Ahhhh, they let me out of work early today for a half-day. I crawled home and fell asleep. Then I woke up and decided to post the next part.
After I post here, I plan to crawl back into bed.
I was too exhausted to beat anyone senseless for that.
The only thing that really bugs is I told a co-worker that I was going to ask for a half-day. When I went home early, said co-worker mumbled about squeaky wheels and grease. She's usually a nice sort, but I thought the comment was annoying (although it could be that my self-induced REM depravation experiment was making me irritable).
Hey, is it my fault that she never asks for comp time? The most they can tell you is "No." As it so happens, they actually didn't have a new project ready for me (proof they really didn't expect me to kick my own ass to finish the monster project), so sending me home for a half-day wasn't exactly a hardship.
Besides, 95% of the time I have no problems making a deadline within the alloted time without working over 40 to 45 hours. So when I ended up working back-to-back 50 hour weeks, they knew they screwed up on the time estimate. That, and I "lost" two days off the end of my deadline because of other people's vacation schedules.
Same thing happened to me around the same time last year, so maybe it's an annual event.
Anyway, hopefully my schedule will even out a little bit before the chaos that will take over my life at the beginning of May. Oh, goody. A few days' respite. *headdesk*
Anyway, I'll try hang on to wakefulness long enough to finish answering comments from the last part, but you might have to wait until tomorrow. I'm fadding a little fast right now. Also, I apologize if my responses to those of you I did respond to last night sounded off. I blame exhaustion for robbing me of the ability to form words in anything resembling a coherent manner. I'm usually a less weird about my responses to FB.
I'm sorry if I made anyone feel uncomfortable.
For the Scatterlings and Orphanages Africander Fiction Challenge by ludditerobot.
For all previous parts, go here.
Continued from Part 35.
“I know you don’t think this right now,” Mr. Harris said in a reassuring voice, “but you really did make the right choice.”
Needless to say, I was far less sure on that point. As Mr. Harris began to close the meeting, I felt my eyes once again drawn to the Dogon mask. My desperate imagination tormented me as I considered its feral expression. For a brief moment, I thought sure that its jaws were on the verge of opening to swallow me whole.
As the meeting adjourned, I held back. Despite Mr. Harris’s cruel threats, I thought sure I saw some room for negotiation in his more moderately phrased closing words to me. I hoped that once we were alone we could have a more rational conversation that would allow me to better plead my case.
As I silently and desperately considered various proposals, Mr. Harris quietly spoke to each of his people in turn to give last minute instructions and reassurances. Dr. Mboto and Sue double-checked the location of the elder’s hut in within Joe so they could go there straightaway without any fuss. Mr. Harris wheedled Radar into promising to take a nap to prepare for the night’s festivities. Dave was once again quietly promised that all his questions would be answered after the current situation was resolved.
Alexandrienne was the last of his people to leave. I rather doubted she noticed me hanging back since she only had eyes for Mr. Harris.
As Dave departed the hut, Alexandrienne planted herself in front of her Watcher with crossed arms and stared up into his face. Because I was standing on Mr. Harris’s blindside, I could not easily read his expression thanks to the obscuring eye patch. Alexandrienne’s expression, by contrast, was far too easily read. In it I saw a mixture of confusion, hurt, sympathy, and curiosity.
At that moment I realized just how little Alexandrienne actually knew about Mr. Harris and how much of her perception of him was based on her “little guesses” and whatever stray comments she had overheard while he was in the grip of his nightmares. She had obviously absorbed every single revelation about Mr. Harris’s past that had come to light during the meeting, and possibly even during her chat with Dave. It appeared she was revising her guesses, and perhaps even her opinions, about Mr. Harris.
Mr. Harris obviously shared my realization, because under the steady gaze of his Slayer, he thrust his hands in his pockets, hunched his shoulders, and looked down. His attitude was a perfect picture of dejection. It appeared to me that he expected Alexandrienne to repudiate her connection to him and was preparing for the rejection he thought sure was coming.
Without a word, Alexandrienne suddenly leapt forward. She flung her arms around Mr. Harris’s waist and buried her face in his chest.
This action so startled Mr. Harris that his head shot up and he stiffened. When it became clear that Alexandrienne was not about to let go, his shoulders relaxed and he looked down at his silent charge. If I had to guess at his expression, I would say that he was surprised. Slowly, and with several false starts and hands that trembled ever-so-slightly, his arms finally circled around the girl as he warmly melted into her embrace.
To be honest, dear reader, I had to look away. I found it more than a trifle sad that one of the motivating factors behind Mr. Harris’s decision to hide his past may have been that he feared being rejected by friend and acquaintance alike for it.
Alexandrienne mumbled something into Mr. Harris’s chest. Although my sensitive hearing could not pick out any individual words, I could tell that she wasn’t speaking English. I returned my gaze to the embracing pair in time to hear Mr. Harris softly sigh, “Ally…”
She looked up at him, but didn’t let go, and responded in that language that was full of vowels and soft consonants, the language I guessed to be her native Krahn.
Whatever she said prompted a sad smile out of Mr. Harris and he leaned down to chastely kiss her on the forehead. He responded in the same language in his customary stumbling way.
Alexandrienne smiled sweetly and nodded. Then she let go and tripped out the door on light feet into the sunlight.
Mr. Harris turned to watch her go. He shoved his hands in his pockets and his shoulders again slumped in a thoroughly dejected manner. I couldn’t see why that would be the case. I may not have understood a word the girl said, but even I could see that Mr. Harris’s past — at least what little of it had been revealed to her in the past few hours — mattered not one whit to the Slayer.
“You’ll have to tell her everything eventually,” I said.
Mr. Harris startled and spun wildly around to face me. I realized then that he didn’t know that I was still in his hut. How he could’ve missed that was beyond me since I hadn’t walked past him to leave. Yet it was clear from the expression on his face that he had, indeed, failed to realize that I never left.
While Mr. Harris stared at me as if puzzling out how I came to be in his hut, I added, “You’re not playing fair with that girl and you know it.”
Mr. Harris grimaced and shook his head. “What are you still doing here?” he growled.
“I wanted to talk about—” I began. I then realized that Mr. Harris was deliberately changing the subject and going on the attack. Anything, I suppose, to detract from the fact that I had witnessed a private moment between himself and Alexandrienne.
Well, then, I thought, all the more reason to make him face up to reality. It appeared that his confrontation with Dave had not been the enlightening experience that it should have been.
“Yes?” Mr. Harris prompted in an irritated manner.
I delicately coughed. “Are you planning to stay in Africa for the rest of your life?”
“What does that have to do with anything?” he demanded shortly as he moved to rearrange the chairs to better open up what little floor space there was in his cluttered hut.
“Not that it’ll help you much if you do choose to make this place your permanent home,” I continued.
“If you’ve got a point, it’s somewhere to my left because I’m not seeing it,” Mr. Harris said as he grumpily set a chair down behind his desk.
I sniffed. “Perhaps you’ve failed to notice, but you are a person of some import.”
Mr. Harris straightened up and fixed me with a confused frown.
I shrugged. “Or perhaps you have failed to notice since you are here and not in London, nor in regular contact with junior Watchers.”
Mr. Harris rolled his eye and snorted as he returned to tidying his hut. “Stop it. Kissing ass to get what you want doesn’t suit you at all.”
I lurched forward and landed with my hands firmly planted on his desk. Mr. Harris startled and he turned his full attention to me. The darkened expression on his face bore me no good will.
“Let me make one thing clear, Mr. Harris,” I said in an even voice. “I don’t much care what you think of me on a personal level, provided we can work together with mutual professional respect. It is clear to me, however, that the time is coming when you will pay, and pay dearly, for your layers of deceit and half-truths regarding yourself and Sunnydale.”
Mr. Harris crossed his arms and glowered. “I suggest you get out. Now.”
His curt dismissal, as well as his earlier rudeness to myself, gave me the backbone to stand up, look him in the eye, and say, “No.”
Mr. Harris’s visible eyebrow rose, but he didn’t respond. I was struck by the notion that he seemed to be fighting a smile.
How odd, I remember thinking at the time, he appears to almost enjoy my company when we cross words.
“I don’t care if your lies come back to haunt you. Some might call it just desserts for your failure to be honest with your allies,” I said. “However, did you never consider that the long-hidden truth about yourself might not just harm you, but could also harm the people around you once it comes to light?”
Mr. Harris’s reaction was not at all what I expected. He inhaled sharply and asked, “What did you find out?”
I thought the question odd. I merely dismissed his question as one that was simply poorly worded and assumed that he meant to ask, “What do you know?”
I should have known better.
My excuse is that I was missing some key information, information that Mr. Harris and only a few select others suspected at the time about Sunnydale and First Evil’s true intentions when it made its first foray in modern history to reclaim this world.
It is frightening to realize that Mr. Harris’s and Miss Rosenberg’s worst-case fears turned out to have the stuff of prescience. The pair of them were born there, and their suppositions and guesses — which began as frightened whispers shared only between them — about the emerging situation brought about by the collapse of Sunnydale were invariably right. That any of us were shocked that they were right when the whole business began to unfold is a testament to our willful blindness and our unwillingness to listen to them.
A desperate plan to turn all Potentials into Slayers in case the First Evil overwhelmed the tiny fighting force left in Sunnydale. The last surviving Guardian bent on revenge against the Council who was more than willing to take advantage of the chaos to fulfill her life’s ambition. A mystical scythe of indeterminate origin and great power placed in Miss Rosenberg’s hands that severed her inborn dark connections to Sunnydale. Mr. Harris’s own mystical connection to a Slayer that chained him to the side of light so thoroughly that it utterly obliterated his inborn pull to the First Evil’s side.
A chain of unrelated events. A series of coincidences. These are the saving graces of Mr. Harris and Miss Rosenberg. They were spared the fate of their fellow townsfolk simply because they were in the right place — on top of a dying Hellmouth — at the right time — when a spell was cast that did more than anyone could have ever guessed or imagined.
Or perhaps, on reflection, it was not a coincidence at all, but merely a culmination of everything they had done for 7 long years. Neither one would have been there if they didn’t know or weren’t willing to do something about the darkness around them. Maybe there was someone or something on the side of the light that took pity and spared them from enslavement to the vilest evil as a reward for their sacrifices. Although I am sure there were dark days and darker nights when things were at their worst that both Miss Rosenberg and Mr. Harris viewed such pity — if pity from a higher power was indeed responsible — as no reward at all.
“From beneath you it devours,” indeed. There’s a certain droll irony in the fact that this phrase uttered repeatedly by the First Evil and its minions during the final days of Sunnydale prompted these veterans of the good fight to fixate on the restless Hellmouth beneath their feet, instead of on the normal, everyday people around them.
I only mention these things simply because Mr. Harris’s question was the first indication I had that there was a chilling reason behind him hiding in plain sight. Although what he hoped to accomplish — despite the fact that both he and Miss Rosenberg were at the time in fear for their immortal souls — by steadfastly and selfishly refusing to admit the potential danger to himself and others, I cannot even begin to guess.
I also mention this because, as you will see, my own activities with the Sunnydale Project were a very strong factor — if not the key consideration — in Mr. Harris’s decision to derail Mr. Giles’s plans for me and enmesh me in his schemes until his mentor finally saw the light.
But that comes much later. For now, let us return to Mr. Harris’s shocked question of, “What did you find out?”
“I know quite a few things about you. I have, after all, reviewed the Council’s personnel files on you before coming here,” I answered. “I understand your reluctance to make your history common knowledge, but there is positively no excuse for keeping your closest allies, not to mention your own Slayer, completely in the dark.”
Mr. Harris released an irritated breath through his nose. He was clearly displeased with my answer.
“You may find this difficult to believe, Mr. Harris, but you’re lucky that I’m willing to respect your wishes and keep your history a private matter,” I said.
This earned me a rather bemused look.
I found his reaction irritating. “As I said before, you are a person of import, not just because of your personal connections to people occupying the highest levels of power within the Council, but because of who you are.”
Mr. Harris began to giggle at this.
“You’re not taking me seriously,” I snapped.
Mr. Harris coughed in an effort to stop. “Kinda hard to. You’re really piling it on kind of thick there.”
I leaned forward and again firmly braced myself against the top of his desk. “Believe what you wish, but I find it hard to believe that one such as yourself can’t see that you are a prominent member of the Council. Leaving aside your current role as leader of our African efforts—”
“You mean the Council’s only official Watcher permanently stationed in Africa because no one wants to come here when there are so many easier jobs available,” Mr. Harris dismissed.
I huffed an irritated breath. “You are also a veteran of the battle against the First Evil. You were among those that decided to empower all Potentials. You have fought demons for more than 8 years, which makes you one of the longest-lived demon fighters in the Council’s employ and one of the world’s leading experts on fighting demons. You have more experience with Slayers than just about anyone alive. You have lived almost your entire life on top of the most active Hellmouth in the world and were among those who closed it once and for all.”
I admit that I enjoyed the shocked look on his face far too much. One would think that no one had spelled this out to him before.
The funny thing about that, of course, is that no one ever had.
I straightened up and crossed my arms. “Whether you like it or not, Mr. Harris, you are an important person. And because of who you are, there will always be people who will put you on a pedestal and there will always be people who will tear you down. You’ll be hard-pressed to find anyone in our circle who’ll be willing to treat you like a human being.”
Mr. Harris stared at me as if he couldn’t quite believe what he was hearing.
“I am compelled to point out, not for your benefit, but for the benefit of Dave, Radar, Alexandrienne, and all the people closest to you, that both your admirers and your detractors will eventually expose you,” I said. “If you are lucky, it will be an admirer sharing all the wonderful things they’ve heard about you and chatting up all the wonderful things you’ve done. If you are unlucky, it’ll be a detractor who is more than eager to poison your well and whisper nasty rumors in the ears of your compatriots.”
Mr. Harris’s expression became thoughtful and he studied my face. “What are you trying to tell me, Miss Swithin?”
“That if you think you’re safe as long as you stay here, you best think again,” I said. “Sooner or later, the Council will send Watchers to work with your Slayers. All of those Watchers, I might add, will know who you are and your history. Do you honestly believe you can order them to remain silent and that all of them will obey? Even if they do all try to comply with your wishes, sooner or later something will slip. Need I point out that I inadvertently mentioned some things in passing to Dave, things you may not want to him to know, before you had a chance to tell me that you did not want me to discuss Sunnydale with anyone?”
Mr. Harris studied me a moment. “For the heck of it, let’s say that you maybe have a point and that I’m being Avoid-y Man,” he grudgingly conceded. “But also for the heck of it, let’s say there’s a big ol’ Sunnydale-shaped minefield out there that I’ve got no idea how to navigate. What do you expect me to do? And if I don’t do it, what’s your blackmail to try to make me do what you want?”
“I’m not planning to blackmail you,” I snapped. “I am trying to appeal to whatever passes for your sense of fairness and honesty.”
Mr. Harris shook his head and grumbled, “Couldn’t resist taking that shot, could you? You’ve got a lot of nerve.”
“I’ve got nerve?” I asked. “You’re the one putting people at risk with your secrets. I can’t imagine how Alexandrienne will react when she finds out.”
Mr. Harris bristled. “Leave her out of this,” he evilly hissed through his teeth.
“I can’t,” I said. “She’s your bloody Slayer and, according to her and yourself, you share a peculiar connection that’s outside of the Council’s past experience. The two of you are bound together, whether you like it or not. How do you think that girl will react upon hearing that you’ve consistently lied to her about who you fundamentally are?”
Mr. Harris angrily responded, “I’ve never lied to Ally.”
“But you haven’t told her the truth, either,” I pointed out. “When she hears everything, and she will if she stays in your company long enough, I cannot imagine that she’ll take it well.”
Mr. Harris glowered at me, but he didn’t interrupt.
“The longer these secrets fester, the worse her reaction is going to be when she finally does hear enough to start adding things up. Justifiably so, I might add,” I said. “It would be better if it came directly from you. It would be better for you to tell her sooner rather than later.”
Mr. Harris looked away. “Her reaction will be,” he paused to find the right word, “tricky. Because—”
“Because she’d be grateful,” I finished for him. It appeared that Mr. Harris’s reasons for hiding from his own Slayer were more complex that I realized.
He still didn’t look at me, but he did nod his agreement with my characterization.
“Do you honestly believe protecting her from the truth, especially when you know I’m right, is going to improve her tricky reaction?” I asked.
Mr. Harris shook his head with a frown and he looked at me. “Why the hell do you even care about this?”
A rather good question. I wasn’t entirely sure I knew the answer myself. However, it seemed an answer was called for. I took a breath and answered as honestly as I dared. “She may be a Slayer, but she’s also a girl. I watched the two of you interact just now and it’s clear to me that she trusts you and that you mean everything to her. I may not be overly fond of the girl, but she doesn’t deserve to have her heart broken because her trust has been betrayed and she doesn’t deserve having the man she trusts the most in the world be the one responsible for that.”
Mr. Harris winced. “Lather, rinse, repeat,” he muttered.
“Pardon?” I asked.
He shook his head and once more studied me. “I really hate the fact you’ve got a point.”
I blinked. As unbelievable to me as it was at the time, it appeared that I had managed to turn Mr. Harris around on a matter in which he had very strong opinions.
He ran a hand through his hair with a sigh. “I will tell her. I’ve been planning to…no that’s not true. I had a vague idea that maybe I should be a little better with the sharing, but no time seemed good.”
“I suspect that no time will ever seem like a good time,” I dryly remarked.
“I’ll get to it. Soon. After this whole mess. I promise,” Mr. Harris said with another sigh.
“I have no idea why you’re promising me,” I pointed out. “It’s ultimately not my concern.”
Mr. Harris seemed mildly amused. “Yet you’ve made it your concern.”
I had no idea how to respond to that.
Mr. Harris crossed his arms and leaned back. His characteristic moodiness had won out and he seemed to be regarding me in a most friendly manner. “Now, I know you didn’t hang around just to lay into me about Sunnydale and my not being a sharing-type guy. So spill.”
Dear reader, I confess that this about-face confounded me. I had just finished a heated discussion with Mr. Harris, one that should have made him less willing to listen to me. Yet, I had the distinct feeling that our conversation had precisely the opposite affect. I would have no better time to press my case.
“I really think it’s a very bad idea that I go to Joe and I formally request that I stay out of the fighting and that you assign someone else to serve as Maria’s backup,” I said in a rush.
I was apparently wrong. “Why not?”
Mr. Harris huffed a breath. “Because it’s kinda my fault you have to be seen holding a stake.”
“Since you’re the one making the decision that I should, I’m hard-pressed to determine how it isn’t your fault,” I said.
Mr. Harris burst out laughing.
“This isn’t funny,” I snapped.
“Sorry, sorry,” Mr. Harris wheezed. “It’s just the bluntness works for you.”
“Yes. It’s winning me my heart’s desire even as I speak,” I sarcastically countered.
Mr. Harris brought his laughter under control, but his broad grin betrayed sheer delight in this change in our relations. “I should warn you. I’ve got a weakness for women with fast, snake-y tongues.”
I was utterly appalled by the double-entendre. “Mr. Harris!” I exclaimed.
He waved his hands at me as he fought off another round of laughter. When he could speak without guffawing, he said, “Totally didn’t mean for it sound like it did. I meant that I like dealing with people who say what they mean, even if it means I get cut off at the knees.”
“You could have just said that,” I grumbled.
“What I mean about it being my fault that you’ve got to be seen defending Joe is because I’ve been going around to all the villages to tell them you were coming,” Mr. Harris finally explained.
I was utterly flabbergasted. “When did you do this?” I asked.
“After I got news from Giles that you were coming,” Mr. Harris good-naturedly replied. “See, I was planning on giving you the grand tour so you could meet everyone in all the villages. I did a little groundwork to let people know that the great and good Council was sending one of its top-notch people down from London to take a look at work we were doing and to see that the locals were friendly and open to helping the Council with whatever it needed.”
My heart sank. “Oh, my. I think you’ve overstated my importance.”
“Well, I wanted everyone to go all out to impress you,” Mr. Harris said. “They’d treat you like gold anyway because you’re my ‘honored guest.’ I just wanted a little extra spit-shine on the gold.”
“And because you’ve built me up and tied me very closely to the great and good Watcher’s Council in London, I must be seen as great and good no matter what the cost,” I numbly said.
Mr. Harris deliberately responded, “By fighting to protect, preserve, and serve the One, for it is in so doing that the world may live.”
If I needed evidence that Mr. Harris had actually taken the Final Oath, I need not look any further. I thought quoting the penultimate line of that ancient statement of faith — the very line that enshrined our raison d'être — was rather dirty pool on his part. It was clearly a bid to make me feel guilty about my attempt to shirk what he perceived as my duty.
His moment of seriousness at an end, Mr. Harris reverted back to his easy mood. “Of course, ‘the One’ in this case is a village we call Joe. And, hey, you never know. There could be some kid in that village that really will save the world by finding a cure for AIDS when they grow up. So it still works, even if there’s way more than one Slayer dusting vampires these days.”
Not only did Mr. Harris fight dirty, he was a cockeyed optimist. I thought it to be a most dangerous combination. In my experience, his sort tend to beat you senseless while insisting they're doing it for the greater good.
As I glared at him for his presumption, a thought struck me. It was such an obvious way out, that I wondered why I hadn’t thought of it before. “I could stay here!” I blurted.
“Stay where?” Mr. Harris asked.
“Here, in the village!” I was rather pleased with myself.
“You can tell the villagers in Joe that I was unaccountably delayed and was unable to join you,” I said with a light air.
“That way,” I continued, blithely unaware that Mr. Harris looked distinctly uncomfortable with my idea, “you will not suffer a loss of face and you will not have to concern yourself with my incompetent fighting skills.”
“Nnnnnnooooooot such a great idea,” Mr. Harris slowly said.
I deflated. “Why not? You said yourself that no vampire or demon can cross Grandmother Touré’s wards and survive.”
“But humans can,” Mr. Harris said.
I had a very, very bad feeling about this. “You just said that all of your opponents are pinned down outside of Joe,” I desperately said. “You said it during the meeting. You held up a fist to illustrate they were all there. You even said they were trapped in a force field powered by shaman magic!”
“About that—” Mr. Harris began.
“Are you telling me that all of your opponents are not caught in your trap?” I demanded.
“All the super-powered baddies are.” He cringed slightly and finally admitted, “We’re not sure that all of the humans are.”
Mr. Harris attempted to explain. “Things have been going very, very bad for the other guys. Bad enough that some of the humans have decided that maybe it was time to cut bait and run back to Gao. The humans figured out pretty quickly that we won’t kill them, but they’re really afraid that we’ll capture them and turn them over to gendarme with evidence that they’ve been involved in human trafficking. It’s a charge that’ll stick good enough to get them arrested and, because the Malian government is trying to make a point about cracking down on human trafficking, they’re in for some heavy prison sentences if they’re convicted.”
“What does this have to do with—” I began.
“Getting to that,” Mr. Harris interrupted. “Because they know we won’t kill them on sight, it’s kind of occurred to me that some of the hardcore human true believers will use that to sneak away, circle back, and attack this village. They already know that none of the Slayers are actually here. They may think they’re scattered all over the place and they may not know exactly where the Slayers actually are, but they know where they’re not. That’s why I decided to evacuate the village. I didn’t want to take a chance. These are people who were feeding refugees to their vampire buddies without batting an eye. Can you imagine what they’d do if they got their hands on Grandma? Or Ig? Or Bunmi’s husband or son? I don’t even want to think about it.”
My shoulders slumped. “You left yourself vulnerable. In your rush to prove to your neighbors that you could adequately protect them, you left your own village open to attack.”
Mr. Harris rocked a hand. “Yes and no. The way I’ve got it set up, the most they can do is property damage. Everything here can be rebuilt and replaced. It’ll be a pain if we have to do it, but the other villages will absorb all of us until we can rebuild.”
“And because you built up my résumé with your neighbors, you couldn’t evacuate me with your noncombatants and Liwaza because it would raise too many question. You, me, and by extension the Council, would lose credibility in the eyes of the local population if it became known that I was in the area and not fighting alongside your people,” I said with defeated realization.
Mr. Harris sympathetically nodded. “Exactly.”
My shoulders slumped lower. “Oh, this is a fine mess you’ve got me into here.”
Mr. Harris gave me a reassuring smile. “Miss Swithin, I promise you. No matter what happens, you’ll be completely safe as long as you stay in Joe. At no point are you going to be completely alone. You’ve got my word on that.”
I sighed. “A boring night you said.”
“Probably a boring night,” Mr. Harris corrected. “I can’t actually promise you a boring night.”
I frowned in confusion. “But you can guarantee my safety.”
“Yes,” Mr. Harris firmly said.
Rather odd, I thought. But then again, he was leaving me in the company of a Slayer in the middle of a village that was surrounded by Slayers and Watchers with field experience fighting these particular enemies. Perhaps his promise was not as odd as it appeared at first glance.
“Look, why don’t you rest up for tonight?” Mr. Harris sympathetically offered. “It’s going to be a pretty long one, even for you and Maria.”
I knew that I had been handily beaten. “Yes. Of course. Thank you, Mr. Harris.”
As I turned to go, Mr. Harris called out behind me. “Miss Swithin?”
I turned to face him. “Yes, Mr. Harris?” I wearily asked.
To my surprise, this imposing man — this man who had managed to bully, bribe, and finally convince me that it was in my best interests to stand with a stake dangerously close to a raging battle — looked a little lost. If I didn’t know any better, I’d think he had shrunk in size.
“I really am sorry about this,” Mr. Harris assured me quietly. “You have no idea how sorry I really am.”
I answered him in a tired voice. “But you don’t have a choice in the matter.”
He startled. “What? No. Oh, no. There are choices.” He then sadly smiled. “The problem is that all the choices we’ve got really suck.”TBC...