The Reception Room had not changed since I saw it that first time. Nor had Chief Resident Marlitt. The same plywood decking spread like an empty dance floor pinched under the Quonset’s curving metal. At one end, the Chief Resident’s desk surveyed the open space to judge those dances that took place on a floor worn shiny by sweating, tortured flesh. Above the desk, like a furry tail, hung the same curl of flypaper, black and soft with the captured wings of flies and moths. Beneath my spongy shoes, the plywood gave the same uneasy creak.
I waited in silence for the squat, thick-bodied man behind the desk to finish whatever he was writing. Probably the same thing he had been scratching on when I stood here six months ago, believing that things could get no worse.
Finally, he looked up, face as broad and unfeeling as a Mayan statue. And equally verbose. He reached into a small tray and without taking those flat, brown eyes off me, eyes that measured me with the cold appetite of an alligator, lifted out a stained and worn manila folder and flicked it to his desk like a dead moth.
“How much do you know about explosives, Guest Mead?”
“It says here,” he tapped a muscular finger on my file, “that you made bombs, and that one of your bombs was used by a member of the loyal opposition. If you made bombs and you are still alive, then you know something about explosives. It’s logical, Mead.”
“Bombs? What bombs? It’s your premise that’s wrong, Chief Resident! I’m a land broker—what in God’s holy name would I know about bombs?”
“The premise is not wrong,” he stated evenly. “It is in your official dossier, so it cannot be wrong. It says—in your official dossier—that you made bombs.”
“But I know nothing of bombs! I deal in real estate: choice plantation land only a short drive from all major services. I was negotiating with investors at the Crown Colony Tennis Club when the police …A major proposal for national greatness and jobs for the people …Look, these tennis shorts, that’s all I’ve had to wear for six months—and a jockey-strap that—”
He held up a strong hand, palm out. It was a hand, we had been told by admiring Camp Counselors, that all by itself had strangled a guest who had in some minor way irritated the Chief Resident. Now its mere motion strangled my explanation.
“One of these documents is signed by Prime Minister Burnley himself. It says that you made the bomb that killed Mr. Rodney, senior member of our nation’s parliament and a personal friend of the Prime Minister.”
A thick finger tapped another limp sheet. “This second document is signed by General Tobias, commander of our National Police. It tells of another bomb you made—the one that caused a civil disturbance at the Governor’s Palace. Are you calling the Prime Minister of our great nation a liar?”
His voice dropped to an almost gentle whisper, “Are you calling my respected commander, General Tobias, a liar?”
“But I never met Rodney! And I never heard of either of those bombs! The police, they—the prime minister’s son, he—”
The whisper sharpened. “You are?”
“You are calling the Prime Minister a liar? And General Tobias?”
“No! Sir, dear God, no! But—”
“Then you must be the liar, Guest Mead.”