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Sympathy for the Devil- Chapter Four 1/3

 

 

Chapter Four: Thursday

The twenty-fourth of November, 1834



There was a time they called me
Lucifer
I'm in need of some restraint



Something was wrong. A confused mutter like an autumn breeze swept through the crowd as those who couldn't see demanded details from those who had a better view. No-one had climbed on to the stool, willingly or otherwise, and nobody had said any last rites, but the young man beneath the gallows had collapsed, the rope of the noose placed around his neck slipping through the surprised hands of the man who had been holding it, falling to the ground face-first with the coils of hemp settling around him like a disturbed snake. A couple of enterprising members of the mob stepped forwards to turn him over–

What happened next happened so quickly that barely anyone managed to follow it at all. A loud crack ripped through the cold air, shocking and unmistakable, the thick smoky dry-branch report of a gunshot. The echoes of it rattled around the cobbles and the shopfronts like a swarm of angry bees. Half the crowd dived for cover, and a few near the gallows would later swear blind that they saw the bullet in flight, but what nobody could dispute was its target.

Frank Butterman stood, alone and straight-shouldered, in the centre of a huddle of ducking, cowering people. He looked, if anything, mildly incredulous, staring out across the square in the direction of an alley on the far side. Then he coughed, once, bent his head, and raised his dirty hands to his chest, as if saying a prayer. They came away bloody, a stream of scarlet already slipping down his chin, more of it blooming and soaking the ragged front of his shirt.


As he slumped forwards and fell, eyes glazing, some were already following his line of sight across the square to where a single figure stood, unmoving, in the alley.

"That's for Joe," said Dr. Cleaver, lowering his smoking pistol with grim satisfaction.

If the Chief Constable had been a slightly less intelligent or enterprising man, he would have probably said something like, 'here now, you can't take the law into your own hands!', and then suffered some odd looks, having just led a whole town into hanging two men without trial and on sheer hearsay.

However, he merely looked.. disappointed, and then quickly covered it up with satisfaction.

"Well, then, it seems our doctor has executed some… divine providence. Well, Horace, now that you've seen to them, better check for vitals, hmm?

If it occurred to Horace Cleaver to disobey the Chief Constable, he showed no sign of it in his face or actions. Instead, he moved like a sleepwalker through the crowd, who drew back from the man whom they were used to taking their temperatures and doling out tonics and cure-alls with a hearty smile, now walking past them with a gun and a blank, businesslike face.


He reached the body of the convict first, stooped and jammed a thumb into the side of his slack, unshaven neck, at the line of the jaw. Then he looked up at Frank Buttleman and jerked a sombre nod.


The young Constable took longer. As the crowd stood silently around him, Dr. Cleaver felt for a pulse for some time, frowning, grasped one wrist, placed a hand over his nose and mouth, listened and waited. Finally, he replaced the limp arm across the young man's chest, got to his feet, and spoke.

"He's dead. His heart, I think, Frank." He glanced over towards the orange light in the sky. “All that smoke...”

Frank Buttleman, arsonist, murderer, and currently masquerading as the effective leader of an entire village, heaved a great sigh. "Well. Better fetch the cart, then.


*

Danny, I need to get up. I've got, I've got things to do. There's a village that needs looking after. We're police officers– come on, let me up already, it's past nine–

Danny was grinning, though, pinning him to the sheets with his weight, and he couldn't get up, he couldn't get up, he couldn't–

"Dannygerroff!"

"Steady on, now, Constable," said a calm, reassuring, vaguely familiar voice in the middle distance. Its calmness was more surprising than it should have been, mainly because, the last time he had heard it, its owner had been so pissed that he had been barely capable of constructing a sentence with it. "There's no real harm done, but I daresay there will be if you don't stay where you're put this time around."

"Ungh," said Nicholas, shaking off the last of dream paralysis and clapping both hands to his face, scrubbing at his eyes with the heel of his hands. "Eighteen-thirty-four?"

"Yes, that's right," said Dr. Cleaver, removing one hand politely from his face and beginning to check his pulse against a fobwatch. "Thursday, more specifically. The twenty-fourth. A month 'til Christmas Eve, think of that." Apparently happy with the result, he closed the watch with a click. “You've been out of it for quite a while, though that's hardly surprising."

Angel felt his throat with his other hand, as bits of memory started to stick against the front of his horrified mind, like tarry rain. "Did they… actually hang me?"

"Good Lord, no," said Dr. Cleaver, grimacing. "You fainted, as a matter of fact. In the nick of time." He gestured in the area of Nicholas's chest, which had been rebandaged in a tighter and much more supportive way. "How's it feeling?"


The bedroom was fair-sized and airy, better appointed than the one in the station. The curtains were drawn, but a lot of sunlight seemed to be trying to fight its way through them. There was a little table by the bed. A few bandages, neatly rolled, sat upon it, along with a heavy black mantel clock and a card.

Something like it, anyway. The real thing probably not having been invented yet, or at least not to hand, someone had folded a sheet of paper in half and pasted a second-hand picture-postcard on the front. The picture was a coloured engraving of a vaguely pastoral scene, with Get Well Soon handwritten in the border of the paper above it in the sort of cheerful sub-Yellow Submarine bubble lettering which wouldn't strike anyone as a good idea design-wise until at least the late nineteen-sixties. It looked extremely handmade, and a bit sad.

"Like someone tried to collapse a building on me." Nicholas frowned, sitting up in the sickbed, and looking very much like he'd like to get up on his feet and pace. And possibly grind his teeth. "Why am I still alive?"

Danny edged through the doorway, which Dr. Cleaver had left ajar. For the first time since Nicholas had arrived in 1834, he wasn't wearing his uniform. He also looked as if he hadn't slept much since they had last spoken.

You're not," he said. "Far as anyone knows, anyway. Dr. Cleaver told 'em you was both dead.”

And he believed him?”

Danny shrugged. “It looked believable. An' then Dr. Cleaver got Mr. Palmer to take you off in 'is cart, right under their noses."

"Lovely," said Nicholas, expressing exactly how much it really wasn't, nose wrinkling. "That'll have been the second time that's happened to me. So how long've I been dead?"

"Oh, about twenty-eight hours, give or take," said Horace Cleaver. He seemed to be in a very good mood. "Not that I can take much credit for the whole thing," he added, thumping Danny lightly on the shoulder as he moved round to collect up his spare bandages. "It was Danny's idea, though Lord knows where he got it from."

Danny flinched at the contact, a reaction which was un-Danny-ish enough to be worrying all in itself, but at this last bit he glanced at Angel and his mouth moved in a twitch that looked a bit like it was trying to be a smile. "Read it somewhere," he said.

"Mmm," said Nicholas, although he was eyeing Danny closely. "You alright, PC Buttleman?"

Danny nodded automatically, looking down as the doctor bustled out of the room. "I'm not the one's been asleep for a whole day, am I? Dr. Cleaver said you just needed to step out for a while, whatever that's s'posed to mean."

Too long," said Nicholas, bracing himself and standing. He appeared to be wearing a different pair of trousers than the ones he'd 'died' in, and the stab vest was gone. "You look like you haven't had enough.”

Ahem."

As if by magic, Dr. Cleaver had reappeared in the doorway. "Where d'you think you're going, exactly?" he asked.

"Er. For a walk around the room?" Nicholas volunteered, adding a hopeful upwards swirl of a finger.

The doctor pointed. "Bed. For God's sake, man, you're not made of clockwork. Either you get some proper bed-rest now, or you'll be lucky to be on your feet by Michaelmas."

Michaelmas? mouthed Nicholas at Danny, sitting reluctantly on the edge of the bed.

"What is he, some kind of… Ghost of Christmas I-Can-Make-Your-Life-Hell-With-My-Scalpel?" he asked, exasperated, once he was absolutely certain Cleaver wasn't listening.

"No, but he's right," said Danny, stubbornly. "An' you're s'posed to be lying, not sitting. You didn't see your side when we got you back yesterday morning. Bits of it was green."

"It's bruising, Danny, I'm fine." But he lay back. It was still hurting, after all. "So what am I supposed to do now, leave after dark for some equally unfamiliar bit of country? And what happened to Frank? What happened to the– other Frank, your dad?"

Danny's face sort of… shut down, going taut and displaying a few new lines which hadn't been much in evidence before, if they'd been there at all. He shrugged. "We haven't gone out much, we don't want to let on you're here. And… he's… got a bunch of out-of-towners coming in. Been saying they're new officers, like you, but they don't act much like it."

He fiddled morosely with his cuffs. "The… other one's somewhere about. Downstairs, prob'ly. We got him out same way as you, after Dr. Cleaver shot him."

"Oi," said Nicholas. "If I have to be stuck in this flaming bed, then you have to at least sit down. What d'you mean, Dr. Cleaver shot Frank?"

Danny sighed, but parked himself in the chair by the bed and explained to Nicholas how he'd run into Horace Cleaver and his apprentice while most of the village were on their way to the Square, and shown them the ledger, and how, acting on a bolt of inspiration of a kind which had never struck him before this crisis and probably wouldn't ever again, he'd managed to get across to the bewildered and horrified doctor what had to be done.

"It went over a lot better than I thought it would," he said. "Your... Frank caught right on. An' Dr. Cleaver got Mr. Palmer to stick a couple of other dead blokes under sheets in his parlour, so nobody'll think there's any funny business going on."

"Until someone looks under the sheets," said Nicholas, "Which they're bound to do, eventually."


He shifted closer, grabbing the younger man's shoulder.

"Danny, I can't stay. I'm outnumbered by a whole village headed by a psychopath, there's nobody in the Met who'd have a fucking clue how to react, let alone believe someone who's a hundred and fifty years up on any response techniques they've got, and I don't have any weapons. Or allies. I'm all alone on this. I've got to leave in a few days or sooner, or else I'm really a dead man. All of you have put yourselves at enough risk on my account already, and considering, it's probably going to get a whole lot worse soon. You might want to leave town for a little while, and I think the doctor ought to as well. Go to Buford Abbey. It's probably a saner place than this."

"Dr. Cleaver said the same thing," said Danny. "But I wasn't going to just leave you here, was I?"


He didn't really understand many of the things he had thought or felt since he had read the ledger, nor would he have understood it if any modern-day shrink had tried to explain it. He had lost his father just as the Danny of 2007 had, but for him there had been no catharsis, no healing fight for justice, just a long day and night's wait, hiding in an isolated house. And, somehow, it felt almost as if he'd lost his mother all over again, with the discovery of how she'd really died. It showed in his face, and it had aged him. But, by the standards of his world, the ones he had grown up with, he hadn't been hurt, had no physical injuries at all, and in the face of Angel's extraordinary resilience, he felt ashamed to do anything except sit hard on the part of him that just wanted to start wailing about his dad. He felt that Angel's strength, his lack of complaint, deserved nothing less in return. 

"Anyway, it's not just that. It's… I mean, it's still Sandford, even if everyone's gone round the bend. I've got to stay."

"Danny," sighed Nicholas. "He'll probably kill you. Not in public, like me. It'll be something that'll look like an accident. They'll find you slumped under a door with your head bashed in and a convenient-looking giant icicle next to your body. Or poisoned, and he'll make it look like you had a peaceful heart attack. Or something."

Danny shrugged. "Not if I don't go near him. Maybe it's a good idea to let him think I went to Buford Abbey, just until I think of something to do. I've got to do something."

Nicholas put his face in his hands. "And then you're all on your own. This is nothing like the last time I took back Sandford from a corrupt killer police-associated force, you understand? Game over, everybody dies."

"He's right," remarked Frank, who was leaning in the doorway, arms folded. He was wearing a tweedy suit– presumably one of the doctor's– which fitted him well apart from being a little short in the leg, and a pair of reading spectacles, and he looked well-groomed and almost terrifyingly… well… normal. "It's not the same at all. Last time, he had a horse."

"Last time," said Nicholas, slowly, angrily, hands bunching in the material of the covers, "there were only fifteen people I had to fight. Maybe a few minions. Last time, everyone I had to fight was over fifty years of age. Last time, I had an arsenal, and Kevlar-enforced body-armor. Last time, they decided to come at me one at a time, which is the most idiotic tactic anyone could have ever conceived in the history of anything. Last time, they couldn't shoot for shit. Last time, I had my best friend, and eventually, the entire police force of Sandford minus one, on my side. Last time, the people of the town didn't show me how expressly my services were unwanted–" Nicholas paused at Danny's uncomprehending look. "…They didn't try to hang me. In fact, a few of them even helped. Last time, my best friend got shot in the stomach and lung, and it was only thanks to half a dozen immaculate, modern surgeries afterwards that he lived. It was a sodding miracle nobody else got killed."

"We've got a horse," said Danny, hopefully.

"What the Constable is trying to say," said Frank, "is that last time, he was quite sure he was going to win before he started. It's called risk assessment, and it's all the rage in the twenty-first century."

"Well, I– I wasn't quite sure," said Nicholas, a bit too quickly. "I was a bit sure, and I was the picture of health. Any number of things should have gone pear-shaped. If anyone had seen me walking into the station instead of stuffing their faces with ice cream, I'd have probably been shot."

"You mean to tell me you just walked into the station?" Frank lost his nonchalant slant and looked more than a bit startled, not to say appalled. He'd had a lot of time to dwell on just how on earth Nicholas had managed to sneak in past everybody and empty the arms cache, that day. It was the sort of little detail that nagged at you. "When?"

"Just before Turner left the night shift, so I'd guess around 9:10, in the morning?" said Angel. "Everyone else ignored me when I got my kit out of the locker room, too. Turner gave me a missed message from London. And Danny was on patrol."


"Look, no-one wants you to say the– their Chief of Police's a murderer," interrupted Danny, ignoring Frank as if he didn't think this particular point was very important, which was in fact exactly the case. "It's always goin' to be unwanted, telling people things like that. I didn't want…"

He stopped for a moment, mouth working. "I didn't want to find out what Dad's done– what he's been doing. Being– being a good police officer's not about doing what people want you to do, is it?"

Nicholas turned to Danny. "No. No one ever likes the police, because we're the bastards who tell you no, and beat the crap out of you for resisting arrest and for starting riots, and monitoring how much alcohol you've had to drink. We're the parents after you get too big for your own. And even other police hate us for being good coppers. At least, every superior I've ever had has."

"Oh, come on, now, that's hardly fair," protested Frank, rallying somewhat.


"Look, will you two shut up about stuff that hasn't even happened yet?" said Danny. "Nicholas, everyfin' could go pear-shaped this time as well, couldn't it? I don't see how it's that different. We still got our stab vests, haven't we? We're still on duty. Well, you're not," he added, hastily. "You have to lie down. But Dr. Cleaver says you'll be all right in a day or two." 

"I am not going to sit on my arse for another twenty-four hours," said Angel, fuming. "I'll go stark raving mad. And of course things could go pear-shaped. They're probably going to. If you get killed, then he," he flailed a finger at Frank, "one of the only other people to know the truth and back us, possibly, will probably never exist, and by proxy, my partner won't either, and I'll never forgive you for that. Alright?"

Danny stared at him in disbelief. He had stumbled to his feet and for a moment it looked almost as if the miserable fury he was suddenly trembling with in every muscle could escape in any direction, that he might kick or throw something breakable or grab Nicholas and shake him, or even try to hit him. But it was Frank he swung round on, Frank who found himself slammed against the wall in the next moment by a clumsy palm shoved into his chest, pinned there by a damp-eyed, sleepless, pitiless death-glare searing up into his face from at least a seven-inch difference.


"How many people did you kill?" Danny demanded.

Frank stammered, staring. He looked as if he was having trouble breathing, and it probably wasn't anything much to do with the pressure on his chest, either. "I– I– I don't–"


"How many?"

"I– I don't– personally– I didn't– it–" But Danny's face, inches from his, was twisted in an ugly snarl, and excuses meant nothing, he had no choice, no choice at all except to answer the question the way he knew Danny meant it, how his Danny would mean it, how many people would be alive now if it wasn't for you.

"Th... thirty,” he managed, barely audible. “Thirty-three."


There was a silence, but it didn't last long.

"Yeah, well," said Danny, giving him another shove, "well," and he let go of him, disgusted, and turned on Nicholas, again, "well, maybe I shouldn't ever even have kids at all!"

He stared at Nicholas for a moment, then bolted past Frank and out of the room, the door banging behind him.


"Congratulations," said Nicholas, after a second. "I think you just nixed yourself."


"Congratulations yourself," spat Frank, when he could speak. "If you ever happen to get back, I do hope you enjoy being- being single."

"I don't suppose I'll know what I'm missing," said Nicholas, after a moment. He was staring at his feet, which were poking up out of the end of the sheets, biting the inside of his cheek and shoving his jaw out. "It'd certainly be a better proposition than right now."


"Yes, well," said Frank, re-opening the door which Danny had slammed behind him, "you're not going to get any argument from these quarters. After all, as it stands, I'd imagine that Danny's somewhere out in the real world– our world– wondering if you're ever going to wake up again. And we both know what that feels like, don't we?"

With that, he stepped out into the corridor, leaving Nicholas alone.

*

After less than an hour of trying to stay still, and focus on healing through meditation with half a dozen tracks of thought running in his head at once, Angel growled, "Oh, sod it all," and threw off the blankets.

It wasn't hard to find Danny while exploring the large, open rooms of the doctor's cottage, mercifully empty of the doctor himself at the moment; one need only have followed the smell of cheap, damp, smoky paper. In the downstairs scullery, the penny papers which Angel had rescued were draped over tables, the frame of the mangle, and the edge of the sink, drying. Danny was sitting at the table near the fireplace, reading a relatively unscathed edition, or rather, turning pages while staring at more or less the same fixed middle-distance point.


Angel paused in the doorway, leaning against the open timber, and coughed. "I'm… sorry I couldn't have saved more of them, Danny."


Danny didn't look up, but he shrugged. "S'not the end of the world. Can always get new ones, can't I?" He turned a page. "Better not let Dr. Cleaver catch you up."


Nicholas attempted a smile. "If you won't tell him. You alright, seriously?"


"…Yeah, I'm amazing, thanks." Sarcasm didn't come naturally to Danny, but at least trying to employ it made him engage, somewhat, and look up. "I was right there. I lived with him my whole life! I keep thinkin' I should have spotted somefin', you know? I should've seen what he was up to, ages ago."

Angel sighed, moving aside a penny-dreadful for a seat on a bench. "Your father's what the modern police service and psychiatric society'd call a serial killer. They're usually either of above-average intelligence, or below-average, and the smart ones are able to cover their tracks by seeming. They can seem to be absolutely normal, self-righteous human beings, but… they get urges, and they'll kill animals, women, men, children to fulfill them. And, placed in a position of power and esteemed by their peers, their targets are all the more accessible."

Danny looked appalled. "People like– This happens all the time?"

"There's another active one every few years," said Nicholas, rubbing at his eyes. "It's more the detective departments that have to deal with figuring them out, but we still have to clean up the mess they leave behind. There was a doctor in the twentieth century who killed well over two hundred of his patients over a span of twenty-three years before anyone noticed. Frank hasn't killed thirty-three people," he added. "He killed three or four. Vagrants. Years ago."

"He said thirty-three," said Danny. He had a sudden, horrible vision of the world, a great big ball like the polished wooden one in Miss Wallace's schoolroom, with dozens– hundreds– of normal, saintly, kindly people with the minds of demons burrowing through it like flies through a rotten fruit, invisible, spreading death and the kind of evil infection that had grabbed the minds of the crowd at the fire in their wake. The thought left him cold, and sickened.

"He inspired about fourteen other people to start doing it. Of course, he never actually put a stop to any of the others, but he never actually killed anyone again. Oh, yes, attempts at murder, certainly, repeatedly, especially with myself involved as the opposite party, but succeeded, no. He's still an absolute bastard for doing it in the first place, but he's a bastard on our side. Because your father won't stop. And it's not your fault for anything that has happened in the past or will happen in the future. It's not your responsibility. It was his. Alright?"

continue...

 

 

Comments

( 1 comment — Leave a comment )
random_nexus
Jun. 14th, 2009 07:58 pm (UTC)
Nothing really constructive to say, too caught up.
So well done! SO much good stuff.

*zooms to next bit*
( 1 comment — Leave a comment )

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