George Rugley refuses to talk about the house on the green in the village of Wallington. Save for a petition to have it demolished and the ground on which it stood since 1899 concreted over, George is adamant in his silence.
Over the years local media news-puppies eager to make their name by unearthing some further titbit of scandal about the 1962 “massacre” and “sexual goings-on” would ferret him out. These encounters generally lasted two hours, most of which was spent plying the 62 year old with Teachers whisky and Bensons cigarettes. They inevitably ended with a pissed George tipping a pissed-off hack into the night.
The meetings always took place on the benches outside the Red Dragon Inn on the green. George would not abide guests of any kind in his home in the converted 14th Century alms house on the steeply sloping, river side of Archer Street.
No one in the village ever asked and George never gave invitations. You could see him through the window of his televisionless living room, at his type-writer, pressing away like someone feeling for their keys in the dark. He never seemed to look up.
One writer had suggested to a colleague after a particularly fruitless visit, that George was like an Amsterdam whore, parading his own brand of titillation to prospective punters without ever putting out.
George just didn’t like having the curtains closed and as his home consisted of a bedroom, kitchen, bathroom and living room, he had little choice but to work at his desk in view of the street. Because the rest of the village knew to pass by looking up the street to the church, and because he knew when to buy a round, attend the amateur dramatics, and umpire during the summer it worked for him and the locals.
So, the writers, hacks and curiosity seekers would seek him out at the pub where he ate every night at whichever table was free. He was willing to be sought, he knew they would find him, but he was far from willing to confide.
He had no confidence in their story telling. He listened and drank and remained like the frigid whore they all thought he was. At home he typed and typed, neatly filing the sheets of A4 cartridge paper away in ring-binders that he date and timed. Every month he would make the trip to Winchester and its main post office to send a copy of the most recent notes to an address in New York.
One night in June, as the rain prepared to green the surrounding hills, he’d finished his eggs and gammon and was considering a game of cards with Tuft and Parker, the two longtime companions who owned the Dragon.
Before the deck was taken from its place on top of the travel draughts next to the wine glasses, in walked the kind of face that cooed “Desperately interested, no really!”
George returned to his seat, unfurled his copy of the International Herald Tribune and prepared for the worst. After ordering a pint of the local best, the researcher asked Parker, “That’s George Rugely isn’t it? You wouldn’t know what he drinks would you?”
Parker nodded and poured a large Teachers with no ice, “Good luck, sweets.”
“We’ll see”, replied the younger man developing or trying to develop an attitude of sanguinity that was barely achievable in older pros, let alone an eleven-stone, twenty-two year old with a ¬£4.99 book about the original Ripper murders to his name. He wandered over to George, who could almost see the opening line edging to get out.
“George Rugely I presume”, give it a go.
“You may as well take a seat, give me the scotch and get on with it. I take it this has turned into some form of initiation rite, if only I felt like a holy relic and not simply some‚Ä¶ how did they put it?”
“Whore, titillating Amsterdam hooker.”
“What do you know and what do you want to know? Before you go on though, let me stop you going down any path that begins: ‘This isn’t about the murders PC Rugely, it’s a profile of you. We want to know more about the first man in the room.’ It won‚Äôt wash, and it hasn’t washed.
“There is no profile of me. I have done nothing of any note, the only reason I am of any relevance outside of the village is that every other officer with any concern in the matter has already given their side of the story.
“Even the coroner gave two hundred of his four hundred-page autobiography over to the incident. I have not, and that’s what makes me interesting. I am a potential surfeit of new, unpublished and therefore exclusive insights.”
Not even George was aware that he could sneer quite that effectively, “You would like to know as much about the creature who pulled the triggers, tied the knots, hammered the nails and wielded the knife.
“I imagine that you have your own theories on the pairings of the civilians, the note, the relationship between the eight and the reason for choosing Wallington above all other villages.”
He took a drink and wandered out to the benches so he could smoke. The young man followed, smiling.
“Also, do not tell me that you are long-lost relative of the murdering bastard and have come to admit to the discovery of a similar note to the only person who could understand or forgive. That was tried several times in the 1980s.
“Do not tell me that you are an honest writer who wishes to make unglamorous something that no one but sickest of minds would possibly find glamorous in the first place.
“In short, please, don’t waste my time. By the way, I will need another Teachers and a packet of Bensons, you can get the fags from the shop over there next to the church across the green.”
The young man nodded, headed into the pub, bought a bottle of Teachers from Parker, who smiled, returned.
“Bensons”, said ex-PC George Rugely.
“It is a kind of initiation rite, you’re right there”, said the returned young man, sitting across from George and handing over the golden packet.
“I’m writing a book on the effects of murders and my publisher appears to be fixated with the ‘Wallington Horror House’. Personally I think it holds as much interest to most sane people as Manson, Jim Jones or the Wests. It’s old, old news, but nevertheless, you have to be talked to, so I’m talking to you. Frankly, I can’t see what difference it would make to you how the information is going to be used. I’m not expecting to get anything out of this evening except maybe a lighter wallet and the chance to wear a badge to the next Guild of Crime Writers dinner that says: ‘I’ve met George Rugley‚Ä¶ and he’s worse than that’. That’s about the only place your legend pertains any longer Mr Rugley.”
George was more impressed than usual by this approach. It was possible that the reverberations from the multiple murders were finally being quelled by time. It was even possible that his contrariness was going to be the only thing left for the carrion-writers to chew over.
All the other facts of the case were known. Most of the perceptions had been logged, made into “True Life” dramas and forgotten or sewn into the tapestry that covered the actual events. It might be the case that his own thoughts on the matter, so long suppressed had lost any actual relevance, replaced as they seemed to be by the hunt for them.
Then again it still seemed like just another angle, another way of getting him to say a name, and that wasn’t going to happen. He’d lost more than a few scotches in the decades since the slaughterhouse tipped its contents into his life. Not opening his mouth had by some accounts lost him millions, but that wasn’t close to the real value. He wasn’t going to start worrying about it now.
George’s wife had left him as a result of the events at the house. Shortly after that he’d resigned from the force, and moved from their home. She’d left because he couldn’t make her understand that he had to remain objective, that despite the nightmares, he couldn’t share the details with her. Even though her younger sister had been one of the casualties who, along with the other seven had been consigned to closed caskets as soon as they had been poured off the post-mortem slab, he still was unable to communicate anything about what he’d seen to his wife.
As the local bobby, he’s been first to the scene. He’d cycled down from a council meeting following a phone call from a neighbour who had heard what could have been human voices.
He’d called in the CID, who took at least an hour and two deaths to get there. In that hour PC Rugely had stood outside, as unable to do anything as the victims inside. When the detectives and armed support did arrive he was swiftly relegated to crowd control.
As local liaison he’d been lead into the place to identify what or who he could. The assassin or murderer was later to be christened “Mr Why”. He’d removed not only his own finger-ends but also his face, including the teeth, before managing to put a knife directly into his heart.
George entered the house at 11:15am. It was a 16th Century house, small, redecorated a hundred times. You would walk from the front door directly into the lounge room. The television was on, football highlights were on from a West Ham game, from a West Ham game from 1974. That was the last sign of anything approaching normal life.
Eight civilians, as they came to be called, were literally scattered around the small room in pairs tied with bailing twin into positions of close intimacy. No one retained his or her own face but all the faces were there.
Mr Why’s torso was slumped over the counter in the kitchen like some fairytale shoemaker who had offended the fairies into revenging torture. His crossed legs held one of the shotguns, a hunting knife and Thermos flask containing the kind of hot sweet tea usually required after an event. His right hand held a knife and wore a small, plain gold ring. His left hand, his teeth and his hair were on the floor beside the three-legged stool on which he sat.
There was a note on the fridge next to the magnets and over the picture of a little girl riding in the gymkhana.
Both CID officers gagged, turned and ran from the scene to throw-up outside on the village green opposite the Red Dragon. George stood, he knew everybody in the house. Now they were ragged parcels, tied, packaged to strangeness.
The message of the events was yet to move past the recognition of the participants let alone reach the part of his brain that would trigger a gag reflex. He was literally and completely transfixed by the sheer out-of-the-ordinariness of this house.
He recalled something about not disturbing anything until forensics arrived and turned the insanity into some form of observable reality. Turning back towards the door he kicked a revolver and a nose. A nose!
George was ordered to door duty while CID made rapid notes and screamed insults down the phone to forensics who had still the leave Winchester.
By the time they arrived newspapers and TV had descended on the village and where talking to everybody. George was incapable of saying anything to anyone. He stood, blocking the entrance looking into some distant place.
The blood had soaked into his trouser legs up to the shins and his hands were red and grey. Unlike CID, he’d been immediately aware of the identities of the eight paired victims. Standing outside the house for four hours, he’d been able to match faces to bodies, voices to faces and conversations to voices. From the conversations he’d been able to remember their movements, mannerisms, idiosyncrasies and from that he’d been pitched straight into the depths of what they must have suffered.
Of the eight, three were women: Janet his sister-in-law, Mr Gregson the widow, and Ellen Santry the sub-post mistress. Four of the five men were members of the cricket team – older men than himself: Misters Owen, Crofton, Hemsley and Forsyth. The fifth, Clive Santry was probably coming to get his wife for lunch or a trip or something more romantic.
Clive and Ellen Santry were in their late twenties, outgoing, middling wealthy and awaiting the inevitable call to the parish council.
George would visit Clive at his desk in his antiques shop two doors up from his death-place. They joked that Clive was the only dealer that the constable would ever have any trouble with.
He made a tidy living and was often out of the village at trade fairs or auctions. A relative newcomer to the village – five years – he got drunk like everybody else and needed stamps like everybody else.
He was an inch under six feet tall, sandy haired and was always in a suit and tie with a pair of brown Churches brogues shined and double-knotted on his feet. Clive’s business afforded the household a cleaning woman and several trips abroad a year. Ellen wrote fiction for pennies – substantial pennies by the means of many of the other villagers – and made sure to include at least one or two of the ladies of the five-hundred soul village in at least three of her yearly output of twelve books.
She’d been writing too long to believe everything she created, but quietly within her heart she held the virtues of tempered passion and binding love-loyalty to be the saving graces when all was said and done. Both Clive and Ellen were known, not disliked and often talked about.
Now her writing would cease, to be replaced by a kind of dry, kindled mourning that would eventually ignite in her own horse riding daughter’s suicide some years later.
The next time George entered the room was at eight that evening. By then the place was packed with ranking officers and forensics patiently going over the scene. The remains had been removed, still paired: Mrs Gregson with Ellen Santry, Janet with Mr Crofton, Owen with Hemsley, and Forsyth with Clive Santry.
White chalk marks in weird patterns had been marked on the floor where possible.
The days that followed were sliced into sections of short sleep, CID grillings, witness reports and the arrival of snoopers from the Met who thought that one of their hardmen might have taken a country jaunt, he hadn’t.
George also encountered, for the first but not the last time, Special Branch. The high seriousness of the five Special Branch officers crossed the border into absurd when held up against what had actually happened. All the of the un-ranked and barely identified officers were dressed in dark suits with the tallest seemingly the leader. They then ranked down in size, ending at five-feet nine inches. Five-nine did all the writing.
“Five foot nine”, said George as he poured another Teachers and lit another Benson and repeated to the young man some details that they both knew were already known.
“We know you were familiar with the civilians PC Rugley, so we don’t want you to go Mrs Marpling the incident”, said five-foot-eleven towards the middle of the first interview with Special Branch.
“You’re not a suspect”, said six-foot-one at the start of the second.
“This method of execution is not an MO with which we are unfamiliar, we merely need you to flesh out the details”, began six-foot-one, apparently unaware of his raw choice of words.
On joining the force at the age of 18, in preference to a job at the local box-making factory, George had longed for an occasion like this one where he could actually be useful.
Slowly, as the years of his service had progressed, he’d grown comfortable with his day-to-day tasks in Wallington. By the time of the Wallington Horror he had learned to look on the murders, rapes, indecent assaults and other detritus that flopped onto his desk in the form of memo and poster in the same way as a weekend soldier looks at a minor war.
He knew it was happening and that he was, nominally, trained to deal with it but was unaware that he would have to.
Complacency was an everyday event in a place the size of Wallington. When the most you have to deal with is a boundary dispute, the occasional drunk and disorderly, rumours of wife beating, and the annual vandalism of the cricket club’s prized sight-screens (courtesy of Mark Hornley who would paint obscenities on them), anybody would grow comfortable.
But the abattoir had opened its doors onto the green, and the chief slaughterman had evaded any blame by deleting himself from any chance of tracing.
Complacency and comfort were gone, as unbelievable as the events inside the house.
Instead George was left to feel unattached, peripheral and even marginally to blame for somehow not spotting the stranger. This in fact was the only thing that was known about Mr Why, he was not a resident of Wallington nor, to the best of anybody’s knowledge, had he ever been.