Pigface lies rooted in the gutter, stricken with abject terror. A silver skull pendant around his flabby neck. By the wall, a rusty pipe half-buried under a heap of filthy rags.
Craig hunkers down, baring blood-smeared teeth. The knife is a solid comforting weight in his hand. Ice-cold razor steel.
Armed and ready.
Pigface turns white. Splutters in desperate last-ditch defiance, ‘Go on then, murderer…do it…just kill me…KILL ME!’
Craig yanks him up so hard his bloody teeth rattle. Rips the stuffed envelope from inside his coat.
Craig’s fist smashes into Pigface’s cheek. He sags limply, drooling blood. ‘…Why?’ he croaks.
Got enough blood on my hands already, Craig could say. No point in killing a defeated enemy. That way, they won’t know they’ve lost, and to be the real winner your opponent needs to be beaten and humiliated, and know it. No real triumph over a corpse, but savour a beaten opponent, who knows they’re beaten every day for the rest of their sad and wretched miserable life…
Instead, he leans close. Growls ‘You’re not worth the steel,’ and dumps Pigface into the gutter. Sheathes his knife. Fans his thumb through the sheaf of fresh one-pound bills. Twenty pounds, all accounted for. Tucks it away.
Pigface is shaking and wheezing. Sniggering. That dry, scornful chuckle of slow dawning relief.
‘That’s right,’ he leers. ‘Y’won’t kill me. You’re weak. Just like them. Throw me in court, I’ll skip right out. Free and clear, haha.’ He’s boasting now, puffed up and oozing with smug certainty. ‘Every juror’s got their weak spot, someone they wanna keep safe. They’ll never charge me. Maybe I’ll walk the straight and narrow, haha. Re-examine my life. Weak. Coward.’
Craig picks up the pipe. ‘You’re wrong.’
‘Weak,’ Pigface sneers, lip curled over crooked yellow teeth. ‘The young girl at the pub. Wossname. She yours?’
Craig turns away. Jaw clenched. Boiling fury churning through his skull.
Pigface’s eyes gleam. ‘She sobbed pretty, didn’t she? Her own fault. Dumb bitch won’t do what we want. A man should be obeyed. Says so in the Bible.’
Pigface sniggers. ‘Maybe next time you won’t be ’round to save her, we’ll take our sweet time. Prime juicy meat like that, I’ll let the boys have all their fun. Savour her nice ‘n’ slow, piece by piece. Squealin’ like a stuck pig, eh?’
Craig goes still.
No more mercy. No more fair play. He’s passed through the earlier stage of sizzling fury and is now in the calm lagoon of bubbling rage where the voice is steady, the voice is calm, the voice is soft. The still, icy focus of the Sergeant.
Two-handed swing, full force. Broken skull. Game over. Not the first nameless corpse, in a London back-alley gutter. Men get arrested. Scum get buried.
Gods know the man deserved it…
…but young Ellie is watching him. And Jamie, and Ollie, and Esther, across thirty hard years of piss-poor luck.
Pigface’s smile widens. ‘But there’s mercy for me, ain’t there? Forgiveness, even.’ He chuckles, that grating sound of: hey, this is all good larks, eh? ‘You think about that when I beat the clink -’
‘Compassion isn’t weakness,’ Craig says calmly. ‘Jamie, Susan, Ellie and Jane aren’t weak. Luckily for you, they don’t want trouble. They’re just trying to make a life for themselves, working hard, trying to get by.’
Pigface spits contemptuously. ‘If God di’nt want ’em sheared, he wouldn’t’ve made ’em sheep.’
Craig breathes out. ‘And you’re the Big Bad Wolf, huh? Preying on the herd, hunting the lambs, keeping the sheep scared. Well, guess what?’
He shuts his eyes.
And the Sergeant opens them.
‘I’m the sheepdog.’
The Sergeant spins around, pipe slashing through the air.
Pigface screams in agonised shock and crumples to the gutter, clutching his smashed kneecap. Sickening crackling sounds of splintered bone. Another vengeful swing and his right wrist shatters, a vicious two-handed blow.
Two powerful chopping blows. Like a woodsman hacking a rotten stump to splinters. Pigface is thrashing around and screaming. Right arm flopping uselessly. Crippled. Broken.
For a brief second, the Sergeant feels a faint twinge of pity. Okay, he thinks, Pigface is a seriously evil bastard, maybe in his personal top ten – which is saying something when your general threw women and children into sunbaked camps to starve through a roasting summer – but even he doesn’t deserve this.
Then he remembers earlier. Jamie white-faced and trembling behind the counter, Ellie listless and sad, Jane shivering and crying as a monster drooled over her. While this bastard sat and watched. Smiling.
He gazes down at Pigface writhing and moaning and thinks: Yes, actually. He fucking does.
‘Stop!’ Pigface manages to gasp. ‘Stop, stop, stop!’
A solid boot into the mouth shuts him up. The Sergeant towers over him.
‘Hurts, doesn’t it? Being in pain. Being afraid.’
‘Wuh-what d’you think you’re doing?’ Pigface babbles. ‘Y-You can’t…you won’t…’
The Sergeant twists his collar tight, half-choking him. ‘Listen to me, you worthless meat-headed shitsack. Luckily for you, they’re good people. Unluckily for you, I’m not.’ His voice drops, a low venomous growl. ‘You don’t. Hit. Girls.’
Pigface stares up, mute with horror. Eyes wide in shock and disbelief. ‘…You.’
Oh, now he remembers. Terrific.
The Sergeant grinds his boot onto Pigface’s injured arm. Slowly. ‘Now…who sent you?’
Pigface gulps and rasps and finally squeaks, ‘Starrick!’
The Sergeant smiles.
‘Starrick?’ he says. ‘You have got to be kidding.’
He puts a lot of sneer in his voice, incredulous, like out of the whole spectrum of worrisome rivals his bosses could possibly think of, Starrick was so far down the list to be just about totally invisible.
‘You’re kidding us, right? Starrick? What is he, crazy?’
Pigface shudders. ‘You’re making a mistake. He’s the guy you can’t mess with.’
‘Excuse me if I don’t faint with terror.’
‘You’re making a mistake,’ Pigface whispers again. Starts wriggling and twisting. Eyes wide. Sweating and trembling. Mouth gulping.
The Sergeant thumps his skull against the cobbles. ‘‘Let’s recap, asshole,’’ he growls. ‘‘You spent six months in a gang trying to scare people.’’
He leans closer. Lightly brushes a hand over his right knee. Like swatting a fly off a bedsheet.
Pigface shrieks and twists away.
The Sergeant smiles. ‘How’s that’s working out for you?’
Pigface whimpers and squirms, scrabbling weakly against the cobbles. The Sergeant thumps his skull onto the floor. He stops moving.
‘Stay still,’ the Sergeant warns.
Pigface is frozen with dread.
‘We’ve got a message for Starrick,’ the Sergeant growls.
For all those who couldn’t fight back.
‘W-Who’s we?’ Pigface squeaks.
‘The National Society of Bully Beaters.’
‘Why’re you doing this?’ Pigface whimpers. ‘W-we never did nothin’ to you!’
The Sergeant hunkers down over him. ‘You’re done hurting people. Jamie, Susan, Jane, Ellie. They get justice…’
He raises the knife.
‘…You get me.’
He presses down.
Pigface howls and struggles, bucking and thrashing on the slippery cobbles. But the Sergeant just sits firmly on Pigface’s chest, pinning him down with both knees, Pigface’s hand trapped against the cold floor as he works.
‘Stay still,’ he repeats grimly. Keeps sawing through muscle, cartilage, bone.
When he finishes, Pigface is sobbing, fat tears streaming down his face and dripping onto the blood-spattered cobbles. The Sergeant rips the skull pendant from his pudgy neck. Pockets it. Waves the severed digit before his eyes. The starburst tattoo imprinted across the thumb.
‘Think I’ll be keeping this.’
Pigface curls over, cradling his mutilated hand and whimpering. Whitefaced with bowel-loosening terror. ‘W-Who the fuck are you?’
The Sergeant smiles.
‘I’m the guy you shouldn’t’ve messed with, pal. The monster you dream about when you wake up screaming and can’t remember why. I’m the fog rolling in, the shivers creeping down your spine, the darkest part of the darkest night, and if you dare come near my friends ever again, I’ll find you. I’ll carve you up, real slow, piece by piece. I’ll smash your skull like an egg. Come near these people again, and I will rip you limb from limb, burn your bones down to ash and salt the earth after I’m done. I will burn up every memory of your name, and the world won’t ever remember it. I will unmake you, pal, and if you don’t want that to happen, you had better. Start. Running.’
He rips the money pouch from Pigface’s belt. It clinks heavy with coins.
‘Now you run along and give our best regards to Starrick. Tell him exactly what happened here. And tell him this.’
Oh dear, his knife seems to be digging into Pigface’s jugular, how did that happen.
‘Leave. This neighbourhood. Alone.’
He dumps Pigface in the muck. Pigface scrabbles to his feet, mewling as he cradles his mutilated hand. He limps off down the alleyway, hobbled over, blood dripping onto the cobbles. Crippled. Humiliated. Defeated.
The Sergeant watches him go.
Closes his eyes.
And Craig opens them.
The leather pouch is stuffed full of dull silver shillings. Five fat gold sovereigns. Spoils of war. He pockets the lot.
The click-click of claws on the cobbles behind him. He turns, knife raised…
…And a scruffy shadow trots out of the darkness to snuffle at Gary’s cooling corpse. Looks up at him. Whines.
Chocolate brown eyes blink up at him. Black and tan fur. Splotches of grey.
And something crumbles deep within him. A wave of hope surges through his chest.
Can it be…
Is it possible…
He looks away. Breathes out. Forces himself to look again.
Claws click over the cobbles. A cold wet nose nuzzles into his hand.
Thump. Thump. Thump.
He sinks to his knees. Gently wraps his arms around the mongrel’s ribs. Buries his aching face in scratchy fur. The heavy reek of river silt and dried mud. The steady, solid flutter of a heartbeat. A warm raspy tongue wuffles into his ear and licks his cheek.
THUMP. THUMP. THUMP.
© 2017 Tom Burton