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Authors: Russel D. McLean

04-Mothers of the Disappeared (24 page)

BOOK: 04-Mothers of the Disappeared
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‘What are you going to do to him?’ I asked.

‘Little late in asking,’ Burns said. ‘Nah, we’re just going to have a wee chat, me and Mr Taylor here. That’s all. A natter. A friendly discussion.’ His voice sounded tight. I realized I’d never seen him like this. I’d known him simply as a manipulator, as a puppet-master. He had always been the man directing the action, never participating. This evening, he was ready to step up to the plate, remind people why he was feared.

I’d seen pictures of Burns in his younger days. A full head of black hair swept back from the temples. Piercing eyes that remained with him even in old age. A slash of cruelty across his features, so that even when he was smiling, he looked ready to lash out at anyone who dared disagree with him.

Old age changes what we can do, makes us rethink how best to achieve our goals. But it doesn’t change who we are.

At his core, Burns was a maelstrom of violence. He had developed a veneer of civility, but strip that away and you saw the raw, animal instincts beneath.

I felt a rush of adrenaline. An urge to grab Taylor, haul him out of this hell and dump him in a cell. Looking at him, exposed under the harsh lights, I saw a pathetic shell of a man who was suddenly confronted with the horror of his own life, who realized the price of all the bad things he had ever done.

Wasn’t this punishment enough?

What had I thought would happen when I gave him to Burns?

I knew that he would be hurt. But I had thought that it was a price worth paying to get closer to the old man. Now, all I wanted to do was run away from what I had done.

Griggs was asking me to become what Burns wanted me to be. Asking me to go deep into the world of a vicious sociopath and refuse to blink at the horrors I saw there. He was asking me to become complicit in order to bring an end to the violence and terror that swirled around this man.

Could I do that?

I had honestly believed that I could. And maybe even just six months earlier, it might have been possible. But I had started to rejoin the human race again, to gain a measure of empathy that had been missing for so long.

Now, the idea of stepping into the shadows with men like Burns repulsed me. I knew what he was going to do here, tonight. And I wasn’t sure any more that I could simply stand by and let it happen.

In the back of my mind, a voice urged that men like Taylor deserved the very worst that happened to them. But could I bring myself to follow through on that voice? It went against everything I believed in.

I killed a man once.

He deserved it.

I don’t know how long we stood there, the four of us, watching the naked man under the harsh lights. None of us said a word. Neither did Taylor.

Finally, Burns stepped into the light.

He grabbed a folding chair, and sat in front of Taylor. The two men looked at each other. Neither looking away. Taylor’s fear had turned into a kind of defiance. He knew what was going to happen. He wasn’t going to give up crying and screaming and blubbing. There was an odd dignity in that.

A dignity I knew that David Burns would rip down.

It would be a mercy to kill him now. Slit his throat. Let him bleed out.

But, the little voice in my head whispered, a monster like that doesn’t deserve mercy.


o you know who I am?’

Taylor spat blood on the floor.

Burns said, ‘I’m a father. I’m a concerned citizen.’

‘You’re going to kill me.’

Burns shook his head. ‘Why would I do that?’

‘Were any of them yours?’

‘The children? No. None of them. But I knew a little boy. Davey Simpson.’

‘Davey,’ said Taylor. Then he smiled. ‘I remember Davey. He liked trains.’

‘Yes, he liked trains.’

‘How did you know Davey?’

‘He and his mum lived near me for a while. It was a tragedy when he disappeared.’


‘I tried to kill Alex Moorehead. Do you know that? I arranged for your friend to die.’

‘You fucked up.’

‘Aye, I did that. I fucked up. Glad I did, now. I’m a direct man, Mr Taylor. I treat people the way they deserve to be treated. If I had killed an innocent man, it would weigh on my conscience.’

Any other time, I might have laughed. The sanctimonious shite flowed easily from the old man. He was a master at self-deception. He actually believed all of this. He saw himself as the one good man left in the world. All his actions came from the best of intentions. He was merely acting the way the world made him act.

It was the only way he could live with the things he did.

In the same way that Taylor denied his most basic instincts, denied the sickness in his mind.

The two of them had more in common than they might have guessed.

Burns sat back in the chair. Relaxed. I thought that if things had been different, he’d have been an asset in any interview. He’d have made a good cop.

Then again, sometimes there’s a thin line between those who uphold the law and those who break it.

‘I don’t understand,’ he said. ‘Why you would kill a boy like Davey.’


‘He was a sweet fucking child, Mr Taylor. He was curious about the world. He loved his mother. He wanted to drive trains when he grew up. And you killed him.’

‘I …’

Burns leaned forward.

‘I …’

Burns reached up and grabbed Taylor’s chin, pulling the man’s face around so he couldn’t look away.

‘Tell me.’

‘I … he … I didn’t mean to kill him. I didn’t mean to kill any of them.’

‘But you did.’



‘It was an accident.’

‘And those other boys?’

‘I never meant to … they’re … I look at them, I want to be their friend and then …’

‘Tell me.’ Burns was soft. Gentle. Sickeningly empathetic. I wanted to walk over there and beat the living shite out of the pathetic specimen of humanity tied to the chair. But Burns – the master of sudden and brutal violence – was taking his time, treating the fuck with kid gloves, letting him slowly divulge his secrets.

How could he do this? How could he suppress his own instincts?

When I came in, what I saw was a man with murder in his eyes. And now here he was, keeping all of that rage buried inside and talking oh-so-gently, the way he might have done with a child.

‘It’s a sickness,’ Taylor said. ‘I know I have a problem. I did so well after Justin. The fear of being discovered, it …’

‘You set up your friend.’

‘He knew about it,’ said Taylor. ‘He … he knew about it.’

‘He found out?’

‘He was … he knew … he told me to get help. He told me … And I never did.’

Moorehead had been complicit, somehow. I knew that. All those murders, all corresponding with Taylor’s visits, he had to have at least suspected something. So why did he never go to the police?

‘So he knew? He knew and he didn’t do anything?’

‘He … he was scared.’


Taylor had been expecting a beating. He’d been expecting more violence. Maybe he’d got used to the idea of it, become numb after the kicking that Burns’s boys had handed him on the way over.

He hadn’t been expecting someone to just sit there, ask him questions.

‘Tell me, son.’

Taylor made a strange noise, a high-pitched, strangled sound that might have been the start of someone crying. But he shut it off quickly, and just closed his eyes.

Burns stood up. He said, ‘I know this is tough. I know all you want to do is just run away. But I need to know, son. Do you understand that? I need to know the whole truth. And you and me we aren’t leaving here until I’m satisfied.’

Taylor shuddered. His body bent at the waist, and he leaned forward as far as he could manage with the restraints. He started to make a low, moaning sound. His body trembled.

Burns walked behind Taylor, placed a hand lightly on the man’s upper back. ‘It’s OK, son. It’s OK. Let it all out.’

Standing on the sidelines, I was oddly removed from the scene. As though it wasn’t really happening. I was merely observing. And as sick as it made me feel to watch, I couldn’t simply walk out. Nor could I step in and interfere.

I looked at the two men standing beside me. I had never met them before, knew nothing about who they were at home, with their families, with their friends. I didn’t know their personal beliefs or their ethical considerations. Did they have wives, children, mothers?

All I knew was what I could see. Their stoic, unblinking reaction to the scene unfolding in front of them. It was as though they had simply turned themselves off, waiting for the next order from the big man himself.

‘Oh, Jesus …’

‘He can’t help you now.’

Taylor lifted his eyes. He licked at his lips. ‘Jesus saves …’

‘What fuckin’ eejit taught you that?’

And here, I always thought Burns was a good Christian.

‘My mother … my father.’

‘Aye? And where are they now?’

‘He killed himself.’

‘Very fucking Christian. That come from having a pervert for a son?’ He walked back around, sat in front of the man again. His gaze was steady. He had all the power. He always had the power.

Taylor didn’t say anything.

‘What’s that, lad? Speak the fuck up! So your old man killed himself. And your mother?’

‘I threw the bitch down the stairs.’

That one hit Burns. The ageing gangster sat back and looked at the pathetic wreck before him. ‘A defenceless old woman?’

‘Defenceless?’ Taylor made a hacking sound that might have been laughter. ‘She was tough as the Devil’s own leather boots.’

‘That right?’

‘I was a boy, she taught me … to fear.’

‘Fear what?’

‘My own fucking sin. You want to know about it? She’d hold me down while my father birched the fuck out of me. The pain. I remember the fucking pain. One lash for every sin I admitted to. And ten more when I lied.’

Burns didn’t say anything.

‘She could look at me, she could see my sins. She was a woman of God, you know that? A woman of fucking God and she’d been cursed with a deviant for a son. A deviant. No amount of birching or repentance could change that. Killing her, letting her die, it was a fucking mercy.’

The silence that followed was heavy, airless, stifling.

Burns stood up. He left the light and went to a canvas bag that had been dumped in one corner of the room. Took something from it and walked back to Taylor, sat in front of him again. He reached out with a plastic bottle of water in one hand. ‘Here, son. Take a drink.’

Taylor straightened up. Burns undid the cap, held the bottle to Taylor’s lips like one might a child. Taylor swallowed a few gulps before Burns took the water away again. ‘Enough of the family truths, eh? Tell me about Alex Moorehead.’

Taylor took a deep breath. And talked. The story he told Burns was consistent with what I already knew, except for one major difference: Alex Moorehead had been in love with Jason.

And Jason had wanted to be in love with Alex. Except he couldn’t. Because of his mother and father. Because of his own urges. The dark ones. The ones he truly felt ashamed of.

What attracted Taylor to Moorehead was the other man’s innocence. Taylor thought that here was someone he could have a physical relationship with and not worry about what he was doing being wrong. They were both of age, although Taylor had known for a long time that innocence turned him on, and that his feelings about friends’ younger brothers and even their children were inappropriate.

‘You have to believe me that I never acted on those feelings. I buried them. Controlled them.’

And took them all out on Alex.

They never consummated any kind of relationship, but Taylor was always aware of how in thrall to him Moorehead was. Taylor was in control. He was always in control. Not just in the game-playing way, but in how close he let Alex get. Maybe that explained why Taylor had struck out on his own while Alex preferred to work for someone else; the man liked being told what to do. Maybe it explained why Moorehead had been a model prisoner, too: he had no issues with obeying instructions. In fact, he welcomed being told what to do. For a while.

‘Alex was a natural submissive,’ Taylor said. ‘But everyone has their limits. I guess I found his.’

They argued. Moorehead wanted a real relationship. You can only remain in thrall to someone for so long, even when they think they know how to manipulate you. The fighting got worse.

‘We were working late together, and I went to get a drink. He followed me into the kitchen, grabbed me, kissed me. I … I wanted to. Maybe it could have worked, you know. But all the while, I could hear my mother’s voice at the back of my mind. Calling me a sinner. Telling me that this was not God’s will, that …’ He shuddered.

They quit working together on the AV software that had been Taylor’s pride and joy, based on the algorithms that Alex had developed.

‘He told me I could keep the work, he’d wash his hands of it, didn’t want to be reminded of me. When you lose control of someone, when they deny the power you held over them … it makes you angry. You don’t have the outlet for all those feelings …’

Listening to him, I felt this strange pressure building inside me. My ears threatened to pop, like I was on an aeroplane. I knew people who were into S&M relationships, had encountered my share of bondage disciples and power-play couples. For them it was a release, an equal relationship where the boundaries were defined and the power-play was shared. But what Taylor was describing sounded abusive, painting Alex Moorehead as a powerless and easily led dupe. I remembered talking to Elizabeth Farnham about her one night with Alex. ‘He cried when we were done.’

Moorehead acted like a little boy.

Taylor was able to move all his desires on to the other man, create the kind of relationship he was looking for. And then it was all over. Before it could ever even begin.

He talked about the first time it happened, the first boy. He didn’t name names, even though I knew who he was talking about. He talked about how he didn’t intend anything to happen, that he suddenly realized what he was doing.

BOOK: 04-Mothers of the Disappeared
10.02Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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