Playing Stories — Chapter 20: Sympathy For The Devil

(Before we begin: the author would like to note that all events in this story are fictional and do not pertain to anyone on earth. No identifications with any real-life counterparts are intended from this creative work.

Got to be careful these days. Anyway, moving on…)

Chapter 20: Sympathy for the Devil
from the 1968 album “Beggars’ Banquet” by the Rolling Stones
posted at 15:23, 29 March 2019

As heads is tails, just call me “Lucifer”
Cause I’m in need of some restraint
So if you meet me, have some courtesy
Have some sympathy, and some taste…

The car sped into the Southern Tunnel, and Shirley Carcross squirmed in the back seat. Her soon-to-be father-in-law was driving fast: faster than he’d ever driven, like a bat out of hell. His hands gripped the steering wheel tightly, and not a word passed out of his lips as he drove.

Gone was the cautious driver, gone was the comfortable ride that his passengers always teased him for. Shirley looked at her fiancé and raised her eyebrows. Thomas only shook his head and stared forward as his father cut across two almost empty lanes, narrowly missing a passing Honda. “Sorry!” Shirley gulped and closed her eyes, praying that she would get home in one piece. They were almost there — she could see the city lights, streaming through the Rainham portal…

Then in front of them: sirens. Lots and lots of sirens. A blinding collage of colours — of colliding reds and blues, of fierce white lights appearing out of nowhere. Shirley instinctively flung her head the other way, disoriented by the glare — but the Honda was there, two lights suddenly perched on the . Through the haze, Shirley made out a whole line of vehicles almost blocking the entire highway, their headlights all trained on their little saloon. In the seat next to her, Thomas swore under his breath.

A voice came from amongst the vehicles. “Mr. James Lowery?”

Over in the driver’s seat, Pastor Jim sighed and turned to her. “Sorry, Shirley, I was hoping that you’d get home before this caught up with us…” He stuck his head out of the window calmly. “Yes, that’s me.”

“Get out of the car, you and whoever’s in the vehicle.”

“What’s going on?” His voice was dripping with resignation and anxiety.

“Please don’t make me say this twice, Mr. Lowery. Everyone in the car, come out with your hands in the air.” The voice sliced through the air, disembodied and mechanical.

“Stay in the car, you two,” said Pastor Jim as he unbuckled his seatbelt. He walked towards the police. Shirley couldn’t see what happened next from her seat — there was only the deafening roar of blood in her ears, her mind racing through the possibilities. What was going on? Why were they being stopped? And why did Thomas, now biting his lips so hard that he was drawing blood, look so upset? Nothing had happened for some time. Perhaps the authorities had forgotten that there were still people in the car. Then, as if reading her thoughts, the voice blared out from the cordon of vehicles again: “I said everyone.”

The interrogation room was cold and airless. A glass pane sat facing her: she wondered for the hundredth time who was sitting behind it, watching her every move. She did not know how much time had passed since she had been brought to the station. There was no clock in the room: only the steady pumping of her heart as she thought of a thousand scenarios, each worse than the last. She looked around, wondering why they were taking so long to talk to her. They’d yet to register her, or even ask her what she wanted. She wondered what Thomas and Pastor Jim were going through right now. Then the door opened, and a woman with a bob haircut and a sneer came in.

“So, Ms. Carcross, is it?” she said, sitting down in front of Shirley. Without waiting for a reply, she continued: “so do you know what you’re doing here?”

“Of course not… why am I here? What about Pastor Jim and Thomas? What have you done with them? Who are you? Am I in trouble? We were only having dinner together, that can’t be illegal…”

The woman sighed and held up a hand. Shirley sputtered to a halt. “One at a time, please. I’m Inspector White, and it’s a good thing you’re here,” she said, her voice making it clear that it was not a good thing that she was there. “We’d just like to ask you to help us out on a few things. You’re the fiancée of the son, Thomas, yes?”

She stared at Shirley, as if daring her to disagree. Shirley found herself nodding. “Yeah, he proposed two months ago.”

“Did he say anything about his finances back then? Getting married is a big deal.”

Shirley’s brow creased. Already this conversation was taking an odd turn. “Of course he did, but we’re fine about that. Jim promised that he’d help us out when we needed it, and I’m doing well myself…”

The inspector frowned. “Thank you, but that’s not what I’m asking. Do you know anything about the Lowerys? The church they run, and things like that?”

“Well I daresay he’s going steady. Being a church worker doesn’t pay that much, but he and Pastor Jim have always done well for themselves.”

The inspector sighed yet again. “Please, Ms. Carcross, let’s just cut to the chase here. You know about the Lowerys and the underground movement don’t you?”

“What? What the heck are you talking about…”

“I’m talking about terrorism, Carcross.” The woman’s voice had gotten much rougher in an instant, her eyes cold, all pretence of civility dropped. “I’m talking about the things they preach in their sermons, I’m talking about the filth and lies that they spread about what goes on in our country. And I’m talking about how they manage to keep on doing it.”

Shirley’s mouth dropped open, but the inspector went on, her voice continuing to drop down into a deadly growl. “You’ve been in the Escher Church for ten years? It’s a dinky little church with what, a hundred people? And yet it’s still running so well! Despite only a small number of people like you still listening to them! Now that you’re being married to that man Lowery you should know them very well.”

“How do you know how long I’ve…” Shirley sputtered to a halt and took a deep breath. “I mean, yes, Pastor Jim occasionally has some thoughts that he posts on the church website, but I wouldn’t call it treachery… just some ideas for improvement. I mean, we’re just trying to serve…”

“Quit playing the fucking saint with me,” she snarled. “We’re not interested in your holier-than-thou posturing. We want to know how you’re getting the money.” She closed the file and shoved it to one side. “Come on, I haven’t got all night.”

Shirley almost jumped out of her seat. “I know literally nothing about the money! Every single person here gives willingly. Even I give twenty a week! People believe in this sort of thing, Inspector, and they want to help. Thomas and Jim are both decent people, whether or not they believe in God, and so are we.”

“Decent people don’t talk about lies and things they don’t know. Decent people don’t try to overthrow governments. And decent people don’t engage in fucking money laundering, Carcross, and that’s what…”

“They would NEVER do such a thing. They want everyone to just stop being so mad, you know?” Shirley’s head was in a buzz. She slammed her hands on the table in frustration.

“Calm down, Carcross.”

“Don’t tell me to calm down, you’re the ones who should calm the heck down! We’re living in such weird, chaotic times. They just want people to… to learn from their mistakes, and that’s what they teach! They don’t set out to undermine you or the people up there, and everything we do is from the heart! If you have questions about the money, go and check the receipts, ask around the charities! For the love of God, when will you people stop trying to catch us doing something… not even illegal, unconforming…”

She stuttered to a halt. The inspector sat across from her. Nobody said a word for a long, long time. Then there was a knock at the door. Another policeman poked his head in. “Ronnie? Come out for a second.” He leered at Shirley for a second before the inspector went out and shut the door. Shirley stared down at the table. What was going on? What was this about her fiancé being involved in sedition or whatever it was? There had to be a mistake. Or maybe they were just looking for an excuse, just finding an opportunity to shut them down. It was all too much. Who knew what was going on these days?

She waited for ages. When the inspector came back in, she had a nasty smile on her face.

“Well, I guess we’re not getting anything from you this night,” the inspector said, grabbing the file from the table. “We’ll investigate a bit before we ask you anything more… come with me to register and then you can go.”

Shirley blinked. Wow, that was a u-turn. “Oh, okay… thanks. Shall we go?”

To their surprise, they turned the other way and walked deeper into the building. Shirley’s mind continued to spin, disoriented by all the stuff that had happened in the past couple of hours. Then she realized something.

“Where are the Lowerys?” she asked the inspector.

“Oh, they went home without you,” she said, giving a small chuckle. “They said you should see them on Friday.”

“Don’t you mean Wednesday?” Pastor Jim never forgot dates like that. He had the church’s groups memorized down pat.

She shrugged. “Well, you’ll see them soon enough. Anyway, here we are…”

They turned the corner, and Shirley stopped short. Stretching in front of them was a long, narrow corridor seeming to comprise of nothing but smooth, grey panels. They lined the floor, the walls, even the ceiling. At the end of the corridor was the thing that had made Shirley flinch: a shadow that seemed to shift with every passing second, finally resolving into a man in a trench coat. His hands were in his pockets and he nodded in their direction. Shirley turned and saw the inspector nodding back at him. She caught Shirley’s eye and her lips curled into a thin smile, gesturing down the hallway. “Through there. You’ll be rid of us soon.”

And at that moment, Shirley Carcross knew what was going to happen next. The corridor seemed to elongate and tilt on its side, and she stumbled slightly. The inspector made no effort to reach out or steady her. Their eyes met, and the older woman’s smile broadened. Like a child, thought Shirley, toying with her food before she ate it.

“How can I make this easier for you?” she said.

“Just walk,” said the policewoman, her hands in her pockets, thoroughly enjoying herself. “We’ll take care of you.”

She nodded. Her legs felt like they’d just had lead poured into them and every step simply prolonged the agony, but she knew that there was no escape. All she could do was walk down the corridor to her fate.

She had expected the hit to come near the end of the room. Instead, she heard the three bangs come from behind her. As the bullets pierced her chest, her heart shuddering and bursting open like a balloon stretched beyond breaking point, Shirley fell to the floor. She felt the darkness closing upon her, heard a few quiet giggles in the hallway. The possibility of saying some famous last words flashed through her mind — something witty, something wry, something that highlighted the injustice of her situation — but she merely sighed and shut her eyes. Some things you just didn’t have an answer for.

I couldn’t sleep.

I thought about what you said for a very long time. It’s true, you know, I really do have not much to do… and this really is one of the few things keeping me sane. I wish I could get out more, see my friends on the town if they’d even come and see me. I worry that I really will go mad here, it’s just not the job that I was looking forward to when I signed up and I don’t even know if I like it here anymore.

Also: I write these stories because, well, life is shitty like this. You can write all those upbeat endings all you like, but none of them are TRUE. Sure, I can fool myself with happy endings all I like, but what’s the point when you find out that tragedy’s always just round the corner anyway?

Sorry for the outburst, that just came out of me. Hope you’re okay from what happened Wednesday.

— E

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