Firenze — That Night

Dreyfus Sinclair was invisible.  In the bright light of day, he would have looked foolish, lying in the dirt, but on the edge of the murky half-light night, as long as he didn’t move, no one could see him.  Twenty minutes earlier, he had casually walked through the chain link gate (a distressed motorist looking for a telephone) of the warehouse yard he’d watched the night before.  He found a spot on the open ground where the shadows were deepest and simply melted down into the darkness.  Now, he waited.

He slowly moved his feet to dig through the gravel so he wouldn’t slip when he jumped forward, but aside from that, he was motionless.  He’d learned long ago that most of what he did was hours of inactivity, slowly coiling the muscles for a sudden explosion of deadly action.  He’d once had a short correspondence with a Canadian military sniper who called it “planned impatience,” and that explanation suited him.  He had no illusions about the Zen of anticipation or the fear that was gathering in his armpits.  He wanted to move, wanted to rush forward, wanted to get it over with, wanted to walk away, sick with adrenaline — but he didn’t.  He waited, suspended in the darkness, unable to determine time until time began again.

There was a crack of light.  The warehouse doors opened, and the light widened as if two huge electric hands were parting the darkness.  Dreyfus could see two men.  They paused and disappeared back into the light of the building.  He felt his legs and arms tighten.  There was the noise of a truck that slowly rolled into the light and stopped.  A man got out of the passenger door and started walking to the back of the truck.  Dreyfus waited – one, two, three.  He steadied himself with one hand and pushed with his feet, springing into the air.  The sudden movement caught the man by surprise, and he flinched for the microsecond Dreyfus needed to shoot him twice.  Both bullets caught the man in the chest, and he dropped– not quite dead from the fatal wounds.  Dreyfus ignored him and ran to the back of the truck.  He went around it and dropped to one knee, shooting blindly into the dark silhouette of the walking driver.  The first bullet ricocheted harmlessly off the truck, but the second caught the man in the stomach and he folded forward.  Dreyfus put a third bullet into his slumping shadow.

Then he turned and sprayed the rest of the clip — waist-high — through the open warehouse door.  That would keep anyone who might be inside from getting brave and give Dreyfus the few seconds he needed to stuff a long futbol scarf into the truck’s fuel tank.  He pushed it down until he could smell the fuel; then he replaced the clip in the Beretta, turned, and emptied it into the open door.   He replaced the clip again, and with the other hand, snapped a cheap plastic lighter and held the flame to the scarf.  It didn’t catch, and Dreyfus moved it away before it ignited the fumes.  There was the sound of shots coming from inside the warehouse, but no distinctive whiz, so they weren’t close – yet.  He snapped the lighter again, and even though it gave away his position, he held it high and carefully lowered it to the fabric.  (Semtex would have worked so much better!)  The lighter was getting warm, but he held it steady to the tassels of the scarf.  There was a metallic crack, a tinny ting, and before he heard the whiz, a razor sting across the meaty part of his forearm.  Son of a bitch!  But the tassels were burning, and one … two … three — for God sake, c’mon! … seconds later, there was a jolt of flame, and Dreyfus released his thumb and pushed the hot lighter down into the fuel tank.  He waved the Beretta back at the warehouse door, fired several shots, turned and ran for the gate.  There was a gush of heat behind him as the fire hit the fuel, and the night sky lit up in front of him.  (Vehicles don’t actually explode when they catch fire, but they do burn vigorously.)

 It didn’t matter, Dreyfus knew the truck and everything in it was gone, and he was already through the gate, across the road and into the high weeds before he stopped and looked back.  He wasn’t the only one in a hurry to get out of there.  Three cars were already moving as the flames soared into the sky.  He touched the sting on his arm and his fingers came away wet.  It didn’t hurt – but it would.  He turned and walked, deep-breathing to settle his heart and lungs, down to the car waiting on the highway.  He got in, and as they drove away, Dreyfus reached for his telephone.  He tapped at it.

“Ms. Miller.”

“Dreyfus, it’s the middle of the night!”

“Come meet me for a drink at the hotel, and bring a needle and thread,” he said, giddy with adrenaline.

Firenze — Morning

The next morning, by the time Riccardo Ciampi got to his mother’s house for coffee, he was already having a great day.  Lotta was going to take the children to Roma for the weekend, and someone (rumour had it, the British Secret Service) had shot up a couple of the Kovaci brothers’ nightclubs.  Apparently, they’d made the mistake of kidnapping a member of the British Royal family.  And he could hardly wait to give his momma a more than gleeful told-you-so lecture.  Riccardo had been of the opinion that a shooting war with the Albanians would be bad for business – although, as their power grew, he had begun to regret that decision.  Unfortunately, changing his mind meant admitting to his mother that she was right, and he was wr – wr – wr – not right.  A bitter pill to swallow.  Now – well – someone else was doing the shooting, and even though it was more good luck than good management, Riccardo was very willing to take credit for his patience and wisdom

Buongioro, Momma,” he said, leaning forward and kissing Martina Ciampi on the cheek.

In a newer suburb home, not quite in the Tuscan hills, the Kovaci brothers were still in shock.  Their information had been that an insurance investigator had come to Florence to pursue a wrongful death suit against them over some English teenager.  And although they had no idea who this teenager was, they didn’t like, want or need anyone looking into their various business practices.  Their solution (a popular one, in their line of work) was massive intimidation — which always killed these sorts of inquiries long before they were ever born.  Unfortunately, the information had been wrong, their response ill-advised, and now, on a bright Italian morning, they found themselves “thrown headfirst into a pot of shit soup.”  (A favourite expression of their maternal grandfather.)  Three dead bodies, three closed businesses, three police investigations — and, more importantly, no place to go to negotiate — had stunned them.  They’d made their own inquiries and found out very quickly that not only was this Dreyfus Sinclair a bad man to cross, but he was also connected to people who were even worse.  Albanians, as a rule, aren’t shy about trading heavy-handed violence with anyone (they don’t scare worth a hiccup) but they’re not stupid – and they are businessmen.

“What?”

“Have Guzim take the English woman her suitcase.  We need time to think.”

“Guzim is gone.  His mother’s sick.  He went home.”

Emily was not having a very good morning.  Yes, she was enjoying the cappuccino, cornetto and raspberry jam, the terrace was quiet and the view was remarkable.  The problem was she hadn’t slept well, and it hadn’t helped that three men had burst into the room in the middle of the night, asking her who she was and rummaging through her handbag for her passport.  The side effects of being kidnapped she thought — with gallows humour — and smeared jam on another cornetto.  Actually, aside from the midnight intrusion, the men had kept their distance, but Emily could feel them there, and there were a lot of them.  She trusted Sinclair, but was very aware that he wasn’t there.  And it’s one thing to know the cavalry’s coming, but you still have to survive until they get there.  She needed an advantage, a weapon.  She looked at the jam spoon and the butter knife – too delicate.  Besides, the older woman who’d brought breakfast was probably watching her and would, no doubt, count the cutlery.  Better to act as if the whole thing was as normal as crossing the road.

“Any chance of an orange juice?” she said, loud enough to be heard.

Dreyfus was asleep.  He’d spent most of the night lying in the weeds across a gravel road from two long, corrugated metal buildings.  There had been no activity until a truck with medical markings drove down the road.  The driver had opened the gate.  He didn’t use a key.  Then, suddenly, several yard lights came on, and four men came out of the first building.  They opened a big double door, and the truck drove in.  Then the lights all went out, and there were cigarettes and low, foreign language discussions with some laughter.  Later, a car drove away with only the driver inside.  Dreyfus waited until there was too much pre-dawn light and then crawled away — back to the car sitting with its hood up on the highway.  When he got back to the hotel, the night manager told him that the woman Janet Miller had checked out and left him a message that she was staying with the Montroses.  Good, old, dependable Ms. Miller! He’d call her tomorrow afternoon.  Then he went to the room and was almost instantly asleep. 

Firenze — Later

A few streets over, the next dance club was upscale, on a wider avenue with more lighting.  The neon silver Onion sign was red, outlined in yellow, and it didn’t flicker or buzz.  There was a waist-high line of stanchions along the curb, connected by coiled velvet ropes.  Nobody was waiting – it was early.  The two doormen were smaller and better dressed.  Dreyfus put on the baseball cap he’d bought earlier and adjusted the sunglasses so they sat on the peak.  He held the Beretta low against his leg as he got out of the car.  He took three long, sharp steps to cross the street and, without pausing, raised the gun and shot the larger man in the head.  The cobblestones were uneven and the shot was a little low, catching the man just under the chin.  But it was still fatal, and the bullet furrowed through the man’s brain before he had time to do anything but look surprised.  Dreyfus swung the gun to the second man.

“Open your jacket.  Two fingers.”

No Inglese.”  The man didn’t shake his head.

He was clearly no stranger to gun violence.  But he wasn’t a professional, or he wouldn’t be working the door.  Still, he was quite likely armed and was probably calculating his chances.  Dreyfus lowered the Beretta to waist high.

“Open you jacket slowly, or I’ll blow your balls off.”  For a quick glance nanosecond, Dreyfus shifted his eyes to the dead man.  The second man didn’t move.  (Gotcha!)   “I won’t ask you again.” Dreyfus added almost casually, his eyes firmly on the man’s face.  There was no hesitation.  The man opened his jacket.

“Wider.”

He had a gun on his belt.  Dreyfus stepped forward, his eyes still on the man’s face and his gun level with the man’s crotch.  He plucked the gun out of its holster and stepped back.  It was a fashionable Glock (Death by Ikea) and Dreyfus put it in his pocket.

“On your knees.  Hands on your head.  Cross your ankles.”

The man was clumsy but complied.  He was beginning to understand he wasn’t going to die.

”My name is Dreyfus Sinclair.  Tell your boss he should have left me alone.  And you should go back to Albania.  Next time, I’ll kill you.”

Dreyfus took one step backwards, turned, went back to the car and they drove away.  It had been a couple of seconds short of three minutes.

The next address was further away from the tourist area on a quiet, unassuming street.  There was a restaurant on the corner with a few early eaters, a couple of shops that were closed and a storefront grocery.  They parked across from a narrow double door with a small metal video intercom cut into the stone.  There was a CCTV camera on a pole over the door.

“Brothel?” Dreyfus asked the driver.

“Card room.  Midsized tables.  House take maybe one million Euro on a good night.  No entry unless they recognize you.”

Dreyfus put his hat back on and steadied the sunglasses.

“When I get out, back it up about five metres, wait until I quit shooting, then pull forward so I can get in.”

Dreyfus stepped into the street, took a step forward as the car reversed behind him, and pulled the Glock out of his pocket.  He put two bullets into the double doors, right at their handles, turned just slightly and shot at the intercom.  The first bullet hit the screen in a flurry of sparks, but the next two missed and ricocheted wickedly off the stone.  Not a good plan.  He turned the gun back to the doors and emptied the rest of the clip in a straight line across where the handles used to be.  Then he turned around and got back in the car which was already going forward.  It had been less than a minute, but Dreyfus had the effect he wanted — and anyone behind the doors was dead or seriously dying.

Dreyfus held the Glock in the air.

“Souvenir or should we toss it?”

“Souvenir.”

Dreyfus dropped it forward onto the passenger seat. “That’s enough for tonight,” he said.  He reached into his side pocket, pulled out a piece of paper and handed it to the driver.  “Do you know this place?”

The driver looked at the paper, “Yeah, I know it.  North-west from here, by the airport.”

“We need to go there.  No rush.  I want to watch it for a while.  And can you get me some Semtex?”

“Semtex?”

“Uh?” Dreyfus pushed his tongue against his bottom teeth and looked out the window, “C-4.”

“Right.  No, I’m just the driver.  Did they give you a telephone?”

Dreyfus reached into his left jacket pocket and brought out a cheap flip phone.

“Call the number.”  There was a pause.  “Why did you make me reverse back there?”

Dreyfus chuckled.  “You went just out of range of the CCTV.  Cops hate anomalies.  They’ll think you were doing something and waste a lot of time trying to figure out what.”

“Aah,” the driver said and nodded his head.  He liked this guy.