To the casual observer a morbidly obese man wearing a gold shell suit and baseball cap hurtles out of The Daily Grind; pursued by an aggressive gentleman intent on his murder. To the casual observer a pigeon, or maybe it’s not a pigeon at all, then joins the chase. As you can imagine, this is quite the spectacle. Not the sort of thing a casual observer would expect to see in an affluent town like Solihull; but it happens nonetheless.
The fat man is much faster than he looks and manages to cross the Square in a matter of seconds, his assailant close behind. At this point the pigeon, or maybe it’s not a pigeon at all, descends on the Assailant, who continues to move forward as best he can while the bird batters at his face with wing and claw. This epic battle between man and beast is witnessed by no less than thirty two shoppers and busy-bodies who gape wide-eyed and open-mouthed at the pair. The Assailant is still half running while this crazed bird attacks him, causing him to run straight into an iron lamppost. There’s an awful crunch as his face makes contact with the metal. Then everything seems to slow down. The fat man is now watching from a safe distance. The bird settles on the roof of a nearby car, looking pleased with itself. The Assailant (now the victim) stands there stiff as a board and then falls back on the pavement unconscious. His face now resembles a Picasso painting complete with broken nose and large red mark on his forehead. A mobile phone starts to ring somewhere in this unfortunate gentleman’s jacket pocket. It rings out. There is a fair amount of blood running from his nose and over his right cheek like spilled paint. To the casual observer the unconscious gentleman is the perpetrator and the fat man in the shell suit the victim. After all, it was he who was doing the chasing and there is a club hammer laying by his side. No one is quite sure what to make of the pigeon, or maybe it’s not a pigeon at all. However, all of these assumptions are incorrect; as you will now see. In fact, they couldn’t be more wrong.
The monstrous gentleman, Vardy being his name, in the gold shell suit and matching baseball cap never used to be fat at all. In fact he used to be extremely skinny. He never wore shell suits. Not even in the 90s. Nor the diamond encrusted necklaces and rings that currently festoon his swollen and bloated frame. He never used to sell Class A. Candy either. Or be known, by those that know of him, as the Candy Man. You see, only a year ago he was exceedingly skinny. He’d gone from one extreme end of the Body Mass Index to the other in a matter of twelve months, give or take. And, it all started the night he met Ryder.
On that night, Vardy climbed the back fence of a posh house on Blythe Way intent on breaking in and making off with some valuables or some knickers to sniff. Getting into the house was easy. It always was. People just didn’t take their security seriously any more. He managed to lift one of the windows and climb into the kitchen without a sound. As Vardy crept stealthily along the dark hall and into the front room, lit only by the street lights outside, he realised he was no longer alone. A large metal birdcage hung from an ornate stand in one corner of the room. In this cage was a large grey bird, a parrot of some sort, although Vardy had never seen a grey parrot before. It eyed him suspiciously. Weren’t they supposed to be red or blue or green? Well, this one looked like a tarted-up pigeon. Beside the cage, on a wooden unit was a small bowl of sunflower seeds. It stood right next to an old school photo of some posh kid, spotty and self-righteous. Evidently, these seeds were intended as some sort of treat for the bird. Being fond of animals, Vardy crept across the room, pinched some seeds between his scrawny, cigarette stained, digits and proceeded to offer one through the bars. He made a clicking noise at the bird with his tongue.
To his surprise, the bird spoke in a deep and confident voice: “Yo! Stop giving me seeds and give me beef baby!”
Vardy dropped the seeds in shock and took a step backwards.
“What you doing in here bitch?” the bird continued; “You deaf motherfucker?”
Vardy couldn’t respond, even if he wanted to. He is mute. Never uttered a single word in his life. Not one!
“Listen! You gotta break me outta here man! Take me with you! I’ll do anything, just get me outta this posh hell. I don’t wanna end up like them,” he wept. That’s when Vardy noticed a series of stuffed pets dotted around the room, their glassy eyes staring back at him in the half-light. There was a cat standing by the fireplace, a dog by the door, a budgie on the mantel piece and a hamster on the coffee table (being used as a paperweight). He spotted a slightly over-stuffed goldfish in a jar, a guinea pig with patches of fur missing and a gerbil on top of the television. The bird continued weeping and pleading: “They’re sick man! The boy’s the worst! They’re twisted! I don’t wanna get stuffed man! You gotta get me outta here!” Vardy stared at the bird in disbelief. “Plee – hee – heease!” the bird wailed. Vardy opened the cage door and reached in with a nervous hand. “Shit! Your fingers look like Cheetos!” the bird stated, apprehensively jumping on and gripping them with is talons.
That is how Vardy and Ryder first meet.
The bird’s owners originally named him Sabastian. Changing this name was Ryder’s first act of freedom following his emancipation. It later transpires Ryder is in fact highly intelligent. His intellect is far superior to Vardy’s – a feat perhaps not hard to achieve. However, Ryder’s intelligence is on a whole other level. It was in fact he who masterminded the candy smuggling and distribution operation; hiding behind Vardy who eventually became known locally as the Candy Man. No one is any the wiser. But in reality it is Ryder who is in charge. Not the fat, intimidating brute that stands before them. And Vardy is too scared to say otherwise, even if he could say otherwise. After all, he’s seen the bird do things, terrible things, when he doesn’t get his own way. It of course helps that Vardy is a mute. His silence during drop offs and other such activities has given him an air of menace and intimidation that a squeaky voice with a Birmingham accent would never achieve. No one ever hears the ‘Candy Man’ speak in person. There are rumours he speaks to people over the telephone from time to time. But this of course, is Ryder’s voice they are hearing: a cold and ruthless voice that inspires terror and compliance.
Working through Vardy, Ryder starts by pushing Sherbet on local school children. There are many schools in and around Solihull and there is an open market for Sherbet. There was some initial resistance of course. A young man by the name of Milton Thackeray Junior who happened to be selling Class A. Candy across Solihull in a loose and unambitious sort of way. This young man had been the son of Ryder’s previous owner. A boy who’d been particularly cruel where Ryder was concerned. They removed Milton from the equation early on and that is the first time Vardy sees what the bird is capable of. It still gives Vardy chills now, just under a year later. The things that bird did to the boy! Ryder really took out his anger and revenge on him. He is afraid if he doesn’t tow the line, he will end up the same way. After a while the nature of their clientele began to change. They traded up, moving away from school children, and began working with adults, local businessmen and politicians. They supplied Class A. Candy to confectionery addicts at all levels of society. The level of sugar dependency was surprising. Their little business arrangement was going from strength to strength and they’d barely scratched the surface of what Ryder had in mind. However, maybe now someone was onto them. What other reason could that man have for chasing Vardy out of the coffee shop that afternoon? Ryder wants know. He wants to know, because he likes to be aware of who he’s killing.