Authors: Derek Raymond
“No one claiming interest in literature truly written from the edge of human experience, no one wondering at the limits of the crime novel and of literature itself, can overlook these extraordinary books.”
“A pioneer of British noir … No one has come near to matching his style or overwhelming sense of madness … he does not strive for accuracy, but achieves an emotional truth all his own.”
“The beautiful, ruthless simplicity of the Factory novels is that Raymond rewrites the basic ethos of the classic detective novel.”
“A sulphurous mixture of ferocious violence and high-flown philosophy.”
“A mixture of thin-lipped Chandleresque backchat and of idioms more icily subversive.”
“Hellishly bleak and moving.”
“He writes beautifully, and his sincerity cannot be faulted.”
“Raw-edged, strong and disturbing stuff.”
was the pseudonym of British writer Robert “Robin” Cook, who was born in London in 1931. The son of a textile magnate, he dropped out of Eton and rejected a life of privilege for a life of adventure. He traveled the world, living in Paris at the Beat Hotel and on New York’s seedy Lower East Side, smuggled artworks into Amsterdam, and spent time in a Spanish prison for publicly making fun of Franco. Finally, he landed back in London, working in the lower echelons of the Kray Brothers’ crime syndicate laundering money, organizing illegal gambling, and setting up insurance scams. He eventually took to writing—first as a pornographer, but then as an increasingly serious novelist, writing about the desperate characters and experiences he’d known in London’s underground. His work culminated in the Factory novels, landmarks that have led many to consider him the founding father of British noir. He died in London in 1994.
I Was Dora Suarez
First published in 1990 in Great Britain by Scribner
© 1990 Estate of Robin William Arthur Cook
This edition published by arrangement with Serpent’s Tail
Melville House Publishing
145 Plymouth Street
Brooklyn, NY 11201
Library of Congress Control Number: 2011932392
Gisèle, Chopin, Claude and
I could never have got through this
without the four of you
Interrupted by her because she had come to see what was happening next door while he was still finishing up with the girl, the killer came up to the old woman without a word, got hold of her as if she were a load of last week’s rubbish and hurled her through the front of her grandfather clock, which stood just inside the door of the flat, using strength that even he didn’t know he had. He saw that that had worked OK: she died as she hit it. After the splintering crash that her body made breaking the clock – the shocking, sudden damage, the liquid slap of her head hitting the inside of the clock case – she sighed once, death’s sister to a sob; and the sound, as she died with her head hidden inside the clock, outranked every other sound in the place.
However, the killer heard nothing. He stood, unaware, for a good minute; absorbed, absent and distorted with ecstasy and by the excitement of the two murders that he had just committed. He had a long, blank time to make up for; months, pitiless chains of days and nights of hideous, iron struggle, of ruthless training and punishment; there had been nights when he had moaned and screamed out of his broken window into the night of College Hill, wondering if he ever would get into action again, his hands jammed round the black frames.
As for his second victim this evening, Betty Carstairs was eighty-six, and that was how she died that night. She had never truly asked herself if the long and arduous history of her life had been worthwhile, or whether indeed it had had any meaning at all; but she had at least supposed that she owned some right to her
own body, to give or withhold it while it was still worth looking at, and to continue to live on in it even after it was not. She had endured two wars, accepting in both the losses of people close to her that wars entail; she had been less afraid of the bombing than of considering why it was that so many of those who made up her personal world should perish in an apparently random way, and why it was that she should have expected patience from herself, and found it, each time her husband, long dead now, had invaded her physically – for she was Scottish, and had never been an awakened person: all she had ever really enjoyed doing was walking. And then, lately, when she had fallen seriously ill with her heart and knew that she was spent, she marvelled and wondered, when she was not in pain, why she need feel so afraid and alone.
Well, now she had been killed in her own clock, so that was that, and that was the squalid and miserable end of Betty Carstairs. She was to pass later, after the autopsy, through the diesel flames of a London cemetery in a recuperable coffin, a graven angel passing through a moment of fire, at a price arranged on the cheap by her great-nephew Valerian who knew a few people, and who, having been through the flat with a mate of his directly we had finished, took such pickings from it as he could down to Chelsea in two of her suitcases and got pissed on the proceeds.
Now there was one of your promising lads who thought he knew everything, except that much later I indirectly got him nicked by readjusting his head for the hat on another case which was looking for someone to wear it; it carried two years in the shade. I didn’t appreciate Valerian somehow; I’m fucked if I know why.
Anyway, that was the end of Betty in our world.
When he came to himself again, the killer looked at the clock vaguely; it meant nothing to him. He was breathing hard, straining, fit and ready for more, and it was disappointing, it disquieted him, that there was just silence in the place now. He stroked the back
of his hand across his lips; they parted stickily, with a crust of effort and desire on them. His lips gaped open with pleasure, only he didn’t know that.
The face of the grandfather clock showed a view of the Thames with Windsor Castle behind it in the distance; the river was as it had been in 1810. It was a cottage clock. It had never been valuable; now it was a wreck. Whatever it had stood for, whatever the skill that had gone into making the clock, the Roman figures on the white enamel dial, its river scene: all that was gone now. Without its dusty glass, which the killer had smashed, each detail of a little rowing-boat, painted on a separate strip of copper and then geared to the second-hand pinion, with which it agreed, now stood out quite new and fresh. The three hands of the clock, hours, minutes and seconds, the tiny boat and the two people in it had been built to indicate time’s passage as it was experienced in that era – in a slow, invariable way. But that, too, was over now – the needle broken off its spindle, the thin steel snapped off its bearing.
Yet time, which had always stepped in a rigidly constructed and formal manner round its face, though arrested now, had in one sense not really changed; for the painted rowing-boat, the kind that on the Thames they used to call a perfect, was still there, resting far out on the tidal river. This swaying toy ferried a miniature couple from a vanished age, a boy and a girl, across the top of the clock face; each leaned eternally gazing at the other with a bare arm lying across an oar. Lovers, they looked into each other’s eyes with an adoration which a hundred and eighty years could not efface even though the flaking faces were no longer clear – either because the little brush had not entirely captured them, or because it was sunset, or else because the scale was too small – anyway, you could only in part make out the lovers’ features. But still the motionless blades lay dipped in the white-lead, scrolled waves, the boat lying across the crawling drift of the river – and if the clock could have been set going again, the boat with its dreaming cargo would have gone back to dipping and ticking with the clock as it always had done, rocking and nursing
them each time the pendulum swung. Only of course that was impossible forever now; for so great had been the killer’s strength that Betty Carstairs’s head had smashed through the clock door, smashing it in two, and there was no revoking that.
Then, after what seemed like a long pause, the strike weight suddenly slipped and fell on Betty Carstairs’s face. In response to the new change of balance, the whole clock frame strained gravely outwards, and its pointed hood slid very slowly off its runners and crashed onto her legs, so that when this new sound was over, there she had been turned on one side forever, buried in wood and glass. There was plenty of mess around, too. There were the shards of her chamber pot, for instance, that she had been carrying to the bathroom when she heard the noise in the other room and looked in, that he had kicked out of her hand the second he killed her. There was also the smell. He held his nose; for if there was one thing the killer detested, it was the smell of anybody’s piss but his own.
There was her blood, too. Everything that he had done resolved itself into abominable little details: for instance, in her ultimate spasm, she had half spat her top denture out through her lips, which lent her the smile of a lunatic criticising bad theatre.
Now the killer cupped his hands round his mouth; it was cold in the flat, and he blew hard on his fingers. He half noticed his lips, for which he had a passion, in a gilt mirror, and was full pleased to see that they were as thick and red as ever, ready to draw any woman. Only his hands dissatisfied him; for in spite of his gloves, which he peeled off for a moment, the palms were marked from the drainpipe he had scaled; they were dry and rust-coloured, and that was a detail that clashed. He quickly put the gloves back on: ‘It’s bloody freezing in here!’ he shrieked. ‘There’s sod-all heating on in this bleeding barracks, fuck this for a lark.’ He pointed a long, loose finger upwards and shook it at the place as though it had threatened to fight back – but already the second’s pleasure he had had of ‘handling’ the interfering old git was over: so she was weighed off wasn’t she, and who gave a fucking green banana? The
mistake the little beldame had made was to stick her stupid face round the sitting-room door to see what the noise was about while he was finishing the girl up; he wouldn’t even have known she existed otherwise. But she had seen too much. It was logic. He couldn’t afford to let Granny live, and anyway he hated being interrupted when he was intent on a piece of work, so it added up to the old cow had to go.
‘It’s time you were off yourself,’ he said out loud. His voice bounced back at him like a scream off the wall.
Still, talk of screaming, the girl had started by half screaming her fucking head off, silly little tart – but then she always had been one to kick the milk over, no matter what, he remembered – and good riddance to her. But, underneath, what he was really trying to ask himself was whether he could get through his present situation; he knew he had to launder it somehow now so that he could get out clean. But although he knew what ‘get out’ was, he didn’t know what ‘clean’ meant, so that he had some kind of a problem for a minute. He had no conception whatever of the term ‘guilt.’ He just obeyed his power, the impulses. He didn’t know how to frame these impulses in language at all but just automatically marched when the impulses said to do it, and it was this improbability that turned him into a wild card hidden in the social pack that of course made him so vastly dangerous. He turned soundlessly on ultra-thin soles; he had put on a thin pair of brand-new racing pumps for the job. Thinking of women in any way at all transferred him immediately to a vital, if ill-defined level in himself and filled him with the instant desire to punish himself by wanking. He stroked enquiringly at his cock, which still hurt after the last time; but recently, while he had been in training, he had been damaging it more subtly, because he didn’t want this cheeky (because apparently independent of him) and self-important other little self of his to clack on him now; rather, he was going to murder it slowly, and the way he was now appearing (but only, like an interrogating copper, appearing) to give it a bit of margin meant that the suspect would soon have plenty of mileage in it again and
then it would have to go on trying to give an account of itself as it had always had to. He touched it, found it was bleeding and abandoned it temporarily, putting it back into his sports trousers. Then he walked back into the room where the girl’s body was.