Authors: European P. Douglas
European P. Douglas
Also by European P. Douglas
The Brave Festival
The Great Brutality
The Case for Skeletons
The Story of Furniture Anderson
Copyright © 2014 European P. Douglas
All rights reserved.
It was only apt that the hardest rain fell from the blackest clouds when that monster Thomas Olocher was brought to ‘The Black Dog’ prison. He had killed three women in the most gruesome fashion, and his trial had been the talk of the city for weeks now. He had finally been found guilty and sentenced to hang. Why he had been sent to ‘The Black Dog,’ or Newgate to give it its proper title, was less clear as this was a well-known debtors prison and further from the hanging place than was normally the case.
The Magistrate had sentenced him to death but made no mention of where he was to be kept until the execution. This decision had been made by someone else but by whom there were no answers to be found. The rumour mill spread word of an escape bid, that rich and powerful friends of Olocher; the Pinking Dindies, for example, would be better able to free him from a relatively under guarded debtors prison than from one of the proper gaols in the city.
For the journey from the courthouse to the gaol Olocher was sat shackled at wrist and ankle flanked by two big soldiers and with two more sitting on the opposite bench facing him, with two more standing on platforms at the back of the cart. Their attitude was that of men used to transporting all kinds of vermin to prison; their eyes not making contact with their cargo, their shoulders set back and straight, ready at a moment’s notice to strike out if need be. To be truthful, they had the look of men who no more wanted to be in Ireland than the devils bed; they didn’t need a reason to strike out.
Olocher himself looked a little worse for wear; his eyes wore the puffy padding of a recent beating, which made it look as though he was arrogantly squinting at the world as he passed by, a face that many a woman feared ever seeing and one that was made all the more grotesque with the blemishes, swelling and cuts that adorned it now. The escorting soldiers must have had a good go at him every evening after his court appearances-no more than he deserved.
Olocher’s crimes were vicious and frenzied; he had slashed the throats of his victims but not before he had savaged their bodies with his blades. It is said that he would knock his victim to the ground and then pounce on her using his weight to hold her down. He would then flail wildly with a long stiff and sharp knife in each hand, slashing into her (and often slicing his own legs in the process-a fact that brought about the most astonishment in court when he was asked to display his scarred and knotted thighs to the magistrate) It was said that he would listen to their pitiful crying and watch as they tried to slither away from him and that he would wait deathly silent and let them think they had escaped before grabbing them by the head and whispering something awful to them before slashing their throats. What he actually said to them was a matter of salacious gossip as the only witness to any of his crimes was a young girl of fourteen called Mary Sommers who hadn’t heard what Olocher had said as he killed her aunt while Mary hid in a closet, clutching her breath in her throat and trying not to scream out. Olocher never even knew she was there.
When asked in court what he had said to the women, he answered simply,
“It wasn’t me who killed them, so I never said anything to those women.” Witnesses put him at the scenes of all the crimes, and there were no shortage of women who had been on his bad side over the last few years. One in particular had nearly been killed when he pounced on her and pounded at her with his fists much in the manner of the later killings; he hadn’t gone that far that time, but the woman remembered that he had hit himself on the knee so hard during the attack that he limped away afterwards. A former workmate from Olocher’s time on the boats told of his having torn holes in his trouser pockets where he could gain quick access to knives strapped to either of his thighs and how he had seen him fight one time on the docks in Liverpool and swing wildly with knives in both hands. More than a couple of tavern keepers could tell of his temper and his threats about using those very blades. When presented with all of this and pressed again about what he said to the women before he killed them he once again answered that it wasn’t him so he couldn’t have said anything to them.
To most people there was no doubt that he would have received the death penalty even if he had not irked the Magistrate by continuing to deny culpability, but there were still some who thought he could have gotten off lighter with just a confession. When the Magistrate passed sentence it is said that Olocher’s face turned a shade darker and he could be seen reaching for his thighs as though he would take out those blades there and then in the courthouse and launch himself at the Magistrate in that frenzy so vividly described by Mary Sommers.
As the blacksmith Timothy Mullins watched the cart approach the gates of the prison he couldn’t help notice that the pigs that seemed to fill the streets these last few months didn’t have to be prodded and kicked out of the way, they stepped aside as though the carriage was carrying royalty. It was so noticeable that he was not the only one to see it, and a man cried out in jest as he pointed to the splitting sea of porcine subjects,
“All hail the King of the Swine!” to which there was much laughter and jeering of those who were huddled under the shop awnings to avoid this latest burst of foul weather. Mullins looked at Olocher who seemed not to notice the insult or any of the cacophony it created. It was possible that there was swelling in his ears as well Mullins supposed on seeing the wounded face that reminded him of his own deformity.
Mullins had heard tales of what Olocher had done but the man in front of him now did not fit with the image he’d formed in his head of what type of barbarian would do something like this. It was clear from his bearing that Olocher was from higher stock. He was known to always have money and was always buying rounds in pubs he frequented-Mullins had never been on the receiving end of this generosity but he had heard of it. It was said that Olocher was of noble blood but though he still had his money he worked rough jobs and spent time in taverns to escape the tedium of civilised life. There were rumours that when he was not around that Olocher tidied himself up and lived as a member of the upper classes from where he was from for a period under his real name (which no one ever seemed to know) before sliding back to the unshaven and cravenly debauched Thomas Olocher. Of course, Dublin in 1786 was a place that had no shortage of rumour and in many cases it was the rumour or the legend that held sway over the people minds in the place of truth and facts.
It was filthily black now and dull water sloshed down the sides of the street, sloshing mud and animal waste across the uneven and cracking cobblestones and filling the sewer that ran along the side of the prison with new power and energy. There was a smell rising from it that mingled with the wet people huddled together and the smell of the crackling fires inside the buildings around, the result being a putrid amalgamation of everyday life covered in faeces and doused in urine.
The gates of the goal cracked and rattled from within and then there was a loud creak and scraping noise as it opened and ran across the uneven stones beneath it, the wood splintered and cracked from everyday use and poor maintenance. The gaoler and two guards came out and spoke to one of the soldiers who handed the gaoler some papers with the seal of the court on them. Mullins could see the unease on the face of the gaoler, and he picked up a couple of words on the wind as he remonstrated with the soldier, ‘here?’ ‘not suitable’ and ‘dangerous’ were the ones he could make out, but the tinny voice and the shape of his mouth as he spoke gave away all the fears of the gaoler. This was no place for a murderer like Olocher he must be saying, and Mullins was in full agreement with that. The soldier had a look of boredom, and he pressed the papers to the gaoler’s chest and then pointed up to the top of one of the towers of the prison.
“Yeah,” shouted someone from the crowd, which seemed to have grown steadily since Mullins last looked, “keep him in the tower and hang him from up there!” There were murmurs of agreement.
“No, stick him in the ‘Nunnery’” another called out and the crowd swelled with laughter again.
The soldier turned gruffly to the crowd,
“You lot go back about your business!” he shouted at the crowd. No one moved, but the soldier was already facing back to the cart and telling the others to take Olocher into the gaol.
The springs creaked, and the wood of the cart moaned as the first soldiers got out and stood to one side. Olocher was made to stand then, and two more of the soldiers pushed him off and into the clutches of the first two soldiers before they too jumped down from the cart.
“These men will be added to your guards for the time being. I suggest that you increase security yourself while he is here,” Mullins heard the lead soldier say, and he cocked his head at Olocher. The gaoler nodded resignedly and pointed inside the gates to where the soldiers ushered Olocher. The gaoler gave one more rueful look at the people gathered outside before he went inside and pulled that gate behind him. The remaining soldier got back into the cart and it cantered off down the street back in the direction it came from. The filth splashing as it did.
The rain began to subside, and the crowd began to disperse. Mullins pulled his hood up over his thick black hair so that only his face with its almost black eyes and his scarred cheek and wide nose were visible in the darkening light.
“There’ll be no one sleeping in there tonight,” a voice said beside him and Mullins turned and saw Cleaves, his friend from the whisky house on Cook Street not fifty feet from where they stood now.
“I doubt it,” he answered.
“Are you going to the tavern?” Cleaves asked looking in its direction.
“No, I’m going home.” Cleaves nodded, his hunched frame lost in a thick coat two or three sizes too big for him. He looked small and decrepit because of his bent over stance, but his shoulders were wide and his hands large. Cleaves had eyes that were such a pale blue that they elucidated sympathy for him even when he sought none. People had to meet him many times before they were able to make out the creased face and his large bulbous ears and bent nose. He was not ugly as sin but getting there, but his eyes were hypnotic even to a tough blacksmith like Timothy Mullins.
At this moment, those eyes were trained on the high tower of the gaol, and Mullins followed their gaze and they could see a candle was burning at the top room.
“That must be where they are putting him,” Cleaves said.
“He’ll be hard pressed to escape from up there without killing himself,” Cleaves nodded in agreement. “I bet there’s a few in there tonight who wished they had paid their debts now eh Tim?” Cleaves grinned nudging his bony elbow into Mullins’ ribs.
“You can be sure of that Cleaves,” he answered.
Just then, there was a noise coming from within the gaol walls. There was shouting, female shouting echoing from the basement of the goal. A male voice rose against them, but the shrill noises continued and slaps of hand against faces could be heard and women screaming filtered out into the street.
“That’ll be the girls in the ‘Nunnery’ complaining about him being under the same roof,” Cleaves said without humour this time.
“Who could blame them?” Mullins said, and he patted Cleaves on the shoulder as he began to walk away and make his way home.
There were ten women in the ‘Nunnery’ on the day that Thomas Olocher was sentenced to hang, though they had no idea that he was going to be housed amongst them until the cart carrying him pulled up outside in the rain. The ‘Nunnery’ was in the basement of ‘The Black Dog’ and there were windows at ground level with the street where the women could see outside. At the best of times they still had to stand well clear of the barred slots however as running sewers along the side of the road would seep in through the natural drain the windows provided leaving the air in the basement dungeon as putrid as any tavern toilet-it actually took a few days to rid the ammonia uric smell once the women were granted their freedom. Today, with its terrible downpours there was a stream of filth threshing through and most of the floor inside the ‘Nunnery’ was slick with all kinds of street and human waste.
Kate O’Leary, who went by Kitty to some, was huddled amongst the other women at the corner furthest from the windows on hay they had piled to stop it from getting wet. They had a sodden barrier of clothes that held back the dank liquids from getting to the edge of the hay. Kate was very small and was quite warm between the heavier bodies of the other women around her. Her mousy brown hair was unwashed and greasy, and her pale face looked tired and drawn-her cheekbones very prominent due to the shrunken eye sockets. It was clear that she was a pretty girl, but it was hard to see at this moment in time. Her deep blue eyes had a terrible sorrow in them as she looked about at her current predicament.
This was her first time in ‘The Black Dog’ and she was not here for the owning of debts. The self-righteous Parish Watch had grabbed her from the clutches of a customer in a lane off Fishamble Street a few nights previous and had presented her at the gates for incarceration. As you have probably guessed, the ‘Nunnery’ was a local name for the basement dungeon where prostitutes were thrown from time to time. They were never arrested but instead were rounded up by puritan or displeased Parish Watchmen, who had no trouble putting food in their bellies or a place to sleep under their bodies. They were hypocrites into the bargain as Kate recognised one of the men who brought her here as a customer from a few weeks previous.
The women would be housed in the cell for a few days generally with no formal charge brought against them and then they would be cast out as more were shipped in or when someone paid for them to get out (which didn’t happen very often.) It was often said that things were much easier back in Gaoler Hawkins day when a quick handy or suck would have you back on the streets that same evening.
This current gaoler, James Brick (known by the ladies as jimmy the Prick) was a different breed of animal though, and he was not swayed by such carnal bribes. He made sure that the women who came under his charge did not enjoy their time at this establishment. It was he who had decided that the women could spend their time in the sewer running dungeon; they were scum after all as he reasoned, and the rest of his clientele were just good fellows a little down on their luck and owing a few bob here and there. Brick had put fear into the women earlier in the year by saying that they should be careful about accepting the offers of men to pay for them to get out as Thomas Olocher himself had paid for a girl to get out, and they all knew how she had ended up.
Kate drew some measure of satisfaction once she realised why his face was so ashen that morning; there was a sense of poetic justice that he was going to have to have Olocher himself under his guard. The fear in his face was scrawled as plainly as any picture pamphlet. It was no joy for the women to have to share a building with this hater of their species and Kate was glad that they had all to huddle in this corner to escape the sewer water, and she could nestle safely in the mass of women.
They heard the cart arrive and the gates opening, there was some chat and then somebody shouted something and there was laughter but still they were not sure what was happening. It was only after the gates were closed that they knew that someone was being escorted to one of the tower cells; someone in shackles as they could hear the jingling metal and the halted steps and the chains pinging off the smooth stone steps of the stairs.
One of the women asked their own guard at the door who was being brought up to the good rooms. The guard turned and looked with pity at the women, and it was this look of pity that terrified the girls and made them aware before he answered who it was that was being ferried up the stairs. There was immediate uproar.
“He can’t be here in the same place that women are!”
“Oh, Mother of Christ we’ll all be killed!”
“You have to let us out of here! You have to!”
“Ladies, I’d advise you to be quiet, or there will be trouble,” the guard said in a harsh whisper.
“There’s already trouble-Olocher is here!”
“Be quiet before the gaoler comes back down for your own sakes women,” he said to them.
There was no let-up in the pleading and cursing, and the gaoler did indeed come down after a time. He went into the cell, and the women drew back from him as he slapped at them to be quiet.
“What’s all the fuckin’ racket in here?” he asked looking about wildly at them. Kate was afraid to say anything now, but some of the other women didn’t hold back.
“We have to be let out, we can’t be under the same roof as him” one of them said.
“You’re safe down here” the gaoler said, “and you won’t be going anywhere, you lot are no better than him anyway” At this the women protested loudly. Kate as well as she did not appreciate at all being lumped in with a twisted killer such as Olocher. The gaoler didn’t say anything back to them he just started to lash out. He slapped those closest to him across the face and kicked them over in the slime on the floor before turning and leaving the cell with its crying and trembling inhabitants.
“Don’t feed them tonight!” he said to the guard as he walked out.