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Sympathy for the Devil- Chapter Three 2/6

 

 Angel sputtered into a disbelieving laugh. “Sorry? What?”

Danny did not laugh. “I said,” he repeated, “they hang people for it. Capital ‘fence against the will of God and man, an’ that. Like– like murder. They hang,” he said, stressing this carefully, “people. For it.”

They hang people for being best mates and– and for sleeping together?” Nicholas couldn’t think. It was too infuriating, too confusing. “Why the hell would it be a capital offence against the will of man? What about, uh, lesbians, transgenderism?”

Shhhhh!” Danny hissed, frantically. “I dunno what that is! Look, I didn’t make it up, all right, don’t go off at me about it, just keep your voice down!”

I’m not going off at you!” whispered Nicholas, trying to quell his how DARE they rage. “I just– two years ago, they made civil partnerships legal for, for two men and two women. Look, it’s like if someone dropped you in the Dark Ages and someone told you they were going to throw you on a bonfire for liking to eat fish!”

Danny kicked a clump of snow, inadvertently getting it all up the side of his trousers. He couldn’t just put it off any longer, this question of belief. He was going to have to stop avoiding thinking about the issue and decide, properly, whether the new Constable was a completely insane heathen and a sexual deviant to boot, or actually from the future where... normal people just did stuff like that, apparently. He knew which one he wanted to believe, certainly, but…

F’r the last time, Nicholas,” he said, “you’re really tellin’ the truth about all this? Two-thousand-seven? You swear to God?” He screwed up his nose, momentarily thrown. “To– to somefin’, anyway?”

Yes,” said Nicholas. And, in a more brittle voice, “I didn’t know.”

Danny sighed, suddenly feeling a great deal easier in his mind. “‘S’ all right,” he said. “I din’t know either. This future of yours sounds bonkers if you ask me, but I’m not the one that’s from it, am I? Just– people round here aren’t used to that sort o’thing. I don’t even think my dad’d understand really, an’ he’s mad about progress.”

Hmm,” said Nicholas. “He ought to meet up with Frank, if that’s the case. ‘Cause Frank hated any... change from Sandford being a small village and nothing ever going wrong with it. The station only had one computer in it, and Tony Fisher mostly used it to play Solitaire. Well, before I came, anyway.” This suggested that either the computer had either been thrown out a window into a dustbin or Tony Fisher was currently using it to more useful ends.

Right,” said Danny. He sounded a bit quiet. He didn’t say what’s a computer? He didn’t say what’s a civil partnership? either. It was all too big, too endless, the things Angel knew that he didn’t, the decades of history that Danny would never see, let alone understand, all locked up there in Angel’s impossible memories. Danny’s curiosity was usually invincible, never satisfied, and he’d always wanted to know what was out there, beyond Sandford, maybe even beyond Gloucestershire or even England, but all this was just too much. He needed some normality, or at least its closest equivalent with Angel around.

What do you think we should do next?” he said. “About the– the case, I mean.”

Then he retraced the steps of the conversation in his head, paused, and added, a bit more brightly, “An’ anyway, that’s just daft. About you turning into– into him. I mean, you wouldn’t ever kill anyone, would you? That you didn’t have to, anyway.”

I don’t kill anyone, period,” said Angel, sounding a little more confident. It was something he could talk about with more clarity, and with the full force of the law behind him. It was very clear, however, that the previous discussion had shaken him badly. “I arrest them, and I make sure they’re put where they can’t hurt anyone anymore. If I have to shoot anyone, I shoot them in the shoulder or the leg. But..” and he smirked lopsidedly at himself, “I’m not much better than my Uncle Derek if they start mentioning the people I care about, am I?”

I am not going to forgive myself for that for a long time, he told his brain.

No, you’re not, it agreed.

He refocused. “We ought to gather witness reports, like we did with Messenger yesterday. Write everything down that everyone says right there, file it away. There’s no forensics, so I’ll just have to use what I know about that to put into that case as evidence, because while we don’t persecute innocent people, we can certainly work at proving them utterly guilty.”

Danny fished a small, badly-bound book out of his pocket. “I couldn’t talk to Will Messenger, but I had a word with Dr. Cleaver's 'prentice this morning. He was the second person there… ‘bout an half hour after Will, that is.”

Nicholas considered. “Good, good. What you got?”

Not much, really,” said Danny, flipping through the book. He had commandeered it from one of the farmhands the previous night, and the first quarter of it was already full of milk-yield figures. “It's all a bit of a mess. We were still all out looking, but Dr. Cleaver’s ‘prentice didn’t know that, and Dr. Cleaver’d gone out , so first thing he did when Will showed up at the dispensary was send him on to the station to get someone. Then he- Dr. Cleaver's 'prentice- went on to the Post Office.” He poked the book with a stubby index finger, once for each step in the sequence of events. “Will ran to the station, an’ Dad– he was the only one there– he took ‘Becky and got to the Post Office in ‘bout… ten minutes? ‘Bout half an hour after Dr. Cleaver’s ‘prentice got there in the first place. An’ he- Dad- brought Will back to the Post Office with him."

He turned a page. “Meanwhile, Dr. Cleaver was out on a house call, which is where Tom ran into him an' brought him t'see you, so he never knew nothing about it ‘til Dad came back to the station, after you were out of it. He got a right shock– him an’ Joe go right back, apparently.”

Hmm,” said Nicholas, thinking away from standing in the snow and the very real possibility of being hanged, to Joe Messenger’s nervous tics compared to the Doctor’s over-enthusiasm. “They would balance each other out, wouldn’t they…”

He blinked. “Wait, ‘Becky’?”

Danny had the decency to look a bit sheepish. “S’the station horse.”

Oh. For a second I thought you were talking about your mum.” Nicholas attempted to smile, hoping Danny wouldn’t take this as a joke at his expense. “Could I see her? The horse, I mean.”

Round the side,” said Danny, grinning good-naturedly and heading off through the untouched snow towards the station’s little lean-to stable, which was clearly an architectural afterthought. Inside, a lanky roan mare was investigating the contents of the hayrack with an attitude of unflappable stoicism. “Hur. No, my mum’s name was Catherine.”

My mum’s name is Amy. Amy Angel,” murmured Nicholas, avoiding several afterthoughts of the horse itself in the straw on the floor, and striding over to stroke her soft nose and pat down her neck, then froze. “Er. Was?”

Becky the horse tried to gently investigate Nicholas’s cuff and buttons with her mouth. Danny shrugged. “She died when I was twelve.”

Isn’t there a Danny anywhere in history who managed to keep his mum? screamed the back of Nicholas’s mind, outraged at the thought. Out loud, he muttered, “‘M sorry. Uh. How did it happen?”

Another shrug. Danny fiddled with the rack that held the tack and harness, brushing off some snow that had drifted through a small hole in the shingles overhead. “Died in her sleep. Doctor said that just happens sometimes.”

Er.” Nicholas wished, wished he could switch off when it was more appropriate, because it was practically impossible for him to stop questioning people for their story of what happened. This was why his dinner dates usually went rather horribly. “Was it like.. an aneurysm? Some sort of lung trouble?”

I dunno.” Danny blinked uncertainly. When an unquestionable authority tells you someone died in their sleep, that was really the be all and end all of it, a complete reason in itself. Especially when you were twelve, and it was your mum. “I think she always was a bit… coughy…"

Nicholas tried to shut up about Danny’s mum, and blurted out, “I’m glad my mum was there to raise me. I mean, there wasn’t much alternative, with her brother being in prison, and no one to look after her, but– but she was always supportive of me, even though there wasn’t any money, and I always tried to be the best I could for her.” Not paying thorough attention to where his hand was going on the horse, his fingers touched something sticky on the other side of the mane.

Yeah… I s’pose it’s the same with me an’ my dad,” said Danny, distantly. “After Mum died, I mean, it’s a big responsibility he’s got, but he always had time for me. Even when they offered him a big job in London, he could’ve sent me to live with Nan and Grandad an’ taken them up on it, he stayed here, brought me up. He says it’s the little changes in little places that really make a diffr’nce in the end.”

I’ve never met my father,” said Angel, staring at the hay. “I’ve never wanted to."

Danny coughed, embarrassed, sorting through a tangle of reins. Here we go again. “He ent dead?”

No. No idea where or who he is, don’t care.” Nicholas dropped his hand from the horse to help, ignoring a sharp throb from his ribs as he bent. “Here..”

Danny opened his mouth, thought, shut his mouth. On reflection, he decided, it was probably better to leave the discussion of illegitimacy and mentioning of such in polite company for a later date. He passed a tangle of leather and jangly bits– he was aware that they had a proper name, but he’d never been much of a horseman– silently across to Angel.

Yeah,” said Nicholas, beginning to untie the straps and bits from each other with two hands, one smeared with rust brown, looking down at them without really seeing. “Yeah. I’m not that thick. I know that one’s not exactly popular nowadays. Sorry.”

Uncomfortably, Danny looked down again as well- and in doing so, could hardly have avoided seeing what Angel was staring straight through. His eyes widened.

What’s that all over your hand?”

What?” Nicholas flexed his fingers, suddenly seeing them for the first time. “Oh. Oh! Jesus!” He scrubbed it on his pants in disgust, then sniffed it, and attempted again to take the first layer of skin off the back of his hand. “It’s blood.”

Where from?” Danny dropped the knot of reins and pushed urgently under a cartwheel which had been inconsiderately roped to the ceiling, “Is she hurt?” His hand stopped, partway through a hasty sweeping check of Becky the horse’s long, velvety neck. “Are you hurt?”

N-no, it’s old blood.” Nicholas was feeling the brown, iron-smelling stuff between his fingers. “I don’t think it’s hers, she’s not acting as if she’s hurt or bothered…”

I s’pose someone could have been riding an’ nicked themselves,” said Danny, slowly, still staring at Nicholas’s hand. “An’ not noticed. Or Will Messenger, last night?”

Too much to not have noticed,” said Nicholas, staring at Becky’s heavy-lidded eyes. The mare interpreted this as a clue that someone had sugar for her, and tried to fit her nose down Danny’s pocket to find it. “When was she last cleaned and brushed?”

I s’pose Dad must have done it, last night.” said Danny, looking slightly dubious. “Him an’ Will were the last ones on her. S'probably Joe's blood... from Will?”

Hmm.” Angel paced, frowning, nearly stepping in an afterthought. “Speaking of your dad, we need to get his official report on what exactly happened on this third murder, and, and try to interview the detainee again. Er. With you present, hopefully?”

Nicholas sounded nervous, as if his momentary loss of control proved that he couldn’t be trusted, or he didn’t quite trust himself anymore.

Yeah, all right,” said Danny, consolingly. He tended more towards staying still while thinking. It was one less thing to think about. “Don’t worry about it. He don’t half give me the willies, though. Even looks a bit–”

He stopped dead. What with all that talk of parents and children, something momentous, something showstopping, had just occurred to him.

Here,” he breathed. “Your– if this, this other Danny, right, if he looks a bit like me, you said, maybe… maybe we’re related.”

His lips moved as he tried to work it out. People had kids, he decided, when they were about twenty. Usually. He took a brave stab at imagining himself starting a family, to start off with, but this failed entirely, so in the end he simply gave up and just added another ten years on for the sake of unpredictable Dame Fortune. Twenty years. And another twenty. And another, and if the other Danny was about his age that was another couple of twenties, to get it up to somewhere in, say, the nineteen-sixties– an impossible, unimaginable date in itself, but manageable if it was just a case of numbers, so…

He could– he could be, like, my great, great, great… great grandson,” he said, eventually, clearly completely knocked for six by the thought.

Er,” said Nicholas, not looking at him. Clearly, he’d already thought along the lines of this, and found the subject a little uncomfortable. “He’s a decent bloke, unlike his dad. Collects action films like mad. Maybe’s got slightly bigger ears, and, and a little thinner, from physical therapy and coming on jogs. And the name…”

Yeah, well, names change, don’t they,” said Danny, thoughtfully. “Blimey. ‘Ey, I tell you what” he said, suddenly perking up, “you should think yourself lucky.”

Nick looked startled. “For what? Why? That people at home don’t lynch me in the cereal aisle when I’m shopping because they know?”

Danny grinned. “Nah, ‘cause the last time I went an’ told someone’s fam’ly I was goin’ courtin’ with their kid, her dad chased me off his land with a soddin’ great big blunderbuss.”

Nick grinned back, and it was suddenly like he and Danny his Danny were laughing over a pair of Cornettos about whoever Marcus Carter’s big brother’s latest conquest was. His chest really hurt at that. “Well, I wouldn’t worry about that. Maybe you’ll get promoted to Insp– Chief Constable one day, and whoever’s father it is will see that his daughter’s prospects aren’t too bad at all.” He scratched the back of his neck. “I don’t think either of us have, eh, parental blessings, yet. Probably not ever.”

Never mind, ‘ey,” shrugged Danny. “You never know, do you? Anyway, I won’t tie Becky up in string just yet,” he added, guiding the mare’s nose firmly away from where she had been quietly masticating his shirt pocket. “Just until we’re sure it’s anything. C’mon, let’s go see my dad.”

*

 

You want to see what?”

Angel, standing in front of the heavy Chief Constable’s desk, calmly repeated himself. “I’d like to take a look at the report on Joe Messenger’s death, sir. Danny said,” and he turned to his partner behind him for confirmation, “you were the first at the scene?”

Well, far be it for me to suggest how to proceed with your investigation,” said the Chief Constable, in a friendly tone which nevertheless suggested that it was actually very not far, and that was exactly what he was suggesting, “you’d be better off waiting for the result of the inquest. Which, I think, will be… tomorrow afternoon. Or popping down to Robert Palmer’s house to have a look at the body yourself, if you can’t wait that long.”

Angel paused. It was a little trying, to be the Inspector of a whole village, and then suddenly demoted down to square one without any reason whatsoever. “With due respect, sir, I just want to know the bare facts of the case from your notes. You,” small eyebrow-raise, “did make a report already, sir, didn’t you? Or at least half-finished?

Yes, thank you, Constable,” said his superior, smiling, “we’re not quite that slow around here.”

Sooo… could I see it? Sir?”

The Chief Constable sighed, smiled again, indulgently, and pulled a leather ledger across from where it had been sitting next to an inkwell and a extremely nice dip pen. “Very well.”

He flicked through the book in a leisurely fashion, licking his fingers a couple of times to separate stubborn pages, then stopped, cleared his throat, and read aloud.

On the twenty-first of the month of November, the year of Our Lord 1834, etcetera, the time being five of the clock. Summoned to Post Office on Norris Lane. Runner being one William Messenger, fifteen years of age, of the Post Office, same. Informed by Messenger younger that he had found his father, Joe Messenger, dead upon premises upon his return from his evening delivery rounds, at around four of the clock. Rode out immediately to scene, conveying Messenger younger.”

He turned the page, glancing up at Angel and Danny in a faintly humouring fashion. “Apprentice physician Charlie Halper, Jew, twenty-two years of age, already in attendance at scene. Had pronounced Joe Messenger dead at what he approximated to be half-past-four of the clock. Victim was found upon back doorstep of residence, with serious head injury, inflicted with heavy, blunt instrument, and laceration to the throat. Halper estimated either injury fatal as of itself. Traces of blood found in back yard, along with footprints leading into fields, in direction of Old Bristol Road. Halper estimated victim had been dead for approximately three hours, placing the murder at around two of the clock. This ties in with statement of Messenger younger, as well as that of second-to-last known person to see Joe Messenger alive, Constable Danny Buttleman.” He winked at Danny, then closed the ledger and folded his hands together, leaning forwards over it. “Constable Angel, you can add your corroboration to all that, if you’d be so kind. It seems you were the last known person to see him alive, you see, although I gather you were rather out of it this morning.”

Sir,” said Angel, annoyed at being talked down to, but keeping it from his face, “his last words to me were if he could spare his boy for the search, and I told him not to put further citizens in danger, especially for the boy being underage. That’s all I have to add.”

After a second, he amended, “Impressive report, sir."

Thank you, Constable,” said his superior, drily. “We do our best.” He sat back. “Of course, we mustn’t jump to conclusions… but both Constable Turner and Horace Cleaver have issued sworn statements that our man had reasonably fresh blood on his hands after he was apprehended, which can’t have been from the previous night’s, ah, activities. Did you get anything out of him yet?”

Nossir,” said Angel, after a pause. “Not yet. I was just about to give another try: my mind was… kind of groggy, earlier.”

I’m not surprised,” snorted the Chief Constable, sympathetically. “Horace’s been doling out that tincture of his for every bruise and cough in the village ever since we were both barely out of short trousers. Between you and I, the sooner we can a get a decent modern practitioner in his place, the better.”

He didn’t seem to be… too out-of-date. No phrenology, no, er, humours to balance. Didn’t offer me turpentine or some magical cure-all tonic. I just think the… the technology has to catch up, sir. Like modern plumbing– things that help keep down disease and provide for public sanitation all at once. Sir.”

And this fingerprinting idea of yours,” said the Chief Constable, quite enthusiastically. “Did you know that certain experts suggest there may be a way of discerning whether or not a certain firearm fired a certain projectile?”

Yessir,” said Angel, and didn’t add But that’s because we can track them by make and follow the paper trail of receipts and have forensic ballistics down to a science by now. Standing at ease, hands held behind his back, he actually said “It’s called rifling. Because of the grooves in the barrel, the bullet is marked when fired. Like a signature in a scratch.”

I should have guessed it’d be no news to you.” The Chief Constable chuckled. “Of course, it’s still highly theoretical stuff, but if it really does work, well, there’s no such thing as too much evidence, is there?”

Nossir. Just wait until there’s blood-spatter analysts everywhere, sir.” CRAP, why did I just say that? Nicholas tried looking as casual as his big fat honest face could manage, very much not glancing around to shoot Danny a panicked look.

His superior looked slightly confused, glanced between Angel and Danny. “Blood-spatter analysts?”

Er… people who study the spray patterns of blood, and how fast it cools, and picking blood fibres out of lint traps, etc,” said Nicholas, who was practically incapable of telling a lie, and feeling really quite caught out at the moment. “It helps identify murderers, gives an estimated time of death, and so on. Because you can never have too much evidence. Sir."

There was a short silence.

Which is all very remarkable, but it doesn’t quite explain why you two look like you’ve been caught raiding the orchard,” said the Chief Constable. Quite lightly, as if to a pair of recalcitrant schoolchildren. Behind Angel there was a creak of floorboards as Danny shifted anxiously on his feet. “What is it?”

I’ve never stolen a thing in my life, sir,” protested Angel. Which was true, aside from taking half a weapons cache to deal with the NWA. But he’d put it all back afterwards and labeled it again (which turned out to be a bit pointless, considering what happened to Tom Weaver and everything else in the station.) “Let alone an apple. I’m only trying to put a murderer behind bars. Permanently,” he added. “For life.”

The Chief raised his eyebrows. “Well, for until the next Assizes, at any rate.”

Sorry, the next what?”

Assizes,” was the patient reply. “After that, with the case we have against him, well, he’ll shortly proceed to a higher court than any mortal law can decree.”

Um,” said Nicholas, who was smart enough to figure out what ‘Assizes’ meant from the context of the next sentence. “Look, I was kind of hoping to keep the, er, hanging statistics down, when I came here. Isn’t it possible to send someone somewhere for the rest of their natural life? A high-security prison, perhaps? A hospital, failing that?”

The Chief Constable looked evenly back at Nicholas. “You’re proposing that we do not apply the death penalty to a man who has committed three cold-blooded murders. A man who, with no motive or provocation, has killed three unarmed men, and who, Danny tells me, may have committed multiple other murders in the past. You think this is… a reasonable position to take, Constable? Not to say, even a defensible one?”

A copper who murders in the name of the law is no copper at all,” said Angel. Frank taught you that one, said his mind, and he agreed, albeit reluctantly. “And while my opinion doesn’t affect local law enforcement, I think it’s a little hypocritical to execute a murderer. Don’t you think, sir?”

Constable Angel,” said the Chief Constable, sharply, ”I like to keep up to date on these statistics, and if my memory serves me correctly, last year sixty-nine people were executed for murder in the capital alone. Thirty-seven of them in your central Metropolitan borough. And, since I’ve heard only good things about your arrest-versus-conviction figures, I can only assume that you had a hand in a fair number of those cases. Under the circumstances, I can hardly understand your reservations.”

He leaned forwards. “Unless, of course, it is your opinion that this man is insane.”

I didn’t do that! thought Angel, quite a bit lost. I haven’t done any of that! And, suddenly: Why do I have an arrest record for a time I’ve never existed in? For that matter how did they know I was coming? They’ve got all the paperwork on me for things I’ve never done, or maybe there’s another Nicholas Angel in this time period who got attacked by highway bandits halfway to Sandford and I’m in his place, WHY AM I IN HIS PLACE?! And his brain went: Dunno. But I think your senior officer wants an answer.

Er. I think he’s ultimately sane, but also a bit disturbed. His wife killed herself, and he hasn’t been the same since. I’ve collared him before, but I know my moral limits, sir. Guilty is one thing, hanging is another.”

A criminal guilty of murder, Constable, is a man undeserving of life,” said the Chief Constable, coldly. “And suffering a murderer to live, simply because it offends your, ah, standards, would appear to be placing a very poor value on the life they have taken. We are sworn to uphold the Law, man, and the Law decrees that the penalty for this criminal’s deeds is death. You can’t pick and choose the Law. I’m very surprised that I should need to tell you this,”

I know the Law,” said Nicholas, “and I believe in its potential for justice. But it isn’t always right. So I uphold it in the best way I know how. Besides, killing the man down below in the cells won’t bring back Carter, Wheeler, Messenger, or anyone else he’s killed, will it? What is the point?”

The point is sending a message,” said the Chief Constable. “The point is bringing a murderer to justice, the point is doing your job in determining the guilt of this man and allowing the criminal courts to do theirs, as they will do, under the jurisdiction of the King and the will of God. And the point, Constable Angel, is doing as your superior officer tells you to, and proceeding with this case without recourse to petty hypothetical debate.”

Angel briefly felt the impulse to strangle this man, snap his neck. And then he remembered that he’d actually tried to do so to the other Frank down in his little cell, and the anger and adrenaline were washed away by the sick horror, the potential for it happening again. He dug his nails into his palms and focused on the pain in his chest.

Yes, sir. Although in my experience, using the law to prove a point can only go so far.”

Good,” said the Chief Constable, who had been watching his reaction closely. He smiled, and although the smile said that the conversation was over it was also forgiving, apologetic even. “Never let it be said that I don’t respect the views of my officers, Constable. Your fresh attitude and your advice have already proven to be quite invaluable to me. And, after all, all this is a big change for you.”

He waved a hand, expansively. “We’re bound to have some teething troubles, adjustment issues. And, as I said earlier, it’s a wonder you’re up and about today at all. We can discuss this again later, after you’ve had another go at getting something out of our prisoner.”

Yessir,” said Angel, turning on his heel, giving Danny behind him an urgent lets get the fuck out of here right now before I seriously fuck this up look, and left the office.

Cor, I thought you two were going to have a right old ding-dong for a minute there,” breathed Danny, once they were safely out in the corridor. He sighed, undoing the first couple of buttons of his tunic. “Could've told you he'd be less than happy 'bout the report, though, he hardly never lets anyone see that book of his. An' all that about the death penalty... I s’pose some things, Dad just isn’t very modern about at all."

Considering the death penalty was repealed permanently six years before I was born?” said Nicholas. “I’d say no, he’s really not ready for modern policing.” His hands were shaking. “Come on, go get your stab vest. Tell me where we can find some coarse black cloth, two needles and thread, and some white paint, and we’ll go to work in the cells."

continue...

 

 

Comments

( 1 comment — Leave a comment )
random_nexus
Jun. 12th, 2009 08:39 pm (UTC)
I swear, Nicholas just needs a shock collar to stop him opening his mouth too many times! *giggle*
Still a bajillion tonnes of win and awesome.

\o/
( 1 comment — Leave a comment )

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