This is all 25 parts of my previous fiction serial, in one complete story.
It is a long read, at 20,830 words.
In my mind, I always called it the block. But it was known to the outside world as Spencer House, a boring block of flats at the edge of a much larger estate. Unlike the nearby tower blocks, Spencer House was small. Just six floors, with two flats on each one. At least the height guaranteed it had a lift, which saved walking up the stairs. The other big difference was that it was not owned by the local council. Everyone who lived there either owned their flat, or rented privately from whoever had bought it. That gave it a modicum of class, which was sadly not reflected by its outward appearance.
At one time, the small balconies would have been a blaze of colour, window boxes full of bright geranuims, or whatever was cheap at the garden centre. Recent years had attracted owners and tenants with little interest in horticulture, and the best on offer was somone’s washing, drying on a few pegs clipped to a short line or wire stretched across the space. Despite the ridiculous cost of buying one of the flats at the time, you would never know that any of the residents had a pot to piss in.
Still, the service charges paid for a cleaner to mop the staircases, and entrance hall. The entryphone system guaranteed no random visitors or criminal elements, and the lift was maintained to a good standard. Just as well, as I lived on the sixth floor. At one time, I knew a few names, and would even stop to chat on my way in or out. But then that became nods, or an occasional “How you doing?” With a high turnover in the rented properties, I hardly recognised a lot of the people coming and going, and became convinced that tenants were sub-letting. And those sub-letters were likely doing the same.
In the absence of familiar faces and names, I started to give them my own names, just in my head of course. ‘Frizzy-Haired Sexy Girl’. ‘Fat Bald Bloke’, ‘Loud Couple From Second Floor’. I had names for them all by the end.
The trouble really started over the parking spaces. When the block was built, I presume they wanted to save money on land, or thought everyone would have just one car. So they built a parking area outside, with just twelve spaces. But they didn’t bother to number them, just painted white lines that left a gap about the size of an average car. Well, we all know that most couples have two cars these days. Even a single Mum with a teenage kid might have two cars as well. And then there was ‘Middle-Aged Biker Man’, who wanted to use his space to park his sad little fake Harley in, as well as his sporty hatchback..
I never told anyone, but I was probably the only one living there who didn’t have a car.
One weekend, Fat Bald Bloke reversed his van into the motorbike. Whether this was accidental or intentional, I never found out. But I heard the shouting all the way up in my flat, and went out onto the balcony to look down on the fun. The bike was on its side, and Middle-Aged Biker Man was waving his arms around, looking a bit like a mushroom in his American-style crash helmet. Fat Bald Bloke gave him the finger, climbed back in his van, and drove off. I enjoyed watching Biker Man trying to lift his bike back up level, and even timed how long it took him.
Then I spotted Possible Junkie walking toward the entrance carrying two blue plastic bags. He had obviously come from Vijay’s shop near the precinct, as Vijay always gave out those bags for free, even if you only bought a Snickers or something. Possible Junkie looked like he had never eaten anything. You could see the bone structure of his face and head, and count the individual bones of his hands. He wore skinny jeans so narrow, I had come to the conclusion that it was impossible to ever remove them. I was sure that only a heroin addict could exist being that thin, fuelled solely by drugs and cans of cider. He could have got a job as a skeleton, every Halloween.
The drilling woke me up early that Sunday morning.
Biker Man was standing watching two guys drilling into the tarmac on the corners of his parking space. Well, the space he always insisted was his anyway. I made some tea and toast and went back out onto the balcony to watch. They were bolting metal posts into the corners of the space, and judging by the rolled up heavy chain next to them, it seemed to me that Biker Man was about to fence off his space with chains. I gave a low whistle, and smiled.
Fat Bald Bloke was not going to like that one bit.
I had never really wanted to be a policeman. I only joined up to please my Dad. When my older brother Graham emigrated to Canada, Dad seemed to focus on me all the time, nagging me to get a steady job with a pension. So I went to Hendon Training School aged nineteen, and only three weeks after my passing out parade he cleared off with a younger woman and left me stuck at home with Mum.
Being a copper was all the bad things I expected, with few good things to balance those out. Days off cancelled, getting off shift late, and either fitting in or being excluded. I chose to fit in, but I was only pretending. I used Mum as an excuse to get out of the bonding piss-ups and weekends away. And my appraisals always mentioned that I showed little ambition, and hadn’t bothered to apply for courses to improve myself. I was an average cop at best, with little or no desire to ever be more.
They moved me around after that. Maybe they hoped that shifting me so often would make me resign. But I didn’t care. New faces, new streets and landmarks to learn. Same old shit. It was getting to the stage where it was hardly worth arresting someone anyway. They would usually make a complaint about you being too rough, or abusing them racially. I got hauled in once, and asked why I arrested so many black men under the age of thirty. I told the Inspector that was because I was working in a borough with a population of over sixty percent ethnic minority people, and they were doing ninety percent of the crime.
He thought I was taking the piss, and told me he didn’t care for sarcasm.
So I finally did a course, took an exam and an interview board, and transferred to the Fraud Squad at Division. Still the lowest rank, but no more uniform, and other coppers did the arresting based on my paperwork. That suited me fine. And I met Mel there.
Melanie was a civilian admin girl, but she harboured a great passion to be a police officer, and never talked about anything else. Still, she was good to look at, and ten years younger than me, so I chanced my arm, and asked her out. To my surprise, she snatched my hand off, even suggesting we meet that same night.
After three months dating Mel, I decided it was time to move out of the family home, and get my own place. I had some decent savings, and earned enough to get a mortgage easily. I wanted somewhere easy to travel into work without a long commute, and a flat with no garden that would be easy to keep tidy. Spencer House was new on the market then. It had been built on the site of an old car sales lot that had gone bust, right at the edge of a large council housing estate. As a result, the big two-bed flats were pretty cheap compared to those in better areas.
So I bought the top floor right, Flat Twelve, and signed on the dotted line.
Mum was actually pleased to see me go, which was a shock. My parents had paid next to nothing for the three-bed semi years before Graham was born, and her mortgage was paid off. Dad had walked away with nothing, probably to assuage his guilt over leaving her for a younger woman, and Mum was still working in the lingerie and hosiery department at John Lewis in Oxford Street, so she could easily manage financially. I wondered if she had an idea to move some boyfriend in, but she cracked up laughing when I asked her that.
She said one lying bastard of a husband was enough for one lifetime.
Once I was living in the block, Mel stayed over a lot more. One night she turned up with a bottle of Tesco own label champagne and excitedly informed me that she had passed all the tests and interviews to go to Hendon, so would soon be a fully-fledged copper. I didn’t bother to try to talk her out of it. She had managed to keep me in the dark about it for a long time, and I allowed her that moment of glory. I even told her that I was overjoyed for her, and managed to sound reasonably convincing when I said it.
She would learn.
Middle Aged Biker Man made the mistake of locking his bike and sporty hatchback in the space together that night. He probably smiled to himself as he fastened the padlock around the chain.
Trouble was, when Fat Bald Bloke poured petrol over his fake Harley and set fire to it, Biker Man forgot to bring the padlock key down with him.
So he wasn’t able to get his car out of the way in time, before the flames spread to it.
The fire brigade arrived in good time, but not fast enough to save the car or the bike, or to stop the flames badly scorching and blistering all the paint on Mister Turkish Bloke’s car either. I watched in amusement as Biker Man jumped around shouting, and when the police arrived, he was engaged in a long conversation with both officers. I made an educated guess that he was implicating Fat Bald Bloke, as he frequently pointed up in the direction of their balcony. But he would have a high old time trying to prove that. There was no CCTV in the car park, or at the front of the block. An addition that was not deemed cost effective by the builders, obviously.
But I knew he had done it, even though I hadn’t seen him do it. And so did Biker Man.
A couple of days later, we all got a letter from the landowners via the property management company. Nobody resident in the block owned any of the car park spaces, and they were only a concession, not a right. The posts put up by Biker Man were to be removed, and the space repaired. Then flat numbers would be painted in them, and the spaces allocated by written agreement. No spaces could be fenced off or deliberately blocked off, and the management company would deal with any complaints raised about misuse of spaces in future. If that was something instigated by Biker Man, it backfired on him, as the letter also named him, and said he would be liable for the cost of making good the damaged space.
For the first time since I had moved in, the atmosphere had changed. And for the worse.
Not long after Mel finished training, she had got posted to her borough, then suggested that she moved in. It seemed logical enough. She had a lot of stuff there already, even joking that she had more clothes than I did in the double wardrobe. It was a better journey into work for her than her parents’ place, and if she twisted the front wheel enough, she could get her pushbike into the lift, so it wouldn’t be pinched while being locked up outside. She said she could store it on the balcony.
Although I agreed, I had my doubts. Having her around all the time was one thing, but she would be working rotating shifts, and my fraud squad job was more or less eight ’til four. That meant having to creep around when she was on nights at weekends, and being woken up almost two hours earlier than necessary when she had to be in for early shift. But I could hardly say no, as that would send the wrong message entirely.
She was also very friendly with Theatrical Conehead, in the flat opposite. He had moved in a few weeks after me, taking flat eleven on the same floor. I bumped into him on his moving day, and his head fascinated me so much, I couldn’t stop looking at it. It was as if he had been delivered as a baby by a midwife using a suction cup, and the cone-like effect on his tiny head had never gone away. It didn’t help that he was also so bald, he just shaved everything off. Unlike Fat Bald Bloke, who just had a big Monk-like circle at the back to justify his name.
Theatrical went to great lengths to introduce himself, and told me a potted version of his life story stood outside the door to my flat. He was an actor, apparently. He said I should know him, because he had been in a long-running telly series that was popular. I told him I worked shifts, so never kept up with telly. He was obviously gay, as his manner was as camp as row of tents, and he had ‘those’ eyebrows. I always reckoned you could tell a gay bloke from his eyebrows because they mess with them. It didn’t bother me at all, and he was happy to be very obvious. But he seemed a bit miffed that I didn’t know who he was.
He latched on to Mel whenever he saw her coming round, and they chatted like old friends. She knew who he was of course.
After she finished her two-year probation, Mel started to apply for all sorts of courses, and even began to study for her sergeant’s exam. She managed to get accepted for the Territorial Support Group, and never stopped banging on about the stop and search sweeps, the early morning arrest raids, and smashing in doors with an enforcer. The new base was too far away for her to cycle though, so a colleague called Steve started to pick her up and drop her home, in his family-style people carrier. He came up for a coffee once. All muscles and tattoos. He quizzed me about the fraud squad, telling me it was not real coppering, in his opinion. I didn’t debate it, as I pretty much agreed with him.
It came as no real surprise when nine months later, Mel told me she was moving in with Steve. Seems he had left his wife and three kids for her, and she thought he was like Rambo or Arnie Schwarzenegger. I didn’t kick up a fuss, as it was something I had seen coming for a long time. I wished them all the best. No hard feelings.
I didn’t mention that his wife and kids would get most of his salary, and her and Steve would end up living in some crappy rented place somewhere. A place a lot worse than my one.
She would learn.
One result of the parking space fire fiasco was that Mister Turkish Bloke got a nice new paint-job on his old Skoda Octavia. He had a courtesy car for a while, but it was only a Nissan Micra, and he had trouble getting the kid in and out the back. Then after the flat numbers had been painted, his old Skoda reappeared one day in gleaming metallic green. The ten year-old car looked like brand new, at least on the outside.
I never really knew if he was actually Turkish of course. I saw his wife in the lift just after they moved in. She was struggling with a baby in a buggy, and three shopping bags hanging off the handles. She wore a long coat, despite it being a warm day, and a scarf wrapped around her head and neck but not covering her face. She was pretty, in that way Mediterranean women can be, until they turn forty and start to look seventy. But she avoided eye contact, only mumbling a thank you as I stopped the lift door from closing on her as she was trying to wrangle her baby buggy and shopping in reverse.
So she got called Mrs Turkish, because she looked like a Muslim lady, but had pale skin. When I eventually spotted her husband, I presumed they were married, he definitely had the look of a Turk about him, with more hair growing out of his shoulders than I had on my head. Following on from what his wife had been named, he got himself called Mister Turkish Bloke. He could have come from anywhere of course. Syria, Lebanon, Iraq, Cyprus, even Bosnia. But I settled on the name, and that was that.
Somthing similar happened with the young guy who became Theatrical Conehead’s regular boyfriend. I saw him coming into the block one day with a slim Latino-looking man who looked about nineteen or twenty. My first thought was that Theatrical had met a male prostitute, as he was certainly punching above his weight in the looks and sex appeal department. But the youngster turned out to be a regular, and pretty much moved in. One day I spotted him when Theatrical had left the front door open, dancing around in an expensive-looking kimono, singing something in Spanish. The Cuban-American singer Gloria Estefan popped into my mind, and that was it. He was Gloria after that.
Once Mel had cleared off with Steve, I didn’t hear from her again. I found some of her stuff around the flat from time to time. A spare Apple phone charger, some worn tights under the bed, and a credit card in a drawer with three months left on the expiry date. There was another old phone charger and cable from before she changed to the i-phone, and a carrier bag containing printed handouts from the time she was training at Hendon. I just binned the lot.
Before Mel, I hadn’t had many girlfriends. That was mainly because I got my first serious one when I was only thirteen. Alex lived four doors down, and went to the same school. I had known her quite well for as long as I could remember, but because her parents were so much younger than mine, the families didn’t really socialise. Then one day she ran up to me holding an excercise book that had fallen out of my bag. She smiled as she handed it over, then asked me if I wanted to come to hers and listen to some music, or watch a film. I didn’t know much about feminine wiles, but I had my suspicions that she had nicked that book out of my bag during double maths.
Sitting in the dining room of her family home listening to some bubblegum pop on a portable ghetto-blaster wasn’t exactly my idea of a first date, but then we were both pretty young. It was a few months before we started kissing, after turning the volume down so we could hear if her mum was opening the door. Neither of us had a clue what to do, so when it got more serious almost a year later, at a time when her mum and dad would be out all afternoon at Ikea, it was a messy encounter. I was ashamed, but Alex didn’t seem to care. In her mind, our short-lived foreplay and first experience of seeing each other almost naked implied commitment for life.
Well it wasn’t for life, but it lasted a bloody long time. She announced that we would be ‘doing it’ once she had passed her sixteenth birthday, and told me I had to make sure to have condoms. Her parents were going down to their friend’s caravan at Clacton for the weekend, so Alex talked up a big weekend of sexy fun for us. I was understandably nervous, fearing I wouldn’t live up to her expectations. I went on the bus to the big Tesco Superstore to get the condoms, casually dropping a packet of Durex Featherlite into my basket along with a small bottle of Fanta, two packets of crisps, and a box of one-pound-for-five doughnuts.
It went okay, as it turned out she had no expectations for me to live up to.
Just when things had calmed down over the car park fire, someone came knocking on my door late one afternoon. That meant it had to be someone who lived in the block, or they would have had to buzz me on the entryphone first. I looked through the peephole, and saw it was Sammy Lee. As I opened up to see what he wanted, I saw the drips of blood on the shiny linoleum floor. Sammy put some tissues back up to his face to stop the drips, and walked in without invitation. I kept him in the hallway, so he wouldn’t drip blood on the rugs in the living room.
Sammy Lee was one of the few people I knew the name of these days. I had held the door open for him when he was moving in some stuff, and he had formally introduced himself. He was also the only person who used my name, which few of the others knew or remembered. “Mister Jeff, that man hit me. The man with the van who wears vest”. Sammy was a student from Hong Kong. His parents had to be minted, as they had bought the flat for him two years earlier, and paid cash, so he told me. He would live there until he finished at university, then they were going to rent it out when he went home. His dad paid all the utility bills and the service charges, as well as depositing fifteen hundred a month for Sammy to use as spending money.
It was obvious he was talking about Fat Bald Bloke, so I went and got him an old hand-towel for his nose, and he told me what happened. It seems he had been waiting for the lift earlier, even though he only lived on the third floor, above The Loud Couple, and opposite Possible Junkie. When it came, Fat Bald Bloke’s wife was in it, so Sammy rode up to the next floor where she lived, before pressing G to go down again. When he got back from uni, Fat Bald Bloke accuses him of stalking his wife, and head butts him in the face, before driving off in his van.
Now Fat Bald Bloke’s other half, they may not have been married, is a hard woman to miss. She always wears denim jeans, and they look about five sizes too small. It’s as if she has nicked a pair of Possible Junkie’s drainpipes, and had her curvy lower half poured into them before she set solid. The seams creak under the pressure, making a sound like the masts of old sailing ships when she walks. And the rivets worry me, to be honest. Like in those old submarine films where they sink too deep, and bits start to fly off and ricochet around. I was always convinced she would take out someone’s eye one day, when one finally shot off the jeans like a bullet.
Her top half is no less remarkable. She favours low-cut vests that might even be from the same shop where Fat Bald Bloke gets his. But each of her tits is the size of a ripe watermelon, and no vest made by human hand can contain them completely. Her face is never seen without make-up so thick it would not be out of place in a Rocky Horror Show theme night, and her hair is piled up on her head in a bouffante that would do justice to Madame Pompadour. Then she has it all dyed a strange blue-black colour, so as she approaches, it looks as if a huge nest of blowflies is living on her head.
As I said, she’s hard to miss.
My name for her was Elvira, from the film Elvira, Mistress of the Dark. Actually, that was pretty unfair on the actress who played Elvira, as she was better-looking, and had nice clothes. She had never spoken to me, and I had restricted my contact to her to a polite nod. Knowing full well she always expected me to look at her tits, I went out of my way not to.
So Sammy goes up one floor in the lift with her, and she gets it into her head he made the journey for no good reason, so must be stalking her. That’s all Fat Bald Bloke needed to know, before handing out his own form of street justice.
I told Sammy that his nose was broken, and he should get a taxi to the hospital and have it looked at. He asked if he should tell the police, so I gave him the possible outcome of that. They would arrest the guy, charge him with common assault, and he would go to court. That was all providing he admitted nutting Sammy, as there were no witnesses. If he didn’t admit it, nothing would be done, and even if he did, the likely result would be a fine, or a community order. My advice was to put it down to experience.
A bad experience.
And to use the stairs next time.
Although me and Alex had never got formally engaged, and never really discussed the future, it was sort-of expected that we would get married one day. Almost six years of being together had made being a couple seem normal, even though we still both lived at our respective family homes. My mum was never that impressed with her, to be honest. By the time I went to college to study Accountancy, Alex had already left school and was working in a pretty dead-end job answering the phone and doing the admin at the office of a double-glazing company. Her dad was a self-employed window installer, and he had got her the job through one of his contacts. He had also paid for Alex to learn to drive, and bought her a little Renault Clio to use to get to work. And mum didn’t like that Alex called me Jeff, instead of Jeffrey.
She was a stickler for things like that.
The crunch came when I decided to quit college, and join the police like my dad wanted. Alex went all weird about that, and was dead against it. She tried to stop me applying, and I had no idea why. Then when I was round her place one night, her dad got all arsey with me, and lost his temper about me wanting to be a policeman. That ended with me and Alex having a blazing row, and her splitting up with me. I was confused, to say the least, though mum was delighted at the news. I only found why out weeks later, when my dad told me something I had never known. Alex’s uncle Teddy was in prison, and had been for sixteen years. He was doing life for killing a security guard during a bank robbery.
No wonder they didn’t want a copper in the family.
After Alex, I had a couple of dates that didn’t work out. Mostly friends of people I met at police training school, awkward setups that I never found enjoyable. Then once I was on Division, I had an affair with the woman who ran the cafe close to the Police Station. Meeting Nicky on my days off was never very satisfying though. Mostly quickies at the back of the cafe after she closed in the afternoon, or sometimes in her car when she had driven us out to some quiet spot in the Hertfordshire countryside. She told me up front that she wasn’t about to leave her husband and kids. Not that I ever wanted her to, as she was forty-three at the time, and too old for me to think about anything long-term. And she nagged me constantly about the fact that I couldn’t drive, and didn’t want to bother to learn
But it lasted almost four years, on and off.
After I had moved into Spencer House, closely followed by Theatrical Cone Head, the block started to fill up rapidly. Frizzy-Haired Sexy Girl was the next one to arrive, and I have to admit I fancied her rotten. I used to try to guess what she did for a living, as she came and went at all hours. I varied my conclusions between high class call girl, and social worker, depending what she was wearing when I spotted her. I tried to be friendly to her once, chatting amicably in the entrance hall. But she didn’t want to engage in conversation, and managed to avoid telling me her name too. I was left with nothing to do but occasionally ogle her when she looked hot, and after a while I just stopped wondering what job she did. Whatever it was, it must have paid well, as she had a newish BMW coupe that she always parked right at the end of the car park, in the same spot.
The next owner was the first one to occupy a ground floor flat, number two. She was also the oldest person to ever live there, and her name was Edna. She collared me on my way in one day and told me her life story in ten minutes. She had lost her husband, her son had emigrated to New Zealand, and her best friend Audrey who lived next door had died. So she sold the three-bed house in Plaistow, and downsized to Flat Two, Spencer House. She had only been there for three days, and instantly regretted the move. Nobody wanted to chat, she had no garden, and the people upstairs were noisy, clomping about on their laminate floors with no respect for her trying to get to sleep. She hated Vijay’s shop, it was too far to the bigger supermarket, and she missed the greengrocer’s in Plaistow.
Then to cap it all, the old Ford Granada she had inherited from her husband was too big for her to park comfortably in the spaces outside.
I learned to avoid Edna at all costs.
The thing about the Loud Couple was that they weren’t actually that loud. Yes, they annoyed Edna because they had laminate floors, but they got their name from the weekend when they moved in. I found it hard to believe that two people could make so much noise, but it didn’t help that they had some friends or family helping that day, and they constantly shouted to each other from the car park up to the balcony. I could hear every word in my flat, even with the balcony door closed.
So the name stuck, even when they went quiet after that.
The following week, I met them as they walked back from their car to the entrance. Not friendly or chatty, just nods. I think the woman might have mumbled something, maybe hello. It was obvious they both worked for a well-known bank, as they were wearing the corporate uniform always seen on the TV adverts for that bank. In those few moments, I looked them up and down, and decided everything I needed to know about them. He was a mixed-race guy, good looking in a Craig David way. Tall, and well-built, looked like he spent some time at the gym, or worked out at home. I gave her at least ten years on him, definitely the older of the pair.
She had one of those faces that looks like it has never smiled, and her natural white skin had changed to the colour of house-bricks, from too many tanning beds, and over-application of fake tan lotion. She was about a size six, skinny and wiry, with legs like a professional Tour de France rider, all sinew and muscle. Her hair was immaculate, like it had been set in a mould, and wasn’t about to move even during a hurricane, and her make-up was borderline drag queen, applied with a palette-knife, by the look of it. They were an unlikely couple, to say the least, so I concocted a story in my head to explain how they had come to buy their flat.
I decided that she was senior to him at the bank. He had got off with her to get on at work, and she had shocked him by leaving her husband for him. With two bank salaries, and a discounted staff mortgage, they should have been able to do better than Spencer House. That convinced me that they probably both had other financial commitments, perhaps him paying for a couple of kids, and her not getting much from the equity of the family home when it was sold. It didn’t matter to me if everything I thought was wrong, as once I gave a name and thought up a theory, it always became the truth in my head.
Then someone moved into the flat opposite Edna, Number One. I watched from my balcony as she tried to talk to him outside, with no luck. He hardly had any stuff, and took the few things from his car into the flat in ten minutes. I used to imagine him sitting on the floor eating takeaway food, and wondered if he even had a bed. But of course all that stuff got delivered during the day, when I was at work. Edna kept a tally of what was going in, watching through her peephole. She mentioned it one day as I waited for the lift, and fortunately it arrived before she could get into describing the colour and pattern of his sofa.
She also told me that he left for work every day at three in the morning, and she heard him locking his door at that time, six days a week. She went into great detail about how he had so many keys, she could hear them jangling in the lock. I decided that anyone who goes to work that early must work in a market, maybe Spitalfields or Billingsgate. So he got his name of Market Boy, whatever he actually did for a living.
Flat three above him, and opposite the loud couple, stayed empty for a long time.
After the numbers had been painted in the car park spaces, it wasn’t that long before it was noticed that nothing was ever parked in space twelve, which was nominally reserved for me. Despite the ongoing parking hassles, it had surprised me that nobody had ever hijacked my space. Sometimes a visitor or delivery driver might stay in it for a while, but none of the actual residents ever used it. Then one Sunday morning, there was a knock on my door. I opened it to see Mrs Middle-Aged Biker Man. She actually had her own name, and it was Teacher Lady. They lived below me, in flat ten. I had christened her Teacher Lady because she looked like one, and dressed like one of my secondary school teachers. That turned out to be a good call, as one day in the lift she told me she was looking forward to the school summer holidays, to get a few weeks off.
That Sunday, she was all smiles. She didn’t ask to come in, and I didn’t invite her. She made some general chit-chat about the parking problems, then got to the point.
Her and Biker Man wanted permission to use my space.
Teacher Lady was still wearing her fixed grin as I looked her up and down. It was plain to see that she expected me to just agree to let her use the parking space. She had gone to some length to explain why she wanted it. After the car park fire incident, she had manaaged to persuade her husband, Middle-Aged Biker Man, not to buy another motorbike. She had replaced the sporty hatchback with an identical model in the same colour, but now he wanted to get a car too, and had his eye on a Mazda MX-5, a two-seat sports car. Even when it came to his car choices, his mid-life crisis was still apparent.
I eyed her up as she was talking. Dressed in her reasonably smart teacher-style outfit of business two-piece, a skirt and jacket that was probably from Marks and Spencer, and navy court shoes that she kept slipping one foot in and out of. She had a chunky build, but was very attractive, in a mumsy way. Looked after herself too. Make-up just right, nice hair, although it was dyed and streaked, and she smelled good, really fresh. I had to wonder what she had ever seen in the pompous sad sack she was married to. I was also wondering whether or not I would, given the chance.
I decided I most definitely would.
But that was not enough to make me give up the space. I told her I didn’t want to play favourites in the block, and liked to keep my space for visitors. Besides, they could always buy a parking permit off the council for sixty quid a year, and park one of their cars in a bay on the street outside. To give her credit, she kept her cool. She didn’t rant or rave, or even mention that she knew damn well I never got any visitors. But the fixed smile faded very quickly, and she just said to let her know if I ever changed my mind.
As she turned to walk down that one flight, I was left in no doubt I now had at least two enemies in the block.
It had seemed to take a long time until someone finally moved into flat three. Edna caught me by the ploy of taking in a parcel for me when I was at work. I had no option but to go down to get it, and she had me captive at the door until she decided to go in to fetch it. She had met a man who she described as a ‘nice Indian chap, and quite light-skinned’. He had told her his name was Mr Faizal, and he had bought flat three. Edna had contrived to wander outside her flat as the guy was overseeing the delivery of some furniture being taken up to the flat. She told me it was basic stuff, describing it as ‘cheap hotel’ furniture, whatever that meant.
He wasn’t going to live there, he had told her. Seemed he already had a nice house up in Willesden Green, and had bought this flat as an investment to rent. He had a lot of other rented flats already, according to Edna. I was wondering how much more she had managed to get out of him, but luckily she went and got my parcel, so I didn’t have to hear the rest.
We saw the van in the car park before we ever saw the new tenant. It wasn’t really a van, as it was plain to see that it had once been an ambulance. The flashing lights had been covered over with black tape, and the ambulance signs painted over crudely. Where there had once been a side window, there was now a big drop-down metal shutter, and in childish writing on the sides were the words ‘Burger Babs’. It barely fitted into the space for flat three in the car park, so it was lucky that Market Boy’s small car left some clearance on one side.
Over the next few days, it attracted some attention. I saw Biker Man and Teacher Lady examine it in great detail, and he wrote something down on a pad. Probably the registration number. Then one morning I spotted Fat Bald Bloke standing on the front bumper, peering through the windscreen to see what he could make out inside.
The Babs who belonged to the van showed up about ten days later, and I walked straight into her as I was leaving, and she was entering. She was really nice. Bubbly, open and friendly, real east-end salt of the earth, with no side to her. I liked her immediately, and her curvy body and pretty face didn’t hurt. Suddenly, Frizzy-Haired Sexy Girl didn’t seem so sexy after all. Like a younger and prettier version of Edna, Babs was happy to blurt out her life story in the hallway of the block. But unlike with Edna, I stayed around long enough to hear it all. Well, most of it.
Barbara was around my age, perhaps a couple of years older. She had been living in Spain for ten years, running a bar with her ex-boyfriend. When they split up, she had moved back to her family home in East London, and bought a van to sell burgers and breakfasts from. Her brother helped her convert it, and she had just got her trading licence from the council.
I told her that I would buy a burger from her anytime.
Middle Aged Biker Man knocked on my door one weekend. He wanted to ask if it was okay to put his sporty hatchback in my space while he washed it. He told me he intended to carry buckets of water up and down in the lift, as he didn’t trust the drive-through car wash at the garage not to scratch it. Plus, he was using his own space for the MX-5 he had bought, since deciding to get a parking permit to leave the other car in the street bays. I had only just got up, so couldn’t be arsed to argue, and told him that would be okay. Then he wanted to seek my support for getting rid of Barbara’s old Burger Ambulance, as he thought it was smelly and unsightly.
I told him he needed to get a life, and closed the door.
There was no way I was going to get involved in upsetting Babs. I fancied my chances of getting a date with her, and had decided to keep in her good books. I kept looking out for her, hoping to fabricate an excuse to casually bump into her and get chatting. But she was usually back by the time I got in from work. Her business required a pretty early start to catch the breakfast trade, and it went dead after the lunch rush.
It was a bad move letting Biker Man wash his car. He didn’t move it afterwards, and later that day I watched as he started to polish it. Then he was doing something with the wheels, before sitting inside and buffing up the interior with some cloths. It was dark by the next time I checked, and there it was, parked for the night. All the next day it was still there, and didn’t move out of my space once. I could have kicked myself for giving in, but I resolved that if it wasn’t gone the next day, I would make him sorry.
I watched from the balcony as Teacher Lady swung it into my spot, just after five. I knew Halfords was open until six, so got a move on, and walked there. I was in the shop forty-five minutes later, asking for advice about the strongest wheel clamp they had, one that couldn’t easily be cut off. They had a good one for a very reasonable twenty-five quid. It came in two parts, then snapped together. Two tiny keys came with it, and it didn’t have a separate padlock that could be cut off, and no chains to wrap around. You just slid it through the gaps in the wheel, and snap. I described the car, and the young guy in the shop assured me it would fit.
I waited until it was dark, and went down to the car park with my clamp. I had practiced with it on one of my kitchen stools, so had it down pat. I slipped it onto the front wheel on the driver’s side, and was back inside the block seconds later. Then I got the keys and dropped them down the rubbish chute. I must have been slick, as they didn’t notice until Teacher Lady left for work the next morning.
When I got home, she was knocking on the door seconds after I had closed it. She accused me of wheel-clamping her car, and that had caused her to be very late for work. Then she had left work early to get the breakdown service to come and take it off, but they couldn’t do it. They said they would have to send someone tomorrow, with an tool to cut through the metal. Then she calmed down and said that if I went down and took it off, she would never park any car in my space ever again.
I was pretty convincing, at least I thought so. I told her I had no idea what she was on about, had never owned a wheel clamp, and wouldn’t even know how to fix one onto a car. I suggested that it might be the management company. After all, she had a local parking permit on her car window, and that suggested that she didn’t live in the block. That threw her, it really did. Whilst she didn’t make a full apology, she said she would leave it at that and talk to her husband when he got home.
About two hours later, I saw Biker Man banging away at the clamp with some tools, while his wife stood next to him with her arms folded. Pretty soon, voices were raised, and he grabbed his toolbox and strutted back inside. The next morning, a mobile mechanic’s van was outside before seven, The bloke was using some noisy cutting wheel thing to get through the clamp, and it was making a shower of sparks that Teacher Lady stepped back to avoid. They never parked in my space again.
I reckoned that was twenty-five quid well spent.
Luckily for me, Babs was sorting out her van as I got home from work one Friday afternoon. I stopped and chatted to her, studiously avoiding eyeing her up and down, and concentrating on her face. After the usual small talk, I said that she must be fed up of seeing burgers and breakfasts, and wondered if she would like to go to a nice Italian restaurant I knew, on the edge of Clerkenwell. She gave every indication of realising I was asking her out on a date, and smiled when she agreed that would be nice. I decided to strike while the iron was hot, and suggested the following evening at eight. She looked a little coy when she agreed, as if she hadn’t expected me to ask.
I booked a table for two, and arranged a taxi to collect us at seven-thirty. She met me in the entrance hall, and I had to admit she scrubbed up well. Her skirt was a little too short for her age, but I was’t complaining. And she hadn’t overdressed for an Italian meal either. Just the right combination of outfit and make-up. We chatted comfortably in the cab. She told me the rather bad news that she had an early start on Sunday. She had managed to get a pitch for her burger van at a big Boot Sale venue near Watford, so to get the most of the morning trade, she was determined to be set up just after six.
It went really well at first. She loved the old-fashioned atmosphere, and was happy with my suggested wine. When the starter arrived, she said she had never had one better, and she ate with gusto, showing no reserve. As we waited for the main course to arrive, she finally got around to asking me the one question I had dreaded. What did I do for a job. That left me with just two options. Lie about doing a job I knew sod-all about, or tell her the truth. I went for the truth, but even as I tried to play down my role by describing the local fraud squad as little more than being a Trading Standards official confiscating fake designer goods, her face was already falling like snow slipping down an avalanche.
The main course was eaten in silence, and I could tell from her face she was weighing up what to say. She said no to a dessert, but was happy with my suggestion of two glasses of Limoncello. Fingering the edge of the tiny glass, she hit me with both barrels. Her brother had done time. Her dad had done time, and the ex-boyfriend she had run the bar in Spain with had done nine years for smuggling cocaine. There was no way she was going to be a copper’s girlfriend, I knew that. She did’t actually say as much, but she was checking the time on her phone before I got uncomfortable enough to ask for the bill.
The ride home in a black cab was awkward, to say the least. Mind you, she did kiss me outside the door of her flat. All warm and soft, and tasting of her peachy lipstick, and that lemon liqueur. But I knew that was it. The job had killed any chance of another date. As if to drive a nail into my coffin of expectations, she smiled as she closed the door, saying, “See you around, I expect”.
The worst thing about being a policeman is that it makes you hate the general public. Maybe ‘despise’ would be a better word, as you spend your working life dealing with all the most horrible and disgusting aspects of human behaviour, and people who you soon regard to be little more that the proverbial ‘scum of the earth’. That is the main reason why cops stick together, and only socialise with other cops. They simply cannot abide to spend time with ‘civilians’. The people who don’t understand their job and never will, because they don’t have to deal with all the low-life shit that populates a city the size of London.
I sat out on the balcony that night with a bottle of Cognac. I was reflecting on what a shitty life I had chosen for myself. It had cost me three girlfriends, for one reason or another, and I spent my life avoiding the subject of my job at all costs. When the the bottle of good stuff was half empty, I called it a day and went to bed before twelve. I had a restless night, dreaming about being on my own for the rest of my natural.
More like a vision of the future, than a dream.
I was coming up to my fifteenth year as a policeman, my 35th birthday, and almost ten years living at Spencer House.
I went to my mum’s house for Christmas dinner, and she told me that she had applied for retirement from John Lewis, and was going to accept Graham’s invitation to go and live with him in Canada. She had two grandchildren that she had only seen twice, on previous summer trips to Vancouver. Graham and his wife had never returned to England, as he always complained that it was too expensive for the four of them to fly over. I had never even met my niece and nephew, though mum showed me photos. Flying out to Canada didn’t interest me, as I had never really been close to my older brother anyway.
Mum also told me that she was going to give me the house to live in, so I could sell the flat and not have any mortgage. I had to explain that I preferred to stay where I was, as it was handy for work. I suggested she rent the house for now, as the income would be very useful once she was living in Canada. I could be the contact for the agent, and get workmen in for anything that needed doing. When she found out that she could get eight hundred a month, with a queue of potential renters lined up, she jumped at the idea.
I didn’t see her off at the airport. Her flight was early in the morning, and I would have had to take the day off just to wave goodbye as she walked into departures. I had dinner with her two nights before, and we said our strangely formal farewell. As I went to sleep that night, it dawned on me that I might never see her again.
Things livened up around the block that week too.
The first thing happened late one night, as an ambulance drove into the car park, lights flashing. It was rapidly followed by a police car. I was just turning off the telly after watching a film, and went onto my balcony to see what was going on. No surprise to see Edna was outside in her dressing gown and slippers, hoping to see the show close up, and I could hear Theatrical and Gloria talking on the balcony next to mine too. It was soon obvious where they had been, as ten minutes later the ambulance crew appeared with Fat Bald Bloke on a stretcher, and started to load him up. I couldn’t tell what might be wrong with him, but he had an oxygen mask on his face, and they didn’t hang about once he was on board.
The crackling of voices on police radios signalled their departure with Elvira, who was in handcuffs, and swearing loudly. A police van had arrived at the entrance to the parking area, and they frog-marched her up to it. She was struggling and swearing loudly, and I was sure she was completely drunk. But the thing that stood out the most was her short grey hair. I was completely bowled over by the discovery that her black Blowfly Bouffant had been a wig all along. The original two coppers then hung around waiting for the scene of crime team, and probably the arrival of detectives too. I went to bed.
It would be easy enough for me to check what had happened at work the next day.
I hadn’t even closed my eyes before there was a knock on the door. I opened it to find a uniformed police officer. He wanted to know if I had seen or heard anything. I went and got my warrant card, showed him that I was on the job, and assured him I had heard nothing until the ambulance showed up. Seeing I was a colleague, he told me that Elvira had hit Fat Bald Bloke with a steam iron, during a drunken argument. She had actually been ironing at the time, so as well as a head injury that the ambulance guys suspected was a fractured skull, he also had a nasty burn on one side of his face. Elvira had been remorseful, and had phoned for the police herself. Then she had kicked off, surprised at being arrested on a charge of grievous bodily harm.
He used their real names of course. Not Elvira and Fat Bald Bloke.
My mum always said that everything happens in threes, so I shouldn’t have been too surprised when something dramatic occurred less than a week after Fat Bald Bloke came home from hospital. I checked at work, and Elvira was out on bail, so I presumed she was in the flat, but I hadn’t seen her.
That Friday night, I had walked to Seafry in the precinct, and bought fish and chips for dinner. I watched part of a DVD box set, then had just settled down to the second disc, when there was a knock at the door. A hurried knock, hinting at someone panicking.
Sammy Lee was there, looking terrified. “Mr Jeff, Mr Jeff, come quick, something bad, very bad”. He bolted for the stairwell entrance, and I had no choice but to follow, even though I had no shoes on. He was chattering as he ran down the stairs, but I couldn’t make out what he was saying, as he was speaking so fast. When we got to the flight of stairs behind the door to his floor, I could see what had spooked him.
Possible Junkie was lying crumpled on the stairs, and even before I got to him, I could see he was dead. I yelled at Sammy to stop before he trampled all over the crime scene and left footprints in the blood that was on the stairs and up the wall. I took him back up to wait outside my flat while I went in and called the police. I put some shoes on as I ran through the questions I knew they would ask, and of course identified myself as a policeman. I said I would stand in the stairwell to stop anyone going down or coming up, and that Sammy would wait by the door to let them in.
The full murder investigation circus arrived. I was interviewed for a statement, and so was Sammy. Officers started doing the rounds of all the flats, waking everyone up who was already in bed. They cordoned off the stairwell, and dragged the bins out of the store to search for the weapon. Some of them even went to the roof door, forcing the lock so they could search the flat roof above. I thought that was a bit much, considering it was locked and bolted from the inside.
He had been killed by a single stab wound to the neck, and judging by the blood, it had happened on the stairwell where he was found by Sammy. One of the squad detectives told me he had been well known to us as a small time drug dealer, and he was surprised I wasn’t aware. I told him I didn’t even know his name, and avoided the other residents when I could.
By the time I got back up to my flat, the TV crews were already filming outside. I knew we were going to get little sleep, and it was unlikely I would see the next episodes of my box set. There was a good chance they would get warrants to search all the flats too, looking for bloodstained clothing, and a knife that might have caused the wound. In the event, they didn’t have to use warrants, as everyone was happy to let them in. The body wasn’t removed until late on Saturday morning, and they put a uniform on the door to stop anyone using the staircase that day.
Edna was out, offering to make cups of tea for the team, and trying to get a handle on what was going on. She was delighted to discover something else that had happened as a result of Possible’s murder. Turkish Bloke and his wife had turned out to be illegals, and had been carted off by Immigration Service officers, destination unknown. She shouted that to me from her doorway, as I made a quick exit to go and buy some milk at Vijay’s shop.
So that was mum’s third thing, and now we had not one but two empty flats in Spencer House.
Car parking became an issue again, when Turkish Bloke’s car didn’t move from its space. Middle Aged Biker man could be seen checking it out almost daily, obviously hankering after the space for his sporty hatchback. He had no doubt worked out that the management company couldn’t really care less about who parked where, and that I was the one who had clamped his wife’s motor. I imagined him pestering them about the old Skoda, probably ringing them every day. But if he had been, it did no good, as that Skoda was stuck there for weeks until it was hauled away on a low-loader.
But before that, Possible’s car disappeared, probably snatched by whoever he had owed money to. Considering what a state he looked, and the fact I had never seen him drive it that much, he had a decent set of wheels. A Golf GTi with all the extras, worth a good few quid. I had been surprised that the team hadn’t searched it, or removed it for forensics. Then I realised they had no idea it was his.
Teacher Lady didn’t let the grass grow in that space. Her hatchback was in it by six that evening.
One day I held the main door open for a bloke struggling in with pots of paint and a small step-ladder. As the door closed behind him, he launched into an uninvited monologue. Seems he had rented Possible’s old flat, and was having to do lots of work inside to make it bearable to live in. I wasn’t surprised to hear that Possible had probably never done so much as one day of cleaning since he lived there, and had never bothered to decorate past the original builder’s finish. But it was difficult to concentrate on what this guy was saying, because he had very unusual eyes.
To say they were bulging eyes doesn’t even begin to describe just how bulgy they were. Bigger than ping-pong balls, they rolled around in the sockets as if he had no control over them whatsoever. Even as I presumed he was looking at me whilst speaking, the eyes seemed to decide where they wanted to look instead, and operated independently of each other too. When one was glancing at the ceiling, the other was gazing idly in the general direction of the lift. I could see the red veins on the whites of them, and his pupils were a sickly washed our brown colour, like when you rinse out a bowl that has had chocolate ice cream in it.
He was unable to string a sentence together without using an ‘F’. ‘F-ing paint’, ‘F-ing previous tenant’, and so on. I was wondering if the removal of swear words would render him almost mute, but found myself distracted by a spider-web tattoo that went from under his right ear, across most of that side of his neck. At least it was a diversion from being fixated on his eyes. But his foul breath snapped me back in the moment. Even at the distance of four feet and increasing as I backed away, his horrible wet mouth was giving off a smell that was hard to identify. Something like stale tobacco mixed with aniseed, and not in a good way, I assure you. If there is even a good way for that.
I really wanted this awful person to just vacate my space, so when the lift arrived, I told him to take it, and walked up all the stairs to my flat.
It will come as no surprise if I tell you that the new guy was immediately christened ‘Bulgy Eyes’.
It was quite a few weeks before Turkish Bloke’s flat got a new tenant. Disappointingly, it was another couple who seemed to be more than a little Turkish, but this time they had no kids. I decided to call them The Ayslum Seekers, as they were as quiet as mice, and looked shit-scared all the time. When I eventually found out they were from Afghanistan, I was a little surprised, but not too much. The woman was attractive, and dressed in modest western clothes. But her husband fitted the bill, as he looked much like I had imagined a 30 year-old Mujahideen to be.
Once the two flats were occupied, Teacher Lady swapped spaces in the car park, for the sporty hatchback. The Asylum Seekers had no car, but Bulgy Eyes did. He had blocked off his space with the old Peugeot 206 he ran around in, forcing Middle Aged Biker Man to hurry down to move his wife’s car, shifting it to Turkish Bloke’s old space. It was looking like musical chairs that night in the car park, and I couldn’t help but wonder when the next parking explosion would ignite.
But the rest of the year was pretty quiet. The only thing of note was that I found out what Frizzy-Haired Sexy Girl did for a living. We walked into the block together one evening, and I decided to just ask her, in a chatty way. “Oh, by the way I never did ask. What job do you do? Tell me it’s not my business if you want”. I was going to ask her name too, but decided to wait until she told me it.
She never did tell me it.
However, she did tell me that she was a croupier, at a private Casino in Mayfair. She produced a card from her bag, and told me to flash it if I ever wanted to visit her Casino and not have to join as a member. Like I had the money to piss away on Roulette, or whatever. There was no indication that she wanted me to go there for any other reason. I thanked her anyway.
On the thirty-first of December, I stood on the balcony wrapped up in a parka, and watched the fireworks at midnight, warmed up inside by some Remy Martin VSOP.
I was so bored. Next year had to be better, surely?
The new year around Spencer House was too dull for words. Nothing much happened for the rest of the winter, except we had a lot of snow in London that year. Well a lot for London that is. I remembered seeing a wedding ring on Bulgy Eyes’ hand, but no wife appeared. Maybe she had had enough of his eyes and breath, and had chucked him out. I didn’t really want to know.
I did find out what he did for a living though, when a British Telecom van occasionally appeared outside and he went to and from it. He was a phone engineer, and I guessed he was fitting out his flat with all sorts of swish broadband and phone stuff, presumably nicked off his employer.
Then one day I met the Afghan lady outside Vijay’s shop. On her own, she was friendly and chatty, and spoke excellent English. I was interested to hear that the man was not her husband, but her brother. They were not asylum seekers, as they had already been here for some time, and approved to remain. She used to be a dentist in Kabul, but wasn’t allowed to practice here at first. So she had studied to be a pharmacist instead, and was working in Boots at Piccadilly Circus. Her brother had lived with an uncle out in the countryside, and didn’t speak such good English, so she was supporting him. I was tempted to ask her out on a date, but had no idea if that was acceptable in her culture.
I didn’t change their name though. They were still the Asylum Seekers.
My boredom was shattered by some upheaval at work. I still hadn’t sat my Sergeant’s Exam, so when a sergeant vacancy came up in my department, we got a new guy who transferred in from Communications at The Yard. I was shocked to see it was Dev Patel, someone I had trained with at Hendon. He had come to us with glowing reports, and was expected to rise to Inspector soon. If I thought that our previous contact would be useful, I was sadly wrong. He was on my case from minute one, and it seemed to me he had decided that hassling me was his one job in life.
I resolved to get out of Fraud, and find another hidey-hole.
That summer was nice, with decent weather. I spent most evenings out on my balcony watching the world go by, though the noise from the constant parties around the estate started to affect my sleep. As I was struggling to get off to sleep one night, there was an almighty screaming match outside on the landing. I went to the spy-hole and saw Theatrical Conehead smacking Gloria about. Gloria was crying like a girl, and cowered in the corner trying to protect himself from the slaps and punches Theatrical was delivering. I knew I had to do something, so slipped on a T-shirt and went out there.
My arrival stopped Theatrical hitting his boyfriend, and he launched into a high-pitched rant about how Gloria was a slut and whore, and how he paid for everything and wasn’t about to tolerate Gloria’s flirting. I told him to go inside and calm down, before one of the other tenants called the police. Then I took Gloria into my flat and cleaned him up, watching as he snotted through half a box of my Kleenex Man Size. His version was that they had been on the terrace of a pub down by the canal, and some old friend had come over to talk to him. Theatrical had got unreasonably jealous, and when they got home he had necked half a bottle of vodka, before kicking off.
I gave it twenty minutes, hoping that would be enough. But when I went out to knock on Theatrical’s door, he opened it and threw armfuls of stuff out onto the landing, which appeared to be Gloria’s clothes. There was no reasoning with him, so I gathered up the stuff and took it into my flat. I told Gloria to get dressed properly, and put the rest of his clothes into an old Adidas sports bag I had. I asked if he had anywhere to go, and he nodded. So I gave him thirty quid for a taxi, and he thanked me and left.
My guess was that he was on his way to that old friend from the pub.
There was no point even trying to get to sleep, so I had a shower and made some coffee. I thought about showing up super-early at work, almost as a joke. That would surprise eveyone, and make me look keen. But then I decided that I wouldn’t give Dev the satisfaction of thinking he had rattled me, so put the TV on and watched the news.
I jumped when the phone rang. It hardly ever rang. It was my brother Graham.
My mum was dead.
I don’t know why I wasn’t surprised by the news that my mum had died. Graham told me she had suffered a stroke two days earlier, and he hadn’t wanted to bother me with that until he knew the outcome. He reckoned I would be too shocked to go into more details at the time, and offered to ring me back later to discuss things like her will, and funeral arrangements. She had been there longer than it seemed to me, but I had to admit I had never really missed her. She was just my mum, and I loved her because she was.
But I was never overwhelmed by her, like some guys get obsessed with their mums.
I phoned into work and told them. One thing about working as a cop, they are really good at times like that. The team Inspector told me to take as much time off as I needed, and to let him know if there was anything he could do. I decided to use the first unexpected day off to pop around to the Greek barber in the precinct and get my hair cut. I let him talk me into a real barber shave too. That’s a great feeling, a real cut-throat razor shave. Towels on your face after, and some old-school bay rum cologne splashed on.
I never cried over mum. Not once.
Graham phoned back in the evening. I didn’t bother to work out what time it was in Vancouver, though guessed it was still daytime for him. Typically, he was well-organised. He said that mum had made a will when she went to live with them, and I should get a local solicitor to act for me, so his guy could send copies of all the paperwork to be officially recorded here. He would obtain a second copy of the death certificate to send too, so I could prove to the agent managing mum’s house that she had died. The funny thing was that my brother was talking to me as if he still lived in London, and we were best buddies.
He was like a stranger to me, but I didn’t bother to tell him that.
Mum was going to be buried in a cemetery in Vancouver the following week. Graham seemed surprised that I wasn’t going to go to her funeral. I told him I wasn’t flying all that way to sit in church for ten minutes, then watch her box put in the ground. Maybe he thought I would have liked to spend time with his wife and family as well, but he didn’t argue. He wanted to get down to the financial stuff, and seemed relieved to be able to do that quickly. I was surprised to hear that mum had left me the house. She had left Graham’s kids all the rest of the money she had in the bank, including most of the lump sum from her pension pot. And there was a life insurance policy too, that I had never heard her mention. It was worth a hundred grand.
With some hesitation in his voice, Graham suggested that he keep the insurance money, and I could have the house. Perhaps he hadn’t bothered to find out just how much the old three-bed was worth these days, but I didn’t hang around in accepting his offer. I told him I would have a solicitor tomorrow morning, email the details, and sign the deal we had agreed over the phone. It took the rest of the week to finalise, which was pretty quick considering how many bits and pieces of paper had to be copied, faxed, authorised and notorised. I stayed off work to sort it out, and they were as nice as pie about it.
They even sent a condolences card by post. Everyone had signed it, even Dev Patel.
Eight days after I had got the phone call from Canada, I owned the family house. Even the lowest estimate of a sale price was four hundred thousand. That area was on the up, and properties were scarce. I didn’t tell Graham of course. He would never forgive himself for making such a bad deal. I contacted mum’s agent who was renting it out for her and told him to give the renters the minimum notice to leave of three months. I also asked him for the names of local decorators who could bosh it up to look nice once the three people living there had gone. Meanwhile, I would get the eight hundred a month that they had been paying.
Then I went over to my laptop and started to make some calculations.
If I got four-twenty for the house, I could pay off the outstanding mortgage on Spencer House, and still have almost three hundred and fifty left. I already had a fair bit of savings in the bank, and my police pension would pay out at a reduced rate if I left early. I was close enough to twenty years service, and though thirty years paid the maximum, all that dosh from selling mum’s house would more than make up for the difference. I needed more time to think, so I rang my doctor and made an appointment.
I saw her for the first time in over four years, and got her to sign me off with stress.
Mum’s house sold for an incredible four hundred and sixty grand. Two buyers fought over it, and one offered well over my asking price of four-thirty. I gave thanks to the god of gentrification, and to the fact that it went through in just six weeks after the previous tenants had gone. I hadn’t even needed to get it decorated, just hired some firm to remove everything, and skip the lot.
I had stayed off sick all that time, fending off the calls from work asking about my welfare, and playing up on feeling depressed about my mum dying in a foreign country. Once the money from the house sale was in my bank, and I had paid off the flat in Spencer House, I wrote a long email to my boss, requesting an early retirement package that included not having to go back into work. Except to sign some papers, say goodbye, and surrender my police I.D. They didn’t try to talk me out of it, and I knew they wouldn’t. I was also not surprised that there was no talk of a leaving party, though they did have a collection for me, presenting me with a Citizen digital watch they hadn’t even bothered to wrap.
I looked it up. It cost twenty-four ninety nine.
And that was that. I was man of leisure, with no intention of finding another job. I had enough to live on from the pension and lump sum, as well as that huge sum from the house sale, if I ever needed it. On the first day I woke up when I would normally have been at work, I went out and bought some very expensive casual clothes, then took a taxi into Covent Garden and treated myself to a slap-up lunch at Rules. On the way home, I stopped off in Mayfair, and bought a very nice Breitling watch.
The one the team had given me had gone straight into a bin as I walked out of the office.
The next morning I had a thought, and scrolled through the laptop looking at home security companies. I made an appointment for someone to come round late that afternoon. I was impressed with what was on offer, and chose a very unobtrusive camera to be installed in my door peephole, as well as one fitted on the balcony that would give me a wide angle view of the front of the block. The images from both could be live-streamed to my TV or laptop, and I paid extra for the option to have it all recorded to play back anytime I liked. It wasn’t a cheap system, but it was all in colour, and the one on the door had a microphone too.
A very efficient guy turned up two days later, fitted it in less than an hour, and showed me how it all worked.
By the end of my first week of leisure, I had pretty much bought all new stuff, except for the comfortable sofa and chair that I intended to keep for as long as possible. The biggest TV that Dixons stocked, a new double door fridge-freezer that only just fitted in the kitchen, state of the art washer-drier, and a new Apple computer too. I got the biggest monitor in the shop to go with it, and bought the latest phone so that I could download the app from the security company. Now I could even access my cameras when I was away from the flat.
Then I got a cable company in to set up the full package on the new telly, so I could watch anything that was ever shown.
During the autumn, I enjoyed watching the comings and goings around the block, and on the landing outside my flat too. I had a great view of Theatrical’s door of course, and I was very surprised to see how much action the ugly old Conehead was getting. Most nights, he would come home with some coy-looking rent boy or giggling youngster, and rush excitedly into his flat. He had to be paying them, I was convinced of that.
By Christmas, I had done everything I wanted to do. I bought a Christmas meal deal in Marks and Spencer, and spent the day watching my cameras.
Sammy Lee came to see me to tell me he was going home to Hong Kong now he had finished his studies. His dad was using an agent to rent the flat, and had already been promised a reliable tenant. I was quite touched when he gave me a large jade Buddha, and thanked me for always being kind to him.
I spotted the new bloke on my balcony camera, ten days after Sammy left. He was struggling in during some heavy rain, with a huge suitcase in each hand. Burger Babs turned up to hold the door open for him, and from the way they interacted, I was certain they knew each other well. He was short and muscular, and despite the cold and rain, all he was wearing was a training vest and some lycra leggings.
I named him Gym Guy.
By that time, I had drawn a plot of the block on a huge sheet of cardboard. A square box represented each flat, and I put the names- well my names- of those who lived in them in each box. So that day, I crossed out Sammy Lee, and wrote in Gym Guy.
Nobody knew that I had retired, and was no longer a copper. Even Edna hadn’t seemed to make the connection that she never saw me coming and going at the regular times. And she was always lurking about outside, or just in the entrance lobby. My camera picked her up all the time, and I had never realised just how much time she spent nosing around outside. Asylum Seeker man didn’t seem to go out at all. I had no recording of him leaving or entering during a whole seven day period.
Then I noticed something significant when checking the daily recordings. The Loud Couple no longer seemed to be a couple. The woman could be seen going to and from the car park, but the younger bloke was nowhere to be seen. At first I thought it might just be that he was on a course or something, but whe he didn’t show for the whole month, I concluded he had gone. I had an idea to make notes of all this, and started to keep a word document on my laptop to write everything down.
My suspicions about Burger Babs and Gym Guy were also confirmed when I saw them coming in together, his arm around her. Then they stopped outside the main entrance, and had a big snog. Perhaps he also had relatives who were criminals. That would suit Babs nicely.
Theatrical’s dalliances came home to roost one night. I heard a commotion, followed not long after by the noise of police radios outside. I got out of bed and checked my door camera. I could see and hear him telling two bored-looking cops that he had come home from a club with a friend. Then that friend had beat him up, and stolen his cash and mobile phone. Trouble was, he didn’t know the bloke’s real name, and his description was not too good either, as he was drunk as a sack.
Of course, I could have told them that I would have it on my camera recordings, but I didn’t. Serve the Conehead right.
With Sammy gone, and me keeping out of Edna’s way, I started to think about what a bunch of arseholes lived in the block now. Elvira and Fat bald Bloke were definitely still together, and she had a new wig that wasn’t so high it almost touched the door frame. Despite bearing the obvious scars of her attack, he appeared to have forgiven her, and she must have escaped doing prison time too. Market Boy slipped in and out without ever saying a word to anyone, and I started to think about what he did in his flat all evening.
Bulgy Eyes came up and knocked on my door one night. I wondered what he wanted, but had no intention of answering. He must have thought I was in, as he knocked a few times before giving up. I noted that on my word document. Frizzy Haired Sexy Girl was out for longer each day. I reckoned she was doing extra shifts at the casino, or had found herself a sugar daddy. Most weekends, she hardly came home at all, so must have been staying somewhere. As for Teacher Lady and her lump of a husband, they calmed down once they got no hassle over using the space reserved for The Asylum Seekers.
I reserved a whole Sunday for going through hours of recordings, and cross-checking against my notes. By bedtime, I had reached a firm conclusion.
They were all a complete waste of space.
When I had been out on response cars before moving to Fraud, I had seen a locksmith force entry on many occasions. They used to use a small metal device, like a stunted pistol with a trigger. Putting a thin lever into part of the lock, they then inserted the pointed end of the lock-gun, and squeezed. On almost all door locks, except the expensive maximum security type, it just opened the door like a regular key. It saved us bashing the door down using spreader bars and a metal ram.
I looked on Ebay just out of curiosity, and there they were. Door-gun lock opening kits for just under fifteen quid. I ordered one for five-day delivery, and then checked out You Tube. By the time the device arrived in the post, I had watched half a dozen instructional videos about how to use it.
My notes now gave me a detailed listing of when everyone was most likely to be at home, or out at work. Asylum Seeker Man was almost certainly going to be home, so I ruled out his flat for now. My first port of call was Teacher Lady and Biker Man’s flat, directly below me. I already knew that nobody had personal home alarms, as the front door security meant they weren’t needed. With Frizzy Haired Sexy Girl in the flat opposite presumed to be sleeping after a long night shift, I slipped into Teacher Lady’s flat using my new toy, and wearing almost invisible plastic gloves.
I had expected it to be neat and tidy, everything just so. Imagine my surpise when it was just the opposite. The kitchen was filthy, with dishes and pots stacked in the sink and on the worktops. And the living room was sparsely furnished, with two cheap-looking armchairs, and a worn-out coffee table. A small-screen TV was sat on an old dining chair in the corner of the room, next to a fibre-board bookcase overflowing with paperwork and crinkled magazines about cars. Not at all what I had expected.
The first bedroom was very tidy though. A single bed, well-made and neat, with a bedside cabinet and slim wardrobe. I opened that to find just four things hanging up, all of which I recognised seeing the woman in. On the base were stacked two piles, one of panties and bras, the other of tights and socks. There was only one item of footwear to be seen, some winter boots stood behind the door. She had hardly any stuff. And there was no dressing table; no piles of make up, sprays, and female bits. I found some of those items in the bathroom, but still wondered how she managed to appear so well-dresed and smart whenever I saw her. She must have just recycled the same outfits Monday to Friday.
The bigger bedroom was a different kettle of fish. A king-sized bed with metal rails top and bottom, and a purple bedspread that matched the curtains. Two big wardrobes dominated one side, and there were a dozen pairs of shoes and boots lined up under the bed, which had a chest of drawers next to it on the other side. I slid one open, and started to smile. Handcuffs, a strap-on dildo, nipple clamps, and a gimp mask. And that was only one drawer. In the first wardrobe I found conventional male clothing, but the second one contained enough fetish gear to stock out a shop in Soho. Rubber suits, latex dresses, spiked collars and leads, thigh-high boots, and three wigs in assorted colors.
I was grinning and shaking my head. So that was Biker Man’s other life, behind closed doors.
In the bottom drawer, I discovered a photo album, containing polaroids. They were unmistakably taken at sex parties, with Biker Man being led around by his straight-looking wife, and many more explicit ones of him having things done to him by grinning men dressed up as women. There they were, pretending to be so straight and upstanding, complaining about Babs’ Burger Ambulance, and arguing about parking spaces. Then they went off to depraved sex parties and did unspeakable things. I took one of the photos from its plastic pocket on the first page, and kept it.
I wanted them to notice it had gone, and wonder who had it.
Wandering around in someone else’s flat was strangely exciting. I had no idea what I would have said or done if they had come back unexpectedly and caught me, but that was very much part of the thrill. Having the cameras meant I could make an educated guess when anyone would be out, so I always had a time window to work to. I went back up to my flat and made notes about what I had seen. Then I got my plan of the block, and put a big green tick in Flat Ten, using a felt pen.
While I was waiting for my dinner to cook, I worked out which one to enter next.
“This is Doctor Fiona Eccleston, Rampton Hospital. Interview two with Jeffrey North. Jeffrey, you are aware that this is being recorded and I do not need your permission to do this? Please say yes for the benefit of the recording”.
“Yes, I am fully aware”.
“Now, in our first session, I explained why you are detained here, and that I will need to undertake these sessions to establish your state of mind, and awareness of your surroundings. These reports will be used to assess your treatment protocols, and eventually as part of any appeals process or parole board judgements. Do you remember that first meeting”.
“Yes, I am in Rampton Maximum Security Hospital, detained indefinitely subject to assessment of my sanity, behaviour, and the likelihood of my ever being dangerous if released. It’s okay, doctor, I am perfectly aware. And completely sane too, I assure you”.
“I would like to talk about that day in particular, the day that events got out of control. I am interested to hear what made you snap after so long”.
“Snap? Out of control? Neither of those are true. There was no snap, and I was in complete control. It was the outcome of very careful planning and preparation, and nothing at all like the actions of some deranged maniac. I said all this at my trial, as I am sure you have read from the transcripts. In fact if you read the statement I gave my own legal representative, you will save yourself a lot of trouble”.
“Hmm, that statement. Yes, I read that, but it is little more than a long-winded confession. But I would like you to tell me in your own words, Jeffrey. I want to hear your reasoning for myself, not read it on a page. Besides, there will be many more sessions like these, so you may just as well relax into them. To start off, why not give me some kind of timeline to the events that day?”
“I chose that day as I was fairly sure that most people would be home at some stage. I had already been in most of their flats when they were out at work or shopping, and what I found in them had enabled me to compile my list. You have no doubt seen the notes and video recording I handed to the police, and they should tell you all you need to know, doctor”.
“But as I said, I want to hear it all in your own words. So please continue”.
“Well a Sunday morning was the obvious choice. And early too, before anyone was up and about, and thinking of going anywhere. I used the titanium cycle lock to secure the two handles on the front door entrance, then disabled the lift by removing the fuse for it in the service cupboard on my floor. Then I did the same for the entryphone system, so that no callers would be able to contact any resident. There was no point disabling the phone lines, as most people had mobiles anyway. So I used the signal scrambling device I had obtained to interfere with the incoming moble signal from the nearest mast. The block was built with no external fire escape, and the only entrance and exit was the front door or the roof. The roof entrance was secured by a bolt and padlock. I had previously removed the existing padlock with bolt cutters, replaced it with one I had bought, and then thrown away the keys”.
“That’s a lot of preparation I agree, Jeffrey. Where did you manage to buy the various things you needed? Was it through contacts made during your time as a police officer?”
“No, it’s all on Ebay. You can find almost anything there. If not, you can get stuff from elsewhere online, delivered from America or China, no questions asked. You must have seen the receipts and order history. It is all on my computers”.
“Okay, you had secured the only exits, and decided that Sunday morning was the time to act. Talk me through how it started”.
“After fixing the D-lock to the front door, I was on the ground floor of course. So I started with Edna, and worked my way up”.
“So why Edna? What had she ever done to you, Jeffrey?
“You think this was about what people had done to me? I don’t think you are getting this at all, doctor. It was about what they were, what they represented, and how little they offered to society. Take Edna. Nosey and interfering, bitter, lonely, and intrusive. Her life was completely pointless, and she only lived for gossip, and the business of others. But it was quick and painless for her. She invited me in for a cup of tea, no idea what was going on. I broke her neck in the kitchen, as she was filling the kettle. One quick twist, and it snapped like a cracker”.
“Did you see that as some kind of mercy killing then?”
“Not at all. Mercy killing is when you finish off a bird with a broken wing, or a cat that has been run over by a car. In Edna’s case, I was merely putting an end to what she had become. She might well have thanked me for that, if she had known about it”.
“Then you went across the hall, and entered Flat One. What had that man ever done to you, or to anyone?”
“I had been in Market Boy’s flat a few times. It was always a mess, and there was a really bad smell in there too. I don’t think he ever washed his clothes or changed his bed. But his spare room was full of printed-off photos of kids. Hundreds of them, on copier paper. In some of them the kids were nude in the bath, or running around naked in a garden. And others showed two schoolgirls in uniform, sitting in provocative poses. I knew what he was up to”.
Is that why you killed him so brutally? I note from the records that you stabbed him twenty-six times as he slept in bed. Then you removed his penis with a carpet knife and threw it in his waste bin”.
“Well, I wanted the punishment to fit the crime in his case, naturally”.
“Then tell me how you felt when you were later told that they were family photos of his own four children, taken before he spilt with his wife, and nothing remotely to do with his being a paedophile, as you suspected”.
“I remember thinking he looked too young to have four kids already, and he must have had the oldest one when he was in his teens”.
“And no remorse for what you did, based on your own incorrect assumptions?”
“Well we all make mistakes. They hanged Timothy Evans for murders he didn’t commit, didn’t they?”
” That is flats one and two dealt with. Would you like a break, Jeffrey? Tea or coffee perhaps?”
“No thanks, carry on if you want to”.
“So Flat Four, above Edna. You did nothing to the woman there, except to break her door lock so she couldn’t get out of the flat. Why was that? Were you attracted to her?”
“Oh, the woman of The Loud Couple? No, she was far too skinny for me. But there was no reason to hurt her. Her young boyfriend had dumped her, and she was struggling financially. I read her post a few times. Unpaid gym memberships, defaulting on her council tax, and in the process of having her car reposssessed. She had a good job, but had got too deep in debt. She worked for a bank you know, and they had warned her about a disciplinary hearing over failure to perform and excessive debt. She was heading for ruin anyway, and far worse things than I could have done to her. She would probably sooner have been dead than face losing her job, home, and car. Life was going to punish her enough, save me a job.
“Then after breaking her lock from the outside, you entered Flat Three with your lock-pick?”
“Oh yes. Burger Babs had it coming, and the fact that Gym Guy was in bed with her saved me time later”.
“Looking at the photos taken later inside that flat, it seems to me that you were in there a long time. Why was that?”
“Well, I wanted Babs to see what happened to her boyfriend, so she would know what was going to happen to her after. I stayed longer than I planned to, but it worked out really well, so was worth the risk”.
“You tied them both up with plumber’s tape after rendering the man unconscious. Then you battered him to death with a six-pound hammer while she watched. After killing him you did the same thing to her, is that about right? Did you hate her that much? What had he ever done?”
“I didn’t hate her at all. In fact I liked her at first, even took her out on a date once. But she was just a criminal. It was in her DNA. Father, brother, ex-boyfriends. All she had known was hanging around with low-life gangsters and scum. As for Gym Guy, he was unlucky. If he hadn’t have been in bed with her, I might have given him a pass”.
“Okay, that’s enough for this time. See you at our next session, Jeffrey”.
“Good morning, Jeffrey. Today I would like to talk some more about what you did on that Sunday. Is that okay with you?”
“Yes, it’s not like I have got anything else to do, is it?”
“You went up to the next floor, and entered the home of Mister Ryan. You refer to him as ‘Bulgy Eyes’ in your confession. What possible reason could you have had to want to do him harm?”
“I refer to him as ‘Bulgy Eyes’ because his eyes were tremendously bulgy. You should have seen them, doctor. Unbelievably bulgy. Anyway, he was another one who lived like a pig. His flat was awful. He complained he had found it in a state, and had to decorate. Then he proceeds to live in filth worse than Possible Junkie before him. He never actually did anything to upset me other than that, but I couldn’t really see any reason to leave him out. What use was he after all? Dirty, smelly, divorced by his wife -I saw the paperwork- and just a miserable specimen. I didn’t make a big thing of it. He was standing having a piss in the bathroom, and I quickly cut his throat from behind. He probably thought it was a bad dream”.
I see you mention the man you called ‘Possible’. He was a drug dealer named Alex White. He was also stabbed in Spencer House. Have you got anything to tell me about that murder?”
“Ha, you trying to pin that on me too? That was ages ago, and nothing to do with me. That was a drug gang thing. The team investigating didn’t try too hard to solve that killing, I know that for a fact. They wrote it off as scum on scum, and moved on to something more interesting. Then later on they spend two whole days grilling me about it, trying to clear up an unsolved case and put it down to me. I wasn’t having that”.
“By the time you got to the next floor, you must have been covered in blood, Jeffrey”.
“That’s why I was wearing the overalls of course. And the gloves and boots. You have to anticipate all the blood”.
“Then you entered the flat of the brother and sister. Yet again, you didn’t harm the woman. She was terrified when you placed a hood over her head and taped her to the bed, but you left her alone. Why was that? Was it because you were attracted to her?”
“You still don’t seem to be getting this at all, doctor. That woman worked hard. She came from another country because of a war, and retrained to be a pharmacist. She perfected her English, and worked at Boots in Piccadilly Circus, one of the busiest chemist shops in England. She was useful, she had integrated into society, and tried her best to make something of herself. There was no way I needed to remove her from this world. I had a lot of respect for her”.
“Not for her brother though, obviously”.
“He was the classic definition of a parasite. And he was a potentially dangerous parasite too. Came here speaking no English, and never bothered to even try to learn. Still dressed as if he was in Helmand Province, and ponced off the state and his sister. Then there was their laptop. I only had a chance to see what was on it the once, when he had to go for an interview about his benefits. Radical stuff. ISIS, Taliban, the usual. He was a suicide bomber waiting to happen, believe me”.
“And that’s why you decapitated him? Cut his head off with an axe, and placed it at the foot of his bed?”
“Yep, that’s why. What ISIS did. See how he liked it”.
“Are you aware that his sister was so traumatised by your actions that she is in a psychiatric hospital, and no longer functioning in society in the way that you so admired?”
“I think they call that ‘Collateral Damage’ in the Army”.
“Once you walked across the hall into Mister Oliver’s flat, he was already awake and walking around, I understand”.
“That was funny. You should have seen the look on Fat Bald Bloke’s face when I walked in. Priceless”.
“And you stabbed him in the throat?”
“Yes, stopped him shouting out and waking Elvira”.
“Had they done something to you, Jeffrey?”
“No, but that’s not the point. They were just low-life, useless. Never amount to anything. Unproductive. He was a natural bully who was actually scared of his girlfriend, and she was too frightful for words. Pushing fifty, acting like she was twenty-five, drunk most of the time, and violent too. No chance they were getting a pass. She was fast asleep and still snoring, so I woke her up first. I wanted her to see it coming. When she saw the axe lifting up, her eyes were like saucers. But I got her before she could even think about screaming”.
“Our next meeting is in two days time, Jeffrey. I will see you then”.
“I mainly want to talk to you today about what happened in Flat Ten, Jeffrey. The flat rented by Miss Hurst, and her partner”.
“Oh yeah, Teacher Lady”.
“It must have been strange to discover that she was not a teacher at all, but a School Meals Supervisor. And that her partner, Mister Arnott, was not her husband. He also had a very ordinary job too, a counter assistant in a car spares shop”.
“Lots of people put on airs and graces. Flash cars, smart clothes. But it was easy to see from the lack of stuff in their flat that they didn’t have money. And they slept in separate rooms too, so no surprise they weren’t married”.
“The reason your actions in that flat interest me is because you not only killed the man in an especially meticulous and painful way, but you also had sex with Miss Hurst. The DNA samples prove that conclusively”.
“They charged me with raping her, refused to believe my account of what happened. But I was there, and I know. Besides, if I confessed to everything else, why would I not confess to raping the uppity kinky bitch?”
“Perhaps because you would be ashamed of being a rapist, Jeffrey, but happy enough to be a murderer. Why don’t you tell me in your own words what happened in that flat on the Sunday morning in question?”
“I used the lock pick, and went in holding a knife. I entered her room first, and she had just woken up, sitting on the bed naked. She didn’t scream, or even look scared, like she had anticipated it. She smiled in fact. Then she spoke really softly, asked, ‘Have you come for him?’. I nodded, and she whispered ‘You’ll get no trouble from me’. When I turned and walked into his room, she followed behind me. I could hear her chuckling. He was still asleep, and I woke him up by pressing the knife against his mouth. When his eyes opened, I shook my head to indicate he shouldn’t speak or move, then she says ‘Make him wear the red suit’”.
“Had you lost control to her by then, Jeffrey? Was Miss Hurst taking over your planned event do you think?”
“She might have thought she was directing me, but I always knew how it would end for her, whether she played along willingly or not. I decided to let her think of herself as an accomplice. After all, she hadn’t a clue about what had already happened on the lower floors”.
“Okay, what happened after that?”
She told me to make him wear the red rubber suit. He heard her say it, and I just nodded. He got out of bed with no attempt to fight me, or run away. He got the suit out of the wardrobe, and covered his body in clouds of talcum powder. Then he put the suit on and pulled it tight around his body. She hissed into my ear. ‘The ball-gag, tell him to use that’. He had heard her, and produced a device from one of the drawers next to the bed. He wrapped it around his face, and put the ball in his mouth so he couldn’t speak”.
“Do you really believe he had any idea that you were going to hurt him, Jeffrey?”
“No, I am sure he thought it was a sex game dreamed up by Teacher Lady”.
“Then he was happy to get back onto the bed?”
“Yes, he did that himself, just lying there, looking up at the ceiling. Then Teacher Lady got some handcuffs from the drawer, and secured his arms above his head, locked on the metal rails of the bedstead. She turned to me and said ‘Skin him’. I had never skinned anything, but I used the carpet knife, tracing the outline of the rubber suit. While he was screaming as much as he could, given the gag, she jumped up and down clapping her hands together. I’m telling you, doctor, she was one sick puppy’. By the time I had managed to get some bits of skin and rubber suit from his chest and legs, the bed was soaked in blood and he was whimpering like a kitten. She was grabbing me, hissing ‘More, more’, but I had seen enough. I ran the carpet knife across his throat and put an end to it”.
“So is that when you raped her?”
“I told you, I didn’t rape her. That’s when she started to claw at my overalls, and pull the zip down. She rolled Biker Man off the bed after unlocking the cuffs, and dragged me onto it. Then she got on top of me and had mad sex with me as I was lying in all the blood. She was mental, I promise you. When she had finished, she clung on to me like we were lovers or something. When I stuck the knife into her neck three times, she couldn’t have been more surpised. I promise you”.
“I am going to leave it there for today. See you next time, Jeffrey”.
“This will be the last session focusing on that Sunday, Jeffrey. I am keen to ask you why you did nothing to Miss Martinez, the resident of Flat Nine”.
“I had been in her place a few times. She must have been using sleeping tablets to get a good sleep after her long shifts, as she was always flat out, and never noticed me walking around. She wore one of those black sleep-masks too, velvet I think. She had it on that morning, and was in a very deep sleep. I sat on her bed watching her. She had no idea. To be honest, I had nothing against her. She was attractive, that’s for sure, but she had zero interest in me that way. She worked hard, her flat was immaculate, and she had nice things. You know, good taste, classy”.
“Then was it her good looks and good taste that saved her from you, Jeffrey?”
“Not sure. I had never intended to hurt her at all, right from the time I started to make my plans. There was a green circle around her flat on my plan, same as the one around Loud Couple’s flat. That meant they would be okay. Frizzy-Haired Sexy Girl didn’t even need her door lock interfered with, as I was sure she wouldn’t wake up until her tablet wore off”.
“But you still went into her place. They found bloodstains on the door, walls, bedding, and bedroom carpet”.
“Oh yes, I popped in to check on her, like I said. I watched her sleep for a minute or two, then left”.
“You liked her then. Liked to watch her. Was it a sexual attraction?”
“She was undeniably sexy, but it wasn’t that. She reminded me of me”.
“She kept herself to herself. She was clean and tidy, always smart, and smelled great. She didn’t get involved with any of the others in the block unless she couldn’t avoid it, and she worked long hours on shifts without complaint. Maybe she hated being a croupier, I don’t know, but she did it to make money, and she spent that money wisely and well. She’s the sort who would never consider being a drain on society, believe me”.
“The man opposite you was not so lucky, I see. The actor, Julian Thoroughgood. What did you have against him? Was it because he was a homosexual?”
“You people always have to bring up sex, don’t you? You presume everything that happens has a sexual motive. Whether that is latent homosexuality, attraction to the opposite sex, or being in love with your mother. You really do need to move on, find some new theories. Still banging away with Freud and Jung, forgetting it is no longer the 19th century. This is the twenty-first century, doctor, and a lot has happened since nineteen-hundred. Though you lot seem to have failed to notice. I didn’t care that Theatrical Conehead was gay. Didn’t bother me in the least. But he was a bully, a whiny bully. And he traded on a false reputation based on being in one crappy television show, and doing a lot of crowd scene bit parts. He was fake”.
“Was that enough to justify what happened to him then?”
“As far as I am concerned, obviously”.
“Was he surprised to see you enter his flat that morning?”
“Funnily enough, it didn’t occur to him to ask how I had got in there, or why I was carrying a tool bag. He was shocked at all the blood. He thought I was injured, and was like, ‘Oh my dear, whatever has happened?’ I pointed to the balcony, as if the answer was outside. Then when he went out to look, I grabbed his legs and dropped him over. Have you ever heard the sound of someone hitting concrete after falling almost a hundred feet? It sounds like a slap, not at all what you might imagine”.
“Why did you do something so public? You must have known that someone would soon see his body?”
“Of course, that was my finale. I knew that someone would call an ambulance, and the police would turn up. The bike lock had been removed from the door, and I just had enough time to bag up my overalls and boots, then have a quick shower to make myself presentable before they arrived at my flat. I gave them everything, laptop, notes, all the relevant stuff, and made a full confession in my flat. The uniformed officers were surprised, as they had no idea what else had happened. When the detectives arrived, they made me sit in my flat while a full search went on”.
“Thank you, Jeffrey. I will be seeing you again to discuss what happened after your arrest”.
“Today I would like to talk about the publicity your crime attracted, and the fact that you refused to cooperate with an insanity plea”.
“Well despite my confession, it seems the law was insistent on deciding whether or not I was insane. Not that it would have made any difference to my sentence”.
“That’s not accurate, Jeffrey. Detention in a secure hospital is very different to life imprisonment in a mainstream prison. I am sure that as a former policeman you are aware that you might have got a maximum sentence recommendation, had you not been considered to be mentally ill. You now have an indefinite detention order, which means that you have to convince doctors and other specialists that you are fit to be released at some stage in the future. That may never happen, as you know”.
“Or it may happen. Who knows? Things change. Society’s attitudes change. Or I might escape”.
“Have you thought about trying to escape then? I cannot recall the last time anyone escaped from this facility”.
“My thoughts are my business, and not open to discussion on that subject”.
“Since your arrest, the media has had a field day, reporting your crime. I have seen some of the headlines. ‘House of Hell’, ‘Murder block’, ‘Cop Goes Rogue, Kills Eleven’. There were many more like that. There is even talk of a television series, and a feature film. One book about you has already been published without your cooperation, and you receive around one hundred letters a week, mostly flattering. How do you feel about that?”
“I don’t feel anything about it at all”.
“Really? You are not basking in the attention, enjoying the notoriety?”
“Not at all. Nothing like that. I don’t even read the letters properly. Most have been redacted anyway, as you know. Besides, I am only flavour of the month, something else will come along, and I will be history by next year. I do resent them calling me a serial killer though. They are obviously too stupid to see the difference, or think that designation will sell more newspapers. I also hate being called a rapist, and I am considering legal action against any publication that has called me that. I am planning to appeal my additional sentence for the rape too, as that didn’t happen”.
“But the prosecution argued that Miss Hurst was terrified into having sex with you by the very fact that you had brutally murdered her partner in front of her, and you were armed with an assortment of weapons. I think they used the phrase ‘rape by intimidation’ in court. And with her no longer alive to substantiate your story, I very much doubt the appeal will ever be allowed. Don’t you see that?”
“Of course, but that won’t stop me trying. I have enough money to engage good lawyers to represent me”.
“On the subject of money, I see that you do have substantial savings from your inheritance. But any funds used from your bank account can be subject to scrutiny, to stop them being used for criminal purposes. You would have been told that, I’m sure”.
“My money is not from the proceeds of crime, so was unable to be sequestered by the court. I also own my flat outright, so the same applies to that. Did you know that local estate agents have been bombarded with requests from people trying to rent my flat? It seems many of them want to live in the home of the famous murderer, while I am locked up here”.
“Yes, I did read that your local council was considering demolishing the block, after buying all the flats under a compulsory purchase order. But three owners fought the decision in the courts, and they are leaving it standing. They are changing the name to Churchill House though, in some effort to erase the memory of what happened there”.
“I have heard that people are travelling from all over to take photos of themselves outside the block. It has become a tourist destination in that borough, the only one in fact”.
“And how does that make you feel, Jeffrey?”
“I have no feelings about it at all”.
“You pride yourself in finding out things like that, don’t you? You like to have information about things going on outside?
“It’s easier than you might imagine. For example, I know that you are Doctor Fiona Eccleston, it says so on your badge”.
“Hardly Sherlock Holmes then”.
“No, but I also know that your home address is number five Lilac Close, Gainsborough. That you are divorced and live alone, and that your daughter Poppy attends the University of Lincoln, studying Modern History”.
“This will be our final session, Jeffrey, as I have now completed my assessment. You should know that I am not in the least intimidated by your remarks the last time we spoke. I could not do this job if I allowed myself to be worried about threats from those I assess”.
“I wasn’t threatening you, just stating how easy it is to get information, even in here”.
“Okay. Do you have anything you would like to add? This will probably be the last time we see each other”.
“I would be interested to hear what your conclusions are”.
“It is not usual to discuss those, but I think you know full well that I will not be recommending your move to a conventional prison. In fact, I will be strongly recommending that you remain here until such time any future assessment shows you are fit to be considered for parole. You have shown no remorse, no sympathy for your victims, and I cannot imagine that this aspect of your personality is likely to change anytime soon. Furthermore, you refuse to concede that you are mentally ill, and that in itself makes you very dangerous, as far as I am concerned. If and when any appeal hearing is granted, I am sure my detaled report will ensure that you are not successful”.
“Would you like me to say sorry, and confess to rape? Would that make you feel different?”
“I know you are just saying that, Jeffrey. It is not in your nature to feel sorrow or regret for what you did. You are even smiling as you speak. If you said sorry a hundred times, I would still not believe you”.
“Alright, doctor, you got me. No I’m not sorry. But I didn’t rape that woman, whatever you believe. Why are you so prepared to believe a bad thing about me, but not about her actions on that Sunday? Whatever you think of me, I told you the truth. I am not a rapist.”
“I would have to talk to her to change my opinon, and I can’t do that. Because you killed her”.
“Now you are sounding angry, doctor. Not like you to let anger creep into your voice”.
“I am not angry, and any change in my tone is caused by human emotion, something I suspect you do not understand”.
“You would be very surprised at what I understand, doctor”.
“I think that is enough discussion, Jeffrey. My full report will be submitted to the relevant authorities for their consideration. However, if I were you, I would not expect to ever be released. With that in mind, you might want to think about ways to deal with your life here, perhaps improve yourself in some way. There are classes, and you are allowed to study too”.
“Oh, I think I have done all the studying I am ever going to do. But thanks for letting me know”.
“Very well, I am closing the interview. I doubt we will ever meet again, Jeffrey”.
“Oh don’t say that, doctor. I live in hope that we will”.
Nine months had passed since Fiona Eccleston had presented her report. It had not been necessary to see Jeffrey North again, and she was as busy as ever with new referrals and admissions. But there was a holiday to look forward to. In three weeks, Poppy would be home from university, and the promised mother-daughter bonding trip to California was going ahead. As Poppy had asked, Fiona had arranged the rental of a classic American car. They would just drive north up the state, and see where they ended up.
Fiona was up early on that Friday morning, and the strong coffee had made her feel perky. Reversing her car out onto the street, she drove to the junction with the main road, and pressed the button to turn on the radio. The weather forecast was good, and when the next song came on she drummed her fingers on the steering wheel and sang along to the familiar words.
The police roadblock was unusual.There must have been an accident. As she got closer to the head of the queue, she saw officers opening the rear hatches of the cars in front, and looking in the back doors and windows. When it came to her turn, she wound down the window as the policeman walked over. “Can you please turn off the engine and open the boot, madam? Just a routine check, won’t delay you too long”. Reaching into her bag, she showed him her Rampton Hospital identity card. “I have to get to work, officer, please hurry”.
The policeman glanced at the card. “Rampton eh? It’s one of yours we’re looking for. That Londoner, the one who killed all the people in that block of flats. He managed to escape during the night somehow. Can’t have got far on foot though”.
Fiona reached into her bag for her mobile phone. Scrolling quickly, she pressed to dial her daughter’s number.
It didn’t ring at all, just beeped. The line was dead.