More hands grabbed Winser by the hair and shoulders and flung him to his knees on the sandy track. He heard goat bells tinkling and decided they were the bells of St. John at Hampstead, tolling out his burial. Other hands took his loose change, spectacles and handkerchief. Others again picked up his treasured briefcase and he watched it as in a bad dream: his identity, his security, floating from one pair of hands to another, six hundred pounds' worth of matchless black hide, rashly bought at Zurich airport with cash drawn from a funk-money bank account Tiger had encouraged him to open. Well, next time you're in a generous mood, you can bloody well buy me a decent handbag, Bunny is complaining in the rising nasal whine that promises there is more to come. I'll flit, he thought. Bunny gets Hampstead, I buy a flat in Zurich, one of those new terraces on a hillside. Tiger will understand.
Winser's screen was suffused with a vibrant yellow wash and he let out a shriek of agony. Horned hands had seized his wrists, dragged them behind him and twisted them in opposing directions. His shriek hurtled from one hilltop to the next on its way to extinction. Kindly at first, as a dentist might, more hands raised his head, then yanked it round by the hair to meet the sun's full blast.
"Hold it right there," a voice ordered in English, and Winser found himself squinting up at the concerned features of Signor d'Emilio, a white-haired man of Winser's age. Signor d'Emilio is our consultant from Naples, Hoban had said in the vile American-Russian twang that he had picked up God knew where. How very nice, Winser had replied, using Tiger's drawl when Tiger didn't want to be impressed, and granted him a tepid smile. Hobbled in the sand, his arms and shoulders screaming bloody murder, Winser wished very much that he had shown respect to Signor d'Emilio while he had the opportunity.
D'Emilio was wandering up the hillside and Winser would have liked to wander with him, arm in arm, chaps together, while he put right any false impression he might have given. But he was obliged to remain kneeling, his face twisted to the scalding sun. He pressed his eyes shut but the sun's rays still bathed them in a yellow flood. He was kneeling but straining sideways and upright, and the pain that was entering his knees was the same pain that tore through his shoulders in alternating currents. He worried about his hair. He had never wished to dye it, he had only contempt for those who did. But when his barber persuaded him to try a rinse and see, Bunny had ordered him to persist. How do you think I feel, Alfred? Going around with an old man with milky hair for a husband?
But my dear, my hair was that color when I married you! -- Worse luck me, then, she had replied.
I should have taken Tiger's advice, set her up in a flat somewhere, Dolphin Square, the Barbican. I should have fired her as my secretary and kept her as my little friend without suffering the humiliation of being her husband. Don't marry her, Winser, buy her! Cheaper in the long run, always is, Tiger had assured him -- then given them both a week in Barbados for their honeymoon. He opened his eyes. He was wondering where his hat was, a snappy Panama he had bought in Istanbul for sixty dollars. He saw that his friend d'Emilio was wearing it, to the entertainment of the two dark-suited Turks. First they laughed together. Then they turned together and peered at Winser from their chosen place halfway up the hillside, as if he were a play. Sourly. Interrogatively. Spectators, not participants. Bunny, watching me make love to her. Having a nice time down there, are you? Well, get on with it, I'm tired. He glanced at the driver of the jeep that had driven him the last leg, from the foot of the mountain. The man's got a kind face, he'll save me. And a married daughter in Izmir.
Copyright © 1999 by David Cornwell. Reproduced with permission of the publisher.
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