Undefined piano music trickled from the speakers. Café De Eland was deserted except for two elderly people sipping cappuccinos at the reading table in the back. Mark wasn’t around, his place behind the bar taken by the bald-shaven guy whose name Jonathan always forgot.

“Jonathan, what can I do for you?” The bartender lifted a beer glass of a stack and held it to the tap, his other hand resting on the shiny black knob.

“No, no. Nothing. I–I think I left my bag here. Last night. When I left.” Jonathan looked around. No bag. Not near the corner where he usually sat, not near the coat rack. “Did you find it? Did Mark find it?”

The bartender threw an unconvincing look behind the bar. “Nope, nothing here.”

“Are you sure? It’s important.”

“I could ask Mark.” He nodded at the iPhone that sat in it’s dock. “If you insist,” he added, the reluctance oozing from every word.

“Thanks,” Jonathan said. “I’ll wait.”

The bartender raised an eyebrow, but pulled the phone from the dock and punched in a number.

The conversation lasted less than thirty seconds. The piano trickling resumed. Shaking his head, the bartender smiled. “You were the last to leave,” he said. “Mark says he put the bag around your neck when you left. You been to more bars? An all-nighter, maybe?”

“No,” Jonathan replied, but he noticed the hesitation in his own voice.

The bartender shrugged and threw him a smirk, while he swiped his cell phone. The piano music gave way to Loudon Wainwright. ‘Drunk men stagger,’ Wainwright sang and the bartender hummed along.

Jonathan spun around and left. “Asshole,” he groused, but not loud enough for the bartender to hear. De Eland had been his last resort for these past months, the only place in town were he didn’t feel watched, or smirked at. “Asshole,” he repeated. “Fucking asshole.”

At least he found his bike. It stood locked to the mailbox, across the street. Jonathan patted his coat pockets for the key. He unlocked the bike, but when he mounted it the red bag swayed to the front and knocked the handlebars out his hands. He lost his balance, had to grab the mailbox not to fall flat on his face in full view of the asshole inside. With an irritated swing, he shoved the messenger bag to his back. The mocking gaze of the bartender burned in his back as he pedaled away. He’s read the book, it flashed through Jonathan. He’s read the book. He speeded up, cursing the humiliation, the bag, his fucking bitch of an ex who had felt the need to display his entire sad life in a book and not even tried to disguise his identity. He cursed again, at his own destructive stupidities.


“Damn, it’s Tuesday,” he muttered at the closed door of the coffee bar, where he’d wanted to sit and gather his thoughts. He parked his bike and sat down on the white bench that stood locked to the facade. Velcro scratched when he ripped the bag open. He didn’t lift the flap, couldn’t get past the feeling that he was prying into someone’s life, as if he was a goddamn NSA spy. Jonathan fiddled with the velcro and the black plastic clasp. He wasn’t a spy. He snorted at himself. Definitely not a spy, even if that would be a good character trait for a journalist. But he wasn’t a journalist. Not anymore. And he would never be one. He was just a loser who drank himself into stupor every night, because his ex-girlfriend was a vindictive bitch who’d written a book, a fucking bestseller no less, about their life together and with that she’d thrown his life out on the street, naming and shaming him, making him the sucker of the century. Jonathan flipped open the bag. He was not a spy. He was trying to find the owner of this bag and get his own back. He was just trying to get his life back.

A silver laptop sat in the bag, a MacBook, smart and sleek. Jonathan steadied his trembling fingers and dug deeper. The main compartment contained paperwork. Loose papers, some clipped together, some stapled. There were notebooks and a jumble of cables, adaptors, memory sticks and other computer junk in the bag. He fished out a small platinum-colored container with a faded orange logo, black, flaking lettering printed on the back. Ams-ix. Probably a company name or something. He’d never heard of it. The container revealed a small stack of business cards, all similar. Two circular capitals formed the first letters of a name: Dallas Bard.