Wednesday, 31 October 2012





Copyright © 2012 Ray Johnstone
All rights reserved

Once again they’re all for Lynn

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Some people may be offended by certain themes in these short stories, and course language is commonplace in the dialogue.


Brian was staring at the gun.
Donald told him, ‘My dad gave it to me just before he died. He told me he had to kill a dozen Germans to get it.’
Donald looked at Brian to judge what impact this anecdote was having on him.
He went on. ‘But it lay around in a drawer for years. And then, as a surprise, Jane had it framed for me. So now it’s up there on it’s own. In what looks like a sort of display case, I suppose. And that’s how it got pride of place in our new bar. Amongst all those bottles of Scotch and Cognac and stuff. Looks pretty good doesn’t it? Amazing what they’ll frame these days.’
Donald was telling Brian a story he’d told many times before. They were in a small room just off the lounge.
He went on, ‘We never knew what it was for, this little space I mean, not the gun. That, as everyone knows, was for killing people. But it makes an excellent watering hole. Our little pub, I mean.’
‘And Donald did everything himself,’ Jane said. She didn’t know why, but she was showing her husband off to her friend, Brian. Her friend, because Donald had never met Brian before. He’d always said he didn’t want to.
‘She’s right.’ Donald took over again.
‘I did the lot. The shelves, the mirrors, the bar counter. And we got the stools at IKEA. Good Swedish bar stools they are. Or is it Norwegian? IKEA, I mean.’
Jane gave a nervous laugh, ‘Scandinavian anyway. Let’s just say Scandinavian.’

Brian was from their church. Her church and Brian’s church. But not Donald’s church. Because Donald didn’t have a church. The idea had never appealed to him. He said simply that he didn’t really believe in that kind of thing.
But Jane had brought Brian home from a church meeting specifically to meet Donald. As an experiment. To see if they’d get on.
That’s why everyone was on edge.
‘I remember it from when I was a kid,’ Donald was still talking about the gun.
‘That was when my father told me all that rubbish about how he got it. Killing Germans, I mean. Lies, I suppose.’
Brian was feeling uncharacteristically uncomfortable. He was not usually on edge meeting new people. And he often met complete strangers. It was part of his mission in life. Black book in one hand and the other ready to shake hands with whoever answered the door.
But this time was different. He was out of his comfort zone. Completely out of it. In someone else’s home. In another man’s bar, in fact. And he was having difficulty following the conversation which seemed to be jumping about, willy-nilly, from one subject to another.
‘And he told me what a terrible time he’d had in Europe. In the war, I mean. You know, World War Two. Against the Krauts. And the Japs, I suppose, if you’re American.’
Brian, as he’d been invited to do, was looking around the bar, Donald’s bar, in Donald’s house, well, Janet’s house too, he supposed, but the bar was obviously considered Donald’s because he had built it, apparently. And staring at what looked like a rather battle-worn antique automatic pistol. As this guy had said, it was in it’s own, purpose-made, glass-fronted display frame which was fixed to the wall above a beautiful, silver antique National Dayton of Ohio cash register.
But the gun was definitely the hero of the room.
‘It’s a classic actually. A Luger P08, designed and patented in eighteen something. And the new firing mechanism was revolutionary, apparently. And very popular with German officers during both World Wars. It’s worth a bit too these days. In fact, one that was tested by the US army in the first part of the last century now has a price tag of a million dollars.
Just think about that. One million! Not that my dad’s gun is in that league. Wouldn’t be here talking to you if it were. I’d be on a private beach in Jamaica, or Hawaii, or somewhere like that.’
Brian could tell that Donald knew a lot about his father’s souvenir. He’d obviously read up on it. He glanced at Jane. He wondered where this conversation was heading. She appeared to be somewhere else. In her mind, that is, and her deadpan expression gave no lead to what she was thinking.
Then she got up saying she was going to get some snacks.
‘If truth be told,’ Donald went on, ‘I think he bought it. You see, my father never saw action. I was rather disappointed when I found that out, I suppose. I’d rather have had a hero as a dad, is what I mean. What son wouldn’t? It would have been nice to know he’d killed some of our country’s enemies. To get his gun. You know, one or two dead Germans would have made him a much more romantic figure. In my mind anyway.’ He paused and looked at Brian intently.
‘He was in Italy to start off with I think, and later in Germany. During the war, I mean. But he was just an army accountant. Always way back behind the lines. Safe as houses. Never anywhere near the front. Or where the action was.’
‘Interesting. Very interesting.’
Brian realized that this sounded rather lame, so he went on, ‘Does it work?’
‘Yes, it does actually. Tried it out a few years ago. At Christmas. Hoped the neighbors would think it was a firecracker going off. Not allowed to discharge firearms in an urban area, you see. Against the law.’
‘Yes. Well, no, I didn’t really. But it’s a good idea. A good law, I mean. Can’t have guns going off all over the place, can we?’
Brian folded his arms across his ample belly. He was feeling quite uncomfortable, but he hoped it looked nonchalant. ‘Anyway, it worked OK? The gun, I mean.’
There was a long pause as Donald studied him closely. ‘Yes, it certainly did. As I’ve just said. But I’ve only got two bullets left now. You see they’re rather hard to get hold of. I’ve tried all over, but two is all I’ve got.’
Donald reached up and pulled a wad of paper out from behind the bottles on the top shelf.
‘Yes. Here they are. The last two. One for Jane and one for her lover.’
For a moment Brian looked quite startled. He wasn’t sure whether this was a joke or not.
‘I’m away on business quite a bit you see,’ Donald explained. ‘And I wouldn’t want any funny stuff going on behind my back. You know, hanky panky.’
Brian was relieved when Jane walked back into the bar just then. In fact he was very relieved.
Jane could feel the strained atmosphere as soon as she sat down on her IKEA barstool.
Donald was unwrapping the bullets. He handed them to Brian. Brian looked dubiously at the brass and lead twins in his palm.
Jane tried to break the tension. ‘He’s been regaling you with his tired old joke, I take it? The one about the two bullets in the bar. And what they’re for?’
‘You mean who they’re for, darling,’ Donald interjected.
‘OK, OK, who then. He’s been telling you who he’s keeping them for, has he?’
‘Well, yes,’ said Brian. ‘I wasn’t quite sure what he was getting at, but I see the joke now.’
‘It’s no joke,’ said Donald quite sharply. ‘Or it won’t be, if she finds a new man, because one’s marked for him, and the other’s for her. That’s what I’m keeping them for.’
‘Oh stop it darling. It’s not even funny. Not any more. You’ve said it once too often, and now you’re running the risk of becoming a bore.’
Brian handed the bullets back.
Donald took them and started wrapping them up again. He reached up and put them on the top shelf.
‘As I said. It’s an unusual caliber, and there are only two left. Did I say that? Yes, I think I did. Anyway, you can’t even get them on the Internet. So many rules and regulations. To buy or import ammunition, I mean. And even the gun’s illegal these days, you see. No papers or anything like that. Dad just brought it back home in his kitbag, I suppose. Very lax they were in those days. Not like today.’
Jane picked up a bowl of olives and offered them to Brian. ‘Donald’s so boring about his dad’s gun, isn’t he?’
Brian looked embarrassed.
‘No, no. He’s not boring me. It’s engrossingly interesting really. And he’s obviously very attached to it.’

‘Well, let’s get him off the subject, otherwise he’ll go on about his bloody gun all night.’
But the pointed comment Jane had directed at Donald didn’t work. He was not deterred that easily.
‘Ever tried to kill yourself, Brian?’
Brian said nothing. He stared at Donald in disbelief. Jane frowned and shook her head.
‘Please stop this nonsense, Donald.’
Brian looked perplexed. He wasn’t enjoying this. Not at all. But Donald was obviously savouring every word of the discussion.
‘Well, in case you ever try, the only other thing I know about a gun is to do with suicide. We had a friend who was a neurosurgeon. Before he died, that is. Of AIDS of all things. Poor bugger. No pun intended. Because it was from a contaminated transfusion, not from sexual predilections. Anyway, when he was still practicing, he saw lots and lots of suicide cases. And he told me that if you ever wanted to commit hara kiri, as the Japs call it, be sure not to do it like this.’
Donald made his hand into the shape of a pistol and placed his index finger against his temple.
‘This way is only for the movies, apparently. When you pull the trigger, the bullet goes straight through both eyes and completely misses your brain. Which is the part you want to hit if you want to kill yourself. That’s why we say blowing your brains out, I suppose. That’s where the expression comes from. But you won’t achieve your goal doing it that way.’
Jane was distraught with how the situation had gone off the rails so quickly. She wasn’t sure what she’d expected, but it certainly wasn’t anything like this. A little tension to start off with perhaps. But then she’d thought they’d get on quite well. She tried to head Donald off at the pass.       
‘Why don’t we talk about something else?’ she suggested. ‘Don’t you think you should offer Brian another drink?’
But it didn’t work. Donald was on his hobbyhorse. He was all but unstoppable. The bit was between his teeth. And he’d taken an instant dislike to Brian. Why wouldn’t he? Why was she doing this to him? Bringing a man into their home. A complete stranger to him. Into his bar. At night. And a Holy Joe to boot.
A shard of tension had developed in their relationship recently. After so many years together. Boredom? Complacently? Married too long? Who would know? But it was his house. His space. And she was still his wife.
He plowed on undeterred.
‘So, be warned about committing suicide, Brian. If you ever decide to give it a go. You have to do it properly. Otherwise you could be in more trouble than you planned. As I’ve just told you, my friend, my friend the surgeon that is, said he often got attempted suicides who had failed because they’d fired the gun into the wrong part of their heads. They wound up completely blind, but not dead. So don’t forget Brian. Put the gun in your mouth. Don’t fire it at your temple. Place the barrel on your soft palate. So that the bullet goes right up into your brain. Dead is one thing, Brian, but blind and undead, or whatever the expression is, is no good at all. No good to man or beast.’


‘Who the hell’s he?’ Donald asked bluntly when Brian had gone.
‘He’s just a friend. And you were awful tonight, by the way.’
‘Oh come on Jane. What’s happened to your sense of humour? And your friend even seemed interested. A bit anyway. In my dad’s gun, I mean. Anyway, who is he is what I asked?’
‘It’s all you spoke about, Donald. You’ve become such a bore. And you were all but insulting to him. That stuff about shooting people. Like me and my lover. If you ever find me with one. What nonsense. You were insufferable. I hate it when you carry on like that.’
‘That’s not what I’m asking. You’re trying to side track the conversation. Like you always do. Where the hell do you find these people?’
‘These people? What do you mean these people? He goes to my church. Our church. That’s all. And I’ve never said much about him before because of your attitude. But we see a lot of each other. At church. We’re both on the church charity committee. We get on well together. As colleagues, I mean. Kindred spirits, I suppose. But that’s all, I swear, that’s all. It ends there.’
‘Oh, I see. Just some sanctimonious, self-righteous person you know? Someone you just bumped into so to speak. Just a platonic relationship, as the saying goes. Nothing to worry about. Nothing untoward.’
‘Donald! Don’t be so disparaging. He’s a really nice person, that’s all. Once you get to know him.’
‘Well, as long as it stays that way. So just make sure it does. Platonic, I mean. And it might be worthwhile making sure he sees it from the same perspective.’
‘Stop it, stop it Donald. What do you think I am?’
‘I know what you are. We’ve been married for thirty years. If I didn’t know what mumbo jumbo you believed in by now there would be something wrong, wouldn’t there?’
Jane tossed her head in anger and walked away.
But Donald’s dander was up.
‘What did you bring him around here for?’ he called after. ‘And what do you mean, see a lot of each other?’
Jane came back into the room.
‘Oh, Donald, why are you being so difficult? I’m not having an affair with him, or anything like that.’ She walked out again.
‘I’m very pleased to hear that, darling. Let’s hope that fact doesn’t change. Remember the preacher in The Grapes of Wrath. He always wound up screwing one of the congregation in a ditch outside the church. Just after he’d finished preaching to them.’
But Jane was too far away to hear what Donald was saying. She went out and slammed the door. Donald looked after her.
He looked up at his father’s gun.
Six months later, Donald came back early from a business trip. He parked the car a block away from the house. He did not bother with his suitcase. He walked home in the warm summer night. It was after midnight. He saw a shiny black car parked outside the house. But it could have been anybodies.
Their old dog came out to meet him. She knew who it was and didn’t make a sound. He pointed at her kennel and she obediently slunk off. He heard her settling down again. He smiled.
Donald unlocked the back door and went inside. He didn’t put the light on. He went to the bar and poured himself a stiff scotch. He drank it neat, enjoying the taste as the fumes filled his mouth and nostrils. Then he had another one. ‘Got to be in the right frame of mind to get this job done.’
He reached up and took down the frame that held his father’s gun. He opened the back and took it out. He felt behind the bottles for the wad of paper. He put his father’s Luger and the two bullets from the bar into his jacket pocket.
Donald went quietly to the main bedroom. It was empty.
‘Well at least they had the good grace to use another bed,’ he said to himself.
He went upstairs. That’s where the guest’s bedroom was.
Donald stopped and listened at the door. He heard the sound of the mattress moving. He heard Jane making muffled cries in her throat. He’d heard these many times before. Whenever they’d made love. He knew she was enjoying the sex.
Donald put on the light and walked into the bedroom.
Brian was on top of Jane. He stopped moving, but stayed where he was. He didn’t look round. Jane moved her head away from under Brian’s shoulder and stared at Donald.
Donald walked over to the bed. The blankets had been pushed onto the floor.
Brian rolled off Jane. Donald was startled by their middle-aged nakedness. He found it confronting in the bright overhead light. Donald had always thought nudity should be banned for people over twenty-five or so.
He looked down at them. Brian was trying to hide his glistening erection with his hands.
Jane just lay there staring back at him. He saw that her pubic hair had recently been trimmed. He saw, as he had so many times before, that some of the hairs were starting to lighten. He saw that Jane had a hard-to-define expression on her face. But it soon contorted into fear.
Donald took the German gun out of his pocket.
‘Donald, look, I’m sorry.’ Brian was having difficulty talking. ‘Donald, take it easy, mate. Please. Let’s talk about this.’
Jane added, ‘Please darling, don’t do anything silly. Anything you’ll regret.’
‘Oh, I won’t regret this. Don’t worry about that. You are the only one, or the only ones, who will have regrets.’
Donald had the two bullets in his hand. He put them both into the magazine. He pushed it back into the handle and moved the firing mechanism so that the top bullet went into the chamber. He cocked the hammer.
Brian started to get up.
‘Hold on mate. Don’t do anything rash. Please. I promise you it won’t happen again. I swear. I’ll make it up to you. Somehow.’
Donald stared at them. He sat down on the edge of the bed next to Jane. He put the barrel of the gun in his mouth. He felt the front sight dig into his soft palate. Then he pulled the trigger.



The cancer arrived with Christmas. Just when the whole world, it appeared to Peter, was making plans for cocktails, carol singing and elaborate meals. And everyone was talking about extravagant presents.
Someone at the golf club was taking his wife to New York. Just to see a play.
And there, on the twenty fourth of December, pulsating, it seemed, amongst the daily dose of cards, was a plain brown envelope.
They both knew what it was.

‘Well, I suppose I should open it shouldn’t I?’ Molly said.
Peter looked at Molly. He knew it wasn’t really a question, but he didn’t know what to say. So he said nothing.
Then he said to himself, ‘Thirty eight years, and I don’t know to say’.

A friend gave Molly a book. It was all about cancer. Peter glanced through it and decided it was simply about death and dying.
‘Well, the more you know about it, the less there is to be afraid of, I suppose,’ she said.
Peter didn’t agree. But he didn’t say so. Because he was afraid.

Molly told Peter she’d heard this program on the radio. She always listened to Woman’s Hour. It had become a ritual.
‘A panel of experts. Discussing oncology. You know, cancer.’
He did know. Everyone knew that word these days. But he didn’t want to know.
‘Their conclusion,’ she said, ‘their overall advice, to help you cope, was to get your house in order. And you do this by writing things down.’
Peter thought it was a funny conclusion for experts to come to. But he didn’t say so. 
‘In a letter preferably,’ Molly went on. ‘They called it a letter of wishes. You know, who to contact when the time comes. And who does the contacting. What music do you want? What flowers? Cremation or burial? What kind of coffin? How you’d like to be dressed. All that kind of thing.’
Peter thought the question about what clothes you’d like to wear when you were dead quite bizarre.
He upset Molly by saying, ‘My car fixing overalls will do me. Or my old gardening outfit. Perhaps that tatty rugby jumper you like so much. The one with the holes in the sleeves. And the jeans with  the paint stains.’
He’d meant it as a kind of comic relief. A joke. But Molly glared at him. She obviously didn’t see it that way.
Then she went on. ‘A really good, pragmatic way to do things, I thought. There’s even a chapter on what to do with the pets.’
‘We don’t have any pets.’
‘Peter! Stop it! Don’t take everything I say so literally.’
Peter shrugged. She saw that he didn’t like the subject, but she was determined to go on. She adopted a softer tone. ‘Look darling, their checklist is supposed to help you. Well, to help those who remain behind.’
She started to get flustered. But she ploughed on. ‘You know, darling, after I’m gone, you won’t know where anything is. Our will. My list of telephone contacts. All the bank details. You don’t know any of these details, do you? So you’ll find it useful if we get everything down together in one place. On one document.’
But Peter didn’t want to go on with this kind of stuff. So they didn’t.

Cakes started arriving. With women attached. Others invariably arrived to eat the cake. Peter thought they seemed to be trying to turn cancer into a birthday party.
He eavesdropped at the door one day. He heard them discussing miracle cures based on weird and wonderful concoctions. And how meditation and mind over matter had cured even the worst cancers. He was somewhat relieved when Molly rejected all these ideas he’d always called harebrained.
But he was exasperated with her fatalism. ‘Well there’s an end to the road for everyone, I suppose.’
He hated hearing that. And he hated the frame of mind she was slipping into.

Penny phoned to tell them she was planning a trip to see them. But it was difficult. And expensive. Such a long way. School terms had to be respected. And Brian couldn’t get away. The oil crisis had him in its coils. He spent more time at t he office than at home. Even weekends. Strapped to his desk. Or in constant meetings. Or traveling somewhere. So she might come on her own, she said.
Typical, thought Peter. He had to bite his tongue to stop himself saying it out aloud.

Peter ducked into a bar near the hospital one day while he was waiting for Molly. All he wanted was a quick drink, but he met Donald and Ralph. They were from the club. They were embarrassed and so was he. Then they asked him about Molly. He saw that they were trying to be kind - not intrusive.
‘Oh, OK, she’s OK, I suppose. She’s with the doctor right now. You know, her weekly checkup.’
There was a long pause. Silence. He tried to think of something to say. Then he remembered a joke about medical tests.
‘Reminds me about that one where the guy goes to a doctor,’ he started telling them. ‘He takes his wife with him because he’s hard of hearing. We’ll have to do some tests, the doctor says. We’ll need samples of your blood, your semen, your urine and a stool specimen. So his wife suggests that he just leaves his underpants at reception.’
Donald and Ralph just stared at him. Neither of them laughed.

‘I met Donald and Ralph earlier,’ he told Molly later. ‘I told them that joke about the doctor who wants to do more tests. Talk about a lead balloon.’
Molly smiled. ‘I do love you darling, but you’ve never been able to tell a joke,’ she said. ‘They probably weren’t sure if you were telling a true story or not. So there was probably a time lag until they realized it was supposed to be funny. And by then it was too late. To laugh, I mean. Could that have been it, do you think?’

Peter hid from the vicar. ‘Platitudes and religious mumbo jumbo is not what I’m in need of right now,’ he told himself. Then he slipped out of the back door and went on a long walk. It was cold and wet, and Molly laughed at him when he got back. The vicar had gone, and they made fun of what he’d said.
‘Just keeping in touch with his flock, he told me,’ she said. ‘His wayward flock is what he meant. But it’s his job, I suppose.’

January was insufferable. As usual, Peter thought. Such a long haul to the spring. And three long months until the clocks changed. The weather was appalling. Snow and ice with a vengeance. Even driving was dangerous. Or so they said on the television.

Molly was involved in a further series of tests. Presumably they would lead to a further series of treatments.
It was a long drive to he hospital. And parking was always difficult.
But it was the waiting that got to Peter. He’d go shopping, but that didn’t take long. He avoided the pubs. Driving was difficult enough without the problem of drowsiness.
A second hand bookshop became his salvation. He spent hours there while he waited. And he always found several books he wanted to read.
He was reading the dust cover of one when he got to the crossing. As he stepped onto the road, he heard the car. It was probably going too fast. He thought he was safe on the zebra’s stripes. He heard a loud crack as his leg broke. He wondered why the bonnet was so slippery. When his skull crashed through the windscreen the light went out in his head.

Ten years went by. Slowly at first, but more and pleasantly as the months slipped past and memories faded. Then Molly moved in with a friend. It wasn’t a sexual relationship, and she often thought of Peter.
They went on several pleasant holidays, Molly and her new partner who wasn’t her sexual partner. Sometimes by bus and once on a cruise. But Molly didn’t like the sea, although she liked the ship. It was expensive, but she had realized that she was a wealthy woman. Well, reasonably wealthy, and she could do as she pleased. Well, within reason.

Molly didn’t see the grand children as often as she would have liked to. Distance and their own growing up commitments always managed to get in the way. And Brian was always so, so busy. ‘Peter had the measure of Brian, I suppose,’ she admitted to herself one day.

But it was a very enjoyable and easy life. Molly read. They played golf, and they ate out a lot. ‘Probably too often, Molly thought, but then, what the hell? I’m not looking for another partner. That would be much too hard at my age.’

One night Molly woke up suddenly. She did not know why.  It had never happened before. At first she was a little alarmed. Mainly because she felt slightly short of breath. But only slightly. And then gradually her breathing seemed to return to normal. But her arms were tingling. Or was it only one? Or was it only her hand?
Eventually she relaxed and thought about reading. She put the bedside lamp on and looked around for her book. But then she noticed that the globe seemed to be pulsating. The filament, that’s what it’s called isn’t it? It was glowing brightly. Then it appeared to grow smaller. She watched in fascination as the light moved away from her. Into the distance. Further and further, becoming smaller and smaller. Until it was just a pinprick of brightness in the blackness of her mind. Then the light went out.


There is a lovely road that runs from the airport to the hills. It passes through the sparsely populated rural uplands on its way to the capital, built during the colonial era on a high plateau. The countryside surrounding the city for hundreds of miles in all directions is designated rural and farming. Almost all of the land is owned by farmers.
Only the capital and its slums are considered urban. This is where most of the population lives.
The scenery is spectacular, the climate serene and the living conditions despicable.

The boy in charge of the cattle saw the dust in the distance thrown up by the vehicle. He left his herd and ran down the hillside towards a group of ramshackle dwellings shouting. ‘Wake up! Wake up! The farmer again. He’s coming!’
Two men came out of one of the ramshackle huts. They stared at the approaching vehicle and then walked quickly into the bush.
The boy’s name was Jabulani. The farmer’s name was Kruger. He was looking for Jabulani’s father, whose name was Paul Delani.
The huts were on Kruger’s land. Land his forefathers had found empty before they settled on it. That’s what they said, anyway.
Paul was in one of the crude buildings. He did not know yet what the farmer wanted. So he was only mildly apprehensive about the Kruger’s sudden appearance. Paul thought it was probably to do with the men who had just left. And he’d had nothing to do with them. He’d ignored them when they were there.
As he watched the approaching truck, he formulated what he’d say. He thought that, if asked, he’d simply tell Kruger that he did not know the men. So he felt that if this was what the farmer wanted, information about the strangers, he would be reasonably safe.
But that wasn’t the case.
Although Paul was not aware of it, Kruger was on his way to get Paul because Paul had killed Kruger’s wife’s pet dog.
Since her baby had died, the dog had been the light of her life. She’d carried it round with her everywhere. A beautiful looking, but snappy and thoroughly spoilt fox terrier called, of all things, Nipper. It was white with a brown head, and she’d named it after the dog listening to a phonograph on her mother’s collection of old black-with-red-labels seventy eight His Master’s Voice records. Because she’d found out that the dog on the logo that she’d loved so much as a child was called Nipper.
Kruger didn’t like the dog much and often referred to it as Shit Head. Of course he said this mainly when his wife was not around.
But now the light had gone out of her life again. A dead baby and a dead dog. Both in the space of a year. What had she done to deserve this? ‘Die Here, please give me back my dog,’ she pleaded in prayer.
And all because Kruger had asked Paul to set a trap for the small buck that were eating the vegetables in his wife’s garden. But the wire snare had trapped Nipper instead of the thieving dik dik or duiker. So Shit Head, or Nipper, if you like, had died an agonizing death meant for a dwarf deer.
When Kruger had found his wife’s pet, the dog had been dead for some time. The sick smell of death filled the air.  Bloat was forcing fluids to escape from its bulging eyes, mouth, nose and anus. Flies were buzzing and fighting to get at the putrefying orifices.  When he picked it up, the stench was revolting and maggots covered the underside that had been in contact with the soil.
So much for his wife wondering around the property for several days and nights calling it’s stupid name.
‘Nip! Nip! Nippy, where are you? Nipper, mummy’s waiting. Come on, Nippy, come home to me my baby.’
He put the dog’s body in the back of his truck and drove home to confront his wife with the news. He was anticipating a crisis.
And he got one.
Kruger’s wife was in the kitchen. ‘Bad news about the dog, I’m afraid. Got caught in a trap.’
They went out to the truck. He pointed at the dog lying in the back, flies swooping and swarming across the lifeless body.
She stared at her darling in disbelief. Then she started to hit Kruger. She struck him on the face and chest with balled fists. ‘You… you…’ She was lost for words. ‘You bastard. You fucking bastard,’ she shouted as she let fly at him.
‘What are we doing here? Why did you bring me to this godforsaken place?’
Why indeed? He had no answer. What on earth were they doing here?
Kruger looked at the huts in disgust. ‘These people,’ he thought. ‘No self-respect. Just look at the fucking mess.’
He called out for Paul who had once been one of his farm labourers until he got too old for regular daylong work. But he had to earn his living in order to remain on the farmer’s land. So he looked after the farmer’s wife’s extensive vegetable patch.
Kruger saw an old man come shuffling towards him from one of the shacks. Paul took off his battered hat.
Kruger immediately detected a sullen look. He knew how to read these people. He’d been amongst them all his life. And he was sure that Paul looked both truculent and guilty. He’d done it deliberately. That was obvious from his surly manner.
Times were changing. Things were different now that times had changed. But the changes were not for the better in Kruger’s opinion. Some of his neighbours, and worse still, even some of his relatives, allowed these people to ride in the cab with the owner of the vehicle. But Kruger prided himself on one of the old guard. ‘Get in the back!’ he told Paul. The old man climbed up onto the bakkie and sat on the metal seat over the rear wheel.   
When he got back through the automated gates in the perimeter fence, Kruger told Paul to go to the machine shed. Then he went to fetch his wife. He told her to stand by the door. He told Paul to take off his shirt and lean across one of the tractor wheels. He took a sjambok off a hook on the wall.
He had a few practice swings. The animal hide whip made a swishing sound as it cut through the air.
Kruger’s wife stood with her legs slightly apart, watching. He began his work. 
Paul made no sound. The only thing that could be heard was the sjambok in the air as it arched towards the cuts it made in the flesh on the labourer’s back.
After a few minutes, Kruger’s wife shouted, ‘Stop. Stop Jannie. Stop now. That’s enough.’
Kruger stopped. He told Paul to get into the back of the truck. He drove the man back to his hut.
Jabulani was staring at Kruger from where he lay on the earth floor of his father’s hut. He was looking under the gap in the door. He saw Kruger grab Paul and pull him off the back of the truck. The old man’s shirt was covered in blood. When Kruger had driven off, the old man put his hat back on his head.
Kruger’s sister-in-law lived with them. She was a widow. She’d moved in with Kruger and his new wife when her husband was killed.
Kruger found her in the middle of the milking shed one day. She was dressed in denim shorts bleached almost white with a ragged hem. Her blouse was not buttoned, but tied in a knot that showed her underwear. And she was wearing cheap canvas Dunlop tackies.
The milkers stopped smiling, as soon has he came back to the shed. He told her to get out of the building. ‘The only females allowed in here are the cows,’ he said.
When she’d gone, he walked up and down the rows of heifers dodging the dung and piss and wagging his finger menacingly at the milkers. He shook his fist at some. They felt his ugly mood and concentrated on squeezing teats and expressing milk into their silver buckets.
Kruger didn’t really like his sister-in-law. She had the wrong attitude. He thought she was far too familiar with the servants. And the farm labourers. He told her to stop speaking to them when she walked around the farmyard.
‘You never know what they’re thinking. But you know by just looking at them that they have evil things on their minds. I don’t trust them. Any of them. Because they hate us. All of them. You can see it written all over their faces. So you don’t have to be Einstein to work it out.’
Kruger had once propositioned his sister-in-law. It happened only on one occasion.
It was as if he couldn’t help himself. He didn’t like the woman, he didn’t respect her, but she had an effect on him. So he wanted to show off to her. His male prowess. He wanted to establish a relationship. Where he could show her what he was made of.
‘Shall we… Well… I was thinking… do you feel like…? Well… You know what I mean, don’t you? A bit of fun, perhaps. You haven’t had any for quite a while, have you?’ He laughed. ‘I hope not anyway.’ He laughed again.
He stepped right up next to her. He could see the faint moustache on her lip and a few minute cracks where her makeup was leeching into the surrounding epidermis.
He put his hand around her waste. He pushed his pelvis up against hers so that there was no mistake about what he had in mind.
‘Fok, Jannie,’ she said as she pushed him away. ‘Your brother hasn’t been dead a few years and now you already try to sleep with me? No way man. What do you think I am? Ek is nie ‘n kaffer meid nie.’
As the unexpected rebuttal sunk in Kruger felt crushed. Demeaned and affronted. Humiliated, in fact.
‘You ungrateful bitch,’ he muttered as he left the room.
A few years before Jabulani would automatically have entered the labour force on Kruger’s farm, he was playing outside the milk shed waiting for one of his brothers to finish milking. But Kruger gave orders to one of the younger milkers, Dixon, to go and look for a missing heifer before he could go home.
Jabulani went with Dixon who was in his late teens. As they walked they chatted and Jabulani was fascinated at the older boy’s attitude. He didn’t like the farmer or anyone in his family. He didn’t like farmers, period. He didn’t like the conditions he lived under, but he had no other options. He didn’t like the government. It had changed little in fifteen years. The signs on the toilets had changed. And on the railway stations platforms. And on the front of the busses. And everyone was allowed to sit on the same benches in the park. But very little else had changed. Very little indeed.
A prominent priest had said the gravy train stopped just long enough for one set of politicians to get off while the others - the new lot - got on.
Well, perhaps some people’s attitudes had changed, but there were not many of them. Most simply masked their innermost thoughts and feelings because they had not changed at all.
Dixon talked about some people that had plans to change things at a faster rate. They would be visiting all the labourers on Kruger’s farm over the next few weeks, he told Jabulani.
They found the missing heifer in a field of maze and chased it back onto the dirt road leading to the farmstead. It knew the way and walked in front of them.
They saw a white Japanese car parked just off the track. They both knew it belonged to Kruger’s sister-in-law. Dixon ran up to the car, gesticulating frantically. He was pointing to the fact that it was unlocked. A very unusual situation. A ladies handbag lay on the front seat. They both looked around. A path led through the reeds down to a dam surrounded by willows.
Jabulani was apprehensive. He beckoned to Dixon to get back to the cow and their mission. Dixon started down the path. Jabulani hesitated for a moment then followed him.
Kruger’s sister-in-law was lying on a blanket. Most of her clothing lay in a neat pile next to her. She was in her underwear.
She was with a man the boys both knew. He was from the work force on the next-door farm. He was completely naked. And it was obvious that he was ready to make love.
Jabulani was terrified. He pulled at Dixon’s shirt and motioned him to leave. Dixon shook his head.
Jabulani crouched down and walked quickly back along the path back towards the car. He looked back once. He saw that Dixon had taken out his penis and was started to masturbate while staring at the couple involved in this frightening situation.
Miscegenation had, until recently, been a serious crime. Jabulani probably didn’t know what that meant, but knew that there would be serious consequences emanating from what they had just seen. Love played no part in the equation. Because he knew intuitively that the old social convention were as powerful as ever. The consequences were inevitable, and that the couple they were spying on were fucking across the so-called colour bar. A very dangerous thing to do in this area.
Dixon came to see Jabulani the next day. He showed Jabulani a brilliant gold lipstick. He took the cap off and, by twisting the shaft, Dixon made the bright red make-up protrude from the top of the container. Then, by reversing the action, he made it retract. Just like a shiny wet glans moving in and out of a golden prepuce.
Dixon made a mark on his skin with the crimson colouring. Jabulani thought it looked as if Dixon had slashed his skin with a blade revealing the bright flesh beneath. He looked away.
Dixon took Jabulani to a rocky outcrop. He moved some large stones from the front of a small cavity to show Jabulani where he had hidden Kruger’s sister in law’s handbag in amongst the piles of dassie shit.
The boy in charge of the cattle saw the dust in the distance. He knew it was Kruger’s vehicle. He ran down the hillside towards the huts shouting. ‘Wake up! Wake up! It’s the farmer. Baas Kruger. He’s coming again!’
Kruger stopped his truck and got out. ‘Where’s Paul?’ he asked. The old man came out of a hut.  He took his hat off and went across to speak to the farmer. ‘Where’s Jabulani?’ asked Kruger.
Paul went back into his hut. He told Jabulani to get into the back of the bakkie.
‘Where’s Dixon?’ Kruger asked the Jabulani.
They drove to a nearby group of crude dwellings and asked for Dixon. Dixon’s parents sent him out to the farmer.
‘Where’s the handbag?’ he asked the boys.
They looked at him blankly and shook their heads. But Kruger knew they were lying. He could see it written all over their faces. He’d lived amongst these people all his life. He could read any one of them just like he could read a magazine.
When they had driven through the automated gates, Kruger told the boys to wait in the machine shed. He told Dixon to take off his shirt and his trousers and to lean across one of the tractor wheels. He tied the naked boy’s wrists and ankles to the machine’s axles. He told Jabulani to stand next to Dixon.
‘Take your pants off. You’re next,’ he told Jabulani.
‘No. Not there. Closer to him. Right up next to him. I want you to feel this too,’ he instructed.
Kruger took a sjambok off its hook. He touched the tip of the naked boy’s foreskin with the whip.
Then he struck Dixon viciously across the buttocks. Jabulani gasped, but Dixon made no sound. Once. Twice. And again. And again and again.
Jabulani wet himself.
The farmer’s wife came to the door of the shed. She stood there with her legs apart.
‘Fok, Jannie. Be careful. You don’t want to kill him.’
Jabulani told the farmer he would show him where his sister-in-law’s handbag was hidden.
The bitch was on heat. She was timid and apprehensive. They released her just outside the perimeter fence. Kruger’s dogs were after her in a flash.
Dixon shot the farmer through his bathroom window. Then they drove the tractor through the front door. Jabulani found the farmer’s wife in the kitchen. She was crying without making any noise. He stabbed her in the throat. She slid down onto the floor.
There was no sign of Kruger’s sister-in-law.
When they left the farm, they each took half the money.
Dixon held a shotgun over his shoulder. Jabulani had a revolver in one hand.
With their free hands, they lifted a large television between them and started walking. Dixon helped Jabualani to carry it away from the burning buildings and up into the hills. 
It was old, very heavy, and cumbersome to carry with one hand. They plodded on holding onto the TV and their guns.
After a few miles, Dixon said he was tired, and that they should abandon the trophy.
Jabulani said he would handle it alone. Dixon went off without further comment.
Jabulani managed to manhandle the set down the rocky hillside to a dirt road where he sat on it and waited.
It would have been a long walk home, but a priest gave him a lift in a bakkie. Jabulani loaded the television set into the back and sat alongside the driver who wore a dirty black suit with a soiled white dog collar. He said nothing to Jabulani about the TV.
Jabulani tried to engage the priest in conversation, but he could see that the old man was afraid. He replied in monosyllables.
Eventually Jabulani asked him to turn off the road they were on.
‘To where I live,’ he told the priest. ‘I want you to take me to my house.’
‘No, I’m sorry, I can’t do that I’m afraid,’ he said, ‘I’m on the way to a meeting. And I can’t be late.’

Jabulani stuck the muzzle of his gun into the priest’s neck. ‘Jou fok! Just do what I tell you.’
Jabulani dragged the large lump of old-fashioned electrical equipment into his hut. He placed it on the earth floor in the corner. He stood a wooden chair in the centre of the room and sat down.
He looked at the TV, but there was no picture or sound because there was no power. Nor was there any for miles around. The nearest available electricity would have been the farmhouse he’d just left. Which used, or had used until recently, a diesel generator, and was not connected to an electrical grid anyway.
So the stolen television set would never work.
Jabulani sat in the near dark and stared at his distorted reflection on the screen.
He waited for the police to arrive.



‘Get yourself a dog. That should solve your problem.’
‘It’s almost as if they’re recommending some kind of kinky solution to a deep-rooted sexual dilemma,’ Katy thought. That suggestion they’d made. Her colleagues at the office. Especially James. The Office Brat. Young James, who was always chatting her up. Or trying to.
But, she quickly reassured herself,'No, that's not it.' Because no one there knew anything about her sex life. She was sure of that. And, if she did have a problem, it was only that she wasn’t getting any right now. Well, on the odd occasion, perhaps, but not regularly, since she’d broken up with Ian. Since she’d thrown him out, to be specific. Out of her flat and out of her life.
Luckily, only she knew about Ian. And she was glad it was over now anyway, that long and tedious relationship, when she’d been with him. When it had been so desperately mundane that she’d lost interest. ‘Why on earth did I stay with him so long, I wonder? Only Ian could make sex that boring.’
Katy smiled to herself. They were referring to the popular misconception, she decided, that you need a dog to meet people. That’s obviously what James thought anyway. But Katy didn’t like dogs. They frightened her. In fact, she hated dogs. ‘And they all smell, don’t they? Because that’s what dogs are. Smelly animals that make the house reek. And sometimes even stink. To high heaven when they’ve been rolling around in God knows what. Although their owners rarely notice any of this, it seems. Just like no one ever hears their own dog barking. It only upsets their neighbours.’
As far as Katy was concerned, dogs were either big and boisterous, full of slobber and over friendly. Or they were small and yappy and left their hairs everywhere.
And the thought of being in bed with a dog revolted her.
So, until then, until they started talking about a dog for her, Katy had never thought she had a problem. In any case, even without a dog, she’d never had any difficulty meeting people. And getting to be on friendly terms with them if she wanted to. Even if she was on her own right now.
Unfortunately though, when they suggested a pet, she started thinking about the situation.
‘No, there’s no problem. Really there isn’t,’ she thought, trying desperately to reassure herself. Well, nothing to speak of anyway. Other than the usual everyday problems like where she was going to get the money to buy that small house of her dreams? Or what she was going to do with her mother who was behaving more and more strangely and asking sillier and sillier questions? Or could she afford another holiday in Italy this year?
But for some strange reason they’d decided that she was in a dilemma. Those sticky-beaks she worked with. Where, in fact, she spent most of her waking hours.
And the way they carried on anyone would think she was in dire straits. With trouble ahead. About to endure some kind of emotional crisis that she was, for the moment, unaware of. They’d decided, apparently, that not having a partner was tantamount to living the life a leper.
At first Katy had thought it rather intrusive of them. Especially that new kid, James Bourke. The Brat. But then, on reflection, she decided that they only had her best interests at heart. And in the way of office politics, matchmaking was high on the agenda. Or, more correctly perhaps, never far from the minds of those busy bodies most involved. Instead of getting on with their jobs, they lost themselves in romance. Or to put it differently, in other people’s affairs.
‘Five minutes in a park with a dog on a lead and they’ll be forming a queue to chat you up.’ That’s what James had said to her in the pub. At one of the regular end of the working week binges. ‘There’s nothing wrong with your looks. And everybody at work likes you. So you shouldn’t have any trouble getting a man.’ He gave a nervous laugh. ‘Provided, of course, you’re not one of those women who like …’
‘Shut up Bourke, you do go on a bit,’ said one of his friends.
She wasn’t quite sure whether to be irritated or touched. Irritated, perhaps, because it was obvious they’d been talking about her. Or touched maybe, because they appeared to have had her wellbeing in mind.
‘Look James, don’t be patronizing. You’re not old enough. So be a darling and let me sort my own life out. And no, I don’t prefer women.’
But when she thought about it, she realized that she was the only one in the office who was unattached, as the saying goes. Not living with anyone, neither spouse nor partner, and no one, apparently, on the horizon. And this had been the status quo since she’d broken up with Ian. Which, when she counted up the months on her fingers, she was surprised to find was over a year ago now. Well over.
But, she asked herself, how could anybody see this as a problem? In fact it had been an enormous relief when they’d finally agreed to separate. Well, when she finally told him to leave. After five years of what she now looked back on as unmitigated drudgery. Five years of Christmas dinners with his boring family. Trying to be nice to his bitch of a sister. Trying to understand what his stroke affected father was saying to her. Doing her best to reassure his mother that she was right about the dishes she’d prepared for the festive season. The stuff that Katy struggled through every twenty fifth of December for all those years. ‘Yes, Josephine, they really are really, really so tasty. You’ve done an outstanding job again. And really so nutritious, too I’m sure.’ And to herself, ‘Josephine. Christ, what a name.’
Katie’s mind went back over the five tedious years of painful Saturday morning shopping, followed by the weekend chores Ian had always insisted they ‘get stuck into’ sooner rather than later. And five years of boring, unadventurous, once a week sex. ‘Let’s settle on Sunday mornings, shall we,’ he’d said, ‘and then we can change the sheets straight afterwards. So that we can sleep in a nice clean bed through the week.’ As if the residue of what they did between the sheets would somehow contaminate them if they ever came into contact with it again.
So Katy never bothered with a dog.
But she did meet someone in a park. By chance. Or that was how it seemed at first, because, at that stage she was not aware of the obsessive attention that lay behind the apparent chance meeting.
Katy marveled at what she then thought were coincidences. A succession of events that coincided and that would have irritated her in the plot in a novel. She even had a brief twinge of apprehension when she thought about what had happened. How quickly the situation had developed. This new arrangement she now found herself in. And what the future held.
But she was so captivated by the developments that she put all this stuff out of her mind. She was sure that something exciting was brewing. And about to be consummated. She had the feeling that she was starting out on an adventure. She felt that her life was about to change.
And she was right. It was an exhilarating time.
For a while, anyway. And of sorts.
It all started in Victoria Park, a large, nondescript configuration of muddy paths that meandered about leading nowhere except, possibly, to the public toilets. A bleak, tired public space. Neglected by the council. Abused by kids. And really only used as a short cut by those who were in a hurry and prepared to risk the dog shit.
Despite its drabness, Katy often walked in the park. It wasn’t exactly a glamorous environment, but it was outdoors in the fresh air. If the air in that area could ever be called fresh.
One weekend Katie was reading a paperback novel she’d found in a second hand bookshop. She’d chosen a flaking bench in a sunny spot. Well, novel is a bit of an overstatement. Although chick lit was not exactly her thing, the blurb had attracted her and this one was mildly interesting. It was a long book but it wiled away the surplus hours. Those hours between waking and working or working and sleeping that single people have to contend with on their own and sometimes find boring. She went back to the same bench on successive days while she ploughed through the pages.
Out of the blue one evening, a man came and sat down next to her. Nothing wrong with that she thought. She even smiled at him as she moved over. Not that this was necessary. There was plenty of room on the bench. But it seemed the right thing to do. To indicate that she didn’t mind if he sat on her bench, so to speak. As long as he sat on the other side. And didn’t disturb her.
She surreptitiously studied his features out of the corner of her eye. He was, she thought, a little older than her. Fit looking, and with a lined, what used to be known as an attractively rugged, face. And a fashionable one or two day’s growth.
Then she realized that he was doing the same thing, but in a more direct, perhaps even brazen manner. He was simply staring directly at her.
His opening gambit was blunt. ‘What you reading love?’
She ignored the question.
‘Come on share it with me. I only want to know the title.’
Katy was so taken aback by his direct, if old fashioned and definitely non-pc, manner and with what she took to be the guiltlessness of his question, that she smiled.
The trouble was, although she was well into the book, she’d forgotten the title, so she said just that. ‘I don’t know.’ It sounded contrived and lame. If not an outright lie. So she added, ‘It’s not that interesting. And it’s pretty poor writing.’
‘Get off darling. You must know the name of the book you’re so engrossed in. You’ve been reading it for a few days now.’
And that’s how Sam Dupont came into her life. And that’s what he said his name was.
‘Sam Dupont. Originally French, I think. That’s what I’ve been told anyway.’
They’d chatted on about books for a while. He told her what he was reading, although he had nothing with him. It sounded pretty esoteric, and she’d never heard of the author. ‘It sounds highbrow, I know, but it’s basically about enjoying yourself, and how to achieve your goals. You know, in life.’
She didn’t know why afterwards, but she suddenly made a rather lame excuse and got up and left.
But that was how it started.
The trouble was, she couldn’t get him out of her head. ‘He was rather good looking in a way,’ she told herself. ‘And he seemed… well, interesting, I suppose.’ Then she berated herself, ‘Can’t understand why I left him on the bench so quickly. He must think I’m potty. Or scared of men.’
For some reason, it had not crossed her mind to ask how he knew she’d been reading the same book for a few days.
Katy went to the park the following weekend. Then on Monday evening again. And on Wednesday. She stayed quite late, walking backwards and forwards, until she told herself she was being childish.
She went home in what she realized was a mildly depressed mood. ‘Don’t be so infantile,’ she told herself, ‘Probably not even from this area.’
But she continued to go back to her bench for several evenings in succession.
She’d almost given up seeing the man again, when there he was, sitting on her bench, reading a newspaper. She went over to him and said, ‘Hello love, what you reading about?’
A few days later he moved in with her.
And that night they were in bed together. Not long after nine o’clock.
They’d had dinner. Katy had cooked, and he stood around handing her ingredients and utensils, making small talk, quite interesting and sometimes quite amusing, but generally getting in the way in the small kitchen.
With a bottle and a half of wine, the dinner went down well. The conversation turned risqué. Quite quickly, she decided when she thought about it later. Not that it mattered. It was just part of the sequence that had been a very enjoyable experience. For her. And for him, she hoped.
‘Oh let’s not beat around the bush,’ she said to herself, in a mildly reproaching manner. ‘So, we went to bed on the first night. And I should have read his sexual innuendos better. But he took the lead. Not doubt about that.  It should have been a sign. Perhaps I was wrong. Perhaps I should have insisted on waiting a few days. But what’s done is done.’
The things he talked about had shocked her at first, but now she realized it was all part of his persona and repertoire. Reminding her about his French surname. And adding that Frenchmen made good lovers. Telling her what he was going to do. To her in that usual masculine way. And how she’d enjoy it. He’d made a play of being the dominant partner. He assured her she was in for something good.
And afterwards, he looked for reassurance. ‘Was that OK? Did you enjoy it?’
 ‘I thought it was wonderful? Just perfect. How about you?’ And to herself. ‘Are all men so obsessed with their performance, I wonder?’
‘I always do. But it’ll be better the next time. When we get to know each other a bit more. Our likes and dislikes. If you get what I mean.’
So that’s how it started. And that’s how it stayed.
Well, with a few variations.
Because that’s how it could have ended. But life’s not like that. That’s not what happens in reality. So that’s not what happened.
But Sam was right in one respect, she had to admit. It did get better. And she did enjoy it. More and more. Right up to the end, in fact.
Katy realized quite quickly that her life had changed. Forever. From once having been independent to the point of being lonely, she now adored being with him. In fact, she had to admit, it had become an obsession. She hated leaving him when she went to work in the morning. And she was desperate to get home to him afterwards. The Friday evening sessions with her colleagues quickly became a thing of the past.
‘Something’s happened in Katy’s life, that’s for sure,’ James said in the pub one Friday night. ‘She must have found someone. Because she’s dropped us like a hot brick. I hope it’s not a woman she’s fallen for.’
Katie lay on the bed, her bed, their bed, waiting. He was in the bathroom and she could see him looking in the mirror while he shaved. Beads of water glistened on his back where he had not dried himself properly after his shower. From time to time he looked at her reflection in the glass and spoke to her without turning. The muscles in his buttocks tightened when his body moved as he tilted his head back to shave under his jaw. She watched as he cut corridors through the shaving foam as he guided the old-fashioned cutthroat razor across his face. He wiped the excess off with a towel, rinsed the blade, folded it back into its handle, and put it into his toilet bag.
When he turned around, she could see that he was excited and ready to get back into the bed.
But it wasn’t only the bedroom that gave her life a lift. Sam liked reading. She did too. He said he’d read a lot of philosophy and books on comparative religion. He also liked cooking. Katie devoured cookbooks. They liked different fiction, but assured each other they’d each try out the other’s favourite authors.
But that was about it really. That was the sum total of what she knew about him. He never spoke of his former life. Where he was brought up, where he was educated and what his background was remained a blank.
‘Let’s just say my early life was full of unedifying and ungratifying experiences,’ he’d said. ‘I didn’t get on with anyone in my family. And I hated school. It was an unmitigated disaster, as the saying goes. I don’t want to sound callous about my home or mellow dramatic about my school, but I left both as soon as I could.’
And that was as far as he ever went. He didn’t elaborate any further. And Katy left it at that. ‘I suppose he’ll tell me about it some day. When he’s ready. When it suits him. When he feels comfortable about it. And when he feels at home here,’ she added somewhat wistfully.
‘Well, yes, James, I have found someone, if you must know,’ she told the Office Brat in the tearoom one day. They were on their own and James had popped the question he seemed desperate to get an answer to.
‘And I even managed to snare my new partner, Sam’s his name, without the dog you recommended.’ She smiled at the boy. ‘So you don’t need to worry any more on my behalf. I’m leading a full, happy and exciting love life.’
‘Why don’t you bring him…, well, you know, to meet us? In the pub on Friday night when we’re all there. You know your old friends from the office… it is a him is it?’
‘Yes, James, rest assured Sam is a man. A real man if you must know. But no, he doesn’t like pubs, and he’s not really that good with groups of people.’
‘So you’re in love, are you Katy, with this Sam, are you?’
Katie smiled. ‘Look James, I think you should just run along now. I’m sure you’ve got lots of work to do, and I’ve answered the question you’re most interested in, so that’s that. So be a darling and stop being so intrusive.’
James kept the news to himself until he got to the pub on Friday night where he announced, ‘Just as I thought, our Katie’s found herself someone. And he’s moved in with her. Sounds a really weird arrangement if you ask me. Bound to fail, I’d say. And it seems they spend a lot of time in bed,’ he smirked, ‘that’s why she can’t wait to get back home on Friday nights. The reason she doesn’t come here with us any more.’
A few weeks after his arrival, how time flies, Katy thought, he brought up the subject of protection.
‘It’s much more fun without it, you know. I mean for both of us. Enhanced enjoyment, you know, more touch and feel, no barrier to enjoyment, and all that. Tactile and sensual. They’re the key words, I suppose.
‘And I’m as clean as a whistle. I can assure you of that. If it’s ever crossed your mind. And I hope it has. Because it’s very important. No one should ever forget how to spell condom these days.
She could see that he was being serious. More serious than usual. ‘I’ve always made sure about regular checkups, so there’s nothing to worry about on my part. It’s one thing I’ve always been adamant about. Because your health is so important. My annual medical check up is what I’m on about. And blood tests. And if you’ve noticed that slight rash that comes and goes on my groin, it’s called Dhobi’s itch. It’s like athletes foot. A mild dermatitis.  Only you get it in a more, what shall we say, delicate area. An antifungal ointment clears it up quite quickly. So put that out of your mind, if it was ever there, that is.’ Then he laughed and added, ‘What about you?’
She smiled, and thought about it for a while. She had noticed the slight reddish area near his… ‘Well, genitals, I suppose, but I’m sure that’s just a natural discolouring in the pigment of the skin. A tea stain, some people call it. Like a birth mark.’
She told him if it was going to be much more fun, or even just more fun, without it, they should forget about protection.
So they did. And he was right. She somehow felt the experience more intimate during foreplay. With an enhanced sensuality, she thought. And no more messing around with blister packs or wrappers at the moment critique. So, just like he said, without doubt, much better sex.
Sam was also very generous with money. They dined out a lot. Not ever anywhere fancy, it must be said, but wherever they went, they always ate well.
And, although it was obvious that he didn’t have a job, he seemed to have access to an unlimited supply. Whenever they were short he’d simply say, ‘Let’s go and see if that old couple who sit inside the cash machine, and whose job it is to give out banknotes to nice people like us, will give us any money today.’
A relative, he explained, although not anyone close to him, had left him a generous endowment. Why him he never knew. ‘Count your blessings, I suppose. What more can I say? It’s there and I use it. Very handy indeed. I never knew the man, and I don’t know why he left it to me. So there’s no point in doing any mental gymnastics to work it out.’
And because he had it, he didn’t hesitate to spend it.
Katy thought back to the night before. She marveled again at the sequence of events. On this occasion, he’d cooked an elaborate dinner. The lights were put out. Candlelight provided a romantic ambiance. A few glasses of white to kick off with and then a bottle of read with the meal. His natural musky body odour mixed with a man’s fragrance. Disrobing. Casual caressing. The inevitable body contact. Skin on skin. The excitement of penetration. His ecstatic climax. And then hers. He was attentive enough to ensure that she was as satisfied as he was.
‘His gift of the gab is astonishing,’ she thought. How he gets one thing to flow onto the next. Almost as if it’s been scripted. It’s a very polished technique, I suppose you’d have to say.’
Everything seemed to go well for a month or so. Very well, Katy thought. It was a new life.
 Then, one Saturday, Sam went out for almost the whole day. This was unusual, and he told her he’d be gone for ‘quite a while.’
Katy was upset at first, but tried not to show it. Why had he chosen the weekend? Why hadn’t he gone during the week when she was at work?
She tried to be rational. To be fair to him, Katy told herself that they had known each other only for a short while. He was entitled to his privacy. She was well aware that she had no formal hold on him.
Then it dawned on her. She realized that she was simply jealous. Of his time, she supposed. Their time. It was then that she knew that she was in love with Sam. Katy was living a dream. She had never been happier in her life.
But don’t be silly, she told herself. ‘It’s just a relationship. Let’s not get into another affair, no matter how casual.’
But, but, but, for some inexplicable and irrational reason, she allowed an occasional cloud to enter her thoughts. A nagging idea crossed her mind, and it was quite hard to get rid of. ‘How long would it would last? Would it always be as good as this, or would Sam eventually move on?’
When she tried hard, she managed to dismiss this horrible prospect. ‘Surely not. It’s just not logical. Why should he? He’s got no reason to. None whatsoever. So stop being neurotic.’
But the cloud was not always that easy to dismiss. It kept coming back into her thoughts. Because she was acutely aware of how suddenly he’d arrived in her life. ‘Could he leave just as suddenly? Had he done just that to someone else before moving in with me?’
She tried her best to be positive. ‘But no surely not. He’s just not like that. And he seems so happy here. Making me happy. So let’s just live the present.’ And she went back to thinking about how happy she was. And about making Sam happy. And about making love with him. And looking forward to his return. So they could do it again. And again. And again.
Katie loved to hear Sam talking about things she would previously have baulked at listening to. And he seemed totally uninhibited, no matter what the subject. He spoke casually and interestingly about foreplay. He asked her about the things she liked in bed. What she liked him to do to her. And he told her what he liked her to do to him. They discussed erogenous zones. And he told her why he’d been circumcised although it was so rare other than for religious reasons. He spoke about ejaculation. He tried to explain how it felt. ‘It’s such a powerful but complex feeling that it’s almost impossible to describe.’
He asked her how often she really came. ‘Every time or just sometimes? Tell the truth, now Katie.’
They spoke about after play.
And he talked to her about masturbation. Male and female.
She surprised herself by asking, ‘Do you do it Sam? Still do it, I mean? Now that we’re together? You know, when you’re on your own. Like when you’re away from me for a while.’
‘Well, yes of course,’ he said laughing. ‘Most men masturbate. All, probably, I’d say. And they do it all the time. In the lavatory. In the shed. In the shower. Because it’s a fallacy that they only do it when their wives or partners are away. That’s not true at all. Men just do it because they like it. Whenever they feel the urge. I’m convinced that men just see wanking as another form of sex. Apparently it’s what about a third of the males in the world are engaged in right now. And it has the bonus of warding off testicular cancer, apparently. So, in answer to your question, yes, of course I do.’
And then, ‘What about you, Katie? Do you, you know, ever play with yourself?’
She felt herself reddening. ‘Well, yes, occasionally, I suppose, and when I was younger I did it quite a bit. But, unfortunately, I thought it was the wrong thing to do. It seemed to have such a taboo association. I had to make a determined effort to stop.’
‘Well, that’s a pity, but it just shows you how badly we bring up our kids. That anyone should feel anything but joy when masturbating is beyond me.’
‘Yes… I suppose you’re right, but my family were quite old-fashioned religious, and they never said anything to me about sex. Or periods, or, well, we never discussed things like that. So, like everyone else, I had to find it out for myself. Those grope sessions with boyfriends. How far could you go? What would he say to his mates? And coping with the fear of developing a reputation, or, much worse, of falling pregnant. And picking up information from friends and older siblings. Or the usually quite ambiguous stuff in teenage magazines. So, no, not really, not these days, I suppose it the answer.’
‘As I said, such a pity. But let’s not let this get too serious.’ He got up form his chair and sat down next to her on the couch. ‘Take your top off. I want to start with some of those things you said you like.’
Afterwards, they lay together for almost an hour of blissful dozing in and out of a hazy, colourful, post coital consciousness.
Sam rarely, if ever, swore. When Katy thought about it, she couldn’t remember him using a four-letter word. Even when talking about sexual matters, he used the coldheartedly correct anatomical word or euphemisms. In more intimate situations he would use colloquialisms or slang. And some of these expressions were, to put it mildly, hilarious.
But he certainly taught her how to really enjoy lovemaking. A kind of grooming, perhaps, she thought.
It was as if he was leading her through different levels of sexual experience. And she was loving it.
 Katie realized that while he had been with her, she’d lost a lot of her residual inhibitions that had probably accompanied her since childhood.
A mild reproach concerning her past life. A self-criticism. ‘Perhaps it was partly my fault that it had never been so good with Ian.’ But she shook her head. She didn’t want to go down that road. So she concentrated on the present and how she was enjoying her new life and her new man and her new attitude and the excitement that had come into her life when she met Sam.
‘Sam Dupont,’ she said to herself, but then adding for no known reason, ‘if that’s what his name really is.’
If her sexual life with Ian was mundane, Sam soon made amends.
‘You’ve got a daring imagination, darling,’ she told him one day. ‘Some of the things we get up to. In bed I mean.’
He laughed. ‘Well the missionary position has been out of fashion for quite a while, you know. People are looking for something… well… a little different, I suppose, these days.’ He looked at her intently. ‘Do you mind? Just tell me if there’s something you’d prefer not to do. Me to you, I mean. Nothing’s compulsory, you know.’
And then, ‘And, please, please tell me if there’s something you particularly like. Whether it’s me doing it to you or you doing it to yourself or both of us doing it together.’ He laughed. ‘Well, I made a mess of that sentence, didn’t I. But I think you know what I mean.’
And there was no doubt that what happened in the bedroom, and elsewhere in the flat, if truth be told, became an important and exciting part of their routine. And Sam was a great, but considerate sexual partner. Just like he’d said he’d be. Of course, she told herself, she’d had limited experience. So, who was she to judge, and what were the criteria, she wondered?
‘Well, apart from Ian, I suppose I have had a few casual engagements. And that one affair that lasted just, well, what was it? Six months or so, I suppose. Peter? Yes, of course, Peter, that was his name.’ Peter had even moved in with her. But he soon got on her nerves and this got to her. So she showed him the door. And her life went back to normal. She preferred being on her own. At that stage. Before she met Sam, that is.
So, yes, she supposed, it was probably safe to say that Sam was very good in bed. Anyway, she liked it. She always looked forward to it, and she enjoyed some of the things they did that she would once have considered risqué. Even kinky, perhaps. Just a little bit that is. ‘But nothing heavy duty,’ she thought. ‘I wonder how I’d react to anything like that. If he suggested something off the wall.’
But, with a feeling of mild relief, she added the cold rider that he had never suggested anything to do with pain, torture, extreme domination, fetishism, or any kind of sado stuff.
Not yet anyway.
Katy sometimes tried to get more about his early life out of him. But he was usually very reticent to discuss this. She managed to work out that his parents were both dead. And she knew he had an older sister and a younger brother. But he never saw either them. Never ever, he said with finality.
He told her he’d needed to see a doctor once. Regularly. But not recently. When he was younger. Although he did not use the word, she realized that it must have been some kind of therapy.
‘Not a regular GP or anything like that. I mean a shrink. You see, I was depressed for a long time. It was when I was a teenager, so I needed help. But I’m well over that stage of my life, and I’m OK now. One hundred percent, in fact.’ Then he used his trick to get off a subject he no longer wanted to discuss. ‘How about you? Ever been depressed?’
On another occasion they saw some police officers pushing two kids into a van. They, and a few other pedestrians, stopped to watch, and she realized, from his reaction, that he must have been in jail at some time. ‘They want to stay out of trouble, they do. Those kids. It’s really bad news where they’re going. And it’s hard to stay out of trouble once you’ve been there. Even if they get out quite soon the first time. Because once you’ve been in, it takes a lot of effort to stay out. They’ll find that out the next time they’re picked up. Or the time after that. Or whenever. Because sooner or later they’ll have to stay inside for quite a while. And then they’ll find out about bad things, they will. They’ll see really things you’d never want to see where they’re going. Things you wouldn’t believe could happen. Even in nightmares. Things you wouldn’t wish on anyone.’
Katy woke up confused, slightly perplexed by what had happened the night before. It had lasted a long time during the dark, midnight hours, and she lay next to him now thinking about it. The night they’d just come through.
There was no doubt that she enjoyed going to bed with Sam. If not exactly Victorian rectitude, he’d helped her to sweep aside a residual prissiness that had stayed with her as she matured. And again, she thought, you have to admire his method.
Then, as reassurance, ‘At least he had the good grace to air the ideas first. This thing he’s leading me into.’
It was true. He’d flagged what he had in mind. At first she thought he was just talking dirty or showing off. Trying to get her or himself titillated and into the right mood. But then she realized he was serious. Although he masked his ideas with chatter, levity and light-hearted banter. ‘Let’s just give it a try. I know you’ll like it. And if not, we’ll stop.’
Sam certainly was good company. And Katy loved having him around. He invariably had a slightly different perspective on ordinary, everyday things. She liked his sense of humour. She liked his casual, scruffiness. He was as interesting as he was mysterious.
‘And, well, let’s be honest,’ she said to herself, again, for the umpteenth time, he’s just great in bed.’
But an element of disquiet had crept into her mind. And it nagged at her thoughts. It wouldn’t leave, even during the daylight hours. ‘I wonder where this is going?’ kept nagging at her thoughts. ‘Just where is he leading me to?’
Katy enjoyed staying in bed late on the weekends. It was a good time to talk. Sam was sometimes quite expansive. They’d have tea, and sometimes orange juice and toast before getting up for a cooked breakfast. Or brunch. Because it was never much before the lunchtime news came on that they were up and showered and dressed. And sometimes, more often than not really, there were exciting diversions along the way. In the bathroom. Especially in the shower. Or while they were drying themselves. Quite often these escapades would lead them back into the bedroom for a while. Sometimes for quite a while.
‘Well, let’s look at it like this,’ Sam said. ‘Things change. It’s called fashion, I suppose. And I’m not only talking about clothes. It’s what’s acceptable at any given time. It’s like a pendulum.   And normal sexual boundaries are wont to shift from time to time, so the definition of what’s acceptable and what’s not in bed migrates with those boundaries. What our parents would have considered bordering on perversion are commonplace practices nowadays. They thought it daring when the more licentious of them were experimenting with the outrageous idea of having intercourse with the lights on.’
She watched his face, while he was thinking. ‘I read somewhere that they make condoms for twelve year olds in Sweden these days, or perhaps it was Switzerland. Well, wherever it is, it’s a giant step forward, as the saying goes. It’s called liberation.’
Katy snuggled up to him. She put her hand on his chest. ‘I’m so glad you said that. You make so much easier to understand why you do some of the things you do. To me, I mean. Things I’ve never had done to me before.’
‘Well, don’t start thinking of yourself as any kind of pervert, Kate, just because you’ve been titillated by a few new experiences. In any case cameras and oils and toys weren’t around in our parents day were they? When they were just starting to experiment with swinging, you know wife swapping, threesomes, foursomes, orgies, drugs, and, what were they called, gang bangs? Yes, that’s it. All that kind of thing. That was considered pretty avant guarde at the time wasn’t it? But you wouldn’t turn a hair if you read about any of those today would you?’
She felt for his hand and pulled it onto her breast. ‘OK. If you say so, darling.’ But without conviction.
He sat up on his elbow, taking his hand away. To show that this was important. ‘Don’t just say that, Kate. Think about it. You know, I’ve been around quite a while. And I’ve thought quite it a lot. It’s such an important thing in our lives. But we always shy away from talking about it. We never teach our kids what to do. We just give them a book when they’re old enough. What did your parents say to you? Did they ever say what great fun masturbation is? How important intercourse is in a relationship? And what would they have said if you’d fallen in love with a woman?’
Katy realized he was serious. More serious than usual. She thought for a while. ‘Well no, you’re right. I don’t suppose I got very much from them.’
He relaxed back into the covers. ‘You see, I’ve seen lots of things. Like I said, I’ve been around a bit. And I’ve experienced quite some quite unusual stuff too. We won’t go into that right now, but let’s just say that tolerance is the key word. That’s the conclusion that I’ve come to, anyway. You should enjoy your own sex life and do what you want to do. Go where your ideas take you. So long as it does not damage anyone else that you’re involved with. And don’t worry about what others do. That’s their affair. I’m talking about gays. And lesbians. And others, I suppose, who do things we’d never do. But that’s none of our business.’
He put his hands behind his head and thought for a while. And then, ‘Trouble is, my theory, which is not mine really, I got it from things I’ve read, but anyway, it just doesn’t wash with kids. Young people have to be protected. And this is where it gets very complicated. Because children are a case apart. Luckily though, most people see it that way,’
Katy moved closer to him. She put her finger on his lips. He knew the signal. But he had a bit more to say to her.
‘Look, I promise you this. If I ever do something, or try something, should I say, that you’re not one hundred percent comfortable with, just say so and I’ll stop. No arguments. I promise you that.’
Katy pushed herself up against him. ‘Do it now.’ She paused. She moved her hand across his chest and down. ‘I want you now,’ she whispered, softly biting his ear. ‘And do it hard. I like it when you pound into me like that.’
And when she climaxed, just after Sam, she felt they’d shared something on a higher level.
Of course there were disagreements. Life’s not all plain sailing. Especially living with a partner. It takes effort. And determination. And stamina. To keep it on even keel. And stable.
Sam went off in a huff one day. And he was gone a long time. Katie was worried. That nagging thought had entered her head again, and there it stayed. Like a simple tune that’s played over and over in the mind. One that’s hard to get rid of.
When he got back, he was grumbling about dirty stations and trains that showed up and departed at times that bore not relation to the printed timetable.
He arrived with flowers, but he never said anything that remotely resembled an apology. Katie rationalized this to mean that he thought their argument had been too trivial to resurrect. Which it was. She’d already decided that.
In the end, she supposed, she decided, it was all good clean fun. Well, almost.
He tied her hands behind her back one night, but the knots had been rather loose. She could easily have slipped out of her bonds. Had she wanted to. But she didn’t.
So she surprised herself by submitting. To being tied up. And other things that she’d once been afraid of. She felt a kind of exhilaration at the feeling of vulnerability and helplessness. She relished the sense of being completely in his power.
Katie clearly remembered, and she could recite in her mind, what he’d said, almost word for word. That first time he’d talked about doing something really different.
‘Sure as hell was rather a surprise. A bit of a shock, in fact, I suppose you’d have to say.’ This was when Sam had asked for those scarves for the first time. It was a Friday, at breakfast. Over their yogurt and cornflakes. ‘Yes, scarves. That’s what I said. Four if you have them.’ He smiled at her, but it was, well, not evil, exactly, but a rather mysterious smile she thought. ‘Because I’m going to tie you to the bed tonight. Then I’m going to beat you to within an inch of your life. And then I’m going to ravish you.’
Katy went to work thinking about scarves. She thought about scarves all day at the office. She was thinking them when she spoke to the Office Brat in the tearoom. But she hardly remembered what they’d talked about. She thought about scarves when she was hurrying home. The idea wouldn’t shift from her mind. Thinking about what lay ahead. Apprehensive but excited by the idea of being tied up with four scarves. Would it work? Should she submit? Would she enjoy the variation? Would he hurt her? ‘Yes, yes, yes and no, well maybe,’ is how she eventually answered the three questions.
She could hardly wait to get home.
‘No point in talking to her today,’ James Bourke said at the office when she’d left. ‘What a strange mood she was in. She hardly heard what I was saying to her. She’s changed a bit has our Katie. I wonder what’s happened? I hope she’s OK. She’s a nice person, you know. When you can get through to her.’
As time passed, she’d stopped worrying about the things he liked her to do in bed. In fact she’d started to enjoy some of the bizarre positions he cajoled her into adopting. She remembered the first time he’d used the scarves. And how helpless she’d felt with her limbs spread to the four corners of the bed. But how she’d begun to enjoy the anticipation of his weight on top of her. After he’d done all the things he liked doing to her. And she’d started to enjoy having them done to her.
Including the beating he’d made such a thing of, but which, it turned out, was hardly more than a few playful smacks on her bare bum.
But the lovemaking that followed the hour or so of whatever you called this kind of thing had been pure ecstasy.
And, to be fair to Sam, he was quite happy to play the submissive role from time to time. Then it was her chance to take the lead. And she did.
On one occasion he’d added an extra dimension by tying her up with her underwear on. Then he’d cut off her bra and panties with his razor. And then he’d made love to her with fragments of fabric still clinging to her body. She surprised herself again by admitting she had been excited by the suspense of the cold blade touching her skin. And the deft way he handled the razor.
‘Mmm. That was lovely, darling,’ she whispered to him before they went to sleep. Let’s do it again.’
‘What? When? Now, do you mean? I thought we were finished for tonight. I’m whacked.’
‘Yes. No. I mean no, not now, and yes, I need some sleep. But let’s do it again. I mean, you do it again, sometime. Whenever it suits you.’
It suited him the early next morning.
Katy smiled. She was thinking about the things Sam had taught her. She had to admit that she’d been a little apprehensive at first. Even afraid. Like when he’d tied her to the bed for the first time. But he’d done it gently and caringly, she thought, without any hint of violence or sadism. And she had to admit that some of the things they did added a sense of adventure, a frisson, to what happened in bed. Even that time he’d asked if she minded being shaved. And how she’d been afraid. Perhaps this is going a step too far, she thought as he brushed and massaged her pubic area with his shaving gear. How the fear level had risen while he was sharpening his razor. And the mixture of pleasure and terror when she felt the cold steel scrape into her pubic hair.
And then the ecstasy when she felt his tongue moving through the soft, fluffy shadow.
Katy woke up, not in bed, but on the couch. She was covered with a blanket. And she had a pillow under her head. She remembered they’d been watching a video. Some pretty weird things happened in the movie. She wondered where he’d got it. But then she remembered some of the things he’d shown her on the Internet.
Sam brought her a cup of tea. He was naked, but, as usual, totally uninhibited. His body was strong and wiry with only the slightest hint of sagging muscles around his midriff. He had an intricate design tattooed on one shoulder. It was based on a Mayan sun, he’d told her.
And then she remembered the video again. But she didn’t want to dwell on that. So she put it out of her mind.
Suddenly spring arrived.
The trees were losing their grey winter sheen. Daffodils appeared in the park, overnight, or so it seemed. Window boxes struggled to show off their restless first bulbs.
Bright, warmer days were forecast. Obvious signs of change, Katy thought. This was definitely the season for lovers.
They’d made love twice already that morning. Very early when it was still dark, and then again after their Spartan breakfast. Before they embarked on their weekly replenishment program.
It was a fine day to start off with, but around noon it turned to drizzle. ‘Let’s just ignore it. Perhaps it’ll go away,’ he said, holding her hand as they wandered down the mall window-shopping.
They stopped for a while outside a pet shop. Brightly plumed birds in ornate cages and puppies on sawdust. ‘Ever thought about a dog for a pet?’ he asked her.
She laughed, remembering what they’d said at the office when they were in matchmaking mode. About enhancing the chances of meeting people if you were walking a dog. She’d almost forgotten that, it was such a long time ago now. ‘No never. I don’t like dogs much and I can’t stand cats. And that’s the last word on the subject. So please don’t ever come home with one as a surprise.’
He smiled and they walked on.
They crossed the road against the red man. A taxi hooted irritably.
At the end of the mall, when they turned into the High Street, Katy saw two thickset men walking towards them. They were taking up most of the pavement. Just as Sam let go of her hand to let them through, a third man they’d just passed loitering in a doorway stepped out and came up from behind. He struck Sam a fierce blow on the side of his head with a truncheon. Sam pitched forward onto the pavement and the three men were on him, pinning him to the ground. Another burly man got off a motorcycle as it stopped alongside them. He was holding a gun and pointing it at Sam’s head.
Katy screamed. An ugly woman with scraggy blond hair grabbed her firmly around the waist and dragged her away from the melee on the pavement. ‘Steady on miss, this won’t take long. You’re safe now.’
She looked back and saw Sam being helped to his feet. His hands were handcuffed behind his back. Two police cars arrived their sirens blaring. Sam was pushed into the back of one.
Then it was all over. In every sense of the word.
Katy put a finger in her mouth when she read the lurid redtop banner headline.
She started reading the copy. ‘Samuel Reagan the notorious The Razor Killer was wrestled to the ground in a dramatic High Street capture yesterday.’
She read on:
‘Sam Reagan has been on the run for six months. He escaped from a high security facility where he was being held for life with no possibility of remission. Sam Reagan has killed five women over a period of five years.’
Katy sat down on a kitchen chair. She stopped reading, concentrating on regaining her composure. Then, as if in a dream, she read on. The tabloid gave all the gruesome details.
‘Sam Reagan tied his victim to their beds after luring them into sexual adventures that would have startled the Marquis de Sade. He then slowly cut their throats. All five victims were murdered in this way. His preferred weapon was a sharp paring knife or sometimes a cutthroat razor.’
But the really bad news for Katy was kept until the end of the article. A terrifying sting in the tail. The details were in the last line.
‘A police spokesperson said she had seldom come across such an evil person. She confirmed that Sam Reagan would be returned to prison to serve out his sentence. Which was life with no chance of parole. Fortunately for the taxpayer, this was not expected to be more than a few years due to his advanced HIV condition.’



The kids found out that Wills was having an affair quite a while before his wife did.

But Jessica eventually worked it out for herself. Even blind Freddy would have picked it up. What was going on between her husband and Amber eventually became obvious to everyone. A debilitating shock spread slowly through her body.  But this was only the first shock to her system.

Then, just when she was about to confront Wills with his infidelity, news of the cancer arrived. Having started in her right breast, it too was spreading through her body, but quite quickly they said.

There was some good news, however, if good is ever the right word to use with cancer. It was only type one, if only is ever the right word to use with cancer. And at this stage Jessica didn’t yet know all the tacky details about Wills and Amber. If not knowing all the tacky details about your husband’s affair with and your best friend is a helpful position to be in when you’ve just been diagnosed with a life threatening disease. Perhaps an even terminal one.

The timing of these events could not have been bleaker. News of both bobbed up just before Jessica’s fortieth birthday. They quickly put an end to any plans anyone may have had for a celebration.

‘Some present,’ she said to herself about the cancer, ‘Talk about a double whammy. Who the hell needs a breast operation at my age?’
To be fair, Wills’s affair with Amber went on the back burner straight away when he found out that Jessica was sick. After all, twenty-five years of married life did mean … well, something. So his relationship with Amber was sidelined. For a while anyway. But not for very long as it happened.

‘How on earth can you miss a hard lump in the armpit?’ they asked. ‘She must have felt it when she showered,’ was what one young mother said at the tennis club. ‘Surely you notice it when your skin takes on the rough, mottled surface of an orange?’ But in those days, screening was not yet routine, and many women avoided getting involved.
So it was easy to miss. Or to avoid recognizing because of fear of the truth.
When she first noticed the slight swelling, Jessica told herself it would go away. That it was nothing to worry about. It was simply a symptom of getting on in life, a little older, along with stiffness in the joints and the constant fight against those extra pounds around the waist. And thank God, it didn’t hurt. How could a thing that wasn’t painful be a symptom of something so terrible? Jessica convinced herself that it was nothing and it would soon be gone.
But then one of her nipples started to discharge a sticky, greenish fluid. It looked like pus, and she was so frightened that she stayed in bed all day. Without even phoning the office. Wills found her still in her nightdress when he got home. From seeing his new friend Amber. At a hotel with a rather dubious reputation. Because it hired out rooms by the hour. And they’d met there mid afternoon. Then they’d had a few drinks in the bar, before wending their respective ways home.

Although the diagnosis was positive, when one wanted it to be negative, the prognosis was, apparently, good.
In the short term that was all true. Because of huge strides in the treatment of breast cancer, surgery and postoperative chemotherapy soon returned Jessica to a relatively normal and healthy lifestyle. For a while anyway. Because, once it has paid a visit, cancer never likes to be shown the door.

Wills was very supportive during the recovery period. So were the children who provided as much support as he did. And Wills gave up seeing Amber altogether. For a while, anyway. Because once he had established that kind of relationship, it was very difficult to find the door.
But beware. Cancer is never to be taken lightly. Jessica’s reasonably aggressive procedure should have been the giveaway. Patients with a good prognosis are usually offered a less invasive treatment. So despite the prayers of her parents and children, and most of her friends and neighbors, and Wills’s positive thinking it must be said, because he did not believe in the power of prayer, the cancer turned to be much more tenacious than had first been expected. It refused to be beaten. It came back quite soon. And with a vengeance. 

Once again, Wills put his assignation with Amber on the back burner for … well, for quite a while this time. But as the days dragged by, and the ambience in the home deteriorated, getting more depressing and debilitating, they started meeting again. It was Wills who initiated it and Amber didn’t need much convincing. But who can blame him? A man has his needs doesn’t he? And if he can’t get it at home, what else is he supposed to do?

Arranging the funeral was trying. It was very difficult for all concerned. The discussions were testy throughout the meeting with the undertaker. And deciding on the music, dress, coffin, makeup and flowers caused lots of arguments. What would Jessica have wanted? Well, no one knew. Because she’d never discussed it with anyone. And she’d never written anything down. Not even a will. Which meant, as they would all find out later, that all of the considerable investments that she’d inherited from her very wealthy grandfather, would automatically go to Wills.
The more family orientated arrangements were even more difficult. Wills was determined that Amber should attend the funeral. All three of the kids were vehemently pitched against this. He pointed out that Jessica had once been quite friendly with his new friend. Matty’s reply was somewhat outspoken. Without actually looking at Wills he said, ‘Yes, but that was before mum realized that you were fucking her best friend.’ The comment set the tenor for the rest of the discussion. Eventually Wills gave up and left in a huff. It was left to Russell, Karen and Matty to settle on the venue. They chose Jessica’s parent’s house, and all the other difficult details were eventually handled by Jessica’s mother.

On the day of the service, family ties exploded completely. Wills hated going into churches at the best of times, and he hung about outside talking to the few friends who had not totally ostracized him. And Amber hung around with him. So, when it was time to stop hanging around any more, and ignoring completely what was obviously the choice of his children, Wills eventually marched boldly into the church with his girlfriend. They went in to attend his dead wife’s funeral.
Wills sensed that everyone already inside was waiting for a dramatic entrance. As if expecting thunder and lightening to announce that Wills and his painted strumpet, the sinners behind this event, had arrived. Heads all over the assembled congregation moved together to mutter and whisper. And the muttering and whispering echoed high up in the arches of the nave on their way to heaven. 
Needless to say, they were not invited to Jessica’s parent’s house afterwards. Russell had telephoned Wills to say he would not be welcome. So Wills had booked a large double room in an up market hotel, and they went there straight after his wife’s funeral for Champaign. And other things.

‘Perhaps we were a little hard on him,’ Russell said to Matty and Karen afterwards. ‘He was with her for twenty five years, and, after all, he is our father.’

The last straw, as far as the kids were concerned, was when Amber moved in with Wills. ‘That’s it,’ said Matty. ‘It’s the end of the ride as far as I’m concerned. I’ll never go there again.’
His brother and sister agreed. ‘You’re right Matty. It’s all over now.’

So that’s how Amber’s relocation broke the camel’s back, and the kids broke off all contact with their father. Karen used her answer machine to monitor all calls as she always had, and she never called Wills back when he left a message. Russell’s partner invariably answered their telephone phone, and although she gave Russell Wills’s messages, he never phoned his father back. And Matty didn’t have a phone in the flat he shared, so he was very difficult to get hold of.

When Wills tried writing, his letters and post cards were simply and studiously ignored.

‘Got something from dad the other day,’ Karen told Russell, but I tore the envelope up without even opening it.’ All communication between the notional head of the household and his children had come to a dead stop. A cul de sac. And nothing, it seemed, would reinstate their family relationships. 
‘Look,’ Wills said to Amber before they got up one morning, but after their almost daily romp, ‘I’ve made up my mind about my kids. So this is the bottom line as far as they’re are concerned. I’m prepared to give it a year. And I’ll work hard for a rapprochement. But, if after 365 days they’re not prepared to treat me as a human being, there will be consequences. And they’ll regret how they’ve treated me.’

As usual Amber agreed with everything he said. She always did, including whenever he suggested, well… everyone knows what. Even if she didn’t feel like it. And when she could have used the perennial cliché, that she ‘had a headache’. Because she, at least, knew which side her bread was buttered on.

About six months later Wills spoke to Amber about the next move. ‘Look, I’ve tried hard to contact them, but they’re being pig headed. All three of them. As if they’re colluding against me. It appears they’re determined to be bloody-minded. So I’ve decided that a warning should be issued.’

He picked up the phone and dialed Barclay, Berber and Jordan’s number. He asked to speak to Jordan, the senior partner.

A few days later Matty phoned Russell. ‘Fucking hell, have you got the lawyer’s letter? What’s a stipend, by the way?’

‘Yes mate, just opened it. And I’ve spoken to Karen. She got one too. And a stipend is the cheque you get every month. Well, used to get, is probably more accurate now.’
‘Hang on mate. That was mum’s money. She inherited it from her father. And she was the one who decided that we should all have a regular income from his investments. Dad had better not be able to stop it now, because I couldn’t live without it.’
‘Frade he can mate. She left everything to him. And she never had time to change her will. Or she was too sick to do so. When she heard about his girlfriend and all that.’
There was a pause as the brothers thought about their situation.
‘Well, what are we going to do?’ asked Russell. ‘Should we speak to him. See if we can get him to change his mind?’
‘No mate, not me. Fuck him. I’d rather starve than grovel.’

Another six months went by with no sign of a thaw. Wills dialed Barclay, Berber and Jordan again and asked for Jordan. After a few pleasantries, he said, ‘Look, this is not a joke, and I’m not drunk or on drugs. I’ll come into your office to sign the papers when you’ve carried out these instructions I’m about to give you. I want to change my will. I want all my assets to go to a cat’s home. Is that clear? I’ll say it again just so there’s no misunderstanding. A cat’s home. I don’t care which one, You choose. So long as it’s definitely a bone fide cat’s home. Because I want to disinherit my kids. All of them. Utterly and completely. I never want them to get any of my money. I couldn’t care less if they live in penury for the rest of their lives and die paupers.’

As the eldest, it was Russell’s responsibility to phone his siblings when he heard from Mr Jordan.
He spoke to his sister first. She burst into tears, and hung up.
He dialed his brother’s new cellphone number. ‘Hello, Matty, I’ve just heard from dad’s solicitor again.’
‘Oh yes? He’s giving us a hand out to salve his conscience, is he?’
‘Frade not, mate. Worse than that. He wrote to say that dad has completely changed his will.’
‘Whaddaya mean, completely?’
‘Well, I hope you’re sitting down mate. You see everything goes to a fucking cat’s home.’
There was a long pause.
‘You there, Matty?’
‘Yes, but I don’t know what to say. First mum. Now this.’ Another pause. Then, ‘I hope he burns in hell. And sooner rather than later.’
‘Whoa. Don’t say that Matty. He’s still our dad. And you never know. Time heals everything. He may change his mind one day. And reinstate us all as beneficiaries. Perhaps we should start working on it. Right away. Eat some humble pie if necessary. Suck up to him a bit. Because there’s a lot of money riding on it.’ 

A short while later the chairman and sole principal of ‘Our Feline Friends’ got a letter from Mr Jordan.
Dear Mr Champion,
I am writing to you as the executor of Mr Wills Hodgkin’s estate (a person who is probably quite unknown to you). Mr Hodgkins recently nominated your trust, viz, “Our Feline Friends”, also known as “Champion’s Cats Home”, as the sole beneficiary of his estate, and in his will dated 6th June, he bequeathed one hundred percent of his total assets to your trust.
As Mr Hodgkins and his partner of several years were both tragically killed in a motor accident a week ago, an amount of 1.69 million dollars has been credited to your organization’s bank account.
Please contact me directly if you have any queries in this matter.
Yours sincerely,
J J Jordan.



In bad faith, it is from myself that I am hiding the truth.
Jean-Paul Satre (1905-1980).

Paul and the boy both heard the vehicle drive into the courtyard. A car door slammed but the engine was kept running. Paul looked at his face in the mirror and went on shaving. He was expecting a visit, but he showed no sign of fear or the pangs of pain he felt gnawing at his bowels.
The boy put down the old enamel jug of water he was holding and went to the window. He looked out and then quickly stepped away from the opening.
‘Well, who is it?’ asked Paul, trying to sound more casual than he felt.
‘It is a jeep, Father. It’s the army. There are three soldiers. One is at the front door. He is speaking to Father Xavier. We must be careful, Father. They might have been drinking, and they do not drink wine with song, Father.’
‘Don’t worry, my boy. We have nothing to fear. It’s probably a routine visit. Perhaps Father Xavier will give them something and send them on their way. Now, more hot water please. I must finish my face.’
There was a soft knock at the door. And a brief conversation in Kingala. Paul did not understand what was being said. But he understood the wide-eyed look on the boy’s face when he turned to Paul and said, ‘I will pack some things for you, Father. You must go with them.’
In the courtyard, when Paul tried to insist on traveling next to the driver, a young soldier slapped him across the face with an open hand and pointed to the back of the jeep. Paul felt the blood in his mouth, but he turned the other cheek and did what he was told. He climbed in and sat on the floor. Two soldiers got in with him. One of them drew his finger across his throat and laughed. Paul did not think it was funny.
Four years earlier, Paul was told to meet a man in a black suit at the airport. Some request. All but impossible he thought as he went into the congested international terminal. But the man found him easily. No trouble at all, it seemed. Seek and ye shall find, he remembered, was one of his mother’s favourites.
The man immediately asked for Paul’s passport. He put it in his briefcase and handed Paul a new one.
‘It’s completely legal and legitimate. Which means it’ll take a little longer to work out where you’ve been, etcetera. Not a huge advantage, but one never knows. Don’t forget though, if they really want to find out about you, they will. On the other hand, maybe they won’t bother to check.’
The man stopped while he reflected on what he was about to say. ‘But you must be very careful. Although we are well established there with many friends in high places, it’s always best to play it safe. Eternal vigilance and all that. Not everyone is on our side. In fact some people will be vehemently pitched against you. And some may even try to kill you.’
Paul looked at the document. Where they got the photo from he had no idea. But it looked fairly recent.
‘Now listen carefully, because this is very important.’ The man handed Paul a brown envelope sealed with tape. ‘Don’t open it now. Only when you get to Bangala immigration. You’ll be in for a long wait. There will be only one official on duty. So, just as you get to the counter, take all the dollars out and put them inside your passport before you hand it to the border control officer.’
They shook hands.
‘Ite in pace.’ Paul was surprised. He had not been addressed in Latin for a long, long time. ‘And may you have a long life.’
The man in black was soon lost in the crowded concourse, and Paul was on his own.
On a hot day in the rainy season, but with no sign of rain, the small aircraft circled Bangala’s airport. On a metal seat next to a window, Paul, his white knuckles clutching the armrests, looked down at the ribbon of runway in the land of his new posting. In the far distance he could just make out a large open pit mining operation. On the horizon, a ring of purple mountains reached out of the jungle marking the frontier. Despite their closeness to the equator, some of the higher peaks were white with snow.
A slight change of course brought the capital’s handful of skyscrapers into view and Paul caught sight of the notorious cloud of smoke that hovered over the city whatever the season.
The pilot’s approach was complicated because of the proximity of a series of rocky outcrops. Years ago questions were asked about the airport’s location. Mist and smog were common, it was pointed out, and wasn’t it too close to the mountains? But no answers were forthcoming. Construction inevitably went on to completion but well behind time and millions over budget.
As they descended, several military vehicles floated into view. Then the aircraft banked suddenly as it overshot the pockmarked tarmac landing strip. Father Paul instinctively clutched at his favourite silver rosary in his pocket. He looked down again and saw that many bomb craters still lined the edges of the black apron. Ten years after the end of the civil war they had still not been repaired.
The pilot had told Paul his conditions before takeoff. He wanted full payment – a very large sum – in cash and in advance. He said Paul must disembark immediately on landing. ‘I’m not stopping. That’s not part of the deal. Once we touch down you’re on your own. I’m outta there as soon as I can turn round.’
When the plane stopped, the pilot left the engine running. He lowered a flimsy ladder onto the runway. As Paul touched the concrete, the metal frame disappeared back into the fuselage. He handed down Paul’s backpack. The door slammed and the aircraft did a U-turn. It stopped for a moment before accelerating down the concrete apron towards take off. It was soon a spec disappearing into the heat haze. Then it was gone, and Paul was alone in his new country.
It turned out to be exactly as the man had said. It was a long wait. Crowds of people sweating in the corrugated iron customs and immigration shed built onto one side of a concrete mass that was Bangala International. Piles of baggage. No signs to say what to do or where to go. And soldiers with guns everywhere.
There was only one man at the immigration desk and it took a long time to get to him. He looked bored even when he took the money out of Paul’s passport. ‘OK, pass through.’
‘No stamp?’ asked Paul. ‘No entry visa to say how long I can stay?’
‘Go! Nothing more.’
Paul went through into the filthy main building. He was met by a young man in a white robe with tribal scars on his face and perfect white teeth. He seemed very nervous.
‘Father Paul?’ he asked and then introduced himself as Simon. ‘We must hurry. This is a bad place. There are many soldiers. Please come with me, and don’t look at or speak to anyone. Let us be like the prudent man who foresees evil and hides himself when the simple pass on and are punished.’
As they neared a splintered glass door, they passed a group of armed men in uniform, several of who were sitting on their haunches smoking and drinking. One of them called out. Simon ignored the shout, and taking Paul by the elbow, led him towards the exit. But the sound of a bolt assembly being pulled back and a round being loaded into the firing chamber made Simon stop and look at the group of ragged men surrounded by empty plastic beer cartons. One of them got up and sauntered towards Simon and Paul. He spoke to Simon who answered in a language Paul didn’t understand. Suddenly the man raised his rifle and hit Simon on the chest with the butt. Simon collapsed and lay on the floor. Paul stepped forward and grabbed at the gun. This infuriated the man who turned on Paul shouting for his comrades to help. The man from immigration appeared suddenly. He was holding a short swagger stick. He hit the soldier across the face. Several short, sharp cuts of the cane. They all obviously knew who he was, because they immediately backed off. The man he’d struck was fingering the bright pink wheals on his ebony cheeks.
Paul helped Simon to his feet.
‘Very pleased to see you again,’ he said, attempting to make light of a difficult situation. ‘Thank you very much for interceding.’
The immigration officer stared at them. He spoke perfect English. ‘Why don’t you just get out of here before you both get hurt?’ Then he walked off, glaring at the young soldiers and gesticulating at them with the rattan stick he’d just used with such effect. And with such authority.
Beneath the surface the mission station and school had changed little since it’s founding in the colonial days. Old fashioned or politically incorrect concepts and words like ‘assimilation’ and ‘tribal development’ were no longer used, but that was about it. Very few of the locals had the view that the missionaries had taken their land in exchange for a book - the concept had just not crossed their minds. Perhaps because they were too busy eking out a living from what erosion had left of the soil.
This was the milieu Paul fitted into so well from the day he arrived. He took to his new teaching situation like a duck to water. Always willing to help his peers – and of course the pupils.
Paul was a naturally good teacher. He had a good rapport with young people, in this case boys, because there were no girls at the school. He knew his subjects well, spoke fluent French and Spanish and had studied European and colonial history. He went to great lengths to ensure that the mission schoolboys liked his lessons.
One boy, Naftali, the son of a minor tribal elder, caught his eye. He was a bright kid. Very bright. And he spoke good English with hardly a trace of an accent. He was handsome, self confident and amusing. He could be the class jester whenever he wanted to. He asked probing questions and was never slow to spark a debate on testy matters. Paul liked him a lot.
‘How can it be that our Bangala style of animism is not considered in the same league as European religions,’ Naftali asked. ‘Despite the fact that it’s been looked at from all angles and upside down by anthropologists for generations. Some experts, swayed, it seems, by their own religious leanings, declare it to be pagan. Others, who call themselves freethinkers, give it disparaging labels like animism or totemism. At best it’s considered a cult – at worst it’s dismissed as primitive native mumbo jumbo. Why is it so, Father Paul?’
Paul realized he was on difficult ground on many occasions. But he tried. And he kept trying. In the end, he found this uphill battle to be gratifying and stimulating despite the deep-seated doubt and anxiety it sometimes provoked. He’d not thought about religion so much since he’d taken orders. He felt somehow invigorated by Naftali’s developing mind and to be privileged by his role in helping it grow.
Sometimes the questions were even more difficult. Especially one that one occasion when he brought the house down. Paul was never able to work out if Naftali was being deliberately provocative or simply playing the clown.
‘Forgive me for being intrusive, Father Paul, but how can the church prognosticate on the matters that, in theory anyway, none of it’s adherents should know anything about. For example, Father, why are we taught that something we all do and which is so much fun is considered to be so bad? Why is such a simple pleasure condemned as a mortal sin?’
This question came at Paul like a runaway train, and, although he saw it coming, there was no way it was going to be stopped. Naftali saw to that.
‘So what we’d all like to know from you Father Paul, is how often do you yourself masturbate?’
It was obvious from the start that Naftali was extremely precocious. He was good at all subjects, and his mind was quick, alert and receptive. He grasped complex ideas quickly and he was open to new concepts. So of course the time came when it was obvious that Naftali would benefit from extra instruction.
Paul wrestled with the situation for a long time before making up his mind. But how to couch it? How to make the offer? What, exactly, was he going to say?
Finally Paul decided. He would suggest that added time be made available for the boy’s studies. He’d propose additional face-to-face contact. He’d say they needed to see each other more often. Much more often.
‘Naftali, you’re a very bright boy. Here’s a key to the front door of the building. Feel free to use it any time at all. I am always available if you feel the need to talk. On any subject you might wish to discuss.’
After all Paul told himself, this was solely in the spirit of developing a young mind.
So that’s how it started. Infrequent at first, but then regular visits from Naftali. Sometimes at night. Sometimes quite late. And sometimes the boy would only leave Father Paul’s room when the first rays of sunrise touched the mission school.
They came to get him well after dark. A group of men in shabby clothes with sullen faces. He recognized most of them. Two uncles and several cousins. They all carried pangas. It was obvious they’d been drinking. He recognized the slurred speech and rheumy eyes. His father’s brothers did not speak to him, and the others refused even to look at him. They would not meet his gaze.
His father said he must go with them. His mother was not present. This was men’s business. He told Naftali it was to prepare for an initiation ceremony. A right of passage that all boys went through. Although he knew it was a lie, he realized that it was important to be seen to obey his father. So he went with them from the dark night into the darker forest. But he knew it was more than circumcision they had in mind.
When Paul was pushed into Major Kimani’s office, a saying his mother had used flashed into mind. Black as your hat. That’s what she would have said in those days when that kind of metaphor was tolerated. And that’s what he was, but with a mind as sharp as a razor. As Paul was about to find out.
‘Stop! Leave him alone,’ Kimani shouted at his men. And, ‘My apologies, Father,’ to Paul. ‘I’m sure you’ve heard that old colonial expression, You can take an African out of the jungle, but you can’t take the jungle out of the African. Well, although it’s a racial slur, I learned my English in England. So I understand why the original settlers thought along those lines, and my people continue to exasperate me when they display their uncivilized manners.’
Although his mouth was badly swollen, Paul relaxed somewhat in the Major’s presence. He did not know why he’d been brought in, but he knew he’d have to be on his toes when answering any questions. Still, he felt reasonably confident that he’d be able to work his way out of it. Because he’d been here before. The situation had not been quite the same, perhaps. But very similar. Not in this country. Not in Africa. But in Ireland, it had been. Picked up and interrogated by Garda Siochana. And then exonerated and apologized to in a sudden change of direction. Or a change of heart.
Paul waited patiently while Kimani spoke to the soldiers for a while in Kingala. He never raised his voice, but it was obvious he was livid with them. Then Paul heard a word that he recognized. An English word. It sent a chill down his spine. He realized they were talking about a computer. Kimani used the word laptop. Paul knew they had to be discussing his laptop.
Then, obviously for Paul’s benefit, Kimani switched to English as he bundled the soldiers out of the door. ‘Now get out. Go and do your jobs. Properly. Fetch his computer and bring it back here.’
An hour went by. They talked about all kinds of things. The politics of post colonialism. How global warming, disease, famine and overpopulation appeared to be the major burdens Africa would have to come to terms with in the twenty first century. The influence of various United Nations institutions and the role of various NGO’s.
Kimani pointed out what he saw as similarities between the Bangala tribe’s primitive religion and Paul’s. The influence of the spirit world and an entrenched hierarchy of men with influence. The role played by magical or supernatural powers. Paul chose not to refute any of the hypotheses proposed by Kimani.
Eventually, there was a knock at the door, and a soldier came in with a laptop. Even at that stage, Paul felt reasonably confident. But not for long.
Major Kimani picked up the phone, and a few minutes later a man who was not in uniform entered the office. He spoke to the Major, but took no notice of Paul.
‘This is Philemon, our very own black faced white hatted hacker. He’s rather uncommunicative as you can see, but he’s a whiz with computers. An expert with software. Even protected software. As you will see. And shortly, I hope.’
The major spoke to Philemon in Kingala, but Paul recognized one word that caused a burning sensation to start churning in his stomach: photos.
Philemon went to work on the laptop. Then he pointed out something to the Major. He wrote a few notes on a piece of paper, and when he’d left the room, the major started scrolling through Paul’s files. Although Paul could not see the screen, he knew what the Major was looking at. Downloaded photographs that he kept in what he thought was a safe place. Until now. Because he realized that Kimani had found the way into his secure files and was looking at his private pictures.
The major switched off the laptop.
He got up and walked over to Paul. He deliberately stood over him. Up close. ‘Well, now that I’ve looked at your photos, I’ll show you a few of mine.’
He handed Paul a folder. Inside were five glossy colour photos. They were all of Naftali. He was naked. And covered in blood. With dozens of gaping panga wounds. And obviously quite dead.
A few days before his arrest, the old mission panel van stopped outside a large colonial era mansion surrounded by high walls. Some Bangalan soldiers sat outside a metal security door. Paul got out and said good morning to them in Kiswahili which he knew they understood. But they ignored him.
He pressed the intercom and the gate was opened by two much paler soldiers in battle dress. They saw immediately that he was in a highly distressed state. They said good morning politely and motioned for him to come in. The priest stepped over the invisible barrier into the safety of the embassy.
One of the men escorted Paul to the Ambassador’s office where he was received by Sir Richard Campbell and his assistant.
‘I am sorry to trouble you, but I need to phone that one hundred and ten acre enclave in Rome. And I need a secure line. Well, I know it’s not a line any more, but what I mean is your satellite phone. As per our arrangement.’
‘Certainly Father, it’s your right. We’re at your disposal. And we’re happy to honour our country’s agreement with yours. Well, I know it’s not really your country you’re phoning. I suppose it’s more like a… well, a club, perhaps. But you know what I mean, I’m sure.’
Paul telephoned the unlisted number. He was sweating profusely. The man who answered asked him a question. ‘Quo vadis?’
Paul searched through the dark labyrinth of his mind for the code he’d been given so long ago. Eventually he dredged up the answer. A phrase he’d once been given to commit to memory. When he’d first had dealings with these people. Paul remembered. He gave the answer that was required. ‘Ad vitam aeternam.’
He was immediately put through to a man who called himself Gregory. He had an Irish accent. He told Paul to calm down. They’d arrange something. He said not to talk to anyone about anything. Not even at the school.
After Paul had made his call, he felt much better, and he left, thanking the Ambassador profusely. ‘Everything in order?’ Sir Nigel asked. ‘Nothing we can help with? At the school I mean.’
‘Thank you Sir Nigel, that’s very kind of you, but I think I’ve got it sorted out now. The person I phoned was very helpful, and he knows what to do.’
During the whole exchange, Lionel had said nothing to the priest.
When Paul was gone, the Ambassador asked, ‘Why so glum, Lionel? Something on your mind?’
‘No sir. Well, yes, I suppose so sir.’
‘Well, what is it. Cough up now. We’re both in this together. We have to know what each other thinks.’
‘I’m sorry sir, but it makes me sick. Why do we do it? Because this kind of thing sends the wrong message to everyone. About what we stand for. You know, white hats versus black hats. Just who’s side are we on exactly? After all, we know who he’s phoning and we know why.’
He paused and looked at the Ambassador. Sir Nigel looked back impassively. Lionel went on. ‘Two of the most corrupt governments in the world colluding with each other, and we simply stand by. I know the standard rationale is that we don’t get involved. That there’s a chance we can influence this one for the better. But the one he phoned… It has a hold on millions of people around the world. Spreading archaic ideas and protecting evil men. It’s more corrupt than corrupt. But you’ll say it’s not our business, won’t you? We’re here simply to carry out policy. Even if we can’t understand it.’ Lionel realized he was going on a bit. ‘Or don’t agree with,’ he added meekly.
‘Now, now, Lionel. I can see that you’re passionate about it. And distressed perhaps. But ours not to reason why.’
‘Yes sir, and into the valley of death rode all those who thought that.’

The taxi owner-driver couldn’t believe his luck. He’d never had a fare like this before.
The distance to the destination was considerable, but there’d been no problem with paying the full fare in advance. Forty miles from the airport through built up areas to the start of the interstate road. Two hundred and fifty miles on the Great Western Highway. Then another hundred or so, through several small spread out towns with unpronounceable names. And, finally up a torturous dirt road into the mountains to the mission station where the school was located. A very remote place indeed.
When the taxi had gone, Father James took Father Paul on a quick orientation tour of the institution.
‘Please don't hesitate to ask if you need anything, Father Paul. It's my job to make you welcome, remember. To take care of you. You have nothing to worry about here. We're a very closed community. Close-knit you might say. We have to be, being so far from anywhere and everywhere. But this isolation brings with it certain benefits. Which I’m sure you’re aware of. Let's just say it's nothing like where you were before. No, not a bit like that at all.’
Father Paul looked closely at Father James. He was obviously aware of all the facts.
‘You see, we've been here a long time, and we have established very good relationships with the authorities. It's a well-developed partnership if you like. Right from the earliest days, we got things off on the right footing. And we’ve been at pains to keep it that way. So, no, there's no problem with the government. Or officials. Nor are there any difficulties we can’t take care of ourselves. None at all. You see, we're all in this together, if you like. A symbiotic relationship the scientists would say.’ He smiled at what he saw as an amusing metaphor.
Then he went on. ‘And we do our best here at St Luke's. For the boys I mean. We believe that, being special cases, they should be treated with love and care.’
He made a sweeping gesture with his arms. ‘So I'm sure you'll fit in. We have a fine bunch of boys to take care of. You'll enjoy it here. To be sure, I know you will. You’re going to like the way we operate, Father.’
The priest beckoned to a handsome boy in his late teens.
‘Oh, Martin, come over here for a moment, will you?’ Then he turned to Paul and added, ‘I’d like to introduce you to this young lad. He’s been assigned to help you. To show you around, that sort of thing. He’ll look after you. He knows what to do.’
Paul shook hands with Martin who flashed back a disarming smile. He appeared to take little notice of what Father James was saying about him. Father James put his hand on Martin’s shoulder and shook it slightly.
‘Martin is, how do I put it now? Well, let’s see, he’s only very slightly…err…handicapped, as we used to say. Almost normal, one should add, I suppose. But he comes from a desperate family. He was treated very badly when he was younger. So he’s much better off here. Where we can look after him and give him all the love and care he needs.’
 Paul picked up his rucksack and handed it to the boy. ‘Perhaps you can help me with this to start off with please Martin. Your first chore. It would be really helpful, because I’ve been carrying it around for a long time. A very long time, it seems.’
Martin smiled at Paul. ‘Of course Father, I’m at your disposal.’
Paul’s spirits rose. He felt elated. Exhilarated. On top of the world.
And why not? He was about to start a new life in a new world. And from what he’d been told, he had a feeling he was going be very happy in this strange but stimulating environment. Here where the faded sign on the high perimeter wall proclaimed: St Luke’s School for Boys with Special Needs.



‘No, no, no! Well, no fingers or ears is what I mean. Nothing like that. Not at all. But one squaddie did bring home something made from a scrotum.’

Hilton was quiet for a while with his portable fixed to his ear. Matt sat on the floor watching television. The Simpsons were arguing, but Matt was listening to Hilton.

‘A scrotum? Yes, that’s what I said. You don’t know what a scrotum is? Even though you’ve got one? It’s… well, you know, a ball bag. The thing you keep your testicles in. Are you sure you know what they are? If you’re looking for them, they’re just under your cock.’

Hilton laughed.
‘No, no. Not from a cow. A human one. Cows don’t have them. Only bulls. You know, for their balls. No. It was from an insurgent. Or so he said. That’s what they told him anyway. When he bought it.’
He laughed again.
‘And a few guys brought back teeth as souvenirs. But I didn’t bother with that either. You’d never know whose they were. Could be from the army dentist. Same applies to all the souvenirs, I suppose. You can buy them at any market. But mine’s authentic. My reminder of what went on. Because it’s army issue. The thing I brought home is a bayonet. It’s  great. Gleaming black and sharp as a razor.’
Matt put the TV volume up. He wasn’t sure he wanted to hear any more of the conversation. But then he found that he was straining to hear what was being said on the phone.
‘Well, the worst was when we were ambushed. They caught us off guard in a dried up riverbed. Fucking mayhem it was. We thought they were labourers. And I though I was dead. They must have had their weapons in the fields with them. And they’d planted a bomb just where we stopped. We never saw the wires. Stupid leadership it was. But he was just a kid too, the officer in charge. Just like the rest of us. And then it went off.’
Hilton made a sound he thought mimicked an explosion.
‘Fuck. You should have seen it. Body parts flew all over the place. Bit’s and pieces of him everywhere. It took a long time to clean up, I tell you.’
Matt moved closer to the television where the sound was louder. He tried to lose himself in the action on the screen. But Hilton’s description of what happened kept getting through to him. It invaded his mind and filled his brain with revolting and frightening images.
‘Well we just shot them all afterwards. Some were quite young too. A few even younger than any of us anyway.’
A moment of silence.
‘No, no. We lined them up, hands tied behind their backs with that blue plastic stuff, anything worth keeping taken away from them, you know, money, jewelry, weapons, that kind of thing. Then a few kicks and punches while we were getting them ready. And then, bang, you’re dead, and bang, so are you, and bang, bang, bang until they were all dead. All that was left was a row of bodies to dispose of. But that was easy too.’
Hilton listened to the voice on the other end of his portable.
‘No, no. That’s how it’s done. They just put it down to civilians getting caught up in the action. You know, cross fire and all that. It happens all the time. The officers in charge just have to be careful how it’s reported, that’s all. No no. No one ever asks any questions. You just kill them. But there’s a way of doing it so that everyone knows the score. And that’s all there is to it.’
Silence again as Hilton listened.
‘Yes, that’s it. That’s what the Americans call it. Collateral damage. Sounds quite smart when you say it like that doesn’t it?’
The sound of the Simpsons filled the room.
‘Hey Matt. Stop being a wanker. Put that fucking thing down. What? Oh, my little brother’s watching telly with the volume right up. So I can’t hardly hear a thing.’
Matt put the TV off and went into the bedroom. The one that had been his when Hilton was away. The one he now shared with his brother again. With beds so close they always knew what each other was doing during the night.
He looked out of the window and down onto the estate below. He saw the some kids kicking a ball. His brother’s voice came through the flimsy door.
‘Well, it’s what we were taught to do. They train you to kill people. Cos that’s what you do when you’re a soldier. That’s what you’re sent there for. To kill them before they kill you.
A short silence and then, ‘Sure, if you’re buying. I’m a bit short. OK. Great idea. See you down there then. The Green Man. Yes. Right away. I’ll be there in a few minutes.’
Hilton came into the bedroom. ‘Why aren’t you at school?’
‘Couldn’t be bothered,’ said Matt.
‘With that attitude you’ll be a wanker for life.’
‘Where’s Mum?’
‘How the fuck would I know. Out with her latest pretty faggot, I suppose.’
He told them he’d seen some kids tying the puppy to a post. Then they started throwing stones at it. These were all lies.
He told them it had followed him home. To the front of the block.  He said it wouldn’t get into the lift. So he carried it upstairs. Seven flights. This was all true.
He called the dog Boy. He didn’t know why. It was just a dog he’d found wondering around amongst the trash and filth in a side street near the centre of town. There were several of them. Stiff leggedly sniffing each other and curling up their lips to show their yellow teeth. They could be quite dangerous, especially at night when they roamed about in bigger packs. The locals tried to ignore them and so did the rare officials who strayed into he area.
Matt thought about the hurdles he had to get over. Some real, most imagined. The really important ones were:
His mother’s new lover disliked him intensely. ‘He’ll never get anywhere in life if he slouches around in his room all day and night. And if he doesn’t go to school he’s destined to be a wanker forever.’ He sounded just like Hilton, and Matt didn’t like it at all.
He found his brother’s return from the overseas posting intrusive. It was an invasion of his personal space. His room. Even when he was on his own, but much more so when his brother was with a woman he’d picked up in some pub or other. And Hilton also called him a wanker.
He hated being called a wanker because he was doing his best to stop being just that. But it was hard. Success wasn’t in sight. Because the feeling it gave him was so overwhelmingly pleasurable. And the temptation to masturbate was simply far too strong for him to ignore. Despite all the scary things he’d been told. Such a simple thing to do. And so much fun.
Matt carried the dog into the flat and tried to hide it under his bed. He was desperate to keep it. But it seemed to develop some kind of fever. Then it started vomiting. And shitting. He did his best to clear things up. A revolting task. And he failed dismally. The smell was appauling.
‘What the fuck is that?’ his mother asked as she came through the front door. She went into Matt’s bedroom and saw the dog.
‘Fucking hell. You’d better do something about it before your brother gets home.’
She helped him clear up the mess. She did most of the work. They sprayed all the rooms with deodorizer. They scrubbed the carpet with bleach leaving a dirty yellow patch. They thought they had succeeded but it was just olfactory fatigue. Their noses were used to the stink.
As Hilton reached the seventh floor with his girlfriend he knew that something was wrong.
‘Fucking hell,’ she said, ‘can’t you get a flat on the ground floor? Or one in a block where the lift works.’
‘Shut up. It’s better to walk. Better for your health. Better for your weight. And the lift always stinks of piss even when it’s working.’
‘Talking about stink, what’s that funny pong?’
‘Don’t ask me, I only live here. Come on let’s get inside. We won’t smell it in there.’
He opened the door. The stench was overwhelming.
The girlfriend started heaving and dry reaching. Before she left she told him he must be mad to live in a place like that.
‘Fucking hell, what is it?’ he asked. Then he saw the dog. Then he saw red. Then he started shouting at them. ‘You both mad or what? Get that fucking thing out of here.’ 
He pointed menacingly at Boy. ‘Fucking hell I’d have her pants off and be rooting her by now if it hadn’t been for that thing.’
Then Hilton completely lost his marbles. Anger, alcohol, frustration and the effect of the tablets they’d scrounged took over.
Thinking about the fuck he’d just missed out on, he picked the dog up by the loose skin at the back of its neck. He walked over to the open window and threw it out into space.
It had approximately seven seconds to live because a body that weight takes approximately seven seconds to complete its fall from seven storys.
The dog could have died from severe deceleration forces as its body hit the street. Or it may have been the sudden shock wave causing a dramatic increase in blood pressure flowing to its brain that caused a massive hemorrhage. Matt never knew which it was. He never went down to look. He stayed in the flat for several weeks without venturing out again.
He stayed in his room most of the time.
Occasionally he’d watch when his mother’s latest man took her clothes off and did those filthy things to her. In the full knowledge that he was watching them from the open door to his bedroom. Which was also Hilton’s bedroom.
Hilton arrived home late. He had a girl with him. As usual. A different girl. They were both drunk. As usual. Matt feigned sleep. They soon had their gear off. As usual. They started doing the usual thing only a few feet from where Matt was feigning sleep.
‘What about him?’ the girl said.
‘He’s asleep.’
‘Don’t look like it to me.’
‘In that case he can watch.’
‘Not sure I like that idea.’
‘Look either you gat your gear off and start sucking on this or you can fuck off. It’s up to you.’
Matt heard them start the routine he’d been in on so many times. Then they started making the same noises he heard his mother and his mother’s latest lover making when he was watching them.
‘OK. That’s enough. I’m tired of that. Let’s try something else. Lie down. No. Not that way. On your knees. With your arse towards me.’
‘What you gonna do?’
‘Depends what you want. And where you want it.’
Matt turned towards the wall. He pulled the fleshy parts of his ears across the auditory canal trying to block out the sound.
‘Stop. You’re hurting me.’
‘Shut up it’s supposed to hurt.’
Matt got out of bed. He walked over to Hilton and his partner.
A bayonet is designed with two grooves above either side of the blade. Their role is to facilitate the flow of blood from the wound it makes and to allow the weapon to be removed more easily from the flesh.
The design worked perfectly when Matt took the weapon out of the drawer and plunged it into Hilton’s throat. He pulled it out easily and stuck it back in again.
The woman, fat and white and covered in gore turned over as blood pumped onto her breasts, mingled with the hair and ran down her stomach to pool in her hairy navel. She looked like she’d been swimming in claret.
‘Fucking wanker,’ she screamed. ‘Look what you’ve done.’
A bubbling roar filled the room as Hilton stood up grasping at the foreign body sticking out of his neck. The black blade formed a conduit helping his blood spurt out in several directions. He staggered towards his young brother. His fingers clutched his throat. He pulled the weapon out of his neck releasing a further rush of blood. He sat down on a chair and looked at Matt. He was trying to say something, but forming words was becoming harder as his world turned yellow then grey and then black.
Matt deceided he wasn’t going to be called a wanker any more. He walked across to the window. He climbed up onto the sill. He stepped out into the dark black space.

Free at last.


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