Sunday, 10 October 2010

The Resurrection Bureau - Part 7

'Hello, I'm looking for Sally Sparks?' looking at the woman's silk flower print dress and cream cardigan Eve was almost certain that this woman was not the person she was looking for - and she was proved wrong a third time.
'You must be from the Bureau,' the woman - Sally Sparks - replied with a smile. She held open the door.
Eve stepped into a large rundown porch. A dusty staircase turned into darkness above them.
'You'd best come up,' Sally Spark said, 'but please be quiet. There are two old gentlemen living on the first floor, and they do so hate to be disturbed.'
She ran up the staircase. Eve noted, with a sinking feeling, that Sally Sparks's feet were bare, and black with dirt. She followed Sally up stairs, barely even able to keep her in sight in the dimly lit staircase; she almost seemed to vanish, to be little more than a flutter of flowery silk and pale legs in the darkness.
At the first landing Eve almost ran into the little woman, who held a finger to her lips and pointed at a large, dark oak door. Sally Sparks's two old gentlemen, no doubt - and, Eve reflected, it looked like they had been undisturbed for time - cobwebs ran in curtains down the door.
Probably been eaten by their cats, Eve thought with a shudder.
At the top of the staircase Sally Sparks stood in a shaft of dusty light thrown by a roof window. It was so dim that Eve could barely see her, and the door she stood in front of looked to small to belong to an adult's apartment. Eve felt another twinge of discomfort - she did not even like to think of what lay beyond Sally's Sparks door.
'Before you come in I must ask you a very serious question,' said the dark shape of Sally Sparks's head.
Eve released a shaky sigh. 'Okay?'
'All right,' Sally Sparks said. 'My very serious question to you is - do you prefer tea or coffee?'
'Um...' Eve blinked in the dim light. 'Tea?'
'That's the right answer,' said Sally Sparks, and she threw open the small door, filling the dark space at the top of the stairs with red light. 'Come inside, Eve.'
Eve stepped past the smiling little woman and into the red room. It only occurred to her afterwards that she had not told Sally Sparks her name.


The rooms were large and cold and empty but for spiders, mice and dust.
Old, thick curtains were drawn across the large sash windows. They had been put up sometime around the date of the Battle of Trafalgar, had been drawn closed, and never opened again. The dust that covered everything breathed in to the room from the open fire, its grate long ago blown clean of any coals. Spiders’ webs wreathed the room, and covered its two inhabitants … because the spiders did not fear the two men. Similarly mice and rats had made nests in the chairs in which they sat, the two men (it is easier to call them men than anything else) did not harm them and the little creatures did not fear them.
The men sat facing one another across a small table. One man was large and the other small, their clothes, in the style of the time, were covered in formerly vivid braid and once shining brass buttons. Now their clothes were little more than dusty rags, held together by cobwebs, dusty and entropy.
On the table between them sat two small spherical objects, deeply buried in dust.
In the dark room the only sound was the hiss of rain against the window, dulled by thick and ancient curtains, and the scritch-scratch of mice living in confident isolation.
Suddenly, with a sound like soot fall in a chimney, the smaller of the two men coughed out a wad of dust and mummified spiders.
He reached across the table, picked up the small spheres, placed them into the dusty, empty sockets in his face, and blinked, two, three, four times.
'Mr Grace,' he whispered to his stirring companion in a voice from a dusty crypt. 'I believe there are good works to be done.'


'Well now, here we are, a cup of tea and a nice fire, what could be better than that?'
Eve smiled uncertainly at Sally Sparks, and took a sip from her tea, taking the chance to flcik her eyes around the room. Sally Sparks's small bedsit reminded of a cave - or perhaps, she reflected, a budoir would be a more acurate description. The ceiling was invisible under swathes of silk that gave the impression of being inside a tent. The walls were covered in paintings of wild landscape and framed pages of yellow scroll, with words written in ancient languages - or perhaps languages which did not exist outside of stories about dragons, wizards and elves. There were also a lot of nude paintings on the walls - some, though not all, of Sally Sparks, and some, had not Sally Sparks's refined demeanor and calming presense made the very idea seem quite ridiculous, verging on the pornographic. There was a large log fire set into one wall that send flickered red light across the room, which was reflected and amplified by red, white and black candles that sat dripping wave on every surface. The carpet on the floor was heavily paterned in a style that Eve reflected was either the height of Boho fashion, or the very apex of bad taste - though very little of the floor was visible beneath piles of books which covered virtually every inch of the carpet, and smelt of old paper, mice and long ago smoked cigarettes.
Eve could see a small kitchen, a very large bed piled with a mountain of multi-coloured cushions, and a doorway which presumably led to the bathroom. Sally Sparks did not seems to have a TV, computer or even a telephone, though Eve could barely comprehend how anyone could exist in the world without a phone and basic broadband.
Oh well, she reflected, this is The North, after all.
'Miss Sparks,' Eve began, putting her cup of tea down on a book the size of a coffee table, 'I've been sent here by The Resurrection Bureau to discuss your case.'
Sally Sparks took a sip of her tea and smiled, 'Have you dear?' was all she said.
Eve opened her bag and took out a pile of papers. 'It says here...' she made a show of rifling through the papers, though in reality only one sheet had any baring on Sally Sparks - the rest were actually her application form and CV which she had taken to the office with her that morning, and forgotten to remove when she returned to his apartment to pick up her belongings for the journey. 'It says here that you have been receiving an endowment from the Bureau for the last six months?'
'No,' Sally Spark replied.
'No?' Eve exclaimed.
'No,' Sally Spark repeated. 'I have been receiving payments from your Resurrection Bureau much, much longer than that.'
'Um...' Eve rifled through the useless papers again. 'How long?'
'Oh, I couldn't possibly say.'
Eve shot Sally Sparks a puzzled look, but she merely smiled, her legs crossed demurely, a tea cup held in both small hands, one dirty foot dangling in the air.
Eve tried again. 'You've recently quit your job at a local DIY superstore, Miss Sparks? Can you tell me why?'
'I don't work,' Sally Sparks replied. 'I haven't for many years. I think you may need to check your facts.'
Eve blinked at her. What was Crichton playing at? Was this a genuine mistake, or perhaps some type of test? Was she supposed to find something out about this polite little woman?
Eve did not know what she would have asked Sally Sparks first, but she need not have worried, as Sally put down her cup, clasped her hands together, smiled, and said, 'You have no idea why you're here, do you, Guinevere?'
'Eve,' Eve snapped instantly. 'My name is Eve. I'm here, Miss Sparks to assess your case. There has obviously been some sort of mix up with the details of your endowment--'
'I very much doubt it, The Resurrection Bureau doesn't make mistakes. It can't afford to.'
Eve didn't even try to puzzle that out, but reached into her pocket and pulled out her phone. 'I'm sure if I ring the office they'll be able to send me the relevant documents.'
'Your phone won't work here, Guinevere,' said Sally Sparks.
'My name--' Eve began, and then jerked backwards with a gasp as her phone let out a booming bark in her ear.

To be continued...

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