Jon Gower

Fiction | Heskyn at Large by Jon Gower

‘Heskyn at Large’ is the sixth piece in our Story: Retold series, published in association with the Rhys Davies Trust. It is inspired by the Rhys Davies short story, ‘Boy with a Trumpet.’

On the day of his release the governor stared at Heskyn for a long, hard while, scrutinising him from under steel eyelids, before saying he had never had such a sick creature under his prison roof before.

‘You have shown no remorse whatsoever and it pains me to have to send you back to society, knowing that you will probably strike again, like a pit viper’.

Heskyn thought the snake analogy a trifle over-wrought but decided not to spit venom at the man, who reminded him that he would not be allowed to work with food ever again and that it was a strict condition of his probation.  Fat chance of that, thought Heskyn the poisoner, who had already circled an advert in the evening paper for a sous chef.

He walked out into a violet city, evening falling into indigo. It had been sixteen years since he’d first been through those gates, and he had been meant to be in for life.  But Heskyn had played the good-boy card, kept mum and volunteered to clean the toilets.  It was a good ruse to stay out of the way of those who wished him harm, and there were many such folk.  The Neath and Port Talbot chapter of the Aryan brotherhood, for example, who smuggled in medical scalpels for their late-night torture sessions. The McGuire twins, who made most socio-paths seem like Mr Tumble. And the ferocious meat-hunters of E-block, who hated the world and wanted to proclaim that hatred as if sounding it with brass trumpets.

Heskyn had been famous once, being the man who finished off an entire restaurant’s worth of diners with his very tasty, creamy but deadly patisserie. The Daily Mail called him ‘The Pastry Poisoner’ and the moniker stuck. During the course of one ghastly evening the ‘Poisoner’ had served cyanide-laced choux buns to an old couple who had in reality only ordered a couple of grappas, not involuntary euthanasia.  He also presented an Eton mess to a family of four that had a topping of clotted cream and nerve agent. They ate it greedily until the father turned green and the rest of them followed suit, so that they looked like a Sickert painting as their bodies grew rigid and tinged with verdigris. He’d timed it so that he could have an espresso all by himself, before turning himself in. That had always been the plan, and he was nothing if not a stickler.

He thought it would be hard to find somewhere to stay but he’d been given the address of a dilapidated B & B which took in pretty much anyone and didn’t ask questions.  The old lady who ran the place was so old and arthritic that guests took it in turn to carry her down to the kitchen. She was a strange totem child in their arms, her hair hanging like wicker strands and the thin limbs made of dowelling poking out of her M&S haircloth dressing gown. Each and every morning she would be installed near the old range, croaking out orders about where things were kept and how many eggs to have on the go at any one time. Heskyn bided his time and waited his turn. To cook.

He got on with the old woman, who was called Mrs Flowers and had a truly marvellous array of prescription drugs to swallow every day.  She’d been ill for a long, long time and had been prescribed a bit of this for pain relief, a bit of that for depression.  All in all she took nineteen different kinds of pills and arrayed together they had a colour range to match the complete Jelly Bean collection, including the rare ‘Mango and Sherbet’, that collector’s item.

‘Help yourself’, she told him whenever he watched her popping the pills. Heskyn knew he shouldn’t, what with his history of addictions, so he took only the purple tranquillisers and the ones in silver wraps, until Mrs Flowers pointed out they were suppositories, or for ‘the other end’ as she put it, laughing until her little bird-bones shook.

The morning dawned when it was Heskyn’s turn to prepare breakfast and there happened to be an Irish road gang staying for a week and they truly did have trenchermen’s appetites, as befitting men who actually did dig trenches.  The old lady suggested cooking four rashers of bacon each, and using the two spare toasters to ensure supply met demand.  Heskyn assessed the dining room, full of potential victims and patted his pocket and the two phials his cousin had obtained for him from Porton Down laboratories before the poor guy got caught by the military police and barred for life from working for the government.  Heskyn didn’t have the foggiest what was actually in the phials and even if it was chemical or biological, but the phials themselves, with their security lids and double vacuumed seals, suggested that whatever was inside was best kept inside.  He patted them again, tenderly this time, as if they were furry pets, or his mother’s ashes, even though he knew the latter been blown to Killarney on the day they were scattered.  Having such deadly material to hand made Heskyn feel strong, a Viking conqueror, standing seven feet tall, with an axe that could cleave an ox’s head in half with a single smite. It was sexual, too, this feeling, made him feel manly, deadly, complete.

In front of the iron range in Mrs Flowers’ kitchen Heskyn became uber-efficient, like a German, robotic car production assembly line. He cracked eggs by the dozen and hand-whisked them into an oxlip-coloured froth. He kept the bacon rashers frying by the score, keeping them warm, along with the toast, in the oven.  There were cherry tomatoes, hash browns, beans and wide-brimmed Portobello mushrooms grilled so that they bubbled juice through aromatic, crinkled skins.  And there were local cockles and laver bread, too, dutifully rolled in oats and fried to perfection, not to mention bright jugs of Sicilian blood oranges, freshly squeezed.  As Last Breakfasts go, this was a triumph of the form.

Heskyn put on his protective mask as the doomed navvies were drinking tea and opened the first phial near the serving hatch. Whatever unclassified, or possibly unclassifiable reagent was in the phial worked like billy-o, dispatching the burly men as if they were lab mice. They clutched their throats but fell to the ground silently as whateveritwas did its thing.  He screwed the lid back on the phial and walked out of the house, not taking off the mask.  Heskyn looked liked a beekeeper as he walked past Lidl and on to Resolven Road, taking off the mask at the corner with Clydach Close where he dropped it into a skip. He felt big, walked tall, was glad they’d all enjoyed the sumptuous, cholesterol- saturated meal.

He had had the foresight to rent a room in advance where he could lie low for a while. It was a tiny place, no bigger than a monk’s cell, in a warren of rooms in a converted mental hospital, which now served as a brothel.  There were prostitutes of all ages – men, women, rent boys, acrobats. Heskyn had been given the room at a peppercorn rent, on condition that he dealt with any trouble, nipped it off at the bud, as his former cell mate and bordello controller Lenny Smythe put it. Heskyn was happy to oblige, knowing he could paralyze anyone with a little puff from his throat spray.

He enjoyed getting to know the people in the place, now called the Laurels, and get a daily glimpse or two of human frailty and desire. One of the girls, Hetty, told him about the client who wanted her to feed him digestive biscuits using her toes and paid her handsomely, by the half-packet. She also told him about the war veteran, whose story, not to mention sexual difficulties moved Heskyn to tears.

But after a few such sessions, drinking tea with Hetty, hearing about her vibrant life among the deviants, Heskyn found that he had feelings for her. He looked forward to seeing her, to watching her warm the teapot, to appreciating the way her kimono parted as she sat down, revealing a glimpse of thigh, albeit one alive with track marks.  She, in turn, seemed to enjoy his company, not to mention the cakes he baked for her in the tiny kitchenette which they shared with seven others. Profiteroles, made with home-mixed Greek yoghurt and salted caramel. Mille-feuille, made of fine thin palimpsests of flavour and true to the recipe in La Varenne’s seventeenth century notebook. Hetty put on weight, plumping out after seven weeks of knowing her new friend, who made no secret of having been away in gaol.

One night he asked if she would allow him to suckle her breast and she flinched from the words, as if the question mark in his voice was a hook that would flense her skin. She couldn’t so much as look at him after that, feeling betrayed and profoundly let down. Even the man with the biscuits followed protocol but Heskyn had thrown away the rule book, totally overstepped the mark and then some. That night Hetty packed her small valise and headed for the docks. She knew this Lithuanian who was good for a couple of nights’ shelter.

The next morning Heskyn woke feeling unutterably alone. He checked Hetty’s room to find her gone without a note or hint of a goodbye. Even the teapot was gone. A mouse came in to pick at some pastry flakes even as Heskyn stood there, becalmed and stranded.

Back in his cell of a room Heskyn ate a final maple flapjack laced with light Dominican rum and then placed his lips plumply to the little silver trumpet of poisonous material from Porton Down.  The man then sounded one long, searing note of all human loneliness, which blew out over the desiccated lands of no succour and no milk, before circling the planet like a plangent banshee moan, or an old fashioned police-whistle, before settling into a deep and permanently troubling silence.


Original illustration by Dean Lewis