Cycles mean everything in life. The waves on the beaches swell and break, water evaporates into clouds before raining down again, the earth orbits the sun, the moon shifts through its phases from full to new. People are born, then they die. Empires rise, then they crumble.
The moon was there somewhere in the sky, a circle of black against an expanse of black. Christopher Menzies searched for it in the sky, as he looked over the edge, he wished he could have seen the moon one last time. Squares of light encircled him, everywhere about there were people in their offices, in their homes: laughing, playing, making love, fighting, working; they were all a part of life’s feast. He kicked off his shoes, their black leather glimmering in the lanterns which adorned the rooftop with yellow light. He bowed his feet, first one then the other to remove his socks. He wanted to feel the grass between his toes. He took a deep breath before turning around. In the distance, other people stood talking, they sat at tables sipping from their champagne glasses as the enjoyed each other’s company. No one noticed the shoeless man near the edge of the roof-garden, laying the jacket of his suit down over the railings. Christopher stroked his head, dismayed at the increasing bald spot on his crown. Nobody deserved to go bald at thirty-eight. He took one last gulp of his drink before placing the empty glass down on the grass. Stepping forward to lean against the rails, he savoured one last detailed look at the London skyline. Buildings stood against the night sky like an ECG readout: the heartbeat of the city. He placed his bare foot on the first rail, he almost drew back from its coldness, then he realised the ridiculousness of that impulse considering the context. The foot stayed, he shifted his weight forward, preparing to climb the other four railings.
“Just an exquisite night for it,” a male voice called from behind him.
Christopher turned his head without changing his position. “If you don’t mind, I’d like to be alone,” he replied.
“But you are alone aren’t you? That’s why people usually do this dance. Life gave everybody else a glittering world of hope, love, wealth, joy and contentedness, but not them.”
The man paced forward to the railings besides Christopher. He looked far younger than the weary voice devoid of emotion suggested. His tanned face was covered in a thick mop of neatly disorganised hair in various shades of brown, it cascaded down to his eyebrows which were closely set above his hazel-coloured eyes. The hair almost covered his ears, finally ceasing as thick stubble took over. The stubble thinned to lightly scattered around his chin and light red lips which, like his voice, were lacking in any displays of emotion. Like all the others here, he was dressed smartly casual: a black shirt with its top two buttons undone, his lightly-tanned, smooth chest stood in contrast to the black. He placed his hands on the top rail.
“What’s your name?” the stranger asked.
“As in the Managing Director of Kilkenny Banking PLC?” the stranger asked with only passing interest.
“Yes, and who are you?” Christopher asked.
“It was nice speaking to your Reuben, but like I said, I want to be alone right now, in the literal sense.”
“No problem Christopher. I’ll just get out of your way.” Reuben quickly pushed himself up onto the fourth railing, resting his shins against the top one. He leaned precariously over the edge as Christopher broke out in panic.
“You’re going to jump too? Why?” Christopher asked, his voice straining high in its pitch.
“Hey man,” Reuben said. “I got my reasons, just like you.”
Somewhere behind them, somebody was finishing an uproarious anecdote, a table exploded with laughter. The two men both turned to briefly examine the seven patrons sat around a table, pouring another bottle into their glasses.
“Look at you,” Christopher said. “You’re young and good-looking, what possible reasons could you have?”
Reuben contemplated the question carefully before beginning to speak.
“You got a favourite song, right? Think of yourself listening to it on a loop, over and over again. First you grow to love it more and more, you learn the lyrics, you sing along… not necessarily in that order. It goes on too long though and you grow bored of what made it special, you start to hear the flaws, the cymbal that’s too loud, the note that’s a microsecond out of time, the string which rings out flat. Soon all you notice are the imperfections until you cannot bear the thought of hearing them again, but you do. You’d give anything to stop it. It’s not music anymore, it’s just a cacophony of ugly sounds designed to irritate you. You long for something to change, just once, but your yearning always goes unfulfilled. That’s the soundtrack of my life.”
“I could listen to Blunt’s ‘High’ forever. So you’re in a rut, that’s a pretty poor reason.”
“That it may be, but it’s my reason. So what makes your circumstances any more deserving?”
“Me?” he said, punctuating the gap with laughter. “Well, let’s see: I’ve aided criminal organisations in laundering money, and now the house of cards is tumbling down. The criminals want me, from tomorrow the police will want me. All I’ve got left in my life is Cleo, and she’s not exactly the loyal kind. The second those handcuffs click on my wrists and the hardship starts, she’ll be off chasing the next guy. She needs a man at her pleasure, not Her Majesty’s pleasure.”
Reuben circled his lips and blew out a long stream of air which almost turned into a whistle. “Dammit man. You win Christopher. You should totally jump.”
“What?” Christopher replied. “Just like that. No ‘whatever you’re going through, I’ll go through it with you’ speech?”
“No thanks, you can keep that one to yourself,” Reuben replied. “You’re pretty much on the spaghetti junction to screwed-ville. If I were you, I’d be looking for an even higher building, like, The Shard tall.”
Reuben leaned over, picking up one of Christopher shoes. Holding it aloft, he rotated it, watching the light bounce from its polished surface. “Hard to believe, the M.D. Of Kilkenny going out a single man and a pauper.”
Christopher was insulted by Reuben’s final choice of word, it made him sound like a good-for-nothing bum, not an entrepreneur with a run of bad luck. He had to correct him.
“I’m not a pauper. I’ve still got my emergency fund. But so what? I’ll still be spending every day with a target on my back, so what’s the point in running. It’s not like Cleo would be happy either, if she even came at all. It’s funny, when she finds someone else, they’ll have my account number right under their nose and never know it. Not that it’d help them without the password.”
“Interesting, so what’s the password?” Reuben asked, still with only mild curiosity.
“Nice try. But the place that’s kept in is about to make a multi-storey flaceplant.”
Christopher stopped to reflect on the money briefly before chuckling. “Tell you what, you jump with me, and I’ll tell you on the way down.”
He was really doing this. The ritual before, the feet, he’d hoped to feel connected to the earth, to have a reason not to. None presented itself. Christopher found himself joining Reuben on the fourth railing. The stranger grabbed his wrist firmly, but with gentleness.
“It truly was a pleasure to meet you Christopher. Don’t forget our deal.”
Christopher smiled. He could just make out the pavement in the darkness all that distance below. Looking down he expected to feel dizzy, but he only felt relief. He let his weight shift forward and toppled over. Reuben held tight to him. The wind started to tear into his skin, for the first time in a while, he felt truly alive. He pulled Reuben near to him and shouted in his ear quickly the password.
The pavement dashed towards him faster than he was expecting, it all blurred as his eyes started to water. He closed them, waiting to embrace whatever came next.
Pain was what came, it shot through every nerve in his body. All he could do was open his one eye, the other wasn’t working. A warm sensation was filling his body as he started to go numb. He took in the sight of the street around him hazily, deserted.
Something stirred next to him. His friend was standing up. He brushed the dust off his shirt and looked down at Christopher. He seemed completely unscathed. Reuben leaned down over him. While he grabbed something from Christopher’s pocket, Reuben noticed his eye roving about.
“‘Call no man happy until he is dead.’ Take it easy Menzies.”
As he watched Reuben walk away, the curtain was starting to descend. His cycle was ending.
The walls around Morgan extended upwards, forcing her view of the night sky into a letterbox. There was no moon of course, that was why she was in this place. A lamp housed in an ornate black-frame case stretched out above her, providing the only illumination for her and Kendy. She tensed her leg as it was held aloft, it was starting to show signs of impending cramp. As her muscles tightened, the dim light shone across her pale skin in waves of glistening luminance.
“So that’s it? After tonight it’s over?” Kendy asked.
The harsh grain of the wall behind her caught her head yet again. Moss congregated in its cracks, growing in thin lines down to the floor where it stretched into thick swathes, like hands reaching up from the world beyond the concrete. She tried to keep herself as still as possible, head injuries were preferable to dress injuries. Heads repaired themselves. She flicked her hair back behind her to try to cushion the contact, but almost immediately lengths of black fell into her eyes along with a few of her pink and blonde streaks.
“This seems the best time to call it quits,” she said. “We could try and push through, but I think we’d just end up even worse off.”
The familiar sound of sirens wailed in the background. Ambulance and police, she’d memorised their tones comfortably. She tried to raise her leg a bit higher, the other foot stood planted on the ground, supporting some of her weight on the extended heel of her black shoes. Her other shoe lay discarded in the centre of the alleyway a few feet from them.
“How can we be worse off? I need this. I’m not exactly the Plan B kind of guy,” Kendy said.
Morgan had noticed a couple of passersby in the last few minutes. One gave a quick glance at the couple half-buried in shadows. The brightness of her cardinal red dress, it must have been fairly eye-catching in the murkiness of the alleyway usually populated by standing water and cats. Yet few people would stop to stare at strangers in the middle of the night, and he wasn’t one of them.
“We’re just not growing anymore, we overstretched and can’t enough give a big enough injection to paper over the cracks,” she said.
It seemed that the more people you put in a confined space, the less they want to interact with each other. It wasn’t like there was nothing for those passing to see. Kendy’s closely-shaved face brushed up against hers with the motion as he grasped underneath her raised leg firmly. She could feel his grip of his small hands increasing and dissipating with each motion.
“Why? How big do you need it to be?” he asked.
The sirens didn’t fade away, they just abruptly cut out. Wherever they stopped, it was fairly nearby.
“Colin showed me the stimulation required,” Morgan replied. “It’s far more than we could ever hope to achieve.”
She pulled back a bit to see him properly. His green eyes were usually covered by thick-rimmed glasses. Kendy always strove for a unique yet unremarkable appearance, like he wanted to be noticed, but not remembered. Stroking the back of his white shirt she studied his face once more. It never changed, every line was the same, every blemish, the same dimples in his cheeks, the same nose with its slightly large bridge, the same smile which spread across every time he was embarrassed or confused or beset by awkwardness. For Kendy, that was a lot of the time, ever since she’d met him all those years ago he had been a man who like living on the fringes. She moved her hand back up and grabbed a tuft of his dark brown hair which strayed into a few wisps over the left side of his forehead.
“So after all these years, all those long nights, and there’s nothing left. Where on earth do we go from here?”
She’d spent so long in her life staring up at those stars, she felt like she knew them all for as long as they’d had names. The wind started to bite into her skin as it whipped along her exposed leg to where the slit at her dress’ side ended on her hip.
“We go to the part of earth called home. At least we still have that.”
“I thought Elysian Cross was rented?” he said.
“Separate lease, won’t be affected by the bankruptcy liquidation,” Morgan said.
Their rhythm continued without variation. She told herself it was just the stress, that’s why it felt so perfunctory. She struggled to keep her thoughts on Kendy, not that he seemed to notice what she was thinking. She made a few appreciative moans of pleasure, only delivered with eleven-percent actual pleasure.
“I just expected this to last forever.” Kendy said. “It’s like… you find that sweet spot and just want to stay in it perpetually, y’know.”
“Nothing lasts forever Sweetness… Well, almost nothing,” she replied.
It wasn’t like not being with Kendy was an option. He’d die without her and they had such a history together. She gripped his back tightly with her painted-blue fingernails as she tried to surrender to the moment. A warmth spread through her as his cheek started to brush against hers with more force, the rhythm entering a crescendo, building.
“Speaking of endings…” He let out a gasp before falling into her arms. Morgan kissed him on the cheek.
“Here’s to another month,” she said. She slipped her hand into the pocket of Kendy’s trousers and pulled out her pair of black knickers before slipping them up over her legs and retrieving her missing shoe.
“Come on,” she said, walking back towards the main street. “We better get back, got that big meeting in the morning.”
“Ah yes, the ‘oh my God what do we do when we have no money, no jobs and no discernible skills which wouldn’t land us in an episode of Ripley’s Believe it or Not’ plan.”
“Speak for yourself,” she said, turning to look back at him with a smirk. “I got mad skills.”
♦ ♦ ♦
Daylight shone outside, not that Morgan could tell as she drummed a waltz rhythm on one of the tables with her slender yet powerful fingers. Giant boards of wood shielded the outside of the windows at 4 Elysian Cross, and covering them in turn were thick metal cages, not visible from the inside of the disused restaurant. One, two, three, one, two, three, she counted in her head impatiently. Beneath her fingers was an dark brown oak table which ran in a slightly distorted rectangle around the central bar area. The tables matched the bookcases of fine wines which sporadically filled spaces against the walls. At full capacity, the Cross could seat just over one-hundred-and-twenty-five patrons, as of this moment, it housed only three: all of them waiting, annoyed, in their ivory-coloured full-backed chairs.
She eyed the revolving door between the two boarded windows on the front side of the room, it stood dormant. She, Kendy and Megumi had been staring at it for twenty minutes already in verbal silence. Kendy sat in a moleskin coat with a scarf wrapped around his usual shirt, loose tie and smart casual trousers ensemble. He always looked like he was cold, no matter what the occasion. His pencil skimmed over a formerly blank page of a notepad, another sketch pulled from the frankly baffling recesses of his mind. Today’s exhibit featured two elephants riding on the wings of a bi-plane. The sound of his pencil scratching the paper, followed by his moleskin sleeve rubbing the sheet provided a small amount of accompaniment to Morgan’s tapping.
Megumi was slumped forwards on the table, chin resting on hand threatening to slip and headbutt the table any second. She looked asleep. Even seated, she towered over her and Kendy. Morgan clocked in at five-foot-nine; Kendy was five-foot-ten. Leading at six-foot-two was Megumi. Unusual in England, yet downright preternatural in her birth country of Japan. To her credit, she never slouched, nor avoided heels, but embraced her stature. Wearing a dark grey trapeze top over blue denim shorts, she was dressed for summer. Morgan, meanwhile, had gone for autumn, ditching the elegance of the previous evening for a loose navy hoodie and black jeans, her hair tied back in a ponytail with the pink and blonde streaks falling over her eyes. She blew them away in exasperated breaths every five or six bars of her rhythm.
Megumi was awake, now at least.
“One new watch, one blunt-force trauma treatment kit,” Kendy said.
“Birthday presents for him?” Morgan replied.
Kendy scowled while nodding. It wasn’t like any of them had any particular place to be, but they all believed that tardiness should be rewarded with hostility. It was a matter of principle. A vortex formed in the room as an open mouth sucked in air, preparing for a yawn. Then, Megumi rubbed her eyes before resting her head on the table and promptly returning to sleep.
“Well, I’m sure he’d appreciate the watch,” Morgan said.
A squeak came from the direction of the door, followed by three or four rhythmic clunks. The three waiting sat up in their chairs. He was here.
“Why Kandide, you are positively glowing. Is it your time of the month already?” Reuben took off his sunglasses and briefly flicked a few brown hairs back into place. “And how was my sister this time, still keeping the clock turning for you I hope.”
“Inouï. She does things with a man’s clock you can only imagine. Not that you need a woman’s touch to keep your little hand spinning.” Kendy replied.
“Idiotic banter, check. Penis euphemisms, check. Yes, I do believe we have men in the room… You’re late!” Morgan said.
Reuben took up a position on the other side of the bar, trying each of the taps until he found one which still worked. Grabbing a glass, he poured himself a pint of bitter before leaning over the counter facing the others.
“Now that we’re all here,” Morgan said. “We have the small matter of our impending poverty to talk about. With the sale of all our assets, we’ve covered most of our debts. Unfortunately, due to our lack of officially existing, everything we ran through the company, our houses, our cars, our art collections: they’re all amongst the sale items.”
Kendy sighed loudly at the mention of art collections.
“I’ve made up some rooms downstairs for you all. Unfortunately, this 3,348 square foot, two-floor building we now call home will cost us nearly five-thousand quid every month. This place is our only chance to get back on our feet, without it, we’re homeless. No families, no benefits, no income. So I’d really appreciate your input here,” Morgan said.
“We could always put Kendy’s scarf collection on eBay?” Reuben said.
Morgan scanned the room back and forth. “Any input from somebody who hasn’t been licking a lead pipe for the last four-hundred years?” she asked.
“Well…” Megumi replied, still with her eyes half-closed. “…People with our powers, short on money, they usually end up going off in a van and solving mysteries.”
“Megumi’s voice, welcome back; Megumi’s brain, still dreaming. Still, it was nice of you to give Reuben’s stupid idea a friend to play with,” Morgan said, the tempo of her finger-tapping increasing in quick bursts.
“Relax little sister. While you were dropping your knickers for Tether-Boy there, I was gaining us access to an emergency fund for one of the city’s wealthiest former citizens.”
“Former?” Morgan said.
“He had an allergic reaction to something he came in contact with, brought him out in big red blotches,” Reuben replied. “All we need is his wife, girlfriend whatever. She’s got the account number we need to go with the password.”
“And she’ll just happily hand over that information?” Morgan asked.
“That’s the beauty of it my dear Quimbrosia. She doesn’t even know she has the number, it’s hidden on her somewhere. Sheer elegance in its simplicity is it not.”
Simplicity, how Morgan longed for that again. They’d become too complacent. The ship started to sink and all they did was to try to repair it on the way down. No, they didn’t do anything. The captains left the crew at the helm and barricaded themselves in their quarters, toasting success. Somebody up there must love to see self-congratulation, she thought, it made the downfall all the sweeter for them to plot. Months ago, they waltzed to the sound of elegance, now life was a slowdance on the inside. A threnody scrawled by albatross-quill in black bile.
Reuben continued, “Besides, we’re lacking in the plan B department-“
“What about some kind of detective agency…” Megumi thought aloud.
“On which note… Great meeting guys,” Reuben said, standing. “You can stay with Megumi and rescue lost cats if you like, but I’m pretty sure I’m going with the option involving a huge stack of cash. Attach yourself to my wake if you want in.”
Reuben swigged the remains of his bitter swiftly. He slammed the glass down on the bar, seeming disappointed when it didn’t smash. His hand went for his sunglasses as he made for the revolving doors again. Morgan wasn’t enthralled by the prospect, but income was income. She pushed herself up from her ivory-tinted chair and demurely walked after her brother. Kendy looked up expectantly, but she motioned him to stay. If this guy was well known, his demise wouldn’t exactly be low-key. From the perspective of others, the more the warier. Megumi fostered no notion of her own involvement. The rhythmic clunks of the door neatly ended Morgan’s mental waltz as she followed Reuben into the brisk autumn city.
Around each other, they were safe, or to put in more accurately, other people were safe. Out in the world, it was always a challenge for Morgan. Reuben didn’t have to worry about anything like that, but every second was a test of thought control for her, with her abilities. One flash of anger towards a person, one wrong image in her mind as she envisioned their face and the consequences would be catastrophic. In a city of nearly ten million people, the odds of not meeting one person who you instinctively had the desire to asphyxiate were very low. Caught at the wrong moment, the difference was her dreams would become reality. Out on the streets, every notion in her mind had to be accounted for.
As they made their way to Liverpool Street station, Reuben was flicking a pink plastic card through his fingers like a magician would do a penny. There was a photo of a man in the corner of it, a balding man who looked about forty. A name, Christopher Menzies, was written on the driving licence, followed by his address which was over in Holland Park. Morgan never asked how Reuben came across this information, she already knew most of it without needing to be told. A normal person looks at a person and sees gender, then age, followed by figure, sexual attractiveness and a million other small pieces of information which reveal the inner-person to the outside world. A dendrochronologist can look at a tree and discern its age; Reuben looks at a human and discerns their expiry date.
Hundreds of faces passed by them as they descended the steps of the Underground station, a hundred people which could all be extinguished in an instant if she associated their images with the wrong thoughts. It was exhausting. Everything about living amongst them was tiring, the constant push to reinvention foremost. Most people grow up, find their tastes, reevaluate their upbringing then settle into a routine: the same music, the same fashion, the same friends until the wedding invitations turn to baby showers, then to funerals. To them staying the same was dangerous. She felt like Madonna at times, having to exhaustively study the youth, inhale their tastes, their slang, their attitudes, their dreams, then make them her own. Few people would expect their grandmother to go from enjoying Shostakovich to A Day to Remember, yet this camouflage was their life, their protection. As more photos were taken, more cameras roamed the cities, the danger only increased. A world of information was at anyone’s fingertips now, and one photo of her from 1940 compared to a photo from the present day and suspicions could be raised. Fake identities were becoming harder to pull off too, the war on terror can add another black cloud to its tarnished lining. Most people expect their grandmothers to grow old and die. Morgan did neither.
Not that she had any grandchildren. Her condition came with many caveats and fertility was one of them. Her body offered up a different kind of life, a connection, a tether. Before Kendy, there had been others, she remembered the first, back before she knew what she was capable of. Five days before their third anniversary. How could she have known as she watched him slip away, how could she have known how to stop it?
Most people avoid eye contact on the Underground, the unwritten code. Hundreds of rows of eyes all lined up, sitting face-to-face and yet they crane their necks to look anywhere but at another. Square frames fill the need for them. A new theatre production, a new perfume, a new experience. Promises to trade your money for the potential to connect with humanity whilst your neck aches from avoiding it. Morgan could feel the eyes on her nonetheless. Eyes like shadows which retreated when put under light, like the scratch on your vision which disappears when you try to focus on it. They hid the action she desired: to watch. Crossing her legs, she scratched a white mark off the black denim jeans. To them, she was just a girl of around twenty-two, slouching in a chair as her hoodie – easily three sizes too big for her – provided a shell for her. They saw a pretty face, marred only by a small beauty spot above the corner of her lips. For the most part it blended in. Removal wasn’t an option anyway. They saw a face which had mastered every intricate expression, but whose default lay in a welcoming vulnerability. If only they knew.
Reuben had a tendency to select a person, usually male, and then stare. He’d affix his focus on them and hold it for the length of the journey. He seemed to revel in the awkwardness he caused: the furtive glances, the embarrassment, the paranoia, and finally, being summarily ignored with the occasional disapproving look. Sometimes they moved to another part of the train altogether, telekinesis through social awkwardness. Today’s target was a man in his late forties, holding up a copy of The Daily Telegraph to try and break the visual plane between them. Impeccable suit, strategically demure tie, white shirt, he had power. Men of power never dress to impress, their position can do that for them.
“Nineteen days, twenty-eight minutes and fifty-one seconds,” Reuben said, loudly enough to get a few glances.
Morgan replied, “Did I ask?”
Maybe those were the ones he chose to stare down, the ones with limited time left on the mortal coil. It was probably what led him to Christopher Menzies. Reuben smiled to himself, waiting, while Morgan fidgeted. She was trying not to, but this game almost an impulse now.
She leaned into his ear. “Auto-erotic strangulation while watching The Midget Bones Diary.”
Morgan wished she didn’t get the visual for that one, the office chair drenched in sweat, the belt wrapped around the back of the chair, binding him under his neck. The slip of his skin on the leather surface, the sickening sound of the belt tightening around his airways. Yet there it was. Eyeing his wedding band, she wondered if his wife would cover up the details of her discovery, or maybe it’d be the child. She could see the faint outline of a teenaged boy in framed photos standing on the desk around his computer. A snapshot of happiness of a family, which, for one of them, would be eclipsed by the eternal memory of only one image of the pictured man.
“Hey Morgs, change the film to Fievel Goes West.”
“At which point did you become so sadistic Reuben… An American Tail: Avril Goes South, final offer,” she said.
Morgan closed her eyes and pulled the picture of the man’s moment of death to her mind. She only got a still image along with the photographic equivalent of the other senses, Reuben got the video, but only after-the-fact and only when in contact with the body. Wincing slightly at the vision she focussed on the computer screen, changing the film playing in her mind. She left the rest untouched. Anything further and it risked a random reset, which could be very dangerous for one of the people flanking the man on the train seat. The world demanded balance. She let go of the picture and started to breathe deeply. Every time, it was like someone turned the oxygen off for a split-second.
The train shuddered to a stop and a mechanised voice told them to beware the chasm between worlds. Morgan became intently fixated on the dirt-soaked floor beneath her. Avoid the eyes, beware the windows, protect the souls, mind the gap.
Menzies’ building was on Holland Park Avenue, one of the nicest parts of the city. You knew it was nice because they had peacocks, and cricket, and a distinct lack of poor people. His apartment was in a five-storey complex which occupied a street corner. A huge cylindrical tower of white stone acting as the corner-piece, a hinge for the building which rose to seven-floors for the tower that tapered off into a balcony and an architectural nipple to serve as its summit. As they approached, staring up at where his room was on the fourth floor, Reuben pointed out a solitary parked police car outside. Unperturbed, they carried on, casually waiting for someone to open the entrance door before walking inside.
The Victorian exterior was entirely at odds with the inside of the building. After a brief lobby area with hard-rugs, it widened out into luxuriantly thick creme carpets, hallways devoid of clutter with walls which offered displays to rival an art gallery. Kendy would have liked it here. They made their way to the lift.
“So what exactly is the plan Rube? Given that we can’t ask a rich white woman ‘hey, can we inspect your house and give you a full-body search please?’”
“Maybe you can’t,” he replied with an air of arrogance.
Morgan rolled her eyes. Since the 14th century, Reuben had not gone a day without everything he wanted falling into his lap. This was going to be a hard adjustment for him, she thought.
Exiting the lift on the fourth, they headed for number 14. The door was already open. The two of them approached quietly before peeking into the room.
“Is there something we can help you with?” The voice came from the other side of the entrance hall. Two guys who looked like cops were just exiting one of the seven doors which branched out from the entrance. The man speaking was in his late thirties. His ears seemed to occupy at least a third of each side of his head: all the better for listening with. They were the sole oddity on his clean-shaven, square-jawed face. It appeared that excessive amounts of coffee and too many late nights had taken their toll, his eyes were blackened underneath and thick furrows ran across his forehead beneath neatly-chopped curly brown hair. He wore a suede jacket over a pastel blue shirt. He looked dated, even Reuben looked more fashionable, although the new-wave vampire craze had helped him out there. His partner was bald, with one of those faces which resembled a potato. Red flushed to his cheeks and forehead as he hurriedly advanced towards them.
“We’re looking for Christopher,” Reuben answered them.
“He isn’t home,” the bald one replied with a smirk.
“Who are you guys?” Reuben asked.
“I’m DCI Goddard, and this is DS Colton,” he said, gesturing to the curly-haired man. “I’m afraid we’re going to have to ask you to leave.”
Reuben protested, vigorously but he didn’t get anywhere. The two of them turned and walked back to the lift, Reuben obviously frustrated as he purposely dragged his feet along the creme hallway carpet.
“I’ve got a plan,” he said. “How about we go downstairs, break open the fire alarm, cause an evacuation of the building while we conceal ourselves by hanging from one of the windows here. Then when they leave his room, we can stealthily sneak in, search his rooms and rejoin the masses stood on the pavement via a carefully positioned four-storey leap to the ground below perfectly timed to evade sighting by any proles outside.”
“Let’s call that Plan B,” Morgan replied. “Here, hold this.” She pulled her hoodie over her head revealing a purple shirt with a keyhole neckline which circled around the top of her cleavage before joining together with a square metal clip which falsely threatened to break apart at any moment from the pressure. She tugged the bottom of it down over her stomach and pulled her hair out of its ponytail. “How do I look?”
“Kinda slutty,” he said.
“Perfect.” She started to walk back to the door, the two men having already turned their backs. “Stay, watch and learn,” she told her brother.
Coughing to alert them to her presence, the two cops turned around. She was slouching slightly so she had to look up to both of them. She held one hand on her hip whilst using the other to play with her lower lip. Any touching of the face is considered a sign of nervousness, police love nervousness. She traded a few light sentences with the men, introducing herself as Kierra Sitterson. Colton stayed quite frosty with her, but Goddard lapped up the attention, he didn’t even pretend to be maintaining eye contact with her.
“So how did you know Mr. Menzies?” Goddard asked her, leaning forwards in a not un-creepy manner. The personal space boundary is primarily dictated by the distance wherein you are unable to feel the person breathing on you as they speak, he was past that barrier. Minute particles of cheese and egg escaped with his breath, giving the conversation an aroma of digested breakfast. Morgan still smiled sweetly, pretending not to notice.
“I didn’t, I’m a friend of his girl, Cleo,” she answered softly.
“Cleo?” Goddard said. “Who do you mean, according to our information he didn’t have a wife or girlfr-“ Colton coughed loudly, making an obvious sign for his partner to stop talking. Goddard seemed to ignore him. They were probably friends, but with his age and rank, Goddard was not going to be dictated to by a junior.
“…Only thing which lived with him was his goddamn cat. Pictures of that ugly thing everywhere. Face like a raisin with all the cuddliness of a shark-attack. It’s kinda weird, no family photos, just him, sharkcat and that intern of his. I was starting to wonder if he wasn’t queer or something.”
She had to pretend the next sentence was no big deal. People always try to hide it when they want something. Nonchalance breeds suspicion because why would anyone ask for something if they didn’t care. Morgan went the other way, pretending to be beyond excited. “Oooh, can I see him. I can totally tell if the intern’s gay.” Colton was inspecting his fingernails far too intently, pretending to be anywhere but in that entranceway with the two of them. Out of view, Reuben had much the same feeling as he listened to the interrogation.
“Sure thing doll. I can’t let you in, but I’ll get the photo for you.” Morgan thanked him while blowing her hair out of her eyes. Colton didn’t find it nearly as cute as most guys did. She noticed he kept flicking his thumb over his ring finger as if trying to spin something which wasn’t there.
Goddard returned with the photograph, enclosed within a fairly standard wooden frame, nothing as fancy as she’d thought his position would afford. Menzies was stood about two feet away from a much younger man, barely out of his teenage years. Their backdrop was a farm, it looked like Devon or Cornwall or the like, it was difficult to tell those places apart. A herd of cows roamed behind them. Beaming faces, the both of them. The younger one, the intern was cute, she thought. He had hair which was entirely too long for him, parted down the middle, it fell on both sides of his face right down to his nose. A black suit jacket exposed a large amount of his pink shirt. Over the years, she’d seen that colour go through all manner of transitions, from masculinity, to femininity, to homosexuality, to feminism, to metrosexuals. Kendy would never dream of wearing such a colour. The boy had quite a long face housing a largish nose with a rounded chin, she traced her finger down the photograph, remembering the point of this viewing.
She locked the image in her mind and closed her eyes, focussing on the boy’s face. Blacking out the rest of the image she let in swim in her mind briefly before another image quickly surrounded it. His smiling face became contorted, his eyes emptied and his body fell to the floor. She expected to see someone older, but he hadn’t aged a day. Death would come for him soon. Morgan concentrated on the fringes of the picture, dusty floor, the ridges of a shuttered metal door, the smell of ink in the air, windows raised high up on the walls and piles of boxes lining the walls. It was an industrial unit. She tried to relax, trying too hard only made the finer details less tangible, like grasping at wisps of smoke. The boy on the floor with blood pooling around his head. Marks of violence covered his face: cuts, bruises, welts. He died in pain. Swimming in from the periphery, she made out a few words on a sign in the corner of the unit: “Blusun Business Forms LTD.”
The where was known, but she still needed a when. Pretending to fall from her heels, she stumbled sideways taking her just around the corner. She turned and steadied herself on the curve of the wall. With her other hand she held up the photograph for a second. Reuben was stood only feet away, he must have snuck nearer while they were talking. She waited for him to nod, then pushed herself back to face the two detectives. Colton was obviously suspicious and tried to see around the corner. Stopping him with a flirtatious stroke of his arm she noted his disapproving face at the gesture.
“Are you finished with the school-outreach programme Goddard?” Colton said.
Goddard smiled at Morgan. “Don’t mind him, he’s had a rough year. So…?”
Morgan recalled the image of Menzies from the photograph. “No way would any self-respecting gay man wear white socks with black shoes.” A cough sounded from around the corner. Reuben wanted to go. She thanked them both and did her best springy walk as she left.
The smile on her face was swiftly erased the instant the corner blocked her from view, her gait returned to her default: a sway-less walk with long strides. Grabbing Reuben by the arm she pulled him back towards the lift.
“How long?” she asked.
“He’s in final lockdown, less than two hours.”
Morgan took her hoodie back from Reuben and retrieved her smartphone from the pocket. Googling “Blusun Business Forms,” she was relieved to note a local London address: Canterbury Industrial Park on Ilderton Road over in Southwark. With a car, then could steam to the rescue in fewer than thirty-minutes. There was a reason for the Batmobile, the Quinjet and the Owlship. Rushing to the rescue is far less stylish on public transport.
Over an hour later they reached the Park. Immortality had many perks, the one Morgan was thankful for today was the reduced ability to get out of breath after running the mile-and-a-half from Bermondsey station to their destination. They stood on the pristinely maintained tarmac which led to the conclave of units. Colour was everywhere – doors of blue, white, orange, green, walls of red, roofs of lime and navy – anything to distract from the mundane activities taking place inside the walls.
Except for one unit, where a young man was about to be murdered.
A pair of shoes lay abandoned on the ground, jetsam in the wake of a lone figure approaching the foreboding metal shutter ahead. The cuffs of her black skinny jeans scraped the floor as she advanced barefoot. The absence of footsteps was one reason, the other was that she felt more alert when she could feel every contour of the ground pressing against her nimble toes. Every step brought new sensations, care was required for each and every contact. Most of mankind’s greatest atrocities have been committed by men in large boots.
A little farther ahead, her hoodie was also dropped. Morgan needed to feel free, mobile. She clicked the bones in her fingers as she stretched her interlocked hands out in front of her. Stood in front of the door, she took a moment.
Then she swept a band over her hair. Action time. She knocked on the door marked with “Blusun Business Forms LTD.”
The shutter rattled loudly as it was raised up until it was two feet off the ground.
“Who is it?” a voice said in a Baltic accent.
“Good afternoon,” Morgan began. “I’m just calling on people in the area with a positive message for the future.”
“Go away,” the Baltic voice said back. “I’m not interested in God.”
“Really? That’s odd, because I bet in less than two minutes you’ll be screaming out his name. Likely followed by ‘…the pain, the pain!’”
“What the f-“
His angered exclamation was cut off by the sound of glass breaking emanating from the back of the unit. With the audio cue, Morgan dropped to the floor and quickly rolled under the shutter.
Two men had handguns aimed at the now-destroyed window at the back of unit. They fired at a figure crouched behind a pile of boxes. Both men shouted reassurances to the other that they must have hit him, but still they kept sporadically firing. They had silencers screwed on to the end of their barrels, yet it didn’t seem to have much of an effect, the shots still sounded as loud as a thunder crack.
Morgan smiled as she rose quietly to her feet. Just then, one of the men must have remembered the female at the door, since he spun quickly to face her despite her stealth. Reuben chose that moment too to rush from his hiding place. It was always better to not give the mortals any indication of ability. You can’t just go around killing people and few defeated henchmen have an aversion to talking to anyone who’ll listen.
The guy with his gun now aimed at her smirked, his insulting grin spreading over a face already too offensive thanks to an unsightly beard which was just a scrag of hair hanging from the chin. His piercing eyes showed no consideration for her. He aimed for her head.
Swinging her leg up in an oval arc, she hit the barrel hard with her bare foot.
The impact sent the gun sideways, trapping his finger in the trigger-guard.
The bone snapped in his index finger.
His weapon dropped to the floor. “Ah kurwa. Spierdalaj ty glupia pizda.”
“I hope that means ‘Oh God, the pain, the pain, or I owe you a fiver.” She smiled at him, he tried to swing his other hand, but just as the momentum started, she propelled her forehead into the bridge of his nose.
Another sickening crack. He fell down, unconscious, blood gushing from his nostrils.
She looked over at Reuben, he had the other guy in an armlock around his neck. Hands flailing helplessly.
The hands started to slow. Reuben dropped him quietly to his resting place on the floor.
They both turned to a figure in the corner of the room, secured to a chair. It was the young man from the photograph. Sweat was pouring down from his forehead mixed in with blood from the cuts on his face. His hands were handcuffed behind him.
Morgan motioned to Reuben for one of the guns, which threw over to her. As she approached the captive, he squirmed.
“It’s alright sweetie, I’m not going to hurt you,” she told him. “Just hold very still.”
She aimed the gun at the chain between the cuffs and pulled the trigger. He jumped violently from the noise as the metal links were obliterated.
Returning to face him, she knelt down. Reuben left her to it, casually investigating the unit. The young man stared up at her, holding the kind of eye-contact which would have got him arrested on the Underground.
“Blake,” he said. Still his focus didn’t shift from her, but morphed into bewilderment. “Who are you?”
She pulled a tissue out of a small packet in her pocket and began to wipe his face free of the remnants of his ordeal. “I’m Morgan. Your boss, he told us you might be in danger before he…”
“Yeah, suicide. So they say,” Blake replied.
“Someone tell you otherwise sweetie?” She adopted the most smoothing, innocent voice she could muster, lots of reassuring strokes of his arm came with it. She hoped fervently that the next words out of his mouth weren’t: “someone saw…”
“The cops say it’s open and shut don’t they. Why would I doubt that?” he said.
Blake tested the strength of his legs as he tried to stand. They wobbled precariously, but ultimately held firm, as long as he held tightly onto Morgan’s bare shoulder that was. The handcuffs had now become bracelets on his wrists, clinking slightly with each movement as they dug into her skin, not that she said anything about it, he had enough to worry about. The noise of Reuben lethargically searching echoed freely around the piles of white boxes, bouncing off the metal walls and the green steel of the machines flanking the sides of the unit. The whole place reeked of chemicals, grey tins of ink covered tables, sending the fumes of their contents outwards. It was the kind of place where you wondered if one spark would send it into oblivion.
Blake wrapped his arm around Morgan’s waist as the two of them hobbled towards the shutter-door. A pool of blood lay just in front of them.
The blood’s owner had disappeared.
“Ssij suko!” Morgan looked up to see a gun pointed at her by a figure slumped against the corner of the room. His face, his shirt was all crimson now. Morgan stared him down, besides a potentially awkward conversation she had nothing to fear.
“Look out!” Blake pushed her to the floor as the gun fired. As she fell, she looked up at his face and saw nothing but concern in his eyes as the bullet tore through his throat. He joined her quickly on the floor. Morgan scrambled over to him as Reuben swiftly traversed the room. Blake’s shooter fired another bullet straight into Reuben’s head, then two, then again and again until the gun clicked empty. Not a single one of them hit their target. The fear hit him at roughly the same time Reuben did. He wasn’t getting up again anytime soon.
“You didn’t have to do that,” Morgan said to Blake as she stroked her hand through his hair. “You don’t even know me. Why?”
He looked at her with rapidly dilating pupils. There was that same inquisitive stare again, coming from behind a thick strand of bloody fringe. It was as if she’d just asked him something ridiculous, something obvious.
“Seventeen seconds and counting,” Reuben said, searching into him from afar.
“No way. He’s not going to die for me,” she said.
Morgan let go of him, stood up and concentrated on his face, blocking out everything else. Her mind quickly switched to a static photo, only seconds from now. She closed her eyes, keeping the image front-and-centre. She saw the hole in his throat and then pictured it gone. She saw the blood dripping down his neck and imagined it absent. She envisioned his eyes opened, she saw him smiling back up at her.
She opened her eyes.
Bewilderment again as Blake traced his fingers across his neck, but there was nothing abnormal to feel. Morgan turned to Reuben searching him for some kind of reaction, but his face was like stone.
“He’s reset. Off my radar now. Better hope there’s no one walking their dog outside sis.”
An almighty crash sounded from the side of the unit as a shelving structure loaded with QE3 solvent collapsed, spilling the liquid all over the concrete of the floor. The metal corner of the shelves hit the ground, setting off a spark. Heat blasted the side of Morgan’s skin as flames engulfed the other side of the unit. She tried not to listen as two distinct screams of intense agony filled her ears. One of the men tried to stand up, but didn’t get far before the fire snuffed the life out of him.
“Admetus lives. Two blackened souls for the price of one,” Reuben said. “Do you mind awfully if we leave about now. It’s about to get hot in here, and I don’t want either of you to take off all your clothes.”
Morgan nodded, pulling Blake up by the wrist. The three of them ducked under the shutter, pulling it down behind them as the loose chain inside the unit rattled as the cogs rotated it.
The sirens would come here soon too. They seemed to follow her everywhere this week. They hurried out, stopping to retrieve her hoodie and shoes on the way.
“Jake. We need to find Cleo really urgently,” Reuben said. “Do you know where she is?”
“It’s Blake, and I dunno, she’s probably licking herself in a corner somewhere. Ugly thing.”
“Vad sa du?” Reuben replied, obviously surprised.
“Cleo’s his cat. Stupid thing looks like a raisin, and is about as friendly as a game of Rochambeau. Probably somewhere around Chris’ building I guess. What do you need her for?”
“Hmm Reuben, think you’re about to spend an evening looking for a little pussy,” Morgan said.
“Ha flippin ha!” He grabbed her hoodie off her and threw it back at her face. “Just put your top back on will ya. Besides, haven’t you got to explain to Jake why he got shot in the throat yet seems to show an unnatural zero on the symptom register?”
Morgan summoned her dirtiest look as she pulled the hoodie over her head, she glanced at Blake who was staring expectantly at her. At least it’d give her something to do on the way home.
Clunk, clunk, clunk, clunk. The revolving door span round and Reuben zeroed in on their position at the bar, his blue jacket wrapped around him loosely. He opened one side of the jacket and threw a pile of money at Morgan.
“At last, we can retire from unemployment and live in luxury,” she said, eyeing the rather lacklustre haul.
“Six-thousand. All that son-of-a-bitch saved up was six thousand pounds. What kind of plan for the future do you call that.”
Kendy laughed slightly at him. “Why? How much did you save up over your life Ruby?”
“Shut up. Have a cat!” Reuben opened the other side of his jacket and retrieved a small bundle from inside. He threw the cat at Kendy, its white body arching as its white and orange face with almost comically large ears was propelled towards his. It hit him square in the face, claws first. Reuben chucked its collar quickly afterwards, the light briefly caught the inside of it, illuminating a ten-digit number printed on the inside.
“Argh, you stupid co-“
“Now now children. Look on the brightside, we’ve got somewhere to live for another month,” Morgan said.
♦ ♦ ♦
“I don’t like him.”
Kendy stood a few feet away from Morgan in a corridor upstairs. He leant his weight on an elbow raised against the wall. Adopting a defiant pose he waited out the silence.
“So what do you want me to do about it?”
“Why did you have to save him. We don’t interfere. Those are the rules!” Kendy said.
“I don’t have to explain myself to you Kandide. Remember who’s the subsidiary here.”
Kendy shouted a few swear words at her, storming off into his room. His room. She remembered when it used to be their room. None of them seemed to have any desire to do anything remotely positive with themselves. Too many years with the one-percent had deadened them to the cries of others. None of them lived in perpetual fear of ending entire families with one stray poisonous yearning. She retreated into her own room, throwing off her clothes straight to the floor until just her underwear remained. She’d pick them up tomorrow. Maybe.
Morgan went to her window, looking out to the street below, watching as a lone figure disappeared into the night. Reuben was out again. The moon was still absent from the sky. The cycles seemed to pass by so quickly to her. She sat and watched the people for a bit, observing them scurrying about their lives as the rain started to come down. She closed her eyes and thought of Blake’s face. She couldn’t hurt him anymore, the reset had put him out of their reach. It was nice to be able to picture someone without that fear lurking. She stroked her stomach gently. It wouldn’t be long now. She’d have to tell Kendy soon. But not today.