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Edju - the 14th stave


by RW Spryszak


I heard a commotion somewhere beyond the crates and boxes. There was a blue door on the far wall. The one wall the yellow light did not illuminate. It was knocking. Someone was knocking on the blue door. It turned green. Greener with every knock. I took my pistol in my hand and walked toward this door, which was angry red by the time I arrived. 

 

14.

The frantic pounding on my door drew me out of my fog. Whoever was knocking also tried to rattle the knob. Maybe someone spoke my name.

I walked, crooked, toward the noise.

Unhappy voices let out hard whispers beyond the door. I live just down the street, a hushed whisper came through the wood. What's the matter with you? Why am I here?

Keep your arm still for God's sake, was the answer as I heard it.

I opened the door and three men fell into my kitchen.

One was spitting with a red face. I live on this street. Take me somewhere else, he ordered. The police will find me in a minute.

I recognized him through the smoke coming in from the back stairs. I couldn't tell if the street was on fire or what happened. But I recognized the hurt man as the speaker at the rallies. The one who seemed so mad and wild and angry. A scarecrow of a man with a scar on his right ear that looked like the outline of a spider.

Another man, in a black coat, was holding his arm. Only when they got off the floor did I realize the speaker's arm was in a sling and crunched against his body. I knew the third man. His name was Jürgen. He lives in my building and is part of the loud boys who gather at the river and hate everyone. His face all washed over with sweat. It was he who ushered these other two in and shut the door behind when they regained their footing.

He spoke into the red face of the injured man without so much as a breath separating their faces. Yes they may come to this street but you'll be here and not in your rooms. And this will be the last place on the entire block they'd check on. Jürgen pointed at me. He's a known drunk. The police have brought him back here many times to keep him off the streets. He would be the last one in this entire neighborhood the police would suspect of harboring you. They will never come in here.

The third man, the dark one, tipped his bowler and introduced himself as Dr. Schultze.

The face of the injured man went back and forth between anger and fear. Resignation and fury. He didn't think this was a good idea. Why don't we just drive away now?

Yes, I thought, his face is clear to me now. The rabble rouser from the river. Right here in my apartment. The scarecrow, spitting and wheezing and shaking with his bad arm held tight against his chest. Angry as a cornered rat.

We're sure they saw the car we left in. We're going to change cars, Jürgen told him, patting his shoulder. He was doing his best to keep his voice down, for whatever reason. Then we'll leave the city. But not in that car. Not the one parked there. He pointed toward the street beyond the windows above the radiator where Alice nestled.

Wait. Wait, I said, rubbing my eyes. Something was wrong. I looked around for the thumb of St. Drogo or the left shoe of some early Greek martyr from Cappadocia. I was no longer in the reliquary but I didn't know why this was so. I was in my apartment and Alice was in her bag. How was it possible? Did I touch some ancient holy water from ten centuries ago? Brush against the staff of Moses?

The dark man, smoking a cigarette, holding the speaker's arm, spoke in a calm voice. Detached. Stay calm, Wolf. Jürgen is right. We'll leave you here while we leave and get another car. We won't even be one half an hour. Fifteen minutes maybe. Everything will be alright. Just don't move that arm for a while. You dislocated your shoulder. Now that we've got it back in place I want to you to hold it still until I can take a closer look.

Jürgen and the dark doctor with a hat sat their charge on my couch and moved toward the door. Fifteen minutes, the tall man said, finger up in the air beside his ear.

Though he settled into the cushions, the scarecrow seemed nervous and scatterbrained. I don't know where Stablein and Lettle are, he mumbled. They're missing. Everything is up in the air,

I've told you. I'll take care of things, Jürgen was insistent.

You'd better hurry. And you'd better be right about this, he ordered. He seemed ready to launch into some kind of diatribe. But the two were out before he could start one.

I was leaning against the wall beside my lamp, hands in my pockets, eyes half closed. Confused. There was a red door… somewhere. Only when the room went silent did I speak.

What are you people doing in here, I coughed.

The scarecrow looked up from beneath his stringy hair. It hung down onto his forehead like wet, jagged spikes. I'm waiting for a car, I think. There was enough blame in his voice to include Alice and me along with the two men who'd just left.

How did you get in here?

You let us in, he moaned. What's the matter with you? Weren't you here when we came in?

No, I answered. I was underneath the church.

He got off the couch and went to the window overlooking the street. He looked out, standing close beside the frame to stay unseen from the street. They're gone, he scowled.

So he returned to the couch with long, heel-first strides, mumbling under his breath. As I watched him, his foul mood turned to complete despair. For a moment he looked as though he was about to cry.

It was an awkward scene. Made even more so because he wouldn't take his eyes off Alice even though he was in such despair. I took my hands out of my pockets and tried a dozen different poses to make some kind of nondescript impression. I ended up pushing them back in my pockets again. Pointless acrobatics.

The scarecrow crossed his legs and seemed to be searching for something with his one good hand. A pipe appeared in his mouth but was just as soon gone again. His hands still patting at all his pockets.

It's an interesting sack you have there. Burlap? He asked.

Yes. Anyway I think so.

It's gray when you look at it from one angle, but brown if you turn your head a little.

Yes.

He stopped searching and removed a green tin of mints from a pocket inside his too-small overcoat. What's in the sack, he asked as he tried to open the tin with one hand. He didn't wait for an answer, but began to swear at the uselessness of his one good hand. I can't open this damn thing. Here, he lifted it toward me. If you can open it and give me three you may have one.

I took the tin and opened it, but told him I didn't want any. I took three white squares out and put them in his good hand, which he held outstretched like a shaking beggar.

There was a tremendous sigh that seemed to come from a deep place, and his voice shuddered. We were alone, he began to tell his story. All alone. None of the rest pitched in. They let us stay out there in the street, alone, easy prey. He turned his face into the cushions. It's over. Over. They betrayed us. A miserable failure. Pathetic. We were there to help the police save the country. They should have joined us. But instead they stood in a firing line and sent a volley into our ranks. I don't know. Someone pulled me down. Now the game is up, and I'm ruined. It's all ruined. Are we in Munich?

I closed my eyes and rubbed my numb face with a careless hand. Well, I said as if speaking to a dead stranger. If it's over then it's over I suppose.

Yes, it is. The sorry little man shook his head, disconsolate. His voice faded as he repeated this again and again. Yes. Yes. Yes it is. Then he slumped back against my couch and fell asleep.

Watching his face relaxing gave me a strange sense of peace. It was as if he were dead now and the world was calm. It would be so much better if I just killed him right then and there. But I went to my arm chair and sat down. I felt the veil of the quiet night cover me like a spring blanket of sod alive with fungus eating worms. Cool and kind. The kind they cover the graves with. I was asleep before I could say my prayers. There was a dream of a small old woman with a cane walking into a snow covered church. There were bells and the singing of a choir. It was Christmas, 1847. It was snowing. I wasn't born yet.

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