ALEX SANDERS WAS what the local people called a ‘bike.’
This dubious claim to fame had come about because it was widely believed Alex had, at one time or another, been through every able-bodied man in the area! Or perhaps it would be grammatically more correct to say they’d been through her! She was what the lewd post cards on sale along the promenade at the time, would display as the stereotypical dumb blonde.
The farm Alex had called home was located down towards the lower half of East Sussex, just a few miles inland from the seaside resort of Hastings, close enough in fact, for her to be found at the weekends frequenting the pubs and arcades along the front, flirting with anything in trousers, residents and tourists alike. Although the latter made better pickings and she’d grown clever enough to recognise one when she saw one.
Not to mention the added incentive of them being gone from the area either by the end of the day in the charabanc they came in, or in a week or two, should they be taking their full holiday entitlement in or near the town. This ensured the lovesick among her ‘customers’ were not going to be around to pester her for any length of time.
She was well aware of her notoriety but chose to ignore it as she did the joke which had been circulating the area off late which said two out of every hundred coaches arriving in the resort each week during the season, were there only for the ‘Alex Sanders Down Under Tour.’ So when it came to finding her lifeless body floating face down in the moat of Bodiam castle, not too many people were surprised.
Detective Constable David Charles Junior, who having been with the Sussex constabulary for a little over two and a half years and in CID for the last six months was eager to embark on his first solo investigation since his senior officer and mentor, Detective Sargent Wilkins’ had retired, somewhat abruptly – it had to be said? A happening which had him sitting in the office every day doing nothing but dull repetitive paperwork. He knew the cases his father had been on and longed to get a decent rank-making case under his own belt.
But his eagerness had been progressively dulled a little more with every boring passing day, for nothing appeared to be coming his way. And thoughts of leaving the police, or at least the Hastings station, had begun to drift through his mind, and he’d had plenty of time to himself for it to take root for he’d now arrived at the bit where he honestly believed he was never going to be trusted to do anything other than filing.
But on that very day, when his thoughts of ‘handing in his papers’ were fast becoming his only solution to the constant day to day boredom, Chief Superintendent Cheeseman, the station commander, informed him of a young girl who’d apparently been found dead earlier that morning and that it was to be his case. And only because, it would seem - it had been deemed suspicious by the staff and demanded it to be investigated fully for like any bad news, it could damage the visitors' numbers? Which in turn could see a number of the present staff roster being told to load off!
Sussex had a police force, which like all the other forces in the country, was low on the ground when it came to experienced officers, owing to the current financial situation Britain still found itself, even though the war had been over now for at the least two decades, for the country was still broke after financing a world war and although the American’s had lent them the money in the first place, it was only right, they now wanted it back! And if that weren’t bad enough, the swinging sixties was hardly the time for one to rid themselves of their multicoloured garb in order to don a police officer’s uniform.
But David loved Hastings, it was not only a well-liked and respected seaside resort, but a thriving fishing port to boot and this offer of a case had not come soon enough. Seeing people of his age parading themselves up and down the promenade was soul-destroying at times. And up until today, he had had to keep telling himself to stick it out!
Moments before the offer of his first case had come his way, he’d been thinking about all the holiday makers and day trippers, not to mention the locals. He saw it every day in the season; small groups of happy people enjoying the long warm evenings standing sometimes in small groups, gorging themselves on freshly caught haddock or cod together with a handful of soggy chips drowning in vinegar and weighed down under a heavy pouring of salt! Or while standing on the pier listening to the waves roll in towards the darkened beach as they crashed into the piers hidden superstructure!
The Second World War had been over for almost twenty years but there were still signs of it everywhere, people still had air raid shelters in their back yards and the damage caused by the bombing was largely unrepaired, and the threat was, it would remain that way for some time to come, for there was little money in either the towns’ or counties’ coffers to do anything about it just yet.
And the government had nothing to spare by way of a grant because of its heavy repayment schedule to the United States in accordance with the ‘lend-lease’ agreement which had been signed way back before the Americans were even involved in the war.
But even though Hastings, as well as other seaside resorts were seen by most Londoners or city dwellers in general as wonderful places to ‘get away from it all’ for a week or two, or even just a single day, there were now new and different storm clouds forming over these coastal towns, in the form of London based rival biker gangs who thrived on committing mayhem among the tourists, and causing expensive, if not irreparable damage to the towns traders’ livelihoods, thus creating the possibility of becoming a probability of the town having to technically close down! And it was well known, if a town got a bad name, for whatever reason, it was finished. Its income would dimmish, and if the local government couldn’t find the money to pay for what was needed to keep it alive, then the town would begin to decay as a visitor centre! And if this happened, even sons and daughters would need to move away to find work elsewhere, thus the town dies.
The thugs, on either motorbikes or scooters, depending on whether the rider was a Mod or a Rocker, would without much warning, apart from some very sketchy intelligence from the Met, descend upon their town of choice like gangs of brain-dead locusts, and set about causing as much chaos and damage as they could, for reasons no one could decipher.
The older people of the country blamed the Government for ending National Service, a term of two years from the age of 18 to be served in one of the armed forces. But of course, the Government was never the target of these attacks and so failed to act in the way the country believed it should.
There appeared to be no rhyme or reason behind these attacks other than simple thuggery. In fact, on the face of it, they were illogical! If these biker gangs had a problem with each other, why travel 80 miles or so to ‘discuss’ it?
The weekend of violence would normally start on a Friday evening when the gangs would arrive en masse, albeit separated by the type of machine between their legs. This meant over the course of Friday night/Saturday morning they would mass together in various areas of the town and begin their search for their rivals sometime around lunchtime, Saturday. And from then until they all departed on the Sunday evening, the blood would flow from gang members, police and public alike.
And the sad fact was the police were outnumbered and suffered horrendously, even though, as in the case of Hastings, they were backed up by the police from other towns, in this case, Brighton. But again, this created another problem for the police, that of not really knowing if they were leaving, in this example, Brighton, undefended? These gangs had, on more than one occasion, visited more than one town at the time.
It was true they caught a few of them, but on the Monday morning they would appear in court where they would receive a £10 fine at most. A tidy sum of money in the sixties, the average weekly pay was possibly only in single figures! But the brain-dead hooligans saw these fines as some sort of heroic end to their latest campaign, and which they could later display in the cafes when back in their own stomping grounds.
And as Monday morning loomed a great many of these brain-dead thugs would be transformed back into normal civilised (semi) law-abiding citizens who held down much treasured jobs, such as shelf stacking, or drivers’ mates and suchlike. Some even donned suits in order to work in the offices of the City.
Brighton, a few miles further west, and a similar seafront venue, had already been invaded at least once that year by these biker gangs, and it had to be said, they seemed to revel in creating chaos, for the police in particular.
And the weird thing about these attacks was that, the two types of bikers may well have been understood as rivals, but they were also quick to join forces to fight the law itself. And it was the Lord Mayor who caught the brunt of it all, for come Monday morning there would be complaints galore piled high on his desk, from hoteliers, shop owners and publicans, the very people who put him in the Town Hall in the first place, so not the people to upset!
But it was the hoteliers along this stretch of coastline who were among the loudest to complain for their rooms were empty and the cancellations were pouring in, which as far as they were concerned, meant they could demand their local constabularies give them more protection and the courts give stiffer penalties to the offenders. But these magistrates were governed by a body of people the same as everyone was so the fine level was not up to them!
And what the towns people failed to appreciate was none of those powers, did the Lord Mayor actually have. Many centuries had flowed under the piers since the title of Mayor actually meant anything … real.