Authors: Tim Lees
know what he looks like.”
Ganz went on typing for a few moments. Then, with not the slightest sign of interest, she turned and looked at me. Her eyes were tired beneath the blonde bangs, and I got the feeling if I'd gone ahead and asked her for a date, I'd probably have got the same world-Âweary, cynical response.
She took a cigarette out of her packet, leaned back, and looked at me.
“This with your âreader,' yes?”
“No. No, it's not.”
“I am very busy, Mr. Copeland.” Cigarette clutched unlit in her mouth, she shuffled a file out of the stack beside her.
I said, “I've seen him.”
“Yes?” She flipped open the file cover, scanned the first page. “You have seen him in the act? Seen him murder? You can tell me what he does?”
“Well .Â .Â . no. But I can tell you what he looks like. In fact, I can show you.” I waited. Presently, her eyes flicked up. I said, “He looks like me. Almost exactly like me.”
She glanced at the page again. Then leaned back in her chair, lit her cigarette, and put her head on one side.
“Like you,” she said, blowing a wreath of smoke.
“That's right. He's my double. More or less. I saw him atâÂ”
She held a finger up. “One moment, please.”
She leaned forward, pulled open a desk drawer. I had a brief glimpse of cleavage, the pale freckles of her upper chest. When she sat back she held a small, snub-Ânosed pistol.
“You will not mind this then, I think. Just for safety?”
I stared at her. She smiled, encouragingly. “Mr. Copeland. If you wish to carry on .Â .Â . ?”
“You've got this wrong, you know. There's no need for, you know, for .Â .Â .”
The gun put me off. I couldn't help it. These things do. And while she wasn't actually aiming at me, she still held it ready, in case I suddenly transformed into a raving homicidal maniac. I'd had the story quite clear in my head till then, just what I was going to tell her. Now I found I'd lost my concentration.
“I was here a few years back. With .Â .Â . with Mr. Shailer. We were making a retrieval, over at Esztergom. And .Â .Â . something happened.”
Perhaps she kept the gun for folk like me so we didn't get over-Âfamiliar, above our station.
“You have to understand,” I said, “it's a very specialized field. ÂPeople who don't work in our jobâÂand even some who doâÂthey've got a hard time understanding what we deal with. It's stuff that only touches most Âpeople perhaps once or twice a lifetime. So, if I say some things that may seem strange, or you don't understand .Â .Â .”
“I must accept your knowledge is superior? And you are cleverer than me?”
“That .Â .Â . isn't what I'm saying.”
There was a sound of footsteps outside the door, brief hesitation, and then gone. The whirr of the computer fan.
“We started the retrieval, just as planned. It was sanctioned by the government and by the local authorities. The papers should still be on file somewhere. There'd been some sort of disturbance there .Â .Â . these things, these forces .Â .Â . sometimes they develop, well, a kind of pseudo-Âconsciousness. An incarnation, we call it. And this oneâÂwell. Let's just say it was getting restless. That's the best way to describe it.” I risked a smile. Surprisingly, she smiled back. I felt myself relax a little. “Trouble is, this time, something went wrong. I won't go into why. But some part of the, the force that we were trying to contain, some part of it escaped. This gets tricky to explain. Because it hid itself. It used my image. I think it starts off with the light. Reflected light, from skin, or clothes, and it builds on that, till there's a fully formed person, like a replica, a mirror image. That's where I saw it first, in mirrors. It wasn't strong enough to get into the real world, to actually materialize. You know the Buddhist concept of the
? You know what that is?”
“No, Mr. Copeland. No, I don't.”
“It's a thought-Âform. Something brought into existence by sheer power of will. And that's what this was, too. Is, I mean. It used me as an escape route. See, I thought I killed it. Or destroyed it. Neutralized it. But now I think that it survived. Maybe I weakened it, laid it out a few years. But I think it's what's responsible for all these things that have been happening.” I looked about the office, the bundles of papers lining the walls, piled up on the floor. “I'm sorry,” I said. “If I'd have guessed that this would happen, all those years ago .Â .Â . but I thought it was OK. I mean, I thought that I'd got rid of it. You know?”
“Oh, I know.” She put her head on one side. Her fringe hung slantwise over one eye. The pistol was still in her hand. “But Mr. Copeland, this is my trouble. I am under much pressure to find killer. You understand, I think, it is now very difficult for me.”
“I see that. Of course I do. And he's got to be found, that's why I came to youâÂ”
“I have met killers other times. Mind of killer is a strange thing, and this, stranger than most. Still .Â .Â . there are patterns. Always, there are patterns.
“One pattern is this. That sometimes man comes to police. Ordinary man, it seems, comes of his own free will. He will tell about a crime has been committed. He may know certain facts about that crime. He will speak in third person, as if he tells a story that has happened to another, but in fact he is confessing. He finds it easier to talk as if he is elsewhere. So when a man comes to my office and he tells me .Â .Â . what? That killer is his evil double? What do I suppose? That he is crazy? Or deluded? Or confessing to a crime?”
“I am not confessing to a crime!” My voice grew loud. I slapped the tabletop. “I believe I saw a
of myself, like the one in the mirror. Formed by the energy that escaped the op at EsztergomâÂ”
She eased back in the chair, seeming to relax, but actually moving beyond my reach. She levelled the gun right at my skull. Instinctively, then, I sat back. Moved to the left. The right.
“I cannot afford risks,” she said. “So far, you are only lead I have.”
She must have pressed some kind of an alarm under the desk, because I heard a buzzing outside, then two very large men came into the room and pinned me to the chair by my arms.
Detective Ganz nodded to both of them. She held the pistol like a toy.
“I thank you for providing us with information, Mr. Copeland. I hope you will be co-Âoperative in all that follows. Mr. Shailer said you would. He spoke well of you.”
“Shailer .Â .Â . ?”
“Oh. And for your information. I keep gun in my desk. But bullets are in safe.” She smiled again, almost a friendly smile. A no-Âhard-Âfeelings smile. “Too many police have been shot with their own weapons. I take no risks, Mr. Copeland.”
Roughly, I was dragged onto my feet, handcuffed, and bundled down the stairs. On the street a car awaited. ÂPeople stared. I struggled, briefly, and found myself flung into the backseat. The car pulled away, and nobody spoke English anymore.
I AM THE KILLER
y evening I was famous. Everyone in Hungary knew who I was; I even had my own TV spot, which I got to watchâÂa privilege, I was given to understand, a great, great privilege. I'd been about two hours in the interview room when my chief guard, a stubby oblong of a man, briefly exited, returning with a portable TV, which he placed upon the tabletop in front of me. He spent some moments tuning it, gave a ragged grinâÂhis teeth weren't goodâÂpointed to me, then to the screen, as if I could have somehow missed all this activity, or failed to notice that I now had my first mod con on the premises. There was a blare of music and some titles that I couldn't read, then it cut to the studio. It had the look of a news bulletin, which is what it proved to be. My mug shot peered over the shoulder of the pretty newscaster, like Jack the Ripper stalking his next victim. Even I wanted to yell,
I don't know what they'd done to the photo. Or perhaps I really look like that. The eyes were shadowed, deep-Âset, the eyebrows quite ridiculously bushy. My mouth had a peculiar, sour down-Âcurve, like I'd just been eating lemons. The newscaster, by contrast, was very proper, carefully made up, and dressed to look twenty years older than she was. This was a shame, I thought. I definitely remember thinking that because, about a second later, someone smacked me around the head. This was not the first time. It happened every fifteen, twenty minutes, regular as clockwork. Someone was always smacking me around the head. It didn't really hurt, but it was certainly annoying. I had put up with it a few times, as the sort of thing you can expect when being questioned by police. But this time, I saw red. I stood up. Immediately, someone kicked my feet from under me. It was a neat move. I dropped like a stone, sprawling on the hard, cold floor. I scrabbled about. My assailant was still watching me, keen to get in another kick or two. He was a lean and thuggish figure in a jean jacket. He didn't look much like a cop at all.
The chief guard, meanwhile, gestured me up. He smiled, reassuringly, as if I'd had some minor accident. I struggled to my feet, flopped into the chair.
“Tch,” my guard said. “Tch, tch, tch.” It was the only English word he knew.
At intervals, a tall man in a suit would join us. I was to address him as “Colonel.” If I didn't, another clip around the ear. I was to stand up when he walked into the room, a procedure I learned by the self-Âsame method.
I was clearly not to stand up any other time.
The Colonel was white-Âhaired, sixty-Âish, but seemed physically very fit. He wore a white military-Âstyle moustache and held himself with a soldier's bearing, very straight. He wore black slacks, a gray sports coat, and a plain, dark blue tie. The third time he came in he took the coat off. There were sweat marks underneath his arms, an odor of exertion in his recent past. He lit a cigarette and offered one to me, which I refused. My guard obligingly switched off the television, now broadcasting a recipe for pigeon stew.
The Colonel spoke good English. This made me warm to him. He asked me questions. They were the same questions he'd asked before, phrased slightly differently; about the Registry, my role in it, the job I'd done here six years back. He was very formal and polite. He never tried to hit me, nor did anybody else while he was in the room. His face was like a shut door; you couldn't guess what might be going on behind it. And I explained again, about the man at the zoo, and how I'd realized he had to be the killer, and the Colonel sat, very upright and attentive, occasionally nodding me along, and giving zilch away.
He had a brownish mark just underneath his left eye, and the skin there seemed unusually smooth, like melted plastic. Given the harshness of the summer sun, it struck me this might well be cancerous.
I said, “You should be careful about that,” and pointed with my chin.
He hadn't answered any of my questions. Now at least I'd made him blink.
“Get a checkup, maybe? You know?” I touched the skin beneath my own eye. “This thing here. See a doctor? Be on the safe side.”
“What are the âgods,' Mr. Copeland?”
“Oh .Â .Â .” I shrugged. “I don't know. What do you think?”
He ignored this. “What does the Registry say the gods are, Mr. Copeland?”
Well, I knew the answer to that one. So did anyone who'd been in Shailer's talk.
The Colonel clicked his tongue. Said nothing for a while.
It was the only sign I'd got the answer wrong.
He said, at last, “You saw one of these âgods,' you say. You saw it in the zoo.”
I had told him before. I had told them all, a hundred, a thousand times. I could hardly bother telling them again, though I felt I ought to, as if this time, finally, they'd pay attention.
“He was snarling at the big cats. At the leopard, really. Then he looked at me.”
“And you are here, working for the Registry.”
“You've got my ID. It's Shailer, head of O&D. He did a conference here, two days ago. He wanted me to help him, and then .Â .Â .”
The Colonel stood up. He said something to my head guard, who sat, bored, at the table, his doughy face slumped on his hand. The guard harrumphed and gave what might have been a laugh.
“I want the embassy informed,” I said, sounding firm but reasonable, careful not even to hint I might be going to stand up. “I'll help you all I can, that's what I'm trying to do. But you've no right to keep me here. You can't do this.”
The Colonel went on chatting to the guard a while. He seemed not to have heard. Funny, that; less than three feet off, and still he couldn't hear me.
Only when he'd finished off his business with the guard did he look at me. A long, cold look.
“Mr. Copeland. You should know that we have spoken to the Registry at the address you gave us.” He put his cigarette up to his lips, took a final drag, then doused it in the ashtray. “Your name is not on their files. You do not work for them. We are informed that you have never worked for them. Thank you,” he said, and he clicked his heels and left the room.
was taken from interrogation. We moved very quickly through the corridors. Once, we passed a fat man who made some sharp, guttural comment, and my guards both laughed. I laughed, too. It did me no good. The room they brought me to was small and smelled of piss and disinfectant. A stainless-Âsteel toilet bowl was fastened in the corner; the only seat was a plank shelf on which two gray blankets had been folded. I was swiftly divested of my watch, my shoes, my belt. “Hey now! HeyâÂ?” I had some notion, I suppose, that I was still due back at my hotel for drinks, an evening meal, and a night in soft, clean sheets. One guard said something, flicked his fingers at the plank bed. Keen to look compliant, I sat down. The guards exchanged a few words. When they turned around and walked out, I got up to follow. And the door slammed in my face.
I stared, inches from the blank wood.
“You can't leave me here!”
I paced the room. I sat down. I stood up. I used the toilet, half gagging in the fumes my piss stirred up. I slapped the door. It had a heavy, solid sound.
“Anyone out there?”
I tried to sound cocky, unconcerned.
“Fancy a chat? Game of cards?”
Nothing. It was an old building. The walls might have been ten feet thick. The whole staff might have gone home. No, no: there had to be someone outside. And this was crazy, anyway. I wasn't guilty. I was trying to help, for God's sake! Jesus Christ! I started thumping on the door. I hit it with the flat of my hand, till it boomed like a drum. I hit it with my fist, which hurt like hell and absolutely failed to smash it all to matchwood.
“Hey! I ordered steak! Where's my steak?”
“Where's my cocktail, eh, you bastards?”
The next few hours did not go well. I suppose we all like to assume we'll take our suffering with dignity; locked up, we'll sit tight, wait it out. Maybe do some meditation or catch up on our singing practice.
Not spend half an hour screaming and shouting and beating our fingers bloody on the woodwork.
Or trying to shoulder-Âcharge the door. Which I did, once. Or twice.
After that I sat down for a while, and slowly, bit by bit, the anger drained from me, leaving me empty, helpless, andâÂworse stillâÂtearful.
Then I put my feet up on the planking. I pulled one of the blankets over me, thin as it was, folded the other for a pillow, andâÂrather to my own surpriseâÂI went to sleep.