Bayona. Chapter 3: Filter What You Finger
The first thing I did after coming to Mudhill was contacting the local police department. Well, attempting to, really, as not a single police representative wanted to talk to me, let alone see me. I did the next best thing I could in the situation - I listed all of the Mudhill’s media outlets and started calling them, one by one, in the alphabetical order. The Beacon of Mudhill was not interested in disclosing any info to an outside journalist. The Diggers of Truth magazine happened to be more talkative; however, their intention to help came at a price - if I wanted the names and the addresses, I had to meet with one of their journalists in person and disclose whatever I knew so far. Apparently, they wanted to know how much of this case’s data had leaked outside of Prohespero into other regions of Canifela. Then, there was The Mudhill Herald. They gave me a few clues, but nothing I hadn’t already heard. The New Mudhill promised to send me some pictures - photos of the service documents related to the cases, photos from the trials and the crime scenes, and the profile photos of the suspects. The Wisdom of Mudhill was a niche newspaper aimed at the town’s older folks; they didn’t write about the twin incidents much so they couldn’t provide me with many details either. In the end, I had to settle for the pics and schedule a meeting with someone from The Diggers.
It was chilly in my hotel room. The heating didn’t seem to be working too well, just like everything else in this damn town. I needed a cigarette, but opening a window and letting in any of that freezing cold from the outside seemed like a good way to wake up with a runny nose and a sore throat the next morning. I got down to the cafeteria to get some hot herbal tea. No luck. Only black. Frustrated, I sent the whole tea idea to hell and ordered three glasses of gin instead. The cat waitress apologetically offered to bring them up to my room. I said, “Fine, how much for the whole bottle then?” She looked at me in visible horror, named the price, and became progressively more horrified as she saw me proceed with the payment. Something at the back of my mind twitched uncomfortably at the sight of her mornfully putting the money away into the cash drawer. It was a three-star hotel - the best Mudhill could do, apparently, - yet the workers here didn’t seem to make much. I gave her a tip when she brought me my booze later on. It wasn’t even a half of that bottle’s price or anything, but she still hesitated to accept it. Only then the difference between this place and my home region struck me. “It’s not a trip to a different land at all. It’s like travelling back in time and accidently wandering into a dystopian parallel timeline,” I remember thinking to myself.
A day later I met with my informant from The Diggers. Edith was her name, and the very first thing she told me was: “You look like you’ve gotten enough sleep. Good. Let’s hope it lasts.” I asked her what she meant by this. Her answer was “Aw boy, you don’t wanna stick around long enough to find out, believe me.” In any case, we exchanged information. I thought she looked quite disappointed that the murders hadn’t been talked about as much as she anticipated. “Nothing really gets done around here, - she lamented, - No matter how much work we do to give coverage to the whole situation, nothing seems to get past the region’s borders. Those governmental assholes really go out of their way to cover it up.” I assured her that I was here to change that and that I won’t stop until the whole truth is revealed. I remember her looking up at me - she was about 20 centimeters shorter - and saying something like “What truth? Everybody knows that Mudhill’s a fucked-up place. You’ll just be stating the obvious.”
Our meeting place was near a frozen fountain in a small park, not too far from the town centre. Fine-looking place, even with the dirty icycles hanging down from the fountain’s curls and chalices and a 1.5-meter layer if snow obscuring the lanes around. The cold air was nibbing at my nose, tickling the insides of my nostrils drily whenever I breathed in. Even though the weather wasn’t particularly merciful, my own fur seemed to keep me warm enough under my jacket. And a wool sweater. And a plane white T-shirt I’d been in ever since waking up that day. My collocutor wasn’t so lucky - a dog of rather petite stature with shorter fairer hair, she tried desperately to drown in her parka - apparently, until the moment she resembled a walking item of clothing more than a dog wearing said item. I suggested we found ourselves a nice warm place to sit down. I remember vividly how she nodded in agreement and told me she was about to propose the same thing as her teeth clattered with every consonant she pronouced. It was kind of cute. The rest of our conversation was held inside of a small cafe.
Funny thing with me is that, whenever I talk to anybody, I always remember what they tell me much better than what I tell them. For example, even without the voice recorder (which Edith recommended me to take, actually, so I did; it had a bad attitude about turning on after being exposed to the cold for a long time), I could replay, in my head, her answers to my questions for several days after our meeting. My own questions, however, I remembered sketchily. One of my first enquiries was about Sapphire’s and Marina’s family and how I could get in touch with them. I can’t remember the precise phrasing. To that, I recall very clearly, Edith said the following: “Their mother won’t talk to anybody. The police practically had to drag her to the station to testify once the double murder happened.” A moment of hesitation. Then: “Her stepfather gave a few interviews. To us, as well.”
What I heard from Edith about the srate of Mudhill’s news media scene after that could be best described as constructive criticism in the alternate reality where “constructivity” equals the lack of any positive characterization whatsoever and “criticism” equals non-stop cursing. That day, I’d learned that The New Mudhill were “a bunch of compromizing cowards,” The Beacon were “ass-licking, diarrhea-slurping, cheap-ass infosluts,” The Wisdom turned out to be “a club of geriatric lapdogs who wouldn’t tell real news from their own bowel movements,” and The Herald was dubbed “the most ball-less, mediocre, and sickening loyalists in town.” All of the aforementioned newspapers were “packed with fucking half-wits” to various degrees and got on her nerves almost constantly with their mere existence. Against my better judgement, I did tell her that TNM (I’ll be referring to The New Mudhill this way from this point on) were in the process of providing some case files for me; it didn’t impress her much, but didn’t disappoint either. I assumed, based on the intensity of her “criticism” towards it, that Edith considered the outlet to be the lesser of all the evils of the news-reporting world of Mudhill.
I asked her what key locations I should visit (and how). She named the police station, the court house, and the detention facility: the former and the latter of them required a pass that was supposed to be received at a place called The Permission Bureaux. The trial hearings were open to the public so before I plunged myself into the bureaucratic hell of working on that pass thing, I decided to pay a visit to the good ol’ temple of justice.
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