Friday, 10 March 2017

Satan's Whiskers Chapter Four.

I was eventually asked to give the police my witness statement regarding the death of the child, and to my surprise I was also interviewed about the subsequent killings of Skinner and Short.
Seamus O’Malley was being held as the prime suspect for the killings, and my testimony, along with that of other members of the band, was expected to convict him of the crime. I’d expected to be interviewed in a stark interview room, similar to the ones I’d seen on television programmes, but on my arrival at the police station, a constable guided me to a comfortable office room.
Detective Inspector Trimble was leading the investigation; he’d lost most of his hair, except for a ring of predominantly silver hair which travelled around the back of his neck, before curling over his collar for want of a recent trim. The inspector had grown a moustache to compensate for his follicle deficiency, and with a genial face he looked like the stereotypical image of a favourite grandfather. A gold half hunter pocket watch, on a rose-gold chain, adorning a three piece suit, and his shoes were highly polished as if he’d once been in the army.
Trimble sat on a green leather swivel chair behind a large mahogany desk, where he consulted his pocket watch frequently, as if he were late for a more important meeting. Due to its many years of faithful service, not only to Trimble, but to the generations that came before him, the old desk had seen better days, and the once vibrant green leather top with gold tooling, had faded to a greenish grey, never more to return to its former glory.
Framed and displayed on a blue velvet background, a collection of police badges caught the eye; while around the walls hung photographs of police football teams, and the inspector shaking hands with local dignitaries.
On an inferior chair, probably one of a set of dining chairs, sat another plain clothes officer, while a female stenographer, in police uniform, occupied an identical chair with her back against the wall, her reading glasses perched on the tip of her nose, and a writing pad lying expectantly in her lap.
“Please sit down,” invited the inspector.
Trimble may have had a genial face, but his colleague, who appeared to be Savage by name and savage by nature, instigated the interview. His hair was dark and slicked back using Brylcreem, while a flat moonlike face, coupled with a small pointed nose and horned rimmed spectacles, gave the impression of an owl waiting expectantly to pounce.
“Detective Inspector Trimble, and Detective Sergeant Savage in interview with; state your name please,” said Savage.
“Raymond Evans,” I answered, much too loudly due to my nervousness, and I instantly felt embarrassed at my over-exuberant response.
Not even my mother called me Raymond unless I was in some kind of trouble, but under the circumstances Ray would have seemed a little informal.
“How long have you known Seamus O’Malley?” Savage questioned me.
 “I only met him last Saturday for the very first time. We were involved in a minor road traffic accident and Seamus was a pedestrian who was injured slightly.”
“Did the accident occur on the street where O’Malley lives?” asked Savage with a puzzled expression. It appeared to be his introduction to the concept of a road traffic accident, and he momentarily floundered while attempting to ask the right questions.
“No, the accident happened on the Shadcroft estate, not far from the Manxman public house.”
Savage appeared to be even more confused by my explanation. “Then can you explain how you came to witness the discovery of a child’s body almost a mile away from the Shadcroft estate, and on the street where O’Malley lives?”
“After the accident we gave Seamus a lift home and he invited us into his house for a bottled beer.”
“Why on earth would a pedestrian, who you’d never before met, invite you to his house for a beer?” He leant forward aggressively as he spoke, and invaded my space as if he didn’t believe a single word of my explanation.
I moved my chair backwards, not because Savage intimidated me, although I have to admit he did, but to avoid the obnoxious smell of his foul breath.
“I personally had never met him before, but he works on the same building site as Freddie.”
“Who on earth is Freddie?” asked Savage, as he shuffled the papers in front of him to discover the answer to his own question.
“Frederick Cope,” interjected the inspector. He’d been studying the case notes avidly, and never once had he raised his eyes from the type written pages laid out before him.
“What was Seamus O’Malley’s state of mind when he was told that the child might be dead?” asked Savage, but before I could answer his question, he added. “Was he angry?”
“He appeared to be angry, he suggested we break into the squat and discover the truth.”
 “Were you angry?” snapped Savage, leaning forward once again and giving me another whiff of his halitosis problems.
“Why should I be angry? I puzzled. “I didn’t even know the druggies existed until we went to authenticate Mrs O’Malley’s story.”
 “I suggest that you became angry, on seeing the body of the child, Mr Evan’s, and that along with Seamus O’Malley, and  others, you plotted to kill Thomas Skinner and Teresa Short.”
 “Now wait a minute,” I yelled. “If I’m a suspect, instead of the witness I was led to believe, then this interview is over until I have a lawyer present.”
I didn’t know anything about lawyers, or whether I was entitled to have one represent me, but I’d seen criminals on television react in much the same manner, when the hot seat appeared to be getting a little too hot, and it always appeared to halt the proceedings.
Detective Inspector Trimble held up his hand as a signal for Savage to cease his interrogation.
“You’re not a suspect, at this stage, Mr. Evans,” said Trimble, trying to defuse the tension between myself and his subordinate officer. “If you’re in need of a lawyer, at any time during the interview, I’ll gladly inform you. Now can we continue please?”
I reluctantly nodded my approval and Trimble took over the questioning.
“How did O’Malley appear when he discovered the child’s body? Was he upset? Did he become angry? Did he shout or threaten?”
“He was stunned like the rest of us, and upset,” I answered, selecting one of the options made available to me. “We all were. Seamus collapsed on the floor and began to cry. I never saw such a tough looking guy break down in tears like that.”
“Did he threaten the lives of Skinner and Short?”
“We never saw Skinner and Short, but he said if he ever set eyes on them they were as good as dead.” 
“He threatened to kill them?” prompted the inspector, and the stenographer wrote frantically in shorthand on her writing pad.
I could have bitten my tongue for my indiscretion, and instantly tried to make amends.
“People say those things all the time, they don’t mean them literally. My mother threatens to kill me three or four times a week.”
Trimble smiled in recognition. “In your opinion, is Mr O’Malley capable of murder?”
 “I’ve only met him once, so I’m not qualified to comment.”
Trimble lit a cigarette and offered one to me.
 “No thanks I don’t smoke.”
“Have you never smoked Mr. Evans?”
 “I tried them while at school,  but they made me feel dizzy and sick so I never took them up.”
“What about Seamus O’Malley, does he smoke?”
“He never smoked in my presence,” I answered truthfully.
“Thank you, Mr. Evans. The sergeant will show you out.
“Cope and Cheshire are both smokers by their own admission; so is Bloomfield,” Trimble told Savage after he’d shown me to the door, “which makes them prime suspects, but that doesn’t rule out any of the others. If the killer was a non smoker, and smoked just to imitate the child’s injuries, he would have felt pretty sick afterwards, there were a lot of burns on the bodies so he must have smoked at least twenty cigarettes. Unless he vomited in the canal, there is nothing at the scene to suggest that he was sick. This may indicate that the killer was a regular smoker, but if he wasn’t I’d like to know about it. Did you get photographs taken of our suspects as I asked?”
“Yes sir, they were told it was routine when they arrived at the station.”
“And did they buy it?”
“They did sir.”
“Good. Show their pictures to the local shopkeepers and see if any of our non-smokers bought cigarettes around the time of the murders.”
“Over what time scale,” asked Savage. “Do we know when the deaths actually occurred?”
“The bodies were in the second stages of decomposition,” Trimble mused, “my guess would be within a timescale of a matter of hours of vacating the squat, until about seventy-two hours ago. We won’t know anymore until we receive the autopsy report.”
As the killer had bought his cigarettes from a dispenser in The Manxman public house, Savage’s enquires  revealed absolutely nothing.
Seamus O’Malley remained the primary suspect, despite having been released without charge due to a lack of evidence. The vigilante, whoever he might be, hadn’t left  a single clue as to his identity.

Tuesday, 7 March 2017

Satan's Whiskers Chapter Three.

Our first professional engagement was quite a success, considering that we’d only been together for a few short weeks. The stage proved to be too small to accommodate us, as I’d predicted it would be, with Freddie and Brian, who being the singers always fronted the band, spilling onto the dance floor. We were upset by what we’d witnessed the day before, and I found it difficult to concentrate on something so trivial as playing guitar, but the success of the booking, which we gauged by audience reaction, helped to raise our spirits.
After the performance the publican paid us the agreed pittance, from what must have been an impressive evening’s takings, judging by the size of the crowd, and he was happy to honour his handshake contract by booking us to play on alternate Sundays.
I’d been expecting a visit from the Blakewater constabulary throughout the whole of Sunday, as a constable at the scene had taken our names and addresses after discovering the baby. He’d asked a few basic questions, the answers to which he’d written in his notebook, and he informed us that we’d be receiving a visit from plain clothes division, but no visit had has yet materialised, and no formal statement had been taken.
While we were packing away our equipment, after the performance, Freddie received a tap on the shoulder.
“Hi Freddie, you have a good band there.”
A dark haired young man was offering his congratulations, and intended to make use of his recent sales experience, and past relationship, to take advantage of the situation.
“If you’re looking for a singer, I’m your man,” he blurted out without embarrassment.
I was flabbergasted by the nerve of this guy, and couldn’t help but put him straight when Freddie and Brian failed to do so.
“We don’t need a singer,” I told him abruptly. “Freddie and Brian can sing just fine.”
“I just thought  the band would be better with a front man to complete the line up.”
“Well you thought wrong. Besides we all have a financial investment in this band, every penny we earn goes into paying  higher purchase agreements for our equipment.
There was an embarrassing silence, during which Freddie and Brian looked uncomfortable, until the stranger broke the silence.
“If you aren't looking for a singer;  who manages the band?”
“We don’t have a manager,” answered Brian. “In fact we haven’t even considered one.”
I take it this battered old van belongs to the band?” continued Dominic, for that turned out to be his name, and after receiving confirmation that his observation was correct, he continued. “If you give me the job, I’ll buy a new van, as my financial contribution, and I’ll guarantee that the diary will never be empty of bookings.”
We pondered his offer individually, until Dominic played his trump card.
“Where do you hold band practise?”
“The band practise in Brian’s bedroom,” answered Hank, but I can’t practise with the others as the room is too small and the drums are too noisy.”
“You need to practise together,” said Dominic, stating the obvious, and everyone nodded in agreement.
“I know a publican,” he went on to say. “I’m sure he’ll let you practise in his function room; as long as you drink his beer during band practise,” he added as an afterthought.
I noticed that he didn’t name the pub, perhaps he thought we might go behind his back and arranged practise nights ourselves.
“Will he charge us?” asked Brian.
“You don’t expect free beer do you?” Dominic quipped.
“For the room you idiot not the beer,” corrected Brian, although he knew Dominic was joking.
“If he does I’ll pay for the room myself, or I’ll find another venue.”
Freddie asked Dominic to leave  while we considered his offer.
“I think we should adopt Dominic as our manager on a trial basis,” he suggested. “He could receive an equal share of the profits, and he’ll buy a new van as his financial contribution." 
 “I agree that we’ll eventually need a manager,” I admitted, “but I envisioned one with more experience in the music business.”
“Dom is the best salesman I’ve ever met,” Brian informed us, “if anyone can negotiate bookings  its Dom.”
We took a vote and being outvoted by three votes to one, it didn’t much matter whether I liked the appointment or not.

*  *  *  *

I read the coroner’s report in the local newspaper. It confirmed our observations that the child’s body displayed signs of bruising, partially healed broken bones, and cigarette burns. The whereabouts of the parents were unknown, and a police search was currently underway. A verdict of death by systematic abuse and neglect, by a person or persons unknown, was the coroner’s ruling until more evidence could be gathered.
The local newspaper reported that Thomas Skinner, the chief suspect in the child’s murder, had received little schooling as a consequence of his habitual truanting, while never having done an honest day’s work in the whole of his life. The reporter had discovered mug shots of the runaways. They appeared to have been taken while in custody, as they stood in front of a measuring chart and held what appeared to be an arrest number which had been redacted.
The picture showed that Skinner stood six feet tall, and was as skinny as a lamppost. He wore dirty clothes and his hair was long, straggly, and unwashed. Skinner was reported as being eighteen years of age, although he looked much older than his years due to his drug addicted lifestyle. He’d become addicted to heroin, the report claimed, having graduated to that particular drug of choice after experimenting with marijuana, and amphetamines.
The baby’s mother, Teresa Short, was Skinner’s junior by a couple of years, and a runaway from local authority care since the age of thirteen, the report went on to say. Her picture showed that she had matted hair, which she obviously never bothered to comb, a dirty face, which she never appeared to wash, and spots around her mouth due to repeated solvent abuse. Addicted to heroin, the report concluded that Short used the baby, which may or may not have been Skinner’s biological child, as a begging tool with which to obtain money for drugs. Their current whereabouts were said to be unknown, but the police would like to interview them with regard to the child’s death.

*  *  *  *

At the very moment when Seamus O’Malley crashed through an upstairs window with his digger, Skinner and Short exited through the back door. A short distance from the house was the Leeds to Liverpool Canal, the main artery for the transportation of coal from the south Lancashire coalfields, and raw cotton from the port of Liverpool to the mill towns of East Lancashire and West Yorkshire, before the nation’s road and rail network made them largely redundant.
Running along the towpath until they were clear of the squat, and any search which might take place, the couple stumbled across one of the many derelict industrial buildings along the canal side. Skinner tried the latch of a rotting wooden door set into a factory wall, and to his relief it opened to provide a refuge. Stone steps descended to an uneven flagged floor some six feet below ground level.
“Go down the steps you stupid bitch,” he told Short, who appeared reluctant to do so, and he gave her a push to encourage her to descend before closing the door behind them.
The room was in darkness, except for a shaft of light which shone almost vertically down a coal shoot to form a pool of light on the cellar floor. Once his eyes adjusted to the gloom Skinner could see that the cellar contained wooden pallets, stacked so high that they almost reached the vaulted ceiling. Metal oil drums ate up a large proportion of the cellar floor, indicating that the coal boiler had been converted to the use of oil.
Although the boiler had been converted before the mill’s closure, due to competition from cheaper foreign imports, a large quantity of coal sacks littered the cellar floor, and an old coal shovel leant against the boiler door as if left there only yesterday.
It was late afternoon as they entered the cellar, and the pair decided to lay low until they were sure that the hue and cry had died down, but as darkness began to fall and with nowhere else to go, they were persuaded, by circumstances, to stay the night. Thomas Skinner began constructing a makeshift bed using wooden pallets, while Teresa Short ventured onto the towpath, after dark, to fill coal sacks with grass, which she intended to use as pillows and a mattress.
Being April it was cold in the cellar once darkness descended, and only the light from the moon provided intermittent light to a small part of the room, as the moon disappeared behind the clouds and reappeared again. On the plus side the bed was comfortable, and they had plenty of sacks with which to cover themselves.

*  *  *  *

A couple of days later, the runaways received an unexpected visitor. He knew that wherever the couple were hiding they would need to feed their drug addiction, so while the police searched randomly for the runaways in sheds, outhouses and garages, in an ever increasing circle around the location of the squat, the visitor had set out to discover their source of pharmaceutical supply.
He found the local dealer, but the dealer had no information to impart, in fact he denied knowing the runaway couple, and couldn’t be persuaded otherwise, even with a financial inducement, but on his second night of questioning the inquisitor met with an addict with information to sell.
“I saw Short filling sacks with grass about a mile down the canal towpath. It’s my guess they’re holed up in a derelict building because she seemed to be making a mattress.
“Where exactly did you see her?” the inquisitor asked, while hiding his facial features using a hat and a scarf, although it was unlikely that the addict would have been able, or willing, to identify his inquisitor had he not worn the disguise.
 “There’s a cellar on the towpath,” the addict told his benefactor, when a monitory note was waved in his face. “You enter through a door in the factory wall; I’ve used it before for shooting up. “You can’t miss it because swans have built a nest nearby.”
 The inquisitor paid the addict for his information, and from the snitch’s testimony he discovered the cellar with little difficulty.
At that moment the moon came from behind a cloud; peering down the coal shoot the visitor could make out two figures beneath a pile of sacking. He opened the cellar door and tiptoed down the steps until he reached the cellar floor. He need have had no concerns about disturbing them, as the couple were comatose from recent drug use.
 Picking up the coal shovel to use as a weapon should he need one, he poked the man, and waited, shovel in hand, for a reaction. When the expected reaction never came he dragged the man from his makeshift bed, and apart from groaning, and a little light resistance, he was easily subdued and tied to one of the cast iron pillars which supported the ceiling.  The girl was even easier to handle and offered no resistance at all as he tied her to the pillar alongside her partner.
He stripped them of their clothing and waited patiently for their return to consciousness, prodding them occasionally to assess their progress.  Once aware of their predicament, the visitor lit the first of a packet of cigarettes with which to begin the planned torture. He’d gagged the couple with pieces of filthy sacking to stifle their cries for help, and he alternated the burning with a  beating using the coal shovel.
 He was not, in his opinion, a violent man, but God had spoken to him in Exodus 21: 23-25. He read aloud, by the light of the moon, from a small burgundy coloured bible with gilt edged pages, a confirmation gift which he cherished and carried with him at all times.

“Whenever hurt is done, you shall give life for life, eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot, burn for burn, bruise for bruise, and wound for wound.”

In the early stages of the torture he was sickened by his violent actions, especially against the girl, who was a victim of circumstances and the influence of Skinner, but after a while he warmed to his task, as he inflicted bruises and cigarette burns on his victims to mimic the injuries found on the baby. He discovered, to his surprise, that he wanted to hear their screams, as they would have heard the baby scream, but it was essential they remained gagged so as not to attract attention.
He continued to inflict burns on his victims until his cigarette packet became empty, and then he carefully gathered up the cigarette butts and replaced them in the empty cigarette packet. The coal shovel he left where he’d found it. Even if the police identified the shovel as the weapon used to beat his victims, there would be no fingerprint evidence, as he’d been careful to wear gloves.
By the light of a torch, he carefully removed all of his footprints from the dusty cellar floor using a piece of sacking, as he retreated backwards from the scene of the crime towards the cellar steps. His shoe size, tread, and manufacture of shoe, would consequently remain a mystery, so that future comparisons could not be made between footprints and the footwear that made them.
Without a twinge of conscience he abandoned his victims to suffer the symptoms of withdrawal from their self administered drug abuse, before dying from the effects of dehydration, starvation, or from the injuries he'd inflicted on them. Initially he’d considered ringing the police anonymously, to report their whereabouts, but the bible had made it clear that the child had died, and so in consequence must the perpetrators of that death, an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth, a life for a life, nothing less would suffice.

*  *  *  *

Detective Inspector Trimble arrived on the scene, accompanied by a detective sergeant, after the discovery of the bodies by children playing along the canal towpath. Their first sensation was of the terrible stench. The corpses were bloated, and partially eaten by rats, which appeared to have climbed the bodies to reach the choice morsels, as the eyeballs were missing from the corpses, and maggots squirmed in the vacant eye sockets.
Trimble was a career policeman nearing pensionable retirement, and the most senior detective on the Blakewater police force. He’d joined the force as a uniformed officer some forty years earlier, and was fast approaching his sixtieth birthday. He’d investigated murder cases before, crimes of passion, street stabbings, and family disagreements gone wrong, but nothing remotely resembling this.
“I think we’ve found our runaways sergeant,” Trimble speculated, while covering his lower face with a handkerchief in a futile attempt to mask the smell of the decaying corpses. “The burns and the bruises suggest torture, but the perpetrator left them here to die, he didn’t kill them.”
“What makes you think that sir?”
 “Can you see the congealed blood on the bodies’ sergeant? Their hearts were pumping as they were being eaten by rats.”

Thursday, 2 March 2017

Satan's Whiskers Chapter Two.

On the return journey to Brian’s house, a lady driver stopped, quite suddenly, at a pedestrian crossing. Freddie hit the brakes, but being ineffective, like every aspect of the old van, which Freddie had purchased with our money, but without our knowledge, from a local scrap yard, we shunted the lady’s car, pushing it onto the pedestrian crossing and striking an unfortunate pedestrian on the shins.

*  *  *  *

The van was completely unroadworthy. The accelerator pedal, along with the accelerator pedal linkage, were both missing, having been robbed from the van to repair an equally unroadworthy vehicle. Luckily the engine sat between the front seats, and as the engine cover was also a missing item, it was a simple matter for the co-driver, who was essential to the process of driving the van, to accelerate, on the driver’s instruction, by pulling on a lever attached to the carburettor.
 I’d also discovered a worrying excavation in the cargo area.  The hole must have been situated directly above the fuel tank, as the smell of petrol fumes was overpowering. I speculated that the van might explode if people continued to smoke, although no one appeared to share my pessimistic view. To make matters worse the roof panel had become detached above the windscreen, where the spot welds had failed, and when on the move it flapped like the sole of a hobo’s boot.

*  *  *  *

The damage caused by the shunt was indiscernible on the battered old van, but far more obvious on the lady’s shiny new car, as we crowded around the point of the collision making unhelpful observations.
“Who’s going to pay for the damage to my car,” asked the lady? Who appeared to be distressed beyond what might reasonably be expected when faced with a dented bumper and a broken tail light.
“Don’t you worry missus, I saw everyting, so I did,” volunteered the pedestrian. But that was before he recognised our driver. “Be Jaysus, is tat yourself Freddie?” he asked, instantly forgetting his role as witness for the prosecution.
 Freddie worked on a construction site as a carpenter, and by coincidence the pedestrian, an Irishman by the name of Seamus O’Malley, worked on the same building site driving mechanical diggers and dumpers.  His neck was as thick as the top of my leg and covered with tattoos. They climbed from beneath his T-shirt, reached the underside of his chin and the back of his ears, while covering his huge arms and terminating at his wrists. LOVE was tattooed on the knuckles of his right hand, while HATE was tattooed on his left, in capital letters, with flying bluebirds situated at the base of each thumb. Although he’d shaved his head to disguise the fact that he was balding prematurely, the difference between his shiny dome, where hair follicles no longer survived, and the shaved area, was  easily discernible.
“How are you coping Freddie Cope?” asked Seamus, while laughing at his own pun, the accident forgotten and the lady driver ignored, as she attempted to remove the damage from her car by rubbing it with a wet finger.
 “Why are you driving tis battered old van?” Seamus asked. “You could have feckin killed me.”
“We’ve formed a band, and this van is our temporary transport,” Freddie answered.  “We’ve just arranged our first commercial booking at the Manxman.”
“Fair play to you Freddie me boy. “Will you still speak to old Seamus when you’re rich and famous?” He laughed again at his poetical brilliance, as he realised his sentence rhymed. “I’m a poet and I didn’t know it,” he quipped, and we all laughed at his remark out of politeness rather than genuine amusement.
“Never mind the chit-chat,” said the lady driver. “You promised to be a witness to the accident.”
“Oh shut te feck up missus,” said Seamus. “You backed into tese boys, so you did.”
Seamus was in his early-thirties with an English wife and two small children. He’d crossed the Irish Sea looking for work, and had never more returned to the island of his birth. He loved his mother, and kept in touch by letter, and by the odd telephone call, but she’d re-married after his father died suddenly, and while Seamus was little more than a boy. He'd missed his father, and refused to accept his stepfather, who having little interest in children in general, and in Seamus  in particular, ignored him except to physically punish him for the slightest of misdemeanours. Seamus spent an unhappy couple of years after his mother re-married, and couldn’t grow up fast enough to leave Ireland, and his abusive stepfather, behind.
“Can we give you a lift?” Freddie asked out of guilt, as Seamus hobbled around theatrically rubbing his damaged shin and making grimacing faces.
 Seamus didn’t need to be asked twice, and climbed into the front seat of the van without answering, while Freddie exchanged insurance details with the lady motorist and the rest of us climbed into the back.
On arrival at his home, Seamus opened five bottles of Guinness using his teeth, as a bottle opener appearing to be an unnecessary accoutrement in the O’Malley household. Drinking glasses also appeared to be an irrelevance, as we were expected to drink directly from the neck of the bottles, even though Seamus had inserted each and every one of them into his mouth to remove the bottle tops.
Seamus rolled up his trouser leg to reveal a purple bruise, which had rapidly developed on his swollen shin.
“Just look at tat feckin ting,” he complained, while we all laughed, unsympathetically, at his misfortune.
Mrs Seamus joined  the conversation after hanging out her washing in the cobbled rear yard.
 “You know the druggies who live in the squat down the street?” she asked her husband, eager to impart her latest snippet of doorstep gossip.
Seamus grunted, while displaying a distinct lack of interest in his wife’s commentary, but she continued regardless of his apathetic response.
“I was talking to her next door, and the rumour is that their baby might be dead. That baby is filthy and neglected, it’s a crying shame; you can hear it screaming when you walk past the squat, while the parents are out of their heads on drugs, but no one has heard it crying lately.”
“Tere’s only one feckin way to find out,” called out Seamus, jumping to his feet and accepting the mantle of investigator without nomination.
Seamus lived in a row of stone built terraced houses built on a severe slope. Although re-surfacing of the roads had taken place in the locality a decade earlier, the cobbles on this particular street remained purposely untouched. This gave the delivery horses, which were fast disappearing from Lancashire’s industrial landscape, a better grip as they pulled milk floats, coal wagons, and rag and bone carts up the steep incline.
Families at the top of the street were waiting to be re-housed, while at the bottom of the hill all the families had gone, and the houses were in the process of demolition to make way for a brave new world of concrete and steel multi-storey flats.
Seamus hurried down the hill towards the squat, despite his damaged leg, with the rest of us following in his wake. Once outside of the squat, he began shouting obscenities through the letterbox, and when no-one answered his challenge he used his shoulder in an attempt to force an entry.
 Seamus was a powerfully built man, and the door was old and in a poor state of preservation, but despite this apparent mismatch the door stubbornly refused to give way to his brutal methods of persuasion.
“Come out you druggie bastards,” he called through the letterbox, but the occupants, if indeed there were any occupants, had little intention of opening the door to a stocky foul mouthed Irishman with a shaved head, and covered from head to toe with tattoos.
“Go around te back and see if you can get in tere Freddie,” Seamus ordered.
Freddie did his bidding, and I accompanied him to offer either moral or physical support, whichever might be needed. The back door was also locked, and Freddie had no more success in breaking down the back door than had Seamus at the front of the house. First he ran at the door using his shoulder and backed away gasping in pain. Then he tried kicking it in and jarred his knee so badly that he was left hobbling.
“You have a go,” Freddie suggested.
I’d seen doors broken to matchwood on television, by the use of a shoulder, or by kicking it open in a single attempt with the sole of a boot, but the reality of breaking and entering using physical force appeared to be a very different proposition.
“After watching you bust your shoulder and then your knee, you must be joking,” I told him.
When we returned to the front of the house, having failed  to gain entry, Seamus headed towards the construction site,  without a single word as to his intentions. People had gathered in the street on hearing the ruckus; many of them watching the proceedings from the safety of their front doorsteps, while others joined the growing number of dissidents gathered outside the squat.
“What’s gooin on?” asked a scruffy individual wearing a grubby waistcoat, a collarless shirt with rolled up shirtsleeves, a trouser belt far in excess of what was required to support his trousers, worn in conjunction with braces for good measure, and a filthy flat cap perched on the top of his head.
“Seamus is trying to break intut squat,” answered his neighbour.
“What the ell for?”
“Somebody towd him that yon druggies av kilt their babby.”
“Bloody ell!” the enquirer replied.
The crowd turned in unison in the direction of a rumbling sound approaching from the direction of the construction site. A bright yellow digger, which had been left unattended over the weekend,  by no other than Seamus himself, was travelling towards the squat.
The digger had the appearance of a modified tractor, which boasted a large hydraulic bucket at the front, used for pushing soil into piles and loading trucks, and a long articulated arm supporting a smaller bucket at the rear, for use when digging.
When the digger reached the squat it stopped abruptly. Everyone in the vicinity stepped back in anticipation, as Seamus raised the bucket on its long extending arm. The downstairs windows had been bricked up to deter children from entering the derelict buildings. Seamus could easily have demolished one of the bricked in windows with the slightest touch from the digger. Instead, he decided to enter the building via the second floor.
The upper floors were open to the elements, as unruly youngsters found it great sport to throw missiles through the upstairs windows, making upper floor occupation impossible. Crashing through an already broken window pane, Seamus dropped the digger’s arm. The bucket hit the stone windowsill with a jolt, and as the digger moved backwards bricks and glass crashed onto the street below. Seamus moved forward again, turned off the digger’s engine, and then to everyone’s amazement he exited the cab and began climbing the hydraulic arm until he reached the bucket. 
The roof had already begun to collapse, and Seamus entered the building through a dangerously unstable opening. The upstairs rooms appeared to be unused, as expected, and he descended to the floor below by way of a creaky wooden staircase. On his downward journey he extracted a turned wooden spindle from the banister rail, to use as a weapon should he need one, and he brandished it menacingly in anticipation of an attack.
Reaching the ground floor unmolested, he had a clear view down the hall and into the kitchen. He noticed that the back door of the house had been left ajar, as if someone had left the property in a hurry, which must have been the case, as it had been locked when Freddie and I had tried to get in a short time before. At the bottom of the staircase was the front door, and Seamus slid back the bar bolts and turned the key in the lock to let us in.
Randy and I were instructed by Seamus, who'd nominated himself to be our leader and was consequently delivering orders, to search the front room for any signs of a baby, while Seamus investigated the kitchen, yard, and outbuildings, and the other two searched the back room. A lighted candle stood on a wooden orange crate in the centre of the room, glued into position by a mountain of wax, which had solidified over time around the base. Dirty mattresses, scavenged from other abandoned houses, lay on the floor, as if multiple occupants had been using the squat. The floor was littered with abandoned needles, and to my disgust human excrement, but no signs of a baby.
After our fruitless search we  met in the hall. “Nothing in there except for used needles and piles of shit,” I told Seamus.
Freddie and Brian reported a similar scenario, and Seamus suggested that we search upstairs.
 “Is the staircase safe?” asked Randy, eyeing it with suspicion.
“I came down the feckin ting didn’t I,” answered Seamus tetchily.
 We climbed the rickety staircase to search the bedrooms, and Seamus opened a wardrobe to discover a stout cardboard box advertising a popular brand of washing powder. We could tell from the smell that it didn’t contain washing powder, as Seamus carefully placed the box on the floor, and opened it up to reveal its contents.
Inside was the emaciated body of baby girl swaddled in a filthy blanket, and resembling an Egyptian mummy. Almost a year old, she was malnourished, and so small that she could have passed for a child of half her age. Her pallor was of a waxy yellow, more like a waxwork dummy and not like a real child at all, and her lips and eye rims were tinged with purple. Seamus removed the blanket which bound her, and we discovered that cigarette burns, and bruises, covering the whole of her tiny body. I felt a lump rise in my throat, and I struggled to fight back the tears as we stared at the tiny creature in amazement. This was a scene I had never envisaged, and will never forget for as long as I live.
Seamus collapsed in a heap on the filthy bedroom floor, and despite his rough exterior he cried like a baby.

Sunday, 26 February 2017

Satan's Whiskers Prologue.

George and Edward Whittaker were brothers, of eleven and ten years of age respectively, they were the oldest siblings of a large family of children, who shared a common mother, a number of different fathers, and were the product of a single parent home.
Georgie and Teddy often vandalised the streets of Blakewater, while their drug addicted mother appeared to have lost control, if indeed she ever exerted control in the first place. Once tired of breaking windows in the derelict properties awaiting demolition, the boys headed towards the canal towpath, where horses once towed barges laden with coal, to fuel the steam engines which powered the cotton looms.
A pair of mute swans had built a nest in the shallow water, where a retaining wall had collapsed allowing stones from the wall, and soil of the banking, to fall into the water and create an artificial island.
“I wonder if there are any eggs in that nest.” Teddy queried of his brother, as he threw a large stone at the pen to scare her from the nest. The pen left the in a hurry, and Teddy laughed, but he hadn’t taken account of the large cob swimming serenely on the almost ripple-less water close by.
The angry cob launched itself at the boys with a flapping of its wings, and with its long neck outstretched in a gesture of attack. The boys ran for their lives, with the swan giving chase in fits, starts, and flutters. The boys were scared by this unexpected attack, and they ran, and they ran, until long after the swan had given up the chase. As they bent double, while gulping in Lancashire’s polluted industrial air; they began to laugh hysterically due to the adrenaline rush of having escaped the angry cob,
“Shush, Georgie ordered. What’s that noise?”
Teddy stopped laughing, at his brother’s command, and listened to the buzzing sound which appeared to be emanating from a cast iron grate set into the canal towpath beneath their feet.
“There must be a cellar down there.”
“Let’s find it,” said Teddy, with the intent of creating more mayhem.
Twenty feet from the grate and set into a factory wall, they discovered a planked door of rotting wood. It had, at some time, been fitted with an asp and a staple, indicating that it had once been secured against intrusion using a padlock. Georgie operated the latch, and pushed the door open to reveal a flight of worn stone steps, fashioned by time, and the footsteps of long forgotten workers.
 The buzzing sound became louder as they descended the steps, accompanied by a squeaking sound which initially they failed to identify. Georgie went first, in his capacity of older brother, with Teddy hanging onto his shirt for security, and peering nervously over his brothers' shoulder.
The room would have been in total darkness, except for a shaft of light which intermittently flooded through the grated coal shoot on which they’d so recently been standing. A second shaft of light followed them down the steps from the open doorway, creating distorted shadows which led them to an uneven flagged floor in the cellar below.
 “Can you see anything?” asked Teddy nervously, while leaning so heavily against his brother, to enable a view, that they toppled down the last few steps and fell in a heap on the cellar floor.
“You idiot,” Georgie moaned under his breath, as he examined a grazed knee.
It was becoming increasingly dark, as they left the light afforded by the open door, but the boys were aware that the room was cluttered with objects of an industrial nature, as they felt their way between oil drums, and wooden pallets, to approach the source of the buzzing sound.
“Get ready to run,” Georgie warned his brother. “It may be a bee’s nest, or even worse it could be wasps.”
“What’s that horrible smell?” Teddy asked, while covering his nose, and mouth, with a rather unsavoury looking handkerchief retrieved from his trouser pocket.
“I don’t know,” answered his brother, screwing up his face in disgust, “but I think I’m going to be sick.”
Rounding an oil drum, Georgie imagined he could see the outline of two people standing in the shadows.
“I think there’s somebody over there,” he whispered into Teddy’s ear, and they hid behind a stack of wooden pallets in total silence for fear of discovery.
“They seem to be tied up; do you think we should free them?”
“You do it,” said Teddy, whose concern for his own safety far outweighed his curiosity, “I’ll wait here.”
Georgie crept closer to the human shapes, while ensuring he remained hidden from view. He could distinguish the people a little clearer as he approached the light from the coal shoot. One appeared to be a woman, not much taller than he, and with long straggly hair. The other one also had long straggly hair, and could easily have been a woman, but Georgie reasoned the second figure to be a man because of the height difference. They were standing facing each other in total silence, and Georgie listened intently to hear if something was being said above the unidentified buzzing and squeaking sounds.
Suddenly the sun came out from behind a cloud, and a shaft of light streamed down the coal shoot illuminating the figures. Flies swarmed all around them, and Georgie could see that they were tied to one of the iron pillars which supported the vaulted ceiling. Rats milled around their ankles squeaking excitedly, and the couple stared at Georgie from eyeless sockets.

Satan's Whiskers. Chapter One.

APRIL 1964

In April 1964 the Beatles held the top five spots in the Billboard top forty singles in America. The Rolling Stones released their debut album, unimaginatively named the Rolling Stones. BBC 2 began broadcasting in the United Kingdom. Thieves stole the head from the Little Mermaid statue in Copenhagen. Twelve of the Great Train Robbers received sentences totalling three hundred and twelve years, and I joined the rock and pop band Satan’s Whiskers.

*  *  *  *

Soon after the bodies were discovered, I was questioned by the police, but let me start from the very beginning.
I stood in front of the bathroom mirror, studying my appearance as I trimmed my unruly eyebrows using the moustache trimmer attachment on my electric razor. My mother often chased me around the house with a pair of eyebrow tweezers to rectify the eyebrow problem, but as she plucked her own eyebrows to destruction, before replacing them with a thin pencil line, I made sure that she never caught me.
 After naming the newly formed band Satan’s Whiskers, I’d tried, unsuccessfully, to persuade the others to follow my example and grow whiskers as a gimmick. A week without shaving and the stubble of the first few days looked a little more beard-like; although I had to concede that the side growth was disappointing, which would undoubtedly provide ammunition for the others to ridicule my efforts. On an impulse I shaved the beard into a goatee. If I didn’t like the final result the whole thing would have to be removed, but what the hell, easy come, and easy go. I examined my handiwork in the mirror from every angle, until I was satisfied that the goatee was an improvement on what preceded it, and looked even more satanic than did a full beard.

*  *  *  *

Freddie Cope was already at Brian’s house when I arrived for band practise. I’d met Freddie and Brian, for the first time, a few weeks earlier, when I’d gone into Blakewater for a night out with a friend.
It transpired that Freddie and Brian planned to form a band, so the conversation inevitably drifted into that territory. I was the owner of a bass guitar, in fire engine red, which was currently languishing in my parent’s loft, after a previously failed attempt to form a band. Being in need of a bass player to turn their duo into a trio, they asked me to audition.
I wasn’t confident of my musical abilities, as it had been a couple of years since I last played the guitar. I practised throughout Saturday, and wished, on a number of occasions, that I hadn’t agreed to audition for fear of embarrassing myself, but I needn’t have worried, as I was accepted as a member of the fledgling band by a unanimous vote.
“Hi Ray,” said Freddie, in his usual cheery way, as I entered the smoky atmosphere of Brian’s bedroom.
Freddie was a happy-go-lucky character, with a ruddy complexion and curly blond hair. He was around my height of a couple of inches below six feet tall, but I always wore high heeled boots which elevated me by a couple of inches.
“I can’t breathe in here,” I told them as I entered the room, open a bloody window.”
 “Open it yourself,” Freddie told me, as I pushed past him to open a window before I suffocated in the smoky atmosphere.
Brian, who was the exact opposite of Freddie, in both nature and appearance, grunted a reluctant “Hello,” while continuing to tune his guitar with a cigarette dangling precariously from his lips, and smoke drifting into his eyes, which made him blink continuously and his eyes to water profusely.
Because the two of them were so different in nature I found it difficult to understand how they had ever become such good friends. Brian Cheshire was dark-haired, with a swarthy Mediterranean appearance, and a little shorter than  Freddie. He always needed a shave, and even though he assured me that he’d shaved that very morning, I’m embarrassed to report that his beard growth was more impressive than was mine after a week of nurturing.
“Will Hank be coming to band practise?” I asked.
Frank Rivers was our absentee drummer, and known affectionately as Hank.
“No, he works on Saturdays,” replied Freddie, “but practising in Brian’s bedroom, with a drum kit, isn’t going to be an option anyway.”

*  *  *  *

Hank had played drums in a public house, along with an elderly organist, before Freddie persuaded him to dissolve his partnership and join our newly formed band. Hank and Freddie were maternal cousins, although they were so alike that they could easily have been mistaken for brothers. Hank had never practised with the band, but we had played together once, at a wedding reception. The reception had been held in a large hotel in the market square, and when I say hotel I mean a public house with bedrooms, and named The Queens Hotel rather than the Queens Arms or the Queens Head.
The booking had been successful, even though we’d only practised a few numbers, and had to repeat our first spot of the evening in the second half. I felt embarrassed by our lack of versatility, but no one appeared to mind, as the booking was of the easily obtained and unpaid variety, a wedding present from Hank and Freddie to a common female relative.
The bride’s father helped to flesh out our limited programme by requesting Eve of Destruction, on no less than four separate occasions, which could hardly be described as an appropriate sentiment given the occasion of his daughters’ wedding.
During the interval, and on the back of a successful first set, we thought up names for the band. Many were suggested and just as quickly rejected, until I pointed out the name of a cocktail on the drinks menu, containing gin, Grand Marnier, sweet vermouth, dry vermouth, and orange juice, with a dash of orange bitters, and from this observation the band Satan’s Whiskers was born.

*  *  *  *

While we were practising Randy Bloomfield (1) entered the bedroom; escorted by Brian’s mother carrying a tray of drinking glasses filled to the brim with chilled orange juice. Randy was a married man with a baby daughter, and a wife who at twenty years of age had resigned herself to becoming a band widow.
Randy’s hair had begun to turn prematurely grey, even though he was barely a year older than his wife, but his eyebrows remained thick, black, and bushy. Randy had strong features, with heavy brows, while his nose gave the appearance of having been remodelled inside a boxing ring, although in truth it was a natural feature on the landscape of his face.
Randy liked to take people outside of their comfort zone. He found it amusing to see them squirm, and with that in mind he invited us onto the stage at the Greyhound public house, when we turned up to watch his band play.
“We have another band in the audience,” he informed the assembled crowd. “If you cheer loudly  enough they might be persuaded to come up onto the  stage and give us a  number.”
We were dumbstruck, as we’d only practised four songs, and all of them chosen because they consisted of just three chords, but the audience didn’t appear to notice our musical inadequacies, and his plan to embarrass us came unstuck when we went down a storm.
He may have been trying to embarrass us, but he actually did us a favour, as it gave us the confidence we needed. I in particular would have been reluctant to go on stage before we were perfect, but after the reception we received, perhaps more for our bravery than our musical ability, Freddie and Brian were keen to get the band up and running as quickly as possible.
Randy’s band regularly played at a public house on the estate of council owned properties where he and Brian lived. The pub was popular with the younger demographic, but as the booking fee was disappointingly low; Randy was looking to offload this regular Sunday night venue in favour of the more lucrative offers which were flooding in, as his bands popularity gained momentum.
“I’ve got a proposition for you,” he announced, as he helped Mrs Cheshire with the distribution of refreshments.
“We’ve been offered a booking tomorrow night, which I’d like to accept, but we’re obligated to play at The Manxman. I’ve spoken with the publican, and he’s prepared to give you a trial, if you’d be interested.”
“We definitely are interested?” Brian blurted out, without any consultation on the matter. “Can we go and see him right now?”
“I’ll come with you if you like and introduce you,” Randy volunteered, as he wanted the matter settled as quickly as possible.
Although the pub was within walking distance of Brian’s house, we chose to drive, as walking was never going to be a consideration with transport parked at the front door. The pub consisted of a large public room divided by folding doors. A red carpet, covered with a busy pattern, helped to disguise the beer stains caused by frequent spillages, although it failed to hide the shiny spots of chewing gum, which had been trodden into the carpet and were accumulating daily around the bar.
Customers with drinks insisted, to my annoyance, in congregating around the bar and making it unnecessarily difficult for others to get served, despite many seats and tables being unoccupied.
Randy introduced us to the publican, who was busy pulling pints of beer behind the  bar, which ran down the whole of the wall with beer pumps and optics at regular intervals along its length.
“This is the band I was telling you about Jack. They’re available tomorrow, and willing to stand in if you’re prepared to give them a trial.”
“Stage is in there,” the landlord informed us, as he finished serving a customer and came from behind the bar to push back the dividing doors.
Mounted on braked wheels, the tiny stage was a single step above ground level. A backdrop of vertical silver strips caught the reflected light from a glitter ball, which the publican switched on for effect, and it sparkled in a myriad of colours, while he watched in wonder as if seeing it for the very first time.
“The stage appears to be a bit small,” I observed. “We’ll never get the four of us and all our equipment on there.”
“Randy’s band  spills onto the dance floor,” we were informed by the landlord, which Randy confirmed with a nod of his head. “If you’re a success, I’ll book you to play alternate Sundays, with Randy’s band doing the others.
We concluded the business agreement with a handshake, but I understood why Randy wanted to move to pastures new, as payment for our musical services was close to non-existent at this venue, although at this stage of our fledgling career, the money didn’t matter half as much as laying claim to our first commercial booking.


(1) The character described as Randy Bloomfield went on to record the single “Looking Good Feeling Bad,” his own composition, and  two country music albums under the stage name of Randy Blue and Deep Water.