Whispers in the Dark
She was, without a doubt, the biggest idiot that had ever cast a shadow on the face of the damned planet!
How could she drop her guard like that? What possessed her to freeze like that all of the sudden? She should have just called the rat crazy to his face, distract him with random insults and pray that he would forget about it like he was supposed to! And what did she do? She gave herself away… Basil gave herself away in the worse way possible. If she wouldn't have panicked then, maybe things could be even the slightest bit better for her, but no, she had to freak out and expose herself, to have Ratigan right… She shuttered at the thought.
How did she even get herself into such a situation? She was always careful. She was always careful – so what happened this time? How did that mole see trough her disguise? And why didn't she do anything to prevent him from telling his boss something? Why did she not see this coming? What happened to the normally calculating and ever so careful Basil?
"Fancy a bit of tea, dear?"
Basil wanted to hurt herself… as in really, really, hurt herself. Like bash her head against a wall, pull out all her fur, cut her tail even, do whatever it would serve as a suitable punishment for being such a complete and otherwise ultimate fool. And a fool she was, for she knew she could have done better! Her honor had just been flushed down the drain; her whole life had been ruined thanks to one small stupid mistake on her part. She might as well have not have been born with a brain. What use is the organ to one who doesn't use it!
Remembering that someone was asking her something about tea, she shakes her head. She really wasn't much in the mood for tea.
"Are you sure? You don't look too well to me, love. Come on, I'm sure a little bit of home-made tea will bring some life back into you."
Idly, she could hear Cookie busying himself, speaking random nonsense about the miraculous properties of some herbs and other such trifles, but other than that, she felt her mind go blank. A small part of her mind, the one that seamed to still be functioning, was wondering why Cookie was troubling himself so much on her account.
Especially since he had been doing so for the past three days.
She put her head in her hands, not bothering to notice the blanket that was tossed over her shoulders, nor the light bundle of something that was placed on her head. Usually, she would have taken note of that, or at least would have bothered to notice that these things tended to happen a bit too often lately. But then, she didn't much notice many a' things these days.
But not noticing many a' things doesn't mean she noticed nothing.
For example, on Monday, just after the little… illumination Ratigan had concerning her body structure, Basil lasted just as long as to plead with Cookie to spare Olivia and to let her stay by her side before simply breaking down. The stress of the past few hours had simply been too much to bear. Too many things happening at once, too many problems that needed solving and to top all that, Ratigan just had to drop the bomb! She was just too tired to think anymore and wanted nothing more than to be alone – or better yet – die a quick and painless death.
But alas, the children would have none of that.
"Mr. Bumbles' name is 'Thinker'?" Young Miss Flaversham asked just after basil had used the bee's name. "Why didn't you tell me anything, Mr. Bumbles?" Basil simply blinked and felt Thinker, who had once again positioned itself on her head, let out something that sounded more or less like a groan.
"Probably because she's a bee and thus can't talk like we do, and also maybe because somebody didn't quite pause and listen to her properly" She could feel Thinker nodding vigorously, almost happily, from its spot on her head. Olivia's mouth had formed a perfect 'O' during her explanation and while the little girl started muttering apologies to the bee, Basil felt she was ready to get back to sulking.
"T-'tective?" That is, until Midget decided to occupy the spotlight. "Just wha' happened? Why did ya' slap Boss back there? I's mean -"
"Because the bloody bastard deserved it and that will be all I'm going to say on the matter." Basil barked back with such venom Midget immediately ducked back. Almost as if he was sensing the sudden change of mood, Cookie took this moment to appear with a steaming cup of tea and some cookies (where he got those, Basil had no idea).
And the night carried on in much the same fashion. She would try to shake off their questions as much as possible, often pretending she did not hear them at all. But then there were some matter that, despite any 'black mood' that would take hold of her, she could not let go – certain topics especially.
"So… Is it true?" the little girl asked, looking at Basil with interest. Basil merely quirked an eyebrow in response, it's not like the little Miss Flangerbanger was that dim. There had been any questions she asked in the last couple of hours, but none quite that ambiguous.
"What is? That Ratigan is a bastard or that I used a bad word? I can assure you that both are." A cough. "And Midget, do close your mouth or at least swallow before gapping."
"But that's not it. What I'm asking is…" Olivia began toying with her scarf, awkwardly avoiding Basil's sharp yet curious gaze. "That you're not…" she paused to lick her lips. "What I mean is that you really are a lass?"
Basil dared smile at the memory. That girl could have just as well asked her where babies came from and it would have been less embarrassing! (Not that she would be willing to answer that ether).
"Was a lass?" Midget asked seconds after, looking between Basil and Olivia, clearly confused at the new term. Basil placed a hand over her eyes. She was not made for this.
"It means 'girl'." Olivia was soon to answer in an 'isn't that obvious' kind of tone. "Didn't anyone tell you that?"
"No." Midget was quick to defend himself. It wasn't his fault he never head that word before. He turned back to Basil. "So, that makes you a girl?"
Basil slowly nodded her head, not trusting her voice to let anything out right now. This was so terribly embarrassing… A lifelong career flushed down the canal! Oh, she could never be able to lift her head back up after this… Why didn't she listen to Vole and Clawes?
Why did she… Wait, what? "I beg your pardon?"
Basil half expected that she heard wrong, that maybe the collected exclamation that came from the mouths of both children was merely a fragment of her imagination. She looked at the children. They were both smiling, admiration being clearly written in their eyes.
Olivia was soon to voice her deductions. "We said 'wicked' Basil! Because that's just how it is! Oh, wait till I tell my teacher!" She clapped her hands in excitement. "On career class she said that I couldn't be like you because I was a girl, and girls are not to manly things, whatever that means. Now we see who's an ignoramus!"
Wide eyed, Basil turned to Midget who too, began to explain his reaction. "Me's no know what teacher is, but you are brilliant 'tective!" He exclaimed and flew up, landing on her lap (much to Basil's further bewilderment). "You's smart and girl. Me dad said nobody be smart and girl." There was a distinctive 'hey' from Olivia here. "'E said, 'if you find girl who's smart', 'e said, 'you prove me wrong and I give you shilling'. Dad now owe me shilling!" He cried out happily – maybe too happily. Basil supposed that the little guy had no idea what a shilling actually was. But then he frowned and seamed to be looking for something on Basil's face, something he didn't seem to find.
"…What?" Basil asked, feeling terribly uncomfortable with a child staring at her like that.
"You's no look like girl much though. You's sure you's girl?" God give her strength!
"Yes, I am rather sure I am one." Better try and give a smile, no matter how fake and strained it would come out. Children can hardly notice the difference. "Now if you please…" Balancing the tea cup in one hand, she used the other to gently shove the little bat off of her lap, making him fall beside her on the couch.
It was a memorable night, that Monday night. Never before could she remember spending so much time with children, nor their annoying questions. Bless those little creatures though. With all their chatter they managed to chase away some of the darkness. By the time they were shooed to bed by a very stern-looking Cookie (though that only made him look funnier) she could once again smile.
"Children are often the best remedy for everything." Cookie had told her just after the little ones had gone to sleep. "I almost miss the times when I used to see them every day… maybe that is why I enjoy little Midget's company so much."
She had spoken before thinking. "I imagine that during your days as a priest you used to see them every day."
At the memory of what followed afterwards, Basil almost laughed. She couldn't quite remember someone being that insistent to know how she did her little trick. To tell the truth, she herself was surprised she somehow managed to deduce that. It was like some part of her mind was flowing away as usual without her knowledge.
"Very well, then! I'll say." She eventually cried out in annoyance. "You may dress like a cook and act like a jester, but you are kinder then most of Ratigan's tugs and you still manage to earn his respect despite your kitchen duties. It was clear to deduce from that that you have earned that respect for your intellectual capacities rather then your strength. But not just any kind of intellectual, but one who was good with people and the way they think. A simple scholar or book writer could not impress Ratigan that much so I immediately deduced: teacher or priest. A teacher sounded most convenient given the fact that at one moment Ratigan too was one himself, but usually teachers have pride and you wouldn't have been so happy to work in a kitchen, nor would any collage give you a proper degree nor hire you with that terrible eyesight, even if you do see things a proper seeing person would not. And then there was the tea and cookie and I know no teacher who would bother himself with such things so there could be only one answer: a priest. But not a catholic priest, yet still a Christian one so I'll say orthodox." She dipped her finger in the tea then brought it to her tongue. "And you're not British. You come from central Europe. I'm guessing a Baltic country… no, more likely something more lain. Probably Romania."
For a full minute, time in which Basil took her time to check her tea for any unknown substances (it would have been her fourth cup that evening, and the forth that she would have inspected), Cookie was left speechless.
"That… was incredible." Cookie said at long last. By this time Basil had determined the tea was perfectly harmless and was sipping contently at the contents of the cup. "But… how did you know I was not British? Or Catholic for that matter? "
She swallowed before replying. "Your accent. You speak too good an English to be one, and far more melodious then most. Obviously, Latin traits but at the same time there is a slight Russian ring to it – probably a Slav influence as well – Carpathian. Also, judging by how warm it's in here, you are used to a much warmer climate so you must have also come from somewhere close to the Balkans. Only country that came to mind: Romania. Ah, and yes, then there was the tea. Limeflower is not exactly common in Great Britain and even if it were you'd have to first know how to about it's properties. And speaking of which, this is indeed very good." She paused for another slip of tea. "But no matter. Was I right?"
For a moment, Cookie looked slightly confused, as if he was not certain if what he was seeing and hearing was truly true. But then his eyes started sparkling. He smiled, slowly stated to giggle quietly then, suddenly, threw his head back and laughed.
"I've lived in this country a great many a' years, and in that time I have met a great deal of people. But not once had I ever been so deeply impressed by a lass – or lad. Not even James could have read me that well. Not when we first met, nor even now, I wager!" He barely managed to say between laughs. "But yes – to answer your question – I'll say 'yes'. You were right to a 't', that you were. Exact cum trebuia sa fii, aş zice! (1)" With that, he patted her shoulder fondly and (still laughing) excused himself (something concerning muffins). She still wasn't sure if he tripped over that broom by accident or not.
She giggled out loud, causing the bundle on her head shift and buzz.
That night she noticed that Cookie was, despite his position as mere cook, a highly respected individual among Ratigan's mostly brainless tugs. Nobody dared protest when he insisted she be moved from her previous room to one a bit closer to the kitchen.
But how Cookie ended up working for such an arse as Ratigan will forever puzzle her. He was a silly creature, but not in the annoying sort of way. He had this remarkable ability to brighten her mood no matter the circumstances and could actually hold a decent conversation with her on almost any subject. That last fact was proven when he chatted with her long into the night… Or was it morning?
When Tuesday came around, she found that despite a sleepless night and possible overdose of limeflower tea she was feeling better then the night before. Much as the night before, Cookie and the children would keep her company, chatting away with her on various subjects. Midget and Olivia seamed to have developed some form of friendship like most children their age would and would cease bothering her at random moments at the day so they could play or joke or whatever they would do. Basil had nothing against that. She was still angry with herself for the events of the previous day, but somehow, the big blow to her pride and honor seamed to hurt less. Even her leg stopped hurting quite as much as before, but she was still tired and not brave enough to fall asleep yet.
She knew that sooner or later Ratigan would come and confront her. It was in the rat's nature, so despite how happy she was for not having to spend time in the company of that brute, each moment that passed made her more and more restless. Cookie may have some authority over his tugs and some influence over him, but Ratigan was still Ratigan, and she wasn't looking forward to the time when he would let lose the feelings from inside. She still wasn't fully healed after the Big Ben chase all those months back.
Sometime during their five o'clock tea she though she caught a glimpse of a black and red cape rushing past the kitchen door, but just before she could be certain, it disappeared. So overall, most of the day had been spent dozing away in a chair and half-heartedly watched Olivia and Midget play silly games.
By nightfall, she was worried. Her mind had once again started to put two and two back together again and she did not like the conclusions she was reaching. A few disturbing things had come to her attention during their afternoon's tea, around the time when the children wanted for some odd reason to spend some time with her.
"It may be just me, but aren't you two taking this news a bit too lightly?" She asked most seriously. She found it odd that the two of them still seemed to be so open with her after yesterday's big news. Normally, she would have imagined that they would feel betrayal, disgust even, but they were acting as if nothing had ever happened.
The children just stared at her. "Never mind." She was never going to understand children.
"'Tective, ya' know I not know many thing, but I was wonder– OUCH! What's that?" Midget had only tried to settle himself better when he accidentally touched something that was sticking out of Olivia's pocket. Whatever it was, it hurt, and Midget instantly jumped back on Basil's lap, starling the detective out of her wits (and almost making her spill the hot tea all over her).
"Midget! Had your mother never taught you that jumping on someone when they are in the middle of something is most rude?" It was her lifelong belief that mothers and fathers are supposed to be the ones to oversee the education their offspring, but right then she was willing to forget that one detail and scold the little terror till next week.
"But it stung!" Was Midget's wailing response as he clutched to her middle-section, hiding his head from view. Basil rolled her eyes.
"Miss Flambercamp, please enlighten me as to what exactly happened here." She pointed at the still sniveling Midget. Olivia shrugged for a moment until she appeared to be remembering something. She dug into her pocket and took out something that resembled a bee stinger.
"He must have stepped on these!" She said, showing the stingers to the female detective. "They are wasp stingers. Mr- I mean, Thinker and I went looking for some wasp hives after we saw the spider marks in the snow. Wasps are the only things they fear after all so I thought –"
"Wow, wait a second, my dear." Basil exclaimed, placing the cup of tea down on the sofa's arm. If Midget would keep fidgeting in her lap chances were that there would be no cup by the end of this conversation. "Just what are you talking about? Start from the beginning to end."
Blushing, Olivia told the detective everything that happened since Thinker came bursting into 221B trough the stove, and although she'd rather die then admit it, Basil was downright impressed with the little girl. Few would be able to tell the difference between spider marks and normal water drop marks in the snow, fewer still to determine the kind of spider that would make those marks, and even fewer to think of arming themselves with wasp stingers in the events of ever meeting up with a tarantula. Maybe there was a detective buried in there somewhere after all… if the child would cease being even more reckless then she was.
"I do hope you know that although the stinger idea was very clever –" she picked one up and examined it for a brief moment "– it was also very foolish of you to wonder off alone at the beginning of winter with a murderer on the loose, looking for another murderer with no real plan or back-up. And no, one bee –" she pointed at a sulking Thinker that was still seated on top of her head "– doesn't count as back-up."
Olivia's ears fell flat on her head. "I'm sorry, Basil… but the others just weren't listening! I kept telling and they wouldn't listen!"
"Nether were you." Basil pointed out. Picking up Midget from her lap, she held him at arm's length for a moment, gave him a look then settled him back on the sofa beside Olivia before once again turning to address the little girl. "You, my dear, lack patience and are reckless in your actions. Normally, I wouldn't much mind that seeing as I'm mostly the same, but unlike you, I have experience in this sort of things and I usually tend to plan ahead of time. Not to mention that I usually am aware of what I am getting myself into. Per example: when I decided to give myself up to Ratigan to escape Dawson, I knew who I was dealing with, for I know Ratigan and know what to expect from him. You, and the other hand, don't, and I hope you never will, for this here is dangerous business."
Olivia looked just about ready to cry, with tears building up in her big sea-blue eyes… and Basil started to feel guilty for being the one who actually put those tears there. There, that was why she didn't agree to the scolding of other people's children.
"Now, now, Miss Flamshore –"
"Whatever!" Basil exclaimed in such a comical fashion Midget couldn't help the giggle that escaped him, nor could Olivia hide a smile. "I am not scolding you because I like to, but because you need to know how foolish your stunt was. Did you ever pause to think what your father would have done if some ill would have befallen upon you? Did you ever think how I would feel, knowing you exposed yourself to such danger because of me?" By the time she finished her speech, Basil had gripped her shoulders, forging the child to look straight into her eyes.
"I'm sorry Basil…" Olivia bowed her head, trying to avoid the detective's eyes. "I just wanted to be like you."
"Perish the thought child!" Basil cried, appearing horrified at the idea. "I daresay London is not prepared for another me running about. It might be the end of Mousedom as we know it!" She paused for a moment, then added as an afterthought: "Or if not it might be the end of Vole as we know him." That made Olivia giggle. "But seriously child, leave these grown-up things to grown-ups. You'll have enough time to get in trouble and start courting death soon enough. For the moment though, please refrain yourself from making us grow gray fur. Half of us are old enough is it is."
"Are you mad at me, Basil?" Olivia asked, once again fidgeting with her scarf.
The detective puffed. "I should, but I know better then to blame a child for not thinking. Many grown mice don't think, after all. Who I am mad at right now…" She had to end it there, for another coughing fit took over, making her whole body shake.
Midget, unable to stop his curiosity, dared use that moment to ask: "Is she in trouble though?"
"Oh, that she is." Basil replied after she regained her breath. She paused to clear her throat before continuing: "But I'm not her mother to punish her for it, just as I can't punish you if you ever done something wrong. It is not my responsibility nor would it be right for me to do so." She cleared her voice again. "If you ask me there should be a law to stop people from attempting to punish children they are not in charge of."
The conversation carried on like that for a long while afterwards, but Basil kept thinking about the implications. No matter her status at the moment, she was still a detective and she had a job to do. Vole and Clawes were counting on her, but most importantly, this was something she needed to do to save herself from insanity.
That night she thought hard, analyzing the situation from all corners. Around daybreak, the puzzle had finally started to take shape. Still, the key-peaces were still missing and without them it was dangerous to try and speculate. Basil didn't want to end up with a 'demon theory' again. She didn't even believe in them.
Speculation aside, she tried to sort the date as well as mousely possible. The inspectors would need some solid evidence after two nights in which she send Thinker with only a 'still alive' message for the two.
Now it was precisely thirteen minutes to seven in the evening, the children where playing another odd game of theirs and Cookie had just fetched another cup of limeflower tea for her. She thanked him as he excused himself (something concerning another batch of muffins) and watched her reflection in the steaming cup.
To sum it all up: she looked like a mess. Her eyes were red and baggy and her fur seamed to have lost its shine. That's what three days of no rest, stress, self-pithy and worry would do to you, Sher… she tried to tell herself, but that was a lie. All those things alone could not have had such an effect on her. Not even her cursed black moods would wear her off like that.
She coughed for what felt like the thousandth time the past hour and could no longer ignore the fact that maybe she was sick. And Thinker certainly wasn't helping.
"Thinker…" she said, sending her eyes upwards and catching a glimpse of yellow. "Do cease your fidgeting. I have enough troubles without you dancing on my head." The bundle on her head instantly went still. "Thank you."
With that, she wrapped the blanket tighter (everything seemed so cold these last few days) around her and looked back at the children. Any kind of distraction now would be a good distraction.
At exactly seven minutes to seven, Ratigan barged into the kitchen muttering bloody murder, startling all its occupants. Cookie dropped a plate that was full of muffins and the teacup Basil held fell from her hand, shattering into many tiny peaces as it came in contact with the floor. The children hid themselves somewhere.
"James P. Ratigan! You ruined my muffins!" Cookie scolded the instant the large rodent took a seat at the table, opposite Basil, still not quite finished muttering profanities. As he did so, he pulled off some papers from his inside pocked and proceeded by glaring at them.
She started to shake. It didn't take a genius to deduce that he was in a very bad mood…
"I do hope you have a serious reason for barging in my kitchen like that, young man. Especially after disappearing on us like that for three days." Cookie reproached. Ratigan growled and looked like he wanted to murder something. Basil merely wanted to become invisible. If she could just slide down slowly… Oh, no! She felt another cough coming! "I'll have you know that making muffins is not as easy as it seems and furthermore –"
"Screw your muffins!" Ratigan cried suddenly, jumping to his feet and immediately trusting the papers into the cook's face. "I searched the whole city from top to bottom -" Basil swallowed her first cough " - went and asked all my sources –" she held her breath when she felt the second one coming "- I even went and asked that Silverson (2) fellow. But she's nowhere to be found, mole. She vanished!"
Basil couldn't help it any more. She coughed, the force of it shaking her tired body. In the middle of it, she dared look up at Ratigan, fearing the worse. She may be brave, but even she wouldn't dare tick off an already angry rat. To her immense surprise and ease, he merely looked at her - scowled more likely – then turned back to the mole and motioned to the door. Thank the Lord…though Basil as the door closed.
It was then that Thinker flew up on her lap and watched her with big, frightened eyes. It tried to find a way to help, find a way to make its new queen feel better. Basil knew that the little bee's been worried about her, it was hard not to when all it did was hover around her. By the time she could finally breathe again Thinker was close to panicking and Basil had an aching throat.
The children had, in the meanwhile, emerged from their hiding place. Olivia quickly set out to bring her a glass of water. Midget on the other hand, rushed to the door to be certain nobody came in. Apparently the little guy learned something since when she told them about spying techniques.
"Feeling better, Basil?" Olivia asked, handing her the glass. She nodded before taking a sip. It stung like a moth -
"Miss B.?" That was Midget. "You best come hear this."
With a sigh, Basil rose to her feet and with Olivia's help, marched the small distance to the door. Following the bat's example, she pressed an ear to the door and listened.
"Why do you even bother to seek her out is beyond me, James." That could only be Cookie. "You have always been the one to make the decisions for us."
"But never without seeking counsel from you two first." And that could only be Ratigan. "There are too many implications… And plus, you said so yourself that this is a tricky business. Eradication hasn't brought us anywhere. Look around! The bastard is back and not only so: he's back with a vengeance! We need to ask that damn woman's opinion."
"I still think you should tell our guest about Terra."
"And I still think you're mad."
"James, listen to me: it's more to her then you think. I believe that she could really help you. Don't scowl at me! I watched that girl for three days. I think I know what I'm saying. She's a bright, open-minded young lady and I'm sure she would understand. You just need to give her a chance."
Now this was certainly getting interesting the detective in her said. And it would have been so had she not realized that the cook was talking about her!
The next moment something hit the door, startling the ones overhearing. Scrambling to get back into position, the children, detective and bee almost fell upon one another. Olivia would have screamed and Basil would have broken her already weak leg – that was certain – had Midget not taken flight in a last moment and caught one of them by their clothes.
In the meantime, Ratigan was pacing outside the kitchen, Cookie watching.
Three days… Three bloody days wasted for no apparent reason. That pesky squirrel was never there when you needed her but always there when you didn't need her! Though maybe he should have suspected that this should be the case after their last interaction.
"I never want to see you or hear from you and your pet mole ever again, you pathetic excuse for a living creature!"
Yes, it's true that they haven't parted in the friendliest of terms.
Cookie was shaking his head. "Must you always be so stubborn?"
"Mole, I am now ignoring you!" Ratigan snapped, resuming his pacing.
"Ignore all you want but that does not change the fact that you are acting like an overgrown child!" He was still ignoring him. "I've known you for over thirty years now and you still refuse to listen to anyone other then yourself." He still did it. "I just want to know what harm could it do if you'd just speak with her. You know, start with small chat and all that. You might get to actually know her, and maybe then you would actually believe me when I say that she would be the one." Ignoring! "Would it hurt so much to listen to me just this once, James?"
That did it.
For the second time that day he burst in the kitchen, slamming the door shut behind him. Out of the corner of his eye he saw two faces duck back in a cabinet and he needed to resist the urge to growl. He hated children. He'll have to think of a way to get rid of those two soon. Maybe Felicia could help there. She hasn't eaten anything tasty in weeks. And children were most tasty.
Of course, he would have to be sure Fidget didn't find out. He did kind of promise that night when he came begging to spare his cousin's life that he wouldn't lay a finger on the pathetic creature. But right now, back to priorities. Where was the cheeky little… Ah, there he – oh, make that she – was, right where he left her. She looked nervous. Hard to determine if that was a good sign.
With confidence, he marched over to the seat opposite her. She swallowed hard.
Oh, yes – she must have overheard part of his conversation with Cookie. So let's say nervousness equals 'good sign' for now. He smiled.
"Good evening, detective." He addressed her sweetly (though he did glance around if there were any sharp object in her immediate vicinity – it was best to avoid another scene). "I trust my cook had been a good host so far?"
Basils nodded hurriedly, then seamed to realize what she was doing and said: "Yes. He has."
Ratigan nodded, apparently pleased by the answer and got to his feet, the perfect image of grace. "I must offer my apologies for the way we have treated you in the past. Had we were aware that we were dealing with a lady we would have offered you better living conditions from the very start. We are not brutes, you know." He paused to open a drawer.
"I hardly see how it matters now." Was her response.
"Ah! Tut-tut, detective." He tisked. "I am the prime host here and it is my responsibility to make my guests feel welcome. And I fear that you may not have felt quite so welcome." Basil almost didn't catch herself from rolling her eyes. "Also, I must apologies for that… little event now three days ago. But you must understand that given the circumstances, well… I'll just cut it short and admit that I had no idea you were a woman."
… A sorry Ratigan was stranger and far creepier then a mad Ratigan… of that Basil was now certain.
"You needn't apologies for that. I… realized I had been over-reacting…" Ratigan may or may have not heard her judging by how he was browsing trough the contents of that drawer. Basil frowned, but chose to say nothing on the matter yet. "After all, I can't really blame–"
"Aha! Here we are!" Ratigan cried with triumph as he extracted something from the drawer. It seemed to resemble a chess board. "Do you play chess detective?" Apparently it really was a chess board. It didn't change the fact that it still confused Basil.
Ratigan chuckled at mouse's vacant gaze. Taking a seat back opposite her, he proceeded to take out the chess peaces from the box and promptly arranged them on the board.
Basil frowned. "Ratigan… what are –"
"It has occurred to me" the rat started "that I know close to nothing about you." He sniffed, looking lazily at the white queen. "Also, given recent events, I am certain that you have a lot of questions for me. So, in the noble tradition of our forefathers, why don't we settle this down over a nice game of chess?"
Basil was still lost.
"Apparently you are not common with this tradition. Never threat, a person cannot be judged by his or her lack of knowledge, merely for his or her lack of use of what he or she knows." The pieces were now all in place. "There we are. Now, I'll tell you how this goes. In the darker days when two intellectuals would meet at Oxford they would undoubtedly wish to test each other. But simple talk had proved itself to be pointless. One may speak the truth or speak a lie, more or less how we've been doing for the last couple of years." He chuckled again. "But under a game of chess one would also learn how the other mind's works, so even if the person would lie, then you'd still learn something about him. Or her, nowadays. And I assure you, there are plenty things one can learn about another in a game of chess. What say you?"
It took Basil a while to figure out just what the rat was suggesting and even when she did, it sounded odd. Not like this didn't sound like Ratigan, mind you, but it didn't sound like something Ratigan would do with her.
She found herself agreeing once his smile started to fade.
"Marvelous!" Ratigan cried and clapped his hands enthusiastically. "So, you want to be white or black." She hesitated. "Oh, I see you're still new with this so I'll start." He turned the board so the white peaces were now facing him. "No let's see…" He thought for a moment before moving a pawn to E4.
"Standard move, I see." Basil commented, praying Ratigan wouldn't react violently. He didn't.
"True, but I believe that is how most things start in life. With a single small step." He pointed at his pawn. "Which brings us to the true purpose of the game: getting to know each other. Aham! I am Professor James P. Ratigan and my expertise lies in mathematics." He extended his hand to Basil, waiting. Hesitantly, she finally brought a shaky hand to shake his, much to the professor's glee.
"There, that wasn't so bad now, was it?" He purred, patting her hand with his other one. He then turned back at the board. "Your move."
Being a little more certain that Ratigan didn't wish to feed her to his cat just yet, she dared to copy her opponent's opening move, placing a black pawn at square E5.
"Standard move, I see." Ratigan said, chuckling with amusement. Basil shrugged.
"I only give as good as I get." Why did that sound dirty after she said it? Ratigan didn't seem to notice or wasn't petty enough to try and make her feel uncomfortable about it.
"Touché, detective. Touché." Bishop was moved to C4. "So, why did you chose to… erm… go out like you do?" He was obviously asking why she took to masquerading as a male. She could very well lie. Ratigan had no way to know if she was telling the truth. But at the same time…
"I guess it's easier that way." It was easier to go with a half-truth then a full lie. "Back in my house there was a saying: God made a mistake when they made me a girl and my brother a boy. In mind and personality at least. I loved to learn while my brother enjoyed creating. And I absolutely hated skirts and dresses." This earned a laugh from Ratigan.
"Oh, that's not a hard thing to picture, detective."
She shrugged. "I guess that it simply stuck to me afterwards. After all, with my wits, stubbornness and a name like 'Sherringford' I couldn't quite pass as much of a lady, now could I?"
At that Ratigan stared. "You mean to say that 'Sherringford' actually is your name?" She nodded. "Dear me! Talk about misfortune on your part."
"I learned to get used to it."
"So what do they call you then? I can't imagine that brother you spoke of wouldn't call you by such an impossibly long name all the time. A… pet-name perhaps?"
"He hasn't called me anything in a long time." She picked up her bishop and examined it for a while.
"Ohh… Had a bit of a fall-out then?"
"No. He just died." She placed her bishop on square C5.
Ratigan made face that at first glance would have made someone believe he was truly sorry to hear that. But Basil knew him better. "Ohh… I'm so sorry to hear that Basil…" The bastard already knew that. And if his intentions were anything like the ones he showed in his playing, then he had another thing coming. Two can make an attempt at a Scholar's mate. (3) But why end the game so quickly?
"It was a long time ago." She coughed. "But to answer your question, most would just call me Basil or 'nuisance' if we're here to discuss Detective Chief Inspector Vole's lovely relationship with me. But as long as I know they are addressing to me, people can call me whatever they wish."
"Including 'cupcake'?" Ratigan asked deviously, placing his queen on square H5.
Black pawn to H6. "Except 'cupcake'."
Ratigan grinned. "But that aside, I fear I have taken advantage of you. Here I am asking away while you are merely answering. Aham! Did you have a question for me?"
Basil thought for a moment. "What gave me away?"
"Gave wha–? Oh! The fact that you are a… Well, truth be told, there hasn't been something specific, so to say. Cookie is to blame. He can't see past the end of his nose yet he can see right through people. I… guess it's some sort of gift he has."
Why did she feel that he was letting things out? "And how about you? You're the most stubborn creature I know. Surely there must have been some kind of voice up there" she pointed at her head "that told you to listen. Because I know for a fact that you listen to no-one."
He quirked an eyebrow. "Oh really? Well, how could you possibly reach that conclusion?"
"Simple. Get your knight out of there."
He moved a pawn. "Don't change the subject, Basil. It doesn't become you."
Basil smirked. "I'm not." She then proceeded to capture his knight with the aid of a bishop. Ratigan stared. "I'm merely proving a point."
So you have… thought Ratigan with a scowl. He quickly brushed off his irritation though. "Yes, I see where you're going with this. True, I may have had a 'voice' that kept telling me that something was amiss. I guess it must have been because of those…"
Those incredible green eyes of yours… "Hands." At Basil's vacant look, he gently took one of her slightly trebling hands in his own. "These hands, my dear detective, are far too gentle and delicate to belong to a man." He patted it. Basil pulled it back, her eyes glaring daggers at the other rodent. Had he not remembered a certain incident that took place not too long ago, he would have laughed at her expression. But right now, he was far to worried that those hands were coming dangerously close to some captured chess pieces. "Peace, woman! Peace! We don't want a re-do of your earlier display of fury."
"Hump!" Puffed Basil, feeling insulted. "Well, that could have been avoided quite nicely had you just kept your hands to yourself."
Now it was Ratigan's turn to look offended. "Figures! This the thanks one gets when he's preventing the injuries of another."
"Before that you had just asked me to 'strip'! Not to mention ask all those creepy questions. 'What are you?' or 'are you a man or not?' Tell me what you would have done had you been in my place."
"Well I would have…" He stopped abruptly, for he had just realized that had he really been in her place he most certainly would have done the same. Across the table from him, Basil was smirking, looking at him with a look that said 'I see you got my point'. Eventually, Ratigan couldn't help himself any more. He began to holler in an uncontrollable fit of laughter. "My word, detective, you truly are a peace of work. Did you know that?" He moved his queen to H4. "But I guess that should be expected from the DCI's 'nuisance'."
Basil suddenly felt proud of herself. It was a very pleasant feeling and it would have been better still had it not been for another breath-taking cough fit.
Ratigan, still smiling, lit up a cigarette with a match (he had to start looking for that lighter) and started puffing on it contently. He offered one to the detective, but she refused.
"Well, what's done is done and there is no changing the past, merely learn from your mistakes and avoid making more in the future. I know I for one learned from mine." Basil, still trying to regain her breath, nodded. "But now I guess it's my turn." He looked at the board, puzzled over his next move for a while, moved his second knight so it would attack one of Basil's rocs then leaned back in his seat. "Another question, detective: just how did you end up here? It's pretty hard to believe that you tracked down tubby all the way to my doorstep for some reason."
Basil glared. "Dr. Dawson is not tubby. He is merely better developed then most." Ratigan rolled his eyes. "And why does it seem so hard for you to comprehend that I was merely looking for my flat mate?"
Ratigan looked up. "Flat mate? Somebody actually wants to share the same rooms with you? The ultimate menace of the mouse-world?" Basil didn't beat an eyelash. "Oh, dear! Next thing I know you'll go and tell me that you and the poor fool are sharing the same bed. Are you not wearing a wedding band by any chance?"
Basil grabbed the board.
"Peace, woman! I was merely jesting."
"Make sure you don't forget that." Said Basil angrily, yet she did release the board. "And it's nothing wrong with sharing rooms with a decent fellow as long as we both keep to our own bedrooms."
Ratigan nodded, lost in thoughts. Somehow, he could relate to that. But not quite… "I take it that you don't actually like the doctor?"
"I practically sacrificed my freedom for him, Ratigan. Do try to think before you ask such questions. And are you sure you want to lose that rook?"
"You can have it. I'll just capture one of yours in two moves and call it even. But that was not what I meant." He cleared his voice. "I mean… you don't really fancy him, do you?"
Basil's jaw dropped. "I thought that was a joke! I treasure him as a friend and love him as dearly as a brother or even as a father, but that does not mean I feel any kind of romantic inclination for the man. In case you forgot, I am not the loving type. Maybe I really should hit you so you would remember that. And dare say 'peace, woman' again and I will hit you. I have a name, you know. Use it!"
"You have my apologies, Basil." Sure, he was mocking her now, but at least he had not called her that again.
And they had carried on in that manner till the clock struck twelve. At around a quarter past seven, the children finally decided it was safe enough to come out of their hiding place along with a very annoyed Thinker. The bee did not much like being stuck in a cupboard with two children when its queen was facing that big old rat all by herself. Needless to say, it zoomed out and positioned itself back on Basil's head as soon as the cupboard's door creaked open.
Ratigan did not look so happy to see the bee at first but after a lot of (dare one say it) pleading on Basil's part, he let it slide. He even agreed not to murder the children if they left for bed that very instant – a thing that they were all to willing to do.
At around eight, Cookie decided to take a peak and check up on the two. He had taken the time to put little Olivia and Midget to sleep, assuring them both that Ratigan did not intend to kill their detective friend (or mutilate her beyond recognition), but truth be told, he was a bit nervous himself. Ratigan was not in a good mood the last time he saw him after all. Imagine his surprise when he found them engrossed in a game of chess, Ratigan whining about the fact that he should have seen that bishop coming. Maybe there really was some hope left for them after all.
He left the kitchen a happy mole, though maybe he should have expressed his concern concerning Basil's rapidly degenerating health.
"I'll see you in check mate yet!" Cried Ratigan as Basil captured his last rock.
"That was supposed to be my line." Was Basil's quick, yet at the same time tired, remark. Three days worth of coughing had exhausted her body far worse then the stress did her mind. In her case, the mind could repair itself given the proper motivation. The rest of her though, was not quite so cooperative.
She tried to put all that aside for the moment and try and concentrate on the game. Each player now had only a queen, a pawn and a kind respectively, so it was only a matter of time till the game would finally reach its end.
In a way, she was sorry to reach that conclusion. As impossible and even more improbably as it seamed, Ratigan made quite a decent chess partner. The fact that she now knew enough about Ratigan to make Vole cry with joy was a nice bonus as well. But most of all, she herself was pleased with the outcome of this 'game'. True, she might have spilled out a couple of things about her she might regret later on, but at the same time, she found that Ratigan had certain views concerning their society she found herself agreeing on. She was almost ready to understand his desire to overthrown the queen and reform society, was almost willing to accept that an orphan would be better off dead then to be put to work for the rest of his or her life in one of those dreadful workhouses… but almost.
"But Ratigan… if you kill someone, mercy or not, aren't you also taking away their chances to make a difference?"
He looked at her quizzically. "What do you mean?"
She hesitated. What she wanted to say… she had yet to tell anyone. It was a particularly painful memory for her. But for some unknown reason, she wanted Ratigan to know this. "My brother – as in, my older brother, Myerricroft – doesn't know this yet, but I remember when my mother and brother died. Some thieves broke into our house while father and Myerricroft were away. Mother tried to fight back, but they were stronger. They… killed her and my brother right in front of my eyes." She paused. "But I lived – lived to see another day." She felt her eyes sting, yet she refused to let the tears fall. "For months I kept wondering why I lived, when they died. There had been times when I think I would have been better off dead. But I lived and eventually, I learned to put everything behind me and just carried on living. Had I died when I did I wouldn't have grown up to become the detective I am – or, was at least – and many parents would have lost their parents, treasures would continue to go missing and you wouldn't have a chess partner right now, one that is trying to make a point."
She looked the professor right in the eye, trying to read his mind. For the first time, Ratigan looked remorseful, but of what, Basil wasn't sure. All she knew was that the professor didn't appear to be faking an expression.
"I am sorry…" was all he said. Basil didn't know if he truly meant it, but she decided it didn't really matter any more. The room was spinning and her head was aching… and if only she would stop seeing double…
With difficulty, she tried to continue the game.
"Detective, is something wrong?" Ratigan asked out of the blue at some point.
"I'm fine." She replied without thinking. Seeing her opponent's skeptical look, she added: "Just a bit tired, I guess." Ratigan hummed silently to himself and checked his pocket watch.
"Well, we have been playing for a few hours." He flipped the lid of the watch close and tucked the thing back in his pocket. "And though I chose not to say anything, all that couching of yours surely couldn't have done you much good. Why don't you try to lie down for a bit?"
"We both remember how a previous attempt of that ended."
Ratigan couldn't help chuckle. "Indeed… The problem with you, detective, is that you don't trust people enough." He got up. "I am not the kind of person to kick a fellow when he's down…" Basil ran a hand over her face. "Oh, very well, maybe I am. But that's not the point. Basil, think: what had I done to harm you in the last twenty-four hours? Unless memory serves me wrong, I actually went off and helped you with that leg. And for the past several hours we've been playing chess. Now, what would make you think I bear you any real ill will? Death treats aside."
Basil sighed. "It's hard to trust someone who keeps a pistol on hand."
Ratigan froze. That gun she was talking about was tucked away in one of his inner pockets, prone to discovery if checked, true, but he was very careful not to draw any attention to it. He was not all that wiling to explain its presence. So how the blazes did she –?
"I am still Basil of Baker Street, Ratigan." Came her quick response, as if she could read his mind. "Prisoner or not, or even guest – as Cookie insists on calling me – or not, I am still the best detective Mousedom had ever seen. If you plan on hiding a weapon from me, you really should do better then that."
Slowly, Ratigan extracted the pistol from within his pocket. It was an outdated model, but still quite effective. Not once had it done a very good job in riding him of unwanted personnel. He… was not certain if it would be put to use that night… or any other night… He had been carrying the thing along with him for the past three days, constantly wondering if he should listen to reason and experience, or if he should try something else.
It had taken him three days to listen to Cookie and talk to Basil, yet it had taken him less then a minute to finally make up his mind.
With less grace then it he was accustomed to, he placed the thing on the chessboard, right in front of his prisoner. He took a step back then, pulled out another cigarette and lit it. He puffed for a while, time in which Basil had taken the fire arm into her hands, twisting and checking it. Much like she expected, she found it loaded, and more then just ready to be used. She looked at Ratigan, half expecting him to lash out at her, just as long as this didn't turn out to be what she thought it was.
The professor breathed in the smoke of his cigarette before speaking: "Well… what can you deduce from this?"
Basil took a deep breath before replying "Chit-chatting is not like you, nor the forgive and forget thing. You keep a grudge longer then anyone else I have ever met. Under normal circumstances, by now you would have feed me to your cat. Instead, you invited me to play chess. For a long time I wanted to think that maybe Cookie put you up to this, but I knew it was foolish of me to do so. You're too stubborn. And when I noticed this -" she held up the pistol "- and I just knew that this had to be some sort of test." Ratigan said nothing. "This really was some sort of test then." Basil concluded calmly, yet her fingers had tightened around the pistol, the flesh turning white underneath the fur.
After what seemed like a decade, Ratigan finished his cigarette, rushing down what remained on the table. He did not look at her as he finally began to speak.
"What case had you been working on before you arrived here, detective?"
"Huh?" That was a bit unexpected. "Why, nothing really…"
"Please don't lie, detective. I know that it was not 'nothing'. You've been snooping around ever since you got here. Certainly you were looking into something." Ashamed of herself, of being caught, Basil nodded. She could not meet his eyes. "I think it's safe to assume that it was a murder case. Those are the only ones that can spark your interest like that."
"Four murdered girls – all having a certain affiliation to bakers. The way they were murdered was not all that uncommon. The only thing that made it all that uncommon was that their murderers were soon found incinerated. Nobody yet knows how that happened when they had nothing among themselves to cause a fire in the first place, nor had they come in contact with anyone or anything." She coughed. "Pardon. Ether way, concerning their victims, one was burned to death, another was stabbed, the third one was found in an ice room while the forth one had her throat cut…"
"And the fifth one was drowned…" In that moment, the world could have just as well have stopped moving, for Basil would not be able to notice. To say she was shocked was saying too little yet to say she did not suspect Ratigan knew something about this was saying too much.
"Now three days ago I recall you had taken an interest in Terra. Do you remember?" It was hard to forget. She nodded, despite the fact that he couldn't see it.
"She was a… friend, you could say." He said at long last. "I met her when I was still a teacher, struggling with one's pupils and fighting to pay the rent. Or, more exactly, to find a place you could rent when you had little to nothing in your pocket." He chuckled, but unlike his previous ones, this one was filled with sadness. "Terra Flaps was the only one that seamed to take pity on me at the time. We made some sort of a bargain to… to live together and all. She would give me a room and I would teach her everything I knew."
Basil patiently waited for him to continue.
"Today, even a schoolboy would dare call himself far more intelligent then she was and I could find nothing to contradict him with." He sighed. "She never received any proper form of education before she met me. She was illiterate, had no real knowledge outside of the daily duties of a baker-mouse's helper and grand-daughter, but at the same time, she was far from stupid. She did not know fact, true, but she could determine cause and effect. In fact, one look at you and she could tell you your entire life story." He smiled. "She was the one that taught me the art of deduction." He turned to face Basil. "You remind me of her on many things you know. You have… seen her portrait."
It was not a question, but Basil nodded ether way.
"You must have noticed her eyes, detective. Forest green… always so bright and full of life…" His eyes fell on the chess board, on his white queen and with the utmost delicacy, picked up the peace and lifted up at eye level. "To this day, I am still not sure why I remember them so vividly. But the point is, detective, that I loved that woman. I loved her more then anything on earth. Yet I never got to tell her that…" he placed the queen back on the board. "One summer I was invited to become a professor at Oxford University. I was supposed to teach there the following fall, teach proper mathematics, teach people that really wanted to learn and be paid properly for it. It was, in short, my dream come true if you believe in such nonsense. And I, in my foolishness, accepted. I did not pause to think that I should have brought Terra along with me. She had been feeling poorly for months and her grandfather's business was not doing all that well ever since a nasty gang of rats came to London. The ride would not have done her much good, but it would have done her less harm then staying here had." He placed a hand over his eyes. "I still blame myself for not predicting the outcome…"
Basil reached over and took his white queen in her hands, turning it over again and again, and thinking of what Ratigan had said. "What happened?"
"One of her friends, the only one she seemed to have beside me, was… bearing her ill thoughts." He paused. "Right after I left, he started poisoning her mind against me, against society. He used every nasty trick in the bloody book too. He drove her to the brink of madness. And things in London had steadily started to go from bad to worse. There were riots and people were leaving their houses, all thanks to those rats that started terrorizing everyone. By the time I got wind of it, it was too late. Terra hated me, cursed me and the next moment… she was gone… Dropped dead besides her dead grandfather…"
Basil's ears fell flat on her head. Her mind flew back to that day when she was ten. The yelling, the blood, the screams… She covered her face with her hands, pushing back the memories.
"Her body died in a fire, yet her mind had long since burned. Her beautifully bright mind was poisoned constantly and after I left, I believe she just couldn't be able to tell delusion from reality."
That too sounded… like something she could relate to.
"What do you mean by that?"
"This creature is no ordinary murderer. He seeks out certain girls to please his fancy. But he doesn't just kill them. Oh, no, he's crueler then that. He would speak to them; promise them the moon and the stars and what ever they may wish. Eventually, he would enter their heads, possess their dreams and take them away from everything they have ever held dear. And what is worse is that there is no way anyone can stop him. Once he sets his mind on a target, there is no way he can be diverted from that path. No victim of his had ever survived."
Basil was on her feet in an instant. "But there must be some way he can be stopped!" Ratigan shook his head.
"Sorry kid, but we already tried everything. The only thing we can do is find his possible targets and kill them as fast and merciful as possible." He paused for a moment to massage his temples. "I know you may think me a cruel man, detective, but even I wouldn't let some poor soul suffer so. The death he brings them is a most cruel death – very slow and very painful. He doesn't just kill his targets, he destroys them."
Basil's mind was working a mile a minute, but all this new information was making her dizzy. She tried to sort it all out, to make sense of the professor's words, but all she could think of was: "'We'?"
Ratigan had to smile at that. "Oh, that would be Cookie, Becky and I. Each of us had a loved one taken away by that monster at some point of our lives, we decided to make a difference. We swore that we would see to it so that he would never harm another living creature as he had done to my beloved Terra. We worked on killing off potential victims all around Europe –"
"That's mass murder!"
"Hardly so. This thing is searching for specific girls, as I have said earlier. Judging by the anger in your eyes I tell you don't quite see things my way so I'll do my best to elaborate. This thing is searching for girls that have these exact qualities: independence, brilliance, forest green eyes and the most important thing – they had to bear the same blood. Namely, the same as you." He finished, pointing a finger at her.
As for Basil… well… by now she was gapping like a fish. This was all so… "Impossible."
"Merely hardly believable detective, but believe me on this one. I never miscalculate."
"Hold on a minute!" She cried, waving her hands. "The Basils were never much of a close family, but we knew our family, and I can safely say that I bear no relationship to anyone named 'Flaps'. So your theory has got to be wrong. Apart from some criminals that wish to get revenge on me, there is nobody out there trying to get me. I mean, only a handful of people even know the Sherringford from behind the detective, and fewer still know that he is not actually a he at all."
Ratigan brushed off her concerns like they were mere smoke. "All that is of no importance. He will find you as long as you sleep."
"And just what does that suppose to mean?" Basil was getting angry now. This made no sense! And she didn't like the grin that now flashed on Ratigan's face.
"I will answer with a question: had you had any dreams that seamed too real to be dreams? Maybe… that you were on fire? That someone stabbed you? That you were freezing? Or maybe that you were out of breath? Some voice that was telling you that it was going to be all-right? Promising you rest? Promising you peace?" With each question, he came one step closer to her and with each question Basil was shaking more and more. What Ratigan was telling her was impossible… nobody could enter another person's subconscious. It was impossible on all accords. Not even hypnotists were that good. The farthest one could go would be to suggest, to implant a thought… but to control a person like that…
Before she knew it, Ratigan had cupped her face into his hand, forcing her to look straight at his too smug a' face. She should have said right then and there that he was insane, that this was all some sick joke on his part. But Ratigan had dropped the bomb with only a few small words:
"Hadn't you been drowning in your sleep now three days ago?"
To think that all it needed was just a few simple words heard at a particular moment for one's world to come crumbling down… Basil stared and stared and stared some more, yet she couldn't really do much beside that. Her brain had literally turned to mush. All she knew, all she was certain off had been blown away with just a few small words.
She didn't really hear Ratigan when he once again suggested that she should lie down, nor that she looked whiter then natural. She did not acknowledge the world around her when Ratigan picked her up, scolding her that she shouldn't faint while still standing while in her condition (he must have been referring to her leg). Just as well, she wasn't quite there when he brought her to the room Cookie had prepared for her and gently placed her on the bed. She was just… lost.
"Normally, I would suggest you not sleep for a while, detective. But seeing as you already done that and it didn't seem to do you much good, I think another course of action would have to –"
"Will you have to kill me?" Basil cut off the professor, almost startling her. She still felt lost, but at least a part of her mind seamed to be once again able to analyze data.
"I…" he paused. "Well, as long as you can keep yourself away from him, I don't really have to."
She nodded and then frowned. Her mind having mended itself a bit after the shock worked on processing some of the information she had just received, only to find that something didn't add up. "What do you mean by that? I though you said that you and your little group kill potential victims to put them out of their suffering before it even starts. What's so special in my case?"
He looked uncomfortable for a moment. "Well, Cookie believes that there could be a way to stop him without having to kill anymore." She became all ears. "All we have to do was to find another potential victim – as in, you – and keep her safe until we could figure something out. You see, when he enters a subject's mind, he would practically be flirting with her subconscious. If we can find someone to, say, flat-down refuse him, much like you'd refuse some derange lunatic's offer of marriage, then he would lose the will to ever enter another's mind ever again."
That… made some sense. "So… you want me to try and fight this guy's advances?"
Ratigan nodded. "That would be the main idea, yes. But right now, enough chit-chat. If you plan on doing anything you need to get some sleep and get rid of that damn cold you got. If anything, it sounds like the beginning of pneumonia, one illness I do not think any of Cookie's old teas would kill."
"But why me?" She protested. "Those other girls he already killed –"
"That was not him." Pardon? "Unless I am gravely mistaken – thing that doesn't happen often – that would be Becky's doing. That woman separated herself from us after our last official job now thirteen years ago and I haven't heard anything of her since. Seems she became aware of the bastard's return and began taking things into her own hands, yet the problem with her is that she doesn't have our records, so she has no idea who to kill."
Maybe that should have surprised her, but given what she heard until now… "So, the poor sods that murdered them –"
"Were merely her puppets." Ratigan concluded for her. "Yes, I know. That sounds a bit more like my style, but what can I say? I can be convincing but she's un-refuseable. And untraceable from the looks of things." He finished with a scowl.
"I don't think I want to know how she does that, do I?"
"Nope. Angelique Bequet is not a woman who's skills should ever be questioned."
… Say what again? "Angelique Bequet?"
"That would be Becky. A Hungarian red squirrel with a perfectly French name needed some teasing. She absolutely hates it when I call her that." And thus he became lost in a world of memories. But Basil's mind, now back to working at full capacity, wanted to make the best of what she had learned.
"I say, Ratigan, you claim to have difficulty in finding this former team-mate of yours?" The rat nodded. "Well, what do you say if I find her for you?" This time, he stared at her, uncertain if what he heard was not some misplaced fragment of his imagination. "I am rather good at tracing missing people with minimum of information, after all. In exchange for a little something…"
"Ah! I knew it had to be something, you devious creature." Ratigan cried in triumph. "You never work on something unless you gain something from it – be it sport or pay. This time, it seems to be pay." She started to couch again. But right now I stand by what I said now a little while ago. I may let things slide but I don't particularly want to see you die on me because of some silly cold." She looked at him, a question already forming on her lips. Ratigan smiled and ran a teasing paw through that mop of hair on top of her head (much to the protests of one certain Thinker who had been quite comfortable until then). "And don't worry your poor little head about the boogie messing with your brain. I'll keep watch tonight and at the slightest sign of a dream, I'm waking you up."
Basil didn't quite know what to say to that. This Ratigan she met tonight was certainly not the one she had grown used to.
"Thank you, Ratigan." And she found, she meant it. "And what do you say to my offer?"
He had just picked up a book from a far corner of the room and prepared himself to take a seat on a chair next to her bed when she asked that. He seemed to be contemplating on his options when, now seated and book already open, spoke: "What do you want?"
She decided to take that as a good sign. Taking a deep breath yet forcing herself not to cough again, she finally named her price: "I just want you to let the children go. Allow Olivia to go to her father and pardon Midget." She took another breath. "Let them go and see them safe, and I'll find your colleague."
A heavy silence had fallen between the two and for several agonizing minutes Basil was worried that she may have went overboard with her request. She made a bargain with Ratigan for Dawson's freedom before… and she knew that the outcome of that didn't please Ratigan as much as he would have hoped. She was not an easy creature to live with after all. And now things seamed to have repeated themselves…
She came close to screaming out 'FORGET IT!' when suddenly, she saw a hand in front of her. Her eyes followed said arm to the face of one James P. Ratigan, one of the most dangerous rodents in all of London, who now was smiling a very sincere, very… un-Ratigan kind of smile. She almost dropped her jaw at the sight – almost – until he gently said:
"We have a deal."
(1) "Exact cum trebuia sa fii, aş zice!" = ro. "Exactly the way you were supposed to be, I'd say!"
(2) Julius Augustus Silverson – another character created by her ladyship Diane N. Tran. The words she uses to describe them are as follows: "Julius Augustus Silverson is described as "the worst mouse in London"! He is one of the most menacing and malevolent of all of Sherringford Basil's adversaries, the cruelest and most heartless of fiends. Why? He is the Master Blackmailer — the King of Blackmailers — who preys and thrives upon weakness with a frozen face, a twisted smile, and a heart of marble. " In short: not someone you would like to have as an enemy.
(3) In chess, scholar's mate is the checkmate which occurs after the moves 1.e4 e5 5 Nc6 4 Nf6 7#. The moves may be played in a different order or with slight variations, but the basic idea – the queen and bishop combining in an attack on f7 (or f2 if Black is performing the mate) is the same. Sometimes scholar's mate is referred to as the four-move checkmate, though there are other ways to checkmate in four moves.
Now beta-read by the wonderful Crazy Laughter ! You're awesome!
I really hope you guys didn't think I would enter such a long hiatus without returning with something big. For your entertainment (at the cost of my pain) I present to you a two in one chapter, for originally this should have been cut in two, but I decided against that and voila! Only problem is... can you guys suggest which scene should be illustrated? Please? I also apologize if any of the characters seemed out of character. Any suggestions to improve anything? OH! And one more thing: some scenes may change a bit in the following days, so stay toned!
Liked the chapter? Has it answered any questions? Did you expect such a turn of events? How about of how Basil and Ratigan are interacting ?(I must actually thank DaughterofBaricade for seeding the idea for one of the scenes with the two in my head) And now that there seamed to have been a certain... understanding, how would they manage to see things to the end?
For the answers to these questions and more, stay toned for the next update!
Reviews are - as always - welcomed and greatly appreciated!