'When you met him face to face he looked older, the slatey eyes touched with the annihilating eternity from which he had come and to which he went.'When Graham Greene describes the seventeen-year-old killer Pinkie Brown in his 1938 novel 'Brighton Rock', the boy's youth is shocking, his vicious precocity part of what gives him ascendancy over older associates hardened to violent crime.
'The Boy', as he is referred to throughout the book, specialises in extorting protection money from small businesses and in the gruesome form of intimidation he applies to the witness of one of his crimes.
'I don't need a razor with a polony. If you want to know what it is, it's a bottle.'
'You don't drink, Pinkie.'
'Nobody would want to drink this.'
'What is it, Pinkie?' '
Vitriol,' the Boy said, 'It scares a polony more than a knife.'*
Today, the casual use of knives by teenagers has become a feature of British society. Regular readers may remember this story from North Essex and there have been others since; last September, for instance, a 17-year-old student was stabbed to death at a party in a suburb of Colchester.
Three suspects aged 18 and 19 are on bail, while a 17-year-old has already been charged with the murder. And, while any violent death is disturbing, the aftermath of this one has taken a particularly unsettling turn:
Two people have been charged with intimidating witnesses following the murder of Jay Whiston.
Alan Loughlin, 18, of Titania Close, Colchester, was charged with three counts of intimidating a witness. Kieran Marsh, 18, of Creffield Road, Colchester, was charged with two counts of intimidating a witness.
A 16-year-old girl, and an 18-year-old woman from Clacton have been re-bailed, also on suspicion of witness intimidation until August.Remember, although these are their current ages, the original crime was committed nearly a year ago, when most of them were probably under 18 and one of the girls under 16.
While the 1947 film of 'Brighton Rock' cast a baby-faced Richard Attenborough in the role, the more recent version chose to play down Pinkie's extreme youth, perhaps because, in today's Britain, it no longer has the power to surprise us.
*Greene's research appears to have let him down at this point; while he is clearly thinking of the Polari word 'palone' (girl), 'polony' (a corruption of Bologna) is a well-established term for a salami-type sausage.