It was either at London Bridge or at Bank. It was definitely a Northern line station but after more than a year I’m not sure anymore which one.
The long escalator was stuffed with rush hour passengers. The relaxed ones, like me, stood at the right. The more londonished ones, stressed all day and with nothing in their heads but work, brushed past us on the left. A few steps in above me was a young man in a dark gray suit. He held a small suitcase in his hand and had an earplug in his right ear and his blond hair seemed to be swinging with the music.
The young man was nearly at the top of the escalator when a small man passed him on the left. I saw the small man’s arm swinging oddly. His hand seemed to have stained the young man’s trousers.
I knew it straight away. Pickpockets.
I had seen a documentary about them. One chooses marks the victim with a piece of chalk – and signifies on which side the victim wears his wallet. A second one sneaks up, steals the wallet and hands it to a third that seems uninvolved. It’s all about not getting caught and being as quick and efficient as possible.
Before I could react the pickpocket was off the escalator and disappeared in a flood of people. I quickly pushed into the left ‘walk’ lane and rushed up the escalator steps. I caught up to the young man just before he stepped onto the next level escalator.
“Wait,” I said. “You’ve been marked.”
The young man pushed onto the escalator as if I was the threat. In London everyone is a threat. That’s what the constant warnings of terrorists and pickpockets drill into you.
“What?” he asked.
I pushed after him onto the escalator. An underdressed and overmakeuped teen said ‘Hey,’ but allowed me to pass.
“Pickpockets,” I said. “They marked you. There’s chalk on your pants. Watch out.”
With a panicked expression the young man felt for his back pockets, then checked his suitcase. He turned back to me.
“Oh,” he said. “Thanks.”
We rode in silence up the rest of the escalator. At the top he nodded and turned to the right. I too had to go to the right but felt uncomfortable following him longer and took the long way instead.
I didn’t expect to see him ever again. In a city of 8 Million you don’t expect to see anyone again.
Still I recognized him straight away. It was the next day. His face was distributed on every street corner, lying out in every bus and spread all over the tube.
Murdered. His throat was slashed and his chest, arms and butt cheeks were cut off. They only found the torso with legs and head still attached – never the extra body parts.
I actually made a statement to the police. One of the articles said that the police got ‘hundreds’ of tips. I doubt that they took mine very serious – something that was, at most, a coincidence.
There had been two murders with the same weird mutilations in the month before and the police suspected that there could have been more. An inspector was quoted saying that in London alone several hundred people go missing every day and that most return. But those that don’t return are rarely found.
After that there was silence. For the last year I read two or three newspapers per day and sometimes even checked local news websites. Reports on murders are not exactly rare – but none of them mentioned similar mutilations. The articles hadn’t even sparked any debate online. It was as if everyone had forgotten – everyone but me.
A month ago I saw the woman. It was nearly 10pm and she was just stepping on the train. Her slim figure was stressed nicely by a blazer and a tight business skirt. A business skirt with a shining white mark at the back.
I rushed past her inside the train. The carriage was nearly empty.
“Hey,” I said. “You’ve been marked.”
She turned visibly away.
“No,” I said. “I’m serious. You’ve been marked. Pickpockets, you know?”
She walked a few steps away from me.
“Hey, I’m not some sort of creeper. I’m trying to help you. There’s a white mark on your ass.”
In retrospect that might not have been the best way to phrase it.
“Then stop staring at it.”
Her voice was dry. The lips pressed together with the corners of her mouth pulled down. Her eyes seemed filled with anger.
“Okay,” I said. “I just wanted to help.”
“Stay away from me,” she said.
The woman walked further to the other end of the carriage. Her high heels clicked loudly with every step. She sat next to three young man in casual clothes. I saw her saying something and the men suddenly stared at me.
When the speakers announced the next station the men got up. They walked towards me.
“Hey Creep!” said one.
“You better get out,” said another.
“I didn’t do anything. I just told her there were pickpockets after her.”
“Oh,” said the first. “What news. Get lost you creep.”
“Stop harassing women,” said the third.
“I didn’t harass her!”
The men stepped closer. They clenched their fists.
“I hate your kind,” said the first. “Get out before we call the police.”
The doors opened and I stepped outside – backwards, to make sure that they would not push or punch me from behind.
“Fucking rapist,” said one of them right before the doors clothed.
Just to be sure I let two trains pass before I finally took one. I came home late, exhausted and angry. I wasn’t worried for the woman. After all it had been a year since the last case and how high would the chance be that I happened to see it twice?
I was sure it was just a normal pickpocket, if there is such a thing. And in a way I felt she deserved it.
The next day had a soft summer rain. I was working on a presentation when my boss suddenly stormed into the room. He was trailed by a security guard.
“The police wants to see you.”
The whole office watched while they led me outside. Like a criminal. Then they let me go and told me I had to go ‘straight to the station.’
They led me into a white room with a large mirror at one side. There was a table with two chairs in the center and a camera attached in the far corner.
I thought I was just questioned as a witness or maybe the woman had complained. They asked me again and again how I was connected to the woman, where I had been in the night, why I had harassed her, if I had harassed others before. They read me a whole series of names. They asked me about a whole series of nights, some more than half a year ago – and for each they wanted an alibi.
Then they told me that she had been killed. I got worried. When they said that I was a suspect panic ran through my body like a pot of boiling water.
And I nearly gagged on my own tongue when I heard that it wasn’t just for her case – they thought me a suspect for nearly a hundred cases.
“So that’s your method?” asked the officer. “To mark them with chalk? Is that why you marked so many of them?”
“What, no, I…”
“And what do you do with their arms and butts, huh? Do you eat them? Do you even sell them? Come on you pig, you better tell us because we will find out anyway.”
They held me all day and still overnight. Every few hours someone came to wake me up and question me. They hoped my answers would change. They didn’t allow me to call a lawyer.
It might sound strange but at some point I stopped fearing them. But I realized just how desperate they were to find the killer. And it took me a while to understand it – all the names and dates. I never heard of any of them. I never saw their names. I didn’t even remember most of the days they asked me about.
And it all made me understand one thing:
They were desperate. Desperate to catch someone.
After the second night they let me go. They didn’t make much of a deal of it – one of the officers came, unlocked my cell, and instead of leading me to the interrogation room he led me to the exit instead.
“Seems it wasn’t you,” he said. “Somebody was killed last night. Sorry for the trouble.”
He closed the door behind me. Through the shut door I still heard his colleague’s voice:
“I still think he was it. Probably he has a partner of some sort that manufactured a nice distraction.
It took me a long time to find something online. A journalist’s blog. The description said that he was ‘“kicked out of the paper for violating a gag order.”
He didn’t specify what gag order – but all the blog entries were about missing people. And about murder. Murders where blood was found but no body. And murders where a body was found but without arms. Murders that were reported on social media or blogs – but never in the news.
A few of the articles mentioned witnesses that had seen a “white powder” on a victim’s clothes. One of the articles also mentioned that “two days ago someone has been apprehended for the murders. I was just glad it didn’t mention my name.
The blog was updated nearly daily. Nearly daily a ‘new case’ that the newspapers refused to print or weren’t allowed to pick up. The blogger wrote “With their attempts to prevent a panic the police seems to make everything just worse.”
The blog has been deleted now. There was no reason given, just the short message “this blog has been deleted.” All my attempts to email the journalist proved useless.
Two months ago. All of it must have begun more than a year ago. Still, no one reports on it. Still, as far as I can see, no one has been caught.
But all that is irrelevant now. Today, while coming home from work, I saw the men tha tI saw more than a year ago. I was so sure that it was him – the same small frame, the same short hair and weird sneakers. Afterwards I called the police and filed a new report with myself as the ‘witness.’
It didn’t help. They didn’t find him.
But instead I found something. After talking to the police – they wanted me to stay on the line so that they could ask me about his looks – I went for a shower. The sweat had soaked through my clothes.
I threw my shirt in a corner and unbuttoned my trousers. I pulled the trousers down, folded them and froze.
There was a small white cross on the back.