#NaNoWriMo – ‘The Whispering of Walls’ Extract 3

Week three of NaNoWriMo and I am still just about on track, clocking 36,369 words as I write this. The story itself is becoming more complex and darker with every word I write. Anyway, here is the third extract, I hope you enjoy it and as ever any thoughts or comments are most welcome:

London can still seem grey even when the blue of spring leaps over its buildings like a promise of countryside amongst the grime. The brick and stone, concrete, tarmac and glass all form a unified backdrop at street level. You know instinctively that everything is dirty. The film of grime coats every surface like the grease that coats the roof of your mouth from a particularly fatty piece of old mutton. Tough to remove however hard your tongue rubs at the ridges of your palate. Hard to keep the streets clean, however hard the infrequent little trucks spray and scrub the gutters and pavements with their hard nylon brushes, spinning like the fastest carousels as they flick the never ending fag butts and wrappers into the elephant-like wobble of the vacuum tube spilling from the truck’s belly.
Grime from above; heavy jets with con-trails cross-crossing the sky, their fumes falling onto the city below. Grime at street level; cars and buses, taxis and lorries, coughing their sick diesel at every set of traffic lights. And grime from below; the warm air from the dirty underground trains pushing upwards through every labyrinthine opening.
Rush hour in the tube; people grip escalator handrails, caress tiled walls and leather straps fondled by a million previous germ-filled fingers. Greasy hands press against against glass to steady themselves as the carriages rock and toddlers lick the salty sweat smears on steel pillars from between their unseeing mother’s legs. Unseen soot from the tunnels fills the stale air and consequently fills every nostril, and those shamefully unaware of their surroundings pick the crusty black bogeys, unselfconsciously tasting them, while others who glimpse them turn their eyes away with disdain. Strangers bodies press with an intimacy no other social situation would allow, as each and every face strives to avoid the gaze of anyone else. Each trying to maintain individuality whilst squashed within a singular mass of humanity. Each trying to not be bothered by their proximity.
The woman opposite Charlie was staring. He could feel her eyes on his neck. Her large breast had squashed against his hand as she had shoved her way onto the train. He wondered if she thought he had touched her deliberately. Silly cow. He ignored her eyes.
The carriage lurched around the bend and the hefty man next to him stumbled, his elbow digging into Charlie’s kidneys. Charlie rolled his eyes at him. Maybe his sister had been right. Maybe it was time he retired and got out of the city. People out of the city didn’t have to endure this discomfort day in day out. He should have stayed in the office, waited for the rush hour to be over, like he usually did. The office was oppressive but it was where things worked, but somehow today he had felt he had to escape.
The problem was that when he wasn’t working it felt like he was disconnected somehow, he supposed it was a lack of purpose. He had read about people who retired and then died from a depression brought on by a lack of purpose. A boredom so overwhelming that they gave up. Gave up living. The thought frightened him; he could feeling it looming over the horizon. What would he do when all this ended? He couldn’t do this forever. He hated the feeling of disconnection.
Not that someone like him could ever be properly disconnected from the job. He was disconnected from society, that’s what it was. He was squashed in a tube train with all fifty-seven varieties of the human race and he felt no connection with any of them. Not the big suited man with a briefcase who had bumped into him. Not the teenage hoodie whose headphones blared too loud. Not the grey bearded Asian man reading The Sun. Not the bright young things with perma-tans and shorts skirts, giggling about the evening ahead. Not the dull haired single mother with screaming brats in tow. None of them.
As he scanned the faces, the clothes, the backs of their heads he realised that he couldn’t actually switch off. All he could see amongst these innocent members of humanity was the possibilities and potentials in them. The possibilities and potentials of crime. Almost unconsciously he was drawn to scan for signs. What did the hoodie have in the bulge in his pocket? Was he tooled up? Did the suited man look nervous? Too much sweat on his top lip? What was in his brief case? Did the Asian man have explosives in his rucksack or strapped around his chest?
He had seen the aftermath of the 7/7 bombings first hand. Seen the mangled metal and flesh. Knew the reality of it; the bus with its roof ripped off was an image stuck in his head. Just like the images of all those murdered girls from the file.
Had all his years of police work really made him into such an untrusting loner? There had been times over the years when he’d had affairs but they were more like scratching the surface of intimacy. Scratching the itch of desire. Now he wasn’t sure if he could be bothered with sex; not even sure if he was capable any more, he had seen all the adverts about smoking and erectile dysfunction. Brierson was attractive, there was no doubt about that, and he had felt her gaze; that look that lasts a little too long. A bit like the women opposite him in the carriage, why was she still staring for heaven’s sake?
But Brierson was also probably twenty-five years younger than he was. Not that that particularly bothered him, he had had dalliances with much younger women before. It was the fact that she somehow reminded him of Caz, which was a ridiculous thought. They didn’t even particularly look similar. It was the idea that he had fooled himself, albeit unconsciously, that he had loved Caz, all those years ago. He had kept that idea of love wrapped away deep inside his cold heart. It was an idea of love tied to the inescapable fact that the butcher had taken her away with a few lazy flicks of his knife. Had all of his life since really been shaped by that? That one brutal act?
The more he thought about it the more he realised that the whole thing was fucking ridiculous. Why was he being so maudlin? He had chosen his life, his path. Chosen it because it suited him. And the butcher case was just another un-solved murder case, and just the very thing that made him tick, so he had just bloody better get on with it.
And if that came with the possibility of some off duty recreation with a nubile officer like Brierson, then who was he to look a gift horse in the mouth? He was a man well past his prime, that’s who he was.
The train jerked to a stop in the next station and he moved this way and that as people jostled to get off and get on. He wished, more than ever, that he had stayed at the office. But more than that he wished he could have a drink and a cigarette. The pull of those addictions was strong and just as the doors began to groan together he barged forward, knocking into the big breasted woman as he went. He muttered a quick ‘sorry’ and jumped out onto that platform. She would definitely think he was a pervert now.
On the street he found what he was looking for, the dark red paint and flock wallpaper of a London boozer. This one even still had a yellowed ceiling from years of nicotine; no fresh coat of paint since the smoking ban, no gastro-pub pretensions here. He left his pint and whisky chaser on the bar and stood on the doorstep dragging hungrily from a Marlboro. Two satisfying puffs in and his phone buzzed in his overcoat pocket. He struggled to pull it free without dropping the cigarette.
“Guv, it’s Brierson,” she said,
“What is it?” he said. His tone flat, unyielding,
“Forensics have cleaned up the tape. Thought you might wanna hear it,”
“It’s half-past six Brierson, don’t you have a home to go to?”
“Not especially Guv, don’t you?”
“My home is none of your concern,” he said, regretting it slightly as he said it,
“Well you obviously aren’t there now…”
“What do you mean?”
“You are on the street having a cigarette, I can hear,”
“I congratulate you on your fine powers of perception, we’ll make a detective of you yet Brierson. If you must know I just stopped off for a drink on the way home,”
“I’ll join you, and bring the tape,” she said, as if it were a done deal. He didn’t object.
Half an hour later they were sat opposite each other in a faded red velvet booth in the corner of the pub, only a few rush hour drinkers left, the pub beginning to empty a bit. A lull in the proceedings, a few city suits propping up the bar, obviously the worse for wear.
Brierson had a glass of red wine, Charlie another whisky. She brushed her dark hair behind her ears in the way that women do before they get down to business. She was taking her phone and some earphones from her bag. He leaned back, cradling his drink.
“How old are you Brierson?” he found himself asking,
“Thirty one,” she said, stopping and looking him in the eye, “why do you ask?”
“You look younger,” he said,
“Well…thanks…I suppose I should say you’re not so bad yourself…”
“For a man of my age? That’s what you’re thinking isn’t it?”
“No…I…I didn’t mean it like that,” for a moment he could see a hint of fluster in her face, “what I meant was that I’m sure many women find a man like you attractive…” she sat up straight and sipped her wine, once again looking him straight in the eye, her confidence returning,
“What do you mean ‘Like me’?” he said,
“Fishing for compliments is it Guv?”
“No…no…sorry, I just don’t really socialise much,”
“Jennings said you were a cold fish,”
“Grumpy old fuck more like,”
“I wouldn’t say that,”
“I would, I am perfectly aware that’s what they think of me at the station. Grumpy old fuck who is set in his ways, that’s what they say. But that’s how I like it. Professional distance and all that,”
“Didn’t stop you getting drunk and falling over after the Gallagher case did it?” she gave him a wry smile,
“How did you hear about that?”
“Jennings…it’s easy to find out the gossip from him. I just fluttered my eyelids and he spilled the beans. He’s like a little puppy,”
“You can say that again, I sometimes think he needs reins like some toddler,”
“Another?” she said, standing and pointing to his empty glass. Had he really drained it that quickly? She downed her wine, took his glass and moved before he could protest.
He watched her as she walked to the bar. She had been asking about him, asking Jennings. God, did that mean she was actually interested? It was one thing to fantasise about it when it seemed a distant and very unlikely prospect, quite another when actual intimacy was a possibility. A possibility of curves and kisses and temptation. He was too old for this. Far too old and wise.
The bar was mostly empty now, the sky outside dark. She stood waiting at the bar, glancing back at him. He turned his head and looked out of the window; yellow street lamps streaky against that glass. He could feel the buzz of the whisky making him stare and, for a moment, he lost himself, only coming back into the room when she clinked his glass down in front of him. He needed to be careful, too much whisky, which at this present moment seemed extremely tempting, and he would make a fool of himself.
“So,” he said, trying to steer clear of the previous topic, “are you going to play me this tape constable?”
“Sure,” she said, picking the phone from the table,
“You have it on your phone?”
“Yeah, got them to make an digital version,”
“Hmm…not sure the DCI would approve, evidence on your personal phone, but then we are in a pub about to discuss it so I will turn a blind eye,”
“You like to break the rules Guv?” she asked,
“When it serves and purpose, but I don’t make a habit of it. No one wants to be a target. Do you? Like to break the rules I mean?”
“Sometimes,” she dipped her head and looked at him, green eyes lingering.
He took the earphones and slotted the buds into his ears, aware of that these little white blobs had last been in her ears. She pressed the touchscreen and it started.
At first all he could hear was static and then there was a buzzing sound, fading in and out. Then his voice, distant but clear.
“Hello,” said the voice, then a pause where the buzzing continued riding and falling like an annoying bee.
“Pause it,” said Charlie, “what’s that buzzing? Is it static?”
“No,” she said, “techies say its part of the recording, analysed it on the computer, they think it’s some kind of machine. There is still static but they cleaned it up as best they could,”
“Ok,” he said and she pressed play again. The buzzing continued and then the voice spoke.
“Ah yes, I suppose you’re wondering why I am making a tape for you. You might think its foolish for a murderer to reveal himself in such a way. Well it seems to me that you fellas, who think you are so clever, are looking in all the wrong places…”
Another gap, this time with buzzing and static. The voice might have been saying more there but it was hard to tell. Something garbled as if the speaker was turning his head away from the microphone. Charlie leant his head down closer to the table cupping his hands on his ears.
“As you have seen I’m not one who is frightened of death. I have seen enough of it. You might say it fascinates me. I relish the thrill and the chase of it and I love its permanence. But really what I like most is its power. I love the p…”
The voice faded into static for a moment. To Charlie’s ear it was an educated voice, no obvious accent as such but had a clarity of diction that suggested someone well read. Someone clever. But then he knew that already. To evade detection when you commit a series of crimes of such hideousness was a feat of ingenuity, he had no doubt of that. The static faded into more bee-like buzzing before the voice returned.
“So, my dear detectives, some clues to help you. I feel like moriarty teasing Sherlock Holmes. So….I am going to say some words. Word association you might call it. Or not, call it what you will….’valley’, ‘trees’, ‘asylum’, ‘tea’, ‘London’,”
The voice repeated the words again slowly, it reminded Charlie of the man who used to read the football scores on a Saturday afternoon, the intonation rising and falling as if some of the if some of the words had scored more goals than the others. As if talking to a particularly thick child who couldn’t possibly understand the teacher’s instructions. That teacher you hated; the one who would pick on anyone simply to make them feel small. Simply for the sadistic pleasure the power gave them. The kind of thing that might send chills through you, but for Charlie it was just words to analyse, to pick apart, like a clock maker undoing delicate cogs in the mechanism with the tiniest of screwdrivers.
“These are simple clues. Oh…and by the way, those morons in the press are erroneously calling me ‘the butcher’, so my final clue will be that my knife is not the sort you would normally use to slice up a pig. It’s much more refined that that, I designed it myself. Please don’t expect that I will send another tape like this one. This, one might say, will be your one and only chance to try and work me out. Don’t make the mistake of thinking that you are such a deserving cause that I would help you any more. I do this because it amuses, but I think I know, that like the ripper before me, this is a case too far for you. The corruption that stinks up your little world of policing will get in the way, you are not powerful or clever enough for this fish. I will remain, forever more, the one that got away. What do you think of that Morrison?”
Charlie took an intake of breath at the mention of Morrison. The killer had been playing with them all along and they didn’t know it. If only the tape had been posted.
He listened right to the end, there was some more static and the rising buzz that has punctuated the whole tape and then it finished. He took out the earphones and took long swig of the whisky.
“What do you make of it?” he said,
“He was no random killer. He knows exactly what he was doing and clearly enjoyed that cat and mouse thing. It’s like he enjoyed taunting that guy Morrison. Almost like it was something personal. But what’s odd is that this is the only tape. He even says it was going to be the only tape, although that could be a ruse, maybe there are other tapes out there,” she said,
“Somehow I don’t think that’s likely, any other tape he posted would have probably got to us. What about the clues he gives us? Those words?”
“That’s harder, the reference to London is obvious, it’s where he dumped all the bodies and he probably killed there. He must have been familiar with London, maybe lived there,”
“Yes but why say it as a clue?”
“I dunno Guv,”
“What about the other words?”
“The word tea is a reference to the Welsh girl, Olivia Pryce, she ran a tea shop in her hometown and the post-mortem suggests the last thing she digested was tea. Some posh tea I think, like Darjeeling or something. I can’t remember,”
“Wales…” said Charlie, tapping his fingers on the table,
“What is it?” she said,
“What if Pryce was murdered in Wales?”
“What makes you think that? He could easily have brought her to London to kill her, that was the working theory at the time,”
“He mentions a valley and trees, Wales must be full of them,”
“That’s a bit of a tenuous link,”
“Yeah but I don’t think the clues were all about what he said,”
“What do you mean?”
“That buzzing in the background of the tape,”
“You know what it is?”
“Last year my sister had a tree cut down in her back garden, stupid big old apple tree that damn nearly took up the whole garden, blocking all the light. Anyway the day she had it cut down I was there. The noise nearly fucking did my head in,”
“What noise?”
“A chainsaw, in the background of the tape it’s a chainsaw. He made the tape outdoors, while someone is cutting up logs in the background,”
“Cutting down trees in a Welsh forest?”
“Yes, I think we need to pay a visit to that village, where he posted the tape, what was it called?”
“Capel Ifans,”
“My round Brierson?” he said,
“Oh yes…” she said handing him her glass, “and you can call me Sally,”

© 2013 Simon Poore

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