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The Last Watch (Watch 4) - Page 4

TOURISTS ARE THE most terrible breed of human beings. Sometimes I feel a vague suspicion that every nation tries to send its most unpleasant representatives abroad ?the loudest and most clueless, those with the worst manners. But it's probably all much simpler than that. Probably it's just that the secret 'work/play' switch every body has hidden in their heads clicks and turns off eighty per cent of their brains.

But the remaining twenty per cent is more than enough for play anyway.

I was walking along in a crowd moving slowly towards the castle on the hill. No, I wasn't planning to study the austere dwelling of the proud kings of Scotland. I just wanted to get a feel for the atmosphere of the city.

I liked it. Like any tourist centre, its festive atmosphere was a little bit forced and feverish, encouraged by alcohol. But even so, the people around me were enjoying life and smiling at each other: for the time being they had set their cares aside.

Cars didn't often come in here, and those that did were mostly taxis. Most of the people were walking ?the streams moving in the direction of the castle and back intermingled, swirling together in quiet whirlpools around the performers doing their thing in the middle of the street, thin rivulets trickled into the pubs, filtered in through the doorways of the shops. The boundless river of humanity.

A wonderful place for a Light Other. But a tiring one, too.

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I turned off into a side street and strolled gently downhill towards the gorge that separated the old and the new parts of the city. There were pubs here too, and souvenir shops. But there weren't so many tourists, and the frantic carnival rhythm slowed down a bit. I checked my map ?it was simpler than using magic

and moved in the direction of a bridge over the broad gorge that had once been Loch Nor. The gorge had now passed through its final stage of evolution and had been transformed into a park, a place where local people and tourists who were sick of noise and bustle could take a relaxed stroll.

There were more tourists eddying about on the bridge ?boarding the double-decker tour buses, watching the street artists, eating ice cream, pensively studying the old castle on the hill.

And on the grassy lawn there were Cossacks, dancing and waving their swords about.

I gave way to that shamefaced curiosity with which tourists regard their compatriots who are working abroad and moved closer.

Bright red shirts. Broad pants like jodhpurs. Titanium-alloy swords - so that they would give off pretty sparks during swordplay and be easier to wave around. Stiff, frozen smiles.

There were four men squatting down and dancing.

And talking to each other - with Ukrainian accents, but still in my own native Russian. Although you might say they were using the secret version. In more or less printable form it went something like this.

'Up yours!' one pantomime Cossack dancer hissed merrily through his teeth. 'Move it, you louse! Keep the rhythm going, you tattered condom!'

'Go to hell!' another man in fancy dress answered. 'Quit grousing. Wave those arms about. We're losing money!'

'Tanka, you bitch!' the third man joined in. 'Get out here!'

A girl in a bright-coloured dress started dancing, letting the 'Cossacks' take a short break. But she still found time for a digni fied reply with no serious obscenity:

'Bastards, I'm sweating like a pig, and you sit there scratching your bollocks!'

I started making my way back out of the crowd of whirring and clicking cameras. Close beside me I heard a girl speaking to her companion in clear Russian.

'How awful ... Do you think they always swear like that?'

An interesting question. Always, or just when they're abroad? Everybody? Or just ours, the Russians? In the strangely naive belief that nobody outside Russia knows Russian?

I'd rather believe that's the way all street artists talk to each other.

Buses.

Tourists.

Pubs.

Shops.

A mime artist wandering round a small square, feeling at non existent walls - a sad man in an invisible maze.

A cool black dude in a kilt, playing a saxophone.

I realised why I was in no hurry to get to the Dungeons of Scotland. I had to breathe this city into my lungs. Feel it with my skin, my body... with the blood in my veins.

I decided to wander about in the crowd for a bit longer. And then buy a ticket for the 'room of horror'.

The tourist attraction was closed. The huge sign was still there on the pillars of the bridge. The double doors in the 'entrance-to-ancient-dungeons' style were open, but the opening was roped off at chest height. A handwritten notice on a sheet of cardboard hanging on the rope politely informed me that the dungeons were closed for technical reasons.

To be quite honest, I was surprised. It was five days since Victor had been killed. Long enough for any police investigation. The Edinburgh Night Watch would have examined everything they needed to without advising the human police about it.

But the place was closed.

I shrugged, lifted up the rope, ducked under it and set off down the narrow stairway .The metal-mesh steps echoed hollowly under my feet. Two flights down there were toilets, then a narrow little corridor with ticket offices that were closed. A few lamps were lit here and there, but they were only intended to create a lurid atmosphere for the customers. Standard dim energy-saving light bulbs.

'Is anyone alive down here?' I called out in English, and then realised with a start how ambiguous that was. 'Hey ... are there any Others here?'

Silence.

I walked through a few rooms. The walls were hung with portraits of people with brutal faces, the kind that would have delighted Lambrozo's heart. Framed texts told the stories of criminals, maniacs, cannibals and sorcerers. There were display cases with crude models of severed arms and legs, retorts full of dark liquids, instruments of torture. Out of curiosity I took a look at them through the Twilight. All newly made ?no one had ever been tortured with them, they didn't carry the slightest trace of suffering.

I yawned.

There were strings with rags dangling on them stretched out above my head - they were supposed to represent cobwebs. Higher up I caught glimpses of a metal ceiling with rather unromantic rivets the size of saucers. The tourist attraction had been built in a strictly utilitarian technical space.

There was something bothering me.

'Is there anyone there? Alive or dead, answer me!' I called out again. And again there was no answer. But what was it that had alarmed me like that? It was something that wasn't right... when I looked through the Twilight.

I looked around again, using my Twilight vision.

There it was! That was what was so odd!

There was no blue moss ?that harmless but unpleasant para site that grows on the first level of the Twilight, the only permanent inhabitant of the grey reverse side of the world. In a place like this, where people constantly experienced fear, even if it was only circus fear and not the real thing, the blue moss ought to have flourished with a vengeance. It ought to have been dangling from the ceiling in shaggy stalactites, spread out across the floor in a repulsive wriggling carpet, covering the walls like thick flock wallpaper.

But there wasn't any moss.

Was someone cleaning the premises regularly? Burning the moss off if he was a Light One, or freezing it off if he was a Dark One?

Well, if there was an Other on the staff here, that would be a help to me.

As if in response to my thoughts, I heard the sound of foot steps. They were quite fast, as if someone had heard me shout and was hurrying towards me from a long way away, through the maze of plasterboard partition walls. A few second later the. black-painted door from this room into the next one opened.

And in walked a vampire.

Not a real one, of course. He had a normal human aura.

A man in fancy dress.

A black cloak, rubber fangs in his mouth, pale make-up on his (at c. A good-quality make-up job. Only all this didn't fit too well with the curly ginger hair. He probably had to wear a black wig when he was working. And another thing that didn't fit was the plastic bottle of mineral water that my visitor was just about to drink from.

The young guy frowned when he saw me. His good-natured face turned not exactly angry but strict and reproachful. He reached up to his mouth and turned away for a second. When he looked at me again, the fangs were gone.

'Mister?'

'Do you work here?' I asked. I didn't want to use magic and break his will. There are always simpler ways of coming to terms with someone. Human ways.

'Yes, but the show's closed. Temporarily'

'Because of the murder?' I asked.

The young guy frowned. Now he certainly wasn't feeling well-disposed.

'Mister, I don't know how you got past... This is private prop erty. The place is closed to visitors. Come on, please ?I'll show you out.'

He took a step towards me and even reached out one hand to demonstrate that he was prepared to take me out by force.

'Were you here when Victor Prokhorov was killed?' I asked.

'Just exactly who are you?' he asked cautiously

'I'm a friend of his. I flew in from Russia today'

The young guy's face fell. He started backing away until he came up against the door he'd come in through. He pushed it -but the door didn't open. I must confess that was my fault.

Now he was in a total panic.

'Mister ... I wasn't to blame for anything! We're all cut up about the way Victor died. Mister... Comrade!'

He spoke the last word in Russian. I wondered what old action movie he remembered it from.

'What's wrong with you?' I was the one who was confused now. I moved closer to him. Could I really have been lucky enough to come across someone who knew something, who was involved with the murder somehow? Otherwise, what was all the panic about?

'Don't kill me, I didn't do anything!' the young guy babbled. His skin was whiter than his make-up now .'Comrade! Sputnik, vodka, perestroika! Gorbachev!'

"That last word could certainly get you killed in Russia,' I muttered, and reached into my pocket for my cigarettes.

It was a very unfortunate thing to say. And that movement wasn't the best of ideas, either. The young guy's eyes rolled up and back and he collapsed on the floor. The bottle of mineral water fell beside him.

Out of sheer stubbornness, I dealt with the young man without using any magic. A few slaps to the cheeks and a sip of water soon fixed him up. Then I considerately offered him a cigarette.

'It's all right for you to laugh,' he said morosely, after we had sat down in two fake torture chairs ?they had a hole in the seat and lurking in the hole was a menacing stake on a crank and lever mechanism. 'You think it's funny...'

'I'm not laughing,' I said mildly

'You're just laughing to yourself The young guy drank greedily. Then he held out his hand and introduced himself: 'Jean.'

'Anton. But I thought you were Scottish.'

Jean shook his ginger curls proudly.

'No... French. I'm from Nantes.'

'Are you studying here?'

'Just earning a bit of money'

'Listen, why are you wearing that idiotic costume?' I asked. 'There aren't any customers anyway'

Jean blushed ?quickly, the way only redheads and albinos can.

'The boss put me on guard duty until the show opens up again. I'm just waiting ... in case the police suddenly decide they want to check something. It's a bit creepy here on your own. I feel calmer in the costume.'

'I almost crapped in my pants,' I complained to him - there's nothing better for easing stress than that kind of low style. 'But what were you afraid of?'

Jean gave me a surly glance and shrugged.

'It's hard to say. That guy was killed here, so it's like we're to blame or something... but for what, for what? And he was Russian! You can never tell... Everyone knows what that can lead to ... We started talking about it here, just joking at first... Then it got more serious. What if his father comes, or his brother, or a friend... and he kills all of us.'

'So that's what you're talking about,' I said brightly. 'Well, let me assure you that blood vengeance isn't really all that common in Russia. But the Scots have it too, by the way.'

'That's just what I'm saying,' Jean agreed, missing the point. 'It's barbaric. Primitive! The twenty-first century, the civilised world?

'And someone gets his throat cut,' I threw in. 'What actually happened to Victor?'

Jean glanced at me again. He took a drag on his cigarette and shook his head.

'I think you're lying. You're not a friend of Victor's. You're from the KGB. You've been sent to investigate the murder. Right?'

He really must have been overdoing those action movies. This was getting ridiculous.

'Jean, you know yourself,' I said in a low voice, 'that I can't answer that question.'

The young Frenchman nodded very seriously Then he care fully stubbed his cigarette out on the floor.

'Let's go, Mr Russian. I'll show you the place. Only don't smoke any more, there's nothing but rags and cardboard here, perfect tinder for a blaze ?whoosh!'

He pushed the door and, of course, it opened easily. Jean gave it a thoughtful look and shrugged. We walked through a few more rooms.

'There it is, the crappy Castle of the Vampires, 'Jean said in a gloomy voice. He fumbled at the wall and clicked a switch. The light became a lot brighter.

Yes, darkness was appropriate here. Without it, the tourist attrac tion simply looked ludicrous. The River of Blood that people were supposed to sail across to the vampires was a long metal trough about three metres wide. The trough was full of water.

It wasn't deep.

Maybe up to my knee.

The metal barge wasn't actually floating on the water, of course. I rocked the side of the boat with my foot and realised that it was standing on rollers of some kind. And under the water I could see the cable that towed the boat from one 'mooring' to the next. The total length of the trough was no more than fifteen metres. Halfway along it the metal tub crept into a room that was separated off by heavy curtains (they were pulled back now). I saw an impressive-looking fan on the ceiling of the room. On one wall there was a crudely painted picture of a castle standing on a cliff.

I walked to the bow of the barge and glanced into the dark room. Yes, it was an idiotic sort of place to lose your life. Right... in five days any clues could have disappeared, but I would give it a try.

A glance through the Twilight was no help. I spotted weak traces of Others ?Light Ones and Dark Ones, but that was the special ists from the Watches who had investigated the crime scene. There were no signs of a 'vampire trail'. But I could sense emanations of death ?and they were very clear, as if only an hour or two had elapsed, not five days. Oh, the boy had died a very bad death...

'Who does the sound effects?' I asked. 'There must be some kind of gasping and groaning, terrifying howls? Your tourists don't ride in total silence, do they?'

'It's a recording,' Jean said sadly. 'The speakers are over there, and over there...'

'And doesn't anyone in here keep an eye on the tourists?' I asked. 'What if someone feels unwell?'

'We watch them,' Jean admitted reluctantly. 'You see that little hole in the wall across there? There's always someone standing there and watching.'

'In the dark?'

'They use a night-vision device,' Jean said, embarrassed. 'An ordinary video camera in night mode. You stand there and watch the screen...'

'Aha...' I nodded. 'And what did you see when Victor was being killed?'

Either he was feeling calmer now, or he didn't see any point in pretending, but he didn't try to deny anything. He just asked:

'What makes you so sure I was there?'

'Because you're wearing a vampire costume. What if one of the customers is recording in night mode too? That's what the makeup's for, right? I think each one of you has his own role to play, and during the show you were wearing that costume and you were somewhere nearby'

Jean nodded.

'That's right. I was there. Only I didn't see anything, believe me. They all just sat there. Nobody attacked any of them, no one went anywhere near them.'

I didn't bother to mention that you can't catch a hungry vampire (and he would have to be very hungry to hunt as brazenly as this) on tape in night-video mode. Night mode uses infra-red, and a hungry vampire is no warmer than his environment. There might just be a few slight traces on the tape.

'Was everything being recorded?'

'Of course not. Why waste the tape?'

I squatted down and dabbled my hand in the water. It was cold and musty. It looked as though nobody had bothered to change it... but then, if the investigation wasn't over yet, that was only natural...

'What do you see? 'Jean asked curiously.

I didn't answer. I was looking at the water through closed eyes. Looking with the Twilight vision that pierces through reality to the essence of things.

The trough filled up with hazy crystal forms. There were crimson threads showing through the crystal, and an orange sludge swirling on the bottom of the trough.

There was human blood in the water.

A lot of blood.

About four litres.

That must be where the powerful emanations of death were coming from. Blood preserves its memory longer than anything else in the world.

If the police had only bothered to make a proper analysis of the water they would have realised that all of Victor's blood was simply drained into the channel. And there were no vampires involved in the crime.

But the police hadn't been looking for vampires. And maybe they had carried out an analysis. If they hadn't, it was only because they had no doubt what the result would be. A quick slash of a knife across the throat, and the blood glugs over the side of the boat... Only an Other could come up with the idiotic idea of looking for vampires in a tourist attraction!

"The case just opened up,' I muttered, getting up off my knees. 'Dammit... '

Yes, it was a vicious killing. And the murderer certainly had a black sense of humour. Only that was no concern of ours. Let the Edinburgh police conduct the investigation.

So just why had the boy been killed? A pretty stupid question. There are far more reasons for death than there are for life. He was a young guy, passionate and keen, his father was a businessman and a politician. He could have been killed for something that he'd done, or for something his father was involved in, or for no reason at all.

Yes, Geser and Zabulon had both been caught out. They'd seen clanger where it didn't exist.

'Thanks for you help,' I said to Jean. 'I'll be going now.'

'So you are from the Russian police! 'Jean exclaimed happily. 'Did you spot anything?'

I smiled suggestively and shook my head.

Jean sighed.

'I'll show you out, Anton.'

Not far from the Dungeons I found a nice little pub called the Corncrake and Pennant. Three small communicating rooms, dark walls and ceilings, old lamps, glass mugs for the beer, pictures in frames, knick-knacks on the walls. A bar with ten beer pumps and a vast array of bottles ?there were at least fifty sorts of whisky. Everything that the phrase 'a Scottish pub' brings to mind, and exactly what the foreign tourist expects when he hears that phrase.

Remembering what Semyon had said, I ordered haggis and soup of the day. And I took a pint of Guinness from the woman behind the bar, who was large and well-built, with muscular arms from constantly working the beer pumps. I walked through to the end room, the smallest, where I found a free table. A group of Japanese were having lunch at the next one. And there was a plump elderly man with a moustache who looked like a local, drinking beer at another table. He looked rather dejected, like a Muscovite who has accidentally found himself in Red Square. There was music coming from somewhere, too ?fortunately it was melodic and not too loud.

The soup turned out to be simple meat broth with croutons, and the haggis was nothing more than a local version of liver sausage. But I drank the soup and ate the haggis, with the chips that came with it, and felt that I had fulfilled my obligations as a tourist.

I liked the beer best. As I was finishing off the mug, I phoned home and had a chat with Svetlana. I told her that I wouldn't have to stay away for very long, because everything had been resolved very quickly.

I got myself another pint of beer before calling the head of the Edinburgh Night Watch. I found Foma Lermont's number in the phone book and dialled.

'Hello, how can I help you?' someone answered politely after the phone had rung a couple of times. The interesting thing was that they answered in Russian.

'Good afternoon,Thomas,' I said, deciding not to use the Russian name Foma after all. 'My name is Anton Gorodetsky ?I'm a colleague of yours from Moscow. Geser asked me to give you his warmest greetings.'

It all sounded very much like a bad spy story. I pulled a wry face at the thought...

'Hello, Anton, I've been waiting for your call. How was your flight?'

'Great. I'm staying in a very nice little hotel. It's a bit dark, but it is right in the centre. I've had a stroll round the old town and some of the surroundings.' I was getting carried away - it seemed highly amusing to speak in Aesopian language. 'Could we get together?'



'Of course, Anton, I'll just come across. Or perhaps you might join me? I have a nice cosy spot here.'

I raised my eyes and looked at the elderly gentleman sitting by the window. A high forehead, pointed chin, intelligent and ironic eyes. The gentleman put a mobile phone away in his pocket and gestured towards his table.

Yes, he and Geser had a lot in common, all right. Not in the way they looked, but in the way they behaved. Thomas Lermont was probably just as good as Geser at putting his subordinates in their place.

I picked up my glass and joined the head of Edinburgh's Night Watch at his table.

'Call me Foma,' he said. 'I'll enjoy remembering Geser.'

'Have you known him for long?'

'Yes. Geser has older friends, but I don't... I've heard a lot about you, Anton.'

I let that pass. There was nothing I could say. I hadn't heard of the head of the Edinburgh Night Watch before yesterday.

'You've been talking to Bruce. What do you make of our vampire Master?'

I paused to formulate my impression precisely: 'Spiteful, unhappy, ironic. But they're all spiteful, unhappy and ironic. Of course, he didn't kill Victor.'

'You put pressure on him,' Lermont said, not asking but stating.

'Yes, that was just the way it worked out. He doesn't know anything.'

'No need to make excuses,' said Lermont, taking a sip of his beer. 'It worked out just fine. His own vanity will make sure that he keeps quiet, and we have the information... All right, what did you see in the Dungeons of Scotland?'

'Scary stories for children. The show's closed, but I managed to speak to one of the actors. And take a look at the crime scene.'

'Well?' Lermont asked keenly. 'So what did you find out, Anton?'

I'd learned a lot from all those years dealing with Geser. Nowadays I could tell when the boss's hand was poised to swat down a young magician who had overreached himself.

'That River of Blood where Victor's throat was cut... ' I glanced at the impassive Lermont and corrected myself: 'Where Victor was killed. There's blood in the water. A lot of human blood. It doesn't look as if it was a vampire who sucked the boy's blood out. Someone opened his artery and held him while his blood spilled out into the trench. But we need an analysis of the water. We could bring in the police, they could do a DNA analysis...'

'Oh, what great faith you have in technology,' Foma said with a frown. 'It's Victors blood in the trench. We checked the very first day. Simple similitude magic, no more than fifth-level Power required.'

But I wasn't about to give in. Dealing with Geser had also taught me the art of wriggling out of things.

'It's no help to us, but the police ought to be given the idea too. Let them know that the blood was drained into the trench, and that will put an end to any rumours about vampires.'

'The police here are good,' Foma said calmly. 'They checked everything too, and they're conducting an investigation. But putting an end to stupid rumours is none of their business. Who takes any notice of the yellow press?'

I felt encouraged. I had gone straight to the right conclusions after all.

'I don't think any more intervention will be required from us,' I said. 'Murder is evil, but let people fight their own evil them selves. It's a pity about the boy, of course, but... '

Foma nodded once or twice and took another sip of beer. Then he said:

'Yes, a pity about the boy... But Anton, what are we going to do about the bite?'

'What bite?'

Foma leaned forward across the table and whispered:

'It wasn't a knife wound on Victor's neck, Anton. There's absolutely no doubt that the marks were left by a vampire's fangs. Now, that's an unfortunate problem, isn't it?'

I felt my ears burning.

'Is that definite?'

'Ab-so-lute-ly. Just how would a hit man know so much about the way a vampire's fang is structured and how it works? The lateral grooves, the tapping point, Dracula's fissure, the corkscrew twist on entry...'

By this time my entire face was blazing red. I could see the classroom where I had once been taught, and my teacher Polina Vasilievna with her pointer, and the huge rubber model on the desk: a pointed, twisted object like a corkscrew and a white fibreglass board with black letters:'Vampire's right canine (operĀ­ational) tooth. Model, scale 25:1.' It had been a working model at one stage: when a button was pressed it had elongated and begun to rotate. But the electric motor had burnt out long ago, and nobody had taken the trouble to repair it, so the fang was permanently frozen in a position between concealed and operational.

'I was too hasty with my conclusions,' I admitted. 'It's my fault, Mr Lermont.'

'It's nobody's fault, you simply didn't want any Others to be involved,' Foma said generously. 'If you'd familiarised yourself with the results of the autopsy, you'd have realised that your version was wrong. So now what do you say?'

'If the vampire was very hungry and he sucked the man dry' ?I frowned ?'he could have puked up afterwards. But not all the blood. Were there any traces of anaesthetic serum in the water?'

'No, there weren't,' Foma said, with a nod of approval. 'But then, that doesn't mean anything, the vampire could have been in such a hurry that he didn't bother with the anaesthetic'

'He could have been,' I agreed. 'So either he puked or he bit and then held the victim until he bled out. But what for?'

'To confuse us all and mislead the investigation.'

'That doesn't make any sense,' I said, shaking my head. 'Why confuse things? Why leave the marks of a vampire's bite and drain away the blood? They're very careful with it, they wouldn't just pour it away. Our vampires even have a saying for novices: "Blood spilt on the ground is mother's milk wasted".'

'You can always find a way to make sense of anything,' Foma declared didactically. 'For example ?the killer vampire needed to make us suspect a young, hungry vampire. So he bit the boy but he didn't drink, just poured the blood away, hoping that it wouldn't be found. Or the vampire was hungry, but as soon as he bit he realised what he'd done and decided to pour the blood away, to create the impression of falsified evidence...'

Completely carried away now, I fluttered my hands in the air, as if I was talking to Geser.

'Oh, come on, Bo?Foma! You can come up with lots of theories, but I've never met a hungry vampire who would leave the blood once he had his fangs in. This argument isn't getting us anywhere. What's far more important is why the boy was killed. Was he a random victim? Then we really do have to look for a tourist or a novice. Or did someone have a special reason for killing Victor?'

'A vampire can kill a man with a single blow,' said Foma. 'And without even touching him. Why would he leave any clues behind? Victor could have died from a heart attack, and no one would have suspected a thing.'

'Agreed,' I said, with a nod. 'Then... then your Master is right. It's some vampire from out of town, and the boy just happened to be in the wrong place. He bit him, then got frightened and puked up the blood.'

'It looks that way,' Foma agreed. 'But there's still something bothering me, Anton.'

We finished our beer without another word.

'Have you tried testing traces from the body?' I asked.

I didn't have to say that I meant traces left by an aura.

'A dead aura from a dead body?' Foma said, with a sceptical shake of his head. 'That's never been much help. But we did try. No traces were found... Tell me, watchman, what else did you see that was unusual in the Dungeons?'

'There are Others working there,' I said. 'There's no blue moss, although the place is overflowing with emotions. Someone cleans it out regularly'

'There are no Others working there,' Foma snapped. 'The blue moss just doesn't grow there.'

I looked at him uncertainly.

'Out of interest, we tried bringing it in from outside. It withers and falls off in an hour. A sort of natural anomaly'

'Well... it happens, I suppose,' I said, making a mental note to check in the archives.

'It does,' Foma agreed. 'Anton, I'd like to ask you not to leave the investigation just yet. There's something here that really bothers me. Try having a word Victor's girlfriend.'

'Is the girl still here?'

'Of course. The police asked her not to leave town. The Alex City hotel; not far from here. I think it will be easier for you to make contact with her.'

'Do you suspect her of something?'

Foma shook his head.

'She's just an ordinary person... It's something else. She's taking her lover's death very hard, cooperating willingly with the police. Hut maybe a fellow Russian will find it easier to get through to her. A gesture, a glance, a word ?any little thing. I really don't want to close this case and leave everything to the police, Anton.'

'And it would be a good thing to meet the owner of the Dungeons of Scotland, too,' I said.

'That won't get you anywhere,' Foma said dismissively.

'Why not?'

'Because those stupid Dungeons belong to me!' Foma said with loathing.

'But? I broke off. 'Well... but then...'

'What then? I have a small holding company ?Scottish Colours - that works in the tourist business. Our Night Watch is a share holder in the company, and the profits go to finance its activities. We organise musical events and circus performances, we have shares in a few hotels, four pubs, the Dungeons of Scotland, three tour buses and an agency that takes tourists to the Scottish lochs. How else would you like us to earn our money?' He laughed. 'The whole of Edinburgh lives off the tourists. If you go to Glasgow and you find yourself in the suburbs, you'll see a frightening sight - buildings on the point of collapse, hotels boarded up, factories closed down. Industry is dying. It's not profitable to produce goods in Europe any longer, but it is profitable to produce services. What else should an old bard do but run concerts and tourist attractions?'

'I understand, it was just unexpected...'

'There aren't any Others working there,' Foma repeated. 'It's a strange place ?the blue moss doesn't grow there ?that was why I bought the land in the first place. But I didn't find anything unusual.'

'Then could the murder have been intended as a blow against you?' I asked. 'Against you personally and the Night Watch of Edinburgh? Does someone want to compromise Light Ones?'

Foma smiled and stood up.

'That's what I need you for, Anton. To have a powerful magi cian from the outside involved in the investigation. Have a word with Valeria, all right? And don't put it off.'

But I had to put off the meeting with Valeria for a little while after all.

When I was already almost at the hotel I saw yet another crowd of tourists gathered in a circle around a performing street artist. There was a whole rainbow of tiny little coloured balls flying up in the air above the people's heads, and somehow I knew who I was going to see. Even though Egor had called himself an illu sionist and not a juggler.

In actual fact, there were five performers there. Three young guys in bright 'circus' clothes were taking a break. A young girl in a flowing semi-transparent dress was going round the specta tors with a tray, and they were gladly putting in coins and notes.

At the moment, only Egor was performing. He was wearing a black suit and white shirt, with a bow tie ?looking very well-groomed and quite different from the crowd in their summery clothes.

Egor was juggling with the coloured balls. But not simply juggling... His right hand was shooting red, blue and green balls no bigger than a cherry high up into the air. The open palm swivelled with emphatic slowness, demonstrating that there was nothing in it. Then the fingers folded together and the whole hand swung rapidly ?and another ball went soaring upwards. His left hand caught the falling balls and crumpled them into his fist, breaking off the rainbow, and then immediately opened again - empty.

The little balls came from nowhere and disappeared into nowhere. There were more and more of them all the time ?as if Egor didn't have enough time to take back out of the air every thing that he had thrown up into it. The coloured parabola kept growing brighter and brighter, denser and denser, turning into a gleaming, glittering rope of colour. It was dazzling. The move ments of his fingers became so fast that they exceeded the ability of any prestidigitator. The spectators held their breath. The sounds of the street rolled up to that motionless circle of people and died, like the murmuring waves of a distant sea. The coloured cord flut tered through Egor's hands,

The tension grew and grew. The girl stopped collecting money ?nobody was looking at her now in any case. She turned towards Egor and looked at him with eyes filled with love and delight.

Egor suddenly jerked both his hands - and he was left holding a fluttering brightly coloured ribbon.

The spectators applauded as if they had just woken up.

I recalled the hoary old joke about the conjuror who came to a circus looking for a job. 'I go out onstage and juggle with different-coloured fish, get it? And then they fly up into the big top and disappear. The only thing is, I haven't figured out how to do it yet... '

Poor stupid conjuror. To do that, you have to be an Other. Even an uninitiated one.

In actual fact, even without being initiated, or having made that first entry into the Twilight, an Other is capable of far more than an ordinary human being. And in Egor's case everything was far more complicated. He had entered the Twilight when he was a child. He had even broken through into the second level - although he was fed Power by someone else, since his own abilities were minimal.

But he had avoided going through with initiation, and remained what he was - an indeterminate Other who did not know how to control his abilities and had not turned either to the Light or the Dark. His Book of Fate had been rewritten, returning him to his initial condition and giving him the chance to choose again ?but he had refused to make a choice.

And he had decided that he was an ordinary human being.

Egor himself did not understand how he performed his act. He was certain that he was controlling the little balls very deftly, skil fully transferring them from one hand to the other before launching them into the air again, and then adroitly replacing them with a special kind of ribbon that was evidently weighted at several points to make it all easier.

In actual fact a trick like that is impossible.

But Egor was quite certain that he performed his act without any magic. Like a very dexterous ordinary human being.

The spectators applauded with expressions of lively, genuine delight on their faces, the kind of delight that you only see in the faces of children at the circus. For a moment the world had become magical and wonderful for them.

They didn't know that that's the way the world really is ?our world...

Egor bowed and walked round the circle quickly - not collecting money, although they were holding out notes to him, but simply looking in the eyes of the spectators.

He was drawing Power from them, feeding! Without even real ising it, he was feeding on the emotions of his spectators!

I started hastily making my way out of the crowd, but the spec tators behind me were pushing forward, there were children jumping about at my feet, and a semi-naked girl with studs in her pierced lips was breathing hotly in my ear. I was too slow, Egor had spotted me. And he stopped.

There was nothing left to do but open my arms wide.

Egor hesitated for a second, then whispered something to the girl with the tray, who was following him. He squirmed his way into the crowd. People made way for him, but they also slapped him enthusiastically on the back and made delighted comments in various languages.

'I'm sorry, I just happened to be passing,' I said guiltily. 'I wasn't expecting to see you at all.'

He looked at me for a second, then nodded.

'I believe you.'

Ah yes, he was at the peak of his Power right then. He could sense a lie intuitively.

'I'll be going,' I said. 'That was a great performance, I was fascinated.'

'Wait, I need to wet my throat,' said Egor, setting off beside me. 'I've been streaming with sweat... '

Some curious little boy grabbed hold of his sleeve. Egor politely stopped and unbuttoned his shirt to show that there was nothing in it. Then he took a light, silvery little ball out of the air and handed it to his suspicious spectator. The kid squealed in delight and dashed across to his parents, who were standing nearby.

'Really great,' I said appreciatively. 'Do you perform in Moscow? I could take my daughter to the circus.'

'No, not in Moscow,' Egor said, frowning. 'Do you know how hard it is to get into the circus back home?'

'I can guess.'

'If you're not from a circus family, if you haven't been jumping around the circus ring since you were five years old and you haven't got any contacts... And if you get an offer to perform abroad...' Egor frowned. 'To hell with them! Next year I'll be performing in a French circus, I'm just negotiating the contract, then they'll really be jealous...'

We sat down at a table outside the nearest cafe. Egor ordered a glass of juice and I asked for a double espresso. I was feeling sleepy again.

'So are you here because of me or not?' Egor asked abruptly.

'I had no idea that you were flying to Edinburgh. My assign ment here has nothing to do with you!'

Egor looked into my face suspiciously.Then he sighed and relaxed.

'Then I apologise. I got a bit heated in the plane. I don't like the outfit you work for ... I have no reason to like it.'

'That's OK,' I said gesturing with my open palms towards him. 'No offence taken. You don't have to like our outfit, it doesn't deserve it.'

'Uh-huh,' said Egor, staring pensively at his glass of orange juice. 'Well, how are things there? Still Geser, is it?'

'Of course. He was, he is, he always will be.'

'And how about Tiger Cub and Bear?' Egor asked with a smile, as if he'd just remembered something good. 'Did they get married?'

'Tiger Cub was killed, Egor.'*

(* This story is told in the second part of the book The Day Watch.)

I actually started when I realised he didn't know about it. 'It was a very bad business ... we all suffered.'

'Killed,' Egor said thoughtfully. 'A pity. I liked her a lot. She was so strong, a were-tiger...'

'A shape-shifting magician,' I corrected him. 'Yes, she was strong, but very emotional. She attacked a Mirror.'

'A Mirror?'

'Yes, well, that's a type of magician. A very unusual type. Sometimes, if some Watch starts winning, a Mirror Magician appears to help the other side. They say they're created by the Twilight itself, but no one knows for sure. A Mirror Magician can't be defeated in ordinary battle, he absorbs his opponent's Power and parries every attack. We really took a beating that time ?and Tiger Cub was killed.'

'What about the Mirror? Did you kill him?'

'Vitaly Rogoza was his name... He dematerialised. Of his own accord, that's their destiny. A Mirror is originally a weak, indeter minate magician who loses his memory, then travels to the place where one Power is gaining a serious advantage over the other and takes the side of the one that's losing. And afterwards the Mirror disappears, dissolves into the Twilight.'

I said all this automatically, thinking about something else.

There was a painful cold lump growing in my chest.

A weak, indeterminate magician?

'Serves him right,' Egor said vengefully. 'I feel sorry for Tiger Cub ?I often used to think about her. And you, sometimes.'

'Really?' I asked. 'I hope you weren't too angry with me.'

To be quite honest, I really couldn't have cared less right then just who Egor used to remember and how.

A weak, indeterminate magician.

He travels to the place where...

He dissolves into the Twilight...

'I was a bit angry,' Egor admitted. 'But not too much. It wasn't really your fault. That's the way your job is ... lousy. But I resented it, of course. I even dreamed once that you were really my father. And I was going to become a Dark Magician and work in the Day Watch in order to spite you. *

(*This story is told in the movies Night Watch and Day Watch.)

But he hadn't lost his memory, had he! I couldn't draw such a simple comparison between Rogoza and Egor after all.

'That's a funny dream,' I said. 'They say some dreams are an alternative reality breaking through into our consciousness. Maybe somewhere, somehow, that's the way it was. You shouldn't have gone over to the Dark Ones, though...'

Egor said nothing for a moment. Then he snorted.

'Oh, no. A plague on both your houses. I don't like the Dark Ones, and I don't like the Light Ones. But you come round any time, Anton! I'm staying just near here. In the Alex City hotel. I'll introduce you to the rest of our crew, they're all great guys!'

He put a few coins on the table and stood up.

'I'll go back to work. My number's the highlight of the show - the lads won't take much money without me.'

He had hardly even touched his juice.

'Egor!' I called to him. 'How did you happen to come to Edinburgh? Was it your own idea?'

The young man looked at me in surprise.

'No, it wasn't. A company invited me ?Scottish Colour. Why do you ask?'

'I thought I could give you a hand, if necessary,' I lied without a moment's hesitation. 'Find you an agent.'

'Thanks,' said Egor, and the warmth in his voice made me wish the earth would open up and swallow me. 'No need, but thanks anyway, Anton.'

I sat there, looking at the dregs in the bottom of my cup. Was that still not enough coincidences for me? Maybe I should use the coffee grounds for a bit of fortune-telling?

'Scottish Colour,' I muttered.

My chest was feeling so cold now that it didn't hurt any more.

Source: www.NovelCorner.com
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