Rock’n’Roll Suicide, first chapter here

Image

Gary Henry (on twitter find him at @literaryGary), author of the great AMERICAN GODDESSES (http://amzn.to/10DZwNb) reminded me that I put the first chapter of DOPPELGANGER on my blog, so I’m doing the same here with the first Jack Lockwood Mystery.

Here it is

Chapter One

CRACKERJACK

Maggi O’Kane was beautiful, talented and dead. In the 1970s her high-octane rock performances were toe-tappingly gritty, with primeval thumping riffs that could tear you apart. Yet, astonishingly, she was also a musical virtuoso, writing and performing some of the most sensitive and soulful ballads I’ve ever heard. But on the 20th of November 1980 she murdered her band and killed herself, and her violent end, I later discovered, was inextricably linked to that of John Lennon, gunned down in New York just twelve days previously.

What made her do it? Nobody knows. But I was determined to find out.

It was why I’d pitched up at The Mansh in the drizzly twilight of that November day in 2008, dragging my sleeping gear from the car along with my meagre carrier bags of provisions. Gillingham Hall, to use the building’s official title, was the large dilapidated mansion where, almost 30 years ago, four people had lost their lives, apparently following a week-long binge of drinking and drug taking. They were Alistair Norbury, lead guitar and Maggi’s partner and father of her child, bad-boy bass player Ben Frensham, Duncan Macrae on drums, and finally lead singer and all-round attention-magnet Maggi.

Tragically, her killing spree was what Maggi was mainly remembered for – to most people her wonderful music was an afterthought, underrated and forgotten, tainted as it was by her final rampage. I’d listened for hours to her rock chants and gentle melodies, read everything I could find about her and watched the few videos that survived, and I had a large poster of her face pinned up on the wall above my desk. I suppose you could say I was becoming obsessed with her. They had warned me at the hospital about avoiding obsessions, apparently it’s one of the warning signs, an indication that an ex-psychiatric patient might spiral back into a breakdown. But I had a lid on it, I told myself. It was work.

That day in 1980 had been, according to what I’d read, unseasonably sunny, but cold. I tried and tried to picture the scene at The Mansh: musicians cranky, warming themselves beside the roaring log fires, cars and vans in the drive, sexual rivalries and fierce arguments, even fights. I’d heard rumours that, amongst others, the Rolling Stones and their friend, the arcane Teutonic beauty Anita Pallenberg, had been regular guests, but dates and times were hard to establish. There were also suggestions of black magic séances, drug taking and the most astounding sexual couplings imaginable. But nothing you could pin down, no actual facts.

Standing in the weed-infested circular front drive I surveyed the faded beauty of this Georgian monstrosity: a large sprawling pile that was at the beginning of its end. Holes in the roof, nasty yellow plywood lozenges over the windows, and plants sprouting from the lower brickwork. A couple of tenners dropped into the sweaty palm of Alf Morris, surely Bath Council Parks Department’s most disconsolate employee, had earnt me keys for the main gates and the front door, and his urgent imprecation: “For Gawd’s sake don’t do any damage, lock up after yourself and get these buggers back to me by Monday afore anyone notices.”

My grand idea to come to the place first took root when I’d read about the goings on: the orgies, the drug taking, the cream of musical talent of the seventies who used the place like a second home. Apparently Eric Clapton, George Harrison, Peter Gabriel and plenty of others were supposed to have jammed around, got high, and made music in the rooms of the grand building, but nothing had been confirmed.

I thought once again about the opening words of the final chapter of my forthcoming book, Crash and Burn – rock stars who died too young:

On the sunny winter’s morning of 20 December 1980 Maggi O’Kane assembled her partner and the remaining two members of her band together in the rehearsal room of ‘The Mansh’ and shot them all, using the assault rifle she’d produced from the plush leather box that usually contained her custom-built Gretsch guitar. Then she took her father’s old army pistol, inserted its barrel into her mouth and pulled the trigger, leaving the brains that forged the hits Crazy Without You and Hard Times in Seattle plastered across the wall behind her.

No one knows what caused Maggi’s crazy aberration. In fact everyone said that she was a kind, well balanced person, whose zest for life and sheer human warmth attracted inevitable comparisons with Lulu, whose career in so many ways mirrored her own, albeit that Maggi’s style was much more raunchy hardcore rock. Everyone liked her, she was successful, she had a partner and a young child; in fact she had everything to live for.

So why did she do it?

To find some reasons I had to delve a little deeper into the distant past to establish just what was going in her life in those seemingly happy-go-lucky days before it happened…

The trouble was, ‘delving a little deeper’ was proving much harder than I’d imagined.

Elucidating facts about the circumstances of the events seemed virtually impossible. All the witnesses to the 28-year-old occurrence were also apparently victims, and those who had known them were hard to trace. The only things I had to draw on were newspaper and police reports of the time, which stuck to the bare facts, and I was desperate to dig up some new angle, some new take on those terrible events. Maybe it was arrogance that drove me, perhaps I was vain enough to think that psychologist and fledgling writer Dr Jack Lockwood had to blaze a literary trail with his first epic, and that trawling over old ground and regurgitating other people’s accounts wasn’t good enough for me. Arrogance or stubbornness, I’m not sure which. Maybe both.

But it was more than that. When I looked at Maggi’s face, with her long mane of dark hair and large expressive eyes, she seemed to be crying out to me “I didn’t do it! I swear I didn’t do it!”. But believing that she couldn’t have done such a monstrous thing was flying in the face of the facts, and I knew from bitter past experience that facts can’t always be your friends.

I’d wandered past the mansion, down a path and into Gillingham Woods more out of curiosity than anything, lured by the denseness of the branches, the darkness that closed in on you the moment you entered, reminding me of childhood fairy stories about witches and wolves. I walked to clear my head, to remind myself I was no longer under psychiatric supervision and was free to go wherever I wanted. And I went on walking until my legs ached, it had started raining and I’d scratched my cheek on some overhanging branches. As I peered through a gap in the trees I could just make out the mansion in the distance, realising that all this land was once part of the huge Gillingham Park Estate that had encompassed a number of farms and cottages as well as the big house, Gillingham Hall, re-christened The Mansh by Maggi, who had bought it way back in 1969.

As the rain trickled down between my collar and my neck and I stumbled through the undergrowth back to the house, I thought about Maggi. She’d been one of the true pioneers, one of the very few woman rock stars in the days when male rockers were the norm, as indeed they still are now. She was perhaps one of the first exponents of ‘girl power’ before the phrase had been in use, not that Maggi’s phenomenal personality and zest for life could ever be packaged into any kind of cliché. In my opinion she had been a musical genius, and it seemed she was contented with her success. She partied hard and lived life to excess, but what was unusual about that? Crucially, the conventional explanation of an excess of drink and drugs was something that would surely inhibit rather than encourage the ghastly scenario that had occurred. What’s more, despite today’s girl gangs in inner cities, it’s still relatively rare for a woman to commit crimes of violence, even rarer for a female to use firearms. Yet the facts were incontrovertible. It had happened. Everyone said so.

The brief for Crash and Burn was to assess circumstances and reasons for a number of rock stars’ untimely deaths from the 60s to the 90s, utilising my knowledge and experience gained as a Behavioural Investigative Adviser, a role I was temporarily ‘resting’ from. And guess what? Against all the odds I actually did manage to find that new angle that nobody else knew about, but, just like the curse of the monkey’s paw, I wish now that I hadn’t. Maggi’s death, I discovered, was linked with that of John Lennon, though to my knowledge the pair never met. Much later I discovered that both in their way were victims, but finding the link proved to be one of the hardest projects I’ve ever faced.

I’d spent three years working as a Behavioural Investigative Adviser with police forces around the country on high profile murder cases, achieving a modicum of success. I’d endured the opprobrium of plenty of officers, shrugged off my jeering nickname ‘Crackerjack’ (a reference to Robbie Coltrane’s British TV profiler series Cracker), all the while doing my job, which was to be a supportive part of the investigating team. Criminal profiling was the old fashioned term, perhaps replaced by the more punchy acronym BIA because in the early days profilers had made embarrassing and appalling mistakes. But almost two years ago, just when the profession was beginning to garner some professional credibility and I’d begun to forge a decent career, I’d made some serious misjudgements about a case, leading to horrendous consequences. I’d ended up in a psychiatric hospital as a result of a brush with death at the hands of Edward Van Meer, who’d held me captive for two days and had been within a whisker of completing his plan to kill me after hours of torture. Until I could convince the powers-that-be to renew my ‘ACPO Approved’ status – ACPO meaning the Association of Chief Police Officers – no police force in the country would employ me, so until that day arrived I had to earn money some other way.

It had been serendipity that my friend Ken Taylor happened to be an editor at Figaro Publications, a publishing house that specialised in celebrity biographies and true crime. It’s an odd thing the way when you’re in trouble, friends who you haven’t seen for years pop up and help you, yet people whom you considered to be close allies suddenly can’t find the time for your company. So it had been with Ken, whom I hadn’t seen since my schooldays. Since the parting of our ways, when he went to university and I became a jobbing builder, our lives had taken totally different directions. But when he’d read about my troubles in The Alleynian, Dulwich College’s old boys’ school magazine, Ken had got back in touch, and, ever since then, he’d been my rock. Ken had not only commissioned the book, but had actually suggested the idea to me in the first place. Working with lovable Ken, who had a penchant for showing you pictures of his twins, Hazel and Anthony, and an ever-ready laugh that made his multiple chins quiver like jelly, had been a delight, in stark contrast to my relationship with my current editor at Figaro, Giles Mander. Ken knew that after my year of troubles, what I needed was to get my teeth into a project.

Ken had suggested I visit the place where the massacre had occurred. Yes, I thought, why not? Maybe I’d be able to choreograph Maggi’s actions in that same room where it had happened, or, if I was exceptionally lucky, perhaps there might even be something left behind, some tiny clue that no one had noticed?

You’d never think that this mansion, with its now abandoned swimming pool and extensive grounds, was allegedly where George Harrison had jammed for weeks with friends in the seventies, or where Maggi O’Kane’s group ‘Border Crossing’ wrote and recorded their eponymous iconic album. Between 1970 and 1980 The Mansh was used for recording no less than 200 top-selling vinyl albums. In those days it had been grand and beautiful.

I managed to get the front door lock to undo, and swung the creaking paint-cracked timber backwards into the cave-like interior. Inside there was only darkness and cobwebs, a chink of the dirty dregs of daylight blinking at the edge of the boarded window on the landing. The promise of a raft of scintillating rock-star memories tingling through the ether was what I’d been hoping for, but all I got was a vast yawning maw of emptiness and the all pervading aroma of rot and fusty damp.

I pondered on my completed chapters. Brian Jones of the Rolling Stones had been found dead in his swimming pool in strange circumstances, whereas Keith Moon, of The Who, had deliberately driven his Rolls Royce into one, and years later taken too many pills, either deliberately or in error. The great Jimi Hendrix had died of an accidental drugs overdose, while Kurt Cobain had committed suicide with a shotgun. Talented, brilliant and tragic Nick Drake, described once as one of the most talented songwriters of the decade, had overdosed on amitriptyline. They were universally celebrated musicians, some of them with the status of sex gods, all of them famous, even 40 years on. Research had taken me to California and the Caribbean as well as all over Europe, including Père Lachaise cemetery in Paris, where Jim Morrison of The Doors was buried not far from the grave of Oscar Wilde and that of Edith Piaf, which struck me as particularly apposite for such a trio of creative people. And John Lennon had been gunned down by Mark David Chapman in front of witnesses. But, surprisingly, it was the death of one of the least famous of my subjects, Maggi O’Kane, that the book was to hinge upon, and at the time I had no idea that my investigations were going to spring alive a new conspiracy theory surrounding John Lennon’s murder, as well as a fresh wave of deaths, almost including my own.

The usual assumption, of course, was that Maggi was off her head on coke, speed, alcohol, heroin or all four. True, people act strangely when under those influences, but they don’t usually act out of character to that extent. From what I’d gleaned from the police papers about the incident, Maggi O’Kane appeared to be the kind of killer who’d snapped into homicidal madness all at once, in contrast to the more usual mass murderers who effectively ‘slow burn’ over a considerable period, nursing grievances galore and leaking aggression, giving those around them a period of warning. There was no reason to suppose she was capable of such a monstrous killing spree, yet the police enquiry was in no doubt of her guilt. Where had she got the weapons and ammunition from? If she was a spur-of-the-moment type of killer, then surely obtaining the killing tools in advance was out of character?

Another reason for coming here, to The Mansh, was an attempt to get close to the atmosphere of those far off 1970s days I’d read about. Tomorrow I planned to make sketches, take some photographs, try and get a grip on the layout of the rooms, find out where the studios had been, take a look at what was left of the swimming pool, reputed to be the scene of sexual acrobatics of the most amazing kind.

However, looking at the building now, with the dirty drizzle spattering through the gap-tiled roof, a patch of rot chewing up the floor and plaster hanging off the vast hall wall, it seemed a long way from those crazy madcap days of sex, drugs and rock’n’roll. After the massacre, Gillingham Hall had been empty for a long time, no prospective owner wanting to have anything to do with the scene of such a horrific event. Then a religious group brought it as a commune, but after a short time, as if infected by The Mansh’s curse, the commune went bankrupt and vacated the place, then no one would buy it. As a listed building the requisite repairs would have been prohibitively expensive, and, for the same reason, no one was allowed to pull it down. It had finally been compulsorily purchased by the council, their initial idea being to convert it to an old people’s home; however the finances were not forthcoming. And with no electrics, sewage or mains water, Gillingham Hall was not an attractive prospect for squatters.

And of course there’d been the crazies too. The devil-worshipping group who broke in one night and held a black mass, the kids who went there as a dare and swore they saw the ghosts. In 1730 it had been built as the central heart of a number of surrounding farms. When the last of the owning family died in 1939, it remained unsold and fell into disrepair until Maggi bought it in 1969 and refurbished it, enthusing it with rock-star glamour, establishing one of the few independent recording studios in England at the time. However The Mansh had never been run on commercial lines, the musicians who worked there with Maggi were her friends and colleagues, it was her personal fiefdom. That’s what made the massacre all the harder to understand.

A couple of hours later I was trying to get warm in my sleeping bag, listening to the drumming of a particularly savage downpour of rain on the plywood windows, wondering if my car would be stuck in a muddy quagmire in the morning. I’d climbed the elaborate sweeping staircase and found this, the largest room at the front, which appeared to be the most amenable, known I guessed, as the one described as the ‘orgy room’.

There were high ceilings with elaborate carvings, a hole in the wall where there’d obviously been a huge fireplace and boarded-up windows. A stink of damp and mould and woodrot. Mouse droppings and spiders’ webs. About as erotic as an ear infection.

Eventually I managed to fall asleep, and began to dream about the holiday.

Ken Taylor and I had gone to Cornwall as rehabilitation after my ghastly experiences in St Michael’s psychiatric hospital. Ken had suggested the fishing break in Mousehole (pronounces Mowsell, as the locals informed me) as relaxing therapy, and his wife hadn’t objected to being left with their twins. Ken and I had reminisced about old times and relaxed in a way we hadn’t done since school. Bearded swarthy Nikki Prowse had owned the fishing launch MARY KENNY, and become a friend of ours, and he’d taken us out and lent us rods, shared his tales of his Cornish ancestors who were cutthroats and smugglers, while the sun beat down on the foaming waves and we waited in vain for the fish to bite.

But I wasn’t dreaming about Nikki, or even Ken. I was dreaming about Nikki’s sister Miranda, whom I’d got to know well one afternoon while Ken was away touring the ruins of an ancient church. Tall blonde Miranda’s shy smile had captivated me from the moment I’d first met her, and now I was dreaming that she actually had turned up on our final day as she’d promised. We’d seen each other for three evenings running, and yet, on that final day, she stood me up without a word. Now, in my dream, she was running towards me from a distance, shouting, but I couldn’t hear her words. I couldn’t make out why she was so upset, why she appeared to be weeping and imploring me to listen, or what exactly she was trying to tell me so earnestly.

I woke up in a sweat, re-living my disappointment when she hadn’t appeared on our final day, as she’d promised. It was only afterwards that things made sense, when Nikki told me about the married man she’d been seeing, how she’d been talking about going away with him, and that, of course, had explained her sudden departure, at the same time as that of the boyfriend, who’d simultaneously abandoned his wife and family. Although I’d been divorced a year, my marriage had effectively ended two years before that, and ever since I’d been looking for a serious girlfriend. I’d planned to ask Miranda if I could see her on a regular basis, and I’d hoped she might agree, but it wasn’t to be. Her betrayal was another setback to my delicate mental state, another disappointment I had to face. But as always at that time, it was Ken who had dragged me out of my depression. That was when we’d cooked up the idea of Crash and Burn, on the long drive back to London, while Ken kept moaning about the beloved St Christopher’s medal that had belonged to his grandfather that he’d lost: we worked out that he must have dropped it into the sea on our last fishing trip. Ken’s loss of the family heirloom apart, the prospect of interesting paid work had snapped me out of my gloom on our journey back to London, given me something to look forward to.

My next dream was much more disconcerting. I was here, in this house, and I was observing those 1980 events. Seeing Maggi O’Kane emerge from somewhere at the back of the hallway with the guitar case, place it on the floor, take out the assault weapon, lift it and fire. Chaos was everywhere: screaming and shouting, people tumbling down as they died. But thankfully my dream ended before Maggi had committed her final act, her suicide.

The crashing noise woke me up. Footsteps, outside on the stairs.

* * * *

Lying there, heartbeat cranked up high. Darkness. Apart from the splinter of moonlight that cast a ragged splinter of light along the ruined ceiling.

Muzzy headed, I leapt out of bed and ran to the doorway. In time to see the moonlight illuminating the man running downstairs.

Yes, I tell you, I did see him!

The short man in the smart suit I’d seen so many times before.

This time, I resolved to catch him, if only to prove that he wasn’t a figment of my imagination.

I ran downstairs, keeping him in sight, watched him stumble at the bottom of the treads, then career towards the front door and pull it open. I tripped and fell down the last few stairs, spread-eagling in the hallway. Scrambled up from my hands and knees. But by the time I’d tumbled out of the front door I just managed to see his figure vanishing into the distance, melting into the landscape, swallowed up by the pouring rain. Barefooted, I stood outside, staring after him, mud oozing between my toes.

For all the world, it had looked like Edward Van Meer, the man I knew was behind bars. My brush with death at Van Meer’s hands was what had caused my breakdown in the first place, and, since I was now seeing him everywhere, it seemed as if I hadn’t recovered yet. Yet I wasn’t acting abnormally in any other way, so, I reasoned, there had to be some rational explanation for the man’s appearance. Of course Van Meer hated me for what had happened, and he’d told me, in one long rambling letter smuggled out of Broadmoor, that he longed to see me dead. But he was in prison, not here on the outskirts of Bath.

So was I heading for another breakdown?

I came back into the large hallway, pondering on the dream that I’d been so abruptly woken from.

Something in the dream was nagging at me. Some detail that the recreation of the scene I’d pictured so many times had inspired me to think of in a different way, the brain’s computer shuffling the facts and images, rearranging them in another semblance of order, perhaps a more logical one. Then I remembered.

A door.

That was it.

In all the reports about the accident that no one alive had actually witnessed, the professionals’ assumption was that Maggi had appeared from the door to the cellar with her guitar case containing the weapon, then stooped down to open it, beside that same cellar door, and then shot everyone from there.

However the only door that corresponded to what I’d imagined to be the cellar door I’d seen when I came in, was securely shut and locked when I’d tried it. Was there something beyond there that was worth looking at?

Sleep was impossible now, so I went back upstairs and picked up the powerful torch, pulled on jeans and a tee shirt and my trainers, and returned to the main hallway. Here there was more moonlight coming through the chinks in the plywood blocking the windows, and I went over to the locked door. I tried it again, but it was firmly shut. So I went outside to my Volvo estate car and took a crowbar and club hammer from the boot, returning to attack the locked door.

Hammering the chisel end of the crowbar into the gap, I exerted some leverage and after a while the old timber splintered and gave way. It swung backwards on its rusty hinges with a groan. I shone the torch ahead. A couple of feet in from the doorstep I could see some steps leading down. I moved forwards and began to descend, my yellow cone of torchlight shimmering around the walls.

The last thing I remember was feeling the blow to the back of my head.

I must have been out cold for some time. The throbbing pain made my vision blur. Someone had obviously crept up behind and slugged me with a heavy object, and I’d fallen down to the bottom of this shaft. Who could have done it? Who even knew that I was here? Clearly the man I’d chased earlier on had returned.

Shifting carefully, checking arm and leg movements, to my relief I appeared to be uninjured. The torch was unbroken, but its pathetic yellow glimmer told me its batteries were nearly flat. I was surrounded by the cheesy smell of damp stone, and soggy soil was under my fingertips – it looked as if the soft landing had saved me from injury. As I felt around with my fingers, I wondered how hard it was going to be to climb back to freedom. I stopped when my hand encountered something hard: a ledge of stone. And on its surface, to my surprise, there was something cold and metallic. I picked it up.

A camera. An old camera, the sort in use in the 70s, decades before the advent of digital photography. Shining the torch in the general area there was also a small black book. When I picked it up it appeared to be an old pocket diary. I could just make out the date 1980 in gold on the cover. Excitedly, I opened it up and there, sure enough, a few pages in were dates and handwriting, still legible after all these years. Unfortunately it was in a language I couldn’t understand, possibly German. Shining the torch around, I couldn’t see anything else. Whose diary could it be, I wondered? Despite my throbbing head, I felt the stirrings of excitement as I put the diary in my pocket and picked up the camera, then aimed the feeble torch beam towards the stairs.

If you like this, why not download a free sample of a bit more on your kindle?  http://amzn.to/WuntY6   or http://amzn.to/14j0CEy

Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s