"In view of the brutal nature of the crimes of which you have been found guilty, I cannot see that the people will see justice done by any less than the sentence of death. And accordingly, I pass this sentence." The judge himself was far from convinced of the defendant's guilt. Indeed it would not be a stretch to say that he was convinced of the defendant's innocence. His years in the court, this court and others, had left him well able to see when a prosecution was as full of holes, patched with conjecture, as this one. But the prosecutor was young and ambitious and clever. And as Aristotle would have it, the prosecution was an appeal to pathos and not to logos. The jury had allowed themselves the vanity of wrath as he had laid out the very terrible nature of the three rapes and murders. It was in their power, and theirs alone, he said, to see justice done and to see vengeance wrought. And they had been seduced. So be it, thinks the judge. It is the sentence and not the verdict that is my concern, and I have passed the sentence the crime demands. That is what is asked of me. Now there is an end to it, and a bad end is better than no end. The dead can be buried and life goes on.
"Take this!" And it is, of course, a gun. It is heavier than he thought it would be. This is the real thing. This is a deadly thing. The van bumps over a pothole and he imagines that he might 'discharge the firearm' prematurely. Prematurely, in this context, meaning before they get to the bank. Prematurely, meaning, really, at all. The plan is not to fire. If he is squeezing the trigger, discharging the firearm, shooting people then... well it is planned for but it is not the plan. The plan is to pull this off without shooting anyone. Without getting shot. Because he does not really see that frightened bank staff are worth shooting under any circumstances. Maybe a mild beating to encourage cooperation but to chance a murder charge... It wouldn't be worth it. This is what he meditates upon as he bounces along in the van with the five men with guns in the back. So if there is shooting then it'll be at policemen, and policemen, he feels, are likely to be shooting back. And they're likely to be better trained at dealing with those times when you're shooting at people and getting shot at. And he sees then, in the dull polished metal of the thing, he sees that this is a one way trip. He knows somehow. And it is heavier than he thought it would be, the gun. It is as heavy as death.
The boy in the yellow t-shirt sprawls forward on the asphalt, scuffing his hands and elbows. And the other boys crowd in. They are drumming down on him with delighted fists. They are cawing like chimpanzees. Their faces are twisted up with the excitement of it. A pained shout of protest from their prostrate sport thrills them, and they joyfully redouble their blows. They shout encouragement at each other. Then, as a teacher idles over, shouting formula imperatives, they scatter laughing. And the boy in the yellow t-shirt, now grimed with blood and dust, sits up, gingerly, mutely.
The sun is bright on the bright brass buttons of the uniform - its creases sharply pressed. He feels the stiff cloth tight against his chest, straining with pride. He sets his bag down for a moment and scans the anonymous, peering crowd of faces. There are families, friends, the usual veteran limo men with their cardboard placards - the names scrawled there meaningless, interchangeable. More than a few of the waiting loved ones are waiting for their soldiers - like him - to come back from the war. For a moment, he is afraid, terrified almost, that she has got the wrong time, the wrong flight, that she's not there. He is afraid that she has forgotten him. It is a feeling he has not known since she was an hour late to fetch him from school when he was nine. And then he sees his mother. And he is happy beyond words and proud, proud that she is there to see him come back, decorated, in this smart uniform with bright buttons. And a broad smile breaks across his face. But she sees him and starts to cry. And he doesn't understand because he is so smart and so proud and so brave, with his medal for killing those five raghead boys who ambushed his squad. Boys small for their twelve years, dwarfed by their Kalashnikovs, as deadly as men. And he performs the teetering ballet of picking up his bag and resetting his crutch, and he hops towards her on his one leg.
The door finally gives beneath the blows of the axe. It is the one well constructed element of the whole building. The heat is intense. The smoke is blinding. "Is there anyone in here?" Simon barks and he is answered by a choked sob. He stomps on through the boiling black fumes. It's like a Hollywood scene as the smoke thins to reveal, at first indistinctly, a fallen beam, a man beneath it. He is limp with fatigue and resignation. In Hollywood the potential rescuee would not be a brown-skinned man with a messy beard and a pock-scarred face. He would be, in other words, a figure worth rescuing, the rescue of whom would ennoble our courageous firefighter protagonist. But it would be unusual to find someone like that in a tumbledown firetrap of a tenement in which even the roaches feel cramped. The sort of person you found there was one of the illegals who came from across the sea to the City where there were jobs and fortunes could be made. Though not if you happened to be obviously foreign and didn't have papers. For them there were tenements and a daily drudge of the black labour market and the fading recollection of a dream. Simon calls for help and braces his shoulder against the beam and pushes.
Another spoonful of the paste. "Come on," she says. "Come on, my love. One more mouthful for me." And he takes the spoon in his mouth and Ver smears the paste onto his tongue as pulls it out. And he chews for a moment, as if in thought, and dribbles the paste and strings of spittle onto his chin. And Ver steps back and looks at him and sees nothing there any more. She sees nothing of the man she loved. The strong man, the man who kept her safe. Now there is no safety. Now she just sees this thing of needs. And she wants scream. "I hate you, I hate you. Why couldn't you have died?" But she swallows the words and picks up the towel and wipes his chin.
He throws himself to the floor as he hears the machine-guns' cackle and glass falls around him. Someone must have tipped them off. But his was not a world in which people trusted each other and so he had not. Nobody knew he was here. Nobody but... But he could trust her. And as he huddles on the floor of a motel outside the City and waits for the end that is inevitable now, as checks his own gun and slips off the safety, as he prepares to take a couple of the bastards with him, he realises that he does not trust her and that he never could. He forgot. He forgot that you cannot trust anyone.
His sisters' daughters are round the bed with flowers and solicitous expressions. They are doing their best to look pleased to see him. He knows that the nausea he feels is due to the chemotherapy. He is of a mind, though, to ascribe its cause to the protest of the reasonable soul at such false piety. Sycophants! Leave me to die in peace. Not one penny, you'll get. Not a penny. Harridans. His nieces, immaculately pretty and indistinguishable one from the other in their Donna Karan clothes, they crowd in like crows. Fuck off! Not a penny, you harpies. Fuck you all. Never had a moment for me when I was hale and hearty. It's going to the University. What do you think of that, you bitches? "Thank you, Jenny. They're irises, aren't they? Oh they're lovely."
He falls again, to his knees. And he stretches his arms out like a suppliant. He feels the heat of his fever shining out from him like the aureole of a saint. He feels the brush of passersby. He senses steps quicken. For he is not comely to look upon, this man. His beard is a matted mess, framing rotted yellowed teeth. Running sores bejewel his gaunt, glistening face. But he was a macher once. He was the mensch. He was worth half a dozen of these hurried pedestrians that pass him quickly. They pass quickly because they fear to linger is to invite obligation. And it is true, in the most abstract sense of what is true, that there were times when he stood at his pinnacle when, hurrying to his office in his fine suit and Aquascutum, he would have lingered. He would have stopped. But he never passed such a one at those times. And it is as true, although more concretely so, that there were times a friend or another would ask him for help and he would not help. When he was at his pinnacle. But then his wife died and he took to drinking and he let his little, brief empire slip away, piece by piece. It all slipped away. And people walk on past, seeing him, not wanting to see and so not seeing.
His shirt is hot and wet with blood. His legs though feel cold, cold and empty. "These are nice shoes, man. These are nice sneakers." And the two of them pull at the laces, pull them from his feet. His chest rises and falls with shallow breaths. "He's got a watch, blood. Get that watch. It's a nice watch. Hey man, nice stuff you got here." The other man, the one who stabbed him, flashes a grin as he pulls the watch from a limp arm. He lolls his head to the side and meets the robber's gaze. He is boiling with an inexpressible and helpless contempt for these... kids. They're just kids. The knife-man laughs and turns to his accomplice. "Hey bruv, watch or sneakers? Toss you for it?"
He sits down. He is not sure what he should be feeling, and he is not sure he is feeling what he should be. He certainly had little appetite for spiced aubergine they had brought for him earlier. Too many years had passed since he enjoyed it with a glass of Rioja at the Persian place on Garrick Street. A lot of what one enjoys about food, he reflects, is the context. There is a mirror in front of him in which he sees milling orderlies and his own strange shaved head. But he imagines, beyond the mirror, are representatives of the 'families'. He tries to twist this word contemptuously in his thoughts, but he realises he can't blame them. He's as guilty as sin and, in their shoes, he'd get satisfaction from this circus. There is a comfort from knowing that they're as animal as he is. And so he stares through the mirror and tries to grin at them, but a grin does not come easily to his lips. Restraints are tightened and checked. They attach cold metal to his left ankles and he thinks, "That is one of the electrodes." He has studied quite carefully how this is to be done. And then they strap the other, carefully and with reverence, to his head. And then he is scared, he is scared, he is scared!
Miserere nobis. Somewhere in the City tonight a man dies. Every night many men and women die, and this man dies no differently to the rest of them. It is fitting. Neither did he live any differently. His dimming eyes are filled with no less fear, no less weariness, no less disappointment. This is what it is to die a human. It is to die hurting and betrayed and alone. This too is fitting for, like all men, there were many before him whom he hurt, many he betrayed, many whom he left to die alone. But how else would a human live? How else shall they live, they who come after? This is how dust-born humanity lives. And, in that burning instance before all is blind forever, he sees. He sees the generations, generation after generation, dying as he now dies - hurting, betrayed, alone. There is not enough of him left now to weep. He does what he can. Just as he dies he forgives them the manner of his dying - hurting, betrayed, alone. And they shall never know, they who come after, generation after generation, the multitude that dies alone. Us. Miserere nobis.
The detective looks up to see if she is ready and, of course, she isn't. He tries consciously to effect an expression of sympathy but he has stood here too many times before. He already knows. He just needs to tick the box. And so he flicks back the sheet. If he was expecting tears and instead sees a numbed nod it is not a great surprise to him. The missing boy and the buggered, throttled boy found in the park by a dawn dog walker weigh out on either side of the 'equals' sign of the gasp and the nod. Box ticked. He flicks the sheet back as the mother asks, her voice only just holding together, only just rising above the silence, "He didn't suffer, did he?" and the detective cannot look her in the eye.
Joe rolls the rock towards the low gunwale with a scowl. The clouds are flat and uniform so the stars cannot watch his schlepping. Some things are best done in darkness, he thinks. But he has done this often enough in light and darkness. It takes a couple of grunting heaves to get the lump of masonry balanced precariously on the side of the boat and a final snarling shove to get it to carry over. He jumps back and watches indifferently. He's seen it before. There is a splash and the links of the chain click over the rail. The naked, pale thing scrabbles after its stone with the illusion of life. It twists up over rail, an awkward dance of dead limbs, leaping out into the darkness. Joe walks to side and cranes out over the waves. He watches as the dark waters close over the corpse. The weight of the rock carries it down, down, down, to be lost in the shifting shadows.