9H – The End & Epilogue

Rupert stepped into the hold and whispered their names. Undine cracked open the lid and replied. Diogenes hid in the crate with her, to keep each other warm at the top of the stack. Rupert instructed them to stay put while he ordered several guards to carry their crate to his room, which Grabmaler had left unoccupied, certain of Rupert’s return. The guards balanced the crate on their shoulders, passing through barbed wire and into the compound, and finally into the “ground” or top floor, the penthouse of the inverted skyscraper.
Rupert tipped the guards with party passes, waiting for the elevator door to slide shut, then dragged the crate into his room, bolting the door. Before opening the lid, however, he checked the two-way telephone and movie screens, which doubled as surveillance monitors, then he combed the vents, doors, speakers, vases, bookshelves and appliances for visible listening devices — though he knew the floors themselves, the carpet, even the plaster, could be bugged. They would have to deliberately monitor him for those bugs to be activated, so he pried open the crate. Diogenes and Undine unfolded their legs and Rupert helped them gradually decamp and relax.
Diogenes surveyed Rupert’s former lodging. The leopard-striped carpet, the Modiglianis and Rousseaus on the wall, the huge screens and video library, exercise bicycle, personal computer and leather-bound adventure classics reminded him that Rupert had spent the majority of his adolescence under Grabmaler’s roof. Undine walked into the kitchen and found it elegantly stocked, chose a pitcher of lemonade and a carafe of vodka, and poured three drinks. They looked at each other, wondering whether Rupert was capable of denying his safety or apt to surrender to his home and Grabmaler’s support. Diogenes took a straight swig of vodka, then asked:
“Well, we made it. Now what?”
“If we act up we’ll be shot.” Undine observed.
“Rupert, how long can we hide in here before we’re discovered?” Diogenes asked, swishing his ice.
“It’s hard to say. Even the plaster is bugged. It’s just a matter of when they monitor us.”
Diogenes fished out the bullets he lifted from Hindenburg’s drawer in Heidelberg, and spread them out on the coffee table and asked: “Do you still have the pistol I gave you?”
Rupert sighed and slid it next to the bullets. Diogenes checked the cartridge. It was still loaded.
“What are going to do with that?” Undine fretted.
“The point is not to use the gun but to carry it.” Diogenes dissembled. “Rupert, what would you do if you inherited Grabmaler’s wealth?”
“It’s a question I’ve asked myself …” Rupert walked over to the wall with his drink, running his fingers over a globe. “It’s been offered me …”
“How can anything stolen be inherited?” Undine asked nervously.
“What should I do?”
“I’d want to know what it is I’ve inherited.” Diogenes answered, smiling.
“What does it matter?” Rupert’s asked distantly, smoothing his fingers over the globe.
“It could be turned over to the poor. You could give it all away.” Undine replied, remembering the looted Louvre and Berlin’s ring camps.
“But if wealth has been extorted, if it’s ‘the booty’ of murder … ?” Rupert trailed off.
“Do you also inherit the crime?” Diogenes finished his thought.
Rupert stared at Diogenes. Undine fell silent. The notion of succession made his Parisian escape, his sexual betrayal of Undine, his rapprochement then betrayal of Grabmaler and his return, self-defeating. That he would benefit by killing Grabmaler made a decision to pull a trigger and discharge a weapon into his body a crime of passion, or greed.
“How much have you inherited Ruppie?” Diogenes chided him, raising his eyebrows.
“The whole operation would have to be exposed, if there was anyone outside who could understand it.” Undine thought outloud.
Rupert shuddered. It was evident they were getting nowhere. Diogenes, then, changed his tactic: “My goal is … to find out.” He assumed a breezy tone, deliberately joking: “We should see the pinnacle — get to the bottom of it. Get to the asshole of this operation. When they buried me in the printing room, I remember rumors … as to Benedict’s rites, his laboratory, or whatever a High Priest does. It must be quite elaborate!”
“I thought it over stuffed in the crate. They were, by the way,” he said with a wink to Undine, ” … the best moments of my life!” He could see Rupert knew that Diogenes was goading him to whitewash his real intent: “Well, at least I’m resolved.”
“You’ll never get down there.” Rupert said, “No one has a key to those rooms, except Grabmaler and Benedict. And they revolve guards. Further, Grabmaler and Benedict alone escort and choose guards without announcements or schedules. They alone hold keys. Do you want to risk our lives to satisfy a whim?”
“What’s your reasoning Diogenes?” Undine pressed.
“I’ve given it” Diogenes sniffed. “It’s time to act. We need the key now! Grabmaler’s key.”
Rupert pondered for a moment: “I’ll ask him.”
“For his key?” Undine froze, incredulously.
“Why not?” Rupert blurted out, picking up the gun from the coffee table.
“What should I do?” Undine asked.
“Come with me.” Rupert replied, checking for Diogenes’ approval.
“Just get the key.” Diogenes spoke up, “Or wait with me here.”
“I’ll bring it to you.” Undine countered as she followed Rupert into the hallway. Diogenes poured another vodka and orange.
Rupert, shadowed by Undine, wound his way to another elevator then decided to key his way up through the emergency stairwell, between floors. He slipped up the damp cement passage which opened into Grabmaler’s wing. Undine drew close as he swung open the door and they tiptoed onto a rich red carpet and edged their way under barely lit crystal chandeliers, by marble statues and paintings ornamenting Grabmaler’s wing. Cooks and waiters worked in the kitchen, behind leather-padded swinging doors, as they stealthily ducked a camera which monitored the kitchen door.
They could hear the muffled squawk of a parrot as they slipped into Grabmaler’s receiving room. Rupert had often seen Grabmaler’s bedroom in his early teens and knew Grabmaler kept a parrot to amuse him, returning with it from Thailand. Rupert signaled to Undine to hide herself behind a Greek statue of Aphrodite which flanked Grabmaler’s private hologram-studio.
Rupert stepped gently, hand stuffed in his black velvet jacket, and with studied patience, squeezed the ivory handle which opened into Grabmaler’s bedroom. The parrot squawked more audibly. He could hear a rustling in the bed and could smell Grabmaler’s cigar, which he had once confided, he only smoked after good sex. Rupert cracked the door wider. He heard a strange sound, perhaps it was kissing, then a sigh. It was Grabmaler who sighed. Then he heard, it sounded like Imke, a voice ask: “You like it that way?” Rupert continued to listen. He thought he had heard the sound which followed the voice before. The parrot squawked: “Anarchist!” The door made a noise but no one seemed to stir inside. Finally, Rupert tapped the door halfway open. He knew there were huge mirrors in Grabmaler’s bedroom but couldn’t remember in what direction they faced. He saw the wall covered by an erotic Indian tapestry and a tray set with sliced pineapple and caviar. A bottle of unopened champagne sat chilling in ice. He breathed in the aroma of the fine cigar. Then, impulsively, he swung the door fully open.
Grabmaler lay there, with his eyes still closed, a burning cigar in his fingers. He was naked from the waist down. Imke was lying on top of his legs slowly riding her mouth up and over Grabmaler’s penis. A tray of cocaine-extract and a small, gilded water-pipe stood opposite the bed. The parrot beaded its eyes at Rupert. Rupert saw himself in the mirror, holding up the gun, his face contorted with rage, blood draining from his eyes and, as in a dream, he tried forcing himself to say something but his lips and tongue could not move. He was shocked by his appearance in the mirror — so much so, and so frozen for a moment that he stood there as Imke carried on sucking Grabmaler while Rupert stared at himself.
The parrot squawked again: “Send him home!” It was Grabmaler’s favorite threat, “Face down!” The parrot added, completing the phrase which Grabmaler would shout then apologize for ever so often when consumed with rage. He opened his eyes and immediately saw Rupert. Grabmaler’s pupils contracted. Rupert could see the lines of his mouth convulse tensely, as Grabmaler understood the danger. Without saying a word, he eased back Imke’s head from his crotch. Rupert held up the pistol, his hands sweating and felt as if he might faint. Grabmaler then pulled out a small pistol from his smoking jacket, and as Rupert tensed to fire, Grabmaler shot Imke in the temple.
Rupert struggled to recover his balance, feeling faint. Grabmaler, meanwhile, convulsed his legs and Imke’s body fell over the side of the bed with a thud, her eyes still closed and her mouth still open, now filling with blood.
“There! You see! Our problem has been solved.” Grabmaler said, voice ripe with irony and self-control.
“Nothing has been resolved. Only another body on which to toss dirt and contrive an epitaph.” Rupert said, fighting to speak, his throat dry as driftwood.
“Nothing has ever come between us.” Grabmaler said, with an effort to recover some paternal warmth.
“Nothing but a few thousand corpses, a mirror, a void.” Rupert answered back.
“This is no time for poetry, my boy!” Grabmaler said, having dropped his cigar and offering his hand to Rupert.
The parrot squawked, “Anarchist!” and Rupert squeezed the trigger and struck the bird in the breast, slamming it into the wall.
“Rupert! Stop these theatrics!” Grabmaler commanded. They both were frankly amazed that Rupert had hit the bird, a rather small object for all its feathers and huge beak. Grabmaler realized that they had both shared that sensation, and tried another tack:
“Rupert. Do you remember the time we went hunting together?”
“Yes, you killed a doe and claimed she was a young buck.”
“Oh, c’mon now!” Grabmaler roared, losing patience.
Rupert looked at him. He was uncannily aware that he was flanked on all sides by mirrors and that a corpse lay to his right and all of this stood endlessly reflected. Grabmaler put his gun down on the silk sheets which were now stained with Imke’s blood.
“Could you really kill me? Undefended? After all I have done for you?” I’ve made you my son!”
“It’s time to stop lying, Grabmaler.”
“No! It’s time to end this argument before you kill a man who has acted as your father. They say, for parricide, you go straight to Hell!”
“You’re not my father.”
“If I’m not — then who is?”
“I have no father.”
“You won’t if you kill me.”
Rupert lowered his gun. He couldn’t do it. Grabmaler looked at Rupert, scarcely able to suppress his sensation of victory. Rupert began to turn towards the door and stuttered: “You’re right. Y…You are the murderer. Not me.”
Undine suddenly appeared at the door and screamed: “Rupert!”
Grabmaler squeezed the trigger and fired, grazing Undine’s ribs as Rupert wheeled around.
Rupert fired directly at Grabmaler’s brow but missed and struck him in the neck, blasting a small hole in the soft of his esophagus. Rupert walked to his bedside and fired again into his heart to finish him off as he was gasping at the sheets and drowning in his own blood.
Undine walked painfully up to Grabmaler, holding her rib, searched through Grabmaler’s soaked smoking jacket and found his key. Rupert stooped and pulled the sheets over Grabmaler’s head. Then he examined the bloody parrot. He stood up, holding the parrot in his left palm when Undine waved the key in front of his face, saying:
“I am taking his key to Diogenes.” She looked into Rupert’s eyes. He was completely lost.
“What?”
“I’m taking this key to Diogenes.”
“Oh.” Rupert was stroking the parrot.
“We will give Diogenes the gun.”
“No.” Rupert replied, swaying, lost in a trance.
“Yes! He might have to defend himself!”
“Don’t make him go through this.” Rupert said, still staring at the parrot, just discovering, then jolting back into consciousness by her injury. “You’re hurt, Undine!”
“It’s nothing.” Undine whispered, loosening Rupert’s fingers from around the pistol butt.
“No. I’ve killed Grabmaler. I may need this. And Diogenes only …. no. I just don’t want Diogenes to feel obliged to kill.” Rupert ended.
“Here, here.” Undine said, softly as Rupert surrendered the gun. “Now, please, get out of here soon. Promise me!” She stated slowly, shaking Rupert’s shoulder.
“I promise.”
“I’ll come back up after I give this … ” She showed him the key again, ” … to Diogenes.”
Undine closed the door to Grabmaler’s quarters, slinked, holding her ribs, beneath the kitchen-surveillance camera, then ran for the emergency stairwell door. She edged down the stairs after keying open the door and her way through the glass partition.
Diogenes stood up, impatiently: “What happened?”
“Rupert killed Grabmaler!” Undine breathed.
“Good news!” Diogenes muttered, though shaken by how quickly it had happened.
“Listen. Diogenes!” Undine pulled him to her left to hide her wound and so that he would face her closely. “Here is Grabmaler’s key. If you can … ” She ran over to Rupert’s desk, painfully slipped on a sweater to hide her wound then pulled out a small manila sack, “Send this up after you get to the bottom. Have the guard place it through the executive mail slot.” She hurriedly grabbed a magic marker from Rupert’s desk and wrote “Rush Mail: Apartment 2X” on it and stuffed the sack in Diogenes’ back pocket. “You will not be able to ride up but we will be able to help you, in case you need us.”
Diogenes stopped to consider, then accepted her plan.
“Go! You don’t have much time. But remember to send the key as soon as you open … ”
“What’s wrong with you?” Diogenes asked, still not having seen her wound, remarking her very pale complexion.
“What? Nothing.”
“Benedict’s headquarters … ”
“That’s the goal. I’ll see you in a half hour.”
“Sure you will.” Undine smiled crookedly.
Diogenes walked into the hall and Undine rushed behind him up the emergency stairs with Rupert’s key in hand. Diogenes found the executive elevator and keyed himself in, listening to the stairwell door close as the elevator’s sliding door rushed open. The floor suddenly seemed to give way when he pushed the red colored panel indicating the very bottom of the inverted skyscraper. The little light on the diagram of the complex made its way through the first fourth of the floors slowly but it whined as the elevator’s velocity increased until, nearly half-way down, there was a sensation of a free fall. His feet seemed light, his head dizzy. He blasted by the floor where he, Grant, Ms. Duykinck and Bernard once shared their cells, as he dropped ever down to the pinnacle of the skyscraper. He tried to imagine the slavery, the inmates of an underground economy cramped in ever tighter circles. He felt the cold shiver and light-headed anticipation of what he’d find in the last ring of the downward spiral — where his pharaoh of death justified it all with supercilious nonsense.
As he approached the bottom, he heard the whoosh of the air-breaks kick in and his legs buckled as the floor fatefully rose. The diagram eventually edged close to the pinnacle. And a different light accompanied his approach — a deep blue — which alarmed him that his presence might be monitored.
As the door slid open, he expected a group of guards to greet him with automatic rifles. But it was absolutely clear. The floor appeared to be a cross between a hospital and a corporate headquarters with plastic flowers, high tile ceilings, and florescent lights. The placks on the walls of the corridor he walked down were in an exotic hieroglyph. The structure itself, the wall supports, exposed girders, the steel stairwells seemed to be unusually thick, as if it were a bunker. Yet it smelt like a crypt — even though the ventilation seemed to include fabricated aromas and cork partitions designed to absorb moisture or sound. The damp aroma clung in the heavy air accompanied by a claustrophobic ventilator whine. Diogenes finally saw a guard. He was standing in front of what looked like an entrance to a tomb. Yet it was, again, corporate. The paneling which surrounded the mouth of a huge archway over a sarcophagic vault was composed of imitation wood. Inside the mouth of the vault, through glass partitions, an elaborate edifice had been set up to accommodate a wall of computers — decorated by paintings of desert abstracts. There were file cabinets also, lining the entrance, but no secretary.
Diogenes immediately approached the guard. He put his fingers to his lips and handed Grabmaler’s card-key to the man, who warily accepted it, surprised to find anyone on this floor but Grabmaler or Benedict. Curious to see if the card was valid, he passed it through a computer and found that it granted total clearance. He picked up a red phone on the wall and pressed a button. The phone lit up as it “rang”, then someone apparently picked it up. Diogenes watched the man while reaching into his jacket pocket to caress the gun. The guard asked for Grabmaler, then, seemed to believe he had reached him. It must be Rupert imitating his voice, Diogenes thought, granting permission to allow Diogenes into Benedict’s sanctum. The guard nodded, inspecting Diogenes gravely, then gradually replaced the phone. The guard then handed the card-key back to Diogenes and pointed toward the glass partition. Diogenes keyed his way in through the open vault then placed it back in the envelope and returned it to the guard. The guard read the inscription and nodded, placing it on a conveyor belt behind him where the package would be sent up. Diogenes then walked through the doorway and stealthily rounded a corner walking straight into a laboratory.
He heard someone inside an adjoining room, after walking through a reception area which doubled as a study lined with medical dictionaries and reference books. Diogenes crouched on his hands and knees and crawled to a stone pillar between a book shelf then into the computer room itself. He stood temporarily up to check behind him. The guard who let him in was standing with another guard but they were staring at and preoccupied with a tabloid which allowed Diogenes to sneak upright into the laboratory itself.
He peeped in after crawling meticulously around the corner, out of sight of the hallway and its guards, then slid behind a filing cabinet peeking over to see who stood only a few yards to his right. It was Benedict, dressed in a white coat leaning over an operating table. Diogenes chanced to slip around the cabinet and under a bench as he watched Benedict’s feet shuffle from the table to a glass case filled with test tubes and samples. He seemed absorbed in his work, peering into the lens of an electron microscope. He carried a pile of computer print-outs on which he scribbled notes sitting on the very bench under which Diogenes crouched. After a few minutes writing, he walked over slowly, reading the computer printout, taking a break from the operating table and the microscope. He watched him step in his white, rubber-soled hospital slippers from the microscope to the bench where he again sat jotting on a white slip. Minutes passed until Benedict walked into the laboratory and began wheeling out a table on which Diogenes could barely espy a corpse or some lump of white flesh. He didn’t dare to emerge yet, fearing that the guards might surprise him or that Benedict might stumble onto him.
Benedict stepped back, peered into the microscope, then walked right past him through the door to the transparent divider and spoke briefly to the guards. Just before the door slid shut Diogenes could hear them walk down the corridor. Benedict returned and the door shut behind him. Diogenes made a semi-circle around the filing cabinet. Benedict went into yet another room and rolled a mahogany cabinet into his now rather crowded laboratory. He opened the door and drew a deep breath and asked aloud: “How are you Lazarus?”
Diogenes started when he heard the name pronounced. He waited for a reply but the laboratory fell silent. He couldn’t discern whether what or who was in the cabinet or on the operating table was addressed by the name of his old boss:
“Well, I know you can hear me, even under sedation. But you know, my experiment here is of protracted moral integrity. I want to assure you. You are about to contribute to a genetic splicing between seemingly opposed DNA, a pre-spliced hybrid which I have raised under control for a decade. It’s my theory that the moral difference between man and animal is bridgeable and that consciousness in animals is possible with the programming of an artificial language and a genetic code. You can’t be expected to understand me fully. But as you are my patient-witness — and given your contribution to my studies — you deserve to know.” Benedict looked almost affectionately at the semi-conscious body lying on the table:
“What, afterall, is the grammar of human consciousness in contrast to the signs and gestures by which animals approach knowing who or what they are? Good question! And not merely an academic one. Look …. oh, I’m sorry, that’s metaphoric, you can’t yet move your head. Ha Ha. Consider what genetic engineering means — among those of us who can still access old research — consider computer engineering in accounting for artificial intelligence — and its relation to linguistic systems. Isn’t it possible that the old bogey of transferring human intelligence into dead matter was a kind of Gothic catechism or a mythic, precursing intuition into the relation between building human consciousness into nonhuman species? And so, of spreading moral and conscious sensibility, ultimately, into objects, into the universe? I mean, look, ha, consider this: Is human consciousness a “ghost” or a byproduct of a sign-system which enables meaning, and reacts or codes sensations from the exterior world? The latter. Right? And is the engineering of such a language possible at the interface or the origin of gentic species-building? Can they be integrated? My research, my science, will prove it so. The ultimate expression of human culture is not procreation, but its potential omniscience. Man can participate in God’s work. God is, finally, the most comprehensive experience which anyone can have. Why is it that God can only be known and mirrored in human consciousness? Why can’t the knowledge of Him be spread into animals, intoinstruments and organs of knowledge? Omniscience! That’s my mission — the spiritual content which the entire history of Science, unknowingly, has gathered unto itself. To spread toward the entire universe, not only the knowledge among a few scientists, or invent a few new, useful technologies — but to the rocks and stones! To the planets and stars! God devised language so that we could mirror Him. So that we could, finally, spread His Word beyond our chosen species into the entire universe. That’s what we are doing together, here, Lazarus. That’s our solo flight in a world gone to Hell.”
“Here.” Benedict bent down and inoculated Lazarus. Diogenes saw him with a hypodermic, leaning over the table with it upheld. “This will revive you. Speak!”
An uncanny, tense moment passed as Benedict waited for the effect of the drug to take hold. “That’s it! Speak!”
Diogenes, then, heard a rather dry, feeble version of his old employer’s voice reach for expression.
“Speak.” Benedict repeated.
“….. D …D ….. Don, Don’t let me … see it again!” The tenor of his fear crashed through Diogenes’ mind, how he pronounced “it”, with a kind of paralysis in simply referring to whatever “it” was, even with a neutral pronoun.
“But, what are we afraid of? Of spreading human consciousness? Of participating in the Genesis of linguistic self-reflection? What are you saying?”
“Please … ”
Diogenes wanted to kill Benedict just for extracting this plea from any man. He bit his wrist, however, in order to wait and to act.
“We spread the rumor you died of the Plague. Just the kind of superstition for the new Middle Ages. And people believed it. Your employees believed it. Your family understood it as soon as they heard the word.”
“No!” Lazarus said, his dry tongue sounding as if it stuck to the parched roof of his mouth.
“You mean, you don’t want to see our new friend? Why do say that?” He went to the cabinet and unlocked the door. Diogenes could hear Lazarus feebly struggling.
“There! That’s the future!” Benedict laughed.
“Ahhhhhhhh!” Lazarus let out a hoarse scream of revolt and, then, apparently, lapsed into unconsciousness. Diogenes could hear Benedict shut the door then walk toward Lazarus, leaning over him, hypodermic in hand, with the intent either to revive or to begin operating on him. Diogenes suddenly found himself standing up and facing Benedict while he bent over Lazarus’ unconscious frame.
Benedict froze. Diogenes watched his pupils focus fearfully at the unexplained intruder, filing through his memory for the visual tag and the name.
“Remember me?” Diogenes smiled.
“Not yet … ” Benedict stood stiffly, still jolted by apprehension.
“You’re the ass who confused morality with cruelty.” Diogenes understated dryly, glancing down at Lazarus.
“Yes … I remember you … but I can’t say … oh, yes the counterfeiter!.”
“No. The cynic … ”
“And still crudely misinformed. What are you doing here?” Benedict feigned a sense of self-possession and reached over Lazarus’ body for a bottle of ether.
“Hold it.” Diogenes grabbed Benedict’s wrist, in a vise grip of revenge. “Grabmaler sent me.”
“You’re lying.”
“We need to fashion a new Tombstone. To bury self-interested fucks like you … to finish the Holywork!”
“What do you know?” Benedict examined Diogenes’ eyes for evidence that Grabmaler had betrayed him.
“Do you think, that man-to-man, without cops, money, rumors, belief, without a Higher Law, idols or phony morality, and without Grabmaler, guards, without a family, hope, or home — without many more years to live and without anything better to do — I’d not choose to kill you? You’re crazier than I thought” Diogenes looked at Lazarus’ unconsciuos face, still slightly contorted by agony, and twitching. He was coming-to.
“I don’t know what you mean!” Benedict jerked his wrist and Diogenes let him go, “I like Lazarus.” He attempted a conciliatory tone. “We’ve been friends for two years.”
“I heard your mad catechism.”
“Where are the guards?”
“Dead. It’s just you and me.”
“No … ” Benedict smiled. “We’re in good company.” At this he withdrew from the table, and was beginning to open the cabinet when Diogenes reached in his pocket for the pistol.
“Stop him!” Lazarus awoke, crying out hoarsely.
Benedict flung the door open and there, a beast, a concoction of grafted mouths, and horns, and a dozen rolling eyes, in a rough sheep’s skin sans arms or legs, slowly, unevenly breathed. The respiration was jerky, as if prodded by some electronic devise. The eyes seemed utterly disconnected and unfocused, in rows down its pinkish hide. The horns could have been grafted from several bulls but they looked brittle as if they were unfed by any circulatory system — and dying, stitched to a loose-fitting, rotting pelt. Diogenes caught his own breath, stunned by its wild perversity. The thing seemed to be lost in a trance of contradictory messages, in the firings of makeshift synapses. It moved, locked in a mute, hopeless struggle with existence, with hints of pained self-consciousness: A cone of flesh with fat, inexpressive tongues lolling from dry mouths which were really lipless, jawless slits. Diogenes watched as its clumsy eyelids slid senselessly over filmed retinas responding belatedly to light. He was staring at an obscenity — a lumped abortion of flesh swimming in a netherworld between life and death — when Benedict swung a bundle of test tubes against a desk shattering them into Diogenes’ face.
Benedict reached over Lazarus’ body, grabbed a fistful of etherized cotton and knocked Diogenes, who was holding his face in his hands, to the floor, now covered with broken glass. Benedict shoved the cotton into his mouth. Diogenes fought to remain conscious, holding his breath, fumbling with his bloody hand for the gun in his coat, folded under his back. Benedict kneeled on his chest, inches from the cabinet. Lazarus had loosed himself but was unable to rise without protracted effort. Diogenes reeled, fighting Benedict, damning the pain of scraping along the floor with his hand through glass behind his back, in order to grasp the gun. Diogenes then pretended to faint, still holding his breath, sticking to the thread of consciousness despite the ether and his bursting lungs. Benedict withdrew his hold somewhat when he saw Lazarus beginning to rise from the table in an effort to close the cabinet door. The sight was so ghastly to Lazarus, that he closed his eyes, as he stumbled on his feeble legs to stay upright and nudge the door. As Benedict looked over to Lazarus, Diogenes fought the gun free with his arm and was able to clip Benedict’s ear. As he covered it with his hand, apparently fearing the bullet grazed his skull, Diogenes fired again, pointblank, this time striking Benedict through the neck, just below his Adam’s apple.
After Benedict collapsed on top of Diogenes, Lazarus shut the cabinet door, cursing hoarsely, then painfully rolled him off Diogenes and bent to inspect Diogenes’ now unconscious body. He lay there with the gun still in his hand, the cotton beside him soaked in blood. Lazarus, cursing his weak legs, stood dizzily up only to see Undine and Rupert waving to him as the glass partition slid open. Lazarus, having only met Rupert years ago with Grabmaler, studied Rupert warily, his pant thighs and jacket also stained with blood. But he stood aside when Rupert and Undine ran over to Diogenes and Undine threw herself, weeping, on Diogenes’ barely conscious body. He was bleeding profusely, especially through his back and arm, which had been pinned to the floor. Undine pulled the glass from his coat and the back of his head.
“Is he dead?” Rupert asked, staring at Diogenes.
“I don’t think so. Though he’s had a shock and lost much blood.” Lazarus breathed.
“Hang on!” Undine cried, holding up Diogenes’ head.
“What’s in there?” Rupert asked as he stepped over Benedict’s corpse, and noticed the mahogany cabinet.
“Man’s vanity.” Lazarus replied.

EPILOGUE

Aloysius let Rupert describe as his murder of Grabmaler. Aloysius had been wearing his witches’ hat, monk’s cloak, and smoking from his pipe. Rupert needed to confess to Aloysius, appearing unannounced outside Aloysius’ Maytag box, poking his head around the Tibetan rug. Aloysius, then, had insisted on hearing out the whole European trip, the intrigue, especially in Paris, and listened through Rupert’s grating betrayal of Undine, and their recent reconciliation. Aloysius stroked a beard he had grown since Rupert saw him last. He had redecorated his box slightly with cheap religious icons and rusted hammer and sickles, and had devoted a kind of shrine to outmoded ideologies, heaping up the crudest flags and emblems and read up non-Pure Land strains of Buddhism. He frowned reflectively. Rupert waited. Virgil slowly wagged his tail, calm on his haunches, perking up his ears a little when Rupert then described how Diogenes lay unconscious still, and what they found at the bottom of the inverted skyscraper. Rupert again urged the taciturn Aloysius to say something.
“Who am I … to judge?” Aloysius finally replied. “How can anyone account for why, after entropy, there’s still someone lucid enough to ask permission to commit a crime? And how can taking a life be expiated by sorry human guilt? Perhaps there’s a key to reason why we do and suffer horrible things. But it’s lost to me. I could carry a cross for twenty one centuries or tread the ocean’s floors, peek into its caves and caverns, or sift the moon’s dust and come closer to an answer ”
Rupert, aware that he had beleaguered Aloysius by his insatiable need to be judged, studied his costume and realized that his getup was all about not knowing, about accepting a fate which hurls us into ane enigma while we spout grand philosophies and look like complete fools. And, yet, who is the fool? The man who lives in a penthouse, enjoying fine painting, lovely women, exotic drugs, commanding power over elemental economic processes — the man Rupert killed — or the killer, Rupert? Or, the unambitious box-dweller, who lets the world chase its tail while he stands aside and amuses himself with cut-up rubber whales and witch’s hats?
Rupert picked up the glass jar of rubber whales and considered what might happen to Grabmaler’s empire — whether it could be redirected, or plundered for a worthy cause. Whether it was so corrupt that the inverted skyscraper should be blown up, or flooded or buried and consigned an ignominious grave. Or turned to some good, as Undine suggested. A thorough cataloging would have to be done. Or maybe not. And what of Diogenes? Undine? Would Grabmaler’s or Benedict’s guards find and kill them all, were they running over the parking lot now to machine gun him? Sould there be a celebration? Would all the inmates of Grabmaler’s inverted skyscraper ride up and breathe surface air again and dance?
“Well, where do we go from here?” Rupert finally asked.
“I don’t know.” Replied Aloysius, glancing over to Virgil.
“Should we ask Virgil?” Rupert laughed.
Aloysius walked over to Virgil, where the dog sat with a benign torpor passing across his black brow, and asked, “Whither which way?”

fini