Death was no stranger to D’Huberres. If he had been given to whimsy he might have said it was practically family. Over long years he had come to the conclusion that a quick death was a good death. The quicker the better.
Judged by these criteria the deaths of Sanjit and Dijon had seemed as good as any. A single touch; no time to scream, no pain simply slight surprise and a thud as your body struck the ground.
As he turned back from the window D’Huberres began to doubt this. The bodies had begun to change. The skin remained unbroken, unblemished even. But underneath that skin D’Huberres changes of a nature that he could only speculate on seemed to be occurring.
Within that bag of skin the very flesh, muscle, sinew and organs, seemed to be melting, turning liquid. The body seemed to be pooling, flattening against the floor. However restrained by clothing these bags of liquid flesh retained some semblance of a body. Hands were flattening, fingers were losing definition and becoming little more then mittens crushed in a steam press, flattened to a greater size then normal.
The bones appeared to remain untouched or so Alphonse assumed, unable to account for the oddities of the head otherwise. The features remained intact, save the noise which had fallen inwards, even if such features were stretched beyond recognition as the flow of liquid flesh tested the elasticity of the skulls skin to it's limit as it settled in an ever expanding circle behind the heads.
Manipulating the release on his pistol's magazine with his right arm brought a wince of pain to D’Huberres face. A good job he could shoot with his left. He pulled a magazine out of his jacket pocket. His last, he'd have to be careful with his shots if he had any chance of getting out of here alive. He flicked the switch on the back of his Astra M1921M to single shots.
D’Huberres paused next to Sanjit's body. He'd known Sanjit for years, long before they had both ended up in the pay of the Indian and he might have almost been a friend. Except in D’Huberres line of work you never had friends. Friends were a liability, a weak spot, something that got you killed. At least live friends did. Dead friends however, D’Huberres had many of those. It was safe now, Sanjit could be admitted to be a friend. Time for one last passing gesture for friendship sake. For Sanjit, Dijon was a cunt and deserved no better.
Squatting D’Huberres carefully laid his hands on Sanjit’s forehead to close his eyes in death. Eyes are truly the window to the soul. They can show you love and hate better then a thousand words. They can speak the true and reveal a lie better then the best body language. And in the dead they are cold and empty.
Sanjit's eyes were not the eyes of a dead man. Somehow life still existed there. D’Huberres stared into them. Not just life but awareness and sanity. They know their fate, they reflected the pain of having your body melt away around you.
A cold hard hand grasped D’Huberres heart. Bile rose in his throat. All the death he'd seen and all the death he'd caused and nothing prepared him for this, the unspeakable horror of it all. He was a child again, open and vulnerable as he had been the day he had to wipe his father’s brains from his face.
Unthinking, with pure primal impulse D’Huberres rose and fired. Straight into Sanjit’s head. Point blank range the bullet ripped flesh and shattered skull and splashed brain. Another round, and another. The fourth and fifth reserved for the largest pieces left.
Three steps towards Dijon, a round at each step soon decapitated Dijon as well. D’Huberres was brought back to himself by the metallic and futile clicking sound of an empty magazine. With the skin scattered to the four winds, the liquid flesh was no longer restrained. It poured across the floor, swirling around the spent cartridges, soaking everything in a thick, viscose liquid, part blood, part shit and part flesh.
D’Huberres reached into his jacket pocket. Desperate times called for desperate measures.
Thatcher lead the way, a brand new lever arch shotgun cradled in his arms. Next came the ministry men, Thurlwell and Grey, one behind each shoulder. Thurlwell was a stocky Yorkshireman with rampant sideburns, Grey was a bland as his name silent and restrained. Their shotguns were less shinny then Thatcher’s but held no less confidently. Jock and Baker had broken away from the group and headed down a back alley, cover the rear. The unimaginatively named Jock was a Glaswegian who defied the stereotype, blond, calm and softly spoken. Baker was London born and set every single one of Taylor’s copper instincts haywire. Julius the driver got left by the van, youngest of them all he seemed to have a lot to prove. Too young for the war he handled his gun with a nervousness long forgotten by the others. Taylor and Morris brought up the rear, borrowed revolvers in their hands.
Their destination door was open and a strange Arabic crowd gathered around something on the floor a short distance away. The crowd was strange, focused inwards, agitated and upset, too densely packed to give any clue as to the nature of their focus. Taylor realised the door was not simply open, but totally off its hinges. Thatcher realised moments later. He held up his hand to stop them. Suddenly five shots, each one rapidly following on the heels of the previous one, rang out. As if they came from a starter pistol the Arabic crowd surged forwards, stomping and shouting. Three more shots followed at a more controlled and measured pace. Thatcher waved them forwards, and broke into a jog. Thurlwell and Grey kept paced and even Taylor broke into a jog, caught up in the spirit of the affair. Morris however refused to get involved and kept up a steady pace.
Thatcher took the fallen door with a single jump shouting “Grey take the downstairs.” as he cleared the door before slowing as he saw the state of the hallway. A thick liquid seeped down the stairs, it had pooled on the top three steps and as they watched it overflow the third step and became a waterfall of dark liquid cascading onto the next step.
Thatcher’s hesitation only lasted a few seconds and he took the steps three at time, shotgun levelled at the door. Thurlwell and Taylor followed, close behind. With every step a rank and unpleasant smell filled their nostrils. Taylor had smelt it once before, it was the essence of death. Taylor’s war had been spent at sea, serving on many ships. One ship was sent to pull the wounded out of Gallipolli. They'd loaded her with as many wounded as they could before she sailed. Far more then she should have ever taken. The walking wounded were left on decks, it was hot but there was food and water and medical care for them. The living dead, men who refused to die they went below decks, in the hold. Row upon row of bunk beds, pilled high with wounded stacked like so much firewood. Little water, less food and none of the over worked doctor wasted their time on them, there were lives to save. Wounds festered, bandages left unchanged and dripped their pus on the injured below. Men died and their bowels voided, joining the blood on the floor. The living lay with the dead, each as uncared for as the other. The screams became moans and the moans became silence. Once Taylor passed the open door that led to the hold and there he smelt it, the very essence of death.
It grew stronger as they climbed the stairs. The door at the top of the stairs was open, swinging idly on its hinges. They went through the door, guns levelled.
The room was a tattered mess. The signs of violence were there for all to see. A jagged line of bullet holes were cut across the roof, the doorframe was pitted and splashed with blood. Shining bullet cases could be seen glinting up from the thick, almost black liquid that flowed across the floor. Two strangely shaped bundles of clothing lay on the floor, the fabric soaking up this liquid. An eye stared up from the floor, Taylor looked again. Random lumps became skull fragments and pieces of brain, the strange shape became a rib cage. Taylor’s mind jumped. Somehow this bags of clothes had once been men. Which made this liquid... the source of the stench of death became all to clear to Taylor. His eyes rested on D’Huberres. The Frenchman sat on a chair. His legs resting up out of the muck. A cigarettes in his left hand. Thatcher stared at him, gun levelled. Alphonse took a long deep draw at his cigarette, the smell of the cloves being washed away by the stench that surrounded them all. He looked at Taylor.
“Mr Policeman. I wish to surrender. It is, how you say ‘A fair cop’.” He held his hands out for the cuffs.
The limp was an annoyance. Stolen life force had knitted torn flesh and shattered bone. But it had not expelled all the intruding lead. Most were inconsequential, lodged in organs long since atrophied, forgotten and upgraded. One however was an annoyance. A small pellet lay trapped between knee cap and shine bone. And there it grated and ground. Life repaired the flesh, but to exert control to expel the pellet required will, a finite resource. So it remained, an annoyance.
The box and amulet sat secure against his body. Pressed against his flesh the power was a siren call - almost begging him to open the box. It seemed to tell him he was strong enough, he could open the box, he could control the power. But he knew better; the power would destroy him unless handled with care and attention.
Newly acquired Arabic robes covered his blood stained and bullet-ridden clothing. Masking him as nothing more than one of Cairo’s horde of filthy limping beggars to the eyeless fools who swarmed these streets. These winding, nameless, identical streets. Summoned by the blazing power of the box he had paid scant attention to his route out, the return route to the airport was a mystery to him. He was lost.
He could feel the swirling memories of those who he had sacrificed to rebuild his body. One of them would know the route to the airport. He tried to drag the knowledge from them by main force of will. But it was like a dam breaking, a swirling torrent of emotions surged over him, threatening to drown him, drag his personality down, fill his body with their essence, lift his arms and take a breath of sweet air again. He tried to stand firm, let the wave break across him like a rock. Like a rock at high tide he was covered. He could feel his left hand tighten under another direction. Another seeking to lift his foot. But there they fall apart, a united mass they were irresistible, as singular entities they were no match. Seizing this moment of weakness he drove them back, pulling them deep down inside of him. A sign of how far he had fallen, how much age had withered him, how weak he was becoming with the death of the mother. A few ragged personalities had almost driven him from his own body. Now back under control he would hold them deep until they dissolved and bothered him no more.
A cane struck him hard in his chest.
“Out of my way.” The voice was English, well-rounded vowels, crisp consonants, patrician in tone. The accent one he had heard many times in his dealings with the Brotherhood. Proud men begging at his feet for their lives at first, pleading for their deaths in the end. And this worthless fop poked him.
Rage boiled up from within him. A lifetime of anger controlled in the service of the mother welled up. Hate burned in his eyes as he reached out to suck the life from this man. His body cried out for it, needed it to mend itself. He could almost taste the man’s soul. Would it be the mellow taste of a life well lived, the bitter taste of regret, the sweet taste of innocence, the sour taste of sin? All with the tang of fear. His earlier taste seemed to have whetted his appetite not given him his fill.
He stopped. His instincts and body in revolt against his will. Stop, enough, no more, another could destroy me. He bowed his head and stepped aside.
“Very sorry sir.” He locked eyes with the Englishman. His will mastering the Englishmen, implanting dark desires in him. Fear blossomed in the Englishman's eyes.
“I should bloody well think so.” All bluster. He strode away, ignoring the shiver up his spine. The Chinaman smiled to himself. Revenge would be slow. The seed would blossom that night into madness, his family would pay for the man’s rudeness in pain and blood. Unless his character were truly good and then such desires would take no hold, or his will strong enough to control them but such men were few.
He must find the airport. Time was short.
“Keep your hands where I can see them and don't try any funny stuff. Taylor, Cuff him.” Thatcher’s shotgun was pointed unwaveringly at D’Huberres chest.
“Me?” Taylor started to regret his enthusiasm in keeping up with Thatcher. He pulled his cuffs out of his pocket and pistol levelled made he slowly made his way round behind D’Huberres, keeping his back to the wall as he went.
D’Huberres sat, unconcerned, smoke drifting up from his cigarette.
Taylor got behind the Frenchman.
“All right D’Huberres hands behind your back.” Taylor tried to keep his voice as firm as possible.
D’Huberres dropped his cigarette into the floor where it was quenched by the thick gunk. He held his arms out behind his back. Taylor grabbed his right arm and slapped the cuffs on. D’Huberres winced but remained calm. Taylor slapped the other cuff on.
“We've got him boys.” Thatcher’s enthusiasm was palatable. He stepped forwards and with a hard swing of his shotgun smashed the Frenchman to the floor.
“All right then you animal, talk.” Without even the slightest pause he brought his shotgun down hard on D’Huberres leg.
“Is this how you treat your prisoners Sergeant Taylor? I have surrendered.” He looked up at Taylor, trying to pull his face out of the muck. Taylor dithered. Thatcher brought his boot round it D’Huberres's stomach. D’Huberres folded round it and slumped back to the slimy floor.
“Enough of that Mr Thatcher.” The inspector had finally arrived. He struck a match and lit his pipe. He puffed slowly, building the fire in the bowl. “I'm sure Mr D’Huberres is willing to co-operate. So let’s start with. What happened here.” He waved his pipe stem to indicate the room. D’Huberres struggled back up a little.
“Well. This small Chinaman I'd never seen before, smashed the door of it's hinges and dissolved two hulking men with a touch. It seemed to shrug off bullets like they were water. My employer grabbed the box and ran. I don't think he got very far. I expect that this Chinaman now has the” His speech was broken by another hard blow from Thatcher.
“Mr Thatcher. This man has surrendered. We can question him at our leisure back at the embassy.” Morris tone was firm.
“Hear that D’Huberres, you get a little break.” Thatcher bent down and pulled D’Huberres to his feet by the cuffs “Come on now. Coming inspector Morris?”
“Want to have a quick look round first.” The inspector replied.
“No need I'll have a man posted here we can come back at our leisure. But I want to get this little beauty home first.”
“Very well Mr Thatcher, I'll give the place a preliminary once over and then be down.” He turned to Taylor “Please stay and lend me a hand.”
As Thatcher marched D’Huberres down stairs Morris leant over to Taylor.
“Taylor, I think I’ve just worked out why I’m here.” Taylor looked at the Inspector with a blank expression. “Why Sir Archibald wanted me on this case. Thatcher’s good, hard and competent. But he just totally ignored D’Huberres story even though there are two inexplicable corpses in this room. Now I’m not saying that D’Huberres story is even vaguely accurate but I’m not willing to write it off till I’ve looked into things. I’m willing to believe. Keep an open mind Taylor, there is more here then a simple case of duplicates and melted corpses.” Taylor went from puzzled attention to open mouthed disbelief at the last statement. “You know what I mean Taylor.” Morris snapped back.
Taylor and Morris subjected the room to a swift, professional search. The diamond of the find was an old battered canvas document case that lay on the floor near the desk. The wax treated surface had protected the bundle of rough documents contained within. The inspector quickly riffled through the papers. Puffing the pipe all the while. The strong tobacco smoke seemed to be keeping the stench at by for Morris, but no such luck for Taylor.
“This is important. It's as disorganised as hell but I've already seen references that make me think this is relevant. Come on let’s go. Hopefully we'll still have a captive by the time we get down the stairs. Besides, you've gone green Taylor.” The stench had got too much. Taylor bolted to the open window and hurled his stomach out into the alleyway below.
Jock and Baker, hidden further down the alleyway, lowered their rifles and laughed at Taylor. The alleyway was a narrow, dark and dingy place. Other heavily curtained windows overlooked the alleyway, they twitched slightly. It was filled with rotten rubbish and a few Arabs were making there way up the alley way, the air was heavy and still without a hint of wind.
“All clear up there Taylor?” Jock shouted.
“Got to be pretty bad if he thinks this place is fresh air.” Baker added. He offered Jock a cigarette, they both sparked up, Jock bending low over Baker match to light his cigarette.
“Come on Taylor.” Morris patience seemed to have worn thin.
“Yes sir.” Taylor took a deep breath and pulled himself back in the room, hoping to clear the foetid stench before it overcame him. Suddenly screams and a shot rang out from the alleyway below. Taylor turned and hurled himself to the window, pulling his revolver out of its holster.
The Arabs had drawn level with the two relaxed men from the ministry and knives had flashed in the confined space of the alleyway. Jock was down on the floor, a bleeding stomach wound and his arm sliced to the bones in three places. Two figures were bent over him, knives in hands finishing him off. Baker was still standing, trying to bring his rifle to bear as he wrestled over it with an Arab. A knife wound in his leg was bleeding heavily but that attacker was down, a rifle round fired point blank into his face had left a bloody ruin. Taylor fired into the alleyway. The dull clunk of the safety catch was his only reward. He fumbled with it, the switch stiffer than expected. Baker released his hold on the rifle, bringing his hobnailed boot up hard into the Arab’s crotch. His opponent folded, Baker caught the rifle before it hit the ground and spun working the bolt. Jock’s killer was finished with him, lunging at Baker. He blocked low, the rifle steering the attacker’s arm wide. But as he slid the bullet home he got a knife in the throat.
Taylor seconds late fired down into the alley. Firing high to avoid hitting Baker, hoping scare the attacker away, hoping Baker was alive despite the blood fountaining from his throat. Taylor fired again, depressing his aim, catching the Arab in the leg. His position from above gave him a commanding view of the alleyway and left the Arabs no room to manoeuvre, Thatcher and his boys would soon arrive and they'd get Jock out.
Realisation dawned on Taylor face. It was a trap, heavily armed attackers hid behind the curtains waiting for Thatcher’s boys to rush to their compatriots’ aid. Taylor swung his gun up, firing blindly into a heavily curtained window before crouching beneath the window still. A volley of fire raged around him. Taylor kept his head down, as bullets whizzed through the open window. There was a pause. Anywhere between four and eight attackers stationed on the other side of the alleyway. He hoped Thatcher and his boys had enough sense to stay out of the alleyway it was a death trap. Taylor sprinted, darted from side to side, a few bullets whizzed past him, sending clouds of plaster dust into the air. Taylor hurled himself head first through the door to the room and down the stairs. With a series of thuds and crashes Taylor bounced down the stairs. The bumps and bruise he received were preferable to a bullet in the back.
Morris pulled Taylor to his feet.
"Baker? Jock?" Morris asked. Taylor just shook his head. Morris helped Taylor out of the door, his journey down the stairs and left him sore but nothing a few minutes rest would not cure.
The lorry had pulled up outside, and Thatcher and Thurlwell were sheltering behind it snapping shots at random down the alleyway, keeping their fire high. Grey waited back to the wall next to the entrance to the alleyway, waiting to go in. D’Huberres was knelt on the floor, Julius’s shotgun pressed hard into the back of his neck.
“What the hell is happening?” Thatcher hurled at them as soon as they emerged into the sunlight.
“No idea.” Taylor shook his head to clear it. “Some kind of ambush, Jock and Baker are dead. Maybe as many as eight of them.”
Thatcher paused for a second.
“Julius start her up and pull her forwards a bit, were getting out of here. Well come back for our boys and vengeance as soon as we've got Mr D’Huberres here safely away. Another two for your score D’Huberres. We'll be back.”
The van pulled forwards a bit, Taylor dumped in first, followed by Morris. They pulled D’Huberres after them and cuff him to the frame of the vehicle.
“You really don't know anything about this do you D’Huberres?” Asked Morris.
“These Arabs are unreliable at best. No matter how much we paid them they'd never come to our aid when we've already lost. Especially as the man who'd pay them is dead. Something else is behind this”
Grey ran forwards and jumped into the passenger seat next to Julius while Thatcher and Thurlwell hoped into the back of the truck.
“Go.” Shouted Thatcher and with a roar Julius stamped hard on the accelerator.
His massively swollen fingers twisted his opulent rings round and round. A nervous habit from his days of youthful folly long since placed in it's grave. Resurrected this day when it was needed least, but when else would such things return? A reminder of the weakness of the flesh against that of pure sprit. He lifted his goblet, staring into it's depths as if he were seeking the future in the silty dregs at the bottom. Irritated he placed it on the table again.
Two goblets already drunk that day, as much as he had ever done before. His power spent but more remained to be done.
With great difficulty he bent down and pulled a collection of earthenware bottles and pots. The procedure was time honoured. A dash of honey to sweeten the mix. A generous of measure of hash oil, pure and unadulterated to awaken the mind. Pure water from a sacred Oasis far into the heart of the Sahara to appease the old gods whose rituals this was, sand from the same. A suspension of gold flakes and diamond dust, the rejection of physical wealth. A tiny pinch of ground dust stolen from the black stone at the heart of Mekka, rarest of all ingredients, to gain the blessing of almighty Allah. And finally a mixture of the venom of the scorpion and the cobra, enough to kill a dozen men. With a gentle motion he stirred the mixture with the finger bone of Pharaoh.
His goblet refilled he swirled it slowly round and round, until raising it to his lips and taking a deep draught. Bitter, deeply bitter despite the honey. He swallowed deep the grit and grain tickling the back of this throat. His sprit rejoiced, growing in strength shaking of the chains of the flesh. His body grew cold as the numbing sensation of the poison filled his veins, his heart slowed. Free his sprit soared, free from the tawdry flesh it hurtled towards the light, offering heaven if only the body would be abandoned forever.
Will held it back. Will kept the heart beating and the sprit controlled. Will maintained him on the knife edge weaken the body to allow the sprit to fly but enough to hold it to earth. Will turned his eyes away from the light, focusing his sprit on matters earthly.
His city should be a flickering network of lights, their dancing passage leaving echoes of the past and hints of the future, letting him divine the pulse of the city like a sailor reads the wind.
As it had been all day it was twisted, all bent and turned by a single burning presence. The stranger, his arrival had been forewarned. Dark presence stalked the street, hungry dangerous presence, shadows thrown by his power. Such a force was beyond Apep's understanding. He was a raging forest fire to Apep's candle. Apep had seen this power destroy his beloved niece, but to blame him was to blame the lightning. Blame those that brought him here. They would pay the price.
Drawn like the moth to the flame Apep stared at the burning power. Even it’s sheer intensity seemed to threaten to destroy him. The burning seemed less intense as his mind’s eyes became accustomed to the burning. Or was it? Or had the fires them selves dimmed? Revelation. This thing was weakening. Every second that passed it weakened. And at the heart of the blazing fire a mortal man, no angel of death, it could be killed. True Vengeance could be his. He returned to his body, his power might not match this figure, but in this city his arm was long, and there are many types of power. He summoned his lieutenants there was much to do.
Julius sounded the horn long and hard. Without looking what lay ahead Thatcher shouted forwards “Drive through them.”
Whether or not Julius heard him he changed direction, choosing to go round the cart in front of him. It was a tight fit and meant hugging close to the wall. Which was the whole point of the cart. Julius slowed the truck a little.
It was large rock, a boulder more then anything and it had taken the three men and a winch to get it to the roof. As the lorry passed near them, they pushed it over the edge so the truck would run straight into it. Their timing was off ever so slightly not that it made much difference as the rock smashed straight into the bonnet of the truck. The bonnet simply crumpled under the weight and engine followed suit. The impact smashed the engine free, breaking the front axis bringing the truck to an immediate stop. The windscreen shattered. Most of the glass flew harmlessly, Grey was hit by a dozen pieces but they were small and mainly struck flat to the body. Young Julius was not so lucky, a single, thing sliver of glass with unmatched malevolence flew straight into Julius’ eye, and from there into his brain. He never even knew he died. D’Huberres would have called it a good death.
The three Arabs on the roof exalted. Their ambush had worked, Apep would award them well for their work today. Their compatriot on the ground ran forwards with a knife to finish the shocked westerners. He hopped up on to the footplate next to the truck and sunk his knife deep into the Julius chest. Grey lifted his shotgun and fired. The range was so close that the pellets had little chance to spread out before they struck the attacking Arab in the chest, creating a neat circle of blood.
The Arabs on the roof panicked, their prey was still very much alive. They grabbed for their rifles. A grunt proceeded a large very heavy round metal object thrown from below. Their few seconds of silent incomprehension before the panic, did not actually doom the three men on the roof, they were dead already. But their proximity to the grenade meant that less shrapnel injured innocents nearby. With a roar the grenade exploded sending ball bearings flying. The attackers were scythed down, even their own mothers would not have recognised the remains. The roof collapsed, unable to handle the sudden explosions. The family that lived there were out, save for the mother and her youngest daughter. The daughter for the rest of her days would fear the dark, a response to the hours she spent trapped under rubble. Her mother would never fear anything again. Fortunately for Taylor and Morris the outer wall was made of sterner stuff, it merely shuddered under the impacts.
“Where the hell did you get that Grenade?” Thatcher asked. As questions on people’s minds at the time it was one that they wanted answering. Along with “What the hell just happened” and “Why the hell is this happening.”
“I used to play cricket.” Thurlwell said, failing to answer the question. Grey pulled him self up through the broken windscreen, shotgun levelled keeping a look out.
“Engine’s totalled sir and Julius is dead.” Grey shouted over his shoulder.
“Bloody Hell.” Thatcher took a second to control himself. “Right we better get back to the embassy.”
“Mr Thatcher.” Taylor spoke up hesitantly. “The embassy is a long way and we’re on foot now. McPherson’s place is closer.”
“Good call Taylor. McPherson’s place it is. And everybody be on your guard. There's got to be a limit to how many attacks our guest can arrange, but keep your eyes open. They'll give up soon enough.”
Henry raised a single eyebrow at Katrina’s appearance. It was as close to a question as he ever got.
“You'd better come in. Her Ladyship’s having afternoon tea with the ladies from the embassy. If you wait on the balcony I shall inform her you have arrived. I'll have a... lemonade sent out to you." The pause was as Henry weighed her need for a stiff drink against the likelihood of her needing her wits about her. He'd obviously decided she'd need her wits. Henry vanished off into the back of the gargantuan suite the Dowager Duchess had taken. Katrina headed for the balcony.
She flopped into one the large wicker chairs and dropped the Thompson wrapped in her coat onto another. A heavy striped awning kept the sun from her eyes and a cool breeze seemed to refresh her. Henry had long since developed a subtle code system with their mutual employer, letting her know his assessment of the situation that required her attention. If the ladies from the embassy were being useful or amusing she might have time on her hands.
Katrina reached over unwrapped the Thompson and gave it the once over. Say what you like about Sanjit, absolute cunt or not, he cared for his weapon. She ejected the cartridge and cleared the chamber. He'd got ten rounds off, Henry would be able to get more rounds and another magazine, it would make her feel more secure. For all the good it had done Dijon. Her hand dropped to her belt. And another knife, hers was left behind in that room. Nothing to link her, but annoying, a good knife was heard to come by, and that one had some grand memories stained into it's blade.
The lemonade arrived, as did the Duchess. Obviously Henry had chosen a high priority code, or else the ladies were being particularly boring and uninteresting.
“This had better be...” The Duchess trailed off as she saw the state of Katrina’s clothing, the heavy marks around her neck already bruising and the semi-stripped Thompson on the desk. She sat down in one of the chairs.
“Brandy, two glasses, run a bath and lay put fresh clothes.” She said to Henry, who nodded in agreement.
“Oh and Henry, I need more .45 ammo, a couple more magazines and a new knife as well. And you might want to replace your derringer with something with more... stopping power.” Katrina added.
The duchess sat quietly waiting for Katrina. She took a long draw of her lemonade before starting.
“I'm sorry. I made a terrible mistake. I underestimated D’Huberres.” Katrina blurted.
“Oh dear.” Utterly calm. “That is unfortunate. Still you’re alive which is always good.”
“They were going to kill me. But...”
“Yes dear, I know.” The Duchess interrupted. “Thatcher and his men turned up. Apparently that Inspector is more inspired then we realised and he tracked D’Huberres down. One of the ladies from the Embassy told me she'd overheard her husband talking to Thatcher. You got out alive. That's the main thing.” Her voice trailed as Katrina shock her head. “But that's not what happened is it?”
Katrina quickly told her everything. The Indian, the box, the unstoppable Chinaman. Her voice was calm and flat. She ended and silence hung in the air between her and the dowager duchess. She ended her tale.
“It's all true.” Even Katrina had a hard time believing it.
“Well of course it is.” The duchess smiled at Katrina shocked expression. “You've never really believed that this is anything more than a struggle for wealth and power have you? But I think you do now. Nothing you could have done dear. You got yourself out alive which is better then most could have done. If you could have grabbed the Wilmarth manuscript on your way out it would have been a bonus, but I understand you were somewhat distracted at the time. It seems that our friend the Chinaman has the box and from the speed he located the box, I suspect that he'll have the amulet in rapid time too. I'm afraid you’re going to have to skip your bath and fresh clothing and go and get me Kenton. Bring him to me as quick as you can."
“Kenton? But if the amulet’s been taken he's worthless.” Katrina had a quizzical tone in her voice.
“Worthless my dear? Far from it. If the Chinaman's got the amulet and the box he's got both the lock and the key so all he needs is the Gate and that's not going anywhere. Worthless? Can you think of a better emissary to Thatcher and his ever so bright Inspector?” The Duchess had shed a single tear when her beloved husband had died. She never cracked, she was the epitome of English reserve, an iron lady. Her voice was filled with dread. “And go quickly dear. Were running out of time. All of us are.”
The journey to McPherson’s was the stuff of nightmares. Two minutes from the crashed truck they learnt that they were going to have to steer clear of the main streets. A heavy crowd, a jostle and Grey was down. A knife between his ribs, his lung punctured he wheezed his last while there assailant made his escape in the crowd, they never even know who he was. So they got off the main roads and into the empty back streets. The haunt of thieves and murderers, at least here they could treat everybody they saw as an enemy. It was close to the truth. The entire underworld seemed to be after their blood.
At first the going was easy their flight into the back streets of Cairo seemed to wrong foot their opponent. They struck out, changing directions often, but always trying to head towards McPherson’s place, hoping that this would throw their pursers of the mark.
But soon the attacks started. No co-ordinated campaign, no pattern just violence. Sometimes a sporadic exchange of gunfire, sometimes close fighting, always blood. A running battle through the streets of Cairo, the roar of gunfire in confined spaces ringing in their ears, dying slowly to painful silence as the ammunition ran out.
No one who survived the journey could remember it fully, but fragments would return to haunt them for as long as they lived.
Taking the wrong turning and getting trapped in a dead end. Pinned in the corner as shots winged past their heads. Shooting back down the alleyway to keep the attackers heads down, scattering rounds like they were plentiful, building regret for later. Morris spotting a way out, a long since boarded door that lay on the other side of the alleyway to them. Shotgun rounds bursting the wood asunder and a mad dash across the alley to the dark interior. A bullet coming so close that Morris would be forever grateful that he dressed to the left.
Hand to hand fighting, Taylor shoulder-charging his opponent to the ground, raising a seized knife to finish him off, to find himself staring at a grubby Arab boy. His good heart and hesitation earned him a knife in the thigh before anger sent the boy into oblivion.
Taking to the roofs for a rare breather. And having to flee down through a Harem. Bringing their world of pain and blood into a land of silk and scents. The giggles of the ladies turning to screams as the shooting started.
The slow dawning realisation that D’Huberres was as much a target as the rest, Thatcher’s refusal to free him even then. Changed only when hand to hand and overborne by a burly Arab, forcing his knife against Thatcher throat with grim certainty. A vicious kick swinging the fortunes of that encounter. D’Huberres warming his freed wrists as Thatcher warned him “I'll be watching you.”
No one remembered firing the final round of ammunition, but suddenly they were out. It was knives and fist from there on in. The advantage shifting to there attackers.
Morris roaring in pain, a mad berserker strength flowing from deep within him, snapping the neck of an attacker and hurling his broken corpse down the alleyway, bowling advancing Arabs to the ground.
Tanner slumping to the ground dead, a long slow bleeding stomach wound that finished him off. Surprise and confusion as no one know that he had even been injured, a fact somehow lost in the endless fighting and pain.
And then McPhersons’ place. All well manicured gardens and shining gas lights. McPherson relaxing in a wicker chair on the Veranda, smoking a pipe relaxing in the evenings’ cool. A whole other world to those that staggered in.
With an audible crack the wing of his plane fall to the floor. The flames were spreading quickly roaring all the around the aircraft burning with an intensity that would leave nothing but the remains of a twisted skeleton. No more able to fly then it's master.
The pilot’s life would be forfeited for this. Were he not lying on the floor, his throat slit, arranged to match the boy his master had killed on arrival.
The fires burned higher, throwing flickering shadows across the landing pad. No authorities came to still the burning plane. The hand of this individual, this Apep, was longer then the Chinaman had thought. Rage built within him. This gnat tried to stop him, delaying him, no conception of what he did. The Chinaman would take pleasure in smashing him. But such things could wait, soon he would have the power to return and deal with this man at his leisure, to deal with all that annoyed him. But time was precious.
The rifle round punched into his lower back, tearing flesh and damaging long forgotten, upgraded organs. Will closed the passage of the bullet again. The Chinaman staggered, turning to find his attacker. The airport was empty. A flash proceeded the bullet, it hammered home. The Chinaman’s sense soared as he extended his mind viewing his attacker. Lying flat on a distant hanger, reloading and sighting down a powerful scope.
The Chinaman realised his predicament. No cover, outlined against the burning flames of the plane, a well prepared ambush.
Scant seconds before another bullet struck home. The mother could hold back oceans with her will, a trick he had never mastered, he could not even protect himself.
He hurled his will out across the airport. If this failed the bullet would strike home, his will would be absent to heal his flesh. A risky manoeuvre. The sniper tightened his finger on the trigger, squeezing. He focused his will. A single point, solid a fraction of an inch from the bullet. The charge ignited hurling the bullet towards the obstruction, but will is harder then steel and hot gas and metal shards erupted out burning the sniper. The Chinaman returned to his body, his will seeking others that would harm him.
There but not to harm, to watch and report. The mind behind this would probe for weakness, each attack costing him time. Time he could not afford. The Chinaman’s fist tightened. He would never be free of this man, till he was brought low. It could no longer wait, he must be dealt with. It would save him time, yes, save him time. As the red rage built, yes this mans death would be done to save time. And time alone.