It was three a.m. and Harold was wide awake. Beside him on the pillow, Teatime was curled up sound asleep, emitting tiny snores. Harold wondered what sleep was actually like since, as a demon, he did not – indeed, could not – sleep. The nearest thing to it for him was quiescence, a state of relaxation which allowed him to conserve some of the not inconsiderable energy required to maintain his corporeal form – his vessel – here on the Brightside.
From time to time, a car would drive by outside and its lights, shining through the absurdly cheerful flowery curtains of the drab motel room, would light up the framed sampler that someone had hung on the wall. Good fences make good neighbours it said. Harold wondered if all the rooms at the motel had the same embroidered aphorism on the wall or if they were all different. Somebody must have had a lot of time on their hands. He sighed: he was a million miles from the calm mental state needed to drift into quiescence.
They had not been able to find any suitable apartments for rent the previous evening, but had made a couple of appointments to see some the following day. A friendly gas station attendant had pointed them in the direction of the SleepEZ motel, situated, according to a leaflet he had given them, conveniently close to the city's major transport hub. This meant, of course, that it was right next to the busiest and noisiest railway tracks. When they had arrived, Teatime had been unimpressed to see that someone had removed the "P" from the motel's sign and had expressed the hope that the result was not going to be a too accurate description of the place.
Fortunately, the motel room had turned out to be clean and comfortable enough, if a little worn and threadbare-looking, and they had settled in for the night.
It had been, on the whole, a rather disconcerting day. At the start, Harold had had a job and place to stay, but just because of a stupid impulsive whim, he'd chucked all that away and ended up jobless and homeless in a strange city with very little money and nothing but a talking monkey for a companion. Was everybody else's life as confusing and disorganised as this? He wondered. Probably, if what he'd seen so far was anything to go by. Everywhere around on the Brightside, there was hunger, heroism, suffering, saintliness, greed and grace in various degrees. Back home in the Basement, life had been pretty straightforward compared to this.
Three twenty-one a.m. Harold sighed again, got up carefully so as not to wake Teatime, picked up his rucksack and slipped quietly out into the night.
"Three twenty-one," murmured Agent Carlisle into his voice-recorder, "Subject has left the motel. Am proceeding to follow on foot, as the car will be too conspicuous." He clicked off the recorder and, making sure the Ladybird tracker's handset was safely in his pocket, quietly got out and locked the dark blue WV he had spent the night in on Agent India's instructions.
Harold had no particular place to go, but for what he needed to do, he needed to be well away from people. He took a route that roughly paralleled the railway tracks. After a few minutes' walk, he found just the place. It was an old, abandoned warehouse – the derelict cliche of every gritty cop or gangster show – and as he seated himself on the crumbling loading bay platform, it made the perfect backdrop.
Agent Carlisle watched from the shadows as the AFO took a cloth-wrapped bundle from its backpack. He looked through the viewfinder of the Cicada night-vision camcorder to see if it was getting a good image – it was. It was a really cool piece of tech, but then agents always had the best kit that OGS's not insignificant resources could acquire. The War on Error, as he privately called it, was certainly making somebody rich.
Right now the image showed a strikingly good-looking young man who was carefully fitting together the pieces of something metallic and shiny.
"A trumpet?" breathed Carlisle,
Indeed it was. Harold began to play, completely unaware of his audience.
A series of long sad notes drifted up into the night. They spoke of sadness, they wailed of homesickness and wept unconsolably of loss. They soared to the heavens and floated down gently like a breeze. Now and then a passing train would drag them away to screeching, rattling oblivion, only for them to return, soft as a sigh.. In the shadows, Carlisle stood frozen, tears running down his face, all thoughts of observation and recording forgotten, totally caught up in the heartbreakingly magical moment.
Eventually, having played himself out, Harold lowered the trumpet to his lap and sat there in the darkness, eyes closed. He loved the feeling he got after playing his heart out: part exhaustion, part elation. If only they would just leave him alone with his music. What he had played tonight was a new piece that had come to him just as he had put the instrument to his lips. That was the best kind of music.
He decided he would call the piece We Were Angels Once. Then, laughing to himself at his own pretentiousness, he mentally scrubbed out that title. As he cleaned and put away the trumpet, another idea came to him. He'd just call it Missing You instead - more catchy, more likely to sell records – not that anyone would ever be likely to record it.
In the east, the sky was just beginning to show the first faint light of dawn. Harold got up and headed back to the motel, Teatime would not be pleased if he thought Harold was wandering off about the place without him.
When he got back to the room, Teatime was awake and irritatedly flipping back and forth between the channels on the battered TV set in the room.
"Where on earth have you been?" he demanded, "I was worried sick!"
"Sorry," replied Harold, dropping his backpack onto the bed, "I just went for a bit of a think and a walk. You were asleep, so I didn't want to disturb you."
"Fair enough, old sock," said Teatimre, somewhat mollified, "but you have to be careful out alone at night. Bad things can happen."
Harold laughed, "I'm a demon! I'm supposed to be the Bad Things That Happen', aren't I?"
"Yes," agreed Teatime, "but there are things out there which are a threat even to you."
"Like what?" scoffed Harold, "Ghosts? Brain-eating Zombies? Dragons? Here, give me that remote." He perched on the edge of the bed and began flipping channels himself.
"Don't dismiss the dragons so lightly," admonished Teatime, "Just because they have some silly agreement not to eat humans, doesn't mean they wouldn't – wait! Go back!"
Harold pressed the remote.
...coat the whole thing with breadcrumbs and bake in the oven for twenty...
"Again!" commanded Teatime, "Hurry up!" Harold did as he was told.
..Sponge Bob is Nickelodeon's highest-rated show and, today, as we go behind the scenes to...
"No, not that one!" Teatime was fairly jumping up and down with impatience. Shrugging, Harold pressed again.
The screen now showed a news bulletin. The news anchorman was speaking over a piece of grainy CCTV footage which showed a young man apparently being thrown out of the main doors of a building by a very large black man. The first man, having landed in a heap, got up and walked away quickly.
"I was right!" gasped Teatime, "That is you! I thought it was."
"Unfortunately," said the newscaster as the film ended, "We don't have any better pictures that these as the rest of the footage was damaged in the fire. The Police Department is very keen to speak to the man you just saw, so if you know who he is or if indeed you are him, please contact them. Now we go live to Sherry Taylor at the scene. Sherry." He turned to the large screen beside him.
A pretty blonde reporter began speaking to camera from outside what Harold instantly recognised as Baron Samedi's club. Behind her, firefighters could be seen coming and going through the blackened main doors, their hoses trailing like fat snakes into the dark recesses of the building.
"Bill, the world-famous jazz club has been almost completely destroyed by the blaze." she said, "Fortunately, no-one appears to have been inside the club when the fire broke out. The Fire Department has yet to conduct a full investigation but, as you mentioned already, early indications are that the fire was started deliberately. We have still not been able to track down the club's owner, Baron Samedi, for comment. I do, however, have here with me the club's Head of Operations, Mr Elroy Jackson." She turned to a hugely-built black man. "Mr Jackson, do you have any idea who could have done this?"
Mr Teeth looked straight into the camera. Miles away in his hotel room, Harold gulped: Mr Teeth seemed to be looking right at him.
"Oh, yeah," he growled, "I got a pretty good idea."