[RAVENMOCKERS]

A lunatic is interrogated in Lyon by psychologists. I worked a bit on the world of this, but couldn’t figure out what to do after the interrogation scene. Haven’t touched it in two years. Abandoned. 6,143 words.

Basil sits in a room fifteen feet wide by ten feet long. A brushed steel table resides exactly in the middle, flanked on one side by three green plastic chairs and on the other by an iron one—the current occupant being Mister Oddsson. On the table rests a cloudy glass ashtray piled with three dried butts and a half-empty pack of Gauloises. There is no lighter or matches and overall the room is free of the pungent scent of unfiltered cigarettes. On the white-padded wall behind the iron seat is an equally-protected door, within which is set a sliding window large enough for two eyes and the space in between. Opposite the door is a mirror which is no doubt two-way. The floor is dull gray tile and the ceiling is pocked brown paneling with two sharp lamps squeezed in a trough.

The door opens and two women enter. Basil sees that one is tall and middle aged with auburn hair and the other is short and quite young with blue eyes. They finish circling him and the table and take position on the plastic chairs. The door thuds shut softly. The tall woman holds three manila folders bound with rubber bands that are caught slightly on a silver bracelet, and the short woman places a tablet computer on the table which clicks against a ring on her left hand as she lets it loose.

The tall one speaks: “My name is Doctor Alida Lottering, and my associate is Nora Eder. I am a forensic psychiatrist employed by Interpol and Miss Eder is shadowing me as part of her schooling. Douglas Gruber, also from Interpol, and ADIV officer Robin Martin are observing this examination via closed-circuit cameras along with a representative of the United States and a clerical staffer from the International Criminal Court.”

“Quite rigorous,” says Basil.

“You are being held here in Lyon and are undergoing this interview in order to determine your state of mind and if you are capable of standing trial to account for your crimes. Also being analyzed is the accuracy of your rhetoric and substance of testimony to determine if you are able to serve as a witness in another legal matter. Do you understand?”

“I’m quite rational, I assure you.”

“That is to be determined.”

“You don’t have to take my word for it.”

“I don’t plan to. Now, Mister Oddsson, we will begin immediately with the events of the last few days in Reykjavik. Why were you there?”

“I was on business.”

“And what is your business, Mister Oddsson?”

“I am a quality control expert in the field of life insurance.”

“Could you expand upon this?”

“I visit clients in a one-on-one setting to discuss their satisfaction of being and any preparations for extending life. This, of course, includes providing affordable policies offered by my company.”

Alida sniffs and brushes her nose. She unfastens the band around the topmost folder and opens it. Inside is a series of color photographs depicting a dead woman lying on soft red carpet.

“For the sake of expediency—although none is required—please assume that we are aware of your occupation and what that entails.”

“I see.”

“You are a murderer. You kill people.”

“Allegedly,” replies Basil.

“Mister Oddsson. While this examination is being recorded and may be used in a court of law against you, please understand that this is not an evidenciary hearing nor deposition. Think of this as casual conversation between equal parties.”

Basil looks from Alida to Nora and back again. He pries a cigarette from the box and places it between his lips.

“Do either of you fine doctors have a light?”

“No.”

“Not here,” says Nora.

“Your hospitality is fucking generous.” He returns the cigarette to the pack and the pack to the ashtray.

“Now, Basil. Why were you in Reykjavik and what is the series of events which occurred there?”

“Very well,” he says. “I arrived in Iceland on 28 April via Harare International Airport and a layover in Copenhagen. I hired a taxi to drive me to Hilton Reykjavik Nordica where I checked in using the name John Kirkman with a South African passport. For two days I enjoyed the brisk weather and the finer aspects of Brennivin. On 30 April, Marita Bekker reached the hotel under the pretense of a geothermal energy initiative conference put on by American big oil—no doubt highly legitimate and intended to be a serious discussion on the matter. That evening Miss Bekker imbibed a touch too much aquavit and was seen acting rather belligerent at the currency exchange kiosk before being politely requested to return to her room on the third floor. I followed Miss Bekker to her room. I entered using a universal maintenance keycard and observed her beginning to undress. I shot her three times in the back of the head with .22 LR SIG Sauer Mosquito. I recovered all three casings and two hairs I mistakenly deposited on the floor. I left her room, collected my belongings, checked out of the hotel, hired a taxi to the airport, and purchased a one-way ticket to Murmansk.”

“Quite succinct.”

“As I said, I’m quite rational.”

“Rationality does not equate with sanity, Mister Oddsson.”

“So it doesn’t. So you think I’m a lunatic?”

“That is the purpose of our discussion.”

“And what substance has been provided to indicate that I’m sick in the head?”

“Your general activities, along with the state of the crime scene in Reykjavik.”

“In other words, pure speculation.”

“The basis of all investigation is speculation.”

“So you are an investigator?”

“I’m a forensic psychiatrist, as I said.”

Basil looks at her again. There are two holes in either of her ears which her reddish hair doesn’t quite cover. The bracelet is ostentatious white gold with many-hued gemstones captured by smaller crystal clusters. Her blue blouse is loose in the shoulders and rumpled on the undersides of her arms.

“Tell me,” he says, “are either of you familiar with the Red Queen hypothesis?”

“I’m a psychiatrist, not a biologist.”

“So that’s a yes?”

“No.”

“I am familiar,” says Nora. “It’s to do with evolution. Species must adapt to survive in a maelstrom environment, and those which refuse or are unable are affected rather negatively.”

“And do you suppose this applies to human beings as well?”

“Of course.”

“It’s quite true. Adapt or die.”

“That’s rather macabre.”

“The truth often is, I’m afraid.”

“What does this have to do with Reykjavik?” asks the younger woman. Her black hair is long, and the ring on her left finger is a simple gold band. Her skin is tan and the ring doesn’t quite cover a lighter patch of skin. Her accent is Germanic but not thick and she does not hesitate when speaking English.

“Perhaps nothing, or everything.”

“And do intend to tell us which?”

“Are you acquainted with Walpurgis Night?”

“No,” says Alida. She brushes her hair with her right hand.

“I had a Swedish flatmate during first year,” says Alida. “He spoke of eating strawberries and drinking champagne for breakfast, and watching the parades and listening to the choirs.”

“Nothing of the bonfires?”

“Not that I recall.”

“The bonfires are lit on Walpurgis Night to frighten away the predators. Creatures which hunt in the night and prey upon the livestock. The fires announce the arrival of spring and put a spell on the animals for protection.”

“That sounds unlikely.”

“You’re not a believer in the supernatural?”

“I’m a medical professional. I don’t have the luxury of superstition,” replies Nora. “How does any of this relate to the events in Reykjavik?”

“It has everything to do with Reykjavik. Or nothing. I’m a hunter, you see. I prey on livestock.”

“You are a mass murderer.”

“I am as much a mass murderer as you, Miss Eder. How many patients have you failed to save during your time in medical school?”

“None, in fact.”

“I suppose psychiatry affords one protection from the gruesome rather well.”

“Or perhaps you’re a pessimist looking to validate his actions.”

“Or perhaps you’re too timid to assume risk.”

“Mister Oddsson,” says Alida loudly. She strikes an open palm against the brushed steel table. “None of this relates to Reykjavik or your subsequent arrest in Helsinki.”

“In your opinion.”

She sputters for a moment, lost for words. Her burgundy lipstick is applied too heavily.

“Do you know what my job is, actually?”

“You are an assassin. You kill for money.”

“No,” says Basil. He shakes his head with a grimace. “That’s the simplistic summation written in your folders and on your computer and told to you by the puppetmasters. In fact, I am paid by government agencies such as the MCIA, the GRU, and, say, Unit 8200 to track down high-profile individuals who have—”

The padded door opens abruptly. Two United States Marines enter and take position on either side of the opening, through which stalks a man of medium height dressed in a cheap black suit. He has sandy hair and an earpiece wrapped around his neck.

“Come with me, please, doctors.”

“We’ve only been talking for two minutes.”

“Please come, it’s urgent.”

“As you wish,” says Alida.

“And so begins the rabbit chase,” says Basil. He smirks. His black hair is in ill form and a week of stubble adorns his round face. His eyes are brown, his height several inches less than six feet, and altogether he is regular.

The door shuts softly again and the room is filled with nothing but the heavy breathing of two athletic, burly men who wait impatiently for any excuse to use the truncheons at their belts.

Basil leans forward and withdraws another Gauloises.

“Would either of you happen to have a lighter?”

The men look at each other.

“I don’t recall that being on the list,” says the taller one on the left as he shrugs. He withdraws a cheap, blue plastic lighter and extends his hand.

“Danke,” says Basil, taking it. He lights the cigarette and puffs contentedly until it’s nothing but an inch of stained paper and burnt tobacco. He discards it in the ashtray and clears his throat. He does not return the lighter.

The door reopens, the two women take their seats while the Marines withdraw and seal the room again.

“I am only an assassin,” says Basil with two open palms extended in a universal gesture of peace. Or ambivalence.

“Indeed,” says Alida. “Very well, let’s focus on Reykjavik. What were you thinking as you pulled the trigger to murder Miss Bekker?”

“What was I thinking? For one I was hoping I’d cleaned the suppressor since…well, since…I’d purchased it. Tested it. In any case, as I fired the shots I realized I hadn’t properly latched the hotel door. Anyone passing by would likely hear something, although .22 LR rounds aren’t particularly volatile.”

“No thoughts of excitement, or regret?”

“Excitement? Of course excitement. Holding the life of another hostage is the ultimate thrill. Nothing can compare, not the needle of a syringe packed with heroin, not the roll of opium, not all the liquor in the world, nor the most expensive harlot or the fastest automobile.”

“And of regret?”

“No. If I had any regrets of what I was doing I wouldn’t have done it in the first place.”

“That’s quite rational.”

“Yes. By the way, madam, on what charges am I being detained? Under whose jurisdiction am I being prosecuted? What are the grievances against me?”

“That’s not—” begins Nora, though she is quickly stifled.

“You are being detained by Interpol. In point of fact, thirteen separate Red Notices were issued by the governments of thirteen different nations, all at the same time. Iceland, obviously, along with Latvia, Afghanistan, and the Czech Republic. You are to be processed here in Lyon while extradition rights are negotiated.”

“And why are you questioning me and not an agent of Interpol?”

“Due to the complaints listed in the Red Notices, you are under suicide watch—hence this room—and are required to undergo a psychiatric evaluation to determine your level of risk—either to yourself or to others.”

“So I’m suspected of being a psychotic, raving murderer with no sense of up or down?”

“You are suspected of being…capricious.”

“Due to the state of the crime scene,” adds Nora.

“Is that so?”

“It is.”

Basil leans back in his iron chair. He looks up at the ceiling for a long moment before taking one arm and pulling it with the other across his chest. His elbows crackle and he lets out a sigh of satisfaction.

“Do you know who Stanley Kubrick is?”

“Of course,” says Nora. Her white wool jacket has many light brown hairs on it, and more than a little dust. The red shirt underneath is pressed clean and free from detritus.

“Yes,” says Alida. “He’s dead.”

“He is. Are you familiar with his final film?” The women nod. “Did you know over thirty minutes was edited from the final cut? Did you also know that Mister Kubrick died in his sleep six days after the initial screening?”

Alida sighs. “Why is this relevant even in the least?”

“Mister Kubrick was assassinated thanks to the content. A man named Bruce Gould poisoned him in retaliation for the enlightenment provided in the film.”

“Enlightenment?” asks Nora. “So, the Illuminati murdered a film director for making something entertaining with Tom Cruise and Nicole Kidman?”

“The Illuminati?” says Basil. He laughs. “Why would you say something like that?”

“That is why the organization exists, is it not?”

“Were such an organization genuine, it would spread illumination, not silence it.”

“So then who ordered Mister Kubrick dead?”

Basil chuckles and leans forward, his forearms on the brushed steel table. He looks between the women for a moment then grunts to himself.

“There are things about life and the functioning of this world that certain forces would rather not be disseminated.”

“So you’re a conspiracy nut,” says Alida.

“Behind every conspiracy is truth.”

“And also lies,” says Alida.

“The ratio of truth to lies is debatable in every case separately. Most are closer to the former than you might expect.”

“Let me guess, you find the NWO behind everything?” asks Nora.

“You must read a great deal on the internet,” says Alida.

“And believe everything you’re told.”

“You proceed from one conclusion to the next very easily, both of you,” says Basil.

“And you seem to say nothing but bullshit,” answers Nora. “While avoiding the point of our conversation at every turn.” Her lips glisten with balm, and there is a scar under her right dimple that has been caked with foundation.

“Okay, I can accept that you’re skeptical. Answer me another question, if you please. How much do you think I was paid to eliminate Miss Bekker?”

“And this is relevant how?”

“Indulge me.”

“I have no idea.”

“Guess.”

“Fifty thousand euros.”

“Guess again.”

“A hundred thousand.”

“No. Someone wanted Miss Bekker dead very badly indeed.”

“A million.”

“Two,” says Basil. “Now why would someone pay two million euros to knock off a geothermal energy expert? Have either of you bothered to ponder?”

“No,” says Alida.

“That’s quite a lot of money,” says Nora.

“I assure you, it’s above average.”

“So,” says Alida. “You were paid two million euros to kill a woman. Why would you desecrate her body such after doing so?”

“Excuse me?”

“Please stop asking questions and answer ours. This entire process would be simpler that way.”

“I will try my best.”

Alida nods towards Nora. The younger woman picks up her tablet computer and slides her left finger sideways several times before stopping. She extends the computer towards Basil. He gazes at it for some time.

“In order to answer your question I’m required to ask two of my own.”

Alida sighs. “Go on.”

“Do you know who Marita Bekker actually was? Do you know why someone would want her dead?”

Nora shrugs. “She was an energy consultant from Belgium. I assume those—what did you say?—‘big oil’ folk from America wanted her out of the way.”

“So you assume.”

“Psychiatrists assume a great deal. It’s required.”

“I’ll need to ask another question.”

“Fine.”

“Have either of you heard the phrase ‘Harlot Field’ before?”

“You mentioned a harlot only a moment ago.”

“No,” says Alida. “How is this relevant?”

“Harlot Field is the name of Miss Bekker’s ancestor. One specific ancestor. A person whose lineage she shared with twenty-two of her relatives.”

“I’m not good with puzzles.”

“Please spare us the intrigue.”

“Harlot Field is also the name of an organization of the family, expressed publicly under the banner ‘Solutions de Reine Rouge.’”

“The red queen.”

“Red Queen Solutions.”

“Yes,” says Basil.

“How does this relate to your hypothesis?”

“We must all adapt to survive. Or we die.”

“You’re being vague.”

“Then I will be transparent. Someone in Belgian intelligence, perhaps even the watching Robin Martin, discovered Harlot Field. The name, along with Red Queen, was passed along suspicious channels to NATO and associated intelligence agencies. After some debating behind closed doors, a kill order was placed on all twenty-three individuals of Harlot Field.”

Alida laughs while Nora frowns.

“Again you are skeptical.”

“You were hired by ADIV or some other NATO ally to assassinate twenty-three members of some obscure family whose name is ‘Harlot Field.’”

“Partially correct.”

“Go on,” says Alida. Her brown-framed glasses are pristine.

“I was not the only contractor. I was brought on after the slow process of my predecessors.”

“Very well,” says Alida with a smile. “And how many remain of the twenty-three?”

“Six were dead before me. Miss Bekker made nine by my hand. Two died of natural causes and a third committed suicide.”

“Leaving five.”

“Leaving five.”

“You’ve killed nine people under contract from ADIV?”

“Yes.”

“Now why would thirteen separate nations issue Red Notices with your name highlighted if you were operating in league with Interpol associates?”

“I have no idea.”

“Could it be that ADIV did not hire you, and in fact you murdered Miss Bekker for no reason?”

“That is one theory.”

Lex parsimoniae,” says Nora.

“What?” asks Alida, turning to her younger colleague.

“Occam’s razor.”

“So it’s simpler to assume that I am a rogue madman who enjoys placing three bullets into the back of some poor woman’s skull for no reason whatsoever?”

“Yes,” says Nora.

“And what of the other eight?”

“The eight you allegedly killed?”

“And now you use that word.”

“Are you certain this is not all in your mind?”

“What, a delusion? A hallucination?”

“Yes.”

“If it were fantasy, would I be here, in this room?”

“I don’t know. I have not read the Red Notices, so I’m unaware of the charges leveled against you. All I know is that one Red Notice is enough for detention, and thirteen is quite a bit more than that. I know that you are linked to this crime scene in Reykjavik—something you freely admit—and I know that you kill people.”

“Because you were told by Robin Martin or because I admitted as such?”

“Take your pick.”

“And because of the nature of the scene, and the wording on the Notices—which you have not examined—you are called to interrogate me?”

“Correct.”

“And what of you, Nora?” asks Basil, turning to the younger woman.

“I am here to learn.”

“If I were so high-profile, I am somewhat certain a student would not be present.”

“That’s one theory.”

“Interesting,” he says.

“So, Mister Oddsson, what do you have to say about the nature of Miss Bekker’s corpse?”

“It’s quite simple. The symbols etched into her skin and painted on the wall are wards.”

Nora laughs. Alida frowns.

“Wards?” asks Alida.

“Protection from evil?” asks Nora through a smile.

“Protection from evil is another assumption.”

“Isn’t that what wards are for?”

“That is one purpose.”

“So why were these particular wards used?” asks Alida.

“Do you know what the apotropaic arts are?”

“No,” says Nora.

“Yes,” says Alida.

“Please, go on,” says Basil with a gesture from his right hand. “What do you know of them?”

“Crossing your fingers, knocking on wood, charm bracelets, gargoyles, white heather, that sort of thing. Superstition and nonsense.”

“In your opinion.”

“In reality.”

“So what do these symbols mean?” asks Nora.

“The wards carved on Miss Bekker and scribbled on the wall of the hotel room are displayed to contain. They are meant to keep what resided within her in this world. To prevent it from escaping to….”

“To?”

“To…the other one.”

“What?” asks Alida.

Basil sighs. “Must I explain everything to you? To both of you?”

“The ramblings of a madman are difficult to decipher,” says Nora.

“And you progress from one pseudoscience to the next in rapid order.”

Basil laughs. “You persist with accusations and assumptions. Very well. The other place is why—I assume,” he says with a rather stern look at Nora, “I am being detained and analyzed for mental illness. Your puppetmasters are either unaware of it or are attempting to silence me. Either one, really. Although why they would issue some Interpol traffic citation instead of killing me is peculiar.”

“That doesn’t explain what it is.”

“Harlot Field and his descendants, including Solutions de Reine Rouge, are Rosicrucians and possessors of the Rose Cross.”

“What the fuck is the Rose Cross and what are Rosicrucians?” asks Nora.

“Now that is a particularly interesting question.”

“Do you intend to answer it?”

“In a fashion. The Rose Cross is a gateway.”

“To what?” asks Alida.

“To die Unsichtbarewelt.”

“What?” asks Nora.

“You know the language.”

“Of course. I study at Graz.”

“Allegedly.”

“Truthfully.”

“I don’t know German,” says Alida.

“It means ‘the Invisible World.’”

Alida laughs. She sits forward in her green plastic chair and attempts to stifle herself with folded hands. She eventually succeeds.

“And what, ah, is that?” she asks.

“Its name should make it fairly obvious.”

“I’ve never heard of it,” states Nora.

“As I would expect, Miss Eder,” answers Basil.

“Okay,” says Alida. “So the Rose Cross is a gateway to…the invisible world. It is possessed by the Red Queen family, who you were hired by ADIV to assassinate. And who are all related to Harlot Field…whomever that is.”

“That’s correct.”

“And these symbols in Miss Bekker’s room are there to prevent…an entity from escaping her body and returning to…ah, the invisible world.”

“Die Unsichtbarewelt. Yes.”

“So…what do they mean?”

“They are reverse Red Crosses. Grünenkreis.”

“Green circles,” says Nora.

“Yes.”

Alida looks down at the tablet. “But these symbols are red and have crosses in the middle.”

“The color of the symbol is irrelevant, only that the Zeitlosekreis contains the cross. In this manner the invisible one inhabiting Miss Bekker is contained in this world and not allowed to return to its own.”

“The Zeitlosekreis?”

“Timeless Circle,” says Nora.

“Invisible one?” asks Alida. She chuckles. Nora shares the expression.

“You both look at me as though I am deranged. Like I’m spouting occult mythology and drivel.” They both nod. “Let me tell you both; belief or unbelief is irrelevant to the existence of these things. You can either choose to ignore them or choose to accept them, but in the end it doesn’t matter.”

“We are psychiatrists. We examine facts.”

“I have said nothing that is otherwie. And you said yourself that your field requires a great deal of assumptions. I am not unfamiliar with psychology, in fact. I know the basis of your conclusions is founded on hearsay and close observation as opposed to tests and results.”

“Yes, and we are closely observing you. You have done or said nothing to convince us that these Red Notices aren’t, in fact, incorrect.”

“Am I not rational?”

“As I said, rationality does not prevent insanity,” says Alida.

“So it doesn’t. Tell me, then, Miss Lottering, what is my diagnosis?”

“Anything of the sort would be presumptuous.”

“Then presume.”

“Instead,” says Alida, “why don’t you explain what was inside Marita Bekker and why it was prevented from returning to…ah…well, returning.”

Basil sighs. He reaches out and grasps another Gauloises, lights it with his pilfered lighter, and inhales deeply. Alida coughs. Nora does not seem to mind.

“Harlot Field. Quite a bit ago he used the Rose Cross to adventure into die Unsichtbarewelt. Unfortunately he wasn’t quite so schooled as he thought, and when he returned…well…let’s say his body returned but not his spirit. Or soul, if you will.”

“What does ‘quite a bit ago’ mean?”

“It means that a bit of time has passed. Quite a bit.”

“As in…?”

“Ninety years, give or take.”

“Long enough ago that this individual could create twenty-three descendants.”

“Correct,” says Basil.

“So,” says Nora. “What came back instead of Harlot Field?”

“A Ravenmocker.”

Alida takes her right hand and rubs her eyes. Her brow is furled and she inhales sharply. She lets it out in a huff and opens her eyes to gaze at Basil.

“What, pray tell, is a Ravenmocker?”

“It’s not as relevant as you think. In any case, Harlot Field’s Ravenmocker procreated with his body and in doing so spread itself to the twenty-three descendants. By using a Zeitlosekreis on a corpse, the Ravenmocker within Miss Bekker was refused reentry into its world. In six days—that is, two days from now—it will cease to exist. It will be dead, in so many words.”

“You are truly mad,” says Alida. “Pardon the unprofessionalism.”

Basil laughs and draws on his cigarette. “In your opinion.”

“So ADIV, in partnership with NATO, hired you to draw twenty-three Zeitlosekreisen on twenty-three dead bodies in order to eliminate the Ravenmockers so created because Harlot Field—whomever that is—was ill-suited to exploration within die Unsichtbarewelt?” asks Nora.

“That’s one way to summarize. Except that I have only drawn nine Zeitlosekreisen. Allegedly.”

“So why are you in here while five bodies remain undecorated?”

“If I knew that answer I wouldn’t be in here.”

“Speculate.”

“If I speculate on the matter, you’ll only declare me psychotic that much quicker.”

“Then I will withhold my judgment,” says Alida.

“Fine. Rosicrucians are a German order of mysticism. Harlot Field was German, but his descendants are Belgian. Mister or Miss Robin Martin—”

“Miss.”

“Miss Robin Martin is, according to you, from ADIV, which is the Dutch name for the Belgian General Intelligence Security Service, or Service Général du Renseignement et de la Sécurité. It is military intelligence rather than civilian, which means contact with NATO characters is likely. You mentioned Latvia, Czechoslovakia—“

“Czech Republic,” says Nora.

“That’s what I said. You also mentioned Afghanistan and Iceland, the former of which is not a NATO member. All of these nations are members of Interpol, although that’s not unlikely as most of the world partakes in the organization. I’m being held in Lyon, meaning Interpol headquarters. I’m being held under Interpol charges, and yet the United States has a Marine presence right outside this door.” He idly rotates the plastic lighter in his fingers. “Also there is presumably an ICC ‘clerical’ representative. That implies war crimes, which implicates NATO again, or the UN. As with the Marines.”

“And…?”

“And I know those aren’t your glasses, that you were forced to take off your ear piercings because they were too large and might be used as weapons. I know you normally wear contact lenses but forgot them, which means your own glasses were too sharp or something of the like. However you were allowed to keep your ridiculous bracelet, which means you are important enough to refuse a request to remove it, and that it is important enough to you on a personal level. I know you already worked a long shift and that you expected your day to be over before you were dragged in here. That also explains why you didn’t insist on examining the Red Notices. That means you probably aren’t an agent or officer, as that would have been your first instinct otherwise.

“I also know that Miss Eder, while she may be a medical student, is not here to assist you. I know that she owns a cat or a very hairy lover, and I know she was rushed out of her home or office and so grabbed a dirty jacket instead of a clean one. That means she’s a specialist. I also know the ring she currently wears both doesn’t fit properly and doesn’t cover the tan line, which means it’s not hers. I’m guessing it’s something else entirely and not a ring, which means it’s probably an electronic device. That implies she works with chemicals or biological agents and that its purpose is to detect such things, which is why she hasn’t been picking or fiddling with it—she’s used to wearing it, although not in her personal life, or the tan line would more closely match. Also the scar on her chin which she has attempted to conceal. That implies she works with glass containers in a laboratory setting, which again confirms my suspicion that she is a chemical or biological specialist.

“As to what that makes both of you as a team is…dubious. You aren’t unused to asking questions nor are you adverse to answering mine. Nora mentioned she studies at Graz, and combined with her accent means she is either German or Austrian. Since she excels at English, I will assume she is German. Also that she asked what the ‘fuck’ Rosicrucians and the Rose Cross are leads me to believe she works in some capacity with German intelligence and is rather well-versed in Rose Crosses. Given that, I can only infer that Miss Eder belongs to the same group which hired me in the first place and is, in fact, probably superior to you, Miss Lottering, in the order of things.

“And from there, I suppose all of this implies that either the group of people who hired me to eliminate Harlot Field have either changed their minds or else something has gone horribly wrong in another area. Changing of the mind would likely mean two bullets in my back and one in the head, so I’ll take my chances and guess that something, somewhere has come up in the whole network of scheming and that for some reason I’m either to be laid out as a scapegoat or—and I take this ‘or’ very seriously indeed—that I’m being politely interrogated to determine if I am the culprit. To that I say no.”

“Is that all?” says Alida. During his soliloquy she had leaned back in her chair with a smirk.

“Miss Eder,” says Basil as he turns to face the younger woman. “Would you enjoy a cigarette?”

“Why would I want one?”

“Because earlier you mentioned you hadn’t a ligher here, and when you returned to a room scented in fresh smoke you didn’t so much as move your nose. And as I spoke you scratched the space in between your index and middle fingers. Since you’re left-handed, I assume you normally hold a cigarette there. As I have both a lighter and cigarettes at my disposal, I am being affable and offering you one.”

“No. But thank you.”

“Of course. I also know that neither of you is important enough to make the call one way or another about me, so in about five seconds that door will open and you’ll be asked away. After that you’ll return and explain the situation further, at which point you’ll proposition me a job or a quick death. I also know that Miss Lottering is not, in fact, a member of this ‘cabal,’ in that her dubiety of my ‘conspiracy theories’ appeared genuine. Either that or she’s an excellent actress intent on wasting my time. But neither is she unacquainted with my employers, or she wouldn’t be cleared to be here, so I’m guessing she’s an independent contractor paid to make psychiatric evaluations on high-risk detainees.”

The door opens and two Marines take up position on either side of the door. A different man walks between them. He’s stubby and more than a little overweight, and has the wrinkly skin of a heavy smoker. What bit of arms his gray hoodie shows is matted in black hair, not unlike his head. He wears glasses with metal black frames, and his khaki pants are quite smudged. He circles the desk and sits in the third green plastic chair, next to Nora.

“Henrick Briel,” says Basil. “So nice to see you again.”

“Fuck off, Basil,” he responds.

“Are you quite through wasting everyone’s time, or are you going to dick around the issue some more?”

“Miss Lottering, you may leave if you wish. I think we’ve determined this man’s state of mind.”

“I’ll stay, if you don’t mind.”

“Fine. Nora you may remove the meter now. I think he’s clean.” The younger woman grins and removes the ring, then withdraws a small black case from her jeans and places the gold-plated computer in it. She sets the case on the brushed steel table and reclines.

“So, Henrick, who screwed what up and how much am I being paid to fix it?”

“Basil, last time we spoke I suggested that you take the money and leave.”

“I can’t leave the world.”

“You can.”

“Then what’s the use in taking money? It’s no good elsewhere.”

“Just to be clear,” says Nora, “we’re talking about…?”

“Yes.”

“DUW?” asks Alida.

“Yes. Now, Basil. What do you intend to do?”

“Do with what? I was doing just fine until you pulled me out of an airline queue in Helsinki and dragged me to France for no reason.”

“Right, I forgot to tell you.”

“Obviously.”

“Should we?” asks Nora.

“That’s the entire reason we’re in this situation.”

“Should I be here for this?” asks Alida.

“It’s fine.”

“Okay then, Henrik. Let’s hear it.”

“We found the second-to-last on the list.”

“And I would have too, after I was through with the third- and fourth-to-last.”

“It’s complicated.”

“How complicated?”

“It’s very complicated. Noah of Luxembourg. Do you know who that is?”

“Since you say ‘of Luxembourg’ I’ll take the chance that ‘Prince’ is in his title.”

“Hereditary Grand Duke, actually. He’s married to Princess Teresa of Belgium. Even worse, his uncle is Felix II of Belgium. King Felix. Noah’s cousin happens to be Charles, of Prussia.”

“Prussia?” asks Basil.

“The closest there is to German nobility. I suppose it’s called aristocracy, but what it really comes to is the money and influence of Europe. The Charles situation is expected, all things considered, but ADIV and the rest of NATO got rather…indignant when the Belgians started popping up. Luxembourg is bad enough, obviously, but….”

“We know what goes on in Belgium,” says Nora.

“So if Noah were to be dealt with, his wife would begin to assert herself? Call in the chips, so to say?”

“It’s what concerns us. The amount of data the Belgians possess is extensive. It would bring down every prominent family from America to St. Petersburg.”

“What does this have to do with all of Basil’s conspiracies?” asks Alida.

“We live in evil times, Miss Lottering. What comes back from die Unsichtbarewelt isn’t welcome here,” says Henrik.

“That has nothing to do with the Belgians,” says Basil. “There’s no use blaming the faults of man on the Ravenmockers. After all, they’re a relatively-recent addition to the way of things. Putting the Belgians on them is like accusing matches of Nagasaki.”

“All the same, Noah has us nervous.”

“So leak some of the information before Noah is eliminated. Lessen the blow.”

“We tried that with Dutroux years ago. It backfired rather spectacularly.”

“The White March. I remember that.”

“As do I.”

“Pardon, but what has Dutroux got to do with Basil?”

“Miss Lottering, when Mister Oddsson said that there are things powerful people want to obfuscate about how the world works, he was being the opposite of melodramatic. The Dutroux situation, along with the Franklin scandal and whatever the Vatican is up to…this is the sort of thing that destroys nations. The world.”

“Unless I’m missing something, the Belgians aren’t going to stir up chaos simply because the husband of their princess dies.”

“You are missing something, Miss Lottering,” says Basil. “There’s always a link in the chain that’s being covered up. Whenever you believe you’ve uncovered the last of it, there’s always something else. In this case it’s Harlot Field. I’m guessing what Henrik here is going to say next is that he’s still alive and the Germans or NATO are hiding him.”

“I won’t deny that.”

“And who is this? Who are the Red Queens? What is all this about Walpurgis Night and the rest of the shit Basil has been spewing?”

“You’ll have to figure that out for yourself, Doctor Lottering.”

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