Louis Dramsheet was
dreaming. He did not dream often, and he did not dream pleasantly within
the confines of his four poster-bed that kept out all the light within the
confines of a room specially protected by an otherwise illegal alarm system
which had received a special seal of approval from Dramsheet's good friend, the
deputy minister of justice. It was an alarm system that had to be turned
on every night when Dramsheet went to bed at precisely eleven-thirty, and
turned off every morning when Dramsheet woke up at precisely six-fifteen.
If anyone tried to force the doors or the windows or the never used chimney
flue, an extremely loud and rather dangerous sonic alarm would go off, which
could render a man completely and permanently deaf. The only way one
could get in without setting off the alarms was by very tactful and cautious
manipulation with the locks of the front door. As it happened, someone
had already done that.
Louis Dramsheet was dreaming. To his surprise he was dreaming about his
wife. Contrary to widespread suspicion, there were only two virgins in the
entire Philhellenon Club; the late Pr. Albert Hermann and the very recently
deceased Dr. Oliver Corpse. As for the others Veruca Manzoni had carried
out a large number (six) of completely unfertile and unproductive love affairs,
sex behind the library carrels, threatening to swallow people up in the dust
and the wallpaper. The butler's purity was not to be trusted on, though
the maids who trusted the lack of trustworthiness were invariably disappointed.
Senator Naipaul, alias the Holder of the Averroes Seal, was a widower. In
the days just before independence Naipaul met on Zanzibar
an attractive young woman from the family of the slaveholders that had converted
his family to Islam. They probably would have lived Catholically ever
after had it not been for a specific weakness of the Tanzanian regime. For
liked to consider itself one of the best benevolent paternalisms on the
continent (which it was, though the competition was pretty dreadful), and even
though the one-party state had made spectacular progress in combating literacy
(and not much else) and even though it was led by a kind man who didn't take
bribes (though everyone else did) and who had translated The Merchant of Venice
into Swahili, there were still some horrible blemishes on its rule. The
most relevant of these were the anti-Asian pogroms that occurred on the
absorption of Zanzibar into Tangynika,
and which left Senator Naipaul a widower with a lovely daughter who grew up and
became an economist for the IMF.
Dramsheet was also a widower, but unlike Naipaul, he could go on not thinking
about his deceased wife for years. Indeed for five years, three months
and twenty-eight days he did not think about her at all, until an auditor from
the department of internal revenue reminded him that for the past five years he
had listed himself as single, while before that he had listed himself as a
widower. It had been a short marriage, only four days in fact, and its
origins were to be found in Dramsheet's penultimate year in law school.
His parents had decided that their son should get married, and on his request they
decided they would arrange a marriage for him. Three weeks before the
wedding, Dramsheet was introduced to his future bride, a Greek-Orthodox woman
living in the Toronto
community. They had three long chaperoned meetings before their wedding, and
both of them were both struck by the diligence and intelligence of the
other. Then, just at the end of school term Dramsheet learned that
he had a won a special university prize of a two-month world cruise that began
the very afternoon of his wedding. He had already been interested in the
concept of cruise ships and he thought that this would make the perfect
honeymoon. But since he would have two months where he would be doing
absolutely nothing Dramsheet thought this would be the perfect time to start
reading all the volumes of St. Thomas
Aquinas. So he brought fifty-seven books for his educated perusal on
board the Aron Fellatio, along with his new bride.
The first evening was wonderful,
though Dramsheet would forget it often in later years. His wife was not
interested in a large panoply of austere and conventional wedding photos, so
she convinced Louis into taking some enchantingly risqué photos of her in their
bedroom. But the next day the marriage started to fall apart.
Dramsheet clearly intended to spend the day reading The Captive Mind and was
clearly annoyed when his wife suggested other ideas. "The problem
with you Melissa [the name of his wife] is that you are like everyone
else. Think of the twenty-seven million oppressed Poles who don't have a
chance to go on beautiful cruise ships like the Aron Fellatio. You must
keep a sense of proportion." His wife was not interested in a sense
of proportion; instead she took The Captive Mind and chucked it out the
porthole. This started a war in which Mrs. Dramsheet threw books
overboard, and Dramsheet tried to stop her. When she tried to throw
Jacques Barzun overboard Dramsheet threatened to destroy the undeveloped photos
he had taken last night. She did, so he did. For the next three
days the two of them withheld their sexual favors from each other, and Louis
kept hiding the books all over the ship, and his wife kept finding them and
throwing them overboard. Finally, as the fifth afternoon of their
marriage began Mrs. Dramsheet found all the volumes of St. Thomas Aquinas which
had been hidden in a most cunning and secret place, lifted them all up and went
to throw them overboard. Had she succeeded in this she might have won Dramsheet
to her charms forever out of sheer intellectual frustration. She did in
fact succeed in doing this, but she fell overboard in the process. This
left Dramsheet spending the next fifty-seven days sitting in his wedding tuxedo
(it was the only black suit he had brought along with him), badgering the ship
stewards for a copy of The Captive Mind, and forming a relationship with a
luxurious parasitical ex-duchess from Lisbon
that lasted just long enough for Dramsheet to learn Portuguese. When he
returned home, there was no talk of another marriage being arranged, so one
never was, and he went through his final year of law school, his articling, and
his being called to the bar, with no thought of ever needing another woman, and
soon the only pictures he had of her were the yellowing wedding photographs in
his parents' photo album which he had inherited after their deaths.
surprisingly Louis Dramsheet had only a vague memory of what Melissa Seferis
Dramsheet should look like. So it was no doubt disconcerting that every
night since he had learned of the death of Senator Pierre Veniot, he had
started dreaming about her. There she would appear exactly in the poses
of the photographs he had never seen, and there she would appear beckoning him
in the poses of lost love and callous tragic loss, with promises of squandered
fertility and lost happiness. On seeing these poses Dramsheet would
wonder what the point was. It was hardly as though the woman that he had
known for less than a month would be the most interesting person in his
life. If he was going to think of a woman at all, he was more likely to
think of his long-time and long-suffering secretary, unhappily married to one
of Ottawa's most unscrupulous
plumbers, or about the suspect in a murder case he was involved with who in
fits of confusion sent everyone anonymous valentines for Good Friday at the
same time the real murderer was sending threatening blood stained
letters. He had no sexual interest in these women at all, anymore than he
had any interest in the women of the Wilentz family whom he occasionally met,
but at least they meant more to him than his long deceased wife. If
anyone ever thought that thrusting pictures of his wife would have any
emotional effect on Dramsheet, they were surely going to be disappointed and
would simply have to think of something else. And unfortunately for
Dramsheet, they did.
tonight, as with all the other nights since the death of Senator Veniot, the
dream shifted. His wife no longer existed, and Dramsheet would forget
that he had dreamed about her when he woke up in the morning, much as he would
forget the rest of the dream. Instead Dramsheet found himself in a strange
world. It was a world of broken down farms, abandoned fields, of enormous
destroyed orthodox-churches with naves like bombed out subway tunnels where you
could see the sky through the shattered roof. In this strange world there
was something very threatening in the air; as Dramsheet walked through the
unplanted and dried up fields, as the wind blew the dust that revealed the
calcified rock that was the result of callous stupid man-made erosion, as
plague crows somersaulted helplessly through the air, Dramsheet could see small
trails of blood scattered along the rows of the plants. It made him feel
as if he was in the wrong century, where paganism and satanism were all that
people could worship, where the missionaries of the church had been butchered
and eaten inside their own cathedrals by a mad nihilistic rabble. There
was a feeling of infinite unease, for the worst part of wandering through this
war-devastated country was the complete and total solitude.
on realizing that fact, Dramsheet cheered up considerably. It was not as
if he was alone, it was the fact that he was trapped in solitude. True,
it seemed as if he was the only person left in the entire world, as if some
horrible plague had carried off even the cockroaches. But solitude was something
else entirely; a rather comfortable and fashionable feeling of despair was now
available to him, the sort of feeling that you could find discussed in detail
in post-modernist textbooks, and in solidarity with a sea of semiotics
Dramsheet could walk on and examine his world more closely. There was
something about the atmosphere, the general ambience. It was not as if he
could smell anything, and it did not occur to him to taste anything. It
was more the way everything was reflected; it was like photographs of Central
Europe which were always in black and white and which never showed
the sun, as if communist apparatchiks were keeping it under wraps until they
could punish everyone with a two-week heat wave. As he wandered across
one broken hogs-trough after another, as he walked down the thoroughfares where
he could see silent people milling about, but whose words he could not hear, no
matter how hard he tried, he realized the peculiar colour of the place.
It was not as if everything was in shadow, it was that everything was coloured
in a peculiar shade of brown. It was the brown of a substantial, cheerful
menace, the menace too far away from big-time movie spectacular obvious atrocities.
It was the brown of something minor and evil, and it was this brown that made
Dramsheet realize that he was dreaming of wartime Croatia.
Dramsheet was one-eighth Croatian, and one-eighth Macedonian, so he naturally
considered himself a pure Greek, the pure descendant of Euripides and
Aristotle. For Dramsheet, Croatia
was simply the accident that explained his Catholicism; it was of no interest
to him, he had never had any desire to visit the country and anything that
Croatian Catholics did or did not do, was of no interest to him. He was
not surprised as he wandered the unnamable cities, the sidewalks covered with
the slow grime of too many rainfalls. He was not surprised to see a
troupe of fascist girl scouts, with swastikas pinned to their shirts right over
their nipples. That was hardly surprising at all; if you were going to
have a traumatic dream filled with horrible symbolism it would make no sense to
have the swastikas pinned over the navels or their elbows or even around their
left ankles. Clearly something was in the wind, and Dramsheet had no
trouble guessing what it was. The Ustashe. The Fascist movement
that under Hitler and Mussolini gave Croatia
its first "independent" government. And unlike the Dolfusses, Salazars,
Horthys, Antonescus and Francos, no-one doubted the accuracy of the fascist
label. For if these devout Catholics did not show the special neuroses
over sex and progress and death that marked the German variety, they butchered
more than enough people to make such distinctions quite irrelevant.
Thousands of Jews, and hundreds of thousands of Serbs were murdered, raped, and
slaughtered with all the brutality available to a pre-industrial people; no
other collaborators served the final solution with such loyalty. Whenever
Dramsheet's father heard them mentioned he would spit with contempt, and said
that if wasn't for his wife's pussy he would never have converted to such a
vile church. And clearly, as Dramsheet saw drunken Catholics whip their
wives under the protection of the cult of maternity, as blood-stained
accountants smeared themselves with the ink of wet copies of anti-Semitic
pornography, as workers spat into the street and dirty cigarettes were thrown
away, only to vanish and be replaced with the residue of something more
appalling, clearly, there was going to be some way of blaming Dramsheet for all
he was not surprised to find himself in the front rows of an enormous Catholic
cathedral, far larger than anything you would actually see in Croatia.
The walls were so large and so high, that they could stuff the overflowing
crowds in to the holes, where they would poke their heads out like dirty
termites. Above the altar was a giant poster of Pope Pius XII, which
though done with manifold respect and admiration, could only make him look like
a combination of a hideous toad and a disgusting pig. There were no
bishops at the altar today, for this was a service that was being conducted
entirely by the laity; leading members of the Ustashe introduced themselves to
the congregation, and two twin sisters was introduced. One was to be a
sacrifice, the other was to be the executioner who tore off her flimsy white fabric
so that the cabinet ministers could rape her at the altar. While the men
were doing that the Catholic sister cut off chunks of her twin's flesh, cooked
them, and served them around as the Eucharist. But all this was absurd,
thought Dramsheet. What could be more obvious symbolism? how more
meretricious could atrocities become? Obviously the two sisters
and Serbia, who
spoke the same language, who shared the same ethnicity and were only
differentiated by the fact that one was Catholic and the other was
Orthodox. And the obvious, precious irony, that the Serbian-Orthodox twin
could have tricked her Catholic sister into being raped and eaten by the holy
Catholic church, was painfully, unsubtly apparent to Dramsheet. And so
when babies started dropping out of the scarred and bleeding womb of the
sacrifice, and they started being raped and eaten and served as Eucharist as
well, Louis Dramsheet, Queen's Counsel, partner of the firm Amsterdam,
Bertrand, Calvino and Dramsheet, could not repress a very loud yawn of boredom.
apparently the Ustashe recognized that they had to have more than simple
cruelty, so as the babies started dropping around, but before they were
murdered, some light comedy was provided by them wandering all over the sacristy
and temporarily charming the blood-stained rapist-murderers, since they were,
after all, their own children. And when the scene changed to a squad of
Serbian children about to shiskebobbed to death, even the victims could not
resist the opportunity for black humour and silly jokes. And as the scene
shifted from atrocity to atrocity the Ustashe had to keep the mood lighter and
lighter for the taste of the good Canadian dreamer-critic, and more slapstick
and silliness and happy endings kept entering so that by the time they came
around to the end of the war there came an almost Laurel and Hardy mood to the
whole affair. And those atrocities which were not so light were simply
analyzed away. A scene in which Dramsheet was served his Orthodox wife
for dinner for example, was simply an allegory for cunnilingus, with no real
scene shifted once again. He was in Greece,
or what should have been Greece,
and he was seeing his father as he saw him when he was eight years old.
He was standing on a hill, looking out over a far-away valley in the middle of
spring below a cloudless sky and a cold wind, when Dramsheet's mother appeared,
and shot his father in the back. While she let several Ustashe soldiers
help herself to her charms, eight year-old Louis Dramsheet did his Catholic
duty and urinated on his apostate father's corpse. But the thought that
if he were Croatian and Catholic he would betray his own father appeared to
Dramsheet as simply a meaningless possibility. After a couple of funny
atrocities the scene shifted to the capital where the Ustashe cabinet were
discussing the need for raping Serbian women before their execution.
Unlike all the other atrocities this was all too plainly real as good petty
bourgeois and quasi-peasants offered pragmatic logical reasons why their fellow
citizens should become their fellow uncitizens and become their fellow raped
and butchered corpses. It was all too real, all too clearly pragmatic,
except for a statement by one minister in response to future complaints.
"It's not fair that we should be accused of raping the best of Serbian
maidenhood. We'd have raped the men as well if they only had
vaginas." But this was not what disturbed Louis Dramsheet about the dream.
Nor was it the fact that the Catholic church in Croatia
had acquiesced, had supported, had incited, had ignored these atrocities.
Nor was it the fact that the church was so clearly inferior to the conduct of the
Yugoslav Communist party, and that they did not have the moral capital to
protest their own imprisonment and censorship and murder. It was not the fact
that the atrocities were even so brutal and barbaric. Instead, what disturbed
Louis Dramsheet about the dream arose from the fact, but was not the fact, that
the atrocities about Serbian (Croatian?) girls raped on the altar of the most
consecrated Catholic churches, the atrocities about the roasted children and
eaten flesh, the atrocities about shiskebobbed children, and Serbian prisoners
torn apart like flies by sadistic children, were not meretricious atrocities,
were not silly exaggerations, were not simplistic prose devices, but were symbolic
representations of a reality that was too horrible to represent, of a reality
that could not bear to be analyzed. And what disturbed Louis Dramsheet
most lay in the fact, but was not the fact, that in allowing himself his
caustic and critical analyses of these dreams, he was indulging in evasion, in
distortion, like those apologists whom he sincerely hated who used the weak
spots in some of the weaker accounts of the Holocaust and the Gulag to pretend
the whole thing had never happened. And what disturbed Louis Dramsheet
most about the dream lay in the fact, but was not the fact, that he was capable
of seeing his wife's butchery as a simple attempt to manipulate him
emotionally, in his wife's cannibalization as a peculiar symbol, that he was
not capable of responding humanely to such a horrible crime. And what
disturbed Louis Dramsheet most about the dream lay in the fact, but was not the
fact, that he had never shown any outrage over any of the atrocities, nor any
shame, but only the feeling common to too many socialists the feeling that he
(or she) was not guilty, that he was not responsible. And what disturbed
Louis Dramsheet most about the dream lay in the fact, but was not the fact,
that he would not have loved his wife even if she had not fallen overboard with
the volumes of St. Thomas Aquinas, that he would not have loved her even if she
had not thrown any of her books overboard; that to his marriage, to his parents,
to crimes horrible and brutal Dramsheet could not react with the necessary
pain, love, empathy, or outrage, that he did not react at all. And what
disturbed Louis Dramsheet most about the dream lay in the fact, but was not the
fact, that he was guilty of a horrible emotional callousness, of grotesque
dishonesty and that for these crimes he had excommunicated himself from the
bonds of common humanity, he had separated himself from the rest of the world,
and that he had cast himself by his own actions into the pits of hell.
No, what disturbed Louis Dramsheet was the fact, and only this fact, that by
doing so he had condemned himself to an eternity of torture and pain, that he
deserved to rot and die in Hell, and it was that fact alone that made him sit
bolt upright while he was still asleep that made him open his eyes even though
he was not yet awake and it was that fact alone that caused the air from the
depths of his lungs to rush through his open mouth to come out in the first
horrible screams since he was eight years old the screams screamed every
night since the death of Senator Pierre Veniot.
But when Louis Dramsheet stood bolt upright in his bed that day, and began to
scream, the scream did not get beyond his lips. For through the curtains
of the four poster-bed he could see Inspector Joseph Tyrone sitting on a chair
near the clothes basket reading a copy of Ulysses. Dramsheet stared at
the clock: it was
exactly, fifteen minutes before he was to wake up, just as he had woken up fifteen
minutes early every other day since the death of Senator Pierre Veniot.
"Tyrone, what are you doing here in my house?"
Tyrone did not speak, but instead took out the note that an officer had given
him five hours earlier, along with the map of the city. He gave the note
to Dramsheet: "To Inspector Tyrone: Tragic to inform you that
we found the body of Oliver Corpse, hung and poisoned with cyanide in his new apartment
at Amritsar Siestas." Tyrone then laid out the map before Dramsheet;
there were already marks indicating the Castlereagh Hotel, the NevilleChamberlainWharf,
and Drogheda Apartments. He then put a marker indicating where Amritsar
Vistas was. It was due south of the Neville Chamberlain wharf, and
the four spots formed a perfect square with the vertexes pointing due east,
north, west and south. "The Compass of Death."
"Would you excuse me if I got showered and dressed?" Tyrone had
no objections and went outside the room with his copy of Ulysses. At
twenty minutes after six, Dramsheet rejoined him in the living room, a strange place
where everything was in black and red and where all the curtains were closed.
"Have you ever read Ulysses, Dramsheet? The greatest novel of the century,
and an Irishman wrote it!"
Dramsheet was about to respond that he had not read it, when he was struck by
something very odd. "Tyrone! You're talking in complete sentences!"
"Yes, I am, and it isn't easy. Of course my stupid assistant would come
down with 'viral pneumonia' the day the man who sends the doughnuts has the day
off. It takes incredible concentration to speak this clearly, and I'm
under tremendous pressure. We have a serial killer, but no clues whatever
to speak of, except for the semen spot on Veniot's eyeglasses. I can't
release this information publicly because it would destroy Veniot's reputation.
But the longer I keep this fact away from the coroner's inquest, the more
people will think I'm covering it up."
"Why were you here at my house?"
"To protect you, along with all the other members of the Philhellenon club.
Unfortunately I couldn't find Corpse until it was too late. The fact that
I correctly predicted that a death would take place will not help my reputation
at all. If I do not make a major breakthrough in the next twenty-four
hours I will be removed from the case. But the trouble is, we have almost
no clues, just a mad pattern."
"Yes," agreed Dramsheet, who by this time was eating his breakfast cereal.
"The absence of any red herrings is a substantial annoyance. Usually
when you commit a perfect murder you involve yourself in some complicated
scheme to do it, and the scheme leaves after effects. But clearly we are
dealing with a very cunning murderer, who not only does not leave any clues,
who not only makes it appear that his victims have also committed suicide, but
has also ensured that there are no suspects."
"Yes. Veniot, Manzoni, Hermann and Corpse. The four are only connected
by their membership in the Philhellenon club. Hermann only mentions
Manzoni in his notes once she's dead, she is otherwise of no importance.
Hermann was the only victim in the club hierarchy, so it can't be as if someone
was trying to bump off the board of directors."
"Perhaps it's one of those dreadfully obscure crimes where the four victims
have all seen something together, but they don't know what it is, but someone
else does, and has to get rid of them just to be on the safe side. But
from what I know of the four victims they barely knew each of the others.
Hermann knew Oliver, but he barely knew Veniot or Manzoni. And why this
silly compass metaphor?"
"Perhaps the names give us some kind of clue. VMHC. What could
that stand for? Victoria Majestryx, House of Commons?"
"There are a couple of paintings in the House of Commons
of QueenVictoria, but that's
too literal. And too obscure. No there must be some deeper
reason. The fact that all four victims were prominent Catholics is probably
crucial. Let's think first. Who would want to kill our four people?"
"I can't imagine anyone killing an elderly liberal senator, unless somebody
wanted his money. I can't imagine anyone wanting to kill a single librarian,
unless it might be an ex-lover. We have a multitude of people who might
want to kill the leader of a Catholic secret society, including the secret
society's own members. But why would someone want to kill Corpse? I
mean surely the Polish Secret Service isn't bumping off émigrés anymore, if it
ever did. I thought only the Bulgarians were that crude. There
might be a disgruntled patient somewhere, but the simple fact is that none of
these people have the same set of suspects."
"Hold it, Tyrone. I've just realized something."
"What is it?"
"The four victims. French. Italian. German.
Polish. Each one is from a different ethnic group."
"But what could this mean?"
"At this moment I'm not sure." And with that Dramsheet got up
to put his dishes in the dishwasher where they would remain until the absent-minded,
middle-aged maid arrived. She came in at
and left at six and Dramsheet never saw her because they were never in the
house at the same time. He then went to brush his teeth while Tyrone
walked around the house, until there was a knock at the front door.
Tyrone turned and saw the mail that he had specially directed to be delivered
in the early morning fall through the chute. He picked up the mail and
walked over to the study, where Dramsheet was looking over some papers for a
case at the Federal Court of Appeal he would be arguing this morning.
"Mail. I got it early for you." Dramsheet looked at the
letters, which consisted of unwanted correspondence from two fellow alumni, a postcard
from a Queen's Counsel vacationing in Tahiti,
magazine of the Canadian Bar Association, and a letter addressed
"Occupant" that had no return address posted on it. "It's
probably something from one of these annoying real estate
They're always badgering me about my home." For once, Dramsheet
quite wrong, for inside the letter were two blank sheets of paper, and
one that was almost blank except for the following words:
When Dramsheet read those words his eyes glazed over, he gasped and started to
faint. Tyrone caught him and forced him back to consciousness. "Leave
me alone! I have to destroy that letter. I have to tear it to pieces!"
"What are you talking about?"
Wartime atrocities! I can't bear to think about them, can't bear to dream
about them. I have to burn the letter before it drives me mad!"
"Dramsheet, get a grip on yourself!" And for the first time
since he was five years old Dramsheet was shaken into a semblance of
consciousness. He breathed deeply and relaxed. "I keep having
these dreams about Croatia.
But every time I wake up I forget about them. Or I do until I receive
these letters. Whenever I do, I remember my dream very clearly and sharply,
and I go mad, and the only way I can be sane again is to destroy the letter and
to forget all about it."
"But how could someone be giving you letters about dreams you don't remember?
"I remember something. I remember Veniot complaining about dreams he
kept having about French atrocities in Algeria
And Hermann wrote down that he had had a dream about the suppression of the Albigensians.
And I overheard Corpse saying he had nightmares about two particularly nasty
episodes in Polish history, Teschen and Kielce."
"And that burned note we found about Manzoni. It mentioned Cyraenica
and you suggested it might have something to do with Italian atrocities there."
"There could be a connection. If we found out who sent the letters we
could well be on our way to finding the murderer."
"But Dramsheet that leads us to two very important points. First, how
could these dreams have anything to do with the crime? Second, if what you
say about the dreams and the fact that each victim is of a different ethnic
origin, that would mean that you would be the next victim."
"Quite true. However, let us look at this letter again for any clues.
Probably the only fingerprints on it will be mine."
"I wonder if these anonymous letters have anything to do with the ones
being sent to Vanessa Wilentz?"
"No, Tyrone, they don't."
"The typing looks familiar. Yes, I remember! It's from one of
the typewriters at the Philhellenon club. If only we had proof that the
others received these letters. And if only you hadn't destroyed all the
letters you previously had, I could take them to my superior and prove there's
"Just a minute. I may not have." Dramsheet got up and
went over to the filing cabinets. "My maid often receives the
mail. Usually she leaves it on my desk, but sometimes she
absently-mindedly files the more unimportant letters. So I might still
have a letter in these cabinets." Dramsheet quickly leafed through
them and with a smile of triumph extracted an unopened envelope. He
quickly tore it open, tossed aside the two blank sheets of paper and then read
the message in the center of the page, whereupon his expression abruptly
changed for the worse.
"Is something wrong? Do you have any idea who wrote this?"
"I know exactly who wrote this letter. Just as I know who wrote the anonymous
and destroyed letters to Pierre Veniot, the destroyed letters to Veruca
Manzoni, the destroyed letters to Oliver Corpse, but not the destroyed letters
to Albert Hermann."
"That's great. Who wrote the letter?"
"I did. I wrote this letter after receiving a nightmare at the home of
a friend whose typewriter I couldn't find. I wrote it while I was still somewhat
asleep, wrote down all the main images from the dream and when I finished with
it, I mailed it to myself. The first letter that we got was typed a few
days ago one morning after I had stayed at the Philhellenon club. Once I
mailed the two letters I completely forgot everything. I would have typed
a third letter with my own typewriter today, mailed it to myself, then
completely forget about it until I reopened it, but your presence prevented me
from doing so. I believe the same thing happened to Veniot, to Manzoni,
and to Corpse, but I have my own reasons to believe that Pr. Hermann did not
receive any such letters, because he did not write them."
"So you wrote letters to yourself in your sleep."
"Yes, I did."
"But that's completely mad."
"No doubt. And no doubt that is what somebody definitely wants us to
think, and wants anyone else who studies the compass of death to think.
We are dealing with a very clever murderer."
"And a damn annoying one. All the evidence keeps pointing to suicide.
Just great, a wonderful new clue arises and it falls completely flat.
"Yes, insanity would go some way to explain the logic behind our murders
and our culprit's modus vivendi. Unfortunately, the trouble with madness
is that occasionally it's not terribly logical which means we cannot understand
the logic behind it. But more often it follows its own
logical pattern, with a few crucial elements twisted out of shape. If we
could figure out what those elements were we could help find our
"You said you didn't think that Hermann didn't write any letters. Why
do you think that?"
"That's a bit complicated, and it would take too much time to explain right
now, because in a few minutes I have to be at the Federal Court of Appeal.
We have to meet again sometime today. I suggest that we meet at Vanessa
Wilentz's around , in
order to inform her about the death of Dr. Corpse. I will however give
you two questions that are absolutely vital to cracking the case. One,
what is the origin of the semen spot on Senator Veniot's eyeglasses? Two,
where did the Chinese spice box that killed Pr. Hermann come from?"
"But we're no closer to answering either of those questions. We've traced
every import business and every antique shop in Ottawa,
and we've haven't found a trace of the box."
"Which would imply that the box was an heirloom of some sort. Good day,
Inspector Tyrone." And with that Louis Dramsheet took up his papers and
left his house, while Inspector Tyrone returned to the police office for a
brief nap, while at the same time Professor Vivian Chelmnickon was returning to
his office in the university. He had cancelled his office hours, locked
the door firmly behind him so that he would not be disturbed, and began to work
out the preparations for his Friday morning seminar.
Vivian had not got much sleep last night, since he was woken at one in the
morning to be told of Corpse's death. Naturally, he assumed it was suicide
and blamed himself. He begged for forgiveness and was granted it, but he
didn't know that, and he only got worse as the night went on. The police
quickly found that the noose was made from wiring taken from Corpse's house,
and that the cyanide came from a solution of wasp insecticide that Corpse had
bought a few days ago. The beaker that contained it had Corpse's fingerprints
on it, and there was no evidence that anyone else had recently been in the
apartment. So the police decided that they should take Corpse to the
morgue. It was not easy: Corpse was now so large that he couldn't fit
through the doorway, so the police had to use a crowbar to smash it down.
And the scent of cyanide from the body was so strong the policemen had to wear
gas masks for their own safety. And so they had to wedge him down the doorway
where he often got stuck, until suddenly he would loosen and start to roll down
the staircase, nearly crushing the poor police officers in front of him until
he finally reached the bottom of the stairs. A doctor injected the body
with a solution to counter the cyanide, when a policeman upstairs announced
that he had found the will.
Chelmnickon had to be told about this immediately of course. He had been
appointed the executor of Corpse's estate in previous wills, and was appointed
so in this one as well, which had been signed and verified only last
Wednesday. But the new will had several dramatic changes in it: Corpse
had previously requested to be buried along with his parents back in Warsaw.
But now he denounced his parents as stupid, self-pitying fools and said he
would not wish to be anywhere near them. Instead of being buried in a
Catholic cemetery he requested he be buried in the far corner of the public
cemetery that was just on the outset of one of Ottawa's
new suburbs. This had to be done within forty-eight hours of his death,
otherwise the will would be declared invalid: in order to facilitate this
a $10,000 advance was to be given to the director of the Oakeshott Funeral
Groves. Vivian was then to collect all the money in Corpse's accounts,
sell his house, his documents and anything else of value, and then take all the
combined cash and set it on fire. There were signs that Corpse was not entirely
enthusiastic about this course of events: there had been a suggestion in
his will, which he had crossed out with crayon, that all his money should be
spent to insuring that all the poor children in the world could have bright red
Columbian butterflies. But this lapse into generosity was atypical:
the cruelest thing about the will for Vivian was the fact that although he was
expected to pay for the funeral entirely out of his own pocket, he was
explicitly forbidden from attending the burial itself, or the service.
Nor were any of Oliver's other friends to attend, nor were they to hold a
memorial service on Oliver's behalf.
This was all reasonably straightforward, and after the doctor had conducted a
preliminary autopsy, it was arranged for Corpse to go to Oakeshott Funeral
Groves. Corpse was now so large they had to pack him into a horse trailer
to get him there. But just as Vivian sat down to start work on his
seminar, he received a rude call from the director complaining why Corpse
deserved such an expensive vehicle as a horse trailer, when it was patently
obvious that he could fit, with a little difficulty, into a normal large size
hearse. Vivian politely apologized for any misunderstandings, and went
back to work. But fifteen minutes later the assistant funeral director
called back to ask what Corpse's height was. "Five
foot-seven." "So it's not three feet, nine inches?"
The assistant shamefully hung up and Vivian went back to work, but fifteen
minutes later the assistant called back to say that all things being equal,
they seemed to have misplaced the coffin. And Corpse. "How
could your mislay a Polish psychiatrist weighing half a ton?"
"With extreme cleverness?" And the assistant hung up, only to call
back yet another fifteen minutes later to say that they had just got the bright
idea that they may have mislabeled the coffins. "You know how silly
and worthless these teenage quasi-apprentices are." So they decided they
would look through all the coffins, but by a very strange occurrence they
couldn't find any coffins. Anyway one of the apprentices would take a solid
look into the matter, and everything would be solved. Ten minutes later,
the assistant called back yet again to admit that not only had they not found the
coffins, much less Oliver Corpse, they had also seemed to have mislaid the
apprentice, as well as the young woman who delivered flowers from Brimelow
Florists. Naturally this was not the first time that the apprentice and
the delivery girl had vanished at the same time, and they were usually to be
found in the storage closet where they kept the formaldehyde. Ten minutes
later the assistant called back to say not only had they not the apprentice or
the delivery girl or the coffins, much less Corpse, they seemed to have mislaid
the formaldehyde closet. Even more embarrassing they had also mislaid the
room where the coffins lied in state. The assistant had just gone
through the door which he had always believed would lead to the showroom, but
only found himself in the filing room. A thorough search of the premises
found that half the rooms were missing. Vivian hung up, but ten minutes
later the director called again to ask when he would get the $10,000 advance,
while mentioning in passing that his assistant funeral director seemed to have
vanished. Vivian was not much good at giving men money that he did not
have, but fortunately the phone stopped working on the other side. He
hung up, but ten minutes later a police car called by to ask that they were
looking for Oakeshott Funeral Groves but couldn't find it. Vivian
searched for the address and gave it to them: 24
Hoare Road-112th Avenue. But a few minutes
later the police car called back to say that while there was a 23 Hoare Rood
and a 25 Hoare Road there was no 24 Hoare Road. Vivian hung up to look up
the address, which he had not written down wrong, when another police car rung
up saying that they seemed to have mislaid the first police car and while there
was a 111th avenue and a 113th avenue, there was no sign at all of a 112th
avenue. They hung up again, and Vivian tried to call the funeral home
once again, but there was no answer, and so he called the operator for
assistance, but they couldn't find anything. Indeed they privately
confided that since writing out a telephone book was a long and laborious piece
of work it would be better off all things considered if the employees were
allowed to let off a little creative steam and make up completely imaginary
telephone numbers. Why one of the operators had set up a free telephone
sex line, and a particularly masochistic one had set up an "Ida Amin fan
club" in order to get free insults. Vivian wanted to hang up and try
someone else, but instead he was transferred to the city pound, the municipal
waterworks, the city council, the public library system, the city sanitation
system, the municipal fire department, all of whom cheerfully confessed to the
most startling violations of simple good government, such as impounding
imaginary dogs, impounding real fish, selling rare books to the Egyptians, and
making up entirely unreal addresses in order to confuse the general
public. And as Vivian was shifted from department to department, as
venial sin and venial sin mounted from lust to simple bribery to embezzled
paper clips and smuggled staples, as each department admitted total
incompetence and could only add that there was only one person in the whole
department who could solve all of Vivian's problem, except that person had
vanished, disappeared, gone missing, or had been temporarily mislaid, as it
seemed all of the city's municipal employees had vanished into thin air, and
that the private sector businesses near the completely imaginary address of 24
Hoare Road-112 th Avenue, where presumably there was an imaginary police car,
another imaginary police car, an imaginary director, an imaginary assistant director,
an imaginary showroom, an imaginary formaldehyde closet, with an imaginary
apprentice and an imaginary delivery girl inside, a large number of imaginary
coffins, and the not at all imaginary body of Oliver Corpse, that at any rate
the private sector businesses near all the imaginary things had decided they
could out-compete the public sector in completely vanishing and were giving it
the old college university foundation try, as number and transfers and phone
calls twisted and shuffled in such a way that Vivian thought that he was trapped
in an optical illusion erector set lego block rubik's cube made of cheap coffee
and secretary's lipstick (female and male), he finally couldn't take it any
more, just as a hundred answering machines and special buzzers started singing
we can't take it any more, and he finally shouted that "In the name of all
the angels, give me back Oliver Corpse's corpse!"
And with that the line went dead. Rather surprised, Vivian hung up the
telephone, and went back to work for exactly one hundred and seventy seven
seconds when the telephone rang again.
"Professor Vivian Chelmnickon?" asked the assistant director in an unbelievably
embarrassed tone of voice.
"Yes, I am he."
"I just have to confirm a few facts about a burial that you are responsible
for. Oliver Lelewel Corpse. Age fifty-seven. Height, 170
cm, Weight, 108 kg. Canadian citizen since 1970, Polish citizenship
restored by an act of the Polish Sejm, November
29, 1989. Marital status single, though engaged to be married
three times. Employed as a professional psychiatrist, as a university
lecturer on psychoanalysis, and as an essayist and a poet. Hair:
black; eyes: black."
"Very well, sir. I hopefully will not have to bother you again today.
Good bye." And with that the assistant funeral director of Oakeshott
Funeral Groves hung up the phone. Vivian took a deep breath and could now
return to preparing his seminar. But just after he had taken out another
book of essays on the thought of Karl Jaspers, something very strange happened
It was another revelation, but it was not the usual sort of revelation he had
been having for the past few weeks. For a start he was getting the strong
impression that he should not stop what he was doing while he waited for the
revelation to reveal itself to him. No, he was to open the book and start
reading an unread essay on "Deconstruction and Karl Jaspers".
There was no obvious link between the two subjects but a budding young scholar
thought that forging one would be as good a way of getting on to the academic
gravy train as any other. As Vivian started reading an interminable
paragraph that started praising the one work by Jaspers that Vivian disliked
the most, as the telephone rang yet once more, a strange sort of stage, with
lovely red curtains and a brocaded border of blue and yellow or green
appeared. Answer the phone, implied the voice, and Vivian did as the
curtains rose and the writer made a snide crack at a female deconstructionist.
As the delivery girl from the funeral home came on the other line, defending
her honor from the snide assertions of certain neurotic assistant funeral
directors and of certain greedy directors, Vivian saw himself looking at a
scene in the House of Commons. As the delivery girl's complaints that the
last place she would have sex would be in a funeral home grew fainter in his
mind and as the essay grew harder and harder to read, Vivian could see Ignatius
Wilentz, clearly uncomfortable, and Thomas Edward Harding, perfectly affable,
being regaled by Mrs. Alice Concrete about the angel she had seen eleven days
ago. You Can Hang Up You Can Stop Reading, said the revelation, Pay
Attention. Vivian rather dumbly hung up the phone and saw Wilentz plainly
wishing he was somewhere else and Harding kindly trying to change the subject
to "How is your wonderful daughter? I've only met her a few times,
and she seems like quite an intelligent and charming young woman. She
gets along so well with my Charles and isn't it nice that we can put aside our
political differences, and I know Ignatius would agree because his daughter is
married to Seinkewicz's son."
"He just woke up from his coma last night." added Ignatius,
"He'll be staying a few days in hospital, naturally, but his wife has come
from Alberta to take care of
"Oh, his wife has arrived. Oh that will be very good for
John." At this point Mrs. Concrete saw no need to mention that Avare
Roget Seinkewicz was her step-sister half-sister real sister, born of the same
blood of the same man, born of the same woman who was denounced by her middle
daughter after she bled to death. Instead, Mrs. Concrete wanted to talk
about her own daughter, born while she was still a virgin.
"Naturally, she's a very attractive young lady. I think I raised her
"But I can't help noticing how different her personality, as well as her
politics, are from you." added Harding.
"Well, that's to be expected. These young people always have their little
intellectual flings. But when she's my age she'll think the way I do."
"Of course. That's what we all want to think."
Vivian's eyes started to glaze, started to search for something else to look
for in this strange canvas of a strange stage, and in the corner of his eye he
noticed Adrian Verrall who had just finished a few desultory hours of study and
who had masturbation on his mind and was wondering that if he went over to
Lucian Rudman's she might give him a few hints on how to pick up girls.
Vivian was disgusted with his vulgarity and thought very loudly that he should
do something more serious, and lo, to his surprise, Adrian suddenly had a mad
compulsion to search out the copy of The Captive Mind that Giles had given him
as a birthday gift and which he only used to absent-mindedly write down the
telephone numbers of unsuccessful dates. Vivian was shocked at what he
had done, and with that Adrian
dropped the copy and went out of his apartment to walk the eight blocks to
Lucian's apartment. Could Vivian still make Adrian
follow his commands? "Tie your shoes" and Adrian
stepped down to his boots, and untied the laces so that he could tie them up
again. "Buy a paper" and Adrian
made a two-block detour to find the nearest Globe and Mail, then he sat down on
a bench to start reading it. It was completely uninteresting to him and
Vivian was shocked at the expanse of his power. As Adrian
was reading a few pigeons started landing on his arms and he kindly patted them
on the head, as if to say how sorry he was that he didn't have any food for
them, would you like to use Canada's
Greatest Newspaper for your nests? As he patted them the birds curled
into Adrian's hands to protect themselves from the cold, and Vivian saw the
scene shift again, back to the Parliament, though he could still see Adrian in
the corner of his eye and when he thought that why didn't Adrian go to mass
today, Adrian recited a Mea Culpa that frightened some of the birds away.
But now Vivian's attention was focused back to the three MPs, who were being
served coffee thanks to Thomas Edward Harding, and while Wilentz was letting
his grow cold, because he didn't care for caffeine, and while Mrs. Alice
Concrete was lacing her coffee with the special packet of shampoo that her
step-mother had sent her and which had arrived late this week, Thomas Edward
Harding was talking about the need to put people first, the need to help
ordinary Canadians, the need to remember all the poor and starving people in
our prayers, and also the need for prayers, and the need to form a party that
would be a party of the Average Man. And as he was going on about the
joys of being an Average Man Edward Thomas Harding started to change, started
to transform, and although he was still immaculately dressed and coiffured and
was still perfectly respectable, he had now been turned into a large bird,
which Vivian recognized to be a cuckoo. Oddly enough the change of
Harding into a bird hadn't really altered his voice much, it was still cheery
and chippy as it had been before and the giant beak gave it a strange sort of
echo that only added to the timbre of his speech, but now in a spontaneous
display of typical new democratic affection he started patting Ignatius Wilentz
on the head. And he kept patting him, even when Wilentz would have clearly
wished him not to do so, and as this scene was slowly unfolding the brocade of
the border started to bleed as red weeds started to grow into and over and
around the scene, and in yet another corner of the stage Vivian could see Louis
Dramsheet, writing a few notes after a successful appearance at the Federal court
of Appeal, he saw Dramsheet receiving a message that one of the law firm's
secretaries was pregnant, he saw Dramsheet spending 74 seconds on arranging
maternity leave and hiring a temporary replacement, whereupon he never thought
of the secretary or her baby again, and even when in the future she would
babble on about how wonderful her children were (she would have twins, one of
each sex) Dramsheet would completely fail to pay any attention, but instead
file in it a special department where he kept sports scores, special
advertising sales, the values of new sports cars, and innumerable trivia about
his siblings' affairs, information that was not to be remembered or cared
about, but which could be retrieved so as not to seem hopelessly ignorant about
his employees', and his sisters', and his brothers', and his colleagues'
trivial obsessions. But the strangest thing that Vivian saw in this scene
was the fact that as Dramsheet completely forgot about his secretary, as he
considered more legal precedents on property law, as he took an article about
inheritance and how it differed from province to province, he was
dreaming. Louis Dramsheet did not know he was dreaming, he did not know
that his unconsciousness was still working while he was reading precedents and
torts law and affidavits, he did not know that there was a dream running in his
brain that was completely inaccessible to him and to everyone else, except to
Vivian Chelmnickon. But Vivian could see, he could see a dream Dramsheet
running around searching for something in the dark streets of Ottawa,
searching for a giant compass of death, that could be seen rolling with assured
malevolence several blocks in the distance. And as he saw the compass
rolling across everywhere in the special quarantined section of Dramsheet's
unconsciousness, Vivian's mind returned to Parliament yet again, where Mrs.
Concrete was still drinking her coffee laced with shampoo, but where Edward
Thomas Harding Cuckoo had finally stopped patting Ignatius Wilentz on the head
and had now turned his attention to the two secretaries who had just entered
the room. As they came in to perform a number of unimportant tasks,
Thomas Harding Cuckoo started patting them on their heads, he kept patting
them, and all he did was pat them. They were in fact very attractive
secretaries and they would have tempted John Seinkewicz; in fact John had been
tempted by secretaries much less attractive than them, and so had Giles as
well, and even Ignatius's brother and even Peter Wilentz would have found the
secretaries very desirable, and perhaps even Hector Concrete would have been
moved, but for Thomas Edward Harding Cuckoo, much less Edward Thomas Harding,
there was no ulterior motive in his patting, all he was interested was patting
the secretaries, and then so many other people, on the head, and as he was
doing so the dream Louis Dramsheet screamed himself into Vivian's attention, screamed
to him about the failure to control the compass of death, but as he was doing
so, as the compass started to make cameos in the life of Adrian Verrall, Alice
Concrete and Thomas Edward Harding Cuckoo, the red weeds that had being growing
from the brocade of the border now started to grow faster, started to cover
everything started to block out the light, but Vivian could still see, could
still understand, what was happening in front of him, as for the first time he
could actually begin to smell the revelations, smell the colour of the
wallpaper behind the library carrels, where the men who screwed and fucked
Veruca Manzoni were already disgusted with her even before they had their
orgasms, the smell of yellowing pages and incompetent perfume that made Veruca
Manzoni the kind of women who left men more smug and more pompous after sex,
the smell of something completely different, the smell of bitter almonds in the
crisp cold Polish winter air, mixed with the dirty scents and the dirty smells
of the slum landlord's favorite possession, Amritsar Vistas, and through the
wall of weeds he could see plump Oliver Corpse falling into blackness as the
compass broke another boundary and was rolling through Ankara train stations
with a dream Dramsheet in frantic pursuit, and Vivian could see the
self-pitying tears she always cried even before she received the first of the
letters, and Vivian could see irrelevancies appearing, could see vials of black
ink being thrown into the air, smashing themselves in mid-air, the black ink
suddenly turning blood red, and then into blood, and then back into green ink,
that started to sing, and the song of the sentient singing ink about the colour
of happy rainbows, as more ink turned black, turned blood, turning into singing
sentient green ink, as it mixed with the smells of sour apples and the odors of
truculent grapes oranges roses chrysanthemums rioting in an orgy of frustrated
equivocally poisonously granted sexuality, Vivian could see Adrian Verrall
still walking to Lucian Rudman's house, but on the verge of changing his mind,
Adrian Verrall with sex on his brain and a seagull on his shoulder, and Vivian
though he was going to drown in a sea of passion fruit and adulterated smells,
and he could see dodos, and auks, and sea cows, and Tasmanian devils following
a Catholic procession for the plaintive soul of Oliver Corpse, and he could
still see Edward Harding Cuckoo patting everyone in a sea of people who could
only be patted, but he did not notice until much later when it was too late
that there was no sign and no appearance of his wife or that such a woman and
such a concept could never have existed and Vivian could see the compass, the
compass of death, the compass of agony as the weeds covered everything in sight
as the compass broke the bonds of the special places where Dramsheet's special
dreams were hidden as it rolled over from Ireland to Thailand to Sierra Leone
to Palestine to Peru to the darkness and the cold and now the dream Dramsheet was
being chased as the voice told Vivian Chelmnickon it was Time to Get Up He Had
to go to Class and teach the seminar that he barely prepared for while the
singing sentient ink sang about Italian lovers and Venice and murdered Italians
and drowned librarians and castrated callous intellectuals as more ink turned
from blue to blood to green singing ink and Vivian could even see a cohort of
kitchen sinks reciting a chant a canticle a love song a sermon where the
passages and the hellfire turned to Wagner and choirs and which said over and
over and over again Veniotmanzonihermanncorpseanddramsheet and Vivian felt
himself getting up and grabbing the papers as he saw the dream Dramsheet
temporarily escape from the rampaging compass while everywhere else weeds had
blotted out Concrete and Verrall and Wilentz and most of the kitchen sinks and
even Thomas Harding Cuckoo, and Dramsheet had fallen, the dream Dramsheet, not the
real one writing notes at the Federal Court of Appeal, the dream Dramsheet had
fallen just as Vivian opened the door of his office, just as he started to walk
down the halls just as he ignored all the comments and the calls and the bereavements
and the condolences as he made his way to a classroom even though he had
forgotten the route because all he could see even through the weeds and the
smell were the final moments of the dream Dramsheet as he had fallen down in
the back alleys of a city far away from any compass but not for away from
nemesis from guilt from betrayal and from the people who wanted him to feel
only these things who could not live without the thought that Catholic
Dramsheet felt the way they could not imagine not feeling and Vivian saw just
as his glazed and tearing eyes saw a poster advertising the essayist on
Jaspers' deconstructionism he saw women coming from the shadows coming from the
imaginary mists coming all the same all the same person the same portrait of
Melissa Seferis Dramsheet all carrying the nice carving knives that the
Dramsheets would have received in the mail had not Melissa Seferis Dramsheet
not drowned to death destroying western civilization judeo-christian
civilization and all the Mrs. Dramsheets' surrounded the one and only dream
Dramsheet and held up their knives and like Oliver Corpse, recently deceased,
whose Polish citizenship was restored by a special act of the Sejm, they were
breast men, and as the blood shot itself up Dramsheet's throat from nine fatal
wounds and as he staggered away with the shoulder blades men and the cheekbones
men in hot pursuit as he exhaled hot air from his punctured lungs he turned in
one final last look to Vivian before the weeds finally swamped and smothered everything
except the compass of death before the revelation come to an end before Vivian
reached out to touch the handle of the door to the room where the seminar was
being held the dream Dramsheet said something that would have made even the
real Dramsheet take pause said something from the very depths of his imaginary
soul said something so sincere and trustful and desperate that Chelmnickon
would never forget it as he opened the door and saw the first glimpses of his
students and before he cleared the door frame and could close the door behind
him Vivian Chelmnickon heard Dramsheet plead to him just before the lock
latched that his very life was in danger and only Vivian could save him.
Then Vivian blinked. The revelation was no more, and all he could see
were his students. Immediately, he realized that Vanessa Wilentz and Constantine
Rudman weren't present.