Authors: Bill Carson
As he exited the station he mingled with the crowds of tourists, who were all jostling for position to obtain the best angles from which to take their snaps of the famous landmarks and ancient buildings with their loved ones stood in front of them. John was scrutinising the construction of Westminster Bridge and specifically the way that the robust wrought iron balustrades had been designed and built, which had strangely enough recently been strengthened.
John examined the thick, cold ironwork closely, and then took a peek over the top at the turbulent murky water below. He judged the height of the drop to be around forty feet, and so a length of rope at around fifty feet should do nicely, he decided as he scribbled down some numbers. After his relatively short spell of sightseeing, he made his way back to the house and once again took out his notebook and pencil, and flicked to a fresh page. He then grabbed the tape measure from his rucksack, and for the next two hours busied himself by assessing the dimensions of the small bedroom. He began jotting down various calculations and which types of materials were to be needed in order to transform the tiny back bedroom.
Once he’d completed his extensive shopping list, he had around five hundred pounds’ worth of materials, which included lengths of timber, plaster board, matt black paint and an odd selection of various tools. The last two items on the list were a long length of strong thick rope and a galvanised bucket.
John had managed to procure all of the materials he needed from the huge DIY superstore in one visit, and the van was jam-packed and creaking under the weight. It took him a good half an hour to unload, and after a bite to eat and a huge steaming mug of black coffee, he set to work.
The first thing he needed to do was block out the small window, in order to thwart the unwanted attention of any would-be nosey neighbour, and also keep out any light so as to ensure that the only light source in the room would be via the single dim forty-watt light bulb. However, not wanting to attract attention, he firstly hung a small venetian blind inside the window and then made a wooden frame and covered it with a piece of plaster board which was cut precisely to fit the aperture.
He then slotted the whole thing into the window, and so if anyone were to look up, all they would see would be a drawn blind. On the inside, however, the window was now completely boxed in and covered with two sheets of plaster board. Not even the most stubborn ray of light would be allowed to penetrate.
The walls and ceiling would be tackled next, and he screwed long lengths of three-by-two battening at precise intervals to the walls and ceiling, over which thick, heavy sheets of plaster board were then nailed, thus adding the first layer of soundproofing. The floor was next, and the first thing he did was to seal all of the joints in the floorboards with a special soundproofing sealant. Over the top of that he laid and glued extra thick soundproofing mats across the entire floor and once again sealed the joints with a special sealant. On top of them he screwed inch-thick plywood, and then re-covered the whole floor with the tatty old carpet.
The last thing on the list was to work on the door, which was of a surprisingly sturdy variety, and it luckily fitted flush in its frame. He had to make sure that the door had no perceivable gaps on the inside, and nailed a large sheet of inch-thick plywood over it. On the outside of the door he fitted a huge steel hasp and staple with an oversized padlock. It took two days to finish all the soundproofing, and the next part was to concentrate on the fixtures and fittings. That was easy as there were only going to be three – a wooden chair, a sleeping bag and a large bucket. He stood in the centre of the room and admired his handiwork, and then after painting the entire room black, including the floor, the very last job was to drill a small peep-hole in the door.
Twenty-four hours later the paint had dried and the room was complete. John entered the weird black room and closed the door behind him and stood in the middle. It felt as if the air was slowly being sucked out of his lungs; the blackness created a truly oppressive sensation. Even though he knew he could leave at any moment, it was still an unusually unpleasant experience, and with the absence of any external sounds the walls felt as if they were crowding in on you.
To spend any length of time in such a place would be enough to drive a person insane.
It looked like hell in the
re, he thought as he locked the door. He went downstairs and made himself a cup of black coffee, and sat at the horrible little table in the horrible little kitchen and thought about the horrible little room above.
Harold Harper decided to begin his assignment from the beginning, and that was to visit the place where the problem had manifested itself. He’d managed to locate a suitable entry point into the abandoned night club on Blackbird Road quite easily, and after a little persuasion with a small crowbar, the wooden boards covering a side window were levered off. He silently slipped through the opening and quietly lowered himself inside the derelict venue. A thick black cloak had been draped over his eyes and for the moment he was as good as blind in there. It was cold and damp, and the air tasted of decay and an unpleasant odour was evident throughout. Harold stood without moving for a good five minutes to allow his eyes to acquire some form of night vision, and as he waited for his eyes to adjust he tuned into to the sounds around him. A scurry of a rat, the sudden creak of a floorboard and the drumming of the heavy rain onto the deserted stage from the leaky roof. Several pigeons had made a home for themselves amongst the charred rafters, and they fluttered about noisily, disturbed by the crunch of some broken glass under the intruder’s leather soled shoe.
The interior had not been touched since the night that John Kane had set fire to it, and this once lawless, vibrant, raucous venue had just been allowed to slowly slide into obscurity and die. Harold carefully picked his way over the debris and eventually found the locker room, and then beyond that was the door he was looking for. He opened it, and stepped into what was once the vice king’s office, which was where the most gruesome murders had occurred.
What a terrible mess
, Harold thought, as the precise, needle-thin beam from the penlight torch sliced through the darkness and illuminated the debris as he moved forward. At their recent meeting, Jimmy had told him that his brother had kept a secret ledger,
a small, leather bound pocketbook which contained all of the names and addresses of the people who owed Tony money. The book was kept in a secret crevasse that had been specially carved into the thick door frame by himself, and Jimmy was the only other person who knew of its whereabouts and existence. He had a set-up of a similar nature for his most private and important clients, as they quite rightly didn’t trust computers to house certain types of information.
Harold slotted the penlight between his teeth and used the razor-sharp switchblade to find the almost invisible edge of the slot, which Jimmy had said was two thirds of the way up the doorframe. He slowly eased the thin blade into the joint of the soft decaying wood, and prised the wooden plug free. The torchlight searched inside the crevasse and illuminated the spine of the little leather bound book. He pulled it out, quickly flashed the beam over the pages and then, happy with what he had found, he snapped the book shut. He was back outside the dilapidated building within seconds, and vanished amidst the shadows of the cold, murky night.
Half an hour later, Harold was back in the shabby single room that he’d rented in the rundown Victorian house on the outskirts of north London. He pulled the small book from his inside pocket and brushed the dust from the cover with a yellow cloth from his pocket, and then sat down and carefully studied the contents of the journal and at first was disappointed with the information it offered as most of the entries were quite old and were of little help. However, as he turned over the second from last page, a glimmer of hope was revealed as he spotted a name which had been double underlined in red biro, meaning a non-payer and was the only one in the entire book written in red ink. The address and some other details, like the amount and the guarantor’s name, were all there:
Terry Jackson, 9 Park Road, Essex a good place to start and I wonder what Mr Jackson will have to say for himself,
thought Harold, as he locked the door and placed the book under his pillow next to a fully loaded Colt 45. He then neatly folded his clothes over the back of a chair, switched out the small bedside lamp, and lay flat on his back and went to sleep.
As Harold approached the wrought iron gate of 9 Park Road, the fading radiance of the winter sun had cast his lengthy shadow along the straight, wide, wet pavement. He stood outside the gate for a moment and studied the ‘For Sale’ sign which had been almost swallowed by the unkempt privet hedge. The stiff gate begrudgingly opened, and he tiptoed across the clumps of wet grass on the messy lawn and peeked in through the front window. The place had obviously been deserted for some time, judging by the black sooty residue courtesy of the motorway traffic that was deposited on the windowpane. He created a small circle with his gloved index finger in the grime and put his eye up close to it and peeked in. He continued his inspection of the property by trying the garage doors, which were locked, and just as he was about to break the lock with the small gemmy, a shrill unrefined voice of an elderly woman suddenly called out.
“I say, can I help you?” she asked, as Harold slowly crooked his neck in the direction of the voice.
His eyes met with a plump woman, arms casually folded under her ample bosom, with a curious look across her face. She was standing by the front gate in her bedroom slippers. He played it cool, and quickly slipped into character and turned on the charm.
“Ah, good evening madam, my name is Harold Harper and I am from the council. I was just looking the property over, it’s all part of a new survey, you see,” he said, as he approached her.
“I haven’t heard of any new survey, and it’s a funny sort of time for this type of work, isn’t it?” she said, as she eyed him curiously.
“They keep me out to all hours nowadays I’m afraid, my dear. No rest for the wicked you know,” he said, trying to lighten the mood.
“I’m Mrs Macintyre and I live next door. There’s no one there and hasn’t been for some time, they all moved out ages ago. Mind you, I couldn’t blame them, not after what had happened. Who would want to live there?”
“Oh, I see, you say something happened?” he asked, as he moved a little closer.
“Oh I could tell you a thing or two about that place, but not out here and you look as if you could do with a nice hot cuppa. Come in and I’ll put the kettle on,” she said.
“That would be most welcome, how kind,” Harold said, as he slid the small jemmy back into the inside pocket of his raincoat, and he followed the kindly old lady into the warm, dimly lit hallway.
Harold had stepped into one of the most beautifully decorated and stylishly furnished rooms he’d ever seen, and was totally taken aback by the unexpected salubrious surroundings. Mrs Macintyre bustled around in the kitchen where she kept the one-way conversation going, while he slowly and silently drew the heavy red velvet curtains and then studied the gallery of old photos that were perched on a bookshelf.
Some of them were housed in large ornate brass frames, and one in particular had caught his eye; it was a black and white photo of a young boy of no more than four or five years of age sitting alone in the middle of a garden lawn with bright sunlight on his blond, curly locks. The boy was looking forlornly out of the picture and right at Harold, who was intrigued by the melancholic expression of his eyes that seemed to be boring into him. He then studied the rest of the photos, which were mainly of seaside snaps and weddings from long ago. He was fascinated by the people in them and to him the photos were like windows into another world, a different world, a much better world.
“Old days, old times, old ways,” he said quietly, as he ran his gloved index finger over the smiling faces of the young people who were now all, without a doubt, long dead.
“Did you say something, Harold?” Mrs Macintyre inquired, from her newly fitted kitchen.
“No, Mrs Macintyre, just talking to myself while looking at your lovely old photos.”
“First sign of madness that is, talking to yourself, you know. That big one is my son Simon, he lives out in Australia, they’re coming over soon for my birthday,” she said proudly, and smiled as she pointed to it.
“All civil servants are a bit mad, Mrs Macintyre, it’s a prerequisite in this job.”
“Do you know, Harold, I’ve lived here alone for the past twenty years now since my Albert passed away, and that was just after Simon went off to find his fortune. He’s a very rich man now you know, and he never forgets his old mum. Look at all the furniture he’s bought me and every week something new is always turning up. He’s asked me to move out there with him loads of times but I‘m set in my ways now, and I’ll tell you this, no one really wants to know you when you’re old, Harold, and that’s a fact. One day you’ll be saying the same thing, you mark my words,” she said, as she poured the tea into a fine bone china tea cup, from a brown and cream old fashioned ceramic teapot.
“Yes, quite. Can I ask, how well did you get to know the occupants of the house next door?” he said, changing the subject as she was getting well and truly side-tracked.
“Oh, well, you know, it’s a very funny thing. The people who had it last were a very nice young couple with two lovely little ones. It’s a shame about them, they were only there for a few months, but they couldn’t stay there after what had happened.”
“What actually happened to the people next door, Mrs Macintyre?”
“It was to do with the other lot who lived there before, terrible goings on there were.”
“Goings on?” Harold said.
“Harold, now I’ve lived here for forty-two years and twenty of those now by myself, but I have never seen anything like it. I’m not one to gossip, but do you know, they reckon that the place next door might be haunted?” she said, whilst pointing at the wall with a soggy custard cream.
“I must say I don’t like the sound of that, Mrs Macintyre, I find that kind of thing very disturbing,” Harold said, as he sipped his tea.
“Yes, but that’s not the half of it,” she continued in a hushed voice, and then looked around furtively as if to make sure that no one was eavesdropping on their conversation, even though they were alone.
“Really, do pray tell,” Harold said, as he shuffled his backside to the front edge of the cushion of the comfy armchair.
“Well, I really don’t know where to start, but I’ll tell you this. I never liked her and as soon as I clapped eyes on her I knew she would be trouble. I’ve always been a good judge of character, Harold. She was a stuck up little cow and was always after men, you know the type of woman I mean, a floozy and always done up to the nines. I told them all along here about her, you know, mark my words, I said, that one’s going to be nothing but trouble, and was I right? Of course I was, and she even had some fella living with her for a while, but that’s nothing. The real shocker is that it turned out that she’d murdered her husband, can you believe that, a murderer living right next door to me. My old Albert would turn over in his grave. Another custard cream, Harold?” she said, as she offered up the plate of biscuits.
“Yes, thank you, now do go on, you were saying something about a murder, Mrs Macintyre?”
“Yes, that’s right, killed him stone dead she did, bashed him over the head and then buried him the garden under the bloody pond. It was all in the papers and I had all the police and the press in here and everything. Lynda Jackson was her name, she got sent down for five years and then killed herself in prison. I never liked the family and that son of theirs was always a cheeky little sod, spoilt rotten he was, and do you know one day he shot me with an air rifle right in the you know where, as I was bending over in the garden,” she said, without pausing for breath.
Harold had never in his entire life been subjected to such a sustained oral onslaught, and it had taken just about all of his resolve to keep his temper under control; the woman simply could not, would not, stop talking. But he stuck at it for another ten minutes and in the end was pleased that he did so as it was then that she had proffered the most valuable piece of information. She told him that after her son Terry had disappeared Lynda Jackson had run off to Cornwall with her ‘fancy man.’
“You don’t happen to have an address for this Lynda Jackson, do you, Mrs Macintyre?”
“Yes, I think I do, you know. I had the removal men in here for a cuppa the day she was moving out and I asked them where she was going, and the further away the better I said. Now just a minute, I’ve got it here somewhere.” She rummaged around in the drawer of the little telephone table.
“Now where did I put it, ah here it is, it’s in my little book. I keep all my secrets in here, you know, Harold, now let’s see. Here it is,
, Cornwall, that’s where she ran off to,” she said, and turned the page toward Harold and pointed to the neatly written address.
“Well, well, just look at the time, it always goes so fast when you’re enjoying yourself and I think I’ve kept you long enough, Mrs Macintyre. Thank you for the tea and biscuits and you have been most hospitable and very helpful. I really must be on my way or they’ll have my guts for garters,” Harold said, as he slipped on his gloves and tapped the face of his wristwatch with his index finger.