Rob Wallet is arrested for murder and decides to tell all.
Back in 1977, not long after Toten Herzen had been murdered, a young boy sat in the office of his school’s deputy headmistress. He wasn’t expecting the cane, but he wasn’t in line for an award either. Having loosened the tops of fifteen vinegar bottles he was in deep shit for ruining over a dozen school meals, including a plate of roast pork and chips about to be eaten by a maths teacher. The boy was summoned, made to wait, admonished by Mrs Baxter and her magnificent bouffant hairstyle and given detention. The tampering of the bottles didn’t quite go down in the folklore of the school, but for several days the boy was a hero amongst his closest mates.
Not so now. Rob Wallet looked back on that innocent time and felt a slight feeling of regret that he didn’t appreciate it more. For as long as he could remember Wallet had told anyone born after 1979 that the seventies were the lost years of civilisation; the decade was a social and cultural black hole swallowing anything that might one day be considered enlightening. There was no avoiding the smothering sepias and ochres, and when their time was up they were replaced by the even more soul destroying magnolia. It was a time of FA Cup confrontations across windswept mud baths and brainwashed teenagers in tank tops dancing to Living Next Door to Alice on Top of the Pops. After the power cuts the lights would come back on and the carnage of another IRA atrocity made itself apparent. The Sweeney always got their villain, usually because the villains were trying to escape in cars made by British Leyland.
But incarceration changes a man. Locked up all weekend and now slumped on an uncomfortable plastic chair, he sat in a glowing white police interview room alone with his juvenile thoughts. Wallet remembered a time when coming home from school meant holding his own FA Cup fixtures on his Subbuteo pitch, played by two teams with three meticulously painted Adidas stripes down their sleeves. The miniature Tango footballs were the closest he’d ever get to owning one of those spectacular black and white footballs they used in the ’74 World Cup finals. He saw British Leyland cars at the first Motor Show at the NEC in 1977 (six months after Toten Herzen had been murdered); they were shiny, rust free and were almost as tempting as the Panther 6 and Saab Turbo. Curly Wurlys and Haunted House, a Revell Space Shuttle on the back of a Jumbo Jet and too many packs of Top Trumps. Maybe he was wrong about the seventies. Van der Valk, Jeux sans Frontiers, Fawlty Towers on a Tuesday night after Pot Black. Wallet started to make a mental list of stuff he was going to find and collect when the police let him go.
The door rattled, stuck in its frame, and then blew open. “Don’t you have any better chairs than these?” said Wallet to DI Toker, the arresting officer.
“We don’t want you settling down,” said Toker. He placed an A4 size photograph on the table and sat down.
“Lovely. What’s that got to do with me?”
“Well, I think you should look at it again, Mr Wallet, because I think you know what happened to the man in that photograph.” The man was Mike Gannon. “You knew Mike Gannon, didn’t you?”
“Of course I knew him. Before I started working with Toten Herzen we were both music journalists. Well, he was a music critic, so strictly speaking not a proper journalist, a sort of pretend journalist actually, but yeah, I knew him. If there were any parties or celebrations the minute he walked in the place would empty.”
“Really,” said Toker. “I’ve heard he was very popular.”
Wallet tutted. “Having a girlfriend isn’t enough to describe yourself as popular. Gannon was a first class twat. Whoever writes his obituary will be a better writer than me. I suppose you could praise him by saying he wasn’t as bad as Adolf Hitler.”
“Well, at least Hitler had a go at painting. Gannon had no artistic flair whatsoever. He was born to be a critic. Nearly everyone in the music industry had an excuse to kill him and quite a few outside it too.”
“Hated him enough to do this?” Toker held up the grisly photo.
“Have you found my DNA at the scene of this crime? Any evidence at all? If you ask me body piercing’s a mug’s game.”
“Yeah,” said Toker. “Lots of people seem to die in ugly ways where you’re concerned. Micky Redwall, Lenny Harper, now this.” Toker sat back with his hands in his pockets.
“That’s three, and I’d be about twelve years old for one of them.”
“Granted Redwall’s death was too early for you, but Lenny Harper in Germany. There wasn’t much left of him either.”
“That’s not what I heard.”
“You were the last person to see Harper alive according to the police in Germany. You show up at a motel near Obergrau and a few days later you’re on the ferry home and Lenny Harper’s dead in his back garden. You don’t have an alibi for last Monday.”
“Ask the other members of the band. I was with them.”
“And where will I find them?”
“I don’t know. They don’t tell me everything. It’s a bit frustrating at times.”
“I know the feeling.” Toker sat forward again and took a pen out of his inside pocket. “They weren’t at your flat.”
“I went back to organise some things. I’m moving out to Europe with them and needed to arrange the shipment of some stuff, storage of some other things. . . .”
“What were they doing in London?”
“There were legal issues over publishing rights, mechanical rights and they came to collect the master tapes of their albums. They were based in England before they moved to Europe. If they’re gonna make a comeback they need all the legalities to be in place and they need to get the master tapes before someone else gets them.”
Toker was satisfied with the answers, but he wasn’t going to go soft just yet. He chewed the end of his pen as he listened to Wallet speak. “If you are innocent why don’t they walk into the station and verify your whereabouts for last Monday?”
“That’s not how they work. They won’t just turn up like that.”
Wallet looked Toker right in the eye. “Because they’re vampires.”
Outside the interview room, seeking comfort in a cig, DI Toker found himself surprised by his reaction to Wallet’s menacing expression. He was over-familiar with the audacity and cockiness of some of the people he’d met in that room, seasoned criminals, legal experts, others knowing that a deal would soon be on the table, but Wallet? Wallet was a muso, a hack, where was his self-confidence coming from? Toker needed two cigarettes before he was ready to go back in, but only after commandeering DI Evan Silvers for some post-nicotine support.
“Oh, this isn’t good cop bad cop, is it?” said Wallet.
“No,” said Toker. “This is DI Evan Silvers. I want him here as a witness when you start answering my questions.”
“Why no tape recorder?”
“You don’t need one.”
“Because you’re not like other people.” Toker couldn’t stop adjusting his coat, crossing his legs, rubbing his nicotine stained fingers. “Don’t believe everything you see on those daytime tv programmes.”
“Okay. Okay, Susan did it.”
“Susan did it all.”
“Susan who?” said Toker.
“Bekker. Susan Bekker.”
DI Toker studied Wallet’s body language; he didn’t seem that uncomfortable on the chair, slouching at a casual angle towards his questioners. “Go on.”
“Well,” said Wallet, “based on what she told me it went something like this.”
Obergrau was smothered by one of its regular cloud invasions. When the mist was blown in by a strong wind the village would appear and disappear, but the locals had become accustomed to losing their orientation and relied on instinct to get about. Then the mist would lift and the world around them would re-emerge, familiar and reassuring, with everything exactly where it was before it had vanished.
Lenny Harper looked through the window of his small kitchen, but the view was only as far as the thickness of the glass. He could just see his own pale hazy reflection like a watermark. His drawn, tired eyes stared back at him with equal weariness and his mouth drooped, pulled down by the aged excess of flesh draped over his jaws.
But he was not alone.
Susan Bekker announced herself. She had travelled under the cover of the cloud, so thick and dense it was blocking out direct sunlight. Lenny was astonished to meet her so early in the day.
“I couldn’t sleep,” she said.
“Can I do anything for you?” Lenny was worried.
“No. And that’s the reason I’m here,” said Susan. “You look tired, Lenny. You look like you’re past it.”
“I have to admit life in these mountains doesn’t get any easier.” He sat down at his kitchen table and swirled around the dregs of his coffee cup. “Maybe I’ll survive one more summer, but next winter is going to be a hard one.”
“Are you expecting sympathy?”
“No. I’ve come to expect anything but. Are you ever going to let me leave here?”
“Oh, someday. In one form or another. Don’t forget the reason you’re here.” Susan joined him at the table. “Truth is, Lenny, I’m as bored as you are living up on this mountain and now this opportunity has come our way.”
Lenny knew what she was referring to. “Have you turned him?”
“Yeah. He seems to have reacted to it okay. Suppose he had a bit of time to think about it. He wouldn’t have come otherwise.”
“And he knows the deal? He knows what he’s letting himself in for?”
“Maybe.” Susan thought a moment. She picked up the sugar bowl, dipped her little finger in it and sucked off the sugar coating. “But it’s not really my concern what he knows or thinks he’s knows. But we can say your days are done here. We don’t need you any more, Lenny.”
Lenny put his head in his hands. “Is this going to hurt?”
“Twenty years ago definitely, ten years ago maybe, but, I don’t know. I don’t think I have the energy any more to make you suffer for what you did.”
With enormous effort Lenny lifted himself off the chair. “Give me a moment.” He left Susan alone with the sugar bowl. She examined the spartan little kitchen with its wall clock, stopped at six forty, the surface of the cooker stained with baked gravy and food remnants, an upturned mug on the sink, half finished loaf of bread, and what was once a rectangular block of butter was now reduced to a greasy smear of yellow slime on a small saucer. An attempt had been made to decorate, but the painting had been abandoned half way along the wall where the extractor fan had proved too much of an obstacle to persevere. Was death preferable to this? Was Lenny Harper any more alive in this kitchen than he would be in a grave where he would be unaware of the limits of his existence? Everyday he would come downstairs to this mess, this confinement, with its view of the birch trees when the mist allowed and another tasteless meal, another cup of over-sweet coffee.
Shuffling footsteps gave Lenny away as he appeared with a long samurai sword. “I bought this in Munich eight years ago,” he said almost proudly. “It isn’t genuine Samurai, but I’ve always kept it sharp in case I ever needed it.”
“For a day like this.” Lenny looked at the blade, running his right thumb ever so gently along its edge. Susan took another fingertip of sugar from the bowl. “If you swing it correctly I shouldn’t feel a thing.” Lenny knelt down as he spoke.
“There isn’t room in here to swing a cat, Lenny, let alone a three foot long Samurai sword. Come outside.”
Lenny handed the sword to Susan and unlocked the back door. Outside he moved far enough away from the house and knelt down again. The ground was cold against his knees and the cool floating mist stung his face. Susan was barely visible in front of him.
“Hold you head up,” she said. Lenny looked to the sky with eyes closed.
“Consider this a favour, Lenny. Your first and your last.” And Susan swung the blade.
“So don’t give me any bullshit about Lenny Harper being a mess, unless the wolves got him,” said Wallet as DI Silvers studied a photo of Lenny’s headless body lying face down in a light layer of snow at the back of his small mountain home.
“And can you testify in court that Susan Bekker killed him?”
“Course not, no. So we’ve just got the murder of Mike Gannon for now. That’s still good enough to put you away.”
“You can’t put me at the scene any more than you can put DI Silvers there. The CPS don’t prosecute on a hunch. They don’t watch daytime tv programmes either”
DI Silvers tried to compose himself with a swift flattening of his jacket before asking: “Why did Susan Bekker kill Lenny Harper?”
“She’d finished with him. They all had. I’d come along and they had someone younger to feed on, someone who could get them back into the music business and Susan Bekker was ready to make a comeback. She was crawling the walls up there on that mountainside.”
“Hang on, hang on. You’re talking about this like it’s all perfectly normal,” said Toker.
“What do you mean, feed on?” asked Silvers disgusted.
“The four of them,” said Toker, “used Harper to bring them blood, now they use Mr Wallet here. Is that a fair summary?”
“Fuck off! You’re not vampires. Just stop the act now, Mr Wallet. I don’t know what the fuck you are, but you’re not fucking vampires.” Toker stood up, his chair went flying. “I’m going for a smoke.”
“Bad for you,” said Wallet. “You feel safe in here on your own with me, DI Silvers?”
The two men remained in the room for several minutes, separated by an awkward silence. Both of them were alerted by a commotion in the corridor before DI Toker came back in a state of anger and disbelief.
“Get lost Wallet,” he said gathering up all the crime scene photos.
“DI Silvers was looking at them,” said Wallet.
“Well he can have a look at some new ones.”
“What’s wrong?” said Silvers.
“There’s been four more. Last ten minutes right across London.”
Silvers watched nervously as Toker rolled up the photographs. Rob Wallet stood up and stretched. “Don’t leave the country,” Silvers said as Wallet stepped past him.
“Or you’ll do what?”
Wallet quietly collected his belongings from the desk in reception: money, the keys to his flat and a phone. He stepped outside and said hello to the constellations visible through the gaps in the dark settled clouds. Draco was visible, as always, watching and waiting. Up there, somewhere, the others were travelling this way and that, unseen and with barely a whisper. He wasn’t sure yet how they did it and he hadn’t been let in on the secret. He wasn’t trusted with the power. They could move as they wished through the infinite vacuum, but Wallet, well, he still had to travel by taxi.