The Far Side of the Real
Posthumously Published from the Manuscript Files of Paul Cain
- III -
Libellers Don’t Shoot
After I left Riquier, I found Boileau standing outside his office scowling as a janitor swept up the glass. Next to him was a workman with a pane of glass wrapped in cardboard. I said, “Dr. Boileau, I would like to speak to the graduate student you supervise and to your informant in field methods.” He sighed and nodded and without saying a word turned on his heels and strode down the corridor to the stairwell.
We went to a small seminar room on the second floor. A couple of students were holding session with a wiry young man with striking looks, clearly indio and with a slight accent in English, but for the most part they were speaking in Portuguese and a language I did not recognize. Boileau pointed at his watch and held up three fingers, and when three minutes had passed, he interrupted, “Ordinarily I’d be pleased to see your informant sessions go long, but we need to speak to José and your time is up. I’ll see you in class tomorrow.” After they left, he introduced me to the man, his Periminho informant, José de Deus Ramos, who clarified, “In fact, that’s my Portuguese name, and the students call me by my mother-given name, Viɣli’i Dwerhutan.”
“How do you know Dr. Boileau?”
“I met him in Manaus. I had gone there to find work after much of my family died. He was looking for people from my area and found my language interesting.”
“How did you come to the US?”
“I study business. I am on a student visa.”
“Are you aware that Dr. Boileau’s computer was stolen last night? It contained much of his data from working with you, correct?”
“He told me, yes.”
“Do you have any idea of who might have wanted it?”
“At least two professors, Gautier, the gray greedy one, and Riquier, the short slow one. And there’s one graduate student, Anne Jodelle. She wants something from me, anyway,” he smiled.
“Can you think of anyone else? At another place?”
He smiled, “Yes, but you’ll not credit me.”
“Indulge me and I’ll indulge you.”
“I feel it’s the ilkta’avind.”
Boileau coughed and I said, “Please explain.”
“It is a legendary monster in our part of the country. It smells of coconut and sandalwood and drinks its own urine, which it reeks of when it is close to the kill, and it poisons those it chooses to destroy.” He smiled. “I cannot say whether it is real, but natives from our part of Brazil sense it often during the summer, and it preys only on us natives and seeks to destroy us and any trace of us. Any time a person goes missing, we say that is his fate. Probably this is something else, but I wonder.”
I looked at Boileau.
“It is a myth in those parts, yes. There are traces of a village in those parts that stories held to have been wiped out by that... creature. Vaguely man-shaped, driven by bloody hatred, and so on. Whenever anything bad happens, there is the ilkta’avind.” I turned back to José.
“But you can think of no person?”
“No, I am sorry.”
“If you think of anything else, please contact me.”
As we left, I nearly bumped into Gautier, who was standing beside the doorway. We nodded at each other as we stood aside for each other. One of the grad student attendants glared over Gautier’s shoulder at me, so I stood further aside for the great man and let them pass.
Next, we went down to the basement, where he led me to an office labelled “Julia Laforgue” and “Anne Jodelle.” He rapped on the partly-open door, and in response a chair behind it scraped on the floor. The woman who moved into the doorway had jet black hair around a firm face with bright green eyes. I was surprised to realize I was looking down at her a little, for she seemed on first impression a couple of inches taller than me. “Dr. Boileau, how are you?” she asked pertly.
“I’m fine, Anne. This is Mr. Guntersied. He’s investigating my break-in.”
“I heard about that. I’m so sorry!”
“Thank you. Is Julia around?”
“She went down the hall to get some coffee. She’ll be back in a few minutes.” She opened the door and waved us to a shabby couch. It looked familiar; I might have thrown it out a decade before. I looked more closely—no, it had tears and holes in different spots, but it was certainly the same pattern of couch subject to the same multi-generational student hand-me-down. We sat down and looked up at Jodelle.
Boileau asked, “How’s your research coming?”
“I think I figured out that morpheme I asked you about. It’s a focus marker, yes, but it’s tied up with evidentiality.”
“Let me take a look at it once this carnival is over. That sounds interesting.”
“So how did they get your computer?”
“Smash and grab.”
“How awful! If professors can be robbed, I guess no one’s safe. It makes one positively shudder.”
“Yes, it gives me a creepy crawly feeling right here just thinking about it.”
“Oh, that might just be the inhabitants of the couch. It’s rather old and shabby, you know.” She laughed happily as Boileau gave a start.
She then brightened even further and, as if on the parade ground, straightened her spine to pleasing effect: “How is José?”
“He’s doing well. He’s out of class now and free for an hour.”
Her eyes flashed wide for an instant and she said, “Ooh, is it that late?”
Boileau smiled, “Yes, it is.”
She tidied her desk as a less descript brunette came in, then went off down the hall less casually than is wont in an academic setting. Laforgue smiled at us and said hello. Boileau stood and said, “Hello, Julia. How is your research coming along?”
She paused only a second before offering a noncommittal “Oh, it’s fine.”
“Julia, this is Mr. Guntersied. He is investigating a break-in in my office.”
“Anne told me about that. She thinks you’re hiding stupendously valuable Brazilian antiquities.”
“And what well-informed speculation did you cough up?”
She snorted and said, “Illegal distillery. I almost convinced her the revenuers’ll send you to prison for decades because you haven’t paid your excise taxes, but then she said she didn’t know they charge excise taxes on methanol.”
He smiled, “You’re close. I’ll have to keep a closer eye on you when you show up for meetings.” He turned to me: “Mr. Guntersied, Julia is writing a dissertation I’m supervising. I suspect she’s been spending too much time watching old crime movies. You two should get along famously.” He then bid us farewell.
I went through the usual run of questions and learned nothing new. I had a much better idea of the lay of the land now, so it was time to make detailed enquiries elsewhere. I went up to the linguistics department and said my farewells, then I went to the library and took out a few books. I then went to my office and reported to Tusklo. He approved of everything and had no suggestions. At home I pulled out a pad of paper and a map of Brazil and went over the documents on hand as I started a timeline. I checked the map constantly for each of twelve different people who might just possibly have had anything to do with the case, and made notes where a gap in the paper trail might be filled in with a call or a visit.
After four hours I had turned to Gautier’s Grammar of Vaklamindi and was poring over the references to the first chapter when Tusklo called me.
“Guntersied, that Brazilian fellow you interviewed today is dead.”
“Yes. We just got a report that he was found poisoned in his apartment. Get Boileau out of town immediately. Vinnie will meet you with a car and papers; he’s going into hiding.”
“No, you fool, Boileau. You’re as bad as Guido sometimes.”
“No need to be cruel, Chief.”
“Just get going.” He gave me the address and basic information about Boileau’s new identity and I rushed there. He lived close; it took three minutes. When I reached his block I went down the cross-street to the back alley; I stopped long enough to read a text message Tusklo had sent me.
I knocked on his back door. He soon opened it. “What are you doing here?”
“José has been killed. You might be next. Let me in.”
He did so. I said, “Pack a bag. You need to leave as soon as possible, or sooner.”
“What? Where to?”
“Dunno yet. Getting orders still. You’re now Thomas Marot. I’ll give you your papers soon.”
“Go. And take little. We’ll guard what you leave, but we need you out of harm’s way.”
In three minutes he was ready. I had turned out the lights and was keeping watch through the windows around the back door. The back of the house was in shadow, but beyond that the moonlight was fairly bright, and I saw nothing move. When he met me with his bag, I opened the door and looked out carefully. All was silent; I flattened myself against the back wall and listened. I waved him out to the other side of the door and put my palm out, and he too flattened up against the wall. I closed the door quietly. I thought I could hear a scratching at the front door as I shut it and a creak in the front of the house as I ever so quietly turned the handle, and then we quickly rushed to the fence and beyond the hedge. I crouched by the hedge and put my eye to a hole in the gate; I fancied a shadow moved past the side window of his living room. I moved further back and pointed with my head down the alley. We moved quickly and reached the cross street. A car was there with Vinnie nearby. He handed me a parcel and I whispered, “Rat in the cupboard.” He nodded grimly and moved down the alley to the house. We got in the car and I drove less defensively than usual.
I had glanced in the parcel and saw what Boileau needed to know. “Dr. Marot, have you ever studied Papago?”
I handed him some papers. “You’ll love it. Fascinating language.”
“Have you ever been to Arizona?”
“Well, I am sorry about that part.”
“Whatareyoutalkingaboutyoucrazyman,” he spewed out with a gasp.
“Your new home and job for the nonce. We have connections in case we need to disappear someone in a hurry. You’d be amazed what you can make a university cough up if you just know which gullets to stick your fingers down. You’ll be working for a Papago research project, but that’s not what they call themselves or their speech, of course, as you’ll find out soon enough.”
“Idontknowthelanguageyoucrazyman” and another gasp.
“Of course not. It’s a revitalization project. You’ll be in intensive language classes. It’ll be a breeze.”
I drove on towards the airport.
After many minutes he asked me, “How did José die?”
After a minute I said, “I’m sorry you lost your friend. He seemed a good man.”
“He wasn’t just my friend.”
I sighed to myself and thought, “Dammit, another Hollywood cliché,” but he surprised me. “He was my brother-in-law. I made sure he came to the US after Lucinda died. She had been my primary informant in Manaus and in the village, and José took her place. Now he’s dead too.”
“If I may ask, how did she die?”
“Malaria. José was the last of their family. They’re all gone now.”
“How long were you married?”
“Four years. I met her through my work with José.”
“I take it she died in Brazil. Did she ever come to the US?”
I said, “You didn’t tell me you had been married. Did you tell anyone else?”
“No, not in the US.”
“And why not, man?”
“It didn’t matter for my work. It certainly doesn’t matter for this case.”
“I suppose not.” To keep from shouting at him, I asked, “You didn’t tell me about your marriage. What else haven’t you told me?”
“When I was a boy I had a dog named Vanilla.”
I gritted my teeth. To keep from shouting at him now, I kept my trap shut for the next ten miles.
Suddenly he said, “All this for a case of libel.”
We reached the airport. I went in with him to make sure the electronic ticket was ready and said, “When you get to Arizona you’ll have to make your own way. Instructions are included. You have a debit card to a new account in which your brand-new fellowship is deposited. It’s $2000 on this day of every month.” I pointed to an ATM. “Let’s get you some cash to make sure it works.” He withdrew $160, and I walked him to the ticket counter and said quietly, “Now you’re on your own. Keep a low profile. Call no one. No one at all. The town is probably boring as hell, so you should be able to get lots of language learning done in your time there. No one at the university will contact you, or even know where you are at all besides our office, until the case is cleared up, so we can’t keep you there, but you’d be well advised to rusticate yourself and think about the simple joys of an unpoisoned life every time you start jonesing for your old life back. Maybe invest in some binoculars and a stargazer’s handbook; it looks like an area relatively free of light pollution, so there won’t be anything else to do nights but drink, and you should only do that in isolation so you don’t blab your sad-sack sob story crap to all and sundry.”
He looked like he was about to thank me until he remembered where he was going, so he just said, “Clear this mess up for me as soon as you can. Please.” I nodded and left.
❦ ❦ ❦
When I got close to the edge of town I called Tusklo. “The check is in the mail.”
“Good. Come to the crime scene.” He gave me the address and I did so. When I arrived, he waved me over out of others’ hearing and said, “I have to take over the murder investigation. For one thing, you probably weren’t seen, but if you were you’ll be a marked man. Continue with the libel investigation. You know all the whys and wherefores of that part of the case, and we know they must be connected, so it’ll get you out of town.” I looked at him sharply and he said, “No, you’re not going to Brazil. You’re going to all the places in the States where all the suspects have been, going as far back as you need to until you figure out who did it and why. I want everybody who even looked cross-eyed at Boileau in middle school wrapped up so tight in your paper trail they’ll have to walk like Egyptians. Got it?”
“Okay, I do want you to help me interview the woman who found him though. You met her today.”
“One and the same.”
We found her in the living room of José’s apartment. She was dressed smartly for a night on the town, and even with the utter ruination of her makeup and deep red around her eyes she still seemed a couple of inches taller than me. Tusklo said, “You remember Mr. Guntersied. He’ll be helping me investigate José’s death. We’d like to ask you a few questions.”
“I’m truly sorry this has happened, and that you were the one to find him,” I said. She choked up and only nodded.
Tusklo asked, “Ms. Jodelle, I need you tell me exactly how you came to find him. Start from the beginning.”
“This afternoon he invited me to dinner at the Vetted Grouse. We were going to go dancing afterwards. I came over at 8 and knocked on the door. He didn’t answer, so I opened the door.”
I asked, “Was it locked?”
She blushed a little, “Yes. He gave me his key three weeks ago.”
Tusklo said, “Please continue.”
“I looked in his bedroom and didn’t see him. I came in the kitchen, and there he was.” She stopped speaking.
“What did you do then?”
“I thought he had slipped and hurt himself, but he wouldn’t move. His body was... just stiff.” She choked up again. “The look on his face was horrible. I couldn’t stay there. I came in here and called the police.”
I asked, “What did you touch in the apartment after you came in? Please show me exactly where you went and what you did from the moment you came in.”
She took me through the apartment until she came to the kitchen door. I said, “That’s all right, you needn’t go in there again. Did you touch anything in there?”
“I leaned against the counter when I saw him. I don’t think I touched anything else... No, I didn’t.”
Tusklo asked her, “Exactly when did you arrive?”
“It was about 7:55. The clock on the microwave said 7:57, and I hadn’t been inside more than about two minutes.”
I asked, “I have one last question, Ms. Jodelle. Please think carefully. Is there anything out of place in the apartment? Do you notice anything missing or new?”
“No... wait, yes, I saw a beer bottle on the counter. José hates American beer. I mean he hated it,” and she choked up again. Tusklo and I looked at each other in surprise, and as he went in the kitchen I asked her, “Anything else?”
“No, I don’t think so. Not in the rooms I went in anyway.”
I thanked her for her statement and asked her to wait outside in case we had any more questions. I went in the kitchen and saw Tusklo examining an empty brown glass bottle of particularly cheap overpriced domestic beer. “Wiped clean, of course. There’s another three bottles in the trash and two full ones in the fridge, also wiped clean. I’d say our murderer arrived early and lay in wait for him, and brought some brewskies along to make the wait more enjoyable. Bastard’s got a cheap taste in rotgut. The temperature of the body suggests he died about 6:45. The beer in the fridge is at the ambient temperature, however, and there were four rings of water on the counter, so presumably he picked them up chilled. I’ll have one of the regulars check all the liquor stores and supermarkets in town. So there’s a chance we can find a witness that way.”
We went back to the living room and Tusklo said, “With José dead and Boileau gone, that’ll make the Doc look very suspicious, like he murdered him and high-tailed it. The murderer will assume Boileau heard about the murder on his own and went into hiding, assuming of course he didn’t see you. I got a call from Vinnie; someone was in Boileau’s house right around the time he arrived but managed to get out a side window before he came in; he saw a shadow in one of the back windows. Guido was a little too late getting there to see anyone leaving, so that came a cropper.”
“It’s a bit odd. Boileau had been home for a while by the time José was killed. There was enough time to get there well before I did, and why wait for José to do him in first when he could have gotten Boileau out of the way and then attacked José?”
“Presumably José was his immediate target and Boileau was less important. Seems almost like Boileau was an afterthought. “
“Or perhaps he knew that José would be out for the evening.”
Tusklo said, “Don’t forget, José lives in a dingy apartment building with neighbors who probably agree to turn a blind eye to each other’s doings in a neighborhood with constant enough foot traffic that no one would pay you any mind unless you’re on fire. Boileau lives in a neighborhood of professors, and if there’s one thing these eggheads are keen on, it’s protecting their own nests once they’ve feathered the hell out of ’em. Theorize globally, terrorize locally and all that. Our murderer probably had to wait until it was dark enough not to be easily seen, and I’m sure our full moon made him very unhappy. On balance, it was probably less risky that way, the busy apartment complex in the early evening, the residential neighborhood later.”
I nodded. “Why wasn’t Boileau called when José was identified?”
Tusklo looked at me and finally said, “On my orders. I didn’t want him doing anything stupid, to himself or this investigation. I wanted him where we could get him away as soon as possible. Now get back to work on your case. You should leave tomorrow as soon as you can reasonably manage. Call me before you leave to give me your plans and your itinerary. Good luck.”
I went outside and asked Jodelle a few more questions, this time about her more professional ties with José and Boileau. I didn’t find out much of interest; she found Periminho interesting and had been learning it on her own from José, but she and José were still at the stage of their relationship where their informant sessions involved specialized vocabulary on a particularly restricted register. Her own work was on Micronesian languages, so she could add nothing about the broader significance of Boileau’s work.
I went home to find Flynn’s first progress report in my inbox. I wrote back that I would be out of town and touch for at least a week, but to continue his work as planned and to maintain the schedule of reports. I returned to my notes and map of Brazil and started planning out my itinerary. It was 2 AM when I turned in.
I dreamt I had to go to a conference in Málaga, so I took the train from Bordeaux through the Pyrenees. The train was in fact a roller coaster, and I somehow managed to arrive in Málaga without being woken up by the heights, so after I checked into my hotel I rented a car to pick up a woman from my past at the train station, which was located in a bombed-out cathedral surrounded by a forest of weeds and standing puddles, green by accident and pure blue for luck. We were then to go to the city center, but I kept getting lost and ended up repeatedly on the outskirts of town, whereupon she said, “You never did do well with cars, did you? However did you manage to get as far as you have, I wonder.” That was just like her. When I stopped to ask for directions she stepped out of the car and disappeared. That was just like her too. This area of the city was a tortured headland of lava beside a sand-buried district. Under the leonine sun I had a burning thirst and asked a glass of water from everyone I encountered. Unfortunately, Málaga had become an Italian city and no one could make head or tail of my Portuguese, which bothered me even as I was dreaming for I knew full well it was nowhere near Galicia, and that bothered me in turn because I knew I was missing something there. I woke up irked with myself and the world in general and glared at the clock’s bright 4:57. After a glass of water I slept again until 9:30 and called Tusklo.
“Good morning, Guntersied. A bit of bad news for Boileau. Pressny decided that Boileau is the likeliest suspect in José’s murder, and so he alerted the police to that effect around 5 AM. There’s a big search out for him. And maybe Boileau is the murderer; you never know with those guys. Anyway, you got him out of the state in time, but he definitely has to stay put and quiet. I’ll do what I can to keep things under wraps here, but it’s urgent that you find out everything you can about the major players in this case.”
“That doesn’t make sense, Chief.”
“Yes it does. It means there’s more going on than we thought. It’s not like Pressny would even be conscious at 5 AM unless he’d gotten an emergency call, and I sure as hell didn’t make one. That means someone else did, and since the murder hadn’t even been announced publicly until 7, that means he was tipped off by someone who knows more than he should. It might be one of the policemen, but why would one of them do that unless he knew there was something special about it? And if it’s not one of the policemen, that’s even worse. And that means we have to keep very quiet about Boileau. I’ll handle the paperwork so Pressny doesn’t learn more than he needs to know. Remember, Pressny’s not the only one with connections, but we need a solid case to rely on ’em. Got it?”
“Right, Chief.” I then gave him my itinerary, and after he finished making notes he replied, “Looks thorough. Enjoy the dust, you’ll be kicking up enough of it.”
I sighed, “Most likely. See you in two weeks.” I hung up, washed up, and put my bag in the car. At 10:30 I crossed the town limit and relaxed as if a death sentence had been postponed.
The next two weeks were a stupefying succession of unavoidable archival work in research centers and universities throughout the middle stretches of the US, followed by long nights reading books and papers everyone else in the world had long forgotten about. By the time I finished, I knew the scholarly and financial histories of Boileau, Gautier, Riquier, and six other leading linguists in their field as well as my own, and I was just relieved that their field was so small that they shared many of the same places at different times in their pasts. When I returned to town, I reported to Tusklo, who filled me in on their findings and spent the next four hours grilling me and hashing out all the details; he found no gaps in my work and nodded at me as if grudgingly admitting a rare tactical defeat.
“You’ll need to make contact with Brazilian authorities, so you’ll have to present all of this to Ventadorn. She’ll know who to contact, and she can smooth the way for you with her connections. Be ready to go to the Union tomorrow morning. I’ll call you when I have an exact time.”