The Ripper's tale
Chapter One: Good Counsel
And here I thought this would be a boring day.
It had started out that way: the usual customers, loaves of bread, bags of produce, a box or two of smokes. Nothing extraordinary. That is, until the three of them strolled in. At first, I reckoned they were tourist from down south, so I gave them my usual morning-chief-what-can-I-do-you-for greeting, and went over the day's specials: beef round at two pounds a kilo, flank at five quid, and some week-old shoulder for two pence.
Somewhere in between the beef round and the flank, a terrible flash of insight came over me— not only were they not interested in my fine selection of cuts, but they also weren't fucking tourists.
"We'd like to have a word with you, Rupert," a silver-haired Councilman said. He had a voice clear and sharp, like the lines on his face, but with a touch of disarming strangeness, an exotic timbre littered among proper English vowels. I'd never heard anything like it.
"Me?" I replied dumbly, wiping my bloody hands on the sides of my already soiled apron. Maybe they're juss passing through. Maybe they wouldn't stay long. "W-w-what for?"
"Now, now, Rupert," the Councilman chided, his odd colorless eyes shining against his bronzed skin, "don't pretend. You didn't think we'd forgotten about you."
Maybe I'm just buggared.
"Is there anywhere we can speak in private?" he continued, critically inspecting a dented box of Wheetabix on one of the store's shelves.
"Ya, ya, sure."
So, I stuck them in the closet.
I should lock them in. Let them be eaten away by mothballs, tormented by the spiders hiding in the corners, suffocated by the nocuous fumes of white paint making my head light; only to be found years later by the grocer, who never does go into the broom closet even though it is his shop, and promptly put on the front page of The Guardian under the headline, Men Found Dead in Closet. That's what I ought to do. But, I don't. I juss stand there uselessly, watching them watching me.
Effin Watchers. I need a smoke.
At lease they look as chuffed to be here as I am to have them here—which is, not at all. They stand awkwardly in the cramped quarters of the tiny closet trying to look austere among the stacks of rusted paint cans, white plastic bottles of bleach, and dust-covered brooms surrounding them. I applaud their valiant effort to keep up appearances; it's hard to summon an aura of authority when the mop behind you keeps tipping over, hitting you in the head.
"Ahhh, Jesus bleeding Christ! Are you certain this is the only space available?" prats the youngest Watcher, looking rather fetching in his mop-supplied wig of flowing white locks. It's a quite a good look for him. I really do fancy it.
"Dead cert, gov," I answer trying not to laugh. Being a right fine gent, I lean forward and take the mop out of his hair--literally and figuratively--and set it outside the door where it can no longer terrorize him. "See it's not that bad, ay. Just needs a bit a clearing, is all," I tell him, wickedly waxing the mock sympathy. "So, you might as well settle in, cause it's this or the freezer. The storage room's locked." Part of me wonders why I didn't choose the freezer in the first place, the prospect of icicled Watchers being highly appealing.
"No, that would be quite unnecessary. This will do…nicely. Wont it." The Councilman throws a silencing glance in young Watcher's direction, and I watch the little twat crumple under the older man's steely glare. Suppose that's the end of that. Smoothing down the sides of his coat with his elegant brown fingers, the Councilman leans against the paint cans, and returns his attentions to me. He's positioned Right Square In Front Of Me, which wouldn't be a problem if it weren't for the way he's looking at me, boring holes into my forehead with those pale eyes of his. Last time a bloke looked at me that intensely, I barely got away modestly intact.
To my right the third Watcher gives out a long wet cough, forcing me to retreat a little to the left to escape from the flying phlegm. "You alright, mate," I ask him. He's a tall, gaunt, scarecrow of a man, with a feverish sheen over his callow skin. Droplets of sweat line his upper lip and paste his hair to his sticky forehead. He fumbles nervously in his spot, avoiding eye contact, and shifts from one foot to another in an impatient dance of discomfort. "What's a matter with him," I ask the Councilman. "Cause if it's the grippe, I think I've got some lozenges around here. Someplace."
"He'll be fine. It's a touch of sickness, nothing to concern yourself over." He turns his eyes toward the sickly Watcher, daring him to say otherwise; the gesture is meaningless, the Watcher stares mutely at his feet, saying nothing. "At any rate, I believe we have more pressing matters to discuss at this time, don't we Rupert."
"I wouldn't know. You still haven't told me what the fuck you're doing here."
At this the Councilman smiles, and with the force composure of a seasoned politician, he motions tersely to the young Watcher, who at his command, pulls out a large leather briefcase of Watcher supplies from under his arm, and rummages through its continents, mumbling half-heartedly to himself, until he finds what he's looking for– a large manila envelope with the words RUPERT GILES marked on the front. "A proposition," the young Watcher clarifies, as he hands the envelope to me grandiloquently, "the Council wishes for you to reconsider."
No, not a boring day at all.
Above, the thin jaundice light of a bulb I-should-have-fixed-two-months-ago-but-never-did shines down, giving off a faint humming sound as it blinks on and off, the death aria of a stinger-less bee. How long had it been? Five years. Six? I always knew--deep, deep down--they'd come back eventually, inevitably, but to have them here—now. To read their so-called proposition in the dim light, it's… surreal.
They wait for me to finish, arms crossed. With each movement of their wrists, I catch glimmers of jade cufflinks and Rolex watches, the shine of their shoes is blinding, and that smell--of yellowing paper and conjuring powder--coils in my pores like snakes. Three impeccably tailored specimens of the perfect English male stuck in a closet for the sake of a bloke in a bloody apron, whose having a hell of a time reading the fine print. Blasted dodgy light bulb.
"Says here, I get health insurance."
"Why of course," the young Watcher's replies, flushed face full of pride, "The best in the world. Covering a vast assortment of disasters, from flood to fire, to demonic possession, to maiming, dismemberment, loss of blood, all manners of plagues, metamorphosis, head-traumas, comas, voodoo, tsunamis, earthquakes, digestions, and of course the pre-annual apocalypses."
"Mmmm hmmm, blimey, that's, quite, thorough." I scratch my chin, trying to look mightily impressed. "How 'bout beheadings?"
"Not yet, but the dental plan is excellent."
"How comforting to know my teeth will look excellent in my severed head."
"Perhaps you should be more interested in Asbestos coverage," the Councilman quips, eyeing the gray peeling walls of the room.
"If you take a look at lines five through seven," the young Watcher continues, forging ahead with his elaborate sales pitch, "you'll notice that everything has been provided for." He steps forward, and reaches his hand out to indicate the finer points of the document. "Along with the aforementioned health coverage, which really is really quite exceptional mind you, the Council is also willing to offer proper housing, top-rate schooling, and a generous weekly allowance. And all you have to do is return to Oxford– train as a Watcher. The Council can provide you with so many more opportunities than you could ever find here: an education, proper residence, and a bright future in our organization. Come with us, Mr. Giles. Be one of us, as were your father and his mother before him. What is your reply?"
"Yes," he says, all chuffed that he got to speak first. It's sad really, someone aught to pull the poor punter aside and tell him their just using him to break in, feel me out, see what they can get away with.
He squirms uneasily at my words, and then turns to his older companions for help. This apparently wasn't part of the plan. Completely unsympathetic to the young Watcher's plight, the Councilman raises one dark eyebrow, a don't-be-a -idiot signal if I ever saw one, and the scarecrow might as well be dead for all the good he is to him. He continues to stare dumbly at his feet.
"Um…well, we understand that this is all…um rather…sudden, and you might need more time…to reconsider. The Council realizes that we came without notice, but we've only just recently been informed of your…er, whereabouts," he falters. Oh, my. He's sinking, sinking. The Councilman rolls his eyes and sighs loudly. Noticing he's losing ground, the young Watcher bravely musters every inch of authority in his voice and continues, "We felt it best to contact you immediately, whether or not you wished to speak to us and in spite of the Council's strained relationship with your family, least we hazard losing you again. You're not an easy man to find, Mr. Giles."
"Perhaps, cause I don't want to be found," I reply dryly.
Still not about to be beaten, he clears his throat a bit too conspicuously, and carries on as if he's failed to understand me. "We suggest you give our proposal deeper thought, and not be so hasty to dismiss it. We understand that recently you have been dealt an immense loss, and are not in the most rational of states," he says. "Your grandmother will be sorely missed, she was indeed a great woman, but what's done is done, and though the Council extends its greatest sympathies towards you and your family for the ill-fated nature of past events, they unfortunately cannot be altered. You must understand that what happened in the past was justified at the time. In retrospect, it's been realized that some decisions could have been better, and for that you have the Council's deepest regrets."
His speech done with, he gives me a look of pseudo-sincerity more befitting a sad clown in velvet. A cool fury rolls beneath my skin and I feel its flush travel to the very tips of my fingers, which in response curl into a tight, angry ball. I can tell the look on my face isn't pretty, because the young Watcher leans deep into the corner of the room, creating space between his tender, bruiseable flesh and my own whitening knuckles. "Save your deep regrets and great sympathies, they're not going to help you. As interesting as your 'proposal' is, we all know what my Nan, that great woman, thought about your illustrious organization, which is probably why she took me away from it in the first place. She may have given her life to you, my father to you, but she wouldn't let you have me, and neither will I. You think now that she's dead you can stroll in after seven years of nothing, and win me back with a sodding flat and fucking-fine Oxford education. The bleeding flowers on her grave haven't even wilted, and already you're here. You all must be fucking cracked if you think I'll ever have anything to do with you. So, as much as I'm enjoying the small talk gentlemen," I say, motioning to the door, "nothing you've offered me is worth the paper it's printed on. If you don't mind, I've got to close shop and get me to lunch…the doors that way."
Oh, it's priceless--the look on their faces. Ought to commission a portrait. The young Watcher stares at me, mouth agape, no longer so sure of what to say, and in this moment of silence--my moment of triumph--I swear I can see the pale eyes of Councilman strike out at me in the dim light.
Enter the bad cop…
"So like the mother," he says shaking his head ruefully. He inhales sharply, his thin fingers moving together nervously, creating: churches, steeples, people. "The Council's been more than patient with you, Rupert. You've been given sufficient time to mourn, more than most as a matter of fact. Now Rupert, you can play shop boy all you want, run, hide, disappear from it all, but that doesn't change what you are. You don't belong here. You should go home, like a good lad." He motions toward the papers, held limply in my hands. "There lies a very generous offer, as much as the Council will ever be willing to give, or you ever willing to take. Accept it, Rupert. The next offer they give you will not be as generous."
Was that a threat?
"Are you threatening me?" I ask incredulously. "What you going to do, ay. There's nothing left." What else can they take away? What else do I have to take?
This is too funny. I laugh.
I throw my head back and laugh, and laugh, and laugh, until I can't breath; until my sides hurt; until tears stream down the sides of my face and into the corners of my mouth, filling them with their salty brine. I laugh the horrible joyless laugh of a man who has won at the worst possible price. And they know it.
"I don't have to accept anything."
I stand up and walk out of the closet; bumping into the sickly Watcher with enough force to knock him into the pile of paint cans behind him, which spill onto the floor. I mumble an apology, and tromp forward out into the shop, not bothering to glance back—afraid to turn into stone if I do. Behind me, I can hear the terrible rustle of the Watcher's suits as they promptly gather their things and follow me into the store, whispering quietly among themselves. "Come around. Famished really. Don't see what the Council could want with him. Know a lovely little teashop. Vicious fellow. Sooner or later." I shake their soft murmurings out of my head, and like a gracious host march over to the front door and hold it open for them. "Well, nice to have this lil' chat with the lot of you," I say caustically. "Hope you found it just as satisfying as I did. Do please allow me to show you to the door."
Taking my hint, they somberly pass before me into the sun-drenched street; not bothering to look upon me as they stiffly strolled out of the shadowy shop and onto the sidewalk. "If you change your mind, Rupert," the Councilman says pausing momentarily before exiting, "you know where to find us." He fixes his unblinking eyes upon me, waiting for my response. Seeing that I am not about to give him one, he turns from me with a twist of his lips vaguely resembling a smile and follows his companions into the light of the midday sun. I shut the door behind him.
The shop bell let out a loud clank announcing their departure, and from the door window, I watch them make their way down the street until they disappear from my line of sight. Gone. Well, that didn't end too badly, did it? They left. I stayed. One Mr. Rupert Giles claims victory. I take the manila folder and dump it unceremoniously into a nearby dustbin where it lands with a satisfying plop—a more beautiful sound could not be found in all the world.
12:45 pm. Bollocks.
Proper chaps, Watchers are, always ready to waste one's time. Should've been out half an hour ago, sitting back idly in front of the telly watching my futbol, sucking on a smoke, and overall enjoying the hour of freedom I get between nine and five. Instead I'm left with a closet full of fallen paint canisters, and enough free time to get a beer from the fridge and maybe catch the last ten minutes of Shang-a-lang. I groan in exasperation at the present state of affairs, but not about to let anymore of my lunch hour escape me, get to the work of turning the OPEN to a CLOSED. Letting out a frustrated sigh, I stoop down to pick up the fallen cans, initiating the stacking process. Too bad the Council didn't see it fit stay and help. Just like them to make a mess, and then expect others to pick it up. Careless bastards, they always leave when…
Here was something new. A black liquid rolls down the side of one of the paint cans creating a wicked, spiral across the white label as I lift it from the floor. Looks like petro, but the smell is all wrong. Anyway, I like to keep oils in the shed. Had an incident while back where several oily rags spontaneously combusted after coming in contact with my morning smoke. I plead the fifth, pissed fifteen dollars from my wages, and hereby learned my lesson. Something's probably dripping from the ceiling. My eyes scan from one corner to the next intently, but the source alludes. Tar, no. Ink, no. Bloody mystery, this is. I do a great deal of head scratching, but--as is the case in all domestic anomalies--get bored ten seconds into the matter. Out of sight out of mind, I suppose. Too behind in my work to think of it any longer, I wipe the black liquid off with the side of my hand.
There are times when pain surpasses profanity.
To be continued…