George Richard’s head was globular, his face round, pasty and podgy. When pitted with childhood acne, he had been called Moonboy and mercilessly bullied at school.
One day Norris, the geography teacher, giving a lesson on topography, noticed a cleft between his eyebrows, his chin, and creases to the sides of his eyes. ‘Your face resembles a compass, Richards.’ George flinched as a stiff finger prodded each facial imperfection as the teacher itemised the points. ‘North, South, East, West. The thing is, Richards, it’s broken. Which is why you are directionless and will come to nothing.’
The bullying and the unkindness of the adults and children in his formative years ensured he came to nothing much. He drifted, did drugs, and developed an obsession with body art. He thought tattoos would conceal his ugliness, project a more confident persona.
His father, an undertaker, would have liked his son to join him in the business, but feared the ink creeping across his hands and face would upset his clientele. The mourners, that is. Instead, he persuaded a friend who managed the local crematorium to take him on.
Out of sight in the bowels of the Crematorium George learned to operate the furnace, to inspect the ashes in the cremation chamber for metal remnants, such as screws and plates from surgical procedures, before grinding the ashes and filling the urns. He was soon considered competent and trustworthy. So trustworthy he could access the facility in the dead of night to dispose of the body of Mr Norris.
The next day he visited the local tattooist, where he had the letter ‘N’ tattooed on his forehead above the cleft between his eyebrows. Later, looking in the mirror above the fireplace he admired the elegant strokes of the letter. N for North, N for Norris. He smiled at the urn containing his former teacher’s ashes standing on the mantle piece. ‘I’m fixing my compass, Mr Norris. I know where I’m heading now.
His classmate tormentors would soon provide the other points of his compass: Sugden, Easton, and Wicks.