Godfrey sat, cold and huddled against the concrete wall, gazing out at the relentless rain that poured down to explode against the water, splashing like tiny meteorites into the rippling grayness of the river. The smell of cheep cigarettes wafted from the glowing red butts that the other bums under the bridge were smoking. But Godfrey barely noticed any of this; he just stared at the pistol cradled in his lap.
There was no doubt that this was the very same gun Godfrey had held in his shaking seventeen-year-old hands almost forty years ago, that he had pulled the trigger of with fatal consequences. It was a Browning High-Power, black and grimy, with a splatter of white paint on its hand grip. Godfrey picked up the handgun and turned it over in his raw hands. His spindly fingers stroked the handle, tickling the slim trigger.
Nine bullets. Nine names.
But who were the names? Who wanted them dead? And why had they chosen him to be the killer?
Some game, thought Godfrey. But he was now sure that it was no game, no mere prank. This was real. The Browning High-Power was proof of that. The woman on the phone was proof of that.
But how to win a game that had no rules? How to defeat an opponent he didn't know? How to quit a game he had never joined?
Could he really kill nine people? Did that feeble muscle pounding in his chest (which he hesitated to call a heart) feel any revulsion at the thought? No. He was repulsive, weak, and many other things, but he was not scrupulous. He was a criminal. He was a murderer.
Godfrey gripped the pistol in his hand; the rough plastic brought back disturbing memories. If he played this "game," whose hands was he really playing into? They had promised a life of wealth and comfort, a life which now seemed like nothing more than a pleasant dream, barely remembered. It was tempting. But what if he lost the game? What if the promise was just a promise? Promises could so easily be broken. . . .
I have to find out more, thought Godfrey.
* * *
Seated at a nearby internet cafe, Godfrey hovered his fingers above the keyboard like pale, twin spiders preparing to pounce on their prey. He glanced over at the crumpled paper and looked at the first name.
Michelle Sanchez. He typed it into the search bar and punched the return key. Instantly, thousands upon thousands of pages scrolled down the screen. Godfrey took a deep breath and dragged his eyes down the page, trying to find one that stood out, one that could have a connection to "the game."
Nothing. There were too many people with the name Michelle Sanchez. How could he possibly know which one was the right one?
Never mind. He hadn't expected it to be that easy.
Let's try another name.
His eyes flicked back to the paper and landed on the name that was haloed in a bloom of coffee. Tony Blake. It sounded like an English name, perhaps American. His spider-hands skittered across the keyboard and soon the computer was bringing up another long, long list of sites. But again, there were too many. The name was either too common, or the man was not famous enough. Or maybe he was up there, camouflaged among the hundreds of other Tony Blakes that were just people somewhere or nowhere.
This is impossible, thought Godfrey. He stared blankly at the mesmerizing white screen. Then he typed another name into the computer just to see...
Godfrey De Vries. It wasn't difficult to find himself among the other Godfreys. In fact, it was frighteningly easy. Of course he knew what he was looking for, but his court cases and his recent escape from prison stood out like glaring red flags. And then it struck him: What if this was all backwards? What if the nine people on the list were out to kill him?
Were there people who wanted him dead? Probably. He hadn't been particularly scrupulous as a banker and businessman and he knew that he had ruined a lot of people in his time. But then, who gave him the note? Why not just kill him then?
Godfrey glanced inadvertently around him. The other people in the cafe were staring into their computers like so many hypnotized thralls. He turned back to be hypnotized by his own. It didn't make sense. He needed to know more: something, anything, that would give him some sort of clue about what the hell this all meant.
His fingers clacked across the keys once more. He would try all the names.
Kamali Ncube. There weren't a lot of them. There was an architect in Zimbabwe that might be worth following up on. Godfrey circled the name on his list with a stubby pencil. And then there was Ebisawa Hitomi, another more unique name; a Japanese celebrity who had sung some foreign pop song a while back. Another circle for the list.
And then there was Thiago Torres. It was a common enough name in Latin America, but right at the top of the list was a possible lead. Godfrey took a moment to employ an internet translator and his heart stuttered in his chest.
Thiago Torres — DO YOU WANT TO PLAY A GAME?
It was so blatant, so obvious. This man wanted to be found. This man had paid to put up a site that was like a beacon to Godfrey. Godfrey knew he would have to tread carefully around this: It could be a trap. It was probably a trap.
Godfrey swallowed, then clicked on the site.
I'm not sure if I want to play yet, thought Godfrey, but it's about time I learned the rules.