And yes, I wrote it in less than 20 pages. Shut up. I'm capable. Not often, but I'm capable.
Overall, I'm pleased with the general concept of what I did and how the story turned out. Hopefully the person I did it for will be pleased with it (*fingers crossed*) because I somewhat changed the entire premise. The relationships are still the same but the dynamics of the lead characters are just leeeetle skewed. Then I also tried to copy the writing style of the original story to a certain extent so the two could be (hopefully) read together. (*bites nails*)
And then there's the nervous on my end of: Which story did they pick (please don't let it be one that sucks)? Did they have fun doing it? And maybe I'm a little twisted, but I really hope that whoever got me really went to town, picked whatever story and/or chapter in a story they went with apart, and put something together that looks completely different. I actually feel really bad for whoever got me. They don't have a huge number of characters to choose from, so if they don't like Xander or Fatih, they're really, really, really limited to something like two or three stories. *eeep*
Also, it's looking like it's workaholic week for me, aka, project on a tight deadline. So, between the irritating slight sinus headache indicating that spring is indeed here (not complaining too loudly...I'll take the sinus headaches over the hellish allergy reactions I used to get when I was younger) and the hours I expect to rack up, I'm not sure I'll get a part in every night. I'll try my best, though.
And just for the record: I love sexually transmitted diseases. No. I really do. Writing about them is hella interesting. I wouldn't want to get one (well, duh), but it's actually a cool subject. Of course, I'm pretty convinced I've got syphilis, which with my recent (and not-so-recent) dating history should cause anyone who knows me IRL to howl with laugher, but there you go. If I'm going to develop psychosomatic symptoms, might as well be for a disease where there' s no way in hell I've got it.
Reminds me of the time last I was convinced I had BPH — that would be an enlarged prostate for all you non-techy medical people out there. Wheeee! Enjoy all the signs and symptoms without the right equipment!
I love my job. And I mean that in the non-sarcastic way.
For the Scatterlings and Orphanages Africander Fiction Challenge by ludditerobot.
For all previous parts, go here.
Continued from Part 30.
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.
I decided to forego breakfast in favor of scrubbing dead gecko off my wall. I thought that it was perhaps too much to ask my body to have a full stomach while I disposed of the bloody evidence.
I had just completed removing the bits of gecko that I could find and was contemplating how to best deal with the splattered mudcloth wall hangings when I heard someone clearing his throat behind me.
I turned around. “It’s you,” I said flatly.
Mr. Harris shame-facedly shuffled from one foot to the next just outside my door. “I, unh, came to apologize about going nuts on you this morning. I’m not sorry because I was wrong, because I’m really not. But I should’ve been a little less with the angry and a little bit more with the understanding. I’ve taken some pretty stupid chances with my health a few times because I didn’t know any better, and I just want to spare people the experience of what happens when you lose the gamble. Besides, it’s kinda my fault anyway. If I explained better why I wanted you to see doc right away, you probably would’ve done it yesterday.”
I frowned at him in surprise. I honestly didn’t expect an apology.
“Can I come in?” he asked.
I turned my back on him and continued contemplating my blood-splattered wall. “If you can.”
“At least you’re well-trained,” Mr. Harris said as he stepped over threshold. “That was an automatic response if I ever heard one.”
“Born a Watcher,” I said shortly.
“I talked to doc, too. I get he was a lot rude to you when you showed up,” Mr. Harris said.
If Mr. Harris could be gracious, it behooved me to be gracious in return. “I did put my health in needless danger,” I allowed. “I suspect the angry nature of my discussion with Dr. Mboto did far more good than if he had been polite about it.”
Mr. Harris took a breath. “Yeah, well, doc can really lay into you when you don’t do everything you can to avoid getting sick. This one time, I was in one of the nearby villages. I was invited to dinner and around here you don’t turn down dinner because it’s rude. They had camel on the menu. Problem was the camel was past the sell-by date, but I couldn’t spit it out while my hosts are waiting for my approval. I had to swallow. Worse, I had to eat at least half of what was on my heaping plate before begging off that I was full.”
“I take it the camel had its revenge,” I said.
“And how. I reacted so badly that doc thought he’d have to run me down to the hospital in Djenné. Thank god the IV drip he started was enough to stop me from getting completely dehydrated so I didn’t have to go,” Mr. Harris said. “Don’t get me wrong. The hospital in Djenné is reasonably modern and the staff is trained, but when you’re like us and used to the palaces of pain we’ve got in the U.S. and U.K., the thought of going to any hospital in this corner of the world is enough to strike fear into your heart.”
“Point taken,” I said with appropriate contriteness.
“Point not given yet,” Mr. Harris corrected. “Doc wouldn’t let me out of the medical tent for a week. Not one day went by when he didn’t — what do you guys in the U.K. say? — beat the piss out of me? Is that right?”
I cleared my throat and mumbled, “It’s taking the piss.”
“Yeah. That. He read me the riot act because I knew better and he knew I knew better. I had to listen to food and drink safety lectures for a week. He wasn’t nice about it, either. He even made me take a written test before he’d let me leave. I had flashbacks to high school biology, which I almost flunked because I was too busy doodling Cordelia’s bre— I mean doodling cool weapons to kill vampires with in my notebook,” Mr. Harris said.
“If he has such an awful bedside manner, why is he here?” I asked.
“He doesn’t, usually,” Mr. Harris explained. “He’s got a great bedside manner, but if you do something stupid to put your health in danger he’s not going to put on the happy face for you. There are too many people around here who legitimately need his services through no fault of their own, so being stupid about taking care of yourself is the fastest way to get on his bad side.”
“Understandable,” I agreed. “It explains quite a lot, so I think his attitude towards me this morning can be excused. There’s no need to apologize on his behalf.”
“Weeellllll, that’s just it. His problem with you is a little deeper than that and that’s why I had to talk to him,” Mr. Harris explained.
“He has a problem with me? Personally?” I asked with surprise.
“You personally? No. With the Council? Especially the old Watcher families? Big time problems,” Mr. Harris said.
I made a series of sounds as my mind scrambled to find the question I should ask first.
“See, he’s one of you guys,” Mr. Harris said. “Well, not actually him. His family is. I mean was. He’s the last survivor. All of them were killed when the First Evil went on its rampage.”
“Mboto?” I searched my memory. “Mboto…Mboto…the name is vaguely familiar, but I honestly can’t say anything about the family.”
“Doc’s parents were experts in ritual and mystical objects. They got called in when the Council found something of unknown origin or purpose. Sort of like the Council’s version of the X-Files, or maybe I mean Friday the 13th: The Series.”
The X-Files was at least familiar to me, although I often thought it bordered on farce. The other reference was not familiar to me at all. Despite Mr. Harris’s imposition of American pop culture on the conversation, I very well understood what he meant. “That explains it. My parents did not interact with field operatives engaged in the gathering of mystical objects or books,” I said. “Their responsibilities involved supervising the mystical containment fields.”
“Mystical containment fields?” Mr. Harris asked.
“Storage of dangerous and secret objects and documents. Items so evil in purpose that wielding them would corrupt one in body and soul and bind the user forevermore to the service of evil.”
Mr. Harris looked sharply at me. “How much do you know about their work?”
I was taken aback by Mr. Harris’s interest. “Not terribly much, I’m afraid. It was rather dangerous and they wished to keep me far away from such matters. They had to be constantly warded against corruption and they had to submit to regular mystical checks of their persons to ensure they did not fall under evil influence. As a precaution, it was strictly forbidden for them to interact with anyone engaged in activities such as those engaged in by Dr. Mboto’s parents.”
Mr. Harris’s intent gaze made me deeply uncomfortable. “In case they fell under the influence of those mystical objects and started directing the field people to find something evil. As the experts in charge of guarding the dangerous stuff, if evil-influenced them decided to put one of those corrupting items in the regular okay-to-use collection, no one would know until there was a tragedy.”
“Yes. Exactly.” I was surprised that Mr. Harris seemed to have an instinctive grasp of the Council’s reasoning.
Mr. Harris nodded. “They had to be big on attention to detail, right? Nothing could get by them, because if it did there’d be hell to pay, and I’m not just talking about a chewing out by Quentin Travers.”
“Yes, of course,” I answered. Why Mr. Harris was so interested in this, I had no idea.
He stared at the bloodstain on my wall. “That carries over,” he said quietly.
“What does?” I asked.
He cleared his throat and refocused his attention on me. “The attention to detail, right? Noticing a bunch of little things that no one else notices, or they just miss because they’re distracted by bigger things, or because they think paying attention to the little things is beneath them and they’re meant for bigger and better.”
“I don’t believe I follow,” I said.
“What I mean is, your parents had to be hyper-focused on details, so they were probably hyper-focused on details all the time, even at home with you,” he said.
“Well, yes, I suppose,” I said with confusion.
Mr. Harris again looked at the bloodstain on the wall as he crossed his arms with a frown. I realized then that he actually wasn’t seeing the stain so much as he was using it as some sort of focus to gather his thoughts.
“How were they on big picture stuff? I’m not just talking about seeing patterns, because that’s part of noticing the details. I’m talking about putting those patterns together to see how it all fits together with everything else outside their area of expertise,” Mr. Harris said.
“They were rather focused on just their specialty,” I said. “They were not political people and so I don’t believe they were terribly involved with other sections unless they had to be.”
Mr. Harris nodded and said quietly, “The kind of people who see trees instead of a forest.”
Mr. Harris shook his head and flashed a friendly smile. “Sorry. Thinking out loud about something.” His smiled disappeared and again I felt his eye was studying me. “That kind of talent has some serious blind spots, but it’s still very useful and it’s one that tends to not be appreciated,” he remarked.
“I…suppose.” I wondered where he was going with this.
“Anyway, about doc. His family’s from Tanzania. Back when he was 5, his parents got promoted and that meant a move to London,” Mr. Harris said.
I resisted hiding my disappointment in the change in subject. Dave was quite right. You could see Mr. Harris thinking behind his eye. However, how he thought or what he thought was an utter mystery. Why he was so interested in my parents and their talents was a question that would remain unanswered for the time being.
“The big promotion meant more responsibility and, in his parents’ line of work, that meant a lot of travel. Doc was the oldest of three kids, and they were pretty much raised by nannies and then boarding school. Because he was the oldest, he felt responsible for the two younger sibs. Eventually all that responsibility made him just a little resentful,” Mr. Harris said. “So I don’t have to tell you that he wasn’t looking to follow in their footsteps.”
Unusual, but not unheard of. Although a child turning away from his or her destiny as an adult wasn’t common, it did happen on occassion. As the First Council was never at a loss for candidates, it never saw fit to force those who chose to leave to stay. The most that it did with respect to those who walked away was to follow-up with these people from time-to-time to make sure they did not use their knowledge in pursuit of ill-gotten mystical gains.
Although I desperately wanted to hear more about Dr. Mboto’s background, I felt I would be remiss if I didn’t bring up a salient point. “I was under the impression that it was strict policy not to share people’s backgrounds with others,” I remarked.
“Yeah, it is,” Mr. Harris allowed. “Doc gave me dispensation with you.”
“He and Sue don’t want any mention of their names in any of your reports, because then someone on the Council might figure out who he is and he’s got zero interest in dealing directly with the Council,” Mr. Harris said. “If you have to refer to either one of them, the anonymous titles of doctor and nurse have to be enough. You mention their names, they’re out of here.”
I was aghast. “He hates the Council so much that he would abandon people who need him?”
“He’s already picked his successors at the hospital in Djenné if it comes down to the worst case scenario and he’s willing to consult long-distance so no, not complete abandonment,” Mr. Harris allowed. “The thing is, none of his potential replacements have his background. Plus, in the time he’s been here, he’s gained a lot of expertise in treating Slayers. Depending on the situation, they might need some specialty medicine.”
“Slayers like Liwaza,” I commented.
“For example,” Mr. Harris agreed.
I thought about my vow to protect the health clinic and decided that Mr. Harris’s request was reasonable. “If discussion of your medical facilities is necessary, I can promise not to mention their names in the reports. They’re not Slayers. And, given the Council’s current situation, I highly doubt anyone has been checking up on either one them. I’m fairly certain the Council would assume there was no connection between your doctor and any of the Watcher families, so I’d be rather surprised if anyone showed an interest in discovering their identities.”
Mr. Harris once more studied me intently. “But you can’t promise the same for Liwaza.”
“Mr. Harris, like it or not, Liwaza is a Slayer and she is a danger in more than one sense to this village. Surely you must see that,” I pleaded. “If someone from the Council decides to follow up on my reports, they’ll see her and we’ll both be subjected to some very hard questions and disciplinary action.”
“What if I could make her disappear like I could with doc and Sue before any inspectors show? It’s not like anyone can just drop in because they happened to be in the neighborhood. One way or the other I’d know if the Council was sending someone out for a visit long before they even got here,” Mr. Harris pointed out.
“Mr. Harris, that is not sufficient and it does not address your long-term problem,” I said. “No matter what, you have an HIV-positive Slayer who is not in her right mind and, by your own admission, can become violent.”
“Without an alternative to Inverness—” he began.
I was near the end of my patience on this matter. “I will look into Inverness before deciding what to do about Liwaza.”
He took a step back and looked askance at me.
“I am not at all convinced you’ve given me a fair picture of the Highlands Facility,” I stated. “But upon reflection, if it is the snake pit you claim it is, you may be justified in your reluctance to send her there. However, I would hope that you’ve been thinking very carefully about alternatives for her care because she most certainly cannot stay here. You are putting far too many people at risk.”
Mr. Harris once more intensely studied me. “I have. The problem is I’d need to keep her close enough so me or doc can check on her regularly. There aren’t a lot of places to put her and none of them is even close to being able to deal with her. There just isn’t a whole lot of places around here that cater to the mentally ill, and what’s here is pretty much your worst nightmare. Hospices that can deal with her HIV status just aren’t set up to handle potentially violent super-powered patients. And I’d never thought I’d say this about anywhere, but Mali’s official low rate of infection isn’t helping me even find a hospice that’s close by. Plus, Slayer. Outside of Inverness, I can’t think of anyplace that can keep a Slayer if she doesn’t want to be kept, and even there Inverness has a spotty record.”
“You’re asking for the impossible,” I pointed out.
“That’s the problem, isn’t it? She needs the impossible,” Mr. Harris quietly said.
“I’ve promised you all I can on Liwaza’s situation,” I said shortly.
Mr. Harris held up a hand. “Stop right there. You’re going to be here awhile and we can talk about Liwaza later. I don’t want to get sidetracked into an argument over this and right now we’ve got to settle the doc’s situation and I need to explain why I went off on you earlier.”
I fought back a strangled groan. I could easily foresee my objective view of the situation was going to constantly crash against Mr. Harris’s guilt-ridden emotional instincts. I was not looking forward to the many, many arguments that would most certainly occur. Although Mr. Harris’s days were already numbered as the Council’s representative in Africa, I was not eager to use poor Liwaza as a weapon against him, especially given my ignorance of the Highlands Facility. I feared that our continued discussions on her situation might force my hand on the matter and I would have no choice but to use her.
I think it was my subconscious relief over the fact that Mr. Harris was willing to table the discussion of Liwaza’s future for the time being, thus avoiding yet another fight, that pushed me to focus my mind on the direction Mr. Harris wished to pursue.
“I thought the reasons for your loss of composure were abundantly clear,” I said.
“There’s more to doc’s sitch and my blowing my cool,” Mr. Harris said. “See, doc kinda defrauded the Council.”
“Pardon?” I asked.
“When I say ‘kinda,’ I mean he actually did. All that resentment? Turned into a serious hate-on for the Council. The way doc saw it, it was responsible for taking away his home in Tanzania, robbed him of his parents, and basically wrecked his entire childhood. He figured they owed him the adult life he wanted.”
“Good Lord. Did his parents teach him nothing of his responsibilities?” I asked. “It behooves all of us, as keepers of the Sacred Trust, to sacrifice for the greater good.”
“Yeah, well, tell that to a 5-year-old who got yanked half-way across the world,” Mr. Harris said. “Tell that to a little kid who needs his mommy or daddy, except neither one of them is ever there because ‘the mission’ is a hell of a lot more important than he is. That kind of crap doesn’t just leave a mark, it leaves a big ol’ gapping wound where your heart should be. If you’re lucky, you learn to live with it, but that doesn’t ever heal. Trust me. I’ve seen it before.”
“With all due respect, Mr. Harris, that is a situation all Watchers must deal with, as both children and parents,” I stiffly responded.
“Your parents didn’t do a lot of traveling, did they?” he asked.
“Did yours?” I shot back.
Mr. Harris’s sly, sarcastic smile did not put my mind at ease. “Let’s just say that neither one of us really get what that’s like and not get all judge-y. I’m not saying that doc’s a saint and I’m not saying that he was right to do what he did. In fact, I’ll go you one better and say it was a crappy thing to do. Funny thing, though. He ended up coming full circle. Only difference is that instead of giving all his medical expertise to Watchers in some special Watchers-only hospital in London, which is what he would’ve been doing if he were honest, he’s now treating Slayers and a whole lot of people who’d have a hard time getting healthcare if he wasn’t here. Guess fate has a way of catching up with you.”
I shook my head with a sarcastic smile of my own. “He signed a promissory note to join the Council as a physician in exchange for the Council paying for his medical education.”
“Bingo,” Mr. Harris said. “The second he got his degree, he reneged, grabbed his girlfriend, now fiancé, and high-tailed it back to Tanzania to a job working free health clinic circuit in the countryside, complete with long hours and a sucky salary. Doc may be a thief, but he’s a Robin Hood kind of thief who takes being a doctor very, very seriously.”
“He’s lucky the Council didn’t drag him into the courts,” I said flatly. “The Council’s long arm of retribution is justifiably famous.”
“At a guess? The old Council was used to dealing with people who screwed them over because they wanted power of the supernatural kind,” Mr. Harris responded. “Don’t bother telling me otherwise, because I’ve seen it at least once when a fired Watcher blew into Sunnydale looking to get her hands on the Glove of Mynhegon.”
“The Glove of Mynhegon?” I gasped. “I was under the impression that it had been destroyed! I remember my parents talking about it.”
“Oh, it is destroyed, but not before ex-Watcher Ms. Gwendolyn Post put it on and started playing with it,” Mr. Harris said.
“You cannot be serious,” I said. “I don’t remember hearing this story.”
“Not surprised, because right there is a Grade-A example of how the Council’s ‘long arm of retribution’ was more threat and less about the actual using of,” Mr. Harris said. “Even though the Council knew Post was bad news, all they did was fire her. No locking her up. No yanking her passport so she couldn’t leave the U.K. No keeping an eye on her to make sure she didn’t go after the glove without their resources. No warning the on-the-ground Watcher or the two Slayers in Sunnydale that she was coming, outside of an email that Giles never got. Nothing. When she showed up claming to be Faith’s new Watcher, we all believed her because no one ever told us not to trust her. Tell me another one about the Council’s ‘long arm of retribution.’”
“There are plenty of examples—” I began.
“I’m sure there are, not that you can tell by what I know,” Mr. Harris said. “As for Doc, he banked on the fact that the Council would decide he wasn’t worth the effort and he was right. There was much yelling, a few threats, and his family disowned him, but at the end of the day it all came down to nothing. The way he saw it, his family left him long before he left them and the Council never gave him anything but grief anyway. Sure, he’d never get a job anywhere in Europe, but if your goal doesn’t involve working in Europe, it’s no big.”
“Just because there were no personal consequences for him, it doesn’t mean that his family didn’t pay a heavy price,” I sniffed. “You can be very certain that the Mbotos suffered for his fraud.”
“Can’t say,” Mr. Harris said. “Like I said, he was disowned. He didn’t even know his entire family had been killed until I crossed paths with him. Lucky me, I got to break the bad news. Then I got to call London to get confirmation that they were all dead. Not missing. Not maybe a little sliver of a chance they were still alive. Dead, accounted for, and that what was left of his parents and two sibs was buried in the Council’s private cemetery.”
I fought against the welling of sympathy for Dr. Mboto in my breast. I wasn’t entirely successful and I found myself looking away. My mother was also dead and accounted for. My father was missing. I didn’t realize until just that moment that I had not yet given him up for dead and that some part of me still hoped he was alive and in hiding. Although I would be hurt to discover him whole and unharmed given that he had made no attempt to contact me or find out if I was even alive, I would much prefer finding him alive than discovering that he had passed on.
“You lost your family, too, hunh?”
I glanced at Mr. Harris, but the look of sympathy on his face was too much to bear and I again looked away. “My situation and Dr. Mboto’s situation is far from unique,” I said.
“Guess I never thought of that way.”
Now it was my turn to look askance at him. How he failed to realize that many of us had lost entire families and found ourselves alone in the world positively boggled my mind.
Mr. Harris had the good sense to look abashed. “I honestly didn’t.”
“Now you know, not that it helps anyone that you do,” I said stiffly.
He nodded. “The stiff upper lip thing. I get that.”
“Do you?” I asked archly.
“Losing everything? Wondering what the hell you’re going to do next because you’re starting all over again with nothing? That you’re looking at the future and all you see is a big black hole of uncertainty? And you’re expected to somehow hold it all together despite that? Yeah,” Mr. Harris nodded. “I get what that’s like.”
“Your family is dead, are they?” I asked with a nasty tone.
His mouth quirked, although I couldn’t say if it was meant to be an aborted smile or an aborted grimace. “They might as well be.”
Having seen the recorded interview with Tony and Jessica Harris and read the reports of same, I had to concede Mr. Harris’s point.
“I take it that Dr. Mboto didn’t take the news well,” I said.
“I got a big dose of the stiff the upper thing, so no. I’d say he didn’t,” Mr. Harris responded. “You guys from England really put the ‘repress’ right into repression, don’t you?”
I let the cheap shot go without comment. “I’m rather surprised that the Council knew where to find Dr. Mboto given the loss of our records. Considering his estranged situation and your rather heavy burden of responsibility, I must admit that I’m puzzled that Mr. Giles would send you to Tanzania to break the news instead of someone from London.”
“Unnnh, that’s not what happened,” Mr. Harris said. “In fact, I don’t think anyone on current Council even gave him a second thought, assuming anyone is left alive who remembers he exists.”
“How did you know he was the survivor of a Watcher family that had died in the First Evil’s attack?” I asked.
“I didn’t,” Mr. Harris said.
Now I was confused. “Then how on earth did the subject come up?”
“Well, this is where my going bonkers on you comes in,” Mr. Harris said. “About eight months ago, Ally and I rescued a Slayer from Malawi. She had been accused of being a witch or a demon of some kind — I’m not exactly clear on what the charges were — on account of the whole Slayer mojo thing. We had to do one of our patented grab-and-run jobs because there was a howling mob chasing us. They were a little upset, see? They were getting ready for a good ol’ fashioned murder and we stole her right out from under their noses before they got the chance.”
“Oh dear God,” I said.
“Remember what I said about overwhelmed Slayers and getting sick? Our girl, Liziuzayani, got very sick, as in malaria sick. That meant we had to stop in the middle of Nowhere, Tanzania to deal,” Mr. Harris said. “Now the thing about malaria is that it gives you some very scary hallucinations. Speaking from very personal experience, when a Slayer has scary hallucinations, people get hurt. I’ve had a hallucinating Slayer whack me over the head with a frying pan. I’ve had a hallucinating Slayer try to feed me to a demon because she thought I was the hallucination and killing me would make everything better. In this case, malaria Slayer decided me and Ally were demons and tried to Slay both of us.”
I clasped my hands behind my back in an effort to keep them from shaking. I’m very certain that I went pale. In my ignorance, I put Mr. Harris and his people in grave danger and put myself at risk. Removing the mosquito net from over my bed, my failure to wear DEET, and neglecting to take my prophylactic medications was thus revealed to be the foolhardy decisions that they truly were. I could hardly blame Mr. Harris for his extreme reaction, even though I believed at the time that he was ignorant of my peculiar circumstances.
“Of course, I took precautions,” Mr. Harris blithely continued. “I tied Liziuzayani up, but since I was lacking in the chains department I had to use rope. Mistake one. I thought I tied her up tight enough to keep her from getting loose, but I was afraid of cutting off the circulation to her hands and feet. Mistake two. Then I assumed she was more out of it than she really was because I was judging her on ‘normal human’ instead of ‘Slayer.’ That was mistake three.”
I shook my head in disbelief. “You tied her up?”
“As tight as I could,” Mr. Harris nodded. “Live and learn, thank God. Now I buy chains and padlocks when I rent a jeep or a driver so I’ve got something on hand just in case. I only wish I could carry around the ones we’ve got in the jeep and Toyota here, but that’s just too much weight to haul through the million airports or on the million trains me and Ally have to use to get around.”
I gaped at him. This was a man who allowed an insane, potentially violent Slayer run loose in his village with nothing more holding her in check than some mysterious tea brewed by Grandmother Touré. This was a man who so violently objected to the techniques used by the Highlands Facility to keep dangerous Slayers under control that he refused to send his own problem Slayer there. Yet, here he was calmly discussing the forced restraint of ill, temporarily hallucinating Slayers as if it were a matter of course.
“Anyway, she got loose. Let me just thank God again that she wasn’t trained, because we would’ve been dead. Ally held back in fighting her because she didn’t want to hurt the girl. Sadly, Liziuzayani didn’t care if she killed the two of us, so the fight was just a leeeeetle one-sided. She clocked Ally good, then she went after me,” Mr. Harris continued. “First she tried to stake me. God knows how I got out of that one, but I barely did. Then she broke my wrist. In two places. That’s when things got really out of control.”
“You mean it was possible for matters to get worse?” I asked.
“Oh, there’s always a lower place. Trust me,” Mr. Harris said with a grin. “When I got hurt, Ally’s overprotective self kicked in and she went absolutely nuts. Liziuzayani dives out the window of where we were staying and takes off through this village. Ally’s hot on her heels and hollering for her blood. There I am, on the verge of blacking out and in a whole lot of pain, chasing after the two of them yelling, ‘Ally! Don’t kill her! She’s sick!’ at the top of my lungs.
“Eventually Ally catches up with her and the two of them really get into it then. By then my yelling had sunk into Ally’s brain that we no kill-o the new Slayer-o, so she’s just going for the pain. Liziuzayani is still going for the kill. Still an uneven fight in that situation, but not as bad because now Ally’s at least willing to hurt her.
“Eventually, Ally tosses her through the front window of this house and dives in after her. Cue me thinking, ‘Oh, crap. Now we’re really in for it. I’m going to have to deal with people who’ve witnessed two super-powered chicks beating the snot out of each while I’m still fighting the urge not to scream from pain. This is going to cost me a ton of money to fix the damage and help them forget.’”
I held up a hand. “Allow me to guess the next part. This home happened to belong to Dr. Mboto, thus setting in motion the revelations of his family background and his eventual decision to join your village.”
“Close. It was where doc and Sue were staying while they did their regular visit to that village,” Mr. Harris said. “But the rest of it? Yeah.”
“Mr. Harris?” I asked. “Has anyone ever told you that you have the most extraordinary luck?”
Mr. Harris looked at me as if I had utterly lost my mind. “Luck?”
I shook my head. “Never mind.”
“Anyway, I follow them into the now-wrecked house. Ally finally lands the punch that knocks Liziuzayani out. Before I can even open my mouth, doc and Sue are shoving me aside and checking on Liziuzayani to see just how badly she was hurt. From there, they take a look at one-eyed me clutching my very broken wrist and Ally’s blood-covered face and start working to take care of us. That’s when the questions start.”
“Understandable,” I agreed.
“Doc knew something was up beyond the what he saw because of his background. Based on the questions he was asking, I knew he knew more than he was telling. We ended up going from there. Sue was the only one who was really taken by surprise. Before that Doc had managed to keep her in the dark about the Council, Slayers, and the forces-of-darkness deal by limiting her exposure to his family and by telling his family that he wasn’t serious about her.”
“He was leading a double life,” I said disapprovingly.
“No, he was setting things up so he could lead a single life that was absent anything supernatural-ish with a woman he’s in crazy love with,” Mr. Harris corrected.
I smiled, but I knew there was no humor in it. “As you said, fate does have a way of catching up with you.”
Mr. Harris inclined his head with a smile. “And don’t you forget it.”
“One thing puzzles me,” I said. “If Dr. Mboto so wished to avoid the Council, how did he come to be here?”
“Oh. The usual. It involved begging and weeping.”
“Alexandrienne does not strike me as the emotional type,” I said.
Mr. Harris nervously smiled. “Oh. No. The begging and weeping? That was me.”
I honestly had no idea how to respond to that. “Oh.”
“We’d been just about getting by on the basic First Aid before I got to experience the Slayer version of malaria. Dave had some training, but he was already settled in his gig in Dogon Country with Kavitha. Sister Ig had training, but she was here alone. I’d been able to get by in the field with what I could do. This was the first time I was in over my head. And if it can happen once…” his voice trailed off.
“It can happen again,” I finished for him.
“And again, and again, and again,” Mr. Harris added. “I’m not going to lie. Doc was willing to help with Liziuzayani’s malaria, set my wrist, and patch up Ally, but he wanted us gone ASAP. My explaining my situation and asking for his help was not exactly moving him. Sue was really the deal-maker in that.”
“She intervened on your behalf,” I said.
“Like I said. Doc’s in crazy love with her. He agreed to take some leave to come back here and do a survey. Then he’d advise me about what I needed to do to be little better prepared health- and safety-wise before heading back to his life. It had to be strictly on the QT, as in no Council involvement. I figured it was better than nothing so I took it.”
“And you all lived happily ever after,” I said.
“Took a little work, but yeah, happier for everyone,” Mr. Harris grinned. “Part of what won him over was because he was fascinated by this brave new world of multiple Slayers. Part of it was because I was the strangest Watcher he’d ever met since I didn’t fit his idea of the Council. Part of it was because he took one look at me and Sister Ig’s First-Aid style of providing healthcare and had a heart attack. After about two weeks, he stormed into my tent — I was still hutless so that’s why I was in a tent — and he read me the riot act about a whole list of things that were wrong. Then he informed me that I had been far too lucky for my own good. Once he was done beating me up, he put an offer on the table. He and Sue would stay and help, but I had to make sure that the Council didn’t know he was here and any health clinic he ran had to be open to the public, not just Slayers or whoever I had wandering around the village.”
“That’s why the clinic is open to the local population,” I said thoughtfully.
“It was a good idea,” Mr. Harris said. “The clinic, the supplies, doc’s salary, and Sue’s salary are all off the Council books because the Malian government is paying for it. The locals benefit, the Slayers benefit, the hospital in Djenné benefits, and I’ve got a real live trained doctor and nurse on staff for free. Bonus, it proves we’ve got something to contribute beyond patrolling for vampires and demons. It’s the clichéd win-win for everyone.”
“I was under the impression from Dave and Sister Ig that there is some hope that the Council would contribute to Dr. Mboto’s medical endeavors. Rather difficult in that instance to keep him free of Council entanglements,” I pointed out.
“All things being equal, the doc would prefer to keep the Council the hell out of his operation,” Mr. Harris said. “It’s just that we’re reaching the point where we need more than a temporary medical tent. We need a permanent clinic. For the good of the community, doc’s worked something out with a colleague in Djenné to pose as the supervising physician out here. If you can convince the Council to throw some money our way for a capital fund, that’s the physician they’ll be negotiating with. Doc will be the physician making himself scare in either Joe or Larry until the Council reps go away.”
I shook my head. “It seems to me that Dr. Mboto once more finds himself leading a double life.”
“I know. I also know it’s going to eventually bite him in the ass.”
Mr. Harris shrugged. “Double lives never work out. Sooner or later you’ve got to choose one or the other.”
I resisted the urge to ask Mr. Harris if he was speaking from hard-won experience. “And if he chooses to abandon you?” I asked.
“He won’t,” Mr. Harris said with certainty.
“You sound rather sure,” I remarked.
Mr. Harris grinned and his visible eye sparkled with a hidden knowledge that was frighteningly similar to the same sparkle I saw in Miss Rosenberg’s eyes. “Miss Swithin, I had him right from the start. The hard part was getting him here, but once I got him here I knew he and Sue wouldn’t be going back to Tanzania.”
“The clarity of hindsight,” I snorted.
“For someone who wasn’t even there, you sound awfully sure,” he remarked.
“Fine. How did you know he’d stay once you got him here?” I asked.
“Think about this,” Mr. Harris said. “Ally and Liziuzayani were still trading blows when doc figured out that one of them had to be a Slayer. That meant the crazy, one-eyed guy with the broken wrist ordering one of the girls not to kill the other one had to be a Watcher. Even though his past caught up to him, and even though all three of us represented his worst nightmare come true, and even though he had no reason to believe that I wouldn’t report him to the Council, his first instinct was to help.”
I raised an eyebrow. “You went on your first impression, then.”
Mr. Harris snorted. “First impressions are way overrated. You can get fooled by first impressions. Nah. That’s not it.”
“So what was this great hidden sign you saw that told you that Dr. Mboto would be your stalwart ally in the war against disease?” I asked.
Mr. Harris tapped his nose. “It’s what he did right after that. Of course his first instinct was to help. He’s a doctor through and through. If he played dumb, that wasn’t going to affect the care Liziuzayani, Ally, or me were getting. But, he started asking questions, the kind of questions that would tip off anyone in the know. If he didn’t do that, I would’ve never figured out that he knew anything about Slayers or the Council.”
“I still don’t see how that told you anything,” I said.
“Miss Swithin, I used to a big on the snap-judgment. The problem is that a lot of things can color your first impression of someone. The way they look, the fact they’re hitting on a girl you like, they remind you of someone you know, or, if you heard about them before you met them, rumors and gossip can really do a number on your perception of things,” Mr. Harris said. “Where you really learn about someone is how they react and what they do once they’re over the shock of a first impression. That’s when you find out who they really are.”
“More Hyde Park philosophy,” I muttered.
Mr. Harris wasn’t insulted, most likely because he did not understand my reference. “Maybe. Maybe not. All I can tell you is that once I started paying attention to the moments that come after, I haven’t been wrong yet about anyone.”
I studied Mr. Harris a moment before saying, “Well, I look forward to seeing this principle of yours applied to a real-life situation.”
Mr. Harris grinned. “I’ll see what I can do about giving you a practical demonstration.”