BOOK FOUR – “WITCHCRAFT”
(Friday, January 5, 2035)
The Specimen Depository had seen adventure come and go, like a criminal whirlwind. Norlin's badge got him past lingering patrolmen (newer minions of John Crum; they'd failed to recognize him) and into the inner sanctum of fex collection and preservation. There was broken glass everywhere... an old, mustachioed man with white, wild hair knelt on the Dep's tiled floor, lamenting one or another of the fresh stains on the floor; unpleasant red and brown streaks crisscrossed the white walls where fex that had survived the intrusion were mounted, like dead stags, on placards bearing the names of celebrities, princes and villains. Standing over the poor, distraught fellow was Henry Hat...
"The robbers did... this?" Norlin frowned.
"Mostly, it was the police," the suncop corrected him. "In their zeal to discover evidence, well... mistakes were made. This man is Curator of the Specimen Depository, Kleinus von Kleervogl. Doctor... sir... may I present Corporal Norlin..."
But the Curator, on his knees, lifted his eyes to the ceiling and, throwing his arms wide, babbled further lamentations in a foreign tongue..."
"He's not well," Henry Hat confided, "...one of our police knocked a priceless Nicholson off the wall. There aren't many, Jack wasn't the sort of actor to drop his pants at any old audition for some walk-on in a sitcom. Portrayed a Joker in one of those old Batman movies, did you know?"
"One of many. Anyway, this damage... and, probably, no little theft... was committed during the process of investigation. So many spheres! - spherical bottles in spherical antechambers; no crime so complex as this may have been committed without fiery passion, a great hate. The primordial thief took only one object... but that was quite enough. Doctor!... get a grip on yourself..." the man in yellow scolded.
But Kleevogl would not cease weeping, although he did lower his eyes from the heavens to confront his two mortal inquisitors. "I so sorry... ach!... I am useless, useless old man. The veronica... gone! All ist uber! He came to my country... the King... he met lovely wife, Jates bless her soul. So big! Ein gros Kacke that would not go forth; bewohner in the Presley colon, suffocating his great soul. Ass up - in golden pajamas. Death is a terrible cavalier! And, now..."
Kleervogl could proceed no further, collapsing into further blubbering spasms of weeping and unintelligible invocations that filled Norlin with dread and contempt.
"Sure takes the substance out of Jatesday..." he said, coldly, "would it be appropriate to ask whether it was insured?"
"Actually, as I've gather from the Doctor... in one of his rare moments of lucidity... the relic wasn't even Baratarian property at all. Isn't that right?"
"Ja! Ja!" the curator sniffled. "It was sold... oh, this happens more often than you think. All is politics, money... many priziest specimens, no longer propriety. Super knowledge in the vaults! Sold to collectors who allowed them to remain here, because we are im... mmmp..."
"Impregnable, he meant to say." Henry Hat allowed himself the indulgence of a small, jaundiced smile. "A mutually beneficial relationship, one might say... assets still maintained on the City Council's books, collectors with visiting privileges and, now and again, docile media trotted through to dutifully simper at magnificent bottles of Oprah, Eemah and Paul Parchette, or else curiosities... that teenager captured in front of the White House with a pocketful of drugs, I believe it was a half century ago, more or less, or, in, I believe, 1989, the first negatively-tested mandatory minimum who let a cocaine abuser in for a ride his car..."
"... they took Andrew Weil's chocolate positive!," the Curator wailed. "Napoleon's hair!"
Norlin waxed thoughtful. "I wonder whether Eric Ice was among the investigating officers? Got out from under Skark's thumb awhile..."
His shoes crunched glass and Kleervogl wailed anew.
"The King's relic was sold eighteen months ago..." Henry Hat informed the Corporal, "confidentially, we've just now put the buyer to rest..."
"Mazzolo?" Henry Hat shook his head, no. "Heenes, then! But... he left no heirs. So who did the veronica revert to..."
"The Depository, I'd suspect, under those provisions of the Unclaimed Property Act of 2020 with amendments, of course, as interpreted by the Law Firm... am I right, Doctor?" But Kleervogl, showing no respect to the authorities continued blubbering. "To be clandestinely sold again, after the ceremony, to magnify Barataria's treasury, except that..."
"It's gone!" Norlin deduced.
"Gone!" the Curator sobbed.
Kleervogl staggered to his feet, casting dreadful glances at an empty bell jar lying on its side atop a pedestal at the center of the vault, and collapsed into a chair... Henry Hat offered him a silver flask, one drink restoring the Curator's senses to the extent they could be restorable...
"Sir!" Norlin recoiled, as the malted musk of contraband issued throughout the sanctuary.
"In the service of a greater good, Corporal," Henry Hat hastily declared. "Now, Doctor, can you tell us what happened?"
"Thank... thank you, I... where to..." the Curator sputtered, "where to begin? With fex... gentlemen... fex!... simple bodily waste materials, among humans, even mutes and clones or, even, animals. Whether nitrous, solid or liquid, even gas... did you know that WestAmericans have a process to refine human genomes from the waste carbon dioxide of human exhalation? It is true! Why some of the most valuable fex came from the dying breaths of Justin Timberlake or, just last year, Tori Spelling! Not comparable to the King's veronica... that's unique... but, ach!... a simple pre-K'ball procedure to ensure messenger boys and frycooks would not endanger themselves, their neighbors and the public order by smoking marihuana on weekends... who would have thought to have spawned the economic base of great nations... so vahst!..."
"Sir?" Norlin attempted to bring the Curator back to earth.
"Well, it had to be something!" Kleervogl glared at him, fiercely. "There is what exists in a man that abhors digital wealth unless it... even allegedly... is backed up by something. Grain served for millenia... grain, timber and cattle, wine and women, all valuable commodities... nicht wahr?... but so large, so cumbersome in trade. So men descended to worship das gelt, then the silver, paper and, finally, and just before the K'ball, the regime of the New Plastic. Credit cards, bitcoins, little rows of numbers in faraway banks! Progress demands standards that stand above progress, nein? The World Economic Forum succeeds the UN, which succeeds the League of Nations, which usurpation the place of innumerable smaller compacts and combinations... the Fuggers, Hanseatic League, Hudson's Bay Company and more Companies of all the Indies, West and East. Financial panics of centuries begone... guillotines, and the tulip fever... birthing Communism and, after, the Stock Market. And, when that crashed, after the K'ball, the FexMarket. No matter how high his mind and aspirations soar, even das Ubermann seeks the frame of Substance to enclose his well-being and status within, drawing nourishment from components of his environment - welt und wasser. Creating, thereby, dynamic equilibrium with what the art has striven to so clearly expel..."
"Piss..." Norlin remembered, "...always comes down to piss! Or, in the King's case..."
"Tell the Corporal what you told me..." Henry Hat pressured the unfortunate Curator, "regarding the rupture of this impregnable Vault!"
"Was I speaking... yes, by Jates! Unholy!" Kleervogl shuddered.
Norlin glanced, again, at the overturned bell jar, then, the fex-daubed walls. "Unholy?"
"Unholy... shapen! Red... and yellow... black... pulsing! Deplorable theons of planar expression. Shimmering!"
"Segmented?" Norlin demanded to know.
Eyes narrowing, Kleervogl glared wildly from face to face...
"How did you... who are you?" he gasped.
"A policeman. Let me hazard a reconstruction of the theft," Norlin began. "One of these shapes appeared..."
"Formen! Multifarious as the malefic leaves of die Brocken!"
"Can you be certain they were not mere components of a greater style? Well of course... you cannot!" charged the Corporal. "But let us call them shapes, if it pleases you... of course, your security having proven useless..."
"They floated through the vault..." the Curator protested.
"And your guards resisted, but without effect..."
"They fired skimmers. Prancers! Even the old-fashioned revolvers..." Kleervogl said, "all that was being accomplished was the beginnings of this damage that your Trouble Factory officers completed."
During this process of questioning and revelation, Henry Hat had removed a penknife from his pockets, then bent over to scrape multihued excrescences from the floor, depositing them in empty specimen bottles sorted by color... white, red, black, yellow. Now, he approached the bell jar which once held the veronica, directing Norlin's attention to a tiny silver deposit on the empty podium, no larger than a teardrop."
A shellshocked Kleervogl nodded, the man in the yellow hat scraped the deposit up with the tip of his blade, and transferred it to a vial of its own.
"I suspect there shall be found a person on the inside who... for reasons of conscience or convenience... has abetted this theft," Henry Hat deduced. "Now, Corporal, it is time to revisit the scenes of prior crimes - for us to gather evidence overlooked, and view the facts from another perspective."
"Oh, so are you Kommisar X, or bloody Sherlock Holmes of the Trouble Factory, then?" the Curator recovered, showing a measure of what certainly was his usual posture of contempt.
"Hardly. Simply a man of vision and, now that the Corporal has had his visitation," said Henry Hat, causing Norlin to start, "suspect and motive is ours but, as yet, there is insufficient evidence for arrest and conviction."
From his overcoat, the suncop removed an antique magnifying glass of pre-Cannonball vintage and unusual composition. The tiny slice of wall behind it began to swell and leap in Norlin's vision...
"That's carnival glass," the Curator recoiled. "It's... illegal!"
"Are we not the police – and the police authoritative amongst all of the bricks of the law?" reiterated Henry Hat. "Good afternoon, Curator; with a little perseverance and good fortune, the veronica shall be returned to its rightful station." And, having gestured to Norlin to follow him out of Depository, he looked back, over his shoulder, and appended: "Though not to the Depository!"