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Authors: Emily St. John Mandel

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The next time he saw Vincent was on the last day of 1999, when he took a bus downtown from the airport with the Brandenburg Concertos playing on his Discman and found Vincent’s address in the sketchiest neighborhood he’d ever seen, a run-down building across the street from a little park where users stumbled around like extras from a zombie movie. While Paul waited for Vincent to answer the door, he tried not to look at them and not to think of the general preferability of being on heroin, not the squalid business of trying to get more of it and getting sick but the thing itself, the state in which everything in the world was perfectly fine.

Melissa answered the door. “Oh,” she said, “hey! You look exactly the same. Come in.” This was somehow reassuring. He felt marked, as if the details of Charlie Wu’s death were tattooed on his skin. Melissa did not look exactly the same. She’d obviously gone deep into the rave scene. She was wearing blue pants made of fun fur and a rainbow sweatshirt, and her hair, which was dyed bright pink, was in the same kind of pigtails he remembered Vincent wearing when she was five or six. Melissa led him down the stairs and into one of the worst apartments he’d ever walked into, a semifinished basement with water stains on the cinder-block walls. Vincent was making coffee in a tiny kitchenette.

“Hey,” she said, “it’s great to see you.”

“You too.” The last time he’d seen Vincent she’d had blue hair and was writing graffiti on windows, but she seemed to have pulled back from that particular edge. She didn’t seem to be a raver, or if she was, she saved the costumes for the raves. She was wearing jeans and a gray sweater, and her long dark hair was loose around her shoulders. Melissa was talking a little too fast, but hadn’t she always? He remembered her as a nervous kid. He studied Vincent closely for signs of trouble, but she seemed like a reserved, put-together person, someone who’d conducted herself carefully and avoided the land mines. How did she get to be like that, and Paul like
this
? This question had all the markers of the kind of circular thinking he was supposed to be avoiding—why are you
you
?—but he couldn’t stop the spiral.
You’ve never hated Vincent, just remember that. It isn’t her fault she doesn’t have the same problems as you.
They sat around in a living room with dust bunnies the size of mice, Paul and Vincent on a thirty-year-old couch and Melissa on a grimy plastic lawn chair, trying to come up with topics of conversation, but the conversation kept stalling so they kept drinking instant coffee and not quite meeting one another’s eyes.

“Are you hungry?” Vincent asked. “We’re a little low on groceries, but I could make you some toast or a tuna sandwich or something.”

“Nah, I’m good. Thanks.”

“Thank god,” Melissa said. “This is the last four days before payday and rent’s due tomorrow, so it’s probably literally bread or canned tuna.”

“If you need groceries that badly, just dip into your beer money,” Vincent said.

“I’m going to pretend I didn’t hear that.”

“Next paycheck, I’m going to remember to buy lightbulbs,” Vincent said. “I keep forgetting when I have money.” The living room was lit by three mismatched floor lamps, and the one in the far corner was flickering. Vincent rose, switched it off, and returned to the couch. Now the room was halfway dark, shadows crowding in around the periphery.

“Aunt Shauna says hi,” Paul said after a while.

“She’s fine,” Vincent said, answering a question he hadn’t asked, “but probably wasn’t equipped to take in a traumatized thirteen-year-old.”

“She made it sound like you’d dropped out of school.”

“Yeah, high school was tedious.”

“That’s why you left?”

“Pretty much,” she said. “It turns out getting straight A’s isn’t the same thing as being motivated enough to drag yourself to school in the mornings.”

He didn’t know what to say to this. As ever and always, he wasn’t sure what his role was. Was he supposed to counsel her to go back to school? He was in no position to tell anyone to do anything. Charlie Wu’s funeral was today. Charlie Wu was absolutely not standing in the darkest corner of the room, but there was still no need to look in that direction.

“Are you in school?” he asked Melissa.

“I’m going to UBC in the fall.”

“Good for you. That’s a good school.”

Melissa raised her coffee cup. “Here’s to a lifetime of student loan debt,” she said.

“Cheers.” He raised his coffee cup and couldn’t quite meet her eyes. Paul’s mother had paid for his university tuition.

“We have to go out dancing tonight,” Melissa said finally. “I’ve got a couple places in mind.”

“I know people who are holed up in remote cabins with supplies in case civilization collapses,” Vincent said.

“That seems like a lot of trouble to go to,” Paul said.

“Do you find yourself sort of secretly hoping that civilization collapses,” Melissa said, “just so that something will happen?”

Later that night they got into Melissa’s beat-up car and drove to a club. Vincent wasn’t legal but the doorman chose not to notice, because when you’re eighteen and beautiful all the doors are open to you, or so it seemed to Paul as he watched her flit through ahead of him. The doorman scrutinized Paul’s ID very carefully and gave him a searching look, which made Paul want to say something snappy, but he decided against it. The new century was a new opportunity, he’d decided. If they survived Y
2
K, if the world didn’t end, he was going to be a better man. Also if they survived Y
2
K he hoped never to hear the word
Y
2
K
again. At the coat check, Paul saw that Vincent was wearing a sparkly thing that was really only half a shirt, like the front was a normal shirt but the back was missing, just two pieces of string tied in a bow under her naked shoulder blades, making her back seem horribly vulnerable.

“I need a drink,” Melissa said, so Paul accompanied her to the bar, where they ordered beer instead of hard liquor, pacing themselves—responsible adults here—and when he looked back at the dance floor Vincent was already dancing by herself, eyes closed, or maybe she was just looking at the floor, alone in a very fundamental sense:
lost in her own little world
was the phrase Paul remembered Vincent’s mother using, whenever someone was trying to get her attention while she read a book or stared unreachably into space.

“She’s so spacey,” Melissa said, actually shouted, because the music was quieter by the bar but still not quiet enough to talk.

“She’s always been spacey,” Paul shouted back.

“Well, what happened with her mom, that would mess anyone up,” Melissa shouted, possibly mishearing him. “It was just such a tragic—” Paul didn’t hear the last word, but he didn’t have to. They were quiet for a moment, contemplating Vincent and also the Tragedy of Vincent, which was a separate entity. But Vincent didn’t strike him as a tragic figure, she struck him as someone who had her life more or less together, a composed person with a full-time job busing tables at the Hotel Vancouver, and as such he felt somewhat ill at ease around her.

After two beers he went to join her on the dance floor and she smiled at him.
I’m trying,
he wanted to tell her,
I’m really trying, everything’s gone wrong but the new century’s going to be different.
He ingested nothing except beer and danced hard for a while under the influence of nothing—
almost
nothing, beers don’t count—until he looked up and saw Charlie Wu in the crowd and the night skipped a beat. Paul froze. Of course it wasn’t Charlie, of course it was just some random kid who looked a little like him, a kid with a similar haircut and glasses that reflected the lights, but the vision was so appalling that he couldn’t stay here for even long enough to tell Vincent and Melissa he was going, so he stumbled out onto the street and that was where they found him a half hour later, shivering under a streetlight. Nothing, he told them, he just didn’t really like the music and suddenly needed a little air, did he mention he got claustrophobic in crowds sometimes, also he was really hungry. Twenty minutes later they were staring at menus in a diner where all the other customers were drunk. The lights were so bright that it was possible to be certain that he hadn’t actually seen a ghost. Everyone looks alike in strobe lighting. There are doppelgängers everywhere.

“So why did you come here for New Year’s?” Melissa asked. He’d been a little vague about how long he was staying. “Aren’t the clubs better in Toronto?”

“I’m actually moving here,” Paul said.

Vincent looked up from the menu. “Why?” she asked.

“I just really need a change of scene.”

“Are you in trouble or something?” Melissa asked.

“Yeah,” he said, “maybe a little.”

“Well come on,” Melissa said, “you have to tell us.”

“There was some bad E going around. It seemed like I was maybe going to get blamed for it.”

“Well, because there was just no reason not to be sort of honest,” he told the counselor in Utah, in 2019. “Of course I didn’t tell them anything else, but I already knew I was going to get away with it. I was on academic probation, so it wasn’t weird that I’d withdrawn from school. Paul must be one of the most common names in the world, and that was the only name the Baltica people knew—”

“Oh wow,” Melissa said. “That’s awful,” and he thought,
You have no idea.
He couldn’t help but notice how disinterested Vincent seemed. She’d returned to the menu without comment. None of the possibilities here were great: either she didn’t care about Paul at all, or getting in trouble was something that she’d come to expect from him, or she was acquainted with trouble herself.
I don’t hate Vincent,
he told himself silently,
I’ve only ever hated Vincent’s incredible good fortune at being Vincent instead of being me, I only hate that Vincent can drop out of high school and move to a terrible neighborhood and still somehow miraculously be perfectly fine, like the laws of gravity and misfortune don’t apply to her.
When they’d finished their burgers, Melissa glanced at her watch, a big plastic digital thing that looked like it should belong to a child.

“Eleven-fourteen,” Melissa said. “We’ve still got forty-four minutes to kill before the end of the world.”

“Forty-six minutes,” Paul said.

“I don’t think it’s gonna end,” said Vincent.

“It’d be exciting if it did,” Melissa said. “All the lights going out, like
poof
—” She spread her fingers like a magician casting a spell.

“Ugh,” Vincent said. “A city with no lights? Thank you, no.”

“It’d be kind of creepy,” Paul said.

“Dude,
you’re
kind of creepy,” Melissa said, so he threw a French fry at her and then they all got kicked out. They stood shivering and dehydrated on the street for a few minutes, debating where to go, and then Melissa remembered another club where she thought Vincent probably wouldn’t get carded, another club in another basement, not that far from here—so they set out, got lost twice, eventually found themselves in front of an unmarked door through which the bass pulsed faintly from below. It was somehow still 1999. They descended another set of stairs into another permanent night, and Paul heard the lyrics as the door opened,

I always come to you, come to you, come to you—

—and for a second he couldn’t breathe. The song had been remixed into dance music, Annika’s voice layered over a deep house beat, but he recognized it immediately, he’d have known it anywhere.

“You okay?” Melissa shouted in Paul’s ear.

“Fine!” he shouted back. “I’m good!”

They dispensed with their coats and were absorbed into the dance floor, where the Baltica track was shifting into another song, a song about being blue that was playing on all of the dance floors of 1999, of which only a few minutes remained.
Last song of the twentieth century,
Paul thought, and he was trying to dance but there was something bothering him, a sense of movement in his peripheral vision, a feeling of being watched. He looked around wildly, but there was only a sea of anonymous faces and none of them were looking at him.

“You sure you’re okay?” Melissa shouted.

The lights began to strobe, and just for a flash Charlie Wu was there in the crowd, hands in his pockets, watching Paul, there and then gone.

“Fine!” Paul shouted. “I’m totally fine!” Because that was actually the only option now, to be fine despite the awful certainty that Charlie Wu was somehow here. Paul closed his eyes for a moment and then forced himself to dance again, pretending desperately. The lights didn’t go out when 1999 changed to 2000, the hours rolling forward until sunrise, when they emerged into the cold street and the new century and piled into Melissa’s beat-up wreck of a car, cold with sweat, Paul in the passenger seat and Vincent curled up in the back like a cat.

“We got through the end of the world,” she said, but when he looked over his shoulder she was sleeping and he wondered if he’d imagined it. Melissa was red-eyed and speedy, driving too fast, talking about her new job selling clothes at Le Château while Paul only half listened, and somewhere on the drive back to their apartment he found himself seized by a strange, manic kind of hope. It was a new century. If he could survive the ghost of Charlie Wu, he could survive anything. It had rained at some point in the night and the sidewalks were gleaming, water reflecting the morning’s first light.

“No,” Paul told the counselor, “that was only the first time I saw him.”

3
THE HOTEL

Spring 2005

1

Why don’t you swallow broken glass.
Words scrawled in acid paste on the glass eastern wall of the Hotel Caiette, etched trails of white dripping from several letters.

“Who would write something like that?” The only guest to have seen the vandalism, an insomniac shipping executive who’d checked in the day before, was sitting in one of the leather armchairs with a whiskey that the night manager had brought him. It was a little past two-thirty in the morning.

“Not an adult, presumably,” the night manager said. His name was Walter, and this was the first graffiti he’d seen in his three years on the property. The message had been written on the outside of the glass. Walter had taped a few sheets of paper over the message and was presently moving a potted rhododendron to cover the paper, with the assistance of Larry, the night porter. The bartender on duty, Vincent, was polishing wineglasses while she watched the action from behind the bar at the far end of the lobby. Walter had considered recruiting her to help move the planter, because he could use another set of hands and the night houseman was on a dinner break, but she didn’t strike him as a particularly robust person.

“It’s unnerving, isn’t it?” the guest said.

“I don’t disagree. But I think,” Walter said, with more confidence than he felt, “that this could only have been the work of a bored adolescent.” In truth, he was deeply shaken and was taking refuge in efficiency. He stepped back to consider the rhododendron. The leaves almost but not entirely covered the taped paper. He glanced at Larry, who gave him a this-is-the-best-we-can-do shrug and went outside with a garbage bag and a roll of tape to cover the message from the other side.

“It’s the specificity of it,” the guest said. “Disturbing, isn’t it?”

“I’m so sorry you had to see it, Mr. Prevant.”

“No one should have to see a message like that.” A quaver of distress in Leon Prevant’s voice, which he covered with a quick swallow of whiskey. On the other side of the window, Larry had folded the garbage bag into a neat strip and was taping it over the message.

“I agree completely.” Walter glanced at his watch. Three in the morning, three hours remaining on his shift. Larry had resumed his post by the door. Vincent was still polishing glasses. He went to speak to her, and saw when he did that she had tears in her eyes.

“You okay there?” he asked softly.

“It’s just so awful,” she said, without looking up. “I can’t imagine what kind of person would write something like that.”

“I know,” he said. “But I’m standing by my bored-teenager theory.”

“You believe that?”

“I can convince myself of it,” he said.

Walter went to see if Mr. Prevant needed anything—he didn’t—and then returned to his inspection of the glass wall. Only one more guest was expected that night, a VIP, his flight delayed. Walter lingered by the glass wall for a few minutes, looking out at the reflection of the lobby superimposed on the darkness, before he returned to the desk to write the incident report.

2

“The property’s in the middle of nowhere,” Walter’s general manager had told him, at their first meeting in Toronto three years ago, “but that’s precisely the point.”

This first meeting was in a coffee shop by the lake, the coffee shop actually built on the pier, boats bobbing nearby. Raphael, the general manager, lived on the property of the Hotel Caiette, along with almost everyone else who worked there, but had come to Toronto to attend a hospitality conference and poach talent from other hotels. The Hotel Caiette had been open since the mid-nineties, but had recently been redone in what Raphael called Grand West Coast Style, which seemed to involve exposed cedar beams and enormous panes of glass. Walter was studying the ad campaign photos that Raphael had slid across the table. The hotel was a glass-and-cedar palace at twilight, lights reflected on water, the shadows of the forest closing in.

“What you said earlier,” Walter said, “about it not being accessible by car?” He felt he must have misunderstood something in the initial presentation.

“I mean exactly that. Access to the hotel is by boat. There are no roads in or out. Are you somewhat familiar with the geography of the region?”

“Somewhat,” Walter lied. He’d never been that far west. His impression of British Columbia was akin to a series of postcards: whales leaping out of blue water, green shorelines, boats.

“Here.” Raphael was shuffling through papers. “Take a look at this map.” The property was represented as a white star in an inlet at the north end of Vancouver Island. The inlet nearly broke the island in half. “It’s wilderness up there,” Raphael said, “but let me tell you a secret about wilderness.”

“Please do.”

“Very few people who go to the wilderness actually want to experience the wilderness. Almost no one.” Raphael leaned back in his chair with a little smile, presumably hoping that Walter might ask what he meant, but Walter waited him out. “At least, not the people who stay in five-star hotels,” Raphael said. “Our guests in Caiette want to come to the wilderness, but they don’t want to be
in
the wilderness. They just want to
look
at it, ideally through the window of a luxury hotel. They want to be wilderness-adjacent. The point here”—he touched the white star with one finger, and Walter admired his manicure—“is extraordinary luxury in an unexpected setting. There’s an element of surrealism to it, frankly. It’s a five-star experience in a place where your cell phone doesn’t work.”

“How do you bring in guests and supplies?” Walter was having some difficulty grasping the appeal of the place. It was undeniably beautiful but geographically inconvenient, and he wasn’t sure why your average executive would want to vacation in a cellular dead zone.

“On a speedboat. It’s fifteen minutes from the town of Grace Harbour.”

“I see. Aside from the undeniable natural beauty,” Walter said, trying a different tack, “would you say there’s a distinguishing factor that sets this hotel apart from similar properties?”

“I was hoping you’d ask me that. The answer’s yes. There’s a sense of being outside of time and space.”

“Outside of…?”

“A figure of speech, but it’s not far off.” Raphael loved the hotel, Walter could see that. “The truth of the matter is, there’s a certain demographic that will pay a great deal of money to escape temporarily from the modern world.”

Later, walking home through the autumn night, temporary escape from the world was an idea that Walter couldn’t let go. In those days he was renting a cramped one-bedroom on a street that felt somehow between neighborhoods. It was the most depressing apartment he’d ever seen, which for reasons he refused to articulate was why he’d chosen it. Elsewhere in the city, the ballet dancer to whom Walter had been engaged until two months ago was setting up house with a lawyer.

Walter stopped into the usual grocery store on his way home that evening, and the thought of stopping into this store again tomorrow, and then the day after that, and then the day after that, slow strolls down the frozen-food aisle interspersed with shifts at the hotel where he’d been working for the past decade, a day older every time, the city closing in around him, well, it was unbearable, actually. He placed a package of frozen corn in his basket. What if this was the last time he ever performed this action, here in this particular store? It was an appealing thought.

He’d been with the ballet dancer for twelve years. He hadn’t seen the breakup coming. He’d agreed with his friends that he shouldn’t make any sudden moves. But what he wanted in those days was to disappear, and by the time he reached the checkout counter he realized that he’d made his decision. He accepted the position; arrangements were made; on the appointed day a month later he flew to Vancouver and then caught a connecting flight to Nanaimo on a twenty-four-seat prop plane that barely reached the clouds before descending, spent the night in a hotel, and set off the next day for the Hotel Caiette. He could have saved considerable time by flying into one of the tiny airports further north, but he wanted to see more of Vancouver Island.

It was a cold day in November, clouds low overhead. He drove north in a gray rental car through a series of gray towns with a gray sea intermittently visible on his right, a landscape of dark trees and McDonald’s drive-throughs and big-box stores under a leaden sky. He arrived at last in the town of Port Hardy, streets dim in the rain, where he got lost for a while before he found the place to return the rental car. He called the town’s only taxi service and waited a half hour until an old man arrived in a beat-up station wagon that reeked of cigarette smoke.

“You’re headed to the hotel?” the driver asked when Walter requested a ride to Grace Harbour.

“I am,” Walter said, but found that he didn’t particularly feel like making conversation after all of these hours of traveling in solitude. They drove in silence through the forest until they reached the village of Grace Harbour, such as it was: a few houses here and there along the road and shoreline, fishing boats in the harbor, a general store by the docks, a parking lot with a few old cars. He saw a woman through the window of the general store, but there was no one else around.

Walter’s instructions were to call the hotel for a boat. His cell phone didn’t work up here, as promised, but there was a phone booth by the pier. The hotel promised to send someone within the half hour. Walter hung up and stepped out into cool air. It was getting on toward evening and the world was shifting to monochrome, the water pale and glassy under a darkening sky, shadows accumulating in the forest. He walked out to the end of the pier, luxuriating in the silence. This place was the opposite of Toronto, and wasn’t that what he’d wanted? The opposite of his previous life? Somewhere back in the eastern city, the ballet dancer and the lawyer were at a restaurant, or walking the streets holding hands, or in bed.
Don’t think of it. Don’t think of it.
Walter waited, listening, and for a while there was only the soft lapping of water against the pier and the occasional cry of a seagull, until in the distance he heard the vibration of an outboard motor. A few minutes later he saw the boat, a white fleck between the dark banks of forest, a toy that grew steadily until it was pulling up alongside the pier, the motor obscenely loud in all that quiet, wake splashing against pylons. The woman at the stern looked to be in her mid-twenties and wore a crisp, vaguely nautical uniform.

“You must be Walter.” She disembarked in a single fluid motion and lashed the boat to the dock. “I’m Melissa from the hotel. May I help with your bags?”

“Thank you,” he said. There was something startling about her, an air of apparition. He was almost happy, he realized, as the boat pulled away from the pier. There was a cold wind on his face, and he knew this was a voyage of no more than fifteen minutes, but he had an absurd sense of embarking on an adventure. They were moving so rapidly, darkness falling. He wanted to ask Melissa about the hotel, how long she’d been here, but the motor was prohibitively loud. When he glanced over his shoulder, the wake was a silver trail leading back to the scattered lights of Grace Harbour.

Melissa piloted them around the peninsula and the hotel was before them, an improbable palace lit up against the darkness of the forest, and for the first time Walter understood what Raphael had meant when he’d talked about an element of surrealism. The building would have been beautiful anywhere, but placed here, it was incongruous, and its incongruity played a part in the enchantment. The lobby was exposed like an aquarium behind a wall of glass, all cedar pillars and slate floors. A double row of lights illuminated the path to the pier, where a doorman—Larry—met them with a trolley. Walter shook Larry’s hand and followed his luggage up the path to the hotel’s grand entrance, to the reception desk, where Raphael stood waiting with a concierge smile. After introductions, dinner, and paperwork, Walter eventually found himself in a suite on the top floor of the staff lodge, whose windows and terrace looked out into trees. He closed the curtains against the darkness and thought about what Raphael had said, about the hotel’s existing outside of time and space. There’s such happiness in a successful escape.

By the end of his first year in Caiette, Walter realized that he was happier here than he’d ever been anywhere, but in the hours following the graffiti, the forest outside seemed newly dark, the shadows dense and freighted with menace. Who stepped out of the forest to write the message on the window?
The message was written backward on the glass,
Walter wrote on the incident report,
which suggests it was meant to be viewed from the lobby.


“I appreciate the clarity of the report,” Raphael said when Walter came to his office the following afternoon. Raphael had lived twenty years in English Canada but retained a strong Quebec City accent. “Some of your colleagues, I ask for a report and they hand in a dog’s breakfast of typos and wild speculations.”

“Thank you.” Walter valued this job more than he’d ever valued anything and was always vastly relieved when Raphael praised his performance. “The graffiti’s unsettling, isn’t it?”

“I agree. Just this side of threat.”

“Is there anything on the surveillance footage?”

“Nothing very useful. I can show you if you’d like.” Raphael swiveled the monitor toward Walter and pressed play on a black-and-white video clip. Security footage of the front terrace at night, cast in the spooky luminescence of the camera’s night-vision mode: A figure appears from the shadows at the edge of the terrace, wearing dark pants and an oversized sweatshirt with a hood. His head is down—or is it a woman? Impossible to tell—and there’s something in the gloved hand: the acid marker that defaces the glass. The ghost steps gracefully up onto a bench, scrawls the message, and melts back into the shadows, never looking up, the entire vision transpiring in less than ten seconds.

“It’s like he practiced it,” Walter said.

“What do you mean?”

“Just, he writes it so quickly. And he’s writing backward. Or she. I can’t tell.”

Raphael nodded. “Is there anything else you can tell me about last night,” he said, “that might not have appeared in the report?”

“What do you mean?”

“Anything at all out of the ordinary in the lobby. Any strange details. Something you maybe thought not relevant.”

Walter hesitated.

“Tell me.”

“Well, I don’t like to rat on my colleagues,” Walter said, “but it seemed to me that the night houseman was behaving strangely.”


The night houseman, Paul, was Vincent’s brother—no, Vincent had said he was her half brother, but Walter was unclear on which parent they had in common—and he’d been at the hotel for three months. He’d been living in Vancouver for five or six years but he’d grown up in Toronto, he told Walter, which should have created a bond but didn’t, in part because he and Paul were from different Torontos. They tried to compare favorite Toronto restaurants and nightclubs, but Walter had never heard of System Soundbar, whereas Paul had never heard of Zelda’s. Paul’s Toronto was younger, more anarchic, a Toronto that danced to the beat of music that Walter neither liked nor understood, a Toronto that wore peculiar fashions and did drugs that Walter had never heard of. (“Well, but you know why the raver kids wear soothers around their necks,” Paul said, “it’s not just bad fashion sense, it’s because K makes you grind your teeth,” and Walter nodded knowledgeably without having the slightest idea of what “K” was.) Paul never smiled. He did his job well enough but had a way of drifting off into little reveries while cleaning the lobby at night, staring at nothing while he mopped the floor or polished tabletops. It was sometimes necessary to say his name two or three times, but any sharpness in tone in the second or third repetition would trigger a reproachful, wounded expression. Walter found him to be an irritating and somewhat depressing presence.

On the night of the graffiti, Paul returned from his dinner break at three-thirty a.m. He came in through the side door, and Walter looked up in time to see the way Paul’s gaze fell immediately to the awkwardly placed philodendron and then to Leon Prevant, the shipping executive, who by then was on his second whiskey and reading a two-day-old copy of the
Vancouver Sun.

“Something happen to the window?” Paul asked as he passed the desk. To Walter’s ear, there was something faux-casual about his tone.

“I’m afraid so,” Walter said. “Some extremely nasty graffiti.”

Paul’s eyes widened. “Did Mr. Alkaitis see it?”

“Who?”

“You know.” Paul nodded toward Leon Prevant.

“That isn’t Alkaitis.” Walter was watching Paul closely. He was flushed and looked even more miserable than usual.

“I thought it was.”

“Alkaitis’s flight was delayed. You didn’t see anyone lurking around outside, did you?”

“Lurking around?”

“Anything suspicious. This just happened in the last hour.”

“Oh. No.” Paul wasn’t looking at him anymore—another irritating trait; why did he always look away when Walter was talking?—and was staring at Leon, who was staring at the window. “I’m going to go see if Vincent needs the kegs changed,” he said.

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