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16


Exactly two hours later, exactly on the same spot, and exactly in the same mood, I was sitting in my car, staring at the long white wall and thinking. The street was still empty and I got the feeling I had been moving in fucking circles lately, doing the same things over and over again. I was even sure the silver rat was going to come by any minute to confirm my sad conclusions!

When Bobby called while I was in the cafe, she had actually told me Menelaus wanted us to meet at his house and talk. At first, I was angry at him for fooling around with me, then I thought maybe he had been busy or away but now, I just didn’t know what to think. If Menelaus really wanted us to meet, why didn’t anyone open the door of his fucking house or why didn’t anyone answer the telephone in his office? I couldn’t accept that any of these places might be empty of people at noon—in fact, I positively knew that his house wasn’t! So what was the reason then? Was he scared of something or was he playing games?

I nervously checked the Glock in my holster as usual, and took the gum I was chewing out of my mouth. I wrapped it in a piece of paper and threw it on the dashboard, and then I stepped out. The mansion was still quiet and nothing had changed while I was away. The wall was about three meters high with a small ledge along its upper edge, where at even distances, many cameras pointed in different directions, covering the entire area.

I slowly went to the front door and rang the doorbell twice as I had done two and a half hours ago. For about three minutes, nothing happened. I kept waiting but I knew that the situation was not going to change—something imperceivable was telling me that. I pushed the doorbell button a third time and waited for another two minutes. Then I looked up, irritated, right into the eye of one of the cameras.

It was very weird. The doorbell was loud enough and besides, they couldn’t miss my ringing even if they hadn’t heard it, because there had to be someone behind all these cams, watching. Otherwise, they were simply useless! Nevertheless, both the door and the gate remained closed and silent. I looked at the latter—just out of curiosity. It was made of steel and weighed probably half a ton, maybe even more. It could definitely resist an attack from a tank!

I rang the doorbell for one last time and reluctantly walked down along the wall toward the rose shrub. It was the end of March and the plant was still leafless but its thorny branches had crowned the doorway, disguising it perfectly even without leaves. One could pass by it without even noticing and it took someone going in or out to know that the door existed.

When I reached the shrub, I stopped, uncertain. It seemed a very stupid idea to break into the house and I hesitated. I didn’t even know why I had come here in the first place. Maybe I just wanted to make sure the door was locked and nobody was waiting for me behind it. Well, I didn’t know about the waiting but the door was surely not locked because when I pushed it slightly, it swung on its hinges a few centimeters inside.

I stayed there for a moment, still hesitating. No sign of agitation followed either into the yard or outside on the street. None of the cameras moved and no one cried, shouted, or fired shots at me. No one cared! I reached out my hand again and cautiously pushed the door until it opened completely. I had done this before a couple of times and it had always been weird. You know you shouldn’t do it, but at the same time, you simply do it because the situation determines your actions. You’re at the place, nobody else is there, the door is open, and you just go forward as if something is demanding it.

I stood like this for a few seconds, and then the situation quite expectedly evolved to its next logical step. I was not in front of a door anymore but a passage. I looked curiously into the opening. There was a narrow path stretching ahead and winding across a large yard. It led to something that seemed to be a service section of the house. At least, I gathered so because it wasn’t glamorous and showy enough to be the main palace of a trillionaire. Anyway, the place was not neglected either. The grass was sparkling green and carefully trimmed, and the irrigation system was pumping lukewarm water into the distributing pipes, which gardeners used to maintain gardens during the winter. The path was paved with big tiles of red limestone, and at the end of it, there were a couple of small buildings clustered as one.

I hesitantly turned my head to the cameras again. There was still no sign of life there and the street behind my back was empty too. In the end, I shrugged and warily stepped inside. I wasn’t sure at all what I was doing and, most importantly, I wasn’t sure why I was doing it, and I also knew that every bad idea in this world probably started with such a conclusion, but I did it anyway! After about a minute, to soothe my qualms about it, I made an effort to cry a shy “hello” and warn whoever might hear it that I was intruding on private property. As expected, no one cared about my cry. No one sent a “hello” or “fuck off” back to me.

I was slowly advancing along the path, while anxiously turning my head to the left and right. The yard that gradually rolled out before my eyes was very beautiful. In the place where I stood, there was mostly grass and a few interestingly shaped massive chunks of gray rock, but in the area of the main house to my right, the garden really met its purpose to impress visitors. I could see a lot of greenery there, and a ring of exotic shrubs and flowers along the inner side of the wall—those, which I had noticed when I peeked from outside on my morning visit. Here and there, between the shrubs, there were ice sculptures of weird creatures, which added a surreal touch to the whole composition. It all looked like a place from a fairytale. The figures glistened enchantingly in the afternoon and could safely bet they probably remained in shape even in the hottest summer.

From the massive steel gate, a wide alley was leading inside to the garages at the northern end of the main house. The latter was a three-floored Chateau with steeply pitched hipped roofs, tall French windows, and an exterior of smoothed square limestone. It looked nice to the eye and there were rockeries and flower islands all around it, as well as groves on small artificial hills with puddles and waterfalls between them. Both the garden and the mansion looked very tranquil and peaceful.

I nervously turned around and looked at the little door behind me. I had left it open, so I quietly went back to close it. Then I turned around again and furtively advanced toward the group of buildings ahead of me. When I got to them, I looked inside through the dusty windows. The three structures were part of a service area just as I had presumed. One of them was a storehouse full of various tools and gardening machines. The second one they obviously used for storing fuel for the numerous garden heaters and refrigerators. As for the third building, I couldn’t figure out what it was. It seemed full of empty wooden boxes and old furniture. Behind none of the windows did I see any form of life.

Since I still didn’t know what to do, I slowly passed the service cluster and went to the backside of the big house where the path ended. I stopped there for a moment by a simple looking wooden door with a little decorative window of smoked glass on it, and I considered the situation. Bursting into people’s yards was one thing but bursting into their houses was a completely different story. It was a second level of intrusion and they had the right to shoot me inside without being prosecuted. I really had to think carefully before doing such a stupid thing and that’s probably why it took me some time before I decided to do it—a good thirty seconds in fact!

The room into which I entered next was also empty of people. This door hadn’t been locked either so I presumed they didn’t have the primitive habit to lock anything in this house. The premises seemed to be some kind of a larder and most probably, it led to the kitchen. There were food supplies everywhere and the air was heavy with the smell of mold and dry rot. After listening at the entrance for a couple of minutes, I quietly moved across to look into the next room. My assumption was right; it was the kitchen and it was empty too. I checked all the appliances but they were cold and the counters were clean. No one had ordered any meals today!

It was weird. The entire house seemed suspiciously quiet. I tensely pressed my ear against one of the walls to listen for any sound that the structure might conduct but I couldn’t hear anything—voices or otherwise. There was just a steady hissing, which was probably coming from the heating installation. A horrible feeling suddenly rose in me and I felt a spasm in my stomach. A house as big as this one, demanded continuous support. It was unrealistic to believe it could be empty even for a single moment.

I nervously stepped away from the wall and went to look outside in the corridor. It was dark, and after a short hesitation, I took a timid step forward, after which I stole across the first floor like some cartoon character tiptoeing through the castle of the evil monster. It was a very stupid thing what I was doing—I couldn’t compare it to anything I had done so far. In my work, I had entered a few empty apartments or back yards but I had never made myself a Rambo, ransacking such a large house, which surely had security guards inside. Yet it seemed that the situation was driving my actions again.

Fortunately, and to my surprise, I met no one on the first floor and that encouraged me a bit. I walked through ten rooms, which gradually changed from service to living function but they were all empty—there wasn’t even a pet in any of them and they didn’t seem to have been inhabited at all. What surprised me most about them was that the furniture didn’t look fancy or stylish but rather old and worn out. Then, just when I was thinking the house was all mine and I carelessly walked into the eleventh room at the very end of the main corridor, I stopped; startled. I had gotten into the security room without realizing it!

I looked around nervously. There were numerous screens on the walls and a control desk with two empty chairs. All the screens were dead. On a little table near the window, I saw an opened bottle of beer, a dirty glass, and some leftovers of pizza. There was a holster beside them but it was empty. I shivered involuntarily and turned around to look behind my back, listening tensely in the semi-darkness. There was no one around and I heard nothing. Then I turned forward again, puzzled. Through the window, I could see outside where the garages were but that area seemed peaceful too.

Anticipating something bad would happen to me any minute, I quietly closed the door and started back along the corridor, quivering. It was best for me to leave the house immediately before I got into serious trouble or even suffered some injury here so I briskly crossed the dark hallway. When I got to the big cylindrical staircase leading to the upper floors, I cautiously stopped to look up before crossing the space in front of it. There was some hidden tension in the air and it gave me the creeps. It also smelled weird here. The dark red carpet on the steps was soiled and a narrow window with stained glass was casting misty beams of light inside. Since I still couldn’t hear anything, I quickly crossed the area and went on, on my way back to the kitchen. After a few steps, however, I stopped hesitantly.

There was a lonely door on my left just after the staircase. I had passed by it on my coming in here but I had failed to notice it. It probably didn’t matter because the room was going to be empty like all the others, but something made me want to check it. It was the only one on the ground level, which I hadn’t tried. I nervously reached out my hand and turned the lock very carefully. The door swung in slowly and revealed a small room behind. It had a simple looking interior, which consisted of a small table with a chair, a tiny wardrobe, a dresser, and a bed, and in the bed, a naked girl lay with her hands handcuffed to the bars of the bed’s head. She was dead!

I recoiled, surprised, and anxiously looked behind me. Then I quickly stepped into the room and quietly closed the door. I found no one else inside but the girl. The curtains were drawn and the room looked gloomy. Except for the furniture that I saw from the hallway, there was also another chair by the wardrobe with a pile of clothes on it, a dusty suitcase in one of the corners, and a small crucifix on the wall above the bed. Even before getting closer to the girl, I already knew who she was.

With my legs stiffened, I reluctantly stepped toward the body. It lay in an unnatural pose with the head tilted to one side. The victim seemed to have been strangled because there were bruises on her neck, but aside from that, there were no other signs of violence or rape. I carefully touched the girl’s left wrist. There was no pulse and the flesh still retained some warmth. It had definitely not stiffened yet, which was natural—I had seen her alive two and half hours ago. She was the Filipino in the sexy black uniform. I tried one of her legs too and I saw the signs of lividity on the back of her thigh. The skin felt waxy and her fingernails and lips were pale. Her eyes were wide open, with her fear still frozen inside, but they seemed somehow sunken into her scull now.

I quietly walked to the chair and checked the pockets of the clothes. In one of them, I found an ID card with biometric data, and on the card’s face there was a printed photo and it read, Bituin Anna-Maria Gonzales. I turned to the body. It’s always weird to see someone’s picture when you know he or she isn’t alive anymore. The girl looked so beautiful back when I saw her for the first time but her beauty bore the ugly marks of death now. In twenty-four hours, she was going to look creepy and almost unrecognizable!

I put the card into the pocket for the police to find it and I walked out of the room. I doubted that whoever had done this was still here. Under the circumstances, the silence was making perfect sense now and I somehow felt that there would be more of this sort on the second floor. My body was tense and rigid when I walked up the stairs, and my right hand was holding the Glock tightly, just in case. I slowly turned on the landing between the two levels and right after that, I had to stop again.

There was another dead body on the steps, lying face down. The man’s hands were spread with his nails desperately clawed into the red carpet, and most weirdly, his pants were pulled down. He had a gun wound in his back and that was most probably the reason why the carpet had looked soiled to me a few minutes ago. Its red texture was soaked with the blood of the Filipino’s step van lover! His position, however, had prevented the blood from spilling out—they were just a few splashes.

I looked over the body, puzzled. The man was in the same condition as the girl downstairs, only the signs of lividity were on the front of his body. He was most probably killed right here and he hadn’t been moved after. The scene didn’t fit though. Why were his pants pulled down and why were the hands of the Filipino cuffed? Clearly, the guard couldn’t have fucked and killed her and then shot himself in the back! So what was the murderer who killed both of them trying to set up here? I couldn’t understand his idea at all; such an idiotic thing, only the brain of Marty Cork could come up with! Moreover, he had access to the house! But why the hell he needed these two dead in the first place? I couldn’t even imagine it.

With my heart booming, I carefully climbed up, following the steps to the second floor. There, another long and dark hallway stretched in front of me, almost identical to the one on the first level, and further up, the staircase was leading to the third floor. With a bad feeling in my guts, I looked around. Down the corridor, the second door on my right was left ajar. A narrow strip of light was oozing out of it and tiny dust particles were dancing in the beam. Suddenly the weird smell I had detected on the first floor had become more concentrated and saturated here. As if in a dream, I stepped forward and went to the door to push it open.

At first, I saw nothing strange in the room. There was a desk ahead of me with some papers on it and an empty chair behind it. On the right of it, the entire wall was taken up by shelves, which were full of old paper books. The wall in front of me, and behind the desk and the chair, was a huge French window with a splendid view toward the garden and the magnificent sculpture of a frozen waterfall. Weirdly enough, the garden didn’t seem as lovely seen from here compared to what I had seen down in the yard. It looked somehow sad and disturbing, but it was probably because of the murky interior of the house.

After a few moments of hesitation, I let the Glock go through the doorway first and I followed behind. The room, into which I entered, turned out to be empty and there were no signs of disorder inside. The papers on the desk seemed as if someone had worked on them a minute ago, and then he or she had gone out for a short walk or a cup of coffee. There was also a second armchair by the fireplace on my left, a bag of golf clubs in the corner between the window and the bookshelves, and a pair of sports shoes by it. I guessed I was in Menelaus’ study.

I quietly went to the desk and looked at the papers. They were nothing important—just some personal letters, the content of which told me nothing. There was no computer on the counter or any sort of communication device, and the same situation was inside the drawers. It totally made sense because the guy was secretive and he probably wouldn’t leave important documents or unsecured access to his mail outside his office. I saw some pictures in frames on the desk, however, which caught my eye. In one of them, I recognized Menelaus on the CSS, while receiving an award from a Couloong official. The award, I gathered, concerned his company’s role in establishing relations between Mars and the aliens because the atmosphere on the station was celebrative with placards and banners, and the logo of GTS all around the place. There were many Martian officials too and the Couloongs looked funny among them. They were small creatures—about a meter and a half—and their faces resembled our frogs to a point. They had huge eyes and big mouths, quite disproportionate to the size of their heads. The rest of them was a slender body with four short legs and four long arms with eight fingers each. I had seen the aliens before but here, next to humans, they appeared a bit ridiculous.

In another picture, Menelaus had posed with a Couloong in a military uniform. They were in a golf club on Mars, which looked rather like an opencast mine, and the guys had clubs in their hands. There was a bilingual dedication on the back: the English version read, “To my close friend, Menelaus, with a wish that he should be more patient next time when he plays this wonderful Earth game with me!” When I read it, my eyes slipped aside toward the desk, where one of the letters was written in exactly the same alphabet as the Couloong version of the dedication. Then I turned around, puzzled, and looked at the bag of golf clubs in the corner. The pictures and the letter clearly implied that DuPont had cultivated very close relations with the aliens.

I turned back to put the picture on the desk and wondered whether the fact might explain some of the events, which had led me here. I couldn’t think of a possible connection, but at the same time, Sharon and Marty’s game definitely had something to do with Menelaus’s business. Maybe I didn’t have enough information yet to see it! I had just placed the picture on the counter and looked about to find something else, when I saw a weird object on the mantel of the fireplace. It was black and metal and it looked strangely familiar. Only part of it was visible behind the armchair, which was positioned with its back turned to me. Right then, I froze terrified, and my gaze drifted to the armrest of the armchair. A hand was resting there!

With my legs numb again, I cautiously walked nearer, still holding the gun in my hand. I had a terrible feeling and soon it proved to be true. Menelaus Henry DuPont—the owner of Global Transportation Service—was sitting there, in the huge leather armchair. His head was hideously smashed, hanging lifelessly on his shoulders with loathsome red-grayish mass, congealed all over his face, chest, and lap. My body shook at the sight of it. I had obviously come too late for this meeting. The guy was already in another world!

Still shivering, I forced myself to retrieve a handkerchief from my pocket and used it to lift the smashed head a little bit, while holding it by the chin. It was definitely Menelaus. Then, I let the head hang and I knelt down to take the forearm. The body had been dead for probably four hours—the lividity was in full stage and rigor mortis had already started kicking in. There was no detectable warmth in the flesh; the skin was purple, and it felt sticky. It was disgusting even to look at the corpse, let alone to touch it!

I slowly rose to standing and looked around for the possible tool of the murder. Then I remembered the black object on the mantel, which I had forgotten because of the dead body. I carefully used the handkerchief to take it. It was a huge black wrench, one of its ends covered with dark blood. As I said, it seemed familiar to me but I was so profoundly shocked that it took me a good fifteen seconds before grasping the reason. My unexpected revelation struck me right after I heard some weird noise downstairs and the sound of trotting feet, and a few moments before two big guys in uniforms burst angrily into the room. A police inspector in plain clothes followed them immediately. It all happened so fast that I didn’t even manage to move a finger. And they knew exactly where I was—they came straight to Menelaus’ study!

As if in a dream, I looked at them, dazed; I looked at the dead body in the chair; I looked at my hands still holding the bloody wrench and the gun; and then my eyes slipped toward the window absolutely spontaneously. I didn’t know why I did it, but there, in the distance of the garden, by the beautiful ice waterfall, I recognized a pair of legs sticking out from behind the frozen streams. A huge pair of garden scissors lay ditched nearby. Then I looked back at the cops.

The guys in uniforms stopped, respectfully, a few meters away from me with the guns in their hands, and the inspector behind them silently followed with his eyes all the places my eyes had visited. Then he unambiguously turned his head back at the corridor where the guard lay, and he looked at me again. His face was terrified and his expression was clearly saying, “For God’s sake, were those two out there not enough for you?!”

I just looked at him without moving. I was unable to think of anything else in that moment, but the loss the gardener might have suffered from such an enormously huge pair of scissors! His legs were actually the reason why the garden had seemed to me so sad before, when I first came into the room. The perspective near the fireplace was just a tiny bit different but it was enough for me to realize what I had only suspected at the doorway!


©2016 S.T. Fargo
ALL RIGHTS RESERVED!
(www.stfargo.com)

Eurasian Gambit—Chapter 16 | a science-fiction crime novel by S.T. Fargo

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