A Bid Too Far

By William David Baker

4900 words
I was so excited. Nothing quite like it had ever happened to me before, and I’d only my gorgeous wife, Cassy, to thank. It was she who downloaded the form from the BBC. It was she who filled in the application. We must have been exactly what they were looking for because a confirmation mail came back pretty quickly, complete with all the arrangements for our appearance on Tim Whatahoot’s show – the mighty and the great “Bargain Buy.”

Cassy and I had both been fans of the programme for years, and we’d often talked about how stupid some of the contestants were. Buying at retail prices to sell at auction was a surefire recipe for disaster. There was no way we were going to fall for that trap. We had a game-plan in mind well before the show was due to be filmed:

One: bargain hard. There had to be profit in it – so buy cheap, sell dear. Yes, we wanted to beat the other team and make more profit than them. But above all, we desperately wanted to win the Gilded Gavel award, given for making a profit on all three items bought, even though the actual prize had been downgraded a while back from a real wooden auctioneer’s gavel to a tin badge each, with a gavel for a motif instead;

Two: small silver, but it had to be English, Scottish at a push, though it wasn’t our strong suit, and definitely no foreign;

Three: a bit of treen, small novelty Items in wood, but no brown wood furniture, the market was still down on it;

Four: definitely no Staffordshire, too many fakes around;

Five: Matchbox toys, but they must be in their original boxes and undamaged;

Six, and last: anything gold that the seller didn’t realise was.

As we finished compiling the game-plan, I found myself quite surprised and not a little shocked at the last item in the list, because love the show and its ilk as much as I do, I’d always felt uncomfortable watching the expert pick up a piece of cracked dirty pottery and offer a quid for it, only to reveal later that he knew all along that it was a unique piece of Clarice Clift worth fifteen thousand. Cassy said I would just have to toughen up.

The show was to be filmed at the County Showground in Staffordshire, where they held massive regular antique fairs. I went online and found a nice B&B, just outside a lovely little village called Tixall, which was just a hop away from the show grounds. We travelled up from London the afternoon before the filming. The owner of the B&B recommended a pub in the tiny village of Salt, nearby, called the Holly Bush Inn, that had won awards for its wine, beer and food. We found it strange that they did not take bookings, but we thought we’d try it anyway. We were not disappointed.

The pub was not so busy when we arrived, but soon became rammed. You could easily see why. We both had green shelled mussels to start. Delicious! Cassy ordered the Greek lamb, which, when it arrived, looked like it might be the whole lamb. I ordered the slow-cooked belly draft from the specials board. They boasted that most of their food was locally sourced, and it was as good as it promised to be, though I had to ask them to replace my slice of belly draft as the jus had soaked in, and ruined the crispness of my crackling. You can’t cut through rubbery crackling, let alone chew it. The offending meat was quickly, and satisfactorily, replaced without fuss.

The wine was as good as any decent London restaurant, and a damned sight cheaper too. We went back to the B&B, bellies full, and merry. Well, Cassy was more merry than me, as I was driving. I was well rewarded later for my sacrifice, and we woke the next morning, refreshed and ready for the competition.

The show’s PA was waiting for us when we arrived at the show grounds. A smart young thing – all clipboard and brightly polished media degree from Swansea. Jenna led us to the coffee bar, where a section had been cordoned off for the exclusive use of the broadcast team. She explained that their usual catering van had let them down, so we’d have to make our own arrangements for lunch but coffee was on the BBC. The crew were already tucking into enormous Staffordshire bacon baps, and all we managed to extract from the crew were muffled nods, as Jenna briefly introduced us. She lead us over to where the show’s two guest antique experts sat. One would be working alongside the Blue team, the other the Reds. Tim and the Director would join us shortly.

One of the experts was the new one, Derek Somebody-or-other. I didn’t rate him. Dozy Derek, I called him. Cassy had something even more cruel for him, but I won’t embarrass her by saying it. Please let it not be him, I thought. The other was Cute Bliss. The lovely Cute Bliss. All I’ll say about Cutie is that it was a good job that neither she nor Cassy knew just how blissful I thought Cutie really was. Let it be her, I thought. Please let it be her.

We all got on rather well. It’s a bit like when golfers get together. They are never short of something to talk about – usually golf, but not always. It was the same with us, though we mostly kept the chat to antiques. I even found myself warming to Dozy Derek. He was, to be fair, very knowledgable, even if you had to drag it from him kicking and screaming. Jenna took a phone call and disappeared for a minute, before returning, bringing with her the opposition, the Brickhouses from Birmingham.

She was built like the proverbial brick latrine. He was contrarily thin and tall, looming over everyone like a Banshee. Talk about chalk and cheese. Jenna introduced us all round, and we sat back down to drink and chat, but chat soon became hard work as the Brickhouses seemed to be a very quiet couple indeed. I became very suspicious straight away. I didn’t believe they were as quiet or as thick as they both seemed. Gamesmanship!

Jenna, who seemed quite unable to sit still for more than a minute, dashed off again, and this time came back laden down with four heavy looking fleece jackets. Horrible, chav things, really. Two blue, two red, the team colours. I snatched the red pair off her. There was no way Cassy would wear blue.

It was a one size fits all jobby and though mine was snug enough, without being stretched, Cassy’s hung around her like a deflated barrage ballon. My heart melted at the disgust in her face, but, bless her, she seemed to quickly shrug off the shock. I think it helped when she looked at what the blue fleeces had done for the poor Brickhouses. I was pleased that Cassy was blessed with good bladder control, as I watched her turn away, pretending to take care of a coughing spasm, but smothering a Cassy belly laugh into her hands.

The Director arrived with Tim Whatahoot, the host of Bargain Buy, and a renowned expert on all things antique. Tim was every bit of what I expected. Immaculately, dapperly dressed, he was like a grown up Rupert the Bear, but with a decent moustache. Affable? I’ll say so. He made everyone feel at ease immediately. I noticed when he looked over his spectacles at Cassie, with his trademark stare, that she blushed heavily and turned her head away. I hoped she still had her bladder well under control, as it looked like she was really being put under some pressure. I asked Tim if he’d enjoyed his ‘Strictly Gone Dancing’ adventure. He thanked me, and said he’d enjoyed every minute of it, except the getting kicked off far too early bit, and the pain in his legs, as they were still giving him some gyp.

The Director was the Director. That’s all I’ll say about her, as I don’t like to talk ill of the dead. Well, that’s the impression I got, with her Goth clothes, and Goth makeup, and Goth-glum attitude. Not very BBC, I thought, till I realised I was being a bit of a prat. Still didn’t like her though. She clicked her fingers at Jenna, which endeared the Director even less to me. ‘Faces.’ One word. That’s all she said. I’m sure I heard Jenna say ‘bitch’ as she dragged out this small shiny steel box from underneath our table. She proceeded to dab sweet powder on our shiny noses. After telling us what was to happen next, the Director called over to Derek, and informed him he was going to the blue team. I gave an invisible punch in the air.

We went into the nearest hall, which was vast, and the crew set up some of their equipment: a camera, a microphone boom, and a monitor. We stood in front of a stall specialising in delicious oily blue Moorcroft pottery. Tim introduced us to the camera, and asked his questions. Cassy told him how she ran her own training business specialising in improving customer relations in companies where they fell short in that vital area. He was fascinated to hear about her five charity parachute jumps, and her love of treen. He then turned to me.

I told him about the books I’d written, but I don’t think he’d either read them or heard about them, let alone me, the proud author. He was more interested to hear about my collection of Star Wars figures, and my Charles Horner silver hat pins going back to 1900. The pins not the Star Wars figures. He gave us our folded three hundred pounds, with a reminder that we had just one hour in which to buy our three antiques, and then he sent us off with his blessing to go and find out who our expert help was to be, though that, of course, we already knew. We actually moved just a few feet out of shot, while he did the same introduction for the blues. I can’t tell you a thing about the Brickhouses, as I was so excited I didn’t listen. Then the whole team went off to start filming the rest of the show. The camera crew, and equipment, was divided between the blue and red teams. Dozy Derek led the blues away, and we went with Cutie, our crew following close behind.

We followed the script and they filmed the brief hello to Cutie, like we’d never met before. We then started the serious business of rummaging around the stalls. I asked Cutie who was looking after the stopwatch. She laughed, and told me not to be so silly. They’d only once staged a ‘run out of time’ situation and were bombarded with so many complaints about it immediately afterwards that the idea was dropped. The viewers felt that ‘BB’ wasn’t that sort of competition. Competitive yes. But not punitive. In Tim’s closing script, yet to be filmed, he had recently begun to say that the show no longer had losers or winners, first or second places, though clearly they did really, unless there was a very rare draw. It’s an indictment on these PC times, I suppose. Anyway, Cutie said we could have as much time as we wanted, but the crew was booked for only two more hours, so we couldn’t dawdle.

Cassy went right at it. She headed straight for a stall full of treen. She picked up a corkscrew bottle opener with a oversized but nice-looking wooden handle. Cassy told me it was Edwardian. Brazilian Rosewood. Telltale black spiderweb streaks in it. A protected wood now. She called Cutie over, and asked her what she thought about the item. Cutie told her to hang on as the crew were not quite ready. With the crew soon ready, Cassy again called Cutie over, and asked her what she thought about the item. Cassy was very good the second time. She was really getting the hang of being in front of the camera. Cutie liked the corkscrew as it appealed to two markets, the treen collector, and the corkscrew collector, and asked how much the stall-holder was asking for it. Cassy said he wanted seventy pounds, and they both agreed that was too much for taking to auction, if we were to make a profit out if it. After a bit of haggling, we got the owner to agree to fifty, his bottom line, no less. The game-plan was going exactly to plan.

It was my turn next. Cutie remembered how I liked silver, and she sent me over to a stall where the counters were covered with shallow glass cabinets. I spotted the hat pins straight away. Six of them in a tatty tin box. Silver. Charles Horner. I didn’t use my loupe to check the hallmarks. Didn’t need to, and I didn’t want to give the game away either. I asked how much and the owner told me gruffly he’d got better stuff than that rubbish for me to look at. I couldn’t believe my luck. He didn’t know what he’d got. I walked off with all six for a tenner. I was shaking, but had no regrets. No conscience. Cassy’s pep talk had done the trick. Not only was Cutie impressed, which puffed me up quite a bit, but the crew, too, who whistled their knowledgable acknowledgment of my good buy. We had one item left to find, and 240 pounds to spend. We were looking like winners all round.

Cutie called us to a large stall that we had seen earlier, but ignored as it was full of brown wood, the large stuff. She waxed lyrical over this whacking great lump of a tallboy. With camera rolling, we had the lot from her: The patina. The inlay. The veneer. The original handles. The hand made dovetail joints. The bun feet. Yadda, yadda , yadda. I couldn’t see it really, despite what Cutie said, and, anyway, they were asking three hundred for it. Cutie said she thought she could get them down to two. I hated to disappoint her, but I put my foot down, and said no. She turned to the crew, and did the fingers across the throat thing that told them to stop recording. Or it might have been my throat she was thinking about. I still loved her. We then had words, and some of them I hadn’t heard Cutie say on TV – ever. I got the gist that she was disappointed that I’d been so adamant that she was wrong and I was right, even though she was the expert, and I was not. Then Cassy joined in and backed Cutie up, which calmed things down a little. We carried on looking.

Now I know in my game-plan that I’d said no to Staffordshire, but the next stall had lots of interesting pots and figurines, and I somehow found myself drawn to it. I picked up this small figurine of an elephant. It was badly chipped and grimy, and didn’t look much like an elephant at all, except if you’d never seen one before, and you were just making one from someone else’s description of an elephant, and they’d never seen one before, either. Naive, Cutie called it. It was probably old, but not that old, she insisted. She also strongly suspected it might be a Chinese fake, which you could tell because they were often either too brightly coloured or too dull. This had a nice enough palette to it, but was a bit on the dull side, I had to admit. Anyway, Cutie insisted the damage made it a no-no. I knew I could get the figurine for under twenty pounds, and with two good buys in the bag, I dug my heels in, especially when the stall holder said nine would do it. I whispered to Cutie, off camera, that it would leave her enough to buy the tallboy for her bonus expert buy. She smiled at me conspiratorially, and whispered back that it would also mean we could have an early finish, get a coffee, and put our feet up.

So, our buying was done. We just had the expert buy reveal to tape, so Tim was summoned to do his bit. Cutie was filmed running off with the money we had left over, ostensibly to go buy a secret expert bonus buy item, which was really the already bought tallboy, which now stood just off camera. They stopped filming while two porters bought the tallboy into shot then covered it in a shiny red cloth. The cameras rolled again, and Tim asked Cutie to reveal her buy and how much she had paid for it, Cutie waxed lyrical over the tallboyagain, and said there was a definite profit in it. Tim reminded us that we didn’t have to make up our mind to use the bonus buy till the day of the auction, and then only after our three items had been sold. We might need it, if we were down, we might not if we were already in profit. He then said we’d cut over to the auction to let the viewers see what the auctioneer thought about the tallboy. That next bit would be filmed later and spliced in. And that was about it. The auction was arranged for the week after. Usually they tried to record the whole show all in one day, but Tim was still struggling with his leg pains from ‘Strictly,’ and he asked the Director to postpone, and also for a London auction house to be used for greater convenience. Ever the gentleman, he asked, and did not demand.

After we returned home, I could not get the elephant figurine out of my mind. The more I thought about it, the more agitated I became. I talked to Cassy, and told her I was convinced it wasn’t a fake. We did some research online. We discovered that Chinese Staffordshire forgeries are usually made of porcelain. I was sure the figure was pottery, just as a genuine one would be. Cassy asked me if I’d noticed any thick blue blotches on the back of it. I had, or thought I had, anyway. Another good sign she said. And it was moulded in two pieces, I remembered feeling the join – that’s a sign of age we found too. It seems that newer ones were slip cast in one piece.

Cassy asked me how much it might be worth if it was genuine. I thought about about a grand, but that might be me being conservative. I told her I wasn’t bothered about the money, but it would be good to be proved right. Nice thing to own too, if it was pukka. Classy said I should give the auction house a ring, check their website, and get a catalogue to see what they were saying about it, just out of curiosity if nothing else. I did all three and they hadn’t budged from their initial assessment of a porcelain figure, modern copy of a Staffordshire, some damage, estimate twenty to thirty pounds. We looked at each other and just shrugged. Ah well, we’ll see soon enough I told Cassy.

The day before the auction, Cassy’s best friend, Jill, paid us a visit. She had two matinee tickets for ‘Les Mis,’ and Cassy had agreed to go with her. Cassy was still humming ‘Bring Him Home’ as she came back in to the apartment a few hours later. She wasn’t carrying a bad tune either, and her deep contralto gave the song an interesting slant. I was just putting the phone down. She asked who I was calling, as she put her arms around me and gave me a big wet peck on the back of my neck. I could sense she and Jill must have really enjoyed the show’s intermission. I’m very sensitive like that. Cassy was in at least a half bottle of Riocha kind of mood. I told her I’d been talking to my Uncle Frank, which was quite true. She asked how he was, and I told her he was well again, which was also quite true. When she asked if we’d had anything interesting to talk about I told her a little white lie when I said just the usual old usual old, and we left it at that.

The auction house was near to where we lived, so to make a day of it I arranged for a taxi to pick us up the next morning. Jenna, efficient as ever, was waiting for us outside the auction house when we arrived. The Brickhouses had been on already and done their stint, and Jenna said we’d all meet up after our session to finish off the usual storyboard: the results, the farewell ‘New York, New York’ dance, if Tim could manage it, With his leg pain. Jenna told us we hadn’t much to worry about as any plus would beat the Brickhouses nicely. We weren’t supposed to know really, but I think Jenna had taken a shine to us. We took our positions with Cutie and Tim at the back of the auction rooms. Tim was actually feeling much better, having rested his leg. Our first item went up for sale – my hat pins. They quickly made ninety five pounds, which I was a little disappointed with, but we were eighty five pounds in profit after just one item, so Tim told me to buck up and smile.

Cassy’s corkscrew came up next and swiftly ratcheted up to forty pounds, then seemed to stick. That wasn’t good enough. I gave Cassy one of my old-fashioned looks, and she shrugged, but we didn’t need to worry as the bidders soon found their second wind, and it went quickly for eighty. A profit of thirty pounds. I couldn’t help but laugh. Two items down. Both in profit. £115 in the bank, and I knew we couldn’t lose now. I had the Gilded Gavels flashing in front of my eyes.

The auctioneer spoke again, and described our last item next, the ‘quotes Staffordshire end quotes’ porcelain elephant figurine. My heart almost stopped for a minute, and certainly until he’d completely finished his description. He hadn’t changed a word from his original valuation description, and was quite snotty about the figurine really, questioning its right to be there in his auction.

My breathing returned to something like normal. He paused, then flicked through his papers, looking suddenly very puzzled. An assistant called to him and waved her mobile phone. He cleared his throat. He told the room that he wasn’t sure what the hell was going on, that maybe some people thought they knew more than he did, but doubted it very much, but that he had an absent bidder who’d left a bid on the books for the elephant, and, it seemed, there was a telephone booked too. The room went quiet. Tim looked quizzically at Cutie, and asked her if they’d missed something. She hoped not, but everyone was suddenly tense. I should have been as happy as Larry, but my guts felt like they were trying to do a runner.

The auctioneer said he’d have to start the bidding at . . . Well, two hundred pounds. We’d done it! We had the Gilded Gavels in the bag. There was a gasp. I think it came from me, but in five seconds it had echoed once around the room. The phone assistant gesticulated wildly. Two-fifty on the phone, the auctioneer announced, then told us he’d got three hundred in the book to top the telephone bid. Three hundred had it. I started to sweat, really sweat. She signalled him back. Three-fifty! He had four. Four hundred pounds was with him. I heard someone muttering Oh my God, Oh my God. It was me. She signalled again, even more vigorously. Five hundred on the phone! He had six. I was about to faint. I could feel blood pounding in both of my temples. The room started to spin. The assistant took her phone from her ear, and shook it, but this time she looked worried, as if she’d lost the line. She shook it again. The auctioneer said that if there were no further offers he’d have to let the figurine go to the absentee bidder at six hundred pounds. The room was as quiet as outer space, but slowly a murmur began to move through it.

Jill, Cassy’s best friend, suddenly appeared, pushing her way through the crowd. She rounded on Cassy. Tim was in a state of shock. I don’t think there had ever been an attack on one of his set pieces before. Jill had her mobile in her hand. She was frantic and kept shouting Cassy, Cassy. Then she blurted it out to Cassy, as if she hadn’t even seen the camera, or Tim, or any of it.

She didn’t know what to do. She had gone over Cassy’s limit already. Should she carry on bidding? I thought Tim was going to explode. He threw his prompt cards up in the air, said a few choice words, and a To think I used to do ‘Antiques Roadshow,’ followed by a quick Bugger this for a lark, I’m orft, before legging it very quickly off camera, with absolutely no sign of leg ache at all.

The lovely Cutie Bliss looked distraught and I felt terrible for her, watching her run after Tim, sobbing. I hissed at Cassy and asked her what the hell she was playing at. She was close to tears. Jill was in tears. I couldn’t for the life of me understand what on earth had made her think it was a good idea to use Jill as a stooge, but it turned out later that, in fairness, Jill had never seen the programme, and hadn’t really known the wider implications of what she was asked to do.

The Director came frogmarching over, steam coming from her every visible orifice, screaming at the camera to cut, cut, cut, but the camera operator kept filming. I think he probably had a ready market for one of the greatest TV bloopers ever.

I grabbed Cassy by the hand, then thought of Jill, and grabbed her too, and I dragged them both behind me at speed, not stopping until we reached a nice looking pub just around the corner. I sat them down in a quiet corner and went to the bar. I came back a few moments later with a bottle of wine and three large glasses. I emptied the wine between the three of us, then sat down to join them. We each took a long drink, before I broke the silence. I asked Cassy again what the hell she thought she was playing at, and why she hadn’t told me what she was planning to do. She blubbered a lot, and I couldn’t make out every word, but it seemed that not only did she want us to with the competition, and the Gilded Gavels, but she also wanted me to have the figurine too.

What could I do? What could I say?

Then I told her about the bid left on the auctioneer’s books. It was mine. I’d placed it in Uncle Frank’s name. He’d been a party to it. We stared at each other for a minute, then burst out laughing. Jill kept asking what was funny, saying she didn’t understand. That just made us laugh even more.

But, you know, there’s a universal law that can never be broken. It goes something like: for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction. Not sure if I can agree with the equal part though, as, not long afterwards, things all got more than a bit out of hand.

It started a week later, when this thick, signed-for letter arrived from the BBC. It contained a number of things.

There was a letter from the show Director telling us that once the BBC accountants had finished their calculations, we would be getting a bill for the cost of lost production for two days of shooting; it would run to thousands, she warned.

There was letter from the BBC’s solicitors, attached to a court order, informing us that we would be in contempt of court if we came closer than seventy five yards to any BBC building or broadcast activity again – ever.

There was a bill from the auction house for £600, with a note telling us that they had planned to ask me to pick up my purchase, but that unfortunately the elephant had been crushed in a terrible accident with a fallen tallboy, but that their insurance company had reimbursed the BBC for both items as, technically, the insurance was registered in their name.

There was a little note from Jenna, who must have had last hands on the post, thanking us for the laugh of a lifetime. Oh, and two tin badges dropped out of the envelope too.


Kindle and createspace Direct Publishing

I’ve published a number of anthologies thanks to Kindle’s  free self-publishing service.

It’s a great system, and you can design your own front cover and upload your work and hey presto you are published.

However, the Kindle system does expect Word files to be properly formatted for e-reading otherwise you get serious problems with indents flying all over the place.

Using Word STYLE set up a default style for Paragraphs to be set at First Line Indent, and also check the box so that no extra spaces are included after a paragraph.

Don’t forget to set up hyperlinks from your Contents to your Chapters.

For Kindle don’t have a footer, you don’t have page numbers in Kindle.

If you want to self publish in paperback save your finished book under a new name and in this copy, add a footer with page numbers.

Upload your file to createspace, chose a book size, and go through setting up. The system will make what changes to layout are necessary and offer you a revised file to download. Do so and use that as your file from now on.

Your file should now mirror the finished book but do check by uploading again. Go through publication till you get past its page formatting check and you reach preview. It is only at this point that you know the proper look and pagination for your finished book.

Make a note of the page numbers you want to reference in your Contents. Go back to your Word doc and update contents page with page numbers. You can do this manually or though Word TOC. Save, then reload your doc to createspace and you should see your final completed masterpiece.

John Barleycorn Must Die (chapter 1)

By William David Baker

3780 words

Chapter 1

Now come here me little Jackie
Now I’ve smoked me baccy
Let’s have some cracky
When the boat comes in

‘When the boat comes in,’ Northumberland. Trad, Unknown

Forget all the glamour that you see on TV and in movies, obbos are not everything they are cracked out to be. Right now, Detective Constable John Barleycorn would much prefer to have somewhere to piss, where he wouldn’t be breaking the kind of bylaws he was paid to protect. And nobody – not even him – was going to piss in his car, bottle or not. A nice warm bed would be good, too. Some company, real company, even better. Much better way to spend an early Monday morning in October.

Bob Fossett was his partner for this shift. They’d been coppering together, on and off, since he’d moved, five years ago, from the Met. to the Northumbria Police Force. John served the first three of those years in the Newcastle area, working the docks mainly, and the last two years in Northumberland, specialising in nothing much out of the ordinary. He and Bob didn’t always get on, though John knew there were worse partners he could have pulled. Still, it meant that they didn’t have to work at keeping a conversation going, for which John was mostly grateful.

Bob was born and bred a Northumberlandman, and lived just outside Newbiggin-by-the-Sea. He was married to Jenny, who just happened to be John’s bridge partner. Though he was a local, John was grateful that Bob at least spoke enough English to make communication with John just possible.

“You see that, Bob?” John asked, pointing into the bay below the church. Bob stirred noisily from his sleep.

“Howay man! I was having a good kip then. What you gotta disturb me for? Nowts gonna happen in Newbiggin the neet.” He paused. “Not iver, if you bloody well ask me,” he added, leaning forward, his considerable bulk, shoehorned into a groaning stab vest, stalling his locked seat belt, whipping him backwards. Bob cursed and, unclipping his belt, took an ineffectual swipe at the cold condensation on his side of the windscreen.

“Look, there it goes again. That light over there on the left. Shouldn’t be. Something’s going on.” John tensed. Adrenaline rush? Was that really it? He could hardly remember what that felt like, it had been so long. But it felt good whatever it was. As did the memory of how much he used to enjoy working a decent case. Was this to be a decent case? Few of his informants ever came up with anything decent any more. In fact, Bob had laughed at John when he told him he’d had a tip-off about contraband coming ashore at Newbiggin. Bob had even suggested that the tip could only have come from Narky Marky, a local nobody grass, who was trusted by no one, if they had any sense. The fact that the tip had come from Marky, John thought best kept to himself. But now, maybe John would be able to wipe the proverbial smile off Bob’s face. It actually looked like Marky was about to come up trumps.

“It’s just a lobster boat, man. Let me go back to kip. It was just getting juicy.”

“Yeah, it’s only ever in your dreams. Jenny’s told me.”

“Fuck you, ya wazzack. When did Jenny ever gob to you anyway?”

“We don’t just play Bridge, you know. We do talk from time to time. Anyway, what’s a lobster boat doing out at this time of night? Early mornings, yes.” Briefly, moonshine lit the bay as a cold easterly opened a curtain in the cloudy Northumberland night.

“Mebbe you’re right, John.” Bob was fully awake. “That’s no cobbler out there.”

“Coble, Bob. The boat’s a bloody Coble. Christ, it’s your own town! Don’t you know your own history?”

“Cobbler? Coble? Cobblers! That’s a launch, man. Let’s go check it out.”

“Check your gear first. Risk assessment.”

Bob gave John a withering look, but reached into his raincoat and pulled out a pepper spray and baton like he was pulling rabbits from a top hat.

“Beatcha,” John said,”I got the Taser,” he added, patting the holster on his belt.

“Course you got the bloody Taser, man. You got the firearms training, divinn ya?”

It was at moments like these that John thought that maybe all police officers should carry firearms, real ones, but, on balance, he decided they were better off without. There’d been times, a few years back, when he was under cover in the ports, when a gun might have gotten him killed. A quick wit, and a lot of luck had proved much more reliable weapons. When did the luck run out?

On John’s instruction, they slipped out of the estate car, and using the still shiny-as-new concrete sea wall as cover, they moved towards the top of the headland. The small launch could be seen more clearly now, fighting a strong swell. Two darkened figures stood knee deep in the black water, waving to the launch.

“Marky was right,” John said. “He said something was coming in. Drugs or tobacco, probably. Not people. Who’d want to migrate to this bloody place? Too many people trying to escape it!” John waited for Bob to take the bait but though John could almost feel Bob thinking about it, the bait remained un-chewed. “They’ll get as close as they can to the shore, then toss the gear to those two in the water.”

“Do you think mebbe you should have notified the Coasties?”

“I did mention it to the Inspector. He said we could cope with anything Marky might come up with. Anyway, how much manpower do you reckon the Coast Guard has nowadays?

They reached the gap in he sea wall and stopped. They would need to break cover to cross the open sand which was at the end of the slipway, where the lifeboat gets tractored down to the water.

U”Why don’t they land, man?”

“They’ll want to keep offshore in case they get spotted. They’ll gun it if anything spooks them, and leave those two behind to carry the can.”

“Honour among thieves, eh?”

“These are bootleggers, Bob. Don’t count. Anyway, what thieves do you know with any honour?”

“Good point. What’s that now, man?” Something was thrown from the boat and one of the figures struggled forward and grabbed it, floundering back to the sand with his prize.

“I think we’ll have to risk losing the boat and just go for those two. I’ll go first. I’ll be quicker than you.”

Bob looked like he was about to protest that he might have been the heavier of the two, but that he could still give John a race anytime, and that brawn beats tall always, and that anyway, what did John mean, when he’s the fucking oldest, even though he doesn’t look fifty – when a second parcel splashed into the water and was also soon retrieved. The other figure sloshed his way back towards the boat.

“Now’s our chance.” And suddenly John was off, leaving Bob surprised, still stranded in his starting block, but only for a brief moment. Bob was surprisingly fast for his size.

They had less than a hundred yards to go, but the going was difficult in the soft sand. They kept running, and by keeping quiet and staying low they avoided being spotted straight away. The sand hardened and they took advantage of the firmer footing to sprint the last few yards. John’s plan to cheat at the start gate, so that he could take the lead role, was, however, soon scuppered as he found himself spun around by Bob, who went crashing past him.

“Let the forward do his work, man,” he laughed, as he struck the first smuggler with the dirtiest rugby tackle John had seen in a long time, and in police rugby matches you got to see more than your share.

John winced long enough to remember to pull out his warrant card and wheeze “Stop, Police. You’re under arrest.” It seemed the polite thing to do, even if a little belated. He reached the edge of the water and came to a stop, as the other figure splashed nearer the boat, shouting the alarm. He was going to make it it, too. John knew he was not going to reach him in time. “Stop. Police,” he called again. The man turned round. Just a kid. A kid in a soaking wet hoody and faded jeans. The boy laughed as he reached up for a rope ladder, just thrown down the side of the boat, and gave John the vees. It occurred to John that maybe he was wrong about thieves and their honour, and he didn’t like to be proved wrong, and he didn’t like kids giving him the vees, either. John remembered the Taser.

The kid now had a hand on the ladder. John thought quickly about his Taser training. Did water and electricity mix? Not really, he knew that much, anyway, training or not. Electric heaters in the bathroom and all that shit. When he was a Beat Bobby, in Birmingham, he had seen it in the flesh. Frazzled flesh. And more than once. Concentrate. How far away, now? No – need to get nearer. Bloody Tasers are an in-your-face response, almost. Bloody useless sometimes, specially if you’ve forgotten to clip in a fresh power pack. Had he clipped in a charged power pack? Sure he had. No time to do anything about it now, anyway. The kid had another hand on the ladder. Think. Assess. No danger to me, the electricity is at the pointy ends, and if I miss the kid the volume of water in the sea will dissipate the charge to a tickle. No one gets hurt. The kid pulled himself up, his torso now almost clear of the water. A good, clean target, Never easy to hit what you’re aiming at though with the bloody thing. Twenty yards now, almost in range.

John took a few more strides and then unclipped the holster. He pulled out the red and yellow boxy looking Taser. Charged? Check. Thank god! Hands came down to grab at the kid’s wet shoulders. This kid must be important to them, John thought briefly, or they’d have legged it by now. He took aim.

“Police. I’m armed. Stop, or I shoot.” Sort of true, and supposed to be effective enough, fib or not.The kid was almost out of the water, being hurriedly dragged aboard. John took aim, anticipating the arc at the end of the flight. He fired at about the same time he remembered that a Taser has to drop from its initial fifty thousand volts down to ten thousand before it becomes effective and that if there was no voltage drop then the shock could prove fatal to the target. Water might interfere with the voltage drop. The remembering induced a tremor in his hand, slight, but enough of a tremor to misdirect the pair of scudding filaments, arcing them well over the kid’s head to then land ineffectually on the boat.

The kid brayed like a donkey at John, but before he could flash the farewell vees that were plainly on his mind, flames erupted from the front of the boat. Screams of panic came from inside the vessel. Curiosity overcame sense and the kid peered up and over the deck just as a massive explosion claimed the world. John got a fleeting glimpse of something sharp, big and ugly hitting the kid somewhere in the upper body. The kid had no time to shout as his upper body parted from the lower, leaving one arm still attached to the ladder. More explosions competed with the initial blast. John dived for cover as the upper deck of the boat splintered into spinning whizzing missiles.

Point of least resistance, the air, John thought. That’s why the rest of it still floats. John’s next thoughts were of Bob. He looked to see if he was OK, and was pleased to see Bob spread-eagled over his poleaxed victim. John liked to think Bob was protecting the guy, but he suspected he’d gone in for a second tackle. Bob did like to make sure that once they were down, they stayed down. John checked himself and was pleased to find he was uninjured too. A number of large objects, some sickeningly recognisable, began to appear around the wreck, and then jostle and bob towards the shore. Who’d be a SOCO at a time like this? They can have it. Another jumbled memory, again he suspected from the Taser training, started to untangle. Some concern about mixing electricity and fuel. Fuel source. Ignition source. No! The memory then bumped into the question of just how sloppy a bunch of smugglers might be with their boat housekeeping. Maybe they should have done a risk assessment? He pulled at the Taser wires and they were loose in the water, so he reeled them in and twisted them around the gun. He then threw the gun into the sea, as far as he could manage. He didn’t have to tell anyone he’d fired one off. No one saw it, still alive anyway. Not the two, having fun and games in the beach. They were too busy. Yes, best keep schtum. Must have dropped it in the struggle. The Inspector will go ballistic. Did Bob know how much a top line piece of police equipment like that cost? John did. He chuckled. About one week of an Inspector’s pay.

John got up and brushed the sand from his front, all the while questioning the wisdom of wearing his favourite suit on an obbo. But, it was kind of his work suit too. A reminder of a past secondment in Australia; the McFarland kidnap. The groovy blue of the Colmar Sharkskin denim suit suited the job too. It was his little joke. The boys in blue. The real joke, which he mainly kept to himself, was that there was no denim and no sharkskin in the suit, either. Just one hundred percent pure superfine bona fide Oz wool. It felt good. Made him feel good. He looked across the water to the burning pontoon which was now all that was left of the launch. He headed over to Bob to see if he’d had enough yet. It seemed the rugby had turned into all-in wrestling so he helped, as Bob got the deflated prisoner sitting up. John pulled the guy’s arms behind his back and secured his wrists with the quick-cuffs. It started to rain.

“What the fuck happened there?” Bob asked. “Betcha got worried abut yer wig blowing off yer nappa?”

John had a few moments of second thoughts. Should he come clean with Bob? “Don’t know. I wasn’t on the boat. Some sort of accident. Shame.”

His breathing still laboured, Bob pointed skywards. “Whazzat?” he coughed, his recent exertions briefly robbing him of wind, wishing now he’d thrown the race with John. The rain turned heavy. Real heavy, as cigarettes began to fall from the sky. Single cigarettes at first, then packet after packet slapped into the water and sand. then sleeves of the damned things, some whole in their packs of two hundred. Some split sleeves too, the ragged paper edges of their wrappers burning black and red like molten lava. Tobacco pouches too. Bob and John covered their prisoner and themselves as best they could, using their coats as umbrellas against the bombardment.

Bob left his prisoner to pick up two undamaged sleeves of Benson and Hedges, which he managed to stuff in the near cavernous pockets of his raincoat. He looked at John guiltily.

“Tabs. For Jenny.”

John shrugged his shoulders. He’d tried to encourage Bob’s wife to give up smoking. She was the last lone smoker in the Bridge club. But she couldn’t. Not even after Sarah, John’s partner had died. If seeing her best friend succumb to emphysema wasn’t going to do it, then the threat of his finding another bridge partner seemed a bit lame. So, John gave up pressuring her a while ago.

Lights began to appear in the terraced cottages along the sea front.

“Best ring this in quick,” Bob said. People began to gather in their back yards, pointing, and getting noisier.

“Yeah,” John said, looking around the beach. “Better had, or the local tobacconists will be on our backs. We’ll need a cordon throwing round this lot.” He could see onlookers already scooping up armfuls of booty nearest their feet and scurrying back indoors with it. At least, he thought, they hadn’t set false beacons to lure their booty ashore. Let them have it. Nobody gets much round here.
John called up the station on his mobile. Got them to do the ball breaking stuff. The Coastguard, lifeboat, fire, ambulance and forensics services were all alerted, and a crew arranged to come and take over the aftermath, to start securing the scene. Waste of time for most of them, John thought, but it had to be done.

Volunteers were soon on site to man the lifeboat, and John let them through the beach to do their job, whether it was pointless or not. Everyone had their job to do. He didn’t need a fight with them. Didn’t want one either. These people were good people, mostly. He’d read in the museum that stood behind him, that during the war, local women and kids manned the lifeboats while the men were away fighting. One night, the swell was so bad, they couldn’t launch the lifeboat from its slipway, to go rescue sailors torpedoed out of their ship. They manhandled this bloody great lifeboat up the hill, over the road, over the heath, down the dunes, down to a more sheltered bay where they could get the lifeboat away. No, he didn’t want to pick a fight with these good people.

A local councillor also got wind of what had happened on the beach and soon got involved too, and being very protective of her well-kept beach had many questions and a burning desire to get a band of volunteers to start cleaning up. John drew the line there, wanting to keep at least some semblance of a crime scene intact. Two vans of sleepy-eyed uniformed officers soon arrived, and some of them were put to taping off the beach area. It’s a massive long beach, so they kept the cordon to where the bulk of the debris remained. Others dispersed where they thought they might be needed, or where they could get a hot drink. There had been deaths, so John knew senior officers would be on their way to take over. John could do no more than wait.

A young looking copper stood by the two parcels that had been successfully offloaded by the gang before the boat blew up.

“What do you want done with these, Sir?” he asked.

John had almost forgotten in all the melee. “Let’s have a look,” he said, lifting the first parcel carefully by its corners to examine it more closely “And it’s not Sir. You know that. I might have out-ranked you once, but not now, Constable.” Let it pass. Memories. Let it pass. The parcel had been double wrapped in that sort of plastic sheeting that hermetically seals all over, but a corner was split open. Should be good for fingermarks, John thought. If the salt water doesn’t get at them. Misshapen lumps had begun to spill from the tear, almost invisible as they plopped into the sand, and looking like old fashioned sugar lumps, not the uniform white cubes you used to get, more like the ones used in expensive coffee shops. Only smoother. Crystals. Crystal meth. John had seen enough of it to know. SOCO would have to confirm, of course.

“Gonna taste it?” asked the young constable.

“What – like on the telly?”

“Yeah, that’s it. CSI.”

“Piss off,” John spat, with instant regret. He’s just a rookie. Cut him some slack.

“Sorry, Son,” John mellowed. “It’s been a long night. I’m a bit concerned about this evidence, with all this sea water, and if it comes on to rain we could lose some forensics. Help me get these boxes locked in the car.” He returned a few minutes later, having lectured the rookie on the inadvisability of putting strange things or substances in your mouth, and leaving him to guard his Volvo, with a promise that he’d get one of the locals to get him a nice hot cup of tea, which he did.

The senior team arrived and took over from John. The Crime Scene Manager was Sandra Cambridge. John had worked with her on two other occasions, and knew she was good at her job – a bloody good manager, in fact. Not necessarily a good copper, but that was OK. Each to her own. She was buddied with Inspector Franks, the appointed Serious Crime Scene Officer. John knew little about Franks, as he’d only recently parachuted in, and straight into the thick of it, but he seemed competent enough. They took John’s report first, then spoke to Bob, then after a quick conference seemed happy enough with what had been done, though Sandra said she would also contact Revenue and Customs, as she thought they’d have a strong interest in the case, and maybe some intelligence to share. The Senior Team left John and Bob to process their prisoner, and said they’d convene a case conference as soon as appropriate.

“Not a bad nights work, me marra¡” John said to Bob, suddenly stopping dead in his tracks at his own words. He heard Bob snigger, but said nothing. It took both of them to lift and then guide their still semi-conscious prisoner to the car. The short walk seemed to revive the smuggler a little, and he started to kick off as Jahn opened the rear door. The young policeman he’d left guarding the car knew his job well, and stepped in with some enthusiasm, Bob making sure the prisoner did not bang his head, the other pushing the reluctant prisoner into his seat. John was more than happy to leave them to it. With the car now fully loaded, and Bob guarding the prisoner, John thanked the young policeman for his help and after a few final words with the Sandra Cambridge as she walked up from the beach, they drove off and headed for the Police Station at Bedlington.

Various and obscure poetry formats

This is a Pettigrew. It begins with a person’s name, reversed for poetic reasons, if you need, as I have. The name has to rhyme with last word of first line. Second and third lines are ‘freestyle.’ Ending rhymes required for the second and last lines. There is no other constraint.

I wrote this one for a Creative Writing homework exercise, when I had just bought Paul MCartney’s classical opus, his concerto. ‘Standing Stones.’


McCartney, Paul, you may recall

once from Beatles plucked Wings

Now, in his contrition

He fills his head with much loftier things



Having years ago come up with what I considered to be a killer second line at the time, and in, literally, seconds it has taken me the best part of ten years to finish the last two lines, which I just changed again.


In the course , which was  first class, and had a great bunch of people,  when we returned to poetry a few weeks later the tutor tasked us with writing a ‘Villanelle,’ a highly structured poem, as you will see, but capable of sublime writing. Think about Dylan Thomas, and his ‘Do not go gently . . . .’ Here, is my poor effort, again influenced by Paul McCartney and ‘Standing Stones.’

The structure is:

19 lines composed of 5 tercets, three line stanzas, and a final quatrain, a four line stanza. The first and third line in the opening stanza have to be alternatively repeated in the last line of the other four tercets, and be the last two lines of the ending quattrain. End rhyme for every first and second line in every stanza. Simple.


It’s been a hard day, Knight

Your first concerto now performed

Celtic legend burning bright


Listeners sent soaring in flight

Critics left wailing, to be be scorned

It’s been a hard day, Knight


Standing ovations, such a sight

The maestro deservedly adored

Celtic legend burning bright


Mystic stones, in majestic might

A new legand they have spawned

It’s been a hard day, Knight


Standing stones, silent witnesses to the fight

Of Celtic invasion, as it poured

Celtic legend burning bright


Witness your new hero here tonight

Witness heroes of old, gone yet mourned

It’s been a hard day, Knight

Celtic legend burning bright.






















There was a young woman from Alnwick

Who, when told to “Keep calm and don’t panic”

Said “It’s all right for you, you don’t need a poo

And the queue for the loo is just manic.”


A Women’s Institute member named Lisa

Thought she’d won the first prize for “Best Pizza”

Till it fell off the table, exposing ‘Dominoes” label

Which didn’t exactly please her.


There was an old woman from Russia
Told the sailor “Ya don’t touch my tush, Ya”
When he chose to persist
She fractured his wrist
You don’t upset a feisty babushka


A cold bloodied driver named Peter

Hooked his exhaust pipe up to his heater

When he started to choke

As his car filled with smoke

He regretted his custom-built feature


Frankenstein’s Monster

by William Baker

1150 words


Contains low level schoolboy language and humour

Sonny Frankenstein was a Jew. That bothered some, but not me. We were good mates. We were mates ever since the time I found him on the floor in the toilets at school, surrounded by these kids who wanted to see why his knob made him so different from everybody else.

One was on his knees, holding on to Sonny’s legs, trying to stop him from kicking, but not making a very good job of it. Sonny was always a fighter, it didn’t matter what the odds were. Another kid was stretching Sonny’s arms. He had his knees jammed hard against the top of Sonny’s head. He was making a better job of things than the other one, and it looked like it hurt. A third kid, the biggest of the three, was bent down, pulling Sonny’s belt undone. I knew him, his name was Brackley. He was the sort who likes to push other kids around, but only when he’s got some other prats around to back him up. Get him on his own and he wasn’t so big.

“What’s up, lads? Had a heart attack, has he? Trying to resuscitate him, are you?” I like to rely on humour at times like these. Most of the time it works, but I’d still got one set of fingers crossed, just in case. Brackley wheeled round to face me.

“Great,” he said, thumping one big fist into one big palm, and sounding like a thunderclap in the neat acoustics of the bog. “Nice one! Looks like we get to find out what a Mossie knob looks like as well!”

Mossies was what some kids at school called Muslims, which was daft really, as far as I was concerned, because if I was anything, I’d probably call myself C of E (elapsed,) as the last time I went to church was when I pissed on the vicar. Well, he started it when he poured water over my head. Anyway, that’s how my mother liked to tell it, when she wanted to embarrass me. Another thing was that although, true, my mother was married to a an Indian doctor named Rahul Mastry, and he came from Goa, he was more Portuguese than anything, and he was a Christian, and he was my step-father, because my father was killed in a car crash when I was two. I suppose it didn’t help that I tan a little bit too easily, and it had been a very good summer, and I’ve always found face fuzz easy to grow, even when I was fourteen. Brackley jutted his chin out, and started to clomp towards me, looking not a little unlike a bull in a Spanish bullring, only he was on two legs and he’d got no horns, and I was no matador.

I still kept my fingers crossed, more in blind hope than anything, but as a precaution I clamped the fingers of my other hand tight around the handle of the cricket bat I’d got hidden behind my back. When I’d heard on the grapevine what was going down on Sonny that afternoon, I thought if I was really going to be his white knight, then at least I ought to to get tooled up for the job.

When Brackley got near enough for me to begin questioning the sanity of my ambition to play the hero, I brought the bat around and grabbed it with both hands, all my previous faith in the power of crossed fingers gone. I jabbed at him. If Brackley had taken the warning he would have stopped dead, and who knows what would have happened next, but I guess his brain synapses weren’t firing quickly enough, and he kept coming. My bat ended up deep in his midriff and, badly winded, he stopped then alright, before falling back on his arse.

The other two got up from their knees, and I could see they were thinking very seriously about helping their bigger mate out. They quickly changed their plans when I started waving the bat at them. It made a good whooshing/swishing noise, not quite a Lightsabre, but close. They looked at each other and shrugged their shoulders, then, keeping their heads down to avoid eye contact, they shuffled out, muttering a few ‘Sorry, Bracks.’

Sonny got to his feet. “Thanks, Mate. You saved my bacon. Chris, isn’t it? I’ve seen you around.”

“Yeah. Chris. Chris Mastry . . . I know. Don’t laughI – and don’t say anything either – I’ve heard it all before. Anyway, what’s this about bacon? I thought your lot didn’t have anything to do with bacon.”

“Don’t you believe everything you read in the press. Me, I love a nice bacon sandwich, but don’t let my Dad know. He’s old school. Now Marmite you can stick.”

“Why don’t you two bumboys get a room?” Brackley said, still wheezing a bit and holding his belly, but still every bit Brackley. “I’m gonna get my big bruvver onto you. He’ll kick the shit out of both of you.”

I thought about Brackley’s threat for a moment. I didn’t doubt it for one bit. I’d heard stories about his big ‘big bruvver’ and what he could do, and I didn’t fancy having to face him off, even with a bigger bat in my hand. Then I had an idea.

“Sonny,” I said. “This cock of yours that Brackley seems so fascinated with. Get it out and piss all over him.” I loomed over Brackley, smacking my bat into my palm, making sure he didn’t try to do a runner. God bless him, Sonny did exactly as I asked him, and though he struggled to get it going to begin with, he was soon at it like an Ozzie firefighter at a bush fire. Brackley’s hands went up to shield himself from the yellow flow, and I noticed he was not so thick he didn’t keep his mouth shut. Once it was safe, the last thing I wanted was piss all over my wheels, I bent over Brackley again who looked like he’d got tears in his eyes, but it might have been piss.

“Now that, Brackley, is going to remain our little secret. Just you, me and Sonny. But if you put one foot wrong – if you, or any of your mates, or your ‘big bruvver’ come anywhere near me or Sonny, ever again, I’ll tell the whole school how you cried like a baby while Sonny pissed all over you.”

Brackley jumped to his feet, and balled both of his fists. I could see he was mad. Well, who wouldn’t be? But I’d got an ace ready.

“Or if you like, you could tell your mates that you had to give us both a good kicking, after we both put up a bloody good fight, and that we’re not to be messed with again. We’ll back you up on that story, if you want, won’t we Sonny?” Sonny nodded yes. “It’s your choice, Brackley.” I said. The cogs in Brackley’s head ground slow, but I could see I was getting through, as his fists started to relax, losing the white from his knuckles, and he backed down nicely.

“Alright,” he said, “But I got my eyes on you, both of you. Right?” He left, but as he went through the bog door I shouted “As long as you keep them off my knob I don’t mind.”

Talking about knobs, the one thing I did notice when Sonny gave Brackley his wetting led me to wondering whether Mary Shelley ever met an ancestor of Sonny’s, and where she might have got the idea from for her novel.



The Rout of Jack the Ripper

By William David Baker

9000 words

The Inventor sat at his work bench. It occupied the far end wall of his pokey garret room. The room was remarkable for its contrasting conditions. While his work bench was full, with its many cogs and cables, and different opaque glass retorts all bubbling incandescent with this and that, it was nonetheless scrupulously clean and tidy. The rest of the room, however, except for his bed, was piled high with boxes, cases, newspapers and rubbish, and there was hardly a square inch of floor to be seen. To get from his bed to his workbench, the Inventor had constructed a tunnel through his mountainous hoard. Another tunnel lead to his door which he kept locked at all times, day or night.

In front of him, lying on the bench beneath a large magnifying glass supported by a steel tripod, was a small thin card made of a rigid green material. The card was streaked with a spider’s web of silvery lines. Using a smoking soldering iron, the Inventor carefully added more gossamer strands to the silvery web. He paused to wipe some grimy sweat from his brow, and noticed, on his otherwise pristine white sleeve, a blackened stain from the work to which he had so dedicated himself. He brushed at it obsessively, then, seeing that the mark remained stubborn, tore off his laboratory jacket and threw it onto the mountainous pile behind him. He took a box down from the top of one stack, which made the stack teeter for a moment, then took out from it a brand new jacket which he then put on with a flourish. After carefully replacing the box he resumed his soldering. For the first time he noticed the distractive noises intruding from the floor below. He ground his teeth and muttered obscenely. He was interested only in his work. Nothing else mattered. Down below there was a world as alien to him as Venus might be to a Martian. He was soon lost in his work once again.

A clock tower nearby told all but him that it was three in the morning, though it was probably true that few of the drunken revellers below him took much notice of its tolling either, as they poured ever more copious amounts of cheap gin and sludgy porter down their seemingly insatiable throats. They knew they would not be disturbed. They knew that both the City Police Force and the Whitechapel Vigilance Committee had their hands full enough, without concerning themselves with the bawdy goings on in their back-street flea-ridden ill-named gin palace. The City Police Force and the Vigilance Committee were, in any case, well enough represented among the participants in this particular Bacchanalia.

Most of the carousers, though by no means all, were shabbily dressed and grimy poor, but where they found the coppers from to pay for their low enjoyment was a concern that few voiced out loud. ‘One man’s money was as good as any other,’ was the motto of the owner of the establishment.

The walls of its large single room were stained yellow with tobacco, and smoke from the fires. Rough wooden benches were fitted around the room, and those that needed more comfort, or demanded greater privacy, had brought with them their own filth-ridden blankets. An oddment of tables fitted whatever floor space they might. Many smells wafted the room, some of which were unpleasant, while others were distinctly foul.

A number of customers leaned against a rough oak counter, where a large breasted barmaid sweated buckets as she tried to keep up with their urgent demands for ‘More gin’ and ‘More porter’ – and still get their money tucked safely into her ample money pouch. A swingeing swipe from her muscular right arm was enough to keep most of them in check, a lean forward over the counter enough to encourage the interest of those not yet deserving of a slap. Some of her customers had succumbed and were slumped, heads resting on the counter, though still standing, their snores rippling across the soaking wet bar top. In quieter moments, she prodded the sleepers, and those she could wake were topped up with more drink; those that she could not wake were, on her nod, lifted up by bruisers and roughly thrown outside.

In one corner of the room two red faced beer bellies were trying to beat the other at arm wrestling. Wagers were being raised and their backers cheered and jeered according to their allegiances. In another quiet corner, a foppishly dressed man pulled a sister to the barmaid onto his lap, though she was a much smaller and more shapelier sister. She pretended to palm him him away. Then, with a wicked laugh, she lifted her beery black skirts, revealing a shocking amount of lily white leg, and swung herself over to straddle him, burying her face in his. His hands disappeared into her beery black folds. Around the room people laughed and fought. They drank and smoked, and played their own little games. One group stood together in a bunch, in the centre of the room, arm in arm, singing for all they were worth, which was, truth be told, very little.

“Daisy. Daisy. Give me your answer, do.”

The group was competing with the EdisonTeleViewer, a large wooden box about the size of a tea chest, encased in a cast iron frame, and hanging from the ceiling by stout iron chains. They were doing quite well too, almost drowning out the music hall performer singing from the EdisonTeleViewer.

“‘ere, Flo,” one of the group cackled. “Look at ‘er hat. A right toff, innit?”

“Yeah, Gert,” her friend replied, wheezing and coughing. “And how many toffs you gonna have to tupp tonight to pay for the likes of an ‘at like that.” They fell into each other’s arms and rolled around the floor in rude laughter.

The scene displayed on the front of the EdisonTeleViewer that had attracted their attention was at times fuzzy and grey, and every few seconds flickered so wildly that nothing could be seen at all. The artiste’s voice, though, continued to ring clear throughout her performance, as her voice was projected, not from the EdisonTeleViewer, but from two smaller boxes, EdiSonSpeakers, that lay underneath it, and that did not seem to appear to suffer the EdinsonTeleViewer’s flighty visual limitations. Despite of all the interference, the artiste’s performance was well appreciated, and the whole room applauded her warmly as she finished and took her bow. As she opened her mouth to sing her next ditty the scene went completely black, and stayed that way for a few seconds, which resulted in much booing and whistling from the floor. When the scene reappeared the artiste had gone, and was replaced by a stern looking man in full beard, top hat and tails.

“‘ere. What’s going on?” one of the ugly choir shouted.

“We don’t want this toff geezer. Put Marie back on,” another shouted.

“We interrupt your programme of enjoyment to bring you an important civil announcement.” The man’s voice was deep and sonorous, though its impact was diluted somewhat as there was a noticeable time lag between the words he spoke and the movement of his lips.

“We apologetic for the break in the performance, but news has just reached your correspondent and goodservant of yet another most horrible death in the East End of our Great Capital City. The monster, of whom many now coin the cognomen, Jack the Ripper, has slain yet another unfortunate, his third to date. At one forty four this Holy Morning, the Thirtieth of September, in the Year of Our Lord, 1888, one Edward Watkins, Police Constable, whilst patrolling his Eastgate beat, came upon the dead remains of a woman, lying upon the ground in Mitre Square.”

The whole room gasped as one, and then fell uncommonly silent.
“Initial reports, which have yet to be given the official approval of either the Coroner or Police Surgeon, suggest that not only was the sorry victim cut from ear to blessed ear – ” Gasps and murmurs. “But that the body was also treated to a terrible punishment.” His deep voice wavered. “With several body organs found in places never intended by nature, and some that have yet to be found at all.”

There were screams. Several fainted, men and women both. Willing hands, some a little too willing, rushed to loosen bodices and wallets. Cries of ‘Shame’ and much worse echoed around the room.

“What are them bleedin’ guv’nors doing abaht it, I ask you?” screamed one.

“That’s three of them now he’s done,” another.

“I’ll bet he’s done for more than three if the truth be told. That’s the trouble. The buggers don’t tell us everything.”

“Ain’t that the bleedin’ truth! What about that body they pulled out of the river yesterday. No bleedin’ arms or legs. Nor no head, it hadn’t. Westminster, weren’t it? Though they said that it weren’t him as did that one!”

“What do they know? More important – what are they doing about it? What are they trying to hide? It’ll be one of their own they’re trying to protect. That’s what it is. Mark my words.”

“Shaddup! Let’s hear what he’s saying, not your codswallop.” A few punches were thrown before order was restored. The announcer continued.

“We take you now to the scene of horror where we hope our peripatetic reporter can bring us right up to date with the very latest account of this most heinous crime.”

The view faded to black, soon to be replaced by a sticky yellow glow as thick fog was pierced by a series of powerful EdisonStreetLamps, making sparkles of the tiny water droplets hanging in the smog. An oxcart carried a single giant lamp, an EdisonSoptLamp. Its operator fought to twist the iron lamp left and right, cutting a yellow swathe down a narrow cobbled street, picking out buildings on both sides, hovels so bent they almost touched at their roofs. Bundles of rags puckered up in doorways, in a vain attempt to hide from the beam’s intrusion.

“Spare a copper, Boss?” a braver of the bundles asked, but was ignored.

“Three-penny upright, Duckie?” another asked.

“Be off with you, you dirty puzzle,” the lamp operator shouted.

“We’ve gentlefolk watching here, so we have.”

Piles of rotting refuse filled the gutters, blocking the flow of putrefied foul water. The street cobbles were matted with still-steaming horse droppings and straw. Thick black cables hung from poles and roofs, disappearing into the murk.

A young man walked into the mobile beam cupping a handkerchief to his mouth. He was dressed in the latest fashion: a dark short-coat with turned down collar and large-checkered trousers. In his other hand he held what looked like a small bedpan. It had a cable trailing from it, similar to those hanging in the street, but narrower.

“Calvary! Calvary!” the young man wailed, cupping the bedpan to his mouth.

“Pull yourself together, man,” an older man said, stepping into view.

“Ask your damned questions, and let’s be gone from here. Be quick about it.”

“I am sorry, Sir,” the younger man said. “It’s just that never have I seen such a sight before. So . . . So – ”

“When you’ve seen as many dead ‘uns as I have, you gets used to it, melad. And some of them worst than that, I can tell you.” he said, pointing backward with his thumb. The light ratcheted to the doorway he was pointing at. “Now cut out yer caterwauling and let’s get this done with so as I can complete my investigations.”

The elder’s words seemed to do the trick and the younger regained his composure.

“Viewers. This is Theo Grant, your roving reporter. I’m here at the scene of the Ripper’s latest outrage.” He turned to the other. “You are Doctor Gordon Brown, Surgeon to the City Police Force of our great city of London, are you not?”  The older man muttered.

“Into the EdisonListener if you please, Sir,” the reporter said, pushing his ‘bedpan’ into the other’s face.

“Damn fool nonsense!” the other said, wincing at the whining feedback his outburst caused.

“And if you could face the EdisonRecorder,” the reporter said, beckoning to a colleague hidden in the fog. His colleague, dressed exactly as he was, but with the addition of a cloth cap which he wore back to front, came to him carrying an oblong iron box on his shoulder, which trailed the ubiquitous cable, and which he pointed at the Surgeon. The Surgeon closed his eyes, and muttered under his breath. He then took a deep breath, and released it slowly.

“Yes! Yes! I am whom you say. Now, please get on with it. There is much work yet to be done.”

“Doctor, what is the news from the square?”

“Well, lad. She’s a dean ‘un. I can vouch for that alright. Her head hangs on by but a thread, and her cheeks have been opened up like mouths. And her innards are strung all,over her shoulder. That was a peculiarity to me. I must confess, even in my compass.”

“There was some rumour of missing organs, Sir?”

“Aye lad, she’s a kidney awry – that much we know. And there’s been some peculiar goings on in the vicinity of the womb. I’ll know more about that tomorrow when I’ve got her on the slab. Oh yes, and be blowed if he hasn’t nipped chunks out of her ears as well.” The Doctor chuckled. “Mebbe it was that Van Gogh fellow out for some diabolical revenge or other.” No one else seemed to get the Doctor’s joke.

“Sir, the perpetrator – he is likely to be well bloodied for his effort?”

“In my opinion – not necessarily so. This butcher is careful. He seems to know precisely what he’s at.”

“Some say the Ripper must be a medical man. What say you to that?”

“I take great exception to such calumny. That’s what I say, lad. True, the devil seems to have a modicum of knowledge in him, he knows his anatomy. But so does the butcher and the slaughter-man. I believe his handiwork to be crude and clumsy my – ”

“I beg your pardon, Doctor, but is that Sir Charles I see approaching yonder?” A top hatted man approached them dressed as if stepping out from the Opera.

“Sir Charles! Sir Charles!” The reporter dashed to the newcomer, pushing his EdisonRecorder colleague ahead of him.

“Ladies. Gentlemen. We have before us Sir Charles Warren, Commissioner to the City Police Force. Sir Charles, do you have a statement for us?”

“I have indeed. Shall I speak it now?”

“In a moment, Sir. First, a quick word from our sponsors. The reporter drew his hand across his throat as a signal to his colleague to cease their shooting.

“What are you playing at?” the Commissioner demanded, grabbing the reporter by his lapels. “You cannot treat the Commissioner of Police in such a cavalier fashion. You ask me to speak then cut me off like a servant. Who is your superior at the British Edisoncasting Corporation? I’ll have your job for this insult.”

“No insult intended, Commissioner. Indeed, just the opposite. I could not but help but notice as you came into the better light that your face looked rather shiny and red – no doubt as a result of your vigorous attention to your duties this night. And all on our most undeserving behalf.”

“Explain yourself, young man.”

“It’s the EdisonRecorder, Sir. It does tend to exaggerate such complexions, and I did not want you to appear before your discerning public any less than one hundred percent.”

“I see, and I thank you for your keen eye. You have a remedy I suppose?”

“Indeed I have. I always carry with me the wherewithal in case of such emergency.”The reporter took out a sliver powder compact and approached the Commissioner. “Let me dab the offending parts.”

The Commissioner stepped back in alarm. He then seemed to think better of it, and allowed the young man to finish his work. The reporter was pleased that he had not only helped the Commissioner avoid a communications faux-pas, but also earned himself a good bonus from his uncle who ran the sponsorship program at the BEC. There were enough businesses jumping through hoops to get on board these Ripper Specials. His money was on Lyon’s Tea Shops or Robin’s Starch. He ushered the Commissioner back to the EdisonRecorder.

“Right-ho. Ready in five.” He counted back on his fingers, and cued the Commissioner to begin.” The Commissioner cleared his throat. His audiences everywhere huddled beneath their EdisonViewers, and waited in silence.

“The victim has been identified!” he said, then paused, drawing well on his EdinsonPublicRelationsCourse he had recently completed. His audience drew a collective sharp breath. Would the victim be a stranger? Or, would it be someone they knew? Wouldn’t be a toff, that was for sure.

“The woman is Catherine Eddowes, a local harlot by all accounts, though she hails originally from the Black Country – the town of Wolverhampton, I’m given to understand.” In most places there were great sighs of relief, thought not everywhere.

“Katy? I know Katy. She was no strumpet.”

“The liars! I know her old man. The bookseller.”

“Lordy! I wuz ‘op pickin in Kent wi’ ’em only last month.”

“She was a worker, that one. A real skivvy.”

“Yeah, she charred for the Jewes, so she did.”

“Whatever the woman’s background,” the Commissioner continued. “She deserved nothing of what was meted out to her. And now I come to ever more grave news.” His audience quieted gain.

“As I left the scene at Mitre Square, my officers brought me reports of another body found earlier. They were not sure at first if it was the Ripper’s work, as she seemed to be not so badly treated as the others, so they saw fit not to alert me. Now, it seems that he may have been disturbed and so sought elsewhere to have his fun. It now seems true enough that the Ripper has indeed done for two tonight. This second one’s been found right here in Duffield’s Yard. It seems there can’t have been more than a half hour between the killing of them both, and as yet we don’t, despite all the reports, rightly know who was first to perish. We will no more in a day or two.”

“Holy Mother of God! Will naught protect us from the Beast?”

“Steady, melad. If you mean to intimate that we’ve been slow in our pursuit of him then think again – because I can tell you and all of your watchers out there that we have him. Yes, by Harry, we have the Ripper within our grasp.”

“You’ve caught him, Sir? You have him in custody? Hurrah for the City Police.”

“Hold, young man. I said he was within our grasp. Not yet taken. But, we will have him soon enough – with the help of your viewers.”

“What do you mean, Sir? Let us have it. How may we help?”

“It’s like this. Long before these murders began, your Government, concerned with the lawlessness that pervades our great city, put in motion certain plans to stem this tide of criminality. These dreadful murders have provided us with the first opportunity to test our provisions. We have the very best brain in the world working with us on this.”

“Who is it, Sir? Name him. We’ve had no one of his ilk since Holmes fell at the Reichenbach Falls. God bless his soul.” The Commissioner glared and cleared his throat at length.

“That’s as maybe – and a matter of opinion. Well, I’ll tell you. It’s that most worthy of Yankees, the great Mister Thomas Alva Edison, whose been assisting us the many weeks past in casting the noose around the Ripper’s neck. He, that with his marvellous inventions has so dramatically changed our lives. Aye, and one more invention did it, by Harry.”

“Tell us what it is, Sir. Tell us now.”

“That I will. No, I’ll do better than tell. I’ll show you. Over here, men.” Two policemen crabbed their way over to them carrying a heavy oblong box, almost identical to, but slightly larger than that carried by the reporter’s colleague. His colleague spoke.

“That’s nothing new, Theo. it’s just an EdisonRecorder like mine. I’ve seen them being strung up all around the city this last fortnight.”

“And you thought not to to tell me? Fool! Do you not see a story until it snaps at your heels?”

“It is indeed a story worth the telling, ” the Commissioner said, “And your colleague was only in part correct, for it is the troublesome East End where we have concentrated the installation of the first of these instruments – and EdisonRecorders they well indeed may be, but no ordinary ones, believe me. As you will soon see for yourselves. Fetch it out, men. Fetch it out. ”

One of the officers fiddled with Bakelite knobs and buttons on the top of the machine and a small mahogany drawer slid out. He withdrew a box, the size of a small novel, from the drawer and handed it to the Commissioner.

“The machines we have installed have been modified by Mr Edison. He has added a new mechanism which he calls his EdisonTeleViewerStorer. It creates a permanent record of all it sees and hears, which it stores on this EdisonBeta.” He waved the small box for all to see. “We can, at will, review what it has recorded, time and time again, whenever we so wish. Better still, we can link our machine and its recording to your EdisonRecorder and broadcast it’s story to all of those watching us this instant. We have him on here.” He waved the box again. “Dead to rights. In the very act. And I call on you all to help us identify the blackguard as you watch his terrible deeds. Your crime-watching may well lead us to his crime-stopping.” With an eye on a possible future move into politics, he made a mental note of the slogans which he thought might well prove useful to him again.

“Show it, Sir. Let us all see.” The EdisonBeta was placed back into its machine and a cable linked to his colleague’s EdisonRecorder.

“There’s some as reckon these things will not only help us to catch criminals red-handed, but will even deter them from committing criminal acts in the first place, though I don’t see it meself,” the Commissioner whispered to the reporter. A large EdisonTeleViewer, complete with its pair of EdiSonSpeakers, was carted forth and parked close by. The reporter’s colleague gave them the thumbs up. They all turned to watch.

A man dressed in white was seen in the distance. Suddenly he filled the whole box. Everyone drew back in audible alarm. “Ah, the EdisonZoom,” the Commissioner said. “I should have warned you. It is a feature new to you all. But, worry not. The operator will get it right in a moment or two .” As if to order the white figure receded a little into the distance. He paused at a dairyman’s barrow, where he bought and quaffed a pennyworth of milk. His face was still turned away from view, but his attire was much clearer and it seemed he wore what looked like engineer’s overalls, though in pristine white, and not the more usual blue. A shiny black leather hold-all lay at his feet while he drank.

“’tis a dreadful thing, this Ripper business!” the nan said to the street vendor, keeping his face well hidden in shadow. He laughed in a strange high pitch as he handed back his bottle to the dairyman. The watchers were again audibly taken aback. “We have his voice? The Ripper speaks! And an American, by Harry!”

The dairyman fumbled the bottle. It shattered noisily as it hit the cobbles. He grabbed the shafts of his barrow, and rushed to get away from the strange man with his wild looks. The wild man picked up his hold-all and proceeded towards Duffield’s Yard.

“We’ve cut it a bit here just to speed things up a little,” the Commissioner said.

A cacophony of noise blared from the EdiSonSpeakers. Police whistles and rattles drowned out all else. Their man came scurrying back into view, his white overalls no longer pristine. He halted in the shadows to strip off his reddened overalls which he quickly stuffed into his hold-all. Clean shirted and trousered, he moved out of view, but not before giving them a good view of his face, smeared with blood which he wiped away with a large rag. He ran from view, cackling. Had he mounted a besom broom and flown away he could not have shocked anyone the more.

The reporter said suddenly “That face. The chubby jowls. The fairness of skin. The white wispy hair. I’m sure I know him. Yes. I have it. I’ve seen his likeness in the Thunderer. Is that not Mr Thomas Edison?”

The Commissioner almost choked. “Balderdash, you young fool. Our Consultant? Can’t be . . . I know the man. Been working with him for weeks. . . . It can’t be . . . ” Doubt suddenly drew his face down to a frown.,”Rewind, man. Rewind, man. Play it again,” he ordered his officer. They watched again, the operator assisting them by slowing down the speed of the recording, and at the right moment, revealing the murderer frame by single frame. The Commissioner was wide-eyed. “Why did I not see it? I am no man’s fool,” he said, close to collapse.

“’tis a fresh pair of eyes that does it, Sir,” the reporter said. “You have been so close to this horror for so many weeks now it is no wonder that – ”

“That’s as maybe, young man. But now I must to my job. The City Police Force is extremely grateful for your assistance, but I go now with my men to the Savoy to confront this American madman.”

“May I accompany you, Sir,” the reporter asked.

The Commissioner thought for a moment and then said “You may. You have earned the right to be in at the end of this. Though hear me well, I want full disclosure beforehand of anything you write on this matter. Is that clear?” He happily took the reporter’s offered hand, and shook it with vigour. Carriages were arranged and within minutes more than a dozen officers headed to the hotel as fast as their coachmen dared.

They piled into the hotel lobby, much to the consternation of early risers going to breakfast and the hotel staff. The Commissioner banged his cane on the desk in Reception, and demanded to know in which rooms Mr Edison could be found. The Receptionist took a key from underneath and volunteered to show them the way. Officers drew their pistols and carbines ready.

They reached the floor where Edison had his suite, and needed no further help to find his door, as an officer quickly spotted a blood trail down the centre of the hallway carpet. It lead to a door where a food trolley stood from the night before, waiting for its collection. They quietly and closely examined the door. Its finger plate was smeared in gore. An officer moved the dinner trolley to one side, so as to give them more room to make their swoop. He lifted the polished silver dome off the large platter beneath expecting to find a tasty morsel to eat. Instantly, he muffled a scream and was violently sick. Revealed on the platter was a human kidney, with several neat slices taken from it.

“Take care, men,” the Commissioner whispered. “The man is clearly deranged. Be not afraid to shoot him dead if you have to.” The door to Edison’s suite opened.

“What the Cahoots is going on out here? What’s all this damned commotion – ”

Edison was pounced upon and then held down on the floor, his mouth covered by a pair of large beefy constabulary hands. The Commissioner ushered a small team of men into Edison’s suite with orders to search it thoroughly. Edison, now seated on the floor, was still,gagged, but was now cuffed, and manacled.

“Here you are, Sir.” The Commissionaire was handed a leather hold-all taken from Edison’s rooms. It looked identical to the one they had been watching just a short while before. He opened the bag and carefully took out the bloodied whites they’d seen the Ripper remove. He delved deeper and drew out a long metal box, which, when opened, revealed an expensive looking set of gleaming, but as yet uncleaned, surgical knives and scalpels.

“Get me a cloth. Quick,” he shouted, his face draining of colour. “I’ve found something else. I’ve touched it. For the Love of God. Get me a cloth. Get me a cloth!” He shook feverishly, flicking thick red spots from his bloodied hands.

“Will someone tell me what the Heck is going on here?” Edison had managed to free his mouth. “You, there. Sir Charles. I demand an answer. You can’t treat an American like this.”

The Commissioner glowered. He bent over Edison and hit him in the face with a balled fist, just once, but that was enough to silence Edison, who did cot come round until after the cell door slammed shut on him.

The press had a field day. The news went around the world like wildfire. Edison naturally proclaimed his profound innocence, believing the world, or at least the British portion of it had gone completely mad. The American government was outraged, even when they were shown the strong evidence against Edison. They demanded he be sent back to them, to answer his case at home, but the British public, urged on by its Press, would have none of it. Old Bailey schedules were thrown out, and a trial quickly arranged. Questions were asked in Parliament, and a Bill was passed in rapid time that would allow EdisonRecorders to be used for the first time in a trial.

The trial began, and the Prosecution placed its case before a bewildered Edison. A number of horrid murders had taken place in the months before the Ripper began his bloody spree. The Authorities strove valiantly to catch the madman, yet seemed stumped. Rumours had been propagated blaming the Jews, resulting in a growing number of anti-Semitic attacks. The best brains in the country had been gathered together but no one had an answer, until some bright thing suggested that an outsider, the likes of say Thomas Alva Edison, the brilliant American inventor, might be the answer. He was contacted immediately, and agreed to help, and in mid-July, 1888, landed in London, by steamer, ostensibly to determine if technological advances could be brought to bear, that might impact a solution. The prosecution emphasised the word ostensibly, claiming that it was all a cunning front, an excuse for Edison to import into their Great Country, his very own brand of decadent depravity, the brutality and the lawlessness of which was so indicative of the Wild West of America. He lost little time. Mary Ann Nichols was slaughtered in the early morning of the 31st August. Just over a week later, the 8th of September, to be precise, the body of Annie Chapman was found. Both had been similarly butchered. When questioned by the City Police prior to his trial, Edison could offer no corroboration of his whereabouts at the time of these two murders, either in the evening time before, or in the early hours of the morning in question, other than to say he was alone in his rooms at the Savoy. An unlikely, highly coincidental set of insubstantial nonsense, given his stature and renown, the Prosecution insisted.

They moved to the next two murders. On the pretext of helping the Authorities, though more likely, they contended, only to justify the substantial amounts of money he’d demanded in advance for his services, he installed his surveillance inventions in order to catch the East End killer, by then dubbed Jack the Ripper, never believing for one moment that their wonderful Police Force would so quickly become so skilled with his equipment as to catch him red-handed in the murders of Elizabeth Stride and Catherine Eddowes, for which he again, incredulously, he could offer no decent alibi. There was a polite ripple of applause from the gallery. The court was shown the EdisonBeta tapes revealing Edison to be the Ripper. The Prosecution then catalogued the actions of Sir Charles Warren, which brought an even bigger ripple of applause from both the gallery and the jury. The ripples died away quickly, as he described the grizzly findings at the Savoy, especially when it was confirmed that the remains of the human kidney found outside his rooms did indeed show the same signs and method of removal as that so cruelly taken from the poor defenceless Eddowes woman. The Prosecution rested their case, and handed over to the Defence, which was headed by large Texan, who insisted on keeping his Stetson on all through the proceedings. When admonished by the Judge, he offered to remove his hat, if the Judge would remove his wig. This did his case little good, though to be fair little defence was offered other than an insistence on his client’s complete innocence of all of which he accused. He finally drew on Edison’s previous good name, and fell on the immeasurable debt owed by the world to Edison for his wonderful inventions.

There was a brief summing up by both side, followed by a few wise words from the Judge to ”Consider the evidence. Consider the evidence.”

Thirty minutes later, the Jury Foreman pronounced ‘guilty as charged,’ when asked for the jury’s verdict on each of the four charges of capital murder in turn. The Judge stood the Jury down. He asked Edison if he had anything to say before he passed on him the only sentence the Law allowed him to. Edison, white-faced, nodded in the negative. The Judge then placed a black silk square on top if his bewigged head, making sure a corner pointed forward, and told Edison that having been found guilty of capital murder there could be no sentence in Law other than the death sentence, and that henceforth, he would be taken down from that place, hence to another place so deemed by the Law for the purpose, where he would, at a time decided by her Majesty’s Justice, be hung by the neck until he was dead. He called on God to have mercy on his soul, and ordered warders to take Edison down.

There was a quick appeal that was equally quickly turned down. The execution was fixed for the 5th November, the Government’s idea of a good date to do the deed, when the public would be revelling in their Guy Fawkes’ celebrations. They were keen to return to some normality, both at home and abroad. The day came round quickly and only a chosen few were allowed to bear witness. Sir Charles Warren took front row seat and sat impassively as the hooded fiend was shuffled over to the trap door. Neither showed any remorse as the drop was executed.
Despite the harshness of her life, Mary Kelly retained much of her younger beauty. A few pounds heavier yes, but not bad at all for a twenty five year-old forced eventually into a life of prostitution as the only means to live. Everyone knew her as a quiet, pleasant girl, who only when in drink was ever not so.

It was Friday evening of November the 8th. Mary had dined frugally on a mishmash of boiled potatoes and dubious smelling fish. She tried desperately to sleep, but her body craved the soporifics she now found only in gin. She rose well after midnight, threw on her shawl to protect her from the cold, and ventured out into the night to see what prospects she might find.

She came across George Hutchinson, a labourer, with whom she had exchanged several favours over previous months. She begged him for a sixpence but, as much as he would have dearly liked to make another mutually enjoyable exchange, he could not help as he was penniless till next pay day, and half of that to come was already promised to the pawnbroker.

Hutchinson watched her go. A man stood in the street opposite. He thought Kelly might know him as she seemed to make a beeline for him. Hutchinson didn’t like the look of the man. A swarthy Italian type, all dark curly hair and bold moustache. He carried a hold-all. Hutchinson thought he’d follow them. He had little else to do, and there might be a shilling in it for him, if he played his cards right. As he neared them, he heard Kelly tell the man how upset she was – how she had lost her white silk handkerchief. He offered his red one to her to wipe away her tears. She thanked him, and after a brief exchange, took his arm, steering him to where she lived. Hutchinson laughed, thinking how well Mary played her part, better than any of those snooty tarts up the West End. He thought he would give it a short while, then burst in on them, and see what he could scare from her punter. As they entered her place, Hutchinson stopped to light his pipe. A pal of his weaved by, carrying a jug of beer and a pint of gin. Hutchinson forgot all about Kelly once he was invited to share his pal’s bounty.

Kelly’s visitor studied her closely, as she slipped off her skirt and climbed on to the bed. He had never been with a woman, being devoted only to his work, and neither wanting nor needing any other distraction. Neither had he ever wanted to do what he planned to do next. Before, it was a means to an end, and the end having been achieved, he thought that he could leave that part of him behind, but alas, that was not the case. If anything, he wanted more, craved it, and this woman was to be his masterpiece. He would rearrange her, and make her more beautiful than ever she could imagine. He would immortalise her. He opened his bag, and felt inside. He moved towards her. She shuffled herself over to the far side of the bed, and beckoned him to join her. In a movement so fast she hardly had chance to see the flash of thin steel, he slit her throat wide and deep. He was not a cruel man. He made certain that she breathed no more before beginning his rearrangement of her. He smiled, grateful at the thought of all the time he now had to do his work, and set to it.

Kelly’s body was found at 10.30 the next morning by an agent of her landlord who had been sent to shake unpaid rent from her. A hue and cry went up, and the Police came running from all quarters, surprising many, not only by the speed of their response but also its depth, for leading them was no other than the Commissioner himself. He was closely accompanied by an officer who carried a large ironclad wooden box in front of him, supported by a leather belt around his neck. “We have him, Sir,” the officer called. “Two clicks North from here.”

“Come on, Men. Let us finish this. All haste, now.”

Two burly policemen were sent forward carrying brightly painted nine inch steel tubes filled with concrete, EdisonDoorOpeners, though only one blow was needed to splinter the flimsy door wide. They were met with a huge wall of rotting rubbish. Two policeman died within minutes; one suffocated, when the tunnel he was navigating collapsed, one crushed when a pile of heavy boxes fell on him. The Commissioner called his men back and organised a chain gang, and box by box, pile by pile they carried the rubbish from the room, along the chain, down the stairs and into the street. When they eventually broke through, they found the Inventor sitting at his workbench, completely oblivious to both them and the noise their exertions had made. The reporter had his assistant quickly set up his EdisonRecorder. Only then did the Commissioner move forward, flanked by two armed officers, and placed a hand on his quarry’s shoulder.

“Sir, you are under arrest for Murder. Please come quietly now.”

The Inventor turned around slowly, looking confused, as if his mind was in another place.

“Your name, Sir? For the record.” The Commissioner asked, as their prisoner was cuffed and manacled.

“I’ll tell you who that is, Sir Charles.” A burly white-haired man entered the room. Their prisoner, suddenly finding himself dragged back into their reality, gasped.

“Edison! But, how? It’s not possible.” The swarthy prisoner spoke, also in an American accent.

“Sir Charles. Let me introduce Mr Nikolai Tesla, a former employee of mine, back in the States.”

“Employee! Employee!” Their prisoner screamed, and despite being fully shackled, and further constrained by two beefy coppers, he tried to hurl himself at Edison, who was immediately shielded by officers allocated his protection.

“I was more than your employee and you know that, you cheat! You blackguard! I saved your sorry ass when you hadn’t got a clue, and you robbed me of the million dollars you promised me for my effort. I swore I’d have my revenge on you.”

Edison looked to the Commissioner, who was scratching his head in puzzlement. The EdinsonViewer continued to record, a matter appreciated by the Commissioner, despite his confusion, and he nodded a waning to Edison to take care.

“It is true that this man was of some little help to me in my development of direct current electrical equipment. There were some few piddling problems we needed to overcome. But as to the money, Tesla simply did not comprehend the American sense of humour. A million dollars, indeed. Who would believe?” Tesla’s swarthy looks turned purple.

“Little help, you say? Piddling problems? Your whole direction was flawed, and you know it, truth be told. But I fixed your generators easy enough, did I not? I fixed your motors. I tried to tell you were on the wrong track altogether. Direct current was never going to be practical. Such a piddling voltage. And such massive cabling, with its awfully poor transmission capability. And all those clunking great power plants of yours There would have to be one giant power plant for every square mile to give your system even the slightest chance of success. It was never going to win over my alternating current system, which you also later stole from me.”

“The Patents Office would have it different, my boy,” Edison said. “It’s alright having all these ideas in your head. I get them made and sold. That’s why I’m where am, and you? Well, you sure are up shit street, that’s a fact, and without no paddle.” He walked over to Tesla’s workbench, and picked up the green card Tesla had been absorbed with when arrested.

“How did you find me?” Tesla asked. “How did you escape the noose I thought I’d so cleverly placed around your neck?”

“As to the latter first, you have to understand Tesla, that back in the States, my name is . . . well, I won’t say I’m bigger than Jesus, as that would only stir the wrath of those rednecks in the Bible Belt, and I got some good customers there, believe me, but you get my meaning. There was even serious talk of America going to war on my behalf, which was kinda touching, but it sure put a rocket under these Limeys, I can tell you.”

“But the trial! The hanging! I thought I’d planned it all so well. I knew that by giving the police here a few problems they couldn’t solve, they’d eventually turn to the great American genius – ”

“By that, I suppose you mean the murders leading up to the Ripper’s reign of terror,” the Commissioner said.

“Quite right, Sir Charles. You catch on quickly. I’m almost impressed,” Tesla said. “And once you had him, here in London, I could then set in motion my master plan. To frame him for the masterpieces that I would create. A fitting plan, I think, as he has always been so ready to take from me, why should he not take my guilt and my penalty?”

“The trial, though serious enough in its intent at the beginning, soon became our ploy to hoodwink you into thinking you had won,” Edison said. “As it happened, it turned out to be a very useful exercise to us. It gave us the opportunity to really focus on the spiders’ web that had been so cleverly woven against me. It opened up to everyone the enormity and the compass of the enemy we just had to bring to book. It was during our further investigations, that our experts noticed how lifeless looked the Ripper’s face on our images of him – you – when caught on the EdisonRecorder. Enlargements were made, and clearly showed the joins between mask and skin. The eyes especially gave you away. Difficult to keep the rubber gummed down, eh? Your masquerade was uncovered. All we needed then was to lure you out in the open.”

“But a man died. You didn’t fake that. That was real enough.”

“I can answer that,” Sir Charles said. “He was a convicted man, due to die in any case. The promise of money for his widow-to-be made him a willing volunteer for an earlier drop than he’d been allocated. A hessian bag over his head from the start helped us keep our subterfuge secret.”

“But, what of your former, Sir? How was it you found me?”

“Well, Tesla. Perhaps you should know it all, for all the good it will be to you,” the Commissioner said, while Edison continued to study most closely the small green card in his hand. “We were advised by the medicos that you would strike again. They saw, in the pattern of progression in your behaviour with your victims, that you were becoming addicted to your work.”

“And armed with that understanding, that knowledge that you would kill again, I laid my trap for you,” Edison said. “A new invention of mine. I call it the EdisonHoveringRecorderPlatform.” Tesla winced. A tic triggered in his eye. “It’s a lighter than air balloon that carries my EdisonRecorder. We launched a dozen of these all around the East End and tethered them to the ground. All we had to do next was to wait for you to strike again. When the hue and cry went up the Commissioner had his men untether the platforms which we then pulled around the area using them like bloodhounds in the sky. Once we had you spotted you were followed easily enough back here to your lair.”

The Commissioner coughed out loudly, not wishing to have too much attention focussed on their decision to sacrifice as many more victims as would be necessary to catch their adversary, but the thought had not escaped Tesla.

“So, Mary Kelly was your handiwork, after all,” Tesla said. “Sir Charles, perhaps you should know a little more about this great man with whom you have thrown in your lot. This is the Great Inventor, who despite full awareness that my AC electricity system was far superior to the DC that was his, employed youngsters back home in America to bring him cats and dogs from their locale, and not all waifs and strays either, I can tell you. And what did he do with those wretched animals? He made public displays of them, wiring them up to my machines. Frazzling them alive before aghast audiences, slurring my name, making my devices look far too dangerous to consider, bringing me ruin.”

“Ah yes,” Edison said, showing just a hint of embarrassment, as he tugged at his collar to allow a few beads of sweat their escape from his neck. Taking attack as his best ploy for defence he added “I later reworked that little idea, by the way, and very profitably I might say, too, selling the patent to several states. My EdisonExecutorChair I called it. “But right now, I’m curious about this.” He waved the small green card in his hand.”What is it?”

“You will never understand. You with your great clunking machines.”

“Try me.”

“Very well. So I will. Miniaturisation. That is the key to the new electrical machinery that will revolutionise the lives of everyone. I have given it a new word, I call it electronics. That, Sir, is an electronic circuit. The equivalent cabling in your sad understanding would more than fill this room.”

“And these devices? These small nodules. What are they?”

“I call them transistors. It is my belief that they are the most significant scientific invention of the 19th Century – mine, of course. I have managed to sandwich together three incredibly thin layers of semiconductor material – silicon it is, that I use. This affords me a bipolar junction by which I can regulate the relationship between voltage and current and thereby amplify or switch electrical flows howsoever my circuit design requires.”

“Stuff and nonsense to me,” the Commissioner said. “And I’m getting hungry. Let’s be gone from here.”

“Hold you’re horses, Sonny,” Edison cautioned him.”if I understand what he’s saying, and I believe I do, then by Golly, he’s right. This is just blowing my mind. Think of it Sir, as a faucet, if it helps. A tiny effort to turn the faucet brings the greater benefit of a powerful flow of water.”

“Oh and more, much more than that” Tesla said, warming to the understanding Edison was showing him. “Much more than just the flow of electrons. I have so many ideas flooding my mind. I often cannot sleep.”

“You will sleep long enough, soon enough,” the Commissioner said, and beckoned men over to escort the prisoner out.

“Not so quick, Commissioner,” Edison said. “My friend Nikolai here has suffered enough. I tell you now that i intend to take him, right here and now, under the charge of the American Government.”

“What! But, this man’s a foul murderer. He must hang for his crimes.”

“Sir, if I have to appeal to the Queen herself, I’ll have my way. And you saw how my country nearly went war for me. Think what they would do for this.” He waived the green card furiously in the Commissioners face.

Sir Charles, his face unhappy, yet resigned, beckoned officers to release Tesla from his bonds. The Commissioner snatched the reporter’s notebook from his hand and ordered the confiscation of his colleagues equipment, ignoring the reporter’s shouts of ‘Free Speech, Sir. Free Speech!”

Edison hooked a fatherly arm around Tesla, and walked him through the door, much to astonishment of the officers gathered there. Tesla jabbered excitedly to him, and Edison had no intention of telling him to stop. He talked about his ideas for radio, communications without the necessity for wires, and about radio waves from space that he had already begun to study and next wanted to record, and something he called x-rays, and hydroelectricity, and something else he called cryogenic engineering, and did Edison know that their planet had its own resonant frequency? It indeed did and he, Tesla, had discovered and measured it. He told of the plans in his head for an earthquake machine, and how he was the only scientist to have created ball lightning in a laboratory. Electronic remote controls. Neon lighting. A new electric motor. He even had an inkling of how to draw down electricity from the ionosphere without wires. He saw in their full completeness, many new incredible devices so clearly laid out in his head, like gifts from the gods. He talked about something he called Radar, which ships could use to detect the approach of their enemies. Edison, knowing a good deal about things military, drew a line in the sand at that point, just before the radar notion, instantly dismissing that one as poppycock, though he was to think well enough later of everything else Tesla had ranted about.
His main concern at that moment was Tesla’s predilection for slaughter. Edison had studied the Autopsy reports closely, and was encouraged that in most cases it seemed not to be the kill that spurred Tesla on, but his strange dissections. If the medicos couldn’t cure him of it, which he thought was the likely outcome, then he’d have to make sure he was given access to a compliant mortuary, where there would be plenty of Jane Does on which he could practice his art, properly supervised. After all, who is to say what is Art and what is not. Edison was filled with ideas of worldwide exhibitions, where the public would pay in their millions to see Tesla’s handiwork. He shelved those thoughts for later consideration. As they walked to his waiting carriage, Edison could not help but whistle a few refrains of ‘Yankee Doodle Dandy,’ oblivious to the fact that the song had been written by the British as a music hall insult to the American people.

The Commissioner walked into the fresh air, though had to move well away from the piles of rotting refuse they’d carried from Tesla’s rooms to find some, and took a deep breath. He felt so tired. He felt older than his years. He thought about his world, and how technology had so changed it already. He feared about the speed of progress, and looked forward not, to what was to come once Edison and Tesla fully renewed and cemented their former, rocky friendship.

It finally dawned on him what a small world their planet,      TerraAltemis, was becoming.

The Invisible Man

By William David Baker

2700 words

Just look at him. Doesn’t look much does he? Slouching, humped over his lab bench. God-knows-what chemicals splattered down his what-used-to-be white lab coat. Snot on his sleeves. Half eaten ham sandwich on the side. Scruffy bastard. Who’d believe he is one of the biggest names in the 21st Century? The whole world wants Professor Mungo Cameron? Yes. He could name his price, his employer, his passport.

Cameron is a chemist, but no ordinary chemist. Cameron is an inventive obsessed genius. And prolific too, churning out successful new drugs and medicines like some people shell peas. Yes, to many, Professor Mungo Cameron is a hero. The many are a particular segment of society: the adolescent, and in particular those adolescents who suffer the angst that usually goes with that most feared of teenage scourges – facial acne.

Cameron is also a fraud. His peers believe his obsession stems from his maybe suffering the same angst when he was a teenager as those who now hero-worship him. They could not be more wrong. They also believe that the miraculous lotions he creates, remedies that actually work, – a rare event indeed in the cosmetic ‘medication’ industry – are the results of deliberate and painstaking research and experiment. They are only partly correct.

True, this gaunt chemist is haunted by obsession. Not with acne, but with his own baldness. His hair began to recede when he was just twelve years old. By the age of thirteen he was left with a tiny wisp of red above each ear, which he stubbornly refused to shave off despite his father’s promise to buy him the best hairpiece that money could buy. When Wayne Rooney was laughed at for getting hair implants Cameron consulted an implant specialist but found he was not a ‘suitable case for treatment’ so he opted for a baseball cap instead, ‘Imagine, Invent, Inspire.’ See, he’s wearing it right now.

True, his obsession drove him to try every hair gain product ever launched on a highly gullible marketplace. He soon realised that the industry was full of crooks and charlatans. Nothing worked. The industry still blossomed. His red wisps did not. All this did was to drive him to become the great undeserving chemist he is now.

After years of study in which, fair enough, he excelled, he was head-hunted by one of the largest of the pharmaceutical giants. They offered him the best research facilities money could buy, staffed with all the help he could ever need. He would have none of it. He asked instead for a small well-equipped lab and insisted he could only work alone. After some debate, the company decided the risk was small, and the benefits potentially massive, so they let him have his way, but monitored him closely. Their instinct proved to be sound as in quick succession he presented them with effective patent medicines for indigestion, heartburn and trapped wind. After that, they felt there was no longer any need for close monitoring and left Cameron pretty much to his own devices. How easy he found it to manipulate them.

He was then able to spend most of his time doing what he wanted to do: find a real cure for male baldness. That is where fate took over. Because, try as hard as he surely did, as great a chemist as he surely was, he failed every time. Failure force-fed his obsession so much that he ran a real risk that his employers would find out what he was actually doing, except that fate again took a hand. There were bi-products from his undercover work, things that he threw out in temper, that others in the company thought might have promise.

Their first reworking of his rejected compounds produced a wrinkle cream that actually appeared to work. The improvements they found in volunteer complexions were small, certainly, but nonetheless measurable. They were also if not quite permanent then very long lived. A new range of creams was launched and, for the first time in their long history, the company did not have to concoct spurious misleading advertising claims, saving them millions. When Cameron found out what they’d done he was furious. How dare they steal his work? How dare they deceive him? They tried to compromise with him. Mungo Cameron does not compromise. He sued them, successfully, and almost bankrupted the company. Hundreds of people lost their savings and their livelihoods. With the proceeds from his successful lawsuit, he bought a sprawling farm in Devon which he let go to rot. But he invested heavily in extending the farmhouse itself and building his own laboratory.

He continued his research into male baldness, but, following his earlier experiences, learned not to throw away potential bi-products of his failures, the first of which was his to-be-famous preparation for teenage acne. This proved even better than the wrinkle cream. It provided an overnight, 100% guaranteed permanent cure. Cameron became famous and very rich. He also quickly ran out of new ideas and became a frustrated lonely recluse. To cure his first problem he became a welcomed Professor of Chemistry at his local university, where, completely without remorse,  he stole the best ideas from his more talented students. To cure his second problem, he flew to Thailand and brought back a thirteen year old bride. That’s her, Ha.nhQui, now a young woman. She is taking him drinks on a tray.

Cameron presses the record button on his digital recorder. “December 20th. Sample #7452. Failed.” He smashes the on key off.

Ha.nhQui shuffles nervously over to Cameron’s bench, trying not to look at him. She places a cup of tea, as quietly as she can, close to the dog-eared sandwich.

Cameron looks up. Though he is still unable to grow hair on his head he is sporting a three day stubble. His face is drawn and tired but his dull brown eyes are wild with anger. He sweeps the tea and sandwich from his bench, smashing them to the floor, only just missing Ha.nhQui, who does not flinch.

“Not while I’m in the middle of something, woman,” he screams. “How many times must I tell you?”

He raises his right arm back and goes to strike her with the back of his hand. He stares right through her, looking for a reaction, daring her to defend herself. She does not, and he drops his hand.

Hit him. Hit him. But, she won’t.

“At least have your whisky, and then come to bed. It’s getting late.” She pours a drink from a decanter on the tray and leaves the room.

Cameron picks up a sheaf of papers and reads through them quickly. He stops, and quickly leafs back a few pages and re-reads them, more intently this time. He snatches up a single sheet and leaps up from his chair like he has just been passed the Olympic baton. He downs his whisky in one triumphant gulp. He works in a fury, setting up equipment, measuring and mixing chemicals, and within three hours he produces a blue liquid which he siphons off into a large syringe. He injects the liquid into his scalp, and waits for one hour. He grabs a hand mirror from a drawer, and adjusting it to an angle that works for him, studies his scalp intently. He is sure that his usually downy skin is looking darker. He gets a scalpel and takes a small slice of skin. Strange. I thought it would bleed profusely. Head wounds usually do. But  he doesn’t bleed at all. He places the piece of skin under a powerful microscope. Yes, the down appears to be red in colour, but it hasn’t grown any, it’s just got darker. He refills the syringe and injects his head again. Suddenly looking very tired, he falls asleep.

Cameron wakes. He goes to pick up the mirror. He fumbles it. Why is he so bloody clumsy? He realises why. It’s not easy to pick something up when your fingers have disappeared. No, they’re still there. He can feel them. But he can’t see them. He manages to grab hold of the mirror. He looks for his reflection. Great chunks of his face are eaten away. No, not eaten. His fingertips find where the missing chunks should be. He undresses, and puts his clothes in a locker. He is becoming invisible throughout his body, and it’s spreading rapidly. It isn’t curing his baldness, but what a discovery! His body itches all over. He scratches violently at his skin, howling like he’s being stung by a swarm of bees. There’s a gentle tap on the lab door. It is Ha.nhQui.

“Mungo. What is the matter? Are you alright? What is that noise?” She tries to speak respectfully, but finds it difficult to be heard through the shut door, and remain dutifully quiet. His almost empty chair swivels and Cameron snarls like a wounded animal. She gasps.. “Mungo. It’s very late and I’m tired. Can you please come to bed. You are working far too hard, you know.” She again chooses her words and tone with great care. He flings what is left of his head back, and opens his mouth to abuse her but collapses, unconscious, back into his chair.

Morning. Ha.nhQui enters the lab, but stays close by the door. She looks around. Mungo has gone. It’s not the first time he’s turned down her bed for another, I know. He likes to brag about it when he comes back. Every dirty detail. Bastard. She looks confused. She shudders, but she must be happy he’s gone, surely? One less night with him has got to be a blessing. She sees the mess on the floor from last night. She goes to clean it up. The summer sun is heating the lab nicely, but making it feel stuffy.

A dog comes trotting in. It’s Mungo’s. It’s a hound of sorts – allsorts. The animal looks around nervously. Its master is as likely to kick it as he is to roll on the floor with it, and it never knows what to expect. It stops to satisfy an itch on the patch of skin its master has been recently applying chemicals to. It sniffs the air, then trots over to Mungo’s bench. It sniffs the air then stiffens and growls and drops to the floor, flattening out all four of its legs. It growls, keeping its stare on the empty chair. It crawls in a belly-wobble towards Mungo’s chair, staying flat to the floor. After a few moments, its flopped down ears flick up. It sniffs the air again and gets to its feet. Turning its back to the chair, it cocks its leg and pisses on the chair legs. The yellow stream seems to hang momentarily in the air before cascading onto the hard wooden floor, where it pools thinly between the joints in the floorboards. The dog shakes itself and trots off.

Near the chair, a shape forms out of the edge of the yellow pool. It looks a little like a footprint. Tiny waves speed across the pool. The pool is already evaporating in the growing heat. She stares at the drying pool. She clears up the broken crockery and food, and leaves. Later that day, there were visitors.

“Mrs Cameron. Sorry to disturb you but it’s really important we see the Professor. Zoey and I need our data back for our revision.”

“I can’t let you in, Ethan. You know the rules. Professor Cameron sees no-one without an appointment.”

“Sod that. Come on, Ethan. Let’s go get our stuff.” The students brush past Ha.nhQui before she can stop them and they head straight for the professor’s lab. She rushes after them and reaches the door first.

“At least let me check first to see if he’s come back yet.” Ha.nhQui opens the door slowly and looks around. Still no sign of him. Zoey pushes past her and rushes over to Cameron’s desk.

“Hang on, Zoey. There’s no need to push Ha.nh –  er, Mrs Cameron like that,” She ignores him and rifles through a pile of papers. Ethan hangs back outside the lab.

“Sorry about this. You know what Zoey’s like. Hard to stop her sometimes, when she gets going.”

“A little like you.” Ha.nhQui pushes Ethan against the wall and kisses him, smothering anything else he is going to say. He can’t stop his hands grabbing her small buttocks. She shudders.

“Not here. She’ll see us.”

“Ethan. Here, quickly. I can’t believe what I’ve found!” He breaks away and joins Zoey in the lab. “Sorry, Ethan. Here, read it for yourself.” Ethan does as he is told.

“I don’t understand. It’s got his name on this, not mine.”

“Exactly. I told you not to trust the bastard. He’s been ripping your work off as his own.” Ha.nhQui joins them.

“Did you know about this?” Ethan is losing it. He is screaming his words. His face is full of pain.

“No, Ethan. I did not.” She does not sound convincing. Ethan is almost in tears.

“I know. I know. Come on, Ethan. We’re taking this to the authorities.”

Ha.nhQui tries to answer but is flustered. The students dash off with a large pile of papers. She stamps her feet and screams. “I warned you, Mungo. I warned you you’d go too far one of these days.”

The empty chair moves almost imperceptibly. She hears it scrape first before she sees it wobble. She is silenced immediately. She looks puzzled.  She takes her mobile out and dials it.

“Hi, John. It’s me. Can you talk? Good. No, don’t worry. Wasn’t your fault. I understand it was awkward for you to get out last night. Yes. Me too. Yes. Your loss. I was going to fuck your brains out.” The chair trembles again. She looks up and smiles, looking a little less puzzled. “Listen. Any chance you can get away tonight? Make up for lost time. You can! Yes, come over. As soon as you can. He’s away for a few days. By the way, that stuff you gave me to knock him out last night. Yes, I know it was wasted. No matter. How long was it supposed to last? Well it didn’t stop him from sodding off last night, did it? What would have happened if I’d made a mistake, say I’d increased the dosage? Oh, is that all? Temporary. Perhaps he’s in some brothel sleeping the effects off then.  What was that you warned me about? Not to put the stuff in a syringe? What?  Permanent loss off motor function. No means of communicating? Good job I got it right then. OK. See you soon. Yes. Can’t wait. I’m keeping it warm for you.”

She walks over to the lab bench and pulls a large syringe from a drawer. She takes a glass bottle from her pocket and fills the syringe with its contents. She turns to the empty chair which trembles again. She pats the nearest arm of the chair and her hand stops, suspended a short distance above it. She pats along towards where a wrist ought to be. She opens her fingers, grasping at thin air, and twists her hand ninety degrees. She feels a little further up with her sensitive fingertips, searching for something. She launches the syringe at the spot she has found. The needle disappears. The chair jumps. She presses the plunger, dispensing its complete contents.

She walks away from the chair then turns and spits at it. “Bastard.” Then she thinks about all the years he’s denied her use of her own language. “Con de hang.”

She leaves the lab and returns a few minutes later struggling with a large duvet and matching cushions. She makes a bed by the side of the empty chair, “Maybe John will find this interesting. Fucking the great man’s wife in his own laboratory.”

I should show some sympathy toward you, Professor, I suppose, but I won’t. I should try to help, but I can’t. Why should I? You did, after all,  kill me.

OK, so you didn’t exactly put the rope around my neck. I did that myself, fair enough. But it was you who cost me my job when you sued the company. It was me that couldn’t keep up the mortgage payments on the house. It was me that couldn’t keep my wife and son. And I’ve been waiting all this time just to see you get yours. I only wish the world could see me laugh.

The Infallibility of Fingerprints

Fingerprints taken using carve on from pencil, paper and sellotape. Not sure if much detail of prints can be seen. Original is better.
Fingerprints taken using carbon scraped from pencil, paper and sellotape. Not sure if much detail of prints can be seen. Original is better.


By William David Baker

No two finger prints are alike, or so I always thought
Then in a FutureLearn “Introduction to Forensics” I was taught
That the FBI arrested Oregon Lawyer, Mayfield, for bombing a Spanish railway station
Because he matched a partial taken from bomb parts found at the scene of devastation
He protested he was innocent, but was left in jail till three weeks later
The Spanish Police matched the marks to the real Lebanese terrorist perpetrator.

Doesn’t this dreadful tale just go to show,
that a singular evidential reliance will simply not do?
So dependent on modern science have we sometimes now become
That the basics can be forgotten in the clamour to see Justice is done.
Mayfield was a continent removed from where the outrage took place
Yet the FBI, in the infallibility of their database, far too much faith did place.

Now it emerges that 100 years of claimed infallibility
Have just been taken for granted, and never tested empirically
Claims of ‘zero-error rates’ are now admitted as just tales.
Scores of criminals, by our human frailties, betrayed, condemned and jailed.
Here’s an idea that might make civil libertines rant and rave and fuss.
Why not fingerprint every newborn and give the data robustness?

No baby is a Maynard. No baby a terrorist
But, if in evil they eventually enlist
Then give us the power to pursue them to the end
And the innocents we can then defend.

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