Discover more from Write More with Simon K Jones
Immortality: Part 2
Who can afford to live?
The Triverse is
Mid-Earth, an alternate 1970s London
Max-Earth, a vision of the 26th century
Palinor, where magic is real
Previously: A man going by the unlikely name of Stan Lazarus was accused of murder. The charges were withdrawn after the coroner ruled a natural death. Now several more accusers have come forward with accusations of fraud and ‘potential manslaughter’ against Lazarus. The SDC have been brought in to investigate…
On duty: DC Nisha Chakraborty & DC Zoltan Kaminski
It was turning into a long day. Shifts didn’t always mean much, Kaminski knew that, but it had at least started out quietly that morning. The Lazarus case had looked like a crank call, at which point he had seen a late lunch and a walk along the river in his future. Instead, they were heading to a police station near Kensington to speak with the cohort that was accusing Stan Lazarus of an entirely new slate of crimes.
The underground was delayed, so they’d taken the tram. The streets beyond the stained windows were busy with bodies and bicycles and rickshaws, the occasional motorised vehicle, a few horses. He thought back to Addis Ababa and the stark difference. Being there had felt like being in another world, without even needing to transit through a portal. Ethiopia - probably the entire African continent - was operating on a different level to Europe and the Kingdom. It was like nobody had noticed, though. British exceptionalism went a long way to patching over problems.
The tram’s rails, at least, meant they avoided the deepening potholes in the road.
“It’s a lot cooler up here, at least,” Chakraborty said. “The underground gives me a headache this time of year.”
“Going to get a lot hotter and nastier down there. It’s only April.”
Chakraborty made a disgusted sound in her throat. “How are things at home?”
It was the first time she’d asked something that wasn’t work related for weeks, and it made him freeze for a moment. Chakraborty blew hot and cold like the wind, sometimes from the north, sometimes the south, different every day. Since the attack she’d been distant, other than the brief time convalescing at his place. For a while he’d thought she might stay even after she was better, but as soon as she was able to look after herself she’d been gone. Didn’t want to be a burden. There was always baggage, with her.
“Things are OK,” he said, then shook his head. “No, things are shit. Things are always shit, Nisha. You know this. My folks get older every day, but I can’t afford to put them in a home. They wouldn’t go anyway. Isn’t it weird the way they help us walk and change our nappies when we’re babies, and then we return the favour when they get old and start falling apart?”
“At least they’ve got you. What are we going to do when we’re their age?”
“Good for them. Shit for me.” He flexed his lips around a cigarette. “I mean, I love them. Of course, right? But fuck, it’s a lot. Like having another job. And it never ends, until it really ends. The only exit is the worst thing that could happen. So then I feel guilty at even thinking about it.”
She smiled. Actually smiled. “You feel guilty because you’re a good man,” she said, poking his arm. “Don’t beat yourself up. There’s enough other people to do that for you.”
He nodded. Didn’t matter what she said. It was a bad situation, there was no way around that. Some things could be fixed in life. Some things, not so much.
The Kensington station was small, despite its salubrious surroundings. Every other house was a mansion or an embassy. It was the sort of luxury that Chakraborty knew she’d never have. She could work harder than anyone else, be the most expert detective, even rise up through the promotions, and it wouldn’t be enough to rent a shed in the back garden of one of those places.
In the foyer were half a dozen people, men and women, of varying ages. Other than their fancy clothing there didn’t seem to be much in common between them.
The desk sergeant scurried over. “Glad you’re here, detectives,” he said. “This lot have been giving me hassle all afternoon. You know this Stan Lazarus they’re on about?”
“We interviewed him this morning,” Kaminski said. “Unrelated. Or, at least, you’d think so. We’ll see.”
Chakraborty took a breath then crossed the room to the group. “Ladies and gentlemen,” she announced, “I’m Detective Chakraborty. This is Detective Kaminski. We’re here to talk to you about—”
An older woman with alarmingly large hair, perhaps in her fifties, raised her hand, stepped forward and interrupted. “Yes, yes, have you arrested him yet, though? Is Lazarus in custody?”
“We are aware of Mr Lazarus’ whereabouts. First we’d like to hear more about your accusations.”
“It’s very simple,” said a greying man, tall and thinner than looked healthy, at least in his mid-seventies. “He’s killed all of us. He’s a murderer.”
Kaminski struck a match and lit a fresh cigarette. “Forgive me, sir,” he said, “but I am a detective, and I can’t help but observe that you are all still very much alive.”
“For now!” the man said, his eyes bulging. “No thanks to him! Because of him, I’m going to die.”
Getting the increasing impression that they were dealing with a bunch of idiots, Chakraborty glanced at the desk sergeant, who shrugged apologetically and slunk back to his desk. “OK,” she said, “perhaps go from the start. Are you accusing Mr Lazarus of assault? Has he injured you in some way?”
Big Hair shrieked. “I’ll say! He’s denied us eternal life! We were promised infinity, but instead he just emptied our bank accounts.”
“He did it to all of us,” Grey Man said solemnly. “That’s why we’re all here together. Once we realised what was happening, it was our only option. Some didn’t want to join us, but we’re doing this as one, because we’re all equally aggrieved.”
Kaminski coughed, cigarette smoke billowing into the room. “Sorry. What exactly did Mr Lazarus do? Our understanding is that he’s a travel agent, for luxury holidays?”
“That’s the sign on the door,” said Big Hair, “but that’s just for the plebeians. Anyone who is anyone goes there for the real service. The longevity treatments.”
Chakraborty frowned. “But we don’t have longevity treatments on Mid-Earth.” Then the realisation clicked into place. “Ah, I see. He was arranging for treatment abroad?”
“I went to Palinor,” said Big Hair. “An astronomical sum of money. Took me two weeks to travel across that godforsaken desert to the mountains. And when I got there, it was little more than a spa. They claimed to do some sort of magic on me, but I’m convinced now that nothing of the sort actually happened.”
The Grey Man nodded effusively. “I paid for a trip to Max-Earth, to a gene therapy retreat. Had every injection under the sun. But, again, how can I be sure? Based on the evidence and experiences of everyone here, I’m led to believe that it was all a farce. Smoke and mirrors. A waste of time and money. Criminal!”
Grabbing a chair from the edge of the room, Chakraborty scraped it across the floor and sat down. This could take a while, and she wasn’t in the mood to stand the entire time. “You’re all still alive, though. Longevity doesn’t stop you ageing, right? It slows it down, or can be a temporary reversal. How would you know?”
“I’ve looked up the retreat,” Grey Man said, “and it’s unlicensed. Not mentioned in any of the official recommended literature.”
“We paid to live forever,” Big Hair said, “and that’s not what we got.”
Kaminski shrugged and waved his hands. “I get that you might have got bad service. But that doesn’t mean it was criminal.”
Grey Man slammed his fist down on a table. “We’re talking life savings, man! Hundreds of thousands of pounds, gone. Lazarus is a charlatan. A con man. Who knows what else he’s involved with?”
Out of the corner of her eye, Chakraborty could see Kaminski trying to suppress a grin. He wasn’t good with ridiculous people. “OK, we’ll look into it,” she said. “We’ll talk to Mr Lazarus and see what he has to say for himself. Until then, make sure you leave statements with the sergeant here.”
The Grey Man put a hand on her shoulder. “Understand, detective,” he said, leaning close, “if the police aren’t able to handle this, we’ll need to deal with it ourselves. He’s robbed us of everything, but we still have influence. We can do the same to him.”
Chakraborty reached up, grabbed his hand firmly and removed it from her shoulder. “Allow us to do our jobs, sir.”
“Fine,” he said, “but don’t take too long. Any of us could die at any moment.”
The SDC offices were quiet. Chakraborty and Kaminski were out on the wacky Lazarus case, while Clarke and Holland were looking into a reported aen’fa stalker. The strike team were downstairs somewhere, which left Detective Sergeant Caitlin Shaw manning the phones alongside Robin and DS Collins.
Shaw couldn’t help but feel the lack of a full complement of detectives. All very well getting the new rapid response hotshots, but they’d gone from six detectives to four at the same time. They had more grunt now but fewer brains.
On the other hand, it was good to see the top brass showing their faces. The old offices hadn’t had the space, which had pushed most of the DIs over to Scotland Yard. Now they were mostly all in the Joint Council space together. It was good to have the team together properly, even if they didn’t feel particularly well oiled.
For the first time in a long while, Shaw felt like there were opportunities. She’d never intended to stay at the SDC, let alone get stuck in the Detective Sergeant rut - but here she was, after six years, with no promotion to show for it. Having Bakker, Ford and Morgan nearby could only help - maybe they’d finally see her merit. Even DCS Walpole was a more regular presence. 1974 might be her year, after all the tumult of the previous few.
The door to DCI Miller’s office swung open. “Shaw! Can you get in here for a moment, please?”
She dutifully put her work aside and joined Miller in his room. It was smart, slicker even then the main office. But, then, James Miller was the slickest of the slick.
“How are things, sarge?” He sat down at his desk and indicated the opposite chair.
“Good,” she said, sitting. “The squad seems to have adapted well to the new environment. I mean, as well as Clarke or Kaminski ever would.”
Miller laughed. “I don’t know how you keep them on track, truthfully. Grumpy old sods. Well, one grumpy old sod and one grumpy young sod. That’s how they are.”
“They know their stuff.”
“That they do,” Miller said, clicking his fingers. “That they do. How about DC Holland?”
“He’s doing some of his best work,” she said. “Partnering him with Clarke could have been a mistake, but it’s worked out well.”
“I knew it would. Especially with oversight from you and Collins. Nice work, the both of you. You do know that this department would fall apart without you, Caitlin?”
“Thank you, sir.”
“Come on, call me James. Or ‘guv’. I always wanted to be ‘the guv’.” He cleared his throat. “More to the point, I’ve got a proposal. And it’s not official, I can’t promise anything, but there are going to be more changes around here. I don’t think that’s a secret. There are all sorts of changes going on upstairs, Joint Council business, as well as in parliament. We’ve got the general election coming up sooner than we think.” He paused and glanced at a bookcase for a moment. “Point is, anyone who wants to get ahead is going to have the opportunity to do so. I know you’re ambitious, Caitlin, and I also know that you’ve felt a little stifled here.”
“I wouldn’t put it that way—”
He held up a hand. “No, no, you’re right. That was the wrong word. But you know what I’m talking about. For the right people, for ambitious people, there’s going to be openings. Is that something you might be interested in?”
This might be it. “Yes, James, of course. Keep me posted.”
“It’s good to have such a great team. To have people I can trust.” And he smiled, that Miller smile that was always a little too broad, with a few too many teeth on display. A shark before the bite.
Thanks for reading!
This month is ‘Mermay’, a fun challenge that started during the 2020 lockdowns to draw a mermaid every day of May. Given that I’d just started doing daily sketches via Notes (that’s Substack’s new Twitter-like, which so far is rather nice), it seemed like a fun thing to try.
Here’s what I’ve come up with so far:
Freaky. Thanks again tofor the heads-up on Mermay.
Also: Big thanks to those of you who upgraded to a paid subscription in the last couple of weeks. It’s such an amazing feeling as an artist to have people make such a generation declaration of support. I love that Substack has made this possible for independent creators.
Write More with Simon K Jones is a reader-supported publication. To receive new posts and support my work, consider becoming a free or paid subscriber.
This is quite a chatty chapter. I love writing dialogue, which I think is probably a holdover from my late-teenage screenwriting and filmmaking ambitions, but it always feels like a bit of a risk in prose. It’s very easy to reduce a chapter to back-and-forth dialogue without much in-between.
There’s a bit in the middle of this chapter when Chakraborty grabs a chair and sits down on it, in a bit of a huff. It’s a character moment, but more than that it’s a way to break up the dialogue and introduce a bit of blocking into the scene. Rather than two groups of people standing opposite each other and jabbering, that chair makes the space more interesting. It tells us something about Nisha’s personality and how she deals with conflict, and informs us of the room itself.
There’s a group of new characters here, only two of whom actually speak. Of those two, they don’t get real names. Instead, we have Big Hair and Grey Man. Again, this is from Chakraborty’s point of view, so that tells you a lot about the regard she holds these people in. I’m also acutely aware that Triverse has a lot of characters, both in the core cast and the episodic guest roles. This time round I decided not to properly name them, and instead reduce them down to caricatures.
Which in turns makes me think about the tonal versatility of Triverse. The episodic nature of it makes it possible to shift gears quite dramatically. I’ve had seriously grim investigations, comedy stuff (which is where ‘Immortality’ falls), action, intrigue, globe-trotting adventures…the triverse is always bringing me something new, which hopefully keeps it interesting for readers, as well.
MEANWHILE, deep in Simon’s notes. The last week-or-two has been about me cracking the code of Triverse’s final stretch. I mean, that’s still a big stretch - there’s probably a good year of stories still to come - but it was time for me to figure out the specifics and bring certain aspects into focus, so that it all plays out tidily. I wrote about that process in some detail earlier in the week, actually:
The good news is that I’ve made real progress on this, having been slightly stuck on a couple of points. Part of it was waking up the other morning with a bit of a brainwave - something that rarely happens quite so acutely. I had to write it down quickly before the thought evaporated.
Long story short: there’s some very fun, very exciting stuff on the way for Triverse this year. I can’t wait to hit you with it.
P.S. here are some ebook giveaways that you might enjoy: