After an agreeable lunch with my agent when she’d told me I create compelling characters, I decided to have a bit of fun. I’d ask some of the guys from the books I’ve written to a party in a marquee in my garden. I’d have gallons of booze, loads of food, and whatever other recreational stuff they used. I’d find a band who’d play loud, eclectic music and nothing dreary, and I’d buy fireworks for later. I’d invite the nosey neighbours, telling them to come along or go away and shut up. It’d be fancy-dress, and I’d ask everyone to wear crazy, off-the-wall outfits. The more I thought about it, the more excited I became. It would be wild, which reminds me – I even considered a few ‘tame’ wild animals. I called up London Zoo and asked if I could borrow a tiger, or lion, or even a croc for the night. I was about to ask for some snakes as well when the man from the zoo interrupted me.
Guess what he said? Oh, he was such a pompous fart. ‘Sir, you’re not being serious, are you?’ he asked, in a high-pitched, posh accent.
‘I am being bloody serious,’ I replied, no doubt with a touch of annoyance sounding in my voice. ‘I’m having a wild party, and I want some wild animals. Can I, or can’t I?’
Ten minutes later an RSPCA van turned up at my house. A uniformed man strode up to the front door, asked to come in, and said he’d received a report that I was harming animals and he had to check it out. ‘You’re joking,’ I said, as I slammed the door in his face. He came back with a police officer, and I had to let them in and allow the man to do his search. I was as polite as pie, saw them off out of the front door, and screamed, ‘Bloody Losers,’ as they walked back to their vehicles.
My next concern was how to get in touch with my characters. I didn’t have contact details for any of them. So, I started to search for them online. I Googled them, searched FB, Twitter and posted a plea to make contact. The replies started to flood in even before I finished the search. I’d asked for an email address. They all sent one. They could have been imposters – wanting to come to a free party – so I devised a cunning game to check if they were genuine. I emailed back, saying I didn’t want to offend them, and would they mind replying with the first words they said in my book. Oh my God; they all came back immediately, and got it right, and asked for the details of the party.
I was on a roll. These wacky people were coming to my house for a night of hilarity and fun. My imagination took off. I couldn’t hang around or they might lose interest. I looked at my diary. The following Saturday was free. I sent out the invitations.
Come to my place, this Saturday, for a night of fun, frolics, and hilarity, when anything can happen, and nothing is forbidden.
Wear fancy-dress. It must be outrageous. Come stoned, drunk, or sober – but you won’t leave that way.
Lots of drink, various substances, and food provided.
Come late. Leave with the birds.
See you then.
Your creator, Nick.
Oh my, I thought the next morning. I have to organise this thing. The booze and food were easy. I’ll do a BBQ and leave bottles and glasses on a table for everyone to help themselves. It was the other stuff, you know, the narcotics, that were my main concern. I’ve used a little gear in my time, but nothing big, and didn’t know of a reliable dealer. I couldn’t foul up on this. I knew that some of the guys coming did it all, big time. Then I remembered Jimmy Ali, the guy in Playing Harry who was a petty drug dealer and ended up working for the spooks. I sent him a short message, asking him to call me.
‘What stuff exactly do you want, man?’ he asked after I’d said I wanted ‘some stuff’ for a party.
‘Oh, the lot. You must know what people use.’
His silence made me think he’d hung up on me. Then a rustle of paper. ‘I can get you acid, angel dust, bars, black button, candy…’
‘Stop,’ I said. ‘You’re blowing my mind. You sound as though you’re reading from a list. I don’t know all this stuff. Just come with whatever’s popular.’
‘Okay, man. I can do that. But it’ll cost yer.’
‘Oh, several grand.’
‘That’s okay. I’ve made a lot from these guys. It’s payback time. I want everyone to have a good time.’ And that’s how I left it.
Next, I had to think about the décor for the marquee. I wanted something dramatic – make people gasp. I grabbed a beer from the fridge and went to sit in the garden to figure it out. I know, I thought. Ghostly and spooky, a bit cliché, but always popular. I called a friend, Balthazar Blair, who runs a theatrical prop company, and always able to fix things. He was delighted and said he’d help and would come along with a truckload of stuff. ‘Like what?’ I asked.
‘Skeletons covered in cobwebs and life-like ghosts hanging from vantage points, images of ghosts played onto walls, fake bats that seam real flying back and forth, giant spider webs, ashen-faced stooges wandering around with blood-like stains on their dark suits, dummies.’ Balthazar emitted a ghoulish laugh. ‘Is that enough?’
‘Oh, sure. All sounds great,’ I replied, and then he laughed again, more slowly, loudly, in a mocking manner like ghosts do in horror movies, making me feel a tad scared.
‘Don’t worry,’ he said in an unusual tone several decibels deeper than his normal one. ‘I’ll bring more stuff and make the gig a real blast. See you Saturday.’ The line went dead and I wondered if I’d done the right thing, contacting him. I’d never heard him speak that way before.
Early on Saturday morning, while the marquee was being erected, Balthazar turned up with a trailer bursting with props and looking like he’d stepped out of a movie set. He’d been made up. His face white, like paint white, black eyes and all around his eyes, a black jawline and lower cheek, and a big black bob on his nose. He wore a long black jacket with tails, like a men’s formal morning suit, baggy black trousers, shiny black shoes, a slate-coloured shirt, a black bow tie with white trimmings around the edges that lit up now and again and had covered his bald head with a black wig – the hair long and straggly. Inch-long fangs protruded from each side of his mouth, and he looked as though a bucket load of ash had been emptied all over him. As he bounded up to the house, seeing my astonishment, he said, ‘Like it? I’m the ghost master.’
My guests started to arrive at nine. I didn’t meet them. Balthazar had said he’d take care of everything and I was happy to let him while I went to change. I wanted to look like Gomez, from The Addams Family. Like Balthazar, I wore a black wig, but with the with hair swept back and looking greased. I dressed in a double-breasted, old-fashioned, dark-grey pinstripe suit with big lapels, a white shirt and a black tie. My shoes were black: lace-up, brogue-type. I checked myself in the mirror, then stuck a thick, black moustache in position on my upper lip, picked up a big cigar, watched myself do a little jig, and made for the marquee.
It was about ten by the time I joined the party. The lights were low. I could make out eerie skeletons hanging from the marquee’s centre ridge pole, lit up at random moments by beams of bright light. Life-like bats flew around in the gloom, making people jump out of their skins for a moment then laugh. Now and again ghosts would appear on the marquee’s side panels, their faces dissolving into misshapen grey blobs before fading away. Large, silvery-grey spider webs hung from corners and at the edge of most tables. Two tall tombstones covered in ivy stood upright at one end, one had BOOZE wrote on it, the other GRUB, both with arrows pointing to where the drinks and food could be found. Black rats, that I hoped were fake, kept dashing from one side of the marquee to the other, making trails in the ash-covered floor. The band played loudly what I was told was the number one ghost song ever. Many people had arrived, and I sensed an atmosphere of excitement and anticipation. Balthazar had excelled himself, I thought and started to circulate.
I gazed around and caught sight of Monroe Lidlington, the rather serious man in Death in the Fishing Net who was accused of killing his wife after he’d found her body in the sea. He was talking to Jorge, Leonard Castsimatidis’ lover from Murder He Forgot. I wonder if Monroe knows Jorge killed Leonard? I asked myself as I walked up to them.
Monroe was dressed like an Isis fighter. He had a long, flowing beard, a dirty, bloodstained cloth tied around his head, and wore a black combat outfit. An AK-47 hung from his shoulder. God knows where he got that? I wondered as I looked at Jorge, dressed like a surgeon who’d just come out of an operation. He wore stained blue scrubs and a gauze mesh cap over his hair. A couple of soiled scalpels stuck out from his top pocket.
‘Hi, you’re Nick, the author guy who’s holding this bash,’ Jorge said as I approached.
Well, you could put it like that, I thought and shook both of their hands. ‘Nice to meet you guys. Have you come far?’
Monroe looked at me strangely. ‘I guess so,’ he replied and waved a hand in the air. ‘Someone downloaded me this morning, and I just strolled along. Good of you to ask us.’
Is it me, I wondered, or are they stoned? What the hell was he on about?
‘Oh, darling,’ a blond woman said, as she rushed up to me and shoved a big glass of something in my hand. I turned to look at her. She’d tried to make herself look like Ivanka Trump, and wore a T-shirt with the words, ‘My dad sucks!’ blazoned across the front. I grinned and took a sip from the drink she’d given me.
‘Oh my,’ I blurted, feeling like a huge jolt of electricity had shot through my brain. ‘What is this?’
‘Don’t know, darling, but it works. Came to say thank you. You saved me from that bastard Jerome, you know, in Killing Sam Forever. If it hadn’t been for you, I could have ended up screwed and dependent on him.’
I looked at her and figured it was Julie Crichton, Sam’s wife. She’d slept with Jerome several times before she realised he was the guy who’d tried to kill her husband.
‘Glad it all worked out,’ I said. ‘Nice to meet you. Must go. I’ve loads of people to talk to.’
I headed for the bar to find a safe drink. If I’d stuck with whatever Julie had given me, I would have ended up on the floor, and I wanted to last the night. I stopped – in a far corner of the marquee, Jo Sykes, the no-nonsense detective in Electronic Crime in Muted Key and Death in The Fishing Net, was dressed like a stripper and locked in a passionate embrace with George Myrivitis, the Greek detective from the former of those two books. She’d slept with him, once, in the book. Oh well, I thought. I guess they haven’t seen each other for some time.
The band started playing a Frankie Goes to Hollywood’s song, Relax, from the 80s. Everyone stood up, started to jump around, and sing along, especially the chorus line – When you want to come. I looked at my watch. It was eleven-thirty, not even midnight, the party was swinging, and the outfits exceptional. There was Sid Vicious from The Sex Pistols, a man dressed as a cannibal with a bone through his lower lip and blood painted on his chin, a hangman, a couple of hookers, a gorilla, a gory-looking Saddam Hussein, Bin Laden with a gaping hole in his chest and the words, ‘Got you,’next to it, Donald Trump, dressed in a hospital gown worn before an operation with a card stuck to his gown saying, ‘Brain transplant.’ In the distance I caught sight of Harry Fingle, from Playing Harry, dressed as a high court judge in robes and a white wig. He was talking to Richard Morecombe, his ex-boss in the book, who’d killed himself after being exposed as having sex with under-age, teenage boys.
That’ll be an interesting conversation, I thought, as I approached Richard and Harry and took a closer look at Richard’s costume. He wore tight, black leather trousers – that bulged around his crotch – a red shirt, opened to his navel, and a gold chain with a big medallion, dangling down to his tummy-button. He wore make-up and his hair was swept back and greased. Appalling, but apt, I thought. I heard raised voices.
‘Listen,’ Harry said and jabbed his finger toward Richard’s chest. ‘I know it was you who set me up. I found out about your dirty deeds with young boys, and you were shit scared I’d go public. You had me fired. Didn’t you?’
‘You’re being ridiculous. We made you redundant. We had to cut back. You were surplus to requirements. You don’t really think…’
‘Hi, guys,’ I said as I approached them. ‘Not interrupting, am I?’
They both turned and looked at me. Richard glared. Harry smiled, and said, ‘Glad you’ve come. You can set the record straight. Didn’t Richard set me up?’
‘Don’t ask me. I only came in when you were in court. You guys sort it out and tell me. I can drop the truth into a new Harry story, can’t I?’ I said and smiled. ‘I was just checking you’re having a good time. Need to go. Must meet everyone.’ I turned, gave them both a quick wave and slid away.
That was a bit scary, I told myself as I made for a tall guy, dressed as Lurch from The Addams Family, like me. ‘I guess we have something in common,’ I said as I came up to him, and saw that he was Grigoriy Nabutov, the ex-Russian mafia boss and assassin in The Bloodied Black Heart and Playing Harry.
He looked at my outfit with his thin, beady eyes in a sort of sneering way. ‘Not bad,’ he said, almost without moving his lips, and without any trace of a smile. ‘Listen, you’ve given me some good parts, but I don’t care much when you stop me killing someone. Can you sort it, so I get to finish a job properly?’
I looked up at him. He had a menacing look, especially in his look-a-like Lurch outfit. ‘I’ll try,’ I replied and saw Leonard Castsimatidis sidle up to us. He was the evil gangster in Murder He Forgot who’d had an affair with Guy’s wife, and then tried to kill Guy. He was dressed as a priest.
‘I like your gall,’ I said to him with a grin. ‘When was the last time you saw the inside of a church?’
‘Hey, don’t take the piss,’ he sort-of growled, but with a half-smirk. ‘I came over to congratulate you on the décor. I like it. Always like things that remind me of the departed. Makes me think how many of them I’ve helped reach their destination.’ He gave me a poke in the ribs and smiled in his familiar, insincere manner. ‘You know what I’m getting at, don’t you?’
I nodded, thinking I’d spent enough time in the presence of two of the world’s most dangerous gangsters. ‘I’ll move on, then. If that’s okay with you two? Lots of people to see.’
Grigoriy looked down at me. He smiled for a split second. ‘That’s fine. Leonard and I have much to talk about.’
‘I bet you have,’ I muttered, as I walked away, and wondered if I should bring Leonard back in a new story.
I felt hungry and looked for where the food had been set up. I didn’t have to search for long. Balthazar saw me glancing around, and came up and grabbed my arm. ‘You’re looking for food,’ he said. ‘It’s all over here.’ He steered me toward the food table. We passed Amie Lau, Harry’s ex in Playing Harry, and Kate Fisher, the flaky businesswoman who spied on Harry, and then slept with him in the same book. Amie was dressed as Yoko Ono, Kate as Joan of Arc, her face smudged with ash. They were deep in conversation, talking about Harry, no doubt.
‘Oh lordy lord,’ I said, as Balthazar showed me the food. He’d brought along a black marble slab and fixed it up as the food counter. Steaks, sausages, chicken, pork filets, and prawns had been laid up for people to cook themselves on a BBQ with bowls of salad, rice, jacket potatoes, sautéed mushrooms, and bread nearby. Somehow or other he’d managed to project the image of a young woman’s pallid face, appearing and disappearing, across the food. As I peered closer, I heard a woman’s voice saying in a strained tone, ‘Killing me won’t rid you of me. I’ll haunt you for the rest of your life.’ Then she screamed, followed by a deathly silence. A few seconds later her voice started up again, giving to whoever had killed her another chilling message.
‘What do you think?’ Balthazar asked and turned to look at me. ‘I wanted it to look quite unusual. Only yesterday this slab had a stiff on it,’ he added with a chuckle and ran a hand over the marble surface. I shivered.
Unusual – it’s bloody bizarre, I thought, wondering if I was shocked. I looked at my guests, expecting them to be equally taken aback, but I was wrong. They were devouring the food with relish, lining up for more, and laughing and joking at Balthazar’s display.
‘They love it,’ he said and handed me a plate. Oh well, I thought, putting my squeamishness to one side, and chucked a few things on the BBQ. While I cooked my steak, pushed around the sausages, and turned my chicken a few times, I managed to catch up with a few more of my guests. There was Sarah, alias Tammy, a call girl in Electronic Crime in Muted Key, who was murdered by Barry Carter, alias Sebastian Ainsworth. She’d dressed herself up as a nun, and said, ‘Didn’t like the watery grave you gave me,’ as she slipped past with her plate laden. ‘Sorry,’ I replied, but she was gone. Then I came face to face with Alex Gould, the corrupt businessman who blackmailed Kate Fisher and hired a hitman to kill Harry, in Playing Harry. Nasty piece, he was, I thought as we met. He had come along as John Lennon and had made an impressive job of it.
‘Hey, Yoko’s here. I must introduce you,’ I said as we looked at each other.
‘I’ve met her,’ he growled. ‘She was friends with Harry,’ he added and walked away.
Then, just as I was about to find a table to eat my food, Jimmy Ali bumped into me. ‘Ah, Jimmy. How’s it going? I guess you must have teamed up with Balthazar to get this all together.’
‘Yeah, man. He’s good. Tonight’s real cool. I’ve got a little stall going over there, in the corner, and I’m selling loads of stuff. I mean, you wouldn’t guess who’s buying it.’
‘Who?’ I asked, interested to know about my characters’ recreational habits.
He looked into my eyes and smiled. ‘Philip Stacey for one. He’s had a couple of spoonfuls of snow.’
‘What’s that?’ I asked.
‘Snow, that’s cocaine. I thought you knew.’
I shook my head. ‘But go on.’
‘Sarah, over there.’ Jimmy pointed. ‘The nun. She’s had some grass. That evil guy, Leonard, he’s bought some crack cocaine. Oh, Bruce Thompson, the vicar who looks like the devil, he’s had some acid. Nice guy, told me you had him top himself in Electronic Crime in Muted Key. Something to do with being blackmailed, ‘cos he was gay. Is that right?’
‘On my God, what’s going on,’ I said, catching sight of a commotion on the dance floor.
‘Quick,’ Jimmy said, who was taller than me and could see over people’s heads. ‘I think someone’s going to do a strip. Look, who’s that?’ he asked and pointed.
‘That’s Jo Sykes. She’s a detective.’ Jo stood in the middle of the floor, and danced around in a provocative, suggestive manner while the band played Rod Stewart’s, Do You Think I’m Sexy? While she swayed her shoulders up and down to the rhythm, she took hold of her leather bikini top. The music faded, the band’s drummer played a drum roll, she pulled off her top and flung it into the crowd. Everyone cheered and clapped. ‘She’s magnificent,’ I whispered to Jimmy.
The band started up again. She kicked off her high-heel shoes, undid the attachment of one of her black, fishnet stockings, rolled it down her leg and over her foot, and chucked it to the many outstretched arms. She did the same with the other leg. For a moment she danced around, wearing only her short, leather skirt, and pointing her leather whip toward various men in the audience. Then the music faded again, the drummer did a drum roll, and Balthazar came forward holding a copper incense jug with smoke wafting up from it. He swished it around, the smoke and pungent fumes enveloping Jo and wafting all around. Another roll of the drums. Jo danced around, took hold of her skirt, ripped it off with a flourish, and let it go the way of her other clothing. The band started to play Marvin Gaye’s; Let’s get it On. Jo danced in her red knickers for a minute or two, slide them off, and tossed them into the crowd to join the rest of her kit.
Jimmy turned and looked at me. ‘That was some act. Did you know she’d do that?’
I shook my head. ‘Nothing to do with me, but I need a drink.’
As I poured a whisky, the fireworks started up. Giant Catherine wheels with blood-coloured flames and white sparks illuminated vampire effigies that hung from the two tombstones. Streaking rockets exploded in big red and green bursts of colour. Many ghoulish characters appeared from out of the hazy smoke. A giant screen sprung up from the bottom of my garden – the sort used at sports fixtures and gigs. The words, Ghosts Amongst Us, appeared and then disappeared, leaving only the black night and silence. A ball of white light filled the space where the screen had been, and a flock of real big black bats flew out and toward my guests. Some screamed others ducked their heads. Their unease faded as a bright red ball of flame shone out, to be replaced by giant candles with white flames and shooting white stars. Through the flames and shooting stars, the image of The Grim Reaper, dressed from head to toe in black and holding a sickle, became recognisable. His expression seemed to mock his audience. Awe and silence, then the reaper’s outline burned and faded away. Before anyone spoke, an explosion shook the ground, the sky lit up and rockets released black, white, and ash-like grey smoke which turned into the words Death Becomes Us.
At 3:00 a.m. I saw Barry Carter, the guy who bought a dead body and faked his death in Electronic Crime in Muted Key, and who’d come to the party dressed as Houdini – apt, I’d thought. He looked fast asleep, or he’d closed his eyes to avoid talking to me. I guess after the death I gave him in the book, he wanted to avoid me. Moving on, I congratulated myself. The party was a hoot. I’d met nearly all of my guests, most by then either wasted or stoned, but having a good time. I’d drunk and eaten well, smoked a couple of spliffs, and felt at ease with the world. The band had switched to slow stuff. A few guests smooched, clutching each other tightly, whereas most sat at tables, or on the floor, imbibing, smoking cigarettes, marijuana, and other substances. I nodded to a few people as I passed and headed toward a six-foot-high billboard with the front page of a newspaper called Ghost stuck to it. If I wasn’t mistaken, I thought I’d seen a woman’s naked leg rise in the air behind the billboard. When I drew close, I stepped back. ‘Jeez,’ I said aloud. Stevie, Monroe’s girlfriend in Death in a Fishing Net, and Monroe were making love. I moved away, took a large swig of whisky from my small silver hip flask, and thought, Good for them, they had a rough time in the book.
Outside the marquee, in a darkened corner of the garden, sitting on the ground under a tree, I caught sight of a man with his head drooped forward. I moved close. It was Leonard Catsimatidis. His eyes were closed. His large hairy hands rested on his thighs. On the ground close by lay a needle, a candle, matches, a thick rubber band, a spoon, and an empty, small metal dish – the paraphernalia of heroin. Oh well, I thought. A nasty, mixed-up guy.
Moving back inside, I passed Jo Symes – now partially clothed and asleep, her head on George Myrivitis’s lap. I stopped for a moment to watch Emma, a homeless drop-out from The Wrong Menu, dance with Cameron from the same book. They’d lived together for a few weeks but split when Cameron was charged with murdering his brother-in-law.
Lightning lit up the sky. An ear-shattering thunderclap followed. Sudden darkness and then the sound of torrential rain beating down on the marquee’s roof and sides. Through the murk, I saw bewildered, frightened faces. Water cascaded down from the joins in the marquee’s canopy and up through the gaps in the wooden floor. We were flooding. I looked for Balthazar and saw him running toward me, wearing goloshes, a black apron over his outfit, and carrying an old, leather bag, splattered with dark red stains. He had a ghoulish look on his face. ‘Ah hah,’ he said with a grin that made his fangs more pronounced. ‘My time has come. Nature has been kind.’
With dramatic flashes of lightning followed seconds later by thunder loud enough to wake the dead, relentless heavy rain, howling wind that made the marquee sway and shake, and frequent electricity cuts that plunged all around into strange, sinister darkness, I had no doubt we were in the midst of a mighty storm. I looked around. My guests stood in a line, splashing their feet in the swirling water and pointing at me. ‘It’s all your fault,’ they yelled in unison, each with vampires’ teeth protruding from their mouths.
‘Hey,’ Balthazar said, turning to me with a mocking smile. ‘The coaches will be here soon.’ He grinned again. ‘I’ve work to do.’ I had no idea what he was talking about, and unsure how to respond, I looked away and gulped. The water on the dance floor was receding fast toward the edges, like it was being pumped, and turning into giant columns of ice, growing taller as I looked, and making a wall around the marquee. Ten unusually short men, dressed like dwarfs and with vampires’ teeth, danced around, laughing and letting out great yelps of joy as they sang, ‘Hi ho. Hi ho. It’s off to work we go.’
Through the damp and gloom, two people were striding toward me with clear intent. As they neared I recognised Leonard Catsimatidis and Grigoriy Nabutov. Leonard yelled, ‘There he is,’ and they broke into a run and grabbed me. While Grigoriy held on to me, Leonard pummelled my stomach like he’d done to poor Guy in Murder He Forgot.
I yelled, ‘No, stop. I asked you along to have a good time. I’ve laid on booze, food, drugs. You’re hurting me, stop.’ Grigoriy punched my face. I yelled again. ‘Stop. Stop, stop…’
‘What’re you doing?’ I asked Dominique, my wife. She was leaning over me, her hands on my shoulders.
‘I’ve been shaking you,’ she said. ‘You must have been having a nightmare. You were yelling, shouting, tossing and turning. You seemed to be in a hell of a state. I’ve been trying to wake you for ages. What was it all about?’
I sat up, rubbed my eyes, and looked at her. ‘Well, it’s a long story. I was at a party with all the characters in my books. It was fun and wild, until the storm. Then a couple of my baddie guys got hold of me and started hitting me.’
My wife looked at me. She shook her head. ‘I see.’ She smiled. ‘That’ll teach you, writing about such nasty things. Want a cup of coffee?’
Harry Fingle, Jimmy Ali, Richard Morecombe, Amie Lau, Alex Gould, and Kate Fisher are from Playing Harry.
Guy Middleton, Leonard Catsimatidis, and Jorge from Murder He Forgot.
Monroe Lidlington and Stevie from Death in The Fishing Net.
Sam Crichton, Jerome, and Julie Crichton from Killing Sam Forever.
Barry Carter, Jo Sykes, George Myrivitis, Bruce Thompson, and Tammy from Electronic Crime in Muted Key.
Grigoriy Nabutov from Playing Harry and The Bloodied Black Heart.
Emma from The Wrong Menu.
For more see my website.
My latest book, Otto and Frankie, is available in all formats. It’s different from anything else I’ve written and took almost three years in the making.
It’s about a dying man’s fight against injustice, his wife’s unusual affair, and the love from his long-lost daughter.
A compelling read, I’m told.