Gary Baker, January 2013
(the beginning of a longer project)
"Welcome, Dr. Mathias," the gray-suited man turned to face Dr. Henry Mathias from behind a well-made oak desk, "if you would so choose, we shall begin." The man shifted a slim lock of silvery hair behind one ear and leaned back into the plush black leather. "First off, Dr. Mathias is dead, Dr."
Henry scowled. As intriguing as it had been, being brought from the central train station in Madrid all the way to this unknown skyscraper not far off, subsequently followed by the long elevator ride into the depths of who-knew where, the man's tone set him on edge. Finally he managed to shift in his seat, an uncomfortable guest chair with sparse cushioning and an awkward pattern, and mumble aloud. "But I'm not."
The man smiled as though laughing at an unheard joke, "oh, we know very well about that part, Dr. Mathias, but as the facts lay: Dr. Mathias is, indeed, dead." He leaned forward to inspect a thin pile of corporate papers in a manila folder that lay on his desk. "Looks here, like he died not two years ago in a freak car accident while away in Bosnia."
Henry gaped. Something was going on here, something far greater than what he had suspected. A dark and eerie shadow fell across the lamp-lit room. "...but I was just heading out to Bosnia...." Then it hit him: this wasn't small talk; it was a threat. If he were to keep his mind set on going to Bosnia, then this man and his followers would be sure the accident happened just as he had stated.
But the papers could mean only one thing: someone even higher up on the food chain was pulling strings and giving commands. There was no other explanation other than the notion that this had to be some sort of government organization following up on his investigation of one Ms. Maria Warner. The local police had deemed her death a suicide, her cold, lifeless corpse found on the tracks of the southbound rail out of Milagros; but Dr. Henry Mathias knew better. Something wasn't right about the wounds on her wrists, about the bruises supposedly caused by 'a fragile mind in distress'. "Is this about Ms. Warner?"
"Why, whatever makes you think that, Dr. Mathias?" Again the suited man had that grin on his face. Henry was missing something, something big, but he couldn't place a finger on it.
The very fact that Henry wasn't the only Londoner involved, made him all the more suspicious of this man's actions. And it was true, the man's accent was obviously from the local regions of London by mere association with a dialect unheard of anywhere else.
Henry paused, thinking his words through carefully to be sure he didn't let anything slip that he could actually use, "because I found her dead, in a back-alley of London." The man's eyebrows rose, curiously, but he let Henry keep talking, "the authorities called it suicide, but...."
"...but you call it murder."
The man grunted, nodding to a crony behind Dr. Mathias' seat who then turned and left the room. "Dr. Mathias, I am sure you know well that you are under no pressure to stay your course, but," he lifted a mocking finger as though scolding a child, "outright lies will get us nowhere." Leaning back into his chair again with a slight flourish of his blazer, the man smiled with a coyish grin. "We know you found her on the rail from Burgos to Madrid, did we not?"
Henry cursed himself as he dabbed sweat from his forehead with a handkerchief from his navy suit pocket. Suddenly he couldn't hold himself quiet anymore and blurted into the echoing room "am I under investigation?" Spotting no order of authority on the man's desk, nor a placard with the man's name on it that might hint that this was anything more than a secret meeting meant to go unnoticed, Dr. Mathias grit his teeth and bared his assessment of the situation. "You cannot threaten me--I have done nothing-"
"Dr. Mathias, please. Go on your trip to Bolivia," seeing Henry stare with an expression of confusion on his face, the man grinned yet again. "Why," he laughed, "we can reserve the hotel for you."
"Then..." Henry hesitated, trying to wrap his head around the multitudinous notions at work here, "the threat...?"
"Threat? Ha! You think we were threatening you?" Mysterious as ever, Suit let a broad grin consume his face. "Dr. Mathias, Ms Warner's death was not a suicide, we will tell you that--" once again he pointedly accentuated his words with a scolding fore-finger "anything else would deem our credentials null and void under Parlamental law--but Dr. Mathias's death was not, in fact, a threat in the slightest."
Henry let his own expression fall dark with misunderstanding. So much could have been avoided had he only taken some other case. It wasn't about Ms. Warner, but it did have more to do with her case than Mr unnamed Suit was letting on. "Then...."
"Dr. Mathias is dead."
"But not me."
Suit grinned. "No, Dr., not you."
Dr. Mathias fell back in his chair with slight relief. "Then which Dr. died, and what does his death matter to me?"
"Because, Dr. Mathias," Suit looked across to Henry as though trying to explain some complicated math maneuvers to a young child, "in a way the Dr. Mathias has died."
Henry waved a dismissive hand and leaned his face into the palm of the other. "Again, whoever this other Dr. is, I cannot claim any sense of understanding for why it matters to me. I am sorry for your loss, but-"
"Our loss, dear Dr.?" Suit smirked, then shook his head. "No, we feel no loss. There are, however, plenty of others who might fill in for him quite well."
Time was running short for Henry's patience. He had been held up for too long discussing what could only be another inspectors case when he, himself, had to get back to the untimely death of Ms. Maria Warner. "Then what is the meaning of this?" Dr. Mathias found his anger roiling under the surface of withheld information, and had begun to lash it's way out. "Why take me below ground and out of wary eyes, as though I were either some criminal or else someone under scrutinous surveillance?"
Suit, calm and coy as ever, let his fingertips connect just inches from his face. His elbows rest on the armrests of his chair, and it suddenly became clear that a business-like transaction was about to take place. "Well, Dr., we figured that you might want to know all this as you will be filling in for him."
"Filling in for him?" Henry almost laughed. This was a joke, it had to be. Perhaps Smithy Weberman, from the Dublin branch of Investigative Services, had chosen to pull some strings and play a well-thought, but badly timed prank. "What, do you think me daft? I already have a job--as you well know now, I am investigating the case of Ms. Warner's unreported homicide." Dr. Mathias thought back to seeing the youthful woman not several days prior to her death looking as though she'd just been asked to marry. That was on the train heading into France, vast kilometers from her final resting place near Milagros. "And if that's not enough some new data has...."
Suit raised his eyebrows inquisitively as Henry trailed off, "has what?"
Henry snapped his gaping jaw shut with a clack that he knew he'd feel later, and scowled at the overbearingly nosy man of mystery. "Nevermind. I said too much." To sum up his thoughts for the suit to better grasp his meaning, Henry called upon the recent Parlamental Law that gave sole jurisdiction to inspectors on the case. "It's not public knowledge as to where an investigation goes during the case."
Suit looked as though all his questions had been answered. Blithe and cunning, his face read his expression to be. "And oh, how right you are, Dr. Mathias."
"Stop calling me Dr. Mathias!" Henry's face grew warm with annoyance. He wasn't one to lose his temper easily, but the rage coming on was unavoidable for the waste of time that this had become. "I know that's my name, but you can just call me Dr. or 'Jones' if you'd very well like."
Finally Suit leaned onto the desk with his hands splayed over the folder. "Yes, well, forget your investigation, Dr." He passed another file across the empty section of oak surfacing, inlaid with Parliamentary credential stamps. "You will transpose in three days time."
Doctorate Inspector Henry Mathias scowled, watching the red lettering over white background as though it were about to pounce on him. "Transpose? What's that supposed to mean?" He jolted his gaze to Suit, catching the attemptedly-hidden notion of leaving the case as is. "And I thought you said this wasn't about Ms Warner's death!"
Suit sighed and drummed the desk rapidly. "As I said before, Dr., this is not about Ms Warner--starting in three days time, you will pick up where Dr. Mathias had left off."
Henry hesitantly reached forward to peel open the new manila folder. Inside a photo of himself had been paper-clipped to a pile of sanctioned papers about his job, residence, and close family ties. To say it was invasive would have understated the issue entirely.
Yet all-the-while Henry had yet to find any particular evidence as to why he had been deemed to replace another... then he found it.
Three pages in, Dr. Henry Mathias found another photo of himself... except that it wasn't. The image showed another man with remarkable similarities to Henry, standing in a cabana somewhere tropical.
Even further, Henry had never been anywhere tropical having grown up with a preference to the colder weather over warmer. Every vacation he had gone on had been to Russia, or Ireland, or Norway in winter... always north, more or less, but never south.
"Pick up... you want me to live this other Dr.'s life?" He rubbed his chin abrasively. "How the bloody hell does that work?"
Like pistol fire, Suit shot with an exhausted sigh "well, for one: you are him and he is you."
But that made no sense. How could one man be two when he had never been diagnosed with any sort of mental illness such as the likes of schizophrenia? Only one possibility could be meant by this, yet that same notion had been debunked earlier on. "...I thought you said this wasn't a threat?"
Suit smiled and stood. "I can assure you, Dr., it is not a threat." He reached around and stood by the door, where he called for the other man to return. When the suited man turned back to Dr. Mathias, he looked more calm than before, though it hadn't seemed possible previously. "In a way, you were created for this very occasion, much like Ms Warner was before her own untimely end."
Henry gaped. "So it is about Ms Warner."
As Henry went to stand he found Suit's hand on his shoulder, holding him down with more force than he thought Suit had. They locked eyes and Suit's expression went dark. "Don't try to understand, Dr., for there are far greater consequences than you can possibly guess." He shook his head dejectedly, "one slight misstep...."
And Doctorate Inspector Henry Mathias nodded. He'd caught the threat: one too many questions and the next Dr. Mathias to die would be himself.