I heard a few mutterings, the scuffle of moving feet, then the sound of shuffling footsteps as they all turned around and headed back across the wasteground. As Campbell watched them go, I wondered what they’d do if I turned around and called out to them — Hey, hold on, don’t go . . . don’t leave me alone with him . . .

But it was too late now.

They were gone.

And I was alone with him.

And he was looking at me as if he could do whatever he wanted.

And I didn’t like it one bit.

“You’re not going to do anything stupid, are you?” he said.

“No.”

“That’s good.” He smiled. “Because I don’t want to hurt you, I just want to talk to you. All you’ve got to do is keep your mouth shut and listen, and everything’ll be all right. OK?”

“Yeah.”

“That’s not too difficult, is it?”

“No.”

“Good.” He jerked his head toward a stack of old bricks next to the gas tower. “Sit down over there.”

I went over and sat down.

When Campbell came over and sat down next to me, I didn’t know if he was sitting too close on purpose, or if it was just something he did without thinking — an instinctive tough-guy thing, invading your space to intimidate you. Whatever the reason, I found myself shuffling away from him, but almost immediately he put his arm around my neck and pulled me back toward him.

“Where are you going?” he said, tightening his arm.

“Nowhere,” I muttered, almost choking. “I was just, you know . . . I was just getting comfortable . . .”

He loosened his grip and draped his arm around my shoulder. “Is that better?”

I couldn’t say anything.

He grinned at me. “Are you comfortable now?”

I’d never felt less comfortable in all my life, but I nodded at him, anyway.

“Good,” he said. “Now, listen . . . are you listening?”

“Yeah.”

“Right . . . this is what you’re going to do, OK? You’re going to stop poking your nose into things that don’t concern you. You’re going to forget whatever you saw at the fair. And you’re not going to ask any more questions about anything. Do you understand?”

“No . . .”

He sighed. “I thought you were supposed to be smart?”

“I don’t know what you mean —” “It’s not difficult, for Christ’s sake. You didn’t see anything, you don’t know anything, you don’t want to know anything. Which bit of that don’t you understand?”

“I was only asking Pauly about Raymond —”

“Who?”

“Raymond . . . Raymond Daggett.”

“Who the fuck’s Raymond Daggett?”

“He was with me the other night, you know . . . Saturday night, in Back Lane —”

“The spazzy kid?”

“Raymond’s not —”

“Fuck Raymond,” Campbell said angrily, gripping my neck again. “I don’t give a shit about Raymond . . . this has got fuck all to do with Raymond. This is just me telling you to keep your fucking nose out, all right?” “Or else what?” I heard myself say. There was a split second’s silence then, just enough time for me to wonder if I could have said anything more stupid, then Campbell’s arm suddenly tightened around my neck and he leaned to one side and violently yanked my head down. As my body doubled over, my legs flew up into the air, and I ended up kind of half-sitting and half-lying on the stack of bricks, with one arm jammed under my chest, the other one scrabbling around, trying to find something to hold on to, and my head shoved down between Campbell’s legs. It was ridiculous. I was scared to death. But it was still ridiculous. I could hardly breathe, my head was exploding with pain, but even as Campbell tightened his grip, squeezing my throat so hard that I thought my neck was going to snap . . . even then, I was still faintly aware that my head was shoved down between his legs, and that didn’t feel right at all. I actually felt kind of embarrassed about it. God knows why. I mean, it wasn’t as if I’d chosen to be in this situation, and there were far more useful things I could have been feeling than a vague sense of irrational embarrassment.

Or maybe there weren’t?

Maybe that’s what happens when you think you’re going to die — you concentrate on the trivial things to take your mind off the horror. You think of embarrassment rather than pain. You concentrate on the spotless white jeans of your killer, rather than the fact that he’s strangling you. You smell his scent, a darkly sweet perfume, and you wonder where you’ve smelled it before . . . You think of the darkness, closing in around you . . .

The darkness.

The stars . . .

Going out.

Dark silence.

White plains.

The blackness . . .

It was everywhere now.

Hey!

It was a nice feeling . . . like sitting in a bubble of light . . .

Boland?

. . . in some kind of primitive consciousness . . .

Hey, Boland!

Someone was shaking me now, shaking the life back into me, and I could hear a distant voice in the sky.

“You listening to me, Boland?”

“Yuhh . . .”

A whisper.

“Look at me.”

I opened my eyes. I was lying on the ground at Campbell’s feet — lying on my back, looking up at him. My throat hurt. My neck hurt. The sun was too bright.

“Look at me.”

I sat up slowly and looked at him. His face was blurred, cold and waxy.

“Next time I won’t let go,” he said. “Do you understand?”

I nodded, wincing at the pain in my neck.

Campbell squatted down in front of me and stared into my eyes. “No more questions, all right? You don’t know anything. You didn’t see anything. And this never happened.” He reached out his hand and gently lifted my chin. “Do you hear me?”

“Yeah.”

“Good.”

He let go of my chin, patted my cheek, then got up and walked away.