Prisoner of Uroboros
by Germán Amatto
translation by Carmen Ruggero
part 1 of 2
A small red circle appeared on accountant Lotterstein’s forehead. Death came to him quickly, like a cold wave. It collapsed his face and shoulders; it bent and twisted his legs till he finally fell to the carpet without grace or dignity.
Dr. Kaplansky knelt next to the flaccid body and examined it. He looked at the barrel of the revolver in his own gloved hand and pondered what had just taken place. In the same action, the bullet that had irreversibly sentenced the accountant to death had saved him, Kaplansky, from the stain of being tried for embezzlement of funds.
He appreciated the symmetry, one of the attributes of perfection.
A grating, pulsating sound filled the accountant’s office. Kaplansky suddenly straightened up and stared at the record player, recognizing the offending source. The record was still turning silently. The needle had reached the final groove and kept running over the label, repeating the same droning sound.
He had almost failed because of that record player. He had his gun pointed at Lotterstein and suddenly found himself unable to shoot. It was because of that tango — what was it called? It had paralyzed him. It wasn’t his plan for the accountant to die while listening to tangos. It was unexpected, and Kaplansky didn’t tolerate the unexpected. After all his meticulous preparation and precautions, he would have remained at a standstill, despite his index finger’s being poised on the trigger, had his will not returned when the accordion played its final chord.
He closed his eyelids and rubbed his temples. The incident was unimportant. It was behind him. He’d had a rough time, and now things were back in gear. No importance. None.
He checked his watch. Ten thirty.
He turned off the light so that his silhouette wouldn’t show through the frosted glass. He turned the door knob and with measurable caution, opened a very small crack. The corridor was empty, as it should be on a Saturday night inside an office building.
All in gear. Nobody had seen him meet with the accountant, nobody heard the shots. For all intents and purposes, he’d never been in Lotterstein’s study; the revolver had never been fired. It couldn’t have worked better if he had rehearsed it a thousand times.
Perhaps, Kaplansky thought, he was just an instrument. Maybe it was already written for Lotterstein to be the victim and he, the assassin.
Predestination was another quality of perfection.
But such perfection was no accident, no sir. He had patiently plotted the skein of lies and alibis; no one could ever connect him to Lotterstein’s disappearance. The plan was infallible. It eliminated all possibility of being discovered. If anything pointed in his direction, it would be his conscience, the revolver he still held in his hand, and of course... the dead body.
He arose and proceeded as planned.
He closed the door and turned the light on. He dropped the revolver in his raincoat pocket, then walked to where he had left his briefcase and a rolled-up package containing a plastic sheet. He unwrapped the package. From his briefcase he took his white coat and a small surgical knife.
The record player droned in the background.
Kaplansky unrolled the plastic sheet on the floor. He dragged the body onto the plastic. “Just barely warm,” he muttered. “They cool down so quickly in winter.”
The tourniquets first — he had to stop the bleeding. But the procedure had to be done methodically. He had learned that from the alarm clock incident, when he was a kid.
When he was a young boy, he had taken his parents alarm clock. He never could remember why he did it. His father was strict; the punishment would have been harsh, but he took it just the same. He placed it on a chair in his bedroom, and removed the face of it. He studied the way the gears moved, tick-tock, the swinging back and forth of the springs, and then began to take it apart.
He sectioned off the muscles right at the joint.
Perhaps he just wanted to know how it worked, what made the mechanism move. He disassembled it very carefully and methodically, memorizing how each piece fit with the others
He isolated the nerves cleanly, cutting them with the sharp scalpel and separated the joints until... It was nothing more than an inert pile of steel. Nonsense.
No longer an alarm clock.
Just a few gears with the main blood vessels properly joined.
It took him an hour — hour and a half. Under normal circumstances, it would have taken him twenty minutes, but he had to be careful to keep things clean.
It was a quarter past midnight when he stepped into the corridor dragging a big trunk on wheels. He had given that traveling trunk to Lotterstein for his birthday, last Friday.
“My pleasure, accountant,” he had said to Lotterstein. “I hope you like it; I chose it for you.
“By the way, there is something we need to talk about. It concerns certain irregularities in the books. Yes, accountant, I understand. But you are an intelligent man. The Foundation depends on the good judgment of certain people. If this gets out... they could take away their support from you. A pity, especially when the matter can be fixed.
“No, no, don’t misunderstand me. I only want to save my reputation. I could present my resignation, and the rest stays... undisclosed.
“I have been the treasurer for more than fifteen years; you know that the commission would be anxious to keep this business under wraps. Of course, I would be very grateful for your mediation and would know to reciprocate. Who knows... maybe you’ll end up using that traveling trunk before you know it.
“Let’s do this: you delay your report to the Commission until Monday. We can meet this coming Saturday and reach an agreement. What do you think? Very well, accountant — see you in your office. And... happy birthday to you. May you enjoy many more.”
The elevator stopped on the ground floor. Kaplansky pressed an eye to the peephole. Nobody. The lobby was empty. At that time of night, the watchman was drunk and in the cellar. He slipped out the lobby dragging the trunk behind him. He pushed open the door and faced the cold winter. He took Viamonte Street down towards the river.
Gears, he thought. Nobody saw him go into the building, nobody saw him leave. Ergo, he had not been inside the Foundation building that weekend.
It was a done deal. Next Monday, Lotterstein would not show up at work. He would not go to the commission and point a finger at Kaplansky, nor would ever expose the unorthodox liberties taken with the money. And he, Kaplansky, would try to mend his ways so that this annoying situation — his fingers hurt and he switched the trunk to his other hand — would never repeat itself.
This was a new point of departure. A break with the past; one he had joined and sutured without leaving scars, just as he did when he put together the alarm clock.
When he saw the pieces spread on the chair, he knew: punishment was inevitable. His father was not going to understand. No matter how much he explained, his father would only see a broken clock; an expensive clock, ruined. And then, a painful beating would follow. Tears burned his eyes — they set his gears in motion; he blotted them, dry.
He felt a sharp cold wave of pain travel from the nape of the neck to his chest, right in between the lungs. No. NO. He was not going to let himself be taken down. The punishment was inescapable, but it could be avoided... if he reassembled the clock.
Patiently, he assembled each wheel, placed every spring in place. For the first time, he felt as if a strange instinct guided him. For the first time, he utilized his gift. It didn’t take long; twenty minutes at the most. He put the cover in place, and wound it up. Tick-tock, it ticked. The needles moved. The clock worked. Tick-tock. He placed it back where it belonged, on his father’s night table, then he ran to his room and cried, certain that his father would discover a sign of foul play, a subtle hint, a scratch. Then the punishment would follow.
He was gasping for air as he crossed Madero Street and disappeared in between old, abandoned buildings. A bitter wind cut through the deserted streets. He saw the bricks covered by mist, the empty lots in its suffused light, but the landscape remained unchanged; nothing pointed to the irreversible act he had committed.
He was safe within his protective, infallible, and unbroken circle. The stones would not scream his sin, the desolate ground would not crack under his step, he would never be punished for breaking the alarm clock.
Because the fact is that that night, his father entered the bedroom, wound the clock, left it on the table, and never discovered the bad deed. There were no blows — no yelling.
In the beginning, Kaplansky refused to believe it. For him, it was a matter of faith that nothing, not even one minuscule mishap, escaped his father’s scrutiny. It was only by the repetition of his trespasses that he convinced himself he had been successfully and completely deceitful. There would not be reprimands and everything would continue, tick-tock, the same.
No. Not the same. He had changed. He understood.
The doctor hurried his steps, leaving behind the old buildings and the bridge over the canal. He entered the vast, desolate waterfront. He brought the trunk closer to the balustrade and looked down into to the river — a black mirror where vague, and incomprehensible memories stirred in its depths.