A voltage appeared.
Electrons drifted away. Crystals rotated in a field. Polarised light scattered. A digit changed. A light breeze aligned the hairs on his wrist. The night air carried the sounds and smells of a million human lives, a million wonders. The earth rolled slowly beneath his feet, a cosmic dust ball charting a path through spiral lanes of stars. Start adrift. Time and space, chaos and order, truth and beauty. “Sod it, I’m going for a pizza” he muttered, stepped out from under the sodium umbrella and began to cross the street.
My quarry was not a happy man. He looked like the kind of guy who turns up dead in the fifth reel, floating face down in a canal in Amsterdam. He was not what you would call personable either, as I had already discovered. His English accent could only have been learned from an old Linguaphone tape, played endlessly in a used Skoda in a railway siding in Riga. I swear that when he spoke I could hear the trains rolling past on their way up the line to Leningrad in the gathering twilight. He had the cheery disposition of an arthritic undertaker with shares in the Channel Tunnel. Oh, and he smelt like a dispatch rider’s helmet lining. He made me feel that living was good.
He never made it. The tarmac pressed into my face and hands, cold and wet, and I felt only joy at its presence, like meeting an old friend in a pub, seeing double yellow lines when you return from abroad or pouring yourself a glass of water in the dark. His blood ran past me, eager to reach the gutter, dark fingers cooling like lava, gleefully running away with the man that was Chekov.
There was only one thing that I couldn’t handle. It wasn’t the money. If the fee was more paltry, it’d grow feathers. It wasn’t being shot at either. I was getting to like the sensation of time stretching away in all directions, and the silence like velvet earplugs immersing you in a soft and private cocoon. No, I just hated losing a lead. It was careless. Messy.
Anyway. So there I stood, shrugging into his trenchcoat, adding the contents of his pockets to mine, strapping on his digital watch, noting in the absent way you do just how much trouble someone was going to have identifying a man with no face. The ratcatchers downtown wouldn’t mind clearing up the mess. It gave them something worthwhile to do. Well, more worthwhile than checking tax discs or telling you that you should expect to have your blue spot stolen if you park in Peckham.
I hoped that he found street names as unimaginative and unmemorable as I did. I was relying on that deep seated insecurity that rolls around in all of our subconsciouses. That fear of forgetting, of being the only one who doesn’t know, the only one who has to ask and accept certain, silent, damning, contempt. I figured I’d have more luck finding a master chef in a Wimpy or a London bus conductor who didn’t wear green corduroy trousers, but there it was, written on the back of a dial-a-pizza card with a chewed bic on a slippery surface while holding the phone. The address.
As I walked, the broken threads of my pocket lining lost their unequal battle with the death star, and the finger warm steel slipped into the fluffy netherworld of sugar cubes, return parts of cheap day return tickets and condom packets, carried in the misguided hope that they might be useful someday.
That our cooling cat was a pig there was no doubt, the Securitate pass was a first class piece of ergonomically terror inducing typography, almost as good as a metric spaces paper or a draft for jury service. I figured posing as Chekov was about as good an idea as being given head by an epileptic or making toast in the bath. Why was I always in these weird scenes? Typecasting, I guess. Ah well, put a sane man in a room with a tea-cosy and it’s only a matter of time before he puts it on his head. It was only a matter of time before I ran out of analogies or ran out of luck, not a cosy thought, but then wondering just who was sane was worse.
The address was a dead end street between a canal and a railway yard. Chekov would have felt at home, but I would rather have been at home. The mist was backlit, throwing the 280SL Mercedes into relief sharper than Nanga Parbat. Two doors swung open, two figures placed a foot on the cobbles, rotated their heels silently and straightend slowly like synchronised swimming silver medallists. Even in silhouette, I had seen them both before.
“It’s a great pleasure, lady”, I drawled.
“I know, I’ve tried it”. She laughed and froze. Her expression collapsed in an instant, elements of horror, disgust, surprise and crystal cool shock jostled for position, tried several entirely unsuitable arrangements and eventually settled, muscles twitching, into a cubist’s nightmare. Her face simultaneously contained just about every conceivable emotion that could result from pastimes either illegal, immoral or fattening.
“I’m sorry, but I’ve run out of coffee”, I joked.
“Where’s Chekov?”. She managed a hoarse croak and the effort showed. The thought I had been playing origami with finished nicely. I pulled the tail and it stood up. Everything clicked.
“Why not ask your friend?”.
He moved so fast his suit changed colour, and sold me a dummy I sure as hell didn’t want but something told me he wasn’t in the business of giving refunds. He pulled iron as lightning flashed between my fingers. The shuriken danced across my palm like the Ace of Spades in the hand of a wild west card shark. With a burst of energy down my arm, I burst his pineal gland.
“Nice weapon”, I murmured approvingly as he bounced. Once.
But she was gone.