The Book of Abisan

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Chapter Four

Jacques’ work colleagues were trying to be extra sensitive towards her since “the incident”. Whereas usually they would leave her alone to do her job in peace, only communicating work related queries, which she was more than capable of addressing professionally and quickly. Now, they were attempting to make small talk. This, she was less equipped to deal with. People were gently touching her arm as they spoke to her and perpetually asking “how are you doing?” Usually her curt, short replies served as a deterrent to such attempts at conversation. However, now people seemed to be making allowances for her manner, due to her recent trauma and her bluntness just caused them to make more of an effort. It was utterly infuriating. She could not get half an hour’s work done without someone popping down to the basement with a cup of tea or a sandwich.

She had totally given up any hope of getting any work done for at least a month. Having just finished archiving an Egyptian urn which, when working at her usual pace would have been done hours ago her concentration was interrupted by the door creaking open again. She rolled her eyes in total exasperation. If it was Margery with another cup of tea and digestive biscuit she would not be responsible for her actions. She moved swiftly and silently down an aisle of WW2 artefacts and ducked down. If she could not find her, then hopefully Margery would take her tea and sympathy elsewhere and leave her in peace. Jacques was fully aware of how childish hiding from a co-worker was. She simply could not see any alternative. She was not naturally confident in confrontational situations; usually her appearance was enough to ensure that people avoided her.

The door creaked shut. Jacques listened intensely to determine whether Margery was going to make a more thorough sweep of the area before realising there was no-one there and retreating to the staff canteen. The heavy footsteps on the metal staircase told her it was not Margery. She felt an intense anxiety in the pit of her stomach as she crouched in her hiding place. As she watched the heavy, military style steel capped boots began to move around the basement she started to consider her options. Should she attempt to run, or find some sort of weapon and fight? She had trained in a number of martial arts, and knew enough to be quite formidable in a combat situation. She had not, however, been in a combat situation since achieving her third Dan almost five years ago, and did not particularly want to have to put her skills to the test. So she crouched, perfectly still, watching the large man move heavily around the basement, prodding at things. As he walked past the waste paper basket he gave it a hefty kick. Jacques estimated that he was far enough away from the staircase now for her to make a run for it and be at the top of the staircase before he noticed. She was about to make a bolt for it when the door creaked open again. She bit her lip in utter frustration, drawing blood. It tasted like copper in her mouth. Her heart was pounding so hard in her chest now she felt certain that were this giant man to stop crashing about and listen he would surely hear her. Then she heard a voice from halfway down the staircase that she recognised.

“Jacques? Are you here?”

“Ben! No! Don’t!”

She rushed out from her hiding place with the automatic instinct to protect her hapless brother. He always arrived at the most inconvenient times. One thing was perfectly clear to her; she was far more equipped to defend him than he was to defend himself. The power of prayer would simply not be enough against this enormous adversary.

As she hastened to warn her brother the large man moved with surprising agility and grabbed her by the throat. She felt herself raised off the ground as though she weighed nothing. His hand was huge and rough, and he lifted her to his eye level, inspecting her critically. His face was massive and scarred, his hair long and wild and his eyes were black as night and filled with hatred. His entire countenance was terrifying. Jacques could not defend herself against this man. She was so petrified she could not move.

“Gotcha,” he said as though he were speaking to a rat that had been plaguing his home for weeks and he had finally captured it. “I was expecting you to be more impressive,” he snorted.

“Hey!” Ben had made his way to the bottom of the stairs. The exertion of the speed of movement was making him audibly wheeze and the idea of this giant man paying any attention to this ludicrous spectacle was ridiculous. The giant man moved Jacques out of his eye line in order to look directly at Ben.

“Put her down right now!” Ben wheezed.

“Yes Sir.” The man released his grip immediately, dropping her from a height of about two feet. She landed heavily and went over on one ankle. It was sprained and she could not stand. She pulled herself to a safe distance from her assailant.

“The police are on their way,” Ben continued. “You will be arrested if you stay here.”

“Yes Sir.”

He walked calmly past Ben and up the stairs towards the exit. There were shouts of “Police! Stop!” and some crashing from behind the door. Ben moved quickly to where Jacques was sitting on the floor shaking, he crouched down next to her.

“Are you alright?”

“What the hell do you think?”

“Sorry, silly question. Can you stand?”

“I don’t know. I’ve hurt my ankle.”

“Here.” He offered her an arm for support and helped her to her feet.

“Did you know who he was?”

“No. The woman upstairs called me straight after they called the police. They were worried about you.”

“But he called you Sir, and did what you said. Why would he do that?”

“I don’t know.”

“I just attract psychos don’t I?”

“Must be your winning personality.”

“Must be.”

The police questioned her for hours this time. Did she know who the man was? Who would want to hurt her? She was still unable to answer. As the large man had had no trouble knocking over two policemen and making his escape the officers in attendance were unable to question him as to his motives. More frighteningly, it meant that he was still out there. For this reason the police recommended Jacques not return to work until the matter was resolved. The manager at the museum agreed that this was the safest thing and assured her that her job would be waiting for her when things had settled down. Ben drove her home. She needed his help to climb the stairs to the flat, and was too exhausted to argue when he insisted on coming in. He helped her to elevate her ankle on the arm of the sofa and put some ice on it before heading to the kitchen to make drinks.

“Some of that herbal stuff?” he called through, trying to sound casual, despite the crack in his voice.

“There’s a bottle of vodka under the sink. I’ll have that, you have what you want.”

Ben brought her in the bottle and a glass without saying a word. He almost always had a disapproving comment when she drank spirits, but they were both severely shaken by the day’s events.

“You gonna stay over?” Jacques demanded whilst pouring her second glass.

“Of course, if you want me to.”

“Lock the door then.”

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