Shouts from the alley caught my attention. I signalled to Peterson that I was going to check it out.
‘It’ll be another vagrant,’ he said. ‘It’s always a vagrant and we always have to arrest them.’
‘Still,’ I smiled. ‘It’s warmer filling in paperwork back at the station than beating feet out here.’
He gave me another look but came anyway.
The shouts grew louder. I thought it was a fight, or a party. Sometimes, they’re one and the same thing on a Friday night.
The air in the alleyway had the bitter scent of rotten garbage, cloying and heavy. I retched when we passed an open dumpster full of half-decayed fish and hoped the air would clear the deeper in we went. The alley ran straight, behind a series of restaurants, before disappearing away at right angles. Unless there was a rose garden beyond the bend, I didn’t see the situation improving.
Peterson was right of course. We rounded the bend and came face to face with a bedraggled fellow wearing the unmistakable eau de toilet made popular by street sleepers the world over. He grinned when he saw us: yellowing teeth.
He shot a glance over the shoulder of his moth-eaten tuxedo at a set of three steel bins, arranged in a loose group.
‘The witnesses are here, my dear. Didn’t I tell you not to worry?’ It took me a moment to register that he was addressing the bin in the centre. He turned back to us. ‘Do come in. We’re just starting the speeches.’
I looked at Peterson who just shrugged. There’s nothing in Blackstone’s that covered this.
Our host took our dumbfounded stares as assent and continued: ‘friends, thank you all for being here to share this happy occasion. I knew from the moment I first met Justine that I loved her. She showed me nothing but kindness in my darkest hour and, despite knowing little about me, harboured me from the clutches of our diabolical mantis overlords. I was on the lam, an escaped convict and the only surviving Exterminator. She hid me from the reaches of their evil antennae. Now, sweet Justine, I can’t stop thinking about you. The faintest whiff of cabbage sends my heart racing. My one true love. My saviour. My everything.’
We watched him stoop, laying a wet kiss on the lid of the dustbin. I saw Peterson shuffle in…was that embarrassment? I glared at him, nodded towards Lover Boy. He stepped forward.
‘Sir?’ I started, but was cut off.
‘Does anyone else wish to propose a toast?’ Lover Boy asked.
A sound behind me, a clack clack clack like stiletto-heels, made me turn. I wished I hadn’t. The shadow of a six foot tall praying mantis loomed over me. The clicking must have been its mandibles. I felt a wet heat in the front of my trousers.
The mantis opened its mouthparts and in an almost human voice said: ‘oh, I’ll propose a toast alright.’