I found Robert White in Archimedes' Screw; based on his untied neckerchief, he clearly hadn't limited himself to just the one little decanter of port. That said, the inspector's drinking had done nothing to improve his mood.
Some people are like that – they know perfectly well that they have no business drinking, but they still drink, and when they do it doesn't make them feel relieved, just all the gloomier. Robert was definitely one of those types, so before my boss had time to open his mouth and have me thrown out by the scruff of my neck, I decisively took a seat opposite him and, without delay, announced:
"A bank robbery is being planned."
"I told you to bugger off," the inspector mumbled, letting my words pass by unheard, as expected.
"I did what you ordered," I reminded him, removing my dark glasses and, exerting a certain amount of effort to look my boss in the eyes. "Inspector, bank robberies are serious business."
"And what of it?" Robert White frowned skeptically. My confidence hooked him in, though. His fire-filled eyes went dull, taking on a colorless‑gray shade. "Tell me about it!" He gasped with a wave of his hand.
"I think there's trouble brewing at the Witstein Banking House."
"You think so? What gave you that revelation?"
I gave a two-word description of what I'd seen in the Judean Quarter and, when the inspector fell into deep contemplation, I turned and called a server over. It was lunch time, and my boss was now being waited on by a couple of fast-moving girls.
"Saturday," Robert White muttered. "An Orthodox Judean cannot work on Saturday, right? So then he must have not been working. Or does opening and closing a gate count as work? Perhaps they're just doing some repairs?"
"So you're saying the Judean brought in outside workers?" I snorted, filling my glass from the pitcher of lemonade placed on the table. "He'd never hear the end of it! No, I think this Judean is not part of Judean society."
"You're thinking again," White screwed up his face.
"The tattoo," I reminded him. "There was a snake on his right fist. Or a long fish, I couldn't quite tell."
"And what of it?"
"Orthodox Judeans are forbidden from getting tattoos. 'You shall not make gashes in your flesh for the dead, or incise any marks on yourselves.'"
The inspector stared at me with unhidden surprise.
"You know the Torah?"
"No, I just know a lot about tattoos."
"Even if that is so, what makes you so sure that the bank is their target?"
"What other options are there? On one side, there's a grocer's stall, and on the other there's a shoemaker's. It’s got to be the bank."
Robert White finished his port, and barked with his whole throat, drowning out the din that had been ruling over the pub:
The red-head hurriedly stood from his corner table and walked up to us.
"Yes, inspector?" He uttered ponderously, readjusting his uniform. The constable was a bit sotted, but he could still stand up straight and didn't wobble.
"Take a seat!" Robert White ordered him, and asked: "Have you heard any rumors recently about a bank robbery?"
"Nothing, total silence," the constable shook his head after a moment in thought.
"Can you tell me anything about a tall, hunchbacked Judean with a tattoo either of an eel or a snake on his right fist?"
This time, Jimmy answered without hesitation:
"Uri Katz, alias: the Loach. He was sentenced to five years breaking rocks for robbing a store. He might already be out."
"Is that so?" The inspector said in surprise, then ordered: "Find out about him, Jimmy. And that's enough drinking. It looks like we have plans for tonight..."
I took advantage of the pause and started taking sips of my tomato soup. It was salty and hot.
We made for the crime scene with the city already enshrouded in twilight. We walked quietly and unnoticed, like spies from an enemy nation. Our field team was rolling down Newtonstraat, which was illuminated by streetlights. All you had to do was turn off it, though, and the murk grew impenetrable again. The darkness was somehow dispersed by nothing but the meager light of the gas lamps, just having finished being lit by the lamplighters, who ambled with their ladders under-arm from post to post before themselves disappearing. In the dark alleyways of the older neighborhoods, Nix reigned unchallenged, despite the fact that every restaurant was adorned with a flickering lamp, and dull beams of light shot out from the odd slit in cracked blinds.
Jimmy was driving the carriage; he had lit the kerosene lamp, but it wasn't lighting our path so much as it was advertising our coming in the darkness. Without it, we could just run into someone or run over a drunk laying in the street. We also, naturally, were carrying electric torches, but using them would have been equivalent to loudly announcing that a police division was rolling down the street.
And there was no reason to do that. Now, our carriage was visually indistinguishable from a private car. Jimmy had even changed his uniform out for a pair of scuffed-up trousers and a checkered jacket, while the others were hiding inside the vehicle from the immodest gazes of passers-by.
Robert White was sitting on a bench, straight as a bayonet. Only his fingers running incessantly over the top of his electric torch betrayed his discomfort. Ramon set his still unloaded lupara butt-first on the ground, leaned on it and started dozing off. Billy, though, was holding onto the semi-automatic carbines left near the wall, one for him and another for his partner, chewing measuredly on a wad of tobacco, which occasionally gave his already high-cheekbone-d face, with its wide slit of a frog-like mouth, a totally grotesque appearance.
I took a tin from my pocket and threw a sugar-drop into my mouth; it was mint flavor.
"You'll ruin your teeth," Billy smirked, uncommonly calm, like a neurotic after taking opiated patent medicine.
"Look at your own," I retorted, pulling a face.
There was no tooth powder in the world that could get rid of the brownish shade left by tobacco, but aficionados of the simple pleasure were left with no other choice since the manufacturer of patented rubber chewing gum had ceased operation due to lack of raw materials. And there was no reason to expect the rubber supply problem to improve in the next few weeks: the plantations in Ceylon and Zuid‑India couldn't satisfy all the demand, and there was no discussion at all of renewing trade with the Aztecs. What was more, if there was another flare-up in the Sea of Judea, merchant vessels would have to be sent all the way around Africa, because the military fleets of Great Egypt and Persia were capable of covering both the Red Sea and the Persian Gulf. Even air-superiority wouldn't be able to provide adequate support to the merchant fleet, in that our dirigibles would need to stay within range of our fortresses on the north of the Island of Arabia.
Billy just chuckled at my remark, opened the curtain and spit onto the street. Ramon took a look over his shoulder, shuddered, chasing off the sleepiness, and snapped open the barrels of his lupara. After that, he removed a solid round from his bandoleer with a lead bullet in an aluminum jacket and slipped it into one of the chambers in a well-practiced motion.
There was no need for such a powerful weapon when arresting every-day burglars, but you never knew who you'd end up coming across on the dark little streets of our restless city. Regardless, fifty grams of white-hot death could bring down even a demon; not for long, but it was something.
The main disadvantages of this four-barreled monster, produced at the Heim Weapons Manufactory, were its strong recoil and considerable weight. In our division, the only one who could handle one comfortably was Ramon.
Just then, a distinctive knock came on the wall, and the flickering of the kerosene lamps was immediately extinguished; Ramon loaded his last round and hurried to click the barrels shut.
"Are we close by?" He clarified.
"We are," the inspector confirmed and, after throwing the tails of his raincoat back, checked to make sure his six-chambered Hydra would come easily out of its holster.
The Cerberus's older brother looked like a many-barreled revolver and was renowned for three reasons: its extreme resistance to malefic spells and the otherworldly attacks of infernal creatures – after all, electricity is stronger than magic! – and its unwieldiness and overly time-consuming reloading procedure. For those reasons, the Hydra did not enjoy particular popularity among policemen. And I generally shared the opinion that it would have been better if the engineers of the Tesla Weapons Factories had stopped at the three-shot Cerberus.
Our carriage began slowing its pace, and then the inspector commanded Billy:
"You, guard the exit. Stay on Mihelson Street."
The constable flung open the doors, handed the second carbine to Jimmy and jumped out onto the paving stones, fading away instantly into the darkness of the night. The red-head took out his rifle, placed it on his knees, put out the kerosene lamp and pulled back on the reins, slowing the horses' pace even further.
I placed my dark glasses into my breast pocket and unbuttoned the clasp on my holster, pulled out my Roth‑Steyr and placed a round in the barrel. But when the carriage turned at the intersection, leaving the barber shop behind, I was first to jump from the running boards and dart off to the gates. In one moment, I slipped between them, flicked the latch and cracked the gate open, letting Inspector White and Ramon Miro into the alley.
Jimmy turned the carriage toward the next building over and stayed sitting in the driver's seat, carbine in hand; keeping watch suited him just fine.
"Over here!" I called the inspector after me, and he immediately hissed back:
My boss did not turn his electric torch on, and we had to make our way to the barber shop's back alley in the pitch black. Devil take this new moon...
Fortunately, the dark wasn't quite as impenetrable in the back yard, so we were able to find the back door just by crawling over the junk and construction debris that was cast all around.
"Keep quiet!" Robert White warned again when I put my pistol away in its holster and slipped the crowbar I'd brought with between the door and its jamb.
I cautiously pushed, and the door gave a barely audible creak, then opened. Ramon, his lupara at the ready, was first to step over the threshold. The inspector slipped in after him and hurriedly flicked the switch of his torch.
A bright beam ran across the back room of the barber shop – there was no one there.
"Leo, check the room and wait here," Robert White ordered. "Ramon, let's go to the second floor. And keep qu‑i‑et!"
I set my crowbar down on the buffet, held my pistol in two hands and walked down the corridor, trying my best not to upset any of the creaky floorboards. I looked beyond the curtain, and saw the silhouettes of two empty armchairs – it was clear! I turned into the back room to wait for the return of my coworkers from the second floor.
"Clear," I sounded off when the inspector started coming down from the residential area above.
"Nobody up there either," Robert White grumbled. "I hope you haven't led us on a wild goose chase..."
"They must be in the basement!" I retorted.
"Let's search the stairs," the inspector decided, shining his light out on the doors that went back into the entryway.
Behind one was the cleaning room, and the second led us into a room with piles of bags, stuffed full and covered in dust. They almost occupied the entire space. The only part free was a narrow passage next to the wall.
I took out my knife. With a quiet flick, I extended its folding blade and carefully cut into the plain fabric; dirt poured out.
"Bingo!" I then sighed, not hiding my relief.
"They’re in the basement!" The inspector came to life. "We'll catch them red handed!"
We carefully made our way along the passage to a dark hole in the floor and surrounded it, not having any idea what to do from there. After some brief thought, the inspector nudged Ramon in the shoulder and pointed at the floor.
"Come on, then!"
The constable got down on his knees, placed his lupara on the dusty boards and tried to see what was underneath.
"There's a light on," he informed us almost instantly.
"Keep quiet! You’ll spook them!" Robert White gasped with zeal, finally having forgotten all his doubts about me.
As a matter of fact, leaving the light on in the basement of the barber shop was not at all the behavior you'd expect from a pious Judean.
"Let's go! Let's go!" the inspector commanded. "Faster!"
Ramon rolled down first. I darted off after him without delay, despite the fact that I was usually not too fond of basements. They scared me so badly that I got an uncomfortable chill; they made me feel ants on my back and got my knees shaking involuntarily.
But what could I do?
Practically stepping on the constable's heels, I ran into a small closet, practically half-way filled up by a huge pile of dirt. Here as well, there were fragments of wall lying everywhere. At the table, in a circle of light coming from a "bat" that hung down from the ceiling, sat the lanky Judean from earlier, his bald head no longer hidden under a black hat.
Having heard the sound of our footsteps, he set a mug down on the table and turned, but when he saw the lupara barrels pointed at him, he froze, not wanting to do anything stupid.
"Hands!" Ramon ordered under his breath, and the Judean obeyed.
I walked around the pile of hauled-in dirt, stepped over the upturned cart and took a seat next to the opening in the torn-down wall. I carefully looked at the wooden-beam-reinforced entrance hole. There was only one thing back there: darkness.
"Clear," I reported to Ramon.
"Inspector!" He called to our boss, not turning his weapon nor his persistent gaze away from our captive.
Robert White went down into the basement in no particular hurry, walked up to the table and picked up the strange-looking pistol that was lying on it. With its bent grip and open cock-hammer, the back part of this strange weapon was reminiscent of a revolver, while the front part of the arrangement was a copy of the Mauser K63, with the one difference being that, here, the magazine was removable.
"Bergman, number five!" The inspector announced, adding tellingly: "A total greenhorn."
He turned the weapon over in his hands and pointed the barrel at our captive, feigning that it was on accident.
"Who else is in on this?" Robert White asked, playing with his thumb on the cock hammer.
The lanky Judean swallowed loudly and hurried to answer:
"Two? Three?" Robert clarified, his eyes becoming whiter than chalk and more transparent than the freshest spring water.
"No one!" our captive once again lied.
The inspector, in a rough motion, tore off one of the man’s fake payos, then the other and, with unhidden grief in his voice, said:
"Why are you lying to me, Uri?"
The Judean shook, but found himself not strong enough to rip his gaze from the eyes of my illustrious commander. He tried to turn his head, but was not able and, somehow all at once, collapsed.
"Two," the criminal admitted.
"Are they armed?"
"Ramon, go look for them," White then ordered the constable.
"On your knees!" The inspector immediately ordered. "Hands together on the back of your head!"
Inspector White nodded in satisfaction, set the pistol on the table and walked up to me.
"What's going on with you, Leo?"
I looked into the darkness of the passageway and gave an involuntary shiver:
"Just a touch of claustrophobia." I then asked: "Inspector, shall we call Jimmy and Billy?"
"We'll manage without them," my boss cut me off, turned up the regulator on his electric torch to full power and took his Hydra from its holster. "Let’s go!" he ordered, the bright ray of light sliding over the wooden construction beams and stopping on a dirt wall.
I, with a heavy sigh, crawled into the tunnel, doubled over and, pistol in hand, began moving forward. The inspector tried to light the way, but it did no good, the beam often falling only on the back of my uniform.
Not able to restrain myself, I turned and suggested:
"Let me hold it!"
After that, torch in hand, I got to the point where the tunnel turned to one side and discovered that the robbers had encountered some old stonework there. They hadn't managed to make it through with a direct route, and had to make a turn to the right.
And it was no surprise – New Babylon was almost two thousand years old; there was history no matter where you dug in this city. And though old buildings were being demolished constantly to make room for new ones, the old foundations were typically left below the earth, newer and newer buildings rising up above them.
This was no a city; it was an archeologist's wildest dream. But, given that, trying to dig tunnels was often a ruinous undertaking. Now, it was clear where the whole colossal pile of dirt had come from.
I crept up closer to the turn and licked my dried-out lips.
I was afraid. Very afraid, in fact. In the darkness, the burglars could simply be hiding with pistols at the ready or even...
"Leo!" The inspector pulled me out of my thinking.
His bark shook away my pent-up consternation, replacing it with annoyance and vexation; I felt as if I had been caught doing something unseemly.
I cannot bear basements!
And despite my lame-brained premonition, I stepped around the corner. I walked at a crouch, flashlight held high over my head and pistol drawn, but it just led to another hallway dug out along the stone wall.
"It smells bad, inspector," I whispered.
White reacted as if he didn't hear me.
"Move it!" He hissed at my back.
I ducked down so I wouldn't bump my forehead on a ceiling board, and resumed my movement. I made it to the next turn and took a cautious look around the corner, not noticing anything suspicious. But after I took one more step, my leg immediately caught on an overturned stone from the old wall. I was lucky not to have tripped.
As it turned out, the burglars had been lucky enough to discover a slit in the unfortunate wall, and they had widened it in the hope of cutting a path through the deserted catacombs the easy way. But these fairly heavy stones, unlike soil, were quite difficult to haul out, so they had simply tossed them away from the wall in a semi-circle.
Then I hesitated. The history of the Judean Quarter wasn't very well understood. These housebreakers may have simply hit upon a plague-stricken burial ground, or something worse.
"Faster!" The inspector hurried me along once again.
He was seriously intending to cover up the morning's fiasco by catching a dangerous gang, so there was nothing left for me to do than obey the order and crawl into the opening in the partially removed wall. Beyond it, the corridor darkened. And it was, in fact no longer a tunnel, but a proper corridor.
"Be careful," I warned the inspector, stepping very carefully on the uneven soil- and stone-covered floor.
In trying to make their work easier, the bandits had thrown the loose soil they removed all around, and now my shoes were becoming deeper and deeper immersed in the crumbly mass with every step.
Gasping out a soundless curse, I set off in search of the wrongdoers, but soon stopped at a fork in the path.
"Right?" I turned to ask my boss’s opinion.
The floor was fairly well-trod. There was clearly just one set of tracks going to the left and it turned around fairly quickly. In the other direction, however, a fully-fledged path had been worn in.
The inspector elbowed up to me, looked at the floor and agreed.
Lighting the path with the electric torch, I walked on. Robert White was wheezing noisily behind me, and all that remained for me was to hope that the barrels of his Hydra were pointed at the floor, and not aimed right at my loins.
An uneven floor, a slight descent – should I tell my boss?
"Faster!" the inspector hurried me along once again.
I got distracted by his nervous whispering and slapped my forehead on a stone ledge under the ceiling.
"Damn!" I whispered, crouching down on my haunches from the unexpected nature of my pain.
My thoroughly peeved boss took the torch and, not waiting for me to follow, stomped off decisively down the hallway.
"Stop!" I gasped to his back, finding the derby hat that had been knocked off my head and hurrying after him. But before I'd managed to catch up, Robert White had already found a room with stone columns holding up a high ceiling.
"Uri?" came an uncomprehending shout. "Uri, you putz, what the devil'd you limp down here for?!"
The inspector's arm shot up, putting the unaware criminal right in the sights of his Hydra and commanded:
"Hands up! Drop your weapon!"
In reply, the distinct clink of a hammer being pulled back rang out. And it came from the opposite corner, the one behind the inspector!
"You first!" the second burglar exclaimed hoarsely, stepping out from behind the stone column with a pistol in his hands.
In an instant, his partner filled with enthusiasm and pulled his pocket Colt.
"Gotcha, piggy!" he grinned.
The inspector turned out not to have been prepared for this turn of events and froze in confusion. I, though, did not hesitate.
I stepped out from the corridor and shouted:
"Police!" And, to enhance the effect, fired a shot up into the ceiling.
In response, a pair of shots clapped out; Robert White sank down into a pile of rubble, his chest shot through. Detective Constable Orso dropped his smoking pistol and fell to the floor like a sack of potatoes. There was a black hole gaping in his forehead. He died instantly. The inspector, though, was scraping his feet on the stones, not having any desire to kick the bucket himself. Blood was bubbling up between his lips. The stubborn man was still trying to gather his strength and reach his pistol.
Before he could, though, I shot him through the head. I simply raised my Roth‑Steyr, aimed it, and pulled the trigger. Just like at the firing range.
"Shit," gasped Inspector White.
"Shit," I agreed, pulling a tin of sugar-drops from my pocket and sending the first candy I happened upon down my throat with a shaky hand.
Robert shined his light at the robber on the pile of rubbish. He had returned to his true appearance after death. Robert then shined his torch on the man’s partner. Death had returned him to his original body as well.
"How the hell?! How'd you do that?" The inspector demanded an answer, mechanically patting his chest and finding it utterly unharmed. "How did you force them to kill each other?"
I shrugged my shoulders, faking ambivalence.
"They were afraid. They were afraid of a police raid, afraid of a cave-in, and afraid of being shot in the back by an untrustworthy partner. I simply took advantage of their fears, and got them to see something that was not there. That is my talent, as you know."
"But I saw it, too!" Robert White bellowed, the volume of his breathing drawing attention to its unevenness. "Curses! I saw you shoot me! You! Me!"
"Fear is inside all of us," I confirmed calmly. "You can't be telling me you never considered the possibility that you could be wounded, or even die, right? I'm sure you're afraid of that, just like everyone else. It's one of the hazards of the profession."
"Do you mean to tell me that you are capable of changing reality itself with the power of your thoughts?"
"More like the power of my imagination. I have an extremely active imagination." I looked at the shot-through robber and shook my head. "And no, I do not have the power to change reality. I only gave it a slightly different face, that's all."
I said nothing about how exactly my talent was fed by others' fears. If I had, the conversation may have gone too far; being accused of black magic was serious, even for one of the illustrious.
The inspector just shook his head and placed his pistol in the holster. I followed his example and asked:
"I don't know," Robert White answered, shining his torch all around the underground room. "I don't see a hole leading into the bank."
"Maybe they hadn't dug it out yet?"
"Or maybe it's in a different room," the inspector decided, calling me after him: "Let's go! We can send all this dog meat to the morgue in the morning."
Leaving the stiffs on the bloodied floor, we turned back toward the fork in the path and walked off down the second corridor. Soon, Robert White slowed his pace and raised his torch, aiming its bright beam into the black maw of an empty door-frame. The darkness immediately dashed off into the corners of the small room with a high cupola-ed roof, revealing rows of dusty sculpted stone benches.
"Check them!" the inspector ordered.
After the recent incident, the desire to crawl headfirst into a new assignment had diminished a good amount.
Before stepping inside, I took my Roth‑Steyr from its holster just in case, but I didn’t need it: in the small room there was neither any person, nor any exit.
A dead-end, sure, but what kind of room was it?
"Strange..." I muttered, returning my pistol to its holster.
"What's up there?" The inspector elbowed his way past me and scanned from side to side with his torch. "It looks like an abandoned chapel," he declared, deeming it, "old news."
"That could very well be," I nodded and agreed. "Would you be so kind as to point your torch over there, though?!" I asked my boss, indicating the place at the end of the room where, according to my suppositions, there had once been an altar.
Robert White swept the beam of his torch along the far wall and turned back around to leave.
"Let's go!" He called, but I couldn't even get a single word out. It felt like I was having an epileptic seizure.
And I might as well have been. Because a fallen one cast its eyes on me.
Right there and then, he looked at me, and his bottomless eyes sucked into themselves all the darkness, rage and injustice of this world; all that and a bit more.
And there’s quite a lot of that around, mind you.
It isn’t clear...
My consciousness returned from a punch straight to the shoulder.
"Detective constable!" The inspector's roar burst into my oblivion. "Eyes open, now!"
I greedily sucked down some air and crawled away to the nearest bench. I sat on the floor next to it and leaned on it back first. I started massaging my temples with my palms in a pitiful attempt to stop my much-suffering head from exploding.
"What's going on with you, Leo?" Robert White got down on his haunches and touched my shoulder with his fingers. "What happened?!"
"A fallen one," I exhaled. "There..."
The inspector turned to the far wall, then stared at me with unhidden annoyance.
"Are you stark raving mad, Leo?" He wondered acridly. "That's nothing but a statue!"
"Not at all! That is a fallen one, I'm telling you!"
Robert White gave a quizzical snort and shined his torch on the wall again.
"That is a statue," he declared after a short break, not quite as certain this time. "A strange statue..."
The sculpture did, in fact, reflect how wrong he was. It was sculpted down to the smallest detail, as if every fiber, hair and wrinkle were carved into its marble skin, but only above the belt. Its legs were hidden in the wall. Beyond that, it didn’t look like it was being held in the wall, it simply made a smooth transition into the unified whole of the wall, as if the fallen one had been bursting out toward freedom, and only something tiny had stopped it from escaping its stony prison.
"Do you not feel that, inspector?" I asked, overcoming my weakness and leaning more upright against the bench. I got up from the floor and repeated my question: "Do you not feel that?"
I was trying not to look at the fallen one another time, if I didn't have to. To be perfectly honest, I tried not looking at all. The fallen one, even in this stony form, weighed on me with a sensation of limitless power and a sharp non-belonging to this world. Every feature of its stony face reflected its perfection but, all together, it formed something so ideal that nothing human remained in its frozen mask whatsoever.
Ideal without the slightest flaw.
A dead ideal.
And that ideal weighed down on me.
"Do I not feel what?" Robert White seethed with anger. "You are stark raving mad, Leo!"
"You're illustrious, though! You cannot tell me you don't feel that!"
The inspector burned a hole in me with his hateful gaze, approached the statue and placed his palm decisively on its stone chest. I unintentionally followed him with my gaze, not noticing how my attention had once again been seized by the marble sculpture; it held me completely. The fallen one increased in dimension, filling the whole space. Its stone wings, spread in different directions, and began glowing from the inside with an amber light, which only made it seem darker in the chapel. And the eyes... Its black eyes were no longer dead, they had been filled with a boundless darkness. Darkness and something else, like scornful incomprehension.
Its alien willpower was again pressing me down into the floor like an unseen hand. It reached my head. With a gust of transparent wind, it upended my memories. I tried to reach the exit, but my hands and feet were numb. I really don't know how it all would have ended if the torch hadn't burnt out. Its wire started smoking, and the room began filling with the smell of burning rubber. The caustic stench helped me master the ghastly apparition, throw off my consternation and flee back into the corridor.
Robert White jumped out behind me, pulled back on my legs, and pressed me to the wall with his elbow.
"What the devil was that?!" growled the inspector, spittle flying from his lips.
"That was a fallen one!" I shouted, tearing my boss's arm from me and carefully, following the wall, continuing away from the ghastly chapel. "I don't know how it was turned into stone, but that is a genuine fallen one! We must tell the authorities. We must plug up this tunnel system before he makes it out to freedom!"
"Come off it!" The inspector gave me a jerk. "Even if that is so, how many decades has he been collecting dust down here? How many centuries? He can't escape, Leo! There's no way."
"I could have returned him to life. And if I could have, that means others could as well!"
Robert White even took a step back.
"You've gone mad!" he announced.
"No!" I assured my boss. "That's all my talent, my cursed imagination! It's enough for me to simply imagine him free! Do you understand? If I simply imagine it, he will burst out of his stone prison! Freeing him would be easy. Too easy. We need to plug the chapel up!"
"What are you on about?!" The inspector walked up to me again and shook me sharply by the shoulders. "You've always spoken of fear! Of the fact that others' fears could feed your talent and give it power!"
"The fallen are that very power! A pure, totally unclouded power!
Infernal creatures are simply energy incarnated into the material world. They generously shared their power with the mortals who swore allegiance to them and began to act as generators for even more power, but they didn't create electricity, they created death, sorrow and destruction.
In the end, the malefics were forced to settle accounts with these hell-spawn at the cost of their own souls and many others' lives. My talent, though, allows me to use the power of these otherworldly creatures directly, because fear and deadly horror walk hand-in-hand with them.
But that fallen one was too strong. It weighed down on me with an unearthly grandeur and rage. It forced all images from my head except its own. I was merely a tool to it, and I was capable of breaking the curse and turning its stone firmament into living flesh; to it, I was a mindless 'master key' and nothing more.
Giving impetus to such an unnatural metamorphosis would be certain to fry my consciousness, but why should the fallen mind that? Tools do tend to break, right?"
All my admonishments did not seem to be convincing to Robert White.
"That's enough!" he ordered.
"No, it’s not enough, inspector!" Having forgotten my place, I walked up to the man. "Do the fallen not hold power over forces that go beyond the limits of human understanding? Curses! Just remember what they did to the Arabian Peninsula! They simply ripped a fair chunk of it off and chucked it half a world away into the Atlantic Ocean! They needed only a single day to create Atlantis, just one day!"
"That's all hogwash!" Robert White cut me off, pushing me back against the wall. "I'm the final say in all matters, got it? Not a word to anyone. Not Jimmy, not Billy and not Ramon. Not a living soul, do you understand, Leo? That is an order!"
"Yes sir," I grudgingly agreed to keep my silence.
"Then let's go."
Robert White headed for the exit, and I shuffled off in his wake, asking:
"Was its heart beating? Inspector, did you feel its heart beating? You did, didn't you?"
The inspector stopped with a fateful sigh and looked at the palm he had placed on its stone heart.
"It was beating!" He suddenly confirmed. "It was beating, Leo. But be nice and hold your tongue. Alright?"
"Alright," I relented, not wanting to get into a senseless squabble with my boss. "Just deal with this."
"Feel free to check, I'll deal with it," Robert White promised.
And I believed him. He'd handle it. The inspector knew where his interests lie, he wasn’t that kind of person.
When we got out of the tunnel into the barber shop's basement, Ramon Miro was standing with his weapon at the ready against the opposite wall, simultaneously watching over the hole and our captive.
"What’s happened to you lot?!" He asked in agitation, lowering his lupara. "I heard gun shots!"
"Nothing’s happened to us," the inspector answered calmly and took the pistol lying on the table. "Nothing at all," he repeated, shooting the kneeling Judean in the back of the head.
Uri fell awkwardly on his side. A very thin trickle of blood ran down his cheek onto the dirty floor. Then Robert threw the pistol back and let out another gasp:
"What devilry was that?!" Ramon marveled. "Inspector, what's going on?!"
White grabbed the constable under the arm and dragged him to the stairs.
"Ramon!" He spoke didactically. "Do you have hearing problems? Did you not hear me? Nothing happened and nothing is happening! Nothing! You weren't here at all, Ramon. Leave it to me."
"How do you mean...?" What the constable tried to do was turn to the executed Judean, but the inspector held him in place and pushed him back toward the exit.
"Leave this all up to me," White declared. "Get out! And send Jimmy!"
So we went. We came up from the basement in silence, striding wordlessly through the empty rooms. Only when we’d reached the dead darkness of the back courtyard did the constable decide to express the doubts that had beset him.
"Has the inspector decided to clear out the bank himself?" he asked directly.
"No," I refuted his proposition. My colleague was clearly expecting something more concrete, though, so I shared a partial truth: "Ramon, you should know that complications of a certain nature have arisen, and our boss has taken them... let's say, a bit too close to heart."
"Is that right?" my hulking partner stared at me with unhidden suspicion, beginning to suspect that he'd been tricked.
"That's exactly right" I affirmed. "The robbers didn't even make it to the vault. Don't worry."
"Ah, then what is it to me? The inspector knows best," Ramon shrugged his shoulders and headed off to find Jimmy.
I nodded and went after him.
To you, it's nothing, and to me it's nothing.
We don't have so many responsibilities. Let the higher-ups deal with the headache.
How could I have been so naïve?
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