Suicidio – 17

[Jonathan Trupp]

I got up in what seemed to be the middle of the night. It was the obvious conclusion to be drawn, for the room was submerged in total darkness. I could see nothing. The space beyond the opened window was equally obscure.

It did not take me long to remember that the sun would never shine through the window and into my room. That was the nature of Suicidio, after all. Continuous darkness. It could be any hour of the day by now. Maybe I had slept one hour, maybe two days. There was no way to tell.

Dell & Ramm (1882) have very convincingly discussed the disorientation, driven by constant darkness, that overtakes newcomers almost immediately upon their arrival. Such disorientation is indeed key to understand Suicidio. We will leave the subjacent physiological mechanisms involved in this phenomenon to the researchers of the mind, but the resulting functionality is straightforward: disorientation pushes the already feeble mind into the territory of frustration and detachment. Although I have argued that disorientation may not be the all-explaining panacea that Dell & Ramm (1882) defend (Trupp, Unpublished a), their general thesis has nonetheless some merit. An important caveat to consider, however, which I raised in my novel commentary (Trupp, Unpublished a), is that newcomers arrive to Suicidio already disoriented, so it is not trivial to differentiate between the already existing disorientation and any further disorientation driven by darkness inside Suicidio. However, if even an objective and equilibrated mind like mine could suffer the effects of disorientation so quickly, after the first set of slumber, one should consider much more seriously its importance. Disorientation exacerbating desperation. Desperation disorienting the mind even further. And so on.

Laying in bed, I considered whether I should allow desperation to overtake me. As an academic exercise. If necessary, I could facilitate such a process by concentrating my mind in negative thoughts. In principle, it was a sensical plan of action. I could let myself be eaten by the darkness, as some poets would put it. Be one with the purpose of Suicidio. Be an instrument and allow the present to play me. That would definitely be an alternative approach for studying Suicidio, albeit I soon understood that it would not be an appropriate one. Not in an academic sense at least. One needs to keep some distance from the subject of study. Such a distance, such separation renders objectivity and a clear path to analysis.

I sat on the bed because I did not want to think of any other stupid idea. I extended my hands in front of my face. Initially I could not see my hands but after a while I could start discerning the boundaries of my palms and the space occupied by my fingers. Then I could see or I imagined I could see the box by the bed and the candle standing on it.

I remembered a question that had been bothering me, as I prospected for the matchbox that was somewhere near the candle. “Why to allow candles in Suicidio?” Any candle had the power to dwindle the smothering darkness. Indeed, when I managed to struck one of the soggy matches and lit the candle, even the disgusting walls and the trash accumulated in the corners of the room were a pleasant sight, a relief.

The light flickered, threatening to die at any point. It was a poor quality candle, not to be trusted to keep away darkness for too long. Maybe that explained the candle, a source of comfort so short that its disappearance would redouble the anguish of being imbued in darkness, each candle distributed in Suicidio another device of frustration that would dampen the spirits. Maybe.

While the flame lasted I had time to put my clothes on and head towards the door. The candlelight finally went off as I was reaching for the doorknob.

In the corridor, darkness was absolute. I heard some weak rattling, as if someone were scratching the wooden walls with a thin straw. I used my hands and feet to feel my way. My eyes did not discern anything until I reached the street.

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Requiem for the Monsters – 1

Gary the monster squats against the wall, as if trying to reduce the bulk of his body, all three meters of it. I try not to look at the monster. I know he gets unsettled when eyes are upon him. It’s difficult, though, as his face, neck and hands are covered in blood. By now I’m used to his grey complexion and the segmental crystals protruding from his skin. But the blood of someone else on him is unnerving.

I also try to ignore the victim. A middle-aged, caucasian man, head and arms detached, body splattered in the middle of the room. I’m not sure why, but it’s easier to look at the missing parts ripped apart and scattered around than at the main body.

One of the arms is missing the whole upper arm. Easy to explain. The monster has large teeth that are like slabs of stone. They may actually be sharp slabs of stone. One aggressive bite could have done the job.

The head of the victim is facing the bathroom. The matted hair is brown, unkept. I can see an ear. It’s not covered in blood. It looks operational, like it can still hear.

I didn’t join the force to handle this level of mess. Murder has not a place in the island of Rosalinda. Not even one murder case I had been involved in until now. I was happy with that. I am used to talking to the victims.

But I will deal.

We will deal.

A deep breath and I am already dealing.

We will do a good job, we will follow the procedures and will end up with a case-study file. We will collect all the information, tick all the boxes, write the report and whatnot. And then we will move on.

Not right now, that’s all. Maybe in a minute. I cannot deal with this right now.

Breath in, breath out. Better.

Breath in, breath out, just like a succession of waves lapping on the beach and then receding.

The monster seems to be stable.

I look at the sea in the distance. The room opens into a balcony that overlooks the beach and there is the strip of white sand and then the progressions of blues. And the horizon dividing the sea and the sky. I have always liked the horizon. The horizon is straight, clear, one can trust the horizon to be there no matter what, unchanged, unadulterated. It’s not like this whole shit about the human or the monster condition.

Details. I need to focus on the details. What do we know? It’s a small apartment, nothing fancy, nothing special. One small couch against a wall, a semicircular table and two chairs against the opposite wall. A separate bedroom, a separate bathroom, both opening into the living room with the victim and the perpetrator, and then the balcony. A budget apartment. Economy tourists are always surprised by the low prices of some apartments in Rosalinda, especially the ones located next to the sea and with a beach view. They don’t understand that the beach is just too long, there is space for everyone, both upscale mansions and rundown apartments like this one can mingle together.

How did the monster manage to get into the room? The ceilings are too low for him. He must have crawled up the stairs and along the corridor. Or maybe entered through the balcony, an easy climb for him, and then slithered into the room. I will ask him later. I don’t want him getting all agitated. And it’s not going to change things anyway.

The sun is high in the sky, the sand in the beach must be scorching. I cannot see the tourists, but the beach is surely brimming with them. I know they are there, doing whatever it is that tourists do. I can hear the subdued murmur of their activities. Instead of the hundreds of bodies lying down or walking back and forth from the water, and instead of the cacophony of their chatter and their screams, I see a deserted beach and the calm extension of turquoise water transitioning into the dark blue of the ocean, and there is that distant sound that I know comes from them, a muted and uninformative sound, as if carried by the wind from the opposite side of the island.

Tourists are either amused or insulted when they learn we cannot see them. It’s not like we have a choice, but most of the locals prefer it that way. Some have even forgotten about the existence of the tourists altogether. In my case, I am well aware about their presence, as tourists are involved in most crimes. But that’s something for Officer Babette to worry about. For some uncertain reason she is the only local that can see and interact with the tourists. We believe she is a tourist at heart and she can connect with them.

The entrance door opens and Seb steps in.

“What took you so long?” I reproach him, but he smiles. As usual, he flaunts his beauty and his youth as a key that easily opens any doors. He’s relentlessly annoying, but happens to produce good work most of the time. I’m unlikely to get anyone better from Catalina to work for me here in Rosalinda. If only he tried to excel, but I think he tries not to, maybe he thinks that that would diminish whatever sense of self he has. One only needs to look at his uniform to get discouraged. Such a disgrace. Possibly it has never seen an iron. And the sleeves rolled up to his armpits is not precisely a sign of professionalism, although I can give it to him that in a tropical island comfort trumps etiquette. I also know that the locals are unlikely to expect allegiance to the code and regulations, and may even prefer the incompetence that Seb portrays so well.

“You told me to bring all this shit,” he replies, releasing two large duffle bags from his shoulders and onto the floor. “And I called to the Catalina station as you asked me to, and that took forever, lots of chitchatting, they are so bored over there, you cannot believe it, they think that all the interesting shit is going on over here. When I told them about this,” he says, pointing to the monster and the cadaver, “they were just flabbergasted, I can tell you that.”

Flabbergasted. I’m surprised to hear that word coming out from his mouth, which maybe says more about me than about him.

“Are they going to send someone from Catalina? That’s the only thing I told you to ask.”

“No,” he snaps, and I can tell he is fishing for a stupid remark, but he settles with a shrug. “They said it’s up to us.”

“I guess you didn’t mention that we have never dealt with a murder here, and that they have much more experience than us, and that some supervision might be appropriate?”

“Nah, but you know what they are going to say if you put it like that. I mean, it’s quite a clear-cut case, ain’t it?” Seb nods in the direction of the monster. “It’s not like we are going to mess it up and charge the wrong guy.”

Instead of getting exasperated, I turn around and recite his rights to Gary. “Gary, I am going to charge you with murder.” I try to discern if he is listening. I am ready for any bad reaction. For a while there’s no movement and I think he may be sleeping, but then he nods. His hair, like a bundle of weathered ropes, swings forward and then smacks his face. “You have the right to remain silent. Anything you say can and will be used against you in a court of law. You have the right to an attorney. If you cannot afford an attorney, one will be provided for you.” Of course he will have an attorney, I feel silly mentioning that. Among many other things his father has an army of attorneys. “Do you understand what I said, Gary?”

Gary nods again. “Sorry,” he says. I know he has tried to use his lowest voice, but it still comes out loud and deep, like the sound of a tuba. The apartment reverberates.

“You don’t need to say anything, Gary,” I tell him. “Seb, why don’t you go ahead and make yourself useful, take some pictures and then search for fingerprints. And you called the doctor, right?”

“Yeah, he’s on his way. But why exactly do you want me to look for fingerprints? What do you expect me to find?”

“Just do it. Let’s go by the book on this one, if you don’t mind.”

“Whatever you say, boss. Good thing it is a clear-cut case, at least. No real investigation. No mystery to solve.”

“Guess so.”

“What a mess you have created, Gary,” Seb says while taking pictures of the cadaver. “Too much sun on that head of yours? Going a little crazy in there?”

“Leave him alone, Seb.”

“I just… felt hungry, I think,” the monster roars. “It just made sense. I’m so sorry. I don’t know how it happened. But I didn’t think about it. It was quick.”

I like the idea of it having been quick.

“Well, your father is going to be very pleased with you, eh?” Seb hassles the monster, snorting at his own joke.

I tell Seb to shut up again, this time I yell, but he is right. I am not looking forward to discussing the case with Jeremiah, the Governor of Rosalinda and Gary’s father.

The Company – 17

The components of The Company were rusty and faulty. What were we, compared to the massive exuberance of the City Hall across the lake? Three mangy bears without teeth, our wounds accumulated one on top of another. We were three lumps of custard, even if we wrapped ourselves with delusion and thought otherwise. And delusion was one of our few strengths. We could make ourselves believe anything. I could imagine that my shape was that of a faun, and that I had been invited to City Hall by the Major himself, and that after peacefully slumbering under perfumed bed sheets I had left City Hall during the middle of the night, with a shiny pair of horns on my temples, and I had been dancing and prowling until falling exhausted on the grass where I was now seating. Imagining was easy, at least for me. I could see myself jumping into the water and becoming a carp, then leaping into the sky and hitting with my tail the moon as if it were a tambourine.

That carp image seemed to accumulate a real weight and plunge into the lake, as I could see now waves on the water moving towards me. There seemed to exist no reason for those waves to be so well defined, as there hadn’t been any breeze that could generate them. But the waves were there, real, separated by ample spaces, progressing with certain weakness. The epicenter where they were being produced had to be around the island in the middle of the lake.

I gave a quick look at my two comrades, to make sure they were not monkeying around and throwing pebbles at the lake. But it wasn’t them, both of them continued to be rapt in their respective realities: Turd philosophizing about the stars, and OldThrown possibly impaling his daughter in some hidden nook of his lucubrations. So it wasn’t them. And the waves persisted, new ones were being generated. If anything, they were even more visible now, several successions of waves intercrossing each other.

This was a momentous time, I could tell. I could smell a big event jumping on us like a ferocious bear and dragging us with it whether we wanted it or not. I could have yelled  a deservedly colored exclamation of surprise, something along the lines of ‘cow balls’, which is a favorite of mine, as I am a sucker for paradoxes. Cow balls indeed, because the source of the waves was getting closer to the edge of the lake where we were camped. It was approaching The Company! I had to open my eyes even further when I caught a glimpse of an iridescent shadow. No distinct contours, just an uncertainty ready to be materialized. I could have doubted my eyesight, because darkness was too thick and nothing could stand out, but there was not such an excuse a few seconds later, when the bulk became a creature, alive, with a purpose, a beast that crawled effortlessly over the water, along a slow but implacable path, emitting a shower of glistening iridescences. Moving towards The Company without fear, as if flaunting that lack of fear at us.

The beast, with that exasperating slowness, kept nearing The Company for the longest time. I tried so hard to discern its features that my imagination painted a succession of fanciful creatures, to the point that when the beast clearly appeared in front of my eyes it took me a while to understand that I was no longer envisioning. And there it was the snake-like neck, the green and purple reflections stolen from a hundred hummingbirds, the body simply drawn as an oval, and I then figured out the reason why someone had gone through the trouble of putting an islet in the middle of the lake. I was also all of a sudden imbued with a desire to hunt.

The green head rose. The two eyes stared at me, defiantly.

Waiting Canals – 17

Stepping into the balcony, Walters ignored the sweltering air and focused instead on the repetitious chorus of the locusts.

The surface of the canal was as black as the sky. He couldn’t see through the column of water, but he knew that there were no treasures down there, nothing he could call a treasure. When he first arrived to Memphis he had envisaged prospecting the canals and finding all sorts of riches. Maybe not gold ducats or pieces of silver, but something of value long lost under the sediment, or forgotten in some room under the water, something he could sell, that would allow him to be back on his feet again. He couldn’t recall ever finding anything worth taking to a pawn shop. But it was only a question of time, especially once he ventured on the submerged levels of abandoned buildings. He kept finding excuses not to go there, even thought those were the places where he would find the treasure that was waiting for him.

Something jerked to his right. He couldn’t see anything for a while, until his eyes detected a fishing line catching some of the moonlight. The movements of the line translated the struggles of a creature trying to escape under the water.

Walters straddled the fence that separated his balcony from the adjoining one, extended his arm and knocked on the neighbor’s window. Without waiting for an answer, he returned to his balcony and sat down, putting his feet on the table. By the time the door to the other balcony opened, he had dumped his drink and was trying to remember whether he had any other bottle of alcohol stashed anywhere in the house.

An obese man stepped out onto the other balcony. He moved slowly, except for his face, which seemed a foraign object stuck atop an underperforming body.

“Thanks, man” he said to Walters, grasping the fishing rod and diligently pulling a two-feet long catfish from the water, hitting its head against the railing with a splattering thud, throwing the fish in a basket on the ground, baiting the hook and flinging it back into the middle of the canal.

“Do you want a beer?” the neighbor asked.

Walters raised his empty glass. “Yes, please,” he said.

The neighbor required several steps to turn around on the spot, and then disappeared into his house. Many minutes later he made his way out again, holding a six pack, which he placed on the small table in his balcony. He sat down, grabbed a can and extended his arm, without moving the rest of his body. Walters had to get up and reach for the can. Back on his chair, he opened the can and swallowed several gulps of cold beer.

“That’s the third one I got today,” the neighbor said, using his eyes to point towards the basket where the catfish had landed. “I’m gonna fry them after we finish these beers. Are you still gonna tell me you ain’t interested in having some?”

“I’m afraid so. I’ve seen what they eat and I prefer not to partake on it.”

“You stubborn bastard. Oh well, more for me. I don’t really give a shit what they eat. They were still alive when I got them, weren’t they? If it didn’t kill them, it won’t kill me, ain’t that right?”

“Probably so.”

A boat approached from the left and slowly passed in front of them. They looked at it as it came and until it left. Long minutes of silence. An unexpected parade. The man on the boat, sitting by the tiller, pretended not to see them.

Even after the boat had been long gone, the two men remained quiet, drinking their beer, enjoying not thinking about anything of relevance.

“Any news?” Walters asked after accepting a second can of beer.

The neighbor turned to Walters and investigated him for a long time, as if he had never seen Walters before and he had to decide whether to trust him or not.

“Don’t know, man, things have been very weird lately. Too quiet. Kinda weird that all those protests have stopped. You don’t see many people in the streets, it’s like we are in the middle of a storm and everyone is at home, waiting until it’s safe to come out again.”

“Sounds like a truce between the methodists and the baptists.”

“I wouldn’t be so sure, man,” the neighbor said, the sweat droplets on his face wobbling like white jellyfish. “Something is cooking, that’s for sure. Detentions have been going on for while, I can tell you that. I don’t think it’s safe out there, and I think most people feel the same. There’s enough shit to be concerned about. There were all these people protesting for this and that for weeks, although my feeling is that most of them didn’t know the rules of the game, and now they are all suddenly gone, or hiding, or whatever.”

The Dreams of the Rabbit – 16

“The story goes like this,” Marcus said, lighting a cigarette and taking a long drag. “Once upon a time there was a king and a queen happily going about their royal businesses. Their son had been away for several years collecting adventurous moments, but they were not worried for him. They understood that their son had to follow his own path. Besides, they were busy enough dealing with whatever it is kings and queens need to deal with. Important stuff, I’m sure. Their relatively pleasant and peaceful existence, however, was interrupted by an evil army that fought its way kingdom after kingdom, extending like fire across a prairie in summer. This army was too strong to be opposed. Fighting back would lead to defeat and annihilation, at least with the typical and mundane forms of fighting the assailed kingdom had at its disposal. But, you see, the king had a special book. The king read from the book and the creatures in the book were embodied and they defeated the army, the enemy from abroad. At least for a while. But  that’s beyond the point. More interesting was the fact that the king, the queen and some of their close associates got trapped inside the book. Some of the ones left behind tried to read the book to release the king and the queen, but they were unable to do so. To them the words were smudges without any resemblance to their own language or any other languages they were aware of. Meanwhile, the foreign army regrouped and spread again like a revived fire across the kingdom. The enemy had, once again, the upper hand.”

I had grown impatient over what I thought to be a bunch of nonsense and I opened my mouth to assert my displeasure, but Marcus raised his voice and continued talking.

“On the stage of this ongoing war, linguists from different corners of the kingdom, and even from farther away, came to decipher the book, attracted by an eventual reward but mostly by the possibility of succeeding where so many others had failed. However, none of these linguists managed to read even a word, and they started to say that the book was not a book at all. Around this time, the son of the king and the queen decided to return to the devastated kingdom and he was told that his parents had been trapped inside the book and that there was not any way to get them out, as nobody could decode the writing on the pages. The son opened the book and studied the meaningless words until the hazy borders of the letters became sharper. Now there was a pattern, a path across the pages that he could follow. The book accepted him. He could now read the book, even if he did not understand what the words and sentences meant. As he uttered the absurd words out loud, his parents and their entourage got out from the book. Somehow they oozed through the pages. Somehow they materialized around the book. Also, in the process of learning to read the book the son also mastered how to control the creatures that lived in the book, and some of them incarnated as weapons that could not be defeated, and they marched against the enemy of the kingdom, and the war dissipated as if it had never been more than the fart of a dog.”

“The fart of a dog? That’s an interesting image,” I said.

“Thanks,” Marcus responded, throwing the end of his cigarette into the dead fountain.

During my childhood the base of the fountain had always been full, and trickles lapping down the central floral structure seemed to refresh the air around it. I used to dip the tips of my saturated paintbrushes into the water, just to see the abstract movements expanding, tendrils rotating, turning into themselves. The cigarette butt burned now on the dry concrete and the smoke twirled in a column that behaved like those paint creatures unfolding in the water.

Marcus glared at me without deference, like waiting for me to surrender and to hand over whatever precious object I were hiding.

“So this imaginary book you were talking about, is it somewhere in the library?” I asked.

“There is not such a book. It’s just a story. I simply told you a story.”

“A metaphor of some kind, then? I guess I’m the king’s son.”

“Everything is a metaphor or can be one if you try to cajole it hard enough. I just think that that story will make you think. I hope so.”

“Who are you, Marcus?”

Marcus smiled. It was definitely the first smile I had witnessed on him. I hoped it would be the last.

“You know what? That’s a good question, one that I should ask myself more frequently. Right now I am just a soldier enjoying not being shot at. And that keeps me quite busy.”

“What do you want me to do, exactly? Other than listening to your stories?” Once again, I felt very tired. Wasted. And it was still morning.

“Well, you know what? Maybe you can find that book after all.”

Suicidio – 16

[Infausto]

I hadn’t slept at all after hours of trying. Nothing new. I couldn’t tell whether I had been awake but with my eyes close or looking into the obscurity around me. Either way, by now the darkness in my room seemed to be an extension of my fuzzy brain.

No idea what time it was. It was difficult to keep track in Suicidio. I decided to give up and try to do some work instead. It was as good a time as any to patrol the streets.

I stepped into the corridor and the black infusing the walls and the air smelled as the purpose of Suicidio. I floated in that darkness and in my lightheadedness for an extended amount of time, stuck in place by my lack of motivation. As if coming to my rescue, a light appeared at the end of the corridor. The new woman popped her head from her room and looked around the area illuminated by the light escaping from her room.

I approached her. She heard my steps before she could see me.

“Have you seen a mouse?” she asked. I didn’t answer. I was thinking that her door, and the light, and her presence, they all had opened as a butterfly opens to life, suddenly, transitioning from a pallid lump into an array of thousands of colors, lavish and incredible, but also ephemeral. Ephemeral, short-lived, shining and then gone. How saddening to know that the perfect fruit that one unexpectedly encounters will soon disappear, no matter whether one consumes it or not.

I knew I had to get some sleep at some point, but it would happen one way or another.

“How are you doing?” I asked. I couldn’t see her clearly, as if I had a layer of butter on my eyes. Her undefined body had the same color as her face. She could have been naked.

“I seem to have misplaced one of my mice,” she said as if talking to herself. “Nevermind.”

I rubbed my eyes and during that time I heard the slam of a door. When I opened my eyes I was submerged once again in darkness. I made my way to the staircase and then I left it to my memory to take me down and into the streets.

The muted lights and the phosphorescent fungi guided my steps. I didn’t search for bodies. I couldn’t care about my job. I sat on an overturned barrel and rested my back on a wall. I saw or I imagined a butterfly landing on top of a saguaro. It lingered there immobile minute after minute, the whole desert stopped breathing and waited for the butterfly to take flight again. I dissolved into the desert and waited. I was patient. Like a rock. I had time, nowhere to go.

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.