Lost in lamentable reflections, the inspector did not notice how the car stopped moving.
- Good sir, we are already there! - the driver said cheerfully.
Galbraith turned away from his mirthless thoughts and looked out the window. Outside was a snow-covered field that stretched to the horizon. Here and there sparse trees stuck out between the snowdrifts.
- Are we sure we've arrived at the right address? - the policeman asked incredulously.
- Do you think I decided to fool you? - the taxi driver said with offense.
The inspector decided not to get into an altercation with him and opened the door. There was no bitter blizzard, but rare snowflakes continued to hover in the air. It would be crazy to go out in such light clothes, but Galbraith didn't care anymore. Getting out of the car, he took two steps forward and breathed in the fresh air. A gust of cold wind blew through his hair.
- I said, take me to the institute! - he shouted, looking around.
- And what's this? A barn?! - answered the taxi driver from the window.
The car started moving and sped off into the distance. Shivering from the cold, the inspector took his eyes off the road and turned on his heel. He expected to see a typical building of an ordinary institute - a huge four-story structure with long rows of windows, with a colonnade at the main facade and with mysterious Latin inscriptions above the main entrance. But instead he saw a modest one-story house. Although, to be honest, calling it "house" would be an exaggeration. The structure looked much more like a car garage, built from cinder blocks finished with dark blue plaster.
Galbraith looked a little more closely. The building had the shape of a parallelepiped, with four windows along the long sides. At the end there was a double wooden door with small windows made of thick glass. This, in fact, was where all the architectural delights ended - no signs, inscriptions or plaques. It looked like it really was an ordinary, unremarkable garage. But the inspector decided not to rush to conclusions and came close to the entrance. As soon as he pulled the copper handle, a light came on behind the glass of the doors. Then something tinkled behind them and there was a quiet click. Galbraith immediately let go of the handle and backed away slightly - the next moment the door slowly opened.
A young man stood on the threshold in a white coat thrown over a black shirt. The policeman looked up - the stranger had a yellowish skin tone, small thin lips and combed back black hair. The Asian man looked at the inspector, and polite curiosity was visible in his narrow, slanted eyes. At the first moment, Galbraith even had the thought that he had already seen this face somewhere - maybe in a movie - but he immediately pushed this thought away.
- Welcome, - the Asian said respectfully and bowed his head slightly.
The inspector couldn't help but notice that the interlocutor had problems pronouncing the letter "L" - instead he got an "R", which is why his "welcome" sounded almost like "verukome".
- I am grad that you honoured our humbre institute with your visit, - the stranger in the coat said obsequiously with a terrible accent. - Come in, they are waiting for you.
The solemnity that was felt in the words of this Asian only emphasized the atmosphere of absurdity that surrounded Galbraith at that moment. Having crossed the threshold, the inspector followed his guide, not having the slightest idea where he was leading him. They walked through a narrow, short corridor and found themselves in a dressing room-like room, the walls of which were painted gray. Galbraith immediately caught the eye of the staircase leading down, located directly opposite the entrance to the room. To her right was the elevator door, next to which stood a metal clothes hanger on which hung several white coats - exactly the same as the one the Asian man who met him was wearing.
Behind these clothes, Galbraith did not immediately notice a man standing at a distance in the same suit. Taking a closer look, the inspector recognized him as the same middle-aged guest who had visited him in his room at the Stait of Snow Lake hotel in the morning.
- Wow, here you are! - there was a cheerful shout.
The man waved his hand joyfully, and the policeman saw his face break into a smile for a moment - it seemed as if he saw an old friend whom he had not seen for many years. After a second, the smile disappeared from his face and the man turned his gaze to the Asian man standing next to the inspector and winked at him. He nodded in response and headed towards the stairs. Galbraith wanted to follow, but the silver-haired man stopped him.
- Hold your horses, the respected, hold your horses, - he said ingratiatingly, clapping his hands.
- How can I be useful in this place? - Galbraith asked, looking with interest at the specialist.
- I would like to say a few words to you, - the interlocutor seemed to have not heard him. - I was already afraid that you wouldn't come.
- Why? - the inspector didn't understand what silver-haired was talking about.
- Two months and eight days have passed since I handed you the business card, - the man answered, raising his finger up.
Galbraith was a little surprised by the accuracy with which his interlocutor counted the time. Apparently, he never complained about his memory. Besides, people here were really looking forward to the inspector's visit. The more the policeman thought about it, the more a vague feeling of anxiety came over him. To drive him away, Galbraith decided to focus on the upcoming conversation.
- Yes, I wasn't in much of a hurry, - he answered evasively.
Not telling this silver-haired man that he actually moved in time by getting into some taxi - not only did it sound stupid, but it could also suggest that the inspector was not all right in the head.
- Good, - The specialist was satisfied with this answer. - Put in on.
With these words, he took one of the white coats from the hanger and handed it to Galbraith.
- What is this for? - asked the inspector, incredulously turning this item of clothing in his hands.
- For hygienic reasons, - the silver-haired man answered.
- Huh, you're afraid I'll bring germs into your barn? - Galbraith grinned, throwing this coat over his shoulders.
The specialist seemed to be offended by such words from the guest. He twitched with his whole body and threw a look of reproach at Galbraith.
- I understand that you are not very impressed by the facade of our institute, but do not rush to conclusions! - he spoke hastily.
- Where exactly is the institute itself? - Galbraith asked curiously.
- Below, - the specialist said solemnly.
He pointed with his hand towards the stairs, on the upper steps of which stood an Asian man leaning against the wall. He seemed to be just waiting for this sign. He walked away from the wall and, as if about to bow, slightly bent his knees, but the next moment he straightened up and froze in place.
- Makoto-san berieves that the croser a person is to the core of the Earth, the more his mind is open to universar wisdom, - at these words, a crazy light flashed in the Asian's eyes.
- What nonsense did he say? - Galbraith asked the silver-haired man.
- Forgive generously young mister Manabu for idolizing his teacher too much, - the specialist said with embarrassment
- I don't care about the relationship between a student and his teacher, - Galbraith remarked somewhat rudely. - Explain in a few words what is happening here?
- In the heat of his feelings, Manabu lost sight of the fact, - the silver-haired man began. - That Montesi decided to hide his developments from prying eyes.
- Montesi? Makoto? Who are all these people? - the inspector was already beginning to be annoyed by this old man and his Asian friend.
- While we are on our way down, you and I will have enough time to bring you up to date, - the specialist did not seem to notice the inspector's dissatisfaction.
After these words, the specialist approached the stairs, and his Asian companion - now it turned out that he was Japanese - followed him. Galbraith silently looked after them and decided to go to the elevator.
- No-no-no, - the silver-haired man shouted to him. - Follow us!
- Why don't we just take the elevator? - Galbraith asked, taking his hand away from the call button.
- The fact is that the institute is located at such a great depth, - the specialist began in the tone of an art critic in the museum, - That during an elevator ride your brain runs the risk of not being able to cope with the rapid change in pressure.
- So what? - the inspector was not impressed by this abstruse excuse.
- And in this case, you, my respected and impatient friend, will just lose consciousness right in the cabin, - the silver-haired man said with obvious mockery.
- Are you threatening me? - the policeman involuntarily became wary.
- Threat is the weapon of cowards, - pouting with importance, the Japanese intervened in the conversation. - Makoto-san arways said that a person is obriged...
- I have no obligations to you two, - Galbraith interrupted him.
The inspector walked away from the elevator and stood next to his interlocutors. He had a view of a spiral staircase going deep into a round concrete shaft. The steps were illuminated by rare yellow diodes hanging on an aluminum wire stretched over the staircase railing. The end of this steel spiral was lost in the darkness, and not a single sound came from there. At the sight of this descent, a chill ran down the policeman's spine - in his entire adult life he had never seen such a great depth. Galbraith felt his hands involuntarily shaking, and with difficulty he restrained himself from succumbing to the impulse of fear and rushing to the exit from this place.
He looked at the gray-haired man - he did not seem to experience any discomfort, calmly looking forward. Then the inspector turned to the Japanese - he looked at Galbraith with curiosity, and his eyes seemed to say "Are you scared? This is a lesson for you not to be rude to scientists!".
- Well, let's go? - the specialist said in a cheerful tone.
With these words, he grabbed the iron railing with one hand and began to leisurely descend the stairs. The Japanese followed him. Galbraith was in no hurry to follow them and leaned his elbows on the railing.
- Hey, wait a second, - he said quietly after them.
The silver-haired man did not seem to hear him and continued to walk, and only his yellow-faced companion did a favour for the guest and turned his head slightly back, looking strangely sideways at Galbraith.
- Make me a promise that at the end of this excursion I will return back safe and sound, okay? - the inspector asked with unexpected gentleness.
- Don't worry, - came the specialist's voice. - You are our guest, and therefore we have no right to wish you harm in any case.
The Japanese didn't say a word, he just beckoned the inspector with his finger and, turning away from him, continued on his way. Galbraith, who was saddened by these words, shrugged his shoulders and obediently followed them both. There was a slightly musty underground smell hanging in the air of the descent shaft - something between the smell of mustiness and fug. It is curious that the lower they descended, the warmer the air became.
- Please don't stomp! - the gray-haired man suddenly shouted.
The inspector only now realized that all this time his companions had been walking silently along the metal steps, while he, in his loafers, was actually making a very distinct stomp. Galbraith looked at the heels of the Japanese man walking in front of him and could not help but smile - on the young man's bare feet there were rubber flip-flops, very similar to those worn by tourists sunbathing on the beach. This was so dissonant with the scientist's white coat that the inspector could not help but comment on it out loud.
- Amusing dress code you have here, - he said, trying to slow down his pace.
- Are you talking about slippers? - asked the silver-haired man, continuing to go down. - We would have given them to you too, but we thought you would start complaining.
- But why flip-flops? - Galbraith asked over the head of the silent Japanese.
- The legs breathe, also the stomping does not interfere with the conversation, - the specialist answered calmly.
Galbraith finally mastered the fear that gripped him a couple of minutes ago. Now he found it funny, to such an extent that he was almost sure that all this was happening in some kind of comedy farce.
- And what do you want to tell me, mister... - the inspector waited for the gray-haired man to identify himself.
- Just call me the specialist, - answered the silver-haired man.
- What kind of conspiracy is this? - the inspector sensed a catch.
- Our scientific people have no names, - the specialist said mysteriously.
- Onry when an individuar manages to achieve success does he have every right to carr himserf, - suddenly spoke up a Japanese man, who had previously keep quiet.
- Hmm... - Galbraith frowned. - Wait, what about Manabu? - he remembered the name of the Asian.
- Mister Manabu has the reputation of being his teacher's first assistant, - answered the specialist. - He is worthy to be addressed by name.
- Does that mean you are not worthy? - the policeman marvelled at this injustice.
- I'm just a executant that no one will ever mention, - the silver-haired man said sadly. - Like a musician in an orchestra, listeners first talk about the composer, then about the conductor, and no one cares about who produces the sounds of music themselves.
There was a grain of truth in the specialist's words. But this still seemed to Galbraith an insufficient excuse for the fact that the man who last morning - but in fact two months ago - paid a surprise visit to the inspector, continues to hide his name from the policeman.