Stepping toward the cab, he was stopped short by the sound of a seeming host of those strange English Police sirens, which seemed to be converging to an epicenter located directly beneath his feet. Assuming Automatic Fighting Stance Six, he looked a finely tuned Slo-mo Replay. Scanning momentarily with his delicately trained eye, he gestalted the scene and concluded that while very puzzling indeed, it was non-threatening. The flashed tableau of the street revealed: that he indeed was the focus of a swarm of police cars-lights flashing, sirens (which always reminded him of a silly mans description of a woman's breast) seemed to pout as they chanted their two-note round to the other cars, all exit barred, and the jot of sympathy he felt as he recognized the dismay and disbelief which gripped the faces of the girl and black-haired man in the taxi before him. He knew that feeling of the inevitability and destruction of the first wave that will melt our little sand castle. The wave that issued from the tight ring of cars had a more ominous character as the belligerent black and blue breaker of Bobbies and their bosses hunched its back in anticipation as it approached the hapless little encapsulated cab; and as if on cue, distant thunder announced the coming storm. He suddenly realized that he too seemed to have (was it contagious?) a latent talent for alliteration; but left that less than lucid line of logic as life intruded in the form of four plainclothesmen as they converged on Martin. Very politely, the eldest of the four offered his identification and the question, "By any chance you know these two, sir?" After a moment's orientation, Martin nodded his head several times before uttering a small, "Yes?" Now very businesslike, the chief Bobby said, "Right. Well, it's the Yard then. If you would sir, come along please." As he guided Martins' head under the door jam of his car, the Inspector charged a handy sergeant with the dispersal of the landing party.
His sense of déjà vu-vu was almost immobilizing as he stepped into the large receiving room at their destination (vu-vu because this was the second room which had recently given him this feeling). For unknown seconds, memories of this place-in another time-flooded his consciousness: a cell, a harmonica, Lisa, and one unusual graffititorical inscription, "OTTO spelled inside out is TOOT". Rubbing his temples, he fought his way back to the present in time to hear the Inspectors query about his condition. "Just give me a minute. I'll be OK. Just a minute." "All right then, sir. Ah, Sgt., Be a Lad and pop up with a cup for this chap."
The Inspector led him to what seemed to be a narrow stairway that he assumed led to some basement. That opinion was reinforced when upon reaching the entry he saw the high-gloss, institutional cream and green paint that split the walls in half, and those shipboard ceiling lights with the glass and metal protectors, which somehow resemble some medieval phallic perversion. Ten or twelve steps led them into a very long blank hall. Losing himself in thought, Martin tried vainly to understand the purpose of his presence here on this side of the law. A sudden right turning came close to making Martin's nose a different shape, but fortunately his right shoulder absorbed most of the collision between himself and the wall. A slight "unnn" pushed through his lips as he felt the Inspectors hand on his right arm. "Careful there," the Inspector said with an embarrassed grin. "This way now."
This section of the hallway held little more interest than the first, but did yield two closed, unmarked doors, and perhaps fifty feet distant, as the passage turned 45 degrees to the right, another door, this time with a name plate-too small to read from there. Having thus oriented himself, he let his mind wander again in speculation and was trapped in a puzzle having three parts. It was thoroughly plausible for the Police to apprehend Lisa and Capitan, he also knew the two were due and had no trouble accepting them tracking him to the bridge. The breakdown kept coming with the obvious connection with, and need by the Law, of his part in the process. It was like a ladder missing a rung or two. Giving up, his awareness brought the hall back into focus and he noted that he hadn't noted the coming and going of that bend and that they now approached a blank wall as the corridor teed right and left. As they had reached the end of the hall, Martin, being on the Inspectors' left, had a clear view down that direction. Just as the Inspector led him to the right saying, "No, no, this way." Martin was riveted in a moment's fascination at the curiosity that stood fifteen feet down that left hand hall. His delicately trained sense of observation neatly stacked the many discreet pieces of evidence contained in the image, which imprinted itself so indelibly in his mind. First, and most apparent was the wall itself. It was house brick and mortar; we've all touched one sometime or other. Laid up tight and snug, right there where it shouldn't be. But now the subtleties. It was fresh. Within two weeks, he guessed. This last deduced from three facts: scattered spots or residual mortar, that those type spots take a good six cleanings to come up, and that six was an unreasonable number of cleanings to expect from a humble civil servant, even at the Yard. Inescapable. A fresh wall. Aside from why, Martin mused mirthfully at the many minor and mostly academic facts which completed the picture. Major among these minor facts was the bland truth that the wall was laid up from the other side; at this point Martin wondered at this torrent of deduction in this somewhat Holmsian setting. Further reasoning had shown that, in an almost artful way, the journeyman, seeing too late that his 'beck' side of the wall would cut one of those ugly glass and metal lights in half, had put together a makeshift kit, and to this side of the wall where he tastefully provided the lamp with a rather spiritual looking enclosure. But not before he had deposited a few drops of stubborn mortar under the light and a bit more toward the right corner. The absence of any mortar to the left of the light shows no activity over that section of the floor. It was a sure bet that the opposite floor was a mess. Lastly, almost offhand, Martin concluded his deductive diddling with the sure belief that the inventive mason had been left handed.
Martin was just congratulating his deductive powers when he had a sinking feeling, followed by a couple of rude jostles, concluding with a crisp small smack issuing from between his buttocks and the cement step where he came to rest-the sound was only slightly muffled by his thin pants. Prompting, the Inspector said, "Stay with it. Not much longer. Bit of a long flight here, rail on your left." With embarrassment-motivated determination, Martin stayed in the present by counting the steps as they led down to the right. A feeling of relief mixed with alertness asserted itself as they reached the twenty-first step. For with it came a view of the floor twenty feet beyond the last step; which Martin roughly calculated to be number twenty-four. What emerged from under the slanting stairwell overhang was the passage ending in a single door, whose frame and sill he could see at that moment. Martin's feeling of relief was destination oriented, and the alertness because he still didn't know what the hell was going on here.
The Inspector reached ahead of Martin and showed him thru a modest office about fifteen feet square. There were four or five files at the right of the rear wall, a few feet in front of which sat a man attending letter sized forms which he shuffled around numerous miniature in/out baskets placed strategically about his desk. That's all Martin had time to digest, for it was then that the Inspectors businesslike abruptness accomplished three things at once. He whisked open a door at the left, guided Martin thru, and nodded a curt but friendly "Baskins" to the basket case. A slight sense of bewilderment began to form in Martins mind as they started along this new, but too familiar passage, which boasted by way of difference only that all the doors were on the left; the nameplates he ignored as blank like the others. As they walked, Martin fixed a puzzled gaze on the Inspector. A vague wisp of a concept began to swirl slowly around in his mind; having to do with the function and architectural aspects of any building containing a hallway such as they had thus far traversed. Then a bolt of memory image drove its way into his awareness with such force that he could see nothing but telephones, forty-five or fifty of them, all in their own little cubbies in a great shelf along the wall behind, Baskins!
Events curtailed thinking as the Inspector stopped in front of the last left-hand door before this section of hall turned right and lead, Martin noticed with some consternation, some fifteen feet to one of those stairways that turns back on itself every ten steps. Rapping sharply twice, the Inspector evoked an inch and a half crack at the door jam. There was a moment's silence as if for recognition before a voice strangely said, "He's here. I'll see to the rest." (strangely, because the voice seemed to be coming from the door knob). The door clicked and they were away to the stair.
That Martin's conception of the stairway was mistaken became apparent at the second landing. The stairs did indeed have a landing every ten steps, but did not double back, only turned left at each level. Soon Martin surrendered to the mystery and turned his thoughts back to Baskin' s bountiful batch of Bell's brainchildren when what must have been a tremendous clap of thunder vibrated its way down into (up into? Over...?) the recesses of the building and Martin knew that the prophesied storm had hit. "Inspector?" Martin said, mystified as to the possible function of person with that type of office setup, "What does Baskins do here?" The Inspector threw an offhand glance over his left shoulder saying, "Baskins? Right! Wrong Numbers." Reaching out with his formidable but well groomed right hand, the Inspector jerked open a door that suddenly appeared at the next left turning and said, "Here we are, Top o' the Stack." Noticing Martins puzzlement, the Inspector clarified Baskin's duties. "Handles all the wrong numbers that come in." Then as if to exemplify, "For the whole building:" The statement was, itself, difficult to conceptualize, but the maddening aspect was that he'd said it so understatedly matter of fact.
Time for reasoning the necessity for such a position was cut short for they emerged into a huge, desk-filled office not unlike a newspaper city room; even to the glass-partitioned offices at the right wall; toward which they were heading, threading their way thru the gerrymandered working spaces of these Servants Civil. Rounding the space of one encastlated Fief, who had buttressed his desk against a giant pillar and three surrounding file cabinets, Lisa's beauty suddenly appeared from one of the glass topped offices.
With an "oops, whaa", thumph, and "I'm sorry," Martin upended the Kings Royal Trash Receptacle. Then with unexplainable grace he did an off-balance half pirouette to see what had happened behind him, only to come to rest in the Trash Receptacle of the Fiefdom on the other side of the mote. No damage occurred, the basket being the flexible wire type; however, later, in the shower, Martin did observe a small triangular redness at roughly eight o'clock of his tailbone. The Inspector waited patiently at the door to the office which held Lisa, Capitan and two other men. The man behind the desk, obviously, "on the job", with his proper but casually arranged attire; also he was pouring over various files. The other stood off holding a briefcase, hat, umbrella, overcoat, The Times and a small brown bag containing half a prune Danish; also he seemed to be waiting.
"Ah, here we are, then," the Inspector brightened as he ushered Martin into the room. In one of his characteristic all-inclusive movements, the Inspector showed Martin a seat, closed the door, introduced the waiting man cryptically as Serate' One, walked to the desk, and ended his sweeping gesture on the left shoulder of his colleague with a warm and prideful, "Robbins"; as though describing some great unshakable stone edifice. And then, "Now, what have we..." In the brief pause created by the Inspectors study of the forms, Martin amused himself by arranging, in different sequences, the names of the people he had encountered since entering the building.
Again the Inspectors frustrating casualness incited Martins sense of helplessness when he finally looked up and said, "All right Mr. Itram, if you'll just sign this identification form, that'll settle it. Sorry for the inconvenience." Martin didn't mind the inconvenience, and he frankly couldn't be less interested in their silly form. What was intolerable was that his name, which he had pursued for days, came falling out of the mouth of this stranger with the ease found in long time friendships, Itram. Itram. Strange that all the other names he'd tried had started with m, and now this one turns up.
Martin rose and proceeded to the desk, grasping the pen offered. He stopped momentarily and the Inspector smiled sympathetically saying, "Excuse me, please. I keep forgetting you don't have the whole picture." "Well no..., I..." "You see, our evidence is sound and it's pretty much a track ride from here, but we do need the identification of an innocent party who was involved in the operation. That's all there is to it." He was already returning the pen when Martin realized the Inspector hadn't really given him any information. Again his face pinched itself into the pleading look that puzzlement takes, his jaw hanging slack after a half-pronounced "Me...?" "Right. These two are up on a Morals Charge." Martin could only guess at the level of Evil that would necessitate capital letters. "Dirty movies. Just this afternoon we infiltrated a very secret world premiere of a new, high-class, four star erotic film. Providentially, Serate One accompanied my men to one Secret Cine as a guest and recognized your face on the screen. "But I've nev..." "Analysis of the film indicated you'd been drugged, with a Truth Drug, if the understanding of your conversation is correct, according to our Lip-reading Squad. Step by step thinking showed us that this pair knew how to reach you, and if we, in turn, watched them you'd turn up soon enough. Rather speedy developments, wouldn't you say?"
Although bewildered by the volume of new facts filling that void he used to call memory, he couldn't stop the ever rising tide of questions these facts elicited; even though illicit facts were generally out of his line. Before one of these questions could form a coherent statement the Inspector mused, "Funny how things work out. It's that doctor's evidence that made all the unconnected facts line up and draw a complete picture." Like the General quarters bell of a battleship, the resounding name pulsed in his head, "Aaron-Aaron-Aaron-Aaron-Aaron-Aaron-Aaron-Aaron". It rang like a call to action. Martins body vibrated to alertness, including his delicately trained skin which noted a point two-seven percent rise in the atmospheric humidity of the office enclosure; resulting, he assumed objectively (and with some small pleasure) from all the recent heavy breathing coming from Caps direction as the evidence mounted against him. A small but detected, "Aaron" escaped him. "Right. Laid the whole thing out for us. White slavers at the heart. Global operation with 16 orphanages, over 400 fake foster homes, 1360 high class brothels, four car agencies, two yacht clubs and a jet flying service. Of course then, the sidelines of movies, books, gadgets, ice skates. Right! Records, names, places, the lot. Seems this doctor's sister got in a weekend tangle with the slick-haired one there and wound up "that way". So big brother delivered the baby but lost the sister in a private little operation in Costa Rica; almost twenty years ago. The Doc was 'rewarded' by being pressed into the Capitan's service, while the illegitimate offspring spent the first twelve years in one orphanage and two foster homes, and then was sold into Bondage Prostitution to service world leaders. Poor Doc. In a way I hope we never find him (bass viols are heard to filter through from somewhere in the direction of the Castle, perhaps the crypt, but more likely the Dungeon (interesting word dungeon). Having to stand by while his own flesh and blood..... I know some as might even call it an act of mercy. His letter says Thais was content when he left her. Strange name. T-H-A-I-S."
Up out of a warm mist at the center of Martins mind arose the image of Thais' full lips parted in that final, and at the time puzzling, smile. So real and vivid was that smile that its warmth reached even here in this cold cubicle of efficiency some two hundred feet above the pavement. And somewhere his mind said sweetly, 'Yes, she was.'
A uniformed Sgt. hesitated at the door long enough to rap once, then entered and set a cup of tea and a small macaroon on the desk in front of Martin. Before Martin could respond, the Inspectors' abruptness said, "Thank you. That'll do nicely Sgt. Flaverse. Very considerate." With a smart, "Right, Sir!" the Sgt. was gone. But his name lingered on to fit itself into Martin's ever growing list of coincidentally connected names
Moving to where Serate One stood at the right wall, the Inspector said, "Your contribution, Monsieur." With a smile of businesslike agreeability, the guest offered his briefcase. Turning, placing the case on the desk, and extracting a small sheaf of papers the Inspector remarked, "Should recognize this," and handed Martin a well-worn passport book.
Martin's memory reeled as he first recognized the passport as his own; presumably lost two years earlier. Opening the booklet, Martin was flooded with a cascade of (insert your own contribution to this alliteration here) of such cacophony, that he couldn't corner the capability to encompass it.
All his past was there in his delicately trained hand, his name, homeland, the city (at that time), even the identifying sixth toe on his left foot. And of course, he smiled, his photo; that one with the half-closed right eye. But in the conflict between contemplating the past and the joyful memories of Paris, Martin chose Thais.
A warm, poignant wave of feeling suspended reality while Martin lost himself in the memory of Thais, and their impossible two-week entanglement in Paris. "Couple other things here," the Inspector interrupted as he dealt out the three remaining articles. "Tickets, money," in the form of a white envelop, and lastly a small business card containing some numbers and the words, Martha's Vineyard, which the Inspector labeled curtly, "address."
His consciousness caught up in the deep structural vibration of the great airliner as it winged its way westward through the storm, he kept repeating his name in a slow, revolving Mantra, like the wheel of a creeping funeral caisson, Martin.....N.....Itram.....Martin...N...Itram...Martin..N..Itram. No one had been able to shed any light on his middle initial, so he had playfully let it stand for Nothing until something could be made of it. He was still struck dumb considering how Capitan had used his own illegitimate daughter for his personal gain in the Dirty game over which he Reigned. But Thais conditioning was so complete that even amidst that happy Paris whirlwind she had been on the job; filching his passport for use in the network. This according to the goodbye letter of the Absentee Aaron.
The Good Doctors statement had fitted another piece of the puzzle into place. Martin never had determined two things; that despite the fact that Thais' hide-away apartment was known only to him and her "kind old Uncle Max", someone had not only extinguished that loveliness, but had set him up to take the fall as well. A stab of memory twisted itself into the chain of Martins' thinking. With understanding he saw again that strange little tube that issued from Thais' forearm as it hung as the bedside saying blip.....blip.....blip." Poor tortured Aaron.
Suddenly his Body began to vibrate at the frequency of an A-flat violin string, his delicately trained Physique separating each oscillation for information in relation to the motivation of the vibration. He also noticed, parenthetically, the lightning bolt that narrowly missed slicing off the right wingtip, and wondered at the possible effects of rhyming on lightning.
His alarm system thus activated, Martin was immediately alert to danger. But to his utter astonishment and disbelief, that Singing rooted deep within his center was not the product of impending plight. It was that thick-bodied, easy rolling gait making its way down the aisle towards his seat. With that chest wrenching thrill that all Lovers and Fearers of God now and then experience already rendering him immobile, he had no need to raise his amazed gaze higher than that barrel-like chest to know that the countenance above was that of, (and how the hell did he get here?) Charlie Barstow.
Charlie's happy-passenger demeanor changed abruptly as he pivoted into the empty seat next to Martin. "Now listen close, we haven't much time," hushed Charlie's nasal tenor. "The watchword here is Complacency,"-the capitalization reminding Martin of the words importance-"remember that the painting's not complete 'till that last brushstroke."
With no more than the air and a few elusive hand movements Charlie produced a large pack, all a-crawl with straps and buckles, and thrust it into Martins lap saving, "Get into it." "What is th…" "No time." "Bu…" Rushing on, his amazing colleague said, "Here's the piece to the puzzle that answers the "Why me?" you can't get rid of. You were simply the wrong man. I'd bet they're too late to catch the right man, either. The prize was a new microchip; worth forty million.
"But I dally. We're not getting closer to the answer chatting. I must meet a certain person in thirty seconds." "Who?" "Never mind; an old friend of ours, just get into that thing. And last, now watch my lips on this one, it's almost important, don't lose the address, and, not matter what happens in the next two minutes, trust Me!"
Charlie disappeared so quickly that Martins' puzzlement over the capitalization went unanswered, aside from the basic concept of Importance (Martins' capitals). Somehow thru the fog of his bewilderment, Martin managed to don the olive colored packet and buckle it down tight. From behind came the sounds of a scuffle. One shout of "Rich Punk", another, "Truth?" or "Proof?" and, even though muffled, a sharp dry, double crack. That was the instant Martin emerged into the present; just in time to be virtually blown out of his seat by a deafening explosion not far behind his head.
He landed in the aisle with the familiar and exhilarating posture of Automatic Fighting Stance Four (which is a bit lower to the ground than Six). His delicately trained eye flashed the scene and found Charlie sitting slumped against the right bulkhead just beyond the exit door, and, Absolutely Astonishing Aaron (ah yes, the storm did indeed seem to be clearing) lay in the Open Fetal Position-on his left side of course-clutching his chest.
Since Charlie looked the goner. Martin "frogged" the few feet to the doctor at the last two seats before the exit. Martin was allowing himself a small gloat over Aaron before checking on Charlie when he realized the man was trying to communicate. As he bent closer he heard the gasping repent, "thooooo-ooouught.. . .u. .. .cli…..iiiinn. . . .int." Then the lips moved, but Martin heard only an indecipherable sound made up of two plosives, which he interpreted as a last call some Patriarch. Leaning in, the sound, mixed with the dying mans last sigh, became, "bahm... bhaahhhhhhhh ..1
Martin was angry at himself for taking the time to listen to that gibberish and turned to see Charlie's hand twitch and the corner of his mouth turn up. He crabbed over to Charlie amused by his grotesque resemblance to Quasimoto (if grotesqueness can indeed be made into something more grotesque; I think an investigation into the laws of double jeopardy is in order). Landing at Charlie's' side in Alert Stage Two, he cried, "Charlie. Charlie!" "Get out," said the grin. "Charlie!" "Get out." "But.." "Get out!" Noticing the addition of the exclamation point, Martin changed to a defensive tactic saying sarcastically, "Half way to America!?" Not himself devoid of some little talent for repartee, Charlie diverted to, "The address, fifteen.." "But Charlie, Aaron-" "...seconds. OUT!"
The capitalization jolted his delicately trained intuitive instinct, and guided his hand to the exit door, and in just three seconds, the door had exploded outward off its hinges and Martin was a thousand yards off and speeding away from no apparent danger; and that bothered him, a lot. Buy only for the next eight seconds. It was then that the fireball under lit the overcast on this side of the storm.
Before Martin could consider the conundrum of choosing between instant death in the clouds above and experiencing a five degree loss of core temperature (partially due to his thin trousers) in the waves below, his mind was attracted to those very swells and Martin was assailed with a new intrigue. How was it that the full moon, which he knew to be shining, was reflecting off the water; in view of the heavy cloud cover? At least, he thought, I'll find out soon at this rate.
His hurried fumbling with the rip cord left Martin just enough time to brace himself for the end of his pile driving descent and he couldn't take in much of what met his eye. The reflections had turned out to be lights of habitation: and the implications of that mystery were so boundless that they very nearly escaped his notice And scanning returned only many square enclosures (his target being the largest and best lit), some very high stone walls, and a feeling of elevation above the surrounding landscape.
He was aware of a small pain in his right ankle, but soon smiled humorously as the parachute playfully plopped over him in a self-styled tent. The Chinese Puzzle of the cords immobilizing him with cute little curls and coils, he laughed out loud. He was just at the beginnings of hysteria as he watched his white playmate miraculously come back to life. Sadly, it was whisked away revealing three very interested men in uniform. His disappointment mixed with curiosity and made Martin say through the end of his laughter, "Who are you?" Stepping into a more advantageous light, the Sgt., his stripes now visible, answered, "Sgt. Major Cones, Her Majesty's' forty third Brigade, attached to the Presidio Ft. Gibraltar, in the central Quad of which I find you seated, laughing, beneath a parachute. Now please, if I've been polite, tell me, who are you?"
Martin didn't hear. He was off on another of his jaunts thru Deductionland. But this was different. He was serious, determined, a tad fearful, and courageous (he liked that). First in the fascinating scheme was his landing at Gibraltar and not in the Atlantic. No big deal. Lots of planes get off course in a storm. A bit harder: Aaron on the plane. OK. He was a man of resource, enabling him to not only elude capture, but keep tabs on Martin as well. He planned a suicide-murder between he and you. Yes, yes. Neatly done. Now, here's your brush, rag, bucket, and the corner into which you can paint your explanation of the Biggie. Charlie. Martin knew this was where his thinking put him, irretrievably on the other side of That Line.
Starting small, Martin reviewed the facts; simply Charlie's presence; his cryptic message; his meeting someone else on your flight starts to give pause; his gift, which goes beyond pause to definitely sticky; that strange last conversation with Chuck gets you into deep water when you recall that his only real animation had been a twitch of a hand and a one-sided grin through which he seemed to talk; next, (why not, it's over your head, maybe a friendly Lifeguard will happen by), Charlie's' order to get out; topped by the fifteen second limitation imposed by the unseen bombs timing mechanism; and now we have nothing left but to close eyes, hold nose and hope that history proves our decision prudent, for in the glaring jaws of the oceans reality, he had trusted CB's order and jumped from apparent safety to a sure, cold, death (I hope I'm not cold when I die.)
--at this point, Martin had to insert some accompanying deducted facts; three astounding bits of knowledge in Charlie's' bag of provocative puzzle pieces. One, there was a bomb set to detonate at a known time. Two, The Doctor was about to try and double his chances of killing Martin. Three, the plane was off course toward Gibraltar with an ETA of three minutes, fifteen seconds (and Martins' memory rewarded him with the image of Charlie swinging comfortably down the aisle from the direction of the airplanes cabin); thus thrice thwarting the thrust of death. The third being the gift of the parachute, which luckily lay close at hand for his use in the coming rain. And lastly, the impossible, evidential conclusion. With all the facts gestalted, one answer remained unrefuted--the least plausible of the lot, and the most satisfying thing Martin was ever to experience. Charlie, with all his knowledge and timely arrivals, was indeed, his Guardian Angel. A Guardian Angel. It just stuck there.
He then felt a child's' innocent, open joy. This tickled Martins' funny bone and manifest itself as a soft inward chuckle, accompanied by a barely inaudible "Guardian Angel." These words came so soon that Sgt. Cones mistook the muttering as Martins Moniker. Prompting, he repeated,
"Who?" And without pausing, insisted, "Who?" Martin, with more contentment and ease than he'd ever felt, looked up with an expression that incited both fear and intense yearning, and said, with a soft, rich baritone, "Something, man. SOME…thing!"