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Brothers in Blood
By David Stuart Davies
The History PressCopyright © 2013 David Stuart Davies
All rights reserved.
Detective Inspector Paul Snow gazed at his face in the shaving mirror. He didn't like what he saw. He rarely did, but on this occasion his natural revulsion was stronger than usual. His skin was blotchy and dark circles shadowed his eyes. He looked unhealthy and haggard. He wasn't sleeping well and he wasn't thinking straight most of the time. Of course he knew why. His past was coming back to haunt him in spades; closing around him like some invisible straitjacket, clamping itself around him, suffocating him, and he had no idea what to do.
His dark cupboard of secrets was about to be opened.
He parked in his usual space in the Huddersfield police station car park and sat in the car for a while. It was still early. He could see in the distance that the sun was only just rising above the stark silhouette of Castle Hill, making the ancient tower sitting there seem as though it was on fire. Snow wasn't ready to interact with other humans just yet and so he decided to have a walk about the quiet streets before going into the office. A peaceful stroll might help him relax – and then again it might give him pause to dwell on his troubles.
Nevertheless there was something comforting about walking about the old town when it was so quiet: shops closed, traffic sporadic and only the occasional pedestrian, usually walking briskly on their way to work. He breathed in the early morning air and felt his body relax a little.
He passed a coffee shop which was open and went inside. The coffee was thin and bland but at least it was hot. As he sat hunched up on one of the plastic stools, the coffee mug inches away from his face, he gazed at the other early morning customers and wondered what terrible secrets they harboured. Were they as terrible as his?
By the time he arrived at his office, Snow had managed to stow away his dark thoughts temporarily, and to begin thinking about the case – the case that could be his undoing. He found a package waiting for him on his desk, sent by the internal police mail. With his usual measured precision, he opened it and extracted the contents: a cardboard bound note book. What had old Daniels said? 'Here, lad, I'll let you deal with this. You'll think Christmas has come early.'
Snow placed the note book on his desk, opened it and then began reading.CHAPTER 2
JOURNAL OF RUSSELL BLAKE 1968-1970
I want to make some sense of it before I forget. I'm already aware how memory can play tricks on you. And, I suppose, I want to capture that fascinating rush of excitement from those early days. In writing it down, I hope I can in some strange vicarious way, re-live that time. I know now it will never be as good again. There seemed so many possibilities then but now they've all drifted away. But those early days with Laurence ... Oh, yes ...
Where did it all begin? Where does anything really begin? In the womb, I guess, while you're soaking up your parents' genes as your little body begins to take shape and you are influenced by all the crap your mother puts into her body, including, of course, your father's penis, along with the booze and the pills and such like.
But then that doesn't really make you a murderer, does it?
Or does it? How can you be sure?
To be honest, my parents were fairly docile, fairly nondescript, fairly boring individuals, who brought me up and cared for me in a desultory fashion and failed to influence me in any way about anything. They also had the decency to die young, allowing me to get on with my life in my own way. Looking back, I think of them as rather shadowy black and white creatures in the background of my Technicolor life. It seemed to me that they lacked any real passions or strong desires and I often wonder how they ever managed to summon enough enthusiasm to create me in the first place. Perhaps the stork really did deliver me and it's all his fault.
No, the greatest influence in my life was Laurence. And it still is. Laurence Barker. Well, Barker as he was then. God bless him – although I doubt if He would.
I was just seventeen when we met at Sixth Form College. The year was 1968 and my parents had moved from Hayward's Heath because of my father's boring, nerdy but fairly lucrative job and landed up in Huddersfield, the sort of gritty northern town that was very popular in the British cinema round about that time. Think Billy Liar, A Taste of Honey, Room at the Top and you've got it. Then the town seemed to be full of old men in flat caps and long raincoats – Lowry's stick men fleshed out, dumpy women with tight perms squeezed into garish headscarves, sad, fat teenage boys with lank hair wearing Terylene suits from Burtons and cheap imitation Carnaby Street flowered shirts, noisy Asians who thought they were cool mimicking tabloid oafs and silly nubile girls whose main ambition in life was to get themselves in the family way and have a squawking brat to play dolls with. No A Levels or degrees for these ladies – just a pram and a stack of damp nappies. And of course a nice house on a nice estate and, most importantly, no job.
The cobbled streets, smoking chimneys and the factories were disappearing fast but there was still enough of the town's pre-war industrial past in evidence to keep it parochial and old fashioned despite the creeping cheap plastic veneer of Sixties sophistication which was gradually invading the place. It was a small-minded, insular dump – and I hated it. But then I hated most things. Hating things made me happy. It was my hobby.
That's what helped me to bond with Laurence. He felt like I did about Huddersfield and life. Both were a pain in the arse. Laurence had a lanky arrogance that attracted me from the start. He had what Huddersfield folk would call 'a posh voice' and looked like a young Peter Cook, his hair carefully combed so that it fell across his forehead, cresting his brow. His parents had been wealthy but some dodgy business deal had caused them to lose a fortune. Not only a fortune but a palatial house with grounds in the ethereal environs of Harrogate. And so like precious driftwood they had washed up on the shores of Huddersfield. Financially Laurence's family might have been shadows of their former selves but in Huddersfield they were still rich Bentley-driving, champagne-swilling, indoor swimming-pool splashing bastards.
I knew he was a kindred soul when I first saw him at that God-awful 'Freshers Party' organised at Greenbank Sixth Form College to help us academic virgins bond with our fellow students. Held in what was laughingly called the common room ('Because everyone was common in there,' observed Laurence), the party consisted of bowls of crisps, salted peanuts, jugs of cheap non-branded cola and a boring DJ playing naff music. The other freshers, desperately trying to prove they were part of the swinging sixties, pranced about like prats, while I stood on the sidelines, bored and depressed. I was going to be sharing my life with this load of wankers for the next two years.
Laurence was standing close to the door as though ready to make a quick getaway. He was smoking, which was strictly forbidden on the college premises, and wore an expression of the highest disdain as he watched the dancers gyrating in the centre of the room. Their efforts seemed to amuse Laurence. His lips curled delicately at the edges and his large pale blue eyes flickered with contempt. He was dressed in an expensive dark suit with a white shirt and a slim black tie dangling from a loose collar. He was terribly thin, with high cheekbones and a bloodless complexion and looked rather like a young vampire. But to me he seemed glamorous and elegant and I envied his appearance.
I wandered over to him. 'Simply spiffing party,' I observed putting on my jokey Bertie Wooster voice.
Laurence gazed at me lazily; smoke obscuring his features for a moment. 'Have we been introduced?' His expression was haughty and the voice arrogant, but there were traces of humour in those clear blue eyes.
"Fraid not,' I replied, still using my Wooster voice, but now uncertain whether this tall boy with the penetrating gaze was being serious or playing along with my charade. I didn't have to wait long.
'You're not Gladys Upme, the defrocked housewife and black pudding hurler from Hampton Wick are you?' he said with a kind of camp nasal tone used by Kenneth Williams in Round the Horne.
I took the outstretched baton and ran with it. 'That's my brother. He's in Rampton for sheep rustling.'
'Good job, too. Damned noisy occupation.'
I laughed and he gave me a slow grin.
'Would you like a little ciggy?' He offered me the packet. I didn't smoke but I knew it would be inappropriate to refuse. Besides he looked so good holding the little white cancer stick in his forefingers up by the side of his face that I wanted to look like that as well.
He flicked a lighter and soon I was puffing inexpertly on the 'little ciggy'.
'I'm Russell,' I said.
He raised an arched eyebrow. 'Not related to the sheep, I hope.'
I grinned and shook my head.
'Laurence,' he announced grandly. 'Good to meet you, a fellow castaway in this shit hole.' His face hardened, his features were taut with anger. 'Do you think if we closed our eyes, all this would disappear and we'd find ourselves in hall at Oxford or Cambridge ...?' He stopped suddenly and placed his face close to mine. 'Are you very bright?'
'Brighter than most of the losers in this dreary dump but no more.'
'Ah, well, we're members of the same club then.'
He smiled and the warmth from that smile charmed me, thrilled me, and soothed me more than I am able to say.
With casual disdain, he dropped his cigarette on to the floor and pressed it into the carpet with his foot. 'Come on, life is too fucking short to stand here watching a load of spastics trying to dance. There must be a pub around here that'll sell beer to two bright seventeen year olds.'
Indeed we did find a pub not more than a few streets away: The Sportsman, which became our haunt, our bolthole, for the next two dreary years at college. It was a scruffy little place mainly inhabited by pensioners and grey-faced unemployed loners. The landlord, a thin, pale chap called Alf knew how old we were and where we were from but it didn't bother him. He was happy to add to his meagre profits by supplying us with alcohol. Often was the afternoon we'd bunk off lessons and escape to Alf's where Laurence and I would talk and talk.
That first evening in the pub Laurence and I bonded a life-long friendship and in some strange way we knew it. We forged a link that would only be broken by death.
We hated the college; we hated the teachers – second rate losers; and we hated most of the other students – unambitious dullards more interested in the minutiae of their barren lives than in developing their brains. We were good at hating. Despite all that, we both did well in our studies. This was not due to hard work on our part but merely a combination of our natural brilliance and the low expectations of the staff. Well, let's face it, they were used to dealing with intellectual dwarfs.
We gained a reputation for being aloof – which we were – and that we were gay – which we were not. The trouble with these northern no-brains is that anyone they encounter who is not a clone of their own stupid selves is labelled as a queer, a poofter, a nancy-boy. They can't bear the idea of anyone being different and, indeed, better than they are; and if you are, you must be some kind of pervert. Laurence and I fancied girls and indeed we talked about sex a lot but I don't think our libidos had quite kicked in yet. We ogled tarts in magazines like Fiesta and Bounce and one or two of the girls at the college took our fancy in a purely physical way, but at that time we were more concerned about sorting ourselves out, trying to come to terms with life and what we wanted out of it and what it could offer us. There was plenty of time for sex later.
Neither of us wanted to follow the route that our fathers had taken into boring business or stultifying corporate life and the idea of marriage, a 'nice' house and two point four children, filled us with dread and loathing. Our boredom threshold was low; we needed some kind of excitement to keep us awake and alert. It was a discussion about this very topic that formed our first watershed moment. We were in Alf's one Friday afternoon finishing our week's labours with a drink or two. The pale sunlight struggled through the grimy windows throwing beams of dusty light into the room while we sat at our usual corner more than normally disconsolate with our lot.
'I want to do something this weekend that will make a mark on the world,' Laurence suddenly announced grandly. 'I'm fed up with mooching around on Saturday and Sunday. We do nothing of any consequence. Nothing memorable.'
'We could indecently expose ourselves in the market place.' I suggested lightly.
Laurence wrinkled his nose. 'My dear Russell, I have no desire to have my manly member placed on a police file. Besides it's a bit nippy for that kind of activity.'
'Well, it would be memorable.'
'Steady, big boy! I think you miss my point ... or perhaps I didn't explain myself clearly enough. I'm happy do something outrageous and shocking as long as ...' He paused for dramatic effect and leaned closer to me, a broad grin on his face. 'As long we are not identified. We have to be the invisible perpetrators. It must be something secret. It's like farting behind the bushes. We produce the noise and the smell but no one knows who did it. That gives the joke an added frisson. Get it? We can crouch behind the hedge laughing our socks off and no accusing finger can be pointed at us.'
'I don't think I'm up for farting behind hedges this weekend.'
'I had something a little more adventurous in mind. Something more elegant and vicious.' He positively beamed.
'You sneaky bastard,' I grinned. 'You've already got something in mind, haven't you? You've got a plan.'
'Excellent deduction, mon ami.' He tugged at his imaginary moustache, slipping into his Hercule Poirot impersonation. 'The little grey cells are on fine form today. You are quite correct. I have devised a ... how shall I say ...? a little divertissement for us this weekend.'
'Tell me more.'
'Let's have another drink and I'll explain.'
Our glasses replenished, Laurence set to his task. 'Tell me, Russ, who is the most irritating, most pathetic and most despicable member of what is laughingly known as the teaching staff at the Dotheboys Hall we attend ...'
'Which we attend when Alf's is not open.'
'Point taken, but answer the bloody question.'
'Most irritating ...?'
'Despicable, pathetic ... loathsome.'
'There are so many.'
'The worst. Come on there is only one fucking candidate.'
'Ooh, oh I don't know,' I said, playing with him.
'Ha ha. Now give me her name.'
'Oh, her name. It's a woman is it?'
'Don't be a prick.'
'You couldn't possibly be referring to Miss Irene Black, could you?'
Laurence's eyes lit up with triumph. 'The very same. Old Mother Black, she of the floral dresses and curly wig.'
It was true, Old Mother Black, as she was generally known by all the students, wore her hair in the scrunchiest perm I'd ever seen, so tight that the hair did not move, not even on the windiest day. Not only that but its unnatural colour contrasted with the pale, ancient wrinkled features beneath it. If it wasn't a wig, it looked like one. Granny Black was a dinosaur. She should have given up teaching years ago. She was fussy, incompetent and had no understanding or tolerance of young people. As a relic of a bygone age it was appropriate that she taught history. Laurence and I had a particular dislike for the old bag. We didn't think she was up to the job. She was easily flustered, ill-prepared and unable to move from her notes. Laurence had a particular talent for bowling her a question from left field just for the pleasure of unsettling her, which he did frequently. She'd flush and dither and shuffle her papers. 'Not now, Barker,' she would announce distractedly. 'We'll come to that later.' More shuffling of papers.
Laurence took a sip of his beer before continuing. 'Wouldn't you like to upset the old cow? I mean really upset her. Wouldn't it give you great pleasure to see Old Mother Black reduced to a nervous wreck?'
Excerpted from Brothers in Blood by David Stuart Davies. Copyright © 2013 David Stuart Davies. Excerpted by permission of The History Press.
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