We got out of the elevator to be confronted by a long line of worshippers and supplicants. There must have been seventy people strung out between the elevator and the Baron’s door, waiting with copies of books by Madame Blavatsky, Krishna murti, and Shirley MacLaine under their arms. There was a roar like a suddenly opened furnace door when they saw the Baron. We beat it on the double and got inside his office before anyone could surge to follow.
“See what you have done to me!” Von Seyfertitz pointed.
The office walls were covered with expensive teak paneling. The desk was from Napoleon’s age an exquisite Empire piece worth at least fifty thousand dollars. The couch was the best soft leather I had ever seen, and the two pictures on the wall were originals-a Renoir and a Monet. My God, millions! I thought.
“Okay,” I said. “The beasts, you said. You’ll kill them, not me?”
The old man wiped his eyes with the back of one hand, then made a fist.
“Yes!” he cried, stepping up to the fine periscope, which reflected his face, madly distorted, in its elongated shape. “Like this. Thus and so!”
And before I could prevent, he gave the brass machine a terrific slap with his hand and then a blow and another blow and another, with both fists, cursing. Then he grabbed the periscope as if it were the neck of a spoiled child and throttled and shook it.
I cannot say what I heard in that instant. Perhaps real sounds, perhaps imagined temblors, like a glacier cracking in the spring, or icicles in mid-night. Perhaps it was a sound like a great kite breaking its skeleton in the wind and collapsing in folds of tissue. Maybe I thought I heard a vast breath in sucked, a cloud dissolving up inside itself. Or did I sense clock machineries spun so wildly they smoked off their foundations and fell like brass snowflakes?
I put my eye to the periscope.
I looked in upon-
It was just a brass tube with some crystal lenses and a view of an empty couch.
I seized the view piece and tried to screw it into some new focus on a far place and some dream bacteria that might fibrillate across an unimaginable horizon.
But the couch remained only a couch, and the wall beyond looked back at me with its great blank face.
Von Seyfertitz leaned forward and a tear ran off the tip of his nose to fall on one rusted fist.
“Are they dead?” he whispered.
“Good, they deserved to die. Now I can return to some kind of normal, sane world.”
And with each word his voice fell deeper within his throat, his chest, his soul, until it, like the vaporous haunts within the peri-kaleidoscope, melted into silence.
He clenched his fists together in a fierce clasp of prayer, like one who beseeches God to deliver him from plagues. And whether he was once again praying for my death, eyes shut, or whether he simply wished me gone with the visions within the brass device, I could not say.
I only knew that my gossip had done a terrible and irrevocable thing. Me and my wild enthusiasm for a psychological future and the fame of this incredible captain from beneath Nemo’s tidal seas.
“Gone,” murmured Gustav Von Seyfertitz, Baron Woldstein, whispered for the last time. “Gone.”
That was almost the end.
I went around a month later. The landlord reluctantly let me look over the premises, mostly because I hinted that I might be renting.
We stood in the middle of the empty room where I could see the dent marks where the couch had once stood.
I looked up at the ceiling. It was empty.
“What’s wrong?” said the landlord. “Didn’t they fix it so you can’t see? Damn fool Baron made a damn big hole up into the office above. Rented that, too, but never used it for anything I knew of. There was just that big damn hole he left when he went away.”
I sighed with relief.
“Nothing left upstairs?”
I looked up at the perfectly blank ceiling.