RELENTLESS FIRE - RICHARD GODWIN
An entry in Jason Duke’s RED HOT Writing Contest
The sky was the colour of torn steak as they carried the body into the black woods.
And the sun bled magenta onto the hills and caught the edge of his shovel as he cracked the dry earth.
Only the sound of digging as the two figures faded to shadows and began to speak.
Pete lifted the filthy blanket from the broken flesh.
He and Sheila stared down at the corpse.
‘We bury it and go home,’ he said in a voice that was barely more than a growl.
Sheila lit another cigarette and stared into the distance, the plume of smoke cool as it left her carmine mouth as if all fire might die there in the chill of her heart.
Her sculptured fingernails had dried blood beneath them and, as Pete dug the grave, she picked the residue of the night’s victim from them. She flicked the fragments from her as if what he had been were some unsatisfactory meal, her distaste etched into her hard-lined face.
A hunter’s moon was on the rise. It caught her eyes and glanced away from them as if they held no depths into which light might sink. She watched as, below her, Pete sweated in the grave. He stopped to swig some Jim Beam and she snapped the edges of her nails sharply into the night air.
In the twilight of the woods, his dead eyes gave him a flattened expression as if emotion were a language he did not comprehend.
‘I’m going to burn him,’ he said.
‘Now you decide that?’
He struck the shovel against stone which rang out into the stillness of the woods.
‘Ground’s too hard, besides there’s less evidence that way. And I want to give him the bones.’
‘Your choice. Feeling randy?’
‘You wearing them?’
He reached a hand up and touched her thigh and she pulled away.
‘Get your grubby fingers off, do you know how much this dress cost?’
‘I fuckin’ paid for it.’
‘So wait. I’ll work you up later, and it will be all the sweeter.’
He turned his rage onto the body at his feet, swollen with bruising, the patches of blue radiant with death beneath the electric moon.
‘Fuckin’ prick, he got what he deserved, fuckin’ with us like that.’
‘Yeah, who’s he think he is? Just cause of his old man.’
‘Jack’s no match for us, never was.’
He kicked the body which rolled onto its side, revealing a gash that opened onto a section of heart. The organ sat in the desecrated grave like some obscenity against nature, a piece of pornography their violence had reduced their victim to.
‘I can’t get the picture of him screwing you out of my mind, Sheila. His prick inside you.’
‘Yeah, well, it’ll be your prick later baby and you’ll make me come.’
He climbed out of the grave soaked in sweat and, picking up the jerrycan, doused the body in petrol, unaware of the slight twitch of one of the hands in the cold earth. Then he lit a box of matches and dropped them in.
He drank some more whisky and stood and watched the fire change colour as Sheila smoked in silence.
And it seemed to him that as the orange flames licked the flesh to cinders and grew to a blue intensity, Sheila’s cigarette end shone with a brilliance that was greater, as if she were capable of more natural menace than the flames themselves.
The smell of burning flesh rose like a wraith into the air.
They watched the fire die to ash, the smouldering grave like some woodland hell they had summoned from the darkness.
Pete rubbed his hand across his crotch and stared at his wife.
‘Deal’s a deal,’ he said.
‘Right. We had an agreement with him, he entered our world and he broke the rules. We never said he could stick it inside me, that’s your territory. Well, now he’s dead. Come home and fuck me.’
‘I’ll remove any trace of him from you.’
‘Sure you will.’
She stubbed out her cigarette with her toe.
A breeze began to stir the ash and he leant and scooped the feathery tails out of the way and poked the bones with the shovel.
He walked to the four by four and fetched a sharp axe from the trunk and, climbing into the grave, began to break the bones up, watching them splinter and fragment. When he had finished, he placed these broken pieces of his victim inside a large canister.
Then he walked over to Sheila and licked her face, dragging his wet tongue from her chin to her eyeball.
‘I’ll get rid of what’s left of him in the morning. Come on, I want to screw you.’
Before they left, he took a picture of what lay within the canister with his mobile phone and showed this image of physical violation to Sheila, who chuckled.
Then he punched in a number.
‘I want him to see it.’
‘Well now he will,’ she said.
He pressed send and drove his trophy wife back to their house and climbed into bed with her where she made the right noises and rolled over to sleep.
Outside, the moon turned black and stood still on the horizon of their estate.
They passed a dreamless night as if dreams were lost to them and when he awoke the next morning, Pete knew all was not right.
Peering through the bedroom window, he could see a break in the fence at the garden’s end. He dressed quickly and went downstairs.
Red paint was spattered all over his Range Rover, the word ‘scum’ written in a heavy hand.
He went to fetch some turps while Sheila slept and, as he stepped into the barn, something heavy hit him on the back of the head.
He awoke staring at a face that swam in and out of focus.
Fighting a wave of nausea, he registered his arms and legs were tied and the circulation was already cut off.
Someone was taking tools off the wall and laying them on the floor next to him.
‘Jack,’ he said.
The figure was tall and heavily-built and he punched Pete in the mouth as he said this.
When Jack removed his fist, he stood there picking Pete’s teeth from his scarlet knuckles.
They rattled on the cold stone floor and rolled away without purpose like die cast by the hand of an executioner.
Jack’s face was razor hard and his blue eyes burned with a cold fire as if a furnace lay trapped behind a wall of ice.
Pete spat a piece of his lip out and tried to see the other figure who stood by the barn door.
He could make out a young man, tall and muscular with a thick shock of black hair that almost fell over his eyes as if he wished to disguise who he was and resisted exposure to the act that was about to take place.
‘Who’s this?’ he said.
‘Never mind,’ Jack said and hit him again.
He beckoned to his accomplice, who walked over and hit Pete in the face and body, taking it in turns with Jack.
They’d been hitting him for an hour when he started coughing blood.
It hung from his mouth and drooled off his chin.
There was a shaft of yellow sunlight that streamed in through a crack in the barn and it circled his head as Jack stared right into his eyes.
‘Now, listen, you fuck, you tell us where you’ve hidden it or we’ll cut your fucking tongue out of your head.’
‘Pete, Dirty Pete, your name fits you. You fiddle with teenage girls and boys and you fuck with me. You know what I’m gonna do with your lying tongue when I’ve removed it?’
‘I told you.’
‘Shut the fuck up.’
That was when Jack hit him in the face with the claw hammer.
It was lying on the floor and he reached for it and he swung it in an arc that ended in Pete’s face where it lodged in his jaw bone and wrenched some if it away.
It opened Pete’s cheek up and his flesh hung down in ragged ribbons.
‘If you don’t tell me, I’m gonna nail your tongue to your wife’s snatch,’ Jack said.
And the ice entered Jack’s eyes like a blue fire and he opened Pete’s mouth so wide his jaw cracked.
He pushed the pliers so deep inside him, Tommy could barely see the handles. Then he extracted Pete’s tongue wagging like a bleeding puppy’s tail from the rusted metal.
‘Pete, you’ve pissed yourself, you’re pathetic. Now I reckon that whore knows where it is. Tommy, bring the tape and cable.’
He left the barn with the pliers in his clenched fist and Tommy followed, wondering at the depth of horror his initiation brought with it.
Outside, the sun was setting the hills alight.
Over at the house, Sheila was drinking a martini from an iced glass, her negligee open at the top.
When she saw Jack walk in, she drew the belt tight round her waist.
‘Get the fuck out of my house, you low life. Where’s my husband?’
‘Right here, bitch,’ Jack said, holding the tongue up to her face as she began to retch, spilling her martini on the thick carpet.
Jack picked her up by the hair, her extensions coming away in his hand.
‘Fake hair? You ain’t all that.’
‘What do you fucking want?’
Jack looked at her and began to laugh.
It was a cold and mirthless chuckle that had cruelty running through its veins and he took her by the throat.
‘Listen, bitch, I will cut you open and I will insert this inside you, cause that’s all you’re fit for. Where is it?’
‘I’m not telling you.’
He dragged the bleeding tongue across her cheek and ran his thumb down the trail it left, smearing her husband’s blood into her skin.
Then he tied her to the legs of the sofa with electrical cable and taped the tongue to her mouth, so that it jutted out from beneath the duct tape in an absurd gesture of mockery.
He stood back and admired his handiwork.
‘Poking fun, bitch? I’ll teach you to pull your tongue at me.’
Sheila wrestled with her binds, breaking the soft skin of her wrists on the merciless knots.
‘Let her bleed a while,’ Jack said and walked outside and got in the Jeep.
Tommy climbed in and watched as Jack swigged some vintage Courvoisier.
He handed him the bottle and Tommy put the neck to his mouth, feeling the rush of fire in his belly.
Then he asked Jack the question that had been burning inside him all morning.
‘What is it they’ve got?’
Jack turned a cold eye on him.
‘Why do you wanna know?’
‘I joined your crew cause I think highly of you.’
Jack swigged the cognac.
‘I respect you.’
‘I think you’re a good leader.’
‘When I see you torturing two people and don’t know why, I find it hard.’
‘You don’t think there’s a reason for that?’
‘You think I would do that if they didn’t deserve it?’
‘You want to know what they’ve got and you will. But after you’ve proved yourself.’
‘Why not now, Jack?’
‘Because you have to learn to follow. You have to place your trust in me.’
He offered another shot to Tommy, who shook his head, and then he corked the bottle and stepped outside into the fierce sun that had not abated in the sky and burned down on them with relentless fire.
Tommy stood facing Jack as the sun caught his blonde hair which looked like white flames spiralling out from him.
‘I’ll tell you when it’s over,’ Jack said.
Then they walked back to the barn which had the smell of an abattoir.
Pete was drifting in and out of consciousness.
The pool on the floor next to him held more blood than his body.
And Jack held his head up.
‘Where is it you fucking piece of shit?’
Pete opened his mouth and red foam poured from it as he tried to speak.
The noise was incoherent, like the mute cry of an animal.
Jack leant into him.
‘You and your fucking sex games. Get a young guy and watch him with your wife, turn you on Pete? You sick fuck.’
He lifted a wrench from the floor and stuck it so far into Pete’s mouth that, when he pulled it out, it seemed to Tommy he removed some part of Pete’s larynx.
The discarded metal lay on the stone floor with a red filament hanging from it.
‘Why d’you do it? Why?’
Pete tried to speak then and Jack held his ear close to his face.
‘Territory, muscle, you know.’
‘Territory? Some young kid you want to fuck over to get your kicks?’
‘It was justified, rules is rules. We never said he could fuck Sheila.’
‘Maybe she wanted to fuck him you prick. Every fucking con thinks what he does is justified, Pete. You and that whore wife of yours justify the sick games you play cause you pay for them, but they’re no more than kids.’
And he kicked him so hard in the mouth that Pete’s face came away with his shoe.
He sat there tied to the chair with his head an open wound. His clothes were dripping with blood, and the noise of the drops splashing the concrete echoed into the indifferent silence of the empty barn like a clock running down.
Jack scraped the remnants of Pete’s face onto the cold floor and saw that Tommy was looking away. He was standing by the petrol tanks near the door and Jack beckoned him to join him by the chair to which the dying man was tied.
‘Douse him shoulders down,’ he said.
Tommy poured paraffin all over Pete as Jack fetched the flame thrower from the wall.
He fired it up and watched the fear rise in his victim like a last breath he had summoned from a corpse. Then he held the torch to Pete’s face and the barn filled with the smell of charred flesh, the fire tearing a scream of such feminine purity from Pete that Jack laughed at how unmanned he was and stared with blazing hatred into the dying man’s eyes as if he wished to imprint on his soul his final triumph.
Tommy turned away and held a hand to his mouth, the smell reminding him of overcooked barbecues on hot summer days.
Finally Jack lowered the flame thrower to Pete’s clothes and watched him ignite like some grim Roman Candle.
Afterwards, he walked over to the house and Tommy followed, the taste of blood fresh in his mouth.
Sheila was tethered and full of rage that she vented as soon as Jack removed her gag.
She spat at him and, as she did, her husband’s tongue seemed to curl up and enter her mouth.
She started choking and spat the redundant organ out as thin bile poured out of her in a stream of undigested food and booze.
Jack stood and wiped her spit away before looking her right in the eye and saying, ‘You’re nothing more than a hooker, and now your man’s dead and you have one chance to tell me where he is.’
He held her by the hair and clenched and twisted his fist deep into her scalp until the pain registered on her face.
‘I wouldn’t fuck you if you paid me, now you can choose whether I torture you or let you die quickly.’
There was a noise outside and Jack turned to look out of the window and saw the door of the barn blow off and a ball of red fire sweep down the gravel drive.
As his back was turned, Sheila managed to loosen one of her ties and reach into her purse.
Tommy saw it and caught the flash of metal and he moved quickly and kicked her arm so hard the bone snapped and she lay with it limp against her side fighting emotion with her face twisted in struggle.
Jack looked at Tommy and nodded and stood on Sheila’s arm until she screamed.
‘That how you scream when they fuck you? Where is he?’
‘Why should I tell you?’
‘You like pain?’
‘I can handle anything you can throw at me.’
And Jack pulled a razor blade from his pocket and a small bottle, which he waved in front of her face.
‘Know what this is? No?’
He stroked her with the blade, opening up a deep groove in her cheek so that it looked as if she had been peeled.
‘Hydrochloric acid,’ he said, whispering it into her ear like a lover, his lips touching her lobe.
Then he poured it into her wound and her screams were so shrill that Tommy stood holding his hands over his ears.
Jack looked down at her and said, ‘Burn, bitch. Like fire? Shut the fuck up. I ain’t even started yet.’
She screamed until her voice sounded like sandpaper and she fell sobbing on the floor drenched in sweat and blood.
Eventually she fell silent and just lay there.
As Jack said, ‘Want some more?’, she motioned to him with her good arm and he walked over to where she lay.
She was trying to speak and Jack held his ear close to her like a priest hearing confession.
‘Range Rover. He’s in the trunk.’
‘You’re spared torture and now I’m gonna use the weapon favoured by law enforcement professionals, cause that’s what I’m doing here, enforcing the law. You had no right doing what you did, he wasn’t no gangster, and I have every right doing this.’
He pulled his Glock and shot her cleanly through the head. It was over before she had time to register what he was doing and she fell back and stared up at the ceiling with animal eyes as the hole filled slowly with blood.
Then Jack walked outside to the paint spattered Range Rover.
He blasted the lock with his gun and found the canister and opened it and held it in his shaking hands.
Tommy saw that he was crying.
Jack looked at him, eyes brimming with tears, his face like a boy’s yet filled with some unutterable pain that imbued him with the inhumanity of a tortured angel.
‘It’s my son. They killed my boy, because he wouldn’t play their sick sex games. That’s what all this is about. They involve the world in their freak show life and think they can end whoever they want whenever they want but they fucked with my boy and they can’t justify that.’
A piece of barn flew past them then and Tommy grabbed Jack and said, ‘Let’s get out of here, it’s gonna blow.’
Jack placed the canister carefully on the back seat and pulled the Jeep out of the drive as the entire building ignited and the house went up, the flames raging and spiralling into the morning air.
Tommy could see a wall of fire behind them in the rearview mirror as he said to Jack, ‘How could they justify that?’
‘Because they’re sick.’
‘So they took young guys and involved them in their sex games and killed ’em if they stepped out of line?’
‘That’s about the sum of it.’
‘So it’s all about power, calling the shots?’
‘In this case, the power they hungered for was sexual. They wanted to use men and women, young men and women, who didn’t understand what they were getting into. Sheila was bait, liked getting screwed and liked watching Pete hurt them. She’d always push things too far because that was her particular need.’
‘Getting Pete to kill them. It was as if once they’d fucked her, she had to watch them get hurt or die. And Pete was always happy to oblige.’
‘They kill ’em all?’
‘Most of ’em.’
‘You’re justified in torturing them.’
‘Why’d they pick your boy?’
‘Cause I cut Pete out of a deal. He was never no match for me and he knew it.’
‘Maybe it’s the bloodshed.’
‘What are you saying?’
‘Maybe we just like bloodshed and war.’
‘We’re each fighting for our own turf.’
‘You ever had a son Tommy?’
‘Wait till you do. Now I’m gonna go and bury my boy.’
‘Am I in, Jack?’
They drove on, the savage sun like a furnace overhead.
BIO: Richard Godwin lives and writes in London, where his dark satire ‘The Cure-All’, about a group of confidence tricksters, has been produced on the stage. He has just finished writing a crime novel. His writing appears regularly at Disenthralled and Gloom Cupboard, among many other magazines. He has a Twitter account and can be found there under the User Name Stanzazone. He is in the process of setting up a blog. For right now, you can check out his portfolio here. His first crime novel will be published later this year.