Louisa scoured the newspapers avidly from cover to cover over the following days expecting to see news reports regarding the arrest of her uncle and Parsons. Six tension-filled days passed with the only news being a report of a tenth victim coming forward; a sixteen year old waitress returning home after her shift. She had been attacked and repeatedly raped by two men. Her ordeal had been horrific, but she had at least escaped with her life. On the eighth day the headline Louisa had been waiting to see was splashed across the front page of every newspaper: “Man Arrested in Teenage Rape and Murder Enquiry.”
George Parsons gave up the name of his accomplice with very little urging. With the spectre of the hangman’s noose hanging over him Parsons laid all of the blame for the murders on Percy Styles, admitting only to ‘interfering’ with a couple of the girls. However witness testimony from three living victims put Parsons front and centre during the rapes and murders. He was charged with seven counts of rape and three counts of premeditated murder. He would undoubtedly face execution for his crimes his weary, hang-dog faced solicitor intoned solemnly.
His accomplice, Styles, was on the run. A cunning sixth sense had warned him that something in the air was not quite right. There just seemed to be too many policemen around the area for it to be anything other than suspicious. Percy Styles knew when to take a hint and all of his instincts told him it was high time for him to leave Dodge. Without a word to his wife or his murdering rapist pal, George Parsons, Percy Styles magicked himself away twenty-four hours before a posse of burly uniformed officers of the law hammered importantly upon his street door, demanding entry.
Styles headed for London armed with a few pounds, a change of clothes, a shaving kit and a photograph of his missing niece. He was ninety-nine percent sure that the city of her birth was where she had headed after that fat bastard Parsons had tried to have her. To a certain extent he admired her ballsiness, but she had both embarrassed him and cost him money as Parsons had demanded a full refund of the two pounds he had handed over. The embarrassment Styles would shrug off; the loss of the money rankled a bit deeper.
Utilising the facilities of a railway cloakroom he shaved off his thinning grey hair and ratty moustache. A battered trilby hat sat atop his newly-bald pate and a pair of clear-glass, wire-framed spectacles perched upon his nose. The smart blazer and matching trousers he now wore gave him the air of a casual traveller when he re-emerged from the cloakroom some twenty minutes later. He smiled his friendliest smile at the sour-faced hag at the ticket window and asked for a ticket on the next London-bound train before handing over one of his pound notes and some coins in payment of his fare. He arrived in London less than three hours later.
It took a lot of legwork, a lot of door-knocking and more charm than Percy Styles naturally possessed to not only learn where Louisa had pitched-up, but also how she was supporting herself. A slimy, cretinous whore-bitch by the name of Mary MacAllister had offered the information with a sly expression on her face and avarice in her eyes when she saw the crumpled photograph of her former tenant.
“I might ‘ave sumfing.” she told the perspiring and rumpled-looking man in front of her. “She stayed ‘ere for a while, but it weren’t good enuff fer the likes of ‘er and she pissed off, in the middle of the night, owin’ me a week’s rent” she lied glibly.
“Really?” Styles said blandly, seeing through the old cow’s lies more clearly than one could see through her filthy windows. “How about I make good on that naughty girl’s rent? Would that loosen your tongue?” he asked, his voice dripping saccharine and sarcasm in equal measure. It was wasted on Mary MacAllister.
“Now I come ter fink of it, it were two weeks rent she stiffed me for, the little madam.” she said boldly, daring her caller to disagree.
Her eyes popped comically when a large hand grabbed her lizard-like neck and began to squeeze, closing off her airway and causing her to cry out in panic.
“You will tell me what I want to know, you thieving old buzzard,” Styles hissed angrily, his nose millimetres from hers. “If you don’t I will squeeze the fucking life out of you, right here, right now” he told her, tightening his grip on her neck. “Do we have an understanding now, you vile bitch?” he spat.
Rightfully fearing for her life, miserable existence that it was, Mary MacAllister nodded in agreement as best she could.
Styles loosened his grip sufficiently to allow Mary MacAllister to croak the name of the shop and the address to which Louisa had taken a room, which he wrote down on the back of the photograph.
“You speak a fucking word of this to anybody, woman, and I will come back and cut out your tongue then rape you with a hot poker, is that clear?” Percy Styles said politely.
The look of horror and fear on the woman’s face was mute testimony to the effectiveness of his threat. She sincerely believed that not only was he capable of doing what he said, but that he would do it with a smile on his face. She retreated to the safety of her home and made double sure that the security chain was attached and the door bolts were driven home firmly. Several large gins were required to calm her shattered nerves. A large moth-eaten scarf covered her bruised neck.
It was too late in the day to go looking for Louisa, Styles decided. It was time to look for somewhere to lay his head for the night. Thirty-five minutes later saw him tucking into home-made pie and mash and thick gravy in a cheap room at a local tavern. He slept fully clothed, ready to bolt should anybody who so much as smelled like the law came calling.
She thanked the pretty young woman and gave her one of her rare genuine warmest smiles. Louisa liked Clarissa Packham-Ford. The two women were of a similar age, but that was where the similarities ended. Clarissa was the second daughter of wealthy merchant, Arthur Packham-Ford. It was to his account that Louisa added the cost of his daughter’s latest purchase, a beautiful silk and satin ball gown in peach and cream that looked stunning on the young woman’s slim but curvaceous frame. It would cost her father more money than Louisa had ever seen in her life, nearly one hundred pounds. As soon as she had closed the ledger the thoughts that had been troubling her for several days crowded out her smile.
The manhunt for her missing uncle had proved fruitless. He seemed to have disappeared off the face of the earth. There was speculation that he may have travelled abroad to escape justice, but Louisa did not believe that. In fact, she was almost certain that he was looking for her for some reason. Although he had no known connection to the Capital she believed that he would do as she had done and make his way to London. Her fear was that he would make trouble for her and cost her her job. She could not afford to allow that to happen under any circumstances.
She knew that she was popular amongst her colleagues as well as most of the store's clients. However, having lied to gain her position Louisa was uncomfortable with the idea of taking anyone into her confidence in case she slipped-up and blurted out something that might give away her artifice. So she kept her own counsel. It was becoming more difficult day by day, though, the longer her uncle remained on the run.
Marilyn Penney was twenty-five and married with an adorable baby boy and a three year old little girl. She was the closest thing that Louisa Tavistock had to a friend. The two young women enjoyed one another’s company and shared a slightly daring and naughty sense of humour. Marilyn’s husband, Bernard, was of all things, a policeman; a sergeant no less. Louisa’s initial wariness around him gave way to a fondness and genuine liking when she got to know him better. His easy-going, relaxed demeanour belied a sharp mind that often took people by surprise. Louisa thought that Marilyn was a very lucky girl to have found someone so wonderful. She hoped to find someone like Bernard Penney herself one day.
With the pressure of her secrets weighing heavily on her conscience and her uncle’s continued absence Louisa was coming under increased pressure to confide in someone, if only to unburden herself a little. Having debated endlessly with herself and considered all of the worst possible outcomes she finally approached Marilyn during work hours and asked if maybe they could meet for a coffee after work one day? With a smile and a nod of her lustrously adorned head Marilyn suggested tomorrow at the nearby Lyon’s Coffee House after work, say six o’clock? It was a date. All Louisa had to do was pluck up the courage to speak the truth.
To be continued...