Here’s the beginning of Accidental Hitman for your perusal. Enjoy!
The first person I ever killed was my best friend. His name was Paul, I forget his surname. I didn’t mean to do it, we were just unlucky. Or rather, he was unlucky. His girlfriend Susie was there too, she watched it happen. We were in the stream at the bottom of Paul’s garden, all of us in welly-boots. There was a rope and a tyre hanging from a tree branch that stuck out over the water. We would swing on that for a while then we’d wander about in the stream and find stuff. Finding stuff was great. That day I found an old milk bottle. I filled it with water and threw it high into the air. I waited for a big splash but instead there was just a loud hollow crack as it connected with Paul’s head. The bottle remained intact but Paul’s skull fared less well. He was floating, face up, in less than a foot of water with red cloud billowing around him. We could see that he was dead straight away, like someone had flicked a switch that turned him from a person into a corpse.
Susie and I just gawped at our fallen friend. Our child-minds had no idea of what to do in this situation. Paul and Susie had only got together two days before. They had broken their French-kiss virginity in that very stream. I thought it was disgusting to put your tongue in someone else’s mouth (little did I realise that once I hit puberty I would spend almost all my time trying to get girls to let me do just that) but Paul insisted he liked it. I was sure he was just saying that to please Susie, but now we would never know for sure.
It was Susie who suggested the cover story; she was canny for a nine year old. I was still in shock when she said, “We can’t admit you did it, you could be put in a home.” She was probably wrong, I doubt I would have been taken away; it was an accident after all, but I would probably have been forced to sit through hours of counselling and therapy, which would have been bad enough, so she was on the right lines. In all honesty I was more concerned about what his parents were going to say. It would have been terribly embarrassing. The previous summer I had accidentally knocked over a vase in Paul’s house while we played hide and seek. His mum was livid; she sent me home and wouldn’t let me round there for weeks. If she could get so het-up about something as trivial as a smashed vase then her reaction to me smashing her son’s cranium would have been unthinkable.
So we told the adults that Paul had slipped and hit his head on a rock. He was floating right next to a big flat stone and that helped add weight to the story.
Susie kept our secret for the rest of her life. This is less impressive than it sounds. She died less than two years later on her eleventh birthday. Her mother took a group of us to a swimming pool as part of the celebration (a birthday celebration, not a celebration of her death, that hadn’t happened yet). Nobody was looking; the other kids in our group were doing handstands in the shallow end. Susie and I were in the deep end having an underwater race. It wasn’t hard to drown her. I waited until she had been under for some time and then came from above and guided her downwards. She seemed strangely compliant, soundless and yielding.
I had to do it. I trusted Susie-the-child to keep her promise but I knew she would eventually become Susie-the-adult, and in the adult world different rules applied. A bond between children seems very strong at the time but I knew enough about the world of grown-ups to realise that secrets never stayed secret, not in the long run. Susie would eventually have boyfriends, and probably a husband with whom she would share her life. She wouldn’t be able to keep something like that to herself forever. I wouldn’t have been sent away for causing the accident of Paul’s death, but knew that if it ever did come out, even years later, then I’d be on the end of a perverting-the-course-of-justice or even a manslaughter charge. It was a shame, she was my friend, and it was her birthday for Christ’s sake, but it was a good opportunity and one not to be missed. Her mother didn’t celebrate her daughter’s death.
It seemed that my actions had brought me to the attention of the Grim Reaper, and that he wanted to play a bigger part in my life. I became surrounded by death; immersed in it. My extended family was large, but it was to get smaller. Some relation or other was always popping their clogs. I got used to death but never got used to funerals. In that grief-stricken, uncompromising atmosphere I get seized by an overpowering urge to laugh. I don’t know why. Perhaps I have some form of very specific disorder that causes my body and mind to show me up when I’m expected to act with sombre reverence. I can get away with it when somebody close to me has died because it looks like I’m crying; really sobbing. It’s when it’s a more distant relative that it becomes a problem.
We’re all instinctively aware of the hierarchy of grief at funerals: The close family and friends are devastated. The partners of the close family and friends feel grief in empathy for their bereaved loved ones. Then there are those who are there out of duty, who had a mere acquaintance with the deceased but would feel rude if they didn’t put in an appearance; they are sympathetic to all those involved but don’t feel any personal anguish, and in most cases are bored within a few minutes. If I have a fit of the giggles when I’m in this outer circle there’s no way of pretending it’s anything else; it’s obvious it’s not grief that’s making my shoulders shake, I’m clearly just pissing myself. Nobody ever says anything though.
Vicars sometimes wear microphones at funerals. Their words of comfort boom from speakers throughout the church. That kills me.
Worse than the funeral is the wake, which in theory is a good idea, a more fitting farewell than the stuffy formality of the funeral ceremony. It’s a chance for friends and relatives to properly celebrate the life of the deceased, with the grief numbed by familiar company, a good flow of alcohol and a common ground:
“Do you remember when he…?”
“I never saw him laugh as much as that time when…”
“He loved that car, I remember when…”
Unfortunately, most wakes don’t turn out this way. Obviously I expect them to be sad occasions, but they always seem to be so miserable. The shameful fact is that most dear-departed are sent off by mourners who are wallowing in disappointment at the sorry sandwich selection, and the piss-poor array of cheap, warm cans of lager. Worst of all is the conversation; small talk about recently discovered inexpensive mobile phone tariffs, and directions back onto the ring road don’t make a good soundtrack to a fond farewell.
The deaths around me weren’t limited to my family; my colleagues also seemed to have a habit of, not shuffling, but leaping off this mortal coil. It wasn’t that I had a dangerous job, well actually it was; I was a fireman. I lost three of my colleagues in one go when a gas tank exploded in a fire in a school kitchen. There weren’t supposed to be any gas tanks in there, I had checked with the janitor before we cleared the lads to go in. It wasn’t my fault; I had to go by his word. It wasn’t my fault.
I wasn’t a fireman for long, it just wasn’t for me. I was told before I joined up that firemen are supposed to get girls all the time, and that’s true to some extent, but I quickly discovered that the girls who went for me because of my job weren’t the most powerful hoses on the appliance, so it wasn’t a huge benefit. It was the hanging around that did it for me; waiting on call at the station for endless hours. I was rubbish at snooker and there really wasn’t much else to do. Except self-abuse of course. Everyone seemed to be wanking. There were stacks of skin mags everywhere. The floor of our common-room looked like a scale model of an inner-city council development, covered as it was with high-rises of porn. I like a squeeze on the icing-bag as much as the next man but I prefer a bit of decorum, so I didn’t appreciate the other lads disappearing into the toilet with their favourite centrefold under their arm, emerging a few minutes later with sticky hands and a slightly lower sense of self-esteem.
So I left the fire service, and I don’t think they were too sad to lose me. I took a job as a groundskeeper looking after the parks and communal gardens of the town. I liked spending my days sitting on a mower in the sun. Only one colleague died during my six month stint and no, it wasn’t me, I didn’t mow him to death. Apparently his bladder exploded. It wasn’t that he really needed to go either; he’d literally just been. I mowed round him a few times before I realised. I thought he was pissing around. I suppose he was. Kind of.