinite than midnight. It sucks him in, daring him to look at absence, nothingness, a universal void; to embrace the idea of never existing.

This is what life is all about, he thinks. No tricks, no false magic but facing your own demise. This is life’s only truth.

It feels good to acknowledge this and already JJ welcomes the increasing trrrump, trrrump, trrrump of his heart. He is connected to this piece, the only work of art so far which has spared him bullshit.

A sudden gasp sounds over in the far corner of the room. JJ turns. A trim woman in her mid-fifties peers at the perspex box illuminated by a single bright bulb. Now that JJ studies the light, he can see how perfectly unspoilt it is – a pure egg white. More and more people come to crowd round, wondering what on earth caused the old crone to gasp.

JJ moves over to the box and feels a frisson descend his spine. He peers inside and for a split second, his heart stops. A basement set-up stares back. There is an off-white fridge, old storage units and a tattered pair of welder’s gloves draped over the back of a chair. It’s like coming home again; the touch of familiarity never too far away. He stares at the gloves, noting the grime on the fingers, the palms as wrinkled as a centenarian’s face. Whose neck was the last to be gripped in those gloves? JJ cannot remember.

A man whistles behind – a shrill reed-like sound which strikes JJ’s heart like a splinter of ice.

‘Holy shit, man. Are those the real deal?’

‘Apparently so. Found them discarded on a refuse site.’

‘You would have thought a guy like that wouldn’t have left them out in the open.’

‘I heard when he dies; he wants to be buried with ‘em.’

‘Get away with ya! Where did you hear that?’

The comments drift past JJ like confetti in the wind.

They settle for a split second before dissolving back into nothingness as if they had never been uttered. To tell the truth, all their comments have some honesty to them, except the gloves were never discarded on a refuse site. How they’ve ended up here, he hasn’t a clue.

Through a gap in the crowd, JJ sees the plaque – a bold and garish tribute to The Silent Strangler who is more affectionately known as ‘Silky’, on account of his smooth technique.

‘Those are the gloves he must ‘ave worn when ‘e murdered all those poor women.’

‘There’s nowt special about ‘em. They’re just welder’s gloves.’

‘Yeah, but he wasn’t using ‘em for that, was he?’

No, he was wearing them to feel the dying breaths of women through their struggling necks. To be the one to administer death to them and revel in the delight of watching the darkness swallow them. And, of course, to leave no finger marks behind.

Hey man, do ya mind movin’ along? Some of us wanna see what’s goin’ on.’

A portly middle-aged man knocks JJ’s shoulder with his elbow as he forces his way through. JJ doesn’t have to see him to know he’s fat, he can hear his painfully dense wheeze. JJ turns to his right; all he can see are thick hanging jowls, loose flaps of flesh which belong on a barbecue. He pictures them sizzling on a blistering summer’s day, the stench of pork thickening the air.

Oink, oink, little piggy. You better watch your step. If JJ has his way, that snout will be on the sizzle in the blink of an eye.

JJ weighs up the pros and cons of moving for this piggy. It takes him all of three seconds to conclude that there is no plus for letting this animal through, not a sausage. He sniggers at this.

‘Hey, you! Are you laughin’ at me?’

JJ looks up, his liquorice black eyes darting from side to side. A bald-headed man with beads of sweat dotted across his forehead, glares at him.

‘Who? Me?’ squeals the piggy beside JJ.

‘Nah, ‘im.’

JJ look at no-one and stares only at the gloves. Gradually, the annoying fuckers around him dwindle and fade like guttering candle flames. JJ, sensing absolution, closes his eyes.

Her name is Isla, a pretty prick-teaser who refuses to put out. And JJ is in no mood for horseplay tonight. He’s gone out, played a bit of poker and lost a shitload of money. Money he doesn’t have. He asks Isla if she’d go on the game and she promptly tells him where to stick it. Wounded and humiliated, JJ pins her against the wall, the welding gloves already on his hands. How had they got there? It doesn’t matter. What matters is the fact that Isla isn’t willing to help out a good friend. That’s Isla – all heart, or should it be, all tart?

Now his hands are around her throat, closing around her milk-white neck, squeezing all the while. Her gasps and splutters are ugly sounds, broken, gurgling like water backing up in a drain. Her eyes begin to bulge, protruding from her small doll-like skull, and that’s when JJ snaps.

He pushes down firmly, the strain easily discernible on his face, as something pops beneath his force.

A hard shove from behind snaps JJ out of his reverie.

‘Oi, I’m talkin’ to you, you wanker. You deaf or summat?’

The sweating bald guy is right in JJ’s face spraying his shit breath everywhere. JJ tries very hard not to breathe. The piggy has been overshadowed and now stands behind the bald man’s shoulder, almost cowering. JJ fancies he can smell bacon in the air.

He hasn’t got a clue what this bald fuck is going on about but a red mist is quickly descending over his sight, clouding his vision, skewering his judgement. If he doesn’t stand down soon, JJ will have to bring the bad boys out. He has a glove in each pocket and he’s not afraid to use them.

Isla went down without a fight but this meathead will be much tougher, that’s for sure.

In the end though, he’ll succumb to JJ’s charm.

They all do.

They don’t call him Silky for nothing.

black tree

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