Masks

Stupid bastards. Most of the bleeding hearts would never understand that rape wasn’t about sex. He’d learned that years ago, for Christ’s sake. If the pathetic tosspots weren’t so obsessed with sex they’d realise that, but half of them were too busy shagging their daughters or their dogs to see what was obvious. Pillocks. Johnston seethed with contempt for the whole bloody lot of them; outwardly, he stood quietly and concentrated on the wall, avoiding eye contact. The droning voice gradually faded from his consciousness.

If all he wanted was sex, no problem. A few gins or vodkas and a Chinese carry-out had done the trick any number of times in the past, or wine and a restaurant if he was having to work a bit harder. Not that he’d usually needed to: the tarts were gagging for it. Fucking slappers, every one of them. Johnston knew he was a good-looking guy, tall and well-built and with a charm he could switch on as easily as a light bulb. That was all they saw. Was it any wonder he’d got bored with them? He’d gone without sex for months and not missed it once. Then he’d seen her in the bar and knew he had to have her. But not for sex. It was nothing to do with sex.

Johnston often wondered about fate, for although the Commercial was near his flat it wasn’t one of his usual haunts. He never went in them now, but there’d been half a dozen bars where the staff knew his face and his preferences, where he could join in a game of pool, argue about football and music, or swap tips for the weekend racing. Not that night. He’d picked the Commercial at random, wanting to be alone but with the buzz of life around him. Sometimes the flat was too quiet. He’d not recognised her at first; it had been two years, after all, and the setting wasn’t one he associated with her. Around the school he’d have known her immediately – afterwards, he couldn’t believe he’d not recognised her straight away – but he’d watched the group she was with for ten minutes and known none of them. Then a light-hearted dispute had flared up. She’d settled it with the voice of authority and left him choking in his beer. Jesus Christ! Jane Gillespie! And the bitch was still ordering everyone around as though she was something special.

After that he’d watched her carefully. Most of the boys had fancied Miss Gillespie because of her blonde hair, her tight sweaters, and the contrast of her youth with the decrepit wrinklies who made up most of the staff. Johnston had fantasised as much as anyone until the day she’d ridiculed his work in front of the whole class. The cow. The whore. The know-all bitch.

When she’d left the bar he’d followed her to her home, half a mile away. He’d begun using the Commercial, learning her routine and that of her fawning friends and dickhead boyfriend. Jesus, he must have been desperate. Out of a new fantasy, a plan had gradually evolved. He’d put it to the test after a month, turning his world upside down when he’d covered his face with a Halloween mask, knocked her half-conscious with a spanner and dragged her into the seclusion of the park. The sight of her gagged, bound and terrified had almost been enough in itself. When he’d raped her, felt her struggling beneath him, screaming silently through the scarf stuffed into her mouth, it had opened a door to a place where the light was bright and everything was clear. When he’d come, experiencing an ecstasy of which he’d never dreamed, he’d felt emptied, cleansed, reborn. The sensation had been so overwhelming that he’d burst into tears, scaring himself as much as her, yet knowing he’d never felt so alive.

The gobshite newspapers had loved it, of course. “The Rapist Who Wept” had been front page news for days. And the rent-a-quote shrinks had loved it even more, trotting out their theories and their certainties, building up a picture of the man who’d committed “this wicked act”: he’d been abused; he’d been orphaned; he was from a disfunctional family. They’d not been close. Wankers.

Johnston controlled his breathing and concentrated more firmly on the wall, attempting to force from his head a past that now swirled around inside it all the time. The wallpaper had once been embossed floral – floral! Who the fuck chose floral paper for a place like this? – but was now painted over in the same institutional puke green that covered most of the interior walls. Apart from a couple of aging filing cabinets and a bookcase, the only furniture was three chairs and a massive desk that half-filled the office. Two of the chairs, set in a corner of the room, were comfortable, well-padded and unoccupied. The third, more utilitarian, went with the desk. Mackie sat behind his desk, still pontificating. Jesus, but the man could talk. Johnston examined him using his peripheral vision: sixties, well built for his age, a hard face and a smart suit, probably nearing retirement but not to be taken lightly, intelligent but stupid enough to be doing this job, God help him.

“I’ll ask you for the last time. What happened?” Mackie’s voice was reasonable, almost cajoling. He looked at the prisoner who stood loosely at the other side of the desk, staring back over his shoulder, eyes glazed. The faintest wisp of a smile lifted the ends of his mouth. Nothing. Mackie had expected little else of the man, but a creed that had been discredited years ago had made him reach out once again. That was his way. He had entered the prison service filled with ambition and zeal, determined to make a difference. Despite everything, he had stayed. For what?

The focus of his latest disillusionment stood before authority easily, his expression verging on insolent although there was nothing in it that could be pinned down. He was bright – Mackie had no doubt about that – with a pleasant face, lean limbs and an air of inner calm. His record said he was twenty-five and serving two years for fraud, his first offence. But Mackie knew they were all missing something. No first timer carried himself with such confidence; no white collar criminal in his second week inside put Dan Fraser in the infirmary, whatever the provocation. The man was bad news. A shiver of apprehension wriggled through Mackie. He glanced anxiously at the prison officer who stood discretely at one side, alert without being aggressive yet little more than a boy. Some days he felt so old. He would be glad to be out of here: away from decisions and confrontation, budget cuts and staffing problems. Every year it was worse, and every year his belief in the system had withered a little more. Thank God he had Alice.

They had met at university, where he was reading English literature and she was serving shepherd’s pie in the refectory. He had never seen a girl so beautiful. For a long time she had resisted his hesitant approaches, for some students thought the college staff were one of the perks of their privileged position, but finally agreed to a matinée at the Roxy and a drink afterwards at the Drovers Rest, where she had tickled him by pointing out the missing apostrophe. He never underestimated her again, and she never lost her capacity to surprise him. Forty years ago, that had been: years through which she had supported, encouraged and, when necessary, comforted him. If it were possible, he loved her now more than he had done then. He would have liked to have kept her picture on his desk but could not bear the thought of inmates carrying away her image in their heads.

They had two fine children. Ronnie ran his own restaurant – Alice had been so amused when she discovered his talent – and Caroline was a computer programmer in California. They both missed their daughter and looked forward to their ruby wedding anniversary when the entire family, grandchildren and all, would gather to celebrate. Alice had begged him to take early retirement, leave the city and move into the weekend cottage he had seen so little of since its purchase, ten years ago. He longed for the day when it would happen, yet some vague notion of duty kept him at his desk, as trapped as any of the inmates for whom he was responsible. His glance shifted to the prisoner, whose eyes now gazed directly into Mackie’s and whose smile was a little more pronounced.

“Dammit, man! Don’t you smirk at me!” The smile remained just long enough to tell the governor that its owner was not cowed. “Fraser’s badly injured and you’ll be facing charges…”

For fuck’s sake, put a sock in it, thought Johnston. He entertained a brief fantasy about leaning over the desk and throttling Mackie with his shiny silk tie. The pompous bastard was so full of himself he’d probably be able to plead justifiable homicide. Instead, he allowed himself the luxury of letting his mind slip back into the past, the voice fading as the memories became vivid.

For weeks after the rape he’d walked on air: partly from the knowledge of what he’d done and the way he’d felt, mainly because he knew he’d do it again. And next time he’d do it better. His victim was another bar room slag, surrounded by admirers who couldn’t see further than big hair and big tits. All right, perhaps they’d consider her a looker, but so what? It didn’t make you anything special. You were born with your face, just as he’d been. His father was handsome, his mother beautiful, so it was no surprise that he and his sisters had been the same. Such an attractive family, they were told. So the tarts had always been after him. Slags.

He’d followed her for weeks, taking his time, savouring the sense of anticipation, the thought that he could have her at any moment he chose. He’d waited until his plans were perfect then broken into her house to seize her while she slept. Time and privacy were what he’d wanted, and he’d got them. It hadn’t been as good as the first time, which was disappointing, but what a night he’d had. He’d rammed the bitch four, maybe five times – he’d never felt so potent – and left her semi-conscious. Through it all he’d worn his new mask, made from a black ski balaclava which showed nothing but his eyes and his mouth. The rest of his outfit had been black too. Johnston laughed silently. He supposed he was a traditionalist.

There’d been seven more tarts over the next two years and no ordinary sex at all. That was too tame and no challenge. He’d found his victims, followed them with growing expertise, and taken them when he was ready, all in their homes where there was space to experiment and enjoy himself. He liked it best when they fought back, for there was more energy and excitement, although even the strongest had usually given up by the end. One had been so feisty he’d gone back a couple of months later, but as soon as she’d seen him the bitch had gone rigid with shock. It’d been like shagging an ironing board, so he’d left her. She’d tried to top herself a few weeks later, silly cow. Most of the tarts had fought. One had submitted straight away, which was no fun after three months of planning, and one had even pretended to go along with him, so he’d given her a proper beating first. She’d been pretty good after that.

The police didn’t have a fucking clue. They didn’t even realise that the Gillespie bitch had been the first in the series because he’d changed his MO so thoroughly. And now he always used a condom – they were costing him a fortune! – so there was no DNA to link him to her. God, he was good!

His family was just as ignorant. Bunch of useless dimwits. Johnston never saw his sisters, who were both swanning around in London, although he could picture them dressed in their power suits at breakfast meetings. Cunts. He visited his parents occasionally. God knows why, because it usually ended in an argument, if one person could argue while the other remained silent. He was a disappointment, he’d let them down – look how well his sisters had done – and why on earth was he still doing that ridiculous job when he could be earning five times as much and planning a comfortable future? I’m planning all right, he’d thought while his mother harangued him. Her know-all nagging didn’t bother him any more. The dried-up, shrivelled, wrinkled old hag was past her sell-by date and he was entering his prime.

He wondered what his final score would be. Eight plus the Gillespie bitch, so far. You could even call it ten if you doubled up the slag he’d done twice. Perhaps he’d hit the ton? And he’d got souvenirs from all of them. He’d started with the Gillespie bitch’s knickers – all the boys had wondered, but he knew! – and since then he’d taken something choice from all the tarts: he liked clothing, so it was usually nightwear, since that’s what most had on when he broke in, but he had a ring and a pendant too. Last time he’d been tempted to take a finger. He’d no idea what had put the thought into his head, and had rejected it then. But the thought had stayed. It was something to work on – he’d plenty of time – because the last couple of tarts had been, Johnston finally admitted to himself, a bit of a let down. None had been as good as the teacher and every one had been less satisfactory than the one before. Christ, he’d only got hard the last time by using the knife on her. It’d been the slag’s own fault, leaving it around so handy. That was when he’d thought of the finger. Perhaps he’d get a knife of his own and put a real razor edge on it. He needed something to spice things up again.

And he’d do some work on the mask. He’d read of one rapist – he couldn’t remember the name – who wore a leather hood with “rapist” written on it. Now that was sick. The general idea was sound, though. Maybe he’d turn the mask into some kind of face and really frighten the tarts. He’d work on that, too. He had few other interests and didn’t think about much else than the last attack or the next one. Sometimes, late at night when even the videos failed to keep his interest, he realised that it wasn’t much of a life, but his highs were higher than anyone else’s, and somehow he’d find a way to recreate the first time, when it was so good he’d wept. If he couldn’t, he’d have the knife.

Mackie had been silent for almost two minutes, drained of both words and energy. He stared at the face opposite him, desperate to know what was going on behind those expressionless eyes. Perhaps, if he could understand this one man it would make sense of them all? He sighed, dispirited, and the prisoner’s eyes flickered briefly into life before glazing over again. Mackie pulled himself together, straightened his shoulders and stared deeper into the enigmatic face. He would send the file back to the police, ask them to dig around, although he doubted that they would expend much effort. Perhaps the jail’s informers would have more luck. Mackie doubted that too. This was a man used to keeping his own counsel. Anger flared inside him, fuelled by frustration and impotence, and died as quickly as it had grown. Why on earth was he putting himself – and Alice – through this every day when he could be breathing the country air and enjoying life? His pride had deprived Alice of that, too. She deserved it more than he did. He would take that early retirement, fight for it if necessary. What a fool he had been.

When he spoke again his voice was crisp, decisive. “Very well. You’ve had your opportunity to talk and squandered it. Perhaps a week in solitary will help you find some sense.”

Mackie stood, buttoned his jacket, and nodded peremptorily to the fresh-faced prison officer. “Get him out of my sight.”

“Yes, sir.”

Prisoner and escort were at the door when the governor spoke again.

“Johnston.”

The prison officer stopped, his hand on the other man’s shoulder, and looked back at the governor, isolated behind his huge desk, adjusting the knot of his tie and smoothing the creases from his suit.

“Yes, sir?”

“Come back here after you’ve dealt with Murray. There are a few admin items we need to go through.”

Mackie saw a smooth, boyish face as carefully expressionless as the prisoner’s. He was too tired to take note of the eyes. Johnston nodded to him deferentially. “Very good, sir.” He tapped the prisoner’s shoulder and followed him through the door, leaving the governor alone.

Mackie unbuttoned his jacket, sat heavily and rested his head in his hands. His brow felt clammy and the knot in his stomach had tightened. After a minute he sat up, took two deep breaths, shuffled through the paperwork until he found what he needed and began to read.

The End

February 2001

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