“I’m assuming that Arkhangelskeyev is still living with our esteemed faculty head?” He surprised her with his sudden question, not asleep then.
“They share an apartment. Gihon asked me to take you back there and then see if you wanted to join him for lunch.” There was no point correcting him on the title, so long as she had been at the university there had never been an actual head of the faculty.
“I have a question. You don’t have to answer if you don’t want to as I’ll find out soon enough, but, Gihon … really long hair and prone to brooding?” At first she didn’t realise that was the question but confirmed his guess. “Ah, just sharing then. Poor guys. I’d hoped they would have got themselves sorted out by now. Still, they are grownups, what can you do.” His eyes remained closed and he shrugged to himself, this seemed like old ground to him. He was clearly familiar with the unusual living arrangements of Plaisir and his Russian born friend.
Nothing more was said. Lia returned her attention to listening for the precisely whispered instructions of the navigation system. Not having been one of Plaisir’s students she’d never been to the apartment before and only had a general idea where their destination was located. As they dropped off the access road and down the ramp indicated to her she glanced across to her resting passenger who responded with a smile. She had no idea how long he’d been looking at her, she found his silent regard … unsettling, no, something else. Something she wasn’t familiar with. She put the feeling to one side, maybe she’d think about it later.
She slowed the car almost to a standstill. The curve of the ramp had brought them to a blank wall. She checked the navigation screen again; it indicated that she still had to continue on. Carefully, and very aware of who the car belong to, she inched it forwards. The featureless wall pulled away from their approach, a clever illusion perhaps. Not just doors sliding out of the way or a shutter rolling up but an odd combination of layers peeling back to allow them ingress. Military technology? Possibly. Unnecessary in the city? Undoubtedly.
Light flooded the dark space as they rolled beyond what she thought must be bombproof doors. The directions continued all the way to a parking slot between the off roader and a smaller, much more anonymous, city car. The voice from the module instructed Lia to leave the keys in the ignition, the garage was secure. Taken aback, she did so and got out of the roadster to see another vehicle parked at the end of the row and a selection of motorbikes next to that. There were spaces for still more cars and a large, well equipped workshop area opposite the big doors now closed behind them.
Jensson retrieved his bag and headed for a heavy door at the back of the garage. He didn’t seem at all surprised by the unusual parking area and what she thought was a staggeringly casual display of wealth. Individual cars were not that common; to have four for two people (three if she counted the new arrival) just seemed wasteful. Steve and Meg had a car, but the whole house shared it with them and helped them pay the heavy license fees for the privilege using it. Lia caught up with him as the door opened with the same complicated mechanism as the main garage doors. She didn’t see any access panel as they went through the door into a small, non-descript vestibule with three standard closed doors and a wide staircase curving upwards. She looked back at the inside of the secure door – again no panel. With the affluence on display she guessed that she was seeing a very sophisticated security program in action. It was probably better than most military technology.
Music was playing quietly as they walked into the large open plan living area at the heart of the apartment; it seemed to be the background sound of the place and one that scruffy man had expected. Rather than the sudden flood of light in the garage, on this floor the light had increased gradually as they’d ascended. There was no single visible source of illumination but, rather, it was a diffuse effect from the whole of the ceiling. The newcomer seemed happy to see familiar things as he looked around then turned and bowed to her with a flourish, “Ms Jordan, welcome to the Field of Reeds. Welcome to my home.” Again she saw his teeth were very white in contrast to the dark beard when he smiled. “Now then, I recall a mention of lunch but I’d hate to embarrass anyone with my appearance. Could you give me some time to make myself presentable? Promise I’ll be back soon …” Without waiting for her answer he swung the bag over his shoulder and disappeared through one of the doors leading off the central space.
Left to herself she tried to take in what he had seen, what had made him immediately feel at home in the large rectangular space. Next to the staircase was a long sweep of kitchen units, any appliances were very discreetly hidden apart from a massive range at the far end. It put her in mind of Gihon’s off roader – surely too large to be practical but it looked as if someone enjoyed using it. The table near to her was of a heavy dark wood and could easily seat eight, but she guessed that didn’t happen very often. In the far left corner from where she stood with the staircase behind her was the inner door from the front lobby. The door seemed a long way away. The place was clearly designed for more than the pair who lived there and she wondered if they ever felt lonely in the big space.
She’d heard descriptions of the apartment from some of Plaisir’s students. Most had only briefly seen beyond the inner doors if they called to drop things off. Those that were invited in rarely made it beyond the two armchairs that faced each other a short distance from the door. The chairs looked comfortable but there was a strong hint of ‘thus far and no further’ about their placement. The big man had always protected his privacy. She had never heard anyone refer to the apartment by a name before; it must mean something to the surprisingly youthful ‘old’ man. She added it to her mental list of questions; if she was to be his research assistant she would do her best to find the answers without asking outright.
The majority of the space was taken up by a casual arrangement of sofas. Leather covered, they were the same basic design as the armchairs but their size varied from an intimate looking two-seater to something long enough for the tallest of them to lie on full length in comfort. Two might even lie together if they were feeling cosy. (Surprised at herself Lia hurriedly pushed that thought aside.) Tables were dotted between these couches, some supporting lamps, some carrying data screens, and all with books. Books were everywhere. One pile – an untidy ziggurat of probably priceless volumes – seemed to mark out Gihon’s favourite space. Lia could see one of his notebooks and the familiar barrette discarded on the seat next to them. The signature white metal hair clasp was one of the few personal items visible in the room. She could see no photos, nothing else intimately connected with the two men who’d shared the same space for years and guessed that their private lives were even more private that she’d first thought.
Doors to the bedrooms, or so she assumed they were, were visible in the gaps between low bookcases that circuited the living area, two opposite each other along the long walls on either side. The doors were not plain but were painted with figures, a different one on each. She thought that must have been how Dave had headed so confidently to his own room. Certainly wherever he’d gone he hadn’t returned so he couldn’t have been mistaken. Lia recognised that the figures were Egyptian gods but was not familiar enough with them to work out which they were. The theme continued around the room in a frieze running above the bookcases as images of gods and kings promenaded between panels of hieroglyphs. Even the pair of square columns marking the mid-line of the room was adorned floor to ceiling with the same type of decoration. Inspecting the wall nearest to her she could make out slight variations in the lines, signs of corrections and hesitations as if a human hand had made the paintings.
“Typical of a Ptolemaic student, his gods are all muscle and his writing is terrible.” Engrossed in looking at the exquisite figurines on the bookcases and the formalised geometric paintings she hadn’t heard him return and she gave a little start of surprise. And another one, when she realised that the pale face full of angles and shadows looking down at her belonged the same scarecrow that she’d met at the helipad. “Don’t even get me started on his grammar. I take it you never did any of his Egyptology classes? Shame, he tells a good story for all that he murders the language. Here, let me introduce you.”
The door to their right showed a young man in his prime, his skin gold and his stance poised and powerful. Jensson pointed out the double crown of Egypt on the bizarre avian head as she was transfixed by its beady falcon gaze. “This is Horus, son of the dead Osiris, nephew to Seth and rightful ruler of the two lands. Depending on their background some people recognise him as the ‘Son of the Widow’ and, technically, his mother is also known as the Queen of Heaven.” He looked at her for signs of recognition, and then let it pass. “Don’t worry; I’ve no doubt we’ll get there if you want. This will be Myk’s room.”
He indicated the door to the left of the bookcase; the figure was red with a strange dog like head and straight thin tail standing stiffly from the back of a crisp white kilt. At first the pose seemed to be the same as the other gods around the walls, but she got the impression of anger and closely contained frustration behind the black snout. “This is Seth who killed Osiris in an attempt to usurp the throne and then fought with Horus over the succession. This is Gihon’s room. I know, he doesn’t seem like the bad guy, but part of the story is about how he tried to get power over Horus.” A corner of his mouth quirked up in a slight smile. “Let’s just say they have some interests in common.”
He beckoned her over to the opposite doors. Immediately across from Myk’s room was another bird headed deity, this one holding a palette and a pen. Jensson described the bird as an ibis. This was Thoth who had brought writing to mankind, was an excellent card player and had won five extra days in a game with Re so a couple of the other gods could get it on. But who was also “a bit boring, a bit prissy, though necessary for keeping score between Horus and his uncle. None of us, this is the guest room.”
Finally, then, he pointed to his own door. This god at least had a human face, though the skin was dark green. In the same twisted profile as the others he was mummified, with only his green hands visible outside of the white wrappings. The hands held a crook and flail, signs of kingship to match the ornate crown on his head. “This is Osiris, the first ruler of Egypt. He became the god of the dead and, by coincidence, also of fertility as he managed to impregnate his wife after being murdered by his brother. This is one of Gihon’s little jokes. I’ve never been cut up into small pieces or lost anything quite so important to a man. Got to love the Egyptians though, theirs was one of the first and best soap operas at the birth of the West.”