Vienna is as dark and cold as I had expected, although hiding in a clump of bushes with a syringe in my pocket is probably affecting my judgement. My legs are cramped, my back aches, and I’m starting to shiver. My head is starting to throb as well.

The door creaks open. My eyes widen with – I don’t know – anticipation, or fear? Both, I imagine.

A streak of weak yellowish light appears and gently stretches out into the grimy road; murmuring voices drift across the chilly night air, although I don’t know what they’re saying.

The door opens; the light fills the doorway. I lower myself to the leafy floor, desperate not to be seen and anxious not to damage the needle.

My heart is racing, not least because—if my homework has paid off—it should be him.

An emaciated woman in local dress, who looks to be in her twenties, emerges from the doorway and looks around. She speaks softly in German; two male voices answer her, finishing with peals of raucous laughter. She embraces them both and offers them what is obviously a fond farewell.

The door slams shut and the whole world goes dark again. The two men start walking along the road in my direction. One of them is improbably tall and slightly built; the other…short, tubby…oh my, the hair, the glasses…even in this light, no doubt…oh my word, it’s him.

I’m breathing hard; so hard that they’ve got to hear me. Damn it…calm…don’t blow it…

I need to get him on his own. Any witnesses could cause complications. This is only the first time.

As they stroll past me—so close that I could reach out and touch his shoes—I hold my breath, biting my lip and shivering. I daren’t turn around to follow their path.

Their voices fade as they move on towards a bend in the road. If I don’t move, I’ll lose him. I scramble to my feet and get walking.

They come to a large house and talk loudly for what seems like hours, although time seems to have come to a standstill; four hours ago, I was walking through customs at Vienna airport with my gear, including a hypodermic syringe and vial, and one of the half-dozen or so German phrases I know: Ich bin Diabetiker.

The tall man enters the house and slams the door shut, leaving him to stroll away with a contented chuckle, which fills me with sadness because I know what I’m about to do to him. Pacing along the cobbled road, getting closer and closer…oh, my…and closer…then he’s within an arm’s length. What was it they say about meeting your heroes?

“Franz?” I gasp between desperate, bellowing inhalations. He turns around with a quizzical look on his face; I can smell the alcohol on his breath as he looks me in the eye.

No time to lose. Ducking down, I launch myself at his waist with my arms out; we crash to the floor unceremoniously. My right knee smashes into a cobblestone; it barely registers because of the adrenaline coursing through me. He yells in shock, then barks a stream of indignant Teutonic. I don’t understand a word.

His fists beat down hopelessly on my back; it’s now or never. Grabbing his belt, I turn him over. He’s struggling like a dog. I manage to pull his trousers down with my right hand and pin him to the floor with my knee.

It’s obvious what he’s thinking; he screams “Nein!”

Pulling out the syringe, I don’t bother removing his long white underwear; I don’t want to humiliate him. I jerk the cap off the needle with my teeth and stick it in his right buttock. His cry of shock and pain echoes; it’s only a matter of minutes before someone turns up. I press the plunger down and fall back off him, relieved.

It didn’t occur to me that he might try to retaliate; thankfully, his retribution is purely verbal. Snarling at me, asking questions; I know what they are but can’t answer. I back off, put the syringe back in my pocket, and run.

On the flight home, I take the small silver coin out of my coat pocket—a 1978 Austrian 50 Schilling—and hold it between thumb and forefinger. It doesn’t look any different, though I wasn’t expecting it to; this isn’t going to be easy.

I hobble to the toilet and roll my trousers down my legs, wincing. My technicolour knee, purple, blue and yellow, is bigger than the cobble it smacked into; this isn’t good. Seven days and counting to the next trip; I can only hope that I will be relatively mobile by the time I return to Austria.


I read through this again then slammed my diary shut. No point in writing any of this down; who would believe me?


One week later, the crows announced the dawn of another grey, wet day with their raucous cackling. From my bedroom window, the world looked ready for a funeral; I was trying to stop one, or at least delay it for some time.

One positive to take from my still sore, bruised knee was that it provided a ready-made excuse to go back to the doctor; a new, fresh vial was needed for the next trip.

The screen perched above the corridor displayed my name and that of Doctor Massey; I slowly got to my feet and hobbled down the passage to his room.

“Just keep your weight off that knee for a couple of days. The usual advice; plenty of water and over-the-counter painkillers if you need them.”

“Thank you, Doctor.”

Truth be known, my limp was more than a little exaggerated; it wasn’t painkillers that interested me. I could hear my heart thumping as I turned away from his door and the waiting room; the old chap would write up his notes on my latest medical misadventure at a somewhat leisurely pace. I would have less than a minute, though.

The door was unlocked again; I heaved a sigh of relief as I pushed into the room. Nobody there. The cupboard unlocked. I couldn’t believe my luck; there was no way I would have this opportunity again. Without hesitation, I pocketed another two vials, then turned back from the door to take a spare, just in case.

As I hobbled exaggeratedly back to the waiting room, an enormous woman with short purple hair and a screeching baby scowled in my direction as she waddled to Doctor Massey’s door.


The rain was that misty stuff that slowly collects on your skin and clothes until you are saturated. I was hoping that he was at least warm and comfortable in that grotty house.

I waited a little further down the road from my hiding place for our first encounter; the less time I spent following him before the ambush, the better. Less time for him to get nervous and bolt.

From my vantage point he strolled into view with his tall friend; he looked a little agitated. As they reached his companion’s front door, they paused to talk.

Voices and arms were raised in increasingly nervous, angry gestures; he clearly wanted a chaperone back to his own home. He pulled anxiously on his friend’s sleeve and frantically pointed down the road; the tall man lost patience and they parted with angry shouting and the loud slamming of the door.

Once more, I had to talk myself into doing this, to overcome that overwhelming guilt and sadness that washed over me. Clambering to my feet, I walked out into the road; he shuddered to a halt in front of me, an expression of sheer terror on his face, then frantically scrambled away in the direction of the house.

I panicked; he was getting away. My attempt at a rugby tackle didn’t bring him down cleanly, but sent him stumbling onto all fours. I pulled the syringe from my pocket and thumbed the cap off the needle as he kicked out like a donkey; his boot caught me on the shoulder, but I swung my arm over his leg and got the shot in. Once the plunger went down, I breathed a huge sigh of relief.

Back on my feet. I stood over him as he lay on the dirty, wet floor; he was clutching his backside and wincing, sobbing under his breath. His eyes were fixed on me.

I backed off with my hands out, palms up. I didn’t want to hurt him; that was the last thing on Earth that I wanted to do.

He crawled awkwardly back to his friend’s home, wailing and shouting, then hammering on that door with both fists. Candle light flickered through a window but nobody came out.

Clutching my shoulder, I limped back to the park where the box was waiting for me through the mud and that evil drizzle.

Next time, I’ll bring a change of clothes, I thought.

I was dreading the next time.


It was getting late; I had been staying up further and further past midnight. The glow from the laptop screen illuminated my room. This wasn’t a great idea; my flight was in eight hours and there was a train, then a bus, to catch before then. But I was struggling; what if this didn’t work? What if I’d got the dates wrong, or if it was something else?

I needed something to bolster my flagging confidence, so I closed everything down—, Facebook, 824 blogs—and typed that word into Google.

The same results flashed up on the screen, and the same text I had read over and over again, well
into the early hours: three injections administered to the buttock at intervals of one week apart should usually suffice.

But that other word—usually—kept me awake for much of that night. Suppose it didn’t work? What if I couldn’t get back? I didn’t care for myself; but my poor old Grandma. If I disappeared without trace, how would she cope? And my dear boy?

I cursed myself for being weak and allowing myself to think that way. This was for the third person in my life, who kept me company, who cheered me when I was alone and gave me hope when I couldn’t see any way out.

Later that morning, I treated myself to a hot shower, Scotch egg, and a mug of black coffee. The box and case with all the gear were by the front door, ready for the trip. I shook my head, took the box under one arm, and dropped it on the pavement outside. Heaving the suitcase over the threshold, I pulled the front door shut with a slam.


I found a low wall near the square and made myself comfortable, guessing that he would take this route home after our previous two encounters.

Sure enough, before long a short, portly figure came trudging—alone–out of the mist. His gait suggested fear; immense guilt and sadness weighed down on me. Like a dog that had been beaten over and over again, his body language inspired pity.

Snap out of it, I thought. It’s for his own good.

I dug a pebble out of the dusty ground. As he passed the wall, I threw it across the road; it struck the dusty cobbles with a loud crack. He stood bolt upright, staring at the road, frozen with fear.

I was over the wall in a flash. He yelled with frightened anger as I dragged him to the ground. He struggled briefly, but it was no real fight; yelping and snivelling as we rolled around on the floor, he had no heart for a real struggle. The needle was soon jammed home and I pushed down the plunger with a sigh of relief.

Splayed out on the floor, he started to weep bitterly. I felt a sense of profound guilt wash over me; it reminded me of the grief my young son displayed when our dog took his final cancer-ridden trip to the vet.

Poor Franz! How I wished I had taken German at school; I wanted to put his mind at rest, to let him know it was for his own good.

I crouched down next to his prostrate form and told him in English that I wouldn’t be back again, so that it would be more important than ever that he took care of himself and chose his friends carefully.

He sniffed and looked up, puzzled, through watery eyes; even in German, that wouldn’t have made an awful lot of sense to him. I gently placed my hand on his shoulder; he swiped his left arm round in an arc and knocked it away with an anguished shout.

“Meine Brille,” he gasped between anguished sobs on his knees as he desperately swept the ground around him with his hands. My heart sank.

Please, please let this work, I thought, as I picked his spectacles off the dusty cobbles and held them out to him. He snatched them out of my hand with a yell of anguish; cradling his head between his hands, he curled up into a ball on the floor and wailed.


That was the last time I ever saw him in person.


The box was where I left it in the Park; although when assembled its awkward bulk would deter all but the most determined, there was always the fear that some resourceful footpad would find out how to get in and take an impromptu journey.

It felt rather cosy as I climbed in, warm and dark; I knew that, once in, I would be safe from the outside world, but knowing what was to follow filled me with a sense of dread.

Sure enough, as I pulled the lid over my head, that high-pitched screech skewered my ears. The pain, as so many times before, slowly spread from my head and down through me. My mouth filled with bile; I gulped frantically. To vomit there and then in the box would be fatal.

Incredible centrifugal forces pinned me to the wall, pushing my blood to the back of my head and away from my vital organs, and I gasped air way thinner than I was accustomed to. Numbness spread over my limbs, pushing against the agonising stomach cramps.

Those four terrible minutes stretched out like an elastic band, thinner and thinner, almost to the point of snapping; then, all of a sudden, the screech stopped as the spinning motion petered out and once again, I bounced off the walls of the box like a squash ball, to and fro.

I landed on my back with a thud, which knocked the wind out of me. Scrambling to my feet, desperate to puke, I kicked the lid; it swung open.

I stumbled out of the box onto the turf and gleefully ralphed, heave after heave, until nothing more came up.

Wiping my mouth on my sleeve, I looked around. Nobody was about and, even better, I saw tarmac, electric lighting and modern cars parked nearby.

It never gets any easier, I thought as I rolled onto my back, bursting into hysterical laughter at the sheer relief of being alive.


That last trip left me totally spent; I slept through the flight home, and even a double espresso at the airport failed to keep me awake. Thankfully, the connecting buses ran every half-hour, so one missed connection didn’t mean a missed train home.

The view from the coach window en route to the city centre was as depressing as it gets, even for winter; a heavy grey sky framed bare black trees and dull yellow fields. Every now and then, the river would gurgle into view, sluggish muddy brown water with the odd streak of pewter where the clouds broke.


Shiny metal.

The coin.

Fumbling in my pocket, as I pulled it out, it slipped from my fingers. Hitting the floor with a crack, it rolled across the aisle to an old lady, who picked it up.

“Here you are, dear,” she grinned.

“Thanks,” I spluttered. Pinching it between thumb and forefinger, I held it up to the window.

What I saw made me shudder with excitement. I wasn’t tired anymore.


I fumbled desperately with the front door key; shaking like a leaf, I was desperate to get into my flat.
As I crashed into the living room, throwing my bags to the floor, I snatched up my laptop and prised it open. I could barely type with excitement, but managed to navigate to the relevant Wiki:

A series of mysterious attacks in the winter of 1821 by an unknown armed assailant, who repeatedly attempted to stab him, made him reconsider the company he kept, as related in a series of letters to his friend…Caroline Esterházy finally gave in to his advances, and he married her in July 1832. Francis I, the Emperor of Austria, granted him a pension in recognition of his work in August 1833, which enabled them to live in relative comfort for the rest of their lives. Four of their children survived into adulthood and their descendants live in Vienna to this day…

I put my headphones on and flicked the on switch. The radio was pre-set and right at that very moment, as if by magic, the most wonderful, uplifting, incredible music filled my head and heart with joy as I sank shuddering to my knees, struggling to catch my breath through tears and snot. Surely not? I’d definitely never heard this before.

The final sublime notes faded away into a momentary silence, which was broken abruptly by the baritone notes of Alexander Armstrong:

“From the second movement of Schubert’s 12th symphony, completed in 1845…”