March 30, 2008

The Weeping Maw (7 of 11)

Thread: Mission

A corner was missing.

He hated jigsaws but there was nothing else to do. He couldn’t bear TV, having not watched it for so long, with all its noise and flashy graphics. It needled into his brain like poisonous acupuncture. The TV stayed off and he refused to let Tom watch it whenever he dropped by.

Beside the jigsaw lay the latest rejection letter, a suitable candidate for being torn up and turned into the missing corner piece.

He didn’t know what picture was hiding within the jigsaw, having found the jigsaw in a shabby shoebox beneath a pile of magazines dating back to 1987. The pieces were too small to reveal any form of shape, but they covered the white table top like the escaped contents of some vivid kaleidoscope.

There was a knock at the door.

Colin lurched off the seat, shaking the table. A few of the jigsaw pieces spilled onto the floor. Wonderful. More pieces missing in action.

He opened the door to reveal Tom, not entirely a surprise as he was the only person who ever came knocking. Colin greeted his benefactor with a soft grunt.

Tom was out of his religious get-up, showing off a brown cardigan that would have been at home in the 1970s and pair of tatty old trousers. It just didn’t look right, a young man wearing an old man’s garb. Even the black dress looked better than this.

‘Well, hello there, my good friend. What keeps you up this late at night?’

‘Uhnmmm,’ Colin said. ‘Rrrrejection.’

Tom grabbed Colin’s elbow. ‘Now look here, Colin, everyone else who has stayed in my small room has found work. It wasn’t easy and it certainly took longer than a few weeks. Give it some time. You can stay here as long as you need. I won’t chuck you back on the street, you hear?’

Colin nodded and responded with a submissive grunt.

‘Now come on, why don’t you come into the church this evening?’

‘Oh uhnmmm, d-dunno if…’ Colin stuttered. He was sounding like an idiot again.

Tom laughed. ‘Such the shy boy.’ He slapped his hands together. ‘Come along, there’s no service, it’s too late for that. I’m not going to ‘ – he lunged with his hands, pretending to grab and roar at Colin – ‘try to convert you! Ooh spooky!’

Colin tried to smile, but felt bad. Tom deserved, at the very least, a modicum of courtesy. But courtesy… it was so difficult to get the hang of after the wilderness years. People ignored him, pitied him or hated him. Or even all three at once. His approach had always been to avoid other people. Practice was needed on his social skills. But it so frightening; people expected answers to their questions and responses to their comments.

‘Alrrright, yeah. Sure. Uhnmmm… sure.’

Colin left the room a letting agent would describe as cosy. He locked the door, leaving behind its rickety table, its badly-sprung bed and its makeshift kitchen. It was far better than the pavement under a broken neon sign, but he still had mixed feelings about this situation: he’d chosen a harsh existence for a reason. He had asked Tom to let him be, but oh no, not Tom…

He turned around to face the church interior. Rows of empty pews leered at him. Tom beckoned him towards the stairs.

Posted by: The Harbour Master @ 1909

March 22, 2008

The Weeping Maw (6 of 11)

Thread: Mission

i use the sharp wire to quiet the tongues of those you bless the lucky ones that fit your crude jigsaw plan. i will force your hand - as you force mine. turn my hands into bloody stumps as if i am the belief thief. i dare you to confront me. i dare you to confront all of us.

Posted by: The Harbour Master @ 1226

March 16, 2008

The Weeping Maw (5 of 11)

Thread: Mission

‘What did I do?’ asked Tom.

The inspector moved to the window behind Tom and gazed beyond. There was new energy in his stride that wasn’t there at the moment he had planted the pastries on the table.

‘You really should try one of the pastries, they are quite good,’ said Paul.

‘Thank you but-‘

‘You see until you mentioned the cat,’ said Paul, ‘I’m afraid to say – and this is most unprofessional of me – that I thought we were going nowhere. It’s not as if it was the perfect crime or anything, but the evidence points nowhere, no one had seen anything. No one had responded to our calls for help. Not even the people in her own hostel until we threatened to deport them. Some people are terribly unhelpful, Tom.’

The reverend nodded. ‘Yes, I see.’

‘But the cat! The cat makes it all clear!’

‘I don’t understand, Paul. Why is the cat so important?’

‘The cat, my good Christian friend, is why Mizzy was in that house. There were bloody paw prints everywhere. We thought some cat just got injured.’ He suddenly raved like a television detective. ‘No! She was lured! I’m sure of it!’

‘Paul,’ said Tom. ‘Why are you telling me this?’

‘I’ve been down in the dumps for days,’ Paul said, turning glum. ‘I’m diagnosed bipolar, you see, and this stress just doesn’t help.’ Paul whispered in confidence, ‘If I get all whiney and down-hearted in front of the boys here, well, it’s not good for morale, is it?’

His tone brightened again, and he said loudly, ‘Aah! That feels so much better. Oh thank you Tom! Thank you! Hope is great, isn’t it? I should come down and pray with the godly folk one of these days.’ He patted the reverend’s hand.

Paul grabbed the chocolate something, and started to munch on the hard, crispy vomit part first. He looked pretty happy with himself, his smile relentless.

‘Sometimes you just need to talk to someone about things,’ Tom said. ‘Mizzy talked to everybody.’

‘Yes, yes, that’s it precisely. She talked to someone about her cat dream. The wrong person, who used it against her. Still he is ashamed of what he did, we know that much. Yes, yes. She talked to someone about her cat dream. But who? Who?’

Paul stared at Tom intensely again, as if trying to figure something out about the reverend. Then he asked: ‘Have I seen you on TV?’

Tom shrugged.

‘Ah well. But who knew about her story, Tom? Who? Who?’ He took another bite and asked ‘Who’ again, while blowing a blizzard of icing sugar across the table.

Tom answered while brushing the sugar from his cassock, ‘Her story was pretty well-crafted. I’d even go as far as to say rehearsed. I think she’d already told it many times. I think, well, she probably told it to just about everybody. That’s what she told me after the cat dream. No one really listened to her story, just… just like me, so she kept on telling it.’

‘That’s very sad, isn’t it? She kept on telling it until someone listened. And the person who listened was her killer. That’s very sad, indeed. Makes me feel quite depressed, you know. God, what is this world coming to? What’s wrong with cities? What the Hell is God playing at, eh? Tell me that. I’m going to move to the country, that’s what I’m going to do. That’s just awful. Terrible.’

‘Indeed, it is,’ agreed Tom.

A long silence followed, during which Tom observed Paul’s brain in full swing. Sorting details, shuffling through facts, trying to add up numbers and see what answers matched and what didn’t. He could see that the inspector was a clever man, a calculator that could take a limited amount of information and determine all the possible logical conclusions.

‘So, Reverend,’ said Paul. ‘If it would not be too impolite a question to ask, may I inquire as to where you were on the day that Miss North was murdered?’

Posted by: The Harbour Master @ 1624

March 11, 2008

The Weeping Maw (4 of 11)

Thread: Mission

‘Hello, Reverend,’ said the inspector, closing the door behind him.

The inspector was a plump, shortish man in his thirties, a grey bar code painted on his scalp and a well-meaning glint in his beady eyes. He wore a rumpled grey suit that was too big for him; likely he had lost weight since its purchase. A tie hung from his neck like a crashed kite, its navy pattern twisted and knotted. The bottom button of his wrinkled shirt had refused to fasten.

The inspector banged a plate carrying pastries on the table. One of the pastries stood out; it was a chocolate something that had burst from one end, vomiting in appealing beige.

‘Hello, Inspector. Why don’t you call me Tom?’

The inspector smiled. ‘Well, why not? Hello Tom! Pleased to meet you. And let’s dispense with the ‘inspector’ nonsense. Please call me Paul.’

They shook hands. This was getting off to a good start, an excellent start.

‘So my colleagues mentioned that you had something to tell me about our poor late Miss North?’ Paul sat down on the other side of the table.

Tom’s smile failed him. ‘Oh yes. Yes indeed. Gosh, this interview room is a bit cold and, well, rather unfriendly don’t you think?’

‘I’m sorry,’ Paul laughed, his stubbled chin wobbling. ‘But we don’t have different interview rooms for nice people and bad people, Tom.’

‘Oh no, no, of course. I, uh, would like to know first… did she suffer? Mizzy. Tell me Mizzy didn’t suffer.’

Paul raised an eyebrow. ‘Mizzy? Is that what she called herself?’

‘Yes, that’s right.’ Tom was insistent. ‘Did she suffer?’

Paul excavated a notebook from his jacket and scribbled on a new page in capital letters: “MIZZY”. The page was now full and he flipped it to the next blank page. Paul’s super-sized writing was a menace to the rainforests of the world.

The inspector looked up, leaned backwards and stared intensely at Tom’s neck. Tom’s dog collar chafed in response.

‘I can’t talk about the details of the case, I’m sure you understand.’

A little upset, Tom frowned and said, ‘She was in a fair bit of trouble. Quite depressed. I hear you say it was murder. I just need to know whether she suffered or not? Was it quick? I just need to know, for my conscience, you understand. That poor girl. Maybe I didn’t help as much as I should have.’

‘Look here, Tom, what kind of trouble? Drugs? Crime?’ Paul leaned forward sharply and his permanent smile deepened a little more. ‘Perhaps… incest?’

‘No… no! She was just a little unhappy, Inspector. Paul.’ Tom surrendered the table to the inspector, leaning backwards to keep distance between them.

Paul sighed, a little disappointed. His smile also failed him. ‘Look, Tom, I can’t…’ Paul stopped. ‘Well I guess, no, she didn’t suffer at all. Just don’t go telling any papers about that, eh? Between you and me?’ He winked and his smile returned.

‘Oh, thank you Paul, you’ve put my mind to rest. I was so worried it was a really violent death, I think she was opening up to everybody she met. Trusting, looking for something. Like kids in one of those internet chatrooms looking for like-minded friends. Blank faces from the other side of a monitor. I hope she is at rest now, at least.’

‘Tom,’ Paul said, leaning forwards across the table. ‘I don’t mean to press, but I think it’s important you tell me everything you know about, uhhh…’ – he checked the previous page of his notebook – ‘…Mizzy.’

Tom nodded. ‘Of course. Well, Mizzy came to me a few days, I think, before she was due to return to America. She was a bit lost, wrapped up in herself. She told me some of her life story. She had sabotaged every success in her life but was mystified as to what was going wrong.’

Tom went through the Mizzy’s story, what he remembered of it. Paul looked bored, disenchanted with all this attention to detail. Tom had nothing to offer of recent history, real people or real places – this was all he had. A convoluted, futile narrative that had been relayed to him.

Tom had made a mistake; he was just wasting the man’s time. He should have just left, quit, walked out the door.

But then he mentioned the dream about a cat.

Paul woke up and said, ‘Stop. Hold on there, Tom. Back up a little. Did you just say a cat?’

‘Yes, she had a dream about a cat. A nightmare really. A cat with stigmata. She thought it meant something. I think it was just-‘

Paul laughed out loud, apparently out of shock rather than humour. ‘Well, well, well. Isn’t that a turn up for the books? Thank you, Tom. Thank you for coming down here today.’

The inspector got up, walked over to Tom, and patted him hard on the shoulder.

Posted by: The Harbour Master @ 2259

March 9, 2008

The Weeping Maw (3 of 11)

Thread: Mission

‘I’ll be there Friday night, Neville. Not this evening, I’m afraid. Been a long day,’ Tom said into the mobile. He played with the chunky silver buttons on the old black and white, his “secret” pulpit TV, stroking without depressing. He crouched low within the pulpit, hidden from the absent congregation.

Neville’s unplaceable accent remained unconvinced. ‘But Tommy, we got-ta no one here covering right, ya? Tonight, no soup run. That’s what we facing.’

Tom’s gaze smacked into one of the pillars of the church and followed it upwards as it sprayed out across the ceiling. Christian forms like cherubs and angels rode the waves of the spray. The cherubs and angels were discoloured with dust.

‘I feel bad for you, Neville, really I do, but it’s been a long day.’ Tom was uncomfortable because it had been a quiet day with barely a visitor, but he was under the weather, maybe with a virus. The virus was probably attacking his nervous system from his temples, because that’s where the pain was. He rubbed one temple with his free hand, it didn’t make any difference.

‘Oh-kay, Tommy. I just want you to know I tried. Can’t do it alone, ya? Phoebe, she also down with plague she say. Phoebe always down with the plague, I say. It’s oh-kay Tommy. Ta-ta.’

‘I know, I know, Neville. Don’t want to let the team down. I’ll make sure I’m available Friday as usual.’

BBC1 was showing some documentary about the homeless, but it was 7pm so it was probably populist and easy to follow and hence do no real good. It was either going to paint the homeless as evil, scrounging criminal types or people who can do no wrong and are just victims of terrible circumstances out of their control. He wasn’t going to wait to find out; there was no middle ground with these television people.

Neville closed the call so Tom laid the mobile to rest. If Tom had persevered and helped out with the soup kitchen he knew he’d be in terrible shape tomorrow. He wanted to be in peak condition for the talk he was hosting in the church at lunchtime; there was a good turn out for certain speakers and Dr. Moore was always a favourite.

He switched over to BBC2. The picture rolled; he gave the box a knowing tap. He’d have to throw away Old Faithful soon. Apparently everything was going digital. There was no room for an old black and white these days, the world was so rich and vibrant and full of colour. Believing in black and white, good and evil, was also fairly outdated.

‘Oh no,’ he mumbled to himself. Some silly American drama about well-dressed and clean-cut superheroes. Absolutely not, tish tosh. Americans were a bouncy and vivacious lot and Tom loved their vitality, but their predilection for vanity and narcissism would be their undoing.

ITV, adverts. Channel 4 wasn’t even going to get a chance because all they showed was Big Brother as far as he could tell. As he didn’t get digital, there was only one option left: Five. Fingers crossed. He pushed in the clunky silver button for Five and hidden springs snapped into place, grunting under load.

A short news bulletin was on.

A five-year old boy, afflicted with a threatening heart defect was found a heart transplant at the last minute. Without the transplant, it was likely he would have perished in the near future. It was a miracle. But, wondered Tom, the donating boy was probably not so keen on the miracle. Tom found it a terribly one-sided article. Miracles don’t come free. Like the markets many of his patrons played in, the world of miracles was a zero-sum game.

He had no love of the insufferable television people. Interesting events were held at the Church all the time and some of them came along once. ‘We’ve finished all our questions for the piece but need to do a little bit more for a few noddy shots, yeah?’ What on earth was a noddy shot?

The piece about the church was never shown. More important headlines about hearsay, rumour and celebrity had probably pushed the piece out. Or maybe it was the Archbishop of Canterbury; always sneaking off with the limelight whenever anyone had to say something interesting to say about the downtrodden and the meek. Then he wondered if he had made a mistake and considered that they were not people from the news but, rather, documentary people. He didn’t recall what they said they were filming for.

There was then some news about the body of a woman being found in an abandoned house in West London. She had already been identified as Michelle North, an American tourist who had not returned to the US when expected a month ago. A picture of her was shown on the screen. The police were asking for any information people might have about the case. They were saying it was murder but instead of discussing details, the news bulletin switched to pictures of her parents, caught in blurry video footage from American news channels.

Her mother wept openly and without restraint under the heat of emotional, knee-jerk cameras; her father pretended he had more iron strength but his eyes nurtured a glare of distrust. Rabbits desperate to cross the road, followed by vicious headlights.

‘How do you feel, Mrs. North?’

‘Mr. North! How is your wife feeling?’

‘Is it true that she was strangled? We heard she was strangled. Can you comment?’

‘Do you think London, England is a dangerous place now, Mrs. North?’

Tom looked down at the wooden boards, scratched and pock-marked. Something trembled at the back of his throat. ‘Oh, dear Mizzy,’ he said, as tears seeped out. ‘Poor, poor girl.’

Posted by: The Harbour Master @ 1955