The basement was more spacious and accomodating than I had imagined. It was reached by yet another staircase. This one remains uncarpeted. My boots echo noisely on the bare boards. Flicking on the shadeless bulb, I observe it’s one of those low energy affairs. The light glows brighter, enough to illumine my surroundings. I kill my torchlight and slip it into my jacket. Pausing to light a cigarette, I scan the room in disbelief at the extensive amount of DVDs and VHS tapes occupying a couple of the large teak bookshelves. The only light in the twelve foot square room emanates from the bulb. A 42 inch TV, complete with DVD and video player, sits on a glass shelf.
To all intents and purposes, the basement appears innocent enough. A veritable haven for any movie buff. Except these aren’t the kind of movies you can enjoy with a beer and popcorn.
There’s a couple of hard backed wooden chairs face the T.V. I deposit my weight on one of them. I allow my gaze to traverse the room for anything that might be worthy of note. Nothing does it seems, apart from that huge television now standing idly by, collecting dust on the glass top.
I rest a hand on the chair arm, thankful that I’m wearing gloves, because something that looks suspiciously like blood is caked into the arm.
The stench pervades my nostrils and I swiftly leap from the chair. I taste the sliver on the leather. It’s definetly blood. I quickly rub the glove on a handkerchief.
Inspecting the shelves I read the titles. You certainly won’t find ‘Gone with the Wind’ or ‘Casablanca’ here. Nevertheless the titles catch my eye. Titles. Dates. Martin Cartright worked for the gangster, Raymond Lamond. He’s still working for someone, because Lamond’s been dead since February. The dates on some of the DVD’s are more recent. April. May. Up to August. Even two weeks ago.
My curiosity is aroused, and I remove the tape from the shelf. The smoke anchored an omnipresent fixture. A decidedly uneasy sensation now permeates my insides as I slip the DVD into the player. Sometimes, as now , I wonder what the hell I am doing here in a guy’s basement, awaiting his return. Upstairs, Dennis Mitchell guards his woman, whom he’s forced to the floor, before tying her up and gagging her. It was the reason why I volunteered to check out the basement. I couldn’t bear to look into that woman’s terrified features any longer.
Two masked men had burst into her Brixton home, pulling guns and forcing her upstairs. This is shit. I know it, but I can’t help myself. It has to be my alter ego who flicks the remote of that DVD player. I wish to God that I hadn’t. Our brief is to check out some of the stuff Cartright houses in his basement.
The static is momentary, swift to clear. And there it is. My heart pounds. A trembling hand traces my bearded jaw thoughtfully. The scene unfolds. A child. A little girl wearing a grubby dress. There’s a suspicious saturation down the front, as if maybe she’s peed herself. The film is black and white. It’s only saving grace. She’s wearing socks that were once white, but are now grubby. No shoes. Her feet and hands are securely bound to a chair. Who the girl is, or how old she is, I have no idea. She has a white hood, similar to the old fashioned flour sacks, pulled over her head, and tightened with a drawstring at the neck. I feel every tremble that she makes.
The two men with her are masked, balaclava hoods exposing only their eyes and mouths. One of the men is quite rotund, in possession of a stomach that is badly running to fat. In marked contrast, the other is positively skinny. Both are wearing camouflage. Because I cannot see their faces, they remind me idiotically of Laurel and Hardy. One thin. The other fat. ‘That’s another fine mess you’ve got me into.’
A laugh of sheer nervousness escapes me at the comparison, plus a physical sickness because I know that the fat one is Cartright. He’s the one touching the child up, while she sits there helplessly bound to the chair. She emits small, animal-like whimpers behind the hood, which makes me believe that she is gagged as well. I freeze when I think of my five year old neice, Samantha. My wee baby girl barely six weeks old. I can’t avoid the element of hysteria that rises. Only for it to subside, when breathing out I’m conscious of the semi-automatic .9mm Browning that nestles behind my jacket, as if the gun were an old friend. Oh yeah, Cartright. It won’t be much longer now, you bastard.
Cartright’s laughter is ugly and forced as his big gloved hand slides up inside her, beneath her dress. I catch a glimpse of the young girl’s almost hairless pubes. It’s plainly obvious that she isn’t wearing any knickers.
The skinny man. Treveleyan suggested his name is Louis Platt. It’s Platt who rips at her dress. The material tears apart in his hands, as if the dress were rotten. The hand rises upward toward her almost non-existant breasts. I would put the child’s age at around seven or eight. Aware that I should switch it off, I pull the tape from the machine, and crush the ungodly filth beneath my boot. But Treveleyan wishes for nothing to be destroyed. “Evidence, my boy, evidence.”
So I stare as if hypnotised, when Cartright pours what appears to be an almost colourless liquid from a small red can over the child’s head. I observe her entire body quiver inside her bonds. My stomach knots. My heart races so predominantly I can practically hear the rush of blood as it crashes through my skull.
Cartright and his companion evoke ugly, perverted belly-laughs. Their laughter is so sadistic and evil that I can barely believe that it emanates from a human being and not a demonic entity, summoned from the very bowels of Hell itself. Neither can I help but expel an involuntary gasp and feel the need to vomit simultaneously. Unable to watch any longer, I switch the abomination off And bury my head in my hands.
I have no idea how long I remain there, killing and lighting one cigarette from the glowing butt of the first. There’s a sound of hurried footsteps on the stairs. Dennis Mitchell exclaims, “What the fuck, McRaney? I wondered what was taking you so long. Did you find anything?”
“Oh sure I found something.” I attempt to clear my throat. Kill yet another cigarette. My stomach remains a bundle of knots. I swipe a palm across my eyes. There’s no way I can possibly allow this guy to remotely detect that I have shed a tear. He’ll think I’m not up to it. Maybe I’m not. But what else have I got left? Three eviction notices on my flat. My concern that my wife and baby will be homeless. It seems that no one wants to know an ex-con, especially someone whose been inside for manslaughter. “If you want to know what I’ve found. Then take a look in that machine, man. See what that bastards been doing.”
Mitchell’s eyes are of a strangely flecked hazel when they bore into mine. “I know what kind of shit he’s into.”
“Take a look,” I urge, and pass the remote. “You take care of her then? The woman. How much do you think she’s implicated in this?”
“I dunno. She lives with the bastard. don’t she? The stuff’s in the basement. What do you think?”
“Well, did you ask her? Were you able to get anything out of her?”
“I’m going to have to call the boss.” His tone of voice borders on the sombre.
“What about? To send in the cleaners?”
“That won’t be necessary. We’ll take the bastards with us.”
“The woman isn’t the target,” I point out. “We didn’t know she was going to be here. We were led to believe he lived alone. That wasn’t our brief, Mitchell.”
“That’s why I have to call the boss. See what he wants us to do.”
“Let’s concentrate on Cartright.” I flick a glance at my watch. “How much longer? Maybe the wee bastard’s got wise to us.”
Mitchell purses his lips.”We don’t need to fuck up. I wanna get this over with as quickly as possible. Look, McRaney, why don’t you see if you can get some answers from Cartright’s bird?”
“Don’t fuckin’ tell me what to do, Mitchell.”
I’m angry enough at what I have witnessed without him assuming an unwarranted authority. Nevertheless he is correct in his assumption. We need to get this over with. Had expected our target to be present. Disposed of. Then to contact Treveleyan to send someone in to seize the condemning evidence. That Cartright has been abusing young girls, most of them under 16. The girls are invariably masked, as are the abusers. The atrocities sold on forbidden Internet sites.
Apparently the late, lamented Lamond brothers were reputed to have had their depraved
fingers in a lot of pies, that even I had been unable to guess at. I’d not remotely suspected paedophilia. But Raymond and Francis Lamond are now dead. Alternatively,as attested to by the recent entries on those incriminating DVDs, someone else is ultimately working the ‘kiddie fiddling’ racket. Martin Cartright, a known paedophile, is merely acting on their behalf.
Unable to forget what I’ve seen on that tape, I leave Mitchell to check out the DVD. I move into the room upstairs where the woman lies on the floor. Her hands are bound behind her, her feet secured. Duct tape seals her mouth. Rolling a balaclava over my face before she clocks me, I observe her move her head in my direction when I enter.
She offered her name as Rosie when Mitchell asked. I judge her to be somewhere into her mid forties. She’s not bad looking I suppose, despite the addition of the peroxide blonde. Slenderly built, she wears pink pyjama bottoms with a tee shirt top. Rosie mutters incoherently behind the gag. I peel the tape from her mouth. She regards me without speaking from wide, terrified eyes. She obviously believes we are there to kill her. I cannot speak for my companion, but killing her is certainly not my intention. All I require is some answers. Hunkering down to her level, I warn, “don’t scream, Rosie. I don’t want to hurt you, understand?” I talk to her gently. “Understand?”
“I… I understand.” She starts to cry silently, allowing the tears to slide unchecked down her face. I wipe them away.
“That’s good. Because I need to talk to you before Martin returns. It is Martin isn’t it?”
Her nod is perfunctory. I guess it’s difficult for her to keep her head erect when she’s practically eating the carpet. She lies half-in, half-out under the bed, flat on her stomach.
“Are you going to kill him?”
“Depends on what he tells us sweetheart. You live here? I mean is this your house or Martin’s?”
“It’s his, M….Martin’s.”
“I need some answers. How much do you know about the stuff in the basement?” I maintain a carefully controlled voice, in spite of the perverse desire to grasp her by that peroxide hair so belligerently that it will make her eyes water.
“I don’t know nothin’. It ain’t nothin’ to do with me.”
“You’re lying, Rosie. How can you not know when you’re living with it in the house ? I’ve just watched one of those DVDs. It was called The Burning. What do you suppose that means?”