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"Favor," the commissaris said softly.

Beelema smiled, and his golden canines caught the sunlight. "Yes, a favor to a friend. Hyme was harmed and couldn't defend himself. I have a talent; I'm imaginative and energetic. I'm also efficient. But I've reached all my goals. My hair salon is successful, I can live on it in luxury. The cafe goes well. I have all I want and to spare. I've no need for a car or a boat or an airplane or all the other gadgets rich people go in for. This area is all I care for, I hardly ever move outside it. When I found that I could help people unobtrusively, by pushing factors a little, by fitting parts into a whole, I began to experiment. I've been amazed at what I can do."

"Just amazed? Never frightened?"

"Never frightened. I listen to my friends, I observe them, I see what goes wrong with them, I also see ways to right the wrong. Sometimes I concentrate when I sit at the bar or walk about in my shop or stand on this bridge, but often the thoughts just pop into my head. You've seen two examples of my work. I liberated Frits Fortune and I balanced the scales in Hyme's head. There have been other examples that I won't mention because I'm not trying to impress you. I didn't ask for my talent. It just came to me to be used."

The commissaris was watching a sparrow now, investigating ripening seeds on a weed growing between stones. "Ah."

"You don't approve? You must be doing the same thing, or do you wait until there's a deadlock and the man goes down? Do you kick him when he is down? I've often wondered about the police. In a way I also police this area; I restore order."

The commissaris smiled. "We usually wait until it's too late. Optima civi cives. The highest value of a citizen is the citizenry. We'll let them muddle through as best they can and only interfere when they break the law."

"When it's too late."

The commissaris nodded. "When they break the law, it is too late. But they shouldn't break the law."


"I beg your pardon?"

Beelema turned and found the right place for the railing to support his back. He was of the same size as the commissaris but nearly twice as wide.

"The law. Rules and regulations, I never liked them. As a toddler I took part in a school performance; I had to dance with the other kids in a circle. I kept on leaving the circle and dancing the other way. I don't remember that event, my mother told me about it. She was embarrassed. Everybody laughed and I wasn't allowed to finish the act. I see what goes wrong and I help others to find an original solution, contrary to custom. Fortune was unhappy, he'll be better off in his present position. Hyme was a wreck. He was turning into an alcoholic, swilling beer at my cafe, making a spectacle of himself on this bridge. Now he can face the world again. Boronski was a scoundrel; he didn't concern me until he crossed Hyme's path and therefore mine. I enjoyed that little game."

"Who was the lady who upset Boronski at Hotel Oberon?"



"Never," Beelema said, poking the commissaris playfully in the side. "You don't know Titania, so you are excused. She can only perform when I'm right behind her. No, Rea Fortune, of course. She used to be an actress, not a very good one, I think, but good enough for this little drama. I mentioned the matter to her and she accepted immediately. Every woman is half a whore, Shakespeare said. She enjoyed being picked up by Boronski and went to the hotel with him. Sexually she is very capable. He had such a good time that he arranged for her to spend the night with him too at a stiff price, which he paid in advance. Even smart businessmen can be suckers. Rea used the cash to pay her expenses when she ran away from her husband." Beelema giggled. "Wonderful how it all fits together, don't you think? And she'll never breathe a word. She is with Zhaver now and Frits Fortune is going to give her a lot of money. Zhaver wants to open up on his own farther along, a small restaurant, I found it for him. There should always be change. He worked well for me, but it's time to replace him. I've already replaced Titania, too. How do you like the new girl?"

"Beautiful," the commissaris said.

"I've always liked black women. I'm having some white jumpsuits made for her. It'll be fun experimenting with how far the zipper should be pulled down. She has perfect breasts, but they shouldn't be exposed completely, I think."

The commissaris agreed.

'Til ask the adjutant and that handsome sergeant to be on the committee. They're good men; they have the talent, too, I think. I sometimes recognize it in others. Not too often, though; it must be rare. You have it."

"Do I really?" The sparrow flew off. The commissaris turned his back to the railing too. "And the car? How did you arrange that? Hyme didn't know, did he? My sergeant was going to ask him, but I cut the question off. I didn't want Hyme to run to you and prevent this conversation or alter it."

Beelema burped. "Excuse me. Too rich a meal again. It'll be worse when Zhaver opens his restaurant. I should really go on a diet. Hyme? No, he never knew. He has a habit of leaving his car keys on the counter, and that night he had a lot to drink. I slipped out and got the two kitchen boys at Hotel Oberon to help me push Boronski's Porsche away. Then I replaced it with Hyme's Porsche and took all the stuff that Boronski had in his car and rearranged it carefully in Hyme's. The kitchen boys changed the number plates. When I knew that Boronski had seen the car, I changed everything back to normal again. No, Hyme never knew. His Porsche was back where it had been by the time he went home."

"The kitchen boys also arranged the matter of the watch and the laundry?"

Beelema laughed. "You heard about that too? Yes. They were foreign students who have meanwhile left the country. They'll be hard to trace. They helped me with all the other setups too. Little things mostly. It's amazing how a man can be shaken by little things. I noticed that a long time ago at school, when I practiced on the teachers. It seems as if each man creates a foundation for himself, a pattern of habits. A teacher I particularly disliked would always hang his hat on a certain hook. I would take it off and hang it on the next hook. It drove him frantic. Nobody could understand why he got so upset. I sat in the hotel lounge sometimes and observed Boronski. I read some of his thoughts, analyzed his mind. He was neat. I arranged that the waitresses would spill on him, just a little, a drop of coffee, a tiny splash of ketchup. Can happen to anybody, they would apologize and pretend to clean his trousers or jacket and then they would worsen the stain somehow; women are very clever at that. There were other instances. I know the traffic attendant who writes out the parking tickets here; he drinks at my cafe. Boronski got a lot of tickets. My friend would wait for Boronski to come out of the hotel and make him pay in cash. And my dear old lady friend, Mrs. Cabbage-Tonto, pretended that Boronski had stepped on her Chihuahua and made a terrible scene in the street. Much more happened, I won't bore you with it all, but I had Boronski jumping during every waking minute, and I daresay I got into his dreams too."

"True," the commissaris said, "we live in patterns. We make them ourselves, they're our safety, and you dare to interfere with the patterns of others."

"With reason," Beelema said. "I'm entitled to do it; I have both the talent and the right. You don't agree?"

"No," the commissaris said.

"You don't," Beelema said. "I'm sorry to hear it. I thought you, would agree. I've studied you a little. I took you for a superior man, like myself. But you're small-minded. You would be, of course, in your official capacity, but I thought you would liberate yourself from prejudice in your spare time. However, no matter, would you care to step into my cafe" and have a drink with me?"

"I would not," the commissaris said, "but I thank you for satisfying my curiosity."

Beelema did not move.

"Is that your last word? I had hoped for a little more."

"There is the law," the commissaris whispered so that Beelema had to lean over to hear him. "I don't mean the law in our books, that's no more than a projection. The true law is in all of us, in our center, in the core of our being, where we are all connected and where the illusion of identity no longer obscures our insight. If you have, as you say, the talent, you are misusing it. Reflect, sir, and take care."