unbelievable2: (Default)


Or, maybe not the tail you thought it was.

Part 5 of 9


Pairing: Howard/Vince

Author: Unbelievable2

Rating: PG13, probably.

Word Count: 4,268

Summary: A bit of an adventure. A new departure for Howard, a surprise for Vince and the return of an old enemy.

This chapter still a bit dark, but hang in there…..


Warnings: For story as a whole, some nastiness, violence, drug refs and swears, talking animals, character death (oh, and some s/ash ;) here and there)


Disclaimer: Sadly I own neither the creators nor their characters, and I will not, nor would I ever wish to, profit from either.


All hail the awesome themogwai for her wonderful beta-ing. J


Part 1 here:

Part 2 here:

Part 3 here:

Part 4 here:



Part 5


Vince couldn’t have been out for long, because he could hear Howard’s voice.

“Come on, Vince! Come on!”

He opened his eyes. The storm had passed. It was all quiet in the shop. The air hung deadened around him, like he had cotton wool in his ears, and the bare boards and collected ephemera littering the walls and counters were bathed in a glow that alternated pink and blue. A nice combination, he thought vaguely. Good for stage lighting. He should remember it for their gigs at the Velvet Onion.


And he wasn’t hurt, he realised. Whatever had happened - and he had no idea what – he wasn’t hurt. He sat up, propping himself up on his elbows, looking round. He was lying on the floor. All down his torso and legs something shimmered and gleamed. He was wearing the cape.


That cape. The cape that Naboo had given him for running the shop. The one with the beautiful hem and the electric blue panels. It was an unexpected delight. He’d loved that cape – how it had looked, how it had swirled around him.

Genius that it was back. Genius.


“Vince! Come on!”

Howard. Howard wanted him. He stood up, the room seeming slightly distorted in his vision, his eyes drawn to the back door which stood ajar. He clearly needed to go out of that door.



He drew the cape around him, relishing the feel of the material. He wanted to show it to Howard. He ran to the door, toppling out into the yard. It seemed empty.

“Howard! Where are you?”


A sound. He turned on his heel to see Howard’s tall shape in the darkness, hurrying away from him down one of the back streets.

“Howard? Wait for me!”

But Howard made no attempt to stop or turn round. Vince started running, but it was difficult. He couldn’t go as fast as Howard. His heels were clattering, twisting his ankles on the paving stones. The cape was catching round his legs, tripping him up, slowing him down.


The cape he had given to Donny the tramp. The cape with the beautiful hem.


“Howard! Wait!”

But Howard’s figure was receding into the shadows. He tore the cape from his neck and without another thought threw it away into the darkness, rushing on into the orange glow of the sodium light in the alley ahead. His brain was still woozy. He had no idea why he ran, only that he had to find Howard.


And then suddenly, in front of him in a pool of light, lay a man. And over the man was stretched the beautiful cape Vince had traded for his friendship.




He fell to his knees beside the prone figure.

“Howard? Howard! What’s wrong with you?

No answer. He pulled at the cape, but it wouldn’t unfurl. It just seemed to wrap itself tighter round his friend’s body. This was wrong, very wrong.

And Howard wouldn’t move. He shook Howard’s shoulders, but his face was blank, empty, eyes black in the light.


No fear, just deep sadness overwhelmed Vince.


“Howard! Howard! Come on you spanner! What’s…”

All at once the cape came away in his hands and Howard rolled on top of him, a dead weight. He struggled to support them both, pushing against Howard’s chest. But suddenly his hands were sinking in. He cried out in horror, only to realise that it was black plastic he was being smothered by, sucked into something shapeless, all soft decay and sharp edges.


There was no Howard.

No Howard.

Only mountains and mountains of black plastic rubbish bags burying him and burying him and….


“Vince! Vince! Come on!”

Bright light. He was gasping for air, his chest heaving, his hands grasping at his throat, still fighting suffocation by the plastic bags. Strong arms held him. There was the familiar earthy smell and soft touch of fur.

“Vince, stop it! Calm down, it’s all right!”

Naboo’s voice. The solemn, chiselled features swam into view. Vince stopped struggling, still panting heavily.


“Let him go, Bollo. Vince, you can sit up, but take it easy. Bollo, help him up.”

He was lying on the sofa in the flat. Muted sunlight shone through the windows. Vince put a hand to his head, running it through his hair.

 “Oh my god, I gotta blinder…”

“Drink this.” Naboo pressed a glass of something green and nauseous-looking into his hand and kept frowning until he downed it, retching at the dregs.

“That’ll deal with most of the side effects you have now.”


Vince frowned up at him.

“What going on, Naboo? What time is it? Did I have a nightmare? Was I drunk?”

He looked out at the low sunshine - morning? evening? - his brain desperately trying to recall something important which nevertheless eluded him.


“It’s six o’clock. You’ve been out all day. We found you in the shop passed out when we got back this morning. You’d been attacked - drugged. Bollo found a needle on the table.”


Vince automatically put his hand to his neck, eyes wide with the shock of recovering memories.

“It was in my neck! And I hate needles!”

Something else… what was it that he’d forgotten?


“We analysed it in the basement lab,” continued Naboo. “A very serious hallucinogen allied with a potentially fatal neural suppressant…”

“Oi, Gil Grissom! Wanna speak English to me?”

Naboo sighed.

“Basically, something in that needle made your body shut down. We managed to reverse the process, but it took us quite a while. The rest of the drugs in the mix would have sent you on a pretty weird trip. Once your system started to wake up again you were screaming.”


Vince looked from one to the other, registering the concern in Bollo’s blue eyes. And the fact that Naboo had rarely said so many words all at once. And the fact that there was no….


“Howard? Howard!”

He sat bolt upright.

“Howard! Where’s Howard, Naboo?”

“Vince, look, calm down.”

Now everything was starting to flood back.

“It was the Crack Fox, Naboo! He must have followed us back here. And something happened….”

He tried to stand up, shaking off Naboo’s attempts to stop him.

“Howard!” He was shouting now. He started to move towards the stairs but a wave of nausea caught him and he staggered back, clutching at the edge of the sofa to steady himself.


“Precious Vince…”

“Vince, please…”

He waved his arm at them in exasperated dismissal.


“Howard Moon, where the hell are you! Come here!”


Silence in the shop, in the flat.

A pause. He turned back to face them, the heavy sadness of his dream now his real life.

“What’s happened to him, Naboo?” His tone was suddenly matter-of-fact, calm. “You know, don’t you?”
He looked from one to the other


Naboo and Bollo eyed each other uneasily. The transformation of Vince’s behaviour from crazed panic to cool inquiry had been unsettling in its speed and ferocity. The overall impact, though, was offset somewhat by the fact that their inquisitor was clad only in electric-blue Y-fronts and silver boots.


Bollo held out the doll. Naboo raised a restraining hand.

“Vince, remember the doll that was supposed to be you? Well, this morning we found this in the yard.” He gestured to Bollo to hand it over. Vince took it with a look of wary distaste.


It was another Action Man - possessing its own Action Man head this time. The doll was naked, with dirt and…something else… smeared across its torso. Black marker pen had drawn a crude moustache across the upper lip.

Naboo watched as Vince took a breath to steady himself, and armour himself with flippancy.

“That’s quite like Howard, actually. Look, he really is an action man!” His tone was affectedly light, but a little smile quirked at the side of his mouth for a moment. “His chest is all nice and broad like that…”

Naboo rolled his eyes at Bollo.

“… but there’s a bit more tum…”


Before Naboo could interrupt a train of thought the shaman felt was not actually too helpful at that particular moment, Vince suddenly stiffened.

“Naboo!” he breathed. “Is that… is that… blood?”

Naboo thought Vince looked like he couldn’t decide between puking and crying. He hoped very much that if anything it would be the latter.

“Bollo’s analysed it. There is a trace of Howard’s blood there…

“Oh god…” The voice was very small.

“But mainly it’s tomato ketchup from a Big Mac wrapper.”

Vince’s head snapped up.

“You takin’ the piss, Naboo?” His voice was a snarl. “’ Cos I’m really not in the mood…”

The shaman held up a conciliatory hand.

“Vince, that’s what it is. Honest. The main thing is… well, turn it over.”


Vince gave the shaman another look and warily turned the doll over in his hands. This time, down the broad back, there were different letters scrawled in black.




Vince squinted at them.

“Try saying it phonetically, Vince.”


“How it sounds.”

Vince mouthed the words and looked up again, his eyes wide.

“Juice? Like, shaman juice?”

He considered the doll again, brow furrowed.


Naboo tried not to look too desperate.

“Oh! I get it! Bin Man! Who do we….” Realisation hit him and he reeled, grabbing hold of the sofa once more to steady himself.

“Howard? Howard’s been kidnapped for shaman juice?”

“Looks like it.”

Vince stared at the doll, re-reading the words, silently mouthing them. The confusion in his eyes turned to bleakness. He turned it over again. His face softened as he registered the plastic features, and he lightly touched its brow, its nose. Then, seeming to recollect himself, he quickly put it down on the coffee table and dusted his hands off.


“Right. Well, that’s easy then. Let’s get the shaman juice out and go corner the little titbox. At midnight, yeah?” He cocked his head at Naboo, waiting for a response.

“Well, come on then, let’s get going!”

“Vince, it’s not as simple as that…”
Vince put his hands on his hips and squared up to the shaman. Naboo looked uncomfortable. It might have been the gimlet glare of irritation, but could also have been the extreme proximity of the Y-fronts.

“What’s the problem, Naboo? Look, it’s Howard we’re talking about. Get your arse in gear and let’s move!”

Naboo shrugged. “I don’t have any shaman juice, and I was banned from procuring any more. On pain of death. Again.”


Vince’s face was darkening with anger. “And this is what the all-knowing Board told you last night, was it? To stand by and let your friends get… your friends…” He kicked the coffee table to prevent himself saying the word.

“No, actually, they told me that ages ago. Yesterday they said they couldn’t take any specific measures against the Crack Fox because he hadn’t done anything wrong yet. They’re very hung up on probable cause and due process at the moment…”
“Well, they can just piss right off, can’t they? Watch my lips, Naboo. This is Howard! The bastard mutant cat took my… my friend. Your friend. He has done something wrong. Sod the Board. They do sod all of any use anyway. Now, let’s get going…”

“No, I can’t.”

Vince spun round, all defiance and fury, and dizzy with the sudden movement he stumbled against the sofa. Bollo caught him, but Vince struggled out of his grasp, like a toddler in a tantrum. He was still glowering at Naboo.


“What’s your problem with Howard, Naboo? He used to be your friend, didn’t he? Lately you go out of your way to put him down, and now you won’t even lift a finger to save his life. His life, Naboo!”

The last words were a squeak.

Naboo stood square to him, facing him down. Or rather up. It was difficult not to be cowed by his stony impassivity.


“You’re a great one to talk about that, Vince. Taken a look at yourself the last year or two, have you? I mean, really looked? I doubt if Howard’s liked what he’s seen. Or the way you’ve behaved towards him.”

Vince looked indignant.

“What me and Howard think, or do, it’s nothing to do with you, Naboo!”

“Just as well. Which reminds me, why exactly are you in just your underwear right now, Vince? Why did we find you like that this morning? Was that something to do with Howard, maybe? No, on second thoughts, I don’t need to know that…”

“What?” The shocked expression suddenly became icy. “Piss off, Naboo. None of your business. An’ stop gettin’ at Howard. He works for you, really hard…”

“He’s a waste of space…”
“Don’t you dare, dare talk about him like that! You! Stoned out of your brain most of the time…”


Bollo, who had been watching the scene aghast, sparked into life.

“Vince no say such things! Naboo turn his back on you!”
“You’re right there, Bollo,” said Naboo coldly. “And it’s just about to happen. Because I’m sick of these tantrums and sick of these double standards…”
“Christy! Just go ahead and do it, will you? What difference will it make, Naboo? What can you possibly do to me right now that could make things any worse than they are? Or better? You’re a… a…” Vince searched wildly for something vaguely appropriate “…a ballbag!”


“Eh, Vince not say such things!”

Vince turned on Bollo with something like a snarl, eyes flashing.

“What’s it got to do with you, you hairy retard? You’re worse than he is, a great hopeless lump of…”

And stopped short, his hand clamped to his mouth, frozen by the sudden realisation of what he had said and the flash of pain in the gorilla’s eyes. Bollo looked away.

There was a terrible silence.

“Oh god! Oh Bollo, I’m sorry…. Oh Bollo….”
Vince reached out to the ape with one hand, brushing at his fur. Bollo shrugged his arm away.

“Oh Bollo… I’m so sorry… “ Vince’s voice was low and wavering, close to tears. “Please forgive me. I don’t know why I said that…”

Eyes still averted, Bollo turned and shambled hurriedly out of the room.


“You pleased now?” Naboo asked waspishly. “Anything else in your life you want to ruin?” Vince looked down at him, bewildered.

“You know what, Vince? If it weren’t for Bollo, you wouldn’t be here right now. He saved your life. I’d given you up for dead, but Bollo found the needle. If he hadn’t, we couldn’t have brought you back. That’s a sobering thought, isn’t it?”


A sob came, then another, and another. Vince pressed his hands to his face, sat down heavily on the sofa, and gave way to his grief.


~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~


A little while later, Vince knocked on Bollo’s door. There was no answer but Vince pushed it open anyway. The gorilla lay curled up on his bed, facing the wall.

“Bollo, can I come in, please?”

No answer, not even a grunt.

Vince tiptoed across the room and stood at the foot of the bed. Bollo was just staring at the wall.

“Bollo…. I’m so sorry. I don’t know why I said what I said ‘cos it’s not true. And I don’t think that about you, really I don’t. Of course I don’t! Can you forgive me? Please? Bollo?”


No answer.


“Please, Bollo? I know I can seem a heartless bitch sometimes, but I didn’t mean it. Please don’t leave me, Bollo…”

He paused, biting his lip, struggling to continue.

“…I’m so frightened I’ve lost Howard. Don’t leave me too.”


A day or two ago, there would have been enough manipulation evident in Vince’s words that even Bollo wouldn’t have been fooled. But right now the voice was cracked with emotion and exhaustion and sadness. Bollo turned his head, and man and gorilla looked at each other for a long moment. But Vince was the first to break the gaze, and he shrugged heavily, and turned back to the door.


Bollo watched him leave.

“Go safely, Vince.”

Vince paused, without turning round. Then he left the room, quietly closing the door behind him.



Naboo was waiting for him in the lounge. The anger in the room was all gone.

“Me and Bollo will go and see the Board again now. But I can’t promise anything.”

Vince nodded.

“We’ll be back as soon as we can.”
“We’ve only got until midnight!” Vince tried to keep his voice calm.

Naboo considered him.

“You’ll be all right on your own? The charm’s still on…”
Vince laughed bitterly.

“Bollo’s fixed the window now. Look, Vince. There’s something I need to tell you. I’d sort of forgotten about it in all the drama. What with you being drugged and then… But it’s important.”

He gestured to Vince to sit down, and joined him on the sofa.

“Dennis got talking last night, when he was high.” Naboo tried to ignore Vince’s glittering look. “I think he’d only been eating Twiglets, actually, but anyway… he sometimes makes more sense when he’s wasted….


“He said – roughly translated – the Crack Fox’s magic is unusual because it works its way into things, rather than creating things for itself. It needs a way in, but when it’s found it, it can take up home. And the magic is all about the Crack Fox; unhappiness, bitterness, anger. He finds a situation where there is a gap - a chink, if you like – a fissure in something that’s otherwise okay, and his magic eats away at it and turns it bitter and unhappy and unfulfilled.”

Vince shrugged.

“Why are you telling me this, Naboo?”

“Because I think the Crack Fox got in here. Not just now, I mean a good while ago. A few things weren’t quite right, or weren’t going the right way, or were a bit unstable ‘cos they were changing…” Naboo looked flustered for a moment “… and on its own that wouldn’t have mattered. But the Crack Fox was prowling around and he saw a way in and a way to turn things to his advantage. And even though you thought you’d got rid of him the first time, and even though he’s only just come back, his influence has been here ever since, turning things sour….”

Vince frowned; a deep frown of real concentration on Naboo’s words.

The shaman was still speaking.

“…and when he got that taste of shaman juice before I think he realised how much power it gave him, how much misery he could create. So that’s why he’s after more.”


Slow realization began to dawn on Vince’s face.

“So, what I said to Bollo…?”

“That’s what made me realise. I think the combination of the Fox’s drugs in you and the presence of that doll – I’ve destroyed it, by the way – made you react the way you did. Not like you. Me too, to be honest.”

Vince was clearly making mental leaps. “you know, sometimes, everything is genius and you think like, this can’t last, and then two days later, everything goes tits up…?”

“Yeah, I think that’s the sort of thing. Little bits of self-doubt, mistrust. And maybe little moments of carelessness. They all start small but get bigger very easily. I think he revels in that. Needs it, almost….”

“So maybe…. sometimes, with me an’ Howard…?”

“Vince, it’s not all the Crack Fox’s doing. We make our own fate. But if the chinks are wide enough, if no-one fixes them, then maybe he’s made it worse.”

 “They can be fixed, these chinks?”

Vince’s intensity and his shining eyes surprised the shaman.

“Sometimes, yes.”

“I said there was something needed fixing! I told Howard!” The eyes kept getting brighter.


Naboo could think of nothing useful to say. He got up.

“Vince, we’re going to go now, okay? Wait here till we’re back. I’ll explain things to Bollo…”

“Will you? Please? Oh thanks, Naboo. Thanks…” Vince’s voice trailed off. He didn’t move, still staring into space, lost in thought.

The shaman turned to go and then hesitated.

“Vince, you never did tell me why you’re only in your pants…”

Vince broke his trance and gave him a pained look.

“Ummm…..okay. None of my business….”


Vince didn’t move until he heard the carpet leave.

Wait here till we’re back


Yeah, like that’s gonna happen…


~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~



Vinces Plan to Find the Crak Fox and get Howard bak


One: Get outfit rite

Two: Find Crak Fox

Three: Get Howard bak


 Christy, that’s worthy of Tony Harrison! Scratch that….


One: Get outfit rite

Two: Find shayman joose


No! Concentrate, Vince!


Two: Find munney for jooce

Three: Then find shayman joose



Vince scrunched up that piece of paper as well, and stared round his room. Being up against the clock wasn’t helping in the plan formulation stakes. Okay, first things first. He was going to be an urban vigilante, up against urban wildlife in its most terrifying form. So, something cool but understated, and capable of blending into the darkness, should he so wish to blend.


Black. The colour of night, the colour of camouflage. The only colour for a night-time mission. He’d heard that somewhere before……


That was easy enough to sort, in fact (black overshirt with self embroidery, black skinnies - not the grey ones where the zip was always slipping). He kept the silver boots on - a cheeky addition. He liked the effect. And he thought Howard would be pleased with his attention to detail. The process of raiding the lounge, the kitchen and his room for money and other things of value didn’t take long and sadly didn’t reveal much, but had been helpful in the discovery of some useful props, and furthermore his most expensive possession – his amber ring – now sat on his finger. From what he could remember, it ought to be enough to buy some shaman juice, at least.


One last possibility – Howard’s room. He had been avoiding it, in fact. Howard’s room without Howard on the scene was just plain wrong, plain creepy.


Plain heartbreaking.


He walked softly into the tidy, ordered domain. He knew what it looked like, of course, but now he felt he was looking at it with new eyes. Nothing of monetary value, but he knew how precious to Howard some of these things were – the jazz posters, the catalogued music collection. Then there was the sparse wardrobe, the spartan bed (we need to sort that, Howard, he thought, randomly, and found himself inexplicably blushing) – all this would have told him things about the man who was his friend, if he could have been bothered to look.


He sat down on the bed, wincing at its hardness, and looked again at the walls. Small pictures of the two of them – their old life, the flat, the shop, holidays – were there as well. They were unobtrusive, but seemed to be displayed alongside the jazz trophies with equal pride. It was if as they were intended to give happy reminders at every point in the room. Vince felt his heart clench. There were similar examples in his room, too, but not on such open display. This was Howard’s own gallery of moments.


On the bedside table a photograph frame lay face down, an alarm clock sitting on top of it as if for disguise. Vince picked it up and turned it over.


Another picture of the two of them. A windy day, near water - a canal or somewhere, Oh yes! He remembered! They were both looking so happy, grinning fit to bust. Howard with that lovely sheepskin jacket – why did he never wear that now? Why had he condemned himself to a lifetime of the wrong cardigans?


And Vince himself. Glittery tee, trilby, big flirty smile for the camera. And look at Howard’s wide, beautiful grin! So rare of late. But Vince had seen it again in recent days - as they had danced in the shop; at the moment of their triumph; as Howard had destroyed Vince with satsumas and had held his wrists tight and close to him…


Oh, but most of all, the dancing.


One hand was holding on to his hat against the strong breeze, but Vince’s other arm was tight around Howard and Howard’s arm was around Vince’s neck. Just looking at the picture brought back the memory of its touch on his skin, and he felt again the warmth of Howard’s embrace - at the Club, in the storm, and – like it was a dream – the feeling of being held, protected, cherished, even as the poison had pulled him under.


He felt his throat tighten treacherously. This was life before the Crack Fox got in. Before they let the chinks get too wide.


But things could be fixed.


He gazed at that smile, and without thinking, his fingers lightly stroked the face that was Howard’s.


“Oh, love”, he said softly.


And he froze in shock at what he had just said.

What Vince Noir had just said.

And then smiled. He placed the picture frame back on the table, upright now, in pride of place.


“Oh, love,” he repeated, consciously this time. “Look what a team we make!”


He stood up and took a last look round, then strode to the door, as only a man in silver stack-heel boots could stride.

Right, he said to himself, picking up his waiting bag. Let’s sort this mess out.


“Howard Moon, I’m comin’ to get ya!”


~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

unbelievable2: (Default)


Or, maybe not the tail you thought it was.

Part 1 of 9

Pairing: Howard/Vince

Author: Unbelievable2

Rating: PG13, probably

 Word Count: 3,220

 Summary: A bit of an adventure.  A new departure for Howard, a surprise for Vince and the return of an old enemy.

 Warnings: Some nastiness, violence, drug refs and swears (oh, and some s/ash ;) here and there)

 Disclaimer: Sadly I own neither the creators nor their characters, and I will not, nor would I ever wish to, profit from either.

 Notes: My first attempt at an adventure.

Huge, huge thanks to themogwai for her insightful and inspiring comments and super–rapid beta turn-round

(*hugs you!*)  


Vince Noir had a secret. It was exciting, important and thrilling. So thrilling, he felt like he was under some kind of spell.

He had seen Howard Moon dance.


Just thinking about it could make Vince grin to himself and skip in a way that would in itself have made him look ridiculous, had he not already been wearing stack heels and a bowler hat. The way it had happened, was happening, was this.


He had finally removed himself from some mid-week all-nighter just as the sun was rising, having drunk himself sober, and was trudging home feeling like most people do after a rough day at work; misinterpreted, taken for granted, bored. It had been a hot series of days, with sultry, humid nights that made clubbing difficult and sleeping even more so. Now, walking home sore-footed, the city fug glowing yellow and promising yet another uncomfortable day, the coolness of the early morning had put him somewhere between resigned and comfortably numb.


Then he had turned the corner into the lane at the back of the Nabootique and seen him.


Howard dancing.


It wasn’t normal dancing, or at least not Vince’s idea of dancing. Howard was moving slowly, but fluidly, his arms reaching out to thin air, twisting, describing slow arcs around his head, hands finding their own pattern. His stance was deliberate, his weight switching first one way then another with a roll of his hips or a delicately-placed foot. His eyes were closed and – judging by the huge, antediluvian headphones clamped to his ears, the wires trailing to the waistband of his trousers – he was lost in some jazzy musical dream. But no jazz trance had ever made Howard behave this way before. His body twisted and turned, beautifully balanced and controlled, with a grace and skill his normal life generally denied him. And totally preoccupied in his dance and music, he gyrated on completely relaxed, and yet, to Vince’s eyes, miraculously vibrant.


At the first sight Vince’s hand had flown to his mouth in the universally-recognised gesture of shock and surprise, his eyes goggling. In seconds he’d had enough presence of mind to duck back behind the wall, and there he stayed, leaning against the cool brick with his hand still pressed to his mouth whilst Howard completed his set, took off the headphones and, with a slightly self-conscious shake of his arms and legs, made his way back into the shop.


What at all other times in Vince’s life, and certainly of late, would have been his natural response – to laugh, to mock, to taunt – completely failed to kick in. Instead he remained rooted to the spot. The image of what he had seen was burned into his memory. Everything was clear. The twisting sinews in the strong forearms, the intense concentration in the furrowed brow, the way the loose shirt rode up as Howard raised his arms, revealing the endearing roundness of his belly.


Oh, there was more…. the jut of hipbones; the dusting of golden-brown hair below his navel; the flat slope of creamy skin descending below the waistband of his summer-weight chinos; the dimples in his lower back; the delectable – yes, delectable – curve of his arse; the long, long legs. Vince saw it all but had difficulty processing the flood of images.


This clearly was no pole dance. Vince struggled to find an analogy, but reckoned it was some relation to Tea-Chai, or Shi-Tee, or whatever it was the OAPs did in the park, this time with a jazzy flavour – this was Howard, after all.


But Howard. Howard dancing like this. Howard’s body. Something hit Vince’s gut like an express train and left him gasping. Long after Howard has disappeared – long, long after – Vince pulled himself together and slipped into the shop to commandeer the bathroom. And to try to regain enough self- control to behave as if nothing had happened.


But of course it had. Because immediately, Vince’s life started to change.


It started the very next night. Out drinking with Leroy it was relatively easy to slip away when the noise and press of people could cover his exit. He hadn’t realised before quite how easy. Then home, in his room, hardly daring to sleep in the hope that Howard would dance again. Which he did, rising in the early dawn – Vince heard his cautious footfalls down the stairs as he made his way to the yard. And Vince, upstairs, inched the window open and, crouching on the floor wrapped in his floral kimono, craned carefully out to see the dance unfold.


There were set moves, he could see. His brain cell absorbed them like flashes from a glitter ball, storing them away with perfect clarity. By the time the same thing had happened the next day, and the next, and the one after that, Vince could sit by the window, dancing in his head in time with Howard, his hands involuntarily making the same twisting, graceful moves as those of the dancer in the backyard.


After about four days, Howard Moon – Man of Action, explorer, philosopher, observer of the human condition – finally twigged something was going on. It wasn’t just the quite altered atmosphere in the shop, with Vince more helpful, more chatty, less acerbic than of late – well, for quite a long time, actually. No, most noticeable were Vince’s early nights. After so long, Howard’s sleeping brain was attuned to registering Vince's return each night, finally relaxing and switching off when it was clear he was back safely. There had been many times in the past when Howard’s waking mind had chided him for being such a sap. But the feeling didn’t last long. The fact of the matter was that Howard slept better knowing the occupant of the room down the hall had finally staggered home. Which is why the early nights, the quiet, barefoot completely sober tiptoeing up the stairs, rang strange. He mentally logged it, proposing to perhaps venture asking about it should things get more extreme.


Which they did, but not in a good way.


It began simply enough. On the fifth day, Vince took up his position by the window as he heard Howard descend the stairs. The back door opened, and Vince heard a muffled exclamation of disgust. He craned a little more, but could see little until suddenly there was Howard’s broad back and the splash and rush of water as he threw a bucketful over the back step. A clank as the bucket was set down and then Howard was back in the yard. And Vince relaxed as the show commenced, smiling unconsciously, his hands mirroring his friend's movements in a small, shy dance of their own.


“You been scrubbing the yard?” Vince asked as nonchalantly as he could at breakfast, full of sunshine after the morning dance but still intrigued.

“Oh God,” Howard huffed as he poured out Vince’s cheerios. “Something threw up on our step last night. Had to sluice it away.”

“Eeew!” Vince wrinkled his nose at the thought, and then had a thought of his own.

“Who though? You don’t tend to get clubbers coming up the back way… um, I mean, going that way.” Except me, his brain-cell had reminded himself.

“Don’t think it was a person,” continued Howard, putting toast on the table and opening up the Dalston Gazette. “Didn’t seem ….um… what you’d normally expect…” He rolled his eyes apologetically at Vince’s second, cheerio-muffled “Eew!” “I think it was some kind of animal. And it smelt really strange...”

“Howard, please!” came the plea, cheerios swallowed in haste. “That’s more than enough information at breakfast-time. Or any other time, for that matter.” Vince put down his spoon and held up his hands as if to ward off further grossness.

“No, really strange,” mused Howard, Vince’s pantomime failing to distract him. “Something fishy.”

“Suspicious, like?”



“Something else too… can’t place it, but definitely mackerel.”

“Must be some mangy cat then. There’s plenty round here. Well rough. Never pass the time of day with you.”

Howard tapped his teaspoon on his mug, still thoughtful.

“Maybe…” he chewed his toast for a moment, some undefined worry creasing his brow. Vince watched him cannily as he shovelled in the cheerios.

Then Howard's face cleared. He smiled at Vince. Vince grinned back and some cheerios fell out. Things were back to normal.


And so it was that the first sign passed unnoticed.




The next morning, full of pleasant anticipation, Vince woke to the sleepy, early chatter of cross, overheated birds and the stealthy pad of Howard's feet down the corridor. The back door opened. By the window, Vince wriggled his shoulders in excitement, only to be greeted by silence. Puzzled, he leaned out a bit more. Howard was stooping to pick something up off the back step, a bin-bag in his hand. Straightening up, he strode over to the wheelie-bin they now kept in the yard, wrapping up the bag as he did so. He tossed it into the bin, paused for a moment looking in, then closed the lid and walked back towards the shop.


And looked up.


Started blue eyes met startled brown.


“Mornin’!” Vince attempted a cheeky smile.

“You’re awake? I mean, you’re awake! It’s six o’clock!”

“Well, early birds and all that Howard. Besides, it’s a bit too hot to sleep, innit?” He studied his nails disingenuously, then looked up.

“What's going on down there, Howard? I mean the bag and everything?”


Howard still stood transfixed. This was Vince as he’d never see him before. No, scratch that. He suddenly realised he was seeing Vince as he’d never seen him before.


The sleep-ruffled black hair, the cheeky quirk of the lips, the impossible spade of a nose that nevertheless made him look almost elfin, the extraordinary clarity of the blue eyes. All of it better for clubbing-free nights, but all so…. all so….


He swallowed hard and tried a smile back at the puzzled grin, illuminated in the window by early sunlight and wreathed in flowers. He wondered briefly when they’d installed a window-box, but then he realised it was Vince’s kimono framing the scene,


“Cuppa tea?”




Vince contemplated his friend over his steaming mug. Troubled, definitely troubled. He’d forgotten what fun it was to watch each little thought flicker over Howard’s face. And it was a nice face, he remembered. Very nice indeed.


He waited.


“There was something else on the back step this morning. A rat.”

Vince looked grave. “Dead?” he enquired, solemnly.

“Um… yes, dead.”

“Black, white, brown or piebald?”

“What? Oh, brown I suppose. Yes, light brown.”

“No-one I know, then.”


“Hmmmm?” Vince was nose-deep in his mug.

“It had been beheaded.”

“What! Executed?”

“No, I mean something had bitten its head off. It was just lying by the body like a little… a little… “


“Yes, head. So I wrapped it all up and put it in the bin. Weird thing to be there.”

“Those mangy cats again.” said Vince. But he was feigning indifference. Howard’s brain was working overtime, and none of it looked good.

“Look,” Vince continued, “maybe it was a mob hit. These rats are into some well suspect stuff around here. Or maybe someone’s sending Naboo a warning, ‘cos of his dodgy brownies. There’ve been quite a few complaints lately.”

“Maybe.” Howard looked doubtful. “Well, we’ll ask him later.”

A pause. Vince cocked an eyebrow.

“Well, what else?”

“Er… there was this smell…”
“Oh, Howard, please! Enough of the nasal musings! Mackerel, it’s a cat. Tuna, it’s a cat…”

“No!” The sharp syllable shut Vince up in a flash. “No,” softer this time, “vaguely bathroom-y, like shampoo. As well as stinky.”

“An odd combination, Sherlock Moon. Now, you gonna make some more tea, or what?”


He waited for the next thought to twitch across Howard’s face. He was pretty good at working out what it might be.

But it took him by surprise nonetheless.


“You going out tomorrow night?”


Vince swallowed a mouthful of tea in a defensive reflex. Was Howard on to him?

“Dunno yet.” He tried for nonchalance. “Why d’you ask?”

“Oh… nothing, it’s just… No, never mind.”


Vince saw thoughts flicker and disappear, too fast to log. So he threw in a little surprise of his own.

“But tonight I’m not!” he announced on impulse. Howard raised an eyebrow. “No, tonight let’s stay in, hey Howard? Watch a movie? You can maybe show me your stamp collection again. You haven’t done that for ages…”


This is it, thought Howard. Clearly there was something seriously wrong. Vince was behaving uncharacteristically, un-Vince-ily, rationally.

“Vince… er… are you feeling okay, by the way? Not feverish or anything?”

Vince looked perplexed, stemmed in mid-flow.

“Only… you’ve not been out much recently, and then waking up before six, and now staying in… Should I get you some paracetamol?”

“Howard, don’t be a plank! I’m fine! I just thought it would be a nice change tonight. Look…” He grabbed the Gazette from the counter and pointed to the BBC 4 listings. “Look, a programme about bassoons! With that Alan Nutjob bloke you like to listen to! You watch that, and while you do, I’ll cook dinner…”


He couldn’t fail to register the flash of desperate fear on Howard’s face at the idea of Noir in the kitchen, even though the other recovered as fast as he could.

“No! No! I mean, that would be lovely, but… are you sure you don’t need a lie-down, Vince? You’re beginning to worry me a bit.”

Vince frowned. Howard changed his tack. “Look, that would be lovely, but hardly fair on you.”
“Well, that’s true, Howard…”

“So why don’t I get a takeaway – your choice – and then we’ll watch a movie. How about ‘School of Rock’?”



And so it was the second sign passed unnoticed too.




It was a pleasant evening. More than pleasant. Naboo and Bollo came home early and watched the movie with them, Naboo brushing off Vince’s queries about possible enemies, contract killings and hash cakes.

“Don’t be thtupid. As if anyone around here’th got the gumpthion…”


There was tea, a bit of crimping, relaxed laughter, a lot of smiling. Standing by his bedroom door, Howard reflected on how his face hurt from all the smiling. A nice hurt.


Vince watched him from down the corridor.

“’Night then, Howard.”

“’Night, little man.”

Howard’s eyes widened, albeit imperceptibly, with shock at what had slipped out. Vince just beamed. Then their eyes locked and something passed between them. Something sad, something happy. Something full of loss and longing, and yet … the hint of promise. And neither of them understood it.

“Sleep well, then.”


And Vince did, at first, despite the oppressive heat. He walked through a sunlit pasture of cheerful flowers, sensing a solid presence by his side, always there but unseen. It made him happy. And after walking and walking, he came to a house, made entirely of chewy cola bottles. Genius! You could kind of see through it, in a funny way. He turned to call to his silent friend beside him, and his friend was gone.



No longer genius.


He spun back to face the house. With a broad crack it split down one side and the cola bottles tumbled out, bouncing everywhere. He had to jump to avoid them. And with that he woke with a start, conscious even then that the sound in his dream was something related to the shop. He lay tense and motionless, ears straining. He thought he heard Howard’s door open and waited. Nothing else happened. Howard would surely call him if he were needed. Howard would…. Howard….


He woke again, no longer happy; now full of foreboding. A few hours of fitful sleep had passed. He pursed his lips and stared at the ceiling.

“Now is the time for action,” he told himself. “or something”. Tea, probably.


Down the corridor he could see Howard’s door ajar. He tiptoed along the thin carpet and peered in. Nobody. The bed was rumpled as if the covers had been thrown back suddenly and with force. Very un-Howard-like.


Vince padded downstairs, tying the kimono sash in a firm knot. He noticed he was shivering in the pre-dawn darkness. In the shop the lights were all on. Howard was sitting at the table in the back room in his vest and pants (hot weather sleeping attire) holding an object – a package? He had his back to Vince, and was staring out at the dark yard. The sudden appearance of Vince’s reflection made him jump. He twisted in his chair and attempted to conceal the object under the table.


“What’s going on, Howard?”

“I have no idea.” It was said heavily, the worry lines creasing Howard’s face deeply. “I heard

a noise.”

 “Me too! But… um… I went back to sleep. I thought you’d...”

“I came downstairs.” Howard was barely listening. “Someone had thrown something through the window.” He gestured to the floor and Vince finally noticed that the small pane to one side of the door was smashed. Broken glass glittered in the harsh strip lighting.


Not swept up. Very un-Howard-like as well.


“About one o’clock.”

“That was, like, three hours ago! Have you stayed down here since then, you jazzy freak?”

“I was waiting.”

“For what?”

“In case something else happened.”

Something else. The words hung heavy in the air between them.

“And did it?”



Vince grinned, determined to snap Howard out of his introspection. “It was probably just kids, trick or treating…”

“Vince, it was one a.m. And it’s July.”

“Or a disorientated bat, or… or….” He tailed off. Howard’s shifty look and hidden hands prompted his brain cell.

“Threw what?”

“You said ‘threw something’! Threw what, Howard? Not more shampoo?”

It was meant in jest, but Howard’s expression as he looked up made Vince start.

“Show me,” he demanded, holding out a hand.

Howard sighed and placed the object he was holding on the table.


It was a doll. Or rather two bits of dolls. The body and limbs were those of an Action Man. The head and neck rammed onto the torso had come from some Barbie lookalike. It had long black hair. Wrapped around the arms and upper body was a long, raggedy twist of dirty tinsel. From its neck to its hips ran a jagged black mark as if carved with something. A knife? Or maybe a claw? An odour, faint but entirely repellent, hung around it.


With fastidious fingers, Vince turned it over. Haphazard letters scrawled down the broad plastic back to spell a name.




He considered it for a long moment, then flipped it over again. When finally he looked up, he saw his friend watching him, brown eyes full of concern. Vince’s heart missed a beat.


He looked back at the doll, pursing his lips again (a good look, he thought, well intellectual).

“If this is meant to be me,” he said, gesturing to the doll’s square chest and well-developed biceps, triceps and pectorals, “then I’ve been working out more than usual lately.”


A longer pause. Howard drew a breath and spoke.

“Vince. He’s back.”



A/N: Can you guess who it is yet?


There’s a clue tucked away in here in a rather obscure reference to an early version of the latest Live Show…. J


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