Tamas, dark river
Bringing the Isis to the London Eye
Sailing the skulls of babies out to sea.
Under the empty stare of the London Eye, in the shadow of Westminster Bridge, two men in Savile Row suits were burying a man in mud.
He was putting up a fight, a tribute to the tenacity of the underdog, but it was hard to battle the suck of centuries; the riverbed was reaching for his spine, dragging him down. He slapped and flapped and panted with panic as he tried to tackle the slippery haul of the mud.
The stench of it made one of the killers lift a pink polka-dotted handkerchief to his nostrils. His free hand was holding an umbrella as tightly furled as the yellow rosebud in his buttonhole. His associate had a matching umbrella, its handle carved from dark wood, highly polished.
Their victim flopped and slopped at their feet. With the steel tips of their twin umbrellas, the clubmen poked his body back into the ooze, like fishermen spearing salmon.
He was taking a long time to die.
Great grey pleats of mud rose and then receded as his floundering became ineffectual. A crude belching echoed under the bridge as the Thames attempted to digest this latest traitor.
“Is it me,” one of the clubmen asked the other, “or is this getting harder?”
“It’s the heatwave,” his companion replied, “global warming. Not enough rain.”
To their right, the skeleton of a shopping trolley surfaced from the low tide in a rusting salute. All around the dying man inelegant mementoes emerged from the mudflat, marking out what was to be his grave. Empty beer bottles and house-bricks, crisp packets coated in a glaze of grey, fired by the dry heat of day into abstract sculptures.
“He’s coming back up,” one of the clubmen warned the other.
They attacked his torso with the steel tips until it made a sound like a perforated bladder.
“All done.” The first man struggled to extract his umbrella from between the ribs of the long mound in the mud. They cleaned the weapons with the polka-dotted handkerchiefs before weighting the cotton with a pair of fist-sized stones and tossing them after the corpse.
The Thames gave a final burp, and took the evidence down.
Deep, deep down.
High tide came, and went. The place where the men had stood was swallowed up and, when the tide receded, their footprints had been washed away. Night fell, and rain. The river ran on.
Just before dawn the next day the tide turned with treacherous indifference, eddying until the remains sprang free from their bed like a shucked oyster and rose, bloated by mud, to join the rest of the jetsam on the shore.
Policemen descended, muttering, their reflections guttering at the water’s edge.
No witnesses, other than the river.
Bit by bit, the Thames gave up its chaos. One by one, the forensic boxes filled.
Whispers of steel recovered from the torso were matched to the muddied tips of a pair of umbrellas propped like swords inside the doors of a private gentlemen’s club in Westminster, the mud an exact match for the old river’s bed.
Tamas, dark river, bringing the Isis to the London Eye, sailing the skulls of babies out to sea.
Sarah Hilary won the Fish Historical-Crime Contest with Fall River, August 1892, and has two stories in the Fish anthology 2008. She was a runner-up in the Biscuit Short Story Contest 2008. MO: Crimes of Practice, the Crime Writers’ Association anthology, features Sarah’s story, “One Last Pick-Up”. Her work appears in Smokelong Quarterly, Literary Fever, Every Day Fiction, Ranfurly Review and Zygote in my Coffee. Sarah blogs at http://sarah-crawl-space.blogspot.com/.