We are thrilled to present Part II of an original short story written by BLOODLINE author Mark Billingham titled “The Walls.” (Missed Part I? Start reading here.) To double the fun, we’ve also created an audio version of the story, read by Brad Negbaur (see below). BLOODLINE is also available as a downloadable audiobook read by Paul Thornley.
She and her mother were sharing a room, so we went to mine. There was not a great deal of choice in the mini-bar, but she didn’t seem too picky, so I told her to help herself. She took a beer and a bag of chips and we sat together on the bed with our feet on the quilt and our backs against the headboard.
The window was open a few inches and the traffic from I-45 was just a hum, like an insect coming close to the glass every so often and retreating again.
“I don’t know how I’m going to feel,” she said.
I remembered her face when she’d been talking in the bar. The way she’d talked about wanting it to hurt. “Pretty good, by the sound of it,” I said.
“Yeah, I’ll feel good…and relieved. I mean how I’m going to feel when I’m watching it happen, though. It’s not something everyone gets to see, is it?”
“No, it isn’t.”
“Probably something you never forget, right?”
She made it sound like she was going whale-watching. She slid down the bed a little and kept on closing her eyes for a few seconds at a time.
“You think you might feel guilty after?” I asked.
Her eyes stayed closed as she shook her head. “Not a chance.”
“I hope you’re right.”
“Why the hell should I feel guilty when he never did?”
“You know that for sure?”
She opened her eyes. “Well it wasn’t like I was visiting him every week or nothing, but I don’t think a man like that has any normal human feelings.” She took a swig of beer, ignored the dribble that ran down her neck. “He wrote us a letter a month or so back and he said he was sorry, all that shit, but it’s easy to come out with that stuff when you know the needle’s just around the corner, right? Probably told to do it by his lawyer. So they’ve got something to show when they’re pushing for a stay, you know?” She tried to brush away the remains of the chips from her shirt. “Said he’d found God as well.”
“I think that happens a lot.”
“Yeah, well tomorrow he’ll get a lot closer to Him, right?”
“Sure,” she said.
“So this isn’t a problem for you?”
“Why should it be?”
“What happened to ‘thou shalt not kill’?”
“Shame he never thought about that.”
“He obviously didn’t believe in anything back then,” I said.
She shook her head again and screwed her face up like she was getting irritated. “Look, it isn’t me that’s going to be doing the killing, is it?” She raised the bottle, then thought of something. “Okay, smart-ass, what about, ‘as you reap, you shall sow’? It’s something like that, right?”
I nodded. “Something like that, yeah.”
“Right.” She turned on to her side suddenly and leaned up on one elbow. She slid a leg across the bed and lifted it over mine. “Anyway, what the hell are we talking about this stuff for?”
“You were the one started talking about God,” I said.
“Yeah well there’s other things I’d rather be talking about.” She blinked slowly which she probably thought was sexy, but which made her seem even drunker, you know? “Other things I’d rather be doing.”
“I’m not sure that’s a good idea.”
“Come on,” she said. “I know that’s what you want. I saw you looking in the restaurant.”
“Yeah, I was looking.”
“You’ve had too much to drink.”
“I’ve had just enough.”
I smiled. “You won’t feel good about yourself tomorrow.”
“I’ve got more important things to worry about tomorrow,” she said. She put a hand between my legs. “Now are you going to get about your business, or what?”
I did what she was asking. It didn’t take long and it was pretty clear that she needed it a damn sight more than I did. She cried a little afterwards, but I just let her and I’m not sure which of us got to sleep first.
I left early without making any noise, and when I turned at the door to look at her wrapped up in the thin hotel sheet, I was thinking that, aside from the fact that I am crazy about nachos and salsa, almost everything I’d told her about myself had been a lie.
God only knows why they call it “The Walls”. They’re thick enough and tall enough for sure, but the men behind them have got a damn sight more to worry about than what’s keeping them inside.
The Huntsville Unit in particular.
One of the deputy wardens led me across the compound from the Visitor’s Waiting Area and in through a grey, metal door. They try to keep the families separate until the last possible moment, which is understandable I suppose and even though there was only me and some crazy woman who’d been writing to Anthony for the last few years, we had our own escort. The prison chaplain would be a ‘witness’ too of course, but I guessed he had no choice but to be kind of neutral about what was happening, so he didn’t really count.
The deputy warden’s highly polished shoes squeaked on the linoleum floor as we walked towards the room next to the execution chamber. Then he opened the door and politely stood aside as I walked in.
The place was pretty crowded.
I knew there would be a few State officials as well as representatives from the media, but I hadn’t figured on there being that many people and it took me a few seconds before I spotted her. She was sitting on the front row of plastic chairs, her mother on one side of her, the other older woman and her psycho brother on the other side. Like everyone else, she’d turned to look when the door opened and I saw the color drain from her face when I nodded to her. Her mother leaned close to whisper something, but she just shook her head and turned round again.
I walked towards the front of the room and took a seat on the end of the second row. We sat in silence for a few minutes, save for some coughing and the scrape of metal as chairs got shifted, then one of the officers ran through the procedure and raised the blind at the window.
Tony was already strapped to the gurney.
There were three men inside the chamber with him and one of them, who I figured was the Warden, asked Tony if he wanted to say anything. Tony nodded and one of the other men lowered a microphone in front of his face.
Tony turned his head as far as he was able and said how sorry he was. For what he’d done, and for all the shit he’d laid at his own family’s door down the years. He finished up by saying that he wasn’t afraid and that everyone on the other side of the glass should take a good look at his life and try to learn something. I’m not quite sure what he meant by that and, things being how they were, it wasn’t like I had the chance to ask him.
He closed his eyes, then the Warden gave the signal and everything went quiet.
Three drugs, one after the other: the sedative, the paralytic and the poison.
It took five minutes or so and Tony didn’t really react a great deal. I saw his lips start to go blue and from then until it was finished, I paid as much attention to her face as his. She knew I was watching her, I could tell that. That I was thinking about all the things she’d said, and the things she’d asked me to do to her the night before at the Huntsville Palms Hotel.
Wanting to see just how good she felt about herself the next day.
I left the room before she did, but I waited around just long enough to get one last look at her. Her face was the color of oatmeal and I couldn’t tell if her mother was holding on to her or if it was the other way around. I guessed she was right about one thing; that it would not be something she would forget.
I had to shield my eyes against the glare when I stepped back out into the courtyard and walked towards my car. I drove out through the gates and past a small group of protesters with placards and candles. A few of them were singing some hymn I couldn’t place and others were holding up Tony’s picture. Later on, I would be coming back to collect my brother’s body and make the arrangements, but until I did, he wasn’t going anywhere.
Right then, all I wanted was to get away from “The Walls” and drive south-west on I-45.
To get another look at that big beautiful lake in the daylight.
Mark Billingham worked as an actor, a TV writer and a stand-up comedian before becoming one of the most critically acclaimed crime novelists in the world. He lives in North London with his wife and two children. Learn more at http://www.markbillingham.com.