The police officer straightened the camera toward the pale face of the interrogatee.
“Good. Now, I want you to repeat what you said when we picked you up.”
He pressed a tiny button and the camera made a short sound. The interrogatee lay idly on the chair, gazing blankly toward the round lens.
“…repeat?” His voice was calm and dry. “You mean, what we spoke earlier?”
“Yes. Look right there and tell everything nicely. Then, we’ll ask you some more questions.”
The interrogatee cocked his head and the yellow light in the room highlighted his reddened eyes.
“Shouldn’t you be asking me? So I can answer?”
A woman’s mild voice was heard in the speakers hidden somewhere in the walls.
“Repeat the procedure, Anţescu. Ask him the questions. Make it fast, we don’t have all night.”
From behind the camera a bored sigh was heard. The frail body of police officer Anţescu leaned over near the table. He cleared his throat and began:
“Name and surname.”
“You’re an alcoholic, is that true?”
The interrogatee perked up.
“I do enjoy a glass of drink. Or two.”
Pleased, Anţescu nodded.
“Is it true that when we took you in custody you were under influence?”
“Yes, sir! In a sorry case of influence.”
Constantin exposed a yellowing grin.
“Are you under the influence now?”
“Good. Tell me, Mr. Goroaia, about the night between the 3rd and the 4th of January 2014.”
For the first time since the camera was on, the smugness on the interrogatee’s face started to fade. Lowering his head a little, he locked his gaze onto the lens.
“Why, I got home and got drunk…”
Anţescu jumped from his chair and started to bark:
“No! Not that! Tell me about Vincă! His house. What happened there. That’s what I wanna know. The fire. Tell me about that!”
Goroaia answered calmly:
“I don’t know what happened, or why. I don’t. I already told you that.” The interrogatee lean over towards the camera, lowering his voice:
“And I don’t even want to know.”
The woman’s voice cut in:
“We do, though. Don’t dissapoint us.”
Constantin raised his head towards the ceiling:
“And who’s we, exactly?”
A long silence followed. As seconds passed by, with the last words still echoing in his ears, the interrogatee began to grasp the size of the mistake he’d just made. Finally, Anţescu broke the silence, speaking softly with frightening confidence:
“We’re interested in you. About what you saw, more precisely. And not only us, but we’re the only ones willing to treat you within the boundaries of normality. I think this is enough for an explanation.”
Constantin fidgeted in his chair, trying to hide himself again behind the smug smile. Unabashed, Anţescu carried on:
“Your attempts to delay our investigation are the least constructive, Mr. Goroaia. It won’t help you at all to hide from us what you saw.”
The head of the interrogatee started to jitter. He spoke over Anţescu’s words, trying to block them:
“Mr. Goroaia, you cannot hide…”
“…from us or from what you saw.”
“You don’t know…”
“We want to know. Tell us…”
“You don’t want to know…”
“…and we will help you.”
“You don’t want that…”
“We can help a lot of people.”
Constantin raised his eyes towards Anţescu:
“It happened more than once?”
“79 authentic cases in the last 48 hours. 28 states were affected, but there is no coordination of the operations. We move in the dark here.”
He lit a cigarette and went on:
“To be honest, with or without you, we’re in shit either way. But you never know what Mr. Goroaia, cook assistant, might reveal.”
Constantin looked yearningly at the cigarette that was stuck between the thin lips of the interrogator.
“So you say that I can go home if I speak?”
“Didn’t say that. Only if something gets solved, you can go back to where you came.”
Anţescu started to guffaw on his own joke. Constantin followed suit, locking his reddened eyes onto the police officer. He cackled, almost grunting. He let his head back, talking to the ceiling:
“I want mister police officer stop making bad jokes. I want a bottle of wine. Bordeaux, if possible. And cigarettes.”
Anţescu didn’t say a word. His gaze had something indefinite, a blend of hatred, pity and fun. He sneaked his right hand into his jacket, leaning toward the interrogatee. The woman’s voice broke out again:
“Give him what he asked for. We don’t have time.”
The police officer took his hand out of his jacket. His lips froze into a lopsided smile. He offered his cigarette pack:
“Let’s start with these.”
They smoke silently, waiting for the wine. Anţescu looked undisturbedly at the interrogatee, analyzing him in every detail. He’s weak. Look at him sweat. Red eyes. Milky-white face. He looks like shit. And he wants wine, too.
Finally, the wait was over. A hulk of a man, his face lost under a balaclava, put a white bag on the table. Mr. Goroaia was enraptured by the ritual in front of his eyes. The police officer delicately took out the content: two bottles of wine first, then two packs of cigarettes.
“Finally, a cop that does his job,” said Constantin, looking at one of the bottles being opened.
“We’re not cops,” explained Anţescu.
“Probably that’s why you’re doing your jobs.”
The hulk slammed a metal mug in front of the interrogatee.
“I was thinking more of a tall, slim glass. But I’ll do fine with this clinker, too.”
The wine gurgled quietly into the mug. Constantin took a small sip first. Swirled it around into his mouth like a conoisseur. He then gulped down the whole mug. He lit a cigarette, then said:
“On January 3rd I came back to work…”
Anţescu grabbed a notebook and a pencil scattered on the table, then nodded for Constantin to go on.
“January 3rd was busy, and I had a hell of a hangover. Well, I can’t complain because that’s how it is every time. I finished my shift at eight o’clock at night. I had to get to Podu Roș, next to the gangway, but I remember I made quite a long detour. We have to consider that…”
The woman’s voice cut in:
“Mr. Goroaia, we’re not interested in your daily route. After you got home, what happened?”
The First Bottle
Usually, it took Mr. Goroaia numerous attempts before he managed to unlock the door to his aparment. Besides, the stairwell was now sunk into an endless darkness. He kept poking randomly the tip of his key into what he thought it might be the lock. Finally, he got in. He walked like a robot, through the dark, toward the fridge, took out a bottle of beer and turned on the lights.
He sat at the round table in the kitchen and removed gently the metal cap of the bottle. Then he started gulping. After a few extatic moments, he heard a faint sound. The windows. He started lazily toward the source of the sound. He turned on the lights and the living room presented itself in all its chaotic splendor. The window was indeed open. How come I forgot about it? He shut the window and started back to the kitchen. When he was at the door to the living room he heard that noise again. A tiny sound, like a needle poking a crystal glass. The sound echoed into the Constantin’s ears, raising to a shrill at an imperceptible frequency. He turned to look at the living-room that was flooded by the neon’s white light. He felt something was wrong. He took a step toward the living-room, but stopped as he heard a faint knocking at the door. He caught, though, the movement of a minuscule shape that vanished into the bedroom. Damn rats. He opened the door and saw George Vincă standing in front of him, blinking from all the light coming from the apartment.
“George! How are you, man? Come in, come in!”
Constantin looked at his old friend shuffling his feet along the narrow hall of his apartment. There, in full light, the shape of Vincă became much clearer. He put on weight, his jaw leaning now on a soft red goiter. His whole skin took on a red hue, and the goiter looked bizarre. Constantin tried to take in as much as he can without staring. And I thought I was the one who ended up bad. Vincă had the appearance of a slob who, with a little indulgency, could be called a bum.
“What brings you here, Georgie boy?”
Taking him kindly by the shoulders, Constantin led him to the kitchen. The fat body gave off a fetid stench of warm milk and chicken meat. His body feel like a sponge. Once seated, the hoarse voice of George made itself heard:
“I’m in town. I mean, I live here now. In my aunt’s house.”
Constantin strained to listen while getting him a beer. He smells like milk. Why the hell does he smell like milk? And look at him sweat.
“Costel, I’ve got a lot to do tonight. I’m just passing by. In fact, I’ll leave now. Come by later this night, around 4 am…here’s the address.”
He handed him a greasy scrap of paper. His nails were dirty and blue, his fingers covered by small cuts. He got up and, without a word, started toward the door. Constantin just stared at him, baffled.
“At four, George?”
“Yes, come, just come. We’ll talk then.”
Vincă got out and the door shut itself gently behind him. Constantin remained there for a while, unmoving. He couldn’t think of anything. I’d better get some sleep. Then, I’ll leave. He entered the bedroom and throw himself into the bed. He fell asleep, hearing again that strange noise.
The second bottle
“Am I to understand that what you told us so far might be relevant to our investigation?”
“Completely. Now, before entertaining you further with my narrative skills, I’d like to know where the toilet is.”
He switches too easy between sarcasm, fright and violence. He changes.
“Show him. And keep an eye on him.”
Anțescu made a sign to that hulk. Leaving the room, Goroaia winked discretely to Anțescu.
His eyes are red. He stoops. Sweats like a pig. Anțescu gauged with his eyes the empty bottle on the table. He drinks too much. I don’t know why we even bother with him. He gasped when he saw a dark stain on the back of the chair where Goroaia sat. He got closer and touched it. It was extremely cold. He leaned over to smell it, but didn’t get to do it. That moment, Constantin got back into the room. They looked at each other for a few seconds: Constantin on the threshold, Anțescu next to the stained chair.
“What do you say, officer? Do you wanna trade chairs? I got a little sweaty.”
Anțescu decided to play.
“As you wish. Let’s wait for my colleague to start.”
Goroaia sat on the interrogator’s chair. Getting into the light, the changes to his face became visible. His skin was pale, wet and sticky. The lips seemed to draw back from around the mouth giving the illusion of an imensely wide denture. His neck and hands reddened, covered by thousands of blue venules.
“Your colleague is in the bathroom. Let’s start without him. And without the voice in the speakers.”
Anțescu nodded. Be calm, Anțescu.
“Alright, we’ll start without him.”
He put his hand into his jacket again. For cigarettes, pretty boy. For cigarettes. Believe me. He managed to grab the gun in his jacket, but the next thing he knew his hand shattered all over under his clothes. He rolled off the chair with a moan. Constantin lowered the gun.
“Nice guns you have here. With silencers. I took it from your colleague.”
He got off the chair and grabbed the police officer. He lay him on the table. Then, he undid the jacket and saw that the bullet shattered first the hand, then, ricocheting from the gun, pierced the ribs.
“Good. Now, the time is running short, unfortunately. I’m very surprised, though, to see that you were only three. I’d expected more from professionals like you, sir.”
Constantin shot another round into the officer’s belly. He then leaned back into the interrogator’s chair, while Anțescu rolled off the table, smashing both bottles of wine. He managed to crawl into a corner of the room. He sensed the smell of the blood, blending with the fragrance of the wine. But the room started to smell more strongly and bizarre like milk.
“And now what?”
“I’ll finish my story.”
Constantin looked at the ashtray, overfilled with cigarette stubs.
“And, considering there’s no more wine, I’ll settle for a smoke.”
Vincă’s house was a small one. What with the dark, you could hardly get an unbiassed opinion. Goroaia stopped in front of the door. He knocked, and George got out almost immediately. He was carrying a bulging suitcase.
“I’m leaving, Costel. This is not a place to live.”
He grinned, showing yellowed equine teeth. Constantin tried for a moment to stop him, but gave up. Since he woke up, he felt he was still part of that strange logic of dreaming. They all seemed to make up a song: the milk and chicken smell of Vincă, his strange appearance and his absolutely unreasonable leaving.
“Fine. Fine, George, leave. See you around, anyway.”
“Yes. You can go into the house.”
Vincă got in the car and started the engine. When he left, he shouted at him:
“I locked up one into the bathroom. Be careful. Don’t open the door.”
After he saw the car disappearing into the night, Mr. Goroaia entered the house. It was chaos inside. All the rooms looked the same, except the size. There was a yellowish, soft and sticky paste all over the place. And that milky smell everywhere. Mr. Goroaia walked around a bit, but there was nothing to see. Except the bathroom. He noticed that the bathroom’s door was blocked by a cupboard.
He got closer and heard again that white, ethereal sound. The needle touched again the crystal glass, but it wasn’t bizarre this time. It was just another note from the simphony into Goroaia’s mind. He climbed the cupboard, but couldn’t see anything through the sides of the door. He got down and pushed the cupboard aside. He hurled himseld into the rotten wood door and crashed into the middle of the bathroom. He got up heavily, trying not to slip on that gelatin that stretched all over the place. He noticed the half-rotten head of Vincă that lay into the toilet. The bathtub was full of such offals like heads, arms, half ribs or thighs, all pertaining to Vincă. All melting softly into a milky gelatin.
Goroaia knew what he had to do. The house was drenched in gasoline. You had just to ignite it. So he took a bucket, scooped up enough yellowish paste to make a giant sticky fuse along the path that crossed the yard, then lit it. The fire that followed was the most beautiful thing Constantin ever saw.
“Why did you set the house on fire?”
“Cause he asked me to. Vincă, and others. It had to burn. Too much mess. Vincă shedded there a few tens of times.”
Constantin looked how Anțescu squirmed in the blood pool that formed around him.
“That fire…gosh, that was beautiful! Green flames…A beauty.”
“And what’s your purpose, after all? To…”
“To what? Exterminate you? Destroy you? Remove you?”
Constantin laughed, then croaked:
“I’ve just shedded two times. But my brothers are older than you think. If we’d wanted you all gone, we’d’ve done it by now.”
He leaned gently over the table and went on:
“Believe me, there are more than 79 authentic cases.”
The police officer tried to lean on the wall. He sensed the clean taste of blood.
Anțescu’s voice was getting weaker.
“So what do you really want?”
“If I told you that, I’d ruin the whole story, right? Anyway, we don’t want to get rid of you. Why kill you, man? We slug sometime a wretched one, or two, just for the sake of it…but, otherwise, we need you. Look at me. I’m a man. More than that on the inside. Still a man, though. And I heard the song, too. The most beautiful thing in the world.”
A long silence followed. Mr. Goroaia smoked. Finally, Anțescu spitted out two more words:
“I’ll finish my cigarette. Then we’ll play a little. I’ll start with the lungs.”
Translated into English by Dan BUTUZA