Table of Content

A case without precedent - The Amphibian Man by Alexander Belyaev

The chief prosecutor of Buenos Aires had a rare visitor-His Grace the Bishop Juan de Garcilaso, Dean of the Cathedral.

The prosecutor, fat and dapper, with small bleary eyes, short-cut hair and dyed moustache, came out from behind the desk to meet the bishop. With great care the host seated his dear guest in the heavy leather armchair at his desk.

The unlikeness between host and guest was striking. The prosecutor’s red face was fleshy, with thick lips and a big pear-like nose. His stumpy fingers looked not unlike thick sausages, while the buttons on his stomach threatened to be wrenched off any moment by the sheer rise and fall of the imprisoned fat.

Now thinness and paleness were the two characteristic features of the bishop’s face. A thin aquiline nose, a sharp chin and a pair of thin bloodless lips lent him the air of a typical Jesuit. The bishop never looked straight into his interlocutor’s eyes, all the same he kept him under sharp observation. The bishop’s influence was immense and he willingly took time off from his church affairs for the game of politics.

The greetings over, the bishop came straight to the object of his visit. “I should like to know,” he said softly, “in what stage Professor Salvator’s” case is?

“Ah, your Grace,” the prosecutor exclaimed amiably, “you are also interested in this case. It’s indeed extraordinary, this case,” and picking up a fat file and leafing through it he went on, “On Pedro Zurita’s denunciation a search was instituted at Professor Salvator’s. Zurita’s allegation to the effect that Salvator was engaged in unusual operations on animals was fully corroborated. In fact Salvator’s gardens have been a real factory of monster animals. It’s something fantastic! Salvator, for instance — ’’

“I know all about the search from the newspapers,” the bishop put in softly. “What measures have you taken against Salvator? Is he in custody?”

“Yes, he is. Besides we have seized and taken to town-as Exhibit A and witness for the prosecution-a young man called Ichthyander, known also as the ‘sea-devil’. That the notorious ‘sea-devil’, the cause of so much trouble to us, should be an inmate of Salvator’s zoo! It’s amazing! At present a panel of experts, mostly university professors, are conducting an on-the-spot investigation. But Ichthyander has been brought to town, as I said, and housed in the cellar under the Law Courts. And he’s a source of worry, I can tell you. Just imagine, we had to order a big tank for him, for it appears he can’t live without water. And, as a matter of fact, he really was in poor condition. Apparently Salvator had brought about some extraordinary changes in his organism, making him into a kind of amphibian. Our experts are now tackling this question.”

“I’m more interested in Salvator himself,” the bishop said as softly as before. “Under what article of the law is he punishable? And what is your opinion on whether he will be really sentenced?”

“The case of Salvator is extraordinary in that it has no precedent,” said the prosecutor. “Frankly speaking I have not yet decided under which article of the law his crime comes. The easiest thing, of course, would be to charge him with carrying out illegal vivisections and disfiguring this young man…”

There was a suggestion of a frown on the bishop’s brow.

“So you consider that there is no corpus delicti in Salvator’s doings?”

“There must be, but what exactly?” the prosecutor said. “Another statement bearing on the subject was handed to me from an Indian called Baltasar. He claims that Ichthyander’s his son. His proofs are rather weak but still we could perhaps call him as a witness for the prosecution provided the experts find that Ichthyander is really his son.”

“Do you mean to say that at the most Salvator will be charged with violating professional ethics and tried only for operating on a child without obtaining his parents’ consent?”

“Yes and, perhaps, for mutilation inflicted. And that’s far worse. But there’s another angle to this matter from which it might appear in an altogether different aspect. The experts are inclined to believe-very tentatively so far-that a normal mind could never have conceived the mere idea of such monstrous operations on animals, and still less on a human being. They might declare Salvator mentally deranged.”

His thin lips compressed in a line and his eyes fixed on a corner of the table, the bishop sat in silence.

“I did not expect this from you,” he finally broke silence in a low voice.

“I beg your pardon, your Grace?” the prosecutor said, taken aback.

“Even you, limb of the law, seem to be condoning Salvator’s doings, trying to find some justification for his operations.”

“But are they really so bad?”

“And hesitating todefine the corpus delicti. The court of our Holy Catholic Church-the court of ^Heaven-takes a different view of Salvator’s doings. Allow me to come to your aid and offer you advice.”

“I’m listening,” said the abashed official.

The bishop began in a low voice, gradually working it up to a higher pitch, as if pontifying from the pulpit against atheistic science.

“You seem to think that Salvator’s doings are not without some justification. You seem to imply that the human being and the animals he has disfigured now have some advantages they didn’t enjoy before. What does this mean? Does this mean that the Creator did not make man the perfect creature he is? Does this mean that a Professor Salvator is free to meddle with His divine will and introduce adjustments into man?”

The host sat listening to the dignitary of the Church, subdued and surprised: he had not expected to be turned from prosecutor to defendant.

“Have you forgotten what the Holy Bible says in the Book of Genesis, Chapter 1, verse 26, ‘And God said, Let us make man in our image, after our likeness’ and later, verse 27, ‘So God created man in his own image’? Salvator dares to disfigure this image and likeness and you — even you — find this justifiable! “

“Forgive me, Padre,” was all the prosecutor could utter.

“Didn’t the Lord find His creation perfect,” the bishop went on, warming to his subject, “wanting in nothing? You remember well the articles of the laws of man but you forget the articles of the laws of God. Recall to your mind verse 31 of the same chapter of the Book of Genesis, ‘And God saw every thing that he had made, and, behold, it was very good.’ And your Salvator, in his godless vanity, considers that there is room for improvement, that man should be made an amphibian, and you just marvel at it and find justification for it. Isn’t that blasphemy? Isn’t that a sacrilege? Or do our civic laws no longer punish crimes against God? Have you stopped to think what would happen if everybody said after you that man was miscreated by God and should be turned over to Salvator for remaking? What outrageous aberration this would lead to? God found everything that he had made — all his creatures — very good. And Salvator sets to and transplants animals’ heads and skins and creates ungodly monsters, as if mocking the Creator. And you find it difficult to detect a corpus delicti in his doings?”

The bishop stopped. Pleased with the effect his speech was having on the prosecutor, he kept silent for a moment and started off again, first in a low voice, then gradually raising the pitch:

“I’ve said that I am more interested in what will happen to Salvator. But can I be indifferent to what will happen to Ichthyander? Why, this creature hasn’t even a Christian name, for after all Ichthyander is only a combination of the Greek words for man and fish. But even granted that Ichthyander is not to blame, being only a victim, he’s still a creature begotten of a sacrilege. The mere fact of his existence may lead humble ones into temptation, induce them to entertain blasphemous doubts and even cause to waver those not strong in their faith. Ichthyander must go! The best thing for the unfortunate youth would be to be summoned to Heaven as unfit to live,”-here the bishop threw a meaningful glance at
his host. “In any case he should be condemned and shut off from all contact. After all he did commit punishable offences. He stole fish from the fishermen, damaged their nets until, you will remember, he had them so scared that they stopped fishing and the town was left without its supplies. The impious Salvator and Ms wicked handiwork are a challenge to God and our Holy Church! And the Church will not rest until they are destroyed! “

The bishop went on with his peroration. The prosecutor sat crestfallen, his gaze fixed on the ground, not daring to stem the torrent of wrathful words.

When finally the bishop stopped the prosecutor rose and approached the dignitary of the Church.

“As a Christian,” he said in a hollow tone of voice, “I’ll bring my sin to my Father confessor for penance. As a law officer I tender you my gratitude for the help you have rendered me. My eyes have been opened to Salvator’s crime. He will be tried and convicted. And neither will the sword of Nemesis miss Ichthyander.”

 Table of Content