Extract from Chapter 22

THE LAST PEOPLE to rent Fountain Villas’ apartment had been a family from Bristol. Their young children had always thrown everything on to the beautiful grey carpet, including their food, toys, pencils and crayons. Before vacating the property, their parents had made an admirable attempt at cleaning up their offsprings’ final gargantuan mess, but had missed a green colouring pencil behind the large carved wooden door. Manek’s large right boot settled on top of it; there was a piercing crack which ended the strained silence, as the two broken halves and pieces of lead were pressed into the deep carpet pile. Their unwanted visitor’s dazzling light swung round wildly, blinding Victor and Manek. Unseen to them, the face of the public-spirited investigator took on an expression of horror and absolute fear as he illuminated, as far as his brain could absorb, two black-suited and balaclava-wearing soldiers who were ready for a dangerous mission.     

       Victor pulled out his revolver and pointed it at the man, determined to control the situation. He tried to disguise his voice. Manek turned his head towards Victor and stared at him, incredulous at the bizarre accent he was hearing.

       ‘Don’t be afraid. Point the light towards the floor – we are not here to hurt you.’ The petrified man appeared to do as he was told and the blinding beam of light settled on the carpet. ‘Good,’ Victor said. ‘Stay absolutely still, don’t make a noise and don’t try anything – or my colleague will convince you otherwise. If you behave, you will have something to tell your grandchildren. Is that clear?’ Victor demanded.

       The man was a statue, frozen on the spot. Manek moved swiftly over to the man, to reach behind his back to tape up his hands. Victor saw the man’s expression changing – he was recognising exactly what the situation was. He’d seen it so many times in combat and could see the old man’s brain coming back to life after the initial shock and impact of discovering two menacing burglars. The man’s eyes dipped down and scanned around him.

       Victor thought, Don’t do that, don’t do that!

       Before he could warn Manek, the man switched his torch to his left hand and made a sudden lunge for a large antique bronze sculpture that was sitting on a round oak side table; he managed to grab on to its arm and swung the heavy statue in an accelerating arc towards Manek. The weighty bronze base hit him on the side of the head, just above his right ear; Manek screamed out in pain.

       Victor’s brain cried out, Why did you do that? Why? You fool! 

       The man dropped the sculpture and dived for the open balcony door, losing his footing in his panic to escape, and succeeded in enveloping himself in the large curtains. He over-balanced and stumbled over. He dropped his torch in instant desperation, its bright beam hitting the ceiling and illuminating the unfolding events. He flailed his hands in the air to grab something to stop his fall – his left hand found the tall and very heavy right-hand curtain. The man’s 
grip pulled the material down as he kept tripping, his downward moving weight causing the curtain’s rings to begin to fail – one, two, three – then the rest of the rings broke off in one motion from the rail, which in turn detached itself from above the window.

       As the rail, both curtains and several dislodged lumps of plaster fell to the floor, Victor and Manek both lunged for the man. Manek was in a total rage after being hit by the bronze statue; the side of his head felt like it was on fire and the gash was issuing copious amounts of blood across the carpet and furniture as he reached out for the man. Besides the pain from the wound, Manek was angry with himself for failing to be ready for such an unexpected attack; 

he swore profusely at his lapse in concentration. As for the elderly man, it was unfortunate that Manek got to him first – with his pistol already unholstered from inside his jumpsuit, he bore down on the man’s head, which was protruding from the downed curtains.

       The man saw what was coming and screamed out, ‘No, no…!’ His pleas disappeared in an instant as the barrel of Manek’s gun smashed into his skull, just above his right temple. The man let out a deep groan and fell still.

       ‘Stop!’ screamed Victor, just as Manek was about to hit him again. ‘That’s enough, he’s down – unconscious – and I just hope he’s not dead. That was a vicious blow – idiot!’

       Manek scowled at Victor and uttered a frustrated growl at not being able to let loose another ferocious swipe at the lifeless visitor. ‘Well, he fucking well ’urt me. Look!’ He turned his head towards Victor.

       Even in the light from the tumbled-over torch, Victor could see the gash. ‘Oh, that’s a mess.’ Blood was oozing from the wound and dripping over the fallen curtains and the carpet. Why did it have to be cream? Victor’s brain questioned. Not good news for our anonymity in the future – well, not for Manek’s, at least, he judged. We’re not going to be able to clear this up to stop forensics finding out who this bleeder is. He shook his head as he spied Manek’s blood on the fallen statue. Victor could get rid of the bronze, but the rest of it? He grabbed the fallen man’s powerful torch and laid it on the sofa armrest, its bright beam illuminating the scene.

       ‘Stay still. I’ll get the first-aid box from your rucksack.’ He kept looking at the now-unmoving man as he pulled out a large plaster from a black box that was zipped into a side pocket of the bag. He saw the man was going white – Not a good sign.

       Victor pointed at his accomplice. ‘You’ve killed him, you fucking fool!’ He let fly his protests as he peeled the plaster and slapped it over Manek’s ear and blood-soaked hair. Manek groaned and pulled away. Victor pointed at the plaster. ‘You bloody well push it down properly so that it stays there.’

       Manek raised his gloved left hand and touched the plaster, wincing at the pain which shot through his ear and head. He looked at the fallen man, pointing at him. ‘There you are, fucking bastard – serves you right for attacking me.’

       Victor moved over to the fallen man, wishing him not to be dead. He put his index and middle fingers, covered by his lightweight glove, hard against the man’s neck on the carotid artery, to the side of his windpipe. He stared at Manek, shaking his head in disgust. He had complicated a simple task to get two doors for Xavier – all this for two bloody doors! ‘There’s no bloody pulse! He’s fricking well dead! You hit him too hard! What did I tell you not to do? I said no violence! You fucking nut-case!’     

       Manek stared hard at Victor, his emotionless face apologising for nothing. ‘Now what we do?’ he muttered.         Victor knew exactly what he had to do. This mess had to be cleaned up as soon as possible.

       ‘Put your gun away and listen. Someone else might be coming to look for this guy, so let’s get this other door off and get them both down to the boat. But first, I’ll go and lock that bloody main entrance door.’

       On his return, Victor found Manek struggling to stop the heavy lounge door from toppling over, having removed all the screws in the few minutes Victor had been away.

       ‘For God’s sake, why didn’t you wait for me? We don’t want anything else to go wrong!’ If it could go any further wrong, he thought. Victor remembered the old man – he looked across to the fallen curtain and the dead body in the balcony doorway. ‘Shit! We’ve got to move that lot before we can get these doors out of here. Come on, let’s wrap the body in the curtain and dump it by the fireplace so it’s out of the way.’