I put the ears in a plastic bag and hid them in the bread bin, out of sight. What do you do with a collection of other people’s ears? I couldn’t call the police because I’d been there at the concert; they’d be convinced that I’d smuggled the ears out somehow. What did it mean? The only thing I could think of was that the Ilmatu was letting me know that she knew where I lived. And... and most unpleasant of all, that she was still here, still loose in London.
I made coffee with shaking hands and retreated upstairs, checking every corner, every shadow on the way. I turned the lights on full until I’d made sure that my library was empty, and only then did I close and lock the door and sink down into the chair, changing the light from the overhead bulb to the green-shaded banker’s reading-lamp on my desk. I drank all of my coffee before I found the strength to do anything again, and even then it was going downstairs to make another cup. My proudest moment was not turning on the hall-light, though I did run the last ten feet and turn the kitchen light on rather forcefully.
Back in the library I sat down again and took some paper out from a drawer. From memory I drew what I could remember of the tattoos on the guitar; frustratingly I could remember details for only about half of them. I sketched the guitar, noting where I was sure tattoos had been, and then noted which ones I’d been able to draw. It was closer to a third. Finally I leant back in the chair, unwilling to leave the security of the library and fell asleep.
“You say you woke up because you thought you heard something?” The policeman was in his fifties and had a way of looking at me that made me feel guilty.
“Yes.” I was keeping my words to a minimum, in case I said anything that might reveal the truth.
“And as you woke up, your colleague started screaming.” We were having issues with colleague; the policeman clearly suspected that Guldtronen and I were more than just friends. “And you turned on the light, and saw that he had no ears.”
“No,” I said more patiently than I felt. This was the third time the policeman had made changes to my story as he read it back to me. “I saw that he’d clamped his hands over his head. It was only later that I discovered his ears were missing.”
The policeman looked at me and nodded like a schoolteacher. “And your hands were bandaged at the time?”
“Yes.” I’d put the bandages on after the hotel manager had let himself into our room. By that point I’d stopped screaming and Guldtronen was hoarse but still trying, but neither of us had answered his frantic knocking. I didn’t know if his ears were still on my hands, but I didn’t want anyone else seeing them if they were.
“You’d burned yourself the previous evening?”
“No, I’d lost my gloves and suffered severe windchill and possible frostbite.”
“Ah.” The policeman nodded again. “It is cold at this time of year."
I went to the British Library first thing the next morning. I’d spent the night dreaming of the City of the Ilmatu again, but with far less urgency now. This time it was almost cathartic, as though my mind were finally ridding itself of memories long overdue for disposal. At the reader’s desk I smiled as much as I could at the librarian and asked to speak to Bark. She nodded, and said something to a colleague who disappeared through a door, and I waited. Fifteen minutes later Bark appeared,and waved to me. I stretched my legs, and followed him.
We went into one of the private reading rooms, and as he sat down I produced my piece of paper with the drawing I’d made and passed it to him. He looked at it without comment, then at me.
“I need access to the Ashton collection,” I said. “You can see why.” Suddenly I remembered Nico’s business card, and delved into pockets for it. Finding it, I passed it over too.
“The Ashton collection is restricted,” said Bark, his voice barely audible even in the sound-proofed reading room. “And with good reason too. Reasons like these.” He twitched the paper with the drawings on and folded it round the business card.
“Look, there’s a life at sta--”
He started laughing when I said life, and then cut me off. “There’s always lives at stake,” he said. “That’s such a cliché. Half the time, the reason there are lives at stake is because people have gained access to the Ashton collection, or have already had access to things that are also in the collection.”
“And the other half?” I was just as quiet as him, my eyes not leaving his. He held my gaze for a few seconds, then sighed and opened the paper up again.
“These drawings, where did you get them from?”
“I found them on a guitar,” I said. “You probably heard about the gig where everyone in the audience lost their hearing?” He nodded. “Yeah, they actually lost their ears. The lead guitarist was playing a midnight-blue guitar with these designs on it and he...” I wondered how much to admit to. Bark knows more about the occult and the Mythos than anyone I’ve ever met, but he can be a bit odd at times. Odd even for someone whose parents were hippies and named him and his siblings after parts of plants. “He let lose an Ilmatu.” I elected for the truth, but only just.
“And the business card?” There was a tremor in Bark’s voice now.
“The manager of the band. I kind of... well, I’d met him once at an antiques fair. He dealt in, deals in, I don’t know -- musical instruments.”
“Not any more, I should think,” said Bark.