If you are one of my email subscribers (join here, if not and get a free novel in the process) you will know that I sometimes share early chapters of work in progress. Sneak previews, if you will.
Well, I’ve also got a folder in my cloud drive where I keep all the ideas for stories I’ve ever had. Some are one-liners, nothing more than titles with a couple of crude notes that often make little sense to me now. Ideas are lost to the murkiness of time (and my bad memory).
Some have had quite a lot of effort put into them – multiple pages of rambling notes, scene ideas, character motivations etc, even some detailed plotting. And some I started actually writing but abandoned for one reason or another. Maybe it just didn’t feel good. maybe it wasn’t working. A few I stopped as I didn’t feel I was a good enough writer to tackle them yet. So I figured, why not share some of these with you? It might be fun. You can tell me that I absolutely made the right decision as what I shared was bloody awful. Or maybe you’ll see some potential in it, and I’ll rethink my future plans.
So … here’s #1 … The Street Cleaner.
Do let me know what you think.
The Street Cleaner
Chapter 1 – The Death of Simon Lu.
Brian Kent was a Street Cleaner. There is nothing remarkable about that. Not if you take that sentence in its literal form, that is. Brian certainly cleaned trash off the streets after all. But, let me tell you all about Brian. Just so you truly understand.
For a start, he didn’t wear overalls and boots, nor make use of a broom. Brian utilized many tools in his…well, let’s call it a ‘trade’, but his personal favourite was his silenced 9mm Browning High Power. Whilst his Colt .45 felt more reassuring in his hand, and certainly had more stopping power, the Browning had a capacity for fifteen rounds. That extra ammunition in a weapon was useful if things went a bit pear-shaped as was oft the case; plans and reality make rare bed-fellows after all.
Brian was born in 1967, in the depressing ‘concretesville’ of Slough. Back then his hometown was considered to be modern and progressive, independent population centre. The pestilent temptations of London were still, in those days, a decent train or car journey away. By the end of the 20th century, however, the capital city’s ceaseless expansion meant that Slough was, in practical terms, now just one small blob in its neighbour’s hungry bloated belly.
The people of Slough – or ‘Sluff’, to use the vindictive vernacular of its many denigrators – were, in the main, non-natives of the town. They were transients; people who had been either attracted to the economic powerhouse of London, but were unable to afford to actually live in it, or they were Londoners who had been forced out from their own city by the fiscal realities of the free market and its effect on property prices. The people of Slough harboured no pride towards their adopted home. They had no shared heritage. They were a mishmash of different migrating birds that had lost their way in an economic storm and which were unable to ever relocate their sense of direction. To Brian they were all ‘cuckoos’; selfish, fat squatters who had pushed out his town’s rightful offspring, and who exhibited a disdainful, glutinous appetite to consume everything that what was meant for others. Many of these Cuckoos had, by 2017, made their own nests in Slough, and were now themselves second or, in some cases, third-generation ‘Sluffites’, but this was an actuality that would be lost on Brian. Even those residents of Slough who had lived there for ten, twenty, or perhaps even, thirty years, were still in his eyes, aliens in his birthplace.
Expelling the Cuckoos was a practical impossibility that even Brian accepted as truth. He knew that he couldn’t change that, though it ate away at him like sulphuric acid trapped in a porcelain bowl. But the knowledge that his memories of his town were now nothing but tiny magnetic charges in the hard drive of his mind is what kept him going. It’s what kept him motivated.
What he could do, and what he did, was to clean his streets. Brian had dedicated his existence to seeking out, collecting and punishing what he determined to be the worst of Slough’s human litter. Thieves, dealers, whores, rapists, kiddy-fiddlers, drunks, druggies and other ‘anti-socials’ were all fair game. They were all unwanted. They were all Cuckoos.
Brian, although no convert to God by any means, lived his life as a completely dedicated – albeit, covert – crusader. He rose at 5:30 am each and every day, except on Saint George’s Day which was his annual sabbath, and went through his routine. An hour pushing weights and then either a six-mile fast run or a fast cycle ride. He used to enjoy an hour in the municipal pool – being immersed in water made him feel a temporary purity – but the facility was being increasingly used by hoards of uninvited ‘foreigns’, and he could bear it no longer, so he stopped swimming. After his nutritional, protein-rich breakfast Brian would consume one hour’s worth of national news coverage to keep himself informed. It was almost always a depressing experience but it was necessary. Those who paid no attention to what was happening in their country were undeserving of its bounty, and they could have no cause to complain when the inevitable changes came into force. Those ignoramuses will, one day, cry into their empty breakfast bowls when they suddenly find themselves bereft of their social networks, smartphones, celebrity icons, reality TV, jobs, healthcare, state handouts and food. Brian, however, would be prepared and even if he himself somehow failed to navigate the hot winds of change that were coming, he would die knowing he had done his part. That he had cleaned up the trash.
Brian’s father had been a paratrooper who had been off-duty and drinking with his fellow soldiers on the day that he had been killed, by an IRA bomb, in Londonderry in 1979. Brian had been 12-years-old at the time and it had destroyed him. His father had been his idol; a bastion of strength and integrity in an increasingly weak and malevolent world. Brian had sought to emulate the elder Mr Kent by signing up to join the parachute regiment himself, the moment he had turned seventeen. He had breezed through the initial physical entrance tests, but his application had been turned down on the basis of a – never explained – reason after the subsequent psychological examination.
Instead, Brian had found a way to serve his nation by joining the Royal Navy as a weapons technician. His seven-year stint as a sailor ended in 1991, at the tail end of the first Gulf War. Brian had signed up for twenty years but his departure from the services had been hastened by the British government’s desire to reap a ‘peace dividend’. He was handed a relatively-handsome sum of money and given free training intended to prepare him for the transition back to civilian life. That transition was to be severely disturbed by the sudden death of the only other person of significance in his life when, in February 1992, his mother was killed by a hit and run driver.
Elizabeth Jane Kent had been walking across a zebra crossing when the red Mark 1 Ford Mondeo had clipped her at a speed of over fifty miles per hour. Her neck had been broken in the initial collision and she had been already dead before her broken body had come to halt twenty meters away by the doorway of John Halliday & Sons, the local butchers which, ironically, was the very shop that she had been intending to visit. She had set out that morning to buy the wonderful pork and Stilton sausages that were her son’s favourite. Elizabeth had planned a meal of bangers and mash to celebrate Brian having been finally offered his first civilian employment opportunity. The meal was never prepared and Brian never did take the job – as a trainee heating and ventilation engineer. Instead, he abandoned his plans to join the wider workforce and retreated to the familiar surroundings of his now-deceased parents’ family farm.
The driver of the red Mondeo that had killed his mother was arrested and bailed by the local constabulary a few days later. Mr Simon Lu, who had come to the U.K. fifteen years earlier as a Cambodian refugee, had been given up to the police by his estranged wife. It was rumoured amongst some of those that knew the Lu family, and reported in the local media as such, that Mrs Lu stood to gain sole ownership of the couple’s reasonably-successful takeaway in Slough town centre if her spouse was put away for ten years. That’s probably unfair and doubtless, the good Mrs Lu came forward to the police out of a profound sense of social duty.
Mr Lu did indeed stand to serve between six and ten years at Her Majesty’s pleasure, but that eventuality was to come to nought when, a few weeks later and just before the trial was to be heard at Slough Magistrates court, Mr Lu was found dead in a ditch. He had been struck by a car at high speed; quite an ironic end all agreed. The recorded cause of his death was, therefore, a road accident, although the coroner’s report also made mention of the fact that the corpse’s wrists bore indications of ligature damage. A stolen Vauxhall Cavalier was found burned out a few miles away in a cornfield, and was to be subsequently identified as the vehicle that had met Mr Lu on the Langley Park Road that fateful Wednesday night. Quite what Mr Lu had been doing out there at 2 am in the morning was a complete mystery but, alas, not one that the local law was remotely interested in exploring further.
The morning after the demise of Mr Lu, Brian Kent had sat down at the large wooden table in his farm house’s pantry, made himself a large plate of bangers and mash – with his favourite pork and Stilton sausages of course – and congratulated himself on a job well. Mum had been avenged.
More than that, however, Brian now knew what he would do for the rest of his natural life.
Chapter 2 – The Second Kill
Brian had seen all of the world that he cared to see, whilst he had served in the Royal Navy. He’d seen Portsmouth, Plymouth, Gibraltar, and a plethora of seemingly-homogeneous ports and harbours across Europe, the Middle East, Africa, Asia and North America. Once he’d been to a dozen navy facilities they had all begun to look the same thereafter. All that really changed was the brand names on the shipping containers and the skin colour of the groups of men that sat around all day doing nothing on the harbour below his ship. Once he had come out of the services he cared not for going abroad ever again. Not for him were drunken weeks in Mediterranean holiday resorts, city-break to European tourist hotspots, or long-haul flights to exotic destinations to discover what has already been many-times discovered. Brian had had his fill of ‘abroad’. England was all he needed and, in truth, Brian possessed little appetite for venturing much beyond his Berkshire hometown.
His second ‘cleaning’ had not come for a further two years after he had dispensed with the Cambodian who had killed his mother. It was not without lack of trying. Brian had started touring the dark backstreets of Slough’s less-than-salubrious council estates not long after his mother’s death, but had found it harder than he had imagined to locate the scum of society, despite knowing that they were everywhere. Like a big game hunter, Brian had needed to learn everything about his quarry; where it ate, where it grouped, where it mated, and where it slept. He spent nights observing street corners and industrial estates where the whores met their John’s, with their pimps in stealthy attendance. He acquired a stray dog, a Jack Russell that he simply named ‘Dog’, and took it for long walks around various council estates in search of drug dealers and drug takers. He bought all of the local newspapers and always had the local BBC or commercial radio channels on at home, hoping to glean information about local scumbags and their dirty dealings.
The basement of the farmhouse had quickly been turned into Brian’s centre of operations. Newspaper clippings of local crimes were methodically assessed for key information which was then underlined – using a system of categorisation that Brian developed for himself – and logged in a series of big fat box folders. It was, in those pre-Internet days, quite difficult to locate complete strangers who figured in the news reports. You couldn’t just phone up British Telecom and enquire as to the address of Mr Rogers who, you had just read in the Berkshire Observer, was the suspected rapist of a young mother in Britwell. You needed their full name and address in order to get a telephone number for instance, and it was hardly a sustainable strategy to be dialling 192 on your home phone to obtain that information from Directory Enquiries if you were subsequently planning on killing the people in question. That would be what they call a ‘flag’ to the police if they started looking into the violent deaths and missing persons cases that he intended to trigger. No, in order to get this done properly one had to be patient, diligent and careful. Like a librarian mixed with a lawyer, then mixed with an assassin. An effective cleaning was, as Brian would quickly come to understand, 99% planning and only 1% action.
Robert Rogers was from somewhere over the other side of London. ‘Dagenham or maybe Barking’, thought Brian, as he watched the section of news that he had videotaped the previous night. This man, Rogers, had been charged with raping a young mother in her early twenties as she was leaving a rave club called The Centre.
Robert Rogers was from somewhere over the other side of London. ‘Dagenham or maybe Barking’, thought Brian, as he watched the section of news that he had videotaped the previous night. This man, Rogers, had been charged with raping a young mother in her early twenties as she was leaving a rave club called The Centre, on Farnham Road. Rogers who, the BBC reporter explained, possessed several previous sexual assault charges, had been released due to lack of evidence. Brian knew that the allegations were almost certainly true and because of this, the man repulsed him. This was as good a target as any to get his account going again, Brian decided.
Rogers was a resident of the same Britwell council estate as his victim, according to a short piece in the Slough Express. Brian had found and saved the article. His challenge was to be in finding exactly where the man Rogers lived. Britwell, built after the war to home bombed-out Londoners, was home to several thousand people. Brian had tried looking the man up in the telephone directory but with no luck. For day after day, week after week, and through February, March and April 1993, Brian and Dog traipsed around the wet, leafy streets of the Britwell estate. Brian and his loyal canine buddy commenced their search pattern from Farnham Lane in the north of the estate. After several unproductive days, they started patrolling the areas around Lower Britwell Road and Haymill Road to the west. With no sign of the target, Brian (and Dog) switched to Whittaker Road and Northborough Road in the south, and then finally around Long Readings Lane to the east. After five weeks, Brian extended his search zone to include parts of the neighbouring Lynch Hill and Manor Park estates in the hope that Mr Roger’s lived around there. After over two hundred miles of walking and with no sign of the elusive Mr Rogers, Brian’s patience was wearing thin. He could picture almost every house on the estate now. Every stone-clad council house facade, every Asian corner shop, every ‘chippy’, every graffiti-covered bus shelter, and each and every tuned-up Vauxhall Astra. He knew what the posties and milkmen looked like. He knew where the squatters lived. He knew where the hookers worked. He knew where the local teens got their blow and ecstasy from (he would deal with the dealers later, he decided) and he had a good idea which husbands beat on their women. He knew Britwell like the back of his hand, yet he had failed in his endeavor to locate the disgusting Robert Rogers.
And then it struck him. If he couldn’t find the rapist, maybe he could find the victim. That night Brian went back straight down to his basement and started going through his files. Then he re-ran the videotapes of the news that he had so diligently labeled and cross-referenced. He found it – the very short snippet of the girl’s embattled mother standing behind her front door as news reporters attempted to persuade her to get her daughter to answer their questions. It was barely five seconds of footage, but he recognised the house immediately. Number 27 Taplow Drive. The modest, two-bedroom terraced house with a red front door and with a concrete birdbath in the centre of the tiny front garden. Brian had actionable intel. He could talk to the girl. She would surely give him the address of her rapist. They lived on the same estate for Christ’s sake. He was overjoyed.
And then he heard it. The unmistakable sound of a window being forcibly-opened; splintering wood and the glass breaking and falling upon the floor upstairs. Brian had turned off all the lights in the house when he had locked up for the night. He had anticipated working down in the basement all night and hated the thought of wasting electricity in empty rooms in the house upstairs. He heard footsteps and picked up a tire iron from the set of tools that he kept among his tools. Someone was wandering around upstairs, likely searching for things of value. Well, they were going to be disappointed tonight, and not just when they realised that Brian had practically nothing of value. He led a frugal and spendthrift lifestyle. He had no need for the fripperies that adorned most other people’s homes. He had no DVD player, no stereo, no jewelry. What money he kept in the house and his personal documents were all locked in his safe in the cellar with him. Brian took off his trainers and waited until the footsteps told him that the intruder was now somewhere to the back of the house, then he slowly mounted the stairs wearing just his socks on his feet, and crept into the hallway between the kitchen and the living room. The intruder was opening drawers in the kitchen and making a lot of sound as he did so. Clearly, the noisy burglar had assumed the house to be empty and he completely failed to notice Brian’s stealthy approach until it was far too late. The man turned towards the movement at the same moment that Brian slammed the heavy tire iron down onto the man’s skull which cracked with a sound that was not unlike that of Brian’s window a few minutes earlier. The man collapsed to the floor gurgling, his body jerking around like a freshly-landed trout. Brian took a step back and watched with fascination as his unwelcome guest shook and thrashed for nearly a minute until he finally died.
That experience had been much more up-close and personal than when he had driven the Cavalier into the intoxicated Simon Lu. Whilst he had needed to get out of the car and to remove the cable ties from Mr Lu’s wrists, the man had been quite dead by the time Brian had got to him. This time he had got to watch his victim’s death roes. He’d heard the sounds that had emitted from the dying man and watched as life had evaporated from his eyes. And he had enjoyed it, more than he thought would be the case.
He would get back to the rapist, Robert Rogers, at some point, but this event taught Brian a clear lesson. The Cuckoos are everywhere. You don’t need to go hunting them. You just need to wait and they will come to wherever you are. You just need to be ready to act. To be ready to clean.