A/N: Huge thank you to CaptainEmo and Seregwen Morthil for the kind reviews. In answer to Seregwen's comment about perhaps giving a little more away, I will try, but giving away too much at this point would probably ruin some of the surprises I've got planned :D
Crowley awoke to faint strains of birdsong, the gentle pitter-patter of the fine spring rain hitting the window… and the sound of the couple in Room 36 having loud and very enthusiastic sex. There was, he thought, as he took a look at the bedside clock and realised that he might have taken his pursuit of sloth a couple of hours too far, few things quite as annoying as entering what probably going to be a day of very tedious reconnaissance to the accompaniment of somebody else enjoying themselves so noisily, vigorously and in German.
Dragging himself from the comfortable little cocoon of blankets he'd somehow unconsciously managed to create for himself during his twelve hour sojourn from the realm of the wakeful, the demon got up, materialised a designer suit, shoes and sunglasses, and walked out into the hallway; the door locking itself after him. Being, as it was, half past eleven in the morning there weren't many guests around: most having got up at less decadent hours in order to 'make the most of the day' (an activity that invariably involved taking a short walk in the picturesque countryside before taking in as many of the quaint little antique shops as physically possible). As he walked down the clean and tastefully uninteresting staircase and into the lobby, he couldn't help but give a small smirk at the fact that the computer monitor that resided on the – now rather battered looking – reception desk was no the one that had been there the previous evening. The boarded up window behind said reception desk, indicated the probable trajectory of the absent monitor.
Suddenly struck by the realisation that his precious Bentley could have been in path of the shattered glass, the demon hurried outside, ready to wish away any bumps, scratches or dents and curse everybody involved in the previous night's little fracas with embarrassing ailments should any of the aforementioned injuries have been inflicted upon the car. Thankfully for everybody concerned the debris on the pavement outside the hotel had stopped short of the spot where the Bentley was parked. Satisfied that no harm had come to the vehicle, Crowley mentally debated whether to drive to his temptation target's place of work or not. He eventually opted to walk on the basis that, while tearing around the town at 180mph might incite a fair bit of wrath, he'd get a better sense of the place and its overall sin potential on foot.
Feeling moderately content and relatively relaxed, the demon therefore set off down the street in the direction that one of the tastefully painted and peculiarly un-vandalised signposts indicated the Willowholme Town Library to be located. Pausing for a moment, he made a small gesture with his left hand and an extremely strong, yet highly localised, gust of wind spun the signs around, so that the arrow purporting to indicate the location of the Pennington Museum of Fine Art actually pointed in the direction of the public toilets, and the arrow labelled Public Toilets instructed the unwary tourist to head in the direction of the Willowholme Water Gardens.
There were some temptations a demon just couldn't resist.
It was, he thought, as he walked past the rows of trinket selling establishments, tea rooms and self-consciously rustic-looking pubs (with distinctly un-rustic prices on the charmingly presented menu boards), not such an irksome place as he had first feared. The people didn't seem to be as sickly sweet and wholesome as their chocolate box cottages might have suggested, and the quaint facades of the shop fronts concealed a veritable hotbed of greed, covetousness and vanity. This did not, of course, diminish the general lack of style (there was after all a horrendous amount of lilac in the town centre's overall colour scheme), but it did give the infernal interloper something to work with should he, she or it so choose.
After what was a surprisingly pleasant fifteen minute walk in the rain (none of which actually came into contact with Crowley or any item of his apparel) the demon arrived at his destination. The Willowhome Library was a surprisingly large, mock-gothic structure that resided, along with the town council offices, job centre, Citizens Advice Bureau and the shops that sold things that had some kind of use value other than dust gathering conversation pieces, on the west side of town. It was still all very quaint and respectable, but there was a refreshing absence of lilac in immediate area.
Making a mental note to pay a visit to the town council offices later in the week and nudge a few of the senior clerical staff further along the path to embezzlement, Crowley sauntered through the library's archway entrance, noting with amusement the way the oak door was being kept open by a brick in a fire bucket rather than the expensive cast iron doorstop that currently lay upturned in a corner of the entrance hall.
A glance at the floor plan on the wall informed him that the Lending Library and Open Internet Access were located behind the door to his right, the Reference Library on the one to his left and the Willowholme History Society Archives up the stairs, along with the Local Crafts' Exhibition.
Not quite sure which section he'd find his temptee in; having been given nothing more than a picture and incomplete blood scrawled parchment dossier to go on, he opted for the door to his right.
The Lending Library and Open Internet Access turned out to be a cavernous room that was rather too large for its meagre stock of literature and even more meagre selection of non-fiction. An observation made all the more salient by the fact that most of the activity therein currently seemed to be occurring in the small enclave of computers on the far side of the room.
The enquiries desk was currently vacated so, adopting his best 'sharp-suited businessman from out of town' persona he walked over to Loans and Returns.
There was only member of staff manning the desk: a very young man in a Dethklok t-shirt and baggy jeans, who had his iPod switched and appeared to be in the process of sketching a pretty good, if somewhat obscene, picture of two women on a chaise lounge. As Crowley approached he looked up from his drawing and took out the earphones.
"You need any help?" the young man asked, clearly enthusiastic to interact with somebody who wasn't a seventy-eight year old Granny on a hunt for the Catherine Cooksons. His nametag identified him as Leon Waters: Library Assistant.
"I'm looking for a Mr. Howard Goode," said Crowley.
"I think he's out on his lunch break at the moment," said Leon.
"Do you know when he'll be back?"
Leon shrugged. "Difficult to say, Isobel lets him come and go when he wants."
"Head librarian." The boy's tones suggested a large helping of annoyance and a small dollop of animosity.
Crowley made a sympathetic face. "Ah, the Big Boss."
"Hah, yeah. The Big Boss." Leon gave a snort. "What are looking for him for, anyway? Not the police are you?" He grinned at the thought. "That'd be a laugh, Howard Goode: Fugitive from the Law."
The demon shook his head. "Not the police," he said. "Although you never know with some types: it's always the quiet bloke who kept himself to himself."
"Oh, Howard isn't the quiet type; he's just… what's that word, sanctified, or something like that."
"Sanctimonious," supplied Crowley.
"Sanctimonious, yeah, that's the one. Always has to go and get preachy about everything. Can't make a joke without him going on about how it's wrong to make fun of 'important issues'."
"Yeah, I used to know a few people like that," said Crowley, images of several notable Seraphim springing to mind.
"Anyway, what do you want to see him about?" said Leon, clearly determined to have curiosity sated. "You don't look like anybody from his church group."
Crowley smirked. "I'm a lawyer, but I can't really divulge the reason I need to see him. You know, confidentially and all that."
This, of course, only served to pique curiosity further. "Don't tell me he's just received some big, massive inheritance?"
"Sorry, not at liberty to say." The raised eyebrow and quirked grin with which the demon accompanied the statement provided a resounding, if non-verbal, 'yes, your irritating colleague is indeed about to join the ranks of the very rich'. He could practically feel the waves of envy that at once rolled from Leon's form. "You don't mind if I stick around here until he gets back, do you? Only, I wasn't given his home address."
Leon shrugged, clearly trying to mask the fact that he was deeply intrigued by Crowley's presence. "If you like," he said, before adding. "He's staying in some run-down little bungalow in Summerstorm Point at the moment."
"Summerstorm Point?" queried Crowley, vaguely recalling seeing a road sign with the words on.
"Tiny little place about eight miles down the road: mostly just a bunch of holiday lets. Lives in this crappy little hole so he can donate his money to charity, apparently."
There was a burst of throaty laughter to the right. Crowley snapped his head round to see a short and extremely thin woman with frizzy ginger hair regarding Leon with an expression of amused cynicism.
"I hear the trade in London bridges is booming at the moment," she said, with an exaggerated shake of her head. Her nametag proclaimed her to be the Director of IT Services.
"You don't think Mr. Goode's as altruistic as he makes out."
She snorted. "He doesn't 'make anything out' he just lets people assume that's the case because he's too embarrassed to correct them. Doesn't want anybody to know about his little habit."
Crowley cocked an eyebrow. "Habit, what kind: drugs, gambling or whores?"
"Gambling… well, stock market," she said. "Lost a bomb six months ago."
"She doesn't know that for a fact," said Leon, rolling his eyes.
"Yes I do," she protested, looking affronted. "Usually I wouldn't consider it any of my business, but he uploaded this bug-ridden piece of market tracking crap onto one of my computers. He hadn't even configured it properly." She spoke in the tones of one possessed of the firm conviction that an inability to perform a basic spyware scan was a moral failing.
Leon laughed. "Jenny gets pissy about people coming in here to use the public computer facilities."
The woman sighed. "Look, if they could be bothered to use some kind of basic reasoning ability, I wouldn't care. But most of them can't be bothered to even look at the 'beginners guide to switching the bloody thing on' I had printed out."
Crowley gave a small, sympathetic laugh and made a mental note to crash the library network at some point in the near future.
"Still," she added, mouth curling into a sly smile, "it is fun to watch their faces when the browser crashes while trying to upload some dodgy fetish site. You wouldn't believe how many people 'accidentally clicked on the wrong link'. Unfortunately, I've had to block anything that offend delicate sensibilities since Mr. Naylor of the Concerned Citizens Brigade wrote that letter of complaint to the Willowholme Observer two weeks ago. Of course, what the repressed old sod doesn't seem to realise is that we've all – well, all apart from Howard – noticed him repeatedly ogling the pictures of the Statue of David in the Comprehensive Guide to Classical Sculpture. It's rather sad really."
Leon sniggered. "At least he's not as bad as the Ordinance Survey Guy. Tell him about that one, Jen."
She looked at Crowley and shook her head in the manner of one who'd previously thought they'd seen it all, but been proved very wrong. "Two weeks ago on Wednesday we caught a guy pleasuring himself in the reference library. Not anything that out of the ordinary, you might think, given some of the things that go on in this town; until you noticed that his wank material of choice was the Ordinance Survey."
The demon considered this for a moment, briefly dwelling, once again, on the fact that the many perversions and lustful temptations Hell had to offer really weren't as bizarre and morbidly fascinating as half of the things humans came up with themselves.
"Which county?" he asked, eventually.
"You get some real weirdoes coming in here," said Leon, tone strongly implying that presence of said weirdoes was one of the few pleasures of the job.
"Like that bloke over there," muttered Jenny, eyes suddenly drawn to something happening in the direction of the entrance.
Crowley turned to see who or what had caught the woman's eye and promptly blanched.
There, coming through the door and walking slowly in his direction, was the pale and rather muddy worldly manifestation of Pollution.
"Oh, bloody He- Heav- Manchester."
White was feeling… better.
Sometime during the night something very strange had occurred. One moment he'd been staring at the sky contemplating the futility of his existence, the next he'd, well… found himself lying on the sodden ground, bright light shining down upon him and a very small Yorkshire Terrier sniffing his face, while the creature's disgusted owner order it to get away from the 'filthy tramp'. He had very little memory of what had transpired during the space between his last recollected instance of clear, coherent thought the previous night and the moment at which he had become saliently aware of the dog sniffing that morning, but he was certain that the… the blankness had been punctuated by images of some kind. Even stranger perhaps, was that, following a brief period of not being entirely certain who, where or what he was, he'd started to feel more able to deal with his existence, futile or otherwise.
After a half hour bout of standing in the field, doing some further contemplation and receiving some extremely strange looks from the employees of the nearby abattoir's, he'd decided to investigate whether his appreciation for the desecration of the environment had returned. He had first produced handful of sweet wrappers from his formerly white trousers and scattered them about the field. Feeling a surge of interest as he saw them dancing about in the breeze, he had, with great hopefulness, proceeded to tentatively allowed a pool of engine oil to form on the patch of grass where he stood.
Alas, despite the fact that the morning light hitting the petrochemical puddle in a manner that induced the brightest possible rainbow sheen, he did not find it particularly enthralling. In fact, whilst attempting to lose himself in the old pleasure of watching the oil seep into the soil, he found himself distracted by the antics of a large Labrador and its long-suffering owner. However, he did not, much to his surprise, feel the same distressing emptiness at this turn of events as he had during previous weeks. It was still there, of course, that deep and abiding sense of purposelessness, but it didn't trouble him as much. Indeed, he was at once seized by the urge to go forth and do something about it.
He'd therefore found himself heading back towards the centre of town and - having discovered the previous evening that humans had a greater range of thought and worldly understanding than he'd ever previously thought possible - accosting people he met along the road with queries as to whether they had any idea how one might go about comprehending the meaning of existence. Sprung though he had from the minds of men, it was still only a very small and specific part of the human psyche that had birthed him.
Most, on seeing his mud-caked form and placid expression, backed away slowly. Some advised him that the best place to find the answers to questions like that was the bottom of a pint glass. However, having already attempted this the previous evening, he decided to plump for the suggestion an elderly woman with a toy poodle had given him.
He'd decided to give the library a try.
On entering the place from which the sign in the entrance assured him he could borrow knowledge, White was instantly struck by the presence of two things: the tiny, thin woman he'd come to know the previous night as 'friend of the barmaid' and more… surprisingly, the demon who'd once prevented him from carrying out his ultimate purpose. They, it seemed, also seemed surprised to see him.
It was the woman who spoke first.
"I see that basic personal hygiene and common courtesy aren't your strongpoints?" she muttered, pulling a face at the oily footprints he was leaving on the floorboards.
"No," he agreed, before turning his focus to the demon. "You were one of the ones that frustrated my purpose," he said, drawing nearer.
The demon swallowed and began to back away. "Er… about that…."
"I was very angry with all of you."
"Look… I can explain, we-"
"I'm not anymore though."
"Your not?" said the demon hopefully, looking as though he couldn't decided whether to run away or sink to the floor in relief.
"Because I've lost interest in my purpose."
"You have?" The demon's expression went from panicked to perplexed.
"Yes, which is why I've come here."
"Well, you're in the right place," said a young man behind the desk marked Loans and Returns.
He nodded. "Yeah, we don't have a clue about our purposes either."
"Speak for yourself," said the woman, crossing her arms.
White felt a flush of disappointment. "So none of you comprehend the meaning of existence either?"
"Well, you could try the philosophy section," said the youth. "It's on one of the shelves in the row behind the westerns."
"Stay away from the Sartre and Nietzsche if you're looking for meaning though," advised the woman, whose expression was currently one of the less immediately fathomable ones. If he had to guess he would have gone for deeply annoyed yet at the same time surprised and rather amused. "And whatever you do don't touch any of my computers without washing your hands first."
Without a word he headed in the direction the young man had indicated. The response of the two humans did not make him very hopeful, but he decided that it had to be worth a try. After a few steps however he paused for a second and turned back to the woman.
"You're very thin," he said. "My colleague would like you." And there it was again, the uncomfortable sensation that had accompanied his thoughts of Sable the previous night. He responded to the feeling the same way he had the last time he experienced it.
The whole, pushing things out of ones mind thing, really was a useful skill.
Pepper was always surly when hungover. It was a fact that the other three Them had discovered a few years ago during their first forays into the exciting, illicit and – in hindsight – incredibly embarrassing realm of underage drinking. Having renounced violence shortly after an altercation at Brian's thirteenth birthday party, which had left Michael Smith from 9c with four stitches and a broken finger, she never resorted to physical aggression. However, the general air of pissed-offness she was wont to acquire following a night of too many pints of cheap cider, could be pretty damned intimidating. Usually, Wensleydale would avoid her until the coffee and aspirin kicked in, but on this particular afternoon that really wasn't an option.
"I went to see Adam's parents before you woke up," he ventured, as he searched the kitchen cupboards for something with which to sooth her headache. "They seemed as if everything was okay."
"What do you mean, they seemed okay?" she demanded, slouched in one of the dining chairs and looking very nauseous indeed. "He took off to the Philippines in the middle of the night."
"They said that he was on a short-notice trip to visit a pen-friend there and that he'd be back in a few days."
"But that doesn't make any sense. I mean, we know he's got a pen-friend, but Warlock's American."
Wensleydale sighed, not sure what to make of any of it.
As he gave up on locating anything of a painkilling persuasion in the cupboards and embarked upon a search of the draws his mobile phone, which was currently residing on the dining table began to ring. Pepper, clearly a tad sensitive to high pitched ringing noises at the present time groaned and covered her ears.
"Hello," said Wensleydale, hitting the answer call key.
Hi Wensley, it's Adam, I'm in Dubai at the moment waiting for my transfer.
"Adam, please tell me what's going on, we're really worried about you."
There's a bit of a crisis going on with some other friends of mine and I need to help sort it out. I'm fine, but other people won't be if I don't do anything."
Wensleydale fought the urge to yell. "You're being crytic again."
I know, it's just… just too difficult to explain right now. But you have to believe that nothing bad is going to happen to me.
And with those words Wensleydale did believe that Adam was okay. They did not however dissipate the frustration and irritation. "Well, just remember that taking off for the other side of the world in the middle of the night can sometimes really freak people out," he snapped.
I'm sorry, Wensley. Adam's voice seemed genuinely penitent.
"Look, get back safely, okay."
I will… Oh, and Wensley.
The Alka Seltzer's in the second draw of your parents living room cabinet.
Wensleydale gaped. "How did-"
You've got a hungover Pepper on your hands, haven't you.
"Well, yes, but…."
Anyway, I've got to get to the departure gate, so speak to you later, all right.
Wensleydale turned to Pepper.
"Well?" she queried, face indicating a great deal of physical distress.
He shrugged. "I think he'll be okay."
She nodded. "He always is."
The Alka Seltzer did turn out to be in the second draw of the living room cabinet: a fact that came as a very big relief when groans began to emanate from the form still residing on the living room floor. A hungover Brian was, after all, far worse than a hungover Pepper. She might get surly, but Brian whined.
The first thing that Crowley noticed on emerging from his moment of blind panic, were the two expectant faces looking at him.
"You know him then?" said Leon, grinning happily at the way the day was playing out to be far more interesting than expected.
"Old acquaintance," muttered Crowley.
Unlike Leon, Jenny was positively scowling. "Cheeky little bastard, isn't he."
Leon smirked. "Jen's sensitive about her weight."
"You'd be too if the only things that fit you were in the children's section". She pursed her lips in annoyance. "Anyway, who is he? I saw him in the Cat and Mouse last night - my mate Gail works there - and he spent the entire time sat in the corner, staring at this half empty pint of cider."
Crowley raised an eyebrow. "Cider?"
"He told Gail he was crashing in the field outside the abattoir. I think she was a bit worried about him to tell the truth. She wondered if he was some kind of mental patient, but my guess was broke artist or starving poet, he seems a little too pretty and pretentious for crazy homeless bloke."
"He's a performance artist," said Crowley. It was true, in a sense. Nothing attracted morbid and guilty fascination like a spectacular ecological disaster: well, apart from a really brutal war, perhaps. Famine, surprisingly, didn't tend to attract that much attention: but then, the average human attention span was probably a little too short to allow the sustained focus needed to become invested in the prolonged and torturous process that was millions of people starving to death.
"Well, he's certainly having the requisite existential crisis," said Jenny. "Though, I really don't see why he has to forgo regular bathing to do it."
Crowley gave a snort but didn't say anything. Relieved though he was not to be on the receiving end of some kind of Horsepersonly revenge plot, the talk about losing purpose was frankly a bit disturbing. The Horseperson's didn't have a purpose, they were a purpose.
He was also a little, well, curious about what was going on; but then inquisitiveness always had been one of his major failings.
"He does seem a bit confused though," said Leon suddenly, a slight edge of guilt to his voice.
Jenny rolled her eyes. "Of course he's a bit confused; it's an art school requirement."
Leon ignored her and looked at Crowley. "Maybe you could talk to him, make sure he's alright and stuff."
Crowley considered this for a moment. Every ounce of good sense in his body told him to leave the building as quickly as demonically possible, but there was a very small and extremely insistent part that really wanted to know what drove an apocalyptical personification to the philosophy shelf of a badly stocked semi-rural library.
"I suppose I could have a quick word."