liz_marcs (liz_marcs) wrote,
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Africander Fic: Facing the Heart In Darkness; Part 9/?

Oh how love szandara. Let me count the ways! She so perfectly encapsulated my rage at this story in the Boston Globe, that I only want to say: "What she said."

If you ever want to read an infuriating story about rich, white boy, entitlement, it doesn't get any more blatant than this. Grrrrrrrrrr. Let's just leave aside the fact that there appears to be a significant population of male students who seem to be doing fine in AP classes and making the honor roll despite this alleged "gender bias" in favor of girls. No point in letting the facts get in the way of a good lawsuit.

My favorite quotes from Mr.-Everyone-Is-Against-Us-Boys:

Among Anglin's allegations: Girls face fewer restrictions from teachers, like being able to wander the hallways without passes, and girls are rewarded for abiding by the rules, while boys' more rebellious ways are punished. [Emphasis mine.]

[snip, snip]

''The system is designed to the disadvantage of males," Anglin said. ''From the elementary level, they establish a philosophy that if you sit down, follow orders, and listen to what they say, you'll do well and get good grades. Men naturally rebel against this." [Emphasis mine.]

AUGH-AUGH-AUGH!

Urge. To. Kill. Rising.

Have we mentioned that Mr. Entitlement's father is lawyer who wrote the legal complaint? Grrrrrr.

Ahem.

Enough ranting. I needed to get that off my chest.

On to the story. I think you should all know that if you've been following along, you've read 90 pages.

For the Scatterlings and Orphanages Africander Fiction Challenge by ludditerobot .

For all previous parts, go here.
Continued from Part 8.

I decided that since I was already feeling low, I might as well complete my study of Mr. Harris.

 

Reading Jonathan’s collection of targeted interviews with the Sunnydale survivors was first on my docket. Aside from Mr. Harris’s own parents, the collected interviews included a handful of high school teachers, former co-workers, former Sunnydale police officers, and fellow Sunnydale High School alumni.

On my best of days, I found the words of the Sunnydale survivors off-putting. Now that they had been given a target, I found their words to be horrifying.

Allow me to try and explain, dear reader. I have read many historical documents concerning the hunt for witches in Europe, Colonial America, and elsewhere in the world where belief in the malevolence of those who use magic hold sway. Indeed, such documents are required reading for Watchers even now. It is a perfect illustration of how a populace might turn against individuals who do not quite fit with the prevailing social conventions and how their innocent and not-so-innocent activities may take on a sinister sheen in the eyes of frightened people in need of a scapegoat.

Those of us in Council service, both Watcher and Slayer alike, can easily find ourselves at the wrong end of the cries of “J’accuse!” Such situations, I am sad to report, are not confined just to the distant past. They continue even into this modern day. The price, if you are not able to escape the pitchforks and torches, can range from community approbation all the way up to death at the hands of an angry, hysterical mob.

As you read this, I imagine you, dear reader, sitting snug in your flat and smiling smugly, secure in the knowledge that something so barbaric as a lynching could not possibly happen in your neighborhood. Trust my word when I tell you: you would be very wrong. It can happen anywhere and at any time, provided the right spark is present to set the conflagration alight.

In reading the words of the Sunnydale citizens regarding Mr. Harris and the others of his acquaintance, it was a wonder the he, Miss Summers, Miss Rosenberg, Mr. Giles, and their allies did not find themselves swinging from the end of a rope or burned at the stake. Most likely the only thing that saved these people from such a fate were the citizenry’s willing blindness to anything outside of what they perceived to be the norm.

The approbation aimed at Mr. Harris was well nigh universal: there was something just not right with the man. He was considered strange at best, a dangerous loon at worst. Many people blamed his parents. I got quite the impression that the Harrises were considered, in the crude vernacular of America, “white trash” complete with incidences of public drunkenness and disturbing the peace. In either case, everyone agreed on one point. With parents like Jessica and Tony Harris, their son didn’t have even the slimmest chance to grow up and be a productive, healthy, and sane member of society.

He was often seen walking at night, often in the company of one or more of his compatriots. It was clear to one and all that this little gang was involved in dark doings, although people’s theories on the nature of those doings differed. Some claimed that he and his friends were deeply involved in the town’s thriving “PCP trade.” Others speculated they were merely troublemakers who delighted in causing havoc and inflicting damage on private property. Still more people believed that they gloried in violence and mayhem, often picking fights with innocent bystanders to prove to a cowed population just who was truly in charge of Sunnydale’s seamy night life.

I’ll give you a moment to reign in your disbelief over these conjectures.

Mr. Harris and his cohorts had even come to the attention of the police on more than a few occasions. I will only get into the instances that concerned Mr. Harris directly here.

The first time he came to the attention of law enforcement was in connection with the disappearance of a Jesse McNally. The boy’s parents had reported his disappearance to the police, and were quite insistent that Mr. Harris knew something about it. They claimed that they had questioned Mr. Harris about what happened with their son and that the then-16-year-old boy was evasive and nervous when confronted.

You might be interested to know, dear reader, that Mrs. McNally, the missing boy’s mother, was still alive after Sunnydale fell. Her unmitigated vitriol against Mr. Harris’s character was a masterpiece of hatred and delusion and one of the most breath-taking exercises in finger pointing that I had ever read. She was positively convinced that if Mr. Harris was not involved in the disappearance of her son, then he almost certainly knew something about it. She even darkly speculated that if her son’s body had been found in a shallow grave before the town’s collapse, it would’ve been found in one of the places her son had haunted in Mr. Harris’s company and that the police would’ve discovered plenty of evidence to charge Mr. Harris with her son’s murder.

Mrs. McNally’s accusation against Mr. Harris was enough to make me wonder just what Mr. Harris had told Jesse McNally’s parents when they had pressed him for answers. Without a doubt he had stumbled and stumbled badly under their pointed questioning.

The surviving police officers said that at the time they did do a cursory investigation, but concluded that the McNallys’ son had simply followed the lead of so many of the town’s teenagers and had run away. Mr. Harris was never questioned about Jesse McNally’s disappearance, the former officers admitted, because there were so many teens and young adults on the missing persons list that one case tended to blur into another. Corners were usually cut and shortcuts taken in an effort to stay on top of it all. Unless the missing person was related to someone important in the town, it was very easy for a case to simply fall through the cracks. At the time of his disappearance, Jesse McNally was just another missing persons case number and Mr. Harris was just another friend that got left behind.

The only reason the police even remembered Jesse’s McNally’s case had nothing to do with the parents because, as the surviving officers attested, they had dealt with countless numbers of distraught parents over the years. The law enforcement officer who had been assigned to the case and failed to even do a cursory search for Jesse McNally remembered the missing boy solely because of his connection to Mr. Harris.

There is a bitter irony in that.

A little over a year after Jesse McNally’s disappearance, Mr. Harris was questioned in connection with a fight that occurred in the high school library. I, of course, knew the true story behind this. A gang of vampires had attacked Miss Summers’s allies and, in the course of the battle, the Slayer Kendra was murdered by the soulless beasts.

Mr. Harris told the police that ‘gang members’ had attacked him and his friends, and that it was these gang members who had murdered Kendra. His story was corroborated by others who were present at the time of the attack. Thanks to the fable they spun for the police, Miss Summers’s name was removed from the list of suspects for her sister Slayer’s murder.

Mr. Harris again came to the attention of police when he graduated high school. He, along with Miss Summers, Miss Rosenberg, Mr. Giles, and Mr. Daniel Osbourne — you may recognize Mr. Osbourne’s name since he is the Council’s lead liaison with the International Federation of Werewolf Clans — were accused of leading a spot of rioting during the ceremony.

Police suspected that Mr. Harris’s group had only planned to disrupt the festivities as part of some addle-brained protest against the autocratic nature of the school administration and that their planned action had simply gotten out of hand. By the time the riot was over, there were almost two dozen dead; several missing persons, including Mayor Richard Wilkins and Principal Aaron Snyder; scores of injured students, teachers, and attendees, including Mr. Wyndham-Pryce’s son; and an explosion that utterly destroyed the school. Before the police could bring Mr. Harris in for questioning, however, he had left town.

The only reason why Mr. Harris was not hauled before a judge in connection with this riot when he again came to police attention was because — or so the officers claimed — they had no evidence that Mr. Harris or any of his co-conspirators actually led the riot. The most they could prove was that the gang had participated in the deadly festivities. Unless the police were willing to arrest the entire graduating class, they couldn’t arrest Mr. Harris or anyone in his circle and charge them with a crime.

It didn’t help that the disappearance of Mayor Wilkins had left the town administration in disarray. Shortly thereafter, the police department found itself enmeshed in a massive corruption scandal that dragged the department through the mud. The aftermath left the department a shadow of its former self. It never recovered and remained nearly ineffectual up until the town’s destruction.

Not that it was effective even before this time, if my intimate knowledge of Sunnydale’s history was anything to go by.

Mr. Harris next came to the attention of the police when several boys attending the local university accused Mr. Harris of lacing their beer with PCP. They claimed that they had hallucinated that they were cavemen after partaking of the tainted beer Mr. Harris had served them and didn’t again come to their senses until they were en route to the town jail. They swore that had they been in their right minds, they would not have run riot around the university campus, set fire to a frat house, or molested unsuspecting co-eds.

The owner of the pub in which Mr. Harris worked, however, insisted none of his kegs had been tampered with, but refused to produce the kegs to prove that they were still sealed. The owner then pointed the finger back at Mr. Harris’s accusers and said that the university boys were attempting to place the blame for their overindulgence on, as he charmingly put it, “the working stiffs in this town who have to put up with their snot-nosed abuse.” The bartender was fined for employing someone underaged to work in his establishment, his license temporarily suspended, and the subject was dropped.

Mr. Harris again crossed paths with the police during a domestic disturbance at a local club that swelled into yet another riot. The surviving officers said that a hammer-wielding madman going by the name of Olaf sparked the incident when he discovered that his ex-girlfriend — who just happened to be Anyanka in her guise as Miss Jenkins — was dating Mr. Harris. In his statement to police, Mr. Harris claimed that he was utterly unaware of Olaf’s existence before the madman’s arrival at the club. He further claimed that Olaf had come out of nowhere and started making wild accusations against himself, his friends, and his wholly innocent-as-a-lamb-and-terribly-shaken girlfriend.

The reason why the surviving Sunnydale officers remembered this bit of mayhem in Mr. Harris’s checkered career was because they had never encountered so much property destruction with so little loss of life. In addition, Olaf had painted himself blue and ran through the town inflicting random property damage with a massive sledgehammer before disappearing off the face of the earth. The strangeness of Olaf’s sudden attack and just as sudden departure, coupled with the surprisingly high survival rate despite the mayhem, was enough to indelibly implant this incident in the mind of the surviving officers.

Approximately a year later, Mr. Harris again appeared on the police radar as a result of yet another riot at what was supposed to be his wedding. He, as the groom, had jilted his bride at the altar during said riot, but as he was not present or responsible the police didn’t bother to question him. His father, Tony Harris, was instead charged with assault, public drunkenness, inciting a riot, and disturbing the peace. The officers said they remembered the incident because it was a classic case of a wedding gone awry, and because the bride’s side of the family consisted entirely of circus freaks and geeks.

Amazing how civilians can’t see demons, even when dozens of the creatures are staring them in the face. Why Miss Summers failed to do her duty and dispatch the monstrous brood was, at the time I read this account, a complete mystery to me.

Shortly after that, Mr. Harris was questioned in connection with the murder of Miss Maclay and the attempted murder of Miss Summers, although this time he was considered a witness instead of a suspect. He was also seen near the police station later that night when a gang attacked the department building to break none other Mr. Wells and a Mr. Jonathan Levinson out of their holding cells. However, the police never got around to fully investigating whys of Mr. Harris’s presence as they were more concerned about the gang, the escaped prisoners, and recovering from yet another blow to officer morale.

The few officers that Jonathan — my Jonathan — had questioned also vaguely recalled other instances where Mr. Harris had come to their attention in connection with some disturbance or another, but they were hazy on the details and couldn’t precisely recall the circumstances or why Mr. Harris was a person of interest.

Most chilling of all, two of the officers, who just happened to have been partners on the Sunnydale force, thought that Mr. Harris just might be personally responsible for some of the open murders on Sunnydale’s now destroyed police blotter. However, other than seeing him skulk around at night in the company of his cohorts, his usual activities were never enough to do more than raise some suspicion. They never gathered enough evidence against him to justify initiating regular surveillance or to get a warrant to search his home or work.

Never mind that any objective study of the record would show that Sunnydale always had elevated murder rates throughout its history. As far as these fine gentlemen were concerned, Sunnydale was once a nice town that went bad toward the end; helped in no small part by Mr. Harris, a prominent member of a gang of thugs notable for its high ratio of female members and tendency to be at the center of trouble.

Both officers spoke of their failure to catch Mr. Harris “in the act” with deep regret, even as they voiced the belief that they fully expected to see a nationwide manhunt for Mr. Harris one day in connection with some hideous crime. They had even started co-writing their memoirs and researching Sunnydale’s history in preparation for the day when Mr. Harris would be infamous.

Vultures.

The other townsfolk were hardly kinder to Mr. Harris, or any of his acquaintances for that matter. However, I shall keep only to the comments that concerned Mr. Harris.

Former co-workers from his construction company darkly muttered that Mr. Harris barely had any construction experience when he first joined his company. Yet, despite that fact, he quickly rose to the ranks of straw boss and, before he was fired for chronic absenteeism during that last awful year in Sunnydale, was being groomed for a desk job in the company office.

Some did have the somewhat innocent view that Mr. Harris simply “looked the part” of a good company representative when he put on a suit and allowed that he did have a good head for numbers, manpower estimates, and schedules. Others put it down to Mr. Harris’s abilities to ingratiate himself with people in authority and “play the executive game,” which went a long way to explain how he got so far and so quickly, at least as far as these worthies were concerned.

A significant minority, however, openly speculated that Mr. Harris’s luck was self-made. These fine folk noted that Mr. Harris’s rivals and his immediate superiors had a habit of “disappearing” or unexpectedly tendering their resignations.

Some did speculate that Mr. Harris was simply an opportunist who knew how to take advantage of other’s bad fortune. Most of them, however, said that the pattern of disappearances and resignations that resulted in Mr. Harris’s frequent promotions were simply too neat, too regular, and just a little too coincidental to be a simple fluke. They openly accused him of frightening people into leaving town or being responsible for the disappearances. To these people, it was obvious that he engaged in these despicable acts so he could smoothly climb the corporate ladder without earning the right to do so through hard work and diligence.

When asked if any of them had confronted Mr. Harris with their suspicions, these burly construction workers became nervous nellies. No, of course not, they said. It was just gossip and speculation. There was no proof at all. Even if it were true, they had family and responsibilities and crossing Mr. Harris wasn’t worth the cost. Besides, Mr. Harris had his eyes on the prize, and was not interested in being a mere construction worker. The suits had more to worry about.

Using this awful justification, these men decided that whatever evil Mr. Harris did or did not do ultimately wasn’t their concern.

So, rather than confront Mr. Harris or go to the police with their suspicions, this pack of cowards opted for the schoolgirl option by freezing him out of their social activities. Shortly after his first promotion mere months after joining his construction firm, all offers socialize with the other men at the pub after work stopped. Invitations to cookouts also evaporated. Not that Mr. Harris seemed to notice or care that he was being ostracized. Even when Mr. Harris was considered ‘one of the boys,’ he routinely turned down opportunities to rub elbows with his co-workers by claiming that he was always busy with one thing or another.

Most of the teachers who taught him during his high school years didn’t recall Mr. Harris at all, at least according to Jonathan’s report. Those few who did only remembered him as a disruptive class clown whose work was at best subpar, that is when he bothered to do it all. He was a notoriously poor student who, if he wasn’t making jokes, napped in class or copied the work of his much more intelligent friends, such as Miss Rosenberg. He was, in short, an uninspired and uninspiring student. One teacher went so far as to say that she was shocked when he heard that Mr. Harris managed to find regular employment since he had been so unfocused and lazy as a student.

The picture painted by the fellow students was simply baffling because none of the observations about Mr. Harris agreed.

Some said he was a bully, others said he was coward who never stood up for himself. Some recalled that he was part of a violent gang and was always getting into fights, others said he ran at the first sign of trouble. He was characterized as a geek without the requisite brains, others said that he was clever and that it was never wise to try and best him in a battle of wits. Some said he was nasty piece of work with a vicious temper and a penchant for hitting first and asking questions later, others said he was weak and would more likely to be beaten to a pulp by the bullies and other alpha males in the school. Some said he was one of the ringleaders in his violent gang, others said he was nothing more than an opportunist who rode on the coattails of his more vicious and dangerous friends. He was a true gangster according to some, a “wannabe” according to others.

Despite that, these fellow alumni universally agreed on some things about Mr. Harris. They recalled that Mr. Harris never quite fit in anywhere. Before he fell in with his “gang,” he tended to bounce from group to group, but never fully connected with any of the traditional cliques. He was considered a loser and a bottom-feeder, albeit one that was initially seen as harmless and friendly enough. It wasn’t until he fell in with “the bad crowd” that he was viewed as someone that could be dangerous. Several even recalled how one bully, a footballer by the name of Larry, became a homosexual after Mr. Harris confronted the athletic superstar about his boorish behavior with the some of the school’s young ladies.

One and all said they were not terribly surprised that Larry was one of the students killed during the high school graduation riot. Some even speculated that Mr. Harris might’ve had a hand in the death, since this Larry was last seen standing near him during the fight.

Mr. Harris, according to the surviving students, was one of those people that knew everybody, and everyone knew him. No one really wanted to notice him, but thing was this: he was always there. There was no escaping his gaze and no avoiding at least some interaction with him. Even more unsettling, at least to these former students, was that the greater the trouble or disruption at their school, the more likely it was Mr. Harris was right in middle of it.

There even was still some lingering jealousy on the part of the male students that he managed to temporarily capture the heart of one of the most popular girls in school, Miss Cordelia Chase. The students were careful to stress that he managed to do this without the looks, money, or athletic ability required to woo one of her stature in the school hierarchy. There was some speculation that Miss Chase — who I knew to be one of Miss Summers’s allies in fighting the darkness during the Slayer’s years as a student and was last known to be working with Angel in Los Angeles — became romantically attached to Mr. Harris because he had access to drugs and could feed her suspected habit on the cheap.

The “fact” that Mr. Harris had access to drugs was another thing almost universally agreed upon by these alumni. As far as they were concerned, even if Mr. Harris was not a drug dealer, he almost certainly had connections to the town’s thriving underground drug trade. When asked if any of them had approached Mr. Harris for drugs, the alumni solemnly swore one of two things: they didn’t indulge in that particular vice, or they were too frightened to get mixed up with the kind of people who were clearly in Mr. Harris’s social circle.

Mr. Harris’s own parents had no love for him. In fact, they were singularly resistant to any line of questioning that involved their son. However, under Jonathan’s intelligent and persistent questioning, a hazy picture did emerge.

His parents said Mr. Harris was a bit of a disappointment. He never seemed to have any male friends, or at least none that tended to stay around for more than a month or two, and preferred the company of girls. Tony Harris suspected his son was gay. Jessica Harris believed he had a learning disability that became more severe as he got older. They both agreed that he didn’t seem to have any extraordinary talents. He was not terribly intelligent, had a hard time with schoolwork, found it difficult to learn anything, and had no athletic ability. After graduation, he bounced from job to job and essentially lived off his parents before landing in a trade with, as Tony Harris said, “the other losers who couldn’t cut it and land a real job.”

This avalanche of approbation from multiple quarters shook me to my core. Even taking into account the characteristic delusions of the Sunnydale townsfolk, the near universal dislike and distrust voiced by everyone Jonathan interviewed, including his parents, was a sign that something was severely wrong with Mr. Harris.

It was at this point that I began to suspect that I was somehow being conned by Mr. Wyndham-Pryce. There had to be someone, somewhere among the Sunnydale survivors who remembered Mr. Harris with a spot of fondness. His bosses at the construction site, perhaps. Someone whose life he had saved, for another. This avalanche of bile in front of me was too overwhelming to be entirely honest. I wondered if, in fact, there were some survivors who spoke well of Mr. Harris, only to have their words stricken from the record and their interviews destroyed.

Just as my doubts began to take form, my eyes fell on Jonathan’s sticky note and I re-read his words:

You’re not going to like reading what I found…If even a quarter of what I’ve heard has any relationship with reality…The more I hear, the less I like the fact you’re going to be at his mercy…What these people are saying about A.H. is starting to sound the same...

There was my proof that I was not being conned. If anyone among the Sunnydale survivors had a kind word for Mr. Harris, Jonathan would have found them and included their testimonials. I was almost certain of it. Jonathan would not, or so I believed with all my heart at the time, purposely tar and feather a man’s reputation if he had even the barest positive note to include.

Oh, ambition! How you can corrupt even the best of us! When promises are whispered in the dark, and a quid pro quo is agreed upon, it is amazing how we can be so willing to compromise our better angels. Throw into the mix jealousy, a sense of entitlement, and bewilderment that someone seemingly beneath you holds a position of respect and authority that you can only dream of having, and the result is a toxic stew of subconscious resentment that makes you all too willing to play the game when temptation hisses in your ear like a snake.

My heart remains broken to this day over this matter, especially since in my naiveté I had believed what was put before me. I confess that Mr. Harris’s actions shortly after we met did nothing to dispel the notion that he was a man with a black hole where his conscience and heart should reside. It was only later, long after Mr. Harris had yanked me in over my head and long after I began to see the truth with my own eyes, that Jonathan’s hidden complicity in this character assassination became clear.

Although, I remain uncertain whether I should credit or condemn Jonathan for believing up to almost the last that I nothing more than a guileless dupe in what he viewed as Mr. Harris’s underhanded machinations and naked ambition to gain power within the Council. The sad fact is that under difference circumstances Jonathan and Mr. Harris would’ve gotten on like a house a fire. On second thought perhaps not, as they are fundamentally different creatures. However, I’d like to believe that at the very least they would’ve viewed each other with respect.

I still find it somewhat surprising that even though Jonathan was one of the few people on the Council who never underestimated Mr. Harris’s abilities, he still fell victim to “the Ethiopian wolf” as part of Mr. Giles’s endgame to once and for all wrest control of the Council from the Old Guard. However, that particular epic battle of wits and Mr. Harris’s unique strategy to lay Jonathan low is a story for another time.

The subject of Jonathan and his final disgrace remains too painful for me to explore further. Although I know that I will have to eventually address this piece of my history and my view of what was lost and gained for myself, the Council, and the band of Sunnydale veterans of the good fight, I find that I do not have the heart to face that task just yet.

Forgive me, dear reader, I will now return to my story.

Shaken by these words of the civilian Sunnydale survivors, and the reminder of Jonathan’s note, I then turned my attention to the profile of Mr. Harris commissioned by Mr. Wyndham-Pryce. In the dense, dry, academic language of the worthies who authored the document, a picture emerged that, if possible, was even more chilling than anything I had read thus far.

 

TBC...

Tags: character: ensemble, character: oc, character: xander, fanfiction: 2006, fanfiction: buffy the vampire slayer, fanfiction: facing the heart in darkness, fanfiction: fic-a-thon
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