SHORT STORY: In The Cold, Cold Night by Paul D. Brazill

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The purr of a passing car grew to a roar as Charlie Stone swung the hammer and smashed Billy Kipper’s brains over the grubby flat’s threadbare carpet, producing a more than passable Rorschach test, the bloodstains looking black in his flat’s wan light. Out of the smudged window Charlie saw a murder of crows slice through the night. Somewhere in the distance, sirens screamed, and a church bell echoed.

Despite his many crimes and misdemeanours, Charlie had never thought he’d be the kind of person to kill a man but with the bloody corpse staring up at him, well, there really was no doubt in his mind that was exactly the sort of person he was. It would also have surprised the earlier incarnation of Charlie as to how little emotion he now felt over the killing — no shame, no guilt, no fear, no…horror. Just a nagging sense of inconvenience, like a loose filling or a hole in his sock.

He looked around the dirty flat and found a grubby Persian rug that he draped over the body. The feet still poked out of the bottom of the rug and his spikey bleached hair stuck out at the top, so Charlie draped a few plastic shopping bags over them and decided that it would have to do for now.

He went over to the cracked sink and washed the blood from his hands and face with the drips from the leaking tap. He glanced at his face in the spiderweb cracked mirror and saw no change to the man he’d seen when he’d shaved the night before. He was still a bloody good-looking bastard. He grinned.

Charlie found some paper towels and dried himself as well as he could.  He looked down at Kipper’s body and decided to deal with that little problem at a later date. He really didn’t have the energy at the moment. He needed a drink. He checked Kipper’s pocket for whatever cash he could and left the flat.

The high street was pretty much deserted due to the lockdown. Charlie put on his Ray-Bans and pulled his paisley scarf over his mouth. He heard a raspy, nicotine stained voice:

‘Alright Charlie, surprised to see you up and about so bright and early.’

Charlie turned.

Hanna McGee stood smirking on the other side of the street. She was wearing a pink dressing-gown and held two stuffed and overflowing Lidl carrier bags.

‘Morning Hanna. Yeah, I had a bit of a heavy session last night and I’m just popping out for a bit of an eye opener at The Blue Posts.’ This was, in fact, true though Charlie neglected to mention that the drinking session had ended in a murder.

Hanna shook her head.

‘See you later,’ she said. She walked down the empty street occasionally peeking back at Charlie.

For the first time since killing Kipper, Charlie started to feel uneasy. Hanna was a fully qualified small-town gossip and nosey parker. She was sure to be sniffing around him, now. Women like her were truffle hounds for trouble.

He crossed the road and turned the corner into the alleyway where The Blue Posts was. Charlie checked his black leather gloves and flaked off the bloodstains. He opened the door to the pub and went inside. The joint was almost empty. Most of the customers sat at different tables to each other. All were wearing gloves and some wore surgeons’ masks. A couple of familiar looking old soaks propped up the corner of the bar, as they had done since god was a lad.

‘What can I get for you, sir?’ said the massive Polish barman.

Charlie sighed. The optics behind the bar sparkled invitingly but he ignored them and ordered a half pint of Guinness. He’d need a clear head today.

The music in the bar shifted awkwardly from soporific classical to jaunty trad jazz as Quentin Welles shuffled his girth onto the bar stool next to Charlie. He was hardly practising social distancing. Charlie took a sip of Guinness while Welles gulped down half a pint of strong lager. He gestured for the barman to pour him another drink.

‘It’s bloody ridiculous that they still don’t sell pints in here,’ said Welles.

‘It’s tradition,’ said Charlie. ‘It’s been that way since the war when a French bloke owned the place.’

‘Well, like most traditions it’s bloody stupid. Tradition is just peer pressure from dead people.’

Charlie shrugged. The barman put Welles’ drink on the bar and the big man sipped it.

‘So, I bet you want to know about this, eh?’ said Welles. He tapped the rusty bullet that he wore on a chain around his neck.

‘Aye,’ said Charlie, wearily. ‘Desperate, I am.’

‘Okay. Well, this particular story goes back to World War One. 1916, to be precise. The Battle Of The Somme, in fact, when a Bavarian soldier had one of his balls shot off. The name of that particular soldier, of course, was Adolf Hitler – hence the popular world war two song ‘Hitler has only got one ball.’

He chuckled.  Charlie forced a smile.

‘And you’re saying that’s the bullet in question?’ he said.

‘Indeed, it is. But there’s more to the story than that.’

He finished his drink and gestured for another one.

‘Can I confirm that you are picking up the tab?’ said Welles.

‘Yeah, if you like,’ said Charlie, instinctively patting his wallet pocket.

‘Let’s have a Jim Beam chaser with that, then,’ said Welles to the barman. Charlie cringed.

‘Go on, then,’ he said.

‘So, you see the bullet that passed through Hitler’s scrotum eventually lodged in the reproductive tract of a Bavarian nurse and she became pregnant with Adolf Hitler’s child. Nine months later, that child was born, unbeknownst to the future Führer of Germany despite proclaiming that she was a virgin!’

Charlie slumped in his chair.

‘It’s complete and utter cobblers,’ he said. ‘It’s an apocryphal story. I think it even dates back to the bloody American Civil War!’

Welles winked.

‘But it’s a good yarn, eh?’ he said.

‘I suppose so.’

‘Worth a couple of free drinks?’

‘Oh, why the hell not. But what about the bullet? What’s the real story behind it?’

‘Ah, well that is a tad less colourful tale but still is far from mundane.’

He drained his drink and Charlie gestured to the barman.

‘Same for him and…a gin and tonic for me,’ he sighed.

Welles licked his lips.

‘It was during the Eighties. A time of yuppies, New Romantics and Relax t-shirts. I was working for the civil service. We had a nice little office in Whitehall and a couple very tasty boozers just round the corner. We had flexi-time and expense accounts and…’

He closed his eyes and smiled.

‘It sounds idyllic,’ said Charlie.

‘It was. Or as near as dammit. Until that bloody American turned up, that is.’

Charlie closed his eyes. He was starting to feel the hangover bite and he was ready to do a runner but he didn’t want to attract attention to himself. To do anything out of the ordinary. So, as per usual, he’d sit and listen to Welles’ bullshit. And he’d try not to get drunk and tell Welles about the murder. But, as late afternoon melted into early evening, Charlie headed toward drunken oblivion like dishwater down a plughole and knew that, better safe than sorry, he’d have to kill again.


Paul D. Brazill’s books include Man Of The World, Last Year’s Man and Gumshoe Blues. He was born in England and lives in Poland. His writing has been translated into Italian, Finnish, Polish, German and Slovene. He has had writing published in various magazines and anthologies, including The Mammoth Books of Best British Crime.

OUT NOW – Man of the World 

by Paul D. Brazill

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