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Authors: Mal Peet

The Penalty (20 page)

BOOK: The Penalty

The gloom was a welcome relief from the hot amber and ochre of the outside world. His eyes liked it. He couldn’t be sure, but he thought the place was empty. There was a flickering glow ahead and to the right of him, and he headed for that, trying not to bump into anything sacred.

The uncertain light came from three narrow metal shelves hung with swags and stalactites of stiffened wax. Nine small flames burned among many white stubs with drowned and blackened wicks. He stared at them for a whole minute, then looked around until he found the box of short cheap candles and the slot for cash. He took a five-euro note from his pocket and wasted a few seconds trying to work out what that was in real money. Enough, probably. He put the note into the slot and took a candle. For Max Salez, the godless jerk.
Our jerk
. He lit it with his cigarette lighter and pressed it down onto one of the dead candles on the middle shelf. Then, why the hell not, he helped himself to a second one. For Edson Bakula. He stood watching the flames until they steadied. After a while he started to feel conspicuous, so he kneeled.

He had absolutely no idea how to pray. He had only a few half-remembered phrases that had somehow survived the process of forgetting, of erasure. Besides, prayer was not an act; it was a place. It was the place his mother had retreated to, leaving him behind because he didn’t know the way. He’d watched her go, out of the corner of his eye. He’d waited for her to come back, and she did. Until the day she didn’t.

Well, that was that. He was about to get to his feet, when he realized he was not alone.

A very old lady was kneeling not far from him. Her eyes were closed and she was speaking silently in a fast peaceful rhythm that was somehow like the way marathon runners run when they’ve hit the right pace for the distance. Now and again she paused and crossed herself: high, low, left, right. He watched her; then suddenly she was watching him. She smiled. She had a gold tooth in the upper right jaw. She nodded encouragement, and because nothing else would do Faustino crossed himself: high, low, right, left. Then he got to his feet and made his way out into the pulverizing light of Rome.

At that same moment, several hours earlier (on account of the way we mark the slow ruthless turning of the world), on the Deportivo San Juan practice pitch, El Brujito tried to dummy Braca, his team captain, failed, and fell on his arse.

Braca took the ball on for a few metres and then put his foot on it. He looked back at the boy, worried. After what had happened, you couldn’t tell how he’d react. The newsflash of the kid getting out of the helicopter into the glare of the TV lights, still covered in blood. The hell that broke loose. How do you get over that? How do you begin to forget?

But look at the Little Sorcerer sitting there, face up to the clouds and laughing. Laughing, praise God.

Four miles away from the pitch, at the top of the Pillory, a white-haired man wearing an England football shirt stood shackled to a wall. The exposed parts of his body were the colour of broiled lobster. He was sporting, though; he adopted appropriately tortured poses while other members of the tour group (including his wife) took photographs.

The guide waited. He was a slightly built, medium-skinned man whose hair was showing early hints of grey. He wore sunglasses with rather snazzy red and black mottled frames. His neat moustache and beard were perhaps intended to disguise, but only accentuated, the scar that ran down from the notch in his lower lip. When the photographers had finished he continued his spiel.

“The terrace we are standing on is called the Old Slave Market. However, the truth is slightly more complicated.”

Author’s Note

, and seen it written, that the Paul Faustino novels are “set in Brazil”. This isn’t true. They are set in an imaginary South American country. I’m happy to confess that when I wrote the first one,
, I’d never been to South America. So I had no choice but to imagine. I did no real research. The only source book I used was called something like
Rainforests of the World
. It had lots of really useful photographs in it. I never got round to reading the text.

When I started work on
The Penalty
, I was intending to go about things in much the same way. That is, I was going to make it all up. Then my wife, Ellie, started to mention—about five times a day – that she’d always wanted to go to South America. So there was nothing for it but to go. As a result of that month-long trip, the setting of
The Penalty
is, I guess, a little more “authentic” than in
. Yes, there are bits of Brazil in this book; there are bits of other places too. But Faustino’s country, El Brujito’s country, exists only in my imagination – and in yours, perhaps.

One of the things that impressed and fascinated me about South America was the way that African culture – the culture of millions of victims of the barbaric slave trade – continues to survive and flourish in certain areas. In particular, religions that originated in western Africa remain powerful and influential. Learning about these changed the book I was writing. (Originally, Paracleto was just a ghostly voice whispering through the text. Then he started to grow and develop in ways that surprised me.) But, just as the country in
The Penalty
is fictitious, so is the religion that I call “Veneration”. I have taken underlying ideas from religions such as Bahian Candomblé, but the symbols, rituals and names of spirits in Veneration are my inventions. I hope.


This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places and incidents are
either the product of the author’s imagination or, if real, used fictitiously.

First published 2006 by Walker Books Ltd
87 Vauxhall Walk, London SE11 5HJ

Text © 2006 Mal Peet
Cover illustration © 2006 Phil Schramm

The right of Mal Peet to be identified as author of this work has been asserted
by him in accordance with the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988

All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced, transmitted
or stored in an information retrieval system in any form or by any means,
graphic, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, taping
and recording, without prior written permission from the publisher.

British Library Cataloguing in Publication Data:
a catalogue record for this book
is available from the British Library

ISBN 978-1-4063-3678-8 (ePub)
ISBN 978-1-4063-3705-1 (e-PDF)

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