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

Sandy beamed. ‘What precisely did you do the day before the attack?’

‘Woke up 6am. Breakfasted at 7am. Worked on papers from 8am until 3pm. Had lunch. Worked on papers until 6pm. Watched TV until 8:30pm, dinner, then read until 10pm, then went to bed. Woke up mind controlled and with access to superpowers about 9:30am, I’d guess. Rampage until 10pm. Regained senses around the time you were slapping handcuffs on me – 10:30, or there abouts, right?’

Pretorius had spoken in a continuous stream while maintaining eye contact with Sandy. Not once had he paused to remember, or so much as hesitated in his speech.

Sandy opened his mouth to say something else.

‘No, I didn’t have any unusual dreams before the event.’ He leaned back in his chair and sighed, ‘And I still don’t know if I’ve got a handle on my powers.’

‘Well,’ said Sandy, still smiling but less broadly, ‘Thank you for going over that.’ He made another note on the page in front of him. ‘You mentioned that you were writing papers – could you elaborate on that a little?’

Pretorius’s default expression was a grimace. At Sandy’s words the grimace deepened. ‘Not writing. Editing. I edit scientific journals for a living.’

Sandy continued looking at Pretorius for a moment, and then made a small hum noise, as if working something out.

‘Yes Sandy,’ said Pretorius, in a mocking tone that pretended Sandy had just spoken aloud, ‘I would say that my life prior to the incident may indeed have had an impact on my powers.’

Sandy looked up from his notebook at Pretorius, his smile by now a little strained. His voice was as cheerful as ever when he said, ‘You read my mind.’

For the next twenty minutes or so, they responded to Sandy’s follow-up questions, but his heart didn’t seem to be in it anymore. From his tone, Kimi sensed that most of the rest of his line of questioning was based on them responding positively to the dream question. Sandy’s line of enquiry were so innocuous that Monica barely had to interject them, or remind any of them that they needn’t answer if they didn’t want to. He seemed almost to be stretching out their meeting, as if trying to make it seem like it was worth their while to come. It didn’t work.

‘Okay, thank you all for your patience so far,’ he said, glancing at Pretorius, Kimi, and Costa in turn, ‘We’ve got a lot of information to look over now, and we’ve basically wrapped up all questions that we had prepared for today concerning the attack and the development of your abilities. I was hoping to ask, however, a little about how things have been since the attack. You are all broadly aware now of the “otherworld”, as we sometimes call it. I’m sure,’ here he turned deliberately to Pretorius, ‘That you have follow-up questions concerning it that we will get to in time. Since the attack and your discovery of the otherworld, have you noticed anything peculiar or out of the ordinary? Have you, for instance, had contact with anyone who you believe may be connected to the otherworld or the supernatural in general?’

Sandy’s smile was bright, but Kimi could have sworn she noticed an unusual glint in his blue eyes. She turned to Jackson, and saw that he had paused in his transcription, as if listening attentively.

Sandy first turned to Costa, ‘You, Mr Costa?’

Costa shrugged his enormous shoulders and titled his head, his eyes on the desk. It was like watching the ground heave during an earthquake. ‘Unfortunately, nothing at all springs to mind, Agent Sandy. Should anything occur, I shan’t hesitate to let you know.’

Kimi noticed the shrug, the rhythm in his voice, the lack of eye-contact. She made a note of them.

‘And you, Dr Pretorius?’ said Sandy.

‘Hmm,’ said Pretorius, with a half-smile, ‘I’m fairly certain that my neighbours are vampires, but that’s from way before the attack.’

Sandy actually gave a single, closed-mouthed chuckle at this. ‘We’ll look into it, if your concerned. Anything else?’

‘Nope,’ said Pretorius, ‘Nothing I can think of.’

It was harder to spot Pretorius’s tells, but they were present. Deliberately holding eye-contact with Sandy, and closing off his body-language.

Sandy nodded, and then turned to Kimi, his smile broadening. ‘And yourself, Mrs Hashiji?’

Kimi thought about the man with the hammer. The man who had shrouded himself with the image of flame. The man who had threatened to kill her. She wondered what she should say.

‘I… wasn’t going to bring it up actually,’ Kimi said, slowly and hesitantly.

‘Yes?’ said Sandy, masking his curiosity well.

‘Well, it’s probably nothing, but…’ The eyes of everyone in the room were on Kimi now. Even  Jackson had given up the pretence sticking to his notes.

‘Earlier today, I saw four black ravens, perched on the wall of my rooftop garden. I know that that’s a very bad sign, and I also felt something… unusual. Like a presence.’ She turned small dark eyes to Sandy’s, ‘Do you think that could mean anything?’

Sandy’s shoulders slumped by the tiniest amount, ‘It’s worth bringing up, and thank you for doing so.’

Kimi nodded. She waited until Sandy and Jackson had returned to their notes before looking into the eyes of Costa and Pretorius. Costa was once more drinking from his glass and didn’t catch her gaze. Pretorius did. His eyes narrowed for a moment, suspiciously.

Kimi looked away without changing expression.

After a few seconds of rifling through notes, Sandy finally said, ‘Okay, I believe that’s all my questions for today. Thank you all so much for coming,’

‘What, that’s it?’ Pretorius said, quick and incredulously, ‘It takes me almost an hour to get here you know Sandy.’

‘If it’s any consolation, you have been extremely helpful with our investigations. We’ll be contacting you very soon for a follow-up interview, likely in the next day or two.’

The six of them began to make moves to leave the small room. Jackson took up his bundle of notes, made his goodbyes, and disappeared into the corridor.

‘I’d love to give you a lift home,’ said Sandy turning to Kimi, ‘But I need to make a quick phone call first. Is that okay?’

‘Of course, Sandy,’ she responded.

‘I’ll see you at reception,’ he said, and then he too disappeared.

With the two agents gone, Monica turned to the three of them, ‘How have you all been doing?’

‘As well as can be expected,’ said Costa, ‘Hungry for more news though, I must say.’

‘They weren’t lying about the information that we need to keep from you,’ said Monica with a slight grimace, ‘I know. It must be frustrating at first, but come to the orientation on Saturday and more of it will be explained.’

‘What can you tell us?’ said Pretorius, his voice abrupt as ever, but not unkind.

‘I can tell you that there’s no easy answer for what did this to you all,’ said Monica, ‘As you may have guessed, mind-control is not unheard of as a legal defence. And in your cases, it made sense. You have all had no connection to this world before the event. However, something that can not only mind-control you all, but turn you all into super-humans, there’s very little precedent for that. Not that it hasn’t happened, but it would take something extremely rare and extremely powerful.’

‘Once you,’ Costa paused a little, unsure of how to go on, ‘Discover the entity that perpetrated this crime, will you even be capable of apprehending it and bringing it to justice?’

Monica smiled without humour, ‘Parma will take care of it. They’re very good at that, and they have… friends who can assist.’ Monica turned to Kimi, ‘Do you have any questions?’

Kimi held Monica’s gaze and frowned a little, ‘How have you been, Monica?’

Monica seemed taken aback by this question. She dropped her gaze for a moment ‘I, well, I’m okay. It’s a big case with a lot of ins and outs,’ she returned her gaze to Kimi, ‘One of the first things you learn about this world is that it’s complicated. You hear hoofbeats, and forget horses or zebras, it could be centaurs or aliens.’ She winced a little, as if she’d said something she hadn’t meant to, ‘But we’ll get there.’

The four made their way back to reception where they met back up with Sandy, who’d finished his call. He looked more haggard than he had done before to Kimi, but he beamed at the four of them.

‘Ready to go?’ he said.

Kimi and Sandy returned to his car. Dr Pretorius had arrived in his own car, which he returned to now. Strangely, it was closer to what Kimi had imagined Sandy driving. It was black and stylish and shining. Costa elected to take the subway, explaining that he only lived a few blocks from here.

On the way back, the conversation was much more muted. Sandy seemed somewhat put out by the whole experience. Though she would never admit it, Kimi was glad for the lack of conversation. She sat staring from the passenger window, letting the lights of the city and the tall buildings wash over her, listening distantly to the quiet, innocuous songs that came on the radio.

She found herself thinking about the comment Sandy had made on the way here. Don’t pretend that there’s too many years between us.

Kimi looked at Sandy in the driver’s seat. He was right, they could have been a similar age, though he was clearly a few years younger than she was. He hadn’t noticed her looking at him. His eyes were locked on the road. In the streetlights that passed, wave-like, over his face, Kimi saw the laugh-lines and crow’s feet he’d developed from long years of trying to put people at their ease.

Kimi wondered when Sandy would die. Would he reach an old age, and pass away peacefully in his sleep? Would the stress of his work sap at his strength and will to go on, cutting out his twilight years? Would he die in the line of duty, protecting the world from monsters such as herself? It was easy to think of a thousand ways that this man sat next to her could be cut down.

Kimi thought about the entity that had forced her to do what she had done. This huge, amorphous dark shape, featureless in her mind. An entity of pure malice and power that had stripped her of her liberty and her quiet life before vanishing. She thought about how her and the others, without really being conscious of it, were even know readying themselves for another bout. The thought excited her, made her angry. It engaged her.

But why bother? she thought, and then it engaged her no more.

Why fight? What had happened had happened. What was going to happen was going to happen. Either they were going to beat this thing, or they weren’t. In ten years time, it would all be the same. She would heal. She would go back to her life. And this very moment would just be a memory.

As if she was being pulled backwards, she felt the problem and all the people tangled in it dwindle down. It was no bigger an issue than Beth had with Jason. Or her wanting to buy a new coffee machine.

What was the point? In ten years time, it would all be the same.

‘Well,’ said Sandy, pulling into a space just around the corner from her store, ‘Thanks once again for your time and cooperation.’

‘Always a pleasure,’ said Kimi.

‘If you run into any problems, or you have any concerns, you let me know, alright?’

‘Of course, Agent Sandy. Thank you once again for the journey, and I’ll be seeing you again soon, I’m sure.’

She exited the car, and Sandy waited until she had reached her front door before pulling away. Kimi had very few worries of anything happening to her on a street like this, but she appreciated the gesture.

As she went to open the door to the store, she noticed that something had been stuffed into the letterbox. Automatically, her hand reached out to grab it, but she paused. A flurry of colours were crossing her eyes.

Fire. Running. Lime pushed through hair drying in the sun. ‘Bastards!’ Drum beats. A gun firing. Flames.

As casually as she could, she reached for the scrap of paper.

She didn’t unfold it until she had locked the door behind her, made herself a cup of tea, and sat down comfortably on the armchair in her living room.

She was wearing soft, comfortable slippers, and had pulled the small half-moon spectacles that she wore on a chain around her neck up and over her nose.

The paper, when she picked it up, was clearly a receipt. Unfolding it, words had been scrawled in black ink. It was written in Irish Gaelic, a language that she only had a rudimentary understanding of. But she could still just about make out the meaning.

May the gates of paradise, it read, Remain ever closed to you. Your time is coming.

Beneath it was a small smear of blood.

The words reeled with power, with colours and swirling shapes. They looked almost like flames. Flames that wrote things inside her consciousness.

Kimi smiled. In fact she almost laughed. A very different fire was just beginning to arise in her own own heart. A tiny, hesitant flame. Once again, Kimi managed to feel engaged with something.

Of course, she reminded herself, it was all pointless. Everything was ultimately transient nothing would ever truly amount to anything. In ten years time, it would make no difference whether she succeeded with this enterprise or not.

But in this moment, she could not pretend that the problem hadn’t hooked her.

It was the feeling she got when putting together a jigsaw.

Idly, she wondered if she should tell Sandy about the threats that had been made against her.

No, she thought, No, this might be fun.

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

Next: 14. The Lives in Distant Windows (Part 1)

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