Pretty, Pretty Flowers - Norman A. Rubin
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The taxi braked slowly as it neared the ordinary semi-detached house in a workingman's suburb of Leeds, an industrial city in Northern England. The driver pressed the flag of the meter downwards, and then waited for his passengers to alight. He watched with pity as a middle-aged couple stepped from his vehicle as he knew of the tragedy that enveloped them in its misery. He accepted the fare with the gratifying nod to his head for the small tip. Then the driver put the taxi in gear and he slowly drove from the curb with a second glance through the rear mirror at his former passengers. "Poor devils," he muttered as he drove from the scene.
Tradegy was the word when the police found the corrupt flesh and bones of Rebecca Rose, a young girl of sixteen buried in the backyard garden of a near neighbor. The girl had been reported missing for over three months and all efforts to locate her or her remains were to no avail. Until that fated day when the fit of terror struck.
It was after a heavy rainfall when two youngsters had taken a short cut to their homes through that garden. As they rushed through the garden a horrible sight met them. At the back of the plot they saw a small skeletal hand protuding from the muddy earth circling a newly planted rose bush. It took them a few moments of deep staring to confirm the sighting of horror.
Fright was etched on their faces as rushed from that horrific setting with slobbering screams from their lips, "There be a hand comin' frum the earth!" Over and over they shouted as they reached the street. An alert housewife on a shopping trip took notice and quieted them somewhat. An elder couple and a working stiff joined the trio while housewives in the nearby homes opened their parlor windows to see and hear. The boys with dread to their steps escorted the gathered group to the frightening scene despite the protests of the householders of the property; the police were soon called.
The neighbors watched as booted police, armed with picks and shovels, turned over the earth; they watched when work stopped as a muddy object was found and placed in an evidence bag. Housewives looked on unbelievingly as their fingers played nervously around their mouths. "Gor a'mighty tis be a horrible sight," one exclaimed loudly. There was murmuring of speculations to one another as rumours spread.
The good folk stood in amazement when they saw the householders, a known man and woman both in their middle years, being escorted to a police vehicle. The murmur of voices grew louder.
One old duffer waved his cane, ” Knew these devils will give a bit ov trouble!” But there was no explanation offered to his distrust of them.
The following trial was featured in the media that bristled with horrendous details; nothing was left to readers of listener's imagination. The accused householders, one a simian looking chap by name of Fred Ward and his equally homely and dwarfish wife, Mae by name, pleaded not guilty to the charges. The trial, itself, left all in dismay at each shocking statement.
The usual parade of witnesses gave evidence to the horrific drama of cold-blooded murder. The pathologist related that his examination of the rotting fleshy bones recovered from that garden confirmed the identity to that of the missing girl Rebecca Rose; identification was made through dental records and DNA tests. The doctor detailed her demise to repeated blows to the head by a heavy piece of wood as he gestured slighly in a chopping movement; he stated that tiny splinters of wood had been found in the head wound. He continued by relating that the girl was rendered to unconciousness by the first or second blow to the head and did not suffer from the additional beating to the body when she collapsed on the ground.
A forensic expert followed the line of witnesses giving evidence. He stated that the girl’s body had been cut or chopped apart by an axe; that his investigation of the backyard shed in back of the house revealed the place where the girl had been dismembered. Traces of blood were found on the wooden floor and on a nearby bench despite signs of cleaning efforts; DNA testing to the remains of the murdered girl linked the minute blood spots.
Additional witnesses were called to the witness stand to give evidence for the Crown to the crime of murder. The good and worthy character of the murdered girl was expressed by the vicar of the local parish church; her being a good student with high grades in A-levels were told in the words of the head of the local high school.
The Ward’s barrister accepted the testimony of those witnesses for the crown to the evidence of the crime and of the reference to the murdered girl’s character without questioning the validity.
But there wasn't any decent testimonial reference to the character of Fred and Mae Ward, as testimony outlined previous offences to their behavior. Two complaints had been lodged against them and the police reprimands were recorded in evidence.
Whereas the counsel for the defense in his rebuttal stated that the charges against Fred and Mae Ward were dropped by consent. The barrister with self-righteous mannerisms, smirked at the witness as he ended the cross-examination with a flourish, "Am I correct?"
Fred Ward was listed by authoritive witness as an unemployed bookeeper with a history of dismissals from various positions; four in number during the past three years were his words. He presented the employment record of Fred Ward, which was submitted in evidence.
The counsel for the defence stood tall on his stubby feet and he puffed in his rotund body as he faced the witness. He grasped the black of his gown, paused momentarily for affect and then proceeded in his examination. Upon his questioning the official from the Employment Office it was admitted that one of the firms in which Fred Ward found and lost employment had filed for bankruptcy. He also confirmed that the loss of Fred Ward's employment in one position was due to the closing of the firm due to a takeover, which saw the dismissal of other employees. "And sir, wasn't it a fact that Fred Ward was dismissed from one position due to the reference by a clerk to his stature, which led to a physical end. And that Fred Ward left his last employment by the whispering of 'monkey' when he passed his fellow workers." Before the official was able to answer he heard, " No further questions!
Mae Ward, was referred by one witness, a housewife living next door to the couple, as being a spiteful harridan, always quarreling through a loud squeaky voice with her neighbors for one reason or another. “I be t’know. Living next to them for the past few months!” Other answers that followed the questioning by the crown prosecutor detailed her authority of her deposition to the character of Mae Ward.
The barrister played with housewife’s testimony and referred to her as an astute psychologist. An objection was raised by the wigged procecutor to the reference of the remarks. 'Sustained' was the word and the jury was instructed to ignore the last question of the barrister-at-law. "No further questions" was again heard at the end of the cross-examination.
But it was the testimony of a real estate agent that had arranged the rental of the house for them; that the contract was signed only eight months before the criminal act that added a touch of favour for the Wards.
"But you needeed references from Fred and Mae Ward," rebuted the counsel in his cross examination of the agent, "am I correct?" The good man simply stuttered a 'yes'. "You may leave the witness box as I have no further questions!” sentenced the reply.
It was the testimony of Detective Constable James Savage who was in charge of the investigation to that crime of murder, which sent sent shock waves throughout the courtroom. The officer, a well-dressed upstanding inspector of the Yard, spoke in authority and limited his testimony to his civil ways. He sat upright in the box, neither shifting his sturdy body nor nodding his greying head or expressing emotion on stern facial features.
The Detective Constable spoke in a quiet tone as he gave his testimony, "Upon the discovery of the gristly skeltal hand by the youngsters, I was immediately notified. I had the horrible suspicion that the discovery could be that of the remains of the missing girl." He then told of the dispatching of a team of policemen to the scene, the cordoning of the house in the yellow of authorive tape, and the immediate digging into the earth of the garden. "My men found in shallow covered holes at various points along the back of the garden that confirmed my suspicions. It was the remains of a young girl. The identity was later confirmed to that of Rebecca Rose." He choked on his words as he continued, "The bones of the skeletal remnants had the appearance of being roughly cut apart, packed in plastic shopping bags, and thrown haphazarly in each hole!"
A loud scream from middle aged women in the spectators gallery forced temporarily the cessation of his testimony. The inspector waited patiently as court officials escorted a weeping woman from the gallery. The removal of the woman was difficult and great care was needed in their efforts. As they carefully bundled her out she screamed repeatedly 'murderers' and pointed an accusing trembling finger at the accused.
The detective sighted the woman and realized that the poor creature, a middle-aged housewife, was the dead girl's mother; both the woman and her husband were spectators to this trial that burdened them with the knowledge to their tradegy. The Detective Constable Savage knew them well as he had the unpleasant task of bringing the tragic news of their daughter's death. The upset prompted his Worship to the use of his gavel and a call for recess to the proceedings.
The media reported that the woman had collapsed in the hallway and an amulance was called. Their reportage told of the identity of the woman, namely as Mrs. Jane Rose, mother to the dead girl. Photos of the good woman taken together with the girl and her husband, a Mr. Albert Rose were featured. The media pictured Rebecca, the smiling dark-haired girl as a carefree teen-ager full of the prettiness of youth. Her smiling mother beside her was stout in stature with a plain rosy complexion on the fattiness of her face; her husband was shown in the slimness of his physical form with the plainess of his worrisome face under a receding hair-line."
The trial resumed with continuance of inspector's testimony, which increased in horrendous detail. "It was a sickening affair when the muddied bones were uncovered. Took the whole part of the day, as we practically had to dig throughout the backyard garden to find any remaining bones to the skeletal remains. Only at the pathological laboratory when the bones were assembled that I was assured of a complete investigation."
Jane Rose in a blessed coma was spared the notice of the trial and its continuing spoken horrors. As she lay in the comfort of the hospital bed she did not hear the continuing testimony of Detective Constable Savage which sent waves of shock from the presiding judge to the spectators in the gallery. She did not hear the objections of the defence counsel when an answer by the detective constable was not right in his judgement.
As oxygen was pumped through the facial mask to Mrs. Jane Rose, the words went unheard. She did not hear as the Detective Constable detailed the methods used by the accused Fred Ward when he had cut up the young girl's body in in small pieces, “each body part from the head to the limbs all wrapped in nylon bags.” Later he related that the sacked remains were thrown into holes dug in the backyard garden during the late night hours. He told of the search for the murder weapon and of the tools used for cutting the body, “but with no success!”
Mrs. Jane Rose was spared the sight of the clamour in the court at the revulsion of the crime. Nor did the blessed woman hear the gavel of the justice calling to order to his courtroom as the spectators uttered shockwaves of revulsion. Nor did she hear the notice of cessation of proceedings to the following day.
A slim platic tube fed nourishment to Mrs. Jane Rose, and another removed the wastes from her body as she lay in her unconcious form. "Guilty", was the word as the barrister on the advice of Fred and Mae Ward's solicitor agreed to change of venue at continuation of the trial that day. All formal procedures were noted, then the jury was dismissed and the spectators were cleared from the courtroom.
Mrs. Jane Rose didn't hear the finality of the trial in the eerie stillness of the court as Fred and Mae Ward gave their account of their criminal act. Fred Ward was the first to give testimony to his crime. He slouched on his short feet to the witness box and stood in the bent form of his body as he awaited the examination. His barrister forwarded the questions. With smirking lips mixed with a sinister look through his deep-set eyes he gave the answers. It was in a garble of words that told he was fed up with the youngsters of the neighborhood taking shortcuts through unfenced garden and how they ruined his bordering newly planted hedge. His voice pitched higher as he told that, "I was jolly fed up w' them kids traipsing thru' me garden!”
He was unaware on that fateful night in the late evening hours that Rebecca Rose had decided when parting from her friends to take a short cut through Fred Ward's garden as the hour was late. "Caught th' little whore. Gave her a few smacks on her haid to teach her a lesson or two. Served her right!' he righteously declared. His tone then changed to remorse, "Didn't know I kilt her, didn't ken know!"
Fred Ward's vile testimony was gruesome in all details as he answered the questions put foward by the prosecutor of the Crown. "Brought th' body to tool shed out in back. Then I tol' me good woman. But, she ain't t' blame fer the killin'!" But his women did direct him in the disposal of the remains. "Mae really took hit quite easy-like. No word, just brought a few plastic bags of the super'. Mae closed the girl's eyes before we cut her up as she didn't want someone looking at when you're goin' to use a axe. When I cut off her head hit was a horrible noise... like scrunching." He detailed that once her head was off, he started on her limbs, "one might chop and they came off." The rest of his testimony revealed how he planted the body parts in his garden; he told of disposing of the offal and the knife in a weighted bundle and chucking the lot in an abandoned water filled cesspool.
Mae Ward was then called to testify, and the ugliness of her words matched the ugliness of her features screwed to a mask of evil. Her bloodless lips on pallid features grumbled a horrifying testimony. Mae Ward's red veined eyes bulged as she corroborated her husband's testimony, only adding a touch of gristly horror as she told of her assistance in dismembering the girls' corpse, "She war' a beauty, a real nice looker," she added spitefully.
The prosecutor for the crown accepted the depositions of Fred and Mae Ward without rebuttal.
Mrs. Jane Rose breathing was regular in its beat as she slowly regained conciousness in the early morning hours. Her eyes fluttered open and its dimness spotted her husband asleep in the hardness of a stiff wooden chair alongside her bed. He face spread in beautific glow and from smiling lips called out, "Albert, Albert, has Rebecca come home yet?"
The tired man awoke at the soft sound of her voice as she again called out softly to him and repeated the question. Albert Rose didn't know how to answer his wife's query as he was puzzled by it. A few tears flowed slightly from his eyes down his creased features as he leaned over and tenderly held one of the hands of his beloved.
Albert Rose’s arm tenderly encircled his wife's shoulders as he helped her from the taxi to the direction of their home. Near the pathway the good friends and neighbors had set up a shrine to Rebecca Rose. In the center of the shrine was a large coloured facial photo of the girl, in all her lovliness; around the framed image were a few simple bouquets of flowers - carnations, roses, and two with just a lily. Mrs. Jane Rose, smiled as she gazed at this memento to her daughter and in a sweet voice remarked, "Pretty, pretty flowers."
Norman A. Rubin