Lars motioned with the bat, forcing Ty back, into the truck’s headlights.
Ty moved his forearm in front of his face and squinted. “Lars, I’m telling you, I think I’m on the right road here. I just need a little help to get where I need to go.”
Lars glanced down at his phone. A text message had popped up, but Ty couldn’t read it.
“What is it?”
“A roadblock,” the Belgian driver mumbled. “Outside Oftringen. Another driver said they’re stopping everyone traveling eastbound on the A1.”
“If you turn me in, you’re signing my death warrant.”
Lars shook his head. But the man still hadn’t dialed the police.
Ty lowered his hands, letting the headlights blind him so that Lars could see his entire face. “I know you regret some of the decisions you’ve made in your life, Lars, but I promise you: you won’t regret this. I don’t have anything to offer you. Only my thanks. But if I can, I will repay you one day.” Ty waited, but the man said nothing, so he continued, grasping for anything that might sway him. “You said that the most important things in life were our decisions—and the people we meet. I think I met you for a reason. Those other drivers would have already turned me in. When you saw the article, you woke me up, because you know deep down it doesn’t add up. I’m a physicist. I’ve dedicated my life to using science to make the world a better place. Just like you wanted to do with philosophy.”
Still, Lars said nothing.
“Look, I don’t know the first thing about making a bomb. And my own apartment is the last place I would set it off. It doesn’t add up.”
“Perhaps it was an accident.” “Then why am I still here?”
Lars exhaled heavily. “If they catch me, I lose everything. You ask me to risk that for a stranger?”
“I’m asking you to trust your instincts. You know I’m innocent. Is protecting an innocent person worth taking some risk to you?”
Lars slipped his phone back into his pocket and let the end of the bat fall to the ground. “I should have left you at that gas station.”
“I’m glad you didn’t. And if I live long enough, I promise you, I’ll make you thankful that you helped me.”
“I am probably going to regret this.”
“I’ll do everything I can to make sure you don’t.”
The man motioned to the truck. “There’s a compartment under the bunk in the back. It’s cramped, and you’ll barely fit. They still might find you.”
“I’ll take that chance. Thank you, Lars.”
The drive after that was far less comfortable. It was cramped and musty in the small compartment, but Ty was thankful that the Belgian driver had agreed to hide him. There was no doubt in his mind that the act of kindness from this stranger would save his life—if they got past the roadblock.
He also considered it sheer luck that he had stopped a truck driver with a sleeper compartment (most in Europe didn’t have one).
Ty felt every bump in the road in his aching body. There would be no sleep here, even if Ty’s nerves would calm down (and he didn’t see that happening).
Finally, the truck bounced to a stop, the air brakes calling out in the night. Periodically, the truck crept forward. Each time it stopped, Ty felt himself holding his breath, mentally imagining what would happen next: dogs barking outside and someone ripping open the compartment and dragging him out, shining a flashlight in his eyes and yelling, “We’ve got him!”
He had gone to bed that night full of hope, a scientist on the verge of fulfilling his life’s work, of changing the world. Now he was running for his life—and hiding like a fugitive. He wondered if his mother and sister had seen the news. Or his friends. Or his colleagues at CERN.
He had never met the woman who lived below him, only seen her a few times at the mailboxes. She rarely left her apartment. Now she was gone—
because of his work.
The sound of Lars’s voice interrupted his thoughts. “Winterthur.”
That was a city northeast of Zürich. Someone had probably asked his destination.
“Nein,” Lars said. Had someone asked him if he had seen Ty? Another pause.
“Sicher,” Lars said casually. Sure.
A loud click. Hinges groaning. Was Lars getting out? Had he signaled them?
Was it over?
Or perhaps it was the passenger door opening.
Another click, closer now, shorter than the sound of the door. A flashlight coming on?
“Sind Sie allein?” a woman asked. Are you alone?
She was very close.
Ty swallowed. Suddenly he could hear his breathing. Could she? “Ja,” Lars replied.
He was still in the truck.
Ty’s chest rose and fell, a piston speeding up.
There was a thump on the top of the bunk, the sound of a hand reaching around the mattress, feeling the back of the truck cab, then more moving around before the woman said, “Vielen Dank.”
The passenger door slammed shut.
Ty’s body fell slack, his head rolled, and he exhaled—what felt like the longest breath of his life.
The truck cab bobbed slightly up and back down and surged forward, slowly at first, then gaining speed as the motor roared. Finally, Lars shouted, his voice barely audible to Ty, “I know it’s cramped, but I think you better stay back there.”
After the police stop, Ty expected to fall asleep. He was still exhausted. But his mind overpowered his body, keeping him awake. Over and over, he imagined what seeing Gerhard Richter in Zürich would be like. What would
the man say? Would he even recognize him? Remember his name? Would he care? Maybe he would recognize Ty and call the police immediately. Or worse. Maybe upon seeing Ty, the man would simply smirk and walk away.
Richter wasn’t his only worry. What if the police were waiting?
Finally, the truck came to a stop. Outside, air brakes and engines roared.
Ty wondered if they had encountered another roadblock. Or if Lars had changed his mind about helping him.
The truck started up again and lurched forward. A few minutes later, it stopped, and Lars finally opened the compartment. Morning light poured in like water from a firehose, momentarily blinding Ty.
“You all right?” Lars whispered, the smell of coffee on his breath.
“I’m good. Thanks,” Ty said, slowly opening his eyes. “Where are we?” “Just outside Zürich.”
Ty sat up.
“Where exactly do you need to go?” Lars asked. “Can I borrow your phone?”
When the man handed it to him, Ty opened a private browsing window. He feared that even looking up the address on the phone might lead the authorities to Lars, but Ty didn’t see any alternative. A quick search led him to the website of Richter-Brandt GmbH, a Zürich-based investment bank that disclosed virtually nothing about itself. The contact page had a web form (no email address listed) and a physical address in Zürich, at the corner of Beethovenstrasse and Dreikönigstrasse. There were no hours listed, nor a phone number. The website had a pretty clear message: we exist, but don’t contact us.
Ty had only been to Zürich a few times, and had never been in the building that housed Richter-Brandt. He did know that it was in an area of the city filled with multinational banks and finance companies. The towering office complexes overlooked Lake Zürich and would be nearly impossible to enter without an appointment.
He glanced at the time. 6:24 a.m.
There was only one solution: catch Richter before he entered the building. There were a lot of assumptions there: that the man was even still in Zürich (and not out of town or working remotely) and that he didn’t start his day extremely early.
Ty was certain of one thing: Lars had done enough. He couldn’t bring himself to endanger the man any further or draw him deeper into the mess Ty was in.
“Could you drop me at the Arboretum, by the lake?” Lars nodded. “Sure.”
It was nearly seven-thirty when the massive truck rolled to a stop on General-Wille Strasse, next to the open-air park that looked out on the Zürich Yacht Club.
Ty gripped the handle. “Thanks, Lars. Truly.” “Good luck to you, Ty. I hope it works out.”
Ty exited the truck and disappeared into the park, quickly slipping behind a copse of trees. He jogged down one of the paved paths that ended at the waterfront, where he turned left onto Beethovenstrasse.
At Richter’s building, Ty sat on a low wall facing the road, keeping his head down as he watched the sedans pull up and the suited people step out, their expensive sunglasses and watches glittering in the morning sun.
As each car door opened, he wondered if it would be Richter.
In the past thirty years, Ty had probably imagined a moment like this a million times: coming face-to-face with Richter, and most importantly, finally getting a chance to talk to him again. He’d imagined the hateful things he wanted to say, the hurtful questions he wanted to ask—questions he’d wanted answers to for so long.
A black Mercedes SUV pulled to a stop and a driver exited and opened the rear driver-side door. Gerhard Richter had aged since the last photo Ty had seen, but there was no question about who the man was. It was easy for Ty to spot some of his own facial features in the older German walking toward him.
Ty rose and stepped into his path. For a moment, he hesitated, not sure how to address the man. Herr Richter didn’t feel right. Dad certainly didn’t. He settled for a single word, “Sir,” which stopped Richter in his tracks, scowling.
“Tyson,” Richter said. “Why are you here?”
His German accent was heavy, and the words hit Ty like a slap. It took him a second to compose himself.
“I… need help.”
Richter simply stared.
“I work at CERN now.” “I know.”
“Someone is after me. They blew up my apartment.”
Richter stood as still as a statue for several seconds then, without moving his head, scanned the area behind Ty with his eyes. He turned his head, surveyed the street, then said quietly, “Get in the car, Tyson. Don’t say another word.”