Slade, The Officer
“You had a soft spot for him, didn’t you?”
She sets her jaw and says nothing.
“Did you know him back in… where was it?”
“Yes, I knew him then.”
He leans back in his chair, wry, amused.
“Some of the other officers say you had a friendship, back then.”
“I’m not sure that that’s relevant.”
“No, I suppose not. Why don’t you tell me what happened then, in your own words.”
She tells him what happened in her own words.
She had a regular duty at the embassy, last week and this week. Monitoring the perimeter, checking visitors, liaising over transport. Isn’t that a bit junior for an officer at her rank? She shrugs. At a conference like this, so much on the line, every officer’s pulled off their regular duties to make up the numbers. She had requested the Bulgarian Embassy especially though? She agrees that she had. Would she agree that she had pulled strings to get it, called in favours? She would agree that she had asked for it. Because of her friendship with Ambassador Bojilov?
She looks him directly in the eye, and speaks very slowly. Her look has been known to terrify younger officers.
“We weren’t friends.”
He drops his eyes, makes a note in his pad. Says nothing. Waits.
“I requested the Embassy duty. Because I speak some of the language, and I wanted to practise.”
He makes another note. She goes on.
There was nothing of note until approximately 8.30pm. She had, by that time, accompanied the Ambassadorial convoy back from the conference. Bojilov had said some brief words at the cultural party - Slade conveys mild disgust in her tone as she says these words - and had retired to the set of offices given to him. The main business of the day was over; he was preparing for the next day's discussions. She took up a position at the base of the spiral staircase leading up to the office suite.
“Talking to some of the Bulgarian officials,” she says, “that is correct.”
“Because you’re friends with them?”
That hard, cold look again.
“To practise my Bulgarian. Sir.”
At 8.32pm, they heard the first strangulated scream. She knows it was 8.32pm how? Because it has been her training to check her watch. Sir.
“And then what?”
“I ascended the stairs, with the three Bulgarian officers following.”
“You went first. Why?”
“I was faster. Sir.”
“And when you reached the top of the stair?”
“The door was locked. I called out to Ambassador Bojilov, but received no response. I heard the second scream. I kicked in the door.”
“Kicked it in?”
Five rapid heel strikes to the hinge side, not the lock side. They’re always weaker at the hinges.
“I heard a strange sound coming from one of the offices.”
“What kind of sound?”
It had been a sound like a child getting the last dregs of milkshake up with a straw. But for longer and with fewer pauses than any child could manage. A mucosal, trickling, noise.
“A sucking sound.”
He looks at her, and makes a note.
“I called out to Ambassador Bojilov again.”
“The other officers report that you used his first name, Toma.”
“How did you know his first name, if as you say, you were never friends?”
“We had had a working relationship. In Constanta.”
He nods slowly. Notes it down. A working relationship.
“He did not reply. He made a…” there had been another half-scream, but so much weaker than the first, it was more like a child’s faint wailing cry. “a noise. I kicked down the door of his office.”
There had been sudden frantic activity inside the room – a blur of motion, as if of wings beating although the air did not stir. She saw that the window was open, there was something crouching on the window ledge – something?
“I thought I saw someone, at the window. I discharged my weapon twice.” There was a thing there. A dark thing with tattered wings. Or many-branched arms. It was hard to look at. It seemed to carry its own darkness with it. “But I think I must have been mistaken.”
She knows she was not mistaken. But it was gone before she had even seen what it was. She waits for him to speak again.
It is easy, he suggests, to become confused in such a distressing situation.
“I was not distressed, sir.”
He inclines his head slightly. In such an unusual situation, then.
“The situation was unusual.”
“You had never seen anything like it before?”
“No, sir. Not like this.”
“Not even in Constanta?”
She remembers glancing quickly around the room, after the thing was gone. Taking in that she was in a study – book-lined, paper-strewn. And that the room was sticky, and red. Long strands of red trickling down the bookshelves and the light fittings and the curtains. And hearing the gurgling sound. From behind the desk, the sound of a man.
“I had never seen anything like it before.”
And kneeling down by Toma, because despite the revulsion and the fear after all it was still Toma. She could never walk away from him; she had never been able to. Not much of his face remained, but she knew that even still, and he knew her. And asking what had done this, how it had happened.
He knew her. She heard him breath her name. "Sonja."
She touched his shoulder.
He muttered and gurgled and managed, gods knew how, to breath out three words. “Zabrava,” he whispered, “i pamet.”
Remembrance, and oblivion.
“And Ambassador Bojilov was dead by the time you arrived.”
The other officers report, Commander Slade, that you seemed to be speaking to him when they entered the room after you discharged your weapon.”
“I was making certain he was dead, sir. According to first aid protocols. Sir.”
There was a wail of sirens from outside. Backup had finally arrived. There would be an almighty disturbance in the street outside.
He makes another few standard enquiries. Takes a note, yet again, of her official clearance number and the details of her last five postings. He thanks her for her time in a way that suggests that she should be thanking him. She salutes. She leaves. The thing is done. She is not certain, even still, why she has done it.