Sunday, 1 April 2012

Equal and opposite

   The murder victim lay gutted, crumpled and bloody in the Whitechapel alleyway while the forensics team gathered evidence: evidence that in this age of science might raise the inconvenient suspicion that a body can still be walking the earth and killing after more than a century.
   The other one walked unchallenged through the crowd inside the taped area; a business-suited chameleon invisible to officialdom trained to respect uniforms. I too go uniformed to sneak in wherever power and curiosity threaten me and mine with exposure. 
   Our eyes met. “Will you write to them again this time?” I asked. “Graphologists may recognise your hand. They’ll wonder how you can still be alive after a hundred years.”
   “Did we meet before? My memory falters in these hungry days. Do you have one of these?” Engraved and ancient bronze glittered at his throat when flash photography briefly silvered the fog.
   “We didn't meet because I was elsewhere in London disguising my life as fiction and my death as fact. The life of a secret immigrant was difficult even then. And no; my immortality does not require concoctions such as -” I paused and reasoned for a moment “- alchemy and a tamed and obedient Great Plague bacillus. Never mind. I ask again: will you write to them?”
   “I will. I’ll taunt them with a keepsake from that pretty, exhausted battery over there with taunts crafted to twist their righteous anger into sinful wrath and so kindle my sorcery afresh. My letter will be larded with misspellings; it’s one’s genius one must disguise rather than one’s antiquity, don’t you think? Ah, and now I know you for who you are.”
   He nodded towards the dome of his great contemporary’s greatest monument; still standing despite the lesser fires of the Blitz. “They ignore so much. A thousand stories name you and a million trinkets carry pictures of your race: some of you are even imagined to be loveable. Believing you’re a myth blinds your prey to their plight. And so it is with me. For decades their self-proclaimed brightest minds have failed to connect the emblem on their computers with the anecdote for which the common herd knows me best. With my student gone and sainted for his tutored genius only secretive bankers and silent lawyers might guess there was another proprietor, and how else might the cattle discover me for who I am?”
   “It is not who you are that concerns me” I said, reaching for his throat. Exposure of what he was might also point to me. 
   A paramedic can go almost anywhere in London by day; even one burdened with a weighty biohazard container, but at night I’m almost invulnerable. And the Thames was not far away.

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