The Empathy Files. The Angel of Empathy (1)
Ange was perched between a gargoyle and a pigeon biding time. Time was a slippery thing and one had to leap into the slipstream of a moment with perfect intuition. Ange loved that effortless flow when all of the elements gave up resistance and allowed her to make the perfect dive. There had, of course, been plenty of miss-timings. One cannot become skilled without practice. Ange gave an imperceptible shudder in recollection of those difficult landings. Not necessarily physically painful, but embarrassing and often leading to complications.
Ange glanced at the huge clock-face ahead. There was plenty of time. The air was grey and flat, nothing shimmered; it did not invite her to fall.
The pigeon was watching Ange with its right eye, the other was on a cheese sandwich, still in its plastic wrapper on the pavement. It had been there for precisely 3 minutes. A woman in clacky heels and a red coat had leaned over a bundle of fabrics and quite deliberately placed it there. In the pigeon’s experience, a shaky human hand would soon pick it up and peel it from its indigestible coverings; at this point she would make her dive to the pavement to take advantage of any goodwill that might be on offer. Failing this theft was a good second resort.
The pigeon was used to other birds, the odd floating piece of litter, and the gargoyle up here, but this visitor was both unexpected and intriguing. There was nothing to suggest danger, in fact the visitor was giving every indication that it knew the pigeon, had known her since the egg and beyond. A red-rimmed eye met the deep gaze of understanding and for a brief but delightful moment, all of her discomfort, the gnawing pain of hunger, the crawling skin of infestation, the disorientation of disease, was alleviated.
Ange acknowledged the pigeon with her cool-water stare, for it was not every creature that could see her. This pigeon had unique sensitivities, if only she knew.
The gargoyle leered into the distance. Ange rested a hand on its rough head. The carving had been fine, but years of weathering and chemical damage had worn away the detail, leaving it knobbly and ill-defined. Ange felt past the cold of the present to the heat of a centuries old summer’s day. Beneath a dusting of salt and the fresh droppings of a passing gull, it had stood, new and ancient, as a promising slab for the craftsman’s chisel. Well, in this case, an enthusiastic apprentice. This slab would become his first triumph. The work which would herald young Bobbo as a great talent in the making. Sadly his rise was brief, and his hundred foot fall from a spire rapid. Still, a little of his joy in the moment of creation throbbed in the stone.
There was a subtle alteration in the air. The muffled k-thunk of an expensive car door closing cut through the drifting shrill of traffic and humanity. Self-important leather soles tapped ostentatiously on the pavement below.
The air shimmered with streaks of a sickly green. It was time. The pigeon blinked as Ange stood, heels on the leaden edge of the guttering. Growing taller, gathering heft as she stretched, sinewy and powerful, with a slight arch of her back, Ange performed a perfect forward dive toward the ground.
Reginald Pilkington Smyth was a very busy man. Fortunately he had a rather wonderful personal assistant who ensured that his life ran like a well-oiled machine. Oilier than his glossy coiffure, more oiled than his massaged, fragrant skin, although not quite as oily has his plummy voice, which positively dripped from his thin lips.
There would another two hours until he was scheduled to lunch and already he had swum 20 lengths of his admittedly rather small indoor pool, made a very important decision from the comfort of his chauffeured custom-built Jaguar, spoken to all five of his children from the same Jag, via the rather nifty live video conference system one can now apparently carry at all times. The world in your pocket! Far be it for him to embrace the new and tawdry world of social media, but he was grateful to his young assistant for this initiation into the convenient communication techniques of the young. It allowed him to be the doting father at a distance, a preferable situation for all involved. The satisfying day of a busy man was only just getting started; he was preparing to make a rather special political manoeuvre and was very pleased with the killer speech his personal assistant had had written for him.
RP, as his chums had called him at Eton and the name had stuck, was old school. He modelled his behaviour on the greats from classical Rome. He was a realist; logical, not cruel. It was an unfortunate fact that if there is to be wealth there must also be poverty. Given that certainty, he saw little point in giving too much attention to the poor. There were people who were paid to do that and his time was more than stretched in the necessary acquisition of wealth. There was a symmetry to the world, equilibrium must be sustained. It hardly mattered who the rich or the poor were, but the existence of both was essential to keep the books balanced, and the books were everything. Given this fact he had further reasoned that he and his kind were better suited to wealth, they had the knack of creating it and should, therefore, keep it.
This rather comforting thought was interrupted by an aberration. Here, on the very doorstep of this great seat of law, order and all that was good in the world, was an intruder. A truly filthy man, draped in a greasy blanket of indeterminable colour, was hindering his progress. RP’s stomach lurched. If security had overlooked this piece of human wreckage, what other weaknesses might there be in the system?
RP averted his eyes. He was practised in the art of ignoring what was in front of him, his mind was on higher things after all, and it was always best to glide through these unfortunate situations. He would avoid an actual encounter at all costs.
A voice rose from the huddled blanket. A grimy hand was waving a piece of brown cardboard with something scrawled on it, he caught the word ‘help’ and averted his eyes once more. But he was wrong-footed. His shoe slipped on something both hard and soft. It crunched and slid. He was falling. He was falling onto the filthy man. And at that thought, before he fell into a sickly green haze of unconsciousness, he heard a desperate voice call out,
‘No! Not me sarnie.’