The Icicle Crime: Part I
by A.G. Serval
When I got the call telling me to meet Gallemore at the Tanglewood subdivision I was on my hands and knees looking for chickpeas. You need to buy three cans to get the three for three dollars special and I only had two. I thought a stray can might’ve rolled under the plastic flap covering the edge of the adjacent shelf, but when I reached behind it I found only a soiled nickel and a few pieces of straw. I focused instead on finding the yogurt brand I like (separate compartments for yogurt and fruit) and seltzer water, which I drink in bulk (about 20-25 cans a week).
The Tanglewood subdivision is one of seven luxury enclaves lining the perimeter of a mile-wide gated octagon on the far west side of Apopka. Each subdivision has its own kiosk where a guard asks for identification. When I arrived I saw Gallemore hunched in front of the kiosk. I’d certainly seen him looking better. His face was a mosaic of puffy blotches and the lapel of his linen suit had a golf-ball sized stain on it that I guessed was a remnant of red wine. After weeks of cool, dry days it had become muggy and Gallmore was covered in sweat, swiping angrily at the clouds of gnats that whirled around his head.
A man inside the kiosk reached over, slid open a screen and said something to Gallemore. Gallemore said something back, the man nodded and we were led to a broad, single story condominium, then into a stone vestibule that opened onto a wood paneled hallway. There were framed photographs on the walls, mostly of flowers, and a few documents, one of which I paused to examine. It certified that Arthur Ableton owned stock in something called the “Apopka Cardinals.” At the top of the document was an etching of a curved blade inside a pale green ellipse.
Gallemore turned to look back at me and I pointed to the framed document on the wall. He walked over and tilted his head toward the frame without bending his knees.
“Ah, local jai alai team. Mr. Ableton is—was, I mean—a jai alai enthusiast.”
We walked some more, until the hall opened onto a large room bound on one side with opalescent slabs of blue marble. Sunlight passing through the marble gave the feeling of standing inside an aquarium. At the center of the room was a man, naked except for a pair of tuxedo pants, lying on his back in a pool of water. No lesions or bruises or apparent physical injury. His mouth and eyes were wide open, frozen in an expression of amused surprise. At the far end of the room a stout middle-aged woman in a white apron sat hunched forward, dabbing her eyes with a crumpled tissue.
“Is this Ableton?” I said pointing to the man lying in the puddle.
“Correct,” Gallemore said tilting his head in the direction of the seated woman. “And that’s Ms. Fogg, the housekeeper. She found the body this morning.”
“The police haven’t been here?”
Gallemore shook his head.
To Ms. Fogg I said: “May I ask you some questions?”
The woman looked up at me: “Are you the police?”
“No,” I said.
Ms. Fogg’s eyes moved from me to Gallemore and back to me. She dabbed them some more with the hankerchief and started to talk.
“I came in here just doing my regular rounds and I knew immediately something wasn’t right. For one thing, Mr. Ableton’s reading lamp was still on even though there was no one in the room. Mr. Ableton never leaves his lamp on like that. And the lamp was bent at an angle that I’d never seen before. I walked around the chair he usually sits in, over there, and it was then that I saw… I saw…” Ms. Fogg stopped, began to sob and pressed the tissue into her eyes.
“Take your time Ms. Fogg” Gallemore said. “Its alright.”
She continued: “I saw him there, just as he is now, with water all around him, and his eyes and mouth open in that awful look of surprise. So I called Mr. Gallemore, he was…such a, a…cherished friend of Mr. Ableton’s.”
“Is there anything else, anything curious or out of the ordinary, that you think might be relevant?”
“Yes…there is…one thing. I found this on the floor next to him.” She pointed to a bound volume that had been placed on an end table. She paused again, her lips and cheeks began to tremble, and resumed: “I suppose that it what he was reading.”
I picked up the book. Its cover was a pale yellow cloth with the following characters printed on it:
“Any idea what that means?” Gallemore asked.
“Japanese, I think.” To Ms. Fogg I said: “Would you mind if I took this with me?”
“Well, I don’t know. Won’t the police want to have it as evidence?”
“I’ll make sure all that’s taken care of.”
I tucked the book under my arm and thanked Ms. Fogg and said goodbye. Gallemore led me out through the hall. We went through a pair of French doors across a courtyard, paved with flagstones. I saw now that the room we’d been in was repeated identically, but in reverse, on the opposite side of the courtyard, so that by taking a left we ended up back on the veranda where I’d originally entered with Gallemore. He led me back to the kiosk and cab pulled up. I got in and the driver took me out onto the Dixie highway and over to the other side of Apopka where I live.
I woke up the next morning about eight. Without getting dressed I went into the kitchen, sliced half of a poppy seed bagel into narrow sections, dropped the sections into the toaster, spread left-over foie gras terrine on them and ate it with orange slices and black coffee. Then I took a shower, got dressed, wrapped the book in a piece of newspaper and took the bus to the Apopka Public Library
At the circulation desk I found an acned teenager with a scowl on his face, measuring something with a slide-rule. I tapped my fingers lightly on the edge of the desk to get his attention. He looked up but didn’t say anything.
“Is Dr. Froehner in?” I asked.
“Is she expecting you?”
“Just tell her its Charles Gallemore.”
He put his slide rule in a drawer on the desk and walked to a door behind him. After about a minute he came back and said “Go ahead” without looking at me, already getting his slide rule out to get back to measuring whatever it was he was measuring. I thanked him, walked past the circulation desk and went through the door he’d come out of.
Larissa Froehner was a pretty woman in her late twenties with shrewd brown eyes, pleasantly crooked teeth and chestnut hair which she piled on her head in a frizzy heap. She had an advanced degree of some kind, ancient history or anthropology, I could never quite remember which. She always wore a version of the same basic outfit: black wool skirt, charcoal grey cashmere sweater with a white or gray button-down shirt under it, black tights and black flats.
She said: “You’re not Gallemore” smiling her crooked smile.
I put the book down on the table in front of her. She looked at the cover for three seconds and said: “The Icicle Crime”…or ‘Crime of the Icicle’…something like that. I’d say its from roughly the same period as the Gengi scrolls.”
“How can you tell?”
“Script of that shape and style is unique to the 11th century.” She turned through the first few pages. “Its actually quite a rare book. Not itself of the 11th century, of course, but a rare and rather beautiful copy in any case. Where did you get it?”
“It belonged to a friend, a collector.”
“Give me a hour or so and I’ll make a paraphrase transcription for you.”
“You’re the best,” I said.
I left the library and went around the block to the drugstore, had a seat at the counter, ordered a seltzer water and a grilled cheese and flipped through the Apopka Journal. The Ableton murder was tucked away at the bottom of page five under a small photo of the Tanglewood place. Police suspect foul play. No mention of the book. And no mention that Ableton was found in just his pants in a pool of water. I read through a few of the box scores, finished my grilled cheese, got the check, left a 10 on the countertop and walked back to library.
“Here you go” Larissa said handing me the book. She’d attached post it notes to each page with summaries of the text in a neat cursive hand.
“I owe you one,” I said.
“Don’t worry about it. Come in and see me more often, huh?”
“You got it,” I said. We did that European air kiss thing on either cheek. Its something she insists on, so I do it reluctantly and it always feels a little weird.
I took the book back to my place, put some water on to boil, crumpled old newspapers and stacked them with pieces of kindling and made a fire in the fireplace, went back into the kitchen and poured a cup of tea, then returned to sit in front of the fire with “The Icicle Crime” and Larissa’s post-it notes.
The first page repeated the characters from the cover, now with an outline of a mountain range behind them. The next page contained a single verse in ornate calligraphy set within a pale pink border. Larissa’s transcription of the verse ran as follows:
The breezes of fall
blow the ripples away
today there will be
ice on the pond
On the next page was a silhouette of a black-clad figure crouched in front of a more compact version of the mountain range, followed by smaller calligraphic characters printed vertically along the bottom edge. Larissa’s post-its, about 20 in all, summarized the story: Smugglers under the employ of Emperor Hanzono steal the sacred Heiji Crystal from its fixture at the apex of a 500-foot mandala in the Temple of Miroku. Bound by an ancient and mysterious oath, a team of assassins set out to retrieve the crystal (these are, I assume, the black clad figures on the cover page). They scour the southeastern provinces of the Empire. In the process three are killed, falling victim to the booby traps (iron clamps) hidden throughout the province. But two are able to penetrate a vault set flush in the side of Mount Suribachi. The first to make it over the parapet is impaled on a spear, triggered by a brick in the floor. The second benefits from the distraction of the death of the first and gets over the wall and past the guards. This second assassin flings himself over the parapet and, using a special kind of magnetized claw attached to his hands and feet, climbs over the stone wall and into the main vault. The way Larissa paraphrases it, once inside the assassin feels a hum or a vibration which leads him to a narrow wicker case wrapped in silk. Inside the case he finds a faintly vibrating object. As the assassin removes the object from its case one of Hanzono’s guards appears in the balcony overlooking the vault. Infused with the power of the Crystal, the assassin leaps with superhuman agility from the ground floor, over heaped rugs and silks, angles his body onto the lower edge of the balcony, which he grabs with one hand, the Crystal clutched in the other and flings it in one motion over the top, plunging its glowing point into the guard’s chest. The last image in the book is of two guards looking down perplexedly at their comrade on his back in the middle of a pool. There is another blank page, and then an altered version of the opening verse on the final page:
The winds of spring
bring the ripples again
today the ice
melts upon the pond
About the Author:
A.G. Serval is a writer living in the Bronx.