Dung beetle or chafer n. any of the various beetles of the family Scarabaeidae and related families that feed on or breed in dung.
(The Collins English Dictionary)
Once again all the rags and news-sheets are filled with the Scatologist. There has been yet another victim. Last week there was the girl in the Thai restaurant and now a local vicar has fallen foul of the laxative compound. A vicar. Although Chester’s new religion is his own brand of lunatic spiritual morality, he bridles at this latest choice of victim. Chester thinks the Scatologist has seen into his mind, seen the divine motivation of his purpose, and has decided to mock him for it. Well, he will not be swayed. The Scatologist can try to goad him if it wishes – Chester has already stopped thinking of his creator as human – but he will not be provoked. Chester’s work will continue and when the day comes, the Scatologist, that monstrous demon deity, will shrink away from the terrible burning light of his righteousness and purity.
Chester’s return to the office had been a half-grudging, muted hero’s welcome, tempered by the shockingly eternal loss of Fudge, who had been found shot dead the day earlier, and the still lingering antipathy that Chester’s colleagues held towards him. Chester masked his grim jubilation with appropriate shakes of the head, wistful smiles as the office reminisced about Fudge, and a well-practiced stoic yet puzzled questioning of the state of the world as he and his colleagues understood it. He had to admit, even to himself, that it was a sterling performance, topped only by Chester’s parallel display of ‘when-life-gets-you-down-you-just-get-right-back-on-up-again’ humble bravado, waving away his embarrassment to show the world that it would take a lot more to shake the foundations beneath Chester Guberson’s feet. Since pre-revelation Chester was, albeit subconsciously, almost entirely an act anyway, it had been easy enough to slip back into the role, although with one or two minor, irresistible adjustments. New Chester was now a stronger version of the anterior, less arrogant, as though his experiences had taught him the folly of hubris; his swagger had gone, replaced by the confidence of the worldly-wise. He managed to appear subdued although on the inside he was buoyant with the way events were unfolding. Chester had decided that for the time being he was to become a reliable, affable type and the first glimmers that this approach was working revealed themselves in the marked difference in the way Yvonne spoke to him. Chester was not sure yet but he thought she had even come on to him, though he conceded he might have been mistaken.
Then came the day the “Scatologist” story had broken out. A journalist called Bolton had written a piece about a laxative-toting madman on the loose in Birmingham. It was Yvonne who had shown him, putting the paper down in front of him and sitting up close beside him, head inclined over his shoulder. He had read the article with superbly concealed rage and an increasingly nagging doubt gnawing away at the back of his skull, absorbing every word. No-one had noticed, but for a instant Chester had been badly shaken. The man described in the article had not sounded like Fudge; the fact that there had been more victims made it very highly unlikely indeed that Fudge had been the one responsible. This was soon confirmed by some of the time and place details in accompanying articles. Chester knew that the only days Fudge had not spent in the office were Saturday and Sunday and that was because he had no choice. With the attacks that had taken place after Fudge’s murder, Chester realised that he had made an error. His rightly retribution had been exacted upon the wrong man and thus his dreams of justice and balance looked set to be swept away by this taking of an innocent life. Chester had then reminded himself that Fudge had not been by any stretch of the imagination a pleasant man; on the contrary, he had been a gross, disgusting pervert. It had not mattered that he had been a harmless gross, disgusting pervert, and too fat and lazy to have ever posed a threat to anyone; he had still been the kind of person who made everyone else miserable. So, in accordance with the spirit, if not the letter, of Chester’s new ethical laws, Fudge had deserved to die. Even so, Chester had become determined that another misjudgement would not be permitted. Chester’s justification was spurious at best but, since he had become barking mad, as far as he was concerned his reasoning was perfectly acceptable. Since no one else mattered, that was more than enough.
He had quickly realised that to the tiny, television-scarred minds of his colleagues, being a victim of the Scatologist made him a celebrity and once more he had sworn them all to secrecy, telling them that he did not wish to be splashed all over the papers and that they should respect his dignity. His quiet insistence convinced the rest of the team to acquiesce to his wishes on the matter of his privacy. Yvonne had even backed him up, he had been pleased to note.
Now that Chester is back at work, his mild-mannered, phone-selling alter-ego takes up a lot of his time. The sacrifice is necessary to allay any suspicions regarding what he might do out of hours. Besides, since the moment Chester was so thoroughly deconstructed, his mind has been constantly active and at most he sleeps around three hours a night. He has managed to wangle an earlier leaving time with Thompkinson, who is only too willing to help Chester in any way he can during what must be, still, a very trying time for Communicom’s top salesman. This gives Chester the extra time he needs to read up on his intended targets and put them under surveillance. Since Thorpe, Chester has been notching up one rebalance per week – he does not call them assassinations – and sometimes he checks his tally against that of the Scatologist, though the Devil seems a lot busier than he is. This will change, thinks Chester, once the beast is destroyed. So far, Chester has removed one corrupt politician, a local drug dealer, a perverted priest and another of his father’s business associates, John Stephens, this one known to him, who used to own a clothing company that happily employed slave labour in Korea. The SEE routine has been ditched; Chester knows that his quest is too serious to warrant playing at Clint Eastwood. It is not about being a hero but about being a force of existence. Now, Chester simply reads off a list of charges, gives a quick lecture on right and wrong and then shoots his target in the head. Clinical. How it has to be. Chester is God’s brain surgeon, removing the malignant tumours from the grey matter of life.
Daytime Chester sits at his desk, confidently advising a clown on which mobile phone is most suited to his needs. The clown, a pointy faced youth in his late teens with a fuzzy ginger skinhead and a pierced nose, earlobe and eyebrow, dressed in an exaggerated Eminem style, sniffs and stares blankly at Chester, unable to fully grasp what is being said to him. Chester is doing it on purpose. Normally, Chester would find a way to speak the same kind of language – Chester has always been proud of his ability to appear briefly on the same level as anyone in front of him; he has studied soap operas to build up his own mental psychological profiling processes – but now that he has seen the light it is becoming increasingly difficult for him to suffer fools gladly. He still has a reputation to maintain so he tries not to overdo it, taking the piss but never leaving the customer dry. Chester still makes his sales.
‘Has it got a camera?’
What planet is this clown from? Chester smiles at the youth. Cutting to the chase, he thinks, fair enough. ‘It has everything,’ he replies smoothly. ‘Camera, internet, video recorder, games… everything. It’s the latest generation.’
The youth examines the phone Chester has passed to him. ‘Do you got red ones?’
‘Yes,’ says Chester. ‘We do got red ones.’
‘So how much then?’ The youth is now clearly bored and perhaps suspects that Chester is looking down his nose at him. Better to complete the sale, Chester thinks, glancing at his watch, then he can get off.
‘With or without contract?’ Chester asks. The would-be Gangsta-Rappa (he would be, if he didn’t live with his mother) gives Chester a look. ‘Without then,’ says Chester. ‘Here, my colleague will take care of you.’ He passes the youth to a surprised Gavin; Chester never lets anyone finalise his sales. He makes a tired face and hangs his head a little so that Gavin understands that the day has been a bit too much for him. Gavin smiles, happy to help, and takes the youth off to another desk.
As Chester makes to leave the office, briefcase in hand, jacket slung over his shoulder, Yvonne sidles over. ‘Chester,’ she says, ‘I was thinking… if you’re not doing anything tonight, maybe, I don’t know… we could have dinner or something?’
Over the last few weeks Chester has seen this moment coming. First it was a certain softening of the eyes whenever Yvonne looked in his direction, then the way she sat close to him and the physical body contact, just a lingering hand on the shoulder or a pat on the hand, powerful signals of interest for Yvonne. Yes, less-brash Chester was a real success. And the idea of sex, after so long without, does have a strong appeal for Chester. So strong he almost says yes. But he has work to do. In the back of his mind, Chester remembers that angels must remain celibate to be pure. Thus he must do the same. Besides, he can’t have anyone close to him now; it would interfere with his plans. He looks back sadly at Yvonne and shakes his head. ‘Not yet,’ he tells her gently. He rests his hand on her arm. ‘Maybe a bit later,’ he says, ‘when I’m ready.’
Yvonne nods, her face a picture of compassion. ‘I’ll be waiting,’ she tells him portentously. Chester gives her a wave and leaves, feeling Yvonne’s eyes on his back all the way to the escalators.
Once outside, Chester removes his tie and heads for the once-silver Audi. He throws his briefcase onto the backseat and starts the engine. Tonight is the night, he reminds himself, driving the car out of the centre and thinking of the glory awaiting him that evening. Once home, he puts some chicken in the oven and sits down in the living room to go over the notes he has made over the past few days regarding tonight’s intended rebalance.
He found out about Maureen Phelps last week, while he was researching John Stephens, and has been able to pick up quite a lot of information about her. Stephens himself was very forthcoming about Phelps’ activities, especially with Chester’s shotgun pressed hard against the businessman’s balls. Phelps was a close friend of Stephens, his lover too from time to time, and was always ready to accommodate his more sophisticated tastes. Chester believes it is providence that led him to both, the depths of their disregard ample cause for divine retribution. Phelps especially would be worth the wrath of God in anyone’s book, he thinks. He also discovered that she was an advocate of forced labour, too. Her deal with Stephens is, was, that any particular young beauties working his shirt and trouser factories in developing or war-recovering countries be shipped over to England on the promise of a better life and delivered into the hands of Phelps and her associates. They are immediately put to work under, or on top of, Phelps’ most financially obliging clients. She does the same with a large percentage of home-grown waifs and strays. Her particular speciality is the underage, fourteen to fifteen year olds, mainly, and her client list, if Chester can get his hands on it, will probably supply him with a year’s worth of rebalances. Business is often conducted over the dinner table in very expensive restaurants (and for once Chester is grateful for his father’s connections and standing; even as he wallows beneath the Mediterranean sun, his name is enough for Chester to expect a table without fuss).
Stephens had also told Chester that Phelps would be spending all of this week at her home in Worcestershire. So tonight he has a long drive ahead. After finishing the chicken, Chester showers, cleansing himself for the purity of making sacrifice and then dresses in his now customary, customised uniform of black, cleans and oils his instrument of universal equilibrium and gets into his dark chariot to carry out his task. He is full of religious zeal for his purpose tonight. A slave trader, a pander, a glorified pimp, peddling the innocence of youth, sucking away their lives. This is why he exists now, why the shit was ripped from his body, why he was made clean; he exists to fight and to destroy all that which is not clean of spirit. The shit must be washed away. And Phelps, thinks Chester, tightening his grip upon the steering wheel, is most definitely shit, a filthy monstrosity taking advantage of her own sex, demeaning and demoralising everything she, everyone, should be standing for and protecting.
The Audi speeds along the motorway in the diminished light of early night. The roads are clear for most of the way and it is not long before Chester finds himself approaching the surrounding wall of the Phelps residence. The house is less ostentatious than Chester imagined it but remembers that the woman inside probably prefers to maintain a low profile; conspicuous wealth only ever attracts attention. If you are going to make your money hiring out just-pubescent prostitutes, it is not a good idea to go around flaunting the money you make it from it.
The house is large and looks like it is made from stone. It is surrounded by garden. The driveway is blocked off by a heavy wrought-iron gate, but the walls are easily scalable. Chester has already scouted the place out and knows where he wants to enter. He parks the car around the side of the house and then walks back to a part of the wall where his entry will be obscured by an ageing sycamore tree. Once inside the walls Chester makes his way carefully over to the back door of the house and waits. Sooner or later Phelps will step outside so that her dog can go and take a crap near the rose bushes at one end of the back garden. His opportunity to slip into the house.
He only has to wait an hour. The door opens and a small Yorkshire terrier comes yapping out and runs straight towards the rose bushes. Phelps follows, dressed in a bathrobe, her bare feet soundless upon the lawn. Her back is to Chester so he slips in quickly, passing through the kitchen with its thick wooden table standing sentry beneath a hanging selection of copper pots and pans, and into the house proper. The interior is straight from the pages of a country homes magazine, lots of heavy furniture, thick drapes and foot-hugging carpets. Chester is finding it difficult to reconcile the upright tranquillity of the setting with the means the owner used to purchase it. A number of African masks hang from the walls and this makes Chester feel a kind of outrage. Here is a woman who professes to a love of foreign culture when all she wants to do is abuse it. A sofa that looks more like a compressed bed sits in front of a large open fireplace. There is no television and any wall space not taken up by masks or surrealist art, all curiously incongruous to the rest of the room, is covered with books. Chester cuts short his evaluation when he hears Phelps and the noisy terrier come back in.
And then Phelps is at the door, standing there and staring at him, his thin white face, his cold eyes, his lips tight with affronted anger. She slowly checks him up and down but her eyes are drawn to the leather gloves and the shotgun. He brought the weapon up so that it pointed at her head. The dog is barking at his feet, trying to shinny up. Chester boots the animal across the room. It remains where it lands, whimpering pathetically. Phelps is screaming at him, calling him names, so he slaps her across the cheek. He watches, fascinated, as a stinging patch of red blossoms on one side of her face. The woman makes an effort to blink back tears. Of what? Chester wonders. Rage? Frustration? Fear. It doesn’t matter. She can cry or not cry all she wants, he thinks, it will change nothing for her. She starts shouting again. ‘Be quiet,’ he tells her. She shuts up for the moment.
‘Take off the robe,’ he says. Phelps looks like she wants to argue so Chester points the shotgun at the prone dog. ‘Don’t make me repeat myself.’ The woman does as she is told, all the time fixing Chester with a look of pure malevolence. ‘And don’t flatter yourself, either,’ he tells her, easily imagining what she must be thinking, standing there naked before an armed man. Her body is lean and well muscled, a healthy forty-six, but you can still see the encroachment of age, though the signs are by no means prominent, a line here, a crease there. Her stomach folds and wrinkles like softened paper when she leans forward just a little, but quickly smoothes out when her back is straight. She is also deeply tanned; the colour suggests a mix of natural sun and UV lamps. Chester takes a good look at her breasts; they are pleasantly round and full, still taking the weight, he thinks, although her nipples, despite the UV treatment, are a shade of translucent pink which makes them seem almost invisible. She unconsciously covers her chest, keeping her free hand between her legs, although not before Chester notices that she shaves herself completely there.
‘Turn around,’ he orders her. Eying the gun, Phelps reluctantly obeys. ‘You have a nice arse,’ he tells her. He has no intention of doing anything sexual with the woman, he just wants her to experience some of the humiliation the poor girls she treats as livestock must feel. ‘Down on your knees,’ he says, pushing the shotgun into the back of her neck in case she thinks he’s joking.
‘You won’t get away with this, you prick,’ you spits, getting down on all fours, her backside waving in the air. Tempting him. Chester shakes his head. This is not what he is here for, he will not fall into that trap. ‘I’ve got powerful friends,’ she is saying. ‘You have no fucking idea who you’re dealing with.’
‘I know exactly who I am dealing with,’ says Chester, shoving her flat against the floor. He takes a step back from her and roots around in his pockets. ‘Look at me,’ he says. Phelps twists around, leaning on her forearm. He throws two pairs of handcuffs at her. ‘One for the wrists, one for the ankles,’ he explains helpfully.
She puts them on – there is no arguing with a gun – and glares up at him. ‘Now what?’ she asks. ‘I suppose you want to squeeze your tiny little cock inside me, eh? I doubt you can, of course, which is probably why you have to resort to this.’ She rattles her cuffs. ‘You little prick,’ she adds for good measure.
Chester laughs. ‘I like you,’ he says. ‘I really do. But if you talk to me like that again…’ He bends down close, to breathe in her ear, ‘I’ll fucking hurt you.’ This seems to shut her up again. He grabs her by the wrists and drags her to her feet, manoeuvring her roughly so that he can fling her onto the sofa.
Phelps eyes him with disgust. He doesn’t care; whatever feelings she has towards him are nothing in comparison to the way he feels about her. ‘Use a condom,’ she tells him.
‘I’m not here to fuck you,’ he tells her. ‘Not the way you’re thinking.’
Phelps cocks her head at this and studies her assailant more closely. ‘No,’ she says eventually. ‘You don’t seem all that lascivious. If I saw a body like mine all trussed up and ready for the taking, I wouldn’t be just standing there like you. Maybe you’re gay. Is that it darling? Fanny not do it for you?’
Chester is not going to be baited by the fish. ‘I’m afraid you’re just not my type… I like them younger.’ He puts his knee in her back as he leans in over her. ‘Maybe you could sort me out,’ he hisses. He is rewarded with a satisfyingly sudden tension in Phelps’ body. ‘Ah,’ he says, ‘perhaps you think you know why I’m here now.’ She stares at him, cold and haughty, but Chester holds her gaze, shoots it back tenfold until it is she who turns away first. ‘Maybe,’ he continues, ‘maybe my sister was one of your whores. Maybe you took her off the street. Maybe you put her straight into bed with some fat, old bastard who needs children to put the blood in his flabby old dick. Then again,’ he says, changing tone, ‘maybe I’m from a militant revolutionary group, here to stop the exploitation of the poor by fucked-up, arrogant, selfish cunts like you.’
Phelps is shaking now, unable to staunch the tremors of instinctive fear. ‘What do you want?’ she manages to ask.
‘You’re going to die, tonight’ says Chester pleasantly, as though he were telling a newly married couple that they were expecting. Phelps begins to gibber so Chester reaches out and puts a finger over her lips. ‘Shhh,’ he whispers. ‘There’s no need for that. You should count yourself lucky. I mean, I could, if I really wanted you to understand the error of your ways, take you to this nasty part of town I know. There’s a bunch of smelly tramps and heroin addicts down there. I’m sure they’d be only too happy to club together some of their scag money for a chance at polishing your hole. Hell, I’d probably let them do it for free. You have to do your bit for the underprivileged, don’t you?’ Phelps struggles desperately but Chester restrains her by gripping her round the throat. ‘Then you’d know how it felt, you’d understand what it must be like for the girls whose lives you steal.’ Chester shrugs to himself. ‘I suppose I’m just too humane. Anyway, I’m not sure you wouldn’t enjoy being gang-banged by a group of scabby, diseased cocks, even if they would be just as happy screwing a dog as they would you.’ Phelps was crying now, sobbing. ‘No, luckily for you, I’m not so fucking heartless.’ He waves the gun in front of her face. ‘I’m just going to mess your walls up with this.’ Chester rests the gun against Phelps’ forehead. ‘One round here and it’s all over. Unless…’
Chester gets up and starts to pace the room. ‘Where’s your client list? You must have one around here somewhere, eh? In case you need to do a little work at home.’ He walks towards a lap-top over in one corner of the room. ‘In here perhaps?’ He looks over at Phelps who is nodding slowly. ‘Right,’ he says, ‘password, please.’
Chester spends the next twenty minutes downloading as much information as he can and copying it onto a USB. Phelps is now gagged; Chester does not want any distractions while he searches through her files. Happy with what he has retrieved, he stands up and slips the USB into his pocket. ‘Well,’ he says, ‘first of all, let me thank you for being so cooperative. These names,’ he pats his pocket, ‘will be very useful.’ Chester lifts his gun from beside the lap-top and walks over to Phelps. ‘Bye bye, Maureen,’ he says. He shoots her.
He stands there for a while, transfixed by the open wound, the clots of blood and fragments of bone, the varying shades of black and crimson, like the interior of an alien, organic volcano. At last, she is beautiful, he thinks, leaning down reverently to remove the cuffs. He leaves the way he entered, heading home, feeling elated and strong. When he gets home he will shower and, for the first time since he won his last bonus, celebrate the night’s success with a quick, almost guilt-free wank.
With every passing day, the internal mysticism of Chester’s manic monasticism takes on stronger and stronger significance. The Scatologist is always in his thoughts. His destiny. His maker. Not until the Scatologist is dead, will Chester become the god of his own universe. To destroy the evil from which he has sprung will be the liberation of Chester. Cleaning up the mess of humanity is what keeps Chester strong, what prepares him for the great battle ahead. But Chester is worried by the power of his nemesis, who clearly has a better grip on the undercurrents of fate than he has.
Yesterday, Chester had been forced to see the patterns that now govern his life, he could make out the ripples of destiny that flowed beneath his feet. It was all confirmed; elemental forces, and Chester counts himself as such, were at play. The day before he had been observing with satisfaction the way the press were reporting his actions; some had even made connections with the shadier occupations of the victims involved. He was even taking some of the spotlight away from the Scatologist. This in itself was not important, but he knew it would irritate his enemy. So he was more than surprised and perturbed when yesterday’s paper carried a letter from the Scatologist to the journalist who had broken the story. Only Chester understood the true importance of this act. It was a message, from the Scatologist to him, taunting him through the journalist. But it was also bait; Chester sensed the significance of it. He was being given a name, a connection, a way to get to the Demon that stood before him and his final elevation. It was a deliberate, mocking challenge… but a challenge all the same. Chester already knew where Bolton lived; he had checked that out the day Yvonne had shown him the article.
After reading the front page of the paper, Chester drove to Bolton’s apartment and waited. Some time in the early afternoon, the journalist left his house and went into town, Chester following. The cosmic nature of the events unfolding around him was then truly revealed to Chester as he suddenly found himself at the scene of his own transformation. The Fat Bishop loomed up over him and forced the memories back into his mind with the same power that the substance of those memories had been taken out of him. Chester felt the presence of the Scatologist lurking in the air, toying with him, laughing at him. He did not know who the girl was, the girl the journalist had entered the pub with, but he would find out. He waited outside until Bolton suddenly stormed out, looking furious. Chester followed him back to the offices where the journalist worked, waiting until he came back out, and then back to his apartment.
Chester now knows that he must keep a closer watch on Bolton. It will mean a decrease in his rebalancing activities for a while but Chester believes it is necessary; events are carrying him towards his destiny – the word is like a talisman for him, now – and he must go with the flow. Ridding the world of the Scatologist is an increasingly critical task. However, the import of the Demon’s omnipotent knowledge, the reminder of his creator’s potency, has shaken Chester up. That the Scatologist can so easily play with Chester only makes him more aware of how much the Beast-god needs to be destroyed, and how much more work Chester needs to do to be in a position to defeat so overwhelming an instrument of the power of darkness. Yet the same thoughts also begin to bolster Chester’s sense of the noble quest. Like George before the might of the Dragon, Chester stands before the Scatologist, armed only with his belief. And a shotgun.
Thus resolved, Chester, in daytime mode, heads out of the house to go to work. This is also becoming difficult. He struggles to find a reason to continue. Selling mobile phones is no longer for Chester; hours spent at the office are wasted hours, worthless. The only thing that keeps him going is the anticipation of the night ahead.
It is two weeks since Chester was reminded of how the Scatologist could still pull his strings. He sits behind his desk at Communicom, bored. The lack of any natural sunlight only adds to the weight of his blood as it sludges soporifically through his veins. He fingers the cable of his desk phone and daydreams about golden suits of armour, a serious addition to his current, heavily practical paraphernalia, and more in keeping with the task he has been selected to carry out. He even considers the idea of reinforced long-johns, with a specially strengthened flap, but quickly dismisses the idea as another instance of the foul Scatologist using its mental powers to fuck with Chester’s head.
Every day it is stranger for Chester to return to this life, to sit and chat with his colleagues as though he is just another ordinary member of society. His sales have been steadily decreasing although everyone so far has been too polite to say anything, his public humiliation still more than fresh in all of their minds. His mind, however, is always elsewhere, thinking about the Demon who plagues him, about Bolton, about the girl, Marie Pawlak her name is. He knows he needs this normal identity, that it makes him safe, but the lack of excitement, the lack of purpose – so important to Chester now – is dragging him down. Work is dull and stupid and the people he speaks to all day are dull and stupid. He begins to wonder if perhaps dull and stupid might also be written into his laws as crimes, as reason enough to be removed. Haven’t dullness and stupidity been responsible for some of the worst atrocities in the world? Of course, he reasons – in as much as he is capable of reasoning – evil is a choice, knowing that an action was wrong but going ahead with it anyway and enjoying it; being dull and stupid, on the other hand, is like having a taste for sprouts or liking pink. It is just who you are, an unconscious trait you are born with. You can no more kill a person for being stupid than you can for them wearing sandals, even if history routinely disputes that.
He looks up and sees Yvonne, her face sad, standing over his desk. ‘Yes?’
‘Mr. Thompkinson wants to see you in his office.’
‘Really. What does he want?’
Yvonne worries at her bottom lip. ‘I’m not sure,’ she answers, but Chester can see that she is lying. He also notes Gavin hovering in the background, trying to look as though he is not eavesdropping.
‘Now?’ he asks. Yvonne nods and looks about to cry. Chester heaves a sigh and stands up. ‘Fine,’ he says, making it clear that it really isn’t. He casts Yvonne another newly-minted brave smile and heads for the old fool’s office.
‘Close the door after you, there’s a good man,’ says Thompkinson as Chester passes into the cubby-hole that serves as his manager’s centre of operations. Chester closes the door. ‘Take a seat, take a seat,’ says Thompkinson, indicating the worn swivel-chair on the opposite side of his unimpressive job-lot desk. Chester glances around; what a piss poor excuse for a room, he thinks. Windowless (what would be the point, anyway?) and airless, the box is just four grey panelled walls, bare but for a few progress charts and photocopied sales figures. A wilting potted plant barely stands, sagging in the corner to Thompkinson’s right. Completing the tedious symmetry to his left is a tall, metallic waste-paper basket. The carpet is scuffed and starting to go threadbare. If Bob Cratchit were alive today, Chester muses, this is where he would be toiling out his miserable existence. It suddenly occurs to him that before the Scatologist set him free (if only to hound him ever since), this office, this dingy dung-hole dungeon, had been what Chester aspired to. He almost laughs out loud as he thinks of it. What a meaningless ambition.
Finally there is Thompkinson himself, sitting in his moth-eaten chair, resting his hands on the peeling surface of the desk (Chester can see the chipboard beneath), wringing them nervously, his soppy mug crumpled into what he very likely assumes is sympathetic pity but which comes across as the face of someone trying to hold onto what he knows to be a tremendous fart. Chester wants to punch his manager in the face there and then. Instead, he takes the offered seat and stares at Thompkinson until the old man starts searching through a drawer as if he has just remembered something very important in there which requires his immediate attention. He gives up after an embarrassing couple of minutes.
‘What do you want to see me about?’ Chester is desperate to get this sorry charade over and done with.
Thompkinson clears his throat and pretends to see a fly buzzing around the room before he speaks. ‘Well now,’ he says after a little more procrastination, ‘firstly, let me say that you’re not being fired. Your job here with us is still safe.’
‘That’s a relief,’ says Chester, faking a chuckle. Prick, he thinks.
‘Yes. Yes. Hmm. Yes. But… well, we thought, that is, head-office thought…’ Just so you know it wasn’t me, that it was out of my hands, Chester mentally fills in between the lines. ‘It was thought that perhaps you would benefit from some time off, some… ah… compassionate leave. Paid, of course. After all, you have been an exceptional employee, Chester, and, honestly, we have no desire to let you go.’
For a second, Chester swears he hears a chorus of hallelujahs in the distance. Paid time off… this is perfect. Even so, he puts on a troubled expression for form’s sake.
‘I explained to them,’ Thompkinson continues, ‘that you had suffered… um… well, I told them you’d suffered a loss in your family and that it… it hit you pretty hard and that you still hadn’t… ah… quite got over it.’
‘Haven’t I got over it?’
‘Let’s just say that your sales haven’t been what they were. And…’ Thompkinson pauses to slide his tongue over his top lip. ‘And you’ve started falling into these… silences. And, well, a couple of customers have also complained about the way you spoke to them.’
Chester is surprised. He knows, of course, that of late he hasn’t been openly helpful and that he can no longer care less for the swarms of morons that parade in front of his face five days a week but he didn’t realise it was that bad. Then again, he concedes, how could it be any other way? When a mortal is granted an epiphany, it is probably only natural that the trivial becomes even more insignificant and futile. Chester decides to play along. Perfectly justified time off is exactly what he needs to bring to a head his appointment with the Scatologist. No connections have been made between Chester and Fudge, other than the connection he and his colleagues share of having worked with the man, so he is okay on that score. He has played the role of useful, but troubled, cog in the wheel of national economics and has no reason to maintain the pretence any more. And these idiots are about to pay him for it. It couldn’t be any better, he considers.
‘I suppose I have been out of sorts lately,’ he says.
Thompkinson grins stupidly. ‘I’m glad you see it that way,’ he breezes, clearly relieved that Chester has not thrown a fit.
‘Yes, I think a month or so will be just about right to get my head cleared. I came back to work too early,’ he says, injecting his words with weary fatigue. He hangs his head for good measure and pinches the bridge of his nose. ‘It was a very traumatic experience.’
‘Of course, I understand. Then we’ll leave it at that, shall we? Provisionally you would be coming back to us in mid-November but, obviously, if you need anything then you mustn’t hesitate to call or drop in. They say a friendly face can often help in times of crisis.’
‘Indeed they do,’ Chester agrees. ‘Right,’ he says, standing up and proffering his hand. ‘I appreciate your understanding. Thank you.’
Thompkinson shakes his hand and says his farewells, wishing Chester luck for the coming weeks. Outside the manager’s broom-cupboard Chester exchanges another few words with Yvonne and Gavin, apologising for his distant behaviour over the last month or so and assuring them both that they will see the old Chester again very soon. ‘Not too much of the old Chester, I hope,’ says Yvonne, earning her a cheerful wink.
‘No,’ says Chester. ‘Not too much of him.’
‘Here,’ says Yvonne, handing him a yellow post-it note. ‘That’s my home number. If you want to talk or… anything. Just call me.’
Chester folds the note carefully and places it in his breast pocket, patting it affectionately. ‘I will,’ he lies. He says his final goodbyes and, for the last time ever, steps outside his branch of Communicom.
Chester sits in a café across the street from a French restaurant. Through the window he has a clear view of Christopher Bolton and Marie Pawlak sitting down together for a meal. In the cold October air everything is crystal sharp, clean and defined. Chester watches their faces, relaxed and smiling, burnished by the orange light flickering from three burning candles at the centre of their table. Marie is lifting her napkin from the table and spreading it across her lap, smoothing the material flat against her thighs. Chester stares at her hand as though caught in a hypnotic trance and finds himself wishing, not a little disconcertingly, that he was that napkin.
Chester has followed Bolton here. He has been following Bolton for a few days and now knows that Marie Pawlak is helping the journalist with his story, in as much as anything could be said to help. In the beginning, Chester found Bolton’s articles quite interesting but, in the face of the random nature of the Scatologist’s actions and the lack of any real police action, they have become boring and repetitive, more like a list of the latest third division football results. Chester has even overheard Bolton admit as much himself. The Scatologist dedicating a victim to Bolton changed all that. The police are bugging his phones in case the Scatologist wants to make further contact. Chester knows this will not happen. If the Scatologist wants to get hold of Bolton, it won’t be by telephone; the Beast has other means at its disposal. Chester hasn’t forgotten that Bolton is simply a pawn, a piece the Scatologist is using to draw Chester closer to its web. So it is up to Chester to watch Bolton, to match his steps. Some rebalancing will have to be postponed but Chester is sure that this will not be for long. He cannot explain the how and why but his instinct tells him that soon the endgame will be in sight, after which Chester will be free to put the world in order, unhindered by the machinations of the evil that brought him into being in the first place.
If Chester has any doubts, any worries about straying from the task that lies ahead, they will not be bothering him for much longer. His objectives are about to be clarified in such a way that Chester will be unable to see events as anything other than prophetic, even if the truth of it is, in fact, the result of neglect, the neglect of peripheries common to the one-track mind. Since Chester’s transformation from imperfect human animal to warrior angel, certain quotidian practicalities, like shopping for instance, have fallen so far behind Chester’s new priorities that they have silently, resignedly vanished. Chester’s fridge, once packed with the finest chilled white wines, sealed bags of salad leaf, tomatoes, yoghurts, grapes, pricey cheeses, everything a comfortable bachelor could ever desire, now stands bare and forlorn, its electric buzzing like the grumbling whine of an unfed pet. The appliance has been emptied at random, Chester eating this, eating that, sell-by dates and expiry dates an inconsequential memory with no bearing on Chester’s current lifestyle. So he thinks, blinded by the awesome responsibility of his task.
Chester ate the last of the food stored in his gutted fridge, a block of blue cheese, before heading out earlier this afternoon to pick up Bolton’s trail. But it wasn’t really blue cheese at all; at least, it hadn’t been to begin with. It started out as a healthy, solid, yellow wedge of mature English cheddar, but with each passing week, as it sat untouched at the back of the top shelf, and Chester forgot again and again to close the door, the cheese began to evolve. New life sprang up on its surface; hairy fungal growths sprouted like baby forests on a freshly developing planet and sent their roots deep into the crust, dominating the substance of its creation. Chester reached into the depths of his starving fridge and plucked this last morsel, this lactose micro-universe, from its wasted ribs, squashing it between two hard slices of stale bread that curled up at the corners. Then he ate it.
He is watching Marie point out an item on the menu when the wave of nausea hits. His stomach begins to bubble and a tendril of fetid air fingers its way up his throat to escape from the lips with a near-erotic sigh. Suddenly Chester is in the Fat Bishop once more, clutching at the stair rail, writhing in public agony and panic. What Chester is experiencing, highly unpleasant as it may be, is nothing compared to what he suffered to become the man he is today, but it is enough to send Chester hurtling back to the meaning of his mission.
He just about manages to make it to the bathroom, yank down his trousers and sit down before the putrid cheese squirts from his arse with the consistency of hot, milky tea. As Chester sits there, holding his belly and rocking back and forth on the toilet’s plastic seat, he begins to comprehend what is happening. To comprehend in his own way, that is; his psychosis prevents him from the obvious conclusion of taking more care with what he puts in his mouth. Instead, he tells himself that this is a warning from the Scatologist. The idea pleases him because it implies that the Devil he chases is worried about how close he must be getting.
After twenty minutes, Chester wipes himself clean with the entire roll of paper and goes back downstairs to the counter, where he pays before leaving. Ignoring both Bolton and Marie – there is time enough for them tomorrow – Chester heads for his car, his expression one of concentrated resolve.
At half past nine the next morning, Robin Rice, city magistrate and despoiler of young Romanian girls, is found dead in a disreputable part of town. His shoes, his trousers and the contents of his cranium are all missing.