Conspiracy and Matrimony

       On the first Wednesday in December, Vanessa Wilentz woke up in the room where her parents kept the eighteen chairs for the eighteen brothers and sisters who were supposed to come but somehow never arrived.  She yawned, stretched her arms and got out of bed, careful not to bump against chair number seven.  As she put on her bathrobe and walked to the shower she noticed a fifteen-year old picture of her brother Peter on the wall.  He was scowling, as usual, but as an unwilling concession to his mother he was not wearing his ordinary black suit, but a yellow one with a pleasant green tie.   There had been many pictures taken of Peter when he was smaller, for all the Wilentzs were photography fans, but three months before Vanessa was born a seventeen year old Peter Wilentz searched for every photograph in which he was smiling, in which he was with his parents, or in which he wasn't as dressed as maturely as he would have liked, and systematically ate them.  He would only let scowling solitary portraits be taken of him from them on.  If he had ever smiled at Vanessa or shown affection to her, he vigorously denied it.  He never knew how much Vanessa admired the way that he pretended he didn't know what day Christmas way.  His party line was that he thought that Christmas fell on a specific day and that Easter fell on a specific date, and he was so caught up in his work that he never bothered to correct the misunderstanding.  Certainly he thought that locking the doors on Christmas was simply a plot by his colleagues to ruin his upward mobility, so at his first year of his employment at his accounting firm he smashed a window to get inside, and started work on the Calverton account.

       Vanessa had decided that she would return to her apartment today.  She was actually somewhat ashamed at the fact that she hadn't paid any attention to Elizabeth since Friday evening, so she decided that since she wasn't having any classes that morning, she would go back to her apartment as soon as she left her parent's home.  As she entered the kitchen she found her breakfast waiting for her, her parents having already left for the library they had worked for the past forty-three years.  It was nice to be with her parents again; Franz and Rebekah Wilentz were humane, tolerant, well-educated and loving people, and they took their son's malice and spitefulness with as much patience as possible.  They were much better than her intimidating uncle, or his strange ward, the Aboriginal girl who accosted her at a party to go on and on about how horrible the Crusades were.  ("Yes I know Constantinople was sacked in 1204, could you please let me go to the punch bowl?")  And then there was her cousin, Natasha Wilentz, the only woman whose beauty Vanessa had ever envied (it was Elizabeth's popularity and sexual charm that Vanessa envied, not her looks).  Although her parents could not hide from her the great pain in the center of their lives, they had given her a reasonably happy childhood.  Her earliest memory was being in some sort of cradle with all sort of children's books covering her and her blanket.  She did not remember the yiddish-polish lullaby her mother sang to her, and she did not hear Peter complaining from outside the room, saying that if you kept singing that wretched tune to Vanessa, she would grown up speaking treacle.

       Another nice result from having visited her parents was that the atmosphere made her concentrate more on the project she was working on for her criticism class.  The project was typically postmodern-all her professors, except for Pr.  Chelmnickon, were addicted to jargon-but what it actually meant was much less intimidating.  She was to choose a particular poet, and read some relevant criticism about him (in this case it was a him), and propose a "counter-response," which was to include sharp postmodernist analysis, and a strong "intuitive effective correlative," in other words some sort of poetry of her own.  Vanessa personally thought this assignment reflected the professor's laziness, or at least the way he was distracted by his drinking problem, an affair with a much younger graduate student and several other midlife crises that he hoped to turn into an obscenely successful novel.  Curse David Lodge she thought, Curse him and his mildly amusing fiction.  Regardless, she had already thought up the first few words, From Across the sea comes a purge of lilacs" and she was actually heartened by her progress.  The only thing that distracted her as she walked out the door was something her mother had told her about Veruca Manzoni.  One day Manzoni, one of the leading bureaucrats in the Ottawa Library System, had visited the branch where Rebekah and Franz worked.  Franz had just stepped out a few minutes earlier, and after Manzoni had looked over some clerical matters she spoke to Rebekah.  "I wish your husband had a pearl of great price, so that I could steal it from the two of you, so that the two of you would have to fight me to get it back.  I wish I could steal the sapphires in your soul."  Then she talked about the audio-visual budget.

       Vanessa pondered that as she fingered the book that she had found in her parent's branch that wasn't at the university's.  And if she hadn't been at home she would not have been able to borrow the book of criticism that her Aunt Sarah had given them as a gift and which was stained with the blood from two hundred and twelve paper cuts.  And she would not have gone to the local pharmacy yesterday and see Thomas Edward Harding, M.P. placing a package in the mail.  When she came up to him, he was somewhat surprised, but he recovered very quickly.

       "Hello, Mr. Harding, what are you doing here?"

       "Me?  I just happened to be doing some party business in the riding, and I thought I would take the time to mail a few of my Christmas gifts.  You wouldn't happened to have seen my son, recently?  It's rather odd, actually, I haven't heard from him since Friday afternoon."

       "I don't know where he is, actually."

       "Oh, dear, Well I'm sure we'll hear from him shortly. Personally, I've always thought you must get your Christmas gifts in the mail as early as possible.  That rule goes as well for Hanukkah gifts."

       "We don't give gifts on Hanukkah."

       "You don't?  I always thought you did.  Oh, well, nice to have met you again Ms. Wilentz, and have a nice day."

       When Vanessa re-entered her apartment she was surprised to find it was exactly the way she had left it since her parents had picked her up for Manzoni's funeral.  Elizabeth hadn't been here at all, and there were several messages on the answering machine.  The first was from Mrs. Concrete, who said in an absolutely ecstatic voice that she had something of the greatest importance to tell her daughter.  The second was from Oliver Corpse, saying that he would like to talk to Vanessa sometime this afternoon about the anonymous letters, preferably around two.  Vanessa had checked her mailbox before entering; there was nothing there except some holistic magazines for Elizabeth.  The third message was from Inspector Tyrone, and it went something like this.

       "Salut/ions.  H! Advent.  VNW-IJT ear 2 say that A.O.Mus Eptles, mus B.I.A.Q.A.P.  P.S.N. on intnsve tickles, S.C. on Who it could be.  L.W. N.D. but Must T.S.T.R.Y.C.  M.M. A loan, w/out V-I S.M, for I-Dth D-C..  Y.Sincere."

        It was not easy for Vanessa to understand what the Inspector was trying to tell her, so she got some paper and listened to the taped message again and again.  After seven times she managed to understand what he was saying.  She got as far as Happy Advent, that the anonymous epistles should be investigated as quickly as possible, that she should send notes on her past sexual life, and had just got as far as Tyrone's request for a special private meeting when the telephone rang again.

        On the other line was Mrs. Concrete.  "Is Elizabeth there?"

        "I'm afraid not."

        "It's absolutely vital that I find her, I've got the most wonderful thing in the world to talk to her about!  It's really incredible, actually, it's amazing, it's stupendous, it's wonderful, it's fascinating, it's beautiful, it's world-shaking, it's like several hundred fireworks going off, but without any of the nasty Freudian undertext, it's divine, it's heavenly!"

        "She's probably at Charles' place.  I can give you his number, if you could just wait."

        "Oh, dear.  I hope she isn't doing something bad.  I mean, so many young people these days can be so irresponsible and rash, and I hope she hasn't done anything stupid.  Personally, I was a virgin until the day I was married.  Actually, I was a virgin until several hours after I was married, I'm not one of those people who decide to lose their virginity just before their wedding.  That's one of the things I like best about the Jews, their firm stand on pre-marital sex.  I bet your parents had a lovely old-fashioned marriage service, didn't they?"

        "Ah, yes.  What did you want to talk to Elizabeth about?"

        "But it's so wonderful I have someone I can talk to.  I mean, I talked to Professor Chelmnickon, but he seemed terribly confused.  So I'll tell you instead.  You'll never guess what I saw late afternoon Monday in the sky!"


        "No, guess again."

        "Umm, birds of some sort?"

        "No, try and guess again."

        And so Vanessa did, and only after incorrectly guessing airplanes, weather balloons, alien spacecraft, the planet Venus, the northern lights, the moon, Ottawa's pollution, leading cabinet ministers flinging themselves from the roof of the House of Commons to their deaths, flying squirrels, bats, hot air balloons, blimps, parachutists, very good fireworks and unusually large trees, did she learn the answer.

        "Angels!  I saw an Angel of the lord, with beautiful white clothes, and with leaden wings!  Do you know what this means?"

        "I hesitate to ask."

        "This could be the second coming, this could be the start of something amazing, the new millennium, the rapture.  But I'm going to tell you something that I really should have told Elizabeth first.  I've seen an angel before!  What do you think of that?"

        "Well that certainly sounds remarkable."

        "Yes, I saw it just two weeks before my marriage, and it told that I was going to have a virgin.  Or at least I think that's what it said, I wasn't really paying attention.  I mean I wanted to tell Elizabeth all this, about the upcoming glory of God, and all sorts of incredible and wonderful things.  And you too can play a special part!"


        "Yes, especially you.  Because God has a special role for all the Jews in the world.  They will confront the unholy Mohammedans at the gates of Jerusalem, and though the Tigris and the Euphrates will be full of blood they will smash them to pieces, and then our Lord Jesus will come down on heaven and cast the anti-christ into a pit of fire, and then 144,000 Jewish evangelists will convert all the Jews to Christianity, and all of them will become good Protestants, no the best Protestants the world has ever seen, and won't that be wonderful?"


        "Yes, and your uncle Ignatius Wilentz will crawl on his belly to the throne of Christ and he would grovel and say what a fool he was and can he be forgiven and Jesus will say of course you are and Ignatius will be spending the rest of eternity singing hymns to the glory of God.  Won't that be terrific?"

        "I'm tingling all over.  It would certainly be a miracle."

        "That's why I just have to find my daughter, so I can rescue her from all those left-lib types in The Globe and Mail, and save her from all those pernicious influences on the CBC, and in the millennium nobody will need government handouts and nobody will be funding multicultural associations, and there will be so much love and happiness, and it will be full of ice cream and white fences and decent bars without strip shows and angels in parades, and everybody in church, even for morning prayer, even on superbowl Sunday.  And all of Hector's coffins will swell so sweet, like fresh pinewood, not at all like that strange odor I keep smelling when I come around here.  I mean, it will be like a William Kurelek painting.  You know who William Kurelek is?"

        "Isn't he like Norman Rockwell, but without the talent?"

        "And you can be the first of the 144,000 evangelists.  I can send you material about the prophecies in the Old Testament.  For did not Isaiah say 'Behold, a virgin shall conceive?'"


        "It will be wonderful.  I've always wondered why anyone who ever read Christian apologetics would even think of belonging to some other religion.  Or no religion at all."  Vanessa's mind surged with a half dozen sarcastic rejoinders, but Mrs. Concrete had already hung up.  At just that moment Vanessa heard a key in the lock, and Elizabeth entered.  "Vanessa, it's so wonderful to see you again!"

        "I was just talking to your mother, and I think she's completely crazy.  Where the hell were you?"

        "Don't talk that way about my mother.  I wouldn't talk that way about your brother for instance."

        "You barely know my brother."

        "That's beside the point.  I want an apology."  Vanessa took a deep breath.  "I'm sorry," "Quite right too.  Insulting my mother is my job."

        "But where on earth were you?  I haven't heard from you in four days.  I thought you were just going somewhere for the weekend.  You better have some sort of explanation."

        Elizabeth grinned.  "I have the perfect explanation.  After we left here and went back to Charles' apartment, I had the most wonderful evening in my whole life.  Guess how long it was."Vanessa pondered the problem uneasily.  "Four hours?"

        "Not even close.  Try again, Vanessa."




        "Don't be so conservative.  Try fifteen hours."

        "Oh, come on, you've got to be kidding.  That's impossible."

        "It's not impossible if you're in love.  Have you ever read it when every part of your body feels as if it's on fire and every cell is filled to the bursting point with pleasure?"

        "Only in bad romantic novels that I stopped reading when I was sixteen."  But then Elizabeth took hold of Vanessa's hand; the sensation immediately forced Vanessa back, it was like a shock from electric flowers.

        "And that's nothing compared to what it was Saturday afternoon.  I mean it was incredible, it was like I was in dream..." and so Elizabeth rambled on for another five minutes about that fifteen-hour escapade to which Vanessa could only respond with complete envy.  "But you'll never guess what happened at the end, Vanessa."

        Vanessa moaned inwardly.  Oh God, not another guessing game, but Elizabeth pre-empted this by taking off her fine leather gloves and showed her the diamond she was wearing on her left ring finger.  "My God, he didn't propose to you, did he?"

        "Not only did he do that, but after we got showered and dressed, we found a judge, an old colleague of one of Charles' professors who was willing to marry us right on the spot.  So you see I just couldn't return to the apartment without at least three more days of solid fucking."

        "This is incredible.  And you didn't tell your parents?  I saw Charles' father mailing a Christmas present yesterday and he didn't know a thing about it."

        "I know.  Well, I'm certainly not going to tell my mother, she'd throw a fit.  Instead, we plan to tell Mr. Harding about it just after exams, Charles' idea being that he would therefore help spring for a honeymoon in Hawaii over the Christmas break.  I think I'll tell my mother from there."Ordinarily Vanessa would be quite cautious and unenthusiastic over these turn of events, but having just talked to Mrs. Concrete a few minutes earlier she was sincerely overjoyed.  "This is wonderful, congratulations Elizabeth.  I should really get you something for this, but I don't know what."

        And so the two friends talked and laughed for the next two hours; Elizabeth wouldn't actually be moving in with Charles until at least after the honeymoon, though she would be staying with him for long periods after she finished her last assignments, which were due a week from Thursday.  It was only later that Vanessa realized that she had to leave in order to keep her appointment with Dr. Corpse.  Giving her best wishes, and kissing Elizabeth goodbye, she rushed off to his office.

        When she opened the door Oliver Corpse was incredibly fat, and she could not restrain her shock.  He noticed this.  "I will have you know Miss Wilentz, that I do not weigh a gram more than 300 kilograms."

        "But that's more than six hundred pounds."

        "Do you find something wrong with that?  Do think that fat psychologists are somehow incompetent?  Do you believe I can't do my job just because I'm a little pudgier than I was two weeks ago?  I'll have you know that some of the world's greatest minds were extremely fat.  Why take Sir Isaac Newton."

        "Newton wasn't fat."

        "Of course he wasn't.  He was a neurotic, irritable, envious, sycophantic insomniac obsessed with alchemy and magic who probably had strong homosexual desires as well.  Eating a lot of good food could have helped that.  And look at Marx."

        "Marx wasn't fat either."

        "I know, and look what a horrible person he turned out to be.  And consider how thin Hitler was, and Stalin, and Ribbentrop, and Kaganovich.  Thin people to the man of them.  Why the only reason that Goering was fat was because a specific plan to libel fat people all over the world.  He was really an anorexic, skinny as a rake, who strapped his coat with ninety kilograms of lard in order to get into the air-force.  And everyone knows that Freud was extremely fat; why it was just an actor who was hired to do those poses for the cigar ads.  Just because I've quadrupled my weight in less than thirteen days doesn't mean I'm any worse a person.  I can be just as good a psychologist even if I'm facing the risk of eminent heart attack.  While you are here Miss Wilentz, why don't you bring that dish on the counter behind you.  It's just an afternoon snack I'm polishing off.  I'd get it myself, but for some reason I can't move around too much."

        Vanessa brought over the dish, and Oliver directed it to the side of the desk.  He removed the cover and eagerly eyed a big fat turkey.  "That must weigh twenty pounds." cried Vanessa."Your point?  Please sit down Miss Wilentz.  There are a number of things we must discuss today.  The first thing is a letter than your uncle has directed me to give to you."  Oliver fished it from out of his drawer and handed it to Vanessa.  The letter read as follows:  "To my niece Vanessa.  Today I was confronted by Pr. Albert Hermann, a world-renowned professor, a member of the Vatican embassy, and the self-proclaimed leader of something known as the Flannery O'Connor Brigade.  He is apparently under that belief that his life is in danger from an unknown force; he believes that two people who have died recently were murdered.  One of them was my colleague Senator Pierre Veniot, and the other one was an acquaintance of your parents, Veruca Manzoni.  He even accosted me with his suspicion that I might be trying to kill him.  The Brigade apparently has five other active members.  Only their titles are known; the Legionmeister of the Signet of Saint Luke, The Murderess of the Order of the Stigmata, the Master of the Marthas, the Defender of Saint Rose of Lima, and the Holder of the Averroes seal.  Having learned of the existence of this peculiar organization I thought that it might be related to the anonymous letters you have been receiving.  Sincerely, your uncle, Ignatius Wilentz."

        Vanessa was stunned.  "But this is incredible.  I just met two people last Friday night who called themselves the Flannery O'Connor Brigade.  They were carrying these huge volumes of St.  Thomas Aquinas with sticks of dynamite wrapped around them."

        "Why didn't you tell anyone about this?"

        "Because they seemed to be so completely ludicrous.  They did only two things.  The first thing was to ask for Pr. Chelmnickon's address.  The second thing was to stamp all over one of my roommate's books, and replace it with something else."

        "They were looking for Vivian?  And what book did they give you?"

        "Diary of a Country Priest.  They..."

        "Well I heartily recommend it.  But I can't believe that Dr. Hermann would be involved in anything like this.  And I refuse to believe that he would be the one sending you these letters."

        "To be perfectly frank, Dr. Corpse, I'm quite sure of it as well." said Vanessa, which wise of both of them, for Dr. Hermann was most definitely not sending the letters.

        "It all seems very strange.  What could Dr. Hermann want with Vivian?  If he wants to have a chat with him, he could see him anytime at the Philhellenon club.  But we must now turn to the more important matter of your letters.  Now I want you to speak to me as a psychologist and I would like you to answer the following questions as frankly as possible.  You will rest assured that only the conclusions will reach Inspector Tyrone, Louis Dramsheet or your uncle, and you may also rest assured that any conclusions will be presented as euphemistically as you desire.  My first question is how many male sexual partners have you had in your life."

        "That's extremely blunt.  Five."

        "Naturally you are disturbed, and I am sorry for asking these questions, but these sort of questions must be asked.  And do you have any close relations with those five men at the present time?"

        "I barely had close relations when I was having sex with them.  One of them told me that having sex with me was like taking a bath in photocopier fluid.  None of my 'relationships' have lasted more than six or seven months."

       "When did you last have intercourse?"

       "Seven months ago.  My brother had introduced me to a colleague of his at Yom Kippur last year.  It was very unsuccessful; do you have any idea what it's like to be with a reactionary Orthodox Jew who only likes anal sex?  Seven months ago he decided he was going to join the Israeli army and I haven't heard from him since."

       "Do you believe that any of the other four would be writing these letters to you?"

       "No.  One of them is married, one of them is doing development work in Malawi, one of them was really a homosexual, and the fourth one I met drunk at a party."

       "Do you have any male friends who might be sending you these letters?   A secret admirer perhaps?"

       "I can't imagine anyone doing it, and I don't really think I'd look in that direction for our mystery man."

       "Quite right.  You see, Miss Wilentz I have no belief that you are being written to by one of your former lovers, but I had to have that information for two reasons.  First, because I needed evidence before I could make any definite elimination, and second, I want you to look at the camera on top of the bookcase behind you."

       Vanessa peered behind her and saw a very old-fashioned camera.  "That camera I personally fished out of the bottom of the Vistula river in the summer of 1945.  It belonged to my father who had just dropped it there twenty years previously a few minutes before he proposed to my mother.  She was four months pregnant and my father had no real desire to marry her.  But he did anyway, and I was their third child.  My father and two of my siblings died during the war, but..."  He paused, with a look that said, but of course you always have to top us, don't you, "your mother's entire family was destroyed, yes."

       "Umm, yes, that's true.  Was your family happy?"

       "Of course they weren't.  Do you think they had any right to be, after what they had done?  You have such childish and superficial views, and what I specifically wanted to tell you was despite their pain, despite the pettiness of their lives, despite the fact that they didn't really have too much money and probably had more children than they really would have wanted, and despite the fact that they probably didn't love each other, they still managed to create a relationship that was based on a truthful understanding of what was possible and what was necessary.  And they were making considerable progress on creating a relationship free from romantic illusions.  They were progressing to a relationship that fulfilled one's Christian responsibilities and allowed one to be truly human, or at least they were until the Nazis shot my father.  And they were making far more progress than you ever would."

       "Are you always this rude to your patients?" asked Vanessa.  But Oliver continued.  "Would you like some doughnuts?"


       "Doughnuts.  I have twelve in my desk.  Would you like one? Or two?  Or six?  After all, you have a marginally attractive figure and it probably wouldn't be totally ruined if you ate ten or eleven doughnuts."

       But before Vanessa could answer a secretary brought in Oliver's mail.   It consisted of two psychological journals and five letters.  One was from a manufacturer of anti-schizophrenic drugs, the second was from an old colleague that Corpse didn't care for, the third letter Oliver opened immediately, but it was only a form letter from the University of Connecticut.  The fourth letter looked important, but it was only an offer to enter a contest that guaranteed every contestant a free toaster.  So it was with evident joy and pleasure that Oliver looked upon the fifth letter, from the University of Cracow.

       "Wonderful people there in Cracow.  The University will be one of the finest in Central Europe.  And Eastern Europe as well.  Of course, with all the economic transformations that have been going on, the university has had trouble financially.  You know, I have a friend, much younger than me, more the age of Mr. Wilentz's daughter, what's her name, who's not Polish I might add, he works in a university in Nova Scotia.  And he has this very charming wife and two children, both little girls.  And their anniversary was coming up and his wife wanted a nice inexpensive cotton dress.  But instead of getting her the dress he heard about the unfortunate state the University was in and instead made a one hundred dollar donation to them in his wife's name.  Wasn't that nice of him?"

       "What did his wife think?"

       "Well she hated it of course.  That's the trouble with women, they're so utterly selfish.  Here she is given the opportunity to help one of Europe's greatest places of learning and she doesn't have to add a cent of her own money, and she's so ungrateful.  Never mind, let's see what the comrades from Cracow have to say."  And he picked up his letter-opener and made a bold thrust across the top.  He then gently tapped the envelope and out come the letter-and a butterfly with dark red wings.

       The butterfly was in perfect health and it fluttered up to rest on Oliver's astonished nose.  To his continued astonishment another butterfly flapped its way out of the letter, and then another one, and then yet another one, until the room was filled with the flapping of twenty butterflies with dark red wings.  They made a pleasant contrast with the dark wallpaper and the brown leather cover of Dr. Corpse's patient files.  Several rested on Vanessa's arms, which she found very charming.

       "These-are-not-Polish-butterflies." said Oliver after he finally found the words to speak.

       "No doubt.  I wonder why they're here?"


       "Oh.  Then how did they come to Cracow and how did they get mailed to you?  Shouldn't you check the letter to see why they're here?  Oh!"  A butterfly had just rested on Vanessa's lower lip.

       "I-do-not-need-to-check-the-letter.  Those- butterflies-are-endemic-to-Cracow-that-is-why-they-are --in-the-letter."

       "So why are Columbian butterflies endemic to Cracow?"

       "There-can-only-be-one-reason.  There can only be one reason."  Oliver slowly opened a drawer and withdrew a safety pin.  He unclicked it, and slowly twisted it into a straight line.  "There can only be one reason.  And there can only be one response.  There is only one thing you can do with these butterflies.  You must follow the advice of Vladmir Nabokov, you must takes these butterflies-to the wall!."  Oliver Corpse stood straight up with astonishing speed, and grabbed the butterfly on his nose, thrust it to his desk and impaled it so hard that he drove most of the pin into his solid oak desk.  The nineteen other butterflies moved in a panicky flurry while Oliver impotently tried to extract the pin from his desk.  Realizing that this would not work, he suddenly leaped towards the nearest butterfly and crushed it in his hands.  He then hopped and leaped and flung himself against the wall to catch the other butterflies.  Vanessa was shocked at his energy, his black suit made him look like a dancing anvil, as he smashed one butterfly after another.  He was raving, furious, as he never had been before, and when he had the blood of twenty butterflies covering his hands he lifted them up and started to scream.

       "I don't need this!  I don't need this!  I don't need this!  Is this some kind of joke, is this some kind of message?!  That we haven't done enough for you!  That we haven't starved enough for you, that we haven't died enough for you?   That we haven't begged and suffered and slaughtered and been massacred enough for you? that we haven't been suffocated enough for you?  What have I done to have these tokens of some Colombian whore flying over my head?!  Her body is supposed to ridden with maggots in some nunnery's grave, she's supposed to be dead and goddamned to hell!  She not's supposed to live!  She's not allowed to live!  Is this some kind of sign! that you the like the whores more, that you care for them more, we've done more for you than any other country in Europe, and why do you treat us like this!  My God we've castrated ourselves, and we did it out of holy cynicism, sanctified moderation and out of sincere respect for the potentialities of love!  Dear heaven, we're not like those drunken Irish squibs who slit their own throats out of morbid fanaticism, we were better than them when they were drunker beggars eating their own excrement and potatoes and their father's corpses.  We had cathedrals while those dirty fools couldn't build outhouses, and yet everyone thinks they're holier than us!  My God, we've given everything to your servants and we had the proper liberal forms, all signed and guaranteed and seconded, isn't it enough do we have to debase ourselves like those self-pitying celts!  My parents killed themselves for your glory, we spat on the face on love because we knew we couldn't create it, couldn't make it like your sacrifice like your blood could purge us of our sins, and you're telling us those mestizo whores who were raped and slaughtered and had their throats and vaginas slit by the people who gave me special dinners for being a good emigre, these dark-coloured cunts, you let their butterflies run rampant in this city of paper and ice!  It's not as it we didn't want love or we didn't try for it, we were just properly cynical, and even Vanity Fair told us how clever we were, for God's sake we're not some sort of hypocrites!  Why do we always have to suffer, why not the bloody Russians or the Austrians or those fucking Prussians, why do only the poor and the weak have to pay for their sins and their hypocrisies and have their guilt spilt everywhere?!  Why do you demand penance for our sins, why do we have to be lumped in with the Jews and the Irish and the blacks and probably the Kurds and the Palestinians and the Timorese and all those columbian and guatemalan whores and the massacred Burundis who I never gave a thought up to now?  And soon those Rwandans with those strange Belgian Catholics and their overpopulated gorilla sanctuaries are going to come up and get everyone's attention and pity and 1944 is completely forgotten!  Why do you care so much about Teschen and Kielce, which was probably the Communists' fault anyway, and beside not many Jews died?  Why do I have to keep thinking about it, why do I always have to remember, Why do you torture me about it, am I such a wretch, do you have to torture me, do you think that I wouldn't do anything good without you causing so much pain?  Please God, Please God!, don't make me curse you!"

       Oliver Corpse collapsed in his chair, the blood from the scarlet butterflies was already turning into red dust that dissipated before it could fall on the floor.  Vanessa Wilentz had tactfully removed herself at the beginning of his diatribe; so when the telephone rang Oliver Corpse was too exhausted to reach the receiver.

       This was certainly disturbing for the person on the other end of the line, Vivian Chelmnickon.  He had telephoned earlier when he knew Oliver was probably at lunch, but he simply had to call.  So after that he had tried to contact John Seinkewicz.  Ordinarily, John would be the perfect person to listen to Vivian's problems, but at the moment he was in a bad mood because he had spent the morning trying to explain to his colleague from Medicine Hat why an extremely important meeting that he had sent his son and nephew to had ended in disaster.  To make things worse, John was having problems hearing Vivian properly because he had just been hit on the right side of his head with a tomato.  So a very disappointed Vivian had to hang up.

       He had then called Oliver again, with no luck and he was now at home.   He had returned from a morning spent at the university and wife was somewhere in the house reading.   His morning had not been spent productively; the only thing he remembered was a fatuous conversation with Constantine Rudman.  Rudman was nervous, stuttering and pale as usual, and it took him some time to force out the following words:  "I'm trying to write a short story about a town threatened by a invincible grove of thorns, but I happen to be stuck.  How you would deal with the problem?"

       "Is the grove really that dangerous?"

       Rudman's nerve failed him.  "Well probably not, actually, all things being considered.  In the long run the grove is probably not really that bad after all."

       "Perhaps there should be some sort of compromise.   If the grove can't be destroyed, then you simply have to live with it.  That might be wiser than trying to get rid of it, or any other neat and easy solution."

      "Of course.  That's very wise, Professor Chelmnickon.  That's very clever.  Thank you very much for your advice." and Constantine wandered servily away.

       What really concerned Vivian was the increasing number of strange and sudden insights he had been getting ever since he realized that Alice Concrete had seen an angel.  More and more flashes of truth would appear to him; but he learned nothing from them, they were often simply petty revelations of nasty behavior.  He learned for example that the department's former secretary had not died of pneumonia as reported but from the results of an illegal abortion she had had in Jamaica.  It was revealed that one of his most respected fellow professors had a taste for coprophilia, and that another one had a taste for flagellation.  One of the laity at the church he attended was actually embezzling money for his own personal needs.  One of Vivian's female students was actually an insatiable whore who had broken a number of affairs with considerable cruelty.  But there were another set of revelations, revelations that were strange and bizarre.  For example, Vivian had found out that there was a key inside the weather vane on top of one of the university towers; a key and some directions that would have opened a box that would have provided a fortune to a family that had long since died of complications from malnutrition.  A kite that he had a brief glimpse of in the storage room of a curiosities shop was actually one of thirteen that were part of a complicated Satanic ritual; a ritual that would never be fulfilled because four of the other devil-raising kites had smashed into trees.  One of the leading feminists in the university carried in her purse a package of aphrodisiacs made from the gall-bladders of endangered animals.   And then there were all the trivial revelations; what the stock prices of certain stocks would be on such and such a date, exactly how many copies the next bestseller by Vivian's least favorite writers would sell, how long it would take for the Chelmnickons' mop to dry out, who would win the superbowl in 2009, what was the price of a particularly dry and mediocre daiquiri on July 6, 1934, what date Lent would fall on in the year 7234, how chewing gum would make your pogo-stick jump better, what lightning storms you could fly a kite near high power lines and be absolutely guaranteed that you would not be electrocuted, how much better the last album by a particularly meretricious rock group would have done had they released that single first, exactly how much mascara you could eat before you poisoned yourself to death, what the sensation of having a pie thrown in your face was like, the secret of how Avare Seinkewicz made sure that her husband never ignored her (she put pepper on his ice cream), the last words the mother of Constantine and Lucian Rudman would ever say ("Excuse me nurse, but what was that they just said on the radio?"), and what the Weather would be like in Paris eight years, five months and fifteen days in the future.  Only the last fact had any relevance for Vivian Chelmnickon, because, although he did not know it, that was when and where he would die.

       The constant inflow of information was very disturbing to Vivian, and he wanted to talk to Oliver about some sort of cure.  He had taken aspirin, and he had also taken some of his wife's valium, but this had only given him insomnia.  So after he put down the receiver of his telephone for the final time that afternoon he tried to find some other way of getting over his problem.  He began to think about something else.

       In particular he began to think about his wife, who was particulary irritable today because Vivian's insomnia made it difficult for her to sleep as well.  It was odd, thought Vivian; cultures usually defined women solely in relation in men.  He remembered reading a book which noted that while men were stronger in being able to lift more, women were better at endurance and facing extreme physical hardship, so when it was said that men were stronger than women, strength was defined as being what men had.  Yet to Vivian it seemed that he was defined in relation to how wife felt and reacted to everything.  All of what he had done, his degree, his years of teaching in Poland, Britain and Canada, the praise he had received for The History and Limits of Hegelian analysis, the awards and scholarships he had received to continue his work, the praise and good will he had received from conservatives and liberals alike, as well as from many socialists, none of this loomed as large in his life as his marriage.  Why was this the case?  He could not really say that he was in love with his wife.  Was there ever a time when that was really the case?  Was he simply charmed by her, briefly confusing her spitefulness and invective for a clever irreverence?  A thought occurred to him, as it had occurred to him many times before, and to his wife, but to no-one else.  Had he refused to obtain a divorce because the only way he could get it was to use to use the liberal divorce laws of Communist Poland, and it would be an unconscious submission to them?  Had he refused to get it because it would look bad if he abandoned his wife after arriving in England and marrying someone who might be younger?  That he would have taken her away from all her friends and that it would be cruel to leave her?  Chelmnickon thought of Solzhenitsyn's first wife, whom he had left and who wrote, or the KGB wrote under her name, a bitter book against him when he was forced into exile.  Chelmnickon then considered the question as carefully and objectively as he could, and came to the conclusion that the answer to all his rhetorical questions was no.  But then why did he stay with her?

       He remembered a story that he had written just a few weeks after he had first met her for the first time.  He had submitted it to the university literary magazine while Stalin was still alive, while Vivian was in his first rush of Marxist enthusiasm.  It was not, by any standards, a good story, and Vivian had not bothered to have it reprinted or translated since.   The problem wasn't so much the plot but the style; Communist rhetoric had clearly affected his ability to write in a natural and convincing manner.  Even one of the most Stalinist of the editors thought it was badly written, and even made a few vital corrections in sentence structure which rescued it from incomprehensibility.  Oddly enough, the story was not part of the usual Socialist realist doggerel that was briefly so common at the time.  It was a parable about heaven with a strongly atheist meaning, which was why it was published.  The protagonist, a Polish young man, found himself in heaven after his death and found himself meeting with his loved ones, who had been murdered during the Napoleonic wars.  He got to meet his wife, who had been butchered by Prussian soldiers (a topical anti-German touch) whom he had only been married to for a year.  At first, of course, they were terribly happy, but problems soon developed.  First there was no sex in heaven.  (Or more precisely no "passion" or "intimacy" which were the euphemisms that Vivian had to give to the puritanical editors.)  Secondly, all marriages were eternal.  This led, in unconvincing fashion, to the hero being driven mad by the presence of his loved ones and by his immortality, until an angel came down and told him that this was a test; God had specifically granted him immortality to show how feeble and petty human love was and how grateful people should be for divine love.  This sort of manipulation infuriated the hero and he led a successful revolt against such a pompous divinity and won.   True, they were no longer immortal, but "in the new socialist republic we must learn to live with death."

       Enough about his wife.  Perhaps he should concentrate on himself and the seven deadly sins.  Gluttony?  Nonsense, you can't be a glutton in Poland.  You could be a drunk, but not a glutton.  Wrath?  Hardly.  He remembered having conversations in the early sixties, one with a rather timorous bureaucrat and the other one a humane and sincere anti-communist, and both men were surprised that Vivian didn't beat his wife.  After all they both did, occasionally, and their wives were much more pleasant people (and much more forgiving as well).  He could not forget how the dissident showed some nervous guilt over this admission, and the bureaucrat confessed his in positive good humor (or was it the other way around?  Of course not:  irony has its limits, even in Poland)  Sloth?  Hardly, he was one of the most prolific writers in the university.  Envy?  No, not really, though it must be said that there was not much for him to envy back in Poland.  He had made many compromises before his exile and he had hated himself for that, but his attitude was more one of self-contempt than of envy towards those who were better at telling Gomulka and company what they wanted to hear.  Pride?  He could not say he was proud.  He had received much flattery from friends and acquaintances and he could have parlayed that flattery into power and fortune.  But he did not really desire these things, and as for Hate, he did not hate the people who had taken over his position in the University of Warsaw and who had slandered him in the party press.  He did not really like them, he knew perfectly well that he was not capable of loving his enemies, and he knew that this was a fault of his.  He could not say that he actually forgave them for what they did to him.  He was not in sympathy with their position and he found their ideology thoroughly pernicious.  But he did not hate them; and as the years went on, the more he realized that it was not simply because they were not worthy of his vengeance.  Lust?  Not really.  He had known a few other women before his marriage and there were times during the early years when his wife was particularly intolerable that he thought of having an affair with one of his students.  But he had only been tempted and nothing resulted from these thoughts.  Otherwise he had been completely faithful.  How could there be lust in marriage to a woman like his wife?

        Another incident.  Or two precisely.  After the imposition of martial law the new regime made some noises about fighting the Zionist threat, and this encouraged the underground and the exile community to disregard any possible differences between this regime and the previous ones;  they were all equally "totalitarian."  Or if there were any differences it didn't mean anything could be done to combat them.  Obviously we should resist, but the totalitarian system was incapable of reform and only western pressure would allow any sort of breathing space at all.  Writing at the time in London, Chelmnickon shared this pessimism.  When a few exiles questioned this bleakness and that all things considered Jaruzelski couldn't really be considered a Marxist ideologue and things were much worse under Beirut, Oliver Corpse, who had just grown extremely fat at that time, insinuated that only anti-semites would prefer the "gentile" Jaruzelski to the "Jewish" Beirut.  After all, it was the standard reply of the Polish pseudo-right and the Gomulka opportunists that the worst "excesses" of the first years of communist rule were caused by the "large numbers" of Jews in the Beirut government.  A few months after the election of Walesa as president, Chelmnickon received a letter from a Polish friend with undoubted liberal sentiments who claimed that all the talk of Jaruzelski "totalitarianism" was a patent exaggeration of what was in fact a very weak and opportunist regime.  The friend also stated, very tactfully, that the reason that Jaruzelski was attacked as "totalitarian," instead as being the desperate infirm autocrat that he was, was because Chelmnickon and his colleagues would look more noble, more courageous, more sanctified in the struggle.

        Was that true?  Vivian remembered the second incident, about one of the Jews of the Beirut regime.  Raddatz Agnon was a cold, heartless, vindictive man who had an unquestioned pedigree in suffering and never failed to remind people of it.  He had been tortured by the Army before the war; to be fair that regime was much more humane than the communist ones that followed it, but it did not mind using torture when it saw fit.  Actually the worst results were not intended; Agnon required a special diet, and it was that and sheer medical incompetence that caused his left arm to be permanently crippled, when they had only meant to break it.  And it was not the fault of the army that Mrs. Agnon was an extremely hysterical woman who, when she learned about her husband's arrest, miscarried, and died from the complications.  And the soldier who castrated Agnon was mildly disciplined (his promotion was cancelled and he had to pay a fine into the officer pension fund.)  And it could be said that imprisonment and castration saved his life.  After all, had he gone to Russia as he had planned before his arrest, he would have undoubtedly had been murdered with much of the rest of the Polish Communist party in Stalin's purges.  And being castrated did allow him to pass himself off as a gentile in tight situations.  So it was as a "gentile" slave laborer that he worked for an amazing two years at Auschwitz before he made his escape, and after several years of hunger and torture he returned homes to find that the Nazis had murdered every member of his family, every Jewish friend, and every comrade in the party.

        Of course, it could be argued with complete fairness that Agnon did not miss them too much; he was too much of an ideologue to form real bonds with human beings.  Regardless, he soon became one of the chancellors of the University of Warsaw, and was one of its most dedicated Stalinists.  But with the Pozen riots and the return of Gomulka in 1956 his position was not as confident as it once was.  He was filled with impotent rage when his secretary tactfully removed the portraits of Stalin and Beirut from his office, and he seethed when his pet projects were rejected by the party.  A planned volume denouncing exile writers was vetoed on the grounds of simple lack of enthusiasm.  Agnon's power was recut and redistributed in a number of ways, and his only pleasure was to attack Chelmnickon and his friends.  He was personally responsible for Oliver's exile, and he had tried a number of unsuccessful schemes to get Vivian removed as well.  Then, during the height of the "anti-Zionist" agitation of Colonel Moczar, Raddatz Agnon was dismissed from his university position, and his membership in the Communist Party was "cancelled" after more than three decades of loyal service.

        It soon turned out that Agnon had no savings whatsoever.  He never used his position for economic advantage, and only bought what could be had at the stores.  This was done less out of virtue than as a display of ostentatious abstinence.  Any surplus that should have been built up was given to the various Communist charities and peace fronts.  He had even forced his secretary to pawn all her goods when he married her.  Now he was alone, the party would make sure that he would never be employed, and he had no friends who might help him get around that ruling.  He did not even have enough money to emigrate to Israel, not that he would have done it anyway.  So one day, just a week before he would learn that he was to be expelled from Poland itself, Vivian came to Agnon's apartment and dropped some money on his drawer.

        Agnon got up, and threw the money in Vivian's face.  When his wife protested, he slapped her very hard.  "I won't take a zloty from you, you fashionable bastard."

       "But we need the money." said his wife, but he told her to shut her mouth.  "So you say you want to help?  You just want to show me how much better you are, how much more nice and decent and forgiving you are, so you can grind my nose in your wonderful humanity.  You don't give a shit about me, you're only concerned about how virtuous you are.  You will repay 'evil' with good, but will you point out how the 'evil' did you good?  Of course not." And then he launched into a truly vicious dialogue about the Catholic church and the old regime and about what swine most people were, until his wife gently nudged Vivian out the door.

       Could Agnon be right?  But it was then he realized that he had completely forgotten the strange insights that had been so much on his mind.   He could now get to work, and as he retrieved the books he needed for his next lecture and pondered its subject, (the nature of guilt) he was reminded of Sartre, whom he had met shortly after his arrival in London.  He thought little of Sartre's thoughts now or for his political conduct but he had to admit that at the time he was very flattered to have met him.  Thinking of Sartre reminded him of the only time that Senator Veniot had insulted him.  It had been two weeks before Veniot's death (murder? suicide? he hadn't been informed recently) and Senator Naipaul was discussing colonialism.  It was a rather stimulating conversation, Naipaul being an intelligent man, even if Chelmnickon agreed little with what he said.  Naipaul had just said to Louis Dramsheet that he had never met a third world intellectual who did not support the Palestinians, and had just mentioned Vietnam in passing, when Veniot, who up to this point had been quite silent, abruptly interrupted and said that the whole Vietnam war was a whole filthy business and personally accused Chelmnickon, who had not supported the war, of justifying all sort of atrocities, and finally said in a hysterical state that he was so ashamed of what France had done in Vietnam he felt like slitting his wrists.

       "But you're not French," said Seinkewicz, "You're Canadian."

       "Yes.  So I am.  What in heavens name was I thinking about?  Good God, Vivian, whatever did I say to you?"  And Dramsheet directed him to lie down.

       After remembering this incident Chelmnickon threw himself into his work and was soon thinking of nothing else, only vaguely recalling that his self-examination had given him considerable peace of mind.  This was a good thing, for had he known what was happening in his bedroom he would have been rather disturbed.  For rifling in his socks drawer was none other than the Legionmeister of the Signet of St. Luke, looking for condoms.

       The Legionmeister had been directed by Dr. Hermann, as part of their conspiracy involving Vivian Chelmnickon, to make a thorough search of Vivian's apartment and look for any damning evidence.  The Murderess of the Order of the Stigmata had already subjected three of Vivian's confessors to hypnosis and truth serum so that the brigade could get a general idea of what sins Vivian may have committed; clearly there was little that could not be easily atoned for.  They had managed to get Vivian's tax records at golf-club point and they solemnly noted that his charitable contributions were 80% higher than the average.  But just in case that there might be something more, the Legionmeister was to make a search.  He did not actually think that a man as old as Chelmnickon would actually have any condoms, though if he did it would be irrefutable evidence that he was having an affair, as well as violating the church's stand on birth control.  But a search of the socks, underwear and shirt drawers revealed nothing.  The Legionmeister opened the bedside table and found Mrs. Chelmnickon's diaries.   They were in Polish, a language which he could not understand, though Hermann and the Master of the Marthas could.  Quickly he took the camera that was ingeniously hidden in his stethoscope and photographed the pages.  At that moment Mrs. Chelmnickon entered the room, giving the Legionmeister just enough time to hide under the bed.  There he noticed a large quantity of dust, Mrs. Chelmnickon's bedroom slippers, which she kicked under the bed when she got dressed, a bestseller about fish that had gotten lost the same way, and right above his head, a secret compartment built into the frame.  The Legionmeister cautiously opened it and discovered an envelope,  But the only thing inside of it was a book of poems that Mrs. Chelmnickon had hidden there for her husband's birthday five years ago and which she had then completely forgotten about.

       By now Mrs. Chelmnickon had left the bedroom, which meant that the Legionmeister could now get up from under the bed.  He moved to the small bookcase, of which there were only two things of interest.  The first was a serious pornographic French novel which Chelmnickon had used in an essay eighteen years ago.  The Legionmeister nodded and photographed the innocuous annotations.  The second object of interest was the Chelmnickon photograph album.  It was a fascinating book because, unlike Oliver Corpse or Vanessa Wilentz or Franz Wilentz or indeed the Legionmeister, but quite like Constantine Rudman, Vivian Chelmnickon did not know how to take photographs.   Because of that many of the early photographs of Mrs. Chelmnickon were blurred and out of focus, while the photographs Oliver took of the couple in London invariably cut off her head.  But there were enough clear photos for the Legionmeister to notice a strange and consistent bulge in Mrs. Chelmnickon's clothing right above her breasts.  In photographs that Vivian had taken of her at the beach or at the seaside it looked like some sort of cross, though it was often covered by some sort of box, but why would you wear a crucifix under your clothes?  At any rate the Legionmeister flipped through the rest of the album; there were some photographs of Mrs. Chelmnickon's brother, a miner who had recently died of black lung disease, of her schoolteacher sister, of three of Vivian's brothers, and some old Polish friends.  Before 1968 there were no photographs of Oliver Corpse.

       The Legionmeister put the book and the albums back and stealthily made his way into the room where Chelmnickon kept all his records.  He perused Chelmnickon's financial papers.  Fortunately not much work had to be done here, and the Legionmeister took very little time.  After taking a few photographs, the Legionmeister turned his attention to Chelmnickon's correspondence.  There were many letters, almost a thousand in all, so the Legionmeister could only photograph every tenth letter in the hope of getting a good random sample.  Some of the fellow travellers were already doing an exegesis of Chelmnickon's books, so there was little the Legionmeister had to do about that.  The only thing left was to look around the house and see if there might be anything hidden that could be used against Vivian, so the Legionmeister moved out into the hall and started to examine the pictures that Mrs. Chelmnickon had bought in Oxford, (and which Vivian thought were cheap and sentimental) when Mrs. Chelmnickon herself appeared and said "Oh Dr. Roget!  What are you doing here?"

        Dr. Roget-for that was the identity of the Legionmeister of the Signet of Saint Luke-turned around, and despite the shock answered with perfect aplomb "I was just walking by and I noticed that the door was open and I thought that I might just drop in and see your husband.  Is he here at the moment?"

        Mrs. Chelmnickon did not like Dr. Roget-or anyone else- suddenly materializing inside her house-but if her stupid husband had forgotten to close the door when he came back she could hardly blame Roget for it.  So with an artificial smile she directed Roget to Chelmnickon's study.  After Roget was ushered in and introductions were made, and after Mrs. Chelmnickon clearly declined to bring the two of them any refreshments, Roget began to talk.  "Vivian, have you ever written anything about beatification?"

        "Not especially.  Why do you ask?"

        "Well actually, some of my friends, wait a second I may be confusing you.  You see I belong to an association of Catholic doctors, we're opposed to abortion of course, and as part of our relations with the Church we're supposed to suggest candidates for saints to various church authorities.  And we've recently discovered a Polish doctor who might be a good candidate."

        Chelmnickon was surprised.  "I think I would have known if any Poles were being considered for canonization."

        Roget smiled, but inside he realized that his first trick had not worked.  The whole statement was a lie, and Roget was hoping that perhaps Chelmnickon was chauvinist enough to assert personal knowledge of a non-existent Polish saint.  "I'm not surprised.  He didn't actually live in Poland, or whatever the borders of Poland were at that time, though he was definitely Polish.  He may have lived somewhere in Prussia, or was it near Lithuania, or perhaps he emigrated to Sweden.  I believe his name is Kuron, or something like that, and he lived sometime during the last century.  According to all accounts his life was perfectly exemplary, practically starving himself to death, helping people during cholera epidemics, handing out free bandages, the necessary miraculous recoveries.  It's really rather complicated.  And what I wanted to find out was what your opinion on the whole topic might be?"

       "My opinion?  What do you mean?"

       "Well you see what we really wanted was a certain assistance with the public relations of the whole affair.  You see talking about saints and about a Catholic private association is, quite frankly, going to make us look a little silly.  I mean, to Protestants it just seems so old fashioned, and they, of course, think that we actually worship these people.  And to be perfectly frank there are not a lot of first rate Catholic philosophers that the media take very seriously.  Now I thought to myself, here we have a Polish doctor, and as it happens I'm acquaintances with a leading Polish emigre, who is world-respected as an important and profound thinker and a defender of Christian values in our modern world, and you're just the sort of person...

       "Pardon me," interrupted Chelmnickon, "but I'm not some sort of third-rate apologist."

       "No, of course not, we're not asking you to do the whole Chesterton kitsch.  What we would like was some sort of opinion on the whole process, not about Kuron in particular, or even about me and my group.  You could just write some sort of article in a well-respected publication about the whole concept of sainthood and say some nice worldly-wise and unorthodox things how about the whole process does say something wonderful about the human spirit, etc, etc,  And then one of the enterprising members of our association (for example, me) could see it and quote it for publicity.  Is that possible?"

       Had Vivian said no at this point, it would have been very difficult to continue this novel.  Had he said that he was still a Marxist and that the whole concept was patently absurd, the novel would have come to an abrupt halt with the end of this very sentence.  But instead...

       "Well I don't know.  I mean it's such an odd request, it's not the sort of thing the University of Carleton pays me for.  But I have no philosophical objections to the whole idea.  I have written at length at how Marxist systems try to copy the transcendent elements of previous religions, and naturally how they were horrible blasphemies of the original.  I have commented on the need for divinity in modern life.  I could, if I had the time, write an article for The New Republic, or some such magazine about sainthood and defend in modern-ironic terms, much like my articles on hell and the angels.  But when do you need to have this written for?"

       "Oh, well you know the process, it can take years.  It would be nice if you had something written in the next twelve months, but you're too busy..."

       "Oh, well twelve months isn't a problem.  I was just wondering if you needed it by Christmas.  It would be difficult to write it now, what with exams and everything.  But no, twelve months is all right, I could easily think of something by then."

       "Well, that's excellent," said Roget, who rose up to leave.  "Thank you very much for your assistance, we most definitely do appreciate it.  Oh, just a minute.  One more thing.  I don't recall seeing you at Miss Manzoni's funeral."

       "I wasn't there I'm afraid.  Since I barely knew the woman, there would hardly be any reason for me to go."

       "Perfectly understandable.  Do you give any credence to the rumours that she was murdered?"

       "Murdered?" said Vivian with genuine surprise that Roget promptly noted.  "I thought it was a simple suicide."

       "Yes, that's what it would appear to be, but the inquest has not come down with its verdict, and there are rumours that she was murdered.  For some odd reason these rumours connect her death with that of Senator Veniot, who according to these people was also murdered.  Now that seems to me very strange, since as far as I know the two people had nothing in common except membership in the Philhellenon club.  What's your opinion?"

       Vivian turned quite pale.  "An inspector told me in confidence that he suspected that Senator Veniot was murdered.  But I know nothing about how Miss Manzoni died, and I can't imagine a connection."

       Roget moved to the door and began to walk down the hallway.  Then just at the entrance he stopped.  "One more thing, Professor.  I couldn't help noticing a strange bulge below your wife's neck.  Is there something wrong with her?  It isn't some sort of cancer is it?"

       "I can't really answer that question.  Perhaps the bulge is just a bunching up with her clothes; static cling has always been a bit of a problem in our house.  But it could very well be something else."

       Roget nodded, thanked Chelmnickon one more time, and as he went out the door and into the street he thought to himself: three affirmations, two miracles, and one evasion.  That's not too bad for a suitable candidate.

next: The Chinese Spice Box

previous: The Invasion of Medicine Hat

Home links reviews fanklub t-shirts books annotations archive