“You think that she may be… ?” Walters started to ask but didn’t continue. He allowed the silence to take over and complete his question, while pointing to the water.
“We don’t know,” Dr. Pomme said. A long silence ensued.
That ‘we’ reverberated in Walters’ head. Who were those ‘we’? Dr. Pomme and who else? Walters imagined, just a sudden image traversing his mind, a series of Dr. Pommes wearing the same clothes and with the same proportions, all of their lips flickering on the same manner as if stuffed with small and vivacious shrew hearts.
“So you just want me to find her, that’s all?” Walters said, immediately wondering if his question had came out as insensitive.
“I just want to know…” Dr. Pomme said, clearing his throat before continuing, “whatever it is you can find.”
Walters was ready to ask something else but he closed his mouth instead and studied the two men who stood in front of him. He tried to extract any subjacent information from their faces or their attitudes, but there was nothing for him to read. Nothing that seemed relevant in any case. The impassible face of Jameson was especially difficult to ascertain. It was as if Jameson were making a deliberate effort to be as uncommunicative as possible. Only his eyes, framed by an expressionless face, were active enough to tell a story, but Jameson was very much in control and unwilling for that story to unfold. He was there, behind a barricade, scrutinizing his own facade, adjusting it as needed to conceal whatever he had been told to conceal. In contrast, Dr. Pomme lacked that level of self-control. His face was a mosaic of tics, grimaces and lips and eye dances, but he was at the same time patinated with deception. The sincerity of the big man was nowhere to be observed. And those fat lips, with their continuous flickering kept distracting Walters.
They were hiding something from him, Walters was convinced. They were not telling him something that could be important for him to know. At least they had told him the immediate purpose of him being there, and that should have been reassuring. Indeed that was something. Get into the canal, prospect for body, report findings. Easy, clear enough. Nothing to worry about, then. It should have been good enough for him. Some amount of secrecy was almost to be expected, after all. Wasn’t he a stranger to the city, to all of them and their particular ways? Why would they have to be honest with him? Nevertheless Walters was imbued by concern, shrouded by a haze of insecurity, far away from the right amount of serenity he always aspired to. It was difficult for Walters not to allow the tendrils of uncomfortableness to creep in when fenced off from the relevant information that could make all the difference. His lower back was itching again. He didn’t even care that much about the pillars of their intrigues, the nuances of their justifications, and all their whens and whys. All of that was mainly important to them, and Walters wasn’t necessarily interested in being invited to participate in their machinations, he was more apprehensive about the puzzle pieces not fitting where they were supposed to. He could understand that they didn’t want to involve the police, he was sure Dr. Pomme would have chuckled and murmured that these days one wasn’t so sure where their interests stood. Fine with that. What he could not comprehend was why someone hadn’t jumped into the water hours ago, right when the shawl had been spotted and the blood by the canal had risen concerns. He couldn’t imagine Dr. Pomme impetuously stepping over the canal and plunging into the water, but certainly Jameson or some other servant could have followed Dr. Pomme’s orders and surveyed at least the small section of the canal between the blood and the shawl.
“Do you require anything, any type of assistance?” Jameson asked with the quickness of who wants to dissipate an uncomfortable conversation between two other parties. Walters didn’t initially recognise Jameson voice, he had momentarily forgotten the connection between the voice and the face. Walters felt a warm wave of relief, sensing Jameson near him. He couldn’t trust Jameson more than Dr. Pomme, but at least Walters couldn’t imagine Jameson murdering him by strangulation or a shot to his head, not even arranging a third party to do it, and that put him at ease regarding Jameson.
“What?” Walters asked even though he had understood the question.
“Do you require anything for…” Jameson said, hesitating for a moment, “for the prospection?”
Walters realized where some of his uneasiness came from. He must have accepted the job, although he couldn’t remember when or under which terms. What had he agreed to? Not much of a conversation had taken place, and he wasn’t sweating too profusely. Nothing to worry about. Right? No. Nothing to worry about. He was sure he hadn’t written anything down in his notebook. How bad could it be if he had not experienced the urge to record any details, any premonitions, any reminders that would become unsolvable riddles in a few days?
“No, thank you, I brought everything I need for now,” Walters said. He went back to the center of the courtyard to retrieve his equipment bag. What was exactly the job? Why him? How did they know about him? Really, the more he thought about it, the more unnerving that “why him?” became. He knew it would have been a good idea to ask some of these questions before throwing the bag next to Dr. Pomme feet, and taking out the wetsuit, the diving glasses and the dive light, but the simple idea of formulating the appropriate questions in his mind was tiresome and ridden with difficulty, especially when anticipating that they would likely deflect any of his questions with noncommittal, when not outright untruthful answers. It was easier to remove his T-shirt and jeans, expose his tattooed and shockingly lean, almost malnourished body to the sun, start the process of getting into the wetsuit, finish the job as soon as possible and get out of there, find a cheap establishment where to down a cold beer while waiting for a platter of popcorn shrimp and onion rings, then another beer. Those questions were like fog anyway. They morphed and dissipated, leaving just a feeling of foreboding that numbed and shrank his thoughts. The “why him?” still pulsated somewhere on the right side of his head, like a throbbing drum being beaten far away.
“Why me?” Walters asked to release the pressure in his head.
“What do you mean?” Jameson asked.
“Why do you need me to do this?” he pointed again to the area of the canal he would soon be surveying.
“You are the right person for this type of job, aren’t you?” Jameson asked. There you go, Walters thought, the deflection.
“I guess,” Walters said. He couldn’t remember ever being involved in any type of operation like this, but his memory was not that trustworthy, so he was ready to take the word from a stranger. He must be the right person for the job. He must be good at it. Jameson must be right.
“That’s an interesting tattoo you have there,” Jameson said, now behind Walters and looking at his back.
“Which one?” Walters asked, extending and observing his arms. He could see a series of small tattoos on his right arm, most of them poorly executed and showing signs of aging, with haloed borders and distorted lines, a series of anchors, ships, dates, skulls and sharks. On the left arm he had a more recent tattoo of an octopus, tentacles intertwined along his forearm with the last tendrils over his hand, and a pear-like head covering most of his biceps.
“The one on your back,” Jameson said.
“I have a tattoo on my back?” Walters asked in surprise. He looked over both of his shoulders but couldn’t even see a glimpse of it.