Genre: Fiction: Crime and Mystery, Thriller / Suspense
Author: Peter Hodgson
Author: Peter Hodgson
The side streets branching off Blackpool's Seaforth Road resembled the alleys of a foggy Victorian London. The noise from the slow traffic smothered the rumble of the Irish Sea, its waves toppling as they succumbed to the Promenade's robust walls, foaming on their retreat. The austere red-bricked houses faded from view, resembling figments of the imagination rather than part of the austere construction of the town's dwellings. Taxi drivers left their engines ticking over whilst waiting to take customers into the town centre where they could enjoy further drinks, music and dance. Groups of boisterous men and women were keen to make the most of their Friday night out.
The weekend had begun.
Raucous laughter and chanting from the lager merchants rang out. There was bound to be a fight or two as the night progressed, and you would be sure to come across a couple of discarded half-eaten Chinese takeaways and splatters of vomit along the way.
At 10 p.m. the music of local band Hot Fever thundered from the stage of The Elms public house, renowned for its heavy music, underage drinkers and pot smokers. The band's second set was in full swing. Its four members lapped up the attention and adulation from the crowd during their performance of an original song called ‘Smash Me Out’ which featured a heavy bass line that never left the key of E. Despite the bad weather conditions the usual patrons had turned up to revel in the atmosphere.Angela Ross and Karen Lawson were standing at the farthest point from the stage.
Both girls were in their twenties and had known each other for a number of years. Every Friday night they met at The Elms to enjoy the music, the conversation and the alcohol. The girls - a friendly, lively couple - were not averse to going off to nightclubs with men who were looking for companionship or a ‘good time’.
Karen was tall and slim. Her dyed blonde hair, showing black at the roots, always looked greasy. As usual, her long shapely legs were on show. Her tight black skirt was riding high, and her favourite high-heeled shoes made her look a lot taller. She liked to be noticed.
Angela was several inches shorter. She had medium-length brown hair, cut in a fringe. Her cheap jacket was open, exposing her low-cut pink vest which struggled to contain her pendulous breasts. She had large green eyes and a stunning smile. The two girls attracted male admirers wherever they went.
It was a typically hectic night for the bar staff. After waiting for nearly ten minutes, Karen managed to get served. She edged her way through the crowd, carrying two bottles of Bacardi Breezer. Angela was waiting for her.
‘You'd better make it four bottles next time,’ Angela shouted when her friend appeared, ‘or we'll be stuck here all night.’
Angela took the bottle and downed nearly half its contents in one swig. Karen watched her. ‘Take it easy you, or you'll end up being carried home.’
Angela smiled. ‘Don't worry,’ she bellowed. ‘I won't have too much. We can have a few more drinks at The Unicorn a bit later.’
‘Oh, not there again. Do we have to?’
‘You always say that, Karen.’
Angela winked at her friend. Karen shook her head with an air of disapproval, but she was all for it.
The band finished playing and the musicians dispersed amongst the crowd. The jukebox kicked in. Angela finished her drink and slammed the empty bottle on a table. She adjusted her pink vest which had slipped down an inch or two exposing more bare flesh. Karen had a similar problem with her skirt. It seemed to get shorter whenever she moved, causing her to stretch it down a bit. Perhaps these actions - the pulling up and pulling down - were subconscious rituals sending out signals meant to attract members of the opposite sex.
One man was already eyeing them up, leering at Karen's long legs, feasting his eyes on Angela’s captivating assets. He took note of the Barcardi Breezers they were happily swilling down.
Maybe I should buy them a few more drinks, he thought.
Five minutes later he approached them, carrying two bottles. ‘Here you are ladies,’ he said cheerfully. ‘Cop for these.’
‘Are those for us, then?’ asked Karen, showing a look of faked surprise.
Karen snatched the bottles without thanking him, and began to laugh and joke with Angela. He stayed with them, trying to think of something to say whilst the girls drank avidly.
‘How tall are you, then?’ he asked, looking up at Karen.
‘Taller than you, obviously,’ came the reply.
He gently edged his way in between them. Bad move. Angela immediately walked away and made conversation with an acquaintance. Karen became annoyed and irritable. He closed in on her and said, ‘I was going to tell your friend . . . I'm a fan of this, uh, sort of music.’
‘Really?’ Karen said sarcastically, her patience running thin. ‘You haven't told us your name yet.’
‘I'll tell you what, Tony, why don't you buy us another couple of drinks before the band come on again, eh?’
‘Certainly. No problem. That friend of yours is something else. I really like her.’
‘She's more than you can handle,’ Karen said. She swallowed the rest of her drink and held an empty bottle in front of him. He beckoned with his hand, indicating he wanted to tell her something. She reluctantly lowered her head and listened to his words, struggling to make sense of what he was saying. He then left her and made for the crowded bar.
Karen caught sight of a friend. ‘Martin. How are you doin'?’ she said.
‘Fine thanks. I can't stay long. Anyway, I see that you've already got company. Who is he?’
‘Don't know. He’s a funny one. He talked about Angie and said something about a dolly-house parlour maid. I can't imagine what he meant by it.’
‘Sounds weird. Must go. See you around.’
Martin melted into the crowd. Ten minutes later Tony came back with the drinks. Karen gave a weary sigh of resignation. The band started playing their last set. Angela came back and noticed that angry look on her friend’s face. It was time to drink up, time to move on. Tony watched them drain their glasses. He wanted them to stay longer but they waved goodbye and left for the next port of call.
Now his heart was really pounding.
The swirling fog was thicker now. Street lamps and illuminated shop windows were shining dimly. Karen unfastened her handbag and fumbled for her lipstick and small mirror.
‘Come on, Karen,’ said Angela impatiently. ‘You look fine. Let's go before that stiff comes out. We don't want him trailing us, especially in all this fog.’
‘Right you are, Angie. So, it's off to Blackpool's premier pub, the lousy Unicorn . . . And here we are, ladies and gentlemen. We've got our Jamie who is gonna sing “Uptown Girl.” Thank you, Jamie. Who do we have here? It's our Margaret. She's gonna sing, “Feel Like a Woman” . . .’
Angela laughed heartily and they made their way through the damp mist, relieved to leave The Elms, and the man who was so irritating.
The smoke-filled pub was packed solid with locals and weekend visitors. Two young attractive girls - Babs and Tina - were hosting the karaoke. Young Jamie had already sung the popular Billy Joel number, in the wrong key, as always, and was suitably rewarded with lukewarm applause. Tina called out the name of the next ‘Star’. Fred, who was pushing sixty, totally destroyed ‘You‘ll Never Walk Alone.’ The McGregor PA system struggled to accommodate his high-pitched voice.
The audience consisted of a mixture of athletic youngsters and painfully paralytic geriatrics. Everyone was having a great time. Women were supping Slambas as if they had gone out of fashion, and the steadfast male drinkers happily let their stomachs bathe in chilled Boddingtons, served with a smile. It was 10.35 p.m. when Angela and Karen bought their drinks. The excitable crowd rocked to the sound of ‘Red River Rock,’ giving Babs and Tina the opportunity to take a well-earned break. Five minutes later Angela took the stage. She sang the opening lines of ‘Jolene,’ an appropriate number for her. Applause sounded and the locals cheered, especially the older men who drivelled at the sight of her opulent figure. Every week the same punters sang the same songs. Nobody ever got bored with it.
Angela finished the song and passed the microphone to the next participant. After several songs Karen told Angie she was going home.
‘All right, love. See you whenever.’
Karen didn't fancy going to a nightclub, and her mate had supped far too much already. Better call it a day, she thought. She waved goodbye and went in search of a taxi. By now they were all smothered by the relentless fog rolling in from the sea. The light from the pub's external wall lamps failed to penetrate the enveloping mist. Karen didn't see the solitary figure standing close by - the stranger waiting for the moment to arrive . . . and it was his lucky night. She was alone. The moment was getting closer. The opportunity for him to satisfy his sexual urges - in a way that normal human beings would find absolutely horrifying - would soon be his.
Karen found a taxi. She was safe. Soon after, Angela staggered into the street accompanied by two male friends.
‘Look at this lot,’ one of the men said, referring to the weather.
‘It won't take me long to get home,’ said Angela, slurring her words.
Her companions asked if she wanted to join them for further drinks at a late bar. She declined. They disappeared into the fog. She tried in vain to fasten her imitation leather jacket but her senses were too dull. Even connecting the zip proved to be too hard of a task.
She turned left into Hailey Road where she lived. The Unicorn stood between Hailey and Selbourne Road. A covered passage ran along the back of the pub: a narrow alley, in effect, joining the two roads.
Angela reached the entrance to the passageway and felt a hand touch her shoulder.
The stranger walked by and turned to face her. There was no option but to stand her ground. He stared at her breasts and smiled.
‘Where are you going?’ he asked, lowering his head as a man passed by, coughing and sputtering.
‘I'm . . . I'm off home.’
She tried to pass him but he blocked her way. If she had been sober, Angela Ross would probably have slapped his face and told him where to go, but she was tired and - being under the influence of drink - found it difficult to deal with the confrontation. She was vulnerable now. He came closer, grinning. His passionless eyes were running up and down her body.
Home was about sixty yards away. That knowledge was a comfort to her. Occasional bouts of laughter, shouting and conversation could be heard coming from the direction of the main road, but Angela felt isolated in the thick fog.
‘It's getting late,’ he said, touching her shoulder. ‘I'll walk along with you for a while. Better to be safe than sorry, eh?’
There was nothing else she could do but act accordingly. They moved on, slowly. Not far to go, she thought.
Suddenly, without warning, he covered her mouth with his hand and dragged her into the gloom of the narrow passage. She was numb with fear and stifling disbelief. Halfway down the passage he forced her against the cold wall, keeping one hand tightly in position over her mouth.
‘Now, listen to me,’ he said, breathing heavily. ‘I've got a knife. I'll use it if you make a sound. Do you understand me?’