Deadly Retribution: A Detective Tom Blake short story
Ex-boxer Albert Townsend led a pretty solitary existence. He'd been alone ever since his wife died of a heart attack in 1991. Some thieving teenager barged her over onto the concrete walkway outside their council flat on the Heath Hayes estate and robbed her purse containing her pension money. The authorities never caught the heartless kid who, if he was still breathing, would now be in his mid-forties.
One Friday afternoon, whilst sat on the toilet in the working men's club on the estate, Albert overheard two scrotes discussing their past criminality.
‘Never forget this old bitch I did with a pillow. Her veiny legs flapping about on the duvet made me wanna puke. I mean, how stupid can you get? Stuffing three grand in a shoe box under the bed: couldn't believe my luck. Emptied a pile of old army photos onto the carpet and there it was staring at me like frigging treasure. Her old man would be turning in his grave, stupid old bag deserved it,’ the first man boasted callously.
‘Doddering old bluebloods: money’s no good to ’em, they never go out! I bet you had some fun with that wedge?’
‘Too right, lasted about two weeks. Spunked the lot on gear, women and a few days in Blackpool with some of the lads from down the social – top gig that was. We didn’t sleep for three days! Couldn’t even afford tickets back home, had to jump the train,’ he laughed.
‘Pisser. My first was an old bag as well. I was a kid. ’91, I think it was.’
‘Shit, you started early?’
‘Got to, an’t ya? Wunna catch me working in some shit factory like a robot. Bowled her over on one of the walkways on Wade Court and took her purse. Put the old bag out of her misery, she could hardly walk anyway,’ the other man said rubbing the back of his leg.
‘That still hurting?’
‘Killing me, friggin’ dog.’
Tears welled in Albert’s eyes. Anger rising like a demon, he gritted his teeth, struggling to comprehend what he had just heard. The man spoke of his beloved Hilda as if she was an irrelevant piece of rubbish; it broke his heart to hear.
The seventy-nine-year-old knew he’d be no match for this vile pair: his arthritic knee slowed him down these days. But there was nothing wrong with his fists and he still packed a decent punch, he thought, waiting until the gents’ door shut before flushing. He washed his hands and the tears from his face, then shuffled back into the bar. The pair were prancing around the pool table like they owned the place.
Shaken to the core, he sat back down at the table in the corner, took a nerve-calming gulp of his brown ale and observed these men. This generation of criminals had no respect. There was no honour among thieves anymore, not like back in the sixties when he worked the doors for notorious club owners, the Wilder brothers.
Back in his day, people treated their elders with respect and even criminals never robbed off the working class, only banks, wage vans and bookies; they could bloody afford to lose money. Now it was all drugs, knives and stamping on people's heads. Scum like that needed putting down with a lethal injection.
If only he was thirty years younger, he’d have given them a beating they’d never forget, no messing. He finished his pint and was about to get another when he saw them slip their coats on and make their way to the exit. He waited until they were outside before following them. Eyeballing them at a safe distance, he noticed one had a swastika tattooed behind his ear; the one who was limping a little.
Detective Inspector Tom Blake and Detective Sergeant Jon Murphy sat on the sofa at Flat 38 Wade Court on the Heath Hayes estate, sipping tea from Spode fine china cups. Mrs Wakefield’s flat had been broken into twenty-four hours ago, and normally this would have been a job for a couple of plods, but because she'd actually confronted the intruders and they’d tried to assault her before fleeing with nasty dog bites, Blake thought it was wise to follow up. Her trusty Staffordshire Bull Terrier had taken a chunk out of one of the scrotes’ legs and she’d had the presence of mind to leave the blood on the hallway carpet. Forensics had identified it as belonging to Kane Dwyer: a nasty piece of work who’d been inside several times since he was a teenager. His speciality was burgling vulnerable pensioners, mainly widows, but thankfully on this occasion the pariah had got his comeuppance. Over the years, they’d arrested him a few times so Blake was keen to get him banged up before he ruined any more lives. Unfortunately, Dwyer’s council house on the neighbouring estate appeared to have been empty for days and, so far, there had been no sightings of him on the Heath Hayes. People tended to clam up when the police came calling.
‘This is the second time since my Wilf passed away. I'm not bloody scared of them. We lived through Hitler’s reign of terror. My mother used to tell me stories about the war, although I was only two years old when it finished in ’45,’ she said lifting the tea cosy and pouring another cup for herself from the teapot.
‘We know who one of the men is: Kane Dwyer. There's a warrant out for his arrest, so it’s only a matter of time before he's caught. But, as yet, we have no leads on the other man. I'm sure Dwyer will squeal when we get hold of him, he usually does,’ Blake said, glancing at DS Murphy.
‘If they come near the flat again, I’ll run the pair through with Wilf’s old bayonet. He did National Service in Malaya during the rubber plantation crisis in 1956, you know.’
‘Please tell me you haven't got an army-issue bayonet on the premises, Mrs Wakefield?’
‘I’m on my own, gotta protect myself. I don’t mean to be rude, Inspector, but it’s taken you lot a while to follow up after that nice lady PC and forensics man came and took all those samples. Thank god for my Bessy,’ she glanced at the portly brown dog sat by the gas fire staring intently at them.
DS Murphy couldn't help but smirk. ‘We understand you must have been very frightened, but you shouldn't try and tackle burglars, especially with a big knife. Those things are like swords. Don't worry, you’re not in any trouble, but I'm sorry to say we’ll be taking it off you before we leave. Isn't that right, Inspector Blake?’
‘’Fraid so, Mrs Wakefield. We can't have people taking the law into their own hands. Sadly, it's a very different world we live in these days; we’re governed by a set of laws that don't always seem fair, but that’s just the way it is.’
She eased out of the chair and padded over to a door behind the sofa. Opening it, she leaned inside the airing cupboard and pulled out a wooden broom handle with a menacing twenty-inch bayonet carpet-taped tightly on the end like a mediaeval spear.
Blake's eyebrows rose as he looked at Murphy in disbelief at the highly polished weapon.
‘Wilf said he only used it once, on a terrorist who tried to get inside the billet while they were all sleeping.’
‘You mean that thing actually killed somebody?’
‘No! He just stuck him in the arm, like pricking a sausage. That’s what he said.’
‘Ah, I see.’
‘Did any of your neighbours see these men leaving your property?’ Blake asked.
‘I've spoken to Sheila next door, but she was down the bingo when it happened. And the man who lives the other side, I don't really know him. He works shifts; nights, I think.’
‘Do you know anyone else on this landing?’ Blake asked her.
‘One or two have died and younger people have moved in. The odd one smiles at you, but they don't really speak. Oh, almost forgot, there's old Albert on the landing below. He might have seen something: doesn't sleep too well, his knee gives him jip.’
‘What number is Albert’s, Mrs Wakefield?’
‘OK, you've been very helpful, and I have to say extremely brave. But promise us you’ll call the police immediately if you see either of these intruders again, and under no circumstances try to confront them?’ Blake said, standing.
‘I'll do my best.’
‘Would you like us to check all your windows and doors are secure before we leave?’
‘Already done it. I've nailed the kitchen window down.’
‘Not too sure that's a good idea. What if there's a fire?’ Blake asked her.
‘I can get through the front door.’
He knew it would be pointless arguing. She’d already been through enough trauma: the last thing he wanted to do was upset her. ‘Thank you, Mrs Wakefield, we’ll see ourselves out.’
‘No, I’ll come to the door with you. That way I can make sure everything is locked up.’
Walking down the concrete steps to the floor below, DS Murphy said, ‘What a bloody marvellous old lady she was. People half her age would be scared shitless after that ordeal. Dwyer and his oppo deserve a kicking.’
‘You're not kidding. Dwyer just about sums up the criminal fraternity these days. No brains, no morals and absolutely zero respect. Anyway, we better get this spear in the boot before somebody offers a tenner for it,’ he smirked.
‘I couldn't believe my eyes when she pulled it out of the airing cupboard, but good on her. She's a survivor,’ Murphy said.
‘I’ll wait here for you,’ Blake said, stopping outside Flat 82.
‘OK, boss, back in a minute.’
Albert Townsend’s damp-stained kitchen curtains were drawn. A handful of dead flies lay gathering dust in the windowsill. Blake lightly wrapped on his door. After a couple of minutes, the pensioner opened it and popped his head through the gap.
‘DI Blake and DS Murphy from Staffordshire Police. May we have a word regarding a burglary at Mrs Wakefield's in Flat 38 upstairs?’
‘Burglary, you’re joking?’
‘Afraid not, happened last night around 9.30 p.m. Did you see anything?’
‘No, I was watching TV in the other room. God, they’re such bastards these days, robbing an old lady. Hope the pair of ’em burn in hell. This estate has gone downhill over the years; too many scrotes and jobless little bastards milking the state.’
‘Mr Townsend, I didn’t say how many intruders there were. Can we come in and have a chat?’
His little flat mirrored Mrs Wakefield's in size and layout, but that’s where the similarities ended. Unlike hers, Townsend’s was grotty with 1960s G Plan furniture that had seen better days. There was an unpleasant odour in the living room, a mixture of damp and pee.
‘What’s in the tank, Mr Townsend?’ Blake asked him, looking curiously at a large fish tank with nothing in it except fine gravel and a twisted log spanning the width of the glass. He suspected it was the source of the smell.
‘That's my snakes, Lottie and Selma. Never give me any mither as long as they got plenty to eat.’
‘What type are they?’
‘Oh, just common garden grass snakes. Pair of ’em are harmless; soft as anything.’
‘What do you feed them with?’ Murphy asked.
‘Their favourite is mouse, but recently they’ve taken a liking to sparrow,’ Townsend said nonchalantly as if he was talking about a bag of crisps or some other normal food.
‘Going back to Mrs Wakefield’s break-in; you didn't see anything but suggested there were two intruders. I'm curious why you suspect that?’
‘Just a figure of speech,’ he said, avoiding eye contact. ‘You read about it all the time in the Evening Sentinel; bloody druggies breaking into people's houses and nicking stuff. They want their hands cutting off. Us pensioners haven't got anything worth nicking, especially on this estate. Is Mrs Wakefield OK?’
‘Surprisingly, yes: more angry than anything else. She seems a very tough lady. Most people would be seriously shaken by that kind of ordeal,’ Blake said.
‘Yes, Nancy’s lovely, but I wouldn’t cross her. Some lads on the estate were door knocking and running off, until she threw a bowl of red-hot dishwater over them. Bloody soaked, they were. They didn't bother her again. If her Wilf was still around, they wouldn’t be doing it. He was a tough ’un. I once saw him lay three blokes out who were mouthing off down the working men’s.’
Blake nodded in agreement. ‘Have you noticed anyone hanging around the flats in the last few days?’
‘Kids and jobless dossers are always hanging about on this estate. I’d make ’em do National Service. A bloody sergeant shouting at ’em all day would sort the lazy sods out.’
‘We understand your frustration, Mr Townsend,’ Murphy said.
Blake’s mobile rang. ‘Excuse me, I have to take this,’ he said, making his way through the living room into the kitchen and back out onto the walkway for some privacy.
‘Boss, where are you?’ PC Emerson asked.
‘Heath Hayes estate, following up on this burglary. What’s up?’
‘Good timing. Paramedics called in two suspicious deaths on the Heath Hayes about forty minutes ago. CSIs are there now.’
‘Really? Got an address?’
‘I know where it is. We’re at the Wade Court flats. OK, thanks Casey,’ he said, ending the call.
He made his way back through the kitchen and popped his head round the living room door. ‘Sorry Mr Townsend, we’ll have to leave it for now, there’s been a serious incident on the estate.’
Murphy shot him a surprised look.
Fifteen minutes later, the two detectives ducked under the police tape cordoning off 231 Burnwood Road. A CSI passed them bunny suits and shoe covers from his van. They quickly slipped on the protective clothing and entered the neglected-looking council house.
‘What have we got then?’ Blake addressed a paramedic who was placing medical equipment back in his bag in the narrow hallway.
‘Two males, both look in their early forties. Bit of a strange one. Initially, I suspected they’d died from a heroin overdose, judging by the paraphernalia on the coffee table in there.’ He pointed to the living room door. ‘But both have bloodshot eyes, so I’ve called the pathologist. Unfortunately, he’s tied up at the minute, so we’ll leave you to it until he arrives.’
Blake shook his head as he and DS Murphy stood staring at the two dead men. One sat on the sofa with his head slumped to the side, his complexion cold as ice, lips a blueish hue. Opposite, sitting in a ripped floral-patterned armchair, Kane Dwyer was slumped on his side, his bloodshot eyes glaring at the empty syringe lying on the cheap laminate flooring. Ripped tin foil, a blackened teaspoon and a lighter sat on the coffee table next to a food bag an inch deep in heroin.
‘How long have they been gone?’ Blake asked the female CSI processing the room.
‘Can’t be exact, but rigor mortis has progressed right through their bodies. Full rigor takes around twelve hours, and we were here about an hour after it was called in,’ she said, peeling back the sleeve of her bunny suit and glancing at her watch. ‘So, I’d say between eight and ten last night.’
‘OK, thank you; is the cadaver van booked?’
She nodded. ‘Due sometime after the pathologist’s been.’
She slid the heroin into an evidence bag. ‘I’ll get this straight to the lab for toxicology and let you know the outcome. Don’t know if this is relevant, but the back door was unlocked. Then again, druggies off their heads, probably the last thing on their mind. Anyway, I’ve dusted it for prints as a precaution,’ she said.
‘You’re probably right: that pair would’ve been too wasted to notice. Is there evidence of anyone else being in the house?’
‘Just these two, so far. Strange how all the lights were off. They must have shot up before dark?’ she said.
‘That or Dwyer’s mate there flicked that lamp off as they were drifting into the abyss,’ Blake said, pointing to a lava lamp on a side table next to where the unidentified man’s body sat.
The CSI touched the copper-effect rocket-shaped lamp. ‘Cold.’ She flicked the inline switch.
They watched the paraffin wax begin to bubble and rise in the red-coloured water.
‘Good spot, Inspector. It’s still turned on at the wall.’
Two days later, Blake received a call from pathologist Felix Wimberley Smithson.
‘The paramedics were right to question an overdose as the cause of death. Toxicology revealed a minimal amount of heroin, certainly not a high enough dose to kill either of them. In the absence of discernible wounds or marks, it’s standard procedure to check the deceased’s eyes. Both men died from suffocation, facial smothering most likely. Unless they’d been engaged in a kiss prior to death, I can’t explain why there were traces of Kane Dwyer’s saliva around the other man’s mouth.’
‘Shit, what’s gone on there, then? Dwyer didn’t seem the type for a gay suicide pact. There’s nothing in his prison records to suggest he was into men, or even bisexual. Apart from his deceased mate, Martin Ryley, the forensics haven’t identified a third party at the crime scene. They might have shared a joint: maybe saliva transferral occurred that way,’ Blake said perplexed.
‘On the lips, yes, but this was on the tip of Ryley’s nose and chin.’
‘Hmm, that’s odd.’
‘Was there any evidence of pets in the property?’ the pathologist asked.
‘Not that I know of, why?’
‘Well, there were tiny traces of foreign hairs in both their mouths and nasal passages. I sent those off to the lab and they’ve come back as a clear match for rodent hairs.’
‘As in gerbil or rat?’ Blake said puzzled.
‘Mouse, the lab reckons.’
‘How the hell would those get in their mouths?’
‘That’s your department, Tom,’ Smithson chuckled down the line.
Over on the Heath Hayes estate, Albert Townsend closed the door of the bedroom he’d once shared with his beloved wife; now empty and cold like the last years of his life. He couldn’t bear to sleep in there since she’d passed. He moved gingerly over the floral carpet, back into the living room. His knee ached and burned. Bending stiffly, he picked up a clear plastic bag from the carpet next to his reptile tank.
Four piercing yellow eyes glared back at him from under the shadow of the dried log inside the tank. He gently tapped on the glass. The two grass snakes stirred and hissed as the old man leaned over the top and emptied two dead mice from the carrier bag into the tank.
He watched as the snakes frenziedly attacked their lifeless prey, their instincts still sharp.
‘If I was going to kill that evil pair, I would use a bag like this. Turn the lights off, stick it over their heads and cut off their air supply whilst they were smashed on drugs. That’d put ’em to sleep for good,’ he said to his girls. He screwed up the carrier ready to take it out; the bin-men were due before dinner.
He went into the kitchen and opened a can of vegetable soup on the worktop.
‘Last time those bastards would ruin anyone else’s life,’ he muttered, as he emptied the soup into a bowl.
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