Compiled and edited version of my Halloween Trilogy.
London Road, early hours of the morning, a cold October 2015, not a soul, just a quiet Lucozade-lit road that Keith drove along to where an hour before he’d bashed Ricky Moran over the head with a brick. He crossed the railway line and pulled into the disused coal wharf that would in time be sold off to house dozens but was for now a fresh and shallow grave for one.
Keith stopped the car, gathered his thoughts. He knew this place well, he worked here for ten years till he got laid off, the need for solid fuel in people’s fireplaces giving way to central heating. He wasn’t popular with his workmates but that didn’t matter, he didn’t remember ever being popular anywhere or any time in his life. But that didn’t matter either, he decided, not any more, because he hadn’t long left in this loneliness and anonymity. With that existential thought he turned off the engine and got out to crunch the icy puddles and find what he came back for.
Earlier that night he sat quietly in the corner of the Leopard, sipping a pint, watching and listening to three men at the dartboard. The first, an Englishman called Derek, was regaling a Scotsman called Willy and yes it’s true an Irishman called Michael, with stories between throws. The stories were nothing of import or value but rich in fantasy, such as when Derek slept with a prostitute in Amsterdam, the first of hundreds he’d since fucked.
“Does your wife know about all these assignations?” asked Michael, seemingly in awe.
“Of course not!” exclaimed Derek, “And it’s going to stay that way or your life’s not worth living.”
“I’m saying nothing anyway,” assured Michael, knowing secretly that if there was a secret to be kept, he was the last person to keep it.
“Me neither,” agreed Willy, knowing secretly that if there was a secret to be kept, Michael was the last person to keep it, your man was not to be trusted.
From his quiet corner, Keith took another sip of his pint, knowing secretly that if anyone was going to tell Derek’s wife he used prostitutes it would be he, Keith. He didn’t like Derek Ireson, who once cheated him out of twenty quid in a game of darts, long forgotten by him but not by Keith. Plus he was one of the cruellest bullies at the workplace. Tomorrow perhaps? No, the day after, which happened to be a Sunday when Derek’s wife would as was her wont go to church and pray for those less fortunate. It would have to be Sunday because he was to observe the rule of three victims that with good reason he’d earmarked for this journey of destruction, starting with the next person who darkened the door and then in order he deemed fitting…
By the time Keith had ordered and half-imbibed his second cider, the three men had been joined by Ricky Moran, a bigshot American who’d come across the pond in the Sixties and made his living breeding racing horses, several of which had been big winners including The Derby and The Grand National. It was no secret in the town that Ricky was rich and the house that stood on the edge of it was as ostentatious as the man himself, who was to be seen flashing his loud suits, shiny jewellery and money around in this pub on a regular basis. It was Ricky to whom Keith had approached about four years ago to ask for a job, having been made redundant when the coal merchants closed, and been turned down, the first in a long line of rejections that kept growing until this day. It was not the rejection that got to Keith so much as the manner of it.
“You want me to hire you to muck out stables when you look like this?” Ricky had said, “A man looking like he crept out of the garbage can? Who’d scare the horses so much as look ’em in the face?” And then he’d laughed and told Keith to be on his way.
Now, Keith was eking out his pint, watching and listening as Ricky joined Michael, Willy and Derek at the bar, wafting a wad of twenties, and deciding finally that yes, this was the man who was to be first past the finishing post.
Knowing that Ricky always walked from the pub to his home because he lost his licence, and that London Road was the way, Keith silently finished the rest of his pint and slipped out into the frosty night.
Two hours later, Keith was in the living room of 23 Pepper Street, a small terraced house he shared with his mother, making a cup of tea and four slices of toast. Taking these from the cramp dark kitchen into the living room and setting them down on the settee to cool, he then took the bundle of money from his pocket and placed it behind the clock on the mantlepiece, then fished for the bracelet he’d gone back for. Enjoying and smiling to himself at the smoothness of its platinum, he then flicked at a dried map of blood he spotted on his coat, picked up the three darts from the sideboard and threw them hard into the board he’d screwed to the back of the door. Thunk, thunk, thunk. Then he plucked one dart from the cork and with it pinned the bracelet into treble 20.
By now he was tired and hungry and all of a sudden felt the cold. Clicking on the gas fire, he returned to the settee and sat to eat his meal. Just then, there was the sound from the floor above – thunk, thunk, thunk.
“Coming,” he called, but didn’t get up.
Thunk, thunk, thunk.
“I said I’m coming!”
He knew he’d have to go up, but not yet. First, because for Keith everything, even his mother, had to be taken care of in order, he’d eat his supper.
Compared to the large fattened frame of flash American horse-breeder Ricky Moran, Keith’s mother was extremely slight and etiolated. Nevertheless it surprised him how difficult it was to move her. When she was gathered into the sack, made from her bedding, she bump bump bumped down the stairs like a cumbersome piece of furniture. Luckily she hadn’t made a fuss, just one stifled scream when he crunched her head with the stick she used to beat on the floor to demand attention. After that the only sounds were splashing and Keith’s exhalations as he pounded up and down in these hours come day of the dead.
Once downstairs, he put his coat back on and spotted the map of blood from last night, now dry and darkened as innocuous as sauce spilled from a spoon.
The cold air blasted him as he opened the door of the little terraced house he’d shared with her for some twenty years since his father last closed the door behind him. These were the pregnant hours of Saturday morning but they hadn’t yet born light, so it was safe to go and open the boot of his car with deft forward-planning. And then he was back in the house, gathering her up and hauling her over his shoulder like one of the many sacks of coal he once shifted in working days. He let the weight take him down the path and in one skilfully-arced movement the bag was in, the boot closed. Surely nobody saw him, though he didn’t much care.
He hadn’t cared, truth be told, since his father left. Keith senior was a strong, hardworking, gentle and handsome man whose only weakness was the curse of the strong. She never understood him, she never forgave his moods, she hadn’t the intelligence to know the man to whom she gave a child she didn’t want and a marriage she wanted less. She called him weak, feckless, useless, an excuse of a man. He was none of those things. He worked nights, tough, dirty foundry work, and brought home decent money to buy the things she wanted but were never enough. He’d be home at eight in the morning, face and hands black, have his swill and retire to bed on a belly full of porridge he made himself. While he slept away the hours before his next shift, she’d be plastering her face and out of the house to the Horseshoe, where she was known. Both father and son knew this but never talked about it, not even when Keith junior was arrested for affray after being taunted about it – there was just a tacit and embarrassed acknowledgement that he’d had to defend his father’s honour. But these things do take their toll and ultimately Keith senior had had enough. After a blazing row and slamming doors, with a nod and a grunt that spoke volumes to his son, he took his cap from its peg in the hall and left the house. Four hours later there was a knock on the door and news that he’d been found in the remote depths of Knutton Wood.
By the time Keith hit London Road, the morning sun had burned off the mist, so as he approached the railway and disused coal wharf he could see the blue flashing lights.
“Morning,” said the police officer.
“Morning,” said Keith as he wound down the driver-side window, “Wasn’t speeding was I?”
“Just routine,” said the officer, “not a speed check. Where you heading?”
The police officer nodded, spotting the binoculars Keith always had with him on the passenger seat.
“Want to see my licence?” he asked, searching his coat pocket for his wallet and flashing it towards the officer.
“Fine,” said the officer, “Bit of a twitcher eh?”
“Not a twitcher,” corrected Keith, “Twitchers go out on a tip-off. Birders like me just do it randomly like.”
“Thanks for putting me straight,” said the officer.
“I go up there most weekends,” added Keith, truthfully.
“Rather you than me on a cold day like this.”
“Has there been an accident?” Keith nodded towards the open-doored ambulance.
“So am I good to go?”
“Yea you’re good. Have a nice time “birding” or whatever you call it.”
An hour later, having done what he’d come to do, Keith was on the edge of Knutton Wood, looking through his 8×30 bins down on the town beyond Moran’s suburban acres, to where the railway line sliced the countryside in two. He could just about pick out the flashing lights in the distance and wondered if by now the body had been found and the family informed they’d be spending Christmas minus a husband and father. As a precaution he pondered returning home by the other route, where he could call at the supermarket for the provisions he needed for tomorrow’s roast dinner. After one final look back towards the spot he’d meticulously chosen to lay his mother to rest with the ghost of the man she in his eyes killed, he returned to his car.
As he pulled in to Pepper Street where at No23 he knew he’d have to vigorously clean, he could see Mrs Hales, the widow in 25, knocking at the door. Seeing him pull up, she came down the path to greet him.
“Been out?” she said.
“No shit,” Keith said to himself, lugging his shopping bags from the back seat. “Birdwatching. Called at the supermarket on the way back.”
“Yes I saw you leave early. Only I’ve been knocking for your mother,” she said.
“Probably asleep,” he said.
“She’s alright I take it?”
“Doctor said she’s doing well.”
“Well if she needs anything…” said Mrs Hales.
“Thanks,” he said, in conclusion.
Inside, he kicked the door closed behind him and headed down the gloomy hall where his father’s cap still hung and into the kitchen to dump the shopping. Then he moved to the living room, where he thunked another dart into the board, pinning his mother’s bracelet along with the other in treble 20. Mrs Hales would be a problem and it irked him to know that, it upset the balance. But first things first, everything in its order, everything right, everything in its place. Tomorrow, while the beef was in the oven, he’d go to the church where Philipa Ireson liked to go and pray for those less fortunate, and give her the devastating news that her husband Derek has been using prostitutes.
No23 stank of bleach and Keith hated it, though in these circumstances he was forced to deem it a necessary evil. Cleaning up the house was a huge undertaking and his hands were red raw and freezing cold – the four-bar gas fire in the living room barely able to take away the breath he saw in front of him. If his belly had anything inside he would chuck up, sickened as he was at the cold cummupance he’d served before the painstakingly disinfected dessert. But he’d been running on empty since the four slices of toast that had passed through him in the early hours of Saturday morning. It was now Sunday and the thought of the rich smell then taste of succulent meat excited him, taking the edge off his nausea. A Sunday treat to follow the next trick in his weekend of destructive vengeance.
Rising still clothed from the settee he’d made his bed, he entered the kitchen and took the joint from the fridge. Carefully so as not to spill blood, he freed it from its wrapper, swilled it with cold water, placed it in the tray and slotted it in the oven, turning the gas to mark 4 for it to slowly cook. By the time he’d done his work, he considered, it would be time to peel the vegetables and set them to boil.
“How is she this morning?” asked Mrs Hales, intercepting him at the garden gate.
“She’s fine,” said Keith.
“Am I to fetch her some dinner later?”
“That won’t be necessary thanks.”
“Are you sure?”
“I bought some beef yesterday,” he said.
“Terrible business up at the Wharf,” she said, “They’re saying it’s murder.”
Keith had never had any truck with religion. One day when they were out birdwatching in the woods his father had asked if he wanted to attend Sunday School but he’d said no – five days a week at normal school was enough for him to be convinced by teachers and pupils alike that he was a bastard and misfit who’d never amount to anything and would inevitably go to hell – and his father had only nodded and let the matter rest as he spotted a jay in his 8×30 bins. So as he entered St Mary’s he wasn’t sure what to do, but took with muted thanks as a matter of course the pamphlet he was offered and found his pew. The service had already started, the vicar saying something about the clocks going back and trying to make out it gave all those present one more hour to thank God for. Or at least that’s how it sounded to Keith, who was only half-listening if listening at all. He was there for other reasons than an extra hour with God. Scanning the room and its forty or so throng, he eventually picked out Philipa Ireson, sitting three rows in front of him then rising as bade for the first hymn, He Who Would Valiant Be.
Rising himself for no other reason than to remain inconspicuous, Keith looked at the pamphlet and followed the words. It seemed to him that most of the noise was coming from the piped choir against the paucity of the warblers among the pews. Nevertheless he searched the words for meaning
Who so beset him round
with dismal stories
do but themselves confound
his strength the more is.
No foes shall stay his might;
though he with giants fight,
he will make good his right
to be a pilgrim
but by the time he’d fathomed anything it was time to sit down again.
He’d intended to remain for the entire service, but after stretching his legs for the hymn he realised it was beginning to drag, the murmuring voices at the front punctuated by several rounds of coughing, and Keith was wondering if he’d just give up the ghost on this one and make a quiet and dignified exit. But suddenly there was a moment he saw his chance, when the forty of them were invited to something called Greeting, and given the dearth of their numbers they were asked to greet as many of their fellows as possible. Though never a tactile person – that wasn’t the language of his upbringing – he found himself hugging those around him and beyond, and whispering words in the ear of the person he came to see: “At school you called me Gypsy,” he said unto her, “Ask Derek if he’s travelled.”
Two hours later, Keith was parked in Oak Bank Close with his binoculars, viewing Derek’s neatly topiarised house a hundred yards away, and watching the man leave the premises and slam into his car, looking grim and no doubt fresh from a row with his wife and hopefully the first of many leading to a painful and costly divorce…
Arriving back at No23, where he knew the beef was ready to baste, Keith was once again doorstepped by Mrs Hales.
“I’m very worried about her now,” she said, and he knew this wasn’t going away. “I’ve knocked on three times.”
And it was in this moment that Keith, with some irritation, knew there’d have to be a fourth dart.
“I told you, she’s fine. Come in and see for yourself.”
Afterwards, Keith peeled the veg as planned, put them to boil, then took the final dart and pinned a third piece of jewellery into treble 20 before sitting in his bloody cold living room to reconcile.
All his life he’d been told he was useless, he’d never amount to anything, never be anyone. They said he smelled, that he was disruptive, destructive even. But for Keith, as he gazed icily at the blood-splattered room and the sleeping woman who lived alone and wouldn’t be missed, this was not destruction at all. His work had been painstakingly and impeccably methodical, constructed and executed. And now it was finished, or nearly, he’d be someone. He’d be talked about, written about and read about, reviled and celebrated, he’d be named, and shamed no doubt, but named. Thinking back to the church service and the hymn he hadn’t sung, he tried once again to relate to the words therein, and supposed it was true – all his life he’d fought with giants and perhaps now his fight was over he’d be making good his right and heading to a special place. Because after the roast dinner he had one last trick to perform. He would go to Knutton Wood, take his binoculars deep into its dark canopy, and fashion a noose with the strap.