When I started this blog back in April 2012, one of my goals was to tell people about my books whilst looking for a publisher. Along the way, I enjoyed blogging so much that I ended up writing about anything and everything, so that the books don’t appear as often as I would have liked. I always aimed to publish one fragment from them every month, and this time, it’s the turn of the hypnotist Brey, who is having a bad day in my first novel, The Adventures of Siskin and Valderan:
Brey returned to his dressing room with the sound of laughter and applause trailing behind him. People slapped his back as he strutted down the narrow wooden corridors backstage. Clowns congratulated him and dancing girls cheered his name. He could not help but stifle a smirk. When he smiled, long creases opened up around his mouth. On stage and off, he put a sticky substance in his sandy hair, combing it upwards in spikes. With his slim frame, tight white clothes and red lips, he looked like a starving pelican that had pecked at its chest to feed its young with its own blood.
Expecting to be alone in his dressing room, Brey went in, shut the door, and flicked the bolt across. All the way down the corridor, he had been twirling a golden object on a chain. Before doing anything else, he dropped this into a velvet-lined box, and closed it with a snap. Then he turned around, and gave a yelp. Sitting on his stool in front of the looking glass, there was a monkey.
Brey recognised it immediately. The rough, reddish fur, the scarlet face, and the tail that had been cut in half. Most of all he recognised the eyes, though they were now dark, determined and angry. It had been hard work to hypnotise the monkey. Almost an hour had passed before he had broken its will. Its name escaped him, until his uninvited visitor introduced himself.
“Scrubber Rust,” said the monkey, neither doffing his head nor proffering a paw. “I would add ‘at your service’, but I’m not. Fact is, if any cove is going to be of use to anyone, it’s going to be you to me.”
“What … what do you want? What am I doing?,” said Brey. “A talking monkey! It’s absurd! A trick! A ventriloquist is hidden somewhere here.”
“No, no, mate. Don’t you go playing your games with me. And you can take your hand away from that box too – I see what you’re reaching for. You and that little metal chain, you can do wonders with that, can’t you?” The Scrubber nodded knowingly. His victim moved his hands back so that they were hanging by his sides. “My memory’s coming back, right, and I can see you in my dreams. Both the ones at night and the ones that come to me in the day. Oh yes, I know you what you are, ‘Mister’ Brey.”
“Help! A mon –” shouted Brey. But the noise from the stage was loud, and drowned out his voice. He never got out more than those two words, as the Scrubber was already in action.
Scrubber had learned from his mistakes. This time, he blew bubbles from his clay pipe straight at Brey’s face, the same bubble mixture István had used against him. The Scrubber had stolen some crystals before he escaped from the blumman’s mansion and now, mixed with water, it came to good use. It worked much more quickly on Brey. One bubble floated inside his mouth. His eyes burnt and went red. Soon he was bent double, choking and sobbing. With startling speed, the Scrubber was on Brey’s back, tying his hands together with rope. The monkey moved so fast that his victim was powerless to resist. Just as fast, a rope was tied around his feet so that Brey was on the floor, trussed up like a lamb. Though barely able to speak, he was just about to scream when he felt a cool, round metal circle pressing against the side of his head.
Scrubber Rust held the pistol to Brey’s temple. The gun was so large that the monkey needed two hands to hold it, and even then his elbows were shaking with the weight. He grinned in satisfaction.
“Don’t,” said the monkey. “Don’t you make a bleeding sound, or the next audience you’ll be surprising will be the guards of the City Watch when they drag your fish-eaten carcass out of the harbour.”
“And you’ll put me there, will you?” Spat Brey.
“Don’t you worry about that. This ain’t no toy. It ain’t no stage pistol neither. This here’s a real weapon, and if I did lose my patience, like ’cos you’s screaming and that, well, it might just go off and paint those posters on the wall behind you with bits of bone and brain. None of which will be mine.”
“Murderous monkey!” Hissed Brey. “What do you want with me?”
“I want my memory back. I want you to put back what you took away,” Scrubber Rust squinted angrily.
“Oh, I wish I had never heard of István and his obsession with talking apes. I had no idea that you were all so dangerous.” Brey clenched his teeth in disgust, giving him a distinctly horsey appearance.
“Are you listening to me, Matey? I asked you a question. What is missing from my mind?”
Footsteps sounded in the corridor and the Scrubber froze. The monkey waved his gun towards the door.
Fortunately, the visitor moved away, and the monkey returned to his victim with renewed venom in his voice. He was surprised at how easy it was to play the role of brutaliser, even when his victim was four or five times taller than he was, and a lot heavier besides. Nevertheless, his threats were not getting an immediate response, perhaps because the bubbles had worked too well. Brey was snivelling. Lines of snot oozed from his nostrils. Tears welled in his eyes and his mouth was so raw that he made a gagging noise whenever he tried to speak.
“Come on, come on, I ain’t got all day,” the monkey insisted. “Don’t think one of your mates is going to save you neither. I’m a match for any of the jugglers, jesters and clowns that run around your big top.”
“He … István wanted to erase everything in your mind from the week before you came to his house. He didn’t tell me what to take or why he wanted it done. I just had to make you forget. I did as I was bid.”
“That was it? He didn’t tell you why? I didn’t let anything slip myself?”
“Nothing … except he said that I should take out everything regarding –”
“Regarding who? Speak man! Speak!”
“Regarding Valderan. István told me to remove Valderan from your mind. And his family too. I remember that. His wife, and he has children.”
“Valderan.” The Scrubber shook his head angrily from side to side. “So it’s gone. That cunning old cove. That slippery sidewinder. He steals seven days of my life and leaves me with nothing to show for it except one hell of a pain in the neck, and the pleasure of roughing you up, you pathetic, snivelling wreck!”
“But it’s not all gone. Your memory, I mean,” said Brey. “I can bring it back.”
“What do you mean?”
“I have hidden the memories, yes, but nothing is lost forever. They’re still there in your mind somewhere. I could go in there, and bring them back.”
“Oh yeah, with your little spinning thing. Ha, ha, ha. No, I wasn’t born yesterday, and I’ll not put myself under your power again. I dread to think what you might do to my mind this time. No, no, and I won’t go to no other hypnotist neither. You all sup from the same soup, you lot do. One hypnotist learns his tricks from another, I wager. That’s how it works all right. No, one piece of information will be enough for me. This Valderan – where do I find him?”
“He’s not in the city. He’s gone. That much I know.”
“His house then. His family. Where are they?”
“It’s on Doge Anech XIII Street. Very near the Diagonal. Number 18. Everyone knows it. Especially underworld types, you understand.”
“I understand, all right. I’ll be on my guard when I go to see this Valderan or his wife or child.”
“Happy to be of service,” said Brey as he continued snorting and spluttering on the floor.
“Right kind, you were too. That’s all I need from you. Now, Mr Brey, let’s see if we can find a little gag –”
“No! No! Don’t leave me like this. I helped you, didn’t I?”
“Oh sure, you helped me – with a gun pointed at your head.”
“I’d have told you what you needed even without the gun.”
“Believe it too, I do.”
“There’s no reason to gag me. Someone might not come for days. I keep myself to myself. Have pity.”
“You steal a week of my life, and you ask me for pity?”
“I didn’t steal anything from you. Just because you don’t remember something, doesn’t mean it never happened.”
“Yeah, yeah, yeah” said Jackanapes, taking off Brey’s boot and stuffing one of his socks into his mouth. “Very philosophical. I’ll tell you what, it’ll give you something to think about, while you’re waiting for help to arrive.”
Brey tried to answer, but his voice was muffled by the sock.
“Right I’ll be off. Who knows, if it is very awful lying trussed up on the floor with a sock in your mouth, maybe you can get a hypnotist to remove the memory from your mind afterwards? It’ll be like it never happened, and then I won’t need to feel bad about it either. Anyway, they’ll find you sooner or later, assuming they’ve got balls enough to knock down the door.”
Satisfied that Brey could not call for help, the Scrubber proceeded to rob him of everything edible and valuable in the room, including his golden chain. All of these things the Scrubber shoved in a sack, before fleeing out of the window. It was such a small space that only a monkey or a cat could leave from it, so he knew that pursuit would be futile. Just before he went, Scrubber felt a twinge of conscience. So he bounded over the room and unlocked the bolt. Then, with a last wink to Brey, he fled across the rooftops of the houses below the Unicorn Theatre.
It had been a good day’s work but the Scrubber still felt slightly concerned. His next task would be to go to Valderan’s house and to speak to the man’s wife. If his experiences with István were anything to go by, the monkey was beginning to fear for the mysterious woman’s life.
(c) Alastair Savage 2013