Dylan H. Jones is the author of the Amazon, best-selling Welsh Detective Series set on Anglesey, the DI Manx Cases, Originally from Wales, he now lives in Oakland, California, where works as a copywriter and video producer, and likes to write early in the morning before anybody else steals all the best ideas.https://www.amazon.co.uk/Manx-Cases-books-one-three-ebook/dp/B08MGW43V9www.dylanjonesauthor.com
Dylan H. Jones
People like to ask me, what’s the worst thing about losing your arm? You know what I tell them? Eating a pack of crisps. Seriously. Go on, try it. Tie one arm behind your back and open a bag of Cheese and Onion. First, you’ve got to break the seal, snap your teeth around the plastic, tear at it like a dog. Then, if you’re dexterous enough not to spill the entire contents, where do you hold the bag? Rest the ornery fucker between your thighs? Or do you position it sideways on the table and slide in your one good hand? If that’s your preferred method, here’s a quick tip: lick your fingers first, you get better traction on the crumbs. I’ve put a lot of thought into this, as you can tell. That’s what my life’s been reduced to: strategizing the optimum way to eat salty snacks. What a fucking come down.
It wasn’t always like this. A couple of years ago, I’d have lectured my wife for hours if she shook a packet of crisps within three meters of the house. I was a health freak back then, but I’m getting ahead of myself, understandable really as I’m running out of time and I need to record everything before the inevitable happens. And, believe me, it’s going to happen.
It all began, like all these kinds of stories do with the inciting incident- the big pile of steaming shit that kicks everything off. Mine? A car crash. Yeah, pretty predicable, but I swear it gets more interesting. There was a young woman in the car with me at the time; a prostitute, sitting in the passenger seat. I thought that might get your attention, but it’s not what you think.
I was driving home after a long day at the office, Coldplay on the CD player, (don’t judge) when I pass this woman stumbling at the roadside looking like she’s had a few too many. I slowed down. She was badly beaten; eyes swollen like plums, blood still damp, trickling from her gums, and her undergarments bunched around her ankles. Call it the one good Samaritan act I performed in my life. I was never one for charitable gestures–a bit of a selfish sod to be honest–but even a selfish sod like me could see when a lady of the night required my assistance.
I bundled her into the car. I should have noticed it then; that unfocused, wild look in her eyes. But I wasn’t moving in those kinds of circles those days; the kind that would have alerted me that someone was about to lose their shit, big time. I married, two kids, big house in the country; the whole nine-and-a-half yardage. Living the dream.
Driving to the emergency room, I attempted polite conversation. Silence. I couldn’t blame the woman; she was probably in shock. Next thing I know, she lashes out like a cornered animal. None of that schoolgirl, open palm kind of slapping either. Her fists were hard, cage fighter-hard, pummeling on me like I was the guilty party. So, I did what any pussy-whipped, middle-aged man who hadn’t thrown a punch since the junior school playground would do; I raised my arm to defend myself. Just then, the car ploughs through a lake of water and aquaplanes for what feels like an eternity. Did I mention it was pissing down with rain, just to add to the misery of the situation? My head cowed like a bully’s choice dupe, we spin round like a fairground Wurlitzer. The car does five balletic backflips before landing arse-side up on a fencepost on the opposite side of the road. I passed out. When I came to, the woman’s head and shoulders were wedged in the windscreen, the pike of a fence post skewered through her left eye and sticking out from the back of her skull.
I held back the bile and tried to pull myself from the grip of the safety belt. Something wasn’t right; it was too easy. I should have been pinned to my custom, handstitched seating. I surveyed the damage. My left arm was hanging on by a slender thread of muscle and sinew, and as I moved the whole limb separated like a Sunday roast chicken leg. Before the inevitable passing out I had one final thought; how the fuck am I going to explain the dead prostitute to my wife? Turns out that would be the least of my problems.
Driving a brand-new Mercedes s650 Brabus with a dead hooker pinned through the windscreen did little to ingratiate me to the local constabulary. They took one look at the Merc and my two-thousand-pound designer suit (granted, worth a little less now it was missing a sleeve) and jumped to the easy conclusion. The investigating officer who stood at my hospital bed had a pious look about him. He explained I’d been in a coma for a week (the best rest I’d had for years, to be honest). I’d woken up with a stump for a left arm and a Detective Inspector in a cheap suit standing over my bed with a four-hour erection to arrest a rich bastard with more money in his savings account than he’d ever make in his miserable lifetime.
He was shit out of luck.
My vices were strictly legal then. Wine. Cigars. Kinky role-play with the wife on my birthday. I was clean-living Johnny, mortgaged up to the eyeballs and a wife who worshiped the Trinity of Dior, Gabbana, and the Holy fucking Gucci. My three teenage kids all in private school, each one dumb as a post despite the nose-bleed tuition fees. If I’d spent my money on cocaine and hookers, I could have avoided all this, but here I am pounding the keyboard like a man possessed, trying to get all this down before it starts. And, believe me, it will start.
I suspected my wife had lost that ‘lovin’ feeling’ quite some time ago. I had no evidence other than that nasty itch you sense in your marriage when something’s not right, but you resist the temptation to scratch because it’s going to uncover some shit you’d wish you hadn’t found in the first place. She saw the whole incident as her way out. She could always spot a golden opportunity, Delilah, I’ll give her that.
I couldn’t blame the woman. Her ranking amongst the country club elite took a severe bruising, and I knew before I married her that ‘standing by her man’ wasn’t one of her go-to life mantras. Still, being divorced for the simple act of being a good Samaritan smarted. What is it they say? The road to hell is paved with good intentions? Or in my case, one good intention gone to hell. So, I took the only sliver of power I had left and refused to sign the divorce papers. Turns out, that was another decision I’d come to regret.
So, that’s the foreshadowing, the background to the main event. With my left arm in an incinerator somewhere in the hospital basement, I needed a new limb. I had specialists fussing around me for weeks sizing me up for a new appendage like they were Saville Row tailors. No matter how much they adjusted and fiddled, that shitty piece of Meccano was like one of those amusements arcade contraptions where you have to manipulate a mechanical hook to grab some piece of shit cuddly toy from the cuddly toy graveyard. I couldn’t grab a damned thing, not even my dick to take a piss. So, one afternoon I said fuck it, threw the limb across the room and told them to stuff it where the sun doesn’t shine.
That’s when my crisp eating strategy began. I figured if I could eat a packet of crisps with one hand, I could pretty much do anything with one hand.
It was during one of these extended strategy meetings between myself and my one good arm that Samuel Boorman turned up at my bedside. He was one of those geeky types with an intense look about him. Samuel reminded me I’d invested in his tech startup a couple of years ago. I couldn’t recall. It might have been one of those deals I made as a tax writeoff. He explained, in more detail than my brain could handle, that his company specialized in hybrid human and machine limb reconstruction. You can bet my ears pricked up at this point and I gestured for the young genius to sit on the edge of my bed and tell me everything.
They were close to a major breakthrough. Three-dimensional limb printing combined with artificial intelligence. I won’t bore you with the technobabble, but it came down to this: the 3D printer scans, then spits out a silicon version of my one good arm. Samuel had figured out some genius program that meshed the network inside the arm to the wiring in my own brain. So, instead of some fairground, mechanical hook he’d fix me up with, as near as dammit, a human arm wired directly to my nervous system and operated via commands from my brain. He said not to expect too much at the start; machine learning, he called it. I called it a fucking miracle.
His research facility was out in leafy Berkshire. So, the next day I discharged myself and hired a driver. Samuel insisted he wouldn’t charge me for the procedure, kept enthusing how our generous our cash injection had saved his company, and the very least he could do was return the favor. A one-armed man learns quickly not to argue with a charitable act, so I told him to do his worst. Nothing left to lose, right? Well, seems I would be wrong on that account too.
I bought a small flat in Shoreditch; close enough to smell the City’s money but far enough away that I wasn’t tempted to roll myself in that shitty green stuff again. I had enough money stashed away, well-hidden from Delilah and her cadaverous solicitor. I had a new lease on life and a new arm to go along with it. Shoreditch, with its shabby red-brick charm and disheveled glory, appealed to my sensibilities: John Cavendish was slowly rising from the flames. Okay, I might be waxing a tad poetic there, but give a dying man a break, or at least an iambic pentameter or two before he shuffles off this mortal coil.
Every week I’d visit Samuel’s laboratory for software updates. I didn’t trust myself to drive, so I paid someone else to take the strain and hang around eating donuts while the boy genius fiddled like Rome was burning. His chit chat usually circled around the same thing; me. He liked to remind me of the times we’d met, or harp on about some party or other he’d attended at my former house. Delilah would throw a large party every few weeks and invite a bunch of people I’d forget three seconds post introduction.
Samuel grunted and poked, told me everything was just peachy with the new extension. Who was I to argue? I had a new arm that was gradually coming to life; a little too slowly for my liking, but I was a patient man, and after all I had nothing but time on my hands, not like today, where I’m measuring the final countdown by the word, or possibly by the letter.
For the first few weeks my new arm, which I called Arnie just for shits and giggles, behaved impeccably, obedient and polite. I pushed it every day into something new; masturbation was the proper test (don’t judge, you would have done the same). Putting my manhood in the palm of a robot took some guts. Arnie, I’m relived to report, performed flawlessly.
Like Samuel had predicted, the software meshed seamlessly with my nervous system, ingratiating itself into my synapses like it was one of the family. Of course, I still hadn’t learnt my lesson at that point. Don’t trust your family, they’ll fuck you over first chance they get.
It was after one of those checkups when I first noticed the family loyalty begin to turn. It was subtle at first, a spasm I hardly registered until I looked back and recognized it for what it was; teenage rebellion, a testing of the boundaries.
I was walking the aisles of my local Tesco Express when Arnie shoots and slaps some elderly woman leaning over the freezer section directly on the arse. After several minutes pleading with the store manager, the old biddy screaming at me as if I were some kiddy fiddler, I reluctantly showed them Arnie. The mechanism, I explained, would shoot out at inopportune moments, like Tourette’s of the forearm, and her arse was just unfortunate enough to be in the wrong place at the wrong time. I made my excuse and left, tail between my legs. I ended up in a nearby curry house contemplating what had just happened and looking at Arnie as if I expected it to jump off the table and unravel the waiter’s turban while I wasn’t looking.
I called Samuel the next day. The kid couldn’t have been more relaxed. I think he even laughed, or at least I think it was a laugh, I’d never heard that level of jollity from him. An aberration, he said, a reflex that would smooth out as the machine learning gained intelligence. It might happen again, he advised me, but I wasn’t to worry. Yeah, easy for you to say, software boy. I think he was still laughing as I hung up the phone.
The next few incidents were so minor I hesitate to even mention them- a spilled coffee in the local café, knocking a cereal bowl off the kitchen counter, fondling a woman’s boob on the Northern Line; her left one; I think. Okay, maybe that last one wasn’t so minor, but the carriage was crowded with plenty of grab-happy hands that could have executed that maneuver. Anyway, I looked far too respectable for that kind of school-boy high jinks compared to the punks and stoners with their body piercings making their pilgrimage to the head shops at Camden Lock. Want to see a proper body piercing? I thought to myself as I watched them twist their puny earrings and nose rings. I’ll show you one you’ll not forget in a hurry. And, anyway, like I mentioned, it was the Northern Line, enough said.
Matters began to get out of hand, so to speak, a few months ago. I had a sense Samuel’s digital witchcraft was turning against me; instead of my brain dictating to Arnie, Arnie was launching a hostile boardroom bid to takeover central command.
“Preposterous,” Samuel had said, like some mad professor. He prodded, poked, measured, re-programmed and sent me on my way, but not before telling me I wasn’t required to see him in person from now on. He could program all the updates via the internet. Not that I relished the three-hour journey every week, but at least it carried some semblance of a social interaction.
The first serious incident happened early that summer. I’d caught the last over-ground train back to Shoreditch after a few drinks at a Fleet Street pub with a friend. Okay, not a friend, more of an acquaintance; an acquaintance I’d met when she sold me the flat. (Don’t judge, at least I was trying).
The station was deserted when I arrived. No doubt all the hipsters were doing whatever hipsters do in some hip, underground joint where the music’s strictly vinyl and you can’t get to the bar for the sea of plaid, facial hair, and lumber-fucking-sexuals. As I walked from the platform into the street, I felt compelled to turn right when normally I would have turned left.
I was strolling through the arches that curved under the tracks when I noticed a homeless man; you know the type, cardboard for blankets, shopping trolley for a wardrobe; skin the color of coal dust. I stood over him, watching the snot weep from his nose and listening to the death-rattle of breath echoing through his chest. I contemplated throwing him a tenner, but I remembered where the last charitable act landed me and thought better of it. Instead, I straddled his stinking, boney body and let Arnie do the charitable thing.
You’d think I would have resisted, ran, but believe me, the power of death over life can be intoxicating. I watched, transfixed, as Arnie’s thumb and index finger positioned themselves on either side of the man’s trachea and squeezed. I felt the sensations in my own brain; felt the man’s stiff bristles, his veins bulging, his skin grow tense under the pressure. I’ve felt some fucking head-spinning highs in my time- making my first million comes to mind–but this blew all those out of the water. Right then it hit me, how much I missed that power: that master of the fucking universe, the biggest balls in the boardroom kind of power. I may have smiled as the man took his last breath. Jesus, I can’t even believe I’m telling you this, but accept it as my last confession. After all, it’s not like I’ll be here to face the consequences.
I won’t churn your stomach any more than I need to with the gruesome details of the murders Arnie and I committed that summer. I calculated ten people died at my hands, or to be more specific, Arnie’s hand. I didn’t much care who they were, men, women; I drew the line at kids, I’m not a total fucking monster. We made one hell of a team, Arnie and me. Dark passageways, deserted roads were our preferred locations. We travelled. The Grim North, the Miserable Midlands, never in the same place twice. It was like some demented buddy road movie, sans the happy ending. The means of death were always the same: Arnie’s powerful hand gripped around some trembling neck, throat bone snapped, last breath taken. Job done.
I finally figured everything out about a week ago. You probably saw it all along, but I’m a slow learner. Samuel had planned it to perfection and programmed Arnie’s network to override my natural functions and reflexes. But to what end? I’d done nothing for the boy genius except invest time and money, given him my body to experiment with. My own words came back to haunt me; nothing left to lose. Yeah, that’s what I’d told him, like that’s ever a good motivation to do a damn thing.
How does it all end? Good question, and if I have the remaining time, I’ll tell you, but I can already feel Arnie stirring. I’ll hold off the inevitable long enough to give you the satisfaction of a good ending, after all you’ve come this far, and I’d hate to leave you hanging.
It all came to a head, like these things often do, by sheer chance. I was strolling around Covent Garden, taking in the late Autumn air. It was the kind of day that the romantic poets wrote about: a bearable chill in the air, the sky cloudless and blue, the sun still shining like it had forgotten it wasn’t summer anymore. That’s when I saw them, canoodling (if that’s even a word they use these days) at one of those market stands that charge a fortune for a painting of your favorite rock-star in the style of Rembrandt or some other classic artist. No Coldplay, though, I noticed as I glanced over the gaudy offerings.
Samuel had his arm around her, caressing it up and down her back. Delilah was lapping it up- she always complained I never showed her enough affection in public- tossing back her hair, laughing like the whole fucking world was one big joke. I stood watching for a few minutes, more out of morbid curiosity than jealousy. I still held the trump card. The unsigned divorce papers were still in my desk drawer and there was no way in hell Delilah was squeezing another dry penny out of me until they scattered my cold, dead ashes from Waterloo Bridge. That’s when it hit me. I must have stood for a little too long contemplating the big fucking penny that had just dropped into the tiny slot I called my brain.
Samuel turned and looked directly at me. I promptly ducked behind a stall of tie-die scarves, but I knew he’d clocked me. I kept my eye on him as he stepped away and thumbed at his cell phone like he was making an emergency call.
The tingling sensation in my arm shivered up to my skull. By the time I looked up, they’d gone, Samuel and Delilah; yeah, the irony made me weep too.
So, that brings us neatly to tonight. I’m sitting in my perfectly appointed kitchen, just waiting. There’s a carving knife on the table where I tried to divorce Arnie for good, but that silicon is a bitch to cut through.
And so, to my last confession. Bless me Holy Prada for I have sinned, but with caveats. I was the instrument not the instigator, the patsy not the perpetrator, the sinned against not the sinner. Arnie’s the one who should pray for forgiveness, but he has a final plan in mind, one last charitable act.
I can feel it now, that twinge, the itch that begs to be scratched. I’m sitting, hands on the table, three empty bags of crisps, Cheese and Onion in case you’re wondering, at my feet. Going out in style, right? Arnie twitches and I know it’s begun, the familiar rise, the power grip either side of my neck, the gradual application of pressure, the bulging neck veins, the compression of the chest. I close my eyes. It won’t be long now.
One last breath.
John Cavendish fades to black.