8.40pm, 24 July
Winter lay motionless in the filthy water. A thin film of grease coated the surface. A mosquito was mired there, in its death throes.
The water had penetrated Winter’s ears and had tunnelled its way through his ear canals to his eardrums. Eyes closed. Head and neck arched back. Adam’s apple and injured hand projecting from the lukewarm water.
The hand was badly grazed. Dirt under the finger nails, a mixture of soil, clay and organic remains. One of the fingernails was split. The pulse was weak and very slow. The mosquito stopped moving.
After a hard day’s physical work, he was relaxing his aching back in the bath. He wanted to be on top form tonight with Anne.
He was reminiscing about their first date. The scent of her Issey Miyake perfume on that early summer evening when she had given him the three-kiss greeting. Her luminous smile and the glass of sparkling white wine as they were standing on the old wooden balcony.
With an apologetic shrug, he had shown her his half-finished terrace in his riotous garden, which contained nothing edible except wild courgettes and cucumbers. He could still clearly remember the energy flowing between them as she had laughed and put her hand on his arm. She had said his jungle was ‘romantic’ and that she was looking forward to tasting the raspberries and blackberries.
They had managed to get the stone barbeque going, after a lot of blowing. He had almost fainted because of a lack of oxygen and she had teased him about that. By the time the steaks were finally sizzling, Anne was covered in soot. The black impression of the edge of the barbeque streaked across her T-shirt just under her breasts. His tea towel had only made the situation worse. Since then, Winter hadn’t been able to forget Anne’s belly button.
The memories of that wonderful evening filled him with warm feelings. The freely roaming thoughts were a good sign. The hard physical work on the terrace and the relaxation of the bath were doing him good.
After the meal, he and Anne had sat for a long time, slowly finishing a bottle of Rioja. With the light fading and the crickets chirping, Winter had lit the lanterns. Later he had made coffee and served the cheesecake from his favourite bakery.
Anne had told Winter about her dream of seeing the lizards on the Galapagos Islands. Winter had rhapsodised over the national parks in Canada with their huge, untouched forests. They had laughed and talked until deep into the night.
But not about the private bank. At some point, he and his deputy had reached an unspoken agreement not to speak about their work in his house. Boss and employee. It was a fine line. A working lunch in a pizzeria is one thing. A formal dinner with clients, too. But an intimate dinner-for-two was pushing it. After much agonising, his heart had won over his head.
Winter slowly lifted his head and sat up in the water. He gingerly reached out his injured hand for the beer next to the bath. The cool bottle relieved some of the burning of the blisters he had burst. He wondered how his shooting accuracy would be affected by his poor maltreated hand. Fortunately there weren’t many armed robberies. These days, robberies took place in the back offices. The criminals wore pinstripes instead of balaclavas. They hacked computers instead of breaking open safes.
Winter downed his beer in one, got out of the bath and started to shave. Before he brought the razor to his stubble, he checked his face in the mirror. The lines that were beginning to show didn’t bother him. Maybe this time Anne would stay the night, not just give him a long goodnight kiss.
He had met her at a judo competition. He hadn’t made it past the quarter-finals, but she had won in her category. Still sweating, he had congratulated her on her win and invited her to dinner. She had politely declined but when she saw from his business card that he worked for a private bank, had asked: ‘Do you employ lawyers, too?’
‘Of course. Otherwise no one would understand the contracts, although I’m not sure what came first, the lawyers or the contracts!’
She had laughed, cocked her head but stayed silent. He knew then that she wasn’t only a good judo fighter but also a good negotiator.
‘Send me your CV and I’ll ask our head of legal’.
Two weeks later and it hadn’t worked out with the job but he’d got a lunch date in a brasserie. That was the first time he had seen Anne in one of her elegant trouser suits. She had, like him, studied Law. Then she had worked in a legal practice with a name so long that Winter couldn’t register it.
But Winter had seen from her CV that she had been a police officer before university. Two years in uniform while she was doing the baccalaureate. That’s how she became his right hand. Although they had only known each other for six months, they trusted each other completely.
When he stepped out onto the balcony barefoot and with only a towel around his waist, the temperature was still comfortable. The sun was just below the horizon. The weathered wood had kept the day’s warmth. The distant mountains were visible, a good sign for tomorrow’s weather.
Winter went down the creaky outside steps and got a bottle of Rioja from the cool stone cellar.
On the way back, he paused by his temporary granite store. There were still three piles of heavy granite slabs under the steps. He had wanted to impress Anne tonight with the finished terrace. He had taken the day off and had banked up the earth behind the new natural stone wall. But he had underestimated the amount of work involved.
He calculated the work still to be done. He would need one more day to lay all the granite slabs. Then he could sit back in a deck chair and enjoy the sunshine and the view of the Alps. With any luck, they’d soon be sitting here together. Anne had certainly liked his little farmhouse.
The old wooden house near Eichenhubel, a remote hamlet not too far from Berne, had been a good buy. In the beginning, the house had been a chaotic building site. The water, heating and power were working now.
He planned to do the rest of the renovation work gradually. When he had time. Manual work was a good balance. You could see straightaway what you’d done. Maybe Anne would help him paint the shutters. One way or another, Winter had the feeling that he had tamed the initial disarray.
Being able to get your bearings and act decisively in the midst of chaos was vital in the security business, too. If you can’t imagine yourself in the worst-case scenario, you’re not paranoid enough to survive in this business.
Lost in thought, he stroked the raw edges of the granite with the palm of his hand. For a moment the dead eyes from the past loomed before him again.
Winter shook his head and thought: Not tonight. He slowly climbed the steps.
In the meantime, Tiger had spread himself across the antique wooden bench. The tomcat purred happily as Winter tickled him under the chin. Oh, to be a cat: sleep as long as you want, answerable to no one, a full bowl of food every day and every now and then hunt a couple of mice.
Winter went into the kitchen and put the bottle of wine on the shelf. He glanced at his mobile. A missed call. He’d probably missed it when he was in the bath.
It was Anne.