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Day Nine

He dragged me into the back corridor and up the spiral staircase to the top floor. From there, a battered set of ladders led to the roof and a window looked out over the Capital’s dim rooftops.

 

The interior of Mr Edrnuss’s apartment spoke to the man who resided there. It was overcrowded with unusual artefacts and ornaments, with wall-mounted pistols and statuettes of sealife and an incongruous Rastafari poster. I noticed a long rattan calendar by my shoulder that was gruesomely pornographic.

 

‘What are you smiling at?’ he asked.

 

‘Nothing,’ I said.

 

‘You think this is a matter for laughing?’

 

I said, ‘You’re overreacting, Mr Erdnuss.’

 

He got a blue bottle down from the teetering sideboard. ‘It’s you who is overreacting,’ he said. ‘No— Under… I don’t know, your fucking language.’ He unfolded a table from the wall and poured us each a glass. ‘Drink it, it’s traditional.’

 

I sampled the spirit. It was very sweet and very medicinal.

 

‘Let me tell you what I am seeing on my journeys today, young man,’ he said. ‘I am seeing two goons parked up on the street over there, keeping close eyes on the apartment door. I go out in the morning, I see them. I come back in the afternoon, I see them. What does that tell you?’

 

I cast my mind back to the young man with the atlas in the bureau. I saw him pretending to the scan the pages and I thought… But no, it was too crazy. It didn’t make sense.

 

‘It doesn’t make sense,’ I said.

 

‘They think you vanished your friend, of course it makes sense. They will watch that you don’t run. And when they are watching you, they are watching me. I can’t have it.’ He put his palm down on the table, his pale eyes shining from fear of lost revenue—his scrap metal scam.

 

I told Mr Erdnuss that I would sort it out, that I would fix the issue with Blott, with any authority who was interested, but when I was back downstairs my resolve dampened a little. I thought about my old colleague and knew I did not consider him dead. The atmosphere was wrong for that. I was not upset—there was no grief.

 

The next morning, today, I stayed away from the bureau. Despite my assertion to Erdnuss, I didn’t feel like sticking to a schedule or repeating myself. I went downstairs once the beer garden was open and ordered a Pils and drank it in the sun. Because of the heat, they had a small sprinkler running and this terrier dog was jumping through it and biting at the spray. We all watched it for a long time and no one was speaking.

 

I got to thinking about the Capital Institute and my colleague’s office and the empty name plate. Something about that tasted off. I decided to run my problems by Dr Axelsson one last time before I gave up and threw myself on the uncertain mercy of the inspectors.