This being a short vignette I wrote at some point, which I’m putting online to get it out the way as I clear my laptop of old things during the Great Quarantine of 2020.
The police officer hit the man.
“You read me my rights and you look at me all smug but you’re glad I went there, and you’re glad I did it, and you’ve been thinking about it just like everybody else and you’d do the same if you weren’t such a fucking coward.”
The police officer hit the man again. His thin frame fell to the floor and a gash on his forehead opened up. The police officer looked at me. I did not write any of this down in my notebook.
“He’s been like this since he came in,” he told me, making for the door. “If he gets funny, I’ll be around the corner, and you just shout.”
He gave the man one more look, as if he were going to spit on him, and disappeared.
In the corner of the cell the man crumpled up. He had been beaten badly before this. He was also unkempt; the beatings, perhaps warranted, had torn the rubbery flesh from parts of his arms and legs.
We didn’t speak for some time but he wheezed in my general direction. And his eyes, lit blue, stayed on me as I made notes about the room. I could feel them on me as I put down colourful descriptions of his mattress, the toilet bowl, and what was a sizeable stack of books.
“Martin Budlit,” I said, not looking up and pretending to write. “That’s an interesting surname. What’s the history there?”
“Useful background, is it, for your…opus.”
I stopped writing. “Actually, no, they won’t let me write an opus. They’ve given me barely any column space. Unfortunately for you, I suppose, and definitely for me because they pay by the word.”
When he simply snorted I continued back at my writing, the scratching pen the only sound in the room, and as I began to doodle — a picture of a bird, with a speech bubble that I didn’t know how to fill — he spoke. “Budlit is German. Well, Prussian, once upon a time. My family, my immediate family I mean, were all born and bred here in Manchester. I’m as Mancunian as…”
“Cotton? That’s quite Mancunian.”
He laughed. I looked up at him.
“Cotton. Who’s seen cotton in years?”
“Don’t the rich wear it? Did your victim wear it?”
Instead of answering, he wiped his forehead with the back of his hand, mopping the now-drying ooze. “You’re not from round here. London, I bet. Up here reporting on provincial matters.”
He was not wrong.
“What’s your name, then. Since I gave you mine.”
That snort again. “Cotton. Green. Green of the rolling hills of England? Or a greengrocer’s son.”
“My grandfather’s grandfather ran a greengrocer’s, actually, but the name has nothing to do with it.”
Budlit moved as if to say something, but began coughing. It was a wet cough, spluttering. He was surely a very old model. Or made up of very old parts.
I just smiled. “You know, it’s a museum now. The greengrocer’s. It’s got a replica of a tractor in the front…to teach something, anything, to children. About farming, food production…there’s old pictures, pictures of proper, full-skin-on people, digging up real, honest-to-goodness vegetables. I’ve only visited twice. One of those times, I heard a child ask his mother if any of it really happened.”
I think about that child all the time. We were looking at pictures of a slaughterhouse. A man was butchering a cow, this flesh and blood creature slowly pulling apart this other flesh and blood creature as the photos progressed. Did that child see anything other than fiction? Did I? Pictures could be faked, I suppose. So far away, that world of flesh and open skies.
When Budlit regained his composure, he fixed a stare on me. “What’s your angle going to be? Aboot the killing? That I’m a vandal, some joker who wanted a thrill?”
“Maybe,” I said. “Unless you want to tell me otherwise.”
He sighed. “It was a symbol of resistance.”
“A symbol of what?”
“Isn’t it clear? Look at me. Really look at me.”
I did. Already had, with corresponding notes. Mr Budlit is pleasant enough. Polite and well spoken, he fits the profile of a long history of intellectual, mild mannered killers, showing only flashes of the anger that can lead us to murder: when a police officer exerts authority, contempt; when I move off topic, disgruntlement; when he is not given his turn to speak, an inner rage that would make his boil blood if he had any.
The writer’s version. But I knew what he meant: he was a hunk of putrid metal. A bad excuse for humanity, almost humorously lacking in anything remotely looking like a man. If you went back even thirty years and showed somebody Budlit’s picture, they’d think he was a replica of how robots were imagined another hundred years before that. Boxes for body parts.
“Good” he said, fixing me with his eyes. “You see it. Now. Do you think Lord Gressley, sitting up in that mansion, gave a shit about my rusting parts? About yours? Look to the streets, my friend. Look to them. What do you see? I’ll tell you what I see. Bunched up scrap piles with legs. Machines following machines. Slaving for people who spent the last century amassing wealth, hording it, and investing every penny of it in organics and flesh preservation technologies.”
Correct, Mr Budlit. Body preservation is expensive. Everybody knows this. We are a dying race. Everybody knows this. What, exactly, is your point?
I wrote that down — What, exactly, is his point? — and circled it, to remind me not to put it in my draft.
The machines will replace us, they used to say.
With some effort, Budlit pulled himself up and moved to the bed. We were face to face now. “You, you seem well brought up enough. You’ve probably got bone under there some where. Real, honest-to-God human bone. Me? I’ve got more in common with Alexa than Gressley. Maybe even you, and you’re not even a millionth as rich as he is.”
His right arm jerked, landed on his knee softly. Budlit placed his hand under his chin. “That man,” he said. “Do you know he’s the grandson of a member of the House of Lords? His family sat there, decade after decade, with their fellow Skins, passing laws that slowly stripped us. People like me. People like you. All of us.”
I made another note, also circled. The last child born without preservatives or prosthetics was at the turn of the century. The girl lasted 15 weeks.
“It makes me sick,” he said.
“I understand”, I told him.
“Do you? You should have seen it. The house. Heavily guarded but so easy to hack. Thought he was untouchable, up on his hill. The King in his castle, counting his bodies up.”
This was the good stuff. This was what I needed: something more than background. I kept his gaze, carefully, while I moved my pen.
“Like an art gallery, it was. Room after room, case after case. Disgusting. ‘Torso, white 31-year-old male’. ‘Leg, twenty-year-old Asian female’. Every one of them, displayed. There he was, all alone, in that huge, empty house, living out every life his stinking money could afford him.”
I could see it. Write, it maybe, it wasn’t too on the nose. Lord Gressley, like Howard Hughes or Charles Kane, wandering from case to case, disconnecting one limb to attach another. Ambling to a mirror. Looking through young, green eyes at toned, athletic legs. Returning to his drawing room, making a drink. Shouting at himself because the collage is incorrect. Throwing his drink across the room. Returning to the cases, swapping out his eyes. Will that do? Adding fussy, model’s hands. Surely this time? And then a sound. A footstep. Something outside? But there can be no one there. Is it time? And then another footstep. Another. Closer now…
Budlit laughed. It sounded like a sneer. “Did they tell you how I found him? He was in the bathroom. Looking at himself. Touching himself. Rubbing his own chest, or whoever’s chest it should have been. He spotted me from the mirror. You should have seen his face. His pathetic, perverted face, moving from pleasure to fear. He knew. He knew what would happen.”
His face, one of a thousand wearable faces, contorted in sheer horror. He knew he was at the end.
“He didn’t even try to run. But he begged.”
This was the moment. This was why I’d come.
“And do you know what I said, Mr Green?”
This was what the world wanted. All the details. In the killer’s words.
“Come here, and I’ll tell you.”
I paused for a moment. Calculated the risk. A smart, angry killer. An officer within screaming distance.
I inched closer. His eyes were on me but he barely moved. He was calm. I stopped when I was close enough to smell his oily wound, and folded my arms.
“Come closer,” he said, compelling me to crouch.
I leaned in. He pulled himself up. He put his hand on my arm, too hard, and I dropped my pen. Then he whispered. “This is what I said: ‘We remember. We remember, Gressley.’ ”
He released his grip. I stumbled back to the corner of the cell. I watched him for a moment.
“You’re done, Marcus. All of us are done. ”
Those were his last words to me. I sat there awkwardly, hoping the mere fact of my presence might be enough to spawn a diatribe. Reluctantly, after ten minutes, I called the guard. As I backed away, Budlit would not stop looking at me, and he would not stop smiling.
Martin Budlit to Stand Trial for Lord Gressley Murder
Reporting by Marcus Green
The hunt for the killer of Lord Gressley, the eccentric billionaire, ended yesterday when the man in question handed himself over to the police.
Martin Budlit, a 55-year-old man born in Manchester, confessed to the crime, which took place at Gressley Manor on the outskirts of the city.
It is believed that Budlit circumnavigated the Manor’s security systems by connecting himself directly with the circuitry, at near fatal cost. Once inside, Budlit cornered Lord Gressley and, according to the police report obtained by this newspaper, forced him to engage in unspeakable acts.
At the scene, several body parts were found: some had been used to beat Lord Gressley, others bore marks suggesting sustained biting.
As for Lord Gressley: a single, connected body has not been identified. Though inconclusive, the report speculates that Budlit required the Lord to eat many of his own body parts, of which the report suggests that there were dozens.
Many of these parts, each licensed under Lord Gressley’s name, were missing. As yet, their whereabouts are unclear: the police are investigating the possibility that Budlit’s motive was financial, with arrangements made to sell them on the black market.
Due to the number of bodies present at the scene, it is expected that the court will try Mr Budlit on several murder counts. Ms Kelly Treptow, the public defender assigned to him, has declined to comment.
As yet, the accused has also declined to comment.
The last surviving member of the family, Lord Gressley leaves behind no heirs. A spokesperson for the Gressley Estate said: “The death of Robert Gressley is a shock to us all. A dedicated philanthropist, Lord Gressley provided this country with hospitals, homeless shelters and schools. Let it be known that his murder was a barbaric act. It is the Estate’s intention to donate what remains of Robert’s assets to the ever-promising research of artificial organics. In so doing, we hope that his legacy may reflect the way in which he lived his life.”
Mr Budlit will be tried by jury, in three days time, at Manchester Crown Court. If found guilty, he will receive the death sentence.
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