He, the blue eyed man, wakes in the deep night.
It's still. And silent.
He listens. His wristwatch is ticking thinly on the spindly antique bed-side table, beside the glass of water.
He holds his breathing. The heart thumps in his chest. His naked skin is sweating.
He eases out from under the sheet. Put his bare feet flat on the floor.
He slips his hand under the other pillow on the wide bed, the one he wasn't using. It touches the waffled metal grip of the .44 he keeps there. He takes hold of the gun lightly and slides it across the sheet, and as he lifts it to place on his sweating thigh he slips off the safety catch. He bends forward a little, eyes shut.
Nothing. Some distant traffic.
He lets his mind sink back to a few moments before he came fully awake.
Hadn't a floorboard creaked.
It was hard to tell. Maybe the old house was settling deeper into the dry soil.
He takes a long slow, silent inbreath and, holding it, gets up and walks very quietly to the door of his bedroom.
He keeps the door locked at night. He turns the key in the lock and it clunks.
He steps naked into the hallway.
Nothing. It's empty. There's no sense of an intruder. It was a false alarm. He lets out the breath through his nostrils. Then:
He lowers the pistol and slides the safety back on.
He goes back into the bedroom and switches on the lamp. He sets down the gun beside the glass of water. He picks up his wristwatch and fastens it on his left wrist. His mouth is dry with thirst and the sense of threat and alarm. He picks up the glass of water and drinks it down. Then he sets the empty glass back onto its small brass tray and listens again with his eyes shut for any trace of movement downstairs.
Nothing. Nada. What do do now? He knows he won't sleep. It's three thirty four AM.
What was he dreaming of? Ilena Sanchez? He'd gone to bed remembering her keenly. The scent of her hair. It's hard to tell. No, he realizes. He was walking in some sort of big construction site. Maybe somewhere in Mexico. It was about noon, extremely hot, and there were only a few wisps of cloud in the immense blue sky. He was carrying a briefcase. Perhaps on his way to a meeting. Then he passed two young priests in black soutanes, walking slowly and with urbane dignity, talking in quiet voices and gesturing with their open hands. As he passed them he noted that one of the priests was carrying a hidden pistol. He saw the shape of the pistol under the dust-streaked soutane. Maybe it was the sense of alarm he'd felt in this dream that woke him up. In any case, he was awake now. Where had he seen these young priests before? Then he remembered. It was in San Isadoro, on the day he'd met "Akiko." This memory made him laugh. It was vaguely painful to think of Akiko. Not in exactly the same way as Ilena Sanchez. But then again he'd enjoyed Ilena Sanchez and with Akiko he had only fought, lost with great dispatch and extreme indignity, at the cost of a broken nose, and then spoken with quietly in his blue car parked on a sidestreet.
And it was this half-Japanese assassin with blue eyes who'd given him the passports and the cash he'd used to reach Argentina -- one of them he was still using, as the basis for his identity as a German electronics salesman. What talent she had, what skill, what lightning speed. Nobody had ever handled him like that. He was down in less than two seconds, and begging to surrender in three. This thought, too, made him laugh. The laugh had a tinge of regret in it, and desire too -- yes.
He wondered where Akiko was right now. An island, she'd said. Okay, an island. Maybe one of the islands in the Sea of Japan, with a beach of white sand. He imagined her lying on a towel in the hot sunlight, the dark sunglasses pushed up into her hair, her eyes shut to the torrid drenching heat. She was a killer, like him. How would retirement suit such a person? Did she feel, as he did, somehow embittered and false in this strange afterlife?
Ilena Sanchez. She was here, in Buenos Aires.
What were the chances?
It didn't feel right.
The blue eyed man never trusted much in coincidence.
If she'd been sent here, then by whom?
Was she a lure? A honey trap?
Those cheekbones. That swaying, sensually abandoned walk.
He pulls on trousers, shrugs into and buttons halfway up his chest the blue silk shirt that had hung over the back of the room's single chair. He goes barefoot out across the hall into the single bathroom where he switches on the light and collects his toothbrush and toiletries, placing them into a black scuffed leather shaving kit. He shuts the kit and locks it by its clasps and takes it back with him into the bedroom where he places it on a pillow. Then he begins moving about the bedroom in a swift and purposeful way, going counter-clockwise, to collect various things he would like to take with him.
He removes some of the pictures from the wall and places them on the rumpled bed.
He tosses some books onto the bed, also. Just paperbacks, cheap volumes in Spanish and French.
In his closet he pulls out a few armfuls of shirts and folded hanging trousers. These, too, he drops onto the bed.
He pulls out a drawer from a chest of drawers and dumps it on the foot of the bed. Underwear, rolled socks.
Finally, he gets down onto his knees and pulls a big old fashioned leather suitcase from the darkness. It's dusty. And empty. He opens it and begins placing his belongings into the gaping depths.
He's sweating harder now. He stops for a moment to wipe his face with a clean shirt.
He pries the backs off the picture frames, withdraws the prints and rolls them and places them into a corner of the big suitcase. Then he tosses the frames and backings aside.
He manages to fit in four or five of the books, cramming them in various places, after carefully arranging two pairs of shoes. He glances at the others. Frowns. He puts in the shaving kit and presses it almost flat on the objects bulging inside.
Then he shuts the suitcase and fastens its big leather straps. He picks up the gun and sticks it into the waistband of his trousers and hauls the suitcase downstairs, bumping on the steps. He leaves it in the hall, slips his bare feet into the pair of loafers by the doorway, and goes into the kitchen, flicking on the light switch as he enters. He runs the tap. He splashes water from cupped hands on his face and hair, then shakes his head so cold water flies around him. Dries his face with a cheap kitchen towel, which he drops on the floor.
He opens a bottle of mineral water. Gasping a little, he drinks two thirds of it. He sets it down and belches.
He goes to the patio doors, unlocks and pushes them wide.
It's dark outside. There are some crickets. Othewise, nothing.
A flashlight stands behind one of the potted plants. He finds it, switches it on, and goes to a corner of the patio. There, he looks around for an instant and lifts a loose tile. Under it the earth is soft. He digs with a corner of the tile until he's uncovered the corner of a plastic wrapped parcel. He yanks it out of the earth with a grunt.
He shakes dirt from the parcel, dropping the tile with a clink, and carries it inside along with the flashlight, which he switches off when he gets to the kitchen.
He sets down the flashlight on the empty tiled counter. The plastic wrapped package he slips into a leather bag hung on the back of a chair. This bag also holds a Netbook computer, a clean cell phone, and a few guides and maps to the city.
He goes to the bar, uncorks the Laphroaig and pours himself a long drink. He drinks it in a few swallows. Then he pours another one. He lifts the bottle to evaluate. It's almost empty. He pours one more and drinks it down fast, feeling it flame in his chest.
He checks the illuminated dial of his wristwatch. Four fourteen. Not bad!
Everything he needs is in the bag and suitcase. He'd rented the house furnished. The rent is paid two months in advance.
There's one more thing. Under the silver tray that holds his "bar" -- the Laphroaig, gin, vodka, and sweet vermouth. He lifts the tray an inch or so to get the combat knife in its worn leather sheath. He crouches and rolls up his left trouser leg a little, then straps the knife tightly to the inside of his bare ankle.
He goes back through the kitchen to the hall, plucking up the leather bag en route. He takes his thin black leather jacket, a side pocket of which holds his keys and wallet and jingling change, down from a coat hook and struggles into it, changing the bag from hand to hand. Then he slings the leather bag over his left shoulder by its worn strap.
Finally, he picks up his suitcase and unlocks the front door. As it opens he half expects a "hail" of bullets. Or a shuriken, or knife. But there's no one in the yard. He shuts the door behind him, locks it, and drops the key with a ringing clink into an empty flowerpot. It's almost dawn. Somewhere in these blue suburbs a rooster is crowing. It sounds far off. He opens the gate so slowly and smoothly it barely grinds on the rusted hinges. No windows are lit on this forlorn and -- by night -- mysterious little street. He begins walking toward the center of Buenos Aires, his heavy suitcase dragging one shoulder down a few inches lower than the other.