Categories > Original > Drama

Always Visible (Another Prayer for the Dying Horror Genre)

by raudokyubu 0 reviews

Middle-aged police inspector at Portland is taken to investigate a strange and puzzling case related to an accident at a local hospital. To unravel the mystery, inspector Galbraith visits a offende...

Category: Drama - Rating: G - Genres: Drama - Warnings: [V] - Published: 2023-09-21 - 145284 words - Complete

Always Visible (Another Prayer for the Dying Horror Genre)
by Vitaly Ivolginsky

Zero Act - Que Difícil é Ser Escravo de Deus!

Almost the entire territory of the valley, spread out at the very foot of the mountains, was occupied by a rich fair, which attracted people from all over the area. There was something to stare at: colourful tents, flashy signs and stalls from which they traded all sorts of things. It seemed that each store tried to surprise customers with something unusual, each merchant sought to outdo competitors and stand out from the crowd of their own kind. Between the tents bustled cheerful and noisy youngsters, serious and sedate adults, as well as bilious and gloomy gaffers. They were all united by one common property - all as one vied with each other touted their product and urged their purchasers not to be stingy and spend more money.

It was amusing how sincerely passers-by believed the hucksters at their word - probably, it was the eternal need for entertainment and spectacles. No one paid attention to the fact that merchants often give goods to customers at a price several times higher than their cost, and their quality was far from always up to par. A sane person would never have bought here all the rubbish that was put up for sale here, but this fair was like that - no matter how you walk on it, you still buy something. And generally such fun reigned in the shopping arcade that it was sometimes completely incomprehensible to an outsider who was selling, who was buying, and who was just idly staggering between the rows, staring at merchandise on display.

On holidays, the cries of people, which the wind carried far around, did not subside day or night. Today, despite the fact that according to the calendar it was the twenty-ninth of June - Feast of Saints Peter and Paul, selling was held in complete silence, except for the rare ringing of bells coming from the tents placed throughout the space of the fair. Clouds were gathering in the sky, but there was no rain yet.

On this day, only at the very entrance to the fair, several sellers were sitting in their places, who were languidly talking to each other and throwing lazy glances towards the huge circus tent - main attraction of this place. Its motley tarpaulin was decorated for the holiday with garlands of colourful balloons and brightly coloured paper flags. Not a soul was in chapiteau - it seemed that all its artists, acrobats and conjurers amicably left their places a few days before the holiday, and now its curtains fluttered in the cold wind that blew over the valley.

Suddenly, a desperate cry flew to the ears of the only participants in the fair at the moment, so unexpected that all five people - four merchants and one onlooker - involuntarily shuddered in their places. And then, right in front of their eyes, Sweaty Subject ran into the fair with a leather folder under his arm.

- Please, somebody help me! - heartrendingly screamed this person.
- What happened to him? - wondered Confectionery Countermen, wrapping the lollipop in cling film.
- It's obvious he's running from someone! - answered him Pottery Peddler, cleaning an old ceramic crock.
- Interestingly, from the beast? - guessed Raggery Retailer, shaking dust out of mat.
- It seems to me that from a human, - suggested Toy Trader, embroidering toy dresses for new dolls.
- Either way, he needs support! - intervened Weariless Woodcutter, who was just goofing around.

Sweaty Subject, shrinking his whole body, continued to run forward. His folder opened and white sheets of paper flew out into the air. Meanwhile, a distant rumble of thunder reached the ears of the assembled.

- One-Who-That-Never-Visible chasing after me! - he cried out even more desperately.
- Didn't understand who he talking about? - asked Confectionery Countermen, placing candy on a tray.
- Why can't the pursuer can't be seen? - echoed him Pottery Peddler, put down his pot.
- Maybe because he is not visible? - answered them both Raggery Retailer, hanging a rug on the wall.
- How is this possible? - growled Toy Trader, putting the puppets in the crate.
- Whatever the case, something was fishy! - concluded Weariless Woodcutter, rolled up the sleeves.

Without making out his way, Sweaty Subject gradually approached the circus tent. The papers that spilled out of his folder scattered randomly in different directions, but no one paid attention to this, because their owner suddenly froze in place and slowly rose up half a meter above the ground.

- Save me, somebody save me! - the stranger shouted hoarsely.
- Friends, just look at this! - exclaimed Confectionery Countermen, looking at how Sweaty Subject fluttered in the air.
- Someone has grabbed him and now holding! - gasped Pottery Peddler, watching the stranger bulge his eyes and panting.
- But I don't see anyone! - said in bewilderment Raggery Retailer, seeing as Sweaty Subject began to swing back and forth.
- Think, this isn't a game... - muttered Toy Trader, when the stranger suddenly flew to the ground.
- So what are you waiting for, let's hurry to help him! - cheered up the merchants Weariless Woodcutter, bending his arms at the elbows.

In the meantime, Sweaty Subject relish crashed on his face and sprawled out on the grass with his arms outstretched. The marketeers were already preparing to rush to his aid, when they suddenly saw how the huge dome of the tent began to slowly fall to the ground, as if someone had dropped the strong pillars supporting it.

- Hey, who is stealing my goods? - squealed in fright Confectionery Countermen, when lollipops suddenly began to disappear from his counter.
- Who's beating my dishes? - shouted Pottery Peddler, dodging ceramic shards flying in his face.
- Get this sheet off me! - called out Raggery Retailer, floundering under a veil thrown over by someone.
- It was painful, - hooted Toy Trader, when the soccer ball hit his solar plexus.
- Just you wait! - growled Weariless Woodcutter, rubbing the bruise under the eye.

Like it or not, but Sweaty Subject spoke the pure truth - some invisible force penetrated into the fair. There was no time to delay. Confectionery Countermen helped Raggery Retailer get out from under the velvet cover embroidered with gold patterns, and all four merchants, led by Weariless Woodcutter, began to keep the council.

- My hot caramel will burn scoundrel's skin! - bleated in a nasty voice Confectionery Countermen, grabbing a aluminum saute pan from the stove.
- With sharp shards I will shower the grass on which he will pass! - yelled Pottery Peddler, picking up the pieces of the broken pot in a bag.
- I'll try to gouge out his eyes with scissors! - roared Raggery Retailer, rummaging through the closet
- People, you don't really see him.... - rightly noticed Toy Trader, put on boxing gloves just in case.
- Anyway, he can't resist it! - said with fighting zeal Weariless Woodcutter, picking up his sharpened hatchet from the ground.

The impressive appearance of this weapon immediately reassured the merchants - they realized that the axe would protect them anyway, so they gave up trying to arm themselves with something and ran in single file for Weariless Woodcutter towards the fallen tent. The next minute there was a rumble of thunder throughout the valley, and a downpour fell from the heavens onto the fair. This whim of nature confused people, and they involuntarily froze in place while cold streams of rain whipped their heads and clothes.

- Look! Watch up there! - audibly called out Confectionery Countermen, attracting the attention of other marketeers.
- My lord, what I see!? - could not suppress his surprise Pottery Peddler, gazing at the vague outline of a human silhouette standing in the middle of the trampled grass
- Great, he became visible, - thoughtfully said Raggery Retailer, looking at the translucent, as if made of glass figure.
- It's all because of the rain... - muttered darkly Toy Trader, realizing what was the matter.
- Whatever it was, it must be get'em immediately! - shaking an hatchet, shouted Weariless Woodcutter

Four vendors in a bunch, to say nothing of the rubberneck, began to slowly - step by step - approach the human figure, which stood motionless five meters from the motley canvas of the tent lying on the grass. From the outside, this event looked as if predatory wolves encircled a defenseless lamb in order to tear it apart - which was not so far from the truth, if you remember how strongly the primitive instinct to destroy their own kind is developed in every person.

- Come to your senses, I have not harmed thou! - suddenly, a beautiful young voice rang out.
- Just hear, it turns out he knows how to talk! - hissed Confectionery Countermen.
- What are you justifying?! - barked angrily Pottery Peddler to the human figure.
- Guys, don't let him go!! - shouted Raggery Retailer.
- One-Who-That-Never-Visible is not that invisible! - amazedly said Toy Trader.

Weariless Woodcutter without saying a word - he dashed forward bravely towards translucent silhouette standing motionless in the grass. Back-swing, and the hatched fell on the glass head.

- Shield your eyes! - warned the others Pottery Peddler.

Confectionery Countermen with Raggery Retailer put their hands up to faces, and Toy Trader plugged his ears. However, what was their surprise when the glass human figure did not break into thousands of sharp fragments, but only silently fell on the grass.

- Then it serves you right! - resounded a cheerful voice of Weariless Woodcutter.

The merchants took their hands off heads and approached their saviour, who was looking down at the grass. They followed his example and did not believe their eyes.

- Well, for heaven's sakes... - groaned Confectionery Countermen, seeing the transparent body of an adult lying on the ground.
- A masterpiece of the glass making, - quoth Pottery Peddler, looking at the perfectly smooth features of the glass statue.
- Hey he's warm and mild! - cried with wonder Raggery Retailer, touching his chest.
- Oh, what are those? - shouted in fright Toy Trader, when the glass surface suddenly began to flicker and become covered with dark stains
- Get back from it, now! - ordered Weariless Woodcutter.

Merchants with onlooker backed away from the statue lying in the grass, which in the meantime began to take colour - as if someone's invisible hand applied oil paints to the glass figures. Limbs were pink first, then stained the chest and stomach, and then all five watchers stand in awe when they saw the beautiful young face - there was no anxiety or abhorrence in the youth's eyes, he just gazed serenely straight up at the cloudy sky.

- So it wasn't a beast... - mumbled Confectionery Countermen, shivering from the cold streams of rain.
- This is a true human, just like us, - whispered sadly Pottery Peddler, swallowing the lump in his throat.
- So immature... And what a peaceful sight he has... - as if in a trance noticed Raggery Retailer.
- We killed him! He is not breathing, his heart is not beating! - cried out Toy Trader, recovering from stun.

Weariless Woodcutter refrained from commenting. Instead, he silently tossed his hatchet aside and, pulling off his knitted hat, froze in place, clutching it in his hands. An awful silence followed his deed, and each of those standing next to the deceased felt his responsibility for what he had done. It's been four minutes, and gathered people decided they'd had enough, began to disperse, but before they had time to take two steps, the ground shook under their feet.

- Oh, God! It's an... ...quake! - swallowing words, yelled Confectionery Countermen, falling on the land.

There was such a rumble in the air that no one heard his words, but each of them saw with horror how the earth began to crack and the trading tents began to fall into the ground. People rushed about in a panic, but there was no salvation - there was nowhere to run, with every second more and more cracks appeared in the ground, from which clouds of dust rose up, and in some half a minute the entire fair disappeared underground.

Soon the earthquake stopped and the deafening grumble finally subsided. When the wind dispersed the clouds of dust, it became clear that from the whole fair there was only one single tent of the spice merchant - everything else disappeared in a huge funnel gaping in the ground, in the middle of which stood an earthen pillar, the top of which was covered with grass, on which, with his arms outstretched to the sides, the same immature man lay motionless. His glazed eyes continued to look at the sky, already cleared of clouds.

The young man's mouth was slightly open, and from the side it might seem as if he was silently saying a prayer. It was not clear why the plot of land on which the deceased lay did not go underground along with the rest of the fair, but one thing was certain - the earthquake was not a natural disaster, but retribution for his death. And as if confirming it, a loud cry resounded over the valley, full of inescapable anguish and suffering. As it might seem, that this cry came from all directions at the same time, as if sound source was somewhere in the sky...

...and then there was an awakening from the sleep. Little girl in a white nightgown awoke screaming in her bed, tears streaming down her cheeks. She sat up in bed and, rubbing her eyes with her fist, took several deep breaths. The street was silent, only occasionally broken by the rustle of leaves in the crowns of a tree growing under the window. Not a single ray of light penetrated the room - the windows were curtained with heavy curtains of thick velvet. Gradually, the girl's eyes got used to the darkness, and she was able to distinguish the outlines of the closet in which her numerous outfits were stored, the table at which she painted and did her homework, as well as the chair she liked to sit on with her legs crossed.

Tearing her eyes away from the interior, baby girl sobbed and pulled her knees up to her chest. Wrapping her arms around them, she froze, listening to her feelings. All the thoughts that were born in her head somehow came down to the same topic, namely to the nightmare. Still not fully awake, she continued to feel the heaviness that he left on her soul. The little one had no doubts that she saw Him in her dream, before her eyes continued to stand His image, brought to life by this dream. She could almost see the sparkle in His brown eyes, watched His tousled hair flutter in the wind... In the feebleness dropping her head on knees, girlie barely audibly whispered His name.

But then she heard a knock on the bedroom door. At first she did not attach any importance to this, but when it repeated itself, lass jumped to her feet and headed for the door, straightening her long hair as she went. Opening the door, she stepped aside to let her mother in, who was wearing a light blue velvet bathrobe.

The woman looked tired. Entering her daughter's bedroom, she stopped by the bed and turned to little girl, who, looking straight ahead, continued to stand silently at the door. Finally, the silence of the bedroom was broken by the voice of the mother:

- I heard you scream, - there was concern in her voice.

The girl looked away from the carpet lying on the floor of the bedroom and looked up at her mother with her dark, shining eyes. She saw that her daughter's whole body was tense- It was clear, that the girl did not expect this night visit and she did not like the presence of her mother in her bedroom. The mother carefully looked at her daughter's face and only now noticed that the baby's eyes were red from tears.

- Were you crying? - in a worried tone, the mother asked her.

Daughter did not answer her, continuing to look at her attentively and expectantly, shifting slightly from foot to foot. Then the mother turned to her daughter again:

- What are you afraid of? I'm right next to you. Tell me, I'll completely understand...

It seemed that up to this moment the mother’s words had not reached the consciousness of the girl, and only after this phrase did she begin to understand little by little what exactly she wanted from her. The girl relaxed a little and closed her eyes. After two seconds, she sighed and opened them.

- I think ajussi Jo is unhappy, - she said softly. - I even heard him moan...

After these words, a small tear rolled down her cheek. Wiping it with her palm, the girl brushed a strand of black hair out of her face.

- Dearie, - mother began, - don't you cry...
- I'm not crying, - her daughter objected with a decisive note in her voice.

The girl's face became serious. Angrily stamping his little foot, she walked over to the bed and resolutely sat down on its edge. The mother moved mechanically to make room for daughter. Dangling her bare feet to the floor, the girl looked up at her.

- Mommy, why do you keep lying to me? - and, without waiting for an answer, explained. - About ajussi Jo?

Instead of answering, the mother grabbed the baby by the shoulders and pulled him to her. The girl obediently clung to her, hiding her face in the folds of maternal bathrobe. For a while, both were silent, then, after a couple of minutes, the mother released her daughter from her arms.

- When will you understand, - woman said confused, - that he died?

Wiping her hands on clothes, she made her way to the exit. Daughter continued to sit on the bed, looking after her with some displeasure. Mother, stepping over the threshold, finally turned her head to her.

- Remember, ajussi Jo is just doesn't exist in this world, and that's it, - she said instructively.
- Well, mom... - the girl answered with obvious resentment.
- Go to bed already, dearie, - woman realized that it was pointless to argue on this subject.

The girl lay down on her back and pulled the blanket over her. The mother watched her daughter settle into bed, and when she finally turned her face to the wall, the woman sighed softly and left the room, closing the door behind her. As her footsteps faded into the corridor, baby girl slowly lifted her head from the pillow and listened. After making sure that there was complete silence in the house, she threw off the blanket and lowered her legs to the floor.

Getting out of bed, she lowered her eyes - her long chemise went down almost to her ankles, why her soft pink feet stood out so much against the background of white clothes and a fluffy carpet, covering the bedroom floor. She looked a little more closely and noticed a small red bump on her left foot - apparently a mosquito bit her while sleeping. But now the girl was worried about completely different things.

Slowly moving her bare feet across the soft carpet, she went to the window and, lifting the thick velvet curtains, looked at the shutters. They were tightly closed on the latch - that was the precautionary of the parents, who feared that in the countryside at night all sorts of bad people, which do not feed bread, but let them get into someone else’s house through the window.

The funny thing is that when their family lived in an apartment building in New York, where the girl's parents calmly left the windows open at night. Such a sudden change in their behavior could not help but make their daughter laugh, and even now, on this night, she could not help but laugh, trying, however, not to wake them up.

Coping with a momentary bout of gaiety, the girl pulled herself together and reached for the latch. Before pushing her away, she glanced back over - is anyone watching her, but there was no one in the bedroom except herself. It was understandable - if someone entered the room, the girl would hear the creak of the door and footsteps behind her. She turned her head to the window and pushed the bolt aside. Trying to make as little noise as possible, baby girl grabbed the window handle and pulled it towards her.

The window opened with a slight creak, and the girl involuntarily drew her head into her shoulders. The wind immediately rushed into her bedroom, which brought with it an indescribable smell of night air. The girl opened the other half of the window and climbed onto the windowsill. Sitting on him, she folded her hands on her stomach and stretched her legs forward. The cold forced her to shrink, which gave her whole posture a touching and defenseless expression.

At the window, lass felt completely safe, and she immediately surrendered to the power of the night wind, which gently stirred her long dark hair. The bright light of the full moon, which stood high in the sky, fell on her small, pale face. The sight of this night luminary filled her soul with such inexpressible happiness that lightness reigned in soul, and she soon forgot that her actions could attract the attention of her mother.

Despite the fact that the bright light of the moon blinded her eyes and deprived her of the ability to distinguish silhouettes in the dark, the girl still felt that the night world around her was full of mystery and magic. Please, do not think that she saw some ridiculous "fabulous" creatures and gray-bearded wizards with "magic wands" on the street.

In the understanding of this girl, magic was expressed not in these nonsense, but in a breathtaking feeling of complete comfort and euphoria, when all adversity disappears and in their place comes the realization of how much you love the whole world, which, however, did not prevent her from remembering the actions of some people, unpleasant for her, but this was not her fault, for such is human nature - love for all mankind always goes hand in hand with intolerance of individual personalities!

In this case, it was the parents of the girl - she could never forgive them for their lie, which was, that if believe their words, then her friend ajussi Jo went to another world. There was no way the child could check whether this was really so, but she had no reason to believe the word of her mother and father, who, since the day Jo disappeared, began to answer her every question regarding his person with the same "Jo's dead".

Sometimes the father, who worked as a pharmaceutist at the center, explained to his daughter that Joe's death was the result of the formation of some kind of metastases in his organism, but explanations of this kind only instilled in the girl the confidence that her parents were just trying to mess with her mind. Now, sitting alone on the windowsill, the girl could think about it calmly, without fear of the intervention of her parents, who, with their reproaches, did not allow her to concentrate on the thoughts that had been crowding in her head all this time. What actually happened to her adult friend and mentor?

The night gave the lass peace and a sense of appeasement. She stopped feeling the cold breeze that ruffled her hair and chilled her back, and even ceased to hearing any sounds - of all five of her senses, only her eyesight allowed her to somehow navigate in space. But at the same time, the baby did not experience any discomfort or anxiety, because time stood still for her and before her mind, as if on a fast rewind, ran through the memories of past events that the girl experienced with ajussi Jo - one could even say that they were all devoted only to his tender image.

The girl was outstanded at how this man did not fit with the contemporary world of both of them, and at times it seemed to her that the very fact of Joe's existence was a curious deviation from the norms of pedagogy and education. She thought so, based on his own words. - "The Mother sways the dominion of The Heart, The Father that’of The Intellect, but if The Сhild has no Fatherly Support, then its Heart will prevail over its Intellect and he will be moved only by Emotional Impulses, without any Logical Principles". Baby did not understand a single word of what he meant by this, but knowledge of one fact from his biography could well serve as a simple explanation for his behavior...

The fact was that, as the girl knew, her friend Jordan Thurlow grew up without a father from infancy - his mother was single-handedly raising him. There is no doubt that such a circumstance left an imprint on the spirit of this person. As he often told his little friend, Jo never knew what he wanted from life in general and from people in particular. In addition, he once confessed to her that before they met, he lived alone in their own world, and only when the girl moved with her family from New York to Portland, Jo's interest in life awakened.

But could this be true, or was Jo keeping something back to the child? How could a little girl in a few days change the life of a man whom she had never seen before her eight years of age? With what efforts did she manage to make this lost man happy? There was nothing unusual about her behavior - she was the most ordinary child, moderately humble and moderately snooty. She just loved the life, enjoyed it and willingly shared her joy with others. As a rule, for all other adults, she didn't even exist, of course, with the exception of her parents, as well as teachers, who, according to the duty of the profession, were obliged to keep any child in their sight.

So what was it about her that she suddenly captured the soul of this man and, without any exaggeration, turned his life upside down, made him become completely different? The only real reason for this was only the fact that they lived next door, and everything else was just a consequence, like everything related to her fate - just a coincidence. There was no other rational explanation and could not be. It is amazing how little it takes for a soul to turn over in a person in such a short time...

Sitting on the windowsill, the girl looked at the moon without taking her eyes off, not fully realizing that she was so attracted to this night luminary. Slightly straightening her slender shoulders, she threw her head back, causing her mouth to open a little involuntarily, and the moonlight fell on her snow-white teeth that protruded rather forward.

It seemed a bit more, and a little bird would fly out of her childish mouths, which would immediately fall off her thin lips and fly up to the very sky. But, of course, nothing of the kind happened, but the girl's thoughts took a different direction - Fragments of memories flashed before her inner gaze, merged into a bright and vivid picture. It seemed to her as if she was re-experiencing what she had witnessed recently...


So, one warm day of September, she is sitting in her room and is concentrating on her lessons. Missis Hallahan, her schoolteacher, required her to memorize a verse by tomorrow, but the girl couldn't handle it, because thoughts that were not related to the classes crowded in her head. The girl turned the pages of the textbook and read line by line, and then forced herself to repeat them from memory, but alas, the words of the verse are immediately forgotten and faded from memory, no matter how hard she tried.

In the midst of this activity she heard the sound of door opening. The girl looked up from her textbook and, without rising from her chair, turned her head back - on the threshold of room stood her mother, dressed in a house dress of red silk, over which was tied a white apron with a fresh soup stain, indicating that she had just left the stove.

- Dearie, go for lunch! - cheerfully winked at her, mother called.
- But... - girl blinked in confusion. - I have homework in literature...

As if fearing that her mother would not believe her, lass took the textbook in her hands and lifted it above her head, hoping that she would be convinced of the correctness of her words. But mommy just smiled to answer.

- Your lessons can wait, and my soup is getting cold! - she said in the same playful mood.

After that, the woman turned around and went into the dining room. Little girl put the textbook back on the table, and, getting up from the chair, slowly followed her. After walking down the corridor, they went down the stairs to the first floor and entered the dining room. - a large bright room, in the center of which stood a long table, at the head of which was already the head of the family. Seeing his beloved daughter, he affably waved his hand to her.

- Finally, sweetie! I was tired of waiting! - he announced loudly to emphasize his joy.

Then he nodded to his wife, who meanwhile went to the stove and, putting on kitchen gloves, picked up a large pot, from which thick white steam was pouring out. The girl hesitated on the threshold and looked inquiringly at her daddy, who winked at her reassuringly. Then she came closer to the table and sat down on a chair that stood on the left hand of his hand - which was supposed to symbolize that the daughter is the heart of her father. The mother was already placing deep faience plates on the table, from which came the appetizing smell of Sopa de legumes - lass' favorite food, which the matriarch of the family usually cooked on holidays.

At the end of these preparations, the woman sat down on the right hand of her husband and they both turned their eyes to the daughter. A happy smile played on her pretty face - little girl, having already forgotten about the lessons, prepared to start the meal. Furrowing his thick brows slightly, the father raised his hand, calling everyone present to attention. The girl and her mother immediately froze in expectant poses, and silence reigned in the dining room. The man looked at his spouse, who, without saying a word, nodded in the affirmative. Then head of household turned his gaze to his daughter, who looked at him with her large innocent eyes, waiting for his words. Coughing into his fist, he collected his thoughts.

- So, - surveying his family with a serious look, he solemnly began. - What should be done before meals?

He made a short - just eight seconds - pause. Both of his women - one younger, the other older - silently waited for the continuation of his speech.

- Right, - he said, raising his finger. - We need to giving thanks and praise the Lord. For what? - pausing again, the father looked expectantly at his daughter.

The girl did not take her eyes off her daddy's face. Her shoulders, hidden under a light brown cardigan, slightly trembling with excitement. She knew full well that this rhetorical question (to which it was forbidden to answer) would now be followed by a long and boring explanation, which she will be obliged to listen with all possible attention, even if she had heard that speech hundreds of thousands of times before. Therefore, the girl resigned herself to the fact that she would have to wait with Sopa de legumes - after all, it was a tradition that she could not and did not want to go against.

- Well, because, - her father began, - if a human takes the gifts of God without gratitude, he is likened to a pig that shamelessly pounces on everything indiscriminately and devours what it thinks is tasty. But we are not pigs! - at the same time, the father raised his voice a little, - we are humans, we unbecoming to be animals. We must understand who we are and why we came into this world. Humans should know that their every earthly activity is a manifestation of their love for Lord. God was merciful - he sends us food so that our soul can grow in the knowledge of the higher will.

Head of the family took a breath and in the heat of the moment struck himself with his mighty fist on his broad chest.

- This means, that we should accept the food given to us by the Lord with a sense of gratitude, - he finally finished.

By the end of the speech, the father leaned back in his chair and with interest looked around people sitting around a dinner table. The girl sat with downcast eyes - from the side she seemed calm, but in fact her daddy's booming and booming voice continued to stand in her ears. The father took his eyes off his daughter and directed him somewhere to the corner of the dining room, where there was a large sideboard, all the shelves of which were lined with rich service. Soon his face took on a peaceful expression, and he again turned his gaze forward.

- Well, let's get started, - he meant not food, as it might seem, but the short grace that followed his long speech.

With these words, the father lowered his elbows on the table, and his wife also followed suit. The girl raised her head - both parents watched her closely, reproach was read in their eyes. Lass knew perfectly well the reason for their discontent - the tradition of reading a prayer before meals was always strictly observed in their family, and anyone who tried to break this rule had a hard time.

The girl still remembers, once upon a time, when she was just five years old, at dinner, she capriciously told her father that she allegedly forgot the grace's words - so much she wanted to eat that June day. She didn't expect at all, that from these words the face of the pope will be filled with blood and distorted in a terrible grimace. Five-year-old girl pretended that his anger passed her attention and began to eat baked potatoes, but the poor little soul did not manage to dine.

In the next second, the father got up from his seat and, stamping his feet loudly, went up to his daughter and forcefully put forward the chair on which she was sitting. This, of course, was followed by the little girl's cries of displeasure, accompanied by tears, to which the father answered only with furious "You will sleep without supper!", and then he ordered his wife to take their girl to the bedroom, to which she agreed without further ado - which the daughter regarded as a betrayal.

And since then, every time before a meal, the father said that they need to read a grace, that scene replayed in her head - and she again heard her own weeping, saw her father's face contorted with anger and her mother's completely calm and indifferent face... Confused, the girl twitched her whole little body.

- Forgive me, - she whispered softly.

Then, gathering up the courage, she cast a quick glance out the window, beyond which the September sun still shone. A bright light hit her eyes and blinded her for a moment, and the next second the girl raised her hands from under the table, resting her elbows on the white tablecloth. At the same time, the sleeves of her cardigan slid down slightly, revealing to everyone around the pale skin of her delicate forearms. If the sun had not shone so brightly at that moment, then this would probably have passed by the attention of parents, but they could not fail to notice how the glare of the sun fell on her tender hands.

The father immediately looked away so as not to embarrass his daughter and stared at his plate. Mother, on the contrary, could not stand it and furtively glanced at little girl, who, meanwhile, folded her fragile hands in front of her clean face, as if trying to hide the shame that gripped her. In fact, she just began to read the grace, what calmed her daddy, who, out of respect for tradition, did not dare to break the silence, but up to that moment, a slight irritation caused by her slowness and unhurriedness was clearly visible in his eyes.

The girl closed her eyelids and the view of the brightly lit dining room instantly gave way to complete darkness. It seemed to her that for a few moments she was transported into a boundless void, but the quiet whisper of the parents, who had already begun to utter the words of the grace, brought her back to reality. Then lass took a deep breath, concentrated on the pleasant warmth of her palms and, trying not to raise her voice, began to quietly read grace - as she remembered it.

- Come, Lord Jesus... - she whispered her first words, pronouncing them a little slower than necessary so as not to accidentally make a mistake.

However, while reading a prayer, she had something completely different in her thoughts - girlie imagined that she was seeing ajussi Jo in front of her, with a sad look looking at her from the darkness. His closed lips seemed to ask her some question, and she guessed what he wanted to ask her - she felt what he was feeling now, what desperate pain tormented him.

"As your life?", the girl turned to him. "I know that you are suffering, and I am not happy here without you either.I understand that from now on we will never be together. But still tell me, where are you now?". Alas, there was no answer - her adult friend only breathed deeply through clenched teeth from suffering, and tightly pressed to his chest a bouquet of dahlias dried up from time to time, which she loved so much in absentia, never holding them in her hands.

- our Guest... - meanwhile lass did not forget to read grace, sitting at the dinner table with their parents.

"Silence won't help", she continued to carry on a dialogue with her friend. "Please understand how hard it is for me, when I don't understand what's really going on with you... You are not dead, I know it very well - you were isolated because of me because I broke the rules of this world... But I want to know exactly where you are being hidden from me". Jo was still silent, but the girl saw how the corners of his mouth drooped sadly and a tear rolled down his unshaven cheek.

- ..and let Thy gifts... - little girl continued to read the prayer, feeling the dryness of her lips. In addition, she felt someone's eyes on her face, who carefully examined her, but she did not attach any importance to this, because grace required complete concentration.

"It's no good move on your side", with some reproach she turned to Jo. "You disappeared so suddenly, that I did not even have time to come to terms with the thought, that now I have to live without your tales, advices and understanding. It's a pity I didn't get to know what exactly was the reason that you disappeared. I think stupid adults are to blame here - it was they who made a villain out of you, without even really understanding what you really are... Or maybe they realized how insignificant their knowledge is compared to yours, and they decided to get rid of you". After these words, girl saw Jo smile weakly and slightly nod in response to her - apparently he was satisfied with what she was talking about, but still not a word escaped his lips.

- us be blessed. Amen, - reading the last words of grace, the girl was in no hurry to open her eyes - she wanted to talk a little more with Jo, even if only in her imagination.

"Ah, ajussi Jo", she said desperately, "Tell me for God's sake, why did life make me go across the spiral of fate? What did I do to you, why did you leave me all alone, without saying a single word goodbye? And now you're making me ignorant of your real location? Because if you would only tell me where you are, I immediately calmed my heart and reconciled with your loss".

Jo kept standing in his place, and the wind ruffled his disheveled hair. The girl noticed how, in response to her words, a guilty expression appeared on his face, which could mean that he is going through an internal struggle - give in to the plea of a young friend or not. "Tell me where are you now, please!", she asked plaintively. And suddenly Jo swung and with all his might threw in her direction a bouquet of dahlias, who had previously held. Lass stretched her arms forward to catch the flowers, but the next second she felt a hand on her shoulder...

It was not a mental sensation - someone really took her by the shoulder. The girl opened her eyes with some difficulty - she was still sitting at the dinner table, on which were plates with a variety of food, a kettle and several cups. She slowly turned her head in the direction from which the feeling of touch came, and saw that her mother was standing right in front of her chair. Little girl immediately noticed that her face was pale and her eyes were in tears.

- Mommy, why are you sad? - asked the girl, continuing to hold her hands in shape like a boat.

Instead of answering, woman looked down at the floor and sobbed softly. For a while, the girl watched her closely, but still couldn't bring herself to even relax her hands. Meanwhile, the mother raised her head and looked at her daughter - there were still tears in her eyes and her breathing was heavy and ragged.

She didn't move for a while, but then, taking a few hesitant steps towards the little girl, immediately sank down, right on the tender knees of her daughter. As soon as the mother's head found footing, she immediately burst into tears, and the daughter felt her body tremble in time with her sobs. The girl could not understand what was happening to her mother and what made her cry so much

Still holding hands in prayer position, she turned her head towards her father. He sat on a chair at the head of the table and looked at her intently, leaning head on right shoulder. One of his hands rested on the back of a chair, and the other he was clutching a spoon, although there was nothing on the plate in front of him, except for a tiny puddle of freshly eaten Sopa de legumes. Noticing that his daughter was looking at him, the corners of his mouth turned up a little, but instead of smiling, he just shook his head sadly.

- Darling... - he said uncertainly, swallowing saliva. - I don't even know how to tell you this...

Halting mid-sentence, the father took his eyes off the baby and stared at the table, clearly trying to collect his thoughts. A tense silence reigned in the dining room, and only the sobs of the mother from time to time broke it. Narrowing her eyes, the girl continued to look at daddy, trying to figure out what's on his mind, but the head of the family remained silent, as if afraid to say something that would offend her childish heart. She shifted her gaze to the plate full of soup in front of her - fragrant steam no longer rose from there. The next second, from the opposite end of the table, her father's insinuating cough reached her ears. Turning to him, the girl saw him pass his hand over his forehead and brush back his grey hair.

- I can understand, - he began, swaying forward slightly, causing the chair beneath him to creak, - that we brought you up in a religious atmosphere and therefore it is not surprising, that you are serious about what my mother and I taught you and the problems of faith and devotion to God occupy a significant place in your life, - at these words, the father coughed and reached for the teapot that stood on the table.

The girl experienced some strange mixture of shame and pity for her daddy. She found the strength to part her palms and place her hands on the table in front of her, with a sense of satisfaction noticing that her mother finally stopped sobbing and removed her head from her lap. At this time, the father had already poured himself tea and, lifting the cup to his lips, looked at his daughter.

- But this does not mean, - he said, taking a sip, - that the issue of religion is the only problem in our lives. There are many other things that...
- Daddy, what the problem is? - wrinkling her delicate nose, girl interrupted him.

Probably she did not calculate her strength, because after her words, the father choked on tea and almost dropped the cup from his hands. For a few seconds he coughed loudly, trying to compose himself. The girl saw her father's wrinkled face flush with blood, and sweat appeared on his forehead. Finally, the head of the family got over a fit of coughing and, wiping the drops of tea that fell on his clothes, he turned to the girl.

- I will be very brief, - he spoke after some silence. - Your mother and I gave praise to the Lord and began to meal, and you, dear, continued to sit in prayerful ecstasy and did not react to anything, even on my words, so my mother and I were afraid that you had a internal bleeding, - daddy said this in a very serious and preoccupied tone.

The girl was confused by her father's speech - she still could not understand what happened in the dining room while she was praying, and only the cold soup in her plate silently testified that she had not started eating for a very long time. Gathered in spirit, daughter raised a pleading look at her father, as if asking if he was lying, but he only smiled sadly at her and shook his head. Lass looked at her mother, who, pressing her hands to her face, shuffled uncertainly as she made her way out of the dining room.

She wanted to get up from the table to catch up with her mother and calm her down, when suddenly the head of the family, noisily pushing back his chair, got up from his seat and went up to her. He put his heavy and hot hand on her skinny shoulders, and his face was right next to hers. The girl flinched slightly, but did not move away - that would have been a sign of disrespect. Father's mouth twisted slightly into a smile, and his small senile eyes narrowed a little.

- Sweetie, - at these words, she felt an unpleasant smell from his mouth, - don't worry, I'll take care of mommy myself. You eat better, otherwise all skin and bones.

Daddy not viciously pinched his cute child for chubby cheek, why did daughter twitch slightly in her seat. Then he straightened his back and winked slyly at her, as if making it clear that there is nothing terrible in what happened. Then he came to the door, but before he left the dining room he turned on his heels and said:

- If the soup is too cold, you can heat it up on the stove, you're not a little kid. Bye-bye!

The door slammed shut behind him, and the girl took a breath - finally silence reigned in the room. Without looking around anymore, she took the spoon in her right hand and scooped some Sopa de legumes from the plate. Raising it to her lips, the girl almost dropped the spoon on the table, but still managed to calm the trembling in her hand and not spill the soup on the tablecloth. After tasting the food, she noticed with displeasure that soup could not be called tasty when cold.

She put down the cutlery and, getting up from the table, picked up a plate and went to the opposite end of the dining room, where the white marble counter top stood. The girl poured the contents of the plate into a small aluminum saucepan, standing on the stove and placing an empty plate next to, picked up a red petrol lighter and clicked it. A thick blue fire flared under the saucepan, and the girl placed her lighter on the marble counter next to her plate.

She stood for a while, looking at the blue ring of fire, then she turned and went to the window. Pushing back the white nylon curtain, she looked out into the street, but there was nothing of interest there. After standing like this for a couple of minutes, she returned to the stove again, noticing the steam rising from the soup. The girl put on kitchen mittens and, carefully grasping the handle of the saucepan, poured the gurgling soup into a plate. Carrying it to the table, she sat down on a chair, pulled the plate towards her and began to eat. "Now that's another matter", she thought, swallowing Sopa de legumes with gusto.


The memory of mom's soup involuntarily aroused the girl's appetite - she clearly felt this pleasant taste on her tongue, as if she really ate this soup, and not just remembered it. Continuing to sit on the windowsill, she thought that it would be nice to run to the kitchen now and get something from the refrigerator - she suddenly wanted to eat.

It contained, she remembered, a can of tuna in oil, a piece of goat cheese, a pack of saltine crackers, a carton of milk, and a plastic container of chicken eggs. The girl knew that her mother did not like to indulge her family with sweets, although on summer days she gave her the opportunity to eat minty tats, which she reluctantly bought for her as a favor. Anything sweeter than them was banned.

Ironically, the girl recalled that before her mother delighted the whole family with the most beautiful eclairs, sweet cakes and shortbread cookies she loved so much, but it's all in the past - the last time my mother baked was exactly two years ago, since then, she has not cooked any desserts, only meat, fish, soups and salads.

It seemed that the mother deliberately stopped cooking sweets so as not to evoke associations with ajussi Jo in her daughter - at least that's what the girl thought. What was the true state of affairs, was known only to higher powers, who did not care about her whole family and the baby in particular. The girl considered this situation unfair, but what could she do?

Thinking about food, the girl swallowed her saliva and looked away from the night sky. However, as soon as she looked at the door of her bedroom, two conflicting feelings immediately began to torment her: on the one hand she wanted to eat, and at the same time she did not want to wake her mother. In the end, she still abandoned the idea of stuffing her insatiable belly and remained sitting on the windowsill, pressed against the wall.

The moon shone calmly in the night sky and its light emphasized the contours of the trees growing behind the fence. Lass shuddered involuntarily when some nocturnal bird suddenly fell from a branch and with a piercing cry flew very close to her. After seeing her look, she looked at her hands - her untanned skin looked completely white under the moonlight, because of which they merged with her chemise, making her look like a ancient statue of some Greek goddess. Raising her eyes, she froze, looking into the night sky, and her long black hair fell loose over her shoulders. She again plunged into her thoughts, not noticing, than the wind blowing from the direction of the forest plays with her hair.

Concentrating in your thoughts on Jo, the girl could not help remembering how her mother had changed her attitude towards this man. When their family first moved to the Parkrose Neighborhood, she gladly struck up an acquaintance with a neighbour and herself, on her own initiative, dragged her daughter to visit him. The girl, of course, saw this man on the street before that evening, and they even met their eyes then, but really, it was not destined by fate and it could not even be called love at first sight - it's just that she, being a child of eight years old, settled down in a new place and with curiosity studied what surrounded her, including people.

Most of all, the girl was upset by how hypocritically her mommy behaved - at first she chatted merrily with her neighbour, went to visit him and walked with him around the village and in the forest, but it cost her one day to find some kind of stain in the little girl's underwear (mother did not explain anything to her daughter about this.), how Jo went missing the very next day, and her mommy with daddy began to speak of him in such terms, that it became quite clear to the little one: her parents specially exhibited Joe in the darkest colours, so that she forgets to think about him. Of course, such imprudent tactics only aggravated the fact that the girl began to think about this man almost every hour - in any case, not a day passed when she did not think about his dog, his books, quoted his great gems and so on.

If at first it was just a child's reaction to a sudden separation from an interesting interlocutor, then over time, in the eyes of the girl, the image of Jo became something of an ideal, pure and holy - almost everything connected with this person acquired nearly religious meaning for her. In addition, along with the personality of Jo, lass borrowed his outlook on things, a taste for literature and, most importantly, an interest in intellectual conversations. Who knows, maybe all this was inherent in the girl from birth, and that Portland's resident just helped her reveal her identity? In any case, this move from the metropolis to the suburbs changed the girl forever - she has become much more educated and refined in nature than before, and no longer looked like a little impudent and rascal - rather like a sweet, kind and shy child.

Be that as it may, the hypocrisy of her parents revolted her to the marrow of soul's deeps, and their constant lies constantly pissed off the girl, although in fact she herself was the initiator of this, because she always asked them about Jo, which I kept drawing in her mind...

There was a vivid memory of once ajussi Jo said a word that the twenty-fourth of August for him is connected with the day of his mother's death, and therefore he would like to pay tribute to the deceased and visit her grave. Little girl perfectly remembered the moment when her own mother gladly responded to the request of a neighbour, and in the morning of that date she woke her daughter as early as possible, so that they could make all the necessary preparations - first they had a quick breakfast, and then they began to dressing.

- Listen, Delia, - mother said cheerfully, trying on daughter a new sundress in front of the mirror. - This year, for your birthday, dad and I will prepare an unusual present for you. I'm sure, that will appeal to you.
- What kind of present, mommy? - asked the girl, who was already impatient to leave the home.
- The one you don't even know about, - mysteriously mother smiled and immediately changed the subject. - Look at yourself in the mirror, dearie! Você é incrivelmente incrível! - she exclaimed in Portuguese.

Delia obediently stared at her reflection. Indeed, the sundress was her face - light, in coffee with pink colours, with short sleeves and embroidery in the form of a rose on the chest. White openwork ribbon encircling the waist gave the whole figure of the baby girl a touching fragility. Delia couldn't take her eyes off the mirror, and a slight blush broke out on her cheeks. Mother, who stood behind her, smiled sweetly.

- Here, take it, - she suddenly thrust a bunch of forget-me-nots into the girl's hands.
- Why? I didn't... - tearing her eyes away from her reflection, Delia asked in an uncomprehending tone.
- Don't argue with me, - woman raised an eyebrow. - We are going to the burial grounds, you forgot?

At the word "the burial grounds" the girl lost heart for a moment and her face turned slightly pale, but after a second her good mood returned - she remembered that they would not go alone, but accompanied by ajussi Jo.

- What should I do with it, mommy? - she asked, looking at the bunch of flowers.
- You'll have to put them on the grave of Jo's late mom... - mother began to explain.
- What's that got to do? - her daughter interrupted somewhat harshly.

Woman was taken aback for a moment - it seemed that she would never get used to the fact that her daughter, like all children, asks adults tricky questions. However, she immediately pulled herself together and smiled good-naturedly at the baby.

- When you lay flowers, - she began, - then in the next world, the souls of your grandma and grandpa will be with the soul of Jo's mother for all eternity to protect her and take care of her well-being.

Having finished the speech, the mother, without waiting for an answer, put her hand on daughter's shoulder and led her to the exit. Delia obediently walked ahead, trying not to drop the forget-me-nots from the hands. Her mother followed her, adjusting her already perfectly fitted hat as she went. So they reached the home's entrance door, climbed the porch and found themselves on the street. Delia looked back, but mommy silently pushed her forward. They left the gate and walked along the fence that surrounded their site. When she reached neighbour's wicket, mother stopped and pressed the bell.

At that very moment, the barking of Buffalo - he-dog of ajussi Jo, reached Delia's ears. Baby girl heard him jumping around the yard and throwing himself at the fence, as if trying to climb over it. She knew well that the dog would not touch her, but she still had some fear of Buffalo, so Delia involuntarily stood behind her mother and, covering her face with a bunch, pulled her little head into her shoulders. Mother, sensing her daughter's fear, soothingly stroked her thick black hair.

After a few minutes of waiting, the wicket opened, and ran out into the street with a fussy step the tall and slender young man in a strict black suit, white shirt and jacquard tie. His face had a slightly frightened and even guilty expression - no one could understand why.

- Ajussi Jo! - not hiding her joy, Delia screamed and jumping out from behind her mother.

Man glanced at the girl, as if in disbelief, then glanced at her mother, then quickly grabbed the handle of the wicket - Buffalo was already preparing to jump out after his owner. The heavy wooden door slammed shut in front of the dog's nose, and ajussi Jo, taking the keys from his jacket pocket, began to lock the wicket. Delia silently watched the dexterous movements of the man's somewhat nervous hands. When he finally mastered the lock, the girl suddenly had an unbearable desire for him to take her in his arms, and with the thought of this, she approached him and stretched out her hands, but Jo suddenly drew back from the girl.

- Sorry madam, - he called to her mother, - what made you wait!

Delia, frozen in one place with a bouquet of forget-me-nots in her hands, didn't know how should she be. She was somewhat offended by the fact that ajussi Jo, in relation to her, pretended to be untouchable, as if she were not a person, but some annoying insect. It didn't occur to her that this detachment was due to societal norms that a man should not show interest in little girls - at least in terms of physical contacts, as for simple, oral communication, there was not a single unambiguous answer to this question.

Meanwhile, ajussi Jo put the wicket's keys in his pocket and, turning to the mother and daughter, nodded amiably to them, as if he had just remembered their existence. Delia did not return his greeting, but her mother laughed and offered her hand to the neighbor. Baby girl was a little touched by the way ajussi Jo cordially greeted her mommy, but she never knew if it was just politeness or something else. In any case, she had no reason to be offended, because it was her own fault that she rushed headlong to meet him.

For a second she thought of her dad, who, if he happened to be a witness to this spectacle, would certainly have attacked ajussi Jo with his fists. A chill ran down her back, but Delia was immediately ashamed of her thoughts, considering them bad omens. In addition, she, being the faithful descendant of her family, never allowed herself - at least she tried - to think badly about her father. Delia believed that daddy would never fight over trifles, especially with his neighbour.

After shaking hands, the adults headed down the road to the burial grounds. Delia, slightly offended by the fact that no one paid any attention to her, tightened her grip on the bunch of forget-me-nots in her hand and followed them. Ajussi Jo walked slowly, shifting his legs gracefully and hardly looking around, which is why his whole appearance seemed to tell those around him that he was in sorrow and that the fun of worldly fuss did not extend to him.

Delia's mother, on the other hand, moved quickly and energetically, gesticulating vividly and slightly swaying her rounded hips, hidden under the black fabric of a silk dress. She did not seem to feel any remorse for her frivolous behavior, inappropriate at such a solemn hour. It seemed that the fact that they were on their way to the last asylum for the dead was just an occasion for a heart-to-heart conversation for her.

The subject of conversation between adults was, as it was not difficult to guess, the person of ajussi Jo himself - all the way, mom constantly turned to him with some thoughtless questions, to which the man answered with great willingness. The sound of his voice gave Delia an unexpected warm feeling towards him. There was something about him that no other man she knew had - neither her old father, whom she had known since childhood, nor any of his acquaintances. Maybe it was ajussi Jo's touching feigned impotence, or maybe it was his boyish shyness - from his appearance it was possible to conclude that he seemed to be embarrassed to reveal his true self in front of those around him.

Ajussi Jo talked to her mother on topics that were boring for little Delia, but nevertheless she listened to him with interest, although she did not understand their meaning.

- Why did you choose such an unprestigious profession? - the woman asked him almost playfully
- After the death of my mother, - the man answered with some sadness, - I needed to pay off her debts. I had to sell almost all of her things, and this was the only income at that evil days.

He sighed. When looking at his face, it became clear that for him it was really the hardest times.

- You did not answer me, - the girl's mother said impatiently, walking quickly beside him.
- Sorry, - he answered softly, stammering. - I don't really want to talk about this topic.
- To me you can open your whole soul as it is, - his interlocutor answered with a smile.
- Well, - ajussi Jo's face seemed to light up. - The fact is that I am a professional procrastinator - in other words, an very lazy person.

Delia couldn't help but chuckle as she followed her adult companions. Perhaps it was bad manners, but she just couldn't help laughing - the word "lazy" was too much to match with ajussi Jo's personality, with his knowledge and manners. Hearing her chuckle, the adults stopped and looked around. The mother carefully looked at her daughter, in her eyes there was bewilderment, mixed with not yet obvious, but still anger. Her daughter felt uncomfortable and smiled guiltily.

- Dearie! - mother said sternly. - You can't laugh at other people’s shortcomings - everyone has them. And, of course, you have no less of them than anyone else.

Delia lowered her eyes. Ajussi Jo realized that something had to be done to ease the awkwardness. He gave the girl a friendly wink and turned to her mother.

- It's okay, madam, - he said in a conciliatory tone, - do not reproach the child for the fact that adult conversations are funny to him. You yourself, probably, behaved in the same way in your youth. It will pass with age.

This speech by ajussi Jo had its effect on Delia's mother, who, after a few moments of hesitation, nodded her head emphatically.

- Well, mister Thurlow, - she said. - Let it be your way.

The girl saw how difficult it really was for her mother to take this step, but she did not begin to feel compassion for her -she was much more touched by ajussi Jo's willingness to do something for her, the little and trusting daughter of a pharmaceutist. On her face, in addition to reciprocal gratitude, a gentle smile appeared, and she looked at the man with her large innocent eyes. Ajussi Jo didn't seem to notice - he just turned and continued on his way to the burial grounds.

- All my adult life I tried to delay the moment, - he continued the dialogue, - when I have to start working for a living. When I was younger, I lamented that society was not able to easily give benefits to everyone and everyone, - At these words, he sighed. - But, as you understand, the cornucopia is just a utopian symbol, and therefore, with a heavy heart, I had to agree with the foundations of our imperfect world.
- Curious, - Delia's mother said thoughtfully, - so are you satisfied with your profession? I know she don't make a lot of money.
- It's not so much about the money, - said ajussi Jo. - I went down the path of a culturologist solely because, so as not to spend a lot of time at work.
- You want to say that even this job exhausts all your strength? - his interlocutor frowned.
- I believe that a person should not live only by labour. I hated the idea of becoming some kind of salesclerk or steward - because others will treat you not as an individual, but only as a screw in a social structure. Such work deprives me of the possibility of self-expression, and my nature does not accept this.
- I would not say that I am satisfied with your outlook on life, - woman said with hidden contempt. - I wonder how your late mother felt about this?
- She wasn't happy with it either, - bowed his head ajussi Jo. - She constantly lamented, seeing how I wasted her money to no purpose. I understood how hard it was for her, because she had to earn a living and my upbringing alone...
- Did you consider yourself not a good son? - Delia's mother interrupted him unexpectedly.
- Hard to give answer, - man shrugged. - I never claimed to be an outstanding person. Parents tend to idealize their children, but the child wants to be himself first and foremost, and I was no exception.
- Oh, those children... - thoughtfully said his interlocutor.

After these words, Delia's mother gave her daughter a look of regret and pity for a moment.

Meanwhile, this trinity had already approached the burial grounds. It was cool under the arches of tall trees that grew near the iron fence, which had darkened with time. Sunlight played on the leaves of old oaks and maples. Every now and then, bird trills were heard to baby girl’s ears, accompanied by a quiet rustle of leaves. The adults passed through the gate and went along a path that ran between even rows of graves and led out to a small area where the roof of a small crypt, surrounded by flowering lilac bushes, shone brightly under the rays of the sun. On its left side stood a tall obelisk of black granite, which stood on a low white pedestal, which made its whole appearance look rather contrasting. In the rays of the morning sun, its shiny surface shone with an incredible brilliance.

Delia, following her companions, looked around with interest. At first she was struck by the harsh beauty of the tombstones, but soon curiosity gave way to another feeling close to melancholy. Undoubtedly, the sight of the tombstones evoked in the girl's soul a strange feeling of false loss - it seemed to her that as soon as she crossed the invisible border that separated the rest of the world from the burial grounds, she immediately felt sorry for everyone and everyone who was buried under heavy granite slabs.

Perhaps it just could be a childish reverence for the last refuge of the dead, but one way or another, kids feel the world around them more keenly than adults, so it was impossible to explain in simple words the strange feelings that gripped Delia at that moment - if only because she herself could not express.

Meanwhile, a procession of two adults and one child approached the desired grave, the stone slab of which was hidden under thickets of weeds - it is obvious that no one cared about the mother of some lorn culturologist. In the midst of them, a simple tombstone made of natural stone with the inscription "Jehanne Thurlow (21 July 1946 - 24 August 1984)" carved on it, against the background of neighboring, neatly cleaned graves, made such a depressing impression that it seemed as if a not poor, humble woman was buried here. a woman, but a vile criminal who was disgusting even in death.

- My Lord! - exclaimed Delia's mother, spreading her arms.
- What's been going on? - rousing himself from his stupor, ajussi Jo asked.
- You didn't follow her grave at all! - the woman answered reproachfully. - When was the last time you went here?

The last words she said, already turned to the man. Delia saw her mother's face glow with such energy, such determination that it was clear - this woman is ready for anything, no matter what the cost. The girl turned her gaze to ajussi Jo, who stood silently, looking ahead of him. His shoulders were relaxed and slumped, as if he was instantly weary of what was happening.

After a moment's pause, Delia's mother suddenly rushed to the grave of Jehanne Thurlow and, grabbing a green weed, pulled it with force. There was a crunch, and clods of earth flew in all directions. Baby girl jumped aside in time, and her sundress remained clean. Her mother continued to vigorously uproot the weeds, while ajussi Jo continued to stand in a relaxed posture and watched in bewilderment. Delia looked sideways at him. She was somewhat embarrassed that the man did not even try to help the woman - to his neighbour and her mother rolled into one!

- Ajussi Jo, - suddenly she said, standing on tiptoe to look into his face. - Help my mom, please! Strong you are, I know...

Her last words made ajussi Jo smile - apparently, it was funny for a grown man to hear a little girl trying to appeal to his strength. Tilting his head slightly to one side (causing his hair to be a little disheveled), he looked down at the girl, and his smile seemed slightly smug.

- You got that right, dearie, - mother's voice rang out.

Jo & Delia turned to her at the same time - she stood by the grave, her face flushed with work expressed mild displeasure. The girl noticed that her mother's black silk dress now had ugly stains from damp earth.

- Mommy, you're all messy! - Delia exclaimed with some dismay.

The mother did not answer her daughter, only looked herself up and down, as if surprised at how she managed to get dirty. It just so happened that she was so passionate about her work that she didn’t pay attention to her appearance at all. The girl turned her gaze to Uncle Joe, who was already rolling up his sleeves, about to take part in cleaning the grave.

- Are not you ashamed, mister Thurlow! - said the woman, straightening her back. - You make me clean up your mother's grave alone, untill yourself...

Then she bit her tongue, realizing, apparently, that it was very risky to talk in such a tone with her little daughter - what if the child picks up rude words and uses them in a conversation with everyone he meets? Meanwhile, ajussi Jo approached the grave with a firm and measured step, unbuttoning his jacket as he went. At the same time, he looked like he was forcibly forced to take up the case. He bent down and began pulling weeds with his bare hands, then his partner followed suit.

Delia, with barely concealed pleasure, watched how the adults worked harmoniously and energetically. Male help was is very rich indeed - in a few minutes, the eyes of all those present began to open up a view of a neat granite slab inlaid with a vine. It turns out that in five years the wind and rains almost did not touch the surface of the stone, except that the dirt slightly stained the exquisite patterns. As soon as all the weeds were pulled out by the joint efforts of Joe and Delia's mother, the girl went to the grave and, bending her knees, began to examine with interest the design made in granite.

Pushing a strand of hair out of her forehead, Delia reached forward with her left hand and gently ran the tip of her index finger over the polished stone, still clutching the bouquet of forget-me-nots she continued to hold in other hand. She heard ajussi Jo's soft sigh and turned her head slightly to look at him. He stood with his arms crossed over his chest and silently looked at the grave. His sad eyes and lowered hands touched baby girl's heart for some reason, and she wanted to say something encouraging to him. But as soon as she began to look for words, the thought suddenly came into her head that it was not worth talking a lot at the grave of the deceased. So Delia contented herself with an innocent shrug and a sweet smile.

Solemn trinity continued to silently look at Jehanne Thurlow's grave, occasionally exchanging glances. Then Delia's mother sighed and, raising her right hand to her face, began to massage the bridge of her nose, and her eyes, as it seemed to the girl, were moistened with tears. Ajussi Jo smiled sheepishly. It was some time before the silence was broken by the mother's voice:

- Delia, do you think Jordan's mom would love to meet you if she were alive? - in a fit of sentimentality, woman asked a rhetorical question.

In the next second, she let her tears flow, and her weeping echoed through the burial grounds. Taken aback, her daughter trembled all over, feeling like she was about to cry too. Resting her feet firmly on the ground, she pressed the bouquet to her chest and froze. Sad thoughts slowly began to enter her mind about how difficult it would be for her if her own parents were gone.

As she knew, human age is short, plus everything a person can be suddenly mortal, and, being just a small child, she was terrified of losing her parents - especially mom, as for her dad, it seemed to Delia, with her little life experience, that with his death, little would change in her life, except that dust would settle in his place in the dining room and because of the closed doors of their living room, the echoes of his heated arguments with her mother would cease to be heard regarding pedagogical and religious views on daughter's upbringing.

Her mother's call snapped her out of these thoughts. Delia looked up and saw that she had already moved away from the grave and was now standing with Uncle Joe on the cobbled path between the burials. When her daughter looked back, the woman waved her hand in the direction of the tombstone.

- Delia, - she repeated, looking attentively at baby girl, - put forget-me-nots at the head and come to us, it's time to go home.

Recovering herself, the girl gave her mother a nod and, rising to her feet, went to the very edge of the grave and, slightly turning the bunch of forget-me-nots in her hands - she really liked these flowers - slowly lowered it onto soft soil, and then taken notice to the adults and looked at them questioningly.

- Right, - mother nodded with a smile on her lips. - And now come to us. Hurry up! - she hurried her daughter, who hesitated indecisively on the spot.

Ajussi Jo, standing a little behind Delia's mother, silently watched everything that was happening. The sad expression disappeared from his face, and now he seemed happy and peaceful, and the clods of dirt on his strict suit gave his appearance a carelessness and some frivolity. Delia felt something stir in her soul as she looked at him, but she couldn't figure out what the feeling was. She went to meet the adults, having managed to wipe her hands on her sundress along the way. This action did not escape the eyes of the mother, who frowned and shook her head reproachfully.

- Dearie, why did you get your clothes dirty? - the woman asked as Delia walked over and stood next to her. - You're not some simpleton, you're a civilized lady!

Taking the girl by the hand, the mother gently squeezed her small hand in hers and led her towards the exit from the burial grounds. Delia obediently followed her, feeling a little uneasy at being so unceremoniously torn away from her sincere and sincere expression of feelings in front of Jehanne Thurlow's grave. Apparently, this feeling was transmitted to her mother, who quickened her pace, so that her daughter had to hurry after her. Soon the feeling of some stiffness passed, and Delia returned to her thoughts.

She believed that the bouquet of forget-me-nots, which she happened to lay today, would lie on the grave for eternity, reminding everyone around how a well-bred young lady paid tribute to the memory of the deceased mother of her spiritual teacher and mentor, thereby expressing her deepest respect to to himself and to all his family. As befits a good little girl, Delia continued to walk beside her mother, but as their procession passed the cemetery fence, she couldn't help but look back and take one last look at grave of ajussi Jo's mother.

What was revealed to the eyes of a little girl shocked her to the core - at the tombstone stood an unfamiliar man in torn clothes, unshaven and with dirty tousled hair sticking out from under his old felt hat. For a few moments it seemed to her that it was some kind of ghost wandering between the graves, but when she looked closer, she realized that it was the most ordinary olden pauper, in appearance very similar to those whom she used to see on the television screen in dull and boring television movies on the urban theme.

Looking furtively around, the man took off his hat and immediately picked up a bunch of forget-me-nots from the ground. It took a lot of effort for Delia to cover her mouth with her hand so as not to scream from the feelings of resentment and childish indignation that captured her. With a whistling exhalation of air, olden pauper, trying as discreetly as possible to put the flowers in the pocket of his bottomless pockets, rushed away. Baby girl followed the man with her eyes until he disappeared behind the building of the crypt.

Forcefully clenching her free hand into a fist, Delia gritted her teeth and took a deep breath. Thoughts about the unworthy behavior of olden pauper did not leave her mind. She asked herself questions from the category "Why did he steal the flowers, intended for the deceased?", "What was he going to do with them?" and so on. For a split second, Delia was seized with a desire to immediately punish the pickfloret, but she suppressed this desire, realizing that there was nothing she could do, and even if she tried, it would look at least stupid, if not risky. Sighing, the girl turned her gaze to her mother, who continued to lead her forward, following ajussi Jo.

Delia felt how the wind, which until then slightly stirred her hair, gradually intensified and now began to blow under her clothes. She shivered from the cold and raised her hand, which had been stiff from lying for a long time, to straighten her chemise. At that moment, it was out of the question to get up from the windowsill and put on something warmer - the girl was so captivated by the sight of the moon, which in the meantime had already begun to run into dark and vague clouds. Delia was in a state where thoughts dominated the desire of her body, and although by nature she was disposed to melancholic reflections, but in a state of prostration like this, she had bothered to fall for the first time in all her ten years.


Delia remembered one of her many Sunday trips to the local church, which located not too far from her home, if think about it. The church itself was very beautiful - a brick-lined building with additional stonework, the rounded windows of which indicated that the architect was fond of the Romanesque style. The corner tower with battlements, which towered above the roof of the rest of the church, evoked in Delia pleasant associations with movies about medieval life, and, one might say, gave the girl additional motivation to go to this place (not counting her Lutheran confession, of course).

On that Sunday, the daughter and mother, according to the tradition established in their family, dressed in lace shawls - Delia in lilac, her mom in black - and leaving the house, they soon reached the front doors of the church. That day, Delia was not in a good mood, because before leaving the house she managed to quarrel with her father because he found fault with her drawing of a man with red hair. The main reason was not in the picture itself - who was rough just like others kids her age, but in the fact that the girl signed it with those eight cherished letters that caused unjustified panic and paranoia in her parents and a burst of admiration in Delia herself.

So when father left home for his job, the girl without much interest went to church, without even talking to your mother on the way. True, she, being a witness to the quarrel between her daughter and her husband, in turn, was also not disposed to conduct sincere conversations with the child. When both women finally made it to the church, a sullen feeling of dissatisfaction gradually gave way to inexplicable excitement, and after a few minutes Delia forgot about her family quarrel.

The chain-hung lamps, adorned with beautiful hexagonal shades, glowed with a warm yellow light that reflected off the polished wood of the furniture. The lighting was subdued, as if the church leaders did not want to disturb the solemnity of the moment with the bright light of electric lamps, but this did not prevent the girl from enthusiastically examining the vintage interior of the church, which she had never been particularly interested in before, since church was as much a chore to her as school or the grocery store.

It was immediately evident to her that the interior bore the features of the Gothic style, evidence of which was the ceiling support, carved from oak and spruce planks. They contrasted with the white walls, decorated modestly but tastefully. Paying no attention to the parishioners crowding among the semicircular rows of benches, Delia had set their eyes on the altar, making her face take on a dreamy expression, and strands of thick hair lying on the shoulders were a little disheveled, but from the side it was not noticeable due to the shawl thrown over it.

Worship in the Portland church differed little from a similar procedure, which she observed while living in New York, except that among the parishioners, the number of old people prevailed over middle-aged people, and of the children at the moment there was only one Delia - as if the locals were of the opinion that you should not take your children to church. The girl did not remember how the divine service went, because in her thoughts she was completely absorbed in Jo - it seemed that the solemn atmosphere of this holy place with renewed vigour resurrected the image of this man in her thoughts.

As the congregation began to disperse, the girl's mother gave her a light nudge on the shoulder.

- Dearie, we need to go, - there was weariness in the woman's voice.

Delia, continuing to stand still, only turned her head towards her.

- Mommy, I want to stay here, - she said humbly.

Her mother put her arms around her awkwardly.

- What are you lost here? - woman asked in bewilderment.
- I will stay, - insistently repeated her daughter, turning away from her.
- As you wish, beautiful, - surrendered mother.

With that, she walked out of the church as Delia continued to stare at the carved oak altar.

- I will be waiting for you outside, - her mother's voice reached baby ears.

Convinced that she had left the church, the girl, straightening her shawl, stepped out from behind the rows of wooden benches onto the red-carpeted space in front of the altar, at which at that moment the vicar stood alone, who by appearance could have been forty years old. He was dressed in an impeccable black cassock, and his hair was hidden by a hood of the same colour. The clergyman watched the bustling people who left the church, not even trying to hide the boredom on his face. It seemed that he did not attach any importance to the child, who at that time was approaching him.

Delia, on the contrary, with every step that brought her closer to the altar, felt more and more excited. Her arms were trembling slightly with excitement, so she had to keep them crossed over her chest. She felt the bewildered glances of other parishioners glide over her body, wrapped in a lilac shawl. Coming closer to the vicar, Delia adjusted her veil slightly so that the clergyman could better see her face, and stopped at the foot of the four steps, covered with red velvet carpet

- Good afternoon to you, reverend Wyllys, - softly but firmly said the girl

At the sound of her voice, the vicar visibly shuddered and, gliding over her with an indifferent look, continued to remain silent.

- Allow me to ask you, - Delia continued decisively.

The clergyman turned to her - from the gleam of his eyes it was clear that he was completely in no mood to chat about trifles with juvenile parishioners, even if they were as serious as this one.

- Go with peace, my daughter, - he said with displeasure.
- Can you please... - Delia began, but the vicar interrupted her.
- Worship time is over, you have nothing more to do here, - and the clergyman pointed to the exit.

Such treatment hurt the girl a little, but she did not show it, and only the blush of her cheeks betrayed her annoyance.

- I wanted your advice, reverend Wyllys, - she said firmly, looking into the vicar's face.
- What a naughty gal... - barely audible he whispered. - Go home, my daughter, - said the clergyman, raising his voice.
- I'm not going anywhere, until you answer my question! - stubbornly girl answered him.

Delia couldn't help but lightly stamp her black-shoed foot. This not bad way to express your impatience in the walls of the church looked out of place, but today the girl was determined and therefore allowed herself to break through the rules. In the next second, vicar surrendered to her pressure and, having taken a couple of steps towards her, stopped on the topmost step.

- What's eating you, my daughter? - there was still a note of displeasure in his voice.
- Reverend Wyllys, - Delia began, - I dread to think, but sometimes it seems to me that adults are hiding something from me.

The girl had in mind, of course, the fact that her parents withhold from her everything connected with ajussi Jo. But how was this particular church dignitary to know?

- Don't worry, my daughter, - the vicar answered her. - Parents always do not immediately open the world to their child, for a person must learn it gradually, bit by bit.

Delia did not like the way the clergyman, instead of listening to his interlocutor, immediately began to indulge in spatial speeches that did not at all relate to what she wanted to know now.

- That's not what I meant, reverend Wyllys, - trying to keep a calm tone, she said.

Alas, vicar could not be stopped - It seemed that the question of the young parishioner became a catalyst for his eloquence, and the clergyman was unable to suppress the flow of common truths that fell from his lips on the pharmaceutist's daughter, who was little interested in religious conversations.

- If a man, - said the vicar, raising his finger to the ceiling, - from a young age suddenly learns everything about the world at once, then know, my daughter, that this is from the Evil One, and such a person goes against the commandments of the Lord.

Delia realized that she would again have to go against the rules of good manners in order to force the clergyman to answer the question that had been troubling her for many months. Taking a deep breath, she almost instinctively put her hands on her gentle hips, as her mother liked to do during family quarrels.

- Please listen to me, reverend Wyllys, - Delia said loudly, interrupting the moralizing tirade of the interlocutor. - My parents don't want to talk to me about the person I feel this way that's, uh... - she broke off in mid-sentence.

The girl was embarrassed to talk about ajussi Jo directly - she was tormented by suspicions, what if she told the vicar about her spiritual connection with a grown man, then the clergyman will immediately begin to shower her with reproaches, without even trying to find out what exactly their communication consisted of. Therefore, she had to make an effort to shut up and freeze in the pose of an obedient and submissive the servant of the Lord. Noticing this, the vicar did not reprimand her for misbehaviour and even showed on his face the semblance of a pious smile, which in a second was replaced by the usual expression of calm.

- Things can still work out, my daughter, - the clergyman consoled Delia. - Are you talking about love?

There was a hint of mild interest in the vicar's voice, which gave Delia self-confidence. Nodding her head in agreement at his words, she brushed away the unruly curls that were escaping from under her shawl.

- Reverend Wyllys, I'm living in constant fear, - she spoke cheerfully, - that something bad happened to this person. What should I do?

After these words, the girl fixed her dark eyes on the vicar. Although her question was not quite correctly worded, the tone in which Delia asked it should have served as evidence that the answer to it is really important to her. Alas, the clergyman did not take the child's words seriously - instead, he, without spending a second to think, gave her a condescending smile.

- You love, my daughter, and amour with awe are always alongside, - as if reciting some truism, the vicar said good-naturedly. - Just have faith, hope and wait.

With these words, he turned away from the girl and raised his eyes to hanging over the altar darkened with time round metal plate, decorated with complex patterns, covered in some places with worn gilding. This was to be taken as a sign that their conversation had come to an end. Delia had no choice but to straighten her shawl and head for the exit. The whole figure of the girl spoke of the fact that this dialogue left her in a state of discontent, and now she struggled hard not to voice her disagreement with the clergyman's answer.

Trying to step as slowly as possible on the red carpet spread between the rows of benches, the girl considered to herself that, translated into plain language, the words of the vicar meant, that he was unable to give Delia advice on how to deal with her situation with ajussi Jo. She regretted that she had not spoken directly to the face of the clergyman a quote from a book that she once read with her adult friend. Although it could be called reading with a big stretch, for the girl just sat there listening to ajussi Jo read aloud to his young listener. Specifically, the quote that Delia considered appropriate in this situation was that a certain sage and doctor asked Lord God to destroy the human race, so that he would create more perfect people, but Lord God replied that although he sympathized with the sage, he could not fulfill his request.

It is possible that in fact the dialogue had a completely different meaning, but the girl could not know this, if only because the contents of this book, ajussi Jo had to translate right on the go, for it was written in the German, of which Delia's knowledge was very superficial, to say the least. If the girl could find this book in her own language, then she would doubtless have checked with her and told the vicar exactly what was said in the original, but to her greatest regret, she was prevented from finding an English translation of this book as her parents (who seemed to hate everything about ajussi Jo), and the fact that she could not know the exact name - it was difficult for Delia to remember and pronounce the German words, and a approximate translation of "Is Not An Easy, Being A God" would likely do nothing for bored bookstore vendors.

Therefore, Delia silently walked to the exit, bowing her head. She didn't quote yet because when ajussi Jo finished reading this book, he forbade the girl to quote her right and left. As she thought, the point was that the Lord God described on her pages, was not a gray-haired old person who sat on a cloud and gave orders to angels, but on the contrary, a brave young knight who rode a horse and participated in the squabbles of some medieval town. What's the harm, Delia thought, presenting Lord God as a tough guy?

She remembered how the book described that this Lord God, who, under the guise of a mere mortal, tried to make this world better than it really is, in his travels he fell in love with a woman, but when she was vilely killed, he became furious and made something like Armageddon, only he was wield not some ridiculous fire balls, but a very real knightly sword made of steel, with which he cut his way through the retinue of the treacherous king, and, reaching the last, ended the end of his tyranny. It all ended with the fact that after this event, God himself was taken away by any once of his friends, with whom, walking through the gardens of Eden, he ate strawberries and jokingly frightened those around him with his palms, which were stained with its juice.

But since ajussi Jo said, that other adults will not appreciate such an interpretation of the Lord God out of the mouths of baby girl, then Delia could only held her tongue and just quietly leave the church, having received from the lips of the vicar an answer that explains nothing how her to deal with the situation, when her parents plotted and kept her friend's true fate from her.


The memory of the dialogue with the vicar drove Delia into a state close to despair. She took a deep breath, and, straightening her shoulders stiff from the cold, she ran her hand along the cold surface of the window sill. The moon had long been hidden by clouds, and the dampness of the coming bad weather was felt in the night air. The suspicion crept into the girl’s head that it could rain at any moment and she risks getting wet under its jets, but she continued to sit still, throwing a sidelong glance into her room - what if the door opens and her mother or father comes in?

But, much to Delia's happiness, none of her parents entered her bedroom. It was to her liking - now, more than ever, the girl didn't want their presence, for she felt an urgent need to forget them and remember her life up to the today's moment. Calming down, Delia turned her head to the sky and, closing her eyes for a few seconds, tried to put all thoughts of the present out of her mind, so that they do not interfere with focusing on images from the happy moments of her past together with ajussi Jo.

She did not risk getting tired of the painstaking sorting out of her reminiscences and fall into the sleep, because the cold wind blowing from the direction of the forest just did not give her such an opportunity. Unlike New York, where Delia had previously lived with her parents, in Portland there was no need to question the existence of nature around, as often happened to the girl on the streets of the metropolis filled with cars, where any blade of grass, timidly growing in the cracks of the asphalt, seemed to be a symbol of the green world and at the same time the personification of wildlife rolled into one.


Images from her and Jordan's very last pastime resurfaced in Delia's mind. It could never be called the date, for in the first place, Delia was too young for that, and secondly, if a date is usually a meeting in private, then this event took place in the company of Jordan's close friend, whom the girl respected in absentia, but never seen before. In her own imagination, the world around Delia was come back through time.

She herself was not in those events - not in the sense that she was not there physically. On the contrary, Delia was directly involved in those incidents. The thing was that her own visual image was missing in the memories, for such a human has not yet been born who could see himself from the outside, without losing the ability to navigate the world around him and evaluate what is happening from the point of view of the first person.

Visit to Jordan's friend was an unexpected surprise for little Delia, which was not included in her plans for the evening of that day. Quite the contrary, by this point she had hinted to ajussi Jo several times, that it is time for her to go home to begin her direct duties of preparing for tomorrow's exam in literature, which all her classmates were waiting with such tension, to say nothing of herself. Her house was very close - literally the next wicket to the right, but Delia couldn't shake the feeling that if she left her neighbour without asking, she would spoil his mood, which she really did not want at all. So she tried to get Jordan to let her go instead of leaving his house herself.

- Ajussi Jo, I'm begging you! - she moaned. - I have an important exam at school, I just don't know how I can pass it...

But Jordan, as if nothing had happened, continued to sit in his chair, holding an open book in his hands, which he read with some curiosity. Delia realized that her request would go unanswered and decided to persevere. Taking a few steps toward the armchair, she stepped over ajussi Jo's legs and rested her palms on the green chintz armrests. At that very moment, Jordan slammed the book shut and looked up at her, which passed her attention, because the girl was involuntarily interested in her cover. It was a hardcover pamphlet with the title written in huge white letters on the glossy blue surface.

- The Book of Light, - Delia read with some hesitation, as if tasting the word.

She removed her hands from the armrests and looked inquiringly at Jordan, whose face broke into an enigmatic smile. "Is that my pronunciation make him amuses?" she asked herself, when their eyes met. She felt uncomfortable and looked back at the book. A minute later, ajussi Jo broke the silence.

- Oh, that's boring, - in an apologetic tone he began, - It's all about healing and crystals.

Delia, hearing this definition, barely kept a smile. She always believed that her adult friend was a connoisseur of quality literature, and she was surprised that he allowed himself to read up such a foolish and worthless book. But what to do when there are so many idiots around who are ready to pay for some nonsense that they don’t even understand. From these thoughts, the girl suddenly wanted to death to say something bold and mocking in the direction of the pamphlet, which Jordan, meanwhile, had already placed on the table to his right. Delia spread her elbows wide, put her hands on her hips and squared her shoulders to look as pugnacious as possible.

- And stupid junk! - she said loudly and articulately, imitating the voice of a literary critic who read his devastating review of the book of whatever graphomaniac.

In fact, Delia was not sure of the need for such an excess - usually she never stooped to such feigned pathos, at least in communication with her parents. But now she felt that in this way she could make some impression on ajussi Jo by proving to him how well she understood the modern literary kitchen. And she was not mistaken - her adult friend looked approvingly at his young friend and nodded his head.

- Trust me, I am in total agreement with you! - he exclaimed joyfully. - I'm getting sick and tired of this esoteric nonsense. I would never pick up a book like this, if on the street I had not been forced to take it by one whacky. By the way, I was wondering, - suddenly he changed his tone, - why do you think this book is "stupid junk", as you put it?

After asking this question, ajussi Jo stared at Delia intently, and it was clear from his serious face that he was waiting for an answer. The girl felt awkward and all her pugnacious exuberance disappeared somewhere. She blushed and lowered her eyes, but Jordan didn't seem to want to change the subject. He waited for Delia to look up at him again and winked at her.

- Tell me why you didn't like this book? - he repeated his question.

Delia realized that it was pointless to keep silent, besides, it was necessary to somehow defuse the tension that had arisen, so she decided to play along with ajussi Jo, and gave him an answer which, she rightly believed, should please him to the core.

- I believe, - Delia said, raising her eyes to the ceiling for a second, - that a human does not benefit from some sort of a pebbles. Crystals can't help health in any case, it's complete nonsense! - she cried out with sudden vehemence.

Her sincere and direct answer seemed to delight ajussi Jo, either way, he smirked and nodded his approval several times. Delia herself experienced a strange feeling - as if she had just delivered a speech to the public, which met her speech with a standing ovation and applause. She straightened her unruly dark hair, straightened her skirt and tried to put on an indifferent expression on her face, in order to somehow hide the confusion that had seized her, but the blush that appeared on her cheeks testified that she was not good at it.

As it were, ajussi Jo got up from his chair. Little girl shuddered and, leaning back, instinctively covered herself with her hand. Jordan went to the table and, picking up this ill-fated book, turned to Delia, who stood in front of the chair, as if spellbound, and looked at ajussi through her fingers with some surprise, but without fear.

- I want do something nice for you, - he said, opening the pamphlet - You do love... - he suddenly fell silent and began turning the pages randomly.

Delia involuntarily wondered what her adult friend had in mind. Baby girl lowered her hand from her face and, narrowing her eyes, carefully looked at his concentrated face.

- What I love? - she asked with barely concealed curiosity. - Read? Paint?
- Incinerate, - answered unexpectedly ajussi Jo and violently pulled the book by the edges of the binding.

There was the sound of tearing paper, and several book pages flew into the floorboards. The next moment, Jordan began tearing the book to pieces with a vengeance, while Delia silently watched his actions. She could not even think that she could be so delighted with the sight of an adult man, bothering himself with such an atypical activity for his age. Soon a pile of tattered paper pages lay at ajussi Jo's feet, and the hardcover he hadn't been able to tear was thrown to the floor beside them. Joyful man took out a lighter from his pocket and nodded to the girl, who involuntarily felt funny, but she managed to suppress a smile, not wanting to seem impolite.

- Take these shreds, - ajussi Jo kicked the paper, - and take it to the hearth.

After these words, he moved to the opposite corner of the room, and Delia, after a little hesitation, squatted down next to what's left of a foolish book and began to carefully pick it up from the floor - piece by piece - folding them into the hem of her light skirt, which she usually wore in autumn, when the weather was still warm enough to walk in easy clothes. When Delia had collected everything, she straightened up and turned to the mantelpiece, where ajussi Jo was already standing.

- Get over here, - he beckoned her with a gesture.

Holding the hem of her skirt, the girl slowly, so as not to spill the paper, moved towards him. As soon as she was near Jordan, the man bent down and opened the iron door of the fireplace.

- Throw all your burden in there, - he nodded to her, referring to the book's odds and ends.

Delia released her hands from her skirt in relief, and the paper fell with a rustle right into the dark maw of the fireplace. Only the cardboard halves of the binding did not seem to want to agree with this and with a barely audible thud fell under her feet. Little girl had to bend down and pick them up from the floor, after which she threw him to the rest of the scraps.

- You make me proud! - exclaimed ajussi Jo with inappropriate triumph. - Now step aside.

Delia obeyed, and her adult friend squatted in front of the fireplace and flicked on his lighter. A few seconds later, a crack was heard right in front of his face, but nothing terrible, of course, happened - it was just a small fire flaring up, and in a few moments the flames were already licking the paper and carton folded in the middle of the fireplace. Ajussi Jo got up, brushed the dust off his knees, and shoving his hands into his trouser pockets stood beside the girl.

- The Book of Light, they say... - with irony in his voice he muttered softly, looking at the fire.
- Let there be light! - Delia answered cheerfully, her eyes fixed on the flames dancing in the fireplace.

So Jo & Delia stood for a while, silently watching as the fire turns tabloid esoteric fiction into what it essentially is - to ashes, only not figuratively, but literally. The girl had the feeling that the act of burning they had just committed, is a challenge to the whole society of these demented psychics who themselves do not understand the meaning of their pseudoscientific teachings, but with surprising perseverance they try to teach it to others, naively believing, as if an educated person has any business with their ridiculous and senseless fuss with crystals and such nonsense, ostensibly bringing human benefit and purification.

Suddenly, ajussi Jo threw back his head to the ceiling, and the girl heard his laughter, similar to the laughter of a child who received a long-awaited gift. She shuddered in surprise and recoiled from him, but soon she realized what was the matter and laughed with him. Her laughter was full of such unbridled joy and happiness as she had never experienced before - it seemed that her whole being was filled with such bliss and peace that no other event in her life could previously cause, even birthdays, Christmas or some other family holidays. It was this strange event - burning a unwise pamphlet in a neighbour's fireplace - that could cause her a strong surge of happiness.

Soon they calmed down - first ajussi Jo stopped laughing, and then Delia herself. Man and a little girl stood near the fireplace, where the last pages of a tattered, foolish and useless tiny book were burning down, which both of them, not without reason, considered, if not bad, then at least mind-numbing reading matter. Burning these pages gave them self-confidence, and, one might even say, awakened their taste for life. Ajussi Jo, looking up from the fireplace, turned to the girl and peered at her for a while - apparently trying to understand from the expression on her face what impression their sudden act made on her. Delia, feeling his eyes on her, blushed in embarrassment and began to straighten her slightly wrinkled skirt.

- Did you like it? - he asked kindly.

In response, the girl nodded her head in the affirmative.

- You've never laughed like this before, - continued ajussi Jo. - Agree, because it great - to burn the books?
- If that's a junkfiction, then yes, - Delia replied cheerfully, jumping up and down.
- I'm not saying that this applies to all literature, - as if making excuses, Jordan began to explain. - Those who can really teach something should be cherished as height of luxury, and they should not be burned at all.

Delia raised her hand to her face and scratched her chin thoughtfully, which obviously amused her interlocutor, who, in response to her gesture, tilted his head to the side and let out some semblance of a chuckle. This slightly hurt the girl, but she did not show it. Looking at ajussi Jo, she suddenly realized clearly how much he looked like her - it was not so much about external data, but how much they had similar internal qualities. After all, if dig into the depths of his soul, it turns out that the difference in age, as it were, did not exist - ajussi Jo, at twenty-four, was still as naive and childish as Delia herself. In fact, the only difference between them was only in the level of knowledge and experience.

- Hold on a second, - suddenly said ajussi Jo, raising his finger to the ceiling.

After that, he went to the desk, on which lay some papers, books, and also there was a small telephone set. Delia stared at him in bewilderment, but when the man's hand reached for the telephone receiver, she could not stand it and took a few of uncertain steps towards him.

- Where are you calling? - she asked with a sudden tremor in her voice.
- Take it easy, Delia, - said ajussi Jo, looking at her affectionately. - Just give me a minute to talk.

With these words, he began to dial the number, and the girl heard a characteristic sound with which the disk of the device rotates (ajussi Jo had a very old model of phone). She realized that Jordan wanted her out of the way, but she asked him one more question just in case.

- It have to do with me? - she asked without any hesitation.
- I feel like you're reading my mind, - ajussi Jo smiled. - Of course it is related. Something very interesting is waiting for you. Highly, - he repeated, and to emphasize the importance of the word, he snapped the fingers of his free hand.

Calming down, Delia stood behind him. It suddenly occurred to her some wonderful idea - eavesdrop on someone else's conversation and find out what adults are talking about! A slight smirk appeared on ajussi Jo's lips, and he nodded his head approvingly, as if encouraging her curiosity. Apparently, he was not at all against the fact that the girl heard the content of his conversation with the person on the other end of the line. Almost a minute passed, accompanied by measured beeps, until a young male voice came from the receiver.

- Hello, Jo, why bother me at such an early hour? - spoke with some displeasure the invisible to the girl interlocutor.

Delia almost couldn't help but laugh - it was already five o'clock in the afternoon on the clock, and this gentleman for some reason considered this time to be early. "Maybe he's a lover of sleep until noon?" she thought, covering her mouth with her hand.

- Hello, Japh, - ajussi Jo said cheerfully - I’m calling to find out how you are doing, what mood you are in.
- Listen, what is this thing, - not listening to his words, the interlocutor spoke with despair, - when the electricity is turned off in the morning and only turned on in the evening? I'm already tired of getting dressed in the morning by candlelight!
- No idea, mate, - Jordan replied calmly. - I have electricity from another substation.

Delia was bored listening to them talking about electric power problems, but she understood that this was only the beginning of the conversation, and the most important thing would be said later. Intuition did not disappoint the girl.

- Look, Japh, - with feigned carelessness said ajussi Jo. - Do you mind host the couple of not-much-star-studded folks?
- Couple? - a surprised voice came from the receiver. - Are you not the only one coming to visit me?

Baby girl blushed slightly when her adult friend used the phrase "not-much-star-studded folks". "What would happen", she thought, "he considers me to be his, but at the same time he constantly makes it clear that I am not smart enough to be equal to him?" However, ajussi Jo, busy talking, did not notice the thoughtful expression on Delia's face.

- Yes, friend, I want to introduce you to my new neighbour, Delia, pharmaceutist's daughter. Very smart and sweet girl, - at these words, he turned to the baby and was a little embarrassed when he met her gaze.
- You going to come with a babbie... - a voice answered thoughtfully.
- What, you're afraid that the young lady will get bored and remember you as a rare bore? - chuckled ajussi Jo. - Wrong, mate - Delia is a serious girl, loves to talk about literary topics, we recently read the Brüder Strugatzki with her, and she liked it very much.
- Whom? - not understand man on the other end of the line.
- Well, do you remember the book onkel Korble got me? - said ajussi Jo, hiding not his pride in himself and Delia.
- A, which is in German... - murmured the voice, as if only now he understood what the interlocutor was talking about.
- So be cool about the boredom, Japh, - Jordan cheered up his friend, - Sit, chat, read your book, take a look... The main thing is that there is something to put on the desk, I hope you don't have any problems with this?

Silence reigned on the phone - apparently Japh went to check if he had anything in the fridge. Delia, who had been standing behind ajussi Jo all this time, suddenly felt very hungry because that day she ate only twice - at home in the morning and when she just came to a neighbour. In both these cases, it was limited to small - half a grapefruit and homemade shortbread, with which Uncle Joe wanted to please her, but his culinary skills did not make much impression on baby, and in the end, Delia was still starving.

So when it came to food, Delia involuntarily thought that it would be great to visit, where she can surely eat her fill. The girl was impatiently waiting for Japh to come up to the phone and tell him what choice of dishes he could offer his young guest. And intuition once again did not deceive Delia - the interlocutor's answer was exactly what she expected to hear.

- You came to me just in time, Jo, - a cheerful voice came from the phone. - I just have a lamb shoulder in the oven - turned it off now, and yesterday's beans with tomato paste on the stove.
- That's absolutely awesome, Japhet! - Jo & Delia both exclaimed simultaneously.

It seemed that the interlocutor did not expect that someone else would intervene in a conversation with his friend, because a strange stifled sound immediately came from the phone - like Japh suddenly choked on something. Jordan looked inquiringly at Delia, who smiled silently. Her eyes seemed to tell him "Big deal, couldn't contain excitement", and ajussi Jo returned to the conversation

- How about desserts? - he asked with some tension in his voice.
- Today I decided to do without any frills, - sad Japh, - so no sweets and starchy foods, only meat and beans, and the tea of course!
- All right, Japh, - with some annoyance answered ajussi Jo. - Well, wait for us, Japh, we will come to you soon.
- We got a deal, bye! - said Japhet at the end and there was a click on the telephone receiver.

"Imagine that", thought Delia, "After all, half an hour ago, I did not even think, that I will go today to visit my neighbour's friend". Meanwhile, ajussi Jo hung up the phone and rested his hands wearily on the table. After standing like that for a couple of seconds, he turned to the girl, and she saw what a happy and contented face he had.

- So now, Delia, - he said in a cheerful voice, stretching out to his full height, - go outside, and I'll wash myself.
- Okay, - baby girl agreed without question.

She immediately rushed from her place to the exit, right on the go throwing her long hair out of her face. Ajussi Jo continued to stand at the table.

- You can play with Buffalo, but just don't go far from the wicket, - he shouted after her and slowly went to the bathroom.

Delia no longer heard him, because she had already gone out into the yard, where the neighbour's dog was barking around the yard, happily wagging its tail. The next moment, she was already holding the dog by his fluffy ears, and he obediently poked his muzzle into her chest and squealed softly when the girl scratched him behind the ears.

Then she got up from her knees and began to play catch-up with Buffalo - pretended to run away from him in fear while he scuttled around, trying to grab her by the hem of her skirt, which Delia, deftly dodging his jaws and, if necessary, inflicting weak but confident blows with her small foot on the black wet nose of the dog - please, do not think that she was cruel! She just did not want to change her clothes often.

So baby girl played with the dog for about five or six minutes, before Uncle Joe finally deigned to leave the bathroom and go out onto the porch. The dog, seeing his owner, immediately forgot about his little friend and immediately rushed towards Jordan, wanting to lick him in the face, but man pulled away from Buffalo and, trying not to pay attention to him, went to the wicket.

- I am ready to go! - shouting, he beckoned the girl to follow him.

Delia did not have to be pulled. Ajussi Jo opened the gate and, letting his young companion in front, stepped after her. While he fiddled with the keys, the baby saw Buffalo lie down near the porch and put his big head on his paws, seeing people off with a sad look of his brown eyes. The girl took pity on him - after all, this creature really loved her and treated her with all the respect that a man's best friend is capable of.

- Well, Delia, let's go, - ajussi Jo touched the girl's shoulder and immediately withdrew his hand.

Delia turned to Jordan and looked at him carefully - during the time that he spent in the bath, he managed to wash his face and lightly style his hair, although in front and sides they continued to bristle in all directions. In this, the man also somewhat resembled a girl - she also constantly experienced problems with her hair, which no matter how hard she tried to style, but naughty curls constantly climbed into her face. Delia considered it beneath her dignity to agree to a short haircut, and her mother's suggestions to resort to hairspray she rejected with indignation, because she really didn't like the feeling of some sticky substance pulling her hair together.

- Did you miss my dog? - Jordan asked, also looking the girl up and down.

Delia shrugged her shoulders, cast a thoughtful glance at the tightly closed gate of his house, and, straightening her skirt, went ahead along the road, saying to her adult friend right on the go:

- Don't worry, ajussi Jo.

Jordan joined her and they walked side by side - from the side it seemed as if it was a young father walking with a little daughter, this couple made such a sweet impression, and so naturally and naturally they stuck together. It was the end of September, the weather was warm and clear in Portland, besides, outside the city, unlike the center, there was no stuffiness in the air. But Delia was not particularly interested in the scenery around - as is usually the case with children, she completely trusted her adult guide, and, relaxing, she walked unhurriedly beside Jordan, sometimes raising her eyes from the road for a moment to stare at the wall of the distant forest dimly visible in the distance and the people passing towards them.

By the time they got to the only area in the suburbs built up with tall five-story block buildings on the principle of typical housing construction, it's been a little less than an hour. An unjustified suspicion crept into Delia's head that they would never reach their destination, but ajussi Jo suddenly stopped, and turning to the girl, looked her straight in the eyes and clapped his hands.

- House number one hundred fifty four, eighty second apartment, - he said with incredible energy. - We arrived!

With these words, Uncle Joe went to the battered door bell phone and alternately pressed the keys "8" (eight) and "2" (two), then the call button. For a while, some white noise was heard from the speaker, and then the girl heard a voice she already knew.

- Who's out there? - Japhet asked in a questioning tone.
- Open it up, dormouse, the bear has come! - barely suppressing a laugh, exclaimed ajussi Jo.
- Maybe you a dormouse yourself, - the voice grumbled indignantly.

The girl heard a click from the door bell phone's speaker - this is Japh hung up. A second later, an electrical signal was received on the lock of the entrance door, and it opened with a slight metallic clang. Jordan opened the door as wide as he could and nodded to Delia to go in first. Slightly taken aback, the girl walked past him and found herself in the poorly lit entrance of a multi-storey building, the walls of which were covered with blue paint. The musty smell of dampness hung in the air, mixed with the chemical smell of bleach - apparently, literally this morning at the entrance cleaning was done.

For a while, Delia simply stood still, but when the light from the doorway suddenly disappeared, she turned back - stepping on the cement floor, ajussi Jo approached her, closing the door.

- Come up to the fourth floor, your legs will be faster than mine, - he said softly.

Delia, deciding what she heard, silently shrugged her shoulders in response. But as Jordan got closer, she understood why he chose to let her go ahead - when walking, his right leg dragged slightly on the floor. Baby girl involuntarily felt sorry for the man.

- Ajussi Jo, why are you limping? - she asked with some fear.
- Go forward, - he said, waving his hand in her direction. - I shall be with you.

Delia had to submit - she turned and rushed up the stairs, her shoes clattering loudly on the steps, while Jordan slowly followed. The girl, going up the stairs, began to count to herself - here is the first staircase, here is the second... When she finally ran up to the fourth floor, out of breath, she realized that she was completely exhausted. Panting, Delia stopped at the unsightly steel door and glanced up the stairs.

Judging by the sound of footsteps, ajussi Jo had just begun to climb up to the second floor. Suddenly she heard, how on her left someone turns the key in the lock. She turned in that direction and saw a bright spot lying on the floor, coming from the open door, on the threshold of which stood a young man with curly blond hair that reached his shoulders. The stranger's eyes sparkled from under the glasses. Noticing the girl standing on the landing, the man scratched his head with one hand, continuing to hold the other on the front door handle.

- You is new Jo's neighbour, isn't it? - with noticeable weariness in his voice he asked and, without waiting for her answer, continued. - I'm standing here in the hallway, waiting for both of you - because I already let you in the entrance...

He apparently wanted to launch into a lengthy explanation about his experiences, but Delia interrupted him in mid-sentence, casually waving her hand.

- Let's get acquainted, - with a secular tone said the girl. - My name is Delia, just a little girl, who loves to read!

And she did knickschen, causing her long hair to fall over her eyes. Straightening up, the girl straightened them and smiled coquettishly. The man, still holding the door, bit his lip and shrugged his shoulders. Delia felt that her feigned familiarity did not impress him properly, but that didn't bother her much - for what was the harm in it, if this man, whom she scarcely knew, thought her a little frivolous?

- Well, where is Jo? - apartment owner asked the girl.
- I am already right there! - Jordan's voice reached them.

Japh & Delia turned their eyes to the stairs - ajussi Jo was already walking down the corridor towards them, straightening the collar of his shirt as he went. For some reason, surrounded by walls painted with blue oil paint, his figure looked especially impressive - it seemed that this young man in a white shirt and velour trousers was a man who rotated in higher realms than all other people, such as Delia herself or her elderly father.

- Hippity hip hooray! - for joy, the girl could hardly refrained from jump on the spot. - Eventually you is appeared!
- Japh, let that kid into the apartment, - as if ignoring her reaction, ajussi Jo turned to his friend.
- It's all right, - sighed Japhet and removed his hand from the door.

Delia went in first, then Jordan followed her, and Japh hesitated a little to double-locking the door. Baby girl, took a few cautious steps along the shabby, but still strong linoleum, stopped at a large wardrobe and looked with curiosity at the decoration of the apartment, which she happened to visit for the first time in forever.

What appeared before Delia's eyes left her with a rather pleasant impression. Japhet had not bad taste: the walls of his apartment were covered with wallpaper in geometric patterns, on top of which hung pictures in simple wooden frames - they were mostly oil-painted seascapes, although once Delia's eyes caught a portrait of certain person in a white dress, who sat on a wooden chair and held on her knees a basket from which several flowers protruded.

- Who is this? - the girl somewhat unceremoniously pointed at the portrait with her finger.

Japhet, who, having finished the front door, was about to go to the kitchen (in which ajussi Jo has already entered), lingered in the corridor and carefully examined the picture that his young guest had in mind. Then he looked down at Delia and adjusted his glasses.

- Portrait of Elizabeth the Second from the hand of some Hungarian painter, - he said.

The girl couldn't believe her ears. Delia looked more closely at the portrait, but no matter how hard she tried, she did not notice in it any similarities with the English queen. This, however, was not at all surprising - the portrait depicted a girl, God forbid, eight years old, and therefore it would be strange if at such a young age she already looks like her in the present tense (sixty-something years old at the time of the events).

- Unfortunately, I can't remember the artist's name, but I don't think you're interested anyway, - continued the owner of the apartment.

Delia ignored this slightly haughty remark - she was much more interested in why this man living in America needed to hang a portrait of the Queen of Great Britain in his apartment. Is it really the matter that in this picture she was depicted at a young age? However, the girl thought, the owner could hang a picture of this kind just like that, without any special intention... Be that as it may, Delia's soul has already awakened the thirst for curiosity inherent in young children, mixed with the suspicion of a man eager to know how things really are.

She looked inquiringly at Japhet, but he, ignoring her, opened the drawer of a nearby secretaire en portefeuille and took out a some book. Delia moved closer to him and peered at the gilded letters on the white cloth cover - the title read "Edward Coleman, Fables of My Father Swan".

- What is that? - she asked, however, already guessing the contents of the book.

The fact is that if the name of the author did not tell her anything, the name itself aroused her interest, since it clearly echoed the well-known collection of magic stories "Tales of My Mother Goose", which Delia's mother used to read to her at night as a child. And although since then when she turned eight, at home never mentioned again about fairy tales, this did not prevent the girl from being in awe of them, even if she understands, that the witchcraft described in them contradicts the material world and is hardly worthy of the attention of educated people.

Meanwhile, Japh looked at Delia and, taking the book under his arm, adjusted his glasses again, which kept sliding down to the tip of his aquiline nose.

- I just thought, what if a child came to visit me, - he began, - then I just have to offer him something interesting. Do you like fairy tales? - Japh asked kindly.
- Who doesn't love them? - Delia responded enthusiastically.
- Then you and I will definitely find a common language! - there was genuine joy in voice of apartment's owner.
- Hey Japh, are you going to set the table? - a disgruntled and even authoritative shout reached their ears.

These words of ajussi Jo reawakened in the girl a little forgotten feeling of hunger, and Delia at the same moment rushed from the corridor to the kitchen, which, however, was somewhat reckless on her part, because the small space of Japhet's apartment was not conducive to such a method of transportation. Jordan was sitting in a chair, leaning back and impatiently fingered on the surface of the kitchen table, covered with a plain white enameled cloth. When he saw baby girl, he smiled reassuringly at her.

- Sit down, Delia, let's see what Japh will treat us to, - he said lazily.

At the same time, he nodded his head at a chair that stood by the window.

- By the way, how what to address you? - said the girl, taking her place at the table.

Delia addressed this question to the owner of the apartment, who had already entered the kitchen. He placed the book of fairy tales on the edge of the countertop and, rolling up his sleeves, glanced at the curious guest.

- Ajussi Japh, just call me ajussi Japh, - hesitating a bit, he replied.

After these words, he went to the oven and, opening the glass door, took out an aluminum baking sheet, smoked from time, on which lay a large bundle of aluminum foil. Holding the dripping pan with both hands, apartment's owner carefully placed it on the table and, taking a knife, made a transverse cut on the mint and shiny surface, after which he laid out the lamb shoulder blade on the cutting board.

- Burnt again, how can... - he sighed ruefully.

Delia, swallowing her saliva, leaned across the table and stared at the appetizing surface of the meat. Indeed, the crust on the underside of the shoulder blade was slightly charred.

- Nothing wrong, - said the girl, sniffing the nice smell. - I love roast with crispy crust.
- If you been a lover of meat with blood, then you would be disappointed, - ajussi Japh chuckled.

He began to cut the lamb shoulder into small pieces, and Jordan made a sign to the girl. At first she did not understand what he meant, but following the movement of his right hand, guessed that he wanted her to get the plates. Delia got up and, shuffling her shoes, walked over to the countertop and pulled out the first drawer she found at random. It contained forks and spoons.

- Do not delay, I need to put the meat, - she heard impatient voice of ajussi Japh.

Delia slammed the cutlery drawer shut and opened another - but there was not at all what she needed. Looking for some napkins and toothpicks, the girl understood how stupid she looked from the outside, but she couldn't help herself.

- Well, leave this matter to me, - Jordan got up from his chair. - And you sit down, - he ordered Delia.

The girl obediently followed her place, as Jordan walked over to the kitchen cabinets. He opened the doors of the top shelf and took out three white plates one by one, which he then placed in the sink.

- I completely forgot that you can't reach that high, - he said as he began rinsing them under running water.
- Never mind, - crossing her legs, the girl responded.

After washing the plates, ajussi Jo put them on the table and, closing the doors of kitchen cabinet, turned to apartment's owner.

- Put the kettle, or do you want to? - he asked with a smile.
- I made tea yet, - growled Japhet, shifting the meat from the cutting board to the plates. - Don't fuss, you're bothering me.

Ajussi Jo was once again sprawled out in his chair, crossing his legs like Delia, which made the girl smile - she was a little flattered that an adult man involuntarily repeats her movements after her. Baby girl suddenly caught herself thinking how much she liked his casual manner of carrying himself. At that moment, she even forgot about food, and only Japhet's voice brought her back to reality.

- Dinner is served, - said Japhet as he set out plates of meat in front of his guests.

Delia, shaking her head, came to her senses and, moving the plate closer to her, picked up the fork, which ajussi Japh gave her in time. Ajussi Jo leaned back in his chair and followed suit as the apartment's owner placed a small teapot and three cups on the table. The girl with great appetite began to eat meat on both cheeks, despite the fact that apart from black pepper on the crust, there were no other spices in it - not even salt.

- How does it taste? - asked Japhet, who finally took his seat at the table.

Little girl, whose mouth was full of food, silently nodded her head - her dark eyes shone with pleasure. Jordan, in turn, putting another piece of meat into his mouth, inarticulately mumbled something in an affirmative tone. Apartment's owner, satisfied with the effect he had on his guests, filled the cups and ruffled his curly hair with his fingers.

- Maybe you want supplements? I have beans, if you remember, - he suggested.
- Do not mix, mate, these foodstuff, - Jordan responded. - They need to be eaten with a break of at least an hour, otherwise the beans will kill the flavor of the meat.

He spoke these words in a tone that left no doubt that ajussi Jo's knowledge of cooking was very superficial, but he, apparently, did not expect to convince anyone of his innocence, although Delia, who was already full by now, nodded her head in agreement. Then she looked at Japhet.

- I will eat beans later, but now I would love to read that book, - and she pointed with her finger at the fairy tales' volume lying on the countertop.

Ajussi Jo followed her movement and, grinning, took the cup in his hand.

- Know, Japh, - he turned to the apartment's owner, - what Delia means by "read" when she is read aloud. You got the hint? - taking a sip, he winked at ajussi Japh.
- Well... - hesitated Japhet, obviously feeling awkward. - My oratory skills are not great, but if the young lady wants... - he looked at Delia, who was following their conversation with curiosity.
- Please, ajussi Japh, read me a fairy tale! - depicting on the face of charming helplessness, baby girl asked him.
- That's when you drink tea, then I will pamper you, - answered Japhet.

The instructive tone with which he spoke these words, girl didn't like - this minute ajussi Japh behaved just like Delia's father, who has never distinguished himself by sophistication of manners, but he was very fond of emphasizing his superiority over others at every convenient opportunity. The little girl caught herself thinking that if usually children want to see the features of their parents in those around them, she was completely the opposite - she is disgusted when she sees familiar features in outsiders, as if her entire consciousness tried to abstract from everything that was connected with her relatives.

- Ajussi Japh, It's not tasty! - Delia said petulantly.

This remark was not without merit - even when she was just going to visit, she heard Japhet's warning that he had no sweets at home, and drinking tea without sweets seemed to her a pointless exercise, for she always perceived tea as something to be washed down with, and not something to be drunk separately.

- God be with you, - waving his hand, said Japhet. - If you don't want tea, don't drink, I'm not forcing you to do that.
- Are we going to reading or not? - Delia asked, already impatient to hear fairy tale.
- Let me drink, - said Japh, raising the cup to his lips. - You don't mind? - taking a sip of tea, he turned to Delia.

The girl had no choice but to nod in agreement with apartment's owner, whereupon she crossed her legs and settled herself comfortably in a chair. So the three of them sat silently for four minutes, until finally Jordan got up from the table.

- All right, Japh, stop chase the teas, - without a twinge of conscience he said.

Then he started to leave the kitchen, beckoning the girl to follow him.

- Let's go to study, Delia, and take our seats, - he said cheerfully, already standing in the corridor.

Baby girl did not force herself to beg and got up from the table. She looked first at the book, then at Japhet - he continued to lackadaisically sip from the cup.

- Grab the book when you come to us, - she said.

Without waiting for his answer, Delia followed Jordan's lead and slipped out of the kitchen. Ajussi Japh followed her with his eyes, and then, leaving the cup, got up from his chair with a grunt.

Delia went to ajussi Japh's cabinet, in which there was the aroma of some unfamiliar to her essential oils. For a while she stood on the threshold, looking around the comfortably furnished room, the walls of which were covered with wallpaper of a pleasant aquamarine hue, and there was a Iranian carpet on the floor. At the other end of the cabinet, right by the window, was a large desk, where Delia realized Japhet worked.

In addition, baby girl caught the eye of a large mahogany wardrobe, whose shelves were filled with various magazines and folders. Next to him, against the wall, was a cozy leather sofa, on which ajussi Jo was already sitting, cross-legged and throwing his hands behind his head. Seeing his young friend, he smiled at her and pointed to a chair that stood against the opposite wall.

- Settle in, Delia! - he said optimistically. - Now we'll listen to Japh read aloud to us!
- Huzzah! - enthusiastically responded Delia, plopping down in a chair upholstered in yellow chenille and immediately putting his hands on the armrests.

Ajussi Japh entered the cabinet. Looking around the crowd, he jokingly shook his finger at Jordan and, nodding to Delia, sat down in a green-chintz chair in front of the desk. Crossing his legs, he cleared his throat and opened the book already known to all three on the very last page - as the girl understood, he wanted to check the content.

- So, how to entertain our young lady... - looking intently at the book, muttered Japh.
- Something so interesting, and better with morals! - loud and clearly Delia spoke.
- Well, good fairy tales without morals does not exist, - as if by the way, noticed apartment's owner as he adjusted his glasses.
- Depends how you look at it... - Jordan threw somewhere to the side, but, meeting the girl's gaze, he immediately fell silent.
- O! I found what we need! - exclaimed ajussi Japh and began to turn over the pages. - Here is a interesting story, written by Leonard Austener.
- Wait, - Delia raised her hand, - the author of the book is a certain Edward Coleman?
- You do not understand, - Japhet slightly scolded her, - he just compiled this compilation, and the creators of fairy tales are all different!
- Well, I guess you know best, - the girl trusted the authority of an adult.
- So, "Zelandyne in Seventhaven", - solemnly proclaimed ajussi Japh.

Crossing his legs, he clicked his tongue and began to read.

- "Seventhaven is a magical town that was located on a celestial island hidden from mortal's eyes. It was possible to get there only by climbing the crystalline staircase, which appeared only in the deep night and only in one place - in one area at High Road".

Last words Japhet were pronounced with emphatic importance, which involuntarily made the girl laugh.

- Yes, of course, - she said, - what else can a town in skies be called, if not seventh heaven.
- There may be a play on words here, - ajussi Jo pointed out good-naturedly.
- "Only six inhabitants lived in this magical town", - continued Japhet. - "It was Mason, who built houses, Metalsmith, who forged all sorts of useful things, Miner mined gems and gold, Montero hunted and fed everyone else, Medic help them with their health and only one twiddler Minstrel did nothing but useless versifying. And, of course, the town was ruled by a severe Mayor".
- Hold on, - said Delia when ajussi Japh caught his breath. - You said there were six, and the mayor is not considered a inhabitant?
- Huh, six inhabitants in a town, to say nothing of the mayor, - snapping his fingers, Jordan joked.
- Well, like Jerome, - apartment's owner agreed with him and continued. - "All Seventhaven's inhabitants have one thing in common - each of them was over two thousand years old, and they never appeared in front of people. But this does not mean that seventhavenians did not know about the existence of mortals - on the contrary, those gems mined by Miner, they were going to give it to people, but with one condition - when people stop making the warfares and killing their own kind".
- They'll do it when the pigs fly, - ajussi Jo commented on the actions of the fabulous inhabitants.
- "For real this whole story began in Ducal Chateau", - continued ajussi Japh. - "It was inhabited by a young marchioness Zelandyne, which was called so because it is just a very beautiful name".
- I do not agree with it! - Delia responded.
- What are you talking about? - Japhet looked at her in surprise from under his glasses.
- Every name must have a meaning! - continued the girl. - For instance, my mother called me a Greek word, which means "always visible"!
- Hm'mm, It was very curious to hear... - ajussi Jo shook his head.
- Delia, - said apartment's owner after a pause, - you really must excuse me, but I think, that thy mother swindled thee.

The girl's eyes were bugging out, she didn't even know how to respond to this. Seeing her reaction, ajussi Japh hastened to explain oneself.

- I just know a thing or two about Hellen culture, - he began, - and I know that the name "Delia" means only "born on the island of Delos".

This explanation surprised baby girl, and she looked down at her shoes.

- Incidentally, - said Japhet, - to one Greek goddess, specifically Artemis, your name was used just as an epithet.
- Solidly, isn't it? - echoed him ajussi Jo, looking at the embarrassed Delia.
- I sense... How a wave of truth extinguished the fire of falsehood, - without understanding why, Delia said softly
- You have a rich vocabulary! - exclaimed Jordan, raising his finger to the ceiling.

Apartment's owner didn't say anything, but the girl saw his eyes flash behind his glasses. She smiled involuntarily - she really liked the praise of her abilities, but after a moment her face again acquired a serious expression.

- Okay, everything is clear with me, - she said, leaning back in her chair, - but after whom was the marchioness from the fairy tale named then?
- Do you mean Zelandyne? - asked ajussi Japh. - Well, I don't even know...
- There is a herb with a very similar name, that still weed, - Jordan spoke thoughtfully.
- No-no, wait, I think I remembered something, - Japhet called for attention. - If I'm not mistaken, celandine itself was so named because it bloomed when the swallows returned, and withered after they flew away.
- I never looked before at that point in detail, - said ajussi Jo. - Now adapt this into a fairy tale for a our young lady.
- Good, - apartment's owner agreed with him. - Assume that marchioness was named Zelandyne, because her mother watched the swallows that flew near the walls of the their chateau.
- That's quite another matter! - happily exclaimed Delia. - It already makes sense!
- You are intelligent girl, - ajussi Japh praised her and continued to read. - "The young marchioness lived in luxury and abundance, and in everyday life she was surrounded by theurgical creatures. For example, in the morning Zelandyne woke up that Sunny Bunny, who descended from the window with the first rays of sunshine, rang his bell over her pillow".

Delia couldn't help but laugh when she pictured this picture. Ajussi Jo laughed along with her, and only apartment's owner continued to sit silently in his chair, waiting for the listeners to calm down. When the fun calmed down, he again directed his eyes on the book.

- "But not only the young marchioness had her theurgical pet. The Duchess, her mother, had with her Potted Fairy - a tiny woman with wings who lived in a small pot and did not need food or drink, but could work miracles. However, The Duchess could easily do without her charms, for she herself was a sorceress, but this did not prevent her from tormenting little beauty with the same question every day - "How long will I to sit on the throne?"
- Hmm, why did she ask her such a query? - Delia asked.
- I think this should be understood as an allegory for the fact that Zelandyne's mother was afraid of approaching old age, - suggested ajussi Japh.
- But what about the obvious authority in the country? - Jordan interrupted the conversation.
- Don't you understand what governance is, Jo? - Japhet started arguing. - The Duchess is not a The Queen, but rather, the owner of several plots of land, on which she can dispose, but no more.
- Wait, so you mean to tell me that... - ajussi Jo was about to say, but the young listener interrupted him.
- All right, stop it! - Delia exclaimed. - I did not come to visit ajussi Japh in order to listen to such controversies!
- Well, from the mouths of Delia shall come the truth, - Japhet agreed with her. - "So, Potted Fairy always answered her mistress the same - that The Duchess will reign happily ever after. Such an answer delighted the narcissistic woman. But she resorted not only to magic - almost all related to power were in charge by Chief Executor of Royal Wishes".
- Who was that? - surprised Delia. - Never heard of post like this.
- Well, it's not hard to guess that this man fulfilled any desires of the insidious duchess, - Jordan noticed.
- But why is he exactly "Executor"? - baby girl did not let up.
- This is just a play on words again, - continued ajussi Jo. - He simultaneously executes both pleasant and violent requests.
- All right, - Delia agreed with his words.

Meanwhile Japhet smiled and went back to reading the story.

- "Job title Chief Executor of Royal Wishes at the court of The Duchess was established a long time ago - the person that will be discussed was a descendant in the third tribe. On his own, he was a great implementer - it was not difficult for him to sneak anywhere and quietly eavesdrop on the conspiracies of any interesting personalities who inspired fear in his proprietress. On that day, he ran into the throne room and reported that the army of the neighboring country was defeated, and their leader was captured. This good news pleased The Duchess so much that they immediately awarded him a medal "For The Pleasant News". And her daughter, marchioness Zelandyne, at that time communicated with two unusual inhabitants of Ducal Chateau".

After reading this, ajussi Japh suddenly looked up from his book and looked at Delia. The girl noticed how on his face flashed an expression of slight mockery, which quickly disappeared, replaced by sheer seriousness.

- I want you to guess for yourself who the marchioness was talking to, - Japhet said with a touch of irony.

Noticing how the girl's face turned bright red, he smiled and winked at her reassuringly.

- I'll give you a hint, their names started with the letter "C", - as if doing a favour, he continued. - C&C, - he immediately joked.

Delia began to go over in her mind all the palace titles she knew in the hope that at least one of them will be suitable. It was not very easy, because since childhood she did not like all this monarchist nonsense, and only cliches from pretentious films and boring soap operas on historical topics came to mind. After a minute, she was able to find the right words and, sighing, looked up at apartment's owner.

- Chancellor & Councillor, - she blurted out with some relief.
- it was a good try, - ajussi Japh said with a grin, - but not, Zelandyne was not talking to people.

This revelation took the girl by surprise - it seemed as if she had completely forgotten that they were reading a fairy tale to her, and not documentary chronicles from the life of some political person.

- With whom, maybe animals? - she asked, wrinkling her brow.
- No, - cryptically said Japhet, - with vegetables.

And, without letting the girl come to her senses, apartment's owner returned to reading the fairy tale.

- "Cactus and Chamomile, who grew up in the parlour, had the ability to speak like humans. When Zelandyne had nothing to do, she sat down on a chair in front of the window and listened, how her green friends tell her about what has been and what will be in the world. That day they told marchioness that today she is eighteen years old, and on this occasion, they want to please her with the news that she will meet her fiance, who, as was customary in those distant times, should give her a heart pierced by an arrow. When Zelandyne, delighted by this news, immediately went to the palace hall, Cactus and Chamomile began to whisper among themselves about who the mysterious chosen one of marchioness would look like".
- I think it's definitely not a prickly peyote! - Delia interrupted him with a laugh.

Japhet took a breath and, with a satisfied smile, looked at his young listener, continued.

- "Some will wonder why the marchioness was so pleased with the news of her birthday. It's simple - the mother tried her best to keep her daughter in the dark about her age, because she was afraid that when the girl turned eighteen, she would not refuse the opportunity to take her place on the throne. Of course, Zelandyne never even thought of that - all she wanted that day was on the occasion of her birthday throw a merry-making. Approaching the palace hall, on the way she already imagined, how hundreds of candles were lit in it, and hundreds of guests entered, with the arrival of which began the bona fide ball. The marchioness saw with her own eyes the graceful cavaliers, who, sparkling in their eyes and clinking their spurs, danced with elegant ladies, and at the very end of the hall she saw the silhouette of a beautiful young man, to whom she wanted to throw herself into the arms".

Japhet's reading was interrupted by a muffled yawn - it was Jordan shifting on leather sofa, bringing a hand up to his face to cover his mouth.

- It sounded boring, - Delia admitted honestly, also covering her mouth with her palm.
- Just be patient, - said ajussi Japh, - in each fairy tale there are few interesting descriptions of secular life.
- Okay, - answered the girl, wiping her hand on the arm of her chair.
- "But alas", - continued Japhet, - "In fact, there was a copper cauldron in the palace hall, into which the marchioness's mother threw milkweed leaves, snake fangs and wasp stings. The poisonous brew foamed and seethed, and the sorceress herself furiously whispered over it the words of some spells. When the water finally flooded the coals that lay under the cauldron, The Duchess began to interrogate the prisoner in the chain youthful Sagamore, whom, by her silent decree, the guards brought. She wanted to ask the captive, where hide old men, women and children of broken, but not conquered country. But youthful Sagamore, even under penalty of death, did not tell her anything!"

Ajussi Japh uttered the last words with such enthusiasm, as if he was personally present at this interrogation and wholeheartedly sympathized with that young man who had lost his homeland and freedom. His young listener could not resist commenting:

- He're brave, daring heart! - Delia exclaimed loudly and jumped on the spot, causing her black hair to fall picturesquely over her shoulders.

Both of her adult interlocutors stared at her with some bewilderment, as if trying to understand the reason for her unbridled joy. Jordan even stroked his frizzy hair with his palm, making it look even worse. From his face, the girl realized that he envied her young ardor in his soul, but because of the presence of his close friend tries not to express his feelings in any way. Japheth himself, having looked at the guest from head to toe, only grinned meaningfully and returned to the book, which he continued to hold in his hands.

- "When The Duchess understood, what youthful Sagamore does not agree to commit treason to his motherland, she called the guards behind her and, leaving the prisoner alone, went to give instructions to the slaughterers. Just at that moment, Zelandyne reached the palace hall, and what was the surprise of the marchioness when she caught sight of a handsome, but exhausted and chained young man! She immediately rushed to youthful Sagamore and started asking questions, to which he willingly answered, because he felt a kindred spirit in the girl. Hearing his sad story, the heart of the young marchioness was filled with readiness to regain freedom to youthful Sagamore, but what could her fragile hands do?"
- I wonder what ideology adhered Leonard Austener, who wrote this fairy tale? - thoughtfully said ajussi Jo.
- What are you even talking about? - not understanding the friend's words, asked Japhet.
- Just think about this, mate, - with the air of a connoisseur began Jordan, - this author has a representative of the feudal class became sympathetic to the leader of the oppressed people. Don't you find that this is some kind of prerequisite for mutiny, a overturn?
- Will you please stop! - Delia interrupted his ranting about politics.
- I agree with you, - ajussi Japh supported the girl and continued reading. - "But at this time in the palace hall came back the Zelandyne's mother, who, having found her daughter next to the prisoner, immediately ordered to send youthful Sagamore to the dungeon, and she herself attacked the marchioness with loud reproaching cries. When The Duchess realized that objurgations would not help the cause, she gave Zelandyne a pearl-encrusted diadem. In this sparkling attire, the young marchioness seemed so beautiful to everyone, that after her departure, the alarmed woman immediately rushed to her chambers, that ask the Potted Fairy. Answer of little beauty scared her in earnest - according to her forecasts, Zelandyne was supposed to throw The Duchess off the throne any minute".

Listening to the fairy tale, Delia imperceptibly let out a deep sigh. Ajussi Japh looked up from his book and looked at her with a smile. The girl blushed slightly and lowered her eyes.

- I just thought The Duchess was a bit like my mommy, - she spoke softly.
- Interesting, what exactly? - Jordan couldn't resist asking.
- To tell the truth, - little girl began, - mother also has the same mood swings - then it seems to her that everything is against her, and the next second she is imbued with a great love for the world.
- How many years your mom? - urgently asked Japhet.
- I don't know the exact age, - intervened ajussi Jo, - but she is younger than her fifty-year-old husband by about twenty years.
- So, thirty something, - said ajussi Japh, not in the least surprised at such a difference in the ages of the spouses. - Midlife crisis, what to take from her...

Both grown men looked at Delia. Baby girl was sitting in a chair, staring at the floor. She had, of course, overheard their conversation about her mother, but she didn't care what it was about - little girl just wanted to hear the continuation of the tale. Japhet exchanged glances with his friend, shrugged and returned to his book.

- "As soon as The Duchess heard Potted Fairy's prediction, how her soul was immediately filled with hatred and envy for her own daughter, and she decided to take revenge on the young marchioness. She went through many ways of revenge in her head, and in the end decided sell Zelandyne into slavery to some sea-wolf, who then plowed the sea on their huge schooners. The Duchess immediately called for auld Jaeger, over over which she constantly abusing, and ordered him to carry out her order. Auld Jaeger did not dare to disobey his proprietress and took Zelandyne behind the walls of Ducal Chateau. Passing through the gate, he was about to head to the harbour, where the trading schooners were anchored, but fortunately for the marchioness, they got in the way of Clever Crow, who prompted auld Jaeger, that he can just leave the girl on the High Road, but himself return to The Duchess and report her, that the girl was killed on the way by marauders. Auld Jaeger, who was tormented by sympathy for Zelandyne, immediately followed the wise advice of the bird and turned back to Ducal Chateau, and Сlever Crow in turn hid in the branches of an ancient oak that grew by the pathway. Unhappily, The Duchess at the first words of auld Jaeger understood, that she was deceived, and, without listening to his story to the end, ordered her guards to seize auld Jaeger and take into courtyard to trophy guillotine - the very one that her soldiers got in the war with the people of youthful Sagamore".

For some reason, a story about how an unlucky old man got caught in his lies, made Delia so excited that she immediately burst into carefree laughter. Both of her interlocutors looked at each other, as if they were very embarrassed. When the girl calmed down a little, she smiled guiltily at them and straightened her dress.

- He shouldn't have listened other animal's advice, - Delia said smartly.
- In your words contains a kernel of truth, - began Jordan, - but, in my opinion, it is indecent to laugh at death.
- So auld Jaeger is fabled! - rightly noticed girl. - What's wrong with laughing at the death of a fictional character?

But the silent reproach that was read in the eyes of ajussi Jo and ajussi Japh, forced her to bite her tongue and shrink into a chair. Fortunately, the silence did not last long - soon Japhet continued reading.

- "Zelandyne was left alone on the High Road. It was night outside, and the young marchioness became frightened and frightened. Afraid of the dark, she began to call her voice to the night skies, and soon to her desperate cries from the darkness arrived Clever Crow, which already familiar to us. Seeing Zelandyne, he ordered her to follow a swarm of kind-hearted fireflies glowing in the gloom. Young marchioness followed his advice, and finally the insects led her to the crystalline staircase, that led straight to heaven. Zelandyne climbed it and ended up in an amazing place, where, among countless clouds, an island soared, on which, among flowers and trees, there were small, but very lovely lodges, with red tiled roofs and white round walls. When the young marchioness came closer to the settlement, a nimble and agile little man ran out to meet her, in one hand was a lute, and in the other a sheet of paper covered with ink".
- It was Minstrel? - exclaimed the girl, remembering the beginning of fairy tale.
- Well, who else would it be? - ajussi Japh asked a rhetorical question. - And, as you already guessed, the marchioness ended up in Seventhaven, same magical town!
- All right, It's so obvious, - with a slight annoyance in her voice, Delia gives an holy glare.

At the same time, she was not at all surprised when ajussi Jo, scratching his knee, grunted mysteriously. Who knows, maybe he heard this fairy tale not for the first time, maybe even knew it by heart. Be that as it may, the girl's attention turned again to Japhet, who at that moment, slapping his forehead, buried himself in the book again.

- "As soon as the little man saw the marchioness, he began to sing loudly and play the lute, and soon to the sound of his music from lodges started coming out other inhabitants of the heavenly town. As soon as they gathered in full force on the street, the oldest looking little man approached Zelandyne and began to interrogate her, who is she and how did she end up in their magical town. Young marchioness did not lie and answered honestly, that this day she turned eighteen years old, and that her mother kicked her out of the home, not even allowing to celebrate this wonderful red-letter day. The inhabitants of the heavenly city were imbued with sympathy for Zelandyne and decided to let her stay with them. Mayor immediately gave the order to build a dwelling for the marchioness, which Mason managed in just ten minutes, because he was always ready all necessary tools and materials".

When ajussi Japh paused to catch his breath, Jordan, who all this time concentratedly examined the lying at his feet Iranian carpet with elaborate pattern, suddenly raised his eyes to apartment's owner. Displeasure was read in ajussi Jo's eyes, as if he could not believe that his friend had uttered such stupid and unexpected words for him.

- It's kind of unrealistic, isn't it... - he grunted under his breath, he shook his head sadly.

Delia, who listened eagerly to every word ajussi Japh said, don't waste time asking Jordan exactly what he meant - that the marchioness was so easily allowed to live in Seventhaven, or how quickly they built a lodge for her. However, to leave his remark unanswered would be tactlessness on her part - it was not enough for him to consider her an some simpleton. So Delia, after taking a second to think, straightened her shoulders and rose slightly in her chair - so as to attract the eyes of all those present.

- Ajussi Jo, you forgot it was a fairy tale! - she exclaimed loudly throughout the cabinet. - It doesn't have to be realistic!
- Truth is on your side, - apartment's owner himself agreed with her and continued reading. - "Inhabitant of Seventhaven never regretted that the young marchioness settled in their town - for good Zelandyne paid good, she constantly took care of everyone and baked delicious pies for all her new friends, what they liked very much, for up to this point they had lived on the simple baked meat of animals that Montero had hunted. Besides twiddler Minstrel, who happened to see the marchioness before others, composed about her a very tender ballad, in which he praised her beauty and kindness, and also did not fail to blame her mother for how unfairly she treated her daughter. When he read this ballad to the marchioness herself, heart of Zelandyne filled with a warm feeling for Minstrel, but she did not reciprocate him, for she thought of the youthful Sagamore, whom she supposed was still languishing in captivity with The Duchess".
- By the way, for a long time we have not heard something about what happened in Ducal Chateau, - Delia couldn't resist commenting.
- You're about to find out, - ajussi Japh smiled and continued - "Marchioness' Mother was not satisfied, how auld Jaeger disposed of her daughter's life - butchering him on the guillotine, the woman, without wasting a minute, decided to dress like a beggar maid and make one's way through Seventhaven, why did she invite Chief Executor of Royal Wishes. The point was that since The Duchess lived all her life in splendour, she was completely unaware how does it - to ask for alms. Chief Executor of Royal Wishes spent two whole days with her a couple of exercises, but The Duchess was a very bad schooldame - she constantly broke into a secular tone, which was totally unacceptable to play the role of a beggar maid. Realizing that it will not lead to anything good, her teacher decided to take up the matter himself - Chief Executor of Royal Wishes turned to Potted Fairy and asked her to turn him into a pauper. The effect exceeded all expectations - young man at the behest of a little beauty transformed into an elderly man dressed in dirty rags. One of his eyes was hidden behind a black bandage, and both legs were so crooked, that without a crutch he was completely helpless. From now on, no one could doubt that it's not subdolous Chief Executor of Royal Wishes, but just an elder and diseased cripple who needs an attitude adjustment".

Hearing these words, Delia burst into laughter - it seemed painfully comical to her the appearance of a aching gaffer, into which Chief Executor of Royal Wishes turned. She couldn't understand why he had to disfigure himself like that, but already the fact that now his appearance fully corresponded to his disgustful soul, gave her a sense of satisfaction. Ajussi Jo and ajussi Japh didn't frown at her this time - obviously they, too, agreed with how the fairy from the fairy tale dealt with the guileful executioner. At any rate, Delia could clearly hear soft but approving chuckle of Jordan. When the girl finally calmed down, she tilted her head up and scratched the back of her head.

- You can keep reading, - she tossed at Leonard, wiping her tears from laughter.
- All right, - nodded apartment's owner. - "At the end of servant's metamorphosis The Duchess handed the cripple a phial of poison, one drop of which was enough to send Zelandyne to The Land of Eternal Dreams. Bowing to his proprietress, Chief Executor of Royal Wishes went out the gate of Ducal Chateau and, waiting for the night, climbed the crystalline staircase into Seventhaven, where, having found the lodge of the young marchioness, he splashed poison on her and immediately rushed to run. however, he made a mistake in his calculations, in courage throwing a phial on the floor - the sound of breaking glass immediately woke up all six inhabitants of the town, who, led by Mayor, rushed in pursuit of the cripple, whose crooked legs have done him a disservice - unable to break away from the persecution, Chief Executor of Royal Wishes lost his crutch and was forced to stop halfway to the descent into ground. And then he had a bad time - very bad! Worse than ever!".
- So, what happened to this vile villain? - Delia asked without taking her eyes off the narrator.
- I think that Seventhaven's inhabitants just threw him down the stairs, - Jordan suggested.

Delia couldn't help but admit that ajussi Jo's answer was convincing enough, but she still felt a little offended, what Leonard Austener - the author of this fairy tale - did not mention, how did the heroes committed a massacre with the misdoer. However, it could be understood, after all, he wrote a children's story, and surely mister Austener had to try, to make his work look as innocent as possible, avoiding any reference of violence, not to scare its immature audience. But in the depths of Delia's soul lived an unconscious disgust for all sorts of miscreants, because of which she was not satisfied with such a superficial description of what happened to Chief Executor of Royal Wishes. Meanwhile, Japhet meanwhile continued.

- "When the cripple was finished, the inhabitants of Seventhaven returned to the lodge, where the poor marchioness lay motionless in bed - the poison that Chief Executor of Royal Wishes splashed on Zelandyne's face, plunged the girl into such a deep sleep, that she could not be awakened by any forces. Seventhavenians were gripped by immense grief, and even severe and incredulous Mayor sobbed inconsolably, kneeling by the bed on which lay the lifeless body of the young marchioness. However, soon in Seventhaven our old friend Clever Crow flew in, who explained to the saddened residents how to save the girl - all that was needed for this was to bring a youthful Sagamore into the magical town, who still languished in the dungeon of The Duchess - because they are with Zelandyne love each other!"
- This is sounds like a tired mantra, - muttered Jordan, turning his eyes to the ceiling. - Awakening a girl from sleep by kissing...
- Certainly not, ajussi Jo! - Delia retorted enthusiastically. - It's so romantic!
- I guess in fairness, - coughing, Japhet remarked, - in the tale there is not a one word about what exactly was supposed to awaken the marchioness! Maybe a kiss, or maybe something completely different!

Delia gave ajussi Japh a radiant smile with holy glare and nodded in agreement. For the first time in all the time they spent together, face of apartment's owner suddenly flushed with embarrassment. It seemed to baby girl that it was difficult to embarrass Japhet, but she was wrong. After wiping the sweat off his neck, he turned away from the young guest for a second and looked at the chandelier hanging from the ceiling. After a while, he looked at the girl and, seeing a mischievous smile on her face, good-naturedly shake head at her and turned back to his book.

- "Seventhavenians gathered a council at which they began to decide which of them should go to rescue the prisoner from dungeon. After several discussions and debates, they came to the conclusion that it should be done by the youngest of all those present - namely, twiddler Minstrel. In less than an hour he had already descended the stairs to the High Road, and, stealthily sneaking into Ducal Chateau, slipped into The Duchess's bedchamber, where she kept the magic pot. Taking it in hand, Minstrel appealed to its tiny dweller to free the youthful Sagamore. Potted Fairy did not agree to this proposal, and meanwhile the guards heard a noise from the bedchamber. Hearing their stomp, Minstrel fell into a panic and not knowing what to do next, decided to take the most extreme step - he asked the little beauty, so that she scattered palatial walls, to which Potted Fairy agreed without further ado. And when four warriors had already broken through the doors and seized Minstrel, the building suddenly shook and the heavy ceiling collapsed down, burying everyone who at that time was in the Ducal Chateau."
- Really, is Minstrel too? - Delia exclaimed in fright.
- Yes, him and Potted Fairy died both, - with deadly seriousness Japhet replied. - Don't you cry, - he consoled the girl, noticing large transparent drops in her eyes.

He managed to produce the desired effect on Delia - she immediately wiped away her tears and sniffled, why her black curls are finally disheveled. Besides, her dress, once so neat, now looked worn and wrinkled. The girl, noticing the gaze of men on herself, hurriedly got herself in order - neatly smoothed her skirt on her knees and for the umpteenth time that evening straightened her hair.

When Delia looked back at Japhet, he silently nodded to her, as if letting him know that he was satisfied with her appearance and continued his interrupted occupation - that is, he began to read a fairy tale aloud and expressively, don't forget to turn the pages so you don't miss a single line. Little girl, holding her breath, listened to his pleasant baritone.

- "Of all the Ducal Chateau's indwellers only one person survived - as it is easy to guess, it was youthful Sagamore, who, taking advantage of the general commotion, got out of his cell a moment before the walls of the dungeon collapsed. After wandering around the wreckage for a while, he got out into the regal garden, where at this time among the crowns of fruit trees and neatly trimmed bushes just taking a break from the day's worries already familiar to us Сlever Crow. Noticing the survivor, bird immediately flew up from the tree and, slowly circling over his head, told youthful Sagamore about what happened with Zelandyne, and then ordered him to wait until nightfall to climb the crystalline staircase to heaven. Having finished his narrative, Clever Crow flapped his wings and soared into the air, leaving youthful Sagamore alone in the regal garden".

After reading this, Japhet looked up from the book and exchanged significant glances with his young listener, whose face, in the soft incandescent light, seemed unusually serious for an eight-year-old child. Delia bit her lip in confusion and ran her finger along the upholstery of the chair in which she sat.

- Ajussi Japh, what happened next? - after a minute of silence she asked.
- Our fairy tale has reached its end, - apartment's owner said as he moved to slam the book shut.
- Listen, no, hold on, hold on! - the girl begged, getting up from her seat.

Without further ado, Japhet obediently handed the book into the hands of Delia, who approached him, which the next second opened it on a bookmarked page and, wrinkling her brow, began to carefully examine its contents. The last line was exactly what ajussi Japh had read out loud to her, followed by a completely different story called "Mollie and the Pretty Parents" authored by a certain Machiel Nymou. Realizing that the fairy tale really ended at this point, Delia slammed the book shut with a sigh and looked up at Japhet with her large eyes, in which silent sadness froze. The man had no choice but to silently nod his head, as if confirming the correctness of her conclusions.

- So, did you enjoy this fairy tale?? - Jordan asked the girl, rising from the leather sofa.

Delia continued to stand thoughtfully with a book in her hands - from the outside it seemed that she was not entirely sure how much she liked the story that apartment's owner read to her. Listening to her own feelings, she she looked around the room several times, trying not to linger on her interlocutors. Finally, Delia made up her mind and nodded her head affirmatively.

- Yeah, that delighted me, - baby girl said with some embarrassment. - I expected it to end in a corny way, but...
- What do you mean by "corny way"? - Japhet, who had previously continued to sit on his chair with a detached face, suddenly perked up.
- Well... - Delia was confused, starting to blush. - If the youthful Sagamore found the marchioness and kissed her, and they were happy, then it would be quite flatly, although romantic...

She stopped mid-sentence - it seemed that she was having a hard time finding words that could adequately convey her impression of the fairy tale. Jordan, who was already stretching his legs, numb from sitting on the sofa for a long time, quietly cleared his throat and raised his hand up - perhaps in order to distract the girl from a topic that was too difficult for a child. Delia noticed his gesture and immediately calmed down.

- Japh, - ajussi Jo turned to his close friend, - It’s already difficult for Delia to describe her feelings, and you’re pestering her with your questions. That won't do, mate.

Japhet moved towards the exit of the cabinet, and, having caught up with Jordan, patted him on the shoulder in a friendly manner. Delia noticed a grimace of slight annoyance on his face and thought that ajussi Jo's words clearly struck a nerve with ajussi Japh, but he tried his best to make a favourable impression on his young guest and therefore tried not to show his displeasure.

- Let's go and eat something, there's still time, - voice of apartment's owner came from the corridor.

Jo & Delia left the cabinet and followed him. Pausing for a second near the door leading to the kitchen, baby girl inhaled the pleasant smell of baked beans that Japhet had just heated in the microwave oven. Walking to kitchen in after ajussi Jo, she immediately took the place at the table, which she had chosen since her arrival here - right opposite the exit, so that at any moment she can quickly sneak back, if any unforeseen circumstances arise (which Delia, however, was not at all sure about).

- Enjoy your meal, - said Japhet as he placed two plates on the table, one for ajussi Jo and one for Delia.

The owner of the apartment himself began to making tea - placing an electric kettle under the tap, he filled it with tap water and then connected it to the electrical network, after which he sat down at the table and, Pulling out a small notebook from the pocket of his wide pants, he opened it and, casting a thoughtful glance at the girl, began to quickly write something down. Delia, busy eating, didn't pay attention to it for a while, but when Japhet put the rollerball pen on the edge of the table to unplug the kettle, baby girl looked up at him and put her fork down.

- What are you writing there, ajussi Japh? - she asked, continuing to chew the beans.

Japhet turned around and looked at her carefully, holding a kettle in his hands, from which came a thick white stream of hot steam. He was silent for some time, and then, pouring boiling water into a small earthenware teapot standing on the table, he put the electric kettle back in place.

- So, memos for my hobby, - ajussi Japh answered the girl with dignity, taking his place at the table.

Delia immediately reached for the stationery lying in front of the man to verify the veracity of his words. Ajussi Japh did not interfere with her, and after a few seconds the girl was already holding in her hands a small notebook in a simple leather binding, the pages of which were covered with small, but quite legible handwriting. Delia quickly ran her eyes over the first page she came across, but not understanding where the most recent entry was, she raised her eyes to ajussi Japh, who, meeting her concentrated gaze, nodded to her, as if approving her curiosity.

- Open it up to page ninety one and read, - said helpfully apartment's owner, clearly not intending to hide anything from his young guest.

Baby girl followed his advice and began nervously flipping through the thin pages until she finally found the last entry, which made her raise her eyebrows in amazement - on the practically empty page there was only one line written in a sweeping manner, which read: "The waves of truth tends to extinguish fire of the falsehood".

- Hey, this is my own words! - little girl whispered in shock. - I said them when you were reading me a fairy tale!

She stared at Japhet in bewilderment, but he simply took the notebook from her and, putting it in his pocket, shrugged.

- This is for my research regarding American citizens having Greek names, - he answered with a smile.

Delia shook her head in disbelief - such an explanation for ajussi Japh's inexplicable deed was too implausible for her to believe him. Meanwhile, Jordan finished the beans and, leaving the empty plate aside, poured some black tea into his cup.

- It's a pity, of course, that you don't have sweets at home, - he said, raising the cup to his lips, - but since we are not here to praise your culinary talents, let's come to the point.

With these words, he put the cup on the table and fixed a concentrated gaze on Delia, which spoke of how important a subject he was going to discuss with her. Baby girl could not suppress her astonishment - she had never seen him so serious before, but the next second she came to her senses and even smiled.

- Listen to me, Delia, - began ajussi Jo, looking carefully into her eyes. - When you and I go home, don’t even think about talking to anyone about what happened. Do you understand?
- Unfortunately not, - the girl admitted honestly, batting her eyes. - What are you on about? - she asked her interlocutor.
- Fairy tale, about fairy tale, - he answered in a conspiratorial tone. - Don't tell your parents that you listened to it while visiting.
- I don't see what's wrong with that, - Delia still didn't understand what ajussi Jo was getting at.
- You don't have to do this, - evasively but firmly said Jordan. - I don't want them to think that you heard a some baloney from ajussi Japh.
- Well, ajussi Jo, - baby girl said capriciously. - You told me the same thing when you read me that book in German... - she paused, remembering its name.
- Yes-yes, about Lord God in the flesh, - Jordan nodded, smiling at his interlocutor. - There was a reason there too, but it's not relevant. Now you have to remember - act as if nothing happened, is that clear?
- Okay, - Delia answered obediently, looking hopefully at apartment's owner, who was silently listening to their conversation.
- Do you promise to hold your tongue? - continued ajussi Jo.
- I make a promise I won't tell anyone, - she answered with emphasized seriousness and nodded.
- You're a very intelligent girl, - Jordan immediately relaxed, taking a sip from his cup.

Delia, without touching her tea, got up from the table and, stretching out to her full short height, went to the entrance door. Ajussi Jo, giving the apartment's owner a significant nod, followed her example. Jordan helped the baby girl out of the apartment and, lingering on the landing, wanted to close the door behind him, but Japhet was already standing at the threshold.

- Best of luck out there! - he shouted after his guests and slammed the door behind them.

Jo & Delia went out into the street, where dusk was already gathering, and without hesitating for a minute, they walked quickly towards their homes - after all, Delia’s parents were waiting at home, whom she completely forgot to warn about her unplanned visit to her neighbour’s close friend. On the way, the girl thought about why ajussi Jo strictly forbade her to tell mom and dad about the fairy tale she listened to at a party.

Is all this really due to the fact that, she thought, that instead of the traditional for fairy tale's plot prince and princess in "Zelandyne in Seventhaven" there was a young sagamore who was the enemy of the mother of his beloved marchioness? Or is it because Leonard Austener, tale's author, described as many as three deaths - at first the guillotining of auld Jaeger, then falling of Chief Executor of Royal Wishes from heavenly island and at the very end - destruction of Ducal Chateau? This is unlikely, little girl decided, quickly walking along the sidewalk after her adult companion, who seemed to have completely forgotten about her existence. In any case, Jordan hardly looked back at Delia, only sometimes slowing down, when they occasionally met mothers, carrying strollers with their very tiny kids.

Little girl was brought out of her memories by the first drops of rain lashing the window glass. Delia hurriedly jumped from the windowsill, shook off the tiny wet droplets from her chemise and, after briefly admiring the night sky covered with gloomy clouds, slammed the shutters, not caring at all that this sound could easily reach the sensitive ears of her mother. Baby girl deliberately did not close the curtains - she wanted the sun's rays to penetrate into her room in the morning, which would give her a little warmth and light, which she had been missing so much lately.

She turned her back to the window and walked towards her bed. Making sure no one is there - oh those childhood fears! - Delia pulled back the edge of the covers and sank onto the cold sheets, but she was in no hurry to lie down. Instead, she sat on the edge of the bed and began to slowly rock back and forth, as if in a rocking chair. An almost dreamy smile wandered across her concentrated face - it seemed as if she was imagining herself standing on the deck of a small yacht sailing on the waves of the endless sea. Be that as it may, the rhythm in which she swayed did her good - by the time it was already raining outside, Delia had already mastered her emotions and leaned back on the pillow with a smile on her lips.

However, she still couldn't sleep - all she could achieve was to replace one memory with another. Pulling the blanket over herself, Delia fixed her unblinking eyes straight on the ceiling and immediately plunged into the peaceful stupor that was so characteristic of her that night. No one interfered with this process - the mother, apparently, had been sleeping was like a light a long time ago, since not a single sound from her daughter's bedroom woke woman up, which she would have perceived as an alarm signal. As for her father, Delia wasn't even sure whether he was actually in the house right now - who knows, maybe he stayed overnight at his friend's apartment, as he often did when he's got a deadline at work.


The girl continued to feel worried about her adult friend - it seemed to her that Jordan was languishing somewhere in captivity at that moment, like the youthful Sagamore from the fairy tale that she heard while visiting ajussi Japh. Delia still remembered the day when, for the first time in two months of their relationship, she did not find ajussi Jo in his own house (not counting, of course, those moments when he went to the center on business). This was about a day after her visit to his close friend - at first, for no apparent reason, the parents took the girl to the gynaecologist, youngish mister Madison Fraser, who, casually (one might even say, “for show”), examined her feminine nature, told gloomy mother of Delia that her daughter "Everything is exactly as she suspected!", released his patient on all four sides.

Delia, accustomed to her parents never discussing with her "low-order problems" (as her deeply religious father put it), did not ask them any questions about what happened, and resignedly went with her mother to the apartment of Jorge Coghill - father's old friend, where both women stayed for the night, while the head of the family himself went home "on urgent business", as he briefly explained to his wife and daughter. The next morning Delia was woken up by the owner of the apartment, a gray-haired and tall man - mister Coghill himself. Having treated his guests to coffee and toast, he shared with Delia's mother two meaningless pieces of news from the life of New York bohemian, and then invited them to some very significant event, but the mother politely refused mister Coghill and, citing lack of time, hurried away with daughter, left him alone with his wife - missis Susan Coghill, as old and tall as her spouse.

Throughout the next day, Delia was extremely uncommunicative with her family - when little girl got home on the bus, she didn't even say hello to her father, who greeted both of his women with an uncharacteristic sense of tact and tolerance. It seemed as if he deliberately kept himself as polite as possible - he even allowed baby girl to start dinner without forcing her to say a grace before eating, which in normal times would probably have been an unimaginable violation of the established customs of their family.

Delia suspected that her father was deliberately playing the role of a kind family man, to make amends for her some misdeed, about which the girl had not the slightest idea. However, a day later, she began to understand something. When at breakfast, according to her custom, she announced to her family that she was going to visit Jordan, her mother looked at her as if she were talking about something completely unthinkable, and her father, staring gloomily at his plate, took the sandwich in his hands and sighed.

- Shouldn't be doing that, - he said firmly and sternly, chewing a ham sandwich generously spread with mustard.

The little girl looked questioningly at her father, but he continued to move his huge jaws steadily, not paying attention to his daughter. Then Delia turned her gaze to her mother.

- Mom, why can't I go to ajussi Jo? - she asked, feeling a sense of danger growing in her chest.
- Because, - father, who has already finished eating, answered for her, - that neighbourly dog went mad from the heat and ran away, and now he's wandering around and might bump into you.
- Are you not going to let me go at all? - Delia feigned offence.
- We can let you go outside, but don't go to your neighbour, - father continued. - Who knows, what if the dog has already managed to bite him?
- He's got a point, - The girl's mother, who had previously been sitting silently, suddenly gave a voice. - Listen to dad, Delia, and don't wander around the surroundings alone.
- So will you allow me or not? - Delia repeated loudly and persistently, desperate to wait for a clear answer from her parents.
- No! - the father answered in the same tone, who was just reaching for the hot kettle to pour some tea into his mug.
- Now get ready for school, otherwise you'll be late! - mother said. - You already missed your exam yesterday!

The girl threw her half-eaten sandwich on the plate and, jumping up from the table, ran to her room, grabbing a suede jacket hanging on the dining room door as she went - because in five minutes her dad had to take her to school in his car. In the bedroom, she quickly collected her briefcase and rushed to the door that led to the street. The father still continued to eat breakfast, and only when the girl had already run out onto the porch did he deign to break away from food and reluctantly went to get dressed.

Meanwhile, Delia climbed onto the fence and sat down in her usual place, dangling her legs down. While waiting for her father to come out, she began to look into neighboring yard - indeed, her beloved Buffalo was no longer running on the other side of the fence, and Jordan himself was somehow not visible. But the girl did not attach much importance to this then, because she thought that he could either be at work, or he was simply sleeping until lunch (which often happened to him when the Delia's mother did not wake him up with a call in the morning).

Then, two days later, one morning the parents told their daughter that she would not go to school today - the thing is that the father will take the mother to the pharmacy where he worked because he will need her help. With these words, the parents locked the entrance door and left for the center, leaving Delia sitting at home alone. His daughter could not understand what was wrong - the reason her father gave seemed so unconvincing and ridiculous that she decided that some kind of trouble had happened in their family, which daddy for some reason did not want to talk about. And suddenly a hunch flashed through Delia's mind that her parents decided to hide something connected with ajussi Jo from her.

As soon as Delia heard that their car had driven away from the gate, she immediately rushed out of the hallway and, throwing open the shutters, stared out the window, which just looked out into adjacent yard. As before, not a soul was visible there - neither the Chien de Berger Belge nor its owner. Then the baby began to sob - quietly at first, then more and more loudly. Further she threw herself on the bed, burying her face in the pillow, and a stream of tears flowed from her eyes at that very second.

When Delia calmed down a little, she again went to the windowsill and began to peer intensely into the window of the neighbour's house, hoping to see a familiar face in it, but alas, there was nothing behind the glass. The singing of birds reached the girl's ears, which at that moment seemed like a taunt to her - as if nature itself was mocking Delia, laughing at her grief. The poor thing wanted to cry again, but she didn't have the strength left to do so - then she made an effort and tried to pull herself together, but the feeling of trouble hanging over Delia's head did not leave her until her parents returned.

When the whole family gathered at the table in the evening, the girl noticed that the adults were clearly upset about something - one could feel tension and some kind of impotent anger in their movements. After reading the grace, they were silent for a minute or two, in no hurry to start eating, while her dad looked preoccupied and sad, and her mother was unusually quiet and absorbed in her thoughts. Soon the father, exchanging glances with his wife, suddenly turned to his daughter, who was sitting on his left hand.

- Delia, - he said with effort, turning to her. - I want to ask you for one favor.

At these words he swallowed the lump that had risen in his throat.

- What you means, daddy? - like holy innocence, the girl asked.

Delia could not imagine what he would ask for, but, sensing something was wrong, she instinctively tucked her legs under the chair and, looking up at her father, saw a strange sparkle in his eyes.

- Forget about him, - he said as he skated off. - About this Jordan, - father added gloomily.

The girl was ready to hear anything, but not this. Although, to be honest, from the very first day of moving to Portland, Delia suspected her father of hating his neighbour with all his heart, but she had never heard her dad express his dislike publicly before. Therefore, when the head of the family uttered these six words, they had no less effect on the girl than the very fact that Uncle Joe, along with Buffalo, had never deigned to please Delia with their presence in their former place.

The stunned little girl silently looked at her father, not finding the strength to speak - she only pressed herself tighter into the back of the chair and batted her eyelashes, as she often did in a state of extreme shock. Soon Delia managed to pull herself together and lick her lips, which were dry from excitement.

- Why, dad? - the girl stammered, constantly looking at the old man's wrinkled face.
- Because, sweetie, that ajussi Jo died, - he answered with surprising gentleness, popping a slice of bacon into his mouth.

Baby girl couldn't help but feel an appetite, looking at how intently daddy chewed the meat, but the words he said before plunged her into sadness again. She turned her gaze to her mother, but she, without uttering a single word, just shook her head mournfully, working diligently with her fork. Inside, the girl was burned with a feeling of shame for her behavior - after all, for good reason, she shouldn't have worried so much about some person who isn't even her relative. But Delia could not bring himself - She was too much impressed by her new neighbour, and now that her father had announced that Jordan was dead, she found it very difficult to take this words seriously.

- Died? In what sense? - she said blankly.

She secretly wished that daddy was just joking, and in fact ajussi Jo was just late at work and would not return home until tomorrow. Delia tensely waited for an answer, but her father was in no hurry with him - instead, he continued to devour pasta, thickly sprinkled with mushroom sauce, on both cheeks. Finally, having finished his portion, he wiped his greasy lips with a napkin and cleared his throat.

- There is such a disease, called cancer, - father began from afar.
- I don't see how this is... - she wanted to intervene, but her father raised his palm imperiously, and daughter had to be silent.
- When a person smokes and drinks a lot, - continued the old man, - then his body gradually withers like a plant, which no one watering.

Delia could not help but note to herself that this analogy was completely out of place in this situation, but what can you do - her father was just a medicine salesman, so it would be very reckless to expect beautiful metaphors and comparisons from him. Delia measured her father with a cold gaze, but he did not seem to notice the reproach in her eyes and poured himself another cup of tea. But her mother finally decided to intervene in their conversation - she threw her head back and, looking somewhere at the ceiling, began to stir with a spoon in her cup.

- A good child's a docile child, - she said detachedly.
- It's a very correct observation, - her husband nodded his head.

Their daughter was suddenly overcome with a feeling of righteous anger, as if her mother's moralizing remark had humiliated her, putting her on par with those pompous, mindless child models she had seen on television screen or on advertising boards. Delia could hardly contain herself, and all she could do was get up from the table and loudly stomp her foot.

- You'll be telling me, - she exclaimed throughout the dining room, - that the parents has no need of genius or thinkers, they need witless implementers!

The next second, she immediately ran out of the dining room, without having tried the delicious dishes that her mother had been tirelessly preparing for almost an hour before. After watching her daughter, the mother turned to her spouse - it was clear from her face that the girl's words made a strong impression on her.

- Santo Deus! - in Portuguese she said quietly but very expressively. - Do you know what she did?

The head of the family shrugged his shoulders and looked again at the doorway in which his little girl had disappeared. He thought to himself that Delia no slouch, she was kind of a chip off the old block - gives vent to anger as he had been in his time, and the look in her eyes just as piercing and merciless... But his wife called him away from his pleasant thoughts.

- Delia was quoting Robespierre before our eyes! - with these words the woman grabbed her head.
- Well, what's so wrong about that? ? - her husband asked indifferently, making himself more comfortable in his chair.
- Moreover, she did have the presence of mind to paraphrase his words! - his wife continued excitedly.
- Well, think of the trouble! Daughter is already eight years old, we should be happy that she is developing! - The head of the family answered phlegmatically.
- It's this violator, this infamous...

Delia's mother stopped mid-sentence, as if she was very unpleasant to say the name of the person who, in her opinion, taught her daughter some bad things. The father realized who she meant and stopped smiling.

- You can rest easy, honey, - he said seriously, looking away to the side. - We taught this varmint a lesson, and he will never dare to even get near our daughter again, though he might wish he could.

The sincere malice with which he uttered these words was instantly transmitted to his wife, causing her anemic face to become covered with red spots. She raised her head high and said proudly:

- Sim, querido! We took revenge for the insulted honour of our family! From now on, no one will dare to look askance at our girl!

The father's face softened, but the expression of deep concern remained in his eyes.He thought for a moment, which could not have escaped the attention of his better half, who, noticing the change in his mood, stopped her ranting and looked at her husband with sympathy.

- What are you thinking about, my joy? - she cooed. - You didn't like my tetrazzini?

She was referring to the pasta she served to her entire family.

- No, air that I breathe, - he answered. - The dinner was beyond all praise, and I'm sure you were very tired when you prepared it for me and our baby.

His spouse sighed with relief and leaned back in her chair.

- And therefore, - continued the old man, - I thought that you, blood in my veins, should take another person as your assistant, so that he would take care of our...

He didn't have time to finish his flattering speech - his wife, who had previously been quietly dozing at the table, in the blink of an eye woke up from her sleep and, in a frenzy, swung at him a porcelain sugar bowl, which she grabbed from the table.

- Take it easy, heavenly bliss, - said the father of the family, who reacted in time to the sudden thrust of his other half.
- I am not "heavenly bliss"! - the woman shouted in rage and hit her husband on the head with a saucer from a coffee cup.
- But listen, pleasures I've missed! - the old man begged, rubbing his bump. - What's wrong with hiring a nanny to look after our daughter?
- I will not tolerate some hoity-toity ninny with the wind in her head deciding for me, how to educate my Delia, my sacrosanct little one! - the mother of the family said.

The father couldn't agree more with his wife - if only because his own childhood was spent in a house where, in the absence of a parent, the duties of a governess were performed either by his older sister Brianne or aunt Jodelle (who was then still in her prime), but never by a stranger hired on the side. True, it was precisely for this reason that he wanted to get the babysitter - for in his heart the father wanted his child to grow up in much better conditions than himself, but such was the nature of his wife, and he could not deny her her noble desire to raise Delia herself, without the help of outsiders, although he saw how difficult it was for her.

Their daughter herself at this time wrapped her head in a blanket and tried her best to sleep, but the screams of her parents' quarrel coming from the dining room did not give her such an opportunity. Delia, although she was still too young, already understood what a heavy burden - to be a God's slave, and therefore she did not particularly complain about her fate, sometimes only sneaking a glance out the window, still hoping that her dear ajussi Jo was about to return to his home and take her away - if not forever, then at least for a while.

But alas, no matter how much she wanted it, but it didn't happen. Instead, Delia had a chance to witness how one fine day a truck drove up to a neighbour's house, from which men in uniform got out, who, having unloaded all of Jordan's property onto the street, tightly boarded up the windows and doors, after which they got into the car and sped off in an unknown direction. Delia was sad to watch this act of looting, but what could she do except clenching her fists, surrendering to sorrow and slough, hoping for God's mercy?


Thinking about ajussi Jo, Delia herself did not notice how she fell asleep. This time she dreamed of something very enjoyable - she was in some kind of grotto, the darkness of which was illuminated by a resin torch hanging on a rocky wall. The muffled sounds of the surf reached the girl’s ears, which were sometimes interrupted by the rare cries of seagulls and the distant creaking of the masts of ships invisible to her eyes. Despite the fact that Delia was sitting on a rock in only a light frock made of thin white lace, it was unusually warm in the grotto - apparently, the rocky formations had not yet cooled down after the heat of the day.

Peering into the darkness, which was barely dissipated by the dim light of the torch, Delia suddenly noticed that a person was sitting next to her on a small stone ledge. He was dressed in a robe made of rough fabric, which strongly reminded her of a monastic cassock, only for some reason the hood was pulled so low that the girl could not see the face of her companion, but something told her that under the brown cloth was hiding someone very close and dear to her.

Baby girl stared at the human figure next to her. The stranger, sensing the girl’s gaze on him, raised his head, and for a moment it seemed to Delia that two eyes flashed in the blackness of his hood, the sight of which took her breath away with delight mixed with embarrassment.

- Ajussi Jo! - she whispered with love in her voice. - Please tell me, is it really you?

Man in robe did not answer right away - as the girl understood, he was hesitating whether to please his little friend with such news or leave her in the belief that she had imagined it all. However, soon stranger nodded his head, and Delia heard his quiet voice, cracking and full of deep melancholy.

- Yes, Delia, It's me, - she heard a familiar voice.

Little girl barely suppressed the desire to throw herself on his neck. And he, too, probably did not feel very well - it seemed to her that he was noticeably stooped, and his shoulders trembled from time to time, as if he had a fever. Delia felt sorry for the man.

- Ajussi Jo, why are you hiding your face from me? - Delia asked him, rising from the stone.
- Sadly, - her interlocutor sighed, continuing to sit motionless in one position. - Society has hidden me from you, and I am now never visible to your eyes.
- Don't talk to me in riddles, - little girl said, starting to slowly approach him. - Make this clear, she asked Jordan.
- I mean those who separated us, - ajussi Jo answered sadly. - You hear them, don't you? - he suddenly turned to her.

Delia stopped halfway to ajussi Jo and froze, listening to the sounds coming from outside. And in fact, some distant voices were now mixed in with the soothing noise of the sea waves hitting the shore. The girl could not make out a single word, but she could determine from the voice that it was a crowd of men, which, as she could judge, was approaching their grotto. Soon the rude chatter of the people was joined by the shrill dogs barking. Apparently, the crowd let go ahead the Rottweilers - dogs that Delia hated with all her childhood heart.

- Ajussi Jo, I'm scared for all of us! - she exclaimed, falling to her knees in front of the robed figure.
- They won't hurt you, - Jordan said calmly, clearly trying to calm Delia down. - I'm the only one they want.
- No! I will not allow you to be captured! - she screamed, wringing her hands. - I'd rather die right here than hand you over to them!
- You've got a strong heart, - ajussi Jo continued just as sadly. - But you shouldn't risk yourself for me, I'm begging you...
- That's not fair! - Delia objected to him.
- Please, leave me here, - Jordan said. - I am not in your world, your little eyes cannot see me...
- Less nonsense, ajussi Jo! - cried the little girl.

Then Delia ran up to robbed figure, to embrace Jordan in her arms, but he stretched his hands forward, trying to prevent her from doing this. During this defensive maneuver, his hood accidentally fell back, and Delia, uttering a bloodcurdling cry, staggered back. Her long silky hair spread over her shoulders, and the wide, frightened eyes reflected the shadows dancing on the ceiling from the dim light of the torch.

Under the brown cloth, which still retained the outline of the human figure, there was absolutely nothing - through the neck Delia saw only the inside of the cassock...

First Act - Tempo De Construção Novamente

The greenest city in the United States has already woken up from its slumber. From early morning on the streets of glorious Portland, were already coming into their own the automobiles - unofficial, but recognized by all citizens kings of the streets. In addition to motorists, shopkeepers also did not luxuriate in their beds for long and were already going to work.

Galbraith stood near the grocery store window and, out of boredom, stared at the sign, on which the hand of an unknown artist was somewhat garish, but quite plausible depicted sausages and cheeses, next to which lay a single tomato and a head of cabbage. Combining products like this served two purposes - notified the potential buyer about what he could buy in this place, and also (which was essentially the essence of all advertising art) made him feel hungry and want to buy it as soon as possible.

In the end, Galbraith still could not resist the charm of advertising and entered the large glass doors. Taking a basket from a stack located right at the entrance, he headed deeper into the store - where the merchandiser, invisible to customers, ordered to be laid out all sorts of meat delicacies. Wandering between the shelves, Galbraith shrank a little from the chill in the room - air conditioners were running at full capacity. He wasn't particularly afraid of catching a common cold, but still, with his neck wet from sweat, he couldn't say it was very pleasant to experience such a temperature difference.

Despite the rich assortment presented in this grocery store, Galbraith could not find what he was looking for. He just needed a quick snack on the go with some tasty sandwich, but this shop, unfortunately, only offered food for eating at the home table with the family. Therefore, Galbraith, regretting that he had wasted his time visiting this place, put the basket near cash register and was preparing to leave, when suddenly his attention was attracted by a obese person standing near the department where nuts were piled high in plastic crates. This man, dressed in a gray demi-season raincoat that went down to his knees, looked around furtively and, scooping up a handful of peanuts with his palm, stuck his hand into his bottomless pockets.

Galbraith, being a police inspector, could not help but ignore such a fact of violation of the law. He exchanged glances with the salesman, a young guy who stood behind the counter with a bored look. After that, he quickly approached the lawbreaker and, trying to give his voice as steely an expression as possible, said:

- Come on, young man, show me what's in your pockets!

"Young man" looked about ten years older than Galbraith himself, but the essence of this appeal was to catch the criminal by surprise, that the inspector was completely successful. Fatso in raincoat turned around in shock and stared at Galbraith with his tiny eyes, which seemed to be trying to hide among the folds of fat on his wide face.

- Who are you to say that? - a man caught at the scene of a crime tried to hide his fear under the guise of rudeness.
- It doesn't matter, - Galbraith answered calmly. - Please put the nuts back.
- What nuts? What are you talking about? - fatso took a step back, still holding his hand in his coat pocket,
- I don't want to use force, so I look forward to your conscientiousness, - inspector said without raising his voice.

Corpulent and clumsy man cowardly leaned his back against the rack of canned goods standing behind him. Tin cans crashed onto the concrete floor of the store, and the pickpeanut almost slipped on a can of canned pineapple.

- What do you need from me? - losing his composure, exclaimed the man in the raincoat, balancing on one leg.

Instead of answering, Galbraith pulled out his police identifier from his bosom and involuntarily smiled when he saw how the face of the fatso, who was able to maintain his balance in the midst of scattered canned food, stretched out. Realizing who he had to deal with, he put out this unfortunate handful of roasted peanuts from his pocket and was about to leave, but inspector's imperious cry "Stop!" made him freeze in place.

- Your name? Address? Place of work? - on automatic Galbraith uttered the usual patter for such cases.
- Irles... My name is Irles Nacht, - like a guilty schoolboy, this pathetic man began to report.
- In the garden elder, and in Vancouver earl, - inspector sarcastically quoted a some proverb.

It was difficult for Galbraith not to contain his burst of mirth - It was impossible to look at this shoplifter without laughing. When Irles already announced his place of work, Galbraith suddenly heard his name and turned around - in the doorway of the store stood a man who looked to be about five years younger than the inspector himself.

- What, Galbraith, picked up the pickpocket? - cheerfully said that guy as he approached the two.
- As you can see, buddy, - Galbraith answered, trying not to relax in front of the Irles's eyes.
- Hey you, dodderer! - the younger man turned to the thief. - Is it so difficult for you to legally acquire these tiny nuts??

Galbraith tried to hold back his expressive friend, but he had already come close to the fatso shaking with fear and grabbed him by the collar.

- Listen to me, you learner, - he hissed angrily right in the shoplifter's face. - Thou shalt not steal! Weren't you taught this as a kid?

In response, Irles let out a barely audible wheeze, and the younger man squeezed his neck even harder.

- You are a bad geezer! - he continued. - If you don't learn my lesson, I'll gouge your piglet blinkers out!

Having said this, Galbraith's friend put forward the little finger and index finger of his right hand. At the sight of this gesture, fatso's eyes pop out.

- Get over it, you're a policeman! - shouted Galbraith, seriously frightened for the fate of the pickpeanut.
- Do as you wish, - with obvious annoyance said the younger man.

He let Irles Nacht go, who did not fail to take the opportunity to leave the store out of harm's way. Looking after the retreating man in raincoat, Galbraith put his hand on his friend's shoulder.

- God is with him, Pharqraut. Of course, I didn't let him commit the theft, but I didn't intend to put him in prison either.
- How I would like to give him a good-bye kick, so that he learns, lardhead, that stealing is not good...

There was an inner strength in the calm voice of this man. "Like the tiger, lord of the jungle", inspector thought involuntarily.

- You really mean that? - Galbraith pretended to take these words at face value.
- I was joking, - Pharqraut immediately relaxed.

Leaving the chilly room of the grocery store, Galbraith could not help but glance at the salesman. The guy behind the cash register had an expression on his face that was somewhat similar to the one viewer have in a cinema when something action-packed happens on the screen. Apparently, he had never witnessed the spectacle of a shoplifter getting what he deserved before...

- Take a look at this! - suddenly he heard his friend's voice

Pharqraut pulled a newspaper from his pocket and handed it to Galbraith, who immediately took it in his hands.

- Why are you showing me... - inspector looked at him questioningly.
- ...most recent news! - Pharqraut interrupted him. - Don't blink your eyes, do read what and all will be clear.

Galbraith skimmed the text. The story about the accident, presented with characteristic journalistic pathos, after which a seriously injured accident victim was taken to the hospital, did not make any impression on the man.

- Somebody crashed his car, what is so important? - inspector asked, raising his slightly disappointed eyes to his friend.
- And you're just look at his surname, - Pharqraut pointed his finger at the newspaper

Galbraith read it a little more carefully. The victim was a druggist, whose last name is only two letters different from the name of certain English city...

- Huh, what does it matter? I've never met the man.
- Well, but I've know him. Not in a friendly way, of course, but out of duty. Do you remember, two years ago I went out of town to detain one infantile guy?
- Hmm... I recall something. You told me then that the matter was quite dirty.
- What else could there be to do with a little child?

And Galbraith remembered. Yes, there was a case, their police department received a complaint from the suburbs that the neighbour of a certain pharmaceutist was suspected of harassing his minor daughter. Then they sent a van with five policemen there, and also was assigned inspector Pharqraut, with whom he was now having this conversation...

- Well, yes, the bastard was detained, so what? - Galbraith still could not understand what his friend was so excited about.
- It just seems strange to me that some time after this, this girl's father had an accident.
- Ah, you go with the mysticism again. Some kind of spirit, you once said...
- The Spirit of Vengeance, yes, - his friend nodded. - But I think you should visit this gentleman.
- Do you want me to drop my everything case and go to the hospital?
- Don't lie, you haven't been busy for the last week, - Pharqraut rightly noted.

Galbraith had to agree with this statement.

- Okay, all right, for old times' sake... But, let me ask you, what benefit will you get from what I tell you upon my return?
- Benefit? To be honest, I don't really understand it myself. I have this feeling in my heart, you know...

Pharqraut, unable to express his thoughts in a form understandable to his friend, shook his hand and, saying goodbye "You break a leg!", crossed the road and went into a small cafe - apparently, he wanted to refreshment his parched from excitement throat. And Galbraith, sending him a look full of bewilderment, stood with his back to the wall of the grocery store and began to carefully study the newspaper. After studying the note about the accident, he memorized the address of the hospital where the victim was taken and went out to the busy highway. Galbraith thought about what had caused Pharqraut's anxiety. He perceived his friend's words about a certain spirit of vengeance as mystical nonsense, which he himself would never have believed. There's clearly something else going on here...

Galbraith soon decided that it was better not to puzzle over what was beyond his understanding. He simply told himself that perhaps he simply did not have the necessary information, and it was from this circumstance that this a halo of mystery stems. Therefore, not knowing what else to do, inspector decided to strike up a conversation with the taxi driver, but little came of it, because the driver he came across was somewhat gloomy and not particularly willing to chat with the passenger. Therefore, Galbraith, who in response to his leading question about the weather received only a dry "I'm alive and that's the main thing", decided that it would be better to just look out the window.

Finally, the car brought the inspector to the Portland Adventist Medical Center, where the pharmaceutist injured in the morning accident was located. Galbraith paid the taxi driver and headed to the front doors of the hospital. A woman dressed in the uniform of a sister of charity immediately ran up to him.

- Sister, do you know where placed mister Yonce? - inspector turned to her.
- Do you mean the one who was hurt from the crash this morning? - asked the woman.
- Yes, right, of course, - Galbraith said impatiently
- He was assigned to the surgical department, on the second floor.
- I humbly thank you, sister.
- Wait, today is not a reception day!

Galbraith showed her his police identifier and walked decisively into the hospital. The sister of charity followed him with silent dissatisfaction. Going up to the second floor, Galbraith met some doctor and asked him so that he would tell him in which ward the person he needed was lying. Doctor, telling the inspector that disturbing this patient is extremely undesirable for his health, walked him to the necessary door and putting a finger to his lips - apparently it was a sign that Galbraith does not decide to raise his voice in the ward - let him inside.

Galbraith saw a huge ans stocky no longer young man, lying under a white blanket. His powerful chest slowly heaved with noisy breathing. The visitor thought that mister Yonce looked a little like an old bear who was about to go into hibernation. Perhaps the inspector was prompted by the strange facial expression - the left side of the poor guy's face went numb and his mouth ended up twisted into a terrible grimace.

- Bell's palsy, - doctor whispered to Galbraith.

Inspector did not even turn towards the medic - instead, he quietly approached the hospital bed, trying to step as quietly as possible.

- Mister Yonce, - trying not to raise his voice, he turned to the man lying on the bed. - I'm with the Portland police....
- Police, - suddenly the deep bass of patient was heard, who, without blinking, continued to look at the ceiling.

Galbraith expected to hear at least something else from him, but, apparently, mister Yonce simply reacted to this exciting word and automatically repeated it. After standing like that for a minute, the visitor turned and left the ward.

- We will try our best, but at best he won't really think straight, - said the doctor. - In fact, he was not seriously injured - no injuries were found on his body, but he had serious problems with his mind...
- Can I call from here? - Galbraith interrupted this tirade of little interest to him.
- Yes, of course, the telephone is at the end of the corridor.

It was clear from the doctor's voice that he was pleased to know that the policeman had already finished his visit and would soon leave the hospital. Galbraith walked up to the phone, wondering as he went where to call him so that Pharqraut could definitely answer him. He's definitely not at home right now, he hardly needed anything at the police department right now... In the end, he decided to call the cafe where, as he remembered, his friend had gone after their morning meeting. And he wasn't wrong - Having asked if the owner could call Pharqraut to the phone and received a "Yes, wait a bit", Galbraith perked up. Half a minute later, his friend went to the phone.

- Hello, buddy, is that you?
- Hello. Now I'm in Portland Adventist Medical Center.
- Thank you for fulfilling my whim.
- I don't know if what I say will upset you, but in general, mister Yonce got brain damage.
- My condolences... So you didn't really hear anything from him?
- All he could say was parrot the word "police" after me. It seemed to me that this was because he had some kind of mental trauma associated with this.
- Well, well, if you were a father, you wouldn't be so sad when your... Ahem-ahem...
- It slipped from my mind.
- Ah, you're a holey head. Okay, come on. But wait, how did you guess that I was in the cafe?
- I saw you go there.
- And you thought that I had been stuck here for a long time? Ha-ha, you were totally right.
- Well, good luck with that.
- We shall meet again!

Galbraith hung up. And in fact, while reading the newspaper, he completely forgot about what Pharqraut told him about last year's incident. "Okay", he thought, going out into the street, "I fulfilled my friend's request, so what next"? Inspector asked the sister of charity where the where the public transport stop here...

Having reached the bus stop closest to his police department, Galbraith got off the autobus and, stretching his legs that were numb from standing (all the seats were occupied), immediately directed his feet towards there.

Squinting from the sunlight, Galbraith came close to the facade of a three-story building overlooking a majestic green square. He stretched out his hand to the brass handle of the double door, but the next second a young sergeant with a blue cap on his head came out to meet him. Galbraith stepped sharply to the side, making way for him, but the young man stopped in place and looked at the inspector with a slight squint.

- Good afternoon, mister Galbraith, - sergeant raised his hand to his cap.
- Hi, Saussure, - inspector answered with some bewilderment.
- Mister chief inspector Schaeymoure wants to see you, - he reported in a brave tone

Hearing this, Galbraith involuntarily lost heart.

- What this is regarding? - he asked the young man in a stammering voice.
- He's waiting for you in his office, - Saussure ignored his question and moved on.

Galbraith could not resist the pleasure of looked away this cheerful young man, who, putting on his cap as he walked, walked quickly up the street, slightly tilting his curly head forward. "Interesting", Galbraith thought, "what made this young man so happy"...

Inspector entered the doors of the police department, but he was in no hurry to immediately go up to the second floor.To begin with, he decided to verify the veracity of the sergeant's words and looked into the duty officer's room, where he found old Pauling, who, as always, was sitting at his desk. At that moment, he was pouring himself some coffee, and a little further away, two policemen were dozing on a sofa by the window. When the inspector appeared, Pauling shuddered slightly and, putting the coffee pot on the table, raised his head.

- Excuse me, does mister chief inspector Schaeymoure really need me now? - Galbraith asked the old man.
- Of course, - answered duty officer. - Have you forgotten that today is a meeting on the Pharqraut's case?
- What? - hearing his friend's name, Galbraith perked up.
- Everyone else is already in the chief inspector's office, only you is missing, - the old man blinked his eyes.
- Why didn't anyone warn me about this in advance?
- I wanted David to notified you, - Pauling had in his assistant. - But mister chief inspector Schaeymoure persuaded not to disturb...

Galbraith did not listen to the old man to the end and left the duty officer's office. Wow, Schaeymoure did not specifically warn him in advance about the important meeting. It seems that mister chief inspector wanted to make his employee look like an idiot, who is supposedly always out of work. Galbraith ran up the stairs to the second floor and first ran into his office. The disorder that reigned on the desk indicated that the owner of the office had not touched his papers for several days. But the inspector didn't care about that - taking off his light gray jacket, he hung it over the back of his chair and, straightening his tie, went back out into the corridor.

Approaching the door to the chief inspector's office, Galbraith hesitated a little. Taking a breath, he knocked quietly and, carefully opening the door, stuck his head inside. As might be expected, mister chief inspector Schaeymoure himself sat at the head of the mahogany desk. He was about fifty years old, but his neatly combed back black hair and carefully shaved face made him look younger. Under his strict black frock coat one could see a white shirtfront with a coffee-coloured tie.

Schaeymoure did not seem to notice inspector entering. He didn't even take his eyes off the open folder in front of him, he just raised his eyebrows slightly and flipped through the page - as it was clear, this document aroused his interest. Galbraith shrugged and walked towards the long table, on which stood a decanter of water and four glassful.

He pushed back his chair and was about to sit down, but at that moment mister chief inspector took his eyes off the documents and signalled to everyone present to get up from their seats. The rest of the meeting, who were inspector Pharqraut, medic Maurice and young lieutenant Nelissen, immediately obeyed. Schaeymoure rose from his seat and, coughing politely, spoke:

- So, gentlemen! - he raised his anemic hand. - I hereby declare this meeting in session. I'll leave it to inspector Pharqraut to briefly summarize the facts.

After these words, Schaeymoure sank into a deep armchair and gave a sign to the young inspector with a slight nod of his head. Pharqraut pulled his black leather briefcase from under the table and, opening it, pulled out a thick folder. Galbraith accepted a hefty stack of snow-white A4 sheets from his friend's hands and began to look at them. They were covered from top to bottom with typewritten text, and the printing ink had not yet dried and therefore smudged a little under Galbraith's fingers. Everyone else also received a stack of papers, and Pharqraut, having finished the distribution, returned to his place and stood next to the chair.

- Attention, gentlemen. Don't rush to read these papers, - said the inspector, noticing how medic Maurice began to flip through the pages impatiently.

Everyone present took their eyes off the stack of papers lying in front of them and stared with interest at the young inspector. Galbraith couldn't help but notice how Pharqraut bit his lip and became embarrassed when stout Maurice yawned noisily, covering his mouth with his hand.

- So, - he began a little hesitantly. - On the agenda we are dealing with one case. The papers I gave you are a photocopy of the drafts of my material, which I am writing as part of my investigation. Now I want to briefly convey to you the essence of this case, and you will become familiar with the details at a time convenient for you.

After these words, Pharqraut extended his hand to the decanter standing in the middle of the table and poured himself a full glassful. After drinking the water in one gulp, the inspector put it on the table and, wiping his lips with the back of his hand, looked around at those gathered attentively.

- It all started around the beginning of July. The first death was recorded five days after Independence Day of The United States of America.
- You forgot to mention where this took place, - medic Maurice interrupted him.

Pharqraut gave the fatso a dissatisfied glare and continued.

- Especially for mister Maurice, I will explain that all four cases occurred in different places in our city. First, I will tell you the names of the victims - Theodore Beckel, Penelope Conway, Alexander O'Brent and Dennis Lang.

Galbraith noticed that when Pharqraut said the third name, there were notes of hostility in his voice, as if he were talking about some base and despised person. After listing the names, his friend returned to his usual impartial tone, but the inspector felt how difficult it was for him to control his anger.

- Before starting the story, I am obliged to make a small digression. I would never have united these four cases under the same roof if not for one curious fact - the names of all the victims were of Greek origin.

Having said this, Pharqraut took a breath, as if gathering strength. Maurice twisted his mouth and said with noticeable irritation:

- You're talking about your supernatural rubbish again!

This remark infuriated the young inspector, who, looking at the medic and trying to maintain the official appearance of a person speaking at a meeting, said:

- If mister Maurice thinks that I am making the deaths look like some kind of anti-scientific nonsense, then let him continue to think so, but I am not going to give up my investigation.

In these words of Pharqraut it was felt that he was specifically tired of the fatso's remarks - undoubtedly, he already hated him with all his heart. Medic was involuntarily taken aback by these words, but, meeting the gaze of mister chief inspector, he was able to swallow the reproach and even tried to make an indifferent face, which he did not do very well.

- I'll ask inspector Pharqraut to return to exposition of his case, - mister chief inspector spoke up.

After these words, he suddenly turned his head towards Galbraith. Schaeymoure's glare was strange, as if he was filled with hidden amusement. He involuntarily shivered - it seemed that the eyes of the chief inspector were saying: "Learn from your friend's mistakes, control your emotions!".

Pharqraut was a than completely pleased with the effect his words had on Maurice. Pulling himself together, he returned to his speech.

- So, I'll start in order. The first victim was Theodore Beckel, a janitor at the Union Way. At first sight, what happened to him was nothing more than an accident - while returning home from his evening shift, the poor man was hit by a car.
- Where did it happen? - asked the chief inspector.
- Right at the marked crosswalk in front of the shopping center, - Pharqraut answered politely. - Death came instantly, the wheels of the car turned his head into a bloody mess.

Suddenly a quiet scream was heard in the office. Everyone turned their heads towards Nelissen - lieutenant's face acquired a deathly white hue. The young man blinked rapidly and opened his mouth, but could not utter a sound.

- What is it with him? - Galbraith muttered inaudibly under his breath

These words did not go unnoticed by the stout medic, who immediately leaned towards the inspector.

- Haematophobia, the guy is afraid of the mere mention of blood and gore, - snoring noisily, Maurice whispered to Galbraith.

"And how do such youths get hired into the police", thought Galbraith, looking at Nelissen. The young lieutenant was finally able to control himself and, swallowing his saliva, looked up at Pharqraut, whose face showed that he was extremely dissatisfied with the young man's reaction. Here mister chief inspector Schaeymoure spoke again.

- How did you manage to identify the body? - he turned to Pharqraut.
- Understand that the body belonged to a fifty-year-old Union Way janitor was child's play - attached to his work uniform was a badge that read "T. Beckel".
- Very good, - it seemed that to Schaeymoure liked the logic of this explanation. - What's next?
- Now I will begin to describe the second victim - Penelope Conway, twenty-year-old saleswoman in duty-free shop, specializing in all kinds of powders - washing, insect repellents and so on.

Galbraith was a little amused by Pharqraut's description of profession of this woman - one got the feeling that his friend was tempted to call the deceased with the apt word "powder-proprietor", but the official style that inspector was forced to adhere to did not allow him to introduce such words into his speech.

- The saleswoman was found dead in her apartment, her body was discovered by her own aunt, who came to her to give her some book telling about ancient Greek myths.
- Cause of death? - Schaeymoure asked dryly.
- This is a difficult question from a medical point of view, - the speaker sighed. - No signs of violence or visible injuries were found on the body of the deceased.
- I guess it might be poison, - Maurice expressed his guess out loud.
- Do you think Penelope Conway committed suicide? - it seemed that Pharqraut did not like this guess
- I haven’t seen this lady's corpse, how can I know for sure? - medic was hurt by the inspector's words. - I'm just make assumptions.

It was a little funny for Galbraith to watch how fatso, who had previously interrupted Pharqraut, now began to make excuses to the young inspector. He was involuntarily overcome with a feeling of pride for his friend.

- What was the woman wearing when her body was discovered? - Schaeymoure suddenly asked a question.

This query confused Pharqraut, who began rummaging in his jacket pockets before answering. A second later he raised his head, and Galbraith noticed that his friend's cheeks were covered with a faint blush of embarrassment.

- Well... The deceased was wearing a light white dress, - he stammered. - Cinched with satin ribbon.
- What about shoes? - mister chief inspector inexorably continued to asking.
- The saleswoman had alpargatas on her feet with ties around the ankle, - Pharqraut answered, looking down.

"As if the young man's embarrassment brought satisfaction to Schaeymoure", thought Galbraith, looking at the chief inspector, whose face expressed both interest and hidden gaiety.

It's not hard to guess that Pharqraut wanted to get off the topic of the late saleswoman as quickly as possible. Undoubtedly, the fact was that, being a bachelor, it was difficult for him to answer the mister chief inspector's questions regarding items of women's clothing. Therefore, he immediately moved on to describe the succeeding accident.

- Next we will talk about thirty-two-year-old Alexander O'Brent, - he continued his speech. - He was, to put it mildly... - Pharqraut paused, searching for words.

"Who was this person in life if the policeman feels embarrassed when he tries to describe him?" thought Galbraith, absentmindedly listening to what was happening in the chief inspector's office.

- He was a conductor of night-walkers, - speaker squeezed out.

Galbraith realized what profession his friend meant and decided to come to his aid.

- Pimpf, he was pimpf, - for the first time during the entire meeting he raised his voice.

All those present turned their heads together and stared in amazement at the inspector. There was silence in the office, but he just smiled into his moustache.

- You probably misspoke, - Maurice remarked with a quiver in his voice.

Galbraith didn't answer the medic, he just nodded in Pharqraut's direction, as if telling the others to listen to his friend, and he had nothing to do with it. Placing his hands on the table, inspector thought that if anyone present shared his preferences in music, then no one would have thought to be surprised by his phrase.

- I want to add, - after a minute's pause the speaker continued, - that prior to this, mister O'Brent came from Atlanta, state Georgia, where he worked as a cashier at Chick-fil-A.
- Huh, - Nelissen suddenly interrupted him, - at first this dropout was selling fried chickens, and then switched to different chicks!

Apparently, the young lieutenant wanted to defuse the situation with this vulgar joke, but he failed to achieve success in this - everyone sitting at the table remained silent and looked disapprovingly at the young man. Pharqraut was the most dissatisfied - it seemed just a little more and he would approach the lieutenant and grabbed him by the neck. But to Galbraith's relief, his friend was able to control himself.

- Determining what Alexander O'Brent died from was an easy task, - Pharqraut continued. - His body was found in the room of Eastside Lodge, where he was called by one of his subordinates.
- Name of light-o'-love? - Schaeymoure said, hammering out the words.
- Miss F... - Pharqraut was began

Suddenly a high and piercing "Ahcho-o-o!" was heard throughout the entire office. This was once again lieutenant Nelissen. Covering his mouth with his left hand, the young man wiped the tears from his eyes with his right. It seemed that he deliberately sabotaged the inspector's speech. With great effort, Nelissen gave his face a calm expression and looked at everyone present with a guilty look.

- S-s-sorry, pleas-s-se! - lieutenant said nervously under the frowns of the others.

Inspector sighed heavily. "I understand you, buddy", Galbraith thought regretfully, "It's not easy when you are constantly interrupted".

- On what issue did fille de joie call mister O'Brent? - Schaeymoure asked as if not noticing anything.
- It was a trivial point, - Pharqraut perked up, - She came across a nervous client who categorically refused to pay.
- Name of client? - mister chief inspector asked questions with the indifference of an automaton.
- Thirty-four year old Eugene Woods, we have not yet been able to establish his place of work, - replied Pharqraut.
- Try harder, - Schaeymoure said with a fatherly intonation.
- As a matter of fact, - inspector ignored this remark, - O'Brent met his death in his motel room. The client fell into a state of passion and right in front of the fancy woman stabbed pimpf in the ribs with a knife, and when he fell to the floor, mister Woods began to kick him in a rage.

Galbraith was pleased that his friend used his phrase to describe the profession of the deceased. "At least someone benefited from this band", he thought ironically.

- When the police arrived at the crime scene, then Alexander has only a terrible bloody pulp left in place of his manhood, - inspector said.

Once again the young lieutenant let out a cry of horror, but no one cared about his phobia - especially Galbraith, who was much more worried about the fact that when Pharqraut spoke about the death of Alexander O'Brent, there was such an impulse in his voice that it seemed as if the inspector was unwittingly encouraging the actions of the murderer. "What bad did this man do to my friend if he hates him so much?" he wondered.

After these words, Pharqraut took a breath - it seemed that he was glad that he had finished the story about a man of an ignoble profession.

- The last victim was Dennis Lang, - saying this name, inspector involuntarily smiled. - He was an entomologist living in the Portland suburbs. Generous heart...
- You're starting to drool, - medic reprimanded the inspector
- He died as a true altruist, - Pharqraut continued. - Dennis gave his life to save another person.
- Mister Maurice is right, - Schaeymoure interrupted him. - You should focus on the facts, not the personality of the deceased.
- All right, - the speaker reluctantly conceded. - Lang was once walking near his house and saw a little boy running away from a mad dog with heart-rending screams.
- You speak as if you were an eyewitness to what happened, - Galbraith couldn't resist commenting.
- These details were given to me by his neighbour, missis Taggert, - his friend answered casually. - In general, the entomologist rushed to help the baby, but unfortunately he tripped on a stone and fell right in front of the hound's nose, which did not deny itself the pleasure of attacking the man lying in front of him.
- Is everything okay with that kid? - mister chief inspector asked with some sympathy.
- Little boy was rescued, - Pharqraut said with a smile. - But at the cost of the life of his saviour, - then his face darkened again. - When poor Dennis Lang was taken to the hospital, his body was so damaged by the teeth of a rabid animal that he, without regaining consciousness, left this world in a hospital bed that evening.
- What happened to mad dog? - Schaeymoure inquired.
- According to missis Taggert, hound, having finished with the entomologist, ran away in an unknown direction. We didn't bother looking for her.
- Of course, because our smaller brothers stemming from garbage, - Galbraith could not resist.
- You forgot that a dog can have an owner, - Pharqraut looked at his friend.
- Never mind, - the inspector shrugged him off.

After these words, he turned his attention to Nelissen - the story of the cruel death from the teeth of a animal impressed the lieutenant, and the young man sat, embarrassedly staring straight ahead. Galbraith himself didn’t notice and felt pity for him - It must be difficult to work in the police with a fear of blood and listen to details regarding human deaths.

Pharqraut, having finished his speech, poured himself some more water from the decanter and, having drained the glassful, looked at his listeners with an attentive glance. Most kept a straight face, and even Nelissen came to his senses and raised his head up. Then mister chief inspector Schaeymoure rose from his seat.

- Well, gentlemen, I hope inspector Pharqraut's story gave you an idea of the kind of case our police department was faced with, - he proclaimed. - Now it's time to give your comments on this matter.

The first person to speak out was Maurice. Kneading his temples with both hands, medic rose from his seat and, looking at Pharqraut, declared:

- I have been practising criminal medicine for fifteen years now, - he began with barely concealed contempt. - But I can't overemphasize how mister Pharqraut managed to put together four completely different deaths.

Inspector, with his hands folded behind his back, looked at the stout man with hatred.

- I state, - continued Maurice, - that death by rabid dog bites and death under the wheels of a car, of course, there are similarities in that they are accidents, but...

The medic was unable to finish his speech.

- I'm disgusted, - Pharqraut rather rudely interrupted him. - When people don't look before they leap.
- How dare you speak to me in this manner? - fatso's face became red and he clenched his fists.

Mister chief inspector raised his hand to calm his angry colleagues, and then the unexpected happened - Pharqraut, losing his composure, rushed to the exit from the office. Galbraith turned around and saw his friend, loudly slamming the door, disappear into the corridor. "It's their own fault, shouldn't have interrupting him", thought Galbraith. Schaeymoure rose from his seat and placed both hands on the table.

- With the departure of the man on whose case we have gathered in this office, I think I can call the meeting officially closed, - he stated in a deadpan tone.

These words from mister chief inspector Schaeymoure served as a sign to everyone who was still sitting at the table. Stout medic pushed back his chair noisily. Muttering something under his breath about ill-mannered youth, Maurice walked away. Young lieutenant Nelissen followed him out. Galbraith, watching them both go, was in no hurry to go out. He poured himself some water from the decanter and, slowly, drained the glassful in small sips. Only after that did he move towards the exit from chief inspector's office, glancing out the window along the way, behind which the sun was shining brightly.

Thinking about what made Pharqraut so angry about medic Maurice's words, the inspector walked towards the subway station - for it was the shortest way to his home. The sun was already shining in full force in the sky - after all, it was already noon. Galbraith went down the steps and, feeling pleasantly cool, joined the thick influx of people. Then, stopping at a marble pillar, Galbraith, waiting for the train, began to look at the others waiting.

He didn't know who he was trying to find among these clerks returning for lunch, mothers with children and so on, but he just wanted to really feel that he was in the crowd. Loneliness was not something for him that would make him lose his head, but sometimes inspector wanted to be in a place with a large bunch of people - apparently, this was the behest of the herd instinct, which at times broke free from somewhere in the basements of the mind of modern man...

For the first time all day, Galbraith felt like it would be nice to take a drag. He walked away from the column and, looking for a place to sit, pulled out from his jacket pocket a pack of cheap cigarettes, which he always bought in large quantities through his friend the shopkeeper. Alas, all the benches were chosen by young couples, kids and their mommies. "Well, be patient, policeman", he grinned into his moustache and, raising the lighter to the cigarette, returned to the column plastered with advertisements - it gave Galbraith the feeling of at least some kind of foothold, and he felt a little uneasy standing in front of everyone else waiting.

With pleasure, the inspector inhaled pleasantly smelling tobacco smoke into his mouth. Oh yeah, he thought, how good it is that the laws of the state in which he lives have not yet prohibited smokers from indulging in their enjoyments underground... And in general, he continued to think to himself, it’s a little funny that the government, with almost manic zeal, imposes bans on the distribution and use of drugs, but at the same time considers it absolutely normal to allow millions of shops selling alcohol and tobacco products to operate. But if a customs officer happens to find a tiny bag of heroin in the suitcase of some shy young man, then at least bring out the saints...

Galbraith, who has been an inspector with the Portland Police for ten years, believed that thoughts of this kind come to the mind of everyone who on the guard of the order.

- Oh tobacco, you the world... - came out of his mouth accidentally.

Certain old man standing at a distance from him suddenly twitched with his whole body and, casting glances filled with contempt at inspector, headed closer to the place where the train was supposed to appear. Apparently, he was an ideological opponent against smoking, or maybe it just seemed to him that this mustachioed middle-aged man was crazy about cigarettes, since he said such strange catchwords... Galbraith didn’t care about this - he, taking one puff after another, was simply killing time while waiting for the train.

Finally to his ears came the characteristic sound of a subway train rushing along the rails. Galbraith slowly moved away from the column and began to wait for it to stop its movement. However, when the massive iron doors, emitting a loud hiss, helpfully opened the way into the carriages flooded with yellow light, the inspector had to stand at the cold stop for some more time - for he, as a male being, had the right by birth to give way to the better half of humanity.

He watched as mothers picked up their babies and squeezed through the doors of the underground carriage. Very nice, Galbraith thought with sarcasm, he was very lucky to get on the subway just when mothers were rushing home, in order to instill in their children the habit from early childhood that during the lunch break they must sit down at the table and almost forcefully consume tasteless, but so healthy porridge... He understood that in his thirty-one years of life he could no longer remember what it was like to be a child, but, being an ideological bachelor, Galbraith did not particularly respect - or whatever, just despised - whole life in the family circle.

When the inspector was able to enter the carriage and take a seat in the corner, he continued to think about it. Children, for flip's sake. Who are they? Ordinary people who, according to the law, have not yet reached the age of majority. Persons who, by the mere fact of their existence on this earth, bring a lot of trouble to both their parents and others around them. The smaller the creature, the more problems it brings, inspector continued to think, looking at the tacky posters that were pasted on the walls of the carriage. It was funny for him to realize that the longest prison sentences imaginable were associated with these tiny beings... Galbraith caught himself thinking that in his thoughts he had gone so far as to divide all of humanity into two castes - adults and underages, and his attitude towards the latter was not even positive.

- Lord, where am I drifting? - exclaimed Galbraith, forgetting that he was in a crowded subway car.

He heard laughter and caustic comments directed at him. It was a group of several teenagers who seemed amused by his somewhat frightened expression. Galbraith looked at them with the stern look of a servant of the law, but they did not shut up. In fact, why should they be afraid of a man who does not show at all that he works for the police. This is the essence of his work - trying not to attract suspicion, searching for information.

But God will be with them, Galbraith thought about the teenagers calling him names. Still, shouldn't have shouted like that, he needs to control himself in public... The inspector crossed his legs and began to look at the opposite corner of the car. Trying not to pay attention to the nippers' words, Galbraith suddenly felt disturbance begin to circulate through his blood vessels. His subconscious seemed to be screaming to its owner - "Some tragic accident has happened!". It's not clear what exactly and it's not clear when, but anything wrong and inevitable occurred...

Without taking his eyes off the opposite side of the carriage, he realized that a familiar face had come into his field of vision. Glancing over his fellow passengers, he finally settled on a man who, with his head thrown back against the partition, was sleeping in his seat. Galbraith squinted. This man's body swayed rhythmically to the rhythm of the train. The left hand, which had previously been lying on the knees of the dormant, suddenly hung at the moment of the next turn of the carriage and began to sway, like a dry leaf of a tree in the wind, while the lower jaw gradually dropped downwards slowly.

Galbraith, without losing sight of this man who had attracted his attention, thought that he was sleeping like the dead. Along with this thought, the feeling of uneasiness in his veins gradually turned into a burning dread. The inspector began to go over the moments of today in his head, how did it suddenly dawn on him - the face of this man, who at that moment was sleeping at that end of the carriage, he had already seen this morning in the ward at Portland Adventist Medical Center.

Inspector felt as if someone had whispered right into his ear "See him, really see him". Galbraith turned his head around - no, everything is okay. But in his mind, like an obsession, a strong desire arose to go up to this dormant, wake him up and, if he gets scared and runs away, rush after him...

- Looks like somebody is having fun with me, - he muttered quietly.

At the same time, his common sense woke up, and gradually he was able to suppress this wacky wish in himself. And at that time the carriage had already stopped at the stop it needed. Galbraith stood up and, waiting for the mothers and children to come out, looked at the sleeping man. He, without opening his eyes, continued to sit with his mouth open. The inspector went outside and, rising to the surface, began to have a discussion with himself regarding this occurrence. Well, what would he have gotten if he had run up to this man? What, he would ask him "How did you end up here, mister Yonce?", or would have him under surveillance? Neither one nor the other made absolutely no sense. Inspector reassured himself that it could all be that his depressed mood after the meeting was influenced by today's trip to the hospital, easy peasy.

Galbraith, lost in his thoughts, did not even notice how he found himself on Abbouts st. Here is the house, where he lives. Three-story building, made in English style. On the second floor of this house there was his cozy two-room apartment - what else is needed for a police inspector who spends most of his time outside its walls? Having entered the house, he went up to his staircase and, stepping over the threshold, closed the door with a key, after which he did not fail to take off his shoes. Putting his feet into slippers, Galbraith decided that instead of the new patent leather shoes he bought a couple of days ago, it would be better to go to work tomorrow in good old leather loafers. Yes, they don't go particularly well with his strict gray suit, but that's completely not important - he's not going to a fashion exhibition, just to the police department...

After an eventful day, Galbraith did not particularly want to begin studying the materials that were his friend distributed in the chief inspector's office. He just wanted to relax, so when he found himself in his own environment, he didn't waste time. Galbraith went to the kitchen and, filling a small enamel pan with water, put it on the stove. As he picked up the opened package of macaroni and cheese, he recalled with some annoyance the incident at the grocery store today. Well, what he needed to look for was not some pathetic sandwich, but this creation of the hands of McInerney and Rieck... Okay, the inspector reassured himself, he can fill himself up a little with the remaining amount of macaroni, and new products he will buy near the house tomorrow morning. Just so he doesn't faced again with a pickpeanuts, that they fall under the ground...

Before throws macaroni into the water, he had to wait about nine minutes. To avoid standing like a pillar at the stove, Galbraith went into the bedroom and, sitting directly on the carpeted floor, turned on the television. The inspector didn't really care about the contents of the broadcast channels - all he wanted was to fill the silence in his apartment. People's voices and music were quite a good background for such lonely gatherings. It was already dark, but in the bedroom, which was half-lit by the television screen, Galbraith didn't turn on the light - since childhood he had a love for the dark. Memories were fresh in his memory of how he used to climb out of the window at night and run into the yard to climb onto the ladder and sit there, looking at the street, until his father, awakened by the creaking of the shutters, chased him back.

What did little Galbraith get from these nightly forays? Perhaps the realization that the usually crowded streets seemed to die out after dark? Or the pleasant feeling of the night breeze blowing from all sides, which, as it seemed to the boy, at night seemed to become quite tangible and became like moisture hanging in the air? But the child who could answer this was no longer in the world - he was replaced by an adult, unbeliever in the wonders man. More precisely, the faith in them itself had not gone away, but with age it had noticeably dulled and now only very occasionally made itself felt.

Without turning off the television, Galbraith got up from the floor and went to the kitchen, where water was already boiling in the pan that he had put on the stove ten minutes ago. Throwing all the macaroni into boiling water, he stared at their blue cardboard packaging. A He remembered the advertising description of this product - "A comfort food". Well, yes, for typical Americans, this cheese-flavoured macaroni is something so pleasant, nostalgic, something that is familiar to them from childhood... Galbraith smiled gloomily - the magic of similar advertising did not work on him, because he was not an American.

His homeland was Gloucester, the town that gave this world the author of the poem "Invictus". It was there, nearby the river Severn, that Galbraith spent his carefree childhood. In his father's small wooden house, the future Portland police inspector most of the time he spent reading all sorts of books that his mother gave him for his birthdays, and also at times tried to express himself artistically, but alas, the strict father wanted to raise the heir in the same severity as the boy's grandfather raised him, therefore, when the father saw his son doing this, sheets of paper painted with watercolours were immediately sent into the fireplace... It was still a little painful for Galbraith to remember this.

Finishing the macaroni, the cheesy smell of which had already become a little boring to him, the inspector began to decide whether he should now begin to study the material received today from Pharqraut's hands. His daily routine was never particularly disciplined, but Galbraith usually did not allow himself to be lazy, always trying to do his police work even at home. He mainly did this because he suspected that once he got slumped, it would be difficult for him to return to normal work mode, which, being a policeman, he feared just as an electrical appliance fears being disconnected from the electrical network.

However, on this day he decided to cheat his usual rules. His head, overflowing with today's impressions, was practically pulling his entire body down, like a lead ball. "Well", Galbraith said to himself, placing the now empty plate under the stream of water, "I’ll spend tomorrow morning reading the materials". With this thought, he went into the bedroom and, glancing at the television that continued to show some soap opera, picked up the remote control that was lying on the floor and pressed the button. The silence that reigned in the apartment seemed to pierce his eardrums. The inspector turned his head to drive away this feeling and sat down on the bed. For good measure, he thought, he should go to the bathroom now, but as soon as he took off all his clothes, he immediately fell asleep.

The dream he visioned then was quite curious. In one's sleep, he found himself in some huge underground canyon or trench. Standing on a metal platform, the inspector looked into a bottomless pit, from which came a strange hum, as if somewhere there, in the center of the Earth, a wind was blowing. He turned away from the edge and walked towards the underground hangar, which seemed to have grown into the surface of the red rock. As soon as Galbraith approached the heavy doors with strange patterns painted on their metallic surfaces, they immediately climbed up with a hydraulic hiss, allowing a person to go inside. After hesitating for a couple of seconds, he took a step forward - beyond the threshold a corridor went somewhere into the distance, on the walls of which stretched iron pipes and thick electrical cables in multi-coloured plastic sheaths. An eerie blue glow emanated from the tiny, albeit numerous, light bulbs that ran in even rows along the curved ceiling. Galbraith moved forward along the corridor, delving into the impenetrable darkness of this incomprehensible underground structure.

So he walked forward in a completely straight line until he ran into glass, which blocked his further path. Behind it there was a view of a huge room, like a warehouse, where plastic barrels stood in neat rows and cardboard boxes lay disorderly on the floor strewn with broken glass. The exact size of this room was difficult to determine because the darkness obscured the corners, and the only source of light was a dim light bulb hanging from a metal pin on the high ceiling. Galbraith began to look for the entrance to the warehouse, but there was neither a door nor even a small crack in this thick glass. The inspector walked to the very left edge. On the other side he saw a pipe similar to the one that hangs near the walls of houses and serves to drain rainwater. Even from behind the glass, Galbraith could hear a loud seething, which, as he understood, was coming exactly from there. Without taking his eyes off this inappropriate indoors element of the interior, he squatted down.

And then suddenly, as if under pressure, beige and red streams began to flow out of the pipe, looking either like resin or very dense kleister, a paste. They slowly flowed, like some kind of amorphous worms, from the black hole and fell with splashing sounds onto the metal gratings of the floor. Galbraith noticed that this kleister, reaching the floor, instead of spreading out in disorder, on the contrary, began to mix with each other and take on some more or less obvious form. He sat on his haunches and looked at this movement of an incomprehensible semi-liquid substance - this spectacle was both repulsive and captivating with its harmony.

Soon this kleister formed something like paws with four fingers, the tips of which began to darken before observer's eyes, taking the form of short claws. "How similar these are to dog paws", he thought. These limbs moved a little to both sides in order to make room for new streams of substance, which did not stop flowing with a disgusting sound from the pipe, which in Galbraith's mind began to be associated with the birth canal. A kind of grotesque birth of a strange baby, and Galbraith himself plays the role of obstetrician to this creature...

Meanwhile, between the kleisterkind already almost hardened paws, a new clot appeared, slightly extended forward. There were two small ledges protruding from the sides, looking a little like tusks. Suddenly this "head" jerked up, and its surface at the end was drawn inward. The creature was devouring its "flesh"... Galbraith saw how two rows of sharp teeth appeared in place of the burst skin. It turns out that the mouth of this strange creature was hidden behind a thick layer of outer flesh, and only by devouring its edge could the kleisterkind begin to breathe...

It was an extremely disgusting sight, but Galbraith suddenly experienced a strange emotion when the creature began to twitch its legs and shake its eyeless head to the sides. Kleisterkind itself did not make a sound, but the pipe that gave birth to it, with a gurgling sound already familiar to inspector, continued to spew out the material that made up the flesh of this newborn creature, which had already come to life and began to wriggle at the very end of this stream. He clearly wanted to go forward, but begetter him soulless metal structure did not give him such an opportunity. Galbraith suddenly felt something like pity for the kleisterkind, as if he felt himself in the place of this unfortunate, ugly creature who could not really leave the womb, because the legs were still there, hidden inside the pipe that gave life to him...

All of a sudden kleisterkind stopped twitching convulsively and, turning his eyeless head towards inspector, froze in a strange position, like a puppy who had spotted a mouse in the tall grass. Although, to be honest, the tusks, which were already more clearly protruding from the sides of the creature’s mouth, gave it a much greater resemblance to some kind of mammoth, albeit terribly deformed - with grayish-pink skin, devoid of any hair, but with clawed paws... Yes, the parents would feel uneasy if they looked at their son now, Galbraith thought, as if we were not talking about a strange creature from nightmares, but about an ordinary human baby.

Those were last thoughts of inspector. Kleisterkind, who had previously been motionless in one place, suddenly jerked forward. His front half of his body - that is, his paws, head and what could be called his chest - were torn away from the stream of thick liquid flowing from the pipe. With a deafening grinding sound - like the squeal of an animal processed by an electronic filter - kleisterkind broke through the thick glass and sank its sharp teeth into the neck of Galbraith, who was taken in by the silent wonder...

Galbraith screamed and woke up in a cold sweat in his bed. It seemed that in his nostrils stuck this vile smell, similar to the aroma of rotting meat and decomposed carrion.

- I was there at the birth...

The inspector deliberately pronounced these words loudly and clearly in order to understand that he was no longer sleeping and was really at home. However, this did not make much sense, because the familiar interior of his apartment was revealed to his gaze. Here are his clothes hanging on the back of a chair, here is the remote control lying on the floor next to the television, and here is the window outside of which it was already light... But a delirious thought crept into Galbraith's mind that the creature from his nightmare did not disappear with the dream, but materialized somewhere in the depths of his room...

- Come on out, newborn, try to devour your obstetrician! - he shouted as loud as possible.

But, as he thought, kleisterkind did not crawl out from under the bed on its clawed paws, did not rush from the next room, and did not even burst straight out of the ceiling - for there has never been such a case where, upon waking up, a person dragged the inhabitants of his dreams into the real world.

Getting out of bed, he immediately went to the bathroom. Looking at own sleepy face, Galbraith wanted to shave. Without thinking twice, he soaped his cheeks and took the razor in his hands, however, as soon as the inspector brought the blade to the skin, he immediately felt a sharp pain. Putting the razor back in place, he washed his face and, watching as a red stream began to flow from the wound on his cheek, noted with displeasure, that apparently he will have to continue to embarrass his colleagues with this stubble. And how did he manage to cut himself like that? Had his nerves completely gone from the nightmare, since his hands were shaking so much?

There wasn't a scrap of food in the kitchen. Going to work hungry was not an option... Then Galbraith decided not to go to the department yet, but to run into a small establishment, which was located in the basement of a house on the other side of the street. Usually, local residents went there in order to knock back a glass of something intoxicating and, waving their arms, be drawn into a group of similar visitors and begin to twitch to the gaudy music that flowed from the loudspeaker hanging on the ceiling. But still, this establishment was famous not only for dances - there he could have a snack for a small amount of something tasty and, most importantly, high in calories. At least, this side was well known to Galbraith himself - he wasn't sure that anyone else would seriously go down the steps to this bar for a hot sandwich or a small plate of salad.

Dressing for going out, inspector continued to think about that grotesque baby creature from his nightmare. Remembering how the kleisterkind, sensing a human, took a hunting stance, Galbraith concluded that it was the cub of some kind of predator. Apparently, the hunting instinct of this species was so developed that, in fact, as soon as they emerged from their mother's womb, these creatures were already sniffing out their potential victims. The only thing that was unclear was how they were supposed to move.

How quickly that kleisterkind attacked inspector was a happy coincidence - the victim was very close to the place of birth, and this distance could easily be reached by jumping. But how did it hunt in its adult form? Although Galbraith was weak in biology, this did not stop him from believing that it was unprofitable for a predator to exist without strong hind limbs, because it was necessary to somehow develop speed in order to catch up with the fleeing prey. Apparently, the only way out for that newborn was the opportunity to fall into the hands of some compassionate scientists, who, having neutralized him for a while, installed mechanical prosthetic legs into his back part of the body. Galbraith painted this image in his head. Yes, he thought, such a creature would be worthy to come out from under the brush of Hans Giger...

By the time Galbraith had already gotten dressed and went outside, he had finally finished thinking about his essentially meaningless idea about the creature that he had seen in his dream. This morning the sun was still shining brightly in the sky, with not a cloud in it. It wasn't hot yet, but inspector was pleased to walk down the steps leading to the bar - he wanted to find himself there as soon as possible, in the air-conditioned basement (but at a much more reasonable power level than in that grocery store where was the pickpeanut).

As soon as he crossed the threshold, Galbraith was immediately struck in his ears by the loud sounds of the piano, to the accompaniment of which the young singer's cheerful baritone sang with some unprecedented tenacity that there is something more than a party. The inspector thought that the owner of the establishment apparently did not give in to fashion trends if he played a song for his guests that was already eight years old. He remembered how, when he first flew to America by plane (he was a hungry and thin student at the time), he heard the music of these guys playing in the airport. Then he did not attach much importance to it, but he remembered the intonation with which the singer, invisible to his eyes, sang something to the accompaniment of a cacophony of synthesizers. And now, being a police inspector, it seemed to Galbraith that there was some kind of message hidden in the lyrics of this band, and in the strange combination of sounds that made up their melodies, was the whole point of their collective creativity...

There was no one at the round tables that stood in this basement room. This is understandable, most people come here to hang out to the music with bleary-eyed eyes at the end of the day, and not to have a snack before work (which is what inspector wanted most now). Galbraith, who was already approaching the purple lights of the counter, had a thought flash through his head, it's quite funny that the owner played such upbeat music to an empty hall. With his long legs, the inspector did not need to stand on tiptoes to sit on the high three-legged stool. In the past, when he was still a loud boy, during physical education classes, during formation, the instructor often jokingly praised him, saying "Be proud, guy, you very first in the line!". Such attention to his otherwise modest person embarrassed little Galbraith, and he, blushing, did not answer these jokes.

But those wonderful school years passed, and now no one with whom inspector had to deal even thought of giving him a compliment in honor of his tall stature. This led Galbraith to sad reflections that school is not yet life in society, it would be much more accurate to compare it with a greenhouse, where, before being sown into the rough soil of real adult life, tiny shoots of future people grow in tiny pots and, according to a schedule, receive the necessary for them water (discipline) and light (knowledge). In his childhood, Galbraith often wanted the education system to undergo a radical overhaul, so that the young children and he himself, first of all, do not have to sit at a desk that spoils his posture in a stuffy classroom and, under the threat of grading a particular numbers, engage in senseless waste of paper and ink...

As soon as inspector took his place at the bar, the bartender, who seemed to be dozing all this time, immediately shook himself and, taking out a glass, asked his first visitor that morning:

- What'll it be? Maybe "Brown Horse"? - he meant whiskey.
- No thanks, better gave me a warmed beer, - Galbraith said imposingly.
- One moment, - answered the bartender

Keeping a stony expression on his face, man put away the glass and, placing a beer mug in front of the visitor, took out from somewhere under the counter a glass bottle full to the brim of a pale amber liquid. Having filled the mug to the brim, he placed the mug with the skill of a magician into the microwave oven behind him. Inspector did not take his eyes off the bartender - he was pleasantly fascinated by how gracefully he moved, how deftly he managed to handle all these glasses, bottles and other attributes of this place.

- Here's your order, - said the bartender as he placed a slightly heated mug on the counter in front of the customer.

Galbraith took a sip, and a pleasant, intoxicating warmth spread through his veins. Trying to drain the mug as slowly as possible, he began to imbibe alcohol with enjoyment. How long has it been since he went to this bar to treat himself to his favourite drink... Suddenly Galbraith shuddered. Carried away by drinking warmed beer, he did not notice at all what was happening around him.

- Excuse me? - as if emerging from a deep bottom to the surface, he asked in surprise.
- Would you like to eat a little? We're having pizza today, the time is right, - the bartender helpfully suggested.
- Pizza?

Inspector did not seem to understand a word of the speech his interlocutor was making.

- You're referring to breakfast? - it finally dawned on him. - Yes, of course, give me a piece.

The bartender nodded and retreated somewhere behind the counter. Galbraith, looking at the almost empty beer mug, remembered why he even stuck his nose into this establishment early in the morning. Yes, the morning meal is what he needs now. In fact, he shouldn't go across the whole city to his police department on an empty stomach...

His train of thoughts was interrupted by someone's careful touch on his shoulder. Galbraith, who still did not feel quite fit from hunger, slowly turned to the one who had disturbed him. It was just a steward. The inspector looked him up and down with a dissatisfied glare.

- Sorry, mister... - young man said quietly.

The steward was clearly uncomfortable with the fact that he had to disturb this gloomy man almost two heads taller than him.

- What are you standing there for? - inspector addressed him good-naturedly

Galbraith immediately stopped glaring at the guy, but he continued to shake slightly with fear.

- Are you inspector Galbraith? - steward asked hesitantly.
- Do we know each other?

The inspector began to remember whether he had seen this guy with a big nose and thin cheeks before. No matter how many times he came here, there was always an adult and lean man serving dishes... Galbraith concluded that his son must have come to work instead of him today.

- No mister, just one man ask you to answer the phone, - the guy exhaled as he said his last words.

Inspector glanced at the counter - the bartender was still not there.

- Okay, hold on a minute. I ordered pizza, could you ask to wrapped it a to-go? - he shouted to the steward, who was already leaving for the distant tables.
- All right, I'll tell mister Anderson, - referring to the bartender, guy answered without a hint of timidity.

"Times are shifting", inspector thought about the young steward and, mentally wishing him success in his career, headed to the telephone booth. It was dark there - the lightbulb hanging on the ceiling gave no light at all. The owner forgot to screw in a new bulb to replace the burnt one, Galbraith thought mechanically, raising the phone receiver to his ear. He was a little deaf from the music in the main room, so when he answered the phone with a businesslike "Inspector Galbraith is on a wire", he did not immediately hear the quiet voice of the caller.

- Who are you, I'm sorry? - he asked
- Schaeymoure bothers you, - a soothing aged voice came from the speaker

When Galbraith finally realized who the person on the other side of the line was, his heart involuntarily responded with a resounding beat to the sound of that name.

- Forgive me, mister chief inspector, it's just hard to hear here, - he began to make excuses.

In this phone conversation, Galbraith, perhaps for the first time in his entire career as a police inspector, allowed himself to lie to Schaeymoure. The lie was that in fact there was no sound reaching the telephone booth from the main room of this basement bar. Galbraith took such liberties in his conversation with mister chief inspector for the simple reason that he wanted to justify his own inattention ans click those heels to the situation that allegedly interfered with him.

Fortunately for him, mister chief inspector Schaeymoure did not care about the conditions in which his subordinate was now. He, without listening to the end of Galbraith's pathetic excuse, made his request to him:

- Galbraith, I would like to meet you.

These seemingly harmless words of chief inspector made an unexpected impression on Galbraith. For a moment he felt a pain in his right ear, as if his eardrum had been pierced by the point of a very fine needle. It got dark in his eyes...

- Roger, mister chief inspector, - Galbraith answered, leaning his free hand against the wall of the telephone booth. - When I'm...
- I would prefer not to postpone the meeting. Do you have time?
- I'm all yours, mister chief inspector, it's only morning.
- That's good, I don't want to delay this until tomorrow. So you can?
- Yes of course.
- Excellent. You know where I live?

Galbraith wanted to answer "How would we know this?", but he restrained himself from this nervous outburst in time. But really, why on earth would he know the address of the chief inspector? And, for that matter, why don't they meet at the police department in his office? Why this conspiracy?

- Not, but I'm...

Inspector was ready to find the address of the chief inspector among the heap of papers in the department, but his interlocutor did not let him finish.

- Do you have something to write on?
- Wait a second...

Galbraith began to look in his pockets. Yes, there it was, his small notebook, which he took out when he needed to write down someone's home number or address.

- All is ready, dictate.

Holding the receiver between his ear and shoulder, inspector pressed the notepad against the wall of the telephone booth and, taking out a pen, prepared to write down.

- So, write - Rollo, fifty five. It's very close to Portland State University.

Rollo street, fifty fifth house. Galbraith, trying not to drop the telephone receiver, wrote this address in large letters in his notebook. As he printed out the last digit, he heard Schaeymoure ask:

- Can you come immediately?

Inspector, closing the notebook and putting it in the inner pocket of his jacket, grabbed the receiver in his hands.

- Yes, mister chief inspector, I will try to come to you as quickly as possible.
- Maybe you will be more comfortable in one or two hours?
- I can do it any second now.
- Okay then, Galbraith. Waiting for you.

He forgot to say goodbye - mister chief inspector Schaeymoure had already finished the call. Galbraith returned the telephone receiver to its rightful place and, straightening his tie, left the telephone booth. Having crossed the threshold, he felt a slight tingling in his eyes - standing in the darkness the entire conversation, he is somewhat unaccustomed to the light. Music was still playing in the bar room. The aggressive piano chords were joined by a strange industrial screech - as if a train was stopping its movement.

Getting used to the daylight, Galbraith almost came face to face with the young steward. He, seeing the inspector entering the hall, stopped and, with a slight nod, pointing to the bar counter, cheerfully reported:

- Pizza is ready, pick up your order.
- Thanks to you... - Galbraith wanted to address the steward by name.
- My name is Lawrence, Lawrence Wilcox, - the guy told him cheerfully.
- My gratitude to you, Lawrence. Say hi to your father!
- And what is your... - now the guy wanted to know the name of his interlocutor
- Just call me Galbraith. Your dad always served me in this place.

Galbraith walked up to the counter. On it lay a quarter of a thick flapjack wrapped in a sweaty plastic bag, which was generously smeared with ketchup. There was also grated cheese, baked at high temperature, under which were hidden two pieces of bacon. Sparsely, thought inspector, for whom the mere sight of this food was enough to begin to reproach himself for falling for the advertisement of the bartender who was trying to push clearly stale goods to his customer.

- How much do I owe you for this? - Galbraith, in no hurry to take the package in his hands, turned to the bored bartender.

He took the price list in his hands and began to count in his head. At the same time, the veins on his forehead visibly swelled. Finally, he told the buyer the amount. Good grief, Galbraith thought, for one unfortunate glass of beer (albeit warmed) and a tiny piece of pizza, he needs to give the same amount of money as he usually spent on his purchases at the grocery store. It's not that the inspector was particularly greedy and stingy - no, inspector just felt a little uncomfortable paying for food that takes five minutes to eat, the same amount of money as for supplies for three days. But nothing can be done, the rules of the market are the law - as a person working in the police, Galbraith knew this very well.

Galbraith's mood was ruined. Throwing the money on the counter, he grabbed a sweaty plastic bag and, going up the steps, began to unwrap it as he went. His first impression of this slice of pizza was correct - this cheap semi-finished product was barely chewable and none of its components had any taste. Maybe the point was that while the inspector was talking on the phone, the pizza had time to cool down, lying on the bar counter, but Galbraith didn't want to justify himself to himself for his own stupidity - since he fell for the advertising, got what he deserved...

Without slowing down, he finished his breakfast without the slightest sense of appetite. Having crumpled up the plastic bag, he threw it into the trash can, which just happened to be on his way when he passed by the wall of a building. But then suddenly the aftersound of some lively discussion reached his ears. Brushing the crumbs from his moustache, the inspector turned off the road into a small alley. There, in a small nook, two cars stood in the parking lot - a brand new silver Buick Skyhawk and a nondescript red Eagle Premier.

Three African-Americans, dressed in some ridiculously large colourful suits for them, huddled around them. The three of them had their eyes hidden behind huge black glasses, and their hair covered their white caps with backward peaks. "These are definitely fans of gangsta rap", Galbraith thought, slightly hiding. For some reason, he became interested in what these curious people were talking about in this secluded place. The tallest of this gang pointed his finger at the fat man standing opposite him and said angrily:

- Call me "jerk" again, and I'll park your truck dead in your arse!

The one to whom this remark was addressed pulled back and, turning to the short man standing on his left, said to him in a low voice:

- Bud, I'd bust this shit right now.
- He ain't gonna bust nothing, - the tall African American man said boastfully.
- I got nuts bigger than him, - the short one said calmly.
- Whoa, country-clod, maple-syrup mutt!

It was the tallest of the gang who raised his voice again, who after this remark suddenly pulled out a pistol shining silver from the pockets of his wide pants.The two who stood opposite him did not take long to wait and also pulled out their firearms. Unlike their opponent, their friends had black and compact Colts.

- Yeah, you want some biscuits? - shouted the short one.
- You want some biscuits? - his fat friend echoed him.
- Suck it down! - yelled their opponent.

"Just a little more and they'll shoot each other with their pistols", Galbraith thought. Imagining how these three African-Americans would simultaneously fall to the ground with holes in their heads, he laughed loudly. This saved the gang from their feud - they, forgetting about enmity, all turned in his direction as one. The muzzles of their guns were now facing the inspector.

- What does this white-skinned asshole allow himself to do? - the tallest one screamed.
- No doubt, he just hitting on us! - the short man answered him.

Galbraith, considering that it was now better to retreat, did not spend much time persuading himself - he, trying not to show fear at gunpoint of three pistols, slowly walked forward along the street. The fat man's cries of "Hey, where are you going!" could still be heard in his ears, but, strangely enough, not one of this warlike trinity followed him - apparently, they just wanted to drive away the passerby who was interfering with their disassembly.

Convinced that the three gangsta rap fans were not going to follow him on his heels, Galbraith slowed down. Having satisfied his hunger, he no longer felt as sluggish as when he left the home. Now he was walking along a gradually narrowing street. The thought arose in his head that this nook in the center had not been rebuilt, probably since the nineteenth century - so unkempt were the walls of the awkward buildings in which the shop windows shone.

The inspector walked next to the display window, behind which stood mannequins dressed in ball gowns, and, passing under a concrete arch, turned into a deserted passage. Now he didn't know where he was, but after yesterday Galbraith chose not to contact the metro - it seemed to him, that if he went there again, this strange man would be waiting for him there again, who looked as two drops of water like mister Yonce, who was lying in the hospital.

Deep in his thoughts, Galbraith noticed out of the corner of his eye that another person had appeared in the passage. It was a tall and thin man who gradually approached the inspector himself. The latter had no time to pay attention to a random passerby, but purely instinctively he tried to keep the person in his field of vision.Was it really the primitive instinct of a hunter, or a habit acquired during work in the police, but be that as it may, Galbraith decided that it was better not to relax - for in this passage, in which the further from the entrance it became darker, for some reason he felt uncomfortable being in it.

The passerby was already very close. Raising his head, Galbraith noticed that he had slowed down a little. Hmm, he thought, why would he... They simultaneously stopped a few steps away from each other. Inspector, trying to look at the stranger standing in the darkness of the passage, gradually stopped thinking about yesterday's incident in subway. Something was wrong with this man, Galbraith thought, what made him freeze in one place like that? Was it really out of surprise that besides him, someone else decided to follow this path? After waiting for half a minute, the inspector got tired of standing in one place and he moved forward, but suddenly the toe of his loafer came across something invisible, preventing him from moving further.

Galbraith realized that this strange man was himself - for it was a reflection in a mirror that, for some incomprehensible purpose, had been brought to the end of a dead end. But this did not reassure the inspector. He took a couple of steps back and raised his hand up, thinking that the double in the mirror would repeat his movements. However, this did not happen.

He suddenly felt the same feeling of unease in his blood vessels as yesterday when he saw mister Yonce's doppelgaenger. Galbraith again took a step forward and, trying to get in the man, touched the cold glass with his finger. No, it really was just a reflection in the mirror, but why doesn't it repeat the movements of himself, but seems to be frozen in the same pose in which inspector himself was already a minute ago?

Looking at this creepy double, Galbraith suddenly felt the ground under his feet begin to shake. What is this, an earthquake has started? The seriously alarmed inspector, shaking his head from side to side, began to feverishly look for a way out of the situation in which he found himself. All he wanted was to get out of this passage, but behind him, instead of a view of the street, there was only black darkness - Galbraith shouldn't have even tried to go in the direction he came from...

Meanwhile, the temblor became more and more intense. Old plaster began to fall off the shabby walls. Galbraith had to step back - a brick fell right out of the ceiling and crashed to the ground, raising a little dust. This is already as much as seven points, the inspector thought, estimating the level of the earthquake. If only I... He didn't have time to think through this thought - he was shaking so much that it was not possible to cost guesses calmly.

In a panic, cutting circles around the tiny area of the passage, he again glanced at the mirror, which inexplicably did not crumble into pieces during this earthquake. The figure of his own reflection continued to stand in the same place and in the same pose, but Galbraith was much more worried about what was beginning to happen behind the back of the mirror double - from there, from a brightly lit street, a wave of dark red colour suddenly surged. The liquid looked somewhat like seawater mixed with blood. Galbraith turned around - there was nothing behind him, just complete darkness. He turned back to the mirror - there, from the street clearly visible from here, a huge wave continued to approach his double. What in God's name is going on? Is this a hallucination?

His thoughts were in chaos. The inspector no longer tried to draw any conclusions - he simply rushed about in this trap, like a beast corralled for slaughter. He looked at the mirror again and almost fainted - a wave of dark red liquid, which had already gotten close to Galbraith's reflection, rushed towards the inspector himself with a deafening sound of broken glass. He felt how this water flooded him from head to toe. His nose and mouth began to fill with liquid, which gave off a disgusting smell of blood. Trying not to suffocate, Galbraith began to frantically wave his arms, as if trying to swim to the surface, but he, unable to resist the power of this element, surrendered to the wave, which immediately knocked him to the ground...


He woke up to someone's hands slapping his cheeks. It was difficult for him to open his eyes - it seemed that the eyelids were cramped. It's good that he's at least able to move his hand... He held it out somewhere forward and felt someone take his hand in theirs.

- I can't believe I'm losing you. Or maybe not? - finally, a someone's voice reached Galbraith's ears.

He wanted to answer a person invisible to himself, but his tongue also seemed to be numb. He tried to move his neck. Everything seems to be fine, no vertebrae are broken...

- Stop bang the head, come on get up!

It finally dawned on inspector who the voice belonged to. Galbraith was finally able to open his eyes - he was lying on the ground, near the display window, behind which stood those same mannequins in ball gowns. And his friend bent over him, who, noticing that he had finally come to his senses, smiled.

- Looks like you was off, bud! - said Pharqraut with some reproach.
- Sorry, what's wrong with me? - Galbraith asked him, slowly getting to his feet.
- Let's go sit in the shade - his friend ignored it. - Because the heat is fierce...

Taking the inspector by the shoulders, Pharqraut headed towards a nearby bench. "So strange", Galbraith thought, "When I passed here even before this strange earthquake, I didn't see a single bench nearby... What really happened?".

Pharqraut seemed to read his friend's thoughts and said:

- Yes, I'm going about my deals, and I see you standing in the alley, looking at some rappers. When you laughed and began to run away from them, I decided to follow you - you never know, I'll have to protect you from these trinity. And I noticed that you turned into a dead end. Well, I think that my friend, out of fear, without understanding the road, went wherever his eyes looked. I follow you and see that you are running circles in front of the mirror, like a dog that wants to catch its tail. I run up to you, and you open your mouth and your eyes are so bulging. I figured that you'll be swinging. I couldn't find any other way to stop your madness other than to hit you over the head and drag you out here.

Having finished his story, Pharqraut exhaled and looked at Galbraith.

- You don't got a headache? - his friend asked with concern.
- No, it doesn't hurt, - answered the inspector. - I just couldn't open my eyes or move my tongue.
- Probably numbness, or some sort of a paralysis. How did you even get into this condition? Maybe you injected yourself with something, huh?
- Go take your narcotics away somewhere else, Pharqraut, you know me... - with some resentment, Galbraith began to make excuses to him.
- What other word is there for it? Do you really want to convince me that you were so scared of those three African-Americans that you decided to hide from them in some dead end and, thinking that no one would see you there, you gave vent to your nerves?
- I'm not going to persuade you, bud...
- In this case, tell me what you yourself felt at that moment.
- I swear narcotics have nothing to do with that, - Galbraith began. - I just left the bar and, on my way to Rollo Street, I happened to pass by an alley where three gangsta rappers were preparing to shoot each other over some trifle. I laughed to distract them from this idea, and calmly walked on. And, not knowing that this was a dead end, he entered the passage. But I'm afraid you may not believe what happened next...
- I'll believe you, don't worry. Okay, continue.
- Okay. In the passage, I came close to the mirror and suddenly noticed that my reflection did not react to my movements. And then I felt an earthquake begin. I wanted to run back, but everything was blocked behind me. And then a wave of blood poured out of the mirror onto me. Choking, I lost consciousness. Thank you for, as it turns out, following me all this time.
- Don't consider me your guardian angel, buddy. Well, you've taken a great trip...
- You still think it's a narcotic?
- I don't think so anymore, I just can't describe your incident any other way. Good, come quickly...

Pharqraut, wiping his hands directly on his jacket, rose from the bench. After him, after a little hesitation, Galbraith stood up. They headed towards the exit of this alley, approaching the road where cars were racing at full speed. Suddenly the inspector stopped. Noticing his friend's puzzled look, he replied:

- Wait a second, I think my shoe is untied...

He sank down and suddenly it dawned on him that he was wearing loafers. God, why did he feel like he was wearing new shoes now? Galbraith looked up and suddenly became speechless - Pharqraut with his head thrown back, fell slowly to the ground. Several holes were clearly visible on his white shirt, from which blood began to ooze. Rushing to help his friend, the inspector noticed a black sedan driving past them, from the back door window of which someone's gloved hands were pulling into the cabin a long barrel of a weapon similar to a semi-automatic gun...

What happened after, Galbraith no longer remembered because of the shock that gripped him at that moment from the loss of someone close to him. It seems that some spectacled guy with curly hair then called an ambulance, then the orderlies arrived and put Pharqraut's already motionless body on a stretcher and, in front of Galbraith's eyes, took him away in an unknown direction...

He also remembered that, trying not to give way to tears, he slowly walked somewhere from that place, and some girl in a blue dress, from under which a pink sweater was visible, loudly said "Why is this ajussi crying?". He remembered how her father, whose face amazed him with unusually long cheekbones, holding daughter's hand, told her reproachfully "Shelby, how many times do I have to tell you - do not comment on passers-by!". Inspector, who was seriously embarrassed by the words out of the mouths of babe, decided to get into a taxi so that no one would see his rare tears...

Despite such a shock, he, being a policeman, felt that he needed to be responsible for his words to the senior rank, so, settling into the back seat, Galbraith said to the young guy behind the wheel "Rollo, fifty-five" and, trying to suppress the memory of his friend's frozen pale face, he threw his head back on the seat (much like the doppelgaenger he saw yesterday on the subway)...

By the time the taxi driver brought the inspector to the small but neat one-story house of mister chief inspector Schaeymoure, the time was already approaching evening. Galbraith, getting out of the taxi, at parting gave the driver a tip and, approaching a low wooden fence, pressed the bell button. A couple of minutes later the gate opened and Schaeymoure, who was dressed in discreet blue pajamas (which made it difficult to think that this short, elderly man was none other than the chief inspector of Portland's police himself), let the guest in.

The owner, apologizing to Galbraith for his appearance - according to him, he had just woken up from a lunchtime nap, - walked him to the living room and, pointing to two large armchairs upholstered in green fabric, invited Galbraith to sit down. The latter did not remain in debt - sitting down in the chair that was closest to the fireplace behind, he began to wait until mister chief inspector pulled out from a luxurious sideboard a box of fresh cigars, as well as a bottle of some dark brown liquid and two glasses.

- Now, let's just get right into it, - Schaeymoure said in a cheerful tone, looking at the pleasure with which guest puffed on his cigar.
- Well, what's at stake of our today's meeting? - Galbraith had almost completely gotten rid of the oppressive mood caused by the incident at cryptic passage.
- Yes, this is it, - mister chief inspector nodded to the bedside table that stood on his left hand.

Galbraith looked in that direction more closely - on it lay a familiar stack of white photocopied sheets.

- What, are you want me to recite to you by heart everything that is written there? - Galbraith said with some mischief.

At the same time, he took another puff, not failing to note to himself that these cigars were definitely excellent...

- Well, Galbraith, there's no need for that. I already know this document perfectly from line to line, - his interlocutor answered with some mystery in his voice. - I'm more interested in what you think of its content.

Mister chief inspector Schaeymoure looked carefully at his guest. He felt a little uneasy. Time and time again this man looks at him as if he is trying to penetrate his flesh and blood and read his thoughts... Galbraith put out his cigar and, putting it in an ashtray on the small table, said:

- Forgive me generously, mister chief inspector, but I, whatever that is...

He tried to find words with which he wanted to express his complete ignorance of what was written on those sheets by the hands of his friend.

- So, what's next? - Schaeymoure tilted his head slightly.
- I... I haven't read the Pharqraut's case, - Galbraith blurted out.

His subconscious was preparing for the fact that these words of his would be followed by some kind of punishment. Maybe they'll scold him, maybe they'll just start reproaching him for laziness... But mister chief inspector Schaeymoure heard these words, simply lit a new cigar and, blowing out a ring of smoke, said almost peacefully:

- It's nice enough. Will be better check it out already under the influence.

"What? Under what influence?" Galbraith wanted to ask what Schaeymoure meant by this, but he, pouring the liquid into glasses, offered it to his guest.

- Be sure to try Pimm's, fruit liqueur. Ideally, you should drink it with some fruit, but I like it on its own. I hope you appreciate it in value..

Galbraith picked up the glass and raised it to his mouth. Subtle taste of spices... Yes of course, mister chief inspector will not drink any applejack...

- Something that is familiar... - having tried a new drink for the first time, Galbraith fell into some kind of state of ecstasy.
- There's England's spirit, - Schaeymoure winked at him, taking a sip
- England scent! - Galbraith, who found it difficult to describe the sensation that gripped him, agreed with this definition.
- By the way, why did you decide to leave your fatherland? - mister chief inspector suddenly asked a question that was unexpected for his interlocutor.
- Huh, why aske you? - Galbraith raised his head in shock.
- Just idle curiosity, - having finished the first glass, Schaeymoure was already pouring himself a new portion.
- Would you like me to entertain you during your evening aperitif? - as if addressing a friend, Galbraith said.
- I understand your state of mind, - Schaeymoure decided to hush up this topic. - Let me share with you my thoughts on the Pharqraut's case? After all, your friend was a remarkable person, and I was always interested to know how he expressed his thoughts on paper.
- Was... - muttered his guest

Before Galbraith's eyes flashed again the facial features of Pharqraut, who was near death.

- Are you are not satisfied with what I said about your colleague in the past tense? - mister chief inspector again gave his interlocutor a piercing look.
- No, everything suits me, - said Galbraith.

He thought to himself that did the chief inspector manage to get information about that Pharqraut is no longer alive.

- Well, then it's a good, - Schaeymoure replied. - Then let me begin.

And, putting the glass on the bedside table, mister chief inspector began to express to the guest his impressions of the material he had read. With his gestures, intonation and his appearance, he strongly reminded Galbraith of his philosophy teacher, whose lectures he had attended almost a decade ago...


The inspector met the next morning in bed in his tiny apartment. The details of how he got to his home yesterday, when he finished an audience at the home of mister chief inspector Schaeymoure, completely flew out of his head. Apparently, the fruit liqueur that they drank together then had a detrimental effect on Galbraith's memory. Getting out of bed, he walked to his desk. A bundle of photocopied material of his friend's investigation lay in the same position in which it had been placed two days ago.

Looking at these sheets, Galbraith recalled excerpts from yesterday's speech by chief inspector Schaeymoure. He seemed to say something about Pharqraut's extraordinary talent for extracting meaning from things, which to any other person would seem irrelevant to this or that situation. In addition, the young inspector impressed Schaeymoure by the fact that with just words he managed to describe his adventures in the places where the deaths of those four occurred in such a way that the chief inspector, in his own words, ended up there and saw them with his own eyes, despite the fact that he had never been there was not. "Big deal, the usual talent of a writer", thought Galbraith. He knew that his friend always showed promise of becoming a writer, but alas, doom decreed his life in such a way that he had to become a police inspector...

And then, against his will, inspector's eyes filled with tears. He again watched as his friend slowly fell to the ground, as his face, on which the expression of horror was frozen, turned pale right before his eyes, and as his pulse ceased to be felt... Galbraith remembered that his friend was taken away in an ambulance, but where he was placed and what his final fate was, he could no longer know. And he didn't want to - because he was afraid that if he saw the cold corpse of his friend again, he might lose his mind with grief.
It would be better if that event at the passage will remain for him the last moment that will be associated with closest friend...

By the way, regarding the cryptic passage... Inspector, having washed his face and went into the kitchen, began to analyze that moment - immovable reflection, earthquake and blood wave... If he is to believe Pharqraut's words, then in fact Galbraith was simply rushing around in a panic at a dead end with a mirror - that is, those visions were not real events. His rational mind told him that there was no point in trying to understand the visions themselves - instead, he needed to get to the bottom of what caused them.

Putting a pan of sausages on the stove, Galbraith decided to build on what his friend told him then - narcotics. The inspector had never taken a single mind-altering drug in his entire life, he was as sure of this as in, two and two are four. This means that there was a possibility that he took the psychotropic medication unknowingly. This could be possible, if in the food he ate before, someone had quietly added a dose of some hallucinogen.

Having put forward this hypothesis, Galbraith suddenly remembered how he read in some book (if his memory served him right, it was written on the other side of the Iron Curtain), that in France there was a case where an anti-drug specialist discovered hashish in a pie that was served at an immodest price in one restaurant. And what was even worse that before this case was revealed, gourmets from all over the resort where that restaurant was located had been buying this delicacy for several years. Galbraith still remembered the name of that drug dish given in the text - "The X-Pies".

Involuntarily, inspector began to remember that book. Small, slightly larger than his own notebook, bound in green cardboard, titled "The Word about A Rest". On its pages, the author spoke of advertising as a kind of "child of Satan", which supposedly seduces mere mortals into the path of sins. Apparently, Galbraith thought, it is typical for a resident of a communist power - talk about capitalism as a kind of Satanic discipline.

Having drained the water from the pan and placed the sausages on a plate, Galbraith returned to his analysis of what influenced yesterday's incident in the passage. So, narcotics in food. What did he eat then? Armed with a knife and fork, inspector carefully cut the sausages into slices. Yesterday he left the house hungry. At a bar where he went for breakfast, he fell for the bartender's advertisement and ordered pizza. In fact, it turned out to be a disgusting semi-finished product that had neither taste nor smell. A worthy candidate for putting a pill or two of lysergic acid diethylamide in there... But for what reason?

The bartender knew Galbraith well, who often visited his establishment - one might say, from the very first day he moved into the house on Abbouts st. Did mister Anderson suddenly come up with the idea to drug his client that day? Or even not just him - who knows how many people after him then ordered that pizza... This is the case if the narcotic was added at the food preparation stage - but then again, why would cooks suddenly mix psychotropic compound into the dough? Anything can happen, of course...

Then the inspector's thoughts turned to beer, which he also ordered from the same bar. The bartender pulled that bottle from under the counter, which even then seemed somewhat suspicious to Galbraith. Unlike pizza, it's could easily have added a pinch of hallucinogen to the beer and, after waiting for it to dissolve, serve it to the client. Here it could also play into the hands of, that inspector asked to warm up the drink - even if grains of the substance were still visible in the cold beer, then with heating they finally went into liquid. But again, a regular customer and a narcotic, this somehow doesn't fit together...

After eating all the sausages, Galbraith put the cezve on the stove - he liked to end breakfast with a mug of an invigorating drink. God be with him, with this bar, he thought. But how else could the hypothetical narcotic enter his body? He came up with the idea, which smacked of schizophrenia, that the mind-altering drug was in the very decanter that was standing on the table in the office of mister chief inspector Schaeymoure at the moment when Pharqraut was speaking about his investigation. The delusion of such a hypothesis was that, that, as Galbraith thought, a drug had not yet been invented that did not manifest itself immediately after entering the body, but only the next day, and even in a very suitable place for this - in some kind of dead end, far from strangers...

Inspector removed the cezve from the stove in time - the foam bubbling from the neck almost flooded the burner. Having filled a small coffee cup to the brim, Galbraith began to wait until the drink cooled a little, because there was no pleasure in burning his tongue when the main thing in coffee (after the aroma, of course) is its indescribable, subtle taste. Galbraith never liked the tea - he even despised it, calling it "herbal decoction for people have no taste". He reached into the refrigerator for cream - alas, there was not a drop left on the bottom of the cardboard package. Nothing can be done, he'll have to drink empty coffee...

Inspector was stumped in his analysis of what led him to that hallucination. His overly rational thinking did not allow him to admit mystic, and the drug theory fell apart like a glass vase falling to the floor. Galbraith, having drunk the first cup of coffee, was already reaching for the cezve in order to pour more, but a call from the next room forced him to get up from the table. He went to the telephone and picked up the receiver.

- Hello! Go outside, a car waiting for you downstairs, - a voice unknown to him hurriedly minted words.
- I fear you are making a mistake... - Galbraith began displeasedly, who was not at all happy that he was distracted from drinking coffee.
- There's no mistake, inspector! - the caller interrupted him. - Dispatch call from Parkrose Neighborhood, they say suicide. Paramedics have already arrived at the scene and are waiting for the police.
- Fine, give me a minute, - with these words he hung up.

The caller did not introduce himself to Galbraith, but judging by the fact that he addressed him as "inspector", this was a person clearly connected with the police, and further words only confirmed this. Going out into the hallway, Galbraith sat down on a stool and began to put on patent leather shoes, because he decided that for the sake of an important moment it was worth wearing shoes that were more impressive than loafers. Remembering the coffee that was cooling in the cezve, he sighed and, leaving the apartment, ran down the stairs.

At the entrance stood a familiar square sedan. The inspector opened the back door and sat down next to the cheerful and rosy-cheeked doctor. Making the sound of a police siren, The Crown Victoria took off. Galbraith made himself comfortable and glanced out the window - the city had already woken up, children were already running along the streets, cyclists were riding, and occasionally people with loaded carts came across... "Oh yeah", he thought, "It turns out that while I was getting up, having breakfast and drinking coffee, everyone else had long since gone to work, and I’m the only sleepyhead"...

Music was playing inside the car. Galbraith immediately noticed that this was a song from the same album, which was already eight years old. Only this was a different track - if the song that was playing in the bar was about parties, then in this one, to the accompaniment of very outdated synthesizers, the young singer, with some uncharacteristic insinuating intonation, told the listeners that he was counting his last minutes under the orange sky. This song is out of date, he thought - the red giant, which by its very existence terrified the entire capitalist world, has already de facto ceased to exist. The inspector, having read in the newspapers a month ago about the Soviet coup d'état attempt, already realized that the end of this tense confrontation was not far off. America, Great Britain and other countries belonging to North Atlantic Treaty Organization no longer had to fear that a nuclear apocalypse was about to begin...

Galbraith was distracted from these political thoughts by the unexpected "No sex" to his ears, which crept into the lyrics of a song playing on the radio. Yes, in their youth these guys knew how to write texts that could surprise their listeners...

- What, the music is bad? - the doctor sitting on inspector's left noticed his neighbour's displeased grin.
- No, the song is pretty much okay, only its lyrics are shamelessly outdated, - having woken up from his trance, Galbraith turned to his interlocutor.
- I'll ask the driver to switch channels, - said the doctor and, without waiting for his answer, turned to the sergeant Saussure who was driving

Now, instead of music, there is an advertisement for bug spray on the radio. The announcer listed the advantages of the insect repellent with such extraordinary joy, as if he had inhaled laughing gas before the broadcast.

- Well, that's better? - the doctor leaned back in his seat and winked at inspector.
- To be honest, I really don't care, - Galbraith looked out the window.

They had already left the city and were driving along the highway, on the sides of which there were trees, and only rare houses occasionally broke the monotony of this landscape, interspersed with rare power poles. There was something peaceful in contemplating this beauty. However, at the moment the inspector did not feel much pacification.

- If you're thirsty, I will give you a drink, - the doctor pulled out a backpack from under the seat and began rummaging through it.
- What have you got for me? - Galbraith, who still couldn't come to terms with being pulled away from his coffee, perked up a little.
- Take a hold, - the interlocutor handed him a shiny vacuum flask.
- Huh, nice, - Having opened the lid, Galbraith's nose felt such a pleasant smell for him. - Coffee with?..
- Sugar, just sugar, - the doctor, impressed by the inspector's smile, said this with obvious pleasure.

Galbraith did not really like sweet coffee - personally, he always drank it only with cream and without sweeteners. But in this situation he had no choice. He placed the lid on his lap and brought vacuum flask to his lips.

- Drink it down, I had a very substantial breakfast, - said the doctor, looking at how greedily inspector swallows the liquid with browned sugar.
- Thank you very much, - Galbraith answered.

He closing the vacuum flask with a lid - inspector decided that it would be better to leave some coffee for the return trip. Having given it to the doctor, Galbraith looked at the man sitting next to the driver. He did not see his face, but judging by his broad shoulders, the stranger was clearly a man with an unbending will.

- Don't you know who this is? - inspector turned to his neighbour.
- He's from the Federal Bureau of Investigation, - said the doctor. Then he leaned over and whispered in Galbraith's ear - A stern guy, but a little twitchy.

The F.B.I man, whose sensitive ears had heard the doctor's remark, turned back. Galbraith saw the arrogant face of a young man whose features seemed to be carved from stone. He, clearly restraining himself from shouting at the good-natured doctor, just glared at him from under his thick eyebrows. "Yes", Galbraith thought, "This guy will not tolerate comments addressed to him. How do they even hire such people to the authorities? His nerves are totally shot"...

- Mister Matt MacLaren, I would advise you to refrain from criticism of my person! - Galbraith heard the same voice that distracted him from breakfast.
- We should have introduced you to our inspector somehow, - the doctor answered him cheerfully, on whom the stern glance from under his brows had no effect.

The man reached at Galbraith, who was sitting directly behind him. The inspector wanted to rudely say to him "What are you staring at, shaver?", but he suppressed this desire. No, he definitely didn't like this guy in a strict black suit and thick eyebrows.

- We have reached our destination, - suddenly the booming bass of the young sergeant Saussure, who was sitting behind the wheel, was heard.

They got out of the car, and Galbraith, straightening the hem of his jacket, looked around. After the urban look of the center, it was a little unusual to be in the suburbs - no tall buildings, no bright signs, no mess of cars, only rare one- and two-storey cottages surrounded by wooden fences, tall grass with trampled paths and luxurious green crowns of trees... This rural idyll was slightly spoiled by an ambulance and a couple of police sedans standing nearby. Apparently the man from the Federal Bureau of Investigation they came here with, was only an aid to the head of the response service who had already arrived here. Galbraith, standing by the car and looking at the two-story house, for a moment remembered his childhood years spent in Gloucester. Father's wooden house, apple orchards, river...

- Come now, inspector, - Matt lightly pushed Galbraith on the shoulder. - Come into the house.

All four passed through the threshold of the gate. An elderly woman with a white scarf on her head ran out to meet them.

- At last, a professional from F.B.I! - she shouted joyfully.

Galbraith, standing next to the doctor, looked at like a man in a black jacket, giving this village simpleton a stern look, walked past her. The woman seemed surprised by that behavior of person form Federal Bureau of Investigation. She stopped in her tracks, looking after the man entering the house.

- Can you explain to us what the exactly happened? - Galbraith turned to this woman.

She, hearing the inspector's voice, stopped looking at the house and quickly turned to the speaker. At the same time, her face, furrowed with deep wrinkles, expressed some bewilderment mixed with annoyance.

- And you are an inspector, as I understand it? - she said with some uncertainty.

Apparently, it was a surprise to her that the Federal Bureau of Investigation would also send an ordinary policeman along with their man. At the first glance at her, Galbraith had the feeling that like she thinks the cops are worse than the F.B.I. guys - at least that's what one might think, looking at her face, which expressed barely concealed contempt for the one who appeared before her at that very moment.

- I was called here like everyone else, - after a slight hesitation, Galbraith answered.

By "everyone" Galbraith meant both the response service and himself, the F.B.I. agent and the doctor. The latter, by the way, at that time stood with his hands on his hips next to him, and with a slight grin looked at the woman with a scarf on her head, who, however, did not pay much attention to him, but simply raised her hands to her temples and took a deep breath, as if gathering strength. After that, she looked up at Galbraith.

- All right, I got it, - she said with such a tone when in fact nothing is got. - Anyway, I'm walking past the Yonce's house and I hear a shot...
- We should sit down and discuss it calmly, - Matt interrupted her.

The woman, looking strangely at the doctor, went forward into the house, he immediately followed her. Galbraith, hearing a familiar surname, hesitated a little and ended up being the last to enter. They found themselves in the spacious hallway of a typical country cottage - There was a bench along the wall, above which hangers with clothes hung in several rows, a carpet lay on the floor, and vases with fresh flowers were placed in the corners of the hallway.

- Are we to remove our shoes before entering the house? - Matt asked cheerfully
- The weather is nice outside now, this is not necessary, - the woman answered boredly

They went into the hall. On the left hand there was a staircase leading to the second floor, on the left there was a door leading to the living room. What immediately caught eye was a large mirror in a gilded frame, which hung on the wall near the threshold. The general decoration of the house suggested that the owner was a rich man. So, he thought, here is the house, where it all happens...

He was torn from his thoughts by an old voice - a woman with a white scarf on her head began to talk about what had happened.

- So, I heard a shot and, sensing something was wrong, I ran to the Yonces, fortunately the gate and the front door were open.
- Did this seem strange to you? - Galbraith asked the woman, referring to her last words about the doors.
- Of course. I thought that robbers had broken into their house.
- Okay, go ahead.
- I run into the house, and there, right next to this mirror, Ivette is lying on the floor...

The woman with a white scarf on her head suddenly fell silent. Apparently, this picture was still standing before her eyes. It was not difficult for Galbraith to guess that the witness had missis Yonce in mind.

- Let me guess - the lady of the house shot herself with a pistol? - said the inspector.
- That's right... - the woman's voice trembled. - Parabellum was lying on the floor in front of her...
- Did you see the bullet mark on her body?
- I... I saw blood flowing from her forehead...

The woman pulled out a handkerchief and put it to her eyes. It seemed like she was about to cry

- Okay, madame... - the inspector expected her to say her name, but she did not hear his words
- Well, what we are and will stagnate? - suddenly a stern voice rang out.

From the bathtub, located directly opposite the entrance to the house, an F.B.I. man came out and approached the trinity crowded around the mirror. Galbraith looked at him. The agent's words - or rather, the intonation with which he pronounced them - seemed to him somewhat inappropriate in this situation. But the witness, hearing his voice, immediately blew her nose and hid her handkerchief.

- So, that you have taken hereafter? - Galbraith asked.
- I immediately went upstairs where the phone was, - the woman continued. - I called the police, they arrived with paramedics.
- Has missis Yonce's body been taken away yet?
- You should have seen their car outside, - the witness answered somewhat rudely
- Very well, I understand.

Suddenly Galbraith felt tired. He got tired of asking questions for no reason, as if the whole mood of the professional inspector had disappeared somewhere. He turned to the man from Federal Bureau of Investigation:

- They were obviously waiting for you here more than me, so I'll get out of your way.

The agent, who had previously stood quietly behind the woman, looked at Galbraith with some kind of contemptuous look and took over the inspector's initiative - that is, he began to ask questions with a hurried intonation to a woman with a white scarf on her head, and the latter was clearly much more pleasant to communicate with him, which was clearly audible in her much more confident voice than before. Galbraith went towards the bath, to rinse your hands and face after a long car ride, but, without taking even three steps, he suddenly stopped in place - he felt someone's intent look on him. His whole body froze, as if in a daze. But after a couple of seconds this strange paralysis passed. Galbraith turned his head and looked to the left - where there was a staircase to the second floor, covered with a fleecy carpet.

There was a little girl standing on the top steps. Holding the carved wood railing with her left hand, she looked down with some apprehension at the policemen gathered in the hall. She was wearing a brown velvet dress with a pattern of orange circles, ending just above the knees, which gave the baby’s figure a touching and homely look. Her black hair was styled with such elegant simplicity, that Galbraith immediately made the assumption that she was apparently getting ready to go for a walk, but the sight of unfamiliar men gathered in her house made her freeze in place in indecision.

Woman with a white scarf on her head, who previously answered questions from an F.B.I. agent, noticing the girl, she immediately turned to her and smiled.

- Don't be afraid, it's just the police, come down! - she shouted to the child in a soothing tone.

After that, woman headed towards the exit of the house, throwing over her shoulder:

- Well, I got to go, messrs. I think the young lady can tell you anything else.

The F.B.I. agent looked after her with obvious annoyance. Then he turned to the baby girl, who, meanwhile, was already slowly descending the stairs into the hall. With his arms folded across his chest, he slightly pushed the toe of his shoe forward and muttered inaudibly:

- So, so, so...

Galbraith, noticing some uncertainty on the face of the man from the Federal Bureau of Investigation, thought that he had apparently never had to interrogate children. The girl finally came down the stairs. It was clear from her face that she was afraid to come closer. Galbraith had a fleeting thought that she had apparently never seen strangers in the house. Well, yes, what kind of guests could her pharmaceutist father have, he wondered...

- Your name? - suddenly the voice of an F.B.I. agent pierced the silence.

The little girl pulled back - she was apparently frightened by the eagerness with which this tall, broad-shouldered man with a stern face addressed her. And he, lowering his hands, repeated his question again. Notes of dissatisfaction began to grow in his voice. Galbraith, who was already beginning to feel sorry for this unpleasant man, decided that he would have to come to his rescue, since otherwise they won't succeed to get a word out of this girl.

Inspector, trying to walk as slowly as possible, moved towards the child. She, turning her gaze from the agent to himself, began to back away, to the stairs. Galbraith stopped and, trying to give his voice as gentle an intonation as possible, addressed her:

- Don't be scared, sweetie. We just want you to gave us the essence of things. Good?

The girl, who a moment ago was already preparing to run up the stairs, relaxed at the first sounds of Galbraith's baritone voice and even took a couple of steps towards him. The inspector exchanged glances with the F.B.I. agent, as if telling him "look at me do it!".

- Will you tell us what your name is? - he asked the child.

The girl stopped moving her head around and looked at Galbraith. Her eyes of an indefinite dark colour with some kind of cunning squint looked the inspector up and down and, as it seemed to him, sparkled brightly. She slightly bent her knees and tilted her head a trifle.

- Delia, - the inspector heard her gentle voice.

Having said this, the girl brushed aside a strand of hair that had fallen on her face and smiled at the inspector with her charming smile. Hearing her name, Galbraith involuntarily remembered Pharqraut - or rather, his investigation. After all, "Delia" is a name of Greek origin...

- Listen, Delia, you won't say a few words about how your mom, well, that's the most... - he began
- Ascended unto heaven? - Delia said suddenly.
- Did she tell you that herself? - Galbraith was stunned by her remark.
- Yes, - the girl nodded. - Mommy took daddy's gun and told me not to cry when she will ascend unto heaven.

"Lord, what was going on here", Galbraith thought. "It feels like I'm not the only one who's been went mad lately..."

- Did your mother never ascended before, when she giving herself injections? - a man from the F.B.I. intervened.

Delia gave him a frightened look.

- Do not listen to him, he was only joking, - the inspector immediately began to calm her down.

Galbraith throw an angry look over his shoulder - "Don't talk nonsense, fool!". But the agent either ignored the silent message of inspector or just did not take it into account. Instead, he quickly walked up to Delia.

- Tell me, where is your father? - man said loudly.

The little girl stepped back. The agent came even closer.

- Do you know where he might be now? - he continued, raising his voice.

Galbraith realized that he needed to put an end to this so that sedition would not occur. He rushed at the agent with the agility of an athlete. He began to break away from the inspector’s grasping hands, continuing to look at the child.

- Why won't you speak? - the man was already screaming.
- Easy, tiger! - Galbraith hissed angrily in his ear. - If you don't know how to work with children and only attack them, then stay where you are and don’t interfere. It's clear?

Delia laughed as if she had witnessed the funniest thing that could ever happen. Dimples appeared on her plump cheeks and her eyes sparkled. Apparently, the sight of a mustachioed middle-aged man clinging tightly to a young guy, had about the same effect on her as a fight between two monkeys at the zoological garden. She could be understood - a little girl would never dare to attack an adult full of life and energy, towering over her like a mountain.

The sound of her gentle laughter had a beneficial effect on the man from Federal Bureau of Investigation. When Galbraith released him from his grip, the broad-shouldered guy with a confused look sank onto the bench that stood in the hallway. The rosy-cheeked medic Matt, who had been quietly standing by the mirror all this time, involuntarily clapped his hands.

- Bravo, mister inspector, bravo! - he exclaimed with delight.

Galbraith couldn't help but smile at Matt before he looked at Delia. The girl stopped laughing, and her face took on a calm, almost peaceful expression.

- So, Delia, your mother's got the gun. What did she do before that? - inspector addressed the child

Delia looked up at Galbraith and raised her hand to her head, apparently trying to remember what happened in the morning. About three seconds later she replied:

- Before this, mommy was lying in bed.
- Are you saying that... - the agent began, but inspector, shaking his finger at him, turned to Delia.
- I went to her and asked when dad would be back. She said she didn't know and wept.

"The pieces of the puzzle all start to come together", thought Galbraith. "The girl did not know where her father was, but her mother was already aware that he had been in an accident. Yeah..."

- I began to console mommy, but she asked me to go for a walk. I didn’t want to leave her alone, but I obeyed, - Delia said.
- And when did you return? - asked Galbraith.
- After half an hour. I went home and saw mommy standing in front of the mirror. I asked her what she was doing, but she raised hand with the gun to head.
- You said a minute ago that she told you something before that? - the inspector couldn't resist.
- When mommy fell, I ran to her and she whispered to me not to cry.

"I don't trust it", thought Galbraith. "Usually, after being shot in the head, a person is unable to utter a word..."

- Was it true? - he asked little girl.
- Her voice was almost inaudible. But I understood from her eyes what she wanted to say, - answered the child.
- Okay, Delia.

Inspector straightened his back and thought about what to do next. Baby girl, having told him everything she knew, now simply stood still and batted her long eyelashes.

- Do you have relatives in the center? - then it dawned on Galbraith:
- Relatives? - Delia didn't seem to understand what she was told.
- Well, uncle, aunt, grandmother... - he began to list.
- I only have dad and mom, - the girl answered.
- From now on, it's only dad... - the inspector said gloomily
- Appositely when will he come? - the child perked up a little
- He's sick, he needs to get treatment, - Galbraith avoided a direct answer.

In fact, it was the honest truth. Galbraith had not heard from the Adventist Medical Center, so he believed that her father was already on the road to recovery.

- And when will he be cured? - Delia kept asking
- I can’t say, the disease is serious, - he rasped.

The inspector thought where else the child could be assigned, to keep an eye on her. They can’t leave Delia alone in this house, where before her eyes died the a person close to her.

Not knowing what to do, the inspector grabbed the last obvious opportunity for him.

- Do you have close friends or classmates? - he turned to Delia.

For some reason the girl was confused by this question. Her cheeks flushed red and she looked down. Galbraith was not a psychologist, but this reaction made him think that the girl was clearly in love with one of her schoolfellows. Finally she decided to answer.

- No, - little girl said briefly and clearly.
- Nothing at all? Okay, not close ones, just your acquaintances?
- Really, no!

Delia's face suddenly sharpened and took on an expression of dissatisfaction. She even stomped her foot.

- Okay Delia, I get it, - Galbraith answered in a soothing tone.

Then he stretched out to his full height and turned to the doctor:

- Well, this isn't good. Apparently, the guardianship authorities will have to be involved in this matter.
- Don't look so glum. We have not yet made a request to search for her relatives. The young lady may not have known her parents' cousins or second cousins by sight, but this does not mean that she is alone in this world.
- You're an optimist, Matt, I've always liked that about you, but here's a case...
- All is not lost, mister inspector.
- Suit yourself. But still, where should we place her until the circumstances are clarified?
- You can talk to that woman, the witness. They, it seemed to me, knew each other well.

"Nice idea", thought Galbraith, "But where did it go?". The inspector walked to the exit of the house and shouted to the young sergeant who was standing in the yard at the gate.

- Sergeant Saussure, don't you know where that woman went?
- Which one, mister inspector?
- Well, with a scarf on her head....
- You mean Elsebeth Roselieu? She went out the gate and the trail went cold.
- Yes, couldn't be better...

Galbraith turned back, but Delia was not in the hall.

- Matt, where's the baby? - he asked the doctor.
- The girl went upstairs. Said she wanted to change clothes.
- All right. I'll go away for now.

Having said this, Galbraith entered the bathroom, which combined both a bathtub and a toilet. Having done his dirty work, he washed his hands and went back out. During the time that the inspector spent in the bath, Delia had already made her way down to the hall and was now standing next to the mirror. Matt spoke the truth - baby girl changed her dress, and was now wearing blue pants and a beige jacket with a zipper, under which a pink shirt was visible.

- Where you're headed, if it's not indiscreet? - Galbraith was a little surprised by her change of clothes.

The girl, putting the comb on the bedside table, turned away from the mirror and looked at man with some surprise.

- Am I not coming with you? - she asked, shaking her head.
- Well, you know... - the inspector hesitated.

Then an man from Federal Bureau of Investigation approached Galbraith. It seemed as if he had been replaced - now this tall young man gave the impression not of a stern policeman, but of a quiet student at a cadet school. He addressed him respectfully:

- Mister inspector, while you were in the bathroom, the telephone rang upstairs. I picked up the phone and was ordered to report to you to come to the police department immediately.
- Curious... Did the caller not introduce himself? - hearing this, Galbraith again prepared for the worst.
- No, but from the voice I determined that the subscriber was aged, - the agent answered obediently.

"It's Schaeymoure, there was no doubt", Galbraith thought with some dissatisfaction. "Is mister chief inspector really so bored that he first calls me to his home, and then the next day to office..."

- Approved, - Galbraith came close to the agent. - Now you listen to me. If I have now been ordered to leave, then I do not dare disobey the orders of my superiors, but I want you let this eat into your mind - if it's in your stupid head the idea to be rude to this girl will come again, I swear what am I will scrape you out from earth. You got that?
- Roger, mister inspector! - the agent answered with such intonation as if he had been told good news.
- Well, way to go.

Man from Federal Bureau of Investigation came out into the yard. Galbraith, gathering his thoughts, went to the bedside table, which stood next to the mirror. His gaze fell on the photograph lying there among some clay cats and artificial berries. This photo captured all three of the this family - mister Yonce in a strict black suit, and on his left hand missis Yonce in a wedding dress. The woman was holding a baby wrapped in swaddling clothes in her arms - Delia, the inspector immediately realized. In the lower right corner was the date - May 20, 1981. It's curious, he thought, it turns out that the spouses decided to sign after the birth of their daughter...

Galbraith, Without giving the report in the actions, grabbed this photograph and put it in his jacket pocket. And he turned around when he heard footsteps. Thank God it was Matt. The doctor, sweating profusely, turned to the inspector:

- This guy told me that you are going to the police now, - he said in a somewhat tired tone. Well, good luck to you.

"It seemed", the inspector thought, "That the doctor meant the man from the Federal Bureau of Investigation".

- Thanks for saying that, Matt, - he said soulfully.

Galbraith shook the doctor's hand and went outside. Delia stood near the gate, apparently waiting to be put into the car. The inspector, passing by her, caught her holy glare. His head over heels - Galbraith had a strange feeling that he was seeing this girl for the last time...

- Then farewell, Delia, - he said briefly, walking next to her and going out the gate
- What, you are leaving me? - the girl took two hesitant steps towards him..
- Stay here, but I need to go to the city. We'll take care of you, - without looking back, inspector said loudly.

"Take care... Lord! if only..." Galbraith did not have time to think through this thought, because, rushing forward, he almost knocked some old woman to the ground.

- Sorry, do you know how to get to the center from here? - In an apologetic tone, Galbraith turned to the nearly unconscious woman.
- Did you are not a local? - she asked displeasedly. - You might have killed me!

Without further ado, Galbraith showed her his police identifier. This paper, like a magic wand, immediately made the old woman bow to the inspector.

- You can get to the center from here by bus, - the elderling helpfully explained. - You're just in time for...
- Where is the stop? - Galbraith interrupted her.

The old woman straightened her apron and began to talk, blinking her eyes.

- Will you walk along this road, - at the same time she pointed her hand to the left. - Then turn right, go past the tobacco shop, and then go straight. When you hit the concrete barrier, turn left and there will be a bus stop...
- Thanks, - the inspector nodded and started running.
- You'll reach the city in about forty minutes! - the elderling shouted after him, but Galbraith no longer heard anything.

When he got to the right place, he saw the bus standing still and the driver had already turned on the engine. Without stopping running, Galbraith began to frantically wave his arms, giving a sign. Soon he was standing in the middle of the cabin, tightly gripping the handrail with his right hand. Everything he experienced that day was mixed up in his head - analysis of the cryptic passage's incident, breakfast with coffee and sausages, song about nuclear war, drinking sweet coffee from Matt's vacuum flask, conversation with Elsebeth Roselieu - the Yonce's neighbour, training of man form Federal Bureau of Investigation and, of course, the eyes, the dark eyes of a ten-year-old girl, which were forever imprinted in his memory...


Bang! The gun goes off. On a paper shooting target with a picture of a human silhouette appeared a small bullet hole, and a small cloud of smoke rose into the air.

- Outside the bullseye again! - Galbraith said with annoyance, lowering his target pistol.
- Imagine that you are aiming not at an abstract figure, but at your enemy, - his partner advised him.

Having said that, mister chief inspector Schaeymoure took aim and pulled the trigger. The next shot rang out. The bullet hit the ninth circle.

- Yeah, I have trouble keeping up with you, - the inspector said wearily.

Galbraith, putting his target pistol on the table, glanced at the shooting target, almost completely riddled with bullet holes. Mister chief inspector followed his example. Then he picked up a rag and, wiping his hands on it, said:

- Listen, Galbraith. I understood your health condition and decided to suit your sensibilities.
- An if more specifically? - his interlocutor did not understand.
- With this in mind, you must rest and relax. There will be no tasks until the day after tomorrow.
- I am flattered, but... - the inspector was confused.
- However, it is necessary. We are not machines, Galbraith. Policemen, like all people, also need recreation. I give you permission to spend one day as you please.
- Well, I won't dare to disobey the your order.

He made a somewhat theatrical bow and walked towards the exit from the police shooting range. Already closing the door behind him, he turned around. Mister chief inspector Schaeymoure stood in the same place, continuing to wipe his hands on an old towel. There was something so majestic in his whole posture, that Galbraith was suddenly seized with an almost sacred thrill, and he, putting his hands in the pockets of his jacket, resolutely walked away from the station.

After walking a few blocks, the inspector found himself on the avenue and, glancing at the bright neon signs, turned up his collar and headed towards the subway station - now he didn't care whether he met that strange mister Yonce's doppelgaenger there or not. As a matter of fact, this is exactly what happened - as he thought, the subway trip went without any incidents. Having got off at the desired station, Galbraith noticed that he had run out of smoking. Without delaying this matter, he purchased them at the kiosk, which was located right there on the platform. He lit a cigarette and, taking a drag as he walked, headed towards Abbouts st.

His soul felt light and calm as never before. Galbraith even felt like either a messiah or a saviour, who was sent to a well-deserved rest. Everything that had happened all day, in his opinion, was an excellent reason to go to the bar - It's not that there was anything worthy of special attention, it's just that the inspector at the moment wanted to immerse himself in the atmosphere of general fun. It was with this in mind that he went down the steps.

This evening, the basement where the establishment was located was very crowded - despite the fact that by this time there were almost no people on the streets. Galbraith, who still clearly remembered that moment with the heated beer, decided not to experiment with the order and to the bartender's routine question "Brown Horse?" nodded his head affirmatively. Pouring the amber fusel-smelling liquid into his throat, he watched without much interest as the skinny guys jerked all their limbs to the synthesizer music coming from the speaker hanging from the ceiling...

After some time, which Galbraith spent filling himself with cheap booze, he felt completely relaxed and, having already begun to nod off, moved towards the exit of the bar. On the street, for a couple of moments he remembered Delia and his own farewell words to her - "We'll take care of you". He'll probably should have called the police department and asked about the baby's fate, but, firstly, it was already too late, and secondly, the inspector really wanted to go to bed. When Galbraith had almost reached the entrance of his house, a heavy downpour began, and he, squinting from the headlights of cars occasionally passing along the street, involuntarily stopped in place, exposing his face to the streams of cold water.

"Actually, it would be good to die, right here and now", thought Galbraith, looking detachedly at the heavy raindrops falling from the sky. "For me it's better than living to old age, without understanding anything in this life"... But common sense mixed with cowardice persistently told him that no, it's worth die only as a last resort, he can't give up out of nowhere, even if his soul really wants it, because life is a gift of fate that needs to be used as carefully as possible...

When Galbraith entered his apartment, all his clothes were thoroughly soaked with water. Pulling off his tight patent leather shoes from his feet, he stood in his socks in front of the mirror and peered intently at his reflection. It was difficult for him to recognize himself in this creature, soaked to the skin, whose face, under the influence of alcohol, expressed only dull, almost animal indifference.

- Is that really me? - escaped Galbraith's lips. - How did I end up like this?

Continuing to look in the mirror, the inspector thought about how, if something happened, he could explain his condition to others. Well, don’t count an explanation the fact that, on the eve of one whole day of vacation, he decided - probably for the first time in his life - to get drunk until he lost his human appearance? Few will take this excuse seriously. Although, the inspector thought, this is not so scary - the main thing is not to forget that the day after tomorrow him will need to return into the workflow. In the depths of his soul, a premonition of something bad suddenly stirred and ached...

He expected to meet the next morning with a hot head, a stuffy nose and a loss of strength, but what was the inspector's surprise when he woke up in his bed completely healthy. There was certainly nothing to indicate that he had spent the evening in the pouring rain yesterday. Galbraith even specially measured his temperature - 95 °F, the thermometer, unlike self-awareness, could not be fooled. Well, he thought, that means he will spend one day of his vacation in a great shape.

As he sat down to breakfast, he thought that the reason he didn't get sick was because he had drunk at least ten glasses of "Brown Horse" in the bar before - It’s not surprising that with so much alcohol in his body, the cold simply fought back. Galbraith remembered that he simply threw off his wet clothes in the bathroom, without even bothering to wring them out. Thank goodness, there was exactly the same formal suit hanging in his wardrobe - at one time, the inspector specially bought two identical sets, realizing that he, a police inspector, should always appear in public in a manner that inspires respect.

Having put on a new suit, from which there was a slight aroma of cologne, Galbraith looked in the mirror in the hallway - yes, now the thought will definitely not occur to anyone that last night this stern, mustachioed man had the chance to descend to the level of the most disgusting scum of society. He left the house without any plan for further action. Yesterday's drinking session was quite a "relaxation" - if that's how one could describe it. Galbraith have always loathed of gambling or looking for girls of easy virtue - one might say, he was horrified by of the mere thought that such a thing was even possible. So he decided to just take a walk around the city. Shaking off the dust from sleeves, the inspector walked up the street, looking around aimlessly and swaying slightly to the rhythm of a song in his head that he had heard back when he was a student at the Portland Police Academy.

The weather was beautiful - as if there had been no rain last night. Only the almost dry puddles served as a reminder of this natural phenomenon. The view was complimented by children running along the sidewalks, ladies strolling, men walking importantly... Galbraith decided, as always, to keep himself busy looking at the signs - for some reason this gave him special pleasure. Maybe it was due to the fact that in the place near Gloucester, where he spent his childhood, he never saw shop windows or advertisements - for the shops he visited there were modest tents standing in the open air. At least that's how it was in the sixties of the twentieth century - what was happening in his homeland now, the inspector could not know due to many factors.

Galbraith was attracted by the sign of a small pastry shop nestled next to The Faux Museum. There was a small sign on the glass that said "Closed" and some kind of telephone number circled in red pencil. But this was not what attracted the attention of the police inspector, but something completely different. There was a pink sign above the door, on which to the right of a beautifully depicted cupcake and a tall glass was written in large block letters "Beverages & Deserts". Galbraith rubbed his eyes - no, he was not mistaken - in the word "Dessert" the third letter for some reason went to the very end.

Apparently, the owner of this pastry shop was an immigrant from behind the Iron Curtain, where is this word actually spelled with one "S", but Galbraith did not have time to finish his thought, because he, not noticing the curb, tripped over it. Another second, and he, having lost his balance, would have flown down onto the sidewalk wet from yesterday's rain. But he was lucky - someone's strong hands managed to catch him. He saw above him an elderly tanned face with a black moustache.

- So, did you bent at such an early hour? - the man asked him with a strange accent.

The mustachioed saviour put him on his feet and busily looked at the inspector.

- No-no, I just was staring at that sign, - Galbraith said embarrassedly.
- I know you Americans, it is the morning, the drinking, - the man answered calmly, stretching.

The inspector wanted to answer that he was from England, but decided not to be offended by trifles.

- Well, where are you from? - he asked this man a question.

He wasn't sure if he really wanted to know, but don't really run away from here...

- I? Ich bin Deutscher! - the man proudly blurted out in response.

So that’s what kind of accent he had, Galbraith realized. He raised his head - it turned out that his savior was standing at a thick wooden door, above which hung a sign "Onkel Körble Lichtspielsalon". The last word vaguely reminded him of his native English "movie theater".

- Are they showing a movie here? - Galbraith nodded at the inscription.

His interlocutor seemed to be just waiting for this passerby to ask him about it. The German's huge lips stretched into a smile.

- How else? For German immigrants, onkel Korble founded a small cinema here two years ago.

The inspector thought doubtfully about what kind of cinema there could be in a room that had clearly previously housed a small store, but he decided not to show his mind.

- And what films are shown here? - he asked.
- In Deutsch, of course. However, if you don’t know our language at all, this is not a problem.
- Can I come to the session? - Galbraith began to be overcome by curiosity.
- You're just in time, last seat left.
- All right, then I'm all in.

Galbraith gave this German some money - as much as the ticket cost - and, opening the heavy door, entered a small but spacious hall. The decoration of this room alternated between wood and brick, and it seemed to the inspector who entered that the only thing missing to complete the ambience was stretched skins and other hunting trophies that could be hung all over the walls. However, signs of modern American life were also present in this dimly lit establishment - in the farthest corner there was a white canvas on a thick iron tripod, obviously it served as a screen. There were four rows of chairs in front of him. There were twenty seats in total, of which only one was free - ironically, it was located closest to the exit.

The contingent that gathered in this low-ceilinged room seemed to consist exclusively of lean, middle-aged men with short black hair. More than half of them had a thin black moustache, like the usher standing at the exit. Galbraith involuntarily caught himself thinking that he was invited to this place not least because he himself had a short haircut and a moustache. It might well be possible that the usher had a liking for people of other nations who were in some way similar to his compatriots. While waiting for the film to be shown, the audience quietly talked to each other. The inspector, sitting down on a chair with a high carved back and a soft seat, listened to their conversation. Of course, he did not hear a single word of English - all those gathered, as the usher warned him, were Germans who, for some purpose, immigrated from their historical homeland to America, Das gelobte Land.

Soon a click was heard above the heads of those gathered - apparently, a projector hidden somewhere under the ceiling began its work. Galbraith, having made himself comfortable on this chair, not the most suitable for watching a movie, fixed his eyes on the screen and from the very first frame found himself captivated by the mesmerizing spectacle. It was possible to say with confidence that onkel Korble - who, according to the ticket taker, founded this small cinema - did not skimp on ensuring that at the end of the session the audience, no matter how much they wanted, would not be able to forget this moving-picture show.

From the very first frames the film promised something very mysterious and unusual - in the middle of the red desert terrain, which strongly reminded Galbraith of the views of Glen Canyon, a horseman rode. There was one detail in his appearance that immediately caught the inspector's eye - this young man had gray hair that reached his shoulders. The operator's camera slowly changed angles as the man continued to make his way through the red sands.

The image was not particularly saturated, the screen flickered often, because of which Galbraith immediately realized that onkel Korble, who opened this establishment, simply played smuggled German Video Home System's tapes here. Being a policeman, he could easily charge the owner of the establishment with illegally showing films, but firstly, today was his day off, and secondly, he was so captivated by what was happening on the screen that he forgot to think about his responsibilities.

Meanwhile, the film continued. A short man, dressed in tattered rags, joined the gray-haired horseman. Galbraith could not understand a single word of the dialogue that the characters were conducting among themselves, but there was no particular need for this. Soon these two entered some village, and guards appeared in the frame, dressed in some kind of ridiculous armour, as if made of cardboard. The long-haired man rebuffed them, and then suddenly there was such a sudden change of frame (accompanied by a loud stinger of synthesizer keys) that the inspector involuntarily shuddered in his chair. The red deserts were replaced by a view of black space, in which an iron octahedron with precise rows of dots symbolizing portholes on all surfaces slowly rotated between the white points of faces. Curious plagiarism from mister Lucas, flashed through Galbraith's head. Then the desert views returned again - accompanied by a woman's voice-over, the same long-haired man drove through incredibly squalid streets, where ugly clay statues stood.

Then the action moved indoors, and now the cameraman generously filmed the interiors, which, according to the director’s idea, were apparently supposed to symbolize a medieval castle, but looked more like some kind of garbage dump. Ugly, disgusting people of both sexes moved among the yellowish stones, wooden posts and torn rags... Almost all the men had long gray hair, despite the fact that there were practically no old men among the extras - apparently, Galbraith thought, the actors were simply wearing wigs. Perhaps the only characters among this rabble who were more or less like normal people were the monks - they were all perfectly bald, wearing black robes, which in one short scene showed them running around a stone hall. According to the plot, apparently, they were looking for some manuscripts.

Galbraith didn't really understand what was happening on the screen. It wasn't just that he didn't know German - it was difficult to simply understand what was going on in this film incarnation of Sodom and Gomorrah. Some half-naked women, loud, frail men - the inspector involuntarily realized that the only normal one among all the characters was that young long-haired knight who was introduced at the very beginning. Although, sometimes the action was transferred to a completely different place - as if the interior of a spaceship. There, next to the huge screen, which, as Galbraith understood, showed the view from the eyes of the protagonist, people dressed in long white robes with short hair walked. The actors playing them behaved somehow arrogantly - as if the director specifically wanted to create the impression that everyone in space was so perfect, but on Earth, on the contrary, they were dirty freaks. The inspector thought so because he thought that the main action takes place in the Middle Ages - this would at least be logical.

Among all the actors who were involved in this film, the only person who was known to Galbraith was the one and only Werner Herzog. His character, dressed in dirty rags, was brought out of prison by that long-haired knight, but his screen time came to an end rather quickly - when Werner Herzog started shouting something at the camera with expression, a guard with a spear ran up to him from behind and the eminent actor fell to his knees as if knocked down. Galbraith even felt a little offended - after all, he was the only famous actor, but he was given such a tiny role...

Then the director showed the audience the protagonist’s home life - in addition to a strange room with white walls, which apparently was some kind of laboratory, In the house of a long-haired knight there lived a boorish boy and a red-haired woman with a pretty face dressed in a dirty dress. For some reason, Galbraith immediately realized that she was the love interest of the main character. Then came even stranger shots - a long-haired knight came into some cave, where, pulling off his wig - without which the actor who played him looked somehow pathetic - waited until a helicopter painted in strange colours landed nearby. Lord, the inspector thought, what was going on in the director’s head when he made decisions about what to insert into his film...

Then the environment of faceless characters was slightly diluted by a mustachioed black-haired man with a rough voice and a long sword. Galbraith involuntarily admired how this warrior started a fight in some tavern, and then began to drink together with the protagonist. True, then a rather vulgar scene followed, where that lady with a pretty face was roughly stripped on camera - the inspector involuntarily looked away when the cameraman began generously showing the audience her naked body. The fact is that Galbraith always believed that cinema is art, food for the mind, which should not indulge the base instincts of the audience...

Then the screen showed how the protagonist gets into a helicopter and soars up. The scene of his flight over the red sands was remembered by the inspector as the embodiment of the brutality of the absurd. It was even funnier when the hero had to throw himself out of this flying colossus, which did not fail to explode graphically right in the air. Galbraith thought that this was probably a response to Hollywood - they say, while you blow up unfortunate cars on camera in your films, in our Germany we blow up entire helicopters! True, it was clear that the fire of the explosion was simply superimposed on the frame, but this was a problem for the special effects masters.

Then there was a rather boring scene where the long-haired man and his girlfriend began to copulate. Thank God the director came up with an original move - this moment was demonstrated on the screen of a spaceship with a filter somewhat similar to the vision of the main villain from the hottest blockbuster of 1987. Yes, Galbraith thought, the creators of this film turned on their imagination when borrowing techniques from foreign cinema... For some reason, the inspector was even pleased when the protagonist’s beloved was captured by the guards. Maybe because the medieval instruments of torture shown during this scene shocked his imagination, or maybe simply because he wanted the film to no longer have erotic moments with this lady...

The ending of the film was consistent with what happened on the screen before it. First, the villain - a small, dry old man - with one swing of his sword, cut off the head of a mustachioed warrior already known to the audience. Then, when he climbed the tower, the same tramp from the beginning of the film began to shoot at him from a blaster. After the old man fell down in a puff of white smoke, the tramp began to shoot everyone who stood around him. The actor was apparently told to feel like a mad monkey who was given a firearm in his hands. Then suddenly an octagonal spaceship began to descend from the sky, and the entire crowd began to theatrically fall to the ground - apparently, according to the plot, this should have meant that they were drugged with sleeping gas. People in white robes took the long-haired knight onto the ship, and the woman who led them gave her bracelet to the protagonist’s beloved.

It was strange for Galbraith to look at all this bacchanalia, sitting on an uncomfortable wooden chair in a dark room, where besides him there were nineteen more foreigners smelling of sweat and cigarettes. But when the final credits began to roll on the screen, he involuntarily remained sitting in place while everyone else, briefly exchanging impressions, began to leave the hall. Apparently, it was in the song - very beautiful, slightly naive young vocals sounded under beautiful piano chords, and the inspector was surprised by the fact that the text was not in German, but in English.

The song was about a certain man who had to live in a strange empire and play the role of Lord God. As the refrain sang, the latter was not an easy, but since the fire still burns, why not give yourself a chance... Galbraith understood that he shouldn’t delve too deeply into the meaning of the song, the main task of which was to be the musical background for the final credits, but the fact that it contained English words could not help but touch him in this place saturated with the German spirit...

As the credits came to an end, Galbraith only now noticed that he was the only one still in the premises of the bootleg cinema. Stretching out to his full height, he stood up from the chair and, straightening his stiff muscles, left the dim room. The mustachioed German usher was still standing at the entrance. The inspector wanted to exchange a few words with him regarding what he had just seen.

- Have you seen this film yourself? - he asked, handing the German a cigarette.
- How could I not watch what I was going to show to the audience? - the usher responded with some resentment, accepting the gift.
- Well, what do you think of it?
- I have no idea if you know, but this director, to put it mildly, specializes in films for adults, so the creation itself is appropriate, - the usher replied, taking a drag.

Galbraith remembered shots of half-naked women in the slums, two scenes with the main character's naked lover... Yes, it was difficult to disagree with this definition.

- And if you dig little deeper? - the inspector did not let up.
- So, it's actually based on a Russian book, - as if revealing some shameful secret, the mustachioed usher answered embarrassedly.
- Have you read it?
- Never had a chance. But experts say that the director did not understand its essence and ended up filming rare nonsense.

"Nonsense... Well", the inspector thought, "Yes, it's hard not to resist using this word to describe the wild, absurd mixture of the Middle Ages, space and helicopters, generously sprinkled with ugly makeup on the actors and cheap scenery..."

- If you're asking me about this film like that, does that mean it made an impression on you? - the usher taker himself decided to ask the question.
- I like it, - Galbraith answered briefly.

The inspector could not even expect what he would receive in response to this modest phrase.

- Ha-ha! If you, an American, liked the delusional creation of not the best German director, then I'm even afraid to imagine the depths to which your own filmmakers have sunk!

Galbraith involuntarily leaned against the wall. And the usher, stretching forward his hand in which he held a smoking cigarette, continued his speech as a critic.

- The machine of your cinema consists more than entirely of parts stolen in Europe! You steal the worst ideas of our directors and make this, as you call it, a business out of it! Your cinema is not dead, it has been dead since birth! - the German spoke accusatoryly.

"Maybe", Galbraith thought, "Could finally tell this proud German that, as an Englishman, it was funny for him to listen to an insult to a culture foreign to me?". Although deep down he understood that the usher did not care what nationality his listener was - he simply wanted to vent his frustration at the fact that, due to lack of work in his homeland, he had to smuggle in a country for which he had imbibed hatred almost with his mother's milk.

- Okay, okay, I understand, - he said. - By the way, aren't you Korble himself?

The usher stopped his anti-American ranting and looked at his interlocutor in surprise.

- You are probably the first person to confuse me with onkel Korble! Every German here knows him!
- Well, I'm not German, - Galbraith winked at him slyly.
- I'm his right hand, if it hasn't dawned on you yet, - the usher hit himself in the chest.
- Good luck staying here! - he waved his hand.

The inspector walked down the street in a good mood, around him passers-by were scurrying back and forth along the sidewalk, excited about something. At that moment, the world seemed amazingly beautiful and attractive to him.A noticeable heat was already hanging over the city, the air was trembling, and it seemed that a barely noticeable glow was emanating from the city buildings. Just an optical illusion, thought Galbraith. For the joy he went into one of the shops spread throughout the city and bought a piece of smoked meat and a bottle of white wine - it's not like there's no food left in his refrigerator, the inspector just wanted to before falling into bed, sit by the window for a while and wash down finely chopped boiled pork with alcohol, look at the street, at the fallen leaves lying on the wet pavement and remembering everyone with whom he had at least some pleasant moments of his life.

However, as soon as Galbraith stepped through the threshold of his apartment, he suddenly felt that the fun seemed to have disappeared from his head. Instead of setting a small table by the window and sitting in a chair, the inspector pulled off his loafers, hung his jacket on the always open kitchen door and, putting the boiled pork with a bottle in the refrigerator, put a frying pan on the stove. Opening the window in the kitchen, he noisily sucked in the cold air. Galbraith felt a little better. A few minutes later he, getting ready to go to work again tomorrow, started preparing dinner.

Lately Galbraith has been lazy about cooking anything more complicated than pasta, but today he decided to make a small exception - he will treat himself to an omelette with tomatoes. For this purpose, he pulled out the two above-mentioned vegetables from the refrigerator, crumbled them and threw them into a hot frying pan. Then the inspector took out a deep plastic plate and broke three eggs into it. Then added a little milk, a pinch of salt and thoroughly beat this mixture with a fork - alas, he had neither a mixer nor a whisk at home. Having poured the milk-egg mixture into the frying pan, Galbraith covered it with a lid and, after adjusting the flame of the burner, went to his bedroom. There he sat down on the bed and stared out the window, behind which dusk was already gathering.

Ten minutes passed. He reluctantly got up and went to the kitchen, where dinner was already waiting for him. Placing the omelette on a plate, he pulled a chair closer to the table and began to eat. Moments from the film he watched in the illegal cinema for German immigrants were still flashing through his mind. The inspector tried to remember what the essence of this work was, but only shots of the protagonist's naked girlfriend came to mind. Then Galbraith began to turn over in his mind all the phrases that other spectators uttered during the session, but since his knowledge of the German language did not allow him to understand it by ear, he quickly stopped this pointless activity.

After finishing the dinner, he washed the plate and returned to the bedroom. Night had already fallen outside the window. He lay down on the bed and fell asleep. After the experience, the inspector's sleep was surprisingly calm and even.


The next morning, Galbraith was awakened by a phone call. With some reluctance, he walked barefoot directly to the telephone and picked up the receiver.

- Maestro, say "você"! "Você" means "you"! - the unknown caller seemed to be bursting with joy.

It was difficult for him to understand what gender the caller was, he raised his voice so high. The inspector was slightly taken aback. Apparently, the subscriber was counting on being told "Hello?" in response. Or something like that. However, Galbraith only frowned and hung up. Despite the stranger's joking tone - one could even say "hysterical" - the thought occurred to Galbraith that this seemingly absurd message carried some kind of menacing meaning.

The inspector sat down on the bed and began to pull up his trousers. Trying to understand the meaning of the Portuguese lesson he had just heard, he felt a vague anxiety associated with this call. If that person really was a complete stranger - which Galbraith really doubted, because it was unlikely that anyone could accidentally dial his home number - then for what purpose did the subscriber call him? Check if the owner is home?

Galbraith was already beginning to regret picking up the phone. He was sure that whoever was calling, he himself was in for serious trouble. Somehow pulling on his pants and buttoning his shirt, he trudged into the bathroom, where he washed his face and brushed his teeth for a long time in order to finally shake off the remnants of sleep. Having washed himself and finally woke up, he left the bathroom and glanced at the clock hanging in the corridor - it was twenty minutes to eleven. I overslept again, Galbraith thought, I should have set the alarm last night... However, it won't get any worse, he reassured himself. Just think, what the big deal - to sleep for two hours!

He suddenly remembered that he had not washed his wet in the rain suit since the day before yesterday. Rushing back to the bathroom, Galbraith began sorting through the already slightly damp pile of wet rags that he had thrown behind the bathtub. Suddenly a white edge stuck out from his jacket pocket. The inspector grabbed it and pulled it towards him - in his hand was the same photograph that, by some strange inspiration, he took from the bedside table in the Yonce's house. Looking at the chubby face of the baby sleeping in arms of missis Yonce, Galbraith seemed to be struck by lightning - oh God, Delia!

From the moment he said goodbye to the girl after the call from mister chief inspector Schaeymoure, Galbraith did not particularly think about her, but now, looking at the photo, he realized that he could not hesitate. So he decided to have a quick breakfast and go to the police department. Putting a photo of a happy family on the nightstand in the hallway, he quickly walked into the kitchen and immediately opened the refrigerator. So, boiled pork and a bottle of white wine... These were the only foods that did not require cooking. Taking them out of the refrigerator, Galbraith began to cut the smoked meat into thick slices, thinking that, of course, drinking alcohol before work was not the best idea, but he simply did not want to waste precious time on such essentially useless things as cooking of coffee...

When only crumbs remained on the plate, he looked at the glassy greenish bottle. Yes, he didn't even notice how he drank all the wine to the bottom... Throwing it into the trash can under the sink, Galbraith looked at the clean jacket, which he had hung right on the kitchen door the previous evening. Having put it on, the inspector took a photograph of the Yonce family from the bedside table and, saying to the sleeping baby "Sorry I'm so late...", put it in his jacket pocket as he walked. The usual route is the stairwell, then down the steps to the entrance...

Going out into the street, the inspector gave his gaze to the sun shining in the sky and quickly walked towards the subway. Having gone underground, he had to wait three minutes for his train. As soon as the carriage finally approached the station, he dived through the opened doors and, seeing that all the seats were occupied, grabbed the handrail... Having got off at the desired station, Galbraith went upstairs with all the other people and almost ran to his police department. When he almost reached his goal, he suddenly saw a rosy-cheeked doctor sitting on a bench under a pillar on which hung a agitational banner "Magistratus oportet servire populo" (The Police must serve The People).

- Good day, Matt! - Galbraith shouted as he approached.
- Hi, - he will answer in a colourless voice.

The doctor, resting both hands on the bench, turned his head to the inspector, who had already approached him. By his appearance could immediately tell that he was not in the mood, as if something was bothering him. This was not a good sign for Galbraith.

- Do you know how young lady Yonce is doing?

With these words, the inspector, whose veins seemed to be on fire under the influence of a drunk bottle of wine, sat down next to Matt.

- This is the essence of things, - the doctor said gloomily, looking somewhere ahead.
- I'm sorry... - Galbraith, who had already begun to suspect something, moved a little closer to neighbour.
- Today's news stinks... - the doctor turned to his interlocutor. - Buddy, you're not in a hurry, are you? - his eyes sparkled strangely.
- No... But why do they stinks? - the inspector was slightly surprised
- Listen here. Anyway, when we brought the girl here, - he nodded towards the police department building. - She began to complain about, well, as is usual with womankind... - Matt was a little embarrassed
- What, you mean it's a Delia started menstruating? In ten years? - the inspector's face fell.
- Yeah, it's rare, but it's not impossible, - the doctor said hastily. - But I'm not going to talk about that. In short, medic Maurice came up to her complaint and she began to describe to him... Briefly, then girl said that she had a parasite inside her...
- That doesn't make any sense, - the inspector dropped his head to his knees
- Of course she didn't put it that way, - Matt said defensively. - They are no such thing. In general, Maurice became worried and told the girl to be taken to Randall Children's Hospital and volunteered to accompany her himself.

At these words, Matt took a breath and raised his hand to his sweaty forehead.

- So keep doing it, - Galbraith succeeded him
- Then I can only remember what he himself told me, since I was not an eyewitness to those events, - his interlocutor answered somewhat carefree.

Matt, having said these words in the tone of a comedian who is waiting for applause at the end of his performance, blew his nose directly into his hand and, wiping it on the bench, as a result of which his neighbour involuntarily moved away. The rosy-cheeked doctor then continued:

- In general, Maurice with Delia arrived at Randall Children's Hospital, and there they immediately went to see a gynaecologist. He, having examined the patient, said that she really had something inside...
- Erm... - Galbraith froze with his mouth open.
- No, it wasn't pregnancy, this is something else, - Matt said confidently.

Galbraith, who was a little reassured by the doctor’s remark, asked what happened next.

- And then the gynaecologist told Maurice that they would put the young lady in the ward for now and begin preparations for the operation to remove... Oh, forgot this medical term... But I remember that, according to Maurice, that man had never encountered anything like this before in his entire career.
- A rather interesting story... - Galbraith nodded
- I have not yet finished, - Matt called his interlocutor's attention. - Then Maurice, leaving his home phone number to the gynaecologist, left the hospital and went home. This was the day before yesterday.
- Okay, so what happened next?
- And yesterday they called him late in the evening - they said that they had already looked at everything and prepared for everything, and tomorrow they would perform a hysterectomy on the little girl.
- What exactly do they do? - the inspector didn't understand

Galbraith thought that he had come across such a word before, but forgot its meaning.

- Uterus removal, - Matt said as he ran off.
- My God! - Having shouted this, the inspector grabbed his head.
- I am also shocked by it too, like you, - the doctor began to calm him down. - Even at twenty-eight years old, such an operation is already a serious step, but here is a little child...
- Why they decided to do it? - Galbraith, with a fire in his eyes, jumped up from the bench.
- All right, bud, cool, - Matt tried to pacify the interlocutor, but he did not let up.
- Tell me why? - he exclaimed almost theatrically
- Well... Maurice told me that this thing - I don’t remember the term - almost completely grown into the endometrium, and without complete removal of the uterus, the gynaecologist saw no other way to help the young lady.

The explosion of despair gave way to despondency - Galbraith sank back onto the bench next to Matt.

- And this morning Maurice received a call that the girl, how should I put it... - the doctor began to look for words.
- Don't hesitate, please... - muttered the inspector
- In general, staff of Randall Children's Hospital said that her pulse had stopped being palpable.

There was silence, broken only by Matt's noisy breathing. Galbraith felt his own heart ready to jump out of his chest.

- What was the name of the gynaecologist who led the operation? - he asked after a minute.

A plan for further action began to emerge in his mind.

- I recall Maurice saying it was... - the doctor began to remember
- Name, bud, I need a name! - Galbraith yelled at the pink-cheeked man.
- How you much hotter... - Matt pulled away from him. - So, he told me that the gynaecologist introduced himself to him as doctor Baselard.

Galbraith immediately jumped up from the bench and rushed to the police department. Matt shouted something after him, but the wind in his ears prevented the inspector from hearing his words. Once inside the building itself, he slowed down and, without greeting anyone, went up to the second floor to his office. There he sat down at the table and, moving the telephone closer to him, dialed the helpline number. When the receiver said "Hello, I’m listening to you", Galbraith, trying to give his voice as calm an intonation as possible, asked to be told the telephone number of the management of Randall Children's Hospital. The response he received was "Wait a couple of minutes".

The inspector put the phone down next to the machine and began looking for paper. When he finally put a blank sheet in front of him and took a pen from his desk drawer, "Write" came from the receiver. Holding it with his shoulder, Galbraith grabbed a pen and wrote down the hospital’s telephone number on paper under dictation. Thanking him, he ended the call and, running his eyes over the sheet, dialed the number. They answered the phone almost immediately.

- You called Randall Children's Hospital, - Galbraith heard a melodic female voice.
- Hello, could you give me doctor Baselard's home address?
- We do not disclose personal... - the callgirl started, but the inspector interrupted her.
- I'm from Portland Police Bureau, - he said dryly.
- Okay, hold the line, - answered a female voice.

Galbraith had to wait a few minutes. Finally, the callgirl returned and began to dictate the address to him - the inspector barely had time to grab the pen. When he wrote the last letter, a female voice asked him "Anything else?", but he just said goodbye and ended the call. "Well, wonderful", he thought, "Here it is, the address of the man who killed an innocent child with his own hands". Galbraith, having re-read the paper several times, folded it four times and put it in the same pocket where the photograph of three happy people lay.

Galbraith left the police department building. He glanced at the bench by the post - Matt had already left somewhere. This doesn’t matter at all, he thought. A yellow car with a characteristic checkerboard pattern on the door was driving towards him. The inspector stopped the taxi and, having told the driver the street name and house number, sat back in the back seat. He began to figure that doctor Baselard was probably still in the hospital now, so there was a high probability that he might not find him at home. Galbraith wasn't sure what he really wanted to get out of this visit, but he was firmly convinced that he needed to cross paths with this man before the case of "The Death of Delia Yonce under The X-acto knife" got to court of justice, so there was no time to waste.

The driver quickly delivered the passenger to the desired address.In gratitude for the service, Galbraith gave the taxi driver a generous tip, and the car moved on. Meanwhile, the inspector himself stopped next to a five-story building and, with his hands on his hips, began to look up. The callgirl told him the number of doctor Baselard's apartment, but he was puzzled about how to get there - Galbraith did not have the necessary keys, master keys or anything like that with him. Will he really have to climb through the window, like in cheap spy movies?

These thoughts were interrupted by a man of about fifty who, walking next to the inspector, accidentally touched him with his shoulder. Galbraith, deciding that it was worth trying his luck, immediately turned to this man:

- It's you doctor Baselard? - he said a little naively.

The old man stopped and turned to the inspector who had called out to him. He had a wrinkled face and a round head with almost no hair left on it. His eyes, swollen with fat, looked at Galbraith with some kind of affectionate reproach. Seeing these eyes, he was suddenly transported in his mind a whole twenty-four years ago - this is the same mister Baselard who often visited his father’s house and, right in front of little Galbraith's eyes, sat by the fireplace in the living room and shared his stories with the owners. During his stories, Galbraith's father always smiled absentmindedly at this then twenty-six-year-old gentleman, and his mother, who occasionally came to them from the kitchen to find out if he needed to bring him anything, shook her head and muttered something unintelligible.

The inspector always remembered how mister Baselard shared with them his case involving an operation on the brain of a woodcutter. He still remembered the poor guy's name - Duncan. The bottom line was that an elderly woodcutter was diagnosed with a brain tumour, and his wife decided to contact the doctors at the local hospital. Mister Baselard, who was then the chief surgeon there, immediately took Duncan under his wing and, keeping him in isolation, watched him for a long time, as if expecting something. And one fine day, when the woodcutter finally lost the ability to think - not least because of the conditions in which he was kept - mister Baselard dragged him into the operating room, where, after injecting him with painkillers, he got down to deal.

The inspector remembered how Baselard told his family in detail about how he to start performed a trepanation on Duncan, then cut the brain tissue and began to remove the tumour, but when it turned out that it had grown into the frontal lobes, mister Baselard realized that this was capitulation. He did not say then what happened to Duncan at the end of the operation, but the woodcutter’s funeral, which took place the day after the doctor’s story, spoke more than words.

All this time, Galbraith was sure that doctor Baselard had died long ago, and now he looked with surprise at him, alive and well, and moreover, having acquired a prestigious position in one of the best hospitals in Portland...

- May I ask what this is regarding? - his thoughts were interrupted by the quiet but firm voice of an old man.

Instead of answering, Galbraith showed him his police identifier. The doctor silently nodded his head, and, opening the entrance door, let the policeman forward. Rising to the fifth floor, he turned to the inspector with some strange gaiety:

- I hope your interest in my person is not too comprehensive... - he said.
- Don't worry, the police just have a few questions for you, - Galbraith answered in a soothing tone.

An ocean of hatred seethed inside his entire being, but as a police inspector, Galbraith learned to control its waves. When they finally entered the apartment, he turned to the doctor:

- Let's drink tea and in a quiet atmosphere you will answer me... - he didn't have time to finish
- I'll put the kettle on, but you can ask questions right now, - Baselard answered helpfully

The inspector looked at him a little more closely - with all his appearance his interlocutor expressed impatience and hidden irritation. Baselard was clearly in a hurry somewhere, and it was obvious that the unexpected visit of the policeman was not at all part of his plans, but was only an obstacle on the way to some important goal.

- You're at it in a hurry? - Galbraith involuntarily asked
- To England, on affairs, - his interlocutor hissed the last letter like a snake.

The doctor went to the kitchen. Galbraith thought that "I know what your affairs is like there - you killed a child and decided to immediately run away from the crime scene..."

- Good, - he said cheerfully out loud. - You just got out of surgery, I take it? - asked the inspector, trying not to give free rein to his ardour.
- It feels like you're clairvoyant, mister, - the doctor's voice came from the kitchen.

Galbraith looked in - Baselard, rattling some plates, was taking out a pack of tea from the top shelf of the sideboard.

- Really, no need for compliments. Who was operated on?
- That so small, so plain thing, - the doctor waved him off, placing the kettle under the running water.

"Well, plain thing of course", thought Galbraith, "Interrupted the life of a baby girl who had not even really known this life yet..."

- What were you doing before? - the inspector realized that Baselard did not recognize him as that little boy from Gloucester.
- Well, I did all kinds of surgeries, - the interlocutor answered quite willingly
- In America? - Galbraith inquired
- Both in America and in England, where, in fact, I was born, - continued the doctor.
- All right, - the inspector answered dryly

The kettle was gradually starting to heat up. Glancing at the stove, the doctor headed to the sideboard.

- So, you drink tea with sweets or just like that? - he asked the guest.

Galbraith wanted to agree with the last phrase, but I thought it would be better to make Baselard stay a little longer.

- I love marmalade, - he lied. - Do you have a couple of pieces?
- Hmm... I will try to fulfill your plea, - opening the door, the doctor began rummaging through the sideboard.

Trying not to shuffle his feet, the inspector quietly slipped into the corridor and, seeing the open door of the cabinet, looked in. His attention was immediately attracted by a high desk on which stood a vase with yellow asters. Next to her were small pieces of paper filled with black numbers. On the topmost of them were visible marks made in red pencil.

And then the inspector seemed to have an epiphany. He walked over to the desk and pulled out the bottom drawer. There, among some maps and typewritten sheets there was a photograph, which Galbraith immediately grabbed in his hands. The yellowed black-and-white photo showed an incredibly skinny man with a disproportionately large, clean-shaven head, dressed in a straitjacket. He smiled a toothless smile at the photographer, leaning his left hand on the hospital bed. Turning the photo over, Galbraith read the text written in black ink "Duncan (brain cancer), 1967".

- This is definitely the same person, - the inspector said barely audible.

He himself did not understand who he was talking about - about the doctor himself or his long-interred patient. But this evidence finally confirmed that Galbraith was on the right track. Suddenly a loud stomp was heard from behind. He turned around - doctor Baselard stood on the threshold. His chest was shaking under his suit, and his face was twisted into a grimace of rage. It seemed as if his eyes were trying to pierce right through the guest. But the inspector did not lose his spirit - on the contrary, the state in which the doctor was now in set him in a decisive mood. Galbraith straightened up, stuck out his chest and raised his chin proudly.

- You killed this woodcutter twenty-four years ago, - he began in a solemn tone. - And this morning there was a little girl under your X-acto knife. She walked towards her destiny, could change the course of history, but unfortunately...

The inspector was unable to finish his expatiation.

- What do you want from me, you worm? A confession? - the old man screamed so loudly that Galbraith jumped to the side in surprise. - Here's your confession!

And at that very second Baselard ran to the desk. Galbraith prepared to fight back, but the doctor simply pulled out the top drawer of the table and, pulling out a stack of papers, threw them into the air. The sheets scattered throughout the room and slowly landed on the floor. The inspector resisted the urge to grab them and see what was written on them.

- I disposed with theirs souls like Lord God, because I felt like doing it, do you understand?! - the owner of the apartment continued to scream in falsetto.

Having shouted these words, doctor Baselard took a little phial of yellow liquid from his pocket and began to unscrew its glass stopper.

- Only don't come near me, you wronged, trembling creature! - he said, lowering his voice.

After that, he threw back his head, throwing the entire contents of the phial into his throat. Galbraith involuntarily became worried - the doctor's body trembled, a wave of trembling passed through him, but he did not even seem to notice it.

- You won't go on?! Get out of here! - he shouted in disgust.

Oddly enough, after these words, Baselard, grabbing the briefcase lying next to the door, left the apartment himself. The inspector, continuing to stand at the desk, heard the loud stomping of the doctor coming from the staircase. After waiting for the entrance door to slam, Galbraith finally decided to get out of here. His further actions were extremely unprofessional - he did not conduct a search and did not even close the door of the already abandoned apartment behind him. Remembering the doctor's phrase "To England, on affairs", the inspector had long ago realized that their meeting occurred due to a happy coincidence - If Galbraith had been even a minute late, Baselard would have left for the station long ago.

Having gone downstairs, Galbraith looked around - as he believed, the doctor had long since disappeared. The inspector hailed a taxi, and after a while he was dropped off right at the entrance to the police department. Getting out of the car, he noticed a young sergeant Saussure standing at the bench, who was engaged in an animated conversation with an elderly gentleman in an overcoat, from under which a greenish satin vest peeked out. When he saw Galbraith, the sergeant stopped the discussion and stared at him with some curiosity.

- How can I help you, mister inspector? - he asked him politely. - Here's the thing, one citizen is from Portugal, - The sergeant nodded at the gentleman in the coat. - Accompanied by three of his friends, he arrived here and wants to urgently talk with our superiors...

The citizen from Portugal himself at that time stood silently next to Saussure and drilled Galbraith with the piercing gaze of his small eyes. His sparse gray hair was carefully combed back, and his mouth was twisted contemptuously, as if he hated being in the company of American policemen. The inspector, without saying a word, walked past them and stepped into the open doors of the department.

- But they don't have time to wait, they're in a hurry to get to the airport, - Saussure's voice reached his ears.

The inspector, having passed through the threshold, was surprised to find that at that time there were unusually many people in the premises of the police department - some adults in civilian clothes, teenagers in tracksuits and old women in colourful dresses... Galbraith, without stopping, went to the office of mister chief inspector Schaeymoure. When he went up to the second floor and opened the door to his office, he looked up from his papers and, casting an indifferent glance at the guest, said:

- Well, Galbraith, let's see what you dug up there. Will you please take a seat?

He nodded towards the chair, but Galbraith, dryly thanking him, instead pulled out two photographs from his pocket and, placing them on the table in front of mister chief inspector Schaeymoure, waited until he turned his attention to them. Having carefully examined the photographs, Schaeymoure raised his full of barely restrained curiosity eyes to incomer.

- The first picture shows a woodcutter who died twenty-four years ago, - Galbraith started. - It happened in Gloucester, where I spent my childhood. The poor guy died right on the operating table - they opened his brain to remove the tumour. And in the second picture, - at this point his voice involuntarily trembled. - Shows the Yonce family with their little daughter, who would have celebrated her eleventh birthday next year, but unfortunately she died this morning in a room at Randall Children's Hospital after surgery to remove a vital internal organ.

Galbraith wanted to give his speech as formal a tone as possible, so as not to betray to mister chief inspector those feelings of empathy that he himself did not expect to feel in relation to the baby, whom he had known for at most one day. But Schaeymoure was too perceptive, and the inspector was overcome with mental turmoil. Galbraith interrupted himself - he suddenly felt that behind every word of the speech that he was now giving to his listener, there was almost physical pain, some kind of inexorable weight that had fallen on his heart.

- So... - said mister chief inspector in the ensuing silence.
- The same person is behind both of these deaths - doctor Baselard, who was worked in the hospital I mentioned. I say "was" because this morning, just after the death of the child, the doctor packed his things and left for England, in order, I am sure, to avoid prosecution.

Galbraith pulled out a pack of cigarettes from his pocket, pulled one out and flicked the lighter.

- I don't expect him to return to America, - he added, raising the cigarette to his mouth.

After that, he went to the window and stopped, looking down at the street full of people. What was he thinking about at that moment? It is difficult to tell. Most likely, Galbraith was now remembering that he loves this life, loves Portland, its streets and all its inhabitants. Or maybe he indulged in the Great Boredom, caused, of course, not by some idle thoughts or thoughts, but just by gloomy experiences... He did not see what mister chief inspector Schaeymoure was doing at that moment, and he did not want to see - having finished his speech, Galbraith seemed to have thrown off an invisible, but incredibly heavy burden that had previously weighed on his soul.

Suddenly he heard an insinuating cough behind him. Having put out his cigarette, the inspector turned away from the window, realizing that this was an order to return to the desk.

- You are aware, Galbraith, - began mister chief inspector Schaeymoure. - You are clearly so concerned about the fate of this young lady that I feel obliged to send you to Jordan Thurlow.
- Excuse me, but who that is? - Galbraith took a step closer and bowed his head, as if he was afraid to miss a word.
- A person who is serving a sentence in Columbia River Correctional Institution. He was sentenced to eighteen years in prison on suspicion of raping an underage girl who was the daughter of his neighbours. The court accused him of taking advantage of her mother's trust and forcing her to visit his house, where he put pressure on her.

Listening to this story from mister chief inspector, Galbraith thought about how wonderful it would be if all the nasty things and sorrows that this world brought to people happened only to those who deserve it, and never to little, innocent children. But people are not divided into good and bad, he thought sadly. Meanwhile, Schaeymoure continued.

- Before his arrest, mister Thurlow, according to the victim's parents, abused her at his friend's apartment. In general, it is worth noting that the girl had a very emotional father, he was ready to literally do anything to put both men behind bars, but the court ruled that Jordan's friend was not proven.
- Well, - said Galbraith when Schaeymoure finished his speech. - And what do you suggest I do?
- Ride to Columbia River Correctional Institution and ask to have an audience with this prisoner. As far as I know, he's actually not a bad guy at all, but the power of public reprimand...
- What will I get out of this? - out of excitement, Galbraith interrupted the mister chief inspector.
- That it depends only on you, Galbraith, - he answered quietly. - Maybe peace of mind, or maybe a thirst for action. Either way, Thurlow's words will bring clarity to your thoughts.

Galbraith involuntarily sank into a chair. He did not dare take these words of mister chief inspector at face value, but some part of his soul understood that, unfortunately, this was true.

- I don't undertake to decide what you need, I can only say how I imagine your further tactic, - Schaeymoure continued. - You want to go all the way and destroy that person, right?
- Sorry, did you really... - Galbraith wanted to ask again, but Schaeymoure raised his hand.
- This is a figurative expression, - as if consoling his listener, he said. - because no one is going to bring this matter to the complete destruction of the suspect. We are policemen, not executioners.
- So what should I do right now? - Galbraith began to lose patience.
- Go there, - mister chief inspector said with importance.

With these words, he put on his glasses and pushed a thick stack of papers towards him, making it clear to his interlocutor that he was free. It is possible that mister chief inspector intended to add "Farewell" to this, but then four people in civilian clothes burst into the office, among whom Galbraith recognized the same gray-haired man in a coat who was talking with the young sergeant Saussure. The inspector had no choice but to leave the Schaeymoure's office and head towards the exit of the police department.

Going out into the corridor and closing the door behind him, Galbraith heard four Portuguese begin to loudly shout out some phrases in their native language, clearly trying to demonstrate mister chief inspector how much their case required the immediate intervention of the American police. Only when he reached the stairs leading to the first floor did he stop hearing their furious screams and calmly began to go down. Once on the first floor, the inspector hesitated a little, remembering the name of the colony that Schaeymoure had told him, and then he decisively pushed the door and went out into the sunlit street.

Second Act - Uma Moldura Quebrada

Jo was led into a small room with gray walls, where, apart from a table and two chairs, there was nothing else. The guard lightly pushed the prisoner in the back and, making sure that he obediently sat down on the chair closest to the exit, closing the door behind him. Gloomy thoughts hovered in Jo's mind. He had been serving his sentence in this prison for two whole years, and that was only one-ninth of the entire sentence. During this time, he almost forgot what it was like to be free, breathe fresh air and communicate freely with other people...

A crazy thought crept into Jo's head that he was called into this room in order to release him from here early, but common sense suppressed this idea. Eighteen minutes have passed since the guard walked out the door. Jo, although accustomed to long and tedious sitting in a cell, was already tired of sitting on this hard chair, and he wanted to get up - not to go out, but just to stretch his stiff legs - when suddenly the front door, which was located just behind his chair, opened and the prisoner heard measured steps.

The man walked around the table and sat down in the chair opposite Jo. The prisoner began to look at the stranger. He looked like he was about thirty-something years old, or at most forty. He had short black hair and a neat moustache under an aquiline nose. He was dressed in a gray and clearly worn-out jacket, under which was a white shirt with a black check, and around his neck was a black tie. The stranger’s behavior, or rather the way he confidently carried himself, could be evidence that he had previously served in the military.

Jo, bored within the walls of this dull place, only had two minutes to understand in general terms who was sitting in front of him. It worked out that the stranger was in no hurry to start a conversation - automatically he said a dry greeting and, sitting in a chair, simply looked at the prisoner, clearly waiting for something. Finally he broke the silence in the stuffy air:

- So, I have the honour of seeing before me Jordan Thurlow, the same man who, two years and five months ago, was sentenced in United States District Court for the District of Oregon in the criminal case of one Delia Yonce? - he said insinuatingly.

When the stranger finished this introduction, Jo felt his insides turn over. It was not a matter of the somewhat rude intonation performed by the interlocutor’s baritone, but the fact is that this man, whom Jo sees in front of him for the first time, uttered a name dear to him - even if it was not a secret to everyone who was in this building, but for him, twenty-six-year-old Jo Thurlow, these two inmost words caused his body to experience an uncontrollable increase in heart rate and some breathing problems that only went away as the day went on. It was clear as day that the heart wound was fresh even after so much time spent in the dull dungeons of this concrete coffin.

The topic that the stranger brought up interested Jo. The momentary confusion caused by the spoken name soon gave way to calm and determination. Jo confirmed that the stranger was not mistaken in his guesses, internally understanding that in fact this man already knew everything if he was assigned a conversation with him. Adjusting his moustache, the inspector Galbraith - this is how the interlocutor introduced himself to the prisoner - made it clear that now the two of them would have a long interlocution.

The policeman asked Jo to start a story about how he ended up behind bars, and in particular to focus in the story on everything that concerns Delia Yonce, because this will serve as the basis for the subsequent story, but from his, Galbraith's side. Jo asked why mister inspector decided to start this speaking, but having received a dry response "Your words, Jordan, will help my investigation", he decided not to waste time and got down to business.

So, two years ago... Those blessed times for Jordan Thurlow had such a halo in his eyes that it seemed as if a completely different person had lived that life, and that for some reason someone else's memories had entered his head. This state of affairs was not caused by the passage of time - in fact, from the very first day of his prison sentence, Jo deliberately tried to abstract himself from what he had lived before, so that his heart would not suffer from the pain of loss. But no matter how much he wanted to push all the memories away into the attic of his mind, Jo, hearing this dear name from the lips of other people, fell into a state when his heart was ready to jump out of his chest from melancholy. Delia... He said her name tenderly. It sound so pretty and sophisticated at the same time...

Preparing to lay out the information of interest to the inspector, mister Thurlow, as he always did, began to collect his thoughts randomly scattered throughout his mind into a single whole, and also tried to feel as if he was reliving the events of days gone by. If not for this, he would hardly have been able to string together at least two words, and so he, having begged mister inspector for a little time - four minutes to be exact - began to tune in to catch the wave of the past. Having thrown away the nonsense of high-flown judgments, Jo seemed to freeze in one place - fixing his gaze in front of him, he seemed to begin meditation and surrender his thoughts to the foretime.

When Jo finally pulled himself together, the silence in the visiting room was finally broken. His interlocutor, slightly stretching his numb hands, prepared to catch every word that would come out of the mouth of this prisoner...


August of that year was unusually hot. Jordan Thurlow noted that this had never happened in his area before. Since his mother's death, he has never travelled outside of his hometown of Portland, and in connection with this, Jo, who previously did not like to travel around the world, roundly took root in the soil of his native home. Most of his free time, which was available to him in his chosen profession of culturologist, then twenty-four-year-old Jo spent walking in the forest behind his residential area.

There he slowly, one might even say melancholy, wandered along the paths with his faithful dog and, like romantic poets, his thoughts and feelings were almost completely given over to the nature around him. Exercises of this kind used to drag on until late at night, and so when Jo walked to home with Buffalo, the latter somewhat annoyed the neighbours with his ringing bark, which he made for any reason - be it a mouse running through the bushes or the cry of a night bird sitting on the branches.

As a matter of fact, from the sum of all these circumstances it followed that that among all the residents of Parkrose Neighborhood Jordan Thurlow had a reputation as an unscrupulous and lazy hedonist, whom, as he himself thought at times, was tolerated only because in the modern world you can’t just go and tell a person you don’t like everything that you think about him, and at the same time give him a strong thrashing - for the letter of the law hovers over every citizen like the sword of Damocles, and therefore, everyone, willy-nilly, has to, gritting his teeth, live according to the principles prescribed by The Highest of This World...

But one fine day, a change that occurred in the life of the entire village seemed to turn the entire routine of the last offspring of the Thurlow upside down. It was from that moment that Jo realized that, formally speaking, he was grabbed by the legs and began to be pulled underground, and even if he really wanted to, all he could do was slightly loosen the grip of the tenacious hands of this strange feeling called "affection", but there is no way to stop her intentions for his final fall to the center of the Earth. From that sacred - or is it cursed? - moment the name "Delia" was forever imprinted in his mind, and in fact his whole life could be divided into two stages - before meeting that girl and after...

Jordan Thurlow missed the very moment the Yonce family moved in, because just at that moment he was stuck at work in the center. So before he returns home Jo only caught sight of the burly mister Yonce himself - just at the minute when he was paying off the old Harris Sherwind. Jo had previously heard among the merchants that this stocky man with an incredibly scowling expression was planning to move here, but he didn't care much. They then met their gazes, but, without saying a single word to his future neighbour, the gorilla-like mister Yonce, wincing somehow in disgust, got into his car, which was parked at the gates of the Harris house and drove away. The next day Jo also left the Parkrose Neighborhood - true, not having his own personal car, he boarded the bus in the old fashioned way, which always travelled on schedule between the countryside and the center.

Jordan stayed in the center for about five days. There he had a place to spend the night - he rented a room in the cheapest hotel, where, of course, there were not the same amenities as in his home, but what difference did it really make to him where he rested after a working day. Actually, his life always flowed in this way - he was idle in his house, sometimes received calls from his boss, and, going to the center, did essentially meaningless work, which, however, brought in just enough money so that he could live without luxury, of course, but Jo never felt like a poor beggar either.

After working those five days, mister Thurlow left the building where his office was located and, quickening his pace, headed to the bus stop, where he, as always, got the bus that carried people on the route already described above. At that particular moment, the car was a little late, and Jo sat on the bench with a bored look, looking at other people who also needed to get to countryside. They were mostly old ladies who had small retail outlets in the Parkrose Neighborhood. Some were with a bag, some were with a basket. Five minutes passed. Jo looked at his wristwatch - this driver is already a full fifteen minutes late! Mister Thurlow didn't know what circumstance forced old Martin to make such a seemingly minor deviation from the rules prescribed by the highway administration, and deep down he had a desire to somehow get even with him, but Jo realized that this was not only a completely pointless undertaking, but also that he, being a frail and stunted young man, could in no way compete with this former athlete, who in his old age decided to choose the profession of an intercity bus driver.

Fortunately, when the time on his watch already showed about six o'clock in the evening, a familiar white bus appeared around the bend and stopped nearby. Mister Thurlow was in no hurry to get on, because, being a man, and a young one at that, he was simply obliged to let ahead of the respectable old women who, pushing each other, entered the front door of the bus. When the last woman, whom Jo recognized as the merchant from whom he always bought all sorts of bathroom accessories, disappeared into the black doorway, he got up from his usual place and, under the shouts of old Martin hurrying him, entered the crowded bus interior.

Alas, the traders took all the seats. Even those seats where no one was actually sitting were occupied by heavy bags. Jo had no choice but to spend the entire trip holding onto the handrails, from which the yellow paint had peeled off in places due to frequent friction, revealing the shiny aluminum surface hidden underneath. Behind the large windows of the bus, views of the trees spread out near the highway flashed by, among which there were occasionally lonely buildings - both residential and all sorts of cafes, shops and similar attributes of the modern American urban landscape.

Mister Thurlow saw all this for the millionth time, so with nothing else to do, he went deep into his thoughts - at such moments his eyes rested on one point and did not register anything. People around him might have thought he was having some kind of seizure, but in fact his mind was simply starting to float somewhere away from his body. During that trip in the bus, the subject of his thoughts was, as you might guess, the fact that a gentleman he did not know was moving to his native village. Jo asked himself what this man outside the city was looking for, what motivated him when, without bargaining, he paid old Harris Sherwind a considerable sum of money for that two-story house where in the old days the drunken brawls of Harris and his friends took place...

A theory arose in mister Thurlow's thoughts that perhaps this surly guy was a family man, and he bought a house in the outback in order to give his wife and child - for some reason Jo was sure that mister Yonce had an inheritor - the opportunity to live in nature. But on the other hand, how could this affect his work? Before Jo's eyes was the sight of mister Yonce getting into an unsightly-looking compact car. Apparently, this gentleman made a bet with his family that they would move out of town, knowing that with a personal car he could go to work without any problems. For some reason mister Thurlow imagined how this guy who looked like an old bear had to get up early in the morning, in order to have time not only to have breakfast, but also to get to his place of work, which, as Jo was firmly sure of this, was located in a wealthy area of the center.

Mister Thurlow couldn't help and laugh at his vision. The old women sitting on either side of him shuddered in unison. Jo heard the dissatisfied hiss of some tradeswoman - seems to be the one who sold fruit. But to him, tired from this day culturologist, somehow didn’t care what these uneducated broody thought about him. He didn’t try to restrain this sudden flow of fun that fell on him and laughed until old Martin suddenly turned around and waved his hairy fist right in front of his nose. Non-conflict - and to be honest, cowardly - Jo immediately stopped neighing like a horse, and the driver, muttering rude words to the ill-mannered youth, put his hands on the steering wheel again.

Five minutes later, the bus finally brought the entire mass of people rushing home to their home village, and mister Thurlow, who was lucky enough to stand right at the exit, immediately jumped off the bus, raising clouds of dust. The merchant women following him began to loudly swear after him, but he, being in a cheerful mood - which Martin’s fist still could not completely extinguish - almost flew to his house. Why was Jo having so much fun? Was it really the image of a gorilla rising early in the morning that his mind painted that caused such a paroxysm of ecstasy in him? Mister Thurlow did not understand psychology, so he stopped thinking about his own behavior, and, having moved away to a safe distance from the bus stop, he slowed down slightly.

Be that as it may, fatigue made itself felt. Approaching his home closer and closer, the mischievous spark of fun inside Jo finally went out, and he, with his head down, seemed to force himself to walk. Having reached the fence of old Harris's house, he suddenly stopped rooted to the spot. At first, Jo himself did not understand why this happened. He continued to stare at his feet, but with his whole body he suddenly felt a strange feeling, as if a hundred people were looking at him at the same time. The legs did not obey their owner, and for a couple of seconds Jo could not even move his neck. "What kind of misfortune is this?", he thought.

Time seemed to freeze around mister Thurlow - because for him two seconds passed as slowly as if two millennia. In addition, he felt the heat begin to spread throughout his body, and it seemed that just a little more, and his skin, unable to withstand the high temperature, would begin to melt. But, thank God, this feeling has finally left him. Jo seemed to have woken up from a nightmare. He looked around. The sun has already set and darkness has not yet fallen on the earth. Birds were sitting on a tree on the other side of the road.

With their soothing chatter, Jo was able to shake out this strange disease. He had already decided to go to the gate of his house, but something made him glance at the house of old Harris. The lights had not yet been turned on in the rooms, so the windows that looked out onto the road did not stand out against the general background of the house. Not having strong eyesight, mister Thurlow was about to turn his head back when he suddenly saw a small human figure in the leftmost window of the second floor.

It was a little girl. It was not clear what she was wearing, because from here mister Thurlow could only see her head. She had long and tousled black hair with a small bun on top of her head. The young stranger's face had a hint of some subtle cunning. The child looked directly at Jo with curiosity. What attracted her? Maybe it was his confused look? It seemed to Jo that this was precisely the case, for her lips stretched into a smile. How long did they look at each other like that? Mister Thurlow no longer remembered this. But the piercing gaze of this pair of eyes seemed to drill right through him. He moved awkwardly, still looking out the window. Little girl said something (mister Thurlow could not have heard her words from such a distance) and her head disappeared from the square of the window, in which gray curtains now occupied all the space.

Jo came close to his gate and, catching in his ear the barking of his faithful dog, who was running on the other side of the fence, with shaking hands he pulled out the key and inserted it into the keyhole. He crossed the threshold of the wicket and, shouting at Buffalo, who was joyfully jumping on his owner, locked it behind him. Putting the keys in his pocket, he squatted down and patted the dog's head.

- Well, chum, I suffered today... How are you? - as if addressing a child, he stammered

Buffalo tried to lick his owner, but Jo got up in time and, wiping his hands on a handkerchief, grabbed an armful of laundry, which he had hung on the clothesline since yesterday, and went into the house. He had thoughts in his head that he, such a bungler, forgot to buy the dog something to eat, but fatigue prevailed over all other feelings, and in the end Jo headed to the bath. There he turned on the tap and, while the bathtub was filling, carefully laid out the dried clothes so that at the end of the washing up they were within easy reach. Then Jo hastily took off all his clothes and, in what the mother gave birth, plopped into his own ocean, which consisted of hot water and soap suds. It seemed to him that all the stress he had experienced that day was draining from his body into the water. While soaking in the bath, he could finally, with a clear conscience, forget about all his worries and become like a carefree seal.

Jo continued to lie in the now cold water, until suddenly a trill of a telephone call was heard from the next room. With some laziness, he began to get out of the bath and, putting on clean clothes, wondered who could call him at such a very late time. After getting dressed, Jo pulled on his favourite slippers and went into the bedroom. Before picked up the phone, which was on the nightstand near the door, Jo noticed that he had forgotten to draw the curtains some days ago.

Scolding himself for his oversight, mister Thurlow raised the phone to his ear. On the other end of the line was Japhet, his close friend and work colleague at the same time. As it turned out, the reason he called was that while leaving work, he accidentally confused the folder with his materials with Jo's folder. The latter, having promised a friend the other day to drop by his house, which was located in the same village, ended the conversation and hung up.

"It didn't work out very well", thought mister Thurlow, staring blankly at the telephone. As he could see, the fruits of his prostration did not bring any benefit, but on the contrary caused inconvenience, not only to Jo himself, but also to the people around him. Heading to the kitchen, he went through the options in his head for what to do with himself, so as not to give his body a reason to relax. He hated sports with every fiber of his soul, about physical labour in the garden he also thought with some anger - since the death of his mother, this tiny piece of land on his plot has become overgrown with weeds - and, taking the eggs out of the refrigerator, Jo came to the conclusion that no matter how much he wanted, he absolutely could not jump above his stupid head.

Lighting the gas, he began to go through the memories of the past day. In the morning, he opened his eyes in that tiny hotel room and, filling his belly with some cheap semi-finished products, went to the office. There he mechanically carried out the actions prescribed by the charter - Jo noticed to himself that he couldn't even really remember what he did at work - after which, having reported to his boss, he headed to the bus stop. Mister Thurlow skipped in the memories that segment associated with the bus trip, and stopped at how he suddenly felt feverish as he approached the house.

So what was it? Could the look of children's eyes really put him, a twenty-four-year-old man, into such a disease? The shape of that little girl's face flashed before his inner vision again. Jo decided to change his train of thought and began to figure out who she could be. Five days ago he saw mister Yonce pay for that house. And now, as you can see, he and his family have already moved in there. Sounds logical, Jo thought. That little girl, as it was not difficult to guess, was the daughter of the new owner of the house. So he was right about his new neighbour having a child.

Jo almost felt a sense of misplaced pride in his "amazing" deductive abilities, but he tensed and suppressed this feeling. Of course, people can't read each other's minds, but mister Thurlow had a gut feeling that human thoughts could penetrate the minds of other people like sound waves, and so he tried his best not to think of ideas that, if spoken out loud, would cause at least a couple of dissatisfied glances in his direction. Jo had no idea why, in his own understanding, thoughts were like a transparent glass storefront that anyone passing by could easily look behind, but he had to live with this since childhood.

Be that as it may, during that bus ride he managed to hit the nail on the head regarding the marital status of his new neighbour. Jo began to wonder what would change from this day in his life. Well, first of all, now when he goes out into the street, will bump into this overweight man either on the road or in the store. Remembering the unkind look mister Yonce had given him five days ago, Jo made it clear to himself that this family would label him a slacker and vagabond. However, absolutely everyone who knows him thinks so, so it’s nothing special - mister Thurlow is no stranger to such attitude from others.

He was more concerned about how he would behave in front of his new neighbour's young heiress. Jo still remembered her look - the feeling of being looked at by a crowd of hundreds of people could not be pleasant. Being a rather shy person by nature, the concentration of attention on his person from other people always plunged Jo into some kind of strange numbness, and in this case, not only is it a child - for some reason, mister Thurlow was always afraid of kids, thinking that they could read the thoughts of adults - also her location so close to his house...

Jo has spent his life avoiding looking other people in the eyes - the human gaze in his understanding is like a strong spotlight that illuminates all the nooks and crannies of his soul. In the case of the daughter of his new neighbour, everything took an even more serious turn. Mister Thurlow could even swear that quite tangible rays emanated from the eyes of that girl... Trying to find a definition of that evening mystery, he stopped at the spears. His imagination pictured long, transparent poles, as if carved from glass, with sharp tips that came from the child’s eyes.

- What kind of nonsense am I saying, - Jo said out loud, - I collided with the eyes of an unfamiliar girl and, pardon me, almost died on the spot. I'm completely went limp!

Suddenly mister Thurlow wanted to kick or just hurt himself, here the action is not important, it’s all about the result - Jo firmly believed that a strong painful shock would bring the desired effect. He looked in front of him - a frying pan, covered with a lid, stood on the stove. Fully aware of his actions, Jo extended his left hand forward and touched the red-hot iron with two fingers. After which, he ran to the bathroom, placing his burned hand under a strong stream of cold water from the tap. He smiled - "Yes, he taught himself a good lesson, however..." The tips of his little and ring fingers were very red and sore. Nothing special, laying some unfortunate fingers on the altar of socialization is a mere trifle.

Mister Thurlow headed into the bedroom, noticing that it was already quite dark. He turned on the light and began looking in the closet for ointment for burns. Having found the treasured jar, he dipped both fingers into it and, screwing on the lid, put the ointment in its rightful place. "For two, maybe three days it will ache a little, but it’s okay", he thought. But he realized to himself that there is no need to faint from the fact that all sorts of youngsters are looking at him. Jo laughed at his own joke and went to dinner.

Jo finished the scrambled eggs quickly, one might say that he didn’t even satisfy his hunger, but, as a doctor he knew once told him, that’s not a bad thing, because when go to bed, it’s better not to eat enough, because stomach won’t be entirely comfortable. Mister Thurlow did not understand what this could be connected with, but why would he argue with a certified follower of the teachings of Aesculapius? Therefore, having ingested this practically dietary dinner, Jo got up from the table and, having rinsed the plate under running water, put it in the kitchen cabinet and slowly trotted into the bedroom, getting ready for bed. He reassured himself that, in essence, a new neighbour was by no means a disaster, on the contrary, new people in surroundings it's always good. Yielding to the embrace of Morpheus, before Jo's inner sight a pair of cunning eyes flashed again...

He met the next day as a different person. No, mister Thurlow's appearance has not undergone any changes at all - he was still a dystrophic man with consumptive breasts - but it was like a switch went off in his brain. Jo seemed to be attacked by euphoria, it seemed as if he was beaming with energy. At breakfast he wondered what to do with himself. Having outlined the plan by which he would act today, mister Thurlow finished his meagre meal and headed to the bathroom. There, holding his face under a stream of cold water, Jo rinsed off a little and looked in the mirror. His unruly hair was disheveled in all directions, and coupled with his somewhat crazy gaze, he looked like an angry and hungry student. "So", he thought, "Should trim his hair, otherwise with such a hairstyle he will only scare folk..."

Without thinking twice, Jo went into the office and, grabbing his wallet from the table, put it in his pocket as he walked. Already closing the wicket, mister Thurlow remembered that he had not fed Buffalo since yesterday. "It’s okay, chum, I’ll grab you some food today, I won’t forget", he thought. He put the key in his shirt pocket and, slightly straightening his hair, went on a hike to the hairdresser, which was located at the other end of the Parkrose Neighborhood. However, Jo did not forget to note to himself that cheerful female screams were heard from the yard of his new neighbours - one voice was older - as he understood, it was missis Yonce - and the second was younger. He already knew the owner of this voice by sight since yesterday.

Mister Thurlow thought that the female half of the Yonce family was enjoying their first day in a new place and, mentally imagining their walk around the yard, continued on his way. It seemed that the thought of those two only made Jo feel better. Without stopping for a second, he began to quietly whistle a melody, which, as it seemed to him, was suggested to him by the singing of birds that he had accidentally heard last night. It was more fun to walk this way, and besides, concentrating on trying to reproduce that song, he finally got rid of obsessive thoughts about his new neighbours. Carried away by this matter, Jo did not notice how he had already approached a residential building, on the ground floor of which there was a hairdressing salon. Having finished with his aria, he briefly admired the flowering bushes that grew near the entrance, and, taking a deep breath, entered the room.

In the tiny foyer, which preceded the hall itself, his modest person was immediately noticed by guy sitting on the sofa. It was Kelsey Pettipas, the son of the owner of this hairdressing salon, who, in fact, served as a barber in his mother’s establishment. Seeing Jo, he jumped up and he and the client shook hands, after which the latter began to say that, in fact, he needed - just remove excess hair on the sides and front so as not to look like some kind of garden scarecrow in public. The hairdresser laughed at these words and got down to business.

Mister Thurlow watched with interest in the mirror as the skilled hands of Kelsey Pettipas brought his hair to a civilized look. It was a real pleasure to see how scissors in the hands of a professional saved Jo from the bristling tangles that so disgusted him and made a bad impression. Despite the fact that he soaked in the bathroom almost every day, he almost never thought about his hair, which is why it, one might say, lived its own life. Jo recalled that in his childhood he did not like to get his hair cut, allegedly because the scissors would accidentally touch the skin on his head. Be that as it may, childhood phobias have finally disappeared from his mind...

When Kelsey Pettipas finished his business, Jo, paying him, asked if he remembered the last time he came to him for a haircut. The guy, after thinking a little, somewhat hesitantly stated that up until that moment he had seen mister Thurlow a whole year ago.

- By the way, did anyone get your hair cut today? - unexpectedly for himself, Jo decided to follow up with another question.
- You are the first client, calm down, - said Kelsey Pettipas cheerfully. - For at such an early hour few people bother to get a haircut, - added the hairdresser.

Mister Thurlow looked at his watch - it was ten minutes to nine o'clock in the morning. It turns out he woke up a bit early today... Jo left the hairdresser somewhat gloomy from the thoughts that had washed over him. "Did moving his family with a little girl", he thought, "Really change me so much internally?". There was no logic to it, but it happened. He spat angrily to the side, thinking that in this way he expressed contempt for common sense. However, it so happened that the lump of saliva landed not on the asphalt, but on a wooden cart, which was being driven by some old man, who immediately began to angrily express his displeasure to the young man, and Jo had to apologize profusely to him, but even this incident could not drown out the confusion in his head.

Soon the old man rolled his cart as if nothing had happened, and mister Thurlow, stopping near a building with a bookstore window, wondered what else he should do today. Jo remembered the evening phone call. He should exchange his work materials with his colleague, otherwise this would be an awkward situation... When leaving the house, he forgot to take the folder, so now, without delaying the matter, he ran back. The barber shop and his house were separated by quite a long distance, so mister Thurlow, who was not accustomed to physical activity, was exhausted already a third of the way. "Alas, you can’t jump above your head", he recalled his own thoughts. Therefore, he had to get home at a slow pace, which did not seem like a good idea to him - because he felt that until he gave Japhet his things, these shackles of promise would never fall off from him...

After some time, Jo was already in the area where he actually lived. He noted that only now people began to go out into the street (and it was already about twenty minutes to eleven), and he suddenly, for no apparent reason, wanted to take a roundabout route in order to approach his house from the other side, without being seen new neighbours. But Jo remembered how yesterday he punished himself for cowardice, and, having overcome this stupid desire, he boldly headed towards the house along the route he had walked a million times. Peering into the faces of passers-by who came across his path, mister Thurlow thought that he would certainly meet mister Yonce or someone from his family.And so he was not at all surprised when he noticed that near the gate surrounding their site, there were two human figures. From a distance it was clear that one belonged to a portly man, and the second to a little girl. Jo[, as he had done at the barbershop, stopped for a moment and breathed more air into his lungs.

Well, now he will see with his own eyes the person who last night so greatly changed his inner consciousness. Jo suddenly felt cheerful - he found it funny that he, a grown man, was so impressed by some peanut. It would be nice if some respectable gentleman or lady could give such an impetus to his mind, but the child... When mister Thurlow reached the father and daughter, he was already laughing out loud. He caught displeased glance of mister Yonce and decided that it was worth stopping not only his laughter, but also his movement. Jo stopped a few steps away from his neighbours, turning over the words of greeting in his mind.

For some reason, he couldn’t quickly figure out how to greet this family. He seemed embarrassed about something. The three of them stood opposite each other for half a minute, and mister Yonce himself was the first to break the silence. Unable to hide his contempt for this inappropriately cheerful young guy, the huge man muttered through his teeth:

- What kind of behavior is that? Laugh at the top of your voice. What are you, a horse?

It was a great mystery whether he had such a sense of humour or whether he was trying to tease the impudent young man, but the fact remained a fact - his little daughter, hearing this words, burst into laughter. The father began to hiss at the girl so that she would stop doing this, and Jo was finally able to collect his thoughts. He waited until mister Yonce finished scolding his daughter and turned his attention back to his neighbour. When he finally raised his head, mister Thurlow immediately blurted out the speech he had prepared.

Jo could no longer remember with what words he had greeted them, but the memory of what he had received in return was fresh in his mind. The head of the Yonce family sullenly listened to his greeting and, as if doing a favour, introduced himself to his neighbour as a pharmaceutist. Then he lightly pushed his daughter on the shoulder with the words "Well, go ahead, tell him what your name is, keep this civil". The girl took a small step towards Jo and, taking the hem of her dress in her hands and, bending slightly, complied with her father's demand. How easy it was to guess, mister Thurlow heard only one word from her lips - Delia...

Hearing her first word, addressed directly to his modest person, Jo was again for a moment seized by that strange sensation, as if the gaze of hundreds of people were directed at him at the same time. Fortunately, he quickly got over this feeling and, without hesitating in answering, addressed her a compliment, something like "Very pretty name". The three of them stood there for a couple more seconds and then went about their business. Mister Yonce and his daughter headed to the car - apparently they needed to go to the city - and Jo, still holding in his head image of Delia's crimson cheeks, went to his house to grab a folder with Japhet's materials. It seemed a little strange to him that the girl was embarrassed when she met him in close proximity to her. Mister Thurlow had cut his hair this morning, so it was unlikely that his appearance had anything to do with it. Maybe this was her reaction to the laughter that had overwhelmed him before?

Covering the wicket behind him and at the same time waving away the hungry Buffalo, Jo almost ran to his room. He began searching for the folder. For some reason, it slipped his mind where he had put it yesterday under the influence of fatigue.After spending about three minutes searching, mister Thurlow finally found the item he was looking for on the floor near the mirror in the hallway. This is what he screwed up yesterday - he usually always puts things away neatly when he returns home... Picking up a slightly dusty leather folder swollen with papers, Jo suddenly remembered that this happened because before picking up the dried clothes from the street, without thinking twice he threw them over the door to free his hands. The only thing he couldn't understand was why the door was open. Did he, when leaving for work five days ago, forget to close the front door of the house itself? Thank God he has a dog to guard his property, otherwise this could have ended badly.

Clutching the folder between his legs, mister Thurlow closed the door properly. Then he walked up to the gate and, looking at his faithful dog with a knowing glance, stepped over the threshold. Turning the key in the keyhole, with peripheral vision he saw that there was no longer a car near the gate of his new neighbours’ house. Clearly, he thought, the pharmaceutist and his daughter were really going to town on business. Jo thought that they had left too late - his logic told him that if mister Yonce was going to arrive at his workplace on time, he should have left about the same early as mister Thurlow himself that day, after all, in order to get to the center in a small car, needs to spend at least forty minutes - the bus, led by old Martin, rode for about that long.

Putting the key in his shirt pocket, Jo repeated to himself what he needed to do - now he must fulfill the promise made to Japhet, who last night asked him to drop by to exchange materials. The walk to it was a little less than to the hairdresser, but mister Thurlow, knowing his body, discarded the idea of ​​running and, wiping his hands on a handkerchief, slowly directed his steps towards the only area in his village, where once upon a time ten multi-storey buildings were erected. This time Jo no longer whistled to himself after meeting the Yonce family - with the possible exception of missis Yonce herself - he was in such a state of mind when there is no desire to waste energy in vain. When he finally approached the third entrance of house number one hundred and fifty-four, mister Thurlow almost completely lost all his gaiety, and, dialing the apartment number, waited for the door phone signal with a feeling close to the one in which he met mister Yonce himself today.

So the door opened. He almost ran up to the fourth floor landing. His friend had already opened the front door, and Jo, without much warmth, said "Hello" to him and entered his apartment, which was filled with the aroma of fresh baked goods. Japhet was somewhat embarrassed by his colleague's gloomy appearance, but, wisely deciding that if a person was not in the mood, then he should not pester him with questions regarding this, he accepted the folder from mister Thurlow's hands and invited him to follow him to the kitchen. There he proudly pointed to a dish on which lay a small pile of shortbread cookies. Jo remembered that his friend loved to cook himself, and noticed that he was lucky to be visiting him at the very moment when he had just finished his next "culinary experiment". Sitting down in the seat offered by his friend, he watched as Japhet poured boiling water into the teapot. He decided that now it really wouldn’t hurt him to eat, considering that he didn’t even have any eggs left in his house - mister Thurlow finished the last four of them this morning.

Waiting for the black tea to brew - Japhet did not recognize another because of his principle of being a lover of Indian life - the owner of the apartment shared with his guest the recipe for today's dish. According to him, he simply beat three eggs with a mixer (oh, it's them again, thought Jo) and half a packet of sugar, poured a glass of sunflower oil into this mixture and, having kneaded more flour into it, immediately put the resulting dough in the oven, without even trying to give it any beautiful shape. As Japhet said, this is because it would be a shame to spend time on the beautiful design of a dish that had a high chance of turning into a completely inedible substance after baking.

But apparently the gods favoured the cook, so his first attempt at making shortbread turned out quite edible. Jo chewed with great appetite the fruit of his friend's culinary labours, not forgetting to wash it down with tea, which, if it had been his choice, he would have replaced with coffee. Looking at the owner of the apartment, mister Thurlow noticed that his heart seemed to lighten - Japhet was no longer embarrassed in appearance as he was when he met the guest, now his face was glowing with happiness. "As I understand", Jo noted to himself, "Like any person interested in the art of cooking, the opinions of other people were always important to him, not like me..."

Jo didn't notice that the pile of cookies was gradually reduced to a small amount of crumbs. He was still hungry, so he asked Japhet to give him something from the refrigerator. He, pleased with the assessment of his culinary experiment, walked past the guest and, opening the refrigerator, began to list to his friend what he could treat himself to. Of all the above, mister Thurlow liked most the can of canned fish, pea salad with sour cream, as well as store-bought sandwiches, which Japhet, returning home from work, grabbed at some eatery located just across the road from the parking lot. Taking the food from his friend’s hands and laying it out on the table, Jo read the inscription on the packaging of these sandwiches - yeah, that means friend Japh decided to treat himself to some junkfood!

Apartment's owner, having transferred the dishes chosen by his friend to the table, closed the refrigerator door and did not deny himself the pleasure of joining the meal. So they sat opposite each other, devouring all this culinary splendor by both cheeks - Jo opened the can of tuna with a kitchen knife and both of them, armed with forks, took turns putting oily pieces into their mouths. Mister Thurlow managed to grab the last piece before Japhet did, and, taking a spoon, began to eat the salad, while the latter opened one of the sandwiches. "Tuna and after it pea salad..." Jo thought to himself. "Yes, this is far from an exemplary change of dishes, but does my friend run a restaurant in his apartment? No!". Besides, at the moment he was more concerned not with any rules for serving dishes, and their own calorie content. Therefore, he, without hurrying anywhere, sent this salad into his insatiable mouth, spoon by spoon...

The owner of the apartment has already managed to finish the first sandwich, and has already started the second. The third was the last of the food remaining on the table. Mister Thurlow put the now empty salad plate in the sink and picked up this piece of fast food. On the wrapping paper he saw the mark "Chicken". Looking at the labels of the sandwiches his friend had gotten, he noticed with some annoyance that, as it turned out, Japhet had taken both beef sandwiches for himself. Oh God, there's that chicken again... First, scrambled eggs at breakfast, then eggs in shortcrust pastry, and now the meat of this bird itself... "What the chicken's curse?" he thought to himself, holding a sandwich in both hands.

- How's it feel? - asked Japhet, who eating faster than his leisurely friend.

Jo, whose jaws were currently chewing a mixture of two rolls, a leaf of lettuce and a chicken cutlet, could not give him a word, only nodded in the affirmative. Japh's face lit up with happiness again - it seemed that he was glad that the guest liked everything that was in the master's refrigerator, and not just the work of his own hands.

- I actually took these sandwiches by accident, - he began to tell the guest. - I leave the boss all cheerful, go down to the street and feel like I want something harmful. Remembering that there was a diner next to the highway, I got on my motorcycle and went. I’m driving in general, and, noticing a sign, I stop. At the checkout I say "I’ll have two beef and two chicken", and, having paid with what I found in my pockets, I continue on my way home. But, having already entered my apartment, I realized that I could not cope with everyone, and I satisfied my hunger with only one. Anyway, - he said with some sympathy, stroking Jo. - But he fed you. There's nothing to eat at home, right?

Having already finished with this invention of the hands of cooks unknown to him, mister Thurlow replied that yes, Japh was right, he has serious problems with food at home.

Looking around - as if afraid that they were being overheard - Jo was about to tell his friend about his new neighbour, when suddenly Japhet raised his finger up.

- Listen, mate, what now writing in papers! - he said loudly

With these words, apartment's owner pulled out the latest issue of The Oregonian from under the table.

- Japh, you know... - Jo said hesitantly

Mister Thurlow wanted to say that he didn’t care about all these press, but his friend could no longer be stopped.

- "Dog earned an bacon", - Japh loudly announced the news headline.

"Sounds like the title of a moral story for kids", thought Jo, making himself more comfortable in his chair.

- "In a controversy, two dog trainers decided to find out which breed is the most patient and causes more sympathy among others", - friend started reading.
- What kind of cynological quarrels... - mumbled mister Thurlow.
- "To resolve the issue, they arranged an examination for their pets", - Japh continued
- Do you really thinking, what this is interesting to me? - Jo couldn't resist.

Japhet lowered the newspaper and looked at him - his hidden behind glasses eyes expressed reproach, like that of a mentor.

- Wait a bit, it will be more interesting further, - he said and buried his face in the newspaper.
- You always tell everyone that "more interesting further", - Jo imitated his friend.

The owner of the apartment ignored this guest’s remark and continued reading.

- "Cummins and I decided to check whose dog performs the commands "Stay" and "Sit" better, - tells Nuell Saberlow, famous cytologist-instructor of Portland", - Japh read.

"Hmm, I think I've heard this name before", thought Jo.

- "We both decided to left our dogs for a whole hour on Pearl District. Well, on a bit of a lark, I placed two felt hats next to them and a "I'M ASKING FOR BACON" signs too", - after these lines, Japh could not help but laugh a little.
- It seems that these are circus performers, not dog handlers, - his friend caught his tone.

But at the same time he thought that this Nuell Saberlow had something in common with that same friend of his late mother who helped her get a dog. Over the years, Jo had forgotten his name, but this extraordinary antics from the newspaper involuntarily made him remember that cheerful, muscular man.

- "The winner was my Labrador Flarie - passers-by were pleased to encourage the gallant white giant, who also bowed at each donation".

Having read this, Japhet raised his head and looked at mister Thurlow over his glasses.

- Do you think you would have acted the same as the onlookers from Pearl District? - he asked a question.
- Well, that's unlikely, - Jo replied. - I have my own dog, why should I give money to someone else?
- There is common sense in your words, - Japh nodded. - Only dogless apartment residents can afford such expenses.
- How would you do it yourself? - mister Thurlow decided to turned the spotlight.
- I? - Japhet, his hands occupied with the newspaper, furrowed his brow.
- You yourself live in an apartment and don’t have a dog, - his friend rightly reminded him.

The owner of the apartment decided to evade this question and returned to the newspaper.

- "In an hour Saberlow's dog Flarie earned whole eight United States dollars, and his competitor, Cummins' fearsome rottweiler named Raider, just a measly two American bucks", - he read.
- I hate rottweilers, Japh! I hate 'em! - theatrically exclaimed Jo, imitating a hero from some action movie.
- You're not the only one in Portland, it's now scientifically proven, - Japh laughed.
- Was that the end of the article? - mister Thurlow said, seeing his friend put the newspaper on the table.
- Yes, that's the whole note. Or do you think that an article about some trainer would deserve a separate page?
- It's understandable, - his listener nodded. - The best thing about it is the eye-catching title.
- And if remove it, - his friend answered. - Then there would be nothing interesting left.
- So why did you read it to me then? - Jo looked at Japh somewhat reproachfully.

He didn’t answer, he just took off his glasses and began to wipe them with a piece of suede. Jo reached for the newspaper.

- You can take her with you, - apartment's owner said casually as his friend picked up a copy of The Oregonian.
- No-no, I'll just take a look - his guest answered hastily, running his eyes over the lines.

The first thing that caught his eye was the huge heading, under which was indicated the name of note's author - certain Megan Heaton. Next was the text that Japh had just retold to him, and at the very end of the article there was a black and white photograph in which the big man was holding a huge white Labrador on a leash. The caption under the photo read "Nuell Saberlow and his faithful Flarie". Jo looked at it and froze, not believing his eyes.

- This is the same trainer who helped our family with dogs! - he exclaimed, throwing the newspaper back on the table.

Japh, who had already pushed his glasses up his nose, raised his eyebrows in surprise.

- What, do you feel proud that your friends are mentioned in the press? - he quipped.

Mister Thurlow said nothing to this, only lowering his head down onto the linoleum that covered the kitchen floor.

- Curious, - Japh continued. - How much would your Belgian malinois earn? - he meant Buffalo.
- I don't think anyone would give him even a cent, - Jo noted with some sadness. - He's so rude...
- This same Saberlow fitted it for you, right? - his friend smiled.
- Yes of course, - mister Thurlow remarked with some annoyance.
- Everyone is always fooling you, - the owner of the apartment said either comforting or mocking. - And then they write about those who fooled you in the newspapers.
- Stop it, - his guest was not amused.

Meanwhile, Japhet suddenly pretended that there was no conversation between them about dogs, and asked his friend with sudden gaiety in his voice:

- Well, you must have been very surprised when you opened the folder yesterday and saw materials about Greece there? Yesterday I was quite surprised when, instead of materials regarding Kinthia, I found in my folder sheets covered in someone else’s handwriting, telling about some book bestsellers in Munich in the seventies.

Yes, it was true, mister Thurlow was tasked by his boss to collect information of this kind. The task was essentially to collect information on the sales of several famous fantasy novels in the above-mentioned city. In this matter, Jo was greatly helped by one man who was called onkel Korble behind his back. He was an old German from Wiesbaden, who in the early eighties moved from there to America - or rather to Portland - according to him, because of the contraband trade. On the Das gelobte Land he did not stop his dirty deeds, on the contrary, he organized a bookstore, where - illegally, of course - he sold German books at half price to people who could read in this language. Among them, as you might guess, was mister Thurlow himself, who more or less learned German as a child through the school curriculum - one might even say, he was one of the few among his peers who really became proficient in studying it.

As a matter of fact, with the support of onkel Korble, Jo began to write his little investigation. To be brief, for some strange reason among the Munich residents enjoyed wide popularity book by certain Die Brüder Strugatzki, whose long title could be roughly translated into English as "It's Not An Easy, To Being A God". Mister Thurlow had no idea what the book was about, but the impressive figure that appeared in the column "Am Besten Verkaufen" (Best Sellers list) interested him in the sense that if the Germans bought this book in great demand, then why shouldn’t lazy American Jo read it at least once.

On the advice of old German, Jo, without using the services of a translator, under the his dictation, wrote something like an application, where he indicated the title of the book and the author, and gave it to Korble, who stated, that thanks to this procedure, the desired book will be on mister Thurlow's desk in a couple of weeks. By the way, the old jackal didn’t even take a cent from him for this operation - apparently, friendly relations among the German people have some kind of almost sacred value, although, looking at onkel Korble, Jo strongly doubted it...

Putting aside thoughts of the proud German people, Jo answered the question addressed to him regarding the folder:

- No, Japh, to be honest, I was so tired yesterday during the bus ride that I was too lazy to look at the materials - I immediately went to wash. And you distracted me from the bath with your call.

He couldn’t resist inserting a barb into his sentence, which in good faith should have been said yesterday on the phone, but then he was a little in the wrong mood.

- Well, I'm sorry, Jo, I didn't know that you were simmering in boiling water like a chicken in a saucepan, - Japh was also not averse to exchanging jokes with his friend.
- Oh, how I’m already sick of this chicken topic! - mister Thurlow shouted in anger.

The owner of the apartment asked his guest what was the matter, and Jo briefly told him his previously mentioned thoughts regarding the fact that since yesterday evening he had not really eaten anything other than eggs. Japhet joked that today, at least, he treated him to peas and fish, but his interlocutor, having expressed his experiences, closed himself off and did not really hear his words. Japh, noticing his friend's condition, hinted to him that it might be time for him to go home. Shuddering slightly, mister Thurlow agreed with him and, shaking Japh’s hand, wanted to say something, but his tongue no longer obeyed him...

Leaving his apartment on the fourth floor stairwell, Jo shivered a little - it turns out that he could not even imagine that because of the cooking it was so hot in Japhet's apartment that, having gotten used to such a temperature, he was already frankly cold outside its walls. Barely moving his feet, mister Thurlow went downstairs and, almost colliding at the door with some neat man with wide eyes (out of fear or what?), finally left this building.

Outside, he felt that the weather had changed somewhat. And in fact, the sun, previously shining brightly in the sky, was covered with clouds for the first time this week. Now, Jo thought, he wouldn't have to squint in the blinding sunlight as he approached his house. This essentially simple circumstance for some reason filled him with energy, and he ran forward, as he had in the morning. To his own surprise, mister Thurlow was not exactly exhausted, his legs were not even tired by the time he had covered the entire path and, pulling the gate key out of his pocket, looked at the roof of the Har... Sorry, Yonce family.

His sensitive ears caught the sound of walking on the grass, which was coming from behind the neighbours' fence. Someone from the female half - for mister Yonce himself could hardly move so easily - was walking near the house. Jo, after a slight hesitation, opened the gate door and almost lost his balance - his starving dog pressed paws against his stomach with such force, that if his owner had not grabbed the iron gate with left hand, he would inevitably have been lying on the grass right now.

It seems that during this incident some funny sound came from Jo's mouth - apparently a muffled cry - for on the other side of the fence, from the side of the new neighbours’ house, a well-known ringing laughter, like the sound of bells, was heard. Mister Thurlow suddenly felt a surge of shame. He was almost completely sure that the little girl could not see anything behind the tightly packed boards of the wooden fence, but he understood that the very noise of the fuss (as well as his scream - although he couldn’t remember whether he actually made it at that moment) caught her attention. Hesitantly struggling with himself, he was able to control his feeling of embarrassment and, as if nothing had happened, said to his faithful Buffalo:

- Well, excuse me, chum, I completely forgot that you’ve been hungry for six whole days.

After patting the dog behind the ear, he went into his home. Pulling the formal shoes off your feet (he could not get used to the fact that wearing sandals is not a sign of falling into childhood), he said out loud so as not to forget:

- Okay, Jo, remember - you must feed the dog, otherwise you will pay dearly for not looking after protector!

The somewhat commanding tone of his own address slightly stretched the corners of his lips, but inside he was not laughing. For now, he wants to take a short nap. He was decidedly too lazy to go to the bedroom, so Jo settled down right on the sofa, which stood in a fairly spacious kitchen next to the dining table and, putting a seemingly tightly packed sack of flour under his head, stretched out his legs and, forgetting about everything in the world, surrendered to the power of the younger brother of death.

The dream he had then on the kitchen sofa struck him with its strange combination of cute and creepy in equal proportions. In more or less detail he saw the coast of some sea. On sand strewn with shells of vieira (a scallop), two children were running around - a boy and a girl, both of them looked about ten years old each. The children were dressed in some old fashion, evoking an association with Victorian England. They ran after each other across the sand, unwittingly scattering it with their feet. Then they stopped next to each other, and the boy, taking out a black bowler from somewhere in his bosom - Jo remembered that it was clearly sized for someone older than that child - threw it up. The hat spun in the air and fell into an air current, which carried it away from the water. The boy rushed to catch up with the headdress. The girl remained standing in place, looking after him and shouting something - apparently, these were encouraging words. Soon the figure of her friend disappeared behind the sand dunes that stretched deep into the beach. The little girl apparently got tired of standing in one place, and she skipped along the tracks left by her friend’s bare feet.

And then, in fact, mister Thurlow saw what plunged him into horror then - as soon as the girl came quite close to the dunes, when suddenly four creepy people jumped out of there - they were dressed in black suits, black cloaks fluttered behind them like raven wings, and all of them, except one, the fattest one, had black bowlers on their heads shiny with sweat. These men in black were running at a slow pace - as if the world itself had stopped at that second - and as they walked, they pulled black rubber-covered police batons from their belts... The last thing Jo remembered was the heart-rending scream of the girl from whose eyes he saw this action.

- What a nightmare! - having woken up and, trying to calm down his wildly beating heart, he blurted out throughout the kitchen.

Sitting on the sofa, he suddenly felt that his cheeks and hair were covered with something like dust. He quickly rose to his feet and saw dense clouds of white powder rise in the air. Jo swore angrily - it turns out that while he was sleeping, the sack of flour opened up and now he will have to put himself in order again. Well, okay, he, who likes to lie in the bathroom longer, is no stranger to washing, but here’s what to do with the flour scattered on the sofa and on the floor... Cleaning had never been a priority for mister Thurlow's household chores, so when he thought that sooner or later he would have to collect the spilled flour into a garbage bag with a broom and dustpan, he suddenly felt uneasy.

He glanced at his left hand. The wristwatch, the glass of which was lightly coated with flour, showed twenty minutes to six. Must hurry, suddenly it dawned on Jo. The butcher's shop closed at six thirty, therefore, he needed to leave the house as soon as possible so that his dog would not die of hunger. Mister Thurlow walked into the bathroom and glanced at his reflection in the mirror. Flour covered his hair just this morning... Jo decided not to resort to water, because if he went outside now with a wet head, then "come to me, common cold!". Therefore, he solved the problem of unpresentable appearance in this way - he took off his flour-stained jacket, shirt and pants, and put on a T-shirt and shorts instead (for a long time he had not taken both of these items of clothing out of his wardrobe due to his strange complexes). After that, Jo stood over the trash can and, using a comb, began to comb out the flour stuck in his hair as thoroughly as possible.

After looking in the mirror, he decided that some kind of headdress would come in very handy for his wardrobe, because he couldn’t get rid of the flour dry, and he didn’t want to scare people with his white hair. Barely audibly swearing at his own sloppiness, he opened the wardrobe again. There he found an old camouflage cap, clearly designed for a much younger person. But, lacking anything else, mister Thurlow put it on his flour-dusted head and once again looked at his reflection.

A man looked at him from the mirror, whose resemblance could be described as an adult, who, surprisingly, was at the development level of a twelve-year-old boy. Jo gave this epithet to himself for the simple reason that the clothes that he could find in the closet were small in size, and on his dystrophic, but still mature body, such a wardrobe looked extremely stupid. But feeling that his dog was waiting for the treasured piece of meat, he cast aside the feeling of awkwardness that had begun to overcome him and, slightly tucking his black and white hair protruding from under his cap, went to the butcher’s shop.

By the time mister Thurlow finally got there, the hour hand on his wristwatch already showed six twenty-five. The young guy who was trading was already preparing to close, but Jo, who arrived in time, still managed to contact him. "Give me all sorts of scraps, no matter what" - such was his request, which the seller complied with, noting among other things that the tripe that his last buyer took had already managed to spoil a little. But Jo didn’t care one bit about this, because even back when he lived with his mother, he learned that the dog that guards the house (not the one that runs within its walls), to maintain her energy, she must eat a large amount of raw meat, and it does not matter whether it is fresh or slightly rotten. Never in their entire lives did they feed first Buddy (the Thurlow's first dog, whom Jo first saw during his childhood), and then Buffalo with all sorts of dog food, for the mother believed what was written in some old book on dog breeding, given to her by one former military man, her acquaintance.

Taking the bag of meat in his hands, mister Thurlow noted to himself with pleasure that for once he would please his faithful dog, who had been running around the territory entrusted to him for all these six days without the opportunity to eat anything. And wished good luck to the butcher - more precisely, his son, who sold in this shop - Jo headed back home with a smile on his lips. And imagine his surprise when, passing by his neighbours’ house, he heard his name pronounced in a ringing voice that was already familiar to him... He froze rooted to the spot at some distance near the fence. From the outside he probably looked funny - an adult man, dressed in shorts and a T-shirt that was clearly too small for him, was holding a heavy bag of rotten meat scraps in both hands... In fact, it was quite obvious that such a spectacle would inevitably cause laughter from his little neighbour. And so it happened.

Bursting with laughter, Delia sat on the fence, dangling her legs shod in black shoes. Jo didn’t know what to do, so he stood there a little undecided and decided to go to his house, but as soon as he took a couple of steps towards his wicket, he immediately caught her question in the back:

- Have you got a dog, ajussi Jo?

Mister Thurlow was a little surprised that the girl, who was essentially seeing him for only the second time in her life, immediately addressed him in such a familiar tone, but he didn’t even show it, but stopped again and turned to her (don't run away from the child, after all), said:

- Yes, we live here together, I'm at home and Buffalo is out.
- He's protecting you, right?
- Certainly. I can't stand dogs that eat their owners but don't do any good.

For some reason, Jo decided that there would be no shame in complaining to this girl a little.

- My dad thinks so too, - his interlocutor answered. - We never had animals at home, although I asked him...
- Yes, it's sad...

Mister Thurlow thought that this was the end of their conversation, and, making a slight bow in her direction, walked up to the wicket. Delia looked after him for a while, and then suddenly jumped off the fence and managed to run up to Jo just then, when he was already preparing to close the wicket and feed his dog.

- Will you show me your dog?

The girl said this and made a sad grimace. "She press on pity or how?", thought Jo.

- Wait, I'll feed him first, - he began.
- Yes-yes, I heard you promise him this, - Delia interrupted him. - But please let me look at it!

Mister Thurlow thought for a few seconds. He felt that the little neighbour, who, due to her age, was simply bursting with the bursting desire to learn as much as possible about the world, will never leave his humble person behind, and, trying to drive the dog away from the wicket, Jo almost quickly threw out his answer to her:

- If you ask your dad for permission and he doesn't mind, then I'm in!

Without waiting for Delia's response, he slammed the gate and headed towards the bowl where he always put food for Buffalo. The latter was already so exhausted from hunger that he tried to jump on the owner and tear the bag right as he walked, but Jo, who tried to instill in the dumb dog the concept of discipline, angrily shouted at him to be patient. When he finally reached the bowl, Buffalo still managed to tear the bag open with his teeth. Tripe, some chunks, and also some meat juice began to fall out of it, emitting a rather disgusting aroma of rotten meat. Mister Thurlow noted with displeasure that drops of juice fell on his bare legs and, sneeze, immediately rushed to the bathroom.

There, without wasting any time, he took off all his clothes and, contrary to his usual routine, decided not to fill the bath but to stand under the prickly jets of the shower. Thoroughly soaping your feet in order to completely get rid of the annoying smell, he noted to himself that, it turns out, he again made another promise, and it would be nice if this person had known him for a long time... Starting to wash his hair, Jo began to reason that making a promise to a neighbour who lives next to your house is not the same as doing the same to a person who lives God knows where. When he had already finished washing and began to dry himself, mister Thurlow no longer doubted the (in)correctness of his just made decision.

Jo started looking for something to wear. His beautiful suit, which he had stained with flour, continued to lie on the floor next to the bathroom - in a hurry to the butcher, he completely forgot about it - and in the end he had only the option of putting on the clothes of an overgrown teenager again. "It can't be helped", Jo said, and, putting cap on the go - no longer for the sake of hiding flour in the hair, but for health - went out into the yard. His faithful Buffalo was busy eating tripe. Jo couldn't resist the pleasure of watching his dog for a couple of minutes, listening as he let out a predatory purr as he paid tribute to his first meal in six days...

- Yes, chum, forgive me for not feeding you for so long, - Jo said barely audible.

Then he remembered Delia. I wonder if she really ran to ask permission from her gloomy father, or if she, seeing that her neighbour was busy, finally decided to leave him alone? Jo really wanted things to work out this way, but the sense of duty, which was caused by the promise given to her, forced him to go out the wicket. Covering it behind him, he looked around. The girl was nowhere to be found yet. Mister Thurlow decided to wait a couple of minutes and, not knowing what to do with himself, began to look at the fruit tree that grew on his neighbors’ property.

It was an apricot that old Harris Sherwind planted many years ago in memory of his deceased grandfather.Now, in August, there was no longer a single fruit on the branches, but Jo still had fresh memories of when Harris, who had previously lived here, was distinguished by the breadth of his soul, collected the fruits falling from the tree and went to his close neighbours, treating them to fresh apricots. Oddly enough, but last July - it was by this month that the fruits were already ripening - old Harris, apparently already preparing to move out of here, broke this tradition of his and not one of the apricots that poured on the branches fell into the mouths of any of his neighbors, including Jo. Either he simply forgot about the tree, or, more likely, he collected those fruits and sold them on the market - uncharacteristic for him, but normal behavior for a person who lives in the suburbs on his own plot.

The realization that the Yonce family moved in exactly the same month when all the apricots had long since disappeared caused Jo to have another fit of uncontrollable laughter. He, trying to restrain himself from laughing at the top of his lungs, bit the inside of his cheeks. The sudden pain caused a tear to come out of both his eyes, against his will. Mister Thurlow was about to wipe them with the back of his hand, but before he had time to raise his hand, he caught movement from the side of the neighbour’s gate in his peripheral vision. Forgetting about his face, Jo turned. His eyes did not deceive him - Delia was actually running towards him now, gesticulating animatedly. She stopped five steps from him and, not knowing where to put her hands, rested them on a fence post.

- Ajussi Jo, dad allowed me to go into your yard!
- For what?

All of a sudden, the energy typical of children her age made him wary, and Jo decided to play the fool.

- Well how can it be, ajussi Jo, you promised to show me your dog! - again making a sad grimace, the girl answered with some anguish.
- You know, - Jo raised his top hand and began scratching the back of his head. - For some reason it seems to me that you, uh...
- Am I lying? Oh, you're a cad! - Delia suddenly exclaimed with sudden aggression.
- Wait-wait, I just want to hear it from your dad in person! - Jo realized what he had done and began to make excuses.
- Huh, are you afraid? You big crybaby!

Declaring this decisively, Delia took a breath, tilted her head back slightly and, completely unexpectedly for Jo, spat right in his face. The latter stood stunned in place and looked after the girl, who was running towards her gate. Stepping over the threshold, she turned her head in his direction and sent him a smile filled with playful mischief. Mister Thurlow stood there without moving. He heard from someone that if swallowed it, this automatically lowers status in the eyes of the offender, so he patiently waited until the neighbour disappeared behind the fence.

Jo was overwhelmed by a whole ocean of feelings. He felt resentment, shame and fear at the same time. The first is from the fact that they spat on him, the second from the fact that with his words he clearly did something wrong, and the third from the understanding that an offended child could complain to his formidable dad. Slowly moving his feet, mister Thurlow walked into his house. Entering the bathroom, before putting his cheek under the running water, for some reason he took a piece of this saliva on the tip of his finger and brought it to his nose. These white bubbles gave off a faint aroma of mint candies. Apparently, mister Yonce has a liberal attitude towards spoiling his daughter with sweets, Jo thought while washing his face. Well, or a wayward girl (after what he had just experienced, he had no doubt about it) herself, when she wanted it, contrary to her parents, she found the desired forbidden fruit. Mister Thurlow decided so, because Delia's father looked like a domineering man who clearly had his family under control, and it would obviously not be sweet (in every sense) for his daughter without any effort on her part.

Wiping his wet face after the water, Jo remembered her cry "You big crybaby!". Were two tiny tears on his face really that obvious? Or was Delia angry that an adult man suddenly, for no reason at all, began to fawn over her and make excuses, like her young peers? A suspicion crept into his thoughts that among her classmates she clearly has the status of an out-and-out hooligan, who only acts like an obedient girl in front of her father. Unsure of this theory, mister Thurlow threw a towel on the washing machine next to the sink and trudged into the kitchen. He knew for sure that he didn't want to eat - firstly because he had a good lunch with a friend that afternoon, and secondly, this spit from Delia managed to completely discourage Jo’s sense of appetite, which had gradually begun to increase in the evening. Therefore, having already automatically opened the refrigerator, he did not take anything from there - fortunately there was nothing to take anyway, there was nothing in the refrigerator except an empty glass jar of some kind of sauce

Slamming the door, Jo took off his T-shirt, wet with sweat, and, throwing it on the radiator, went into the office. There, his gaze immediately fell on a leather folder, which seemed about to burst from the papers that overflowed it. He opened it and pulled out sheets of paper on which, in his small handwriting, he had written information about Munich's book bestsellers. Mister Thurlow's eyes ran down the list he had painstakingly compiled during those five days spent in his cramped hotel room... Yawning, he packed the sheets back - he absolutely did not want to continue this work, at least today. All Jo wanted at the moment was a good night's sleep. He didn’t try to persuade himself - he went into the bedroom and, taking off his shorts, which were too small for him, fell flat on the pillows. He made himself comfortable and wrapped himself completely in the blanket. Multi-coloured lines hovered before his eyes, quickly intertwining with each other. Gradually he fell asleep.


- Forgive me, Jordan Thurlow, - for the first time during this time, the inspector interrupted the prisoner's story. - But for some reason I was amused by how your relationship with this person developed. First, in your words, you almost died under her gaze, and then unexpectedly, you fought back! As they say, from love to hate!

Jo, a tired of talking, was breathing deeply and looking forward at the policeman. He, having taken on the role of listener, for obvious reasons, did not show a single sign of fatigue - on the contrary, he looked slyly at mister Thurlow, clearly interested in his story. Jo did not reproach the inspector for interrupting his story.

- No, mister inspector Galbraith, there was no affection that evening, and where would it come from? - he answered the last phrase of his interlocutor. - Then, standing on the outside of the Yonce's fence, I was scared. I felt like I had been shot with a bullet laced with poison.
- You're a joke though, Jordan! I have never heard such a definition of the arrows of the Cupid from anyone at all!

The inspector, teasing his interlocutor, noticed that wrinkles appeared on the latter’s face near the eyes. Might have thought that Jo was trying to fight off the onset of sadness. However, this only lasted a couple of moments. The prisoner suddenly smiled and answered:

- Who knows, mister inspector, maybe it will be easier for strangers to notice such changes!

Jordan sniffled and wanted to blow his nose into his sleeve, but inspector Galbraith prevented his action by taking a clean handkerchief from the pocket of his gray jacket and handing it to his interlocutor. He thanked him, blew his nose noisily a couple of times and put the handkerchief on the table next to him.

- Yes, take it for yourself, what am I, greedy or something? - the policeman said cordially.

Mister Thurlow thanked the inspector again and, putting the handkerchief in the pocket of his orange prison suit, continued his story from where he was interrupted a couple of minutes ago.

Jo greeted the new day with a severe headache - having not yet really woken up from sleep, he, wincing from the spasms running through his brain, barely got out of bed and sat down on the blanket that had been crumpled during the night. Soon, when his eyes were finally able to focus, he was able to roughly understand the cause of this illness - outside the window the rain was pouring down like buckets. Mister Thurlow read somewhere that with the change of weather, certain magnetic storms pass over the territory, which in people with poor blood circulation cause pain in the brain, similar to what he is now experiencing.

In any case, for Jo, who, in his own words, was a professional procrastinator, the headache was not any serious hindrance, because he had to turn on his brain very, very rarely - he even forgot how to solve arithmetic problems from the moment he finished his studies at High School. Even when he had to deal with paying for some services he needed, he used to honestly declare that he hardly knew how to count, and as a result, this could sometimes result in sellers cheating him, as he once had with the purchase of Buffalo through Nuell Saberlow. But Jo has long lost any pieces of pride that anyone who lives in society should have.

Be that as it may, the headache, although it did not interfere with his business, was an obstacle to a happy pastime - it’s not so easy to even just walk when there is a risk of falling somewhere with blackness in eyes. So Jo decided not to go anywhere today, but just sit quietly with some reading material in his hands. Rinsed lightly under running cold water, he wrapped himself in his battered green bathrobe and, looking in the mirror, thought that before he could take in the food of his mind, he also needed to provide food for his stomach.

He didn't even need to open the refrigerator to remember that there wasn't a single crumb of food in his house. It’s sad, he thought, he’ll have to wait out this ill and then go to the store to buy something... Slightly shivering from the cold, mister Thurlow went into his office and began to look for some interesting book in his small library, which was located in a bookshelf that occupied the entire wall - all the inheritance that he received from his maternal grandmother (like this house itself).

His eye caught the strange name that intrigued him - "The Book of Light". The hands themselves grabbed this book in a hard blue cover. Plunging into a chair, Jo prepared to read this manuscript, which, for some reason, it seemed to him, could tell the reader about the lives of the servants of the Templar Order and their infamous curse - he himself could not explain why this name evoked such associations in him, apparently his hunger for information about the novels of Walter Scott and similar authors he loved as a child affected him.

Sitting by the window, he involuntarily plunged into memories of how this book got into his house. It was just recently - last month, when mister Thurlow, having finished his short work day, walked out of the door of his place of work and, taking a deep breath of the warm July air, leisurely walked along the wide sidewalk towards the boulevard, which he could see from his office window. He had not yet walked a few steps when he caught the eye of a man standing near the wall of a building decorated with decorative tiles. Jo was immediately struck by the fact that despite his good build and youthful appearance, the stranger’s long hair was completely silver, as was the thick beard that covered his entire face. Mister Thurlow walked past him, but the stranger suddenly moved away from the wall and followed him.

- Take a book! - the silver-haired man spoke inaudibly, but loudly enough.

Jo, without slowing down, looked back. The stranger, stretching his arm forward, somehow strangely minced his feet, almost dancing as he walked. His voice sounded too young for his aged face - apparently he used some kind of hair bleaching product. But at the moment that was not the point at all - the crazy light that burned in the man’s eyes testified to the extent to which he was out of his mind.

- Take a book, take-a-book, takeabook!... - raising his voice, he muttered, jumping with every step.
- What's the matter? - mister Thurlow asked sternly, trying to break away from his pursuer.
- Let you take a book! I'm has good book! - the whacky said, shaking his whole body.

Jo quickened his pace a little, hoping that his shadower would leave him behind, but where there! This silver-haired man, dressed in denim overalls, has become even bolder - his movements became even more fussy, and the whacky began to mince his feet even more energetically, continuing to repeat the same word, which now sounded like "takabuk", he pronounced it so incoherently. This was starting to get on mister Thurlow's nerves, but his upbringing didn’t allow him to start running. Eventually the crazy man overtook him and stopped on the road, blocking his path.

- What's the matter, I said? - Jo repeated his question even more sternly.
- Take one, just one book! - said the pursuer, mumbling lips.

With these words, the whacky grabbed him by the sleeve and pulled him towards him. Mister Thurlow silently shook off his hand and walked forward, but this only provoked the silver-haired man in denim overalls even more, who, without stopping for a second, began to pursue him again, coming in from one side, then from the other, like an annoying jackal. Jo was already starting to get angry, but the stranger, dancing around him, pressed harder and harder, as if trying at all costs to prevent him from passing.

- Get lost! - Jo replied through clenched teeth, looking with hatred at the insane smile on the face of his pursuer, covered with thick silver hair.
- Take a book and I'll go away! - the whacky was already screaming, continuing his attempt to grab his hand.

Meanwhile, mister Thurlow had already approached the store, which at that time was crowded with quite a lot of people. The people gathered at the showcase looked in bewilderment at this strange dance of the silver-haired man in denim overalls, until some tall, thin man in a tracksuit decided to intervene. Grabbing the madman by the shoulder, he tried to pull him away from Jo, but he stubbornly resisted his strong hands.

- I'm has good book and he have none! I beg him for take a book! - the silver-haired man shouted loudly.
- Chill out, gaffer! - the sportsman tried to calm him down.
- I follow him for half an hour already! Let him take a book! - the whacky in denim overalls did not stop

The madman lied - he chased mister Thurlow for about three minutes, God willing, but for this he managed to bring his victim to such a state that if it had not been for the intervening athlete, the silver-haired man would probably have had a hard time. Jo walked through the crowd, but felt an object hit him in the back. Turning around, he saw the whacky remove his hand from the pocket of his denim overalls, while the athlete continued to tenaciously hold him by the shoulders. Mister Thurlow looked down and saw an open book lying in the dust - it was not difficult to guess what the madman had thrown at his back. Bending down, Jo picked her up from the asphalt and, holding her under his arm, continued his way to the bus stop, while a policeman appeared at the store window and began to perform his duties - namely, to detain the silver-haired madman in denim overalls.

Jo was distracted from his memories by a phone call - fortunately the telephone was right next to the chair, he didn't even have to get up to pick up the receiver, although the very fact that he was disturbed at a very inconvenient time for him made Jo mentally say goodbye to the prospects of overcoming his headache. Stretching his hand towards the telephone, mister Thurlow began to turn over in the back of his mind the people who might disturb him at such an early hour. He was sure that it could not be his boss, Ruth Vardiel - for all who were under his command were well aware of two facts from his life - First of all, mister Vardiel liked to lie in bed with his wife Camille until lunchtime (which is why he didn’t show up at work until twenty-two in the afternoon), and secondly, he was not one of those who needlessly disturbed his employees during non-working hours. Besides him, Jo also immediately dismissed Japhet - after their get-together yesterday, his not very sociable friend hardly wanted to call the person with whom he spent almost the entire day.

So who called him? Clutching the telephone receiver, Jo still wincing from his headache, held it some distance from his eyes for a couple of seconds, as if trying to mentally transport through the speaker holes to the distance to the subscriber’s device at the other end of the line, and, deciding that it was enough to hesitate, he brought it to his ear.

- Mister Thurlow, did I disturb you? - Jo heard a voice unfamiliar to him, clearly belonging to an adult woman.
- Hello, with whom do I have the pleasure of speaking to? - he asked politely

Jo decided that since the person was unfamiliar, it was better to speak in much the same way as when working with clients.

- I apologize that we were not able to meet with you yesterday, unlike my husband, - the stranger answered as if apologizing.
- I'm not sure what you mean, madame? - Jo asked.

Mister Thurlow was already beginning to lose his temper a little, because he hated it when people, instead of immediately telling him what they needed, began to evade his questions.

- Sorry, I forgot to name myself. I'm Ivette Yonce, your new neighbour.

Jo was numb. The moments of yesterday’s incident that occurred between him and the young representative of this family flashed feverishly through his head, like pictures in a kaleidoscope. Trying not to show fear - although he already felt how his unfounded ligaments were beginning to stiffen - he asked:

- How can I be of service to the wife of the esteemed mister Yonce at such an early hour?
- Oh, there’s no need to be so familiar with me, as in anyway we don’t live nearby.

Mister Thurlow heard his interlocutor burst into laughter. He almost physically felt as if a stone had been lifted from his heart - the tension preceding it was so strong. He laughed in response, although his laughter was not so much from joy as from nerves. When, as it seemed to him, two minutes had passed, the voice of his interlocutor reached his ears:

- Could you do us a favour, mister Thurlow?
- Uh, what, excuse me?

Jo, who had not expected such a development in the conversation, immediately suppressed his laughter.

- I would never have asked you about this if my husband had not said "Okay, my joy, I agree" at yesterday’s family council, - answered the woman.

"More riddles", thought Jo, "How much beat around the bush..."

- Hmm... And what is your request, missis Yonce?
- Ivette, please call me Ivette, - his interlocutor corrected him
- Why should that be? - didn't understand Jo.
- You know, - she began to explain. - First names are much more friendly, and since we are neighbour, then...
- Well, - mister Thurlow interrupted her. - So what do you want, missis Ivette?
- Finally, - he heard a sigh.

Apparently, the woman on the other end of the line was tired of delaying this conversation. After being silent for a couple of seconds, she continued:

- It's all because of Delia. Baby tried to persuade us to let her look at your dog, that we, knowing full well what everything could lead to if we refuse, not only allowed her to enter your yard, but also allowed her to visit your home.

Mister Thurlow felt the fear that he had managed to calm down begin to devour him from the inside again. He, rubbing his forehead with his left hand, on which drops of sweat appeared, slightly removed the pipe from his mouth and turned his head to the side, let out a wild cry, which seemed to combine the headache that had been consuming him since the morning, the desire to escape to the ends of the world and this strange feeling of regret for the wasted years of his life.

- Pardon me, what did you say? - missis Yonce asked with some surprise.

Coming to his senses, Jo realized that he had just made a mistake by giving vent to his feelings. He said:

- All right, missis Ivette, I said "all right".
- Well, okay, otherwise it feels like you dropped the iron on your leg.

She laughed at her own joke, and mister Thurlow decided not to be left out and joined his neighbour.

- Okay, laughter, of course, is the best medicine, but you still shouldn’t abuse it, - a woman's voice reached Jo. - Now I’ll boxing my daughter lunch so that if she suddenly gets hungry, she can have a snack at your house, and we’ll come to you soon.
- So... - mister Thurlow said thoughtfully. - How many minutes should I expect you in? I just, how shall I say this...
- We are going to leave the house in half an hour, - the neighbour answered immediately. - But if you're not in the mood to see us today, then...
- No-no, I just wanted to say that I don’t really have any clean clothes, - Jo interrupted her. - I wouldn't want to...
- Don't worry about your appearance, mister Thurlow, - his interlocutor began to calm down. - Just behave with dignity, that's all that's required of you. Oh yeah, regarding clothes, - after a pause she repeated. - I was just getting ready to do the laundry after lunch, and since we don’t have a lot of dirty laundry at home, then I can, as a neighbour, do you a favour for a favour - for the fact that you sit with Delia, I will wash your things. This is okay?

Mister Thurlow was digesting this long tirade from his new neighbour. Why on earth would she is so eager to gain his trust? Is this all really on the initiative of their daughter? Unable to find answers to the pile of questions that had piled up on his poor head, Jo said only "Yes" into the phone. He received a chuckle and a cheerful "Até logo" in response.

- I'm sorry, what did you just say? - he asked.
- See you, - missis Yonce explained and hung up.

Mister Thurlow continued to hold the phone to his ear, but only beeps could be heard from it, indicating that the conversation between him and his neighbour had come to an end. He was still in shock from the content of the talking that had just happened between them. Slowly, as if half asleep, he put the phone down and plopped down in a chair, clutching his head with both hands. Darkness filled his gaze. Jo didn't know how long it had been since he hung up, but when from the yard the piercing bark of his faithful Buffalo reached his ears, he, looking for yesterday's shorts and T-shirt, cursed in every possible way the Cronus, God of the harvest, who did not take pity on his pitiful slave and did not make any efforts to delay this inevitable meeting for as many hours as possible...

Jo walked out onto the porch of his house. The rain, which he had the pleasure of seeing this morning, has finally stopped. He glanced at the wicket. Buffalo, as befits a good watchdog, ran near it and burst into barking. "So", mister Thurlow thought, "How great it would be now..." But common sense reminded its nervous owner in time that this was complete idiocy, let the dog loose on guests, especially if they are his neighbours and - most importantly - representatives of the better half of humanity. Sighing, Jo took the collar with the leash pre-attached to it hanging on a nail near the door and walked up to the wicket. The dog looked at the owner and continued to rush at the fence. The man had to almost forcefully put a collar on the powerful neck of his Buffalo and, tying it to a pole that stood some distance from the entrance to the house, let the guests in.

- Greetings, - Jo said to missis Yonce. - Hi there, - he nodded to her daughter.

Both women bowed to him and, stepping over the threshold, looked at the dog, which, at the sight of strangers, began to rear up, trying to get ahead.

- So, welcome to me, - mister Thurlow smiled. - As you can see, my dog is vicious...
- I think he'll get used to it, - missis Yonce said mysteriously, winking at little girl
- Hey, where are you going? - exclaimed Jo as Delia began to approach Buffalo.
- What are you afraid of, mister Thurlow, he won't touch her, - the neighbour said without a trace of concern.
- And how do you... - he started.

But Jo didn’t have time to ask his question and died out in mid-sentence. Delia was already standing next to the dog, who had stopped trying to break free from the leash. Now he sat still and looked at the girl with puppy dog eyes. She bent down and, patting the Belgian Malinois behind the ear, started whispering something cheerfully to him. And her mother turned her head to Jo and smiled.

- H-h-how is that possible.... - muttered mister Thurlow.

Jo, feeling ashamed of his dog, tried to fight back the tears that were welling up in his throat. He could not even think that his Buffalo, behind whom he always felt unquestioning loyalty to his master, would bend like a lamb to someone else's girl...

- How about you let us in? - missis Yonce said in a businesslike tone
- Yes, missis Ivette, right away... - Jo answered briefly

Closing the wicket, he headed towards the porch. The woman stood in the yard for a while and, calling her daughter, slowly followed him. In the hallway, Jo, smiling embarrassedly, said that he could not offer the guests slippers or any other house shoes. Adult guest nodded understandingly.

- Well, yes, you couldn’t imagine that a mom with kid would come to you, - she said ironically. - If it is no secret, when was the last time a woman set foot on your doorstep?
- Five years ago, then my mother left this world... - Jo said quietly.
- My sincere condolences to you, - she answered in a cloudless mood.

While the adults were having this dialogue, the little girl, without thinking twice, took off her shoes and, appearing before her mother and Jo in white stockings, jumped up and twirled in some kind of carefree dance.

- Be careful, Delia, don't get your stockings dirty, - missis Yonce said sternly.
- Fear not, mommy! - the child said loudly.

Delia stopped dancing and looked up at her mother. Then she turned her gaze to the owner of the house.

- You have a very cute doggie, ajussi Jo! - she said ingratiatingly.
- Well, yes... - mister Thurlow began slowly. - I understand that I could not resist your charms.
- Nothing can resist me! - she answered with some pride
- No messing now, dearie! - the mother again began to reason with her daughter.
- I'm hungry, - the girl ignored her words. - When are we going to eat?

When the child said these words, mister Thurlow only now noticed the picnic basket covered with a red towel, which missis Yonce was holding in her hands. The latter nodded to Delia and asked the owner of the house to take them to the kitchen. Jo slowly trudged ahead of them. There was an emptiness in his soul at the moment - one might think that Delia's ringing voice extinguished all his thoughts. Entering the kitchen, mister Thurlow offered the guests chairs. Adult guest, thanking her, put the basket on the table and, taking off the towel from it, began to lay out the food from it. The baby girl did not sit down at the table - she went to the window and tried to open the tightly drawn curtains. Jo rushed after her and helped her in this matter. The kitchen was illuminated by the rays of the sun, which was already shining with all its might in the sky, which had already cleared of clouds.

- Where are your dishes, mister Thurlow?

Jo moved away from the window and, opening the kitchen cabinet doors, asked a counter question:

- What exactly should you submit, missis Ivette?

The woman, after thinking a little, asked the owner of the house to get two large plates, two saucers and two cups (and the same number of forks and spoons). Noticing the bewilderment on his face, missis Yonce said that she herself had already had a good breakfast, so she was giving all the food to him and her daughter. Shrugging his shoulders, Jo complied with her demands - taking out the necessary dishes and cutlery, placing them near the sink.

- Let me myself, - the woman said immediately.

Missis Yonce took the initiative and began rinsing the dust-covered plates under running water. Jo stood next to her, not knowing what to do with himself. The little girl, who had previously been standing and looking out the window, came up to him and pulled him by the sleeve.

- What do you want, Delia? - mister Thurlow asked her
- Ajussi Jo, do you have anything interesting?
- Toys or something? - Jo inquired.

At the same time he tried to pull his hand away, but the child held tightly to his sleeve.

- Books! - she shouted. - I've already played enough in my eight years, - the girl suddenly said seriously.
- Well, books... - he thought. - I have a small library, - mister Thurlow began.

On these words Delia jumped in place.

- But it's mostly just scientific gobbledygook... - continued the owner of the house.
- I love science books, - the young guest interrupted him.
- You talk about encyclopedias, but in my bookshelf I mostly have materials on higher mathematics, - he said dryly

The little girl was a little depressed. Jo thought that he shouldn’t have answered the child so categorically and, stopping trying to pull his hand out of her grip, said in a soothing tone that he could have been mistaken, because he practically doesn’t read and already doesn’t remember well what’s there.

- Okay, so let's look at your books? - Delia asked him.
- Why wouldn't he? - Jo answered cheerfully.

The young guest let go of the man’s hand and followed the owner of the house, who was already entering his office. There he opened the bookshelf and, squatting down, began to take out books from the lowest shelf, where, as he remembered, literature for children was kept, which his grandmother had willingly supplied him with at one time. Delia went to the nightstand, which stood next to the desk, and asked Jo what could be there.

- If memory serve, there are vinyl records, - without taking his eyes off the books, he threw over his shoulder.

Delia, without asking permission, sharply pulled the handle towards herself. Jo, holding back from yelling at her, ran up to the nightstand, from which envelopes with records had already fallen out onto the floor, which seemed to be waiting in the wings to be released. Yes, he had already forgotten that the entire bedside table was filled to capacity with "mummified music"...

Most of the vinyls belonged to his late mother. Others were gifts from Jo's own friends and classmates. But, unfortunately, the record turntable has not been in this house for a long time - mister Thurlow sold it when he needed money for a funeral. Although it was not a big problem - that record player could only play audio, recorded in monaural format, therefore, if he wanted, Jo could buy himself a normal stereo system (or even switch to compact discs, which were then gaining popularity), but somehow it turned out that with the death of his mother his attraction to music died too, that's why he lived with a nightstand full of vinyl records, which he needed like a dead duck.

Now all this splendour lay on the floor at the knees of a little girl who, without knowing it, opened Jo's "attic of reminiscences". She began to sort through the envelopes with interest.

- Huzzah, I found it! - she shouted joyfully

Mister Thurlow sat down next to Delia and looked at the record cover. It was a photograph of a wheat field with clouds hanging over it. A woman with a red scarf on her head, standing with her back to the viewer, swung a sickle at the ears of corn.

- I'm so happy now! - Delia repeated.

Looking at the genuine joy of his guest, the owner of the house remembered how he got this record. This was six years ago - then his mother was trying to resist the cancer that had almost completely overcome her. Hamish McIntosh, his classmate whose parents had just returned from vacation in Lisbon, For his eighteenth birthday, he gave him an album purchased there from a musical band that was then just gaining popularity. There were fresh memories of how Jo, while his mother was in the hospital, turned up the volume to maximum and turned on the record player. But perhaps the monophonic system could not cope with the stereophonic record, maybe he just wasn't a fan of synthesizer sounds, but other than disappointment from these "electronic squeakers" Jo received nothing then. This record has been collecting dust until today, when it didn't fall into hands moved to this village young fan of the genre, which for mister Thurlow was a mystery behind seven seals.

- Ajussi Jo, I can take this for myself, right? - the little girl asked, unable to contain her joy.
- Of course you can take it, - Jo yawned and, rising from his knees, added. - I see you really want this.
- I just thought what would be best for Jerry, - she said as if making excuses.
- Who is Jerry? - mister Thurlow asked without much interest.
- That's, uh... - Delia's cheeks turned red. - That's boy, with whom I study in the same class.

"Most likely, this is her school sweetheart. Common thing", Jo thought.

- He loves electronic music, - continued the girl. - I made him a promise that I would give him one of these records for his eighth birthday.
- What date is his birthday, may I ask? - Jo already felt interested in talking with this child.
- And if it's my secret, then what? - Delia made a serious face.
- Then I won't pester you with questions about your classmates, - mister Thurlow conceded to his young interlocutor.
- All right, I'll tell you what, - the baby girl said as if she was doing her a favour.

And she told he this. "Hmm", Jo thought, "Delia's boyfriend's birthday falls on that day, when I found out that my mother would never be with me again..." Mister Thurlow, of course, did not tell his young guest anything about this, but he couldn’t help but notice to myself that it can be funny, that chance is a strange thing, because nothing prevents the process of death and birth from happening one after another...

- But you would probably be interested in listening to this record yourself, wouldn’t you? - he said out loud.

The girl's eyes darted around. She jokingly swung a blue and yellow envelope at him.

- What gives you that idea? - she said with cheerful malice.
- It's in those eyes of yours, though, - he answered calmly.

In order not to disturb the atmosphere of fun that hovered in the room, mister Thurlow took the blow with a record packed in an envelope. How fun it was, sitting like that and communicating with the child. Until this moment Jo could afford this except perhaps during those times when he himself was in his childhood years. Looking back, he could say with confidence that it was on that day that he began to treat Delia as something more than just a neighbour...

While Jo & Delia sat on the floor in his office, the girl's mother finished setting the table in the kitchen. Having washed her hands and leaning half a step into the office.

- And on that lovely note, y'all, welcome to the table! - she shouted.

Two voices mixed in response to her invitation:

- Thank you, missis Ivette! - Jo replied.
- Thank you, mommy! - Delia did not remain in debt.

Of all three who were now within the walls of this house, it was its owner who wanted to eat the most. Therefore, he did not hesitate and, getting to his feet, went to the kitchen, where the table was already set, the richness of which struck the imagination of mister Thurlow, who, due to some stinginess, usually ate scrambled eggs and store-bought sandwiches. But what is good for a grown man, for a child... No, not better, rather just the opposite. Perhaps such a definition should not be applied to all children, but as for the young heiress of the Yonce family... While Jo happily devoured what was on the table, the little girl fidgeted in her chair and looked bored, picking at her plate with a fork. Only when it was time to drink tea did she perk up a little and, not depriving herself of sweets, took a couple of eclairs.

- Dearie, you can't eat nothing and indulge in sweets! - missis Yonce took on an educational tone.
- Mom, come on, I'm just... - embarrassed child.

He decided not to interfere in this exchange of words. It seemed to Jo that neighbour would begin to reproach him for the fact that her daughter did not really eat anything. Like, considering how quickly you eat everything, she thought it was better not to snatch the last piece from you and leave everything as it is...

- Mister Thurlow, - a woman turned to him. - Will you walk us to the gate? Otherwise...
- What, that is all? - her daughter interrupted with a hint of obvious irritation.
- Delia! Don't offend the mother! - missis Yonce said with about the same intonation

Jo decided that if the fire of discontent begins to flare up between women, then it is better not to loom under their noses and retreat. He wiped the crumbs stuck to the corners of his mouth and stood up from his chair.

- Oh, finally! - the woman was happy. - Let's go, mister Thurlow, Delia are already complete.

The owner of the house nodded to his adult guest and was about to go out onto the porch, when she suddenly let out a loud "Ah!" and asked where Jo's dirty clothes were. He remembered the telephone conversation that took place this morning between him and his neighbour, after which, slamming the front door, he went to help her pack that very flour-covered suit. The little girl, delighted at the fact that she could stay in this new place for at least a couple of extra minutes, ran to his office.

When the adults finally finished their deeds - just fold the clothes and put them in the previously emptied picnic basket - Delia hasn't left the room yet. Her mother's telling her that it was time for them to leave had no effect on her daughter. Jo, signaling to missis Yonce to wait a little, quietly, as if a hunter, afraid of spooking his prey, entered his own office. There he witnessed Delia, standing at the window, vigorously gesticulating to someone. Mister Thurlow coughed ingratiatingly. Baby girl turned her head towards him - there was no feeling of surprise on her face, rather some kind of businesslike. Jo became curious about what interested her and also stood at the window, which overlooked the back side of his property. Of course there was no one there. Mister Thurlow touched the shoulder of Delia standing in front of him with his index finger. She reluctantly turned away from the window and, lowering her head, went to her mother, who was nervously moving from foot to foot, holding a basket in her hands.

- Can I carry... - Jo decided to show gallantry.
- We'll only get to the wicket, to our house, on our own, - missis Yonce interrupted him

He took the basket from woman's hands and the three of them went out into the yard. Clouds began to creep in on the sun again. Mister Thurlow looked at his dog - he sat quietly at the post, not making a sound. "The girl intimidated him", Jo thought. As they approached the fence, a loud and dissatisfied sniffling reached Jo's ears from the street. Opening the wicket, he almost came face to face with mister Yonce, who, with his hands on his hips, looked at his neighbour with some hatred. However, the sight of his wife and daughter leaving the yard slightly reduced the degree of his displeasure and he, taking the basket from his spouse, walked ahead of his family, giving mister Thurlow a parting look full of suspicion.

Jo, having shouted after the Yonce family the duty "Till we meet again", closed the gate and headed to the post to untie Buffalo. Oddly enough, as soon as the women left the territory, the dog immediately began barking and rushing in all directions. His owner had to make a lot of effort to hold the dog and remove the collar from his neck. As soon as Buffalo felt free, he ran up to the fence and began jumping on it again. Jo, still perplexed by such a dramatic change in his pet's mood, stifled a yawn and, hanging the leash on a nail, walked into the house.

He walked into the kitchen and glanced at the table, on which only dirty plates remained from its former splendour. In any case, he was no longer hungry, so he collected all the dishes and started to wash them in the sink, began to wonder what he should do now. Having finished washing the dishes, he carefully put them in their places and looked at his wristwatch. "Yes, the shops will be closing soon", Jo thought. In order not to meet tomorrow like this (i.e. without food), he went to the store. When mister Thurlow was already returning back with the packages, the sun was already setting. Passing near the neighbours' gate, he again noticed mister Yonce's car near them, which he had last seen yesterday morning. Without trying to make any sense of it, mister Thurlow went into his home and unpacked his groceries. Looking around at the full shelves of the refrigerator, Jo slammed the door and remembered that he had forgotten to put the books and records that had fallen out back.

He entered the office. When his gaze fell on the books and envelopes scattered on the floor, he suddenly felt sad. Jo felt something like loss for the first time in years. In no hurry to start cleaning, he went over the events of the past day in his head. Here he and his young guest come into his office, so he begins to pull books out of the closet, and she opens the nightstand without asking... Here he is in a hurry to the sound of records falling to the floor... And then he allows the little girl to take away a music album that is of no interest to him... Jo ran out of the office - "No, I can't remove the consequences of this, I can't...", he thought in despair.

He ran into the bedroom and buried his face in the pillows. Twenty-four-year-old Jordan Thurlow cried like a child whose strict parents forbade him to communicate with the friend he was interested in. When Jo went to the bathroom, wiping away his tears, he muttered under his breath something like "Delia was right, you, Jo, is big crybaby and you're worthless!". Already standing at the mirror and looking at his reddened eyes, it seemed to him for a second that the outlines of his own face had something in common with the face of his little neighbor. But when he, having washed himself properly, looked at his reflection again, this strange feeling disappeared, as if it had never been there.

Feeling the need for fresh air, mister Thurlow went out into the yard. It was already getting dark. His faithful Buffalo lay quietly in his place, getting ready for the sleep. Jo looked at the home of Yonce family. Despite the late hour, only one window on the first floor was light. Mister Thurlow couldn't know how the neighbours arranged their rooms, but he remembered that when old man Harris Sherwind lived in this house, the chants of his drunken drinking companions were constantly heard from that window. "So this was the living or dining room", Jo thought. Perhaps the new owners saved electricity and in the evenings turned on the lights only where three of them could gather, and in their personal rooms they made do with small lamps...

Mister Thurlow couldn't be sure - after all, this is never the ultimate truth, just his guesses... He suddenly remembered his very first meeting with Delia, when he stood on the other side of the fence and she looked at him from the second floor window. No, Jo thought, his guess about saving light was complete nonsense, because at that moment (when according to the clock it was no later than now) the light was definitely on in the nursery... At the same time, he dismissed the idea that Delia was probably now outside the walls of her home. There is, of course, a possibility that she was taken to some relatives who lived in the center, but he had some doubts about this.

The next morning, Jo opened his eyes and stared at the chandelier hanging from the bedroom ceiling. The glass saucer had a pattern painted in blue, the details of which seemed to depict some kind of birds. For some reason, contemplating this pattern made mister Thurlow fall into a state close to a trance. Looking steadily at this creation of an unknown decorator, he recalled that the sky was in similar colours on the cover of the record that Delia took yesterday. Shaking the disease, Jo started getting dressed. Remembering that the girl was going to give that record to her classmate for his birthday, he thought that, after all, the fate of things can sometimes be very funny - at first, the envelope with this album came from the factory to some music store in Lisbon, then he moved to the living room of parents of Hamish McIntosh - his own classmate. And even in Portland the cycle hasn't ended, because first, after lying at that guy’s house, the record fell into his, Jo’s, hands. Now it is in the power of a girl living in a neighboring house, and then the album will travel again, only now to the house of a certain Jerry, who, as mister Thurlow realized, lives somewhere in the center...

When his brain has already digested this stream of thoughts, Jo was already standing in the kitchen, washed and dressed. Opening the refrigerator, he thanked himself for not forgetting to go grocery shopping in advance yesterday. Looking at how the eggs were placed in the cardboard, for some reason he could not help but notice how ingeniously but simply the packaging was designed. Having stopped turning them over in his hands, he suddenly remembered the cookies that Japhet had treated him to not so long ago... After placing the eggs on the table, mister Thurlow began to look for a mixer. Alas, he was in terrible condition - where the wire connected to the device itself, the insulation seemed to be charred. Jo decided not to plug it in, fearing that he might get an electric shock, and, putting the mixer back in the cabinet, began to think about how he could beat the eggs - after all, he cannot make shortbread dough without breaking eggs...

And then mister Thurlow, inspired by yesterday's show of concern on the part of missis Yonce, let out a joyful exclamation - what if he asked them for their mixer for an hour or two?! If she agreed to wash his things, then what’s wrong with not lending her neighbour a cooking appliance? Hastily, as if trying not to fly into heaven with happiness, Jo dialed their phone number and, pressing the receiver to his ear, waited patiently for the person on the other end to come to the machine. Fortunately, he didn’t have to wait long for an answer - a minute later he heard the slightly sleepy voice of missis Yonce:

- Hi, I'm listening.
- Hello, did I bother you, missis Ivette? - Jo said a little too cheerfully.
- It's okay, we're already up. What do you want, mister Thurlow?
- I decided to start baking, - he said.
- Oh, this is just wonderful! - unexpectedly his interlocutor let out a joyful exclamation. - What are you going to cook for us?
- For us? - he was taken aback by her question.
- Well, aren’t you going to give Delia and me a treat?
- No, of course, - mister Thurlow answered politely, who was already beginning to regret that he had decided to call them.
- That is great. So what will you bake?
- Shortbread. But the thing is...
- Wow, we love shortbread!
- Missis Ivette, you didn't listen to me. I wanted to ask you one thing
- Don't have a recipe? If you want, I can right now...
- I need a mixer, - Jo is already tired of talking to her.
- Okay, mister Thurlow, I'll send Delia to you. She was going to go for a walk anyway, so let her help you, give you...
- Thank you, miss Ivette, - he interrupted her. - When should I go outside?
- In ten minutes. We'll wash and get dressed, - said the woman, as if I was coddling a baby.
- Well, Goodbye.

He heard that Portuguese interjection again and hung up. Sitting down in a chair to catch his breath, he imagined himself as some kind of six-year-old blockhead, whose mother, without delving into the feelings of her son, is trying to force him to be a friend of a boy with "good and exemplary behavior". Jo felt like fate was playing a cruel joke on him - why didn’t he suffer a little and go to town for a new mixer, who dared him to call these obsessive Yonces? Mister Thurlow wanted to punch that invisible and powerful being who was pulling his strings in the face, but common sense told him that this was in no way possible to realize, because the fate of a human is decided by the human himself...

Jo went out into the yard in advance so that when the little girl came to the wicket, he would not make her wait several minutes (as happened yesterday). He called Buffalo and wanted to put the collar on him again, but, remembering that Delia would not come to him, he limited himself to patting the dog on the back. Then mister Thurlow sat down on the cold stone steps of the porch. Maybe it wasn't a very smart decision - he remembered how his mother told him as a child that he should not sit on a rock - but he wanted to quickly finish with this task imposed by himself.

When he heard quick footsteps on the other side of the fence, Jo immediately rose from his seat and walked to the wicket. Buffalo did not move from his place, continuing to sit at the post. Mister Thurlow opened the wicket and saw his young neighbour. In her right hand she was holding a package containing a cardboard box. Jo wanted to just take the mixer from her hands, but Delia, without saying a word, decisively stepped over the threshold. He looked after baby girl in bewilderment and followed her. They went into the kitchen, where the young lady put a bag on the table and asked the owner of the house if she could wash her hands. Jo said that since she came into his house as if it were her own, then let her do everything as she sees fit. She thanked him with a smile and went to the bathroom. Mister Thurlow decided not to embarrass the child and went out into the yard, mentally trying to understand her behavior.

He stood and looked at the dog. After a couple of minutes, he suddenly shuddered and turned around - it turns out that Delia had quietly crept up behind him and lightly shoved him in the back. He watched as she laughed at her prank and did not scold her.

- Well, apparently they've been waiting for you at home... - he said with a sigh.
- They let me go for a walk, you heard what mom said, - the girl answered, blinking twice.
- But my home is not a place for walking, - mister Thurlow rightly noted.
- So let's go outside, ajussi Jo! - the baby said cheerfully.

And she, bursting into laughter, ran to the wicket. Jo, not fully understanding her intentions, followed her.

- Gotta go fast! - Delia shouted as she walked.

- Sorry again, mister Jordan Thurlow, - inspector Galbraith interrupted the prisoner for the second time. - From now on, I would like you to give only the main points of your story regarding Delia Yonce and her family.
- All right, as you will, - Jo agreed. - To be honest, I'm tired tame the tongue.


In general, as soon as Delia once visited the house of her neighbor, Jordan Thurlow, she became his frequent guest. For the last half of the summer and all of September, she, with or without her mother, visited Jo on any occasion, clearly reveling in every minute of her visits. What did they not do... Basically, she simply had intimate conversations with the owner of the house, who knew how to listen to her, and often sat next to her when he read books from his library aloud to her, and sometimes spent time in the kitchen helping Jo (and mother, in cases when she honored this house with her visit) cook according to recipes that he asked his friend and colleague Japhet over the phone.

Mister Thurlow was on good terms with missis Ivette Yonce herself, they got along well and told each other a lot. Pretty soon Jo found out exactly how his new neighbors met. As Ivette told him, she, being the daughter of a farmer (who at one time moved from Aveiro to New York), at twenty-two married her college friend, but alas, her first marriage was unhappy - mister Cynader, who not only was her peer, was also extremely capricious and picky in character. While married to him, Ivette constantly heard obsessive requests from him so that she would discard all romantic illusions and give birth to an heir as quickly as possible. To this, the then missis Cynader invariably answered him that the decision to give birth is primarily the woman’s initiative, and if her husband really wants to have a child, then let him first devote himself to more serious activities than golf in the company of drunk friends. But this was not the only matter, Ivette had problems with pregnancy - in the two years she spent married to this man, she had two miscarriages, which also did not benefit their union. In the end it all ended with mister Cynader divorcing her, which put her in a very disadvantageous position - in fact, Yvette had nowhere to go, her father-farmer did not want to house an adult woman who was already an independent person in the full sense of the word.

Out of grief, Ivette went to a certain spa in Verona, where she met her (then still future) second husband - mister Yonce, who treated his bronchi there. They mutually fell in love with each other at first sight, meeting for the first time in the hall near the fountain. The fact that he was twenty years older than her was not a hindrance. Next day, when it was lunch hour, the pharmaceutist sat next to her as she sat alone at the table. After talking about life, the two of them went to the spa's garden, where Ivette gave mister Yonce an apple, which he, having taken from her hands, began to eat, but immediately threw it on the ground, because it turned out to be wormy. Taking advantage of a man's confusion, the woman rushed to him and kissed him right there, under the tree, after which she rushed out of the garden to let the pharmaceutist know that he would take further actions himself. And mister Yonce did not hesitate - when the next day there was dancing at the sanatorium, he invited Ivette to tango and after several circles they began to order alcoholic cocktails. As a result, this resulted in the fact that, being in a tipsy state, the woman decided to take the pharmaceutist to her room, where, without unnecessary foreplay, they immediately fell on the bed and gave vent to their feelings...

The next morning, waking up in the same bed, mister Yonce in the heat of love told Ivette that he wanted to leave the sanatorium with her immediately, so that they could live together, to which she agreed without further ado. However, the pharmaceutist was in no hurry to marry her - as a result, they lived for a long time in his apartment in New York just as roommates. When her lover was missing at work, Yvette, having nothing better to do, read the books he kept at home. She was impressed by the work of a certain B. Taggert, which, in fact, gave the expectant mother an idea of what to name her child.

Ivette found out quite quickly that she was having a girl - medical ultrasonography, which she did two months after meeting the pharmacist, made it clear that that night spent in the Verona's spa was not in vain. Out of curiosity, she decided to play with her lover in game "Guess What I'll Name Our Baby", but after the pharmaceutist's futile attempts, Ivette opened up to him, that their daughter will be named Delia, because according to the book by B. Taggert this name means "always visible", which will bring good luck to their heiress. Ivette remembered that when mister Yonce heard this, he walked around for several days in deep confusion, the reason for which he never revealed to her. When Jo heard it from her lips, he thought that apparently the point was that the pharmacist had always dreamed of a son, but he did not tell his interlocutor anything about his guesses.

Be that as it may, it was the fact of Delia's conception that became the impetus for the further rapprochement of Ivette and mister Yonce - ten days before the birth of the heiress, the latter took care of obtaining a marriage license, and when the girl was finally born (and it was in the morning), pharmaceutist, upon leaving the maternity hospital, immediately took the happy young mother to his close friend, where a special person who arrived there held a marriage registration ceremony, after which the newlyweds of different ages began to live a happy family life. Ivette didn’t tell Jo why, after eight years, the whole family decided to move from New York to Portland. Based on her hints, he assumed that there was something more serious behind this than the baby’s complaints about life in a small apartment, but, be that as it may, he decided not to go into this topic.

But mister Thurlow talked not only with missis Yonce herself. He was also very interested in communicating with her little daughter. They were so good with each other, that when Jo had to travel to the center for work - usually for five days, but sometimes for a week - then the young heiress of the Yonce family immediately deteriorated, and the little one fell into a state that could be roughly described as a mixture of boredom and sadness (she was still far from depression). At such moments, she seemed to be locked inside herself, nothing brought her pleasure, and to her parents’ attempts to try to make her laugh, she responded only with a look in which a certain reproach was felt. Even her usual love for sweets faded at such moments, no matter what they offer her - ice cream, cake or fruit - little girl, without saying a word, pushed the plates away or shied away from the hands helpfully extended to her...

Only school, which started in September, began to bring her joy and pleasure in those moments when her neighbour was not at home - Apparently, it was due to the fact that the elementary school where she studied was located in the same area where mister Thurlow worked. They did not intersect at such moments for obvious reasons, and it was mutual consent - neither Jo went to school, nor Delia ran to him from classes - but it seemed that the fields of waves emanating from them intersected in this place. As for the school affairs of the young heiress of the Yonce family, she, contrary to Jo's suspicions, was not a bully - Delia had the fortitude to stand up for herself at some points, but she herself never got into a fight and she never - do you understand? - never occurred to bully her peers. It happened that, having witnessed bullying, the girl immediately came to victim's defense and it even happened that the hooligans later asked her forgiveness for unworthy actions, but none of those who knew her could describe her as an damned wretch.

She didn't have many friends - if Delia were asked who she was friendly with among her classmates, then she, after a little thought, would single out two girls, daughters of people who worked with her father. Both of her friends were six months older than her, and by nature they were somewhat arrogant excellent students who put themselves a little higher than herself. At first, Delia didn’t even pay much attention to them, but when she one day saw how a boy from another class called them bad words, she reprimanded him, involuntarily aroused respect on their part (most likely, it was simply beneficial for them to have such a girl as a girlfriend who would protect them). And if anyone had asked who she had warm feelings for, Delia would have blushed and pointed her finger at the boy with golden curly hair who invariably sat closer to the teacher's desk.

This boy was the same Jerry, born Jerome, the son of Taylor Myron, one of the richest listing brokers in Portland. The parents decided to send the boy to the school they themselves went to as a child, although in terms of status it would be more appropriate for him to study at an institution with a higher reputation, but what could he do, the will of his parents is adamant... At this school, Jerry Myron felt much like a prince disguised as a pauper - he looked down on his classmates, tried to stay away from everyone, and when other boys tried to offer him friendship, he looked at them with an arrogant look. It is not surprising that he often became the cause of fights in class, when the most hooligan boys got tired of this untainted angel and tried to take out their childhood anger on him. Tried - because the young heiress of the Yonce family, who, as was already known, always stood up for the weak, took Jerry under her, shall we say, protection from the very first day. True, on those days when, for family reasons, she was absent from classes, the hooligans seemed to break loose and, trying not to catch the eyes of the teachers, beat up her love interest during breaks...

In general, Jerome Myron, who at school was a direct target for other people's insults, was dear to Delia. She could not say for what qualities she fell in love with him, but she was always pleased to realize that she could be useful to this golden-haired boy. Most of her thoughts related to school closely intersected with Jerry's personality. His name was something intimate to her, and whenever she had to talk about his identity, her cheeks turned red and her breathing became ragged.

Alas, the feeling was far from mutual - the culprit of her love torments was, how should I put it, not particularly delighted with this. Jerry, of course, did not quarrel with the girl who protected him from the attacks of other boys, but he didn’t reciprocate her in any special way - personally, he liked another girl much more who was in the same class, Tessie Parillo - daughter of a certain bookseller. She was a tall blonde, who, like Jerry himself, despised others and kept herself apart from everyone

Actually, it was precisely because of this nature of his passion that the boy could not make friends with her - it was as useful as starting a relationship with your reflection in the mirror. So little Myron, secretly sighing for the young lady Parillo, was friends with this dark-haired gal, whose face for some reason made him associate with a Chihuahua. Jerry had never said something like that out loud - both in conversation with everyone else and with the young heiress of the Yonce family herself - but it was clear from his eyes that he was forcibly tolerating this girl, from whom he had only one benefit, protection from bullies.

Be that as it may, Delia was head over heels in love with this boy, and she took advantage of any opportunity to cross paths with the listing broker's son. For example, one day she and her father went into a grocery store, where, by a happy coincidence, Jerry himself was with his mother, Miriam Myron. Seeing him, the girl immediately rushed to the boy with joy and, taking his hand, said that she wanted to go with him to La Boutique Fantasque. Luckily for her, young Myron did not resist her, and the children left the store, followed by the surprised glances of their parents. Delia led him into the shop where they were met by an old man who somehow reminded the girl of Einstein, only without a moustache, he was wearing a white shirt and a black leather vest. He had something to show his little visitors - At first, the children looked at small toy animals that danced the tarantella, and then the owner of the shop showed them a table on which a toy train rode by itself.

Delia and Jerome stood shoulder to shoulder, gazing wide-eyed at the wonders of La juguetería fantástica. When the self-propelled toy train made a couple of circles, the girl took advantage of the moment and quietly took the boy’s hand in hers, squeezing it with all her might - from excitement her palm was very hot and sticky with sweat. Perhaps that is why Jerry suddenly broke free and ran out of this shop without a word. Baby girl looked after him with tears in her eyes, while the old owner grunts something displeasedly at the listing broker's ill-mannered son. The girl returned to the grocery store, where at that time her father was arguing with Miriam Myron about the fact that he allegedly allows his daughter to just take and take other people's children to an unknown place. At the sight of young Lady Yonce, the Jerry's mother calmed down a little and, without even sparing a glance at the girl, she took her son by the arm and went home, while mister Yonce quietly scolded Delia, who silently looked after Jerry...

But one time the golden-haired object of her unrequited love did Delia a favour. It was mid-September when his parents took their son to their summer cottage for a few days, which, by a happy coincidence, was located not far from the home of the Yonce family. Jerry did not notify his classmate about this, but Delia, accidentally seeing him at the market - where she was shopping with her mother at that moment - hardly hiding her joy, she asked the boy about what fate he had ended up here. At that moment, Jerry, languishing with melancholy in a country setting he didn’t like, decided to brighten up his loneliness a little and without hiding told her the address where the Myron family’s summer cottage was located, and also the time at which he will wait for him. Delia then couldn't sleep a wink all night, thinking about how she would meet Jerry. And so, when the time came to leave the house in order to arrive at the right time, she ran there without any second thoughts, almost glowing with happiness. However, when the girl was already there, there was not a soul in the Myron's cottage - cunning Jerry, who wanted to laugh at a naive girl, specially arranged a date with her for that day and hour when he and his parents were already driving in the car on the way home to the center.

But Delia never found out about this trick. On the contrary, she got into her head the obsessive idea that this was her own fault, as if she herself had missed out on her happiness. When her father brought her to school the next day, she met Jerry in the hallway before class, walked up to him and, with downcast eyes, said to him sadly "I'm sorry.". The boy was surprised by her unexpectedly meek reaction, but without showing it, he played along with her state, saying "It's I who should be sorry" and ran to class. That day, Delia, without responding to her friends’ greetings, sat through all the lessons in the same position, and even when Charles Pevec, the most rowdy-dowdy boy in her class, apparently inspired by her condition, snatched the pen from her hands and was about to throw it in the trash can, the girl remained sitting in place, only raising her eyes, red from tears, to the bully. The young Pevec was confused and, after standing indecisively by the trash can, he walked up to Delia and put her pen next to her books...

When, while visiting mister Thurlow, Delia shared this story with him - of course, without knowing the true state of affairs on Jerry's part - her interlocutor was somewhat amazed that this girl, whose whole nature seemed to be filled with the energy of life, could feel such a complex of guilt because of some mere trifle. Jo tried to calm the girl down by reading her a poem by some author with the strange surname Blok - something about an accordion and buttercups - but the baby girl, shouting to him "I'm going out the play", ran to her home, not wanting to show neighbour her tears, which by that time were already filling her up from the inside. Both she and Jo were sad that day, only if her sadness was caused by impressions from a failed date, then her adult friend’s was caused by her reaction to his attempts to somehow calm her down. For two days Delia did not go to her neighbour, being in a depressed state, but on the third day the girl perked up and again visited mister Thurlow, who, however, at that time was keen on reading a certain book, which made it seem to his young guest that he was not particularly pleased with her visit. To entertain the child a little, Jo first in front of her eyes burned that book, which didn't contain anything smart, and then invited the girl to go visit his friend Japhet, to which she agreed without further ado.

From the fourth floor apartment where Jo's colleague lived, the young heiress of the Yonce family brought back pleasant memories - firstly, Japh, who knew how to cook for real (unlike mister Thurlow who trying to imitate him), threw a feast for her stomach, upon arrival, he treated her to baked lamb shoulder and stewed beans on the way back. Secondly, Delia listened with great pleasure to a fairy tale from the old collection "Fables of My Father Swan", which the owner of the apartment read out loud, since the girl herself was too lazy to read herself, and besides, she just liked to sit in his cabinet and listen to his pleasant voice, while not forgetting to comment on what she heard. At the very beginning of this literary reading, the girl even allowed herself to be indignant that the author did not explain the name of the main character, to which Japhet stunned her with the answer, the essence of which was that her own name did not mean “always visible”, as her mother told her from early childhood, but was the name of the island where, according to ancient Greek myths, the Greek goddess Artemis was born.

Having learned about this, the young heiress of the Yonce family then felt as if wave of truth extinguished the fire of falsehood, which she was not slow in admitting to her adult interlocutors. Then mister Thurlow said with a smile that she had a good vocabulary, and some kind of light flashed in Japh's eyes, hidden behind the thick lenses of his glasses. This moment might have seemed unworthy of attention to the girl, if not for what followed next. When Japhet finished reading the fairy tale and the three of them went to eat beans, at the table he pulled out a notebook, where he wrote down this random remark from Delia from memory, slightly paraphrasing it. The girl then inquired why he needed it, to which she received the answer that it was needed for his research concerning Americans bearing Greek names. Baby girl considered this explanation complete nonsense, gave up on the matter and, deciding that it was time for her to go home, went to get dressed.

As Delia and her adult companion approached her family's home, the girl, who had previously been walking behind Jo, suddenly rushed towards him and, grabbing his hand, pulled him strongly to the side. He, trying not to fall to the ground, grabbed the fence with his free hand, accidentally driving a thin sliver of wood into his hand. The little girl opened the gate with a laugh and disappeared into the yard, and mister Thurlow, trying to remove a splinter that had gotten into his finger with his teeth, was stunned to catch with his ears the sounds of her footsteps coming from behind the fence. When the front door of the Yonce's house finally closed, he sighed and raised his head - it was dark in the window of her room...

- I hope you don't mind, - the prisoner took a break. - If from now on I return to a detailed description of the events that happened to me?
- Well, you go right ahead, - mister inspector Galbraith nodded understandingly.


The day after he and Delia returned from Japhet, Jo was awakened by a phone call. He, having forgotten about getting dressed and washed, walked up to the telephone as he was and put the receiver to his ear. It was his neighbour, missis Yonce herself. He, as if fighting with the feeling of dissatisfaction that overwhelmed her, notified mister Thurlow that while washing her daughter's underwear, she noticed something strange and therefore in the afternoon she would take her daughter into town on business. Then she took a short pause, apparently waiting for Jo's answer, but he could not find anything in response to these words. In a breaking voice, Ivette added that mister Thurlow was very lucky that her spouse and Delia's father was at work at the center at that time. Jo's internal organs appeared to be filled with liquid nitrogen. He felt that above him, like above Damocles - the favourite of the Syracusan tyrant - was hanging the sharpest sword of justice, which threatened to fall down and cut his unfortunate head into two halves...

He continued to hold the receiver to his ear, although only beeps could be heard from it. Finally, having mastered his numb limbs, he dropped it next to the telephone and, feeling the ground disappearing from under his feet, managed to grab the table top with his hands. In such a pose, vaguely similar to the figure of a son from a famous painting by Rembrandt, Jo spent, according to personal feelings, no less than two hours. Then he stood up and, feeling that he needed fresh air, almost ran out into the street. Thank God that not a single member of the Yonce family caught his eye...

Standing near his gate and turning his head from side to side, mister Thurlow was convinced that it was still possible to walk calmly on this earth. And he, still feeling the cold in his back, decided to walk to the store. No, not for the sake of shopping, but in order to, in an environment where there are a lot of people, try to get rid of the loneliness that tightens his soul. Trying not to break into a run, Jo directed his steps to where the entire population of the Parkrose Neighborhood was purchasing essential goods. Having reached the first tents under which fresh fruit was sold, he suddenly heard his name. It turns out that two old women, who at that time were taking red apples from the merchant, were engaged in a lively dialogue with each other. Mister Thurlow tried to stand behind the awning so that they could not see him and strained his ears.

- You know, Patricia, I have a suspicion that this scoundrel Jordan obviously did something to the pharmaceutist's daughter, - the old woman with a white scarf on her head spoke, muttering her lips.
- What makes you think that, Elsebeth? - her younger friend asked.
- Because I just met Ivette this morning, - exclaimed the interlocutor. - She was as pale as death!
- Oh, the poor... They were connected with what?
- Well, she said that she asked her daughter to put on new drawers and, while taking her old underwear to wash, she noticed that they were red with blood.
- What, has the baby started her period? At eight years old?
- Ivette couldn’t believe her eyes, and forgetting about the laundry, rushed at the girl with questions. And she told her that yesterday she visited certain ajussi Jo and ajussi Japh.
- Two murderers... My God... They should sit together!
- The pharmaceutist's wife has the same opinion. I barely persuaded Ivette to go and get checked by a doctor before calling the police.
- So what's next?
- She went home after that. Maybe she really did that, or maybe she couldn’t stand it and unleashed police bloodhounds on the bastards
- Dear God!

Patricia - old lady who was younger - noticed hiding Jo and started screaming. He immediately rushed as fast as he could away from the shops, hearing the words "Ordinary, scabby, pitiful fiend!" flying after him. That's it, he thought, goodbye freedom... And at the same time he asked himself the question of what was happening. He never committed any lewd acts with Delia, avoided kisses and did not even embrace her, and here on you... There is clearly something wrong here, he thought, being already halfway to the house. Meanwhile, clouds began to gather in the sky. Without slowing down, mister Thurlow glanced at the far ahead clearing full of tall grass. It was already the end of September, and now the previously green ocean of plants was coloured in shades of yellow and orange. Thick clouds that had already filled the sky with might and main created a very interesting conjunction.

And then Jo remembered what the landscape spread out before him looked like - the nature of his native village was almost completely a living embodiment of the cover of the very record that he gave to his young neighbour back in August... He remembered her story about how she gave the record to Jerry, and he supposedly responded to her gift with only "Thank you", but deep down Jo felt that Delia, in telling him about this incident, was simply limiting herself to only the first half of what actually happened - at the same time, she didn’t lie, but she didn’t fully tell the truth either. Returning his thoughts to the present, he began to think that if he could trust the words of those two old gossips, then when interrogated by her mother, Delia also did not denigrate him and Japhet. All the same for her reverent parents - for the father in particular - one fact that their little daughter was in the company of two adult men in an unfamiliar apartment, was reason enough to hand Jo over to the court butchers, who will pass his mortal body through the knives of the bureaucratic meat grinder. Honestly, it would be better if they killed him right there on the spot than subjected him to such torture - death is clearly more desirable than such a life...

But even saying these words to himself, mister Thurlow was still afraid. He was afraid that Delia’s furious father would open his skull with his powerful hands, and the fact that under police escort he will be taken to dark and damp dungeons, where he will have to rot until the end of time. Is it really all because of certain gal, the daughter of a paltry medicine seller? Not that this solved anything in the real state of affairs, but Jo could not help but be offended by the fate that brought him, distant relative and descendant of one of the most influential figures of the former (and extremely short-lived) Saorstát Éireann, to the scaffold because of the daughter of some American. When Jo approached his house, the first drops of rain had already begun to fall on the street.

Rejoicing at how well he had timed his walk, mister Thurlow, without even bothering to check that he had closed the wicket properly, entered the house and followed to the kitchen. From the feeling of threat that still did not want to retreat, he did not feel like eating at all, but he tried to find a bottle with some kind of drink - he just wanted to drown out his fear with alcohol, even the most terrible one imaginable. Alas, there was not a drop of this substance at home, except for the flask, at the bottom of which there was just a little pure ninety percent alcohol - this amount barely fit on the teaspoon into which Jo shook out the contents of the flask. He put the teaspoon containing the contents into his mouth and exhaled. His throat felt a slight burning sensation, the disgusting bitter taste made him wrinkle his face, but he could not achieve the desired intoxication.

It’s a shame he didn’t buy a bottle of something strong when he went for a walk. In any case, he had to live in freedom, God willing, until tomorrow morning, for a premonition told him that this would not end the matter, and the return of mister Yonce will only worsen his already unenviable position. Jo did not know what to do with himself at this time. He couldn't get even a little drunk, and he couldn’t try to do anything without this doping - the fear was eating him up from the inside. Therefore, mister Thurlow, standing a little near the window (behind which it was already raining), closed the curtains and went into the bedroom, where, without undressing, he immediately climbed under the blanket. He fell asleep the moment his head touched the pillow.

He had a dream that he, while still a very small boy, went hunting with his cousin into the forest. A piebald dog of some hunting breed was running behind them. The weather this morning was cloudy, but there was no rain yet, as well as the sun, which had not yet risen. He asked his cousin why they went so early. The grown man looked at the boy and replied something like "The ducks haven't woken up yet, so it will be easier to shoot them". Little Jo wanted to ask one more question, but then the piebald dog, bursting into barking, rushed forward into the impassable thicket. The expression of complacency immediately disappeared from his cousin's face - it was replaced by the tense expression of a professional hunter who has already smelled the game and is trying not to scare it. The man rushed forward after his dog, holding his hunting rifle at the ready. The boy, who was openly pinched by the heavy boots, could not run after his adult companion in the same way, so little Jo, trying not to slip on the mud, trotted after his cousin. And then a shot rang out. A man was shooting somewhere in the thicket, his piebald dog was squealing wildly. The boy wanted to cover his ears, but his hands seemed to not obey him. And his cousin, to the accompaniment of an increasingly heart-rending dog, continued to send shots there, into the thorny branches of the thicket...

Jo shuddered and immediately raised his head from the pillows. The dog's heart-rending screams continued to ring in his ears, but these were not echoes of the dream he had just seen - sounds came from the street. Mister Thurlow, covered in sweat, swung his feet off the bed and, pulling on his slippers, ran out into the yard. The rain, which began in the afternoon, had already turned into a real downpour by nightfall. But Jo, already standing on the porch, did not pay attention to the heavy streams of water that lashed him all over his body. All his attention was occupied by the wild picture that opened before his eyes - near the wicket, which was wide open, stood huge man with a bowler hat on his head. He had a pistol in his hands, which he pointed at poor Buffalo. When mister Thurlow went outside, the dog didn't even whine anymore - an angry man shot him in the throat five times. And when he lifted his head from Buffalo to Jo, the owner of this yard, continuing to stand on the porch, let out a heart-rending scream. It was a cry in which fear, pain of loss and wild, all-consuming hatred for the one who was now standing at the wicket were mixed together...

What happened next, mister Thurlow practically couldn’t remember. Only fragments, as if in a delusional dream, remained in his memory moments how he then, already soaked through in the rain, rushed towards the killer with his bare fists, how the latter knocked Jo to the ground next to the dead dog with a strong blow to the chest and began to inflict powerful kicks on him with the fury of a wild animal. Then everything around sparkled with blue and red lights, he heard the howl of sirens. Mister Thurlow remembers how, covered in mud, he was grabbed by two men in uniform and thrown like a sack of flour into the back of a truck.

And then, no longer in the darkness and not in the dirt, but in a spacious courtroom, he stood and, with his head down, listened to the verdict, according to which he was destined to spend eighteen long years in a maximum security colony. With eyes that seemed to be covered with a veil, he looked around at the people gathered at that moment. Not finding among those gathered the one who started it all, his attention was distracted by the scream of his friend Japhet, who stood up and extended his hand forward - apparently pointing at one of the respected members of the trial - angrily recited "Some fiends eats other fiends! What a great thing to be doing when y'all don't have a humaneness!", after which he suddenly grabbed his heart with his other hand and silently fell to the floor, and then the guards grabbed him by the arms like a sack of potatoes and dragged him out of the courtroom...


- Anyway, that's all, mister inspector, - exhaling, Jo completed his narration. - You are unlikely to be interested in how I began to do time in these stinking walls?
- Well, well...

The prisoner and the policeman sat silently opposite each other. Mister Thurlow, who wanted to stretch his legs after sitting for a long time, was about to get up, but then his interlocutor raised his hand.

- Wait, Jordan Thurlow, our meeting isn't over yet.
- What's the matter, mister inspector?

Jo asked him in the tone in which a little boy is trying to get an answer from his strict father about why he can’t go for a walk.

- You told me your half of the story, and I want to tell you mine, - mister Galbraith answered almost solemnly
- What, is it really possible that this family, through whose fault I am here rotting alive, still any incidents happening?
- You get the point right, Jordan. But let's not get ahead of ourselves. Sit down.

And mister Thurlow sat down on a hard wooden chair. A spark of curiosity began to light up inside him. He suddenly became very interested in what this strong-willed man with a military bearing would tell him now. Who knows, what if... Jo tried to think about Delia as little as possible, but at that moment her small figure was resurrected before his mind's eye. He, trying to cope with the excitement that was bursting through him, answered his interlocutor:

- I'm all ears, mister inspector...

When mister inspector finally told the prisoner his long narration - starting with the incident with the grocery store's pickpeanut and ending with his last conversation in the office of the mister chief inspector Schaeymoure, Galbraith wiped the sweat from his forehead and licked his dry lips. The prisoner was still sitting opposite him on his uncomfortable wooden chair, with his hands folded in front of him. Feeling the expectant gaze of mister inspector on himself, Jordan shuddered all over and raised his right hand to his deathly pale face.

- What's wrong, aren't you feeling very well? - Galbraith asked with sympathy.

Wiping the tears from his eyes, Jo sniffed and inhaled noisily. The inspector felt a little uneasy at the sight of the crying criminal, and he involuntarily turned his gaze to the surface of the table at which they had been sitting all this time. At the same time, he wondered what in his story could upset this twenty-six-year-old man so much.

- Delia... - Jordan's whisper reached his ears.

"Well yes, exactly", thought Galbraith, "It's all because of the girl, the same one who landed him behind bars". With this thought, mister inspector again raised his head to his interlocutor.

- I see, - he began, - that some parts of my story upset you. Sorry for this, but these are facts.

Speaking these words, the inspector mentally reproached himself "How can you, a policeman, stoop to the point of apologizing to a criminal?"

- The truth hurts, I know, - Jordan muttered quietly, blowing his nose into his sleeve.
- I really don't like this state of affairs myself, - Galbraith continued. - But you can rest assured...

Mister inspector suddenly interrupted his speech - he thought it would be very strange if the policeman gave the child molester a promise to bring justice to the child murderer. But the first words of this speech had an effect on the interlocutor - Jo suddenly stopped sniffling and fixed his eyes, red and wet with tears, on Galbraith.

- You will do your best to, - he said with anguish. - So that the child's soul can be avenged?
- I wonder at you... - the inspector began, but the prisoner did not let him finish.
- I want Delia not to feel abandoned in the next world. Do you understand me, mister inspector?

Having blurted out these words in despair, Jo then dropped his head into his hands - this plea clearly exhausted him. Galbraith continued to sit silently in his chair, not knowing what to answer to his interlocutor. A minute passed, but Jordan showed no signs of life, and Galbraith thought that the prisoner had fallen asleep. The inspector rose from the table, preparing to leave the interrogation room, but as soon as he took a few steps from the table, Jo suddenly opened his eyelids and, with a quiet groan, grabbed his chest with his hand. When Galbraith quickly walked to the door, which was just behind mister Thurlow, and, throwing it open, came face to face with a grim policeman holding a rubber baton - it was a guard who was assigned to monitor what was happening. The inspector immediately turned to him:

- Take this man back!

Clumsy and elderly man gave the inspector some kind of mocking glare:

- I hope mister did not die of boredom, listening to the cruel excuses of this vile p... - he began.
- Joke me here! - inspector threatened him with his finger and quickly left that boring room.

Guard, muttering under his breath "These are what the nerves need to listen...", slowly walked up to the chair behind which mister Thurlow was sitting, and, tensed slightly, grabbed him by the shoulders with both hands. Jo, whose eyes were feverishly rolling in their sockets, tried to instinctively throw off the fingers that grabbed him, but the guard, with incredible agility for his size, tore the prisoner from the chair and led him back to the cell.

The supervisor, standing next to the door leading to the cell, opened it for the guard, who pushed mister Thurlow inside. A couple of moments later, the heavy steel door slammed shut, and the sound of the heavy steps of both servant of the order died down in the corridor. Now this man was securely cut off from the other people. But twenty-six-year-old Jordan Thurlow no longer cared about what was happening in this world. He continued to lie on the floor in an uncomfortable position, staring blankly at the wall. It was unbearably stuffy in the cell, so he automatically opened his mouth wider in order to inhale at least a little air.

Little by little Jo lost track of where he was, and then suddenly the cheerful cries of children reached his ears. He hardly opened his eyes and was stunned in silent amazement - around him there was a grass-covered hillock. The midday sun was shining above his head, the birds were singing cheerfully, and ripe orange fruits hung from the branches of the apricot tree under which he lay. Getting to his feet, Jo slowly - as if every step he took was an unbearable burden for him - wandered to the side where the excited hubbub of kids could be heard. After a few steps he involuntarily stopped. What he saw shocked him to the core.

Along a well-trodden path straight towards him was approaching a small procession of five people. Ahead of all walked, moving her long legs wide in red shoes, young black-haired woman with bob hairstyle - her cream-coloured corduroy dress gave her figure a slightly pompous seriousness, making her look like a primary school teacher. Behind her, like a brood of little ducklings, walked four kids - two boys and two girls. They were barefoot and dressed in colourful dresses, pants and shirts. The children, judging by their pretty faces, were between seven and ten years old, no more. The boys, squinting at the bright sun, stayed a little behind, the girls, on the contrary, rushed forward and, cheerfully exchanging glances at each other, constantly tried to overtake their adult mentor.

- Mother Jo, look at apricots! - came a loud, high-pitched voice.

It was shouted by a younger boy who was walking at the very end of the procession. Stretching out his thin hand, he pointed straight at Jordan standing by the tree. He felt a little awkward - it was shameless all the kids started looking at him. The woman stopped and, turning her head in the same direction where the children were looking, smiled.

- Mother Jo, can we eat them? - asked another voice, more softer.

This question was asked by a girl in a yellow dress. "Curious, Jo - it's short for Josephine?", thought Jordan...

- Of course, my children, - said the black-haired woman and smiled even wider. - You can pick these fruits as much as you like.

After her words, the children, all as one, rushed to the tree. Jo, trembling all over, stepped back.

- But please, be reasonable! - the woman, remaining standing on the road, made a serious face and shook her finger at them.

The children, not paying any attention to her warning, ran up to the tree, began to jump up screaming and pick orange apricots from the branches, not at all worried that an unknown adult man was standing literally two steps away from them. It seems that this is the first time the kids have seen such a fruitful tree - with amazing tenacity and methodicality, they absorbed the fruits directly from the branches. And it suddenly dawned on Jordan that none of these five - four minors and one adult - just doesn't see him!

- Are you full, my children? - five minutes later, a woman shouted, who remained standing at some distance from the tree.

Jordan thought that either she simply didn't like apricots, or that she believed in washing the fruit before eating it.

- Mother Jo, maybe a little more? - the older boy begged in a capricious tone.
- We gotta go on the road! - already with a note of order the woman said - We have a very long way!

The children stopped screaming. They silently looked at each other and with obvious reluctance headed towards the road. The woman waited patiently until all four were gathered next to her, and then slowly walked forward. This time the girls barely trudged behind her, and the boys walked ahead and quietly had some kind of argument among themselves. Jordan, who was still standing under the apricot tree, looked with some sadness after the retreating procession. He involuntarily felt like a worthless, useless person, whom no one would ever remember and - as he had just seen - no one noticed. While thinking about this, Jordan suddenly noticed that one of the girls, who was walking last, suddenly stopped. He thought that she apparently wanted to take a breath, but when she turned her head towards him with a black bang on her forehead, he felt his heart begin to beat wildly.

Because that girl was none other than Delia herself. Her bottomless eyes looked at him point blank. She looked divine in her dark blue dress. She smiled, as if she had been waiting for this moment for a long time, and began to slowly approach the tree. Jordan couldn’t believe his eyes and thought it was just a hallucination. He awkwardly backed away and, burying his back in the trunk of an apricot tree, slid down it to the ground. The little girl apparently thought it was funny - she laughed and extended her hand forward. Jordan sat there, hesitantly, under the tree for a few seconds, and then, blushing, he took Delia's hand and smiled timidly.

They never allowed themselves hugs, kisses, or any other way of expressing love that required physical contact. Their feelings for each other could be called silent emotional attachment or the most banal sympathy. Now, as Delia stood in front of Jordan, sitting on the lawn, he wanted to tell her a lot. For example, give her a compliment that she has become even more beautiful... Ask if anyone is hurting her... Apologize to her for the long separation... In the end, just ask if she's happy to see him... But he still couldn't think of the right words. Jordan, still holding her tender hand in his rough palm, swallowed the lump that had risen in his throat and, trying to keep his voice from trembling from the excitement that overwhelmed him, almost whispered word, only one word:

- Sweetheart... - a sort of smile was appeared on him lips.

In response to this word, Delia's cheeks were blushed. She let go of her hand and gave him a somewhat shy smile. "Ideal of a mankind", Jordan thought, "Or, more precisely, womankind". As he understood, she was already ten years and four months old. He felt something like remorse for the fact that two years ago he had so unceremoniously entered Delia's small cozy world. But he could not do anything - after all, the past cannot be returned...

- I know. I remember, - unexpectedly Delia said quietly.

Jordan felt that her voice had changed in a strange way, but it could only seem to him - after all, that he had not seen her for a long time. And yet, hearing that "I remember" he felt his heart clench. "Well, when such an subject of the highest virtue speaks, my skin is starting to crawl", Jordan thought, not taking his eyes off her.

- Ajussi, there won't be any trouble, - now Delia repeated quite clearly and distinctly. - I promise, - she added.

He wanted to ask "what kind of trouble?", but the girl did not give him such an opportunity. Tears flowed from Delia's eyes, and the next moment she suddenly rushed to grown man and wrapped her thin arms around him. Jordan, forgetting about everything in the world, grabbed Delia by the shoulders, and, pressing baby to him, began to stroke her head. The little girl's body, trembling with sobs, radiated a faint warmth...

Third Act - Qualquer ou Uma Grande Recompensa

Galbraith, who needed to catch a British Airways flight, had to spend two and a half hours at Portland International Airport. The wait didn't promise to be pleasant - by this time, such a crowd had formed in the building that it was completely incomprehensible to the inspector, unfamiliar with local orders, how people would even get on their planes. Leaving his suitcase in one of the waiting rooms, he headed to the second floor, where there were shops and cafes where he could buy a hamburger or coffee. Walking a little forward, Galbraith entered the establishment closest to the escalator - not least because he was attracted by the music playing there. The cafe was small, but quite cozy - the interior was dominated by purple and blue tones. On the walls hung curious paintings, made in the form of engravings, which depicted scenes from the life of the ancient Greeks.

Having taken a free table, the inspector looked around - besides him, there were two young people in the room who looked like Portuguese tourists. One of them was curly-haired and gloomy, the other, on the contrary, red-faced and talkative. They sat across from each other and played Xs and Os on a newspaper marked with a black marker in a six-by-six format. Sometimes these guys raised their heads and, exchanging short phrases in Portuguese, glanced in his direction. Galbraith began to look for the waiter. Finally, he saw a man walking slowly around the tables with some kind of tray. Having called out to him, the inspector involuntarily noticed that this man stood out strongly against the background of the interior - it was just strange to see in this room with a carefree atmosphere this tall and completely bald man, whose face seemed to be carved from granite. He was dressed simply and neatly - black trousers and a white shirt.

Galbraith would not have focused so much on these details, if this man gave his face, if not a smile, then at least just calm indifference, but instead the waiter's face was distorted by some kind of terrible grimace - as if he looked at every visitor as if he were a concentration camp prisoner who would soon be sent to the gas chamber. The bald spot only deepened this impression - although the inspector understood that even if this waiter had thick shoulder-length hair, his face would still remain the same... When the inspector's call reached the ears of this person, he turned to Galbraith's table and slowly walked up to him, after which, freezing two steps away from him, stared at the policeman with his own eyes. The inspector had suspicions that this guy clearly had problems with his gallbladder...

- Does this place serve coffee? - asked Galbraith, who wanted to relax at a table and drink his favourite drink.

The waiter, who continued to hold the plastic tray in his hands, did not answer, he only glared at the guest. The inspector involuntarily noticed that the pink colour of the tray in the hands of this maypole involuntarily gave his entire appearance a resemblance to a Greek statue on which some jokers had put a skirt and bra.

- I understand correctly that there is no coffee? - said Galbraith, who was tired of enduring this unblinking gaze.
- No coffee, - the waiter repeated his last words.

His voice sounded incredibly hoarse - the words seemed to come not from a human mouth, but from the speaker of a broken radio. The intonation like that of a automate only aggravated this feeling.

- Could I see menu please? - asked the inspector, who realized that talking to this waiter was like talking to a shoe box.

The waiter placed the tray directly on his table and walked towards the counter. Galbraith involuntarily began to look at the contents of the tray - there was a empty tea cup with a teaspoon sticking out of it, a saucer with bread crumbs and two crumpled napkins. Apparently, this should have been taken to the car wash, but the inspector unwittingly interfered with the waiter. Galbraith thought that the service in this cafe was simply disgusting - because he had never seen dirty dishes from a previous client being put on a new guest - they say, my hands are full, let him stand... Finally, the waiter returned to his table. He placed an A4 sheet of cardboard folded in the middle in front of the inspector and finally took away this impartial tray.

Galbraith took the cardboard sheet in his hands. Yes, the selection in this cafe was small - black tea, croissant without filling, some sweets (no indication, just "Sweets") and water. The inspector involuntarily glanced at the Portuguese sitting at the table. Now he understood why, instead of ordering food, they simply played Xs and Os - because rather than pay money for this, it’s better to sit hungry. Galbraith finally decided to order a cup of tea - not so much because he was very thirsty, he just thought that if he sat just like that, without food, then this gloomy waiter would decide to throw him out - they say, why are you sitting here if you don’t order anything?

- Can I have some black tea please? - the inspector shouted to the waiter, who, having gotten rid of the tray, returned empty-handed.

Bald maypole, nodding barely noticeably, left somewhere again. Galbraith had to wait ten minutes until his order was finally placed in front of him - a small tea cup, two-thirds full of a drink, not much different in colour from coffee. He raised the cup to his mouth and took a sip. The first feeling was that a tea bag was dipped into cold water and left for a day... Barely suppressing the urge to spit out this slop , he put the cup on the table and, sighing, stared at the ceiling. He didn't know how long he sat there, but when two Portuguese stood up from the table and walked past him towards the exit, he finally woke up and looked at his watch. Oh no, there's only a little time left before boarding the plane...

Galbraith got up from the table, on which the almost untouched tea continued to stand. The inspector ran to the escalator, trying not to throw off the little children running back and forth. Finally, he reached the security check area. The tedious procedure has begun - in front of beautiful young girls a thirty-one-year-old man had to take off his shoes and pull out his belt from his trousers... Galbraith involuntarily felt like an exhibitionist in a club for a representative of the womanhood. When these metal checks are finally over, he, trying to direct the blood flow back to the head, got into the relegation zone. Finally, Galbraith exhaled, here is the boarding gate.

Having gone down the stairs with other passengers, he found himself on the street, and, shivering from the cold - the wind was blowing - entered the bus, which, after travelling a few meters, stopped next to the Boeing. The ticket, which the inspector bought two weeks before the flight, was suspiciously cheap, and when Galbraith finally found himself inside this metal machine, then he understood why - he got a seat right at the very end of the plane, and right in the aisle. As a result, not only were his feet constantly being crushed by those going to the toilet, but he was also deprived of the pleasure of looking out the window. Well, okay, Galbraith thought, fastening his seat belts, as a policeman who serves the people, his fate is to endure all sorts of inconveniences for the sake of this very people...

On the left hand of the inspector sat two - some old man in a bowler hat who immediately began to doze at the porthole, and a skinny young guy, who, huddled in a chair, looked straight ahead. He looked no more than nineteen, twenty-one at most. The veins on his arms were so visible that it looked like he had transparent skin. Galbraith thought that this guy must be flying an airplane for the first time - so much uncertain appearance was at this yesterday's schoolboy. The inspector made himself more comfortable in his chair and wanted to read something, but remembering that his suitcase was in the luggage compartment, he abandoned this thought and, in order to at least occupy himself with something, began to look out the window. Unfortunately, nothing was visible behind the dozing old man. Galbraith sighed and followed the example of the skinny guy, simply staring at the back of his chair.

He didn't know how much time had passed since the plane took off - his thoughts were focused on the operation for which he was sent on this flight. Although, "sent" sounded a little wrong - in fact, he volunteered for this job himself, Portland Police Bureau just made an effort, to help him in this case, but the management itself kept in mind that in this outburst of Galbraith, feelings prevailed over logic, therefore the success of the operation - one might even say in its usefulness - no one took it seriously except Galbraith himself. Sitting like that in his seat, he noticed with his peripheral vision how a flight attendant walked past him, carrying a cart with cold drinks. The inspector raised his head and began to watch as the woman stopped at each passenger and, taking out disposable cups, filled them with one drink or another and gave them to the person asking. Galbraith wanted to ask for water - he felt his throat was dry. But just as he was about to open his mouth, the sight of that terrible tea that he was served in the Portland International Airport's cafe suddenly flashed before his eyes.

The sight of a cup filled with black liquid was so disgusting that he gave up the idea of asking the flight attendant for water. Therefore, when she turned in his direction, on her question "What will you drink?" he just silently shook his head, thinking about what he could endure until London. Then the woman turned to the thin guy, but he also just silently shook his head. Galbraith couldn't resist but think that this guy was imitating him. Then the old man woke up and, shaking his head as frightened birds usually do, asked the flight attendant for wine.

"Alcohol on a plane?" the inspector asked himself in bewilderment. Imagine his surprise when the flight attendant not only did not ask the passenger to change his decision, but, on the contrary, took a glass bottle that stood somewhere in the middle of the cardboard packages with juice and, pouring white wine into a plastic cup, handed it to the old man, who greedily extended his hand. Galbraith watched as he downed a small two hundred millilitres cup in one gulp and, grunting with pleasure, stuck it between the chairs. After consuming this drink, all sleep immediately disappeared from the old man for a while, and he, smiling, turned to the inspector:

- Hey, don't you think it looks very nice? - the old man was clearly in a good mood.
- Well, I’m just sitting, flying, not touching anyone, - Galbraith didn’t really want to talk, but he couldn’t ignore his fellow traveller...
- Fabelhaft! - the old man exclaimed in German.

Then, glancing out the porthole, he turned to him again.

- In what kind of cases are you flying on? - the old man said with attention.
- By personal, - Galbraith answered dryly.

"Don't tell this gaffer that a police inspector is sitting near to him", he thought to himself. The old man again uttered a joyful exclamation in German and, having said a couple of good words about the wine, dozed off again at the porthole. Galbraith only now noticed that while he was talking with the old man, the young guy continued to sit silently, pressed into a chair. He immediately started guessing - either this guy is mentally ill or he's just got his head in the clouds right now, not just heavenly, but narcotic... Having uttered the word "narcotic" to himself, Galbraith suddenly noticed a fleeting resemblance between the dozing old man and the doppelgaenger he had seen on the Portland's subway, before death of his friend Pharqraut. The similarities included, but were not limited to, the old man's arm hanging from the chair, as well as the fact that - apparently under the influence of alcohol - his lower jaw began to drop down. True, unlike that mysterious vision, it was clear from this old man that he just dozed off, when doppelgaenger on the contrary gave the impression of sleeping like the dead...

Giving himself up to these thoughts, Galbraith did not pay attention to how the flight was already coming to an end. A blue light came on in the cabin, and the inspector experienced a strange sensation - the internal organs seemed to jump inside his body, as if he were falling from a great height into the abyss... When the plane finally landed, from the invisible to the passengers speakers the voice of the pilot was heard, who said, so that people would not rush to get up from their chairs, but Galbraith was tired of sitting. He did not get up, but, contrary to the order, unfastened his seat belt (which was precisely what was forbidden to do). After a long ten minutes, the same voice, distorted by the speakers, finally deigned to tell the passengers that the pilot was saying goodbye to them and wishing them all the best.

The inspector got up, but it was far from the exit - because he was sitting at the very back of the plane, then he had to spend extra time moving forward one step at a time, trying not to hurt the others. Galbraith could not help but feel as if he were a stone that was slowly being carried along the river, with the only difference being that the river was alive and had a motley colour, and the stone, being also a living creature, felt tired and was angry. When he finally approached the exit of the plane, the flight attendant standing next to him smiled and said:

- We are always at your service.

The inspector involuntarily glanced at her. He thought how tired this pretty girl must have been of standing like that in a cramped space for almost twelve hours a day and with all her being expressing to complete strangers her readiness to fulfill their requests. Yes, it’s good that men are not hired as flight attendants - Galbraith himself personally would not have been able to stand wearing a mask of lies all day, pretending that he was not indifferent to some people with whom at any other time he would not even shake hands, let alone fulfill their whims... Stepping out onto the ramp, he involuntarily let out a sigh of relief - it was nice to finally be in the fresh air. While going down, he noticed that the sky was overcast with clouds. He frowned with displeasure - there was absolutely nothing good about getting caught in the rain and getting wet immediately upon arriving in another country - and since Galbraith did not take an umbrella with him, these were more than justified concerns...

Then followed a long and tedious fuss at London Heathrow Airport - the inspector didn’t even want to focus his thoughts on this, anyway, all he had to do was follow the crowd of other passengers and repeat their actions. Therefore, he turned on his brains only when, already with a suitcase in his hands, he stood at the exit from the airport. Galbraith looked around for a taxi. It’s good that on this day, even despite the weather, there was a crowd at the entrance. The inspector moved forward, and soon enough he saw a man standing next to his car and smoking a cigarette.

- Hello! - began Galbraith, approaching him, - Can you take me to the "Stait of Snow Lake"?

The taxi driver immediately got into the car. The inspector put the suitcase on the next chair and made himself comfortable.

- Do you mean the hotel on Queensborough Terrace? - asked the driver, turning on the ignition.
- Yes, - Galbraith answered briefly.

The taxi began to slowly leave the airport. The inspector wondered what this hotel would be like, in which his dear gentlemen patrons from the Portland Police Bureau had booked a room.

- Why did you choose such a lousy hotel? - suddenly a hoarse voice was heard.

Galbraith shuddered - but it was just a taxi driver who, still keeping his hands on the steering wheel, winked at him in the rear view mirror. This sudden question of his pulled the inspector out of the whirlpool of his thoughts, and for a while he stopped thinking about his problems.

- Lousy? What do you mean? - the inspector was surprised.
- When you booked a hotel, didn’t you look at its rating? - the driver seemed to be reproaching his passenger.
- Well... I looked at only the price, - Galbraith waved him off.

He didn't choose this hotel... The taxi driver, having heard his answer, launched into loud spatial reflections regarding the fact that Mr. Foreigner had made a mistake, and he said this with the intonation with which a teacher scolds a guilty student. Galbraith is tired of listening to this expatiation.

- I don't like tourists, - he replied in a familiar tone. - And if this hotel is as bad as you say, it means that I will essentially be alone there.
- Oh you misanthrope! - his interlocutor answered almost with a fatherly intonation.

Galbraith couldn't help but laugh at this definition. The taxi driver also followed suit, and the conversation stopped for a while.

After five minutes of silence, the taxi driver, without taking his hands off the steering wheel, sniffled. The inspector saw in the rear view mirror how a grin appeared on the man’s wrinkled face.

- I think I guessed why you chose this hotel, - he said in a knowing tone.
- Well, why? - Galbraith asked curiously.
- According to the advertising brochures, then in one of his rooms stopped a certain person...

And the London driver named the name of one writer, which was well known to everyone who had been interested in American literature at least once in their life. His passenger scratched his moustache and shook his head. The taxi driver took this as a sign that Galbraith allowed him to continue the babbling - he sighed noisily, and after a short pause said:

- I completely agree with you! - at the same time he smiled.
- Sorry, I'm not sure what you mean... - Galbraith didn't understand.
- I'm talking about, - the driver interrupted him. - That this paper shifter doesn't honour to the hotel to which I am taking you now!

There was genuine resentment in the man's voice.

- That is not what I said, - protested Galbraith, who was already starting to get tired of the driver’s tone.
- I would even say that he only disgraces this establishment, exacerbating the already low level of service, - the taxi driver spoke louder and louder.
- Just keep calm, for God's sake... - the passenger asked without much hope.
- Because this is not a writer, - the man behind the wheel was already shouting. - This is a businessman! He just hit the mother lode, and he doesn’t care about the level of education of his readership!
- As much as possible... - the inspector, listening to this expatiation, wiped the sweat from his forehead.
- On the contrary, he indulges the basest instincts of the most primitive and backward sectors of the population, you will see this for yourself now! - the driver didn't let up.

Galbraith realized that it was pointless to try to calm this Englishman, who imagined that he knew a lot about writers better than all the members of the League of American Writers combined. So the policeman simply assumed an indifferent look and leaned his head back on the seat.

- Just listen, - the taxi driver spoke in the tone of a strict teacher. - What did I read on the very first page of his book! "White bitch had taken it in the mouth again", - with barely restrained rage he quoted to the entire interior of the car

At these words, Galbraith involuntarily opened his eyes.

- Please, don't use bad language, - he tried to shame the man.

But the interlocutor ignored his words.

- On the very first page, first! - as if reading out a court verdict, the taxi driver continued excitedly. - Taking that book in my hands, I was going to get some food for thought, but its pages greeted me with the slang of ill-mannered teenagers!

His passenger, who was gradually beginning to be amused by these shouts, looked up at the driver's seat.

- One might think, - he began in a calm tone. - That you expected from the mystical horror genre something sublime and refined, - having said this, the inspector yawned and stared out the window.
- Expected? - the driver yelled. - This has got to be usual state of affairs! Do you know the writer Lem? - he suddenly turned to the passenger.
- Lem... - Galbraith said thoughtfully.

He began to turn over in his head the names of all those whom he had read in his youth. No one with that last name came to his mind.

- I repeat, does the name of Lem mean anything to you? - the driver's eyes blinked several times.

"He might even get a heart attack", - thought the inspector, and he felt embarrassed.

- Well, - he began, - I read the novel "Motlys" by a writer with a similar surname, certain Steinar Lem.

In fact, it was a lie - he had never picked up such a book, he had only seen its title on one of the Norwegian bestseller lists. The driver turned back to the steering wheel. The dissatisfied sniffle he made convinced Galbraith that the old man did not like his answer at best, and at worst was perceived as an affront. But he finally stopped having literary debates with the passenger. Apparently, the fact that the inspector knew the namesake of his favourite writer allowed the taxi driver to feel some respect for him. This was confirmed by the man’s slightly animated look, as well as by the fact that the next fifteen minutes of the trip from the London Heathrow Airport to the hotel "Stait of Snow Lake" building passed in complete silence.

When the car brought the police inspector to its destination, the taxi driver pressed the brake and leaned out of the window. After admiring the two women walking towards him for a few seconds, the old man's face lit up and he said triumphantly "Ninety pounds sterling". His passenger nodded silently and took out the money.

- That's it, I brought you to this pigsty! - after payment the taxi driver said in a sympathetic tone.
- Do you feel sorry for me? - Galbraith asked him cheerfully, pulling the suitcase out of the car.
- Not really, - after a pause, the man said.

The inspector got out of the car and was about to close the door, but the driver, again sticking his head out of the window, looked up at him.

- If you don’t like this hotel, then don’t be angry that I brought you there! - there was a pleading in his words.
- Think nothing of it! - said the inspector even more cheerfully.

He waved to the driver, who was already driving away. Then he turned on his heel and, sighing, looked at the building. The first thing that caught Galbraith's eye was the sign hanging above the door - a simple rectangular wooden plate painted white. On it was written in thick red letters "Stait of Snow Lake". A tourist from Portland couldn't help but think that this sign must have been drawn by the hotel owner's child - the letters were so clumsy. Not a good start for today, flashed through his mind.

Galbraith pulled the door towards himself and stepped over the threshold. There was only one person in the cool check-in area - no longer young men in a well-worn frock coat. He stood behind an unassuming-looking counter and looked boredly fingering the playing cards lying in front of him. However, at the sight of Galbraith entering, he immediately abandoned this activity and stood at attention in front of the guest.

- Good morning, and welcome to our hotel! - the receptionist shouted in an incredibly solemn tone and saluted.

Looking at this, the inspector thought that this man had apparently served in the army before - there was some kind of agility in him, which could be an echo of the young years spent on the military parade ground. Unvoluntarily contemplating the receptionist, Galbraith almost forgot about it, that he needs to be given a booking slip. With this thought, the guest put the suitcase on the floor and pulled out his wallet. When the old man in a frock coat took a small piece of paper from Galbraith's hands and unfolded it in his hands, lights seemed to light up in his eyes. He began to study this nondescript piece of paper with such curiosity, what the inspector involuntarily thought, that was indicated there not some dull data about the room and check-in dates, but all of him, Galbraith, is the ins and outs. What was missing, he thought, was for the receptionist to suddenly refuse to let him check in. Fortunately, this did not happen.

- Can I see your documents? - the receptionist looked up Galbraith.

The inspector's heart felt lighter. He gave the man his blue, with gold letters passport. The receptionist took it in his hands. When he opened it, the mischievous lights lit up in his eyes again. The old man in the frock coat opened the first page, and, running his eyes over it, suddenly turned to Galbraith:

- Well, you're like the prodigal son! - he said as if he had made an unexpected discovery.
- I'm embarrassed to ask what? - the inspector said in bewilderment.
- You changed your place of residence to America, but now you have returned to the bosom of your homeland! - the receptionist continued.

Oh, yes, the column "place of birth"... Galbraith began to search for words - he, of course, understood that the hotel receptionist’s words were just a joke, but it seemed to the inspector that it was better to play it safe and explain himself to this man, on whom where he would spend the night in this country would depend.

- You see, I just couldn't find a job in Gloucester in my field, so I decided to move abroad, - Galbraith began to make excuses confusedly.

It wasn't until he said it that it dawned on him how stupid that excuse was - after all, if the interlocutor had decided to inquire about what "field" he could be talking about, then it could bubbled to the surface that Galbraith is actually the inspector of Portland's police, and then incognito would have collapsed. But fortunately for him, the receptionist was satisfied with this answer, and, having returned the passport to the owner, he turned around and began rummaging through the lockers. Galbraith, taking advantage of the fact that the old man turned his back to him, allowed himself to wipe the sweat that had appeared on his forehead from excitement.

- Here, take the room key, - the receptionist turned back.

The inspector accepted a nondescript-looking key with a key fob from his hands. The old man in a frock coat began to say something about the peculiarities of living in their hotel, talked about the cleaning schedule, changing towels and much more, but Galbraith, who felt tired, ignored his words. The only thing he remembered was that since he rented a "Room Only", he would have to eat outside the hotel.

- How much all this jazz cost? - said Galbraith, opening his wallet.

The receptionist, taking out a calculator, told the guest that for one night at the "Stait of Snow Lake" hotel they pay about sixty pounds sterling. Galbraith waited patiently while the old man, who didn't wear glasses, poked at the buttons on the electronic device. In the end, the amount that this little device brought out was about four hundred and fifty pounds sterling. Not bad, the inspector thought, putting a thick stack of bills on the counter. The receptionist took the money with lightning speed and, without even counting it, put it in his pocket. A crazy thought flashed through Galbraith’s head about how much of this money would be spent on the hotel itself, and not on the entertainment of the old man himself.

Then the receptionist came out from behind the counter and beckoned the guest to follow him. As they walked towards the stairs, Galbraith could not help but think that if his patrons from the Portland Police Bureau were aware of life in London, they probably would not have booked him a room in this hotel, which by its very appearance signalled that the person who ended up here needed to be on guard.

- We don't have an elevator, so go upstairs on your own, - the receptionist said unctuously.

The old man in the frock coat pointed towards the stairs with an inviting gesture and, pretending that he did not see Galbraith’s displeased look, returned to the check-in area. The inspector's dissatisfaction was that he, tired after the flight, was not ready to drag his suitcase up the steps. After watching the receptionist go, Galbraith began to go upstairs, reassuring himself that he was, after all, a policeman, not an ox girl. Having reached the fourth floor and taking a breath, he opened the door to his room.

From what was revealed to his gaze, Galbraith was, to put it mildly, not happy - it was enough to look at the shabby bedside table to understand that the administrator clearly did not spend a pound on updating the furniture in the rooms. It only got worse - having taken off his jacket, the inspector was about to put his suitcase on a chair, but imagine his surprise when it turned out that there was not a single representative of this important piece of furniture in the room. Therefore, with annoyance, he had to put the suitcase on the shoe bench. Further more, all the lampshades hanging on the ceiling were covered with such a thick layer of rust that it seemed as if they were exhibit from the Iron Age.

The inspector went to the bathroom, which was combined with a toilet. He noted with dissatisfaction that the walls of the toilet were covered with a red coating. When he wanted to lock the shabby wooden door, he had to be very careful, because the latch almost did not hold and, it seemed, could fall to the floor at any second. Galbraith did his dirty work and, having rinsed himself off, was about to go out, but the door stuck. He fought for almost three minutes with the latch, which seemed to have a mind of its own and did not want to let out the man who had betrayed his homeland for the sake of life in Das gelobte Land.

When the jammed latch finally deigned to make concessions to the human and released the inspector to freedom, Galbraith was already so tired that he did not unpack his things, but immediately went to the bed. Having undressed, he reached under the blanket and noticed with irritation that the sheet was burned by a cigarette, and the duvet cover had a hole. Pulling the blanket over himself, he thought about asking tomorrow for his bed linen to be changed. Be that as it may, the inspector was so tired after the flight that as soon as he closed his eyes, he immediately fell asleep.

In his dream, Galbraith found himself in a room somewhat similar to a hotel in a country cottage - a well-furnished room with many pieces of furniture, of which the carpets on the walls immediately caught his eye, a shelf with antique sabers, a huge wardrobe with books, decorated with stucco a fireplace (in which for some reason there was a crumpled sheet of paper lying around) and one window, curtained so thickly that the only source of light in the room was a small stearine candle standing on the lacquered top of the table, at which Galbraith himself sat on a simple wooden chair. Opposite him he saw mister chief inspector Schaeymoure - who was dressed in a cream-coloured sweater, under which one could see the collar of a white shirt, decorated with a silk tie. He kept his hands under the table, making his whole figure seem stooped, although Schaeymoure was far from a frail man, which slightly confused Galbraith, who looked straight into the interlocutor’s face, but the weak candlelight did not make it possible to properly examine the features of his face.

For some time the two of them sat motionless opposite each other, intently peering into each other's eyes. In the silence that stood in this place, some vague tension was felt, as if each of the interlocutors was about to attack the other, but could not decide. When the quiet became completely unbearable, Galbraith turned his gaze to the wall where hung the antique sabers and daggers - not because he was going to take possession of the weapon, but because he wanted to break this onerous eye contact for a minute. But suddenly, as if noticing this movement of his eyeballs, mister chief inspector gaved his voice, and Galbraith had to look up at his interlocutor again.

- From the height of my life experience, - Schaeymoure began in his usual impartial tone - I see how far you are from the true state of affairs. If you don't mind, I'll share with you some of my thoughts regarding your challenge.

The soft, senile voice of mister chief inspector had a calming effect on Galbraith. For a while, he began to trust him, completely forgetting how suspicious the place where the two of them were at the moment was. The inspector did not object to Schaeymoure's words and, without further questions, accepted his proposal with silent submission.

- The case you are currently investigating, - the interlocutor continued. - Has an unusual purview. The question it poses goes far beyond methodological and legal problems. I believe that the issues involved in this case are in an area that the police most often do not think about, - at these words he paused.

Galbraith, listening to Schaeymoure, only now noticed that the facial muscles of his interlocutor never contracted, despite the stream of words spewed from his lips. Cheeks, cheekbones and lips of mister chief inspector were completely motionless, as if he had not spoken at all. Galbraith tried to look at his eyes in order to understand something, but the darkness in the room hid everything except the trembling pale light of a candle, the light of which allowed him to see only the surface of the table and the jaws of the sitting on the other side man.

- It's about faith, - continued mister chief inspector. - But not the Lord God, as you might think, and a delinquent.

This estimation of Schaeymoure was so inconsistent with the usual worldview of his interlocutor that Galbraith immediately wanted to ask the question that had been on his tongue from the very beginning of their conversation, but as soon as he tried to open his mouth, he suddenly noticed with horror that his tongue seemed to stuck to the sky and he cannot make a sound. Galbraith immediately fell into a panic, not understanding what was happening. And the senile voice continued to be heard from behind the tightly closed lips of mister chief inspector, which gave the impression that it was not a live voice, but a recording on a magnetic tape, played by a invisible in the darkness cassette recorder.

- Doctor Baselard committed a crime, - Schaeymoure continued. - I admit that this is an irrefutable fact. But has the thought ever occurred to you, that he did his deed for your own sake? Just like a whale cannot live in the ocean without plankters, so a policeman cannot exist in a society without a perpetrator.

Galbraith felt uneasy from these words. To the panic that gripped him was added an irrational feeling of shame, as if he was uncomfortable with the fact that, as it turned out, the whole world revolved around his modest person, even if it was a world of cruds and criminals. Looking away from his interlocutor, he suddenly noticed that the curtain hanging in front of the window was sticking out a little forward, as if it was pulled over a large object, the size of a man. With his eyes bulging, Galbraith peered into the curtain for several seconds, and although he was unable to see the exact outlines in the darkness, the thought immediately arose in his head that, in addition to him and mister chief inspector, there was another person in the room, who for the time being did not decide to show himself on the eyes.

- There must exist in the world constabulary and coffins, before whom they are obliged to perform their service, - Schaeymoure's even voice came. - In the crime of doctor Baselard lies your serenity, and in his person - salvation.

As if in response to these words, the curtains moved, and Galbraith saw the silhouette of a short and fat man flash in the darkness. The unknown person immediately stood behind Schaeymoure, and the inspector saw a familiar jacket and trousers, albeit somewhat blurred in the dark - the same ones that doctor Baselard was wearing at the moment when he found him at the entrance. But Galbraith was in no hurry to admit that this strange subject was the doctor, because, apart from the same garments, this man did not give the impression of an old and shabby man; on the contrary, under the clothes one could discern a strong, muscular body, and the stranger’s movements were filled with energy.

- And that's why you'll never catch him, - mister chief inspector continued. - After all, with his capture, your own existence will come to its logical end. And there is no mistake in my words - the whole thing about the young lady who died after doctor Baselard's surgery, is not so much an event of the present as a harbinger of the future. More precisely, it's the omen, - he emphasized the last words.

Galbraith wanted to ask whether mister chief inspector himself understood what exactly is the omen with Delia's death was, but at the same moment the stranger sharply jerked his hand, and Schaeymoure's head separated from his neck. But it could not be called beheading, because decapitation is possible only with a living creature, while in place of the mister chief inspector's neck, instead of an obvious bloody wound, the smooth surface of polished wood glistened. And when the head itself, instead of falling to the floor, began to perform intricate pirouettes in the air, it became clear to Galbraith that the stranger had pulled the lever of the crane, to which the head was attached by a invisible in the darkness nylon line.

However, there was no time to reflect on what was happening - the wooden head of mister chief inspector flew madly across the room, threatening to hit anyone who gets in her way, while a headless mannequin in a Schaeymoure's suit disappeared from the chair with the sound of a timber falling to the floor. Left alone with the stranger still hidden in the darkness, Galbraith could not help but feel a certain timidity and even something like respect in front of him - in any case, for organizing this whole affair with a artificial dummy of a mister chief inspector and a tape recording of his speech. It was completely unclear why, and, most importantly, for whom all this was being done, but Galbraith considered it unnecessary to ask about it - still he could not utter a word, because his tongue did not obey him. Trying to get up from the table, he almost lost his balance and suddenly noticed how a ligneous Schaeymoure's head flew over the table and hit the candle standing on it - at that very second the flame went out, and the room became truly dark...

Waking up the next day, Galbraith was involuntarily taken aback when he saw around him, instead of his native apartment, the unaccustomed interior of a "Stait of Snow Lake" hotel, but this was only a fleeting moment of confusion. Pondering his nightmare, he decided that the phantasmagorical nature of his events was explained by the fact that the human brain, after flying from one continent to another, adapted to new conditions in order to be ready to perceive everything that it would have to face in an essentially unfamiliar country. The first thing Galbraith wanted to do after sleep was to wash himself and brush his teeth. He started to go to the bathroom, but remembering that he had forgotten to take out his toothbrush since yesterday, he went to his suitcase with some annoyance. Having opened it, the inspector squatted down and began rummaging through its contents. The item he was looking for turned out to be at the very depths of the suitcase. Taking out a toothbrush, Galbraith involuntarily drew attention to a stack of white sheets - it was the materials on the case of his friend Pharqraut, which he conducted before his death. Sighing, the policeman took the papers out of his suitcase and, putting them on the desk, went to get himself in order.

After washing himself, Galbraith left the bathroom, wiping his face with a towel as he walked. Looked at the desk again. "Yes", he thought, "I've been putting off reading this document all this time..." He hung the towel on the doorknob and, taking a stack of papers in his hands, stretched out on the bed - because there was nowhere to sit in this hotel room. The Inspector began to read this magnum opus for the first time since its author personally handed it to Galbraith in the office of mister chief inspector Schaeymoure. On the first pages there was a short introduction in which Pharqraut indicated that he was led to the topic of the investigation by the words of the culturologist Japhet Byrnes, friend and colleague of Jordan Thurlow.

The point was that when the inspector interrogated mister Byrnes about his harassment of a certain Delia, daughter of pharmaceutist Yonce, he denied everything, but Pharqraut remembered how, during interrogation, Japhet admitted that that on that fateful day he wrote down a few words from the little girl in his notebook. When the inspector asked for what purposes, mister Byrnes, after a little hesitation, admitted to the policeman that in his opinion, for people who have Greek names, life always turns out in a rather sad way. When Pharqraut asked for an example, Japhet replied that the Inspector would simply need to go through the list of deaths to see that among the dead there were a lot of people with names of Greek origin. After reading these lines, Galbraith could not help but notice that mister Byrnes apparently had the makings of a person working with statistics, and wondered why he, despite everything, decided to choose the profession of culturologist, and not go, for example, to a market research institute, where he could direct his abilities in the right direction.

Galbraith's thoughts returned to Pharqraut, with whom he had studied together at the Portland Police Academy and even shared the same dorm room. Drawing parallels with Jordan Thurlow's colleague, the inspector couldn't help but remember that his own friend's fate was much the same - since childhood, Pharqraut dreamed of becoming a writer, and he became a policeman because he concluded that if he writes some book, and readers say that his work offends some of their feelings, then barely-literate to the end life cannot wash away the shame.

In the context of this, Galbraith recalled an episode from their student life. One Sunday afternoon, Pharqraut, alone with him in his favourite cafe, began to tell his friend about how, while still a student at the University of Portland (where he entered precisely in order to study to be a writer), for the credit he wrote a story based on Oscar Fingal O'Fflahertie Wills Wilde's "The Picture of Dorian Gray". Galbraith still remembered the contents of his friend’s work, although he didn’t even pick it up - but sometimes it happens that a work told out loud sinks into the soul much more powerfully than something read by the person himself. This was the case with Pharqraut's story, which the failed writer gave the somewhat immodest and pretentious name "Dorian Red". In fact, it was a curious reworking of that part of the book where James Vane returns from Australia to England...

Pharqraut, using the same characters of the great Irish playwright, forced them to act according to his plot. According to the plan of the future American inspector, When James Vane disembarks from a ship in an English port, he is immediately recruited into the headquarters of the revolutionaries, who, in order to test sailor's abilities, give him the task of killing Dorian Gray - who, as stated in the original work, had the reputation of a famous hedonist among young people. As in the original, James Vane is accidentally killed by the bullet of Sir Geoffrey Clouston - brother of Duchess Monmouth. But what followed this moment had a rather strange continuation, which was completely inconsistent with the events that took place on the pages of the original work. Death of Sibyl Vane's brother does not get away with Sir Geoffrey Clouston, as it was planned by the classic of English literature. In the reworking of the American student, this, on the contrary, causes a strong reaction among those who recruited James Vane.

As Pharqraut wrote, the workers organize an ambush on the road along which brother of Duchess Monmouth was travelling to his misfortune. The revolutionaries attack Sir Geoffrey Clouston's carriage and, having killed the owner, going to London. This news quickly reaches the English aristocrats, who, realizing that this is a "The Omen of Uprising" from the proletarian class, decide to unleash the entire police force on the rioters. Meanwhile, the ringleaders of the rebellion are already arriving in the metropolis and going to the working-class neighbourhoods, where they call on people to take to the streets and go to the main square. Soon all the labor of London are heading there in an avalanche, simultaneously burning everything in their path with the fire of revolution. Pharqraut ended his story with the fact that Dorian Gray, looking at how the capital was burning in flames, decides that he does not want to die at the hands of the workers and, as in the original work, runs to the attic, where he sticks a knife into the portrait and dies.

Galbraith was then amazed that how his friend even think of finding revolutionary overtones in the novel, which was essentially a hymn to hedonism. Pharqraut responded that the teachers at the University of Portland were also at a loss when he presented them with the manuscript of this story for credit. Only their surprise resulted in the fact that the next day the student was expelled from the alma mater in disgrace under the pretext that his work was propaganda of communism. Pharqraut said that with his story he wanted to convey the idea of when the death of some inconspicuous person - in his case, the unfortunate sailor James Vane - leads to something global. But alas, in the heads of the teachers, as the future inspector bitterly noted, there seemed to be only thoughts about looking for subtext associated with the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics even where it actually does not exist. Galbraith involuntarily remembered that in 1981 (when he actually entered the police academy), the Soviet Union was still a serious threat to the rest of the world, and the feeling that the next day would not come due to a possible nuclear strike sometimes haunted a man in those early days...

The inspector was still lying in bed, his legs thrown over the headboard. Despite the fact that he had intended to read the papers on the Pharqraut's case, he couldn't help but think about their author himself. "Yes", Galbraith thought, "I'm only thirty-one years old, but sclerosis is already progressing..." Suddenly he felt a sharp feeling of hunger. The last time he ate - if a sip of tea can be called a meal - still in America, at Portland International Airport. The policeman, with some reluctance, lowered his feet to the floor and, sitting on the bed, accidentally dropped the sheets of paper on the floor. "I've become a total wreck", he thought to himself again. Galbraith sank to the floor - the papers, which, not being fastened together, scattered in all directions. He began to collect them, but since he did not know their order, he simply took one sheet after another and, having collected them all in one pile, put it on the desk. At the end of this task, he exhaled - it was not very easy for him to climb on the floor for papers - and headed to the window, curtained with tulle curtains. Moving them aside, Galbraith came close to the window sill and began to look at the urban landscape spread out under the window.

He looked at the cars passing on the road. In the morning sun they looked as if they were cast from some shiny material - the inspector couldn't even find words, he was so fascinated by this spectacle. He couldn't understand why this ordinary sight attracted him so much, it was probably because the cars he saw in Portland bore little resemblance to those driving on the streets of London. Looking at the traffic, Galbraith suddenly caught himself thinking that he had involuntarily perceived the street as a toy table, and the figures of cars - for toys that drive at the will of an invisible child who switches the buttons on the radio remote control. Perhaps the reason could be that the policeman had not yet fully woken up, and the movements of the cars, too fast for his sleepy eyes, looked ragged, without the smoothness usual for the real world. He eventually witnessed a truck crash into a red convertible.

- That's it, kid, your car is broken, now you'll have to beg your dad to buy you a new toy, - said Galbraith, as if addressing a child.

The wrong meaning of his own words only dawned on him when the truck cab door suddenly opened and the driver jumped out - Only at this moment did Galbraith come to his senses from his trance and realized that what was in front of his eyes was not a simulation, but the real world, and that a real accident had actually happened below, not game with toy cars. "Yes", Galbraith thought, "I'll develop a God Complex if I treat what's happening around me like that". On the other hand, what does he care about this accident? Yes, he is a servant of law and order, but of a completely different country - in London, he is essentially just an ordinary tourist, who has even fewer rights than any native Englishman.

Galbraith hurriedly moved away from the window - It's one thing when cars are driving peacefully outside, and quite another when a tragedy unfolds on the road - as he remembered, the truck had destroyed almost the entire front part of the convertible, so Galbraith had great doubts that the poor fellow had managed to survive. The inspector got dressed and left the room into the corridor. He remembered that he had booked as Room Only, so willy-nilly he would have to eat in some restaurant. Not a big deal, Galbraith thought as he walked down the stairs - in this "Stait of Snow Lake" hotel he had already seen so many things that went beyond the norm that the mere thought that he would also try local food made him feel disgusted.

Having gone downstairs, he left the hotel and, turning up the collar of his jacket - for, despite the sun, a cold wind was blowing here - he walked forward, not really understanding where the narrow streets of this quarter would lead him. The inspector noted with unpleasant surprise that a walk through the streets of London was a real test for his eardrums. The fact is that Galbraith was used to the fact that there weren't very many cars on the streets of Portland, and therefore the streets there were quite quiet. Here, it seemed, the air was simply filled with noise - and even in the alleys, where no major roads were visible, the sound of cars did not subside. He began to suspect that some kind of turbines were buried under the asphalt, because what else could be the source of the hum - not radiation, after all...

As he wandered through the streets, he couldn't help thinking fondly about his room in that terrible hotel - for at least there he was in quiet. Galbraith was hungry, so he was in no hurry to go back, but after the streets of London the wretched room in the "Stait of Snow Lake" seemed to him in different colours. "I'll come back", he thought, "And will enjoy the silence". Suddenly Galbraith felt small drops begin to fall on him. He looked up and was involuntarily surprised - he did not expect at all that during the time he spent on his morning walk, clouds had already appeared in the sun. "I need some shelter from the rain", the inspector thought, and in connection with this he involuntarily remembered how in Portland he got drunk in a bar to celebrate and then stood like a statue in the pouring rain. No, now getting wet in the rain was absolutely not an option - after all, he was at home there, but here is an unfamiliar country, plus the hotel does not inspire respect...

With these thoughts, Galbraith, not really understanding where his feet were taking him, entered the first door he came across. He managed to see the neon sign - it was written there "Orcinus Orca Osteria". Looking at these thin pink letters, he noticed a lucky coincidence that just when it started to rain, he came across an establishment where he could have a bite to eat. The room where Galbraith went to hide from the rain was twilight. But this did not look like a deliberate stylistic decision by the owner of the osteria - a much more likely explanation for this darkness was the banal laziness of the proprietor to replace long-burnt out light bulbs. The inspector stopped at the threshold to look around. Suddenly the silence was broken by someone's very impudent voice:

- Who is that has come upon us? - clearly, as if in a public speaking course, said a man invisible to Galbraith.

The inspector involuntarily shuddered. He turned his head in the direction where this indiscreet question came from. The source of these words turned out to be some middle-aged man with a beer belly - Galbraith involuntarily winced when he saw his torn jeans and green jacket stained with white paint stains. Fatso lounged on a chair, and, leaning his right hand on the table, brought his free hand to his eyes to adjust his glasses, which, against the background of his fat face, looked frankly odd - like they were on a pig and not a human.

- Somebody turn on the lights! I do not see who is that has come! - the bespectacled boar continued in the same tone.

Galbraith was disgusted to hear this, he had a stupid feeling as if he had stepped onto the podium for this impartial person. He, barely restraining himself from breaking into this impudent guy, approached him and asked:

- Are you enjoying watching me? - he tried to speak as calmly as possible, although inside he was seething with rage.

Instead of answering, the man jumped up from his seat with unexpected agility for such a corpulent.

- Whoa-whoa, take it easy, - Galbraith said calmly, as if giving a command to an animal.
- Hey, have you gone nuts? - the fatso slowly backed away, streams of sweat running down his face.
- Why are you shouting at visitors like crazy? - the inspector asked him, continuing to approach.
- I can do that, I'm the director of this establishment! - the bespectacled boar said bravely.

Galbraith heard footsteps behind him and immediately turned around. Behind him stood a mustachioed, middle-aged, thin waiter, whose eyes darted furtively around. He recoiled involuntarily as the stern-faced policeman stared straight at him.

- Enough of that, stop! - the fatso yelled. - I certainly don't need for you to waste us all!
- Well, you're right, - the inspector readily agreed with him.

Galbraith relaxed and sat down at the table where the director had previously sat.

- What'll it be, sir? - the waiter said in a bleating voice.
- So, what's good here? - Galbraith answered a question with a question.

He immediately did not like the unctuous notes of this old man, whom he was looking at with suspicion at that moment. Instead of answering, the waiter threw a menu on the table - the guest immediately thought that the service here was clearly not so good. But he did not leave the establishment - at the moment his stomach was dominated on his brain. Having opened the menu, the inspector began to carefully study it while the waiter continued to looking over his shoulder.

While Galbraith was running his eyes over the list of dishes, two people entered the room of "Orcinus Orca Osteria" - a man and a woman. The inspector caught them out of the corner of his eye, but, being busy drawing up an order, did not particularly concentrate his attention on them. But he could not help but ignore the fact that both of these guests looked extremely unsightly - they both had messy long hair and their dirty black clothes looked like they were a couple sizes too big. Standing on the threshold, they, like mongrels, began to shake furiously all over their bodies, and drops of rainwater hanging on their clothes flew to the sides.

By that time, Galbraith had already made his choice - he wanted something liquid and also something with meat. In the end, he settled on cream soup of fresh champignons and fettuccine with chicken and tomato. It's not that these were his favourite culinary preferences, he just decided that these were the most high-calorie dishes on the menu of this establishment. Galbraith told the waiter his order, and he nodded slightly and finally moved away from his table. The inspector wanted to breathe a sigh of relief, but then a couple of beggars suddenly made themselves known. They approached the bar, behind which stood the cashier - a man in the prime of his life with red sideburns on his cheeks.

- Gimme proceeds! - said a man with a puffy face and long black hair brazenly.
- You will receive a reward for alms! - bleated his girlfriend, dressed in such a large dress that it seemed as if she was wrapped in a shroud.

Galbraith was disgusted to see this - but he couldn't help but become interested. "After all, there was a time when people looked at freaks", he thought...

- You're so brave, - the cashier smiled. - Come on, get it!

Wherein he made a strange hand gesture, as if he had an invisible wad of bills in his hand. The beggars repeated their request again, only this time the woman flirtatiously twirled her whole body in front of the cashier. "That's the last thing I'm need here", thought Galbraith. He had already begun to regret coming here, but he had to wait for the order, so he had no choice but to sit in the hall of "Orcinus Orca Osteria", where some kind of circus of madmen was happening before his eyes.

- We're having socks! - the beggar maid suddenly shouted high.
- No doubt, but what of that? - the cashier asked her in a flirtatious tone.
- She wants sell sox to you! - the pauper with a puffy face blurted out loudly, as if addressing a dumb kid.

"Well", thought the inspector, looking at this, "Selling clothes under the counter, probably also stolen"... He was curious what next action the cashier with the red sideburns would take. Deep down, he hoped that he would going to knock their out of there..

- Okay, I'm on it. Show me the goods, - said the cashier, scratching his prickly cheek.
- And you gimme leg, your leg! - the beggar maid croaked.
- Wait, what's this for? - asked the cashier, but from his tone it seemed like he didn't really mind.
- She needs to understand what size you are! - the pauper muttered again in an explanatory tone.

While this scene was playing out at the counter, a waiter approached Galbraith. He placed a plate of cream soup of fresh champignons in front of the inspector and, nodding mockingly, left. Galbraith took the spoon and started eating. Not bad, he thought, not a culinary masterpiece, but not some kind of sandwich either.... He ate and continued to watch the circus that was happening not far from his table. Man with red sideburns had already raised his leg straight up on the bar. The pauper told him to take off his shoe, and the cashier completely disappeared behind the counter - apparently, he actually bent down to take off his shoes. "What nonsense", Galbraith thought, having almost finished the soup.

- Here's your second order, - he heard the waiter's voice.

With these words, he placed a new dish in front of the inspector. Galbraith pushed away the now empty bowl of soup and, looking at what they brought him, stared at the waiter, who continued to stand nearby.

- What did you bring me? - the inspector asked sternly, without a hint of a smile.
- Your order, what else? - mumbled the mustachioed man, whose eyes were spinning feverishly in their sockets.
- I ordered the fettuccine with chicken and tomato. And what did you give me? - Galbraith continued without changing his tone.

The plate that stood in front of him contained regular spaghetti, topped with tomato paste. There was no chicken visible there - although who knows, if he picked this dish with a fork, maybe he found a tiny piece of chicken skin at the very bottom...

- Please enter the venue! - the waiter began in a vile, unctuous tone, whose eyes began to spin even faster
- I don't care... - the inspector began, but the waiter did not let him finish.
- The owner's son is now cooking in the kitchen, a wonderful boy, he is studying at culinary college, - the thin man spoke hurriedly, almost drooling.
- ...who makes my food there... - Galbraith tried to get the word out.
- And so I ask you to be merciful to the boy, because this is his first day at work! - it seemed like the waiter was about to fall to his knees.
- I paid you for this, - the inspector pointed his finger at the plate, - About fifty pounds sterling! And I want to get what I ordered, not some sludge by relative of the owner of your establishment! - Galbraith said firmly, glaring at the waiter with a stern look

With these words he stood up from the table and, glancing at the counter - where the cashier showed off to the beggars his leg, covered with mycosis blisters - resolutely moved towards the door. The waiter did not remain in debt, he scurried after Galbraith, like a cowardly jackal after a brave tiger.

- You that, did not like? - the waiter said in a fawning tone.
- YES! - the inspector said loudly and firmly and pulled the door towards him.
- Wait, I get it know! - yelled a man with shifty eyes.

Already standing on the street, Galbraith turned around. He saw how the waiter, loudly stamping his feet, ran deeper into the room. Meanwhile, the cashier with red sideburns was returning the socks to the beggars - apparently, he really tried them on, but they turned out to be the wrong size for him. "God's with them, these poor cruel folk", thought Galbraith, although he was a little interested, what the waiter - who meanwhile had already disappeared into the kitchen - was going to know...

The inspector put his hands in his pockets and, quickening his pace, decided that the dinner was ruined - not so much because of the fettuccine, it was more of a reason to leave the "Orcinus Orca Osteria" - how much from the staff, who behaved very inappropriately, and also because of these beggars... Galbraith wanted to get rid of the disgusting feeling, so he decided to go to a liquor store, which, fortunately for him, turned out to be almost next to this catering establishment - just on the other side of the road.

In this very cramped room, where it was impossible to really walk past the shelves with alcohol, it was not particularly comfortable for him to move around in search of the right bottle. By this time, there was a large line of people at the cash register, and during the entire time that Galbraith was looking for some cheaper drink, not one of these people left the store, which also did not bring any good.. When the inspector finally took the bottle of pink sparkling wine he liked and stood in line, he realized what was going on - the cash register froze after absolutely every item was sold and the cashier had to constantly restart it. Galbraith got tired of waiting, and he, putting the bottle in its original place, left this tiny alcohol market in completely upset feelings.

He returned to the "Stait of Snow Lake" hotel tight and dry. Having climbed the stairs to the fourth floor and entered his room, Galbraith was relieved to take off his jacket, slightly wet from the rain, and went to the bath. Having finished washing, he then went to the bed and, without knowing why, turned the mattress over. This innocent action made him shudder with disgust - underneath him, on the surface of the bed, whole flocks of tiny red bugs swarmed. Without wasting a minute, Galbraith immediately went downstairs and called the concierge. Quite soon a gloomy old man in an old-fashioned blue tailcoat, without a single hair on his head, came out to see him. He looked the inspector up and down.

- The only thing I can suggest to you is to change the room, - the concierge said gloomily, as if thinking about the end of the world.
- Is it really that hard for you to ask me to change my mattress? - Galbraith, tired after the osteria, was not ready for this.
- I'm sorry, but I'm not much help, - the old man said firmly.
- What about bed linen? My sheet is burned by a cigarette, - said the inspector.
- As compensation, I can ask that fresh fruit slices be delivered to your room, - the concierge answered, continuing to stand like a stick of rhubarb.
- All right, I accept that, - Galbraith answered with a hint of despair.
- At the expense of the establishment, of course, - the old man added.

The rules here are strange, Galbraith thought, climbing the stairs to his room, because the bed and some fruit are disproportionate to each other... The inspector couldn't help but think that whoever he met in London during this time, everyone who came across his path seemed to be crazy. "Or it's just me too respectable for this city?" he asked himself as he entered the room. Approaching the bed, he became convinced that it was impossible to sleep on it - the bedbugs he had disturbed were already crawling all over the bed linen. He began to prepare for the fact that he would apparently have to sleep on a shoe bench, which was just long enough for him to lie down on with his legs crossed.

Then the concierge entered the room. He glanced at the tousled bed, did not say a word and, putting a small plate on the table, left. Galbraith came closer - yes, there really were fruits there, but in what quantity. One slice each of apple, pear and orange, and, contrary to the words of the old man in the blue tailcoat, they were far from fresh - the apple and pear darkened, and the orange became weathered in the air. Well, of course, Galbraith thought, taking the plate in his hands, no one was going to feed him - the fruit is just a symbol of the fact that the staff of this hotel is supposedly sensitive to the guests...

The inspector went to the trash bin and sent these fruits there, and, putting the plate on the desk, shuddered - someone had again disturbed him with their visit. Galbraith turned around - it was the scrubwoman, a stout person in a greasy apron, who, having placed a bucket of water on the floor, started wiping the floor with a wet mop. The inspector went to the window so as not to interfere with her cleaning the room. Having nothing else to do, he looked down at the road where the cars were driving. The only sign that an accident occurred in the morning under his window was only a dark spot on the asphalt. Galbraith thought that if so much blood had flowed out, then that poor guy in the convertible had definitely went to the forefathers...

Continuing to look at the road, he heard the creaking of the bathroom door - well, finally, he thought, they would deign to clean the plaque in the toilet... But that was not the case - the scrubwoman left there without spending even a minute there. Galbraith hoped that she at least put new toilet paper there. With these thoughts, he took his eyes off the road and looked at the scrubwoman, who, gloomily looking ahead, was diligently spreading liquid dirt on the floor. Feeling the guest's stern gaze on her, she straightened her back and, squeezing out the mop, swept away the trash in the corners.

- What a service... - Galbraith involuntarily burst out when the woman, having taken the bucket, was already leaving him.

The scrubwoman, hearing his voice, jerked her whole body so hard that a couple of drops of dirty water from her bucket splashed onto the door. She threw a frightened look at him and immediately disappeared into the corridor, forgetting about closing the door.

- Oh yes, parsimony doesn't serve, - the inspector said out loud.

Galbraith closed the door behind the scrubwoman and, sighing, looked at the floor - it did not become cleaner; on the contrary, ugly black wet stains appeared on the linoleum. He approached the bed, where small red insects were swarming with might and main on the blanket, pillow and sheet, because of which this piece of furniture looked as if it had been eaten away by rust, and this rust was alive and was constantly changing its pattern. Standing by the bed and contemplating this mess in a kind of trance, Galbraith breathed slowly and deeply, and the tips of his fingers twitched slightly from the indignation reigning inside.

At another time, the inspector would have happily left not only this room, but the hotel in general, but now he was in a state where he had no choice. Tired after an unpleasant incident in the "Orcinus Orca Osteria", both mentally and physically, he dreamed of only one thing - to give his body a horizontal position. Therefore, Galbraith, taking a stack of papers with material on the Pharqraut's case from the desk, kicked off his shoes and collapsed on the bed infested with bugs. The next moment he felt how these parasites clung to his legs and arms, but he no longer cared.

- Magistratus oportet servire populo, - he said quietly out loud with detachment.

He remembered this Latin proverb - because it was precisely what was written on the very agitational banner under which the messenger sat, brought him the news about death of the last scion of the Yonce family. The meaning of this expression seemed appropriate to the inspector in the situation in which he found himself - if only because, having drawn himself into this mysterious matter, he, willy-nilly, was obliged to serve this very people, if only out of a sense of elementary conscience. Galbraith involuntarily remembered the kind-hearted Matt MacLaren, whose exciting story set this whirlpool of events in motion. How he is doing there now? How were things going with his friends in Portland now, while Galbraith, was hanging around here, unsuccessfully trying to find traces of doctor Baselard, who, as he knew, had left for England after that fateful surgery? "To England, on affairs" - these words were forever etched in the inspector’s memory when he came to the apartment of this child murderer...

He remembered that he went to bed precisely in order to continue reading the file of his now deceased friend. Galbraith involuntarily felt pity - no, not Galbraith, although that would be logical - the inspector regretted that there was not a single chair in this room. He brought the stack of sheets to his eyes and, trying to understand where he stopped last time, got ready to read this magnum opus. As a result, he began from the moment when the author of this investigation went to the scene of the death of janitor Theodore Beckel. Trying to keep the entire document in an official tone, Pharqraut, sparing with expressions, dryly wrote that at the pedestrian crossing where the body was found, he was unable to find anything that could arouse suspicion - the only thing is that the paint that was used for the marked crosswalk has worn off over time.

For a moment Galbraith resurrected in his head the appearance of urban roads in Portland. "Yes, this is not London", he thought... He went back to reading. The document stated that when Pharqraut, not finding anything on the road, went into a public toilet located opposite the shopping center - out of necessity, of course - then there he noticed that in the booth he entered, the Arabic numeral Four was written on the wall. As the author of the investigation wrote, he would not have mentioned this moment if not for several curious details. Firstly, Pharqraut began to list, an unknown vandal was wielding a black Alkyd car enamel - although inscriptions of this kind are usually drawn with ordinary markers.

Secondly, Galbraith's friend noticed that the numeral was written not once, but four times - and a glance at the inscription was enough to understand that the vandal was applying paint with sweeping movements, as if trying to bring it to the entire wall, but in the end the paint apparently ran out, so he repeated only four times and not five or more. In addition, Pharqraut, out of the blue, felt obliged to write in an official document his thought that it was somehow strange to him that the owner of the toilet did not get rid of the inscription - he could understand, if the toilet was somewhere in the wilderness, but no, this place is used by people leaving the shopping center.

Having read this ode to a public toilet, Galbraith involuntarily thought that his friend did the right thing in not becoming a writer - with this style, his books could of course be bought by inertia - simply because a new author has appeared on the market - but then his works would be avoided, because readers would already know that the language of this writer is boring and difficult to understand. Galbraith took the next sheet of paper, which described the inspection of the place where the janitor's body lay, how the police took measurements with tape measures and Pharqraut gave them instructions. "Hmm", Galbraith thought, "It seems to me, or did the author of the document mix up the moments?" After all, when the inspector reported about the toilet, he wrote that he entered it AFTER he examined the dead Theodore Beckel...

Yawning, the inspector simply decided to skip this rather boring passage and changed the page again. Now Pharqraut wrote about the investigation into the death of Penelope Conway, the saleswoman in certain duty-free shop. Unlike Theodore Beckel, where apart from the inscription in the toilet there was nothing interesting to read, the description of Conway’s apartment involuntarily attracted Galbraith, if only because Pharqraut wrote this excerpt in a slightly more lively language. His friend noted that as soon as he entered the saleswoman’s apartment, he immediately drew attention to the mirror hanging in the hallway - the fact was that the glass was covered with a white chintz covering. Pharqraut wrote that he asked the deceased's aunt if it was her doing, to which the woman replied that she did not touch anything in the apartment and the mirror was covered even when she herself had just arrived at her niece’s apartment. Galbraith's friend, who apparently thought that the readers would not understand his bewilderment, began to justify his suspicions by saying that a mirror is usually curtained when a person has already died, because there is a belief according to which the spirit of the owner, who has already departed to another world, wanders around the apartment.

- Witless mystical nonsense, - muttered Galbraith, scratching his incredibly itchy leg from bedbugs.

Still, the medic Maurice was right that day when he said "You're talking about your supernatural rubbish again!", meaning the circumstance that Pharqraut found meaning in things that in the world of materialism have absolutely no meaning.

- A law enforcement officer shouldn't believe in miracles, - Galbraith said involuntarily, taking his eyes off the letters and staring at the ceiling.

He always said this to himself when he encountered something that he could not explain in simple words. It just seemed to him that the world obeys physical laws, and any, even the strangest phenomenon, must be approached from the position of a physicist, not a poet. Another thing is that the inspector himself did not have extensive knowledge of either one or the other - being essentially a simple man in the street who, by the will of fate, became a policeman, Galbraith understood that he should not even delve into these things, but his profession, which is conducive to the construction of hypotheses, forced his brain to work in a direction in which he would never have gone in everyday life.

"Oh", he thought to himself, "Why was I so driven to become a police inspector at one time?". After all, he could sit in the studio and paint paintings to order, but no, he has to get his hands dirty in the blood of criminal cases... Having pushed away these rhetorical thoughts, he returned to the document. His friend wrote that if we take words of Penelope Conway's aunt at face value, it turns out that the mirror was actually curtained before the relative entered the apartment. The author of these lines wondered - it turns out that the unknown killer did this on purpose? Pharqraut further hypothesized that perhaps it could have been a strange gesture of respect for the deceased and thought - not without reason - that the killer could have been a person who was not indifferent to the deceased saleswoman.

- Murder out of jealousy, - Galbraith said thoughtfully after reading this.

He involuntarily thought that he himself was driven by this feeling. Only the inspector could not fully understand who he was jealous of and, most importantly, to whom... He continued reading. While inspecting Conway's apartment, inspector Pharqraut noted the fact that only one shelf was occupied in her bookcase, and there was essentially only one book "Mythology: Timeless Tales of Gods and Heroes", the author of which was a certain Edith Hamilton. Friend of Galbraith was quite surprised by the fact that an entire shelf was occupied by twenty copies of this very book alone, and even the edition was the same. The inspector again wondered on the pages of his material - maybe the saleswoman bought the books to give them to friends? But why then was there no other book in her apartment, not even a cookbook? The late Penelope Conway didn't like to read, or she collected all the books that were in the closet before, to sell them and use the proceeds to buy twenty copies of just one book about Greek myths? Having asked these questions to the readers, the author then noted that in the remaining empty space on the bottom shelf, five more books with the same number of pages could fit.

- I wonder how he checked it, - thought Galbraith.

He understood that the profession of a police inspector requires a certain way of thinking from a person, but it was difficult for him to imagine his friend wasting his time on such a stupid task as moving books from one place to another. Galbraith involuntarily remembered how, even before the death of the pharmaceutist's young daughter, he was visiting mister chief inspector, drinking Pimm's with him. In the tone of a professor speaking about a favorite student, Schaeymoure praised Pharqraut's ability to pay attention to things that would seem completely meaningless to another person. Then, pouring myself a glass of English fruit liqueur, Galbraith thought that mister chief inspector had always dreamed of sitting down at the same table with Pharqraut and writing a joint material on a topic that interested both of them. It's just that something didn't allow him to do it. Galbraith suggested that the problem was, firstly, that Schaeymoure was busy, and secondly, that such behavior simply somehow did not fit into the relationship between master and servant.

He suddenly woke up and remembered that it was time to finish reading - if only because angry bugs were already crawling on his skin with might and main. Therefore, then Galbraith simply skimmed the text with his eyes, without really trying to delve into the essence. Now the document contained a description that in addition to identical sets of white dresses, in the deceased’s wardrobe at the very bottom there was a box in which lay - the inspector's friend then listed the items - a leather collar with spikes, a tape for tying hands, a tickler and gag. Further, Pharqraut wondered whether the deceased had a boyfriend, because, as he wrote, he was confused by the fact that miss Faye had always had a reserved character and, as far as the inspector himself could judge, she had never really fallen in love.

- Wait, who is miss Faye? - Galbraith exclaimed in bewilderment.

A second later it dawned on him that this piece of text did not agree with what had been written earlier. He ran his eyes over the paper - the names of the pimpf Alexander O'Brent and Eugene Woods - his killer, were already there. It turns out that when Galbraith dropped this stack of sheets, he collected them without any system, which is why it was now almost impossible to read the case of his late friend - because without observing chronology, the connection between hypotheses and facts was lost.

- What could it be, great reading, - Galbraith sighed and threw the stack of papers up in grief.

Materials of Pharqraut's case fell to the floor again, like leaves in autumn - only these were strange leaves, not yellow and red, but white and with black lines of letters. The inspector felt as if he had been deceived. "Well, of course", he thought, "I'm himself made a mistake, and himself is reaping its fruits..." Here he completely out of place remembered that in Pharqraut he was always surprised by the fact that when asked if he had a girlfriend, his friend answered that this did not apply to his person, because he adheres to the idea that fate itself measures, who will continue their family line, and who will die without offspring.

- Very strong word, - Galbraith said loudly and clearly, feeling his skin burning because of the insects.

After Galbraith commented out loud on the expression of his late friend that randomly came to mind, he, trying not to go crazy from the bites of annoying bedbugs, took off his outer clothing and crawled under the blanket. Red insects began to creep even more viciously over his body - they crawled under his armpits, clung to his chest and legs, and the most arrogant parasites tried to get into the inside of his ears and nostrils. Perhaps there was an additional effect of the fact that in the darkness he could not see their exact number, but, one way or another, the discomfort gradually increased, and soon the inspector woke up in the middle of the night.

- I have had enough! - he shouted into the void.

As he was barefoot, Galbraith walked to the wall switch and extended his hand forward. His index finger touched the white plastic snap. There was a barely audible click, and the room immediately became bright. He looked down and looked at his legs - the bedbugs hung on his skin like ants clinging to a twig. Oh, he thought, if he had not accidentally turned over the mattress, then probably the insects would not have come out... Walking into the bathroom, he turned on the shower and stood under its cold streams. Trying to wash away the vile insects, Galbraith in his thoughts returned to Portland. At first I just remembered how good it was for him there, how he could sleep peacefully in his small apartment without fighting bedbugs. Then, when he was able to get rid of most of the parasites, he sat down on the edge of the bath, focusing on the moment when he finally decided that he needed to leave for this very London.

Nothing particularly unusual happened at that time - Galbraith was just walking to his home after a tiring day at work. That evening there was a chilly wind blowing, so he didn't want to linger outside too long and walked at an accelerated pace. By the time he reached Abbouts st., dusk had already fallen on the street. Approaching house E-14, the inspector put his hand into his jacket pocket - he always pulled out his keys in advance - and raised his head up. What he saw made him shake off a touch of melancholy - the window of his apartment was brightly lit. Galbraith remembered very well that he had not turned on the light in the room since the previous evening, so there could be no doubt that someone else had gotten into his apartment. The inspector's heart began to beat wildly, and he, groping for his small but trusty service pistol in his inner pocket, feverishly ran into the entrance of the house.

Luckily for him, he didn't run into any neighbours inside, so he could safely take out his weapon without fear that anyone would notice. Galbraith ran up the steps to the second floor with a loud stomp, and, holding the weapon with his left hand, inserted the key into the keyhole. His hands were wet with sweat, his fingers were shaking as if in a fever - such was the power of fear that gripped the police inspector at that second. Finally, he was able to get the key into the well. Leaning with his whole body, Galbraith turned it - in the process, the metal of the key almost bent. The door creaked quietly, and Galbraith, with his pistol at the ready, crossed the threshold with the agility of a wild animal in one fell swoop.

- Good evening, mister inspector. I'm glad you finally came, - suddenly a completely calm senile voice was heard.

He expected to see anyone in his apartment - bandits, gangsters, crazy clowns in the end... But what was his surprise when it turned out that sitting on the chair standing by the window was none other than mister chief inspector himself!

- You are not a movie, Galbraith, - Schaeymoure said tranquilly, albeit with some reproach.

Indeed, the scene looked incredibly stupid - apartment owner stood opposite his guest, pointing the barrel of a gun at him. Galbraith immediately felt uneasy.

- I find myself begging your pardon, - he said embarrassedly, slowly lowering his service pistol.
- Please, be seated. I needed to speak with you, - imperturbably Schaeymoure said.

Apparently, Galbraith thought, mister chief inspector has no fear of death at all, if he didn't even raise an eyebrow at this prank with the pistol. Putting the weapon in the inside pocket of his jacket, he looked up at guest.

- Well, you know, I'm not going to sit... - he said quietly
- You are nervous and that's your business, - Schaeymoure said. - But keep in mind that in this case you will have to stand for a long time.
- I'm not some soft-handed for whom standing for a couple of hours is already a burden, - Galbraith answered with a hint of resentment.

These words brought a hint of a smile to the face of mister chief inspector Schaeymoure. The old man seemed to enjoy watching the excited man who was twenty years his junior.

- I have to say, I like your way of expressing your opinion, - the smile was replaced by calm again. - But I didn't come to you to admire your confusion.

Well, of course, Galbraith thought sarcastically to himself, mister chief inspector quietly snuck in his subordinate's apartment, and he thinks that the owner of the apartment will find this as ordinary as a morning meal...

- The essential point is, I want to give you a message... - began his guest.

With these words, Schaeymoure reached out and took a white pack of cigarettes from the table. The apartment owner hurried to approach mister chief inspector in order to obligingly light his cigarette, but he silently dismissed him with a gesture and lit it himself with his lighter.

- So, Galbraith, - taking a drag, he said. - I understand your attitude towards her, so I will not ask you why you decided not to tell me about your schedules.

"What does he mean?" Galbraith thought. Who is this "she" with whom, according to the old man, he himself feels some kind of special relationship?

- That is why, - Schaeymoure continued. - I didn't ask you to share your suspicions with me.
- In relation to whom? - Galbraith involuntarily burst out.
- Doctor Baselard, who else would it be? - answered mister chief inspector and blew out a cloud of smoke.

Galbraith involuntarily admired what a neat ring his honourable guest had made. Yes, he thought, the skill to smoke is also an art...

- Why did you decide that I suspect him? - he asked Schaeymoure with irony in his voice.
- Because I, as a man who was closely acquainted with him, was well aware of the fact that his person could not but arouse suspicion, especially in a subject with such a turn of mind as yours.

The owner of the apartment involuntarily widened his eyes when his guest unloaded this expatiation on him. "How", he thought, "Could mister chief inspector really have a connection with that doctor?". It didn't fit in his head.

- Are you all right? - Schaeymoure asked, looking at his interlocutor's embarrassment.
- Forgive me, - Galbraith woke up from shock and lowered his eyes.
- I understand that this surprises you, - the guest answered calmly. - Isso Que é Vida, - he said suddenly.

Galbraith could not understand the meaning of the last three words of his interlocutor, but could not help but restrain himself from losing his temper and unleashing a stream of words on mister chief inspector.

- Surprises? Is that what you call it? - trying not to raise his voice, he slightly clenched his fists. - Do you really think that I can put up with the fact that this damnable doctor, - Galbraith did not try to choose expressions. - Not only does he not displease you, but it turns out that he is also your friend?!

Having blurted this out, the inspector felt his temperature rise. He raised his right hand to his hair to wipe away the sweat that had formed on his forehead, but the next second something fell to the floor. He bent down - it turned out that he had forgotten that he had been holding a lighter in it all this time, wanting to light the cigarette of his uninvited guest.

- You look amazing in anger, - Schaeymoure said unexpectedly.

Galbraith, who had already picked up the lighter, froze in one position again. He did not expect that his interlocutor would not only not be offended by his behavior, but, on the contrary, would praise this fleeting, uncontrollable outburst of wrath.

- You are motivated by fury, - his interlocutor continued. - And I understand this - the person of that subject can evoke only two reactions - either admiration for his intellect, or sharp hatred of his nature.
- I don't understand you, - Galbraith admitted honestly
- Doctor Baselard is very complicated man, - Schaeymoure said briefly.

"It's understatement", thought the owner of the apartment. He got the feeling that Schaeymoure was trying to show the good side of this man.

- I understand that you now think that I am whitewashing him, - as if reading the thoughts of the interlocutor, Schaeymoure said. - But I really didn't mean it that way.
- Maybe you think that I suspect you yourself? - Galbraith could not resist.
- Por que não? - the guest answered in an incomprehensible language. - In the situation in which you find yourself, there is nothing left to do but suspect each and every one.

Having said this, mister chief inspector rose from his chair. The owner of the apartment simply stood still and watched, almost in divine awe, as Schaeymoure put a cigarette in the ashtray and, straightening his tie, looked out the window. Galbraith followed his gaze - night had already fallen.

- I will allow myself express aloud what I think might have occurred to you, - his guest turned away from the window and crossed his arms over his chest.
- So what will you say? - for some reason this gesture of his interlocutor amused Galbraith.
- The fact that in your head no-no, but thoughts flashed about the fact that wrongdoer Jordan Thurlow and his victim Delia Yonce are of the same blood.
- How... - at these words, Galbraith's jaw began to drop.
- How should I know? - Schaeymoure guessed what he wanted to say. - The fact of the matter, out of nowhere. I said it at random, - he answered calmly.

"Now others will begin to mistrust me too", thought Galbraith. He sighed and, raising his eyes to the ceiling, began to stretch his cervical vertebrae.

- Not to mention... - mister chief inspector suddenly said. - I don't think you'll be interested in knowing this...

Hearing this, apartment owner immediately perked up and looked at his guest.

- These are affairs of bygone days, but still I think that Baselard took Duncan's life out of mercy.
- Are you talking about brain surgery? - Galbraith remembered perfectly well who his interlocutor was talking about now.
- Right. It just seems to me that Baselard decided to meet the poor guy halfway. The woodcutter's death was not an accident - the doctor knew from the very beginning that brain surgery would end in death, and realizing that Duncan still could no longer live normally in condition like that...
- Are you saying that doctor Baselard killed Duncan with his tacit consent? - a sudden insight dawned on the middle-aged inspector.
- You can interpret my words as you please, - Schaeymoure said instead of answering.

Mister chief inspector, taking his hat off the back of his chair, headed towards the exit from the apartment. Galbraith slowly, as if afraid to step on his feet, trotted after the departing guest. Schaeymoure, already grabbing the handle of the front door, turned to the owner.

- I can tell you one thing for sure, doctor Baselard is not the bloodthirsty killer you think he is, - he said dryly.
- Hmm... - Hearing these words, Galbraith unexpectedly lowered his gaze.
- Have a good night, - already from the entryway the voice of mister chief inspector was heard.

At this moment, Galbraith suddenly woke up from his memories. He looked around, as if not understanding where he was. Whatever it was, he told himself, Portland was a thing of the past, and now he was sitting in the bathroom of a shabby London hotel room. He looked at his feet - so far there was not a single bug on his skin.

- Well, soon they will surround me again... - said the inspector with a sigh.

Coming out of the bathroom, he, shaking from the cold, dived under the blanket, completely forgetting that he needed to turn off the light in the room. Galbraith was so tired after the cold bath that as soon as he closed his eyes, he immediately fell asleep. The inspector slept peacefully, without dreams.

Waking up the next day, Galbraith noted with great displeasure that while he was sleeping, bedbugs again covered him from head to toe. There is nothing to do, he thought, and ran to the bathroom. Not so much for the sake of washing, but for the sake of getting rid of parasites under running water. After rinsing off, the inspector did not brush his teeth; he even forgot to dry himself with a towel. Approaching the window, he looked at the road and froze, but this time not because he was fascinated by the sight of the cars - the fact was that right under his window sill on the sidewalk below stood a certain young guy in a red shirt. Galbraith immediately suspected something was wrong - it seemed to him that this person had been standing there for some time, and clearly in such a convenient place to monitor the room where the inspector himself was now staying.

Standing by the window, Galbraith looked down at the young guy. He could not see his face, which was hidden behind the wide-open newspaper. Yeah, the inspector thought, the guy is pretending that he just stopped to read an interesting note, the most commonplace spy trick. Suddenly, as he was thinking about this, the mysterious stranger lowered the newspaper, and Galbraith was able to examine he a little more carefully. The scout - Galbraith had no doubt that this was not a random passer-by - had long black hair that curled slightly into curls at the ends. This guy's nose was slightly turned up, and his facial features gave him a vague resemblance to the pretty face of young Japanese popstars. After analyzing all this, the inspector remembered that he had seen exactly the same face on the plane when he was flying to London. It seems that it was exactly the same frail guy with whom he was sitting then with the old man... Galbraith unfortunately forgot what that fellow traveller was wearing, but it didn’t matter - after all, is not the clothes that makes the man, and the man's clothes - who, if not the policeman, should know this!

Having made sure that this guy had not noticed him from the street, Galbraith walked away from the window and headed back to the bathroom. Now he washed himself properly, not forgetting to brush his teeth. Then he picked up a razor - he wanted to shave. Alas, the inspector abandoned this case for the umpteenth time because, without calculating the effort, he rubbed too hard on the cheek and ended up cutting the skin. The blood flowed in a thin and seemingly endless red stream... "Yes, apparently it’s not my destiny to shave", thought Galbraith, leaving the bathroom - he needed to find cotton wool and alcohol to stop the bleeding. He found neither one nor the other in the suitcase. And he even remembered why - when he was packing for the trip, he was told that he should never take alcohol with him, otherwise he might be stopped at customs.

Galbraith called the concierge to the room and, while he was waiting for him to arrive, went to the bathroom again and put his cheek under the stream of water. He knew it wouldn't do much good, but at least the cold water dulled the pain somewhat. Soon there was a knock on the door and the inspector went to open it. However, instead of the concierge - an old man in a blue tailcoat - a young parlourmaid answered his call.

- I'm sorry, mister Galbraith, - she began hastily right from the doorway. - But mister Tibor won't be able to come today.

Having quickly uttered these words, she immediately fell silent, and at the same time shuddered, as if someone had pulled her from behind. The inspector tried not to pay too much attention to it.

- Why? - Galbraith asked out of politeness.
- He was taken to the hospital last night, - said the woman and shuddered all over again.
- Are you will continue to say with one word at a time? - the inspector said somewhat dissatisfied.

This twitch of the interlocutress was already starting to get on Galbraith’s nerves. What was the reason for the parlourmaid’s state of mind was unclear to him, but the fact remained that she behaved somehow strangely, which is why he himself had a not very pleasant feeling at that moment.

- Mister Tibor was diagnosed with cancer symptoms... I do not want to elaborate on this, - the parlourmaid said this in a tone that looked like she was about to cry.
- Okay, let's not talk about it, - the inspector reassured her.

The woman continued to stand on the threshold, and Galbraith noticed that at the moments when she spoke, her neck visibly inflated, like a bellows. There must be something wrong with her lungs, he thought to himself.

- Could you bring some cotton wool to my room? - he turned to her after five seconds of silence.
- Sorry, please speak clearly, - the woman batted her eyelashes.
- I called a man here to bring me cotton wool. I cut myself, - Galbraith said it loud and clear.

The parlourmaid listened to him, continuing to bat her eyelashes like a noctambulant. With every second her neck inflated more and more, as if it were a balloon that was about to burst. Galbraith wondered why she had such strange behavior...

- Cut yourself further! - the woman suddenly shouted rudely.
- Excuse me, do you mind? - Galbraith, surprised by her sudden outburst of aggression, tried to control himself.
- This is not a pharmacy to be dragged all sorts of medicinal muck for you! - the parlourmaid shouted with hatred and left his room.
- Wait, where are you going?? - the inspector called after her.
- Do not address me for such things! - came her scream from the corridor.

Closing the door behind her, Galbraith thought that apparently this parlourmaid was either a child or concubine of the concierge - the inspector couldn’t find another reason for her aggression, and he didn’t really want to - he had long ago realized that guests are not welcome in "Stait of Snow Lake" hotel. He had to take a handkerchief from his suitcase instead of cotton wool - not the cleanest, but at least something - and with its help try to do something about the cut. Having stopped the bleeding in half with grief, Galbraith decided that he had enough of sitting in this room, in which the bed was a complete anthill, the staff was inadequate, and the interior is far from luxury class. The inspector began to pack his things, but when he began to look for where he had put his spare shirt, there was another knock on the door, and he again had to go open it.

- Mister Galbraith, you've got a visitor, - it was still the same parlourmaid, only now she seemed to have calmed down.
- Who, excuse me? - asked Galbraith.
- Not a young men, - as if doubting the accuracy of her words, the woman answered.
- He can wait, - the inspector was not in the mood to host any unknown men in his room.
- He said he was on important business! - the parlourmaid said firmly.
- Well, let him come in, - Galbraith waved his hand and walked away from the door.

He walked to the window and looked down. The guy in the red shirt was no longer there - maybe it really was a random passerby...

- Good afternoon! - someone's insinuating voice called out to him.

Galbraith turned around - a middle-aged men entered the room - not as old as the parlourmaid presented the visitor, although with silver hair. Apparently, the suddenness with which the owner of the room turned around scared this men a little, because he backed away slightly when the inspector stared at him. "Hmm, he looks like a medic", Galbraith thought, looking at this uninvited visitor, dressed in a strict brown suit, over which was thrown a white medical gown.

- So I understand that you are a doctor? - the inspector expressed his guess out loud.
- No, you made a mistake, - the men answered with some sly gleam in his eyes. - I work in the field which holds the key to the future.
- And which one exactly? - Galbraith was intrigued by this definition.
- Computer technologies, - the interlocutor answered calmly.

After these words, the silver-haired men modestly lowered his eyes, but it was clear that in fact he was almost bursting with importance. "So that's the way it is", thought the inspector. Looking at this men, a memory involuntarily came to his mind of how back in 1981, when he first saw a used Tandy microcomputer at the police academy, he got into an argument with its operator. That cheerful guy, sitting at the keyboard, told Galbraith, who was standing next to him, that the computer is a product of evolution, comparable to the invention of the steam engine. Without skimping on expressions, the operator said that mass computerization is the future of humanity, which will lead it out of the swamp of ignorance.

Galbraith himself responded to this expatiation by saying that he certainly understands that soon computers will be used in all areas of life, but computerization is inherently a a bilge pump, after all, a simple strike of power plant workers all over the Earth is enough for all electronics - including computers - to turn into a pile of useless scrap metal, and with this a terrible crisis will begin. And Galbraith did not fail to cite libraries as an example - in his opinion, if knowledge is only in electronic form, then with the loss of electricity, civilization will return to a state close to the Stone Age.

When he said this, the computer operator yelled that he was a pessimist, and also, apparently, a spy sent by the Communists. "Yes", Galbraith thought, "Something similar was said to Pharqraut at the University of Portland, only unlike him, I was not kicked out because of this conversation..." The inspector looked up from his memories and turned to his visitor.

- Well, if you work in the field of the future, then I'm certainly very happy... - he started.
- Well, how could it be otherwise! - the silver-haired men interrupted him.
- Wait, I didn't finish, - Galbraith said. - I wanted to ask how you found out about me.

At these words his visitor pulled out a small white card from his pocket and, holding it in his left hand, said:

- I'm a specialist from the "Makoto Computerization Institute" and we are looking for volunteers... - he began to speak.
- What other volunteers? Did I write somewhere that I want... - the inspector interrupted him with growing dissatisfaction.
- Now it's your turn to listen to me! - raising his voice, the silver-haired men flashed his eyes.
- Okay, I get the message, - Galbraith exhaled noisily.
- We need volunteers so that from the point of view of a common person we can evaluate the computer's dreams, - the specialist said with some pathos.
- The computer's dreams? - the inspector repeated the last words of his interlocutor in amazement.
- It's a long story, you better come to us right away, and we'll all... - the silver-haired men didn't finish speaking.

Interrupting the phrase mid-sentence, the specialist put the card he had been holding in his hands on the nightstand.

- See you! - he said cheerfully, heading towards the exit of the room.

After two seconds Galbraith went to the nightstand and picked up a piece of white glossy cardboard. This business card had only two lines - the name of the institution the visitor was talking about, as well as the address. Galbraith, peering at the small letters, suddenly heard the visitor slam the door, and almost uttered the exclamation "Hey wait, stop!". Having put the card back, the inspector ran to the door and opened it, but there was no one in the corridor. Okay, Galbraith thought, what's the point of chasing after this stranger because that he forgot to ask him how he knew about his modest person. Closing the door, the inspector glanced at the nightstand and returned to the bed. Not wanting to be covered in bedbugs again, he simply sat down on the blanket and stared straight ahead.

Galbraith's head was now in complete chaos. From the very beginning of this whole story with doctor Baselard, the inspector’s nerves were already beginning to fray, but now, being in a foreign country, in the room of this terrible hotel, Galbraith’s paranoia began to progress. He immediately began to suspect that this visitor, who introduced himself as a computer specialist, was affiliated with that gynecological surgeon. Galbraith was well aware that his own visit to the doctor, which took place back in Portland, undoubtedly made Baselard confident that the police had already arranged surveillance on him and therefore would not miss the opportunity to send a policeman after him. Therefore, after leaving America, doctor Baselard apparently warned his friends in London in advance so that they would monitor the people who would look for him. "This hypothesis has the right to life", Galbraith thought.

Thinking about America, the inspector could not help but remember that it was rather strange that none of the Portland Police Bureau people cared about the escaped doctor. All the police did was to arrest Baselard's assistants who were present during the hysterectomy operation. They were interrogated, and after recording their words, and no further action was taken. And only Galbraith insisted that one should not turn a blind eye to this - a couple of days after the case of Delia's death was closed, he volunteered to catch the instigator of this incident. The police looked at him as an idiot who decided to chase a ghost.

Galbraith was told that his idea of ​​catching Baselard did not make sense, because the death of daughter of certain pharmaceutist was not an event for which it was worth catching a person who had already moved to another country. The inspector was told by his superiors that the Portland police saw no point in asking the Metropolitan Police Service to hand over a some surgeon to them. It was incredibly lucky, Galbraith thought, that someone did apply, and soon he was issued a visa, bought a plane ticket and booked a room in the very hotel where he was now sitting. It is possible that this patron, who wished to remain anonymous, was mister chief inspector Schaeymoure himself, but Galbraith did not have time to particularly understand who helped him and with what thoughts, because at that time he was already packing his things to fly to England.

Due to the overwhelming emotions and impressions, it was difficult for the inspector to put his thoughts in order. Galbraith returned to today's guest. This silver-haired man clearly knew him by sight, this specialist was well aware that he would be staying in this room of "Stait of Snow Lake" hotel... Who it might have been? Galbraith began to think that his today's visitor was probably Baselard's assistant, perhaps even his closest disciple. Apparently, he received Baselard when he arrived in London, and, having learned from the doctor the signs of Galbraith, in some incomprehensible way he tracked down the inspector and paid him a visit, just to see, to make sure that his master was being hunted...

- Don't be in such a hurry, - Galbraith said quietly to himself. - Need to calm down...

Sitting on the bed, he felt as if the world around him was spinning at a frantic pace cante flamenco. What made matters worse was the fact that even without going to bed, the bugs still took the opportunity to stick around a person. Feeling a disgusting itch all over his skin, Galbraith got up and went to the window, hoping that the parasites wouldn’t get him here. Looking at the already tired landscape of the road, he began to remember what he knew about Baselard’s assistants. As he remembered, there were only two of them - a man named Norman Van Riesen and a woman named Caetlynn Armour.

At first they interrogated the female, because she easily made contact with the police - it seemed that she herself was going towards the investigation. In addition to facts of little interest to Galbraith about how she gave Baselard instruments and other medical supplies, she also told an interesting detail - It turns out that the doctor, before starting to operate on Delia Yonce, publicly stated that after the operation he would need to urgently fly to England, because he was not sure that the girl was unlikely to be able to recover after the removal of an important internal organ. When Caetlynn Armour was asked if she remembered whether doctor Baselard specified the city to which he was going, she said that he limited himself to only a general definition of the country.

Then Galbraith recalled how the second assistant, a male, was interrogated. The police interrogating him found it difficult to extract words from this unusually sullen man - it seemed as if doctor Baselard had deliberately hired a misanthrope as his assistant, as if he knew that if the police intervened, this man would not spill the beans. However, Norman Van Riesen did tell the police a couple of details, of which Galbraith especially remembers the second. Staring at the police with hateful eyes from under his thick eyebrows, this man said in a hoarse voice that after they removed uterus from the girl, mister Baselard, together with miss Armour, began to remove some kind of thing from the organ - mister Van Riesen could not pronounce its Latin Name. Norman himself received an order from the doctor, the essence of which was that he had to dial some telephone number on the phone and, after waiting for the subscriber to pick up, shout in the most hysterical voice possible any nonsense that came into his head. Alas, the police interrogating Norman Van Riesen were unable to get him to remember the words he shouted into the phone, because after telling them this story, he lost his temper and began screaming for them to let him go to his wife.

In any case, these words about the phone call made Galbraith remember that very morning when, the day after the day of his vacation, he was woken up by a call, and, picking up the phone, he heard a hysterical voice that shouted "Maestro, say "você"! "Você" means "you"!". Then Galbraith was out of sorts and immediately hung up, but now that he was aware of who that unknown caller was, it now dawned on him why he then had a feeling of some impending trouble. Poor Delia, the inspector thought to himself...

Galbraith, who was already tired of looking at cars passing along the street, realized that he can’t just stand there and indulge in memories in vain. He walked away from the window and began looking for clothes, wondering what to do. He threw out the idea of moving out of this "Stait of Snow Lake" hotel - firstly, a feeling of stinginess did not allow him to just give up a room for which he had paid almost six hundred dollars (in American money). Secondly, it seemed to the inspector that if he now began to bother himself with moving, then, being busy with this matter, he would not be able to properly comprehend the visit of this strange specialist.

After getting dressed, Galbraith went to the door and, after checking that he had not forgotten either his wallet or documents, went down the stairs and left the hotel building. He already knew what the weather was like outside - because he stood at the window for almost a quarter of an hour - but he did not expect that it would be so hot outside. Regretting that he forgot to wet his shirt before leaving, he hailed a taxi and, opening the door, addressed the driver:

- Take me to a restaurant you would recommend, - Galbraith said dryly.

Having made himself comfortable and slammed the door, the inspector had to wait until the driver collected his thoughts.

- I have "Clair'n'Tone" in mind, - he said fifteen seconds later.
- What's that? - the passenger asked indifferently.
- Vanitas-restaurant, - answered the driver, pressing the pedal.

The car started moving, and Galbraith, not trying to delve into the meaning of the driver’s last words, stared out the window. He decided to trust someone who knew London because he didn't want to find a restaurant himself. His sad experience with the "Orcinus Orca Osteria" made him abandon any attempts to personally find places for the rest. "Yes", he thought, "It would certainly be much easier if I were an ordinary tourist, whom the guide almost leads by the hand, but alas, his incognito travel put an end to such conveniences". The inspector watched how, during the trip, the urban view outside the window was gradually replaced by rural landscapes.

"Wow, how far away this "Clair'n'Tone" apparently is", thought Galbraith. Couldn't a native Londoner recommend a restaurant that was in the city center? Is it possible - here the inspector involuntarily smiled - in the center of the capital of England there are such terrible restaurants that Londoners prefer to dine almost in the middle of nowhere? But he did not have time to think this thought through to the end.

- Get out, - the driver abruptly said rudely
- What, are we there yet? - Galbraith woke up, turning away from the window.
- I reiterate, get out, - the taxi driver repeated without malice, but firmly.
- All right, as you please, - the inspector opened the door and got out of the car.
- I'll refuel and come back for you, - the driver shouted after him and turned on the ignition.

Galbraith watched his car. "Hmm", he thought, "The taxi driver’s behavior is strange - what’s the difference whether he will refuel with or without a passenger?" The inspector took his eyes off the yellow car that had already disappeared in the distance and looked around. He stood by a wooden fence, behind which he could see a one-story cottage of not particularly attractive appearance. What surprised Galbraith was that this was the only house in the area - the rest of the landscape was a steppe without a single tree, with grass scorched by the sun. "What kind of place is it?", the inspector asked himself.

The next second, a bark reached his ears. The dog that made it, as Galbraith realized, was behind the fence outside of which he was now standing. He took a couple of steps from the fence, when suddenly he saw a man walking from the side of the road towards the wicket. Some inner feeling forced the inspector to hide. The stranger's strong build - one might even say gorilla-like - with his broad shoulders and the black hat pulled down over his eyes together created a rather menacing impression. As the man began to approach the fence, the dog's barking became louder. Galbraith noticed how he slightly slowed down his pace and, right as he walked, put his right hand in the pocket of his black, formal jacket. The inspector watched in silent amazement as the man took out of his pocket a pistol, shining in the midday sun - somewhat similar to those used by the fascists in the Second World War - and, cocking the trigger, stopped at the wicket. "I should have retreated to a safe place", Galbraith thought, watching as the stranger stood in a threatening pose and held his weapon out in front of him.

The next second, the muscular man sharply jerked his leg forward. "Wow, he has strength", Galbraith thought, looking at how the wicket immediately gave in to his kick. Suddenly a shot rang out, and a high, heart-rending dog scream reached the inspector’s ears. "That's it", Galbraith thought, "This thug is shooting at an animal..." But be that as it may, he, hiding around the corner of the fence, did not take any action, because he understood that in a foreign country, and even in some deserted place, it was better to try to stay away from trouble. Therefore, when, after five shots, a cry from a young man was suddenly heard from behind the fence - apparently the owner of the house - Galbraith only dryly stated the fact that the poor dog would never again have to run around the glade for butterflies...

After the man with the weapon stepped over the threshold of the wicket, Galbraith finally decided to see what was going on there. He slowly, trying not to make any noise, walked forward and stopped at such a distance that he could see what was happening inside the site. A massacre was taking place there - a gorilla-like man in a hat, who no longer had a pistol in his hands, was inflicting strong kicks on some young guy in a white shirt who was lying under his feet. The inspector, peering into what was happening, noted that he could not find the dog’s corpse. He made the assumption that the killer probably threw the animal away from the gate, or that the dog, not being completely killed, crawled to the side. Trying to comprehend what was happening, Galbraith could not help but notice that the killer’s movements were somewhat hesitant, as if he was afraid that the kicks would cause severe damage. Usually, the policeman thought, killers act on the dictates of instinct and completely indulge in the feeling of aggression, but the body language of this man was as if he was not really beating the guy, but was only pretending to fake the beating...

Suddenly Galbraith heard a car stop behind him. He turned around - it turns out that the taxi driver really did not deceive him and returned for his passenger.

- Get in, we're moving on, - the taxi driver shouted from the window.

The inspector feverishly opened the door and climbed into the car, simultaneously hitting the top of his head against its ceiling. He wanted to quickly leave this place, but he had to wait - the driver, quietly cursing, fiddled with the ignition key, which did not want to turn. Galbraith, whose heart was beating wildly, glanced out the window. A muscular man in a black jacket, distracted by the sound of an approaching car, left the beating of the young guy and turned towards the road. At the same time, his hat involuntarily flew off his head, and the inspector was finally able to see his face.

- My goodness, it is... - Galbraith whispered with just his lips

But he didn’t have time to finish - the taxi driver finally managed to turn the ignition key, and the car moved sharply forward. Due to the suddenness of this maneuver, the inspector did not have time to react in time and his face was buried in the back of the front seat. Galbraith leaned back in his seat with a curse, feeling that a lump was slowly beginning to swell on his forehead.

- Did you hit a little? - the taxi driver asked without a hint of sympathy.
- Never mind, - his passenger answered, feeling the haematoma.

Overcoming the pain, Galbraith lowered his hand and, trying to position himself as comfortably as possible, began to think about the event that he happened to observe a couple of minutes ago. The killer, as he managed to notice, had facial features very similar to pharmaceutist mister Yonce - the same prominent cheekbones, deep-set eyes and a powerful jaw. "Another doppelgaenger, or more accurately, dreifachgaenger?" thought the inspector. But Galbraith was confused by the fact that this particular person’s face had a grayish tint, which stood out strongly against the background of the stranger’s pink ears and neck. As if some kind of sunscreen was applied to the man's face, or... Galbraith admitted a crazy theory that this man wore a mask on his face in order to resemble father of the late Delia.

- Staging, - whispered the inspector.

Yes, this is exactly the word he used to describe this incident - what he saw, with a high degree of probability, could have been an imitation, a skillfully played performance. Galbraith immediately remembered the words of his late friend - he said that when he, along with a police squad, was going to arrest mister Thurlow, they got to the criminal’s house just at the moment when mister Yonce used a pistol to kill the Jordan's dog and began to trample him owner of the house.

The inspector compared Pharqraut's story with what he saw now. Yes, he was not an eyewitness to that incident, but all the details coincided. Except that he never saw the dog - it seemed that instead of a real animal behind the fence there was a record player hidden from prying eyes that played a tape with pre-recorded sounds of barking. "Quite a logical explanation", he thought. Then it was clear why this dreifachgaenger had such strange body plasticity - he did not really beat the guy, but only played the beating scene, like an actor on a theatre stage. The only thing that was unclear was who staged this “performance” and why. And most importantly, for what purpose, for whom was this whole presentation intended...

At that moment the car stopped moving.

- So, we're already here, - muttered the driver.

The inspector woke up from his thoughts and opened the door, preparing to get out of the car.

- Wait a minute, - the driver said and stuck a piece of paper into his hand.
- Why did you give this to me? - Galbraith asked as he began to unwrap it
- I just want to tell you that if you have any questions, just call this number, - having said this, the driver turned away and took the wheel.

In the end, the inspector climbed out and, without even looking at the departing car, began to look at the piece of paper. There were only two lines in it - a telephone number (020) 1805 1982 and a name "H. Berneasy". Hmm, Galbraith thought, why did the taxi driver decide that he, a random passenger whom he saw for the first time in his life, might need him... He thought about doctor Baselard again - why shouldn’t this doctor really give money to a random person with his own car, so that at the right moment he would drive up to the hotel where the inspector was staying, take him to his place and take him to the right places...

- That's ridiculous, - the inspector said with a grin.

Stuffing the piece of paper into his pocket, Galbraith raised his head. He stood near a four-story building that had all sorts of cafes and storefronts. The taxi driver dropped the inspector off at the modest entrance, above which hung a sign "Clair'n'Tone". Looking at these blue neon letters, Galbraith involuntarily noticed to himself that because of this Baselard, he had developed such paranoia that if we develop the idea that doctor is behind everything in this world, then in the heat of the moment you can get to the point where if you start digging the Bible, it turns out that Eve gave the apple to Adam not on the inspiration of some abstract serpent-tempter, but only because this was the request of doctor Baselard, who pursued the idea of killing the little girl Delia, who would be born many generations later in the family of the pharmaceutist Yonce...

- Oh girl, - the inspector said quietly. - Why are you leading me into your obscurity?

These words were addressed to emptiness, for Galbraith did not expect to hear an answer to them. He couldn't get it anyway - Delia Yonce was buried at River View Cemetery, not far from the grave of first Portland's female mayor. Her funeral went unnoticed by the town, because no one cared about some pharmaceutist's daughter. Nobody wrote in The Asian Reporter a note "Under The X-acto Knife", on her grave not even her most distant relative sat and especially not one of her classmates came there and asked with tears in their eyes "Delia, Delia, can you hear your friend?". The only one who truly sympathized with the girl from those gathered at the farewell ceremony was Galbraith himself, who, after standing at the head of her grave for some time, laid a bouquet of dahlias of different colours on her grave and silently walked away, leaving the funeral procession to be tormented by guesses about the connection this gloomy, mustachioed policeman with a deceased.

If Galbraith himself had been asked about this, he would have answered them "Was there such a connection at all?". Indeed, in his entire life, the inspector saw this little girl only once - when he came to the Yonce family home on the matter of her mother's suicide... But even these short minutes of their meeting were enough to understand that it was on him, Galbraith, that the future fate of this child depended. Alas, a call from mister chief inspector Schaeymoure then separated them, and he had to leave Delia in the care of an inadequate man from Federal Bureau of Investigation and doctor Matt MacLaren, a kind-hearted but essentially spineless person...

Galbraith distracted himself from these sad thoughts and noticed that although it was October outside, through the window of the "Clair'n'Tone" establishment, where he had been standing all this time, shiny silver fir-trees were clearly visible. He involuntarily admired them - the decorations were cut out of foil and hung in the same place where the curtains were attached

- I don't argue, it's beautiful, but somehow it's not the season, - he said thoughtfully to himself.

The inspector opened the door and, entering a small elongated hall, realized that he had not imagined. Not only the facade of the cafe, but also its interior was completely decorated for Christmas - LED garlands and fir-tree cones were hung on the walls and there were toy figures of some animals hanging from the ceiling. The only thing missing was appropriate music, Galbraith thought, and hypothesized that apparently the owners of this establishment were such lazy people that they had forgotten to remove the decorations since last year.

He glanced at the counter, then noticed the tables. The inspector went to the very end of the hall, where the order receiving area was located. Sitting down on a small soft sofa at the table, Galbraith put his hands on the table and noticed with some dissatisfaction that besides him and one waitress there was no one else in this room. Apparently, people living in the area knew what awaited them in this cafe and therefore tried to avoid it. While waiting for the girl to deign to pay attention to him, the inspector looked around - now that he had already gotten used to inappropriate decorations of "Clair'n'Tone", he was able to pay attention to the high ceilings and rustic scarlet walls. Richly, Galbraith thought, and this circumstance changed his attitude towards the establishment for the better than it had been from the very beginning. He even caught himself thinking that there was something in that on a hot October day sitting in a room that involuntarily transports him several months into the future.

Five minutes later, the waitress, who had previously been running between tables with a white rag, finally deigned to pay attention to Galbraith and approached his table.

- Welcome, what's your pleasure? - the blonde girl asked modestly.

Galbraith looked up at her. Beautiful, he thought. Her slender figure was emphasized by a light dress that tightly fit her graceful waist and high chest.

- Could I see the menu? - he just asked.

The waitress handed him a sheet of glossy paper folded in half, and Galbraith thanked him and took the menu in his hands. Having glanced over the contents, he was quite surprised by the small size of the list - only two dishes were indicated in it. He remembered that the taxi driver, recommending this establishment, called it an unfamiliar word “Vanitas-restaurant”. Apparently, an establishment with a claim to something original, Galbraith thought. Then it could be clear why the interior was decorated out of season...

The inspector carefully studied the menu - the first course was a cocktail with the strange name "Sujeira". "Sierra, chain of mountains?" Galbraith asked himself. Under the picture of a glass with a thin stem, the ingredients were indicated - cognac, water, sugar, lemon juice.

- What does it mean? - he asked the waitress standing at the table.
- It's cognac with caramel syrup, - she answered with downcast eyes in a gentle voice.
- Huh... - Galbraith was quite surprised at such a strange combination of ingredients.
- This is a very light drink, because the syrup softens the strength of the alcohol, - the girl explained.
- So what, visitors order this slipslop there? - Galbraith was even more surprised.
- A highly tasty cocktail, - the girl said confidently. - Try it yourself.
- Okay, I'll take your word for it, - the inspector said and continued to study the menu.

In addition to this incomprehensible cocktail, on the inner spread of the glossy paper there was another line "Jantar". Just this name and that's all - no picture, no composition. He didn't even try to understand the meaning of this word.

- What is this? - Galbraith pointed a finger.
- This is the dish, - the waitress answered.
- It was fairly obvious, but what it represents? - the inspector involuntarily began to be irritated by the girl's playful tone.
- The recipe of "Jantar" is the trade secret, - she answered with dignity.
- Well, I order everything that's on this menu, - Galbraith waved his hand in anger.

The waitress made a slight bow and, taking the menu from the table, gave the guest a charming smile and left. The inspector looked after her for a while, and then, again staring ahead, thought that the establishment was very strange - only two dishes, of which one had an idiotic composition, and the second only had its name... Galbraith had a suspicion that the chefs of this establishment were clearly cooking not for clients who almost never came to them, but to satisfy their personal whims. He even felt a wave of cold and sticky sweat run down his back for no apparent reason.

Three minutes later the waitress returned to his table.

- Here's your order, - she said in the same gentle voice.

She placed a tray in front of him, on which stood a glass of brown liquid and a clay bowl of salad. In addition, there was a fork wrapped in a white napkin nearby.

- Thank you, - Galbraith said with some disappointment to the girl, who immediately walked away.

Yes, he thought, looking at the dishes, he shouldn't have expected anything supernatural from the absurdity that was listed on the menu. He was even involuntarily glad that under the word "Jantar" there was not some boiled shoe stuffed with nails, but just a regular salad... The inspector decided to start with a cocktail. Taking a sip from a tall glass, he was convinced that the combination of cognac and caramel syrup was terrible not only in words, but also in taste. Galbraith shuddered with disgust, but he did not spit out the liquid, instead swallowing it whole, comforting himself with the thought that they eat cockroaches in China...

As a result, he moved the glass away from him and, picking up a fork, looked at the clay bowl. Compared to the cocktail, what was in it could be called quite ordinary food - lettuce leaves mixed with finely grated cheese and rye croutons. Yes, the vaunted "Jantar" was just a simple Caesar salad, only without the sauce. Galbraith, who expected the worst, involuntarily sighed with relief and began to eat. The salad was tasteless, which was obvious - without meat and sauce, chewing dry leaves and croutons seemed quite boring, but, oddly enough, it was edible. The inspector didn't even notice how two minutes later he emptied the clay bowl and, wiping his hands on a napkin, leaned back on the soft sofa on which he was sitting.

Suddenly Galbraith's attention was attracted by a person who, before his eyes, entered the "Clair'n'Tone premises. It was a little girl, she looked like she was about five or six years old. She had large, gentle eyes and a head of thick golden hair, which contrasted strongly with her pale face. She was dressed in a gray woolen sweater that reached her knees and a skirt of an undetermined dark colour. In her right hand she was holding a waffle cone with two light blue scoops of ice cream. The delicacy gave her whole figure fragility and a certain touchingness.

The baby girl walked uncertainly through the hall, looking around from time to time, as if looking for someone. She didn't even look in Galbraith's direction, but she raised her head several times - apparently she was looking at the toys hanging from the ceiling. Finally, she walked up to the counter and stopped, fascinated by the figurine of a goldfish swaying on a thin thread. The girl had her back to the inspector, so he did not see her face, but he noticed how the child extended his hand towards the toy.

Then a girl with high chest - a waitress - approached his table. Bowing to Galbraith, she placed the open leather accountant in front of him. He scanned the lines - the bill stated that he would have to pay about six pounds sterling for both dishes. The inspector reached into his pocket where his wallet lay.

- Well, how did you like it? - asked the waitress, playfully looking at the guest
- Keep your money, and goodbye, - Galbraith said dryly.

Having said this, he took out money from his wallet. The waitress looked intently into his eyes, and, collecting the coins from the table, left. Galbraith got up from the soft sofa and, glancing at the little girl in a sweater who continued to look at the toy, moved towards the exit of this place. Coming outside, the inspector noticed that while he was sitting in this vanitas-restaurant, it had already become dark outside. Galbraith, looking around, felt some uncertainty - he understood that it was almost impossible for him to navigate the local conditions, but he had to somehow get to his hotel... Excitedly, he put his hand into his pocket and felt for a piece of paper. He pulled it out, Galbraith unwrapped it and brought it to his eyes. It was the same phone number that the taxi driver had given him then.

- So, Berneasy, I'll have to resort to your services, - the inspector said sarcastically.

Still holding the piece of paper in his hands, he raised his head and saw a telephone booth on the other side of the street. Since there were almost no cars on the street at that time, it was easy for Galbraith to cross the road and pull the door towards himself. A few more seconds, and the inspector was already standing next to the telephone. Having dropped the coin into the slot, Galbraith, checking the piece of paper, dialed the number (020) 1805 1982 and raised the receiver to his ear. First he heard long beeps coming from the receiver. Then there was a click in it, after which a sleepy male voice was heard, slightly distorted by interference:

- Hello, I am listening to you.

The inspector was quite surprised to hear this voice, which belonged to none other than his old friend lieutenant Nelissen.

- Nelissen, buddy, is that you? - at the sound of a familiar voice, a shiver of joy ran through Galbraith’s body.
- Galbraith? At long last it's you! - a young voice responded cheerfully. - I was beginning to worry. where've you been?
- In London as you know... - Galbraith fell silent.
- What's wrong, cat got your tongue? - Nelissen asked somewhat impudently.
- Give me the explanation, - the inspector began. - How is it that I called a London taxi driver but got on a Portland police department?
- Speak softly, - it seemed that Nelissen missed the words of his interlocutor deaf ears. - Somebody might hear us.
- I'm fine not caring about... - Galbraith said with some resentment, but the young lieutenant interrupted him.
- Do not contest me, - a young voice said rudely. - The information I will give you is not for prying eyes.
- All right, - the inspector gave in to his friend's pressure. - What do you want me to say?
- Couple of news, - the lieutenant answered with a sense of importance.
- Well, according to tradition, firstly... - Galbraith wanted to say "good, and then bad", but he was not allowed to finish.
- If you find something good in any of this news, then I can congratulate you on being such a katagelastic!
- What? - the inspector asked, who had never encountered this word, in bewilderment.
- It doesn't matter, - Nelissen again avoided answering. - May I begin then?
- Okay, let's go, - he encouraged his interlocutor.
- Good, then listen to me, - the voice answered with a sense of importance. - Do you remember Jordan Thurlow?
- How can I not remember, I personally interrogated him, - Galbraith said somewhat offended.
- Of course, all know this already, - the lieutenant said reproachfully. - As well as the fact that after the audience with him you were not at all interested in his fate.
- Oh... - sighed the inspector.

Nelissen’s words were fair - Galbraith, having received from mister Thurlow information about Delia Yonce, actually completely forgot about this person, because it seemed to him that there was nothing to even remember about some lawbreaker who would be released only after sixteen years. For the inspector, the perpetrator was something like a plant in a pot - he sits in one place, does not do anything... Only, unlike a plant, the criminal has no charisma...

- Basically, the day after you said goodbye to him, - the lieutenant interrupted Galbraith's thoughts. - A prison guard entered Jordan's prison cell and found him lying prone on the floor.
- He was dead? - the inspector guessed.
- Yes, - Nelissen answered dryly.
- I wonder why he's so fast kicked the bucket, - Galbraith expressed his thoughts out loud.
- A forensic examination determined that Jordan's death was due to oxygen deprivation of the brain, - as if reading from a piece of paper, a young voice said.
- Hmm... - his interlocutor thought.
- Lesley Watmough, the pathologist who performed the autopsy on the prisoner's body discovered something interesting, - the lieutenant returned to his familiar tone.
- And what? - Galbraith perked up.
- He discovered a malignant tumour in Jordan's larynx, - Nelissen answered, lowering his voice. - Laryngeal cancer in a few words.

Hearing this, Galbraith involuntarily remembered the phrase of the twitchy parlourmaid from "Stait of Snow Lake" that the old concierge was taken to the hospital on suspicion of cancer, but Nelissen continued to talk.

- In general, Lesley said that this is a rather rare case, because usually people get this disease by the age of fifty, and Jordan, as you remember...
- I'm aware of that, - Galbraith interrupted the lieutenant. - That's all?
- That's it with Jordan, now about Delia, - it seemed as if the invisible interlocutor smiled.
- What, her too... - the inspector was surprised.
- No, who would have thought of digging her out of the grave? - having said this, the lieutenant burst into laughter.
- All right, knock it off, - for some reason it was unpleasant for Galbraith to hear this
- Okay, - Nelissen immediately stopped. - It's like this, as you were preparing to board the plane, we continued our investigation...
- No, really? - Galbraith was involuntarily surprised. - I thought all had shelved on this case...
- Do not interrupt. We discovered that after the hysterectomy surgeons extracted something from her womb... - the lieutenant stopped as if catching his breath.
- So what did they extract? - the inspector was a little tensed by this pause.
- Caetlynn Armour called this thing as Fetus papyraceous, according to her, this is when a female twin carries a second embryo inside.
- Stupid and unscientific bullshit, - Galbraith involuntarily cursed dirtily.
- Well, what do you want from this modern medicine... - the lieutenant seemed to be thinking about something.
- All right, they found it, so what's next? - the inspector was burning with impatience.
- In short, they donated it to the Oregon College of Oriental Medicine, - Nelissen replied.
- Wait, what's this for? - Galbraith was involuntarily surprised.
- As a medical exhibit, what did you think? - the young voice chuckled.
- Nothing of the kind... - the inspector stopped mid-sentence.
- There, of course, this thing was immediately placed in a glass vessel with formaldehyde, - the lieutenant began. - And when I learned about this, I did not restrain myself and immediately went to this college.
- What did you see? - Galbraith was very interested at that second
- Well... - his interlocutor began to remember. - A lots of students crowded around the vessel - do not feed bread, just let them peek at new wonderment.
- Quite curious, - Galbraith grinned.
- They stood around and discussed it, - continued the lieutenant. - One guy noticed that this thing looked a lot like the larva of Rosalia longicorn, and someone fainted...
- Who exactly? - for some reason the inspector was interested in this fact.
- Two young gals, - the invisible interlocutor clicked his tongue. - Apparently they were afraid that when they got pregnant, something like this would grow inside them.

Galbraith involuntarily thought that it turned out quite ironically - the girl was saved from the parasite, which everyone admires, but no one even thinks about the one from whom it was extracted, there is not even a question of sympathy

- God's got a sick sense of humour, - the inspector said gloomily into the phone.
- I didn't understand, what are you trying to say? - the lieutenant said in bewilderment.
- Forget it, I was just thinking out loud, - Galbraith said honestly. - But what was this thing anyway?
- You know, I think Caetlynn Armor named this thing Fetus papyraceous on the spur of the moment because it didn't look like an embryo, - the young man spoke mysteriously.
- So what could it look like? - his interlocutor did not understand.
- Let's imagine a Sea urchin, - the lieutenant began to explain.
- Shell? - Galbraith interrupted him
- No, alive, - the young man corrected him.
- Well, I did, - the inspector hastily answered.

Galbraith drew in his mind a red ball, studded with long needles, which could only exist at the bottom of the ocean.

- So, this ersatz Sea urchin swam there in formaldehyde, - Nelissen said. - And I, looking at this, thought that it was...
- Parasite? - Galbraith suggested.
- Worse, - the interlocutor answered. - The parasite is still a separate organism, harmful, but if desired, it can be removed without loss to the host, but here...
- Don't stir things up, please, - the inspector suddenly wanted this conversation to finally end.
- Imagine, my friend, that when you were conceived, a second brain formed in your lungs, - a young voice deviated from the topic.
- What nonsense? - Galbraith was surprised by this analogy.
- Listen to this, - the lieutenant said angrily. - It would be a completely useless appendage that would absorb the excess energy of your body, but it would not do anything useful.
- I have no idea but that was really interestingly, - The inspector remarked sarcastically.
- ...but since you have this from birth, you think that this is the norm, - Nelissen continued.

Galbraith thought that there was some logic in this - after all, a person really cannot know that others actually feel about their organism.

- And therefore, - said the lieutenant. - Trying to remove this organ can lead to serious complications because your body...
- Are you saying that the chances of Delia surviving were zero? - the inspector immediately asked.
- With this thing inside, I don't know, - a young voice answered calmly. - But it is a fact that removing of it led to death.
- Poor girl... - Galbraith sighed sadly.
- But I can say one thing for sure, - continued Nelissen. - Even if she wanted to, a girl as an adult could not conceive and bear a child.
- Hmm... - the inspector scratched his moustache.
- Do you think that if you have some kind of thing grown into your womb, then there will be a place for the baby there too? - the young lieutenant suddenly became angry.
- I wouldn't think such a thing, - Galbraith was slightly hurt by these words.
- Okay, let's end the conversation, - changing his tone, the lieutenant said. - I am afraid that the call may be intercepted by inquisitive gentlemen from The Metropolitan Police Service.

After these words there was a click and beeps started - Nelissen ended the call. In the silence that reigned, Galbraith sighed with some relief, and, wiping the sweat on his forehead, hung up the telephone receiver. Opening the door, he walked out of the phone booth onto the street and took a deep breath of the damp evening air. He thought that if anyone was interested in this telephone conversation, it most likely would not be the police, but The Maudsley Hospital. Moreover, as he believed, this would be completely fair - recently the inspector had experienced such events that if he tried to describe them to a stranger, this could cause him the most serious suspicions regarding his mental health. Yes, Galbraith thought, falling into the hands of doctors from The Maudsley Hospital would not be such a bad idea - if such an event actually happened, he would most likely be guaranteed silence, soft walls, white coats...

Standing at the telephone booth, he suddenly noticed that on the opposite side of the road, next to the newsstand, was standing the same young man in a red shirt, looking like a Japanese popstar, whom Galbraith had seen this morning under the hotel window. At first, the inspector involuntarily panicked - his breathing quickened and his heart began to pound - but then he remembered the good old trick, the essence of which was that you should not show the person watching you your fear, so that he does not become convinced that he can influence you. And then Galbraith, straightening his shoulders, boldly moved towards the restaurant, thinking about how to get to his hotel.

He imagined how he would stand for a long time in the cold air with his arm outstretched in front of him in order to attract the attention of passing cars... To his surprise, as he approached the front of Clair'n'Tone, he noticed that there was a yellow car parked right in front of the doors. Galbraith quickened his pace and, raising his hand, shouted to the driver to wait. Approaching the car, he leaned towards the glass. The driver looked at him in surprise.

- Queensborough Terrace, hotel "Stait of Snow Lake", - Galbraith said hastily.

The man nodded without further ado, and the inspector opened the door, leaned back in the back seat, after which the driver turned the ignition key and the car moved smoothly, drove out onto a wide street and rushed forward, towards the center. Galbraith simply looked at the views of the night city flashing outside the window, without indulging in any thoughts. He noticed that the streets gradually became wider, the houses around became higher, illuminated shop windows and billboards began to appear outside the window, on which flashing colourful inscriptions flashed, calling on random passers-by to visit this or that shopping center, go to a bar and order there a glass of beer, or at least buy unnecessary change at some booth... Contemplating the world of London at night, the inspector gradually calmed down and relaxed.

- Listen, good sir, you'll probably have to look for another hotel! - suddenly the taxi driver's voice was heard.

This remark snapped Galbraith out of the meditative state into which he had fallen. Twitching like a frightened bird, the inspector stared at the back of the driver's head.

- What are you speaking about? - Galbraith asked with uncertainty.
- It's best you take a look for yourself! - the man waved his hand in front of him.

The passenger moved closer and, squinting, began to peer into the windshield. They had already left for Queensborough Terrace and were already approaching their destination, but what the inspector saw involuntarily threw him into a consternation - the four-story building "Stait of Snow Lake" was on fire - the flames engulfed the first two floors of the building and gradually reached the roof. "Well, for heaven's sakes!" Galbraith thought to himself.

For a couple of moments, he admitted the suppose that it was the work of that twitchy parlourmaid. "This blithering idiot apparently accidentally placed the heater next to the curtain..." This hypothesis arose from him because he had no doubt that all the hotel equipment in the "Stait of Snow Lake" was in the same condition as the room that he happened to rent from them. "Short circuit, spark and that's it..." he thought nervously.

- Stop the car! - barely containing his excitement, he shouted to the driver.
- What's the use, good sir, your things are probably already burned, - with some reluctance, the driver pressed the brake.

The inspector was not going to argue with the taxi driver and quickly opened the door. But before he jumped out into the street, the driver turned back to the passenger.

- I’ll wait for you here, otherwise you never know, you’ll need to go to the airport or depot... - he said in a conspiratorial tone.

Already getting out of the car, Galbraith involuntarily remembered the mysterious taxi driver, who, judging by his business card, had the name "H. Berneasy". It seemed to him that both drivers had something in common, at least the intonation and timbre of their voices. But he had no time to think about it, and he moved towards the hotel. In the darkness of the night, the building of "Stait of Snow Lake" literally glowed in the gloom, and therefore it was not difficult for Galbraith to immediately notice the people crowding around the scene of the incident. The inspector wanted to ask someone from the crowd how long ago the fire had started, and he began to peer into the faces of the onlookers. He himself could not explain exactly what criteria a person who could be a guest of this hotel had to meet.

After a couple of minutes of searching, Galbraith’s gaze settled on a obese man in a lilac shirt. He looked to be about thirty-five years old. For some reason, the inspector was attracted to this person - apparently, the point was that in appearance he was somewhat similar to himself - the stranger had the same black the painter’s brush moustache and slightly wavy hair. Galbraith ran up to this man, who, looking at the burning hotel, was smoking a thick cigar with a kind of detached look.

- Please forgive me... - the inspector addressed him with respect.

The man turned his head slightly towards Galbraith and blew out a cloud of tobacco smoke. "I hope he won't mind", the policeman got nervous.

- Where's the fire team? - Galbraith asked a leading question.
- They is right there! - the man in the lilac shirt took a drag and waved his hand to the side.

The inspector looked where the onlooker pointed. And in fact, there were two red fire trucks parked outside the "Stait of Snow Lake". People in black uniforms with green stripes on their sleeves scurried around and tried to cope with the fire consuming the building.

- You don't know when the fire started? - Galbraith sent another question.
- I'd like to know more about this! - the man exclaimed with annoyance and blew out a ring of smoke again.

Galbraith stood next to this smoker and, involuntarily inhaling the smoke of his cigar, thought about exactly who was responsible for this accident. The version with a faulty heater seemed too banal - as a police inspector, it seemed to him that behind the fire there was clearly a certain person who was pursuing some of his own goals. Of course, thoughts of doctor Baselard immediately entered his head. "Why not", thought Galbraith, standing next to a mustachioed obese man. "In the morning there was a visit from a suspicious specialist who, after checking that I was definitely staying at this hotel, gave a sign to Baselard and he took care of the fire... Although no, this is some kind of paranoia", he concluded.

- Alas, what a shame, - the silence was broken by an onlooker in a lilac shirt. - I paid about four thousand five hundred bucks for half a month, "All inclusive"...
- Wait a minute, you are an American? - having heard that the interlocutor named the price in dollars, Galbraith perked up.
- I'm from Toronto, - answered his interlocutor. - I came here to spend my vacation, only two days left before returning to Canada.
- Thanks for the reply, - the inspector said calmly. - That is, you don’t know how many people are trapped there?

With these words he nodded towards the burning building of "Stait of Snow Lake".

- I don't care about them, - the obese man said dissatisfied. - I just went out for a walk before dinner, came back, and then this!

Having uttered these words, the onlooker in the lilac shirt angrily threw the cigar to the ground and trampled the fag-end with force. "An typical American", thought Galbraith. "Personal happiness is everything, don't care about the rest of humanity. Some unfinished supper is more important for this tourist than the lives of the people who died in the fire..." The inspector didn't think about at all that the Canadians - because this man, according to him, was from there - are proud that they are not Americans, because for Galbraith, born in England, both these countries were one.

- Now, because of these dullards, I will have to contact the embassy to have my burned documents restored... - the obese man said in a fallen voice and trudged up the street.

Looking after person in lilac shirt, Galbraith remembered that he himself also left his things in the room. He checked his pockets - thank God, he managed to take his wallet and visa this morning. Having calmed down, he noticed with some surprise that of all the things he had left at the hotel, he was sorry to lose only materials on the Pharqraut's case investigation.

- Mister Galbraith? - suddenly someone's insinuating voice was heard from behind.

Hearing his name, the inspector immediately turned around - standing behind him was an elderly man of small stature, in a black uniform and with a uniform cap. On his shoulder hung a large leather bag, emblazoned with a brass label "Royal Mail".

- Sorry, you talking to me now? - he asked the postmaster.

It was somewhat unexpected for the inspector to hear his name from a complete stranger, and the fact that it was the postmaster made Galbraith somewhat tense, because he could not imagine who could send him a letter here in the capital of England.

- I was ordered to deliver the envelope to mister Galbraith, who was staying at the "State of Snow Lake" hotel, - the man in uniform began in a dull voice.
- But how did you recognize me? - the inspector asked incredulously.
- Recognize? I just asked, - his interlocutor answered calmly.

With these words, the postmaster opened his heavy leather bag and began to rummage through it.

- Well, give me the parcel then, - said Galbraith and looked around nervously.
- Before that, - postmaster took something out of the bag. - You must write a receipt for delivery.
- Okay, If you must, just give me a minute, - the inspector shrugged his shoulders.

Taking the paper and pen from the postmaster's hands, he began to look for where to sign. While he was doing this, his interlocutor, exuding some kind of solemn aura with his very appearance, stood motionless nearby.

- Here you go, - Galbraith soon returned the receipt and pen to the postmaster.

The man in uniform put them in his bag and, taking out an envelope from there, without further ado handed it to the stunned inspector and, turning around, disappeared into the darkness of the night. Having received the unexpected parcel, Galbraith brought it to his eyes and began to examine it.

Galbraith noted that there was not a single mark or even a stamp on the thick white paper that made up the envelope - it seemed as if the postmaster had handed the inspector not a real letter, but an element of theatrical props. The only thing that cast doubt on this was that the contents inside could be felt through the envelope.

- Hey, good sir! - a hoarse shout was heard.

Galbraith, who was about to open the parcel, involuntarily shuddered. It turns out that it was a taxi driver who was standing next to his car and, leaning on the door, holding a smoking cigarette in his hand. The inspector was able to get a good look at his face - the man had a short-cropped head, sharp cheekbones and a straight nose stood out clearly on his tanned face. His brown eyes looked at the policeman almost with a fatherly reproach. Galbraith did not perfectly remember the exact features of the mysterious "H. Berneasy", but taking the opportunity to take a good look at the taxi driver standing in front of him, he noticed that he was still completely different from the bald and old man who took him to the vanitas-restaurant.

- What's the matter? - Galbraith asked calmly.

The taxi driver blew a smoke ring from his mouth and flicked the ash off his cigarette.

- Mister foreigner wants to go to the airport or depot now? - the man turned to him slyly.
- Huh, where is this coming from? - the inspector was somewhat outraged that some taxi driver should know better what he needed to do.
- What else can you do if your hotel burns down? Unless you go to another... - the taxi driver began to explain.
- Wait, let me to get my thoughts together, - Galbraith interrupted him and turned away.

For some reason, the inspector was unpleasant in this man’s gaze, but he could not help but notice that there was common sense in his words. With his arms crossed over his chest, Galbraith was lost in thought. This completely random London taxi driver, without knowing it, presented him with a difficult dilemma. Its essence was that the inspector had to decide whether he would capitulate in his mission to capture doctor Baselard, or whether he would continue it to the bitter end. The second option was definitely more difficult, since Galbraith had little chance of finding one unnoticed person hidden in the wilds of the megalopolis. While the inspector was deciding what to do, the taxi driver had already thrown the cigarette on the ground and was getting into the car.

- Well, good sir, think faster, otherwise I’ll leave and you’ll have to get where you need to go yourself, - sitting behind the wheel, the taxi driver shouted from the window.

Galbraith turned around and walked towards the car - he didn't want to let go of this car. Not even because it was so difficult for him to catch another taxi, no - he just subconsciously wanted to lean on someone he knew for at least a little more than a couple of seconds. The inspector felt the situation getting increasingly out of control. When he reached the car, he opened the door and climbed into the back seat.

- You don't know where "Makoto Computerization Institute" is located? - he asked the driver.

He did not remember the address indicated on the business card - only this unusual name left a mark on Galbraith's memory. The taxi driver, hearing the passenger's words, wiped the sweat from his forehead and sighed. Apparently he was trying to understand what the inspector was talking about.

- Good sir apparently means "Mon-Tec"? - after a minute of silence the man asked.
- What kind of place it is? - Galbraith heard this word for the first time.
- There was such an electrical engineering plant, then its owner changed and it was converted into a research institute of electronic technologies, - explained the taxi driver.
- Well, I think I should go there, - the inspector said with some uncertainty.

He remembered that the mysterious morning visitor introduced himself to him as a computer technology specialist, so, putting two and two together, it turned out that the taxi driver indicated the right place, but under the wrong name.

- I didn't even know it was renamed, - the taxi driver said meanwhile, turning on the ignition. - I believed that they left a trademark familiar to people.

When the car finally started moving, Galbraith leaned back in his seat. He made the decision to go to this institute in the heat of the moment - this same taxi driver simply did not give him enough time to think. But the inspector noticed to himself that this action made sense - because if that specialist was actually affiliated with doctor Baselard, then Galbraith had a fairly good reason to visit this mysterious place. "Who knows", he thought, "Maybe that’s there I can complete my mission". Be that as it may, he did not have a plan for further action - he did not know what exactly he would do upon arrival at this institute.

Events developed so quickly that the only thing he could count on was luck. If only because it is not a fact that if he arrives there, he will be able to find doctor Baselard there. But what if luck smiles on him and the person he is looking for is actually located there? The inspector imagined how, seeing the doctor in the corridor, he approached him and declared in an authoritative voice "In the name of the law, you're under arrest". And Baselard, looking at him with a gentle reproach from his small senile eyes, scratched his gray hair and answered him "Policeman of America has no power here in England, so you have no right to imprison me". And, grinning, he will go about his business in some office, leaving Galbraith standing in place with a stupid look...

Suddenly Galbraith remembered that he was still holding the envelope in his hands, which he had never bothered to open since receiving it. The inspector, who did not have scissors at hand, tore the bottom corner and tore the envelope in half. A folded sheet of paper and a small A7 sheet of cardboard fell into his lap.First, the policeman examined the cardboard - on its glossy aquamarine-coloured surface there were red letters of the English alphabet in two rows, each letter was respectively accompanied by a phonetic script and a index number. Galbraith was quite surprised that an unknown person sent him an item of educational equipment for a preschooler. He turned the card over, hoping that there might be something handwritten on the back, but alas, there was nothing more than a tiny inscription "(c) York Medieval Press, 1991" in the lower right corner.

The first thought that arose in the inspector’s head was "Apparently, I was confused with the father who ordered an insert for his child for study", but he immediately discarded it - he remembered how the postmaster clarified that the letter was intended specifically for Galbraith, who was staying at the "Stait of Snow Lake". True, it could turn out that in that hotel his namesake and a small child actually stayed in one of the rooms, but the inspector decided not to develop this topic and began to study the second item, which was in the envelope. Unfolding the sheet of paper folded in four, Galbraith immediately noticed that the text was typed on a typewriter. Well,
of course, he thought, this is a great way to put it in a deadlock - If the letter had been written by hand, it would not be difficult to guess who its author was!

Having dealt with the first impression, the inspector examined this item a little more closely. Both sides of the white sheet of paper were occupied by a long epistle printed in very small print. The black ink had peeled off in many places, making the letters look washed out and the text not very legible, but Galbraith, whose job it was to decipher obscure handwritten messages, did not see anything difficult in understanding the typewritten document.

"For A Middle-aged Naive" was at the very beginning of the letter. For some reason, the inspector immediately guessed that it was addressed specifically to him, and, slightly offended by the definition of "naive", began reading.

"I won't call Thou by name, because it's obvious that missive are intended only for Thou", this is how this epistle began.

- Huh, why don't you introduce yourself then? - Galbraith whispered with only his lips so that the taxi driver would not hear him.

"Thou behave like a juvenile in love, and, Thou know, watching amour sufferings from the outside is quite unpleasant. Honestly, it's annoying. I happened to observe in the old days two people who had feelings for the same person. All three were the same age, and they were connected by the fact that the three of them went to the same seminary".

- Why should I know about some love story between three schoolchildren? - Galbraith sarcastically asked the unknown author of these lines.

"The first stripling - let's call him Parthenion for short - fell in love with a demoiselle - let's call her Eudoxia - from early childhood. He watched her every step, worshipped her like a Goddess, but at the same time he was afraid to approach her, avoided her glances and was ashamed when strangers uttered her name. While the second stripling - Andronicus - became interested in demoiselle as an adult, when their studies at the seminary were coming to an end. He, unlike Parthenion, did not hesitate and, during the holidays, took advantage of the opportunity and retired with Eudoxia in her home. After this, Andronicus was expelled from seminary in disgrace, but he and Eudoxia had a child. The birth of an successor fully compensated for the fact that his father was left with an incomplete education".

- Well done, what can I say... - Galbraith remarked sarcastically.

"If Thou were unable to make the connection between this story and Your current situation, then please forgive me for not taking into account Your level of knowledge and Your intelligence quotient".

- Now this is rudeness! - the inspector barely restrained himself from screaming.

"Therefore, I will allow myself to do Thou a favour, since I consider Thou an experienced person who can solve the challenge if given a few clues".

- What, first you insulted and then flattered? - Galbraith was increasingly affected by this letter.

"The main reason why I made concessions is that I am sick of watching a grown men of the criminal profession tremble over the case assigned to him, just as Parthenion was afraid to approach Eudoxia. Thou, like that stripling, lose Your footing when Thou mention the victim, because of which instead investigation Thou are actually doing is treading water".

- Interesting association, - thought the inspector, gradually calming down.

"But all Thou need is to boldly face danger, not be afraid to make sudden movements and not take into account difficulties, like the second stripling. In this state of affairs, Thou, like Andronicus, would get what Thou want - in his case it was the successor, in Yours a sense of accomplishment. Alas, unfortunately, Thou are unlikely to be able to do this - a person’s character cannot be changed by moralizing advice - all that will change is the amount of his knowledge, but otherwise he will remain the same".

- Of course, people never change, - Galbraith recalled the famous saying.

"So I'll end by reminding Thou of what Thou should have learned all this time - In the beginning was the Number. Twice - the Four and the Five. From now on, I'll just hope that Thou can solve the puzzle, which can cope with even those people, who have serious problems with arithmetic and logic".

On this somewhat contemptuous and arrogant note the letter has come to an end. Galbraith crumpled up a piece of paper and threw it out the side window of the car - with his peripheral vision he managed to notice how a gust of breeze picked up the letter and carried it somewhere into the dark expanses of the night highway. Leaning back in his seat, the inspector thought for a split second that this was not the act of a policeman who was obliged to keep material evidence, but of an excited romanticist. In any case, Galbraith didn’t care much about this, nor did he care about the fact that when he lowered the window, an unusually cold wind blew into the car.

The inspector began to analyze who could be the author of this ambiguous and unclear message. It would be difficult to identify the person for sure from the typewritten text, so the inspector had to rely on the contents of the letter. It was clear as day that the creator of the lines who did not introduce himself was aware of who Galbraith was. In addition, this mysterious person somehow incomprehensibly knew how the inspector felt about his investigation - the phrase regarding the reaction to the victim's name clearly hinted at this. Galbraith immediately rejected the version with doctor Baselard - because he was tired of throwing wood into the fire of his paranoia. Instead, he hypothesized that the letter could have been written by none other than mister chief inspector Schaeymoure. There was always some kind of secrecy in his person, and this was not limited to his manner of speaking in riddles - take, for example, his unexpected visit to Galbraith’s apartment...

The inspector remembered one of the last lines that ended the letter - "...In the beginning was the Number. Twice - the Four and the Five". Reference to Gospel of John, as Galbraith thought, it was deliberately inserted by the author of these lines, so that against their background, the inherently modest numbers would look pretentious and intriguing.

- Well, four and five, - he repeated. - Wonder what that's about.

Trying to calm down and collect his thoughts, Galbraith lowered his hands to his knees and only now discovered that all this time the same cardboard that was in the envelope along with the ill-fated letter had been lying on them. The inspector grabbed it and brought it to his eyes. He's already seen what's on it were listed the letters of the English alphabet in two rows, under the huge red letters of which there were numbers in small print - index numbers. Then, as soon as he opened the envelope, it seemed to him like a funny mistake by the postman, but after reading the letter, this modest accessory of a preschooler acquired a strange and meaningful significance in the inspector’s eyes.

Galbraith was so engrossed in his little investigation that he didn’t even notice that at that time the radio was playing in the cabin, which the driver turned on so as not to drive in dead silence with a taciturn passenger. Only when Galbraith began to look at the children's alphabet did the words that were heard from the speakers reach his ears:

- Hello! Now you are listening "Dom-I-Double" broadcasting service, announcer О'Girard is with you, - the voice of a mature man spoke with a Swiss accent.

The inspector could not help but notice that this O'Girard spoke with such glee, as if this announcer had just returned from some kind of feast and had not yet completely sobered up. But most likely, it was simply difficult for him to hide the joy that overwhelmed him, which was felt in his every word. But why? Galbraith, who involuntarily became curious about this, listened to the radio more closely

- It's no secret that yesterday, the twenty-sixth of December one thousand nine hundred and ninety-one, Supreme Soviet of the Soviet Union adopted A Declaration on The Demise of Union of Soviet Socialist Republics. Our radio station believes this is A Day of The Great Triumph for all...

The announcer's voice was drowned in the noise of applause and joyful screams of the crowd - it was obvious that salute had started in the studio. Galbraith even thought he heard the pop of a cork and the hiss of foam - apparently, someone opened a bottle of champagne right next to the microphone. But this festival of life was put to an end by the taxi driver, who on this cheerful note reached out to the radioreceiver.

- Smile nice, mister Capitalist.... - he said, addressing someone unknown.

The taxi driver didn’t finish his sentence - he simply switched the radio channel and took the wheel. The sounds of jazz were heard inside the car. However, the inspector, who managed to hear the news, was involuntarily stunned. The point was not that he was worried about the fate of some state - Galbraith was amazed that, according to the announcer, today was the twenty-seventh of December.

- It's only mid-October now.... - the policeman puzzled muttered to himself.

He couldn’t understand what had happened - is that really time flown faster for no apparent reason and ended up jumping ahead two months at once?

- This is clearly someone else's mistake... - the rational inspector repeated to himself.

He had two assumptions about this. The first was that it was possible that announcer O'Girard had misspoke when he announced the date. Galbraith rejected this idea immediately - he rightly believed that it was unlikely that the radio would so blatantly misinform its listeners, passing off black as white.

The second hypothesis that the inspector put forward was that it was a trick of the taxi driver. If this were really the case, then it would be outright paranoia - why would some random driver suddenly gather a bunch of people in one room, give them pieces of paper with a script and, having recorded it on some audio cassette, put it in the tape recorder of his car and play it at the right moment to the right passenger? Against this assumption was the fact that Galbraith clearly saw that the driver had switched the radio, and not pressed the tape recorder button - unless it was an optical illusion. Anything, of course, could have happened, but the inspector did not consider himself the navel of the earth around which the whole world revolves. Galbraith decided not to torment himself with meaningless guesses and turned to the driver, who, after changing the radio channel, continued to drive the car in silence.

- Sorry, can you tell me what date it is today? - he asked politely and even meekly.

This simple and innocent question caused an unexpected reaction in the man - he instantly turned around and stared at his passenger. Galbraith involuntarily staggered back - it seemed to him that the taxi driver had suddenly gone crazy and was about to tear him into pieces. But the next second the driver realized what was going on, and he smiled widely.

- Ah, good sir, you look so intelligent, but... - he began.
- What do you mean? - Galbraith's fear gave way to discontent.
- I'm talking about the fact that it's not proper for a man like you to drinking into oblivion, - the man said reproachfully.
- How do you figure that? - the policeman frowned.
- How else did you manage to forget that today is December twenty-seventh? - The taxi driver winked and finally turned to the windshield.
- You have got to be kidding me... - this answer stumped Galbraith.
- Nothing of the sort, - muttered the taxi driver. - Check it out for yourself, if you do not believe me! - and he made a gesture with his left hand.

The inspector, who had already lost his temper, obediently followed the man’s instructions and looked out the side window - they were driving along a straight road, on both sides of which stretched snow-covered fields, behind which rare buildings were barely visible. The only source of light was the headlights of the car, which illuminated the road ahead, and in their light it was clearly visible how rare snowflakes were swirling in the air and slowly falling onto the snow-covered asphalt. Galbraith was confused and grabbed his head with both hands. The view of nature outside the car window silently made him understand that there was only one way to explain what was happening - a miracle happened, and the policeman inexplicably moved in time.

In this regard, he suddenly remembered that in childhood he had come across a book - a collection of fantastic stories. There were a lot of interesting things there, but he remembered one story for a long time. As far as Galbraith could remember now, it was about students who found a broken grandfather clock in the house of an elderly relative. Taking them with them, they showed them to the professor and he decided to have them. His actions caused the trinity of them to travel back in time to the Eighty Years' War. Over the years, the inspector forgot the author of the story, its title and almost all the details, but the fact that in this work, from the nineteenth century, which was more or less familiar to his perception, the action was suddenly transferred to the sixteenth, was imprinted on his memory.

Galbraith raised his eyes to the ceiling, all the impressions he had experienced that day made him dizzy. Common sense told him that fantastic is fiction, but now he was in reality! If someone outside tried to briefly describe what had just happened to him, the result would be complete nonsense - the inspector got into a taxi in the fall, and winter immediately set in outside. How the most ordinary and banal passenger car was able to travel forward two months in time? The inspector was brought out of this frantic whirlpool of thoughts by a familiar tenor. Galbraith turned away from the window and listened - the voice sang to the accompaniment of jazz, which was heard from the radio. The passenger could not resist touching the driver on the shoulder.

- Listen, these are not... - and inspector uttered two words that sounded like the name of a French fashion magazine.
- Yes, that's them, - the driver nodded affirmatively, who also seemed pleased to listen to this song.
- Did they really release a new album this year? - Galbraith was surprised.

He remembered that these guys were so busy touring that they simply did not have time to get together in the studio and please their loyal listeners with another full-length masterpiece.

- What the album? - said the driver. - Only one track.
- Hmm... - the policeman scratched his chin.
- But this is not just a ordinary composition, - the driver began to clarify, - It's a song for the new movie by Ernst Wilhelm Wenders!

Galbraith had never heard of this man before. Apparently, he was simply not particularly interested in what was happening in the world of cinema recently.

- Okay, I was excited to learn about this, - Galbraith thanked him and leaned back in his seat.

He began to listen to the song streaming from the radio speaker. The beautiful voice of the vocalist had an alluring and hypnotic power, which was ideally combined with an accompaniment very similar to jazz - which was quite uncharacteristic for these guys who mostly played synthesizers. The lyrics involuntarily sunk into Galbraith’s soul - as he could understand, the lyrical hero of this song felt like a stranger in the real world, and so he went to the afterlife, which he considers his true home. In the refrain he appealed to his parents, hoping for a suitable reception from them. It seemed to the inspector that this composition was clearly intended for those who were disappointed in life.

Analyzing the content of a song that came across a random radio channel, Galbraith noticed its similarity to a Missa pro defunctis. And I couldn’t help but wonder, for whom does this requiem sound? According to Jordan Thurlow - a young man who had no place in this life? Maybe for Delia Yonce - a little girl who did not have time to know this world? Or in the end for himself, inspector Galbraith, who has recently been forced to try to understand the meaning of life?

- Delia... - he whispered.

When the name of this girl came to his mind, the inspector was suddenly overcome with determination. He remembered the cardboard with the alphabet and, taking it in his hands, began to study it again. The letters themselves were printed in large font, and their serial numbers in smaller.

- How was it, four and five... - the inspector recalled the last lines of the letter.

On the cardboard, these numbers corresponded to the letters "D" and "E", and they - what a coincidence - came one after the other.

- This is quite naturally, - Galbraith grinned into his moustache.

He remembered that, according to the radio, it was now December - the twelfth month. He lowered his eyes again - on the cardboard this number corresponds to the letter "L".

- Well... - he became interested in solving this logical puzzle.

The ninth letter from the beginning was "I". Galbraith thought that it could carry the answer in itself - after all, in the Roman number system this letter corresponded to the number One (1). And this, by the way, was also helpful for the decision, because "A", the very first letter of the English alphabet, fit this number.

- Okay, this is D-E-L-I-A. Ideal.. - burst out from Galbraith.

The inspector tried this phrase on his tongue, and accidentally discovered that both of his last words - "delia" and "ideal" - consisted of the same letters, only arranged in a different sequence. "One is any better than the other", he breathed. Now Galbraith had no doubt that the mysterious author of the letter had this girl in mind. But what was the point of this? An extra reminder for the inspector? An unknown author called for Galbraith to restore justice in the name of the pharmaceutist's daughter? For some reason, the policeman immediately remembered his dead friend Pharqraut, who just liked to find unusual clues in things in which other people would not have noticed anything. The dead do not write letters, but the logic of his close friend and the author of the message, who wished to remain anonymous, was very similar...

- It is possible that the essence should be sought not in morphemic, but in arithmetic, - the inspector said quietly.

A hunch told him that if he added up the numbers, the riddle would be solved on its own. He was afraid of making a mistake in his calculations, so he turned to a taxi driver.

- Sorry, do you have a calculator? - he said meekly.
- Do you want to calculate how much money will be transferred to you in a month? - The driver said cheerfully and opened the glove compartment.
- Something like that, - Galbraith decided to maintain a carefree tone of conversation.
- If it's not a secret, what will you spend it on? - asked the driver, rummaging through things.
- For the holidays, of course, - the inspector answered evasively

The driver, meanwhile, continued to look for what the passenger asked him for. Finally, he pulled out a small electronic device from the very depths.

- Did you ask? Hold it, - and he gave the policeman a Casio fx-7000G.

The inspector turned the silver calculator in his hands. The well-worn device had a small green screen and five rows of tiny buttons.

- If only you knew how much money I spent on it at one time... - the driver said with unexpected warmth, and for the first time notes of sadness were heard in his voice.

"There was no need to rush to buy the product when it was just thrown onto the market", Galbraith thought, focusing on the device. Means, D-E-L-I-A. The inspector checked the cardboard - it turned out that in numbers this word was transformed into 04-05-12-09-01. Galbraith began to poke at the small buttons of the calculator.

- Which operation should I perform first... - he asked himself, referring to operations of a mathematical rather than criminal nature.

He decided to subtract the numbers. The matte green display of the Casio fx-7000G displayed "-23". A negative number meant nothing to him. Then he decided to add them. He got the number "31". "Already makes sense", the inspector thought. For example, he himself was just thirty-one years old...

- What if I added up both of these answers? - Galbraith decided.

He typed "-23+31" on the calculator. The result is the number "8".

- Eight... Delia was eight years old when Jo met her... - the policeman muttered as if in a trance.

Yes, Galbraith thought, one German scientist said the truth that Mathematics is The Queen of The Sciences...

- Take it back, - he handed the calculator to its owner.
- What, did you find out how much you will spend on the holidays? - the driver asked in a joking tone, putting the electronic device in the glove compartment.
- Well, I'm a huge strapped for cash, - Galbraith smiled in response.
- Why so? - there was surprise in the driver’s voice.
- I don’t really want to work, - the inspector lowered his gaze in embarrassment.
- All right, I get it, you are lost the grip... - the driver nodded understandingly and returned to the controls.

And Galbraith, who was somewhat tired from solving mathematical riddles, leaned back in his seat and closed his eyes. Already without a calculator in his hands, he simply turned over the number thirty one (31) for fun. The result involuntarily made him grin - because the number thirteen (13), which he came up with, was famous for generating an unhealthy excitement around itself. It’s funny, Galbraith thought, when overly impressionable people are afraid of Baker’s dozen, not least because that at one time some quacks gave birth to a cult, which in fact was needed only to instill fear in the souls of uneducated people. And, as the inspector noted, this mission to obscurantion the people was successful - this extremely ridiculous cult in its essence was not only not forgotten over time, but on the contrary, it penetrated into all spheres of people’s lives and became as integral a part of culture as, for example, the hippie subculture.

Galbraith marvelled at how the people could allow their heads to be filled with such nonsense, and thought that if these quacks heard about the incident with poor Delia Yonce, then they would immediately call her a witch, hang all the mortal sins on her - in general, they would turn the story about a rare medical case into some kind of idiotic mystical fairy tale, which would only cause bewilderment to any even more or less educated person.

- I can think of no worse deed than demonization of the child, - Galbraith sighed sadly

Lost in lamentable reflections, the inspector did not notice how the car stopped moving.

- Good sir, we are already there! - the driver said cheerfully.

Galbraith turned away from his mirthless thoughts and looked out the window. Outside was a snow-covered field that stretched to the horizon. Here and there sparse trees stuck out between the snowdrifts.

- Are we sure we've arrived at the right address? - the policeman asked incredulously.
- Do you think I decided to fool you? - the taxi driver said with offense.

The inspector decided not to get into an altercation with him and opened the door. There was no bitter blizzard, but rare snowflakes continued to hover in the air. It would be crazy to go out in such light clothes, but Galbraith didn't care anymore. Getting out of the car, he took two steps forward and breathed in the fresh air. A gust of cold wind blew through his hair.

- I said, take me to the institute! - he shouted, looking around.
- And what's this? A barn?! - answered the taxi driver from the window.

The car started moving and sped off into the distance. Shivering from the cold, the inspector took his eyes off the road and turned on his heel. He expected to see a typical building of an ordinary institute - a huge four-story structure with long rows of windows, with a colonnade at the main facade and with mysterious Latin inscriptions above the main entrance. But instead he saw a modest one-story house. Although, to be honest, calling it "house" would be an exaggeration. The structure looked much more like a car garage, built from cinder blocks finished with dark blue plaster.

Galbraith looked a little more closely. The building had the shape of a parallelepiped, with four windows along the long sides. At the end there was a double wooden door with small windows made of thick glass. This, in fact, was where all the architectural delights ended - no signs, inscriptions or plaques. It looked like it really was an ordinary, unremarkable garage. But the inspector decided not to rush to conclusions and came close to the entrance. As soon as he pulled the copper handle, a light came on behind the glass of the doors. Then something tinkled behind them and there was a quiet click. Galbraith immediately let go of the handle and backed away slightly - the next moment the door slowly opened.

A young man stood on the threshold in a white coat thrown over a black shirt. The policeman looked up - the stranger had a yellowish skin tone, small thin lips and combed back black hair. The Asian man looked at the inspector, and polite curiosity was visible in his narrow, slanted eyes. At the first moment, Galbraith even had the thought that he had already seen this face somewhere - maybe in a movie - but he immediately pushed this thought away.

- Welcome, - The Asian said respectfully and bowed his head slightly.

The inspector couldn't help but notice that the interlocutor had problems pronouncing the letter "L" - instead he got an "R", which is why his "welcome" sounded almost like "verukome".

- I am grad that you honoured our humbre institute with your visit, - the stranger in the coat said obsequiously with a terrible accent. - Come in, they are waiting for you.

The solemnity that was felt in the words of this Asian only emphasized the atmosphere of absurdity that surrounded Galbraith at that moment. Having crossed the threshold, the inspector followed his guide, not having the slightest idea where he was leading him. They walked through a narrow, short corridor and found themselves in a dressing room-like room, the walls of which were painted gray. Galbraith immediately caught the eye of the staircase leading down, located directly opposite the entrance to the room. To her right was the elevator door, next to which stood a metal clothes hanger on which hung several white coats - exactly the same as the one the Asian man who met him was wearing.

Behind these clothes, Galbraith did not immediately notice a man standing at a distance in the same suit. Taking a closer look, the inspector recognized him as the same middle-aged guest who had visited him in his room at the Stait of Snow Lake hotel in the morning.

- Wow, here you are! - there was a cheerful shout.

The man waved his hand joyfully, and the policeman saw his face break into a smile for a moment - it seemed as if he saw an old friend whom he had not seen for many years. After a second, the smile disappeared from his face and the man turned his gaze to the Asian man standing next to the inspector and winked at him. He nodded in response and headed towards the stairs. Galbraith wanted to follow, but the silver-haired man stopped him.

- Hold your horses, the respected, hold your horses, - he said ingratiatingly, clapping his hands.
- How can I be useful in this place? - Galbraith asked, looking with interest at the specialist.
- I would like to say a few words to you, - the interlocutor seemed to have not heard him. - I was already afraid that you wouldn't come.
- Why? - the inspector didn't understand what silver-haired was talking about.
- Two months and eight days have passed since I handed you the business card, - the man answered, raising his finger up.

Galbraith was a little surprised by the accuracy with which his interlocutor counted the time. Apparently, he never complained about his memory. Besides, people here were really looking forward to the inspector's visit. The more the policeman thought about it, the more a vague feeling of anxiety came over him. To drive him away, Galbraith decided to focus on the upcoming conversation.

- Yes, I wasn't in much of a hurry, - he answered evasively.

Not telling this silver-haired man that he actually moved in time by getting into some taxi - not only did it sound stupid, but it could also suggest that the inspector was not all right in the head.

- Good, - The specialist was satisfied with this answer. - Put in on.

With these words, he took one of the white coats from the hanger and handed it to Galbraith.

- What is this for? - asked the inspector, incredulously turning this item of clothing in his hands.
- For hygienic reasons, - the silver-haired man answered.
- Huh, you're afraid I'll bring germs into your barn? - Galbraith grinned, throwing this coat over his shoulders.

The specialist seemed to be offended by such words from the guest. He twitched with his whole body and threw a look of reproach at Galbraith.

- I understand that you are not very impressed by the facade of our institute, but do not rush to conclusions! - he spoke hastily.
- Where exactly is the institute itself? - Galbraith asked curiously.
- Below, - the specialist said solemnly.

He pointed with his hand towards the stairs, on the upper steps of which stood an Asian man leaning against the wall. He seemed to be just waiting for this sign. He walked away from the wall and, as if about to bow, slightly bent his knees, but the next moment he straightened up and froze in place.

- Makoto-san berieves that the croser a person is to the core of the Earth, the more his mind is open to universar wisdom, - at these words, a crazy light flashed in the Asian's eyes.
- What nonsense did he say? - Galbraith asked the silver-haired man.
- Forgive generously young mister Manabu for idolizing his teacher too much, - the specialist said with embarrassment
- I don't care about the relationship between a student and his teacher, - Galbraith remarked somewhat rudely. - Explain in a few words what is happening here?
- In the heat of his feelings, Manabu lost sight of the fact, - the silver-haired man began. - That Montesi decided to hide his developments from prying eyes.
- Montesi? Makoto? Who are all these people? - the inspector was already beginning to be annoyed by this old man and his Asian friend.
- While we are on our way down, you and I will have enough time to bring you up to date, - the specialist did not seem to notice the inspector's dissatisfaction.

After these words, the specialist approached the stairs, and his Asian companion - now it turned out that he was Japanese - followed him. Galbraith silently looked after them and decided to go to the elevator.

- No-no-no, - the silver-haired man shouted to him. - Follow us!
- Why don't we just take the elevator? - Galbraith asked, taking his hand away from the call button.
- The fact is that the institute is located at such a great depth, - the specialist began in the tone of an art critic in the museum, - That during an elevator ride your brain runs the risk of not being able to cope with the rapid change in pressure.
- So what? - the inspector was not impressed by this abstruse excuse.
- And in this case, you, my respected and impatient friend, will just lose consciousness right in the cabin, - the silver-haired man said with obvious mockery.
- Are you threatening me? - the policeman involuntarily became wary.
- Threat is the weapon of cowards, - pouting with importance, the Japanese intervened in the conversation. - Makoto-san arways said that a person is obriged...
- I have no obligations to you two, - Galbraith interrupted him.

The inspector walked away from the elevator and stood next to his interlocutors. He had a view of a spiral staircase going deep into a round concrete shaft. The steps were illuminated by rare yellow diodes hanging on an aluminum wire stretched over the staircase railing. The end of this steel spiral was lost in the darkness, and not a single sound came from there. At the sight of this descent, a chill ran down the policeman's spine - in his entire adult life he had never seen such a great depth. Galbraith felt his hands involuntarily shaking, and with difficulty he restrained himself from succumbing to the impulse of fear and rushing to the exit from this place.

He looked at the gray-haired man - he did not seem to experience any discomfort, calmly looking forward. Then the inspector turned to the Japanese - he looked at Galbraith with curiosity, and his eyes seemed to say "Are you scared? This is a lesson for you not to be rude to scientists!".

- Well, let's go? - the specialist said in a cheerful tone.

With these words, he grabbed the iron railing with one hand and began to leisurely descend the stairs. The Japanese followed him. Galbraith was in no hurry to follow them and leaned his elbows on the railing.

- Hey, wait a second, - he said quietly after them.

The silver-haired man did not seem to hear him and continued to walk, and only his yellow-faced companion did a favour for the guest and turned his head slightly back, looking strangely sideways at Galbraith.

- Make me a promise that at the end of this excursion I will return back safe and sound, okay? - the inspector asked with unexpected gentleness.
- Don't worry, - came the specialist's voice. - You are our guest, and therefore we have no right to wish you harm in any case.

The Japanese didn't say a word, he just beckoned the inspector with his finger and, turning away from him, continued on his way. Galbraith, who was saddened by these words, shrugged his shoulders and obediently followed them both. There was a slightly musty underground smell hanging in the air of the descent shaft - something between the smell of mustiness and fug. It is curious that the lower they descended, the warmer the air became.

- Please don't stomp! - the gray-haired man suddenly shouted.

The inspector only now realized that all this time his companions had been walking silently along the metal steps, while he, in his loafers, was actually making a very distinct stomp. Galbraith looked at the heels of the Japanese man walking in front of him and could not help but smile - on the young man's bare feet there were rubber flip-flops, very similar to those worn by tourists sunbathing on the beach. This was so dissonant with the scientist's white coat that the inspector could not help but comment on it out loud.

- Amusing dress code you have here, - he said, trying to slow down his pace.
- Are you talking about slippers? - asked the silver-haired man, continuing to go down. - We would have given them to you too, but we thought you would start complaining.
- But why flip-flops? - Galbraith asked over the head of the silent Japanese.
- The legs breathe, also the stomping does not interfere with the conversation, - the specialist answered calmly.

Galbraith finally mastered the fear that gripped him a couple of minutes ago. Now he found it funny, to such an extent that he was almost sure that all this was happening in some kind of comedy farce.

- And what do you want to tell me, mister... - the inspector waited for the gray-haired man to identify himself.
- Just call me the specialist, - answered the silver-haired man.
- What kind of conspiracy is this? - the inspector sensed a catch.
- Our scientific people have no names, - the specialist said mysteriously.
- Onry when an individuar manages to achieve success does he have every right to carr himserf, - suddenly spoke up a Japanese man, who had previously keep quiet.
- Hmm... - Galbraith frowned. - Wait, what about Manabu? - he remembered the name of the Asian.
- Mister Manabu has the reputation of being his teacher's first assistant, - answered the specialist. - He is worthy to be addressed by name.
- Does that mean you are not worthy? - the policeman marvelled at this injustice.
- I'm just a executant that no one will ever mention, - the silver-haired man said sadly. - Like a musician in an orchestra, listeners first talk about the composer, then about the conductor, and no one cares about who produces the sounds of music themselves.

There was a grain of truth in the specialist's words. But this still seemed to Galbraith an insufficient excuse for the fact that the man who last morning - but in fact two months ago - paid a surprise visit to the inspector, continues to hide his name from the policeman.

- How long do we have to go? - Galbraith asked the specialist.
- It's better not to ask this question, - he answered evasively.

This means, the inspector thought, the institute is indeed located quite deep underground. Strange, very strange - why hide so carefully from human eyes what relates to computer technology?

- Would you mind telling me then who this Montesi you mentioned is? - the inspector asked the question again.
- Pourquoi pas? - exclaimed the silver-haired man in French. - This is exactly what we have prepared for beginners.
- Curious. And how many people have you directed to the right path? - the policeman said sarcastically.
- So far, not a singre one, you are the first to receive such an honour, - the Japanese raised his voice again.

Walking behind his companions, Galbraith quickly realized why he was the first guest of this institute - few people would want to go deep underground, inhaling the stale air and trying not to fall head over heels from the spiral staircase. The inspector had the feeling that he was descending into the Mariana Trench or, God forbid, to where the took place the actions of "Divine Comedy" by Durante di Alighiero degli Alighieri...

- Montesi was an engineer-constructor, - meanwhile the specialist began. - Who, from his school days, cherished the idea of ​​creating an eternal supercomputer.
- What-what? - Galbraith asked, not believing his ears.
- Eternal in that sense, - as if making a footnote, the silver-haired man said. - That the integrated circuits that form the basis of the machine do not wear out over time.
- Of course, subject to operating conditions, - the Japanese inserted moralizingly.
- Mister Manabu is right, a supercomputer will not last a day if left in the rain, but who would come up with the idea of such an act of vandalism? - the specialist agreed with the interlocutor.
- Well, yes... - Galbraith said quietly.
- All in all, - the silver-haired man continued the story, - Montesi, as a student, moved from his native Chile to England, and in its capital he quickly found people interested in this.
- Do you want to say that in London there were some naive technology manufacturers who took the word of some South American student and fulfilled his whims? - the inspector asked incredulously.
- It is incredible but it is a fact, - the specialist said briefly.
- Why, pray tell, did this Montesi need to dig this shaft? - Galbraith still could not take his interlocutor's words at face value.
- Cold War, - the specialist answered just as tersely. - He did not want the intelligence services to interfere with his work.

Well, yes, the policeman thought, it's so obvious... But still, how did it happen that a project of such a scale remained unknown to the masses? For Galbraith, this was no less a mystery than the fact that he himself had somehow traveled back in time.

- Adrian Montesi with his charges, - continued the silver-haired. - In a couple of years created a prototype of a supercomputer. The development was carried out directly underground - workshops were erected there that assembled microcircuits, memory units and other components.
- It sounds like a fragment from some fantastic story, - Galbraith couldn't resist.
- The fierd of science in which we work wirr arways seem rike science fiction to the common man, - the Japanese added.
- Therefore, I will try not to use terms that will not be clear to you in any case, - the specialist noted.
- Thanks for your kind words, - the inspector replied sarcastically.
- The very first program that was recorded in the computer's memory, - said the gray-haired man. - It was extremely primitive, there was no question of it simulating our world.
- And now what, is he already simulating? - their guest couldn't help but grin.
- Don't go getting too far ahead! - the specialist said sternly.

Galbraith interpreted this remark as a positive answer to his rhetorical question. Curious and curious, he thought.

- Adrian Montesi eventually achieved his goal, and the computer could function forever and without stopping, - the silver-haired man said solemnly.
- And then he took his secret to the grave? - Galbraith joked.
- Don't blaspheme, Montesi is alive! - the specialist exclaimed in fear.
- Okay, I was joking, - the inspector reassured the interlocutor.
- The inventor was so excited about his success, - continued the silver-haired man. - That at the end of the test run of the computer, he immediately rushed to The Intellectual Property Office of the United Kingdom and registered the trademark "Mon-Tec", which was short for "Montesi Technologies".
- Somehow this act does not fit with the way he previously hid his developments from the intelligence services - Galbraith noticed the discrepancy.
- Eidorian Monteshi was a very passionate gaijin, - the Japanese made an excuse. - No one courd understand what was going on in his head.
- Why do you both talk about him in the past tense? - their guest could not help but ask.
- You should know it, - the specialist said. - When Montesi registered the trademark, he spoke at an international congress. The only one who was interested in the Chilean's invention was professor Makoto Shuragami.

Galbraith could not help but think that apparently all the other scientists who were at that congress considered this South American engineer crazy and did not believe his story about an eternal supercomputer. And who would believe...

- Makoto-san buirt a theory, - the Japanese began enthusiastically. - That computer programming is something rike human training, when the resurt shourd not be an automatic machine that executes the program embedded in it, but an artificiar interrigence that courd think and think on its own, without operator intervention.
- Well, is a strong word, - Galbraith involuntarily praised the young interlocutor.
- Aras, in his homerand Makoto-san had a bad reputation, scientists despised him and carred his thoughts as empty chatter, - continued the Asian with a terrible accent.
- Huh, a typical story about an unrecognized genius, - muttered the policeman.
- And therefore, when the professor rearned about the creation of Eidorian Monteshi, he fert that with this gaijin he wourd be abre to rearize his dream of creating an artificiar worrd, - having said this, the Japanese began to breathe heavily as if in divine awe.

There was something strange in this union of a Chilean engineer and a Japanese programmer... But such is the world, two souls found each other, and it was pointlessly for Galbraith to argue with this.

- Makoto showed Montesi a prototype of his program, which, based on the information entered into it, produced quite meaningful sentences in response, - the specialist took over the narrator's initiative.
- It's rike when a baby repeats an adurt's actions, - his Asian companion explained.
- Do you want to say that some unknown Japanese professor developed the von Neumann model and achieved success in it? - asked Galbraith.
- Unknown is a relative concept, - the silver-haired man noticed. - Do you know who Thomas Kite Sharpless is?
- How should I know? - the policeman did not understand the hint.
- If you were interested in computers, you would know that this is the chief programmer of Electronic Numerical Integrator and Computer, - the specialist said in the tone of a mentor.
- All right, you've got it, - Galbraith surrendered.

There was silence for a couple of minutes. All three - the inspector, the gray-haired man and the Japanese - continued to descend down the poorly lit spiral staircase, and it seemed that there was no end to this descent. Galbraith was surprised to note that during all this time he was never out of breath - apparently, the spiral movement put virtually no strain on his legs.

- Makoto's program delighted Montesi so much, - after three minutes the silver-haired man continued. - That he, without thinking twice, appointed a Japanese professor to the post of major programmer of his supercomputer.
- Makoto-san took with him a staff of his emproyees, among whom was your humbre servant Manabu, - the Japanese said with dignity.
- Within two months, - the specialist spoke. - A team of Japanese programmers worked hard and eventually demonstrated their work to Montesi.
- Eidorian Monteshi was so amazed by my teacher's unprecedented resurts, - his Asian companion immediately intervened. - That he bowed to his genius and handed over the entire project to him.
- But where did he go? - Galbraith asked a question.
- Montesi left the "Mon-Tec", - the specialist said. - But before leaving, he asked the professor for a favor.
- What was it? - the inspector did not let up.
- He had two requests, - continued the silver-haired man. - So that they completely forget about it and at the same time change the brand.
- And what were the successes? - the policeman was surprised by these demands of the Chilean.
- "Mon-Tec" has been re-registered under the new name, "Makoto Computerization Institute", - the gray-haired man said a word already familiar to Galbraith.
- But no one courd forget about Eidorian Monteshi himserf, - the Japanese inserted the word.

Well, of course, Galbraith thought, after all, the fact that this man created technology that can work forever is much more significant than some kind of program.

- Did he really leave of his own free will? - he became suspicious.
- Makoto-san personarry begged Eidorian Monteshi-kun not to abandon his brainchird, but the gaijin was adamant, - as if making excuses, the Asian said
- Okay, so what happened next? - the inspector ignored this expatiation.
- When the staff of the institute was headed by Makoto Shuragami, - the specialist started talking again. - All participants began working on the creation of "Makoto's Chest", that's what the professor himself called his creation.
- And what did the programmers put in this chest? - Galbraith asked ironically.
- All kinds of information began to be entered into the supercomputer memory blocks, - the silver-haired man began to list. - Starting from sciences such as algebra or philosophy and ending with such small things as prices for tickets to Africa or a top list of the best perfumes for young girls.
- I've never heard so much codswallop, - said the inspector. - Why fill a supercomputer with all sorts of nonsense?
- Makoto-san wanted, - the Japanese started. - For a computer to have so much information about our worrd, to buird a his virtuar copy based on it.

Galbraith thought that this idea is like the Greek myth of Sisyphus, after all, the world that surrounds people consists of so many little things that collecting this information alone should take decades. But ways of scientists are inscrutable... The inspector even admitted that Professor Makoto apparently had some health problems that could not allow him to conceive an heir, and so the professor decided to create a electronic child from relays and lines of code. At the moment when this thought occurred to Galbraith, suddenly a bright light hit his eyes. The policeman immediately stopped and involuntarily shielded himself from the light.

- Well, here is our institute, - he heard the solemn voice of the silver-haired man.

The inspector's ears heard distant shouts and someone's cheerful negotiations, but he could not make out the words - people were speaking in a language he did not understand. After a few minutes, his eyes, accustomed to the darkness, adapted to the white light of the fluorescent lamps hanging on the ceiling and gradually Galbraith began to distinguish the interior surrounding him.

He and his two companions were now standing in the middle of a long corridor with gleaming metal walls, stretching into the distance and getting lost around a bend. People passed by the three of them, who in the eyes of the policeman were like two peas in a pod, for they were all wearing white coats thrown over their casual clothes. Passers-by glanced at him, but did not stop and moved on. Suddenly Galbraith noticed how one of them slowed down slightly and turned to his helpmeet:

- Manabu-kun no tonari ni tatte iru kono baka wa daredesu ka? - this onlooker said in Japanese.
- Kore ga watashitachi no gesutoda to omoimasu, - his fellow answered.

The young men passed by Galbraith, who continued to stand in one place. He soon realized the reason why everyone was looking at him like that - apart from the specialist who worked here, the inspector was the only Europoid who, among the crowd of Japanese, looked like an alien from another world.

- Excuse me, what did these gentlemen say? - he turned to Manabu.

The scientist looked at the inspector.

- These two said, - Manabu began to translate. - That they are very preased to wercome a distinguished guest to our institute!

The mischievous light that burned in the Japanese's eyes made Galbraith doubt the correctness of this translation for a split second, but he did not care whether Manabu correctly conveyed to the foreigner the meaning of his colleagues' fleeting remark. Then he suddenly became interested in how such a large number of people could end up underground.

- By the way, do they live here or... - he asked.
- Only working, - the specialist said briefly.
- And how do they get here? - asked Galbraith.
- By taxi... - the silver-haired man began, but the inspector interrupted him.
- I mean how they go underground, - the policeman specified.

It would be strange, he thought, if all these scientists spent more than an hour getting to their workplace.

- By the elevator, of course, - the specialist answered.
- What, these Japanese don't lose consciousness while they're coming down here? - Galbraith recalled the phrase of his interlocutor when he dissuaded him from the elevator.
- Physicar training, - Manabu responded automatically.

"Somehow these scientists don’t look like people involved in sports", Galbraith thought, looking at his interlocutors and at the slender and subtle young men in dressing gowns passing by.

- Maybe it's just a matter of habit? - said the inspector.
- And that too, - nodded the specialist.

Suddenly two people stopped next to them. Of course, these were also Japanese, but this time they did not limit themselves to just comments in their language, but bowed to Galbraith and extended their hands to him.

- Hello, - the younger one said in fairly good English.
- Greetings, - his senior companion said in a cheerful tone.

Apparently they are brothers, the inspector thought, shaking hands first with one, then with the other.

- These are our new employees, - the specialist told him.
- I hope their names will not be a secret to me? - the policeman remarked sarcastically.
- Of course not, - the silver-haired man seemed not to understand the hint. - Get acquainted with Okamura brothers, Shinoda and Ichinose.

At these words, the older one chuckled displeasedly, and his younger brother smiled sadly, which somewhat embarrassed Galbraith.

- I'm glad that there was finally a volunteer willing to test our supercomputer, - said Ichinose.
- I hope the guest will appreciate the fruits of our labours, - Shinoda chimed in to his brother.

The inspector sighed - he was not satisfied with the fact that these guys talked about him as if for them he was not a person, but some kind of guinea pig. It was not the words themselves - the false wall of feelings - but the intonations of these two. Galbraith prepared for the worst.

- What do you call this project among yourselves? - he asked the brothers.

He asked the question not so much out of curiosity, but in order to observe the reaction of these two and assess whether irritation from the excessive importunity of the guest would appear on their faces.

- We call it D.O.O.R, - Shinoda replied.
- Can you tell me how this is deciphered? - the inspector did not let up.

From the way the Japanese minted the letters, Galbraith guessed that this was an abbreviation. The older brother frowned and, tilting his head to the side, thought for several seconds, as if deciding whether to answer the policeman’s question or not. Then his face brightened.

- D.O.O.R. is Digital Oriented Objective Replica, - he began to answer.

The eldest son of the Okamura family pulled out the vowels so much that it seemed to enhance the effect of these words, but in fact only convinced his interlocutor that Shinoda’s English was not perfect.

- Don’t listen to him, - Ichinose suddenly intervened in the conversation. - He is too pedantic and does not see the hidden meaning in the name of our project!

Shinoda gave his younger brother a stern look, but he did not notice the reproach. Galbraith couldn't help but admire Ichinose. Still, these Asian brothers were not exact copies of each other - each had their own characteristic feature, which he, a Europoid, was able to discern in each. Shinoda had a decisive fold above his upper lip, which had something masculine about him, while Ichinose, on the contrary, had a kind of childish roundness in his face, not without a peculiar beauty and charm. What they had in common was that they were both almost the same age, and that they both had dark eyes and short hair.

- And what meaning do you see in this thunderous word? - the inspector asked the younger brother.
- D.O.O.R. is The Door to The Future! - Ichinose exclaimed with sincere delight.

After that, Shinoda leaned over to his brother and began to whisper something angrily in his ear - apparently, he was reprimanding him for being shockingly inappropriate within the walls of the institute. But Galbraith was much more satisfied with Ichinose's answer - he thought it made much more sense than the cumbersome and abstruse sequence of words that the eldest Okamura brother insisted on. Then the silver-haired man suddenly spoke up, having previously quietly observed the conversation between the guest and the two new employees.

- Now excuse me, I have to go, things to do, - he said calmly.

The specialist nodded slightly to the inspector and quickly walked towards the fork in the corridors. A few steps short of the turn, he turned around and waved to Manabu, then disappeared down the left corridor. The Japanese followed the example of his foreign companion and set off after him. Galbraith looked after him for several minutes - the combination of a strict white robe and bare heels looked a little funny.

When Manabu disappeared around the bend in the corridor, the inspector again turned his gaze to the brothers and only now noticed that they were also wearing flip-flops. "Nothing can be done", he thought, "In this underground institute everything is not like normal people". He asked himself an essentially stupid question - do employees change their shoes upon arriving at work, or do they wear slippers in public? Galbraith looked at the eldest of the brothers - he was standing against the wall on which the logo was written, three huge red letters "M.C.I". Apparently it was the emblem of the institute. Shinoda moved his lips in concentration and seemed to have forgotten about the guest.

- Sorry, but what should I do now? - The inspector turned to Ichinose, who was twirling a ballpoint pen in his hands out of boredom.. - Where is your supercomputer, or whatever it's called, D.O.O.R.?

These words brought the older brother out of his trance and he, stopping moving his lips, looked at the inspector.

- We will now take you where you need to go, - the Japanese said somewhat thoughtfully.
- If you have any questions, don’t hesitate to contact us, - his younger brother interjected.
- In this case, - Galbraith involuntarily felt inspired. - Before you take me to the machine, could you arrange an audience for me with professor Makoto Shugarami?

The policeman put all his self-esteem into these words, because he believed that he should not allow others to push him around like a weak-willed animal. After some silence, Shinoda grinned wryly and Galbraith involuntarily felt as if he had exposed himself to ridicule with these words. But it was still better than if the inspector behaved like a weak-willed and naive idiot.

- Makoto-san left for Tokyo, - Shinoda said.
- On affairs? - Galbraith asked out of politeness.
- The professor decided to pay tribute to his favourite writer, - saying this, Ichinose raised his hands to the ceiling.
- In what sense? - the inspector was surprised by the answer of the younger brother Okamura.
- Makoto-san honoured with his visit winter residence of... - and Ichinose pronounced a name unfamiliar to Galbraith, which apparently belonged to some Japanese writer.
- Okay, that’s his business, - their guest waved, meaning professor Makoto.

It was bad luck, Galbraith thought, that fate brought him to this institute precisely at the moment when its rector was on vacation. He would have to entrust his life into the hands of these fidgety dunces, in whom the inspector had absolutely no trust. He was already beginning to regret his decision to come here, but a thought suddenly occurred to him.

- Do you happen to know doctor Baselard? - Galbraith asked both brothers.

He asked the question at random - he did not expect to receive a positive answer to it. Actually, that’s exactly what happened.

- No, this is the first time we’ve heard this name, - the Okamura brothers answered in unison. - And who is it?
- Well, he’s short, bald, gray-haired and wears glasses, - the inspector listed the doctor’s characteristics from memory.

The brothers shrugged their shoulders - none of them had seen a person with such signs. The inspector lost heart. Ichinose put his hand on his shoulder.

- Come with us, respected guest, - the Japanese said in a soothing tone.

The brothers turned at once and headed down the corridor, Galbraith trailing behind them. The three of them walked through narrow passages and countless corridors lined with metal plates that glittered under the white light of the ceiling lamps. Occasionally there were niches in the walls in which gas cylinders and batteries were located. Sometimes the walls were crossed by long pipes, from which a faint hum emanated - apparently it was a heating pipeline.

But the inspector had nothing to do with the architectural delights and technical subtleties of this institute - his thoughts were occupied with completely different problems. He walked quickly behind the Okamura brothers, trying not to lag behind them even a step, and thought that if it weren’t for these two, he would probably have gotten lost in these monotonous metal guts of tunnels, each of which seemed to have at least a thousand passages and branches.

Finally the brothers stopped in a small nook. The inspector stood behind them and watched as Ichinose winked at him and, facing the corrugated iron door, leaned on the handle with visible effort. She didn't give in. A grin crossed Galbraith's face for a second. Shinoda glanced at his younger brother with a frown.

- Move away, ototo, - Shinoda said and lightly pushed Ichinose.

He jumped away from the door in fear and, hunching his shoulders, pressed himself against the wall. The older brother immediately grabbed the handle and pulled it towards himself. The massive door swung open so sharply that Shinoda almost lost his balance and only managed to stay on his feet by grabbing the door frame. His guest grinned again, but when the Japanese turned to him, the inspector immediately fell silent and, just in case, took a step back, as if fearing that his smile could cause displeasure in his interlocutor.

For a second, Galbraith and Shinoda looked into each other's eyes, then the second turned his gaze to his younger brother, who had already come to his senses, and grinned.

- Then it’s up to you, - Shinoda said cheerfully.
- Are you talking to me? - Galbraith did not understand to whom the phrase was addressed.
- Of course, - the older brother Okamura again turned his gaze to the inspector.

There was interest in the Japanese's eyes - about the same as that of a scientist observing the behavior of a laboratory rat. "I don’t like this look", Galbraith thought, but did not argue and stepped over the threshold. Once he was inside, he heard the door behind him begin to slowly close. The policeman turned around with lightning speed and leaned on the heavy door with both hands.

- Behave yourself, baka! - Shinoda muttered displeasedly.

The inspector had to obey, and when the door slammed shut, he looked around suspiciously. It was dark - the only source of light in the room was a red light bulb that flickered dimly on the ceiling. Galbraith hesitantly took a couple of steps into the darkness, when suddenly a loud click reached his ears, and the room was illuminated by the bright light of the same fluorescent lamps that were in the corridor.

- Now, listen up, guest, - came a booming voice, followed by a hiss of static.

The policeman turned his head in the direction where the source of the sound was coming from. The voice came from a speaker hanging directly above the door.

- Go ahead, guest, and do what I tell you, - said the invisible announcer

The inspector shrugged and turned on his heel. What opened before his eyes was a room with a low ceiling, covered with the same iron plates as the rest of the interior of the underground institute. Galbraith moved forward. He saw a dashboard mounted into the wall, next to which stood what looked like a chair, which the policeman could tell was made of chromed metal. Its back curved slightly back, and the seat and armrests were upholstered in what looked like faux leather.

Galbraith involuntarily shuddered when he saw this - he immediately associated this design with the electric chair, in which executions were still carried out in some states of America. It was strange to see such a thing in an English computer institute run by the Japanese, but he was not laughing at the moment.

- So, you see The Spectator's Seat, - the distorted voice rang out again.

"Huh, a very pretty name for this structure", Galbraith thought sarcastically. He walked up to the chair and touched his finger to the upholstery. It turns out that the chair was upholstered in rubber. "So as not to accidentally give me an electric shock?" he thought.

- Get into it and press the red button, which is on your left, - the announcer’s voice gave the command.

Galbraith was in no hurry to sit in this chair. The thought occurred to him whether this was part of doctor Baselard’s plan, the essence of which was to lure the inspector underground, and then put him in the electric chair and that’s it, the unwanted person was eliminated... The policeman decided to turn to the invisible owner of this impudent voice. He didn't expect anyone to answer him or even just hear him, but it was still worth a try.

- Hey, what is your name... - Galbraith shouted, turning his head around.
- What? - a voice boomed questioningly.
- Why is this chair? - asked the inspector.
- In order to connect to the thoughts of D.O.O.R., - the announcer answered loudly.
- I don’t understand where the logic is here, - the policeman shouted.
- You sit in The Spectator’s Seat and at the press of a button a special adapter will be connected to your head, allowing you to read the dreams of a supercomputer, - the voice explained loudly.
- Why is everything so difficult? - Galbraith exclaimed almost capriciously.
- Nothing complicated, - the invisible announcer seemed to smile. - You just sit down and connect.
- Is it really true that you didn’t find a single person in your entire institute who could simply mount a screen? - asked Galbraith.
- D.O.O.R. provides information in the form of a sequence of pulses. We are actively working to ensure that a supercomputer can convert it into a continuous stream of video signal, but at this stage all tasks associated with visualization are performed by the brain of the "spectator". Much like with a book - it’s just a set of letters, but in your head they are transformed into vivid images, - after this tirade the voice died down.

Due to the static and echo of the room, it was impossible to understand who this voice actually belonged to, but when Galbraith heard this analogy from the lips of an invisible operator, the inspector immediately thought that the person sitting at the microphone was none other than a gray-haired specialist. However, the policeman did not enter into an altercation with him - what was the point if he was still locked in a room similar to a prison cell...

- Sit in the seat, - the voice rang out again.

"Well", thought Galbraith, "You pushed it enough". He straightened his jacket and settled into his chair.

- Now push the button, - the announcer continued.

"...and I will get the result", thought the inspector. Galbraith turned his head to the left and saw, right next to the armrest, a small recess in the dashboard, in the depths of which a blue light flickered. He leaned closer. Upon closer inspection, it was revealed that it was a round plastic button with a barely noticeable bulge in the middle.

- No, wait! - the policeman raised his head up.
- What questions? - a voice boomed from the speaker.
- Would you describe in general terms what I will see in these "dreams"! - Galbraith shouted as if fighting for his life.
- Okay, - the announcer muttered, as if doing him a favour. - Professor Makoto Shugarami did not intend to create a specific personality of the machine mind, he simply downloaded information into it. However, when we did the "first reading", we noticed that the supercomputer in its thoughts considers itself a young American mafioso who lives in a European town.

"Huh, this electronic brain has an unbridled imagination", thought Galbraith.

- And what is the name of this "E-Mafia" of yours? - asked the inspector
- Edwin Deforest, - the voice answered dryly.
- All right, gentlemen, I’m ready, - the policeman finally agreed.

Galbraith looked away from the shiny metal ceiling and looked again at the blue light. He hesitated a little - almost like when he first boarded his first plane. Then the fact was that he was leaving his native England in order to get to the unknown Das gelobte Land. And now - what an irony of fate! - he did return trip, in order to get into the thoughts of some electronic brains in the depths of a suspicious underground bunker.

Galbraith wiped the sweat on his forehead with his hand and, thinking tenderly about poor little Delia, resolutely extended his hand to the button...

There was a barely audible click and on the ceiling, right above Galbraith's head, a small panel opened slightly, from where a manipulator, ending in three silver claws, extended downwards. With the sound of servos, they began to slowly approach the head of the inspector, who involuntarily shivered in his chair.

- Relax, guest, - came a voice. - And close your eyes.

The policeman closed his eyes. He felt the manipulator's three fingers wrap around the back and sides of his head. Galbraith was not in pain, but the feeling was not pleasant - it seemed that his head was being squeezed in a vice, which was not far from the truth.

- Stop thinking, - said the announcer.

The inspector opened his eyes when he heard this. He wanted to ask how he should understand this request, but was horrified to discover that his tongue had stopped obeying him - apparently, some kind of paralyzing impulse had been sent through the manipulator rods. But fortunately for him, the invisible operator seemed to understand that the guest was demanding an explanation.

- This is necessary for, - the voice began to explain, - So that the flow of your thoughts does not interrupt the flow of information of electronic consciousness, because otherwise you risk not seeing anything. And yes, - the announcer remarked sternly. - Close your eyes, I asked you.

Galbraith thought that this was similar to how cinema advertisements encourage viewers not to wonder, but to simply watch what is shown on the screens. He closed his eyes as tightly as possible, simultaneously noticing that the room was drowned in darkness.


An hour passed, and the room was filled with fluorescent light again. The inspector felt someone's hands begin to remove the metal claws of the manipulator from his head. He hardly opened his eyes - both Okamura brothers were standing next to him. Shinoda freed Galbraith's head from the embrace of the car, then nodded to Ichinose and they helped the inspector get out of his chair.

- Tired? - Shinoda politely asked the guest.
- I'm fine, - he wheezed. - Thanks for taking care of me.

The policeman's legs could hardly support him - his whole body was so exhausted, as if he had run a cross-country race for several miles. If it weren't for these two Japanese, Galbraith would inevitably fall to the floor. The brothers grabbed the inspector under the arms and all three headed towards the exit. The guest raised his head - right on the threshold of which stood a specialist who looked at him with a smile.

- Can we go through? - Shinoda turned to him.
- Yes, yes, of course, - and the silver-haired man stepped aside.

When they found themselves in the corridor, the Japanese released Galbraith, and he leaned against the wall, breathing heavily. Impressions from the computer dream reading session filled his head. The inspector stood there for several minutes, then straightened his jacket and looked at the specialist and the Okamura brothers standing nearby. They seemed to be eagerly waiting for him to share with them his thoughts on their invention.

- Well, gentlemen, - Galbraith said slowly. - It was great, I'll tell you!
- How would you describe what you saw? - Shinoda asked automatically.

Ichinose's face shone with happiness - he, as Galbraith understood, was very pleased to hear praise for the work to which he had a hand.

- It can be compared to an action-packed movie, - the policeman honestly admitted.
- That is an interesting point! - the specialist exclaimed and raised his finger up.
- What? - Galbraith stared at the silver-haired man.
- If Adrian Montesi had not dropped out of the institute, he would not have failed to take advantage of your idea, - his interlocutor explained.
- Why do you think so? - the inspector did not understand these words.
- So that you know, - continued the silver-haired. - Montesi dreamed of directing movie pictures as a child, but his parents wanted to raise an engineer, so he reluctantly had to go against his desires.
- Curious, - the inspector scratched his moustache.
- I believe that Montesi still has the thought in his head that he should not have obeyed the will of his parents, - said the specialist.
- Hmm... - Galbraith lost in thought.
- Because this explains why he so easily transferred his project into the hands of the Japanese professor, - the silver-haired man finished his speech.

Yes, Galbraith thought, people are funny - the genius, the inventor of the eternal supercomputer, had such a trivial complex that ultimately forced its owner to renounce the invention. The policeman looked at the Okamura brothers - they stood silently and lowered their eyes.

- So, you think, - the inspector turned to the silver-haired man. - What this supercomputer of yours be used to create movies?
- Pourquoi pas? - the specialist exclaimed again in French. - It would be nice if we taught D.O.O.R. display his dreams on celluloid tape in the form of a series of images, then we will give this material to some film studio, which will record the voice acting and edit the film!

Ichinose Okamura joined the joke. Young Japanese assistant said, that their tape will be gladly accepted by some American studio, who is trying to save every cent on on making its motion pictures, than they always successfully foxed its viewers.

- I am sure that the film, shot by a supercomputer, will break records at many international film festivals, - the silver-haired man continued with a crazy gleam in his eyes.
- And when critics appreciate the film, it is possible that it will even be shown on cable television, - Shinoda said.
- Gentlemen, do you honestly believe this? - Galbraith couldn't believe his ears.
- No, we're just joking, - the specialist immediately took on a serious expression.

Galbraith could not help but admit that these scientists had a good sense of humour. And the way they phrased their jokes only reinforced his opinion of how ahead of its time their invention was. "A certain D.O.O.R. that will bury the movie industry", he thought. It is clear that the last word will not belong to the supercomputer itself, but to the audience, but the media love to dramatize events.

Thinking about the film industry, an idea came to Galbraith's head - what if it suddenly happened that this entire adventure that he had experienced was suddenly decided to be filmed? Standing in the metal corridor of the underground institute, the inspector began to turn over in his head what transformations his ill-fated story could undergo if it fell into the trembling with impatience hands of filmmakers - as he was sure, these would definitely be the guys from Hollywood.

Obviously, the main location from the not very famous city of Portland would be moved to New York - for some reason these hard workers from Los Angeles really liked this long-suffering city. England would have been completely removed from the plot because the producer would have decided to save money on filming in London. Surely they would not be too lazy to cast Belmondo for the role of Galbraith himself - after all, this actor could work miracles, and any, even the most ordinary characters in his performance came to life and acquired a depth unprecedented on paper. The inspector wondered how critics would react to the participation of a French actor in an American film?

Then Galbraith thought about Delia - her story on the screen definitely could not have happened without cuts, censorship and rethinking. The inspector immediately imagined how, through the efforts of American screenwriters, the modest little girl Delia would turn into some stern and gloomy boy or, even better, a twitchy teenager with complexes named Delian - in no case Dalien, so that the audience would not confuse this film with a not yet released fifth of the ridiculous - in his humble opinion - adventures of some devilish boy.

The Inspector had not seen any of the films in the well-known franchise, the fourth installment of which had been shown on cable television six months ago - four if exclude his time travel in a taxi cab - but he remembered the rumours among popcorn movie fans that in the extreme part, this naughty boy, for no apparent reason, acquired a sister - just as nasty and ridiculous as he himself. Or maybe it was the other way around, and that boy had no sister, and the girl could have been his daughter, who looked like two peas in a pod like her young father? Thinking about the kinship of characters in stupid movies, the inspector caught himself thinking that he was beginning to hate the entire American cinema in general and that franchise in particular.

The fact that Hollywood filmmakers would decide to replace Delia with a boy in the film adaptation of his adventures, Galbraith explained to himself by the fact that the death of a little girl - even if she was left behind the scenes - would cause a flurry of indignant letters from women with offended maternal feelings, which any studio, of course, would never allow and would try to avoid by any means necessary. But changing the gender of the central character could happen if the filmmakers decided to keep the plot of the film, in which the hero - who, as Galbraith thought, would definitely be played by Belmondo - must begin an investigation into the murder of a child. If these scoundrel filmmakers decide that the film should become a melodrama - and what, there will be savings on special effects, plus there will be no need to strain with a child actor - then the role of Delia will be given to some middle-aged, but well-preserved actress, and the entire plot will be rewritten in the standard Hollywood way, which involves an obligatory, albeit completely unjustified, love scene between the hero and heroine (usually ending in shading in the first ten frames).

Then the whole plot will be redone beyond recognition, reducing the story to a banal detective story, where the entire timing of doctor Baselard - a young and handsome gynecologist, or better yet, a simple dentist - will play the role of another suspect, who in the denouement Belmondo will pathetically kill with a couple of shots from a police Colt. And there won't even be any talk about Delia's death from cancer - more precisely, from an attempt to cure her of a disease very similar to it - the character played by an adult actress will live until the very end and in the final frames will connect her lips with Belmondo's lips , and these two will kiss to a mawkish melody played by a symphony orchestra - after all, the fashion for synthesizer music for films remained in the eighties.

With the change in Delia's age, the problem with trying to adapt Jordan Thurlow for the screen is immediately removed - because this very ambiguous character with a questionable moral character is too subtle so that his story does not cause rejection from the audience at best, and at worst - sharp criticism of the director, whom they will begin to accuse him of allegedly indulging pedophiles, even though in reality this is far from the case. Well, or, Galbraith thought, Jo will also be changed gender, and some fool will appear in the plot who will fight with adult Delia for the heart of the attractive protagonist and cast languid glances at him with a strange smile.

Although no, the inspector decided, the filmmakers would take an easier path and mister - or missis - Thurlow would simply disappear from the plot, because the extra plot emphasis in the film would be completely meaningless - why spend a long and tedious time showing on the screen an idiot who hates the main character, if you can just limit yourself to a short phrase from Belmondo , by which viewers will understand that his hero had in the past a fleeting relationship with the daughter of some journalist, and the appearance of Delia in his life awakened in him a long-extinguished interest in women - such a detail will appeal to lonely bachelors over forty who are going to cinema in order to associate oneself with a courageous protagonist who, with the snap of a finger, puts the entire female cast of the film at his feet.

- Now you can go home, - the specialist's voice suddenly rang out.

The inspector flinched when the white-haired man placed a hand on his shoulder, which pulled him away from his thoughts regarding the potential film adaptation of his adventures.

- Well, finally, - Galbraith grinned, wiping sweat from his forehead. - I've already decided that I'm going to hang around here until the end of my days.

And the four of them headed forward - the silver-haired one in front, the Okamura brothers behind him, and at the very end Galbraith himself. He again had to trudge for a long time along the narrow metal corridors of the underground institute, every now and then giving way to random employees who came across him on the way. It seemed that the penetration of the computer into the dreams affected the inspector like a psychotherapy session - now he was no longer worried about claustrophobia, and he felt free and confident.

Finally they stopped in the hall, where at that time there was no one. The silver-haired man walked forward and pressed the elevator call button.

- What, now you'll let me go up like normal? - Galbraith still remembered the silver-haired man's phrase about elevators.
- Now there is no need to go up the spiral staircase, - the specialist answered without noticing the reproach.
- We called a taxi for you, - Shinoda addressed the guest.
- When you reach the surface of the earth, you will have to wait a little for the car because the institute is far from the city, - Ichinose warned.
- Well, thank you... - Galbraith hesitated slightly. - Friends! - and he shook hands with both brothers.
- Yes, by the way, - the silver-haired man who was standing at the elevator raised his finger again. - Indoors, we hung the fur coat on a hanger in advance.
- What are you talking about? - the inspector did not understand.
- It's winter outside, and you're dressed lightly, - the specialist looked at Galbraith with warmth that was atypical for such an elderly man.
- Okay, - the policeman nodded slightly.

The massive elevator doors slowly opened, and Galbraith's heart suddenly sank - it seemed to him that his entire future fate would depend on this trip. Taking one last look at the gray-haired man and the Okamura brothers, he stepped into the opened doorway, and the doors closed behind him. The inspector had been waiting for the moment when he would leave this institute for so long, but now, when he was riding in the elevator, he felt uneasy because everything that was happening was like some kind of strange dream. In addition, he felt an almost superstitious fear that the elevator might get stuck between floors.

But soon the elevator car stopped moving, and when the doors opened, Galbraith went out into the same room where the specialist and Manabu met him. After walking a few steps, the policeman noticed that there was no longer a single white coat on the hanger, but the fur coat that the gray-haired man had promised was hanging, which Galbraith immediately put on. The clothes fit him just right, except that the sleeves were a little short. I wonder, he thought, who owned this fur coat - the gray-haired man or one of these Japanese? In any case, this did not bother the inspector much, who, having passed through the double wooden doors, found himself on the street. It was night, the snow was falling incessantly. The inspector shivered and raised his head up. Inhaling the cold air, Galbraith came to his senses and, looking around, saw the lights of an approaching car ahead of him. There could be no doubt - the Japanese kept their promise.

Galbraith, unexpectedly for himself, suddenly felt such a surge of strength that he wanted to sing, and he, slowly stepping forward, began to go over in his mind the songs that had sunk into his soul. He remembered how, back in Portland, he had seen a German film in a bootleg theater, the end credits of which played a song that he remembered then because it was in English. Putting his hands in the pockets of his fur coat, Galbraith began to hum her words.

- Lonely presence, damaged the work, You can't, uh... - he stumbled. - Everything the God...

The inspector very quickly abandoned this matter, realizing that he did not remember the exact words of this song. But he was aware of that it was sung about a man who played Lord God, tried to build a new world. Be that as it may, melody of this song - which, as the inspector remembered, was played on the piano - remained forever in his memory. So Galbraith gave up trying to sing the song and just played it in his head, watching the car lights approach...

Absolute void.
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