No More Heroes

Entry by: Seth Dinario

23rd June 2017
No More Heroes

Bishop Leadweather did not enjoy hangings. He thanked the powers that be that the church was no longer responsible for administering legal punishment, even if the crime was an ecclesiastical one. In the past, he’d read, a bishop or archdeacon would have been perfectly within his rights to order a criminal be flayed alive, where the skin was cut, preferably in one piece, from the criminal’s body while they still were conscious.
He shuddered.
‘Everything all right, your Grace?’ said Soames. The Procurator Fiscal had a smug grin plastered over his greasy face. Here was someone who always seemed to relish a hanging.
‘Perfectly, thank you,’ he replied, staring at the gallows, the noose swinging in the early morning breeze.
‘If you’re cold, I can –’
‘I said I’m fine,’ snapped the bishop. ‘I appreciate your concern.’
A portly man wearing a vermillion cape over his expensive clothes leaned over. He was grinning. ‘If his Grace is anything like me, he’ll be wanting his breakfast. No criminal is worth missing the first meal of the day.’
‘As ever, Angus, you are correct,’ Leadweather said, suppressing a yawn.
He found his work a strange combination of exhaustion and exhilaration. After many years of oscillating between the two, he’d achieved a state of equilibrium: rarely fatigued or elated. Today, however, he was feeling the effects of a particularly late night.
A drum began its beat and a hush fell over the crowd. The criminal, a petty thief caught stealing from St Giles’ Cathedral, was brought out. He wasn’t gibbering and pissing himself like some others Leadweather had seen. The bishop naturally wondered how he’d cope in the man’s position. He supposed he would be far from tranquil, but…he was used to mastering his emotions. This would be the biggest test.
The thief’s face twitched incessantly as he approached the scaffold. He was a young man, not much more than a boy, really. A woman screamed in the crowd: most likely his mother. A light drizzle began to fall. The thief reached out his hands towards the hysterical woman, who promptly fainted. ‘Mother, I only did it for –’ he yelled, cut short when the hangman thumped him in the stomach and he doubled over. The crowd jeered and laughed, drowning out the hangman’s voice, who’d no doubt administered a verbal humiliation as well. After the thief recovered, the noose was placed around his neck and he slowly climbed the ladder.
Bishop Leadweather looked away.

Much later, he lost himself in the Cathedral’s accounts in order that he would forget the events of the morning. Hours passed. Some time in the afternoon, there was a soft knock on the door of his study.
‘Enter,’ he said, without looking up from his work.
‘Your Grace, I’ve brought that laddie you asked to see. The one who was torturing that wee cat the other day.’
The bishop sniffed and rose from his desk. A runty-looking boy with a tear stained, filthy face and flaming red hair tried to look defiantly back at him, which was difficult, as a burly priest had a firm hold of his ear. ‘Leave us, Edward.’
‘Your Grace, are you sure? He can be quite unmanageable at times –’
‘Leave us,’ said Bishop Leadweather, twitching aside a cloth to reveal a small loaf of freshly-baked bread. Its mouth-watering aroma filled the room. The boy’s eyes widened.
‘As you wish,’ Edward said, and left the study.
As soon as the door clicked shut, the boy darted forwards. Leadweather had anticipated this, however, and raised the plate far above his grasping hands.
‘You don’t to hang, do you boy?’
The urchin ceased his straining, becoming still and sullen. Leadweather retreated to safety.
The boy fixed him with an angry stare and spat on the floor. The bishop decided to let this pass. He jutted out his chin. ‘The cat you were tormenting,’ he said. ‘It died of its wounds. You tortured one of God’s creatures to death.’
He noted with interest that a smile formed on the boy’s dirty face. Leadweather looked at the poised, animal energy with which the boy held himself and realised the creature had to live on its wits to survive. ‘What’s your name?’
‘Your name,’ sighed the bishop.
‘Christ-ian,’ came the halting reply.
Now it was Leadweather’s turn to smile. He tore off a hunk of bread and chewed it slowly. The smell was delicious. He became serious again and leaned across the desk. ‘There is a special place in hell reserved for those who torment and kill God’s creatures, Christian.’ He studied the boy’s face for signs of fear. However, his eyes seemed fixated on the bread. ‘Your choice is simple. You don’t have parents, do you?’
‘They died,’ Christian mumbled, and for the first time Leadweather saw emotion other than anger or greed from the boy. He couldn’t have been any older than nine.
‘Your choice is simple,’ repeated the bishop, eating another piece. He was about to take a risk, and he knew it. However the boy did not seem especially bright. ‘You can either hang for murder, or you can do some little jobs for me. Now, which of those options do you prefer?’ The boy muttered something and dribbled down his chin. ‘I’m sorry, I didn’t catch that.’
‘Do jobs,’ came the terse reply. The boy’s jaw muscles were bunching and he stared at the floor as if he wanted to destroy it.
‘Excellent,’ said Leadweather, tossing him what remained of the loaf.

Angus Micklemore did not seem as happy as he had done at last week’s hanging. The councillor toyed with his food, started at each loud noise emanating from the tavern and clenched his fists, the knuckles white, on the table-top. The cut and thrust of the conversation was therefore between Leadweather and Murdo Fazackerley, the Chief Constable. The three of them had been in a private room at the Black Horse all evening. They had much to discuss. After several hours of feasting, drinking and conducting business, the noise from the front of the building gradually grew less frenetic, until there was a rap at the door.
Murdo Fazackerley, a positively mountainous human being, broke off from making a point about the current state of the prostitutes in Edinburgh. ‘Come in!’ he barked. He drained a tankard, grasped another one and finished that off too. As he belched, a ruddy-cheeked, buxom woman entered the room.
‘That’s the last of them gone, sirs,’ she said.
Angus pounded the table. ‘Molly, you daft bitch. You know we wait at least another fifteen minutes after the clear-out. You can’t be sure there aren’t vagrants still pissing up your outside walls.’
‘Sorry, sir,’ said Molly, and went to leave.
‘Molly! It wouldn’t do to forget,’ said Leadweather, reaching into his robes. ‘For services rendered,’ he said as he tossed a small leather bag. The landlady attempted to catch it but the bag landed, rather comically, between her breasts.
‘Oho!’ said Murdo. ‘Fifty for the bishop! Might I try next time? Extra points for the face? Thrown hard enough, it might improve it.’
Molly looked as if she was about to say something, then scurried away.
Leadweather levelled his gaze at Angus. He wouldn’t meet his eye. What was wrong with the man?
Angus stirred, went over to the door and checked outside. Then he shut it firmly and, making his way back to the table, spoke softly. ‘I have an announcement.’ Leadweather leaned forward in his chair. So this is it. ‘Next month, I will be made Lord Provost,’ said Angus, the pride of his advancement shining in his face. ‘My bid was successful.’
‘Congratulations,’ said Leadweather warmly, though he had a feeling where this was going. Murdo merely grunted, hand twitching for absent drinks.
‘Thank you, your Grace. This of course, will affect our…business.’
‘How so?’ said Murdo, struggling to focus his eyes.
Angus sighed, as if weary of explaining things patiently to a small child. ‘I will no longer be responsible for your direct management. My former position will likely go to George Coutts.’
Leadweather winced. Coutts was known for his idealism and piety.
‘So? You’re his boss! You’re the figurehead of the whole city, for Christ’s sake.’
‘It’s not that simple, Murdo. Also, Coutts’ son, Archie, is a lieutenant in your force. He’s…making things difficult for us already. This appointment would amplify matters.’
‘What are you saying, Angus?’ said Leadweather.
Angus took a deep breath, staring at the table-top. Then he looked up at the bishop. ‘You must cease your operations. Shut down the Vaults.’

After they’d sent Murdo staggering towards his home in the New Town, the bishop and the councillor halted in the middle of a narrow alleyway where the darkness pooled.
‘I urge you to reconsider. Coutts could be turned,’ said Leadweather.
Angus frowned. ‘There’s a slight possibility, yes, but with his son nosing around as well,’ he gestured helplessly, ‘it’s just too risky.’
‘Fazackerley is his superior! He’ll bring him to heel.’
‘Murdo won’t be in his post much longer. I…had to make some concessions.’
Leadweather’s expression hardened and he barked a grim laugh. ‘Now I know what this is about. It’s about you. You want to cut all ties with my operations, and the only way you can do that is by getting rid of Murdo and shutting me down. Well, it’s not going to happen.’
Angus exhaled slowly. ‘It will happen, either way, your Grace. You know what will come to pass, if you don’t do it yourself.’
‘You seem to have forgotten…what is at stake here! Tossing out threats like I’m the one who owes you! Where does your wealth come from?’
But Angus walked away.
‘Think on it, Lord Provost!’ hissed Leadweather at his retreating back.

The police headquarters was bustling with activity. The news was shocking: the home of Angus Micklemore, only installed as Lord Provost for two weeks, had burned to the ground last night with him and his entire family perishing within. There were rumours of foul play: somehow the entrances had been wedged shut, preventing their escape. Micklemore’s charred corpse had been found at the front door, his daughter’s body next to it.
Murdo looked around at his nearly-bare office, bitter thoughts clouding his mind. A few boxes still cluttered the place. He glanced up as a group of men strode into the room. The man at their head was George Coutts.
‘Murdo Fazackerley, you have the right to remain silent. Anything you do say–’ Coutts began.
‘Piss off,’ said Murdo. ‘You can’t do that.’
‘I can do precisely that. As of an hour ago, I’m acting Lord Provost. And my first act was to make my son here Chief Constable. Have you met Archie?’

He knew the beat of the drum should have been unnaturally loud, this close. But it seemed faded, removed. As if it was coming from far away. The past few months had been a blur for Leadweather. He simply hadn’t been quick enough. The raid on the Vaults had taken place before Angus had been sworn in as Provost – how had he engineered that? And then the skeletons had tumbled out, one testimony from Fazackerley after another. He’d been granted clemency if he gave up the ringleader. Leadweather just knew it.
Mere theft wasn’t the worst of the crimes laid at the Bishop’s door. Extortion, bribery, blackmail and…murder. Not the killing of Micklemore himself, that case hadn’t been solved. In fact – Leadweather’s eyes scanned the jeering, spitting crowd – yes, there was the red-haired boy, Christian, standing on the base of a statue, elevated above the throng. He’d been useful. They held each other’s gaze.
Leadweather stepped up to the platform. The crowd fell silent. The bishop felt warmth spread down his legs. He cursed under his breath.
‘Any last words?’ said the Procurator Fiscal.
‘Murdo Fazackerley,’ Leadweather said.
The red-haired boy stared back at him and nodded.