Red Stuff Part One
There was someone following him.
If Ben Conley hadn't known better he'd have been sure of it.
But what he also knew was that sound carried within the high-ceilinged confines of Risdale maximum security prison.
Sixteen years as a warder had told him as much.
And there were plenty of sounds to hear. Even when darkness descended on the monolithic structure and all the cells were securely locked. Anyone walking the corridors and landings could still hear talking, laughing,shouting and crying.
He'd heard plenty of crying during his time.
The walls seemed to catch noise, distort it and then hurl it back.
Sometimes, a sound from a cell fifty yards away would drift through the air so sharply it seemed to be coming from beside him.
But tonight, the sounds were different.
He walked the three landings, his highly polished boots clanking on the metal stairways as he descended. The sound reverberated throughout the prison. Occasionally he would pause and peer through an spyhole in a cell door, checking on the inmates. Some occupied single cells but the majority were forced to share the limited space with at least one companion. Sometimes two.
It was as Conley reached the last landing that he first heard the noise from behind him.
At first he'd thought it was merely the echo of his own heavy footfalls on the metal stairs but, as he paused, he realized that this sound was lighter.
Almost like the skittering of a rats long clawed feet.
He spun round but saw nothing.
The lights were dimmed on the landings. Inside the cells it was pitch black.
Conley wondered if there might be a mouse scurrying around somewhere.It wouldn't be the first time.
He continued walking, moving slowly down the last flight of steps to the ground floor.
The light patter of feet followed him.
Conley walked past three or four more cells until he came to a barrier of mesh and bars. Beyond it lay the toilets and showers.
He knew no one would be in there at this time of night but it was still part of his duties to check.
Sometimes weapons were left in there. Secreted down the pans of lavatories or jammed into shower heads for future use.
The ingenuity of the incarcerated had never ceased to amaze him during his career.
He selected a key from the long chain on his belt and unlocked the door, passing along a short corridor that led towards the showers.
He paused for a moment before he entered the shower room and he heard the sound again.
Those same scratching noises passing over the polished floor with considerable speed.
Except this time, the sound came from in front of him.
Whatever had been following was now ahead of him.
Conley shook his head, dismissing his own flight of fancy.
You've been doing nights too long. Your imagination's getting the better of you.
He wandered into the shower room and slapped on the lights.
Fluorescents sputtered into life, bathing the tiled room in cold white luminescence.
Water was dripping from one shower head.
A steady rhythm that echoed around the room and seemed to echo inside his head.
That's what you've been hearing.
He walked across to it and turned the tap.
The water continued to drip. Faulty washer, he guessed and turned.
Something caught his eye.
A movement at the periphery of his vision.
He hurried across towards the doorway of the shower room and looked out into the corridor. Peering in both directions.
It was empty.
First you hear sounds, now you start seeing things.
It must have been a shadow of some kind. He blinked hard and stepped back out into the corridor.
The lights flickered.
Conley paused for a moment and looked up at the bulbs burning in the ceiling.They flared brightly for a second then dimmed once more.
And, ahead of him, he heard that sound again.
At the end of the corridor was a solid metal door.
It led to 'B' wing.
Beyond that door were fifteen cells set aside for the most dangerous prisoners in Risdale. Men considered a danger not merely to ordinary members of society but also to others of their own kind. Outcasts even within a world of undesirables.
Conley selected another key and turned it in the lock. The hinges shrieked protestingly as he passed through into the single corridor flanked on both sides by cells.
A single row of lights hung in the centre of the ceiling, each one casting a dull glow.
As he closed the door once more he noticed how cold it was in this part of the prison. His breath clouded in the air as he exhaled and he felt the hairs on the back of his neck rise.
The first two cells were empty.
He peered through the observation slit of the next.
Prisoners inside 'B' wing all had single cells.
The inhabitant was sleeping soundly. Conley could hear him snoring.
The lights flickered. Dimmed then glowed once more.
As he drew nearer the next cell Conley was certain the temperature was dropping still further.
The steel of the door felt cold to the touch. He shuddered and rubbed his hands together.
There was a radiator nearby and the warder crossed to it, wondering if that too was malfunctioning.
He hissed as he touched it.
The metal was red hot.
Again the lights flickered. Not all at once this time but individually.The filament of each one turned orange for a moment then glowed more brightly again.
All except the light at the far end of the corridor.
Conley checked the other cells then moved to the final one.
The light was still out.
He slid open the observation hole and looked into the cell.
The smell that struck him made him made his stomach heave.
With a combination of the darkness inside the cell and the failed light outside, it was practically impossible to see inside the small room.
And the smell was becoming unbearable.
Rancid. Clogging in his nostrils.
He slid the torch from his belt and pushed the key into the lock of the cell door.
As he pushed it open, he flicked on the torch and the beam cut through the blackness, illuminating the interior.
The stench rushed out to envelope him.
The chill closed around him like invisible fingers.
For interminable seconds he stood gaping into the cell, praying silently that his eyes were deceiving him. Then, reeling backwards, he grabbed for the alarm and set it off, his eyes drawn once more to the inside of the cell.
Ben Conley bent double and retched until there was nothing left in his stomach.
Alexandra Baker applauded as she watched her brother stand in the centre of the stage then hurl both his drumsticks into the audience. Arms were thrust into the air to catch the spinning sticks, their new owners brandishing them high like trophies. The crowd continued to clap and cheer wildly as the other three members of Gypsy's Kiss walked to the front of the stage and took another bow.
With a final wave they headed off into the wings, the adulation of the crowd ringing in their ears.
Alex slipped the laminate inside her jacket and made her way towards the large, bearded security man standing close to the edge of the stage.He smiled as she showed him the laminate and then stepped aside to let her through.
The dressing room smelled of perspiration and beer. Alex took a bottle for herself from the ice-bucket near the door then sought out her brother who was chatting to a couple of journalists from a rock magazine. She recognized them from one of the other gigs she'd attended.
When he saw her, David Baker slipped away from the journalists and embraced his sister.
He apologised for the sweat that had dripped from his hair onto her jacket and she punched him playfully on the arm.
Two of the other band members passed by, the singer pausing to kiss Alex on the cheek.
"Did you enjoy the show?" Baker asked.
"You lot are worth better than this," Alex told him. "You should be playing bigger venues."
"You know that and I know that but the record company bookedus on this tour. They said they wanted to establish us at a grass roots level first."
"They're bloody cheapskates, that's why. You're selling enough albums.You all deserve better."
"Any ideas?" he grinned.
"Yes. You need a publicity gimmick. Either that or a decent manager," Alex told him.
David wiped his hands on a towel and sipped from a bottle of lager.
"Chuck in your job as a psychiatrist and manage us then," he grinned.
"All drummers are crazy," Nick Morton said, sidling past. "You should be helping him, Alex."
Baker aimed a kick at the bass players backside and both men laughed.
"What kind of publicity stunt did you have in mind?" the drummer wanted to know.
"Play somewhere unusual. A venue no one else would ever play."
"Play a gig inside a prison. Are you having a laugh?"
"You've got lots of fans in there, Dave. I know, I see most of them when I interview the prisoners. Listen, years ago Johnny Cash played a concert inside Folsome Prison in the States didn't he? Look how much publicity that generated. You're not just talking the metal mags now. You're looking at national coverage. The big time."
Baker stroked his chin thoughtfully.
"Could you fix it for us?" he mused. "Have a word with the governor or whoever the hell you'd have to talk to? I mean, you being the psychiatrist there must carry some weight."
She ran a hand through her hair and smiled.
"I don't see why not," she told him. "The prison would probably benefit from the publicity too. I think Governor Jennings would be happy enough about it."
There was a high pitched beep and she reached into her pocket for her pager, checking the number.
"Talk of the devil," she said. "That's the prison now. I'd better see what they want."
She glanced at her watch, a little puzzled.
"Strange time to be calling," she mused, reaching for her mobile.
It was 11.48 p.m.
The drive to Risdale had taken her a little under an hour and Alex had been surprised to see how well lit the place was when she arrived.
Inside the main courtyard there was a mass of activity. Uniformed men wandered back and forth and the blue lights of emergency vehicles turned silently. The prison itself was lit up like a Christmas tree. Every light in the place seemed to be on, both inside and outside the huge edifice.
She'd shown her I.D. and moved with ease through the throng of police and prison staff until she'd come to the office of the governor.
Now she walked briskly along behind Matthew Jennings, who was flanked on either side by warders.
They made their way to 'B' wing and, as Alex stepped into the corridor, she recoiled slightly from the stench that filled the air.
There were more men waiting at the end of the corridor, some dressed in the uniforms of paramedics. There were also warders on either side of the door.
"Are you sure you want to see this?" Jennings said, holding her arm gently as if to pull her back.
"He was one of my patients," Alex said, quietly.
Jennings nodded to the two uniformed men standing at the door and they stepped aside.
Alex peered into the cell.
"Jesus Christ," she murmured.
She put her hand to her mouth, wondered if she was going to be sick but then the feeling passed. She coughed, sucked in a deep breath and looked more closely.
The walls of the cell were spattered with blood. Huge crimson arterial sprays. The floor too was swimming with it. Every single piece of furniture in the room seemed to have been coated with it and the coppery odour clogged in her nostrils. She noticed pieces of matter scattered around and realized that they were fingers. One was lying close to her foot. Fragments of clothing also festooned the cell like bloodied confetti.
The body was lying on the small bed.
It was naked.
Hardly an inch of flesh was untouched. Disfigured by marks and indentations. Pieces of flesh had been torn away from the right thigh to reveal a network of muscles and tendons beneath.
There was a gaping red hole where the genitals had once been.
"The marks on the body are bite marks," Jennings told her.
"Where's his head?" Alex murmured.
Her gaze was fixed on the stump of the neck and the pieces of splintered spinal chord that showed through the crimson mess.
"We have no idea," Jennings said. "The coroner said that it was removed without the aid of cutting instruments. It was torn off bodily. One eye was found under the bed. That's it."
The torso had been torn open from sternum to pelvis. Intestines bulged through the rent like bloated worms and Alex could see thick green bile dripping from the riven gall bladder.
She finally turned away, something catching her eye.
The paint had practically been stripped from the inside of the cell door.
"What happened there?" she wanted to know.
"He was trying to get out," Jennings said, flatly.
There was more blood on the inside of the door. She saw a fingernail stuck in a smear of clotted blood.
"The door was locked from the outside when the warder found him."
© Shaun Hutson 2000