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Satan's Whiskers, by
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In April 1964 the Beatles held the top five spots in the Billboard top forty singles in America. The Rolling Stones released their debut album, unimaginatively named the Rolling Stones. BBC 2 began broadcasting in the United Kingdom. Thieves stole the head from the Little Mermaid statue in Copenhagen, and twelve of the Great Train Robbers received sentences totalling three hundred and twelve years.
* * * *
When I accepted an invitation to play bass guitar in a rock and pop band, Id no inkling that Id soon become a suspect in a murder investigation.
I stood in front of the bathroom mirror while shaving, studying my appearance as I trimmed my unruly eyebrows using the moustache trimmer on my electric razor. My mother often chased me around the house with a pair of eyebrow tweezers to rectify the eyebrow problem, but as she plucked her own eyebrows to destruction before replacing them with a thin pencil line, I made sure she never caught me.
After naming the band Satans Whiskers, Id tried, unsuccessfully, to persuade the other band members to follow my example and grow whiskers as a gimmick. A week without shaving and the stubble of the first few days had begun to look a little more like a beard; although I conceded that the side growth was disappointing to say the least. On an impulse I decided to shave the beard into a goatee. If I didn't like it then the whole thing would have to be removed, but what the hell, easy come easy go. I examined my handiwork from every angle until I was satisfied that I looked satanic.
Freddie Cope was already at Ians house when I arrived. Ian Cheshire was dark-haired with a Mediterranean appearance. He always appeared to need a shave, and even though hed shaved that very morning Im sorry to report that his beard growth was already more impressive than mine.
Our drummer, Hank Rivers, was absent. He had to work on Saturdays, but even if his work commitments had allowed him to attend, practising in Ians bedroom with a drum kit was never going to be an option.
Hank and Freddie were paternal cousins, although they looked more like brothers. They were both fair haired with a rosy complexion, but Hanks hair was a shade darker and he stood two inches taller than Freddie.
While we were practising, * Randy Bloomfield entered the bedroom, escorted by Ians mother carrying a tray of drinking glasses filled to the brim with chilled orange juice. Randy was a married man with a baby daughter and a wife whod resigned herself to becoming a band widow.
At twenty-two years of age his hair had already begun to turn grey, although his eyebrows remained thick, black, and bushy. His nose appeared to have been remodelled on the inside of a boxing ring, but in truth it was a natural feature on the landscape of his face.
Randys band regularly played at a public house on the estate of council owned properties where both he and Ian lived. The pub was popular with the younger demographic, but the booking fee, being particularly low, Randy was looking to offload this regular Sunday night venue in favour of more lucrative offers.
I've got a proposition for you, he announced, as he helped Mrs Cheshire with the distribution of refreshments. We've been offered a booking on Sunday evening, but were obligated to play at The Manxman. I've spoken to Jack, the publican, and hes prepared to give you a trial if youd be willing to replace us.
Although the pub was within walking distance of Ians house we chose to drive, as walking was never a consideration.
The pub consisted of a single room divided by folding doors. A red carpet covered with a busy pattern, helped disguise the beer stains caused by frequent spillages, although it couldn't hide the shiny spots of chewing gum trodden into the carpet around the bar.
Customers with drinks congregated around the bar; making it unnecessarily difficult for others to get served even though seats and tables were vacant.
Randy introduced us to the publican who was busy pulling pints behind the bar.
This is the band I was telling you about Jack, he said.
Stage is in theer, Jack informed us, as he came from behind the bar and pushed back the dividing doors.
Mounted on braked wheels, the tiny stage was a step above ground level. A backdrop of vertical silver strips caught the reflected light from a glitter ball which he switched on for effect, and it sparkled in a myriad of colours.
The stage appears to be too small, I observed. We might have to spill out onto the dance floor?
Thatll be aw reet, agreed Jack. Randys band allus uses dance floor, which Randy confirmed.
If thare a success, Jack continued, Ill book thee to alternate wi Midnight Caller every other Sunday.
We concluded the business agreement with a handshake. I well understood why Randy wanted to move his band to pastures new, as payment for our musical services was extremely close to non-existent, although at this stage in our fledgling career, the money didn't matter half as much as laying claim to our first professional booking.
On the return journey to Ians house, a lady driver stopped quite suddenly at a pedestrian crossing. Freddie hit the brakes, but being ineffective, like every other aspect of the van, it shunted the ladys car, pushing it onto the crossing and striking an unfortunate pedestrian on the shins.
Freddie had discovered the van in a scrap yard, and there it should have stayed. The roof panel was detached above the windscreen and it flapped like the sole of a hobos boot, while the accelerator pedal, and linkage, were missing items, having been robbed from the van to repair an equally unroadworthy vehicle. Luckily the engine sat between the front seats, and as the engine cover was also missing, it was a simple matter for the co-driver to accelerate, on the drivers instruction, by pulling on a lever attached to the carburettor.
Id also discovered a worrying excavation in the cargo area. The hole must have been situated above the fuel tank as the fumes were overpowering. Id speculated that the van might explode with people smoking cigarettes in the back, although no one appeared to share my pessimistic outlook.
The damage appeared indiscernible on the battered old van, but far more obvious on the ladys shiny new car, as we crowded around the point of the collision making unhelpful observations.
Whos going to pay for the damage to my car? asked the lady, distressed by the dented rear end and broken tail light. Have you any insurance? she added sceptically.
Dont you worry missus, I saw everything, so I did, volunteered the pedestrian, until he recognised the driver of the van.
Be Jasus, is that yourself Freddie? he asked, instantly forgetting his role as witness for the prosecution.
Freddie worked as a carpenter on a construction site. The pedestrian, an Irishman by the name of Seamus O'Malley, drove mechanical diggers and dumpers on the same site. His neck was as thick as the top of my leg and covered with tattoos. They climbed from beneath his T-shirt, reaching the underside of his chin and the back of his ears, while covering his huge arms and terminating at his wrists. LOVE and HATE where tattooed on his knuckles with bluebirds at the base of his thumbs. Although hed shaved his head to disguise premature balding, the difference between his shiny dome, where hair follicles no longer survived, and the shaved area at the sides and back was noticeable.
Whats the story? asked Seamus. The accident forgotten and the lady driver ignored, as she attempted to remove the damage from her car by rubbing it with a wet finger.
We've just arranged our first professional booking, replied Freddie proudly.
Fair play to you Freddie me boy. Will you still speak to old Seamus when youre famous? He laughed as he realised that his sentence rhymed. Im a poet and I didn't know it, he quipped.
Never mind the chit-chat, said the lady driver. You promised to be a witness.
Oh shut the feck up missus, said Seamus. You backed into him, so you did.
Seamus was in his early-thirties with an English wife and two small children. Hed crossed the Irish Sea as a single man looking for work, and had never more returned to the island of his birth.
Can we give you a lift? Freddie asked in recompense for his driving misdemeanour.
Seamus jumped into the back of the van while Freddie exchanged insurance details with the lady motorist.
On arrival at his home, Seamus opened five bottles of Guinness using his teeth, as a bottle opener appearing to be an unnecessary accoutrement in the O'Malley household. Drinking glasses were also an irrelevance as we drank directly from the bottles.
Seamus rolled up his trouser leg to reveal a purple and yellow bruise which had developed on his swollen shin.
Just look at that fecking thing, complained Seamus, while we all laughed at his misfortune.
Mrs Seamus joined the conversation after hanging out her washing in the cobbled backyard.
You know the druggies who live in the squat? she asked her husband, eager to impart her latest piece of doorstep gossip.
Seamus displayed a distinct lack of interest in his wifes commentary, but she continued with her recitation regardless of his apathy.
I was talking to her next door, and she told me that nobodys seen their baby for quite a few days. The rumour is that the poor little mites dead.
Teres only one fecking way to find out, said Seamus, accepting the mantle of unelected investigator.
Seamus lived in a row of stone built terraced houses situated on a severe slope. Although re-surfacing had taken place in much of the locality, the cobbles on this particular street remained untouched. This gave delivery horses, which were fast disappearing from the industrial landscape, a better grip as they pulled milk floats, coal waggons, and rag and bone carts.
Families at the top of the street were waiting to be re-housed, while at the bottom houses were already being demolished to make way for a brave new world of concrete and steel multi-storey flats.
Seamus, and his invited guests, hurried down the hill towards the squat, where he shouted obscenities through the letterbox when he discovered that he couldn't gain access. When no one answered his challenge he used his shoulder to force an entry. Seamus was powerfully built, and the door was old and in a poor state of preservation, but it stubbornly refused to give way to his brutal methods of persuasion.
Come out you druggie bastards, he called through the letterbox, but the occupants, if indeed there were any occupants, had few intentions of opening the door to a stocky Irishman covered from head to toe with tattoos.
Go around te back and see if youse can get in, Seamus ordered.
Freddie did as he was bid, and I accompanied him to offer support. The back door was also locked and bolted, and Freddie had no more success in breaking down the back door than had Seamus at the front. When we returned to the street, having failed in our mission to gain entry, Seamus headed towards the construction site.
People had gathered on hearing the ruckus; many of them watching the proceedings from front doorsteps, while others joined the growing number of dissidents outside of the squat.
Whats gooin on? asked a scruffy individual wearing a waistcoat and a collarless shirt with rolled up shirtsleeves and a flat cap.
Seamus is trying to break intut squat, answered his neighbour.
What the fuck for?
Somebody towd him that druggies av kilt their baby.
Fuckin hell! the enquirer replied.
The crowd turned in the direction of a rumbling sound approaching from the direction of the construction site. A bright yellow digger, which had been left unattended over the weekend, was travelling towards us with Seamus O'Malley behind the wheel. The digger boasted a large hydraulic bucket at the front, and a long articulated arm supporting a smaller bucket at the rear. This would enable him to reach the upper levels of the building.
When the digger reached the squat it stopped. We all stepped back in anticipation as Seamus raised the bucket on its extending arm. The downstairs windows were all bricked up to deter children from playing in the derelict buildings. He could easily have demolished the bricked in windows with a touch from the digger, but he didn't want children, especially his own, entering the building. The upper floors were open to the elements, as youngsters found it great sport to throw bricks and stones through the already broken windows. Seamus dropped the arm after crashing through an upstairs window pane. The bucket hit the stone windowsill with a jolt, and as the digger moved forward bricks and glass crashed onto the street.
He stopped the engine and climbed the hydraulic arm until he reached the bucket. The roof had begun to collapse, and he entered the building through an unstable opening. Just as he thought the upstairs rooms were derelict, and he descended a creaky staircase to reach the ground floor. He extracted a turned wooden spindle from the bannister, to use as a weapon should he need one, and brandished it menacingly in case of an unexpected attack. On reaching the ground floor unmolested, he noticed that the back door was ajar, as if someone had left the house in a hurry. A lit candle stood on a wooden orange crate creating an eerie glow, and dirty mattresses, scavenged from other abandoned houses, littered the floor, as if multiple occupants had used the squat.
Seamus unlocked the front door to let us in, and we searched the ground floor for any signs of a baby.
Lets go upstairs, said Seamus. I noticed a dilapidated wardrobe in one of the upstairs bedrooms.
Is the staircase safe, asked Randy, eyeing it with trepidation.
I came down the fecking thing didn't I, answered Seamus tetchily.
We climbed the rickety staircase, and Seamus opened the wardrobe door to discover a stout cardboard box. He placed the box on the floor and opened it. Inside was the body of baby girl, swaddled in a filthy blanket like an Egyptian mummy. Almost a year old she appeared to be malnourished, and so small that she could have passed for a child of half her age. Her pallor was of a waxy yellow and her lips and eye rims were tinged with purple. On removing the blanket, it was discovered that cigarette burns covered her tiny body. I felt a lump in my throat and I struggled to fight back the tears as I stared in amazement. Everyone appeared to be as stunned as I. Id never contemplated discovering a dead child when we embarked on this investigation. Wed followed Seamus like sheep or more like lambs to the slaughter. This was a scene I was never going to be able to forget. Seamus collapsed on the dusty floor, and despite his tough exterior he cried like a baby.
When I was young, I played in a rock and pop band. While travelling in the groups van we rear-ended a lady driver, pushing her onto a zebra crossing where she collided with a pedestrian. The man was angry with the poor woman, until he realised she wasn't the author of his discomfort. On discovering the culprit for the rapidly growing bruise on his leg, he brought his complaint to its rightful source. When he recognised the driver of the van, his mood changed. He invited us back to his house, and told us the story of how he found a dead baby hidden inside a cardboard box. Thered been rumours that the child was dead, and that the drug addicted parents had hidden the body in a squat. He decided to find out if the rumours were true, and crashed through the wall of the derelict house using a mechanical digger. I decided to use this story as the baseline for a series of vigilante killings, with my band, Satans Whiskers, as a backdrop to the story.
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