Behind the slatted cupboard door the young boy adjusted his eyes to the dark and pressed his face to the tickle and cuddle of familiar coats. He could hear the shouting deep down in the belly of the house, a stranger’s voice rolling thick with gravel stones, and he thought he heard his brother squeal and wished him quiet. Dad was churning up a storm, his low voice booming, steady, concentrating fear.
The boy knew it would be over soon. The man with the menace would be gone and the drum of kitchen pots and pans would mean Mum was getting the dinner on; the one good square meal with everyone sitting table tight. The boy smelt the trace of Mum’s perfume in the oily fur of a coat she no longer wore and he petted the animal and pulled it to him.
In his imagination the first blast of gunfire was a TV cop show running too loud and Mum’s shout a ‘Too loud’ warning to his brother. He couldn’t help but smile. Big bro was taking a hit again, a whooper.
Stumbling footsteps climbed the wooden stairs and he plum-stuck his fingers into his ears when the shots grew louder. Noise ran into every door and the gun dumbed Mum first and then Dad and the boy imagined his brother dumbed down someplace other.
Everyone dumb and sitting silent, the TV shushed after all. He closed his eyes and pushed them into the guard his arms made and everything in him screamed for calm.
When calm came it was a long time in coming and the boy was slow to open his eyes. He peeked through the thin cracks between the wooden slats and in that moment perhaps he saw something of the man that was unforgettable and perhaps he heard something too.
He listened to the up-down of blood-stuck feet heel turn on the floorboards and head back downstairs and he pressed the animal version of Mum closer to his face until the tiny hairs filled his mouth and nose and he felt the flicker of a sneeze burn and water his eyes.
He begged the sneeze to stay away and swallowed it and pinched it gone and he listened out for the green flag of a slammed door and growing whispers, Mum and then Dad giving him the OK.
When was it safe to come out and why wasn’t anyone saying it? A house fallen silent with three shots, four just about.
Through the cupboard door he could see dust fall like stars in the room of recent commotion, the sun just snagging, revealing. Mum was flat out on the floor. She’d spilt something and was caught in a half-thought going under the bed.
‘Mum,’ the boy whispered. ‘Mum, get up.’ He moved his hand from the slats and put a foot to the door. Standing in the sticky he shouted over and when she didn’t move he kicked her leg hard, once then twice. The sticky was growing and it branched out like creeping fingers into the fancy rug and the boy shouted for her not to go but it was too late, the bed had her.
Out in the hall there was nothing but big boot memories and the boy jumped the stairs and if he fell into the gunman’s arms then it would be fate that put him there. Where was the man with the one last bullet? The bullet with the boy’s name scratched on it. Mum was gone and Dad was somewhere gone and his brother Billy was a meat lump with more crawling sticky in the front room, glanced at as he ran from the house.
He ran flat out hard and fast. Ran until his legs shook heavy with burn and his feet no longer felt the rub and blister of bare tramping. He ran a blind course through the first cut of hay in the fields that were always going brown, then green, then gold. He took himself clean through hedges and half of skin and summer clothes were left behind.
The boy found himself at the edge of the cliffs just as the sun settled out beyond the headland and he watched the fire free-fall into the sea as if for the first and last time, a thing of beauty come too late, a butterfly caught in hand and held too tight, its colour rubbed to dust. He stood until the orange and the red receded and sat with the blue and flash of night sky stars and when the dark of real night came he lay in the black and listened to the crash and draw of a rising tide.
Something in the dark claimed the boy that night. A needling hook of skulking roots that pulled him towards some other place; an underhanded, underground grasp. A little demon settling someplace deep inside, a flickerflame moving, growing in size.
Eight years later
Trey sat at the back of the van and watched the outside world lope past through wire mesh windows. An indifferent landscape that moved independently from his erratic thinking, it was both beautiful and dangerous. A thin film of wet ocean fog stampeded towards the moor and he watched it grease the pane of glass until there was nothing left for looking. He called out to the social worker sat slouched up front and asked what time they would arrive but the man ignored him and instead bent to tune the radio to local news. Trey pulled up the hood on his jacket and when the van filled with the screams of scally town kids running riot he covered his ears completely. He leant his head against the window with one eye spying the rain and what water leaked there he let soak and pool in his hair and felt it run down his cheek and enjoyed the momentary cool. His short life, sketched and drawn wrong since memory began, had been rubbed down to this one moment in time; he was sitting at the brink of a place where there was no turning back and he was ready to jump. For Mum and Dad and Billy he was ready to leap into the unknown and all he knew of that unknown was it had one single solitary name and the name was revenge.
He saw his mum in his imaginings and he told her he would do the thing that needed doing and perhaps he said it out loud, and if he did he didn’t care because this was it, he was going in.
‘Camp Kernow,’ shouted the man suddenly. ‘Welcome to your new home.’
Trey kicked forward to look out of the window and he rubbed the condensation from the glass with the heel of his hand and through the hammering rain he saw the fence fill the darkening morning with bright-light diamonds.
‘You’ll learn a trade here boy, farmin or butcherin or such. Your last foster home was a farm, you like animals, don’t you?’
Trey ignored him.
‘You’re lucky to be comin here. Might not think it yet but them runnin this place got religion on their side, them sellin salvation. You listenin, Trey boy? Got God championin you here.’
The boy nodded. He knew this already and it made him smile knowing it. This was the place where things were about to rewind to the point of wrong and settle back right.
He watched the social worker wind down his window as they approached the gate and the boy turned to study the ten-foot razor-wire fence that loomed overhead and the armed guard that took his time to climb down from his tower. The guard stood at the window and took up the ID papers and then bent to look at the boy in the back seat.
Trey knew he looked like all boys cut from the same rag and when the man nodded towards him he looked down. If there was something in Trey’s eyes that might give himself away, he did not know. But the van lurched forward and he was glad of it in any case.
The van parked in a skid at the front of a clapboard farmhouse and Trey pushed down into the seat and he picked his fingers and bit at them for the chew. He watched the social worker stand to attention on the porch. The ‘Welcome’ sign that was tied there swung out when he knocked. Trey tried to make something of the place that was to be his home for the summer and he set his mind ready for clues. Out there in the muddied wet was the murderer, a man who thought he was safe in the cloth of God, but he was not.
Trey looked down at his hands and sighed. He’d drawn blood from the pull of flesh from his thumb and he pushed the wet into his jeans to soak it dry. He watched the windows of the house for movement and he watched the door like a hawk and when it opened he bubbled his breath deep down into his chest. So close now, he could smell the caustic anger burn and fizz inside and he blanked his face for the show of indifference.
He waited for the door lock to disengage and took his time to step from the van and he went towards the men on the porch with the rain heavy on his shoulders and his rucksack held baby tight in his arms.
He stood out of the rain and waited for the social worker to introduce him to a man known simply as McKenzie. Trey nodded and smiled and hoped that he gave nothing of himself away except the usual bad boy, sorry boy, any boy.
When McKenzie reached out a hand Trey shook it and he wished he’d thought to wipe the sweat-slip from it first.
‘This guy here is head of all things managerial. You listen to him and follow his lead and you won’t go wrong.’
Trey looked at the man and he searched his face for a telltale clue. ‘You a Preacher?’ he asked and he coughed to get the shake from his throat.
The man shook his head and said he was a superintendent of sorts and he told him to stand before him.
‘Don’t worry I int gonna bite.’ McKenzie laughed and he told Trey to stretch his arms and legs.
‘Just lookin for knives and drugs and whatever else. Turn out your pockets.’
Trey did what he was told and he was glad that he’d thought to hide his lighter in his trainer.
‘You smoke?’ McKenzie asked.
‘Well not any more, you don’t.’
He invited them to sit on the porch and the two men chose seats either side of Trey, fake guardians and protectors and more. They discussed the best way for Trey to knuckle down to institutional life and he nodded and tried not to slouch in the low wooden chair. Truth was he’d known nothing but his entire life and he thought about the run of promises arranged in his open palms like a string of dodgy pearls.
He would do everything asked of him, he promised the men this, and he promised himself and most of all he promised the demon that was forever watchful inside.
‘I bin told you’re a hard worker.’ The man nodded and a whip of thin white hair fell into his face and stuck to his beard.
‘Good strong worker by all accounts. Could do with that roundabouts.’
Trey shrugged and he wanted to say something kind of truthful but the two men were talking to each other in any case. They slung comments into the air like warning shots for bravado’s sake and Trey wondered if this was something about being a man that he should learn. Smiling and saying the right things in the wrong order, clubbed forward with hands gripped and flicking. He wondered if he might trust the skinny, watchful man, trust him proper and not just for the sake of dependence. He watched his eyes dart about like twinned river fish and when he caught Trey’s eye he winked.
‘So you like animals?’ He smiled. ‘Hope you like cattle cus cattle is all we got, just about.’
He looked at Trey with curiosity circling and nodded and told him to head to the bunkhouses to find his house master.
Trey pulled the family photo from out his rucksack when McKenzie told him to leave it on the porch step and he tucked it into the back pocket of his jeans. He stood and scuffed his boots on the wooden deck for thinking time. He wanted to ask about the bunkhouse’s whereabouts but the two men were already head down to paperwork and bank notes.
Trey stepped off the porch and into puddles and noticed for the first time that it had stopped raining.
He circled the ramshackle farmhouse and cut across the clearing beside it and he didn’t bother with direction because he didn’t know where he was going or who he was supposed to find in any case.
‘We’re in,’ he said to himself. He hoped Mum and Dad in heaven heard and Billy in the nursing home and he knew the demon inside heard because he whispered, ‘Good job.’
Trey could almost lick revenge from off his lips, could taste the bittersweet and it tasted good.
He looked around him at the tracks in the wet clay dirt and at the inroads that rose with thick tyre treads used to pulling heavy loads. Trey tailed the skids and he wondered about the corrugated iron barns that were everywhere and he listened out for the sound of other kids but heard nothing but the distant turn of generators and the cry of cows that horned from every direction.
He kicked at the track that passed the farmhouse and followed its vertical scar up a ridge to its highest point and when he reached the top he bent in half until the air returned to his lungs.
The camp below stretched out before him and was vast, a scatter of junk and rock and unyielding earth and everything tumbling towards the only thing to stop it dead – the fence.
Behind him a tree stump had been hacked into a rough set seat and Trey sat and looked down on to the sandy plain and the pockmarks scarred with trenches and cordons and boundaries. The social worker had told him that for the next six months this would be home and work and life and Trey couldn’t wait to cut and edge beneath its skin and settle within.
He shuffled his feet amongst the butt ends that encircled the stump and traced a finger into the smooth dip of a hundred initials burnt into its flesh and he wished he’d asked to stop at some store for cigarettes to hide in his other shoe before being planted in the middle of moor. He reached for a butt and kicked off his trainer and took out his lighter and he lit the butt and smoked what was left, along with the damp earth clinging to it, until his throat became too tight for bothering.
He looked down at the camp with the clay-cut yard and the four tin-shack houses arranged on either side and the marquee tent behind and his eyes traced the fence as far as he could see, searching for the corners and finding none.
He could see a scatter of farm buildings at the left of the camp and beyond that rough fields squared into the rock earth. In the distance he saw cows and calves idling, oblivious to the steal-drum building close to Trey that smoked black and stank of bad burn.
Trey sighed and he flicked his lighter at the tree stump to scorch a rub of black into it and he wondered about burning things like he did most days. It was good to think things over, put some kind of finish to his thinking. Trey was forever waiting to get back to the start line, the start of his life as it was meant to be.
He painted a picture of himself and Billy settled down by the sea, an old scrap-built hut for bedding down and a boat pitching in the bay. They’d fish for anything worth bartering. Billy was a genius with a hook and line, and they’d sit out front on the trampled sand and watch the sun set and come good again, a night spent eating mackerel and drinking whatever. Two boys closer in age now than their seven years, two boys idling under a crescent moon, forever brothers, forever free.
Trey couldn’t wait to get the revenge thing pared from his bones; he would set the demon free and go spring Billy from the care home all in one swoop. He wondered what it would be like to live out his days without the fire balling in his belly, have the cool calm wash over him, soothe him; he couldn’t imagine it for all the revenge that coursed through his veins.
He ran his fingers over the metal lighter that was not meant to be in his possession. He wasn’t to go looking for fire – that was part of the deal, the social worker said – but Trey was all for small steps, rehabilitation in tiny doses, drip therapy.
He considered trying for another cigarette and thought better of it and he surveyed the land beneath him for signs of life and there were none and instead he made his way back down the hill towards the buildings.
He couldn’t remember who he was supposed to look for and he stood and shouted out for anybody but only his lesser self called back.
He looked at his watch and sighed. It was a little past eleven in the morning and he supposed everyone was at work. He kicked at the ground and at the marks his trainers made in the wet sucking earth and continued back towards the farmhouse. He stepped up to the porch to look for the men but they had long gone and he searched for his bag but that had gone too.
He stood a moment and looked towards the gates and the two guards planted on platforms either side, their guns facing outward towards some unknown threat.
‘You lost, boy?’ came a voice from inside the house and Trey jumped from the porch.
He jammed his hands into his pockets and watched as eyes appeared through the dark web screen door and he was close to running when the voice told him to stay put.
‘Spose you think this is some sort of holiday camp, strollin round and whatever.’
‘I’m lookin for someone.’ He coughed.
‘Can’t right remember, a house master.’
‘Well that int no good.’
Trey pushed his hands deeper into his pockets and his left hand tightened to smooth comfort.
‘Dunno, sir. That McKenzie said go lookin.’
A stout, muscular man came to the door and he folded his arms and he looked like he was settling to stand there a good while.
‘Go lookin, up and down and roundabout, that kind of lookin?’
Trey shrugged and he took his time to trace the outline of the man for possible clues, make an imprint that he could go over later.
‘Well int that funny?’ The man stepped closer. ‘Cus you’re halfway doin right without even tryin. New boy, int you?’ He reached out a hand and Trey shook it and the man mangled and mashed the wet from it and he introduced himself as his house master.
He stood back and looked Trey up and over the same way he might regard cattle on market day. ‘You can call me DB or sir and I spose I can call you what I want.’
Trey wanted to ask after the social worker to make a connection of things known and he thought about his bag with the little knick-knack things that would mean nothing to a man like this and he asked what had happened to it.
‘Locked up no doubt, locked up same as the rest of the crap.’ He left the confines of the doorframe and stepped off the porch in a stretch. ‘But I’d say that int where your worry is right now.’
Trey thought about the nothing things he could do without and the family things he couldn’t and he was glad of the photo folded neatly in his back pocket.
‘You know where my bag is?’ he asked again and the demon told him to stay put until he got what was his but the man had turned his back and he shouted for him to follow as he walked towards the yard with the bunkhouses all around.
‘This is Tavy house, one of four bunkhouses as it stands. Tavy, Tamar, Lynner and Plym. The kids call them what they want no doubt but Tavy is this one’s name and the name stays.’
Trey stood at the open door and peered through the wall of heat that punched tipsy from the room and he waited for his eyes to adjust to the change in light.
‘What you think?’ The man laughed.
‘Course it’s hot. Rain’s stopped and sun’s out, init? Hottest summer since forever and it int even begun and here we got a metal roof and the walls is metal so what you reckon, it’s hot.’
Trey stepped into the room and he looked over the rows of beds so close together there was barely room for squeezing.
‘Any questions?’ the man asked.
‘You gotta have questions.’
Trey racked his brain but every question seemed out of bounds and instead he asked where he should put his things.
‘Clothes and stuff?’
‘Clothes go on the shelves above. Stuff stays locked up until such time as you earn it.’
‘What do I do to earn it, sir?’
‘Search me. Preacher’s the one who makes the rules, I just keep you in line.’ He looked at Trey and his eyes settled on his wrist. ‘And you can hand that over while we’re at it.’
Trey looked down at his wrist and he told the man the watch was his dad’s. He wanted to explain that it was a present from Mum on their wedding day and had their initials and the date inscribed on the back and everything. He looked up at the man. More than anything he wanted to tell him Dad was dead. Maybe if he told him he would let him keep it.
‘Well?’ he said. ‘Hand it over.’
Trey rubbed his thumb over the glass face of the watch, but he knew he couldn’t risk telling about Dad and Mum and so he bent the clip and undid the clasp and handed it to the man.
‘Don’t worry, you’ll get it back, spose you will anyway.’ The man laughed and when he jammed the watch into his pocket the demon inside of Trey warmed from this fuel and fuel was good; they needed it for their fire.
Trey stood small-boy fierce in the room of hot air and when they heard the sound of voices approaching the building the man told him to choose a place to sleep.
‘And hurry up. Int unusual for newbies to sleep on the floor.’
Trey looked around him and sat on the nearest bed to try the bounce and it was nothing much except a thin roll of padding and board beneath.
He thought about the best bed to choose given his situation and he walked the small corrugated room and every corner was as hot as the next.
He heard the skid of wheels in the dust outside and caught the fine scent of diesel and he picked the bed nearest the door despite the scatter of clothes on the floor and he wrote his name at the top of the form that clung to a clipboard at its foot.
Outside he was glad to replace the claustrophobic heat with the heat of day. The sun was coming good and making flint-splits in the clouds and he joined the whip trail of dust and exhaust fumes that headed downhill away from the bunkhouses.
A group of boys walked up ahead and there was something about their lived-in swagger that told Trey to hang back.
He wasn’t like these other boys. His life had been set upon by circumstances beyond his control. He wasn’t bad for the kick of things; he’d grown bad like bacteria on foul meat.
He took his time to circle his way to wherever it was they were meant and he kept his head down to keep from looking at anyone the wrong way.
Midday was approaching and with it came a pinch of pain at the back of his neck that could only be the slow nip of sunburn and Trey rubbed it with his hand and wished he had the smarts to have hooked his cap from out his bag earlier.
He kept his eyes on his clumsy feet and tried to ignore the footsteps that almost clipped his heels from behind.
‘You’re gettin burnt,’ said a small voice and Trey ignored it.
‘Bubblin right up it is, like pizza.’
Trey sped up despite the lads up ahead and all their footsteps fell in line like marching men.
‘What we got ’ere?’ laughed one of the boys. ‘Where the other five dwarfs?’
Everyone laughed and Trey turned to look at the tall, fat boy beside him.
‘You come as a pair?’ The boy continued and he lifted his fringe to get a good look at Trey. ‘Only it looks like you do. A pair of circus freaks, I’d say.’
Trey shrugged at the nothing joke. There were worse things to be called than small. He looked at the other boy who, unlike Trey, was thin and brittle and he moved off to keep association at bay.
‘I’m Larry,’ said the reedy boy and he followed Trey towards the clearing that surrounded the tent.
Trey nodded and when he saw others sit down on the scatter of rough-sawn benches he did the same and he hoped the thin boy would go away. A boy like that was sore-thumb trouble, he knew that as fact. Trey wanted more than anything to ignore the yappy boy. He knew all about incarceration from his stint in young offenders, knew that you should avoid the needy like the plague; their weakness could rub off and on to you. He glanced at the boy and something inside felt sorry for him. He hated that.
‘I said my name’s Larry.’ The boy waited for Trey to reply and when he didn’t he elbowed him in the ribs.
‘What?’ asked Trey.
‘I’m talkin to you.’
‘Least you can do is talk back.’
‘Leave me alone.’
‘High and mighty, int you? Thought you could do with a friend out here in the middle, make it easier bein the newbie and all.’
Trey ignored the boy. He wasn’t bothered about getting along with anyone for the sake of company. He had all he needed in memory and fantasy combined.
‘You’re new,’ the boy continued. ‘I know you’re new cus I know all the goss in this place, just bout anyway.’
The boy leant forward to look at Trey and he was a long time looking. ‘You gonna tell me your name then?’ he asked.
Trey shrugged. ‘Tremain,’ he said. ‘Tremain Pearce. Most call me Trey.’
‘I’m Larry but I told you that, in any case all call me Lamby.’
Trey glanced at the boy and he had ‘odd’ sugar-rock written right through him. ‘What name you like best?’ he asked.
‘Does it matter?’
Trey shrugged and sat back to watch the boys and a fistful of girls settle to the circle of benches and he asked the boy what was happening.
‘Intros, rules and regs,’ the boy continued. ‘Usual show for you newbies, which today is just you. It’s all bull.’
‘How many new kids you get a month?’
‘How many got out last month.’
‘How many was that?’
‘One, only one. That’s why it’s just you. Anyway, all you got to remember is don’t and double don’t.’
‘Speak, think, ask questions, that sort of thing.’
Trey sat expectantly, examining the men that stepped up on to the stacking-pallet stage in front of the tent but nothing about them reminded him of his parents’ killer.
‘What church them all from anyway?’
‘Dunno proper. Don’t think them all’s from a church in the conventional sense. None of that nicey, like you’d think, them stricter, I spose. The Preacher is the head, set it up backalong.’
‘So it’s his church?’ asked Trey. ‘He made it up?’
Trey watched the three men on the stage fiddle with a megaphone and he kept his eyes stuck to them despite the stinging sour smoke that meandered through the camp.
He had a million questions to ask but when he went to speak the boy held up his hand and looked back at the stage.
A man that called himself camp chaplain had taken to the stage and Trey watched the old man attempt to quieten the crowd and he tried to concentrate on his voice. Frail or no, Trey could not risk letting anyone fall beneath his radar.
He closed his eyes and turned his ear to every note and sound, but as always his mind took to wandering and he realised his finger-picking had again drawn blood. He pressed the small wound against his thigh and when the bleeding didn’t stop he asked Lamby if he had a tissue and when the boy ignored him he asked again. Trey was slow to realise that the chaplain had been replaced by McKenzie and the crowd had fallen silent with everyone sat turned in their seats, forty plus pairs of eyes looped and settling on Trey. McKenzie coughed for attention and he asked him to tell the others his name. He told him to stand on the bench and shout it. Trey stood and stepped up and he shouted loud and his voice cracked with embarrassment.
‘Tremain,’ said the man.
Trey nodded and he dangled with the demon coiled inside.
‘Don’t look so scared. Int you bin told we’re one happy family?’
Trey was not sure if it was a question he had been asked and he looked down at his feet with the fall-apart trainers and they wanted to run.
‘Well?’ asked the man.
Trey shrugged. His head spun with the right/wrong words to say and the demon shouted something that made it hard to hear. He looked up at the man and shrugged again and the other kids gasped at his insolence.
‘I’ll see you later, Rudeboy,’ said McKenzie. ‘Sit down.’
Trey sat with the red of stupid burning in his cheeks and his neck almost in flames. He watched the sea of heads snap to attention and he wished for a hole to open up and suck him in. He flicked the blood from his dripping finger on to the stubborn earth and he looked the crowd over to see if anyone was bold enough to still be turned his way and there was.
A girl who looked about his age sat half bent towards the stage and she looked at him with curiosity and it was as if there was something between them that was a known thing. Trey looked away and was quick to glance at his hands for the refuge and he listened to the man who thought himself boss big himself up and he sat as stiff as the boy at his side.
Trey had been pinned hard to the ground and he knew it, pinned and tied and labelled with a stupid name and all because of something and nothing much. He didn’t fall in with things the way other kids did. He had too much chat in his head; some days he couldn’t hear much more than what went on in his mind. He wished he could set fire to his thinking, blow the ash into the cluttered corners like a spring clean and start over.
He rubbed his eyes and set them to the stage where the chaplain had taken to the deck for prayers and Trey listened to the good-god words and said them over when asked because he really did want to fit in.
His eyes sought out DB and Dad’s watch stuffed anyold in his pocket and he reminded himself that he would be a good boy, a better boy than any of the other boys. If he was to have any chance of finding out the truth he had to keep to the rules and gain the masters’ trust no matter that he hated them all; trust meant an open road to revenge.
When their names were roll-called into houses they were told they had ten minutes of loose time before lining up and Trey stood because he thought better that way.
‘Isn’t this great?’ grinned Lamby. ‘We’re in the same house. Imagine that. Begsy the bed next to you.’
Trey shook his head and said ‘Whatever’ and he looked over to where the girl had been sitting.
‘Spose you think this place is strict,’ said Lamby.
‘Don’t lie, anyway they can’t afford to have it any other way. Lost boys, we are. Int that what they call us, society I mean?’
Trey didn’t care what ‘they’ called them; he’d given up on society in the same way that it had given up on him and those like him a long time ago, but he guessed the boy was right.
A ragtag line of damaged kids running crazy across the nation’s terrain just about described them, a layer of loose sediment free falling.
‘Spose I don’t care long as I learn a trade, do my time.’ He looked at the boy and shrugged. Lying came easy to him.
‘Really? You serious?’ Lamby laughed but stopped when he saw Trey’s expression. ‘Is that what you bin told? Learn a trade and get a qually and a job?’
‘Maybe.’ Trey turned his back. There was something slippery strange about the boy and he wondered why he insisted on shortening every other word down to nothing.
‘Good luck in any case,’ the boy shouted after him. ‘Maybe you’ll be a lucky un, who knows?’
Trey hoped he’d still be allowed to do farming like he’d been told and a little good nature came to him and it went just as fast when he saw McKenzie beckon to him from across the clearing.
‘Rudeboy,’ he shouted.
Trey kept quiet. He knew it was best.
‘Rudeboy, answer me.’
‘Yes, sir.’ Trey nodded some kind of truce.
McKenzie looked him up and looked him down and he rubbed what hair he had with a whip of excitement.
‘You got a problem with authority, boy? Cus your social worker dint say nothin bout that.’
‘No, sir, what?’
‘No, sir, I int got a problem with authority, sir.’
McKenzie put his hands in his pockets and jangled his chain and keys in a mix.
‘Gonna like workin with you, boy. I reckon I’m gonna enjoy ropin you in. What work you say you fancy?’
‘Farm, sir, lookin after livestock.’
‘Like that, would you?’
McKenzie started to laugh. ‘I’d use the term “farm” loosely if I were you. Trenches and fences with cattle thrown in is nearer the mark. Sure you don’t wanna do slaughter? Could do with a stocky lad like you down the slaughterhouse.’
Trey smiled; there was no shame about it.
‘Good boy, Rudeboy.’
Up close the man smelt of cigars and cheap-seat aftershave and Trey searched his childhood memory for anything of him. They were all holy men after all. They all belonged to the same fanatical church.
‘Well run along, there’s a good boy.’
Trey returned to the crowd and he allowed himself a little flicker flame anger to rise up within and he wished for one brief moment that he had something to burn and blow outright for the hell of it.
‘Slaughter’s as bad as it sounds if you was wonderin. You wanna stay away from slaughter.’
Trey stopped and scanned the surrounding faces until he saw the girl and his head spun with the panic and complication brought on by sudden beauty.
‘I wanted to do farm,’ he blurted. ‘Who’d I have to see?’
‘I was told to introduce myself by the chaplain, so here I am introducin myself. I’m Kay, I do farm.’
Trey nodded and she told him that the chaplain was the only master worth anything and to remember that.
‘I int thought much of the others, that’s for sure.’ He smiled and asked her what house she was in.
‘Lynner, all ten girls is Lynner. Boys is Tamar, Tavy or Plym, them named after rivers.’ She shrugged for the ‘whatever’ and Trey shrugged too.
‘Don’t worry, McKenzie was just windin you up. If you was assigned farm then that’s where you’ll be, for now anyway.’
They walked the crowd and found Lamby without looking and soon the idling time was up and they were told to get into their house groups.
‘Rudeboy,’ laughed DB outside Tavy. ‘I like it and I dint even make it up.’
Trey nodded. ‘I’m called Trey,’ he said and he tried to smile and he bit down on the stupid name and the stupid rules.
‘Int gonna cry over it like some mother’s boy, is you?’
Trey swallowed hard to keep the demon in. ‘No, sir, I int no mother’s boy, sir,’ he lied.
‘Well int that good to hear. Now go get your clothes.’
Outside the tin hut dorm he waited to receive the shabby camp-issue garments. Two T-shirts, two vests and a shirt, all grey, plus cap, grey.
‘Is this it?’ he asked the boy who stood guard over the open suitcase.
‘Why, what else you want? You can wear what you like on your legs, big swishy skirt if you want.’
‘You’re funny.’ Trey rubbed his fingers over the cheap material and what was left of nail caught in the fabric.
‘So are you,’ sneered the boy. ‘Now do one.’
Trey went into the bunkhouse and threw the clothes on to the bed he’d picked and he lay among them and wondered if he might ask for work boots because the second-hand trainers that stuck to his feet had seen better days. He linked his hands behind his head and he wished Mum was around to give him some indication of right from wrong so he could set his mind to what he needed to know.
‘Why you loungin bout?’ asked Lamby. ‘This int free time.’
‘I thought it was long as we stayed in our house groups?’
‘Outside,’ giggled Lamby. ‘Free time long as we stay in our house groups outside. The masters like to keep an eye on us.’
‘I wanted to rest.’
‘Well you can’t cus we gotta go barbecue. It’s one o’clock, dumb-poke.’ Lamby reached out a hand to pull him to his feet and Trey ignored it.
‘Camp’s just bout the best fun a kid can have,’ Lamby continued. ‘One big happy family apparently.’
Trey stayed put and he kept his fingers locked behind his head a moment longer. He closed his eyes and for one shutter second he pictured the four of them on the beach.
Mum, Dad, Billy and himself the day before the shooting, a happy family nothing family. For eight years he had waited for this moment to arrive. He was doing this for them.