"Wiedersehen, Herr Doktorprofessor."
He turned onto the Ludwigstrasse and hurried across the university district, head down, hoping to avoid being spotted by any students or colleagues. Earlier that week, he had received a rather nasty letter from Dr. Helmut Berger, the pompous chairman of his department, wondering when the book might be finished and when he could be expected to resume his lecturing obligations. Professor Stern did not like Helmut Berger, their well-publicized feud was both personal and academic, and conveniently he had not found the time to respond.
The bustle of the Viktualienmarkt pushed thoughts of work from his mind. He moved past mounds of brightly colored fruit and vegetables, past flower stalls and open-air butchers. He picked out a few things for his supper, then crossed the street to Café Bar Eduscho for coffee and a Dinkelbrot. Forty-five minutes later, as he set out for Schwabing, he felt refreshed, his mind light, ready for one more wrestling match with his book. His illness, as Orwell would have called it.
As he arrived at the apartment house, a gust of wind chased him into the lobby and scattered a fresh stack of salmon-colored fliers. The professor twisted his head so he could read one. A new curry takeaway had opened around the corner. He liked a good curry. He scooped up one of the fliers and stuffed it into his coat pocket.
The wind had carried a few of the leaflets toward the courtyard. Frau Ratzinger would be furious. As he trod softly up the stairs, she poked her head from her foxhole of a flat and spotted the mess. Predictably appalled, she glared at him with inquisitor's eyes. Slipping the key into his door lock, he could hear the old woman cursing as she dealt with this latest outrage.
In the kitchen, he put away the food and brewed himself a cup of tea. Then he walked down the hallway to his study. A man was standing at his desk, casually leafing through a stack of research. He wore a white tunic, like the ones worn by the beauticians at the kosmetik, and was very tall with athletic shoulders. His hair was blond and streaked with gray. Hearing the professor enter the room, the intruder looked up. His eyes were gray too, cold as a glacier.
"Open the safe, Herr Doktorprofessor."
The voice was calm, almost flirtatious. The German was accented. It wasn't Wolfie, Professor Stern was sure of that. He had a flair for languages and an ear for local dialects. The man in the tunic was Swiss, and his Schwyzerdtsch had the broad singsong accent of a man from the mountain valleys.
"Who in the hell do you think you are?"
"Open the safe," the intruder repeated as the eyes returned to the papers on the desk.
"There's nothing in the safe of any value. If it's money you're..."
Professor Stern wasn't permitted to finish the sentence. In a swift motion, the intruder reached beneath the tunic, produced a silenced handgun. The professor knew weapons as well as accents. The gun was a Russian-made Stechkin. The bullet tore through the professor's right kneecap. He fell to the floor, hands clutching the wound, blood pumping between his fingers.
"I suppose you'll just have to give me the combination now," the Swiss said calmly.
The pain was like nothing Benjamin Stern had ever experienced. He was panting, struggling to catch his breath, his mind a maelstrom. "The combination?" God, but he could barely remember his name.
"I'm waiting, Herr Doktorprofessor."
He forced himself to take a series of deep breaths. This supplied his brain with enough oxygen to permit him to access the combination to the safe. He recited the numbers, his jaw trembling with shock. The intruder knelt in front of the safe and deftly worked the tumbler. A moment later, the door swung open.
The intruder looked inside, then at the professor.
From The Confessor by Daniel Silva, Copyright © 2003 Daniel Silva, Published by G.P. Putnam's Sons, a member of the Penguin Group (USA) , Inc., All Rights Reserved, Reprinted with Permission from the Publisher.
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No Man's Land
by Simon Tolkien
Inspired by the experiences of his grandfather, J. R. R. Tolkien, during World War I.
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