Reynhard Dorst, a secretive man in search of something vital. He finally receives word, a sighting of his quarry.
He smiled as he strolled along the parkway, casually nodding greeting to the other people who had decided today was a beautiful day for a walk. That his fellow pedestrians smirked or recoiled from his appearance meant nothing to him. No, that was incorrect. He winked ludicrously at a little girl, almost laughing when her mother tugged her sharply away. It’s actually quite entertaining.
Spring had come early to the southern Mediterranean, and the sun gleamed from his pale bald scalp. Normally he would have made more of an effort to blend in with the locals; up until yesterday, he had. But today he had a special meeting. He’d slipped into this persona to impress the young man waiting for him. It was so much easier to maintain control of an encounter when one had the upper hand. In this case, the “upper hand” consisted of a three-piece business suit that easily cost a thousand euros, and a facial scar that distorted the pasty dough of his skin, making every glance a derisive leer.
The edge of the park came nearer as he walked the center of the path, the rush and roar of traffic growing louder, drowning out birdsong and startled gasps of Humans getting their first and last good look at his face. To the left was a small kiosk selling cappuccino. He approached, scaring the daylights out of a teenager, and smiled politely at the proprietor. “Hot chocolate, please.” An experienced business woman, she hardly batted an eye as she prepared the drink. Impressed with the shrewd behavior, he lifted his cup in salute and gave her a hefty tip before walking to the nearest park bench.
A man sat there already, dressed in jeans and fancy Italian shoes that probably cost him a month’s salary. He appeared nervous as he constantly shifted, brushing lint off his pants, adjusting the collar of his tasteful polo shirt, running his fingers through his stylishly long hair. He pinned the newcomer with a sharp look, not quite wincing away as received a return stare. “Dorst?”
He smiled, delighting in the man’s narrowed eyes as he fought not to cringe from the evil expression. “Reynhard Dorst, at your service.” He gave a gracious bow of his head, and primly crossed his legs at the knee, perching his cup at the apex. Glancing around at the passing scenery, he affected an air of satisfaction. “What a wondrous day, don’t you think? I must say I was most pleased to hear from you, Gerard. Meeting here was a spectacular idea; I’m glad you thought of it!” He turned to study Gerard with polite interest.
A puzzled expression crossed Gerard’s face, and he cleared his throat. “Um, yeah.” He shrugged in that way that all young twenty-somethings did to indicate discomfort with the social situation. “It’s close to my apartment, and on the way to work.”
Dorst’s portrayed deep sorrow as he shook his head, clicking his tongue. “Really? I would have expected you to find someplace less likely for a meeting with me than one you regularly frequent. Fortunately for you, I’ve not seen anyone following, else our agreement would have to come to a rather sticky end.”
Gerard swallowed, his darker complexion fading at the implication. “I just— I’m sorry. I wasn’t thinking. It’s been a bad week, and—“
“Don’t think twice about it.” Dorst waved a long-fingered hand, enjoying Gerard’s flinch. “Just improve.”
While Gerard collected himself, Dorst sipped at his drink. The chocolate was rich and sweet, with just a hint of bitterness. Excellent. He vowed to buy another before leaving as he turned his attention to Gerard’s dithering. “You said you had something for me? Something so important that it couldn’t be discussed over a secure phone line?”
“Yes! You’ll never believe it!” Gerard looked around them, as if expecting someone to pop out of the bushes with a microphone. He scooted as close as he dared, reaching into a back pocket to retrieve a battered envelope. “There was a call last night from America. The master was very agitated this morning, and rushed out right after breakfast. I was able to sneak into his office and replace the tape.”
Dorst took the envelope, raising a hairless eyebrow. “Have you listened to it?”
Gerard forgot himself, rolling his eyes in youthful exasperation. “Of course. Why do you think I insisted we meet?” He lowered his voice, dropping it to a whisper so quiet that it wasn’t audible over the sound of traffic. “It’s about a ninsumgal sighting.”
Is this one real? Crumpling the envelope in his hand, he felt the miniature tape press into his palm. Gerard recoiled, slipping along the bench, and Dorst realized he must be showing too much intensity. He forced himself to portray calmness as he tucked it into the interior pocket of his expensive jacket. “Where?”
“Seattle, Washington. Some priest spotted her, but no one’s sure it’s her, yet.”
Dorst nodded as he stood. Gerard shot to his feet, as well. Hot chocolate forgotten, Dorst pulled out a different envelope, this filled with his subordinate’s fee. “Thank you, Gerard. You’ve been most helpful today.”
Gerard didn’t bother to look at the contents as he stuffed the envelope into his pocket. “I promise, I won’t mess it up next time, Sañur Gasum.”
Before he could gush more, Dorst raised a hand, stopping the Human in his tracks. “I expect you will. Good bye.”
He left Gerard standing at the bench as he retraced his steps down the park path. This time he took no notice of the horrified expressions of passing people, focused entirely on Gerard’s news.
There had only been two ninsumgal sightings since the early seventeen hundreds. Both had been elaborate fakes created by ruling houses in Europe scrabbling for wealth and power. One had been a mere Human who bore a strong resemblance to a long-dead woman. The other hadn’t even been corporeal — simple smoke and mirrors created to give the impression that the ninsumgal had returned.
But in America? Really? It had never occurred to him that she may return on a completely different continent. The political ramifications alone would be staggering. If it’s true. He patted the recording in his breast pocket. He needed to return to his flat, listen to the phone conversation, and make travel plans. Even if there was some doubt, he needed to go to Seattle to confirm or deny the rumor.
I’ve always wanted to see America.