“You’ll also been staying in the house, I imagine,” I said.
“No, no, we won’t be in the house,” Marcus replied, clearly surprised by the idea. “We are staying in the outskirts of town. We will be back tomorrow and talk for a while. Let’s say 2pm. We’ll sit down somewhere in the garden, and it shouldn’t take long.”
“Until we hear otherwise, we will meet once per day,” said the soldier behind me. “Just a light conversation about the day.”
“We may have some prepared questions,” Marcus added, “but for the most part we’ll want to know what you have been doing, and what you have been thinking about.”
I wanted to ask them whether they were psychologists in disguise, but I felt it wouldn’t have been funny enough, so I let the rain tapping on the car be the only conversation for a while. I thought about asking them again about my parents, but I wasn’t that intrigued any longer. I also didn’t ask when I’d be able to return to Barcelona, because they wouldn’t tell me, as they were unlikely to have the answer.
“Where in the outskirts of the city are you staying?” I said instead. I couldn’t remember any hotel, or anything of that sort, beyond a couple of blocks from the town center.
“In a tent. Do you know the Haus beer hall?” Yes, I did. I clearly remembered the gothic letters written on the wall next to the archway leading to the beer garden. And below the name of the establishment, a wildboar painted in a reddish brown holding an oversized stein. In the beer garden, a layer of gravel and three lines of picnic tables, a door propped open and, inside the bar, more tables, and a wide fireplace at the back, where full animals were roasted. The smell of burned pinewood and succulent meat was welcoming, and one agreeably responded by ordering another beer with a smile. Outside always sparrows jumping under the tables.
“Obviously, if you want to talk to us at any point, you should be able to find us there.”
“By the fields?” On the other side of the archway the wall continued for quite some distance without any windows, at the end of it a dirt road edged with weeds, beyond the weeds fields of wheat extending toward woodlands in the horizon.
“No, within the beer garden. We were initially going to camp out of town, but the owner was kind enough to offer us a space in the beer garden. Maybe he thought that he would get more business with us in the premises.”
“Is he?” I couldn’t care less.
“Don’t know. But it works for us, the food is much better than what we have.”
“It’s just that I would have guessed that the army would establish its headquarters in a place like that,” I said, pointing to the looming mansion shrouded by the rain.
“The orders are very clear in that respect,” said the soldier on the backseat. “We can investigate the place, which is something that we have already done, but we are not supposed to interfere too much, especially if we don’t know what we are looking for. We could be contaminating the place in ways that we can’t even comprehend. The fear is that if we have too much of an effect, any trails that remain may completely disappear.”
I don’t think he had intended to astound me or confuse me, his slow and sweet voice was matter of fact, with a flat intonation, but he still left me speechless for a long time. The conversation was suddenly a slick wall, with no crevices where to get some hold and retake my ascension.
“My parents, then, what’s happened to them?” I asked, going back to familiar territory.
Marcus shrugged his shoulders. “I cannot tell you anything about that. Very clear orders in that regard. But I know much less than you may think.”
“You’re not being very helpful,” I said. It was fine, though. I was willing to give the whole subject a rest.
“Maybe you just need to get some sleep and see what tomorrow brings,” Marcus added.
“Do you know what I really need?” I asked, as much to Marcus as to the rain and the walls underneath it.
“No,” Marcus said.
“Yeah, me neither,” I said. “Hopefully whatever tomorrow brings won’t hit me on the face.”
Getting out of the car returned me to the fuzzy reality that I traversed earlier that day. At least, walking, running on the gravel felt natural. There was the passing remembrance of the warmth of the pebbles on my knees being a child, kneeling down and contemplating the building, as I now ran to the protection of the door, my body flushed against the familiar wood so that the rain would be falling away from me. Before I confronted the knockers and whatever waited inside the house, I studied the car turning around, the headlights showcasing the rain, and slowly leaving in the same direction we had arrived. They would go back to the main road, drive directly to the hall square, circle the fountain, and go down the avenue lined with poplars that ended up at Haus.