A Mersey Killing
Chapter 1 - Opening Bars
The Cavern Club in the spring of 1961 was, to use the idiom of the day, 'really rocking'. A raucous crowd of teenagers was dancing, screaming and in some cases, eating a typical Cavern lunch of sandwiches, soft drinks, (the club had no liquor licence), or maybe tea or coffee. Rory Storm and the Hurricanes, a popular local group of the day, completed their set and the crowded club, built in a converted, disused warehouse, filled with the sound of the clapping and cheering of happy and almost delirious youth. The drummer of the band, one Ringo Starr, would later rise to worldwide fame as a member of The Beatles, but their days of taking the music world by storm still lay a little way in the future. For now, he grinned at the applause, as did the other members of the group, who reveled in the ovation they received from the appreciative young audience. Like the Beatles, Rory Storm and the Hurricanes would later be signed by the iconic musical entrepreneur, Brian Epstein, without, sadly, achieving the fame of Liverpool's most marketable asset of the sixties, but for now, they were content to be one of the most popular groups on the ever growing local music scene. At the time, 'beat' music and rock 'n roll was only allowed in The Cavern Club during their lunchtime sessions, the club being a 'Skiffle Club' where only a smattering of jazz would be allowed to deviate from the norm. That would all change very soon thanks to the burgeoning sound of the sixties that would emanate from the streets of the great seaport.
Holding both arms out to his sides and lowering his palms in a request for quiet from the gathered throng of teenagers, Rory Storm smiled and spoke in a voice loud enough to be heard over the general hubbub of the club.
“Thanks, everyone. It's great to be appreciated. It's time for us to take a break, but I know you're gonna love the next group who're about to step up here for you. It's their first time here at the Cavern, so let's all give a real big Cavern welcome to Brendan Kane and the Planets!”
The audience cheered and clapped and as the sound rose until it seemed to bounce back from the brick walls of the club, Rory turned to his left and beckoned to the waiting group, positioned off stage, waiting for the moment to make their debut.
“Come on, Brendan, fellas,” Rory shouted and the debutantes virtually ran onto the stage to yet more cheers from the throng of eager youth, always happy to hear and appreciate the latest groups to hit the local music scene. Comprising Brendan himself, the group's lead vocalist and rhythm guitarist, he was followed onto the compact Cavern stage by lead guitarist Mickey Doyle, drummer Phil Oxley and Mickey's younger brother Ronnie on bass. Without preamble the group launched into the first of the two numbers they would perform that day, their own arrangement of Chuck Berry's classic hit, Roll Over Beethoven. Within seconds of them beginning the club was rocking to the sound of the new group on the scene and Brendan Kane's voice, powerful and resonant, had the audience enraptured.
“Wow, that boy can sing!” “Fab” and other superlatives were soon being exchanged by the young listeners whose discerning ears were fast becoming attuned to recognition of those groups or singers who had the right musical sound and most importantly, voices that could make them stand out from the crowd in a rapidly expanding local music scene. As the last strains of the music died away at the end of their performance, the watching audience spontaneously burst into a rousing chorus of applause, whistles, and cheers, and Brendan looked hopefully towards the side of the stage, where the club's resident D.J, knowing a good thing when he saw, (and heard) it, held one finger up, signaling that the group could perform one more song, that being double what they'd expected to play that day.
Brendan quickly mouthed “Coming home” to the group members and Mickey Doyle's fingers began to pick out the opening melody of a song he and Brendan had written together. With a resonating beat and a 'catchy' guitar melody running through the song, any risk the group had taken in performing their own composition rather than one of the standards of the day soon evaporated as the audience foot-tapped and jigged their way through the new song, which the group was performing in public for the first time.
“That was great,” said the club's D.J as the group left the stage to yet more rapturous applause. “You lads have a really good sound. I want you to come back again, and soon.”
“That'll be terrific,” Brendan replied, a beaming smile on his face. “How soon?”
“How're you fixed for next week?”
“Well, we're at The Iron Door on Tuesday.”
“What about Thursday lunchtime?”
Brendan quickly looked questioningly at the other members of the group. He knew they'd have to arrange time off work or simply absent themselves from their jobs if they were to fulfill the engagement, but each one unhesitatingly nodded their agreement.
“Okay, we'll be here,” he replied.
After staying at the club long enough to smoke a couple of cigarettes each and drink a coffee or a Coca-Cola, Brendan and the Planets made their way through the smoke-laden atmosphere and the happy crowd, towards the exit, accompanied by much back slapping and complementary comments from a number of the youngsters who'd obviously enjoyed their performance. Perhaps, thought Brendan as the group loaded their gear into the old Bedford van they regularly borrowed from Phil Oxley's father, we might just have a decent shot of making something of the music business. Phil drove carefully, not wanting to damage his precious drum kit or the others' guitars and equipment and one by one, dropped the group members off at their homes, or, in Brendan's case, outside the bookshop where he worked. Mr. Mason, the shop owner, didn't mind giving Brendan time off to attend his gigs, as, being forward-thinking, he realized that many of the younger crowd who knew Brendan were already visiting his shop regularly and he'd cleverly begun to stock a wide range of products, magazines and American comics that ensured a steady turnover from the new branch of his clientele. Maybe, he thought, I ought to start stocking a few records, just in case.
Mr. Mason cheerfully welcomed Brendan back to work, where the young man soon managed to lose himself in daydreams of future stardom as he went about the rest of his day's work.
Chapter 2 - Liverpool, 1999
Clarissa Drake stood looking down, maybe thirty feet or so, towards the bottom of the old, dried up dock. Turning to the young man beside her, she spoke quietly, as she shivered in the early morning mist that drifted across the landscape from the nearby River Mersey.
“You know, Derek, if I didn't know better, I'd say he looks pleased to see us.”
Before the young man could reply, a deep voice from behind them made them both jump slightly.
“Now then, Izzie, how many times have I told you about that sense of humour of yours?
Turning to face the man behind the voice, Detective Sergeant Clarissa, (Izzie) Drake, found herself staring into the eyes of her boss, Detective Inspector Andy Ross. Detective Constable Derek McLennan stood beside her, trying to make himself look small and insignificant in an effort to avoid the wrath of his boss. D.I. Ross in fact, despite his words, had an almost imperceptible grin on his face as he looked sternly at his sergeant.
“I'm sorry sir, but you know how it always affects me, seeing something like this. I'm just trying to lighten the moment a bit if you know what I mean.”
The tall, swarthy-skinned Inspector took a step forward and looked down at the sight that had brought them here in the first place, the grinning rictus of the skull certainly looking to all intents and purposes appearing, as Izzie intimated, pleased to be revealed from its long incarceration in the clinging mud that had only now decided to reveal its macabre secret. Ross knew it had to have been there a long time, as the small wharf and dockside had been abandoned for many years and only now, in the course of urban renovation and improvement, had the collective mass of mud and detritus of years of neglect been slowly cleared away until the discovery of the remains brought all work to a halt. He turned to face the sergeant and the young detective constable who remained rooted to the spot beside her.
“Right then, let's get on with it. Izzie, try not to assign or assume gender until the doc has examined the remains, as well, OK?”
Izzie nodded her understanding.
“And Constable?” Ross looked into the eyes of the young detective.
“I'm not going to chew your head off for standing next to the sergeant while she makes frivolous comments, so no need to look like you're about to be sent back to uniform, or fed to the Chief Superintendent for supper, okay?”
“Yes, sir, okay sir, I mean thank you, sir.”
“How long you been in the detective division, lad?”
“Six months, sir.”
“Lots to learn my boy, lots to learn. Now, let's get on with the job.”
“Right sir, McLennan replied, following Izzie as she began the descent of the iron-runged ladder that led down to the muddy and rank smelling river bed below.
Ross quickly followed the two until all three officers stood quietly looking at the recently revealed skeletal remains that lay half in and half out of the mostly hard-packed surface of the ground that would once have been the bed of a busy and thriving riverside wharf.
The detectives took care not to approach too close to the remains, not wanting to disturb the scene before the medical examiner had had the opportunity to inspect the scene.
“Anyone know who the duty M.E. is?” Ross asked of no-one in particular.
Izzie Blake provided him with the answer.
“One of the paramedics up there said it's Fat Willy, sir.”
Ross groaned. The nickname Blake used referred to Doctor William Nugent, a brilliant but terribly overweight police surgeon, an expert in forensic pathology, whose unfortunate weight problems had provided the members of Merseyside Constabulary with the excuse to make jokes at his expense, always behind his back of course. A rather dour Scot, the doctor's accent contrasted with the predominantly local Liverpool accent possessed by most of the local constabulary, some of whom found it difficult to keep up with the doctor's words at times, though he seemed to have no difficulty with the Liverpudlian accent, having lived in the city for as many years as anyone could remember. Nugent was also something of a stickler for the rules and Ross knew he'd better be on his toes and not cause any disturbance to the scene before him, lest he incur the wrath of the good doctor. Ross held both arms out to his sides, as though indicating an invisible barrier.
“Right, people, no-one gets any closer than this until the doctor arrives. Now, tell me what you see. You first, Sergeant.”
Izzie Drake peered down at the skeletal remains and paused, as she gathered her thoughts. The skull and upper body were for the most part, fully exposed with the abdominal area still covered by a thick layer of mud and silt, and the lower legs and feet also exposed to the chill morning air.
“Well, sir looks to me as though the body has laid there for some time. If you look at the wall of the dock above us, we can see that the mud and silt must have reached up at least ten feet before the workmen started on the reclamation job.”
Ross looked up, nodding his agreement with his sergeant, also taking time to notice the faded lettering on the side of the disused brick built warehouse, which read 'Cole and Sons, Importers,' many of the letters now indistinct and barely readable. He made a mental note to check how long the warehouse had lain empty and whether Cole and Sons had been the last company to have used the facility. Izzie continued.
“Whoever the victim is, or was, must have lain buried beneath the mud and silt for years, to have ended up so deep.”
“Agreed,” said Ross. “Go on, what else?”
“I'd lay odds on the fact this is a suspicious death. I just don't see anyone dying of natural causes and not being reported missing or nobody having the faintest clue where he or she was last seen, that kind of thing.”
McLennan butted in.
“Unless the victim had a heart attack, or slipped and fell in the water all those years ago, no witnesses, and was just never found.”
“Well done, Constable McLennan,” said Ross. “That's good thinking. We may have to do a massive trawl of the missing person records once the doc gives us an idea of how long the remains have been down here. Anything else, Izzie?”
“Not yet, sir. I think we need to get the doctor's opinion before we begin formulating our own theories.”
As if on cue, first of all a wide shadow, and then a large figure appeared on the dockside above, followed by the booming voice of Doctor Nugent.
“Well now, Inspector Ross. I see you've got something interesting for me this morning?” The Scottish accent was easily discernible to those around the pathologist.
“Morning, Doctor. Yes. Been here a while, I'd say, but I'd appreciate your professional opinion before we jump to conclusions.”
“Aye, well, it's good to hear you're learning a thing or two. I take it no-one's disturbed the remains?”
“No, we've stayed well back to give you an undisturbed area around the victim.”
“Aye well, I'd better be comin' doon then, eh? Francis, come on man, and bring your camera.”
As if by magic the diminutive figure of Francis Lees, the pathologist's assistant appeared at his side, looking down at the death scene.
“What the hell are you waiting for man? Get doon the ladder there and wait for me at the bottom. And make sure to catch me if I slip on those old rusty rungs.”
The detectives looked at each other and smiled. The thought of Nugent's bulk falling from the ladder on to the hapless Lees gave them a moment of humour in the midst of their other wise grim task. The thought that Nugent's weight would probably force poor Lees's body into the mud and silt, suffocating the poor man, made him think they may end up with two bodies to remove from the dock before the day was out.
Lees quickly made his way down the ladder and dutifully stood almost to attention, his camera slung over his shoulder, as Nugent ponderously made his way down the rusting ladder, thankfully arriving safely at the bottom less than a minute after his assistant. Ross couldn't help but admire the way the pathologist, despite his bulk, managed to make his way down the ladder almost gracefully, and without any apparent difficulty.
“Now, let's see what we've got, eh?” said Nugent as he and Lees began their own examination of the scene. Lees's camera flashed incessantly as he photographed the partially revealed skeletal remains from every possible angle. Nugent knelt in the mud beside the skeleton and began a close examination. Ross, knowing the doctor's routine all too well, couldn't resist a quick question.
“See anything yet that might help us, Doctor?”