She screamed again; that was unfortunate, he’d told her what would happen if she screamed again. Now he screamed: “Shut the fuck up, you bloody bitch!”
She moved fast, the steel flashed in her hand, but he was faster. The last thing he remembered was storming out of the house, his collar torn where she’d clawed at his shirt, streaks of blood smeared down his face and a burning sensation in his head. Now he was driving, like an automaton; he didn’t know where he was going, didn’t even know where he’d been. He was just driving, driving hell for leather. Jesus Christ, what a fucking mistake that woman had been. Who’d marry a shikse?
No, that wasn’t fair, it wasn’t Gentiles, most of his employees were Gentiles, so were the people he did business with. It was women who were a bad scene: Adam’s rib, spawn of the Devil himself. He remembered years ago hearing some comedian say there were only two things wrong with women: you can’t live with them, and you can’t live without them. He’d said that as a joke of course, but never had a truer word been spoken in jest. Well, he wasn’t living with Sylvia anymore, that was for sure. This was one marriage that was well and truly over.
He hadn’t been drinking; hadn’t touched a drop since Friday night, so it must have been something else that caused his trance-like state. After the argument, his head had been really fucked up. All the same, how he could have missed the light was anyone’s guess. There was a God almighty smash as his car ploughed into the back of the van. He was thrown forward in his seat, his head banged against the windscreen, and the lights went out.
As if from afar he heard the voice calling him: “Sir, are you all right, sir?”
Suddenly his eyes were wide open and he sprang up in the seat.
“It’s all right, sir,” said the voice, “you’ve had a nasty smash.”
He felt a pair of open palms on his shoulders restraining him and looked up into the face of a police constable, an ordinary patrolman, not a traffic cop.
“What happened?” he asked.
“You ran into that van,” said the policeman, pointing to the back of the van which had been pulled up and parked on the kerb.“Are you all right? Do you feel ill?”
George touched his head and pronounced with unintentional humour: “Still on my shoulders.”
“No bones broken?”
He clenched his fists and raised his feet slightly off the floor of the car. No problems there; his ribs felt a little bruised, but apart from that, everything was a-okay.
“Bones? No, I don’t think so.”
“You’d better get out of the car,” said the policeman. His radio blared and he spoke into it as George climbed out.
“I’ll have to move it,” said the policeman, “You get up on the pavement and I’ll be right back.”
He climbed into the car, started the engine, which spluttered into life at the third attempt, and manoeuvred it up onto the kerb. George Cohen stood on the kerb in a daze, watching what was left of his pride and joy shunted off the road. When he saw the front, two thoughts went through his mind: how the hell had he got out of that alive? And how was he going to pay for it without taking out a second mortgage?
He was still wondering about this when the policeman walked up to him and handed him his keys. “I’ll have to take a few details; can I have your name please, sir?”
By this time, a small crowd had materialised; one of them was the driver of the van.
“You all right, mate?” he asked.
George looked at him.
“You all right?” he repeated.
“Yes. Yes thank you. Is that your van?”
“What’s left of it,” he said.
“Don’t tell me, tell my governor.”
“Your name, sir?” repeated the policeman.
George stared blankly at him and the crowd seemed to dissolve. Clearly that bang on the head had been worse than he’d thought. Perhaps he was suffering from concussion. He didn’t know what concussion was like; he’d never done anything like this before. Not physically anyway.
“Your name, sir?” repeated the policeman.
“Cohen. George Cohen.”
He began scribbling in his notebook. “Your address, Mr Cohen?”
A woman began addressing the policeman at this point, “Has somebody phoned for an ambulance, officer?”
He looked up from his notebook and suppressed a smile, “Yes, Madam, the ambulance and the police are on their way.” As indeed they were; in the distance, a siren sounded.
The police officer turned back to George, “Your address, Mr Cohen?”
“My address?” echoed George, bewildered.
“I can’t go home.”
“Getting a divorce, can’t go home. Woman won’t stop nagging.”
The policeman stared at him curiously then decided he was going about this the wrong way. Putting his notebook away, he took George by the arm and began leading him to a public bench about thirty yards up the street.
“I think you’d better sit down, sir. We’ll get the doctor to take a look at you as soon as he arrives.”
George allowed himself to be led to the seat, and sat down still feeling strange.
“Officer! Officer!” came a woman’s voice.
The policeman turned and looked in the direction of the crashed vehicles then said to George, “Wait here, sir, I’ll be right back. Don’t move.”
As soon as the policeman left, George put his hand in his jacket pocket, pulled out his driving licence and stared at it in horror. His ban wasn’t up until next month! That meant he’d been driving whilst disqualified; he’d be hung, drawn and quartered after the last time. Then he remembered why he’d been arguing with his wife, it had been over her using the car, of all things. His car. He thrust the licence back in his pocket; thank God that copper hadn’t already asked him for it or he’d be under arrest already. The siren that had been sounding in the distance grew louder, closer. Suddenly he panicked, an almost irrational fear overcame him. He’d done something terrible, terrible; he had to getaway before that copper came back, checked his licence and arrested him for driving whilst disqualified. He stood up, glanced back to where the policeman was busy taking a statement from a near hysterical female witness, then turned and fled in the opposite direction as though pursued by the Devil himself.
He ran for perhaps five minutes, faster than he’d ever run before in his life. Eventually, out of breath, he stopped in a doorway and between huge gasps of cold air, tried desperately to gather his thoughts. The first thing he realised was that he hadn’t solved anything by running away. If he hadn’t been disqualified but merely under the influence, he would have saved himself a heavy fine, perhaps even a jail term, though even then they’d have got him for something: reckless driving, leaving the scene of the accident, something like that. But the irony was that he was stone cold sober, had been for days. But he was disqualified. He remembered what the judge had told him last time: two years in prison if you ever come up in front of me again on a drink driving charge. And come up in front of him again he would, or some other judge who would doubtless give him an equally stiff sentence.
What was he going to do? He couldn’t face prison; last time he’d been sentenced to three months with two suspended so had served a mere fourteen days. All the same, they had been the longest fourteen days of his life. He remembered the indignity of pissing in a bucket, slopping out in the morning, the disgusting food, and, worst of all, sharing a cell with a flea-bitten Rastafarian lunatic. He couldn’t face that again, not for two weeks, much less for two years, yet what was he going to do, skip the country? That was absurd, he was hardly Ronnie Biggs or Flatto-Sharom, but he’d have to. He’d go to Israel, that was it! He’d been there once, for a holiday; it was hot, dry, certainly not the most pleasant country in the world, but he’d rather spend the rest of his life there than the next two years in prison, or even the next two months. And as a Jew, he was entitled to go there any time he liked, and to citizenship.
“Good afternoon, sir.”
George nearly jumped out of his skin. He turned and stood face to face with a thickset bearded man dressed in bow tie, dress shirt and tuxedo.
“Christ, you scared the shit out of me,” he said, still breathing heavily.
“You are our first patron this afternoon, sir.”
George looked up at the sign over the door, following the man’s pointed finger.
“Waxworks,” he said, “I’ve never seen this place before.”
“No. How long has it been here?”
“Oh, a long time.”
The man, who was obviously the manager, waved him in.
“Oh, no, I haven’t got time, really.”
“Entry is free.”
“Free?” asked George.
George remembered that old joke about Jews having big noses because air’s free, but whether or not there was any truth in it, it certainly didn’t apply to him. One thing he’d never kept his wife short of was money. Or his mistress for that matter. And he was popular with both his employees and his customers. He had his faults: he was a drinker and a womaniser, but meanness was one label that could never be attached to him. All the same, he liked the idea of getting something for nothing, especially with the bloody Thatcher government privatising everything, and as well as that, he needed to get off the streets for an hour or so to clear his head and think out his next move. So, after only a moment’s hesitation, he followed the manager into the waxworks, and the entrance door closed behind him.
There was nothing on the ground floor save the box office, a kiosk and a small souvenir shop. A bored looking cashier sat behind the box office till chewing gum like a stereotype moronic supermarket check-out girl. George looked around; a solitary dummy, an extremely gory looking model of the American serial killer, Ted Bundy, grinned at him from the far wall.
“Brenda”, said the manager, a “complimentary ticket for this gentleman.”
The girl pressed a button, a bell rang and she handed George a small slip of paper. George reached out to take it, but the manager took it first, habitually tore it in half and handed the bottom half to George.
“You recognise him?” he asked, pointing to the Bundy mannequin.
“Yes. Ted Bundy, isn’t it?”
“Theodore (Ted) Robert Bundy,” the manager nodded.
“It’s a good facial resemblance,” said George, walking up to the dummy to take a closer look, “but he never looked as evil as that when I saw him on TV.”
The manager walked up to George and stood by his side admiring the exhibit, “You remember Bundy the way you saw him, not the way he really was.”
“How many did he kill?” asked George curiously.
“He is known to have murdered over twenty girls, suspected of murdering thirty-nine, and he once hinted that if they got him for everything he did, they’d be counting in treble figures.”
“Good God”, said George, “it’s difficult to comprehend the full extent of such evil.”
“It is indeed, but we have many such as Bundy here. We have a special section on serial killers and multiple murderers, another on child killers, another on wife killers and several others in our Chamber of Horrors.”
“I’m not in the mood for murder just yet,” said George, “what else have you got?”
The manager waved him towards the lift, “First, second and third floor all regular exhibits.” He looked at his watch, “Forgive me, I have a previous appointment.”
He smiled and walked over to a door inset in the back wall which was, presumably, his office. George walked over to the lift, stabbed his finger in the direction of the first floor button, closed his eyes and leaned back against the inside wall as the door closed. He tried to regroup his thoughts; he was glad he’d come here, he’d walk around for a bit, get his act together, then think out his next move. Already he realised his idea of fleeing to Israel was just a pipe dream. Probably he’d phone Maurice Sherman, his solicitor, arrange to meet him somewhere then give himself up to the police. It wasn’t so terrible the thing he’d done, was it?
The lift was incredibly slow and there was something peculiar about it. Then he realised what it was: the damn thing was moving in the wrong direction. Was it the lift or was it him? He looked up at the indicator panel as the section marked ‘B’ lit up and the bell rang. He shook his head; he’d have to snap out of it. The door opened and he’d already raised his forefinger to press the button for the first floor when he heard a mechanical voice call out: “Chamber of Horrors!”
He paused, stepped out of the lift and looked up at the entry sign above the door. The lift door closed behind him and he thought...“What the heck!”
He walked through the main entrance of the basement floor and was faced with a choice of three doors. The first door was labelled “Serial & Multiple Killers”; the second “War Criminals”; and the third, with black humour, “To Further Horrors”. The wood of all the doors was cracked around the edges as though it was ancient instead of relatively new, as the building obviously was.
“Eeny, meeny, miny mo...” George said to himself, trying to sound more frivolous than he felt. He chose the door marked "Serial & Multiple Killers”, walked through it and stood in a semi-dark room that appeared to stretch out forever. He squinted at the optical illusion; outside the corridor had been bright with fluorescent lights, but in here it wasn’t just gloomy but macabre as well. As he stepped into the room, a spine-tingling scream echoed from wall to wall, turning his blood to ice. He almost bolted through the door and fled, but a uniformed guard, whom George had at first taken for an exhibit, stepped out of the shadows and laughed, “Did she frighten you, sir?”
“What?” George looked at the guard and laughed himself.
“She does me, every time.”
Stepping further into the room, he allowed the door to swing shut behind him. He put his hand on his heart, when he couldn’t feel it, he was relieved; he thought it had been going to burst earlier, but now the adrenalin had stopped flowing, his hands had stopped shaking and his breathing had returned to normal. It wasn’t the Chamber of Horrors that had frightened him, of course, but what had happened earlier, and would happen to him later on account of it.
“I’ve never seen this place before,” said George, “I didn’t realise there was a waxworks in this town.”
The guard walked over to him, “Every town has one, sir," or a museum or something similar. You live here?"
“Yes. Well, a fair way out, but it only takes ten minutes on the motorway.”
“You’d be surprised the things you miss as a local. It’s the same everywhere: the tourists know the place better than the residents.”
“Yes, I suppose so.”
The guard turned slightly and began walking slowly towards the exhibits which lined the walls; George followed him.
“Do you have a local history exhibit here?” he asked.
“Not down here, sir,” said the guard, “its’s all multiple killers in this section, and this part of the country hasn’t produced many of them. I dare say there are a few, but they’ll be mixed in with the ordinary exhibits.”
“What about upstairs?” asked George, “isn’t there a local exhibition up there?”
“I don’t know, sir; I’ve never been up there," he replied, then, turning to the first exhibit, he went on, “Jack the Ripper.”
George looked at the mannequin; it wielded a knife in its right hand as it stood over the prostrate body of an unfortunate street woman. The face was concealed by a hood.
“They never did catch him, sir, though half a dozen people have been named in various books as the culprit.”
George suspected it was several more than that: he recalled that everyone from the heir to the throne to a deranged Russian doctor had been named as the Ripper at one time. George had never formed a serious opinion as to the real identity of the original Ripper, although he did seem to recall reading somewhere that he was left-handed. Whatever, he certainly recognised the next exhibit.
“That’s Sutcliffe, isn’t it?”
“Yes sir, the Yorkshire Ripper. Did thirteen he did, and attacked another seven.”
“He’s dead now, isn’t he?”
“Yes sir, hanged himself in his cell a couple of months ago. The papers hardly mentioned it. He’s one of our more recent arrivals.”
“Are all the killers here dead?” asked George.
The guard turned and looked at him, clearly astonished. “Why of course, sir; it wouldn’t be a proper Chamber of Horrors otherwise, would it?”
“Er, no, I suppose not,” said George, thinking to himself, why not?
The guard led him further into the exhibition hall, and, over the next quarter of an hour, George saw exhibits of Bonnie and Clyde, Burke and Hare, numerous famous gangsters from Nineteen Thirties America, and dozens of multiple killers and mass murderers, many of them serial sex killers, from John George Haigh the acid bath murderer to Elizabeth Bathory, the most prolific murderess of all time, the woman who had been dubbed the Blood Countess, and was rumoured to have bathed in the blood of virgins to restore her youth.
The place was every bit as good as Madam Tussauds, if anything, the mannequins were even more lifelike. When they had walked full circle back to the entrance, George thanked his guide and said, “Well, it’s been really fascinating, one thing puzzles me though, why isn’t the place crowded?”
“Not many people come down here, sir.”
George shrugged off the tautology; before he could reply, the guard continued, “Why don’t you come and have a look at the war criminals, sir? Next room.”
That struck George as a splendid idea; he’d always had a fascination about World War II, the darkest period in his people’s history. He wasn’t a Jew’s Jew, not in any sense of the word; his father had been a Zionist but George had never had any time for politics, goy bashing or anything like that. His main interest in life had always been his business, drink and women, usually in that order. But like so many Jews and people of Jewish origin, there was something about the sight of the swastika that held him spellbound. He wasn’t quite sure what it was, a curious ethno-masochism perhaps, a desire to suffer by proxy. He’d seen all those old films about blond-haired brutes stamping on Jewish faces; he recalled the sight of naked, hysterical Jewesses being herded into gas chamber shower baths in some Hollywood epic, and he’d felt his flesh creep during that low budget porn film, Nazi Torture Chamber or whatever it had been called, when the Jewish hero was reduced to a gibbering wreck before being sodomised by half the Gestapo officers in Berlin, then having his throat cut. The film had been sick, disgusting, yet underneath his outrage he had wallowed in the perversion. Why else had he seen it three times?
“See you again some time, sir?”
George stared back at his guide as if from a million miles away, “Oh right. Listen, thanks a lot, you’ve been a mine of information; you really know your stuff.”
He thrust out his hand and the guard shook it.
George turned towards the exit and headed for the door marked “War Criminals”, and as he did so, he wondered if the man might be ill. Certainly he hadn’t looked it, but his hand had been red hot. “Perhaps it’s me who’s cold, thought George,” certainly he hadn’t fully recovered yet from banging his head on the windscreen. He touched it, but to his surprise the bump had gone. Nor had there been any blood; better born lucky than rich, he thought.
The war criminals section was better lit than the serial killers’ gallery; this was probably because serial killers were surrounded by a certain mystique, while war criminals were nothing special. Atrocities happened in every war; even though the Nazis had been particularly brutal and sadistic, especially towards the Jews. War criminals were made rather than born. Even Hitler himself, the most hated and feared monster in history, had been a creation of the times. If it hadn’t been for the unjust peace inflicted on a defeated Germany at Versailles, he would never have been able to mobilise any support. Serial killers though, there was something weird about them, weird, frightening and terrible. They had no motivation at all, not even freeing their country from the grip of some mythical Jewish conspiracy. That must be why the other room was darker, to reflect the darkness of their souls.
The other room had been fantastic, there had been hundreds of murderers and murderesses lined up against the walls. In contrast, this room was sparsely inhabited; there were a few German uniforms here and there, and several Japanese, but there were just as many Allied uniforms. George shrugged his shoulders in disappointment as he walked past an exhibit of two Japanese soldiers beating a half naked prisoner. The next exhibit drew him up with a shock; it was the crew of the Enola Gay. That was a bit much, he thought - they were on our side; if the atom bomb hadn’t been dropped, the war would have continued with the loss of hundreds of thousands more lives.
Quickly overcoming his shock, George moved on to the next exhibit and received an even bigger shock: here stood Moshe Dayan, Menachem Begin and Ariel Sharon; the latter, the so-called Butcher of Beirut, had died from a heart attack only recently. This would not do; these men weren’t war criminals, they were war heroes. But the biggest shock of all was yet to come, because right at the end of the hall stood a short, squat figure dressed in a romper suit and holding a big fat cigar with one hand while making a familiar V-sign with the other.
“Churchill!” George let out; he was astounded, the greatest hero of World War II, the man who had saved Europe from the Hun, saved the world from Hitler’s Nazi fiends. What was he doing in the Chamber of Horrors?
“It can’t be!” he let out.
“Can’t be what, sir?” came a voice from beside him.
He hadn’t heard the guard walk up to him; he’d thought the room had been empty apart from the wax figures. George turned to him, he was a short, muscular man with a military look about him.
“Of course it is, sir - don’t you recognise him?”
“But, but what’s he doing here, in the Chamber of Horrors?”
The guard looked at him, perplexed, “Where else would you expect to find him, sir?”
“Are you serious?” asked George, incredulously, not quite able to believe his ears.
“Of course I am, sir.”
George was speechless; usually the only person who had that effect on him was his wife. He simply could not believe what he was hearing. Then, before he could press the point, another thought occurred to him.
“Where’s Hitler?” he asked.
“Hitler, sir?” said the guard.
“Adolf Hitler?” the man asked, stupidly.
“Of course, Adolf Hitler! How many Hitlers were there?”
The guard looked at him perplexed, “Well, he’s not here, sir.”
“And the Nazis,” George pressed, “where are the Nazis?”
“Yes. This is the Chamber of Horrors, isn’t it?”
“Then where are the Nazis?”
The man seemed genuinely bewildered, “Upstairs sir, I suppose.”
“On the first floor, I suppose. I’ve never been up there.”
“Of course not, sir; it’s not allowed.”
“But they’re war criminals, man; are you telling me there aren’t any Nazis down here at all?”
“Well, we’ve got Kommandant Koch, of course, from Buchenwald.”
George had never heard of Koch, the homosexual camp commander who had been executed by the SS for corruption.
“And Irma Grese, the Beast of Belsen.”
“What about the others?”
George shook his head; the guard’s radio blared something incomprehensible and he excused himself. George turned back and stared at Winston Churchill, the man he admired above all others, the greatest hero of World War II, of the English race, and, dare he say it, of history itself. George had never given a toss about being Jewish; he seldom thought about it. True, he was a great admirer of the Israelis, but he was no Zionist. And although he had all the usual Jewish paranoias and phobias about swastikas and jackboots, and an overdeveloped sensitivity to anything smacking of race, but that was as far as it went. Like many Jews, he had a liberal, do-gooder mentality which extended to empathising with the “oppressed” peoples of the world, but he never went so far as to put his hand in his pocket to help them. Whenever he thought of Churchill though, or heard a band playing Rule, Britannia!, it stirred his patriotic blood and he felt not only proud to be British, but British to the core. He had never felt the same way about being Jewish. And now, here was his hero, standing cigar in hand in the Chamber of Horrors surrounded by other, albeit lesser heroes, including the crew of the Enola Gay, the American bomber squad that had dropped “the bomb” and put an end to the menace of Japanese Imperialism.
George stood and stared proudly at Winnie for a long moment; when he turned back to the guard, the man was gone.
This was the strangest waxworks George had ever visited. Then he remembered that apart from Madam Tussaud’s, this was the only waxworks he had ever visited, so perhaps it wasn’t so strange after all. He’d soon find out. The guard had said the Nazis and their hated leader were on the first floor; he’d go up and see what sort of exhibit they were housed in. Where was the lift? He had become slightly disoriented, and it took him half a minute to locate the exit. Walking out of the exhibition hall, he made straight for the lift only to find it wedged open with a hand written placard draped over the button:
“Shit!” he cursed, and looked around for the stairs; there weren’t any. This was stupid. Then he thought he remembered seeing another exit door in the War Criminals Exhibition Hall, so he walked back into the hall to try to find it. It took a few seconds for his eyes to adjust to the dark again, then he saw it - a weakly lit sign announced: STAIRS TO ALL FLOORS.
He walked towards the door, opened it and passed straight through into the dimly lit corridor. The stairs were on the right; he broke into a run, but had mounted only three steps before he realised that twenty or so steps up they were barricaded. Stopping abruptly, he nearly tripped, thrust out his hands and pitched forward onto the step in front.
“This is crazy,” he said under his breath, then straightening up, he mounted the remaining steps until he came face to face with the barricade. It consisted of planks of wood stretched across the stairs and somehow connected to the wall. There were nails in both ends of the planks, but the wood wasn’t secured to the wall by them, rather the wall and the wood seemed to be continuous, merging into one another with no visible join.
George stood in front of the barricade, scratched his head and repeated under his breath, “This is crazy.”
“There’s no way out,” came a Churchillian voice from the bottom of the stairs.
He turned and saw the Churchill mannequin standing there. At first he was taken aback, then, when it moved, he realised it wasn’t a dummy but a real person.
“I’ve tried. There’s no way out,” repeated the voice in a tone which mimicked the great leader to a ’T’. George was flabbergasted, his eyes opened wide, first in disbelief, then in anger.
“What sort of fucking place is this?” he said as he descended the stairs and came face to face with the impostor.
“There’s no way out. I’ve tried,” said the voice again.
George stared long and hard at the face of Winston Spencer Leonard Churchill; it was chillingly realistic. Then his anger faded and he burst out laughing, “I get it,” he said, “okay, you can come out now.”
His laughter echoed up the stairs as far as the barricade, and down the corridor, but the Churchill clone stood grim-faced and unmoving.
“Good, very good,” George shook his head, “Okay, where’s the camera?”
Suddenly an alarm bell sounded, down the corridor somebody blew a whistle, footsteps echoed, two sets of them, running very fast.
George stood dumbfounded as a man in a white coat ran up to him, “It’s all right, he’s here,” said the stockily-built figure, turning to his partner, who appeared from around the corner a few seconds later. The two men seized George’s companion, an arm apiece, and began dragging him towards the door of the War Criminals Exhibition Hall.
“Hey, what’s going on?” cried George, but the men ignored him.
“Hey!” he shouted.
Again they ignored him. The men were huge and had the appearance of male nurses, the type who work in Broadmoor. George had never seen a Broadmoor nurse, but he was sure these two were the type. And he was equally sure that it would be unwise to try to interfere. Not only were they huge, but they were poker-faced and projected an air of no-nonsense aggression which extended some way beyond the proverbial “reasonable force.”
They dragged the protesting Churchill clone back into the hall; while one of them restrained him from behind, the other pulled a bunch of keys from his pocket and locked the door from within. George saw this clearly through the reinforced glass panel, but the two men and their charge were quickly lost from view. George shook his head, turned, walked back to the stairs and sat down on the third step from the bottom. No, that had definitely not been for his benefit. He had to figure this out. Suddenly he felt dizzy, his head was swimming. Scenes from the accident flashed through his mind. He saw the policeman standing over him, but this time he wasn’t calling to him, he was going through his pockets while George sat there motionless. Instinctively, he felt for his wallet; it was still there. He must have banged his head harder than he’d at first thought. Then he thought about his wife; he couldn’t remember much about the argument, only her screaming then picking up the knife and lunging at him with it. In his mind’s eye he saw himself disarming her, twisting her arm behind her back and punching her in the face. No! he hadn’t done that, surely? But he had, he knew he had. Well, so what? And serves her right, she’d tried to stab him, goddammit.
George looked up; it was the guard from the War Criminals Exhibit.
“Sorry, did I startle you?”
“Yes, you did.”
The man had come from the opposite direction, how, George could only wonder.
“You didn’t find your friends, then?”
“What friends?” George said, thinking the man had made a mistake and was confusing him with someone else.
“Hitler and the Nazis.”
George was horrified, “Hitler! They’re not my friend, that bunch of murderers.”
The guard smiled weakly and sat down next to him. He took a newspaper from his pocket, began unfolding it as if to read it then changed his mind and wedged it between his thigh and the stair rail.
“I didn’t mean it like that, sir. Are you all right?”
“All right? I don’t know. I’ve just seen something but I don’t know if it’s a joke, a daydream or what.”
“The old boy, sir?”
George looked at him, “Then I wasn’t dreaming!”
“No sir, and it wasn’t a joke either,” he answered sympathetically.
“But, but what’s going on? Do you have lunatics running round this place dressed up as Churchill? And Napoleon?”
“No sir,” he laughed, “I can see you’re a little confused. You look like you’ve been dragged through a hedge backwards...”
“Thanks a lot!” interrupted George, “I’ve just had an accident.”
“I was going to ask you that, sir.”
Suddenly there was a jangling of keys, and the two musclemen stood at the foot of the stairs. They paused, one of them extended a thumb towards the guard and made a swift backward motion with it before walking on down the corridor with his partner. Neither man spoke.
“I’ll have to get back, sir,” said the guard, “you sit here until your head clears. You’ll know what to do then.”
“I will?” said George, confused, and now feeling suddenly drained.
“Don’t worry sir, it won’t be so bad. Goodbye sir.”
As he said this, he squeezed George’s arm, turned and walked back to the hall. He’d said ‘goodbye’, but he’d meant ‘adieu’. George shook his head again; it was all that fucking bitch’s fault; he hated her, he should never have married Sylvia.
George looked to his right, and there lay the paper the guard had taken out of his pocket. He’ll probably be back for that in a minute, he thought. Idly he picked it up and turned to the sports page at the back. What he read came as a shock: Carter Retains Title by KO.
Britain’s only current world champion, Dave (Magna) Carter retained his WBC middleweight title for the third time with a stunning fifth round knock out of...
“Hey, just a minute!” George turned the paper round and read the date: 17th May.
That was tomorrow’s date. He remembered all the ballyhoo about the fight; he’d been looking forward to watching it on TV. Carter was the most popular British fighter since Barry MacGuigan. That was what had alerted him. They’d argued about that too, him and Sylvia. They’d argued about everything under the sun this afternoon before she’d gone for him with the knife and he’d disarmed her. She had gone for him with the knife, hadn’t she? He wasn’t sure anymore, he was confused, terribly confused, and now, more than a little frightened. He hadn’t been down here that long, surely? He couldn’t have been. But there was the date on the paper: 17th May, and there was the story on the back page about last night’s big fight, so he really must have; that meant he’d argued with his wife yesterday.
There was something else bothering George besides this strange lapse of chronology and this weird waxworks with its white-coated orderlies and Churchill impersonators. His head hurt, but not where he’d banged it. He closed his eyes again and saw the policeman standing over him, except that this time he wasn’t going through George’s pockets but shaking his own head. George opened his eyes, read the cover story, some twaddle about a government minister resigning, turned the page and, ignoring the inevitable tits on page three, turned another page. The story on page five should also have come as a shock, it was certainly no less astounding than realising he’d been down here all night, but it didn’t shock him, and somehow it didn’t seem to matter.
Housewife Brutally Murdered it announced, Police Seek Husband after former Beauty Queen found stabbed to Death.
That was why he’d married Sylvia, because she’d been so strikingly beautiful. Once. Perhaps she still had been, perhaps it was him who’d changed. The fog began to lift from George’s head now; in his mind’s eye he saw his wife standing before him, but the knife wasn’t in her hand, it was in his. She was screaming, she was still screaming as he lunged at her, tearing her flesh with slash after slash of the cruel blade. Blood spurted from her wounds, a speck of it splashed against his cheek. She clawed frantically at his collar tearing his shirt; she screamed again as she fell, then no more.
George stood over the body of his wife, she lay quite still on the carpet, her throat slowly turning red, and her blouse, and, most terrible of all, her face. Now he was back in the waxworks sitting on the stairs, holding the newspaper in front of him. A set of dull footsteps sounded; he looked up and met the bearded man eye to eye.
“George Cohen,” he stated rather than asked.
“I’ve been looking for you.”
“I know. I wasn’t, I wasn’t ready.”
“But you are now?”
“Yes. Yes, I know now.”
The bearded man turned on his heel and George followed him down the long corridor past a door marked “Child Murderers”, another marked “Arsonists” and a third marked “Hired Assassins.”
“We have so many classifications down here that sometimes people are not sure where to go,” said the bearded man without turning round. "Is that what happened to you?"
“It’s not my idea, you understand; orders from upstairs. I’m only an administrator. I don’t see why they can’t all go together in one big hall, but mine is not to reason why, merely to obey.”
“I didn’t get lost,” said George, “I was confused, I couldn’t remember.”
The bearded man stopped abruptly, turned through ninety degrees and put his hand on the handle of the door he was now facing. George stopped behind him.
“But you do remember now?”
“And you know why you’re here?”
In his mind’s eye, George saw the policeman again. He was still shaking his head, though this time he was not standing next to the car, but in the road. George, or what was left of him, was spreadeagled on the cold stone, lights were flashing all around, people were shouting, a siren was wailing in the distance and the policeman was holding out a blanket. He lowered it over George’s head, and all was darkness.
Now he was back in the waxworks’ corridor; the bearded man opened the door.
“Will you see my wife?” he asked.
“No”, said the bearded man.
“Can you give her a message, somehow?”
“Perhaps,” he replied.
“Tell her I’m sorry; I know it’s too late now, but I am sorry.” There were tears in his eyes, genuine tears of remorse, not for himself, but for her.
The bearded man nodded.
“Tell her that I really did love her,” George pleaded.
Again he nodded, this time almost imperceptibly.
George stepped through the door, and the bearded man closed it behind him. He stared at the legend “Wife Murderers” for a few seconds, then turned and walked briskly up the corridor.
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