The next day, after The Drunkard called me into the courtyard at nine in the morning and told me the story, he called The Stalker outside for his punishment. I was hung over from drinking a bottle and a half of red wine during my Risk game, but still, one has duties as a friend. “What did you decide on?” I asked.
The Drunkard took a sip of coffee from his travel mug. “There’s an animal shelter in town. Chretien and I decided that the best way for him to make amends for his actions would be for The Stalker to volunteer at the shelter for the week.”
I nodded. It seemed like a just plan. Though the animals in the shelter probably weren’t rabbits, they were still animals that needed a break and a helping hand—definitely more than the rabbits on campus, at any rate. So, in a way, by helping the injured and abandoned animals, The Stalker might be seen as coming out on top. “Why am I around?”
“You’re here in case The Stalker decides that maybe he doesn’t want to come along and help the abandoned kitties and puppies of Canterbury. Congrats, Narrator,” he said, “you’re the muscle in this operation.”
The idea of me being the muscle in any sort of operation scared the hell out of me, for it implied that there was literally no one else insane enough to go along.
“Don’t worry, though,” continued The Drunkard, stretching after another sip. “I don’t think Stalker’ll do anything to make it harder on himself. After all, the bastard came one step away from being decapitated by a Frenchman last night, and that’s enough to shake even the hardest of hardasses among us.”
“Speaking of the guillotine,” I said, sitting down on one of the benches, “what happened to it?”
“After I made sure that The Stalker got back up to his room without being hurt, I convinced Matthieu to dismantle it out into the woods out back.” The Drunkard shook his head. “I can’t believe the crazy bastard had a fucking guillotine in his room. The space it must have taken up alone is enough to make you think that the guy’s certifiable.”
“You think that’s bad?” I asked. “You should see the iron maiden I keep in my closet. I barely have space to put in any of my clothes.”
“I know you’re joking,” said The Drunkard, “but after seeing all that went down last night, I honestly wouldn’t put it past anyone to have a torture device in their rooms.”
The Stalker stepped through the frame of what was previously a door. Like every other time I’d seen him, he wore his black hoodie, black jeans, and black contacts. What with my white Dickens College hoodie (which had a picture of the author on the back) and The Drunkard’s brown leather jacket and fedora (it actually looked pretty good on him), we made quite the trio. “Hello, Narrator,” said The Stalker, “I wasn’t aware that you were going to be joining us on this day of repentance.”
“Week of repentance,” corrected The Drunkard.
“Whatever,” The Stalker said, not moving his eyes off of me. I wondered what the man did to make it through British Customs a few weeks ago. “Either way, the more’s the merrier. As they say.”
The man’s monotone voice was starting to grate on my nerves. Just for a moment, I wished that I had been there when he faced Madame Guillotine, so that I could have seen that The Stalker was capable of instilling some emotion other than terror. (I still wasn’t convinced that everything had happened like The Drunkard told me it did, and it wouldn’t be until he took me into the woods and showed me the giant steel blade that was the heart of the guillotine that I believed him. Even then, though, I doubted that Julie had behaved like a leading lady in an Indiana Jones movie.)
“Wrong again,” said The Drunkard. “You’re the only one who’s going to be doing any of the volunteering. We’re just along to make sure that you go to the shelter and start on your work.”
“I see. And where will you be while I am in thrall to the RSPCA?”
“Don’t know. Reckon we can grab a drink or something for a couple of hours.”
I checked my watch. “It’s half-past nine.”
The Drunkard shrugged. “Fine, coffee then. I don’t understand this aversion to drinking before noon that you guys have. You haven’t experienced the day until you’ve had a Guinness to start off the morning. Now,” he said to The Stalker, “here’s how this is going to work: You’re going to walk in front of us and we will be on either side of you. We will walk—”
“You’re treating me like a prisoner,” said The Stalker. It was true. I thought that The Drunkard’s method of getting The Stalker to the shelter was a bit unorthodox.
“No,” said The Drunkard. “I just don’t trust you standing behind me, and I’d rather have someone else here in case you mistake me for a rabbit and try to take a knife to me.”
The Stalker responded in his usual way: he stared at The Drunkard for a few seconds—eyes blank, like a shark’s—and then went on his way. We followed and, thankfully, made it down the University Foot Path without incident.
The shelter was a large building—for England; in the States, it would have been on par with a stand-alone McDonald’s—with a small reception lobby in the front. The lobby was clean with tile floors, potted plants, and posters of sad looking animals on them, with text asking people to donate to the RSPCA. I started feeling sad that I didn’t have my dog around—a big golden retriever named Mr. Floppy—so I put a ten pound note in one of the donation jars. From the back of the building, we could hear dogs barking, cats meowing, and some birds chirping. It sounded like any vet’s office I’d been in.
The Drunkard walked up to the desk and rang the silver bell. A middle-aged woman in white scrubs on which cartoon dog bones had been stitched opened a door behind the reception area. “Help you?” she asked, sitting down at the chair.
“Yes, ma’am,” said The Drunkard. “My friend here,” he said, indicating The Stalker, who was glowering from a corner, “wants to help you guys out for a week. See, he’s really missing his dog back home—Snuffles, he calls her—and this is about the best way he can get to feeling like she’s right here with him.”
The woman smiled. “Well isn’t that just sweet?” She stood up and waved The Stalker over. “Come on, love. I’m sure we can find something for you to do.”
“Fantastic,” said The Drunkard. “The only thing is, he’s got some things planned during the afternoons, so he’ll only be able to help out for a few hours a day. We’ll be back to collect him around half past noon.”
The woman said that was just fine, they could use whatever help they could get, and she’d see us in a couple of hours.
We went to the French café on the High Street to pass the time. It was getting to be that the mornings were, as a rule, cool and crisp. I preferred to think of the temperature as needlessly cold at a needless hour, but The Drunkard insisted that it was merely crisp. I bought an espresso, thinking that the heat of the beverage on top of the energy it produced would help keep my mind off the weather, at least until I got used to it. The Drunkard ordered a large glass of red wine.
I checked my watch, saw that it was twenty past ten, and said, “You sure about that?”
The Drunkard looked at me, arched an eyebrow, and took a sip from his wine.
“You know,” I said, “I’m just saying that cause it’s half past ten in the morning and, generally speaking, drinking before noon is a sign of some problems.”
The Drunkard took another sip from his wine.
“I’m not trying to say that you have problems, you know. I’m just saying that, you know, the passerby might look at you and think, ‘Wow, that guy there, he’s got some weird stuff going on with him. Why else would he be drinking wine at half past ten in the morning?’”
The Drunkard looked at my steaming espresso and took another sip of his wine.
“Course, what do passersby know? There’s a reas—”
“Thanks for the concern, Pops,” he continued, “but I’m fine. It’s even recommended that you drink a glass of red wine a day. I’m just getting a head start. Besides—” A woman about our age walked by our table wearing tight jeans, long black boots, a black t-shirt, and a leather jacket. The Drunkard watched her until she turned into an alley. “Besides, if you’re worried about someone going past their limit, you should be worried about The Student. No way that guy’s been drinking enough to handle the sorts of volume I’ve seen him put away over the past couple of days.”
“Nah,” I said. “I wouldn’t worry about him.”
“And why not?”
“He’s the sort of person who drinks like that because he thinks it’ll stop him from thinking about something. Now, there are two reasons why he’ll stop drinking so much: The first, because he finds out that alcohol forces him to concentrate on whatever he’s thinking about—just happens like that, doesn’t it? The second, because he’ll wake up with such a disgusting hangover that, when he looks into the toilet and sees bits of matter colored in ways he wouldn’t have thought possible, he’ll stop drinking to such excess.”
The Drunkard nodded. “Yeah, he does strike me as that type.”
“And you? Why do you drink like you do?”
The Drunkard grunted. He took a chair from the table next to us, brought it over, and propped his legs up on it. “Would ‘it’s something to do’ be too trite an answer for you?”
“Worse, it’d be a nonanswer.”
“True.” He took a drink from the glass. “I’ll think about it, get you an answer in a way that tries to make some sense in terms of logic and coherence. How’s that sound?”
“Works for me.”
We sat and people watched for a while longer. The Drunkard finished off two glasses of wine while I put an Americano on top of the espresso and thus ensured that I would be extremely alert for about two hours before dropping nearly dead in the middle of my seminar at one. After, we collected The Stalker and went our separate ways.