Sensible

There wasn’t much to say about 34 Faircroft Road. 3 bedrooms, 2 bathrooms. Sold for £245,000 in 2003. That’s all the estate agents would tell you anyway, between staggered smiles and a polite wave of the clipboard to the next room. It hadn’t sold since, though. “They should just pull the whole thing down,” one woman muttered as she staggered back to the car, her hands tight on her stomach. Her husband had said nothing, although he drove home faster than usual that night.

34 Faircroft Road had been heavily redeveloped by the council in 2011, after it had happened, of course. They had called in experts to package everything up, and burn anything that could become some sick kind of souvenir. His desk, his top hat, his dark room boxes. Tourists had begun picking up gravel and bits of plaster from the drive, selling them on eBay under increasingly dark titles as the details emerged. Things like this just didn’t happen in Northbourne. It was too bourgeois, the papers noted, too respectable to be influenced by the sadistic hedonism or brutality of other classes. Perhaps that’s why it stuck in people’s minds for so long, when similar incidents had happened up and down the country for decades. The council had thought it would go away as the press moved onto the next lurid scandal, and with enough investment into retiling and painting the place it would lose it’s status as a salacious pilgrimage. Of course, the basement had been filled in with concrete.

“Is it true,” John Baker had asked after a council meeting not long after, “That there are still bodies down there, frozen up inside the concrete?” Tiffany shrugged, passing round another plate of biscuits. This kind of dark fascination failed to rouse much in her after long afternoons at press conferences. There was a cold, thudding nothingness to it all, now. Another tired conversation about another tired problem. John, who fancied himself somewhat of a criminal safety expert for managing CCTV over the quiet small-town streets, had rarely shut up about the case since it happened. After all, he was the one who had spotted the third girl to go missing on camera AW018.

“Probably not. They tested the walls to see if anything had been sealed in. And dug a good six foot down to check.” This was half true. They had conducted an excavation of the basement, after it had happened. They had wanted to do more than what the seven days on site allowed, but there were concerns over attention to the neighbourhood and how it could impact local faith in the police. After all, things like that just didn’t happen in Northbourne.

“I heard he killed eight women down there, and two more when he got to Ashford,” John continued, flicking crumbs from his shirt. “Not just the four. There was this cranium section they couldn’t identify, and the dissolved teeth and bra fastening-“

“Yes, thanks John,” Tiffany muttered. “Let’s have some respect for the dead.”

They were real women, if that was at all relevant to public fascination. Anyuta Liepa, 24, Magda Bosko, 21, Merka Nazwisko, 26, and an unknown female of eastern European origin, late teens. But they weren’t given their own lives, not now. They were The Polish Women. The Bodies In The Dark Room. The Victims of Harold Mustoe. All they could have become, all they were and had been, eradicated in a matter of seconds. He had become eternal, though, given the status of an antihero demigod in his cunning and sadism. Some depraved Loki lurking in the dark of girlish nightmares. The photographs that illustrated the women in their final moments of trust for a stranger became media ridicule, each column more pejorative than the last. The documentaries about their deaths were all about him of course, not the girls. One of the mothers had protested at the time; her daughter was Latvian, not Polish, and was a nail artist, not a stripper. But the narrative of the fallen foreigner stuck, cloying to the old tropes and stereotypes that belonged in every media scandal; the whore, the virgin, the deal with the devil.

“You know what I really don’t like,” Tiffany said suddenly, “They were sort of blamed for going down there. Like it was vain of them or something. Foolish to trust him to do his job.” John snorted, looking up at her with surprise.

“I didn’t have you down for a feminist, Tiff.”

“I mean, a man tells you, as a pretty young woman, that he’s a top photographer and wants to do your portfolio for free. You think at worst he’s going to ask you to pose nude, don’t you? Not- not do that.”

John guffawed. “You’d have to be bloody stupid to go to a stranger’s house for any reason at all, sweetheart. It’s the first thing you girls are taught, isn’t it love? Stranger danger? If he wants to take your pictures, he can do them in public. Or at a formal studio. Common sense, pet.” Tiffany said nothing, resuming her usual defensive silence. The other counsellors were pulling on their coats, bidding disinterested farewells and heading out into the November rain. One by one, they sped off on slurred neon lines into the dark, winding up into the suburbs where things like this just didn’t happen. Tiffany shivered.

“Who’s driving you, love?” John said to her, pulling up his hood. “Bit wet to be out waiting for the 349, don’t you think?” Tiffany looked down the road, the rain fading into a cold haze. “I’ll drive you. Banton Street or thereabouts, yes?”

Tiffany looked at him, hesitant. He laughed, loudly. “I’ve spooked you, right? Don’t worry. Look.” He pointed up at the security cameras. “I’d be mad to try anything on you tonight. We’re both on camera, you daft lass. You’re safe with me.”

Tiffany nodded, feeling foolish. She stumbled through the wet gravel to his car, pulling the passenger door open and collapsing inside. John clambered in next to her. The aroma of air freshener was overwhelming, covering something sickeningly sweet. He reversed, down the road. Tiffany forced herself to relax. It was only four minutes, five, tops. Besides, John wasn’t a threat to her.

“You aren’t like them other girls, Tiff,” John said, in what he probably thought was a kind tone.

“What? Because I’m not a glamour model?” she scoffed.

“You’re not even on camera,” John said casually, as they sped down the high street.

“What?” Tiffany asked.

He grinned into the mirror, flicking the child-lock on with a triumphant flick. “The CCTV. It’s been broken for a week.”

Anthropologist with an awful lot to say about everything. Opinions entirely my own. Usually. madelaine@madelainehanson.co.uk

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