The sun was still high in the sky, unbothered by any clouds, heating up the air, every second, every breath that Walters took. The three men were now in the center of the courtyard, where Walters felt that the sun was the most intense. Running his hand through his hair didn’t wipe away the accumulated heat on his scalp. At least, they were standing on an area of the courtyard that had been watered recently. A cool embrace climbed from the ground and licked his hands any time he was able to leave his arms at ease. No, it hadn’t rained. Someone seemed to have dumped buckets of water here and there.
In a depression in the center of the slab of paving stone next to his right foot, a puddle remained. There were bubbles of soap. Someone had cleaned the courtyard, then. Walters put his sole over the bubbles, held his foot in that position for a while, and then pressed down slowly, the soapy water extending beyond the depression, rewetting dry sections of the slab.
“What is it that we’re doing here, again?” Walters asked.
The old servant seemed surprised by the voice of the stranger, and clearly annoyed by the question, but Jameson replied in an accommodating, almost friendly intonation: “Dr. Pomme will be here shortly.”
Walters dropped his equipment bag between two small puddles. The old servant threw another disgusted look at Walters, who this time was too busy looking around to notice. After counting the number of small windows on the pink wall, there was the counting of the number of bricks between the bottom of a window and the tallest of the reeds. There was also a large puddle at the end of the courtyard by the canal and several sparrows were taking baths, shaking their bodies, flying away. Seven, possibly eight.
The sound of a door opening behind Walters. Jameson and the old servant turned immediately to face the stairs. Walters turned his torso but not his legs, and then his neck even further, and saw the voluminous Dr. Pomme in a white suit, dealing with the stairs one step at a time, with his body slightly sideways, his right hip leading his way. After conquering his descent, Dr. Pomme stopped to pull down his jacket and to arrange his tie. He looked at the group of three in the middle of the courtyard. He tried to portray a smile but gave up almost right away.
As Dr. Pomme approached them, Walters noticed the ripples in the white fabric, and how the oversized upper body was encased just barely in the resplendent summer suit. Walters could imagine Dr. Pomme eating popcorn shrimp from a bucket with both hands. He wouldn’t mind sharing the bucket, dipping the shrimp in the hot sauce, consuming the gentle flesh, and then a gulp of cold beer.
“Dr. Pomme, this is Mr. Walters,” Jameson said, and Walters shook the extended hand of Dr. Pomme, spotty and significantly larger than his.
Dr. Pomme nodded. “I’m glad you were able to come in such a short notice,” he said, still out of breath.
“You’re welcome,” Walters said. Probably the wrong thing to say, he thought.
“I really appreciate you coming here,” Dr. Pomme insisted. This time Walters simply smiled, and glanced at Jameson, whose face was expressionless, distant.
Dr. Pomme looked at Walters without saying anything for a while. Walters tapped his back pocket. He felt the notebook. If he were alone, he would pull the notebook out and reread the last written pages. But if he were alone, and safe, he would be sitting in his balcony, the glass of bourbon on the arm of the chair, nobody around, at most just voices of people in the distance, impossible to understand their meanings, just sounds, speckles in the fabric of the city.
“Could you please make sure that everything is sorted out for this evening?” Dr. Pomme asked to the old servant, who nodded and departed towards the building, not at all insulted by the obvious dismissal. Relieved. Ready to attend to more important tasks.
“Should I go too? Maybe you want to speak to Mr. Walters in private?” Jameson asked.
Dr. Pomme shook his head, said ‘no’ a few times while affectionately tapping Jameson’s shoulder.