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Des Truscott

Des Truscott - writer, teacher and theatre practitioner - lives and works in the UK. Aims always to engage the full potency of the audience/reader/student’s imagination. Recent fiction has been long-listed for the Nottingham Writers Short Story competition 2016 and the Yeovil Literary Prize, novel section, 2017 and published by Black Heart Magazine (USA) in October 2017. Des worked for eight years in the manufacturing, engineering, construction and rail industries before returning to full-time education. Retired from a Senior Lecturer post in Performance at Middlesex University to devote his creative energies to full-time writing. Is currently collaborating with a professional editor on The Fetch, a haunting, supernatural, coming of age novel set within the clothing industry of the 1970s.
Des Truscott

Des Truscott

Des Truscott - writer, teacher and theatre practitioner - lives and works in the UK. Aims always to engage the full potency of the audience/reader/student’s imagination. Recent fiction has been long-listed for the Nottingham Writers Short Story competition 2016 and the Yeovil Literary Prize, novel section, 2017 and published by Black Heart Magazine (USA) in October 2017. Des worked for eight years in the manufacturing, engineering, construction and rail industries before returning to full-time education. Retired from a Senior Lecturer post in Performance at Middlesex University to devote his creative energies to full-time writing. Is currently collaborating with a professional editor on The Fetch, a haunting, supernatural, coming of age novel set within the clothing industry of the 1970s.

‘It’s true! It’s true! It’s the Law!’ said Frank, jabbing his finger in the air towards Kenny. ‘If the trapdoor fails three times, they have to let you go.’ 

He used the finger to emphasise ‘have’, ‘let’ and ‘go’, implying that Kenny was a moron. 

‘Fuck off!’ said the young, hatchet-faced forklift truck driver, trying to hide his hand of cards away from prying eyes. The other men shuffled uneasily in their seats. This wasn’t going well. Kenny had done time in prison and was known to be a hothead, a loose cannon.

‘It is true,’ said Frank with quieter emphasis, almost dispirited. He was a thin, wiry, man in his early sixties. ‘If the trapdoor fails three times, they have to let you go. It’s an act of God or…or something…’ Hard, startlingly blue eyes darted nervously from face to face but everyone was studying their cards. His uncertain voice trailed away, leaving only uneasy silence in the air.

 ‘Just fuck right off,’ said Kenny, dismissively. ‘You’re talking bollocks. Pure unadulterated bollocks.’ 

Some of the other men laughed. There were thirteen of them sitting at a wooden table in the Portakabin. Scaffolders, shuttering carpenters, concreters, bricklayers, plant drivers, steel fixers and labourers all playing cards and drinking tea. Until the temperature rose there was nothing else they could do. A delivery of semi-liquid concrete had been delayed due to the freezing weather. Blue gas flames lapped at an oversized kettle, misting the windows with steam.

            ‘In case it had escaped your attention,’ said Teabag, the tall, thoughtful foreman of the gang, only a few years younger than Frank himself, ‘we don’t hang people anymore.’

            ‘I know that, Teabag. But if we did…’ said Frank, almost pleading with him to agree, ‘…if we did! Then that’s the Law!’

            ‘Supposing what you say is true,’ mused Teabag, ‘how many examples can you give me where the trapdoor has failed once, never mind three times consecutively? Has this lawever been enacted?’

    ‘You get a right hard-on when you’re hanged,’ interjected Adrian, an Irish scaffolder. He sat shoulder to shoulder with young Kenny, who was hiding his scarred face behind his cards, trying but failing to contain the convulsive, sniggering laughter that had possessed him. Adrian tickled his ribs as if to make light of it. ‘Shut the fuck up,’ he said, grinning.

            ‘Which would you choose, hanging or the electric chair?’ asked Oz, a shuttering carpenter with dyed, dirty blond hair.

            ‘Well if it’s a choice between being fried and dying with a hard-on, I think I’ll do the hard-on,’ said Adrian, ‘wouldn’t you?’ The men guffawed.

            ‘The chair’s quicker,’ said Oz.

            ‘Is it, though?’ queried Teabag. ‘Doesn’t it depend on your level of conductivity?’

            ‘‘Conduc-fucking-whatity? Have you swallowed a dictionary?’ Teabag smiled and returned to his earlier theme.

‘Besides,’ he said, addressing Frank once again, ‘even if we did hang people and the trapdoor, improbably, failed three times, how would you know?’

            ‘Know what?’ asked Frank, quickly sipping his tea and then nervously drawing on a thin, roll-up cigarette.

            ‘Everything takes place behind closed doors, doesn’t it? There’s a hangman, a priest maybe, and a doctor; the Prison Governor; someone to cut the poor bastard down. How’s Joe Public going to find out what went on? Who’s going to tell him?’

            ‘I don’t know. There must be somebody. A witness or a reporter or…someone.’ 

Teabag shrugged his shoulders.

‘Even if there was, are they likely to…?’

            ‘Likely to what?’

            ‘Tell the truth. How God miraculously pardoned this fella and made the trapdoor fail three times?’

            ‘They have to.’

            ‘Why?’

            ‘Because they do.’

            ‘Is that a Law, as well?’

            ‘I don’t know. It must be.’

            ‘Frank, mate,’ Teabag patiently explained, ‘they’re not going to say to The Yorkshire Ripper or Ian Brady or Ronnie Kray or some lunatical, murdering bastard like that: “You’re in luck, friend. The trapdoor’s failed three times now. It must be a miracle. Give us those handcuffs. Off you go, be a good psychopathic nutter and don’t do it again,’’ are they?’

‘It doesn’t matter,’ asserted Frank, trying to concentrate on his cards, wishing he had never brought the subject up, ‘if the trapdoor fails three times, that’s it, you’re free. Free as a bird. They have to let you go.’ He drew on the roll-up and blew grey smoke out of the corner of his mouth. Coughed.

Teabag sighed, adjusted his woollen hat and lit a king-size, filter-tipped cigarette. His nickname came from an early habit of popping dry, unused teabags into his mouth, letting the saliva get to work on them and then sucking out the ensuing juices. It staved off hunger, he claimed. A trick he learned in Special Forces, allegedly. Now he drank lukewarm tea from a large mug, swilled it around in his mouth, then looked questioningly at Frank. The Times crossword puzzle lay beside his left hand. He had partially filled the grid in whilst playing Rummy with the men. The words aesthetic, asceticand esotericwere written in yellow wax crayon on the table before him. His front dentures were missing. He sucked air in through the gap before speaking.

            ‘When you think about it, Frank, there would be no point in having such a law, apart from giving hope to the credulous.’

            ‘I don’t know what you mean.’  

            ‘That’s you, Frank – Mr Freaking Incredulous!’ shrieked Kenny and laughed hysterically. Frank jumped up, pushing his chair back and threw his cards in Kenny’s face. 

            ‘Shut your fucking mouth. What do you fucking know? You’re just a kid,’ he cried. ‘A snotty-nosed fucking kid!’ Teabag pulled him back. Kenny went for Frank but Adrian grabbed hold of his pants and hauled him down onto the bench. 

‘Keep it in your trousers, kid,’ he warned him, sotto voce. ‘Leave the old feller alone.’ Kenny looked straight at Frank, his neck tense and jaw hinge flexing. He bit on his bottom lip. Oz quietly whistled “Colonel Bogie”, collected Frank’s cards from the floor and swept them back into the pack. Teabag tried to calm the whole situation down by telling an improbable story.

            ‘On a remote, inaccessible cliff in Tibet,’ he announced, leaning back to avoid smoke from the cigarette getting into his eyes, ‘there is a monastery called The Place of Freedom. It offers sanctuary to anybody who can reach it. Doesn’t matter what crimes or horrendous, despicable things you’ve done – the law can’t touch you once you’re inside. There is one condition, though. You have to become a monk and live in silence for the rest of your life.’

The cabin goes quiet, waiting, listening.

‘Most people die trying to scale the sheer rock face leading up to the monastery,’ said Teabag. ‘It’s a terrifying climb. The skeletons of previous aspirants are wedged into crevices in the rock. Too afraid to go on, too cold and exhausted to get back down, they just stayed there and froze to death. Still, it was a chance.’

            ‘There you go,’ said Adrian to Frank, who was standing at the back of the cabin now, agitated, tapping his foot, ‘Yooze could become a monk, Frank.’

            ‘Frank, a monk? The chances of that are between a dog’s and zero,’ laughed Oz, ‘and the dog just left the building.’ Kenny laughed also and Frank gave the kid a poisonous look.

            ‘He could if he wanted to,’ said Adrian. ‘Anybody can, if they get the call. Take up the spiritual life.’ 

All the men were grinning, except Frank.

            ‘When did you last get the call, Paddy?’ asked Teabag.

            ‘Saturday night when that feller caught him shagging his wife in The Thorn Tree car park,’ said Oz. The cabin rocked with deep, male laughter. Frank obsessively sucked on a cigarette he had rolled too tightly.

            ‘Aaah, yooze knuckleheads!’ said Adrian, ‘There’s the mundane life, the earthly, animal life of the appetites, and then there’s the spiritual goings on. I wouldn’t expect yooze bunch o’ retards to know the feckin’ difference.’ 

            ‘How do the other monks get up there, then?’ Oz suddenly asked.

            ‘Sorry?’ said Teabag.

            ‘These monks. If this place is so in-ac-fucking-cessible, how do the other monks get up there?’

            ‘In a basket, pulled by a rope,’ said Teabag, grinning from ear to ear.

            ‘You fucking liar!’ said Oz, smiled and palmed his cards into his back pocket. He climbed over the bench with difficulty and slipped out of the cabin door to take a leak. Winter sunlight and the tinkling sound of golden splashing urine spilled in from outside.

Frank had removed himself to a corner, away from the table, still 

obsessively tapping one foot, and smoking yet another, freshly rolled cigarette. He was wondering if, once the men left, he would have time to nip back to his caravan and fetch the whisky bottle. It might help relieve the trembling in his left hand. 

            Oz returned. It was his go and he immediately laid down his cards.

            ‘That’s me. Three Jacks, four Kings!’

            ‘Feck!’ exclaimed Adrian, throwing down his hand in disgust and turning over the top card on the deck. ‘Look, next pick up, I was there. Next feckin’ pick up!’

            Oz grinned and looked at him, slowly gathering up the loose change scattered across the red and white checked plastic tablecloth. Adrian glared at him. Something was wrong.

‘Now, now, gentleman;’ Teabag’s calm voice intervened, ‘Queensbury rules, please. Queensbury rules.’ Oz and Adrian continued to stare at one another across the table, neither giving an inch. Oz was grinning from ear to ear. Adrian’s face had turned to stone.

            ‘We’d better be off,’ said Teabag, trying to diffuse the situation, donning a heavy overcoat. ‘The concrete’s due in fifteen minutes.’ 

‘Here, take your fucking money,’ said Oz, at last, his face splitting even wider than the Cheshire Cat’s, dropping the coins noisily back onto the table. 

‘Why?’ said Adrian.

‘Check the King of Hearts.’ Adrian turned the card over to reveal blue rather than red patterning on the back.

‘It’s from a different feckin’ pack! You cheating bastard!’

‘It’s a good job I’m honest,’ said Oz, raising his eyebrows. ‘But I got you going, didn’t I?’ 

‘Did you feck,’ said Adrian, picking up the coins.

Teabag bundled them both outside. They stumbled from the cabin together, mock punching each other, head wrestling and laughing. The rest of the men followed. Kenny lingered beside the door until they had all gone. He was tall and thin with an unnaturally sallow face, brutally short ginger hair and mean, narrow eyes. 

‘I’ll be seeing you later then, Frank,’ said Kenny. Frank didn’t even bother looking at him or giving a reply. As the gang walked away from the cabin, a laughing voice cried out: ‘Three times! Three fucking times! Can you believe that?’

Frank was both the oldest and most junior member of the gang. Senior by age to Teabag but junior in terms of pay and rank to everyone else. You could not even call him a labourer anymore. The famous black quiff of hair was now grey, as were the sideburns. A good steel fixer, he once dashed amongst the wooden shuttering like a rat, tying up the reinforced wire cages prior to concrete being poured. Now he had accepted the role of ‘boy’, looked after the cabin, maintained the gas stoves, brewed tea and dried out the wet gear when it rained. Only occasionally was he asked to put some actual labour in, mainly minor stuff. He got the shakes if he went too long without a drink. It was Teabag’s loyalty that kept Frank in work rather than anything he productively contributed.

            Frank washed the mugs and turned them upside down on the window ledge to dry. He sat down on a hard, wooden bench, the door half-open, sucking on another roll up. Each time the smoke touched his lungs, a dull pain like a small shudder, tingled the left side of his chest. He coughed afterwards and his heart beat a little faster.

Young idiots like Kenny had no respect. They thought everything was about them. In the old days people stuck together. Frank had travelled the length and breadth of this country, hauling static caravans on low-loaders from site to site. Been in more fights than Kenny had had hot dinners. The construction gangs’ reputations always preceded them. Some pub landlords welcomed the new money whilst others barred ‘travellers’ of any kind, insisting on dress codes for their crappy little boozers. The natives were almost always hostile. 

It was an unspoken rule amongst the motorway construction workers never to actually start a fight. But when some local, self-proclaimed hard nut decided to kick off – and the men could see it coming a mile away – there was no shortage of takers. Several pubs had been reduced to hollow, windowless shells. Attempts at prosecution were pointless. To arrest one, you had to arrest them all, even those who weren’t involved. The Police met only silence and the Firm discretely paid for the damages. Some locals found work on the construction site and the odd one or two, like Frank, stayed with the Firm for life. He had been away from his Welsh hometown for so long now that it no longer was his hometown. He hardly knew anybody there, had no family and no life to go back to.

            Those brawls had terrified the youthful steel fixer. A pint glass was once smashed in his face, gouging a chunk out of his left eyebrow. Frank took to carrying a knife. Late one night, in a crowded chip shop, four or five idiots set upon Angus, a heavy plant driver and something of a father figure to the young steel-fixer. Angus pushed the quaking youth behind him and tried to back them both out towards the door, fending off blows as best he could. One particular hotshot, wearing a leather jacket with a badly painted white skull on the back of it, kept nipping in and smashing Angus in the face with a pair of home-made knuckledusters. He had long, heavily bleached, blonde hair. The fourth time he attacked, Frank caught him with the blade. Blondie leaped back, squealing like a frightened pig, limbs all out of control. Everybody rushed for the door, including Blondie’s mates. Angus and Frank disappeared.

            The guy’s liver was perforated. He died later in hospital from a secondary infection. The police threatened to haul every member of the work force in on manslaughter charges but, without witnesses, they were grasping at thin air. The motorway gangs simply closed ranks. 

‘Say nothing,’ Angus counselled. The knife vanished under fifty tons of concrete. Frank sweated for several months. Blondie had deserved something but not that. He hadn’t meant for him to die. It was an accident. Frank still thought about it. He wanted to make amends but did not know how. Maybe he should find a priest and confess? Or just stick to the whisky and forget. He could still feel the suck of the blade in his hand as it slid back out. 

Frank turned the gas heater down but the cabin immediately 

became cold and damp so he turned it back up again. Winter light from the windows slanted across the floor, illuminating blooms of dust from the recent kerfuffle of feet. Only a few years now until his retirement. The Firm would insist on it. Even Teabag wouldn’t be able to save him. 

            Outside the cabin lay a frozen wasteland of bare clay, pitted with trenches and deep drainage holes. In one direction, a patchwork of fields limed with hoar frost spread up towards grey, distant hills and a pale blue sky. In the other, clusters of ochre-coloured houses gather around a small village church. Two raucous, arguing crows perched on the battlements of the stubby, castellated tower. Frozen beech leaves rustled in the hedgerows. Everything seemed closer in the noonday light, sharper and more defined. Smoke drifted from tall red-brick chimneys. A woman in a blue and white apron hung flaps of washing out on a line that seemed to almost instantly stiffen and freeze.

Frank picked up Teabag’s yellow wax crayon and began to draw on the wall, not the scene he had witnessed outside, but some alternative reality in his own head. He was not a religious man but, of late, Frank has found himself drawn towards churches. Something about the stillness and the silence there. At weekends, he often spent an hour sitting alone in a pew before he went to the pub, thinking. It helped him to feel cleansed, refreshed. He had also taken to interpreting the events of the world around him as signs. Of what, though, he was not so sure. 

One Saturday, when he left the church, a fox trotted blithely past him on the street through the town centre. He felt compelled to turn and follow it down an alleyway. He would have kept on following – to god knows where – if the siren call of the boozer had not eventually lured him back. The fox turned suddenly when he left, as if it had only just realised he was following her. It watched him walk all the way back up the alley. Frank was sure it was a vixen, a female, and, although it was wild, found himself falling a little bit in love. He wondered if anybody had ever actually trained a fox as a pet.

The floor and walls of the cabin begin to vibrate and rumble. Young Kenny appeared outside on a diesel-driven, forklift truck, a grinning, evil look on his face.

            ‘Frank! C’mon!’ he bellowed over the engine’s roar. ‘We’ve got to move the Portaloo and clear the old site. Teabag says you’re to give me a hand.’

            Frank doubted that Teabag had said any such thing but climbed reluctantly up beside Kenny onto the mudguard, clinging to the roll bars. They bumped and bounced along the limestone aggregate and the frozen, rutted earth towards the roundabout intersection. Throughout the entire journey, neither of them spoke nor acknowledged the other.

            Frank was wary. Kenny had often claimed to be training in the destructive mysteries of the martial arts. He once leapt twenty feet from a bridge, burying himself up to the waist in a deep pile of soft sand, a lit cigarette stuck between his lips. On another occasion, he brought rice flails and a samurai sword into work to impress the men.

            ‘Start whirling those around in here, son, and you’ll probably end up having to extract them from your arse,’ Teabag cautioned. 

            They arrived at the scattered remains of the old site. The cabin had been moved off a while back, lifted up and deposited on the back of a lorry. Teabag and his crane were then needed elsewhere so the loo was simply temporarily shunted aside. Levelled tarmac of what would be a six-lane bypass was already running across the tops of the newly constructed bridges. 

Kenny dropped down from the forklift, opened the Portaloo door, gagged and slammed it shut again. The sheer volume of ordure had long since overwhelmed the loos’ chemical capacity for neutralisation. Of course, nobody had bothered to clean it out. 

            The blue loos with their yellow flashings were a relatively recent luxury. Previously, the gangs had squatted down wherever they could find a bit of cover to ease themselves. Then a new Health and Safety directive arrived insisting that the Firm provide proper ‘facilities’. A rash of Portaloos appeared along the whole length of the motorway construction site. When their section ‘facility’ was installed, Teabag nonchalantly unfurled a little Japanese parasol over his shoulder, puckered up his lips and went, mincingly, as he put it, to ‘Sink the Belgrano’. Everyone wept with laughter.

            ‘I’m not touching that with a barge pole’ said Kenny.  

            ‘We can always get a compressor and blast it clean before we move it,’ suggested Frank. They were still not making any eye contact.

            ‘I’ve got a better idea.’ Kenny jumped onto the forklift truck and drove off, returning a few minutes later with two jerry cans of diesel and a bundle of rags.     

            ‘I’m going to burn it.’

            ‘Let’s ask Teabag first.’

            Kenny’s face had a sly, conspiratorial look about it.

            ‘We can just say we were burning all the other rubbish and the fire got out of hand,’ he said quietly, unscrewing the caps and standing the cans on the ground. Frank tried to assert some seniority.

            ‘We’re not burning it until Teabag gives the say so.’

            Kenny turned on Frank, grabbed the older man by the throat and smashed him up against the Portaloo door.   

            ‘They’re taking the piss out of us,’ Kenny hissed, ‘Look!’ He pulled the door open, revealing the disgusting mess inside. ‘I’m not here to clean other people’s shit up. Respect, that’s what this is all about. Fucking respect,’ he added, gripping the frightened Frank’s throat even tighter. 

Kenny leaned into him and whispered. 

‘By the way, you ever throw your fucking cards in my face again and I’ll take both your fucking eyes out,’ he said, pushing two stiff fingers up against the bottom of Frank’s eyeballs, which begin to bulge from their sockets. Kenny paused and grinned. ‘What do you say now, eh?’ There was a sadistic delight in the young man’s voice. He sucked up Frank’s fear, fed on it. The old man mumbled something inaudible.

‘What was that? I didn’t hear it.’

‘I’m sorry,’ said Frank, quietly. Kenny pushed his fingers even more painfully into Frank’s face.

‘Say it again, louder.’

‘I’m sorry.’

‘For what?’ Kenny demanded.

‘For throwing my cards at you,’ said Frank. The pale, ginger-haired youth grinned at him.

‘God, your breath stinks like a fucking distillery,’ he said, pushing Frank aside. Kenny splashed diesel all over the Portaloo and soaked the rags in it. Frank stood back, saying nothing.    

            The gang were busy installing a huge pipe in a culvert at the bottom of the embankment. Frank could see the tip of the crane jib moving backwards and forwards above the crest of the man-made slope. Kenny lit the diesel-soaked rags and threw them into the open doorway. It took less than a minute for the fire to catch hold. Yellow flames quickly followed the billowing black smoke. A few seconds later the young, self-proclaimed kung-fu expert sprinted past Frank, leapt into the air and, screaming, fly-kicked the burning cubicle with both feet at waist-height. 

It toppled slowly, ponderously from its plinth. To Kenny’s horror, it then began to roll down the embankment. Kenny followed, desperately trying to halt the burning cubicle’s gathering momentum as it bounced and trundled over the curve of the hill onto the slope below. Too late.  

            The gang were in the middle of the delicate aligning operation, trying to settle a massive drainage pipe onto its concrete bed. Tomorrow it would be engulfed in the stuff to protect it from the weight of earth above. Oz already had the wooden shutters partially erected at the sides. The men heard Kenny’s warning shouts and looked up to see the flaming Portaloo rolling down towards them. Its door flapped open as it picked up speed, belching clouds of black smoke, flinging fire and stale excrement in all directions. Desperately scrambling through the mud, they pulled each other up out of the ditch and over the shuttering. Then flung themselves to the ground. The blazing juggernaut exploded behind them in the culvert. 

All eyes turned towards Kenny’s guilty silhouette, frozen on the horizon, his hands, raised in horror, frozen, as if he had been nailed to the sky. Suddenly, he began to dance and chant and sing in some strange language, repeating the same sounds over and over again. The men just stood there looking at him, silent, unmoved. 

‘What the fuck is he doing?’ asked Oz.

‘Performing his mantra, invoking the power of the dead,’ said Teabag dismissively. Kenny turned and ran, away from the gang, his forklift truck and the motorway construction site for ever. Frank watched him dash to the site’s perimeter fence. He scaled it effortlessly, dropped down the other side and disappeared up the white limestone aggregate track, small puffs of dust being kicked up by his departing heels. 

Frank’s explanation of events was received in silence. It was now beginning to grow dark. The redness under his eyes, where Kenny had stuck his fingers in, made it look as if he had been crying. He told the men how the young forklift truck driver would not listen to him, how he ran off like a coward rather than face the consequences, omitting to mention the bit about being slammed up against the Portaloo door or his eyes nearly being squeezed out of their sockets.

            ‘I tried to stop him, Teabag. I said: “Don’t do anything ‘til Teabag gives the say so.”’

            ‘Okay, Frank. Okay. Fine,’ said Teabag, irritated by the whole business. ‘Go and put a brew on and warm the cabin up for us, will you?’

No one actually blamed Frank but nobody had openly supported him either, not even Teabag. In fact, nothing was said. The men just stood there, silent, looking at the ground, kicking their boots against the hard earth. That was the worrying thing. 

A hard freeze was beginning to bite as Frank hurried back to the cabin. The darkening sky was littered with emerging stars and there were beads of sweat on his brow. He wanted to make the cabin a lovely, warm, cosy place for Teabag’s return. A place you would never even think of leaving on a night such as this. If he had brought the whisky bottle, the pair of them could stay on for an hour, drinking and chatting like the olden times. His body prickled with heat as he approached the wooden building. His heart juddered so he stopped, short of breath. 

Bent over, hands resting on his knees, Frank saw a movement in the dark blue twilight. Somebody was inside the cabin. He was sure of it. Had he forgotten to lock the door when he left earlier? After all the drama that Kenny had stirred up, he could not recollect. 

Frank approached cautiously and waited outside, a tightness still gripping his chest. He had come to work one Monday morning and found the cabin broken into and vandalised. The burglar had defecated on the middle of the table and then smeared it all over the walls. He suspected that was Kenny. Could that sound of heavy boots clomping around inside also belong to him? Frank took a small penknife out of his Donkey Jacket pocket and unclasped the blade. Pushing the door open, he quietly entered…

The men arrived later under a cold, black, star-filled sky, tramping across the icy, rutted clay, smoking and laughing, their breath escaping in vapours. They were eager to dump their bad weather gear in the cabin and get back to warm caravans and families. The lights were out in the flimsy wooden building. Teabag held one hand up to the rest of the gang as they reached it – a sign to remain where they were. 

‘Something’s not right here,’ he said and stooped to enter the black interior, as if dipping through the small side door of a cathedral. The men huddled around the entrance, curious as to the mystery of it all. When he returned, Teabag whispered in a low voice. 

‘Is that telephone box near the caravans working?’

‘No, It’s been vandalised. Smashed to pieces.’

‘Then we’ll have to call in at the Site Office,’ he said, lighting a cigarette and obsessively smoking it in long, hard drags. ‘You lot go. Get them to send someone up, a site manager. I’ll wait here.’ The others stood and looked at him, expecting more.

‘What’s happened?’ asked Oz.

Teabag seemed disoriented and swayed on the cabin step as if before an enormous precipice. 

Adrian brushed by him and entered the wooden building. Teabag squatted down.

‘Paddy?’ he called after Adrian. 

‘What?’

‘Don’t touch anything.’ 

‘I won’t.’

Teabag drew deeply on his cigarette, taking the smoke right down into his lungs. The gang’s operations would be suspended for weeks now, perhaps even months, whilst they investigated. They could all be moved to different parts of the site, disbanded forever. Adrian’s boots could be heard moving delicately around on the wooden floor. The sound stopped and the other men were silent, attentive. A cigarette lighter flicked on within the cabin. Flame and shadows danced across the windowpanes. Teabag stood up, looked at the stars, almost tumbled forward.

‘O Jesus feckin’ Christ,’ said Adrian, inside the hut.

‘Fuck and fuck and fuck again,’ Teabag whispered, blowing smoke out through clenched teeth. Adrian appeared beside him in the doorway. He took Teabag aside and whispered something to him about a tarpaulin. Teabag stood back and looked shocked. Then he took Adrian’s head into his hands and kissed him on the forehead. ‘Bless you, Paddy,’ he said, ‘God bless you.’ They called Oz over and the three of them conferred. 

Frank did not turn up on site the next morning. The culvert was encased in concrete and work proceeded as normal for the next few days. Only then did they report him missing. The police didn’t make much effort to find either Frank or Kenny. They both seemed to have simply disappeared. There were no signs of a struggle inside the cabin, either. Indeed, the gang kept it immaculately tidy for the next few weeks until the new ‘boy’ arrived. All that was left behind was a faint, childish, wax crayon drawing on one of the walls, depicting a raggedy fox or dog, tail between its legs, slinking away through a thicket of trees.

 

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