My name is Hugo Pope and I am a collector of rarities.
It is a collection I have amassed over some time, and at considerable cost, and it is, quite rightly, regarded as among the most expansive in the world.
It is an eclectic mix of items: books, jewellery, artworks, medical specimens, even properties, and any number of less… quantifiable artefacts, but they all have one thing in common: each has a rather macabre story behind it. Some of my peers may find such a thing distasteful, but they don’t see the beauty that can be found in the shadows if one is just prepared to look.
People often speak of the fruits of blood, sweat and tears — but how many of them ever really stop to think about what that phrase truly entails?
My most recent acquisition is also one of the rarest and one that has eluded me for many a year. I have always derived the greatest pleasure from the creative output of some of the world’s most misunderstood minds.
I have a number of paintings on my walls by some of the most notorious death row inmates.
I have one of only four copies of the supposedly cursed novel, The Glass Missionary.
I even have a grainy but highly convincing copy of the infamous video, THeTortOise.
Yet the art that moves me most is, and always been, music. As such, I have taken great interest (bordering on the fanatical, if the truth be told) in collecting the compositions of those rare individuals who are not just prepared to accept their inner darkness, but to embrace it.
I first heard about The Abattoir Concerto at least 20 years ago. It was from a fellow collector, an Englishman named Julian Caul, who delightedly regaled me with all the ghoulish details of the piece’s backstory in his parlour. ‘You mean to tell me,’ he gasped with mock surprise and poorly concealed glee, ‘that you've never heard of Lucien Mortimer?’
I regarded him coolly over the top of my brandy glass, then nodded curtly, a begrudging confession of my ignorance.
‘Well, well, old chap!’ he cried, clapping his hands together as his heavy-lidded eyes widened in excitement. ‘Do allow me to enlighten you.’
I had to repress the urge to roll my eyes as the incorrigible old ham basked in the moment, yet I listened on.
‘Lucien Mortimer,’ Caul began theatrically, ‘was arguably the most successful butcher in the East End of London during the latter days of Queen Victoria’s reign. He had not one, nor two, but no fewer than four large slaughterhouses, butchering hundreds of animal carcasses each day. His meat was very much sought after, not just by the poor common people of the East End, but by the nobility of London’s more opulent suburbs. When it came to flesh, Mortimer was quite the artiste.’
Caul grinned at me in the flickering firelight, his lean visage all the more cadaverous in the eerie glow.
‘But he was so much more than that. Rumors spread among the citizens of London that Mortimer was also an occultist. Word was that he had acquired a thirst for knowledge of an otherworldly bent, and, self-educated as he was, he read everything he could on the beings that more superstitious folk might dub ‘demons’.
I shifted in my seat, intrigued by this development in his story while Caul continued.
‘Word spread that Mortimer might even have communed with such beings and he soon gathered a flock of loyal followers. One can understand why,’ Caul licked his lips in relish as he went on, ‘Mortimer was a giant of a man. Some of the more nonsensical stories of the time claim he stood nearly 10 feet tall…’
I snorted in disbelief, a sound that drew an irritated glance from Caul.
‘Of course, that was merely excited exaggeration. My own research suggests that he was actually a fraction over seven feet tall, which was almost unheard of in that day and age.’
He noticed my cocked eyebrow and smiled smugly. ‘I have managed to obtain one of the man’s shirts. He must have been very impressive indeed.’
I gritted my teeth and attempted to smile back, seething that his collection could have such an artefact while mine went without. Right there and then, I swore to myself that I would have the last laugh here.
‘He was said to have a deep, booming voice and dark, blazing eyes. His acolytes were utterly devoted to him and followed him blindly. Soon rumors spread of unholy rituals conducted after dark in his slaughterhouses.’ Caul leant forward then, lowering his voice for effect. ‘Stories of sacrifices… but, nevertheless, the local constabulary kept their distance. You see, several members of Mortimer’s flock were from well-to-do families, some of Victorian society's wealthiest and most influential dynasties. So, fearful of invoking the wrath of these individuals, the authorities turned a blind eye to the disturbing accusations levelled towards Lucien Mortimer and his followers.’
Caul paused to take a sip of his brandy, the fire crackling gently in the background. His eyes crinkled playfully from beneath his domed forehead, the small black skullcap he wore in stark contrast to his greying hair.
‘But that changed after the performance,’ he whispered.
‘The…?’ I questioned, curious despite my best efforts to not encourage Caul’s flamboyance.
‘Oh yes!’ he cried, raising one finger to emphasise his point. ‘The performance of The Abattoir Concerto.’
He paused for dramatic effect, taking another lengthy sip of his brandy, before continuing.
‘Mortimer’s masterpiece. An untrained musician, Lucien Mortimer taught himself to read music so that he might create it. A process that took the man six long years of painstaking work, in which he tinkered and re-tinkered with his composition until, finally, he deemed it complete. It was the only piece he ever wrote.
‘You know,’ he said leaning in conspiratorially, glancing from side to side as if afraid of being overheard, ‘they say he may have been guided by the otherworldly beings from whom he had gained power. That this was his way of repaying them for the success they had afforded him over the years.’
I scoffed again, but this time it was a less convincing sound and it was met by a twitch of Caul’s lip beneath his hooked nose. ‘There was considerable demand to hear the piece when finally he declared its completion. His acolytes had told their wealthy families and friends that it was a piece that transcended mere music. When it was announced that there was to be a performance of The Abattoir Concerto, demand was feverish and tickets exchanged hands for princely sums. When it was revealed that Mortimer would perform the piece at the largest of his slaughterhouses, the gentry were whipped into a frenzy of anticipation by the thought of attending such a ghoulish setting.'
‘Finally, the night of the performance came and the giggling audience filed through the high doors into the slaughterhouse, resplendent in their jewellery, furs and finery. When the last of them took their seat, Mortimer’s followers closed and barred the doors behind them.’
Caul sank back into his seat and proceeded to refill his brandy glass from the decanter beside his chair. It was simply too much to take.
‘Yes? Well? And then?’ I barked, my frustration getting the better of me. ‘Damn you, Julian, you terrible bastard, get on with it!’
Caul laughed then, that throaty chuckle of his that never ceases to infuriate me, before raising his palms to me in a placatory gesture.
‘Of course, of course, give me a moment, old boy. The truth is, nobody really knows what happened in the slaughterhouse that night. It wasn't until nine the following morning that anybody else ventured inside the building. It was a group of policemen, following up on the anxious reports that the attendees that evening had never returned home.
‘Upon breaking down the door, the policemen bore witness to a scene of carnage unlike any they had ever seen before. Later one of the officers, a man who had been in attendance at the scene where Mary Kelly was found murdered and dismembered by Jack the Ripper, said that the interior of the slaughterhouse made the Ripper’s work look like child’s play.
‘There were no signs of life, not even a hint of Mortimer’s flock and the wealthy ticket holders who had attended the performance… at least not at first glance. However, the floors and walls were spattered with gore and viscera,’ Caul rolled the Rs theatrically, savoring the feel of the words on his tongue, ‘and the meat hooks that hung around the building were adorned with fresh meat… but it wasn't cattle or mutton this time.’
‘They had all been butchered…’ I muttered darkly.
‘Oh, but maybe not!’ Caul exclaimed animatedly. ‘You see, while the initial reports claimed that everybody at the building that night had been murdered by an unknown assailant, many years later one of the policemen was said to have made a startling confession.
‘With his dying breath this policeman, one Anthony Brown, claimed that while it was true that the remains discovered at the scene were those of Mortimer’s followers and guests, upon closer inspection they discovered one survivor from that fateful night — Mortimer himself.
‘Upon spying the colossal, blood-soaked butcher, hiding behind hanging carcasses, a cry rang out and Mortimer attempted to flee. Finally, the policemen cornered the man on the roof, where, wielding a large cleaver of his trade, the fugitive Mortimer was said to have put up a frightful struggle, one which saw two policemen lose their lives and Brown himself maimed and disfigured.
‘Finally, the constabulary were able to overpower their monstrous quarry. Yet, despite the horrors he had already witnessed, it was what happened next that haunted Brown until his dying day.’
I leant forward eagerly. It pains me to say it, but at that point I was captivated by Caul’s tale and desperate to hear it through to conclusion.
‘Incensed by the loss of their friends and comrades, appalled at the shocking desecration of the human form that they had witnessed in the slaughterhouse below, the policemen decided to mete out justice of their own. They dragged the struggling, screaming Mortimer down into the bowels of the building where they hung him on his own meat hooks, the man's own cruel steel piercing his flesh, suspending him above the ground in agony as, slowly, the life bled out of him.’
Caul grinned again as he added: ‘Brown said it took Mortimer nearly two hours to die…’
Suddenly, Caul clapped his hands together, breaking the spell his macabre story had woven and causing me to start with an involuntary exclamation.
‘So, there you have it,’ he said, his tone conversational and normal once more, ‘the grim tale of Lucien Mortimer.’
I pondered his story for a moment, then voiced the doubts that sprang into my mind.
‘And quite the tale it is,’ I acquiesced, ‘but it seems to be one built on gossip and hearsay and very little of much substance.’
‘Not at all!’ Caul protested, agitated. ‘The murders at the Whitechapel slaughterhouse are a matter of public record, and were widely reported in the newspapers at the time. I believe I have an evening edition of the Standard which broke the news…’
Bristling at Caul’s continued bragging, I snapped: ‘And these reports corroborate this policeman, Brown’s story?’
‘To a degree,’ Caul said coolly. ‘The bodies are all accounted for… but something is not.’
‘Oh?’ I replied curiously.
‘The sheet music. The Abattoir Concerto.’
‘But surely that was just a ruse?’ I interjected. ‘A means to lure Mortimer’s victims to the scene so he and his minions could sacrifice them?’
‘You might think so,’ Caul replied, nodding. ‘But there was something listed among the evidence recovered at the scene that makes me wonder. You see, as well as the bodies and belongings of Mortimer’s flock and their victims, it was reported that the wrecked remains of a grand piano were also discovered at the scene…’
My eyes widened at this revelation, as Caul curled his lip in disdain and went on: ‘Scrivens, the bloody charlatan, claimed to have recently obtained one of the keys from the piano for his own collection.’
Caul shrugged dismissively, as he said: ‘Absolute balderdash, of course. It’s clearly a fake – I have it on good authority that the remains of the piano were destroyed in a fire at a police warehouse some 15 years later.’
‘Could the sheet music have suffered that same fate?’ I asked.
‘Who knows?’ Caul replied with a wry grin. ‘It may forever be lost to the passage of time.’
We sat in silence for some time, sipping our brandy. Yet, despite the lack of conversation, we both understood what had happened right there. The gauntlet had been thrown down. The game was now on. Our race had begun.
The hunt for The Abattoir Concerto was long, a twisting and turning pursuit that consumed me over the years.
Yes, my collection grew impressively, and I obtained items that other collectors might have killed to possess, yet all along, my failure to secure that sheet music haunted me. At some times I felt I was near to making a breakthrough and I became overjoyed at the very thought of it.
At others, I heard Julian Caul was drawing close to having it in his grasping clutches and I despaired.
Yet days turned to weeks, weeks to months, months to years, and still The Abattoir Concerto eluded us both.
Over the years I learned to play the piano, paid for the finest tutor money could buy, so that when the day came that I finally laid hands on the sheet music, I would be able to play it myself, to hear the work that had gained such infamy.
On some occasions the game between Caul and myself became rather underhanded, but that is the nature of pursuits such as this. I once paid an air traffic controller a considerable sum to delay Caul's jet on a runway so I could get to a lead before him. Caul himself bribed an eminent scholar and expert on British history to feed me a steady stream of false information that set me on a wild goose chase to Edinburgh in Scotland, of all places. We both cursed the other’s name on multiple occasions, yet on those times in which we came face to face, we always regarded one another with the begrudging respect that one can only feel towards a truly worthy adversary. Yes, we were rivals, but in a lot of ways Julian Caul is the closest thing I’ve ever had to a best friend.
My investigation led me to me many far flung locations — from a supposedly haunted house in the British countryside, to an abandoned lighthouse, to the abandoned Tube tunnels beneath London’s bustling streets.
I even spoke with a paranormal investigator here in the States, a funny young fellow by the name of Roman Proudlock who had heard of Mortimer and the beings with whom he was said to have communed. He tried to warn me against pursuing this course of action, said that the entities that guided Mortimer are among the most dangerous in this or any other plane of existence. I scoffed — there is no room for superstition among collectors such as I — and ensured Mr Proudlock that I would take all due precautions on my search. He gave me names and contact details for occultists who have become valuable assets in building my collection, but sadly, none of them were able to provide me with any concrete leads. It proved a most frustrating endeavor, but still I soldiered on. I would not be dissuaded.
I could not.
Finally, the breakthrough came, just one month ago. I’m sure you can imagine my surprise, when, after all of the effort and resources I had expended in my efforts to locate The Abattoir Concerto, it was a unsolicited phone call that would deliver it to me.
I sit on the board of a number of companies, some of which are very wide-reaching indeed. These firms have benefited from my ruthless and calculating business acumen, and in exchange for my guidance I receive handsome financial reward — an essential asset to collectors such as myself. It was the receptionist at one of these companies who called me during lunch, apologising profusely but claiming to have a man on the line who said I needed to speak with him.
I was livid to have my dining interrupted and assured the receptionist that if this call were to be a waste of my time, it would also prove to be a waste of her career.
She apologised once again but said the gentleman was quite insistent. I sighed resignedly, then instructed her to transfer the call.
The call sounded awful — it had a hissing and stuttering quality that lead me to believe it was coming from overseas.
This deduction was quickly confirmed when the man at the other end began to speak.
‘Ello? Is that Mr. Pope?’ The guttural yet nasal cockney accent of a native Londoner.
‘This is he,’ I replied, coolly.
‘I ‘ear you’ve been lookin’ for sumfin’,’ the man went on. ‘A piece of music. Is that right?’
‘That would depend on the piece in question,’ I said. ‘Might I inquire as to what exactly it is to which you are referring?’
The cockney laughed, a hoarse scratchy sound. He was clearly a smoker and almost certainly a heavy drinker too.
‘Yeah, you might, Mr. Pope, you might,’ he said. ‘I’m talking about The Abattoir Concerto. Someone told me you want it. And I’ve got it.’
‘It might be of interest,’ I replied, still skeptical of the man’s claim. ‘If it is genuine.’
‘My old great uncle seemed to think it was. He kept it in his safe. I'm the only one left of our family so now it's mine,’ he paused and I could hear the cogs of his mind turning before he spoke once more: ‘which means it could be yours.’
‘I’m sorry, sir,’ I replied, ‘But you have me at somewhat of a disadvantage — I don't believe I caught your name?’
‘Oh, right you are, Mr. Pope,’ he replied. ‘My name is Fred. Fred Brown.’
Brown. The name of the policeman maimed at Mortimer’s slaughterhouse. It was too preposterous to comprehend.
‘Oh, please Mr. Brown,’ I cried indignantly. ‘Is this really the best that you and Caul could conjure up between you? You can tell Julian that he's losing his touch!’
‘I ain't workin’ with a Mr. Caul,’ Brown barked. ‘But I can if you don't meet my terms…’
As a businessman, I pride myself on my ability to read people, my aptitude at deriving hidden meaning from intonation. There was something in Brown’s voice that gave me cause for thought. A little flustered I attempted to wrest control of the situation from the other man.
‘I don’t mean to cause any offense, Mr. Brown, but you will understand my wariness. If you have in your possession that which you claim to have, this is something that many individuals have sought for a great number of years. Perhaps you could convince me as to its authenticity?’
‘I can tell you that my great uncle’s old man, Tony, was old bill. A copper,’ he said, picking up on my confusion. ‘Old Tony didn't ‘ave three fingers on ‘is left ‘and, and ‘e ‘ad a great big scar running down ‘is boat race.’
Ah, rhyming slang. Boat race – face.
I have conducted extensive research on Lucien Mortimer over the years, but I have not limited my attention to him. I have looked into each of his followers, his victims and the men who discovered the scene. The description given to me by the man on the phone matched Anthony Brown in all ways but one.
‘Ah, were these the only ways in which, ahem, Old Tony was left altered by his encounter with Lucien Mortimer?’ I asked.
Brown chuckled again, a thick and throaty sound. ‘Nah,’ he laughed. ‘You know what happened to ‘is arse. Cleaver sliced straight through ‘is arsecheek. ‘E limped right up until the day ‘e died.’
I froze. The detail about the nerve damage in his upper leg and lower back caused by Mortimer's assault was one that very few people knew. Brown was who he claimed to be.
The cockney laughed again at my stunned silence.
‘I reckon that probably convinced you. Ain't that right, Mr. Pope?’
‘You mentioned “terms”,’ I stammered. ‘What do you want, Mr. Brown.’
‘I want you to come to me,’ he said. ‘I’ve got a room over the Leather Apron in Whitechapel. You come to me, and we’ll talk about a price for the music, alright?’
‘Listen here, Brown, I shan't be held to ransom…’ I blustered.
‘Nah, Mr. Pope, of course you won't,’ he laughed. ‘Cheerio then.’
I was in the air and flying towards Gatwick airport within the hour. The whole time I sat staring out of the window, not really seeing anything, nervously drumming my fingertips on the tray before me. ‘Could it be?’ I thought, scarcely daring to believe that my long search might finally be over. ‘Could it be?’
The black cab pulled up outside the squat brick building with frosted glass windows a little after 8pm GMT. A battered old sign hung outside, swinging gently in the cold wind.
The Leather Apron.
There was an icy mist of drizzling rain hanging in the air, the dark sky threatening worse weather yet.
‘You sure you want to get out here, mate?’ the driver asked as I stepped out onto the litter-strewn street. ‘This is a bit of a rough boozer.’
My security guard, Marcus, handed over a well-worn £50 note and instructed the cab driver to await our return. A former Marine, at 6ft 5in and thickly muscled, Marcus has very little to fear, which means I don't either, so I dismissed the driver’s concerns with a casual wave of my hand.
Marcus opened the umbrella over my head, sheltering me from the rain.
‘This way, Mr. Pope,’ he rumbled, heading towards the dark wooden doors of The Leather Apron.
There was a low chattering hubbub of voices in conversation within, somewhere a woman laughed loudly and coarsely. The stench of stale ale wafted out to me, causing me to screw up my nose in revulsion.
‘Let’s resolve this as expediently as possible, shall we?’ I suggested and pushed open the door.
Ugly, peeling flock wallpaper adorned the walls, while a heavily stained carpet seemed to stick and tug at my shoes as I walked in out of the rain.
At least 35 people sat around inside the pub, perched on rickety wooden stools huddled together in groups of two or three, each of them nursing pint glasses of lager and ale. Each and every one of them ceased their conversation to stare at the damp interlopers who had joined them in the musty interior. A man stood by a heavily scarred dartboard frozen, his tattooed right arm still raised, the dart unthrown. The men curled their lips contemptuously towards me, then hurriedly looked away when their gaze met with that Marcus.
Behind the bar, an overweight woman with straw-like bleached hair and an unseemly amount of cleavage on display peered at us over the top of the pint-glass she was drying with a towel.
‘Evening,’ she said, flashing us a smile that never reached her eyes. ‘What can I get you gents?’
‘Good evening, madam,’ I smiled, approaching the bar but taking every care not to touch its murky surface. ‘I have an appointment with a Mr. Brown, I believe he resides here?’
‘Fred?’ she smiled mirthlessly, then pointed. ‘In the corner, luv.’
I followed her gesture to the far corner of the pub. A man sat alone, watching us with a wry grin on his face.
At least I thought it was a grin. The man’s visage was a mass of scars, which pulled his features into a barely human mask.
One particularly deep wound criss-crossed his left eye, which was milky white in his red face. I felt an involuntary shudder of revulsion as I realised that the tip of the man’s nose appeared to have been amputated and his left ear was missing, leaving an ugly hole in the side of his pudgy head.
Slowly and awkwardly the man shuffled to his feet as Marcus and I walked to meet him.
‘Mr. Brown?’ I asked, extending my hand to shake his.
Brown nodded, smiling even wider as he glanced down at his own right hand – I hurriedly withdrew my own when I realised that Brown sported a prosthetic limb, shiny plastic with three metallic hooks where his fingers should have been.
‘Nice to meet you, Mr. Pope,’ he rumbled. ‘And you too, Mr…?’
Marcus remained silent, watching Brown suspiciously.
‘Right,’ Brown grinned. ‘I don’t know why you’ve brought this geezer along, Mr. Pope.’ He held the prosthesis under my nose. ‘As you can see, I’m ‘armless.’
A snigger spread around the pub and Brown winked the unseeing left eye at his appreciative audience.
‘I’m sure you understand the prudence of precaution, Mr. Brown,’ I responded, ignoring his ill-judged quip. ‘Just as I’m sure you appreciate the value of my time. Shall we commence with our negotiations? I mean no offense but I should like to ascertain the authenticity of the piece.’
‘No worries, Mr. Pope,’ Brown flashed me another gap-toothed smile. ‘Come up to my room and we can… “commence”.’
Brown reached for a dark wooden walking stick beside him. As he limped across the sticky carpet I noticed an odd hollow sound to his footsteps — it seemed the arm wasn't his only prosthetic limb.
The stairway up to the room over the pub was accessed by a narrow door by the restrooms. As we huddled in the foul-smelling passage, Brown gestured towards Marcus with his hook.
‘I fink Giant Haystacks over there can wait ‘ere,’ he growled.
Marcus shook his head, an emphatic ‘no’.
‘Then the deal’s off, Mr. Pope,’ Brown declared. ‘A bloke that size decides ‘e’s gonna take that sheet music off me, there ain't much I can do about it, is there? I’m not takin’ that risk.’
I stood and contemplated the situation.
‘Let Marcus see the room, so he knows you have no accomplices lying in wait, then he waits outside the door,’ I suggested. ‘The patrons of this establishment have seen both Marcus and myself. You know who I am and from where I have come. You can easily alert the authorities as to our identity before we can flee London. Agreed?’
Brown considered my proposition, then, to my relief, nodded.
‘Up we go then,’ he smiled.
There was no sign of any bandits preparing to ambush me in Brown’s room — in truth it was too small to accommodate them. A small unmade single bed with stained sheets sat in one corner, an old television set on a bedside table with an overflowing ashtray beside it.
There was a microwave with spatters of sauce on the glass door, beside a limescale encrusted basin. Across the room a rickety wardrobe leant haphazardly to one side, seeming to slouch against an overflowing bookshelf for support.
The room stank of stale sweat, cigarette smoke, Indian food and rancid beer.
After Marcus peered through the door, he said: ‘I’ll be right outside the door, Mr. Pope,’ fixing Brown with a pointed glare before closing the door behind him.
The cockney stood watching me for a moment, before quietly saying: ‘Are you sure you want this, Mr. Pope? It's not too late to walk away.’
He spoke without any hint of the bravado he had demonstrated in front of the drinkers in the bar downstairs and I found myself a little mystified by the sudden change in his demeanor.
‘I’m here at your request, Brown,’ I smiled. ‘I’ve wasted a great deal of time already and I should like to conclude our business before any more is wasted. I don't know what you hope to accomplish with this latest gambit, but my patience is beginning to wear thin…’
For a second Brown's face twisted, as if he were struggling with a decision, but no sooner had I noticed the expression, then it was replaced with that same easy, knowing grin.
‘Very well, Mr. Pope,’ he growled. ‘Very well.’
Suddenly he turned on his heel, a surprisingly swift movement considering his disability, and clumped across the room to the bookshelves.
He rummaged through the dog-eared paperbacks and tatty covered magazines.
‘Ah-ha,’ he said, turning back to flash me a vaguely lewd wink and pulling something from the shelf.
As he limped towards me I saw that it was a pornograhic magazine, a dull-eyed woman in cheap nylon lingerie gazing from the cover in what was supposedly meant to be a seductive manner.
My face obviously betrayed my disdain as Brown chuckled, then held it up to offer me a better look.
‘You read this one?’ he wheezed with a smirk of amusement.
‘I must have missed it,’ I replied, stonily. ‘The music, Mr. Brown?’
‘Alright, alright,’ the scarred cockney replied as he opened the magazine. With a shaking hand, he retrieved some yellowing scraps of paper from inside.
I don't know how to explain the feeling that washed over me at that moment, but I can only describe it as a sudden, unwavering and unshakable certainty.
I knew as soon as I saw those tattered sheets, that I had finally found it. My life's goal was within my grasp.
‘My word..’ I muttered, unable to mask my emotions.
Brown smiled sadly at me. ‘I know,’ he said hoarsely. ‘So I reckon you’ve been lookin’ for this. And I reckon it's been waiting for you too.’
I could feel the sweat under my shirt despite the cold London night drawing in. My palms were slick, my mouth dry as, hesitantly, I reached for the sheets in Brown's hand.
‘M-may I?’ I stammered.
Brown hesitated, pulling the music away from me a fraction, an involuntary reaction.
I don't know what I would have done had Fred Brown refused to continue with the deal. I am not a violent man, nor am I one who often resorts to physical effort when I can pursue a more cerebral course, but as Brown stood between The Abattoir Concerto and I, I felt an urge to set upon him, to rain blows down upon his misshapen and scarred head.
Thankfully, Brown averted this course when he sighed heavily and wearily, then passed me the papers. I took them gently, reverentially, my heart racing as I took in the distinctive looping signature of Lucien Mortimer on the first page.
Tears sprang unbidden to my eyes.
‘It really is…’ I whispered, ‘Oh my word, it really is…’
I turned my attention to Brown, beaming manically in his direction. ‘Your price, Mr. Brown? What price for the piece?’
‘I reckon a piece like that is worth, what, 50 grand?’
I almost laughed in his disfigured face. £50,000? I would have paid twenty times that sum.
‘Very well,’ I nodded, trying to conceal my glee. ‘Marcus has an attaché case with the money, may I retrieve it?’
Brown nodded, then held out his good hand (which now I noticed was missing two fingers): ‘I’ll take that while you do though, Mr. Pope.’
I experienced a terrible wrenching sensation as I handed back The Abattoir Concerto, an irrational fear that if I left the room now, both the sheet music and the scarred cockney world have vanished upon my return.
Of course my concerns were unfounded. After removing Brown's fee from the case (which left the case still practically full with bank notes) I returned and found him glancing wistfully at the sheet music.
He took his payment, not pausing to count it or check the authenticity of the notes.
He was distracted and stared at the music with a look of yearning as I carefully placed each sheet in a sterile plastic bag, taking every care to preserve Mortimer's masterpiece.
Finally, our business was concluded but I needed to ask something before I left.
‘Mr. Brown,’ I inquired. ‘Have you, uh…’ My eyes darted to the hole on the side of his head where once an ear had been.
Brown followed my gaze and grinned sadly. ‘Ave I ‘eard it, Mr. Pope? Yes, yes, I ‘ave.’
‘How is it?’ I asked.
Tears suddenly sprang from Brown's eyes, trickling down his scarred cheeks.
‘It's magnificent…’ he whispered. ‘You’ll never be the same once you’ve heard it.’
I nodded, suddenly eager to be far from this fetid little hovel and back in my own home. ‘Very well,’ I replied, starting for the door and flinging it wide, revealing the alert and attentive face of Marcus in the dim hallway beyond. ‘A pleasure doing business with you.’
Brown barely responded, instead staring down at his prosthetic arm, slowly shaking his head.
As I closed the door behind me, he finally spoke softly, two quiet words full of misery: ‘I wasn't.’
Even with The Abattoir Concerto in the attaché case, firmly cuffed to Marcus’ thick wrist, I was paranoid that it might yet be snatched away from me. I glanced anxiously from side to side as we walked out into the wet London night and over to the waiting cab.
As we drove through dark streets towards the airport, I wiped at the foggy windows, glaring mistrustfully at any headlights behind us.
I bristled as we passed through security at the VIP departure lounge at the airport, breaking into a cold sweat when the case left my sight briefly while it went through the X-ray machine.
Even as we sat in our spacious seats onboard the plane, I clutched the case close to my chest, alert for any sign of chicanery from Julian Caul’s lackeys.
It never came.
The drive from the airport back to my home was the most fraught yet. A freeway pile-up, that supposedly killed a man and a woman at the scene, and left another man and a child hospitalised, sent us on a lengthy detour. I became convinced that this was an elaborate ruse to send us into an ambush. I stared intensely into the trees either side of the road. They were covered in missing child posters, but I never saw the boy's face, instead scanning the woods for any sign of thieves.
Finally, as the iron gates at my home clanged closed behind my vehicle, I breathed a sigh of relief, then laughed, loud and triumphantly. After so many years, so much work, so much heartache… The Abattoir Concerto was mine.
I sat at the grand piano, Mortimer’s work mounted on an ornate oak music stand. The stand was one that I had acquired some 15 years earlier, it was said to have once belonged to the famed occultist Ezekiel Pulcinella. It seemed apt.
The house was eerily silent — I had dismissed all of my staff for the evening to eliminate any risk of interruption. A moment like this was to be savored — I would not allow anything or anyone to spoil it.
I cracked my knuckles, limbering up my fingers, then licked my lips in anticipation. The still air seemed to hum and crackle — it was as if the world itself was as eager as I to hear Mortimer’s work.
‘Very well,’ I whispered to myself. ‘Let’s begin.’
I stumbled into my bedroom 30 minutes later, my mind racing, my heart pounding. I stumbled, grasping the doorframe for support. How had he done that? I had never believed a piano capable of making such sounds...
Even now I could hear it in my mind — the unmistakeable thudding of the cleaver, the rending of flesh, the squeals and cries of livestock as they met their end, even the anguished tears of men and women as they beheld their own ruination at otherworldly hands. It was not just music, it was a swirling lament, an evocation of the lifetime of bloodletting and misery that butcher, that monster… that maestro had witnessed.
Playing it had been exhausting.
Hearing it had been horrifying.
Experiencing it had been… exhilarating.
I collapsed onto my bed, too physically drained to disrobe, The Abattoir Concerto still swirling around my addled mind. I stared up at the ceiling, unseeing in the inky darkness of the night, and grinned euphorically.
As I sank into the waiting embrace of sleep, my body succumbing at last to the rigors of performing Lucien Mortimer's eldritch work, my fingers writhed and twitched of their own accord. It was as if they were already yearning to play it again.
The dream came almost instantly. At first it was sounds, even smells, the imagery not coming until later.
I heard the clink of chains, the squeal of metal scraped on metal and the huffing breathing of beasts.
I could smell the rank odor of their bodies, the musk of creatures in an enclosed space, mingling with the pungent smell of dung and the acrid ammonia stench of urine. Yet there was something else, a scent that lurked just beneath these, barely there yet somehow permeating everything — the coppery tang of blood.
The dream was full of the sounds and smell of fear. The sounds and smell of the abattoir.
So, it came as a surprise when the fog of sleep obscuring my vision slowly dispersed and revealed an empty, abandoned slaughterhouse. It was an old building, the paint flaking from damp-bulged walls in multiple places, a thick layer of dust coating the rusty iron rails that separated the narrow walkways that wound through the empty animal pens. The wooden floors of these livestock enclosures, and the cramped runs that linked them, still bore some sparse, brittle bunches of prehistoric straw, and large dirty brown clots of sawdust. The floor itself had a pinkish tinge, evidence of too many failed attempts to wash away spilled blood.
The place seemed huge, and as I took my first faltering step it produced a cavernous echo that reverberated around the building.
I moved slowly, following the designated path between the pens. Despite the emptiness that my eyes presented me with, the sounds and smells of the abattoir continued. The building was uncomfortably hot, possessed of the sticky humidity of hundreds of bodies crammed into a small space.
About me the grunts and snuffles of livestock became louder and louder, causing me to wince a little as I made my way unsteadily into the depths of the building.
The feeling of overwhelming dread that washed over me seemed to coincide with the first squeal. Despite the hubbub I heard it straight away, a high-pitched shriek of animal terror. It was a desperate, hopeless sound — the sound of a beast on the butcher’s block.
Somewhere among the throng of invisible creatures, another cry rang out, another piercing scream of dismay.
This one seemed closer, louder, and the proximity of its fear caused my swelteringly hot body to turn cold.
The animal’s shriek was joined by another, and another, and another. One by one each of the beasts joined the sickening chorus of abject horror, the volume of their cries of anguish rising to a deafening level.
I clamped my hands over my ears in a futile attempt to muffle the screams, yet still the volume rose, hammering into my ears like rusty nails. This was not a mere sound, it was a sensation I could feel within my chest – pure, undiluted bestial fear.
It became so loud, so overwhelming that it drove me to my knees on the grime encrusted floor, a cry of desperation springing from my own lips and blending with that of the livestock.
The wave of sound beat down on me, a rain of hammer blows that left me dizzy, driving the air from my lungs and tears from my eyes.
Then, just as I thought I could stand it no more, the slaughterhouse fell silent.
I cautiously lowered my hands, panting like an exhausted dog. A hot fresh puddle of vomit lay before me – I had no recollection of heaving it out onto the filthy floor, but an aching sensation in my stomach and a vile taste at the back of my throat confirmed that I most certainly had.
My eyes streamed and I wiped at them with the back of my hand, then climbed to my feet, trembling as I did so.
Now the dilapidated slaughterhouse was eerily silent, the rasping sound of my hitching breaths and the metronomic clip-clop of my footsteps in their Italian leather brogues the only noises to pierce the still and dusty air.
Ahead of me I noticed a rickety iron stairway that ascended up to cobweb-shrouded catwalks suspended precariously from the ceiling.
I cursed aloud, I had no intention to risk life and limb on those skeletal, age-ravaged structures, and begin to look for an alternative means of exit.
But the expletive I muttered was not met with silence, instead it seemed to act as a cue for an unseen musician somewhere deep in the bowels of the building. For the echo of my voice had barely faded before a loud and jarring slam on a piano’s keys caused me to cry out again.
My heart pounded in my chest, a feeling of utter terror washing over me as again the piano sounded and I realised I was listening to the opening notes of The Abattoir Concerto.
‘No, oh God, no…’ I muttered to myself as I scurried back the way I had come, suddenly desperate to be free of the accursed slaughterhouse.
A sick feeling of dread washed over me as I realised that I was heading towards the piano. I froze then, unsure what to do, paralysed with indecision.
The mesmerising rhythm of The Abattoir Concerto continued, seeming to fill the air… or did it? There were other sounds too.
The clinking and scraping of chains being dragged toward me.
It was the recognition of that sound that spurred me into action.
Yes, the rusted catwalks might be dangerous but I would sooner take my chances with them than with the chained pianist.
My footsteps on the iron stairs sent deafening booms through the slaughterhouse, the stairs shaking and lurching alarmingly beneath me.
Yet more terrifying still was the noise that met my echoing footsteps – an increased and more agitated clinking of chains, as if whatever was dragging them had been excited by the sound of my retreat.
When I reached the top of the stairs, I made the terrible mistake of peering down at the dirty floor below. I was at least 30 feet in the air, a realization that caused me to grip the filthy handrail for dear life, causing it to shed flakes of rust that stained my palms. The catwalks were in ill-repair, at several points my passage caused nuts, bolts, and even chunks of metal to plummet to the floor below with a deafening clang, while dust and dirt rained down about me from the supports that attached them to the ceiling.
With a shudder I noticed that catwalks continued on into the bowels of the building, terminating at a hungry looking doorway to an attic.
I froze again, contemplating my next move.
It was while I stood in thought that I glanced back in the direction from which I had come… and saw movement.
At first I wasn't sure I’d seen it, suspected it was just a trick of my tired eyes or fearful imagination. But then I saw it again, and there could be no mistaking it this time.
It was something dark and huge, scurrying through the walkways between the animal pens with a deadly air of purpose. It was a figure, unnaturally tall and long-limbed, trailing rusty, glinting chains behind it.
It was only when I realized that the monstrous figure was heading for the base of the rickety staircase I had just ascended that I overcame the terror that pinned me in place, turned, and ran.
My feet crashed upon the iron catwalk, which shook and shuddered beneath me.
But I didn't care — my only priority was getting away from that monstrous figure, escaping the sound of The Abattoir Concerto which still echoed around the building.
It was this reckless urgency that caused me to rush onto the final section of walkway between myself and the door without first checking its integrity.
I hurtled along, spurred on by the sight of the door finally within reaching distance, when, with an ear-splitting shriek, the left side of walkway tore free of the ceiling and lurched sharply sideways.
Suddenly, I was pitched toward the sagging side, briefly crying out before I slammed into the handrail. It struck me in the ribs, driving the air from my lungs and turning my cry into a strangulated wheeze.
I remained slumped against the handrail, trying to catch my breath as white spots swam before my eyes, for what felt like minutes but in truth could only have been seconds.
As I slouched there, gasping, the catwalk creaked ominously and slowly continued leaning gently to the side.
Acutely aware of the danger I was in, I pushed myself upright again, using the handrail for leverage. Yet just before I regained my vertical base, there was a sickening hollow wrenching sound and the handrail broke free of the struts that supported it and tumbled end over end to the floor below, hitting with an echoing clang.
I stood teetering on the edge, my arms pinwheeling to regain my balance, rocking back and forth on my tiptoes.
A drip of sweat fell from the tip of my nose, I saw it arc down to the blood-stained wooden flooring, and was struck with a sudden crushing certainty that my body would follow.
It never did. Instead I was able to regain my footing, precarious as it was, and continue my route towards the doorway before me. I shuffled forwards, gingerly, wincing at every noisy protestation from the catwalk and its struts, until finally, I was able to grasp the doorknob, all the while accompanied by the strains of the otherworldly pianist.
I breathed a heavy and heartfelt sigh of relief when it turned freely, and opened into the room beyond.
As I finally stepped free of that damned walkway I glanced back the way I had come.
The catwalks were clear, there was no sign of the shadowy pursuer I had spied before.
I allowed a wry grin to cross my face and mopped at the sweat on my brow… then froze when I heard the first booming footstep.
It was heavy, the footstep of a huge being, and it had a familiar metallic quality.
The staircase. My pursuer was ascending the staircase.
As if to confirm this realization, a second crashing footstep rang out, then a third. Each was perfectly in time to the tempo of Lucien Mortimer's music.
With a surge of panic I pulled the door closed behind me, turned and ran… straight into a cold, damp mass of solid flesh.
I cried out, shielding my face from an expected attack, but it never came.
I carefully lowered my hand and saw why – I had run into a butchered animal carcass which now swung gently back and forth on its hook.
The room was full of such carcasses, each headless and limbless, skinned and gutted. There had to be at least 60 of them between myself and the far end of the room, and as such I was unable to see what awaited me there. But that mattered not, for I was all too aware of what waited in my wake.
I had no choice, and so I cautiously proceeded, pushing my way through the hanging slabs of meat.
My passage seemed to set them swinging, causing each hook to squeak and creak as I disturbed its load. I don't know what's worse: the fact that together the chorus of meat hooks played The Abattoir Concerto, or the fact that part of me was thrilled to hear it again.
Nonetheless, I forged on, plunging deep into the meat locker, searching for an exit, seeking an escape route.
The room now seemed to stretch to an impossible size, the hanging carcasses creating a never-ending labyrinth. Time and again I cried out as I detected movement from the corner of my eye, only to realise it was simply one of the slabs of meat swinging back and forth. I became hopelessly lost, running into the clammy hunks of beef and pork, leaving my palms pink with the blood that still oozed from them.
All about me the hooks creaked away, singing Mortimer’s song to me.
The Abattoir Concerto was now rising in pitch and tempo, building towards a thunderous crescendo, a moment I longed for as much as I dreaded…
And then it came. With a savage crash I heard the door behind me explode into fragments of timber.
The thing that was hunting me was now inside the room.
I heard it bearing down on me, a steady thunking noise as it ripped into the meat behind me. It was the sound of a cleaver in flesh.
I panicked then, running blindly forward, desperate to escape my pursuer.
The swinging, heavy slabs of meat jostled me, buffeting me from all sides. Now my hands and clothes were drenched in blood — the meat here seemed fresher, the flesh wetter.
I didn’t pause to ponder this though, instead I was fleeing for my life, my very soul, and nothing would hinder my flight.
That was until the face appeared before me.
I screamed again, slamming into the individual who had materialised before me.
I felt in that moment that my life was over, that the monstrous huntsman sent by the infernal pianist had found me at last and would soon end my existence. But I was wrong, for the face was not that of the predator… it was one of his prey.
As I gagged in horror I realized that the body before me was quite dead, a naked man missing his limbs, his abdomen sliced wide open and his innards filleted.
His eyes were wide, lifeless yet filled with terror, while his mouth was stretched open in a silent and eternal scream.
‘Oh God…’ I cried, glancing about me and finally looking at the hanging meat that surrounded me.
Human corpses hung all around. Arms drooped limply from the hooks, the hands pointing to the blood-soaked floor beneath. Legs hung, dripping blood from the fleshy wounds in the place at which they would join hips. Carved torsos swung gently back and forth, in time to the still building strains of The Abattoir Concerto.
But building to what? I could not stay here and wait to see, for I knew it would spell the end of me.
So on I charged, shouldering aside the human remains that made up the butcher’s macabre display. As I did the sound of my pursuer’s blade grew louder and louder, closer and closer.
I might have gone a little mad during that hopeless retreat through the hanging dead, weeping and screaming as I ran from the thing behind me. It was as close to Hell as I could imagine and the experience broke something inside my mind, a piece that has yet to heal even now.
Yet at the point I thought I could take no more, I saw it. The doorway that had eluded me for so long, and beyond it a staircase. I almost wept with relief and hurried towards it.
As I drew close I was finally able to see the walls — or more precisely, I was able to see the symbols crudely carved into them by blades or daubed upon them in blood.
They were ancient sigils, wards and hexes of great power, the arcane alphabet of the occult. The individuals who had carved them had taken symbols from dozens of ancient civilisations, combining them into something new, yet older than humanity itself. These symbols were the gateway, the sacrifices had simply been the key.
Finally, I stumbled through the dark archway of the doorway. I cast a fearful look behind me. Among the swinging cadavers something vast and dark surged towards me, trailing chains and hooks and blood.
With no time to catch my breath I hurried up the steep wooden stairs, stomping up a dirty cloud of thick dust as I climbed.
The staircase was dark and poorly lit, but a flickering glow ahead guided my feet.
Still The Abattoir Concerto played, louder and louder. It was only when I emerged into the dim chamber atop the stairs that I saw why.
The room was empty, except for one piece of furniture — a large grand piano, topped with an ornate candelabra, fat waxy candles dripping down its sides and casting a small halo of light about the piano. Beyond the light there was nothing but blackness, a bottomless, endless abyss.
At first I couldn't see the pianist, I thought that the piano might even be playing itself. As unnatural and unnerving as that might sound, I wish it had been the case. For as I stared at the piano, open-mouthed and sweat-soaked, I finally spotted the source of the music — a disembodied and severed right arm, the knuckles tattooed, a glistening white knob of bone protruding from the fleshy gristle at its end while the fingers danced back and forth across the piano’s keys.
I knew, instantly, that it was Fred Brown’s, the amputated limb he had joked about in The Leather Apron. And I knew then that it was the thing chasing me that had taken the arm from him, as well as the leg, the ear, his nose and who knew how many other body parts.
As if to confirm this dread epiphany, there came that familiar booming footstep behind me on the stairs. I backed away from the staircase, knowing I was now trapped and cornered.
There would be no escape.
Again the footsteps came, crashing and slamming on the stairs, seeming to cause the entire room to shake, the candles guttering but remaining alight nonetheless. Each step fell perfectly in time with the severed arm’s performance.
In the shadows, beyond the flickering candlelight, something huge advanced toward me.
Slowly the figure began to take shape. At least 10 feet tall, dressed in a blood-spattered long, white butcher’s coat beneath a heavy, brown leather apron coated with gore. The traditional boater perched atop a head that sported unkempt, matted-black hair and a long, black beard, the hat’s brim casting the man’s face in shadow.
The giant ascended the stairs, slowly, almost nonchalantly. He trailed chains behind him, each secured by barbed meat hooks that pierced his flesh, dark, blackish blood dripping from him as he came.
In each hand he held a huge, cruel cleaver, the blade unnaturally sharp and gleaming hungrily in the dim light.
‘Oh God, no…’ I whispered despairingly. ‘No, no, no, no, no…’
Finally, Lucien Mortimer reached the top of the stairs.
As the diabolical being before me raised the cleavers to each side, his posture a blasphemous mockery of the crucifixion, the candle light should have illuminated his face, but the shadows clung to Mortimer's visage as if they belonged together.
The only light to pierce the gloom beneath the boater came in the form of two pinpricks of blue fire that blazed malevolently at me from the butcher’s eyes.
There was a humor there, a burning sadistic madness matched in its intensity only by the cold, psychotic cruelty also present in those glinting orbs.
That gaze promised savage, unholy desecration of my flesh, an inevitable slaughter that would cause suffering beyond measure… and then, with unnatural speed, Mortimer swept towards me, cleavers raised high.
I awoke with a start, crying out and clutching at my chest as if to stop my pounding heart from breaking free.
As I sat up, frantically looking about me, it took a few moments to recognise my bedroom, bathed in the sickly yellow glow of breaking dawn.
When at last I did, I breathed a long, shuddering sigh of relief that seemed to sap me of what little strength I had left.
The dream was so realistic, so lifelike, I had honestly felt my very life was in danger.
I sat there, gasping for breath for some time, before finally feeling that the worst had passed.
I was wrong.
From deep in my house, I heard the familiar sound of a piano. My piano — and the pianist was playing The Abattoir Concerto.
A sick feeling washed over me, my earlier tranquility dashed, my mind crashing headlong back into a state of crippling panic.
It was during that moment that I first noticed the thin red rivulets that trickled down the front of the white dresser beside my bed. Confused, my gaze was drawn to the top, where I finally laid eyes on the assorted objects neatly arranged upon its surface.
Somebody had placed a number of thick cuts of meat there. They were lean, fresh cuts, at least a dozen sizeable discs of meat with a thick piece of white bone in the center. Each was a deep reddish-pink, streaked through with a thin marbling of fat, and glistened in the wan light. This was meat of the highest quality, work of which any butcher would be proud.
My brow furrowed in confusion and, as the pianist played on, I moved to get out of bed, to investigate the odd meat and origin of the music.
I knew instantly that something was wrong, the sheet shifting in a way that felt unusual.
Glancing down, the familiar shape of my body looked… different.
‘No…’ I whispered, too afraid to pull back the sheets, but knowing I had to. ‘No…’
Steeling myself, sweat dripping down the small of back, I pulled the sheet away.
I gazed at the stumps where legs had been for a long time, not able to make sense of what I was seeing. Each thigh ended just above the knee, expertly amputated by a surgeon of considerable skill, with neat, fresh stitches drawing the angry, red skin together and sealing off the wounds.
Then it came to me and I screamed, over and over, screaming until my voice became hoarse, my vocal chords bloody in my throat. I wept uncontrollably at the ruination of my body, clenching my fists and shaking my head in a dumbly futile gesture of denial.
It was as I shook my head that my eyes again came to rest on the chops on my dresser. Beautifully prepared cuts of meat, bone-in. Only now did I realize what that meat was.
And I laughed. Madly, hysterically, waving my arms in time to Lucien Mortimer's masterpiece, laughing until I thought my lungs would burst.
I woke then, from the dream within a dream. I was in my bed, in my room, but there was no sickly yellow light. The room was still pitch black, the middle of the night.
It was my own deranged laughter that woke me up, and waking into this, the real world, acted like a bucket of cold water over my head, sobering me instantly.
I lay there in the darkness, listening to my heart pounding in my ears. It was beating in time to The Abattoir Concerto.
Before I knew it, I was humming the piece, my fingers again eagerly twitching to play it. But I did not get out of bed and take the long walk to my grand piano, yet I know I must hear it, I know I must perform it again. This was my life's pursuit, and I cannot live without it, never again. Since I heard it, I will never be the same.
Yet despite this urge, instead I reached for the phone beside my bed and composed this post, telling my story to pass the time until my staff arrive.
You see, I know that I will require them to carry me to the piano.
For even now, in the darkness of midnight, I can see the oozing shapes atop my dresser, glistening by the light of my phone.