For all previous parts, go here.
Continued from Part 27.
Then it occurred to me that Mr. Harris had mentioned other cases and other names and had said that he, Dave, and these other people were something new, something the Council didn’t believe truly existed. Then I recalled that he said it was happening the all over the world, and not just within his Malian kingdom.
Dear god, I wondered. What have I stumbled upon? I sat transfixed in the dirt with my filthy hands, unable to move, unable to breathe. I knew then that I was wrong. Dave was not the one who would be altered by this conversation. I was. I already had been, thanks to Dave’s suspicions about the First Council’s cavalier treatment of Slayers.
As for what would come next, I could only guess.
“The whole thing hurt you? It hurt you that much?” Dave sounded startled.
“That bad and worse,” Mr. Harris confirmed. “I was going insane in front of everyone’s eyes, but no one really knew what to do about it. I guess everyone tried talking to me, but it not only went in one ear and out the other; I didn’t even remember any of the conversations. Only reason why they didn’t sedate me was because Rome-girl and her sister promised they’d take care of me as soon as they got me away.”
“So what finally gave?” Dave asked.
“When Willow came in and started fighting to get me to stop slamming myself against the walls, I spilled about the dreams and how bad they were and—” Mr. Harris paused. “That it hurt. That I was afraid that I was going crazy. I even confessed about sneaking around behind everyone’s back. And I kept telling her that I had to go to Africa — not that I knew where — and that if I didn’t go I’d — it just came all pouring out because I was beyond desperate at that point.”
“Jesus,” Dave interrupted with a horrified whisper.
I shivered. I didn’t want to know the expression on Mr. Harris’s face. The tone of Dave’s voice told me more than I ever wanted to know.
“Willow immediately thinks, ‘Hey! Magical attack! Let’s check it out! I’ve been practicing with crystals! It’ll be totally good!’” Mr. Harris said. “So she dragged me to her room so she could witch up the sitch. Guess I was hoping that I was under attack, because it was a hell of a lot better than going crazy.”
A rather intelligent guess on Miss. Rosenberg’s part, I silently agreed, although what little I had seen of the woman made me disinclined to believe that she was willing to use a spell on Mr. Harris without first ensuring her mastery of it.
“We know how that turned out,” Dave said. “You were clean of the hoodoo.”
“Noooot exactly,” Mr. Harris corrected him.
“Well, Willow didn’t see an attack, but I guess my aura or energy or whatever was scary weird enough for her to catch a case of the wig,” Mr. Harris explained.
I believe my reaction to this statement could be summed up with a simple sentiment: What on earth did he just say?
There was a pause. “I know you speak English. I know you do. I’ve heard you speak it. This sounds like English, but I have no idea what any of that means,” Dave said.
“The spell showed her that something was going on with me and it made her nervous because she couldn’t figure it out. She could see was that it wasn’t an attack, but there was something else going on,” Mr. Harris translated.
Why Mr. Harris didn’t say that in the first place, I had no idea.
“She decided that right then that enough was enough,” Mr. Harris continued. “As far as she could see, I’d been half out-of-it since Cleveland and I was only getting worse the more time went by. Now that she had a possible reason for it, she was not about to wait until morning to start harassing Giles about getting some answers.”
“So after all this time sneaking around and setting everything up, you not only confessed everything to Willow, you went along with her running to Mr. Giles about the whole thing. Just like that,” Dave said with disbelief.
“I think so. I say ‘think’ because I honestly wasn’t at all connected to reality at that point,” Mr. Harris agreed. “She was leading me down the hall by the hand and I wasn’t fighting her, if that’s any indication. First we checked Giles’s room, but he wasn’t there. So we went to the library, because Willow figured might be working late. No dice. Then we found him in his office. When we came in he looked up and let me tell you, Dave, he was pissed.”
“Because you interrupted him?” Dave asked.
“No, because one my doctors called him,” Mr. Harris said. “See, I’d been dropping Giles’s name at all these different doctors since I got their names from his Rolodex. I figured that would get me an appointment faster, which it did, as in light-speed fast. I told them to call my cell if they needed to reach me. For whatever reason, I told this one doctor to call me at Giles’s home number in case anything came up. I guess some part of me wanted to be caught.”
“So Mr. Giles gets a call from this doctor out of the blue and he put two-and-two together,” Dave remarked.
“Giles is very good at math,” Mr. Harris agreed. “He had spent the day going through his doctor Rolodex to find out who else I’d been visiting, so pissed doesn’t even begin to cover it. Since I had dropped his name, and because I used him as an emergency contact, the docs thought they were cleared to talk about my inoculation progress with him. They answered all his basic questions about my progress. He was in his office trying to calm down and to come up with a way to confront me about getting all these shots like I was planning to run off to Africa without telling anyone.”
“You walked into the teeth of that one,” Dave sympathetically said.
“Good thing Willow was there to play shield girl,” Mr. Harris said. “Before Giles even opened his mouth, she went straight into babble mode about everything I told her while I stood there like an idiot and nodded. Somewhere in the middle of Willow waving her hands and backtracking to something else she forgot to tell him, Giles just goes white. Well, maybe I mean whiter.”
“It sounded familiar to him,” Dave said with certainty.
I wondered how that could possibly be the case.
“Sort of yes, and sort of no,” Mr. Harris explained. “It sounded just familiar enough that he could guess what was going on, but what I was going through was so radically different that he wasn’t sure.”
“I’m not sure I follow you,” Dave said.
I was rather curious. To my knowledge, the events described by Mr. Harris and Dave bore no resemblance to anything I’d ever heard before. Yet, Mr. Giles seemed to have caught on rather quickly.
“There are usually rituals and freaky mushrooms before the dreams, or maybe I mean there used to be before we cast that spell to open the Slayer line,” Mr. Harris said carefully. “When there was one Slayer, the Council would do a ritual to choose that Slayer’s Watcher. Then the chosen Watcher had to — surprise, surprise — go through another ritual, which included the aforementioned mushrooms. The result was hallucinations about the who, what, where, when, and why of the Slayer, but no actual nightmares. Definitely no bizarre get-up-and-go compulsions and definitely no violence. So, that’s what I mean. Familiar, but not. He thought it was better to step back, let me do what I needed to do, and just keep an eye on me to see where it went.”
“Sort of what you did with me,” Dave said.
“Yeah, but at the point I met you I knew how it went because I had gone through the same thing. Giles was taking a huge leap of faith with me because no one knew what was going on,” Mr. Harris said.
“Except for Mr. Giles, but only kind of.”
“He still doesn’t know what to think. About me, about you, about any of us. At least he’s finally accepted that something happened on the Watcher side, but it took him a few months to get there,” Mr. Harris said quietly.
There was a pause as my troubled mind turned this over.
“Right after Giles turned paleface, he told me to sit down and ordered Willow out. She didn’t want to go because she figured Giles was going to tear me a new one. He had to swear up and down that he was just trying to help, but he couldn’t help if she was mother henning me. Minute she was out of the door, Giles starts asking a ton of questions about the dreams.” There was a chuckle. “You remember. What I did to you.”
“That wasn’t fun,” Dave agreed.
“You can thank Giles for that,” Mr. Harris said. “You were the first one like me I came across, so I hadn’t really figured out my own style yet. I had use Giles’s.”
“You — what?” Dave sounded shocked.
“Dave, you were my first Watcher recruit. What the heck did you think? When you came here you didn’t see anyone else with a Slayer attached to their hip, did you?” Mr. Harris asked.
I admit that I didn’t entirely like the sound of Mr. Harris’s characterization of the relationship between a Slayer and her Watcher.
“I guess I thought — I mean you seemed to know, well you did know it’s just — I was your first? Really?”
There was a very, very long pause.
“That didn’t come out the way I meant it to come out.” Dave sounded embarrassed.
“Sorry to burst the bubble,” Mr. Harris said apologetically.
“Nah, it’s cool,” Dave said. “It’s just you were the Rock of Gibraltar through my whole thing and—”
“Dave,” Mr. Harris quietly interrupted, “you were so far into freak-out territory when me and Ally found you that the only way you’d notice that I wasn’t exactly sure of what I was doing was if I told you. And right then? You so didn’t need to hear that I was making a guess.”
“That’s a point,” Dave numbly agreed.
Truthfully, I was astonished that Mr. Harris had admitted what he just did.
“Anyway, back to me and Giles. We spent hours picking apart everything. Actually, he spent hours picking apart everything while I answered questions or said I didn’t have an answer to his questions until I figured out that I did have an answer when he rephrased the questions. You know how that goes,” Mr. Harris said.
“Yeah,” Dave agreed.
“From what I said, Giles was able to figure out that my dreams had me in West Africa somewhere. Still a big area, but not as big as a continent. So he made a deal with me. He’d get the Devon coven to start throwing some of the seer sight in that direction and he’d help me get prepared for the trip,” Mr. Harris said.
“This is where I hear about the catch,” Dave remarked.
Catch for whom? I wondered. Mr. Harris or the Council?
“I had to switch rooms so I was sleeping in the room that was connected to his by a door,” Mr. Harris said. “From there on out, if I had any dreams I had to tell him no later than the next morning. I was not allowed to leave the house unless he was with me. If I was in the house, I had to check in with him every two hours. Willow or someone from the coven had to do a mystical check on me every 24 hours.”
“That’s a really short leash,” Dave said.
“Smothering,” Mr. Harris agreed. “He needed to be sure this was legit and not me going off the deep end or falling under the influence of something evil.”
“You were okay with this?” Dave asked.
“Being watched 24/7? Make that no-kay, but he said if I cooperated, he’d let me go so I just nodded along with it,” Mr. Harris said. “The only thing I objected to was the part of the deal where I had to go through all the rituals that would officially make me a Watcher.”
I was so startled by this that I sat up. Mr. Harris had taken the Final Oath! On one level, I knew that this should not have surprised me. Mr. Harris was a Watcher, so it should follow that he had gone through the necessary steps to achieve such a designation. Yet for all that, I was still shocked. Mr. Harris was not a blooded Watcher and the Council had not been fully reconstituted, so it simply never occurred to me that Mr. Giles would’ve bothered with such niceties.
“Why did you object to that?” Dave sounded surprised.
“I had less than three weeks left to finish the shots and this would delay me another week,” Mr. Harris said. “Given the way my dreams were going, I wasn’t too hot on waiting. At least I got him to bend a little on that. He shoehorned it in so I was only delayed a two days.”
“Well, it’s good to know you’ve already kicked open the door for those of us who aren’t members of the family.” Dave sounded relieved. “Makes my job easier.”
“Not so much,” Mr. Harris corrected him.
“But—” Dave began.
“Look, when I got sworn in to join the Watchers Council Cannon Fodder and Typists Union, Local 128, the only staff in Council headquarters was Giles, his rebel Watcher buddies, and my friends,” Mr. Harris said. “The whole thing was a CYA move. Giles wanted to remove at least one excuse on the ‘Why Xander Needs to Be Fired’ list that he knew was coming the second the old Watcher families took their seats at the table.”
Mr. Harris obviously didn’t realize that the Council had deemed him as someone who was too dangerous to be let loose in the general civilian population, and so he was guaranteed an income and a job for life, albeit a low-level one. By the same token, Mr. Harris could no more quit than the Council could fire him. If the psychological profile were anything to go by, should Mr. Harris become set on leaving the Council he would quickly find himself locked in chains or buried in a shallow grave.
The stray thought caused me to shiver as the full import of what the conclusions psychological report really said finally sank into my mind. By recommending that Mr. Harris always stay under the thumb of the Council, the worthies did more than suggest a way to neutralize a troublesome man. They had decided that Mr. Harris was, in short, to be considered ‘Council property.’
When people become property, they are merely slaves, no matter how well they were compensated for their work.
I know my thoughts at the time sounded like a leap in logic, dear reader. However, perhaps you should consider that Dave had just made a very good case for the Council deliberately letting Slayers die because it wasn’t in the interests of ‘the greater good’ to allow a Slayer to live too long in one place.
Mr. Harris situation was yet one more moral conundrum to add to the pile that was fast growing since I first heard of the village’s existence from Alexandrienne. Like all the others, it was not one I could easily overlook or work around. At least I had removed the pressure to quickly file a report from my shoulders. Perhaps I could think more clearly about the issue of Mr. Harris’s true status with the Council after a few days’ reflection. Whatever conclusions I drew thereafter would almost certainly have to color my reports to Mr. Wyndham-Pryce.
“Fire you?” Dave seemed surprised. “Why would they want to fire you?”
“I don’t fit their image what a Watcher should be,” Mr. Harris answered shortly.
That was most certainly the truth, I agreed.
“At least with me all sworn in, the only person who can actually fire me is Giles,” Mr. Harris continued. “As long as he’s in office, they’re stuck with me as a member, provided I don’t seriously screw up and take out half the continent by accident.”
Should Mr. Giles ever be politely escorted from his office as a result of a coup in the Council’s halls of power, Mr. Harris would quickly learn that he was in serious error about his true status with the Council, I thought with all the revulsion my outraged sense of propriety was capable of. Regardless of my personal dislike for Mr. Harris, this situation was simply evil and unbecoming of what the Council should be.
“Giles knew that sooner or later he’d have to start asking the old school Watchers to come and play because the surviving families had resources he needed,” Mr. Harris said. “He also figured they wouldn’t be too happy about a non-Watcher-y type drawing a Council paycheck and running around Africa on their behalf. So I had to go through the ritual tests, and the ritual oaths, not to mention the big Final Oath. That way if anyone squawked about me actually getting paid instead of my usual habit of volunteering, Giles could whip out the paperwork and present eyewitnesses that said I went through the whole thing. Then he could start quoting the rules and regulations that said any move to get me fired would have to go through him.”
“That’s what we call a classic cock block,” Dave chuckled.
I rolled my eyes. Men.
“But the point is Giles lied through his teeth about me,” Mr. Harris said. “As far as his rebel Watcher buddies know, the whole swearing in thing was just a CYA. They had no clue what was going on with me. Giles didn’t tell them. Once he was done consulting with the Devon coven about my sitch, he ordered me and Willow to not discuss what was going on with anyone.”
“Wait a second. Are you telling me the Council knows nothing about the story behind the story?” Dave sounded shocked.
“Zip-o. As far as they know, I’m just a guy with some vampire- and demon-type experience who got a Watcher job because the Council needed bodies and Giles was willing to be my reference. As far as references go, you can’t beat the head cheese.” Mr. Harris paused. “And Dave, they can’t know about me for a long, long time, if ever. If this got out they’d roast Giles alive over an open fire.”
I was so surprised by these extreme measures to keep Mr. Harris’s instabilities a secret, as well as the fact that Mr. Harris admitted to it, that I almost missed the core idea: Mr. Giles had allowed Mr. Harris to take the Final Oath under fraudulent circumstances. What’s more, according to Mr. Harris himself, Mr. Giles had forced Mr. Harris to do so while Mr. Harris was under extreme mental and emotional distress.
Good Lord, I thought. This information alone would be enough to force Mr. Harris’s recall and a review of Mr. Giles’s actions as First Watcher. My mission’s success was all but assured.
I had to force myself to calm down. I couldn’t reveal this secret until I had resolved my many, many other ethical conundrums to my satisfaction and had properly constructed a report that best reflected my conclusions.
“Terrific,” Dave remarked. “So I still get stuck being the trailblazer. Thanks a whole hell of a lot.”
“Sorry. We didn’t know,” Mr. Harris apologized. “We thought I was a one-time deal.”
“Because no one had ever seen it before,” Dave said flatly. “Well that was just dumb. Absence of evidence is not the same thing as proof.”
“Giles had some good reasons to think that my situation was, unh, was kinda, sorta, a little unique,” Mr. Harris fumbled.
This ought to be good, I thought. Mr. Harris was about to finally aggrandize himself. It was amazing to me that he managed to sound so humble about it. I almost wished I could actually see Mr. Harris as he reeled in his innocent mark.
“Remember what I told you about the Watcher-preparing ritual? And the hallucinations that came with?” Mr. Harris asked.
“Yeah. It also makes sense if they were inducing the Watchers to dream about their Slayers,” Dave said sagely.
“I guess,” Mr. Harris sounded almost dismissive. “Hard to tell if that’s actually what it did since Giles got handed the full resumé and pictures of his Slayer before they even started the ritual. Plus, as Giles says, ‘the whole purpose of the sacred moment is to focus one on the task ahead.’ It’d be more surprising if you didn’t hallucinate about the Slayer you were assigned to, don’t you think?”
“Good point,” Dave agreed.
I so desperately wanted to hear more details about this ritual that I was on the verge of shouting questions through the window.
“Giles figured the same thing might’ve happened to me in a round-about way because I was standing on ground zero when the spell was cast that spread the Slayer love. Add in that I was standing on top of a hellmouth to boot, his theory was that I got caught in a mystical backlash.”
It was a reasonable hypothesis, I thought.
“Excuse me, but a hell-what?” Dave asked.
Whoops, I thought with amusement. It appeared that Mr. Harris managed to open a can of worms without any help from me.
Mr. Harris coughed. “Ah. I forgot to mention the hellmouth bit, didn’t I?”
“Yeah, you did.”
“I, unh, the town I grew up in, see? There was, ummm, a hellmouth thing-y in the area.”
“Unh-hunh,” Dave flatly prompted.
“It’s sort of like, kind of like, well, if it’s open you can see into hell. Or a hell. Let’s just say there’s hellishness involved.”
If Mr. Harris prevaricated any harder, he would surely strain a muscle in his jaw.
“Where the hell was this?” Dave asked with disbelief.
“Ummm, I told you. Southern California,” Mr. Harris disassembled.
“The name of the town, Xander,” Dave said with a hint of a growl.
“It’s not important right now.”
Mr. Harris really was doing everything in his power to avoid answering. I wondered why. Perhaps he was afraid Dave might attempt to do some independent research before Mr. Harris had a chance to give Dave his version of what life was like in Sunnydale.
“I don’t understand the big deal about telling me the name of the town,” Dave said.
“Because the hellmouth and my hometown is tied up in all those hard questions you want to hit me with, okay?” Mr. Harris said. “Just, please. Can we focus on this other stuff right now?”
It would appear that I had guessed correctly.
“All right. I’ll table it for now,” Dave reluctantly agreed. “So the short story is, Mr. Giles thought you were unique.”
“That my situation was unique,” Mr. Harris quickly said.
I thought it was rather odd correction.
“I give Giles a lot of credit. He’s really gone to the mat for me,” Mr. Harris said. “Before I left for Côte d'Ivoire, he was there for me day and night through the whole thing. When I’d wake up screaming from nightmares, he was right there. Nine times out of ten, he checked in with me before I checked in with him. He never complained about having to drop everything when I needed to get out to run errands or just to get some fresh air. Most of the time he even brought Willow with us. He even backed my Africa-or-Bust plan when his Sla— I mean Rome-girl brought up her issues with it.”
I wondered if Dave noticed the slip.
“You were going to ‘his Slayer’ before you changed to Rome-girl, weren’t you?” Dave asked.
Apparently, he did.
There was a pause. “That was just an ugly situation.”
“Was this Slayer the same one you grew up with?” Dave asked.
There was a pause.
“Xander?” Dave prompted.
“Yeah,” Mr. Harris grudgingly said. “She decided that I was actually cracking up and that what I was going through was no more than that.”
“Why would she think that? She’s a Slayer for God’s sake,” Dave replied.
“The whole thing worked different for her,” Mr. Harris said. “From her point of view, her Watcher just showed up and introduced himself. As far as I know, she never dreamed about Giles, even after she met him. That’s what I mean when I say that what I went through and what you went through was completely uncharted territory.”
“So, once you explained it to her…” Dave paused. “You did explain it to her, didn’t you?”
“I didn’t get a chance. She attacked me,” Mr. Harris said. “She grabbed me, dragged me into a room, and started hounding me about changing my mind about Rome. She said she could see that I wasn’t doing all that great what with the nightmares and the attack of the crazies and that it was obvious to her that I wasn’t thinking at all clearly about what I was doing.”
“I guess you didn’t react well.”
“To say the least. There was an argument. Here’s me trying to explain what was happening in my corner of the universe. There’s her going off about how I’m obviously looking to get myself killed.”
“That actually sounds like concern to me,” Dave interrupted.
“Noooo, she just wanted a little puppy to follow her around Rome,” Mr. Harris angrily said. “Only I’d be a bonus puppy because she could pretend she was actually helping me when really it was all about helping her. She was looking for a new State Farm and she figured I was the best candidate.”
“I’m not seeing where—” Dave began.
“Believe it or not, I think it would’ve blown over,” Mr. Harris interrupted in a calmer voice. “We’d had far worse fights before and we eventually made up. I think we were winding down to the portion of the program when people start shouting ‘fine’ at each other before they storm away to calm down. Then her sister showed up and tried to play peacemaker.”
“Let me guess. Bad to worse.”
“Wouldn’t have been if she didn’t suddenly start in on me, too. So while I’m trying to explain to both of them that I just can’t go to Rome and the reasons why, they’re getting angrier and angrier about the whole thing. Then the younger sister starts guilt tripping me with a litany of ‘You promised’ statements after I’d just explained for the hundredth time why I had to go to Africa. Next thing you know, accusations are flying, ugly long-buried truths get dragged to into the daylight, and a whole lot of resentment starts dancing around the room. That sort of thing. That’s when it got ugly.”
“You mean it wasn’t before that?” Dave asked archly.
“Fine. Uglier. The threat of violence was so immanent that Willow had to magic us to our separate rooms and seal the doors before there was blood on the walls,” Mr. Harris said.
It appeared the worthies that put together the psychological report on Mr. Harris were correct about one characteristic at least. When his intelligence and intentions were questioned, he had a rather nasty habit of reacting in an extreme manner.
“And yet your head is still attached to your body. Amazing,” Dave remarked.
“Probably because I avoided both of them after that. I know that I wasn’t about to let anything slide and I was pretty sure both of them had a few scabs they wanted to pick with me, so better all around to stay away from each other,” Mr. Harris said. “It was pretty clear to me that neither one of them wanted to be at all supportive and there was no way I was going to do what they wanted. There just wasn’t any middle ground to be had. Willow and Giles made the go-between attempt, but I had way too much crap to deal with so I told them to save their energy.”
“And she’s in Rome now,” Dave said.
“They left London four days before I did, and that’s where they were going. Last I heard at least the Slayer was still there. Don’t know about the little sister,” Mr. Harris said vaguely.
“You haven’t tried getting in touch?” Dave asked.
“Nah. No point. After that fight, I think all three of us figured out that we were hanging on just to hang on,” Mr. Harris said. “Honestly, it’s probably for the best. By the time we hit Cleveland we were already complete strangers. Don’t get me wrong. I feel bad about the ugly way we left it, but there’s no point in fixing it. There’s just nothing left to fix. ”
“And Mr. Giles is fine with this?” Dave asked.
“Don’t know. I’m sure he keeps in touch. She’s his Slayer, so I don’t think he’s shut her out or anything like that. He just stayed out of the deal between me and her once I made it clear that I didn’t want to hear anything she had to say,” Mr. Harris said. “And like I said, I didn’t talk to her before she left because I really didn’t need yet another fight while I was busy getting ready to head to Côte d'Ivoire.”
“So the Coven was the one that pointed you to Ally,” Dave said.
“Sort of. They had three candidates and for whatever reason Côte d'Ivoire sounded right to me,” Mr. Harris said.
“Wow. That must’ve been something when you and Ally finally met, hunh?” Dave chucked.
“Yeah. Yeah it was,” Mr. Harris’s voice was soft and affectionate. He cleared his throat. Now he sounded more authoritative. “That’s why you’re so important. That’s why we’ve got get you on the Council.”
I resisted the urge to run back to my hut. I liked Dave and I honestly wanted to see for myself if he was made of the right stuff. I feared that hearing Mr. Harris’s reasons for wanting Dave on the Council would unalterably color my perception of Dave and his application.
However, I was here to discover the truth about Mr. Harris. It would not do for me to be squeamish about it.
“Like I told you, I snuck in through the backdoor while everyone else was distracted, and I’ve got a history. Maybe not the kind of history the Council is thrilled about, but I’ve at least got experience and friends low places,” Mr. Harris said.
I wondered how Mr. Giles would react to being called ‘a friend in a low place.’
“You’re the first one like us up for membership,” Mr. Harris said. “Everyone else like us that’s been found out there has several strikes against them. Not enough education, that is when they actually have an education. Dicey family background. Questionable past, or hell, questionable present. But you? You’re perfect. You’re practically a ready-made Watcher right out of the box. Clean background from a family with money. A PhD in a field that’s a perfect fit for the Council. You’ve got a track record with a Slayer, and you’ve clocked field time. You’ve got the Watcher cool, you probably would look good in tweed, you can speak their language, and when you walk into a room people won’t edge away from you because they think you might be a dangerous lunatic. The only thing that’s working against you, and I mean the only thing, is that you’re not related to any of these guys.”
Good Lord, I wondered. Just whom is Mr. Harris entrusting our Slayers to?
“You’re our best shot at kicking open the door for everyone else out here and that’s why I need you to be able to distance yourself if things go wrong.” Mr. Harris sounded like he had rehearsed the argument. “Giles figures that once they accept you, that’ll be one big mental hurdle overcome. If you get in, we’ve got a few candidates lined up right behind you. Willow’s got a candidate in Peru who’s working on her PhD in archeology. There’s another guy in Cleveland who’s getting his master’s in early childhood education. Then it’s back to us again with Jamina, who went to boarding school and got an undergrad degree in business in France. And so on.”
“In other words, show the Council the candidates where most of the objections would sound petty, given the fact that the Council is shorthanded right now,” Dave said. “Then progressively work your way down to the really hard cases where the objections wouldn’t be so petty.”
“Exactly,” Mr. Harris agreed. “We’re hoping that by the time we reach the people that would cause justifiable screaming, like Akella, there’ll be enough of us on the Council to sway the vote. We’d also have enough people from this area that could personally vouch for him. Plus, by then, he’d have a longer track record showing his good behavior and dedication to Nagesa.”
My mouth dropped open. It appeared that Mr. Wyndham-Pryce’s fears might have some justification. There seemed to be a concerted effort to stack the Council with people handpicked by Mr. Giles, even if those people were clearly unfit.
“I still say you’re taking a big chance on Akella,” Dave said.
“What do you want me to do?” Mr. Harris asked with exasperation. “I couldn’t find anyone for Nagesa. I thought I’d never find anyone for Nagesa. Then he shows up out of the blue.”
“He’s a 16-year-old ex-Lord’s Resistance Army soldier who raped and murdered his way across Uganda for 2-years,” Dave said.
“Angels weep,” I breathlessly whispered.
“Key part of that is ex-soldier. C’mon, he ran away and practically walked from northern Uganda to get here. Then, when he got here, he waited for on the edge of the village and ate next to nothing until he saw me show up. Then snuck into this hut in the middle of the night, woke me up, confessed everything he’d done since he got kidnapped and forced to hold a gun, and then begged me to put a bullet in his brain because he didn’t want to get ‘his angel’ dirty. The only reason why he didn’t kill himself before coming to me was because he was compelled not to by his dreams,” Mr. Harris said. “While I’m standing there trying to figure out what the hell to do, Nagesa runs right in here with Ally hot on her heels. She took one look at Akella and it was over. I would’ve had to kill both of them. I couldn’t do it.”
I couldn’t imagine any hell or heavenly dimension where this situation could even be considered even close to appropriate.
“And it isn’t like he hasn’t proved himself,” Mr. Harris continued. “I’ve kept them here for 6 months, waaaaay longer than I would’ve kept any other pair. They’ve done the Gao tour four times. And speaking of Gao, maybe you didn’t notice, but Akella was the first person to object to my plan. He even beat you to the punch. Then he handed Ally a bunch of talking points to help her out when she took over job of talking me out of it.”
“I didn’t know that. About Akella and Ally I mean.” Dave sounded surprised.
“And you saw him in action last night,” Mr. Harris continued. “He did a hell of a job and he put his life on the line to make sure those people stayed safe. I can’t sit here and say he can’t handle it, because he can and he’s more than proved himself.”
“I just don’t get it, that’s all,” Dave said. “You’d think Nagesa wouldn’t even want to be the same room with this guy.”
“It’s a hell of a thing,” Mr. Harris agreed. “A Slayer picks someone from a terrorist group that she’s feared all her life to be her Watcher. That’s gotta be a first.”
‘Perversion’ was a much better description, I thought.
“Believe me. At this point I think I’ve heard it all,” Mr. Harris said. “Sometimes I walk into some village in the middle of nowhere and a complete stranger approaches me because they somehow know that I’m the guy who can help them. They’ve had the dreams. They can describe the girl. Most of the time it’s someone I recognize from the description. Lately, though, I’ve started coming across people who are describing a girl I’ve only just started looking for.”
I could not be hearing this correctly, I thought.
“What?” Dave asked.
“You heard me,” Mr. Harris said glumly. “I’m starting to find people like us who know where the Slayers are about the same time the Devon seers find them. And it’s not just happening here, either. Willow’s running across them, too. Last one like us she found actually pointed her to a Slayer that no one knew about.”
“What does the Council think?” Dave asked.
Good question, I thought.
“Giles is sitting on it right now because some of those families will go ape when they find out. He’s got some trusted people doing research, but they’ve come up snake eyes. There’s no explanation, there’s no references, there’s nothing anywhere indicating that this has ever happened before,” Mr. Harris said. “That’s why Giles thinks something happened on the Watcher side of the equation when we opened up the Slayer line.”
“You guys can’t keep this a secret forever,” Dave said.
“I know, I know,” Mr. Harris agreed. “So far, it’s pretty much me and Willow finding people like us. Maybe it’s because we’re in a parts of the world that aren’t exactly crawling with Watchers, so people like us are easier to spot because of that. Maybe it’s because we’re not immediately sending the Slayers we find back to London before their matching Watcher shows up. Maybe it’s because we both know what to look for, or maybe we’re the only ones paying attention. I don’t know.”
My eyes snapped to the window, even though I couldn’t see anything inside the hut beyond the ceiling. Did I just hear correctly? Was Miss Rosenberg also failing to send Slayers to the Council for processing and additional training? It appeared I had yet another item to investigate.
“Is there anything you guys know?” Dave asked.
“Only that the maybe-Watchers with dreams about Slayers are turning up more and more often,” Mr. Harris said. “I used to come across someone maybe once in awhile. Now it’s two people a month. Same thing with Willow. We can’t even begin to guess what’s going on.”
“Which brings us back to the full Council finding out sooner or later,” Dave said.
“I know. I’m just hoping there’ll be enough of us sworn in by that time to muffle the explosion a little bit,” Mr. Harris said. “Right now I’m not really hopeful. Like I said, the numbers are picking up, so it’s a matter of time before someone who’s not one of Giles’s people starts finding them.”
“No wonder why Mr. Giles wants to coach me before I go in for that interview,” Dave said. “Think he’s going to ask me to edit my story?”
“Guessing? I’d say yes, unless something happens between now and then. Do I know for sure? I can’t honestly say,” Mr. Harris responded.
“Nice to know I’m not under any pressure,” Dave grumbled.
“Yeah, like none of us are under any pressure,” Mr. Harris grumbled back.
“You almost let me walk into that blind,” Dave accused.
“I wasn’t going to,” Mr. Harris protested. “I was going to talk to you.”
“About everything?” Dave archly asked.
There was a long drawn-out sigh. “That was actually the plan.”
“And why did you not execute the plan before now?” Dave asked.
“I was waiting to see if you actually got the interview.”
“And if I didn’t you were just going to leave me in the dark.”
Dave’s accusation was met with silence.
“Son of a bitch,” Dave softly swore.
“I said I’d tell you no matter what, didn’t I?” Mr. Harris defensively asked.
“Only because I’ve confronted you about it. So, do I still have your word that you will, no matter what happens with the Council?” Dave asked.
“I promise. As many questions as you want. Answers with gory details,” Mr. Harris promised.
There was a pause.
“Oh, for God’s sake. I said I would,” Mr. Harris said. “The way you’re looking at me, you’d think I’d try to get myself killed just to get out of it.”
There was another pause.
“I wouldn’t!” Mr. Harris protested. “I like breathing too much, thanks. Plus, Willow will kick my ass if I die on her. And let’s not get into what Ally would do to me. She’d dig up my corpse just to kill me. Again.”
“Okay, okay. I believe you,” Dave said. His tone was entirely serious and not at all joking.
“You’re not going to like what you hear,” Mr. Harris said softly.
“I like even less that you didn’t trust me,” Dave said.
“I do trust you,” Mr. Harris protested.
“No. You trust me to do my job. You trust me to help out. You trust me to an extent because we’re down with each other, but only to an extent,” Dave said. “But Xander, at the end of the day, you don’t trust anyone with the important stuff. You don’t trust anyone with you.”
“How can you even—”
“What’s the name of your hometown, Xander?” Dave asked.
“I said I’d tell you,” Mr. Harris grudgingly said. “As I said before, the whole thing is—”
“Complicated. Right.” Dave paused. “Xander, I don’t know about your history. I knew that before now, but I didn’t at the same time. You know?”
“Now you say you’ve got your reasons, and I believe you when you say they’re good ones,” Dave said. “But at some point, you’re going to have to start talking because sooner or later someone will start talking for you. If you’re lucky, it’ll be someone who actually likes you. If it’s someone who doesn’t like you that starts broadcasting all your secrets, you’ll be in for a world of hurt.”
“Case in point,” Mr. Harris said.
I cringed at Mr. Harris’s oblique reference to myself.
“Give Eva credit. I bet she could’ve said a whole hell of a lot more and she didn’t,” Dave said.
There was the scrape of wood. “Look, I’m really beat right now and we’ve got a long day tomorrow,” Mr. Harris said. “I think I only got two hours’ sleep before you got back.”
“Yeah. Okay,” Dave sounded disappointed.
“Dave,” Mr. Harris began.
“I really will tell you everything you want to know. I consider you a friend and…you’ve got a good point. You’ve got the right to know. It’s just that it’s not always easy living with it, let alone talking about it.”
“Fair enough,” Dave said.
Mr. Harris let out a long breath. “Okay, then.”
There was the scrape of wood and more sound of movement as two men began to get ready for bed.
As I prepared to make my escape under the cover of the noise and darkness, I heard Dave say, “Just so you know. We’re cool.”
Mr. Harris sounded very relieved when he said, “Good.”