The drama on Wednesday Common reaches a climax when Joe Palliser, anxious to keep a folder he found in the Parkin house from the attention of the police, runs accidentally into a revengeful Charker; in the dark and the ensuing confusion Jennifer Althorpe is shot. Tom Peterkin’s swift intervention saves Joe from a similar fate.
After Charker’s arrest the scene has moved to London, to witness Ian Palliser’s encounter and arrest by the police as his result is about to be declared on election night. Now, let the scene move on again:
There could be no finer testament to Tom Peterkin’s generosity of spirit than his action in saving Joe from Charker that fateful evening when the Parkin farm burned down, just as there could be no greater exhibition of trust than his acceptance that Joe’s indiscretion with his wife would not be repeated. Emma had given a pledge, hazarded her own future upon their one epic encounter, and an odd sort of truce therefore existed between them. Joe kept to his word, and Emma to hers.
So the relationship between Tom and Joe gradually revived to a somewhat curious level of acceptance, one which was further tested and at the same time fortified on a fine, late summer evening three months after Ian Palliser’s arrest, The companions were sitting on a white–painted veranda that overlooked the garden of Joe’s new home – Tom, comfortable on a lounger with a pint of ale for company, Joe in a rocker, with a quiet contentment between them only broken by the serenade of an insistent blackbird.
“He want’s you to start diggin’, boy,” Tom remarked, supping from his glass. “You bein’ idle rich, likely you got to be a gardener now, an’ all?”
“I thought I’d ask Aaron to do it,” Joe replied. “I caught him casting an eye on that Peace rose when he was helping with the move. I might give him an excuse to sneak the odd cutting.”
They had been sitting in silence for a while when Tom said, “Emma, she’m expectin’, you know?”
If Joe had to control a leap of his heart he did not show any sign. He measured his words. “That’s good news. What will you do, Tom?”
“She allus wanted a child,” Tom’s lips twitched towards a smile. “We was tryin’ fer years. Ironic, really.”
“So now she has one. What will you do?”
“I think we both knows, don’t we? I thought…I thought we might try and get back together. Raise it, like. She wants that, I think. See?”
Joe nodded solemnly. “I do see. It would be wonderful for you both, if you could agree to that.”
“Ah.” Tom said, and it sounded like an assent.
For minutes together neither man spoke, but sat listening to the strident blackbird and the garden sounds surrounding him.
Eventually, Tom spoke: “What were in that folder? The one you tried so ‘ard to ‘ide from the rozzers?”
Joe grimaced, although he was relieved by the change of topic. “Tried and failed. Photographs, Tom. Three photographs Aaron took seventeen years ago up at Slater’s Copse. Violet Parkin, Hettie Locke, Janice Regan, Dot Barker, ”
“And your brother Ian.”
“Yes, Ian too. It was some kind of twisted ritual: a fire going, and that child, Christian, stripped of his clothes, staked out on the ground.”
Tom shuddered. “Makes my stomach churn just thinkin’ on un. Strange, I’n’nut? Even kinky old bastards like Aaron do some benefit.”
“Oh, I don’t think he’s that bad. He was obsessed with Violet, though, after he saw her with her clothes off.”
“He were allus followin’ ‘er about, that’s right enough. ‘S’pose that’s how ‘e came to be up there, sneakin’ in the bushes, like.”
“And with a camera! Something for his bedroom wall? I don’t know. They’d probably thrown so much gear on that fire they were too wasted to care. One of the shots actually looks like they were posing for him. They killed the little lad, and I don’t think any of them, except Violet, knew why.”
“But they must have found out about the pictures?”
“Oh yes. The next day, maybe, when they’d come down, or possibly when Aaron went to Ned about his wife. Ned developed them – Aaron couldn’t – it’s likely Ned was terrified he’d take the film to a chemist or something. Violet and Ned were close, remember, so the rest of the coven would have got to learn about them pretty fast.”
“An’ they leaned on Aaron to keep quiet. Not ‘ard, I s’pose, them bein’ he’s relatives an’ such.” Tom frowned, “Then what? Ned held on to they pictures? He didn’t burn ‘em, or owt?”
“Rather the reverse, I suspect. He may even have made copies, and they became a sort of secret currency, for a while. When I visited my brother Michael, he told me there were ‘things he knew’ and he even imitated the cruciform attitude of Violet’s body when she was found. At first I thought he must have been there, that somehow he was implicated in the murder.”
“No. When I thought it through I realised; he was showing me how little Christian was pegged down, that afternoon in Slater’s Copse. The inverted crucifix.”
“So Michael must have seen the photographs.”
“Exactly. And who would have shown them too him? Ian. You see, Michael wanted to be a witch, but they rejected him. He would have introduced Ian to The Craft, and Satanism was just another step. So like Ian – they were as thick as thieves those two. They must have kept me out of it, but I can imagine them giggling over the pictures, up in Ian’s bedroom. It would have been around about the time Michael was struggling with his mental health – it can’t have helped.”
“Me an’ Emma never heard about un.”
“Nor did I. I wasn’t part of Ian’s little ‘club’ in those days – he would have been more likely to share them with Rodney Smith than me: that doesn’t mean he did, by the way.” Joe glanced at Tom’s emptying glass. “Another?”
“Don’t mind if I do, Joe. Don’t mind if I do. So what sparked ‘em off, these murders an’ all?”
“Ian stood for Parliament, I’m afraid to say,” Joe took Tom’s glass and retreated into his kitchen, calling out through the doorway, “He couldn’t afford any loose ends, could he? And those pictures were the biggest loose end anyone could imagine.”
“He could of settled fer jus’ gettin’ ‘em back,” Tom raised his voice in response, but Joe was already at his shoulder, fresh drink in hand.
“He might have. I know he tried. He met Michael a couple of times in Marsden, away from the Care Home, to discuss any possible places he’d missed. In the end he’d never be sure, though, would he?”
“Ta.” Tom acknowledged. “But if the ‘ole village knew…”
“You didn’t see them – I didn’t see them. If Ian had been confident enough the secret would be kept, he could have taken the chance the four women wouldn’t shop each other, I guess, although it would only take a tempting offer from a national newspaper to break the circle. What a pity Miss Althorpe was so intent on pursuing me for copy to use against Ian, when the real story was right under her nose. No, murder was safer – make the crime scene look like a black sacrifice to conceal the real motive…”
“Which was a black sacrifice!” Tom chipped in.
Joe nodded. “True, I suppose.”
“Why did he go after Violet first, d’ee think?”
“The other three, they styled themselves as witches. Violet wasn’t a witch, she was a Satanist. She led that twisted little ceremony; hers was probably the first cut on Christian’s body. You put me onto this, Tom, when you told me about her father, Ben Wortsall, who was a harmless old witch. Violet’s mother, though, Hannah Wailes; nobody talks about her. Since the arrests I’ve collected a little background, and she was some woman, was Hannah; there seems to be no record of where she came from but during the twenty years she was living at that farm with Ben she was arrested several times for violence, lectured quite a lot for threatening behaviour, and most importantly there were three other unexplained child abductions in the County; all things that ceased with her death. My guess is that room was hers before it was Violet’s, and more than one poor mite ended up in it, long before little Christian.”
“Like mother, like daughter, then! The more you digs, the grimmer it gets. That must ‘ave been a helluva ‘ousehold for Violet to grow up in, then, mus’n’t it?” Tom allowed himself a sardonic smile. “Still, it don’t explain how they photos ended up in that there room, boy.”
Joe pondered the question for a moment, before answering. “I hope the trial will bring this out, but this is what I think. Ian, or more likely one of his henchman – I met a guy called Alfred who would have qualified – came looking for those pictures, and I think everyone was ‘persuaded’ to give them up, or destroy them. Not Violet. Violet may have decided to hang on to hers, because she saw them as a source for blackmail, so she squirrelled hers away in that little room where she had hidden Christian Matheson’s remains seventeen years before.”
“An’ that were ‘er death warrant, like.”
“Yes, it was. Ned Barker was next, because he probably had the negatives, though they’ve never been found. Michael tried to get me to warn Ned, and I might have found out the truth more quickly, if Ned hadn’t wandered off somewhere.”
“Bafflin’!” Was Tom’s verdict, “I mean, why didn’t ‘e go fer the others? Hettie, Janice and them? Aaron, come to that.”
“He probably would have, given time. The ritualistic window-dressing, the crows in the churchyard, and so on, would only stretch so far. He tried very hard to make Ned’s death seem natural, because too many murders in his home village during the election would look suspicious, however they were dressed up. In a way, the mutual guilt was his insurance: they were all implicated, weren’t they? Even Janice’s husband: as soon as I put in a call to Ian mentioning I was going to search the Parkin house, Albert set the fire that burned it down; we saw him running away, remember? Ian must have called him. Aaron who held the camera and each member of that group who played a part.” Joe shuddered, “It’s my theory, anyway. Those old women came after me, when they thought I was getting too close, and they were very skilled with hallucinogens. Those little drugged talismans, hidden about the place for me to find….”
The court case began in December and dragged on for six months, during which Ian threw most of his personal fortune into legal fees and costs, no matter the inevitability of the result. In Joe’s belief it was Ian’s interest in Satanism that helped him obtain personal wealth and backing for his remarkably rapid rise in The City, and by getting his case transferred to the Central Criminal Court at the Old Bailey he hoped to enlist aid from sympathetic ears. That did not happen, maybe because those with judgement predicted his co-defendants would tie him to the murders, and they were right. When Janice Regan and Dot Barker gave evidence on behalf of the prosecution, Ian’s fate was sealed.
For the murders of Violet and Ned Barker he was given life sentences to run concurrently. His personal chauffeur, Alf (whose record was as long as the Bayeux Tapestry, by the way) was given twelve years. As a juvenile at the time of Christian Matheson’s murder, Ian was given no additional sentence, but each of the three women at that ritual sacrifice received conspiracy sentences. Aaron Pace gave evidence but was never charged.
Curiously? Well, perhaps not curiously but fortuitously, Joe’s duty to support his brother at the trial, together with his decision to get an apartment in London so he could be near to his business interests, placed Joseph Palliser, plus a takeaway sandwich, on a park bench by the Artemis Fountain in Hyde Park one Tuesday in April. Although the park was not at its best so early in the year, it was yet a welcome relief from the close air and the crowds of Newgate and the City, and as he intended to view an apartment in Lancaster Gate that afternoon, he could think of no better place to rest and take stock.
“I thought it was you.” The comment was accompanied by two arms that leant over the back of his seat. He had no need to turn; the voice was recognisable in an instant. “How strange it seems to see you here, though not so strange, one supposes, considering your brother’s situation. You’re a thoroughly bad lot, you Pallisers, aren’t you?”
“I’m afraid we are,” Joe conceded, as soon as his heart had regained a sinus rhythm. “Sophie, how wonderful to hear your voice again.” She moved around the bench so she could face him. She was taller than he remembered, and her wild ashen hair was a little better tamed, but the smart charcoal of her suit exemplified the same willowy form and the same assurance. “I hate to have to ask this,” he said, wincing, “but do you come here often?”
“Every day,” She said. “Well, most days, for midday exercise, although I suppose I should change my route hereafter. Are you in London to coach your miscreant sibling, or on a quest for greater things?”
“Yes to both. Although we might have to query ‘coaching’; I rather think my brother should pay for all he has done. I’m offering emotional support, no more than that.”
“Even so are the mighty…?
Joe shook his head sadly, “No, never mighty; misguided, and very foolish, like his brother. Have you a minute to sit with me?”
“I might have…”
“Share a sandwich?”
Sophie sat, wrinkling her nose in distaste “Do you mind if I decline? I have no health issues at the moment, so I’d rather not tempt fate.” She engaged Joe quizzically: “Which brother?”
“This one. How’s the art world treating you?”
“Oh, it exceeds my ability to describe! I seem to float between negotiations for Turner drawings, two neglected Magrittes, the odd Williams Leader, and this week I am very close to an undiscovered Vermeer!”
“Yes, it is. Truthfully, I have spent my last three weeks tracking down second-rate ‘inspirational artwork’ to adorn a conference venue for chest freezer salesmen. Like so many dreams, the reality is unutterably boring. Why do you consider yourself misguided and foolish, Joe?”
“I let someone go, someone desperately important to me. I hurt her so badly, when I would never wish to hurt her. And I’m sorry: I’ll always be sorry I did that.”
Rather to Joe’s surprise, Sophie’s pale cheeks coloured instantly, and he believed he saw her eyes fill a little. “If we are referring to the same person, I think that she should have been more forgiving. I don’t know what made her so severe – history, possibly – possibly mistrust?”
“I’ve missed you, Sophie,” Joe said unsteadily, “I’ve missed you so much…”
Sophie turned her back to him, and he heard her say: “Excellent! Quite excellent!” She came to herself, swinging to face him, “I’d just like to say, you’re the most disreputable person I ever made the mistake of going out with. That’s merely to get it off my chest, you understand? What are you doing this afternoon – back to court?”
“No, I’m going to view an apartment.”
“I seem to recall you boast a somewhat chequered history in the rental market.”
“Which is why on this occasion I shall be looking to buy.”
“Absolutely. To protect your interests, and since I find myself completely free of engagements, I shall accompany you!”
When I began this story, I told you it was not my tale, but that of my father’s return to Hallbury, and that is true. If I have embellished it greatly it is for your entertainment, but the facts remain intact. These things you deserve to know.
I am a Peterkin, and Tom will always be father to me. I call him so, just as Emma is my mother, and I am their only child. Of my other relations, those I call my aunts and uncles visit most often; Joe and Sophie, who have a house just up the hill for when they are in Hallbury, and Michael, who is unwell but bears his burdens with excessive cheerfulness. He was my favourite as a child, telling me his tales of wild living, and how he scared my Uncle Joe once because he was covered in blood after killing a lamb for his supper. My great aunt Julia lost her beloved Owen last year. She is resolutely independent, however, and my mother has promised to keep an eye on her, which she does.
Beyond the hemisphere of my family, Margot Farrier is an old woman now, living alone in her house on the hill. Uncle Joe calls her ‘The Priestess’ – he visits her, and I wave to her sometimes in her herb garden as I pass that way. As for the other members of that vile ‘inner coven’, once they were released Hettie Locke and her husband moved away, Dot Barker sold The King’s Head (to a friendly Birmingham couple – I am a ‘regular’), so only the Regans remain. They keep themselves to themselves, and mix very little in village society.
There are others for whom my Uncle Joe’s return did not bring happiness. Jack Parkin, whose innocence he strove so hard to prove, was released back into a world that did not love him. Homeless for a while, Jack slept rough in his own hay barn until his love of cider claimed him. He had only five years to ‘enjoy’ his freedom, and though many tried, including my Uncle Joe, he could be neither befriended nor helped.
Now a final strand to put in place: Jennifer Althorpe did not die at Charker’s hands on Wednesday Common that night. She is disabled and likely to remain so, living in London, where she has family to look after her. Charker, therefore, was dealt with relatively lightly by the law, and after his release he moved to Scotland where he found the capital from somewhere to set up a logging business. Latest reports suggest he has married now and does rather well.
So that completes my tale. Uncle Ian will be out next Spring, but we won’t be there to greet him, because we are going to Uncle Joe’s house in Alsace for the summer. Exponents of the black arts are a matter of history in Hallbury now, and the churchyard is once again a place of solace and peace. Violet Parkin may rest there, but she does not disturb the grass.
© Frederick Anderson 2019. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from the author is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Frederick Anderson with specific direction to the original content.