The Riverman (part 2 of 2)
In the pub, the landlord was nowhere to be seen, but Frampton was there, playing on the fruit machine. Terrance carried over his pint and stood beside him as he played.
Frampton didn’t even look at him. “You again.”
“Number seven, what?” Frampton said.
“I told you there was another victim.”
“There’s something off about you mister. You keep coming in here and talking about that? You think I care?”
“You’re wondering how I knew.”
Frampton stopped playing and turned towards Terrance. “Do I need to be worrying about you fella? Do I need to be calling up the police and telling them there’s this weirdo in my local who keeps chattin’ about the murders?”
“Do what you like. I just thought you should know that there’s more on the way, more bodies by the river, more fish on his hook.”
Frampton moved with surprising speed. He held Terrance’s shirt collar, pushing him back. He dropped the pint of beer. With his head lolling side wards, he watched the brown foam bubble on top of the carpet below. It reminded him of a the run-off from a polluted river.
“I don’t want you talking to me anymore. Do you hear me now?
Terrance looked up at Frampton, as if they were talking about the weather. He reached into his pocket. A moment later there was an empty plastic rattle as it hit the carpet. The unexpected sound made Frampton release him, and Terrance stumbled backwards, banging his hip on a bar stool.
Donahue came into the bar area, “Now gents what’s happening here?”
Frampton knelt down and picked up the plastic box. “Weirdo’s here again Jimmy, keeps on about those murders.” Without so much as a glance, he held out the casing.
Terrance looked around, at the dirty pub wallpaper and back down at the foam on the carpet.
Dirty river, he thought.
He let out a whimper, as if surprised to suddenly find himself in this place with Frampton and Donahue staring at him. He took the cassette case with a gloved hand and scurried to the exit.
Terrance sat with his mother in her room. There was a cup of tea on the tray-table beside her chair. Terrance sat on the bed, his back against the wall, the newspaper resting on his lap.
“Shall I tell you what else I’ve been up to?” he asked her.
He took her immoveable silence as a ‘yes’.
I’ve been out there a lot recently. Been fishing. Fishing for girls.”
He stopped and smiled. His mother’s eyes flickered, left then right and back again. She looked at her tea, as if there were some means of escape at the bottom of the cup.
“There’s nothing complicated about it. I just go out looking for them and they arrive. Sometimes they’re hitchhiking, sometimes they come up to me and speak to me in a bar or a club. Other times, they’re out on the street, desperate like.”
She managed to move her arm outwards towards the cup of tea and pushed it with her forearm off the table. Hot liquid splashed her ankles and she gave out a small, pathetic cry. He thought he heard her say “No.” but wasn’t sure.
“I take them in my car and they think they’re going to my place. The smart ones get jumpy as soon as they know we’re getting near to a river, the others are just bemused. I use the knife on them, the same way father did on the fishies when he took me out. Those long-weekends away mum, I learned so much more than I wanted to.”
He looked up at her again, thinking, I an absent minded way, that his father have never fished and never taken him fishing.
On one side, his mother’s face seemed to have collapsed in on itself.
“They want to know why I do it. They think it’s sick because they don’t understand. It’s the only eternal thing. It lasts forever. A single act that can never be undone. They can never say you weren’t here if you do something like that. I have to do it again and again and again. I will never stop Mum.“
Terrance leant over to the tape recorder next to him and pressed ‘stop’ on the cassette player.
Each morning, Terrance awakened with a little more information in his head. There were no dreams, no visions and no moment of clarity. He simply came to know certain things.
The Riverman‘s name, for example, was David Webb. His home address was 239, Colonnade Gardens, Folkestone, Kent. He worked as a park warden at Hosshill Country Park, alongside the Medway Estuary. He grew up in Salford, Greater Manchester with three older brothers and his abusive father. His mother had dissapeared when he was eight years old. Webb moved to Kent in 1993 after questions were raised by teachers and parents about his conduct as a school caretaker.
On this particular day, Terrance was supposed to go to the care home and collect his mother’s personal belongings. Instead, he took the train from Nunhead to Bromley where he purchased a set of premium fishing knives from a sporting goods supermarket.
After returning home, Terrance got into his car and took the A2 out of South East London, heading for Hosshill Country Park. On the way he listened to the news on the radio. An arrest had been made in South London in connection to the Kent serial killer investigation. Terrance pictured Frampton opening the door to a phalanx of police officers, wondering what the hell had hit him. He didn’t feel sorry for Frampton, and he didn’t feel happy either. As he cruised beneath the glowing motorway beacons and flickering cats’ eye, he thought only of rivers, flowing endlessly across the land and into the sea.
At Hosshill, he parked in a lay-by, near to the park gate and waited for the appointed time. At 3.20 AM he pulled up at the gates and they opened automatically for him. Terrance parked next to the ranger’s lodge. When he stopped, he wound down his window.
“Get out and come into the office.” The voice was deep and firm. It came from the darkness on the porch of the office. The owner of the voice, still a collection of shadows barely illuminated, turned and went into the building.
Terrance did as instructed and followed.
Inside, he found Webb sat behind a desk, drumming his fingers on an old style ink blotter. “C’mon in.”
Terrance took the seat opposite, all the time avoiding looking directly at David Webb. He wasn’t sure why he should do this, but he knew it was important.
“You are so open, Terrance. That’s a very special thing.”
“I could sense you, out there,” he waved his hand in the air, “calling for me. Were you watching Culshaw on the T.V? I think you were.”
“Yes. And I’ve had a difficult time recently.”
Webb went on, as if Terrance had not spoken, “I’ll bet, as a child, all sorts of strange experiences followed you around, didn’t they?”
Terrance thought for a while and was about to reject the idea, when he remembered. “Once,” he said, “Mum found me in the park, when I was lost.”
Terrance continued, “I’d run away from her, got lost somehow. It was getting cold and dark, when I heard her, in the wind. She said, come to the playground, and I did and she was there.”
“A touching story.”
“I haven’t thought about it for so long.”
“Thank you for Frampton, by the way. That’ll keep them off the scent for a while.”
Terrance frowned, “Who’s Frampton?”
Webb heaved forward and laughed. “I shouldn’t laugh, I really shouldn’t.”
“Who is Frampton?” Terrance gripped the edge of the desk, suddenly anxious not to say any more stupid things for Webb to laugh at.
“It doesn’t matter Terrance, what matters is that you’re here now.”
For the first time, Terrance could feel him inside his head, rummaging.
“You don’t mind? My ... special interest, I mean?”
“Putting them to sleep. The women.”
Terrance sighed. His shoulders and arms felt leaden, his body desperately tired. “I would have, before. I would have minded very much indeed. But things seem so much clearer now. I ... what’s the word? I understand you. I understand everything.”
“And that makes it okay?”
“It makes it inevitable.”
Webb nodded, his fingers at his lips.
“Just like my Audrey.” Terrance said, “Things just ... happen.”
“You know why you’re here don’t you?”
“Are we to go fishing?”
“Yes, Terry, my boy. Night fishing.”
A few minutes later they were inside Webb’s transit van, driving deeper into the park.
“I know a spot.” Webb said.
Terrence looked over his shoulder into the back of the van. A large black package rested on the floor wrapped tightly in plastic and bound with masking tape. It reminded him of a visit to the museum as a child, seeing blackened mummies, just large enough to be adult humans.
“Is that…?” Terrence said.
“Leave her. She’s sleeping.”
They drove for 10 minutes, deeper into the park, before reaching a copse of trees next to the estuary. When they stopped, Terrance got out and helped Webb haul the body out of the back, and up to the riverbank. She was heavier than he expected, rigid with rigor mortis.
They then went back to the van and retrieved bags of equipment, and two fishing rods - one much shorter than the other, then dropped the bags near to the body. Webb took out a knife and sliced through the plastic which entombed the corpse. The ghoulish odour of decaying death rocked Terrance backwards almost, knocking him off his feet. The shock of it brought him back to himself for a moment.
He looked down at the woman and studied her face, whilst Webb stripped the rest of the plastic away. He saw the terror which must’ve enveloped her in her final moments. He thought of Audrey and his own mother and what they would’ve thought of him now, pulling about the body of a dead woman, playing servant to David Webb.
Webb stood up. He seemed to notice the change in Terrance, and took him by the shoulders with both hands, “Don’t go wandering off now, will you? I’ve been looking forward to this.”
For the first time, Terrance looked Webb directly in the face, taking in the scruffy black hair, his patchy beard and intense green eyes. He was a man, just a man. But it was much worse than that.
It was like falling into deep water, plummeting down and down and down, knowing he would never reach the bottom. There was still a tiny part of Terrence which knew he should get away and try to right the wrongs he’d perpetrated on Webb’s behalf. But this old Terrance, the one who existed before Webb had invaded his mind, drifted far above on the water’s surface, nothing but a painful memory.
Webb told Terrance to set up the chairs and he did. He told him to prepare the fishing lines with bait and suspend the rods on their stands over the river, and he did. Webb told him to place the body between the two deckchairs, behind the rods, and he did.
Everything had to perfect, there was no approximating the position of each item. It all had to be in exactly the right place.
“Sit down now, Dad.” Webb said.
Terrance knew he had a new role to play now. He sat down behind the big fishing rod and Terrance did the same with the small one.
After a while, Webb asked, “Is mum going to be okay, Dad?
And Terrance answered, “She’s just sleeping, David. Now watch your rod.”
“Are you sure, Dad?” Webb’s voice was small and pathetic, a parody of a child.
When Terrance spoke it was from a vivid memory of the first time this had all been conducted for real, an event which he simultaneously knew, but which he’d never experienced. “I’m sure son.” He said, “She’s just having a rest. Don’t make trouble now. Watch your rod.”
And so it went on. Every 15 minutes or so Webb would ask the same question and Terrance would answer, always with patience, never in anger.
By first light, Webb seemed to become frustrated, as if this physical incantation were not producing the results he’d intended. Eventually, he stood up and said, “That’s enough. You can go now. I’ll get rid of her.”
A half hour later, Terrance was driving on a long straight road moving west, away from London and home, when a thought occurred to him. He pressed his foot down on the accelerator until he reached 80 miles per hour, and then pulled over into the opposite lane.
In the final fraction of a second before the lorry hit him head on, Terrance recognised that this impulse had come from outside, from Webb.
In the throes of impact and fire and metal and pain, Terrance might have wanted to remember Audrey and his mother or recalled moments of happiness or significance in his life.
But there was no space left for thoughts of comfort. Only the Riverman was present in the final moment of annihilation, peeking inside Terrance’s mind one last time before he was extinguished forever.