Title: URBAN WILDLIFE BLUES
Or, maybe not the tail you thought it was.
Part 5 of 9
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:
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.
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.
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?”
“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….
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.
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.
JOOS 4 BNMN MDNYT
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?”
“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.”
“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.”
“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.
“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.
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!”
~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~