The Vanishing Point
“This sacrifice, in essence, of two things
Consisteth; one is that, whereof ’tis made;
The covenant, the other.”
Paradise; canto v
“Every instant is autonomous. Not vengeance nor pardon nor
jails nor even oblivion can modify the invulnerable past.”
Jorge Luis Borges
A New Refutation of Time
DI Gerrit Flatley stood near the door, watching. Many of the invited diplomats were already inside, gathered in the foyer drinking champagne and fizzy drinks for the non-imbibers. From where he was positioned he could see Brigadier Crawford, as he hovered on the margins of the crowd, ghostlike and Prof. Aengus FitzHenry looking flustered, his check jacket flickering in and out of the forest of sombre suits and floral dresses. Above him Joyce Holden and James Somerville were standing on the lower crosswalk, listening to Albhar – a traditional group composed of Moroccan, Galician and Irish musicians – as they entertained the guests with songs from their Atlantic Shore suite. Flatley’s mobile phone vibrated into life in his breast pocket. ‘Hello. Flatley here,’ he said quietly as he moved outside to a small seating area, near the entrance doorway. A group of laughing and giggling schoolgirls, on a tour of the Castle, walked past him. One was licking an ice-cream, with real relish and he smiled at her.
‘Gerry, it’s Paddy Hayes. We’ve found her.’ His senior sergeant announced.
‘Phyllis Andrew?’ he asked, but knew the answer. He was feeling more disappointment than he usually did.
‘Yep! The sub-aqua unit dredged her up, still strapped into her wheelchair, from the reservoir,’ Hayes said with a dead-pan voice.
‘The post-mortem is scheduled for 02.00 pm.’
Flatley looked at his watch. It was 11.30am. The presentation in the Museum was due to start at any minute. ‘I’ll be there,’ he said.
‘Right. Oh. Gerry.’
‘What about your man, Flanagan? He’s still in the holding cell. We cannot hold onto him much longer without a formal charge being brought. What do you want to do?’
Flatley had brought Flanagan in for further questioning 24 hours previously, more out of frustration with a lack of progress in getting any leads to the missing Phyllis Andrew than anything else. It was the second time since all of their returns from Istanbul. Flanagan had realised this and fully cooperated. ‘Let him go, Paddy. But hold onto his passport.’
‘Right. See you at 1400.’
Flatley hung up, replaced the phone in his pocket, and walked back through the glass doors into the Museum. He paused as he scanned the foyer for FitzHenry wanting to inform him about finding Phyllis Andrew as soon as possible. He saw Jack Dawson and Rio exiting, from the corridor where her lab was situated, onto the upper crosswalk. He realised then, that even when out-of-sight from him, he could sense her movement, her presence. He tried to attract their attention but they didn’t see him. He watched as they abruptly stopped at the top of the stairway, gesturing to each other as if they had forgotten something. The Durer etching for the presentation, he suspected. He had delivered it back to Rio earlier. She quickly turned back and retraced her steps. Jack waited, his body only half visible as he held the outer corridor door open.
Flatley decided to go around the back edge of the crowd. Ahead of him he saw FitzHenry mounting a small podium that was set to one side of the projection screen of the ground floor theatre and testing the microphone. There was polite applause and then silence.
‘Your Excellencies, ladies and gentlemen,’ FitzHenry began. ‘Once again I wish to extend my sincere gratitude to members of the diplomatic community and their continued support of the Library. In particular on this occasion I would like to acknowledge the magnificent generosity of the Embassies of the Kingdom of Denmark and the United Kingdom for helping us to mount an exhibition of legal and ecclesiastical manuscripts associated with Viking Dublin and the Danish kingdoms on the east coast of England.’
There was more polite applause which FitzHenry allowed to subside before he continued, ‘No doubt as many of you are aware it has been a very difficult time for the Library lately but it gives me great pleasure to announce a recent discovery . . .’
Flatley hesitated. FitzHenry’s speech faded into the background as suddenly, to his right, an unusual movement catches the policeman’s eye. The door of the toilet for disabled visitors had opened and the figure of a man, dark skinned, with a red chequered scarf around his neck, exited. The man was smiling – a detached frightening smile, the policeman thought. The man began to move forward towards the podium but hesitated by the door of the museum shop. He seemed to be having difficulty opening the zip of his jacket.
Gerrit Flatley looked up and began to wave urgently in the direction of Rio who had reappeared on the crosswalk. Behind FitzHenry, projected on the atrium screen, the image of the Dürer etching appeared.
FitzHenry droned on and used a laser pointer to throw a red dot on the screen to his right, ‘Thanks to the conscientiousness of one of our staff members, Dr. Rio Dawson, a new, previously unrecorded Dürer etching entitled the Paraclete has been identified and validated. We are deligh –’ There was an abrupt pause in the flow of words. Aengus FitzHenry had looked up from his notes, and suddenly saw the man standing by the shop. Flatley threw a quick look in the direction of the podium. The colour had drained from FitzHenry’s face. His mouth was open but no words were coming out. FitzHenry was holding out his arms, flapping them wildly. Then a scream came, a scream that reverberated around the enclosed space of the atrium. ‘Oh, God! No, Ahmed. No!’
The audience turned as one from the screen in the direction of FitzHenry’s extended arms. Everything appeared to be happening in slow motion. A gust of wind blew through the open doors behind Flatley and he saw the tassels on the red-chequered scarf flutter. He lunged forward. He could see the man’s hand as it moved towards his chest, pulling open his shirt. The man tugged at a silver-coloured draw-ring. Nothing happened.
Flatley was nearly up to him.
‘Al-Awda, I am witness,’ Ahmed Al-Akrash shouted, and looking directly at the onrushing policeman tugged down on the ring once more.
There was a blinding flash, and a blast of wind first sucked in and then roared out from within the Museum shattering outwards the doors of the entrance. Some 50 yards away, the schoolgirl licking the ice-cream was impaled by a scimitar of double-glazed glass to one of the park benches.
And then the screaming started . . .