Home > Twilight Watch (Watch #3)(2)

Twilight Watch (Watch #3)(2)
Author: Sergei Lukyanenko

The driver accepted my instructions reluctantly - he obviously had serious doubts.

But we got there on time.

The elevators weren't working - there were guys in blue overalls loading paper sacks of cement into them. I set off up the stairs on foot, and discovered that the second floor of our office was being refurbished. There were workmen lining the walls with sheets of plasterboard, and plasterers bustling about beside them, filling in the seams. At the same time they were installing a false ceiling, which already covered the air-conditioning pipes.

So our office manager Vitaly Markovich had gotten his own way after all. He'd managed to get the boss to shell out for a full-scale renovation, and even worked out where to get the money from.

I stopped for a moment and took a look at the workmen through the Twilight. Ordinary people, not Others, as I ought to have expected. There was only one plasterer, who wasn't much to look at, whose aura seemed suspicious. But after a second I realized he was simply in love. With his own wife! Well, would you ever... there were still a few good people left in the world.

The third and fourth floors had already been refurbished and that assured my good mood. At long last it would be cool in the IT department too. Not that I was in there every day now, but even so... As I ran past I greeted the security guards who had clearly been posted here for the duration of the renovation. Just as I got to Gesar's office, I ran into Semyon. He was impressing something on Yulia in a serious, didactic tone of voice.

How time did fly... Three years earlier Yulia had still been just a little girl. Now she was a beautiful young woman. And a very promising enchantress - she had already been invited to join the European office of the Night Watch. They like to skim off the young talent - to a multilingual chorus of protestations about the great common cause...

But this time they hadn't gotten away with it. Gesar had held on to Yulia, and in addition let them know that he could recruit young European talent if he felt like it.

I wondered what Yulia herself had wanted in that situation.

"Been called back in?" Semyon enquired sympathetically, breaking off his conversation the moment he spotted me. "Or is your time up already?"

"My time's up, and I've been called in," I said. "Has something happened? Hi, Yulka."

For some reason Semyon and I never said hello, as if we'd only just seen each other. Anyway, he always looked exactly the same - dressed very simply, carelessly shaved, with the crumpled face of a peasant who has moved into the big city.

That day, in fact, Semyon was looking homelier than ever.

"Hi, Anton," Yulia said. Her expression was glum. It looked as though Semyon had been educating her again - he was a past master at that sort of thing.

"Nothing's happened," Semyon said with a shake of his head. "Everything's perfectly calm. Last week we only picked up two witches, and that was for petty offenses."

"Well, that's just great," I said, trying not to notice Yulia's imploring glance. "I'll go see the boss."

Semyon nodded and turned back toward the girl. As I walked into the boss's reception room, I heard him saying, "So listen, Yulia, I've been doing the same job for sixty years now, but this kind of irresponsible behavior..."

He's strict all right, but he never gives anyone a hard time without good reason, so I wasn't about to rescue Yulia from the conversation.

In the reception area there was a new air conditioner quietly humming away and the ceiling was dotted with tiny halogen bulbs for accent lighting. Larissa was sitting there - evidently Gesar's secretary, Galochka, was on vacation, and our field work coordinators really didn't have much work of their own to do.

"Hello, Anton," Larissa said to me. "You're looking good."

"Two weeks on the beach!" I replied proudly.

Larissa squinted at the clock. "I was told to show you right in. But the boss still has visitors. Will you go in?"

"Yes," I decided. "Seems like I needn't have bothered hurrying."

"Gorodetsky's here to see you, Boris Ignatievich," Larissa said into the intercom. She nodded to me. "Go on in... oh, it's hot in there..."

It really was hot inside Gesar's door. There were two middle-aged men I didn't know languishing in the armchairs in front of his desk - I mentally christened them Thin Man and Fat Man, after Chekhov's short story. But both of them were sweating.

"And what do we observe?" Gesar asked them reproachfully. He cast a sideways glance at me. "Come in, Anton. Sit down, I'll be finished in a moment..."

Thin Man and Fat Man perked up a bit at that.

"Some mediocre housewife... distorting all the facts... vulgarizing and simplifying everything... running rings around you! On a global scale!"

"She can do that precisely because she vulgarizes and simplifies," Fat Man retorted morosely.

"You told us to tell everything like it is," Thin Man said in support. "And this is the result, Most Lucent Gesar!"

I took a look at Gesar's visitors through the Twilight. Well, well! More human beings! And yet they knew the boss's name and title! And they even pronounced them with candid sarcasm! Of course, there are always special circumstances, but for Gesar to reveal himself to ordinary people...

"All right," Gesar said with a nod. "I'll let you have one more try. This time work separately."

Thin Man and Fat Man exchanged glances.

"We'll do our best," Fat Man said with a good-natured smile. "You understand, though - we've already had a certain degree of success..."

Gesar snorted. As if they'd been given some invisible signal that the conversation was over, the visitors stood up, shook the boss's hand in farewell and walked out. In the reception area Thin Man made some amusing and flirtatious remark to Larissa, and she laughed.

"Ordinary people?" I asked cautiously.

Gesar nodded, gazing at the door with a hostile expression. He sighed.

"People, people... All right, Gorodetsky. Sit down."

I sat down, but Gesar still didn't start the conversation. He fiddled with his papers, fingered some bright-colored, smoothly polished glass beads heaped up in a coarse earthenware bowl. I felt like looking to see if they were amulets or really just glass beads, but I didn't want to risk taking any liberties in front of Gesar.

"How was your vacation?" Gesar asked, as if he'd exhausted all his excuses for delaying the conversation.

"Good," I answered. "I missed Sveta, of course. But I couldn't drag little Nadya out into that scorching Spanish sun. That's no good..."

"No," Gesar agreed, "it isn't." I didn't know if the Great Magician had any children - even close associates weren't trusted with information like that. He probably did. He was almost certainly capable of experiencing something like paternal feelings. "Anton, did you phone Svetlana?"

"No," I said and shook my head. "Has she contacted you?"

Gesar nodded. Then suddenly he couldn't contain himself any longer - he slammed his fist down on the desk and burst out: "Just what did she think she was doing? First she deserts the Watch..."

"Gesar, every one of us has the right to resign," I objected. But Gesar had no intention of apologizing.

"Deserts! An enchantress of her level doesn't belong to herself! She has no right to belong to herself! If, that is... if she calls herself a Light One... And then - she's raising her daughter as a human being!"

"Nadya is a human being," I said, feeling myself starting to fume too. "Whether or not she becomes an Other is for her to decide... Most Lucent Gesar!"

Gesar realized that I was all set to blow too and he changed his tone.

"Okay. That's your right. Pull out of the fight, ruin the little girl's life... anything you like! But where does this hate come from?"

"What did Sveta say?" I asked.

Gesar sighed. "Your wife phoned me. On a number that she has no right to know..."

"Then she doesn't know it," I put in.

"And she told me I intended to have you killed! That I was hatching a highly complicated plot for your physical elimination!"

I looked into Gesar's eyes for a second. Then I laughed.

"You think it's funny?" Gesar asked in a voice filled with pain. "You really think so?"

"Gesar..." I said, suppressing my laughter with an effort. "I'm sorry. May I speak frankly?"

"By all means..."

"You are the greatest plotter of anybody I know. Worse than Zabulon. Compared to you, Machiavelli was a mere pup..."

"Don't be so quick to underestimate Machiavelli," Gesar growled. "I get the idea, I'm a plotter. And?"

"And I'm sure you have no intention of getting me killed. In a crisis, perhaps, you might sacrifice me. In order to save a commensurately greater number of people or Light Others. But not that way... by planning... and scheming... I don't believe it."

"Thanks, I'm glad to hear it," Gesar said with a nod. I couldn't tell if I'd nettled him or not. "Then what on earth has Svetlana gotten into her head? I'm sorry, Anton..." Gesar suddenly hesitated and even looked away, but he finished what he was saying. "Are you expecting a child? Another one?"

I choked and shook my head. "No... at least, I don't think so... no, she would have told me."

"Women sometimes go a bit crazy when they're expecting a child," Gesar growled and started fingering his glass beads again. "They start seeing danger everywhere - for the child, for their husband, for themselves... Or maybe now she has..." But then the Great Magician got really embarrassed and stopped himself short. "That's rubbish... forget it. Why don't you pay your wife a visit in the country, play with your daughter, drink some milk fresh from the cow..."

"My vacation ends tomorrow," I reminded him. Oh, there was something not right here! "And I thought the idea was that I was going to work today?"

Gesar stared hard at me. "Anton, forget about work! Svetlana shouted at me for fifteen minutes. If she was a Dark One, there'd be an Inferno Vortex hanging over my head right now. That's it, work's cancelled. I'm extending your vacation for a week -  go to the country and see your wife!"

In the Moscow department of the Watch we have a saying: "There are three things a Light Other can't do: organize his own personal life, achieve worldwide peace and happiness, and get time off from Gesar." To be honest, I was quite happy with my personal life, and now I'd been given an extra week of vacation. So maybe worldwide peace and happiness were only just around the corner?

"Aren't you pleased?" Gesar asked.

"Yes," I admitted. No, I wasn't inspired by the prospect of weeding the vegetable beds under the watchful eye of my mother-in-law. But Sveta and Nadya would be there. Nadya, Nadyenka, Nadiushka. My little two-year-old miracle. A lovely little human being... Potentially an Other of immense power. An Enchantress so very Great that Gesar himself couldn't hold a candle to her. I imagined the Great Light Magician Gesar standing there holding a candle, so that little Nadya could play with her toys, and grinned.

"Call into the accounts office, they'll issue you a bonus..." Gesar continued, not suspecting the humiliation I was subjecting him to in my mind. "Think up the citation for yourself. Something like... for many years of conscientious service..."

"Gesar, what kind of job was it?" I asked.

Gesar stopped talking and tried to drill right through me with his gaze. When he got nowhere, he said, "When I tell you everything, you will phone Svetlana. From here. And you'll ask her if you should agree or not. Okay? And you tell her about the extra vacation too."

"What's happened?"

Instead of replying, Gesar pulled open the drawer of the desk, took out a black leather folder and held it out to me. The folder had a distinct aura of magic - powerful, dangerous battle magic.

"Don't worry, open it, you've been granted access..." Gesar growled.

I opened the folder - at that point any unauthorized Other or human being would have been reduced to a handful of ash.

Inside the folder was a letter. Just one single envelope. The address of our office was written in newsprint, carefully cut out and stuck onto the envelope. And, naturally, there was no return address.

"The letters have been cut out of three newspapers," said Gesar. "Pravda, Kommersant, and Arguments and Facts."

"Ingenious," I remarked. "Can I open it?"

"Yes, do. The forensic experts have already done everything they can with the envelope - there aren't any fingerprints. The glue was made in China and it's on sale in every newspaper kiosk."

"And it's written on toilet paper!" I exclaimed in absolute delight as I took the letter out of the envelope. "Is it clean at least?"

"Unfortunately," said Gesar. "Not the slightest trace of organic matter. Standard cheap pulp. 'Fifty-four meters', they call it."

The sheet of toilet paper had been carelessly torn off along the perforation and the text was glued onto it in different-sized letters. Or rather, in entire words, with a few endings added separately, and with no regard for the typeface:

"The NIGHT WATCH should BE INTERESTED to know that a CERTAIN Other has REVEALed to a CERTAIN human being the entire truth about oTHErs and now inTENDs to turn this human beING into an OTHER. A wellWISHer."

I would have laughed, but somehow I didn't feel like it. Instead, I remarked perspicaciously, " 'Night Watch' is written in complete words..."

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