Blood on the Tyne: Body Parts
Tyneside, 1955. A death in the family brings nightclub singer Rosie Robson home to Newcastle, but her planned return to London hits a snag after she agrees to perform with her old band. Learning the group’s previous singer left after an argument, Rosie begins to wonder if there might be a sinister reason behind the young woman’s disappearance. Uncovering the first in a series of grisly murders, Rosie decides to investigate, but in doing so, finds her own name has been added to the killer’s list…
Pushing my way through the crowd, I found the exit and slid through the door into the passageway that ran down to the steps at the back of the club. Closing the door behind me, it swung open again immediately, banging against the wall, knocking lumps of plaster onto the piss-stained linoleum. I waited for the door to swing shut again then watched as the newcomers hurried down the steps and out into the night. Taking a moment to get my breath, I leaned against the rotted wooden banister and half-listened to Ricky’s honeyed voice launch into a jazz version of All of Me, in time to the regular thumpety-thump of the drums. The music had given me a headache and I wasn’t looking forward to my own turn on stage. As it turned out, I wouldn’t be doing any singing that night.
Away from the smoky atmosphere of the main hall, the air had a sharpness to it, and the oppressive heat that had engulfed me all evening finally began to lift. A young couple banged in through the outside door, struggled drunkenly up the steps and deposited themselves at the top of the landing, leaning against the telephone on the wall, blocking the passage and my exit.
“Alright, pet?” said the man, swivelling his head towards me. He smirked, then stuck his tongue down the girl’s throat, as if this might be the romantic spectacle I’d been waiting for. I resisted rolling my eyes and squeezed past their gyrating hips, shouting apologies above the din. Glancing back at them, the woman’s glistening eyes caught mine. With her skirt around her waist and one greasy hand pulling at her knickers, I could see she thought something magical might be happening. I didn’t envy her the prospect.
Outside, I took a few deep breaths, savouring the salty tang in the air. The toilets lay across the lane, and not for the first time, I half-wished I’d been born a man. Other than the stink of piss, the lavatorial edifice posed no big deal for the average Johnny Dangler, but the place threatened an ordeal to be avoided at all costs for anyone in a skirt.
I considered hanging on until one of the other girls came out, then at least we could brave the nightmare together, but my bladder protested otherwise.
Crossing the cobbled lane, I gave the left-hand door a shove. It creaked open, revealing only darkness. Digging into my purse, I pulled out the matchbook I’d picked up on the bar. Tearing one off, I stepped into the entrance, shielding the match from the breeze. It ignited first time, illuminating three cubicles. One of the doors hung at an angle, its top hinge shattered. The middle booth stood open but the stench from an overflowing toilet ruled that one out too. The match had almost burned out, so I moved along to the next door and gave it a push. The door bumped against something and creaked shut again. If there’d been anyone in there, they’d have said something, or at least announced their presence. I pushed again, harder this time, and felt a give in the door, as if a sackful of rags had been wedged behind it.
The match went out and I heard a squeak emerge from my throat. Fumbling with the matchbook, lest some ghastly spectre might take the opportunity to drag me down into the depths of Hell, I managed to tear off another match and strike it before my imagination got the better of me. Turning sideways, I squeezed between the damp wall and the edge of the door. Holding the flickering flame in front of myself, I leaned forwards.
And there she was. Half-naked and barefoot, legs stuck at an awkward angle against the back of the door, head resting on the lid of the toilet bowl as if she might be studying the excretions of its last customer. A pool of dark liquid had gathered on the stone floor, the raw, acrid scent filling my nostrils. I had no need to wonder where the blood had come from—the gash in her neck told the story plainly enough.
It was only the act of throwing up that stopped me from screaming.