So Close To Midnight
The sun stands alone in the sky, the yellow beacon of summer unassuming of the horrors it may shine upon. Two bodies are carried away, their veins now empty of life, their last thoughts frozen in the synapses of their brains. Slung unceremoniously into the back of a Range Rover, they are taken on one last procession through town, unbeknownst to the people they pass. The public continue their normal routine unmoved, unaffected, enjoying the brokered peace a little while longer. Their deaths are as yet unknown, their discovery will be gruesome. The consequences will be dire.
Chapham was an idyllic little town fifty years ago, a world before electronic nets covered the globe and an honest day’s work earned an honest day’s pay, or so it was accepted. Set forty five miles outside Manchester in the Cheshire countryside, on the river Bollin, the large manor houses with their expansive estates covered the landscape and were the trademark of the little town. There was a small high street, running from north to south, lined on both sides with small shops, with the primary and secondary schools at opposite ends of the road. To the east of the high street was the two-up two-down housing area, the cheapest in Chapham but still above the regions average price, a further example of the prosperity of Chapham’s residents. Further up the gentle hills could be found the mansions of the Chapham esteem. Their houses were set among the fields, along country lanes, the informality an indication of the comfort that was shared around the town. The close knit community had a great spirit within, from the lords and ladies all the way down, each treated with respect as equals although they all knew their place in the food chain. As the country moved into the 1960’s, and the concrete tower blocks and housing estates started populating every city and blighting the countryside, Chapham succumbed to the pressure of the population over spill. Amongst the stone clad buildings and large Victorian mansions sprung the grey monster that was the Chapham council estate. Set to the west of ‘old’ Chapham, by the train station and shunned factory buildings, the estate embodied everything that blighted the sixties and seventies. Set in its own time warp towards the new A-roads that choked the countryside it was not long before the flats and houses were full and the complexion of Chapham would change forever. The new wave of habitants did not mix with the existing community, their backgrounds and economic status polarised opposites to their illustrious neighbours, and the envy of their counterparts’ comfortable lifestyle was a source of constant friction. There was an east-west divide, the river side cafés and bistros mirrored across the silky track by the vacant lots, smashed windows and graffiti strewn walls. Prejudices grew on both sides and continued to escalate over the years. The animosity would start a catalogue of events that would bring murder and suffering to Chapham, leave children without parents and parents without children, and taint the town and its people for years to come.
Mariah Charlton was one of two daughters of Edward and Helen Charlton. Her father had worked in the City of London and made his fortune before deciding to relocate his family nearer his roots in Manchester. Growing up in London had been a marked contrast to living in Chapham. London was a bustling metropolis, full of interesting sights and people. She had made many friends in school and felt that there was a plethora of opportunity at her fingertips, just waiting for her to mature. Switching to a far quieter life in Chapham, with its enclosed community shut off from the big world, was very suffocating. Mariah was not yet old enough to attack the world on her own, so she rebelled against anything and everything she could find without an after thought. It was more a case of boredom than any great qualm with society. She was a constant nuisance for her parents, causing trouble in and out of school and breaking every rule and boundary they set. The comfortable lifestyle coupled with the middle class upbringing allowed Mariah to drift through her education and she started to tilt down a worrying spiral of despair. At eighteen years old she left school with no plans to go onto university, more than content to live off her parents, the hypocritical behaviour left undetected. Her parents only financed her on the premise that she stayed under their roof, as they could then keep an eye on her. While she lazed around Chapham Mariah soon fell for one of her ex-schoolmates, Sam Parker, who offered her excitement she had not experienced since London. Sam epitomised the influx of welfare leeches, living in the newly built council estate with his five siblings, the children of a failed metal worker from Salford. Sam and Mariah’s relationship was frowned upon by the elitist society that Mariah’s parents were connected to. Their stance did not deter Mariah, only strengthening her feelings for Sam. At first it was only to spite them that she spent so much time with Sam, the thought of going against the norm compelling her, but she soon began falling for his charismatic nature and real feelings began to bloom. Whether Sam went out with Mariah because of the cushy lifestyle she enjoyed or because he felt a true connection to her was the subject of much debate in Chapham but their relationship continued unabated. The couple became closer and at twenty two years old Mariah fell unexpectedly pregnant. The news horrified her parents. To have a child out of wedlock was not something they would accept, and it certainly would not have done much for the family’s standing in the neighbourhood. Despite their feelings towards Sam and his background, they pressed their daughter to get married. They pleaded with her, and maybe in defiance of general opinion she agreed. When Sam was told that he had to marry Mariah he was delighted. He did care for Mariah, but he knew it was a marriage of convenience. The only future he had envisaged was slave labour for the next forty years. Now it was with Mariah and the union with the Charlton’s and their money would mean Sam could live a life of opulence and avoid doing a day’s work for the rest of his life. When their marriage was announced there was widespread discontent. The elite class he would be marrying into resented someone of such low standing mixing in with them. The man behind the name did not matter to them, he was already tarnished with brush of the poor. The working class that he was leaving were jealous of his new found wealth. If he had earned it through hard graft then that may have been ok, but he hadn’t. his friends were envious, born out of anger and resentment that they had not been as fortunate to find a rich girl for their source of income. The one person who stuck by him was Mariah. She was determined to make a success of their marriage and dedicated herself to being the perfect wife and mother. No matter what she did, however, she could not stop others from despising her husband.
Seven months after their marriage Mariah gave birth to a boy, who they named Richard Charles Parker. They moved into a new home specially built for them by Mariah’s parents and when they brought the baby home the world calmed. Better known amongst his friends as Richie, the young child’s upbringing was devoid of the commotion and interference that had stained his parents’ courtship. Every want was fulfilled, every dream given a chance to blossom, and Richie was given everything that would give him the best preparation for his future life. The best childcare, healthcare and education were just the basics that Richie enjoyed. From a young age he was involved in sports, captaining the little league team in football to becoming the definition of an all rounder at cricket. He was the most popular child in primary school, and on to high school his wealth and local fame attracted friends and admirers. At seventeen years old he was at the top of his game. At six foot two, short brown hair and an athletic figure he could not have been in any better shape. A soft, caring face offset with a chiselled jaw and an uplifting smile showed that nature and nurture had worked in perfect unison. He was a great male specimen, and his attributes did not stop there. Blessed with a great mind, he fell into the trap of laziness, failing to fulfil his potential unlike others who realise academics as an escape route out of poverty. His keen interest in various sports added with his wealthy lifestyle meant he sometimes neglected his studies. Teachers, frustrated they could not mould his talents into various geniuses, felt that with a little effort he was certain to attend Oxbridge. Richie was not certain that higher education was the path he wanted to choose, but at this stage he didn’t really know what path he would choose. One prospect that interested him was the chance to travel the world. He was starting to become bigger than Chapham, and he wanted new and exciting challengers that he would pass him by if he stayed. Mariah knew of her son’s frustrations, she had felt the same restraints when she was his age but circumstances had forced her to remain in Chapham. Only Richie’s parents’ unbounded belief and love for him kept him working at school, and only his friendships in Chapham kept him from flying the nest. Paramount amongst all his relationships was his bond with his girlfriend, Kim. Richie and Kim had been friends all their lives. Their mothers had been best friends ever since Mariah had moved to Chapham. Mariah had met Liz at school; Mariah was looking for someone to idolize her, Liz was looking for someone to idolize. Kim and Richie had entered the same nursery class, had been in the same class at primary school and finally when they hit high school they decided to go out with each other. In many eyes they were the perfect couple, and echoed Chapham’s glorious past. They were young, full of life and vigour, and totally devoted to each other. The days and weeks passed and their partnership became stronger, and as they matured so did their relationship. With no fear of the future they blossomed together. As they walked down the high street, hand in hand, they were greeted with cheery smiles from everyone, delighted to see the young couple enjoying life so much. It gave the people in the street hope that they could achieve the same level of bliss in their lives. There was one person in Chapham, however, who detested their romance and Richie, saving special vitriolic hatred for his parents.
That person was Kim’s father, Steven Sutton. When Richie’s mother, Mariah, had moved to Chapham she had caught Steven’s eye, amongst others. As time passed his crush turned into infatuation, an obsession that Mariah had no intention of reciprocating. Although Steven came from a similar background, he did not move in the same social groups as Mariah. He studied hard, keen to emulate his parents’ success in medicine. At his fairly young age he shunned sports for books and was considered a bit of a nerd. Whereas Mariah was the wild girl from London, Steven sat in the corner with his books. He once mustered the courage to ask Mariah out but she harshly laughed in his face, the very thought a joke to her. To compound his misery she then started dating Sam. Being from the wrong side of town, penniless and ill educated in the ways of the social elite he was already despised by Steven and his stuck-up family and friends. Getting the object of Steven’s desires meant Sam was singled out for special treatment from Steven. He could humiliate Sam with his superior intelligence but Sam brushed them off with his ignorance. Belittled, Steven would retreat back to his corner, left to brood for a while longer. When Mariah fell pregnant, Steven felt she had been condemned for her foolish choices and that the burden she now carried was her just reward. Steven’s pleasure in Mariah’s plight was almost sadistic and not for one moment did he consider she would actually keep the baby. When Sam and Mariah announced their marriage Steven was mortified, the news hitting him as quick as a flash of lightning, the effect just as devastating. This bully had tormented him at school and now he was invading his social life. Steven’s parents had despised the swarm of uncivilised brutes that had invaded the town with the creation of the housing estate and the snobbery had passed on down to Steven. He was concerned that if they started to mix then the elite class of Chapham, the families that hadn’t sailed in on the government’s freebee boat, would be diluted and eventually absorbed into the lower class’ putrid mire. While he maintained a smokescreen in public, in private he despised Sam Parker and his kith and kin. The rapport between his daughter and Richie irked him as he believed that Richie was tainted with the same brush as his parents, but his wife was such good friends with Mariah that he kept his displeasure to himself. However, in the summer of 2005, just as Richie and Kim were entering their last year of college, events would unfold that would bring insurmountable pleasure to Steven Sutton and destroy Richie’s life.
© Copyright 2016 Al Frost. All rights reserved.
Book / Thrillers
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