He woke from deep slumber with a headache that threatened to split his brain in half: the type that throbs in the back of the head and takes almost all of one’s concentration to overcome. He couldn’t even remember his own name. Dazed, he slowly opened his eyes. He was in a hotel room somewhere, lying in bed and staring at the ceiling. His back was sore. Not the muscles, just the skin. He wasn’t sure why, just that it hurt and kind of itched. To make matters worse, his skin felt damp, and when he moved slightly he could feel he was sticking to the sheets. He rubbed his eyes and touched a large lump on his forehead near his right temple. A groan emanated from somewhere deep in his throat. The lump was tender, about the size of an apple cut in half. He lay there for half a minute, not moving.
Then he tried to sit up. His moist back peeled away from the sheet beneath him. He slid his legs off the side of the bed and attempted to stand, but a woozy feeling told him this was not a good idea just yet. He lay back and pulled himself up a few inches to lean his head against the headboard. As he looked down, it became obvious why he had to peel himself away from the bed. Faint reddish streaks marred the otherwise stark white cotton, and the underside of the comforter next to him was similarly marked. For some reason the stains covered only half the bed, from where his waist had lain to roughly where the top of his shoulders had been. He thought about checking himself in the mirror, but the woozy feeling returned and he lay back.
He noticed a newspaper on the nightstand. He reached for it, and a business card fell out and landed on the bed. For now, like the reddish smears, he ignored it, turning his attention to the front page of the newspaper. bus crash on interstate 495. And below the full-width banner headline: six dead.
Is that what happened to me? He closed his eyes and tried to recollect the crash, but to no avail. And besides, the thinking hurt, so he stopped. Before putting the newspaper down he checked the date of publication: December 18, 2017. He picked up the business card: long island insurance agency. On the back, a second advertisement: new york car accident settlements and lawsuits. Peterson & Cooper.
It appears I have been in a traffic accident of some sort. He scratched his head, not quite sure what to make of this. There was no recollection of the accident or indeed why he was in this hotel room. Or whether he was even involved in the accident. Why am I here? What is my name? Where the hell am I?
He couldn’t face another second in bed. He got up and leaned against the wall beside the bed. He looked around the room. It was a modern hotel. Nicely appointed, a good size, with a bathroom off to the side nearest him. Large windows on the wall at the end of the bed…and a spotting scope. A spotting scope? But why?
It was a shorter scope than an astronomer would use, yet it rested on a similar type of tripod. The major difference was the camouflage pattern on it. The scope was angled to look down the side of the building to whatever was down there. Down where?
Below the scope a rifle leaned against the window on its bipod. It was no ordinary rifle. It had the large scope and long barrel of a sniper’s weapon. And a large silencer was mounted on the end of the barrel.
He struggled across the room and picked up the rifle and set it down on the end of the bed. Then he leaned against the heavy plate-glass window and noticed a smaller window above it had been cracked open to let fresh air in. He gazed outside and could see an outdoor ice rink and a large plaza surrounding it. It was a long way down, he realized. Another round of wooziness turned to a sickening feeling of vertigo. He fought the uneasy sensation, noticing a sparkle of gold glinting off a gaudy statue at the end of the rink below the line of flags. He realized the tiny black specks dotting the plaza were people milling about, some in large groups, others walking, yes…some had dogs on leashes with them. Still others peered into storefront windows, their corners painted white to resemble snow, in the buildings that lined the plaza, this hotel being one of them.
There were pockets of real snow piled into the corners of the plaza, and one of the large trees had been decorated with sparkly baubles. But it was the big tree at the far end in front of the line of flagpoles with their gently fluttering flags that was the first real indication about what might be happening outside. The large silver angel on top of the tree, wings spread in an apparent attempt to fly into the heavens, could mean only one thing. It was Christmas.
A sudden sense of nervousness caught him off guard and he stepped away from the window. Do I have a wife? Kids? Someone who loves me? He looked around the room and spotted a small suitcase against the wall on the far side of the bed. He moved stiffly to the suitcase and lifted it up onto the bed. He began to rifle through the clothes in search of a wallet that might contain a photo of himself with his wife or kids. Anything to jolt his memory.
The suitcase was filled with neatly folded clothing. Normal stuff: the kind of clothes that a well-dressed “normal” man might wear. Turning back and looking over his shoulder at the spotting scope, he realized that wasn’t normal.
He reached for a handful of socks and threw them onto the bed. Underneath them he found a leather jacket. And a wallet.
His heart raced as he thumbed through the wallet. Credit cards: at least six. He counted three different names on them. Then he unearthed an Aegean Flying Dolphins card—from Greece! It had a picture of a hydrofoil on it. Then a European driver’s license. He held it up and studied the photo. His name, at least on this document, was Fabian Fernán Castillion. Am I Spanish? A faint glimmer of hope buoyed his senses. And then his heart sank.
The last card in the wallet was a Middle Eastern identity card of sorts. The name on it did not match the driver’s license, but the photos were identical. Who the hell am I?
He felt around in the wallet’s spare pocket and found a photo of a woman. She had a pretty face, and on her lap sat a little boy. He smiled. He has my eyes. My son, perhaps?
The woman was quite beautiful. He turned the photo over. It was blank. No notes or love scribbles. The realization that he did not recognize this woman was deeply unsettling. He dropped the wallet on the comforter and faced the windows.
What the fuck am I doing here?
He decided to take one last look through the suitcase. Under a thin cashmere sweater he found a cellphone. He turned it on and scrolled through a list of names in the contacts.
He scrolled back to Sophia. My wife?
He was about to call her when the cellphone bleeped and a message came up on the screen. It was from someone named Affonso. “Slight water leak in the apartment. I have sent a couple of your suits to drycleaners. When are you back in town? Affonso.”
He clicked on the sender’s thumbnail picture and a large image of an overweight, middle-aged, possibly Italian man came up on the screen. The man had a pleasant smile, with a cigar sticking out of the corner of his mouth. For reasons that he couldn’t explain, his fingers, as if on autopilot, began to press buttons on the screen in quick fashion. The photo was saved with a right-click, and then Google Image search opened and the photo was uploaded into the search engine. Within a matter of seconds, Google Image had pulled up several pages containing the image. He scrolled down and came across a website. He opened it and began to nod as he read about Affonso’s bakery in Rome near the Vatican, or Città del Vaticano, the home of the Roman Catholic Church. Using the directions link, he expanded the Google map until he could see the exact location of the bakery. He copied the address and pasted it into the notes section on his cellphone.
He returned to the list of contacts and must have pressed one of the buttons accidentally, for the cellphone began to dial Sophia’s number.
“Hello?” A voice sounded, far away.
“Who is this?” he asked.
“Darling, where are you?”
“Er, in a hotel somewhere.”
“I’m not sure. Who are you?”
There was a long pause. “Don’t play games with me again, Fabian. Is there another woman?”
So my name is Fabian. He shook his head and looked around. There was no sign of any woman’s clothes nor handbag. He couldn’t think of anything to say.
Silence. And then: “When are you coming home?”
Home? I don’t even know where that is. “Soon, I think. There is some business to attend to. Then I’ll see.”
“We miss you.”
But his mind was elsewhere. He heard a noise in the background. “What was that?”
“I do have a son?” he asked incredulously.
“Fabian, you sound groggy. Are you all right? Do you need help?”
“What’s his name?”
“Stop playing games with me.”
Silence for five seconds. And then: “Please, for the sake of your child, come home. I don’t think I can stand another day on this Greek island anymore. I have cabin fever. I want to go home. I want to go back to England.”
He mumbled something.
“Whatever it is you’re doing, stop it before you get hurt. Come home. I beg you. I don’t want you to get into any more trouble. You promised me those days were over. You’d made a fresh start. Wouldn’t cause any bother. Come home, Fabian, please. For Felipe.”
It pained him to hang up on her. Silence filled his head. A strange emptiness. Most unsettling. He pushed it aside and turned his attention once more to the spotting scope. For reasons unknown to him, that scope was the starting point to figuring out who he was. He dropped the cellphone onto the bed and walked over to it. The angle of the scope was such that the lens focused on a small round table in the window of the restaurant beside the ice rink. The rink itself was situated in a sunken square on one side of the plaza. A single chair and the table could be seen in the tight circular view of the aperture. The chair was empty.
He panned the aperture in a curving path to the end of the rink, stopping halfway to briefly study a woman with a long scarf as she pirouetted on the ice. She caught an edge and stumbled. He roamed the aperture up a set of concrete steps and studied three people leaning over the concrete wall, gazing down on the rink. The plaza was quite large. In the center, he could see a strange bronze statue of a Herculean man holding a giant globe above his head. One of the gods? Atlas? A mythical Greek figure? A couple of police officers moving through the crowds caught his eye. He lost sight of them under the overhang outside the windows of a department store.
The light outside was fading fast. He could see headlights twinkling on the narrow street at the back of the plaza, moving slowly down the busy tree-lined thoroughfare. A faint honk sounded, unleashing what seemed like a barrage of pent-up sounds that took a few seconds to die away. He could see parents and grandparents, accompanied by children who had rosy faces and thick jackets buttoned up to their necks. An elderly couple, bent and frail, stood with their family, heads bowed to the cool breeze blowing across the plaza. Steam rose from their mouths as they huddled and talked, the husband supporting the wife’s arm.
Fabian looked across the room at the silhouetted shape of the sniper rifle. It was almost as dark as the drapes, the long barrel painted a matte green with the suppressor screwed to the end. Why is that here?
He returned to the scope, panning back across the plaza toward the restaurant, stopping briefly to study the gaudy golden statue at the opposite end of the rink. The statue was of Prometheus. A Titan. A large flaming torch rose from his outstretched arm. He looked back at Atlas, and a slight sense of unease tingled its way up his spine. They were symbols. Symbols of the Illuminati.
He swiveled the aperture back to the seat in the restaurant and spotted a man now sitting in the chair. He wore a white fedora and a thick suede greatcoat with a fur-lined collar. His face was hidden by the hat.
The old man turned back from the window of the department store, uninterested in the nativity scene. He opened his long suede greatcoat, which reached to his ankles. The cool breeze puckered his flabby white skin and made his scrotum swell and turn red. He was completely naked other than his black socks and dress shoes. It was better this way. No barriers. The sacred spirit-fire began to awaken from its age long sleep to a throbbing, pulsating life that started to glow with golden glory, lighting each vertex of the pyramids of the five-pointed star in bright light. His mind began to ascend to the spheres of higher glories and for a short time he sensed and felt his acceptance into the Kingdom of Christ.
“Kneel before me, postulant,” he said in an authoritarian voice. He was beginning to sweat. He closed his eyes. It had been forty-six years since a young Jesuit priest of minor rank had been elevated to command. He could remember that day as if it were yesterday. Three priests had waited for him in the chapel of the Convent of the Order beneath St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome. The principal, or superior, standing in front of the altar, flanked on either side by two monks. One of the monks had held in one hand a yellow and white banner, the papal colors, and in the other a black banner with dagger and cross set above skull and crossbones. INRI had been written above the words iustum, necar, reges and impious.
The Latin words had been ingrained into the old man’s memory since long before that day. They stood for the extermination and annihilation of impious or heretical kings, governments or rulers. They were the mantra that he often quietly repeated to himself in times of stress.
To this day, he could remember perfectly kneeling before the superior, with head bowed and eyes focused on the red cross on the stone floor at his knees. He had raised his hands off the floor, palms up, and had felt the cold chill as the small black crucifix settled in his open left hand. In his right, he had felt the weight and chill of the hilt as the superior placed the dagger in his hand. The superior had curled his fingers around the hilt and directed the pointed tip back so that it pressed to his heart. The superior had kept hold of the hilt, addressing the postulant as he read the final rites that elevated him into the Jesuit militia.
But that was a long time ago. He was now the superior, and he opened his eyes and looked down as the young man dropped to his knees and shuffled across the ground, coming to rest barely twelve inches from the old man’s groin.
The superior looked about nervously, noticing a couple of police officers slowly making their way around the wall that dropped away to the ice rink below. Two teenagers were skateboarding nearby at the top of the steps, creating somewhat of a disturbance. But it was too late. The young priest before him had to pass his next test if he was to be elevated to knight commander in the next few days in the chapel beneath St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome.
He reached into one of the pockets of his greatcoat and pulled out a small cross and a dagger.
Several people stopped and stared as the old man bent forward and ripped open the priest’s robes, exposing a freshly tattooed cross that was surrounded by a circle on his chest. He placed the dagger in the man’s right hand and pushed it back firmly so the point pricked the skin and a bead of blood rolled down over the circle. He began to recite the deed.
It took all of his concentration, and he closed his eyes. “Repeat after me. I, Flavio Di Pietro…”—the postulant had been named as such after flavius, Latin for “yellow hair”—“in the presence of Almighty God…”
The superior waited patiently for Flavio to finish. “Good. My son, heretofore you have been taught to act the dissembler: among Roman Catholics to be a Roman Catholic, and to be a spy even among your own brethren; to believe no man, to trust no man...”
Flavio listened intently as the superior continued.
“When you are in the company of the Reformers, to be a Reformer; amongst the Huguenots, to be a Huguenot; amongst the Calvinists, to be a Calvinist; amongst other Protestants, generally to be a Protestant, and obtaining their confidence, to seek even to preach from their pulpits, and to denounce with all the vehemence in your nature our holy religion and the pope; and even to descend so low as to become a Jew among Jews, that you might be enabled to gather together all information for the benefit of your order as a faithful soldier of the pope.”
Flavio once more faultlessly repeated the words in a level voice but this time the old man’s attention was briefly distracted and he opened his eyes. One of the police officers was looking his way—but the cop was still about fifty feet away. He closed his eyes and brought his attention back to the priest kneeling before him. This time he spoke in a slightly wavering voice, cutting the priest off. “You have been taught to insidiously plant the seeds of jealousy and hatred between communities, provinces, states that were at peace, and incite them to deeds of blood, involving them in war with each other, and to create revolutions and civil wars in countries that were independent and prosperous, cultivating the arts and the sciences and enjoying the blessings of peace. To take sides with the combatants and to act secretly with your brother Jesuits, who might be engaged on the other side, but openly opposed to that with which you might be connected, only that the church might be the gainer in the end, in the conditions fixed in the treaties for peace and that the end justifies the means.”
Once more the old man couldn’t help opening his eyes. A young woman was speaking to the police officers, and she suddenly pointed his way. Sweat trickled down the superior’s back, drenching the crack that separated his tired old buttocks. He missed whole sentences of the postulant’s reply as his mind began to race. When the postulant stopped speaking, he said impatiently, “You have been taught your duty as a spy to gather all statistics, facts and information in your power from every source; to ingratiate yourself into the confidence of the family circle of Protestants and heretics of every class and character, as well as that of the merchant, the banker, the lawyer, among the schools and universities, in parliaments and legislatures, and the judiciaries and councils of state, and to be all things to all men, for the pope’s sake, whose servants we are unto death.”
He waited as the postulant repeated the words but they were tinged with worry. The young priest had picked up on the superior’s nervous energy. “Hurry,” the old man griped.
He breathed a sigh of relief as the postulant finished reciting the rites. The old man spoke hurriedly. “And the blessed Virgin Mary, the blessed Michael the Archangel, the blessed St. John the Baptist, the holy Apostles St. Peter and St. Paul and all the saints and sacred hosts of heaven. And to you, my ghostly father, the Superior General of the Society of Jesus, founded by St. Ignatius Loyola in the Pontificate of Paul the III, and continued to the present, do by the womb of the virgin, the matrix of God, and the rod of Jesus Christ, declare and swear, that his holiness the pope is Christ’s vice-regent and is the true and only head of the Catholic or Universal Church throughout the earth; and that by virtue of the keys of binding and loosing, given to his holiness by my savior, Jesus Christ, he hath power to depose heretical kings, princes, states, commonwealths and governments, all being illegal without his sacred confirmation and that they may safely be destroyed.”
For reasons unknown to fabian, call it a sixth sense or something, he realized that the man sitting in the chair in the restaurant far below was the raison d’être for his being here. He had to seek him out. Kill him, perhaps?
The sniper rifle? But find out the truth first.
He walked stiffly into the bathroom and studied himself in the mirror, noting the bruise on the side of his head and several tattoos on his body. Angry tattoos. With Cyrillic script, even a skull. One stood out in particular. A crown, and colored points with a large dagger above them. A dagger? Why a dagger?
He briefly inspected the lacerations on his back. He noticed white scar tissue and angry red welts oozing watery blood. It looked as if he’d been flogged. He shook his head and stepped into the shower.
Two minutes later he left the icy cold shower and toweled himself off. He slipped into a crisp white shirt, leaving the top three buttons undone. He put on a pair of black socks and shiny black shoes. He walked back into the bathroom, bent down and opened the cupboard underneath the sink. A white plastic bag, the type one would see in a supermarket, contained a chain-link circular gadget. He picked it up along with a bottle of disinfectant and a box of cotton swabs. He set them down on the counter and opened the plastic bag. He carefully swabbed the spiked tines of the cilice with the disinfectant and threw the swabs in the trash can beside the cupboard.
He returned to the main room and pulled the chair out from the desk. He balanced his left foot on the edge of the chair and began wrapping the device around his thigh, making sure the tines were firmly pressed against the soft inner flesh. He then tied the two leather thongs together. Why do I wear this? It made no sense. He slipped on a pair of dark suit pants. For reasons unknown to him, he dropped to his knees beside the bed and began to search the floor underneath it. He was running on instinct, having no recollection or reasonable expectation of finding something. The little voice in the back of his head said that he should do it. His hand touched something cold. Almost metallic. He pulled it out and stared, dumbfounded, at the handgun in its holster. Without giving it any thought, he shrugged into the shoulder holster. There was a dinner jacket hanging in the closet. He slipped it on. The jacket and pants had to be bespoke. They fit like a glove.
He stepped out into the hotel corridor and checked that the door was locked. He pocketed the security card and raised his elbows almost to shoulder height, pulling thin black leather gloves up to his wrists. It didn’t pay to get cold fingers. There were three elevators at the end of the corridor. As he approached them, he admired himself in the polished copper trim. He was dressed to kill. Literally. But this fact escaped him; he could not remember a thing.
He laughed. I look like an undertaker. Which he did. And, in a strange way, he sort of was. His profession shared many traits with those of an undertaker. They both worked with the deceased, or shortly to be. Neither was a career with broad appeal or advancement opportunities. However, they were stable and reliable fields—death was, and is, proverbially one of the world’s constants, and a competent assassin with enough training and expertise could build a substantial business. Not having any memory, he was blissfully ignorant of the fact that he was out of practice and business was slow. Two years of marriage would do that to an assassin. But that was about to change.
He stepped out of the elevator onto the first floor. As he walked, he lightly and surreptitiously patted the lapel of his dinner jacket, checking to make sure the Glock 23 Gen4 pistol and shortened Gemtech suppressor were safely holstered and within easy reach. He didn’t even bother this time to question his actions. It all seemed normal and like the right thing to do. He passed through the lobby and, halfway to the exit, heard his name from a distance. He looked over his right shoulder, barely slowing.
“Mr. Castillion! Mr. Castillion.” A pretty hotel receptionist slunk across the marble floor toward him. Her bright red hip-hugging pencil skirt and white semi-sheer silk blouse didn’t leave much to the imagination. Fabian watched her approach, his eyes growing wide with interest.
“Are you better now?” she called out. “The bruise on the side of your head seems smaller.”
“Thank you. Yes. I feel good enough to get some fresh air.”
She was persistent, getting closer. He turned his gaze back toward the exit and didn’t stop. “Have a great day.” He disappeared through one of the revolving doors.
Sophia opened the fridge and bunched her bottom lip into a pout. The block of cheese on the shelf beside the milk was starting to smell. She hated dairy products, at least she had for the past year since turning vegan. Her eyes shifted to the leg of pork. The thought of dead animal parts in her fridge sickened her, but she knew that it was Fabian’s favorite and she had wanted to make him happy upon his return. Two days earlier, at eight o’clock in the morning, the exact moment the Kritikos supermarket on the island of Spetses opened, she had wandered in and purchased the ham.
“Ha,” she said. “You bastard! That’s the last time you fool around on me.” She picked up the leg of pork and hurled it across the kitchen, where it landed with a thud in the sink. She turned and sank into one of the kitchen chairs, nervously lighting a cigarette. She could barely keep the cigarette still, managing only to light the side of it. She pressed the filter to her thin, drawn lips and sucked several weak puffs in quick succession. She sighed as the first wave of nicotine entered her body.
The kitchen was cramped at the best of times, but today the walls seemed to be closing in on her, pushing the two rickety chairs and single gas burner up against her legs. The table couldn’t get much smaller, but even that was diminishing her movements. The rest of the whitewashed waterfront neoclassical house was as cramped as the kitchen, jammed up against a restaurant on one side and a ritzy boutique on the other. She was sick of this place. Sick of the sweltering heat, the strange language, the loneliness. It was unbearable.
She woke from the drowsy smog of depression that threatened to smother her only because Felipe, sitting in his high chair, had made a noise. He looked serious. A smart boy, that one, she thought. He could pick up emotions quite easily: sadness, joy, excitement. She smiled. It didn’t work; he could also pick up false emotions. He could see through her mask of pain, which made it even worse. She dropped the cigarette into an ashtray on the table, raised her hands to her eyes and began to cry. Felipe began to cry, too.
He’d been crying for six days on and off now, ever since his father had left. But he wouldn’t be coming home this time. The love had ended.
“Bastard!” She threw her arms up in the air.
Half an hour later, with Felipe sleeping soundly during his afternoon nap, she began packing. She packed haphazardly, throwing items in her suitcase and not bothering to fold them. It was time to go home. To return to the cool summers of London, to get her sanity back. It was over.
Felipe woke and began crying. She ignored him. He would tire after a few minutes and fall back to sleep. She paused and leaned against the bookshelf in the bedroom. Her hands were still shaking. She began to weep quietly.
A noise sounded from the first floor and for a brief, happy second she thought it might be Fabian. It came a second time. At the back door. Louder this time. There was always the chance it was Athanasia, her best friend on the island. She could talk to her, tell her about Fabian. Afterward she would feel better. But she was still leaving.
Another noise. Broken glass? The sound jolted her senses. Athanasia always used the front door. Sophia grabbed Felipe and raced downstairs. Fabian had made many enemies over the years before he’d become a better person. She always worried that his past would catch up to him. Perhaps it was happening now.
A dark shadow moved behind the curtain covering the broken window in the back door. A gloved hand appeared and felt around for the lock. Sophia screeched with fear and ran toward the front door. But it was too late. A bulky figure stood in the hallway, blocking her way.
She realized in that instant how foolish it had been to not lock the front door. But no one on the island locked their front doors. It just wasn’t done. There was hardly any crime here at all. The man was huge. He stepped toward her and she screamed at the top of her lungs.
Fabian noticed a little yorkshire terrier dressed in a smart tartan jacket, standing at the far side of the plaza next to a tree. The dog’s nose was moist, and his eyes were sullen. He shivered. The little girl who had been dragging him around the plaza returned to her parents’ side and waited patiently for the traffic to stop so they could cross the street. Fabian could sympathize with the dog. His hair was also short-cropped and, like the dog, he did not have sufficient clothes on. The hotel had been quite comfortable, he realized.
He walked around the concrete wall that separated the plaza from the square below. Shouts of joy wafted up from the ice rink. He paused and looked over the wall. He could see the Rock Center Café at the far left end. At this angle, the reflection off the glass made it difficult to see if the old man was still sitting at the window, looking out onto the rink. He continued circumnavigating the wall and turned left at the end, following the line of flagpoles to the main set of concrete steps that led down to the ice rink. Ignoring the ice rink on his left, he focused his gaze on the entrance to the café as he began to walk toward it. Nothing seemed to be amiss. He opened the door and stepped in. There were lots of families with snot-nosed kids warming up over steaming cups of hot chocolate. The entrance was full of pairs of skates littering the floor underneath the racks of thick winter coats.
Fabian shivered briefly as he began to warm up. Two teenaged girls smiled behind the desk on the right. “Good evening. Would you care for a table and something to drink?”
Fabian smiled back at them. “That man sitting over there by the window. Did he enter by himself?”
“I think so,” said the girl with the braces.
“Good. I would like to join him.”
“Great,” replied the other girl, all smiles. “I’ll walk you over—”
“Don’t bother. You see, I haven’t seen him in years and it may come as some surprise to him.”
“I understand.” She grinned sheepishly, not quite sure if she understood what he meant at all.
Fabian left the hostess desk and made his way slowly through the café. Up to this point, he had not bothered to think what he would say to the old man, if indeed he were even expecting him. He caught sight of the shock of white hair over by the window. The old man was slumped in his seat, half asleep. Dead? Had someone beaten him to it?
He rounded the table and put his hand gently on the shoulder of the old man’s cream fisherman’s sweater. His coat was neatly folded over the back of the chair. The old man’s face was flushed, and he had sunspots under his patchy beard. He reminded Fabian of Ernest Hemingway, though with whiter hair.
“Wake up. I believe we have an appointment.”
The old man seemed to be in a distant dream. His lips twitched as if he were reciting something or talking to himself. He made a rasping sound, then suddenly a pair of surprisingly bright eyes were staring up at Fabian.
Fabian stepped back. The words were Germanic, spoken in a thick accent. He had not expected this. The old man repeated himself.
“What is the name of the railway that climbs the Eiger?”
“The, er, Jungfrau Railway.”
The old man’s eyes narrowed. He raised a finger to his head and pointed. “Your temple. What happened?”
“Can I sit first?”
“Of course. Be my guest.” The old man indicated the opposing seat with a shaky finger. “Please excuse me for my rude manners. You look cold.”
He was once an oak of a man, Fabian realized. His arms were as long as limbs and would have once been as hefty.
“You’re all right, though?” the old man asked.
“I think so. I don’t remember much after the, er, accident.”
“Yes. It seems I was involved in some sort of motorway accident. A bus crash, perhaps. If the tabloids are to be believed. I don’t remember a single thing about my life, including my family, or why I’m here in this country. Otherwise, I appear to be satisfactory.”
The old man nodded. “Would you like a drink?”
“Not right now.”
“But you seem nervous. Something is on your mind.”