The Truth Behind the Compass
With everyone else's
attention distracted Vanessa Wilentz now decided that this would be the perfect
time to rescue
"Couldn't you hurry it up?"
"How? This is piano wire. It doesn't untie itself easily."
"Couldn't you cut it with something?"
"I don't know. Perhaps you've got something in your purse. Like a nail clipper for instance."
"You can't use a nail clipper to cut piano wire. Besides, I don't have one."
"How do you cut your nails then?"
"The same way you do, I bite them off when I get too nervous."
Just at that moment Aquilla appeared, who had been spending the entire service helping
cook the dinner for
"Gee what are you doing?" asked Aquilla in a voice loud enough for everyone to hear.
"Be quiet! Help me untie
"Gee, that could be dangerous." she responded in the same loud voice.
"Please hurry it up. And be quiet."
"I couldn't hear you. Could you please speak up?"
"For God's sake Aquilla, get over here and don't talk so much. Can't you see we're trying to escape?"
"Do you think I'm talking too loud? Gee, I'm really sorry. Perhaps I should ask my mother for advice." and the Murderess of the Order of the Stigmata approached the pillar.
"Hi." said Vanessa as the four remaining Brigade members cramped around her. They grabbed her and forced her to rejoin her parents. Madame Vovelle then made a mental check. "The only people missing are your sister and Adrian Verrall."
Just then the Andorran and Finnish embassy officials came racing in, about to prepare fulsome apologies for their incompetence, but before they could do even that there was a sudden rush of wind, and Natasha Wilentz herself appeared, followed by Adrian and Lucian. "It's incredible," said Lucian. "Natasha's a witch!"
"I must object." said Ignatius. "There are a number of definitions of the word witch, none of which adequately describe my daughter. Some unscrupulous early modern doctors, less than have been popularly assumed, have defined witches as unlicensed doctors with a passable knowledge of local herbs in pre-industrial societies. Another definition is of a person who is a victim of pre-industrial mass hysteria. Yet another definition argues that a witch is a member of the European anti-Christian conspiracy that is purported to have existed for a millennium and a half after the fall of Julian the Apostate. Yet another definition is of a master of the black arts possessing knowledge of powers behind the scope of rational examination. My daughter is not a mediocre herbalist, nor a victim of mass hysteria, nor a member of a pre-industrial society. As no anti-Christian conspiracy existed for a millennium and a half after the fall of Julian the Apostate, my daughter could not be a member of it. And it is not logically possible to possess knowledge beyond the scope of rational examination. My daughter is not a magician, she belongs to no anti-human cults, she does not sell useless herbs, she does not incorrectly predict the future and she does not deal with palms, quartzes, tarots, or aphrodisiacs. My daughter is a literate woman who has received the best education the Western world can offer, and she has a profound and deep understanding of art, literature, history, and religion. My daughter is not a witch, she is a perfectly devout Jew, and a master kabbalist."
"But I thought Kabbalists were all men."
"Quite. But when I found several masters of the art, some of the most conservative and traditionalist Jews alive, and hired them to help my with daughter's Judaic studies, they found her so charming they told her everything they knew. Which goes to show that a good misogynist is hard to find."
Giles heard none of this, and instead was so grateful that when he rushed to Natasha's side, he almost didn't notice the slap that she gave him. "You bastard!"
"For the past three years I have been married to a man who has not written to me, has not spoken to me, and has not done anything to me that a wife could reasonably expect her husband to do to her. I have every right to be angry."
"I haven't spoken to you? You're the one who's been in
"But of course I did, Giles. Don't you understand that I faced an enormous
threat, so dangerous that I had to leave
"Really. And just what did you do?"
"I created a big blue bouncing ball that was supposed to follow you around
everywhere. The ball would be nice and cheery and it would be so charming
that you would eventually kiss it, and you would probably kiss it on your
wedding night, and then poof, I would appear. I would only appear for an
hour, and I would only appear for once a week, and I would only be there long
enough for me to get pregnant, but I would be there, and every week for the
past 176 weeks I have waited for you, and nothing happened. And don't say
you didn't notice the blue ball, because I give you a very expensive cologne
right for your wedding day, and once you put it on it was supposed to attract
the ball, and don't say you didn't notice the cologne, because I could feel the
seal broken and the cologne applied all across the
"But I didn't receive any cologne at all."
"Oops." said Natasha.
Her father broke in. "Why does no-one ever listen to me? I have said it before and I will say it again; if magic had any sort of reliability it would have been patented by now. Anyway, you can all see why Cabbalism is the least respected of the Jewish sciences." Peter hadn't said anything at all, but now he approached his cousin. "Hello Natasha. I'd like to give you a gift." And he gave her his eight remaining bars of soap.
"Well that's very sweet of you, Peter." and she kissed him on the cheek, which almost made him faint, before she walked over to Roget. She kissed her former husband, the lecherous doctor with prehensile ears who enjoyed hypnotising her too many times too much, and who couldn't even be a good Catholic fanatic and she conjured from under her clothes the favorite sash that he given to her on their first anniversary and presented it to her quasi lord and master.
"But what about this threat that made you leave
"Good question. You see, I had a premonition of a terrible conspiracy. There were in fact a number of conspiracies. There were two minor ones and one major one. The first minor one was called 'the compass of death.'"
"But there can't be a compass of death." interrupted Monagham. "Tyrone thought there was, but all the deaths he was investigating were really suicides."
"They only appear to be suicides. The second conspiracy was something called 'Bloodpurge,' which hasn't taken place yet. Though it will be very horrible to endure, it is not as half as dangerous as the real conspiracy, the conspiracy to kill someone who is already dead."
"Yes, we do keep bumping into this strange plan." noted
"No. It has nothing to do with zombies. It has nothing to do with ghouls or ghosts or vampires. It has nothing to do with the strangely growing cadaver of Oliver Corpse, which I have just reburied. It is something else, and although I have not made any progress in finding exactly what else it is, I have definitely concluded that the conspiracy will commit its murder tonight, and that the conspirators are right here in this very cathedral."
Six embassy officials, five members of the Flannery O'Connor Brigade, four Seinkewiczs, three elderly Wilentzes, two Rudmans, one would be saint, two M.P.s, three attractive young women, and four upstanding members of the bourgeoisie all looked at each other blankly. "And the most peculiar thing about the conspiracy is that although one of you is the would be murderer, none of you have the slightest idea what I'm talking about."
Mrs. Concrete was still very confused. "You know that it's times like this when you really wish you had more shampoo, and that your mother was here to comfort you."
"Yes, unfortunately mother's dead." said Avare.
"What do you mean she's dead? She's living in perfect health back in
"Because she is dead. She died when you were four years old. She was lowered into the ground, and our sister said it was a good thing that she had suffered horribly before she died."
"What sister? And who are you talking about? Oh, I remember you're talking about that unfortunate French Catholic woman whom my father married before my real mother."
"Marie Abelard Roget Raymond was your mother, not that cow-faced Presbyterian who keeps stuffing you with shampoo!"
"But that's not fair. Granted I suppose that since she was my father's
wife when I was born, she probably would be my mother. But in all the
important times of my life, such as the first day I went to school, when I
graduated, when I got married, when I had
"But how can you be my sister? You're only my stepsister, no half-sister, I suppose."
"No, Alice. I am not your stepsister. I am not your half-sister. I am not your three-quarters, one-eights, two thirds, or five-sixteenths sister. I am not your sister by marriage, or by contractual right or by a number of other weird and wonderful anthropological arrangements. I am your sister. We share the same mother, we share the same father, and we share the same sister."
"But that's impossible. Your father was this rather dissolute French
fisherman, and my father was a perfectly respectable
"Your sister is that woman over there, who is in charge of the service.
Your sister calls herself the Murderess of the Order of the Stigmata, your
sister reads books from the Library of Heaven, your sister helps fund brothels
of chastity around the world, your sister has a daughter who goes by the name
of her maternal grandfather and was seduced by your son-in law, your sister has
another daughter who shot a MP who was a murderer with a pregnant wife and who
plants marigolds in her carpet in order to destroy sexuality as we know it,
your sister tells stories about wives who break their husband's necks so that
they'll go to heaven, your sister goes around shouting anti-black slogans so
that no-one will think that Senator Nyere Naipaul of
"But she has nothing in common in me. And besides, she's French and Catholic."
"Look at your damn birth certificate. Your name is Atala Amara Raymond, a perfectly normal French name, except that your father isn't Daniel Raymond, it's Henri Roget. You were conceived with mermaid soap while your father was trapped in an oyster shell at the bottom of the sea, and if he had known that you were his daughter, and if mother had known that, and if Daniel Raymond, that smug two-faced opportunistic Protestant accountant had known that, no force on heaven on earth would have kept our parents apart. We could have all lived together."
"But I don't understand. Daniel Raymond is my father, and this father you say is really my father sounds like a very unpleasant person, and I don't see why I should care about him at all, and I think I prefer my own parents."
"But they're not your parents! Your parents are dead! Why does nobody care? I know my parents weren't the best people in the world, I know that my father beat my mother, I know that they often didn't love each other, I know that my mother married too quickly after my father didn't die, I know that my father drowned himself in cheap bathos and self-pity, I know they didn't accomplish anything important, that they were virtually illiterate, I know they never showed any courage or wisdom or decency or chastity or hope or temperance or anything else that balanced their lives, but for God's sake they were my parents, and I loved them and they loved each other and whatever they may have done my mother did not deserve to be cursed by her own daughter as they lowered her into the grave, she didn't deserve to die of abdominal bleeding after spending four years with a man she didn't love, and my father didn't deserve to be completely forgotten by his youngest child. What did they do to deserve this, did they deserve this rank ingratitude?"
Madame Vovelle stopped her work to turn around and look at her sister. "I'm not being ungrateful. I'm simply being objective. The difference between divine love and human love is that the former is completely objective and completely infinite."
"And if that wasn't enough when I moved to
"Excuse me," interrupted Peter, "but do we have to listen to her whine all night?"
Avare Roget Seinkewicz stopped entirely and looked at Peter with the glare of goaded panther, a glare that struck fear or caution into everyone except Peter, who continued. "I mean really it's bad enough being kidnapped, but do I have to listen to some silly woman complain about not having enough children. I mean I get that enough from my mother, and for that matter I get enough of that from my father."
"You. Dare. Talk. To me like that?"
"And why shouldn't I? Here we have a perfectly pathetic woman with no ambition who keeps complaining about her miserable and lazy parents. You don't see me always complaining about the fact that all four of my grandparents were gassed to death with cyanide and their bodies were burned into ashes."
"Actually, sir," interjected
"And they were upstanding members of the community, well at least the men
were, and they worked hard all their lives, and they were all educated and
responsible and respectable and they were generous to charity, at least the men
were, and all their deaths were real losses to humanity and they didn't need
this petty bourgeois sentimentality by which this screechy women with the
fashionable ethnicity keeps whining about. My grandparents and almost all
of my other relatives, including a distant cousin whom the Poles butchered,
were all hideously murdered by an evil totalitarian power of chiliastic
transcendence, while this stupid fisherman caused his own suffering, so I don't
see why I should show the slightest interest, the slightest feeling, the
slightest sympathy for these people. The simple fact is that you and your
husband and all these Latin and Catholic people have really failed to confront
the challenge of the Industrial revolution. You're almost as bad as the
Arabs, you're all members of irrational and inefficient ethnicities, and that's
why you are on the bottom or the middle of the totem pole, and people like me
and my uncle are at the top. This is backed by the best scholarly
evidence: there's Glazer and Moynihan and Sowell and the Thernstorms and
Handlin, and in Canada Creighton and Ouellet. Why the superiority of
Americans, and especially Jews, is the whole point of 'Democracy in
Avare had not moved a muscle during this peroration, though everyone had moved a step back except Peter and (obviously) Constantine. "You dare to say this to me?"
Ignatius spoke: "Perhaps Peter, it would be wise not to go on about things you really don't know anything about."
"You dare to say such things to me? Do you have any idea what I have lost?"
"Of course, I do, you stupid woman, you've only been complaining about it in a very loud and obnoxious voice. So you got Chlamydia from your husband: that a was a very stupid and silly thing to do. I certainly wouldn't have done something that stupid. Clearly you shouldn't have bothered with the man. Come to think of it, clearly you shouldn't have bothered with most of the people in your, rather silly life."
Peter was about to add that Mrs. Seinkewicz probably wasn't being fair to Mrs.
Concrete's adaptive mother, who did indeed love Atala Raymond very much, but
then it occurred to him that he knew nothing about her. So he spoke no
more, and with that Peter turned his back on Mrs. Seinkewicz, and he did not
even notice that she had grabbed the walking stick the angels had given him
until she brought it crashing down on his head. The first blow made him
unconsciousness, but because she was a member of an irrational and inefficient
ethnicity she gave him another five or six blows. It took three men (the
Siamese official, Giles and Adrian) to wrench the broken stick from her hand,
and it took another three men (
Peter was in the arms of his parents, with Vanessa and
Dramsheet raised his arm. "If what my client said about the bloodpurge is true, then I think this may be a premonition of it. If that is the case, I think it would be wise, now that everyone is here, for me to explain the truth behind the compass of death." Three MPs gathered around him, with Monagham and Chelmnickon a short distance away and the others scattered around the cathedral, while Mrs. Concrete worried about her daughter.
"I think most people are aware of some of the basic facts of the six recent deaths that have occurred in the past three weeks. But they do not know everything and it would be wise to recapitulate the relevant details. Three weeks ago from last Thursday Senator Pierre Veniot entered the Castlereagh Hotel, and was found the next morning, having fallen down the elevator shaft. All the evidence pointed to the premise that he had jumped to his own death, except for a spot of someone else's semen on his eyeglasses. The police officials in charge of the case therefore suspected foul play.
"The next Thursday a librarian named Veruca Manzoni was found drowned at
"Their suspicions were increased the next Thursday, or more precisely the
next Friday, when the body of Pr. Albert Hermann was found at his home in
"The next Thursday, i.e., two days ago, another body was found, that of Dr. Oliver Corpse at his new apartment at Amritsar Vistas. And again it looked very much like a suicide; Corpse's palmprints were found on the noose and on the beaker that contained the cyanide found in his body. But the police did not consider this crime a suicide either, because all four deaths together formed a perfect square, with each death occurring at one of the cardinal points of the compass. And all four members were members of the Catholic Philhellenon club.
"Another interesting fact. There is evidence that each of the four deceased
people were receiving anonymous letters, (except Pr. Hermann) and that each of
the four people were receiving traumatic nightmares. Each nightmare dealt
with a particular shameful secret in the history of the victim's country of origin,
and it is noteworthy that all four victims came from different ethnic
groups. Now the intriguing thing is that I have been experiencing similar
nightmares, and I have been receiving similar letters. Even more
intriguing is that I am supposed to be at the
"Of course, I did not understand this, until the real identity of the fifth--and the sixth--victim was revealed. It was only when Inspector Tyrone, the leading advocate of the theory that the four victims had been murdered, was found shot through the head at the art center, with the murder weapon in his own hand, that I learned about my own potential destiny.
"And to make things even more confusing there was a sixth victim, Charles
Harding, who had died within minutes of Tyrone. Now his death could not
be fitted into the compass at all, it made no sense. Moreover it was most
likely that he had been murdered, because although he had been stabbed in the
front, the knife that had done it had vanished, ergo it must have been taken
away by someone else. Nor is his death unconnected to the others.
While the connections between Veniot and Manzoni, or Manzoni and Corpse were
vague, I learned from his notebooks that Harding was very interested in the
compass of death, that he was fascinated by the activities of the Flannery
O'Connor Brigade, and indeed he was aware of all the strange and peculiar
things that had taken place in the past three weeks. So I had to face a
number of theories as to his death. It was soon revealed that he had been
stabbed with the dagger of St. Francis of
"To understand what I did next, I first have to explain my appalling stupidity. You see, at the beginning of the case, an anomaly appeared for no reason at all, confusing crucial elements of the case. That was the semen spot on Veniot's eyeglasses. In the absence of any evidence of homosexuality on Veniot's part, it was clear evidence of the presence of a second man at the time of Veniot's death. What I logically, but incorrectly, concluded was that someone had gone to considerable lengths to make it appear that Veniot had committed suicide, but had actually murdered him anyway. The semen was left as a rather vulgar calling card. Now this caused all sorts of problems. I was looking for a man who wanted to murder four people, and had gone to considerable trouble to make their deaths look like suicides. This meant that I was looking for a man who was strong enough to humiliate Veniot long enough to ejaculate on his spectacles, then push him down an elevator shaft without leaving any signs. This meant I was looking for a man close enough to Manzoni to waylay her in her hysterical state and then drown her. This meant I was looking for a man who could enter Pr. Hermann's apartment and then get close enough to him and murder him with a rather awkward spice box, and then find a way of getting through a door locked on the inside. This meant I was looking for a man who somehow knew where Oliver Corpse lived, though the police didn't, despite looking very hard for him, knew that he had just bought a package of cyanide, and could somehow hang a man weighing half a ton in a noose. And this meant I was looking for someone who was would want to kill me as well. Who could possibly fit all these categories? A steady rumination revealed that no-one at all could have fit them, and the case appeared insoluble.
"But when it was revealed that Franz and Rebekah Wilentz had engaged in intercourse in one of the elevators of the Castlereagh Hotel just minutes after Senator Veniot's death, and that it was his semen that had accidentally dripped on the spectacles, a crucial assumption was undermined. What evidence was there that Veniot had been murdered? Only the semen spot. If it could be explained away then the most logical explanation was that he had killed himself, and that was the logical explanation the inquest this morning gave to the deaths of Veniot, Manzoni, Hermann and Corpse, and it is undoubtedly the verdict they will give to the death of Inspector Tyrone. But they would be wrong to do so."
"Why?" asked Monagham.
"Because they have misunderstood the whole genius of our criminal. It is understandable, because although reason will reveal our murderer beyond any doubt, how he (or she) committed his actions are beyond the boundaries of simple reality. You see there is a systematic pattern in all these deaths, and this pattern cannot exist outside the direction of a controlling intelligence. And the controlling intelligence is our murderer, who commits his (or her) murders in a very clever way. Murder by suicide is the technique of our friend. Murder by suicide, with one exception.
"But before I can explain just exactly how our murders were committed, I
must make a crucial diversion. I must talk about the love life of Charles
Harding. Here is a man to whom all his friends attribute charm and overpowering
sexual virility. From his own notes and that of Ms. Van P---'s in the
past four weeks he has made a strong impression on four very different women;
Aquilla Rogers, Vanessa Wilentz, Elizabeth Concrete, and Lucian Rudman.
Now the strange thing about these amours is the almost mystical nature of the
impression. According to Ms. Van P---, Aquilla kept receiving wonderfully
pastoral images, while the day before Senator Veniot's death Vanessa kicked
Charles very strongly in the shins just after she had been dreaming about what
a wonderful place
"How was this done? How did Charles manage to make such an impression? To understand just how we would have to go back to the Monday before Pr. Hermann's death. Although none of you noticed I was watching you carefully, and I learned some interesting things. Most important of which was that I followed you, John Seinkewicz, and I heard you talking to yourself. I heard you talk about idiotic conservative conferences, about John Locke dancing in drag, and about a box of dreams. In your mumblings you mentioned that you saw a similar box in the possession of you, Thomas Edward Harding."
"Me?" said Harding surprised. "But that's just an old family heirloom. I don't understand."
"When I read Ms. Van P---'s notes, I learned that
"I then put all the pieces together, along with a few others. All the victims of the compass of death have experienced peculiar nightmares. Four women claim to have felt peculiar hallucinations in Charles' presence, and so possibly have two more. Lucian Rudman, when you first felt your strong desire for Charles, had you felt something very peculiar in your mind?"
"Why yes, come to think of it. I..."
"Thank you. That merely provides more confirmation. The box of dreams was the murder weapon. This is how four people were driven to commit suicide."
"But that's absurd." said Monagham. "You have no proof that Charles even owned a box that could even be confused for a box of dreams, much less that such a thing is possible. And the box doesn't exist; nobody can find it."
"Of course nobody can find it. The woman who murdered Charles Harding took it away with her when she left."
"Ah. I must explain further. Giles Seinkewicz and Adrian
Verrall did not see one person dressed as Lucian Rudman enter Charles'
apartment building. They saw two people, within minutes of each
other. No doubt Ms. Van P--- came to the apartment in disguise, but she
would hardly use a dagger as fine as the dagger of St. Francis of
"Which she couldn't do, because Ms. Van P---'s room was locked. So she couldn't have gotten anything."
"On the contrary. You see when I visited Ms. Wilentz's apartment today I recognized something. I recognized a skeleton key from a case I had solved and which I had given to Giles as a souvenir. I learned that he too had played a part in Charles' machinations against the Flannery O'Connor Brigade, and that he had given the key to Vanessa Wilentz. Having seen Ms. Van P--- as Lucian Rudman the night before, Elizabeth Concrete was able to guess her plans, so she used the key to open the door to Ms. Van P---'s apartment, and then stole the dagger and a suit of clothes. Using this disguise she went back to her apartment, and stabbed her husband to death. She must have realized that it would have been idiotic for Ms. Van P--- to leave the dagger there, so she took it back with her, and hid it in Vanessa's cutlery drawer. She guessed that Vanessa would lie to protect her, and she was right, as Vanessa not only lied but also hid the dagger in Thomas Harding's briefcase in a feeble attempt to get rid of it, thereby making her an accessory to murder."
Ignatius was moderately indignant. "Dramsheet, if you charge my niece with being an accessory, you'll never work for me again."
"So," said Seinkewicz, "Charles used the box to drive members of the Philhellenon club mad, and then he was murdered by his own wife."
"No. Not quite."
"So who is the force behind the Compass of death?"
It took a few seconds for people to realize that Dramsheet had directed his comments to Thomas Edward Harding. "Me?"
"Yes. You. You used the box of dreams to force Veniot to jump to his death down an elevator shaft. You used the box to make Manzoni drown herself, you used the box to make Corpse hang himself, and you used the box to make Tyrone shoot himself. But you did not use the box to make Hermann poison himself."
"But that's silly."
"Please bear with me. There is no evidence that Charles used the box for any other reason than to get women to sleep with him. That being the case the only other person who could have used the box was someone who had access to it. And that person, logically, is you. You are the murderer."
"But it's so silly. I have no motive. You have no evidence."
"I have circumstantial evidence. Just before Tyrone shot himself he received a telephone call at the Cecil Rhodes Arts Centre. Before he killed himself, he used call trace to find who was calling him. That call trace revealed a call from a telephone right outside the New Democratic Caucus room, where you were meeting last night."
"But you don't even have evidence that I made the call, or even know what the call was about."
"True, but since Tyrone was not a suicidal person, whatever was said on the phone must have been quite traumatic. Even more important is the death of Albert Hermann. Here is the one death that did not fall into the pattern. Even when I believed that Senator Veniot had been murdered, I still thought that suicide was the most logical explanation for the deaths, with one exception: Pr. Hermann. Considering his unblemished reputation and the success of his conspiracy, it is completely illogical for him to have killed himself. He must have been murdered, but how was that possible? He had died in a locked room, having clearly opened a Chinese spice box with a complex lock which released, as I have said before, a dangerous strychnine compound. He must have opened the box himself, but that would require knowing the lock, which would presumably involve enough knowledge of the box to know that it was full of strychnine, unless someone had sneaked strychnine into the box. Yet we have no evidence that Pr. Hermann owned the box, except for the fact that it was found in the apartment on his death. True, we have no evidence that anyone else owned the box, but Ms. van P--- wrote in her diary that neither she nor any of the other members of the Brigade had seen the box when they visited the apartment. With only these facts a solution would seem incomprehensible.
"But on the Friday after Hermann's death, the police contacted you, Ignatius Wilentz, and you freely admitted that you had had a conversation with him the previous Monday, in the presence of Thomas Edward Harding, and that you ended it by hypnotising him, so that he would go away. You even said that Harding could show the mesmerized professor the way out. At soon as I remembered this with all the other evidence a solution immediately presented itself. Hermann would not commit suicide, and he would not naturally open a complex lock. Nor could he be hypnotised into taking his own life. But he could be given a post-hypnotic command to open a Chinese spice box, and once open, to breath deeply the entire contents. And that, Harding, is exactly what you did."
"But you have no evidence." protested Harding. "And again you have no motive."
"Almost correct. No court in
"They shan't recognize it. You are bluffing to suggest otherwise."
"Perhaps. But there is another piece of evidence. Shortly before Hermann's death, Vanessa Wilentz saw you mailing a Christmas gift. Ms. Wilentz, is that generally correct?"
"This fact was recorded by Ms. van P--- who thought it slightly strange that a man would be sending off Christmas gifts before the end of November. Naturally everyone knows you are a very conscientious MP, but that is going a little too far. And you were mailing it, not in your own constituency, not in a post office box near parliament building, but in a rather far and away place in the city. Was it because you didn't want the postage traced to an outlet that you regularly frequent? A minor question of course, because Hermann had the annoying habit of systematically disposing of all his litter as quickly as possible. But it does not change the essential fact that you were seen mailing a package roughly the size of a small Chinese spice box at a time when there was no need for it."
"But Mr. Dramsheet, there's a perfectly logical explanation for it. I was just sending a gift to a close friend who lives overseas. I can't see how this makes me a murderer."
"Undoubtedly. But your claim can be easily refuted. Since it isn't Christmas yet, the gift will still be unopened, and your friend can be contacted to hand the mailed gift to the nearest policeman. It can be checked to see which post office outlet it was processed through, as well as the date it was processed. I do not think such an examination will vindicate your innocence."
And for the first time in living memory the geniality and pleasantness on Harding's face did not fall completely off, because it never fell off, Harding had an adamantine geniality. But he was quite disconcerted at being caught and John Seinkewicz immediately realized that he was the murderer. "Harding, I've know you for years. How could you do such a thing?"
Harding turned to Seinkewicz and where one might have expected a new harsh tone to his voice, an expression of disdain in his appearance, there was only a certain, rapidly dissipating, impatience. "I have done no such thing at all. But let us suppose for a minute, entirely as a joke, that I did do such a thing. Let us suppose for instance that I did telephone Inspector Joseph Tyrone minutes before he killed himself."
"What did you say to him?" asked Monagham.
"Oh nothing important. I had a perfectly nice and decent
conversation with the man and we talked about
"Yes, I actually went on some detail on this issue. You see the Irish church does not have a healthy attitude about sexuality. It is quite reactionary when you think about it."
Dramsheet nodded. "And you used the box of dreams."
"It provides examples. All it provides are examples. It's up to the recipients to decide how to take it. Inspector Tyrone was stalking Ms. Wilentz. He claims he was doing so in good faith. But after I showed him some examples he apparently reconsidered."
"You said that
"I would never say something like that. That is a gross overgeneralization and the worst sort of ethnocentrism. I have spent my whole adult life fighting ethnocentrism."
"You said that it was just a geographical expression, filled with paranoid, bigoted catholic louts who destroyed everything that could ever be beautiful and who were full of self-pity and self-hate, and that as part of this Irish sexuality was utterly warped, and that all Irish men not only wanted to cruelly and selfishly possess every women they ever saw, and not only did they want to abuse them sexually, but even more they wanted to weigh them down with drunken abuse, vicious beating, mindless philistinism, and petty terrorism until they were just as warped and evil as they were."
"Now you're just putting words in my mouth. And you should really avoid run-on sentences Seinkewicz. That's the problem with 'Ulysses' and 'The Death of Virgil': they have too many run-on sentences. Good prose should be like a window-pane."
"And you told Tyrone this is exactly what he wanted to do with Vanessa Wilentz, and he obviously agreed, because as soon as he hung up the phone, he took out his handgun blew his brains out. Harding, you have murdered five innocent people. Harding, you killed Oliver. For God's sake, how could you?"
"In response, I did not murder five innocent people. Suppose I caused the end of Albert Hermann's life. I do not suppose so, in fact I strenuously deny it. That does not alter the fact that Hermann was a sick and twisted individual. He had almost infinite influence, and the most insane ideas. He wished to wipe out human sexuality as we know it, and his brigade was and is host to a whole sea of dangerous ideas. In the name of Canadian democracy and in human liberty he had to be stopped, and my only regret is that I did not succeed in destroying the Brigade. Which since I was not responsible for his death is hardly surprising. As for the others, I have no regrets. Whatever dreams I may have sent them, they all had a free choice and they all had the capacity to choose whether to live and die. You see I admire George Orwell..."
"What the fuck does that have to do with anything?"
"There's no need to swear, Seinkewicz. There really is too much swearing nowadays. As was I about to say, Orwell placed a special value on the power of facing facts. Take me for example. I believe in fiscal restraint. Many people in my party refuse to admit there is a problem, but I am not one of them and I believe in fiscal restraint. I believe in NATO. Many people in my party prefer neutrality, but everyone with any influence in the party agrees we will have to stay in NATO and I believe we should stay in NATO. I oppose Marxism. There are some people in the party who read Marx, but I have always opposed Marxism. I have a power of facing facts. And if Veniot, Manzoni, Hermann, Corpse and Tyrone had the same power they would still be alive today."
Lucian spoke up. "That they all chose to die is a sign of their weakness and I need not concern myself with them. And besides, what have we lost in their deaths? Veniot was just a liberal hack, not even respected by his own constituents, which is why he was appointed to the senate. And Corpse was a fat self-pitying weakling, impotent and stupid, and Tyrone was just a sex-obsessed neurotic preying on innocent women. Quite proper for them to die. And as for Manzoni, a pathetic librarian, stalking around her own libraries looking for sex, even her lovers couldn't hide their contempt, they spat on her while they were still inside her. The sort of woman who would gouge her own skin so that she use the blood as lipstick, that the sort of self-advertising self-inflicted agony I can't bear to watch."
Vanessa stared at her. "Lucian, you never met Manzoni. What the hell is wrong with you?"
Harding resumed. "I believe in tolerance. Tolerance is the highest value. And many Catholics are not tolerant. I am continually shocked by the fact that Boston Catholics are more racist than Boston Episcopolians. That is a fact. I have a power of facing facts."
Lucian agreed, with a strange elation on her face. "Of course, it makes
perfect sense. Harding is as just as fond of everyone else of having
"What is happening to her?" asked Vanessa.
"Yes, she does seem to be talking excessively," noted
Harding. "That seems to be very widespread this evening. Much
of her dialogue is somewhat crude, but it would be simple-minded to reject it
out of hand. About
"Obviously." agreed Ignatius. "The box of dreams was not designed for human beings."
"You are completely bonkers. You should be locked up in a rubber room for the rest of your life. You are sick, you are warped, Harding, and it's only the fact that you are irredeemably mad that I don't try to knock some sense into you."
Dramsheet interceded. "It might not be wise to attack him. He still has the box of dreams. And he's still using it."
"What?" and then Seinkewicz turned around to see Lucian faint while his wife in the sack had slobbered so much that the tape was almost off. Natasha was begging her mother-in-law to calm down, and Pandora was arguing that she should conjure up some cement in order to seal up her mouth. "Harding, what have you done to my wife?"
"Pardon me, but you just called me irredeemably mad. That was very rude of you. And I have been much more concise and direct that many people in the Cathedral this evening, so it was quite illogical of you to call me mad."
"Harding, please tell me!"
"Oh alright. The box of dreams is showing what a miserable life she's had, and how stupid she was not to have noticed it before. She'll probably kill herself."
"Harding, please, my wife has done nothing to harm you. You can't do this to her."
"I'm not doing it at all. And anyway, you assume that she is innocent.
But consider this. What did she ever do to help Jewish refugees enter
"But she was only a child in 1945!"
"But that's no excuse. Surely you've heard Francois Furet?"
"Well surely you know that many historians of the French Revolution were Marxists, but now thanks to Furet very few are?"
"Not really, but I'll take your word for it."
"Really Furet has done an invaluable service for the French left by purging
it of its Stalinist and Marxist illusions. Anyway, Furet showed that the
whole reason the French Revolution turned out as badly as it did was because
none of the revolutionaries took the advice of Alexis De Tocqueville. Now
everyone, whether they are French, British or American, agrees that this was
quite remiss of the revolutionaries. And it does not matter at all that
the revoution began in 1789 and De Tocqueville was born in 1805. So it logically
follows that your wife, being fully conscious in 1945 is even more
culpable. In the same way Hermann was culpable for Catholic atrocities
and Manzoni was culpable for what the Italians did in
"Harding, my wife isn't guilty!"
"Well of course she is guilty. She just wantonly assaulted a Jew. Clearly, that is not a coincidence."
Of course, after she dies, you will act in a very predictable manner.
"Isn't there anything we can do to stop him?" asked Giles.
Ignatius shook his head. "I'm afraid he is suffering from a common form of madness. It is a particular anomaly that once these people are restored to a normal moral condition, they believe that they are so virtuous, that they can kill with complete impunity."
"I've never heard of such a madness." said Dramsheet.
"That's largely because the insane never suffer from it."
"Let go of my wife, or I'll kill you!"
"You have no right to criticize me, you adulterer." And Harding did not take a deep stare at nothing in particular and the next instant John Seinkewicz was racked with pain, and it was so intense he could only fall on the floor writhing in agony, not unlike the Rumanian official had an hour earlier. "Use this time to consider your wretched life. One of the problems with Polish culture is that it doesn't properly encourage self-esteem."
Ignatius interrupted. "Harding, stop this at once."
"I am not responsible for this, so I no reason why I should stop it. That is a fact. I have a power of facing facts. Why do you care? Everyone knows that Poles are all anti- Semites."
"Yes, but they're my country's anti-Semites, and I shan't see them tortured like this."
"That's the trouble with you. You're too open minded and considerate and forgiving. There are probably too many Jews like you."
"You exaggerate. Surely there are enough chauvinists and bigots in Likud and Commentary to satisfy everyone."
Then Monagham spoke up. "But there aren't enough of them! They
are too many Jews who think that Zionism is so unfair they all should give all of
Ignatius was about to correct him, but Monagham would not have it. "No, it's not that I have anything against the Jews, we have to purge this country of these messy Latin emotions to protect the Jews. Or Gaelic emotions, it's a fact that the only people who want to preserve Gaelic are fascists, they don't have the balls to be real Nazis, but you're too considerate for anyone's good. It's not right that the innocent should make the most honest confessions, it's perverse and it has to be stopped."
Harding stared at her. "I didn't know she was so literate and well-informed. Though she does seem to use a lot of run-on sentences. She forgets that good prose should be like a window-pane."
Ignatius sighed. "Harding, the box of dreams is expressing your unconscious thoughts and it is projecting them through Monagham, just as it did earlier with Rudman and Seinkewicz, and possibly with Peter."
Harding pondered that for a moment. "No, that can't be right. It sounds vaguely Freudian. The New York Review of Books has said there is no validity in Freud's work. And if they say so, logically everyone should agree with them."
Seinkewicz was recovering on the floor, while Dramsheet and Adrian were considering moving him away from the imminent anger of his wife, who had almost gotten through the sack. Taking a little stroll, Harding took out a small globe from his waistcoat pocket. It was the globe that the gryphons had given to John Seinkewicz. "That doesn't belong to you." said Giles. "It belongs to my parents; give it back to me."
Harding ignored him. "What a silly thing this is."
"How did you get it?" asked Ignatius.
"Oh the box found it for me, not that it matters. Apparently this reminds Seinkewicz very much of his wife. It seems to be filling with something. A reddish liquid."
"Blood. Menstrual blood." said Giles.
"Oh yes. So it is. Probably has something to do with his
difficulty in conceiving you. Rather puerile really. Peter Wilentz
was quite right to say that menstruation was unusually popular in
he tossed it into the air, and caught it, and he tossed it into the air again,
and it half-accidentally, half-deliberately missed his hand and fell to the
floor, shattering glass and blood in front of his feet. At the same time
something started to drip on
Angel appeared by Vivian's side. "It has begun. Thomas Edward Harding,
you have let loose the bloodpurge."
previous: The Secret of Natasha Wilentz