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Staircase Daniel Shand

Day Ten

I woke to an unusual sensation—the sound of the telephone in my colleague’s apartment ringing. I stumbled through and answered, a moment of hope coming alive in the unlit hallway. On the other side of the line was a sort of wheeze.


‘John?’ I said.


‘Good morning,’ it said.


‘Hello?’ I said. ‘Is that you, John?’


‘Oh, very good, very believable!’ exclaimed the voice, and I realised it was Blott.


‘What do you want?’


The voice recovered from its amusement and became serious. ‘I was calling for a conversation. I thought maybe, you are alone in the Capital, no companion and so on, perhaps you need a friend.’


‘I’m alright,’ I said.


‘If you don’t mind me asking,’ said Blott, ‘why is it you did not attend the bureau yesterday? No special reason? You can confide—’


I replaced the receiver. I wasn’t going to play their game. It was clear I was being toyed with, only for a reason I couldn’t yet discern. Rather than dwell on the situation, I pulled myself together and went out into the bright morning, heading for the Capital’s south and the academic quarter.


Once inside the Institute of Arts’ grounds, I decided not to ascend the Hammermann building. I loitered in the gardens until I spotted a familiar face come through the doors and begin eating lunch at one of the abstract benches.


‘Hello Doctor,’ I said, sliding down beside Axelsson.


A little jump of shock, and then, ‘Oh, it’s you.’


‘How are you?’ I asked. ‘How is the research coming along?’


‘The research is fine, but I’m actually eating my lunch right now, if you see what I mean?’


‘No,’ I said. ‘Of course, of course. It’s just I had a few more questions about my old colleague. For example, the other day I—’


‘Let me guess,’ she said. ‘You have roused the attention of the inspectors and they are now asking questions of you about Dr Dempsey’s whereabouts?’


I said this was correct and she nodded in frustration, taking an angry bite out of her big sandwich. A red bird flew by and I thought, that’s a robin. Then I thought, I don’t even know if they have robins here, I don’t know the first thing about this country.


‘One of the neighbours, Mr Erdnuss,’ I said, ‘seems to think that—’


‘Oh, Erdnuss, that old fascist, don’t pay him any attention,’ she said, smiling a little.


‘Yes, but—’


‘Look,’ she said. ‘Carry out your work, ignore the inspectors, ignore Erdnuss, and go home. Alright?’


With that, she packed her lunch away and went back indoors. I sat in a café for the afternoon, reading paperbacks, and then took a bus east and home. To my surprise, Axelsson got on outside of the Institute. I didn’t want to disturb her further, so kept myself to myself, but noticed that she alighted at the stop right before my own.


I watched her walk up to, and enter, the building around the corner from colleague’s apartment.

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