Slibulsky and I were crammed into the china cupboard, emptied for the purpose, of a small Brazilian restaurant on the outskirts of the Frankfurt railway station district, waiting for a couple of racketeers to show up demanding protection money.
The cupboard was about one metre twenty wide and seventy centimetres deep. Neither Slibulsky nor I would be giving the clothing industry cause for concern about the sales of their XL sizes. Furthermore, we were wearing bulletproof vests, and when it came to the crunch we hoped at least to get a pistol and a shotgun into position where we wouldn’t shoot ourselves in the foot or blast our own heads off. I could just imagine the racketeers entering the restaurant, hearing pitiful cries in the corner after a while, and opening the cupboard door to find two total idiots squashed inside, arms and legs flailing helplessly. And I pictured Romario’s face at this sight. Romario was the owner and manager of the Saudade, and he had appealed to me for help.
. . . .
‘Hm?’ Brief, unemotional. The sweet he was sucking clicked against his teeth.
‘What did you have for supper?’
‘Supper? What do you mean? Can’t remember.’
You don’t remember what was on the plate in front of you a few hours ago?’
He cleared his throat, the way other people might give a little whistle or roll their eyes, indicating that they’ll try to answer your question in friendly tones, but naturally it doesn’t for a moment interest them.
‘Let’s see … oh yes, I know. Cheese. Handkäse. That was it. Gina went shopping this morning and …’
‘Handkäse with onions.’ And you can’t get much smellier than Handkäse anyway.
‘Of course with onions. You don’t eat cheese with strawberries, do you?’
I put a good deal of effort into giving him as contemptuous a glance as I could in the dim light of the cupboard.
‘Didn’t I tell you we’d be spending some time together in this hole?’
‘Yup, I believe you did mention it. Although I remembered the cupboard as kind of larger.’
‘Oh yes? Like how large? I mean, how big does a cupboard have to be for two people, one of whom has just been stuffing himself with onions, to breathe easily inside it?’
In what little light filtered through the keyhole and some cracks in the sides of the cupboard, I saw Slibulsky make a face. ‘I thought we were here to scare off some sort of Mafia characters? With our guns and bulletproof vests, like the good guys we are. But maybe Miss Kayankaya fancies running a hairdressing salon instead of a detective agency?’
What did I say to that? Best ignore it. I told him, ‘I’ve got sweat running down my face and into my mouth, I have a feeling your stink is condensing, and I don’t reckon the good guys have to put up with other people farting.’
Cursing quietly, I bent to look through the keyhole. I could see Romario’s bandaged arm the other side of it. He was sitting at the bar doing something with a calculator and a notepad, as if cashing up for the evening after closing the restaurant. In fact he was too nervous to add up so much as the price of a couple of beers. They’d paid him their first visit a week ago: two strikingly well-dressed young men not much older than twenty-five, waving pistols and a note saying: This is a polite request for your monthly donation of 6,000 DM to the Army of Reason, payable on the first of each month. Thanking you in advance. They didn’t say a word, they just smiled – at least until Romario had read the note, handed it back, and believing, not least in view of the sheer size of the sum, that he was dealing with a couple of novices said, ‘Sorry, I don’t see how I can go along with your request.’
Whereupon they stopped smiling, shoved the barrels of their pistols into his belly, crumpled up the note, stuffed it into Romario’s mouth and forced him to chew and swallow it. Then they wrote Back the day after tomorrow on the bar in black felt pen, and went away.