12. The Man Bearing Flames and a Hammer (Part 4)

Kimi felt the briefest moment of awkwardness permeate the room as Monica stepped into it. Monica was taller than most people, but younger than anyone in the room with the possible exception of Costa. She had skin the colour of chestnuts, and inquisitive eyes. Her tightly-curled hair was bound back in a ponytail that seemed to explode from the back of her head. She was unremarkably professionally.

‘Sorry I’m late, the traffic was terrible,’ she said, her eyes narrowing a little as she glanced at the four of them. ‘I see you’ve started without me.’

Sandy looked as warm and reasonable as he ever did, but Kimi noticed that he spoke a little quicker than he had done before. ‘We have – not too much. We just wanted to confirm some things.’

Monica, still standing in the doorway, locked eyes with Sandy, ‘And what have you confirmed?’

‘Not a lot,’ said Sandy, ‘Only what happened to Mr Costa here the day before the attack.’

Monica relaxed, but not by much. ‘Very well, as long as that is all that was discussed.’

‘Hey, I hate to play the old-man card,’ said a familiar voice from behind Monica, ‘But can we sit down already?’

A little embarrassed, Monica fully entered the room. Behind her, stepped the older man from the meeting.

He was tall, though not nearly so tall as Costa and much thinner. He was all angles and bones. His short, tightly-curled grey hair was balding a little, and his skin was dark, lined, and weatherbeaten. He walked with a cane, and doing so seemed to hurt a little from his halting gait.

Kimi wondered if his permanent scowl was due to the apparent pain in his leg, or a general disgust with everyone around him.

He was dressed in a plaid shirt, a sweater, and had large, thick glasses perched on his nose.

‘Hello everyone,’ said Dr Pretorius.

Polite greetings circulated the table as the pair took their seats.

‘So, with your go-ahead Monica,’ said Sandy, ‘I was hoping to ask Mr Costa when he noticed the physical alterations.’

Monica looked at Sandy for a few moments, her expression slightly blank. She then turned to Costa.

‘Matheus,’ she said to him, ‘You don’t have to answer that question now if you don’t wish to.’

Costa had been drinking from a glass of water as the two spoke. As Monica finished, he placed it down in the desk, carefully and unhurriedly. It looked tiny between his colossal fingers.

‘I am happy to assist the investigation in any way that I am able,’ he said. Costa paused for a moment, before continuing, ‘I noticed the physical alterations immediately after regaining consciousness.’

Sandy and Jackson continued asking Costa about his experiences. About how he’d noticed the powers. About how his alterations had affected him. He responded slowly, pausing occasionally to take another sip of water. On a few occasions, Monica stepped in to clarify something, or to ensure that he knew his rights.

Kimi was barely listening. Instead of focusing on his words, her thoughts were entirely taken up by Costa’s tone. He had the deepest voice that she had ever heard. She thought she could see ripples pass across the surface of the water in her glass when he spoke. Costa spoke confidently too, without a shake or break in his tone. Despite all this, Kimi knew that something was troubling him. The speed of his speech was unnatural, too rhythmic. Costa’s voice usually sped and slowed down, but now it was as steady as a clock. Kimi knew that he was anxious, and this anxiety in his voice peaked whenever he spoke about his powers and what had happened to his body.

Kimi frowned. She understood why it would be a painful memory. The thought of what had happened to her that day still made her want to abandon the city and live on her own in the wilderness somewhere. Still, the focus on his physicality seemed odd. He seemed ordinary.

Kimi looked at him closer, and her frown deepened a little. That was just it. He was ordinary. He was perfectly ordinary. Looking on his face, and then looking away, Kimi could not pick out a single defining feature. She couldn’t bring to mind what he looked like when she wasn’t staring directly at him.

Her power blossomed in her gaze once more. She noticed the barest hints of colours that flowed around the edges of his body.

A court filled with smiling faces. Poison. Crowded rooms. A fearful face. A veil.

There was something not quite the same as the colours and patterns that she saw flowing around other things. These were muted. Greyer.

Kimi pushed her gaze further.

The colours and shapes twisted, and then reacted. She realised that the patterns were not emanating from Costa. They were clearly altering her perception of the man – he was the focus of them.

But they were coming, somehow, from her own eyes.

‘Mrs Hashiji?’ Sandy was saying.

Kimi realised that she had not been paying attention to what had been said over the last few minutes. To her embarrassment, she noticed that she had been staring directly at Costa, who was now looking back on her with mingled suspicion and confusion.

Kimi turned to Sandy, realising as she did that something had been asked of her that she had ignored. Putting away thoughts of Costa’s colours and patterns, she smiled sweetly. ‘I’m sorry, I fear I may have drifted off a little there.’

Pretorius snorted, ‘That’s fine. No point getting through this quick. I didn’t have anything else I wanted to do today anyway.’

Kimi was proud of her withering gazes. She turned a little in her chair now and fixed Pretorius with one. She took more delight than she’d care to admit when he turned his gaze away uncomfortably.

Resuming her smile back at Sandy, she said, ‘Could you repeat your question?’

‘Certainly,’ said Sandy briskly, ‘I was asking what happened to you on the day of the twenty-third.’

‘I’m afraid that there really isn’t all that much to tell. It was a usual day.’

‘That’s all your willing to tell us?’ said Sandy.

‘If that’s all she wants to say, Sandy,’ said Monica.

‘I wouldn’t want to be misunderstood,’ said Kimi, ‘I’m more than happy to tell you about my day, but I don’t want to bore you all or inconvenience that poor young man with writing down everything I say.’

‘You won’t be a bother, Mrs Hashiji,’ said Sandy, with a smile, ‘Just tell us what you remember.’

‘Very well,’ said Mrs Hashiji. She began speaking of watering her plants in the garden, opening shop, listening to the problems of her customers, closing shop, and cleaning. When she got to the part where she described reading her book before going to bed, she realised that she wasn’t actually describing that day at all. She was describing any day. Every one of her days stretched back and bled together into one continuous malaise of the same few activities.

Sandy was looking at her expectantly again. Kimi realised she’d missed another question.

‘I’m so sorry, Agent Sandy, I missed your question just now.’

Pretorius spoke up, ‘Let her continue, please, this was all so riveting.’

Monica turned to Pretorius, scowling slightly, ‘Would you mind being quiet please?’ she turned back to Kimi, ‘Sorry about that, Mrs Hashiji.’

‘It’s quite alright,’ said Kimi, arching her eyebrows at Pretorius, ‘I, for one, am waiting eagerly to hear about the no doubt fascinating day that Dr Pretorius had.’

Out of the corner of her eye, Kimi saw Costa bring up his hand to mask a smile.

Sandy coughed politely, ‘I asked, did you notice anything unusual about your sleep?’

Kimi thought back to that night, ‘I remember dozing while reading my book, somewhat late at night, perhaps two in the morning. Then I shut my light out and went to sleep. My dreams were undisturbed and when I awoke… I was already beyond control. After that, my next clear memory is being on the boat.’

‘How soon after the attack did you notice that your powers had manifested?’ said Sandy.

‘Immediately, I would think,’ Kimi responded, ‘As soon as I had awoken – truly awoken – after the attack, I had the abilities.’

Sandy jotted down a note, ‘There wasn’t a delay? No time to get used to the abilities, you just… Had them there?’

Kimi thought for a moment, ‘It took getting used to, but I picked them up quickly.’

Sandy jotted down something else. Kimi noticed him tap his pen on the table twice after finishing the note. His lips pursed slightly.

‘You said that before the attack, you were watering plants, is that right?’

For a second, Kimi wondered if she’d said something wrong. ‘That’s right,’ she said.

‘Would you describe yourself as a gardener?’

‘A little,’ said Kimi. She was wondering where Sandy was going with this.

‘And what else does your store sell?’

Kimi paused. She didn’t want to sound unhelpful, but it was a genuinely hard question to answer. ‘Various things, as you saw Sandy,’ she said at last, ‘Plants, decorations, Asian-goods, crockery. There’s also a tearoom.’

Sandy was jotting all of what she said down. ‘And you also have only limited memories of the attack?’

‘I’m afraid so.’

‘You’ll be pleased to hear,’ said Sandy, with seemingly genuine empathy, ‘That we won’t be talking about that today.’ He then turned to Pretorius, brightly saying ‘Doctor!’

Pretorius sighed, and then removed and began cleaning his glasses. ‘I don’t see what the point is in this exercise, Sandy, I’ve already given you my statement regarding what happened before the attack.’

‘I know,’ said Sandy, his brightness untarnished, ‘But we were hoping to go over some of the specifics.’

‘I don’t know that I’ve heard anything so far to suggest that you’re looking for new information.’ Pretorius spoke gruffly and sharply, maintaining eye contact with Sandy, ‘We all gave just about the same answer if I recall: We had pretty boring day, we went to bed, we performed the attack, and then we woke up on the boat, that’s it. I don’t know what new pieces of information you’re hoping to get from us, but I can pretty much guarantee that this is going to stay the same.’

‘You’re going to have to trust that we want to get to the bottom of this. The information provided today is extremely helpful.’

Pretorius scoffed, ‘What, I’m gonna trust one of the men in black just because he asks nicely? I barely know who you are or what you represent, Sandy. Unless you start doing something a little more trustworthy than talking like a gameshow host and working in a basement, I’m not sure I want to help any further.’

Agent Jackson managed the not inconsiderable feat of both furiously dictating and rolling his eyes at the same time.

‘I too would like more information,’ said Kimi, surprising even herself. She felt a spark of engagement rising for the first time in years. For a brief moment, she had a problem before herself that she actually wanted to solve. ‘While I would not put it in quite so harsh terms as Dr Pretorius, you are asking us to place substantial trust in an organisation we have only just learnt of.’

Sandy had been taking in what the two had said for some time now, nodding but with an unwavering expression. When Kimi finished, he glanced at Costa.

Costa’s hand had been raised to his mouth as he listened. He nodded when Sandy looked at him. ‘I would also be quite interested in gaining new insights if they are available.

Sandy turned back to Pretorius, his smile slightly fixed. ‘I’m not certain what you’re asking me to do for you,’ he said, slowly and carefully, ‘Ms Jansen, your representative in this case, has explained to you the nature of the Paranormal Mediation and Administration Agency. She has also explained a little of the nature of the circles that Parma operates in.’

‘Sandy,’ said Monica firmly, but not unkindly, ‘I don’t think it can hurt to provide them with more information concerning what’s been happening. After everything that’s happened, I think they deserve it.’

‘The issue,’ said Jackson, his voice firm and piercing, ‘Is that there is a procedure. We don’t like giving up too much information up front. It can be overwhelming, and unhelpful. More will be explained to you when you all are ready for it.’

‘Wow,’ said Pretorius, ‘I didn’t think it was possible to sound both patronising and threatening, but there you go.’

Kimi realised that she was frowning at Pretorius. His abrupt manner was grating against her, but what was all the more annoying was that she found herself agreeing with him. It was ridiculous of them not to give them any more information than they had.

‘Is it impossible for you to tell us anything else, Agent Sandy?’ she said.

Sandy didn’t say anything for a moment, and then sighed deeply, ‘You know, this really isn’t the quick interview that I’d envisaged when we started this today.’ He paused again, then said, ‘Okay, how about a compromise: We don’t have time here and now to give you all the answers to your questions, that just isn’t happening. But how about we meet up again in a few days, I will give you and the rest of those involved in the attack the opportunity to ask some questions. Plus,’ here he raised one finger, ‘I’ll even move up the first stage of your information orientation by a week. In return, you give me the information I want. Fair?’

Pretorius tilted his head a little, ‘Alright.’ He unfolded his arms, and leaned a little forwards in the chair. ‘What do you want to know?’

Previous: 11. The Man Bearing Flames and a Hammer (Part 3)

Next: 13. The Man Bearing Flames and a Hammer (Part 5)

2 thoughts on “12. The Man Bearing Flames and a Hammer (Part 4)

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