July 24 - 20:40
Winter lay motionless in the filthy water. A thin film of grease covered the surface, trapping a mosquito that twitched as it struggled to avoid drowning. It was a hopeless fight against death. The water had entered Winter’s ears and made its way along the auditory canals to his eardrums. His eyes were closed, head and neck submerged. His Adam’s apple and injured hand rose from the surface of the lukewarm water. His hand was scratched, dirt engrained beneath the fingernails. A mixture of earth, clay and organic residue. One of the fingernails was split. His pulse was weak. And very slow.
The mosquito had stopped moving.
After a day of hard, physical labour he was relaxing in his bath, easing an aching back. He wanted to be on top form for Anne this evening.
He wallowed in the memories of their first date. How the scent of her Issey Miyake perfume had tickled his nostrils as they greeted each other with the traditional three kisses. How she had stood on the old, wooden balcony with her radiant smile and a glass of sparkling white wine.
He’d ventured an apologetic gesture as he showed her the half-finished terrace in his rampant garden, where the only edible things growing were wild courgettes, cucumbers and some berries. He could recall precisely the energy that had flowed through his body when, with a gentle laugh, she placed her hand on his forearm. She’d found his jungle ‘romantic’ and said how much she was looking forward to fresh raspberries and blackberries.
After that they’d taken it in turns to blow on the stone barbecue to get the fire going. She’d teased him and he’d almost passed out for lack of oxygen. When they’d finally put the steaks on the embers Anne was covered in soot. A black line from the edge of the grill ran across her T-shirt beneath her chest. His dishcloth had only made the mark worse. Since that moment Winter had been unable to forget Anne’s belly button.
A warm feeling washed over him as he replayed that wonderful evening in his mind. Thoughts like that drifting through his head were a positive sign. His physical exertions on the terrace and the relaxing bath were doing him good. After dinner he and Anne had sat there for a long while, finishing the bottle of Rioja. It gradually got dark and Winter lit the candles in the lanterns. The crickets were chirping. Later he made coffee and served the cheesecake he’d bought from his favourite bakery.
Anne had told Winter about her dream of watching lizards on the Galapagos Islands. Winter had raved about the nature reserves in Canada with their huge, unspoiled forests. They’d continued laughing late into the night, touching on every topic imaginable.
Apart from the bank. At some point he and his deputy had reached a tacit agreement that they wouldn’t discuss work at his house. The superior and his subordinate. It was a fine line. A business lunch at the pizzeria was acceptable. As was a formal dinner with clients. But an intimate tête-a-tête was borderline. After much hesitation, finally feelings had trumped reason.
Winter slowly raised his head and surfaced from the water. With his right hand he carefully reached for the beer beside the bath. The cold bottle relieved the burning of his pierced blisters. He wondered how his battered hands would affect his shooting accuracy. Fortunately, there were few armed bank raids these days. Robberies now took place in back rooms. Instead of masks, the criminals wore pinstripes. Instead of dynamiting safes they hacked computers.
Winter downed his beer in one, climbed out of the bath and prepared to shave. Before applying the razor to his stubble, he examined his face in the mirror. He wasn’t bothered by the lines that had started to appear. This evening, perhaps, Anne wouldn’t just give him a long goodbye kiss, she would stay the night.
He’d met her at a judo competition. Winter was knocked out in the quarter-finals; Anne had won in her category. Sweating, he’d congratulated her on the victory and invited her out to dinner. She had declined, but when she saw from his business card that he worked at a private bank, she’d asked, ‘Does your company recruit lawyers too?’
‘Of course. Nobody else understands the contracts, though I’m not sure which came first: lawyers or contracts.’
She’d laughed, cocked her head slightly to one side and said nothing, which told him that she was not only at top judo fighter but also a sound negotiator.
‘Send me your details and I’ll ask our head of legal.’
Two weeks later there was no legal job for Anne, but there was lunch in a brasserie. That was the first time he saw her in one of her elegant trouser suits. Like him, Anne had studied law. After university she’d worked in a law firm whose name was so long that Winter was unable to remember it. But from her CV Winter learned that Anne had been with the police before university, working for two years as an
officer on the beat while doing her matriculation certificate. And that’s how she came to be his right-hand. Even though they’d only known each other for six months, they trusted each other implicitly.
Now he stepped out onto the balcony in bare feet, a towel wrapped around his waist, it was still pleasantly warm. The sun was hovering over the horizon. The weathered wood had retained the heat of the day. In the distance the mountains were clearly visible. A good sign for tomorrow’s weather. Winter went down the creaking, outdoor steps and fetched a bottle of Rioja from the cool stone cellar. On the way back he stopped beside his temporary granite store. Beneath the stairs were three towers of heavy slabs. His intention had been to impress Anne this evening with a finished terrace. He’d taken the day off and heaped up the earth behind the new drystone wall. But he’d underestimated the work it would involve.
He calculated what he had left to do. Laying the remaining granite slabs would take another day, after which he’d be able to lie in the sun on his deck chair and enjoy the view of the Alps. If his luck held out, it would soon be the two of them sitting here together. After all, Anne had certainly taken a shine to his little farmhouse. The old wooden house in Eichenhubel, a secluded hamlet near Bern, had been a good buy. At first it was a shambolic building site. Now the water, heating and electricity were all functioning. Winter was going to do the rest of the renovations gradually, when he had time. Working with his hands made for a good balance. You could immediately see the results of your labours. Maybe Anne would help him paint the shutters. At least the initial chaos had been tamed, Winter felt.
Being able to get your bearings straight away and act decisively amidst chaos was crucial in the security business too. Anybody who couldn’t imagine the worst possible scenario wasn’t paranoid enough to work in this field. Lost in thought, he stroked the rough edges of the granite. They cut into his fingers. For a moment, those dead eyes from his past appeared again. ‘Not today!’ Winter thought. Shaking his head, he climbed back up the outdoor stairs.
In the meantime Tiger had stretched out on the old wooden bench. The tomcat purred his contentment when Winter ruffled his neck. What could be better than a cat’s life? To sleep as much as your heart desired, to be answerable to no one and to be presented with full bowl of food every day. You only had to hunt the occasional mouse. Winter went into the kitchen and put the bottle of wine on the shelf. He glanced at his mobile. A missed call. He probably hadn’t heard it when he was in the bath.