Waiting canals – 16

The last tendrils of sunset were disappearing when Walters got back to his house. The music of a distant trumpet floated in the air, mixed with a fragrant breeze. Walters couldn’t make out the source of the music, and that was reassuring. In the same way he wasn’t able to pinpoint the location of the musician, other people might not be able to know where he was now. There were hundreds of thousands of eyes in the city, and possibly none of them were focused on him.

Walters opened the door and patted the wall inside until he found the switch for the only light in his house. A naked bulb hanging from the ceiling flickered a few times but stayed on, without the strength to illuminate the corners of the main room. An animal scurried away along a wall and escaped through one of the many holes on the baseboards and flooring.

Nothing seemed to be out of place. Or missing. Walters breathed out with relief. He didn’t know what, but he had expected some unpleasantness ambushing him in the house. He didn’t have to look over his shoulder and check the area submerged in darkness to his right, but he did so anyway, not being able to stop himself. There was nobody there, or anywhere else in the house.

For Walters, the best occasions to go back and remember the details of the different events taking place during the previous hours were those in which solitude conferred security. He pulled his notebook and had already located the last entry before he sat down on the bed. “I left boat. Don’t trust anyone. I need to go back tomorrow. Prospecting canal again. Check what happened to man in canal. Dead man. He was shot dead. I need to find woman.” Walters was surprised by the fact he still had a clear image of the woman’s face in his mind. Crisp eyes, a resolute gaze, lips that didn’t seem to have been made for smiling. He couldn’t see that type of woman lying dead in a canal. He would still search for her, but he didn’t anticipate finding her dead and vulnerable. Given the choice, he preferred not to discover anything about her. Flipping to the preceding page, Walters looked for any other reference about the dead man. “Man stuck in front of tunnel, dogfrogs pulling him! Murdered! I kept his wallet.” Walters searched his pockets and found a wallet that he didn’t recall any longer. The leather was still damp. His fingers ran smoothly over the slimy surface. He didn’t need to bring the wallet close to his nose to know that it would reek of silt and decaying algae.

Walters held the wallet on his hands for a long time. He turned it over again and again, studying the double edges and each one of the stitches, hesitant to look into its contents. When he opened the two halves of the wallet it seemed unintentional, not something he had planned to do.

Encrusted on one of the two internal surfaces, a police badge shined mutely, dimmed by its short life in the canal. Walters now hurried to investigate the rest of the wallet. Some money, not much, a few forms of identification, some papers stuck together and their ink smudged, and a couple of casino chips. But the badge was the only element that seemed to breath, to retain some life of its own.

Walters scribbled swiftly in his notebook. “Wallet belongs to policeman. Robert Smyth. Baptist. Maybe it means nothing, but baptist in methodist canal.“ Reading again the previous entries, he found no mention about a gun. “Don’t recall a gun. Search for it, for anything else tomorrow,” he added to his notebook. He remembered about the red cross that had been hanging around the neck of the policeman, and the fact that he had left the cross in his bag, in Dr. Pomme’s mansion. Would anyone rummage through his bag? Would they find the cross? Would that have any consequence? What else would they find? He couldn’t remember what other compromising item he had left in his bag.

Methodically he searched again each section of the wallet, removing all contents and placing them on the bed as he encountered them. Once empty, the wallet looked like an emaciated animal covered by a saggy skin. Still searching through the different sections, he noticed a hardened spot in the middle of a leather division. Sticking a finger in a hole at the base of the division, he made contact with a metal he immediately recognized as gold. Using his finger as a hook, he extracted a golden coin. It was a lucky charm. Recently minted. One side depicted a bald eagle holding in its claws two handguns. On the other side, a triangle was composed by a catfish, a human arm, and a box turtle, in the center of the triangle a multipetaled flower hiding an eye.

Walters kissed the coin and buried it in the bottom of one of his front pockets.

The images of the red cross around the neck of the dead man, then on his hand, then inside his bag somewhere in Dr. Pomme’s mansion where anyone could find it, all those images flashed in his mind in a random succession, interspersed with an octopus snatching coins with its tentacles, and a dogfrog looking at him intently.

The bottle of bourbon shined on the bookshelf. Walters crossed the room and opened the fridge, not knowing what it would contain. His eyes fixed on a can of Coke and a full icetray. He collected a handful of ice cubes on a hand and threw them into a tall glass, and then filled half of the glass with Coke. Rubbing his neck with the hand still cool from holding the ice, Walters walked to the bookshelf and poured all the bourbon remaining in the bottle into the tall glass. He used a finger to mix the drink, sucked his finger and took a long swig.

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