When whizzkid City dealer Jon Summers cracks up under the strain of his job and a drink-and-drugs lifestyle, his wife arranges for him to recuperate at Arcadia. Jon inadvertently opens a door allowing the Scissorman into the world, to carve up frail human bodies with its razored hands.
Published by Gollancz (1997) – Currently Out of Print.
The room was spartan: a desk, a filing cabinet, a pot plant with browning leaves. A door led off on either side. No windows; they had selected it for the security. The doctor, a woman in her late 40s with greying hair pulled back in a pony tail, sat perched on the end of the desk, biting her nails anxiously as she studied a heavy folder. It took a second or two for her to register Culver and Miles had entered.
She nodded. “CID?” The two policemen introduced themselves. “I’m Dr Lansing. I’m glad you’re here.” She looked like she wanted to say more, but caught herself at the last moment.
“How’s the patient?” Culver asked.
“Patient X,” she replied. “That’s his designated title until we do a positive ID. He’s in a bad way.”
She went to the left hand door and opened it a crack. In the bright, white room, Culver and Miles could see what looked like an Egyptian mummy lying on a bed surrounded by a batch of monitoring machines. Over his eyes, two small black slits had been cut into the bandages that swathed his face, and a longer one near his mouth where two tubes snaked in.
“Jesus, he is in a bad way,” Miles whispered. “The bastard got what he deserved. But who did it to him? Was it self-inflicted?”
“I want to see him,” Culver said firmly.
“There’s no point. You won’t get anything out of him.”
“Has he said anything since he was brought in?”
She shook her head. “His injuries are so appalling, it’s possible his mind has simply switched off to cope with the pain. There wasn’t a single square inch of his skin which wasn’t cut. We stitched the deepest as best we could, but the rest…” Her voice trailed off. “I don’t know how much longer he can last. The trauma alone–”
“He’s the only chance we’ve got to find out what happened.” Lansing made to protest, but Culver pushed past her into the room, regretting it a second later. There was a feeling of electricity in the air which made him queasy. The smell of antiseptic was almost overpowering; Culver guessed they had swathed Patient X with it before applying the bandages, out of desperation more than anything else. Up close he could see the white bandages were turning pink at too many points.
He pulled up a chair and leaned forward, trying not to gag. “Can you hear me? It’s Detective Culver.”
If not for the machines bleeping, he might have been dead. Culver couldn’t find any room in him for pity.
“I need some answers. You must have been a witness to what happened.” He paused. “At least a witness.”
Culver waited for several heartbeats, then sighed. He should have known better to expect any easy answers. The case had been gearing up for a nightmare of conundrums from the very first murder.
Patient X moved his head almost imperceptibly towards Culver and tried to raise it. Anxiously, Culver leant forward and caught a glimpse of the eyes through the ragged slits; what he saw in them almost drove him from the room.
There was a barely audible sound. Culver lowered his ear close to the mouth and felt the patient’s breath on his lobe like a blast of air from a long-sealed room. It took almost a minute to force out the brief message and then Patient X rolled back and refused to acknowledge Culver any more.
Miles and Lansing watched him curiously as he exited. “You did well. I didn’t even think he could speak any more,” Lansing said.
“What did he say?” Miles asked.
Culver pushed past him. “Can I see the kid now?”
“Thankfully, he’s in much better shape,” Lansing said, leading them to the other door. “Physically, at least.”
The room was in darkness. She switched on the fluorescent striplamp, which flickered on and off with a noisy crackle of electricity, but refused to settle down in either light or dark; after the atmosphere of the other room, it made Culver feel nauseous. “I’ll have to get maintenance round,” Lansing sighed. “Bloody cutbacks.”
In the intermittent illumination, Culver caught sight of a boy of about six standing erect like a sentry in the corner of the room, his hands smartly behind his back. He was like a doll, with skin so clear and white it seemed to have a pearly lustre, eyes that were pools of shadow and black hair which flopped lusciously across his brow. No emotion was visible in his face. Culver couldn’t tell if the boy was frightened or traumatised; for a moment he even thought the child was watching them with the cold, dispassionate eye of someone much older.
“Is this how he was found?” Culver asked.
“He’s not spoken either,” Lansing replied. “And those clothes…” He was wearing pale breeches, a dark blue frockcoat and a frilled shirt.
“Maybe he was on his way to a fancy dress party,” Culver muttered. “The report said he was standing next to your man, just watching him.”
Lansing took a step back and whispered so the child couldn’t hear. “It’s quite the strangest thing. He looks like a little Victorian boy, don’t you think? And his eyes could just suck you up. They’re so big and dark, like a wise, sensitive old man.”
“Hang on a minute,” Miles barked. “He’s got something in his mouth.”
The light flashed off, on, off. Culver peered, but could see nothing.
“Just an illusion,” Lansing said.
“No. I can see his cheeks moving.” Miles squatted down in front of the boy. “You have, haven’t you? Come on, sonny, spit it out.”
Culver could see it now. The boy’s cheek was bulging like it contained an enormous gobstopper. “Leave him alone, Miles. He’s having you on.”
Miles put his fingers to the boy’s lips, but they remained clamped tightly shut. “You better do what I say,” Miles muttered. “You don’t want to get in trouble, do you?”
Futilely, he tried to prise the lips apart until the weight in the boy’s mouth shifted. The child pursed his lips and Culver saw a glint of white teeth. His senses, honed during a lifetime of difficult situations, started to jangle. “Leave it be, Ryan,” he said curtly.
“Hang on, I can just see something poking through his teeth–”
“Leave it be!”
The boy suddenly open his mouth with a roar.
Frozen in the flash of light, Culver saw what erupted out, slamming into Miles’ face before disappearing into the shadows under the small bed.
Miles pitched backwards, scrabbling to wipe the stinging slime from his face. “Jesus!” he gasped. “A toad! He had a fucking toad in his mouth!”
Lansing stared in horror. “Ridiculous,” she said hopefully. But she had seen it too.
Miles coughed, then choked, and scrambled upright, searching for his composure.
Culver pulled Lansing out roughly. “Shut the damn door,” he hissed.
They stared at each other for a long moment before Culver said to her, “What is going on here?” as if it were her fault.
“There’s no way he could have got a toad in here. Unless…” She then shook her head.
Miles finished it for her. “Unless it was inside him.”
Culver and Miles left soon after. As they stumbled around the corridors trying to find their way, Miles brought himself out of his introverted mood and asked suddenly, “What did that bastard say to you?”
Culver shook his head. “Just rambling.”
“But what did he say?”
Culver sighed, then spotted the exit and brightened perceptibly. “Just one word. Scissorman.”