Wednesday, 12 November 2014
A Love That Could Hurt No One (Part One)
The Sunday morning shift was generally an easy one in Wakefield police station and for PC Ian Walker, the 6th October 1974 promised to be no different. One of the things he liked about police work was the variety. You got to see a fair bit of life, and the occasional death. But early on a Sunday there were no schools, no commuters, no over-the-limit boozers chancing their luck coming back from the pubs. Even the number of Sunday drivers was down. With petrol approaching fifty pence per gallon, driving was getting too expensive just for the pleasure of pottering around country lanes.
Walker had been with the West Yorkshire Constabulary for nearly nine years, first as a bobby on the beat and the last four years in a squad car as part of the traffic division. He was no high-flyer, but a good copper – polite, level headed, and an excellent driver. He was a married man, proud of his boisterous five-year-old boy and quietly delighted that his wife Maureen was pregnant again. They both wanted a daughter this time.
Walker arrived at his desk a few minutes early for the patrol. There was enough time for a brew with some of the lads, and a gossip about the news of the morning, the IRA pub bombs in Guildford the night before. It was the height of the Troubles and some very violent language echoed around the station as the stories spread about the carnage in the Horse and Groom and The Seven Stars. As coppers, they grieved not only for the dead, but also in sympathy for the Surrey Constabulary, whose lives would have been thrown into sudden chaos this morning. The Yorkshire boys knew how it felt. In February that year, on the M62 south of Leeds, a massive IRA bomb had exploded just before midnight on a coach carrying off duty British servicemen and their families. Eleven people had died in the blast, fifty were injured, many of them women and young children. The force of the explosion, compressed by the metal body of the coach, had flung tiny fingers and ears over hundreds of yards. Walker knew officers who had had to pick up the pieces of an entire family, including a two year old boy and his brother, a five-year old, like his own lad. They were big men, those officers, but they had wept that night. And it wasn’t just the aggravation of the criminal investigation, Special Branch, all that, but with the general election only days away, the TV and the politicians were sure to be all over it. So the Wakefield coppers shook their heads, blew cigarette smoke through their teeth with a hiss, cursed all Irishmen to hell and thanked God it hadn’t happened on their patch.
Walker felt low. What a time to be bringing up kids. As he stood, the phone rang. Briefly, he wondered if it might be Maureen after all.
“Morning Walker. You ready? You’re going to like this one.”
“We’ve had a report of a man running through the main street of Ossett. Five minutes ago. Apparently he’s naked. And he’s covered in paint. Not bad for Sunday breakfast, is it?”
Walker laughed, breaking his mood. “Must have been a long night, sir.”
“Aye. Well, turn out and have a look will you? It’s probably a student, or some pissed idiot. But still…”
“On our way, sir.”
PC Walker put down the phone and called out to his partner, who was studying the racing form in the Sunday Mirror over a cigarette and a cup of tea.
”John! Come on. This should be funny.”
“Looks like we’ve got a streaker!” Walker said, with delight.
Perhaps it was a delayed effect of the sexual revolution, but that year everyone seemed to be taking off their clothes. “Streaking” was the catch-word of 1974. During the England versus France rugby match that April, several policemen had escorted a naked, long-haired young supporter from the pitch, and in what was to become the iconic streaking image, one of them had used his custodian helmet to cover the offence and preserve English ladies' decency. There was even a song in the charts, The Streak, by Ray Stevens.
If the Yorkshire coppers were hoping for a streaker of their own, they doubted that many people would be around to see anything embarrassing on a Sunday morning in Ossett. The town lies about five miles from Wakefield, just on the far side of the M1 motorway. It was a quiet place then. As PC Walker later said, “the town is hardly noted for bizarre occurrences.” Ever since the rail station had closed in 1970 there wasn’t much reason for anyone except locals to go to, or even through the place.
Walker always drove fast, and in the powerful police Range Rover, driving on deserted ‘B’ roads, the journey took only a few moments. Walker changed down a gear as they came into town. At first they saw nothing. Everything seemed quiet.
Walker caught a movement and glimpsed a figure lying by the side of a pub. “Over there. That’s him!”
It looked like a drunk. Walker pulled the car over. On the footpath, face down and curled up was an adult male, naked apart from, pathetically, his socks. A blanket lay beside him. True to the report, his body was smeared in something like paint - a brown substance that covered him from his hair and face, right down to his pale, dirty legs.
The policemen got out of the car.
“No streaker then,” said Walker, uneasily, to his younger partner.
“Jesus. Ian. That’s not paint. That’s blood.”
Walker’s heart kicked up a notch. He had seen plenty of unpleasant stuff on traffic duty - road accidents, assaults, autopsies. But there was something strange about this. He crouched down on the footpath.
“Morning sir”, Walker said, professionally. “Are you…?”
He reached down to shake the man’s shoulder. The face was slicked with mucus and congealed blood. Yet his breathing seemed steady and there was no apparent wound on the body. Suddenly, the eyes opened. PC Walker never forgot the suffering in that stare, the contrast of the eyeballs bulging white and veined against the dark mask. The man shook uncontrollably. He clutched the policeman’s cuff. In the distance they could hear a siren approaching.
“Ambulance.” He heard John choke, somewhere behind him.
“Talk to me sir. Who are you? What’s your name?” Walker asked him.
Slowly, the man looked down at his own bloodied body. His eyes and cheeks trembled spastically.
“Talk to me. Are you hurt? Are you cut?” Walker demanded.
“Last night…” The man croaked, clutching tighter to the police uniform, drawing his head closer. Walker knelt on the pavement and let him cling on for a few seconds. There was no smell of booze - for a moment the policeman wondered if it was drugs. But it didn’t feel right. With a practiced eye he estimated the man’s age as perhaps thirty. His hair was tufted and matted with dried blood but it was cut sensibly short and although unshaven, his face was beardless. The only clothing, his socks, were dark and darned. It didn’t look like a hippy student from the Leeds campus, shedding his clothes after one too many acid tabs.
“Uh… uh…” There was a rattling breath and Walker saw the man was weeping. The policeman felt drawn to him, beyond professional duty. Behind them, he heard the ambulance pull over with a light squeal of brakes and John shouting at the paramedics. It all seemed very far away. There was just the two of them. Walker knelt closer still, until their heads were nearly touching, as if he was receiving confession.
“Yes? Last night.”
“They… primed me for it last night.” The policeman could now feel his breath, smell the sticky iron of the drying gore. And something else, some trace of candle, or perfume.
“Who? What have you done?” Walker urged him. “I don’t understand.”
“They tried to bring me peace of mind.” The shaking stopped and the man’s mouth flopped open, like a stroke victim. “But instead… they…”
“Yes?” The eyes were a deep well of pain.
“They filled me with the Devil.”
The policeman felt a chill radiate from the base of his throat. Until now he had thought that the man must have injured himself drunkenly, or perhaps been beaten in a pub fight. In any case, he had presumed that the blood that covered the naked man’s body was his own. Suddenly he wasn’t so sure.
“Who? Who?” Walker asked again. “What did they do?”
The man began to gibber and spasm once more. “It was within her. Oh God, it used her, it used my love. I destroyed the evil within her. It had to be done. Oh Hell, I loved that woman. No, no. Please God, no. Please God.”
This was bad, Walker thought. He gripped the man’s wrist hard and gazed right into his eyes. “Did you hurt someone sir? Tell me what happened. Whose blood is this?”
The man looked down at himself one last time, and in a strange, cracked voice he said,
“It is the blood of Satan”.
Walker started back, dropping his hold. Suddenly he was certain that a murder had been committed. He was neither a superstitious nor religious man, but there was a conviction behind the man’s words: he was speaking the truth. The acid taste of adrenaline flooded into the policeman’s mouth as he fumbled for a radio. The man lay on the pavement, moaning and chanting. Over and over, the same thing.
“IT IS THE BLOOD OF SATAN. IT IS THE BLOOD OF SATAN. IT IS THE BLOOD OF SATAN.”
The paramedics from the ambulance were now on crouching the ground next to them. Walker stood up, stepping back to allow them space to operate. The man was convulsed again. He opened his mouth as if to scream. Walker didn’t want to hear that scream. He thought it might stay with him forever.
Tomorrow: Part Two