The bar stinks of stale cigar smoke and spilt alcohol. The light is dim, barely scattering dull yellow flickers on the grimy walls as tinny melodies from the jukebox mingle with hushed dealings and growled threats. It's not a nice place, but it's not a bad place. It's even a good place for those who know the comforting arms of the gloom.
There's a man at a table, black hair and heavy coat blending in with the backdrop, one who has spent the last half-decade dancing in the shadows of Europe. He's like a artist in his own way, one who works with the whims and frailties of human greed rather than paints or clay. But rumour has it now that he's leaving, melting away. Which is what brings the other man.
The second man, pale, flits at the counter, barely a spectre in the gloom. He doesn't belong, comes close, but doesn't. He stands on the other side of the scene, after instead of with. And he's after that first man there, before it's too late, because it's been too long already.
The year is 1937, Minsk, and the future is stirring.
Tracking Europe's shadow was never going to be easy, but outside the loyal lurks there were always the few who were willing to talk, strangers and random passers-by who could recognise a description and point down a few streets. Paxter chased through Romania, through Greece, doubling back to Hungary before leading into Germany. He arrived in Dresden just as Ice left for Aachen, following there only to find him having crossed the border into Belgium. Brussels saw the agent following a false trail down to Italy before being redirected to Geneva, always just a single pace behind.
Days were frustrating, nights restless, spent lost in thoughts rather than sleep. Faces flashed by his mind: Rush's, Ionne's, the man in the alley, the woman with the ring. So many, so much, for one man.
Ice was right. The gypsy girl was always a leap in the dark. But she wasn't the only one, no matter if they could never pin down another. For Interpol, the conviction of Ice Devlin would be a goldmine. One crime, just enough to put the man away, for all the other things they'd never get him for.
And each time the agent woke to see the faintest outline of another footstep in the sand, the law took one step closer to its quarry.
The next time Don's really, truly awake again, it's in the early hours of the next morning. He must have been out for the whole day.
He supposes he'd walked back to the hotel, but he doesn't remember. He can sketchily recall, though, stepping into the lobby and being hit by a sudden crippling wave of exhaustion despite the few hours of sleep he'd gotten, stumbling into the lift while the television buzzed loudly with the report of a gang shoot-out on the bayou
He pops out into the dark and silent corridor and buys a few packets from the closest vending machine. His first thought, when he enters his room again and looks over the small amount of luggage that has somehow managed to fling itself everywhere, is that there's no reason to stay anymore.
It takes a long time to pack. It doesn't have to, but Don finds himself putting things in then taking them out again, refolding and rearranging. It almost feels like reluctance.
He wonders if it's all another dream. If what he heard and saw was nothing more than one last flashing nightly vision. If everything will go back to normal once the daylight comes again.
He makes it to the bayou in less than half an hour. The run is done on rote.
There's not even a moment of doubt before he spies the glow on the waterfront, a few hundred yards from where the St John's University back gates open out. He twists his arm to see his watch, and subtracts the hour he's still yet to set.
In the distance, he hears the first beat of a drum. It's deep, resonating, pounding in a steady rhythm that matches the rush of blood in his ears. But it's not loud, not very. It probably can't be, in an urban area like this. A chant starts up, sibilant and undulating, though he can't make out the words.