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Sympathy for the Devil- Chapter Four 2/3

 

 

"You should've seen Dr. Cleaver when I told him," mumbled Danny. "He's spent th'last sixteen years thinkin'… thinkin' he killed my mum. Dad made it look like he'd prescribed her an overdose of somefin', I can't remember what. Must've been so's he'd always have 'im in his pocket. An' Dr. Cleaver thought he was giving him another chance. Being…" He struggled. "Being kind."

 

Nicholas weighed the moment, then knelt and hugged as much of Danny's ancestor as he could fit in an armful. A year ago, he'd been truly awful at physical contact. He'd hated being touched, had smacked Danny away for flicking at a piece of grass stuck in his lapel. The proposition of actually moving in with another person, with another man, with someone as touchy-feely as Danny had more or less cured him of that, but this Danny could react badly…

 

Danny stiffened in surprise. He'd been so caught up with trying to work out, in numbed and bewildered hindsight, how the hell all this had happened, how he'd let it happen, so busy feeling like all the responsibility for dealing with it was on his shoulders, that he hadn't realised how much he'd needed to just stop and let it catch up with him. It was as if everything that the awful things his dad had done actually meant were piling up behind him in a big rushing mess, and he had been slogging ahead of them for the last twelve hours, trying to keep everything as straightforward and black and white as he could, just to stay sane. Vaguely, as he sagged against Angel's shoulder, he wondered if that was how Angel felt all the time.

 

He wasn't going to start crying, no question about that, it just wasn't something you did. And this was a fact he remained totally convinced about, until his chin started tickling and he realised his cheek was starting to stick to the shoulder of Nicholas's shirt.

 

"'ry," he mumbled, smearing his cheek dry with the palm of his hand.

 

"Hey," said Nicholas, rough-voiced into Danny's own shirt. "You're fine. You're completely and totally fine. You're in shock. Take a deep breath. You're fine."

 

This didn't make any sense to Danny– a shock was what you got when someone jumped out at you, an immediate fright, quickly gone, not something you could be in– but after he'd forced a few deep breaths he began to feel, if not fine, at least more fine than formerly. Something had been lanced, somehow, and he felt better for it.

 

After a little while, he sniffed and stood back, and gave Nicholas a watery sort of grin. "'Ey. Sorry I went off at you earlier. I… I din't mean owt."

 

Nicholas smiled back. "Believe me, I'm more than aware what having a bad father is like."

 

"That's just the problem, though, Nicholas. He wasn't. It'd be easier if he had. S'why I keep expecting someone to pop up an' tell me it's all been, like, a really bloody bad joke."

 

Nicholas didn't know what to say, exactly. He'd been forced into a cynical viewpoint young; to say anything at all –even to change the subject– felt like it'd be horribly insensitive to Danny. So he stood up from the ground, patted Danny on the shoulder, and sat down at the table next to him.

 

Danny heaved a great sigh, huffing out more air than his lungs could have reasonably been expected to contain, and closed the paper in front of him. "I don't blame you for wanting out of it. I mean, Dr. Cleaver'd help us, an' probably Charlie too, but that's not much odds, an' how'd you really know that– he's– on our side?"

 

"Because he punched someone coming for me in that mob instead of fending for himself. Before I dragged him out of a fire through a hole in the ceiling, he would probably have been trying to kill me. Now he's not, and he hasn't cut and run. Logical conclusion: he's on our side." Nicholas sighed. "And I don't want out of it, I just want to go home. But there's business here to deal with first, or else there might not be a home."

 

Danny nodded, squinching his nose a bit, appreciating the good sense of this chain of logic. "Yeah. Also, he did you that card thing. Said it was something people just do when people're ill, where you two're from." He thought for a moment. "When."

 

Nicholas let an explosive puff of laughter out by sheer unexpected accident. "He made me that card? The man who just wished me luck upon sudden re-entry into bachelorhood?"

 

"Well, it weren't me," Danny pointed out. "People round here send postcards, all right, but they don't stick 'em on things and leave 'em sitting round in people's bedrooms."

 

"There's a whole rack of 'Get Well Soon' cards in Clinton's," said Angel, drily. "It takes up half the aisle, and for some reason most of them feature kittens." He paused. "If Frank's right, and he wasn't having a near-death experience, there's probably one sitting next to my head as we speak."

 

Danny looked slightly lost. He leaned surreptitiously past Nicholas, presumably to see if anything, kitten-centric or otherwise, was lurking on the shelf behind his head. "Anyway, if you don't think he's going to turn around an' stab us first chance he gets, I s'pose it's all right. We just need a– a plan, an' it's going to have to be a sodding good one." He gave Angel a look. "An' you need to go lie down again soon, too. I'm not having Dr. Cleaver after my hide for lettin' you run around before you're ready."

 

Nicholas gave him a Look back. He was quite a lot better at it. It capitalized itself. "If I can have something to do, I'll be fine. I'm not actually capable of relaxing on my own."

 

Danny grinned. He had wanted to thank Nicholas for somehow putting a halt to the strange and nasty avalanche that had been happening in slow-motion inside his head, but he hadn't been sure how to put it. Now, though, it occurred to him that what Nicholas needed, more than thanks, was distraction.

 

"We'll think of somefin'."


 

*


 

The game had originally been ‘Try to Find Something the Other Doesn’t Know’, but as Nicholas held the obvious advantage, it changed to ‘Find Something Smarty-Arse Nicholas Angel Doesn’t Know, and Then he has to Sing a Song.’

 

Danny was watching him with his mouth slightly open. "An'… you're telling me this was by the Queen?"

 

"Freddie Mercury," said Angel, flushing a little. Getting in all the dynamics of volume and tone was harder than he'd thought. "Otherwise known as the singer in a, uh, band that called itself Queen. He died of something like syphilis, only more horrible. Your turn."

 

"Er…" Danny thought for a while, then assumed an expression which, by his standards, was quite crafty. "All right. Where, right, where does Parliament meet? Y'know, the Lords an' the House of Commons. Where would you find 'em?"

 

"Er… In the Houses of Parliament?" said Angel, who had the distinct impression that he was walking into another wrong answer. "Palace of Westminster. They've always been there."

 

Danny clapped his hands together, performing-seal-like as always in his triumph. "Heehee. No. Burnt down, didn't they? In October."

 

Nicholas shot him a nasty look. "You set me up for that one."

 

Danny was unfazed. "Don't matter. C'mon. I want a good one this time. I suppose the rhapsody thing was all right, though I never would've thought they spoke English like that in Bohemia. But it's'not like you could dance to it. And you'd have to be a bit daft to go round singing about being the- the Anti-Christ like that other one. You'd have the whole bloody– 'scuse me– the whole Church down on your 'ead."

 

Nicholas rolled his eyes. "If someone in my time is a devout Satanist who carves symbols into his forehead and talks to a football that he says contains a demon, technically he's still a member of the public who I'm there to protect. Until anyone breaks a law or disturbs the peace, I can't actually charge them with anything."

 

"It all still sounds like a daffy idea to me, anyway," said Danny. Nicholas had already explained the basic theory of a CD to him, not without difficulties. It wasn't really an idea that fit anywhere in Danny's understanding of the universe. Music was something that happened in the pub, or at the fair, or in the Market Square sometimes on market days. You might buy sheet music, he supposed, and you paid the musicians, or threw them a ha'penny, or bought them a round, that made sense, but to actually pay good money for a disc of shiny stuff with disembodied music on it…

 

"I mean, once one person had it, they'd just pass it round," he said. "You'd never make any money."

 

"Well, they would, if people had similar music tastes," said Angel. "Some people like rap. Some people like blues. Some people like listening to the sound of mating whales. And record companies enforce sales at every turn. Some people pirate music and films anyway, but you can be fined a lot of money. Not that that deters half of the world's teenagers bent on listening to other teenagers screaming into a microphone about the Man."

 

"What man?"

 

"The, er, the ultimate authority figure at any given moment. Government. Parents. Military leaders. Police. The supposedly evil, oppressive force that stops idiots from doing whatever they want. And what most idiots want is to do every hallucinogenic and narcotic substance they can get their hands on, and to be allowed to shag everything up to and including sheep and small children, and have the world handed to them on a silver platter with a bow on."

 

A throat-clearing noise from the doorway heralded the re-appearance of Frank, with what looked like a map in his hands. It was uncertain how much of what the two of them had been doing had been audible to the rest of the house, but his expression didn't really comment on it one way or the other.

 

"I've been having a look at this," he said, holding the folded wedge out in Nicholas's direction. "Thought it might come in handy for you."

 

"Oh?" Angel took it, suddenly a little more removed. A little more switched on. "What is it?"

 

Frank had been distressed– understandably, although not for any reasons Nicholas could feel very sympathetic about– last time he'd been in the room. It wouldn't be good to have him, if he were supporting them, get upset again.

 

"Er… and thank you for the card."

 

Frank dipped his head slightly in acknowledgment, for all the world as if it was perfectly normal behavior to break a man's rib with a knife hilt and then, a couple of days later, find yourself thinking it appropriate to give him a get-well-card. "Well. I'm sorry about the…" He mimed a sort of blunt stabbing action. "Not very helpful of me, was it, really? It's a map of the village. It's not exactly Ordinance Survey, I'm afraid, but at least it's what passes for up-to-date."

 

Angel unfolded the thick sheaf, shrugging off the apology. "I wish people would stop thinking I'm made of glass. I'm fine, I'll heal. The only thing that bothers me is having to stage some sort of town-wide paramilitary coup d'etat in less than three days. Maybe tomorrow." He paused, looking up from the carefully-done watercolors and ink. "Er. And sorry for trying to scratch your face off."

 

"This isn't High Noon, Nicholas," said Frank. "You can't just walk in and arrest the whole village." He paused. "I mean… quite literally, the whole village. There were at least sixty people in that mob the other night, and if he can get them behind him again, he will. We need to cut him off from his support, and that includes these strangers he seems to have brought in."

 

He didn't seem to have noticed how easily he'd slipped from 'you' to 'we'. "Hopefully, we can rely on the locals not taking too kindly to outsiders."

 

"The mob, as you put it, saw a burning building, and two people covered in soot. And really, I don't see how it isn't High Noon. The two of us are nearly Gary Cooper, put together." Angel spread the map flat across the bed, and shifted so that he could kneel over it, toes tight against the sheets. "But that doesn't mean it's going to be anything less than a nightmare. We can't afford half as many hostage situations as last time. If one of these enforcers takes a villager hostage, everything could go wrong, disorganized. It'd be so much easier if someone could just tell everyone to stay indoors that day. It only wasn't like that last time because everyone in Sandford was terrified of saying anything to the judges that'd make the village lose the title."

 

"Talk travels fast," Danny pointed out. "We could get Dr. Cleaver an' Charlie to warn people on their rounds. Wouldn't have to be the truth, just somefin' that'd make 'em stay indoors."

 

"Tell them there's a massive epidemic, and that it's been carried in with the newcomers from London," suggested Angel. The Inspector and his mind were nearly working as one, now. See a goal, pursue it like mad. This was loads better than sitting in a bed not being allowed to get up. "People'd believe that from a doctor. Stay indoors, and they'll be safe.”

It took a while for Danny to find Charlie Halper, holed up in the dispensary downstairs, and clue him into this strategy, so that he and his master could get to spreading it right away as they went out on their rounds. Angel spent the interlude thinking away, silently, busily.

 

So how many men does he have, exactly?” he said, when Danny returned. “I'm assuming that they're all at least six foot."

 

"Mean-lookin' bunch of bastards, Dr. Cleaver said," agreed Danny. "Don't matter though, does it? I mean, Tom's taller'n you, an' you took him down quick enough."


 

Frank coughed. "He wasn't armed," he pointed out. "I had a good look at a couple of these lads earlier; I had the good fortune to spot them from the study window. They're carrying muskets– .75-calibre flintlocks. Brown Bess, Long Land pattern, if I'm not mistaken. They're old, even for 1834, but still not anything you want to be on the business end of."

 

"Everyone's taller than me," said Nicholas. "Except maybe Doris. I've just had to have training so they can't use their height-weight ratios against me." He eyed Frank. "You studied the history of firearms?"

 

"You sound surprised." Frank chuckled. "Yes, although I have to confess I'm better on early American models."

 

"I never thought a piece of weaponry was as interesting as the mind of the person behind it," admitted Nicholas, staring at the map, tracing nearly-familiar streets with a short fingernail. "To know what he was capable of. That's why I studied politics and psychology. So what do we have to work with, here, anyway?"

 

"Well, we got our vests. And Dr. Cleaver's got a gun," said Danny. "He had it the other night."

 

Nicholas stared at him.

 

"So… we've got…" His eyes questioned exactly how much action Frank would actually be able to manage. "…three people, two homemade stab vests, and one. Gun." He took a breath. "Danny, those are horrible odds."

 

"So says the man who walked smack into the middle of a private party of fifteen murderers, armed with a notebook and a badge," Frank pointed out. "In civvies, to boot. Besides, it's not as black as all that. Since there's been a countryside to speak of, there's never been any shortage of good, upstanding folk ready and willing to blast the head off everything that flaps, crawls, swims, or goes after their chickens. The question isn't if there's any weapons to be found around here. The question is where."

 

He gave Angel a narrow look. "And there's no call to look at me like that, either. If Bob Walker can go running around the place togged up in riot gear at his time of life, you're not going to stop me. You might not like being stuck in here at the moment, but believe me, you have no idea what confinement is until you've been in solitary for a few weeks. You start to forget you're capable of accomplishing anything at all."

 

"Yes," sighed Angel, shifting on his toes. "I know. You're a far more capable man than I am, in some ways."

 

He tapped the map. "Danny… I think your father mentioned a historical society that had armour, that first day. I was a little drunk at the time, so.. it's taken me a little while to remember, and it's not exactly a clear memory. What's in there? Do you know? Other weaponry? Guns? Saps? Swords?"

 

Danny contemplated all he knew of Sandford's so-called Historical Society, an institution kept afloat solely by four middle-aged men whose idea of a good time was to get dressed up like they were out of the War of the Roses and perform not-very-realistically-choreographed swordfights with blunted broadswords for the kiddies on market days. Upon these occasions they had a good line in theatrical dialogue that not even the– often severely one-dimensional– characters which populated the penny papers would have been caught dead uttering. You've never quite known the meaning of soul-wilting, breeches-wetting terror until you've been seven and borne down upon by a portly forty-two-year-old man with an enormous false beard and an eight-foot claymore, screaming "Have at ye, ye blaggard!"

 

He remembered his father once referring to them, collectively and rather unkindly, as 'that quartet of antiquated woolgatherers.'

 

"I know they've got swords," he said, dubiously, then brightened, remembering. "An' shields, archery stuff, things like that. They might have all sorts of things."

 

"Shields would be good," said Angel, the Inspector trying its damned hardest to transmute all this into modern equivalents of riot gear. "Maybe some simple body armor, that won't limit his movement.” He indicated Frank. “Won't be too heavy. If there were some heavy artillery we could easily commandeer and operate, that'd be another thing to take them by surprise, lower morale, but it can't be anything that we can't control. We don't want to go around punching holes in people's houses, or go punching holes in other people. We also need to find out exactly how many people we'll be up against. I don't want another Tom Weaver coming out of the woodwork like last time when we think it's over. Think like Seven Samurai*– actually, you probably missed that one. Does the Magnificent Seven have a scene in it where they cross off something for every man killed, so they won't miss any?"

 

Frank shrugged, indifferently. Although he himself had been the one to originally admit his penchant for westerns, it had been a long time ago, and now he didn't seem too taken with Angel being the one to refer to the fact. Possibly, he felt his own reference to High Noon had been excessive enough.

 

"Films make for pretty poor inspiration when there's lives at stake, if you ask me. In any case, we should head out and reconnoitre after dark. Today, tomorrow– depends when you feel up to it."

 

"Tonight," said Angel, immediately. "Funny, that coming from someone who seemed to take lives pretty lightly at one point. But yes, you're right." He sat back, massaging his side. "So how about it, officers? Are we ready for a raid?"


 

*The only film to date where Nicholas had stayed awake the whole time, fascinated, and Danny had been the one to fall asleep.


 

*


 

High Street, according to the map, was an inky red line that meandered through flat black boxes, and settled about half a mile after the ancient gate-house, represented by the blocky shape of an hourglass, overlaid across the red road in a transparent greybrown wash. In reality, however, the street was more defined by where the houses happened to cluster, like there was a moderately interesting conversation happening between the pubs and the apothecary, and the rest were all there to eavesdrop. The lamps lit the street in a flickering glowing yellow glow that was far from the easier-to-slip-through-unnoticed red advertised on the map.

 

Curfew. It was something that hadn't happened for over three hundred years, and having large strangers suddenly enforcing it was making the locals nervous. Young Harry Webley had been knocked down in the street, and the Roper sisters had nearly been arrested for standing in the street gossiping on their way home from the church. Old Mr. Shearer had a black eye that nobody seemed willing to talk about.

 

It was certainly something that made the four Keepers of History nervous as they puttered about the Society building. William Treacher had been stranded for the second night in a row from his family. Food that was enough for three men became a little stretched between four.

 

It was just as well that none of them had, as yet, found any reason to descend the few steps at the back of the building into the small, poky scullery. Although the room was almost dark, and quite silent apart from the slow, steady dripping of a pair of socks which dangled rather forlornly over the low fire, it wouldn't have taken anyone looking in very long to spot that something a bit unorthodox was happening on the other side of the window.

 

Frank didn't waste any time. Crouched in the flowerbed by the low window, working quickly with a thick paintbrush, he soon had the entire pane covered with a thick layer of something which looked rather unpleasant but actually had a quite a nice smell, if a bit sweet and cloying. It brought to mind patches of fresh clover and warm summer mornings.

 

Producing a square of cardboard, he pressed it carefully against the gluey layer of honey. Then he paused for a moment, listening, and then gave it a good, hard, confident thump with a gloved fist.

 

The only sound was a strange, muffled, gritty sort of noise, hardly audible. The square of cardboard, the shattered pane stuck together in one neat piece to the back of it, fell to the scullery floor. Frank reached in through the gap and opened the window by the catch, squinting down into the darkness beneath.

 

"After you," he murmured, pulling back. "If there's someone down there, I'd never get back up in time."

 

The honey rather brought to mind Danny's sweet tooth, and his preferred topping on toast in the morning. Angel bit his lip, and tried not to think about the application of Danny plus honey. Sexual frustration later, thieving now.

 

He dropped through the window to the basement level below, and accidentally put his feet in a washing basin full of water.

 

"Don't we have at least another potato?" insisted William Treacher in the front room, annoyed. "One potato shouldn't be that much."

 

"A potato, a potato, my kingdom for a potato," quipped Henry Archer, and laughed.

 

Frank followed Angel, a little more carefully, managing to avoid the water, although he did almost fall over a stacked pyramid of cannonballs, which had been left in the middle of the scullery floor for no clear reason known to God or man. Danny came last, having a little more trouble with the window than the other two.

 

Frank stopped at the foot of the steps, close to the shadow of the wall.

 

"Four of them up there, by the sounds of it," he said, quietly. "What're you thinking?"

 

This was a largely allegorical question. It was likely that Frank, in fact, didn't want know exactly what Nicholas was thinking, or rather trying not to think, at that moment.

 

Nicholas obliged this unconscious censorship. "Well, you're our firearms expert. Find anything that looks like it'd be useful to us. Oh, and possibly a breastplate that looks like it'd fit you. Also, make sure you remember where you found everything, because we're putting it all back after we're done. I'll guard you, and make sure the stuff comes out with us. Danny's the only one who's not officially dead, so he'll have to be the distraction, because there's no way you can shove twenty kilograms of metal up your shirt and not expect it to clank."

 

Frank nodded, and climbed the steps, testing each one for a creak. He paused at the top, in the part of the house which had been converted into a shoestring museum of sorts, listening for any change or pause in the argument about root vegetables which was still winding its way onward across the hallway. When none came, he glanced back down the steps, then moved left through the doorway of the gallery furthest from the front room, and was lost to view.

 

Angel turned, and stepped on Danny's foot in the dark.

Danny's yelp was extremely truncated, as he bit it off sharply at the end, but the damage was done. The conversation upstairs came to an immediate halt.

continue...

 

Comments

( 2 comments — Leave a comment )
random_nexus
Jun. 14th, 2009 08:24 pm (UTC)
Oh, this is SO cool. Enjoying immensely.

Needed to point out several sentences that got missed in the edit:
Danny's mouth was watching him with his mouth slightly open.

he said, holding the folded wedge out in Nicholas's.

We can't afford as half as many hostage situations as last time.

It only wasn't like that last time because everyone in Sandford was terrified of saying anything to the judges that'd make the village loose the title."


If you want, please do delete this comment if you want to after you've done your fixes - I hope I'm not being too presumptuous! {:|

waffleguppies
Jun. 14th, 2009 09:22 pm (UTC)
Wow, thanks zillions, matey. Sorry about that- clearly, this must have been the Chapter of Proofreading With Our Eyes Shut.
( 2 comments — Leave a comment )

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