Twenty-Two Short Films About Wellington Wells: Sinneslöschen, Pt. 4

September 3rd, 1964

“Oh look. It’s an eagle, here to eat my liver.” Haworth watched Verloc enter his cell from the far corner where he leaned against the wall. He had been spying on Plantagenet while he waited. “Just smashing.”

One side of Verloc’s mouth hitched up at Haworth’s lazy quip. “You’ve told that one before, Prometheus.”

“Yes, well, if you’re going to gas me with your half-baked Joy formula every day, you’ll have to forgive the occasional repeat,” Haworth said, pushing himself off the wall and closing the distance to keep Verloc from venturing too far in. He liked to keep Verloc in the space by the door so as to make him feel both claustrophobic and unwelcome.

“I brought the pills on the off chance that you wanted to make this easier,” Verloc said. He tried to sound nonchalant about it, but Haworth knew he was hoping to be taken up on the offer. That he pulled a jar of medicated healing balm out of his pocket instead gave away that he knew he wouldn’t be.

“Have I ever, even once, wanted to make this easier for you, Anton?” Haworth asked, shrugging out of his jacket and laying it on the bed. “And you need to get a hold of yourself and pay closer attention with the bandage. The nurse found blood on my shirt last time.” Verloc faltered as he pulled a Crash syringe out of his other pocket and went a bit pink at being called out on his squeamishness. “I convinced her I just had a bit of a nosebleed, but if she sees that again, Dr. Hughes will have his evidence as to why my data has always been so ‘consistently inconsistent’ and he won’t need me to corroborate it.”

“If you would just take the pills instead-” Verloc complained, but Haworth cut him off.

“We’ve already settled this,” Haworth said as he pulled his bow tie loose. “You’re the one who wants to do this at all. I’d be much happier to just choke on Coconut until I went mad like that chap next door,” he lied, glancing back at the window into Plantagenet’s cell as he unbuttoned his shirt enough to expose his neck.

“I didn’t spend six months drying you out just to let you overdose on Coconut,” Verloc grumbled as he flicked air bubbles out of the syringe.

“No, of course you didn’t,” Haworth said. He crossed his arms sullenly. “Where would the satisfaction in keeping me as a trophy be if I wasn’t fully cognizant of it?”

“I don’t keep you as a “trophy”,” Verloc said, shaking his head in exasperation.

“I’ve been in your glass display case for four years now, Anton,” Haworth said, gesturing behind him at the giant observation window. “There’s truly no need for further pretense.”

“I keep you here for your own good,” Verloc harrumphed. “You should be grateful. Miss Byng tried to make me send you to Wellington Health instead.” In a way, Haworth was grateful for that much, but not to any extent that he’d say so to Verloc.

“Grateful? None of this is good for me,” Haworth said. “As it is, I have a very busy day of staring at the ceiling and hoping to die planned so perhaps we could move this along.” He twirled his hands in a rolling motion and tilted his head to the right, baring his neck. He wanted to get this done as soon as possible because the more time the Crash had to settle, the closer to his fighting weight he’d be when it came time to deny knowledge of it to Dr. Hughes later.

“Before we do that,” Verloc said, “was there anything you were going to tell me?” He was leading, obviously, and Haworth knew that he knew what Verloc wanted, but had to sift through his Coconut fog to remember specifically what it was.

Oh. Right. That. “About…?” Haworth trailed in false ignorance to waste Verloc’s time since he was wasting his.

“The undercover reporter in the next cell.”

Haworth fixed Verloc with an inspective side-eye. “That you are asking me means Hughes already told you about her,” he deduced. “You don’t need information. So you’re looking for… what from me?”

“I thought you were…” Verloc tried to articulate exactly what it was that he thought, but seemed to decide that it was not worth the effort. “You told me about Dr. Hughes,” he settled on. Haworth saw now. Verloc had thought – hoped – they were working together.

“A gesture of loyalty then,” Haworth derided. He stared down his nose in contempt at Verloc. “I am not your man-on-the-inside, Anton. I only told you about Hughes because he’s dangerous. He’s conspiring against you and he seems to think I am your favorite lab rat, which puts me in a precarious position with him. He doesn’t like either of us, and if I won’t help him discredit you, then he might try to hurt me to get at you instead.” It was an unsavory twist of fate to have to defend Verloc from Hughes’ machinations and to have to ask Verloc to protect him from any retaliation in turn. “It’s bad enough you’ve put me in this bind on top of everything you’ve done. You’re on your own with whoever else you lure in here.”

“You don’t think an undercover reporter is dangerous too?” Verloc asked. She could be, Haworth thought, but he preferred to keep Verloc blind to his opinions for the most part.

“Stuck in here? She’s as harmless as I am,” he said. Haworth quite enjoyed Verloc’s look of wary skepticism at that statement. Up until April of this year, Verloc hadn’t dared to enter his cell. He only did now because he was reasonably assured the Coconut kept Haworth too docile to strangle him. It was gratifying to know Verloc wasn’t completely confident in that. “And anyway, you haven’t done anything about Hughes so keeping you informed is clearly a wasted effort.”

“I’m keeping an eye on him,” Verloc insisted, “but I still need him until I can get Sally back.” Haworth rolled his eyes at the mention of Sally returning. If the girl had any sense at all, she’d never set foot on Uskglass again. “And even if I didn’t, I can’t fire him on your word alone. Everyone thinks you’re mad.”

“And whose fault is that?” Haworth snapped as a burst of fury broke through the Coconut haze. The feeling was gone just as quickly as it came, but Haworth held on to his look of disgust. Verloc glared and opened his mouth as if he were about to say something, but then thought better of it. He looked away and huffed. Haworth interpreted that as a victory and let his own expression fall back to neutrality.

“Worst case scenario, she finds out you’re a rotten snake. Who’s she going to tell in here? Me?” Haworth sneered. “Old news, I’m afraid. From there, it’s just a matter of how long it takes you and Hughes to drive her insane with your cocktail napkin formulas.”

“It’s just the brominating reaction, I’m sure of it,” Verloc started explaining. “If I can just figure out how to keep it from combus-“

“Anton,” Haworth interrupted again. He gave Verloc a look of his deepest disinterest and tilted his head to the side again. Verloc’s shoulders slumped and, deflated, he set to work. He unscrewed the lid on the jar of healing balm, collected a small amount on his left thumb, and adjusted his grip around the syringe in his right hand.

In theory, it should have been a quick procedure. After months of performing it, it should have taken mere seconds. Verloc should have had it down to muscle memory by now. But he didn’t.

Verloc never had the stomach for practical medicine, which Haworth had found to be a fascinating paradox for someone pursuing a career in it. It was too hands-on, too personal, too close for him. Verloc chose pharmacology because it allowed him distance between himself and his work that he could close if the results were good and fill with excuses and the failures of others if they were not. Haworth noted it in everything about his testing procedures. Thick glass to keep the patient safely separate from him, Joy applied as a gas so he didn’t have to use his lacking bedside manner to coerce cooperation, Dr. Hughes so he didn’t even have to observe the results himself. Verloc didn’t like to watch what his drugs did to people. He didn’t want the responsibility of the side effects, only the glory of the cure. For this reason, he never administered his drugs himself, except here in this cell and only because Haworth had boxed him into a corner about it. He certainly didn’t like taking injections in the neck every four days, but he knew Verloc hated giving them and that was enough to make it worth forcing him to do it this way.

However, it made the process an ordeal every time.

Even after months of injections, Verloc still approached them like a first-year student. He was careful; Haworth had to give him that. While most Doctors were sure in their aim even without being able to see, Verloc used two fingers to trace Haworth’s carotid artery down enough so the injection would be hidden, pointing out the spot to himself where he should inject, thumb with the healing balm on it held out of the way. He raised his fist with the syringe in it, but his hand shook. Haworth gave him a skeptic sidelong glance. Verloc swallowed hard, braced his fist on Haworth’s shoulder to steady it, and – after a spell more hemming and hawing – finally pierced the skin. Haworth’s eyes flinched into a squint for a second, but he ignored the sting otherwise. Verloc, however, shuddered in repulsion at the sight of his handiwork and stalled out.

“Follow through!” Haworth hissed at him, holding stock-still so as not to jostle the needle. How did they ever let him out of basic med? Verloc snapped back to attention and pressed the plunger down with his thumb. Then he pulled the needle out and swiped on the healing balm on with his other thumb to keep the puncture from bleeding too much before he could bandage it.

There was always a moment of refreshing, glorious hyper-clarity when the Crash first hit. It was even better than the morning after a Crash day, when he’d slept off the last of it and was completely free of all drugs. This was a transcendent cross between the coherence of sobriety and the emotional suppression of Coconut. If only he could bottle that, the future truly would be today. But it was so cruelly fleeting. By the time Verloc had unwrapped and affixed an adhesive bandage to the puncture wound, the gloom would set in. Everything stood in a greyish-green cast and all the fear and anxiety and grief the Coconut kept pushed into the background would resurface.

The anger that changed to terror when, in the middle of an argument over dinner, Haworth realized Verloc had drugged his food with Sleeptite. The betrayal of waking up in here and realizing the lengths to which Verloc was willing to go to keep him from reclaiming his labs. His seething fury the day Verloc had come in here to tell him that he’d have to experiment on him to justify keeping him to Miss Byng. His determination to refuse Verloc’s Crash pills and the subsequent embarrassment when he realized Verloc had instead drugged his food again. More humiliation when he threw up his lunch and cried uncontrollably at the hopelessness of it all. The glimmer of opportunity when Dr. Hughes questioned him and he realized the Crash gave him the presence of mind to lie and say he didn’t know why he was behaving so erratically. The spiteful satisfaction of forcing Verloc to administer the Crash on his terms by refusing to eat at all otherwise. The dizzying regret that he’d squandered his first three years of unadulterated salience in here and now he had only a quarter as much opportunity to escape and it cost him the misery of withdrawal each time. All these things and more returned to the forefront at once.

Though he would hardly call it comforting, Verloc’s presence kept Haworth from allowing himself to spiral. Once he got over the initial shock of all his repressed feelings returning at once, it was easier to shake himself loose of them if he didn’t permit himself to wallow. He had too much pride to let himself succumb to despair in front of Verloc so, ironically, having him here made it easier for Haworth to collect himself and take advantage of the lucidity the Crash afforded him to see his situation for what it was.

This was all so feudal, wasn’t it? Who took prisoners in a corporate takeover? It made no sense.

Unless it was personal.

“Did I… do something to you? Something I don’t remember?” There had to be a reason why Verloc locked him up in here, hadn’t there? Haworth didn’t think he could have done anything to deserve this, but his memory was so spotty. He wasn’t sure if he truly wanted to know, and he busied himself with buttoning his shirt back up so as not to have to look Verloc in the eye while he answered.

“Not… no. Of course not,” Verloc said. “This isn’t a punishment, Harry. It’s to keep you safe.”

“Safe. Heh. From what? Certainly not your guesswork chemistry or Hughes’ experiments.” Haworth’s eyes went wide as he realized, no, as he remembered coming to this realization before. “I’m going to die in here.”

“You are not,” Verloc said dismissively. “Look, I’ll deal with Hughes and the Crash nullif-“

“Even supposing your Coconut isn’t taking years off my life, how many more do I really have left, Anton? Average life expectancy is seventy years, give or take, and I’m already sixty-four.” Haworth said this with an unsatisfied resignation; he’d come to terms with the possibility that, if he didn’t catch a lucky break, he’d spend the rest of his estimated six years of life in this cell ages ago. It was just that the Coconut made him forget. The Crash always reminded him. Verloc, on the other hand, seemed not to have ever considered this eventuality and Haworth pointing it out had him looking desperately morose.

He reached out then, maybe to place a comforting hand on Haworth’s shoulder, but Haworth wouldn’t have it. He angled away, dodging Verloc’s reach, and scowled at his hovering outstretched hand. He was not the least bit interested in entertaining gestures of comfort from his captor.

“Harry, I…” Verloc started, letting his hand fall.

You what, Anton? Haworth thought, regarding Verloc’s pleading face unmercifully. The silence dragged on and, tiring of waiting for an answer, Haworth closed the window to give one.

“Good Lord, Anton,” he said, “you look as if we were talking about you dying.” Haworth felt the bile rise in his throat, and though he had no trouble imagining it was his disgust with Verloc, he recognized it as the beginning of Crash’s physical side effects. He always planned for this and so had nothing to throw up, but his mouth filled with warning saliva anyway. Swallowing it back down, he retreated from Verloc to sit on the bed, well out of reach of any other gestures he might try to make.

Haworth felt… hot? No, cold. He couldn’t tell if he was burning alive or freezing to death. It didn’t matter. He broke out into a thin sweat, which in turn made him feel chilly. He reached for his jacket and pulled it back on, but his shivering didn’t subside. It was a fever and it would break the following morning, once the Crash had run its course.

“I should never have picked you,” Haworth said. His glasses had slid down his sweaty nose and he glared at Verloc over the top of the frames.

“Why do you make me do this to you?” Verloc asked, visibly queasy at the state of him.

Haworth took off his glasses and pinched the bridge of his nose. The inevitable headache from chasing two skipped meals with Crash was forming now.

Why? Because he wanted Verloc to be as uncomfortable with this arrangement as he was. Because he did want the Crash, but he didn’t want to cooperate to get it. Because this was the only thing about which he had any agency over anymore and he’d won it through sheer force of will, by being prepared to starve to death rather than comply. Because he couldn’t let it go for that fact, not for his own comfort and even not for his own self interest.

But really, he didn’t make Verloc do anything to him. Verloc chose to do this to him and would be perfectly fine with this if he could be long gone by the time the side effects kicked in. What Verloc really meant was Why won’t you just take the damn pills? so Haworth cut to the heart of the question.

“If I took the pills, you’d go back up to your office and tell yourself that I am complicit in this scheme with you. And probably that I’d done this to myself. Maybe even that I was happy to,” Haworth said. “I make you do it with the syringe so that you have to take responsibility for it. You can’t distance yourself from it, like you do with everything else.” He let out a small snort. “It’s a punishment.” It was petty, but that’s what this was about.

Verloc’s eyebrows raised at the word “punishment”. Haworth thought he was going to get indignant, but instead his face shifted into a look of resolved acceptance. Haworth wasn’t sure what to make of that, but it made him want to walk it back, to snatch away whatever peace that knowledge had given Verloc.

“That and… the pills creep up on you,” he added. “The needle is worse at first, but I don’t get overwhelmed by it.”

This elicited another inexplicable expression from Verloc. He almost looked as if he’d been given a concession. It was utterly perplexing, but then, Verloc always had been a puzzle to him. His mind didn’t seem to work the way everyone else’s did. Haworth had found it intriguing once; now it was irritating.

“Unless you have some other indignity you want to impart, get out,” Haworth said with a shooing gesture. Verloc gathered up the needle and healing balm from the dresser top and left Haworth to himself.

A couple hours later, just before lunch, Gemma appeared at the window. She looked like hell, but so did he, Haworth knew. He continued to lie there in bed, but he gave her an eyebrow raise of acknowledgement and waited to see if she had anything to say – such as she could – or if she was just bored and curious.

She did say something, which he couldn’t hear, but her look of concern made the question clear.

Are you all right?

He gave her a weary, sarcastic thumbs up that she snorted in mild amusement at. And then, as was only polite, he gestured towards her as if to ask, And you?

She held her hand up flat and teeter-tottered it. Ehhhh.

Haworth let out a chuckle that she could only see but not hear and nodded. He’d been there.

Gemma started and hurriedly made herself to look as if she had no interest at all in her window into Haworth’s cell and turned away. It must be the nurse with lunch service, he assumed. Gemma was probably right in that it wouldn’t do to let on they were communicating at all. It would invite more watchfulness from their caretakers and they got little enough privacy as it was. Haworth made himself appear disinterested too and waited for his own lunch to be brought in.

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