Life as a Ghost by Frank Siegrist - HTML preview
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As you can perhaps imagine, I was pretty sick of the Wild West by now. I went back to my big boulder just outside of town and moved forward in time once again. I didn’t know exactly where I wanted to go, but in any case I wanted to find my way back to the world I knew.
I reminded myself that I was a ghost now, and as a ghost I would probably never really see the world in the usual way ever again. I could only see it the way ghosts see it, even if I went back to my time.
So what was I going to do now?
I wondered who would attend my funeral. So I flew back to Europe and back to my time. I found myself again, went through the episode of my falling through the gap between the highway-bridges once again, and soon I was hovering above my body in the morgue where I had last left it.
And now what?
Would my girlfriend turn up at my funeral? Would she shed a few tears for me? How long would it take her to find someone new? Would it be someone a bit like me? Or someone radically different? Did I really want to know all that? Had I ever really loved that girl? Did I really want to gloat over the few tears she might cry over me now? No, I didn’t really want that.
My parents would be at the funeral. Did I want to look in their heads and see exactly what they felt about me? Wouldn’t it just make me feel guilty? What kind of a son had I been for them anyway? They had made me, raised me, put up with me for all those years… I owed them everything. The least I could have done for them was to return the compliment of raising and putting up with kids and so to give them a load of healthy and boisterous grandchildren. Instead of that I just went and fell through the gap between the highway bridges! What could they possibly feel about THAT? Nothing very good, I’m afraid…
So I decided not to attend my funeral after all, or not just yet in any case. And when the clanking of the cooling chamber door started, and that boring nightwatchman came in again, I decided rather to follow him for a while… Fred was a nightwatchman, and now that he came to thinking about it, he realized that he had done this job for at least ten years. It had started as a summertime occupation back in his student-days and then, as everything else he tried to undertake failed, it gradually filled his whole life, never to be replaced by anything more rewarding.
Fred walked around the buildings, checking all the windows, shuffling his feet through the high, uncut grass on the backside of the block, where nobody except fools of his kind ever set their feet. It was bitter cold and he felt like pulling his neck into his collar, lowering his head away from the biting wind and proceeding without looking either to the right or to the left.
No windows would be left open in this weather, except if they had been forcefully opened by a burglar of course, but Fred knew that these things never happened, not here anyway. Fred's only purpose was to get bar-codes read into the control- watch he carried at his belt. At the end of the night, the data from his control-watch would be transferred into a computer which would then check if he had passed all the points in his nightly round-trip where a sticker with such a bar-code had been placed.
Sometimes, when Fred felt really bad, he just went from one sticker to the next, without bothering to check anything. Yet he didn't usually allow himself to do that, because it was common knowledge that a nightwatchman might occasionally be watched by one of his superiors.
Somebody might be hidden in those dark bushes back there, and so Fred had to at least pretend to be watchful.
In all those past years Fred had been checked out by a superior only half a dozen times, but if he ever got caught unawares, dreamingly and blindly walking from one sticker to the next, he would probably lose his job immediately (and he needed it). So approaching any building he would use his heavy high-beam torch along the facade, and the window-panes would reflect back at him. If the reflection ever missed out, the window seeming just like a dark hole, then that would mean it was open. He would then try to remember on which floor and which room it was, so that he could close it later on, when he finally entered the building.
It wasn't enough just to shine upon the ground- floor row of windows -they could look closed and yet yield under pressure, so they had to be mechanically tested. Fred would therefore briskly walk along the bottom of the building, giving a little push against each window-pane, and if one of the windows unsuspectedly yielded he would almost get his arm caught in the window- frame while he walked past. Usually he would mumble "bloody idiot!" when this happened, and since he was always alone this curse could only be directed at himself.
One day, when one of the windows opened as he smacked his hand against it, he heard a big bang. When he came up to the window from the inside to close it, he saw a big flower-pot lying broken on the carpet. Loose earth was scattered everywhere. He felt like leaving the mess as it was, but he took pity on the flower, which was in full bloom, lying pathetically on the floor, the colourful, passionate petals crushed beneath it, and so he set it back onto the window-sill, carefully leaning the long stalk against the wall. Having done this he felt he couldn't leave the rest of the mess as it was and cleaned it away as best he could, quietly cursing to himself.
After having walked around the whole block, checked all the windows, Fred would finally be allowed to go inside the building. Once inside he would have to continue walking, and at an irregular, tiring rate too, unlocking each door, having a quick look inside, swishing the beam of his torch along the floor and the desktop, carefully trying to avoid letting it fall upon the windows so that it couldn’t be seen from the outside, then locking the door behind him to walk a few paces to the next.
Sometimes Fred would walk through several corridors without checking a single room, since no superiors could follow him into the buildings without being seen. But then there was always the risk of complaints going to the main office in the morning because some forgotten machine hadn’t been switched off during the night and the nightwatchman was obvio usly not doing his job.
Usually the rooms would look the same every night. There would be the same posters on the walls, the same kind of mess on the desks, and even the individual smells of the rooms would remain the same.
Many years ago Fred had entertained himself by imagining what kind of person might have been working in each deserted room, and he felt the thrill almost of a paleontologist coming upon a promising discovery, looking at the remains of a life that he could picture without it being aware of him in any way.
Nowadays Fred simply felt jealous of these people who came with their cars straight to the building (not having to leave it hidden somewhere), went straight inside through the doors (without walking around the whole place first) and made straight for the door of their office which they opened with a familiar key they needn’t select among a huge, heavy bundle like the one the nightwatchman was carrying. Then they shamelessly switched on the light, not caring if anybody could see it from the outside, and comfortably settled themselves at their desk to remain seated for as long as they liked... It’s no use dreaming about these things. Besides, those guys might have problems too, right? Maybe, if they ever met a nightwatchman when they stayed at their office late, overloaded with bureaucratic work, they would enviously watch him merely walking along, just opening and closing doors, his thoughts free to wander, and finally going home with an empty head, unstressed, his job finished and nothing to worry about... But then, Fred's thoughts weren’t free to wander. Suppose he was quietly whistling a little melody, and every now and then he would get annoyed at some door improperly closed, at some key that would remain stuck in the keyhole, at some button that had to be pushed at the other end of a huge, messy table over which it was hard to reach, specially with all the bundles of keys hanging from his waist... Of course he would have to interrupt his whistling on all these occasions, and when he resumed it, he would take it up at the beginning of the unfinished movement. Then he would get annoyed again before finishing this movement and have to start all over, so that in the end there would be just a few notes, endlessly repeated till it got so boring that he had to give up whistling. Maybe he would try playing with some pleasant thoughts instead; but whenever he managed to collect his thoughts, they would be disturbed by some random and unforeseen annoyance, so that he would have to collect them aga in, again and again without actually ever getting past this point.
Boredom was thus inescapable. And while boredom in ordinary life is something that can usually be tackled with some effort of will, inventing little games, dreaming or in the worst case by just letting the mind go to sleep, this enforced boredom Fred was subjected to just got deeper and deeper every day until he had his weekly holiday, a momentary relief that kept him alive.
An occupation which keeps the mind busy without ever using all its resources is more boring than no occupation at all.
It is hard to remain watchful when this watchfulness is never rewarded by the discovery of something new, stimulating and interesting. Fred had actually told one of his superiors as much, asking to be put on a new job so that he wouldn't have to walk around and through the same buildings every night. But the answer was sort of futile and not very much to the point, so that Fred didn't even remember it. Of course he knew why he wasn't taught another round-trip -that would mean accompanying a colleague and being paid for learning while one man was really enough for the job.
When Fred had first started working for "Securitas", as this nightwatching business was called, it was for a particular and straight- forward reason -he wanted to own a car. It didn't take him long to spot an old, American car that was for sale. It was a '78 Ford Mustang with a huge bonnet, low, worn-out bucket seats, big, tough-looking wheels with five-spoked wheel-caps and an engine with a healthy, throaty growl sending vibrations up Fred's spine when he first test-drove the car, making him crazy for it.
Needless to say, the car was rather unpractical, taking a lot of space on the road while offering little loading-space, using up too much petrol and easily getting stuck in the snow. Besides, it wasn't all that powerful -little Japanese hatch-back cars with fuelinjection and multi valves ran a good deal faster than its stolid, carburetor-fed V8 would ever allow it to go.
It didn't take Fred long to feel regretful about the lack of power. His car wasn't such a runner after all. He would get upset when he was overtaken (which was seldom enough since he was a ruthless driver) by a real sports-car, forgetting that this other car must have cost from five up to ten times as much as he paid for his old Mustang, which, considered in this light, wasn't such a bad performer at all.
Some day Fred decided that performance wasn't so important and that it was all in the looks. He loved the shallow lines of the car, swelling up from behind, running fluently along the roof, towards and along the broad, low-slung windscreen, suggesting a wave, and then merging into the bonnet, running along it till they suddenly ended, forming a fierce brow to the rounded head-lights. Between the head-lights the grill looked just like the foam-crown of the wave, and upon it was the emblem of a galloping horse, its mane and tail trailing majestically behind it...
The car was kept in shiny, metallic blue, a deep, marine blue. When speeding on the highway Fred felt like the part of a natural, awe-inspiring phenomenon, like a wave rushing along the surface between earth and sky, ready to engulf and submerge anything wanting to check its progress.
While walking across a parking- lot as a nightwatchman, Fred would look at all the dewwet cars, wondering if any of them were as beautiful as his own. Then he would eventually come past his Mustang, wetly glistening in the dim light of the lamps across the street, standing there as if it had merged out of the world at this spot and was still growing, unmoving and yet seeming to surge forward with relentless power, then Fred would know that this was his car and that there couldn't be another car for him. For the next few minutes after that he would feel happy.
Of course the doubts would come up later on. Had he really bought the car best suited for him? Had he paid a fair price for it? Was it really the uttermost beautiful car possibly imaginable? Walking along endless dark corridors, the beam of his torch swinging in front of him, opening and closing doors as he went, those thoughts would haunt him painfully, and the images of brand new cars, far from affordable anyway, would mockingly flash past his inner eye, reducing his poor old Mustang to an outdated rustbucket which of course it really was.
And yet all modern cars look virtually the same, licked to a blank, unemotional blobshape by today's aerodynamic standards. They have power, they have safety and comfort...
Ah, but it is a very different feeling to be sitting at the wheel of an old Mustang, behind a bonnet that extends all the way to the horizon, feeling the vibrations coming from eight cylinders under the tough, sweat-drenched leather-covering...
Working with strong hands along the steering-wheel, whose diameter comes very close to the width of female hips, the car slashing through the curves, the far-off end of the bonnet, far ahead of the front wheels, seeming to drift sideways across the road, as if the car were floating above the bitumen...
Then easing the pressure of the hands on the wheel, the steering self- adjusting after the curve, feeling the leather running through his hands...
All of this is very different in a modern car. The steering- wheel offers no resistance at all, feeling just like a dead branch, a cut-off limb, responding so easily, so passively, to any forces with which you act upon it, that it is almost disgusting, like having sex with a corpse. The bonnet is so short, ending in front of your nose, that when looking downwards from your sitting position, you see the road in front of you, so that while driving you almost feel threatened by it, coming towards you without being first swallowed by the car.
So Fred should be happy -there couldn't be another car for him.
Yet every winter there came the problem of snow. The Mustang would act like a heavy, slithering, uncontrollable mass where small, front-wheel driven cars rode along just like wagons on rails. Besides, snow means salt on the roads, which means splotchy patches on the bitumen, which means that the underside of the car passing over them gets sprinkled with that ghastly mixture of salt and blackened water, which means rusting -rust, the most deadly threat to any old car...
Every year, when winter came, Fred would wonder how he could possibly spare his car. He had a small motor-bike for which he cared less than for his car. Another advantage of the motor-bike was that it wouldn't ever get stuck for good, since it was always possible to pull it out from snow-drifts by hand.
The obvious problem with motor-bikes, besides the discomfort in rain and snow, is of course that slithering usually means falling over and accidents more often have worse consequences than just material damages, even at comparatively low speeds. So Fred often wondered if he should buy a second car just for the winter. And yet, if he was going to buy a second car, it would have to be something really powerful, something he couldn't afford just now. So in the meantime he kept wondering and suffering. The buildings Fred had to watch belonged to the hospital, among them the morgue, and it was no big deal to walk across from one to the next. In fact most of them were connected by subterranean tunnels with air-flow tubes passing overhead. The air- flow tubes were used to send all kinds of samples from one lab to another, sometimes even at night. Fred would hear them banging around corners and then swishing past above his head, if ever he went into the tunnels.
But some of the buildings Fred had to watch didn't belong to the hospital-complex and were a bit further off, though of course in the same region.
In the Securitas-business, those nightwatchmen who had to drive around a lot during their round-trip were given a car for the night. The others were given a motor-cycle. Fred would have been entitled to a motor-cycle, but none of his colleagues ever went on this round-trip with a motor-cycle because the hospital-complex was quite far away from the main office where the keys, radio and the rest of the stuff were handed out in the evening and had to be handed back in the morning. Everybody took his own private car. So did Fred. Thus in the middle of the night he had to take his car to drive a few blocks, and just when the engine was beginning to warm up a bit, to let it stand in the cold again. It is not so good for the engine to be set to work while it is still cold. Ideally it should be left to idle until it is warm before driving away. Fred usually did this or, if he didn't have time, would drive very slo wly for the first few minutes. He made it a point of honour never to take the car for distances of less than ten kilometers, so that the engine ran at its best temperature for most of the time.
As a nightwatchman Fred was forced to use his car for small distances, forced to forget about his point of honour. In the middle of the night he would come up to his car and painfully, due to his inadequate attire, scramble into the low bucket-seat, arranging all his bags and equipment on his lap. He was always scared of marking the seat-covers by rubbing the fancy brass-buttons and shoulder-straps of his uniform against them while he settled himself.
Then he would turn the key. He would listen to the high-pitched whine of the self-starter, a shrill, horrible noise like the alarm of a clock calling to duty. He would wobble his foot on the gas, sending little spurts of fuel into the engine till it finally, uneasily awakened, coughing and growling.
He would loosen the hand-brake, setting his huge beast free, loosen the clutch, stir up the beast by pushing the gas, and lead it away, muttering and mumbling.
He would drive away as slowly as he could, the engine on the verge of dying, the whole car shuddering from time to time. Eight cylinders take a bloody long time to warm up. And yet, after several minutes of running, the noise and vibrations would become smoother. The needle of the temperature gauge would have risen past the blue mark. Slowly, but certainly, life would be dawning inside the huge steel structure; it would be making itself ready for hard driving, ruthless acceleration, swallowing the distances... And just when this was happening, Fred would park the car, switch off the lights and the engine, pull the hand-brake (tying up his beast, like) and leave it there, letting it down after awakening it, for another half a dozen hours in the cold.
Of course Fred was worried because of the inappropriate use of his car, which would eventually lead to shortened life-time. This might mean he would have to get the engine replaced if by then the body hadn’t rusted away. Maybe by replacing it with something more powerful..?
This was an excellent topic to be wondering about for half the night.
Whenever Fred sat at the wheel of his car he forgot all about these intellectual thoughts. He just plainly and simply felt guilty of stirring up the car’s desires when it was peacefully asleep -kicking it to life, promising a fun-ride and then, as soon as it was going along with it, letting it down.
What about leaving the car at the main Securitas-office and taking the motor-cycle for the round-trip?
But then the car would be cold for the way home at the end of the night.
Usually, when it was time to head back to the office, the car would already be half warm having driven a little bit through town just before. Fred would cruise along slowly for a little while longer, and then he would hit the gas, roar through the dark, deserted streets and arrive at the office with the tinge of excitement still echoing in his crotch, hand in the keys and all the other stuff with a feeling of elation, walk back to his car all lightly and free, then race home with a careless, drowsy smile on his face.
While if he headed back to the office on the motor-cycle, he would be roosting on top of the narrow seat for many minutes, the sharp whine of the small motor all around him, the cold wind hissing past his ears, and advancing at a depressingly low speed... Fred rarely had any bad dreams, but he had many unpleasant ones. In one of them he was sitting on such a motor-cycle, the motor screaming at him, revving at its highest, and yet the cycle hardly moving at all, slowing down continually, till Fred had to jump off, the speed being insufficient for him to maintain his balance. Then Fred looked up and saw an endless stretch of wide road before him. The cycle had disappeared and he was alone with his heavy nightwatchman-attire...
All these painful preoccupations about the car were of course, as one might say, just the tip of the iceberg. Fred's unhappiness was far deeper.
Long ago he had had dreams, and he had looked upon his future as a wide landscape, the mist of dawn still hanging over it, and he had looked upon it for the first time from a high mountain he had climbed from the other side. All had looked promising. The land was asleep, but ready to be awoken by a magnificent sunrise. Fred had taken a deep breath and made ready to climb down into this promising future.
Then he had sunken into the mist, which became denser and denser. At first he hadn't worried too much -the sun would shortly clear it away. To his right and left bright corridors would occasionally open, but he wasn't too eager to follow them because he wanted the whole thing and still believed in the sun.
Now he knew that he had passed all the bright corridors, and the mist had become a heavy, opaque, filthy, smoke- laden vapour that no rising sun would ever clear away. The sun might actually have risen already, it might be past midday -he wouldn't know, he couldn't see...
Fred had had the usual dreams of a fulfilled life - he had started studying Medicine with some vague idea of helping people, and he hoped he would some day find a person with whom he would build up a family.
Then the years had flown past, studying had become more and more tedious while nothing else seemed to happen, the smoke had become so thick that it not only blinded and irritated his eyes but actually offered resistance to his movements. At some stage he had tripped into his nightwatchman job and never got up again. He was lying there in the mud and wondering about his car.
Whatever the real problem was, it was floating so far above Fred's present day-to-day experiences that he couldn't address it. To bring it within his reach again he would have to solve some minor difficulties first -collect his thoughts, clear his mind of the overwhelming boredom, escape from his present situation that was holding him a prisoner.
In order to change anything, to be able to evolve in any way, Fred must first free himself from whatever was holding him down.
The only means of escape and freedom Fred knew about and which had ever brought him anywhere close to a feeling of satisfaction was, of course, ...his car.
So while Fred intellectually knew that his problem lay further off, that his unhappiness was rooted far more deeply, he was nevertheless genuinely and sincerely worried about his car.
There was this red lamp glowing on the control-panel. Fred had already seen it the night before and rang up one of the numbers for technical problems. The bored voice at the other end had said that he would further the information.
Tonight the little red light was still there.
There were two possible scenarios. Either the problem was meaningless and would be taken care of in its own good time, in which case Fred would simply mention the disturbance in his notes or even ignore it completely having already furthered the information yesterday. Or, in the other possible scenario, the problem was very meaningful, had been fixed yesterday thanks to Fred's vigilance and had reoccurred today, in which case he would have to ring up the bored voice again. When in doubt that was what a nightwatchman was supposed to do - in a polite and correct manner further the information. Be it the same piece of information every night, he had to further it without the least signs of impatience and without feeling offended by the disagreeable manners of people woken in their sleep.
Yet Fred didn't feel at all like writing a clear note, finding a phone, piling out his bag to find the number for technical emergencies for this particular building and selecting the number with one hand while holding up the torch with the other. Halfway through the number the booklet would shut itself because he didn't have a third hand to hold it open. When all these problems were overcome he would read out to the tired guy at the other end from his note-pad which lamp was glowing and on which panel it was doing so. Then the tired guy at the other end would answer that he would further the information and thank-you-very-much.
The prospect of all this was so boring that Fred decided against it. With a sour smile on his face he pictured himself being accused of overlooking important disturbances. He would answer that the red light hadn't struck his mind as unusual since it had already glowed the night before. He would even go before court to make the office see that it was bad for a man to have to do the same thing all the time.
Of course he would simply lose his job, his explanation accepted as an admittance that he wasn't suited for such a responsible position.
All of this swirled through Fred's mind, while he really knew that the lamp would still be glowing tomorrow, possibly even the day after, that nobody cared about it and that it would somehow disappear as suddenly as it had appeared.
So Fred didn't even mention the lamp in his notes and felt pretty sure that he would never hear of it again.
He shut the door behind himself and locked it, trying to forget about the control-panel with that one red glow where there should only have been green lights.
This winter he would have to put snow-tyres on his car.
At this very moment the red lamp would still be glowing.
Last winter he had waited so long to get them fitted that there hadn't been any snow left to use them for their rightful purpose.
This damned lock always stuck! The key must be totally worn! Why didn't anybody complain? Maybe he should complain himself...
The red lamp would still be accusingly glowing back there behind that door. Besides, the winter before that there hadn't been any snow at all, and since he was going to avoid...
To the right, to the left, nothing special here. The special thing was back there -that damned red light.
This winter he would avoid driving in the snow.
Open the door -the whine of machinery- close the door.
So he wouldn't need any snow-tyres.
End of the corridor, shut the door, select the new key.
One winter the snow had taken him by surprise and he had to leave the car at the bottom of the hill, because his summer-tyres had no grip till the road was thoroughly salted. Now that he needed the former key again, he could just select it by touch, because it still felt warm. There is nothing worse than holding the torch in the armpit, turning over keys in your hands looking for the distinctive marks and usually finding those you don't want over and over again...
Salt makes cars rusty and dries out slugs by osmotic pressure if you sprinkle it over them. Poor slugs, all wrinkled and shriveling up...
Fred saw tiny sparks in the dark when he punched the key into the key-hole. Thank God the lock turned easily -it was the right key.
What about a healthy, swelled up and athletic slug, glistening all over, crawling up a girl's vagina?
Fred was climbing up some stairs. He knew the number of steps and never stumbled except when he started to think about it.
If salt was all that was needed, girls needn't feel threatened by men any longer. Besides, salt also burns in the eyes. So it not only finishes off old cars but also men. Fred came to the top of the stairs and was selecting the next key.
Maybe a man can still rape a girl even with salt in his eyes. His slug, all he really needs, can't be affected much by salt, since it’s not a real slug anyway. Besides the girl wouldn't get a chance of sprinkling it there, unless her vagina was able to secrete it. Here we are, the door is open.
Salt is very good on meat. Wouldn't do to eat meat without salt.
Talking about meat -there must be some fresh meat in the fridges here. There usually is on Sunday-nights -car-accidents during the week-end, when people are less sensible... Maybe they had gotten their snow-tyres fitted the day before and today they were lying in this fridge...
Snow-tyres aren't a life insurance.
Fred would get his fitted next week.
And all this while the red lamp would still be glowing down there in the basement. Fred always hesitated before this door. A big, glistening metal-door it was, too. It had a lock to which the usual key fitted and a great big handle. Once the handle had been pushed down, the door could be pulled open. The door would resist a bit, the isolating rubber-bands reluctant to separate, like lips joined in a farewell kiss. It would let go with a little smack and then, the resistance overcome, yawn open freely, sighing like an awakening creature.
Inside it would be dark and cold. The inrushing warm air would condense and make the beam of Fred's torch visible as he scanned the shiny, empty tables (or should they be called beds?). Further off there might be a bundle lying on one of the tables, something strangely irregular lying in this square and sterile place, covered by a blanket. Fred would walk into the fridge, driven by curiosity. Maybe the feet would be sticking out from the bundle, just a pair of ordinary, naked feet, perhaps a bit unnatural in colour (too yellow) and with a waxy quality that was slightly disturbing, not like feet on a beach. Fred would walk up to the bundle and take hold of the sheet with his finger-tips, then without hesitating any longer, he would uncover the head of whoever was lying here. A pair of cold eyes would be staring up at him. He would be taken aback for a split second, then he would examine the face, unshaven, wrinkled, expressionless, a shocking face maybe, but with nothing to say. Perhaps the mouth would be open, and Fred would see the tongue lolling in there, grey and dried-out, still securely resting in its nest, but dead like its surroundings.
Only the eyes would still be conveying some intensity, a frozen intensity that could be blotted out with one blow. The eyes could have been pecked out without altering their gaze, as if they were still desperately holding on to something. Something that might have been before them a while ago, and that would never reappear to break the spell. So the spell would never be broken. It would just lose its significance and merge into the more general mystery of the past.
Sometimes the bodies in there would still be uncovered, brought in during the night perhaps, and left there just as they had been found.
One night Fred had entered the fridge to find a man lying on one of the tables. He was wearing jeans and a worn-out jumper. His curly, dark hair was in a mess around his tough- looking face, his unclean mouth gaping wide-open and his eyes staring into the ceiling. Fred bent over him and was inspecting the gashing wound across his forehead. In the profound silence, perfect save for the soft whine of the ventilation overhead, he could distinctly hear the man's wrist-watch ticking off the seconds.
There was no need to go inside the fridge. If there was an anomaly it would show up on some control-panel somewhere. Fred had proven to himself many times that he could bear the sight of cadavers, and it hadn't done him any good. Why should he go in there now?
Then Fred remembered the red light that would still, at this very moment, be glowing on a control-panel somewhere in the basement. Fred had no idea what the red lamp meant and what the control-panel was generally monitoring. It might possibly have something to do with this fridge. Since he was here in front of this door now, he might as well check it out.
So he turned the master-key in the lock, pushed the handle down and pulled the door open.
There were two people in the fridge, but Fred had eyes only for one of them – indeed, she was uncovered, completely naked and lying on a glistening, spotlessly clean metallic table in the middle of the room.
The air was cool and there was the usual soft whine of machinery. Fred was about to close the door and resume his lonely walk when he felt that since he was here he might as well have a look at the woman. He entered the fridge and half- closed the door behind him in order not to waste too much of the cold.
He walked over to the corpse, wondering why she had been undressed but not packed up. Maybe she had been found naked.
She was a beauty with long, smooth legs merging into strong hips, the stream-lines moving unbroken from there over a flat belly, slightly less in width than the hips, flowing over firm, small breasts and converging towa rds the neck. Fred positioned himself at the foot-end of the table and held up his torch, let the light-beam glide up and down along the body, his view extending from her toes to the tip of her chin.
Fred had never before had a woman like this for himself, and he guessed that she wouldn't have let him come up so closely in her lifetime. Only yesterday the chances of getting close to this woman would have been approximately zero. She would have walked past the slow- moving nightwatchman very swiftly indeed, having better things to do, and if he ever made a move on her, she would have sneered at him, then brushed past him with a polite and icy "excuse me...".
Now she was lying here motionless and unprotected and Fred could admire her for as long as he wished, study her body as closely as he liked.
Her eyes were staring up into the ceiling, as these corpse's eyes always did. Fred had seen this before and was used to it. Her lips were parted as if she had been panting. Fred had moved up between the rows of tables and was looking down at her. She was inert, paying no attention to him. In that sense she was as far away as ever.
He saw that she had a stabbing wound above her left breast. Else her body was flawless. He felt like finishing the job, taking a knife and punching it into every part of her body, teaching the world that whatever he couldn't understand and get for himself he would destroy.
He looked at the wound more closely and suddenly had a strange feeling of familiarity. The wound itself wasn't familiar - it was just another disgusting stabbing wound. Fred had seen them before, but they never struck him as particularly familiar.
There was something else, half chopped up by the wound, a birthmark, and Fred knew that he had seen it before.
He left the fridge feeling very thoughtful. He felt strangely reluctant to close and lock the door behind himself. He was about to walk away when he turned back.
There was a little anti-chamber next to the fridge. It contained a desk and a swivel-chair, and recent records were kept there. Usually some delivery-notice concerning fresh entries would be lying on the desk. Fred decided to go and have a look. He unlocked the door and stepped into the small room.
As expected the usual form was lying on the desk, hurriedly filled out by some guy with a miserable hand -writing - name and address of the victim, date of entry and a list of belongings (even underpants and socks would usually be listed). The list was empty so presumably the corpse had been found naked.
Fred looked at the name and it told him nothing. The address seemed just as unfamiliar some street in town Fred had never heard of before.
Fred left the room and walked away, trying to mind his own business and empty his head of the thoughts which were beginning to chur n in there, gaining momentum. He remembered a day many years ago, just after he had moved out of his parents’ home into a flat of his own. He had had great expectations - having no mother to fuss over him any more he saw himself becoming a daring and dashing young man. He now had a stable home-environment that wouldn’t be affected by his undertakings in the outsideworld. No one would be trying to read information off his face inside these four walls of his own. Whatever happened he would now be able to come home and forget about it. He was sitting at his window watching the people coming and going in the street. It was not quite two o’clock in the afternoon and he had to go to work at six in the evening. He had plenty of time.
There was this girl outside, a school- girl, somewhere between ten and twelve years old, doubtlessly on her way to school. She was walking along not very quickly, dreamingly playing with the shoulder-straps of her bag. Fred had an immediate craving for her. Following his impulse he went out to meet her. There she was, innocently walking along, playfully and unconsciously showing off her sensitivity, quite unaware of the effect she had on Fred.
Fred walked up to her and said hello. She smiled up at him and confidently greeted him as an adult. Possibly this girl had had no major bad experiences with adults and believed that they did whatever they did because it was the right thing. She didn't realize that Fred might have addressed her for reasons of his very own.
So she was a great believer in adults! And she obviously saw Fred as an adult, his being in his early twenties making no difference.
Fred asked her: "Do you have a minute?"
She was plainly a bit puzzled by that: "Yes..., but a minute for what?"
Fred made an earnest face: "You see, I make advertisement photos for a big company. I have to find a young girl like you to wear a pair of brand- new jeans. I think you might be just the person I need. Posters of you will be hanging all over town."
He was playing a very dirty trick on her, but he had plainly got her interested. She flushed a little, forcefully swallowed down the saliva accumulating in her mouth and tried to say something.
"But..., but I have to go to school now..."
Fred nodded thoughtfully. "I know" he said, "but this is rea lly important, you see. I will write out an excuse for you to hand over to your teacher."
This settled the matter. Fred didn't even need to say that other girls would be glad to be in her place. She was plainly going along with him.
"And where..?" she asked, suddenly a little scared.
"Oh, just up there." said Fred, successfully dismissing the very last of her reluctance. He took her up into his flat. In the stairways she became very eager to talk. "All over town!" she said.
"Yes," he said, "and you'll have an impertinent little smile on your face, standing there in a pair of brand -new jeans that nobody has ever worn before!"
She could hardly wait for him to unlock the door of his flat.
He took her into the flat, shut the door and told her she would have to take a shower first. She was a little surprised by that, but he showed her the bathroom and gave her a fresh towel out of the cupboard. Then he left her and went into the living-room. He let himself fall into his one comfortable chair and a moment later he heard the water turned on in the bathroom. He knew that she was naked in there, standing under the gushing water in his home.
He was plainly doing something that he couldn't have allowed himself to do at his parents' place. Nobody would come and see what was happening. As long as he kept her from yelling he could do whatever he liked to the girl.
And yet he felt strangely at loss about what to do next.
After a while he heard the water was turned off. On impulse he stood up and walked to the bathroom, entered without thinking and saw her standing there, all wrapped up in the towel, her wet hair glued to her face and shivering a little. She looked up at him, not at all suspiciously, but questioningly. He smiled reassuringly, went up to her and rubbed her down.
He told her he would have to feel her vertebras to see if she was suited for the photos. He gently lifted the towel a bit and confidently let his fingers find their way down her spine, pressing a little here and there, as if he were playing the piano. His face was very close to her face, and she was looking at him with big, hopeful eyes.
He reached the bottom. His hand brushed past her buttocks. He didn't look at her. Her front was still covered by the towel and he had only felt her back without seeing it. He gently closed the towel round her back again. "Come now." he told her and led her out of the bathroom. He led her into the living-room and, drawing the curtains, told her to lie down on the couch.
She was lying on her back, still wrapped up in the towel, trying to relax but shivering again.
He went up to her, kneeled down next to the couch and told her to close her eyes. She did as she was told and he uncovered her, pulled the towel away completely and flung it away.
Surely she must realize that something was wrong by now. She was shuddering uncontrollably and holding her eyes tightly, almost desperately, shut.
In a very calm and kindly tone he asked her if she felt cold. She only nodded. He laid his hands upon her belly and started to knead her slender body, softly but purposely. He felt the shuddering subside under his strong, warm hands.
Then he lovingly followed the slight curve of her hips and worked his way down along her legs. She was completely relaxed now, almost hypnotized.
"Do you feel better now?" he asked warmly.
"Yes..." said a sleepy, tender voice.
He stroked her legs absent mindedly, then decided that he could have a good look at her unashamedly, since she had completely abandoned herself to him. He touched the spot between her legs, where the first tufts of pubic hairs were appearing, and, asking her if it hurt, gently parted the folds of her skin.
"No..." she said dreamingly, and he put his fingers here and there, exploring the nooks and crannies, pausing and asking her again, waiting for her answer and then going a bit further.
Gently pressing and stroking, squeezing and kneading, he was having a wonderful time, but then, as if some realization had suddenly hit him, he became self-aware and ashamed of himself. He felt the heat mounting into his face and knew that he couldn't go on. He stood up quite suddenly and almost ran to the bathroom, but then his steps faltered and he felt weak. He sipped a few drops of water at the tap (his mouth was feeling very dry), and looked at himself in the mirror, barely recognizing himself.
He saw the neat pile of clothes she had left lying on the washing- machine, took them up and brought them into the living-room, flung them onto the couch next to her feet and told her in a voice that was surprisingly matter-of-fact and unaffected, that she wasn't suited for the photos and that she'd better get dressed.
Then he left her and went into the kitchen where he sat down at the small table. Now it was he who was shivering.
He heard her walking around in the living room. He stood up with a jerk and rushed out to her. She was looking very upset and bewildered. He gave her some money, said he was sorry and led her to the door. She stepped out, he again said he was sorry and closed the door on her, even locked it.
That was all that ever happened between him and that girl. He never saw her again and never even heard of her. He knew her name was Maria because she had told him, and he remembered the birthmark on her left breast.
Fred drove up to the courthouse lying in the midst of a peaceful park with many trees. He parked the car inconspicuously next to the Japanese four-wheel-drive of the caretaker. He scrambled out of the seat, banged the door shut, and while he stood there, rearranging the bundles around his waist, he approvingly admired his low-slung Mustang behind which the caretaker's car looked extremely crude and bulky.
A soft rain was dribbling down, and though Fred couldn't feel the wet through his cap and his uniform, he could smell the dampness, and when he held up the torch to illuminate the facade, shining little droplets started to dance in the light-beam.
Fred illuminated the top-row of windows, and when he looked up, feeling the water on his face, some droplets stinging in his eyes, looking through a corridor of light in which myriads of shining little blobs were drifting towards him, he felt for a fleeting moment that he was moving upwards, rushing through a narrow galaxy of small, dazzlingly twinkling stars.
Then his eyes automatically focused on the grey, imposing facade of the elderly building with its tall windows sunk deeply into its thick walls.
He was walking now, his torch scanning the facade. The windows were all closed (of course they would be) and there wasn't any light in any of the rooms.
He walked up the broad stairway to the main entrance and checked the three doors between the two massive pillars. He didn't check them too harshly, because they were of course under alarm and it would be rather embarrassing if the nightwatchman set off the alarm.
He walked back down the stairs and resumed his tour around the building. The big parking- lot occupying the whole space in front of the building was empty save for the Mustang and the box- like car of the caretaker. If there were any cars, Fred would have to take down the number of their plates and leave a note for the caretaker. One night Fred had come up behind a car that was parked in the shadowy far-side of the big entrance stairs. He was just about to write down the number when he realized that the front-seats were occupied. Now of course formal identification was unavoidable. He walked up alongside of the car and shone the light straight through the driver's sidewindow. The occupants had bent down, obviously hoping that he wouldn't see them and move on. Fred came up to the car, holding his torch at a progressively steeper angle, till it shone down into the thus blinded eyes of the young man at the wheel. Fred bent down and knocked at the window. The man, his face all white in the dazzling bundle of light which held it fast, meekly opened the window. There was a girl next to him, but Fred didn't care to have a proper look at her. He kept his torch well-aimed at the man's face. Then he said, in a tenebrous, dry voice, fully aware that he must appear to them as an indefinable, shadowy presence behind the blazing light:
"Good evening... Do you have any business here?" As though he didn't know what they had come to this dark, hidden spot for.
The guy was trying to evade the light with his eyes. "No..." he said shyly. "This place must be considered as a private property." said Fred. "I have orders to take down your names and the number of your car. Naturally you will get a fine shortly." "But..." said the guy, hopelessly blinking in the light, "I didn't know..."
"If you leave now, I will let you go." said Fred.
The guy immediately sat up straight, started the car saying thank -you and, while Fred said "Good-bye, sir", he drove off with his girl- friend who hadn't uttered a sound all the while.
Fred had been bull-shitting about the fine. He had no idea what was being done with the numbers and names he collected. Possibly they were just filed away for future reference if anything turned out to have gone wrong during the night.
And yet he shouldn't have allowed himself to let these people go. If a superior had seen him talking to somebody and he had no names to show, he would be in trouble. Today there was nobody. The parking- lot was deserted.
Fred came to the corner of the building, where he could hear the wate r gurgling through the drain-pipe coming from the roof. It always struck him as a most lonely sound, possibly because it could sometimes be confused with the babble of human speech in a foreign tongue. Fred did feel lonely and would have liked to join such a pleasant sounding conversation.
At the foot of the building there was a trench, about five meters deep and two meters wide. Fred didn’t know its exact purpose - perhaps to give some light to the basement (there were windows down there) and possibly to make all windows on the ground-floor inaccessible. Fred had orders to check out the trenches, because there might be bombs lying in there. So he would shine his light along the bottom of the trenches and look for some suspicious object.
Naturally heaps of rubbish and dead leaves would have accumulated down there, and besides Fred had never seen a bomb and had no idea what it would look like. So basically he just looked down into the trenches with unseeing eyes, his thoughts elsewhere. Fred was about to turn around the corner. He had a last look at the mighty stairs leading over the trench to the main entrance.
Some winter there had been a thin pellicle of ice, formed during the night, on some of the steps, and Fred had almost slipped. He recalled thinking of taking a few corpses from the morgue, naked corpses with bruises and gashing wounds, and realistically, artistically, laying them out across the stairs...
And what would have been the sense in doing that, Fred now wondered? Surely it was not very funny. It was pure maliciousness.
Of course nobody believed that Fred would do a thing like that. He didn’t believe it himself.
Corpses were often the only mates he met within nine hours of work, and though he needn’t worry about how to present himself to them, the y still somehow managed to upset him. He had believed that by having close looks at them he would harden himself against his emotions, but somehow that wasn’t the way it worked, and instead of becoming insensitive to them he became more and more reluctant to go and see them. And yet they had become very much part of his life.
That woman for instance...
Maria being just a school- girl ten years ago, it was quite plausible that she would be in her early twenties now. The birth- mark definitely had looked familiar and it was in the right spot too.
The name on the delivery-notice wasn’t Maria...
The woman was Maria, there could be no doubt about it. Possibly Fred was the only living man to know that she wasn't who she was supposed to be.
Possibly Fred was the only living man to know that Maria was dead...
Somehow this realisation was scary. And yet, what business of his was this whole thing? He hardly knew Maria and he didn't know the other woman she was supposed to be at all. Plausibly Maria was visiting that other woman and got killed in her flat. The other woman then disappeared and when Maria was found it was automatically assumed that she must be the owner of the flat.
As soon as tomorrow some relatives would be invited for a formal identification of the corpse and the mistake would become evident.
From then on the problem would be to put a label on the unidentified corpse. Fred couldn't be a great help there, because all he knew about Maria was her first name. The more he thought about it, the more he managed to convince himself that he could in no way contribute to the whole business. Whatever information he held was completely useless and futile.
He was at the back of the building now, checking a couple of doors. Behind him there were some large trees, and although there hardly was any wind he could hear their leaves rustling. It was a confident sound, like the deep breathing of a fearless giant in his untroubled sleep. Fred felt tired. He would have liked to stop walking, lie down next to the giant and let his mind drift off into peaceful realms of oblivion.
But he was the nightwatchman. He had the noble task of watching over other people's property and the fruits of their efforts while they were taking a well-earned rest. His watchfulness allowed them to confidently close their eyes and let themselves be carried away into the land of sweet dreams, knowing that he was, for the time being, taking care of the harsh realities of life for them...
He had taken over. For the next few hours he was the legal representative of the place. Fred walked on.
The woman in the fridge.
It was Maria.
“Do something about it!”
Fred actually turned around, it sounded so real. He had definitely heard a voice. It was inside his head. He wasn’t altogether surprised. He had finally gone insane. It had to happen. It was almost a relief. He half expected to hear more of it, but everything remained quiet for now…
Some other night he had heard a strange, squeaking noise, endlessly but not too regularly repeated. It seemed to come from somewhere further off in the dark. It sounded like a squeaking door being opened over and over again, but that didn't make sense. Or was it the agonizing voice of some wounded man or beast lying under a bush? After a while Fred concluded that it must be a pump of some sort, but what was being pumped at this time of the night he couldn't imagine. He had left the place without solving the mystery. A few nights later he had heard the noise again. This time it was clearly coming from the trees overhead. It must be a bird of some sort! Fred had excitedly shone the light up into the branches of the trees, trying to find the spot where the noise came from. And suddenly he had found it, a stout little fellow sitting on a branch. It looked like an owl. It was turning its head from right to left and walked a few steps along the branch, trying to move out of the light, but Fred followed it with the beam of his torch.
It opened its small beak and uttered its harsh little scream.
From then on Fred knew what the noises were.
That was in summer. Today there were no more noises except for the gurgling of the water down the drain-pipes.
Fred walked across a patch of grass.
Last summer he had tripped over something on this spot. The thing had made hissing noises. It was a hedgehog.
Some other night the beam of his torch had also randomly fallen upon a hedgehog. It seemed to be totally untroubled by the light. Fred had softly approached it and taken a close look. It was feeding on a huge slug, making deep breathing noises as it was do ing so. The front part of the slug was still moving, its antennae feeling their way along the grass-blades, while its rear-end was being chewed to pieces by the cute little snout of the hedgehog. Fred was rather shocked by this, but then again, what had he imagined? That the hedgehog would first jump up at the slug's throat and squeeze the life out of it before eating it, like a lioness killing an antelope?
It was too cold for hedgehogs now. They would all be sleeping in a pile of forgotten dead leaves somewhere.
Fred came round to the entrance of the caretaker's flat. There was an intercom next to the door. If Fred had seen anything unusual he would wake up the caretaker. The job at the courthouse consisted only of walking around the outside of the building. Fred didn't even have a key to enter the courthouse. Usually he came here twice a night. The first time would be around ten o'clock, and if there were any lights burning in some of the rooms it would most certainly be because of somebody still working there. Thus it was rather silly to warn the caretaker about them.
The second time Fred came back here would be at about three o'clock. If the lights were still burning by then, that would obviously mean that they had been forgotten. If Fred awoke the caretaker about them the latter would usually be annoyed at not having been told earlier. Thus Fred would mostly ignore the forgotten lights (if there weren't too many of them).
Today there weren't any lights at all. Everybody had gone home early. Only fools like himself would still be walking around in the cold at this time of the night... Fred got back to his car, scrambled into the seat, sighed as he started the engine and drove off.
Fred was walking through to the second part of the night now. That meant that he would visit most of the buildings for the second time, but in less detail. All the important things would already have been checked, and so he would just have to walk around, reading barcodes into his control-watch here and there.
Of course he still had to walk around the exteriors of the buildings before being allowed to go inside, but this time it would be enough to flicker the light at the windows to make sure they weren't broken without having to test them manually.
To minimize the distances Fred edged around the corners as tightly as possible, almost bumping into them and scraping his uniform.
He was thinking what a stupid thing to do this was, since anybody smart enough would get the idea and might wait with a stick or metal-bar behind the next corner. A good bang over the head would send Fred into unconsciousness (especially since he was barely conscious anyway in the second part of the night), and it would then be very easy to take all the keys from him.
The relevant keys for the building would possibly already be separated from the rest of the bundle (that should make things easier), and a smart guy might even think of stealing Fred's uniform. If he then managed to walk around with the tired-out gait of a typical nightwatchman he would be as inconspicuous among the buildings as a goldfish in a pond.
In fact, Fred himself had thought of playing this dirty trick on one of his colleagues. Knowing the whole place by heart it would be very easy for him to find what he wanted, pack up the car and drive away without any alarm being raised.
But Fred was scared of being recognized by some office-boy who would for some strange reason of his own come to his office in the middle of the night. Of course Fred would never be suspected in the first place, but the other guy might later remember having seen him around when he was supposed to be on a holiday.
Fred had practically no memory of faces, but he knew that other people did. He often recognized people by their reaction to him (a very bad habit for a nightwatchman, who is supposed to positively identify whomever he meets). Any burglar would simply have had to say "Good evening!" in a jolly friendly way, and Fred would have identified him as the person whose name was on the door of the office that happened to be robbed out that night.
But faces weren't the only thing Fred didn't notice. He felt quite capable of walking through a deep puddle in the middle of the corridor, his shoes making splotchy noises, without the thought that anything was wrong ever entering his mind.
The other reason why Fred didn't try robbing the buildings, in effect making the most out of his job, was that there wasn't any cash lying around. The only things worth stealing were computers, and then he would have had to sell them. A tedious and risky job... Perhaps Fred almost hoped that he would, someday, be hit across the head. For years he had been telling anybody who would listen that he couldn't bear his job, that it weakened his mind so much that he couldn't think of undertaking anything else... But as long as the job didn't actually get on top of him nobody would worry too much about him. After all, he was doing just fine, there was nothing obviously wrong with the way he worked and he was financially independent. That's what being an adult is all about.
But if he got hit across the head, people would start wondering. Perhaps even his parents, with whom he maintained a very loose, barely existing contact, would start thinking things over once again and feel guilty for what they had done to him. Though what that would concretely be and in what way their feelings of guilt would possibly help him Fred himself didn't know.
Perhaps suicide was a better alternative.
Fred had fantasized about this a lot.
The idea would be to shoot himself. He didn't carry a gun as a nightwatchman, but he owned one personally. He might take it with him and then lock himself up in the fridge. He would hide his equipment, uniform and all his clothes among the spare sheets, then lie down on one of the shiny tables, his gun hidden underneath him, then shoot himself through the head from behind.
The hourly radio-message being missed out, his superiors would eventually come looking for him. They would look all over the place, possibly helped by the police since he might have been trapped by some burglars...
They would even look in the fridge, but it would take a long while before anybody thought of taking a close look at the naked corpse innocently lying on the table. Fred wished, even though he was dead, he could see the shocked face of his superior looking down at him and finally realizing the full truth...
In many rooms there were machines, computers, fax-receivers and the like which were meant to run through the whole night. They all bore big yellow notices saying: "DO NOT SWITCH OFF!"
Nightwatchmen being so much conditioned to switch off everything with a power-button would of course occasionally switch off even these machines. If they noticed their mistake they might switch the machine on again, but then it would possibly have lost its memory or something like that. Occasionally these situations would give rise to complaints and severe reprimands of the involved nightwatchman.
Fred had thought of entering a room with many of those machines, switching them all off and shooting himself with a "DO NOT SWITCH OFF"-sign hanging around his neck. He wondered if anybody would get the joke.
Anyway, there he would be lying, the keys spilt all over his body, eyes wide open and a silent reproach staring out of them...
Of course Fred would never really do such an insensible thing with his gun - he might lose his shooter's license, and that thought was unbearable.
He was coming up to the door from where he had started off on his exterior round-trip. It was time to enter the building and he took out the key.
There was a small van parked near the entrance. It hadn't been there earlier. This was the entrance where corpses would be brought to the morgue or collected from the morgue. They would usually be brought in a small, grey, box- like truck from the main hospitalbuilding and taken away in elegantly elongated station-wagons with black shutters across the back windows. It was impossible to imagine that the colourful little van standing here now could have anything to do with that kind of business and Fred was asking himself what it might be doing here.
The front doors of the van opened and two men climbed out. They walked to the door and stood in front of it. Fred approached them seemingly unperturbed but holding on to his torch very tightly.
"Good evening." he said, but the men didn't answer.
One of them was very tall and good- looking. If he had combed his hair and was wearing less sloppy clothes he might have come straight out of a female teenager's pillow- fantasy with his tall, well-proportioned figure. And yet there was something else missing, Fred now thought, to make him into a male sex-symbol - the sparkle of intellectual competence in the eyes that he lacked. He had, in fact, a very blank, almost bored look. The other guy was stout and mean-looking. His general appearance was dirty. He seemed quite nervous, but this nervousness must have been a natural state for him, because there was no evidence that his surroundings were affecting him (he didn't react to them). He was plucking at his sleeve and his eyes were flickering as they scanned Fred. But as Fred came closer these movements actually subsided.
The two men were still standing in front of the door, the tall one looking incuriously at Fred. Fred would have to brush past them to get to the door.
"Okay, now." said the stout fellow, and Fred realized that he was pointing a small-caliber pistol at him. He almost backed away.
So it had finally happened!
Fred had always thought that this kind of things only happened in the fancy-talk of his superiors and in his own fantasy. Somehow he felt unprepared.
And yet he wasn't as scared as he might have been. The pistol aimed at him was very real to him, and although it was a small- caliber he was aware of the damage it could do, especially at short-range. But it didn't have the surrealistic aurora it would have had for the average shitter who sees guns as a symbol of power in all the movies and never actually ever touches, let alone fires one.
Fred had handled all types of hand - guns, semi-automatics and revolvers, right up to the fantastic 44-Magnum, a revolver whose recoil could supposedly (so he was told) break your arm if you fired it while holding it stiffly. He had fired fifty rounds with such a weapon, and he still remembered slipping the big, heavy cartridges into the cylinder and the sharp smell of burnt powder after each shot.
Fred identified the pistol that was aimed at his belly now as a Berretta, caliber 25, and he suddenly had a great urge to stay alive. It would be pitiful, he felt, to die of a 25-bullet. "What do you want...?" he asked slowly.
"Open the door and lead us to the forensic medicine department." answered the tall guy calmly, in a manner suited to sensible questions.
Fred let go of the key he was holding in his hand, loosened all the other bundles and let them fall all together, clattering, onto the ground.
The tall guy looked incuriously down. The stout guy's eyes flickered, but his gun-hand remained steady.
Fred was standing there, foolishly looking from one to the other, like a small boy who has just filled his pants.
"Come on now," said the tall guy, slightly impatiently, "take up the key and open the door."
Fred bent down, and as he did so, his hand, reaching out for the keys, brushed past his side and felt for the emergency-call button on his radio. As he pushed it the radio made its little electronic noises, then came the buzz signaling that the call had been registered at the main Securitas-office.
"The office is calling me..." Fred said innocently.
"Give me that radio!" said the tall man with a note of desperation in his voice, pulled out the radio from its clip and flung it away.
The radio flew across the parking- lot and Fred heard the rustle of leaves as it landed among some bushes further off.
Now at least the office was warned. Having got the emergency-signal they would try calling him back. Getting no answer they must assume that something was wrong and the superiors would come looking for him.
Unfortunately they wouldn't know where he was. He very much doubted that they would have the good idea of looking at his notes of the previous nights to find out where he might be by this time. Anyway, a nightwatchman wasn't supposed to be predictable and only burglars knew that he was.
He picked up the enormous heap of glittering keys, held it in one arm like a baby, selected a key at random with his other hand and tried it on the lock. Of course it was the wrong key.
"Ah..!" he said for the benefit of the two guys waiting for him to open the door. He tried another key which didn't work either.
He looked helplessly up at the tall guy and said meekly: "I lost the damn key..." The tall guy grabbed him by the hair, turned Fred’s throat upwards, and a knife-blade flicked up in his other hand. He laid the cold blade on Fred's throat, then against Fred's cheek and whispered into his ear: "Don't you play these tricks on us. If the next key doesn't fit, I'll cut your ear off, understood?"
Fred nodded sourly, feeling his scalp, in the grip of the man's huge hand, sliding over his scull.
It didn't take Fred long to select the correct key. Being a master-key its blade was cribbed with lines and holes making it very recognizable. He pushed it into the lock, turned it round and opened the door.
He entered the building, the two men following closely, but, bloody hell! he would show those guys that he wasn't just an ordinary nightwatchman!
As he led them to the lift he put away all the keys except the ones he would need. The two ruffians had brought no torch. Possibly the idea occurred to them now. The tall one grabbed hold of one of Fred's shoulder-straps to make sure he wouldn't suddenly dart away and leave them in the dark.
Fred pushed the lift-button, and the door opened with its fine-sounding hydraulic hiss, revealing the blank and brightly illuminated interior of a lift big enough for a bed (or rather coffins in this case).
As a rule, nightwatchmen were not supposed to take lifts. Since they were often alone in the buildings they visited, being caught in the lift could be a major problem. The portable radio was not a reliable means of asking for help, because radio-waves sometimes had difficulties emitting out of lift-shafts.
Fred assumed that a major power break-down was very unlikely in buildings belonging to the hospital and thus, in spite of the rules of his trade, this lift was familiar to him. They entered the lift and he confidently pushed the lowest button. The lift started moving downwards. Forensic medicine was on the top-floor, there even was a notice next to the top button saying so, but the two ruffians never noticed.
The door opened and they were in the basement. Fred led them along a dark corridor, past many doors behind some of which the whine of machinery could be heard. At the end of the corridor there was a big, electrically powered sliding-door. Fred pushed the button and the door started to open with a screeching sound.
The tall guy standing behind Fred was feeling nervous. He had been so cool and emotionless a while ago, when he had taken charge of Fred. But now he was in a place he didn't know, and he didn't like the way Fred confidently touched buttons here and there, without waiting for his permission (they could have been alarm-buttons) - he felt out of control.
Fred sensed the uncomfortable vibrations of the tense body behind him. The guy was still relatively calm, outwardly, but the storm was building up, and his inner nervousness showed in some sinister way that felt like a threat.
Fred almost preferred the company of the stout fellow, the one with the gun. He was hyperactive and unpredictable. He looked mean. There was always some part of him twitching, but all this activity seemed rather cheerful. Fred liked him better because there was no chance of anything building up in him - whatever came to his mind was directly transferred to his body. Fred might die through his hands quite unexpectedly, but at least he always had direct feed-back of the fellow's emotions.
Fred led the two of them through an underground tunnel, through the basement of another building and then through yet another underground tunnel.
"Where the hell is forensic medicine?" asked the stout guy, putting some kind of general resentment into his voice, but without yet the least trace of suspicion.
Fred said: "They don't keep the dead among the living. When somebody dies in the hospital some nurse gets the job of pushing away the bed. They roll it along these endless corridors. It happens any time of the day or the night."
This was of course a beautiful piece of bullshit.
"Isn't there any light in these corridors?" asked the stout guy.
"There must be," answered Fred, "but as a nightwatchman I'm not supposed to switch on any lights, so I wouldn't know where the switches are, you see..."
"Shut up, now!" said the tall guy, and the tone of his voice was the sign of more to come. The stout guy didn't attempt making more conversation.
They now arrived in the basement of the building called "Pathology". It was the oldest and most sinister building of the whole complex. The walls were all grey and peeling, the hinges of the wooden doors with old- fashioned handles all needed oiling and there was a black bust of a wise man with prominent moustaches in the majestic stairways. There were pictures along the walls of the stairways too - faded black and white photographs of old rock-carvings showing various (chilling) aspects of primitive medicine. Fred had known this building even before his nightwatchman-days. There were labrooms in here where young students learnt to dissect bodies. He remembered the days when he would be sitting on a bench in a reasonably white shirt at a crude wooden table, scraping out the yellow fat of an open leg.
He remembered the rooms well, the way they had seemed to him in those days. All the wooden tables with all the skin-coloured, hairy, spongy, humid limbs, strongly smelling of alcohol, all the students in their white blouses sitting around them, talking and laughing, just as students do in all lab-sessions. Perhaps they did so here even more, making an effort to distinguish themselves from the deadly silent and yet humanoid objects they were dealing with.
Yes, Fred remembered those fat-scraping days very well, cutting and tearing at the alcohol-soaked limbs, looking for nerves, arteries, veins, getting impatient and scraping them away with the fat...
He remembered working on a head with two or three other guys.
After many years of bathing in alcohol the features had all faded away. The lips were colourless and the mouth just a narrow slit. The beard-hairs looked like tiny arrows sticking in the spongy flesh. Except for them, the shape of the nose was the only prominent thing in this face.
But then Fred had raised one of the shriveled-up eye-lids with the blunt edge of his knifeblade, and suddenly an eye had been staring at him!
The eye had lost every sparkle of life, and yet it still seemed to be aimed somewhere, as though it were ready to come to life again anytime at some divine command. Fred had taken out the eye. After cutting through the nerve and all the muscles, some of which were surprisingly thick and tough (he used to know their names, long ago), it popped out quite easily. There it was, lying on a metallic plate in front of him. Fred had dreamily looked out of the window for an instant. When he looked back and the washed-out face appeared in the corner of his visual field he got a small shock because the other eye was staring at him - one of his mates had opened the lid. Fred looked straight at the challenging eye - it was lifeless, what else had he expected? Today things were different. The rooms were always dark and deserted when Fred visited them. The limbs covered up so they wouldn't dry out, or even put away altogether into some fridge.
Today he wasn't wearing a white shirt. He was buckled up in a heavy nightwatchmanattire, and there were two ruffians following him. He took them through a side-door to the staircase that led up towards the ground-floor of this ill- loved building. Forensic medicine wasn't in this building at all, of course.
The two ruffians followed him up the stairs and into the corridor full of little ovens, fridges and centrifugal-machines. Fred took them along the corridor for a while and opened the door to the big lab-room. There was the familiar poster of a human skeleton, covered with arrows leading from tightly printed paragraphs at the side to the various bones, hanging on the back-wall, next to a show-glass partition where various items were kept in jars. Among them was a human embryo, its tiny fingers clasped to fists and its small face, lacking none of the features, looking just like a rubbery mask for an expensive doll. Fred made sure that his two followers noticed it.
The tables in the room were empty, though.
Fred took them into the next room which contained more charts and empty tables. Behind this room, in the corner of the building, there was a relatively large, refrigerated chamber. The other wing of the building contained some dignified, wood-paneled rooms, with flower-pots and trestles, where recently deceased people could be seen for the last time before burial (or before being stored away for the future use of science, perhaps). There was a tiny, thick-glassed window in the heavy chamber-door. Fred didn't bother to take a look. He pushed the old - fashioned key into the lock, turned it and bashed down the big handle. He pulled the door fully open without peeping into the chamber first. Two coffins were lying side by side on some trestles in the middle of the room. Their lids were resting against the wall.
Fred stepped into the chamber unhesitatingly, and the ruffians had to follow. "Okay." he said.
The stout guy remained standing next to Fred, his little gun pointing. The tall guy moved gradually in among the coffins and looked at the livid faces resting on the pillows. "Where's the girl..?" he then asked slowly.
"There's only these two." said Fred.
The tall guy looked up from the coffins. There was the faintest trace of suspicion in his eyes as he addressed Fred: "The girl was brought in this evening. She couldn't already be packed away in a coffin!"
"Fuck!" said the stout guy, who obviously had the sharper mind of the two. "This isn't forensic medicine at all!" There was an admiring and deadly menacing undertone in his voice.
The tall guy convulsively moved up towards Fred, almost upsetting one of the coffins. He looked as though he were going to slap Fred across the face.
Fred looked up at him, seeming completely abashed. "This is where they keep the bodies..." he said helplessly.
"Come on, there must be another place!" said the stout guy. "This isn't forensic medicine!"
The tall guy wasn't talking. He was just looking down at Fred, his eyes spitting X-rays. The stout guy seemed to be thinking, then he said, almost kindly: "Take us back to the entrance we came in and we'll find the department for ourselves."
Fred nodded silently.
"Okay, move! move!" the tall guy finally burst out.
They left the chamber and Fred locked the door. They let him do it, they let him lock all the doors behind him. Possibly it gave them a sense of security.
Fred took them back down the staircase into the basement and through to the underground tunnel. Although he was trying to think of some way to waste more time he couldn’t prevent himself from walking briskly. The tall guy was walking beside him, holding on to the shoulder-strap and occasionally, for no reason at all, pulling him this way and that way.
"Bang!.. Clash..." There was the sound of a sample-carrier banging around a corner in the air-flow tube ahead of them. Nothing could be seen in front of them - just the tunnel peacefully sloping away in a sweeping bend. Fred felt the tall man's grip tightening on his shoulder.
The sample-carrier came whizzing towards them.
As it swished past overhead, Fred felt the grip on his shoulder suddenly loosen completely, and as he half turned round he saw the tall guy taken aback in amazement and the stout fellow almost crouching, pointing his gun up into the air with an expression of utter bewilderment.
Fred switched off his torch and made a dash for it.
He ran, the bundles slopping against his hips. Luckily the tunnel was bending to the right in front of him. Every few steps he gave a quick flicker of his torch. It took several seconds before he heard the first report of the gun. He wasn't too scared - bullets don't go around bends.
He arrived in the basement of the next building rather breathlessly, but he took care to lock all the doors. Then he ran up the stairs, to the main entrance, unlocked it rather nervously, tore it open and took a deep breath of the clean, fresh night-air. He was so excited he actually had to stop and think about what to do next. Since he had lost his radio he would have to find a telephone. Where was the closest telephone? He found one in an office and selected the three-digit emergency number of the police he had known by heart for so long without ever needing it. While the phone was ringing at the other end, he tried to cool down. When the calm, deep voice answered, Fred immediately felt at ease. He said "Good evening", gave his function and name and a brief account of what had happened. He needed help immediately, he said, and would wait for it at the main entrance of the building “Pathology”.
The guy at the other end repeated the message, Fred said “yes, good-bye” and hung up. Then he rang up the Securitas-office which was very glad to hear from him having got the emergency-call earlier. He gave a quick explanation of what had happened and asked for a couple of superiors to come and help dealing with the police. Whenever Securitas and the police worked together there would be a mutual exchange of signatures and extensive report-writing about which Fred didn’t feel too confident.
Then Fred left the phone, the office and the building, went outside and walked back to the main entrance of the Pathology-building. He waited under a street- lamp, his eyes on the road, but looking behind him at the door every once in a while, afraid to see the two burglars suddenly rushing out and coming to take revenge on him. Of course that was impossible - even if they found their way in the dark, unknown place, they would still have to break through several doors before getting out.
Nevertheless he was very relieved when the first police-car appeared, cruising down the street at great speed with flashing lights.
The police were very efficient. Fred took a few of them into the basement and unlocked the doors for them. He left them as they penetrated into the underground tunnel. Then he took a couple down to the other building and let them into the tunnel from the other side.
Within minutes all the policemen came out, the two ruffians wearing handcuffs held between them.
Then Fred's hand was warmly shaken by the police-officer and by the superiors and finally he was allowed to get on with his usual job.
He went back to the forensic medicine department, found his radio in the bushes, had another look at the woman in the fridge and took down her false name, Hanna Sedgewick.
The next day Fred's story appeared in the newspaper. It would also find its way into the Securitas-yearbook. The day after, Fred got a letter of congratulations from the federal police. He framed it and put it away among some other useless documents. Instead of victimizing himself, he had managed to make himself into a hero. For this reason he was very reluc tant to show himself pleased and responsive when admired for his courage and cleverness. Besides he had also been lucky, not only clever. The two men, captured thanks to Fred, had been wanted by the police for several months. They were accused of some attempted and one effective murders.
And yet they were small fry. They had been paid by somebody they didn't know to steal a body in the morgue and dispose of it in the best suited way. They didn't seem to know why, what this was all about, and they didn't care.
So the case was closed.
But why didn't anybody get the idea that Hanna wasn't Hanna? And where was the real Hanna?
Fred could think of only one sensible reason for stealing a corpse, and that was to prevent its identification. So obviously someone wanted society to continue believing that Hanna was dead, or that Maria was still alive, or both.
By now, formal identification of the body would have taken place, and yet Fred had heard nothing about an unfortunate confusion. He had even read the announcementof Hanna's death in the paper. So by now, Maria would have been buried as Hanna. How was this possible?
Perhaps Hanna was rather alienated from her parents, and they didn't know what she looked like anymore... And possibly the idea that it wasn't Hanna might have seemed absolutely absurd for some strong reason, washing away all doubts...
But these could only be partial explanations - the resemblance between Hanna and Maria would still have to be bloody big!
So Hanna and Maria must be twins.
So Maria's surname must be Sedgewick, unless she was married, or adopted... There definitely was some mystery to be uncovered in this whole business. Fred wondered if he should go to the police and tell whatever he knew.
But what did he really know?
He had seen the body of a beautiful woman in the morgue, and the woman had a birthmark on her left breast. This had brought back to him the memory of a most unfortunate experience - his first sexual experiment, a bitter failure.
That was all that had really happened. How could Fred possibly claim that he had positively identified the body? His emotional reaction to the body had been very strong, and that was understandable, after what he had been through. That meant something about him, but nothing about the body.
Fred had seen many dead bodies. Corpses were part of his life. If that particular body had brought back a faded memory, there must have been a reason, a reminder... The birth- mark was in the right spot, and it was the right shape too. Fred closed his eyes and tried to picture it, turning it around in his mind.
But could he be sure? The more he thought about that damned birth-mark, the less he remembered it.
Should he go to the police and tell them about this birth- mark that he had first seen many years ago on a school- girl he had tried to rape? Tell them that this school-girl was Maria and not Hanna?
And then possibly the corpse would have to be exhumed, the parents would be asked to confirm the identification of the body...
It would be a big thing.
Surely Fred’s mind, numbed and blurred by too many years of inaction, was just confused at having been shaken awake so suddenly. It was seeing connections where there weren’t any. The birth- mark was just a birth-mark, a meaningless blotch with no particular shape that just happened to be on the left breast.
Whatever Fred had originally wanted to do with Maria, he had failed and lost her. It was no use to go on hoping that he might meet her again and fix things up.
All he had to do was shut up and forget about it.
Okay, he would shut up. He wouldn’t go to the police. But he couldn’t forget about it and so he would do some research of his own.
Maria was dead, lost to the world. But her sister Hanna might still be saved. Perhaps she was held a prisoner by the murderers of Maria. Perhaps there was something for Fred to do. Besides, that was what his inner voice had told him, wasn’t it?
Obviously there was no use in asking people about Hanna. Everybody would tell him that she was dead. He would have to find out about Maria first. Assuming that she was a Sedgewick, all he had to do to get started was to find the Sedgewicks.
So Fred dug out the death-announcement from amongst the old newspapers. There wasn't any address given, of course, he should have known, but the church in which the ceremony took place was in the suburb where Fred had had his first flat, about ten years ago...
Fred looked in the telephone-book for some Sedgewicks living in that suburb. As luck would have it, there was just one family with that name. Well now? should he ring them up?
He didn't like talking to people over the phone too much. He was always scared of forgetting to ask some of the relevant questions and not getting all the answers. Then he would have to ring up again and that was usually beyond him.
When he talked to people directly, the introductory "hello"s and all this stuff would be much more extensive, giving him time to settle into the conversation and feel comfortable. Then he would be less likely to forget to ask all the questions. Besides, in physical encounters it was always possible for him to feel strong through imposing his physical presence. People couldn't just hang up at his face if he got too boring and so he could take his time even when they were growing impatient.
There was another reason for going to see the Sedgewicks - he would get an impression of the place, and since he didn't exactly know what he was looking for, that could be important.
He put his town- map into the breast-pocket and took his motor-bike to go and see the Sedgewicks.
He found the place quite easily. It wasn't very far from his former flat. It was an uninteresting, average-sized family- house with grey walls, large windows with rather colourful curtains, and a reasonable front-yard. Fred left his bike on the drive-way and walked to the entrance-door. There were flower-pots everywhere which seemed to have been left on the lawn randomly. Only half of Fred's mind wondered about this. He knocked on the door using the blackened brass door-knocker.
It took a while till he heard steps inside. Then the door opened halfway and a nondescript, elderly woman peeked out.
"Good afternoon." Fred said in his most polite manner. He was wearing his uniform without the badges. Those were the only formal clothes he had and it made people confident or at least gave them a feel of his fake authority.
But this woman reacted as though she had seen many men in uniform lately and had grown rather tired of them. "What do you want?" she asked in a resigned way without opening the door any further.
"I once knew your daughter Maria," said Fred, "but I lost touch with her. I was wondering if you could give me her current address."
The woman looked up mildly surprised. Clearly she had been expecting something, but this was something else.
There you are! thought Fred. This woman hasn't got a daughter named Maria! "Aha..." said the woman and remained quiet. She seemed to be thinking, and the effort made her look older and completely worn-out.
"Yes, you see, we were sort of friends in the time when I...."
"Yes, yes, I understand." said the woman and nodded. Maybe she had wanted to explain something, but now she felt too tired.
"Just a moment..." she said and walked away, leaving the door open.
She came back a little later with a piece of torn-off paper on which she had scribbled a street-name with a number.
"There you are." she said and handed the note over to Fred.
"Oh, thank you!.." said Fred, but she was already closing the door.
He returned to his motor-bike and drove off.
Now all those flower-pots made sense to him - they must be leftovers from the ceremony. He had just talked to Hanna's mother who had another daughter called Maria..! Well, Fred set out to find Maria's place immediately.
The street where Maria lived already belonged to the main town, Fred guessed. There were a couple of bus-stops, a mechanic’s garage or two, a few shops and many elderly houses lacking in character, some of them tastelessly renovated. The number Fred was looking for belonged to one of these houses. The entrance was at the side, away from the street, hidden behind some bushes. Fred looked at the letterboxes, most of them bearing a little sticker with some girl’s first name, written in cute, girlish hand-writing, sometimes accompanied by a drawing of a little red heart.
Fred grew a bit suspicious seeing all this, and sure enough, Maria’s name was there too... He stepped into the building and looked for her door. He didn’t hesitate for too long when he found it and knocked purposefully.
So now what? He had found the place where Maria lived, and since she was dead she could obviously not be home...
He went over to the next door and knocked there. It took only a quarter of a minute and the door opened a crack. A female face stuck out and said in an artificially melodious and suggestively flavoured voice:
“Hello, darling... Do you want to come in..?”
“I’d be looking for Maria.” said Fred, matter-of-factly.
“Oh, I see...” said the slow, slurring voice, “well, what about me for a change..?” “No offence meant,” said Fred with a half-smile on his face as though he were tolerantly amused, “but my mind is rather set on Maria.”
“Yes,” said the woman, and her voice lost most of its surface sensuality, which uncovered something that seemed to Fred almost mournful. “Maria is young and beautiful, just the type suited to a guy like you.”
“Thank you,” said Fred, “now where or when can I find her?”
“How would I know?”
“She’s your neighbour. What can you tell me about her?”
“Listen, either you’re going to come in, or I’ll have to close the door. You might be blotting out my customers.”
“I’ll come in.” said Fred simply.
The woman started to open the door further. Fred saw her tight skirt under which some elaborate underwear was showing. Her legs looked fat and reddened, bursting out from under the skirt as it seemed.
“That will be eighty euros, then.” she said.
“No, no,” said Fred, laughing and holding the door. “All I want is to find out about Maria.”
“If you want to talk, we can talk.” said the woman. “You can have me as a bonus. It’s all the same price.”
Fred had the money. He suddenly felt like going in there with her and undressing, completely, lying down on the mattress with its pink little roses on the bed with its artistically curved, golden bedstead. There he would be lying, on his back, shamelessly naked, looking up into the cracked ceiling and at the fancy lamp with all the purple woolcords hanging down from it...
A slight breeze would be coming in from under the light, pink curtains mildly filtering the daylight, and would brush softly past his genitals and through his body-hair... She would come towards him and put a glass of whisky into his outstretched hand... But then she would lie down next to him, put her fat hands all over his body, try to make him do something, and this thought didn’t stimulate him at all.
“I want Maria, not you.” he said, quite sternly. He was glad to be wearing a uniform. It was good to be appearing as a diplomat instead of just a man in front of such a woman who could imagine any man naked so easily.
“What do you want of her?” said the woman, suddenly suspicious. Obviously she had gathered that he really wasn’t here just as a man, but as a representative of something bigger.
“Guess..!” said Fred and smiled quizzically.
Now the woman really didn’t know what to think.
“You can help me.” said Fred. “I’ll give you eighty euros now if you promise to ring me up as soon as somebody enters her flat. I’ll give you another eighty euros when it has happened.”
“You really want to meet her, don’t you?” asked the woman.
“Yes.” said Fred.
“Well, you see, she hasn’t been round for quite a few days now. She didn’t tell anybody where she went. She never talked much. She is much younger than most of us and seems to come from some rich and well-educated back-ground. Her customers also are strange...”
“What do you mean?” asked Fred, hardly hiding his interest.
“Well, they would only stay for a few minutes, so I sometimes wondered what she was doing with them. They are mostly gentlemen in suits and with business attaché-cases. They come fairly regularly, I suppose. I saw a few hanging round recently, not knowing what to do now that she is away.”
“Why are you telling me all this?” asked Fred, as though he wasn’t interested. “Well, you don’t seem to be part of the game,” said the woman, looking at him curiously, “so I just wanted to warn you that in the end you might be dealing with something bigger than you think.”
“That’s okay,” said Fred with faked casualness, “you just ring me up as soon as somebody is around.”
He took out a note-pad and wrote down his phone -number. He gave her the number and eighty euros.
“Okay?” he asked.
“I’ll do what I can...” she said.
“Just ring me up any time of the day or the night.” he said and left.
Fred was lying on his bed in the dark, listening to music. It must be rather late in the evening, but of course he wouldn’t be able to sleep - nightwatchmen don’t sleep at night, not even in their holidays. Their circadian rhythm is tuned for night-activity. He was wearing his head-phones and felt surrounded by the music. Somehow he didn’t remember having enjoyed music this much for a long time.
He wasn’t quite sure if music should be considered as a useless invention, a soothing voice that beckons to the mind and leads it into issueless dreams and illusions, or if it should be considered as mankind’s greatest achievement.
Is music just a drug?
First of all, what is a drug?
A drug is usually some chemical that sets the mind spinning. It doesn’t bear any information, it doesn’ t teach or show the mind anything new but just reveals to consciousness things that were hidden or carefully filed away, throws them about, lets the mind play with them, and then its effect wears off, leaves the mind sitting in its own mess.
Perhaps the mind really gets fun out of playing with its own fantasies. Perhaps it gets so much fun that it doesn’t wish to interact with the outside world any more. But of course drugs don’t bring any renewal. They just disrupt connections, hinder inhibitions to do the ir work, allow the mind to play but never offer it any new items to play with.
And so what? Why should the mind be so neophile in the first place?
Well, being neophile is possibly what life is all about - after all the universe is not an excessively stable place, its entropy keeps growing and nothing in it is ever absolute. By being neophile, life- forms manage to keep ahead of the changes in their environment and thus to survive.
While a mind which plays its own games without interacting with anything outside of itself will just drown in this careless, aimless world, waves of destiny regretlessly lapping over the sinking body as it disappears from view together with its amazing (but useless) internal structure.
So drugs, whatever they are (good or bad), certainly don’t uphold life.
What about music? Is music just a drug?
Fred certainly was addicted to it, but it wasn’t a drug for him, he felt.
Music bears some information, many people have put a life-time of effort into setting it up.
Music, Fred felt, offered him a roster for his thoughts and feelings. With its rhythm, its recurring and yet evolving themes it offered him the kind of steadiness his mind needed to organize its blurred visions into some picture that made sense.
Like a washing- line to hang out the freshly cleaned and invariably hopelessly mixed clothes from the washing- machine...
And yet music is more than just a steady line.
Even when there is a steady line, a mixed- up mind might still forget what it was trying to do while walking between the line and the washing-basket. This is where music offers some real help - through the familiarity of the musical theme it reminds the mind of what it has just done, and through the novelty of the development it shows the mind what might come next.
Well now, what about a piece of music that you know so well it has become a part of yourself? What about listening to it over and over again? Does this start to resemble drug-addiction?
This is when the phone rang.
In the middle of the night? Incredible!
It was the prostitute. She didn’t sound like a prostitute over the phone. Her voice was slightly excited, but not at all in a suggestive way. In fact, she was trying to hide it. “You wanted to find out about Maria, didn’t you?” she said instead of a greeting. “Yes...” answered Fred, also becoming rather excited.
“Well, there’s somebody in her flat now, rummaging about.”
“I’ll be right there!” said Fred and hung up.
He got properly dressed, shut down the CD-player and the lights, left the flat and went into the big, underground, common garage of the building. His Mustang was standing there, waiting for him, looking at him with its rounded headlights from under its fierce brow, ready for a night-ride.
But Fred decided that his present assignment was too ill-defined to take the car and warm up its eight cylinders. He went for his motor-bike instead. It was standing further off, next to the supermarket-trolleys. Its rough two-stroke, air-cooled one -cylinder engine would be better suited for the job.
He fitted a couple of ear-plugs into his ears, unfastened the helmet and slipped it on, threw himself astride of the saddle with its crackled and bursting pseudo-leather covering, fitted the key and punched the choke in to its full capacity.
Then he kick-started the motor with a single, violent movement of his leg and fed it with little bursts of gas from his right hand on the handle-bar. The growling noise was unpleasant, high-pitched and nerve -wrecking.
Keeping the engine alive with his right hand, Fred eased the choke away. Then he pulled the clutch with his left hand, clanked in the first gear with his left foot, gradually let go of the clutch, and stimulating the engine a bit he drove off.
The huge garage door opened in front of him, he drove through, and it silently glided back into its place behind him.
The fresh night-air that hit his face was extremely rejuvenating, and soon the motor-bike was howling through the streets, rushing along at rather unlawful speeds. He came to the house of the prostitutes and left the bike on the sidewalk. There wasn’t any light in any of the windows on the street-side. Obviously it was too late at night even for sex-business, or maybe they were just all doing it in the dark. But everything was so quiet that Fred suspected there was nothing going on at all.
He entered the building (the main-door was still open at least - it must always be open) and went straight to the door of the woman he had met last time, next to Maria’s door. He knocked on it, discreetly. The door opened, the woman appeared, hurriedly drew Fred inside by the sleeve and closed it.
Her one-room flat was inadequately illuminated by the fancy lamp with the wool-cords, giving a yellowish, dirty glow by which diverse colours couldn’t be told apart. The light curtains were drawn, behind them the window and the shutters were closed. The air was stuffy and stale, listlessly hanging in the room like the feeble light.
“He’s still there!” said the woman, rather nervously.
“It’s a He then, is it?” asked Fred.
“I think so,” the woman whispered, “listen...”, and she applied her head against the wall. Fred did the same and listened carefully. There was some kind of noise, as if some biggish stuff was being shifted around.
“How long has this been going on?” asked Fred.
“It had just begun when I rang you up.” That was less than a quarter of an hour ago. “Here’s eighty euros for you.” said Fred and handed her the money.
Then he just remained sitting there, on her bed, listening at the wall, while she sat beside him, not very close, waiting for him to go.
The shifting stopped. Fred stood up and silently moved to the door. He listened intently. The mysterious man next door was leaving. Fred could hear the key being turned in the lock, then steps down the corridor.
Fred waited for half a moment, then he swiftly opened the door and let himself out. The man was just going through the main-entrance. He was carrying a big cardboard-box. Fred followed him out of the building, remaining in the shadows when possible, only going a few steps at a time, around the block till he saw him loading the box into the boot of a smart car.
Then he ran to his motor-bike, started it and rode to the other side of the street where he stopped and waited among some parked cars, the small motor in front of his feet, still warm, busily but not too loudly tuckering at a steady idle.
Then the car came out of the parking-lot, its blinding headlights seeming to shine straight into Fred’s face, turned into the street and drove away with the soft, low-pitched whine of a modern, powerful engine.
Fred let the car gain plenty of distance, then started off in pursuit.
The car was going at a steady, sensible speed, and Fred had to be careful not to get too close, because then it would have seemed strange for him not to overtake. But when the car left town and struck a national road that was winding its way into some woods the driver’s mood seemed to change abruptly - Fred had to push his bike very hard in order not to lose him on the steep upgrades.
It occurred to Fred that the driver of the car might actually be trying to do just that - lose the hunter. As long as there were curves he didn’t have a chance, of course, because by bending low Fred managed to corner in a way no car could. With the Mustang he might have been unable to keep up, despite its eight cylinders.
After the upgrades came the downgrades. Fred decided to play a trick. In a tight curve with little visibility he suddenly flung the gears from fifth into fourth and accelerated. He passed the corner of the car at a few centimeters' distance, and, the small engine howling like a desperate, cornered creature as it launches its final attack, he overtook the car with his knee almost scraping the ground.
He swung back into his lane a short distance from the grill of the car, shifted back into fifth and swiftly left the car behind him.
Now the car-driver must assume that Fred was just a crazy kid playing dangerous games on the almost deserted roads at night - nothing more.
Further off, when the headlights of the car had disappeared from view, Fred slowed down, shifted down into second gear and switched off the high-beam headlight, leaving the job of illuminating the road ahead to the feeble park light.
The car was coming up, still driving relatively hard.
Fred was tuckering along at the side of the road like a baby- motorcycle, or a moped. The car was behind him. It wasn’t slowing down.
Whamm! It passed him at great speed, Fred felt the gush of wind, and it was gone, disappearing in a curve ahead.
Fred switched the high-beam back on again and accelerated. He had some difficulty catching up with the car, but finally he managed and kept at a sensible distance from it. He didn't reckon that the car-driver would get the idea that the hunter was behind him again - Fred was just another bikie, and the original hunter must be miles ahead or lying in a ditch, dead.
The road was leaving the woods now. They were coming into the spacey suburbs of the rich. This was not too far from where Fred's parents lived, where Fred himself had lived for most of his youth, in fact...
The car slowed down to a lawful speed, and so did Fred as he came up closer. He was following the car closely, but without rousing suspicions this time, he hoped. When the car turned into a drive-way, Fred refrained from following it only just in time. He parked the bike further off and came back to the drive-way by foot. He memorized the house- number and checked out the name of the street.
Now should he go and spy out the house?
There might be a big dog or some form of burglar-alarm in the garden. Fred's prey would get very suspicious if he suddenly saw all the lights going on in his garden, specially since he probably didn't have a clear conscience and possibly hadn't quite forgotten about those motor-bikes following him.
Fred decided against it. He had played the hero for long enough. It was time for him to go to the police, tell them about the strange things he knew and let them finish the job. So he walked back to his motor-bike and set off on his way home.
At three o’clock in the afternoon Fred was sitting in the kitchen, eating lunch. He had reluctantly come out of bed a couple of hours earlier, when he had lost interest in the carmagazines that were lying on the floor next to it.
Then he had got dressed, putting on the same smelly clothes he had worn the day before, since it didn’t indispose him himself and there was no chance that anybody else would take a close sniff at him today.
Then he had watched a trick film on video, the story of a little dinosaur looking for his mother in a grand, desolate, antediluvian world. The stereo-soundtrack was excellent, he loved the music, a grand orchestration of sentimentality...
He wondered what he got out of these children's tales. Perhaps his parents should have taken him to the movies when he was the right age for this stuff. But they had made him wait till he could afford it for himself. Nowadays these films didn’t make him happy. After the film, Fred got hungry, and so he went into the kitchen. He was sitting there now, finishing his lunch, and didn’t yet know what to do with the rest of the day - and the better part of the night.
The police - he should go to the police and tell them...
Tell them what?
Well, Hanna’s parents had a daughter called Maria who was a prostitute and who had disappeared after Hanna’s supposed death...
Maria’s den had been searched at night by a man who drove a smart car and lived in the well-to-do eastern suburbs...
And so what?
Fred would have to tell them that Hanna wasn’t Hanna, that Maria was the one who had been killed and that efforts on solving the case should be concentrated there. He would have to claim that even though he hardly knew Maria he had been more able to identify her than her own parents.
The whole story about how he knew of the birth- mark would have to be brought to light... Well, maybe not. He could possibly say that he had been one of Maria’s customers, since she was a prostitute. That would explain his knowledge about the birth-mark and his immediate reaction to finding her body in the fridge.
Immediate reaction... The police would then inquire why he hadn’t come to see them about this earlier, if he was so sure.
But he wasn’t so sure. Perhaps Hanna too had a birth- mark on her left breast. Perhaps Maria who was a prostitute had nothing to do with the Maria he had fleetingly met ages ago.
Perhaps there had never even been a birth- mark on the corpse in the fridge - perhaps the swelled edges of the deadly stabbing-wound had only seemed like a birth- mark in the wavering torch- light, and Fred, being in the midst of sexual fantasies, had jumped to conclusions...
Fred could never go to the police now.
When the telephone rang he shivered almost convulsively.
But it was only Securitas, asking him if he could do some extra work. Since he had no family and hardly any friends with whom to make arrangements it wasn’t very important to him when he had his holidays, and he had often accepted work at short notice. He was the odd-job-man at Securitas.
“Yeah,” he answered, “if it’s not the usual walkabout around the hospital-buildings.” “No it’s not, it’s some business- man who wants someone around his house for the night while he is away. A very quiet job.”
“Fine.” said Fred.
“We’ll expect you at the office in full uniform at seven pm, then, ok?”
“Right.” said Fred.
“Thank-you!” said the guy at the other end with some real warmth, because by saying yes Fred had spared him from making at least half a dozen more unsuccessful calls. Well, the question of what to do with the rest of the day was resolved. He had four hours to go shopping (buying some food and some comics to read for the night), to prepare a big meal that he would be able to take with him (something like a cheese-pie and an apple-pie; the cheese-pie would get cold, but maybe there would be a microwave-oven in the house).
He would also pack his portable TV- video-set together with a few stimulating tapes into the car.
Then he would spend a quiet, rather boring night, with nothing but the hourly radiomessages to worry about, but at least every one of these idly spent hours would mean a net-sum of fifteen euros coming into his pocket.
The early- morning hours would be the worst - the pictures in the comics would be flickering in front of his tired eyes, and even the simplest bullshit-story would be hard to follow.
Driving back to the office and then home in that state wasn’t very clever, of course, but probably he would manage to get home before the morning rush-hours, and then he would take a quick shower to get rid of the uniform-smell, crawl into his bed and gratefully forget about the awakening world outside his window.
Shortly before seven Fred drove up in front of the Securitas main office. On the seat beside him were several bags with all the stuff he would need tonight to spend a pleasant and extended evening.
He entered the office and looked around. “Mister Stroehm?” said the girl behind the bullet-proof window.
“Yeah?” answered Fred non-committedly. She was a pretty girl, really, but Fred had no idea what kind of conversation he could possibly ever have with her. She called most of the men working here by their first names, but had made an exception for Fred who always treated her very formally and avoided talk when she handed out the keys and radio to him in the evenings.
“Inspector Dupertuis will take you there.” she said.
“Thanks.” answered Fred.
She was talking into a microphone beside her, telling Dupertuis that Stroehm had arrived, no doubt.
Then Fred was approached by a superior. “Mister Stroehm?”
“Yes, good evening.”
“Inspector Dupertuis.” and he stretched out his hand.
Fred grabbed and shook it, unsmilingly. He didn’t like the inspector very much. He was friendly enough, but that friendliness was so constant that it obviously could have no meaning.
“You’ve got a car?” he asked Fred as he led him out.
“Yes, the blue one there...” said Fred.
The inspector didn’t comment on it. “You follow me.” he said, taking out the key for one of the company-cars.
He didn't take off his cap in the car and drove off at a rather quick rate. By the time Fred had started his Mustang and maneuvered out of the parking-slot he was almost out of sight, down the road.
The Mustang wasn't warm yet, since Fred lived quite close to the Securitas office. "That fool can bloody well wait a moment!" Fred muttered with shut teeth to himself as he calmly motored down the road towards his superior.
When he had caught up, the inspector accelerated again and was smoothly gaining distance over Fred.
The double-exhaust of the Mustang was bubbling with a thunderous undertone. "You just wait till I'm hot, then I'll show you!" muttered Fred.
It took less than a minute, and the needle was beyond the blue mark. "Now I'll be sticking to your fucking rear-bumper!" said Fred.
He hated the inspector. There was a correctness about him which was exceedingly tiring. The well- groomed, black moustaches above his colourless, paper-thin lips seemed to monitor whatever he said, filtering out any possible emotions in his voice. Even jokes coming out of this mouth would have a robotic quality which might appeal to some people, specially to those who basically believed in his authority, but which made Fred feel tired and bored.
What the jokes were all about were people who had dropped out of the natural ways of things, people who had stepped out of line (and had consequently got caught in the most ridiculous situations).
Fred didn't believe in such a "natural" way of things. The rules had been made up arbitrarily and without foundations (they actually themselves served as foundations for further rule s), and if people stepping out of line got caught in embarrassing situations, this wasn't a proof of the validity of the rules at all - it only happened because some shitters made sure it did.
So this inspector's sense of humour, meant to convey a powerful feeling of belonging together and being strong (we're the ones who know the rules), made Fred feel weak and helpless (I'm the one caught in the labyrinth).
Fred suspected that this inspector would treat anybody at least as an equal. All professions work along the same principles. Even scientists and doctors are basically the same as a high-ranked nightwatchman - they're involved with another set of rules, that's all the difference.
This man would never understand that some things can actually be discovered and understood, not just learned by heart.
Fred was helpless in front of such a man - all he could do was repeat "yes" as often as he was expected to, and assure him that he had really got the message whenever he was told one of those jokes meant to emp hasize a point.
But now the Mustang was warm.
The road led up a hill, and the Mustang growled as it kept close to the company-car. But why did the Mustang growl so much when the other car managed to make the same effort without a sound?
They stopped at some red lights. When the lights turned green the company-car swiftly accelerated, and when Fred drove off a microsecond later he didn't have to check his Mustang as he would have expected, but was kept busy shifting through the gears in order to keep up.
So! This conventional four-cylinder car was actually competing against a Mustang and not even doing badly!
They entered the highway. At least on a long, straight stretch the Mustang would eventually beat the company-car, no doubt about it. Its top-speed was 200. Barely 200... while the company-car, without making the slightest claim of being a sports-car, could probably better 180...
This was upsetting.
At least the Mustang had plenty of torque - no four-cylinder would beat it there. It would gladly climb up a hill with four loaded trailers behind it which would make any of those swift little Japanese runners stall even on flat country.
But who cares about trailers? Fred didn't even have a tow-bar on his Mustang... Torque isn't only good for towing. But if it improves neither top-speed nor acceleration, what can it be good for?
But of course the Mustang was also much heavier. In an accident it would squash any of those little modern cars like an egg while hardly getting a scratch itself on its massive bumpers...
Fred watched the speedometer carefully and realized that his superior was obviously not very respectful of speed- limits.
Of course Securitas company-cars wouldn't usually get fined - they were always in a hurry. The police and Securitas covered each other in an unclean brotherhood-way. Fred had heard a story about an occurrence at a National Exhibition. Some security- guard watching an entrance had noticed three men bashing up an elderly drunk. He immediately ran to find some policemen standing on duty further off to seek help. The policemen told him it wasn't their business to get mixed up in those things, and the drunk was finally left behind, unconscious, by the three guys who left unapprehended. The security-guard, working for Securitas, was ordered by his superiors to shut his mouth about what had happened, or else he would be sacked on account of having left his position unattended. So what was the use of security-guards and policemen when people could be bashed up in front of their noses?
Never mind that now...
Perhaps Fred's speedometer was fucked. Perhaps it was drastically overestimating speed. That would mean that on the few occasions when he had been in a racing- fit and had pushed the Mustang towards 200 he wasn't actually going that fast...
200, being a nice, round number, is the limit between a shitter-car and a real car. Fred would have a sleepless night (or rather day) if he suddenly doubted that his car could reach at least 200, as the speedometer kindly suggested...
These doubts were becoming unbearable! Fred would have to buy another vehicle. A real racer!
What about a super- motorbike, since he already had a car? A Yamaha V-max, one of those things which leave steaming rubber-bands behind their wheels when they drive off. No street- legal car can beat a Yamaha V- max on acceleration..!
But what about the winter? Surely a Yamaha V-max wasn't very good in the snow. Besides Fred had never seen any on the road except in sunshine. They were the toys of the rich, for those people who already had a powerful car.
So Fred would have to continue using the Mustang in the snow. He would in effect sacrifice it to the motorbike...
That was unthinkable! The Mustang was part of his image. If he let it rust away under him he would end up with a blob-shaped modern car and lose the very last of his distinctiveness!
The company-car was still in front of him, with that fucking inspector at the wheel. If only Fred had not had to follow him! He would have been spared all these unworthy, unfruitful doubts about nothing!
Why hadn't they just given him the keys and the address of the place instead of actually leading him there? He would have enjoyed the ride in his wonderful car instead of mumbling to himself!
The company-car was leaving the highway now. So, they were heading towards those eastern suburbs, where Fred had chased a car only yesterday. It would be funny if... Well, no, these things never happen.
The company-car was going this way and that way, along familiar routes. And here was the drive-way to Maria’s “friend”...
Sure enough, the company-car put out its blinker and entered the drive-way! It drove up to the house and stopped in front of it, Fred’s superior making no effort to park it in any usual, tidy sense. He stepped out of the car and stood beautifully upright, looking grand in his well-cut uniform in front of the white car with blue lettering, with the elegant mansion in the background. Securitas, the guardians of law and order! Fred parked his Mustang next to the double-garage in an orderly fashion and clambered out of the seat. He demurely walked up to his superior and let himself be flooded by explanations about the alarm-system, the doors, windows and keys, as well as more general things that any nightwatchman knew anyway.
He was very glad when the tiring superior finally left, because he was eager to explore the house.
Fred had always liked to see other people’s houses when he had them to himself. He would examine their stereo-equipment, check through the magazine-stands and bookshelves, have a look at their bed-rooms and kitchens and try to picture their lives. In that sense, if only there had been more diversity, being a nightwatchman would not have been totally unsuited to him.
In this house there was something in particular to discover - the cardboard-box. Fred remembered the box, a big, solid box with red lettering all over it. He had all night to find it.
He started with the garage, which was so tidy it contained virtually nothing more than the smart car.
So the gentleman hadn’t left with his car. That meant he had probably taken a taxi to the airport and was flying. If he was flying the chances that he had taken the huge cardboardbox with all its mysteries with him were very small. That was good news. Fred checked out the boot of the smart car - the box wasn’t in there any more. And if the gentleman was actually delivering the box somewhere? That would explain why he was away so shortly after having found it.
Fred dismissed this depressing idea. Something else had occurred to him - if the gentleman required a security-guard in his house tonight while never having needed one before, that might mean that he had something very valuable to protect and was feeling threatened.
Perhaps it was because of those motor-bikes which had chased him that he was scared. Fred felt that he was getting close to solving a case all on his own. How was this possible? Through sheer, highly improbable luck?
No, everything that had happened so far made sense. When somebody died violently in town it was within a reasonable range of probability that Fred, being one of the few men who shared the job of watching over the morgue at night throughout the week, would see the corpse. So when Maria, living in this town, was killed, it wasn’t so absurd that Fred would discover her body in the fridge.
Then Fred had made a few sensible assumptions and acted upon them. He had freaked out the gentleman by chasing him at night, and it was logical for the gentleman to be worried over his precious box. Whoever wanted a security-guard at his home would contact Securitas, the most known name in this business, and whenever Securitas needed a man on short notice in this town, they would ask Fred, since he was their odd-job- man. So the whole thing wasn’t just a huge streak of luck - it was perfectly logical for Fred to be here tonight and have a chance of finding that box. It was as if he had planned for this to happen.
But then again he might not find the box. Somewhere or other his careful examination of this case might still stall, and then he would regret that he hadn’t gone to the police earlier.
Well, for the time being he would look for the box.
He found the stairways to the basement. It was like the entrance to a bunker, strangely alien to the rest of the house, which was comfortably kept in a rather neutral, but pleasant style, like the living- room in an embassy which also serves reception-purposes. The basement consisted of a dark hall with grey concrete-walls. Part of it was organized into a cellar with a couple of large, softly buzzing fridges, their little control-diodes dimly (macabrely, Fred thought) glowing, a wide stand for wine-bottles and boxes of food that would last for many months.
Further off there were several filing-cabinets. The keys of some of them were sticking in the locks, but others were closed. Fred opened whatever could be opened, but found nothing of interest.
Wouldn’t there be a safe somewhere? Well, if there was, it would certainly be locked. An unpleasant idea came to Fred - what if the gentleman had unpacked the cardboardbox, and locked up the precious contents in a safe, for instance? Fred would never get behind the mystery then...
This gentleman didn’t seem the kind to be keeping things in boxes, except for his food... There it was, the box with red lettering, two other boxes piled on top of it! Or maybe it was just a similar box to the one Fred had seen him carrying that evening. Perhaps it was the same box, but with different contents...
Well, Fred checked it out anyway. He lifted off the two other boxes, the top one containing lettuce, the lower one various tin-cans (it was very heavy), and tore the box with the red lettering open, not knowing what to expect.
It contained many identical and sealed plastic-bags full of some white powder. Flour, what else could it be?..
But Fred, keeping his own house-hold, knew about flour - it is sold in the supermarkets within paper-bags full of fancy print. You cannot buy it within blank, transparent plasticbags...
Fred took out his pocket-knife and made a small hole into one of the bags, then squeezed out some of the powder and carefully tasted it.
It had a rich, sickeningly sweet aroma.
This definitely wasn’t flour!
It must be heroin, like in the films...
Fred’s heart was thumping fast! So finally he had found something, something definite! Calm down now! What is there to do next?
Fred decided not to leave the box here. He lifted it up and carried it away, out of the house and towards his car. He put it into the boot of the Mustang, on top of the spare tyre. Well now, was this a good idea?
A superior might come here any time of the night to see how Fred was working, to check out his vigilance (Fred hoped he would someday surprise one of his superiors by hitting him over the head with his torch; he would then claim that he hadn’t been able to identify the guy as a superior, but that he was obviously behaving in a very suspicious, threatening way, so that Fred had done what had seemed best in the circumstances). The superior, after discreetly watching over Fred for a while, would then come out of cover and ask Fred to empty his pockets and would also want to have a look inside Fred’s car. Then he would write a huge report about Fred, and Fred would have to read through it, nodding his head several times, the superior would make him sign it and would then finally, after having given Fred a big smile, leave him alone to go and bully somebody else.
The superior would see the video-recorder in Fred’s car: “Is that your video-recorder?” “Yes.”
So then the superior would write in his report: “carries a video-recorder in his car.” Of course there can be no law against this. Fred might have been using the car for other things during the day, and he might have forgotten to take out the video-recorder. Then the superior would see the box in Fred’s car.
“What is this?”
“Aha...” The superior would have to accept that. Fred wouldn’t come up with any stuttering explanations. It is no good to become embarrassed in front of superiors, it makes them suspicious. If they want to know more, let them ask.
Fred had been given some similar piece of advice about girls, long ago, by a friend he hardly remembered now, when he was a boy:
“When you go and see a girl, never make up any stupid excuses for doing so. If you do, your interaction with her will remain stuck within that fake purpose. Just let her wonder about you for a while, and if you then manage to make her comfortable and you both have a good time, the question why you came in the first place will never pop up again.” Yeah, that’s ho w it works for other people. But Fred was so uncomfortable with girls that the question why he had come would naturally reappear. The girl would insist, and Fred would have nothing to say...
Well, Fred was uncomfortable with everybody, not just superiors and girls. The only reason why these two classes of people stood out from among the rest of the shitters was that he had some basic need to interact with them...
So Fred had found the box, had made an important discovery, and yet he managed just now to sadden and depress himself! That was stupid!
He took the TV-video-set together with his bag of tapes out of his car and carried them to the house where he settled down to watch some thoughtless film and spend a pleasantly empty evening.
Fred was lying on the bed, holding up his 357 Magnum in front of him. The grip of the revolver lay smoothly and ergonomically in his hand. He was aiming at some spots in the ceiling and occasionally pulled the trigger, the cylinder would turn by sixty degrees, the hammer would bounce back upon the empty chamber and Fred would listen to the precise clicks of the fine mechanism.
A 357 Magnum is an excellent weapon. The cartridges are about the same size and weight as for an ordinary 38 Special, and while a 38 Special will usually do the job for you, killing your man without too much trouble, a jacketed 357 Magnum bullet, though it won’t compare with the massive 44 Magnum, will gladly penetrate a car from behind, traverse both rows of seats as well as the driver and then still have enough thrust to go and encrust itself in the motor-block.
Fred turned round in bed, rested his head on his elbow, laid down the gun next to him and admired it. He let a finger glide over the glistening, soothingly cool metal-surface of the six-inch barrel.
Well now, time had come to do something. The box with its contents, doubtlessly worth several millions of euros, was lying on the kitchen-table.
He stood up and walked through his room half naked, holding the gun casually, and went to his desk where he laid it down. Then he got dressed, left for the bathroom and then for the kitchen, leaving his gun on the desk.
When he came back he opened a drawer, took out his holster as well as a box of cartridges, loaded the gun, fastened the holster around his shoulders and slipped the gun into it. The box of cartridges he forcefully drove into his rather too small pocket. He left the room, grabbed and put on his jacket, made sure the holster with the revolver was hidden beneath it, and left the flat.
He drove off to the eastern suburbs on his motorbike.
When he came to the drive-way of Maria’s “friend” he didn’t hesitate - after all he had spent a whole night on that property. He had no official business there now, but at least it wasn’t unknown ground.
He drove up to the house and left his bike next to the garage, on the spot where the Mustang had been some time ago. As he walked to the main door over the lightly crunching pebbles he could see a curtain being drawn aside in one of the windows, and a worried man looking out.
Fred came up to the door and pushed the bell-button. He couldn’t hear any ringing-sound. Either the bell was broken, which seemed highly unlikely considering the condition of the whole property, or it was ringing within the hidden, soundproof depths of the house. The bell had obviously been heard, because very soon the door opened.
There was the gentleman, the guy who had carried the box out of Maria’s den, the guy with the smart car who had tried to escape from the motorbike, the guy who had hired a nightwatchman for a single night and thus led the enemy straight into his fortress. He looked tired, spent, downtrodden. But he was tall, well- groomed and had this competent look which is unbeatable, the look of someone who is above, who has succeeded in securing a higher position for himself and will keep it whatever happens, the look of someone who has the backing of society being a superior member of it.
“What is it?” he asked, tiredly, and looked down upon Fred.
Fred felt himself blushing like a child trying to sell flowers on the doorstep. “Well now...” he said and didn’t know how to continue. He pulled out the little plastic bag with the white powder from his pocket and showed it to the man. The man took it, turned it round in his hand (was it slightly trembling?..) and gave it back. “Yes?” said the man, very politely, making Fred feel like saying: “Oh nothing, I’m sorry...” and going away with his head on fire.
But Fred remained brave. “Do you want it back? I’ve got the whole box.” The man remained quiet. Soon it was too late for him to say, in the manner of a slightly impatient gentleman with more important things to do: “What box? Tell me what you want or please leave.”
He said nothing of the sort. He just remained quiet, but the way he looked at Fred was disquieting nonetheless.
Fred didn’t say anything either. He only touched the reassuring bump under his left shoulder and tried to look as unemotional as possible.
It seemed endless, but finally the man deemed it necessary to answer the question. “How much do you want?” he asked softly.
“No, no,” said Fred, smiling (the worst was over), “I don’t want any money. I want the girl.”
The man was truly astounded. “The girl? Which girl?”
“Her name is Hanna Sedgewick.” said Fred.
“I don’t know her!” said the man and looked angry and scared.
“Of course you do!” said Fred. “Anyway, you hand over the girl to me, and I’ll hand over the powder to you.”
“The whole lot?” asked the man, regaining his calm and his natural superiority. “Sure...” said Fred, dryly, as if answering a totally irrelevant question.
“I’ll take note. I’ll talk to my friends about this.” said the man, almost in his probably usual, competent manner.
“Now you listen,” said Fred, trying his hardest not to be put off by the reassumed patronizing manner of his opponent, “I’ll be waiting for you tonight at three o’clock in the woods. You take the first woodcutter’s path on your right when you drive from here into the city. I’ll be waiting there with the powder. Make sure you bring the girl.” “We’ll be there...” answered the man and gave Fred a menacing half-smile. He had obviously totally regained his strength. Fred would have to be very careful. “Right!” said Fred, turned briskly round and went off to his motorbike.
It was night, about one o'clock, nothing as yet suggested that daylight would ever reappear.
Fred was in the woods, standing beside his car. He had switched off all the lights, and his eyes were getting slowly accommodated to the dark. After a while he managed to make out that the sky above the gravel-path was a deep purple instead of totally black, and the path itself shimmered feebly like a silvery snail-track.
Fred listened for any sounds. At first he could hear nothing, but gradually he became aware of a rustle of leaves here and there, as well as the soft dripping of water somewhere. He knew nothing about these sounds, and would probably never find their origins, even if he went to look for them with his torch. They belonged to the mystery of the forest. Here all kinds of creatures did their own thing, and each of them saw the world in its own way, so that in effect each of them represented a different world, and each of these worlds probably held a paradise as well as a hell. All these worlds were inaccessible to Fred. He could only witness the occasional overlapping with his own realms of experience and try to imagine the rest.
Fred also did his own thing around here - he would occasionally come here to do some shooting. Further down the track there was a big mound of rubble. If Fred switched on the headlights now it would be in sight. Fred would walk the two dozens of meters to the mound and set up tin cans at the foot of it. Then he would walk back, take up his gun and leaning against the bonnet of his car he would carefully take his aim.
The front and back sights would be in line, the surface of the far-off can shining in the muddy darkness ahead exactly behind them, and he would pull the trigger. The "Boom!" would seem tremendous in the stillness, but it would quickly be swallowed up by the forest. The tin-can would have taken off like a rocket, and now Fred would hear the hollow clattering as it fell back on the gravel.
And so what?
Well, for a start this was very different from shooting at a club, where some asshole with a drooling voice would yell: "Five rounds -load!"
Then, when all the shooters would be standing at their benches, all in the same, compulsory stance, the asshole would yell: "When you're ready - begin!" Then all the shooters would start firing with their oversized small-caliber pistols, making tiny, invisible dot-holes on the cardboard-target twenty-five meters away (or missing the target altogether).
After several minutes all the shooters would finally have put down their gun with the barrel exposed and the empty magazine presented openly. Then the range-officer (the asshole, that is to say) would walk from bench to bench, checking that all the guns were safely unloaded, and finally holler out: "Range is clear - move forward and patch!" And all the little shitters would rush to their targets to count the holes and patch them up after the asshole had come by to comment on their group-size.
This was not Fred's idea of shooting.
Let's be honest about this! For him, whatever it might be down there was the enemy, and unless he missed he wanted to see something happening - he wanted to see the enemy jump, burst or topple over!
To shoot at something that showed no reaction was so boring that Fred's frustrated concentration would quickly fade away, and his bullets would fly anywhere... Well, here in the depths of the forest Fred had found a spot where he could shoot in just the way that pleased him, where he could do his own thing. Of course this was illegal, but he only came here in the dead of the night, and no human being would ever know about it.
Can something, which is known and felt by nobody (and never will be), except for a single person who gains pleasure out of it, really be considered illegal, immoral, unjust..? In a philosophical sense Fred guessed the answer was no. This was just like masturbation
- nobody else's business unless it is done in public.
What about the forest itself?
Well, the forest is like an expanse of water - if you dip something in, the water will close around the object. If the object sinks, the water will fill in the space above it and close the surface again. The surface will always recover its perfect smoothness, whatever you throw into the water.
Even the commotion made by a swimming creature will eventually flatten out again. In a way this is infuriating, but on the other hand it allows you to do your own thing confidently, knowing that any real progress will be within yourself. Only progress will be recorded - the marks of all your struggles will kindly be wiped out by the world. So the forest, in its neutral grandness, would peacefully swallow up whatever Fred had to let out of himself, and keep his secret for him, together with all the other mysteries it had in safe-keeping.
Fred opened the door of his car. The light inside went on. It wasn't a very bright light, hardly for map-reading. In fact it illuminated mainly the leg-room. There was another lamp, an adjustable spot-light overhead featuring an individual switch specially for reading inside the car - whatever might be said about American cars, all these little extras and gadgets sure make up for comfort and you miss them in any other car once you've had an American, inadequate though they may be in other ways.
Fred pulled out a shovel from behind the front seats and set himself to work. He dug out a shallow, broad puddle-bed in the gravel-path beside his car.
Then he pulled out a large plastic-sheet from his car and laid out the hole with it, secured its edges and corners with some large stones.
He stood back and looked at his work in the light spilling out from the doorway of the car.
The car, dimly lit from within, looked incongruous in the otherwise profoundly dark forest.
And yet, was it really so much out of place? Its shiny blue body glistened like a pool of fresh water. Its fluid lines all tended towards the grill, suggesting a desire, an aspiration. The nose of the car was outstretched towards new smells, ready to suck in fresh, unknown winds (to cool its motor-block as well as to mix some samples with fuel in the carburetor so as to burn it in the cylinders and spurt out the result from its double exhaust-pipe, polluting the environment).
The car, with its suggestively aggressive looks, might have appeared from among the trees for the first time in the history of life. It was born in the hidden depths of the forest, where Nature still experiments with her creative powers, far from the woodless, easily overviewed plains where mankind has settled itself with its well-controlled machinery which leaves no chance to any new form of spirit and life...
The Mustang was born! It was ready to surge forward into the grey world of mankind and attack established norms!
But for its first testing sortie it had chosen the dark hours of night, the time when all mysterious creatures of the woods, never as yet seen by any human eye, will spread out their tender wings for their maiden-flight, to test their freshly created abilities in the harsh world of the outside which won't spare them if they fail and never makes any allowances. Man himself had once come out of the forest in very much the same way... Man had left the forest first, but then the Mustang had come to join him... Fred loved his car..!
What was this bullshit Fred was going on about? That fucking car had been made in a stinking factor y in some stinking, crime-ridden town in some state of America which probably still believed in capital "punishment"!
That was many years ago. Now the car was old, and like the mysterious process of fermentation which makes precious wine out of ordinary grape-juice, in this same sense the car had developed a soul of its own, something which was beyond the control of the simple engineers who had originally designed and built it...
Fred loved his car!
What the hell was he going on about? He had better get back to work!
He walked up to the car, unafraid of the two big, as yet lightless eyes and the snarling grill between them, walked past it letting his hand casually brush against the whole length of the coachwork and opened the boot. He took out the big box with the bags full of powder and carried it to the shallow basin he had built. He set the box down in the middle of the basin. Then he took out a huge, full canister from the boot and put it down next to the basin.
There wasn't too much else to do just no w.
At three o'clock he opened the canister and poured the fuel into the basin. The boxful of heroin became an island in a sea of petrol.
Fred lit himself a cigarette and waited.
It took only a little while till Fred saw the light of a car. The car was still on the road, far to the left behind the trees, but it was slowing down. Now the light beams were turning towards Fred, and as the car passed over a bump a whole section of tree-tops was illuminated.
Soon Fred could hear the sound of an engine. It was a growling, low-revving engine, probably with plenty of grunt, but certainly not of the elaborate sort.
Now Fred was standing in the blinding light-beam. The high- legged car, doubtlessly a tough four-wheel-drive, was coming closer at a great pace. In front of Fred it stopped short with a quick squeak of tortured brakes and the light switched to low-beam. As Fred silently sucked on his cigarette the doors opened and three men clambered out. A large, fat bully with a rather bloated, red face came up to Fred while the two others discreetly stayed back, standing on either side of the elbow-high bonnet of their Jeep. Before the bully had a chance to say anything Fred asked calmly: “Where’s the girl?” “Well now,” said the bully. He didn’t have an unfriendly face, his expression was merely ironic, because he obviously didn’t take Fred seriously as an opponent. “There’s three of us and you’re all alone. What do you expect?” His voice was very dry. He made a droll movement of the hand towards Fred’s left hip. “I can see that you are armed, but we’re well trained. You wouldn’t have a chance.”
“How do you know that I’m alone?” asked Fred, the light shining in his dark eyes. “Who would your men be, my friend? Someone hidden among the trees around here?” he laughed “Don’t be ridiculous. Just let me take that box here...” he bent down. “Stop it!” said Fred so sharply that the man looked up.
“Now you wouldn’t want to do anything silly, would you?” the man half whispered. “We’ll shoot you!” he added.
Fred blew out some smoke. It whirled away, showing off nicely in the lights of the car. The bully had caught the smell of spilt petrol. There was no need to explain, but Fred enjoyed this moment of power: “If you shoot or hit me, I’ll fall, and if I fall, the cigarette will fall with me and set off the fuel. Your damned box with all its contents will go up with it.” He made a pause, sucked on his cigarette, blew out some more smoke and continued: “You’d better hand over the girl. If you haven’t got her with you, come back tomorrow.”
The bully straightened himself, mumbling. He walked back to his car.
Fred was standing all alone next to his puddle of fuel. Despite all his precautions he was still at the mercy of those three men. He was dependant on the decision they were going to make.
But even for a complete fool there remains some dignity in lighting his own cigarette, something he does only for himself. He can pretend that he isn’t here just because of the others - he is also here to smoke his cigarette. He isn’t just waiting - he has something of his own to do. That gives him a sense of independence, and thus of sovereignty. The girl was brought out of the car. Yes, it was her, no doubt about it, the living version of the woman in the fridge! Fred stared at her, completely amazed.
The bully pulled her by the hand, swung her forward and let her go. She caught herself up just before falling into the dirt, and the bully shouted: “Go! go over to that gentleman!” The girl half turned round. “Why? Who is he? What’s happening?”
Her voice, though scared, was fluid and clear.
“Don’t ask! Go!” the bully called out, annoyed.
“I’m a friend,” Fred said softly. “You’re part of a bargain; go and sit in my car.” The girl obeyed.
Fred opened the door on his side and lowered himself into his seat.
“Just a moment!” the bully shouted. He rushed up with a gun in his hand. “Let me check that powder!”
Fred had switched the engine on. He left it idling.
The door was still open, the bully had bent down next to it and was examining the contents of the box. His gun was pointed at Fred.
“Okay, go!” he said after a while and lowered his gun.
Fred put in the first gear, dropped his cigarette and drove violently off, the gravel spurting out from under his rear tyres. The fire blazed up, the bully’s yell was drowned in the flames and Fred pulled the door shut.
The Mustang was bouncing up and down on the rough gravel-path. Fred pulled into the next side-track on the left and drove hard. The car was slithering sideways, its wheels spinning and churning up mud, the engine angrily revving higher, as they crossed some puddles. But then they turned into the road, the ride became smooth and Fred quickly shifted through the gears till they reached a high and steady cruising-speed. The girl half turned round in her seat. “Who the hell are you?!” she asked, an admiring undertone in her voice.
Fred looked sideways at her and wondered when he had had his last female passenger. He couldn’t remember. He hardly ever had any passengers at all, and usually the seat next to him was clattered with maps and various other papers.
“Who are you?” the girl asked again.
“It doesn’t matter...” said Fred.
“Come on, tell me your name!”
“Well, go on, talk! Tell me about yourself!”
Fred took his eyes off the road and looked at her. He loved her for what she had just said. “I was a friend of your sister.” he said.
“Maria didn’t have any friends like you,” the girl answered, “were you one of her customers?”
Was there some bitter irony in her voice?
“No.” said Fred simply. He didn’t add anything.
Hanna remained quiet for a moment. Then she said: “I know who you are - you’re the guy with the advertisement photos?”
Fred was completely astounded. “How did you find that out?”
Hanna bit her lower lip. “Maria talked about you a lot, in later years, that is... At first she hadn’t mentioned you to anybody, for many years, trying to work out for herself why she wasn’t suited for those damned photos. Then she realized the photos were just a bad excuse, and that in reality you were desperately t rying to make contact. She still reckoned she had failed and started to hope that she would meet you again to make up for it.” “What??” Fred was astounded.
“I tried to explain to her that you were just a hunter after his prey, but she insisted that, if that were the case, you would have finished the job and not let her go. You were looking for something that you obviously couldn’t find and she felt guilty for it.” Fred was looking at the road in front of him, expertly steering the Mustang around the curves, but he couldn’t believe it.
Hanna was going on: “Maria did very badly at school and she never managed to study. She became a prostitute in the hope of meeting you again...”
This story was getting worse and worse.
“I tried to tell her that you must have forgotten about her, but she felt sure you hadn’t found anybody else and that she ought to help you.”
“She didn’t even hate me?” Fred asked, incredulously.
“Oh yes, she hated you with a passion. But as long as she didn’t know what was wrong with her, why she had failed with you, she couldn’t approach anybody else. I tried to advise her into seeking professional assistance, but she refused.”
“So she became a prostitute...” said Fred softly.
“Yes, and at first she almost liked it, gained some kind of pleasure out of it - you know, a job well done. The men liked her because she was young and pretty. But gradually it started to disgust her, and then she got involved with those drug-dealers. She didn’t have to sleep with her customers any more, not most of them, anyway - she just sold them the dope and still made the same kind of money.”
Fred suddenly had some awful doubt. “You know that she is dead, don’t you?” he asked softly.
“Yes...” she answered distractedly.
They were silent for a while. There was only the hum of the eight cylinders. Hanna broke the silence first: “Won’t they follow us?”
“They can never catch up with us.” Fred answered with finality.
“So you got me in exchange of the dope?” asked Hanna.
“Why did you burn it then? You broke the contract! You might even have killed that fat bully! He wasn’t the worst of them, you know...”
“That fat bully was going to shoot me as soon as I was out of reach of the precious box. They couldn’t afford to lose you. I did the only possible thing. Besides, there isn’t any fairness or ethics in that kind of interaction.”
Hanna didn’t answer.
“What are we doing now?” she asked after a while.
“We’re going to see some gentleman in the eastern suburbs and scare the living shit out of him!” answered Fred.
They had come into town by now. Fred followed the directions to the highway so as to drive back to the eastern suburbs along that other possible way.
"You know you are to blame for Maria's death, don't you?" asked Hanna. "Yes." said Fred, softly but definitely.
"She always hoped that you would turn up again... Now you finally did, when it was too late."
"Yes..." said Fred patiently.
"But how did you get mixed up with those drug-dealers?"
Fred told her how he had found Maria in the morgue and how everything had started from there. "That is how I re-entered this unfortunate story." he concluded. Now Hanna told her part of the story. Maria had come to visit her in her small flat some evening. She was still wearing her funny prostitute-clothes and wanted to take a shower before doing anything else. But then she would have something very important to tell Hanna. Just when she was coming out of the shower there was a knock on the door. Without waiting for an answer three men came into the flat. One of them pulled a knife and they went for Maria. Hanna was going to intervene, but they took care of her too. Maria defended herself so vigorously that she got accidentally stabbed and died within seconds. By this time Hanna had become hysterical and was dragged out of the flat. She was bound and gagged inside of a car, and while one man remained with her, the two others wanted to go and fetch Maria's body, but in the meantime the whole house had become alive with bustling people wanting to know what was going on, and so Maria's body had to be abandoned in Hanna's flat.
Fred knew the rest of the story already. Maria's body was mistaken for Hanna, and the drug-dealers wanted this mistake to be kept up so that the police- investigation wouldn't be directed towards Maria's surroundings, which might have been fatal. So they arranged for the corpse to be stolen out of the morgue before formal identification could occur. At this stage Fred had entered the game. Despite Fred's efforts the mistake in identification remained ("that shows a lot about my parents" Hanna commented bitterly). So all was still going well for the drug-dealers. They kept Hanna as a prisoner, hoping that she might eventually play Maria's part in case Maria's public appearance became indispensable at some stage. They were still working on means to make Hanna into a trustworthy slave when Fred saved her.
"Your sister was probably trying to run away and go into business for herself." Fred commented.
"I reckon so," said Hanna, "and she got herself killed in the process. There couldn't have been another ending to her fucked- up life."
Fred didn't answer to that one. It thrust the whole responsibility upon him, because he had initially fucked up Maria's life.
"Why don't we just denounce the whole bunch to the police?" asked Hanna. "We're two witnesses, and between ourselves we know enough to get them all locked up." "No, no," said Fred, "the organization would lose some of its members, but it would survive. I think we can find a way of destroying the whole of it."
"And get ourselves killed..." added Hanna.
"There is some risk..." said Fred dreamily. He remained quiet for a little moment, but then he clapped one hand against the steering-wheel and said rather vehemently: "This is my case! I'm going to see it through to the end! I've been a shitter for long enough!" "You want to be a hero?" Hanna asked very calmly.
"Yes, probably it's as simple as that." answered Fred just as calmly.
They didn't talk from there on till they reached the house of the rich gentleman. Fred drove into the driveway hardly slowing down and came to a skidding halt on the gravel in front of the proud mansion.
He jumped out of the car and rushed to the big oak-wood door where he pressed the bellbutton with more vigour than was necessary. By the time the door opened, Hanna was standing beside him. After all, she also wished to pay back these people, and since Fred was going on with this so confidently, she went along with him.
The gentleman had a shock when he saw the two of them, and this time he didn't try to hide it.
"You?!" he called out. Then slightly calming down: "What happened?"
"Well," said Fred, "I freed Hanna Sedgewick as you can see, and burnt the dope. Your men will still be lost somewhere in the forest, I guess."
"You burnt the dope?" the man asked incredulously.
"Yeah," said Fred, "and we came here to make you an offer."
"What can you offer me?! you fool!" the man said with real despair. "I'm finished!!" He seemed ready to bolt off, to disappear in the dark depths of the house behind him. "Calm down." said Fred, and he pulled the left side of his jacket away from his body, uncovering the grip of his pistol. "I'm quick on the draw." he added rather proudly. "Even if you don't denounce me to the police..." the man said, and his wrinkled face, with the lines of sternness and competence so deeply embedded that they couldn't fade away altogether, looked very inadequately anguished, "...if I can't pay for the dope the company will kill me!"
He remained quiet for a moment, his face going through the strangest and most unfitting contortions.
Then he added with a whelping voice: "I haven't got that kind of money, and you burnt the dope!"
"Here's my offer," said Fred, feeling stronger and stronger: "we won't denounce you if you will participate in following up the pipeline and destroying the organization. Once this is done, you will have nothing more to fear from anybody. You will be able to come back here and resume your normal life. You will lose nothing, neither your money nor your standing."
"But who are you?" asked the man, some real curiosity flickering up in his humid eyes. "I'm just me," said Fred, "I'm not a member of anything, if that's what you mean." "But you're crazy!" said the man with a certain amount of returning desperation. "You don't know what you're letting yourself in for!"
"I'm eager to find out!" said Fred smiling.
It occurred to him that Hanna might not be going along with this. He looked at her, standing by his side, out of the corner of his eye. She was quite pale, but she was watching the man Fred had in his grip with interest and perhaps some mild cruelty. "How many men have you got?" asked the gentleman, regaining some of his standing. "As I say," answered Fred, "there's just me," and he politely half turned towards Hanna, "and possibly her."
Hanna looked up at the gentleman and there was a slight half-smile on the corner of her lips. She nodded slowly. Then she asked, taking initiative for the first time in this interaction: "And how many men have you got?"
The gentleman answered seriously: "I can raise an army of ten men, maybe more." "Right." said Fred. "When do you meet with your end of the pipeline for the next time?" "In less than a week..." answered the gentleman, the nervousness showing through his voice again.
"Can you gather your men till then?" asked Fred.
"I hope so..." answered the gentleman.
"We'll keep in touch." said Fred. "By the way, what is your name?"
"Didn't you know?" asked the gentleman, quite astonished. "I'm Wolfensberger." "Okay," said Fred, "see you, Mr Wolfensberger."
He turned away and walked off to his car. Hanna followed and Wolfensberger slowly shut the big oak-wood door.
As soon as they were in the car, Hanna said to Fred: "You're totally crazy, you know that?"
"Yeah," answered Fred as he drove off, "b ut I've been sensible for long enough and it didn't do me any good."
"Anyway, I'll be going along with this. I want to see this organization destroyed. But before we start I think we should take some precautions. We have to make sure that the police get all the information we hold in case of our death."
"We can do that." said Fred, rather surprised by Hanna's professional attitude. "And where are you taking me now?" asked Hanna.
"Wherever you want to go." answered Fred.
"Well, I've got nowhere to go. My flat will have been cleared by this time, I expect, since I'm supposed to be dead, and I could hardly show up at my parents, just like that..." "You can stay at my place," said Fred, smiled and added: "Don't worry, I won't make any advances."
"I wouldn't care if you did." said Hanna.
"You mean you'd say yes?" asked Fred, talking as unemotionally as possible. "No." answered Hanna dryly and added nothing.
Fred didn't know what to make out of this and so he remained silent.