There came the words whispered, “Who’s there?” after a too long silence that followed her knocking.
“Sylvia,” came a female voice. “Let me in.”
Light shone through an eye hole drilled in the door. Then it didn’t.
“But you’re dead,” said the man behind it.
“A dirty rumour,” the tall darkly dress woman said. “Something I’ll deny, if pressed. Now open up.”
A bolt slid, loud in the hall that time of night, and the door opened a crack. A single bright eye peeked out.
“Hello Vlad,” Sylvia said, smiling halfly. “Open up.”
Dr Vladimir Cromwell knew the woman, Silvia M, and her clique well enough. He’d been forced into their plots before, as they raged against the Greater Plan. Violence and certain disappearance came to the noncompliant. He moved back and away from the door, and let Sylvia M enter.
“Cigarettes,” she said stepping in, “and the good stuff. I know you have it. None of that Rabble Town canteen shit.” Vladimir Cromwell obeyed. Vanished a moment into the dark regions of his well furnished apartment and returned with a deck of cigarettes, the package embossed in gold. He handed it over. Sylvia M lit up and unbuttoned her coat.
“There’s been a killing,” she said.
“There’ve been many,” replied Cromwell. He was a meek man, slight in a dark red robe that might have been made of silk. He could have been mistaken for a woman in the low light. His toes were nervously clenched in his slippers. His was an inescapable flamboyance which he tried to hide during the day, but not now in his own home. “The dead are stacked in common refrigerators in morgues all over town, each awaiting its criminal conviction and incineration. We’re overwhelmed.”
“No, none of them,” said Sylvia M. “The one I want you to think very carefully about was a high ranking Agent of the Greater Plan. He won’t be in a stinking corpse heap. He’ll be stored in his own drawer, as is his privilege. You’ve already done the autopsy, I’m certain, Dr Vlad. You’ll remember him for the tragic gunshot wound where his manhood once dwelt, and the fatal bullet wound to his head.”
“Yes,” Cromwell said after a moment, nodding. “I know him. Chief Justice Agent Ahriman, scheduled for pick-up tomorrow, by a funeral chapel chosen by his family.” In passing, he said, ” It was a tragic wound,” and swallowed.
“No,” said Sylvia M. “You will not hand him over to a funeral chapel.”
“No. You’ll lose him, instead. But let him not be so lost that he cannot be found again if necessary.”
“But lose him? What do mean? It would be a criminal act to tamper with the remains. Besides, it’s almost impossible to do. Certainly with the standard operating procedures I’ve implemented since my appointment as Chief of the Forensic Pathology Department of the Justice Bureau.”
“Then, Dr Vlad,” Sylvia M said, “what you’re telling me is that you’re the primary obstacle to my plan?”
“No, not at all. I….”
“Because small effete men frequently end up in stinking corpse piles, don’t they? There’s a prevalent prejudice against ladylike men in the Greater Plan, as you know. I’m no fan of the Plan, of course. I fight against it, and I disagree with many of its phobias. But some wonder how you’ve lasted this long.”
A male silhouette moved across the dark parlour behind Vladimir Cromwell, in the pale light coming through a window from the street, then disappeared.
“I’ll see what can be done,” the doctor said.
“Good,” said Sylvia M, now buttoning her coat and pocketing the deck of cigarettes. “And there’s the wine I enjoy.” She took a card from out of her handbag and handed it to him. “You know it. That Italian red. You’ve gotten it for me before.”
“Yes,” he said, taking her card. The fingernails of his soft hands manicured, and buffed to a glossy lustre. “It’s quite expensive, though. I’m not sure if it’s in my budget.”
“Have a crate delivered to the address on the card, and you know that neither I nor any of my people will be found there, so don’t get any ideas. The wine will find its way to me on its own.”
“These are dangerous times, Dr Vlad,” said Sylvia M, taking a different tone, smiling halfly again. “Especially for some.” Reaching out, she stroked the smooth lapel of his robe. “But the dead sleep like clouds, don’t they? Moved along by hurricanes, or, as in this case, by soft surreptitious winds? And when they’re gone the sun always shines, doesn’t it?”
Pausing a moment, she looked into his sad eyes and said, “There’s shame in these rooms, Dr Vlad. There needn’t be, but there is. It’s because you somehow agree with the opinion others have of you. Shame’s a weakness; it reveals too much about a man. Don’t carry it out into the world with you when I’ve assigned you a task.”
“Be sure to eliminate all paperwork, audio, video and data-chronicles. All physical evidence; identification, clothing, shoes, any trinkets found in his pockets. This Agent never existed as far as your forensics is concerned.”