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Sympathy for the Devil- Chapter Five 2/3

 

The wheels immediately shucked off into different directions– one nearly flew up to the second narrow window in the tower– and the little seat in front flew off over their heads in a spinning, head-blendering spiral of death. The doors slammed open and what was left of the exploded splintery mess of the cart continued onwards across the nave, smashing aside the pews left and right and grinding a horrible, screeching mark across the engraved grave plaques in the floor.

 

As it turned out, Danny didn't have much choice about taking Nicholas's advice. As soon as the cart broached the doors, the de-acceleration threw him over the riding board and he hit the shockingly cold stone flags in a tumbling roll which fetched him up against a pillar in a cloud of splinters and mortar dust, a moment ahead of a large chunk of disintegrating cart which decided to join the party by flinging itself at his head. He threw himself flat, and it smashed into the pillar instead, scarring the sandstone and raining bits of plaster out of the roof, where the soaring tranquility of the high wooden eaves had been reduced to a shambles of dust and frantic pigeons.

 

Nicholas choked, uncurling from Armstrong, who he'd been using as a slab of human toboggan. He laid flat on his back among the fragments of church and death cart, staring up at the barrel-vaulting ceiling, and started to laugh.

 

At first, Danny had no idea why Nicholas was laughing, or how he could laugh right now. Never mind that it was the first time he'd ever really heard him laugh properly, period. He didn't personally feel much like laughing, in fact, he felt more like staggering over to some handy receptacle and throwing up.

 

Although, that presented a bit of a problem, in here. Danny didn't know what the possible penalty to ones' eternal soul was for puking into a font, but he suspected it was somewhere near the one for accidentally taking out half the front of a holy building with a cart normally used to transport corpses.

 

But Nicholas's semi-hysterical laughter was infectious, and Danny giggled a couple of times, pushing himself up on his elbows, and soon the ridiculous side of the whole thing struck him and he found himself laughing quite hard as well, which at least helped with the sick feeling.

 

At least, until the three men burst into the church, clattering up the steps and shoving each other single-file through the little door of the vestry. Two of them had muskets, and they had clearly entered prepared to use them, but it was evident that they had not been prepared to be confronted with a scene of quite so much total rubble-strewn destruction, because they all sort of piled into each other in those first few crucial seconds, and gawked.

 

Nicholas, still grinning and propping himself up on his elbows, pulled out his second unused dueling pistol, and fired a warning shot over the heads of the three remaining guards. It pinged off the vestry doorframe, and showered the men with sandstone powder.

The last man through the doorway showed himself to be the most sensitive to either foreboding or narrative by taking the hint immediately. He piled right back through the doorway and down into the vestry, slamming the door behind him.

 

This was too bad for the middle guard, whose nerve broke as soon as he saw his mate run for it. He turned and almost slammed his face into the door, which the first man had been considerate enough to bolt after him. A few hard rattles made it clear that it wasn't going to give, at which point the guard gave Angel a hunted over-the-shoulder look and took off around the outside of the church, heading for the wreckage of the main doors.

 

Danny would have been quite happy to let him get on with it, had it not been for the fact that the man still had a loaded musket in his hands. He hauled himself upright, reaching for his own pistol, and staggered into pursuit.

 

The guard who had made it into the church first, however, didn't run. He was looking at Nicholas, and he looked as if he was feeling monumentally hacked off with several things, starting with the rude awakening and ending with the way all his mates had got given muskets and there hadn't been quite enough to go around.

 

He had a sword instead. It was crude and undecorated and it had the same look as Frank's crossbow, like a thing made by someone who wasn't thinking about anything at the time except the necessity of killing people. As soon as he was sure Angel's pistol had been fired, he broke into a little run, drawing it in a hurry.

 

"Oh sh–"

 

Nicholas had temporarily forgotten that semi-automatics wouldn't be invented for another fifty years, as a second pull on the trigger proved, and rolled, trying to shake off the dizzying effects of giddy, near-death euphoria for the next rush of adrenaline, because this could very well be another near-death experience to replace the last one.

 

His left hand snaked his own sabre out of its scabbard.

 

The last guard failed to anticipate the move and stabbed viciously down at where he wasn't. The blade cracked into the flagstones to the left of his torso and took the edge off the tip, and the man swore as the jolt buzzed up his arm and swung again at the prone target, only to find the strike parried by Nicholas's sabre, still only three-quarters drawn.

 

"You sure you want this?" asked Nicholas, seriously.

 

Some people might think this was a little odd, a five foot six injured man, addressing another with at least a head of height and another fifty pounds over him, laying on the ground under the latter's feet, with only a half-drawn sword.

 

On the other hand, they couldn't have seen Angel's face.

 

“You what?” said the man, incredulous. He moved to strike again at a different angle, and was a little surprised when this was also neatly blocked in a blur of movement.

 

The Chief Constable had not chosen his men for their intelligence, something which said a lot about his ideas about people in general. In his view, too much intelligence in someone under you was like a powerful gun with a wonky sight– it was very useful when it was working for you, but you could never be one hundred percent sure that it was aimed at the right place. Get 'em stupid, but not dangerously so– any fool can hire a bunch of useless idiots– get 'em just smart enough to know they're stupid, get the ones who've lived their lives in dull resentment of their own bad luck of the draw, the stubborn, resentful ones who hate to be told they're wrong, who'll not only follow you but get annoyed at anyone who comes along later and suggests they change their ideas.

 

Get 'em young and they might have second thoughts later: get 'em stupid, and they were yours for life.

 

This one happened to be of the opinion that he was all that with a sword, and he didn't understand or like the fact that Angel wasn't dead yet. He stepped back to give himself a wider swing, and slashed at him again, angrily.

 

Nicholas deflected it again, rolling up to one knee. "Christ, why don't people ever learn–"

 

Handling a sword was a little different than competitive fencing. For one thing, in fencing, there was a little tiny metal ball on the tip of the foil. A sabre, no matter how well-made it is, is always going to be at least five times heavier than a whip-thin foil, throwing off your usual control. Fencing is won by stabbing your opponent with the blunted tip– this becomes difficult when you're going for non-fatal time-travel-interfering violence. And finally, fencing matches are usually governed by a referee.

 

Still, there were the basics. Parry, parry, strike, stumble, recover. Oh, yeah. The shrapnel.

 

What the guard lacked in finesse, he made up for in strength, each strike sending brutal shockwaves through both weapons. As soon as he realised that his opponent was hurt, he forced him to work harder on that side, pressing his weight onto the injured leg.

 

He was no expert, though. He failed to take several openings simply by being too slow on his feet, and when Nicholas's blade scored his shoulder after a bad parry, he looked at him in astonishment. Clearly, this wasn't supposed to be happening.

 

Nicholas smirked around the pain as he circled carefully around the church floor, his free arm out behind him for balance and form, and nicked the man's elbow. "What's the matter, then, ey? 'That's unfair, he's smaller'n me?'"

 

His opponent snarled at him and jerked back, now driven into the defence as he backed down the aisle, hammering away at Nicholas's solid guard position but failing to stop his advance. “I'll'ave y'r lights, y'little runt–”

 

Nicholas sighed, parrying away two moves that would have shaved off any ten o'clock shadow that hadn't been singed from his face. "Well, it's just that you're going about it all wrong, swinging away like that. It's not an axe, it's a bloody art. Look, watch me. Light on the footwork, keep a good distance so I can see your movements and block, and then snake in like this. See? Now you try."

 

It wouldn't have worked, if Nicholas hadn't sounded so damn persuasive. There is a certain small part of the human mind– generally formed and imprinted around the time when you are tiny and sitting on a rug with a lot of other tiny people while an enormous person tells you what all the weird shapes on the board stand for– that can't help but be very sensitive to this sort of thing, to someone telling you, patiently and not unkindly, that you are Doing It Wrong.

 

The guard found himself pulling his elbows in, mimicking Angel's posture. He had, in fact, briefly attended school as a child, and for a second he found himself fighting the strong but very confusing and unhelpful conviction that if he got it right he might get an apple. Rather uncertainly, he flicked his sword out at Nicholas's ribs.

 

Angel dodged the half-hearted stroke, slipped in close, and hit the man on the head with the pommel.

 

"On the other hand, there's a good deal to be said about fighting dirty when you've got other things to be doing. Sorry."

 

As the man folded up at the knees and slid tranquilly to the floor, Danny re-emerged from the shadowy little antechamber behind the organ, where he'd chased the second guard after heading him off from the door. He was draped in fluff and cobwebs, dragging his opponent, who was also extremely unconscious, by the back of the shirt. He dropped him in the middle of the nave and jammed his right hand under his arm, wincing.

 

“Gun jammed or summat,” he explained, wiping sweat from his forehead and leaving a gritty streak behind. “So I thumped him. Everyfin' alright?”

 

"Yeah," said Nicholas, sheathing his sabre and shaking his wrist to get the blood flowing through it again. Those earlier blows had hurt. "Fine. Let's go fetch your dad."

 

Yes. Dramatic applications or removals of sunglasses really were preferable for moments like this, standing in a church that you'd recently blown a large hole through, and had a goddamn swordfight staged between the mashed pews and clanging up into the high vaulted ceilings. Shame they wouldn't really be invented for a century or so.

Danny looked equally determined. He swiped his forehead again, and reached for his ammo pouch.

 

“Right.”

*


 

Just as every cop is a criminal
And all the sinners saints...


 

*


Frank could see St. Vincent's quite clearly from the crest of the hill, and by the time he had made his way down to the churchyard he could tell that there was a fair bit of excitement going on inside. However, the nice functional set of double doors possessed by the church in modern-day Sandford– handy for things like opening and walking through– weren't there, and in their place was a big tangle of shattered planks and a collapsed beam or two and quite a bit of rubble which needed climbing over.

 

Frank didn't feel too positive about this. The one time he had raised his foot higher than the other ankle on his little walk down the hill, stepping over a mangled piece of cart in his path, he'd felt a sensation in his side that he had no desire to provoke again.

 

With hindsight, he had to admit that it had been optimistic in the first place, to decide that an elderly chainmail tabard could conceivably stop a bullet, choosing to wear it under his shirt for lightness and freedom of motion, and now he was paying for it with the not-so-cheerful knowledge of where all those dozens of little metal fragments had ended up once the musket ball had torn them apart on its way through.

 

He shucked off the last of his guns, unloaded and useless now, dropping them on the grass as he set off around the side of the church, looking for another way in.

 

It transpired that he didn't need one.

 

Six feet above the ground, one of the cloister windows swung open, and Frank Buttleman slid himself out, carefully, to accommodate for his slightly-over-middle-aged body. He touched ground, glanced in two directions that didn't include Frank Butterman into the equation, and started to walk casually away through the consecrated graves.

Frank took two long strides that painted his trouser-legs with dew and wrenched savagely on the strange structural crisis in his side, and raised his single remaining weapon. The crossbow weighed reassuringly in his hands, aimed right at his doppelgänger head.

 

“I seem to remember you saying something about prayers,” he said. “Good time to start saying them.” He glanced momentarily at the gravestones, surrounding them both in sombre, wandering rows. “Good place, too.”

 

Buttleman stopped, and turned. For a man with a crossbow aimed at his skull, he seemed remarkably unconcerned. Standing there in the seven o'clock sunlight, he even quirked a smile, observing his temporary captor's stance.

 

"You're still alive, then? Only just, it'd seem. But then, you've faked death before. I'll have to do Cleaver later for that, of course."

 

“You won't be 'doing' anybody,” said Frank. “I did tell you you wouldn't get away with it. Or do you think this is part of the 'game' as well?”

 

Buttleman closed his eyes, and spread his hands in the cold November air, still smiling, but now at the sky.
 "God appointed me His right hand of justice; He smiles on what I do in His name. Because I execute His will, I can do no wrong, and thus He continues to let things flow my way. And they will, because they always have, and my placement in Sandford sets this place at the centre of the Universe. You're just one of the poor petty people trying to hold it back."

 

Frank lowered his crossbow.

 

“God,” he said, smiling too, like a man sharing a good joke, “is nothing but a nasty little nipper with a magnifying glass.”

 

He pulled the trigger. The bolt flew free with a satisfying chonk, and slammed squarely into the other Frank's right leg, just above the knee.

 

“Welcome to the other side of the lens.”

 

Buttleman choked, leaning heavily onto the closest headstone, breathing through his nose for control over the pain.

 

"And… and you claim to be God, then?"

 

“Me?” Frank laughed, his hands moving in dreamy, deceptively fast patterns –adjust-check serving-pull-cock-new arrow-load– drawing the bow hurt like nothing on earth and he knew that he wouldn't be able to do it a second time, but that was all right, one more shot was all he needed. “No. I did have a go at it, but all that's done with now. No, this is just… cleaning up.”

 

It's over, isn't it? the small inner voice was saying, and it took him a moment to realise that the reason it sounded so unfamiliar all of a sudden was that there was a tentative little note of hope in it. Isn't it, Frank? He's not going anywhere. You don't really need another shot, do you?

 

Quiet, he told it, and sighted again. I'm busy.

 

Oh, Frank, it sighed. That's what you always say.

 

Buttleman smiled at his approaching death.

 

"So you know how it feels, then? To handle a knife and watch someone's life spill into your hands, that rush of peace afterwards, and then you have to wait for the next one for the next small taste?"

 

He spread one hand outwards, the other clamped to the gravestone with his own name already engraved on it.

 

Catherine Buttleman.

 

1786-1818

 

Beloved Wife and Mother.

 

 

"Take me, then. I hope it brings you much joy and relief."

 

Frank stared at the gravestone. Catherine Buttleman had been dead for sixteen years, and he found himself wondering how clear a glimpse she'd had of what she'd married, in the end. He hoped it had been brief. He was sure that Irene hadn't had any idea while she'd lived, although he couldn't blame her for the things he'd done– he couldn't blame her for anything– his own… way of dealing with things had evolved firmly after her death, not before. Never before. There was that, at least.

“Peace…?”

 

Peace, my God, how can you call it that? All that happens afterwards is all the problems you've planned for become real, and you have to keep thinking and clean up, tidy it all away to make sure your fixing the problem doesn't just make more problems for everyone. It's a chore, that's all it is, all it ever was. No joy, no relief, all it ever gave you was the satisfaction of a bad job well done.

He kept the crossbow aimed, hands tightening on it to level off the shake in them, and now he found that he didn't have to force himself to look the man right in the face any more, because he wanted to see. He wanted to see him die.

 

If you kill him, Frank, whispered the voice, and it was barely there at all now, you'll enjoy it.

 

"Frank!" screamed Angel's voice behind him. The shorter man tried to get out the same window Buttleman had slipped through, and landed badly on his wounded leg in the fall. "Frank, don't!"

 

Frank blinked, sighted, blinked again. He couldn't keep the shake out of his hands now, and the chilly winter breeze cut like brainfreeze against his sweating forehead. He heard Nicholas quite clearly, but his voice seemed to come from a long way away, as did the laborious, urgent sounds of Danny trying to extract himself from the same deceptively small window.

 

He wanted to kill this man. He wanted to do it for Sandford, for all of them, for Catherine Buttleman and Horace Cleaver and Daniel and everyone else who had suffered and died just because Frank Buttleman's warped beliefs dictated that you could simply write people out of history whenever you liked. He wanted to. An eye for an eye, he'd always believed that was right. He had to believe that was right.

 

Somewhere inside, the little voice was screaming, but it was just a voice. You didn't have to listen to it.

Except…

 

Except… that was the whole point, wasn't it? You didn't have to listen to it. You never had to listen to it. If there was no choice, but to listen to your voice of reason, then there'd be no merit in it at all, would there? Sometimes it was the hardest path, sometimes you didn't want to hear what it told you, and that was when you needed it most.

 

“Peace,” Frank repeated, looking steadily into his doppelgänger's calm face, “is what you earn.”

 

Then he smiled, swung the crossbow up one-handed by its stock like a short, unwieldy and extremely dangerous baton, and hit him, really quite seriously hard, under the chin with it.

“Inspector Angel,” he said, reaching out in Nicholas's direction, “cuffs, please."

continue...

 

Comments

( 1 comment — Leave a comment )
random_nexus
Jun. 15th, 2009 06:39 pm (UTC)
Laughed out loud, gasped, winced, all the good stuff.
The crash and whatnot into the church... the verbage... Effin Hilarious! OMG!
All of this is just so very awesome.
( 1 comment — Leave a comment )

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