An Excerpt from “In the Company of Angels”
Thomas E. Kennedy
A CRACK IN THE FACE OF GOD
Outside in the street beneath his window, Nardo heard a car door slam. Footsteps sounded on the sidewalk, in the lobby, on the stairs. They came to his door in civilian clothes. This time they were polite, almost apologetic. No uniforms. No rifles. ‘There has been a complaint,’ the one said. He looked like a senior clerk, a man of responsibility, concern. His eyes were not hard, his gaze did not probe. He wiped his face with a clean square of handkerchief, a nervous man. ‘We must ask you some questions. Will you come to Headquarters with us? We do not have a warrant. We cannot force you, but if you will come voluntarily, it will simplify things tremendously.’
‘Very well, then,’ Nardo said, and for some reason he recalled having read that a demon may not enter your home unless you invite it. He did not yet know why he thought that, and he brushed the thought aside.
In the station, the other one, who had not spoken before, the one with the flat nose and flat brown eyes and pencil moustache, leaned too close. His breath smelt of cigars and coffee and spiced sausage. He spoke very softly, as though cautious not to be overheard. ‘I know what you have done. It would be wise of you to make a clean breast of it now. Before we have to try to get it out of you, which we easily can do anyway. You have broken the law, the spirit of the law. You know it. I know it. Confess now, and it will be infinitely easier for you. Resist and, well, see for yourself. I will leave you now to think things over in peace.’
The room was small, dim, without windows, the chair hard wood, the table green metal with sharp corners. Nardo would not want that table in a house with children; they could fall and strike their heads on those sharp corners. The walls were bare, chipped, stained, no identifiable color, the floor raw wood, dusty. The door was shut, perhaps locked. He thought about leaving, slipping out the door, passing unnoticed through the confusion in the front of the station, out onto the street, take a bus to the countryside, walk to the border, up in the mountains where there was no sentry. Leave his wife and child behind.
From the ceiling a dim light bulb hung, shadeless. Were there observation holes in the walls? Was he being watched?
They had taken his wristwatch when he arrived. Watch, belt, shoelaces. He had no idea how much time had passed. He thought about his ‘crime’, searched in his mind hoping to discover what they might think him guilty of. Could it have been the complaints of the parents? What the principal called him in for? Impossible!
The lingering odor of the flat-nosed one’s breath hung in the air of the room, mingled with the smell of his own body, sweat, gas. He looked at his fingers. They were trembling. His legs and back were stiff from sitting too long in the wooden chair which was the only place to sit in the room. He decided to rise, stretch his legs, but just at that moment, as his knees locked, the door opened abruptly. A man in a yellow tweed suit, three-piece, wearing a yellow necktie, stumbled into the room, stopped, surprised.
‘Excuse me,’ he said. ‘I did not realize this room was in use.‘
‘Please,’ Nardo said. ‘How long must I wait here?’
‘Have you been waiting? How long?’
‘I don’t know.’
The man raised his eyebrows. ‘You don’t know how long you have been waiting? You have been waiting, and you do not know how long?’
‘They took my watch.’
He punched the palm of one hand sharply with his own fist. It startled Nardo. ‘Those bastards!’ he said. ‘Thieving bastards!’ He looked at Nardo again. ‘Perhaps there has been some error. Why are you here?’
‘I was told I was suspected of something, but I don’t know what. I have broken no law.’
The man laughed. ‘Everyone has broken some law. It is not possible to draw breath without breaking some kind of law. Still, perhaps there has been some mistake,’ the man in the yellow tweed suit and tie said. ‘You do not look like a criminal to me. And I should know. You would be amazed to see the scum I must deal with every day. Scum. It makes me feel unclean when I go home in the evening to my beautiful wife and my children.’
‘My wife and child are waiting at home, too,’ Nardo said and his eyes met the policeman’s for just an instant, dropped to his jacket, yellow tweed with leather-lined buttonholes, an elegant jacket, nicer than any Nardo himself ever owned. He was a high-ranking officer perhaps, whose bribes were received on the highest level, beyond the extortion line.
‘Tell me the name of your wife and child,’ the man said. ‘I will see they are taken care of.’ He pulled a piece of paper from his pocket, took from his shirt pocket a pen that was clipped there. ‘Here, write them down. Quickly. Before the others return. Come on! Hurry up! Don’t you want me to help them?’
Desperately Nardo tried to think of an excuse for not writing down their names. Surely the police knew their names already. They had been to his house to collect him. They had seen his wife’s frightened eyes, his little boy clinging to her leg, his large dark gaze.
‘You are a queer egg,’ the man in yellow said. ‘I offer to help you and you ignore me. Peculiar behavior. Well,
never mind. Let me go make some enquiries. I will let you know your status. One way or the other,’ he added and left Nardo wondering what he meant by that phrase. But he returned almost at once, smiling, at the door. ‘Just as I suspected,’ he said. ‘It is a big mistake. All you did was teach, right?’
‘There is certainly no law against a teacher teaching, is there? A noble profession. You taught young teenagers, junior high school? They are wonderful at that age, aren’t they? So pliable.’
Nardo said nothing.
‘You taught them the poems of Domingo Gómez Rojas?’ He had the paper and the pen out again. ‘Here, would you write down the name of that poet and some of his best poems for me. I would like to read them myself.’
Nardo leaned on the metal desk and watched his hand print the poet’s name. The ink in the pen was purple. He watched the block letters forming in purple ink on the page, and the man leaned over Nardo’s shoulder and watched, too. ‘Now sign your name, too, won’t you? I will cherish this piece of paper signed by the man who introduced me to the poetry of Domingo Gómez Rojas. That is José Domingo Gómez Rojas, no?’ Nardo did not sign his name. He only scribbled something illegible which was not his signature, and the man took it from him and shook his hand.
‘A pleasure,’ he said. ‘You are free to go. And please accept my apologies on behalf of the others. Sometimes they are…’ He shrugged. ‘Overzealous.’ Now Nardo dared to meet his eyes. They were kind. His face was angular, but gentle, his haircut impeccable. His teeth were good. Nardo recalled thinking only an affluent man could have such good teeth.
‘May I leave then?’
‘Yes, yes, whenever you please,’ the policeman said, although suddenly Nardo thought he heard some tone of impatience in the man’s voice, as though in the tick of the last second, Nardo had done something wrong, had offended him in some way. He shut the door behind him and was gone.
Nardo rose from the wooden chair, crossed the room. The doorknob was smooth against his palm. He opened the door to see a face close behind it. The flat-nosed policeman with the pencil moustache. He was holding a piece of paper, the paper on which Nardo had written the name of the poet. He folded it and tucked it into his inner jacket pocket. His mouth smiled, dark lines between his teeth, but his eyes were hard as glass.
‘Good news,’ he said. ‘They are going to help you.’
‘In what way to help?’ Nardo asked.
‘To help you become a human being.’ Abruptly his fist flew into Nardo’s face. This blow changed everything forever. It put a crack in the face of God.
Nardo staggered back. Another man crowded into the room behind him. Frog-eyes. Their fists struck from left and right, again, again, Nardo had never been hit so hard, so repeatedly. His head bounced back and forth from blow to blow. He sank to the floor, saw stars. He thought, I am seeing stars! Just like in the comic books! He opened his mouth to laugh, but heard another sound, wondered if it could really be himself making such a strange, high-pitched sound, but could no longer distinguish anything now, only the little piece of wall molding fading in front of his eyes as their shoes collided with his ribs, back, groin. He felt hands grasping his ankles to part his legs. A foot kicked between them, missed the target. He turned slightly to see what kind of shoe, it seemed of interest to know what kind of shoe. A scuffed black toe of perforated leather leapt toward his face. He jerked away and it struck the side of his nose. Pain glided like an electric current along the bridge of his nose, through the eyeball, into the brain where it burst into a bouquet of glittering sparks where a room was filled with screaming, and then that was all of his existence, all that he was, a raw red scream from his bleeding throat, through his bleeding mouth.