FYI: Due to a very long day and an expected late night working at the bookstore, Part 11 will be delayed until Sunday. Mostly because of brain-deadishness and eyecrossing. Apologies in advance.
Well, that and RL has been a bit hectic for the past few days.
And yes, the Mali Fetish Market is real. I found out completely by accident long after I had gloomed on to The Heart of Darkness as my template for this story. I just couldn't resist including a mention.
*fights off plot bunny involving Alexandrienne, Xander, and a visiting Willow shopping at the Fetish Market with a machete*
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.
I cannot tell you how many hours it took to read everything. I cannot tell you how long I sat on my narrow bed and stared at the far wall, too terrified to even let the words take root in my mind. The cold chicken sat uneasily on my stomach and threatened to backtrack out of my gullet by force. However, I was too stunned to even move to address this threatened rebellion by my digestive system.
From a subjective standpoint, it felt like days. Objectively, I know that at most only a few hours had passed between my reaching for Mr. Wyndham-Pryce’s folder and my contemplation of the same.
The profilers had done an expert job, despite the fact that not one of them had ever spoken to Mr. Harris. They based their findings on the record, Jonathan’s interviews, and the telling recorded interview with Mr. Harris’s parents.
Phrases danced around in my head, yet I couldn’t seem to connect them together to form a coherent whole. I was too afraid to do it, afraid that if I succeeded I would flee this room, this town, and walk back to Bamako in a desperate effort to escape Mr. Harris’s orbit.
I will now share with you some select passages:
“The subject’s attraction to the supernatural is rooted in his inability to know or understand ‘normalcy.’ This is no doubt a result of being the offspring of alcoholic parents who were neglectful at best, abusive at worst. Interviews with the subject’s parents indicate an unhappy childhood lacking in the emotional support conducive to building a positive self-image. His involvement with the supernatural is a way of earning the affirmation and approval he so desperately craves from persons he views as parental figures and his betters.
“The subject has both low self-esteem in relation to his peers, but believes himself superior to the general population. He may have an inflated sense of his own self-importance in general society and his involvement with the supernatural may feed into that inflated sense. This is best manifested in his relationship with women. His one long-term connection with a member of the opposite sex was with a demon, which both feeds into his sense of inferiority — he is not special, but people around him are extraordinary — and his sense of superiority — ‘normal’ men could not hope to domesticate such a creature. His inability to form connections with human women is evidence of his inability to form lasting, meaningful romantic attachments.
“The subject desires to control his environment by any means necessary. His involvement in demon hunting and demon fighting, regardless of whether he has anything material to contribute to the task, is an extreme example of this phenomenon. Certainly we must take the subject’s childhood environment into account — i.e., alcoholic parents and the presence of a Hellmouth — when discussing his urge to control his environment by violent means. He will not stop until he feels ‘safe,’ but as there will always be demons in his world, he will never feel ‘safe.’ This could lead to paranoia and delusions of grandeur. He may fall subject to religious mania later in life, believing that his actions are guided by a Supreme Being that allows him to direct his self-destructive tendencies outward. This will serve to erase any previous ethical or moral inhibitions he may have once held against taking these actions against his fellow humans.
“The subject’s behaviors have shown that he is willing to cross moral and ethical boundaries and then justify those actions in his own mind, despite the judgment of his peers. He has engaged in deception, theft, destruction of property, setting fires and using explosives, bullying behaviors, and displays of unreasonable temper in the face of what he views as negativity directed against himself. He reacts in an extreme manner when his sanity, competency, morality, or intelligence is challenged. Although he shows signs of high intelligence, he lacks the discipline necessary to direct it. As a result, he may be viewed as lazy at best, of extremely low intelligence at worst, in his interpersonal interactions.
“The subject has a tightly compartmented worldview as part of his desire to control his environment. This is evidenced by the subject’s ability to ‘by day’ play the role of a productive member of mundane society, but ‘by night’ to indulge in his fantasies that he is a demon hunter on par with a Slayer or other well-trained, well-educated fighters of his acquaintance. He does not allow these two realities to cross, as he would have to acknowledge that he is not equipped to live in either world. In instances where the two realities do collide, he reacts in an extreme manner by ‘punishing’ the people he views as responsible for causing this disruption in what he believes is his neatly ordered world.
“The subject’s nocturnal activities serve as outlet for his frustrations imposed on him by general society and allows him to ‘break the rules’ without breaking human law or paying the price for doing so. He can indulge in his most violent fantasies and inflict emotional and physical harm on sentient beings, and even engage in murderous acts, while still maintaining a sense of moral superiority. His victims are not human, ergo the subject can murder them at will. This line may become blurred should the subject become entangled with humans he views as being on par with the demons he has killed. He may begin by eliminating humans that have been judged as ‘evil’ or as harming the general good. Should the subject cross the line, however, and begin serving as judge, jury, and executioner for his fellow humans, his judgment will become increasingly narrow until only the most innocent will be able to escape his version of justice.
“Without the violent outlet of killing demons, the subject could become dangerous to the people around him. As he has intimate knowledge of weapons, fighting tactics, and the ability to play the role of a ‘normal’ mundane, he could easily become a deadly predator to the civilian population if his nocturnal outlet is taken away from him. His special circumstances, training, and abilities would make it difficult for human law to capture him, hold him, and subject him to human justice should he start viewing other humans as ‘the enemy’ against which he must fight.
“Recent personal losses and physical injuries serve to feed the subject’s feelings of inferiority and failure. His insistence on gaining and winning a position of authority and autonomy within the Council serve to feed his feelings of superiority. This poor self-image, coupled with his feelings of superiority to the general population, and with the lack of Council oversight, could result in tragedy to himself and others under his authority.
“The subject may be suffering from PTSD as a result of his home and town environment and extreme length of time operating under stressful conditions. We recommend immediate recall from the field. We recommend that the subject undergo immediate and intense psychological counseling to forestall the subject’s eventual self-destruction. We recommend administrative leave for the subject until such time that the subject shows improvement in his mental and emotional state.
“We further recommend that Council keep the subject under an employment contract, as releasing him unattended into the general population could result in harm to both himself and society at large. We suggest a position of low stress would best serve the subject’s long-term mental and emotional stability. Once the subject has shown aptitude for a particular career track under the authority of the Council, we highly recommend that he remains under strict supervision to prevent the subject from engaging in self-defeating and self-destructive behaviors.”
Yes, dear reader, it was as bad as all that. Bear in mind, you only got a taste. The full report is far more devastating to the character of Mr. Harris.
You must understand, under normal circumstances I would not place much stock in a profile on another human being when “the subject” had never even been consulted or questioned in connection with its creation. However, coupled with Jonathan’s interviews and the personnel files from both Mr. Wyndham-Pryce and Mr. Giles, the psychological report in front of me had a terrible ring of truth to it.
Yet, somehow, I was to be the one to bring this Mr. Harris low and force his return to the Council. I was not at all comforted by the fact that the profilers thought him too dangerous for the Council to simply wash its hands of him. No. Even if he were removed from his current position, he would still be in the Council’s employ, albeit as someone in a junior position. This was not a comforting thought. Mr. Harris himself could get knocked back, but he had friends in the First Watcher’s office itself and influence with the First Watcher himself.
If Mr. Harris was even half as bad as the picture that had been painted for me, I was going to need Mr. Wyndham-Pryce’s protection just to keep my skin intact.
My disordered and terrified thoughts were interrupted when Alexandrienne returned. She announced her arrival by flinging open the door and marching in. Judging by the rapid string of French words, the tone of her voice, and the disheveled state of her clothes, I suspected there was a foul stream of expletives pouring out of her mouth.
Grateful to have a more immediate problem to think about, I interrupted what I assumed was Alexandrienne’s obscenity-fueled rant. “The vampires got away?”
She stopped and stared at me a moment. I could see the wheels turning behind her eyes as she gave herself the mental order to switch to English. “They are dust,” she finally spat out. “Two, as Monsieur Ly said.”
“Then what is the meaning of— Wait! Where’s Radar?”
Alexandrienne backed up so quickly from the center of the room to a spot by the hotel room door that I thought someone had fired a gun next to her ear. She stared at me with wide eyes.
“What is it?” I demanded.
“Sit down. There is no emergency,” she said cautiously, her eyes not leaving my form.
I looked down and realized that I had leapt to my feet and was now standing in the center of the room. My heart thudded in my chest and my mouth went dry. This was bad. This was very bad. I usually had much better control over myself, but this entire Harris situation had rattled me so thoroughly that my body was reacting in extreme ways to the stress. For this to happen in front of a Slayer was an unmitigated disaster.
Alexandrienne waved her hand in a lazy manner. “Perhaps you are a Watcher after all, yes? I once watched Monsieur ’Arris leap across a gorge like this,” she spread her arms wide with palms facing me to indicate that span of this mythical gorge was wider than the room, “when he heard Abeba scream. He thought there was an attack. But she had seen a snake and is afraid of snakes. So she screams murder and Monsieur ’Arris jumps and starts swinging his axe like this,” she mimed wild chopping. “He was not pleased when Abeba sobs about a snake she scared away. He did not yell at her, but he had to talk to her about panic and how it could kill her later over the meal.”
I slowly backed up to the bed and just as slowly dropped myself onto the mattress. I fought to keep the grateful tremor out of my voice. As far as Alexandrienne was concerned, my reaction was not only proper, but normal, as unbelievable as that might be considering everything. “I did panic, yes. I do apologize if I startled you.”
Alexandrienne shrugged it off. “It is my fault. I should have told you that Radar is not hurt and not cause panic.”
“Because panic kills,” I said lightly, hoping to distract her from my faux pas.
“And makes the heart pump in a Watcher and then makes it explode,” she nodded.
The sudden change in her demeanor was startling. I had seemingly gone from a cowardly Watcher she could barely stand to one she wanted to reassure. Frankly, I was not inclined to disabuse her of her assumptions. “I believe the phrase you’re looking for is ‘heart attack,’” I said.
She grinned. “That, too.”
“Now, about Radar?”
“We look all over where the boats are, but no vampires,” Alexandrienne said. “Radar thinks that maybe they are at market if they are still here. A lot of people sleep in their stalls before market, so plenty for the vampires to eat.” She shook her head. “Of course, Radar is right. He will be insufferable about it tomorrow. I lost my bed because I said if he was right I would let him have it and sleep on the floor. So we find them while they are sneaking around the market. Got one right away. Had to chase the other one, but got him, too. I knocked over three stalls to get him.” She winced. “I had to pay people in the stalls for breaking things. They would not stop yelling until I gave them money to go away.”
I frowned. “Were the vampires looking for something in the market, do you think?”
Alexandrienne frowned back. “We think that maybe yes, but it would not be right if so. This is the wrong place if they wanted anything more than to hunt, but Radar, he is asking people in the market now to find out. If they wanted something more than blood, they would be at Le Marché de Fétiche in Bamako, but I was there the day before we went to you and there was no trouble. Radar didn’t see anything there either that looked bad. Ummm, maybe I mean not more bad than is usual.”
Alexandrienne’s statement was about as clear as the mud on the Djenné streets. “I think you need to explain a little bit more because I don’t follow you.”
Alexandrienne responded with a long-suffering sigh. “We were coming to Bamako for you, so Grand-mere Touré asked us to go to Le Marché de Fétiche—”
“The what market?” I interrupted. “And please, translate that into English, because I am fairly certain you said ‘fetish market,’ but my French is so awful that—”
“That is what I said.”
“Oh.” It was a very good thing I was sitting again, otherwise I would’ve dropped weakly onto my bed. “And what, exactly, to they sell at this fetish market? Whips? Chains? Feathers? Chocolate body paints?”
Alexandrienne blinked at me.
I cleared my throat. “Sexual toys, Alexandrienne.”
“I know what you mean,” she said cautiously.
“Oh. Good. I’m glad that—” I thought about the end of that sentence and decided that I was not glad at all. “What I mean is, I’m not glad that I don’t have to explain my meaning because I shudder to think what exactly is going on in— I mean it’s just that I am somewhat disturbed that Mr. Harris allowed your Grandmother Touré to send a young girl like yourself into such an environment. Did she threaten to sing a song about his naughty bits again to get him to agree to it?”
As my stumbling and fumbling dug me ever deeper, Alexandrienne began to grin. Then she began to laugh. Before I was finished, she was doubled over and howling.
I got to my feet, slowly this time. “This is serious business. We must discuss this because sending you into that environment is absolutely not proper and Mr. Harris ought to be ashamed of himself.”
Alexandrienne finally managed to get herself under control, but was still hiccupping in an effort to keep her laughter at bay. “Fetish. Gris gris. Magic things. For protection.” She reached into her blouse and pulled free a small bag attached to a leather thong around her neck that had been tucked away there. “See?”
I began to giggle once Alexandrienne explained she was talking about a completely different kind of fetish. I was rather shocked that none of my travel guides had mentioned this market, but then again, it might be something that catered to locals and tourists might be less-than-welcome in its environs.
“You can find anything there.” Alexandrienne wrinkled her nose with distaste as she added, “I do not like it. There are many things that could be bad. It is like selling a gun to someone who wants it before you know they won’t kill someone with it.”
My relief evaporated and I sputtered, “What? The government allows— the local authorities— Mr. Harris— I thought this was an Islamic country.”
“Yes, almost everyone follows the Prophet, peace and blessing be upon him, but it is not so strict here,” Alexandrienne said.
Her response answered one question at any rate, albeit one I didn’t think to ask. Alexandrienne was almost certainly Muslim and, given that she wasn’t scandalized by the idea of magic, was most likely not an adherent to the stricter forms of that religion herself.
“That still doesn’t explain why this fetish market is allowed to stand,” I said. “If they are selling dark materials, at the very least Mr. Harris and your people should do something about it.”
“Some things that are bad can be used for good and some things that are good can be used for bad,” she shrugged off. “It is like a stake. Use a stake to kill a vampire it is good. You are good. Use a stake to kill a human on purpose, it is bad. You may not be bad, but you have done an evil thing.”
At least Mr. Harris was instilling the idea that Slayers shouldn’t abuse their power in his charges, so I had to give him that much. “I see your point,” I grudgingly admitted. “I suppose that I can see the benefit of having such a resource relatively close by.”
“Besides, even if we burn it down, there are many in West Africa,” Alexandrienne pointed out. “Cannot burn them all down. People will get very angry.”
“So, you went to this market yesterday? Did I hear correctly?” I asked. “If that is the case, why weren’t you at the airport?”
“Grand-mere Touré’s son has a place there and he knows who I should go to. So he helped me and Radar, but he said he wanted us to eat and sleep with his family so he could talk news about his mother,” Alexandrienne said. “It would have been rude to say no, and you did not need us to get you to the hotel. Monsieur ’Arris called someone to meet you.”
“Yes, he did do that,” I agreed. I then as casually as possible asked, “What did your Grandmother Touré ask you to buy?”
“Grand-mere Touré makes gifts for Slayers who go out to fight and she is making a fresh gris gris for Nagesa. She also wanted things to renew protection magic and to have just in case she needed them, she said. So she knows me and Radar are going to Bamako and she gives us a list for shopping.” Alexandrienne heaved a sigh. “I rather go with Monsieur ’Arris, even though he says it gives him something called ‘the wig,’ but he knows better than me what is good and what is not.” She shot her backpack a glare for good measure. “I think the monkey head is going to smell when it comes out of the jar. It looked not dried enough, but it was the best I could find. Monsieur Touré could not find better either and he says it will be good.”
This was getting just better and better. “I admit that I am positively flummoxed that you failed to mention this side of your Grandmother Touré,” I dryly observed.
“You said she oversaw the kitchens and a garden. You said nothing about her ability to work magic,” I pointed out.
“You did not ask. Besides, she is boss of the kitchen. That is what she does. She only does magic sometimes.”
It was rather like trying to reason with a brick wall. As unbelievable as it may seem, Grandmother Touré’s magical abilities were utterly beside the point as far as Alexandrienne — and one may assume Mr. Harris, since she seemed to take her cues from him — was concerned.
“I’m going to hazard a guess that Mr. Harris was well aware of her abilities when he agreed to take her on as a cook,” I said.
Alexandrienne shook her head. “No.”
“I find that very hard to believe.”
“You and Monsieur ’Arris, both of you,” Alexandrienne nodded. “When he found out, he threw up his hands like this,” she illustrated the frustrated up-in-the-air hands motion, “and told me that this was very much normal for him. He said he was glad she was not young and pretty, because then she really was human and would not try to eat his head. He said he was surprised a little because anyone wanting to sing about his bitte is usually a demon, although they usually have a little dance to go with their song about his bitte.” She rolled her eyes in that way she had to show exasperated fondness for Mr. Harris. “He was not making a little joke. He can be very, very strange sometimes.”
I just bet Mr. Harris was very strange, and not just sometimes, I thought.
Out loud, I tried to wrest our conversation back to the subject at hand. “Now, about Radar—” I began.
My question was interrupted when Radar himself flung open the door and barreled into the room. “Ally, I think there is a problem!” he said.
“You speak English!” I accused.
Alexandrienne hissed, “Radar!”
“This is too important,” he continued in his singsong patois. “Ally, there was an attack on Curly last night. Someone in the market who’s from the village told me.”
“Curly!” Alexandrienne repeated in horror.
“Curly?” I asked. “Who’s Curly?”
Alexandrienne waved at me to shut me up. “Was anyone hurt? Are they sure it was vampires?”
“There was an attack on someone called Curly, so yes, I think he is intimating someone was hurt,” I said in temper.
They ignored me very nicely.
“A little hurt, but almost bit,” Radar reported. “Xander scared them away. He saw, but didn’t follow because he wanted to make sure the man was okay.”
“That man would be Curly,” I muttered to myself.
“I told him the attack on Joe didn’t sound right. I told him,” Radar said.
“He didn’t think the attack sounded right, too. And he didn’t think it sounded right first,” Alexandrienne defensively pointed out.
Radar puffed out his chest. “But I agreed with him.”
“And you were right about the market,” Alexandrienne grumbled.
“Yay!” Radar cheered as he flopped onto the bed with a grin. “You get the floor. You said.”
“Is anyone going to explain to me what’s going on?” I plaintively asked.
“The first attack was on Joe,” Radar began.
“Who is Joe?” I asked.
“Joe is a village not so far from us,” Alexandrienne said.
“Oh, wait. Stop me if I’m wrong, but Curly? Another village?” I asked.
“Joe, Shemp, Curly, Larry, and Moe,” Radar rattled off. “They are all villages.”
“Not their original names, I take it,” I remarked.
“Easier to remember for us,” Alexandrienne said. “We don’t tell people we changed the name of their village.”
“Mr. Harris’s idea,” I sighed.
“I told you he can be strange,” Alexandrienne said sympathetically.
“I can talk now, yeah?” Radar asked.
The question earned Alexandrienne’s undivided attention as well as mine.
“The night before we left to go to Bamako, there was an attack on Joe, so Xander and me,” Radar stuck his tongue out at Alexandrienne to underline his point, “didn’t think it sounded right. A goat herder thought he heard something and went to check. He got hit. A lot.”
“How is this unusual? I imagine that happens quite a lot around here,” I pointed out.
Alexandrienne and Radar exchanged confused glances.
“You know,” I said. “Intertribal warfare and the like.”
Alexandrienne’s head whipped violently around to face me.
Radar was quickly on his feet. “Don’t hit her!”
“No,” Alexandrienne hissed with clenched fists. “It does not happen like that here.”
I quickly backed down and apologized. The Slayer did not seem in the least bit mollified.
Radar spared her a worried glance before addressing me. “People don’t fight here. They make jokes, but no one gets angry about it. It’s fun.”
“Perhaps we should focus on Joe,” I said.
“That’s why Xander couldn’t come,” Radar said. “He wanted to find out what happened, so he sent us to go get you.”
“What happened last night?” Alexandrienne insisted.
“You know. How it always happens. Xander was looking around to find out if any of the other villages had an attack and the elder in Curly made him stay for a meal and to talk, so that’s why he was there to see the vampire,” Radar said.
Alexandrienne growled. “I should have stayed. He could have sent someone else to Bamako.”
“Ally, Xander is not hurt,” Radar said. “He needed us to get Missus Swithin, yeah?” He flashed me an apologetic grin. “We had to go.”
Alexandrienne shook her head. She looked like she didn’t want to agree, even though she couldn’t find a way around his logic.
Radar moved to stand next to her and he placed a comforting hand on her shoulder. “Xander is not hurt. The man told me he wasn’t hurt,” he repeated. “You worry too much. He knows what he’s doing. He’s Xander.”
The last thing I needed to hear was Radar’s hero-worship of Mr. Harris.
“He is,” Alexandrienne miserably agreed. “He will not be here tomorrow. He will be busy. He should have sent Nagesa with you. She could do this. I should be with him. I should have told Xander no.”
I wasn’t sure what took me aback more. That Alexandrienne seemed insistent that she should have stayed with Mr. Harris, or that she had subconsciously switched from the “Monsieur ’Arris” she had used all day whilst talking to me to the diminutive “Xander” used by Radar and Mr. Wells because her mind was distracted with worry.
Radar seemed to take Alexandrienne’s self-recrimination in stride. “Maybe nothing happened tonight, so maybe he’ll be here tomorrow. If he’s not, Sister Ig will be here.”
Alexandrienne crossed her arms. She radiated misery, as if she had somehow failed.
“You can take the first shower if you want to,” Radar sweetly offered.
This caused Alexandrienne smile. “There is no hot water, so it does not matter if I go first.”
“You’ll have all the good cold water,” Radar insisted.
Alexandrienne shook her head, rolled her eyes. “Mademoiselle Swithin? Any more questions?”
“I think we can wait for Sister Ig and possibly Mr. Harris to fill us all in on the latest news,” I said mildly.
On that, Alexandrienne grabbed her backpack, complete with jarred not-quite-dried monkey head and God knows what else inside, and went into the bathroom, leaving Radar and I alone.
Verboten or not, I was not going to be deterred from asking Radar some pointed questions. “You speak English,” I accused, “and quite well I might add.”
Radar studied me a moment before answering with a shrug, “From Cape Town. I’ve been working on my accent, yeah? To sound more American.”
“Ah,” I nodded in understanding.
Radar’s excellent, if singsong, English suddenly made much more sense. Judging by his apparent young age, he might not have ever experienced government-sanctioned apartheid, and had a more-than passable education. At the very least, Radar’s background showed that Mr. Harris certainly did get out and about, although I was troubled that he was slowly changing his native patois to one that was no doubt more pleasing to Mr. Harris’s ears.
However, his response did beg another question. “And your parents are perfectly fine with you living nearly a continent away with a veritable stranger, that is if they aren’t inhabitants of the village themselves.”
Radar’s eyes narrowed, as if considering how far he was willing to go. “They’re dead. I’m not going back.”
The reply took the wind out of my sails. “Oh…I am sorry. I didn’t know. Vampires?”
Radar apparently had enough of my breaking the rules. As I heard the shower sputter to life, Radar simply turned his back on me, yanked the bedcovers off the bed, wrapped himself in the blankets, and promptly laid down on the floor with his back to me.
“Tell Ally she can have the bed, yeah?” he said shortly. “G’night.”
He refused to say anything more.