The Laughing Cod in downtown Hlidarend is rated as one of north-east Iceland's premier restaurants. Or one of north-east Iceland's restaurants. In practice, it amounts to the same thing.

On the three hundred and sixty-four days each year when the Laughing Cod isn't being a restaurant, you can still walk in to the bar and order a coffee; and this is precisely what the Most Wanted Man in History did.

Six of the seven regulars turned and stared at him as he did so; the seventh, Wall-Eyed Bjorn, just carried on complaining about herring quotas.

Torsten Christianssen, the ever-popular proprietor of the Cod, poured coffee, waited for it to settle, and leant back against the cash register, soaking in the thrill of a new experience.

"Just passing through, are you?" he asked after a while.

The newcomer looked up. "You could say that," he replied with only the faintest trace of an unfamiliar accent. "Could you fix me a toasted sandwich, while you're at it?"

"Sure," Torsten said. "coming right up." he withdrew into the kitchen, wondering what the hell he was doing. It was theoretically possible to get a toasted sandwich in the Cod, but you needed references from two doctors and a justice of peace before your application could even be considered.

When the stranger had eaten his sandwich, drunk his coffee and spent about forty-five seconds studying the framed photograph of Einar Sigfussen's record grayling on the wall opposite, he stood up and asked for the bill.

"The what?"

"The bill," repeated the stranger. "Please."

"Oh, yes, right. Coming right up. Anybody got a pencil or something?"

There was a brief, stunned silence, which was resolved when the stranger unclipped one from his top pocket and handed it over. Torsten took it as if it was red hot, and tentatively pressed the top.

"How do you spell coffee?" he asked.

The stranger told him; then took the paper from his hands, glanced at it, and fished a banknote out of his shirt pocket. A ten-thousand kroner note.

"Hey," said Torsten, when God's marvellous gift of speech had been restored to him. "You got anything smaller?"

The stranger looked at him, took back the note and put it down on the counter. Then he smiled at it.

It began to shrink.

You couldn't say how it did it; it just gradually occupied less and less space, until eventually it was about the size of a postage stamp. The stranger picked it up, blew on it, and passed it back across the counter.

"Is that better?" he asked.

Faust Among Equals, Tom Holt

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