The inspector was quite surprised to hear this voice, which belonged to none other than his old friend lieutenant Nelissen.
- Nelissen, buddy, is that you? - at the sound of a familiar voice, a shiver of joy ran through Galbraith’s body.
- Galbraith? At long last it's you! - a young voice responded cheerfully. - I was beginning to worry. where've you been?
- In London as you know... - Galbraith fell silent.
- What's wrong, cat got your tongue? - Nelissen asked somewhat impudently.
- Give me the explanation, - the inspector began. - How is it that I called a London taxi driver but got on a Portland police department?
- Speak softly, - it seemed that Nelissen missed the words of his interlocutor deaf ears. - Somebody might hear us.
- I'm fine not caring about... - Galbraith said with some resentment, but the young lieutenant interrupted him.
- Do not contest me, - a young voice said rudely. - The information I will give you is not for prying eyes.
- All right, - the inspector gave in to his friend's pressure. - What do you want me to say?
- Couple of news, - the lieutenant answered with a sense of importance.
- Well, according to tradition, firstly... - Galbraith wanted to say "good, and then bad", but he was not allowed to finish.
- If you find something good in any of this news, then I can congratulate you on being such a katagelastic!
- What? - the inspector asked, who had never encountered this word, in bewilderment.
- It doesn't matter, - Nelissen again avoided answering. - May I begin then?
- Okay, let's go, - he encouraged his interlocutor.
- Good, then listen to me, - the voice answered with a sense of importance. - Do you remember Jordan Thurlow?
- How can I not remember, I personally interrogated him, - Galbraith said somewhat offended.
- Of course, all know this already, - the lieutenant said reproachfully. - As well as the fact that after the audience with him you were not at all interested in his fate.
- Oh... - sighed the inspector.
Nelissen’s words were fair - Galbraith, having received from mister Thurlow information about Delia Yonce, actually completely forgot about this person, because it seemed to him that there was nothing to even remember about some lawbreaker who would be released only after sixteen years. For the inspector, the perpetrator was something like a plant in a pot - he sits in one place, does not do anything... Only, unlike a plant, the criminal has no charisma...
- Basically, the day after you said goodbye to him, - the lieutenant interrupted Galbraith's thoughts. - A prison guard entered Jordan's prison cell and found him lying prone on the floor.
- He was dead? - the inspector guessed.
- Yes, - Nelissen answered dryly.
- I wonder why he's so fast kicked the bucket, - Galbraith expressed his thoughts out loud.
- A forensic examination determined that Jordan's death was due to oxygen deprivation of the brain, - as if reading from a piece of paper, a young voice said.
- Hmm... - his interlocutor thought.
- Lesley Watmough, the pathologist who performed the autopsy on the prisoner's body discovered something interesting, - the lieutenant returned to his familiar tone.
- And what? - Galbraith perked up.
- He discovered a malignant tumour in Jordan's larynx, - Nelissen answered, lowering his voice. - Laryngeal cancer in a few words.
Hearing this, Galbraith involuntarily remembered the phrase of the twitchy parlourmaid from "Stait of Snow Lake" that the old concierge was taken to the hospital on suspicion of cancer, but Nelissen continued to talk.
- In general, Lesley said that this is a rather rare case, because usually people get this disease by the age of fifty, and Jordan, as you remember...
- I'm aware of that, - Galbraith interrupted the lieutenant. - That's all?
- That's it with Jordan, now about Delia, - it seemed as if the invisible interlocutor smiled.
- What, her too... - the inspector was surprised.
- No, who would have thought of digging her out of the grave? - having said this, the lieutenant burst into laughter.
- All right, knock it off, - for some reason it was unpleasant for Galbraith to hear this
- Okay, - Nelissen immediately stopped. - It's like this, as you were preparing to board the plane, we continued our investigation...
- No, really? - Galbraith was involuntarily surprised. - I thought all had shelved on this case...
- Do not interrupt. We discovered that after the hysterectomy surgeons extracted something from her womb... - the lieutenant stopped as if catching his breath.
- So what did they extract? - the inspector was a little tensed by this pause.
- Caetlynn Armour called this thing as Fetus papyraceous, according to her, this is when a female twin carries a second embryo inside.
- Stupid and unscientific bullshit, - Galbraith involuntarily cursed dirtily.
- Well, what do you want from this modern medicine... - the lieutenant seemed to be thinking about something.
- All right, they found it, so what's next? - the inspector was burning with impatience.
- In short, they donated it to the Oregon College of Oriental Medicine, - Nelissen replied.
- Wait, what's this for? - Galbraith was involuntarily surprised.
- As a medical exhibit, what did you think? - the young voice chuckled.
- Nothing of the kind... - the inspector stopped mid-sentence.
- There, of course, this thing was immediately placed in a glass vessel with formaldehyde, - the lieutenant began. - And when I learned about this, I did not restrain myself and immediately went to this college.
- What did you see? - Galbraith was very interested at that second
- Well... - his interlocutor began to remember. - A lots of students crowded around the vessel - do not feed bread, just let them peek at new wonderment.
- Quite curious, - Galbraith grinned.
- They stood around and discussed it, - continued the lieutenant. - One guy noticed that this thing looked a lot like the larva of Rosalia longicorn, and someone fainted...
- Who exactly? - for some reason the inspector was interested in this fact.
- Two young gals, - the invisible interlocutor clicked his tongue. - Apparently they were afraid that when they got pregnant, something like this would grow inside them.
Galbraith involuntarily thought that it turned out quite ironically - the girl was saved from the parasite, which everyone admires, but no one even thinks about the one from whom it was extracted, there is not even a question of sympathy.
- God's got a sick sense of humour, - the inspector said gloomily into the phone.
- I didn't understand, what are you trying to say? - the lieutenant said in bewilderment.
- Forget it, I was just thinking out loud, - Galbraith said honestly. - But what was this thing anyway?
- You know, I think Caetlynn Armor named this thing Fetus papyraceous on the spur of the moment because it didn't look like an embryo, - the young man spoke mysteriously.
- So what could it look like? - his interlocutor did not understand.
- Let's imagine a Sea urchin, - the lieutenant began to explain.
- Shell? - Galbraith interrupted him
- No, alive, - the young man corrected him.
- Well, I did, - the inspector hastily answered.
Galbraith drew in his mind a red ball, studded with long needles, which could only exist at the bottom of the ocean.
- So, this ersatz Sea urchin swam there in formaldehyde, - Nelissen said. - And I, looking at this, thought that it was...
- Parasite? - Galbraith suggested.
- Worse, - the interlocutor answered. - The parasite is still a separate organism, harmful, but if desired, it can be removed without loss to the host, but here...
- Don't stir things up, please, - the inspector suddenly wanted this conversation to finally end.
- Imagine, my friend, that when you were conceived, a second brain formed in your lungs, - a young voice deviated from the topic.
- What nonsense? - Galbraith was surprised by this analogy.
- Listen to this, - the lieutenant said angrily. - It would be a completely useless appendage that would absorb the excess energy of your body, but it would not do anything useful.
- I have no idea but that was really interestingly, - The inspector remarked sarcastically.
- ...but since you have this from birth, you think that this is the norm, - Nelissen continued.
Galbraith thought that there was some logic in this - after all, a person really cannot know that others actually feel about their organism.
- And therefore, - said the lieutenant. - Trying to remove this organ can lead to serious complications because your body...
- Are you saying that the chances of Delia surviving were zero? - the inspector immediately asked.
- With this thing inside, I don't know, - a young voice answered calmly. - But it is a fact that removing of it led to death.
- Poor girl... - Galbraith sighed sadly.
- But I can say one thing for sure, - continued Nelissen. - Even if she wanted to, a girl as an adult could not conceive and bear a child.
- Hmm... - the inspector scratched his moustache.
- Do you think that if you have some kind of thing grown into your womb, then there will be a place for the baby there too? - the young lieutenant suddenly became angry.
- I wouldn't think such a thing, - Galbraith was slightly hurt by these words.
- Okay, let's end the conversation, - changing his tone, the lieutenant said. - I am afraid that the call may be intercepted by inquisitive gentlemen from The Metropolitan Police Service.
After these words there was a click and beeps started - Nelissen ended the call. In the silence that reigned, Galbraith sighed with some relief, and, wiping the sweat on his forehead, hung up the telephone receiver. Opening the door, he walked out of the phone booth onto the street and took a deep breath of the damp evening air. He thought that if anyone was interested in this telephone conversation, it most likely would not be the police, but The Maudsley Hospital. Moreover, as he believed, this would be completely fair - recently the inspector had experienced such events that if he tried to describe them to a stranger, this could cause him the most serious suspicions regarding his mental health. Yes, Galbraith thought, falling into the hands of doctors from The Maudsley Hospital would not be such a bad idea - if such an event actually happened, he would most likely be guaranteed silence, soft walls, white coats...
Standing at the telephone booth, he suddenly noticed that on the opposite side of the road, next to the newsstand, was standing the same young man in a red shirt, looking like a Japanese popstar, whom Galbraith had seen this morning under the hotel window. At first, the inspector involuntarily panicked - his breathing quickened and his heart began to pound - but then he remembered the good old trick, the essence of which was that you should not show the person watching you your fear, so that he does not become convinced that he can influence you. And then Galbraith, straightening his shoulders, boldly moved towards the restaurant, thinking about how to get to his hotel.
He imagined how he would stand for a long time in the cold air with his arm outstretched in front of him in order to attract the attention of passing cars... To his surprise, as he approached the front of Clair'n'Tone, he noticed that there was a yellow car parked right in front of the doors. Galbraith quickened his pace and, raising his hand, shouted to the driver to wait. Approaching the car, he leaned towards the glass. The driver looked at him in surprise.
- Queensborough Terrace, hotel "Stait of Snow Lake", - Galbraith said hastily.
The man nodded without further ado, and the inspector opened the door, leaned back in the back seat, after which the driver turned the ignition key and the car moved smoothly, drove out onto a wide street and rushed forward, towards the center. Galbraith simply looked at the views of the night city flashing outside the window, without indulging in any thoughts. He noticed that the streets gradually became wider, the houses around became higher, illuminated shop windows and billboards began to appear outside the window, on which flashing colourful inscriptions flashed, calling on random passers-by to visit this or that shopping center, go to a bar and order there a glass of beer, or at least buy unnecessary change at some booth... Contemplating the world of London at night, the inspector gradually calmed down and relaxed.
- Listen, good sir, you'll probably have to look for another hotel! - suddenly the taxi driver's voice was heard.
This remark snapped Galbraith out of the meditative state into which he had fallen. Twitching like a frightened bird, the inspector stared at the back of the driver's head.
- What are you speaking about? - Galbraith asked with uncertainty.
- It's best you take a look for yourself! - the man waved his hand in front of him.
The passenger moved closer and, squinting, began to peer into the windshield. They had already left for Queensborough Terrace and were already approaching their destination, but what the inspector saw involuntarily threw him into a consternation - the four-story building "Stait of Snow Lake" was on fire - the flames engulfed the first two floors of the building and gradually reached the roof. "Well, for heaven's sakes!" Galbraith thought to himself.
For a couple of moments, he admitted the suppose that it was the work of that twitchy parlourmaid. "This blithering idiot apparently accidentally placed the heater next to the curtain..." This hypothesis arose from him because he had no doubt that all the hotel equipment in the "Stait of Snow Lake" was in the same condition as the room that he happened to rent from them. "Short circuit, spark and that's it..." he thought nervously.
- Stop the car! - barely containing his excitement, he shouted to the driver.
- What's the use, good sir, your things are probably already burned, - with some reluctance, the driver pressed the brake.
The inspector was not going to argue with the taxi driver and quickly opened the door. But before he jumped out into the street, the driver turned back to the passenger.
- I’ll wait for you here, otherwise you never know, you’ll need to go to the airport or depot... - he said in a conspiratorial tone.
Already getting out of the car, Galbraith involuntarily remembered the mysterious taxi driver, who, judging by his business card, had the name "H. Berneasy". It seemed to him that both drivers had something in common, at least the intonation and timbre of their voices. But he had no time to think about it, and he moved towards the hotel. In the darkness of the night, the building of "Stait of Snow Lake" literally glowed in the gloom, and therefore it was not difficult for Galbraith to immediately notice the people crowding around the scene of the incident. The inspector wanted to ask someone from the crowd how long ago the fire had started, and he began to peer into the faces of the onlookers. He himself could not explain exactly what criteria a person who could be a guest of this hotel had to meet.
After a couple of minutes of searching, Galbraith’s gaze settled on a obese man in a lilac shirt. He looked to be about thirty-five years old. For some reason, the inspector was attracted to this person - apparently, the point was that in appearance he was somewhat similar to himself - the stranger had the same black the painter’s brush moustache and slightly wavy hair. Galbraith ran up to this man, who, looking at the burning hotel, was smoking a thick cigar with a kind of detached look.
- Please forgive me... - the inspector addressed him with respect.
The man turned his head slightly towards Galbraith and blew out a cloud of tobacco smoke. "I hope he won't mind", the policeman got nervous.
- Where's the fire team? - Galbraith asked a leading question.
- They is right there! - the man in the lilac shirt took a drag and waved his hand to the side.
The inspector looked where the onlooker pointed. And in fact, there were two red fire trucks parked outside the "Stait of Snow Lake". People in black uniforms with green stripes on their sleeves scurried around and tried to cope with the fire consuming the building.
- You don't know when the fire started? - Galbraith sent another question.
- I'd like to know more about this! - the man exclaimed with annoyance and blew out a ring of smoke again.
Galbraith stood next to this smoker and, involuntarily inhaling the smoke of his cigar, thought about exactly who was responsible for this accident. The version with a faulty heater seemed too banal - as a police inspector, it seemed to him that behind the fire there was clearly a certain person who was pursuing some of his own goals. Of course, thoughts of doctor Baselard immediately entered his head. "Why not", thought Galbraith, standing next to a mustachioed obese man. "In the morning there was a visit from a suspicious specialist who, after checking that I was definitely staying at this hotel, gave a sign to Baselard and he took care of the fire... Although no, this is some kind of paranoia", he concluded.
- Alas, what a shame, - the silence was broken by an onlooker in a lilac shirt. - I paid about four thousand five hundred bucks for half a month, "All inclusive"...
- Wait a minute, you are an American? - having heard that the interlocutor named the price in dollars, Galbraith perked up.
- I'm from Toronto, - answered his interlocutor. - I came here to spend my vacation, only two days left before returning to Canada.
- Thanks for the reply, - the inspector said calmly. - That is, you don’t know how many people are trapped there?
With these words he nodded towards the burning building of "Stait of Snow Lake".
- I don't care about them, - the obese man said dissatisfied. - I just went out for a walk before dinner, came back, and then this!
Having uttered these words, the onlooker in the lilac shirt angrily threw the cigar to the ground and trampled the fag-end with force. "An typical American", thought Galbraith. "Personal happiness is everything, don't care about the rest of humanity. Some unfinished supper is more important for this tourist than the lives of the people who died in the fire..." The inspector didn't think about at all that the Canadians - because this man, according to him, was from there - are proud that they are not Americans, because for Galbraith, born in England, both these countries were one.
- Now, because of these dullards, I will have to contact the embassy to have my burned documents restored... - the obese man said in a fallen voice and trudged up the street.
Looking after person in lilac shirt, Galbraith remembered that he himself also left his things in the room. He checked his pockets - thank God, he managed to take his wallet and visa this morning. Having calmed down, he noticed with some surprise that of all the things he had left at the hotel, he was sorry to lose only materials on the Pharqraut's case investigation.
- Mister Galbraith? - suddenly someone's insinuating voice was heard from behind.
Hearing his name, the inspector immediately turned around - standing behind him was an elderly man of small stature, in a black uniform and with a uniform cap. On his shoulder hung a large leather bag, emblazoned with a brass label "Royal Mail".
- Sorry, you talking to me now? - he asked the postmaster.
It was somewhat unexpected for the inspector to hear his name from a complete stranger, and the fact that it was the postmaster made Galbraith somewhat tense, because he could not imagine who could send him a letter here in the capital of England.
- I was ordered to deliver the envelope to mister Galbraith, who was staying at the "State of Snow Lake" hotel, - the man in uniform began in a dull voice.
- But how did you recognize me? - the inspector asked incredulously.
- Recognize? I just asked, - his interlocutor answered calmly.
With these words, the postmaster opened his heavy leather bag and began to rummage through it.
- Well, give me the parcel then, - said Galbraith and looked around nervously.
- Before that, - postmaster took something out of the bag. - You must write a receipt for delivery.
- Okay, If you must, just give me a minute, - the inspector shrugged his shoulders.
Taking the paper and pen from the postmaster's hands, he began to look for where to sign. While he was doing this, his interlocutor, exuding some kind of solemn aura with his very appearance, stood motionless nearby.
- Here you go, - Galbraith soon returned the receipt and pen to the postmaster.
The man in uniform put them in his bag and, taking out an envelope from there, without further ado handed it to the stunned inspector and, turning around, disappeared into the darkness of the night. Having received the unexpected parcel, Galbraith brought it to his eyes and began to examine it.