This week’s sentence was taken from Alan Paton’s desperate message from apartheid-era South Africa, ‘Cry, The Beloved Country’.
‘Jarvis sat a long time smoking, he did not read any more.’
Some Choices Are Not Really Choices
Sunset, sliced by venetian blinds slashed stripes across the room, slithered over Mackinson and slipped across his desk, slid down the wall and slunk off across the carpet into the corner, painting a pot plant in shades of burnt amber.
Smoke curled and writhed, playing lazily in the bars of sunlight. Dust danced. The only movement.
Down the hall someone was playing a Miles Davis LP. Mackinson recognised Moon Dreams from Birth of the Cool. He smiled.
An old room. He liked it that way. High ceilings. Art Deco, tiger-striped maple wainscoting, green glass shades, chevrons zig-zagging across faded silk on sagging sofas.
The walls wore a stylish set of sepia photos: 1930s Manhattan. Long, low, dark-framed, panoramic skylines taken from the water: Chrysler, Empire State, Liberty; Brooklyn Bridge; the classics.
The desk bare but for a reading lamp, a bottle of good scotch, two cut-glass tumblers and the gun. The lamp stand was bronze, shaped like a dancer from the Folies, shiny in patches where he liked to rub it for luck. The revolver a 38 snub-nose police special laying next to Mackinson's hand on a thick towel which could be instantly wrapped around it as an improvised silencer.
Mackinson waited patiently, perfectly still, nonchalant, seemingly relaxed but deceptively so, in the same way a tiger might crouch and watch his prey.
His prey, a City Councilman named Jarvis, sat sweating, sucking on a cigarette as he read through the pages on his lap; face flushed, florid under a bad wig, forehead slick with the sheen of having walked up too many flights of stairs to get here. A big man unused to exercise, unused to pressure, unused to the tight knot of fear that now gripped his stomach. His rumpled suit displayed dark patches under the arms, his lank tie awry. Jowly. The Councilman looked a little like Dick Nixon might have if someone had landed a good one on that ski-ramp of a nose.
Leaning forward he gulped down a half-tumbler of scotch. Mackinson didn't refill his glass; Mackinson didn't move a muscle; he simply stared.
A crackle as Jarvis turned a page, eyes panicked, lower lip trembling. Rivulets of sweat ran down from his temples over a flabby neck, staining his shirt collar.
The gun was mostly for show but he would happily use it. He would equally happily not. The man was weak. Spineless. Loathsome. A stony stare kept him cowed. Much as he despised his victim Mackinson would gladly let Jarvis live. The mess and stink of cutting up and disposing of the body would put him off dinner tonight. Besides, he was just the messenger, Bartleby had laid it all out clear as day on those few terrible pages.
Jarvis sat a long time smoking, he did not read any more. Mackinson watched him carefully, searching his face for clues.
Eventually time, like his cigarette, ran out. Jarvis shuddered, took a deep, trembling breath and raised his wet eyes to meet Mackinson's.