Again, I stayed away from the bureau, unwilling to follow a pattern that Blott’s employees would be able to predict. There was plenty of work I could carry out on my own, at home, but the emptiness there soon became unbearable and I found myself heading upstairs to talk to Erdnuss. He was somewhat indisposed—the apartment floor was covered by carton after carton of eggs, chicken’s eggs, stacked high and with a path running through them.
‘It was too good a deal to pass up,’ he explained.
I nodded. ‘And you’ll sell them on?’
‘If this God is fair, I will,’ he said, moving a few so I could perch on an armchair. ‘If this God and his Jesus are fair.’
We got around to talking about my visit to the Institute of Arts and my inadvertent casing of Axelsson’s route home. He nodded along as I spoke, nearly levitating from his own chair in shock, his little face a pinecone of furrowed outrage.
‘This is a conspiracy,’ he said. ‘End of situation—case complete. The next building over? Around the corner? It’s too much of a coincidence, I tell you. She’s pulling you along like a sucker. She’s pulling you as a sissy.’
‘Hm,’ I said.
He stood up for a moment, then sat again. He said, ‘Listen—if I am you, I would be heading for Jakob Csaria presently. This very night!’
Jakob Csaria was an old mayor of the Capital and the airport was named for him. He had climbed on top of a tank when outside forces attempted to interfere with his mayoral autonomy. You sometimes saw the famous photograph printed on T shirts and calendars in the tourist-focused municipalities.
‘But you see,’ I said, ‘I have this research grant and if I return early I will have to return a portion and the work will be incomplete.’
‘A grant?’ he said. ‘As in money?’
‘Then you must stay! It is important you carry out your duties!’ Again, he stood up and paced around a little. He cocked his hip and pointed at me. ‘Your responsibility.’
‘Hm,’ I said. I imagined the feeling of pushing up through a barrier of cloud; the cold but familiar embrace of passport control… But the work had to come first, and I knew I was innocent of any charge that might be held against me. I knew the apartment had been empty when I arrived, knew I hadn’t so much as sneezed out of turn since I arrived in the Capital.
‘You need to man up,’ Erdnuss told me. ‘Grow yourself a testicle, please. I may have a business opportunity too, I should run it by you sometime.’
I left him then. I went out from the apartment and passed the ladders to the roof and began to descend the spiral staircase. I saw the ladders and my mind’s eye shivered a little. I thought, ladders… Hadn’t he been banging on about ladders from the very start?