This is the final part of Not Easy. I'm sorry that it's so late (i.e. over six months) in being written – real life seems to get harder and harder. (While I've been away FicPress' services have improved dramatically, I'd like to add.. QuickEdit my God.)
I'm not entirely happy with this piece: I have the perfect idea for the ending in my mind, and I couldn't convey it properly in words. Opinions welcomed, especially suggestions for further re-writes.Not Easy – 4th
Saturday 25th May, 11:59 PM
The young police officer takes the final few steps down into the hold of the abandoned, half-submerged boat. His feet slide over algae-incrusted metal, and a few bolts whine with protest. His breath is cloudy in the air before him; and in the box of the watercraft his heartbeat echoes. He remembers the look of the boat from outside, recalls the proportions, reassuring himself that there's space, there's oxygen. No matter how fast the tide rises, he has at least fifteen minute's breathing space before he has to get out.
"I'm going to check the hold, Max," he calls up to his colleague at the top of the stairs. He manages to keep the waver out of his voice.
"D'you have the torch, mate?"
"Yeah." He fumbles at his belt, retrieving the slim tube of rubber. He presses the little button, and a light flares. "'S on."
"Don't get too wet down there," the voice echoes from above, followed by laughter.
The young man laughs sarcastically back – "ha ha ha, Max –" and slides off his jacket, putting it back on the stairs. He shines the torch over the murky Thames water. It doesn't appear to be moving here, in the enclosed space of the hold, but he can sense that it's rising with the tide. The smell is terrible. He dips the toe of his shoe into the liquid, waiting till it seeps through his boots.
"It's fucking cold," he hisses back up to his companion.
Above there's a slight groan of displeasure. "Rather you than me, then. Get it over with quick and we can go and have a beer."
"What if… what if I find…?"
"Y'won't," Max replies firmly, as if there's no doubt in his mind. "There was no way that the message could be referring to this dump." There's the muted clang of a boot connecting with the deck above. "Jennings hates us, remember? Ever since that prank call… he just wants to get us on the lousiest piece of shit boat while it's pitch dark. He just wants us to freeze our arses off, while the rest of the force go to the real stake out." There's a hiss of escaping gas, and then the smell of cigarette smoke wafts down. "That's why there are only two of us here."
The young man bites his lip nervously. "Okay. Keep talking, will you?"
"Scared of the dark, are we?"
He slides his first foot out into the water, sinking down, down, down till it touches the firm metal of the floor. He steps out to have both feet submerged, and the water sucks him in up to his chest. He swears at the cold, and stands still, forcing down the panic.
A cursory search of the room above water level shows him nothing, his torch light only gliding over the walls with their coating of rust and algae. Shining the torch at the water reveals only the murk; the surface as blank and opaque as stone.
He takes a step forward, grateful for the rope tied about his waist, leading the way back to the stairs if the torch cuts out. The cold is making his teeth chatter, and he is conscious of the water rising – slowly, but with a terrible, steady pace.
His reaches the other walls, and starts to walk the perimeter of the room. He's grateful to reach the one pipe that leads from floor to ceiling, and reaches out to grasp it, hand under the water.
His fingers brush over a cold cheek, a gentle touch that came too late.
Sunday 26th May, 0:13 AM
Max is smoking. He's promised he'd quit, has been promising for years, but he never managed it. He takes a heavy drag, muscles staying relaxed only through virtue of the nicotine.
Beside the boat, barely two metres below him, the Thames runs past, swift and steady and blacker than the night.
Max's calm will be broken, coincidentally, in fifteen seconds. First he will hear a scream, and then Patrick will lurch up from the boat's hold, soaking wet, doubling over to vomit on the metal. An hour after that, the divers will have arrived, and they will emerge on the riverside carrying in their arms the body of a boy. He will hang limply, hours dead, his skin deathly pale and his eyes open. A paramedic will close them, and he will be laid out on a ambulance bed. He will be naked, dead, and yet somehow everyone around him will cringe, for there is a subtle feeling around the body. It is sometimes said that when a person is killed by unnatural means, their soul is trapped in their corpse. And Max, as he sobs, will feel that this soul is saying –
You could have saved me. You could have been the one to retrieve the husk of my innocence. You could have been the one to give me faith.
But of course, it will be too late for that. They will take the body to the morgue, give it an autopsy. They will find that he had been starved and cut and hit, thrown down stairs, burnt. They will prove that he was raped repeatedly; pathologists will recreate exactly how this boy's innocence was stolen; argue over whether he passed out with hypothermia or drowned whilst conscious.
And then they will leave him alone all night, as if he were just one more body among the other homicide cases. The slim form will rest on the cold metal bench, and for the last hours before his funeral, no one will sit with him, no one will brush back his hair, no one will hold him and keen for the loss of a bright, smiling boy.
He will be alone, after death just as he was for the hours before.
Wednesday 13th May, 5:22 PM
The teenage boy stands at the bus stop alone, re-reading the sign:
'SERVICE CANCELLED TILL LATER DATE. APOLOGIES FOR INCONVENIENCE.'
He doesn't know what to do. The red plastic bench is cold, and when he eventually does sit down he's shivering. The phone in his pocket has no credit, and he can hardly call the emergency number to ask for a lift home from school. His grey hoodie is too thin to block out the wind. How long could it possibly take for his parents to realize something is wrong? A few hours, at most, before his father realizes. But then… where would they look?
A neat grey Ford pulls up to the curb in front of him, and the window scrolls down. The boy stands, more from surprise than anything, and grips the handle of his backpack.
The man in the car leans across the passenger seat to smile at Sade. "Can I offer you a lift?"