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Staircase Daniel Shand

Day Five

I had been so focused on my work at the records bureau that I did not notice the passage of time—five days already! And still my old colleague was in hiding. I thought, now this is getting ridiculous. I did not have any further contacts for him and we had no friends in common in the Capital, so I resolved to check at his workplace. I suppose, in a way, that I was beginning to worry.       


In the garden of the Capital Institute of Arts, they had erected a map and I soon found directions to the Niels Hammermann suite. The grounds were full of teenagers on summer school but I made my way inside and took the elevator to the correct floor. Mg. 262’s door had space for two name plates; one read Dr Axelsson, the other was empty.


Axelsson looked surprised to see me when I knocked and entered. It was a cramped space with two desks facing away from each other, bulging sets of bookcases towering over both.


‘Sorry,’ I said.


‘What do you want?’ Axelsson asked. She was around my own age and wore slim spectacles. ‘Who are you?’


I explained that I was hoping my old colleague would be present and gave her the full run-down of my situation.


‘I see,’ she said.


‘So has he been around recently? I suspect he may be avoiding me, probably embarrassed about some secret girlfriend.’


‘My room-mate is on sabbatical currently, I believe, not that it is my business to know—we are in separate faculties. His name is not on the door now, after all.’


This threw me. Not the answer I was expecting at all. I said, ‘Alright.’


‘And aren’t you concerned about his absence? He did not leave a note or a message, I gather. If it were me, I would be concerned I think.’


I leaned on the doorframe. ‘I suppose I am.’


Axelsson nodded. ‘You should be.’


I looked above her head at the bookshelves, trying to get a sense of her discipline. ‘What is it you teach anyway?’


She gave me a look that was somewhere between a wince and a smile. ‘This is actually not a great time. I’m very, very busy.’


‘No,’ I said. ‘Of course. Absolutely.’


She turned back to her desk and I let myself out.


I stood out on the pavement. I couldn’t face returning to the apartment on foot, so I hailed a taxi. We got caught in a traffic jam and the cab was old, heavy, and full of heat. These kids were washing car windscreens in the jam. If the drivers didn’t hand over money, the kids would throw handfuls of grit onto the windscreen wipers. The guy driving the car beside us was watching them. He had a skull tattoo on his hand and he was watching them with this frightening stillness that I couldn’t interpret.


At home, there was a note waiting for me on the mat. It read:

Called on you again today—please get in touch presently.

Ins. Blott.

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