When people told me about the murder (Rentergirl passim) I didn’t believe them. I wasn’t trying to be sceptical, just level-headed. Then another neighbour mentioned it. He asked me what I knew, and scornfully I repeated the myths I’d heard: tales of random body parts and screaming.
This man's bombshell was to tell me that there really had been a murder. He told police he’d heard a scream and witnessed two suspicious men running away. At the crime scene, investigators discovered a trail of blood where the body had been dragged across the floor, rubbish sacks and tape, but no corpse. Since the flat was rented in a Byzantine chain of informal subletting, the victim remains undiscovered, and also unidentified.
It hasn’t even made the news – and we’ve all been watching. The suspicion is that a man has murdered his partner. Or - being as the crime occurred on the ground floor – assailant(s) vaulted over the balcony and through an open window. Since the main door is always broken, maybe they knocked before barged in. I realised a short while back that every flat on my floor has identical window locks; no danger for those on higher floors, but on the ground level, a key holder could easily have let themselves in. There are of course no CCTV cameras.
The police canvassed the building, but they didn’t put notes under our front doors asking for information, instead they put notes into post boxes many of which were crow-barred open, emptied by thieves fishing for cheques etc. Police pressed buzzers during the day, when everyone was out (in any case, nobody opens their door unless they already know who’s there). Posters requesting information were apparently ripped down by the people who run a ‘hotel’ business here (don’t want to worry the guests now do we?)
Whenever I write about the dislocated, alienated lives we urban nomads lead, I generally receive comments and emails claiming that all streets are the same, or from people who own their flat and rarely speak to neighbours, insisting that reticence and reserve are not unique to rented newbuilds.
But it is worse here. There’s almost a sense of fear. We are usually afraid to talk, but briefly, and bizarrely we were speaking but only about the murder. Now it’s heads down again, don’t look up, don’t make eye contact, don’t say a word. It takes courage to so much as nod at strangers passing on the corridor.
When I was a child, I lived in a small town, and a man was murdered in a house at the end of our quiet, ordinary road. He ‘kept himself to himself,’ caring for his learning disabled brother. He was also gay. We live in more enlightened times, and the victim had been ‘cottaging’ in the public toilets in the park where we played, and there were dark tales of blackmail. The older brother of a girl at my school was convicted of his murder.
Every locked front door conceals a secret. Crime is everywhere and nowhere is immune, wherever you live, no matter how upmarket your area, nor how diligent the neighbourhood watch scheme. Random acts of violence have always been with us, but the guarded, anti-social world of newbuilds was a contributing factor to the murder, and the emerging enigma. Could this be my final straw?