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Authors: Patrick Ness

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Before Thomas had been alive a year, his parents had paid for five surgeries to correct his legs. He had three more by the time he was six and had not actually learned to walk until he was seven. He attended rigorous physical therapy on up into adolescence with Joe. Joe, ‘Just Joe', the therapist, was a former soldier who had served with Thomas’ grandfather in the Gentlemen’s War nearly fifty years previous and was purported to be the best physical therapist in Hennington. But Joe, and there’s really no getting around this, was an out-and-out
sadist. His stated goal from day one was to get Thomas to cry.

Said Joe, in that indecipherable accent of his: —No pain, no advancement.

Years passed, and Thomas’ pleas to his parents fell on four deaf ears. The sessions grew longer and longer, with Thomas holding out for as long as he could against the onslaught of drills, weights, endurance tests, water exercise, and on and on. If Thomas had been able to fake crying, if Joe had taken even one small modicum less of obvious pleasure in inflicting the torture, Thomas might have grown up to be an altogether different person. But being of a spiteful, resentful disposition, he had developed the two natural and inevitable results.

Thomas Banyon had grown very strong, and Thomas Banyon had grown very mean.

At sixteen he was asked, because of his family’s position, to escort one Rebecca Turkei to Rebecca’s coming-out cotillion. Thomas, whose now vaguely straighter legs had the muscular mass of an elephant, could not dance, would not dance, and scorned the very idea of dancing. Rebecca, being a nice girl if a bit unobservant of behaviours human, responded by smiling, saying things like ‘Oh, pooh', and ‘You old grouch', never imagining for one moment that Thomas might be serious. On the big night Thomas, thinking the matter clarified, squired Rebecca down the winding staircase to the adulation of the white-gloved crowd below. When, at the bottom of the stairs, the crowd parted, the music began and Rebecca turned to Thomas to begin the traditional dance, he was sure he had been duped. Thomas Banyon, already most of the mammoth size he was working to become, loudly yet clearly spouted at Rebecca Turkei a most foul four-letter word that reached the ears of every guest and sister-debutante at the cotillion. To punctuate the oath, Thomas took his boutonniere and crushed
every last carnation petal in the palm of his hand. He left Rebecca standing stricken and alone. She moved out of Hennington not three weeks later. ‘Medical school’ was the given reason, but everyone knew the most Rebecca Turkei had ever expressed about medicine was ‘Ouch'.

As punishment, because cotillions – however ridiculous to even Thomas’ father Archie – were
not
to be taken lightly, Thomas was made a gardener at the golf course. Delivering an astonishing blow to precedent, Archie Banyon even declined to send Thomas to college. Said his father with a wan smile, —You can pick up the trade on the job. Externally at least, Thomas took the hint from the gardening assignment, but he knew just exactly how much he would pick up about business from tending to a golf course. Ever the surprisingly smart son, though, he kept his opinions to himself. Not coincidentally, this was the time Luther Pickett arrived on the scene. Suddenly, Thomas had a pre-teen younger brother, an orphaned son of some fucking shipping clerk in some obscure fucking Banyon Enterprises satellite investment. Luther was described by Archie to Thomas as having ‘promise'. The implication was obvious. Well, so fucking what? Thomas would learn all about fucking ‘promise'.

Despite the unstated intentions of his father, Thomas
did
learn quite a bit from the golf course. Important things like where and when to seize what power and for how long and just how to use it once you got it. Gardening turned into supervising turned into course designing at a rapid and bloody rate. Privately, Thomas’ father approved of the casualties left in Thomas’ wake, admiring the ambition of an otherwise thwarted youth, but Archie Banyon blanched a little at the glee Thomas seemed to feel in it. Publicly, though, the father simply smiled and kept promoting his son. Inside of ten years, brief but still too long for pretty much anyone but Thomas
to work at a golf course, Thomas Banyon, bandy-legged, bad-tempered, debutante-insulting son of a billionaire, was CEO of Hennington Hills Golf Club and Resort and loving it. What should have been a dishonorable, low-salaried (for an heir), do-nothing job had somehow morphed into a private fortune and personal pleasure, because nepotism or no, Thomas was
very
good at what he did: mainly terrifying his subordinates and keeping his members happy. Surprisingly, Thomas found the latter as entertaining as the former. He gained a reputation for providing for the illicit tastes of the richer and seamier sides of Hennington, which as usual were often one and the same. Drugs? Thomas could purloin a selection to fill a convenience store. Inside information? Thomas could make and break fortunes simply by frowning instead of smiling. Sex? Now, sex was where Thomas flourished.

Sex, oh, could Thomas acquire all kinds of sex for whatever persuasion was requested. Whilst a mere gardener, Thomas had already seen the perks that a quick hand job received from a grateful married man in a sand trap. You only had to do the actual act a few times before the more delicious avenues of blackmail opened. Thomas didn’t need the money, but he discovered quickly how having power over someone turned into other advantages. When those men and women thought they were taking something from the bulky, muscular, smiling, friendly teenager, Thomas knew otherwise.

Nowadays, the locker-room jerkoffs and sauna blowjobs, the limousine pussy-eating and private apartment fuckings (of pussy
and
ass; opportunities were opportunities) were left behind as mere child’s play, the youthful desire to put in the personal appearance. Almost all of his employees at Hennington Hills had extra, special duties that Thomas required of them now and again. Peter Wickham, the waiter with the delightfully elegant sexual organ; Jacki Strell, the milk-bearing
accountant; Maggie Bonham, the gift shop manager about whose head-giving epic poems should have been written; silver-haired chief chef Hartley Chevalier, who appealed quite dramatically to equally silver-haired women; Paul Beck, assistant mechanic, whose sad eyes and cunnilingual talents left him very little time to actually fix any of Hennington Hills’ vehicles; Tracy Jem-Ho, barmaid with a whip. And so on. All of these people owed Thomas something, and none of them would,
should
ever think of leaving. Besides, Thomas thought, he treated them well, paid them well, never asked them too far over the edge, certainly not to any point where they couldn’t come back. He
cared
about them, he thought. Any of the entertainment might disagree, but Thomas was sure that was beside the point.

Upon his perch in the golf cart from which he surveyed his grounds and shook the hands and caressed the egos of its utilizers, Thomas Banyon was offering JH Williams Roth VIII an imported cigar of the highest purity and utmost illegality.

—Taste good?

—Exquisite. Like a young girl just having smoked the finest cigar.

—I can arrange for you to make the comparison first hand, if you’d like.

—I was unaware that I had to ask any further than I already have.

JH Williams Roth VIII raised his eyebrows haughtily. Thomas smiled. This prick would get his cigar-smoking girl. He would also get a raging case of the Mud. Maybe Thomas was a gofer and a pimp, but you didn’t treat him like one. The mobile phone in the cart rang. He lowered his voice, turning away from the prying ears of the soon-to-be-oozing JH Williams Roth VIII.

—Thomas Banyon.

—It’s Luther.

—Hello, brother.

—I was wondering …

A long pause. Thomas liked making him wait.

—He’ll be there at the usual time, Luther.

—Thank you.

Luther hung up. Thomas smiled to himself. Wasn’t providing what people wanted all the power you ever really needed?

12. The Melting Sanctuary.

The scented smoke whorled around Jarvis Kingham’s bearded face and on up into the shafts of light fingering through the corrugated skylight. Other than the row of candles marking the entrance to the sanctuary across from Jarvis’ pulpit, the skylight was the only source of illumination. It wasn’t much. Jarvis’ nose was filled by incense, plain old candle smoke, and a spectacularly effusive cloud of sweat emanating from his parishioners. Didn’t any of these people use antiperspirant?

Be nice, Jarvis, he thought.

He coughed and tried to stifle a second by clearing his throat. Despite his years of training, despite his strongly felt and sincere devoutness, despite his recognition of its place as the holiest of holy days in the Bondulay religion, Jarvis had never really cared for the Collingham Sacraments. The service was, frankly, the dreariest of the entire Bondulay sacred calendar: a dark room filled with candles on a hot summer day with pew upon pew of worshippers overdressed in their too-hot church finest sweating up a storm. What fun. Jarvis shifted his shoulders a little under his thick, wool robe. Droplets gathered to form rivulets of sweat cascading from his armpits
and ample stomach. His eyes stung from the salt, and his fingers left wet prints on the pages of the Sacraments. Water, he thought, even as his lips sounded out the canticle.

—And, lo, the man who would be penitent before the Almighty shall have his transgressions rescinded without question;

—And, lo, the woman who would be penitent before the Almighty shall have her past wrongs erased without recompense.

Jarvis made a quick pass with his tongue to catch the drops of sweat dangling precariously from his mustache.

—But the penitence does not end at the expunging of past faults;

—The true penitent carries on in a never-ending quest to keep their past lies from being spoken again;

—To keep their past wrongs from being committed again;

—To keep their past thievings from being stolen again;

A verb-subject problem that seemed to have arisen in the translation.

—To keep their past grievances from being redressed;

—So say the Sacraments.

The congregation answered, a little wistfully in the heat,
—And so say we all.

At least you get to sit down, Jarvis thought, then pushed the thought immediately away. The Collingham would have been slightly more tolerable if it weren’t also so long. Jarvis had been speaking for almost an hour and had only gotten through four canticles. There were seven to go. He shifted his feet and noticed that a quite literal puddle of sweat had formed between his sandals. Oh, Heavens above, he thought, enough is enough.

—Good people, I think, perhaps, in deference to today’s rather …

And here he paused to give both weight to the word and to signal a reluctance to make his request, a reluctance he no more felt than he did current personal comfort.

—… astonishing
heat, I am wondering, perhaps, if it might not be prudent to move directly to the canticles of blessing.

He was surprised to hear some mumbling among the parishioners.

—And grant ourselves some comfort on this day of atonement.

The murmuring grew into outright conversation, and so quickly, too. Jarvis couldn’t quite believe his ears, but he was hearing protests. As achingly somnolent as they were, did they actually want to go through seven more canticles? A lone but distinctive voice rose over the murmurs. Jarvis only just halted a cringe. Theophilus Velingtham stood in the sweltering darkness to speak. Theophilus had been Head Deacon forever, at least since long before Jarvis, and spent most of his time as a one-man performance review committee.

—Father, I, and I believe the rest of the congregation, would find it difficult to countenance your request.

—I beg your pardon?

Even given Theophilus’ penchant for self-righteous droning, the man couldn’t seriously be suggesting two more hours.

—The Collingham Sacraments are our highest holiday, Pastor. What does a little discomfort mean to the true penitent?

More murmurs, this time of assent.

—How can a little overheating, and I’ll grant you, it
is
rather warm in here—

There was some appreciative chuckling. Theophilus wore a smile that Jarvis could see even in the dimness of the sanctuary. He tried hard not to also read malevolence there.

—I was only thinking of the extremity of the discomfort,
Deacon Velingtham. Surely, the Collingham was not meant as an exercise in suffering.

—Surely what
better
situation could there be for the transgressor to reflect upon the gracious penitence of the Sacraments than to receive those Sacraments in a session of extreme discomfort?

There were calls of ‘hear, hear’ and ‘amen’ from the crowd now.

—It must be forty degrees in here, Deacon, maybe forty-five. I’m thinking of the safety issues—

—I, for one, am willing to risk it for the precious absolution that the Collingham offers.

Now there were outright calls of agreement.

—Continue on!

—The entire Collingham!

—Praise be to the Sacraments!

Theophilus’ voice again, splitting the room like a cleaver.

—I think of Sarah the Downhearted in the desert, walking mile after mile to gather the cactus leaves necessary for her—

—Yes, Deacon, we are all familiar with the parable.

—I was merely—

—Do you all really wish to proceed?

If he was going to have to do all eleven canticles then he might as well get on with them without having to listen to Theophilus blabber about a parable taught to children. The veritable shouts of ‘yes’ from the congregation sealed the matter.

—Well, I must say I am heartened and delighted and much humbled by your reverence for the Sacraments. It strengthens not only my faith in the text, but my faith in you, my good people. Blessed are you, and faithful. You are truly children of the Sacraments.

BOOK: The Crash of Hennington
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