GESER DIDN'T ANSWER straight away. In fact, to be quite honest, it was more than two minutes before he answered.
'Anton, do you think you could...'
'No, I couldn't,' I said.
The sky above me was gradually growing brighter. The strangely large southern stars were fading. I took another swig of cola out of my bottle and added:
'Thanks for the amulets. They were all spot on. But now pull us out of here. If one more psychopath comes along... '
'Anton.' Geser's voice sounded a bit softer now. 'What happened?'
'I had a heated conversation with Edgar.'
Geser paused and asked:
'Is he still alive?'
'He is. He left via a portal. But first he spent a long time trying to finish us all off.'
'Has our friend the Inquisitor completely lost his mind?'
Geser hummed something into the phone and I suddenly realised the boss was trying to think of the best way to use this information when he talked to Zabulon. Of how he could most humiliate Zabulon with this story about his former colleague.
'Closer, we're very tired.'
'A helicopter will come to get you,' Geser said. 'Putting up a portal would be very difficult. Wait for a while, I'll get in touch with Tashkent. Are you ... at Rustam's place?'
'We're on the plateau where you used the White Mist against the Dark Ones.'
It's not often that I manage to embarrass Geser ?I couldn't afford to let the chance slip.
'The helicopter will be there soon,' Geser said after a pause. 'Did you talk to Rustam?'
'And did he answer?'
'Yes. But not all the questions.'
Geser gave a sigh of relief.
'Well, at least he told you something... You didn't have to ?er ?prevail upon him?'
'No. I discharged all four bracelets into Edgar.'
'You did?' asked Geser, growing more cheerful with every word I said. 'And what did you find out?'
'The name of the vampire who's working with Edgar.'
'Well?' Geser said after a moment's pause. 'Who is it?'
'That's impossible!' Geser barked. 'Absolute nonsense!'
'Then the spells failed.'
'My spells couldn't have failed. But you could have missed,' Geser said in a slightly softer voice. 'Anton, we'll have to do without... unnecessary delicacy. When you get here, I'll show you something that I didn't want to show you.'
'I'm all agog,' I snorted.
'I'm talking about the remains of Konstantin Saushkin. We keep them here, at the Watch.'
Now it was my turn to pause. But Geser said:
'I really don't want to distress you once again. Charred bones are not a very pretty sight. Konstantin Saushkin is dead. There can be no doubt about it. Not even Higher Vampires can live without a skull. That's all. Now relax and wait for the helicopter.'
I cut off the call and looked at Alisher ?he was lying close by, munching on a chocolate bar. I said:
'Geser told me that we have Saushkin's remains.'
'Yes,' Alisher replied calmly. 'I've seen them. A skull with the glass from the spacesuit melted into it. Your Saushkin's dead.'
'Don't be upset,' Afandi put in. 'Sometimes with an effort it's possible to lie under any spell.'
'He couldn't have been lying... ' I whispered, recalling Edgar's face. 'No, he couldn't have...'
I lifted the cellphone up in front of my face, went into the MP3 menu and switched something on at random. When I heard a woman's voice singing to a quiet guitar, I put the phone down beside me. The tiny speaker strained as hard as it could.
We used to rise with the dawn
And live for a thousand years.
Then someone went and stole
The fire ?the flickering light.
And then some of us started praying
And others sharpened their fangs,
But we all drank from the Blue River.
But then time slipped through our fingers,
And by winter the river was shallow.
And those who had always lived here
Blamed those who had come from afar.
Some had daughters growing,
And others had sons,
But we all drank from the same stream...
'Afandi!' I called. 'Do you know that my daughter told me about you? Back in Moscow.'
'Yes?' Afandi asked in surprise. 'Is your daughter an enchantress, then?'
'Yes, she is,' I said. 'But still a little one. Only six years old. She asked if you would give her your beads. The blue ones.'
'What a fine daughter!' Afandi exclaimed in admiration. 'Only six, and already thinking about beads! And turquoise is a fine choice... here!'
I didn't see which pocket he took the beads out of before he handed them to me. I looked curiously at the string of sky-blue pieces of turquoise, and asked:
'Afandi, they're magical, aren't they?'
'Only a tiny bit. I charmed the string so that it will never break. But apart from that, they're just beads. Beautiful ones! I chose them for my great-granddaughter, she's getting on a bit, but she still likes her finery. Never mind, I'll buy some more. And these are for your daughter, may she wear them in good health.'
'Thank you, Afandi,' I said, putting the present away.
One rose higher and higher,
Another damaged his wing.
In some fields the grain swelled and ripened,
But in others nothing would grow.
One was died, struck by a bullet,
And the other fired the gun,
But we all drank from the same stream...
After the wine or the poison potion,
Some remember their father, some their mother.
One decides it is time to build,
Another that it's time to destroy,
But every day at midnight
He who sits by the Mill of Fate
Resolves all their arguments
And says who must go out on watch.