Authors: Kerry Greenwood
‘Some ISPs are horribly paranoid,’ observed Rat. ‘Gimme the nachos, Taz.’
They talked over each other all the time, but since I didn’t understand a word of it, this didn’t matter. My unruly mind presented me with a thread of G and S: ‘This particularly rapid unintelligible patter isn’t generally heard and if it is it doesn’t matter matter matter...’
‘We used a zombie,’ said Rat. ‘Once you gave us the password we had no need to pretext the ISP for a new one. He’ll never know we were there.’
‘I believe that,’ said Daniel.
‘So you can. The zombie’s a good servant.’
‘Zombie? Isn’t that one of the living dead?’ I hazarded.
‘They aren’t dead,’ objected Taz. ‘They’re dudes put into a coma by this toad poison and then dug up again brain damaged.’
‘Bullshit,’ protested Gully.
‘Google,’ said Rat.
We prepared another tray of nachos for the starving before we beat a retreat out of the way of all that melted cheese. When we left, they were gathered around an uncompromised machine, absorbing information on Wade Davis and Haiti. Eating Cheez-Os. And arguing about horror movies.
‘All right,’ I said slowly to Daniel. ‘Jerusalem Syndrome?’
‘Overwhelmed by the fact of the Holy City. And delusions of grandeur.’
‘Excluded as a source of spam and banned from the journal.’
‘Is a computer which has been badly hacked and threaded with viruses, on a bot net. It’s close to untraceable.’
‘All right.’ My head was aching with all these unfamiliar words and concepts. ‘How did you get his password? By some strange, even eldritch technological wizardry?’
‘No,’ said Daniel. ‘I stole his wallet.’
We left. Laughing helplessly, in my case.
‘Would you mind if we went back to your apartment?’ asked Daniel. ‘If you really can’t bear to stay here we can always go to my place and fling Georgie into the street.’
I smiled at the idea. ‘A tempting thought, but no, I have to live here, and worse things have happened to other people. As I was reminded by Chrysoula. We will go in the front way,’ I said, and we did.
The atrium contained the entire Pandamus family all protesting loudly, from the smallest child’s shrill cry to GreatGrandmamma’s croak.
‘What’s wrong?’ I asked.
Seven separate accounts of the outrage followed, so scrambled that I couldn’t make sense out of any of it. Everyone was yelling, even the quieter members of the Pandamus family who usually listened. Finally Daniel grabbed Del by the sleeve and the two of them went out onto the steps while I sagged down under a thousand metric tons of righteous indignation.
Daniel finally fought his way to my side with an explanation. ‘Health Department closed the cafe like they closed your bakery and Best Fresh.’
This clear statement brought a new wail of anguish. I knew exactly how they all felt, because I felt like that myself, and tears rose to my eyes. Mrs P grabbed me in a tight embrace and cried down my neck and I damn near joined her.
‘It will be all right,’ said Daniel, and was instantly denounced by all.
‘All right? How can it be all right? We are ruined!’ yelled Del Pandamus, throwing his arms wide to demonstrate the extent of his ruin. ‘We ruined! Corinna ruined! Even that pig down the lane, he ruined too!’
‘But you didn’t sell anything poisonous,’ Daniel said patiently. I could have told him he was wasting his time. A Greek scene is a significant part of the Sophoclean tradition and not easily interrupted by reason.
‘So, they find we didn’t poison everyone, they go away, you open again.’ Daniel tried reason anyway.
‘Who would ever eat with us again, once they thought we were suspected?’ wailed Mrs Pandamus, whom I had always thought so self-possessed. ‘Everyone will say, no fire without smoke! There must have been something wrong or the Health would not have shut them down!’
‘Daniel, do stop being sensible,’ I snapped before he could speak again. ‘This is a moment for wailing, so either wail along or go upstairs and find the brandy, there’s a dear.’
Daniel hefted the papers he’d collected from Nerds Inc, nodded, patted the nearest pair of heaving Pandamus shoulders, and took his leave. Actually it was more like he ‘escaped’ up the stairs, not waiting for the lift. I wiped my eyes, blew my nose, blew little Soula’s nose, and said, ‘We must be strong.’
‘Why?’ asked Del.
‘Because we will find out who has done this to us,’ I said. ‘And then they will be sorry.’
‘Ah,’ said Yai Yai. She had not spoken loudly but the little intake of breath had somehow been audible through all those voices. The entire family turned to look at her, tiny and indomitable.
‘Yes?’ asked Del. The old lady nodded. Her eyes were quite black and as sharp as crewel needles.
‘You will find out?’ he asked me.
‘Trying to do so at this very moment,’ I told him.
He engulfed me in a huge tear-stained embrace. ‘All right,’ he said. ‘Then we got something to do. Dinner tonight in the cellar,’ he told me. ‘Your girls and your boy are getting the food. Eight. Bring wine, much wine.’
‘Sounds good,’ I agreed. Then I, too, escaped up the stairs to a less fraught atmosphere. Greek scenes can really take it out of you, but the emotional release is wonderful. I felt much, much better. Now that I had something to do.
What I did next was to sit down and read through reams of Barnabas’s diary—sorry, LiveJournal. My view, that putting any diary online was equivalent to publishing it in a news
paper, was confirmed. There might be interesting stuff in the locked away parts. And perhaps they are safe. Unless the Lone Gunmen have been paid to break into them. Even so, email is a trap: it feels private, but it isn’t. Like radio. Interviewees occasionally freeze when they imagine how many people might be listening to them talk with the interviewer, but a lot more stray into indiscretion because, in reality, all they can see is the nice insinuating man in front of them and a modicum of technological junk. So they talk freely, and thus we have police reports, scandal sheets, and Royal Commissions. And doesn’t the fact that it is in public, that someone else will read it, entirely change the experience of writing a diary? You’re writing for an audience, not for yourself. You have to explain things more. You can’t just say ‘I’ll never forget what she said to me’. Actually that could be an advantage. When I went back and read my school diary, I found that declaration, and I
also found that I had entirely forgotten whatever it was that she had said, and even who had said it.
I still write a diary. In ink. By hand. And it’s in my dressing table drawer, which is locked. If any burglar wanted to see it, he was not at all welcome. No one was invited. Not even Daniel. Especially not Daniel, when I thought of what I had written about my suspicions of him and Georgie.
Barnabas’s website was being accessed by Daniel, who was whistling occasionally. He does this when he is intrigued and it annoys me. I took my sheaf of papers, my notebooks and my cup of coffee onto the balcony, where it was cool. Horatio declined to follow because, as far as he was concerned, a mohair rug was a mohair rug and he had his. If he moved, I could see him thinking, someone human might steal it.
The Mouse Police, not at all bored by being relieved of their hunting duties, formed a warm pool of fur around my ankles as I read and sipped and made notes. I could not hear a sound from the bakery. The quarantine people had obviously gathered their samples and gone back to their laboratory. And Barnabas was proving to be very interesting.
From his Cave in the Holy Mountains Barnabas wrote paragraphs for the enlightenment of his followers, whom he assumed to be female. The more I read, the more I was reminded of someone, but I could not remember who. So I kept reading.
‘All nature is beautiful,’ said Barnabas. ‘All natural processes likewise. Therefore, when the moon demands your blood, bleed freely. Let the issue not be interrupted by padding and cotton and those abominations, tampons, intruding into your sacred flesh.’
I could not see this working for anyone who had to put on clothes and catch a train to Flagstaff every morning. Blood was
blood and a contaminant just the same as saliva or urine—not
something I want someone to deposit on my bus seat.
‘Blood is life,’ thus Barnabas. ‘To be tasted and revered.’
Euw, as Kylie would have said. I had tasted menstrual blood and it tastes just like any other blood—coppery, salty and, in a word, bloody. I didn’t see it as a reverential act, more curiosity. I took a gulp of coffee and read on.
The next five entries, and indeed much of the rest of the oeuvre, were about the Great Rite. Reverence for the Female Principle, conjunction of opposites, and a lot about etheric fluids. I ruffled through my book on Wicca. The Great Rite was the culmination of a ceremony in which the priestess copulates with the priest. Figured. Done in a highly charged, religious state. To balance the energies.
Barnabas sounded like he needed a lot of balancing. And the tone of his pronouncements was getting to me. He was pompous and slithy by turns. I doubted his devotion to the Goddess, but never his devotion to Barnabas. I put down the coffee cup. Perhaps I was just paranoid, but I didn’t like Barnabas and the more I read of his LiveJournal the more I felt that clipping his ears would be fun. His advice to young women to wear short skirts and transparent tops was puerile. His offering of private tuition in witchcraft sounded like a come-on. And his influence might well be pernicious amongst the young and inexperienced.
I stood and stretched. The Mouse Police had got cold and gone inside. Seven o’clock, and I was hungry. Time to put Barnabas away and prepare for dinner. Wine, Del had said. What was in the Corinna cellar? Not a lot, actually. Even the chateau collapseau was sloshing emptily. Chateau collapseau would not do for a proper dinner in any case.
Daniel looked up from the computer.
‘Going out to get some wine,’ I said.
‘I’ll come with you.’ He got up, shutting down his search engine. ‘How did you go with Barnabas?’
‘He’s a sleaze,’ I opined, finding my purse under a cat. It was Heckle and he just meowed briefly and fell asleep again. Why he was sleeping on the coffee table was anyone’s guess.
‘Now that I think of it, I ought to go back to my place, check if George has moved out, and collect some stuff,’ said Daniel as we reached the street.
‘Back for dinner?’ I asked, with hardly a pang at the mention of Georgiana’s name. ‘The girls and Jason are catering tonight so it should be interesting.’
‘Certainly. Don’t carry too many bottles,’ he said, and went away with his swift, elegant lope, his leather coat floating behind him. God, he was gorgeous. I did not deserve him and I would not doubt him again.
The wine shop sold every possible alcoholic beverage under the sun. I ordered a case of the sauv blanc and a lot of other bottles—this was a time to be extravagant—and Geoff, who was just closing, offered me his shop assistant and the trolley to convey it all to Insula. I accepted with pleasure. I was fine until Geoff, who is a sensitive and charming gay man who spends every Australian summer with his Zurich lover, skiing, pressed my hands and looked sympathetically into my face.
‘I’m so sorry about your shop, Corinna,’ he told me.
Tears pricked my eyes. ‘Thanks,’ I said inadequately.
‘I know they’ll find it had nothing to do with you,’ he said. ‘There wasn’t any hint of trouble until Best Fresh opened. They say the bloke who runs it is spending all his time in Young and Jackson’s, sinking whisky by the bottle and making an exhibition of himself.’
Sensitive and charming and had a Presbyterian grand
mother, I diagnosed.
‘Indeed,’ I said.
‘So take this as a present from me.’ He added a wrapped bottle to the load on the trolley which young James was pushing. ‘And don’t worry too much. You’ll be back behind the counter before long.’
‘Thanks,’ I said, sniffed, and followed James out of the shop.
He was a nice boy, too. He lugged the trolley up the steps to Insula and into the lift for me. Like all trolleys, it had two unmatching wheels, on one of which the tyre was shredding. James also unloaded the bottles and hauled the metal-wheeled thing away without complaint. And wouldn’t accept a tip until I forced the note into the nicely ironed pocket of his uniform shirt.
I unpacked and found that Geoff had given me a bottle of good cognac. That was very kind of him but I had cried quite enough for the moment. I was very lucky in my neighbours.
I washed my face, collected a reasonable sample of bottles, and descended to the cellar.
When Insula was built it was a fully serviced apartment house, so it had an extensive vault where the inhabitants could keep their wine, and a well-equipped kitchen. Recently we had renovated it for parties. Mistress Dread liked it because it reminded her of her dungeon. The apartment dwellers of Insula—the Prof called us the Insulae—ate together once a week or so, on Thursday nights, but I usually excused myself unless I was catering because of having to get up so early. Now I didn’t have to get up early. I didn’t have to get up at all...
I shook myself. I could smell delicious scents. What on earth had those food-averse maidens and the voracious Jason cooked up between them?
Trudi, with Lucifer on his rightful shoulder, greeted me. She has to take him with her on most occasions because left alone in her flat he finds new and ingenious ways to either destroy something she values or attempt to commit felicide. Eating tulip bulbs, for instance, counted towards both. When she absolutely cannot take him with her she shuts him in a cat cage which now has more chains and locks and latches than Alcatraz. Fortunately he has not yet worked out how to pick a padlock with his claws. While secured he cries piteously the whole time she is away.