Chapter 3.3

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As the porters lugged the cases upstairs, Snapper floated over to the bar and ordered a black spiced rum. He put two silver args on the bar. "Room please," he said.

The barman pushed his blue and white striped engineer's cap back with a greasy hand, as if wiping his head with it. "Who's the lad?"

"There's no lad."

"Right you are."

Snapper leaned over the bar and whispered: "Saint Nick."

The barman said nothing. He wiped a grimy tumbler with a towel, as if he had forgotten Snapper was there.

A man came to the bar and the barman went to serve him. When he came back he propped his elbows on the bar and leaned over. Ward caught a smell like rotten meat. "After dark," the barman whispered, and moved away again.

"Who's Saint Nick?" Ward said, assuming Snapper had been asking after a person, though when he thought about it he realised Saint Nick could have meant just about anything. Perhaps it was some kind of contraband liquor.

"Let's go upstairs," Snapper said. He knocked back his rum in one draught and moved toward the staircase.

Snapper looked as out of place upstairs as he had in the bar. He sat on the bed and it folded almost in half. "I'm going to take a nap. You can camp on the floor. There should be some blankets in that cupboard. Don't leave this room."

"Yes Sir. Um – Mr Snapper?"

"Yes?"

"Who – I mean what's Saint Nick?"

Snapper mumbled something and rolled over. The bedsprings screamed. The next sound emitted by him was a long snore not unlike a pair of steam engines racing up a long hill.

If Snapper had known anything about boys, rather than telling Ward to stay in the room he would have taken more direct measures, such as locking him in a cupboard. Jaggles would have done so without a second thought, but then Jaggles had a singular genius for such things. In any case, Ward remained in the room for only about two minutes after Snapper had begun to snore. Once he had gone down the hall to the toilet, it seemed no great thing to descend to the bar. Once in the bar it was only logical to venture out onto the street. And once on the street he realised he would attract less attention if, rather than standing around outside the pub, he went off exploring. Such is the nature of boys, and the need for cellars, cupboards, and school rooms to satisfactorily imprison them.

When he reached the corner the fish market was closed, but the square over the road was bustling. The benches were full and newcomers were forced to stand. Ward slipped into the crowd and burrowed through until he was near the front. He peered past the crook of someone's elbow. The air was electric.

Three men wearing black cassocks sat in the front row. The man in the middle was as large as the other two put together. His hands lay, one on top of the other, in his lap. His hair had been carefully raked over his head, and what Ward could see of his face was deathly pale, the skin smooth like a mask, the lips fat, pink, and sensuous. There was an air of latent violence about him.

A man and woman in crimson uniforms were busy on the platform. When they moved off to each side Ward saw what was hanging from the scaffold.

Nooses.


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