“The hospital’s resident beggar,” explains Diogenes. “And I’m afraid she won’t leave until you’ve given her some money. A right pain. I’ll get one of the orderlies to turf her out.”
“No don’t do that.”
Standing in the doorway is an ancient creature staring straight at me. She’s wearing sandals and a filthy Soviet-era tracksuit with faded ‘CCCP’ across the chest. Her right hand is unnaturally long and misshapen like a claw. In it she’s holding a shiny black shopping bag. It’s bulging with footballs or basketballs or goodness knows what inside. There’s a terrible smell, enough to wake the dead.
“How did she know I’m here?”
“Everyone knows you’re here, Jack.”
“Oh. And what on earth is in that bag?”
“You really don’t want to know.”
“Does she have a name, bless her?”
“Bernard? That’s a man’s name, isn’t it?”
“It’s a long story.”
It’s a long story...
I take in Bernard the Soviet bag lady as she stares at me, with that mysterious stinking bag of hers and horrible claw hand.
“Diogenes, do us a favour and go over to the wardrobe? You’ll find a smallish book on the top shelf near the whiskey. Can you bring it over?”
He does as he’s told. “This one?” he asks, holding up my unofficial guide to being a samurai.
“Yeah, bring it here. Thanks.”
I thumb through the pages. Mm, I was right. Those references to the ancient samurai custom of cutting off their dead opponents’ heads; then they used to clean them up and put them in neat little lacquered caskets. I turn my attention back to Bernard and her bag.
“Diogenes,” I say carefully. “Do us another favour. You’ll find my wallet in the drawer.”
“You’re actually going to give her some money?”
“I certainly am. You see, she’s just given me an excellent idea for my latest book – maybe Zen City, too.”
Diogenes shakes his head. “How much do you want to give her?”
“Well, how much is an idea worth?”