Rough Justice

by Rigby Taylor

Chapter 26

The headmaster's house was set back from the road in a fenced off piece of the school grounds. Low hedges and a nearby street lamp meant that anyone at the door would be visible from the road, so he had to be quick. Fortunately, there was little traffic. A light went on in what he supposed must be the lounge. Robert crossed the road swiftly, glided up the path, and knocked firmly. The hall light was switched on and the door opened just wide enough for Mr Nikelseer to identify his visitor.

Spending the afternoon at home had not been a good idea. Writing letters had not stopped the headmaster brooding on the evils of the world, and he was furious that his evening should be disturbed by this personification of depravity. Before he could slam the door, Robert slithered through, kicked it shut and, filled with dread and sharp fears of what would happen if he failed, grovelled at his headmaster's feet.

'Sir! Sir! Have compassion! I've been in torment since you spoke those words to me this morning. I've prayed all day for guidance, and… and...I think the Lord has spoken to me!' The final half-dozen words burst forth in a rush of confusion, embarrassment and hope. Mr Nikelseer stepped back to avoid contact with this disciple of the city of Sodom, for whom even the Lord God could find no mercy. Had he been able, he would have turned his supplicant into a pillar of salt on the spot, but not knowing the trick he did the next best thing. Making the sign of the cross with the index fingers of both hands, he shouted, 'Get thee behind me, Satan!'

Hysterical laughter threatened to burst through Robert's self control. His mental state was as fragile as the headmaster's. He raised stricken eyes to his persecutor, chillingly aware that his last cards were being played.

'You have breached my sanctuary!' Nikelseer hissed. 'Leave instantly, or I will call the police!'

Fear of failure set Robert pleading anew until, angered beyond bearing, Mr Nikelseer backed towards his study. 'You have been warned,' he intoned from the doorway. 'The law knows how to treat godless perverts!'

With appalling clarity Robert envisaged a future of public notoriety, ridicule, harassment and loneliness. He was going to lose Bart!

The flimsy filaments of hope, love and fear with which we weave our natures, stretched, spun themselves into a cord as cold and hard as life itself, and Robert bowed his head. He had offered the enemy a chance. The offer had been rejected. The old man had sealed his own fate.

The headmaster waited anxiously for a few seconds, then, deciding it was safe, turned and entered his study. Robert, eyes blank, face expressionless, leaped silently to his feet. Before Mr Nikelseer could reach the telephone, a sock filled with small lead sinkers thudded into his skull behind the ear. Robert caught the falling body and carried it back to the entrance, where he let it fall roughly to the floor. He took a new pair of rubber gloves from his pocket and put them on, before grasping the old man under the arms and dragging him into the study.

Leaving the body in the centre of the room, he removed from his pack a large plastic bag and three strips of rubber cut from a discarded inner tube. He dealt a second, firmer blow with the lead-filled sock, placed the plastic bag over the old man's head and secured the opening round his neck with one of the rubber ties. With the others, he fastened the arms to the body and the legs together.

Turning to the desk, he grimaced with satisfaction. The computer was the same as his father's, and equally old, although the printer was different. He switched on and unpacked. A glance over his shoulder showed spasmodic twitching of his victim's head and a convulsive shuddering of the thorax, but little other movement. The plastic bag was already fogged and starting to cling to the face.

The computer wasn't connected to either the Internet or a fax, so there was no password to worry about. He brought up the Letters file and was presented with more than a hundred titles, organised alphabetically with the date appended: 'Aust. Prof. Assoc. 23.9.98', through to 'Yeller's Motors, and the previous day's date. Robert scanned random letters. All seemed to be personal and all were dated. A second date, not always the same, had been added at the bottom of each letter, presumably to indicate when the letter had been printed and posted.

He checked a letter with the prefix Ed Dept. and that day's date. It described in detail what the headmaster had seen in Bart's office that morning, demanded immediate expulsion for him, and termination of employment for Bart. Robert felt sick. There was no date at the end, so he took a chance that it hadn't been actioned and deleted the text, replacing it with a prepared letter from his USB stick. He printed this, dated the computer copy at the bottom to indicate it had been printed, then signed the printed letter with a practised flourish. Taking care not to make any creases, he pressed the letter against the fingers of the still warm, but by now dead man on the floor behind him. He then placed it in the desk drawer on top of everything else as though intending to post it in the morning.

There were letters to the editors of newspapers on aspects of morality; memoranda about Bible class activities, and dozens of letters to A Osbairne about the church. The last letter in that file was a copy of the letter to the Education Department. This also had no date at the bottom, so Robert deleted it. There were no letters labelled Lance, but that omission was soon rectified. Robert had the seven dates he needed in front of him. It was a simple matter to choose existing letters, check they had actually been created on the date required, rename, delete the text, and replace it with another of the prepared letters from his memory stick. By the time he was finished he had seven letters labelled Lance, followed by the date they had ostensibly first been written, printed and sent.

One, dated eleven months earlier, commenced, 'Dear Boy', and congratulated Lance on his success with the Bible class. The next, dated during the second term of the present year, praised Lance's playground attempts to physically dissuade boys who demonstrated "unnatural tendencies".

The third, dated four days after Murray's death, included these sentences: You have demonstrated remarkable leadership over this latest problem. I have offered up prayers for the lad's eternal soul, but remain concerned for your safety. Rest assured that the two sinners of whom we spoke will not be permitted to judge you. Their own judgement-day is nigh.

Robert would have preferred to date it two days earlier, but there had been no suitable letter to replace. The fourth letter, dated two days following Bart's near fall to oblivion, admitted to a certain sadness that a permanent solution to the problem had not been achieved, but commended the skill and planning involved.

The fifth lamented the loss of a perfectly good cricket shed, but ended philosophically with the cliché about God moving in mysterious ways, and was dated the last day of the previous school term.

The sixth, dated in the middle of the school holidays, suggested that attempts to achieve their mutual goal could not rely on mere chance. Such things as brakes failing were likely to create suspicion. There was a terse, badgering tone emerging, suggesting that Lance was failing in his duties.

While composing the letters, Robert had conjured up a picture of the headmaster; recalling conversations, turns of phrase, the letter written to his parents, and harangues from the stage at assembly. Imagining he was the headmaster, he had then simply written without thinking, letting the words tumble forth.

The note Robert had delivered to Lance earlier that afternoon was very simple, merely demanding that he visit the headmaster at eight-thirty p.m. exactly, neither earlier nor later, to discuss what were described vaguely as new and possibly dangerous developments. It had ended with an injunction to destroy the letter immediately by burning, and to speak to no one about it. Luckily, the headmaster had composed a complaining letter to his bank the previous evening, so this was deleted and replaced with the "original" of the letter given to Lance. It was very different, however, from the one dropped on his doormat. A smile of satisfaction flickered as Robert gazed up at a faded print of Christ Triumphant hanging above the desk. He adjusted a sentence, re-read the letter, and checked it carefully:

Dear Boy,

Something of the utmost importance has occurred! God spoke to me whilst I was conducting my morning devotions. I was kneeling before the image of Christ Triumphant, when loud music welled within my head and I heard the voice of God praising the work both you and I are doing. There was more music, and wondrous lights poured over my study, bathing everything in the aura of perfection. The voice spoke again, urging me to tell the world of our great deeds and noble self-sacrifice.

You must visit me tonight at eight o'clock precisely. Be neither early nor late. We will discuss together how best to inform the world proudly and at once of our fight against the devil in our midst. I am filled with joy and anticipation,

Yours in God's Judgement,

Having minutely re-checked this final letter for errors, Robert inserted the correct date at the top, and typed that day's date at the bottom to indicate it had been printed and delivered. After re-sorting the files into alphabetical order, saving everything to the hard-drive and emptying the 'recycle bin', he searched around on the desk, in the drawers and the cupboard underneath before he discovered a box containing a CD neatly labelled "Back up - Letters". He inserted it, set it going, checked his list, and hoped he had thought of everything.

It was now fifteen minutes to eight, exactly ninety minutes since he had knocked at the headmaster's front door. Time was getting tight. The computer had to be shut down before eight o'clock because someone was sure to check on when the files had last been modified. As soon as the Back up was completed, Robert turned off the computer, unplugged the keyboard, carried it across to the dead man and pressed cool and rapidly stiffening fingers onto the keys before returning it to the desk and re-connecting.

There was no time to think about what had been done, simply an overwhelming urgency to ensure that every possible eventuality had been anticipated. He re-packed everything, double checked that nothing remained to show he had been there, turned off the study lights, turned on the reading lamp and television in the lounge, left the front door ajar, then exited by the back door, making certain the lock caught as he closed it. He then vaulted the back fence, ran across the darkened school grounds to the corner of the street where there was a public telephone, and dialled 000.

While waiting for his call to be put through to the police, he recalled Warren Pinot's lazy, educated voice and slightly bewildered way of not seeing what was obvious to everyone else. By the time an efficient voice announced, 'Police,' he was ready. It was eight twenty-five.

'I think I want to report an assault.'

'Do you or don't you?'

'I do... I…I think.'

'Give me the details. Speak clearly, I am recording this conversation.'

'Goodness. Well, let me see. I must be precise, yes. Well, I was driving through Toowong this evening at about eight o'clock and managed to lose myself. I stopped to check my map and glanced at the house over the road. As I did so, a thin young chap parked his car, walked up to the door, knocked, and when an old man opened it, the fellow stepped inside and hit him on the head! I was dumbfounded. As I watched, he dragged the body out of the way and kicked the door shut. When I finally discovered where I was, it was quite stupid really, I was only one street away from where I usually drive, but you know how it is?'

'No, sir, I do not!' an irritated voice interrupted. 'Please stick to your story.'

'Yes, yes, sorry. Now, where was I? Oh yes, when I got home my wife insisted I ring and tell you. I hope I haven't waited too long?'

'Where exactly was this, sir?'

'I don't know the name of the street, but it was an old, two-storeyed, mock-Tudor style house in the grounds of a school in a similar style.' Robert's voice had gathered an involuntary but useful edge of hysteria. 'Does that help?'

'Yes. I know the place. Your name, sir?'

'Oh, goodness me! I don't want to get involved, I mean, there's my wife and children to consid...'

'Your name, sir?'

'Oh, heavens! No.... I couldn't.... The papers, my'

Robert replaced the receiver, left the telephone box and concealed himself behind a stone wall in the shadows of an overhanging tree, just in time to see Lance stop his car in front of the house and saunter up the path. He left the scene quickly. No point in tempting the Gods. He was no Icarus.

A three-minute run brought him to the station. Suddenly ravenous, he used the wait to grab a couple of sandwiches and a can of drink. He took the train to Central and changed into his school uniform in the toilets, dumping the rubber gloves, CD and the train ticket in separate rubbish bins as he raced for the cinema – the same one he and Bart had gone to four days previously. It already seemed an aeon ago. It was just on nine o'clock. A paperback-reading ticket-seller absentmindedly sold him a ticket. He entered the darkened, half empty auditorium and waited for his breathing to return to normal. As soon as he was certain he didn't look as though he had been running a marathon, he went out and knocked on the door labelled Manager.

'Come in,' called a pleasant voice belonging to an overweight young man.

'Gosh! Are you the manager?' asked a wide-eyed Robert.

'Assistant - a title to compensate for the low wages. Maybe some day. Cheap security guard is a more accurate description. What can I do for you?'

Robert's plans had run out. All he knew was his presence at the movie had to be noticed and remembered. The Assistant Manager smiled affably, allowing his eyes to stray to his visitor's taut crotch, where they tarried.

Suddenly Robert knew what to do. He smiled shyly, then hesitatingly said, 'Actually, I have a bad headache, and I wondered if you had anything for it? I wouldn't have dared come in here normally, but before the show I saw you in the foyer, and you smiled at me and I thought you looked really nice, so that's why…' his voice trailed off as his host's smile turned to puzzlement.

'I don't remem…' he began, then stopped as another thought visibly entered his head.

Robert's face fell. He blushed and stuttered, 'Oh, I'm…I'm sorry. I feel so stupid. I…I thought you were looking at me… and…' He bit his lip and stopped talking.

The assistant manager's face cleared, he hit his head lightly with the heel of his hand and showered a dazzling smile over his tightly trousered guest. 'Of course I remember! Sorry! My mind was miles away, I wasn't concentrating. Yes…yes. How could I forget? Here, sit down. I'm sure we've got aspirin somewhere.' He searched in a cupboard, produced a first-aid box, dispensed two tablets, filled a tumbler from the sink in the attached washroom and presented it to Robert, who downed pills and water gratefully. They chatted amiably for a few minutes, Robert mentioning how silly he felt in his school uniform. In return, he received fulsome compliments on its snug fit and, as he was leaving, a pat on the bum and an offer of a drink after the show – or any time he was passing.

Returning to the auditorium, he forced himself to stay awake and recall the short films before the interval, that he'd seen with Bart, as well as the feature.

A train from Central, followed by a fast jog, got him home just on eleven o'clock. He entered his side door, secreted the pack under the bed, and went through to the lounge where his parents and Bart were waiting, anxious but doing their best not to show it.

'Not waiting up for me, I hope? That's why I left the note telling you I was going to town to the flicks, so you wouldn't worry. Bart! What're you doing here? I told Mum to ring and tell you.'

Bart didn't trust himself to speak. He had been physically sick earlier in the evening with the fear that Robert had done something irrevocable. He made do with a worried frown and a shake of the head.

'We didn't get home in time to ring him.' Monique was terse. 'Bart was here waiting for us when we arrived back at four o'clock!'

'We have been very upset!' Sanjay came as close as he ever had to sounding really angry. 'Bart told us you had a run-in with the headmaster and that you had skipped school. We thought you might have done something silly.'

'Hardly! As Bart said, we've done nothing wrong. I was suddenly sick of the whole stupidity and felt like being on my own for a bit. Sorry if I worried you. It was selfish of me.' He sat down beside Bart, who still had not trusted himself to say anything, and snuggled up. 'Forgive me?'

He looked so innocent and appealing, all Bart could do was laugh nervously, try not to cry, give him an affectionate squeeze, and say, 'Of course, silly. I'm a worrier.'

'I wandered around town, saw lots of miserable looking people and realised my own lot wasn't so bad. Went to a boring movie, caught the train home, and here I am. What'd the cops say about the video?'

'I didn't take it in.'

'Why not?'

'Not without you.'

'Sorry. I wasn't up to a cross-examination after Nikelseer's ear bashing. Tomorrow?' Robert's tired, easy smile calmed their fears.

'Sure. Tomorrow.'

'Thanks for worrying about me.'

Monique and Sanjay went to bed. The lost sheep had returned. All was well. Because it was so late, Bart stayed the night.

'What did you tell Mum and Dad about this morning?' Robert asked casually as soon as the light was out.

'I didn't mention our argument, just said Nikelseer caught us having a bit of a cuddle and lost his cool. I told them everything he said, though. That's why we were so anxious. No one should have that sort of shit thrown at them.'

'I want you to promise me something.'


'Promise first!'

'I promise.'

'No matter who asks, or how many times they ask you, never, ever tell them what Nikelseer saw us doing in your office, and never, ever repeat what he said to us - the threats he made!'

'That's easy. I promise again.'


'Wild horses wouldn't drag it out of me, so stop worrying!'

Robert continued to worry and, despite his exhaustion, found sleep elusive.

Lance had parked his car, stomped irritably up the path and pressed the bell. He was sick of the greasy old fart expecting him to come running every time he had another inspiration about bloody God and sin. It was all he ever talked about. But things were getting serious. His father had been ignoring him totally since he stuffed up at Vaselly's. He'd been a hundred percent certain that was going to work. He also didn't trust Nigel and Ernest, even though they'd promised to deliver. Fat lot of good that'd be anyway. Despite hours of thinking he had no plans for Saturday. His mind was a blank. He couldn't even get a good night's kip any more. Nightmares about getting raped by huge bastards in prison had him waking in cold sweats. Because that was where he was heading if he didn't get shot of Vaselly and Brown-eye! He shook off his fears, wondering why he'd been summoned to the Holy Presence. Must be something serious. He brightened. Maybe Nikelseer would have an idea.

There was no answer to his ring, so he hammered on the door. It swung open. The old fool's probably draining his brain, and left it open for me, he thought as he let himself into the hallway and slammed the door behind him. He went into the lounge, dumped his jacket over a chair and sat watching television for a minute before he realised the old man was either having a very long piss, or had gone out. He went to the foot of the stairs and called up before noticing there were no lights on. Perhaps the silly old fool had gone out for a stroll and that's why the door was open.

He went out and looked up and down the street. No one. Leaving the door ajar in case Nikelseer came back, he poked his head into the ground-floor rooms. Kitchen, dining room, toilet, laundry and… switching on the study light he at first didn't notice the body on the floor, almost tripping over it. When he saw what it was, he gave a grunt of surprise followed by a vicious smile as he knelt down, lifted the edge of the plastic bag to check it really was the headmaster, and felt the wrist to see if there was a pulse.

'Well, well,' he muttered to himself. 'Someone's done me a favour. I wonder who and why?' The smile was wiped as quickly as it had appeared. 'Christ! I'd better fucking disappear. This looks like a set-up.'

He raced out to the car and was a couple of blocks away before he thought of his jacket. A panic stricken U turn caused an oncoming car to throw out all the anchors and skid wildly before righting itself and driving on. Lance jammed on his brakes and sagged over the wheel shaking uncontrollably. A fucking cop car! Why hadn't it stopped him? 'Because it was going to Nikelseer's, that's why,' a voice whispered in his head.

Whimpering with terror, Lance drove unsteadily home. If he'd known where his father was he'd have called and begged him to come home. With a shudder of revulsion he realised he had shat himself, so tossed his jeans in the washing machine, cleaned himself up and downed a couple of slugs of whisky. Thus fortified, he was glad his father wasn't there. He'd only start asking questions and nagging him. Probably wouldn't even believe him. Anyway, his jacket didn't prove anything. He could have left it there the previous day. Yeah. That's what he'd say. The headmaster had invited him round yesterday to check he was OK after Brown-eye had beaten him up for no reason. Lance warmed to his plan. He'd say the headmaster was going to expel the prissy black queer today. Let him crawl out of that one.

Arnold Osbairne arrived home angry. He didn't realise he was angry because he'd been in that state for so long he'd forgotten what it was like to exist in any other. Lance's car was parked in the centre of the drive, so he had to scrape his own on the bushes to get to the garage. The sooner that fuckwit kid got out of his life the better. He let himself in through the back door and, without turning on the laundry light, removed his clothes.

He was a fastidious man who could not bear to wear anything more than once. Each night he would put everything washable in the washing machine, walk naked to his bathroom, shower, and don fresh pyjamas. It had become his only pleasurable ritual. He lifted the lid and threw everything in before registering the smell. He turned on the light, lifted out his clothing, and discovered Lance's soiled jeans. They were inside out and some of the muck had stained his shirt.

'By Christ but I hate that bastard,' he hissed through his teeth, picking up the jeans, stomping along the hallway, throwing open Lances door, switching on the light and slamming the stinking mess into his sleeping son's face.

'You fucking little snot-nosed bastard,' he seethed, holding the jeans firmly against the gagging mouth.

Lance was petrified. He had no idea what was happening. Imagined it was the police, a gang of queers seeking retribution, Murray's ghost. With a supreme effort he dragged the suffocating cloth off his face, grabbed a lung-full of air and let loose with a scream of such terror that his father leapt back in alarm. Lance sat up, white with shock, eyes distended in fear. 'Dad! What're you doing? Why?'

His father was repelled. This shit-smeared runt couldn't be his. He had hated him since his wife returned from the hospital and transferred her affections to her newborn pup. He wanted to strangle the scrawny, screaming little creep. Instead, he turned on his heel and went to shower off his disgust.

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