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.”