The Bull Singer
I sat down on a bench outside the house, and let my head drop into my hands. I was so selfishly delighted that the boy strapped to the rack wasn't Pete, but couldn't help feeling saddened that yet another boy had suffered at Prescott's brutality. The boy had been lashed to the rack and whipped until there was hardly any skin left on his back. The paramedics had let me know that he had been repeated raped during the assault. There were no other items in the torture room to give us a clue as to where Pete had been taken; but something itched at the back of my brain, as if I should be aware of something that stared me in the face but could not see it. I still wore the blue gloves James asked me to wear, and as I felt them against my cheeks, I remembered helping the police examine the packing cases and lengths of wood stacked up against the wall with small oxygen bottles and sealed packets of catheters. The tools we found told us that the place was being used to make those cases on the premises; but what for? And where had I heard of the use of a rack for a rape? Think man, think. Suddenly I remembered, and I felt so sick.
I dived into the house in search of James. Ten minutes later, his police car dropped me outside Harold's cottage and it took me another ten minutes to get anyone to let me in. A stranger stood just inside the door with a gun pointed at me. As soon as I told him James sent me, he let me in but didn't put away his weapon. At least I felt the boys were safe. I crept into the bedroom where the twins were cuddled up tight under the duvet. Joey blinked at me with eyes that wanted to close. "Joey, listen to me, it's very important."
"Uh, hi, Mags, wassup?"
"Joey, do you remember telling me about catching your mother and her friends in a basement. They were raping a kid?"
Joey struggled to sit up. "Nice of you to wake me up with such nice memories; thanks Mags." He ruffled his hair and yawned. "Yeah, I remember; what about it."
"Can you describe it or make a drawing of it?"
"I guess so. In the morning, 'kay?" He collapsed against the pillow, his eyes closing.
I hauled him up off the pillow and shook him awake. "Joey, we found another kid tied to a rack in the Grebe Street house. This sex ring is much bigger than we thought, much bigger. Pete's life may depend on what you can tell me."
Now Joey was really awake and slipping out of bed. He dived into the bathroom to splash cold water on his face. As he returned to the bed, Ricky rolled over and reached for him, then started up, blinking and looking for his missing brother. "Oh, hi, Mags; when did you get back?"
"That's not important," I said. "We've had a breakthrough at the Grebe Street house and I need some information from Joey." I turned to Joey. "Well?"
For answer, Joey rummaged in his overnight bag and brought out a small pad and a pen. While Ricky strained to look at what he was doing, Joey made a rough drawing and passed it to me. I found myself looking at the rack I had seen earlier tonight. "Can you remember where the house was, where you saw this rack?"
Joey nodded, his face draining of colour. "We lived there for a short while. It was an old renovated warehouse with apartments in the upper floors, in the middle of Manchester. I was about eleven years old. We were the only tenants there at the time."
"How convenient! Can you remember the name of the street it was in?"
"Erm...George Street, I think; yeah, it was George Street."
Now I started to get excited. "George Street? Are you sure?"
Joey looked at me as if I was crazy. "Like I said, I lived there; why?"
"Pete was a virtual prisoner in an apartment in the centre of Manchester, owned by a Mr. Faring.
Joey jerked upright to fix me with a stare. "That was the name of our landlord."
"Right; now we know where they're taking Pete. They're taking him back to Mr. Faring; but how?"
Ricky looked up at me and said, "I'm sorry, Mags, I never thought of it before, but Jim Prescott's father owns a removal firm; J. P. Removals."
A few miles south of Birmingham, we stayed hidden as a white transit van with the letters 'J.P REMOVALS, BRISTOL' pulled to a stop outside the gates of a builder's yard. James said quietly into his radio, "All units, vehicle is parked outside a builder's yard. Close in but don't show yourselves. Someone is opening the gate. No one move until the van is in the yard." A few moments later, the van drove into the yard and James yelled, "Go, go, go!" The place erupted with police jumping out of several unmarked vans and vehicles, wearing body armour and carrying hand weapons. A lot of shouting went on as we climbed out of James's car. We approached the yard as a man ran out and I managed to grab him. Another policeman took him off me and marched him back into the yard.
I followed James to where the driver of the transit struggled between two officers. James took his pocket book and pen out. "All right, let's have your name." The white haired man spit at him. "Well that wasn't very nice, was it? Let me guess. Is this your van?"
"What of it? And who the hell are you? I'm just delivering packing boxes. Nothing wrong in that is there?"
"If your name's Joseph Prescott, there is." Walker showed him his badge. "I'm detective Inspector James Walker, Bristol CID. What are you carrying besides packing cases?"
"Nothing in those cases?"
"I told you, nothing."
"Oh, in that case, you won't mind us opening a few, will you? I'd like the keys to the van please."
"Listen, Mr. Prescott, your son is in deep trouble and it looks like you are as well. Kidnapping is a serious offence in this country. The keys please?"
Once the keys were retrieved, members of the West Midlands police force opened up the rear and jumped into the van to search the cases, only bothering with those that could hold a body. Right at the front, underneath other boxes, they found a long box, roughly put together. One of them used a crowbar to prise off the lid, and turned to nod to us. "He's here, sir." We scrambled into the van and hurried forward to look down into the box. Pete lay, naked, in the box with an oxygen mask over his face, the tube leading to small oxygen bottle by his side. His wrists and ankles were bound with cord, and there was a catheter inserted into his penis with the other end attached to a waste bag. His eyes were closed. I knelt down by the box and touched his face above the mask. "Pete, it's Mags; can you hear me?" He moved his head a little, and a tear fell from his right eye. Someone touched my shoulder; I looked up to see a paramedic from the ambulance, which had been following us.
"Let me have a look at him, sir. He's probably just suffering from exhaustion and shock."
I stood up to let him take my place, and all of a sudden my knees started to buckle. James grabbed me and led me out of the van. Pete was safe but his problems were far from over. I couldn't imagine how much mental damage he had suffered at the hands of the Prescotts, let alone any physical injury he had endured; and I was firmly reminded of my time in the woods with a bag over my head. After the police had photographed all the evidence, and Pete's condition, the paramedics carried him to the ambulance where they treated him for shock, and checked him over and removed the catheter before allowing us into the ambulance to talk to him. As soon as he saw me, tears welled up into his eyes and he held out his arms to me. I knelt by the gurney and held him in a tight embrace while he wept on my shoulder, letting him cry everything out. James was very patient with us and went out to talk to the Midlands police inspector who had been detailed to help us. They had shadowed the van in unmarked cars all the way from the West Midlands southern border. When James returned, he said, "West Midlands have been talking nicely to old man Prescott; he doesn't seem too happy at the idea of spending the rest of his days in jail so he's coughed up enough information to put his son and friends behind bars for a long time. I've been in touch with Cheshire and Greater Manchester police forces, and they've offered to take over surveillance from West Midlands and they're goin to escort us right to George Street. They're already putting a watch on Faring's place. All we have to do is offer Mr. Faring the carrot he's been waiting for." James rested a comforting hand on Pete's back. "Peter, we've got to make sure we have a strong case against Mr. Faring. We have to catch him in the act of accepting the box with you inside it; then Mags will go with you to the hospital, and then take you home. But it would seal out case shut if you could finish the job for us. You're the only link between Faring and the Prescotts."
Pete eased away from me, and hugged the blanket round his shoulders. He looked up at me and sniffed back fresh tears. Then he turned in my arms to give James his answer. "Could I just have a few minutes, please? I don't really want to go back in that box; it was hell in there. Now I know what it's like to be buried alive in a coffin. But I'll do it to put Faring away for what he did to me, and to pay back Jim Prescott for what he did to Ricky. How he found out where I was is beyond me. I only know that Prescott rang Faring in answer to an advert in a club he belonged to. That must mean it has branches all over the place." He shivered and pulled the blanket tighter round his shoulders. "If I could just have a drink and something to eat, I'll be fine. I'm afraid Prescott didn't put food on the agenda. What do you want me to do?"
James shook his head. "Not as much as you think. I'm going to take you and Mags to Manchester in my car and you'll only go back in the box for the last few minutes. We'll put the cords back, loose enough for you to escape and defend yourself if necessary, but that shouldn't arise if everything works out. You'll have to have the catheter replaced, of course. Faring will know something's up if you arrive without it. We know about Faring trying to keep you a prisoner at his home in George Street. Mags told us. We need to have Faring accept delivery of the box and have it moved into the building, before we raid the place. We need him to actually open the box. We'll put a wire on you where he won't see it. It will be powerful enough to pick up any conversation near the box, so we'll probably catch the driver handing the box over to Faring. We also need you to be ready to distract Faring, if he opens the box too soon, as we enter the building. If you can grab him, and stop him getting away, that would be a great help. Can you do that?" Pete thought it over for a few minutes then nodded his head.
Two hours later, we watched from a darkened ex-post office van, as Joseph Prescott drove his van up to the rusting wrought iron gates that barred the way into the court between Faring's apartment building and a newly renovated night club. It seemed that the centre of Manchester was undergoing another change as old warehouses and Victorian office blocks were taken over and turned into thriving modern day businesses and luxury apartments. Only in some parts did you find evidence of the blackened buildings and courts that reminded the visitor of life in the early to mid-eighteenth century. As we waited for something to happen, I recalled my grandfather telling me the story of a Salford family who started out selling cotton remnants from a barrow in Shudehill. From there they rented a basement in George Street and progressed into selling bolts of cotton and linen, bringing the sons into the business and turning the business over to them when they came of age. From there they moved up to street level and became known as Lords of Manchester. They made their money, first in the cotton industry before turning to wool as King Cotton declined. They moved to making carpets and they only closed the business when part of George Street was demolished to make way for the new bus terminus. It seemed strange that I could very well be sitting where Messrs, Lord and Co once walked and traded.
James brought me out of my musings with a dig to my shoulder. The gates squeaked open and the van drove inside. One shadowy figure, probably the police photographer, slipped inside the gate and disappeared. It seemed like forever passed before the van reappeared and drove off towards Oxford Road. Before the gates could close, there were men everywhere, rising up out of the shadows to rush silently through the gate. James dragged me out of the van and we ran through the gate. At the back of the almost black court, a door hung open, and we heard the usual whispered commands as we entered and found ourselves at the top of a set of stairs. A police Sergeant stood at the top with a nightstick at the ready. He beckoned to us and led us down into a dingy basement. The box was open and Faring leaned over it, shocked and unable to move as a pair of hands gripped the collar of his shirt in a stranglehold.
"Okay, lad, you've done well," one of the officers said, and eased Pete's hands free. While cameras flashed, taking in all the evidence, I lost it. I ran to the box and reached down to lift Pete out. James appeared at my side with a blanket to wrap round him. I ripped the mask off his face and, once a paramedic had removed the catheter, I carried him gently out into the night with his arms tight about my neck. In the ambulance he refused to lie down or let go of me and we spent the short journey clinging to each other in silence. By the time we reached the hospital, Pete had fallen into an exhausted sleep, and I allowed the paramedics to take him from me. I followed the gurney inside with the police officer, who accompanied us and did all the talking at the reception desk. The nurse told us to wait until a doctor came to see us. When he did, he told us, quite bluntly, that Pete been raped and had suffered minor internal injuries; he was dehydrated, and except for a few bruises and sore wrists, he was going to be okay. They had put him in a private room and I was allowed to go in to him, but the officer was told to wait until later on that day to take Pete's statement.
When I entered Pete's room, I found him falling asleep. He roused enough to give me a weak smile. "So this is it; it's all over?"
"For you? Yes." I sat on the edge of the bed. "So what do you want to do now?"
Tears glistened in Pete's eyes. "I just want to go home."
"Well, I doubt if they'll let you travel for a few days, and your mother is planning to come up here to see you; she can stay at Top Farm."
Pete shook his head. "I don't mean Colchester, Mags; that place doesn't hold anything for me. I want to go home to Gramps. I know I'll have to go back to Bristol when Prescott goes to trial, but my place is here with you and Gramps, if he'll have me." He looked away as he added in a low voice, "I feel so dirty, Mags; like I'll never feel clean again. I realise now how Joey felt after what Angela did to him. And I know now that Joey won't need me. He has Ricky and the baby now, and his place is in Bristol with them. I just want to see my dad and tell him I'm sorry for leaving like I did. He must be feeling so hurt. If I could -."
"Pete, there's something you ought to know about." I said, "It's about what happened after you left Harold's cottage."
Pete turned his head to frown at me. "What?"
I gazed down at my clasped hands while I thought how I could tell me without upsetting him further. "Richard attacked Ricky, thinking he was Joey, and accused him of being the cause of your running. As a result, Ricky nearly died. He had the same heart condition as Joey and he had to be operated on at a clinic run by friends of Gypsy Diaz. Your father's deep-seated homophobic tendencies surfaced directly after the assault and your grandmother suddenly realised that his pretence at throwing you out to protect you was in fact his way to get rid of you. This loving father act was just a screen for him to hide behind and to keep the womenfolk from finding out. Your Grandmother saw through this and gave him his marching orders. Apparently he didn't want to adopt you in the first place, so it would seem you're back in the same position you were when Richard threw you out, except that you have your mother and your grandmother on your side. Your grandmother owns the house in Colchester, not Richard, and I have a feeling he's not welcome there, any more."
Pete stared at me for a long time, digesting this revelation. "Oh, damn! Is Mum okay? Can I talk to her?"
"Not yet; the doctor needs to do some tests and you need to sleep. She's probably making plans to come up and see you some time tomorrow, so don't worry. I'm going to make a load of phone calls to let everyone know you're okay, and I call your mother and give her the hospital's number."
Pete nodded, and looked very tired all of a sudden. "What tests are they going to do?"
"Just a check up to see if you've caught anything nasty."
Pete's eyes flashed with anger before he calmed down. "I suppose it's to be expected. Will you call Gramps and ask him to come and see me?"
"Of course; now, I need to make those phone calls and talk to the police." I leaned over and kissed him on his forehead. "I'll see you later." I don't think he heard me; his eyes were already closing.
Once I was sure the doctors were doing everything they could for Pete, I phoned Dad.
"Dad, it's Mags."
"Bloody hell! You pick a right time to call. It's ten past six in the morning."
"I know, Dad, but I thought you should know, we found Pete."
"Oh, thank God for that. Where is he, is he all right?"
"He'll be okay; he's in Manchester Royal for a rest and a check up. He wants you to come and see him later on." I didn't think he needed to know all the details from me. That was for Pete to tell him. "How are things with you, Dad?"
"What do you think y'fool? I've been worried sick. How are the boys?"
"They're okay now. Did Jesse tell you about the baby?"
"Aye, she did that. What's the other lad like?"
"Ricky? The spits of Joey, it's hard to tell them apart except Ricky now has a small scar on his forehead.. Anyway, I've got to make some more calls, so I'll be home later on."
"Well before you go, son, there's some news that Joey will need to hear. You know the show he was going to take part in with your Aunt Millie?"
"Yes. I guess he'll want to get home for that, unless Millie's given his part to someone else."
"Well, tell him there's no need to hurry home for it."
"There isn't a show any more."
"The theatre's been shut down."
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