Last time, science reporter Vivienne met an unusual man called Ignatius Von Brandt. This week he takes her to his apartment and shows her something that her enquiring, analytical mind cannot fathom. Things are heating up…
Viv and Ignatius slipped out just as the rich and fabulous were brandishing their chequebooks. It seemed typically ostentatious that they still actually used chequebooks. Ignatius remained tight-lipped as he led her away from the fundraiser party. Part of her thought he was simply using this as an awful ruse to steal a kiss – and maybe more – once they were away from the crowd, but he never even once looked at her with anything approaching desire – unless he thought that hawkish glint was some sort of weird come-to-bed look. If he did, he’d be disappointed. It might work on the airheads, but she’d brushed off more appealing men than this one in the past. When they got to the lifts, Ignatius hit the “Up” button. That surprised her.
“We’re going up?” she asked. “What’s up? The roof?”
Her interest piqued. “Petrowski’s place?”
“Of course not. Why would he broadcast the location of his own home so brazenly?”
“So whose penthou…” Of course. His. “So you’re the real host,” she said. “Won’t they miss you at your own party?”
“I’m merely the spark to get things started. After that…” His hands imitated a puff of air.
“Just so you know, this sort of thing – the penthouse, the money – it doesn’t impress me.”
He pressed a hand upon his heart, feigning upset. “I’m hurt you consider that to be my motive. I can see there’s more to you than that. But even so, there’s no need to be so cool about it. There’s nothing cool about being so cool.”
And there’s nothing cool about you, Viv might have said, but she kept her mouth shut. There might be a story here. Something to write down, submit to Emma on lifestyle and then retreat back to the cosy Science & Tech column.
Ambient lights gently lit the penthouse, while scents of cinnamon, anise and clove drifted through the large living space. It was a warm evening, but he hadn’t bothered to open any of the windows, and she couldn’t detect any air-con. Her blouse clung to her back like a needy lover. Ignatius walked up to the drinks cabinet by the hearth, with not a drop of sweat upon him or his clothes. The cabinet was an angular ebony oddity, its door made of obsidian so it looked like a giant black obelisk staining that corner of the room, and poured a suspiciously dark liquor into two triangular glasses.
“What’s that?” Viv asked, taking a glass.
She eyed the glass and swirled the drink around it. The triangular shape prevented the drink from swirling around the edges properly. She drank from one of the corners. Warm, and aggressively spiced to the point of bitterness. Definitely not seductive. “So, why am I here, Ignatius?”
Ignatius poured himself the same drink, but almost three times as much, before drinking it in one long draught, as she might have done a glass of water. She felt her face twitch in revulsion at the macho show of hedonism, and placed the glass down a nearby coffee table, where the glass clinked satisfyingly.
“There,” he said, pointing to the other side of the room. Her gaze followed his finger, and latched onto a triangular door inset into the wall.
“You’ve got a thing for triangles,” she said. “What’s that, some sort of subliminal suggestion of a threesome?”
Ignatius laughed heartily; a rich, deep, genuine laugh, which disarmed her and made her head swim. Another glass of the dark liquor floated over in his grasp, a glassy black pit framed by the orange flash of his cuff. It ended up in her hand, but this time she had little intention of drinking it; she held it as an accessory for now. “Did you ever do research, Vivienne? When you studied chemistry?”
“A little, for my masters degree.”
“And did you do research for research’s sake, or for the reflected glory? For the story, in other words?”
She screwed her face up. Scientists always did it for the science. Didn’t they? “For the research. For good science.”
Ignatius smiled and opened the triangular door, inviting her in. She took a baby sip of the dark stuff – not enough to make her balk – and strode through. When inside, she found her breath taken away. The room was a pyramid, pointing up to the sky. Not just any pyramid – a perfect tetrahedron – no, not quite perfect. Weirdly, she noticed the apex of the room itself was missing, allowing a glimpse into the night sky above. Tiny triangles decorated each of the room’s three walls, all pointing upwards, like a mass of the devout, reaching for the stars. The strange geometry of the place made her forget that she’d been gawking at it for probably a whole minute.
“Take a seat,” said Ignatius, making her jump.
She gave him with a knowing smile, and perched on one of the two worn, leather pouffes either side of a small, dead firepit covered by a copper dish filled with ashes. “So is this your game, then? Lure unsuspecting female scientists back here and impress them with your Platonic solids?”
Viv smiled at her own wit, but Ignatius only looked into the firepit. He closed the door, leaving the only light in the room coming from the stars above. In the near blackness Viv’s heart beat a little faster, and a breeze wafting down from the open roof made the hairs on her arm stand to attention. Ignatius’s fresh leather soles clicked on the tiles, and the other pouffe gave a soft sigh as he sat on it. She silently fished into her bag for her notepad and pen, but gasped as the firepit burst into life, orange tongues suddenly reaching for the sky with a whoosh. Behind the crackling flames Ignatius’s teeth and eyes glowered. He delivered a wristy flourish over the flames, which woofed and turned green. Viv’s senses quickened again, and then she settled. Copper sulphate. She hadn’t seen it since secondary school, and had forgotten how impressively it burned.
“Ignatius, why am I here?”
“Does any part of you wish to be among the circle of people we just saw? See more than what you’ve seen?”
She paused, catching herself before she answered. She’d worked hard to break free from a relatively poor background to get through a good university and become a middling reporter at a national newspaper, and she still had her best years ahead of her. No mean feat. In fact it was bloody impressive. She’d invested her whole life in science, logic and investigation. So why did she find herself suddenly captivated by a bit of chicanery? “Yes,” she couldn’t help saying. “Yes, I’d like to see more.”
The question hit her like a punch. She thought of the vacant millionaires a few floors below them, rattling on about nothing, and less. “Because I don’t understand your world. I don’t understand why you exist.” The liqueur must have been stronger than she thought. Her head was swimming, and she started to wobble.
“Steady yourself,” he said. A granite pestle and mortar was being cradled in his hands.
Where did that come from? She blinked a few times to gather her focus, and stared into the dancing fire. A flourish of Ignatius’s wrist swept the fire up in a whoosh of blue, bathing the room in a cooler heat. She preferred that light. Somewhere in the back of her mind a voice said copper chloride, but she hardly processed it. The blue flames died down to a steady flicker, and the rest of the room – the walls, the floor, the triangles, Ignatius, slowly dissolved into nothingness as the blue stroked the corners of her eyes, and images ghosted into view: the faces of the people downstairs, and then her own, elegiac and ecstatic all at once, bathed and dressed in blue and orange and black and white, surrounded by the people downstairs; she was wrapped in something. A face appeared at her shoulder – Ignatius’s – and his arms, wreathed in red, draped around her, pulling her down into a black soup, and her lips met his, until she was wet, and hot, and she felt it on her skin, sweaty, clammy, and hot, getting hotter, until her arms and face stung from the burn.
She pulled back from the fire and shook her head. Ignatius still stared at her, partly hidden by the fire and smoke, broken into an eye here, a half-mouth there, partial-creatures in the shadow.
“Tell me what you saw,” he said, his voice low and flat.
“I saw me, with…” Not you. “The people downstairs. What does that mean?”
He nodded in a grim sort of satisfaction, and started to slowly roll up his left sleeve. “Many people downstairs give more for the betterment of the lives of others than you know. They might seem like airheads or boneheads, but they understand structures, movements, even chaos. But it takes a great deal of sacrifice – time, effort, flesh, will – to understand such things. You’re a chemist – you understand what makes up the universe and everything in it.” He stopped, exposing his arm to the firelight, where his smooth skin shone, “you have to be prepared to give yourself up, freely and willingly.”
Her dulled senses meant it took a moment to register him peeling back a layer of skin, but when she did she screamed and jumped up from the pouffe, backing away from the fire. All too late she realized there was only one way out, and that was past him. He looked up at her, holding his haemorrhaging arm over the flame, where the blood was greedily consumed with a crackle and spit. “Don’t be alarmed,” he said, dropping the flap of skin into the mortar, where it wriggled and danced. Sweat coursed over her, stinging her eyes and slicking her hands, while her pulse thrummed erratically. She backed into the far corner of the room, where the sloped walls forced her into a submissive crouch. She forced herself not to look at the wriggling flap of skin.
“What the fuck is all this?” Her voice was shaking, which she hated. “Who the fuck are you?”
Before he could answer she started to move. Sobriety hadn’t hit her yet, but clarity did. The compulsion to leave the wrongness of that place overwhelmed her, and she pushed past Ignatius, who sat stock still on the leather pouffe, making no attempt to stop her. Out of the pointed room the soft light of the penthouse bathed her, and she didn’t look back.