The cold steel of the weapon felt alien beneath Adam's fingers and contrasted strangely with the warm colour and texture of the wooden hand-grip. Adam slowly turned the cylinder of the revolver, his fingers brushing lightly over the head of each bullet in turn until he came to the chamber with the spent round in it.
"That's three 'undred quid well spent mate," the pawnshop owner had said as he handed the gun towards Adam and placed the money in his pocket. Adam had reached for the gun but Jack had picked it up.
"That's a forty five that is," he had grinned as Jack had slowly loaded the pistol. "Just like "Dirty 'arry" 'ad in the films." Jack thumbed in the last bullet and spun the cylindrical chamber.
"You 'it someone with that mate and they won't cause you no more trouble". The pawnbroker had smiled. Jack had smiled to. Then he had raised the gun and fired.
"No more trouble." Jack had put the gun in Adam's coat pocket then he had recovered the money, now damp with the pawnbrokers blood. "We should leave now," he'd said with a grin and had hurried from the shop taking Adam with him. All the way to the underground station and for the rest of the journey home to his flat Adam had listened for the sound of sirens telling him that Jack's crime had been found out but there had been none, and as the door or his flat had closed behind him he had finally relaxed enough to allow himself to think about what had happened. Jack's laughter had rung in his ears as he had leaned over the toilet retching.
Adam lay the gun down on the bedside table and walked across to the window. The darkness outside seemed to huddle in corners, away from the street-lights as if trying to shelter from the heavy rain falling upon the city. The water poured down to one side of the window where the gutter was blocked with muck and filth. Storm clouds gathered overhead as if promising that this was just a sample of the dark times ahead. Jack smiled as the first of the lightening cut through the sky.
"This is my kind of weather," he remarked with a grin. Adam closed his eyes on the scene.
"Why did you kill that pawnbroker Jack?" he asked, his voice no more than a whisper containing no emotion, just a great sense of weariness. Jack snorted in derision.
"You know exactly why I did it," he muttered. "I did it because you couldn't."
"But why Jack?"
Jack sighed in exasperation. "Because he was scum Adam! The dregs of humanity. All the stuff in that shop, all the rings, the watches, the televisions, were stolen. Either stolen directly and fenced through that slug or stolen by him for a pittance from people who couldn't afford not to sell. The man was a leech, a parasite. He deserved what he got!" Adam sighed. He found it so hard to argue with Jack sometimes. All to often when he looked inside himself he found that he agreed with the sentiments if not the methods.
Adam reached out and drew the curtains closed, blocking out the world outside for a while. Moving over to the bed he lay down and stared silently up at the cracked and crumbling ceiling above him. Slowly his mind sorted through the events of the day again, searching, questing, probing for what? For something, for anything that he could hold up before Jack to stop what he knew was coming, but there was nothing. Jack was right. The pawnbroker had deserved it. And as he decided this a tear gently rolled down Adam's cheek and he wept for his own morality. Sometimes he really hated Jack. Adam turned to look upon the gun. Jack’s instrument of retribution. It would be so easy he thought. So easy to reach out and take the gun. To take the gun and kill Jack. But he knew he would not. Adam knew that in Jack`s death lay his own demise. They were together now as they had been since Jack first appeared in Adam's life. A day that would burn forever in his mind.
The jeers of the other children had rained down upon him with almost as much force as the fists and feet that struck him. He had tried to flee, to escape the torment but had been tripped and as his head had struck the concrete they had closed in with the eagerness of the ignorant. Then there had been Jack. Most of Adam's tormentors had fled with minor injuries. One had received a broken arm. Two others had been hospitalised. Adam had been expelled. Jack had gone with him to his new school though. And again to the next after a similar incident. After that there had been no more trouble. Bad news like Adam tended to get around. And all the time Jack kept Adam safe from harm.
"They deserved it too, Adam," said Jack his voice perhaps a little softer for just a moment, then back to its normal harsh self. Adam sighed. Jack always knew what he was thinking.
"They were evil," yawned Jack turning toward the gun. Reaching out a hand Jack caressed the cold metal and smiled darkly as the weapon glittered in the light of the bedside lamp.
"That's what they said about you after what you did to them," accused Adam but with little conviction. This conversation had played through to often and he knew both sides of it by heart. But then, deep down, he always knew what Jack was going to say. Jack just laughed.
"That isn't what they said and you know it," Jack retorted with a wicked grin. Adam lowered his gaze from the gun.
"No," he breathed, his voice no more that a whisper. "They said that I was evil. No one ever blames you." Jack shrugged.
"Can I help that?" he asked with a smile. Adam fell silent.
For long minutes there was silence. Jack reached out and picked up the gun. "Time to get started," he muttered, his voice suddenly serious. Adam rose from the bed and walked over to the window and peering out through the crack in the curtains.
"Why us?" he whispered, staring out at the rain soaked streets as another peel of thunder rolled across the city.
"If not us then who?" growled Jack, his voice low and menacing. "The law doesn't work and the police can`t deal with the spreading evil." Jack raised the gun. "Only you and I know how to fight evil, and that is to fight it on it's own level. Our evil against the evil out there." Jack gazed out of the window, his eyes pits of darkness in the shadows of the room.
Adam sighed weakly, again feeling the weariness of his spirit but knowing there would be no rest for him now. Slowly he moved over to the mirror and gazed at his reflection.
"I won't kill," his said his voice resigned but resolute.
"You won't have to," replied the reflection of Jack. "I'll do it for you." "As long as we are clear on that," whispered Adam with a nod at his reflection. In the mirror Jack nodded back.
Adam reached out with his empty hand and picked up his coat and he pulled it on. Jack removed a bullet from the pocket and replaced the spent round with a new bullet. Adam pulled up the collar. Jack put the gun in the coat pocket and smiled. Adam took one last look around the dingy flat. Then Jack stepped out into the night and Adam went with him in silence.
Another day slowly dawned. It dawned on the still slumbering masses, safe in their beds. It dawned on the early rising milkmen, huddled against the cold in their milk floats. It dawned on the birds in the trees planted along the riverside as the driving force of nature brought the first notes of the dawn chorus to their throats. It even dawned on the still form of James Fletcher but he could not appreciate the start of the new day, nor the singing of the nearby birds to herald the dawn. For just when James had thought that his life could not get any worse as he had wandered his way miserably back home, he was proved wrong.
The water lapped gently against the sides of his body. His middle-aged face looked calm and peaceful, it's lines somehow softened, smoothed of care and worry. James seemed to be sleeping, but the blue tinge of his lips suggested that it would be a very long sleep indeed.
A figure sat on the riverbank quietly regarding the body lying amongst the mud and rocks and water. He hugged his knees tighter to his chest and, sighing, started gently to rock back and forth. Neither the rain nor the chill of the morning seemed to worry him as he watched the water slowly start to fill the river again. nor did he make any move as a tall, dark-haired man in a long black coat stepped up behind him. Without turning, he raised his arm and gestured towards the body in the river.
"What a pointless way to die," he said his voice flat and devoid of emotion.
If the tall man had heard him, he made no indication. He simply stood staring impassively out across the river, watching the sun start it's weary climb into the sky.
"He was attacked by a gang of kids, you know," said the sitting man as he continued to rock slowly back and forth. "A gang of kids. Not much older than school age."
The tall man inclined his head towards the voice but remained silent.
"They got angry when they found out he had no money on him and threw him into the river." The sitting figure shifted his gaze to a rather shabby, leather object floating in the slowly rising water, next to James' body. "And his wallet," he whispered and sighed deeply.
He lowered his chin to rest on his knees.
"I guess they didn't know it was low tide," he said quietly.
His gaze returned to the body which was now starting to move in the current of the water refilling the river. He watched it thoughtfully. After a few moments the corners of his mouth started to twitch and he tried to suppress a smirk. He turned his attention to his silent companion in an attempt to regain his composure but this did not help and, if anything, seemed to make it worse.
The smirk became a smile, the smile became a manic grin, the grin a giggle and then finally deep throated laughter. The laughter of someone who has finally got the joke.
He toppled over backwards onto the damp grass clutching his sides, doubled over with silent mirth.
The tall man watched him, speechless and without emotion. His dark hair waved slightly in the light breeze, seemingly untouched by the drizzle.
After a while the laughing man stopped and slowly uncurled himself to lie full length on the cool, damp grass.
"That's the story of his life, I'm afraid, he said softly. "Low tide."
The tall figure regarded him quizzically.
"A nobody, killed for nothing in an empty river. I suppose he broke his neck in the fall," sighed the prone figure, slowly running his fingers through the blades of grass. "A pointless death for a pointless man with no purpose to his pointless life. I mean what a way to die. Some people die heroically. Their deaths make a difference to other. You know, saving lives or protecting people. But who will mourn for him? No wife, no lover, no children, no family." He shook his head. "Quite frankly, who would notice, who would care if he had never been? Who would care?"
The tall man seemed to consider this for a moment, a long drawn-out moment, and when he finally spoke, in a voice the man lying on the grass more felt than heard, it seemed like the only noise in the universe.
The passing of one, touches and changes the lives of all those whom they meet.
The figure on the grass lay quietly for long minutes.
"But he accomplished nothing," he remarked eventually. "He will be remembered for nothing. Who will remember him or even speak his name in a hundred years time?"
The tall, dark man shook his head slowly and spoke again.
A name matters little in the universal scale of things, he said. And even if no-one does remember, the actions of the life have already influenced the those met and, in turn those they meet, and so on. An expanding ripple on the lake of existence. Some ripples may appear larger than others but all will reach the edge of the lake eventually, no matter how imperceptible they have become.
The man on the grass sat up and stared at the dark figure.
"You mean, he did leave his mark on the world?" he enquired earnestly.
Yes, nodded the tall, dark man. But why do you keep referring to "he" and "him"?
The man sitting on the grass thought about this for a moment.
"I don't know," he shrugged finally. "I suppose it helps me to deal with the situation better."
He turned back to the body floating quietly in the rising water.
"Poor James Fletcher," he sighed. He seemed to think for a moment. "I mean, poor me."
Life is just a cycle of birth, death and rebirth, said the tall man.
He briefly inclined his head towards the water and his pale features seemed to soften slightly.
Like the tides, he whispered. The tall man straightened up. JAMES FLETCHER, he called out.
The spirit of James Fletcher stood up from where he had been sitting on the grass watching his own body, bobbing gently in the rising tide.
Your time is over but a new tide will arise, declared Death.
James' spirit nodded to Death. "Thank you. I'm ready now."
Death smiled slightly and reached. A scythe with a blade like a sliver of night appeared in his pale hands and, nodding to James, he swung it in a lazy arc.
The spirit of James Fletcher stepped forward to meet his destiny, and behind him the tide continued to rise.
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