In his sleep, George Swartz dreamed. Several pairs of eggs yolks watched him as he ate the rest of his breakfast. It was a waste of a dream, but it frightened him; no matter what he did, the yolks wouldn't quit staring.
Any fear dissipated when he met their mother, however. "I will end you for this!" she croaked, beating her wings from her nest in the kitchen. And at that moment, he couldn't take the dream seriously.
But as dreams often go, none of it mattered: A loud thump startled him half-awake. Within seconds, he forgot all but the thought of breakfast. George rolled to the cooler side of his hotel bed. He lay, listening to a bad bout of tinnitus in his left ear until his brain yielded to consciousness. The first thing he set his eyes on was a print on the wall beside his bed. It was an abstract painting. Smears of color that-- in the dark-- looked like a fat, naked man.
The tinnitus didn't go away, but as he sat up, there grew the impression it wouldn't. It came from the bathroom, a cat gargling a mouthful of crickets. That's not tinnitus. "What the hell is that?"
"It's the sound of a man with the wing of a toy plane perforating his windpipe." George fell out of his bed, a sock peeling off his heel as he scrambled away. A moving shadow followed him to the corner of the room, staying far enough away that he couldn't see its face.
The shadow stopped at the entertainment center, filling a paper cup with a liquid. "How do you take it?" That was a man.
"Get out of my room!" he shouted, reaching for the phone. He bashed his fingernail into the 9 when he realized no tone droned on the other end. He threw the receiver across the room, the rest of the phone spilling off the end table. It bounced off his ankle. "Oh Jesus, oh God, oh please."
"How do you take your coffee?"
"Please, I'm just an analyst. I'm not who you think I am!"
"And just who do I think you are?"
"I... I don't know! But you or-- or whoever you're working for has the wrong idea, okay?" The shadow hummed, sipping from the cup he poured.
"I see. In that case, I'm very sorry for barging in on you and leaving such a mess in your bathroom."
George, who was a blink of an eye from melting into a blubbering puddle on the floor, felt a long-delayed stoke of fire in his belly. He jumped to his feet. "Don't lie to me! Tell me what you want!"
"Nothing of yours. I need a little something of your employer's."
"I'm not who you need to talk to, okay? I can't do anything like that."
"You like planes, George?"
"Do I?..." George swallowed, cold beads of sweat carving along his brow ridge. The bathroom had gone quiet, and the fire quenched as fast as it flared. "I'll do it. Whatever you want."