Chapter 5 – Bleeding hearts

Chapter 5 – Bleeding hearts

The next half an hour passed in a daze for me. I moved mechanically: slipping off his cloths and gently depositing him in the bath, holding his head above the water so he wouldn't drown.

I felt numb; Like time had frozen, or slowed to a snail's pace. My body moved but my brain didn't as I gently wiped Joseph's skin with a washcloth, turning it and the water a murky brown. I remember looking at the cloth, then at my own fingers, which clutched it so hard the knuckles were bleached white.

The next time I surfaced from my internal stupor, I was tucking Joseph into his bed, pulling the duvet up to his chin, as if it could protect him. With a shaky sigh I sunk to my knees against his dresser. That iron band had failed to release its pressure on me, and I struggled to breathe. My hands, too, were trembling, and wouldn't stop even though I clasped them together until they hurt. My Joseph, my son, my little boy. Lying insensible as he was, looking so pale and heartbreakingly fragile.

I felt…choked up, confused and…terrified. Not his blood? That was sort of a relief. It wasn't his, wasn't coming from his wounds – there were none, at least, none that were visible. Even so, it wasn't much as a comfort as I stared unseeingly at his limp form in the bed. Pale skin beneath pale sheets, pale hands curled limply by a pale cheek…pale as death.

I bit back a sob and wrapped my arms around myself. What if I'd lost him? What if he hadn't come home at all? What if it had been his blood, and even now he could have been lying in some dark alleyway, face down in an ever-spreading pool of red, turned black by the cold, lonely night…

My child, my son, Joseph. I crawled back over to the bed and curled up around him, my arms a barrier against the world. I buried my face in his hair, smelling the rain and the soap, and underneath something unpleasantly metallic, and I cried over what I had nearly lost.

--

That was how Molly found us, a little while later. I was exhausted from crying, and from thinking. I starred at Joseph's pale blue ceiling, even as I hugged him tightly to my chest. He'd woken, once, stirring enough only to whimper brokenly and clutch at my hand. That just made me break once again. What twisted, sick, son of a bitch could do this to a boy? How could he have been alone for the five minute walk from the station to here; the rest of the time he would have been with that girl and her adult brother.

Five minutes. He could have only have been five minutes away at the very most when it happened, and I didn't know. I was asleep for god's sake! I was fucking asleep while some psycho hurt Joseph, my Joseph-

"Jim?" Molly stepped into the room, closing the door behind her. "Jim, has something happened?" I nodded tiredly, and her beautiful, expressive eyes welled with tears. I held up my free arm, the one that wasn't wrapped around Joseph, and she stumbled over and fell into it.

Gently, her hands shaking as much as mine had, she brushed a few stray hairs from our son's forehead. He didn't react: he just lay as innate and deathly still as before.

"Joseph…?" She asked me hesitantly, but she saw her answer in my red-rimmed eyes before I even opened my mouth.

"What happened?" Her voice was low and husky. It cracked at the end, and she smothered her mouth and squeezed her eyes tight shut.

"I…I don't know, exactly." I felt so wretched. "He came in and he was…covered in blood…and crying…He fainted." At the mention of blood Molly's hands flew from her mouth and danced over Joseph's exposed skin, checking for wounds. Tenderly, I took her hands in my own and stroked her knuckles with my thumb. "Apparently it wasn't his blood."

She sighed, in relief, I think, and buried her head against my chest. Both of us still held one of Joseph's hands in our own, but with the other we held each other. The physical contact helped to calm me down, kick-start my brain and bring back a little rationality. My heart slowed its frantic dance a little, and my chest felt as if a plastic band was wrapped around it, rather than an iron one.

At least Joseph was safe now. He didn't seem to be physically hurt, and Molly and I were with him – we'd do anything in our power to keep him from harm. God, I'd sell my soul to the devil if it meant his life in a return.

You see, these are some of the reasons I find it very hard to believe in a god. Joseph, the runner, straight-A student, talented and bright and enthusiastic, never hurt a fly…and yet this, this horrific thing happens to him. Where is the justice in that? What's the need for such senseless violence? If god made this world, then why, by everything that's good and right, do young boys still get attacked by psychopaths on the street? I can't believe a god, as benevolent and all seeing as so many religions make him out to be, could provide a reason for that.

"Then whose is it?"

I jumped at the sound of Molly's voice after an eternity of silence. "Whose is what?"

"The blood. If it's not Joseph's, then why was he covered in it? Whose else could it be?"

I stayed quiet. I didn't have and answer to give her.

--

It wasn't until the wee hours of the morning that Molly and I slunk off to our own bed, and even longer still before either of us fell asleep. We held each other and worried.

If it wasn't his blood, where had it come from? Maybe someone from, what's her name (Catherine, Kelly?), maybe someone from her family? I quickly discarded the idea. Such a large group wouldn't have been attacked, and even if they had, why did Joseph appear alone?

Maybe…maybe it had come from his attacker?

I starred at the ceiling in horror. Had Joseph tried to fight back, and hurt whoever it was in the process? So much blood on his arms, on his chest – surely no one could loose that amount and still live, could they? I swallowed. Did that mean there was a cold cadaver out there in the darkness somewhere? Blood swirling in the gutters as the rain washed it away, stealing the last of the warmth from a quickly cooling body.

That corpse could well have been Joseph.

I rolled over. I pulled the duvet up to me chin, then kicked it back again. I squeezed Molly's hand when she gently touched my arm. The clock said it was almost four am; I really needed to sleep. I felt so utterly exhausted but once again oblivion refused to take me. In the silence of those limbo hours of the morning, Molly and I fretted. We didn't talk, not much. We knew what the other was thinking. Occasionally I would kiss her hair or her neck, or she would trace lines down my chest with her delicate little hands. Mine had always felt so large and inelegant by comparison. Cleaning up Joseph earlier, I felt as if one clumsy move on my behalf would shatter him.

I looked at the clock again. How could it only be 4:30? It seemed as if the last time I had looked was aeons ago. It honestly felt as if time was drawing out the night, this agony, for his own amusement. The clock was mocking me, and suddenly I hated it. I wished that it were morning, that it was light, so that maybe things would look a little less daunting under the harsh winter sun. Joseph would wake up, and I could find out what actually happened, maybe lay some of my darkly-imaginative theories to rest. We could work this out, sort it out. Help Joseph to recover, leave this behind us. No one else need know what happened – it would only stress us all out if everyone were constantly asking if he was okay. It would be too much of incessant reminder. I wanted Joseph to live his life, not be afraid to go out after dark. Forget about bodies in the street and blood on his hands and chest and face. No one else need ever know.

"Jim. Jim, baby, wake up."

I groaned and pulled the covers over my head, blocking out the world. Someone gently pulled them back and kissed my forehead. At this I cracked open and eye, wincing in the light. I didn't remember falling asleep, although it certainly couldn't have been before half past five. It didn't feel like I'd been asleep at all, however, and I felt groggy with the beginnings of a migraine.

"Jim, honey, you've got to go to work." Molly brushed my hair back from my eyes, smiling sadly. "I'll stay here and look after Joseph."

I sat up and gathered her into my arms. "You'll need to phone the school and tell them he won't be in today." I said, resting my chin on the top of her head.

"He has the flu. Do you think we should tell Keira?"

I hesitated. "No…not yet, at least. We need to sort out what actually happened first."

"I'll ask when he wakes up. Make him some soup, stay with him." I sighed heavily and she nuzzled my ear. "Try not to worry too much, darling. I won't let anything happen to him. We'll sort this out. It's all going to be okay."

"God, I hope so."

--

Before I left, I checked in on Joseph.

Light spilled through a gap in his navy blue curtains, bright and cold against the warm shadows around it. Where it struck skin it bleached it white, and a few rain-cloud-coloured bruises I had not noticed last night looked all the more stark in contrast.

The room felt like some dim volcanic cave, with the heating on full blast and the blue and greens of his walls, bed, furniture, curtains, all blending into a cocoon of shadows.

On the bed, lain out like some departed prince for all his subjects to see and weep over, in all his ethereal splendour, Joseph lay in the same position in which I'd left him last night. The light from the offending gap in the curtains seemed to suck the life and colour from him. In an insane moment of fear, I jerked the curtains shut, terrified that the sun needed a warm human life to bring on the spring, sucking him dry for greenness, little lambs and April showers.

I, for one, could deal with it being winter for just a little longer.

I sat down on the edge of the bed, cringing as the springs creaked. Joseph's eyelids fluttered, but didn't open. His breathing was quiet and regular, a reassurance that he was still real and solid.

I didn't want to leave him. I trusted Molly to take care of him, but it was a matter of principle, you know? But, I suppose I did have to go to work, to keep up appearances and all that. If what I was starting to suspect was true, that there was some battered body lying in a street somewhere, people would want to know what happened. And, in this day and age of strictly no tolerance where crime was involved, having people poking their noses in… would not be good.

"Dad?" I looked up Keira stood in the doorway in her school uniform, holding her bad.

"Okay, I'm coming." I closed the door quietly behind me, grabbed my keys, kissed Molly goodbye with a cheerless smile, and Keira and I went out to the car.

She was unusually quiet on the way to school. (Molly was calling in sick so she could look after Joseph, so I'd agreed to take Keira to school.) I glanced at her briefly. She sat in her grey pleated skirt, white shirt, black tie, black blazer, with her long dark hair tied in a neat plait, and her hands clasped over the schoolbag on her lap. She caught me looking at her and smiled half-heartedly.

"Keira, is something wrong?"

She was quiet for a moment, then "Is there something wrong with Joseph?"

"He's just got the flu." I frowned at the road in front of me, and then risked another quick look at her. The expression on her face suggested she wasn't buying it at all.

"Did something happen to him last night?"

"No. He's just sick."

"Really?"

"Really."

She frowned, but I'd just pulled up outside the school, so she only gave me a peck on the cheek and hopped out with a distracted wave.

The sky was starting to cloud over when I pulled up at work, ten minutes later.

Like the morning before, I sat staring at the building with trepidation, although rather than simple loathing; it was fear that made me hesitate.I was walking into the lion's den. At the front was the fancy reception, with corridors leading to admin offices, employee offices and the prison complex at the back. The execution room, the higher-ups probably felt, wasn't the best place for a lost visitor to accidentally stumble into, so it was only accessible through the prison's infirmary ward. Which also made sense, I guess, because the prisoners were always told they were having a last medical check before release. There was a twisted irony in there somewhere.

Outside the car the air was heavy, expectant. It made the hairs on the back of my neck prickle and made my head feel… well, worse than it already did. The clouds, way, way above me, unsettling in their dark blues, greys and purples, seemed to be churning, though not a whisper stirred the earth beneath their lofty heavens.

Still as a millpond, oppressive, warmer than we'd had in weeks, the air almost seemed to crackle with tension and static.

It was not a nice feeling. Like in a film when you just know that the mad axe murderer will spring and that it's just a matter of when the terror will begin.

Something was going to happen soon.

"Jim! You're daydreaming, again!" I jumped, once again, and realised Sophie was standing in front of me. I'd gotten out of the car and had been staring at the loaded sky, lost in foreboding thought.

Sophie looked up too, joining me in my cloud gazing. "There's a storm coming." She said, quietly.

"When, do you think?"

"This afternoon. About four-ish." The confidence in her voice chilled me. I glanced at her, but her face was still turned upwards.

"A bad one?"

"A bad one." She agreed, and we both went inside.

--

Another execution. I was standing by the computer when they brought him in, just inputting the last few bits of data.

"Two seconds." I said, my back turned, punching in numbers.

"Take your time, Doctor." My fingers froze, hovering over the buttons. God, why did he have to come in now, on today of all days?

Mike was leaning casually against one white wall, grinning, a fresh cigarette held almost delicately between his powerful fingers. His smile widened, shark-like, as I flashed him a look and with a slight shudder turned towards today's death-row-ee.

He was a slight man, with battered glasses that kept slipping down his nose. His pale, flaxen hair was cut too short to suit him and the orange prison jumpsuit made him look even more washed out then he already did. The two guards beside him held him by the biceps, but I think it was cursory rather than necessary.

I only met his eyes once, and there was a bleakness in them that made me shiver. He looked up at me, his eyes as pale and watery as his hair, and let out a small, defeated sign. There was no hope in that gaze. Just a desolate knowledge of what was coming.

I swallowed a sudden lump in my throat and glanced away, back to the control panel, but I could still feel his dead eyes on me as the guards strapped him in.

Mike wondered over and lounged against the side on the computer panel. He didn't say anything; just gave me that Cheshire cat grin of his.

"What was his crime?" I asked quietly.

"Fraud and embezzlement." Mike had no such scruples as to keeping his voice down. "The bastard stole £20 million of government money."

"It was for my daughter." Mike and I both looked up, surprised. The little man was leaning forward against his straps, glaring at Mike, suddenly so intense compared to the flaccid little man that had entered the room. "She's sick – she needs an operation. It's the only way I could afford it."

I felt sick, but Mike just looked at him, one eyebrow raised, and didn't say a word.

"She'll die if she doesn't get that operation!" I winced at the sound of his teeth grinding. "I know what I did was wrong, but she needs it! She needs it!"

Mike laughed harshly. "Well, now she hasn't got a father, and she's going to die!"

"You bast-" He tore at his bonds, face suddenly drained of blood, but Mike just snorted in contempt and slammed his fist down on the start button. 2,500 volts of electricity surged through the small man's body, frying his brain, coagulating proteins and reducing delicate nerve cells to mush. A second, smaller charge stopped his heart, and the monitor that had been measuring his pulse flat lined. The sudden rush of electricity caused his muscles to spasm violently, snapping against the leather restraints that held him. Then he was still.

I stood there, appalled. Even the guards looked uneasy. You just… didn't say that. God, it was all for his little girl. To give her a chance to live, he'd risked it all. Everything – his freedom, his reputation, and his life. For his daughter.

I looked over at the now unmoving body. His eyes were open, staring blindly at the ceiling, unshed tears slowly drying in them. His mouth hung open slightly, caught as he'd been in the middle of a curse – now he'd be screaming into the silence of death. The man's, the father's, fingers were loosely bunched into fists. Blood had welled up where his nails had cut into his palms when he went into the seizure, but it didn't flow. There was no heartbeat to pump it out. He was limp, boneless in the chair. Gone. Dead.

I choked and looked away. All for his daughter. I thought of Joseph, at home, and bit back a tiny whimper.

There was a click, a pause, and then Mike inhaled deeply. I couldn't face him, and turned to leave.

"The road to hell," the sound of Mike's voice made me shudder, "Is paved with good intentions, as they say." I could almost feel his eyes glittering like ice, stabbing into my back. "But, even so, it is still the road to hell."

I couldn't take that. I spun around, my voice hoarse. "He did it for his daughter! He cared for her so much he risked himself so she could have an operation that would save her life!"

"Correction: He committed a crime." Mike hissed, and smoke escaped from the sides of his mouth, like a dragon breathing fire.

"It's not like he murdered someone!" I was furious. How could he take pleasure in this, this, atrocity? It was one thing following orders, but he took a perverse pleasure in the suffering of those around him. It was physically sickening. "He took some money! He didn't harm anyone. And it was for a decent cause – to save his little girl! And you murdered her father and condemned her to death!"

Suddenly I was no longer standing by the computer bank. My breath left me in a whoosh as Mike's nicotine-stained hands thrust me against the cold wall and held me there, digging sharply into the flesh of my shoulders like claws.

"A decent cause?" The burning end of his cigarette was millimetres from my nose as he pushed his face into mine. Angry, angry, his hands tightened until I gasped in pain. "You think that's a decent cause? A crime is a crime, Kite. And the law is the law. You overstep the mark and that's it, you're done. And no amount of justification or plucking of heartstrings will get you off the hook.

"For one so incredibly smart, Jimmy-boy, you've got to get it into that thick skull of yours that every single bleeding heart that comes through here deserves what they get. They deserve it!" He punctuated his last words with a forceful slam that knocked my newly regained breath straight out of me again.

Mike pulled away suddenly and my knees buckled without his support. I landed in a trembling, quivering heap on the cold tiles as he strode imperiously away, nodding coldly to the two guards. "Get the body. It's time to go".

I closed my eyes as they unstrapped the corpse, but I couldn't block out the sound of his heels being dragged along the floor.

Finally the doors at the far end swung of the room swung shut and I was left in merciful silence. It was quite a while, however, before I had the strength to move again.

Author's Note: 1 - I've finished school now so I'll have much more time to write! 2 – All info about the whole electric chair death thing taken from Cause of Death: A writer's guide to murder & forensic medicine by Keith D. Wilson (I tamed it down a little though. I didn't want it to be too graphic). 3 – This chap has not been checked through as it's like quarter to 12 and I've been working all day. 4 – Author Kate Mosse, writer of Labyrinth (not the film with David Bowie) is doing a writer's workshop near me next month and I'll be taking along this piece, so lots of comments and constructive crit. would be much appreciated and rewarded with cookies and rainbows.