Where to begin? Well… Barry Erskine was originally intended to be a one off short story. However, after writing and releasing it I began to think that it was such a shame to leave things dangling in the way I did. Did Barry ever make it home to his wife? What happened to him when he left the café at the end of the pier? Who exactly is this Chuckles guy? I found so much potential in the answers to those questions that I had to carry on writing. I don’t know how many more parts of this story there will be but we might as well continue only a couple of hours from where we left off…
The gulls could be heard squealing away in the sky as Maisie emerged from the café. It was an irritating noise and louder than ever as at this time there was nobody around to cover up the sound. Both the café and the rest of the pier had been closed up for the day, because of what had happened, and everyone who didn’t need to be there had been shooed away. Maisie was one of those who had to stay behind and fill out a police statement. She answered all of their questions as truthfully as she could, telling of how Erskine had come in and asked for a scone and how she’d laughed at his pronunciation.
“Is that anything to laugh at?” the policeman wondered aloud. “I call it a scone.” He rhymed the word with bone.
“I’ve never heard anyone say it like that before today,” Maisie confessed.
“Really? How long have you worked at this café? You must have had hundreds of students and tourists coming in and asking for scones…” He spoke to her in a patronising tone.
“I’ve only been here for three weeks… Not many people have been in until today because of the bad weather. And anyway, the students have all gone away for the summer.” The policeman should have known that. Everyone else in the city knew that. Even if you didn’t know it you could tell by how empty the whole city felt, by how few people there were when compared to the rest of the year.
The policeman allowed her to continue with her statement, again stopping her when she mentioned Chuckles.
“I hardly think that he had anything to do with this incident Miss Hunter. Mr Erskine’s death was probably nothing more than an allergic reaction.” Maisie’s eyes had flicked over to the cake stand of scones on the counter and wondered how likely that was.
“I think he did. Erskine gave me this.” She took the written on napkin from her blouse and passed it over. “After Chuckles had left Erskine came over to me and said that if anything happened to him I was to send that to his wife.” The policeman laid the napkin on the table, straightening it with his palms, and read it. He took a long time about it.
“I’ll speak to Mr Chuckles about what he was doing, don’t you worry Miss Hunter. Then I’ll make sure Erskine’s wife gets this letter.” He tapped the napkin with a long bony finger and then slid it into the palm of his hand and then out of site into his shirt pocket. Maisie allowed him to take it, though she knew he’d never do anything with it, and didn’t much care anyway. She had already made a copy of the letter and even though the policeman would do nothing she WOULD make sure Flo got what was hers.
Now that she was finally leaving the café Maisie was raging with disgust. That policeman hadn’t really listened to a word she said about Chuckles and she was certain that he wouldn’t follow up as regards to the napkin. She was also sure that Chuckles had something to do with Erskine’s death- There he had been, threatening him in the café, and less than ten minutes later Erskine was lying dead before the wrought iron gates of the pier. The man who had come into the café to excitedly tell everyone what had happened had said that he’d started choking, coughing up blood and bits of scone before falling down dead. Chuckles couldn’t have killed Erskine by any direct method but Maisie was certain that he was responsible. He hadn’t been anywhere near Erskine at the time of his death so the obvious conclusion was that he must have done something to Erskine’s scone whilst he was sat at the table. The trouble was that Maisie had been watching him the entire time and he hadn’t touched the scone or been anywhere near it. Somehow though he had done it. He had poisoned Erskine and would get clean away with it. The police probably weren’t going to autopsy, not if they already thought it was an allergic reaction to one of the scones. Maisie angrily kicked out at a nearby scavenging seagull in retaliation for this. The seagull jumped away, squalled at her and then went back to its scavenging.
There weren’t many in Bangor who saw the stain that was Chuckles and his gang but if a person really looked for it then it was there as clear as day. Most of the student population didn’t know the stain was there; they swam around it as they passed to and from their lectures or their numerous society gatherings but they never saw it. Even when they fell into it, as some of them inevitably did, they never paid it much attention. The tourists were never around long enough to see it the locals, those who were aware of it, chose not to see it or chose to ignore it either through fear or wilful ignorance.
‘The Chuckers,’ as they called themselves, controlled property and made a mint extorting students with poor rooms in poor, poorly maintained houses. They ran the drug pushers and the drink spikers. They held sway over the city’s dark side, its underworld. There was even rumour going around that they had tried and failed to buy their way into the machinations of the university, attempting to put up some of the cash for this new ‘Pontio’ place they were building. Few people saw them or chose not to see them but Maisie was not amongst them. She could not help but see them.
Her own brother, poor sod, had been mixed up with those low lives once upon a time. Late at night she had watched them from the shadows at the top of the stairs as they came to the door of her parents house- She’d seen Fargo and Blister, thick headed men with an aptitude for obedience. She’d seen Dolly and Shasta, or the ugly sisters as she preferred to call them. Those two were clear evidence that women could be just as violent and sadistic as men. Maisie’s brother had once told her, he told her everything, that he had witnessed these two ugly sisters scratching a blind man’s eyes out with their long, false fingernails just for the thrill of it.
Worst of all had been Chuckles, the man with the devil in his soul. She’d known that he was evil from the moment she had watched his sadistic form stepping through the front door, backlit by the porch light and casting the hallway and her family into an eternal darkness. Wherever he went the shadow of death followed and cackled gleefully with each new victim. Her brother told her that he had taken another gang member, Napier, and shoved the end of a foot pump up both of his nostrils before pumping him so full of air that, her brother claimed, his lungs had burst like a balloon. The reason for this Maisie was never told. Chuckles’ worst trait, however, was pretending to be your friend and then killing you dead without a second thought. He didn’t have friends. He had associates and he had enemies and if you weren’t an associate then you were probably an enemy.
Reaching the end of the pier Maisie passed out through the gate and then stopped at the spot where Erskine had met his end. The police hadn’t set up a cordon or a crime scene or a forensic investigation… They had just taken the body away and cleaned up the blood and most of the vomitorious bits of scone. The rest had been taken by the seagulls. The only evidence of anything happening during the day was that some kind soul had come along and placed a bouquet of petrol station flowers against the railings to the side of the gate.
When Maisie took a closer look she saw that the bouquet was not from some kind soul at all. It was from Kalda and Kalda was another of the Chucker. Maisie knew Kalda in the same way she knew the others and she knew that he hadn’t put the flowers there for any kind of sympathetic reason, because he wanted to pay tribute to Erskine. He would have put them there as a sick and perverted joke. He was always doing it, leaving flowers at the places where the victims of the Chucker gang had been killed. In his twisted mind he found it hilarious, hilarious because it looked like a sympathetic gesture but was really nothing of the sort.
Maisie was angered by it. She was so angry that she was sorely tempted to throw the flowers into the sea. Then she had a better idea and it was one that as she thought both astonished and excited her. Those flowers could be used as evidence against the Chucker gang. Kalda left flowers wherever the gang killed anyone and so, therefore, they were proof that that Chuckles had killed Erskine, a kind of confession in bloom. The police wouldn’t listen to her but somebody might. The wife? Flo? She might listen! Maisie figured that she could take a picture, send it with the letter and a short explanation of how Kalda left flowers at the scenes of all the Chucker killings. Knowing that, knowing her husband had been murdered, might persuade Flo to help her bring Chuckles and his gang down once and for all, help get justice for Erskine.
She looked around to make sure nobody was watching, specifically someone like Kalda or Chuckles or any of the gang, and then whipped her phone out and took three pictures; one a close up of the message, one of the message and the flowers and a final one from a distance showing the flowers against the railings. Once finished she checked to again make sure that nobody was watching her.
An old man with a dog was approaching the pier and he had seen her taking photos of the flowers. He was walking slowly and had that look of bemused curiosity which people get when they see something strange and don’t know what to make of it, the sort where the mouth hangs open ever so slightly and the shoulders and head lean forwards in the direction of what has bemused them. He wasn’t likely to be a part of the Chucker gang but it was still best to be wary of him on the off chance.
Maisie pocketed her phone and walked towards the man with confidence, like nothing was unusual, and pleasantly smiled as he passed her by. He gave her another look of bemused curiosity over his shoulder and then continued on to the gates of the pier where he stopped and stared through the bars, the dog seated beside him and staring in the same manner. Maisie kept one eye on him and considered this behaviour to be stranger than taking photographs of some flowers. That could be explained in any number of rational ways but what rational explanation could there be for staring through the gates of the pier as the man was? She tried to think of one but by the time she had reached the end of the car park she decided that she would never come close to an answer and gave up.
She thought for a moment that she had seen this man before, passed him and his dog going towards the pier as she walked home from work. She probably had in all truth. Bangor was a small city and you always saw the same people about. It was a city full of familiar faces; faces like that of the man with the cane who was always prodding around the bible gardens, the old lady who walked up and down College park shouting ‘fucking Manchester dickheads!’ at the top of her voice and the strange man who was always sat at the bar of Y Glob growling at anyone who ordered a drink. Perhaps this man was another of their sort, a face she knew but had never consciously registered until now.
She continued on up Garth road, up where the punters of the Tap and Spile would later on be jimmying their cars into whatever small space they could. It was quiz night and everybody loved quiz night at the tap. People came from as far away as Felinhelli just to take part and on such nights you would be lucky if you could find even so much as a space on the floor in there. The place was quiet now though, nobody around and no punters except for perhaps one or two serial drinkers who had sneaked in for a quick pint on their way home. Maisie liked the Tap. It lay somewhere in the realm between a traditional, cosy pub and a modern drinking hole. The food was good and the company always friendly. There were never enough tables but that gave it an intimate kind of atmosphere. You always met people in there; a scouse couple who claimed they always came in for a meal whenever they were in the are, a rock and roller looking for places to gig, the occasional guy who was good for a one night stand but nothing more. Maisie had met all kinds in there.
She thought of stopping in for a quick drink now as she walked on by, stopping for something strong to wash away the nastiness of Erskine’s death, the obviously deadly scone and Kalda’s flowers, but Maisie decided against it because it was too close to the pier. You could see it from the windows, see clearly the gates and the spot where Erskine had met his end. She would see the flowers left by Kalda and the man and his dog who were still staring through the bars of the gate. If she was going to wash away the nastiness she didn’t want it to return whenever she lifted her head to look out of the window or return when she came out again having successfully washed the nastiness away.
Fortunately there was another pub two doors down from the Tap that didn‘t offer a view of the pier, a less frequented and altogether less cozy dive. In the Ship Launch the drinks were cheap and the students always few, the company grizzled and anti-stranger. It was rough, or it had a reputation for roughness, but it was perfect for escaping the world and for drinks that washed any nasty taste from the mouth. Maisie chose to avoid it on the whole, as did a lot of other people, but now she made for it with purpose, longing for that drink.
“Hey… Maisie Hunter?” someone called out to her from a dark doorway between the Tap and The Ship Launch. He looked as rough as the reputation of the pub next door; a scraggy black goatee, cold eyes and a coloured tattoo of a flower upon his shoulder. “If you are Maisie Hunter then let me give you a bit of advice. Don’t go messing with Chuckles…”
“I don’t know what you mean,” Maisie shrugged before she attempted to walk on. The rough man reached out and grabbed her arm.
“You know exactly what I mean. I saw you take a picture of those flowers… You know they were left by Kalda and you know he leaves him at all the places where the Chucker gang kill people. What were you planning to do?” Maisie pulled her arm away and he let her go. “I’ll advise you again. Don’t go messing with Chuckles. He’s going down and if you mess with him now he’ll pull you under with him.” She simply walked on, ignoring him, and smiling to herself as he snorted at her and melted into the house.
Only when she looked back from the door of the Ship Launch did Maisie see which house it was. It was that house, the house with the cracked and dusty windows. Everyone knew that house. That house was known as the torture house…