It was just another murder in Africa, nothing unusual in that.
It was warm for November, and wet. I pulled my collar up when I stepped out of the rental car at Heathrow. It was late afternoon in London when I boarded the British Airways flight to Marseilles. I was between girlfriends, one in London, and one in Marseilles.
I settled down in my first class seat and ignored the pre-flight rituals that I now knew as well as any of the cabin crew. Once we were at altitude, I opened my laptop, loaded the memory stick passed to me when I turned in my rental car at Heathrow, and loaded the encryption key required to read it.
The mission profile I was reviewing was a standard “Sales Enhancement” job. It seemed that my client, the Black Horse Group was trying to sell a close protection security package to the economics minister of Burundi. But he wasn’t convinced that he needed an enhancement in his close protection arrangements.
It was my job to relieve him of his illusions by blowing up his chief of staff. Timings, background info, work ups of all of his security people and local sources of equipment were all annexed in the report.
It seemed a routine job.
Black Horse Group was owned and run by an old Legion mate, Steve Blackwell. Steve and I went way back and could have been chief witnesses at each other’s war crimes trials at The Hague in our younger days. We were the best of enemies.
The stewardess in first class seemed to be paying me more attention than I thought was warranted by my “George Clooney after a car crash” looks. After sticking one of her boobs in my ear while she served me coffee I became convinced that something other than my libido was up.
She asked, with an incredible smile, “Can I do anything to make your flight more enjoyable, Mr Jefferson?”
“Not without losing your job.” I replied. She laughed. It was a good laugh.
At the end of the flight, she palmed a business card to me as we shook hands while disembarking. Written on the card was; “Meet me for drinks later, main bar, Hotel Dieu. Kathy.”
I ambled through customs and baggage reclaim and I took a cab over to her hotel, stopping first at a Lock Safe self storage centre near the airport to retrieve a sports bag I had left there on my last visit.
Once in the back of the cab, I opened the bag, unwrapped a semiautomatic pistol in an oily cloth and discretely loaded the magazine after checking the springs. I loaded a round into the chamber and checked the safety. The Glock 36 was a gift to myself after losing my previous ‘city’ gun last year. It was the smallest and most reliable compact automatic on the market available in .45 calibre.
Old School 45 calibre. I hit what I aimed at and had forgone the double tap techniques taught in modern close combat courses. I could therefore reason that the smaller magazine capacity of the Glock 36 was justified by not needing to spray smaller 9mm rounds around when one well aimed 45 round would kill anything on two legs.
I thought it gave me a distinctly European look in the waistband of my Saville Row suit. I was dressed to kill.
The average speed of a French taxi is mach 6 so I was there in no time. I paid off the cab and made arrangements with the concierge for him to take my bags on to my hotel.
The InterContinental Hotel Dieu is a Marseilles institution. I walked in like I owned the place. The lobby is colossal and always impresses, even frequent visitors. Waiting there in the hotel bar was Kathy and a few of her friends.
The bar was expansive and expensive. Several nests of leather sofas were arranged in discrete groups. As I walked over, Kathy noticed me and smiled.
“Did you enjoy your flight Mr Jefferson?” Kathy enquired, with a tilted head and another incredible smile.
“It went very quickly for me but that is becoming more common as I get older,” I said.
Kathy laughed again and introduced me to the others and I sat down. Just me and four young, beautiful women, I looked like a polar bear in a lambing pen. The waiter came over and nodded approval at my choice of La Cruz rum with lime juice and soda. I was pretty sure he would have nodded approval if I had ordered a pint of drain cleaner.
Just after my drink arrived, the polite conversation with Kathy and her mates ended as a gentleman approached our table. It was my old worst mate from the Legion, David Foure.
Dave laughed and introduced me to his latest distraction. It was Kathy. I stood, smiled graciously and said we had already met. I remarked to Dave that his tastes in women had improved remarkably over the years. Kathy laughed out loud again and I fell in love for about the third time that day.
Dave smiled while nodding his head, and put his hand on my shoulder. We retired to a quiet corner of the bar to discuss treason, murder, revolution and other ways for gentlemen to make a comfortable living in these stressful times.
He said, nodding to Kathy and her friends, “Jefferson, you’re still a fool for an ambush.”
I replied “Foure, are you going to ask me to be your best man again? That would be a hat trick at three times.”
Foure laughed off my question, and said, “You were always the sentimental one. Since Jacko was killed, Black Horse is operating almost as two separate companies. Steve is running the Asia group and I am running things in Europe. He’s a fuckin maniac. We barely speak to each other. Right now we are tripping over each other in Africa and almost bidding against each other for work. We need a secure ‘go between’ who understands our, shall we say… ‘historical dynamics’ as well as the potential for cooperation."
I replied, “Dave, I am here for personal reasons and have I nothing to do with Black Horse."
Dave waved away my protests and said “I know you’re going to see Steve. How stupid do you think I am, Jefferson? ”
“Incredibly fucking stupid, Dave, and we both have the scars to remind us of that."
Dave leaned forward in his chair; “Fuck off. You’d have done the same if you’d been point instead of me on that patrol ... I know that and so do you. I have been taking shit for that fucking patrol for ten years now.”
“Dave, if you have a hammer in your hand, everything looks like a nail to you. You initiated contact on that ambush without a thought to how many of them there might be. You were the wrong choice for point man on a recon patrol,” I reminded him.
“Well, fuckin' Lieutenant Bruno should have had his head out of his ass and we would have rolled them up like a cheap carpet,” said Dave.
“Dave, Bruno’s head was the first thing hit when those Boo’s opened up on us. But I assume you are not here in Marseille buying me rum to play ‘who saved whom’ with me. What do you want?”
Dave nodded, eased his large frame back into his arm chair and took a sip of his single malt. I had noticed he was limping when he had approached our table, but other than that he look very well considering the perils of his profession.
“Jefferson, you are a safe pair of hands for getting in touch with Steve,” he said. ‘Every time I go near him, he shoots at me. I’ll make it worth your while.’
I smiled to myself and said, “Steve was never that good a shot.”
Dave ignored my comment. “Since Jacko was killed, we’ve been getting squeezed. You get a lot of trade from me, Jefferson, and if we continue to lose contracts to those Russian bastards at KZ, it will affect your paydays, too.”
“You think Kraznaya Zsvesdaya took out Jackson to weaken Black Horse, don’t you?” I said.
“I have suspicions. Oleg is running them now and he is an ambitious prick. He was always fucking up ops when he was KGB and he always hired morons. We never considered them in the same league as us, business wise,” Dave reflected. “Maybe he just got lucky when he hit Jacko, and now thinks it is time for a move. We have several bits of intel which indicates he is actively working against our interests.”
“Alright, Dave. I’ll get in touch with Steve and see what he says. Do you have a specific proposal?”
“A few ideas, nothing too specific. Not with Steve. You know what he’s like. I just want to give him the heads-up on KZ and to try and get him to sit down and talk with me. I’ll send Rico over to see you tomorrow, and give you all the background on our problems in Africa and some ideas.”
He stood and walked with me to the lobby of the hotel. I nodded good bye to Kathy and her friends.
I walked out of the lobby, waved off the offered cab and walked towards my hotel. It was dark and the real Marseilles was just coming to life. As I crossed the street, I noticed a guy pick up my tail. I changed my pace after crossing a side street to see how he would react. He stayed with me, indicating that he was alone or didn’t care if I noticed him.