Jacques worked in the archives section of the city museum. She was based in the basement, below where the people generally congregated. There were no windows and the electric lighting made everything appear pale and withered. The job suited her, because very few people were interested in local or ancient history and thus required limited human interaction. The fewer people she had to deal with the happier she was. As a general rule she thought people shallow and uninteresting. It was not that she lacked social skills. Indeed, should the occasion call for it she could be very charming. It was more that she resented the falseness that accompanied pleasantries. Indeed, if it were not for her brother forcing his presence upon her once a week for dinner then she would shun contact with the outside world entirely. She had discovered in her teens that the best way to avoid human interaction was to appear as frightening as possible. She dyed her hair, which was naturally a mousy brown colour, jet black. She wore white face makeup with black lipstick and eye liner. Her nails were always painted either black or dark blue and she had a tattoo of a spider’s web, which started at the nape of her neck and went halfway down her back. This image ensured that she was able to go through life generally uninterrupted by people and their minor concerns.
Sitting at a desk updating records before inputting them on the new electronic system, she heard a loud bang from the very back of the basement, accompanied by all the lights being extinguished. It was an old building and the basement had only recently been rewired to have electric lighting. Being a council run building, it had of course, been done on the cheap and this was the third time in as many weeks that the circuit had overloaded and blown the lights. She was supposed to call maintenance when this happened; they would send a man down to fix it. The last few times, however, it had taken him almost forty-five minutes to arrive. When he did arrive he had attempted to make friendly conversation with her rather than work quickly, which was just too irritating for words. She turned the torch function on her mobile phone on and headed towards the circuit breaker at the back of the room. Last time, all that had been necessary to rectify the situation was pulling a lever down and then pushing it up again. She felt she could handle that alone.
When she reached the fuse box she held her phone up close to it, to see if she could identify the problem. There was no problem. It was turned off. She had a sinking feeling in the pit of her stomach. There was a creaking sound behind her and a voice so twisted with hate that it was impossible to ascertain its gender. It screamed.
“Die! You Abomination!”
The creak had forewarned Jacques, however, and she instinctively ducked as something was swung at her head. Whatever it was smashed into the circuit breaker with a crash. There was a great flood of light, followed by an agonising howl of pain and the smell of charred flesh. There was a thud. Jaques rose to her feet and carefully moved towards the body, which was still smoking. She lit the face. It was contorted in pain, but seemed to be male. She did not recognise him. She hurried up the stairs and out of the basement to call the police, as she had no signal where she was.
The questions went on for hours. Was she sure that she did not know the man who had attacked her? Who would want to hurt her? Had she seen anything suspicious prior to today? She could not answer any of them. After what seemed like an eternity she heard a voice she recognised.
“Excuse me, Officer, I’m looking for my sister.”
“Jacques! What happened?”
“I told them not to call you, I’m fine.”
“You aren’t fine. Someone tried to kill you. Do we know who he was?”
“We have been unable to identify the perpetrator at this time, Father. He had no identification on him, and the high voltage has made visual identification problematic.” The police officer addressed Ben with the respect afforded a man of the cloth.
“He attacked me with some sort of weird knife, hit the fuse box instead! Lucky he wasn’t a cricket fan I guess.”
“Very. Can I take her home now please? I think she’s been through enough for one day.”
“Sure. If you think of anything then don’t hesitate to call.”
“I’ve brought my car, I’ll drive you home.”
As he spoke Ben tried to put a comforting arm around his sister’s shoulder, but she brushed him off.
“I told you, I’m fine. You didn’t need to come.”
“Of course I came. You’re my sister.”
“Isn’t everybody your brother or sister? Isn’t that what that stupid collar means?”
“Jacques, I don’t want to get into this with you now. And you aren’t driving me away. I’m making sure you get home safely whether you like it or not.”
“Fine. I can handle myself though, you know that.”
“I know, it’s just for my own peace of mind.”
“Just so we’re clear.”
“Good. It’s not like you’d be much use in a fight anyway, what with your ‘turn the other cheek’ crap.”
“Well, I have friends in high places.”
* * *
Her flat was the vacant space above a garage. There were metal steps leading up the outside of the building for access separate from the workspace below. As they pulled up outside Ben turned off the engine and unbuckled his seatbelt.
“You aren’t going to walk me in?”
“Well, I fancied a cup of that herbal crap you drink.”
“Hey! My body is a temple.”
Ben raised his eyebrows and looked at her tattoos, but knew better than to enter into that conversation.
“Come on then,” she said as she exited the car. “Kettle won’t boil itself.”
Jacques was up the steps and through the door before Ben had even locked the car. She left the door open for him as she went in to boil the kettle. Clearly the church frowned upon exercise as pastime, and all that communion wine had given him quite a notable beer belly.
“Someone... left... this... outside...” he panted, as he eventually made it into the kitchen to join her.
It was an oddly shaped package, wrapped in brown paper and tied with string. He placed it on the coffee table and collapsed in a chair, the exertion of stair climbing proving entirely too much for him.
“Man, you need to do some exercise,” as she spoke she put the mugs down on the table. “Just cos you’ve given up sex, that’s no excuse to let yourself go.”
She picked up the package and examined it, turning it around in her hands trying to find some clue as to what was inside.
“I haven’t ordered anything.”
“Why don’t you open it?” Ben suggested, taking a sip of the yellowish green liquid with which he had been presented.
She seated herself opposite him and began to unpick the knots in the string. After what seemed like an eternity she released the bonds and the paper fell away. On her lap was something wrapped in oil cloth. Ben leaned in towards her with fascination, to get a closer look. She delicately lifted away the cloth to reveal a dagger in a sheath.
She lifted it on the palms of both hands in order to examine it more closely. It smelt like old leather and metal and as she pulled the sheath away slightly a coppery odour of blood mixed itself with the other smells. The hilt was ornate, engraved with characters that she did not recognise and there was a jewel in the middle, which glistened different colours in the light.
“Wow,” she said again.
“Who would send you such a thing?” Ben was unable to take his eyes off the blade.
“Someone who knows me really well.”
She had now unsheathed the knife and was getting a feel for the weight of it in her hands.
“I don’t like it.”
“You don’t like anything! It’s kinda your job to disapprove,” the insult was half hearted as she was more interested in motioning with the knife, making slow motion combative moves. “Don’t worry, I’ll keep it in my floor safe.”
She sheathed the blade, put it down on the table and picked up her drink.
“So, you want me to make up the sofa for you or will the nuns worry?”