No. 2: Cold Fish, Hot Shower
Lisbon Oceanarium – Lisbon, Portugal
38.7635° N, 9.0937° W
The only train from Salamanca to Lisbon departs at 4:30 each morning. I very nearly missed it.
Drenched and shivering, I bounded aboard just as it began its languid slide out of the Estación de Salamanca-Vialia. Once inside, I made directly for the tiny toilet. There in flickering, pale fluorescent light, accosted on all sides by the overpowering citric fragrance of a commercial restroom deodorizer, I puked Bloody Marys for the next hour and a half. Throughout the ordeal, a band of rowdy footballers from Madrid kept banging violently on the door. I discerned only the word coño between my convulsions, and, thankfully, they eventually lost interest and moved on.
When I finally emerged from the WC, I stumbled woodenly to my seat and collapsed, as if I were a Serengeti wildebeest felled by a tranquilizer dart. I’d not so much as closed my eyes in the past three days, so, understandably, I slept like a stone for the rest of the six-hour, 24-minute journey (I assume the only interruption was the passport check at the border, but I have no recollection of it). I remained unconscious until a conductor gently roused me at the Estação do Oriente in Lisbon at nearly 11am.
To foil any futile attempts to follow me, I took a circuitous, convoluted route through a nearby forested park and doubled back through a sizable luxury hotel and a crowded vegetable market teeming with tourists. So, what under normal circumstances would have been a five-minute stroll from the station to the Oceanário de Lisboa, in the end took about 40 minutes. I even had time to play the slots and rub one out in the casino across the street.
At the aquarium, I paid the €11 admission fee and I made my way to our rendezvous spot. Javier stood alone, his back to me, watching sharks, groupers and the occasional dogfish glide by in the mesmerizing azure expanse of 5,000 cubic meters of shimmering seawater. I called his name, and he turned, radiating a warm smile. We embraced and laughed. He looked quite relaxed, and our secret signal — the orientation of his silver gecko lapel pin at the one o’clock position — indicated that all was well and we could forgo speaking in code during this encounter.
“As you requested, sire.” Grinning, he mock-bowed deeply and handed me one of two large paper cups of hot dark roast. “Welcome back.”
“Thanks,” I said, and began gulping down the coffee, while Javier looked me up and down and shook his head.
“Jesus, Stumpy, you look like shit,” he said. “Who did you provoke this time?”
“No one of consequence,” I replied. “Just a tax-evading, nouveau riche Frenchie schmuck.”
“You mean that UBS suit from Zurich? The one with the My Little Pony tattoo on his scrote?”
“No, the other one. The dipshit actor,” I said, tossing the drained cup into a trash receptacle. “It was a complete utter fucking waste of time. And it’s pissing me off that we can’t talk freely over an open line.”
Javier’s gaze dropped. He absently kicked at the edge of a gray disc of dessicated chewing gum stuck to the oceanarium floor. Neither of us spoke. Finally, he looked me straight in the eye and asked, “We’re back to square one, then?”
He exhaled slowly, then took a deep draft of his coffee and said, “OK, so we regroup. I’ll work on a voice encryption solution with Veronika. Sorry, I know this texting is bullshit. It was the best I could do on short notice.”
“You’ve taken the appropriate precautions, Javier. I can live with a little inconvenience if it means our comms are secure.”
“Right. Well, how about some fugu sashi, then a long, hot shower for you, my friend?” He knew I couldn’t refuse an opportunity to pay a visit to the Kobayashi Sushi House around the corner on Alameda dos Oceanos, no matter how hung over, filthy, tired or depressed I might be.
“Splendid. After which I’ll meet with the senior reptiles and relay new instructions. We won’t let this little setback demoralize us,” I reassured him, “not by a long shot. You’ve alerted them as instructed, yes?”
He nodded, pursing his lips, “Of course.”
It was time to go. We had work to do. As we stepped toward the exit, I wrapped my right arm around his shoulders and, smirking mischieviously, asked, “Say, do you need an electric toothbrush?”
“Balls of Christ, no. Who knows where that thing’s been.”
“Indeed, Javier,” I said, “indeed. I didn’t expect you to fall for that one again.”