Wednesday, 21st April 2004
Fred pulls the car from the flow of traffic and parks outside the civic centre, then lets out a deep moan. He pats his jacket, looking for the box of painkillers he grabbed as he left his house. They aren’t doing much to take away the pain that keeps biting at his backside, but he keeps on popping them. He adjusts himself, pushing his body forward and then looks up at the steel tower that penetrates the grey sky over Enfield, North London. The sky threatens rain and already a couple of droplets are twisting down his windshield. He turns on his wipers, sets them to intermittent, and watches the rainwater streak across the glass. He doesn’t even know why he came this way, because it isn’t getting him anywhere nearer to Edmonton Police Station.
He’s late and he looks towards the traffic lights ahead where there’s a build up of
traffic, knowing that soon every stretch of road around him will be impenetrable.
He had got used to driving around Spain, trundling along in a tin box with wheels, which he had rented while on his holiday. He thought the sun might bleach his mind of London, of the job, but it was with him always, even when he sat drinking by the swimming pool. It was all made much worse by the fact that his arse had been playing up too, a constant reminder that he could never be really comfortable, not even in the hot afternoon sun. A work colleague, a fellow detective, had offered his villa in Majorca to help him get his head straight. Fred had agreed, but it was Detective Superintendent Jameson that had pretty much insisted on it. He didn’t want to go, but there was little choice, after all the stuff that had happened, the trips to the police psychologist and everything.
His chest is vibrating. Fred takes out his mobile phone and sees that DCI Harris is calling.
‘Fairservice here.’ Fred tries to sound cheery.
‘Hello fairy.’ Harris says and laughs for a moment.
Fred rubs his forehead and catches his reflection in the rear view mirror, noticing how sun burnt his cheeks and nose are. Another reason for the lads to take the piss. ‘What’s happened?’
‘You’re all bright this morning. Get laid last night, Fred?’ There was more laughter.
‘Just glad to get back to work.’
‘Glad to hear it.’ Harris coughs, trying to remove the laughter from his voice. ‘We’ve got a job, not far from the station. The address is… the Hardwick Estate, behind `Edmonton Shopping City. Number five Fisher Court. Come and find me.’
Fred looks at the mobile, then tucks it back in his suit jacket and starts the engine.
He looks for a parting in the traffic, but doesn’t find one and realises he’s going to have to be forceful. He gets a blow of someone’s horn, his Vauxhall Astra edging neatly into place as he prepares to head to the scene of death. The Scene Of Crime Officers, under the direction of the Senior Investigating Officer, would already be using UV lamps to detect any blood or other evidence. They will be working alongside the DFO, the fingerprint officer. They’ll nose around for a bit, pick up a few objects, decide what happened, and then let the boys dust the place for prints and clean up the mess. The rest? Well, the rest is just paperwork; the dead become words on a page, which is entered onto a computer, which becomes a government statistic. The
person that died may just be the reason the latest suits get replaced by another bunch of suits.
Fred keeps driving, heading for and getting on the A10, thinking about his career, trying to decide when he became so tired. He doesn’t remember and just concentrates on the road, watching a stupid bastard in a blue van about to cut him up.
He doesn’t have to look up the address in the A-Z; he knows perfectly well where it is. There had been some trouble with drugs dealers there a while back, but strangely they had disappeared after a while and left the other residents to peaceful life of sorts. Fred steers off of the Hertford Road towards Edmonton Green, where three colossal concrete tower blocks stand guard over the shopping centre below them. They’ve now been painted in bright pastel colours, so they look like they belong in a Miami or Spanish skyline, but still angry talk of pulling them down still continues.
He turns into Monmouth Road, and then finds Fisher Court, which is just another sixties moment of architectural madness or drug induced creativity. On either side of
the road the blocks of flats, that sit three stories high, are identical apart from the door colours. Number five is already attracting attention, with three uniform officers moving on a couple of nosey neighbours. He turns off his engine and notices that DCI Harris’s Rover is already parked along side a uniform response car.
Fred gets out and grits his teeth as he feels the pain travel from his backside and seemingly straight into his spine. He pulls himself out, feeling more like an old man than a forty-five year old Detective Inspector.
‘Morning sir.’ One of the PCs smiles and steps away from the rest. ‘It’s number five. It’s pretty messy.’
‘We can’t judge these people on how tidy their homes are, officer.’ Harris says,
smiling, appearing from nowhere.
‘I meant… ’ the PC tries to finish, but Harris waves him away. The PC turns away, while entering Fred’s arrival in the incident log.
‘Hello Fred. It’s good to see you. I see the sun was shining in Spain. Not like this place. It’s not been bad here, bit bright. Looks like we’re going to have an early summer.’ Harris said brightly, looking slightly ridiculous in his polythene overshoes.
‘What’s happened?’ Fred says and nods towards the ground floor flat.
‘Oh, that. Someone killed someone else by the looks. Come on.’ Harris walks towards the door, which is open slightly.
Fred watches as Harris pushes the door open with his gloved hand and reveals the hallway and the carpeted stairs that will lead into a couple of bedrooms. The place doesn’t look like it’s been decorated in a while and Fred notices a child’s writing on the wall in crayon. He shakes his head and follows Harris toward the back of the house. This is where the lounge is. Through another door and they will be looking at the crime scene. It’s been a long time for Fred. He breathes deeply and tries to look perfectly unaffected by it all. Harris turns to him and nods, then opens the door.
Fred isn’t prepared for what greets him. Remains of something, maybe human, are scattered about the room. The remains is the only way to describe it, for it’s what they are use to dealing with, that which is left after the act. He lets his eyes scan the room, picking out an arm, severed at the elbow, then a leg, obviously cut off while the victim still was in their clothing. The torso is the last thing Fred looks at. It’s like a painting by constable, he thinks. Not because it’s artistic, but just because he can’t keep his eyes off the red, the deep dark red; an artist’s trick to catch the eye. The body hasn’t done all this bleeding, he can see that; it’s just for effect. Someone has splashed the blood across the room. The torso. He tries to concentrate on that again, because this is the part of the person that he mostly still recognises as human. It sits propped against the armchair, almost as if the killer had put it there in a final gesture to them. They, him and Harris, stand on the threshold of the room and look at the whole devastation, another human ripped to pieces, another poor soul that they will file away.
‘Pretty raw.’ Harris says and shakes his head.
‘Seems a little theatrical.’ Fred steps a little closer, wondering where the head is.
‘What do you mean?’
Fred shrugs his shoulders a little, and then fishes some painkillers out of his jacket pocket and swallows one. ‘Well, it just looks a bit showy.’
‘It’s a brutal murder. You don’t get much showier than that.’ Harris takes out a voice-activated tape recorder and begins whispering notes into it.
‘No, I mean, look at all the blood. It just looks like the killer was doing a Pollock.’ Fred can feel the tablet still making its way down his throat.
‘A what?’ Harris looks up from his notebook.
‘Jackson Pollock. An American artist.’
‘I know who he bleeding is.’ Harris laughs a little. ‘What has he got to do with this?’
‘I’m just saying all seems a bit stage-managed. I bet forensics back me up.’
‘Well, we will find out in a minute.’
‘Where’s the head?’ Fred asks. It’s the question he’s been dying to ask.
Harris smiles, then points to another door. Harris opens the door and Fred sees that they are nearing the kitchen.
Everything seems normal. There’s a pile of washing up in the sink and whoever did the cleaning had been a bit lazy lately, but apart from that there is little out of the ordinary. Harris points to the oven and Fred sees that it is open slightly. Harris takes out a pen and helps the oven door open a little more. Harris steps back and lets Fred get a better look inside. He can’t believe it, can’t take in what he is seeing. Never in all his years as a detective has he seen this. The head sits on a baking tray inside. The eyes are shut and the face looks almost peaceful.
Fred stands up straight and looks at Harris, who has his eyebrows raised. ‘See what I mean? A head in the oven? What does that mean?’
Harris holds up a finger as his mobile phone starts vibrating and ringing in his pocket. He takes it out and holds to his ear. ‘DCI Tony Harris. Oh yeah, where are you? Right, okay, we are just coming out.’
Fred watches Harris put his phone back in his pocket, then look up at him. ‘That’s the new boy. He’s outside. Hope he plays golf.’
‘Yeah. DI Mark South. He’s come to take some of the work load.’ Harris keeps on walking towards the front door.
Fred doesn’t like the sound of this and quickens his pace, feeling the painkillers taking affect as he walks. ‘Some of the workload? My workload?’
Harris turns and stops Fred with a gentle pat on the chest. ‘Don’t take it personally Fred, it’s not about you. We all need a bit of help. If we don’t then how will we make time to play golf? Oh, I forgot, you don’t play do you?’
‘Not my sort of thing.’ Fred follows Harris out into the street where the rain is coming down harder now. The uniform officers are tucking themselves under the shelter of the building, but Harris has other ideas and walks over to them. ‘Come on fellas, don’t just stand there, I want you to start house-to-house enquiries. Get over and start asking the neighbours what they know.’
Fred watches the helmets start marching across the street with their clipboards, spreading themselves out, preparing to knock on all the doors. Then Fred looks across the street, directly opposite where a crÃ¨me door stands before him. Fred reaches into pocket, takes out his glasses and puts them on. He can make out something on the door.
‘Hello?’ a tall and well-built man says and stands before him, smiling.
‘Sorry?’ Fred says and looks around for Harris, who seems to have vanished again.
‘Detective Inspector Mark South.’ South puts his hand out and Fred looks at it for a moment, noticing the creases in his skin and realising this means nothing. He takes the hand and gives it a firm grip as they shake. He looks up into the face and sees that he has quite a hard looking face and high cheekbones. His light brown hair is cut fashionably short and brushed forward.
‘DI Fred Fairservice.’ Fred looks over at the door again.
Mark South looks over at the door that has captivated Fred Fairservice so. ‘Is everything alright?’
‘Sorry?’ Fred looks at the detective and really notices his face, the way his cheekbones stick out, almost battling his eyes for vision. He estimates his age to be around forty, maybe younger, because he has that sort of worn, lived in face. Like he had himself, Fred thinks and smiles, for his worn face has since fallen into disrepair. ‘I was just looking at that door over there. Have you looked at the crime scene?’
South looks towards the red door and sees a few SOCOs approaching the door, their bodies wrapped up in protective white suits, their hands gripping their silver metallic box of tricks which carry their specialist equipment inside. ‘Do you think I’ve got time?’
‘Yeah, just don’t touch anything.’ Fred sees that South nods then walks over and into the flat, disappearing past the SOCOs after he flashes his ID at the PC on the door. Fred then turns his attention back to the cream door, focusing on the number, which has long since fallen off. The curtains, which are old and grey, are pulled shut. He starts to walk over, looking at the mark on the door that looks like a cross from where he is, figuring that some time ago some kid drew on the door.
‘Oh my God, what the fuck happened in there? Excuse my language.’ South stood by Fred, his hand wiping his face as he returned.
‘That’s what we are paid to find out. What does this look like to you?’
South looks over at the door, then steps closer, and bends down a little. ‘Looks like a cross, painted in red with paint or something. Why?’
‘It just caught my attention. Do you think it could be blood?’
South looks at Fred strangely for a moment, then twists to look back to flat number five. ‘From there? You think the killer came over here and painted a cross on the door? Why would they do that?’
Fred looks up and notices the rain starting to hit his head a little harder now, then quickly gets into closer to the door, sheltering himself. South doesn’t move, still standing, waiting for his answer.
Fred sees he is still waiting. ‘To draw our attention to it. Can you check with the neighbours and see who lives here?’
South looks at him blankly. Fred just watches him as the rain comes down in a sudden burst of power and brings South’s hair to his forehead.
‘Please.’ Fred says and watches South disappear. He turns to the door and looks at the cross more carefully. He cannot make out much, not with all the rain and the dull morning light. He calls for a SOCO and a photographer, who both eventually head over and start to go about their work. Fred takes out some more pills and rolls them in his hand, waiting for the SOCO to finish examining the red cross with a UV light under a shelter that he quickly set up over the door.
‘The cross has been made with the end of a pencil,’ the SOCO says, putting away his UV light in his case of tricks, ‘It’s blood alright, but we won’t know if it’s human until later. Very strange all this.’
‘Any prints?’ Fred says and swallows down the painkillers, watching the Police Photographer enter the shelter to take some shots of the scene.
‘Like I said,’ the SOCO says with tiredness soaking his face. ‘It was done with a pencil or something like it. No prints. I’ll be over the road if you need me, clearing up the mess.’
Fred then moves to the window and tries to see through the net curtain. It’s dark inside and rainwater crawls down his face, making it doubly difficult to see anything but black shapes. He moves back and feels the dirty water filling his mouth.
‘Joseph Watkins.’ South gets under the shelter and gives Fred a smile and a nod. ‘The neighbour’s a young bird, not bad looking. She said he’s an old geezer, nice enough. She hasn’t seen him for a while though.’
‘Nobody communicates anymore.’ Fred bends over and pushes the letterbox open, pressing his mouth to the slot. ‘Hello? Mr Watkins? This is the Police. Mr Watkins, can you please come to the door?’
‘No one’s home,’ South says and kicks a stone from the doorstep.
‘Right.’ Fred gets back and lifts his leg.
‘What’re you doing? You’re going to kick the door in?’
‘You going to help me?’
South looks annoyed for a moment and then gets shoulder to shoulder with Fred. They both give the door a kick. It gives a little. South gives an unexpected kick before Fred can join him and the doors flies open.
Fred looks into the dark hallway and sees that they are both looking upon the reverse of flat number five. South finds a light switch and turns it on. Fred notices that the carpet is dark green and worn away in places. He follows the carpet, past the stairs and looks up at the door to the lounge, which is slightly open. Fred feels South follow him as he walks towards the door and stands before it. ‘Mr. Watkins? Hello?’
‘This better not be another mutilated body.’ South says and raises an eyebrow at Fred. Fred pushes the door open and the room beyond is also dark. The light from the hallway slowly crawls across the carpet, and climbs over an armchair where a figure sits facing the window. Fred takes it all in. He looks at the old man sitting motionless, seemingly staring at the old looking television before him. But his eyes are shut. There’s nothing on the television. Fred bends in closer to see if there is any chest movement.
‘Looks dead to me.’ South says as he stands in the doorway.
Fred peers closer at the man’s sunken face. He notes that the man hasn’t shaven in at least three days. He prepares himself for the sudden opening of the man’s eyes, but he knows that isn’t going to happen. He can smell death in the room. Fred gets a stabbing feeling through him. It’s not pain this time, but recognition. A shiver follows it. He turns to South. ‘Can you a get spoon?’
South nods and moves along the hall.
Fred crouches down, stretches out his hands and holds the man’s head by the jaw. The skin is cold and rough. He notices the man’s enormous ears and wiry silver hair protruding from inside them and his nostrils. This is all so familiar.
It’s just like all those years ago, he thinks. Another old man. Another lonely death.
He looks at the mouth. He moves his hand to his mouth, listening to the sound of South opening drawers in the kitchen at the back. He pushes his fingers into the mouth and folds back the lips, revealing yellow tobacco stained teeth.
South comes back and holds the spoon out to Fred. He takes it.
‘Two bodies in one morning. This normal around here?’ South leans against the wall, his head bent towards the dead man.
Fred pushes the spoon between the teeth and prizes open the gates. He nearly falls back. There, on the tongue. The spider crawls towards him. Fred cannot believe it and lets him self fall back onto his palms. ‘Shit.’
South stands up and takes a step towards Fred. ‘What? What is it?’
The spider crawls over the hairy skin and down the old man’s neck and onto the collar of his shirt. Fred just watches it travel down the chair, helpless and confused.
‘You okay?’ South comes over and places a hand on Fred’s shoulder.
‘My arse hurts.’ Fred says and pulls himself to his feet.
‘Is that it?’
‘I thought I saw something.’ Fred walks towards the door.
‘What? What did you see?’ South follows as they step back out the front door. Fred stands on the doorstep and pulls his coat around him. He looks back at South, trying to judge what sort of man has joined their team. Can he trust him? Does it matter?
‘There was a spider in his mouth.’ Fred walks across the street and feels the rain digging into his scalp. He can hear South striding behind him, his footsteps echoing around the court, scraping along the tarmac of the road.
Harris suddenly appears outside number five. He turns and approaches Fred and smiles a little. ‘Forensics have looked the place over. They’ve dusted and took photos and all that. But guess what? The pathologist is in there and he reckons you’re right. The blood came from something else. Not a human.’
Spider Mouth coming soon to Amazon Kindle and Smashwords.com