Monday, 19 May 2014


Well it had to be Heart of Glass didn’t it?  The song came on, and the entire dancefloor shuddered to a halt.  Couples dropped their arms from one another and stepped apart, suddenly maintaining a decent distance that any chaperone from the fifties would have approved of.  On the edges of the floor the wallflowers and the drunks looked up and moved away from the protection of the shadows and joined the erstwhile dancers.  When the entire room was stood there, arrayed like the pieces on a chessboard, they all stretched their faces into an identical grin like that found on plastic dolls and started stepping in time to the music.  If it weren’t so slow I’d have mistaken it for a modern aerobics class.
I sidled into the DJ booth where Samantha Panther was standing, legs akimbo and a thin trail of icy drool running from the corner of her mouth, her eyes unfocused and staring out beyond the dancefloor into an infinity she wasn’t sharing with anyone else.  In front of her the computer indicated that Heart of Glass was on repeat, and it looked like it was going to go on for several hours.
Someone cleared their throat, and I had to look everywhere to find the guy crouching under the mixing desk.  He looked uncomfortable, and was wearing a suit that looked as though someone else had thrown-up on it.  I raised an eyebrow.
“What are you doing?” he said.  His voice was clear, low, and somehow familiar.  I looked at him, wondering if I’d seen him before, and his suit suddenly seemed familiar.  “Yes,” he said, without inflexion.  “You threw up on me earlier.  In the smoking area.”  Oh yes, that would be why he looked and sounded familiar.
“I’m turning the music off,” I said.  “It’s turned everyone on the dancefloor into a zombie.  It’s completely choking the vibe.”
“I can’t let you do that,” he said, still inflexionlessly.  “They’re not zombies, they’re soldiers.  And it’s important that they remain soldiers for the next nineteen minutes.”
“Soldiers usually have weapons,” I countered.  “Or are you intending that they Tai Chi some invisible enemy to death.”
“Look out there,” he said.  I looked.
On the dancefloor they were still moving, but from this angle I could believe that they were marching in place.  It reminded me for a moment like a Pink Floyd video from the late 80s.  Then, as I watched, I saw shimmers in the air that coalesced and I could see the dancers all holding guns in parade rest, glass weapons that barely existed at all.
“What.  The.  Fu–“
“Quite,” said the man under the desk.  “How did you know that the enemy is invisible?”
I took several moments to stare at him as though he was quite mad, which he clearly was.  Even though I had to have been drinking the same polluted beer as him, because I could see weapons that obviously couldn’t exist and didn’t just spring into existence because a large group of people started doing the right kind of calisthenics.  That kind of thing would put the arms manufacturers out of business, and the things about upsetting people who make weapons is that they’re the people who eventually have all of the weapons.
“I don’t know what you’re talking about,” I said.  “Or what you’re doing.”
The wallflowers are out there joining in, my brain reminded me.  That was bizarre.  That never happened.  They lingered on the edges like leeches, waiting for someone too drunk to know better to stumble off the floor and into their arms and be carried home to be sucked dry.  Or something like that, I’d never been drunk enough to experience it for myself.
“We’re fighting a war,” said the man.  “We’ve found out who we’re fighting at last, and we’re using their technology against them.  The tables are turning!”
“It’s an MP3-player,” I said.  I couldn’t resist pointing it out.  “They haven’t had vinyl here for six months.”
The man waved a hand.  I wondered how long he could crouch there before he got cramp.  “Irrelevant,” he said.  “The point is that we know how it works, and we can make it work for us.  They can’t enslave us any more!  We’re going to be free!”
“You sound very sure of that,” I said.  “And yet all you’re doing is playing a 70s song.”
“It’s the choice of song,” said the man.  “Some of them weren’t really songs at all.  You should see what happens when we play Video killed the Radio Star.”
“So what happened?” I asked.
“Sorry?  What do you mean?”
“Why did they stop making these songs?  If you have to go back all the way to the 70s either they already won, and you’re an idiot, or they already lost, and you’re an idiot.  Hey, look at that!  You’re an idiot!”
“They never stopped,” said the man.  “Haven’t you listened to Pop Idol?  They’re actively trialling their songs for effectiveness on directly now.  That’s why they have to be stopped!”
I reached out to the mixing desk and the man tried to grab my wrist.  I dodged, and tapped the keyboard, changing the playlist so that at the end of Heart of Glass something else would start playing.  The man under the desk tried to get out to see what I’d done, and I pushed him back in.
“What are you doing?” he spluttered, trying to get leverage to force his way out, but his uncomfortable stance prevented it.  I could hear his breathing shortening as panic started to overcome him.
“Picking the next track,” I said.  “I fancied St. Elmo’s Fire.”
“I figured you needed a new horizon,” I said.
“What?”  I waited.  Achingly slowly realisation crept across his face like an elderly mystic realising that he’s known the secret to transcendence all along.  “You’re one of them.  Aren’t you?”
The song changed, and as the music crescendoed and the singer started howling about new horizons a bright light erupted from the dancefloor.  It struck the mirrorball, an ironic celebration of an earlier, cheesier disco era, and, impossibly, lased.

“Oh yes,” I said softly.

Monday, 12 May 2014

Will they see the sky again?

“Pull the covers over their heads, sister.”
“Will they see the sky again?”
Here at the Hospice the flowers are always kept in full bloom.  They are the same flowers, unchanging though the days drift by like blossom falling from the cherry trees in the garden.  Tall women dressed in black dresses, white wimples, and enormous brass crosses that should bend them double traverse the halls and corridors, each standing tall and moving in an elegant and stately fashion.  The crosses have equal arms, the one as wide as their shoulders and the other as long.  They are suspended on brass chains where each link is as long as my hand, and made of metal as thick as my thumb.  They must weigh tens of pounds, and yet the tall women glide around like ghosts and just as silent and cold.
I try to cross the corridors but I am scared.  The women bear down on me like ice-skaters on a freshly polished rink, moving fast and seemingly deadly. I retreat back to the doorway of my room, standing on the threshold but not daring to step back inside.  There’s a smell in the air like a swimming pool, and a distant beeping comes from the inside, but the door is only just ajar and I don’t want to peek through the crack.  I’m worried that someone might be peeking back.
“The rain has stopped.”
“At last.  It must have rained for days.”
“It gave our sisters something to talk about.”
“As though they needed anything more.”
“Will they see the sky again?”
The tall women do not deviate from their paths even when they must have seen me.  If I time it right, if I stop moving at just the right place they glide past me without touching me, and there is just a caress of cold air as though they carry their own atmosphere with them.  Sometimes I am not quite accurate in where I stop, and I find myself tantalisingly close to them.  I could stretch out a finger and touch their robes; if I breathed too hard would they smell the garlic on my breath and wonder if I thought them vampires?  I have no idea who brings me garlic, but the only food I see in the Hospice appears on a blue dresden plate on a wooden tray on the floor outside my room, and it is always three slices of warm garlic bread, chicken schnitzel with garlic breadcrumbs, and garlic custard.  There is no cutlery, and so I eat with my fingers, using the schnitzel to scoop up the pudding from its blobby, misshapen pile.  Once I licked the plate, but it tasted like steel and made my teeth tingle, so I don’t do that anymore.  It’s been hours since I was last at the door to my room though.  I have traversed six corridors, and I don’t want to turn back and have to do it all again.  And I don’t dare touch the tall women.
“We are all digging, sister.  Some more than others, I’d warrant.”
“Just dig.  There will be time for recriminations later.”
“Of course, sister.  And there will be recriminations, you may be sure of that.”
“I am aware.  But perhaps the end must justify the means.  Or perhaps the end is inevitable and the means must be chosen to have least impact.”
“You never tell me though, will they see the sky again?”
How many tall women are there?  They look familiar, but different, every one, but how can there be this many?  It has been hours and hours now, and I’ve lost track of time.  I tried counting seconds under my breath, but I don’t know that many numbers.  I am tired, and when I reach the next junction I will sit down.  I will rest for just a moment, with the smell of the swimming pool strong in my nostrils and the tall, becrossed women gliding around me like some abstract ballet where the lake was polluted and the swans all befuddled.
“Gently.  We still have a duty of care to them.”
“We are carrying them to their graves, sister.  What care you do think we can have left?”
“You asked me a question, sister.”
“Repeatedly.  You never answered.”
“You never asked the right question.”
“Will they see the sky again?”
“Have you ever seen the sky?”
“…no.  When I look up it starts to rain and saltwater gets in my eyes.”
“When they next open their eyes they will see the sky, sister.”
At the next junction, where the floor is so highly polished that it is dazzling to look at and I struggle to skid to a halt before touching a tall women, there is a door in the wall.  Almost recklessly I dart for it, and collide with it with a thump.  Before I can do anything else, it swings open.
Anna kneels on the floor in front of an altar.  Her head is bent, her blonde hair falls down to conceal her face completely, and her hands are clutched together as though she is praying.  In front of her, enclosed in a soft blue light, are the same flowers that are everywhere in the Hospice, and suddenly I know why the flowers are always in full bloom.
I say her name.
“Shovel faster.”
“He spoke, sister.  He said a name.”
“Shovel!  Before he can open his eyes!”
“But you said–“


Sunday, 11 May 2014

Jenny was a friend

Bees buzzed in the shrubbery behind the church and sunlight fell through a gap in the trees and onto the occupant of a deckchair.  He was not quite.  Not quite tall, not quite thin, not quite balding, not quite smiling.  His hat, a brown fedora that was turning to black as the stains accumulated, was clutched to his chest despite that his thinning hair wouldn’t protect his scalp enough and he’d need to rub cream on it later for the sunburn.  His shirt was buttoned to the neck, and his coat, though open, was still worn and looked warmer than the weather really warranted.  The coat was brown as well, and might once have matched the hat, but it was fading with use and wearing holes in elbows and pockets.
There were two other deckchairs in the little clearing, and they were set discreetly behind the first one.  Both of these were occupied by large gentlemen wearing suits and the kind of patient expressions that suggested that their patience was just about to run out.  They were relaxed but tense, as though they were ready to unrelax in an instant and stand up and block the sunlight out.
“Uh, excuse me,” said a worried sounding voice, and the man in the front deckchair opened his eyes and shaded them with a hand.  Approaching on nervous, quick-moving feet, was the local vicar.
“Your holiness,” said Des politely, not getting up.  The Vicar looked first embarrassed, and then awkward.  His hands twisted each other, writhing around like restless snakes in sun-trap, and Des noticed that they were so pale as to be bloodless; even the chill blue of veins was absent.
“I believe that’s an appropriate form of address for the Pope,” said the Vicar, his voice slow and careful.  You could almost hear him trying to find a way of saying it that couldn’t offend.  “I, of course, am from a different Church–“
“You’re still top dog around here though, eh, Pope?”  Des sounded bluff and cheerful, and he waved the hand that wasn’t still shading his eyes casually.  “But if it makes you feel more comfortable I can call you something else.  What would you like?”
“Uh, well,” said the Vicar who now looked a little taken aback as though he’d been expecting to have to keep pushing away the overgenerous epithet of Your Holiness for a little longer.  “Well, how about Nathanial?  It is my name, after all.”
“I know,” said Des.  “But it’s a bit of a mouthful, isn’t it?  Don’t you have a nickname?  What do your mates call you?”
“Nathanial,” said the Vicar patiently.  “And what should I call you, Mr…?”
“Des,” said Des.  There was a long silence, when even the bees had stopped buzzing.  Finally they got fed up of waiting for anything to happen and started buzzing again.
“Des?” said the Vicar, his face screwing up as though he were in pain.  His hands gripped each other so tightly that they went whiter still, and Des found his eyes drawn to them, wondering if the man would snap his own fingers off.  “Des, as in, Presiding Religious Authority Des?”
“That’s me,” said Des.  “You’re new aren’t you?”
“I came after Mr. Felicity’s little accident–“
“You mean where he jumped from the belfry after what was found on his computer hard drive.”  It should have been a question but Des’s tone made it clear that it wasn’t.  “Yes, that was very unfortunate.  The police were quite curious to talk to him.”
“Mere accounting irregularities,” murmured the Vicar.  “The Bishop told me all about it.”
“Yes, well,” said Des.  “That would certainly interest the police, but they were all the more curious about what the money appeared to have been used for.”
“Medicinal purposes,” said the Vicar, his voice barely a whisper now.  “Of a kind.”
“A meth lab,” said Des.  “In the crypt.  Employing the bloody choir boys.”
“…profitable…”  Des had to strain to hear the new Vicar now.
“Not the point,” said Des.  “The people he was selling it to, now that’s the point.”
“The Bishop said it was mostly sold to distributors who took it quite a way away,” said the Vicar, returning to audibility at last.  “Which is a blessing of a kind, in such a sorry story.”
“Mostly,” said Des.  “Mostly.  When he got wind of the police closing in he tried to pack the operation up temporarily, and he had stock left to get rid of.”
“I wouldn’t kno–“
“He baked it into the communion wafers,” said Des.  “Not one of his better ideas I should think.”
“That does sound a little stupid,” said the Vicar, staring at his feet.  Little spots of red burned in his cheeks.
“He left a note, saying that he thought that God would transubstantiate it along with the bread,” said Des.   “Quite sincere, I think.”
“…the Lord moves in mysterious ways?…”
“Very bloody mysterious,” said Des.  “In that apparently the good God decided to leave the meth untransformed and let it affect the entire congregation.”
“Jenny was a friend of mine,” said Des.  He put his hand down from his eyes, and hauled himself out of his deckchair.  The Vicar immediately took a step back.  “I wasn’t pleased,” he continued, “being called in to exorcise a woman who’s no more possessed than you are.  Vicar.”
“No-one would have known what they were seeing!”  The Vicar looked up, his eyes brimming with tears.  “They weren’t used to that kind of thing.  This was a nice community!”
“Still is,” said Des.  “A bit smaller than it used to be of course, and not all the folks we buried are those that deserved to be.  But it’s still a good community.  Don’t get me wrong, you’ll never get a mastermind contestant from this lot, and if they don’t buck their ideas up soon the mud’ll be brighter than them, but they try hard.  When they’re pointed in the right direction at least.”
“What note?” said the Vicar.  He was staring at Des, his eyes reddened but suddenly clear of tears.  “You said there was a note, but the police never found a note.”
“No,” said Des.  “They wouldn’t have.  But it was a very interesting note anyway, and it said another thing too.  Would you like to guess what it said?”
“That he was very sorry?”  The Vicar’s words were flat, as though he knew what was coming.
“No,” said Des.  “He wasn’t sorry at all.  Not even after the push.  Never understand why what he’d done was wrong.  But he did mention how he reached the distributors, and you know, it was the obvious way, and the one you really wouldn’t think.  But there you go, sometimes you just don’t want to believe how far the corruption goes.”
“The Bishop is a powerful man,” said the Vicar.  He had stopped fidgeting now and was staring straight at Des.

“Just so,” said Des with a smile.  “Though I think you may find that he’s had a little accident of his own.  When the news reaches you.”

Saturday, 10 May 2014

Room to grieve

The street was quiet and leafy; the trees were showing off their new green coats and a couple of the more adventurous ones were budding blossoms as well.  Around their roots were flower beds with spikes of green shooting upwards with enthusiasm, and scatterings of colour showed where the flowers were already out.  Des walked along peacefully, his mind free of worry and blissfully in tune with the natural world around him.  About twenty feet behind him two burly gentlemen followed discretely.  Both wore suits that were stretched across their muscled frames, all the buttons done up and straining for release.  They wore white shirts with silver cufflinks, and their shoes were polished enough to reflect their Brillantined hair if they were to bend over to tie a shoelace.  Birds twittered in the branches of the trees, invisible to the looking but clearly audible.  Des was sure that their conversation, if he could only understand it, would be about sex.  But that the case with most conversations, whether he could understand them or not, and he felt that this was just part of the natural order of things.
He stopped when he reached number 57, and looked at the house beyond the green wooden gate.  The gate itself had last been painted years ago and the green was peeling off in large leaves that fitted well with the general late-springtime air of the street; the corners were splintered with long use and little care, and there were deep cracks running the length of the palings, testament to icy winters and hot summers.  The majority of the house beyond was in a similar state of disrepair; the front door looked dilapidated and the window frames were beige from the old wood showing through what was left of the white paint.  There were net curtains up, but they were grey and stiff with dirt and age; the brickwork was missing mortar here and there, and the lawn was uncut and unkempt.  The chimney pot, a relic of an age without central heating, had a large hole in it, and there was at least one bird’s nest stuffed in the hole with the enthusiasm and disregard that birds have for all human actions.
Yet despite this suggestion that the house had been inherited by someone who had no clue was housework was, there was a tarpaulin up and stretched across what was clearly building work.  Des found himself unsurprised that the lay-out suggested that the new construction would take up half of the lawn and stick out from the living room, probably leaving the majority of the room in a dingy darkness that would depress the poor souls forced to live there.  The congregation that he tended to, as their Presiding Religious Authority, were eager but intellectually impoverished, and he had occasionally wondered if they’d had occasion before he arrived to sell off their collective intelligence and just got by on lucky guesses ever after.
He pushed the gate open, listening to rust-tortured hinges creak with a cry that would have made Procrustes shiver in delight and walked up the path, taking his time to step carefully from one mislaid paving slab to the next.  The two burly gentlemen following him unobtrusively stopped at the gate and rested hands with fingers like raw sausages on the wall, one either side.  After a moment, though neither looked down, they started tearing the yellow-green moss from the bricks.
Des knocked gently on the door and waited.  After a minute and a half there was the sound of footsteps in the hall, and then the door opened.  A gust of warm air smelling of wet washing and burning fish-fingers engulfed him, and he blinked.  In front of him, clutching the door as though ready to slam it shut in his face, was a woman with a thin, hungry face and huge eyes sat in sunken dark circles.  Her thin, greying hair was wrapped tightly in curlers that looked like torture instruments and there was a smear of lipstick across her mouth that looked like she’d swiped at herself and not quite missed.
“Jane,” said Des, his voice deep and resonant.  “How are you doing today?”
She smoothed down her pinafore dress, an ivory colour that Des knew was more from its age than intent, revealing without realising that she was thin enough to be called emaciated, and shivered a little.  “It gets better,” she whispered, looking down at her slippered feet.
“He’s been dead for sixteen years,” said Des.  He’d found out only four days ago that Jane was still mourning her first husband, despite having been married three times and divorced twice.  His voice was gentle and warm and listening to him was a little like being wrapped in warm arms.  “You have to make room to grieve properly Jane, or you’ll never be free of his ghost.”  He sniffed; the smell of burning fish-fingers was getting stronger.  “You should turn the grill off too,” he said.
Jane disappeared for a moment, and Des shifted his weight gently, settling his stance for a longer conversation.  When Jane reappeared she had a sandwich on a plate with her; charred fish-fingers set between two slices of economy white bread that had been slathered with equally economy mayonnaise and then sprinkled with table salt and sliced neatly on the diagonal.  She offered the plate to Des, who shook his head.
“I did hear you,” she said, gesturing at the construction work.  “I’m making a room to grieve in.”  She picked up a sandwich half, which sagged sadly and dripped runny mayonnaise onto the other half, and bit into it.  It crunched in a way that suggested there was more breadcrumb coating than fish in her fish-fingers.
“Ah,” said Des, a note of sadness creeping into his voice.  “I’m afraid Jane that you’ve misunderstood a little.  You’re not supposed to make an actual room, you’re supposed to make time in your day to sit down and think about what you’ve lost and what there is without it.  You need to understand why this loss has been so hard for you, and see that there is still joy in living.  I really think you need to see for yourself how this loss has contributed to you losing your subsequent husbands.”
She finished her sandwich-half and stood there, shaking a little, her head bowed and clutching the plate with the other sandwich-half on like it was a talisman.
“Let me help you, Jane,” said Des.  He gestured behind him and the two gentlemen stopped exfoliating the wall and pushed the gate open.  “My friends here will do away with this unfortunate construction for you, and use some of it to provide you with a seat under a shady tree.  There you can sit and think about things for a while, and I’m sure that when I come back you’ll be ready to start grieving properly.”
“Yes, Des,” said Jane, her voice so quiet that he had to strain to hear it.  “But… the builder….”

“I’ll have a word,” said Des, his smile as wide as his face.  “I’m sure they’ll understand.”

Thursday, 8 May 2014

Directions on a cold dark night

Frost crunched underfoot and Jake’s breath condensed in front of him; nanosnow falling silently to the barren ground.  This was the edge of town, where the earth was dry and cracked.  It was as beige as his parent’s drawing room in the house they’d spent their entire married life in and as humourless.  Rocks lay scattered here and there, thrown aside and discarded by tyres from when the high-school kids came out here to burn rubber and turn donuts.  There were none here tonight, and that almost seemed prophetic.
Jake turned away from the distant lights of the town and looked out into the night.  The stars were out, white and pristine in the engulfing darkness, reminding him that the universe was once thought to be expanding, vast and effectively unending.  He looked up, noting the absence of the moon, and counted the constellations that he knew.  It shamed him that there were only four, and the rest were just stars spilled across the sky.
“You came.”
He jumped, his heart suddenly thumping hard in his chest and a cold sweat breaking out on his brow.  Even as he turned he could feel it freezing, prickling against his skin as his body heat melted it and broke it apart only for it to refreeze.  Behind him, wrapped in a torn and filthy stripy shirt, was a waif: a person whose gender he couldn’t identify, huge, manga eyes poking out of a lean, mud-streaked face.  A hand, on the end of a wrist so thin that he could see the outlines of the two bones of the forearm knobbling through the skin, stretched out.
“I’m not giving you anything,” he said reflexively.  All through his childhood he’d heard his parents dictum: don’t give to beggars.  Don’t give away money that you might need for yourself.  Think of what that money could be used for and then use it.  He wasn’t sure he’d agreed with it back then, but it was a litany now, inescapable.
“Thingth don’t come for free, mithter.”  She, or he, lisped a little.  Jake squinted, unsure that he’d seen a pointed tongue appearing between teeth for a minute, but the person had closed their mouth again.
“Yeah, that’s true,” he said, waiting for them to get his point.  The hand remained outstretched though, and he raised an eyebrow.
“Everyone’s a philosopher,” said the waif, the lisp disappearing momentarily, but the tongue flickered out between the lips with the effort of getting the sounds right, and it was dark coloured, thin, and too long.  It might have been pointed too, but the light was bad and Jake knew that the waif was watching him as much as he was watching it.  “You don’t get something for nothing says the guy who has nothing, and you tip your hat and repeat back to him because you think he’s offering you nothing in return.  But he’s offering you his gratitude for taking a moment to consider him and his situation, same as he considered yours before he asked you.  He’s giving you the chance to feel good about yourself for being the big man, for being generous, for being charitable.  All these things he offers you, including his shame at having to ask in the first place, and his humiliation at accepting what you’re willing to spare – what you have so much of that you can give it away because you don’t need it – and you tip your hat and tell him that he’s offering you nothing in exchange for your condescension.  That says nothing profound, Mister, that says only that you can’t be bothered to think.  And philosophy from a non-thinker?  That’s a non-starter.”
“You’re male then?” Jake couldn’t think of anything else to say.  He had no idea why it was bugging him so much that he couldn’t tell the gender of the waif, but it was niggling away at him that he was missing something.
The waif pulled the shirt open, revealing its nakedness underneath and Jake fell silent, unable to look away.  After a few seconds the waif wrapped themselves back up again and shivered.  Then the hand poked out once more, palm upwards, slightly cupped.
“I don’t pity you,” said Jake, but his voice wobbled slightly and the lie was apparent.  “Not like that, anyway.”  That was closer to the truth.  “I’ll pay you, but I want to know what I’m paying you for.”
“Directions,” said the waif.  “What you came for, even if you haven’t asked yourself that.  Directions on a cold, dark night to somewhere else, somewhere where questions can be asked and answers found.  It’s up to you if you want to follow them, but they’re worth what you pay for them.”
There was a soft rattle that disturbed the silence that followed, and it took Jake a couple of moments to realise he was listening to the waif breathing.  He tried not to think of what diseases might make someone sound like that.  Finally he put his hand in his pocket and made a fist, pulling out everything that was in there.
“This is everything I’ve got,” he said, holding the fist over the waif’s cupped hand and opening it, letting the objects fall.  Bright eyes watched him from a pale face framed by blonde hair, and then the hand retracted, the other hand appearing to sort through the litter.  “There’s no point asking for more, there isn’t any.”
Coins jingled as they moved around a hand, and a paperclip was lifted into the dim white light from the stars and examined.  Two pieces of paper were unfolded and folded back up again, and Jake suddenly realised that one of them had to be Alice’s phone number.  It seemed too late now to ask for it back.  A condom was pushed from one side to the other, and then suddenly both hands disappeared back inside the shirt.
“Accepted,” said the waif.  “Follow me.”
“Wait,” said Jake, reaching out a hand, but stopping as he got close, unable to bring himself to touch the waif now.  “You said I was getting directions.”

“I said you got what you paid for,” said waif.  “And you’ve paid for a guide.”