Downtown Manchester, Friday in late May, the afternoon had been unusually hot. It is now evening and in a large music arena, the main act of the evening, Streetsound, an up and coming rock band are preparing for their top of the bill performance. Hair was being coiffured, guitar chords practised, final clothing decided upon. Julian Hampson the band’s manager was issuing final instructions. Matt the drummer was fortifying himself with some drug or other.
‘No more of that before you go on,’ Julian ordered.
Matt’s disdainful look conveyed all the respect given to one of the many homeless people camped in doorways across downtown Manchester, a currently increasing problem, many of them rendered zombie-like and temporarily immobile by the latest synthetic drug to hit the street, spice.
Heartbreak Hotel, the penultimate number by the band’s warm up act, an Elvis impersonator, was being played out to a full house in the hot steamy arena. An official rapped on the dressing room door of Streetsound, and opened the door.
‘Ten minutes to go Mr Hampson,’ the official shouted.
‘Ok boys, look lively,’ Julian Hampson relays to the band, as they begin their final checks before readying themselves to leap onto the stage for their first number.
Brian Hampson, father of Julian, is the best Elvis impersonator in the business. The Friday night crowd in the concert venue are eating out of his hand. He launches into his last song, confident of a standing ovation and encore. It was an old Elvis favourite, An American Trilogy.
Oh, I wish I was in the land of cotton,
Old times there are not forgotten.
Look away, look away, look away Dixie Land!
In Dixie’s Land, where I was born in,
Early on one frosty mornin’.
Look away, look away, look away Dixie Land!
Just then a pair of knickers hit him slam dunk in the face, and Brian woke up on the hard-wooden floor of his traditional narrowboat, aptly named Memphis, berthed in Castlefield Basin, a former commercial site dating back to the start of the industrial revolution, but now an inner-city conservation area in the centre of Manchester. It is the United Kingdom’s first designated Urban Heritage Park. Brian (Elvis) lived on the boat when he was in town.
He had an aching head having had a skinful the night before after his performance at a local venue, supporting a young up and coming rock band called Streetsound. Jake the bass player, was a good deal older than the other members of the band, closer in age to Brian in fact. An American from San Diego, California, he is a throwback to the sixties, Beach Boys’ era with a bright shirt, beard, and red bandana. Jake was clearly off his head on the latest type of roll-up cigarette and had insisted Brian share a bottle of Jack Daniels bourbon whiskey with him at the band’s hotel. Brian had gone along hoping to find some mature female who liked Elvis, that he would have a chance of pulling. No such luck, the girls were all young and one, actually called him pops! He drank too much and later Jake had insisted he accompany him back to his narrowboat. They staggered and weaved their way the short distance along Deansgate and down Liverpool Road, with Jake taking occasional slugs from his bottle of Jack Daniels bourbon whiskey. Along the way Jake need to take a piss and slunk into an alleyway. Brian Hampson staggered on, oblivious to the fact that Jake was no longer with him. Returning to the street Jake saw Brian was now some yards ahead. Jake hollered to attract Brian’s attention, but by now he was in a world of his own, mumbling some old forgotten Elvis song, it could possibly have been Blue Suede Shoes, but Jake couldn’t be sure. It wasn’t far now to the boat, Jake would make sure the old boy made it. When Jake arrived, he could hear Brian inside, the door was locked and he knocked but all became silent, as the alcohol had rendered Brian unconscious.
Better get back Jake mumbled to himself, as he wobbled and then turned around and tried to get off the boat. He tried valiantly but never even managed to get his leg back over the side of the boat and onto the towpath. He fell backwards cradling his precious bottle of Jack and slumped down on the floor of the boat, his back against the stern, staring up at the night sky lit by the half-moon and starlight. A shadow briefly passed over his prone form, cast by a man climbing over the side of the boat. Jake looked up.
‘Oh! It’s you,’ he slurred, ‘you’ve got a nerve, I know what you’re up to and got a good mind to tell all.’
‘You wouldn’t dare,’ the man threatened.
‘Oh!’ wouldn’t I’ Jake replied, trying to stand.
The move proved fatal as the man produced a knife and stabbed Jake forcefully in the stomach. Jake fell backwards striking his head against the stern of the boat. The man panicked and jumping back over the side of the boat, onto the towpath, ran off into the night.
Something had caused Elvis (aka Brian) to fall out of his bunk in the middle of the night, but he had been too drunk to care. It would have to wait until morning. Eventually surfacing at 9: 30 a.m. to the sound of rain pounding on the roof of the boat he staggered to the galley, still dressed in his Elvis outfit, but minus the wig, his bald pate shining in the light from the overhead strip light. He took a slug of water and filled the kettle to make coffee.
A few hundred yards away a young woman steps off another narrowboat She is groggy, she had taken some stuff the night before during a night on the town. She glances around, and notices that at least it had stopped raining from the night before, but there were still plenty of puddles on the muddy towpath, she would need to be careful. Wearing a hoody, and dark blue running tights, she laced up her new Nike running shoes. An involuntary shiver runs through her body, she had only just made it back last night, and would have to be more careful in future. She was late but the running would help, to revive her, and she could always skip the first lecture. She set of cautiously on her jog.
Elvis needed some air, he staggered and waved to the rear of the boat where he unlocked the door and slid back the bolts. Pushing open the top half of the stable type door, he was shocked to find what appeared to be the lifeless body of Jake Bosson the drummer from the Streetsound, his new best friend from the night before, slumped half over the back of the boat, still clutching an empty bottle of Jack Daniels bourbon whiskey.
‘What the f***k’ he exclaimed, as he fell backwards into the galley, further exacerbating his hangover. Rubbing his throbbing head, and not believing what he had just seen, he rose from the floor and climbing slowly up the steps he opened the lower half of the door and tentatively tiptoed his way up the three steps and over to Jake. He prodded him in the chest and Jake immediately slid down onto the deck, confirmation that he was in fact no longer of this world. Brian’s reaction was to turn and vomit over the side of the boat onto the towpath, right in front of a young lady jogger, splashing her brand-new Nike trainers. She had been in her own world listening to music through purple earphones. Alarmed she halted and shouted an expletive disgusting! Brian did not help himself at this point, merely turning his head to stare at the body lying on the deck of his precious boat. Guided by his action, the young woman followed his gaze and seeing the body, screamed in shock and set off at a sprint back in the direction from which she had come, just a few minutes before. She raced up some steps onto the street.
Seeing a traffic warden and obviously still in a state of shock, she mistook the uniform as that of a community support police officer. She grabbed the young man by the arm shouting,
‘There’s a man been murdered, back there on a boat, on the canal.’
‘Calm down Miss er, are you sure he’s dead?’ Mick, the young officer questioned
‘Tina,…I mean… Stacy, well he looks bloody dead to me,’ Stacy insisted, and the man on the boat who was sick didn’t look much better either, aren’t you going to call it in then,’ she added.
Immediately realising she has mistaken the nature of his uniform, Mick advises. ‘I’m not a policeman, I’m a traffic warden.’
‘Oh, Oh, I see,’ Stacy accepted, ‘I’ve got a mobile,’ she said rummaging in her small backpack, ‘shouldn’t we ring the police or something?’
By now the chauvinistic Mick was feeling in charge and looking to impress.
‘Let’s just go and have a closer look, shall we?’ he said, giving him the opportunity to take hold of Stacy’s hand and gently lead her back towards the canal.
Approaching the steps down onto the towpath, Stacy stiffened and became reluctant to proceed any further.
‘I’m not sure this is a good idea,’ she said, ‘what if that bloke on the boat is dangerous?’
‘Let’s just have a look,’ Mick encouraged, starting down the steps. Halfway down the boat was clearly in view, with a body lying on the deck.
Proceeding cautiously the duo approach the boat to find a man dressed in an Elvis costume sat next to the body, with his head in his hands and moaning. It was not an Elvis number nor was it Brian’s best performance.
The duo paused a moment before Mick summoned up enough courage to ask.
‘Excuse me Sir, can we be of any assistance?’
‘He was just lying there, when I opened the door five minutes ago,’ a clearly distressed Brian replied.
The duo stepped on to the boat and Mick felt for a pulse in the man’s neck.
‘He’s definitely dead,’ he announced sombrely. ‘Oh shit! Wait a minute I think that’s blood on the deck behind him’
‘And his head’s bashed in,’ Stacy shrieked.
‘I didn’t do it, I didn’t see the blood or his bashed head,’ Brian moaned, ‘honest.’
‘That’s cos you’re out of your skull pissed mate,’ Mick castigated.
‘Is that a knife,’ Stacy shrieked pointing to what appeared to be a knife handle poking out from underneath the body, the blade obscured by the deceased’s quilted blue jacket.
‘It certainly looks like it,’ Mick confirmed. ‘But don’t touch anything,’ he cautioned.
‘Hadn’t we better call the police?’ Stacy choked, now on the verge of tears.
‘Yes, I’ll do it now, we’d better not touch anything, and perhaps you could make us and Mr Elvis here a cup of tea.’
‘My name is really Brian, Elvis (Brian) advised sheepishly.
‘I’ll make the tea then, Stacy confirmed, gladly moving off down into the cabin.’
Five minutes later, sat around the small table in the kitchen area of the boat protectively clutching mugs of steaming tea, Stacy asked. ‘Did they say how long they would be?’
‘As fast as they could,’ Mick advised, said we should wait around.’
‘But I’ll be late for my maths lecture, I’m in my second year at Manchester University.’
‘You won’t find a better excuse, I’m sure they will understand.’ Mick observed.