Thursday, 5 September 2013

Our Lady of the Rocks I

There was a thump as someone tried to open the door to Leonard’s office, clearly expecting it to be unlocked.  Leonard jumped, then smiled.  He sat down in his chair and pressed the intercom button, which buzzed for a moment.
“Sir, there’s a man here,” said a frantic sounding male voice before the intercom cut off.  Leonard pushed the speak button this time.  “It’s fine, it’ll be Professor Matson,” he said.  “The door is open.”  He pushed the door unlock button next, and a few seconds later the door opened, more cautiously as though the opener were expecting a practical joke to be played.  When the door was clearly opening it sped up, and bounced off the door-stop that protected the wall.  In the doorway was a frail-looking elderly man who surely couldn’t have pushed the door open like that, or caused the original thump.
“Professor Matson,” said Leonard standing up and offering his hand.  Matson glared at him, and walked briskly across the room, his speed and gait completely at odds with his delicate appearance.  He sat down in the visitor’s chair ignoring Leonard’s outstretched hand.  Leonard maintained his smile, dropped his hand, and sat back down as well.
“I’m sorry about the door,” he said.  “Apparently there’s a degree of extra security comes with promotion; none of the offices in this building can be entered without a keycard or someone inside the office unlocking the door first.  The first week I was in here I forgot my keycard twice and ended up spending the day sat with my PA outside my own office like some kind of naughty schoolboy!”
“It seems disrespectful to me,” said Professor Matson.
“Oh surely not,” said Leonard quickly.  “You do have to be quite senior to get one of these offices.”
“No, I mean it seems to be disrespecting me,” said Matson.  “Why should I have to knock on anyone’s door?  It’s not like I come here unless you’ve specifically asked for my help, Leonard, is it?”
Leonard paused for a moment, wondering how Matson managed to turn the conversation around so easily, and then recovered.  “I did ask for your help three days ago, Professor.”
“And would you door have been magically unlocked for me then?”
Leonard shuffled in his seat.  There had to be a trick to the way that Matson did it, but he’d still not figured out what it was, other than deeply irritating.
“Never mind the door, can you help me?  I was definitely hoping that you’d appreciate the urgency of the message and come a little sooner.”
“I got your message this morning and came straight over, to walk into your locked door.  As you must have known, if it was that urgent, I was in San Francisco until last night.  Three hours ago I was still on a plane.”
“Ah, I didn’t think to check…,” Leonard paused again.  Hadn’t he checked?  He was almost sure that he had, but Matson didn’t lie about these things.  And with this promotion he was finally aware of a lot more of what the department did and he did know what had been going on in San Francisco.  The biggest shock to him had been when he realised what Professor Matson’s job actually was; it explained all of his sudden and awkward absences, his complete lack of a life outside of the office, and some of his more worrying mannerisms.  And his utter immunity to censure.
“Never mind, Leonard.  Tell me what the problem is and I’ll tell you what I know.  I gather you’ve got the appropriate security clearance these days?”
Leonard pulled a small plastic card from his pocket and silently offered it across the table.  Professor Matson rested his hand on his for a moment and then nodded.
“They don’t make them like they used to,” he said.  He pulled a lucky rabbit’s foot from his own pocket and set it on the desk.  “That’s mine, forty years old I think,” he said.
Leonard reached over and rested his fingers on it, expecting this to be a practical joke.  To his shock the foot twitched, and then kicked.  He pulled his fingers back, but the rest of the rabbit still appeared, traced in the air by a tiny glowing dot, and it turned to look at him.  Something deep in the rabbit’s eyes seemed to explode, and Leonard instantly knew what Matson’s clearance was, and it was terrifying.
“Shit,” he said, as the rabbit faded away.

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