For all previous parts, go here.
Continued from Part 39.
Knowing that I was vanquished, I stopped fighting before we reached the last house at the edge of the village.
My fate was now firmly in Mr. Harris’s hands. If his harsh attitude with respect to myself was anything to go by, I knew that he was not inclined to be gentle with me.
I didn’t leave the village by the way in which I entered. Instead, I was carried along in a slightly different direction. The reason for this soon became abundantly clear when I saw that the white Toyota was indeed present. It had been parked in such a way that the huts had blocked the sight of it from our approach in the jeep.
A Slayer ran ahead and opened the back, no doubt so I could be forced into the interior.
Behind me, Dr. Mboto sharply barked an order and the Slayers halted just short of the runabout.
“Look at me,” Dr. Mboto ordered none-to-gently.
As the Slayers backed off to allow Dr. Mboto to reach me, I attempted to reason with him. “Surely you can see that Mr. Harris has acted immorally.”
Dr. Mboto’s touch as he checked me for broken bones and other, lesser injuries was surprisingly gentle in contrast with his harsh words. “You’ve got quite a lot of nerve accusing others of immorality.”
“Nerve?” I asked as I stepped back from him. The Slayers immediately closed in and I froze for fear of provoking them.
Dr. Mboto barked another word in their barbaric argot and stopped them before they laid hold of me. The threat of an immediate physical confrontation now stifled, he turned to me. “Yes, nerve. You lot have no compunctions about sending young girls out to die year after year after year. When you finally, at long last, have to wear their shoes, you’re more than content to hide behind your bloodline while others carry the burden.”
I began to laugh, partially in anger, partially out of sheer nervousness. “I have nerve? At least I fulfilled my familial obligations and remained to do my bit for the good fight — a bit that I had trained for my entire life. I did not defraud the Council and then run away to the ends of the earth when it came my time to repay it for my education.”
Dr. Mboto angrily turned away to dig through his medical kit for items to clean my cuts and scrapes. When he again turned to face me, his expression was composed, although his eyes glittered with dangerous fury over the fact that I had thrown his failings back in his face.
“It appears, dear lady,” he said as he stepped forward, “that despite my best efforts I am repaying the Council, although not in the way they intended, thank God. Now hold still so I can clean you up, or would you much prefer to let your Slayer healing take care of the matter on its own?”
Since I wasn’t entirely sure how long it would take for my cuts and scrapes to heal, and because I was not willing to endure the long ride back to the village as I waited to find out, I indicated that I would much prefer Dr. Mboto to tend to me.
The good doctor’s surprisingly gentle hands dabbed at the cuts and scrapes on my exposed skin with alcohol swabs and iodine, although there was nothing he could do about the sting of his chemical tools.
The sting of his words, however, were another matter, and that he applied both liberally and unapologetically. “If it were up to me, I’d ship you back to London tonight and let the Council deal with you. You’d find out in rather short order whom they believe to be the greater thief between the two of us.”
I was weary of Dr. Mboto’s non-stop accusations against my character. “Whether Mr. Harris sends me back today or tomorrow, it doesn’t much matter, does it? It will still come down to the same thing. An ignorant girl may have the choice. I have no illusions that I’ll be afforded the same consideration.”
“In my opinion, you shouldn’t be,” Dr. Mboto snorted.
“Breeding will show,” I muttered.
Dr. Mboto’s eyes narrowed. “I’ve seen too many people that haven’t been blessed with Slayer power step forward to serve as Watchers. No bloodline. No sacred trust. Very little previous experience with our world. They show up in the village just the same and are willing to do what’s needed, even though they know there’s a cost. What’s your excuse?”
As Dr. Mboto returned the iodine and alcohol swabs to his kit and began rummaging around in it for gauze pads and medical tape, a thought occurred to me. “Mr. Harris shamed you into joining his cause, didn’t he?”
Dr. Mboto paused a moment at that. Then he began pulling out what he needed to bandage me. “If he did, what of it?”
Dr. Mboto was in a talkative mood, no doubt because he was gloating over the fact that he’d helped bring a full Council member low. Perhaps he might reveal a way for me get around Mr. Harris. Perhaps he might even give me clues as to how I might reason with my implacable foe. If I could discern where Dr. Mboto failed, I’d be able to arm myself against the same tactics.
“What did Mr. Harris say to you that caused this change of heart?” I asked.
Dr. Mboto began affixing the gauze pads to the worst of my injuries and taping them in place. He was silent for a little while as he did this, perhaps thinking through his response. Just when I thought that the good doctor wouldn’t answer me at all, he did just that.
“He brought me to Mali, showed me around his squatters’ tent town, and introduced me to the girls,” Dr. Mboto said. “Then he asked me for advice on how to improve medical care. He had some rather…legitimate concerns on that front. All he had was first aid basics that he’d picked up over the years, but was simply at a loss about what he needed to do beyond that.”
I recalled Mr. Harris’s own words as he described this seduction of Dr. Mboto. 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.
“And that’s it?” I asked aloud. “All he did was give you a guided tour and introduce you to some Slayers? Are you telling me that he didn’t directly ask you to do more than simply advise him?”
Dr. Mboto finished his work and regarded me with a raised eyebrow. “Sometimes, Miss Swithin, a situation speaks for itself and no words are necessary at all.”
“And what does my present situation tell you?”
He replaced the tools of his trade in his medical kit and said, “Harris has a rather different notion about what to do with you, but then again he strikes me rather more lenient than most would be in similar circumstances.”
“Lenient,” I deadpanned. “This to you is lenient?”
“You’re not in chains, are you?” the doctor asked. “I believe that says quite a lot.”
“He doesn’t have me in chains, because he doesn’t need to with an army of Slayers willing to kill for him.”
Dr. Mboto gave his head a shake. “I’ll pretend that I didn’t hear that.”
“Afraid?” I sneered.
“Amused,” he corrected. “But I suggest that you not repeat the accusation in front of any Slayer with a good grasp of English. If you do, it would be quite a race to see who’d make you pay for saying it, and I highly doubt that there’s anything that Harris could say or do to stop them. They take his honor very seriously, despite his best efforts to discourage them, and I have no doubt they’d defend it if they thought you were insulting him. I don’t relish piecing together whatever would be left of you by the time they were done.”
My chin trembled with the urge to start crying. “There never were any Gao vampires,” I said in a voice full of unshed tears.
Dr. Mboto looked at me with smile. “Oh, but there were. Everything that was said earlier today about the matter was absolutely true, with one or two exceptions.”
“Exceptions,” I repeated in a whisper.
“To our knowledge the entire attacking force of vampires, with one sole exception, were wiped out the before your arrival in the village,” Dr. Mboto said.
I recalled how, on my first day in Mr. Harris’s village, that both Mr. Harris and Dave had arrived in a disheveled and injured state and had clearly borne the signs that they had been fighting. Their conditions were such that I had taken Dave for being nothing more than a disreputable local.
“True, we did miss the two in Djenné, and it was only through sheer luck that your party stumbled across them.” Dr. Mboto snapped a nod. “Thanks to Ally — and your actions tonight — our problems have been solved rather neatly.”
My shoulders slumped. “My actions tonight,” I murmured.
“The vampire you just staked was the last of them,” Dr. Mboto said with an angelic smile.
“The human helpers?” I asked as my shoulders slumped lower.
“Those that didn’t run off were captured. I believe they were delivered to the authorities in Djenné earlier today surrounded by Slayer guards and with enough evidence — gathered by Miri and Jamina over weeks of painstaking detective work — to convict them of charges related to human trafficking and murder.” He shook his head. “They even managed to find the mass grave of refugees the vampires left behind. Naturally, the authorities in Djenné will be taking full credit for the capture of these most notorious mass murders, but what can one do?” The doctor shrugged with a grin. “It would look rather suspect if it became known that such a vicious gang were taken down by a group of tiny girls and a handful of adults with no civilian law enforcement or official military background, wouldn’t it?”
I placed my head in my hands to prevent the tears from flowing. All’s well that ends well, with the exception of myself, I thought. The heroes have not only the won the day, but had clearly solidified their position and importance to the community at large before I ever stepped foot in Mr. Harris’s blasted village.
If the Council hoped to ever gain control of the situation in Mali, they would be forced to deal with Mr. Harris on the man’s own terms. The local population, not to mention the Slayer population, wouldn’t have it otherwise.
As for me, my ultimate fate was murky at best. Dr. Mboto indicated that Mr. Harris had plans of his own for myself, and no doubt those plans were tied very closely to me being a Slayer. How he had discovered my secret and had executed such an elaborate plan in such a short span of time afterwards was beyond my comprehension to grasp. The only thread of hope I had was that he hadn’t killed me — although he came rather close to witnessing my death at the hands of his vampiric proxy.
“How is she, doc?”
Speak of the devil, I thought. At the time, I meant it literally.
“Beaten around the edges, but she’ll heal. By this time tomorrow, she’ll look as if she never held a stake,” Dr. Mboto reported.
Mr. Harris finally made it to Dr. Mboto’s side and he appraisingly scanned me with his judgmental and all-seeing eye. “Good.”
I swallowed out of fear and began to shake.
“Hey, it’s okay. No one’s going to hurt you.” Mr. Harris reached out a hand to me as he said this.
Although I now know that this is a reflex of his when trying to comfort or calm someone down, I didn’t at the time. I rather badly misinterpreted his intentions and I shied away, but I was too frightened, overwhelmed, and exhausted to do more than that. Mr. Harris’s hand froze in mid-air for a beat before he let it drop.
“We’re not going to hurt you,” he repeated again. “We’re just taking you back to the village, okay?” Mr. Harris was attempting to use his voice to soothe me, but I was not comforted.
I instead felt an irrational spike of anger in response.
“We’re going to give you a little time to heal, get some food and water in you, and let you sleep off the stress,” Mr. Harris smoothly continued. “I promise we’ll talk about all of this tomorrow. It’ll be all cards on the table, okay?”
The sheer solicitousness of his tone and concern, especially in light of his unmitigated gall in placing me in harm’s way to ensure that I would be fully unmasked and left without any recourse, was more than I could stand. Out of sheer fury, I spit in his face.
The reaction was immediate. Slayers began closing in on all sides and hands were laid upon my person.
Mr. Harris’s sharp voice broke through the chaos. “Stop!”
The girls stopped pressing against me, but the hands that had taken hold of me did not let go. I was jostled and nearly knocked off my feet as their grips tightened and their hands pulled at me. I thought sure they would pull me apart.
As Mr. Harris wiped the spittle away from his cheek, he added in a softer tone, “Please.”
The hands released me, but the Slayers didn’t back off.
“You’re pissed, I get that,” Mr. Harris said to me. “Hell, in your position, I’d be pissed, too.”
I at glared him. “At least answer me this much before you drag me off to my fate. What gave me away?”
Mr. Harris blinked and his mouth twitched as he fought back a smile. “Everything.”
I’m fairly certain my mouth dropped open. “You’ve been having me watched since I landed in this Godforsaken country, haven’t you,” I accused. “How many spies do you have in Bamako? Was it the diplomatic liaison? Workers at the Hotel Mande? Did you have Alexandrienne and Radar tailing me from the start?”
Now Mr. Harris’s jaw dropped. “Wait. You honestly think that between a non-stop fight with a gang of pissed-off vampires and me running all over hell and creation to drive their human backup out into the open that I actually had time to come up with a plan like this in something like three days? Do I look like Superman?”
The import of his words slammed into me and all I could do was stare.
“Miss Swithin, think about this,” Mr. Harris said. “You live in England. You’re in the Devon Coven’s backyard. What makes you think that they didn’t spot you about 2.5 seconds after you made Slayer?”
My heart dropped. No, I thought, he had to be lying. He just had to be. That’s when I realized that I had the key to my own salvation in the form of Mr. Harris’s Achilles heel.
“I’m certain you’d know all about that. In fact, I’d be more than happy to share everything you do know about my—”
Mr. Harris so swiftly closed the space between us that I barely registered the time between when he started to move and the feel of his hot breath on my forehead. We were quite literally chest-to-chest and I had to strain to lean back my head so I could have a view of his whole face, instead of close-up view of his chin.
“Finish that sentence,” he said quietly, “and I’ll not only tell the girls to gag you and chain you up, I will personally shove you in a lead-lined box and ship you back to London by slow freight. Tonight. Then, I’ll call Giles and he’ll make sure that you not only get the biggest welcome home party anyone has ever seen, he’ll very conveniently have evidence right on hand that your good buddy Roger Wyndham-Pryce not only knew you were a Slayer, but also had a deal with you where you work for him on the side as his personal enforcer.”
My heart stopped. Oddly enough, the threat of sending me back to London in disgrace wasn’t the part of Mr. Harris’s threat that terrified me. It was the thought that Mr. Harris was telling the truth: that Mr. Wyndham-Pryce knew what I was all along and had plans to use me for more than just discrediting Mr. Harris and, by extension, everyone associated with him.
I had to be honest with myself. If Mr. Wyndham-Pryce were aware of my peculiar circumstances, he would have ample blackmail material to use against me because of my hand in bringing Mr. Harris low. It wasn’t inconceivable to me that he might use it force me into becoming his “personal enforcer,” as Mr. Harris so charmingly put it. After all, he had very efficiently bullied me into coming to Africa and going along with his plans for Mr. Harris and his Malian allies, despite my strenuous objections.
Mr. Harris nastily smiled. “Eva — May I call you Eva? Ah, the hell with it. Miss Swithin is too much work, so Eva it is.” His smile broadened. “Eva? Your problem is that you made the wrong friend. Now me? I don’t care who you hang with, mostly because I don’t give a crap about Council politics. But Giles cares. He cares very, very much.”
“Mr. Wyndham-Pryce didn’t leave me any choice,” I said in a misguided attempt to defend myself. “I had to—”
“Bullshit. You had a choice. You had several choices. You could have told Pryce to shove it and walked. You could’ve quit the Council. You could’ve knocked on Giles’s door and dropped a dime. You just didn’t have the balls to do any of it,” Mr. Harris interrupted.
I foolishly pushed ahead with my defense. “You have no idea how powerful the Wyndham-Pryce family is.”
Mr. Harris raised an eyebrow. “Funny. I would’ve thought that you of all people would’ve known just how powerful my family is.”
I took the cheap shot that was presented to me. “And just what sort of power does your alcohol-soaked relations have? The radar-like ability to find a hidden bottle if they get within a 100 paces of it?”
His lips thinned into a bloodless, white line as the barb struck home. I didn’t have much time to enjoy my victory. Mr. Harris kept his eye fixed on me as he suddenly barked a command in the barbaric yawp of tlhIngan Hol. Multiple hands once more took hold of me and I was dragged backwards to the Toyota.
The last thing I saw as I was shoved into the interior followed by enough Slayers to ensure that I couldn’t escape my fate was Mr. Harris. He stood at attention and impassively watched with no expression on his face as his people swept me onward into an increasingly bleak future.
The interminable ride back to Mr. Harris’s village was miserable, crowded, and hot. Outside the rain continued in fits and starts, which lent the interior of the Toyota a humid air.
Although the 10 or so Slayers riding in back with me were no longer physically holding me down, their glittering eyes didn’t leave my person for one moment. Any twitch I made in an effort to get more comfortable sent an unmistakable frisson of tension among my guards.
I had no choice but to meekly submit. Trained Slayers who had been tried and tested on the field of battle surrounded me. There was no hope of escape here, and even if there were, where would I go? It was night and I was as-yet woefully unfamiliar with Mr. Harris’s territory. What glimpses I could get of the outdoors between the press of bodies was smothered in darkness. There was not even a hint of civilization anywhere along our rocky road.
All I could do was bide my time, watch, and hope that Mr. Harris and his people would underestimate me and my desperation, thereby giving me an opening to leg it.
In one sense, I felt like I spent an eternity in the Toyota. Yet, in another sense, it seemed that we pulled into Mr. Harris’s disappointingly undisturbed village in a matter of minutes.
The Slayers tumbled out first. Just as I recovered my wits and began calculating my chances for escape, several girls clambered back in to bodily drag me into the open. After making sure I remained upright once my feet hit the ground, they tightened their grips on me and did not ease the pressure for a moment.
The jeep pulled in behind us, bathing us in the brightness of the headlights. A shadow emerged from the passenger side and was quickly joined by second that had vaulted over the side of the jeep’s back. The two shadows moved into the light revealing Mr. Harris and the ever-present Alexandrienne by his side.
The other passengers and Dave, who had once more taken on the role of chauffer, spilled out of the jeep and pooled around the tableau of myself, my guards, Mr. Harris, and his Slayer.
Mr. Harris glanced around and held up a warning hand that killed the soft chatter of the girls. Alexandrienne shifted into her protective stance and stared into the darkness.
Within moments, Liwaza slid into the light bearing her offering of a cup of water to Mr. Harris. I was so shocked by her sudden appearance that all I could do was stare at Liwaza’s elfin form as she delicately approached Mr. Harris and held the cup — the exact same cracked cup that I had seen her bearing only yesterday — out to him.
That’s when I realized that the village had never been evacuated. The shadow I had seen was most likely one of the civilian inhabitants venturing out into the fresh air after staying hidden in their huts all day. I felt exceedingly foolish that it took so long to occur to me that there had never been any point to an evacuation, especially since the threat posed by the Gao vampires had already been effectively neutralized.
“Ahsante sana, Liwaza,” Mr. Harris said in an exact repeat of the same ritual I had already witnessed once. He once again gently took the cup from her hands and drank down the contents. Then he gave the cup back to her with a graceful bow.
Liwaza’s smile innocently beamed as she returned the bow. She then turned and happily skipped away back into the darkness. Once more, she had fulfilled her sole purpose in life by safely delivering a cup of water into Mr. Harris’s waiting hands upon his triumphant return.
I suppose that if I kicked up a ruckus at this point, I could have disturbed Liwaza enough that she’d become a suitable distraction to cover my escape. While the idea was tempting, and although Mr. Harris’s actions with regards to myself left me wondering about the veracity of everything he said, the tension among the Slayers upon Liwaza’s arrival gave what he had said about her the imprimatur of truth. As angry as I was about my situation, I couldn’t bring myself to take advantage of Liwaza’s stated propensity for violence and HIV status and potentially bring lasting harm to the young girls living under Mr. Harris’s authority.
Everyone seemed to hold their breath until Mr. Harris was satisfied that it was safe to break the spell. When he took a step forward, the company relaxed. It seemed everyone present took the opportunity to whisper to each other and cast speculative glances in my direction.
Mr. Harris merely waited, but his eye did not move from my face. Alexandrienne remained slightly behind him and to the side as she watched me with an unforgiving, if considering gaze. The sharp shadows of night mixed with the harsh headlights of the jeep seemed to transform her face from one that was human to one that had the aspect of a skull.
She doesn’t ever let go. Once she sees you, you belong to her.
I shivered and looked down. There was something of her in the gaze both Mr. Harris and Alexandrienne directed at me. Even if I could escape them, I had an awful feeling that she would never leave me alone. I had been seen — from the beginning I had been seen — and all it took was time, patience, and perhaps even fate for her to finally catch up with me.
The whispers, to my great surprise, did not get louder. They died down on their own; even though Mr. Harris gave no signal that I could see. When silence once more reigned, he said, “Confine her to her hut.” He followed this with a barking translation in tlhIngan Hol, most likely for the benefit of his non-English-speaking Slayers.
In short order I was dragged away and roughly shoved inside the darkened interior of my hut. I was furious by my treatment and I spun around with fists clenched. Two Slayers impassively took up positions inside the room on either side of the door. The shadows were so heavy that I couldn’t even hope to read their expressions.
I had some vague idea that I should stand firm and face them down, but my injuries and the weariness that had settled into my bones made me think better of the idea. I decided that I should at least I’d at least light one of the lanterns to dispel the gloom. I could just as well watch them seated on the mudcloth-covered bench or the edge of my bed.
When I turned to do just that, I at long last saw the condition of my quarters.
My luggage was open and I could see that my clothes had been piled on the bed.
I dove forward and with shaking hands shifted my clothes. To my surprise, they had been refolded and piled neatly, as if the person who had searched my things thought it rude to leave a mess. It was a strange bit of consideration from whoever had no compunctions about invading my privacy.
From there I began a desperate search for my backpack, but to no avail. It was gone, and along with it my files on Mr. Harris from both Mr. Wyndham-Pryce and Mr. Giles, my detailed notes, my laptop, and — most devastatingly — the passwords and secret email address I was to use when electronically sending my secret reports back to Mr. Wyndham-Pryce.
I hyperventilated with the realization that even if Mr. Harris didn’t know everything about my mission before, he almost certainly would soon. Regardless of his initial plans for me, his spoken threat about sending me back in disgrace to the Council by slow freight in a lead-lined box was looking more and more like it would be his ultimate course of action.
Sudden light flooded my room. I shielded my eyes and turned, expecting the worst.
Instead, I was confronted by the sight of Dave bearing an oil lantern and Grandmother Touré carrying a tray of food.
“Jesus, Eva. It’s dark in here,” Dave commented as he strode to my dresser to put down his gift of light.
All I could do was openly stare as Grandmother Touré bustled over to the mud cloth-covered bench to place the food-laden tray on top of it.
“Harris figured you might be hungry, so he told Moms whip something up for you before we left,” Dave continued as rummaged around for my oil lamps and began lighting them.
I must’ve looked rather doubtful about this show of generosity because Dave became defensive.
“There’s nothing in the food that’s going to hurt you, Eva,” he said.
I finally found my voice, although sadly I didn’t use it to best effect. “Don’t call me that,” I snapped.
“Friends call me Eva. Given my current circumstances, I hardly think you qualify.”
Dave winced. “I had that coming.”
“You lied to me. From the beginning you lied to me. You knew—”
“Riiiiight, because you’ve been honest from the get-go,” Dave interrupted.
Before I could respond, Dave glanced at the Slayers standing guard and haltingly said something to them in the village’s argot. The Slayers exchanged a doubtful look, which prompted Dave to say something else. They seemed unhappy about whatever he said as they both left their stations and went outside. Grandmother Touré, however, stayed put and watched this exchange with glittering eyes.
Dave looked back at me. “I told them that you needed private time. You’re not going anywhere, and they can stand guard outside with the others just as well as they could in here.”
“Others,” I repeated.
Dave shrugged. “Harris figured that once you saw that some of your stuff was missing, you might decide to take your chances and escape despite the fact it’s night and that we’re pretty much in the middle of nowhere. If you look outside, you’ll see that this hut is ringed with Slayers just waiting to pounce if you try.”
My swallow did nothing to relieve my dry throat.
“Now, I suppose you might get lucky and get past them,” Dave added. “But you’ll probably end up really hurting one of them to do that. If that happens, I pretty much guarantee that you’ll be hunted down, captured, and shipped off to this Highlands place I’ve heard about.”
I relaxed. Dave very obviously didn't know how deep Mr. Harris’s loathing ran for even the idea of the Highlands Facility, let alone its reality. “The Highlands Facility is for Slayers like Liwaza. He refuses outright to send her there. I highly doubt he’d send me, whatever the provocation.”
Dave’s face took on a harsh, serious expression. “Liwaza’s got a bushel full of extenuating circumstances. You, on the other hand, have none.”
I was still doubtful. “He told you this, did he?”
Dave shrugged “You could always go out there and try to hurt one of those girls. That’s one way of finding out if he’d do it or not.”
Truth to tell, dear reader, I didn’t feel that lucky.
Dave walked over to the Grandmother Touré’s tray, reached out, and grabbed a pinch of rice off of it. “Look, I’m going to show you that the food is completely safe. There’s nothing in it, not even anything that’ll put you to sleep.” He shoved the rice in his mouth, purposely chewed, and swallowed. “See? I’m not affected by anything, so you’re definitely safe with that Slayer metabolism.”
I couldn’t take any more. “Get out,” I said softly.
Dave winced, as if my turning on him really did sting. “Eva, listen. I like you. I do. If there was any other way — I mean there’s some circumstances that you really need to know about before you jump—”
“I don’t want to hear your excuses,” I interrupted.
Dave tried again to defend his actions. “Not excuses, just harsh reality. You see—”
“Get. Out,” I growled through my teeth.
Dave’s shoulders slumped. “We’ll talk tomorrow when you’re a little less angry.”
Unable to resist getting in the last word, I said, “I’ve got nothing to say to you.”
Dave shook his head and turned to leave. Grandmother Touré paused just long enough to grin her toothless grin and waggle a finger at me, as if I was the one who had been naughty, before she, too, exited behind Mr. Harris’s stalwart man.
Left alone at long last, I finally gave in to my impulses and let my brave mask drop.
I put my face in my hands and sobbed.