top of page
Search
  • keithwright278

FREE SHORT STORY 'Titfer Tat.'

Updated: Mar 17

With my compliments, here is a free short story from the newly released 'Killing Nan and other crime short stories.'


Warning - it contains adult content and themes.

I hope you enjoy it.


'Titfer Tat'
by Keith Wright.

 

Cranston Police Station CID office accommodated twenty-four detectives. Next door was an intelligence unit, and the Forensics Department was based at Headquarters.
As a modern-day investigator, Detective Sergeant Zak Crane had it all, but day-to-day he perhaps did not appreciate it. The CID office was spacious, replete with computer screens and laptops, comfy chairs, and central heating. Zak sat at his desk chatting to a young Detective Constable, Steve Black, who had finally summoned up the courage to ask about the ancient sepia photograph, framed and taking pride of place on his Sergeant's desk. It was a conversation piece. A proud-looking man in a police uniform with Sergeant's stripes and a handlebar moustache, stared out, steely-eyed, from centuries past.
'I am assuming that is an old relative Sarge or is it just a reminder of the bad old days.'
'It is a relative, Steve, well, more of an ancestor, I suppose. Let me get this right; he is my great, great, great grandfather, Albert Crane, Detective Sergeant, collar number 22, who was kicking around doing the same job as me in the 1870s. Remarkable, huh? When I achieved the same rank, I thought it might be nice to put it on my desk. He is in uniform in the picture, but he was a Detective Sergeant and here I am a hundred and fifty years or more later doing the same job.'
'That's cool, but is it even the same job? It is so different today; they were playing at it weren't they?' Steve said.
'God, yes. We have it much better than those poor old buggers. Imagine Victorian England. They never stood a chance when you think about it. When you contemplate the advantages we have today.'
'No, not the same job, I wouldn't think.'
'No, we are far more sophisticated. You can list the differences;' Zak started to count on his fingers as he cited them, 'Fingerprint technology, now computerised, DNA sampling, again computerised, HOLMEs system to aid murders and the way they are conducted to minimise errors, technology to get footprints from carpets, wi-fi, and phone technology to locate and track suspects, the same with sat navs on cars…'
Steve joined in. 'They wouldn't have had CCTV, of course, digital photographic enhancement technology, um, what else…facial recognition cameras, ANPR cameras recognising registration plates and storing the movements of vehicles…'
'And cars!'
'Yes, cars.' Steve laughed.
'That's what amazes me when the old sweats talk about how great it was in the 1970s and 1980s, yet when you think about it they didn't have much more than Grampa Albert. Probably fingerprints. That's about it. Yet they reckon they were world beaters.'
'You can't function like that. I don't believe half of the crap they come out with.' Steve said.
'I have found out a bit about the guy in the photo. I discovered that Grampa Albert worked in the area where he lived as well. They used to have rent-free police houses in the town where they operated. Imagine that – craziness.' Zak said.
'Like a vicar in his vicarage. Wow. Live on the patch? No thanks. That's dangerous. I prefer my anonymity. If I could, I would use a large pole to keep the toe rags as far away from me as possible. When I get home, I feel like I am contaminated and need a shower.' Steve said.
'I'm glad I'm twenty miles away from the bloody morons that live in this shit hole.' Zak laughed and Steve joined him.
'Just imagine though, having no forensics or technical support. It makes you think.' Steve said.
Zak carried on. 'The changes are immense, Steve. The poor sod had none of this. It makes you wonder how they did it. Investigations in the modern world must surely be a hundred times better, and much more efficient than the old codgers back in the day. I feel sorry for poor old Grampa Albert, bless him.'
There was a contemplative silence when a thought crossed the Sergeant's mind. 'You've just been on your CID course, Steve, you said they gave a talk about the history of policing, did they say whether we solve many more crimes than they did, back in the day?' Zak asked.
'Um…I…I don't think we do. It is about the same, I think. Or even less.' Steve said.
'Why is that do you think?'
'I haven't a clue, Sarge. I suppose it doesn't say much for us really, does it?'
Zak mused on the revelation. Suddenly feeling less smug. 'No, I suppose it doesn't.'
'I'm just trying to recall what they told us at police college. You know I'm pretty sure that the murder rate is more or less the same now as it was in Victorian times, give or take the odd garrotting or two.'
'No way.' Zak seemed unconvinced. 'It can't be, surely?'
'Yeah, about ten in a population of a million are murdered. So, one person in every hundred thousand is killed. So they said on the course, anyway. And, as I say, it was the same back then, in the 1800s even with the death penalty as a deterrent. It goes up and down a bit here and there, but overall it's the same.'
'Weird. Did they say anything about detection rates?' Zak said.
'Two-thirds of murders are detected today, because half or a bit more than half are known to the victim aren't they, with murder? It's not like other crimes. I think it was the same or even a bit more in Victorian times, but it depends whether you trust the record keeping. I guess it was easier to disguise a murder in those days as well, because the doctors only had limited understanding, like with poisonings.'
The two fell into another silence. They were stumped. How could a Victorian detective be as good as or even better than a super-tech modern police force, run by university-educated professionals of a much greater standing than those they policed? It did not make sense to them. They couldn't understand it. They were highly educated, politically correct, socially aware, and much more articulate than the brutes of yesteryear. So why were they so useless at the job, at least in the round?
DS Crane's desk phone rang. Steve went to leave but Zak waved for him to sit back down. His facial expression grew dour, and he scribbled on his pad. The DS finished writing and put the phone down.
'Talking of which, Steve, there has been a murder come in. A sex worker has been found in a hedgerow on Noel Street. You can come to the scene with me if you wish. It will be good experience for you.'
'Brill, thanks, Sarge.'

***


Detective Sergeant Albert Crane had walked through the mist of a chilly January afternoon to get to the docks area near Whitechapel. He had hoped that things might quieten down after the hectic previous week when the locals celebrated New Year's Eve of 1871. But things were not quiet; far from it. Bert always cut a dash in his thick overcoat, waistcoat, cravat, and bowler hat. His shiny shoes had metal caps on the soles, and he clicked his way along the cobbled paving towards the waiting death scene. The body was behind some wooden boxes adjacent to the stables, just off the walkway. He could see the small crowd of concerned onlookers at the quayside as he approached. Some seagulls squawked their defiance as he clicked his way into view. He didn't need to introduce himself to the spectators.
'Art'noon, Mr Crane.' One fellow said, removing his flat cap as he spoke, now ringing it like a dishcloth.
'Afternoon, Shanksy.' The detective tipped his bowler hat as a respectful greeting. 'This is a rum do, isn't it? Where is she?' Bert asked.
'Down there, sir.' He nodded towards an area in front of them which dropped down sharply from the edge of the Quay onto pebbles. Bert leaned over the edge and spotted the crumpled body of the prostitute wedged between the wall and the boxes, about five feet beneath them.
'Poor girl. Who is it, Shanks, do you know?' Bert asked.
'One of the porters said it was Mary Jessop, one of Gumbo's girls.'
'The Jessops on Dorset Street?' Bert asked, condensation clouding from his mouth with every spoken word.
'I don't know, Mr Crane I couldn't tell you.'
Bert climbed down and examined the body as best he could, holding the bowler in his hand, revealing a smoothed-back hairline that was just beginning to thin on top. 'Have you got a boy knocking around, Shanksy?'
'A runner?'
'Yes.'
'I'll get him.'
Bert could see scratches and bruising around the poor woman's throat and her tongue was distended, pressed against the back of her teeth like she had a pork pie crammed in her mouth in its entirety. She was rigid; preliminary rigor mortis had set in, and a purple lividity was beginning to form on one side of her face where the static blood in her veins had begun pooling. Her eyes were only half open but were glazed, like marbles, and unseeing. Mary was only a slip of a girl. She looked impoverished. Her clothes were thin, and the petticoat had a hole in it with darning having failed, with stitches exposed. Her bony, petite hands were gripped, and she did not appear to be at peace. She had an incongruous, grotesque expression on her face that could be mistaken for a sneer which looked alien to her general persona. Her countenance looked taut, strained, almost a mirror image of the killer's grimace, Albert thought, but didn't say.
A boy, no older than ten approached but stopped at a distance from the gruesome scene, and Detective Sergeant Crane scribbled a note, ripped it out of his book, and gave it to the boy.
'Take this to Simpsons Funeral Directors on George Street. Do you know it?'
'Yes, sir.'
'Off, you go. Make haste. Here's a penny for your trouble.'

***


The deceased prostitute on Noel Street had the lower half of her body exposed. She was mostly obscured under a hedge which may have worked in darkness but not in the revealing light of day. Detective Sergeant Zak Crane peered all around the body with a face betraying disdain. Had she had sex, or been raped? Zak would find out later at the post-mortem. With a bit of luck, she will have put up a fight and got the killer's DNA under her fingernails by scratching at him. In any case, if she had been raped DNA would likely be evident inside her or on her clothing or skin.
Uniform cops had set up a cordon and a few of the locals stood staring at the two detectives talking, even though their conversation could not be heard.
'Has anybody seen anything?' Zak shouted at the onlookers from a distance, without really catching anyone's eye.
A couple of bystanders muttered 'no' and shook their heads and another guy shrugged his shoulders. One fella walked away.
'CSI are on their way, Sarge, so we can get photos and video of the scene.' Steve said. He was excited and keen to make an impression, his mind racing, trying to be proactive and impress his Detective Sergeant.
'The first thing we need to do is find out who she is.' Zak said.
'Once the Crime Scene Investigators have done the business we can have a look in her handbag.' Steve said.
'Where is it?'
'The bag?'
'Yes.'
'That's a point. I can't see one. I just assumed…'
'Jeez, Steve. Take a breath. Slow down. We will find out who she is soon enough. Someone will report her missing at some stage. Once the jungle drums start pounding, a relative or her pimp might ring in. That's the norm, anyway.'
'Right.'
A middle-aged black man wearing stubble and a pork pie hat joined the ensemble of voyeurs and glanced at the body. He took a sharp intake of breath. He could see at once who it was; Shelley Towlson; she was well known on the streets and in the local scruffy pubs. At least to those who frequented the area.
'We're drawing quite a crowd, Sarge.' Steve said.
'Yeah.'
Zak walked towards them. 'Come on you lot, piss off, it's not a bleeding side show. Go about your business.' It hadn't registered with Zak that another member of the public had arrived who might have information on the woman's identity.
'Do you know who that woman is?' The new arrival asked him.
Zak was curt. 'None of your business and if I knew I wouldn't tell you. We cannot divulge information like that. It's a bloody murder scene if you hadn't noticed.'
'The only reason I ask is because…'
Zak, full of his self-importance cut across the man. 'Now move along. Come on get gone, before you get nicked. Offski, you're in the way.'
'Fuck him then.' The man who was trying to tell the detective who the woman was, lost all sympathy and muttered and stumbled away to spread the news among the local community. Within half an hour everyone would know who the woman was apart from the detectives investigating the crime.

***


It was late afternoon in Whitechapel and now the body had been taken by the undertakers to the nearby Inn, for the post-mortem. Detective Sergeant 22 Albert Crane decided to go and see the girl's pimp, Bill Scarfe, known as 'Gumbo' to all who knew him. The post-mortem would be of interest but it was apparent to the experienced Albert that it was a strangulation and it was almost academic whether she'd had sex because in her trade she could have been with three men even before she met her killer. He would liaise with the police surgeon later to get the facts about her demise. Right now, however, there was a killer on the loose.
Bert had taken a sketch of Mary Jessop's body and items in the immediate vicinity for future reference, and for any statement he might make to the coroner, and now he entered the torturous streets and alleyways of Fashion Street and the confines of New Court. The mist was enduring, and a warning whistle went up as his large frame hazed into view. The locals gave a heads-up that a stranger was on the patch. It could be a punter, a potential victim to rob, or in this case, a Peeler, who might be looking for someone to run in. Two women stood outside a crumbling, almost derelict building, and a bloke with a battered bowler hat stretched up his frame as the figure drew into view.
'It's alright Gumbo, It's Bert.' One of the women said.
'Bert, who?'
'The copper the 'tec.'
'Sod that.'
'It's alright, he's sound as a pound, Gumbo.'
Once Gumbo saw the whites of Bert's eyes he recognised him and relaxed a little. 'Oh, that Bert. Sergeant Crane. I'm with you, now. How-do, Mr Bert.' Gumbo said.
'How do, Gumbo.' Bert stood in front of the man who was only in his early twenties but looked much older. The detective towered above him.
'No trouble is there?' Gumbo said.
'Not trouble as you might think, but I could do with having a quiet word.' Bert said.
The pimp looked a little concerned, but he walked down the alley with Bert following on. There was a trickle of water coming down the brickwork as the alley forced the two men to stand uncomfortably close to one another.
'It's about Mary.' Sergeant Crane said.
'Which one? There's a lot of Marys round here.'
'She's one of yours, Gumbo. Mary Jessop.'
'What of it? You ain't carted her in, have ya?''
'Sorry pal, but she's been found dead this afternoon.' Bert said, with a sympathetic wince.
'Oh, no shit! That's five bob a day down the bleeding swanny.'
'Nice.'
'No, it's a tragic loss, is what I meant to say, Mr Bert. Tragic. Lovely girl.' Gumbo corrected himself for appearance's sake.
'I'll cut to the quick, Gumbo, what punters did she have? Who has she seen today; do you know?'
'I don't know who she's had today, Mr Sergeant Bert, I've been around this neck of the woods, there's been some of the Irish lads on the manor, drunk as skunks, and the girls felt a bit wary, so I stayed put. I ain't checked on Mary all day, to be honest. I didn't reckon to leave the girls this end, you know what I mean?'
'Where was she working?' Bert asked.
'Down at the Quayside. That's her usual plot.' Gumbo said.
'Was she on her own?'
'No, she was with someone. They don't like working on their tod, unless they have to, like. I just can't remember who it was, who she was wiv.'
Gumbo gave an exaggerated expression as if he was deep in thought. He was a chancer and he saw the glimmer of a chance.
Bert knew the game. 'A half-crown says if you concentrate hard the name will magically appear.' The detective flipped a half-crown coin and Gumbo caught it.
'Mmm, what if there's two names, though, guv'nor?'
'Bloody hell, Gumbo you are a mercenary bleeder. One of your girls just got done over.'
'Two bits should do it. It's coming to me.'
'Two bits make a crown and think yourself lucky I don't just run you in for bloody obstruction.' Bert placed the silver coin in the palm of Gumbo's filthy hands.
'Edith Stanhope and Clarabelle Dent. One's wearing a grey petticoat…Edith, I think it was.'
'It's alright I know them both. I have since they were at school. I know Edith's mother very well.'
'Right enough. So you know where they live.'
'I do, but where will they be now? I need to speak with them urgently.'
'Still, out there I should hope. You can tell 'em from me not to come in when they get told what's happened, neither. I'm not running a bleeding charity. It's gonna cost me as it is. They will be a bit further along from where Mary reckons to walk. Along the Quay, could be either side from her patch. There's an old fisherman's hut they use for punters for a quickie, so I don't reckon to see ‘em from dawn til dusk.'
'I might need to speak to you again, Gumbo. Now, if you hear anything, I expect to be informed post haste, is that clear?'
'Yes, 'course. Wi summat like this, boss, it needs proper courtesy to all. And wiv it being you, like, I don't mind too much, 'cos we know you're alright wiv us.'
'While you're behaving, I am, yes. Listen, if I find out you've been holding back, we're going to fall out, Gumbo, I mean it. And you don't want that now, do you? A load of shit coming your way.'
'No, not at all, guv'nor, all’s well, you can count on me. No shit required, guv.'

***


'So we know there are fibres, according to SOCO, but too early for DNA.' Zak said. They had returned to the station canteen for a bacon butty away from the plebs, as Zak called them.
'We still don't know who she is.' Steve said as he bit into his sandwich.
'No. That will come. We will get house-to-house done and some of the locals will probably know her.'
'We should have the photos this evening and the video. We can put them on a memory stick to present to the Chief Inspector in the morning. Put it on a PowerPoint presentation, maybe.' Zak said.
'That will look super professional.'
'Won't it just.' Zak smiled. He was trying to get to the next rank and if he could get something quickly from this case it would certainly help to keep his name in the frame.
'Super cool, Sarge. Top drawer detectives are on the case.' Steve said through his bacon and bread, spitting crumbs like a heathen.
'Of course.'
A young Police Constable came into the canteen and having looked around the customers settled his gaze on Zak and Steve.
'Sorry to interrupt you, Sarge but there is a Winston Kelly at the counter to see you.'
'Thanks, mate.'
'Who's this?' Steve asked.
'I asked the lads on the house-to-house to get him to come in to see me. He's one of the main pimps for the area. He should know who it is even if she doesn't work for him. Good news travels fast, particularly with the Chavs and low life’s, they've got nothing better to talk about, I suppose.'
Zak spoke to the Rastafarian gentleman in the foyer of the police station. He kept his distance because of the funk of cannabis emanating from him.
'Who's the totty that's been found dead, Winston?' Zak asked.
'That's for me to know and you to find out.' He gave a toothy grin. Winston was enjoying himself.
'Don't be a dick, come on, who is she?'
'I don't know, man.' It was obvious he did know, but he could not stand the police, and he could not stand the likes of Zak Crane – a college boy with no life experience who looked down his nose at the likes of him and made it obvious. He neither liked, respected, nor trusted him. Winston only came to the station to try to avoid speaking to him in the street. It would be bad for his reputation.
'Are you gonna find out and come back to see me?' Zak was getting irritated by Winston's upfront disrespect.
'No.' He laughed. 'I don't think so. Why would I do that?'
'Oh, yes you are.' Zak said, trying to come across as tough, but turning the conversation into a pantomime.
'Oh no, I'm not.' Winston chuckled and looked puzzled at the clean-cut young man.
'Come on Winston. Do us a favour.' He pleaded.
'What like you did me a favour, nicking me for slapping my Trudy when it was just a bullshit fall-out.' Winston said.
'Force policy, Winston.' Zak shrugged. 'Nothing I could do about that. We don't need a complainant for domestic violence. It is to protect the woman if you haven't yet figured it out.'
'Force policy bollocks. Protect the woman! Trudy didn't want to make no complaint. She had battered the fuck out of me ten minutes before, and I just gave her a slap. Locking me up caused her no end of problems and she got raped twice without my protection and she lost a shit load of money. Brilliant. Bleeding do-gooders. That was a big help for her, wasn't it? Thanks a lot. All for fuck all. Keep your bleeding nose out, innit?'
'We can arrest without a formal complaint for domestic violence. Like I say it's policy.'
'Well, it's my policy not to tell cops fuck all.'
'Fuck off back from where you came from then, go on, piss off.' Zak sneered.
'What's that supposed to mean?' Winston reared at the comment.
'Work it out, thicko.'
'That's racist.'
'What is – thicko? I don't think so.' Zak said.
'Saying go back to where you came from. Racisms, man.' Winston was on to something.
'Oh, please, it wasn't, and you know it.' Zak shook his head. He was suddenly on the back foot.
'It is. You're a fucking racist. I'm having you for this.' Winston said, barely disguising his glee. The cops were so easy to tame when the race card was played and the criminal element or the trouble-making echelon of the black community were trigger-happy to use it, to subjugate those showing any authority.
'I meant to go back to the streets, back home…your house, oh bollocks, you know what I meant.' Zak said, clearly feeling uncomfortable.
'I know what you meant, innit. Racisms.'
Zak was red-faced and nervous now that Winston had pulled out the race card. Winston could wrap this guy around his little finger by playing his double-six. Zak was now his bitch, because he had the power to play the trump card and Zak had no support from those senior to him. They were soft as shit when this knee trembler was played. It was the thing that made them scatter for the hills. It was like kryptonite to Superman, belying the false impression that the police were the authority when they were easily crushed merely by a single word.
'Are you going to complain?' Zak sighed.
'You bet your sweet fanny I am, Babylon.'

***


Rather than traipse up and down the miles of waterfront Detective Sergeant Albert Crane thought it made more sense to sit in the window of Wendy's Cafe, at least for a while until the girls came into view. Assuming they would walk this far down the quayside. If not, he would go and find them. He was ready for a nice hot drink.
He tipped his bowler hat as he walked into the cozy coffee shop. 'Afternoon all.' He said. Albert had a deep voice and a weathered face but there was a glint in his eye. A hint of compassion and fairness, and while it was difficult to put your finger on it, subliminally people sensed it of him. He just came across as a decent chap, and hard as a cobbler's nail, of course.
'How-do, Mr Crane.' Came various responses. There were only five souls in the place. One was Ted Drew whom Albert knew from when he had a spell working down the pit before joining the force. Ted offered his hand and Bert shook it warmly before slapping his back.
Mr and Mrs Doon knew Bert from a very unfortunate incident when Mrs Doon was attacked by an opportunistic street robber. Bert had recovered the goods and clapped the man in irons before the night was out. An informant had owed Bert a favour and was quick to deliver the man to DS Crane to clear the slate. Ten pairs of eyes from informants were better than just his own and the offender was trying to flog Mrs Doon's watch at The Horse and Groom. The informant banged on Bert's front door to alert him, just as he was having his dinner with his family. Bert responded quickly and managed to capture a robber and indigestion on the same evening.
Two men in the corner of the Cafe were Fred and Alf, whose surnames escaped the detective. He nodded to them. They had been street thieves themselves years ago, when in their early teens but Bert had made it his mission to try to bring them around to see the light. He got the two miscreants a job at the docks as porters and checked on them most days. He told them if a single item went missing, he would make sure they would be transported to the new lands of Australia and would never see their families again. He saw it as tough love. It was a heck of an incentive for the two of them and they had eked out a living and eventually prospered. Fred was married now and worked as a supervisor and Alf was still humping crates but also looking after temporary workers and youngsters, which he enjoyed. For some reason, they were still a little cool to Bert but perhaps begrudgingly they were grateful for the chance he had given them many years past.
'Just a coffee and bun, please, Wendy.' Bert said. He cut an imposing figure at the counter.
'Of course. On the house, Mr Crane.' Wendy had been a Raven-haired beauty in her younger years and still had immense charisma and attractiveness to this day.
'Are you sure? No need.' Bert said.
'Don't you dare insult me by offering money, it's no good here. Your mother came in this shop many a day when she was with us, God rest her soul. When you was a little 'un, she spent a fortune over the years. When you add it up, like. Lovely woman, she was too. Ah, bless her. Put that purse away. Your money is no good here. Now be told.' She slapped at his hand and Bert laughed.
'What am I going to do with you, Wendy?'
'Put a penny in the poor box, if you must.' She winked. It was amazing she still ran the place, she must have been in her sixties but seemed to have the energy of someone in their twenties.
'With pleasure.' Bert dropped a penny in the slot of the box on the counter and took his coffee and iced bun to the window.
It looked like the mist was staying; it was an unnatural fog mixed with soot and grime from the industrial complex that was Victorian England. The residents had yet to fully appreciate that the mucky air was slowly killing them all.
Ted Drew suddenly appeared at Bert's table. 'Have you got a minute, Bert?'
'Yes, always for you, Teddy Bear. Take a seat, pal.' Ted sat. It was clear he had something on his mind. 'What ails you, Ted?'
'I'm a bit worried about our eldest.'
'Who? Your Clarence?'
'Aye.'
'Why, what's to do, lad?'
'Bobby Robinson ran in him the other night.'
'Your Clarence? How come?'
'He got in an altercation at The Plough the other night. It weren't nowt to do wi him, like. Someone throwing his weight around and our Clarence decked him. We thought that were the end on it but, then Bobby Robinson showed up and the Mrs was in bits, you know.'
'Did the bloke strike a blow at your Clarence?'
'I'm not sure he had the chance, this bastard had knocked a woman out and then started on Clarence's mate, so what should he do? Then the daft bugger goes and rats him to the bizzies.'
'Not good form, Ted. That's people today. It's not how it used to be, is it?'
'Nah, soft buggers.'
'My advice is for your Clarence to explain exactly what happened and gather up some witnesses from the pub. It sounds like he was acting in self-defence, and doing a bloody service, as far as I can see. So long as that's the proper story, Ted.'
'It's right, Bert, I wouldn't snow you, mate.'
'I'll have a word with Bobby Robinson and if I tell him there might be counter allegations against this bloke, he might feel it best to communicate to the bully that he might want to withdraw his complaint.'
'Got you. Alright, Bert, sorry to bother you, but the missus has taken it bad, you know.'
'Leave it with me, Ted.'
'You're a good un, Bert.'
The two shook hands and Bert continued to stare out at the quayside to no avail.
After twenty minutes or so, Detective Sergeant Crane decided he would have to go in search of the girls, but as he stood to leave, providence had them appear, arm in arm, through the mist, promenading and chatting to one another eagerly.
'Thank you, Wendy.' Bert said as the tinkling bell above the door sounded his retreat. The door scraped on the floor as it had done ever since he could remember.
'Bye, lovey. Don't leave it so long next time. Take care.'
'Bye, Bert.' Ted said.
He waved a cheery goodbye and strolled across the road towards the girls.
Clarabelle was the first to open her mouth. ''Ere, you can sod off if you think we've done owt wrong, cos we ain't.'
Bert smiled and doffed his hat. 'Good afternoon to you, too.'
'Don't give me that. You rozzers are all the bleeding same, picking on young defenceless gals wot ain't got nowt.'
'I'm trying to help you actually.' Bert said with a smile.
'What do you mean, help? All you does is bleeding hinder. Come on, Edith.'
Bert raised a hand to stop their attempted escape. Clarabelle went to barge past, but Edith pulled her back a step.
'Hang on. You're that Bert…um whatsaname.'
'I am Bert whatsaname, yes.' He grinned.
She smiled. 'No. Um, you helped me mam didn't you when we was coming out the Workhouse in 68.'
'Did I? You've got a good memory.' Bert said.
'Yeah, you gave us some blankets and food and that. I'll never forget that. It saved us that did.'
'Maybe I'd found a shilling that day.' Bert lied.
'Hang on Clara, he's alright, don't be obstropolopolous wiv him.' Clarabelle stopped, shocked more by the attempt of Edith saying obstreperous. It was one of those words that seemed to take hold in the community for some reason, incongruous though it seemed. Clara still eyed the detective suspiciously.
'How is your mother, Edith? Flora, isn't it? We went to the same school. I always had a soft spot for her.' Bert put his finger to his lips and winked. 'Ssh, don't tell.'
Edith giggled. 'Ah. Did ya? I'll tell her that.'
'Give her my regards, love.'
'I will thank you very much, and thank you for asking.' Edith said. Clara looked sideways at her. Why was she talking like this? It was like she was addressing the bleeding Queen herself.
'I've got some bad news, girls, tragic I'm afraid. Sorry to have to tell you.'
'What?'
'Mary Jessop has been done over. Sorry.'
'Aye, we had heard. Shame for her, you never know the minute.' Edith said. There was a tiny hint of sadness in the matter-of-fact statement. Yet the relatively easy acceptance illustrated the dangers of the times and their occupation.
'Shouldn't you be off the streets with a murderer on the loose? Particularly being vulnerable and all.' Bert said.
'Can't afford to Mr Rozzer 'cos we not eat, otherwise.' Clarabelle said.
'Did you see her before she got done over?' Bert asked. 'Mary, I mean.'
'Yeah, course, she works the docks an' all. It's not just us.' Clara said. 'We was all chums, wan't we?'
'Had she said anything, or did you see her with a customer?' Bert asked.
'Edith, keep shtum.' Clarabelle said.
'No, Clara, he's trying to help us, like he says. We could be bleeding next. He's a right gent ain't ya, Mr Bert.'
'I try to be. I don't want to be told off by my mum now do I, for being rude?' Bert laughed and Edith smiled.
'No, but I mean to us ladies on the street. You don't look down your snifter at us, and you are always nice and polite. It's lovely, I think, and very much appreciated.' Edith did a little curtsey.
'I try to be, Edith, there but for the grace of God goes any of us. I'm generally polite…unless pushed, and then I ain't much of a gent to be fair.'
'Well, no, that's different, when pushed ain't it?'
'What's to do, then?' Bert said.
'We don't know him 'cos he's new into town.'
'Who is?'
'Her punter. That's who you asked about. The geezer what she went off wiv.' Edith said.
'Do you know his name?'
'No, I just said that. I don't know nuffin else, Mr Bert.'
'Can you describe him, Edith?'
'Ooh, Christ. Um. One thing about him is a red scarf, he's had that on both times he's been wiv her, ain't he Clara?'
''Spose.' Clara was looking off over the water, disengaging from the conversation. Trying to be aloof.
'He's a biggish fella, dirty hands, and wears a cloth cap. And that thing, that scarf is always round his bleeding neck.' Edith said. 'I reckon he sleeps in it.'
'Anything else about him, Edith?'
'Just that he's new to town. Like we said. He ain't never been round here 'afore the last month.'
'Any facial anomalies?'
'I don't know what you mean, guvnor.' Edith said, tilting her head like a puppy hearing a sound.
'Has he any scars or marks visible?'
'Nah. A bit of a messy beard and thick sideburns like is the fashion.'
'How old?' Bert asked.
'Thirties I shouldn't wonder. He's not young.'
'That's a big help, ladies. I'm grateful. All I've got to do is find him now.'
'That not be hard, guv. He's in The Crown boozer most nights from six o'clock.'
'God bless you, Edith.' Bert was grinning from ear to ear and reached into his pocket. He gave them a shilling each.
'Here, make sure you spend it on yourselves not that bloke back at the digs. It's for you, not bloody Gumbo. Yes?'
The two smiled and seemed thrilled at the gesture.
'Thanks, mister.' Clarabelle said. 'Did you want anything doing for that shilling?'
'Ere, I knows him better, if he wants owt, not you.' Edith said. 'Do you want owt, Mr Bert? Gents say me tuppence is really nice and squishy.'
Bert couldn't help but shrug out a laugh. 'I would love to, but I can't, not on my job. Not allowed, I'm afraid.' Bert smiled and squeezed Edith's hand. 'My loss.' He said.
Edith blushed.
'Please take care, ladies, and steer clear of Mister Red Scarf.' Bert said.
'We will.'
'Love to your, Mother, Edith.'
With that, Bert tipped his hat again and disappeared off into the fog, towards The Crown pub.

***


'Look at these fucking slags here, Sarge.' Steve muttered as they walked along Noel Street with two 'sex workers' approaching them.
'Fucking dirty whores. Riddled with bloody drugs and pox, by the looks of them.' Zak said.
'Filthy bleeders. Are we gonna have a word?' Steve asked.
'I suppose we have to. Don't get too bloody close. Fleas can jump ten feet.'
Steve smirked as they approached the two girls in short skirts and laddered stockings.
'A bit nippy to be out half naked isn't it?' Zak said.
'Are you coppers?'
'How did you guess?'
'Just a hunch.'
'Have you heard about the murder?' Zak asked.
'Who hasn't?'
'Who is she, do you know? The woman that's been killed.'
'Everybody knows.'
'Do they? So who is it?'
'Are you telling me your lot don't even know who she is? Fucking hell!' The woman shrieked out a laugh, mocking the detectives.
'We don't know every totty flogging their ass, for a few quid's worth of junk, do we?' Steve said aggressively.
The girls looked at each other exchanging disdain with their expressions but saying nothing.
'Come on then who is it?' Zak said impatiently.
'We don't know, do we, Shirl?'
'Nah, everyone knows but they not tell us nowt.' Shirley said with a fixed grin and a defiant stare.
'Would it help if you had time in the cell to think?' Zak said, his irritation apparent for all to see.
'For what?'
'For soliciting, what do you think?' Zak said.
'I don't know what you mean. We ain't doin' nothing like that. You shouldn't make threats you can't keep.' Shirley lit a cigarette and blew smoke at the detective.
'Oh, I can keep it, don't worry about that.' Zak said, knowing he was on thin ice.
'Yeah, and get sued for false arrest. Crack on.' Shirley said.
'Think yourself lucky.' Zak raised an unconvincing finger.
Shirley laughed at his pathetic attempt to intimidate them, and they walked on down the street.
'Fuck 'em.' Zak said.
'Fucking whorebags…druggies.' Steve's comment was with a raised voice so they could hear, but they ignored it and put a wiggle on their backsides as they giggled along the street. Their contempt for the coppers was apparent. Steve and Zak returned to the car none the wiser and the Sarge checked his emails on his phone.
'Email from the boss. It's looking unlikely we will have any DNA according to Forensics and no ID documents have been found. Who the hell is she? This is bloody ridiculous. Can you believe that those totties didn't have the brains to realise they would be protecting themselves by telling us who the victim was? Don't they realise they are at risk from this bloke?'
'That's how thick they are, Sarge.' Steve said defiantly.
'The boss has tasked us with looking at CCTV to see if there is any interaction before the death.’ Zak said. ‘We need to get in touch with the council and do some viewing. It has to be on camera, surely? Christ, they're everywhere. Particularly around here.'
'Got to be, Sarge. I just hope it's not too grainy and messed up, as usual.'
When back at the station, the two detectives began viewing footage once they had logged into the council's system, and within a few hours, they identified a red car pulling up next to a woman who they thought was the victim. She leaned into the window for a few seconds before scurrying around the front of the vehicle to get in the passenger door. The registration number couldn't be seen, but it was a start. They could now get on the computer and trawl through red cars of a similar make that have been seen in the red-light area and any ancillary intelligence that had been submitted. It felt like they might be closing in on the killer of the anonymous woman, although the number of hits it was throwing up merely created many hours more work. Red cars were popular. They tried to narrow it down to the type, maybe a BMW? Still, the computer churned out suspects from across the country.
'We can start with the locals.' Zak said.

***


Bert was glad to get out of the freezing fog and into the warm, albeit noisy public house. The Crown had a prime spot being situated halfway down Commercial Street and it was rare to find it anything but full to the rafters, at least after 6 'o'clock.
The detective paused once inside the door and undid his overcoat whilst taking in the scene in front of him. Aside from the warmth, he was overwhelmed by the smell of smoke. The whole place was cloaked in clouds of tobacco smoke from clay pipes and the new cigarettes, which had taken hold during the Crimean War. A pungent smell of hot pies merged with the smoke and triggered the saliva glands. Two men near the 'Bar Skittles' might cause trouble as Bert had locked them up the previous year for GBH. No mind. There was always someone he had locked up. They had two choices. Put up or shut up. It was rarely a problem.
Bert flopped down the three stairs and headed towards the closest end of the busy bar. He had a presence, an air of strength to him, and he noticed that elbow nudging and sly glances were thrown in his direction. He was used to it.
The Crown pub was beautifully decorated; brass structures and wonderfully coloured bottles adorned the bar and ornate mirrors covered the walls behind it, giving the illusion that the pub was much larger than it was. The pump handles were a work of art too, and the piano at the far end was jingling out a tune thanks to local musician and alcoholic, Cecil Barnes, who was given free ale to rattle out popular songs of the day. By ten o'clock and several glasses of stout later, the bum notes were more evident than at the start of his repertoire. Often a group would gather around and join in with a singsong, occasionally spreading across the whole pub. It was a sight to behold when that happened, and the walls would reverberate with the alcohol-induced rhythmic vibrations of community singing. Bert felt that it 'warmed the cockles of your heart' to be a part of it.
Behind the bar, four staff worked busily, frantically even. Three of them were women in white blouses and long skirts, hair tied back, and the fourth was the son of the landlord who was learning the trade at the sharp end. The landlord, Noah, spotted Bert and hurried over to the end of the bar to greet him. Noah was sweating and clutching a white tea towel as a sort of comfort blanket.
'Evening, Bert, to what do we owe this pleasure? No trouble, I hope?'
'Evening, Noah. No trouble, my friend, but I could do with bending your ear on summat.' Bert said. He often slipped into the local vernacular when amongst his kith and kin.
'Of course. What are you having?' Noah enquired.
'Pint of Best, Noah, and one for yourself.'
'Cheers. Good health.'
Once Noah had placed the pint in front of Bert, he lifted the latch of the counter and walked through to the public side, sitting next to the detective on the bar stool. It enabled them to speak reasonably freely away from prying ears. The deafening noise and chatter forced the two men to lean in to speak into each other's ears in any case, so there was little chance of them being overheard. Bert offered some coins to Noah for the drinks.
'Don't be daft. I don't want your money, Bert. So what's up?'
'Something serious, Noah. Thanks, by the way. Good health.' Bert said, sipping at his pint and being economical with his words in the difficult surroundings.
'Good health, Bert. I've heard. Is it Mary Jessop?' Noah beat him to his reveal.
'It is.' Bert took a bigger gulp of ale as he warmed to the taste.
'Bloody shame, Bert. I know she shouldn't be plying her trade like that, but she had next to no choice, you know. Both parents gone, and no other means to her. She's got to eat, like the rest of us.'
'I know. She's not on her own, is she? It's that or starve, poor kid.'
'Aye. And they say there's a God, eh?'
'I'm looking to speak to a fellow who frequents your place, Noah.'
'Oh, right. Who's that?'
'I don't know his name, but he wears a red scarf, and is new to town. He's not been around these parts too long, maybe a month. Does it ring a bell?'
'I reckon it does, Albert. What about that fellow over in the corner on his tod.'
Sergeant Crane turned around and sure enough, sitting in the corner behind the coat stand, on his own, was a dishevelled character with a red scarf tied tightly around his neck, sideburns, and a rough-hewn beard.
'Oh, yes, indeed, bless ya. Who is he, do you know?' Bert asked.
'I don't, only that his nickname is Pudding.'
'Pudding?'
'He was flogging puddings when he first came in about a month or two ago. That didn't last long but that's how folks got to call him that.'
'He doesn't use it then? As a nickname, I mean.'
'I doubt it, Bert. It's how others refer to him, if you see what I mean.' Noah was distracted for a couple of seconds as he waved his tea towel at his son and pointed to an impatient customer waiting to be served. The boy hurried over and served the gent.
'I will need to speak to him in a minute.' Bert gulped his pint. 'How's Emily?'
'She's good thank you, Bert, she'll be down in a bit, she's just putting the youngest to bed. What about Elsa and your little tykes?' Noah asked with a grin.
'Sound as a pound, Noah. At least they were the last time I saw them, which was about three days ago. I hope to finally see them once I've solved this case. Which, fingers crossed, should not be too long now.'
Bert finished his pint and eased through the crowd of revellers, heading over towards the stranger. Bert didn't realise that Noah was following behind him to back him up. Noah did not want any trouble with the police if he could avoid it.
The stranger looked up at the hulking great chap now standing at his table.
'Ehup, what's to do?' The man said.
'I'm Detective Sergeant Crane from Scotland Yard and you and I need to talk, don't we?' Bert said.
Curiously the man never asked why, but settled on, 'Yeah, if ya say so.' He slowly rose and looked like a fair match for the Detective. He might have sold them, but he was no pudding himself. He looked big and strong, a manual worker, perhaps.
Once the two men edged their way towards the door under the supervision of Noah and his tea towel, 'Pudding' made a bolt for it. He barged through the last remaining customers and flew out of the door hotly pursued by Sergeant Crane. He only made it twenty yards or so before he felt a large hand clamp down on his shoulder and he drew to a halt. The impetus of Albert forced the man to the hard ground, and they were both in a heap. Pudding was desperate to get away and despite Bert's best efforts managed to regain his feet and Bert, although off balance, did likewise. The stranger threw a punch which struck the detective on the cheek, and this didn't go down too well. Bert jabbed out a fist that stunned the red-scarfed man and followed through with a devastating blow to the chin which knocked the suspect to the ground in a ball of ungainly arms and legs. Bert grabbed the man's filthy hair and lifted his face off the gravel. Snot and blood spewed out the man's nose, and Bert got an unwelcome whiff of the man's pungent breath.
'I'm running you in, pal.' Bert sneered.
'What for?'
'Being fucking rude, what do you think?'
'I've done nowt.'
Bert clutched a handful of the man's greasy hair and ground the man's face into the gravel rubbing the abrasive stones into his skin and he hollered in pain.
'You killed Mary. Didn't you?'
'I don't know no one called bleeding Mary.'
Bert repeated the transaction and again the man screamed.
'Liar! She was a prostitute on the quayside, and you killed her.'
'She fucking laughed at me the cheeky cow.'
'You killed her, didn't you?' Bert slammed the man's head once more. There was a thud and an 'ugh' from Pudding. He grabbed at Bert's wrist and beseeched the detective,
'Stop it! Yeah, cos she took the piss. Be fair. It was an accident.'
'Be fair? Be bloody fair? Tell the judge and the hangman to be fair!' Bert said.
He clamped the handcuffs on thick wrists and walked the sorry excuse of a man to the local police station. Once ensconced in a dark, dank cell, Detective Sergeant Albert Crane would write up his report for court in the morning. Noah would corroborate the confession, no doubt. Edith and Clarabelle would give statements describing the man and identifying him as being the last one seen with poor Mary. If he was quick, Albert might even get back to The Crown for last orders.

***


They had been working on the case for three days now and slowly and surely, they were eliminating potential suspects and red cars. They had at least got a name for the victim, so that was something. She hadn't turned up at her shared house and yesterday her sister had finally reported her missing. Shelley Towlson. Deceased.
Zak sat in front of the Superintendent in the senior officer's salubrious office. He had been summoned. Superintendent Witt had photos of endless previous training courses, some police badges from the American States, and a little rainbow flag on his desk. The rainbow flag or similar was almost obligatory now to show allegiance to the latest doctrine, at least if you wanted to get on.
The small plaque on his desk also underlined his loyalty to the party line and summed him up perfectly; 'Supt T. Witt – He/Him.'
'Just a quickie. A catch-up. I know you're busy.' Superintendent Witt said. He was smiling. Timothy Witt was a popular chap because he always had a ready smile and a kind word for everyone. He seemed to be very team-orientated and said all the right things. He didn't know his arse from his elbow, but that seemed incidental. He had the gift of making people think he gave a damn about them. That was a useful skill in today's modern police force.
'Of course, sir. No problem. We have had a breakthrough in the sense that a red car was used by the suspect. Or certainly was when he picked the victim up. We are down to around forty-two cars to track down. We might need some more resources, but that is up to the DCI, I suppose. We have narrowed down the number of cars to twelve that are registered in the county, and we are looking at ANPR cameras to see who was out and about on the night in question. We'll get there in the end, sir. It might take a few weeks, that's all.'
'Brilliant! Great work. Some real detective work there, Zak. It's good to see.'
'Thank you, sir.'
'Um, it was more about the, um, other thing.' Superintendent Witt smiled warmly.
'What other thing is that sir? Is it more important than murder?' Zak shifted in his seat, maybe he had spoken out of turn.
'The allegation of racism by Winston Kelly, down in reception the other day. Is racism serious, do you think? Mmm?'
'Sir, he's a troublemaker. Honestly, there's nothing in it. You know me. Surely you don't think…'
'I do know you, that's why I was surprised reading his statement. It says here you told him to 'go back from where he came from.' Witt looked at Zak as though he had just shat his pants.
'No. Well, yes, but not in that way…'
'Listen, Zak, much as it goes against the grain, my mate, I'm going to have to report it through to Professional Standards. You know how it is. I've no choice, see. No hard feelings, but…' He smiled. 'But don't worry, I can vouch for you as a decent chap if anyone should enquire. Depending, you know…'
'Sure. Oh. Um, can't you just discount it as a waste of time, sir? You know what a low-life liar he is. He's a known bloody sex offender, violent pimp, and blatantly anti-police.'
'Can I advise you, sergeant, that you should perhaps keep your own counsel? In case you hadn't heard we live in a progressive society. I'm not very happy with the way you refer to members of the public. I hoped you might know that an allegation of this nature is deemed true until proven one hundred percent that it is not. If there is even a scintilla of truth in this…'
'But sir…'
'I can't help but see you were given a written warning for misgendering a transexual lady eighteen months ago. I see a theme developing.'
'Sir, I explained at the time that it was just a bloke in jeans and a T-shirt, there was no way of knowing he was going to claim to be a woman that day. It was ridiculous.'
'I see. It's all ridiculous, is it? I suppose we're all woke cretins, are we?'
'No, of course not, I didn't mean that at all.'
'I think you've said enough, Sergeant Crane. I am starting to have serious concerns about you. Serious concerns. Now. Stop talking. Stop digging that bloody great hole for yourself and listen carefully. I need a lengthy statement from you explaining precisely what happened. Chapter and verse. Remember omissions might be deemed admissions. And I want a separate statement from that young Steve if he was with you.'
'But the murder, sir?'
'Now, Sergeant, if you please. Racism will not be tolerated and must take priority. Must!' He was almost frothing at the mouth. If Zak had continued there seemed the real possibility that the top of the Superintendent's scalp might crack open and a spring pop out.
Steve knew he was being thrown under the bus by smiling Superintendent Timothy Witt. Everyone's friend. Just another smiling assassin, psychopathic in his commitment to the hot potato causes. Sadistic in his persecution of those stepping on the cracks. Zealous in his approach. Intolerant to any grey areas or common sense. There were no friends here, only work colleagues, associations that were as pliable as cable tie handcuffs and as disposable as paper tissues. Yet, with his puritanical, authoritarian views, and his unstinting 'moral courage' he served only to weaken the police, slow them up, melt away their confidence, twist them into a purple funk, and in turn forsake society, giving the whip hand to the criminal and agitator. He just couldn't grasp it, and no one would tell him.
The telephone on Supt Witt's desk rang, startling them both and jolting them from their intensity.
'Superintendent Witt.' He glanced at Zak. 'Yes…I see. Where? Very good. Seen by whom? Yes, thank you. I will tell him.' He put the phone down and covered his face with his hands, rubbing at his eyes before releasing them with an audible sigh.
'There has been another murder, Zak. A sex worker on Commercial Road. Another stranger-attack by the looks of it. Someone was seen running off around the time of the attack.'
'Who's that do we know? Who was seen?'
'No.'
'Any description?'
'Um. Scant.'
'Okay. What is it?'
'Dreadlocked Rastafarian gentleman with bright green trainers.' Witt pointed a finger. 'Not to be released to the public, either. No point feeding red meat to the fascists.'
'It might just help catch the guy, sir. Someone will know who that is.'
'I need to talk to community leaders first.'
'Who are these community leaders, sir? Did we vote for them or are they just self-appointed?'
Witt shook his head. 'I cannot fathom such a divisive mindset, Zak, I really can't.'
'I just want to catch a killer, sir. In fact, I'm sure Winston Kelly had bloody green trainers on.'
'And half of the youth on the street no doubt. I've told you. Steer clear of Winston Kelly, he's dangerous.'
'Yes, but what if…'
'If I get one more report of you being politically insensitive to a minority member of the public you will be out the door, Zak Crane. Is that clear?'
'Yes, sir. What if he happens to be the killer?'
'Stereotyping, are we? Profiling. It just goes on and on. I can tell you now it will not be Winston Kelly. I've told you he is off limits.'
'Hang on. He's not one of these 'community leaders' you are having on your Zoom chats, is he, sir? Winston Kelly. Noooo! Surely not.' Zak shrugged out a laugh wrapped in incredulity.
'Never mind that.'
'Sir…' Zak was gobsmacked.
Superintendent Witt changed tack and went on the offensive. 'That's the second murder in a few days. Now the clock is ticking before the next and the next and the next. You need to pull your bloody finger out. What the hell are you playing at, Sergeant Crane? Why aren't you making progress for heaven's sake? '
Zak blew his cheeks out. 'I've really no idea, sir, we're doing our best. It's one big mystery.'

***


Albert Crane had indeed made it back for last orders, at The Crown, well, almost, but Noah didn't mind overlooking the time for one of London's finest. 'Pudding,' now known to be Elijah Marsh had been charged with the murder of poor Mary Jessop and would be in Crown Court on Monday for the trial. He would be found Guilty by Thursday and sentenced. There was always a delay of a couple of weeks for the hanging to give the Home Secretary a chance to review any last-minute requests for clemency by loved ones or charitable affiliations. Bert felt he'd earned his pint, anyway.
'Cheers, Noah. Thanks for all your help tonight.' Bert said.
'Cheers, you're welcome, Bert. Communities need to stick together. Help each other in these raw times.'
'True.'
They fell silent and a thought popped into Bert's head. 'I saw in the paper that they reckon telephones are going to be available to everyone in the next few years.'
'Telephones, Bert?'
'Yeah, those talking machines. You know you pick it up and speak and someone miles away can hear you. That’s the rumours any road. Just think how much better the police will be once we get that going.'
'Amazing. It's mind boggling ain't it?'
'I can't imagine all the wonders of science being available to crime detection over the coming decades. I reckon we might have a time where crime is something of the past.'
'Not in your or my time, I shouldn't think, Bert.' Noah said.
'No. You're probably right, but in a hundred years, maybe. In a hundred years the police will be so good at what they do that it will be a wonderful world to live in. Think of the progress that will be made. No fear. No crime. Goodness me. Can you just imagine it?'
'Not really. It's too fantastical, but I think I know what you mean.'
Bert raised his glass. 'Here's to the future of policing and the fine men that will uphold the standards and traditions of this great, stoic, empire and nation.'
'Cheers, Bert. Good health.'
'I only wish I could be a part of it and witness it first-hand. That would be beautiful.' Bert said.

END

 
 An extract from the short story anthology 'Killing Nan... And Other Crime Short Stories.'

©KeithWright February 2024
All rights reserved.





Check out other publications by Keith Wright - further details on this website:

'Killing Dad ...And Other Crime Short Stories.'
'Killing Mum... And Other Crime Short Stories.'

The Inspector Stark series of Crime Thrillers.
70 views0 comments

Recent Posts

See All

Comments


bottom of page