The next few days fly by. I alter my appearance slightly before hitting the estate agents, combing my hair a different way, pencilling in an array of freckles across the bridge of my nose, purchasing a cheap pair of glasses, along with a second-hand suit which is too short in the legs and sleeves. I print up business cards with Nelke's name, a fake address and the number of a second cell phone, which I buy, and I'm ready to go.
It's more difficult than I'd anticipated. The agents here don't seem to be as open to bribes as those in America. Or else they don't believe my divorce story and think I'm trying to set them up for a sting. But finally I find a dapper little man who bills himself as James Biesty Esq., who sympathizes with my predicament and says he has the perfect place for me, a small house that has been on his books for months with not even a sniff of an offer. The owner lives abroad, has a string of other properties which are making regular returns. He'll be none the wiser about our 'little arrangement'.
'What's good for the goose is good for the gander,' Mr Biesty chuckles, and I smile as if I have a clue what he's talking about.
We drive out to the property to give it the once-over. It's a bit run-down, and backs on to a busy railway line, but that doesn't bother me. I thought I'd have to rent a flat, but a house is even better, so I'm delighted. I barter James down - I think that's expected, even on a shady deal like this one - then return to the office to arrange payment. I pay for the first three months up front. James agrees to issue a refund if there are complications and I have to vacate prematurely, but as no receipt is proffered, I have only his word for that. I think he's probably good for it, but I'm not bothered either way. If everything works out, Mr Biesty Esq. will be more than welcome to his profit.
Once the keys are mine, I tell Andeanna to send the letter. Then the waiting begins.
I spend a couple of days rattling around the rented house, cleaning and airing it. The radiators run off an oil tank, which I have filled. I check all the lights and replace those that have blown. I don't try to hook up the telephone. Instead I buy another cell and leave it there, fully charged, with credit on it. I also buy a bed, chairs, some other bits and pieces, and have the furniture delivered. I pay for everything with cash.
When the house has been arranged to my satisfaction, I scout the neighbourhood, making notes of shops and supermarkets, which I later type up and leave lying on the kitchen table for Dash, along with spending money and a map of the area. After that, I sit back and ring the cell twice a day, waiting for him to answer.
I try getting back into Spirit of the Fire, but the real-world intrigue proves too distracting. Instead I go for long walks, taking in museums and art galleries, and read a lot of books, old thrillers mostly.
I wish I could call Joe. The time would pass quicker with him around to crack dumb jokes and accompany me on my tours. But I'm determined not to involve him, not with things balanced the way they are.
Two weeks drag by. I go back to Heathrow to move the car. I park it elsewhere for a couple of nights, in a lot with no CCTV or security guards, then return it to the airport.
Another week ticks past. Autumn is sweeping the city. Leaves turn orange and brown. Dark clouds move in to stay, although it doesn't rain much. The nights draw in. The temperature dips. I invest in some sweaters and return to the house to heat it up and set the timer to come on at regular intervals. I also recharge the phone while I'm there.
Finally, almost a month after we posted the letter, I call the cell phone one day and a man answers. 'Hello?'
'Good morning. Is Antonia there?'
'I'm afraid you have the wrong number.'
'Sorry to trouble you.'
'No trouble at all.'
Dash has to be seen. It's no good bringing him all the way over to be our fall guy if we leave him sitting indoors, hidden from those who can identify him. At the same time, we don't want to place him in a situation where he might run into the Turk or his men. Andeanna recommends a small pub called the Purple Platypus. It's on the Turk's turf (they call it a manor here, a phrase I add to my lexicon in case I ever return to work on my book), but he fell out with the landlord years ago and shuns it these days.
We send a second letter to the assassin. Glad you could make it. We must meet to discuss terms. It's a private matter. Only you and I must know about it. Be at the Purple Platypus between seven and nine every night this week and I will make contact.
I'm sure Dash will be recognized in the pub. I'm just as sure he'll reject any overtures from the locals. He keeps his head down when he's on a job. By Friday, word will have spread that he's in town. Come Saturday morning, the Turk will be dead, his left shoelace left untied, and the gossipmongers will have tried and convicted Dash by midday.
It has to be Friday, because that's when the Turk is throwing a dinner party for several of his more legitimate colleagues - bankers, stockbrokers and so on. He hosts the house parties three or four times a year. On such occasions he dispenses with his regular guards, not wanting to alarm any of his associates who might not know about his seedier business interests. If the timing hadn't been so perfect, we would have made other arrangements, but with Dash arriving shortly before a giltedged opportunity, we'd be crazy to waste it.
I spend the days before Friday worrying about the hit. The Turk might not stay on after the party. Or he might invite some of his guests to spend the night at the mansion. Or . . .
To distract myself, I stake out the Purple Platypus on Thursday and take note of Sebastian Dash entering and leaving as scheduled. He looks a little longer in the tooth and greyer at the temples than the last time our paths crossed, but still in excellent shape. The sight of him stirs up bitter feelings, and any tinge of regret I might have felt at involving him evaporates in a mist of melancholy memories.
Friday finally dawns. I spend the morning rehearsing, mentally putting myself through my paces, trying to ensure the margin of error is as narrow as possible. I dismantle the gun then put it back together, as I have done several times since retrieving it from Nelke's car. I'm also packing a hunting knife in case the gun misfires.
I haven't heard from Andeanna since Wednesday - the Turk or one of his men must have been with her last night. I want to call her to make sure everything's OK, but that would be foolish. I have to trust that the dinner party is going ahead and that the Turk will be alone afterwards. Except, of course, for Andeanna.
I'd rather she wasn't present. We discussed it. She could have spent the night with one of her friends, or gone to visit Greygo - he's on tour in the Midlands. But the Turk likes to have his wife by his side at business functions. It might have seemed suspicious if she'd cried off. Andeanna suggested I slug her unconscious and make it look like she walked in on the killer. The trouble is, assassins don't knock out people who get in their way. They kill them.
We've settled on alcohol. Andeanna occasionally overindulges and blacks out. The Turk's crew know this and won't link it with his murder. We hope.
Six o'clock passes. Seven. Eight. Dash should be sitting in the Purple Platypus now, patient as the Sphinx. This could be his last night of freedom, perhaps his last of life, but I feel nothing for him. Nine. Ten.
Time to move.
I drive north and park close to the gates of the mansion. Lights off. Head down. No nerves now. Totally focused on the job. A killing machine, all doubts and fears forgotten.
The first guests leave shortly after eleven, early birds. Then nobody until half twelve, when the rest trickle out.
I wait an hour after the last car, to be absolutely sure. The Turk normally sends the caterers home before the meal starts (he likes to serve up the food himself), but sometimes they stay to clean. I don't want to run into them if they're still there.
Two o'clock. No signs of life. Sliding out of the car, I cross the street, hop the wall and hurry towards the mansion, avoiding the driveway, ready to drop to the ground at the slightest hint of human life.
I circle the house. No unexpected cars or vans. I glance nervously at the CCTV cameras. Andeanna was supposed to disable the system earlier, while the caterers were setting up. If she did her job, Bond Gardiner and the others will assume that someone on the team was in league with the assassin, maybe even that one of the members of staff was the killer in disguise. But if she forgot about it, or made a mistake, I'm screwed.
I slip up to the back door and slam it open. Andeanna suggested leaving it unlocked, but it will look better if it's been forced. The Turk usually doesn't think to set the alarm after a party - he gets careless when he's had a few drinks. If he's broken with habit, our plan is dead in the water.
No siren. The plan lives on.
I advance through the dark rooms into the main hall, then pad up the stairs. I pause on the landing and check the gun. Ready to shoot. All I need is a target.
A door opens. I drop and swivel, raising the gun automatically. I almost fire, but catch myself in time. Thank God I do - it's Andeanna, a bottle of vodka clutched in her hands, looking wretched.
'We mustn't do it,' she groans, staggering towards me. I clutch her before she topples down the stairs. 'He's my . . . they'll know . . . we can't . . . '
I silence her with a kiss, tasting vodka on her lips. She's sobbing when we part, but doesn't repeat her plea for clemency.
'You're supposed to be unconscious,' I chide her.
'I soon will be,' she sniffs, shaking the bottle. 'I drank all through dinner. Mikis sent me to my room in disgrace. I'll have hell to face tomorrow. He'll . . . ' She stops. 'Oh. I forgot. There won't be a tomorrow for Mikis.'
'But there will be for us,' I smile, kissing her again. 'Did you remember to disable the CCTV?'
I kiss her a third and final time. 'In that case we're sweet. Go back to your room. Finish your bottle. Sleep.'
'Maybe I should come . . . ' She trails off even before I start shaking my head.
'Let's stick to the plan. The less you see or know, the better.'
'Will I phone you in the morning?'
'No!' I'm angry now. 'No contact. Play the part of the grieving widow and play it damn well. I'll catch the Eurostar to Paris on Tuesday. You stay here, bury Mikis, tend to the formalities, then follow me in a few months. We'll meet, fall in love, everyone will say how romantic it is and no one will ever suspect.'
She forces a smile. 'I knew all that. It's the vodka. I never could handle hard liquor. I get weepy.'
'That's OK. I understand. Now - bed.'
She nods and kisses my cheek, a fleeting brush of her lips, then slides back into her room and closes the door softly. Clicking back into killer mode, I clear my thoughts of Andeanna and Paris, and focus on the present, the Turk and the gun.
I push on.
I know where Mikis's room is - Andeanna included it in the tour the last time I roamed the corridors of this house. I halt at the door and press an ear to the wood. I hear light snoring. I turn the handle and enter.
It's a shrine to masculinity. Photographs of beautiful women adorn the walls, every one a romantic conquest. Shots of Mikis fill the space between his lovers, most from when he was a young man in his prime, in the Turkish football strip, stooping from a polo horse with a mallet, clinging to the side of a mountain, in a gym with his bare chest glistening as he hoists weights high above his head.
And there, on the bed, is the legend himself, the lady-killer, the wife-beater, Mikis Menderes, aka the Turk.
I should shoot him while he sleeps. But I can't. If it was business, sure. But this is personal. It wouldn't feel right.
I position myself at the foot of the bed, grab his ankle through the covers and tug sharply. The Turk comes awake with a startled grunt. He spots me. Confusion floods his expression, then anger, but not panic. He glares at me, and I know he knows that he's finished.
'Who the fuck are you?' he asks.
'Call me Ed.'
'Who sent you?'
I don't answer.
'You gonna kill me?'
I don't answer.
'Fucking dummy. Can I light a cigarette?'
'Aw, c'mon, surely you won't deny a - '
'It's for Andeanna.'
His expression crumples, and I realize that this is what I want, this is why I woke him. I need to see guilt wash over the bastard's face. I want him to know that he's paying for the way he abused his wife.
'Andeanna?' he croaks. 'What the fuck does she have to do with - '
My finger jerks. The gun kicks once, twice, a third time. Mikis Menderes's face evaporates. The wall behind the bed blossoms with the bloody remains of his thoughts, memories and personality. His body shudders grotesquely, then goes still for ever.
I lower the gun and study the havoc of my making. There can be no doubt that he's dead, but I start forward to check all the same. Then I stop, thinking of blood on the carpet, and footprints. I turn towards the door and hurry from the room.
I'm at the top of the stairs before I remember the laces.
Grimacing, I retrace my steps and look for shoes. I find a closet full of them, and extract a pair. I tie the laces on the right shoe, leave those on the left undone, then lay them on the floor by the bed. The police will think they were put there by the Turk. They'll leave them as they are, along with the other items in the room. They won't notice the laces, but the Turk's henchmen will.
Dash's signature successfully forged, I make my exit. The plan has a long way yet to run. Things could still unravel spectacularly. But I've got a feeling they won't. The hit went perfectly. I'm certain that fate is on our side. I could whistle as I trot down the stairs, out via the kitchen, through the trees, over the wall and back to the car. But I don't. It wouldn't be professional.
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