The shadow followed me into the alley and it was game on. He was shorter than I had perceived and stockier. Not the build of a street person. I wanted to have a chat with him and find out what he was up to. I soon found out.
His knife came out quickly, an old combat Gerber MkII. He was going for a silent kill, which showed me he had confidence. The Gerber MkII was not the usual crack head’s choice of weapons. More like a spear point than a knife, the blade was double edged and serrated. Long but heavy enough for a slashing attack as well. I admired his choice. It was always good to see a traditionalist in this age of gimmicks.
I put my left hand out slowly in a calming motion. I didn’t shoot him straight away as I thought it would be more useful if I could have a chat with him and see what was on his mind. It didn’t look like he was up for a chat.
He kept his eyes locked on me rather than acting concerned about any witnesses. I slowly lowered my gun hand down, away from the side of my head. His eyes stayed locked on mine and in the low light, he didn’t notice that the object I had been holding flat against my head was actually a gun and not a phone. He must have missed that bit of his training.
He held the knife outward in his left hand and set himself in the basic close combat stance. In his first move he slashed, left-handed, horizontally at chest high in order to gauge my response. I stepped back to stay outside of his arc. His second slash reversed the move and the knife again moved across my chest from my left to my right.
I knew the move he was setting up. I used to teach it. He would drop the knife to his right hand after his next move and feign high again with his now empty left hand and when I moved my arms upward to block, he would open my rib cage and take me in the heart.
I brought my pistol up and shot him between the eyes. The whole exchange had taken just seconds. The sound was muffled somewhat by his face and the echo of the shot was bounced away by the acoustics of the alley. With the overwhelming cacanophy of nearby Marseilles traffic noises, the sound was nothing noticeable unless you knew what to listen for.
His head popped open like a dropped melon from the catastrophic impact of the .45 bullet and showered me with bone, blood, and brain matter. The cordite smell of the weapon discharge briefly hid the smell of his opened head. I stepped back, flicked the safety on, and slipped the pistol back into the small of my back.
‘Bollocks!’ I shouted silently to myself as I realized my £1800 suit jacket was sprayed with bits of his head.
I patted him down quickly and found no ID, wallet, or phone. His clothes had local tags but his shoes were Russian made. Nobody wore Russian shoes — not even Russians wore Russian shoes. I policed my spent shell casing and pocketed his knife. My phone camera took crap pictures at the best of times but I took one of his face. It wasn’t his best side.
I propped up his body in a doorway and turned up his collar to give him the appearance of a rough sleeping drunk — with the top of his head blown off. I shrugged my shoulders at the mess and turned and walked away.
I took off my gory suit jacket and rolled it up and tucked it under my arm. Tactics demanded that I change my direction, so I ended up taking a less direct route to my hotel. There were no others following. I walked along a side street stopping once to pretend to tie my shoelace. I dropped the dead guy’s knife down through a storm drain grate and stood back up. In a city like Marseilles, it would rest in the sewers with dozens of others.
The bad news was that Russians seemed to have an interest in either me or Dave. The good news was that they were shit, I thought to myself. It would have been useful to have been able to question him and find out what was on his mind other than my .45 caliber hollow point bullet. I would have to work on my interrogation techniques.
‘Just like a Russian to bring a knife to a gunfight’, Sean Connery, Untouchables, Paramount pictures 1989’ I mumbled to myself in my best Connery accent as I entered the lobby of my hotel. A shower and a large whiskey from the mini bar and I went to bed.
Morning finally came and I had coffee in the garden courtyard of the hotel. It was pleasant until Rico, one of Dave’s more senior security team chiefs approached my table.
I knew Rico and he was good. A former Italian Navy Commando before an inner ear problem medically retired him. He didn’t settle into civilian life well. Dave had hired him after seeing him clear out a bar in Naples on night. He quickly moved up through the company ranks and was fiercely loyal to Dave for trusting him with a job.
Rico was wearing an open dark grey suit jacket with trousers a subtle shade lighter. Given that Rico was just over a hundred kilos, he did well to wear an Armani and not look like a sausage exploding. He had his coat unbuttoned. I reached slowly for a folded International New York Times on the table.
He raised his right hand out and open to show he was not playing guns today. In his left hand he carried a leather Visconti briefcase. He sat down uninvited and poured himself a coffee from the silver pot on the table. I ignored this and sipped some orange juice from an iced glass. He glanced again at my hand resting near the newspaper.
“Let me guess, a 380 Beretta in the newspaper this morning?” he said.
“It’s a 45. You never know when an Italian rhinoceros is going to try and steal your last cup of coffee,” I replied.
He nodded and grinned, and took a sip of coffee from a china cup. Then he grimaced at the cup and said, “How did you get a giraffe to piss in this coffee pot? This is the worst I’ve ever tasted.”
“Self-inflicted, Rico, your taste buds were burned out drinking that Grappa your father used to make.”
Rico laughed and nodded his head, “Yea, Pa made some brutal stuff. I got some for you if you pass through here on the way home.”
“I’m not sure of my travel plans, Rico,” I said, deflecting his interrogation.
The waiter arrived and asked Rico if he required anything. Rico switched to fluent, locally accented French and told the waiter he did not.
Rico continued to scan left and right, and then up and down. If I asked him next week, he could tell me how many people were in the courtyard and who was closest to the door.
“Some street crime near here last night shortly after you left. Anything we need to know about?” he said, while still looking around.
“I did a bit of troubleshooting on the way to my hotel. Not random. I think he was Russian. He came at me with a knife. If he knew who I was, he would have been better armed. Can’t be coincidence that a Russian has a go at me after I meet with Dave, though. You boys have somebody pissed off at you, Rico?”
Rico nodded slowly to himself and said, “Not the first time. It could be you they are after. I imagine you have annoyed one or two people over the years.”
“Only ex-wives and tax men, Rico. Let us know what you can find out on this. I am sending a Bluetooth of the photo of him. I can do without the distractions.”
He whistled as he looked at the picture and said to himself, “A .45, from less than a metre. I bet that ruined his whole day. A single, large calibre round, between the eyes—you may as well left a calling card.”
“Lucky shot,” I said.
“Looks like lucky,” he smiled and turned his phone off. “It would have been nice to have been able to speak to him a bit, though.”
“He wasn’t very talkative.”
Rico smiled. “Ok, I’ll look into it and brief Dave. Good seeing you again,” he said as he stood up.
He took three steps backward while continuing to face me, buttoned his jacket and walked directly out of the courtyard towards the hotel entrance. His head moved left and right every few seconds in a slow and natural looking way.
I watched him move and nodded my approval. He made his scanning of the area look completely natural and he never switched off. It was part of him.
I picked up my newspaper and read another article about Rio Tinto’s iron ore shipments to China. I should have bought more shares last summer when Andy told me over dinner in Hong Kong to dump bonds and get back into China-focused commodities.