Chris felt like an icy cold hand had grabbed his heart. Julian. The voice had called him Julian. That was the name the man he would use with the man he was to give the memory stick to. The owner of the voice knew who he was.
"Julian? I think you're mistaking me for someone else," he said, playing for time.
The woman on the right smiled. The woman on the left smiled too. The woman on the right spoke.
"Don't worry, we know that Julian is not your actual name."
"But we know you will go by the name Julian," said the woman on the left. "We don't know your real name. We don't care what your real name is. But we know who you are."
"We know what you have," said Right.
"We want it," said Left.
"I don't know what you're talking about," said Chris. It was relatively easy to feign bafflement. Even though he did know what they were talking about, everything else about them made no sense.
"We must apologise," said Right. "We chose badly when we recruited associates in Milan. Their methods were cruder than we would find acceptable."
"And they were unsuccessful," said Left.
"Our approach is different. Where they tried force, we try persuasion."
"And inducements," said Left. She held up a shopping bag containing objects whose nature was not immediately apparent to Chris, though an explanation was soon forthcoming. "One hundred thousand Euros. It can be yours. If you give us the memory stick."
"That is a most interesting offer," said Chris. "Though of course I still have no idea what this memory stick you are talking about is. But if I did… there is still the matter of those French cops who are going to haul me in for drug smuggling if I don't deliver the stick for them."
The two women looked at each other and then looked back at Chris. They smiled at him again. Their smile now was patronising. Chris did not like being patronised.
"Oh dear," said Left. "Did you really think they were cops?"
"They have no power over you," said Right.
"Take the money, give us the memory stick," said Left. "You will not hear from them again."
"And if you do, laugh in their face. They can do nothing."
This was not unconvincing. And it was hard to say no to someone offering you a hundred thousand Euro for something you did not want. But Chris hated people telling him that what they wanted was in his best interest. And he was genuinely fascinated by this whole business with the memory stick. Almost like a spectator in his own story, he wanted to see how it would end, and he felt that taking the money and giving them the stick would be like walking out of a cinema before the end of a film.
"No dice," he said, almost surprised that this was the phrase that popped out of his mouth. "Thanks for the offer, but you keep your money and I'll keep the stick."
"You are making a big mistake," said Right.
"Oh right, I suppose this is the moment when you both take out guns and try to shoot me, or else your accomplices come out of the shadows and try to take the stick from me by force?"
"Nothing so crude," said Right.
"Those are not our methods," said Left. "Your mistake lies in refusing the money - think what you could do with it."
"And think of who you are giving the stick to. You don't know anything about them. You don't know what they are going to do with the information it contains."
Chris had not thought of this. But what could the stick have on it? Sensitive commercial secrets? Some top secret bullshit government information from somewhere? Did he really care what anyone did with this information? No, he did not.
"I don't know and I don't care."
"Please," said Right, her tone almost pleading. "You have been forced to carry this stick. The people forcing you are not your friends. We are not your friends either, but we are making a generous offer to you for the stick. Does that not count for something?"
"If the money is not enough," said Left, "more could probably be arranged."
"You really want the memory stick," said Chris.
"To be honest," said Left, her voice sounding far more natural than it had at any point up to now, "we do not particularly want it. But we do not want it to reach its intended recipients. The consequences of that would be disastrous."
"Why? Who are these people I am to give it to?"
The two women looked at each other again, before turning back to Chris.
"We cannot tell you that," said Right.
"I'm sorry," said Left. The woman on the right nudged her. "I mean, we're sorry."
"We mean we're sorry," said Right, sounding somewhat irritated.
"That's what I meant," said Left.
"Stop fucking it up!" said Right.
"Jesus, give me a break. It's not easy to talk like this I'm some kind of fucking robot."
"Not in front of him!"
"Who said you could boss me around? I thought we were all equal?"
"Oh for fuck's sake."
"Ladies please, stop fighting," said Chris. "Or continue fighting if you like. I'll be on my way."
He walked off. Every moment he expected something untoward to happen - a gunshot, some kind of ray gun or poison dart bringing a veil of unconsciousness or death down on him, or as previously mentioned the sudden appearance of more jumpsuited weirdoes to wrestle him to the ground. Instead he just heard the two women bickering behind him, their voices receding as the distance between him and them increased.
"Now look what you've done. You fucking idiot."
"I'm the fucking idiot? This whole approach was your idea."
"You signed up for it. But you couldn’t stick to it. Like the fucking idiot you are."
"I don't have to take this. I could ask for reassignment."
"Well go right ahead, see if I care."
That was the last he heard of them. Or maybe he heard the words "blue chapter", but he was so far away by that point that they could have been saying anything.
He returned to his hotel and went to bed, though this time he was very careful to barricade his door with his bag and a chair provided by the room. Even so, various anxieties meant that he found sleep hard to come by. There were the jumpsuited women, of course. He had barricaded the door, but he bet that they would not find it much of an obstacle if they really put their mind to it. Or they could come in through the window. He had not barricaded that, and the balcony would be relatively accessible to people who were able to climb up walls. He had closed and locked the window, but surely they would be able to open that? And if they were to come in now, would they not be angry because he had refused their offer? Indeed, he found it hard not to think that they would be doubly angry, because they would probably want to patch up things between them by venting their fury on him. So if they showed up, he would be in trouble. They would not be offering him any more money for the memory stick.
But he did not just worry about being assaulted by the jumpsuited women. There was also the question of what would happen when he handed over the stick to Costas in the Bar Apollo. Would Costas wish him hearty thanks for his efforts and send him on his way, perhaps after buying Chris a beer as a sign of his gratitude? Or would Costas kill him to stop him telling anyone about his odd adventure? Put like that Chris had to concede that maybe the women had a point, that maybe he was being a fool to serve as a data mule for that mysterious shower of gobshites. But he felt that he had gone too far to back out now and he had a detached curiosity about how the whole escapade would end.
And of course, leaving aside the memory stick, there was also the small matter of his fucking wife, who was after all the real reason he had come to Greece in the first place. He still had to confront her and, what? Beg her not to leave him? Chris felt that in this regard he was completely wasting her time, for in their time together he knew that when Deirdre had settled on a course of action there was no turning her from it. Yet, as with the memory stick, he felt that he had to follow the story through to the end. Even if he had no hope of success, he was like an actor in a film who could not deviate from the script assigned to him.
He also thought of Lotte. Gav had said that she was clearly enamoured of him (though not of course in those words). Chris was daring to believe that he might be right about this, that Lotte's behaviour towards him was more than friendliness. He felt a bit conflicted about this, given that he was in Athens on a desperate mission to try and save his marriage, but simple vanity made Chris like the idea of an attractive woman like Lotte being attracted to him. He found himself imagining her undressing and climbing into bed beside him, imagining caressing her body and climbing on top of her. Maybe Gav was right, maybe German women really were all uncontrollable once you got them in the sack. He hated himself for thinking like this.
The story continues