Crossing the Dead
From her vantage point on the steeple Sibyl could overlook the whole area. It was colder than the night before, partly because the sky was not clouded, partly because very little in this surrounding emitted heat. For more than five hundred years people brought their dead to this place. This soil was blessed by decay.
Why is it me sitting in the dark two nights in a row, freezing and thinking about all the nice things I could do instead – or the nice things that could be done to me? Oh, right: rookie…
The gothic steeple belonged to the Eastern Cemetery Chapel, which was actually a small church. All around, the graveyard lay painted in monochrome contrasts by the hard moonlight (“yes, full moon – good thing we are avoiding clichés at this point”).
Lurking over the northern balustrade, Sibyl had a clear overview of the awry lines of graves. More importantly, she was able to watch both the funeral parlour and its two accesses.
It had not taken László much time to find out to which mortuary Suydam had had referred.
“I don’t like being the fun wrecker all the time, but whatever Suydam was up to, he failed. So why should anybody show up?” she had asked during her briefing.
“His hosts still are not aware that he is cold. We have reason to believe that he gave very specific orders as to his working conditions. That’s why he was quartered in that tower, and not in a place owned or controlled by the High Houses of the Elders.”
László had felt rather confident of this, and so it was now for Sibyl to feel rather chill. She had positioned herself at the leeward side of the steep roof, yet it still was more than a little bit draughty.
“As soon as I see which way whoever is coming, I’m down from here.”
The funeral parlour could be reached from the southwest and from the east. The first way led through almost the whole cemetery and was used by the bereaved. The eastern, however, was meant for… delivery.
But the sound that alarmed Sibyl came from neither of these directions. First the noises of breaking twigs, then suppressed talking reached up from the southern side.
“What now…?!” moaned Sibyl and sneaked over to have a look.
In the moonlight, the group of three was clearly visible between the ancient graves. The boy in the lead had a skull under his arm, the girl following him was carrying several black candles. The second bloke, finally, was in charge of the most crucial ingredient of any Black Mass: booze. The three hobby Satanists had chosen a leaning tombstone not fifty metres away from the chapel’s portal. The girl placed the candles along the outlines of the grave and lit them. Under mystical murmur the leader positioned the skull on top of the stone, while the booze man was busy sacrificing the first bottle to his liver.
“I can’t feel any presence yet,” the black-haired lass stated. Sibyl suspected that – unlike her own – the girl’s hair was dyed.
Booze-boy looked over his bottle: “Maybe we’re not doing this correctly.”
“Shh! I can feel presence,” the leader exclaimed. “Yes! I can feel your presence, Dark Lord!”
Even twenty metres above ground Sibyl heard the rumbling coming from the ivy-covered crypt just behind the trio. A moment of silence followed, then the door flew open, creaking in its rusty hinges. From the dark rectangle a ghoul appeared, tramping backwards and pulling a rather new lead coffin into the open.
“Oh, shit! Oh, shit!” – “What is that thing?!” – “Run! Oh, fuck! Keep running!”
Sibyl had trouble assigning the hysterical voices. The three teenagers kept yelling as they took flight through between the gravestones, tripping over tomb slabs and tree roots. Not that the ghoul was chasing them. It let go of its loot, probably more scared than the lads and lass (ghouls were cowards by nature). When the coffin bumped to the ground, the creature had already disappeared in the nearest grove. Nonetheless it could be heard clamouring being mulcted of its midnight snack. It wouldn’t be a threat for any of the cemetery’s nocturnal visitors. No, the threat came from someone else.
Whilst his good-for-nothing friends were running south, back the way they had come, the booze-boy headed northwards, straight towards the parlour. Well, right now he was lying on the ground, knocked down by a low-hanging branch, but as soon as he was on his feet again, he would be bound to this direction once more.
Sibyl leaped into the steeple’s staircase, hastened down the steps, took two of them with her bum as she slipped on the clammy stones. She could not have that boy run into Suydam’s overdue hosts. The Nightbringer did not care much whether they would kill him – most probably they would. But then they might investigate from whom or what he had tried to escape and who else was waking this holy ground. Rushing out of the portal, she jumped down the entrance stairs, her coat waving behind her like a bat wing.
He had almost felt relieve when he had looked back and not seen the crypt-thing hunting him. But then this dark-clad woman appeared out of nowhere, and he doubted that he was capable of outrunning her. She was faster by far and jumped over gravestones in one fluid move (actually, she did not jump but stepped over them like a hurdler). Cold air burnt his lungs, and his legs simply ignored his order to move even faster across the uneven ground. Roots and fallen twigs reached for his ankles at every step.
“More cardio, Dark Lord?!”
But too late: A smooth hand was laid on his shoulder, then pulled him back viciously.
“Surely such a nice lady won’t hurt me?” The teenager made a poor job of sounding nonchalant, and not just because he was still out of breath.
“No, but she cannot speak for them.”
Sibyl nodded to somewhere beyond the pedestal of the forlorn statue behind which she had dragged her prey. Between the un-right angles of half-sunken tombs a group of shades was coming the south-western way. Its members were still too far away to make out any details, but surely they were not heading to the parlour for condoling. She had actually expected them to come along the eastern road, mayhap in a hearse or a small lorry to transport a coffin including body.
“Who are those blokes?” he whispered.
She did not answer. So he tried a different approach:
“If I called them over right now while jumping up and down, would this action result in dire consequences for one or both of us?”
Sibyl couldn’t stifle a smile.
“I am at enmity with them, if it is what you want to know.”
“What are they up to here? Are these Satanists – I mean, real ones?”
“That’s none of your business.”
He ran a hand through his blonde hair, which hadn’t seen scissors for quite a while.
“And that crypt-thing, did it belong to them, too?”
“The ghoul? No.”
Sibyl didn’t want to exclude that other Houses summoned these vile creatures now and then, too. But the one interrupting the trio’s candle-light boozing had certainly just been hungry.
“That was a ghoul?! Damn, I knew I shouldn’t have come tonight! It almost gorged me!”
“Hardly. A sole ghoul is more or less harmless for a healthy living person – apart from all the aetiological agents it carries. What are you guys doing on a cemetery at night anyway?”
“Uhm… school project.”
The boy examined his… what? Captor? Rescuer? Not that he was complaining: The woman, actually more a girl, was quite a looker. Lithe and lissom, in excellent physical shape. Maybe a bit on the pale side.
“And you? I could ask you the same.”
“But you would not get any answer.”
He gave it a try nonetheless:
“Are you a vampire?”
“Do I look like one?”
She frowned at him.
“Silence now. And keep your head down,” the Nightbringer ordered as she pulled the pistol from beneath her coat. Just in case. The legation sent by the High Houses of the Elder Gods would not hesitate to kill her – or take her prisoner, which would be considerably worse.
The teenager gasped at the sight of the weapon, partly in consternation, partly – and that astonished his opposite – in fascination. He had already wondered why her coat had not been buttoned up, but this…!
“What part of ‘silence’ didn’t you understand?!”
The four shades were about to pass Sibyl’s hide-out in a distance of not more than twenty metres. And she did not have to tell him again to shut up as they were closing in. To the boy they looked like plague doctors walking in a dark procession.
After they had passed, he dared to glance again, watching them silently following their moonlit path. Sibyl, though, was still sitting with her back pressed against the mossy pedestal.
“Aren’t you following them?”
“Let them have a little bit of a head start. It is risky following them too closely. Besides, I know whither they are going.”
The boy lowered himself next to her again.
“Whilst we are waiting, I like to return to that vampire thing.”
“Stop distracting me with such nonsense.”
“I need some closure on that topic,” he insisted.
Sibyl rolled her eyes, yet pursed her lips.
“That proofs nothing. Vampires don’t necessarily have fangs.”
“Did you ever see a vampire using guns?”
“Well, Blade uses guns, but he’s only half vampire…”
Of all nights, of all graveyards…!
Meanwhile, the four silent visitors were getting closer to the parlour through an aisle of impressive family tombs. Without any noticeable signal, the last two paced away to the left and right, obviously to secure the parameter of the parlour building itself and the small crematorium attached to it.
Her pistol already holstered again, Sibyl rose, and so did the boy. She gave him a suspicious look over her shoulder.
“Where do you think you are going?”
“Uhm… coming with you?”
“No. You were already close to screwing it up with your jump-and-run interlude.”
“Stay here,” Sibyl hissed, slightly running out of patience. Before he could even start a discussion she turned and followed the shades.
Not much a surprise, the parlour’s front doors hadn’t been locked, and the two cloaked figures had entered the building without difficulties. From behind the large oak Sibyl could see one of the remaining shades at the south-western corner. Where the fourth was she did not know. However, she did know who was hiding behind the nearest tombstone.
“Come out – and quietly, or else!” she whispered.
The boy appeared next to her: “Sorry, but I thought I heard the ghoul again.”
Maybe I should tell him that I could kill him in seven soundless ways right now.
“See these?” Sibyl showed him her handcuffs.
“Wow! What are they for?” His dirty grin did little to calm her.
“Stay out of my way, or I drag you out of earshot and chain you to the graveyard gate.”
“You can chain me to whatever you want.”
It is unbelievable: Here is the prospect of being helpless, with no ability of defence or fled – and all he can think of is kinky sex!
With a quickness that left him truly speechless she painfully seized his arm.
“Obviously we suffered a communication deficit behind yon statue. I have other duties than baby-sitting a loon with too much time and too little—”
“Hey, I wasn’t prepared for that freak show either.” Noticing her ice-cold glance, he hurried to add: “Not you! I mean the cloaked blokes and that ghoul-thing, not you!”
She let go of him; something else had grabbed her attention. A distinctive sound reached her from the crematorium; a low, somewhat hollow hissing. The cremator being fired up.
They never have intended to recover the body…!
Nobody had ever said anything about a cremator! Although being adjacent, the funeral parlour had nothing to do with the crematorium. The former lay in private hands, the latter was owned by the city.
Sibyl pulled the teenager closer to her, not caring about him tensing up again.
“How long does that cremation chamber need to heat up?”
He looked at her in bewilderment .
“How I am supposed to know?”
“You are the one spending his spare time on graveyards.”
She sighed, and then moaned in bitter disbelieve; in the darkness Sibyl could see the light cones of electric torches see-sawing across the ground. Two policemen were seeking their way through between the graves.
What is fucking wrong with this graveyard?!
Most likely it had been two good-for-nothings screaming and climbing over the southern gate in the middle of the night that had attracted the attention of the local authorities.
Just a theory…
Sibyl’s thoughts raced. She had to know what the legation was about to incinerate. Had to overcome the guarding shades. Get to that cremator (where she most likely had to deal with the rest of the hostile party) – and all this before the policemen would reach the parlour.
As if he were reading her mind, her new greatest fan came up with an offer: “I can distract them! I can do that. Please let me help you!”
Almost automatically Sibyl wanted to turn his idea down, but then thought of the time he would buy her. And what was the worst thing that could happen to him? That they would be getting him for public nuisance. Well, actually, the worst thing that could happen to him was getting beaten up; the local policemen weren’t known for their sense of humour.
She eyed him sternly. His face was showing a mixture of willingness and utter adoration.
“Alright,” Sibyl decided. “Bait them to the western side. And play it safe! Don’t shy sticks at them or shit like that.”
“Understood!” He froze in the move. “With the freak show: I didn’t mean you, okay?”
And off he was.
That beat spending the night drinking cheap beer and listening to Taavi misquoting Aleister Crowley by far! This hot lady and the creepy guys she was after, they were the real deal!
From the small, damp hollow behind ivy-overgrown tombs Andrus was awaiting the two constables. Sounds of leaf being stepped on announced their approach, and finally he could make out their moonlit forms.
Not allowing himself to get second thoughts, Andrus emitted a long, guttural croak. The reaction from beyond the tombs came immediately:
“You hear that?”
Andrus continued his frog sounds, and the second policeman helpfully clarified: “Sounds like a frog.”
“There are no frogs here.”
From his makeshift hide-out, Andrus croaked once more, then imitated Kermit’s distinctive laugh.
“Get that punk!”
For the second time in this night, Andrus was being chased across the graveyard. Yet this time his feet felt lighter, his breath smoother, every muscle strong and rested. No upcoming panic threatened to suffocate him.
The repulsive creature’s neck had snapped with a sound one would associate with wet plywood. With a moan of suppressed disgust Sibyl shoved its rapidly decaying corpse into the nearest shadow. She had been able to sneak up from behind and finish the first shade with utmost discretion. Now, a good hundred and fifty metres to the west, she could hear the policemen clamouring.
Sounds like the boy keeps them busy.
Behind her, from the crematorium, the hollow hissing had turned into (or drowned out by) a low-frequency rumble. Sibyl peeked around the south-western corner. Mayhap the second sentry, alarmed by the police activities, had abandoned its hidden post. But no, there was only the entrance to the parlour, unlocked and unguarded.
Her attacker pounced at her from behind – and failed bitterly. With a single turn of her body Sibyl let it dash into empty space. The shade let out a shrill, unnatural shriek, loud enough to be heard all over the graveyard. A non-human hand that sported only three fingers – thumb included – stroke at her and missed. Then its counterpart emerged from under the cape, holding an ancient Mauser automatic pistol.
You don’t want to do that!
Sibyl charged at her opponent, a swift motion of her hand unwound the gun (not so much a problem, considering the creature’s digital shortcoming). Simultaneously, the woman brought her knee up into the shade’s abdomen. And almost automatically, her free hand fell to the hilt of the weapon within her right boot. Even while doubling over, the abomination clawed at her anew. Sibyl evaded it with ease, and a guttural noise of frustration built up behind the grotesque plague doctor’s mask. However, the new screech was snuffed out within the creature’s throat as Sibyl’s blade cut through its voicebox.
Like before she withstood the temptation to examine what lay underneath the beak mask, for surely it hid something even less pleasant to the eyes.
Something less describable.
Sibyl threw the captured Mauser onto the parlour’s roof, getting rid of it while diminishing the chance that it would be found any time soon. It clattered on the roof tiles and was forgotten.
This second shade, this second Screecher, as she thought of them now, was collapsing inside its garment as well, emphasising its decomposition with a miasmatic mist.
That’s why I always want to stay as far away as possible.
As proofed some seconds ago, mêlée did not pose a problem, for Sibyl was trained well in the martial arts. Her moves still showed the stiffness of sole drill, later they would become more fluid, when practice would complement training. Nonetheless she would always prefer the distance that came with the use of a firearm. Clean and surgical – well, clean at least on her side of the rifle. Close combat invariably bore the danger of being injured by sheer chance, no matter how well one was trained. However, in the face of the two Screechers’ remains – smouldering puddles of ineffable colour – this was a highly hypothetic consideration.
Twice Andrus had almost been cornered, but had finally been able to outrun them. Now the two policemen were rushing in the wrong direction, the light cones of their—
An eerie sound echoed across the graveyard.
“What was that?!” the boy exclaimed to himself.
The screech – there was no better description for it – sounded even more pissed off than the noise the ghoul had produced. He saw the constables turn and heading towards that cursed funeral parlour once more. Andrus hesitated a split second and immediately scolded himself for it.
“What the fuck are you afraid of?!”
The air inside the parlour was chilling and carried an antiseptic taste. Sibyl took great caution to find her path through the main hall that came after the small vestibule. Windows, high and slender, threw curtains of moonlight across the marble floor and the three empty coffins which served as exhibits. Between them, there was nothing but shadow. So, on her way through the room she nearly knocked over a vitrine informing about which urn style was in vogue this season. But at last, after valuable seconds she experienced as hours, Sibyl reached the far end.
It opened at once, and that hissing, hollow noise – the cremator’s taunting – grew louder. After a quick check with her pistol ready she rushed down the short corridor, alongside another row of windows to the left. She ignored the office to her right. Yet she glanced into the next room, the one with the glazed door labelled SURNUKAMBER. The stainless steel fronts of refrigerators, sparkling with moonlight, brought Suydam’s last entry back to her mind.
“Indeed my body shall be found in yonder mortuary…”
The Screechers had found it. And then? Sibyl looked down the corridor. Another door. Heavier. Like a door between two individual buildings which just happened to stand adjacent.
That’s why it had to be this particular parlour! Nowhere else a body could be disposed so easily!
Sibyl nearly jumped to the opposite wall at the rapid knocking to the nearest window. Then she recognised the face on the outside and came closer.
“What are you doing here?!”
The tall windows could not be opened, but the glass was thin enough to talk through it without raising one’s voice too much.
The boy was clearly out of breath.
“They are coming! And they surely have called for reinforcement!” he gasped.
“It’s okay; you bought me enough time.”
“What?! Get out of there! Now!”
Sibyl just shook her head. She had to know. Full stop.
“But there’s no need for them to see you,” she told the boy. “You really helped me here. Go now. Go!”
For a moment Sibyl thought that the boy would refuse, but then he answered:
“I’ll be waiting behind that statue from earlier. Try to get there.”
“Yes, yes. Begone!”
His partly moonlit, partly shadowed face disappeared.
Loosing no time, the black-clad girl run down the corridor towards the heavy door. As she hurried through it, the hissing sounds increased once again. Sibyl saw chairs to both side of an aisle leading towards an entrance area. So she was inside the crematorium now. Since the services for inhumation as well as for cremation were held at the Cemetery Chapel, this was just an adequately arranged room for the mourners as the coffin was passed on to the actual cremator area by the means of a sluice in the wall. A wall with a door. Doors did not seem to trouble the grotesque nightly visitors – this one was unlocked, too. Her hand bearing the gun tightened its grip involuntarily.
Immediately, Sibyl spotted the vile forms of the last two Screechers. They were standing in the middle of the cremator room, next to the still hissing, now rumbling, sometimes gasping leviathan that gave this room its name. Eldritch light sputtered from the heat-proof window in the cremator’s hatch. Suydam’s body, or whatever had been mistaken for it, was burning.
The two remaining shades screeched at her when they noticed the latest arrival to this macabre event. Sibyl slowly closed in, her USP aiming at the one in front. The Screechers moved away from the oven in a circling manner, always keeping the same distance to the Nightbringer. Time wasn’t on her side, and Sibyl would surely not let these freaks come between her and the sole door. But before she could do anything about it, the Screecher closest raised one of its misshapen hands and pointed at her. What it uttered then made the woman’s intestines rebel in disgust. Although repulsively far away from anything a human larynx could create, Sibyl recognised the noise for what it was: a laughter of hateful utter mockery. Then, with flapping cloaks, the two shades rushed across the room and out of the door. Only seconds later, she heard them screech one last time somewhere in the parlour.
The cremator was an old and particularly ugly construction, with countless oxidised pipes running to, around and away from it. Its main burner was still working, so the body inside was not yet fuelling its own destruction. Sibyl hunched down before the oven door, raising a gloved hand to shield her face from the immense heat radiating trough the poor insulation.
Beyond the window, shrouded in orange of an almost physical quality, lay a burning human shape, head towards the door. Sibyl forced herself to get closer, so her dry and blinded eyes could receive the one clear image, the confirmation she both needed and feared so much.
Somewhere in her mind Suydam’s face reappeared, reduced to a monochrome portrait by the night vision gear she had used to watch him. It grew sharper and sharper still; his jawline, his aquiline nose, the high forehead…
The picture faded, Sibyl slumped back from the cremator.
The body being cremated in yonder primary chamber, with flames lapping at the boiling, but otherwise undamaged head, was that of C. Howard Suydam.
Sibyl hadn’t bothered trying the crematorium’s exit and loosing precious time doing so – the Screeched had not used it either, meaning it would still be locked. So she had made it to the showroom with the coffins as she heard the policemen reaching the front doors.
They would find the front doors unlocked, enter the vestibule, then come through the second set of doors into the hall, trapping her. There was only one thing left to do for her: getting rid of her gun. Sibyl had a permit to carry a weapon, but following the law of this country only a specific weapon. Alas, not this specific weapon. Her USP wasn’t even registered. To be precise, her USP didn’t even exist…
Within seconds Sibyl got out of her coat and her holster and wrapped the latter in the former.
The front doors were opened. Additional moonlight fell through the stained glass of the inner doors. Rays of golden white. Rays bluish white.
The nearest coffin gleamed in polished black, resting waist-high on a moonlit catafalque. She forced herself to open it carefully to avoid any noise, not just hastily pushing the lid away. The black leather bundle with its incriminating content disappeared into the velvet cavern. However, the cliché of hiding a firearm inside a coffin was lost on Sibyl right now.
Silhouettes in the moonlight.
Under dark grinding the lid moved into its original position. Sibyl backed off from the coffin and into the corridor the very moment the doors to the vestibule opened.
“Stop! Politsei! ”
Once more she rushed through the heavy door at the end of the corridor, this time heading left. It was just for good measures to try the crematorium doors, the whole action was mainly for luring the police as far away from her little arms cache as possible. She ran down the aisle and reached the double doors (despite all the haste she came to notice that the doors sported similar glass inlays as the ones at the parlour). She pressed one handle down. Locked. She pressed the other handle down. Locked.
“Stop it right there, lass!”
She turned around, slowly, showing her hands the whole time.
She stopped. The constable was closing in along the aisle. The second policeman remained standing near the corridor’s door, securing his comrade. Two SIG Sauer were pointed at Sibyl. Estonian police standard issue.
The first one paused several paces away from her, never stepping in his partner’s line of fire.
“Face towards the wall, kitten,” he commanded, and Sibyl followed his order.
“You got her?”
“I got her.”
She heard his gun sliding into its holster. It was clear to her, though, that the other pistol was still aimed at valuable parts of her body. And that wouldn’t change too soon, given the unclear situation the policemen had found.
“Hands behind your head, fingers interlocking. C’mon, c’mon!”
She obeyed. Sibyl expected to be frisked next, but then the constable grabbed her right wrist.
“I’m cuffing your hands behind your back now, lady. Work with me, and I’ll be gentle. Resist, and my baton will be playing xylophone on your ribs.”
This was not an empty threat. In this city, arrested people often nursed some broken bones or ended up suffocated while lying hogtied on the ground with several policemen kneeling on top. Around here, proper police work wasn’t yet interfered by the delusions of some permissive bleeding hearts.
Sibyl felt steel closing around her right wrists. It took her quite an effort to surrender her other hand, but she liked her ribs the way they were. She was cuffed with her palms facing outwards, making the bonds quite effective and quite intimidating. The rigid connection between the cuffs was formed as a grip, allowing the “handler” to easily apply force and – combined with a kick to the back of the knee, for example – make one’s shoulder joints produce funny sounds. Sibyl felt pretty helpless now.
At last he patted her down. Sibyl didn’t think this was the standard order of steps during an arresting, but who was she to tell him how to do his job?
He pulled the blade out of her boot leg. From further behind the second constable whistled approvingly.
“Not very ladylike to carry such a thing,” Number One stated. “We better tighten your cuffs a little bit more.”
Sibyl hissed as the steel bit deeper.
That bastard hasn’t double-locked them.
The numbness was already spreading from her fingertips as he hauled her away, one hand at the grip, the other on her shoulder, deliberately ignoring that he caused the cuffs’ edges to jam into her wrists.
If there’s anything else I can screw up this night, just give me a call…
The chair was bolted to the interview room’s concrete ground. As they had placed her onto it, the constables had pulled her arms over the broad backrest and secured the cuffs’ rigid grip somewhere near the seat. Then they left together with the stern-looking policeman in plain clothes who was obviously now in charge of her.
To say that her posture was uncomfortable was not an understatement, but a downright lie. There was no flexibility, no give whatsoever in the cuffs, and anything else than holding her forearms absolutely parallel made the clutching edges bite even harder into her wrists. The unnatural position of her arms forced Sibyl to bend slightly forwards, while the backrest was pressing into the hollows of her elbows. Whenever she straightened up to get some strain off her back, she put stress to her shoulders in return. If intended or not, this turned out to be nastier a predicament than it would seem to an onlooker. And the fact that she was already held in the windowless room for a considerable length of time surely contributed to it.
Bad Cop had come in quite a while ago, asked her for her lawyer’s name and telephone number, but had considered removing the handcuffs to be outside his province. Sibyl had bridged the time by clenching her hands into fists and relaxing them again in an attempt to get some feeling back. Then, eventually, the door opened anew. The policeman returned, followed by a slightly younger colleague in his early thirties. The former had a seat at the spartan table, facing her with his “You do not know yet how much fun I can have with a stun gun”-expression.
Good Cop threw a file onto the table and walked over to Sibyl, holding the keys to her fetters out as if he were about to propose to her.
“I reckon you don’t want to spend the rest of the night in steel cuffs.”
Sibyl resisted the urge to rub her wrists as she finally (“Finally!”) was able to bring her arms around to the front. So she just laid her hands on the tabletop and glanced first at Good Cop who took a seat to her right, then to his dark-haired partner. She was bound to notice how his eyes followed the curves of her Vestis, which in turn followed tightly the curves of her body.
“Do you see something you like?”
“I’m just admiring your outfit…”
“Be my guest,” Sibyl snarled.
My tax money at work…
He made an indeterminate gesture.
“Since you are wearing all black, you must be a mourner. Overwhelmed by grief, I suppose, to visit a grave at such a late hour.”
“Well…” Good Cop contributed while starting a completely unnecessary search through his papers.
“And since you have forgotten your isikutunnistus, we had to verify the personal data you had given. Hence the little delay.” Of course she hadn’t forgotten her identity card; Sibyl hadn’t even considered taking it with her in the first place.
“Well, Sibyl – you don’t mind if I call you Sibyl, do you? We try to keep things informal around here.”
“Is it part of keeping things informal that my lawyer still hasn’t arrived yet?”
“The traffic in this city… an eternal vexation.”
“At half past one in the night?”
Good Cop ignored her last remark nonchalantly whilst Bad Cop was still busy looking intimidating.
“May I ask you about your profession?” the younger one continued, most likely having the answer Sibyl had given to that very question not an hour ago on the sheet before him.
“I am working for the Anthropological Society.”
“You are an anthropologist?”
“I am an assistant to Doctor Albert Grau.”
The Good and the Bad exchanged glances. Grau’s name was known. The former mayor had once called him “a stalwart pillar of this city”. Sibyl reckoned that had been before the good Doktor had hove his contender into the guild hall at the next election – a move that had ensured the disappearance of many a question concerning certain activities of the Society.
“So, what kind of anthropological research did you perform on a graveyard – at midnight?”
“Why were you on that cemetery?”
“What business did you have there?”
“Please explain it to us once more, please.”
Again and again they asked. And again and again Sibyl fed them the same lame story: She had climbed over the graveyard wall to take a shortcut. She had passed the funeral parlour. It had struck her odd that the cremator was working that late. She had found the doors ajar. She had run from the constables because she was afeared not to be believed.
“The policemen at the scene stated that the door, though unlocked, was closed.”
She must have pulled it shut behind her.
“When the sounds came from the crematorium, why did you check the parlour’s doors first?”
Careful here! If she stated that the doors of the crematorium were locked, they would ask her next why she had made a run towards them in the end. So Sibyl played it safe:
The entrance of the parlour had been closer, and she had mistaken the buildings for one unit.
“When you noticed the working cremator and the door ajar, why didn’t you call the police?”
Because she had forgotten her mobile phone on her dresser.
“Together with your isikutunnistus.”
“You have a pleasant voice, preili Sibyl,” Bad Cop remarked. “A warm timbre. Ever thought of doing some audio book stuff? Reading fairy tales?”
She frowned at him. However, there wasn’t much more he could do than trying to provoke her. They had nothing to disprove her pleasant-voiced fairy tale.
“Feeling bullshitted, is it just me?”
“She’s lying big time”, his black-haired partner growled.
They had left the interview room to have a quick word in the corridor.
“Preliminary report says ‘no evidence of forced entry’,” he continued. “Owner of the parlour says ‘I cannot explain how this is even possible’. Bloke in charge of the crematorium says ‘what he said’.”
“Oh, for crying out loud! There was a burning body in that thing!”
The Bad One arched his back until it created a popping sound.
“They have all the papers; the corpse was scheduled to be cremated yesterday. They just ‘forgot’ it.”
“And they also forgot to put it in a coffin.”
“According to the guy, it was for some religious reasons that—”
“Bull. Shit. And it doesn’t end here; I called that Anthropological Society.”
“In the middle of the night?”
“Believe it or not, someone answered and confirmed the girl’s story: She had worked late at a private collector’s place which happens to lie somewhere south of that fucking graveyard.”
“I believe it not.”
They walked down the corridor to a small kitchen. While pouring some thin coffee into nicked mugs, the older policeman stifled a yawn.
“I trust you called said collector, too?”
“No,” the younger man moaned, “I already know what I will hear…”
He switched into a comical, high-pitched voice, imitating no one special.
“ ‘She worked late here, and when she left she said she would maybe take a shortcut, because she was tired. In fact she was already sooo tied this morning that she forgot her isikutunnistus and her mobile phone on her dresser.’ ”
“So we let her go?”
“That, or we put her on the rack,” Good Cop sighted, allowing the titillating thought to manifest in his mind for a moment.
“Grau…” his partner mused into his mug. “So that fossil’s still alive. He must be well over a hundred years old.”
“Whatever. Let’s deliver her the good news.”
“Yeah. Night shift coffee tastes like piss anyway.”
“I know what you sought in that morgue,” Good Cop claimed. Sibyl was already down the short flight of stairs in front of the police station. The night around her had maybe another hour or so before dawn would start bleeding out from the east.
“Is that so?”
“A young, healthy woman like you, always working with those mummies.” He was presumably confusing anthropology with archaeology. “It is only natural that you are in the mood for something fresher from time to time, something stiffer.”
Sibyl almost gave in to the urge to spit into his face.
Good Cop meanwhile seemed to realise that his mummy-line wasn’t exactly a winner. He turned to the trusty “We will watch you”-attitude:
“You can go back now and continue your search for the Missing Link.”
“I will. And if you have an afternoon spare, I can run some tests on you on that subject.”
Normaly I come up with such lines only when it’s too late!
However, she would had forbeared from formulating it whilst still being handcuffed down in that interrogation room.
Good Cop gave her a pissed look, then entered the building without another word.
Around next corner, Sibyl started to run. Since she had been set free again, she had the reasonable hope to find her gun still hidden within the coffin. Down the empty streets she ran, beneath looming architecture and the still deeply black sky, never slowing down.
The parlour doors were unlocked, the police seal broken. Still trying to catch her breath, Sibyl assured herself one last time not being followed, then entered the building for the second time this night. Running almost five kilometres in heavy boots and tight leather trousers wasn’t an activity to be found on her regular training schedule any time soon. She forced her breathing to calm down, only to notice how hard her heart was beating. Whether from exhaustion or excitement she knew not.
A coolness spread over her face as the sweat was drying up. The broken seal indicated that someone had been in here after the police. Sibyl listened into the darkness. Nothing. Just her own breath. Her own heartbeat. The torrent of her blood in her ears. Her boot heels made dull sounds on the marble floor as she neared the three displayed coffins. In the middle, set back towards the wall, waited the black one on its catafalque.
Sibyl frowned. Something bright was standing on the lid’s sable surface, a little white tent. As she closed in, she recognised it as a card made of thick paper, folded to stand upright.
That wasn’t there before.
It might have been there, and she just hadn’t noticed it in her haste. Yet it would surely have fallen down when she had moved the lid. Sibyl snatched the card from its place. It was indeed high-grade paper, meticulously printed with basic product information. She brought it closer to her eyes in order to read in the dark:
Eternal Comfort deluxe, followed by a constallation of digits proving that death costs more than just one’s life.
Sibyl turned the card around, and her pounding heart skipped a beat. Handwritten on the backside were the words…
I found your coat.
Meet me at the old roundhouse, same time.
“Please no. Nonono! NO!”
Sibyl pushed the lid away, not caring when its edge thumbed onto the floor with considerable force. The coffin was empty. No matter how deeply she scrabbled about in the unblemished velvet, there was no coat and no holster. No gun.
I’m going to kill him!
Sibyl set off to her long way home. A cold one, too, without her coat. She wasn’t in a hurry anymore, though. Her body was aching from tiredness and the rough handling by the constables. But black and blue marks would soon be the least of her troubles.
Oh, please! Please don’t do any shit with it!
László groaned and stopped at the balustrade of the vast gallery overlooking the counter hall. Below him, at the first counter, Sibyl was vociferously disputing with the armourer. The Hungarian already knew about what, for Grau had got a call from the redhead man, in which extent he – László – had been sent down to the hall.
He leant over the parapet.
“Sibyl! Grau’s office. Now.”
She snapped her head up, backtracking his voice, then moaned.
“C’mon, give me a break. These corrupt pigs have grilled me for almost four hours!”
He only kept staring at her from the twilight, and she sighted.
László had been implacable, and so Sibyl was standing in front of Albert Grau’s desk with a dure-looking Albert Grau behind it five minutes later.
“Good morning, Doktor Grau.”
“Good morning, Sibyl. Where is your pistol?”
Here we go…
The office, with all its piles of books and overburdened shelves, seemed now like a tomb to her, darkly foreboding in its claustrophobic splendour. Only the slightest hint of dawn trickled into the sky beyond the high windows.
“I believe it to be in the possession of a young man who witnessed – and was partly involved into – last night’s events.”
She held the card out to him. He made no attempt to take it, so Sibyl laid the paper onto the desktop.
“And how occurred said witnessing and involving? Not to mention the possessing?”
Sibyl gave a brief report, yet taking great pains in pointing out her predicament at the funeral parlour.
Grau’s facial expression kept petrified, while next to her László emitted disapproving groans at certain crucial parts of her statement. Sibyl hoped the cremator-part would distract them somewhat from her weapon’s disappearance, but found this hope dwindle as the Doktor enquired again.
“You put your loaded weapon into a coffin that, if the police will not search it, will be shown to costumers?”
“It appeared to me to be a good idea at that time.”
“And does it still appear to you to be a good idea, now that an adolescent is running around with your weapon and in full knowledge about your mission?”
“No, Doktor Grau,” she murmured.
“No, Doktor Grau!”
He groaned and said nothing for a painfully long time.
“I am disappointed in you,” Grau finally replied. “Very disappointed.”
He took the card.
“Andrus? That’s his name?”
“Why do you ‘reckon’?”
Please, just end it!
“I saw no need to ask for his name.”
To her left, László lost his temper.
“Oh, for crying out loud—”
“When did that incident occur last night?” Grau cut him off.
“Around 0:15, I reck—… I witnessed them starting their Black Mass at the stroke of midnight.”
“Why didn’t he put the weapon in it again and spared you a lot of trouble?”
Sibyl flinched at the last term.
“He may have worried that the police come back. I will ask him.”
“You stay. Balogh goes.”
Sibyl turned rapidly to the Hungarian, then back to the Doktor, in effect speaking to both.
“Please let me redeem myself.”
“No, you are not to leave the building!” Albert Grau ordained.
“You are grounding me?”
“Oh, I will do more than that once we see the results of that roundhouse rendezvous. And you better hope that this lad shows up.”
So much is sure.
Grau finally beckoned them to leave, and she trudged after László like a beaten puppy.
She turned to him once more.
“Yes, härra Doktor?”
“Do you want to add or change anything concerning the body you saw in that oven?”
“If I didn’t know better, I would swear it was Suydam’s body in there. More I cannot say.”
Grau was not finished with her, though.
“How long did you see it?”
“Five seconds. Ten seconds maybe, if I count the time in I needed to adjust.”
“Ten seconds, yes…” his face showed the same expression as the other night, when she had described the ritual Suydam had performed in his maisonette.
“Thank you, Sibyl. You are dismissed.”
László caught her in the corridor. More than ever before his gaunt face appeared to her like cut from stone.
“The both of us will have a little talk after this, too.”
But he was gone.