Yellow Mama Archives

Andrew J. Kolarik
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Christine’s Tune

by Andrew Kolarik


 

Vince Carnahan stared down at the Lindow Man’s distended jaw and curled his lips in distaste. Over his headphones, Tim Hardin was singing Smugglin’ man to a live audience in a voice that sounded like he was itching all over, boasting how he sold guns to the A-rabs, he sold dynamite to the Jews. The info on the exhibit said that the Lindow Man had been savagely beaten and knifed before being left to drown and petrify in the depths of a Somerset bog. How did he end up in a display case in the British Museum? That’s what you get for being murdered two thousand years ago, thought Carnahan. You couldn’t display someone murdered a few days ago, you had to wait the requisite amount of time before they’re fair game. What made this guy a top draw was the savage, thrilling way he had gone out; it made people come and drool over the corpse, just like they did with Jesse James after he got shot in the back by one of his friends. Now that guy was still warm when he got put up for two bits a gander. ‘…I’m-a selling them slaves…’ sang old Timmy. Maybe the itching in his voice was down to the unbelievable amount of heroin flooding Timmy’s veins, thought Carnahan idly. No rehab back in the sixties.

   Carnahan leaned his head against the glass case and closed his eyes. He had come because he wanted to look at the Lindow Man before he went to get interviewed about Christine, who had shot herself in the head onstage two weeks ago. Thinking about the way the live video of her death had been on rotation on all the news channels, Carnahan reflected that maybe nowadays you didn’t have to wait too long before your corpse gets put up for public display.

***

There was a crowd of swarming cheering fans outside the BBC offices.

   ‘Hello Mr Carnahan,’ said a kid in a grey anorak. Carnahan nodded at him.

   ‘What’s your name, kid?’

   ‘Steven. I was there at your last concert with Christine.’ He handed Carnahan a band photo. While he scrawled something unintelligible across it the kid started getting really excited.

   ‘It was the last Rock ‘n Roll cliché left, wasn’t it, Mr Carnahan? “I hope you all enjoyed the show!” Then, Blam! What a statement, huh?’

   ‘Yeah, it was quite something,’ said Carnahan, rubbing at the stubble on his chin. He stayed for another few minutes, signing autographs and posing for photos, and then made his way inside. The kid had reminded him of another fan they had met. Five years ago, was it? As he got in the lift Carnahan scratched, trying to remember.

***

Laos, the tour in Laos. It was like they had this cult there, with Christine as their rock ‘n roll idol bent on self-destruction. This guy comes up to Christine with a little decorative box. He opens it and shows her these little scalpels nestling on velvet.

   ‘These are for you, Christine. I want you to cut yourself with them onstage, for me.’

   ‘How about I cut you up with them right here?’ she snarls, and kicks him in the groin. ‘Moron!’ she spits as he doubles over, and his face makes a crunching sound as she stamps on it with a combat boot. Here. It’s at this point where we seem to pick up something, something that we can’t shake off. And things start to spiral down from here on in…

***

Interview over, Carnahan left the studio with his son Jeremy in tow, who had been dropped off by his aunt. Jeremy was a plump, cheerful little thing, just short of his fifth birthday. Terry and his wife Kat caught them up as they were going through the revolving doors.

   ‘Yo. Vince!’

   Jeremy ran to hug Terry’s leg, smiling widely as he let go of Carnahan’s hand. Kat said a brief hello and lightly kissed Carnahan on the cheek.

   ‘Vince, my dear boy, so very good to see you,’ said Terry, the lying toad.

   ‘Cut the James Mason routine Terry, it’s nice to see you too.’ Carnahan rubbed his jaw in the spot where Terry had slugged him just over a week and a half ago, then adjusted his sunglasses. He’d be damned if he was going to let Terry see his eyes.

   ‘Kat. Looking good, sweetheart.’

   ‘And how are things with you, Jezza?’ asked Terry. ‘Tell your Dad to remind the General he still owes him fifty quid from that night in Providence. The tight git.’

   General Sherman had been their drummer, but Carnahan had lost track of him in the last few days. The General had been with them from the start, unlike Terry, who joined them after three other bassists had been and gone.

   ‘You know, Chris bet me that you would never join in with those loons. But you didn’t let me down, Vince.’

   Terry was just about the only person in all of creation who called Carnahan by his first name. When they played in Providence on their last tour, they had joined up with this travelling sado-masochistic circus. After they’d hit the clubs, Carnahan vaguely remembered staggering through the hotel as the sounds of Urdu chants ghosted down the smoky hallways, feeling dislocated as chemicals thudded through his heart and spectral hands reached out to paw at his clothes. Some of the circus guys started hammering nails into bits of their anatomy. The General had bet Carnahan fifty pounds that he hadn’t got the balls to join in, and Carnahan had been so loaded he nailed his scrotal sac to the floor boards. How Christine and the General had shrieked with laughter.

   ‘Huh. I’ll remind that anal vampire myself, Terry, if I can find him. He’s gone to ground. That was the night after we put Chris into the Faraday cage onstage in Boston wasn’t it?’

   ‘You know I watched your interview, you were good. Vince, you wanna get a drink or two? I got a few things I wanted to talk to you about. Maybe Kat could take Jeremy for a bit?’

   ‘Yeah, why not?’ Jeremy took Kat’s hand, and she took him into the city, promising to catch up with them in a few hours. Carnahan followed Terry into the maze of side streets.

***

The pub Terry took him to was a typical swanky old London dive, pretty much empty, with a massive fireplace and an interior carved up into separate booths with gilded ceilings so low you couldn’t avoid cracking your skull open when you turned around. Carnahan leaned back in his chair, languid and boneless as a jellyfish. Terry kept the drinks coming while keeping up a chatter of inconsequential bollocks through a cloud of cigarette smoke, until he finally got to the point around pint number six.

   ‘That interviewer, making out that Chris was some goddamn icon of her generation. Truth is, Chris was an irresponsible hellcat. Remember when she leapt feet first into the audience from the speaker stack? Shooting herself in the head to end the show, nothing but self-indulgence.’

   Now he’s trying to wind me up, thought Carnahan. Despite his marriage to Kat, Terry had always fancied Christine, not that she ever gave a toss about him. So just to rile the fucker, Carnahan told him, ‘Hellcat is an understatement. You know she had this fantasy about being taken hard against a brick wall? We tried it in the back streets of Pontcanna in Cardiff. She tore these great chunks of flesh out of my shoulders with those filthy spatula nails of hers as I held her up. We used to fuck for hours. It was great.’

   Terry eyed Carnahan, but refused to be drawn. ‘I’ve been thinking. You buy it that Chris wanted to shoot herself?’

   Carnahan shrugged. ‘Pretty cut and dried, innit?’

   ‘Well here’s the thing. A friend of mine, the doc who was the first to get onstage, he pronounced her dead there and then, nothing he could do for her. Cause of death was craniocerebral trauma.’

   ‘No joke. I was a few feet away from her, remember? So were you.’

   ‘But he swears blind, that although most of the tissue and brain matter that spattered from the gunshot came from Christine, a lot of it was pretend. This news to you, Vince?’

   Fishing! thought Carnahan. The fucker was fishing. He’s after something and no mistake. Patient too, waiting for me to loosen up after six pints while he’s sipping away on his cranberry juice. Prick.

   ‘Come again?’ said Carnahan.

   ‘Fun-blood. And imitation bits of skull,’ murmured Terry, stirring some of his spilled pint with his thumb. ‘Doc said he’d seen enough of the real thing to know the difference. Know what I think? That Chris didn’t really mean to shoot herself. I reckon she wanted to pull some tasteless brain-dead stunt with blanks and fake blood. But someone,’ he waggled a self-important finger in the air, ‘replaced the blanks with real bullets.’

   Terry took a drag on his cig, breathed twin plumes of smoke in slow trails from his nostrils. ‘What you make of that?’

   ‘This is the first I heard of any fake blood. Why didn’t this crop up at the inquest?’

   ‘There wasn’t enough evidence left on account of the stampede that rushed the stage. As for the body, well, you grabbed it pretty quick, didn’t you? Took her out to sea, put her on a lifeboat, then set it on fire. They never did recover the remains. Her family loved you for that, didn’t they?’

   Terry had become rather animated, though he tried to hide it. The muscles in his face were working and twitching and his Adam’s apple was rising and falling in his turkey-like neck. His skin was pale and blotchy, he was sweating and slurring, and Carnahan felt a flicker of interest as to what was wrong with him.

   Carnahan grinned. ‘That’s the way she wanted to go out. Made me promise to do it if anything happened to her. I’ve been through all that with the police.’

   ‘So you say. Yeah, well, that put paid to any investigation of the body.’

   Cocksucking motherfucker. Two can play at that game, thought Carnahan.

   ‘This doctor friend of yours. It wasn’t Herbert by any chance, was it?’

   Terry turned shifty. ‘Yuhhuh.’

   ‘He was a surgeon once, wasn’t he? You know how he got booted out of the profession? He told me once, I asked him why he was working at the Fairground and not in a big fancy hospital. He told me that he did once work in a big fancy hospital, but now… how did he put it? His love of sampling the myriad medicinal drugs on offer had scuppered that particular endeavour. A friend had some pills that made him see pretty pink bubbles floating across his visual field, and Herb wanted to try it out. Well, Herb said that was when he found out that drugs affect people differently according to their mental landscape, because instead of seeing pretty pink bubbles he experienced the Rapture. He took the pills, waited around and nothing happened. Then he gets called in to do an emergency operation, and that’s when it kicked in. He told me, “You cannot know, young Vince, how hard it is to perform surgery with fire and brimstone raining down around you.”

   Carnahan took a long swig and drained the pint glass. ‘And now Herbert’s coming up with some nonsense about fake blood and brains? I’m not surprised that no-one believed him. So. What you’re telling me is that I took Chris’ body to cover up the fact that she hadn’t meant to kill herself after all. That what you trying to say? Cos the way I figure it, what you’re going to say next if you got the balls to come out with it, is that I covered it up cos I was the one that put the bullets in the gun. Now you tell me. Why the fuck would I want to kill Chris?’

   ‘You were pretty cut up after she finished playing around with you and married Rob.’

   ‘Rob’s gone, remember? A few months before Chris shot herself. He ended up splashed against the rocks near Blaenau Ffestiniog along with his motorbike. I always reckoned that was what made Chris do what she did. That and what happened to Ed and Lou.’

   When Ed and Louis had left the band, Christine took out a signed, full-page ad with their pictures in one of the music papers, entitled “If you see these traitors, kill them in my name.” Someone took it seriously, and Ed and Louis’s hacked up bodies were found a few weeks later.

   ‘It’s funny, you know,’ said Terry. ‘Rob told me that you were helping him repair his bike, just before the accident.’

   ‘I hear you. So first I did Rob, and then I fixed it so that Chris went the same way. Quite the list I’m working through, according to you.’

   ‘You never liked Ed and Lou either…’

   ‘Yeah, and I don’t much like you. You got any proof? Or you just making this all up?’

   Terry pulled a slim notebook out of the back pocket of his jeans. ‘Christine’s diary. Proves that she was planning to fake killing herself.’ Next to come was a slip of paper from his wallet. ‘This is an order note for the bullets that got loaded in the gun. Addressed to you.’

   ‘Yeah, well Chris asked me to get those bullets. Said she wanted to practise with live rounds on a shooting range.’

   ‘And finally…’ With a flourish Terry fished his mobile phone out and started playing a video in grainy black and white. ‘A copy of the venue’s CCTV footage of the gun being loaded. There was a security camera backstage, it’s in the corner and very subtle, hard to spot in the middle of all the junk but it was there alright. Look at the video. It’s not Christine doing the loading, is it?’

   Carnahan peered at the screen, which showed a man wearing a baseball hat. The man checked around carefully, then took the bullets from the gun and replaced them with new ones. Occasionally he’d turn and you’d see a glimpse of him in profile, most of the time he had his back to the camera. But there was no denying it, thought Carnahan. The man really did look like him.

   ‘It’s pretty weak, Terry. Its grainy and you can’t see his face.’

   ‘Oh, it’s you alright. With a little signal processing to clean it up, I think we’ll get something decent. You saying this isn’t yourself now, Vince?’  

   Carnahan said nothing. Terry leaned forwards. ‘Rob was a friend of mine, so were Ed and Lou. And I loved Chris. I’ll get you yet, sunshine. Get you good and see you go down, even if I won’t be around for long.’

   ‘Kind of confident, aren’t you? None of this is exactly damning.’

   ‘My lawyer tells me it’s enough to bring charges against you and get an investigation under way. With a little more digging, I’m sure more will come out. You weren’t too careful about covering your tracks. I would have liked to take a little bit longer, but I really need to get moving on this.’

   Carnahan leaned back, tilting his chair. ‘Come again?’

   Terry swallowed. Trying to keep his voice firm, he said, ‘I guess you’ll find out soon enough. I got AIDS.’

   Carnahan brayed with laughter, had to wipe a tear away because he was laughing so hard.

   Terry was shaking his head. ‘You’re going to hell. You know that? Bastard. Fucking weasel.’

   ‘No doubt you’ll get there first.’

   Terry brought his hand up to the edge of the table, covering it with his coat. Carnahan stiffened as he saw the snout of a snub-nosed pistol pointing at him.

   ‘Real bullets, my boy, these are real bullets. You believe me, don’t you?’

   Carnahan nodded. Terry was looking a lot less drunk than he had been a few minutes ago. No more shaking, no more sweating. The gun was still and trained on him. Terry took a tape recorder from his pocket and placed it on the table.

   ‘You know, I really was hoping you’d shoot your big mouth off and say something incriminating, strengthen the case against you. But you are far too clever to do that, aren’t you? Never mind, we’ve got enough. Time to go, Vince. The police station is just down the road. Want to come with me?’

   ‘Walking into a police station with a gun trained on someone? It’s you they’re gonna arrest.’

   Terry shrugged. ‘Safer this way. I’m not going to risk you doing to me what you did to Chris. Fine. If that’s the way you want it I’ll call them to come get us.’ Terry pocketed the tape recorder and picked up his phone, started to dial.

   ‘But I know for a fact that your evidence is a load of horse hockey.’

   ‘How’s that?’

   ‘Because Chrissie is still alive.’

   Some of the bluster went out of Terry. He stopped dialling and looked like a pale and penitent cockroach.   

   ‘Herbert always was a useless sack of crap, and he was wrong about Chris. She’s not dead, but she has very serious brain damage. You don’t believe she meant to shoot herself? Well, you can ask her yourself. She’s at a clinic near here. I paid a lot of money to keep it quiet.’

   ‘You’re a lying shitbird. If she’s still alive then take me to her.’

   ‘You sure you want to see her, Terry? She’s not what you remember, just a drooling, brain damaged creature slumped in a wheelchair in the living room. She’s paralysed down her left hand side, can barely form words, mostly just grins moronically at a point about a foot behind your head.’

   ‘You’re full of it.’

   ‘I’m going to take a leak, then I’m gonna take you to her, and we’ll see who’s talking out of their backside.’

   ‘No. What is going to happen is that we’re going to the station, pal, and then the fuzz can check out your story about Chris. I ain’t falling for it and there’s no way I’m letting you make a run for it. But I need to go drain the lizard too. You go first chief, I’m right behind you.’

   Terry followed Carnahan into the toilets, positioning himself uncomfortably close to him at the urinals, glaring at him the whole time, the gun following his every move. He punched 999 into his phone. ‘Chris is alive, yeah right. The balls on you for making that up…’

   Terry shifted his eyes down to zip himself up. He pressed the green phone icon to make the call, and felt sharp, sudden pressure against the back of his head. The tiled white wall rushed to meet his face and Terry crumpled into an untidy heap. The gun and phone clattered on the floor. Carnahan, who had payed close attention to the layout of the pub on his previous trips to the toilets and noted how they were placed by the rear exit that led to the bins in the alley out back, checked that the coast was clear. He picked up the gun and phone, grabbed Terry by the scruff of the neck, hauled him outside and tipped him into one of the larger, smellier dumpsters. He dusted himself off and went to fetch his van. On the way he cleared the numbers onscreen from Terry’s phone, and then the call history, just to be sure.

***

The stars were stark against the black of the night sky, and the sliver of moon hardly shone with any light at all. The water slopped and slurped against the sides of the boat as Carnahan manoeuvred it a little farther away from the coast. Jeremy was perched next to him.

   ‘Dad. What’s that smell?’

   ‘That’ll be the raw sewage, my boy. There’s an outflow pipe near here. I reckon this is just the place for Uncle Terry to sleep it off.’

   ‘Why is Uncle Terry sleeping, Dad?’

   ‘Uncle Terry had a little too much to drink,’ murmured Carnahan. That and a bread knife in the back. Carnahan still couldn’t quite believe how easily the lies he had told Terry about Chris being alive had come to him, but it was just enough for Terry to let his guard down for a moment. Had Terry told anyone else about his suspicions? What about that lawyer Terry mentioned? Carnahan shrugged. If something came up he’d deal with it. Fuck it. Terry and his haul of evidence would soon be joining Chris at the bottom of the water.

   Jeremy yawned and squirmed, bored. ‘Da-aad. What are you doing?’

   ‘Well, Uncle Terry’s going to go for a little swim, and you’re going to help me send him on his way.’ But Jeremy was looking at the lights of the pier in the distance.

   ‘Can we get an ice-cream? Please Dad.’

   ‘Sure, seeing as you asked so nicely. Just give me a hand with Terry here.’

   With Jeremy’s help Carnahan gave an almighty shove, and Terry made a very satisfying splash as he landed in the water, before disappearing into the stinking depths.

 

END


Hailing from Croydon, Andrew Kolarik spent ten years writing post-punk lyrics for live performance in London and Cardiff in the UK. His work has appeared in Pulp Metal MagazineSupernatural TalesCarillonEunoia Review, and Horla. He lives and works in Cambridge.

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