|janecarnall (janecarnall) wrote,|
@ 2008-11-04 00:01:00
The Players: Willow (later alternate version)
This is the alternate to part one of the second section of the story that began with The Games (six parts) and continued with The Network (one part). It was actually written in July 2009, it's just posted Date Out of Order to simplify searches.
The Players: Willow
Willow had heard the strange man say exactly four words, all the while she had been watching him: he had a deep voice, expressionless.
“He bashed her skull in and then he shot her.”
“Did he,” Giles said, very dryly. “That seems a little …excessive.”
Willow made a face. “Well, he might have shot her and then bashed her skull in. The medical evidence in the pathologist’s report I read said it couldn’t be proved either way, but she’d died within about five minutes of her skull being broken.”
“Willow, do you ever think about what you’re saying?”
“Of course I do!” Willow thought about it. “Do you suppose Sam’s all right?”
“I have every confidence in him,” Giles said, dryly.
There were names on the list Willow had given to Sam. Lots of names. Benton and Ray had spent Saturday looking through their files, and Willow had spent Saturday afternoon watching a man who didn't have a name and didn't speak.
Richard David Kimble. She had got that name by drawing his face on the paintbook and then shopping the image to a searchable pattern for the Commerce website’s basic beauty standards, and then searching the pattern with the name ‘Richard’ as one of the criteria. It was easy to make this a non-traceable search. There were only three slaves in the whole Commerce database who matched both facial pattern and name: two of them were definitely too young to be the Richard Sam had bought.
“I understood not one word of that,” Giles said, and lifted his hand. “No, don’t explain. Where did Sam buy him?”
The website didn't say: only that he was in private ownership and not for sale. He was a convict, not a debt slave nor born in slavery. Willow had searched for criminal records, but while that search was running, she had looked at news archives, and found a recent and spectacular trove: Lady Helen Kennedy, murdered five years ago by her husband, Doctor Richard Kimble. He had a beard in the photographs, he was clean-shaven now, but he was recognisable.
“The Chicago arena,” Willow said.
“That …place?” Giles said finally, in a strangled voice. “Are you sure? Oh, dear Lord.” He got up, looked around, and found the phone.
“Who are you calling?”
“George, then Benton – we have to get out to the house and warn him – ” Suddenly Giles flung the phone down. “I’m an idiot,” he declared. “Of course Sam knows where he bought him from. But why did he buy him?”
“Well, people do,” Willow said. “Not convict slaves, that’s weird, but if Sam didn’t live where he does, he could have three or four slaves. If we didn’t live here – ” she flapped her hands at the tiny apartment – “we’d have to have at least one between us.”
Giles finished his tea, and went over to the kitchen counter to rinse out his mug. “Did you ever want a slave?” he asked, not looking at her.
“Yes,” Willow said. “Not now,” she added, clarifying. “But you know. It’s like asking ‘Did you ever want a car?’ or ‘Did you ever watch a baseball game?’ It’s how normal people live. You get a job, you get a car, you get a house, you get some slaves.”
Giles laughed, abruptly. “Living the American dream,” he said. “Do you think that’s why Sam bought this ‘Richard’?”
“No,” Willow said. “I said it was weird.” She looked down at her laptop. The screensaver had flicked on: the US Marshals star, spinning across the screen. “Maybe Richard’s got information on a case.”
Giles switched the kettle on. “And Sam’s planning to run an interrogation without any support? I hardly think that’s likely.” His tone of voice added But I wouldn’t put it past him.
“No,” Willow agreed, to both spoken and unspoken comments. She watched Giles. “The Trenton case is a big one,”she added, wanting to sound casual. “I gave the list to Sam.”
“Yes,” Giles said. “If you recall, I gave you some of the names.” He was looking in one of the cupboards.
“Yes,” Willow said.
“Is that why you couldn’t sleep?” Giles turned round and leaned back against the counter, looking at her.
“Yes,” Willow said. She looked down at the star turning lazily on her laptop screen, and moved her hand, making it vanish. The temporary access she had set up to search the Commerce database was about to expire: she began logging out and closing down, deleting her tracks as she went.
When she looked up again, Giles had come back from the kitchen area and was standing with his hands shoved into his pockets. He cleared his throat. “No one ever said it was going to be easy.”
“I know that.”
“It is our day off. Shall we go out? I’ll buy you lunch.”
In California it would still be warm enough to go without a sweater: here, though it was only late autumn, they muffled themselves in scarves and gloves to go out for Sunday brunch. This time last year, Willow thought, and realised she was almost beyond thinking that.
“We left Sunnydale a year ago next week?” she said.
Giles glanced at her. He’d owned a slave, one he’d bought in LA before he came to work in Sunnydale. After a couple of years, Willow had realised she wasn’t really a slave. She had been killed last year.
On this day last year.
Giles glanced away. Willow put her hand in his. “I’m sorry,” she said, out loud. “I just – I wasn’t thinking about the date.” She took a breath of the cold air, and said formally, “I’m sorry for your loss.”
Giles looked down at her again, and put his arm round her shoulders in a brief, almost formal sideways hug. “Thank you.”
The girl had …died, and the thing had happened, and they’d destroyed the school, and she and Giles had got out of Sunnydale alive, and then Giles had got them to Chicago and a contact there… and a week later Sam Gerard had interviewed them both, rapid-fire questions at each of them separately and both of them together, and Willow had ended up working for the federal government after all. She just hadn’t expected it to be the US Marshals service.
There was an email from Sam when they got back: Monday morning briefing in armoury at eight fifteen. Don’t be late. Someone bring doughnuts.
Willow was sitting at the kitchen table when Richard appeared, carrying five empty coffee mugs. She had files open on her laptop: she was not working at them. Afterwards, Willow told herself it might not have happened if she had not had a coffee mug at her elbow, two-thirds drunk up. Richard put the coffee mugs in the sink, without a word, and turned, catching her eye, reaching out for the coffee mug. His face didn't change much, but the gesture made it obvious: Are you finished?
“Yes,” Willow said, disconcerted. Richard didn't smile or thank her: he took the mug away and she heard him running water into the sink.
Her parents had owned two slaves: Sary, who had cooked and cleaned for them since before Willow could remember, and Den, who'd been bought when her mother got the promotion that took her parents into a new tax bracket. Sary had liked her. At least, Willow had always assumed she had. Den had been only about ten years older than Willow, and Den had wanted Willow to like her, that had been all too obvious.
Her parents had been rigid about how Willow was to behave towards them: especially towards Den.
“Richard,” Willow said.
Richard put the mug he was rinsing out on the draining board, and turned to face her. He didn't say anything.
“I want another coffee.”
There was coffee in the percolator. Richard took one of the clean mugs, poured coffee, and added milk. He put the mug down on the table. Willow picked it up and held it in her hands. She had wondered if he would need to ask – if she would hear him speak – but evidently, he was paying attention: he already knew she took coffee with milk, without sugar. Richard had turned back to the sink: he went on rinsing out the used mugs. There was a dishwasher, but Willow supposed he wanted something to do.
When all the mugs were clean, he turned away. Without looking at Willow, he was heading for the door.
“Richard,” Willow said again. She was almost startled when he stopped, again, and turned to look at her. She had nothing in mind for him to do. He stood still, looking at her, his face expressionless. “Walk over to the fridge and back,” she said.
That did get a reaction: he twitched. But he turned round and walked over to the fridge: he stood there a moment, his back to her, and then turned around again. He was old, in his fifties, older than Giles, but he was good-looking, for an older guy.
Richard came back. He was standing with his hands by his sides, looking down at her. It was disconcerting. Willow stood up. He was still so much taller than her.
“Kneel down,” Willow said.
There was a moment when she was sure Richard wouldn't do it, but then he began to bend – going down clumsily, not at all gracefully, his joints creaking, landing on the floor with a thud. He was on his knees, and his face was now about the level of her collar bone. He was looking straight ahead, his face very rigid. His eyes were wide. It was creepy. He still wasn't saying anything. Or smiling.
“Will you do anything I tell you?” Willow asked.
She expected him to answer out loud, but instead, after a long moment, he just nodded, once. His hands moved on his thighs, as if he didn't quite have control of them.
“Put your hands behind your back. Take hold of your wrists,” Willow told him. She supposed she could just tell him to say something – she could get him to recite poetry, if he remembered any. Or … whatever.
She walked round him, and saw he had obeyed her: his hands were twisted together behind his own back, each hand clutching at the other hand's wrist. His arms were bent backwards, his shoulders stressed; she'd have to tell him to let go soon, but it was disconcerting and interesting to see him do this.
“Can you talk?” Willow said.
She was standing to one side. She saw how Richard's nod stressed the back of his neck.
“Well, then, talk,” Willow said. She walked round him again. “Do you know any poetry?”
Richard twitched. His eyes flickered towards her. His mouth opened. He shook his head, once, briefly.
Willow stood in front of him. She was aware he seemed to be looking through her, not at her. His face was still expressionless, but his adam's apple moved when he swallowed. His shoulders were trembling.
She had to let him up and stop doing this. She'd wanted to hear his voice, but he wasn't going to talk, and there was no point to it.
“Open your mouth.”
A pause long enough for Richard to swallow. Then his mouth opened. He was kneeling there in front of her with his hands behind his back, and his mouth open: Willow could have put her fingers in between his lips: or anything.
She could tell him to open wider. Put her hand in there. He wouldn't stop her. For a moment, she wanted to do it.
“On your feet, Richard,” Sam said.
Willow was startled, but Richard reacted as if he'd been hit: he flinched backward, away from her, making a scrambling kind of effort out of getting up, even clumsier than he had been going down.
Sam was standing in the kitchen doorway. He was frowning. After a moment, he came into the room.
“Richard. Go to your room. Shut yourself in.”
Richard went out, quickly: and Willow heard him break into a run as he went up the stairs.
“You want to tell me what the hell you thought you were doing, Will?”
“I just – ” Willow was staring after Richard, He had run to get away. “I'm sorry – ” she said, blankly.
“What were you doing to him?” Sam's voice was chilly. Willow winced.
“I didn't mean – I just – he – ” She had wanted to hear him talk, that was all. It didn't seem much of an excuse. “I didn't realise. He's very obedient.”
“What did you think I was talking about in the armoury this morning?”
Willow stared, astonished. Both the guns she trained on were safely locked away on the racks: she rarely took either of them into the other side of the house, and would never have done so after Gerard's lecture.
“I just wanted to see what he'd do,” Willow said finally.
Sam grinned, fleetingly: the humourless smile was less reassuring even than the grim expression which replaced it. “He's mine. Leave him alone. Got it?”
You didn't play with other people's bodyslaves: you didn't mess around with other people's slaves. Willow knew it.
“I'm sorry,” she said.
On to Part 2