Cyclopaedia Chapter Sixteen: An Inquiry
Konrad locked the door, turning over the sign then performed a brief, brilliantly efficient sweeping of the floor, mastered over decades.
The sunlight on the front window waned, the shadows from the buildings opposite the shop advanced in the late afternoon. The displayed books in the window became subdued. As he finished sweeping and prepared to go upstairs he knew someone else was there. It was a vibration, a sound in another pitch, a displacement of existential volume. He knew it must be a Garde. Looking back at his desk, where he sorted and priced books he saw a figure sitting in his chair.
"The shop is closed," he said, "I know who you are, or at least who you work for."
The figure exhibited the same lack of specifics he'd come to understand as Garde trickery, or fashion. There was a Hat, a Face, a Coat, a Suit, but these were indistinct, or insurmountably generic. But he was recognizable in some way, this too must've been part of their camouflage. Surely, Konrad thought, I'm old and this Garde wasn't yet born when I was an Inspector.
"That's too bad, I was looking for a book," the Garde said.
Konrad replied, "I wasn't aware the Garde were really readers."
The Garde laughed a little. "Oh, I think you'd be surprised how much we've changed over the years. We've expanded our interests. Very different than in your day."
As Konrad got closer to the desk he noticed the smell of expensive tobacco, and a hint of something sweet like an alcohol, brandy perhaps.
"That's true, it was a long time ago, before your time certainly," Konrad said.
"Perhaps. But let me ask you—and I only inquire because you seem to be renowned for giving advice—if I wanted to put a stop to an investigation, how would I go about that?" The indefinite face twisted with quizzical angles. "The Division and their Investigators are a very determined group, with almost complete power over anything in sight—without being unnecessarily combative, what can be done to make them loose interest?"
"Are you speaking of a particular investigation?" Konrad asked.
The Garde replied, "Why yes... I have one in mind, yes. You might be familiar with it. The case involving a missing scientist from a notable laboratory. Since you still seem to travel in Inspector circles, you probably know the Inspectors on the case. Young. Bright. Devoted. A paired couple—I hear that's very sought after these days, two heads are better than one they say. I just want to help them out, really, by saving them some time."
"You disposed of the scientist? You had him disappeared?"
"Of course not, don't be ridiculous. These aren't the old days. This is the modern age. We don't need to do anything like that. And why would we want this scientist disappeared? Has anyone even asked that? Your Inspectors, have they even considered this? Not in depth I think, not enough anyway. We have our interests, they have theirs. We both want to find the scientist. Very much, believe me. And we are confident we know where he is. There's no need for an investigation at all—if it's left to us." The Garde pointed to himself, and the chair under him creaked.
"Because it's your project isn't it? The thing in the laboratory?" Konrad was tired from the day, by nature, or schedule, he felt tired. He pulled up one of the chairs from the side of the table to sit on, the Garde noticed this and stood up.
"I apologize, after all, this is your chair, your desk," he said, offering.
"It's fine. This chair works just as well," Konrad said, shifting his weight, slightly uncomfortable.
"How can I get these Inspectors to understand we can take care of this problem?" the Garde said, sitting back down lightly, hands on his knees. "Just as they may have consulted you about a meeting with us, now I'm consulting you about a meeting with them. What are they looking for? How can I convince them?"
Konrad sighed, he still had chores to do in the shop and he thought about his apartment upstairs, how he'd rather be there. "I'm too old to play games with you, so I'll take your question at face value. The Inspectors are bound by training, and duty, to pursue this as far as they can. And you must know that at least since my time, their investigation is independent, no one has the power to stop it. Not you. Not the Sovereigns. Technically," Konrad raised his finger to stress the point. "I understand there are agencies at work, I'm not dumb, I know there are deals, there are subtle arrangements. But the Inspectors' power, unlike yours, is that of clarity—instead of obfuscation to benefit your masters, they are devoted to an ideological principle of revelation. If you know where the scientist is, you should tell them. Then the investigation will be resolved and you can proceed with your interests. You're right, this is a new age, and unlike my time where I chose to fight you, they have chosen not to. They care about the investigation, you cannot stop them, but you can help them."
"This is very sensible, I should've known, it's why your advice is so sought after. Simple. Resolute. But keep in mind, I'm not the only Garde—and the Garde aren't the only forces in motion—it's in their best interests, the Investigators' interests, it's for their protection too. It would certainly be better for their careers."
"I'm guessing these are the normal casual threats. Your kind are used to making them."
The Garde laughed with a rumbling, "I could easily make a threat that wasn't casual. After all, you are no longer an Inspector. There's nothing stopping us from getting rid of you. It might get their attention."
"I'm surprised you've waited this long." Konrad managed a smile. Perhaps it was time, he'd been around long enough.
"Ha ha! I'm not serious of course. It wouldn't be worth it—besides, we know the denigration you suffered for opposing us back then, we know the price you paid."
"Oh, and what price did I pay?"
"You were ambitious. Your stature in the system was rising, you would've advanced beyond the Division and moved into a ministry, you would've been political. Who knows how far you could've gone. Instead you were retired at a young age and have spent the rest of your days here, in this bookstore." The Garde motioned to the dusty books on the desk. "As pleasant as this is."
"Then let me thank you. I would've been miserable. If there's one thing being around books has taught me, it's that you're never as important as you think you are—and as a young man I mistakenly believed I was important."
The Garde shrugged. A smirk. Despite the misdirection, Konrad thought, you can always tell when they smirk.
The Garde said "Regardless, if you see our Inspector friends, make sure you pass along the thoughts we've discussed."
"I'm sure they'll be speaking directly with you very soon."
"No doubt you are correct. As usual. I bow to your wisdom." The Garde stood. "If I had more time today I'd browse for a book—always looking for something good to read—but I know it's closing time. You do have a nice collection of Forbiddens don't you?"
"I have a few of the classics, as many as one would expect."
"Another time then." As the Garde walked out, the delineated sphere that surrounded his head obscured titles on the spines of books he passed. What language did they become in that brief moment? He couldn't place it.
After the Garde left the bookstore Konrad made sure his daily, normal routine was complete, the shop was tidy. He would wire Slv&Elin now, telling them the Garde had visited—just as he knew, the Garde expected him to do.