***thanks to hip_young for reminding me of this with his thread***
Starbucks, High Street, Tunbridge Wells
“Little paper people, right?”
“I call them ‘paple.’”
There wasn’t a whole lot to say, after that. 10 tiny paper figures, each folded slightly differently, each incredibly detailed. Jim had given this one boobs, this one a top hat and cane. One had a tiny revolver. And one-
“What happened to him?” I asked, pointing to what I guessed was a miniature Frenchman, complete with beret and very possibly a baguette. “Did he paper-cut himself?” He’d been ripped right down the middle, from head to crotch.
Jim didn’t laugh, which said a lot. James Eliot Thornhill spent the majority of waking hours astonishingly baked, and slept it off during the others. If he wasn’t laughing about something, he was likely asleep or dead. But today the heavy eyes seemed burdened by a further weight.
“We’ve known each other ages, right Teddy?”
“About seven, eight months,” I said.
“Really? I thought it was longer. I was thinking more a year or two.”
“Anyway, you’ve known me long enough,” Jim went on, rolling a new joint, “and you know I get high a lot – don’t answer – anyway, yeah. Fine. I do. And I’ve also called you before when I’ve been putting away too much green. I start getting paranoid, freaking out. Right?”
I nodded a little too wearily, and tried to add a smile. Truth be told, I probably wouldn’t spend anywhere near as much time with Jim as I do if he wasn’t as generous with his supply. Probably I’m a bad friend. He rambled on: “Okay. Well: this isn’t one of those times. I’m not going to go crazy, or shout, or take things out of proportion; nothing like that today.”
“I didn’t rip Pierre up, Teddy;” whispered Jim, apparently unsure of how trustworthy the Starbucks staff and other nearby customers might be. “It was one of… them,” – and now he scanned his barely-open eyes over the cast of origami characters – “I know it.”
“Sure. Who do you suspect?” I asked. I’d decided to deadpan, pretty sure this was leading up to a punch-line that would floor me. Or a magic trick: Jim had worked tables doing a little card magic back in Portsmouth, he’d said.
“Well, Carlos has a gun,” he pointed, indicating the revolver-toting tot who on further inspection appeared to be sporting a sombrero and tiny moustache, “but it wasn’t a gunshot that killed Pierre, so you can’t just jump to a conclusion like that.”
“Reasonable,” I agreed.
“Reuben’s a pretty big guy though. He’s the one who looks like a circus strongman.”
“In the leotard?”
This went on for some time. Along with Reuben, Carlos, and the unfortunate Pierre, we had the girl – Mandoline, terrible name – a gentleman named Beaumont, a ninja with no name, an army man by the name of Toby, a footballer called Gary, a medieval knight called Laughsalot and a cat.
“I didn’t have a lot of paper left to do the last one.”
“Of course,” I grinned. You could have exhibited Jim in a lab, a gallery, or both.
“Anyway, I have to go – I have things to do,” he revealed, tapping his joint conspiratorially and attempting a wink, “and then I have some Fallout 3 to win, too.”
“Nice, bro. It’s a good game, then?”
“Teddy: it’s better than your mum. Serious.”
I laughed and scooped the paper figures into my rucksack – it seemed a shame to leave them to the Starbucks bin. “Right-o,” I called after him, “I’ll get cracking with the tear-ible murder, shall I?” But he was already out the door and plodding down the road, with the deceptive steady progress only a stoner can muster. I finished my coffee, anyway.
41g, Upper Grosvenor Road, Tunbridge Wells
Things were already a little creepy, and I was only what, one beer deep? I’d tipped out my rucksack onto the desk, adding to the debris of a weekend wasted, only to find a second casualty. Here were eight flat-enough paper figures, here was Pierre, who despite being torn asunder hadn’t barely a wrinkle on his entire body, and here was a small paper ball. I didn’t quite have the wherewithal to spot the missing character; upon careful unravelling it transpired to be the impressively moustachioed Carlos. Poor fella. It was a good moustache.
“This one’s for you, hombre.” I opened a second beer, and feel asleep awhile; I wasn’t due to see the girlfriend for something like two hours. I had time.
One hour: it was one hour, and fortunately my woman is patient – it takes a lot of perseverance to ring a buzzer for twenty minutes, but then I guess she knows me well enough.
“It’s only seven. Two beers, Teddy?”
“If you’re buying,” I grinned, grabbing her bum to say hello.
“You shouldn’t drink so much. I care about you, occasionally.”
And that’s Chloe all over. Confident smile, confident lover: sure, but tripping over herself with affection. It’s a rare thing: a ballsy woman who still wants her man to be a man, and for the life of me I still have no idea what she sees when she looks up from the pillow, what she sees gasping back at her on the nights she graces the flat. She humours me, too:
“What are these little things?” she said, picking up Reuben. “Is that a… leotard?”
“Reuben prefers to call it a muscle vest, thanks.”
“Nothing. Come here.”
She dropped the strongman back onto the table with the rest of the rogue’s gallery, and slunk over to the bed, dropping her skirt. I put down my beer.
“Aw. Did you get fidgety in the night?”
I stirred. “What? No. Oh, no…”
“You must have. Maybe you’ve been sleepwalking again? His head’s come clean off.” It really had: she lifted the head for me to see, but my vision’s useless for the first few minutes of the morning.
“Is it the strongman?” I asked. Maybe it was Reuben, and she’d torn him last night when she put the little guy down.
“Erm. He has a top hat?”
“Shit. Barnford or Beaudon or something. That’s sad. I always saw him as a potential suspect.”
“A what? Who did this, then? Your housemate? That’s creepy.”
“It wasn’t Holly,” I said, perhaps a little unsure, “they’re Jimmy’s little paper dolls. One of them’s killing the others. Maybe they’re all killing each other. Anyway, he wants me to figure it out before they’re all gone.”
“Jimmy’s a stoner, Teddy,” she said with a careful tone, and then gave me a smile somewhere between pity and affection. Her eyes went soft, and she took out her scrunchie, letting her long hair fall around her shoulders. Suddenly my dick was keen to alert me to her proud nudity – we tussled more, a couple times.
As she went to leave, I sat as naked as you like assessing the assembled troops.
“Talk to me, Mandoline. Who was it?” She was being pretty unresponsive, even for a paper doll. I looked up to that pity again, perhaps a little more buoyant from the sheer farce of the situation: me, booze, and tiny paper dolls. “All I want is a name, and no one else will be hurt. I promise, guys.”
“Silly,” whispered Chloe, kissing me on the forehead and pulling open the bedroom door. “They can’t talk, at all. The poor things don’t have mouths.”
“You’re a genius!” I yelled, spilling a little drink.
“I love you...”
The door shut, and a little while later the front door opened and shut, too. I had already started drawing tiny mouths onto each of the characters. I’m hardly what you’d call an artist, unless you’d want to call me a bad one, but they looked passable enough. They’d all had little eye holes poked into their paper-thin heads, but not one mouth or nose between the whole roster. No wonder they couldn’t squeal.
We waited a while, the dolls and I. None of us felt like sharing, although I’m pretty sure one of them winked at me. Laughsalot. The cat didn’t even meow, and I prodded it a couple of times just to be sure.
There was another gift from Jim of course, my payment I assumed. I started rolling with a little leftover Drum, and decided to call some bluffs.
“Hmm: no roach,” I asserted. “I’m completely out of card or, I don’t know, thick paper?” I picked up Laughsalot and went over to the bed. “Yes, my tiny friend, your arm should be just abou-“
“Pleeb, no!” screamed the small paper doll folded into armour, sat in my hand, staring back. “Pleeb!!”
The tiny paladin pointed to where his nose should be. No ‘dobe’ indeed.
“Alright,” I said, trying to stare him out, “why weren’t you talking before?”
“It…” and he had a really high voice, by the way, “it too dangerub. He’ll kiw be! Tear be!” He was getting pretty hyper now. What do you give a little paper guy to calm him down? Tip-ex?
“Well, maybe so,” I agreed, hunkering down close. “But it seems to me he’s probably going to do that anyway, so you don’t have a lot to lose. Just one name is all I need. Was it Gary? I’ve always suspected that it was Gary.” He stayed quiet, so I folded his arm behind his back. “A name, Chuckleston, or whoever you’re called.”
“Stobib!” he wailed, paperily, “Pleeb! Stobib!”
That was more than enough pleebing for me. I was about to get nasty when an unusual sound distracted me. It was the unmistakeable sound of a tiny origami ninja with no nose screaming from being set on fire. I won’t forget that one in a hurry.
Leaving the knight on the bed, I raced over to the table. My lighter was rolling gently, dropped at a moment’s notice, and the other dolls sat guiltily still while the tiny Japanese victim finished smouldering. Bastard.
I was getting nothing out of Laughsalot after that, even with further threats of roll-ups. I didn’t have the heart to do it, but I got a little high all the same. All this murder was a real buzz-kill.
George’s house, Tunbridge Wells one evening
No one had died for a couple of days, which I saw as a good sign, but what I need to emphasize is that I was with the paple the whole time. They never left my sight; I watched a fair bit of Japanese porn – I know – and played Xbox to keep awake, held vigil until my eyes were screaming to close. When that happened, I went to see George. She was a dependable soul, and open-minded enough to deal with what I was telling her. We’ll talk more about George soon enough, but at that time things were a little-
“They freak me out. I’m not keeping them here.”
“Think of them as worry dolls, George.”
“I do. I’m worried they’ll kill me.”
“Oh come on. They’re tiny. They couldn’t hurt you if they tried.”
“Tell that to… I want to say ‘Pablo’?”
I cleared my throat, which took a while. “Look, George, I need your help here. This is important. I can’t get hold of Jim.” I looked at the figures spread out on the coffee table. “I need him to take them back, separate them forever maybe, or just burn the lot of them.” At that one, I’m pretty sure Mandoline twitched, and George must have seen it too. (“Holy s-“) but I put a finger to my lips. Maybe we could draw out a tattler here. with a little deception. “To be honest, that’s what I’ll recommend. Nothing’s happened for a couple of days, so if there’s nothing more in the way of killing by tomorrow, I’ll make the call.”
“Well, that sound’s fair enough,” she said, clumsily. She was poor at playing the game, frankly, but fortunately paper dolls are notoriously easy to fool. They were definitely taking the bait.
“So, lets get a drink,” I said, laying the trap. “In the kitchen.”
We got up and shut the door to the lounge, but rather than getting beers (alright, I got one first), we pressed our ears to the wood, George’s hand on the doorknob and waiting to catch the little sods at it.
Sure enough, rustling erupted, and after a three count we were in. It was a mess of paper and decidedly un-nasal squeals. It was almost impossible to see what was going on, too. A little voice had piped up, though: “Get tobib! GET TOBIB”
My stomach lurched: the knight errant wasn’t telling me to ‘stop it’, the noseless fool was telling me “’S’ Tobib.’. Obvious. Sure enough, that little paper police shit had got to his feet, and was dragging Gary to a mug half-full with cold coffee. Staring up at me with holes for eyes that probably looked malicious, Toby dropped the footballer straight in. It all happened so quickly I was pretty much powerless to intervene. Now though, the game was afoot.
I shoulder tackled my nemesis with a short run up. This effectively crushed him immediately, which in hindsight was an anticlimax. Still, I confetti’d the shit out of him for good measure, and sent him to Gary’s caffeinated grave in a tribute to well-folded vengeance.
The other little dolls were in shock, picking themselves and each other up, and murmuring words of assurance. The nightmare was over, and even the ‘cat’ looked relieved. I called Jim and finally got through, let him know what had transpired: he didn’t care much. He never does. Still, Mandoline looked vaguely appreciative. She would have winked if she could. I figured I’d take them all home with me, anyway.