- Oh girl, - the inspector said quietly. - Why are you leading me into your obscurity?
These words were addressed to emptiness, for Galbraith did not expect to hear an answer to them. He couldn't get it anyway - Delia Yonce was buried at River View Cemetery, not far from the grave of first Portland's female mayor. Her funeral went unnoticed by the town, because no one cared about some pharmaceutist's daughter. Nobody wrote in The Asian Reporter a note "Under The X-acto Knife", on her grave not even her most distant relative sat and especially not one of her classmates came there and asked with tears in their eyes "Delia, Delia, can you hear your friend?". The only one who truly sympathized with the girl from those gathered at the farewell ceremony was Galbraith himself, who, after standing at the head of her grave for some time, laid a bouquet of dahlias of different colours on her grave and silently walked away, leaving the funeral procession to be tormented by guesses about the connection this gloomy, mustachioed policeman with a deceased.
If Galbraith himself had been asked about this, he would have answered them "Was there such a connection at all?". Indeed, in his entire life, the inspector saw this little girl only once - when he came to the Yonce family home on the matter of her mother's suicide... But even these short minutes of their meeting were enough to understand that it was on him, Galbraith, that the future fate of this child depended. Alas, a call from mister chief inspector Schaeymoure then separated them, and he had to leave Delia in the care of an inadequate man from Federal Bureau of Investigation and doctor Matt MacLaren, a kind-hearted but essentially spineless person...
Galbraith distracted himself from these sad thoughts and noticed that although it was October outside, through the window of the "Clair'n'Tone" establishment, where he had been standing all this time, shiny silver fir-trees were clearly visible. He involuntarily admired them - the decorations were cut out of foil and hung in the same place where the curtains were attached.
- I don't argue, it's beautiful, but somehow it's not the season, - he said thoughtfully to himself.
The inspector opened the door and, entering a small elongated hall, realized that he had not imagined. Not only the facade of the cafe, but also its interior was completely decorated for Christmas - LED garlands and fir-tree cones were hung on the walls and there were toy figures of some animals hanging from the ceiling. The only thing missing was appropriate music, Galbraith thought, and hypothesized that apparently the owners of this establishment were such lazy people that they had forgotten to remove the decorations since last year.
He glanced at the counter, then noticed the tables. The inspector went to the very end of the hall, where the order receiving area was located. Sitting down on a small soft sofa at the table, Galbraith put his hands on the table and noticed with some dissatisfaction that besides him and one waitress there was no one else in this room. Apparently, people living in the area knew what awaited them in this cafe and therefore tried to avoid it. While waiting for the girl to deign to pay attention to him, the inspector looked around - now that he had already gotten used to inappropriate decorations of "Clair'n'Tone", he was able to pay attention to the high ceilings and rustic scarlet walls. Richly, Galbraith thought, and this circumstance changed his attitude towards the establishment for the better than it had been from the very beginning. He even caught himself thinking that there was something in that on a hot October day sitting in a room that involuntarily transports him several months into the future.
Five minutes later, the waitress, who had previously been running between tables with a white rag, finally deigned to pay attention to Galbraith and approached his table.
- Welcome, what's your pleasure? - the blonde girl asked modestly.
Galbraith looked up at her. Beautiful, he thought. Her slender figure was emphasized by a light dress that tightly fit her graceful waist and high chest.
- Could I see the menu? - he just asked.
The waitress handed him a sheet of glossy paper folded in half, and Galbraith thanked him and took the menu in his hands. Having glanced over the contents, he was quite surprised by the small size of the list - only two dishes were indicated in it. He remembered that the taxi driver, recommending this establishment, called it an unfamiliar word “Vanitas-restaurant”. Apparently, an establishment with a claim to something original, Galbraith thought. Then it could be clear why the interior was decorated out of season...
The inspector carefully studied the menu - the first course was a cocktail with the strange name "Sujeira". "Sierra, chain of mountains?" Galbraith asked himself. Under the picture of a glass with a thin stem, the ingredients were indicated - cognac, water, sugar, lemon juice.
- What does it mean? - he asked the waitress standing at the table.
- It's cognac with caramel syrup, - she answered with downcast eyes in a gentle voice.
- Huh... - Galbraith was quite surprised at such a strange combination of ingredients.
- This is a very light drink, because the syrup softens the strength of the alcohol, - the girl explained.
- So what, visitors order this slipslop there? - Galbraith was even more surprised.
- A highly tasty cocktail, - the girl said confidently. - Try it yourself.
- Okay, I'll take your word for it, - the inspector said and continued to study the menu.
In addition to this incomprehensible cocktail, on the inner spread of the glossy paper there was another line "Jantar". Just this name and that's all - no picture, no composition. He didn't even try to understand the meaning of this word.
- What is this? - Galbraith pointed a finger.
- This is the dish, - the waitress answered.
- It was fairly obvious, but what it represents? - the inspector involuntarily began to be irritated by the girl's playful tone.
- The recipe of "Jantar" is the trade secret, - she answered with dignity.
- Well, I order everything that's on this menu, - Galbraith waved his hand in anger.
The waitress made a slight bow and, taking the menu from the table, gave the guest a charming smile and left. The inspector looked after her for a while, and then, again staring ahead, thought that the establishment was very strange - only two dishes, of which one had an idiotic composition, and the second only had its name... Galbraith had a suspicion that the chefs of this establishment were clearly cooking not for clients who almost never came to them, but to satisfy their personal whims. He even felt a wave of cold and sticky sweat run down his back for no apparent reason.
Three minutes later the waitress returned to his table.
- Here's your order, - she said in the same gentle voice.
She placed a tray in front of him, on which stood a glass of brown liquid and a clay bowl of salad. In addition, there was a fork wrapped in a white napkin nearby.
- Thank you, - Galbraith said with some disappointment to the girl, who immediately walked away.
Yes, he thought, looking at the dishes, he shouldn't have expected anything supernatural from the absurdity that was listed on the menu. He was even involuntarily glad that under the word "Jantar" there was not some boiled shoe stuffed with nails, but just a regular salad... The inspector decided to start with a cocktail. Taking a sip from a tall glass, he was convinced that the combination of cognac and caramel syrup was terrible not only in words, but also in taste. Galbraith shuddered with disgust, but he did not spit out the liquid, instead swallowing it whole, comforting himself with the thought that they eat cockroaches in China...
As a result, he moved the glass away from him and, picking up a fork, looked at the clay bowl. Compared to the cocktail, what was in it could be called quite ordinary food - lettuce leaves mixed with finely grated cheese and rye croutons. Yes, the vaunted "Jantar" was just a simple Caesar salad, only without the sauce. Galbraith, who expected the worst, involuntarily sighed with relief and began to eat. The salad was tasteless, which was obvious - without meat and sauce, chewing dry leaves and croutons seemed quite boring, but, oddly enough, it was edible. The inspector didn't even notice how two minutes later he emptied the clay bowl and, wiping his hands on a napkin, leaned back on the soft sofa on which he was sitting.
Suddenly Galbraith's attention was attracted by a person who, before his eyes, entered the "Clair'n'Tone premises. It was a little girl, she looked like she was about five or six years old. She had large, gentle eyes and a head of thick golden hair, which contrasted strongly with her pale face. She was dressed in a gray woolen sweater that reached her knees and a skirt of an undetermined dark colour. In her right hand she was holding a waffle cone with two light blue scoops of ice cream. The delicacy gave her whole figure fragility and a certain touchingness.
The baby girl walked uncertainly through the hall, looking around from time to time, as if looking for someone. She didn't even look in Galbraith's direction, but she raised her head several times - apparently she was looking at the toys hanging from the ceiling. Finally, she walked up to the counter and stopped, fascinated by the figurine of a goldfish swaying on a thin thread. The girl had her back to the inspector, so he did not see her face, but he noticed how the child extended his hand towards the toy.
Then a girl with high chest - a waitress - approached his table. Bowing to Galbraith, she placed the open leather accountant in front of him. He scanned the lines - the bill stated that he would have to pay about six pounds sterling for both dishes. The inspector reached into his pocket where his wallet lay.
- Well, how did you like it? - asked the waitress, playfully looking at the guest
- Keep your money, and goodbye, - Galbraith said dryly.
Having said this, he took out money from his wallet. The waitress looked intently into his eyes, and, collecting the coins from the table, left. Galbraith got up from the soft sofa and, glancing at the little girl in a sweater who continued to look at the toy, moved towards the exit of this place. Coming outside, the inspector noticed that while he was sitting in this vanitas-restaurant, it had already become dark outside. Galbraith, looking around, felt some uncertainty - he understood that it was almost impossible for him to navigate the local conditions, but he had to somehow get to his hotel... Excitedly, he put his hand into his pocket and felt for a piece of paper. He pulled it out, Galbraith unwrapped it and brought it to his eyes. It was the same phone number that the taxi driver had given him then.
- So, Berneasy, I'll have to resort to your services, - the inspector said sarcastically.
Still holding the piece of paper in his hands, he raised his head and saw a telephone booth on the other side of the street. Since there were almost no cars on the street at that time, it was easy for Galbraith to cross the road and pull the door towards himself. A few more seconds, and the inspector was already standing next to the telephone. Having dropped the coin into the slot, Galbraith, checking the piece of paper, dialed the number (020) 1805 1982 and raised the receiver to his ear. First he heard long beeps coming from the receiver. Then there was a click in it, after which a sleepy male voice was heard, slightly distorted by interference:
- Hello, I am listening to you.