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Sympathy for the Devil- Chapter Three 4/6

 

 

Even in the late afternoon, business in the Crown was hardly booming. A few shepherds had taken over the seats at the bar, and their various hyperactive or snoozing sheepdogs got underfoot and quarreled with each other and made the warm public room smell like wet fur.

 

When Nicholas and Danny walked in, the hum of conversation dropped a fraction. People seemed rather unsure how on earth to take it. Someone indefinite was heard to mutter something something about not knowing that the circus was coming to town.

 

Excuse me,” said Nicholas, striding to the bar and addressing the innkeeper. “Out of pure charity and celebration, I’d like to offer a round of drinks for everyone in the pub. On me.” He put down a shilling on the bar. Drunk and disorderly be damned. They had body armor now.

 

'Everyone in the pub' turned out to be nine people, including the innkeeper, Danny and Angel, and an unusually opportunistic barmaid. The mood mellowed considerably. The tide of opinion swayed rather rapidly in the direction of the police force, these two examples in particular, being a fine body of men.

 

Danny negotiated his pint over to the same table he and Angel had sat at before. Before he sat down, however, he noticed something and gave Angel a careful nudge, alerting him to the corner bar, where Dr. Cleaver was sitting. The doctor had his free pint in front of him, but he didn’t look any happier about it.

 

Angel coughed, putting his pint down and giving Danny a look that said, back in five minutes.

 

He slid in next to the doctor on the bar. “Doing alright, sir?”

 

Dr. Cleaver gave him a slightly unsteady sideways look. He was clearly several notches past good and drunk, and in an age where the beer was safer than the water and the average man had developed a liver made from reinforced concrete by the time he was twenty, that was saying something.

 

Oss… Off’cer,” he slurred, moodily, raising his tankard slightly in thanks. His hearty, educated voice didn’t adapt well to inebriation, losing track of all the little places where the gaps between the words should go. “How’s’th rib?”

 

Doing fine. I still can’t walk very fast, and pulling on clothes seems to be a bit of a chore. I’ve spent most of today inside, though, so I’ve been staying out of the cold snap as you said.” Angel eyed the man, carefully, and said, “I’m glad to have met Messenger before he died. He seemed a good man.”

 

W’zza best,” agreed Dr. Cleaver, emotionally. “Joe was, was like a’younger…” He had to think about this for a while, the appropriate relation taking several seconds to occur to him. “Younger brother, t’me.”

 

Angel smiled. “Had to look after him, did you?”

 

The doctor nodded. “Was never really th’same after his sister died. Alice. M’brother’s wife, y’see. ‘Fluenza took ‘em both in ‘22. Him and William don’t have any other family around here, his brother lives all th’way over in Castle Cary.” He focused unsteadily into the bottom of his tankard. “Horribleplace. Full of pigeons.”

 

I’ve heard the name Castle Cary before, thought the part of Angel’s brain that couldn’t shut itself off. Recently, in fact.

 

Unsanitary?” he asked. “Do they have a good doctor over there, at least?”

 

Dr. Cleaver snorted in a distinctly uncomplimentary fashion. “I’ve heard they’got some idiot Paddy. Got a mania about bloody baths, ‘f’allthings. Treats everybloodything by sticking you in a bath.”

 

I wouldn’t mind a bath, thought Angel. In fact, I wish most people here would take one every two days, at least. Everything smells like sheep. But as this probably wouldn’t go down very well with Dr. Cleaver at the moment, –and neither would giving him a lecture on the powers of political correctness– he said, “How’s the boy holding up at your place?”

 

The doctor wiped his mouth, despondently. “He’s a good lad,” he mumbled. “S’uncle’s coming for him. S’going to live with him in that, that bloodytown. There’s another perfec’ly good tradesman in the making San’ford won’t see in a hurry. I’spose,” he continued, with some vitriol, “as far as Mister High’n’mighty Semaphoreman’s concerned we can all sit an’ whistle for another postman, jus' like we can f'r a semaphore tower.”

 

You’d think it’d be a little difficult for his uncle to come all the way here, if it’s so far away,” said Angel, absently. “Through all the snow and everything.”

 

By now, Dr. Cleaver had clearly hit the depressive half of the intricate world of semi-paralytic inebriation full in the face. His shoulders were hunched over his pint as if he had half a mind to topple in and drown in it, and it was unclear if he’d even heard Angel at all. “What a bloody world. What sortof, what sort of way is that for a good man to go?” Ffft. Nothing left. Arse upwards on y’rown back doorstep and nothing t’show for it but footprints in th’snow. We’re all… just…”

 

He trailed off, morosely.

 

I know,” said Angel, giving him as friendly a pat on the back as he dared. He’d never been particularly touchy-feely, even at the best of times. “I’ve seen worse.” Specifically, a man having his head imploded by a falling church spire like a watermelon full of blood. Dramatic, yes. Dignified? No.

 

Y’r a good lad,” was the vague response. “As f’r that bastard, f’y’ask me, y’should stringim up on a lamp-post. N’scuse me,” the doctor added, slipping from his chair, thumping Angel quite unnecessarily hard on the shoulder, and starting to weave through the tables towards the pub’s back door. The tables were mainly empty, but he weaved through them nevertheless.

 

Angel sighed, rubbing at the taut lines on his forehead, and sat back down with Danny. “I couldn’t have managed half of what that man’s had to drink,” he said, sipping at his own pint of lager.

 

Danny watched the doctor’s tweedy back wobble out of sight. “Bad night to get knocked down by a cart,” he observed. “You’d prob’ly end up with your foot sewn to your for’ead.”

 

You should try getting hit by a car,” said Angel, managing another third of his tankard. “Five times as fast and more unpredictable. I’ve still got scars.”

 

What about,” said Danny, in the tones of one assembling a major scientific inquiry, “if you got your foot or something totally torn off. Could they sew it back on?”

 

Angel considered. “Yes,” he said, after a minute. “If you weren’t too mangled, and they thought it’d be more convenient than a prosthetic bouncy running foot. You’d have to go through a lot of physical therapy and have the foot put on ice until surgery so the tissue wouldn’t die or whatever, but yes. The surgeons could reattach that foot, and you might be able to run on it again.”

 

What about your head?”

 

Um. No. I don’t think they’ll ever manage that one. They can operate on a human brain, though, and remove things like tumors. While the person’s still awake.”

 

Danny grinned and shook his head, incredulously. “Y’know, I’d never believe all this if I hadn’t seen you an’ him just start talkin’ about all of it like it was normal.”

 

Well, I suppose if a magical half-cyborg policeman from the 23rd century ever falls into the Sandford Castle catacombs, I’ll have to ask him if they can un-decapitate people yet.” Nicholas smirked. His first pint was already mostly gone. “It is normal, for me, and him, that we’ve got cars and roads and a more organized police force, and a electronic system for everyone to keep records and talk to each other with. It’s so normal you wouldn’t think twice about it. Calling someone halfway around the world over the phone. Playing solitaire and pinball on a computer. You listen to your favorite songs on the radio. Epidemics aren’t really deadly anymore, it’s more like everyone stays home from the office and takes antibiotics. This, here, for me, is the weird world.”

 

Danny shrugged. “S’not that weird,” he said. “Just a bit– a bit quiet, sometimes. I mean, don’t get me wrong,” he started, a bit self-consciously, “I love Sandford, and I know the whole point is you have to make stuff change, right, like Dad says, but I dunno. Sometimes, I’d just like to be somewhere where everything’s always happening all the time, you know? Where you don’t have to force it.”

 

Sandford’s always going to be like that,” said Nicholas. “I mean, aside from thirteen years of suppressed murder and the gigantic firefight that ended it all. There’s still mostly farms, the Crown’s still here. There’s just a little more luxury to go around.”

 

Don’t think anyfin’ could get rid of the Crown,” said Danny. Then he perked up a bit, and nudged Nicholas’s empty pint with his own. “Talkin’ of which, same again?”

 

Alright,” agreed Nicholas, and started in on his second pint.


 

*


 

There was something nudging at his brain, now. Something beer. Important. It was the end of his third day here, and he’d had his position taken away, had his rib broken, been horribly drugged, and now he was, he was relatively sure, a bit drunk, and the tiny Inspector in the back of his mind was still pacing, not switched off at all. It was also trying to scream at him. It wasn’t fair. Most people were able to go to sleep and have that part of themselves, if they had it, shut up. Nicholas was tired of it being awake. Where was Danny? Danny could always shut it off. Oh, there. No. Not Danny. Grandfather Danny. Funny, he looked younger and more innocent than Nicholas could imagine anyone ever being, let alone for being a hundred and whatever years older than him. And Nicholas was the one giving advice. That didn’t really make sense.

 

Airplanes,” he was saying. “Fly innim. Fly ‘cross oceans.”

 

The back of his mind nudged a little harder.

 

We gotta plane,” Danny said, into his fourth pint. He wasn’t quite as far gone as Nicholas, but he was hardly handling it as well as he normally did, either. After all, it had been a very long day, he had a lot to wrap his head around, and neither of them had had any lunch. “An’ a, thingy, a lathe. S’inna stable.”

 

Cannit fly?” persisted Nicholas, who was barely into his third pint. “Cannit go to Greece and New York an’ Tokyo, an’ drop megatons of explosives on helpless popul’ces? I dun think so. We,” he repeated, under his breath, “can fly, on machines. Don’t even leave footprints inna snow.”

 

Footprints! screamed the completely furious, miserable, and sober Inspector. Footprints, you sad excuse for an Inspector! Think!

 

Alright, footprints. Shaped like feet. You don’t make them when you fly.

 

D’need ‘em,” said Danny, stubbornly. “We got boats. Ships. Like– like th’Buford Abbey ferry, only huge.” He waved a hand, presumably to indicate the hugeness, and knocked an empty tankard off the table. “Whups.”

 

He looked at it lying on the floor for a moment or two, as if admiring its geometric placement– or possibly just waiting for it to return to the singular– then ducked slowly under the table to retrieve it, a maneuver which involved several stages.

 

“‘Nyway,” continued the table. “People can’t fly. Well… well-known fact. Air’s all thin, innit? Y’r head’d blow up. Like, like you were tellin’ me, like thingy Mess’nger’s.”

 

Messenger! Footprints!

 

S’why there’s cabin pressure,” said Nicholas. “Buh I still get migraines innim. Doesn’t really feel like flying should, anyway.”

 

He paused, taking a cue from the infuriated little Inspector, and tried to get a little more serious.

 

“‘Nny, I’m real. Right? From the future. But, but you people ha’ an arrest record says I did stuff. Here. Tha’ I hanged p’ple. S’not me, that. Someone else diddit. Where izzie?”

 

Danny re-emerged, frowning. “Dunno,” he said. “Dunno what y’r onnabout.” He managed to place the tankard back on the tabletop on the second try. “Where’s who? I mean, I mean, we knew you were coming. C’nstable Angel. An’… an’ you did. S’only you came fr’m the future, right, not London. Thassal. Annitduzmyheadin,” he complained, in one breath, “thinkin’ ‘bout it.”

 

The– the other me. Constable Angel. I’m’n ‘Spector. Never ‘ung anyone. Hanged. How’dyou know I wus coming?”

 

Dunno. Dad ‘ranged it. Y’was a bit late, but…” Danny shrugged, then gave Angel a closer look. “Here, r’you alright?”

 

What, ‘side from having no clue how to go back home? I wanna know where the… the other Angel is. Side of the road? Got lost? Killed? Your dad makin’ it all up? Couldn’t have done all that and been me. And footprints in the snow.”

 

The Inspector was overjoyed. For one second, the idiot in charge had muttered what it had been chanting for the last three minutes.

 

Thass’ second time you said that,” said Danny, woozily.

 

Was it?” Angel frowned. “Din’t know it was ‘portant.”

 

And then it was like someone dumped a giant sobering pitcher of slush down his back.

 

Footprints in the snow MESSENGER walking in snow talking to Danny about death statistics and magical modern marvels no not in snow, hadn’t started snowing, he hadn’t been running on snow to get to the search parties, on frozen ground he’d have broken his neck running on snow like that. Which meant there wasn’t any snow. Which meant there wasn’t any–

 

Danny,” he breathed. It felt like he’d popped a clogged vessel in his brain. “Danny, when’dit start snowing, that day?”

 

Danny wrinkled his nose, looking up at the yellowy ceiling as if the answer might be helpfully written in the clouds of pipe smoke which had gathered there. His capacity for instant information retrieval was in no way aided by the amount of Old Peculiar in his system. “Er… bit after four? We’was inna fields, jus’ b’fore we ran into whassisname. After four, ‘nyway.”

Doctor Cleaver jus’ said ‘footprints inna snow.’ Atta crime scene, right? An, an your dad said ‘footprints leadin’ off’. Into the fields, right? You heard it too, yeah?” Nicholas grabbed for Danny’s wrist, and managed it the second time. “Danny, how can there be footprints, if, if, Messenger was killed at two pee-em, before it started snowing?”

 

He stood up. The room reeled, and the opposite wall and rafters nearly dragged him into its undertow and slid him over onto his back, but he fought it off. “We gorra go. Now.”


 

*


 

There was a good moon that night, and the thick drifts of settled snow reflected its light back off the ground with an eerie brightness. Dark parallel tracks ran down the street where the odd cart had trundled through the drifts, which was very useful if you happened to be both on foot and three sheets to the wind, because it gave some indication of how to travel in a straight line.

 

With great economic sense, Danny had responded to having to leave the pub in such a hurry by draining his fourth pint in one go before he left, and now he had hiccups, or rather some weird variety of anti-hiccup which cut big chunks of silence out of his words as he tried to suppress them.

 

You s–– ‘bout this?” he said. “D–– Cleaver was in a bit of a st––.”

 

No,” said Angel, stumbling and being minorly aware that his rib was going to hurt like seven kinds of hell tomorrow for moving this fast. “I’m nuh– not sure at’all. I dint go out to check the sceniss morning ‘cause I thought there’d– there’d be an ackerit– axe– methodiggle report, an, an, the doctor said ‘stay out of the cold’. But if the– the snow wasn’t there, they couldn’t’ve made footprints, yeah? If, if Joe Messenger was murdered on top of snow, that means he was killed while Frank Butterman was onna fields. Which, which means,” he paused, searching for the right word, “that he’s telling the truth. There’s another killer in this town. That Frank might be innocent, this time. He took a deep breath. “And we don’t charge not-guilty people with crimes, even if they look the part. Remember?”

 

Yeh,” said Danny, stumbling over a pothole. “Can’t h–– got fr’m there to top of Old Br–– road that fast. Not even onna cart. Or a– a car.” He halted, halfway down a row of cottages to their right. “Here, here’s the Post Office.”

 

It takes ‘bout two anna half minutes to go a mile inna car,” corrected Angel. “Under speed limit. I gotta fine for faster’n’at. But en’t any cars here. So, yeah, ‘mpossible.”

 

I wish you’d sl–– slow down,” said Danny, exasperatedly, as they approached the Post Office. It was dark and silent, the side gate still standing open. “Dr. Cl–– Dr.–– he’d ‘ave a fit if he saw you runnin’ about with that r–– rib.”

 

To hell with the rib,” said Nicholas, who was ignoring some unpleasant grinding vibrating up through his sternum. “We’re so close.”

This was the reason you had an Inspector in your head, to listen to the things you weren’t really paying attention to at the moment, because all you could think about was exactly how miserable you were, to set you after things to distract you from that singular fact, to keep you busy and on the balls of your feet at all times, to make you be the best bloody police officer anyone had ever seen.

 

Even if he wouldn’t shut off, he kept you alive, and even now he was sobering up Nicholas as fast as his body could take it.

 

There was a lantern hanging from a beam just beside the locked front door, and Danny unhooked it as they passed, fumbling in his trouser pockets for matches. He had what could have been called a hate-hate relationship with his own duty lantern, which was currently at the smithy for mending after the events of Saturday night, and as a result his pockets were full of bits of tinder, crumbly candle stubs, and matches.

 

He struck one on the wall as they turned the corner, and it caught with a bright sulphurous flare, illuminating the scrubby, snow-filled back yard.

 

S’all snowed over, right?” said Nicholas, punching new footprints in the semi-even snow surface. “Footprints have been all filled in, yeah? Looks like there’s no evidence?

 

Yeah,” said Danny, lighting the lantern. He was fighting the part of him that distinctly felt that the only thing it wanted to do now was amble home and fall asleep, perhaps while re-reading something like The Unparalleled Adventure of Hans Pfaall or The Devil in the Belfry. “An’ it’s sodding cold an’ all.”

 

Yeah,” said Nicholas, not really listening. “Now, he was killed over there, right?” He pointed at where a network of barely noticeable divots along the top of the snow met, barely two feet from the former postman’s back door. “Come on, help me brush ‘way to about.… two inches above the ground.”

 

Danny hooked the lantern over the stark, leafless branch of a bush and started brushing at the snow, wincing as the cold quickly started to numb his bare fingers. “What’re we lookin’ for?”

 

His blood,” said Nicholas, already scooping aside the inches with his own bare hands. “Maybe. Id’lly, we’d do this with gloves on, so we wouldn’t have to touch it, but–”

 

Gloves’d be a great idea,” muttered Danny, brushing away industriously. “Stop our fingers fallin’ off, for a start.”

 

Nicholas– being careful to sweep evenly to one side, in an attempt to keep a sort of control experiment level of snow to measure against so he could see how far down they were going– was the first to run into a patch of pink, darker under the layer fully absorbing it, and he used his other hand to press down with a finger until he could touch the earth. “Two inches,” he announced. “That fucking report was wrong, wrong, wrong.”

 

Danny stared at the pink slush by Nicholas’s hands. “Charlie Halper must’ve gotten mixed up or somefin’,” he said. “Messed the times up. Dad says, never trust…”

 

At this point, the part of Danny which was still very much awake, did not care about cold fingers, did not want to be at home reading about mystery and excitement when mystery and excitement was happening for real right in front of him, and above all, wanted Nicholas to continue speaking to him, took a good run-up and drop-kicked the rest of this sentence into oblivion before it could emerge from his mouth.

 

We’ve gotta tell someone,” he said, instead.

 

Yeah,” said Nicholas, suddenly able to stand up without wobbling. Much. “Yeah, we should go back to the station.” He jammed his fingers into the armpits of his fleece-filled vest, suddenly shivering, and, stepping with care over the excavated site, started back. “Sorry, what were you saying? ‘Never trust a doctor’?”

 

Er… yeah,” said Danny. “Doctors. Can’t stand ‘em. C’mon,” he added, hastily, retrieving his lantern. “Let’s get this done.”


 

*


 

Surprisingly, although it was seriously late by the time they got back to the station, and Miss Thatcher’s desk in the front room was deserted, Frank Buttleman was still in his office. He was writing a letter at his desk, and responded to Angel’s polite knock at his open door with a slightly pre-occupied “Yes, Constable?”

 

Angel was certainly a lot more together than he’d been at the pub, but he was slurring words in his excitement, and he stank of a man three days without a shower and a shave and, obviously, of alcohol. “Sir! The man in th’ cells is innocent, sir! He’uz at a different place when the third murder happened! We were apprehending him at the time! Sir!”

 

The Chief Constable looked at him for a moment, eyebrowns raised, then at Danny.

 

Is’true, Dad,” said Danny, urgently. “Charlie Halper was talkin’ out his– his– he was– he was wrong.”

 

Constable Angel,” said the Chief, putting his pen down and choosing to ignore Danny for the moment, “have you been drinking?”

Angel stopped, suddenly on the defensive. At home, he’d be criticized for being a city lightweight, a prude, and a prick. Clearly the situation was a little different, here.

 

Only while off-duty, sir. But it was only because we went that I managed to figure it out. Ti– Joe Messenger was murdered at four or later, sir, and I can prove it.”

 

You’re wearing… well, I’m not quite sure exactly what you’re wearing, but it says ‘Police’ on it,” his superior pointed out, politely. “That would seem to indicate that you are on duty, would it not? Or, at the very least, representing the Force.”

 

To– to–” Why had he worn it, again? “To familiarize the local populace with the ‘xistence of stab vests, sir.”

 

I see,” said the Chief Constable. “Specifically, the population of the Crown.” A moment or two passed, and then he smiled, understandingly. “While I commend your dedication to duty, Constable, you have to appreciate this puts me in a slightly difficult position. The Superintendent of Buford Abbey Gaol is expecting a report from me, you see, explaining the investigation into the deaths of his men. Let’s say,” he continued, indicating Nicholas towards the chair in front of his desk with a wave of his hand, “that I were to tell the Superintendent that we are not intending to charge our suspect with these murders. I think it’s very likely he’d ask why, don’t you? And then, I have to say, well, Constable Angel told me he was innocent. While under the influence of alcohol. I think you have to agree, he may not be as understanding about it as I am.”

Angel sat.

 

He may not be innocent,” he said, gritting his teeth, sobering up another notch through sheer anger, “but there’s another killer, sir. I don’t know why he targeted Messenger, but the man’s dead. And it’d be a poor thing to hang the wrong man for a crime and let the real culprit get away.”

 

The Chief Constable looked at him in silence for what seemed like a long time. Perhaps he was trying to gauge just how drunk Angel really was. Whatever he saw, however, seemed to convince him that his new Constable was at least totally in earnest, because his expression lost its humouring edge and he leaned seriously forwards.

 

All right, Constable, I’ll tell you what. As serious as it is, I’m going to say that this can wait till morning. It’s late, and I need to know I can rely on your judgment– and I think you do, too. I’ll note down all you’ve said, and we can go over it first thing tomorrow morning.”

 

Sir,” said Angel, deflating a bit but still not able to stop grinding his teeth. “I’ll be upstairs, then, if you need me for anything else.”

 

Goodnight, Constable. I’m sorry the accommodation at the Crown didn’t turn out to be to your liking, by the way.” The Chief Constable picked up his pen again, smiled. “Then again, it’s useful to know exactly where to find you.”

 

The room in the police station was certainly more to Angel’s liking, even though there was still a cold, damp splatch on the floor next to his bed. It was warmed through the floorboards, had something that could actually pass itself off as a mattress (which didn’t look like the kind that would sport creepy-crawlies while you slept), and you didn’t have to hear the particulars going on between your neighbors at 3 in the morning. But despite being effectively sent to his room by his superior, and feeling dozy from still being pissed, he just wasn’t quite done.

 

There’s always something going on, Danny, he’d said, once, and since he didn’t have his squeeze-grip here, he’d simply have to occupy himself some other way.

The room was empty.

 

His depressing trunk leered at him.

He opened it. Nicholas would be damned if he’d have to read that bible, but, maybe–

 

Something clicked across the lid, and the top folded down to form a rudimentary, built-in writing desk. There was a tiny capsule of ink, strapped onto the roof of the lid, and, mockingly, a dip pen –by this point, Nicholas was ready to give the future inventor of the biro full sexual favors for an alternative– and a few sheafs of paper. Wherever this other Angel was at the moment, he must paid two or three weeks wages to a skilled cabinet-maker to fit the addition so smoothly into an ordinary traveling trunk. Probably part of the reason it had felt so heavy when Nicholas had picked it up.

Angel sighed, and for sheer lack of anything else to do, started to learn how to write all over again.

continue...

 

Comments

( 2 comments — Leave a comment )
random_nexus
Jun. 14th, 2009 07:23 pm (UTC)
*grumbles* Nicholas needs to NOT drink right now, makes him look a fool.

This is so GOOD! I'm totally caught up and so eager to see What's Going To Happen Next! Win, more win, and pie! \o/
luvstories
Aug. 30th, 2012 02:31 am (UTC)
This may be three years old, but may I say, This is a MARVELOUS PIECE OF WORK!!!!

I can tell that so much effort was put into it! And while you may have moved on to other fandoms, may I thank you for leaving this where it is so that we (Fuzzfans) can continue to enjoy it! ^_^

Thank you Thank you Thank you Thank you Thank you Thank you!
( 2 comments — Leave a comment )

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