Hotel Vier Jahreszeiten Kempinski
June 15, 9:54 a.m.
The young man sat on the edge of the bed and stared at the pistol he had just finished loading. It was a slim, lightweight. 22. Easily concealed, simple to operate. He had used guns like this for years. He had killed with them. Men and women. Many of them.
He even knew most of their names.
The fact that he did not know all of their names was like a nail in his head. The floor around the bed was littered with crumpled up sheets of paper on which lists of names had been scribbled. On the first few sheets, the names that he could remember were written in a neat, flowing script. On the more recent ones they were scrawled in haphazard fashion. More than once the tip of his pen had gouged into the notepad, cutting fresh pages like blades on flesh.
The young man knew about that, too. He had used knives more than once.
Even a garrote.
The most recent page lay crumpled on the floor between his bare feet. Beside it lay yesterday’s bottle of Scotch. Today’s was in splinters at the base of the wall where it had been thrown.
There were other bottles too. The room was a disaster, the trash can the only place uncluttered by discards. It stood empty, like a statement, by the open refrigerator door. Inside the fridge, a week’s worth of leftovers had become worlds for new life forms, and the odor was appalling.
The young man did not care.
“Dr. Sirois!” he shouted suddenly, remembering another name. With fevered hands he began his list again. Seventy- eight names now. Seventy-eight.
He wrote them as carefully as trembling fingers would allow. As neatly as his mind would allow, but by the time he was halfway done the list even he couldn’t read most of what he’d written. He’d lost count somewhere in the forties and tore the page from the pad, crushed it in his fist, and hurled it as far as he could.
Then he screamed.
“ Seventy-eight, you sodding freak! ”
Seventy-eight was too much. He knew that. Too many deaths. Too many murders. Far too many to atone for. There was no way anyone could be forgiven for that many deaths. A saint would burn for half as many, and he knew that he was far, far from that kind of grace.
Seventy-eight. Too many.
But not enough. There were more. He could remember them. He could remember the trigger-pulls, the plunge of blades. But why couldn’t he remember their names?
He screamed again, an inarticulate plea to a God he knew would not spit on him.
When the phone rang, his screams died in the humid air of his hotel room. There was a ghost of an echo, and then silence.
Until the second ring.
The young man stared at the phone.
Not the hotel phone, which had been silent since he checked in three weeks ago.
Not at his personal cell phone, which lay smashed on the floor under the shoe he had used to destroy it.
No, this was the other cell. A bright purple one with a ruggedized rubber shell. The one he had picked up a hundred times, ready to make a call, ready to beg for forgiveness, but which he had put down each time.
The phone kept ringing.
It had not rung for weeks. Not since he had left the private villa that sat in the shade of the Kolakchal Mountain, Jamshidiyeh Park in Tehran. Not since he had been caught reading the encrypted computer files. Hacking those files had taken months. Reading them had broken his heart. Being caught reading them had resulted in a terrible fight. Shouts, hard words, and a single punch-the hardest the young man had ever thrown-that left the owner of those files dazed and bleeding on the floor. The words that man had said as the young man backed away from the horror of what he had just done-those words had opened up a fissure in his mind. They had broken something that the young man knew could not be mended.
Maybe not even by God Himself.
The purple phone kept ringing.
On the eleventh ring, he answered it. He did not speak, did not say hello, did not ask who was calling. There was only one person who could possibly have this number.
“Toys,” whispered Hugo Vox. “C’mon, kid… say something for Christ’s sake.”
Toys bent forward as quickly and sharply as if he had been punched in the stomach.
“Toys!” begged Vox. “Are you there?”
Into the phone he said, “No.”
And he disconnected the call.