The small store was fairly empty that morning, but still full of sounds. The IKI’s own musical jingle played now and then. Someone loading something in the back of the store dropped cartons of items with a ka-klunk. The heater fan blew from a device suspended from the ceiling.
But, slipping through the noise, he heard something else. A cell phone rang. Allan felt certain it had started ringing when he dialed Aunt Julia’s number.
Since she didn’t answer, he turned the phone off. The ringing of the other phone stopped as well.
A tightening began in his stomach. He felt his pulse beat harder in his neck. The idea that the bald man might be here, in Klaipeda, in this IKI, made him break out in a cold sweat.
He dialed the number again, and again a phone, several aisles over, rang.
He turned off his phone again and ducked behind a stack of canned vegetables. He chanced a look around the corner of the display. An old lady, toddling along behind a small cart, was the only person in sight.
He felt himself breathe easier. Then he glanced up into one corner of the room and saw a large, round mirror. In its reflection, he could make out a lone figure, distorted by the oval mirror’s shape. The man wore a heavy black coat and a dark cap. Allan couldn’t see his face.
He had to get closer.
Windows of plate glass lined the front of the store. He thought he might get a better glimpse of the big guy through the reflection. He slipped around the corner to the next aisle. He was just two or three aisles away, but he still couldn’t see his reflection clearly in the window. It was too bright outside.
He slipped around the corner of the next aisle, but the view wasn’t any clearer. He started to the next display and ran into the old lady with the shopping cart.
“Oje!” she exclaimed, and Allan jumped back.
He felt exposed now. He had lost track of the man in the overcoat. He cautiously moved toward the end of the display, aware that his movements looked extremely odd, but fearing he might get caught. He looked around the corner of the display and saw a figure standing about twenty feet away, with his back toward Allan. He seemed to be trying to read the labels on some wine bottles. Allan still couldn’t see his face.
Directly behind him was a fish display. The grocer who took fish orders had left the counter. Allan dashed across the aisle, in full sight, had the guy turned to look his way. He pushed through some swinging doors into the stocking area. It was empty.
Turning left, he crept up to the fish counter.
He could see the man now, with his back to Allan. He looked for mirrors in the store, but none were in a position to reveal the man’s face. Allan had to know if it was the bald man.
He pulled out his phone again and started to dial Aunt Julia’s number. His breath came in puffs in the frigid stocking area of the store. If the man’s phone rang when he dialed her number, he would know he had Aunt Julia’s phone and was here in Lithuania. He took another look in the big man’s direction.
The man was no longer looking at the wine bottles, but was scrutinizing something in his hands.
Before he pressed the dial button, Allan’s phone vibrated and chimed in his hands. He backed up, trying to silence the device. It dropped to the concrete floor. He grabbed it in time to silence it on the fifth note.
“Hello?” the bald man in the heavy black coat called in his direction. “Hello?” He inched closer to the fish counter.
Allan fell to the floor and rolled under a sink packed with ice and fish. The concrete was icy cold down there, and water was leaking slowly from a pipefitting.
Inches away, and separated by a tin wall, Allan’s enemy stood silently, waiting. Allan held his breath. He felt the man’s presence—an evil, ominous presence, on the other side. Several frozen moments later, he heard him shuffle on down the aisle.
Rolling out from beneath the sink, he rose into a crouch and moved farther back into the stockroom. Finding a back door, he shoved it open and ran into the light. Down one alley, left at the next. He ran as fast as he could, not even looking back to see if his foe followed. He eventually decided he had, once again, eluded the bald man. He hailed a cab on H. Manto Gatve, one of the main streets, and rode back to Carole’s apartment, watching through the back windows to ensure he was alone.
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