Cadisk: Seventh Tourmaline (conclusion)
Moody backed a few steps, turned and beelined through an office door.
The conference table was centered between arrays of full-length windows, two little hallways at either end dividing executives from staffers, emptying to the elevator this side, the restroom, that. She would have to cite emergency and make for it, just to see what sort of surveillance was in place.
Conversations and laughter came to them, the laughter making Anton flinch. Mary held her pen poised.
“First question,” Palma said.
“Do you feel safe?”
“So long as they let you alone. Or do you feel weighed to the last atom of your worth…should you be killed and the memory of you erased, or should you be slowly brought round and sent to help govern Nedforum, or sickened with drugs, until you will kill yourself for them…”
When he took to rhyming, it was the right moment to shut Anton up…and Mary did the honors.
“He’s not entirely wrong. I don’t know how you can feel safe when you know the G.R.A. are so very practical. They’re spending money to keep me here, and they’d rather be investing money. So many initiatives. Maybe they do hope to change my mind.”
“Mary, do you feel safe?”
“Please…Palma… You know I don’t care, and I don’t think about it. Since David died.” She stopped. She might by now have given variations on this speech a hundred times.
“You can’t go home. And you won’t go home until the work is done.”
“Have you ever been denied food, water, medical treatment?”
“I haven’t. But as to medical treatment, I haven’t needed it.” She put a hand out. “Am I allowed to look over your papers?”
They didn’t, Mary’s group, use any sort of scoring system, or if they did, here secrecy was imposed, and Cadisk’s prison would be ranked in a private meeting, the group’s findings kept from recipients of their charity. For provocation, Palma flipped through the other papers clipped in Mary’s book. They were instructions for conducting interviews with prisoners, small-printed tissue-thin paper with legal extenuations, the code printed out in a Q and A format.
Mary sat solemn, a blunt instrument against sarcasm. Her causiness, as Frederick termed it. Or, forbearance…she might have saintly tendencies. Palma had never heard this need equate to likeability.
“You can write on the blank sheet yourself, if you don’t want me taking it down. That’s where we fill in specific complaints, and you can see you’ll be asked to rate yourself on a number of things. Hours of sleep, how much energy you feel you have, are you happy.”
“Are you given more opportunities to respond to things than the average person,” Anton said. “That’s what happiness is. Happenstance, mayhap.”
“How is your mother, Anton?”
“We were talking about being happy. I don’t see the connection.”
Withdrawing from him with a sigh and crossed arms, Palma thought he could be, even Anton, if he hadn’t got this habit; if he would stop digging heels in at every well-meant overture. Yes, it was all too little, too late, no doubt, all of life…
Of facile comments, she hated this one most.
But why argue good counsel to Anton, when he’d become a pet of Mary’s; and Mary had, at least, an arsenal of this? She could not find Anton’s friendship rewarding. She could not find him to resemble David.
David had been a dark comedian…resigned to death and pain, able, slipping away, to find irony in it. Anton saw no counterpoint to all he’d suffered. He saw a nemesis, a fateful ill-will that picked on the weakest first. That saddled him, when he’d hoped to retreat from the world, with improving Mary Wainwrights. Palma didn’t disagree. Or, rather, she didn’t expect an Anton to see merit in parsing superstition. How would his life change, if he demystified fortune, confronted what was done to him, in bleak honesty?
“I haven’t seen Anton for over a year. I thought we’d got him settled in with Mrs. Leonhardt.”
She spoke to Mary.
“Did you not know,” Mary said, “he was taken to Sedtok? Sergeant Herward and I went over the border…it was his idea.” Pause. “My idea. Since there isn’t really any way…the Ftheorde doesn’t keep a house. I was going to…”
“Force a diplomatic occasion. But luckily he has a sense of humor.”
Anton was fuming, by this. “Yes, it was funny enough, what the Ftheorde said. Consider all Anton is worth to you as a laborer, Utdrife, and consider that for even so little these whites will make themselves busy. Consider the woman wants to raise a tribunal—which done once, they will do again, and forever. So then, you will show your face among the others, and you will have to think on that, for they will think on it. That is what he said.”
Anton looked at Mary. The Ftheorde disliked using her name when speaking of her, the only painful revelation he could offer, and Mary sat unmoved. Of course, she understood Hidtha as well.
“And so you’ve found another place to live?”
He took a hand out of the pocket of his windbreaker, shifted upright from the slump he’d affected, and slid this arm with wristwatch onto the table between them. The message might have been, “I’m bored with you.”
Except that he was wearing the tourmaline ring.
“With Jovie. Maybe you don’t know Jovie? I can’t keep track.”
“Jovie Swisshelm. Is that her father’s house you’re moving into?”
“Well, I don’t know, do I? She’s got a permit, or Herward did. So I can stay for the time being.”
“I hope you’re not on the outs with your mother, and that’s what this is all about. Have you been to visit her?”
“No. Because I have to put it down in a letter, to keep it sorted. Mrs. Leonhardt would go off with her talking…and then I’d get confused. I can’t be upset about anything, if I’m away in Nedforum. They’ll arrest me every day.”
He sat tapping his fingers, the green stone winking, and so she knew within these words was a progress report. She made a list for herself, mentally.
“But that’s good, Anton,” Mary said. “When you were having trouble, last time in Nedforum, you hadn’t learned that. You’re understanding how to protect yourself…you have a will to protect yourself.”
Moody came out of his office. Palma guessed a monitor he’d been watching had shown them lean over the table together. The G.R.A. would typically assign a watcher and a listener, because one doing both might miss the way nuance, faces and gestures, fit to words like a puzzle piece. The listener would mark a hesitation; the watcher note an expression, and the convergence of two separate analyses would eliminate bias, improve the rate of “catches”.
“Herward is still a friend,” Palma said. She smiled up at Moody. Moody pulled a chair to the table.
“No, no problem.” He smiled himself, round at them all. “You have time.”
“Herward follows me. Now they’ve sent him back to Cadwilliam.”
“If he would ride along with you, and if Mary went, would you go to Nedforum?”
For one thing, Palma wanted to gauge Anton’s awareness. He knew he was doing an errand. At one time he’d sentimentalized both Palma and Vonnie Swisshelm; fallen in love and longed for mythicism, longed to burn brightly in some sacrificial act. Yet he hardened himself against Mary. That was the foolish way of the world.
But, did he take Jovie’s words and only pass them along…or had he gained that genuine discipline Mary alluded to?
“I don’t know if Moody will be obligated to report it…”
Moody’s attitude was of being party to the conversation he’d joined, with an appropriate condescension; his hand controlled their freedom…but it was a helpful and professional hand. He said nothing.
“Anton, you know Frederick was my partner, and that they’ve killed him.”
The phrase was unsparing, and the only one Palma would use. Moody shifted.
“When you visit the city, I wish you would carry something for me.”
(2017, Stephanie Foster)