Any Color You'd Like

The Lieutenant felt like he would go mad.

He stood not an inch from the one-way mirror, straight as a ramrod, his eyes fastened to the man seated below in the other room. To anyone else, he would have appeared to be scrutinizing the figure closely. Their captive was, after all, supposedly a ruthless killer. The truth, however, was that Lt. Belvedere could not have been more eager to get right the hell out of there. All he wanted was to return to his cozy house, pound back a couple of brews, and be comfortable with the knowledge that their subject was safe and secure.

His eyes remained glued to the handcuffed man before him, but his attention had long ago traveled far from the dank and dismal basement. Belvedere barely even noticed how his mouth salivated as he pictured the juicy steak his wife would have cooked up for him, fresh and tender from the farmer's market. His mind drifted beyond that, when dinner and beer would be finished, and he'd join his wife upstairs in their king-sized bed. He wished she was there now, her bosom, perfumed body pressed between him and the one-way glass, and his pants slowly grew tighter around his midsection. He gave a silent curse to God that he couldn't just leave already. The uneventful vigilance had become unbearable to him, to the point of mental exhaustion. He realized it was a miracle that, by now, he hadn't accidentally leaned forward and crushed his nose against the glass.

The sneaky thought jolted him back to the present. Belvedere recoiled from his reflection, staring down the bridge of his finely sculpted snout in sudden alarm. Not only was his physical appearance of highly personal concern, but his wife certainly wouldn't have any desire for sex if he came home with such an injury.

The sudden introduction of noise to the small room made the Lieutenant jump in alarm. A howl filled the air as the metal door opened behind him, its thickness grating painfully across the concrete ground. He was careful to keep his focus on the suspect ahead, while he cleared his mouth of spit and tried to return his blood flow to normal.

Damnit, Belvedere thought to himself, the Inspector sure picked the perfect fucking time to finally show. The security door closed with an equally noisy commotion, and the Lieutenant closed his eyes in silent agony. Once he heard the automatic lock engage, he opened them again and took one last deep, calming breath, then turned to his visitor with a perfectly genial composition.

"Inspector Knowell," Belvedere began, but found he had to immediately adjust his line of sight, for he had expected someone taller.

During the Lieutenant's debriefing, he had been given a lengthy speech about this man and his reputation, and had already formed a mental image of their guest. His ranking officers had spoken of the Inspector with pride and respect, and made him out to be a stern and powerful individual. Belvedere found it slightly ironic that he would be presented with this small, awkward figure standing before him.

From behind thick spectacles, Inspector Knowell returned the Lieutenant's gaze with a pair of round, protrusive eyes. It did not help that they were so enhanced by his bifocals; each blink seemed to be magnified a thousandfold. They were cruelly complimented with puckered lips and needle-point nose, both too small to be any more noticeable. Even his ears appeared to have been slicked back along with his short hair, giving him the mousiest of appearances. The Lieutenant called upon every ounce of his training to hold back a smirk. This was the man he had been waiting for all this time? This frail, bug-eyed midget?

"Yes," the Inspector spoke in response to Belvedere, the majority of his voice coming out his nose. "I'm Knowell. I was told you have a situation that needs my expertise?"

"Indeed." The taller man marched across the room and extended a broad hand in greeting. "I'm Lieutenant Belvedere. I've heard a lot about your work."

The Inspector's enormous eyes flickered suspiciously to the approaching limb, then he promptly switched his plain-brown briefcase to his left hand. As the Inspector accepted the greeting, the Lieutenant found himself feeling very uncomfortable. The way Knowell gripped his thick hand with those porcelain fingers was not quite firm, not quite a full handshake, yet it was constricting and cold. After a moment's pause, the Inspector finally released him, and Belvedere returned his hands to rest behind his back. He did not want Knowell to see him wipe them on his uniform.

"Pleasure to meet you," the little man rasped, without any hint of such an emotion. His sight swiveled to the one-way glass, noticing the figure past the window. For a brief second, a sharp, pink tongue darted out between his pursed lips. "I presume that is the suspect?"

"That's right," Belvedere answered, not bothering to turn towards the window. He had seen enough of that man already, and besides, he was caught in some gross fascination with Knowell's odd features and habits. The realization struck him as peculiar, for the fellow was not pleasing to look at by any means, yet Belvedere couldn't help but watch his every move intently. It almost reminded him of a car accident he had once witnessed. The passengers' bodies were hopelessly mutilated and crushed, and all along the highway, people had pulled over to stare in horror as the gory remains of the poor teens were extracted from the pile of metal. Those watching had gasped and dry-heaved, and if they were with a companion, they gripped each other tightly, thoroughly disgusted by the scene... yet not a single one had left, not until all the bodies were in their bags and the wreckage towed away. Belvedere chided himself for recalling such an extreme memory, for the Inspector's face wasn't that hideous, but he got a similar feeling from him nonetheless.

"I hate to cut our introduction short," Knowell spoke briskly, "But if you wouldn't mind, I'd like to get started right away. These kinds of things take... Well, they take a lot of time to do right, and the sooner I begin, the sooner you can have your results." His piercing gaze suddenly swung back to Belvedere, startling him out of his hypnotic reverie.

"Uh, of course, Inspector," the Lieutenant bumbled, forgetting for a moment he was supposed to be in command of this operation. "Right away, no problem." He motioned towards the other side of the window, at a spot hidden from view. "We have two men inside in case you need any assistance. They are very skilled at what they do. They will not disappoint you."

"I'd suspect not," Knowell acknowledged them with disinterest. "They will only need to do the physical labor, of which I've grown a little old for. I will take care of the questioning." Instinctively, the Inspector switched his briefcase from his left hand back to the right, clutching it purposefully. Belvedere finally gave notice to the plain container, and shot it a doubtful stare.

"Um, Inspector?" he spoke up dubiously. "If you need anything else, please let me know. We have more than enough supplies, if the situation arises..." The Lieutenant trailed off while his guest's pursed and pale lips tightened, and his puffy eyelids squished themselves from the bottom up; it took Belvedere a moment to realize that this must be how Knowell smiled.

"Your employees may have full run of your equipment, Lieutenant," he replied confidently. "It will be of little use to me, though. Everything I need is in here." He gave his briefcase a slight shake, and its contents jostled with the faintest of sounds. Belvedere studied it curiously, but refrained from questioning him further. He removed the keys from his belt and approached the only other door in the room, which led further into the facility. He opened it for the Inspector, and the peculiar man strode by without another word.

Belvedere watched him waddle briskly through the dark corridor, his briefcase bouncing at his thigh. The Inspector moved too quickly for his short legs, as if he had to force himself to keep up with his own pace. The Lieutenant shook his head as he closed and locked the door, wondering where on earth his superiors had found such a man. He did his best to rid the curiosity from his mind; he had a wife and steak to return to, both of which would be growing cold by this time.

As he went to leave the facility, a movement caught his eye. The suspect had raised his head towards the only exit visible to him; the Inspector must have entered the room. The Lieutenant cast another glance towards the metal door leading outside, then again to the one-way window. After a moment's pause, he placed himself back at his post, stiff and steadfast before the glass.

His wife and dinner would be waiting for him every day, for as long as they were alive together. This, however, was something that didn't come very often in a lifetime. Belvedere finally let the smirk spread across his marble face, as he eagerly observed the Inspector's work in progress.

.


.

Inspector Knowell let the door swing open on its own. He stood for a moment in the frame, and stared into the eyes of the suspect he had heard so much about. He noted every emotion he saw in there, as he had with the Lieutenant. He scrutinized the man's steely confidence, reveling in the twitches of concern that revealed him. It was exactly what he wanted to see. It was what he needed to work with. Knowell took a moment to let the atmosphere soak into his skin before he stepped through the doorway.

To his immediate left, a pair of burly men sat in the corner, a deck of cards distributed between them. They snapped to attention as the Inspector entered. "You may continue your game," Knowell instructed. "I won't need your assistance just yet." After sharing a glance between themselves, the men shrugged and studied their hands once again.

There was sparse furniture in the room. Only two chairs were present - one appeared very comfortable, while the other was merely a metal frame. The suspect had been handcuffed to the latter. In between the two chairs was a short steel desk, with not a single item present on its rusty, reddened surface. Knowell approached the desk and placed his briefcase carefully against one leg, then delicately drew his chair, causing it to shriek in friction against the hard floor.

"What is this!?" the suspect demanded in alarm, with the faintest of accents. "Who do you think you are?"

Knowell smiled in his strange way as he took a seat. "Oh, I already know who I am. Who do you think you are?"

"You know! You're the ones who brought me here!"

"Not me, good sir. The ones who brought you here are the same ones who brought me here. They are much higher up than myself. I am merely their employee. A doctor, if you will."

"What do you mean? Who are you?"

"I am Dr. Knowell," the impish man revealed, "And you are to be my new patient, Rasim."

The suspect's heated expression froze over in bewilderment. "What is this bullshit?" he retorted as strongly as he could. "You think you can scare me? You think you can just tear me out of my home and arrest me? I have rights! I am a citizen, I paid to be where I am, just like everyone else! You can't keep me here for crimes I didn't even commit! You won't even tell me what I'm being charged with!"

"Please, Rasim, please," Dr. Knowell waved him down with his spindly fingers. "One thing at a time. There's no need to get worked up, we will sort everything out. That's what I'm here for, after all." He reached to his side and drew up the briefcase, placing it gently on the stained table before him. "All I'm going to do is ask you a few, simple questions, and all you have to do is answer them." With two simultaneous snaps, the briefcase was opened. "Once we clear things up, then you will be allowed to leave. There will be no problems if you work with me, Rasim."

The captive stared at the briefcase, then back to Knowell in perplexity. Slowly, a disbelieving grin split through his dark, well-trimmed beard. "I have seen some crazy shit, but this... this is insane. How can someone like you work for the police? Is there no law in this land?"

Dr. Knowell arched a balding eyebrow. "The police? Rasim, that hurts..." His hand slithered into the briefcase and pinched out a single piece of thin cardboard. He held it in his lap for a moment, then let out a shaky, yearning sigh, causing his pursed lips to quiver. He raised his eyes to the suspect, who stared back in unchecked disgust.

"It's time to answer my question, Rasim. I'll only ask it three times. Are you ready?"

He shook his head in disbelief. "You can't be serious... I haven't done anything..."

Dr. Knowell slowly raised the piece of cardboard; it was completely white, save for a small red circle in the middle. "What color is this?"

There was no reply for some time. Suddenly, a barking laugh erupted from Rasim, causing the two guards to jump to their feet. With a gesture, Knowell ushered them back. Their prisoner continued to shout in hysterics, his laughter eventually forming words. "You crazy bastard!" he cried. "This is a joke! You have nothing, no proof, no evidence! You're playing mind games with me? Ah hah hah! Is that all you have? Bah!"

Dr. Knowell kept the piece of cardboard steadfast against the storm of insults. Eventually, Rasim calmed down, and leaned back with a smug grin as he ended his tirade. "I want to talk to my lawyer. Now."

Knowell's frail shoulders rose and fell with a silent, patient breath. "What color is this?"

"Fuck you!" Rasim spat, striking the Doctor square in his left eyepiece. "Let me out of here! You can't keep me locked up, you have no right! I want to speak with someone in charge!"

As if it were customary, Dr. Knowell removed a packet of towelettes from his pocket and wiped his glasses clean in one deliberate swipe, never removing them from his face. "Answer my question then, Rasim. What. Color. Is. This?"

The prisoner shook his head with a grim chuckle. He gazed up to the single light in the room, as if seeking guidance from its electric buzz. He apparently found it there, for he nodded to himself and glared at the Doctor with all the condescension he could muster.

"It's red."

Like a statue, the suited wretch held onto the cardboard with his fingertips, unmoving, unblinking, as if he hadn't heard anything. Rasim looked him up and down, lines of frustration cracking around his eyes as the minutes ticked by.

When the Doctor let the cardboard fall with a soft tap against the desk, Rasim jumped. A disappointed wheeze forced its way from Knowell's nostrils, and he slipped his belongings back into the briefcase. "That's not the answer."

Dr. Knowell rose from his seat with a sharp note from the chair, and made for the exit. Rasim gaped after him, trying to get out the word, "What?" as the heavy door swung open. The obedient guards rose again, and Knowell nodded to them.

"The suspect has refused to cooperate. See to it that he is softened up for my next visit."

"Wha..." Rasim continued to stammer, his skin unnaturally pale as the men approached him. "What are they going to do to me?"

Dr. Knowell paused on the other side of the frame. "You know," he said thoughtfully, "if one didn't know any better, they might think that table was rusty." Then, the door swung shut.

Rasim's head slammed onto the metal surface without restraint. His nose cracked, and blood flowed freely from its passages. Before he could scream, the other guard smashed the helpless man's skull into the steel, ripping a small wound in the flesh. By the third time, Rasim finally managed to cry out, but it was no use. He was thrown against the table again and again, and when he began to resist, the chair was thrown backwards.

The back of Rasim's head struck the concrete floor, and for a brief moment, the pain vanished miraculously. Then the throbbing returned, synchronized with the guards' fists colliding into his stomach and jaw. The proud prisoner tried his best to keep from moaning, but no one could withstand this amount of physical pain. The tears finally escaped him. He cried as he hadn't since he was a young boy.

.


.

Consciousness seeped back slowly. Rasim found his seat had been returned to its proper position. The torture had ended, and his sharp pain was now an agonizing throb. The two guards remained in the corner, continuing their card game as if nothing had happened. They didn't even notice Rasim had awoken.

Escape was the first thing that sprung into his battered head. He made no sounds, and kept his head as low as possible. He scanned the floor around him for anything that might pick the locks, perhaps something he could use against his attackers. He had killed before, easily; he would certainly have no problem with it now.

The metal door howled as it opened once again, causing both guards and prisoner to jump at the sudden sound. Dr. Knowell stepped lightly through the frame, casually making his way to the table as one of the guards took the liberty of closing the door. Knowell placed himself in his chair and began sorting his briefcase contents, as if nothing were out of the ordinary. Rasim watched the man's habitual actions with a rising, emotional solution of fear and hatred, but he didn't say a word. Rasim refused to let this pretentious bastard get the better of him.

Dr. Knowell finally looked at the prisoner. The piece of cardboard was again laid out before him, lying flat against the blood-stained surface of the table. "Good evening, Rasim. I thought you might like to know that it is, in fact, evening. How are we feeling today?"

Rasim's only response was a grotesque grimace. He curled his swollen lip, revealing a pair of teeth that were missing. He held the Doctor's stare, as the man inspected the wounds with mild curiosity.

"Yes, I see you've experienced our company's pro-cooperation tactics. Nasty, brutish stuff, isn't it? I don't know how those men live with themselves, to be frank with you." Knowell cast a disapproving look at the guards, then gave them a curt flick of his fingers. They shared confused glances before acknowledging the Doctor's wishes and left the room.

"Unfortunately for you, Rasim," Dr. Knowell continued, folding his fingers complacently, "I cannot keep them from doing their job. It is not within my power. They could easily overtake me, were I to try and prevent them from their duty. What is within my power, though, is you. Just answer my questions, Rasim. Your freedom is only a few feet away, in all honesty. All you have to do is tell me what I want to know."

"I didn't do anything," Rasim finally seethed. "This is pointless. What the hell do you want me to say?"

Dr. Knowell's lips pursed. "That's exactly what we'll find out. Now..." His fragile fingers lifted the cardboard square, and Rasim felt his left eye twitch as the red circle rose to meet him. "What color is this?"

"Are you joking!?" the prisoner roared, his bruised muscles straining in the restraints. "Is that all you can think of? What is the point of this!?"

"Those weren't sentences, Rasim, so they couldn't possibly be answers."

"There is no right answer!"

"There's always a right answer. I believe you will find it in time. Second chance... What color is this?"

"It's red, you asshole!"

"Last chance. What color is this?"

Rasim grit his teeth, feeling them slide loosely in their gums. He glared at the floor, trying to buy time. Suddenly, he realized he had that option. He could remain silent, never answer this man, make him sit there with him for eternity.

The door groaned as the two guards returned, each carrying a large black bag. They dropped the misshapen sacks onto the floor with a heavy thud. Dr. Knowell sighed and slid his sleeve back, taking note of his gold watch's time. Rasim's mind began to race again, frantically searching for a solution. Was there a right answer? Why would they play such a game with him? What were they getting at? These were not solutions, just more questions. He needed to focus. It was all a trick. It had to be.

Rasim stared bravely into the red circle, refusing to let fear overtake him. He felt himself falling into it, deeper and deeper. Then, he blinked, and his eyes refocused. He chuckled as he saw the answer lying right before him. "It's... it's white. If it's not the circle, it must be the background."

Dr. Knowell raised his eyebrows and glanced down at the card, as if he had to check for himself. Sitting up, he returned the cardboard to his briefcase and snapped the locks in place.

"Are you going to ask me some real questions now?" Rasim taunted, leaning back in the metal seat. "Let's get this shit over with."

"Perhaps when you answer my question right, Rasim."

The prisoner's eyes bulged almost as much as the Doctor's. The door closed, and the guards reached into their black bags. One produced a rubber hose, small needles lining the outer layer. The other took out a simple tire iron. Rasim screamed in despair as they closed in.

.


.

"You are being too hard on yourself, Rasim. Please, work with me, and we can be done with this nightmare. That's all I ask of you."

The man fought to stay conscious. He had not been given a single meal or drink since he arrived. During the last attack, he had pissed and shit himself. His shirt was torn to shreds, revealing the numerous marks across his skin, and his right ear had almost fallen off completely. A rope of bloody spittle swung from his mouth. He could not find the strength to look at the Doctor anymore.

"What color is this?"

He couldn't help himself; he began to cry, shaking his head. "I don't know, I don't know! I didn't do anything... I'm not a criminal, I've never stolen anything. I'm not part of any terrorist group, or cult. Nothing. I'm... I'm just a carpenter..."

"What color is this?"

"I'm not a bad person," the prisoner sobbed. "I don't do bad things... I don't... I'm not like that..."

"What color is this?"

"Stop!" Rasim rocked in his chair, screaming as he eventually flung himself onto his side. His flayed cheek pressed painfully into the concrete, and his teeth jostled around his skull. The blow halted his struggle, and he could do nothing more but weep.

Dr. Knowell leaned in closely, his nostrils flaring as he stared down at his patient. "Soon, Rasim... Soon, you will tell me. I believe in you, you will give me the answer I'm looking for. We will find it, in time..."

.


.

Time was meaningless. Rasim didn't know what day it was, what month it was; he couldn't remember when he had been taken. He didn't know what the leaves looked like, or the sky. During one of those brief moments between suffering, he realized how filthy he had become. Excrement stained his remaining clothes, and his wounds felt infected. His emaciated frame could no longer hold itself upright. Sometimes, the Doctor would repeatedly ask, "What color is this?" and Rasim could not speak, just moan or pass out. He would awaken to the sound of his forearm cracking, and know only pain until he passed out again.

"Please," he muttered once, barely audible, "No more... no more... I will tell you anything... whatever you want... just, please..."

"Good," came a distant reply. A ring of crimson flashed before him, and Rasim let out a desolate wail. "Then tell me. What color is this?"

"Noooo!" the prisoner howled. "I'll tell you everything! I lied! I have stolen before! I took a pair of shoes from a store, when I was a child. I stole cash out of the register from my first job! I... I stole..." His splintered ribs constricted his lungs, keeping him from drawing a ragged breath. "I stole... a knife, from my father's army box... when I was sixteen..."

Rasim trailed off again, and the Doctor studied him curiously. Knowell opened his oval mouth, but after a moment, held back. The prisoner heaved convulsively, some terrible sensation wracking his body. A sound came, but it was unintelligible. Finally, he whispered, "I... I killed a boy back home... with the knife. I stabbed him in the heart until he stopped moving. I murdered him, but... I had to... I had to..."

After an eternity, the Doctor asked, "What color is this?"

Rasim rolled his head frantically. "I had to! I had to, I had to, I had to! He was terrible, he did things... He shouldn't have been allowed... to live." He began to convulse again, his shoulders shaking with silent sobs. "My sister... He used to follow her... with his damn car, teasing her, harassing her. He... he hit her... The bastard ran her down like a dog and drove off with her! He touched her, he... he made her... Oh, God! She was gone after... Never the same... Never..."

"What color is this?" came an eager prompt, echoing from the deep.

The repressed memories burned through his veins, poisoning his broken soul. "How could I let him live? He would drive by our house, reminding us... laughing with his friends... so... I killed him. I killed him for my dear Alya. So lovely... She was so soft, caring, until... She never spoke again, never... She did nothing... I held her, I tried... Oh, God!"

He suddenly threw his head back, his bloodied visage exposed to the buzzing light. "I did everything to get her back! I killed for her! I begged for her! I pleased her, she never stopped me! I told her to! How... How could you do that... How could you do that to her!? Why!?"

The Doctor watched as the man crumbled before him. As his anguished cries went unanswered, he started to drift away again. Knowell studied him carefully, then slammed his little palms onto the blood-stained table, taking the piece of cardboard with them. Rasim jerked at the sound, and found Knowell glaring at him in disgust.

"That," he hissed, "Is not what I wanted to hear!" He suddenly threw the cardboard into the briefcase, and stared furiously into his lap. "I cannot believe you would do that, Rasim. This... this is not what I wanted to hear, at all."

"N... no..." the broken man muttered, his intestines coiling in terror.

"In fact, I refuse to accept it." Dr. Knowell leaned in, as if he were confiding a secret. "The things you have told me, Rasim, they are deeply disturbing... and yet I do not see that man before me. I've come to know you, everything about you, but I know you aren't that person anymore. Am I right?"

He nodded eagerly, pleadingly.

"I will help you, Rasim. You may be a killer, but you will have killed in the name of a just cause. You will be a hero. No matter what other people may think, you killed a man for a good reason." Rasim tried nodding again, but his head only swung from side to side. "I can get you out of here, and you will go to a better place, where you will be the man you want to me. You can tell them whatever you'd like, there. It won't matter, because we both know you're a better man. That's what you want to be, isn't it, Rasim?"

After a faint nod, Knowell produced a folder full of documents from his briefcase. "Then let's get you out of here. You will leave here a new man, freed from the past. You are Rasim, the killer of congressman Ronald Harris, the man who did unspeakable things to the people you care about. He will be the man you killed, and you will be the hero that stopped him. That is who you are, Rasim. You are a man who kills in the name of your beliefs, in the name of God."

Rasim rolled his head, agreeing with, "God..."

"Please, give me what I want, Rasim, so we can free you from this hell. Sign the papers, so you may be free. Become the man you were meant to be."

After the guards bathed and attended Rasim's wounds, he managed to produce a legible signature on the many documents handed to him. They passed before his view, his limbs moving like sticks on strings, until the briefcase closed with a snap.

"You did the right thing, Rasim. It was a pleasure to know you."

The handcuffs were opened seconds before the door, and Rasim managed to open one swollen eye. He saw the Doctor passing through the frame, and something tickled the back of his mind. He muttered, "Wait... please... What color is it?"

Knowell stood there awkwardly, a look of genuine surprise smoothing his wrinkled face. He smiled gratefully at Rasim and replied, "Why, any color you'd like."

.


.

Knowell stepped through the door, and found Lt. Belvedere standing stiff as a statue before the mirror. His brows were drawn taut together, and a layer of moisture glistened on his marble skin. As the Inspector scrutinized him, the man turned away, finally closing his eyes in disgust.

"Is something wrong, Lieutenant?"

Belvedere's mouth hung open, unable to find the words. "I... I just didn't..."

"You didn't think it would be like that," Knowell finished for him. "What did you expect? I am required to do a job. I have done it. That is what's to be expected."

"You really think he won't talk?" Belvedere shook his head in disbelief. "He won't take any of it back? There will be more investigations before this is over. Harris's assassination is a national travesty, conspiracy theories are already spreading through the streets. One word of this and we're finished."

Knowell's eyes narrowed with certainty. "He won't talk. They never do."

"But... why? Why him?"

"Why not? He is no one, a pawn in the grander scheme. His family is minimal, they are poor. He will not be missed. Nobody will care when he is taken away. He is just the kind of man we needed. A perfect specimen, in fact."

Belvedere shuddered involuntarily, and turned away from the mirror. He desperately wished that he had returned to his wife, to the safety of his home, but now he could never unsee what he had witnessed.

The Inspector tilted his head to the floor, adjusting his spectacles before continuing. "I assume you were assigned this task because your superiors felt that you were ready for it. I would remind you, Lieutenant, that failure is not taken lightly in our line of work. Remember, we both serve a higher power, and we are each merely doing our duty."

"This is how things truly are, then?"

Knowell sighed and shook his head. "Truth is irrelevant, a fickle thing really. I'm drawn to believe it's simply a phrase humans invented on accident." Belvedere stared at Knowell in shock. "Lieutenant, can you really say that anything you saw down there had to do with truth? That was necessity, not truth."

As Knowell made his way toward the exit, Belvedere felt compelled to ask one more thing. "Inspector," he called out, "If none of this is true, then who are you, really?"

Knowell tilted his head, as if surprised by the question. "Sir, I have many aliases, but I'd be damned if I told you my real name." With that, he disappeared.

Belvedere fled. He flew to his house as fast as he could and buried his frightful doubts in the soft, pillowy embrace of his wife, until they were nothing more than cloudy memories.