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.

Seriously Trivial – 2022

Here are some things you probably have never thought about:

1 — If you Google “Star Wars movie mistakes” you get over 4 million different websites in 0.38 seconds.  I didn’t scroll through them all, but — wow!  I can’t even imagine the massive number of nerd hours it took to examine all 13 hours and 14 minutes of the Star Wars franchise, frame by frame, and create even one of these.  However, I have seen more than a few smug clouds enveloping the pompous asses who insist on discussing their particular Star WarsStar Trek or Stargate discoveries.

2 — Rumour has it that the four Indiana Jones movies are chemically-induced hallucinations that Han Solo had when he was frozen in carbonite in The Empire Strikes Back.  As if?

3 — There is a fan theory that much of the Disney movie universe is connected.  For example, Elsa and Anna’s father, King Agnarr from Frozen, is thought to be Rapunzel (from Tangled‘s) mother’s brother.  Thus, when he and Queen Iduna were lost at sea, they were on their way to their niece Rapunzel’s wedding to Flynn Ryder.  Furthermore, the storm that sinks their ship off the coast of Africa is the same one that rejuvenates the land in The Lion King, plus the sunken wreck that Ariel explores in The Little Mermaid is that same ship!  Not only that but, Agnarr and Iduna survive the catastrophe, make their way ashore and eventually have a son — Tarzan — Elsa and Anna’s little brother.  This isn’t just idle chatter, like that Han Solo crap.  Much of it is backed up by some pretty substantial circumstantial evidence.

4 — There are hundreds of theories about what’s in the briefcase from Pulp Fiction, but the most enduring is it’s Marcellus Wallace’s soul.

5 — Millions of people want to believe R+L=J, and thousands and thousands of people are working, day and night, to find the clues that prove it. (Who knew it would all end so badly!)

6 — A lot of people think that originally, Gandalf the Grey, from the Lord of the Rings trilogy, had a cunning plan to use the eagles to fly Frodo, Samwise and The Ring directly to Mordor, drop the jewelry into Mount Doom and be back in The Shire by Second Breakfast.  Unfortunately, Gandalf unexpectedly gets his ass kicked by the Belrog in the Mines of Moria, and when he comes back to life as Gandalf the White, he’s forgotten all about it.  And, to many people, Gandalf’s last words to Frodo, “Fly, you fools!” is indisputable proof of this.

7 — I said all this to say we live in an age of relentless entertainment, and our society has become so abundant and benevolent that we can indulge ourselves in it, any time we please — for as long as we please.  Where once entertainment was an occasional escape from grim reality, to many people these days it is their greater reality.  And, like it or not, that has blurred the line between what we treat seriously and what is mere trivia.

I wrote this in January 2016!  Not much has changed.

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.