Galbraith screamed and woke up in a cold sweat in his bed. It seemed that in his nostrils stuck this vile smell, similar to the aroma of rotting meat and decomposed carrion.
- I was there at the birth...
The inspector deliberately pronounced these words loudly and clearly in order to understand that he was no longer sleeping and was really at home. However, this did not make much sense, because the familiar interior of his apartment was revealed to his gaze. Here are his clothes hanging on the back of a chair, here is the remote control lying on the floor next to the television, and here is the window outside of which it was already light... But a delirious thought crept into Galbraith's mind that the creature from his nightmare did not disappear with the dream, but materialized somewhere in the depths of his room...
- Come on out, newborn, try to devour your obstetrician! - he shouted as loud as possible.
But, as he thought, kleisterkind did not crawl out from under the bed on its clawed paws, did not rush from the next room, and did not even burst straight out of the ceiling - for there has never been such a case where, upon waking up, a person dragged the inhabitants of his dreams into the real world.
Getting out of bed, he immediately went to the bathroom. Looking at own sleepy face, Galbraith wanted to shave. Without thinking twice, he soaped his cheeks and took the razor in his hands, however, as soon as the inspector brought the blade to the skin, he immediately felt a sharp pain. Putting the razor back in place, he washed his face and, watching as a red stream began to flow from the wound on his cheek, noted with displeasure, that apparently he will have to continue to embarrass his colleagues with this stubble. And how did he manage to cut himself like that? Had his nerves completely gone from the nightmare, since his hands were shaking so much?
There wasn't a scrap of food in the kitchen. Going to work hungry was not an option... Then Galbraith decided not to go to the department yet, but to run into a small establishment, which was located in the basement of a house on the other side of the street. Usually, local residents went there in order to knock back a glass of something intoxicating and, waving their arms, be drawn into a group of similar visitors and begin to twitch to the gaudy music that flowed from the loudspeaker hanging on the ceiling. But still, this establishment was famous not only for dances - there he could have a snack for a small amount of something tasty and, most importantly, high in calories. At least, this side was well known to Galbraith himself - he wasn't sure that anyone else would seriously go down the steps to this bar for a hot sandwich or a small plate of salad.
Dressing for going out, inspector continued to think about that grotesque baby creature from his nightmare. Remembering how the kleisterkind, sensing a human, took a hunting stance, Galbraith concluded that it was the cub of some kind of predator. Apparently, the hunting instinct of this species was so developed that, in fact, as soon as they emerged from their mother's womb, these creatures were already sniffing out their potential victims. The only thing that was unclear was how they were supposed to move.
How quickly that kleisterkind attacked inspector was a happy coincidence - the victim was very close to the place of birth, and this distance could easily be reached by jumping. But how did it hunt in its adult form? Although Galbraith was weak in biology, this did not stop him from believing that it was unprofitable for a predator to exist without strong hind limbs, because it was necessary to somehow develop speed in order to catch up with the fleeing prey. Apparently, the only way out for that newborn was the opportunity to fall into the hands of some compassionate scientists, who, having neutralized him for a while, installed mechanical prosthetic legs into his back part of the body. Galbraith painted this image in his head. Yes, he thought, such a creature would be worthy to come out from under the brush of Hans Giger...
By the time Galbraith had already gotten dressed and went outside, he had finally finished thinking about his essentially meaningless idea about the creature that he had seen in his dream. This morning the sun was still shining brightly in the sky, with not a cloud in it. It wasn't hot yet, but inspector was pleased to walk down the steps leading to the bar - he wanted to find himself there as soon as possible, in the air-conditioned basement (but at a much more reasonable power level than in that grocery store where was the pickpeanut).
As soon as he crossed the threshold, Galbraith was immediately struck in his ears by the loud sounds of the piano, to the accompaniment of which the young singer's cheerful baritone sang with some unprecedented tenacity that there is something more than a party. The inspector thought that the owner of the establishment apparently did not give in to fashion trends if he played a song for his guests that was already eight years old. He remembered how, when he first flew to America by plane (he was a hungry and thin student at the time), he heard the music of these guys playing in the airport. Then he did not attach much importance to it, but he remembered the intonation with which the singer, invisible to his eyes, sang something to the accompaniment of a cacophony of synthesizers. And now, being a police inspector, it seemed to Galbraith that there was some kind of message hidden in the lyrics of this band, and in the strange combination of sounds that made up their melodies, was the whole point of their collective creativity...
There was no one at the round tables that stood in this basement room. This is understandable, most people come here to hang out to the music with bleary-eyed eyes at the end of the day, and not to have a snack before work (which is what inspector wanted most now). Galbraith, who was already approaching the purple lights of the counter, had a thought flash through his head, it's quite funny that the owner played such upbeat music to an empty hall. With his long legs, the inspector did not need to stand on tiptoes to sit on the high three-legged stool. In the past, when he was still a loud boy, during physical education classes, during formation, the instructor often jokingly praised him, saying "Be proud, guy, you very first in the line!". Such attention to his otherwise modest person embarrassed little Galbraith, and he, blushing, did not answer these jokes.
But those wonderful school years passed, and now no one with whom inspector had to deal even thought of giving him a compliment in honor of his tall stature. This led Galbraith to sad reflections that school is not yet life in society, it would be much more accurate to compare it with a greenhouse, where, before being sown into the rough soil of real adult life, tiny shoots of future people grow in tiny pots and, according to a schedule, receive the necessary for them water (discipline) and light (knowledge). In his childhood, Galbraith often wanted the education system to undergo a radical overhaul, so that the young children and he himself, first of all, do not have to sit at a desk that spoils his posture in a stuffy classroom and, under the threat of grading a particular numbers, engage in senseless waste of paper and ink...
As soon as inspector took his place at the bar, the bartender, who seemed to be dozing all this time, immediately shook himself and, taking out a glass, asked his first visitor that morning:
- What'll it be? Maybe "Brown Horse"? - he meant whiskey.
- No thanks, better gave me a warmed beer, - Galbraith said imposingly.
- One moment, - answered the bartender.
Keeping a stony expression on his face, man put away the glass and, placing a beer mug in front of the visitor, took out from somewhere under the counter a glass bottle full to the brim of a pale amber liquid. Having filled the mug to the brim, he placed the mug with the skill of a magician into the microwave oven behind him. Inspector did not take his eyes off the bartender - he was pleasantly fascinated by how gracefully he moved, how deftly he managed to handle all these glasses, bottles and other attributes of this place.
- Here's your order, - said the bartender as he placed a slightly heated mug on the counter in front of the customer.
Galbraith took a sip, and a pleasant, intoxicating warmth spread through his veins. Trying to drain the mug as slowly as possible, he began to imbibe alcohol with enjoyment. How long has it been since he went to this bar to treat himself to his favourite drink... Suddenly Galbraith shuddered. Carried away by drinking warmed beer, he did not notice at all what was happening around him.
- Excuse me? - as if emerging from a deep bottom to the surface, he asked in surprise.
- Would you like to eat a little? We're having pizza today, the time is right, - the bartender helpfully suggested.
Inspector did not seem to understand a word of the speech his interlocutor was making.
- You're referring to breakfast? - it finally dawned on him. - Yes, of course, give me a piece.
The bartender nodded and retreated somewhere behind the counter. Galbraith, looking at the almost empty beer mug, remembered why he even stuck his nose into this establishment early in the morning. Yes, the morning meal is what he needs now. In fact, he shouldn't go across the whole city to his police department on an empty stomach...
His train of thoughts was interrupted by someone's careful touch on his shoulder. Galbraith, who still did not feel quite fit from hunger, slowly turned to the one who had disturbed him. It was just a steward. The inspector looked him up and down with a dissatisfied glare.
- Sorry, mister... - young man said quietly.
The steward was clearly uncomfortable with the fact that he had to disturb this gloomy man almost two heads taller than him.
- What are you standing there for? - inspector addressed him good-naturedly
Galbraith immediately stopped glaring at the guy, but he continued to shake slightly with fear.
- Are you inspector Galbraith? - steward asked hesitantly.
- Do we know each other?
The inspector began to remember whether he had seen this guy with a big nose and thin cheeks before. No matter how many times he came here, there was always an adult and lean man serving dishes... Galbraith concluded that his son must have come to work instead of him today.
- No mister, just one man ask you to answer the phone, - the guy exhaled as he said his last words.
Inspector glanced at the counter - the bartender was still not there.
- Okay, hold on a minute. I ordered pizza, could you ask to wrapped it a to-go? - he shouted to the steward, who was already leaving for the distant tables.
- All right, I'll tell mister Anderson, - referring to the bartender, guy answered without a hint of timidity.
"Times are shifting", inspector thought about the young steward and, mentally wishing him success in his career, headed to the telephone booth. It was dark there - the lightbulb hanging on the ceiling gave no light at all. The owner forgot to screw in a new bulb to replace the burnt one, Galbraith thought mechanically, raising the phone receiver to his ear. He was a little deaf from the music in the main room, so when he answered the phone with a businesslike "Inspector Galbraith is on a wire", he did not immediately hear the quiet voice of the caller.
- Who are you, I'm sorry? - he asked
- Schaeymoure bothers you, - a soothing aged voice came from the speaker
When Galbraith finally realized who the person on the other side of the line was, his heart involuntarily responded with a resounding beat to the sound of that name.
- Forgive me, mister chief inspector, it's just hard to hear here, - he began to make excuses.
In this phone conversation, Galbraith, perhaps for the first time in his entire career as a police inspector, allowed himself to lie to Schaeymoure. The lie was that in fact there was no sound reaching the telephone booth from the main room of this basement bar. Galbraith took such liberties in his conversation with mister chief inspector for the simple reason that he wanted to justify his own inattention ans click those heels to the situation that allegedly interfered with him.
Fortunately for him, mister chief inspector Schaeymoure did not care about the conditions in which his subordinate was now. He, without listening to the end of Galbraith's pathetic excuse, made his request to him:
- Galbraith, I would like to meet you.
These seemingly harmless words of chief inspector made an unexpected impression on Galbraith. For a moment he felt a pain in his right ear, as if his eardrum had been pierced by the point of a very fine needle. It got dark in his eyes...
- Roger, mister chief inspector, - Galbraith answered, leaning his free hand against the wall of the telephone booth. - When I'm...
- I would prefer not to postpone the meeting. Do you have time?
- I'm all yours, mister chief inspector, it's only morning.
- That's good, I don't want to delay this until tomorrow. So you can?
- Yes of course.
- Excellent. You know where I live?
Galbraith wanted to answer "How would we know this?", but he restrained himself from this nervous outburst in time. But really, why on earth would he know the address of the chief inspector? And, for that matter, why don't they meet at the police department in his office? Why this conspiracy?
- Not, but I'm...
Inspector was ready to find the address of the chief inspector among the heap of papers in the department, but his interlocutor did not let him finish.
- Do you have something to write on?
- Wait a second...
Galbraith began to look in his pockets. Yes, there it was, his small notebook, which he took out when he needed to write down someone's home number or address.
- All is ready, dictate.
Holding the receiver between his ear and shoulder, inspector pressed the notepad against the wall of the telephone booth and, taking out a pen, prepared to write down.
- So, write - Rollo, fifty five. It's very close to Portland State University.
Rollo street, fifty fifth house. Galbraith, trying not to drop the telephone receiver, wrote this address in large letters in his notebook. As he printed out the last digit, he heard Schaeymoure ask:
- Can you come immediately?
Inspector, closing the notebook and putting it in the inner pocket of his jacket, grabbed the receiver in his hands.
- Yes, mister chief inspector, I will try to come to you as quickly as possible.
- Maybe you will be more comfortable in one or two hours?
- I can do it any second now.
- Okay then, Galbraith. Waiting for you.
He forgot to say goodbye - mister chief inspector Schaeymoure had already finished the call. Galbraith returned the telephone receiver to its rightful place and, straightening his tie, left the telephone booth. Having crossed the threshold, he felt a slight tingling in his eyes - standing in the darkness the entire conversation, he is somewhat unaccustomed to the light. Music was still playing in the bar room. The aggressive piano chords were joined by a strange industrial screech - as if a train was stopping its movement.
Getting used to the daylight, Galbraith almost came face to face with the young steward. He, seeing the inspector entering the hall, stopped and, with a slight nod, pointing to the bar counter, cheerfully reported:
- Pizza is ready, pick up your order.
- Thanks to you... - Galbraith wanted to address the steward by name.
- My name is Lawrence, Lawrence Wilcox, - the guy told him cheerfully.
- My gratitude to you, Lawrence. Say hi to your father!
- And what is your... - now the guy wanted to know the name of his interlocutor
- Just call me Galbraith. Your dad always served me in this place.
Galbraith walked up to the counter. On it lay a quarter of a thick flapjack wrapped in a sweaty plastic bag, which was generously smeared with ketchup. There was also grated cheese, baked at high temperature, under which were hidden two pieces of bacon. Sparsely, thought inspector, for whom the mere sight of this food was enough to begin to reproach himself for falling for the advertisement of the bartender who was trying to push clearly stale goods to his customer.
- How much do I owe you for this? - Galbraith, in no hurry to take the package in his hands, turned to the bored bartender.
He took the price list in his hands and began to count in his head. At the same time, the veins on his forehead visibly swelled. Finally, he told the buyer the amount. Good grief, Galbraith thought, for one unfortunate glass of beer (albeit warmed) and a tiny piece of pizza, he needs to give the same amount of money as he usually spent on his purchases at the grocery store. It's not that the inspector was particularly greedy and stingy - no, inspector just felt a little uncomfortable paying for food that takes five minutes to eat, the same amount of money as for supplies for three days. But nothing can be done, the rules of the market are the law - as a person working in the police, Galbraith knew this very well.