PIG BLOOD BLUES
YOU COULD SMELL the kids before you could see them, their young sweat turned stale in corridors with barred windows, their bolted breath sour, their heads musty. Then their voices, subdued by the rules of confinement.
Don’t run. Don’t shout. Don’t whistle. Don’t fight.
They called it a Remand Centre for Adolescent Offen-ders, but it was near as damn it a prison. There were locks and keys and warders. The gestures of liberalism were few and far between and they didn’t disguise the truth too well; Tetherdowne was a prison by sweeter name, and the inmates knew it.
Not that Redman had any illusions about his pupils-to-be. They were hard, and they were locked away for a reason. Most of them would rob you blind as soon as look at you; cripple you if it suited them, no sweat. He had too many years in the force to believe the sociological lie. He knew the victims, and he knew the kids. They weren’t misunderstood morons, they were quick and sharp and amoral, like the razors they hid under their tongues. They had no use for sentiment, they just wanted out.
‘Welcome to Tetherdowne.’
Was the woman’s name Leverton, or Leverfall, or —‘I’m Doctor Leverthal’
Leverthal. Yes. Hard-bitten bitch he’d met at —‘We met at the interview.’
‘We’re glad to see you, Mr Redman.’
‘Neil; please call me Neil.’
‘We try not to go on a first name basis in front of the boys, we find they think they’ve got a finger into your private life. So I’d prefer you to keep Christian names purely for off-duty hours.’
She didn’t offer hers. Probably something flinty.
Yvonne. Lydia. He’d invent something appropriate.
She looked fifty, and was probably ten years younger.
No make-up, hair tied back so severely he wondered her eyes didn’t pop.
‘You’ll be beginning classes the day after tomorrow. The Governor asked me to welcome you to the Centre on his behalf, and apologise to you that he can’t be here himself. There are funding problems.’
‘Aren’t there always?’
‘Regrettably yes. I’m afraid we’re swimming against the tide here; the general mood of the country is very Law and Order orientated.’
What was that a nice way of saying? Beat the shit out of any kid caught so much as jay-walking? Yes, he’d been that way himself in his time, and it was a nasty little cul-de-sac, every bit as bad as being sentimental.
‘The fact is, we may lose Tetherdowne altogether,’ she said, ‘which would be a shame. I know it doesn’t look like much ...‘ ‘— but it’s home,’ he laughed. The joke fell among thieves. She didn’t even seem to hear it. ‘You,’ her tone hardened, ‘you have a solid (did she say sullied?) background in the Police Force. Our hope is that your appointment here will be welcomed by the funding authorities.’
So that was it. Token ex-policeman brought in to appease the powers that be, to show willing in the discipline department. They didn’t really want him here. They wanted some sociologist who’d write up reports on the effect of the class-system on brutality amongst teenagers. She was quietly telling him that he was the odd man out.
‘I told you why I left the force.’
‘You mentioned it. Invalided out.’
‘I wouldn’t take a desk job, it was as simple as that; and they wouldn’t let me do what I did best. Danger to myself according to some of them.’
She seemed a little embarrassed by his explanation. Her a psychologist too; she should have been devouring this stuff, it was his private hurt he was making public here. He was coming clean, for Christ’s sake.
‘So I was out on my backside, after twenty-four years.’ He hesitated, then said his piece. ‘I’m not a token police-man; I’m not any kind of policeman. The force and I parted company. Understand what I’m saying?’
‘Good, good.’ She didn’t understand a bloody word. He tried another approach.
‘I’d like to know what the boys have been told.’
‘Well, something of your background.’
‘I see.’ They’d been warned. Here come the pigs.
‘It seemed important.’
‘You see, so many of these boys have real aggression problems. That’s a source of difficulty for so very many of them. They can’t control themselves, and consequently they suffer.’
He didn’t argue, but she looked at him severely, as though he had.
‘Oh yes, they suffer. That’s why we’re at such pains to show some appreciation of their situation; to teach them that there are alternatives.’
She walked across to the window. From the second storey there was an adequate view of the grounds. Tether-downe had been some kind of estate, and there was a good deal of land attached to the main house. A playing-field, its grass sere in the midsummer drought. Beyond it a cluster of out-houses, some exhausted trees, shrubbery, and then rough wasteland off to the wall. He’d seen the wall from the other side. Alcatraz would have been proud of it.
‘We try to give them a little freedom, a little education and a little sympathy. There’s a popular notion, isn’t there, that delinquents enjoy their criminal activities? This isn’t my experience at all. They come to me guilty, broken. .
One broken victim flicked a vee at Leverthal’s back as he sauntered along the corridor. Hair slicked down and parted in three places. A couple of home-grown tattoos on his fore-arm, unfinished.
‘They have committed criminal acts, however,’ Redman pointed out.
‘Yes, but —, ‘And must, presumably, be reminded of the fact.’
‘I don’t think they need any reminding, Mr Redman. I think they burn with guilt.’
She was hot on guilt, which didn’t surprise him. They’d taken over the pulpit, these analysts. They were up where the Bible-thumpers used to stand, with the threadbare sermons on the fires below, but with a slightly less colourful vocabulary. It was fundamentally the same story though, complete with the promises of healing, if the rituals were observed. And behold, the righteous shall inherit the Kingdom of Heaven.
There was a pursuit on the playing field, he noticed. Pursuit, and now a capture. One victim was laying into another smaller victim with his boot; it was a fairly merciless display.
Leverthal caught the scene at the same time as Redman.
‘Excuse me. I must —‘
She started down the stairs.
‘Your workshop is third door on the left if you want to take a look,’ she called over her shoulder, ‘I’ll be right back.’
Like hell she would. Judging by the way the scene on the field was progressing, it would be a three crowbar job to prize them apart.
Redman wandered along to his workshop. The door was locked, but through the wired glass he could see the benches, the vices, the tools. Not bad at all. He might even teach them some wood-work, if he was left alone long enough to do it.
A bit frustrated not to be able to get in, he doubled back along the corridor, and followed Leverthal downstairs, finding his way out easily on to the sun-lit playing field. A little knot of spectators had grown around the fight, or the massacre, which had now ceased. Leverthal was standing, staring down at the boy on the ground. One of the warders was kneeling at the boy’s head; the injuries looked bad.
A number of the spectators looked up and stared at the new face as Redman approached. There were whispers amongst them, some smiles.
Redman looked at the boy. Perhaps sixteen, he lay with his cheek to the ground, as if listening for something in the earth.
‘Lacey’, Leverthal named the boy for Redman.
‘Is he badly hurt?’ The man kneeling beside Lacey shook his head.
‘Not too bad. Bit of a fall. Nothing broken.’
There was blood on the boy’s face from his mashed nose. His eyes were closed. Peaceful. He could have been dead.
‘Where’s the bloody stretcher?’ said the warder. He was clearly uncomfortable on the drought-hardened ground.
‘They’re coming, Sir,’ said someone. Redman thought it was the aggressor. A thin lad: about nineteen. The sort of eyes that could sour milk at twenty paces.
Indeed a small posse of boys was emerging from the main building, carrying a stretcher and a red blanket. They were all grinning from ear to ear.
The band of spectators had begun to disperse, now that the best of it was over. Not much fun picking up the pieces.
‘Wait, wait,’ said Redman, ‘don’t we need some wit-nesses here? Who did this?’
There were a few casual shrugs, but most of them played deaf. They sauntered away as if nothing had been said.
Redman said: ‘We saw it. From the window.’ Leverthal was offering no support.
‘Didn’t we?’ he demanded of her.
‘It was too far to lay any blame, I think. But I don’t want to see any more of this kind of bullying, do you all understand me?’
She’d seen Lacey, and recognized him easily from that distance. Why not the attacker too? Redman kicked himself for not concentrating; without names and person-alities to go with the faces, it was difficult to distinguish between them. The risk of making a misplaced accusation was high, even though he was almost sure of the curdling -eyed boy. This was no time to make mistakes, he decided; this time he’d have to let the issue drop.
Leverthal seemed unmoved by the whole thing.
‘Lacey,’ she said quietly, ‘it’s always Lacey.’ ‘He asks for it,’ said one of the boys with the stretcher, brushing a sheaf of blond-white hair from his eyes, ‘he doesn’t know no better.’
Ignoring the observation, Leverthal supervised Lacey’s transfer to the stretcher, and started to walk back to the main building, with Redman in tow. It was all so casual.
‘Not exactly wholesome, Lacey,’ she said cryptically, almost by way of explanation; and that was all. So much for compassion.
Redman glanced back as they tucked the red blanket around Lacey’s still form. Two things happened, almost simultaneously.
The first: Somebody in the group said, ‘That’s the pig’. The second: Lacey’s eyes opened and looked straight into Redman’s, wide, clear and true.
Redman spent a good deal of the next day putting his workshop in order. Many of the tools had been broken or rendered useless by untrained handling: saws without teeth, chisels that were chipped and edgeless, broken vices. He’d need money to re-supply the shop with the basics of the trade, but now wasn’t the time to start asking. Wiser to wait, and be seen to do a decent job. He was quite used to the politics of institutions; the force was full of it.
About four-thirty a bell started to ring, a good way from the workshop. He ignored it, but after a time his instincts got the better of him. Bells were alarms, and alarms were sounded to alert people. He left his tidying, locked the workshop door behind him, and followed his ears.
The bell was ringing in what was laughingly called the Hospital Unit, two or three rooms closed off from the main block and prettied up with a few pictures and curtains at the windows. There was no sign of smoke in the air, so it clearly wasn’t a fire. There was shouting though. More than shouting. A howl. He quickened his pace along the interminable corridors, and as he turned a corner towards the Unit a small figure ran straight into him. The impact winded both of them, but Redman grabbed the lad by the arm before he could make off again. The captive was quick to respond, lashing out with his shoeless feet against Redman’s shin. But he had him fast.
‘Let me go you fucking —‘‘Calm down! Calm down!’
His pursuers were almost there. ‘Hold him!’
‘Fucker! Fucker! Fucker! Fucker!’
It was like wrestling a crocodile: the kid had all the strength of fear. But the best of his fury was spent.
Tears were springing into his bruised eyes as he spat in Redman’s face. It was Lacey in his arms, unwholesome Lacey.
‘OK. We got him.’
Redman stepped back as the warder took over, putting Lacey in a hold that looked fit to break the boy’s arm. Two or three others were appearing round the corner. Two boys, and a nurse, a very unlovely creature.
‘Let me go ... Let me go ...‘ Lacey was yelling, but any stomach for the fight had gone out of him. A pout came to his face in defeat, and still the cow-like eyes turned up accusingly at Redman, big and brown. He looked younger than his sixteen years, almost prepubescent. There was a whisper of bum-fluff on his cheek and a few spots amongst the bruises and a badly-applied dressing across his nose. But quite a girlish face, a virgin’s face, from an age when there were still virgins. And still the eyes.
Leverthal had appeared, too late to be of use.
‘What’s going on?’ The warder piped up. The chase had taken his breath, and his temper.
‘He locked himself in the lavatories. Tried to get out through the window.’
The question was addressed to the warder, not to the child. A telling confusion. The warder, confounded, shrugged.
‘Why?’ Redman repeated the question to Lacey. The boy just stared, as though he’d never been asked a question before.
‘You the pig?’ he said suddenly, snot running from his nose.
‘He means policeman,’ said one of the boys. The noun was spoken with a mocking precision, as though he was addressing an imbecile.
‘I know what he means, lad,’ said Redman, still deter-mined to out-stare Lacey, ‘I know very well what he means.’
‘Be quiet, Lacey,’ said Leverthal, ‘you’re in enough trouble as it is.’
‘Yes, son. I’m the pig.’
The war of looks went on, a private battle between boy and man.
‘You don’t know nothing,’ said Lacey. It wasn’t a snide remark, the boy was simply telling his version of the truth; his gaze didn’t flicker.
‘All right, Lacey, that’s enough.’ The warder was trying to haul him away; his belly stuck out between pyjama top and bottom, a smooth dome of milk skin.
‘Let him speak,’ said Redman. ‘What don’t I know?’
‘He can give his side of the story to the Governor,’ said Leverthal before Lacey could reply. ‘It’s not your concern.’ But it was very much his concern. The stare made it his concern; so cutting, so damned. The stare demanded that it become his concern.
‘Let him speak,’ said Redman, the authority in his voice overriding Leverthal. The warder loosened his hold just a little.
‘Why did you try and escape, Lacey?’
“Cause he came back.’
‘Who came back? A name, Lacey. Who are you talking about?’
For several seconds Redman sensed the boy fighting a pact with silence; then Lacey shook his head, breaking the electric exchange between them. He seemed to lose his way somewhere; a kind of puzzlement gagged him.
‘No harm’s going to come to you.’
Lacey stared at his feet, frowning. ‘I want to go back to bed now,’ he said. A virgin’s request.
‘No harm, Lacey. I promise.’
The promise seemed to have precious little effect; Lacey was struck dumb. But it was a promise nevertheless, and he hoped Lacey realised that. The kid looked exhausted by the effort of his failed escape, of the pursuit, of staring. His face was ashen. He let the warder turn him and take him back. Before he rounded the corner again, he seemed to change his mind; he struggled to loose himself, failed, but managed to twist himself round to face his interrogator.
‘Henessey,’ he said, meeting Redman’s eyes once more. That was all. He was shunted out of sight before he could say anything more.
‘Henessey?’ said Redman, feeling like a stranger sud-denly.
Leverthal was lighting a cigarette. Her hands were shaking ever so slightly as she did it. He hadn’t noticed that yesterday, but he wasn’t surprised. He’d yet to meet a head shrinker who didn’t have problems of their own. ‘The boy’s lying,’ she said, ‘Henessey’s no longer with us.’
A little pause. Redman didn’t prompt, it would only make her jumpy.
‘Lacey’s clever,’ she went on, putting the cigarette to her colourless lips. ‘He knows just the spot.’
‘You’re new here, and he wants to give you the impres-sion that he’s got a mystery all of his own.’
‘It isn’t a mystery then?’
‘Henessey?’ she snorted. ‘Good God no. He escaped custody in early May. He and Lacey ...‘ She hesitated, without wanting to. ‘He and Lacey had something between them. Drugs perhaps, we never found out. Glue-sniffing, mutual masturbation, God knows what.’
She really did find the whole subject unpleasant. Distaste was written over her face in a dozen tight places.
‘How did Henessey escape?’ ‘We still don’t know,’ she said. ‘He just didn’t turn up for roll-call one morning. The place was searched from top to bottom. But he’d gone.’
‘Is it possible he’d come back?’
A genuine laugh. ‘Jesus no. He hated the place. Besides, how could he get in?’
‘He got out.’
Leverthal conceded the point with a murmur. ‘He wasn’t especially bright, but he was cunning. I wasn’t altogether surprised when he went missing. The few weeks before his escape he’d really sunk into himself. I couldn’t get anything out of him, and up until then he’d been quite talkative.’
‘Under his thumb. It often happens. Younger boy idolizes an older, more experienced individual. Lacey had a very unsettled family background.’ Neat, thought Redman. So neat he didn’t believe a word of it. Minds weren’t pictures at an exhibition, all numbered, and hung in order of influence, one marked ‘Cunning’, the next, ‘Impressionable’. They were scrawls; they were sprawling splashes of graffiti, unpredictable, unconfinable. And little boy Lacey? He was written on water.
Classes began the next day, in a heat so oppressive it turned the workshop into an oven by eleven. But the boys responded quickly to Redman’s straight dealing. They recognized in him a man they could respect without liking. They expected no favours, and received none. It was a stable arrangement.
Redman found the staff on the whole less communicative than the boys. An odd-ball bunch, all in all. Not a strong heart amongst them he decided. The routine of Tetherdowne, its rituals of classification, of humiliation, seemed to grind them into a common gravel. Increasingly he found himself avoiding conversation with his peers. The workshop became a sanctuary, a home from home, smelling of newly cut wood and bodies.
It was not until the following Monday that one of the boys mentioned the farm.
Nobody had told him there was a farm in the grounds of the Centre, and the idea struck Redman as absurd.
‘Nobody much goes down there,’ said Creeley, one of the worst woodworkers on God’s earth. ‘It stinks.’
‘All right, lads, settle down.’
The laughter subsided, laced with a few whispered jibes.
‘Where is this farm, Creeley?’
‘It’s not even a farm really, sir,’ said Creeley, chewing his tongue (an incessant routine). ‘It’s just a few huts. Stink, they do sir. Especially now.’ He pointed out of the window to the wilderness beyond the playing field. Since he’d last looked out at the sight, that first day with Leverthal, the wasteland had ripened in the sweaty heat, ranker with weeds than ever. Creeley pointed out a distant brick wall, all but hidden behind a shield of shrubs.
‘See it, sir?’
‘Yes, I see it.’
‘That’s the sty, sir.’
Another round of sniggers.
‘What’s so funny?’ he wheeled on the class. A dozen heads snapped down to their work.
‘I wouldn’t go down there sir. It’s high as a fucking kite.’
Creeley wasn’t exaggerating. Even in the relative cool of the late afternoon the smell wafting off the farm was stomach turning. Redman just followed his nose across the field and past the out-houses. The buildings he glimpsed from the workshop window were coming out of hiding. A few ramshackle huts thrown up out of corrugated iron and rotting wood, a chicken run, and the brick-built sty were all the farm could offer. As Creeley had said, it wasn’t really a farm at all. It was a tiny domesticated Dachau; filthy and forlorn. Somebody obviously fed the few prisoners: the hens, the half dozen geese, the pigs, but nobody seemed bothered to clean them out. Hence that rotten smell. The pigs particularly were living in a bed of their own ordure, islands of dung cooked to perfection in the sun, peopled with thousands of flies.
The sty itself was divided into two separate compart-ments, divided by a high brick wall. In the forecourt of one a small, mottled pig lay on its side in the filth, its flank alive with ticks and bugs. Another, smaller, pig could be glimpsed in the gloom of the interior, lying on shit-thick straw. Neither showed any interest in Redman. The other compartment seemed empty.
There was no excrement in the forecourt, and far fewer flies amongst the straw. The accumulated smell of old faecal matter was no less acute, however, and Redman was about to turn away when there was a noise from inside, and a great bulk righted itself. He leaned over the padlocked wooden gate, blotting out the stench by an act of will, and peered through the doorway of the sty.
The pig came out to look at him. It was three times the size of its companions, a vast sow that might well have mothered the pigs in the adjacent pen. But where her farrows were filthy-flanked, the sow was pristine, her blushing pink frame radiant with good health. Her sheer size impressed Redman. She must have weighed twice what he weighed, he guessed: an altogether formidable creature. A glamorous animal in her gross way, with her curling blonde lashes and the delicate down on her shiny snout that coarsened to bristles around her lolling ears, and the oily, fetching look in her dark brown eyes.
Redman, a city boy, had seldom seen the living truth behind, or previous to, the meat on his plate. This wonderful porker came as a revelation. The bad press that he’d always believed about pigs, the reputation that made the very name a synonym for foulness, all that was given the lie.
The sow was beautiful, from her snuffling snout to the delicate corkscrew of her tail, a seductress on trotters.
Her eyes regarded Redman as an equal, he had no doubt of that, admiring him rather less than he admired her.
She was safe in her head, he in his. They were equal under a glittering sky.
Close to, her body smelt sweet. Somebody had clearly been there that very morning, sluicing her down, and feeding her. Her trough, Redman now noticed, still brimmed with a mush of slops, the remains of yesterday’s meal. She hadn’t touched it; she was no glutton.
Soon she seemed to have the sum of him, and grunting quietly she turned around on her nimble feet and returned to the cool of the interior. The audience was over.
That night he went to find Lacey. The boy had been removed from the Hospital Unit and put in a shabby room of his own. He was apparently still being bullied by the other boys in his dormitory, and the alternative was this solitary confinement. Redman found him sitting on a carpet of old comic books, staring at the wall. The lurid covers of the comics made his face look milkier than ever. The bandage had gone from his nose, and the bruise on the bridge was yellowing.
He shook Lacey’s hand, and the boy gazed up at him. There was a real turn about since their last meeting. Lacey was calm, even docile. The handshake, a ritual Redman had introduced whenever he met boys out of the workshop, was weak.
‘Are you well?’
The boy nodded.
‘Do you like being alone?’
‘You’ll have to go back to the dormitory eventually.’ Lacey shook his head.
‘You can’t stay here forever, you know.’
‘Oh, I know that, sir.’
‘You’ll have to go back.’
Lacey nodded. Somehow the logic didn’t seem to have got through to the boy. He turned up the corner of a Superman comic and stared at the splash-page without scanning it.
‘Listen to me, Lacey. I want you and I to understand each other. Yes?’ ‘Yes, sir.’
‘I can’t help you if you lie to me. Can I?’
‘Why did you mention Kevin Henessey’s name to me last week? I know that he isn’t here any longer. He escaped, didn’t he?’
Lacey stared at the three-colour hero on the page.
‘He’s here,’ said Lacey, very quietly. The kid was suddenly distraught. It was in his voice, and in the way his face folded up on itself.
‘If he escaped, why should he come back? That doesn’t really make much sense to me, does it make much sense to you?’
Lacey shook his head. There were tears in his nose, that muffled his words, but they were clear enough.
‘He never went away.’
‘What? You mean he never escaped?’
‘He’s clever sir. You don’t know Kevin. He’s clever.’ He closed the comic, and looked up at Redman. ‘In what way clever?’
‘He planned everything, sir. All of it.’
‘You have to be clear.’
‘You won’t believe me. Then that’s the end, because you won’t believe me. He hears you know, he’s everywhere. He doesn’t care about walls. Dead people don’t care about nothing like that.’ Dead. A smaller word than alive; but it took the breath away.
‘He can come and go,’ said Lacey, ‘any time he wants.’
‘Are you saying Henessey is dead?’ said Redman. ‘Be careful, Lacey.’
The boy hesitated: he was aware that he was walking a tight rope, very close to losing his protector.
‘You promised,’ he said suddenly, cold as ice. ‘Promised no harm would come to you. It won’t. I said that and I meant it. But that doesn’t mean you can tell me lies, Lacey.’
‘What lies, sir?’
‘Henessey isn’t dead.’
‘He is, sir. They all know he is. He hanged himself. With the pigs.’
Redman had been lied to many times, by experts, and he felt he’d become a good judge of liars. He knew all the tell-tale signs. But the boy exhibited none of them. He was telling the truth. Redman felt it in his bones.
The truth; the whole truth; nothing but. That didn’t mean that what the boy was saying was true. He was simply telling the truth as he understood it. He believed Henessey was deceased. That proved nothing.
‘If Henessey were dead —‘
‘He is, sir.’
‘If he were, how could he be here?’
The boy looked at Redman without a trace of guile in his face.
‘Don’t you believe in ghosts, sir?’
So transparent a solution, it flummoxed Redman. Henes-sey was dead, yet Henessey was here. Hence, Henessey was a ghost.
‘Don’t you, sir?’
The boy wasn’t asking a rhetorical question. He wanted, no, he demanded, a reasonable answer to his reasonable question.
‘No, boy,’ said Redman. ‘No, I don’t.’ Lacey seemed unruffled by this conflict of opinion. ‘You’ll see,’ he said simply. ‘You’ll see.’
In the sty at the perimeter of the grounds the great, nameless sow was hungry.
She judged the rhythm of the days, and with their progression her desires grew. She knew that the time for stale slops in a trough was past. Other appetites had taken the place of those piggy pleasures.
She had a taste, since the first time, for food with a certain texture, a certain resonance. It wasn’t food she would demand all the time, only when the need came on her. Not a great demand: once in a while, to gobble at the hand that fed her.
She stood at the gate of her prison, listless with antici-pation, waiting and waiting. She snaffled, she snorted, her impatience becoming a dull anger. In the adjacent pen her castrated sons, sensing her distress, became agitated in their turn. They knew her nature, and it was dangerous. She had, after all, eaten two of their brothers, living, fresh and wet from her own womb.
Then there were noises through the blue veil of twilight, the soft brushing sound of passage through the nettles, accompanied by the murmur of voices.
Two boys were approaching the sty, respect and caution in every step. She made them nervous, and understandably so. The tales of her tricks were legion. Didn’t she speak, when angered, in that possessed voice, bending her fat, porky mouth to talk with a stolen tongue? Wouldn’t she stand on her back trotters sometimes, pink and imperial, and demand that the smallest boys be sent into her shadow to suckle her, naked like her farrow? And wouldn’t she beat her vicious heels upon the ground, until the food they brought for her was cut into petit pieces and delivered into her maw between trembling finger and thumb? All these things she did.
Tonight, the boys knew, they had not brought what she wanted. It was not the meat she was due that lay on the plate they carried. Not the sweet, white meat that she had asked for in that other voice of hers, the meat she could, if she desired, take by force. Tonight the meal was simply stale bacon, filched from the kitchens. The nourishment she really craved, the meat that had been pursued and terrified to engorge the muscle, then bruised like a hammered steak for her delectation, that meat was under special protection. It would take a while to coax it to the slaughter.
Meanwhile they hoped she would accept their apologies and their tears, and not devour them in her anger.
One of the boys had shit his pants by the time he reached the sty-wall, and the sow smelt him. Her voice took on a different timbre, enjoying the piquancy of their fear.
Instead of the low snort there was a higher, hotter note out of her. It said: I know, I know. Come and be judged.
I know, I know.
She watched them through the slats of the gate, her eyes glinting like jewels in the murky night, brighter than the night because living, purer than the night because wanting.
The boys knelt at the gate, their heads bowed in supplication, the plate they both held lightly covered with a piece of stained muslin.
‘Well?’ she said. The voice was unmistakable in their ears. His voice, out of the mouth of the pig.
The elder boy, a black kid with a cleft palate, spoke quietly to the shining eyes, making the best of his fear:
‘It’s not what you wanted. We’re sorry.’
The other boy, uncomfortable in his crowded trousers, murmured his apology too.
‘We’ll get him for you though. We will, really. We’ll bring him to you very soon, as soon as we possibly can.’
‘Why not tonight?’ said the pig.
‘He’s being protected.’
‘A new teacher. Mr Redman.’
The sow seemed to know it all already. She remembered the confrontation across the wall, the way he’d stared at her as though she was a zoological specimen. So that was her enemy, that old man. She’d have him. Oh yes.
The boys heard her promise of revenge, and seemed content to have the matter taken out of their hands.
‘Give her the meat,’ said the black boy.
The other one stood up, removing the muslin cloth. The bacon smelt bad, but the sow nevertheless made wet noises of enthusiasm. Maybe she had forgiven them.
‘Go on, quickly.’
The boy took the first strip of bacon between finger and thumb and proffered it. The sow turned her mouth sideways up to it and ate, showing her yellowish teeth. It was gone quickly. The second, the third, fourth, fifth the same.
The sixth and last piece she took with his fingers, snatched with such elegance and speed the boy could only cry out as her teeth champed through the thin digits and swallowed them. He withdrew his hand from over the sty wall, and gawped at this mutilation. She had done only a little damage, considering. The top of his thumb and half his index finger had gone. The wounds bled quickly, fully, splashing on to his shirt and his shoes. She grunted and snorted and seemed satisfied.
The boy yelped and ran.
‘Tomorrow,’ said the sow to the remaining supplicant. ‘Not this old pig-meat. It must be white. White and lacy.’ She thought that was a fine joke.
‘Yes,’ the boy said, ‘yes, of course.’
‘Without fail,’ she ordered.
‘Or I come for him myself. Do you hear me?’
‘I come for him myself, wherever he’s hiding. I will eat him in his bed if I wish. In his sleep I will eat off his feet, then his legs, then his balls, then his hips —, ‘Yes, yes.’
‘I want him,’ said the sow, grinding her trotter in the straw.
‘Henessey dead?’ said Leverthal, head still down as she wrote one of her interminable reports. ‘It’s another fabri-cation. One minute the child says he’s in the Centre, the next he’s dead. The boy can’t even get his story straight.’
It was difficult to argue with the contradictions unless one accepted the idea of ghosts as readily as Lacey. There was no way Redman was going to try and argue that point with the woman. That part was a nonsense. Ghosts were foolishness; just fears made visible. But the possibility of Henessey’s suicide made more sense to Redman. He pressed on with his argument.
‘So where did Lacey get this story from, about Hene-ssey’s death? It’s a funny thing to invent.’
She deigned to look up, her face drawn up into itself like a snail in its shell.
‘Fertile imaginations are par for the course here. If you heard the tales I’ve got on tape: the exoticism of some of them would blow your head open.’
‘Have there been suicides here?’
‘In my time?’ She thought for a moment, pen poised. ‘Two attempts. Neither, I think, intended to succeed. Cries for help.’
‘Was Henessey one?’
She allowed herself a little sneer as she shook her head.
‘Henessey was unstable in a completely different direc-tion. He thought he was going to live forever. That was his little dream: Henessey the Nietzchean Superman. He had something close to contempt for the common herd. As far as he was concerned, he was a breed apart. As far beyond the rest of us mere mortals as he was beyond that wretched —‘ He knew she was going to say pig, but she stopped just short of the word. ‘Those wretched animals on the farm,’ she said, looking back down at her report.
‘Henessey spent time at the farm?’
‘No more than any other boy,’ she lied. ‘None of them like farm duties, but it’s part of the work rota. Mucking out isn’t a very pleasant occupation. I can testify to that.’
The lie he knew she’d told made Redman keep back Lacey’s final detail: that Henessey’s death had taken place in the pig-sty.
He shrugged, and took an entirely different tack.
‘Is Lacey under any medication?’
‘Are the boys always sedated when they’ve been in a fight?’
‘Only if they try to make escapes. We haven’t got enough staff to supervise the likes of Lacey. I don’t see why you’re so concerned.’
‘I want him to trust me. I promised him. I don’t want him let down.’
‘Frankly, all this sounds suspiciously like special plead-ing. The boy’s one of many. No unique problems, and no particular hope of redemption.’
‘Redemption?’ It was a strange word.
‘Rehabilitation, whatever you choose to call it. Look, Redman, I’ll be frank. There’s a general feeling that you’re not really playing ball here.’
‘We all feel, I think this includes the Governor, that you should let us go about our business the way we’re used to. Learn the ropes before you start —‘
She nodded. ‘It’s as good a word as any. You’re making enemies.’ ‘Thank you for the warning.’
‘This job’s difficult enough without enemies, believe me.’
She attempted a conciliatory look, which Redman ignored.
Enemies he could live with, liars he couldn’t.
The Governor’s room was locked, as it had been for a full week now. Explanations differed as to where he was. Meetings with funding bodies was a favourite reason touted amongst the staff, though the Secretary claimed she didn’t exactly know. There were Seminars at the University he was running, somebody said, to bring some research to bear on the problems of Remand Centres. Maybe the Governor was at one of those. If Mr Redman wanted, he could leave a message, the Governor would get it.
Back in the workshop, Lacey was waiting for him. It was almost seven-fifteen: classes were well over.
‘What are you doing here?’
‘You, sir. I wanted to give you a letter, sir. For me mam. Will you get it to her?’
‘You can send it through the usual channels, can’t you? Give it to the Secretary, she’ll forward it. You’re allowed two letters a week.’
Lacey’s face fell.
‘They read them, sir: in case you write something you shouldn’t. And if you do, they burn them.’
‘And you’ve written something you shouldn’t?’
‘About Kevin. I told her all about Kevin, about what happened to him.’
‘I’m not sure you’ve got your facts right about Henessey.’
The boy shrugged. ‘It’s true, sir,’ he said quietly, apparently no longer caring if he convinced Redman or not ‘It’s true. He’s there, sir. In her.’
‘In who? What are you talking about?’
Maybe Lacey was speaking, as Leverthal had suggested, simply out of his fear. There had to be a limit to his patience with the boy, and this was just about it.
A knock on the door, and a spotty individual called Slape was staring at him through the wired glass.
‘Urgent telephone call for you, sir. In the Secretary’s Office.’
Redman hated the telephone. Unsavoury machine: it never brought good tidings.
‘Urgent. Who from?’
Slape shrugged and picked at his face.
‘Stay with Lacey, will you?’
Slape looked unhappy with the prospect.
‘Here, sir?’ he asked.
‘I’m relying on you, so don’t let me down.’
Redman turned to Lacey. The bruised look was a wound now open, as he wept.
‘Give me your letter. I’ll take it to the Office.’
Lacey had thrust the envelope into his pocket. He retrieved it unwillingly, and handed it across to Redman.
‘Say thank you.’
‘Thank you, sir.’
The corridors were empty.
It was television time, and the nightly worship of the box had begun. They would be glued to the black and white set that dominated the Recreation Room, sitting through the pap of Cop Shows and Game Shows and Wars from the World Shows with their jaws open and their minds closed. A hypnotized silence would fall on the assembled company until a promise of violence or a hint of sex. Then the room would erupt in whistles, obscenities, and shouts of encouragement, only to subside again into sullen silence during the dialogue, as they waited for another gun, another breast. He could hear gunfire and music, even now, echoing down the corridor.
The Office was open, but the Secretary wasn’t there. Gone home presumably. The clock in the Office said eight-nineteen. Redman amended his watch.
The telephone was on the hook. Whoever had called him had tired of waiting, leaving no message. Relieved as he was that the call wasn’t urgent enough to keep the caller hanging on, he now felt disappointed not to be speaking to the outside world. Like Crusoe seeing a sail, only to have it sweep by his island.
Ridiculous: this wasn’t his prison. He could walk out whenever he liked. He would walk out that very night: and be Crusoe no longer.
He contemplated leaving Lacey’s letter on the desk, but thought better of it. He had promised to protect the boy’s interests, and that he would do. If necessary, he’d post the letter himself.
Thinking of nothing in particular, he started back towards the workshop. Vague wisps of unease floated in his system, clogging his responses. Sighs sat in his throat, scowls on his face. This damn place, he said aloud, not meaning the walls and the floors, but the trap they represented. He felt he could die here with his good intentions arrayed around him like flowers round a stiff, and nobody would know, or care, or mourn. Idealism was weakness here, compassion and indulgence. Unease was all: unease and —Silence. That was what was wrong. Though the television still popped and screamed down the corridor, there was silence accompanying it. No wolf-whistles, no cat-calls.
Redman darted back to the vestibule and down the corridor to the Recreation Room. Smoking was allowed in this section of the building, and the area stank of stale cigarettes. Ahead, the noise of mayhem continued unabated. A woman screamed somebody’s name. A man answered and was cut off by a blast of gunfire. Stories, half-told, hung in the air.
He reached the room, and opened the door.
The television spoke to him. ‘Get down!’
‘He’s got a gun!’
The woman, blonde, big-breasted, took the bullet in her heart, and died on the sidewalk beside the man she’d loved.
The tragedy went unwatched. The Recreation Room was empty, the old armchairs and graffiti-carved stools placed around the television set for an audience who had better entertainment for the evening. Redman wove between the seats and turned the television off. As the silver-blue fluorescence died, and the insistent beat of the music was cut dead, he became aware, in the gloom, in the hush, of somebody at the door.
‘Who is it?’
‘I told you to stay with Lacey.’
‘He had to go, sir.’
‘He ran off, sir. I couldn’t stop him.’
‘Damn you. What do you mean, you couldn’t stop him?’
Redman started to re-cross the room, catching his foot on a stool. It scraped on the linoleum, a little protest. Slape twitched.
‘I’m sorry, sir,’ he said, ‘I couldn’t catch him. I’ve got a bad foot.’
Yes, Slape did limp. ‘Which way did he go?’ Slape shrugged. ‘Not sure, sir.’ ‘Well, remember.’
‘No need to lose your temper, sir.’
The ‘sir’ was slurred: a parody of respect. Redman found his hand itching to hit this pus-filled adolescent. He was within a couple of feet of the door. Slape didn’t move aside.
‘Out of my way, Slape.’
‘Really, sir, there’s no way you can help him now. He’s gone.’
‘I said, out of my way.’
As he stepped forward to push Slape aside there was a click at navel-level and the bastard had a flick-knife pressed to Redman’s belly. The point bit the fat of his stomach.
‘There’s really no need to go after him, sir.’
‘What in God’s name are you doing, Slape?’
‘We’re just playing a game,’ he said through teeth gone grey.
‘There’s no real harm in it. Best leave well alone.’
The point of the knife had drawn blood. Warmly, it wended its way down into Redman’s groin. Slape was prepared to kill him; no doubt of that. Whatever this game was, Slape was having a little fun all of his own. Killing teacher, it was called. The knife was still being pressed, infinitesimally slowly, through the wall of Redman’s flesh. The little rivulet of blood had thickened into a stream.
‘Kevin likes to come out and play once in a while,’ said Slape.
‘Yes, you like to call us by our second names, don’t you? That’s more manly isn’t it? That means we’re not children, that means we’re men. Kevin isn’t quite a man though, you see sir. He’s never wanted to be a man. In fact, I think he hated the idea. You know why? (The knife divided muscle now, just gently). He thought once you were a man, you started to die: and Kevin used to say he’d never die.’
‘Never die.’ ‘Never.’
‘I want to meet him.’
‘Everybody does, sir. He’s charismatic. That’s the Doctor’s word for him: Charismatic.’
‘I want to meet this charismatic fellow.’
‘I said soon.’
Redman took the knife-hand at the wrist so quickly Slape had no chance to press the weapon home. The adolescent’s response was slow, doped perhaps, and Redman had the better of him. The knife dropped from his hand as Redman’s grip tightened, the other hand took Slape in a strangle-hold, easily rounding his emaciated neck. Redman’s palm pressed on his assailant’s Adam’s apple, making him gargle.
‘Where’s Henessey? You take me to him.’
The eyes that looked down at Redman were slurred as his words, the irises pin-pricks.
‘Take me to him!’ Redman demanded.
Slape’s hand found Redman’s cut belly, and his fist jabbed the wound. Redman cursed, letting his hold slip, and Slape almost slid out of his grasp, but Redman drove his knee into the other’s groin, fast and sharp. Slape wanted to double up in agony, but the neck-hold prevented him. The knee rose again, harder. And again. Again.
Spontaneous tears ran down Slape’s face, coursing through the minefield of his boils. ‘I can hurt you twice as badly as you can hurt me,’ Redman said, ‘so if you want to go on doing this all night I’m happy as a sand-boy.’
Slape shook his head, grabbing his breath through his constricted windpipe in short, painful gasps.
‘You don’t want any more?’
Slape shook his head again. Redman let go of him, and flung him across the corridor against the wall. Whimpering with pain, his face crimped, he slid down the wall into a foetal position, hands between his legs.
Slape had begun to shake; the words tumbled out. ‘Where d’you think? Kevin’s got him.’
Slape looked up at Redman, puzzled.
‘Don’t you know?’
‘I wouldn’t ask if I did, would I?’
Slape seemed to pitch forward as he spoke, letting out a sigh of pain. Redman’s first thought was that the youth was collapsing, but Slape had other ideas. The knife was suddenly in his hand again, snatched from the floor, and Slape was driving it up towards Redman’s groin. He side-stepped the cut with a hair’s breadth to spare, and Slape was on his feet again, the pain forgotten. The knife slit the air back and forth, Slape hissing his intention through his teeth.
‘Kill you, pig. Kill you, pig.’
Then his mouth was wide and he was yelling: ‘Kevin! Kevin! Help me!’
The slashes were less and less accurate as Slape lost control of himself, tears, snot and sweat sliming his face as he stumbled towards his intended victim.
Redman chose his moment, and delivered a crippling blow to Slape’s knee, the weak leg, he guessed. He guessed correctly.
Slape screamed, and staggered back, reeling round and hitting the wall face on. Redman followed through, pressing Slape’s back. Too late, he realized what he’d done. Slape’s body relaxed as his knife hand, crushed between wall and body, slid out, bloody and weapon less. Slape exhaled death-air, and collapsed heavily against the wall, driving the knife still deeper into his own gut. He was dead before he touched the ground.
Redman turned him over. He’d never become used to the suddenness of death. To be gone so quickly, like the image on the television screen. Switched off and blank. No message.
The utter silence of the corridors became overwhelming as he walked back towards the vestibule. The cut on his stomach was not significant, and the blood had made its own scabby bandage of his shirt, knitting cotton to flesh and sealing the wound. It scarcely hurt at all. But the cut was the least of his problems: he had mysteries to unravel now, and he felt unable to face them. The used, exhausted atmosphere of the place made him feel, in his turn, used and exhausted. There was no health to be had here, no goodness, no reason.
He believed, suddenly, in ghosts.
In the vestibule there was a light burning, a bare bulb suspended over the dead space. By it, he read Lacey’s crumpled letter. The smudged words on the paper were like matches set to the tinder of his panic.
They fed me to the pig. Don’t believe them if they said I never loved you, or if they said I ran away. I never did. They fed me to the pig. I love you.
He pocketed the letter and began to run out of the building and across the field. It was well dark now: a deep, starless dark, and the air was muggy. Even in daylight he wasn’t sure of the route to the farm; it was worse by night. He was very soon lost, somewhere between the playing-field and the trees. It was too far to see the outline of the main building behind him, and the trees ahead all looked alike.
The night-air was foul; no wind to freshen tired limbs. It was as still outside as inside, as though the whole world had become an interior: a suffocating room bounded by a painted ceiling of cloud.
He stood in the dark, the blood thumping in his head, and tried to orient himself.
To his left, where he had guessed the out-houses to be, a light glimmered. Clearly he was completely mistaken about his position. The light was at the sty. It threw the ramshackle chicken run into silhouette as he stared at it.
There were figures there, several; standing as if watching a spectacle he couldn’t yet see.
He started towards the sty, not knowing what he would do once he reached it. If they were all armed like Slape, and shared his murderous intentions, then that would be the end of him. The thought didn’t worry him. Somehow tonight to get off of this closed-down world was an attractive option. Down and out.
And there was Lacey. There’d been a moment of doubt, after speaking to Leverthal, when he’d wondered why he cared so much about the boy. That accusation of special pleading, it had a certain truth to it. Was there something in him that wanted Thomas Lacey naked beside him? Wasn’t that the sub-text of Leverthal’s remark? Even now, running uncertainly towards the lights, all he could think of was the boy’s eyes, huge and demanding, looking deep into his.
Ahead there were figures in the night, wandering away from the farm. He could see them against the lights of the sty. Was it all over already? He made a long curve around to the left of the buildings to avoid the spectators as they left the scene. They made no noise: there was no chatter or laughter amongst them. Like a congregation leaving a funeral they walked evenly in the dark, each apart from the other, heads bowed. It was eerie, to see these godless delinquents so subdued by reverence.
He reached the chicken-run without encountering any of them face to face.
There were still a few figures lingering around the pig-house. The wall of the sow’s compartment was lined with candles, dozens and dozens of them. They burned steadily in the still air, throwing a rich warm light on to brick, and on to the faces of the few who still stared into the mysteries of the sty.
Leverthal was among them, as was the warder who’d knelt at Lacey’s head that first day. Two or three boys were there too, whose faces he recognized but could put no name to.
There was a noise from the sty, the sound of the sow’s feet on the straw as she accepted their stares. Somebody was speaking, but he couldn’t make out who. An adolescent’s voice, with a lilt to it. As the voice halted in its monologue, the warder and another of the boys broke rank, as if dismissed, and turned away into the dark. Redman crept a little closer. Time was of the essence now. Soon the first of the congregation would have crossed the field and be back in the Main Building. They’d see Slape’s corpse: raise the alarm. He must find Lacey now, if indeed Lacey was still to be found.
Leverthal saw him first. She looked up from the sty and nodded a greeting, apparently unconcerned by his arrival. It was as if his appearance at this place was inevitable, as if all routes led back to the farm, to the straw house and the smell of excrement. It made a kind of sense that she’d believe that. He almost believed it himself. ‘Leverthal,’ he said.
She smiled at him, openly. The boy beside her raised his head and smiled too.
‘Are you Henessey?’ he asked, looking at the boy.
The youth laughed, and so did Leverthal.
‘No,’ she said. ‘No. No. No. Henessey is here.’
She pointed into the sty.
Redman walked the few remaining yards to the wall of the sty, expecting and not daring to expect, the straw and the blood and the pig and Lacey.
But Lacey wasn’t there. Just the sow, big and beady as ever, standing amongst pats of her own ordure, her huge, ridiculous ears flapping over her eyes.
‘Where’s Henessey?’ asked Redman, meeting the sow’s gaze.
‘Here,’ said the boy.
‘This is a pig.’
‘She ate him,’ said the youth, still smiling. He obviously thought the idea delightful. ‘She ate him: and he speaks out of her.’
Redman wanted to laugh. This made Lacey’s tales of ghosts seem almost plausible by comparison. They were telling him the pig was possessed.
‘Did Henessey hang himself, as Tommy said?’
‘In the sty?’
Suddenly the pig took on a different aspect. In his imagination he saw her reaching up to sniff at the feet of Henessey’s twitching body, sensing the death coming over it, salivating at the thought of its flesh. He saw her licking the dew that oozed from its skin as it rotted, lapping at it, nibbling daintily at first, then devouring it. It wasn’t too difficult to understand how the boys could have made a mythology of that atrocity: inventing hymns to it, attending upon the pig like a god. The candles, the reverence, the intended sacrifice of Lacey: it was evidence of sickness, but it was no more strange than a thousand other customs of faith. He even began to understand Lacey’s lassitude, his inability to fight the powers that overtook him.
Mama, they fed me to the pig.
Not Mama, help me, save me. Just: they gave me to the pig.
All this he could understand: they were children, many of them under-educated, some verging on mental in-stability, all susceptible to superstition. But that didn’t explain Leverthal. She was staring into the sty again, and Redman registered for the first time that her hair was unclipped, and lay on her shoulders, honey-coloured in the candlelight.
‘It looks like a pig to me, plain and simple,’ he said.
‘She speaks with his voice,’ Leverthal said, quietly. ‘Speaks in tongues, you might say. You’ll hear him in a while. My darling boy.’
Then he understood. ‘You and Henessey?’
‘Don’t look so horrified,’ she said. ‘He was eighteen: hair blacker than you’ve ever seen. And he loved me.’
‘Why did he hang himself?’
‘To live forever,’ she said, ‘so he’d never be a man, and die.’
‘We didn’t find him for six days,’ said the youth, almost whispering it in Redman’s ear, ‘and even then she wouldn’t let anybody near him, once she had him to herself. The pig, I mean. Not the Doctor. Everyone loved Kevin, you see,’ he whispered intimately. ‘He was beautiful.’
‘And where’s Lacey?’
Leverthal’s loving smile decayed.
‘With Kevin,’ said the youth, ‘where Kevin wants him.’ He pointed through the door of the sty. There was a body lying on the straw, back to the door. ‘If you want him, you’ll have to go and get him,’ said the boy, and the next moment he had the back of Redman’s neck in a vice-like grip.
The sow responded to the sudden action. She started to stamp the straw, showing the whites of her eyes.
Redman tried to shrug off the boy’s grip, at the same time delivering an elbow to his belly. The boy backed off, winded and cursing, only to be replaced by Leverthal.
‘Go to him,’ she said as she snatched at Redman’s hair. ‘Go to him if you want him.’ Her nails raked across his temple and nose, just missing his eyes.
‘Get off me!’ he said, trying to shake the woman off, but she clung, her head lashing back and forth as she tried to press him over the wall.
The rest happened with horrid speed. Her long hair brushed through a candle flame and her head caught fire, the flames climbing quickly. Shrieking for help she stumbled heavily against the gate. It failed to support her weight, and gave inward. Redman watched helplessly as the burning woman fell amongst the straw. The flames spread enthusiastically across the forecourt towards the sow, lapping up the kindling.
Even now, in extremis, the pig was still a pig. No miracles here: no speaking, or pleading, in tongues. The animal panicked as the blaze surrounded her, cornering her stamping bulk and licking at her flanks. The air was filled with the stench of singeing bacon as the flames ran up her sides and over her head, chasing through her bristles like a grass-fire.
Her voice was a pig’s voice, her complaints a pig’s complaints. Hysterical grunts escaped her lips and she hurtled across the forecourt of the sty and out of the broken gate, trampling Leverthal.
The sow’s body, still burning, was a magic thing in the night as she careered across the field, weaving about in her pain. Her cries did not diminish as the dark ate her up, they seemed just to echo back and forth across the field, unable to find a way out of the locked room.
Redman stepped over Leverthal’s fire-ridden corpse and into the sty. The straw was burning on every side, and the fire was creeping towards the door. He half-shut his eyes against the stinging smoke and ducked into the pig-house. Lacey was lying as he had been all along, back to the door. Redman turned the boy over. He was alive. He was awake. His face, bloated with tears and terror, stared up off his straw pillow, eyes so wide they looked fit to leap from his head.
‘Get up,’ said Redman, leaning over the boy.
His small body was rigid, and it was all Redman could do to prize his limbs apart. With little words of care, he coaxed the boy to his feet as the smoke began to swirl into the pig-house.
‘Come on, it’s all right, come on.’
He stood upright and something brushed his hair. Redman felt a little rain of worms across his face and glanced up to see Henessey, or what was left of him, still suspended from the crossbeam of the pig-house. His features were incomprehensible, blackened to a drooping mush. His body was raggedly gnawed off at the hip, and his innards hung from the foetid carcass, dangling in wormy loops in front of Redman’s face.
Had it not been for the thick smoke the smell of the body would have been overpowering. As it was Redman was simply revolted, and his revulsion gave strength to his arm. He hauled Lacey out of the shadow of the body and pushed him through the door.
Outside the straw was no longer blazing as brightly, but the light of fire and candles and burning body still made him squint after the dark interior. ‘Come on lad,’ he said, lifting the kid through the flames. The boy’s eyes were button-bright, lunatic-bright. They said futility.
They crossed the sty to the gate, skipping Leverthal’s corpse, and headed into the darkness of the open field.
The boy seemed to be stirring from his stricken state with every step they took away from the farm. Behind them the sty was already a blazing memory. Ahead, the night was as still and impenetrable as ever. Redman tried not to think of the pig. It must be dead by now, surely.
But as they ran, there seemed to be a noise in the earth as something huge kept pace with them, content to keep its distance, wary now but relentless in its pursuit.
He dragged on Lacey’s arm, and hurried on, the ground sun baked beneath their feet. Lacey was whimpering now, no words as yet, but sound at least. It was a good sign, a sign Redman needed.
He’d had about his fill of insanity.
They reached the building without incident. The cor-ridors were as empty as they’d been when he’d left an hour ago. Perhaps nobody had found Slape’s corpse yet. It was possible. None of the boys had seemed in a fit mood for recreation. Perhaps they had slipped silently to their dormitories, to sleep off their worship.
It was time to find a phone and call the Police.
Man and boy walked down the corridor towards the Governor’s Office hand in hand. Lacey had fallen silent again, but his expression was no longer so manic; it looked as though cleansing tears might be close. He sniffed; made noises in his throat.
His grip on Redman’s hand tightened, then relaxed completely.
Ahead, the vestibule was in darkness. Somebody had smashed the bulb recently. It still rocked gently on its cable, illuminated by a seepage of dull light from the window.
‘Come on. There’s nothing to be afraid of. Come on, boy.’
Lacey bent to Redman’s hand and bit the flesh. The trick was so quick he let the boy go before he could prevent himself, and Lacey was showing his heels as he scooted away down the corridor away from the vestibule.
No matter. He couldn’t get far. For once Redman was glad the place had walls and bars.
Redman crossed the darkened vestibule to the Secre-tary’s Office. Nothing moved. Whoever had broken the bulb was keeping very quiet, very still.
The telephone had been smashed too. Not just broken, smashed to smithereens.
Redman doubled back to the Governor’s room. There was a telephone there; he’d not be stopped by vandals.
The door was locked, of course, but Redman was prepared for that. He smashed the frosted glass in the window of the door with his elbow, and reached through to the other side. No key there.
To hell with it, he thought, and put his shoulder to the door. It was sturdy, strong wood, and the lock was good quality. His shoulder ached and the wound in his stomach had reopened by the time the lock gave, and he gained access to the room.
The floor was littered with straw; the smell inside made the sty seem sweet. The Governor was lying behind his desk, his heart eaten out.
‘The pig,’ said Redman. ‘The pig. The pig.’ And saying, ‘the pig’, he reached for the phone.
A sound. He turned, and met the blow full-face. It broke his cheek-bone and his nose. The room mottled, and went white.
The vestibule was no longer dark. Candles were burning, it seemed hundreds of them, in every corner, on every edge. But then his head was swimming, his eyesight blurred with concussion. It could have been a single candle, multiplied by senses that could no longer be trusted to tell the truth.
He stood in the middle of the arena of the vestibule, not quite knowing how he could be standing, for his legs felt numb and useless beneath him. At the periphery of his vision, beyond the light of the candles, he could hear people talking. No, not really talking. They weren’t proper words. They were nonsense sounds, made by people who may or may not have been there.
Then he heard the grunt, the low, asthmatic grunt of the sow, and straight ahead she emerged from the swimming light of the candles. She was bright and beautiful no longer. Her flanks were charred, her beady eyes withered, her snout somehow twisted out of true. She hobbled towards him very slowly, and very slowly the figure astride her became apparent. It was Tommy Lacey of course, naked as the day he was born, his body as pink and as hairless as one of her farrow, his face as innocent of human feeling. His eyes were now her eyes, as he guided the great sow by her ears. And the noise of the sow, the snaffling sound, was not out of the pig’s mouth, but out of his. His was the voice of the pig.
Redman said his name, quietly. Not Lacey, but Tommy. The boy seemed not to hear. Only then, as the pig and her rider approached, did Redman register why he hadn’t fallen on his face.
There was a rope around his neck.
Even as he thought the thought, the noose tightened, and he was hauled off his feet into the air.
No pain, but a terrible horror, worse, so much worse than pain, opened in him, a gorge of loss and regret, and all he was sank away into it. Below him, the sow and the boy had come to a halt, beneath his jangling feet. The boy, still grunting, had climbed off the pig and was squatting down beside the beast. Through the greying air Redman could see the curve of the boy’s spine, the flawless skin of his back. He saw too the knotted rope that protruded from between his pale buttocks, the end frayed. For all the world like the tail of a pig.
The sow put its head up, though its eyes were beyond seeing.
He liked to think that she suffered, and would suffer now until she died. It was almost sufficient, to think of that. Then the sow’s mouth opened, and she spoke. He wasn’t certain how the words came, but they came. A boy’s voice, lilting.
‘This is the state of the beast,’ it said, ‘to eat and be eaten.’
Then the sow smiled, and Redman felt, though he had believed himself numb, the first shock of pain as Lacey’s teeth bit off a piece from his foot, and the boy clambered, snorting, up his saviour’s body to kiss out his life.