Chapter no 44

Anxious People

Jack only manages to slither halfway into the space above the closet. Then Jim has to climb the ladder and pull on both his feet as hard as he can, as if his son were a rat who had crawled into a soda bottle to drink the contents and had become too fat to squeeze out again. When Jack 1nally comes loose, the two of them fall to the Aoor, Jim with a crash and Jack with a thud. They lie there sprawled on the closet Aoor, surrounded by women’s underwear from the last century and with the rabbit’s head rolling around, sending the dust balls Aeeing in fear of their lives. Jack embarks upon another verbal demonstration of his knowledge of farmyard anatomy, before getting to his feet and saying: “Well, there’s a very narrow old ventilation duct up there, but it’s sealed at the far end. Cigarette smoke might blow out, but there’s no way anyone could get through there. Not a chance.”

Jim looks unhappy, mostly because Jack looks so unhappy. The father remains standing in the closet for a while after his son storms out, to give him time to walk a few circuits of the living room and get the swearing out of his system. When Jim eventually walks out he 1nds Jack standing in front of the open 1replace, thinking.

“Do you think the bank robber could have got out this way?” Jim wonders. “Do you think he’s Santa Claus or something?” Jack answers, with

unnecessary cruelty that he regrets at once. But there’s ash at the bottom of the grate, and it’s still warm—there’s been a 1re here fairly recently. When Jack carefully pokes about with his Aashlight, he 1shes out the remains of a ski mask. He holds it up to the light. Looks at the blood on the Aoor and the furniture around him, trying to put the pieces of the puzzle together.


In the meantime Jim wanders about apparently at random, and 1nds himself in the kitchen, where he opens the fridge (which perhaps indicates that it wasn’t entirely random after all). There’s leftover pizza in there, on a china plate, carefully covered with clingwrap. Who would do that, in the middle of a hostage drama? Jim shuts the fridge and returns to the living room. Jack is still standing by the 1replace holding the partially burned ski mask in his hand, his shoulders slumped in resignation.

“No, I can’t see how he got out of the apartment, Dad. I’ve tried looking at it from every possible and impossible angle, but I still don’t understand how the hell…”

Jack suddenly looks so sad that his dad immediately tries to cheer him up by asking questions.

“What about the blood? How can the bank robber have lost this much blood and still—?” Jim begins, but is interrupted by a voice from the hall. It’s the police officer who’s been standing guard.

“Er, that isn’t the bank robber’s blood,” he blurts out cheerfully, picking something from his teeth.

“What?” Jack asks.

“Schusssschfnurschulle,” the officer says, with almost his entire hand stuck in his mouth, as if the blood were nowhere near as important as the souvenir from his lunch that had gotten stuck in there. The hand reemerges with a piece of cashew nut, and the newly liberated mouth laughs and looks remarkably happy.

“Sorry?” Jim says, with rapidly dwindling patience.

The cheerful police officer points at the dried blood on the Aoor.

“I said: that’s stage blood. Look at the way it’s drying, real blood doesn’t look like that,” he says, holding the piece of cashew nut as if he’s unsure whether to throw it away or frame it as a memory of this great personal achievement.

“How do you know that?” Jim asks him.

“I’m a bit of a magician in my spare time. Well, to be more accurate, I’m a bit of a 9oliceman in my spare time!”

His expectation that Jim and Jack are going to laugh at that turns out to be an optimistic prognosis, so he coughs rather forlornly and adds: “I do a few shows, stuP like that. Old people’s homes and so on. Sometimes I pretend to cut

myself, and then I use stage blood. I’m quite good, actually. If you’ve got a pack of cards on you, I can…”

Jack, who has never looked like he just happened to “have a pack of cards on him” at any time in his life, points at the blood.

“So you’re quite sure this isn’t real blood?” The police officer nods con1dently.

Jack and Jim look thoughtfully at each other. Then they each switch their Aashlights on, even though the ceiling lights are already on, and start to go through the apartment, inch by inch. Around and around and around. Staring at everything but still seeing nothing. There’s a bowl of limes next to the pizza boxes on the table. All the glasses are neatly placed on coasters. There’s a marker on the Aoor to indicate where the police found the bank robber’s pistol. Right beside it is a small table with a small lamp on it.

“Dad? The phone we sent in for the perpetrator, where did we 1nd it when we came in?” Jack suddenly asks.

“It was there, on that little table,” Jim says. “That explains it,” Jack sighs.

“Explains what?”

“We’ve been thinking about this wrong all along.”

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