The Bride Wore Black Leather
(Book 12 in the Nightside series)
A novel by Simon R Green
There is a night that never ends. Hidden deep in the dark and dangerous heart of London lies the Nightside; an empire on which the sun has never set and never will. A business empire of sin and corruption, wonders and marvels, and every kind of dream come true, all of them at very reasonable prices. The thrills and chills of the hidden world, laid out before you in all their sleazy glory . . . but none of it for the faint of heart or those of a nervous disposition. In the Nightside, where it’s always three o’clock in the morning, the hour that tries men’s souls and finds them wanting, the dawn never comes . . . You can find the baddest clubs and the maddest music, parties that will never end as long as someone’s got cash in their pocket or credit on their cards, and the fun goes on forever. Put on the red shoes, of your own free will, and dance till you bleed. And don’t ever complain that no-one warned you.
In the night that never ends you can find heroes and villains, gods and monsters, angels and demons . . . and you can be sure that somewhere, someone is always singing the blues. Hot neon burns like warning signs in Hell, while men and women with bad pasts and uncertain futures swarm up and down the rain-slick streets, in pursuit of pleasures that might not have a name, but most certainly have a price. Temptation winks from every street-corner, and there’s always a quiet back room where you can sell your soul. Yours, or someone else’s. Dance in the streets, run wild in the night, bet your soul on a roll of the dice . . . and then grin at the dealer and ask if you can go double or quits. You can chase every dream you ever had in the Nightside if it doesn’t end up chasing you.
There is a night that never ends. Or at least, that’s the smart way to bet.
One Last Case
I went walking up and down the packed streets of the Nightside, making my way through all the desperate conversations and dodgy deals, through all the damned and the disgraced, and all the lost souls searching for something they could buy, then call love; and everywhere I went, people nodded quickly and politely to me, out of respect. I still wasn’t used to that. John Taylor has always been a name to conjure with in these dark streets, a name to inspire fear and hope and disapproval, but the kind of reputation I’d built, through years of taking on the kinds of cases no-one else would touch, was more designed to keep people at arm’s length. My rep has always been about striking terror into the hearts of the ungodly and keeping everyone else at a secure distance, for their own safety. I wasn’t used to people actually sticking around long enough to smile and nod respectfully. I kept wanting to glance over my shoulder, to see who they were really looking at.
I strode purposefully down the crowded streets, and people moved quickly to get the hell out of my way. At least I could still rely on that. The streets . . . looked as they always did. Hot neon signs to every side, gaudy as Hell’s candy, and just as bad for you; multi-coloured come-ons for every sucker who thought the Nightside was only another playground for those with more money than sense. Oh, you could find all the usual tourist traps here; but our traps have teeth and an endless appetite for fools. I strode past questionable enterprises and houses full of sin, all of it shop-soiled and marked down but still bright and shiny as any tinsel. Past dark alleyways where darker figures made the kinds of deals that cannot be made in the light. Past women wailing for their demon lovers, and men crying their hearts out over the ones who got away; past golden boys and golden girls with heavily mascaraed eyes and cold, cold smiles on their lips. Love for sale; love, or something like it.
The street traders were out in force, lined up along the curb, selling their cheap and cheerful wares from flimsy stalls or open suitcases propped up on stools. I slowed down enough for a glance here and there, despite my better instincts. Most of it was the usual tourist trash. Brightly hand-painted Toby jugs with knowing smiles, which would shout a warning if someone poisoned the drinks they were holding. Joan the Wad figures, to guarantee good weather. Bottles of Lourdes Cola, the Real Deal! All the latest sex films, from celebrities on their way up. Or down. On DVD, Blu-Ray, 3D, and 4D. Some so hot their jewel-case covers were sweating. And any number of steaming stalls offering food so fast it could give you indigestion while you were still eating it.
All the usual cries. I once saw a pie jump off its stall and walk away on its own. I’ll never eat from a food stall again.
The street traders dealt in all the lesser flotsam and jetsam that turns up in the Nightside, through Timeslips and dimensional doors, or from tourists forced to empty their pockets and sell everything they own, in return for a ticket home. High-tech artefacts and baffling personal items, treasures and curiosities, from out of the Past or any number of possible futures. From all the worlds that ever were, and some that might never be. Rarely with anything remotely like an instruction manual, or any kind of provenance, or guarantee. Or a refund. Buyer beware, and please don’t open that until you’re a safe distance away.
The night was hot and sultry, the air more than normally close. Out of open doorways of a dozen different ethnic restaurants drifted savoury smells strong enough to bring tears to your eyes and a spark to your step. All kinds of music from the kinds of clubs that never close; from hot saxophone breaks to heavy bass lines that shuddered in your bones. Trouble on the air, danger in the night, sex and violence tugging at everyone’s elbows. Business as usual, in the Nightside.
The traffic roared up and down the road, never slowing, never stopping. There are no traffic lights in the Nightside; vehicles that defy the laws of physics every day have no time at all for the rules of the road. Anything and everything travels through the Nightside, from places best not considered to destinations beyond our comprehension. From horse-drawn carriages to deep-freeze super-tankers, to black taxi-cabs that dart back and forth, duelling with swivel-mounted machine-guns over disputed territories . . . Super-streamlined cars from alternate futures, ambulances that run on distilled suffering, and articulated transports carrying unknown loads on unknowable journeys. While overhead, something the size of a dozen planes sweeps slowly by, its grotesque shape blocking out the stars in the sky, with not even a murmur of flapping wings.
So if you want to cross from one side of the road to the other, you either have to do something quite appalling to a chicken . . . or do what everyone else does, and use the underpass. Walk down a flight of steps, travel through the simple concrete tunnel that passes beneath all the havoc and horrors of the traffic above. You’re a hell of a lot safer in the underpass than you ever are up on the street because all the underpass tunnels are monitored and protected by the Authorities, in the general interest. Can’t have the tourists coming to any harm before our many and voracious businesses have squeezed every last penny out of them.
I strolled through the brightly lit corridor, and unlike on the street above, everyone was calm and polite and not in any way violent, and gave everyone else lots of room. Because each and every underpass is patrolled by unseen trained poltergeists. Courtesy of the Authorities. You’ll never see them coming, but if you make any kind of trouble, they’ll turn you inside out in a moment. And leave you that way. It’s surprising how long you can live in such a condition though that’s not necessarily a good thing. And that’s the standard punishment. Really piss off a poltergeist, and it will demonstrate that not only has it got a really nasty sense of humour, but also absolutely no restraints when it comes to experimenting with the human form in appalling ways.
But they can’t be bothered to do anything about the graffiti artists. Apparently they consider them beneath their dignity. So the walls are covered with overlapping scrawls of names and boasts and urgent messages from the subconscious of the Nightside.
And, of course, the inevitable buskers. I think the poltergeists let them hang around to brighten up their endless job. But only as long as the musicians maintain a professional standard. The untalented and overambitious can often be seen hobbling out of the underpass with their instruments stuffed where the moon doesn’t shine. I