He was a timid, soft-spoken, rather shabby man.
He lived in a two-roomed flat, in a tenement near one of the city’s largest railway stations.
At the office he spoke little, replying only to questions directly related to his work.
Everyday he ate his lunch at a small snack bar where they served journalists and typists with sandwiches and coffee.
At the same time, everyday, he traveled the same route home.
He always wore the same clothes and he wore glasses for reading.
He was never known to ‘go’ anywhere in particular.
He was not on the telephone.
Dr. Moss (for it is he who has provided these details) has visited Brome’s flat. He tells me that it is totally unremarkable; to describe it would be a bore. Just imagine any dingy, untidy rooms.
Dr. Moss has sent me some photographs of the man and I have them in front of me as I write. They were taken at the asylum, so they have that clinical, impersonal look about them that brings to mind the images one finds in medical text books. Nevertheless I need them because the face I wish to describe is so anonymous that without it I should be at loss to remember it.
Although the photos are in black and white I know that the hair is light brown and thinning and that the eyes behind the spectacles are a watery blue colour. I know that there are lines creeping across the forehead and out of the corner of the eye sockets in a fine network, that the teeth are in a good condition, that three are filled, one is slightly chipped. His mouth is thin. His eyebrows are only faintly discernable.
What else can I say?
Gazing up at me is one of those blank faces you see everyday on the tube, on the buses, down subways, on TV, delivering the milk, serving you in shops, floating passed you in streets. When describing such a face all the usual adjectives are relevant; ‘drab’, ‘dull’, ‘featureless’, ‘banal’ and so on. Yet for all its featurelessness, for all its drabness it represents an enigma. This face represents a stupendous conundrum the implications of which are as bizarre as they are tragic and as grotesque as they are astounding.
Dr. Moss has been treating Brome for several months now and in that time little progress has been made. He admits that it is beyond his powers to bring about a ‘cure’ of any sort. Rehabilitation is impossible. He also admits that for the moment he cannot unravel the conundrum.
But I know Dr. Moss. He is man of patience; a painstaking investigator utterly committed to charting the inscrutable activities of the mind. We shall learn all, eventually.
In the meantime I shall record, in plain language, all that we know so far.
The bare facts (or most of them) have been reported already but in such a way that only someone with inside information could interpret them and only in journals or papers that the general reader would not find on a station bookstall. For example, the curious researcher may consult: Un contribution a l’etude de l’affair Brome by J.T. Trevisard (Cahiers Medico-Psychologique, Vol.10, pp. 49-93). In any case the bare facts are never enough, as you well know.
If you read the newspapers looking for the unaccountable or untoward you may recall the odd column or two describing how a body was found on the tracks outside a large railway terminus. It was the nude corpse of a young woman. It had been run over by incoming express: not exactly front-page news, especially in view of the serious political events dominating the media at that time.
There were, however, some curious features about this body, which only came to light after the pathologists had examined it.
It was assumed, at first, because of the absence of clothing that she had been the victim of a sexual assault. This theory was widely accepted as credible largely because of the sinister reputation enjoyed by the locality, characterized as it was by gloomy passages, tortuous alleyways and derelict warehouses. One of the more scurrilous tabloids ran a story based on a hypothetical solution to the mystery, painting an expressionistic picture of Jack-the-Ripper-type horrors worthy of any penny dreadful. This so irritated the police that a clampdown of information was ordered.
The task of ascertaining the identity of the victim proved to be extremely difficult. The body was far too mangled by the passage of the train for the experts to deduce anything about the wounds. Although the face was remarkable (as we shall see) it did not match any photograph in the records of prostitutes or missing persons. As these somewhat baffling factors began to emerge new hypotheses were put forward. Suicide, madness, misadventure – they ran through a whole gamut of scenarios – some stupid, some scandalous, some merely sensational, some very plausible and others utterly fantastic. None of them were sustainable in the light of the contradictory facts.
Soon, information made available by the forensic people posed more problems. Firstly there was a report which stated that the woman must have been dead for days before falling onto the tracks. The flesh, they said, despite an outer semblance of freshness, was in an advanced state of decay. Then there was the winding sheet delivered to the temporary incident room by the railway authorities the day after the discovery. It had been picked up by an engineer several yards down the line from the spot where the body had been found. Certain stains and tears in the fabric seemed inexplicable – it was as though someone had slashed at it with a jagged instrument like a broken bottle.
Each revelation was more perplexing than the last.
The pathologists were forced to admit, after analysing the contents of the stomach, that the subject had been eating human flesh. This aspect of the case was amply corroborated by the strange shape of the subject’s teeth which were so long and so sharp in some cases that an otherwise conservative medical man used the word ‘fangs’ in his report without the least fear of being accused of exaggeration. Moreover, traces of human blood were found in the mouth as well as several shreds of flesh that was decaying at a different rate from that of the subject’s own body. Similar grisly evidence had been discovered beneath the fingernails (which, like the teeth, were unusually long and pointed) indicating that others were involved in the mystery.
One was forced to the unsavory conclusion that the subject had not only been eating human flesh but that she herself had been clinically dead at the time.
I have not seen the remains myself but I have closely inspected many authorized photos, which I feel compelled to describe. Miraculously the face was almost untouched – only the cheeks were disfigured a by a few minor abrasions The features were contorted into an expression that I could only classify as ‘superhuman’ in its combination of ferocity, hunger and attraction.
The photos are in colour, so I record with certainty that the flesh was very white, that there were deep shadows where it had sunk into the cavities of the eye sockets and beneath the zygomatic bones. The sight of the teeth revolted me, particularly the pictures of the one or two that had been extracted for detailed observation by dental specialists from the Natural History Museum.
The picture of the hand, with its extraordinary fingernails, should only be viewed if you have nerves of steel, and sensibilities impervious to horror.
I must mention the peculiar qualities of the eyes. They were wide open and staring – not upwards as is usual but outwards, straight out at the viewer. They project, even in death, a living, intangible, alien energy which caused me to clench my jaw muscles involuntarily. Dr. Moss has had a plaster scale model of the head made, which he keeps, on a table in his study. I said that I would like a copy but he forbade it. It is the face of a complicated intelligence.
However, to continue:
When, after an exhaustive search of the buildings in the locality of the find, Bertrand Brome was discovered he was suffering from that impregnable mental paralysis which grips him even now. It is as though he has suffered a wrenching of his sensibilities so profound that he is no longer of this world. He was immediately categorised, and consequently certified, as an irreclaimable lunatic. His chest and throat were covered with relatively superficial lacerations.
The interesting point about the discovery of Brome is that the police were ‘tipped off’ by an old derelict, a meths drinker, one of that ever-growing tribe of down-and-outs who infest the more dilapidated areas of the city. This meths-drinker (he is reported as possessing a ‘remarkably unpleasant’ appearance) wandered into the temporary police incident room at the station and imparted certain information which allowed the search to be narrowed down to a small sector of the locality. This man arouses my suspicion because these derelicts are not prone to cooperate with the police, even at the best of times; for one of them to actually volunteer information is unheard-of. Needless to say this sinister figure has vanished into the shadows from whence he so fortuitously appeared.
As a result of this unexpected informational windfall the authorities eventually converged on that fateful warehouse where they uncovered the hitherto anonymous Bertrand Brome, crouched in the corner of a room overlooking the railway. An interlaced network of electric cables and overhead wires were clearly visible from a small window nearby, a reflection, as it were, of the interlaced network of lines that disfigured his flabby chest and palpitating throat. Every so often he whimpered like a starving dog. Every so often he scrabbled fiercely at the splintered wooden door.
His fingernails were cracked and bloody. His eyes were already fixed in that catatonic stare which Dr. Renfield of the South Middlesex hospital has been unable to explain in terms of orthodox psychopathology.
Downstairs a corpse was discovered lying just inside the double doors which had to be forced open because they were locked with powerful padlocks from the inside. This corpse, it transpired, was that of the caretaker, an individual named Smith who earned a wretched living guarding the warehouse on behalf of its absentee owners – a firm of cardboard box manufacturers who rarely used the place. His throat had been completely torn away and large lumps of flesh had been ripped out of his back, thighs, and wrists; it was as though he had been overwhelmed by some large carnivorous animal. I am told that a peculiar smell of burning pervaded the lobby where these grisly remains were discovered although no evidence of a fire could be found.
On the face of the victim was an expression of absolute terror.
A thorough search of the ground floor revealed several large packing cases of ominous shape under a tarpaulin in a corner.
An annex beneath a rusting metal staircase had been converted into a crude kitchen area; there was a stove for toasting bread and frying eggs, a small, battered refrigerator containing nothing but an old carton of pasteurized milk and a large quantity of ice cubes. The sink was small, deep and box-like. In contrast to its surroundings the sink was very clean. There was no trace of the ground-in grime one would have expected and its white enamel was spattered with a horrible constellation of brilliant red droplets — it was as though someone had hurriedly washed their hands only minutes before the arrival of the authorities. But who?
And who had padlocked the door on the inside?
And how had they escaped from the building?
These are unanswered, perhaps unanswerable, questions.
Yesterday Dr. Moss and I visited the place to examine for our selves the scene of the crime.
We stood for a moment outside the door (still splintered where the police had forced their way in) and surveyed the dismal environment. It was a depressing place not in the least enlivened by the cold glare of the March sunlight. The earth was yellowish and clay like. In the middle distance a couple of small fires burned, indicating demolition activity – for all the buildings in the sector were condemned. The warehouse itself stood defiant amidst the debris like an impregnable castle, its inviolability in no way impaired by its flaking brickwork and sagging gutters. The airbricks by our feet were choked with dirt and filth. Inside, I knew, there would be large patches of damp disfiguring the once brilliant whitewashed walls.
Inside we inspected the boxes again but found nothing of significance.
We climbed the rusting, iron stairs, as Brome himself must have done so many times. I pictured him driven by vile cravings, which cannot be explained either by his personal psychology or his family history. On the landing I hesitated and glanced down into the shadowy gulf beneath us. I was gripped by the dread atmosphere of the place and was reminded of the phenomenon called ‘agony traces’ which parapsychologists tell us mark certain buildings for ever, turning them into psychopathic zones.
I knew the warehouse was just such a place. A place marked out by the crimes perpetrated beneath its roof.
I knew I would be affected in some way. Dr. Moss, who is much more insulated against such things than I, eagerly entered the chamber beyond. This was the very room where Brome had slaked those appetites that have lead him to a face-to-face encounter with madness and death. Lest you criticize my language for its excessiveness I will tell you what, besides the gibbering wreck of a man, they found in that room.
There were two hard-edged, smooth-sided, featureless slabs rising up out of the concrete floor. I understood that they had once formed the bases for machine installations long since obsolete. There was a metal cupboard. On the shelves inside this cupboard were discovered a pair of pliers with plastic handles, a length of heavy, knotted cord, one rubber glove and a peculiar belt of black leather with manacles attached to one end.
There were also, at the far end of the chamber, a number of glass tumblers half-filled with water and three grubby white sheets carefully folded and placed in a neat pile.
Perhaps the most disturbing item was a dog-eared, ill-typed list of names, all of which were subsequently discovered to be on the missing person’s list. The room was windowless except for one small aperture from which one could clearly see the electric cables and glimpses of the railway tracks below.
Even as I write the police are planning to arrest members of a far-flung syndicate of gangsters and perverts in the pay of some obscure occult group. It seems inconceivable to them that the crimes could have been carried out by only two men.
I know, and Dr. Moss agrees with me, that Brome and Smith were the sole protagonists in the gruesome dramas enacted in the silence of that concrete room and that the main protagonist was one man, Bertrand Brome himself.
Why do people find it so difficult to accept the truth?
Why can people not accept that there are no ‘ordinary’ men? Why not accept that, beneath the surface of the most ‘ordinary’ of men, there are unknown depths of crime and evil? I suppose a syndicate of gangsters and perverts is so much more newsworthy, so much more sensational. It renders such crimes as these beyond the capabilities of ‘ordinary’ people, people like us.
We now believe that the victims were drugged and killed before being carried to the warehouse under cover of darkness in the boxes we had inspected downstairs. Moss has defined Brome as a necrophiliac with sadomasochistic tendencies; that is to say he was compelled to mutilate the dead bodies of his victims before subjecting them the ultimate degradation of sexual defilement. Brome’s case is rather more complex than usual, for he selected his victims from among the ranks of the living rather than from among the dead.
I pictured the clothing he was wearing when I last saw him, in one of the observation rooms. The blue tie crumpled and spotted with toothpaste. I imagined the shirt folded on the floor. It was but a short step to picture his jacket hanging from the enamel hook in the very room in which I was now standing. I saw him stoop to unlace his boots and sit to pull off his socks. I even imagined him stealing a few furtive glances at his victim-lover. I visualized the hairs growing on his legs and the flabbiness of his thighs as he stood near the one-bar electric fire Smith would have placed it in the room to combat the draughts and airs drifting in from the outside world. One could feel them circulating like spirits, rising from the floor, creeping up through the ventilators.
Smoothing the hair ruffled by the removal of his shirt and vest Brome would have stood still, his gaze riveted to the supine form, expectation stripping the sheet away in cerebral prelude to the actual event. Beneath his trunk shaped underpants his dormant organ grew in his grasp.
I saw him shivering with an ecstasy akin to that experienced by the compulsive flagellant who revels in the delicious anxiety arising in those instants immediately prior to the first stroke of the lash. Unable to restrain himself longer, he would have hurriedly removed the last vestiges of clothing and fallen on the inert corpse before him.
His body would have crashed down upon the stiffened limbs and slowly they would have been prized apart until they dang1ed down either side of the slab. For myself I felt those fingers as they pulled, with obscene expertise at folds of flesh which decency and nature had decreed should remain closed forever. I saw the almost comical rise and fall of his buttocks. I heard his excited, irregular panting as both his soul and his body began their laborious ascent towards his own peculiar paradise, oblivious, in his crescendo, of slight indications that all was not as it should be, heedless, until it was too late, of the stirrings beneath.
The dead legs moved with a jerk. Still he did not notice. He was lost in a destructive world of private carnality, trapped in a mesh of flesh already reeking with putrefaction.
The dead hands twitched beneath his heavy, heaving chest, an eye clicked open, as, propelled onwards by waves of lust, Brome began to realize that he was not impaling inert meat but a sentient, writhing, partner who responded to every spurt with diabolical enthusiasm.
As the orgasm imploded he felt the clawing nails on his back, realized that his legs were pinioned by limbs more powerful and supple than his own. Together they heaved and swayed at the peak of sensation, half-penetrating that domain where pleasure and pain cease to be mutually exclusive, that domain where such distinctions become academic.
Teeth bumped against his neck. Lips explored the fatty layers of flesh at the base of his jaw, rasping across his ill-shaven stubble. In the second of incredulity preceding panic he stared into red-gold eyes, grasping this manifestation of the love-in-death he knew he had always desired always sought for, always cried out for. He was screaming on supra-human wavelengths of pain, as do we all.
Then he saw the mouth.
He was deafened by his own scream as it hurled him into a mute void from where, henceforth, he would only be able to signal with misunderstood gestures.
Dr. Moss turned to me, slipping his magnifying glass into the cavernous pocket of his Ulster. He had, meanwhile, been examining the stains on the wall beneath a rusty hook.
Well?” he asked, his mop of silvery hair gleaming in the light of the naked bulb, making him look like some grotesque hybrid, a sort of synthesis of the older Liszt and Dr. Caligari.
What was she?” I asked, saying ‘what’ rather than ‘who’ without the slightest qualm.
“Ah, my friend,” he smiled, “sometime, perhaps, I shall be able to answer that question…but today…?”
He shrugged his shoulders.
I turned away.
I have written this account in response to an irrational impulse, in the vain hope that by committing it to paper I shall somehow resolve the tensions created in my soul by my close involvement with the case. To be sure I thought to myself that I had some sort of ‘duty’ to record the case for others…but what stupidity! I know that no one will ever read this fragmentary account. Who in their right mind would publish this document as a record of cold-blooded fact? Yet I have given the facts that is all – but why am I trying to put together a concluding paragraph when I have one final incident to relate?
Last night we visited Brome in his cell at the institute. He looked as I have already described him – the blank-faced apotheosis of anonymity.
He appeared calm enough but he had been unusually restless in the early hours. The man deployed to watch and record his movements had seen him wake suddenly from the coma into which he habitually sunk every evening and sit up in his bunk looking wildly about him. Then he descended to the floor and began crawling about on all fours snuffling like a beast, scratching at the concrete with broken nails.
Against instructions the attendant had entered the cell to try and calm the patient but his ministrations were in vain. Brome assaulted him with unprecedented ferocity, clawing at his throat and chest, trying to pound his head against the wall, biting at his wrists and face. The noise attracted the attention of other warders who hurried to their colleague’s assistance and managed to pull him away from the patient, but not before he had suffered nasty lacerations of the face and on the backs of the hands. Brome was quickly sedated and returned to his bunk.
Hearing of this disquieting deviation from the normal pattern of Brome’s incarceration I joined Dr. Moss in the cell late last night hoping that at last I might gain some insight into this curious and sickening business. At first glance he appeared to be in his usual catatonic state. The effect of the drugs had worn off and he had just eaten his usual evening meal of porridge and milk. The lights in the cell were full on and he was drenched in brilliant fluorescent glare.
Dr. Moss, in his thorough manner, drew my attention to the one new feature of the situation: the patient’s left hand. It appeared to tremble and shudder in a strange, tense, manner. The rest of his body was as placid as usual. We decided to wait in the observation room to see if there was a re-occurrence of the previous outburst of violence.
Nothing happened. We just sat and watched him. Towards three in the morning the hand ceased its trembling and Brome sank into an even deeper torpor. At half-past nine in the morning we both decided to return to our respective homes. Dr. Moss to a hearty breakfast (no doubt) while I sat down to write this account.
What contact can one establish with a man like Brome? A man so attuned to pain and death that he inhabits, as it were, a different plane of sensation to ordinary people. Is it possible to communicate with such a man? What secrets could he tell us of those ultra-mundane dimensions to which only he has access?
And there remain so many unanswered questions.
The police come up with various ‘explanations’ from time to time but I have ceased to give them slightest credence. After all they are still looking for a gang of ‘professionals’. Nevertheless, I am sure that the key to the affair can be discovered. I am sure that Brome himself, mute prisoner of shock though he is, is trying to supply us with that key.
That the girl found on the railway line came from the warehouse I have described is I feel beyond doubt, but the question remains: what was she? What was her identity? Her name could be any of those on the list of missing persons — and I know that list by heart. It is beyond doubt, also that the girl was responsible for the death of the accomplice, Smith: this fact has been proved by the patho1ogists. What is not clear, however is how she managed to escape from the building – the answers to these questions remain locked, I supose forever, in the mind of Bertrand Brome who faithfully keeps his foul secrets hidden in the cold, inaccessible, fallen world of his madness.
There is one final thing I have to state, the final grotesque occurrence has to be recorded – I have been leaving it until the very last. I can hardly bear to state it.
Perhaps I shall phrase it in the form of a question:
Can anyone explain why, when I got back from the institute and, upon going to my bathroom, I should find in my washbasin those frightful, brilliant droplets of blood? Why?
A C Evans