Gunnar sat alone in a waterfront bar in Tunis. He sat waiting at an old, scarred, wooden table, with a glass and an open bottle of gin in front of him.
He had been coming here every night for the last three. He would arrive at 10pm and wait until midnight. Ingrid had told him that he would be contacted and he was being well paid so, he could wait. If his contact did not show then he should return to the hotel and avoid attracting attention. When the contact shows he should lay out the deal, get the up-front money, and leave. He could feel the H&K tucked in his waistband, pressed against his lower back. It comforted him.
When she came in he knew who she was. She was playing spy and looked like she had just stepped out of a Bogart movie; a dark trench coat, dark fedora with her hair tucked underneath, and sunglasses. She threaded her way across the bar, through the cat calls and past the drunks, taking a seat across the table from him.
He nodded and got straight to the point, “When do you need this done?”
“As soon as possible; he’s in Vienna until the eighteenth. Can you do it there?”
“Listen, doll; first of all I don’t do it. I’m just a messenger. Understand? I need a photograph and seventy-five thousand, US, or it’ll never happen. The balance will be due when the job is completed.”
She slid a manila envelope across the table and tapped it twice as she pulled her hand away, like she was reluctant to give it up.
He looked inside and liked what he saw, he smiled as he re-closed the envelope and tucked it inside his jacket.
“You can still change your mind you know. You can still reject the whole deal,” he told her, “but once I walk out of here it’ll be done. There’s no backing out. You’ll have no way to contact me.”
“I understand,” she said.
Gunnar stood and pulled his cap low over his eyes, “I’ll come see you in about a week.” He patted the envelope in his jacket pocket, “for the rest of this. Wait five minutes before you leave.” At the door he looked back. She was sitting with her elbows on the ancient table, her chin resting on her hands, and a faraway stare in her eyes. He didn’t think she would be any trouble. He went straight to the airport.
Ingrid was waiting for him when he got to Stockholm. She invited him in and took the envelope. Sliding the money in a desk drawer, she studied the photo.
“This looks like a serious and determined man. I might even speculate that he had a cruel streak.” she said. “But I don’t ask them why, I don’t care why.” She held the photo up to Gunnar even though he had already seen it. “Let’s go pick one.”
They made their way to her workroom at the back of the apartment. It was filled with dolls, mostly dead dolls; worn and broken dolls; some without eyes, some without hair, or legs or arms; this room always creeped him out. Arranged on a table against the far wall were four complete dolls, looking new. Their faces were intact; their clothes new and clean. They looked like something a child would delight in. Gunnar knew better.
Ingrid picked up one of the dolls. She had a pleasant countenance, dark hair and wore a plain white blouse, a blue skirt and a colorful shawl. A gold beaded necklace completed her ensemble. Ingrid found a box and some packing material for the doll.
“Maddie just sent me this beauty from Guayaquil,” Ingrid said. “You deliver her to his room but you must be back there before dawn. She’ll kill him in his sleep and make her way downstairs. If there’s an alley behind the hotel you’ll find her there. If not then she’ll be in the nearest park. Pluck her eyes out, burn her clothes, and bring her back here.” She handed him the box.
At the door she added, “After you bring her back to me it’s off to Vermont for you to collect the balance of the cash. I envy you that, New England is beautiful this time of year.
“Safe travels Gunnar.” She stood on her toes to kiss him then backed into the apartment and shut the door.