This is my "Friday" post a little late. I have to work on heavily editing my Remix entry, so odds are I won't be posting anything until Wednesday or so.
For the Scatterlings and Orphanagers Africander Fiction Challenge by ludditerobot.
For all previous parts, go here.
Continued from Part 29.
I didn’t bother to wash, and instead simply threw on my clothes from the day before. I was out the door within 10 minutes. As I crossed the open space to the medical tent, I saw Mr. Harris standing in the doorway of his hut. He was watching me with the threatening eye of a hungry wolf.
The visit with Dr. Mboto and Nurse Reilly was, if possible, even more unpleasant than my most recent confrontation with Mr. Harris.
Nurse Reilly — Sue, as she bade me to call her — took my medical history, conducted my physical, drew all the necessary blood, and took all the necessary urine and scat samples while Dr. Mboto lectured me.
Dr. Mboto seemed nearly as angry as Mr. Harris had been that I failed to walk into his tent. According to him, it should’ve been something I did the moment I finished dropping my bags in my hut.
Through the entire health and safety talk, Sue’s expression vacillated between sharing in her fiancé’s indignation over my faux pas, and sympathy for me because I was subjected to Dr. Mboto’s rather rude bedside manner.
I found myself feeling very sorry for his patients. I could only imagine that they willed themselves better, rather than be subjected to his unpleasant presence any longer than necessary.
However, it was not enough to hear his speech once. I was forced to endure it three times. The doctor often interrupted himself to make me repeat his admonitions back to him. If I got it wrong, he rudely corrected me in the clipped tones of a foreign-born man raised in England and made me repeat the corrected version.
Once Dr. Mboto was satisfied that I was sufficiently paranoid about my health, he issued me a water skin for my personal use.
I admit the sight of the skin took me aback. “It looks like it was skinned from an animal,” I hesitantly pointed out.
“It came from a goat,” Doctor Mboto said.
I’m certain that I made a despairing sound.
“It is perfectly safe and sufficient for your needs,” Doctor Mboto informed me as he shoved the bag into my hands. “Fill this once a day with water from the village well and only from the well. The next day, I expect to you use what’s left to water Grandmother Touré’s garden, or your own garden should you choose to plant one, before refilling it with fresh water. No exceptions. You will use the water in the skin for washing and drinking, and I expect you to drink as much as possible to keep hydrated. The rainy season is coming to an end, and this will be vitally important in the months ahead. The well water is safe and clean, so you will not have to boil it or add iodine to purify it. Count your many blessings for that. After two weeks of regular use, return this skin to me and I will issue you a fresh skin.”
He then made me repeat these instructions and assured me in angry tones that he would speak to me if I did not return the skin to him after two weeks’ use.
Sue accompanied me to the well to show me the best way to fill the skin while wasting as little water as possible. All of her chatter focused on reinforcing Doctor Mboto’s talk. She wasn’t quite apologetic for his rudeness, nor was she willing to entirely absolve me of my failure to see them sooner.
Needless to say, I was utterly unable to ask either Dr. Mboto or Sue about their background or how they came to join Mr. Harris’s cause.
I rushed to my hut once my skin was filled. I made a despairing noise in my throat upon seeing the mess on my wall left from my misadventure earlier in the morning. To steel myself for the gruesome task ahead, I quickly washed using the basin, the well water, the antibacterial soap Dr. Mboto issued to me, and one of the clean cloths that Mr. Harris had dropped on my floor. After changing into fresh clothes, I still couldn’t face cleaning the wall and escaped to the outdoors to clear my head and put myself in a better frame of mind.
Foolish, I know. However, I felt so horribly abused by Mr. Harris and Dr. Mboto that I simply couldn’t face the task of cleaning up my own mess. It didn’t help that I knew both men were justified in being angry with me. It helped even less now that I knew my sturdy constitution didn’t entirely protect me from insults against my wellbeing.
As I stood in the warming sun and considered what to do, I realized that I should perhaps get something to eat. While not at all happy with the notion of approaching Grandmother Touré on my own, I didn’t see where I had much choice and I again set off across the village’s open center. I only praised God that no one, not even Mr. Harris, was out and about or watching me.
I was just approaching Grandmother Touré’s hut when I saw Alexandrienne leave Mr. Harris’s abode. She glanced around and, upon seeing something or someone on the open structure that served as the village school, she began walking to it. The set of her shoulders and the force of her steps in the dirt was enough to tell me that she was rather put out.
I spared a glance for Grandmother Touré’s door, but decided to forgo breakfast in favor of finding out what had angered Alexandrienne.
As she disappeared behind the school’s one wall, I circled around so the sight of my approach would be blocked. I moved as quickly as I could up to the wall and listened carefully. There was a murmur of angry voices on the other side, so I shifted accordingly to find a better spot so I could overhear what was being said.
I was making a rather nasty habit of doing this, I thought. If I wasn’t careful, I would soon find myself graduating to “Peeping Tom” and watching the village inhabitants through their windows.
“—sleep. He is not taking care of himself,” Alexandrienne’s voice said.
“I didn’t mean—” Dave’s voice began.
“You didn’t mean,” Alexandrienne mimicked. “He is tired. He needs sleep. Did you keep him up all night talking? Shame on you. You talk and talk all the time when you see each other. What you needed to say was not so important to keep him awake. Last night of all nights. Shame on you.”
Dave started to explain, “There were questions—”
“Questions,” Alexandrienne snorted. “What is this? Questions. They could wait until after this business is done. He will get sick if he does not sleep. He is not sleeping enough now. You have not helped.”
I was rather stunned by the tone Alexandrienne used with Dave. I was under the impression that she was rather sweet on him. Sweet or not, it appeared that if the choice were ever between Mr. Harris and Dave, Dave would lose and lose quite badly.
“Ally,” Dave interrupted, “the questions really couldn’t wait. I wish they could but — what do you know about Xander? Before he found you, I mean.”
“What is this?” Alexandrienne asked. I could hear the suspicion dripping from her voice.
“Do you know where he’s from? Or who he is? Hell, after last night, I’ve even got to ask if you know what he is. Do you know anything? Anything at all?” Dave asked.
It seemed Dave was far more troubled by his talk with Mr. Harris than he had let on.
“This is nonsense.” Alexandrienne sounded dismissive. “He needs to take better care of himself and he has been not doing it properly since we found Liwaza.”
It should be no wonder, I thought. He had on his hands a potentially violent and certainly insane HIV-positive Slayer living in the village. Regardless of his role in the spell that gave the girl her power, he clearly felt the heavy burden of guilt with regards to her situation. That guilt was what was no doubt pushing him over the edge.
I realized then that I might have arrived in Mali just in time to prevent a tragedy.
“Ally! This is important,” Dave interrupted. “There were some things he told me last night that — I just don’t know what to think anymore. I don’t even know how I should look at him anymore. I thought I had a good grasp on who he was, but… I don’t know. I just don’t know.”
“What did he tell you?” Alexandrienne asked.
“That’s just it—” Dave began.
“Wait! Don’t tell me! It was rude. I should not ask,” Alexanrienne suddenly interrupted.
“I think maybe you should know,” Dave quietly countered.
“No, please,” Alexandrienne said. “I know he is keeping secrets, yes? I know this. I also know he has good reasons. If he did not, he would tell them to me.”
“He thinks his reasons are good ones.” Dave sounded reluctant. “I even agree that he’s got good reasons, but just the same he should at least tell you.”
“Because his secrets are dangerous,” Alexandrienne quietly said.
I admit that this statement surprised me. I wondered if Alexandrienne was as ignorant of Mr. Harris’s past as she claimed.
“Potentially,” Dave agreed. “Ally? What do you know?”
There was a sigh and the sound of movement on the other side of the wall. “I have been with him. From the first day, it has been Xander and me,” Ally said. There was a pause. “He has nightmares sometimes.”
“Bad?” Dave asked.
“Very bad. I do not tell him. If I do, he will make me sleep in another room,” Alexandrienne said.
I blinked. They shared rooms? Given the rather sexual nature of Mr. Harris in my troublesome dream, I thought this sounded rather bad.
“He never wakes up. When he gets them, I talk and talk at him. I keep my voice quiet, yes? It calms him down and the nightmare stops,” Alexandrienne added. “If he does not, I go back to my bed and watch over him until it is done.”
They were at least sleeping in separate beds, I mentally amended. It may be a questionable state of affairs, but it could also be an entirely innocent arrangement. Mr. Harris claimed that Alexandrienne often passed herself off as either his adopted relative or wife. Sharing a room, albeit one with separate beds, was the best way to prove the ruse as true. It also had the benefit of preserving their funds as they traveled.
Until I knew more about the nature of Mr. Harris’s relationship to his Slayer, I couldn’t say just how innocent this arrangement really was.
“I don’t think you can protect him from those monsters, Ally,” Dave said.
I had to agree with that very sad and very true statement.
“I think it is the other way. He is trying to protect us from his monsters by not speaking of them,” Alexandrienne said.
“You may be right there.” Dave sounded rather glum about his agreement.
“Xander and Akella are more alike than not, I think,” Alexandrienne added in a low voice.
“Ally!” Dave sounded shocked.
I was startled at this admission. What little I heard of this Akella made, in my mind, Alexandrienne’s comparison well nigh unthinkable. Yet if she, of all people, were willing to say it, I had to take such a statement very seriously.
“I hear things in those nightmares,” Alexandrienne said. “I did not understand them when I first heard them, but I can think on some things. The more I hear, the more I can put together a few little guesses, yes? I think he was very young when he began to fight.”
“He was 16,” Dave numbly said.
“That is not so young,” Alexandrienne said. “I think I am that.”
“I…what?” Dave asked.
Oh, my. It appeared that Dave didn’t know that his Mona Lisa of the Mali Sahel was on the young side.
“I am maybe younger. I am not sure because of when my parents fled Liberia to Côte d'Ivoire it was a bad time. A very bad time,” Alexandrienne said.
“I’m going to hell in a custom-made basket,” Dave said.
“Sixteen is plenty old enough to do many things. It is plenty old enough to kill vampires,” Alexandrienne said. “Bunmi was married at 16.”
“Second Circle. Tossed around by a nasty old storm that never ends. Smell of brimstone. Pitchforks shoved sidewise up my ass. Yup. Definitely going to hell,” Dave said.
I bit my lip to keep from giggling.
“What is this?” Alexandrienne demanded. “Second circle? Storms?”
“N-n-n-nothing,” Dave stuttered. “Ally, I know 16 isn’t exactly young around here, but where I’m from it’s on the young-ish side.”
“I know. I have seen this in Europe.”
“You may know that’s young for us, but I don’t think you understand it,” Dave patiently said.
“It is like Akella being handed a gun when he is very young,” Alexandrienne said. “I can see this likeness in Xander and Akella sometimes. Akella sees this too, I think. That is why he had the right words for me to say to Xander in Gao to make him think again about his plan. But I do not think Xander sees this. It is good he does not. I think it would drive him mad if he did.”
Dave’s ultimate loyalty to Mr. Harris won out. “Xander hasn’t murdered and raped his way across a country.”
Dave had rather a good point. If Mr. Harris had done either, I was very sure Mr. Wyndham-Pryce would have found the evidence of it, thus sparing me the necessity of traveling to Mali.
“Killing is killing, yes?” Alexandrienne said.
“Killing demons is a little bit different,” Dave counted.
I could heartily agree with that.
“Only because they want to eat us,” Alexandrienne said. “Akella did what he did or he would be killed. It is not so easy to make that choice, I think. If Nagesa thinks he is worthy, he is worthy.”
“And that’s it for you,” Dave said. “That’s all that counts. Another Slayer says he’s okay, so that means he’s okay with you.”
There was a pause. “It is the same for you. It is the same for Xander. Why should Akella be different?”
“There’s a difference with Akella.” Dave paused. “Hell, I think there may be a difference with Xander, too. Like I said, I don’t know what to think.”
“Do you trust me?” Alexandrienne suddenly asked.
“Of course. Don’t be silly.”
“Then you can trust Xander,” Alexandrienne said. The tone in her voice told me that as far as she was concerned, the subject should be settled.
“Ally, I’m not saying I don’t trust Xander, because I do,” Dave said. “I’d trust him alone in the same room with my sister at night with the bedroom door locked, and I wouldn’t say that about too many guys. That’s how much I trust him.”
“But he told you some of his dangerous secrets. Now you’re afraid of his monsters, the ones he hides and will not speak of,” Alexandrienne said.
“Yeah,” Dave quietly agreed. “I think you’ve got it.”
“I think he was married,” Alexandrienne suddenly volunteered.
I straightened up. Where on earth did she get that idea?
“Married? Xander?” Dave asked. “But he’s only 23! And don’t tell me that 23 is plenty old enough to be married. I hear things like that from Kavitha all the time whenever she tries to marry me off. And if I hear one more time that 26 is an ‘indecently’ long time to stay a bachelor, I’ll—”
Alexandrienne giggled. “She is concerned that you are not taking care of your needs. Kavitha is a good girl, but someone must tell her that men do not need to get married for that. I am concerned about this for Xander, too, but he will not listen to me. This one woman offered to do so. For free, if you can imagine. But still he would not. He ran away even. I was very upset with him for refusing because I think this is not healthy for him. Though he was right this one time I am speaking of. The woman who offered herself to him was vampire and we had to cut off her head the next night.”
Relief flooded through me on hearing this. Mr. Harris clearly had not taken sexual advantage of Alexandrienne. Although I did find it was rather odd that Alexandrienne — and Kavitha, for that matter — were concerned about their Watchers’ private affairs, or rather, the lack thereof.
“Kavitha thinks I need a wife to take care of me, not someone just for the night,” Dave said in the voice of complaint. “Why the hell do you think Xander was married again?”
“He says a name sometimes, when the nightmares are very bad,” Alexandrienne explained. “Ann? Anna?”
Anya, I thought with a sinking heart.
“A name like that,” Alexandrienne said. “The name is never clear to me. I think he is trying to save her in his nightmares, but he never can find her. I think she was murdered when he was not with her. Or maybe he watched her die. Or maybe she was turned into a demon and he had to kill her. Once, he apologized for killing her. It is all very confusing. It is sometimes one thing, sometimes another.”
It appeared that there was at least one monster Mr. Harris had inadvertently revealed.
“This once, the nightmares were very bad. In July. We were in a hotel in Rome. I was very excited because we never go to Rome. We always take flights from other airports, even when Rome is faster. This one time, we did not have a choice, so we go through Rome. Xander, he says he does not mind since we would be just passing through. No time to see anything.”
Given that Miss Summers’s last known location was in Rome, and given that she and Mr. Harris had not parted on the best of terms, his reluctance was understandable, even if it was extreme, I thought. Rome is a rather large city, so the odds were stacked against the two of them ever crossing paths.
“Then we missed the plane out of Rome. We would have to wait until the next night for a new plane. Xander was very unhappy about this. He did not want to stay in Rome, but we had no choice. So we get a hotel in the city. He wanted to stay closer to the airport, but I said I wanted to see the city. We argue a little about it, until he says, ‘Fine. I am very tired and I will be staying in the hotel. You can look around.’ This is not like him, see? He is always wanting to look around with me, but not this time. I went out a little, but it was no fun without him, so I came back. I had to tease and tease him to get him to leave the hotel for dinner.
“So, we find this restaurant. A little place. It is far, far away from everything fun, but I was happy we were not in the hotel, so I only argue a little. We walk in, and we are being shown a table. Then Xander, he stops. He says to me, ‘I have to go. I am feeling sick.’ Then he leaves. He leaves me standing there alone.
“I look around then. I see this white woman with blonde hair. She is at a table and half standing up and she is staring at me. Her jaw is open like this. I think she is reacting to Xander’s eyepatch. In Europe I see that sometimes. I do not like it, but Xander, he says it does not bother him. I apologize to the maitre d’ and I leave. Xander, he is moving very fast back to the hotel and his head is down like this. Like he does not want anyone to see his eyepatch.”
I’m sure, dear reader, you can already see the punch line to this anecdote.
“I catch up with him and he is very quiet. I can see he is in one of his moods when I cannot talk to him, so I do not say anything. We are almost to the hotel when I realize that we are being followed. I do not see who, but I move faster so he will move faster. When we get to the hotel we are racing each other to reach the room.”
“I take it that girl followed you,” Dave said. “Was she another vampire that had the hots for him?”
I wondered how Dave would react to the answer in light of his conversation with Mr. Harris.
“I tell you. So, Xander, he is very nervous for a little bit. Then he says, ‘I am maybe too tired. I thought I saw a ghost.’ So I tell him to shower and get some sleep. I tell him that I am a little tired, too.” Alexandrienne paused. “He took a long time to fall asleep. When I am sure he is sleeping, I sneak out to see if what followed us was there. I walk out of the hotel door, and there is the woman from the restaurant staring up at the hotel. Looking for what, I do not know. So I walk over to her, to ask what she is doing. I see she has a reflection in the glass behind her, so I know she is not a vampire.
“When I get close, she asks, without even looking at me, ‘Who are you?’ She was very rude about it.
“So I ask her back, ‘Who are you and why are you following us?’
“She looks at me then and asks, ‘Us?’
“So we stare at each other a little bit, like that, see? Then she asks, ‘What are you doing with Xander? Are you a demon?’ Like I have no right to be with him. Like I must be evil to be with him.”
She probably made the assumption because she knew Anyanka, I uncharitably thought.
“Since she said demon, I think she must know about Slayers, so I say to her, ‘He is my Watcher. If you are here to hurt him, I will kill you.’
“She takes this breath and she stares at me even more. ‘Watcher?’ she asks me.
“I do not like the way she is looking at me, and I tell her, ‘He belongs to me. You upset him. Go away or I will kill you anyway.’
“So she asks, ‘What did he say about me?’
“And I tell her, ‘He said nothing about you. Does he know you? He did not tell me he knows you. He said he was tired and not well at the restaurant. I saw you staring at us, so I think maybe you are the reason I am not having a nice dinner now.’
“She takes this step to me and she asks, ‘Is he sick? Has he been hurt? Is he okay?’ She is being very angry about it, like I have somehow made Xander sick when it was probably her.”
Alexandrienne almost certainly guessed that point correctly, I thought.
“I tell her, ‘He is fine, but we have been traveling much. He has not been sleeping enough. He will be fine in the morning. But I do not think you should try to see him. He will be sick again if you do.’ It was a mean thing to say, but I did not like the way she spoke to me or the way she acted. She was sneaky, yes? She was following us. If she was honest, she would not follow. She would have walked up to us and spoke to us in front of everyone.”
Or perhaps she was trying to avoid a public spectacle, I silently disagreed.
“She looks away from me then. Then she asks, ‘How is Xander doing? Is he happy?’
“The way she asks it, she was very sad and I feel a little bad. So I tell her that yes, he is happy. We travel very much, he and I, and we see many, many places. I tell her that I help him find Slayers, and that some are happy and that some are not happy. But I tell her it is always somewhere new. And I tell her that we were in Paris in April and he took me to ride the La Grande Roue and we could see all of the city from the top. I tell her that once we were in Berlin and he took me to see a piece of this great wall that used to be there and that this piece was covered in graffiti. I tell her we have seen the Serengeti at sunrise and Kilimanjaro at sunset. I tell her we stood at the edge of the Sahara once and thought that maybe it went on forever. I tell her about the time we were on a fishing boat on the Nile, and again on another boat on Lake Victoria. I tell her that we live in a village in Mali with many, many other Slayers and we are safe and happy.”
I had to admit that it sounded like a rather nice life.
“She looks at her shoes then and says, ‘Oh.’
“I do not know if she is surprised or disappointed and I tell her so.
“She tells me that she is happy for him that he is doing so well. She says that I seem like a very good Slayer to her and she is happy I am watching over him. She says she feels better knowing that.
“So I ask her, ‘Why do you not tell him that? Why be a sneak? I thought you were a vampire.’
“She smiles and she seems very sad. She asks if Xander has heard about what happened in Los Angeles when all those people were killed and part of the city destroyed.
“I tell her that, yes, he heard. He was very sad when he heard because he knew people who died there.”
Miss Chase, Mr. Wyndham-Pryce’s son, and the vampire Angel for a start, I ticked off in my mind. I wondered if he knew anyone else who had died there.
“So, she says, ‘That is why I followed you. I lost one chance I did not want to lose another one.’”
Lost a chance at what? Making peace with Mr. Harris before he left for Africa? I wondered.
“I tell her, ‘Then maybe you should talk to him a little.’
“She shakes her head and says, ‘I think it is too late now. He has you.’ So she tells me to take care of him, like she would need to tell me that, and she walks away then.”
“Holy…Ally, do you know who you talked to?” Dave asked.
I tensed. It appeared Alexandrienne was about to learn how she came to be a Slayer.
“Who?” Alexandrienne asked.
“I think she’s the Slayer that—” Dave stopped.
“She was a Slayer? Why did she not say?” Alexandrienne interrupted. “Why are you looking at me like that?”
“Xander…grew up with a Slayer,” Dave stumbled.
I realized then that Dave would not tell Alexandrienne anything. For whatever reason, he had decided that Mr. Harris was right. There was only one thing worse than an angry Slayer, and that was a grateful one. I knew that they were both being foolish. Alexandrienne would discover the truth sooner or later. The longer they waited to tell her, the worse her reaction would be.
“You think she was this Slayer?” Alexandrienne asked.
“Last he heard, this woman was living in Rome,” Dave carefully said. “From what I understand, they got into a friendship-ending fight. She wanted him to go to Rome with her, and he wanted to go to Africa to find you.”
“She wanted to take him from away me?” Alexandrienne sounded furious.
“Ally, wait! It’s not like that.” Dave sounded like he was desperately trying to calm her down. “He was going through a rough time and I think she wanted to help.”
“She wanted to keep him to herself! Now I am glad she went away,” Alexandrienne said. She was clearly not mollified.
“I don’t think she has a Watcher, I mean, I don’t think she chose her Watcher,” Dave’s voice fumbled. “She’s never had what you and Xander have or me or Kavitha, or anything like that. She didn’t know.”
“How could she not know?” Alexandrienne scoffed. “All the Slayers know. We dream of our Watchers, they dream of us. We find each other. She should know.”
I startled. The Slayers were dreaming about their Watchers in return? Dave had hinted at this, but I had missed the import of what he said at the time. With this new piece of information before me, I didn’t know what to think about the situation.
“Did you know who Xander was supposed to be when you dreamed about him?” Dave asked.
“No, because I was a new Slayer and did not know any Slayers. I thought he was someone else. All I knew was he was for me, for what I did not know. But if you are right, she has been a Slayer a long time. She should have known when Xander came for me,” Alexandrienne said.
“It didn’t work that way for her,” Dave said. “Before Xander found you, it didn’t work that way for too many Slayers, at least I think that’s right. The Council used to choose the Watchers for the Slayers, but that’s changed now because most of the Council was killed a few years ago and—”
I could tell Dave was striving mightily not to completely betray Mr. Harris.
“Oh. Yes. I know that story,” Alexandrienne interrupted. “I did not know that. About the Slayers from before, I mean.” There was a pause. “That is very sad for her. I would not want someone else to choose my Watcher. That would be very bad. I like it better this way. Maybe she really did not know what she did. Maybe she is like Nagesa before she started dreaming of Akella.”
“There’s a difference between Slayers with Watchers and Slayers without?” Dave asked.
“Always, always,” Alexandrienne said.
I was rather curious about this myself.
“Sometimes we forget, yes? Sometimes we forget there are people or that there is sun. Sometimes everything is all dark and maybe we think this is the way it should be,” Alexandrienne said. “Then you see your Watcher, yes? And you say, ‘Oh! There is a sun and there is something good.’ And you remember, yes?”
“Remember what?” Dave asked.
“Why,” was all Alexandrienne said.
“Why what?” Dave asked.
“Just why,” Alexandrienne said. “It is hard to explain.”
I wondered if Dave was as thoroughly confused as I was.
“I feel very sorry for her,” Alexandrienne said.
“Who?” Dave sounded startled.
“The Slayer in Rome. The one that followed us.” Alexandrienne paused. “I hope she finds her Watcher. Someday.”
I wondered what Mr. Giles would make of this conversation.
“Now I am not sorry I told Xander about the woman who followed us,” Alexandrienne said.
Given her venom against Miss Summers, I was rather surprised she told Mr. Harris.
“How’d he react?”
Dave, apparently, was not.
“He would not talk about it. He did not ask about her. He said that I did the right thing to tell her to go away, but that next time I should tell him if someone is following us. He was upset because he said I could have been hurt and that I was lucky that she did not want to hurt us for being in her city. I did not know what to think.”
That fight must’ve been quite something to behold if Mr. Harris feared that Miss Summers would attack him for the minor offense of stepping foot in Rome.
“I don’t know what to think either,” Dave agreed. “His avoiding even the mention of her doesn’t seem right. It’s just not his style. That must’ve been a hell of a fight.”
Given Mr. Harris’s rather confrontational nature, the fact that he did not confront Miss Summers after the incident related by Alexandrienne struck me as out of character as well.
“The nightmares that night were very bad,” Alexandrienne volunteered with a gloomy-sounding voice. “Very violent. When I came back to the room, he was having one. I tried talking at him, but it only got worse. I was so frightened that I had to wake him up. I thought he would hurt himself.”
“Okay, maybe an earth-shattering fight,” Dave commented.
“We talked a little. I told him about the woman,” Alexandrienne said. “I still have not seen too much of Rome, but I think I will not say anything next time he takes a longer flight to stay away from Rome. I do not think he wants to see her.”
“Understatement of the century,” Dave said. “I can’t even tell you her name, by the way. He never said what it was.”
“She did not tell me her name, either,” Alexandrienne said. “And Xander would not talk about her, like I said.”
Yet, he most certainly mentioned her name to me just that morning, probably because I was Council and he assumed that I already knew who she was. Perhaps he was attempting to keep his people in Africa as far away from his past as humanly possible. However, that didn’t explain his willingness to freely mention Miss Rosenberg’s name when he spoke privately to Dave. Dave certainly reacted as if the name was familiar to him.
Perhaps he was afraid that if he mentioned Miss Summers’s name to people who didn‘t know her he’d be forced to explain who she was. In so explaining, he might accidentally give himself away. It seemed to me as good a guess as any about Mr. Harris’s mysterious reasons.
“So, in short, you don’t know anything about him at all, except for the fact that he’s got a mysterious blonde Slayer in his past that he won’t talk about; that he’s tight with the head of the Council; that one of his best buds is a powerful witch named Willow; you think he might’ve been married to someone called Ann or Anna who’s now dead; and that he’s been demon-hunting for a long time.” Dave sounded surprisingly disappointed.
However, this list did cause me to raise an eyebrow. Alexandrienne, it appeared, also knew who Miss Rosenberg was and she knew what she was. I wondered at the how and why of that familiarity.
“And I know he is from Sunnydale, California.” Alexandrienne sounded rather proud of this fact.
I blinked. Perhaps he had not hidden all his monsters from Alexandrienne after all.
“In southern California,” Dave said.
I thought it interesting that he deliberately led Alexandrienne to believe that he knew this information.
“He showed me. In the Rome airport before we left. There was a store with many maps,” Alexandrienne said. “So he brings me in and he unfolds a map and he points to California and tells me, ‘I am from here.’”
“A town called Sunnydale,” Dave said.
“Yes. But it was very strange,” Alexandrienne said.
“When I tell him that I would like to see it, he tells me there is nothing there now. No people. No buildings. Not even the ground. That it is all gone and there is nothing left. That is why he never wants to go back to California. He tells me that it is too close. Too close to what, I do not know. That is also why he does not have many things or any pictures older than just before he found me. Everything went away with his village.”
“Convenient,” Dave remarked with a thoughtful tone.
Dave’s statement took me rather by surprise. As I knew the true story about Mr. Harris’s past, it never occurred to me that it might sound suspicious to people who didn’t know the truth. After all, Mr. Harris would have a difficult time proving that he was, in fact, the same Alexander Harris who had been born and raised in Sunnydale if he ever had to prove it someone who didn’t know him from there. His exploits in Mali had included creating a false paper trail and background for people who otherwise had nothing. It was not a stretch for even his closest allies to consider he might’ve done the same thing for himself.
Alexandrienne had clearly missed the import of Dave’s statement. “I think that is why we have each other. We do not have homes, he and I. We have no family. Without each other, we would have no one and no home.” She paused. “I do not know what I will do if they take him away from me.”
I frowned. Alexandrienne seemed to know that Mr. Harris’s position was precarious. If she knew, then he most certainly did.
“Ally, that’s not going to happen. Xander won’t let it happen and you know it,” Dave said. “Besides, even if no one listens to him, Mr. Giles has his back. Even if they drag him back to London in chains, you’ll go with him. Mr. Giles will make sure of it. Plus, I don’t think anyone wants to piss off a powerful witch like Willow, and you know she’ll be pissed if they separate you two.”
My frowned deepened as I wondered what Mr. Harris was telling his people. My situation was even more precarious than I thought. If the Council refused to let Alexandrienne follow Mr. Harris back to London, and if Mr. Giles and Miss Rosenberg objected to it and their objections were overridden, Mr. Wyndham-Pryce may not be able to protect me after my mission was complete.
“You are right. I know you are right, but I am afraid I will lose him.” Alexandrienne paused. “These new troubles are because of his monsters. I am sure of it. That is why Eva is here.”
The venom she injected into my Christian name troubled me deeply. She had already decided I was a danger. I wondered if Mr. Harris had as well.
“Hey, now. Eva’s not so bad,” Dave protested.
I silently thanked him.
“She’s got massive issues, but I think she’s pretty okay at heart,” Dave said
I wilted as I was damned with faint praise.
“If his monsters do not get him, I am afraid he will kill himself with too much work.” Alexandrienne sounded fretful. “Xander has been working too hard since Liwaza. Sometimes I think he is punishing himself for not finding her before.”
He probably is for that and for many, many more reasons, I silently agreed.
“You know it’s more than that. It’s the village, too,” Dave said. “We’ve been doing okay so far, but everyone knows that we’re reaching the point when giving everything we’ve got isn’t going to be enough to keep the village going.”
“He has too much to worry about,” Alexandrienne said. “Monsieur Giles expects too much of him. ”
“Ally, Mr. Giles isn’t the problem and you know it. If he could send more help our way, he would,” Dave said.
Now that was a puzzling statement. I wondered why Mr. Giles couldn’t. As First Watcher, he no doubt had allies on the Council that would be willing to render aid while keeping the village’s existence a secret.
“Instead we get Eva,” Alexandrienne said. “Some help.”
I fought the urge to storm into the middle of their conversation and inform them that I was doing the best I bloody well could under very trying circumstances.
“Don’t blame her. She’s a symptom, not the problem,” Dave said. “The problem is Xander threw together the pieces of his operation together on an ad hoc basis.”
“What is this ‘ad hoc’?” Alexandrienne asked.
“What I mean is, he solved problems as they came up, but wasn’t thinking of a long-term plan,” Dave explained. “He was able to stitch the pieces together just fine, so now we’ve got ourselves a legitimate working village here and a growing network of Slayers and new Watchers all over the place. The problem is he did too good of a job and now we’re all stuck.”
How was it possible for someone to do ‘too good’ of a job? I wondered.
“If we’re going to keep growing like we have, if we want to keep doing a good job, we need to go to the next step and get more outside support from the Council. It’s reaching the point where Xander, Andrew, and whoever else Mr. Giles has in his pocket are having a hard time padding the expense reports to hide where the money is really going. As it is Xander’s entire salary has been earmarked for whatever we need. I don’t think he’s saved a dime since he got here. His rate of ‘losing’ sat phones have reached ridiculous proportions because he has to give them to the teams that he can’t personally check in with on a regular basis. That means Andrew’s got to keep those phones live and hide the bills,” Dave said.
I shook my head. My instincts were right. Mr. Giles’s office had scrubbed Mr. Harris’s reports before they were forwarded for official review. Not because they feared him to be unstable, but to hide the existence of the village. I was torn. I could contact Mr. Giles’s office and ask for guidance on how to best protect the village and its personnel. However, if I did that, I would also have to reveal the secondary nature of my mission and tell them that Mr. Harris could not be allowed to continue as Mr. Giles’s man in Africa. Mr. Wyndham-Pryce’s vengeance would be most terrible if that happened, and I could not count on Mr. Giles or his allies to protect me if I admitted that I came to Mali with the express purpose of sabotaging Mr. Harris.
In short, I was knee-deep in the treacle.
“Sooner or later, this village is going to have to become known outside of Mr. Giles’s office,” Dave said. “Xander’s not convinced the village will survive when that happens. You know this place is important to him, so he’s doing everything he can to make sure the Council won’t be able to just wipe it off the map. That’s on top of everything else he does around here. We can’t even begin to help until some of us are officially on the Council’s books, so we have to depdend on a bunch of people we don’t know in London. Chances are, we’re not the only thing they have to worry about, so we’re really stuck.”
“He cannot keep working like this,” Alexandrienne stubbornly insisted. “If he keeps working like he has, he will kill himself before it is over. And this plan—”
“He needs to know the village will be okay if something happens to him,” Dave interrupted. “I think he’s taking a hell of a chance, but I don’t have any better ideas. Do you?”
“I don’t like it,” Alexandrienne said.
“No one likes it, but no one has an alternative,” Dave said. “If it works it’ll solve some of our problems. Not all of them, and not the long-term ones. All it really does buy us time to actually come up with a real solution.”
My eyes narrowed. I kept hearing about Mr. Harris having ‘a plan,’ one his own people were not terribly happy about. One that was quite risky. One that would solve only some immediate problems, but would not provide a true solution. This was the first indication that I had that this plan had a goal. I should have realized earlier that the goal was to ensure the village’s survival. Given the unhappiness from his people about it, it appeared that Mr. Harris was willing to discard what his advisors said when it suited him. What flummoxed me was that his people were still willing to follow him despite that.
“Will he stop trying to work to death?” Alexandrienne asked. The plaintive tone in her voice revealed just that much more her deep concern for Mr. Harris’s health.
“At least he’ll worry a little less,” Dave answered. “So maybe he’ll slow down a little bit.”
“I hope so,” Alexandrienne said. “But many, many people will be angry with him, so I think he will not slow down.”
I wondered if one of those many, many people would include Mr. Giles. If it did, this did not bode well for me at all. Perhaps I should contact Mr. Giles’s office as soon as possible and warn them that Mr. Harris was planning something behind Mr. Giles’s and the Council’s back.
“Tell you what. When this is over and if he doesn’t get himself clapped in chains and dragged away, I’ll talk to him, okay? He’s obviously not listening to you. Maybe he’ll listen to me,” Dave offered.
“Thank you,” Alexandrienne said.
“What are friends for?” Dave asked.
“Oh! Look at where the sun is now! I was to get Radar!” Alexandrienne exclaimed. “I have to go.”
I crouched low as the sound of running footsteps sounded across the planks of the school platform. After a few moments, I saw Alexandrienne jog away. I waited a little longer, hoping that Dave would also leave. When it became clear that he wasn’t moving any time soon, I edged away from the school as carefully and as quickly as I could.
Although I was not fond of my current tactic of overhearing conversations, I had to admit that it had borne some excellent fruit. However, I had much to think about before I could use any of the information to further my own goals.