Pepper leaned against the toilet back, closed her eyes and smiled at the kaleidoscopic colours pulsing through her mind. Warmth radiated throughout her body. Cold shivers teased her skin. Stiff Tony’s shrooms were always the best. Geometric shapes danced across her mind’s eye morphing into multi-coloured forms, each one more intricate and astonishing than the last. Concentric circles now throbbed with dots that became eyes that became faces that became mouths that ate each other in a beautiful flourish before dissolving into other shapes. The beat of muffled dance music that came through the bathroom door served as a conductor to her own private spectacle, relentlessly marching on.
Pepper opened her eyes, the walls were breathing around her. She ran a hand through her short afro hair and felt the sweat spring away deliciously. The air had become thick and liquescent. She held her hand up in front of her. It shimmered and seemed to pixlate. She laughed and felt all the anger, all the resentment slip away. How could she hang on to it when she couldn’t even keep her hand from pixelating? It wasn’t worth trying. All the shit outside the door could wait. And God knows she didn’t want her mind going there now. To her anxieties, to her broken heart. She knew doctors used psychedelics for therapeutic purposes, but she’d been down that rabbit hole before, and without a trained guide you could be lost in hell for hours. That was why she was in the bathroom. Coming up on magic mushrooms was always intense for Pepper, a big wave she needed to ride, and she couldn’t do it around the bunch of chattering idiots in her living room, even if they were her friends. No, a safe place to let the drug take hold was needed, to let it obliterate her before she cruised down to the swell and played in the surf and sunshine.
The four to the floor beats swelled as the bathroom door opened and someone stepped in closing the door behind them. The person stood swaying from side to side in time with the walls. Pepper struggled to recognise him at first, his face swirled like a Van Gogh. Realising she was sat on the toilet, Pepper grabbed her panties and purple leopard skin leggings and stood dragging them up. This sudden movement was a bad idea. She stood up so quick it felt like she’d left half her body on the toilet seat. Everything trailed as she moved her head looking around the bathroom, like the world was being smeared across her corneas. She reached out a hand to steady herself on the wall as it raced by.
Pepper looked at him trying to focus. His eyes blazed like two blue supergiant stars. His face split in two before snapping back together again. A frost crept over Pepper’s skin the instant before she felt her insides threaten to come out, but it was too late. Pepper lunged for the sink and released herself into it. Even with her eyes closed she could feel the room spin by, a vortex spiralling around her as she vanished down the drain hole. Pepper’s body lost it’s cohesiveness, there was a disunion between her atoms and she was dispersed into the universe. The idea of ‘her’ was quickly forgotten and she bathed in beauty of being nothing. There was an intoxicating, nostalgic sense of belonging, of remembering, of being home. She saw everything. Everything that had been, everything that would come, that we are all connected, that we are homogeneous, everything and nothing. Joy, love, ecstasy burst from every atom of everything and nothing in a symphony of colour, sound and light. Everything, everything, everything.
A weight bared down on her. All the pain, all the anguish, all the darkness, in all of us, in everything that had been, in everything that would come. It was too much. The universe screamed. Pepper felt her disparate atoms start to unite again. The connection to everything retreated as her body pulled itself back into form, back into reality, back into the bathroom.
But the weight was still there, on her back, wrapped around her, crawling, groping at her — wait. She could feel the cold porcelain of the sink in her hands. She opened her eyes. In the mirror she barely recognised herself. She looked like a monster. Extra limbs wrapped round her, dark hair, the smell of beer. When the hand slid down Pepper’s stomach into her panties she instinctively elbowed behind her pushing the weight off her back. Panic took over. In a blur her arms grabbed item after item that sat on the counter and threw them at him. Now the bathroom started to capsize. Pepper clung to the walls and grabbed for the bathroom door. Using all her strength she yanked it open and flung herself out into the corridor.
It was stable there but it was so dim she could hardly see. Miles down one end of the corridor the light of the living room glowed and the far off raucous laughter spilled out.
Pepper turned and looked the other way. Her bedroom door stood a jar, the darkness within beckoning her. She stumbled through slamming the door behind her and collapsed onto the bed. Turning over she saw eyes emerge from the darkness. Eyes everywhere. Terrified Pepper tried to scream. All that came out were black flies.
A groan came from under the duvet.
Pepper’s body was sending her mixed signals. She was both thirsty and needed to pee at the same time.
Her eyes dried shut with sleep. She threw back the covers and reached a blind hand out to her bedside cabinet. It connected with a glass knocking it to the floor.
For crying out loud.
Lash by lash Pepper tore her eyes open cursing every painful millimetre of it. An empty wine glass sat amongst her dirty clothes on the floor. She scanned back to her bedside cabinet and saw a glass of water. She opened her mouth to scream with joy. Only a puff of dust came out.
Pepper grabbed the glass. The water rolled over her tongue like the rains returning to a riverbed after years of drought. She flopped back and reached out to Nathan’s side. Six months he’d been gone travelling. It felt like longer. Much longer. Why hadn’t she gone with him? Why had she stayed in Bright City? It wasn’t her crappy job working in a clothes shop. Was it the beautiful sea air? Was it her friends? Or was she really too scared? Too scared to actually do something with her life? She didn’t know and her head was hurting too much to care.
Now she really had to pee. She got out of bed in just her panties and scratched her butt. It felt sore but her whole body felt sore so what was new? She headed to the bathroom but her foot caught on a shoe that lay amongst her crap sending her tumbling to the bedroom floor.
She hurled the shoe at the wall.
In the bathroom the pee shot out of her with surprising ferocity. She winced as the sound built to an excruciating level in the white tiled room. After she ran dry she continued to sit there with her head pounding in her hands.
Why did they do it? Every. Bloody. Weekend.
It was Sid’s fault. He and Lucy lured her down The Wick with the promise of a quiet pint or two. She intended to be good, she really did, then Fluff, Elkie, Chimney Sweep John and the rest of the crew came in. Sid scored some Ecstasy and before she knew it they were all back at Fluff’s for a party. Friday night became Saturday morning so they took the party to the beach. Supplies replenished and stereo blasting, they kept going all day dancing, hugging and talking shit, before fifteen of them finally ended up back at her apartment for another all-nighter.
No wonder she felt like shit.
Still, what else was there to do? Sit at home and watch as celebrities debased themselves or aspiring singers were humiliated by narcissistic judges?
That shit made her want to puke. It’s so fake. Everything on TV was fake. Fuck, the whole world, her whole life, felt fake. Like it was happening outside her reality. When was her reality going to start? When was her life going to begin? She was only twenty five but it felt like her life was flying away behind her and she was rushing into a future as empty as a celebrities head.
Pepper sighed and tried to hide away from the void within her. Still sitting on the toilet she forced a smile onto her face. She’d read somewhere a smile, even a fake smile, could make you happy. It tricked the brain into thinking you were happy which released some endorphins or something. Either way it did the trick and a memory from last night surfaced through the muck of her consciousness. Sid coming out of her bedroom wearing one of her summer dresses. Thick black hairs crept over the top of the dress like escaping spiders. God it looked so wrong. And the makeup! Applied liberally with little skill or aim. Bright red lipstick encircled his mouth like a farsighted drag queen who’d forgot her glasses. Then he’d emptied a gram of coke onto his chest and had Lucy, her and the rest of the crew snort it off his hairy man tits. Not sexy, but she’d had to laugh. Her mates were a bunch of fucktards but she loved them.
The pounding in her head subsided a little so Pepper decided it was time to leave the safety of the toilet seat. As she pulled her panties up another memory came back to her.
God she’d been so out of it.
She remembered puking and …?
Someone grabbing at her.
She remembered his blue eyes in the mirror when he mauled her. He’d tried to get her leggings down.
No, he did.
Pepper put her hand on her lower back and felt the soreness where her skin was scratched. He’d tried to get his hand inside her. She’d hit him with something. What? Pepper looked around the room. A can of hair spray lay on the floor in the corner with a hairbrush next to it. Whatever it was it was enough to get him off so she could escape.
The rest of the night was a blur. The mushrooms had a psychedelic grip on her it wouldn’t release for a number of hours. She remembered going to her bedroom but being chased out by demons. She’d then staggered to the living room but had stayed on the other side of the room to him. She wanted to communicate to the rest of her crew what had happened but speech was impossible. And when the drugs had started to wear off she’d drank vodka hard to ease the comedown and obliterate her brain.
What was Robbo even doing there? He’d only joined their crew when he was dating Virgie, and now she’d disappeared into herself they were left with him. The lingering flatulence of their rotten relationship.
Pepper clenched her fists. This was her bloody apartment. Why the hell hadn’t she kicked him out? She knew why, she was too fucked, but she was angry with herself for not doing anything. In the back of her mind she wondered if she hadn’t said anything for a reason. The last time something like this had happened, when she was eighteen and Luke Styles, mister fucking perfect, had sexually assaulted her, she’d told her ‘so called friends’ at the time about it, but no one had believed her. Mister fucking perfect wouldn’t do anything like that. When they did concede it happened they blamed her, said she’d done something to provoke it, look at how slutty she was dressed they’d said. Well, fuck them. She got rid of those friends a long time ago. So, why didn’t she tell her new crew? They weren’t shallow like the old lot. Maybe she didn’t want to risk losing them as well?
Now standing back in the bathroom she could smell Robbo’s rank breath again. She needed air. She left the bathroom slamming the door hard and headed for the kitchen. On the way she picked up today’s newspaper that had been pushed through the letterbox. The headline read ‘Prison Suicides At All Time High’. Scanning the text Pepper saw that due to chronic underfunding life in prison had become hell for some people and every other day someone decided they couldn’t take it anymore and killed themselves. She didn’t blame them. This life was shit enough on the outside, imagine being locked up with psychopaths that wanted to rape or murder you. Fuck that. She threw the paper back on the floor and walked along the corridor to the living room. She popped her head in. Apart from the debris of the party; overflowing ashtrays, empty coke wraps, beer cans and wine bottles everywhere, it was empty. Thank God. She couldn’t deal with anyone this morning.
In her narrow kitchen Pepper made herself a strong black coffee and grabbed her emergency rolling tobacco from the back of the man drawer. She hated the term ‘man draw’, Nathan had christened it that on the account of all the crap crammed into it, but now he was gone she found she clung on to little remnants of him like this.
With the warm mug in her hand she stepped out onto her thin balcony that looked down on the sea front of Bright City six floors below. Being on the south coast of England, directly south of London, Bright City was aptly named. The sun crawled up the clear sky but the day was still yet to warm up. Pepper stood in just her panties. Hardly anyone every looked up. If they did screw them, she was happy with her body and didn’t care. She closed her eyes and breathed in. Cool air glided over her bare skin. All the hairs on her body stood erect like they had a hard on for the approaching sun. Robbo’s foul musk which seemed to have clung to her floated away with the freshness of the day. She’d need a shower to fully get rid of it, but not until after her morning smoke. Nothing happens until after her morning smoke.
Pepper took a long drag from her roll up cigarette. Below her a typical morning seaside scene played out. She shook her head watching the joggers and families making their way along the seafront promenade, and laughed when she saw a couple of people staggering along, obviously making their way back from a party or club, avoiding eye contact with everyone. Her lips curled into a smile as she watched the families take a wide berth around them. She had been that person once. Who was she kidding? She was that person most weekends, dragging her sorry arse back from God knows where looking like hell. A few of her mates were probably out there right now looking just like that. Actually, where the hell had everyone gone? When she went to bed there was still about seven of them left. Some would have gone home but she was sure a few of them were out there somewhere trying to squeeze one last drop out of the night. Thinking about last made her muscles tighten. She flicked her smoke over the side and lit another.
It wasn’t her friends, it was Robbo. She hated that arsehole. What was it? His leering and making comments about all the girls? Or the way, no matter where he was, he’d barge in and try and take control. The audacity of the prick. Some people seemed to like his uber confidence but not Pepper. His arrogance came at a price to everyone around him. He trampled over people. She didn’t think he did it on purpose, he wasn’t intentionally malicious. It was worse. His natural, go to state, was selfish dominance. He was oblivious to how he hurt people. Like Virgie.
Screw you Robbo.
She flicked her second smoke over the edge.
Back in the kitchen Pepper put her empty coffee mug in the sink and grabbed a bottle of beer from the fridge. She was nearly too furious to open it but eventually did and took a slug. The cool beer flowed down her body relieving some of the tension.
She headed to the living room. Music was needed.
Pepper crossed the messy living room floor, she considered clearing up the cans and bottles but that was the last thing she wanted to do right now. At the stereo she stood and blankly flicked through her vinyl. Prehistoric she knew. Everyone ripped the piss out of her for the size of her stereo. They all had these tiny streaming devices. She wouldn’t change it though. Her dad paid well over a grand for it back in the eighties. But not just that. Her Telefunken stack produced an ocean of deep sensuous sounds that walked all over the thin and empty noise her friends stereos made.
Selecting some music to soundtrack her hangover proved harder than it should. She was trying to pick between Nick Drake and Tom Waits, nothing electronic after the weekend dance music marathon.
A noise like a wet dog fart came from behind the sofa. Pepper’s skin crawled. She set her beer down and went to investigate. Peeking around the back of the sofa she saw a pair of bare feet twitching. She kept going round and saw Robbo lying naked on the floor, his eyes closed, masturbating.
Robbo let out a groan and released himself in a sticky mess. His hairy cum soak belly rose and fell as wet snores emerged from his drool soaked face. He was passed out. Next to him was a syringe, a spoon and a little wrap of what she guessed was smack.
The vein under Pepper’s eye started to twitch. She grabbed her beer and headed back through the kitchen to the balcony and lit another smoke.
You stupid fuck.
What was he doing here? Why hadn't someone made sure he’d left?
She was not having it.
That prick Robbo had attack her and got away with it. The arrogance of the man! To try and rape her, then get high and strip naked and have a wank. In her flat! Pepper felt her teeth grinding.
I’ll fucking show him.
She turned the kettle on. When the water boiled she’d take it through to the front room and throw it on him. That’d wake him up.
The kettle clicked finished. Pepper reached out to pick it up.
What would he do when he woke? Scream she guessed as his skin burned off. But what would he do after? He’d be angry. She still felt his strong grip where he’d manhandled her last night. No. She couldn’t do this. She wasn’t bottling it, she just wasn’t stupid. He’d beat the crap out of her once he got over the initial shock.
So, what then? Call one of her ‘so called mates’ to come round and get him? She didn’t even want to give those arseholes the time of day after they left him here. And what was she, a damsel in distress? A pathetic female that needed a man to come save her? Fuck that. No. She’d do this on her own. That prick tried to rape her and got away with it. How many others had he tried it with? How many others had he actually raped?
She pulled a knife from a kitchen drawer. She let it sit in her hand, feeling the weight of it. It was too big. She put it back and pulled out a smaller knife, one about seven inches long. That’s better. This one felt like an extension of her arm. She flipped it around so the blade was facing down in her clenched fist. She raised it up and made a few stabbing motions. A lightness fluttered in her stomach and her eyes widened. She was going to do it. She was going to kill that prick.
Pepper glided down the hallway to the living room. There was no friction, the air slick, drawing her forward. She stood in front of Robbo and raised the blade. She’d bring it down hard into his chest. She’d stab again and again until there was nothing left to stab.
She raised the blade higher.
What if she couldn’t get through his chest bone? Did she need to aim to the right to go through the ribs? But the heart was in the centre, wasn’t it? If she couldn’t break through the bone first time how many chances would she get? Maybe she should aim for his stomach? But would that kill him? He looked pretty out of it on the smack but she was sure the searing pain to his stomach would wake him. No, she couldn’t stab him. She couldn’t be sure he’d die straight away. Even if he did die would they believe it was self-defense? She thought about the newspaper headline. Would they just see a crazy black woman that had killed a white guy. She couldn’t take prison. She’d be one of those statistics. One of the suicides.
She leaned on the wall and slumped to the ground. Fuck. What was she going to do? The arrogant arsehole. God, he disgusted her. Smacked out of his head.
She reached over Robbo’s naked body and grabbed the wrap of smack. She’d never done it herself but had seen her mates using. Looked like there was still a lot left. Enough to make someone OD perhaps?
Pepper grabbed the works and set about cooking up. She wasn’t sure she was doing it right but what did it matter? As long as she got enough smack in the syringe to kill him.
After dissolving the brown powder in some heated water she sucked it up into the needle.
Pepper stood above Robbo, the loaded syringe in her hand, blood pounding in her ears. How was she going to do it? Robbo had a belt loose around his left bicep. He’d used it to trap blood in his arm making it easy to deliver the drugs to a vein. She thought about doing the same but worried that would wake him.
What was she going to do? She went through all the areas of the body where it’s easy to get access to a vein. Lowering herself down Pepper checked his arms but couldn’t see any veins through his thick black hair. The same on his legs. Maybe she could just stab him in the heart with it? But if she couldn’t get a knife through how would she get a syringe? Pepper felt herself deflating. Sat on her knees at Robbo’s feet, her eyes settled on his penis. It was an ugly little thing. All wrinkly and matted with pubic hair. Then it dawned on her how she’d get a vein.
Pepper let out a long low sigh.
She reached out to Robbo’s cock. With one hand she lifted it and with the other she pulled away the hairs that were stuck, being careful not to pull any out and wake him.
His foul cock was still dribbling cum but she didn’t care. A fat vein was engorged on the shaft. She drew back the plunger and put the needle into the vein.
Pepper was out on the balcony. She had on a silk dressing gown and the company of the police. A WPC handed her a cup of tea. She pulled the warm cup close to her body and took a sip. After she’d injected Robbo she’d ran to the bathroom and threw up. When the needle had gone in, Robbo’s eyes had opened and met hers, then they rolled back in his head. He would know who did it. Who killed him. Good.
She’d cleaned herself up and thought about washing the cum off of his stomach. Instead, she picked up his wanking hand and rubbed it in it. Cleaning up the cum would probably look suspicious but this mess would probably be so disgusting they’d just cart him out of there. Pepper smiled and took another sip.
Did she feel bad? Did she fuck. No, she was buzzing. An energy flowed through her body like she’d never felt before. She realised she was happy he was dead. It was all clear to her now. Robbo was gone, a menacing threat to her and other women. Why was it she had to live with the risk of rape? These men, these self-absorbed vain pricks. They bullied and intimidated their way through life, viewing women as objects to be used and discarded. How many arseholes had she met who deserved to die? More than she could count. That wasn’t right, was it? That life allowed these pricks to get their way. Well, not anymore. She would see to that.
DCI Aldridge stepped onto the balcony. “Something funny?”
“What?” Pepper took a drag from her roll up.
“You were smiling.”
“Oh ... no, that’s just my resting bitch face. Makes me look like I’m smirking. Are you going to be much longer?”
“Why? You got somewhere to go?” DCI Aldridge lit a cigarette. The WPC shook her head and went inside.
“No, just … dead body in my front room … kinda ruining the ambiance a little.” Pepper flashed the DCI her best flirting smile.
“Well, we should be going soon. The forensics guys are just finishing bagging everything up.”
“Yes, the victim’s hands are covered in semen but the syringe, which is still inserted into his penis, isn’t. I can’t imagine him masturbating with a needle stuck in him. So, it looks like the drugs we believe killed him were given to him after. We’ll need to see if they were and if the prints on the syringe match the victims, or if we are looking for someone else.”
A few feet out from the balcony a seagull swooped past and shat on a car below.
Pepper stared at it blankly.