The weekend proper advances towards us with a lumbering inevitability born of a nation’s collective, desperate longing. The end of the week means another blog post, and the return of Mr Callis. Today I give you Smoking the Kipper, or as I sometimes call it Callis Goes to the Seaside. In this instalment I tried to develop Callis a bit more. By exploring his internal thoughts I hoped to make him seem a little bit more likeable and not just a horrible, murderous bastard.
Smoking the Kipper
A lazy sun wallowed in the noon day sky, beating down on the quaint sea side town of Ansolita. It hazed the air and imbued the place with a lingering, listless mood. A thin, wiry man, clad in nothing more than a sweat drenched vest and a pair of trousers so worn that they shone, sat upon a stool smoking a limp cigarette; Drinking in the blazing sun and the cleansing tang of fresh sea air in a uniquely deferential way. Tall grass waved in a faint breeze coming down the coast and taking from the heat the oppressive edge that would otherwise have so sapped the energy of any a man. As far as the eye could see water stretched across the horizon, sparkling like a thin sheet of burnished sapphire. It was for want of a better word: beauty. Beauty was something that so often escaped the man, something his line of work frequently insulated him from. True, there was beauty in his work, but it was so esoteric, only a connoisseur could ever really appreciate its nuances. This however was pure beauty, something that even the untrained or unappreciative eye could not ignore. And because of this, for the briefest of moments, he was no longer Mr. Callis.
The vista before him was made even more delightful by the fact that Don Jermai had almost stopped screaming. He had been screaming for so long, it was a testament to the man’s strength of will if nothing else. His was not to be a pleasant death. Callis very really meted out pleasant deaths, but even by the grim and macabre standards of his world, it was not even remotely pleasant. It was slow, agonizing and vindictive. It was the only real way for any true lord of the underworld to die. The setting added a certain poetic flair to the affair and, rather conveniently placed the blame at the door of someone else. With one last muffled thump, the screaming abated and the late Don Jermai slumped to the floor of his own kipper house; smoked alive.
Callis sat alone with the sun for a while. Too fleeting were the moments like this. Beauty and death side by side, neither beauty in death nor the beauty of death, but the two individual entities together and separate. There was also the chance that the Great Don may have second thoughts about dying. Some people, especially important people, quite often did not have the common decency to just die. Perhaps that was part of what made them special; both in life and the strange sense of satisfaction that it left in the pit of Callis’ gut. With the dying embers of his cigarette winking out and being carried off by the errant breeze Callis rose wearily from his stool and began to stretch out the stiffness in his idle limbs. From a peg by the door of the smokehouse he took his wide brimmed straw hat and placed it upon his head. With this he jammed his hands into his trouser pockets and resolutely set off at a casual pace towards the cliffs.
It was in Callis’ nature to whistle after a job well done, once all the ill intent and foul chicanery had passed. It made him feel slightly less like an instrument and more like a man. The idea of being an instrument, he found, instilled one with a sense of mechanical immortality; that come what may from whatever parts hitherto unseen, nothing truly had the power to wound or destroy you. It made you feel invincible. This is all well and good till you consider one very simple fact that many folk such as he often neglected to consider; the fact that they were only just men. They were not immortal, they were not indestructible, they were not gods, they were only men. And all men bleed. And all men die. To view oneself again as nothing more than a man, with all the flesh and blood, all the frail imperfections that it entailed ensured that Callis would hopefully never fall into this self constructed trap. The problem that always faced Callis in this situation was exactly what to whistle? There were such a myriad of tunes in the world, each with its own unique message, subtext and tone. To whistle the wrong tune was to make yourself obvious, to make yourself exposed when you were otherwise concealed and most importantly of all it was to mar an otherwise brilliant masterpiece. One’s extrication from the scene, even if no one ever saw you was as much a part of the art of what you had done as the crime itself. So few people realised that these days. Or maybe Callis was just beginning to feel old. He was certainly older than a man in his profession had any right to be. He should really have had the common decency to die by now, or was this just what made him special? His face took on a cruel smile at this thought. How could a man in his late twenties feel so much older than he was? It must have been all the blood and all the flames in which he had been so ungently tempered. Flames were after all vampiric by their very nature, they consumed so that they might live, perhaps they had consumed some of him too? Callis found these thoughts to be far too bleak for such a splendid day. He decided that something vital was needed, a tune with a spring in its step, possibly even a little folksy twang. There was a jig he rather liked, from the steppes at the feet of the great city of Centillis. And with that the jaunty and uplifting notes issued forth from the pursed lips of Callis. Once more beauty and death stood side by side. Callis felt the inklings of something that might possibly have been joy, not the joy he was used to either. His own personal joy was far divorced from that of the ordinary man, so much so it should be called perverse. This was a simple joy, the one of the sun on your face and the wind in your hair. It appealed to something primal in the dark and forgotten recesses of Callis’ mind. Today was a good day.
While Callis sauntered jovially towards the cliff edge and the small boat he had left there earlier that day his thoughts took a rare turn. For the first time he began to wonder why? Not why he did what he did, he knew the answer to that; it was because he enjoyed it. But the why of the crime? For him it had always been more about the act that the reasons for it or its consequences. Her Ladyship was a strange woman, but this seemed particularly far from her usual field of vision. It had always been buildings, cities, lords, kings and emperors on which she had unleashed Mr. Callis. The reasons for these targets in hindsight were quite clear, it was all about moulding the political and economical landscape to suit her myriad of plans and schemes. This turn towards someone so murky concerned Callis. There was no denying that Don Jermai was a powerful man, but his name was not a byword in the halls of power. Not the reputable ones at least. It meant her ladyship was planning something particularly large and particularly devious. The thought sent a shiver down Callis’ spine. A cornucopia of evils and misdeeds had inured Callis to a great many things but her Ladyship terrified him. They had thus far only ever met once and it had been the first time Callis had known fear for over a decade. For all her beauty and poise, for all that grace and majesty, below it lay something so cold and malevolent it chilled the marrow. Looking into her eyes was like looking through stained glass windows into hell. This could however have been a perfectly normal way to react; It had been the first time Callis had been in the presence of nobility, perhaps such an impression was what allowed them to keep their iron gloved fist clenched tightly around the world. There was also a slightly more disturbing prospect. A life of vice and fire had left Callis somewhat of a stranger to the concept of normal human emotion, there was always the lingering thought that what he felt might have been love.
With another shudder Callis began his descent down a flight of stairs cut into the cliff face towards the small stone jetty at their base. He spat over the edge into the sea. It left his mouth feeling dry and his fished out another battered cigarette from his pocket. As he settled into his small row boat he lit it and allowed himself a small quiet moment of peace before he set off. The stump withered into nothingness and he cast it into the sea. From beneath the small bench on which he perched he retrieved the oars jamming them into the locks and casually casting off the rope that tethered the boat. With a sigh Callis began to row, his shoulders bunching and heaving as he scudded out into the bay.
As the wind gently rocked the boat something above him in the sky caught his wandering eyes. A gull was circling over head. Callis’ mood soured within a heartbeat.
“That bitch never gives me a moments peace does she?” He cursed under his breath.
The Crone was coming to check on him. Just how her Ladyship had managed to tame such a foul witch was a mystery to Callis, and yet another thing that made her seem so terrifying. Slowly rising Callis removed one of the oars from the locks and hefted it in his hands, testing its not inconsiderable weight. The gull began to spiral downwards with wearisome inevitability. It beat its wings as it slowed to land on the prow, its beak opening to emit a cry. Before the bird even had a chance to land Callis swung, his arms snapping like an uncoiling spring that had been straining under too much tension. The blade of the oar slammed into the side of the gull with a noise like a hammer hitting a pile of wet cake. The body of the gull arced gracefully through the air and its limp formed vanished beneath the rolling waves without so much as a splash. The swing had unbalanced Callis, he fell backwards, landing on his rear in a manner without dignity or grace. Scrabbling and flailing about like a landed fish he regained his seat on the small bench and spat into the water. Raising the oar and brandishing it like a sabre he screamed.
“How do like them apples you toothless whore?!”
The delight Callis took in tormenting the Crone had become a ritualistic habit. As dangerous as it might be to provoke her, the satisfaction was more than worth it. Callis replaced the oar and began to row away. Callis smiled a smile of happiness and mirth, not savage intent or cruel sarcasm. It was such a rare beast to prowl across the arid planes of his face that any who saw it would have been struck with a slight sense of disbelief, unsure that it had in fact, actually occurred. He chuckled to himself; it really was a wonderful day.