The phone was a tarnished, grubby old thing, sitting amidst a scrap heap of useless receipts and ballpoint pens on the counter. After the waitress showed it to him, she wandered off to stand a polite distance away and left Godfrey to make his call. He dialed the number from memory, then slowly lifted the receiver to his ear. His heart was beating unusually fast as he waited for someone to pick up. It seemed to take an eternity before anyone did; each ring was stretched out to a nearly endless, rattling whine which bounced around inside his head, filling it with doubts and second thoughts. But finally a voice answered:
"Hello?" It was a woman, speaking in English. Her voice sounded distant and tinny through the telephone receiver.
Godfrey reached back into his memory and dusted off his rusty English skills to formulate a response.
"Hello. Good day. My name is Godfrey De Vries . . ." He wasn't sure how to proceed, and only partially because of his incomplete English. He suddenly felt extremely foolish.
"Ah, Mr. De Vries," said the woman, switching smoothly to Dutch, "I've been waiting to hear from you."
Godfrey floundered for a moment and it was several moments before he could think to say anything. "You've been waiting to hear from me?" he stammered.
"Yes, Mr. De Vries, I have been anticipating a call from you. No doubt you are calling to learn more about the note that was delivered to you two days ago."
Godfrey looked furtively around him. The waitress was leaning against a counter a few paces away, tracing invisible patterns onto it with her finger. Godfrey turned away so as to muffle his voice somewhat.
"How do you know who I am?" he hissed into the telephone set. "Who are you?"
"As a banker, I thought you would know how very easy it is to find out things about people in this day and age," said the voice. "If it's done right, all you need is a name."
For some reason Godfrey felt a slight tingle down his spine.
"So I hope you will forgive me for not sharing my name with you, Mr. De Vries," the voice continued.
"What do you want?" asked Godfrey. He pressed his back against the wall so that he would resist the temptation to look repeatedly over his shoulder.
"The question isn't what I want," said the voice with feigned warmth. "The question is what you want. Do you want to play a game?"
"Damn your game," said Godfrey, his uneasiness giving way to anger. "It's ludicrous. And it's certainly no game."
"The stakes are high, but so is the payout."
"I don't even know who you are. How can you expect me to go along with this? This is all a sick prank as far as I'm concerned." Godfrey was seized with the temptation to hang up then and there, but the woman's voice held the phone to his ear as she began speaking again.
"You don't believe this is real? You are a wanted criminal, Godfrey De Vries. We know who you are, we know where you are; but we're giving you a chance at a clean slate. Not to mention a fortune greater than you ever had before."
"Clean slate," spat Godfrey. "Even if all you say is true, which I'm almost positive it isn't, what kind of deal is that? You're telling me to commit not one, but nine murders to wipe away my past crimes. Seems to me as though that only makes the likelihood of my getting apprehended nine times greater."
It occurred to Godfrey then that this might be some sort of ingenious police tactic employed to locate him. How, he couldn't say, but it crossed his mind that this might be a trap. He determined to get off the line in a minute whether his questions were answered or not.
"Don't pretend you've never killed before," said the woman. "You got away with it once. Taking lives is easier than stealing money — people don't care as much."
Godfrey's heart stuttered in his chest as though he had just fallen unexpectedly from a great height. The voice continued:
"There is a drawer in the counter next to you. Open it."
Godfrey glanced up to check on the waitress, but she had left to wait on a fat man in a weatherbeaten leather jacket. With a shaking hand, he slid open the drawer.
Godfrey's insides froze. An old black handgun lay amid a jumble of straws and sugar packets. It was scratched and black, but someone seemed to have splashed some white paint over the handle sometime along its long life. It looked horribly familiar. . . .
Godfrey's eyes flicked frantically around the room; no one was looking. Slowly, he eased his hand into the drawer and closed his fingers about the gun. Using his body to shield it from view, Godfrey examined it, but there was no doubt even after a brief look that this was indeed the weapon that Godfrey had once committed murder with.
"You should be very familiar with how it works, Mr. De Vries," breathed the voice in his ear. "It has nine bullets in it. Convenient, isn't it?"
Godfrey could no longer stand it, and looking up at the clock on the wall, he saw that he had overstayed his minute anyway. He stuffed the pistol inside his coat and slammed the telephone back into his cradle.
He murmured a rushed thank you to the waitress as he brushed by her and hurried out the door onto the drizzly street. The biting chill to the air was refreshing and cleared his head somewhat, but he was still breathing hard. He started to walk unsteadily down the street. A car rolled by and spattered him with icy water, but he barely even noticed. All he could think of was the gun, like an incriminating bloodstain, tucked into his coat's inside pocket.