They brought the prisoner in, and Maven looked him over. ‘Speak English?’ he asked, the foreign words awkward in his mouth.
The prisoner nodded weakly, a guard at either side. He was slumping, and they held him upright.
‘Speak Turkish?’ said Maven, reverting to his native tongue.
The prisoner said nothing.
‘Speak fucking Turkish?’
The prisoner raised his head a little. He appeared not to understand.
‘I’m going to count to three,’ said Maven. ‘And when I get to three, I’m going to break your nose. Okay? So, remember, when I get to three. Not before three. Not after three. On three. Bang. I’m going to give it to you as hard as I can. Right in your fucking hooter.’
The prisoner’s head was hanging down.
Maven started counting. ‘One.’ He was watching the prisoner intently. ‘Two.’ Looking for a reaction. Even something small. ‘Three.’
The prisoner did not flinch.
They always did if they understood. Maven had used this trick a hundred times, and it never failed. No matter how slight a movement, they always gave the game away. He looked at the guards. ‘Take him away,’ he said. ‘Then back in here. Both of you.’
Several minutes later, the guards returned.
Maven was against the corner of the desk, his left leg off the floor. It swung back and forth under the weight of his boot. He motioned for the guards to sit.
The steel chair legs scraped against the concrete floor.
‘Which of you beat the prisoner?’ Maven asked. His voice was light, and conversational in tone. He might just as easily have been discussing the local derby.
The guards glanced sideways at one another.
‘Come on,’ said Maven. ‘It’s a simple question. I’m not asking either of you to donate a kidney. I just want you to tell me what happened.’
‘The guy put up a real fight,’ said the guard on the left. He had a frog face and his skin was very oily. He was, in fact, the cousin of the other guard.
‘We only did what was necessary,’ said the other guard. He was much thinner than his cousin. His eyes were big and imploring, and he had a tapering, neat moustache that suited the shape of his face quite well.
‘And you really expect me to give credit to this explanation?’
They nodded weakly.
‘Okay,’ said Maven, and waved them off.
Their bodies seemed to slump, in much the same way that the prisoner’s body had slumped minutes earlier. They did not wait for a second invitation.
‘You’ve still got it Maven,’ he said when they had gone. You’ve still got it. When will they learn that to truly crush a man, you don’t use violence? Probably never, he thought. That’s why it’s you who has the desk, and not them. They will never, ever learn. Well, maybe that’s the way it ought to be.
The telephone rang and he answered it. ‘Of course,’ he said. ‘How could I have forgotten?’ He put the receiver back in its cradle.
To truly crush a man, you had to give him hope. A little rough stuff to begin with actually wasn’t that bad. It showed that you meant business, and that you were unafraid of the consequences. But not too much. You would only galvanise his survival instinct if you went hell for leather. A man who has nothing to lose will give you nothing.
At four o’clock, Maven put his desk in order. He locked the office door behind him and went out onto the street. The rain had only recently stopped. The ground was still wet, and steam was rising off it. The smell of the air was dirt and oil, and black tobacco drifting out from a nearby coffee shop. Maven reached in his pocket for a cigarette. He lit it as he was walking.
The cemetery was half an hour away. He stopped at a florist and picked up the arrangement he had ordered that morning. By the time he reached the cemetery, the ground was dry again. He looked through the tall iron railings as he neared the entrance. The place was deserted. He went to the grave and knelt before it.
So easy for a woman to lose a child, he thought. He lifted the urn with last week’s dried up flowers. There was a bin and a tap to his right, alongside the narrow path. He put the old flowers in the bin and emptied the urn onto the dry grass verge. Most of its contents had evaporated, and all that remained was a foul black sludge. Some water went on his boots as he rinsed and refilled it. Back at the grave, he knelt again. He put the fresh flowers in the urn and rested his hand on top of the headstone. It was still hot from the afternoon’s sunshine.
The walk home took a further forty minutes. The shadows were getting longer as he reached the edge of his neighbourhood. Aileen would be waiting for him. On Thursday she always cooked aubergine. She was never careful to boil it first. The bitter taste of the skin would stay with him throughout the night. He would sometimes ask if they could try again, and she would always tell him maybe.
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