The Vespers of Blood
At nine-thirty Saturday morning the coroner's jury was called into special session to hear the testimony of Franz and Rebekah Wilentz. After a guarantee that they would not be prosecuted for public mischief, they signed an affidavit which stated that twenty-two days ago, on the morning of the Friday in which the body of Senator Veniot was discovered, they had coitus in the elevator of the Castlereagh Hotel. A test was carried out that revealed that the semen on Veniot's spectacles was that of Franz Wilentz. With that, the jury confirmed a verdict of suicide in the cases of the senator, of Veruca Manzoni, of Pr. Albert Hermann, and of Dr. Oliver Corpse. Louis Dramsheet strongly objected to the verdicts, especially to that of Pr. Hermann, but he was overruled.
With the "compass of death" out of the way, the new police inspector Cheryl Monagham could now turn to the two homicide cases before her. The case of her immediate predecessor was fairly simple: Tyrone had clearly been shot at close range with a 49 Gerash/36 Ajax Wubba Wubba Handgun. This was precisely the model that was found right beside him, with a cartridge missing and with his palmprints all over it. True, there was one anomaly, Tyrone had received a telephone call a few minutes before his death, and he had activated the call-trace system. Dramsheet demanded to learn who had made that final call, and in order to humour him the police agreed to call the operator and find out where the call came from. But otherwise, there were no other disconcerting facts. The Gallery had been quite secure at the time of Tyrone's death, there were no signs that anyone else could have been in the building, there were even nitrate stains on Tyrone's right hand. So a verdict of suicide seemed eminently sensible, and the police were glad to conclude the case. But the death of her superior was having a great toll on Monagham. It was easy to say that being a policeman was a twenty-four hour job, but usually that was only said during contract disputes. Now she had to interrupt her whole weekend, and write a report on why her superior had lost his mind. So she was grateful for Dramsheet's assistance.
The death of Charles Harding was more difficult. He had obviously been stabbed to death, but the weapon had mysteriously vanished. The police made a search of the apartment, which now seemed strangely empty, as if it was in a state of bereavement. As he looked around Dramsheet had the sudden intuition that something very important should have been in the bookcase, but he could not imagine what it was. The police did find Harding's notebook, and in it they found his marriage certificate, and a mention of the special group that was supposed to combat the Flannery O'Connor Brigade. The police promptly called Constantine, who was shocked at the news, and Giles, who told them how they had tried to approach the building, but had been unaccountably delayed. By calling Lucian and Adrian the police learned the truth about Aquilla Rogers, about Ms. Van P---, and about how someone looking like Lucian Rudman had been seen entering the apartment building. Harding's notebook also mentioned his interest in both Lucian and Aquilla, Ms. Van P---'s Thursday visit, and made references to a "secret weapon." Dramsheet was available to see all the information, and he inspected it very closely.
Finally, at around one in the afternoon, Inspector Monagham, along with Louis Dramsheet and Thomas Edward Harding, who had been properly informed of his son's death, arrived at Vanessa's apartment. After inviting herself in, Monagham asked if Vanessa could make some coffee for them. "No," replied Vanessa. "I don't have any coffee, I don't know how to make it, I don't like it anyway and I don't feel like making it for people like you."
This was clearly upsetting to Monagham, who thought that convincing people to make coffee for police officers was the first step in any good investigation. "Do you have anything to drink? Or to eat? Why don't you just go into the kitchen and think up something? It will give everything such a nice and homey atmosphere."
Vanessa rolled her eyes upward, but did not object, and started rattling her cutlery in a sincere manner. As she was doing that, Harding opened his briefcase; he thought that he might have a portrait of his son somewhere inside, but then he realized that was extremely unlikely, but perhaps he might have a document on the legal ramifications of being a widow, so he searched for that until he realized that too was unlikely to be there, but he was sure that he had something on the results of dying intestate which would be perfectly applicable to the situation, and he was still searching for that when Vanessa came out with a tray carrying a bowl of sugar cubes, three cups of milk, and a collection of plums, which she graciously offered first to Thomas Edward Harding. Dramsheet politely declined, which meant that Monagham had two whole cups of lukewarm milk to enjoy all by herself. Once they were all sitting down Monagham tried to catch the overconfident swagger that was the special hallmark of the chief and began to speak.
"You will have heard by now of the death of Charles Harding?" (Vanessa had indeed, Constantine had telephoned her an hour ago telling her about it.) "We now know that he was married to your roommate. Does she still live here?"
"Nnno. She lives, or used to live, in Charles' apartment."
"That would make sense." said Dramsheet, "after all there was a double bed in his apartment and there was a large amount of women's clothing in the drawers." Vanessa could not repress a sigh of relief over the fact that she had not been tricked into lying on the very first question. "However," said Dramsheet, "when we found the body, there were some unwashed dishes in the sink. But there were not enough for two people. And there is no other sign of Ms. Concrete's presence there last night. Would you happen to know where she was?"
"Yes." said Vanessa. "Yes, I do. Elizabeth came over here yesterday afternoon. She came here about an hour after you and my brother and Inspector Tyrone came over. Incidentally, where is Inspector Tyrone?"
"Don't change the subject." said Monagham. "It's not important."
"Yes," agreed Harding. "Oh, and I think he's also dead as well. But that's not important."
"What?!" shrieked Vanessa, overjoyed at the possibility of showing genuine concern and outrage, as well as sincere opportunity to change the subject. "Are you trying to tell me that the man who was writing anonymous letters to me just died last night? What happened to him, did he blow his brains out?"
"In a manner of speaking..." admitted Monagham.
"But that's not important. What we want to know is why Elizabeth came over here." It was moments like this when Vanessa desperately wished that Constantine was here, so that she could know what he might have already said to the police. But in his absence she decided to tell the truth. "She came here because she had been beaten by her husband."
This revelation amazed all of them, but it did not stop Dramsheet from asking the next question. "What happened to her after she came here?"
"She was too distraught to do anything. So after she ate a little she went to bed early that evening. She never left the apartment once." Vanessa stopped for a moment. "Naturally you must think she had something to do with this."
"No, we didn't." said Dramsheet. "We have reason to believe that someone dressed as Lucian Rudman, but not actually Lucian Rudman, entered the apartment. We have our suspicions who that might be, but we need more evidence."
"Well she was here this morning." said Vanessa, telling the truth, and looking for a fact that would confirm it. "I can show you." She went to the bathroom and showed Monagham a conditioner that only worked on blonde hair; obviously, something only Elizabeth would use. The cap was not on, it had been used recently. She showed the breakfast dishes in the sink: Vanessa had already washed hers, but Elizabeth's were still there. Monagham was convinced, but Dramsheet convinced her to take one of the plates in to forensics, just in case.
"Where is Ms. Concrete now?" he asked.
"I don't know. She may have gone to her mother's. If she finds out that Charles is dead, I have no idea what she might do." "When did you last see her?" Vanessa told the truth again. "When I woke up this morning I saw her just getting ready to leave. She said that she might be back later."
Dramsheet had nothing further to say, and after Monagham had finished her second cup of lukewarm milk, the three of them were all ready to leave. Dramsheet stopped briefly, just noticing the key on one of the shelves of the bookcase in Vanessa's room, but then he left as well. Vanessa watched them go out to the police car, though she was careful that none would see her looking at them if they turned around. After they all got in and drove away Vanessa immediately turned to some articles that she had to read, and worked on them for a full fifteen minutes when at the same time she breathed a full sigh of relief and the telephone rang. It was Peter, on the other end, telling her about the dinner engagement tonight. It was the second time he had called her today, and he would call her four more times that afternoon. He was snide and vindictive as always, but for once Vanessa was glad to hear his voice because it distracted her from the horrible memory of when she opened the spare cutlery drawer for Monagham's pleasure and found the dagger of Saint Francis of Assisi, covered with blood.
At Oakeshott Funeral Groves, the morticians were in a state of panic. Now that the coroner's inquest had returned a verdict of suicide there was nothing preventing them from burying Oliver Corpse, and they had to bury him before eleven o'clock this evening, if the director wasn't going to return the $10,000 bribe. So they had to arrange for the grave to be dug, for an appropriately vulgar Protestant preacher to conduct the service, for six anonymous pallbearers to be found, and for six gravediggers to fill in the grave once they had finished. So far they were having no problems, but it was always difficult to arrange these things on a Saturday, with all sorts of annoying complications, and they couldn't find where Vivian was so that he could pay the bill and now there was the corpse of Charles Harding to deal with as well.
It was three o'clock when the memorial service finished and six members strode over to the coffin that contained Oliver Corpse. At the same time out in the front Charles' body was lying in state. After the pallbearers returned they would let visitors in to see him for the next hour. He would be buried on Thursday, in a cemetery in the riding of his father. The six pallbearers put on their black hats, attached their mortician badges to their breasts, and told Polish jokes as they approached the coffin. There was a little squabble as the assistant funeral director attacked the young assistant (the one whom he kept accusing of fooling around with the delivery girl from Brimelow florists) for having hair that was too long, but it was all resolved by stuffing the hair under the mortician hat. Finished with that, they all stepped beside the awkwardly arranged wax flowers that would be recycled for the next service, and gripped the side of the coffin. And were utterly amazed at how heavy it was; it took them two minutes just to lift it on their shoulders, and they had to stop three times just to get down the aisle. They managed to load it into the hearse with little trouble, for they conscripted a couple of secretaries on the way out. But the hearse made wheezy, decidedly threatening noises as it slowly made its way to the barren and lifeless cemetery. Once they got there, they yelled at the gravediggers to get over here, and to help lift, push, drag, or even roll the coffin to the grave, about a hundred meters away from the hearse. With constant swearing and plentiful sweat the pallbearers (there were about twelve of them by now) inched slowly to the grave, while they heard unpleasant sounds as if the coffin were about to burst into pieces. They even had to stop halfway through the march in order to go back to Oakeshott Funeral Groves and get their coats. And they had to stop three-quarters of the way because the pallbearers kept getting splinters. But despite the hideous creaking noise the coffin made on its excruciating slow journey, the pallbearers did manage to get it to the graveside onto the machine that was supposed to lower the coffin into the grave. But when they put it on the special platform, the coffin's weight caused the platform not only to snap off, but also to flip the engine up in the air, as platform, coffin and machine fell into the grave with a hideous crash. The coffin was all right, but the machine was in pieces, so the assistant funeral director decided that should be just one more charge to add to Vivian's account.
They quickly returned to the funeral home and got out of their clothes, and the assistant funeral director returned to the lying in state of Charles Harding. There were only two people present. One was Mr. Harding, and the other was Constantine. Constantine was quite embarrassed that he was the only other person here. "I don't understand." said Mr. Harding. "I thought that my son was very popular."
"I'm sure there will be more people for the funeral."
"But I don't understand. I don't understand this at all. I thought everyone liked my son. Everyone told me what a wonderful person he was. I don't understand."
Constantine could not answer. He had not really wanted to come here at all. The possibility that he might be called on as a pallbearer was deeply discouraging, because now that he was dead Constantine no longer wanted to be associated with him anymore. No memories of past times, no gratitude for gifts given in the past. Constantine congratulated himself for his presence here while so many other "best friends" were completely absent. But then again it was a Saturday, Giles was with his father in the hospital, and many of Charles' friends probably didn't even know that he was dead. But he also could not suppress the bad faith he felt for feeling that way, and tried to think about the mediocre editorial he had read in the Citizen today. He really did not want to talk to Mr. Harding at all, and he was almost grateful that the assistant funeral director kept offering the Member of Parliament the best possible offers on the most wonderful coffins the world would ever see. Constantine was happy instead to stuff his mouth with stale bagels, fill his throat with cheap coffee, and ask trivial, stupid questions to the assistant funeral director. As Mr. Harding sat on the only chair, which was far away from the coffin, pulling out from his briefcase his appointment book and making up lists and crossing out things that had already been done, Constantine could not avoid gravitating to the coffin, but instead of looking at Charles's face, he found the will to stare at the yellowing certificates of the funeral home bought with unnecessary corruption and then at the peculiar patterns and groves in the woodwork of the coffin and as he resisted the temptation to run his fingernails in the grooves he noticed behind him the assistant funeral director pulling out a list of emollients and embroiderers and embalming fluids as he made the calculations for the best way to color code the dead body. Constantine feared that Mr. Harding would ask him for some sign of sympathy or feeling, or would ask him what a wonderful person his son was. So he was almost relieved when instead Mr. Harding asked him "The oddest thing about this is this marriage. I didn't know my son was married. I don't think he ever told me. Did you know about it?"
"Yes I did. He told me about last Sunday. I think he was going to tell you. Around Christmas or so, but he kept it secret from his other friends."
"But what I don't understand is Charles beating his wife. Could he really have done such a thing?"
"Yes," thought Constantine. "No," said Constantine.
"And who would want to kill him?"
"I can't say. I don't really know." Constantine felt sick, he should tell Mr. Harding about the Brigade, but he was too cowardly to do so. He fidgeted and shifted his weight from foot to foot as he tried to find some enigmatic way of expressing this truth, without arousing Mr. Harding's curiosity and entangling himself into some hideous conversation. Then after a long silence, which Constantine tried to prolong by forcing himself to drink some more horrible coffee, Mr. Harding said, "I hear that the Flannery O'Connor Brigade might have something to do with this. Would you know anything about this?"
"It's possible." blurted Constantine.
"How? I don't understand."
"Charles was very interested in the Brigade's activities." Constantine took a deep breath and lied. "I don't know exactly what he was trying to find though. I suppose we'll never know."
Mr. Harding did not respond, but instead walked over to the coffin and took one long penultimate look at his son's face. "Well thank you for coming." he said, as if Constantine had attended a constituency association meeting. He then left, and Constantine was almost relieved to walk the twelve blocks to the nearest bus stop. In the meantime Harding got into the back seat of the police car that was chauffeuring him around the city while the investigation continued. As the car drove off Harding just looked out the window and said nothing, or at least nothing of importance. Ever since he had left Vanessa's apartment he had not let go of his briefcase which absent-mindedly remained in his hands. But when the police officer driving the car tried to make some small talk, Harding felt compelled to put the briefcase somewhere. As he did so, there was a sharp ripping sound, as the case fell apart at the bottom. A large number of meaningless papers fell on the car floor, and along with them was the blood stained dagger of Saint Francis of Assisi.
Naturally the driver returned to the station immediately, and when they identified the blood stains as that of Charles Harding, they had his father arrested at once. It was only when Dramsheet arrived and after fifteen Members of Parliament had been interviewed, that the case was dropped. Mr. Harding had spent the previous evening at a caucus meeting and could not have possibly murdered his son. But how did the dagger get in his briefcase? Dramsheet quickly deduced the truth, the dagger had been placed there by Vanessa, and that she had found the dagger when she opened the drawer to fix something for Monagham. But how did the dagger get into her drawer? And for that matter, how had it been lost from the police eight days before? Now Monagham entered the game with her ideas. Since Hermann had committed suicide, the dagger was not taken by his murderer. And if it was not taken by his murderer then it must have been taken by a member of the Flannery O'Connor Brigade. By a convenient coincidence, one member just happened to live in the room above Vanessa and Elizabeth. Moreover, this member happened to be the sister of a woman whom Charles Harding had seduced and she had been seen Thursday night along with her maid, who had been dressed as Lucian Rudman. And a person dressed like Lucian Rudman had been seen entering the apartments just before he died. With this evidence a warrant was obtained and Monagham and two police officers raced to Chattenden Passey.
First off, they knocked on Vanessa's door, and when they found that she wasn't there (she had already left for Constantine's) they left her a stern little note which severely criticized her for lying to the police. Then they rushed up the stairs and banged on the door. There was no answer, so one of the officers forced his way in, and was immediately bitten by a Russell's viper. The second police officer took the lead, and was immediately caught in a booby trap involving golf clubs and tar. Monagham kept herself low, and made a furtive dash across the hallway, keeping an eye out for any traps, until she suddenly realized the squishy sounds her shoes were making on the carpet. "What the hell is going on?"
"What are you doing here?" said Ms. Van P--- indignantly, emerging from the very small room she called her study and where she had spent the past twenty hours.
"Why is the carpet all wet?"
Ms. Van P--- ignored that question. "May I ask why you have rudely barged into my apartment?"
"We came here," Just then Monagham remembered her fellow officers. "Umm, what about that snake?"
"You mean Xavier? Oh he's a good snake. Russell's vipers usually are. Very easygoing and pleasurable. Not at all like Loyola, my pet cobra, who is a really vicious mouser, and can get on people's nerves to no end. But no, Xavier is a charming fellow, and he won't do you a bit of harm. Unless you break into my apartment very rudely and with no warning. In that case he will bite you, and you would be dead in thirty-seven minutes."
"What?! He just bit one of my men!"
"Hmm. That could be a bit of a problem. Well, it will teach you not to be so rash in the future."
"Good grief, can I use your telephone?"
"You could, but I suppose I should warn you that the receiver is covered with holy hydrochloric acid to keep the vampires away."
"Good God, woman, are you completely mad?"
"There's no need to panic. If you are that concerned you could use the universal anti-snakebite toxin. I keep it in the cupboard over the stove. But I would prefer if you didn't use it, I was saving it for a special occasion."
Monagham ignored her, and injected the officer with the anti-snakebite formula, and then extracted the other officer from the golf club/tar trap, and told him to find an ambulance. "Look Ms. Van P---, you are in considerable trouble. You are going to be charged with the assault of my officer."
"Impossible! On what grounds?"
"You can't have two poisonous snakes running around your apartment!"
"Of course I can. I have the license to prove it." And Ms. Van P--- produced a document with her signature, along with another document signed by the official from the Thai consulate, along with a statement from an official of the department of Health and Welfare, along with a codicil from an official of the department of Justice, and along with the cheques used to bribe the relevant civil servants.
"OK, you have a license. Do these snakes attack anyone?"
"No, just the people who break into my apartment."
"Why didn't you open the door when I knocked?"
"I thought you were the landlord, trying to get sexual favours from my maid. Since according to the agreement I've signed with him, he's not supposed to even think of the idea for another six months, and since I have no intention of honoring any such agreement in the first place, and since my maid isn't even here right now, I saw no reason to open the door."
"Incidentally, where is your maid?"
"Now Ms. Van P---, or may I call you Madame Vovelle? Oh, don't be so surprised, your sister accidentally told three of her friends last night all about your little plans. We are also aware of the British MP you murdered, and we except to receive a report from Interpol very shortly."
"From Interpol? Did Aquilla tell you everything?"
"She most certainly did."
"I knew she was trouble. I knew she would be trouble the very day she was conceived, it was like a premonition."
"Ms. Van P--- we suspect you of the murder of Charles Harding. And of course that other murder in Britain."
"Interpol won't tell you anything." And indeed they wouldn't as a madwoman had already confessed to the crime. She had served in the UDA women's brigade and specialized in giving Catholic women unauthorized mastectomies. Quite hysterical, she believed the deceased MP was the father of her non-existent baby, and when it turned out that she had a Catholic in-law as well it was very easy to make a breakthrough in the case.
"Regardless, we have a warrant..." Then Monagham noticed that the other two officers had left. "Regardless, I have a warrant to search your room. Are there any other booby traps in this apartment?"
"Not really, but it would be wise if you didn't do anything without asking me." Monagham pointed to a closet, and Ms. Van P- -- opened it. Inside were eight dress suits in the fashion of Lucian Rudman. "This looks conclusive."
"What do you mean conclusive? That's absurd, idiotic. My character is absolutely spotless and you're accusing me of murder. And to make things even worse, you're completely ignoring the grotesque crime that just took place here."
"What crime?" said Monagham, truly puzzled.
"There are supposed to be nine suits there. Is it not obvious that one of them has been stolen?"
"No, it isn't"
"Idiot. If my maid was here, she would tell you that she had to make sure that the nine suits were all pressed and prim. Look, they even took the hanger. Of course, even if they hadn't taken the hanger, I would have thrown it away, since there's nothing uglier than left over hangers. And of course, that's not the worst thing they've done. They've stolen something absolutely invaluable. It's utterly shocking what they've done."
"Would this happen to a special dagger?"
"Yes it would be, and it's been stolen."
"Much like a dagger reported stolen from Drogheda apartments, after the death of Pr. Hermann."
"There was no need to report it stolen. It was mine by right due to my membership in the Flannery O'Connor Brigade, and if Pr. Hermann did not explicitly mention leaving the dagger to me, he certainly would have if he had been able to say anything after his murder."
"We investigated that little robbery again today, and from we've managed to learn, the dagger was stolen from a policeman by a couple who look astonishingly like you and your maid. And to make things worse, you not only chloroformed the police officer you said that you didn't care whether the dose was fatal or not."
"And you have a problem with that?"
"That's assault! It could have been murder!"
"Nonsense. Besides, he deserved it. I mean he was going to have sex on the job, while guarding one of the holiest relics in Christian civilization. I know that it is good practice to occasionally chloroform a Canadian policeman to death in order to encourage the others, and surely you recognize the need for discipline in such cases."
"No, I don't, and even I..." but then Monagham was silent.
"Besides what would Inspector Tyrone think?"
"Inspector Tyrone is dead. He blew his brains out last night."
"No, he didn't, you silly, happy imbecile. You are so stupid you probably think that Shiner of the Shoes of the Fisherman killed himself."
"Well that was the verdict of the inquest."
"You fool. There's a pathological killer on the loose and here you are barging into the apartments of perfectly decent and law-abiding people. What kind of police force is this?"
"You call yourself law-abiding?"
"Now I want to make a complaint about the thefts."
"Let me get this straight Madame Vovelle. You are claiming that you never went to Charles Harding's apartment dressed as Lucian Rudman and that you did not kill him with a special dagger."
"I'm not claiming anything of the sort. Of course I dressed up as Lucian Rudman and of course I went to Harding's apartment."
"And killed him with the dagger."
"No. I did not kill him. Someone else did."
"Someone else broke into your apartment. And knew exactly how you would dress up, knew precisely the time where you would be at Harding's apartment, and knew where to find a dagger whose existence was know only to the Flannery O'Connor Brigade and to a few members of the police force. There's only one little problem with this theory."
"How did this person get in without activating your booby traps? There is not a clue that anyone else was ever in your apartment." And for the first time in her life Ms. Van P--- could not provide an answer. And with that Inspector Monagham placed Ms. Van P--- under arrest, and confiscated her vials of chloroform, of sea-water soaked marigolds, and holy hydrochloric acid, her two pet poisonous snakes (very carefully), and all her notes, including her recipe for the preparation of mermaid soap and all her diaries. When they got to the station Ms. Van P--- was officially charged with the murder of Charles Harding, with the murder of British citizen Andrew Nixon, MP, for the assault of an Ottawa police constable, for breaking into the apartment of Elizabeth Concrete, for willfully destroying Elizabeth's copies of the diaries of Anais Ninny, for conspiracy against the state, for willful property damage to Chattenden Passey, and for keeping nitroglycerin without a license. A citywide warrant was also obtained for the arrest of the Siamese maid, while Dramsheet sat down and started reading the diaries.
But the maid was not to be found. She was already with Madame Vovelle and Aquilla Rogers in the abandoned cathedral of St. Michael Servetus. The cathedral, when it was originally built more than thirty-five years ago, was to have been the finest Cathedral in all of Canada. Madame Vovelle still remembered the first time she saw it, just after her father had died, and she could still remember the feeling of sanctity that the cathedral exuded when she was there on the day of its consecration by none other than three cardinals of the holy church, including the first cardinal provided by Canada. She could see the proper glowering on the face of the altar boys, and the sickly winter spiciness that was exuded by the incense and the fine contempt on the face of the Austrian cardinal as he told the parable of the banquet, and the overpowering feeling she felt when she looked around the entire cathedral and saw that not a single person was smiling. The dignity and austerity were so complete that it was only after the final services of consecration had been finished, only after the final communicants went up to the mass, only after the final parting words, only after the final hymn, only after the tactful silence after the final hymn, and only as the first persons conceived the idea that it would now be a tactful time to leave, it was only when the service was finally over that an extremely embarrassed architect ran up the nave to the cardinals and spoke to them in an incomprehensible scots Knox accent to the three bishops who could only speak German, French, Italian and Latin that the whole cathedral could not be used, because of an entirely unforeseen calamity, to wit, there could be no cathedral because a variety of extremely peculiar local idiosyncrasies made it utterly impossible to pump water into the building. "You're Scots, aren't you?" asked the Austrian cardinal. "Yes..." replied the architect. "Well, foxy Knoxy." and he boxed him on the ears saying "Non bis in idem"---don't even think of making the same mistake again. And for the first time during the entire service Catherine Jeannette Roget smiled. Of course, the cathedral couldn't be torn down, and the city had to refund the church for botching the water supply, which meant that the cathedral could only be used as a storage room, or a place to fly kites from, or something else equally useless. But it still possessed its old dignity, far away from any other buildings, it still possessed some of its beauty, and when Madame Vovelle learned that she had to choose a place for the ceremony this was the only place she could imagine it taking place.
The sun had already set, and the maid and Aquilla Rogers had spent the afternoon sweeping, while Madame Vovelle took out a whole box of peculiar spices and strange ablations, while a Latin choir was heard playing on Aquilla's ghetto blaster. Vivian Chelmnickon emerged from the cloister where the Holder of the Averroes Seal and the Legionmeister of the Signet of Saint Luke had been preparing him.
"Ah, Professor Chelmnickon. The ceremony will begin in a few hours. How are you feeling?"
Rather dazed and muddled, actually, but through the confusion of the whole experience Vivian felt that he could anticipate something priceless. "Fine, Madame Vovelle. Thank you for asking. But where are the people?"
"But of course. A canonization, even an unofficial canonization, requires an audience of dozens of people."
"Where are we going to get that many people? Counting me, you, your colleagues, and your immediate relatives, there are still going to be only eight people here. That's not even enough for a minyan."
"Soon there will be large numbers of people here. That is not something you should worry about."
"I see. And who's going to be the devil's advocate?"
"I don't know actually. We haven't chosen one yet."
"Don't worry. The Lord will provide us with one."
"But the angel said we had to go out and choose one for ourselves. We can't just hope that one will stumble our way."
"My dear professor, you may be a saint, but you have a lot to learn about how God works. Once you get to know how He works in mysterious ways, He's actually very reliable. Anyway, what do you think of what we've done to the cathedral."
"Well, it's certainly a lot less dusty. But the cathedral doesn't have a lighting system, and you haven't set up any candles. And there aren't any chairs here either."
"We're not going to have chairs. They are unnecessary. We do have something else though." and Madame Vovelle pulled out some piano wire from her purse. "This will be quite helpful."
"But isn't that wire from the piano that killed my wife?"
"Very observant. It is indeed. The police have no idea where the wire went to, but it's right here with us."
"Ah. But all we have is an empty, unlit and not terribly attractive floor. What are you and your daughter going to do in the meantime?"
"Well right now Aquilla is going to see if she can find a restaurant and grocery store that will deliver a fine roast beef dinner, complete with premium gravy, and Yorkshire pudding, and with the finest champagne in the whole city."
"Oh, it's a surprise. Aquilla! Are you ready?"
"Yes mother. But there is something I wanted to ask. I wanted to ask you this the first time I heard about it today, but you were too busy telling me to sweep the floor, and asking me how to operate the ghetto blaster, and lugging all your cases of spices and liturgies. What happened to Charles Harding?"
"I presume he's still dead."
"Yes, but how did he die? Did we kill him?"
"I certainly didn't kill him; though he thoroughly deserved to die I'm sure the Holy Ghost could have arranged him to be accidentally electrocuted or some such thing. The only way I can imagine the Brigade murdering was if some member, blinded out of filial piety and with considerable experience in the art of murder overstepped our orders and got rid of him."
"Mother, that describes Pandora."
"Oh, so it does. Perhaps we did kill him after all, but that's unimportant. What is much more important is that you get this roast beef dinner. It doesn't have to be roast beef, it can be a very fine steak, or in the last possible case roast lamb. On no account get chicken; it can't be cooked properly to the right satisfaction, and besides you have to eat it in your fingers and that's absolutely out of the question. For the vegetable broccoli or Brussels sprouts; for the former, ensure you get a good cheese sauce and make sure that it's cooked. If you can't find Yorkshire pudding, and remember it has to be that special recipe that I've given you, and not the ordinary recipe, where the pudding looks like gentile bagels, you can try hot buttered rice. For the champagne, there's an excellent bottle at Dr. Henry Gabarone, professional abortionist and contributor to Canadian Dimension. Break through the window and if anyone asks you any questions show them the nitroglycerin that your sister very kindly gave you from her own personal trove."
"Excuse me," interrupted Vivian. "But it's wrong to steal?" Madame Vovelle smiled a big motherly smile and patted Vivian's cheeks as if he were a little boy, and not actually a few years older than her. "That's what I like about you, Pr. Chelmnickon. You always know when something wrong is about to happen. But we are not going to steal from Dr. Gabarone's. Strictly speaking, only Aquilla is stealing anything, and she isn't stealing anything at all. What she is doing is conducting a forced, involuntary exchange. The champagne is to be taken and replaced with a special diamond of exactly the same value." and she took out the diamond, which by coincidence looked exactly like one of the blue glass crystals that his wife had given him. She handed the diamond to Aquilla and continued her instructions. "I managed to borrow the knives, forks, plates, napkins and spoons from the archbishop. Very fine quality. We already have some milk in case we need it, and as for the dessert there's a fine cheesecake at the restaurant at the bottom of the hill; it's a very good one, the Holy Ghost recommended it to Pr. Hermann himself. Take the maid along with you, and be careful of the police, they may have arrested your sister by now."
"Pandora's been arrested?"
"Probably, but unimportant. Just as the death of Charles Harding is even more unimportant. Now off you go."
The two young women left, leaving only Vivian and Madame Vovelle in the deserted cathedral, as the shadows of the approaching evening began to blur even their faces. "Now what do we do? There's only the two of us, and surely we can't prepare an entire canonization by ourselves."
"But why should we, when we can call for divine assistance?" and with that Madame Vovelle pulled out a strange hideously twisted glass object that Vivian recognized as a bottle, though it could only have been the sort of bottle that Alcoholics Anonymous used to serve bourbon. "When I was still a girl, my parents divorced each other, and in doing so betrayed themselves to hell, as well as betrayed their final child into Protestantism. Before my mother left my father she took everything that had come from her family. The only thing she left behind was this strange distorted bottle, made for her by a foolish silly and holy brother of hers, which although ugly and somewhat useless possessed the sign of sanctity. The only reason my mother did not take this bottle with her was because I hid it from her, so that she would never find it. And on that day I made a vow that the first time I menstruated I would keep the blood in this receptacle until the appropriate occasion came for me to smash it to pieces on the ground."
"Oh yes. That time had come upon us."
"Excuse me for asking, I don't have a profound knowledge of menstruation. But menstrual blood is essentially the same as other blood, right?"
"Which means that it's red, like normal blood."
"So why is the fluid in that bottle green and purple?"
"Ah, you're so observant. When this ceremony is over, I will give you a complete explanation." Actually, by the time the ceremony was over everyone would completely forget about the bottle, so it should be explained here and now that the fluid in the bottle that Madame Vovelle was now lifting over her head was actually mediocre food coloring that she had gotten from a local store. The origins of the bottle were true, or close enough to the truth not to matter when she smashed the counterfeit blood on the floor. For a full minute nothing happened, and then there was a silent rush, a secret wind blowing through the cathedral perfectly isolated from the winds that were raging outside and which only the members of the Flannery O'Connor Brigade could even notice and which only Vivian could understand, as the dark folds of the heavens of the cathedral broke up, and for the first time Vivian Chelmnickon saw a host of angels, angels with leaden wings, for the first time he had seen the leaden angels. And the whole cathedral was filled with a glorious light, a light that would have overpowered others, which was making even Madame Vovelle rather nervous, but which seemed perfectly natural to Vivian. And then his angel flew down from the rafters and presented Herself before Vivian.
"The preparations are going very well. I can only give you my thanks Madame Vovelle." As Vovelle curtsied the angel spoke to Vivian. "This will not be an easy canonization. You have heard of the Compass of Death. It is now complete and with deadly consequences for all concerned. On the night Pr. Hermann was murdered three men appeared in the apartment of Constantine Rudman, and warned him of the bloodpurge. Tonight the bloodpurge begins, and if you do not do the right thing the purge will gain an eternal victory. I cannot tell you anything more once the process of canonization begins, for once the process begins you are merely another man being offered sainthood and cannot be praised or damned one way or the other until a verdict has been reached. But I can tell you that tonight you will have to make a decision. It will be the most important decision in your entire life. I cannot tell you when you will have to make that decision, and what choice you are supposed to make. I can only say that you must look in the deepest regions of your soul, your conscience and your heart and you must do what they tell you."
And then she and all the other angels flew off up into the rafter and inside the building, as the strange music could again be heard, Madame Vovelle announced to no-one in particular that the vespers service had begun.
At six o'clock there was a buzz in Constantine's apartment. He opened the door and let Vanessa in, who embraced him.
"Is this a sign that you're not angry over what I said about Elizabeth?"
"I don't want to talk about it." She looked around the apartment; she had never actually seen it before, though she had been in one of Constantine's earlier apartments when she had strung along with Charles and Elizabeth. She looked at the desk, at the dinner table, and at the kitchen counters. As she did so it occurred to Constantine that she might have killed Charles, but before he could go over to her and kiss her again she said "Constantine, you lied to me!"
"I beg your pardon?"
"You told me you didn't have a camera. But there's one right here on the counter." Constantine turned around just in time to catch the light of the flashbulb as Vanessa switched on the old fashioned twenties camera that had been left there nine nights ago by an Italian fascist.
"Put that away. I have something for you." From out of her hands he took the camera, whose bulb had burned out on the first shot and was still smoking, and absent-mindedly placed it in a far away cupboard. "Close your eyes." and he gently prodded her back near the entrance while he opened another cupboard drawer and extracted a bouquet of roses. "Flowers!" he said.
"Oh, for me?" said Peter Wilentz, who just came in, and before Constantine could say anything Peter grabbed the flowers and took a deep smell. "Ooo. Roses. I can't stand them." and he tossed them over his shoulder.
"You wouldn't mind if I took them Peter?" asked Vanessa.
"I suppose so. But really, Constantine, you should have known that I don't like roses. Vanessa, why are you putting them in water?"
"So they don't die?"
"Yes, but you're not taking them in the car with us, and since you are definitely not returning here tonight, I don't see why should you even bother."
"Bring them over tomorrow afternoon." Vanessa hissed into Constantine's ear. At that point Constantine could now see Montserrat clearly, who among his other duties was to pick the locks of any doors that Peter should run into. He had gone back to the car to fetch the paraquat pumper and was now busily applying it all over the room.
Peter was investigating the bookcase, searching for subversive titles, but he decided that he would be wonderfully tactful and not raise any hurtful questions until they had ordered their appetizers. "Shall we be off?" and the four of them went out to Peter Wilentz's black car. "All right, Vanessa, you're driving."
"Why is she driving?" asked Constantine.
"Well obviously she has to do the driving. It's simple logic. You see ordinarily I would drive the car. But the whole point of having an assistant around is so that he will drive the car. But Montserrat can't drive the car if he has to keep pumping paraquat into the air. Which means that you, as the only other available male would have to do it. But since I barely know you, I can hardly trust you to do that. So I won't, so that leaves Vanessa. Actually it doesn't leave Vanessa, I could always call one of my colleagues to do the driving. But for some reason they appear to think I'm a little strange. I think it's because I oppose their decadent sexuality so much that I never go into one of their hot tubs without all my clothes on. So it would be unwise to call them. Of course, Montserrat could drive the three of us men there to the restaurant and Vanessa could walk the twenty-five blocks there. Actually, that's a much better idea. Montserrat why don't we do that?"
"Peter, you're out of your fucking mind if you think I'm going to walk twenty-five blocks in this weather."
"And I'm not going in any car unless Vanessa is there as well!" added Constantine with delayed chivalry.
"Is there some way of having dinner with you two, without actually having to take you two to a restaurant? Yes we could go have dinner at the restaurant, though that would be rather pointless Montserrat, since you're not going to be ordering anything, and Constantine and Vanessa could spend the evening at the apartment. And the night. And the next morning. Oh very well, Vanessa you drive."
And so off they went, and there were no problems with the drive, though Peter insisted that all the windows be kept open, even though the temperature was fifteen degrees below freezing, and even tried opening the car doors. But aside from that there were no problems until they reached the Charmley-Teachout restaurant, and were promptly showed their way to their table. It was a semi-circle built into an enclave with Peter at one end, Constantine sitting beside him, Montserrat beside him with his paraquat, and Vanessa on the other end, while a whole side of the table was bare and which the waiters passed by with their orders.
The dinner did not begin very well. First, Peter rudely refused any requests from the other diners and from the waiters to have Montserrat stop his pumping. Second, Constantine and Vanessa were surprised to learn that Peter was not going to pay for anything Montserrat might order. Indeed, he had made no plans whatsoever for Montserrat to eat anything that evening. So Constantine and Vanessa had to pool their money to see if they could buy anything for Montserrat. This was actually rather tricky, since they had to do it tactfully so as not to insult or patronize him, which was very difficult as he was sitting right between them. To make things even more difficult Montserrat, among his many other talents, had a surprising large number of allergies, which means that they could not buy him salads, or anything with gravy, fish, milk, raw carrots, salt, twelve varieties of soup broth and anything with too much protein. So the two ended up buying the very expensive "vitamin surprise" and had to smile insincerely to the waiter when they gave the order.
With that out of the way Constantine decided to talk about books. "What books have you read recently, Vanessa?"
"Oohh!" sneered Peter. "She likes Kafka."
"Oh. Well that's an interesting choice."
"No, it isn't. I hate Kafka. Let me rephrase that: I love Kafka. I love him infinitely more than any liberal or socialist could. I know all there is about Kafka, while my pathetic sister could not possibly begin to appreciate him. There is the Good Kafka praised by people who write for Commentary and Midstream, and there is the Bad Kafka whom my sister likes, because she's pathetically ignorant. The Kafka who wrote 'Josephine the Mouse Singer." I can't stand the man. Here we have a perfectly competent insurance agent, and he keeps whining about bureaucracy. And not about how the little businessman has to confront the petty forces of our wretched government, no he's about spiritual things. And his father, a fine example of the bourgeois as you could meet, and this little snot just wants to write stories! Of course my promiscuous slut of a sister is so stupid she thinks this is what the real Kafka thought and believed, when it is obvious that the real reason Kafka disliked his father was because he was a complacent liberal who believed in world peace and had German friends. Hermann Kafka probably believed in artificial birth control and liked Ibsen: clearly he was a soul-destroying monster. Of course the bad Kafka doesn't respect his father at all! No sense of company loyalty, no sense of pride in his profession, what kind of bastard writes like that? And of course this is just like Vanessa, who would have stolen every penny from our parents, except they were too stupid to make any. I mean we are the backbone of civilization as we know it, and we have to take this kind of crap from some warped neurotic. And just because he's Jewish, all of us Jews have to say what a wonderful genius he was, just because he wrote nihilist, dirt-dealing stories. Of course when looked at properly Kafka's stories really show the profound moral courage and deep moral beauty of being an accountant. The man's a traitor, an enemy of society. But then they all are aren't they? Do you think I care that Rousseau knocked up his mistress up five times, and pushed all five children in a foundling home where they probably all died because the infant mortality rate was so high? I am not shocked, I am not pained, I am positively overjoyed. I'm thrilled, I'm ecstatic, I'm overpowered, because it's yet another proof that only dirty scummy bastards who sell their own children into slavery would dare to castigate hard-working, decent-living, god-fearing accountants like me. When I learn that Proust, another half-Jew, tortured rats to death with hatpins, my day is just a little bit brighter. When I learn that Heine, another Jew traitor, betrayed his friends, my smile is just a bit larger. When I read that Shelley thought of bonking his own sisters, my soul is just a little lighter that day. And when I overhear how Tolstoy made a botch of his marriage, I'm filled with love towards all my fellow accountants. Indeed I can't wait till they open the diaries of Agnon and Singer, and I get the letters those Jew-traitors, spitter in the face of Zion, those swine, Oz, Appelfeld, Yeshoua, Elon, Grossman, telling me all about their incests, their cheating, their adulteries. I can't wait to learn how many prostitutes Chomsky's humped, I'm thrilled to read about how Freud slept with his sister-in-law."
"But he didn't." said Vanessa.
"Shut up, you stupid moron, don't interrupt me. I like to hear how Ibsen and Strindberg botched their marriages. I'm thrilled to scour Dickens biographies for unflattering anecdotes. I lap up every detail of De Beauvoir's abortions. When I learn how Crane and Faulkner drank themselves into an early grave I feel that my soul is on a higher plane. I'm happy to hear how Hemingway botched his hunting trips, and I can't wait to hear the dirt on Grass and Naipaul and Morrison and Gordimer and Rushdie. Appelfeld's a traitor. If he wasn't a traitor, he'd be a good man, and if he was a good man he'd be praised by the Sun and the Citizen and the National Review. But they don't praise him, therefore must be a traitor. But if he isn't a traitor, then it can only because The Age of Wonders vindicates religion, vindicates God, vindicates Israel, vindicates Likud and vindicates accountants. Indeed only a traitor could doubt that view of Appelfeld."
"You seem very literate for an accountant." offered Constantine.
"What are you suggesting? That accountants aren't literate? That they only read mediocre conservative novels? That's just the sort of empty prejudice that ignores the obvious facts. It is a fact that 97% of people who read Taylor Caldwell are atheist liberals, that accountants read 217% more books than university professors of literature, that 67% of deconstructionists are completely illiterate, that 92% of people who like Ayn Rand are atheists, liberals or black drug-dealers. 100% of accountants have read 'The Critique of Pure Reason' and if they haven't it's because they're liberal swine or because Kant was soft on Hitler. And Stalin. Yes, people sneer at accountants for liking Tom Clancy, but do they know that Clancy has been praised by Milan Kundera?"
"Really? Where did he say that?"
"Well obviously Kundera didn't say that, in fact Clancy was praised by another Czech writer who is much better than Kundera. In fact, when you look at Kundera there is a certain lack of inner fibre. He has certainly never shown the profound moral courage that I, as an accountant, have. There's a certain predictability, a certain evasiveness, a certain laxity and shallowness, like you see in Nietzsche. And when I read about the final decade of Nietzsche, how he slipped into a helpless, incurable madness, I leap up with joy and praise God for destroying His enemies, and my enemies, in such a way. For I am a man, who can say the truth, and the truth is that all the people who think and say read and write all these disturbing things are meretricious swine who betray their friends, who cheat on their taxes, who knock up their friend's wives, who are dirty, and want to exterminate the world, who hate real people, and who don't know what they really think, and are full of lust and incest and lies, and who realize that we, the good decent accountants of the world, are right after all, and so they all crawl up to us, the salt of the earth, right on their deathbeds, or deathfloors, and beg us for forgiveness, and I can up to them and kick them and spit into their rotten, dung-infested faces. And when I do I am so happy, that I am as happy as I am right now, and I can even stand to sit by a totally amoral homosexual."
"Are you referring to me?" asked Constantine.
"Of course I am, you idiot. I'm not sitting by anyone else, am I?"
"But I'm not a homosexual."
"But of course you are. You slept with my sister didn't you? Therefore that proves you are a homosexual. It's simple logic."
"I'm afraid I don't follow you."
"Well of course not. You're an idiot. And amoral as well. And a homosexual to boot. You see, my sister is really a man in disguise. Isn't it obvious?"
"It wasn't two nights ago."
"There you go, being literal again. Obviously, my sister isn't anatomically a man, though I wouldn't at all be surprised for you to be at home one evening with all your children, and then this ugly Jewish man comes in with this moony face and this really long hair, and announces, surprise, he used to be Vanessa, but now he's turned into a man. No, you are a homosexual, you're just a homosexual who likes breasts and vaginas, and you like them on women who are really men in disguise. See, I'll prove it." He reached around, took the salt shaker from the next table, ignored the complaints of the people who were sitting there, and then threw it at Vanessa. Vanessa immediately picked it up and threw it back at his face.
"See. Women are supposed to be passive, and loving, and caring. Yet she threw a salt shaker at me!"
"But you just threw one at her."
"Ah, but that's where you're wrong. You assume that just because I threw a saltshaker at her she would have the right to throw it back at me. But you're assuming that she was being logical, and everyone knows that feminine nature transcends questions of logic or right, backed up by eons of evolutionary psychology and that therefore she should passively allow me to throw salt shakers at her. But she doesn't. Therefore, she is really a man in disguise."
Vanessa sighed. "Ignore him, Constantine. Otherwise, he'll keep raving for the rest of the dinner."
"But it's an undeniable fact. Virginia Woolf was logical: why else do you think she was a lesbian? George Eliot was logical: why else do you think she called herself George Eliot? Now look at my sister. She hasn't painted her nails. She hasn't been on a diet for six months. Can you imagine her not being on a diet, yet woman are supposed to starve themselves to death in order to gain the affections of me and Montserrat. That they'll never get it is not the point. It's in the constitution. Not our constitution, but the great British unwritten imaginary constitution up in the sky. Women are supposed to be shadows for men's emotions, that's how they're portrayed in the great literature of the ages, they're supposed to warm, wonderful and caring, we're supposed to put them on a pedestal so high that they're stuck there, and they have to depend upon us for food or they'll starve to death. But Vanessa, she's angry, irritable, caustic, and you're nervous, guilty, impotent. Clearly your sexes have been mismatched. You belong in each other's bodies. Why you're just a worthless coward, and my sister's just a stone sculpture, incapable of feeling." But just then Constantine slapped Peter.
"Constantine, what the hell did you do that for?"
"I have had enough of this. I am not going to sit here and be insulted by your ungrateful, stingy and psychotic brother. We should be going."
"But what about my vitamin surprise?" asked Montserrat.
"Constantine, I'm not going anywhere with someone who had just assaulted my brother."
"Aha!" said Peter. "This is a trick. A very clever trick. You must have rehearsed this before hand. You didn't really want to hit me Constantine. Vanessa put you up to this."
"No, I didn't Peter. Why do you have to be such a prick?"
Constantine was clearly losing his temper, but he still had the self-possession to say "You're right. What I really wanted to do was this." and he pushed Peter off his seat and onto the floor. Peter was not at all disturbed at this. "Of course, it's to be expected. Another typical example of feminine cunning. It's all so obvious. For have not the great minds of western civilization commented on the feminine soul and judged it wanting? Plato, Aristotle, Descartes, Augustine, Aquinas, Hobbes, Locke, Nietzsche, Strauss and Allan Bloom? That most of them were fervent bachelors who barely knew any women and had a psychopathic distaste for sex is neither here nor there. Clearly it is the worst sort of liberal demagoguery and political correctness to think that any woman has something more intelligent to say about herself than these great thinkers."
With that, Vanessa kicked her brother under the table. Peter would have thrown back the salt shaker at her, but the couple at the next table had already retrieved it. So he learned over and grabbed a woman's purse. This proved more difficult than he expected and he shouted for everyone to hear "Give it to me, you stupid woman. I'm only going to borrow it to hit my sister on the head." But just then a waiter came to the table with an enormous cart. On it was a large tray with a huge cover. This attracted Peter's attention, and he ignored the purse.
"Ah, our dinner at last."
"I don't think we ordered anything that large." observed Constantine.
"I also don't think that our waiter was black." added Vanessa.
The black waiter smiled. "Pardon me, but we are presenting you with a special of the house. This is completely on behalf of the owner, and it is no trouble at all to present the four of you with this special dish." He lifted the cover. "The dish is Legionmeister of the Signet of Saint Luke in the prime of his life, armed with a sawed-off shotgun."
Roget rose from under the cart, Peter Wilentz shouted out that he wanted his
dinner, and Montserrat was so shocked that he dropped the
paraquat-pumper. Vanessa grabbed it and pumped a dose right into Roget's
face, then threw the whole thing at Senator Naipaul. Then she and
Constantine jumped from the table and out of the restaurant, with the two
Brigade members in hot pursuit, stopping just long enough for everyone to get
into their coats and mittens before dashing off into the cold night.
previous: Book Four: The Compass of Death: Snowballs of Acid