It was May and it was sunny and Mandy was all smiles and cleavage. She personified self-satisfaction, like the hot chick who managed to get the rockstar away from his first wife and had cemented her position with a verified paternity test, and wife number three was still in a nursery somewhere in Brazil.
That’s a little harsh, maybe. There’s no reason why a drugged out singer is going to cheat on you with a younger model just because that’s how you got your claws into him. You never know what the future will bring — genetically-modified cocaine might have an unexpected side-effect that improves morals.
Like most people, I resent others being happier than me. In my case, that’s a lot of resentment of a lot of people.
Mandy exuded unbridled joy and it was frankly obscene. The world was full of misery and tragedy, and she had the gall to look like she might start whistling for no reason.
We all know that resenting others for their success is petty and the mark of a desperately insecure person. That’s why we all deny we do it. Oh, but it’s fun when someone falls from their bliss perch on high. Down they go and here they come, to spend some time with the rest of us in the pit.
She looked older and heavier. Not much older and perhaps the dress was giving her the illusion of a fuller figure, but you have to take solace where you can.
“How are you here?” I said.
“Same way you are, I guess,” she said, rocking the buggy back and forth while the kid gnawed on the belt holding him in, or holding him back.
The child was maybe one or two, I’m not a paediatrician. Despite my lack of medical qualifications, there was something very unusual about the little monster. I choose my words carefully.
He had an intense face with heavy features. Big jaw, large forehead, very pale skin. The teeth looked pointy but it was hard to see past the hairy little hands. Fine blond hairs that only glinted in the sunlight, but give it a few years and he’d be rocking hairy elbow-length gloves like a mini-Wolverine.
“You have a kid,” I said, not really knowing how else to bring it up. What is that? seemed a little tactless.
“This is Charlie.” Her eyes lit up, her heart grew two sizes. Must be nice to feel like a success just by having unprotected sex. “Charlie, this is Uncle Colin.”
The child grunted at me.
“Of course. What do you take me for?” I kept my mouth shut. “We’re married. I mean here, we got married properly, not some crazy pagan ritual.” She widened her eyes at me like we were reminiscing about the crazy times we shared.
“Charlie Cheng,” I said. “Catchy. Should grow up to be a fine detective.”
“Charles Biscuit Cheng,” Mandy said proudly, like that was an improvement. “Come on, we should go.”
“Go where?” I said.
“To see Cheng, of course. You want to see him, don’t you? He can answer your questions about interdimensional travel and all that nonsense better than I can.” She bent down to give the child a kiss on the head, while also giving the whole street a look down the top of her dress. Not slut-shaming, just slut-confirming. Charlie shouted, “Ach!” disapprovingly and moved his head away sharply. I was beginning to warm to him.
“Where is he?” I asked. “Is he, you know, wings and horns?”
“No!” said Mandy, like I’d said something offensive. “He looks like you. Well, not like you, but normal.”
Nice. Women, as we all know, are the masters when it comes to weaponising resentment. Mandy could stick the boot in as well as anyone.
“Why didn’t he come, then?”
Sending Mandy out on her own to meet some stranger she from the internet didn’t sound like the sort of thing a normal person would do. Unless he had complete trust and faith in her, and how normal is that?
“This was my idea. I thought others might make it back, so I set up a Google alert. What? You think I don’t know how to use a computer because I’m a girl?”
“I didn’t say anything.”
“You were thinking it. I’ll have you know my social media skills are top notch. Or they were until Cheng made me quit Facebook. He said he sensed great evil whenever I check my page. Anyway, he guessed it would be you when I found your page, but we have to be careful.” Mandy gave the child a soft toy to hold, which he snarled at and promptly threw on the street. “There are people who know about us.”
“What people? Men in Black?”
“No, silly.” She rolled her eyes at me. “They deal with aliens. This isn’t the government, they have no idea. This is some private organisation who want to find a way to get to where we went.”
“How do you know?”
“Cheng told me. He has ways of finding this stuff out.” She straightened up, tired of having to keep picking up rejected toys. “You know, special ways.”
“So magic works here?”
She looked at me with a lopsided twist of her lips, like she wasn’t sure I was being serious. “Yes. It works differently, but yes. Planning on threatening me with your powers?”
Our relationship had been built on a series of vicious threats made by me whenever our paths had crossed, which had been very effective. It is, of course, very politically incorrect to force a woman to behave like a decent human being through threats of violence and immolation, but it’s a fuck of a lot more effective than following Kylie Jenner on Instagram, so swings and roundabouts.
“No,” I said. “You aren’t that person anymore.”
“And what about you? Are you the same?”
“I have no idea what I am. What do you mean it works differently? How differently?”
“You really need to ask Cheng about these things. Come on, it’s not far. I’ve got a car waiting.”
“You’re driving?” I’m not sure why I found this a matter for concern. Women are perfectly good at driving. Perhaps it was this woman I didn’t trust to negotiate a busy junction. There’s something about confident women who think the world will stop for them without them needing to worry about it that makes me nervous in traffic.
“We have a driver.” Her irritation at my doubting her driving skills was nicely balanced by her pleasure at getting to boast about her chauffeur.
She turned the buggy around — it was the kind with three wheels and had a BMW badge on the front — and started walking with her head held high and her chest sticking out. I know I’m drawing a lot of attention to my view of her as an unrepentant strumpet, but don’t shoot the messenger just because he brings bad lewds.
I followed her down a side street where the cars were parked so close to each other it seemed unlikely any of them would be able to leave without the use of industrial-scale electromagnets. The kid was leaning out of the stroller making honking sounds.
“So, does your baby have any abnormal abilities?”
Mandy turned her head enough for me to let me see her scowl. “He’s perfectly normal and healthy. Cheng is half-human, you know.”
“And half not,” I said. “Have you seen Rosemary’s Baby?”
“I have actually. I thought it had a very happy ending.”
Sure, very jolly. Rosemary gets raped by a demon, betrayed by her husband and kidnapped by a cult. But she does come to love the child she’s forced to bear, so… yay?
The car was a Mercedes with tinted windows, but a minivan not a limousine. Very North London. The smartly suited driver jumped out to help stow the buggy, which collapsed into a small spacecraft that looked suitable for transporting the last survivor of Krypton.
“This is Tommy.” Tommy nodded at me. He was stocky and had a scar down one side of his face. Mandy leaned closer to me. “He’s ex-SAS,” she whispered through her perfume.
“These people we need to watch out for,” I said as we got in the back of the SUV, “are they dangerous?” Having an SAS driver seemed a bit extreme for a trip to the shops. We were nowhere near Tottenham.
“Not as long as we take care not to do anything out of the ordinary. They’re just watching us for now. They’re very rich, that’s all we know about them for sure. They can afford to outbid us on eBay.”
I was at a loss to understand the relevance of this tidbit of information.
We set off towards Hampstead, which wasn’t too far. It’s a leafy suburb of London with a lot of rich people in it. Not the evil rich who finance wars and own politicians, more the intellectuals who have romantic ideas about communism and always vote for the party that promises the biggest tax cuts.
The toddler sat in Mandy’s lap rather than in the safety seat, with the back of his head resting on Mandy’s boobs. He was a fat baby. No judgements. He looked pretty human, like Winston Churchill taking a shit. He grimaced, jaw clenched. Actually, I think he was doing just that.
“Good job,” said Mandy, bouncing him up and down. “Is mummy’s golden boy hungry?” She looked ready to pop out a tit, but then when did she not?
“Mrs Cheng,” said the driver. “I think we’re being followed.”
“Can you lose them?” said Mandy, as though this was completely normal.
I looked out of the rear window. It was a narrow street with three or four cars behind us, that I could make out. None of the occupants looked particularly menacing. Well, there was a Tesla driver who looked a bit smug, but that was to be expected.
“Which one?” I asked.
“The first three,” said the driver. And then he stepped on it and ran a red light.
London streets aren’t really made for car chases. They’re very narrow with parked cars on both sides and traffic lights every five metres. You have no hope of losing anyone by taking a sharp left and flooring it.
Tommy seemed to know a shortcut to somewhere, the way he cut through traffic and down tiny side streets. He made the moves of a pissed off dad late for the school run — no gap too small to slide in between.
There was no one behind us giving chase, but maybe they were smarter than that. What did they even want? If they’d been watching Cheng and Mandy for a while, why make their move now? The only thing that had changed was… my arrival.
The car came to a sudden stop and my face flew forward into the headrest of the seat in front. I tasted blood as my teeth bit into the inside of my face. When I looked up the driver was turned around in his seat with a gun in his hand. Not a real gun, this had a weird plastic yellow muzzle with wires sticking out of it. A taser?
“What the fuck is that supposed to be?” I mumbled through my bloody teeth. Old habits die hard, and my muscle memory still thought I was in the land of magic and fantasy where I didn’t get the shit beaten out of me by anyone bigger than me.
Through the windscreen, I could see another car, one with fancy rims, blocking the way forward. Two men were getting out.
The gun twitched, about to fire. I instinctively tried to grab it. My hand passed through the barrel. Magic confirmed to exist and to be at troll level 9000. Would that mean the gun would shoot through me and leave me unaffected? What do you think?
The baby growled.
I mean, properly growled, like an old woman’s pitbull eyeing the grandson who’d come to visit and was getting all the attention. Then Charlie threw up.
The spawn of Satan is known for their ability to projectile vomit, so little Charlie’s puke could have had nasty properties, maybe it would burn the guy’s face right off.
As it was, it just hit the guy’s hands and covered the gun in a stinky layer of yellow gunk.
The guy looked at his hand in disgust. Wasn’t he used to seeing a lot worse? Boys in turbans with half their head blown off and so on and so forth. His lips peeled back into a pained grimace and then he screamed. Fucking lightweight. My girlfriend took a faceful of acid for me and barely made a sound. No wonder the SAS kicked him out. This guy was definitely not dating material; swipe left.
The gun dissolved along with the hand, but not before he managed to pull the trigger and a barb stung me in the chest. So much for my theory I could phase through projectiles and bullets.
My body shuddered as a bajillion volts shot through me, and then it stopped as the gun fell apart.
Mandy shoved the kid, drooling corrosive bile (reminded me of his mother) and smiling. He smelled like he’d filled his nappy, although that might have been me. Mandy had the look of a woman who was not happy with the hired help. She slid the door aside and got out, pulled the driver side open and grabbed the guy by the collar.
The two approaching men ran towards us but were intercepted by a woman in a disability scooter, shouting they couldn’t stop in a school zone while filming them on her phone.
Tommy was shaking and shivering, his eyes and nose watering like a teenage girl who had just heard her favourite member of BTS was engaged to be married (what she doesn’t know is that it’s to her second favourite member of BTS).
Whatever was in baby’s spit, it had the kind of disinfectant effect that didn’t just kill 99.9% of all known germs, it went the full hundo, and that included germs like Two-Tap Tommy.
Mandy dragged him out with the superhuman strength of a mother protecting her cub, showing off the other advantage of going 21st century thicc, and dumped him in the street. There may have been a kick in the groin but it was hard to tell from where I was sitting.
She got in the driver seat and kicked the car into reverse. She drove with the alarm going off because she’d left the passenger door open and swung the car around. I winced. Not because of the barb sticking out of my chest or the baby dripped acid on my lap, but because women are notoriously bad at turning around in tight spaces. It would be horribly embarrassing to get caught while trying to execute a seventeen-point turn.
Mandy solved the problem of poor spatial awareness by hitting the parked cars on both sides and the floored the accelerator… in reverse. I was about to point out her mistake when two thumps demonstrated she knew what she was doing — not giving a shit.
We set off again, three bodies in the road behind us. They probably weren’t dead, and unlikely to report the accident.
“Sorry about that,” said Mandy, adjusting the rearview mirror and then rearranging her hair as she drove one-handed.
Driven through the narrow streets of London by an irate female driver busy fixing her hair and harbouring a strong dislike for other people’s wing mirrors — the baby clung to me and I to him, both of us experiencing fear like Tommy only wished he could induce in his victims.
Next two chapters are up now on Patreon.Afterword from Mooderino