Sitting at his desk among the shadows of houseplants, he imagined that he looked monumental in the light of a single candle though he felt as insignificant as an insect. Through the window without curtains he scanned the world outside, the spaces between streetlights, between cars, between spaces. Satisfied, he picked up the envelope, reading and re-reading the handwritten address, trying to find a clue in the slanting of letters and the distribution of punctuation. The style was familiar to him as he had been corresponding for some time on the subject of his absent wife and daughter. No hard news had yet been forthcoming from the Ministry of Loss but he found himself becoming curious about the seemingly increasing warm tone of the replies. Despite what must have been a heavy workload, Inspector Zelda Good still found the time, between the lines, to insert an apparent friendliness quite at odds with protocol and the times. He had felt so alone following the disappearance of his family and the lack of any real information regarding their fate that he came to rely on her letters and their apparent humanity. He had begun to construct fantasies about this unknown woman, competing with memories of his wife and sapping his resolve to get at the truth. This was despite the fact that he had never seen her, never heard her talk, laugh or cry. He recalled the times he’d tried to visit her workplace. He had never entered the fortress-like eight-storey structure but instead had stood at some distance surveying the windows, trying to guess which one looked in on her office, which one she looked out of. The tall aerials on top of the building seemed to read his thoughts and he would always leave in haste, his twin goals thwarted.
He opened the letter and read eagerly, sensing immediately that the cordiality was even stronger. For the first time, she had signed the paper with her first name only. He could hardly believe it when she suggested meeting the following day to discuss what she described as “developments” in the case. He had to read the letter three times to make sure that he had not misunderstood. He was elated and played a game of trying to picture what this woman would look like followed by feelings of guilt for temporarily forgetting the reason for the correspondence.
The next morning, he locked the door of his flat and hurried down the corridor and stairs, hoping to avoid his neighbours whose polite but gradually emptier queries about his missing family were greeted by his embarrassed, small shrug. He was relieved to reach the relative anonymity of the street where he would not be obliged to explain himself, at least not to those unconnected to the authorities. He stood on the pavement for a few moments, trying not to panic, wondering what this day would bring as the rest of the world milled around him. He noted the CCTV cameras which had mysteriously landed one day like a flock of alien and challenging birds, here to stay. He walked towards an underground train station, the streets demarcated by enormous video screens urging vigilance, productivity, expenditure and obedience, communicated by the strident, comedy dancing of members of the Government.
Half an hour of not making eye contact later, a train coughed him out into the fog of an abandoned quarter of the city. He felt cold air on his face as the directions he’d been given led him to a neglected stadium he thought he’d once seen in a television programme though he was not sure now what had taken place there then. With a shiver, he entered through a long tunnel and sat down on a bench at the side of an unkempt football pitch. All around the edge of the field were statues of discredited politicians from earlier times, covered in bird droppings. He kept looking around, expecting something to happen, for some sort of game to begin, thinking this was how people used to feel, how he used to feel. The rumble of distant traffic was quite comforting, some sort of connection to a world he believed he knew but did not reduce his anxiety enough.
Within a few minutes, a woman wearing a fur coat appeared from the tunnel and stopped to view him. She advanced towards him purposefully but with a hint of playfulness. Her glossy black hair was cropped and her smile broad and sustained. He was not disappointed. She introduced herself in an educated, confident voice, removed her sunglasses to reveal luminous green eyes and reached up to kiss his cheek.
He fixed her in his gaze, standing so close that he could feel her quick breath on his neck and inhale her perfume as she gestured faintly with her left hand, his long lost wife and daughter materialising a few yards behind her, flanked by two unsmiling women. His heart missed a beat for the second time in as many minutes. His family seemed pale imitations of the people he knew, as though something essential had been drained from their lives and he had great difficulty in knowing how to behave, where to look. He tried to speak to them but no words came to his lips and he returned his attention to his new distraction.
Zelda Good stepped back three steps and, still smiling, pulled a compact, silenced, silver revolver from beneath the fur, pressed it against his forehead and squeezed the trigger in slow motion. After a second of hesitation, he fell to the floor. She took a deep breath and cleaned the silencer with a handkerchief. The wife tried to go to her husband’s aid but was wrestled away by the guards who pushed her back down the tunnel, her little girl trailing behind, crying inconsolably. The Inspector knelt down, searching her victim’s jacket, retrieving the letters that she had asked him to bring to this meeting. Pleased, she put the papers under her coat, replaced her sunglasses and left the stadium, passing two colleagues who knew where to take the stretcher they were carrying. In the stands, empty drink cartons gently bumped into one another in a rising wind as blood slid down vigorous blades of grass and pigeons cooed harmoniously on the heads of the statues.