Thursday, 14 March 2013

A Tale of two sisters


Why was it that calls from about two in the morning always took me to some strange events?

“They’ve taken my sister, they’ve taken my sister” came the shrill cry from the other end of the ‘999’ call. The caller sounded female, distressed and elderly, based on the Police operator’s years of experience.
“What is your name caller?” said the concerned operator, listening intently to the faltering voice.
“Edith, Edith Merryweather” came the weepy response.
“And your sister’s name?” 
“Marjorie, she’s seventy-six, the same age as me, and she’s been very poorly” said the caller.
“Where has this happened?”
“What do you mean?” asked the caller.
“Where has your sister been taken from?”
“Here, she just been taken, the doors are all still wide open” said the caller.
“And what is the address?”
“225 Mere Road” said the old lady “Please hurry, I don’t know where they’ve taken her” weeping turning to full blown sobs.
“We have some officers on their way to you now; you wait there” said the operator, at which point the caller cleared.
*****
“Charlie Alpha four one from control” crackled across the UHF radios tuned to the ‘Central’ channel. 
Alerting all the officers who were actually listening, and who were still awake, given the unearthly hour; the call would no doubt fall on the deaf ears of those who had found some quiet pull in, out of the way of prying eyes, and now giving it big ZZZZZs, or the ones who had turned their radios off whilst tucked up safe and warm at their local tea spot.
“Charlie Alpha four one, Sparkenhoe Street” came the response from the passenger in the Highfields area panda car, as always, alert, wide awake and reliable.
“Four one, make your way to 225 Mere Road. We’ve just taken a report of an abduction, an elderly lady, Marjorie Merryweather, seventy six years. Complainant is the sister, Edith”
“Four one, willco” came the response.
*****
The observer flicked on the Escort’s blue light, as the driver pointed the car left onto Maidstone Road, and headed up into the Highfields, the light bouncing off the nearby houses and turning darkness into intermittent light.
“Strange, this time of the night?” said the observer, PC Tony Lawrence, an experienced Central Division veteran of seven years, including this second spell back at Asfordby Street station.
“Probably a wind-up” said the driver, PC Nev Mitchell, a few years longer in service than Tony, all spent on the Highfields area.
“Still, get us out of this bloody cold!” said Tony “and a cup of tea either way, I suppose!”
“Gagging for one” said Nev, winding the Escort up to fifty, the engine whining as it turned up Berners Street, reaching for third gear, sending an assortment of cats scurrying for the safety of nearby alleyways and parked cars.
“Any other mobile Asfordby Street side to back-up four one?” crackled the new transmission.
“Charlie Alpha four two; we’ve just come ten one from the prowler on Forest Road, we’ll back them up” replied Pete Short, one of the shift of four that had started at ten pm the night before, at Asfordby Street.
“Four two; many thanks. If you can make your way and do a tour of the area, an old lady shouldn’t be hard to spot, even for you two” the voice of Sergeant Andy Bury, the night shift control sergeant at Charles Street, directed, a hint of sarcasm tinged with laughter, clearly audible.
“Four one, can you put us on speak-through, whilst it’s quiet?” said Nev, pulling up at the address.
“That’s the kiss of death, you used the ‘Q’ word, so now we’re doomed!” laughed Tony.
*****
As the car pulled up to the address, front tyre squealing as Nev got a bit too close to the nearside kerb, it was clear to see that the front door numbered 225 was wide open, and the light on in the hallway and adjacent front ground floor room.
It was not a night to be wandering around, particularly if you are old and ill. The sky was dark blue-black, and even with the light pollution from the city, constellations shone clear, the officers’ breath highlighted by clouds of cooling vapour, frost settling in for the night on the parked cars lining the street. A northerly wind blew, with every other gust making that eerie howl that cuts through you.
“No sign of any old lady in the street” said Tony, briefly updating pocket-phones over speak-through “Control, update our arrival at the incident location please”.
“Four one, roger to your arrival” replied Mary, the radio controller, who would be sat next to the sergeant’s console at Charles Street.
By now she would be moving around the little magnets with the call signs on ‘dynotape’, showing the current status of all Central resources at any one time, on the small but effective resource board. No doubt there would be a ‘MFH’ magnet next to the call signs CA41 and CA42 as she acknowledged the crews, moving them across to the ‘engaged’ column. Reliable Mary, one operator you knew you could always trust.
“Four two, show us in the area”
“Four two, roger” said Mary.
*****
Tony and Nev walked towards the open door, and noted the cleanly polished, red and white, Edwardian tiles, not a mark to be seen, other than a mere hint of frost on their outermost edge. A crafty urban Fox, probably from one of the derelict factory yards nearby, stared up from the middle of the road, eyes glowing, contemptuous of the interruption in his scavenging.
‘No signs of forced entry’ Tony thought.
A classic Edwardian terraced villa, with pretty feminine curtains at each window, all drawn closed. This had been a wealthy area once, and many of the houses had seen better days, but it was clear that this one was, or at least had been until recently, cherished.
“Hello, anyone there?” called Tony
“Have you found her?” came the frail reply.
Tony stepped into the hallway, opening the door off to his left, immediately inside; already ajar.
“Hello, you must be Edith, do you mind if I call you that?” addressing an elderly lady, sat half-in and half-out of a single bed which took up most of the far wall of the room. Frail and palid, looking very unkempt, the lady looked confused and frightened.
The woman was visibly shaking, and her cheeks tear stained.
“What has happened my love?” said Tony
“They’ve taken my sister away” sobbed the old lady
“Who has?” said Nev
“Those men, they’ve just taken her away with them” she replied
“Where was she when they took her?” said Tony, looking at the room, reflecting that there was only one, small, single bed.
The room smelt lived in, and had that musty smell that grows with age, infirmity and sadly, incontinence.
A small, three bar electric fire, glowed orange, plugged in by the front of the original hearth, but it gave off very little warmth to the room; a small folding leaf table, and a single dining chair tucked under the side, the sum total of the furnishings. No TV, like so many of the old folk in the area. No radio either. ‘Must be one somewhere else’ he thought.
“She was sat just there, next to me” said the old lady, indicating to a gull winged, leather, high backed arm chair, that had seen better days, the seat cushion threadbare and stained, in common with those of many of the elderly folk who saw out their life on the Highfields, seen so many times before.
“What was your sister wearing?” asked Nev.
“Just her nightdress and dressing gown, a pink one I think, and slippers, yes slippers she would have had on” said the old lady.
“And what is your sister’s name?” asked Tony
“Marjorie, she is seventy six you know” said the old lady
“And what did the men look like?” said Tony
“Big and dark, they had on black coats I think” she replied
“And did they have a car?” said Nev
“I don’t know, they carried her out and I didn’t see any of them again” said the old lady, starting to sob, and wailing in a low, deep, mournful tone “Carried her out they did”.
“Where does Marjorie normally sleep?” said Nev
“She is in the back room, down the hallway” said the old lady, becoming breathless.
“Better call an ambulance, she doesn’t seem too well herself” said Tony. “I’ll go and check the rest of the house”.
Tony walked carefully down the hallway, lit by an ornate, imposing glass ceiling fitting, which looked like it had been in situ since the house would have been first occupied. Again, the hall tiles were typically Edwardian; decoratively patterned  diamonds, highly polished and showing no signs of movement, no footmarks or anything dropped or disturbed in a struggle.
Opening the next door along on the left, Tony entered another bedroom, similar to the first, with a single bed on the left wall, as he entered. Then, a similarly aged arm chair, and some drawers. Odd pieces of ladies clothing littered the bed, which was disturbed, but the sheets were cold. A small black and white TV that was cold and dusty to the touch. It had the same musty smell as the one in which he had just walked away from.
No drawers were open, suggesting that nobody had hurriedly gone through them, or taken anything from them recently. The room looked almost locked in some previous time.
From the bedroom, turning left into the hall, he opened the door at the opposite end to the front door, and had to feel inside for a switch, the room in total darkness.
A kitchen, neatly piled crockery standing aside the sink, with two of everything present. Two dirty cups and saucers, both containing remnants of tea leaves stood on a small wooden table with a plastic gingham table cloth beneath them, the tea pot stood across from them, luke warm. Little in the way of food evident in cupboards, just the basics, a small loaf, butter, jam, milk and an old caddy with tea leaves, half full. No signs of frivolity or extravagance, just an old fashioned kitchen and contents.
The radio he had expected was an old style, brown, tortoiseshell by HMV, heavy and probably not used in years, sat in the middle of the table.
A quick check of upstairs, all shut up, almost frozen in time completely, with dusty furniture and empty wardrobes the story of a level probably rarely, if ever used today, sad and unloved.
No signs of a break-in anywhere; all the windows secure; not looking at all like a crime scene, Tony noted, walking back to the front door and starting to talk into his radio.
“Four one to control”
“Four one, pass your message, over” replied Mary.
“Four one, this is a strange one. Sure enough there appears to be somebody missing, but my instinct tells me there’s something not quite right. We’re going to have a more detailed look around the house, and I’ll get back to you shortly” said Tony
Nev, listening in on speak-through, moved to the hallway and shrugged.
“Weird this! Why would anyone take an old lady at this hour of the morning?” said Tony.
“She seems sure about her sister, and the descriptions are vague but sound like she’s actually seen them” said Nev.
“Do me a favour” said Tony “Go back to the nick and see if you can get hold of any duty officer at Social services, See if they have anything on the address. I’ll wait for the ambulance”.
“Won’t be long” said Nev “Bet there’s nobody there at this time that will tell us”.
“See if there are any lights on in the next few houses. Might be someone still up and about who might know them” suggested Tony. 
*****
Nev wandered off out of the front door, which he pulled to, but left on the latch, leaving Tony alone with the old lady. The old screech owl from the steep flight of Victorian steps, opposite, let out one of its high-pitched hoots, breaking the otherwise absolute silence.
“Can I get you a cup of tea whilst we wait for any news?” he said
“No thank you, but if you want one, help yourself” said the old lady.
Tony sat himself down on a simple wooden dining chair that he pulled out from against the small table, and sat down alongside her. The chair looked a safer and healthier bet for what he needed to do next, given the state of the arm chair, not that he hadn’t sat on worse over the years.
“I need to take some details from you” said Tony, reaching into the flat leather briefcase and pulling out a pro-forma ‘Missing from Home’ form, and a pair of statement forms, a facer and a continuation sheet, from amongst the assorted paperwork he always carried with him.
Reaching into the spring on the top of his A4 sized wooden clipboard, he pulled out his trusty black BIC, and clipped the top of the forms under the spring, where the pen had just lodged, securing them for whilst he wrote.
“It’s now two thirty five in the morning, Friday, December the 9th, 1977” he mumbled as he filled in the top line of the form, for date and time last seen “so it would have been about one hour ago she went?”
“About that, yes” she replied
“You say that Marjorie is not very well. What is wrong with her?” said Tony
“Old age and depreciation” the old lady said, with a smile, “just like the rest of us”.
“Is she on any medication?” said Tony
“No, not any more, not for a long time” said the old lady, smile giving way to tears again.
“Have you got any other relatives nearby?” said Tony
“No, they’re all gone, neither of us married. We’re the last ones in the family” she replied
“And how long have you lived here?” said Tony
“We have been here since before the war, it was our parents’ house. Never moved.” She replied
“What time did Marjorie go to bed?” said Tony
“She didn’t; she’s been sat here next to me all night, we just talk to each other and keep each other company” she replied
“And when did you become aware of these men?” said Tony
“Only when they were taking her away, all in black they were, all dark” she replied
“Do you mind if I have a little bit of a look around and look for anything that might help us; photographs or papers?” said Tony
“Haven’t had a photo taken for years” she replied “but feel free to look”.
Tony began to examine a small chest of drawers, that looked the most likely source of any useful, further, information.
There were some photographs, some in sepia, and some later ones, but most appeared to only cover a period he thought was about the time of the Second World War, judging by the dress and surroundings.
Tony picked out one or two family photos, and one or two photos of a woman standing on her own, probably in front of this very house, by the look of the door. 225 could just be made out on the adjacent wall.
“Who are these ladies?” said Tony, showing each picture to the old lady.
“That one is me; that one is Marjorie. We would have been in our 30s when they were taken” she replied
“Are you twins?” said Tony
“Yes” she replied
“And the family group?” said Tony
“Mum, Dad and the two of us. The boy was my brother, Arthur, who was killed in the war.” She replied.
“How long have you and your sister been on your own?” said Tony
“Our parents both passed away just after the end of the war. Losing Arthur broke their hearts. They died very quickly and close together” she replied.
“Marjorie, is that you?” said the old lady, looking towards the door out onto the hallway, sending a shiver down Tony’s neck.
“I don’t think there’s anyone here yet” said Tony. “Some ambulance people will be here shortly, just to make sure that you are alright”.
“That’s very kind of you, but I’m fine” she replied. “Wait; I thought I heard her come back in. Is that you Sis?”
“Just the wind probably, moving the doors” said Tony. It always made him uneasy, sitting with an old person in an empty house. Always something sorrowful about the whole process.
Tony sat quietly for a couple of minutes, filling out the sections of the form that he had started earlier, and that he now had answers for.
*****
As he scribbled a few comments in the ‘any other useful information section’, he turned over another of the pieces of paper he had pulled from the drawers, checking for anything useful as he should, he realised that he was looking at a Registrar’s ‘certificate of death’.

Marjorie Alice Merryweather. Date of death;  24th November 1946. Age at death;  44 years. Place of death;  225 Mere Road, Leicester. Cause of death;  Consumption. 

“Edith, have you had any other brothers or sisters that you haven’t told me about?” said Tony
“No, just the ones in the pictures, Arthur, Marjorie and me” she replied
“Are you sure that Marjorie has been living here with you?” said Tony, watching the old lady’s face for any signs of doubt.
“She was here earlier, until those men took her away” she replied
As she spoke, the door from the hallway opened, almost fully, as did the front door, which Nev had left on the latch, and a piercingly cold chill blew across the room, followed by one of those howling gusty sounds.
“Look, here she is now” said the old lady, suddenly smiling, broadly. 
Her face and body moved, turning, as if in synchronization with someone crossing the room, until stopping at the gull wing chair, then her gaze descending as if someone had sat down. For a brief moment, he would swear he smelled lilac or lavender waft by.
“That’s right Marjorie; you sit yourself down, and get warm again. You must be perishing. Now where have you been, worrying me and this nice policeman?” asked the old lady.
Tony felt a chill creep through his body, unlike anything he had felt before, and every hair on his neck and scalp tingled and stood on end. 
“Now then; I don’t suppose you feel like making us all a cup of tea now do you Marjorie? No? I suppose I had better go and do it as usual then!”

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