Excerpt 2 - Twelve years later
After three rings he took out the phone and looked at the screen. The caller-ID photo told him it was Adam. Handsome bugger.
Azim coughed, then grinned.
Neil's rancour over California had passed, rinsing out of him during the thunderstorm the previous summer, the two of them and those two women. This evening he felt the old warmth – because Adam was in the world, still in Neil's world, in spite of everything, comfortingly persistent – and a more recent, entwined irritation. Of late there often seemed to be something more pressing to do when Adam rang: it wasn't the right time, Neil would call his friend back later, he usually resolved, definitely he would.
'You may answer,' Elin said. 'Please.'
On the sixth ring Neil cupped the screen beneath the table. Pressing the reject button would be too brutal: Neil himself could tell when someone offed him like that, and he always received it as a tiny act of violence. He generally let Adam ring through to voicemail, the lazy medium between the investment of talking and harshness of termination.
Not today. Neil raised and jiggled the phone in his hand, mouthing 'sorry' as he stood. 'Yes,' he said, in a curt tone intended to sound executive. Not just the organ-grinder's monkey.
'I've found her,' Adam said.
'Excuse me,' Neil said to his hosts, putting his hand over the mouthpiece as you were supposed to. 'I have to take this.'
'Of course,' Azim said.
'No problem,' Elin said.
'Just a second,' Neil said to Adam.
He strode into the courtyard but found it crowded with diners, waiters, a half-hearted belly-dancer. He hurried out of the restaurant, bearing the phone like a fizzing hand grenade, and down the steps that led to the seafront. He ignored the carpet salesmen ('Is not shop, is museum!'), crossed the road and found himself on the almost deserted boardwalk that stretched along the shore of the Caspian. No waves, just dead black water.
'Hi, Adam,' he said, rewinding, giving his friend a chance to begin again. To begin differently.
'Philly, I've found her.'
'Who?' Neil asked, although he already knew.