124. Coffee

Part 1 of the 'Apparitions' series.

IT TOOK SOME WEEKS for his colleagues to note the disappearance of Professor Antonio Bergamote and bring it to the attention of the relevant authorities. Bergamote, who held a prestigious post in European history at the University of Leipzig for seventeen years, was a notoriously solitary soul, a confirmed bachelor who lived alone and had few friends. Though the delay was, for this reason, unsurprising, it had the unfortunate effect of hindering the subsequent investigation of German and French authorities, and later Interpol. Bergamote had taken a sabbatical with the intention of writing the magnum opus he had been planning for many years – a definitive history of the Mediterranean Sea. He found a spartan apartment in Marseille near the Archives Nationales, for which he paid six months’ rent in advance, and settled into his daily routine, which consisted of research in the archives in the morning, followed by lunch and a nap, and then two hours of writing in the afternoon. The book was to be the culmination of his career to date and staff members at the Archives Nationales report that the professor was a daily. It was five months into his project, according to investigators, and halfway into a first draft, that Bergamote learned of the forthcoming publication of a history of the Mediterranean Sea by Professor Daniele Salgado of the University of Bologna. In certain academic circles, the enmity between Bergamote and Salgado was well-known, and indeed a favourite dinner party topic of conversation. The two had begun their careers in Italy at about the same time and had both vied for the prized professorship in Bologna. When Salgado narrowly won the favours of the jury, Bergamote decided that he would continue his career abroad, winding up in Leipzig. Staff members of the Archives Nationales report that Bergamote’s visits stopped suddenly, from one day to the next. At this point investigators were stymied, as Bergamote’s neighbours were unable to shed light on the professor’s subsequent movements. It was only after an examination of Bergamote’s telephone records and internet usage that investigators made the crucial breakthrough that allowed the investigation to develop. It appears that, shortly after learning of the publication of the Salgado history, Bergamote signed up to an internet dating service, where he established a correspondence with someone who signed her emails Mooki. In her third email, Mooki told Bergamote that she lived in Cannes and dreamed of sailing the world in a yacht. They exchanged photographs in subsequent emails. Investigators note that the woman represented in the photograph found in Bergamote’s inbox is of Asian (possibly Filipino) appearance and estimate her age to be between 25 and 35 years old, or about 15 to 25 years younger than Bergamote. According to the report, the photograph also suggests it is likely the woman in the photograph is transgendered. Before long, the email correspondence assumed a romantic nature. Bergamote’s telephone records indicate that Bergamote received two calls from the number given to him in Mooki’s third email, and that he in turn made fourteen calls to the same number. The first four of these calls lasted an average of 43 minutes duration. The next ten calls lasted an average of 22 seconds. Investigators have concluded that Mooki, for an unknown reason, terminated the correspondence with Bergamote, and that Bergamoteattempted to contact Mooki by telephone on ten occasions. His email account contains a more revealing account of the trajectory of the correspondence between Bergamote and Mooki. Bergamote sent a total of twelve emails to Mooki and received a total of seven. It appears Mooki takes the initiative on every occasion: she sends her photograph first and asks for Bergamote’s photograph in reply. She is the first to send compliments, flattering Bergamote on his looks, his fine writing, his good manners and so on. She confesses her tender for him in only her fourth email. By her sixth email, she reveals that she is, in her opinion, falling for him, that she can’t believe her good fortune, and so on. This sixth and penultimate email sent to him by Mooki has the subject heading, ‘Coffee’. In this same email, as well as this confession of love, she asks him his feelings about coffee. In his reply, Bergamote returns the compliments, flattering Mooki on her looks, her writing and her manners, and reveals that he too believes he is falling for her with a hitherto unknown strength of feeling. As for her question, he replies at some length on the vivifying qualities and poetic connotations of coffee. In her last email, Mooki writes six words: Coffee is a metaphor for sex. Bergamote replies that his thoughts and feelings about sex are more or less equivalent to his thoughts and feelings about coffee. Mooki’s reply never comes: at this point she ceases all contact with Bergamote, and his ten subsequent emails, sent with an increasing tone of urgency and confusion (the twelfth email, for example, simply reads, All I ask of you is an explanation), remain unanswered. In his last email, Bergamote tells Mooki he intends to travel to Cannes the following day to find her. His banking records indicate the following he withdraws a substantial amount from an automated teller machine near the Marseille train station, another withdrawal for the same amount two days later in Cannes, another Cannes withdrawal - this one over the counter, for a sum of several thousand - the following day, and a final automated teller machine withdrawal, for the maximum sum permitted, the following Wednesday, in Trieste, at which point all of Bergamote’s traceable activity – email, telephone, banking – ceases altogether.