Field of Blood
The first book in the Paddy Meehan series, 2005
Fight on, baby.
Judas… purchased a field with the reward of iniquity…
And it was known unto all the dwellers at Jerusalem…
that [the] field is called… the field of blood.
ACTS 1: 16-19 (King James Version)
They were still traveling, into the dark. They had been traveling for a long time, and in Brian’s mind every inch of every step took him away from his mother, and She was all he wanted in the world.
He couldn’t cry. They hurt him when he cried. He thought of Her, the softness of her breast, her fingers with the rings, how the world was warmer when she was there, and he struggled for breath, his bottom lip bumping noisily against his teeth. James, the boy sitting by his side, slapped him hard on the ear.
Surprised at the sharpness of the pain, Brian squealed and his mouth fell open. Callum, the boy on his other side, laughed at him.
“Don’t be a crybaby,” said James.
“Yeah,” said Callum. “Don’t fucking cry.”
They laughed together, leaving him out. Brian didn’t cry. Brian thought about his tummy insides hurting and his sore foot, but he didn’t cry. It was only when he thought about her that he cried; just when he remembered not being here, then he cried. Tears raced down his cheeks, but he breathed in, managing to keep quiet.
“You’re a big baby,” said James loudly.
“Aye,” said Callum, showing his teeth, his eyes shiny. “You’re a fucking big cunt baby.”
The boys got excited, saying “cunt baby” over and over. Brian didn’t like that word. He didn’t know what it meant, but the sounds were jaggy. Certain he was going to sob and be hit, he covered his face with his spread-out hands and held his breath until his ears popped.
He couldn’t hear the boys now. With them out of his thoughts he could remember her hands washing him, scooping soothing warm water that smelled of softness over him, picking him up to carry him, even though he was bigger, feeding him with bread dipped in hot mince gravy, with chips, with sweets from the ice-cream van. She tucked him into bed and left the hall light on and the door open and came to look at him throughout the night so he wouldn’t ever be alone. She was with him, always around a corner, in another room.
They were leaving the light. There were no houses outside, just dark and mud. The door opened and James pushed Brian into the black void, toppling him over so he tumbled out and down, landing on his side. He tried to stand up but his ankle wouldn’t work. Inside his Welly boot his foot was big, the rough cloth lining pressing against his skin. He fell over onto his shoulder and into the dark, outside the yellow fan of light at the door.
It was darker than he had ever seen, black like gravy, like smoke from toast, like bitter medicine for a cold. The ground was frozen into hard lumps. He heard wind and moving things, running things coming towards him, creeping things. A surge of panic gripped his chest as he used his good foot and both hands to drag himself back into the smudge of light from the van.
He saw the boys’ shoes and felt sudden relief that he was not alone. They put their arms through his on either side and lifted him, trying to balance him on his feet, but he toppled to one side, grabbing at the frozen earth, struggling to keep his face near the light at least. The boys lifted him again, and again he fell.
Brian couldn’t walk, his big foot wouldn’t work, so the boys, huffing and puffing, dragged him backwards, over the edge of the world and down a steep hill. It was windy and dark, so dark at the bottom that Brian clung to James, holding tight onto the sleeve of his anorak, afraid that they would leave him. He couldn’t stop himself and he began to cry, sounding loud because there was no telly and no wireless, nothing to cover his noise like there had been in the stranger’s house. James moved around in front of him, standing with his feet apart and raising his hands. Callum pulled at James and said, No, no, over here, by the track.
They dragged him farther down the hill until there wasn’t a hill anymore, and then they left him to stand alone. He fell forwards, banging his front teeth on metal; one of them broke and hot water came all over his chin. His crying seemed very loud now, and he sputtered through the warm liquid, breathing it in and coughing through his sobs. James stood in front of him again, planting his feet and reaching down, putting his hands on Brian’s neck. Brian felt himself lifted up until he was looking into James’s wild animal eyes.
Brian heard his own noise stop, heard small animals scamper for cover on the far bank, heard the brittle wind ruffle his hair. And then he saw black.
James strangled him and then Callum hit his head with rocks. The baby’s head was all mess. They looked at it, afraid and not wanting to, but drawn to the sight. They hadn’t expected the baby just to stop moving or to do a smelly diarrhea, he hadn’t told them that would happen. They hadn’t expected him to stop being annoying so suddenly, hadn’t expected him to completely stop being anything. The baby’s foot was facing all wrong. His eyes were open, popping out as if he couldn’t stop looking. Callum wanted to cry, but James punched his arm.
“We…,” said Callum, staring at the messy baby, looking sick. “We…” He forgot the rest of it. He ran up the steep hill and disappeared over the bank.
James was left alone. It had blood all over its chin and down its front like a bib. The blood was warm when he had his hands in it, when he had his hands around the baby’s neck. He imagined the baby standing up with its messy head and black chin, swelling up to the Incredible Hulk and beating him up in slow motion.
He tilted his head and looked at it. He smiled at it. He poked it with his foot, and it couldn’t even try to get away from him. He didn’t feel scared being here with the broken baby. He felt other things, but he didn’t know what they were called. He crouched down.
He could do anything to it. Anything he wanted.
TWO . THE REAL PADDY MEEHAN
If there was any other angle to the Brian Wilcox story, none of the staff of the Scottish Daily News could find it. They had interviewed the missing child’s family and neighbors, retraced all possible routes, commissioned aerial photographs of the area. They had written features about children who had run away in the past, printed countless column inches on the future of missing children, and the little bastard still hadn’t turned up.
Paddy Meehan was standing at the Press Bar when she overheard Dr. Pete telling a crowd of drunks that he’d strangle the three-year-old himself if it would bring an end to the story. The men around him laughed and slowed and laughed again in a ragged wave. Dr. Pete sat still among them, looking even more desiccated than usual, his features organized into a smile around his heartbroken eyes. She watched his reflection in the mirror behind the bar. His bushy eyebrows billowed out from a face scarred by a decade-long hangover. He lifted his glass to his mouth, eyes shut, feeling for the rim with the gray tip of his tongue. Rumor had it that he was a bigamist.
Paddy didn’t like the men or want to keep their company, but she did want to have a place among them, to be a journalist instead of a gofer. She would have felt like an interloper in the bar if she hadn’t been on News business, here to get the picture editor’s tankard filled. In front of her, McGrade, the bar manager, was flushing the leads to the taps, taking an age to draw the beer through spluttering pipes. Pints of syrupy white froth were lined up along the bar.