Malachi strained with all his might as he lowered the less than svelte frame of Mother to the ground. He was on top of a high brick wall, behind him the shrill sound of police whistles made eerie threats from the thick fog. He looked down at his Mother’s face. Neither of them could see the ground under her, but both knew the score. She nodded and he let her go. The sound of her crash landing came in swift curses. Her anger was as a balm to Malachi’s nerves. He swung his legs over and gripped to wall, stretched himself to his full length. His shoulders screamed at him with the agony of over worked strain. He heard his Mother’s muffled voice.
“Drop you gobshite.”
He shook his head in annoyance and dropped. The split second stretched into seeming minutes, before his feet hit dirt. He staggered, a shooting pain going up his back. He muttered a curse of frustration. That jolt promised to pain him for months to come. His Mother caught his hand and they continued to flee further into the night fog of crowded New York.
They had been on the run for the last eight hours. As Mother had expected, they’d merited and excited a welcoming committee of uniformed coppers. She and Malachi had watched from an upper deck as the police went through every single steerage passenger. Any man or woman that matched or even approximated their description was pulled out for further questioning. Anyone who took umbrage at this man-handing was dealt a swift quietner to the temple via the vicious looking truncheons the coppers around here used. More than a few burly men, who didn’t like their women-folk being jostled thus, found themselves unexpectedly asleep and bleeding.
Since their encounter with Penelope, they had commandeered her berth in Second Class and had slowly acquired, through careful pilferage, entirely new apparel. Once Malachi kept his big, ignorant, bog man illiterate, savage mouth shut, as was his Mother’s exact admonishment, they passed as legitimate Second Class passengers. And on a ship this size, the absence of one woman was noted by no one and would pass unremarked until her cabin was cleaned. Of course, Malachi and his mother planned to be well away before the bare bones of their encounter could be picked over.
They calmly joined the other well to do passengers and made their way to the pier. The police presence here was both thinner and infinitely more respectful. Though The Mother’s careful eye was drawn to a plain clothed man, who stood like a copper and who was clearly smart enough to watch for his targets without having to continually refer back to a written description. She gave Malachi a gentle nudge and they discreetly parted company. Malachi walking next to a young couple in a way that could be construed as him being in their company. The Mother found a large and loud young man who was declaiming loudly to his sweetheart of his exploits to come in the savage interior of this vast continent. She casually shielded herself from the Detective’s eye with this vainglorious bulk.
They escaped the man’s notice but they were aware that they lacked the documentation to maintain their ruse for much longer. In front of them a queue was forming in front of long tables, manned by officious men in clean blue uniforms. Paper was examined, paper was shuffled, more paper was signed and eventually once suitably papered, America was opened. The queue moved, slowly but steadily. Malachi and Mother watched for their opportunity. The queue continued its inexorable progress and then they saw it. A door once guarded had succumbed to the exigencies of a weak bladder. Separately they moved towards it, being careful to nod and joke about the inconvenience of queueing with their fellow passengers.
Finally they were at the exit and without looking back they were through it. They found themselves in a stinking alleyway. They ran without pause. Only when they approached the city proper did they slow. They paused for breath and checked for sound and sign of pursuit. They shared a satisfied nod. All appeared to be going well. They linked arms and began to stroll leisurely into the city. They had money in their pockets and had to be nowhere quick. Then the whistles began.
Shrill sharp shocks to their senses. They hadn’t escaped. They darted down alleyway after dank alleyway. They stole clothes and changed their appearance twice. All day they had escaped capture and now the night and the fog promised to make their escape final. But these coppers seemed to take a personal interest in their apprehension. There was no let up and they were forced to begin climbing and once or twice wading for their lives.
They were close to exhaustion. Malachi limped in agony. Too tired to complain and his Mother too worried to mock his clumsiness. They were now just blindly going down streets. All that mattered was that they keep moving. Their ability to plan had been lost in the fog. More whistles and they misstepped. They found themselves in a blind alley. The whistles approached, they looked around desperately. There was little to see and even less light to see it in but they spied a glowing shape in the gloom. They move to it and saw that it was the outline of a door, lit by the escaping brightness from within. The whistles grew closer. She looked at him,
“If we go in here, you know what has to happen.” Malachi nodded a reply, a long silence followed, before she again whispered, but this time in appalled consternation, “If you nodded and you can’t even see my face I’ll hand you over to the police here and now, ya mutton headed moon child.”
Malachi blanched, “Sorry mother, I didn’t nod, I was thinking about what you said.”
The Mother snorted in disgust, “Don’t lie as well as being stupid.”
“Sorry Mother. I understand. Whoever we find, they have to be ended. ‘Tis that or the rope. So I say we go for it.”
The Mother took him by the hand, “You’re a good Son Malachi, thick, but loyal, a mother could ask for nothing more in a son.” She placed his hand on the door handle as she took her knife from her bag.
“On the count of three Malachi…One, Two, Three.”
They crashed through the door, but were immediately moved to stillness. They had entered a surprisingly large room, dominated by two wooden slabs, on one was a dead body, covered in hundreds of needles and on the other, another dead body, being carefully carved apart by a tall middle-aged man, with a long neat beard.
He hissed at them angrily in a haughty French accent, “Close the door yes. There are coppers everywhere tonight yes. What is it you want?”
The Mother hurriedly closed the door and made that mental leap which always amazed Malachi, “My son here, hurt his back Doctor, we heard you might be able to help.”
Malachi stood up taller, his neck cracking as he looked in horror at the dead bodies, the needles, the mad doctor and Mother.
“Ah sure now Mother, the pain is almost gone, we should be on our way and sorry for disturbing you doctor.” He turned and placed a hand on the door handle. He felt his mother move and then had to stifle a yelp as the knife that had recently disappeared up her sleeve was now being pressed against his kidney.
She spoke to the Doctor with careful gentleness, never once taking her eyes from Malachi’s, “You’ll have to forgive him Doctor, he’s a simple child and despite his great hulking size, a big cowardly baby. His back does need looking at, whatever the lummox may say.” Malachi yielded to the pressure of the knife and let go of the door. He turned and faced the Doctor.
“Yes Doctor, it is exactly as my mother says.”
The Doctor took his bloodied hand from the corpse he was dissecting. He wiped them carelessly on a rag, already filthy with dried blood and walked towards the pair of visitors. He looked Malachi up and down before addressing himself to Mother, “A simpleton you say?”
“As nears as makes no difference Doctor.” He nodded and turned away.
He spoke to them as he opened a door and took out a collapsable bench, “Please instruct your oaf to be removing his upper clothing please.” He assembled the waist high bench without waiting for rely or looking to see if his instructions were being followed. “How did you hear of me good mother?”
The Mother looked at Malachi and bared her teeth in threat. He relented and began to take off his jacket, shirt and vest. “I was down the Market Doctor and a dear old lady saw Malachi limping and recommended your name.”
“Yes, I do have a great reputation among the small people. But one day Kings and Queens will be clamouring for my attentions. Until then I will have to treat the dim-witted and poor. Speaking of poor, how will you be paying?”
The Mother didn’t miss a beat, taking Penelope’s purloined watch from her bag. It wasn’t very valuable, but would garner a few dollars, “Here you are Doctor, a gift from my sainted husband, but as he looks on me from heaven, I’m sure he will forgive me for making free with the bounty of his affection.”
The Doctor took the watch and after a cursory examination, threw it into a drawer, full of similar keepsakes, used to pay for his services. He patted the bench and looked at Malachi as one would an unruly child or recalcitrant farm animal, “Lay down here yes. On your front like a good boy.”
Malachi wasn’t unduly offended by the patronising tone, for the body covered in needles filled his mind. The Doctor looked at the hair covered musculature of Malachi’s chest.
“He would make a fine specimen good mother, please think of me if he should pre decease you.”
She looked at the Doctor for some time. Malachi waited, face down on the bench. “So his corpse would be worth something to you Doctor?”
He nodded and Malachi groaned, his discomfort may have been mental or physical. “Indeed good mother, valuable to me yes and valuable to science.”
She shrugged her shoulders and walked to the other side of the room slowly. She retrieved a chair and brought it back to Malachi’s side, opposite to the side the Doctor was on. “The lad is dear to me heart Doctor, a trial to my nerves, but around the eyes he’s the clearest picture of his father I have. To lose him would surely put a bruising on my heart that’d be the death of me.”
The doctor nodded at her sagely, “Of course good mother, I have a number of cadavers at my disposal, so please, take some time to consider my offer.”
She leaned over Malachi’s bare and clammy back to shake the Doctor’s hand, Malachi finally brought his mind to consider the content of the conversation being had over him. He wondered if cattle felt so much like meat when they heard the bargaining voices.
She spoke again, “So Doctor, his back? Do you think you can see to what is ailing him?”
Malachi felt his back being manipulated. Despite himself he began to relax. The room was warm, the kneading of his aching muscles wonderful and his eye lids increasingly heavy. He breathing shallowed, his body sagged and brawny arms fell away. Voices droned above him, as if heard through a dream and then only softly. Insensibility took him.
Mother was cut short by the first thunderous snore. She looked at her incapacitated son in consternation. This was no act, he was sound asleep. She glanced at the Doctor with a silent apology.
“That is quite alright good mother. I find that many times my patients fall asleep while I look for the cause of a malady.”
“And have you found his Doctor, other than his empty headedness of course?”
“I have. There is a blockage here yes, along his spine. I will need to manipulate his meridians to unblock him. Then he will be fully recovered.”
The Mother pursed her lips, showing how impressed she was at his quick diagnosis and her confidence in his ability to remedy the problem. Then her head turned, her eyes searching the room.
“Tell me Doctor, would you have a sup of tea anywhere in here?”
He answered her carelessly, “No good mother, I drink only the coffee.”
Mother nodded, “I had heard that was the habit of many in this land, perhaps you would instead oblige an old woman with some boiling water and perhaps a drop of milk. I am happily well provisioned in the area of tea leaves already.”
He looked at her, his patience already near exhausted, “If you must, there is a kettle in the back kitchen and some milk in the cooler. Now please, I must concentrate on my work.”
“Of course Doctor. Of course.”
She proceeded to carefully and ever so slowly prepare her tea. Finding the kettle, the milk, the stove, watching the water till it boiled. Minutes passed in blissful concentration until she was ready to bring a large mug of milky tea to her lips. She sighed in purest contentment, before turning to see how the Doctor was treating her son.
She stopped dead. Even for a woman of her special sensibilities, the sight that greeted her, gave her pause. Malachi was still out cold, snoring gently now, but his back had taken on the appearance of some grotesque pin cushion. The doctor had stuck what must have been a score at least, of needles into his unresisting flesh.
She approached the spectacle, taking her seat she took anther sip of her tea before addressing herself to the Doctor.
“Forgive me sir, but how pray does puncturing my son, aid his recovery?”
The Doctor’s face lit up, he never tired of an opportunity to explain this near miraculous treatment to the uninitiated.
“I will of course attempt to explain all to you good mother, but I fear your uneducated mind may struggle with the concepts this method of treatment rests on, yes”
“Yes I understand Doctor, you can only do your best with me, if I fail to follow you, then we know where the fault lies.”
He bowed in acknowledgment at her acceptance of his vastly superior intellect.
“To begin, you must imagine that through our bodies flows an energy which animates us. When this energy flows as it is meant to, then we are in perfect health yes, but if there is, how you say, a disruptedness, then a malady will happen.”
The Mother nodded, her free hand gently squeezing Malachi’s hanging arm.
“Please continue Doctor.”
“When that flow is in flux, men like me have studied how to fix it, by pressing these needles into special places in the body. These places once so pressed or prodded help to make the flow return to normal. It is a rare gift and it will make me my fortune.”
Mother looked at Malachi who was now looking back at her. Fear and confusion on his face. With the merest of glances she signaled that he remain as he was.
“And there is no pain Doctor?”
“None what so ever. A sensation yes, but no more than that.”
She stood and walked around to him. Standing at his side she looked down at Malachi’s back.
“You would be surprised Doctor at some of the people we’ve met this last year. Some of them would impress even a scientific genius such as yourself Doctor. And I think I know exactly what you are saying to me”
The Doctor laughed, “Of course you may think that good woman. But I’m sure you could not even in your imaginings know what it is I am doing.”
The Mother smiled. She saw that Malachi had discreetly turned his head so that he could see them both. She reached down and lifted Malachi’s hanging arms and rested it against his side. She then placed her mug in it.
“A moment Doctor.”
She returned to the stove and retrieved a spoon. She returned to the Doctor and placed the spoon in the mug.
“Imagine Doctor, that this mug is my dear simple boy here. Inside is a mixture of tea and milk and for those that like it, sugar. But ‘tisn’t as simple as just throwing them in willy nilly.”
The Doctor was intrigued despite himself, leaning closer to the mug.
“If the mixture just sits there, it is not a proper mug of tea. So one takes a spoon, or a needle in your case, and moves the mixture, the energy, along the road it’s supposed to be on.”
The Doctor grinned excitedly.
“I think perhaps your words work better if we understand each meridian as a mug of this tea.”
The Doctor reached for the mug, but as his fingers brushed against it, his eyes glazed over. His knees buckled and he dropped straight down. His head hitting the dirt floor hard.
Malachi carefully raised himself a few inches from his bench and looked down at the Doctor, a knife jutting out from the base of this skull.
“I think you impressed him Mother.”
“I think so too boy. We’ve come across a lot of doctoring recently.”
“Do you think you can take these needles out now?”
The Mother took back her mug and sipped at it.
“In a moment Malachi. It has been a fierce long day and my thirst has my throat cut ragged raw.”
“Of course Mother, of course.”
She continued to sip in silent contentment as Malachi rested his head on his hands, relaxed despite the needles.
“So whats the plan Mother?”
“Well my boy, we must head west. We seem to have overstayed our welcome in civilisation.”
Malachi considered her words then nodded in agreement.
“At least we have meat for the road.”
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