Thursday, 10 December 2020

The Art of Craftsmanship by Graham Brack - The First of our December Short Stories inspired by a song

Read The Story  - Guess The Song 

here's a clue

I am not a lunatic.

Not in the strict sense of the word, nor in its looser, vulgar connotation. The moon does not influence my activity.

It is true that I am more active by night, but I have things to do during the day; places to go, people to meet, work to do. Besides, my night-time activities are more in the nature of a hobby. When they stop being fun, I’ll give up. I can stop any time I want. I just don’t want to.

There is a special thrill in silent movement. I have a pair of rubber-soled shoes and keep them warm and oiled to stop them squeaking. There’s a tip for you; a little linseed oil rubbed into the leather goes a long way to quietening your footwear. On noisy surfaces, I slip a pair of socks over my shoes to deaden the sound of my feet approaching. That first moment when someone realises that you are within arm’s reach and they had not detected your approach is so delicious. 

I say “someone”. I mean, of course, women. And not just any women; women of a certain class. They are creatures of the shadows and the half-light, which makes us a sort of kindred, I suppose. The gas plays across their painted faces as they step in and out of the street light’s throw, but I wait until they have retreated from the enquiring eyes of any passing policeman before I introduce myself. Close enough to smell them, the scent of lavender and cheap gin, the mothball smell of old blankets, the sweaty miasma of recent activity.

They give themselves away. They talk to each other; they cannot help it. Thus, if they fall silent, they are solitary. I hear their breathing, the coughing produced by brown coal fires, the pop of a cork as they warm themselves from a small bottle in their reticule or tucked under their garter; and I reach into my pocket and feel the cool steel of my little problem-solver.

Ah, whatever ails them, my little razor is a sovereign remedy! Guaranteed never to fail. Of course, it requires a certain skill to use it well. The man who wields it stutteringly or lacks conviction in his sweep will never be an artiste. Panache is required; preparation of the stage for the performance; the invigorating anticipation of satisfying my public once again. It is expected of me.

I hear them chatter about it over their newspapers in the coffee houses, while sipping their India ale in the pubs, between the acts at the music hall. “He’s done it again! What is it now, five? Six?”

Actually, madam, it is eight; but it would not do to tell you so. It would look like tawdry self-promotion. Millais does not number his paintings. Nor do I enumerate my works of art.

For that is what they are. I compose my scene as carefully as any theatrical director or portraitist. I elevate the young lady from the gutter to the centre of the stage, the focal point of my tableau. I should leave a title-card, perhaps. “Bursting with desire”; “I give you my heart”; “Do you doubt that I am a woman, now?”

It is imperative that they know what awaits them, that they receive a brief glimpse of what is to come. Not enough to call others to witness my sculpting, of course; I must not be hurried. My work is quick, but not to be rushed. It would not be polite to introduce them to my steel friend without at least exchanging a courteous “Good evening!” 

That is usually all I need to say. The discovery that I am so near, that their senses have not suspected my approach, is so potent a silencer. I murmur my greeting, they turn, surprise suffusing their features, and they gasp in appreciation of my stealth; and in that moment when they are still drawing breath, I draw it from them.

They fall, they clutch at their throats, they gurgle. It is all futile. You cannot make an omelette without breaking eggs, and you cannot slit a throat without a little mess. My Mackintosh coat protects me from the worst of the spray. Costly, but worth every penny, in my view. 

Now they lie before me, the raw material on which I will work my magic. Before, they were nothing, insignificant; now their names will live forever. A curious inversion, since mine will not; not my real name, anyway. Occasionally I think it would be good to be acknowledged, to accept the fame that justly comes my way, but, on balance, it is better to leave that to my alter ego, the sprightly sobriquet bestowed upon me by some Fleet Street hack. They are probably the only words he will ever write that people will remember when he is gone. 

These women rarely trouble themselves with undergarments. It slows their commerce, do you see? All the more convenient for me because, not having any sisters, female clothing is a mystery to me. I would not wish to dull my blade on an inconvenient stay.

What will I do with the raw material at my disposal? How will I shape this plastic warmth? I have no preconceptions. I am moved by my artistic whimsy, cutting here, slicing there, shaping and improving the flesh, drawing out the beauty waiting to be displayed. A camera would be an encumbrance, but it is a great shame that I cannot capture my oeuvre for posterity. Fortunately I can rely upon a police photographer to do so for me. I wonder if I asked for a cabinet of each image, would he oblige me, do you think? No?

No matter. I do not rest upon my laurels. I move on to plan my next performance. I perambulate the city. It is important to give the residents of various districts the chance to admire my art. For this is not mere handiwork; it is craftsmanship of the highest order. They say I may be a surgeon, but no professional man can approach the sublime creations of the gentleman amateur. For them, it is mere drudgery, but for me – well, I am doing what I love.

How do you feel, gentle reader? Is there just the slightest suspicion that I may be at your back as you sit in your armchair? Can you imagine the invigorating sensation of hearing me whisper “Good evening” in your ear? Perhaps you have long thought your ears to be a little too large, or imperfectly aligned; do not concern yourself. My skill can remedy any such defects. What a slender neck you have! How pale! It could do with a splash of colour – red, perhaps? 

But I do not detect that same odour about you. Not for you the coarsely scented toilet water and the two-penny glass. What is that delightful fragrance? Jasmine, I fancy. I would expect no less from a lady such as yourself. The perfume blossoms as the body warms, you know; I can sense it growing now, because you are just a little uncomfortable, are you not? I need not approach quite so closely to detect it. It is noticeable even when I am beyond arm’s reach. Just beyond arm’s reach. 

It is a lovely evening. Would you not care to step outside into the garden to enjoy the last of the cool air? A pace or two more from the door would be good. Do not fear the dark, my dear; no harm will befall you. 

What a beautiful moon! Yet that is not what excites me.

Did you guess the song?

The Nearness Of You - Vic Damone

(official YouTube video)

Graham Brack is a gentle, kindly grandad who just happens to write crime stories. Having sold the family business, he now has more time to write and has proved it by publishing ten novels. He and his wife live in rural Northamptonshire just a short walk from their daughter and her family, but a long way from their son and his family in the USA. Graham is a licensed lay minister in the Church of England and enjoys reading history and telling professional sportsmen where they are going wrong from the comfort of his armchair. 

Twitter: @grahambrack

images from Pixabay


  1. Wow - what an opener to the series! And such a fabulously-crafted story, too. Graham has a knack for economic description which allows for a whole picture to grow in your mind whilst reading. And yes, I did feel a little urge to turn round while I was reading but no, I didn't guess the song!

  2. Fabulous - so atmospheric. Thank you Graham and Helen. (Not exactly the Christmas spirit :) ) Afraid I didn't guess the song either!

    1. I didn't guess the song when first reading the story either!

  3. The nearest I got was Jack The Ripper by Link Wray - and that was miles away! Such a lovely, gentle song for a creepy story! Well done Graham - a really great start to the series!!

  4. Thank you all very much. Not the usual sort of story I write, but great fun anyway. If I left you feeling a little uncomfortable, that's great, but as they used to say at the end of Crimewatch, do sleep well.

    1. Thanks Graham - a super story to start us off!

  5. My word, that was chilling! But a beautifully crafted narrative. I must read more of Graham's work.

  6. Thank you! Exactly what I was hoping for, on both counts!

    1. I do admit, putting these stories together, along with the daily promotion etc., is hard work - but to get the reward of new readers discovering new writers makes it all very worth while!


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