a novel opening
It was 10 o’clock in the evening. Zeezee was at home, sleeping, when the phone rang. He reached out and picked up the receiver, “What?” he asked.
“This is Sergeant Alf Hucker from the station. Am I speaking to ZZ4613 Small Chin?”
“You mean, ‘What do you want?
“What you want?”
“Jeez, chimp. I don’t need to ask if you’re a Nan. The ignorance of you people …”
Zeezee was a Neanderthal. The Homo Sapiens were too lazy to pronounce this in full so Neanderthal becomes Neander – Nander – Nan.
“What you want?” Zeezee repeated.
“To tell the truth, the honest answer would be to rid the planet of you lot. I’d cut all your bollocks off and curse the day you were re-erected.”
“You mean resurrected and I have only two testicles.”
“You said you’d cut all my bollocks off yet I -”
“Shut it, chimp. I’m not going to argue. Let’s keep this teat ah teat short, yeah?”
“You mean tête… never mind. Tell me what you need.”
“Right, chimp, one of your tribe has been killed. Waste of time and tax payers’ money but you’ve got a week to look into it. The monkey was a meter reader and was slaughtered 4.15 in the pm Thursday last, in post code area CV31. Do what you have to and it’ll keep you in peanuts for the next six months.”
“Not eat peanuts.”
“That’s all I have to say.”
Zeezee replaced the dead receiver.
The resurrection came about in the late Seventies when the then incumbent DAISNAID (Do As I Say Not As I Do) party, led by Snatcher O’Milk, attempted to destroy the trade unions. The Neanderthal people were intended to carry out the more menial tasks while the government attempted to starve trade union members and their families into submission. Now Neanderthals were officially classed equal to the Sapiens by European Union Regulations. This appeased the Inter Species rights people and the Saps. But as Neanderthals were not good with letters they were not allowed in the Police Force proper. Zeezee was known as a Primate Inter Species Support Officer. Officially, he had the same powers as a Sap Officer but unofficially he was ignored.
He clutched a fistful of dried insects from a bowl on the coffee table and tipped them into his mouth. He switched off the light, lay down on his carpet of hay and masticated on insect bodies as he thought about his new case. He’d visit the station tomorrow to collect the details.
December, and outside the air was cold, frigid. Zeezee pulled the front door closed on his one bedroom flat but didn’t lock it. Neanderthals cared little for possessions, although they should have done as their homes were frequently entered by the Saps, not to steal, just to wreck. After scraping the frost from the windscreen of his ancient Polski Fiat he positioned himself behind the wheel. The car was ugly but cheap to run and reliable, much like the Neanderthal. He got the usual stares as he drove – twenty-one years after the resurrection a Neanderthal driving a car, even a Polski Fiat, made some Saps jealous and insecure.
He steered the car into Leamington’s Regent Grove, a circular one-way street populated by Victorian structures. The station was a discoloured tooth in a row of pearly whites; a square, modern building of concrete blocks decorated with dried pigeon crap. Zeezee climbed the three steps which led to the entrance and pushed open the glass door. Sergeant Alf Hucker – seated behind the counter, not bothering to rise – was a hefty man in his fifties. The little hair he still had was the same colour as the bird excrement which adorned the station’s exterior. With his strawberry-red nose and rosy apple cheeks his face resembled a bowl of fruit.
“ZZ 4613 reporting,” said Zeezee.
The sergeant looked up from his copy of Sap Slappers, a mild porn magazine for Homo Sapiens – Zeezee found voyeurism a waste of eye-time and masturbation a waste of sperm. Hucker closed the magazine slowly while considering Zeezee. He spoke from one corner of his mouth while the other corner clamped down on a smouldering cigarette. He didn’t bother with preamble when talking to a Neanderthal. “Found him in the gutter. Nothing taken, probably a hate crime, another Nan kill,” he said, one eye squinting against the unravelling spiral of smoke.
‘Nan kill’ had become a cliché, an all-encompassing phrase to describe any prematurely deceased Neanderthal. “Nothing taken, how you know?” Zeezee asked, looking down at the seated sergeant. Zeezee had no idea how tall Hucker was as he’d only ever seen him seated.
Not used to being questioned by a Neanderthal the officer scowled before explaining in an even monotone. “Money still in the wallet, wrist watch still present; he even had his HHU with him.”
“What is HHU?” said Zeezee, hovering over the sergeant whilst wrinkling his nose, scenting a familiar aroma which seemed out of place.
“Hand held unit. It’s a small computer for in-putting meter readings. Worth a couple of grand I’ve been told. Look, it’s an easy job – don’t make more of it than what it is. You know the situation. A simple ‘slaughter by persons unknown’ will suffice.”
Yes, Zeezee knew the situation: officially they wanted an investigation but unofficially no one was to be arrested or tried for it. “Pictures of crime scene?”
“Pictures?” The sergeant sneered, “It’s a dead Neanderthal. We don’t take pictures of road kill. Now, get you hairy arse out of here and do what you’re paid to do. I’m not Charlton Heston and you ain’t Roddy Mc bloody Dowell.”
“Ape shall not kill ape? Oh, sorry. I forgot your lot don’t do films.”
Zeezee did ‘do’ films. Unlike other Neanderthals he would often watch movies. He wanted to understand the Saps. He also listened to their music – in secret. And played guitar. Not even his fellow Neanderthals knew these things.
“I not ape. I do what I paid to do, you will see. You have no pictures, you say. Then can you describe scene of incident?”
“Jeez, what the hell do you care?”
“And I want to see victim’s body.”
“Ha, ha, you’re a right nugget, ain’t you? I’ve got to give you that. You’re different to the others Nans.”
“You don’t know any others, of that I am certain.”
“You’re right, there. Why the hell should I? Anyway, I’ll see if I can get you an address for the finder and someone to show you the… body. That’s if it hasn’t been incinerated already.”
It was against regulations to incinerate a body before an investigation had been carried out but Zeezee decided to save his vocal chords for more important transgressions. “No relatives to collect the body, no next of kin?”
“I don’t know,” replied Hucker, expelling an irritated sigh.
“Has there been a press release?”
“Christ, you ache my head. It hasn’t had time to go to press yet. Here,” he said handing over a scrap of paper. “It’s the address of the finder; another Nan by the looks of it, from the Ape Estate.”
Zeezee knew there never would be a press release, either. He took the scrap of paper and read the address. What the sergeant referred to, what all Saps referred to as the Ape Estate, was Gastown. It had been built some fifteen years ago as a temporary home for the resurrected Neanderthal population. It was the site of a former gas works and the Saps were not allowed to live there as the soil was said to be contaminated, but deemed acceptable for Nans.
“ZK3223 Long Brow,” Zeezee said, trying the name. Long Brow was very common. In fact Neanderthals have only three surnames: Small Chin and Broad Nose being the others. His own name was ZZ4613 Small Chin. This was good as a small chin denoted a large penis among Neanderthals.
“OK, I see body now.” He wrinkled his nose once more, “Sergeant, you smell bad. Suggest Brut, maybe Hai Karate.”
At last Zeezee got to see the sergeant out of his chair as the five foot five Hucker rounded his desk to confront him.
“Smell bad, do I?” The sergeant snatched the chit of paper from Zeezee’s hand and rolled it into a ball between his palms. “Suggest Brut! Hai Karate! Well, maybe this will help, you ungrateful pongid!” He lifted Zeezee’s broad nose with his middle finger and thumbed the balled-up paper into his left nostril. He turned back to his desk and snatched up the copy of Sap Slappers, rolled it into a tube before brandishing it. “Smell better? Or do you want some of this.”
Zeezee considered his response for a few seconds before informing Hucker: “Neanderthal not wank. You keep, you need.”
Hucker bit down on the magazine and stamped a foot. “Get out of my sight!” came his muffled scream.
Zeezee did as he was ordered, the balled-up chit still embedded in his nostril.
“And I not pongid, I hominid, same as you.”
He was not trained in forensics. Indeed, he was not trained in anything, but as he examined the body of the Neanderthal meter reader something did not sit right in his mind. There had been only one blow to the head, which he found strange. It was out of keeping with a hate crime or ‘Nan Kill.’ These were savage beatings and always multiple blows, quite often by more than one attacker. Hate crimes were not called that for nothing, the beating would often continue even after death. This was a well-known fact among the Neanderthal community; but not among the Saps.
This told Zeezee that one: this wasn’t a mugging because nothing had been stolen – even with a hate crime the body was often stripped of valuables. And two: it wasn’t committed by another Neanderthal as ‘ape shall not kill ape’, using the sergeant’s words. Neanderthal would not kill another Neanderthal, neither would they attack nor kill a Sap, unless in self-defence. The Neanderthal weren’t capable of aggression, hate, anger or even revenge. This was not a hate crime but it was committed by a Sap. The big question was why? Tomorrow he would visit the Ape Estate.
Back at his flat in Charlotte Street Zeezee poured a small glass of vodka. It was part of his process of understanding the Saps – or had been. But he found himself enjoying the warm and hazy glow he received from imbibing. He drank vodka because it was odourless and neither Sap nor Nan would detect it. He loosened his tie and removed his trousers – he hated the restriction of clothing and could never completely unwind unless he could feel fresh air circulating freely about his groin. He sat cross-legged in front of the open fire and placed his glass on the coffee table where his Walkman cassette player lay. He picked the Walkman up, flicked it open and checked the tape inside – Never Mind the Blackheads by the Six Pustules. He was unsure what they were singing as there was no lyric sheet but he loved the angry way they sang – and the buzz-saw energy of the electric guitars. It made him want to dance. No, not just dance. He wanted to jump up and down. To spit; break something – even stamp his foot in anger. Anger, at what, he didn’t know but he did know it was unnatural for a Neanderthal to feel this way. He wanted to play the music loud, to let the whole block of flats – the whole street – hear. But instead he slipped the set of headphones over his ears and entered his own reverie.
Even compared to the most deprived Sap council estate Gastown, or the Ape Estate, was run-down. The Sap estates were kept up to certain standard. The streets were cleaned and the properties subject to minimal repair but Gastown did not have such luxuries. Health and Safety were the reasons cited for Sap council workers refusing to go near the estate. The resident population, however, was happy with the state of the streets as rat and roach were delicacies for the Neanderthal.
Zeezee steered his yellow Polski Fiat around upturned wheelie bins, broken fridge carcasses and discarded shopping trolleys as he searched for the inappropriately named Lilac Grove. If not for his A to Z it would have been impossible as all the blocks looked identical. He glimpsed other pointless street names: Poplar Close, Primrose Way and Buttercup Fields. He did not understand the concept of humour but the street names seemed to indicate another useless Sapiens trait.
Zeezee reached his destination, stepped from the car and slammed the door. The darkness was complete, save for the semi-shrouded gibbous moon, the stars and the hazy glow from the distant Sap street lights. The Neanderthal seldom used artificial light and usually their heads went down with the sun. However, there was a good chance that ZK3223, the finder of the body, was still awake. The orange glow of a flickering flame seeped through the jamb as he stood before the door and rapped with knuckles the size of walnuts. After a brief wait the door swung open. Zeezee was taken by surprise; it was a lady, a young lady. Her brow was in keeping with her name, long and sloping, which he found very attractive and her hands seemed large enough to take his whole head in their grip. Zeezee had to admit that his heart beat with true lust and thoughts of breeding filled his genitals.
She arched her beautiful long brow in question and he remembered why he’d come. He patted his own brow in apology; the Neanderthal rarely used speech among their own species, preferring facial expression and sign language. He showed her his ID card and said, ‘PISSOFF’ out of habit. She nodded and waved him in.
Flames from a real fire danced their warm welcome against the walls of a sparse yet functional room. The wood burning stove, Zeezee presumed, had been fitted in the stead of central heating which the Neanderthal disdained, much preferring a natural fire. This also had the advantage of appeasing the cockroaches which were loathe to venture into artificial light.
ZK3223 Long Brow motioned for Zeezee to seat himself on the floor which was littered with recently scattered leaves. Her eyes caught the reflection of flame as she plucked a high-sided dish containing live roach from the coffee table, offering him its contents. Though not hungry he politely gripped one of the struggling creatures between the fingers of his right hand.
“You know why I’m here?” he gestured, tapping his chest, then the leaf-strewn floor.
She pointed at the redundant electric light fitting in the centre of the ceiling and feigned being dead – the dead meter reader.
She went on to tell him what he’d already known. The HHU had not been hidden beneath the body, but had been affixed to his outstretched hand by a Velcro strap. A mugger would have stolen it; a Nan killer would have taken it. Zeezee had the feeling the killer knew its worth and that was why it had been left.
He placed a clenched fist against his heart, “Thank you,” he said. And then, “Are you attached?”
“I am not attached but would like to be,” she mimed.
His skin heat increased in anticipation. “Would you be attached to me for I wish to make family?”
She reached out her wonderfully expansive hand and encompassed his skull within its grip. He reciprocated. They were now engaged.