The door closed quietly behind them and the two men sat down, opposite each other, a small white table between them. The room was small, only about fifteen square meters in size, with no windows - cool air pumped across the room in waves through the bars of the air conditioner mounted on the wall high above them. Along the sterile white walls hung a number of plain modern cupboards comprising empty glass-fronted cabinets, the glass pristine with no marks or greasy fingerprints. The floor was laid with bright, almost yellow, parquet. Had there been a window, the late afternoon sun would have reflected brightly off the lacquer of the floor, the giant glass ashtray placed centrally on the table and the glass doors of the wall cabinets.
And this, the office number B02 at Europol headquarters in The Hague, did not differ from the typical standard interior that runs through any European Union agency.
For a moment, the monotonous hum of the air conditioner was the only sound in the room. This man could be seventy years old and in incredibly good health, or an exhausted hard-working man in his fifties, considered the Europol agent, carefully studying his guest. He had grey hair, combed to the back, and a beard, a couple of days old. The eyes behind his black-framed glasses appeared calm and focused, but with wide pupils in this strong artificial light. His pale face was potted with deep wrinkles; two particularly pronounced lines carved his forehead, as if implying deep concentration. The man was a little shorter than average, with a frail-looking, but not bent, constitution, and was dressed in a grey suit. The suit was undoubtedly tailor-made: its sleeves were of exactly the correct length, evident when he leaned back in his chair, slowly raised his elbows onto the armrests and intertwined his fingers across his front. A sky blue shirt with thin white vertical lines protruded an inch from his jacket sleeves, exposing on his left hand an IWC classic watch with a narrow leather strap. His hands were tidy and well looked after, a simple golden ring on his right little finger. His tie was dark red, looped into a half-Windsor knot. The colour of his handkerchief matched his tie, elegantly peeking up from the jacket chest pocket.
Senior Agent Renato Costa carefully considered the likely authenticity of his elegant aged visitor on the other side of the table. This wasn’t the first time a stranger had appeared at the agency door, asking to speak to someone. At the agency, individuals who appeared at their door, claiming to be in possession of some important information in which Europol might be interested, were mockingly refered to as parachutists: they would appear all of a sudden, as though having fallen from the sky. Despite the fact that the majority of parachutists were usually dismissed as frauds within minutes of stepping through the agency doors, years of experience had taught Agent Costa to begin each conversation with a parachutist with a completely open mind, and consequently he approached this meeting in an equally professional manner.
Although this probably meant that he would have to stay at work later than usual tonight, because it was already gone six and this meeting evidently could not wait until morning.
He looked into his interlocutor`s eyes, raised his hands dramatically in a questioning shrug and propped up an eyebrow. I am all eyes and ears.
As politely as possible, Costa started to speak, addressing his visitor in English.
“Azem... Be... Berisha, if I read correctly from your passport…? From Albania, I see?”
It was a tiny change, but the visitor smiled a little, observed the Italian agent carefully for a few seconds, looked around the office and then very slowly and quietly answered, also in English.
“Mister Costa, first let me express my gratitude for the time you are willing to devote to me. As you will realize later, there is a very good reason for my appearance here. And it is not only for me to indulge in some sightseeing of this beautiful city. Everything will become clear within three minutes, before I leave. Although you do not know me, in fact you know me very well. And your superiors, they know me even better. You will understand this claim very soon. Am I Azem Berisha? Yes. Am I Albanian? Of course I am, yes.”
His voice was calm, unanimated. The soft pronunciation of his words was quite unique. His use of English grammar was correct, but there was an unmistakable accent. It was foreign, but not Albanian, thought Costa. More rigid. Eastern European definitely, a robust Slavic most likely.
The man went on calmly. “Why did I come here? Because I have something for you. And you have something for me.”
So, here we are.
The moment when an experienced and professional Europol agent was conducting a meeting with yet another apparent parachutist who had come knocking on the agency door; another time-waster. Yet again! The moment when, as old Renato listened for this mysterious man to present his crazy ideas or reveal his evidence of ridiculous far-fetched global conspiracies, the old man said something that made Renato’s eyes blink open a little wider. He was not sure he had heard it correctly. He was sure he had heard correctly, in fact, there was no doubt. The Albanian really had said it.
“I am Ursus.”