Home > Twilight Watch (Watch #3)(8)

Twilight Watch (Watch #3)(8)
Author: Sergei Lukyanenko

I sighed and lowered my head. "Forgive me for being so stupid. I really did try to offer some... remuneration. I've been running from one bureaucrat to another all this week, registering the firm... it was an automatic reflex."

The security boss gave me a searching look. He seemed to have softened just a bit.

"It's my fault," I admitted. "I was just overwhelmed by curiosity. Would you believe I couldn't sleep half the night, I kept trying to guess..."

"I can see you didn't sleep," the boss said, looking at me. And he couldn't resist asking - after all, human curiosity is ineradicable. "What is it you're so interested in?"

"My wife and daughter are at the dacha right now," I said. "I'm knocking myself out, trying to get the work on the apartment finished... and suddenly I get this letter. Anonymous. In a woman's handwriting. And the letter... well, how can I put it... it's half flirting and half promises. A beautiful stranger is dreaming of getting to know you, it says, but she doesn't dare take the first step. If I'm observant enough to realize who the letter's from, then all I have to do is approach her..."

A glint of merriment appeared in the security boss's eyes. "And your wife's at the dacha?" he asked.

"Yes, she is," I said with a nod. "Don't get the wrong idea... I've no ambitious plans. I'd just like to find out who this stranger is."

"Do you have the letter with you?" the boss asked.

"I threw it away immediately," I said. "If my wife ever set eyes on it, I'd never be able to prove that nothing happened..."

"When was it sent?"

"Three days ago. From our post office."

The boss thought for a moment.

"The letters there are collected once a day, in the evening," I said. "I don't think too many people go in there... only about five or six a day. If I could just have a look..."

The boss shook his head and smiled.

"Yes, I understand in principle it's not allowed..." I said sadly. "Can't you at least take a look, eh? Maybe there wasn't a single woman there that day, and it's my neighbor's idea of a joke. He's like that... the jolly type."

"From the tenth floor, you mean?" the boss asked, frowning.

I nodded. "You take a look... just tell me if there was a woman there or not..."

"This letter is compromising for you, isn't it?" the boss said.

"To some extent," I admitted. "As far as my wife is concerned."

"Well, then you have grounds for viewing the recording," the boss decided.

"Thank you very much!" I exclaimed. "Really, thank you!"

"You see how simple everything is?" said the boss, slowly pressing a key on his computer keyboard. "And you go getting the money out... what Soviet sort of way is that to behave... just a moment..."

I couldn't restrain myself. I got up and stood behind his shoulder. The boss didn't object. He was pretty excited -  evidently there wasn't much work for him to do in the grounds of Assol.

The image of the post office appeared on the screen, first from one corner - we had an excellent view of what the counter girls were doing. Then from another corner - a view of the entrance and the mail box.

"Monday. Eight in the morning," the boss said triumphantly. "And now what? Are we going to sit and watch the screen for twelve hours?"

"Oh, that's right," I exclaimed, pretending to be disappointed. "I never thought of that."

"We press a key... no, this one here... And now what do we have?"

The image started flickering rapidly.

"What?" I asked, as if I'd never designed the same kind of system for our office.

"Movement search!" the boss declared solemnly.

We had our first taker at nine-thirty in the morning. Some Eastern-looking worker came into the post office and posted a whole bundle of letters.

"Not your female stranger?" the boss quipped sarcastically. And then he explained. "That's the men building the second block. They're always sending letters to Tashkent..."

I nodded.

The second visitor was at a quarter past one. I didn't know him, a very respectable-looking gent. With a bodyguard walking behind him.

The gentleman didn't post any letters. I didn't understand why he went in at all - maybe he was eyeing up the girls, or maybe he was studying the layout of the grounds at Assol.

And the third one was... Las!

"Oh!" the boss exclaimed. "Now that's your neighbour, the jester, isn't it? The one who sings songs at night."

I was obviously a very poor detective...

"That's him..." I whispered. "But would he really..."

"Okay, let's watch a bit more," the security boss said, taking pity on me.

Later on, after a two-hour break, people came piling in.

Another three residents sent off envelopes of some kind. All men, all very serious-looking types.

And one woman. About seventy years old. Just before closing time. Fat, wearing a magnificent dress and huge beads in bad taste. Her sparse gray hair was set in curls.

"Surely it couldn't be her?" the boss said, delighted. He got up and slapped me on the shoulder. "Well, is there any point in looking for your mysterious flirt?"

"It's clear enough," I said. "It's a put-on."

"Never mind, it's nothing more than a harmless joke," the security boss consoled me. "And a request from me to you for the future... never make such ambiguous gestures. Never take money out, if you don't intend to pay someone."

I hung my head.

"We're the ones who corrupt people," the boss said bitterly. "Do you understand? We do it ourselves! Offer someone money once, twice... and the third time he asks you for it. And we complain - what is all this, and where did it come from?... But you're a good man. I can see the light in you."

I gaped at the boss in amazement.

"Yes, you are a good man," said the boss. "I trust my instinct. I saw all sorts in twenty years in the criminal investigation office... Don't do that again, all right? Don't sow evil in the world."

It was a long time since I'd felt so ashamed.

A Light Magician being taught not to do evil.

"I'll try," I said, looking the boss guiltily in the eye. "Thanks very much for your help..."

The boss didn't answer. His eyes had turned glassy, as vacant and mindless as a little infant's. His mouth had opened slightly. His fingers had turned white, clenched tightly on the armrests of his chair.

The Freeze. A fairly simple spell, very widely used.

There was someone standing by the window behind me. I couldn't see him - but I could sense him with my back...

I jerked to one side as quickly as I could, but I still felt the icy breath of the Power aimed at me. No, it wasn't the Freeze. But it was something similar, something out of the vampire's arsenal of tricks.

The Power skidded across me - and sank into the unfortunate security boss. The cover Gesar had put in place not only disguised me, it protected me too!

My shoulder smashed against the wall and I threw my hands out in front of me, but at the last second I pulled back and didn't strike. I blinked and raised the shadow of my eyelids up over my eyes.

Standing by the windows, grim-faced from effort, was a vampire. Tall, with the face of a well-bred European. A Higher Vampire, without the slightest doubt. And not as immature as Kostya. He was at least three hundred years old, and his power undoubtedly exceeded mine.

But not Gesar's! The vampire had not seen that I was really an Other. Now all those suppressed non-life instincts that Higher Vampires can keep under control came bursting out. I don't know whom he took me for. Maybe some special human being with reactions that could rival a vampire's, or a mythical "half-blood" - the child of a human woman and a male vampire - or for a rather less mythical warlock, a hunter of lower Others. But the vampire was clearly on the point of cutting loose and smashing everything around him. His features began melting like soft putty, changing into a bestial face with a heavy forehead, fangs slid out of his upper jaw, and razor-sharp claws sprang from his fingers.

A crazed vampire is a terrible thing.

The only thing worse is a vampire poised and in control.

My reflexes saved me from a duel with a dubious outcome. I held back and didn't strike, and shouted out the traditional formula of arrest: "Night Watch! Leave the Twilight!"

Immediately I heard a voice from the doorway.

"Stop, he's one of us!"

I was amazed how quickly the vampire normalized. The claws and the fangs were withdrawn, the face quivered, like meat jelly, assuming that reserved, noble expression of a prosperous European. And I remembered this European very well - from the glorious city of Prague, where they brew the best beer in the world and still have the best Gothic architecture.

"Witezslav?" I exclaimed. "What do you think you're doing?"

And of course, the person standing at the door was Edgar.

The Dark Magician who worked for a short while in the Moscow Day Watch and then left to join the Inquisition.

"Anton, I beg your pardon!" The imperturbable Bait was really embarrassed. "A slight error. In pursuit of our common goal..."

Witezslav was politeness itself.

"Our apologies, watchman. We did not recognize you..."

His gaze slid over me tenaciously and a note of admiration appeared in his voice.

"What a disguise... Congratulations, watchman. If that is your work, I bow my head to you."

I didn't explain who had constructed my defenses. It's not often that a Light Magician (or a Dark Magician, for that matter) gets a chance to give Inquisitors a good bawling out.

"What have you done to this man?" I barked. "He is under my protection!"

"It was necessary for our work, as my colleague has already said," Witezslav replied with a shrug. "We're interested in the information from the video cameras."

Edgar casually moved aside the chair with the frozen head of security in it and came closer. He smiled. "Gorodetsky, everything's all right. We're all doing the same job, aren't we?"

"Do you have permission for... using methods like this?" I asked.

"We have permission for very many things," Witezslav replied with chilly emphasis. "You have no idea how many."

That was it - he'd recovered his equilibrium. And he was set on confrontation. But he'd very nearly given way to his instincts, lost his self-control, and for a Higher Vampire that's an unpardonable disgrace. A note of genuine, cold fury appeared in Witezslav's voice: "Would you like to test that, watchman?"

Of course, an Inquisitor can't allow anyone to yell at him. Only now there was no way I could back down either.

Edgar saved the situation. He raised his hands and exclaimed in emotional tones, "It's my fault! I ought to have recognized Mr. Gorodetsky. Witezslav, it's all the result of my poor work. I'm sorry!"

I held out my hand to the vampire first.

"Fair enough, we are all doing the same job. I hadn't expected to see you here."

I'd hit the bull's eye there. Witezslav looked away for a moment. And he smiled very amiably as he shook my hand. The vampire's palm was warm... and I realized what that meant.

"Our colleague Witezslav has come straight from the plane," said Edgar.

"And he hasn't gone through temporary registration yet?" I asked.

No matter how powerful Witezslav might be, no matter what position he might hold in the Inquisition, he was still a vampire. And he was obliged to go through the humiliating procedure of registration.

But I didn't press the point any further. On the contrary. "We can complete all the formalities here," I suggested. "I have the right to do that."

"Thank you," the vampire said with a nod. "But I'll call into your office. Proper procedure above all things."

A shaky truce had been patched together.

"I've already looked through the recordings," I said. "Letters were posted three days ago by four men and one woman. And some construction worker posted a whole pile of letters. There are builders from Uzbekistan working here."

"A good sign for your country," Witezslav said very politely. "When the citizens of neighboring states are used as labor power, it's an indication of economic growth."

I could have explained to him what I thought about that. But I didn't.

"Would you like to see the recording?" I asked.

"Yes, I think so," the vampire said.

Edgar stood modestly aside.

I brought the image of the post office up on the monitor, then switched on "movement search" - and we watched all the local lovers of the epistolary genre once again.

"I know this one," I said, pointing at Las. "I'll find out today what it was he posted."

"Do you suspect him?" asked Witezslav.

"No," I said and shook my head.

The vampire ran the tape through again. But this time Witezslav had set the unfortunate frozen security boss in front of the monitor.

"Who's this?" Witezslav asked.

"A resident," the security boss replied indifferently. "Block one, sixteenth floor..."

He had a good memory and named all the suspects. The building worker with the pile of letters was the only one he couldn't identify. In addition to Las, the resident from the sixteenth floor, and the old woman from the eleventh, letters had been posted by two of the Assol's managers.

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