Friday, 23 December 2016

The Absent Harpist (part 3)

In my lifetime, I've been in two situations where a gun has been pointed at my face. In the first of these situations, the water pistol was being wielded by a clown and didn't devastate my physiognomy anymore than nature had. The second of these situations is the one with which I am regaling you. Of course, there are two possibilities that can occur when a real gun is aimed at you. One is that the gods are merciful and your head explodes. The other is somewhat worse.
The big man pulled the trigger and sighed. The gun clicked. The other possibility, in this case, is that the barrel is empty. My face was not splattered across the field and so was once returned to the terror of waiting for the gun to click again.
"Russian roulette is my favourite game." He grumbled.
"Really? I would have said you were more the Dungeons and Dragons type."
"I'm glad your quips are as bad as your prospects. I don't like quips."
"Then let us get to business." I replied. "Who are in the graves?"
"I ask the questions. Not you."
"You ever play Truth or Dare? No, you're more the Russian roulette type. The point remains, however. When my few friends and I played Truth or Dare, we used to trade truths for truths. So I tell you what, let's call it a wonderful Exposition Device, why don't we take it in turns to answer questions? I'll answer one, you'll answer one. Any information you tell me will go me to the grave because you've got a loaded gun to my head and there's no chance of me escaping. That way, I get to die with my curiosity satisfied and you get to satisfy your curiosity too."
"Who are you?"
"I'm the Detective. The one the Baroness hired."
"No you're not."
"I am."
"No you're not, and don't you dare lie to me." He pulled back the hammer of his gun. "I know for a fact you aren't, so my question is, who are you?"
I sighed. "I'm nobody, okay? I'm just a tourist. I happened to get off the train at Montpelier station and then some bloody taxi driver assumed I was a detective, like everybody else in the town. I thought it seemed fun so I went up to the mansion to see what was going on. When I got told there was a missing music teacher, I, oh god, I don't know. Some arrogant streak in me told me I was the best person for the job. I know it was a silly decision but it was one I made and I do regret it. I have no clue what's going on or where any of the missing people are. I'm sorry."
"I don't believe you."
"You bloody well should. Just let me go, please. I didn't mean to get embroiled in this and I don't understand anything going on. Let me go and you'll never hear of me or from me again."
"Sorry, my friend, but I don't quite believe you." He pulled the trigger.
My heart pounded so hard I was worried for its structural integrity. I closed my eyes and said my prayers and waited for the Gods to claim me. Then the gun clicked, the barrel empty, and the Big Man sighed. "It's getting more tense, isn't it?"
"I promise I'm telling the truth. I'm utterly clueless."
"A clueless detective, hm?"
I frowned. Not because of his statement, but because of a distant sound. It too me a second of straining my ears to recognise it but, eventually, I realised that it was the sound of Country and Western. "That's the taxi driver coming."
"Oh for God's sake." The big man sighed.
"He gave me the Trunk, you can ask him. It wasn't mine."
"It was the Detective's." The big man replied. "We left it in the boot after we dropped him off."
Pulling back the hammer of his gun once more, the big man headed off in the direction of the farmhouse on the other side of the graves. The taxi suddenly appeared, the yellow bodywork gleaming in the sunlight above. Stones chipped against the chassis or flung away from the car amongst the clouds of dust whipped up by the acceleration. As it grew closer, the music intensified. I sighed, as that was the only reasonable reaction.
The car screeched to a halt, the music turned off and the doors swung open. The driver climbed out, shrugged as if trying to dislodge a cardigan, and then swayed over towards the big man. The dogs began to snap their jaws and claw at the grit in front of them, pulling desperately on the chains about their necks as the driver walked past.
"What the hell are you doing here?" The big man demanded.
"I dropped off the Detective in town like you asked. I've just checked up on the Milliner. Have you seen the sign? Rats. Rats, I tell you! He's the only rat in that house, bloody snoop."
As they spoke, I shifted my arms a little and felt the rough hempen rope scratch against my flesh. My shoulders ached terribly, just as the back of my head throbbed every time I frowned, but I managed to shrug in such a way that I was able to stretch. The rope grew tighter so I quickly brought my arms together again. I didn't have a knife hidden up my sleeve and I suspected that the big man would have removed it even if I had. Luckily, however, a quick movement revealed I didn't need one. The metal on the back of the chair had been battered and scratched over the years until eventually part of it had snapped. Now, a jagged shard of metal sat out about four inches above where the rope was sagging. I had to contort myself beyond all reasonable standards to bring my bonds there but when I had, it was a simple case of moving the rope back and forth that began to fray the material.
Meanwhile, the big man was shouting at the driver over the bark of the dogs. "Dropped him off? Don't you remember meeting him together, you imbecile? You dropped off that boy over there and he isn't the bloody detective."
"Then why did he have the Detective's case? The Milliner said he had the Detective's case and he said that it had a book in it like the one the Harpist had. I reckon the Detective and the Harpist are working together. If we were to follow the Detective, I bet we'd find the Harpist."
"The Harpist isn't bloody missing, you fool!"
"Then why did we hire the Detective?"
"Because the Detective thinks the Harpist is missing. No, forget that. The Detective doesn't think anything because he's buried in one of those graves, next to the Harpist in the next. We killed them, for crying aloud! Together." The big man let out a frustrated sigh and took a few steps backwards, pacing towards the dogs and then muttering, "You need to stay off that bloody booze. You'll forget your own head."
"Ah, well that's where you're wrong." The driver said. "I can't forget my head. It's screwed on."
"We can arrange for that to change." The big man spoke.
The driver let out an audible gulp but regained his swagger quick enough, drunkenly swaying over towards the graves. "I accept your point of view on this whole scenario and everything but I just don't understand how it's possible for the Detective to be buried down there. I'm pretty certain I delivered him to the town centre earlier. The Milliner told me so; he'd looked in the Detective's case. Did I tell you about that? About the library book? Same one as the Harpist had, or near enough."
I suddenly recalled the book in the trunk; it was on Folk Legends, a similar focus matter to the magazine that Stollery the Harpist had applied to- 'Folk Tale' it was called. What was hidden in myth that the big man and the driver were trying to cover up?
"You bloody imbecile! You gave the boy the case! Urgh! This is all because of that bloody butler! Next time, I'll finish the job and cut his neck."
"I don't know if he's totally to blame, squire." The driver said. "I mean, the Baroness agreed, didn't she? She's as blind as her mother, if you ask me."
The big man raised his gun and pressed it to the driver's head. "If you insult my sister one more time, I will remove your brains from your skull with a teaspoon. Do you understand me?"
The driver didn't say anything for a few seconds and then nodded, abashed. "Yes sir. Sorry."
"Good. Now, did the Milliner find anything else in the trunk?"
"No. Just the book."
"Right then." The big man said. "Have you alerted my sister?"
"Not yet. She's preparing for the Festive Ball so I didn't want to interrupt her."
"Hm. Maybe I should break the news myself."
"No. I'm happy to do it."
"It's fine." The big man said. "I would like to do it. I can also tell her what's going to happen to that young rapscallion. You go back to the train station. Wait for further instructions."
"Aww, sir! Why can't I go looking for the mine?"
At that second, the big man's face greyed like an approaching thunder cloud. His eyes bulged, his cheeks reddened and his voice sung with absolute fury as he towered over the driver and sprayed him with spittle. "We do not talk about that! Not in front of suspects! You tiny fool! You tiny, imbecilic halfwit! You bloody idiot! How dare you talk of that? You want to go digging for the mine? You can start here."
And with one mammoth hand, the big man grabbed the driver by the neck, lifted him up and threw him into the open grave, before pointing the gun into the hole and firing it like a  gunslinger, pulling back the hammer with one hand over and over until the gun actually fired and the driver was hit. He let out a scream that seemed to pain the dogs and then began whimpering, but by that point the cacophony of the gunshot's ricochet had spread out and deafened me so I couldn't quite hear it.
The big man slid the cartridge out of the revolver and entered another one, carrying it towards me as he strolled, too casually. When eventually he met me, he sat back down one more and pointed the gun at my head.
"This gun is completely full. How much of that did you hear?"
I stared him defiantly in the eyes and then grinned. "Too much."
Before he could take it in, I'd pounced on him, breaking the threadbare final strings holding my hands together and swinging them around to grab the gun. Although he was such a physically big man, I managed to overcome him easily, and by the time he was on the floor and I was stood over him with the gun expertly aimed, the tables had swapped.
"Why did you kill the Harpist?"
"You're not going to use that, boy. You're not brave enough."
He was right, of course, that I wasn't brave enough. I was, however, quite annoyed and that counted for much the same thing. I shot two of his left fingers off. "Answer my question!"
"The Harpist had found folk legends and ballads about a lost mine beneath Montpelier." He managed between screams. "We had to stop him from finding it before we did."
"'We' being?"
He screamed a little more so I shot him through the kneecap.
"Tell me!"
"Me and my sister- the Baroness, but she isn't really the Baroness, she's just pretending!"
"And the driver? And who else is in on it?"
"No one but the hotel man. Please don't shoot me anymore!"
I shot him through the shoulder. "What's the hotel man doing?"
"Snooping! He's the rat! In the walls! Please! Please stop!"
"One last question." I said. "Where are the Butler's family?"
I shot the ground directly next to his head. Some of the sand leapt up and tore into his face. "Answer my question! Where are the Butler's family?"
"In the mansion's basement!" He screamed. "Please! I'm sorry."
"Sorry isn't good enough." I said, and shot him once in the other shoulder and once in the foot. Then I slipped the gun into my pocket and wandered up to the ranch. A wooden table sat outside, just to the side of the dogs, with a bowie knife protruding from it. I pulled the knife from the wood and cut the rope tying the dogs to the ranch. "Dinner's down there, lads." I said, and pointed with the gleaming metal of the knife towards the big man. Howling, the two dogs raced towards the big man, ready to eat. I grinned. I was good with dogs.
I then headed towards the open cab sat in the driveway of the farm. In the far distance, on the other side of the ranch, I could see Montpelier. The Butler's family were back there and it was my duty to free them. And so I climbed behind the wheel of the car, turned the key and accelerated off, ready to do just that.

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