The girl I had just had sex with screamed as we looked out of the window and watched the man strangle the woman to death.
Panicking and terrified, all I could think of was to take a picture of his face on my phone, before he ran away.
There was nothing we could have done to save her.
After all, we were on the third floor of the block of flats, looking out of the window across to the corresponding flat in the next block, rather like in the scene from the Hitchcock film Rear Window, where James Stewart witnesses a murder and no one believes him.
Even if I could have run downstairs, out of the door and into the other building, I could never have made it in time to save her, or even catch him, for he would have long gone by now. Just like James Stewart I was powerless and impotent.
“It must be the The Hackney Strangler,” the girl beside me said, breaking down in tears. “He’s already killed three of us!”
I was in the middle of dialling the police on my mobile when I stopped abruptly. Here I was, a junior cabinet minister and member of parliament, in a seedy flat with a prostitute. I couldn’t report witnessing the crime, or giving them the incriminating picture of the killer without admitting where I was and what I had done.
“I can’t get involved,” I told her hurriedly, pushing across a handful of twenty-pound notes, even though I had already paid for her services. “You must call the police. But don’t say I was with you.”
“Fuck the coppers!” she snarled through her tears. “Ain’t nothing to do with me!”
And so, as I ran down the urine-smelling stairway and hurried out onto the street, I was panicking inside. I had witnessed a murder. I even had a photo of the killer’s face on my phone. Yet if I admitted to this, I could kiss goodbye to my job as a junior government minister, and my prospects for high office. And I might even be deselected by my constituents and lose my seat. Not to mention my wife wanting a divorce.
Could I send the photo anonymously? No. The police wouldn’t take it seriously if there was no witness testimony to back it up. Besides, there were probably ways of tracing what device took the picture, and how would I send it anonymously anyway?
Of course it’s no excuse to tell you that my wife is disabled, and the physical side of our marriage has irrevocably broken down, and I had for the first time, foolishly sought an outlet elsewhere. It’s no excuse for infidelity. Furthermore it’s certainly no excuse for a rich man exploiting a young woman who needs money so much that she has to offer her body to survive. It’s something I am deeply ashamed of.
I had been weak, selfish, evil and stupid, and my crisis of conscience was my own fault.
The best thing was of course to think no more about it. The Hackney Strangler would no doubt soon be caught and locked away, whether I got involved or not.
But a small voice was saying in my ear: But if he kills again now, that death will be on your conscience.
I put it out of my mind. Especially when, a couple of days later, I read in the paper that the police had some promising leads on the case, and catching the Hackney Strangler was only a matter of time.
Life went on as usual and the following Friday it was my usual constituency ‘surgery’, when constituents from my South London seat come to a room at the town hall to discuss their problems with me, and I in turn do my best to help them.
It was a busy night, with about twenty worried individuals telling me about their difficulties, whether it was unfair dismissal from their job, housing problems, the prospects for a new battered-wives refuge. I take these duties seriously, and I don’t think it’s vain to say that I’m much more of a ‘grass roots’ MP than many of my colleagues, and I really do try to help each and every person who comes to see me. Finally my last constituent was a desperate looking lady of around fifty.
“Sir Hugo, please, can you do something for my daughter?” she asked me.
“What’s the problem?”
“She was one of the girls who’ve been murdered recently in East London. Do you know one of the worst things about it? My Katherine was a music student, she also worked in a supermarket, she helped in an old people’s home as a volunteer. Yet, because for a short period recently she started earning money on the streets, which her dad and I didn’t even know about, she’ll always be remembered as a prostitute. A prostitute who was stupid enough to get murdered by a madman!” She began to weep. “I’ve come to see you because I’m desperate. I’ve been contacting the police all this time, but they just fob me off. I don’t think they’re even trying particularly hard to catch this evil bastard, and more girls are dying, and I want someone to do something about it! Can you do anything, Sir Hugo? Can you give them more funding or something for more officers to work the case? Can you ask someone to make it a priority? All I live for is the thought that they’ll catch him!”
“I promise I’ll do whatever I can,” I told her.
When she’d gone, I looked at the envelope of one of the letters that was falling out of my file on the table. It was addressed to: The Right Honourable Sir Hugo Appleby, MP. . .
Closing my eyes, and dreading my future downfall, the newspaper headlines, my probable divorce, I knew there was no alternative.
I picked up the phone and dialled.
(Image by Alexas Fotos from Pixabay)