After Marvin Lanchester, former Scotland Yard detective and recently working with the Interpol, opened his mouth and spoke to Ava, the room emptied and she got dragged along.
“He’s going to show us the letters.” The read head whispered, his eyes twinkling with eagerness.
But Ava was not eager. She wanted to leave as soon as possible and clear up Johnson’s name but it suddenly shifted into something else.
Truthfully, unlike the forever loud and busy Scotland Yard, the Interpol office from Prague was silent. Less people were working there so less noise was made. However, at a closer look at Ruben, Ava was sure they were overworked and free days were just a pretty dream.
“Why did you even consider involving me into your affairs?” Ava asked the ginger walking side by side.
“I haven’t brought you here you came on your own accord. Seeing you here is nothing but a coincidence.” The detective mumbled back, feeling quite proud of himself.
“And you’re taking it for granted, aren’t you?”
The ginger stared at the brunette therapist for a while but in the end shifted his attention on the higher up and didn’t sketch a single expression.
They walked in silence for approximately five minutes before they stopped, to Ava’s disappointment in front of an elevator. They entered it slowly and Ruben pushed the button for the 4th floor. Surprisingly, the elevator started going down instead of up, which surprised Lanchester but worried Ava.
“It’s been renovated recently. We decided it’s best to keep our findings about Anonymous as secure as possible.” Ruben informed seeing how the two culprits just flinched.
“What about the security in prisons then? And the security on the street. Those are just not as important as whatever is down here?” Ava snapped, her tone calm and controlled yet icy cold.
Lanchester chuckled, trying his best to cover it with his palm but Ruben was just as much of a detective as he was. He could already feel that the two were going to be burdensome, especially in a case like that. Ruben would have preferred to have worked at a regular case than Anonymous. He was practically fighting the unknown.
Once the elevator arrived on B3, the newcomers were waiting for the door to open yet they didn’t.
“You’ll have to leave anything that has metal in here.” Ruben informed, crossing his arms in front of his chest and leaning on one leg expectantly.
Ava only had her watch and necklace, which she could easily live without but Lanchester’s pockets seemed to be bigger on the inside. He pulled out a penknife, a phone and keys from one pocket alone before he pulled out two guns from the back pockets. Ava was frustrated with the whole situation and she could care less what kind of man was Lanchester. She was there for a different reason and couldn’t believe that she got dragged along to his whims.
“Are you done, Lanchester?” Ruben asked, the crows in between his eyebrows giving a hint of how easy he could lose his patience.
Marvin patted his jacket and pants before he nodded. Finally, Ruben pressed one button and the doors opened, the light on the other side being dimmer than they expected.
“We’ve been having troubles with this new part of the building so we’re being careful with the technology used down here.” Ruben explained as he led the two into what looked like a waiting room at the dentist.
Ruben opened a door on the left, which could have been easily misunderstood for a fake painted there just to mess around with them.
Entering, Ava couldn’t help but feel like she was walking further into the issue that she wanted nothing to do with.
“We’ve got fresh pairs of eyes, Leo!” Ruben exclaimed to a boy that was standing with their back turned to them.
“That’s great sir!”
His eyes were the mirror of Lanchester’s and Ava was terrified what a younger version could come up with.
Seeing how Leo was introducing himself to a detective that seemed to be more than happy to meet new and young officers, Ava sneaked behind Ruben and walked towards what looked like an autopsy table in the middle of the room. The letters were there, arranged in a line from the first that appeared in London to the latest. They were all in leather envelopes, the seal proudly shining in the dim light.
One detail that Ava noticed without squinting much was the way they seemed to have been handmade by a very meticulous person, one that would spend a lot of time and patience on something he or she would find vital in their life. Such a person, from what Ava could notice, could easily transit from normality, realistic or conscious to various typologies of maniacs. Curiosity was crawling up her mind and the brunette reached out to the letter closest to her.
Leo was listening closely to Lanchester’s supposed theory about the attack in London and what it meant when he threw a random glance towards the woman. His blue eyes widened when he saw what she was about to do.
“Wai-Wait! Don’t touch them with your bare hands!” He screamed, hurrying to grab her hand before her prints would get on the envelope.
When the young officer grabbed her wrist, he didn’t think or control how much strength he used so he ended up grasping it pretty tightly. From his hand, up her arm and to her head, she felt a hot substance burn her skin as fragments of the past flashed before her eyes.
“No! Let me go!” Young Ava was screaming, squirming in the arms of a man she trusted before.
“After everything I’ve done to you, all the gifts, that’s how you repay me? Ungrateful child.” The man hissed spitting on the ground as he easily maneuvered the little girl inside his car.
“Mum! Mum!”The little girl started to scream, tears falling down her rosy cheeks.
“A little bit late to be asking for your mummy, isn’t it?” He asked, his voice getting muffled when he closed the door.
Little Ava’s eyes widened, reality of being abducted finally kicking in and scaring her more than anything in her life. The man opened the front door and got on the driver’s seat before he turned on the engine.
“No! Mummy! Mum, come and take me I’m sorry!” Ava screamed, starting to kick and punch the window.
The man moved the review mirror so that he could have a clear view of what was happening in the back before he locked the doors of the car and turned the wheel, the car moving towards its destination.
“You chose the wrong hand to grasp onto and that is not my fault. Children like you don’t deserve happiness, Ava.” He spoke as he glanced at her teary face. “It’s your fault.” He said in a matter-of-fact tone that ended up haunting the little girl for the rest of her life.
“Um- I swear I didn’t do anything.” Leo muttered his hands wrapped tightly around the psychologist.
It really wasn’t anything he did or didn’t do that got Ava into such a state. After grabbing her wrist, she looked at him in the eye and for a moment, Leo thought he saw her look right through him at a person that was standing somewhere in the shadows behind him. But it wasn’t like that and once she regained her vision, she started to scream and squirm, making a mess of whatever was around her. She would have fallen over the letters if Leo didn’t catch her and once she fell in his arms, she started to squirm even more and mumble to herself. Leo was there, closer to her and he heard it clearly: It’s your fault.
For Ava to calm down, she needed antidepressants, which were upstairs in her bag. It didn’t look like anyone could calm her down until Marvin grabbed her face and forced her to look at him.
“It’s alright. It’s me, Marvin. Remember? I came to you for a signature and you consulted me, remember? You’re a psychologist, Ava.”
Lanchester’s voice sounded unfamiliar yet he was putting quite the strength into holding her head firmly in front of him. Those deep eyes of his, the red hair falling over his forehead and most importantly, the wedding ring that was so cold on her cheek; those elements seemed to draw Ava out of her tragic past and realize where she was. She stopped any kind of movement while her eyes moved around her, scanning the surroundings.
“I-“ She tried to find an explanation for what happened but she couldn’t find any. “I’m sorry.” She finally said, swallowing nervously before nodding towards Marvin.
The ginger detective let go of her face and took a step back, giving her space to breath. The brunette was very much aware of the situation she placed herself in with her little outburst and she only hoped Ruben’s frown was a hint that she should leave the building as soon as possible.
“Are you alright?” Leo asked, still holding onto her even if his grasp loosened.
Ava nodded and quickly got on her feet, distancing herself from the men as she started to wipe her clothes off imaginary dust. She checked her pulse and noticed it was better yet not normal yet; she could only wonder how bad she reacted to that firm grasp.
“Maybe you should help Miss Atkins walk back to the-“
“No.” Marvin interfered, his eyes never leaving the brunette. “She needs to see the letters. I’m very interested in what she will see in them.”
Both Leo and Ruben turned towards the ginger with inexplicable expressions, taken aback by his request. They just witnessed a psychologist going through some kind of panic attack and she obviously needed fresh air and a silent room to rest in yet Lanchester needed her there. He needed her to see them, for what?
“It’s alright. I won’t die from reading a few letters from meticulous maniacs.” She answered, her eyes catching Marvin’s, whose gaze was so heavy that it made her feel like he knew more about her than she would have liked.
In the aftermath of what happened, Leo decided it would be better to stay as far as possible from Ava since his touch triggered the panic attack. On the other side, Marvin was sticking close to her, watching every turn of her orb or flinch when reading a particular line. Ruben gave each of them a pair of special gloves before he started.
“First letter was found in London yet the Scotland Yard found it irrelevant until the threat in Naples. Therefore, we the London letter was placed as last for now. We don’t know what other letters will appear if they will appear.” Ruben explained, opening the first envelope, the one in front of him.
“So this is from Naples, found in the subway in a place where the explosion wouldn’t affect the envelope. As you can see, it’s from old leather and it even has a seal.” Leo added, feeling like he was presenting a vintage piece not the hint of a murder.
Ruben said something else that probably sustained Leo’s theory but Marvin couldn’t hear their voices. He leaned very close yet he was careful not to get too close. The paper looked to be over a hundred years old and it smelled fact that was very interesting.
“He used iron gall ink, that’s why it smells like this. It was made of iron salts and tannic acids from vegetable sources. It’s ink used in Europe from the 12th century to the 19th century. They must have searched for it for a long time.” Ava mumbled, Marvin nodding as he thought about what she said.
“Or he had it beforehand. Anyone can be an Anonymous, even a collector of antiquities or someone who can provide ink or make it.” Marvin added, looking intensely at the writing. “It is weird though. Why go to such lengths for a letter in the century of electronics?”
Lanchester was absolutely right and that was a famous question through the officers that have seen the letters. Of course, no one identified the ink so quickly but it still wasn’t a reliable hint.
“What else do you see, Doctor Atkins?”
Ruben asked, as one eyebrow rose before he crossed his arms in front of his chest. He already spent enough looking at the letters so having three pairs of fresh eyes was proving to be, if not helpful then a break for him.
42 So will it be with the resurrection of the dead. The body that is sown is perishable, it is raised imperishable; 43 it is sown in dishonor, it is raised in glory; it is sown in weakness, it is raised in power; 44 it is sown a natural body, it is raised a spiritual body. If there is a natural body, there is also a spiritual body.
“1 Corinthians 15:42-44.” Leo explained, seeing how Ava definitely didn’t look like a person who has read the Bible.
It didn’t matter from where it was, really, because Ava’s careful eye was not necessarily looking at the words or meaning but at the way it looked to be written with old ink yet the surface didn’t seem plain. She narrowed her eyes and leaned as close as possible, looking at it from every angle before she simply grabbed the letter and turned it upside down.
“Wh-What are you doing?!” Leo exclaimed, appalled by what she was doing.
“There’s something inside. This parchment has is covering another piece of paper. Look at the way some of the words seem to flow so neatly on the paper yet some look emphasized.” She placed it down and pointed at the 43rd verse. “There’s another sentence underneath.”
Ruben’s proud attitude faltered in a blink and with quick movements, snatched the letter from her, giving no care to the way Leo’s eyes widened in horror. They were not supposed to touch or handle the letters as they pleased because it was old and could easily break.
“Give it to me!” Marvin exclaimed before he actually forcefully took it from his higher up, right under Leo’s nose.
Marvin Lanchester never used to go by the book in his career or life but it felt like he crossed a few more lines when he ripped the parchment in two and realized there was indeed something glued on the back of the 43rd verse in paper from the 21st Century yet done in a way that wouldn’t draw your attention if you don’t look close enough.
“Meticulous.” Ava repeated, her eyes following Marvin as he put it in the light so they could see what was written on it.
“They glued the message on the parchment. How are we going to read it?” Leo asked, finally getting over his original shock of having evidence ripped right before his eyes.
Marvin placed the parchment right over the bulb but it was hard to distinguish the verse from the actual message because both set of letters were showing. Ava, however, has read enough and once she could identify a few words, she could hopefully make up the rest of the sentence.
“It’s in Italian!” Leo said, finally making out one word. “I can barely see it but that’s definitely Allore at the beginning.”
Ava raised an eyebrow and leaned her whole weight on her hands, hovering a bit over the table so she could identify the next word. Marvin was tired just keeping a piece of paper in the light and his hands became heavy; probably the age was at fault or probably it was the way the light was shining over his hands, the same it used to shine when he was questioned over his father’s murder.
A flinch of his hand turned the paper to the right angle, enough for Ava to realize what the sentence was about.
“Then he moved on, and I behind him followed.” She whispered, drawing everyone’s attention. “Inferno. Also, the ink was used in Florence back then and the seal is a “P”. Do you know what P means in the Divine Comedy, Inspector Ruben?” She asked, knowing he most definitely didn’t read or if he did, he wouldn’t remember.
“Peccatum. Sin. At the beginning of his journey through the Purgatory, an angel craves seven P’s on Dante’s forehead. They’re an allegory for the journey through each of Purgatory’s seven terraces. Once Dante has cleared a terrace and purged his soul of the corresponding sin, one P will be erased, easing his passage up into the next terrace. Once his forehead is completely devoid of all the scarlet letters, his soul is correspondingly free of sin. Then he is ready to ascend into Heaven.”
Ava was pleasingly surprised by every word that came out of Leo’s mouth for the past minute, unlike the two detectives who looked simply dumbstruck. Leo chuckled and rubbed the back of his neck nervously.
“I studied it in school. My major was European Literature before I decided to become carabinieri.” He explained, blushing faintly when he saw Ava’s smile curve into a soft smile.
“Good because I’m pretty sure there will be seven letters for seven blames that they have consigned to each member of society that should represent some type of safety for people, that should give some type of comfort yet they don’t.”
“Like the church.” Leo continued, finally understanding what Anonymous was about. “That makes sense why they so blatantly attacked the church and even the first explosion in London, in a bank, yet that’s all.”
Marvin sighed heavily and grabbed a hand through his ginger hair. Finally, there was a hint to what this was about and just as he thought, women like Ava could be useful from time to time.
“The problem is, we have five letters and there are seven P’s. They will attack again.” Marvin mumbled, feeling a chill go down his spine.
“Two attacks. We have to find out where they’re going to attack because I don’t want to know what happens when the P’s are gone.” Ruben said firmly before rushing out the room.
Standing behind the lamp with a frown on his face, not moving an inch or even blinking, Leo was worried for his life and for Europe. It looked like an interesting adventure up until they found hints; now, it was so urgent and scary.
“What can we do? They’re very smart and won’t draw attention to themselves.” He whispered, feeling his chest hurt.
“They already did. They killed the one providing them the parchment and ink.” Ava started, leaning against the table, “Dr Johnson was supposed to be in Sweden yet he is in this building, dead. He did something that wasn’t in the plan and no matter how hard I want it to be false, my former colleague has been part of Anonymous for a while now.”