April 16, 2007

The Crane (14 of 19)

Thread: Alpha and Omega

Ms. Cancer handed the binoculars to Mr. Omega and he took a look for himself. ‘I see them,’ he said. ‘So definitely the same time every day?’

‘Not exactly the same time. They usually get to the bench around 3 o’clock, sometimes earlier. We doubt they’d be late, we think they’re supposed to meet Morgana at 3.15, possibly half past.’

Slumped forward over an ornate desk, Mr. Alpha rapped his fingers on its wooden surface, making a noise like chattering teeth. The room grated on him, being more ostentatious that the usual Clothman suite, but it was a stakeout. Needs must. Peculiar candelabras hung from the walls, scattering light in uncertain paths, casting mysterious shadows in a room that was cleverly sheltered from daylight. Lawn stripes fleshed out the walls.

Staring at random scratches on the desk, Mr. Alpha asked, ‘How long have they been coming here for?’

Ms. Capricorn leaned forward from the divan she sat on, her ghostly face emerging from shadow. Large eyes peered at him across the gloom. ‘We have seen them here every day since we tracked down their hotel. We know that they have stayed at the Seaward for a month.’

‘And they haven’t met Morgana in all that time?’

‘We believe not,’ said Ms. Cancer, a silhouette against the window, turning to face Mr. Alpha. ‘What are your plans?’

There was silence.

Phrases from the letter fragment they’d come across flashed through his mind. The Cloth believes God doesn’t exist and that Man has to fill this vacancy. That’s what they do, they manipulate belief, religion, to push the world towards their goal. But there were things in the letter that only a mature Clothman like Morgana would have been privy to, which were news to him. Right now they’re trying to unify religion by pitting Christianity against Islam. They don’t care who wins, as long as one of them eats and absorbs the other.

They’d only recovered one page; what the fuck did the rest of the letter contain? Had Morgana sent her parents every single Cloth secret she knew? The Eastbourne school hadn’t been happy with the sudden reassignments of practically every Clothman at their disposal, but quarantine was quarantine. It doesn’t get much worse than that. And so fifty Clothmen roamed the streets of Brighton, primed for action, all because of Morgana’s letter. Because of her arrogance.

‘Mr. Omega,’ Mr. Alpha said, tracing out one deep scratch with a finger. ‘We move now, right?’

Mr. Omega was still looking through the binoculars. ‘Yes. Morgana’s not going to show. I think she had problems getting here in time. Now it’s too late. She knows that we’d have the place under heavy surveillance by now. That just leaves us with one thing left to do.’

Mr. Alpha looked at Ms. Capricorn and asked, ‘You’ve got all the CCTV cameras covered? Don’t want to be recorded when we apprehend Mr. and Mrs. Bolt.’

‘We have taken care of the cameras, Mr. Alpha.’

‘You’ll have the area secure, in case Morgana does make an appearence?’ Although it would be a suicidal gamble on her part, she might try to make a scene. Any public participation would make the situation far more complicated to resolve.

‘We have the area secure.’

‘And you’ll be watching for police activity?’

‘We have taken care of police monitoring, Mr. Alpha.’

Ms. Capricorn’s apparent over-confidence irritated him. ‘Is there anything you’ve fucking forgotten?’

Mr. Omega twisted around and said, ‘Calm down.’ He returned to watching the Bolts.

Ms. Capricorn didn’t flinch at the barbed sarcasm. ‘We have forgotten nothing.’

‘Well, then,’ Mr. Alpha responded with a mocking smile, ‘I guess it’s all systems a go-go. No reason to stall any longer, eh, Mr. Omega? Hmm?’

Mr. Omega lowered the binoculars, but said nothing, continuing to stare out of the window towards the featureless grey sky.

‘There are no indications of any substantial leak yet. And Ms. Capricorn and Ms. Cancer, bless their fucking cotton socks, have got things locked up tighter than a nun’s arse. Why the hesitation, mate?’ Mr. Alpha was furious and wanted the old man to feel the same pangs of doubt. Come on, feel it.

More silence.

Mr. Alpha slammed his fist onto the desk. ‘Answer me, you fucker!’

But Mr. Omega did not answer, neither did he turn around.

Posted by: The Harbour Master @ 2212

May 9, 2007

The Crane (15 of 19)

Thread: Alpha and Omega

The large letters spelling out Brighton Pier were meant to invoke feelings of excitement, albeit a cheap fried doughnuts, greasy chips and coconut shy kind of excitement. Mr. Alpha felt nothing of the sort; there was only a sense of foreboding. The unadventurous palette of the overcast sky did nothing to lighten the mood. Mr. Omega was slightly ahead of him and, this time, he was content to follow.

Mr. and Mrs. Bolt sat on one of the benches along the Pier, facing the coastline, the last sign of man before the lonely, blue expanse.

They were neither touching nor talking. Mr. Alpha saw two people who no longer considered themselves in a marriage, rather a covenant to wait together for their daughter or death – whichever was first. They looked older than their years, staring ahead with sunken eyes into tumbling, colourless waves. They’d both wrapped up warm, protected from the cold, salty wind by sensible coats, scarves and gloves that dared not enliven the environment with rich colours. This pier was the final stop on their arduous, unrewarding journey.

Mr. Alpha tensed, still half-expecting Morgana to make an appearance. He knew she was quite prepared to wade into a situation as desperate as this. Snipers were ready for her, but the resulting carnage would probably take years to manage in the media. The Saints would not be pleased, but at least it would be over. He imagined a twinge in his shoulder; he could almost feel Ms. Cancer’s rifle trained on him. He really, really hoped they didn’t have to go to Plan B.

Mr. Omega walked right up to the bench and Mr. Alpha joined. They stared briefly at Morgana’s parents, then scanned their surroundings for something intangible, finally returning to look at the parents. Mrs. Bolt seemed listless and unresponsive, but Mr. Bolt glanced up.

Mr. Omega opened with a quiet whisper, his eyes darting around surreptitiously. ‘Excuse me, sir.’

Mr. Bolt blinked. ‘What is it?’ His eyes were watering from the wind.

‘I’m afraid the two of you are going to have to sit somewhere else.’ Mr. Omega withdrew a police ID from his jacket and showed it to Mr. Bolt. ‘Police business, sir. We’re supposed to meet an important informant at this very spot and we would be grateful if you could vacate this bench, here.’

Mrs. Bolt stirred out of her trance and spoke loudly. ‘What did they say, Manny?’

Mr. Bolt replied to his wife in the same volume, ‘They said… they said they want us to sit somewhere else. They want us to go.’

‘We can’t move, Manny. We have to stay here.’ She didn’t look up at the Clothmen, preferring to use her husband as an intermediary. ‘Tell them Manny, tell them we-‘

‘Shhh, Fi. Shh shh shh. We don’t need to go chin-wagging about that right now. These are police, Fi, police.’

Mr. Alpha noted that they had both lost their Australian accents in favour of something from the south east of England; it made him wonder how Morgana had retained hers. Had she been assigned to any Australian Cloth work?

‘Alright,’ Fiona said to her husband, still ignoring Mr. Alpha and Mr. Omega. ‘Well we don’t want any trouble. Let’s move for now.’

Manny seemed uncertain, a little jittery, but stood up despite some reluctance. He helped Fiona up and the pair of them stumbled away.

Mr. Alpha and Mr. Omega sat down on the bench and waited for Morgana’s parents to come back. If need be, they’d move Morgana’s parents everyday until they twigged; hopefully, they were smarter than that. Mr. Alpha coughed as the sea air fouled up the ordinary workings of his lungs. He never liked the seaside and looked down through the pier boards at the choppy sea with some distaste.

‘Excuse me, sir, it was Detective Morrison, wasn’t it?’ Manny’s voice said behind them.

‘Yes it was,’ said Mr. Omega, turning around to face Manny. Fiona was a few steps away, continuing to use her husband as spokesperson. ‘Please, you’ll have to move along, sir. Please. It’s vital.’

‘But, yes, yes, I understand, detective. But, uh, but…who is the, umm, person you’re going to meet? Is it… is it a lady?’

‘Look, as I’m sure you understand, I can’t really talk about the details.’ Mr. Omega shooed them away, but they did not move.

Manny was crestfallen. Mr. Alpha could see the struggle going on behind his face. They had been warned not to reveal anything about their daughter to anyone yet here was the police, potentially on their side. Dare they trust these strangers? To say something was dangerous. To not say something could be missing an opportunity.

He turned away, a decision made.

‘Fay Bolt,’ shouted Fiona, finally acknowledging the Clothmen.

Mr. Omega stood up, shocked. ‘What’s going on here? Who are you?’

‘Fay Bolt, are you waiting for Fay Bolt?’

Mr. Omega thrust his hand out, palm down, and approached Mrs. Bolt. ‘Hush, please. What do you know about Miss Bolt? You’re too young to be her, so don’t even try it.’

Mrs. Bolt said nothing at first, but then her lips quivered and tears poured from her eyes. She forced out, ‘Daughter.’ Mr. Alpha was moved, but didn’t show it.

Mr. Omega continued the hard line. ‘I’m sorry, madam, but for all we know you’re pretending to be her parents.’

‘She wrote to us,’ Mrs.Bolt said. ‘She sent us a mail about the Cloth.’

Now Mr. Alpha stood up in alarm, ‘God, she wrote to you about the Cloth?’

Mr. Omega cut him off, ‘Hasty, John, too hasty. We still can’t be sure they are who they say they are. Do you have this letter on you? We need proof.’

Mr. Alpha watched Manny, who seemed beside himself because he was unable to stop his wife from revealing everything. The desire to see their daughter again had got the better of her.

Mrs. Bolt pulled out pages of a letter from her purse and handed it to Mr. Omega, looking hopeful. Mr. Omega went through the pages and shook his head. ‘Dear god, dear god…’ he muttered to himself. ‘If she sent this to you, you are both in terrible danger.’

Mr. Bolt replied, ‘What? What do you mean?’

‘The Cloth will want this suppressed.’ Mr. Omega shook the letter in the air, excited. ‘We’ve been looking for a break like this for years. Your daughter told us we should meet her here… I guess it was you we were supposed to meet.’

‘You know about the Cloth?’

‘We’ve never managed to get one of their number to turn, but we know they are behind a vast number of crimes – kidnappings, murder, torture. You are both in danger, very serious danger.’

Mr. Alpha stood stock still, unwilling to risk the chance that Ms. Cancer might miss the shoulder and spray his brain across the board walk. Ms. Cancer would shoot him in the shoulder if the Bolts needed extra convincing that the good guys had arrived. He now wished he hadn’t had lost his temper at Ms. Cancer and Ms. Capricorn. He was glad they had everything under control. He was glad they hadn’t forgotten anything.

Morgana’s parents weren’t sure what to do. They debated in complete silence, exchanging worried looks with each other, at the Clothmen, and also at the sea. The sea roared and provided no consolation. Mr. Alpha closed his eyes and prayed to The-God-To-Be that a bullet would not visit him this day.

Mr. Bolt then said, ‘So… what should we do?’

Mr. Alpha sighed with relief. He pictured Ms. Cancer wondering aloud, ‘Shouldn’t we shoot him anyway?’

Posted by: The Harbour Master @ 2151

May 20, 2007

The Crane (16 of 19)

Thread: Alpha and Omega

While Mr. Omega rapped on the door, Mr. Alpha stroked the handgun sitting in its holster. He knew it was there, but he just needed to feel its comforting, Foundry-cast edges. His stomach was in knots; Morgana might still make an appearance.

The door opened and Mr. Bolt invited them into the hotel room. They entered and, before closing the door behind them, Mr. Alpha made a quick sweep of the adjoining corridor, only partly to keep up appearances. He noticed some kid had scrawled something in crayon on the kitsch, flowery wallpaper opposite: “the handle turns”. He closed the door.

‘Good,’ said Mr. Omega. ‘It was better that we arrived here separately.’

Mrs. Bolt was sitting on the edge of the bed, having removed her bland coat and scarf to reveal an equally bland underbelly. Mr. Bolt was standing near the window, looking out and looking nervous. He was still dressed for a harsher environment.

Mr. Alpha said, ‘Please, sir, best you come away from the window.’

Morgana’s father resisted but soon caved, moving to sit beside his wife. Mr. Alpha watched his fingers creep across and hold his Mrs. Bolt’s hand. She turned her head in surprise and smiled weakly. Her hand accepted his advance.

‘What about our little girl? What do we do now?’ asked Mr. Bolt.

Mr. Alpha reached under his jacket to fondle his handgun again. The trigger licked his fingers.

‘Like I was explaining earlier,’ Mr. Omega said, ‘you are both in great danger. I’m afraid to say your lives, as you have known them, are over. If we don’t get you to a safe house, it’s possible you’ll be dead before the day is out.’

Mrs. Bolt blinked. ‘I don’t care about us. What about Fay? Is she okay?’

Mr. Omega’s mobile rang on cue. He pulled it out and answered, ‘Hi, this is Morrison.’ Supply said their scripted piece. ‘Really? Are you sure it’s her?’

Morgana’s parents responded immediately with worried stares.

‘Thank God for that. How the hell did she – whatever, questions for later. Get us some ambulance transport ASAP, we need to get her parents to the compound without delay.’ There were more scripted words on the other end of the line and then Mr. Omega closed the mobile.

‘What? What happened?’ Mr. Bolt asked, eyes wide.

‘Sorry to have to tell you this… it seems that your daughter was cornered by, we suspect, Cloth agents. They shot her several times-‘

‘Oh no, no!’ Mrs. Bolt wailed, hand fleeing her husband’s grip to hold her mouth.

‘-but she got away. Looks like she’s going to live, and she’s on the way to our safe house to be cared for.’

‘She’s alive? Really? She’s okay?’ Mr. Bolt asked.

Mr. Alpha felt disengaged from this obscene ballet taking place before him. He watched but could not participate. Her parents had been through enough yet the Cloth continued to torture them. He felt responsible. If he hadn’t let Morgana escape… if he had… if he had done what?

Mr. Omega was still explaining. ‘…can’t afford for either of you to work out where the safe house is, just in case… you are captured down the line. As I said, you’re probably going to have to stay with us for some time. So once you’re unconscious, we’ll get an ambulance to stretcher you out and it’ll take you to the compound.’

‘Unconscious?’ said Mr. Bolt, alarmed.

Mrs. Bolt cut her husband off. ‘Manny, I want to see her.’ She looked up at Mr. Omega with a begging expression. ‘I’ll do it even if he doesn’t want to. I don’t care. What do I take? Tell me, what do I take?’

Mr. Omega held out his hand, which unfurled to reveal two small red tablets. ‘One of these, and you’ll be out for around 24 hours. You won’t be able to guess how far you’ve travelled this way.’

Mrs. Bolt snatched at one and swallowed without hesitation.

Mr. Bolt shouted, ‘Fi-ona, for God’s sake, what are you doing?’

She moved backwards and laid down on the bed. ‘I want to see her, Manny. I want to see her.’ She closed her eyes and whispered, ‘Come with me, Manny. Let’s do this together. Come on. Fay’s waiting.’ She put her arm out and patted the space beside her, summoning her husband to follow.

This is what we do, Mr. Alpha thought. Perception and belief are our tools. This is what we make.

Posted by: The Harbour Master @ 1834

June 10, 2007

The Crane (17 of 19)

Thread: Alpha and Omega

Mr. Bolt took the tablet from Mr. Omega’s gloved hand and placed it on his tongue like the body of Christ. A defeated expression crossed his face as he swallowed and his weary eyes fell away from the Clothmen.

Mr. Bolt shifted backwards and lay down beside his wife. He clasped her hand and whispered something; she whispered something back. Her eyes were closed but a contented smile remained on her face. Mr. Bolt shut his eyes too, wetness glinting beneath the eyelashes.

Mr. Omega dragged up a chair and sat beside Morgana’s parents, watching them.

Through the window, Mr. Alpha saw nothing but a few Clothmen wandering down the windy roadside, eating grease-drenched chips out of a basket of paper, laughing and jostling, playing their roles. Beneath the glossy veneer lay the knowledge of what was really happening. Part of him almost hoped for Morgana to make an entrance and rescue her parents. They didn’t deserve this.

With Morgana pressing in on his thoughts again, he pulled out his handgun for comfort. If she turned up, he’d shoot her down. No games with ropes this time. Shoot her down, good and dead.

‘Put that away,’ Mr. Omega whispered. ‘Show some bloody respect.’

The old man was right. Mr. Alpha slid the gun back into its holster.

He watched Mr. Omega, safe that he could stare at him from the window without raising the old bastard’s hackles. Mr. Omega’s sat motionless, dedicated and dutiful, observing the Bolts. Mr. Alpha wanted to know what was going on inside that brain of his; he let nothing slip. He knew that Mr. Omega had doubts as well, but demonstrated remarkable control over them.

Mr. Alpha approached the bed to peer at the two still forms lying there.

There were a few black marks etched into the wooden footboard that he didn’t remember seeing earlier. The marks moved; it was a shadow, crawling up onto the bottom of the bed. The shadow then drifted across its expanse until it blotted out Morgana’s parents. It was the shadow of a hand.

He turned to see if, somehow, his hand or another’s was obscuring the light from the bulb in the ceiling. Nothing. He looked back at the bed and the shadow was gone. A trick of the light, perhaps. Perhaps.

Mr. Omega reached over to check their pulses and nodded solemnly to himself. ‘They’re gone,’ he said.


‘Yes. Certain.’

Mr. Alpha took up position beside the body of Mr. Bolt while Mr. Omega leant over Mrs. Bolt.

Mr. Omega blessed Morgana’s parents. ‘Belief is rock.’

‘Truth is ghost,’ Mr. Alpha concluded.

Mr. Omega took out a manilla envelope from the depths of his grey jacket. The envelope contained the suicide note and he laid it on the dressing table against the wall.

‘I can’t believe we did this,’ said Mr. Alpha, unable to leave the bedside. He felt worse than he did during the build-up to the quarantine. His stomach was doing somersaults and his thoughts were disjointed, derailed. ‘I can’t believe this.’

Mr. Omega came over to him, without even the slightest hint of reproach and put an arm on his shoulder.

‘Mr. Alpha,’ he said. ‘One for the road, I think.’

Posted by: The Harbour Master @ 1913

June 16, 2007

The Crane (18 of 19)

Thread: Alpha and Omega

‘What in fuck’s name do you think you’re doing?’ shouted Mr. Omega behind him, a gale overpowering his voice.

Mr. Alpha lay prostrate on the mesh, peering over the edge into the emptiness below. The fog had consumed everything. He glanced behind. Mr. Omega, his tie flapping like a yellow streamer, clambered through the jib towards him, red with rage. No surprise.

Turning back to the sea of fog, he felt its emptiness touch him. He sought a glimmer of understanding or perhaps hope that past events had some design, some just purpose. Doubt had poisoned him. Sin had stained him. The Saints knew what they were doing, didn’t they?

‘Do the Saints know what they’re doing?’ he said. He flipped over to see Mr. Omega grimacing down upon him, perched on the upper ridges of the jib.

‘Do the Saints know what they’re doing? Did you say that? Did you actually fucking say that?’ The old man shook his head in disbelief. ‘I ought to trade you in, right now, right bloody now. You could’ve got me killed pulling this stupid stunt, coming out here alone. Fuck you, Mr. Alpha. Fuck you.’

Tears emerged from Mr. Alpha’s eyes, slipping down his temples. He blinked at Mr. Omega but then let his head loll to one side. ‘We executed the parents of the chosen…’

‘Oh, fuck, boy.’ He blew out hard as a harsh, biting wind whipped them both, whistling and taunting. ‘Morgana is a fucked-up loser, she’s no Clothman. Her parents just can’t be afforded the same status.’

‘That means nothing.’ Mr. Alpha tried to focus on where the hotel should be, but saw only fog. ‘Whose fault is it that Morgana has fallen? Her parents who gave her life? Or the Cloth that taught and raised her?’

‘Are you thinking about your own parents?’

Mr. Alpha wasn’t stupid. ‘Of course not, Mr. Omega. I’m a Clothman, through and through. But we respect the parents of the adopted. They’re about the only characters that we do give a damn about. It feels like sin. We should never have to take them out. Only… only if there’s no other way.’

‘That’s the key, you bloody cockhead. It’s Morgana’s own fault. She made her parents a target. I didn’t want to harm them any more than you did.’ Mr. Omega sounded uncomfortable with his own honesty and hesitated before carrying on. ‘But we had no choice.’

Mr. Alpha turned to face his partner again. ‘Exactly, mate. Exactly right. She gave us no choice.’ Either the cold or his nerves made his teeth chatter . ‘Y-you haven’t seen her diary. You don’t know what she wrote. A little green book. A fucking little green book.’ The wind burrowing into his eyes had inflamed them, he kept having to blink.

‘What do you mean?’ Mr. Omega said, perturbed. ‘What diary?’

The mesh suddenly gave way with a clink and Mr. Alpha found himself flying through the air. Mr. Omega’s hands reached out but disappeared into the heavens, obscured by the fog.

For several seconds, the free fall felt peaceful. He couldn’t see anything save the ambient glow of the fog around him. Alone and without anything to feed his senses. A natural isolation tank.

His back smashed against the ground as a rusty post drove through his groin.

Shock blinded him to the pain at first. He stared in horror at the post that had impaled him. It thrust upwards between his legs, smeared in blood and loose flesh. Out of desperation, he grabbed it, thinking he could pull himself up. His hands slipped and rubbed across its wet and sticky exterior, unable to gain purchase.

His mouth quivered, trying to birth a scream.

Posted by: The Harbour Master @ 1422

June 24, 2007

The Crane (19 of 19)

Thread: Alpha and Omega

The rod between his legs, hard and firm, poked the sheets. He opened his eyes, and saw the electric lines of the clock display. They told him it was 3AM.

‘Bollocks.’ Mr. Alpha couldn’t believe he’d made it to sleep only to have a nightmare break his slumber. Three hours left before the old man would be up and about, doing his morning meditation.

Mr. Alpha rubbed his eyes, disbelieving how much of an idiot he had been in the dream. The execution of Morgana’s parents had taken their toll, but he was no fucking crybaby. He had earned some more respect from Mr. Omega, having carried out his duty, no matter how dark it might be. Clothmen ruled their emotions, trusting belief as their rock. The orders of the Saints were clean and pure. The execution was without sin and he remained unsoiled, in the employ of The-God-To-Be.

No matter where this road took him, he was not going to abandon its course. A throat slit in the countryside. Distraught parents deceived into suicide. Morgana was not going down without a fight. Even if it took them ten years to hunt the tart down, he’d be there, every step of the way. Two bullets in the head, darling. Two bullets blessed with Cloth love for you.

He could make out a couple of hand prints on the window and, between them, another greasy smudge. The kind of smudge that a head might make. Had he actually got out of bed? He could see the crane from the bed; it still stood there, proud and unwavering, loaded with threat and menace. No fog.

Then he noticed the tip of the crane’s jib was broken. The last section of the crawlway dangled, swaying in the breeze, like something had spilled from its structure.

He reached for his jacket beside the bed and pulled out a small, shiny emerald green diary. He flicked through the pages quickly, wanting to check if he had imagined the last entry as well. It hadn’t been there when he’d recovered the diary from the Bolts’ house. Perhaps he had just imagined it. It would be better if he had. It would all be better.

As he reached the page he was looking for, he considered the crane’s purpose. It was unclear what it was trying to build. So far, there were only foundations, the dim, fragmented outlines of something sinister and alien that didn’t fit with the surrounding urbanwork. This was progress. This is what we make.

Mr. Omega emitted nasal snorts like a jammed machine gun. How comfortable he sounded in his sleep, his dream universe consistent yet incomplete. It lacked knowledge. The last entry of the diary, dated after the death of the Bolts, was just legible enough in the grim light from the alarm clock.

Tricked the Cloth into killing Mum and Dad. The handle turns.

Posted by: The Harbour Master @ 1318

May 12, 2008

In the Hands of Others (1 of 20)

Thread: Alpha and Omega

Fatigue smothered and blinded her, trapped her beneath iron eyelids. A footstep; someone was in the room.

Blood rushed through adrenaline-scorched veins but failed to break the torpor. Maybe the Cloth had come to claim her at last; maybe she wanted it to end, too much running, the numbness begging her to be made permanent.

Then she thought of her baby. Suddenly she was smashing out of her tomb of exhaustion, eyes wide open, hands ready to attack, to kill. She launched into bolt upright position in a single movement and found herself staring into a woman’s eyes.

At first, the woman’s features were blurred, distorted, as if the air in the bedroom was desert hot. Ariadne blinked a few times; the visitor’s face came into focus.

Short dark hair, shorter than she remembered, hovered over curious eyes and a beguiling smile. The visitor wore tight-fitting black clothes, possibly a lycra tracksuit. A necklace hung around her neck and from it a Hamsa pendant dangled.

‘Oh God,’ Ariadne said. ‘I didn’t realise it was you. I thought it might be the Cloth.’

Fay continued to smile.

‘Did you see Theo with Bobby downstairs?’

Fay snapped into a disarming frown. She yanked something small – metallic shiny – out of a pocket and pointed it at Ariadne.

Ariadne jerked herself backwards against the headboard.

‘Didn’t I tell yew?’ Fay shouted, the harsh Aussie accent uncomfortable on Ariadne’s tired ears. ‘Didn’t I bloody tell yew? No phones, at all. Fakking period! No bloody mobile phones!’

Fay threw the mobile at the floor. It exploded into fragments across the carpet, a horde of shiny spiders scuttling away in fear for their lives.

Posted by: The Harbour Master @ 1633

May 18, 2008

In the Hands of Others (2 of 20)

Thread: Alpha and Omega

‘Another sighting,’ Mr. Omega said, eyes hidden behind his clip-on shades. The bus rumbled and coughed.


‘Uh-huh. Another sighting… another break-in.’

Mr. Alpha studied a garden that had paused beside them. More stone than green, a cross-shaped pond over a wavy turquoise mosaic pulled his eyes toward the back of the garden. A statue stood there, at the top of some steps, depicting several figures collapsing to the ground as swans emerged from their backs, ascending towards the sky. ‘What’s that?’

Mr. Omega tilted his head. ‘You have the guide.’

Mr. Alpha flicked through the guide quickly to a description of the “Garden of Remembrance” in Parnell Square. The statue was of a local legend known as The Children of Lir.

‘So the legend tells of the King Lir having several children with his first wife Aoibh, but then she died…’

‘I don’t need to hear this.’

Mr. Alpha read the rest in silence. Lir then married his dead wife’s sister Aoife, who became very jealous of her stepchildren/nieces. Most women in these kind of legends are horrible, spiteful creatures and, keeping with tradition, Aoife wanted to do away with her competitors for the King’s attention. In the end, she couldn’t quite bring herself to do it, so opted for the next best thing. She used magic to turn them into swans. Mr. Alpha wondered if the same thing could be done in the present day. He glanced at Mr. Omega, lurking behind his shades.

‘What? What now?’ the old man responded.

The brats of the legend were to remain swans until they heard a Christian bell, heralding the arrival of a new God to the Isle. It was all rather sad and irksome. Just the kind of thing the Cloth might have used a few hundred years ago. Or whenever this legend came from.

‘It’s a nice statue,’ Mr. Alpha noted, turning back to Mr. Omega.

The old man hacked up some phlegm and spat it onto the bus floor. ‘Right. Triffic.’

‘Fuck, mate. Do you have to do that here?’ He turned back to The Children of Lir, observing the rash of tourists, chattering away, snapping pictures. ‘She gets about. She really does get about. Is it another-’

‘Yes. The third now.’

‘Could you let me finish a god-fucking-damn single question?’

Mr. Alpha leaned backwards against the coach seat, squinting through hot sun reflected from the road. The journey from the airport to the city centre had been just too long. The heat and light were giving him a headache, but Mr. Omega was just sitting pretty as usual. Nothing seemed to bother the fucker. The bus trundled forward as the traffic began to flow again; they turned into O’Connell Street and everything looked more like city.

Either side of the street was lined with hotels and stores, but the feature that stood out was the Spire, an enormous silver splinter of metal that just looked like a giant had misplaced his javelin. That, apparently, was the city going modern. Jesus Christ, Canary Wharf look out.

‘So tell me, mate, if we hadn’t got mixed up with this Morgana wild goose chase, would I know what a blue centre is? What a blue centre is for?’

‘Look, Mr. Alpha,’ the old man whispered. ‘I didn’t know these places existed either, not until we got told that Morgana had broken into one.’ He cleared his throat and added, ‘There’s something you need to understand about a Clothman’s role in the Weave…’

Oh, another lecture. Mr. Alpha rolled his eyes.

‘The Saints know everything. The Saints plan everything. But never ever do they get their hands dirty. They just dole out orders that eventually filter down to the foot-soldiers, AKA you and me. Information and action are kept separated. It keeps the Saints at a safe distance and confers, how shall I say, longevity to the Cloth. Even when you get promoted to full robe, you won’t learn much more other than special orders like quarantine. It’s not our place to know these things.’

Mr. Alpha then asked, ‘But what about that stuff that Morgana wrote about Christianity and Islam?’

‘It might be true,’ the old man answered, ‘but it might just as easily not be. That’s the table I sup at, a veritable fucking crash diet of fact. You’ll learn to live with it. There is no such thing as knowledge for us. Even though it’s not becoming for a Clothman to chatter away like an old hen, pretty much every one does. The Christianity and Islam thing is a popular rumour and I suppose it passes the time, but don’t put too much stock in any old fanny you hear.’

‘Well, Hell’s fucking bells,’ said Mr. Alpha, wiping sweat from his face with the back of a hand. ‘If there’s barely any difference between full robes and probation, why can’t I make a call to Supply on the mobile?’

Mr. Omega lost his easy-going demeanour and turned towards Mr. Alpha. ‘Don’t fucking start that shit with me again, junior.’

Mr. Alpha slouched in his seat, still feeling an oppressed minority, the permanent probationer. He’d been through more scrapes that any normal junior would’ve experienced in the same period. ‘We getting off here?’

‘No, over the bridge first. We get off around Grafton.’

The bus was just reaching the bridge that Mr. Omega had mentioned; Mr. Alpha gazed into the choppy waters of the River Liffey, the heart of Dublin.

‘Great,’ said Mr. Alpha. ‘Paddyville.’

Posted by: The Harbour Master @ 1814

May 26, 2008

In the Hands of Others (3 of 20)

Thread: Alpha and Omega

Startled at the clatter of the mobile’s destruction, Ariadne leaned forward and said, ‘Fay, I’m sorry, no really I’m sorry, I just wanted to be able to get hold of Bobby if I went into labour-’

Fay stepped toward the bed with an inferno dancing in her eyes, jabbing at Ariadne with a sharp finger. ‘Listen, girlie, I haven’t got time for your boo-hoo stories. Dontcha geddit yet? These people want yew dead and if yew don’t follow my advice then you’re going to be dead. You, Bobby, Tamsin, the whole crew. They’ll order a black fire on the lot of yew and Heaven fakking help you then!’

Ariadne drew her knees up against her stomach – a strange feeling as she’d been unable to do it for months – and hugged them. She looked down, sorry for disappointing their benefactor. She pulled the sheets up over her shoulders, but they didn’t make her feel any better. The Cloth swirled around them like a pack of wolves on an eternal hunt, looking for prey. Fay was right. Complacency was lethal.

‘I’m sorry, Fay. I was… not thinking. Bobby did tell me… maybe it’s just all the hormones… so tired…’ Ariadne leant back against the headboard, unwilling to continue the conversation. The exhaustion was back. She closed her eyes.

‘You’re still thinking like some petty agony aunt. I’m not hear for sorry or excuses. They will come here with purpose,’ Fay continued, relaxing a little, her accent losing some of its hard edge. ‘They’ll shoot Bobby in the face; his beautiful looks will be splattered across this dirty carpet here. They will shoot you in the back first and while you lie there entertained with the numbness of paralysed legs they will advance and finish it, wiping the brains from your skull with two bullets.’

Bad images in Ariadne’s head forced her eyes open again. She turned away from Fay’s childish outburst. ‘Stop it, I understand alright?’

Fay grabbed Ariadne’s neck and yanked her off the bed like a naughty child. Fay slapped her once across the face with her free hand. Ariadne’s cheek burned. She struggled, confused at what was happening, Fay’s iron grip forcing her into a hunched position. She’d just given birth, for Christ’s sake. She’d just given birth!

‘Get off me, Fay! What the-’

‘Do you really understand? Do you? What this is about?’ shouted Fay.

Fay slapped her again, this time even harder. ‘Do you understand me? They will kill you.’

‘Fay!’ Ariadne screamed and her arms and legs convulsed trying to fend off Fay’s blows, but Fay timed each one with precision. Slap. Smack. Slap.

She started screaming, tears pouring down her face: ‘Bobby! Bobby! Come quick!’ Ariadne tried to pound on the floor with her hands.

Fay released her, and Ariadne scrambled over the bed to the other side of the room. She watched with salty eyes over the unkempt dune of bedsheets, waiting for Fay to make a move. She thought about making a break for the door. Her heart pounded. This day was supposed to be joyous, happy, pleasant… memorable.

‘Weak,’ Fay said, the word bulging with scorn and disgust. ‘Riddled with woodworm, rotten and dead. You hoard your guns and you make your plans but a l’il bit of foreplay and a scratch or two and it’s poor me. Belief is rock.’

Fay took a step back from the bed, as if trying to calm herself and buried her mouth into an open palm as if something tasted bad. She turned away briefly but suddenly dived across the bed like a black panther. Ariadne tried to duck but was too slow: Fay’s punch caught her jaw, driving her to the floor.

Ariadne retreated into the far corner of the room, crying, sobbing: ‘Please, oh God, please stop, Fay…’ She started banging on the floor again. Come on Bobby, where are you? Why don’t we have a gun up here?

Stretched across the bed, Fay leering at her like an angry lover, swiping at the air just out of reach, growling. Fay spat a glob of phlegm onto the floor, turning away from Ariadne as if her very presence nauseated her.

Ariadne cowered, burying herself deep in the corner. ‘Please.. stop it…’

‘Stop it? STOP IT?’ Fay screamed, getting to her feet on the bed, dirty trainers muddying the sheets. ‘There isn’t a single Clothman who isn’t looking for me. You, however, are off-watch and no one round here knows who you are. You’ll stay safe – s’long as you don’t make a stupid mistake like use a bloody phone! You’re no good to me dead!’

Fay paused, looking down at Ariadne as if she owned her. The expression of disappointment set in her dark eyes morphed into something harder, controlled and cold. ‘Maybe I chose wrongly. Maybe you’re a waste of my time and effort. Maybe you’re no good to me alive. I’m supposed to love you. That’s your job. You’re not supposed to anger me.’

She leapt off the bed at Ariadne, claws outstretched.

Posted by: The Harbour Master @ 1350

June 1, 2008

In the Hands of Others (4 of 20)

Thread: Alpha and Omega

‘That’ll be five forty,’ said the paddy behind the counter, proffering a genial smile. The chalked menu behind him listed authentic Irish fare such as southern fried chicken in four sizes, Yorkshire pudding and rib steak kebab (with CURRY SAUCE in loud capitals). Contrasting aromas emanating from the kitchen copulated in the air, producing a hybrid child that only bore resemblance to one of its progenitors, the overpowering scent of curry.

‘I’m sorry, don’t understand,’ said Mr. Alpha, cupping a hand over one ear. ‘Your accent, see, can’t make it out.’

‘Five forty. Five euros, forty cents.’ The paddy repeated, his smile withdrawn, glancing at the queue behind Mr. Alpha.

‘No, sorry, not getting it. Are you speaking in Garlic? Three forty? Is that it?’

‘No, no, no! I’m not speaking Gaelic.’ The paddy swallowed and spoke clinically: ‘Fi. Vuh. For. Tee.’

‘Jesus and his wife Nora, you don’t have to sound like that, do you think I’m a fucking imbecile? Here’s your bloody three forty.’

He planted a pick-n-mix collection of coins onto the counter and left the café with two steak and stout pies, not quite as steaming hot as they had appeared through the window. He handed one to Mr. Omega.

Mr. Omega said, ‘You really are an asshole just waiting to happen.’

‘It’s the small things in life, mate,’ Mr. Alpha replied, taking a bite out of the pie. It tasted fresher than he thought; perhaps they had used an oven and not a microwave after all. ‘Anyway, we’re told to keep expenses down. Doing my bit for asceticism.’

They wandered through the cobbled streets of Temple Bar, amongst the mid-morning crowds that convulsed from shop to shop on the trendy side of town, wading through a sea of cigarette butts. Why the fuck they hadn’t yet banned smoking here was beyond him.

They walked past the garish yellow façade of the Oliver St. John Gogarty bar, its ground level painted a glossy olive green in a concerted attempt to clash. Various European flags dressed the second floor windows, enhancing the sensory overload. Mr. Alpha waved his tie at the building and said ‘Dear Mr. Christ, that place is the same colour as these shitty things.’

He was depressed again. Any sort of shopping haven depressed him; it was like being drowned in consumerism, materialism. The Cloth was his home and it gave him the very minimum of what he needed, which was more than enough. A mobile hotline to Supply would have been welcome though.

‘Where are we due?’ Mr. Alpha said and took more bites from the pie.

Mr. Omega’s shades were misted up from his own pie and detached them, revealing a pair of square lenses that were also misted. ‘Just down this road here,’ he said. ‘We’re looking for a small company called Scala Caeli. They’re the local blue centre.’

‘Actually are they a real company or just a shop front?’ A gang of teenage girls passed them: denim skirts, loose tops, swinging handbags. One of them had swinging breasts. Mr. Alpha tensed up, beaming silent hatred towards them.

‘Groundstops nearly always provide a real service.’

‘Why’s that?’

‘Think. The more we hide, the more effort we piss away on hiding instead of getting out there and working towards The-God-To-Be. So these places ain’t just shell companies, and won’t register on anyone’s radar looking for something shit out of the ordinary. Last thing we want is real police attention or, fucking forbid, a tax inspection. They provide a service and generate legal revenue meaning we don’t have to shift cash around too far. They also make grounders self-sufficient, a cheaper option all round than yanking euros out of the nearest school budget.’

They turned down a grimy alleyway that smelt of drunken urination and, oddly, oranges.

Mr. Alpha said, ‘I never wanted to be a grounder. Sounded fucking dull, stuck in a shop all day, doing the same thing day in and day out. At least we get to go places and play police.’ He carried on eating.

‘Grounders are important. They’re the local eyes and ears, they’re usually the ones that find us snags. Not everything is about running around town and shooting your gun off. It was obvious that you didn’t have the stomach to sit still and keep your mouth shut for more than ten bloody seconds.’ Mr. Omega chuckled to himself, lines creasing. ‘That’s why I picked you up. You showed the minutest promise for legwork. Shit, I should eat this.’ Mr. Omega attacked the pie with a voracity that suggested indigestion was waiting for him on the horizon.

Mr. Alpha finished his pie and threw aside the paper bag it came in. He scratched his nose, wondering if it was good time to ask about the ex-Mr. Alpha. And why he was ex.

‘Question?’ Mr. Omega shouted through pastry.

Mr. Alpha didn’t have the courage to mine that particular topic, not just yet. He shook his head.

They emerged from the alleyway into another wide road, gummed up with slow traffic, lined with warehouses. Mr. Alpha spotted the place quickly: about twenty metres to their left was a crimson warehouse, looking recently repainted and rust-free. Metallic letters with neon surround spelt out “Scala Caeli”.

‘Jesus H,’ said Mr. Alpha. ‘It stands out a bit. This is what we call a secret operation?’

Mr. Omega sighed. He finished his pie, scrunched up the bag and threw it towards a nearby cat which moved away at its own pace. ‘Remember, they have to run a proper business. If you wanted to have yourself put into cryogenic suspension, would you purchase the service with a company that stored you in a rusty old shed with spiders or one that had bright, shiny, modern-looking digs?’

‘It’s a good point,’ Mr. Alpha answered.

As they crossed the road, snaking through slow-moving cars, Mr. Omega said, ‘Of course it’s a damn good point. Kids today… where is the fucking respect for one’s elders?’

Posted by: The Harbour Master @ 1618
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