"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."
Summer changed into autumn, the heavy rains had passed, and the air was crisp. It was late at night and Beelema walked by himself. Kiran wasn't with him. The dog had refused to leave the house and snarled when Beelema tried to pet him. The dog's behavior had been gradually changing; he no longer bothered people and seemed tired and listless. The veterinarian could find nothing wrong with the Great Dane. Beelema worried about the dog. If Kiran continued to snarl at him, he might have to get rid of his pet.
Beelema also worried about himself. He was getting fatter. He also drank too much. He had been drinking a lot that particular evening, served by the two lovely barmaids, one black, one Indonesian. Yet everything was going well. The bar was crowded every evening and Zhaver's restaurant, in which he had an interest, was usually booked days in advance. He was busy in bis hair salon too.
It's the time of the year, he thought, as he walked on, maneuvering around a corner and bumping his shoulder. It's autumn, nature is dying, the general decline affects me.
He bumped into a tree, softly, for his stomach protected him. Then he stumbled over a low fence. Really, Beelema thought, I must watch myself. I know every square inch of the area. This is where they keep blacktopping the same hole. Every time, it caves in again, and they bring out the machinery and make a new mess. He stepped back and walked around the fence.
A young man, a boy still, but tall and slender, walked toward the stumbling figure.
I still feel sexy, Beelema thought, that's good.
"You're a dear boy," he said aloud. "You're handsome. Walk with me a little way. We'll like each other."
The boy stopped. Beelema caressed his black leather jacket.
"Can I feel your skull? I like bare skulls. I shouldn't because I'm a hairdresser and naughty boys like you spoil my trade. You are naughty, aren't you?"
"Sure," the boy said. His teeth shone in a black regularly shaped face. Beelema's fat finger pressed on the aquiline nose.
"Yes, you are beautiful. Would you like some money? First we play together and then I give you some money. How much would you like, naughty boy?"
"He'll want all of your money," a voice said behind Beelema. Beelema tried to turn around but his shoulders were held.
"Let's take his gold too," the first boy said, "everything. He's got some in his mouth. Break it open and I'll knock it out. Use your knife."
"No," Beelema yelled, but his cry was cut short by a hand clasping his mouth. Another hand yanked off his watch chain. There seemed to be many hands, punching him, slapping his face, tugging at the rings on his fingers, removing his wallet, even the loose change from his pocket. The hands hurt him; there were hard feet too that kicked his ankles and shins. Then he felt a sharp pain in his neck.
"Don't say a word, sugar daddy, this is a sharp knife, it'll cut you and you'll bleed like a pig; you ever see a pig bleed?"
"Let's get bis teeth," the first boy said.
"Hold him, Til get my pliers. They're in the car. Don't run away now, sugar daddy, I'll be right back to take your nice teeth."
"And his nice balls," the first boy said. "He has gold balls too, haven't you, sugar daddy?"
Beelema pulled himself free. The boys allowed him to get away a few steps, then ran after him and pushed him down.
He fell on the fence, knocking it over, and rolled in the tar. The boys removed the top of the fence and pushed him so that he rolled on. He rolled till the tarmac was solid again, scrambled to his feet, and ran on. The boys were close behind, running soundlessly on their rubber-soled halfboots.
"Here," the first boy said.
A hand came down on Beelema's neck. He fell. There was the smell of blood.
"Bah, he's sticky. Give me that two-by-four. We'll roll him through that heap of feathers, maybe we can change him into a bird."
Beelema felt the hard edges of the stick and turned over to get away from it. Then there was nothing for a while. He woke because a light shone into bis face.
"What do we have here, Ketchup?"
"Good question, Karate. A ball of feathers with eyes. What are you, sir?"
Beelema crawled away to escape the harsh light
"Hey, stay here. What happened to you?"
The two policemen stared at each other. "What do we do now? Can't leave him. He's bleeding too."
"Ambulance," Karate said. "They'll fix him up at the hospital. Are you drunk, sir?"
Beelema tried to speak but coughed instead.
The ambulance arrived, but the attendants refused to lift him up. They found a plastic sheet and folded it so that it covered the stretcher.
"You take him in, you found him. It's the least you can do."
Karate went back to the fence and kicked until a thick board snapped free. He stuck the board between Beelema's legs and Ketchup held the other side. They lifted together.
"Right," the attendant said. "Easy now, don't drop him. Get him on the plastic. Yagh, what a mess."
"There you go, sir," Karate said. "We'll see you at the hospital."
The commissaris sat next to the bed. He held Beelema's hand. De Gier stood at the foot of the bed and agreed. The procedure was proper: always hold the victim's hand. That way he doesn't feel alone. Death is an agony that can be shared, up to a point of course. From there on, the victim is on his own again.
"Is he conscious?" the commissaris asked.
A young man in a white coat bent down.
"What is he dying of?"
"Can't say. The wounds don't appear to be too serious, maybe the tar has interfered with his breathing. I thought we. got most of it, but he may have been in that condition for hours. In some places we scraped off more than an inch and we had to use solvents to get rid of the rest. There's a bruise on the head, that may explain his predicament too. And there's fear. People can die of fright. A number of causes, I would say."
"This is the worst mugging I've ever seen," Grijpstra said. "They went all out."
The doctor felt Beelema's pulse and shook his head. "He's out too," the doctor said. "We'll have an autopsy to determine the exact nature of his death. I'll let you know what we come up with."
The commissaris released Beelema's hand. He got up and bowed his head.
"You warned him, didn't you, sir?" de Gier asked as he slid behind the wheel of the Citroen.
"Yes. But I was too late."
"We're always too late," Grijpstra said from the rear of the car.
The Citroen found a place in the heavy morning traffic and coasted slowly back to Headquarters. The commissaris led the way to the canteen.
"Too late," he said to de Gier, "but I think he was entitled to this, it was his right"
"Man has no rights," Grijpstra said, joining the line for the coffee machine, "only duties."
The commissaris held up his mug. "We have one right, adjutant, the right to face the consequences of our deeds."
De Gier mumbled as he shuffled through the crowd of constables and detectives, carrying a plate of apple cake and his coffee.
"What was that, sergeant?"
"What a way to go, sir. A nightmare. And it started out so well. Grijpstra danced and sang. I saw bits of beauty everywhere. We were floating right on top of the whole thing and then we got sucked in again."
The commissaris walked over to the cigarette machine, dropped in some coins and came back.