William retrieved the tacklebox and removed a clasp knife from the bottom tray. It was an old knife, with a handle of worn, burgundy-stained wood, the blade tarnished to the colour of gunmetal. Once he’d unclasped it, he held the blade upwards, and allowed a maniacal glint into his eyes. Everyone laughed again, their voices high-pitched and chattery, as he cut a slit into the belly. He did it easily, with no sense of ceremony. This was a lesson, DB realised, and he leaned forward to get a better look as William gutted the fish quickly and without disgust. He scooped out the entrails with a hooked finger: a moist pile of tubes and sacs, grey and blue like wet, tender stones.
William handed the knife over to Raymond but he was only interested in picking up the fish and moving the jaw with his hand. ‘You’ll never catch anything with bread and cheese,’ he said, and afterwards, ‘That was never an Uzi.’ When it was DB’s turn to use the knife, he prised out the gills, deep scarlet clusters of tissue, intricate and spongy. He tried to cut off the head, but the blade of the knife was blunt, so the flesh ripped and it was difficult to cut through the bone. Gill managed it in the end, pushing so hard that the head snapped away from the body and the knife ended up embedded in the ground. They all stood up one by one, to look down at the ruined scraps of the fish, the dark blood oily on their hands.
‘What do we do with it?’
DB asked this, as though the slaughter was a regular part of fishing, but William only shrugged.
‘Where should I go?’ Raymond said, with his fish voice, but it didn’t seem funny anymore and everyone ignored him.
‘Put it in the river?’
‘You can’t do that.’ Gill was standing with his hands in the back pockets of his jeans. ‘It’s really bad.’
He shrugged. ‘It just is. It pollutes the water.’
‘Don’t lots of fish die in the water?’
Gill ignored DB completely. ‘We should put it over there.’ He gestured towards the land beyond the pump house.
‘We need to bury it,’ Raymond said. ‘That’s what we do.’
They scooped up the remains of the fish between them. DB took the guts: the tubes still slightly warm, the feel of them not at all unpleasant upon his skin. He followed Gill through the towering cow parsley, where butterflies spilled from the clustered white flowers, and a fizzing, electric sound of crickets came from nearer to the water. The bare earth was cluttered with cracked bricks and half-buried fragments of brown glass. Gill had started excavating a hole, kicking at the dirt with his heel as he leaned against the pump house door.
‘Put it all in here.’
They dropped the remains of the fish into the hole, and Gill patted down the loose dirt with the heel of his shoe. He expended a great deal of effort on it, scraping his shoe across the earth, supporting himself by holding onto a steel chain locking the door, his movements causing it to chime tinnily against the metal. He was out of breath by the time he finished, and although his eyes would only ever look tearful and upset, he seemed to possess an odd kind of triumph.
‘They’ve locked it, then,’ he said, gesturing behind him.
Raymond laughed. ‘Some people won’t be happy.’
‘Why?’ DB asked.
‘They won’t be able to get in there,’ Gill replied. ‘Obviously.’
‘Who goes in there?’
‘Oh, lots of people.’ Gill was looking at William and Raymond. He had a slight smirk on his face.
‘Shagging,’ Raymond said, helpfully.
‘It’s where they go. They do it all the time. Have you seen the names in there? After they shag each other, they scratch their names on the wall.’
William laughed. ‘You don’t know what you’re talking about.’
‘I do. Bailey told me.’
‘He doesn’t know what he’s talking about.’
Gill almost choked on how preposterousness of this remark. ‘Didn’t you hear? Him and that girl—’
‘Melanie Jones.’ Raymond said, pronouncing the name with such insight and longing that DB had burst out laughing.
‘That’s right. Her and Bailey. Didn’t you hear? They went in there. He’s done it since. Around at her house. He thought he’d got her pregnant because he didn’t pull out and she’s started. Didn’t you hear?’
‘You don’t know anything about it,’ William said.
‘And you do?’
William didn’t answer. He smiled, and then tried not to. DB saw it: the expression bright in his eyes, a light like knowledge. ‘OK,’ he said. ‘Have it your way. That’s way they do. They go inside to write their names on the wall. That’s fine. It’s their wall.’
‘The wall of shag,’ Raymond said.