Seated in the cells below the court Cullen was feeling optimistic. To begin with he was on good terms with the men who had been assigned to guard him as well as with other minor officials of the court. There had been a hot mug of strong tea waiting him when he stepped out of the transit van from Walton Goal and a fresh copy of that morning's Daily Express. Cullen knew that his reputation had preceded him and that the court realized they were dealing with an important man. After that there was a great deal of hanging around and waiting for things to get started. But at least that gave him the chance to play a game of dominoes with one of the guards and have a relaxed smoke over his second mug of tea.
Cullen was regaling them with stories of the jobs he'd been on, and of his contacts in London. He astounded them with details of how the Big Boys lived, the way they controlled their organizations and the instant discipline that was imposed on anyone who tried to double deal. Cullen was amused at the way they lapped this up. It has been the same in Walton goal, he had been privileged to have been given a big cell with only one other occupant, not like some of the others who were locked up three and four to a cell with all sorts of perverts and molesters. Cullen's first cell-mate had been exactly the same as these two, hanging on his every word, asking for more, going over some of the stories three or four times.
All in all getting arrested and charged for murder hadn't been a bad thing - it was certainly good for his reputation. Most of the top men in the States had been in goal one time or another. In fact, it was like one of those posh finishing schools, for if you kept your eyes and ears open there was a lot to learn. Not that he intended to spend too long in goal. Admittedly he was being treated with respect at the moment and the food was not bad, at least it was better than the slop that Ma had dolled out to him. All in all he was relieved to be away from the old Biddy, her and Marge both, what with their nagging and following him around with their eyes. At least he was getting a good kip nights and keeping regular hours.
Of course the trial would go all right. No one had seen him inside the Palace, and since there were no witnesses the whole thing was really nothing more than a put up job on the part of the police. It made Cullen mad to think about, that sly, twisting Taylor. Anyway he'd got his coming to him. It was downright dishonest when you though about it, the way the police behaved, planting evidence and framing people like that. It was a wonder that he didn't sue them for damages.
His barrister was real smart. He'd run rings around Taylor when it came to cross-questioning. It'd be an open and shut case and in a few days he'd been walking out of George's Hall a free man. His first step after that would be to see to Taylor. It was funny about Terrance though. Cullen hadn't seen him, nor had word from him since his arrest that morning several weeks ago. He'd sent out the word through his mates in the goal but it was as if Terrance had vanished off the face of the earth. The same thing with that bitch Marge. The two of them should have been here to give him a cast iron alibi, then he'd have been home free without any need for this trial in the first place.
But deep down he knew he had no cause for worry. This morning was going to be like an opening night in some big theatre. He knew that his name had been splashed across all the papers, even the important London ones. He'd stand up proud, the prisoner in the dock for all to see. It was a shame that they couldn't take photographs in the court but he'd make damm sure that he was recognized on the way out. This was his day all right, this was the moment he'd been waiting for, the time when he's stand up in court and just show everyone that he was a force to be reckoned with.
Cullen gave a laugh and turned back to the draught board.
"Right. Want to get beat again?"
One of the guards looked across at the big clock above the door. "Not long to go now, son, and then you'll be up."
He looked across at Cullen and winked at his mate. "And mind you look the judge straight in the eye, lad. Scare the shit out of him like you do out of me."
His mate threw his head back and roared. Cullen smiled at both of them and joined in their good humoured laughter.
When they arrived at the drinking club Marge took the rest of the money out of her purse, placed it on the table in front of her, and started on the whiskey. It was after a couple of Paddys that she told them about the flat.
"The dirty bastards. You should have seen what they done to my flat. I'd been away for a bit, see, visiting this stupid old biddy. And I just come back to pick up a few of me things but it was all broke up...me bed and everything, all smashed up. That's why I had to leave and come to this stupid hole."
Carol tried to shut her up but the Irishman wasn't really listening now. He started to tell them a story about the way he'd smuggled dynamite in the Irish boats and then got so tight that he couldn't remember where he'd hidden it. Marge quietened down for a bit then started on about her flat again. This time she wouldn't be shut up. She just kept going on and on, getting more and more angry so Carol tipped the wink to the Irishman that they should get going.
It was then that this other man started to get interested. First he just came over and sat at the next table nursing his pint and not saying much. Then, when Marge paused for a drink, he'd leaned over and begun to talk very softly.
"Did they ever let on?"
"What d'yer mean?"
"The blokes that did your flat, did they ever let on who they were?"
"Well, go on."
Marge went all secretive. "I can't tell yer. They're after me."
The man nodded and went over to the bar to get another round of drinks. When he came back he sat close to Marge.
"I could help you. I've got friends."
Marge shrugged and said nothing.
"Taylor? Does that mean anything to you?"
Marge looked down into her whiskey and tried hard not to give anything away.
"It was Cullen's mates, wasn't it? They're after you. Is that why you scarpered from the Pool?"
There was not denying it, was there? She nodded.
"Yeah. They told the people in the top flat they was going to do for me. But I've got to help Cullen see, and I don't know how. Can you help me? I'm real scared. They're after me. They think I told Taylor. Could you help me?"
The man looked at her carefully, "And you didn't, did you?"
"You didn't tell Taylor, did you?"
Marge shook her head.
"Right" The bloke got up. "You wait here." He walked out of the bar.
And then Harold Coke and Kevin Cullen came face to face. That first morning Cullen walked into in the dock proud and defiant, refusing a chair he placed his hands on the edge of the dock and, like a priest from the pulpit, stared down on the court. The clerical image did not escape Harold as he looked back at the man, studying him, attempting to understand. At first he could only see the side of Cullen's face as the accused surveyed the reporters from the London dailies, the solicitors and barristers who whispered to each other, the Clerk of the Court who was passing a note up to the judge. Is this the man, he wondered? Is this the one who entered the Palace cinema and shot the manager in the chest?
The Cullen turned to face the jury, deliberately directing his attention to each one in turn. In his heart he knew he would triumph. As he regarded each face he read the soul naked behind it. Cullen knew that he had them in the palm of his hand, that the moment he entered the witness box and told his story he would win them over, each one individually. The reason he knew was that they were frightened of him. They were frightened of his power, of a power that had now reached its peak. They were so fearful that, as he regarded them in turn each one averted his eyes rather that face the truth that lay within him.
Cullen gaze moved across the jury, from face to face, from figure to figure, the young and the old, the men and the women. Each one he held for a moment, then smiled inwardly as he watched them drop their eyes. They were dead, all dead. No life beat inside them. Not one of them had seen what he had seen, not one of them had been burned by the fire that had touched him. Not one of them could ever do what he had done.
And then Cullen's regard rested on Harold Coke and Coke stared back at him. As Coke looked into his eyes time and the court slipped away from him and all those other images came back, rushing into place, the tree, the cathedral, the upward movement, something towering above him, something rising, something falling and Cullen saw in those eyes a thing that was intense and burning, almost half mad, something that saw beyond him into the far distance where Coke seemed to sense the other images of a pattern that was swimming towards him, coalescing, hardening, spinning so fast that that Cullen was forced to gasp the edge of the dock to prevent himself staggering.
Cullen turned his head away. He moved back from the rail and sank down on the seat that was pushed forward for him. He must think. He must get his ideas together. There had been something in that man's look that disturbed him, something that was questioning, unresting; something that burned with an intensity that Cullen had not seen in the others. They were asleep, the ones like Terrance, or, even Taylor who was only consumed by the single trivial idea of looking out for number one. But not that one, not that one sitting in the jury box. There was something different about him, there was something lurking within him, something hiding behind his eyes that Cullen had only previously experienced as lurking deep within himself. He'd have to think things over again, have to work his way out of this. He was Cullen, he could do it, he'd gone so far and nothing was going to turn him back from his course.
An hour later Marge found that she couldn't drink anymore. Carol had gone, now she was on her own and although the place was crowded no one came to her table to talk to her. She tried to pick up her pint but as she did so her stomach began to turn and she knew that if she didn't get outside soon she'd throw up.
Marge gripped the edge of the table with both hands and tried to stand....the barman came over to her and helped her up. "It's over there, just go out that door."
Marge pushed her way down a dark passage and found herself out in the street. No, this wasn't the lavvy and she had to go right away. God where was it? There were two men standing in the shadows.
"Oh Christ, I feel dog rough.... I've got to go."
The men stood either side of her. "You're the friend of Cullen, aren't yer?"
One of them put his arm around her shoulder and began to lead her down the street. "You'll be Marjorie won't you, Cullen's told us all about you."
Marge didn't care any more. "Oh God, I'm going to puke...lerrus stop at the corner, eh?"
The men didn't seem to hear her. They were kindly but firm as they led her across the road towards a bomb site.
"You'd like to help Cullen. Friend of his weren't you?"
Despite the fog inside her head Marge tried to make out their accents....curious but she couldn't quite place them.
"Where'yer from? Where're we going?"
The men held her tightly and one began to speak softly to her in a comforting tone. "Nearly there, just a few steps more. We've got to be careful, take a few precautions. Go easy. There's a lot of rubble so mind how you go. There'll be someone waiting to meet you. Someone who wants to see you, but we've got to go carefully."
They led Marge across the bomb site towards the remains of a house. Three walls standing amongst the rubble.
"Come on, love, just a little way now. There, there, you'll be all right. Just take it easy, nice and slow. Here we are, now what did I tell you?"
They'd stopped in front of the wall. The front door of what had once been a house still stood on its hinges.
"In there, love. He's waiting. Just over the step. I'm behind you."
Marge mounted the step.
"Go on, love, mind you give the door a good push, it's a bit stiff like."
Marge felt the man's hand behind her as she put her hands in front of her and felt for the door. It was very dark. She took a step forward, the door suddenly swung forward and she felt herself falling.
Maybe it was a sudden irritation at their senseless chatter that made Harold speak out. He had been watching them, silently, for several minutes as they sat over their tea, or lit up a long awaited cigarette. These where his colleagues on the jury; the school teacher who was holding forth about an item he had heard on the news last night; the retired bank manager who was explaining to the woman from Scotland how she could protect the money her husband had left to her; the group in the far corner who were diagnosing the weekend match. As he studied their faces Harold Coke realized that most of them had had far more formal education that he, leaving school when he was fifteen. They were privileged in different ways, by opportunities of birth, employment, a fortunate marriage, a powerful friend or contact. As they chatted together Harold reflected upon their confidence and on how they did not even bother to lower their voices when they spoke in public.
Of course they were not all like that. There was Mike, a docker who was now on his third cup of tea, grinning and nodding with the others. Harold wondered how the man could get down so much tea and yet he had never seen him walk in the direction of the toilets. And there was a small, damp looking man who sold insurance door to door in Seaforth. But the rest of them were so self-assured that they seemed to ignore his very existence. Yet, in the end, it was the very triviality of their conversation that caused Harold to break his silence.
"Please, this is really important," he blurted out. The school teacher looked up in shocked surprise but the retired bank manger, who was rather hard of hearing, continued to ramble on about the difference between preferred and ordinary shares until his companion nudged him into silence.
With all eyes upon him Coke felt flushed with excitement but nevertheless he was determined to complete what he had started. "I'm sorry," he said, "but we should be taking this seriously. It's...it's something we have to do for our children."
The retired bank manager nodded and gestured for Harold to continue.
Harold Coke began to talk about the origins of the jury system, the advances that ordinary people had made and the terrible responsibility that now rested on their shoulders. At first his remarks were confused, as he stumbled over his words and kept loosing the point of what he was saying. But as he warmed to the topic, the things that he had read and thought about over the last weeks began to come back to him and he discovered a new power within himself so that people were actually listening to him. "Remember", Harold said, "it's not the barristers, it's not the judge who is important. They can't make the final decision, they can only offer advice. It's up to us, the verdict rests with each one of us."
The retired bank manager slapped the table in approval. "Well spoken." He turned to the others. "He's perfectly right. We do have a responsibility and we need someone to pull us together. I'd volunteer myself but, well, it needs someone a little younger." The school teacher glanced away and the retired bank manager looked pointedly at Harold.
That night Harold did not tell Emily that he had been elected foreman of the jury. Indeed, following the instructions given to them by the judge Harold did not even discuss the case with her, neither did he open the newspapers that we filled with details on the Palace murder trial. Instead he spent each evening pouring over his notebook, reading and rereading the evidence that had been presented over the last days. His silence was particularly frustrating to Threlfall who had rushed over the moment he realized Harold's involvement with that particular trial.
"I can let you in on the ground floor of this one, Coke. Why, we had one of them in our house for a day or two. Thin, dark haired woman, always going on about the murderer, you see. Claimed she was married to him but I had my doubts. Anyway, I can tell you one or two things about the case that would make your hair curl."
But Harold was already out of his chair and heading for the door. "I'm sorry, but I can't discuss it with you. You can tell Emily all about it. I'll take my tea in the front room, dear."
Threlfall exploded at the snub. "Who does he think he is? Stuck up little man. Just because he's serving on a murder trial. That's what a council school so-called education does for you."
Despite Emily's objections Threlfall tried to enter the front room, shaking the door handle only to find that it had been locked against him.
He hammered on the door."Coke. Let me in, man". Then. "Right. I won't tell you. And it's a damm good job I never let you in on The Eternal Light."
At the front door he nodded coldly to Emily. "I don't you'll find me coming round any more. Of course, if the person choses to apologize, in writing, then I'll consider it. Until then, goodnight."
As Coke sat though the next few days he was struck more than anything else the a sense of absence, by the very negativity of the accused. Other members of the jury were repelled by the man, made uneasy by his menacing, brooding presence. But to Harold it was almost as if Cullen was not present, as if he were only a shell, a nothingness that sucked in the energy around him, a shadow that consumed the warmth of the day.
This troubled Harold for he knew that Cullen represented part of his own puzzle, that in a sense Cullen had become a completion for him. Cullen was that piece of a jigsaw puzzle that had always evaded him, the missing part of the picture that remains blank when the rest has been put together. Had the fault laid within himself, Harold thought? Was he incapable of seeing something? Did he have a blind spot deep within him that prevented him seeing into the accused man. Or was there nothing truly present within the accused? As Harold listened to the evidence it seemed as if, like a magnet, Cullen had drawn inward the events that surrounded him. In the end Cullen had no so much been an actor in that drama as its passive but willing agent.
As the trial continued, Harold began to see within his mind's eye quite clearly the details of the events that had occurred in the Palace murder, the discussions that went on in the pub that evening, the way Cullen had entered the manager's office, how he had taken off his gloves and rested his finger tips on the desk, how he had drawn out the gun and pointed it at the manager, the cold, absent way in which he had pulled the trigger, and the casual fashion in which he had walked out of the cinema by the back stairs and later had dumped the gun in the boating lake at Prince's Park. And so, as the barristers completed their arguments Harold Coke stared at the prisoner in the dock and Cullen averted his eyes.
Marge lay on her back looking up at the sky. The stars were clean and cold. she'd never seen such stars in Liverpool. After a while she tried to move her arms but nothing happened. Her body felt as if it were made of soft putty. As she relaxed Marge realized that someone was talking to her.
"Dear me, you did have a nasty fall. Don't worry, me mate's gone for help."
Marge looked up at the man, standing on the edge of the bomb crater, a silhouette against the stars. She didn't need to reply, it was so comfortable just lying there. The wall above her still had paper on it, such a pretty pattern. Then everything seemed to brighten, as if there were lights inside the house and it was alive again. Marge didn't hear the man shout down to her again.
"You just hang on love, my mate'll be back in a minute. It's a pity about the trial though. Cullen was hoping you'd give him an alibi. But you look so poorly lying there. I reckon he'll have to do without you, won't he?"
Marge could hear other voices in the house. Somewhere a child singing. It was Christmas, with lights and a piano playing, and now the voices were so loud that she didn't hear the tractor start and drive towards the house. The children were singing a carol and Marge tried to join in. The lights were so bright that they almost blinded her and she didn't even see the wall above her as it cracked and buckled.
The wall held for a moment, suspended, then slowly fell downwards towards her.
It was over. Harold Coke placed his notebook, pens and ink in his brief case and left the jury box. The other members of the jury were exchanging addresses when Coke slipped quietly away. The whole thing reminded him of the last day of his vacation earlier that summer. That too had been a time when people, thrown together in the same location for a week, swore eternal friendship and planned to a get together at some future, undefined time. It had seemed so empty to Harold at the time; true friends are not made that way he had thought. And so he had hurried Emily and the boy outside, preferring to arrive early at the railway station than to have face those forced goodbyes.
Harold waited until everyone had turned away, picked up his coat and briefcase, and walked quickly towards the great doors of George's Hall. He felt drained and empty, as if there was no more feeling within him. It seemed that he had exhausted both mind and body in some great effort, a forced march or a mountain climb perhaps, and now on the last leg of the journey he was content to place one foot before the other without any regard for direction. It was over, he had played himself out. He had been called upon to speak once only and his purpose in the scheme of things was ended.
Harold reached the plaza and breathed in the cool afternoon air. The newspaper boys would soon be out, shouting the result and chalking the verdict beside their stands. It would be on the wireless tonight, but Harold would not listen, he would walk the evening streets for hours just as he had done in those first days following the Palace murder.
As Harold crossed the plaza towards the bus station he noticed that the Punch and Judy man was taking down his stand. As he passed the man called out to him.
"How did it go, then? Are they going to top the bugger?"
"Where you there, then? Did you watch it?"
Harold nodded again. "I was there. The verdict was guilty. He's going to hang at Walton goal."
The Punch and Judy man laughed and bent down to pick up one of his puppets "That's daily work to me. Mr Punch hangs in every show. And I'm Mr Punch in a manner of speaking."
Harold looked at him in surprise. "It's very cruel, isn't it? I remember."
"Has to be. That's the whole point of it. Cruelty, violence, murder, you name it - Mr Punch is in the thick of it."
The Punch and Judy man bent down again and this time came up with his whistle. He allowed Harold to examine in then, placing it in his mouth spoke in Mr Punch's voice. Harold took a sudden step backwards.
"Still works, doesn't it? Even on you, and you're grown up. But the thing is, you haven't forgotten. I can see that in you. That's why the parents bring their kiddies to see me. It's fear, it's playing around with the things they'd like to do in secret, terrible things, things they want to do to the people they love - if they didn't get caught. Maybe it realizing how much they hate the ones closest to them."
Harold shook his head, "No, it's not like that. Not at all..."
"You think the kiddies are laughing when they see Mr Punch. Have you really heard them? Have you watched their faces? My dad was a Punch and Judy man, and his dad before him. Grandad said it had been in the family longer than he could remember." He manipulated the puppet in his hand. "Mr Punch here is over a hundred years old, maybe he goes back for centuries, maybe he's a thousand years old, back when they build the cathedrals."
The Punch and Judy man noticed Harold's smile. "You don't know the half of it, mister. Back then there was unions, guilds they called them, and they put on plays. People have always needed that. That's why it got passed in our family. It's something we've got to do, Grandad told me, and he couldn't even read nor nothing. In a way it's like being a priest, Grandad said, except that you can always get a bit of the other on a Saturday night."
Coke interrupted him. "But the cruelty. I was watching the other day, it's all so meaningless. Why does it have to be like that?"
The Punch and Judy man shrugged. "I didn't write the script. If you ask me, nobody did. It was just something that got passed on."
He studied at Coke, then looked down at his briefcase. "You shouldn't be asking too many questions about Mr Punch. You think he's just a doll, don't you? Something dead. That's your problem, questions. He isn't, mister. Mr Punch is very simple. Mr Punch doesn't ask questions. Do you, Mr Punch? See, it's like this." The man suddenly began to address Harold in Punch's voice, bringing the puppet close to Harold's face. "Mr Punch kills his wife, Mr Punch kills his baby. Mr Punch gets hanged. And Mr Punch comes back at the end of the show. You can't kill Mr Punch, see. He'll be around long after you're dead and gone."
Harold Coke walked away, leaving the Punch and Judy man talking to his puppet. As he crossed Lime Street the wind picked up and he could almost feel the spray from the river. Discarded newspapers and chip papers danced around his feet. A taxi honked and swerved out of his way. From Skelhorne Street he could hear the sound of the Ribble busses revving up. But even after he had climbed onto the top deck of the L8 and the bus had begun to pull away from the kerb he could hear the voice of Mr Punch ringing in his head.
"Well, that's that then".
Vera pumped herself up in her new dress. "Let's get out and have a bevvy to celebrate."
Stutty, seated across the table from her, set down the paper and folded it carefully.
"We could go to one of them swank places in the West end then stop off at a Greek for a big nosh up afterwards."
Stutty nodded, resignedly.
"And yer can take that expression off yer face for a start, Stutty Walther. Dragging you to London was the best days work I ever did. And don't say you haven't had a good time, 'cos you have. Sitting in them pubs listen to people talk and hanging round in museums."
Vera went across to the mirror and started to put on her lipstick. "You know, Stutty, maybe we should move to a bigger place. Or go back to the 'pool now it's all over. I mean, we've got nothing to run away from now, have we?"
She turned and grinned maliciously at him. "First thing tomorrow afternoon we'll get the train back to Liverpool. You can ask your Ma for more money and I'll drop in to the Beehive and look for Marge."
Stutty shook his head weakly in protest.
"No, you're right, love. It shouldn't let you go there on your own. I'll come with you. I've never met your Ma. I'm sure the two of us would get on like a house on fire."
Vera laughed then bounced across the room onto Stutty's knee. She grabbed a clump of his hair and twisted it round and round until he winced with pain.
"So that's all over. We came out of the whole thing pretty well all told. Come on, love. Let's go out for a drink."
Contact F. David Peat