The painting on the wall showed several Vikings standing in the mouth of a curiously unstable cave. One of them, the largest, stood staring toward the horizon where two great fires burned like eyes. He held a jeweler’s hammer in his right hand, negligently. The painter had twisted his mouth oddly, gave a self-mocking curl to the lips half buried in beard. A brass plate at the bottom of the frame gave the title: At the cave of Utgard-Loki. Carmack studied the painting while he waited for Mr. de Villiers to call for him. He’d gotten there unexpectedly early — his morning appointment had wrapped up very satisfyingly, but left him with time on his hands that he’d offered to Mr. de Villiers, since there was some amount of hurry-up involved in that job.
There was a soft footstep behind him; that, and Spaulding’s after-shave announced the secretary’s presence. It’s a strange painting, isn’t it?
–Yeah, said Carmack. I don’t know what to make of it.
–I wish he’d get rid of it. To be honest, it disturbs me. He laughed, rat-a-tat-tat. I don’t disturb easily, John.
–Yeah, said Carmack again, and fumbled in his pockets for a piece of nicotine gum. He ready yet?
–He’s just finished with Detective Moab. Come on, I’ll show you in.
Moab was just coming down the stairs. He reached out and stopped Carmack as they went past him. Be careful, he said, and nodded his head toward the top of the stairs, a gesture made dramatic by the curl of his bull’s horns. He’s in a foul mood. I hope you’ve got good news for him.
–Hell, said Carmack. Hell. Thanks.