Thursday, July 9, 2015















A GAME OF CHANCE                                         By John Chiakwelu

 1

            PIERRE BALMAIN TANNED and lithe like a prowling cat, sprawled out supine with a dark goggle covering his eyes. He was in his best form, finely honed down with muscles, his tanned skin, brown and sparkling with good health. Beside him, morose and quiescent, was Chantelle. She was lying face down, her bikini exposing her two perfect buttocks that appeared like a chipmunk with its mouth bulging out with nuts.  At the inside of her skin, where the sun could not reach, glossy olive skin peeped out, fresh and white, yet untortured by the  golden   blaze   above.   And  standing  over these  two,  looking  out  into   the   sea,  in   full dresses of serge denims and bogus T-shirt were two black hulks. There was no mistaking it, the bulges in their pockets. And their Mongolian eyes were hidden behind dark glasses.
            The sea wave breathed and caroused noisily as it sensed the glittering yellow sand on the beach. Splashes of the wave riders, reached Pierre, where he lay. He raised his hands on his elbow to stare out into the vast canyons of the sea.
            The sun played havoc on Pierre’s coppery hair, worn in style that fell over his ears. They were carefully, groomed  and glossy as though, each strand had been taken and polished with alabaster oil. His extravagant moustache, stiff and standing like the whiskers of a porcupine. His hard belligerent  jaw,   straight   and  thrusting  out as though the prow of a ship. There was a Parisian feature in the shape of his face dented by a broad intelligent forehead. His large eyebrows, bushy like a full caterpillar.
            “You still sulking?” He turned to stare at the symmetrical features of Chantelle beside him. But there was no reply from her and he went on, “I warned you to stay clear of the nigger-freak,” Yet, she did not respond. And Pierre smacked her furiously on the exposed part of her buttocks. She jerked round with a burning hatred clipping her beautiful blue eyes.
            “I ain’t talking to myself” Pierre snapped, his whiskers breathing like the fin of a fish. The furious rising and falling of the extravagant moustache, was a sign of fire inside Pierre and Chantelle noticed it at once.
            “You’re bruising me”   She moaned in her glossy soprano voice.
            “Then answer me.”
            “What’s it to you whether I sulk or not?”
            “I want yes or no for an answer or else...”
            “Okay I hate you!” Chantelle spited the word out as though a snake lashing out          venom.
            “Hate! you say hate!” And Pierre fell out cackling in a mirthless laugh, that didn’t reach his belly.
            “You don't owe me you know it. We’ve no marriage”
            “You’re a natural comic. But be careful, your     comedy, doesn’t  come home to roost.”
            “Why! was there a marriage?”
            “I, the judge had decided and your appetite for anything on trouser, is a damn loser.”
            “Why don't you give me a break?!”
            Chantelle cried out hysterically, attracting the attention of the two thugs. They stared for sometime and turned back to the sea once more. The drama between their boss and his fiery woman wasn’t a new  thing on them.
            “Because my pretty, I can’t allow a nigger, an ape  to do me outta a woman I spent dough on”
            “I can pay back all that you think you spent on my head.”
            “Do I look like one who is in need of dough? I   got all the damn money I want.”
            “Then give me a break”
            “Don't waste your damn life dreaming. Our love will never end until this great ocean turns into desert.”
            “But I don't fucking love you Pierre!”
            “You’re joking!”
            “I've proved it to you.”
            “You’re only feeling horny by the bulge between Seth’s thighs. Take away the bulge, you find out you fucking love me more than you think.”
             “No one can love a bully like you”
             “We were loving and kissing and having great fun once upon a time.”
             “You were sane in those days”
             “Whatever happened to me now; eh!!”
             “Your head is buried in the cloud. You’ve dopped yourself into insanity”
             “Don't give me that shit. Seth snorts too!”
             “You know he’s a perfect baby” Chantelle chortled.
             “Because he sucks, where I couldn’t”.
             “Even your utterances show how far gone you are.”
             “Suddenly  I  sound  bad. Once, I  was  everything”
             “That was when you were still cracking on fine and you know it”
             “Anyway, we go back to France two weeks willy-nilly. May be your senses will return to you, once in the old city.”
             “I won’t go with you” protested Chantelle.
             “That’s not for you to decide. Your scumbag had tried and failed. Now don't deceive yourself thinking he’ll try again. I think he already got a full of the whole thing.” And with that, Pierre closed his eyes from the sun that burned his skin leathery with its caressing blaze.
            They drove out, making for home when the sun had lowered over the horizon. Its fingers weak and feeble, as the evening came in a drive over the sky. Pierre was on the wheel, handling the 450-Coupe maroon Mercedes convertible with easy uncared-for-skill. The bucket leather seat, soft and silky under them. Behind came a Ford Tourer, occupied by the two black thugs.
            There was a traffic back down as they came into town. But Pierre maneuvered the sleek item fleeing toward the road that petered into the exclusive Nob Hill estate of San. Francisco.
            Nob Hill estate was an exclusive area, fashioned  out  by  San  Francisco nouveau  riches During the pioneer days of Jewish Argonauts in San Francisco. Names like the Gumps, Roo Brothers were synonyms with the vast posh surrounding.
            Their Italianate, Gothic, Renaissance or Tudor condominiums still poked to the sky, hidden by fusillades of flowering trees and guided by fifteen-foot gates. Recently, the plush estate had undergone a metamorphosis. Modern architectural facades had replaced palaces of the early occupants of the estate.
            Among the colourful items was a posh bungalow with green roof, done in Spanish and America architecture. Balmain had bought out the property from a Jewish millionaire, who was going abroad to Europe for further expansion.
            As the maroon coupe Mercedes squealed to a stop in front of the electronically powered gate, Balmain watched with satisfaction the verdant beds of flowers that flourished in the sweet evening breeze. Wild songs of bulbuls made love to his ears. The fading evening sun shot copious vermillion shadow above the green roof of the flowering trees that festooned his drive-in. Inside his compound he could hear the sensational sizzling whistle of the pines that stood sentinel behind his bungalow.
            As the car purred up to the artificial fountain, gushing out water from two gold-plaited porcupine heads, his eyes took in the distant Atlantic sized swimming pool at the left hand side of the building. He  regretted having to abandon all  these  to  go back  to France and turned to stare  at  the  woman squatting quiescently beside  him.  He   was   on   the   run   once  more.
            He was shocked out of his mind, when the Ford Tourer squeaked into an abrupt brake. His vacuous mind registered his thugs splitting out of the ford like chicks hiding from the cluck of a mother-hen against the attack of a hawk. He nearly collided into the ford in front of him. Then the shattering hysterical bang of an automatic galvanized him into action. He crashed viciously at the padded door of the Mercedes, at the same time rolling under the car,  the bullets  searched for him, striking out eddies of cordite dust as the automatic trailed him under the car.
            Then suddenly, an ear-numbling guttural shriek caught him solid in the heart, as though he had received a stroke of jack-hammer under his heart. The blood curdling shrill, shred his composition, and sent  him  diving  out  of  his hide-out. He skedaddled away in a gut-swooping fear, his quavering legs, running as they had never ran in his whole life.
            He stepped on something, tripped and nearly took the ground. The tip of his eyes registered one of his guards coiled in foetal angle, and another spreading like a man nailed on the crucifix. With a vicious force, he dove inside his lock-up garage, while the tracers raked and tore the double-door into flinders.
            With  his  heart  pounding  like  a  war-drum and  his  brain  melting in confusion, he searched for his Wessen and Smith tucked into his waist belt. The rattling automatics ceased abruptly. The  silence  deafening   in   the  hollow  echo  of  the  machine  gun.  Smells  of   cordite    and    nitrous    smoke,   clouding   out as though the smokes from a chimney inside the closed confine of the garage.
            Terribly shaken and unmanned, he searched frenetically for the short magazine of the Wessen and Smith. With hands that shook like reeds caught in windstorm, he rammed the magazine and snatched the safety catch. Then he crawled as though a maimed serpent on his belly towards the door of the garage. Cautiously, he started stealthily to peer into the cool evening atmosphere.
            As his head slipped out, he  noticed  a lightening movement  like  a  speck  of  mica  in  the  sunlight. He shot instinctively at the movement. His bullet slashing  out  flower  foliages. Then  again,  heaven was broken loose. The tracer from the machine gun, nearly  nailing  him  on  the  door  stanchion. It was just  an  inch  off  his  head,  the   fire welt of the bullet blinding him with nitrous fume. He ducked back like a tortoise slipping into its carapace and watched with mortal horror as the tracer pummeled the doors into tatters. The bullets crashing into the garage to strike with clangour on the walls of the car port. Ricocheting and bouncing off, sizzling like the fresh forge of a blacksmith receiving its first water.
            And soon, the stuttering stopped. There was no way out of that door, therefore, he retreated his step and crawled like an animal in a cage towards the one connecting door that looked into his lounge from the lock-up garage. The door was solidly bolted from inside.
            He stood, confused like a cornered ferret, listening to  the intermittent puncture of the breeze by the  automatic.  A  noise  like  the  crashing  of  thunder galvanized him into action. He watched with horror as his Ford Tourer exploded in vicious orange flame. Using a jack from the tool-box, he smashed the door open and crawled into his lounge.
            With a startling speed of a jack rabbit, he gained his gun rack. He unhooked an automatic hand sub-machine and yanked off a clip of ammunition from his arsenal. And as he started back towards the door, he heard a sloughing noise that congealed his blood. He stopped dead, the gun poised towards the noise.
            Like a prowling cat, he moved stealthily, straining to hear  the  noise,  once  more,  but all was quiet except  the  ticking  of   the grandfather clock  that  hung over his golden bar. The  rotating  disco light inside  his   living-room  was  on.  And  it  made its round of circle, diffusing iridescent pastel hues around the glittering glass table in the center of the lounge.
            His nervous system was shattered and raw like an open sore. He was ready to shoot at any movement now. A bead of cold perspiration was clipping his forehead and bristling down to his moustache. He felt a droplet of solid sweat hit him like a punch over his lips, and slided into his quavering mouth. He sucked at it, tasting the saline texture of the sweat. From outside, an occasional stuttering of the machine gun reached him. He wondered if the gunmen had also got his Philipino servant. The occasional explosion from the burning car turning his stomach into water.
            He had reached the first sofa, when it happened. The man came like an anthropoid dangling  out  of  the  monkey ropes in African jungles of the Tarzan world. And Balmain was unprepared for him. The monstrous weight crashed into him like a building and he went over, taking a glass with him. The table shattered into shreds, fast flying glasses, lancing up Balmain’s upper hand, paring it clean and deep like a table-knife slicing into cheese.
            The rancid sweaty smell of the man on top of him choking him up. His body was numbed by pain and the heavy weight on top of him. Balmain nudged back with a vicious force and hit the rug on his rumps. He gained back his breath instantly and his lithe powerful hand swung out blindly. It was a lucky punch. The jarring force of the punch, thrilling through Balmain’s hand. The sharp gasps from the man was like the puff of a deflated balloon. The force of the blow throwing him off balance.
            In one crazy stance, as though a lion with a gut wound. Balmain picked up the remains of the broken table. The shattering violent crash on the head of the man was a sound that rattled the teeth. Spurts of blood, springing off him as if from a warm spring. His dark Mongolian eyes, lolling round like an owls; before he buckled up, spreading out in the relaxation softness of unconsciousness.
            With a sigh of relief, he listened to the squealing and violent crunch of tyre from outside. He was in time, to see a white Cougar racing down to the gate. Then, with shivering legs, he came to the Mercedes. Chantelle lay as if taking a nap. Her pretty eyes opened in shock. She was stone dead. It was a whole five minutes before the poignant sirens of the San. Francisco metropolitan police shattered the awkward silence left by the gunmen.

2

            RECLINING ON A RICH tapestry covered sofa, in his suite in the fashionable Tahoe Tavern in Lake Tahoe, Balmain stared vacuously at the long French window that caught an uninterrupted dazzling view of Lake Tahoe. It was a clear, bright warm day and the feathery cirrus cloud, lolled sluggishly as though a herd of grazing buffaloes. Sloughing down to merge with a dirty smudgy cloud, looming in the far horizon, like a raiding Viking at the gate of a medieval city. Rahaab had smoked him out.
            Like a wild eagle, with powerful pinion, his mind projected back to what had happened in his Nob hill residence yesterday. There was no trace of the attackers, when  the cops  moved in. The sucker he had wounded, died before the coppers could drag anything out of him. Solidly he had no doubt, where the conflagration had come. Chantelle had bled to death, from a shot on the head.
            With a quivering hand, he scooped up the Stuart crystal glass of cognac sprawling on a nearby table. The amber fiery liquid stank like cyanide in his confused nose. His head pounding as though the beating of La Marseillaise by a platoon of maverick soldiers.
            The smell of his empty innards reaching him like a buffalo’s wallow. Yet in this smouldering torture, he found little consolation in anything, except the scalding hot liquid. Somewhere down the Tavern, he imagined his two worthless new body-guards milling  around  like  ant  squad. They were mere wonky, spawn of gutter whores. He had completely lost faith in the freaks.
            A draught of the cognac, though tasting out like calomel in his mouth, put a little bone in him and his mind wandered back to Nantes, where it all started. Looking back, he could see himself perspicuously lulling around the terminal of the small airfield called Bougon field in Nantes. His emaciated body, cloaked in dirty serge denim and dowdy over-sized polo T-shirt, a present from one of his clients.
            There was not much job in the airfield at that time. Whenever the TAT flight or one of the locals touched down, all the airport touts clamored round like hyenas and jackals at the remains of a Lion’s kill.
Balmain had known no other life, because his father like him had worked in Bougon airfield as a cleaner. Until he was shooed away to prison for heisting a passenger’s luggage. Therefore Balmain had replaced his father to take care of his dying mother, atrophied by disastrous pulmonary tuberculosis. The few francs he fetched home was barely enough to see to the high cost of injection required to keep the raging monstrous cough at bay. Until it swept his mother away, because that was inevitable like watching a drowning fella thrashed by spates and tides knowing the maelstrom will eventually swallow the person up.
            Then one dreamy day washed by rain in the night and sprightly clear come morning. The birds sang hilariously in the sky that appeared the beautiful colour of lapis lazuli. Balmain was squatting on a defaulted man-mover, the only one in the airfield, when the sound of the TAT flight was heard above. As usual, all the giant looking scavengers rallied out to welcome the descending flight.
            Among the vultures was, Monsieur Quenum. He was making over hundred kilometers an hour, towards the landing flight. Favourite, because he was the best dressed.
            That one picture, stamped out Balmain’s ambition, like a campfire suffocating from a splash of cold water. However, he shambled along  dejected and tortured by the impecunious thought  of  starvation and squalor. The flight had a full load of tourists, mainly Americans. And most of the vultures sped out in blinding rush as though a  dam  burst  towards these Americans. Of course, Americans were known for their magnanimous tips.
            But stepping off the fuselage ladder were these two Arabs, dressed in English Saville Row suits and white headgears corded with gold. They came timorously unattended down to the tarmac. The others were already buzzing around the Americans as though big metallic green-headed flies, flying around a putrifying cadaver. Therefore, these two were left for Pierre Balmain.
            Blinking like an owl, blinded by two-day sleep, Balmain started towards these Arabs. He touched one of them on the elbow and the Arab whipped round to stare at Balmain with blood-shot eyes. He was a striking handsome fella with a dark moustache that covered his upper lip. His skin was flawless and his hooked Bedouin nose curved like that of an Indian rajah.
            “Vou parlez Francais?” Balmain groused, unable to know what language to use. He had heard that Arabs were savages and had not an iota of civilized language in their primitive heads. And he was correct, because the man looked lost and woe-be-gone, turning to look at his companion in bewilderment.
            “A peine.” The man’s companion answered back in French. Balmain was greatly relieved to see they were a bit civilized. But then, another thing dawned on Balmain, and that was the fact that the companion was a major domo or an interpreter or all of the functions. His sober grey suit had a lower quality to that worn by the handsome Arab and he was not in same symmetry of feature.
            “Vou parle Englaiz, beaucoup.”
            The companion repeated smiling a sickened smile that had no fire.
            “You speak English well!” Balmain took up the cue from there.
            “Ah! Very well” the man answered turning to jabber a few Arab to the handsome one who could speak neither French nor English.
            “I'm a tourist guide and here’s your guide magazine” Balmain started, but he was cut short brusquely by the interpreter.
            “No! No! We no tourist. We come for business. Business!” Balmain was greatly frustrated and his despondency soared. He wanted nothing but to drop the magazine and say to hell with the Arabs, but at last he controlled himself.
            “What kind of business, do you mean?” Balmain tried.
            “My friend no business now, we want hotel, car first”
            “Okay! You want where to lounge first”
            “Yah! Yah! My boss. Abdul Rahaab is a crown prince. No stand in the sun, no stand in the sun.”
            But Pierre Balmain had no dime in his pocket. He loitered around the Hertz counter in the terminal throwing a cursory glance, where his clients were sitting. At last he summoned up courage, and waddled back like one wearing iron shoes back to the Arabs.
            “I’ll need some cash, I'm short of money right now” he hissed in a timorous voice, he hardly recognized as his voice.
            “Money! No problem” the interpreter said in his laconic English. And from the inner pocket of his suit, the Arab slashed out a heavy wad of Franc notes that made Balmain suck in his breath. He peeled out several notes and tossed them to Balmain. It was more than five hundred thousand francs at a guess and Balmain felt his hand trembling as he pocketed the money.
            He dashed out like a destructive hurricane towards the Hertz counter. He needed just under twenty thousand francs to rent a Citron palace car and the rest went deep into his pocket.
            With the two sitting in the back, Balmain took the wheel and drove out into the double-lane highway. His shouts of “Cochion” to reckless drivers, was tinted with bumbling happiness. The heat of the wad of francs, stroking his confidence. From the rear-view mirror, he peeked at them. They were looking with bewilderment at  every  vista  of   landscape   across    them.   He   could  see,  he had landed the best job of the year and that his clients were stinking in the dough. Therefore, he decided to take them straight to ‘La Rotisserie, the most expensive restaurant in Nante.
            As they crossed the Loire Bridge and warbled into the convolvulus of urbanity that was Nante, he drove cautiously through the one-way streets suffocating with traffic. The irritative whistling of the gendarme, setting the atmosphere on fire, until they came to Place Briand.
            La Rotisserie was teeming with the squadron of American tourists, who had also arrived in the TAT flight at Bougon field, Balmain spotted some of his colleagues, who eyed him, with something near to envy when they noticed his buoyant extravagant mood. They could smell out good business with their rapacious bristling noses. They looked at the headgears of the Arabs, with burning regret smattering their blood-shot eyes.
            Balmain ignored them, throwing a ribald wave at a Sommerlier, who was serving wine at another table. He chose the wine for his clients, when he noticed how they peered at the Sommerlier in consternation. A Laurent-Pierre Grand Siecle and a Chabis moutonne, a selection that further enraged his friends. They stared, stormed by the Kingly banquet.
            As the Arabs quaffed the expensive wine, Balmain sauntered around the ritz restaurant, making further arrangements. He turned down most of the soulless vinyl coop hotels, scattered in Nante.
            At last he selected a posh two bedroom penthouse, overlooking the Loire River, owned by a contessa, who was a widow. The corpulent woman, a scented, beautifully bloused Madame of over fifty years had a variety store underneath the house. She also kept a flat at the first floor. There was also a Patesserie on one wing of the house, offering quick delicious pastry.
            There was no ending of the flow of cash. In two days, Balmain had had the penthouse redecorated to the taste of the Arab prince. He gave a dazzling face-lift to the sitting room. A golden bar replaced the meager counter bar. He also partitioned one of the Atlantic-sized rooms, carving out a dressing room with costumes for the prince, while the other half of the room went to the prince’s interpreter, whom as he understood later, was the prince’s second cousin. He installed a sophisticated music machine and furnished the record rack with sentimental French love songs, lofty Beethoven and Mozart music. Le hot and Le cool jazz and of course exquisitely discordant wails of the oriental music.
            Balmain was shocked out of life, at the starting of the redecoration of the penthouse, when the prince’s interpreter, Mohammed tailed him down to the Contessa’s store.
            “Ah! My friend” Mohammed purred, his Bedouin beaked nose, sharp and bent like the beak of a desert-hawk.
            “What is it, Mohammed?” Balmain queried, seeing the ferret roaming eyes of the Arab, filled with greed and wantonness.
            “We talk business, my friend”
            “I thought the prince said no business, until the penthouse is given a face-lift?”
            “Ah! You don't understand the Arab way. Me and you one in the everything.”
            “I don't understand Mohammed!”
            Balmain raised  his  voice  an octave, knowing the contesa couldn’t understand English, even the broken English blubbered by Mohammed.
            “What you don't understand, my friend?” Mohammed snapped irritatingly, stamping his left foot on the ground. A risqué manner that brought a sneer on the face of the Contessa watching them.
            “Yes! Come on; let me in on what you mean.”
            “Me have money, you have money, my friend.”
            “Call me Balmain” Pierre hissed brusquely, feeling biased when the light of what the Arab was pointing to pierced a chink in his cranium.
            “Bamain!” The Arab made a Freudian snap at the name, missing completely the ‘L’ in the name. But Balmain did not mind. Let him call him whatever provided the dough was rolling in.
            “Yeah! Go on.” Muttered Balmain.
            “You charge ten percent above your cost.”
            Mohammed tried to explain, gesticulating with his two hands over his head.
            “You mean the prince wouldn’t find out!”
            “No, my friend.  Ah Barman, Prince rich, no find out”
            “It’s difficult, but I'll try,” Balmain knew, he was losing nothing; after all, he was making an incredible commission from the loot.
            “Ten percent comes to me, Mohammed, you understand.”
            “I understand” Balmain nodded.
            “You and me, going big business.”
            “Yeah! I understand.”
            Balmain groused, feeling a queasy revulsion seething in his stomach. He wondered how much the fink had already sucked away from his trusting cousin and hissed a sigh of disgust. It was none of his business, he thought. “We talk big, big business after this” and he shoved out his hand, and Balmain took it in one sweep. It was better he started cultivating the Arab ways. The man was the eyes and the ears of the prince. He may lose the whole windfall with unnecessary suspicion.
            Suddenly, the telephone on the Contessa’s counter was shrilling stridently in the tension-ridden atmosphere of the store, Mohammed nearly had a little stroke from the startling jangle of the instrument. He stared with popping eyes as the Madame picked up the phone.
            “Mousieur Pierre, vien ici” The Contessa purred in her measured voice that had a low gentle pitch. Balmain took few strides and took the receiver from the fat woman, who was riddled in apprehension, her large boobs rasping up and down in her anticipation. The Contessa was being paid good money, so she had no need to whine or complain. But her eyes were full of the questions; she wanted to ask about this face-lift, they were giving to her house. She had a big Chateau in the country side, left to her by her deceased husband Count Charles Cezanne, a veteran of the Second World War, who croaked of bullet wound sustained in the war.
            “C’est qui parle!” Balmain snapped into the receiver.
            “C’est Fabrique de la Concorde ici.”
            Balmain spoke fervently to the Decoration Company and banged the receiver back on its cradle.
            “I'm on my way” he hissed to Mohammed.
            “The prince might be wondering where we’ve gone by now, so you better scram upstairs or there wouldn’t be any business in the long run” as he said this  he  nodded  to  Contessa Cezanne  and  took to the road, slipping into the Citron packed in front of the store. From his rear-view mirror as the car started off, he watched Mohammed trying to explain something to the Contessa with an elaborate gesticulation of hands and rolling of eyes and he smiled knowing that it was like pouring water on the back of a duck.
            From the time the Decorators finished the penthouse, Balmain was unable to count the days. They blurred into dizzying revelries that made his head swarm in circle like a planet caught in the eyes of a weird orbit. Every day, Balmain arrived at the penthouse with fresh set of young floosies, out for what fun they could grab from the Arab prince. He arranged with one of his regulars, a call girl that moved in high echelon and Balmain was kept in supply of new birds every evening.
            The revelry usually started from seven o’clock in the evening, when the blaze of inebriety and whirling thunders of cocaine the prince had had the previous night had cleared to allow him a new snort. The prince had come with a load of basic Lebanon grade hashish, heroine and pure cocaine.
            There were other brain whirling substances and speed-up for the revelers. And each night, with wild hot jazz, clamouring like thunder in the sky, the revelers milled around the cocaine bowel snorting their heads off. There were caviar and champagne of the highest quality.
            The wild parties had driven the Contessa back to her Chateau in the countryside, leaving the place open for the Arabs. They were paying well, and she needed the money like nothing in this world.
            The parties rallied on until the revelers were busted out with the thunder struck hammer of the hard drugs. Then the real show kicked off. Now being sloshed out of senses and crawling on their hands and knees, the girls were made to strip bare.
            There were no partners, the amorous groaning of the men mingling with the sweet oblivious crazy ecstasies of the whores. Like animals, they tumbled upon each other, sucking and biting and thrusting hard with the fire of the drug that compelled their virility.
            From his corner, Balmain will watch the prince, who was always out of all the sexual orgies, glaring with popped eyes at the players reveling in their orgasm and climaxes. Snorting like a pig feeding from a trough, as the women moan in the river of debauchery that washed over them. And it was certain to Balmain, that the prince was a voyeur.
            It became a quotidian and the gendarme interrupted on several occasions, but were hounded off with torrents of crispy franc notes. By now, Balmain had become an incredible parvenu. His squalid countenances discarded like when a python molted out an old skin to allow a fresh and glittering new skin on. He now owned a sleek car, a posh apartment and a fleet of damsels at his beck and call.
            The shindig later deteriorated to gross perversion. The  prince   now   included   animals  and  macho  men   in  his  sexual  orgies.  And   because the whores were paid in bags of franc, nobody complained. Pornography where filmed as the women and animals performed. Automatic hitched twelve millimeter cameras, doing the job behind one of the rooms. Wild goose bumps were growing on Balmain’s flesh and he was in a quandary whether to abscond with his already soaring loot or not, when one morning, he walked in and found the prince sober for the first time.


                                                 *                                   *                                   *
 

            He was reclining on one of the Romanesque couches that had replaced the austere sofas in the lounge. His cousin was holding an ampoule of ammonia capsule under his nose. A slivery container of ice, squatting on the rug in front of him. His eyes were still blood-shot, but he was sober enough to wave Balmain into a seat.
            The prince was donning a priceless cream-coloured silken morning gown embroidered on the neck  in  the  finest  midnight  coloured  thread. His dense curly dark hair wetted and sloppy over his intelligent forehead. The sharpness of his moustache and beaky nose more pronounced.
            “The prince talk business today, no more party” Mohammed started in his spluttering broken English.
            A wave of strong apprehension descended on Balmain, as though a drink of some powerful aphrodisiac. His mind fleeing to the nude pictures the prince had gathered at the last bit of the revelries. He wondered if these Arabs weren’t buccaneers, dealing in nudity and other immoral abnormalities. And with his throat scorched and his heart hammering out like a sledgehammer, he waited.
            “So we talk business”, he croaked in a voice lacking in timbre or resonance. And from there, the prince started to blubber in fluent Arabic language. Balmain couldn’t grasp one meaning from all the gibberish fire of words that seemed to sound like harsh music in his ear. Therefore, he waited patiently for Mohammed to bring him in on the conversation.
            “We’re from Saudi Arabia, Saudi Arabia, Mecca! Mecca!” Mohammed gesticulated, pointing over his head to emphasize his point.
            Balmain had heard about Mecca, the city of pilgrimage for the Mohammedans. He knew of Islam’s most sacred place, the Ka’aba in that oil-rich city. But like a vulture, he patiently waited for Mohammed to continue.
            “Abdul Rahaab is a direct descendant of Ibn Saud. You, big man in Saudi Arabia”.
            “I don't know of him,” bridled Balmain, “but go on”.
            “Ah! Ibn Saud. Big war in Saudi, big courage conquered all Arabian Peninsula. Fire all Hashemites dogs and make big, big friend with white man. The white man, America who dig rich oil in Saudi. Abdul is one of his princes”.
            “Okay, I understand, he is a royal man. Is that what you mean?”.
            “Ah! Ah! My friend, wise, understand”.  And Mohammed guffawed into an unreasonable laugh that failed to catch fire with the prince and Balmain. He stopped abruptly, the laugh frozen on his face like a pot dried by a seething cooker.
            “So what is it, you want done?” Balmain asked in irritation.
            He was burning up with frenetic curiosity and he couldn’t see what all the history had to do with him. But he had learnt a little about these Arabs within the few weeks he had burnt up with them. Their patience was infinite and he greatly detested it.
            “We interest in oil tanker”. Mohammed smirked, stretching his hand to get at a Louis Viuitton suitcase sprawling at the left-hand side of the prince’s couch.
            He smacked the lids opened and heaved out a Xeroxed sheaf of papers, handing them over to Balmain.
            With desperate seething curiosity, Balmain leafed through the pages, taking in the full meaning of what Mohammed was trying to bring across. They have come to seek out a ship building company in St. Nazaire. One of the best ship construction yards in the world. And someone at George ‘V’ hotel Paris had directed them to come to Nantes, the nearest town to St. Nazaire.
            It was exactly, big, big business according to Mohammed and a beam of smile spread across Balmain’s face. He was in a life – line, and he controlled the trembling surge of adrenaline that was building to explode on his face.
            “Yes, I know of St. Nazaire.” he answered in a level voice, devoid of the tumult clamouring inside him.
            “Good! Good business.” Enthused Mohammed, who turned to speak to the prince. The prince nodded and his hard lined handsome face puckered into a complacent smile. “We go to St. Nazaire tomorrow.” Mohammed intoned, taking the papers from Balmain and snapping the Louis Viutton case in a sound that cracked like gunshot.
            His face a palace of smiles and beams. Balmain wondered how much the creep will be making from the prince out of this business, but discarded the thought immediately; after all he was a scavenger just like Mohammed.
            “No more parties, Business! Business!” rasped Mohammed.
            “I understand.” Balmain nodded.
            “You, me drive to St. Nazaire today. Tomorrow, the prince go with us.”
            “That’s okay by me. If that’s what the prince wants.”    
“Go see company.” Mohammed flared, opening his eyes with his fingers.
            “When do we go?” Balmain knew why Mohammed was trying to go with him first.
            “Ah! this morning the prince rest, we go.”
            “Why don't he go with you?”
            “No! No! The prince talk to his son at Sorbone.”
            “You didn’t tell me, he has a son at Sorborne.”
            “Big, big son live in Villa outside Paris.”
            “Why didn’t the prince stay with his son?”
            “No! No! Marry Western woman. The prince annoy with his son.”
            “Oh! He is marrying a white woman.”
            “Don't marry foreign woman, Arab no like foreign country.”
            “That’s too bad, but his education had exposed him to that culture.”
            “Education wise, foreign woman bad.”
            “You can’t separate the two.”
            “We Arab, have sacred culture.”
            “Tell the prince, that I'm sorry.” And Mohammed turned to jabber in Arabic to the gawking handsome prince, who nodded his head in acquiescence.
            “If you’re ready Mohammed, I'm ready. We could leave now, have lunch at Le Baule and be in St. Nazaire in time to see the company manager.”
 3

            THE SUN WAS STROKING towards its zenith, bleeding blood red, when the two drove off in Balmain’s sleek metallic aquamarine brand new Renault. They made a stop at a little Patisserie in the suburb of La Baule, enjoying the delicious juicy pastry offered by the Patisserie, before speeding off towards St. Nazaire. As the car fled through the quiescent dust-laden villages, Mohammed stared dumb-founded. Clicking his tongue like only the Arabs could do to the tangles of under-development and colonies of peasants that slobbered around the villages.
            “Me! I'm surprise,” he flared at last, when he couldn’t control his consternation anymore.
            “Why, Mohammed?”
            “White man poor, poor man, look at these brick houses.”
            “They’re common farmers, Mohammed.”
            “Ah! farmers. My father farmer at Saudi.”
            “That’s good. See these neat orchards of tomatoes, they own all of them.”
            “That one tomatoes?” Mohammed pointed at a vista of grapevine that sprawled unendingly vanishing into the blurring horizon.
            “No not that, it is a vine field.”
            “Vine?”
            “Yes! Mohammed. All the wine you drink comes from these clusters of vine fruit”
            “Ah, I see. Vine makes wine.”
            “That is it.”
            Soon they drove into St. Nazaire. And the cold canyons of the Loire River opened up before them. They crossed the mouth of the river and descended into the convolvulus of snaky streets that hounded them on to the area of the docks just below the bridge. And before them, was the sprawling palisade of ship building yards. The clangour and clamorous sound of Junkers, causing an oral ambience, as they tried to talk to each other.
            Peaking into the dazzling sky, where the sun had risen in the pastel sky, glinting off iron surfaces and causing folks to screw up their eyes skyward, rose the tall towers of ships under construction.
            The bank of the river, skipping smoothly for the larger vessels and bulk carriers, and some naval crafts under construction. While the smaller vessels, faced the inner harbor.
            Balmain drove on, until he came to the yard of a small ship building company, he had known from his days in Bougon field. The senior engineer of the company had had little jobs for him. Like delivering luggage safely to St. Nazaire and other menial jobs, that had attracted meager Francs.
            Now, Balmain knew the engineer would be surprised to see him in his present windfall. And that will give him good hand in the business, he was going to discuss with the man.
            As they stopped at the security gate, the man was waiting for them, with his potbelly. His sharp Parisian features pockmarked behind the Iron Gate. Balmain had earlier called him and told him, he was paying an ordinary visit.  Now as the man stared at the Arabian man with Balmain, his dark sparkling alert eyes took in the hardness of hard-boiled eggs. He hadn’t expected Balmain in a sleek car with an Arabian oil prince.
            “Salut Pierre, Ca va?”
            “Ca va bien, Monsieur Vermont.” Balmain answered, and then quickly changed to English, because Mohammed was already glarring suspiciously at them.
            “May I present to you, Haj. Mohammed from Saudi.”
            “Happy to meet you. Mr. Mohammed.” Vermont said in heavily accented English weighed down by his Parisian tone. They moved into the offices of the company and Mohammed was shown around the vessels under construction. By   the   time,   they   have   arrived   at   business agreement and drank few slugs of cognac, tongues were free and hidden words were flying out easily.
            “I'll be obliged, if we could also touch on the part of the business that concerns Mohammed and I at the same time.” Balmain hissed under his breath, glaring up to see if his comment was registered. Sure, he could notice that Mr Vermont had stopped cold and was now looking apprehensively at him.

            “Come again, I don't get you.” Mohammed was suddenly studying the lowered egg orate designed ceiling, which had two rusty shibboleth Louis Tiffany Chandeliers.
            From all indications, the Chandeliers appeared out of use, because one bright fluorescent bulb shot its opalescent light around the office, which was shaded from the outside sun by thick shutters.
            “What don't you get, Monsieur Vermont?”
            “I thought you’re representing these Arabians?”
            “Qui! Monsieur, yet one got to eat”
            “Weren’t you on commission?”
            “Commission my head! I got five percent cut from each business conducted for them.”
            “Tu rigoles! Monsieur Pierre!
            “That’s how it stood.” Balmain hissed.
            “That’s a hell of money, Pierre!
            “And a hell of business to your company.”
            “C’est nas pa possible. The company will discover the manouevre easily. Do you want me fired?”
            “Lower your voice, Monsieur Vermont. In that case, we may try another Company; there are many companies that will walk on their heads to get the contract.”
            And with that Balmain shot up as being operated by a hidden spring. Mohammed who hadn’t been following the conversation well, looked as if he had a close range broadside of grapeshot, eyes popping out as though the balls of a bulldog. But he got up too. You could see the disappointment on his face like a piglet denied the teat. They moved towards the door, with legs heavy like sacks of leads, expecting to be called back, and Vermont did.
            “Eh! Pierre, you aren’t going?” Vermont’s tone had capitulated into a wheedling, kvetching voice. All his former authority desiccated by his submission.
            “Why not? We couldn’t strike a deal. I don't think it’s wise wasting more of your precious time. I'm sure your hands are full.”
            “You talk big these days, mon petit!, Acee tuo!, We talk good now,” Balmain stood for some time watching Monsieur Vermont.
            They engaged in an explosive silence.  At last Balmain sighed and waved to Mohammed to come back. They took their seats and Monsieur Vermont cleared his tone noisily, as though what he was going  to say, had a serrated edge on his throat.
            “I take it, that for the risk I‘m to take, I'll be receiving a pittance from the piece of  action.”
            “Come clear, Monsieur!” Balmain feigned ignorant.
            “I'll pay you eighteen percent of the added money and keep two percent as a risk money.”
            “Now you’re talking like a business man.” Balmain groused, scooping up the bottle of cognac to pour himself a generous finger. And then he passed the amber liquid to Mohammed, who shook his head in refusal, still petulant from the last discussion.
            “You see, Monsieur Vermont the twenty percent is for Mohammed here. Without him, there will be no business. He’s the eyes and ears of the prince, who’s purchasing the tanker. But one thing I'll promise you, because of our old relationship is a slice from my own share. It’ll be enough to cover any risk you might have taken to endorse the over-payment.”
            “To tell you the fact, mon petit! That does not suit me.  I stand to lose my job, if your so called prince could pick up the phone and talk to the Manager.”
            “You don't have any fear from that direction. The prince could neither speak French nor English. And besides, he trusts his cousin like himself.”
            “Then, in that case, I'll say the business is sealed. Only one thing remaining.”
            “And what is it, if I may ask?”
            “You’ll sign a written agreement, that you owe me one hundred million Francs or is that too much out of your own share?”
            “Not too much, get the agreement and I'll sign. It’s a deal.”
            When they drove back to Contessa Cezanne’s penthouse, the prince was in a terrible rage. His handsome face bruised with the hot anger that seethed inside him. He was roaming the sitting room like a wild leopard driven insane with his engagement. He stopped and looked up, as Balmain and Mohammed slipped into the lounge. There was an infernal flicker in his eyes that warned Balmain that their clandestine deal at the shipyard had exploded. And his fear was increased tenfold, when he noticed Mohammed trembling like a reed caught by a stormy wind.
            Mohammed ran to him, knelt and kissed his fingers. They exchanged fervent Arabic words that sounded like a song. Balmain saw the fear in Mohammed’s face dissipate like a dirty cumulus nimbus tortured by a high wind. From here, Mohammed soothed the prince into the Romanesque couch. Whispering soft music-like words into the burning ear of the prince. Soon  they drifted into ordinary conversation. Balmain waited in shattering curiosity.
            Though his first mortal fear had lifted to give way to a tearing pang of anticipation, as though a fervent Simian, curious to see where the hunter’s bullet came from.
            “Prince mad with son at Sorbonne.” Mohammed said at last and Balmain heaved a sigh of relief. But he was required to say something; because both the prince and Mohammed were glaring at him now, as though he was a messenger from the sky. And Balmain said the first thing that jumped between his lips.
            “Why is the prince angry with his son?” The question was a conundrum and Balmain regretted its preposterousness as soon as it slipped out of his mouth. He knew why, so he wasn’t supposed to ask again.
            “Son marry white woman. Prince no likes it at all. Tell son to drive woman out of villa, son refuse.”
            “Oh! Can’t be possible, Mohammed. Tell Prince, this is a civilized world, nobody puts a wife out like that here.”
            “You tell him yourself, prince won’t hear nonsense.”
            “Then the best thing to do is to arrange for a divorce.”
            “Not prince, no divorce. Woman no talk to prince.”
            “But I'm sorry, Mohammed, this is not Saudi Arabia. We could arrange for a quiet divorce, if the prince will accept that.”
            “Son won’t hear anything. Mad boy. Son royal family now infidel, traitor!”
            “He’s a traitor, you mean?”
            “Yes! Yes! Traitor boy. Arab no marry white woman.”
            “Tell the prince, I'll like to speak with his son.” Mohammed turned to speak to the prince. He blubbered and gesticulated for sometime, before Mohammed addressed Balmain once again.
            “Prince want white woman assassinated!” It was like a buckshot was fired at Balmain at point blank range. And the shock of it seized his breathing, clutching like a monstrous sea animal at his testicles. He felt gorged with overwhelming nausea.
            “Please Mohammed! tell the prince by the name of all that is holy not to use that word again.”
            “Your tongue is seek for amputation. No talk to prince that.”
            “Okay! I won’t be a party to that, tell him.”
            The two Arabs, conversed for some time. The tension in the room, bloating into a thick molten wax. Balmain was now sure, the Arabs were touched. His mind telling him to run for it. Before the conflagration engulfed him. But he controlled himself. The money he was expecting to make from the tanker business holding him on, like a toffee could stick to a baby’s blanket.
            “Prince pay one million pound sterling”.
            It was as though someone had punched Balmain under  the  heart. His  breath tripped then came in a maddening rush like a dam bleach, suffocating his ears. A weird susurration hissing and fuming into the deafening silence that roamed like whirlpool inside him.
            “One million pound sterling!” He kept his word level, but he could notice that Mohammed had caught the jump in his breath.
            “Cash! now, now!” Mohammed hissed. Balmain immediately delved into his calculation at once. And discovered it was an unbelievable sum if translated into Francs. His head felt like if stuffed with a mould of ambergris and his throat was as dried as tar. All the rapacious infernal greed in him rearing their heads. He knew, with that kind of money, he was finally made for life. As though a honking bullfrog, he scratched his tone and glared at Mohammed.
            “Are you serious?” his parched, trembling lips uttered in spite of himself. It was like the trick of a ventriloquist inside him and he detested the cloak of control that had completely deserted him.
            “By the beard of Mohammed, prince no small boy!”
            Another deafening tension ridden silence ensued. Outside, they could hear the minute ditty whispering of the trees that stood in the far distance, insignificant and oblique in the remote horizon and below it, the snaky white glittering white mark that was a section of Loire River. The wind sang a powerful music, like violin playing Mozart, inducing in him that feeling of strong mystical power, as though he was standing inside an empty gigantic Cathedral.
            “Tell the prince, I'll require two days, to think about it.” Balmain muttered in a voice, quivering of greed. All his faculties melting in the incredible sum of money in question.
            “No! No! Prince no hear anything except yes or no. Tell me and I tell prince.”
            “Okay, tell him it is going to be possible.” Mohammed drooled in fluent Arabic to the Prince.
            Balmain watched the fury bruised face of the prince spread like Namaque daisies at the beginning of the spring. His dark moustache, bristling as though a caterpillar poked with sharp needle.
            “Prince no time tomorrow go see company. Next tomorrow, Prince leaves France.”
            That put an electrical shock on Balmain. He hadn’t anticipated, they’ll be leaving so quick. His mind, became fuzzy and he wanted to ask so many questions at the same time.
            “Where’s Prince going?” He spluttered instead.
            “Not Saudi, Prince go to Zurich.”
            “Switzerland, you mean?”
            “Ah! Barman! You ask too much, much question.”
            “Okay! How am I to receive my payment?”
            “Prince pay half up-front, half when white woman dead.”
            “I know, he’s not hearing us, Mohammed!” Balmain bridled, watching the Prince, who was staring intelligently as though he was following the conversation.
            “Prince no English, talk business.”
            “Okay, about the twenty percent over-payment.”           
            “Prince come back France in one week.”
            “The arrangement is not suitable to me, you tell that to the Prince.”
            The two Arabs put heads together, like two doodling love doves and their language soared up in fervent argument though most of the rasping came from the Prince. At last Mohammed turned to Balmain, his face puckering into a wicked smile that only an Arab could manage. And there was something missing in that smile, but Balmain was far gone in the Rubicon to reckon such frivolities. So he listened with heart pounding, like one receiving his last judgment.
            “You, me, Prince go Zurich.”
            “That’s better!”
            “One week come back to France.”
            “Tell him, I accept the agreement.”
            “Prince wants white woman dead before, we go Zurich.”
            “You said, he’ll pay fifty percent up-front.”
            “No! No! Prince pay Zurich.”
            “I'll need money to carry it out.”
            Mohammed stood up and slipped into the bedroom. As he turned his back, the Prince went into hand demonstration, using some Arabic words, Balmain couldn’t understand to drive his point home.
            From his gesticulations, Balmain could grasp his degree of annoyance on what his son had done. The prince swore a lot, ending each blubbering with Allah ak-bar. Soon, Mohammed returned with a glittering costly lizard-skin briefcase. He tossed the shimmering briefcase and watched as Balmain thumped   the   lids   open   and  sucked  under  his breath, with the wads of crispy pound sterling that stared  back at him.
            There was also an envelope containing all the dopes on the girl. She was a French/American. An American mother and a French father, a top model in Paris, before she met the Prince’s son. Her beauty gave Balmain a little stroke as he watched the dazzling red hair that reached to the girl’s waist, magnificent sparkling aquamarine large eyes and delicate full lips. She was tall, slim and bounteously symmetrical in shape. A woman that could steal any man’s heart in a second.
4

            THE GLITTERING BLACK CITRON Palace moved just two cars behind the vast battleship silver ghost chauffeur-driven Rolls that had only one occupant behind. Paris was already cloaked in the dazzling pyrotechnic of street lamps and neon-signs dancing in carnival arrays in the perky Parisian evening. And the headlamps of cars were like though moulting reptiles in the cool shade of the night.
            Balmain had arrived Paris, by exactly six O’clock that evening. And had rented a car from the Hertz at the airport. He had made straight   to the address, he was given by Mohammed. The posh, twenty-bedroom Villa was located in a seclusive, wooded area, about thirty miles from the heart of the city. It was guided by a fifteen-footer gate and fierce looking French guards in bottle-green drill uniforms. There was no way one could gain entrance into the compound. And all the plans and press cards Balmain had formulated collapsed on his face as though discarded rags used in wiping out sooth.
            For one scalding hour, he parked opposite the building surrounded with verdant flowering trees and fussed over the engine of the Citron. Making out as if he had had a break down, while he watched the Villa closely. There was no life around the   whole building,   except for the guards that peeped out of the guard-house slit holes, at one corner of the peaking impenetrable gate.
            The night rushed down on him like a windstorm. His frustration grew with each minute that slipped like quicksilver out of his finger. He hadn’t reckoned that the Villa will be tightly guided.
            He was beginning to rave and fume like a lunatic on the mediocrity of Mohammed and his Prince, when the gate suddenly blinked open. A shimmering, silver ghost Rolls Royce slipped out as though a hibernating reptile and started towards Paris.
            Balmain could see through the drawn curtains of the plush car, that it had only one occupant. And he also needed no crystal glass to notice the red shimmering hair bobbed in Chignon that rode on the headrest of the sleek car.
            With legs that trembled like one with Parkinson disease and hands that quivered like reed arrows, he banged the hood of the Citron home and jumped in before the guards could pick him.
            He was gone beyond caring, as he started out in building speed, following the Rolls. It made town under fifteen minutes. It was all Balmain could do to stick behind the big powerful car, but at last the Rolls slowed down as they entered the city.
            He dropped behind two cars and stuck on the tail of the Rolls like a burr-burr. The Rolls stopped briefly at the American embassy, and then drove on to place de la Concorde. It purred pass the French Naval Headquarters, through the underpass to the promenade above the embankment of the Seine.
            Balmain was wondering where the Rolls was going, as the Petit Palais stared in front of them. The big bus didn’t quail, but went on eastward through Vill Arrondissement.
            Then as Balmain watched, the Rolls started into hotel de Ritz, overlooking Place Vendome. The historic column in the center of the square with its spiral bas-relief from Russian and Austrian guns, commemorating the little Corsicans feats of arms against those two nations, stared  unwaveringly at the hotel.
            Balmain swung the Citron into the hotel and jumped out. He was in time, to see the beautiful blond slip out of the Rolls and started in a swinging tail wagging step towards the dazzling lobby of the hotel. Two concierges had noticed the girl and approached to open the car door, but the girl beat them to it.
            Balmain pulled the Virginia Hammerli pistol screw with a perforated silencer tube and pressed the trigger at once. It was a lucky shot, and the girl flopped like a feather at the sinister thud of the bullet. The concierges ran to her, while Balmain whipped round and made it in a blinding rush where he had dumped the Citron. Before the weird strident wailing of siren, tore the atmosphere into shreds, he was speeding towards Rue de la Boetic.

5

            THERE WAS A BLUSTERY and overcast. And the morning was cloaked in funeral smudgy cumulus. Despite the fact that the lush thick curtains were drawn, the vast sitting room groveled in shades of darkness, as though the foggish blur of a new dawn. From the expensive antiquated Elliot grandfather clock over the Mantel, Mimi Laigle noticed it was already eight o’clock in the morning.
            With a petulant sigh, she hoisted her hose for the twentieth time and hobbled over to the box of switches, hung on one corner of the ritzy parlor. She blinked like a cave bat, as the flush of chandelier exploded like a time bomb. Harsh rush of light, making her eyes flounder like a blind-man suddenly and miraculously regaining his sight.
            Gliding in a rolling buttocks-wagging walk, long practiced from her profession, she gained the small kitchenette equipped to the teeth. From the gargantuan freezer, she cut some bacon and threw it into the Jenn-air grill, squatting on one corner of the immaculate kitchen. Then she popped some muffin into the oven-toaster and switched on the large coffee percolator.
            Within minutes, she carried her breakfast back into the lounge and as she sprawled out to start feeding herself, she heard the tap running in the bathroom. She was donning a flimsy green crepe-de-chine, without sleeves, and a low-neck, that made her over-sized breasts span out violently, thrusting with silky olive flesh on her bosom. With the long practice of the second oldest profession, she hinged her cloth up, exposing her rounded white inner thighs.
            She was disappointed, when Balmain didn’t come out, but continued to splash water in the bathroom, like an amateur swimmer. Therefore, Mimi concentrated more on her food, stirring the steaming coffee and trying out the jig-saw that had puzzled her to no end, since she walked into that flat last night.
            There was nothing beautiful in Mimi anymore. She was worn out and faded as though a thrashed old second hand cloth. Only the symmetry thighs and fertile spread of hips, still holding her out in her profession. Her face was hard and covered with freckles. Her  mouth  wide  and  thin  like  that  of  a  frog. There was no sparkle anymore in her icy grey eyes. All her fire burnt out with bitter experience and use of hard drug. She was a trash can and she knew it. And that always stirred a suicidal despondency in her, each time she thought about her overflowing life.
            What had set her mind ablaze was this new windfall she had noticed in Pierre Balmain. She had known Pierre for over five years, when Pierre was a rat, snorting around Bougon field in rags and emaciated body. In those days, she was still in her elements and Pierre had always acted out a ponce for her. Bringing in her rich customers and sharing in the money Mimi stole out of the tourists. Everything around them had always been strictly platonic. Of course Pierre couldn’t afford her.          
            Balmain had ever wanted an affair with her, but she had shooed him off, with unfulfilling promises and quick pecks on the mouth from time to time. There was no way, she could live with herself again, after an affair with a stinking cheap starved rat like Pierre, who was now treating her like a leper. Most of the time, when she called his new flat, asking if he’ll see her, Pierre would in his now pommy voice, turn her down like the ordinary street whore she was. And when she was allowed into the flat, he’ll use her rakishly and fling wads of Franc note at her as though she was marked by the beast. Even last night, she wasn’t invited, but she came because she was on the brink of starvation. And Pierre Balmain had not touched her throughout the night, that now she feared terribly if he’ll be giving her any money.
            Gobbling the breakfast hungrily like a hyena, which had waited all the night to feed on the remains of a lion’s kill, she strained her ear outside, where a footstep was marching up the stairs. She wondered who might be paying him a visit this early morning and flinched when she remembered he had a host of girlfriends waiting at his beck and call. And her face sank, as she thought that this might be one of the girls.
            But the sharp snap of the doorbell sent a fire of adrenaline rushing up her blood. She waited and the bell rang again more furiously. Dropping the thinnest Chinese porcelain teacup, she made it on legs that weighed like bags of corn over to the door.
            As she snatched the door latch, she heard the rustle of newspaper and smelt the papery fresh spring odour of newsprint. Then a copy of France Soir flopped as though a felled bird on her legs. The Vendor smiled at her through the small gap, and went clamoring down the stair, rushing to meet up with his morning circulation.
            Mimi Laigle banged the door and bolted it back. Then dropped low and scooped up the paper from the rug. Nothing of importance was on the first page.
            The usual French politics sprawled around as she leafed over the pages. At the World news page, she glanced over the catastrophic destructions of democracy in some African States. And a story about a bomb explosion at No 10 Downing Street, London. She was not interested in the act of government, so she fluffed the pages over.
            At once she caught her breath, because splashed on that page, was a beheaded bold picture that ran out the page. Every inch of the shape, was Pierre Balmain. Even the black serge suit, she saw him wearing that yesterday. Though the removed head, made it highly impossible to identify him by someone, who hadn’t known him like Mimi did.
            Clinging above, one end of the picture was a strapping handsome Arabian man with gold corded headdress. And beside the Arab, was a woman, Mimi had known from the televisions and newspapers. She was something of a top model and Mimi had at a time envied her red long hair and her beauty, which was like a drop of glittering morning dew on a blade of a grass.
            Then she rushed fervently through the story below and her heart went into a frantic paradiddle. The man that resembled Pierre Balmain was wanted for questioning by the gendarme for the murder of the model, Fatima Rahaab, whom her maiden name was Lucielle Bon. Born of a French and American mother. She was murdered while stepping into the lobby of Ritz hotel Paris last night. Her husband, Prince Ibrahim Rahaab, was a royal Prince from the ruling family of Ibn Saud in Saudi Arabia and was a student of Sorbonne. His family was strongly opposed to the marriage, though the Prince denied that very fact. Rumours were adrift that his father Abdul Rahaab was on the precipice of disowning him because of the mixed marriage.
            Mimi then went back cautiously to the headless picture of the murderer and her hands started trembling as she discovered completely that the man in the picture was Pierre Balmain. Her first thought was total alarm, twice she dropped the newspaper on the rug and wanted to run, but then she took control of herself.
            All the jig-saw, she had been trying to solve while swimming in insomnia last night, fitting in like a jig-puzzle game. And through her horrible poverty and mortal desperation, a chink of sunlight opened in her cranium, a lifeline that could give her the retirement she sought terribly in an easy platter.
            As she started to go through the story once more, Pierre came from the bedroom, combing out his coppery  colored curls. He was fully dressed in a traveling peter sham suit because of the overcast morning and his well tooled black Gucci loafers, glittered in the light of the chandelier. He came to an abrupt stop, when he saw the paper in Mimi’s hand then came forward slowly like a prowling leopard.  His handsome leonine   head   and well-trimmed moustache, bristling in anticipation, as he lumbered near.
            Like an animal, expecting an attack from a predator, Mimi sensed the sinister aura that enveloped his movement and she quickly snapped closed the story she was reading. That one hasty movement further increased the pang of curiosity in Pierre and he covered the gap between them with two quick strides.
            “Wait!” Mimi snarled, baring her teeth at him. Her rapacious eyes crisped with burning greed. She hid the France Soir behind her back, like a kid playing a see-saw game.
            “Que est que ce?”
            “Wait, I'll show you” Mimi replied in French.
            “Show me what?” snapped Balmain.
            “You’ll pay or I go to the cops” the fire of vengeance in Mimi’s eyes burned like an opened furnace and she had no control on her tongue any longer.
            “What are you talking about?”
            “You murdered her, didn’t you?” She asked her chin up and all the aggressiveness in her added to her desperate frustration speaking through her. “Imbecile!, Secre bleu!” Balmain snapped.
            And he slapped her back and front, making her head shake like a metronome. She wanted to scream, but Balmain wedged the comb he was holding into her throat, and she gurgled like a sinister deep swamp mud, swallowing up a man.
            Then, Balmain hit out viciously with a deadly blow, dislocating her jaw with that one blow. As she keeled over and   fell, he jumped on top of her.
            Then loosening his Zingari tie, he looped it round her gurgling burning throat. He squeezed hard and viciously until he saw her pink tongue bulge out with thick foamy sputum between her incisors. And soon, her desperate deathly spasms changed into the easy relaxation of death.
6

            THE TALL ELEGANT SPIRE of lady Cathedral and her mighty grandfather clock stared vacantly into the soft evening autumn atmosphere of Zurich. Squatting ancient and woven with fungus of history, the cold Cathedral bordered the ancient walled city of Zurich ghetto of Universitatstrasse that moaned in anguish.
            There was nothing of the potted geraniums, gleaming trash cans, and blooming awnings of the cafes or side-street benches adorning the plush dazzling streets of Zurich in this pristine walled city. The beautiful shady clipped trees were absent here and the houses were old and teetering on the precipice of dilapidation. Some were over fifty years old.
            From a whorehouse called the Niederdorf, Balmain breezed out. Feeling depleted and wasted from his debauchery. Though he had got himself distended with bowls of dumplings, strudel, cutlets, Swiss ham and bratwurst, before visiting the brothel, he felt empty as if his innards had been removed. The Frau had been satisfactory in a way, except for her hot demand, which Balmain had rose to meet, having been denied for the one week he had been in Zurich.
            The first thing he had detested about the banking city was its extreme conservatism. It nearly drove him insane for seven days; he had to wait for the arrival of the Prince. Men in stiff collars and homburgs always swaddled in black suits, tracking the tarmac with walking sticks, passed him by, without a simple nod. And the women were covered in their stiff layered hats and unattractive hairdos. There was no hurrying or shouting in the streets. Everybody was as patient as a mule, walking serenely like scarecrows; only the tapping of walking stick carried by the men showed they were alive. At times, he had been greatly tempted to shout at the black-covered scarecrows, only to get a hold of himself at the last minute.
            He was almost going to climb a tree, when the Prince phoned from his Zollikon hotel that morning asking him to join him at the exclusive suburb. At first, he had been angry that the Arab had made arrangements without his knowledge. But when he recalled the Prince’s life, he decided it was a good riddance. He needed a clear head if he was to pull out of the quagmire, he had dragged himself into.
            As he strode towards the first bridge where the Limmat River flowed gently out of the serpentine lake of Zurich, the clotting emptiness like a stuff of cotton wool inside his head lifted as though morning frost touched by sunlight. The clean air of the River ruffled his hair and pushed little energy into him. It was only four O’clock. He walked, admiring the neat, picturesque surrounding. The tall five-storey tenement buildings lining like soldiers on parade on both sides of the river.
            The orderliness overwhelmed him, all the colorful water taxis with fluttering Swiss flag, gliding sluggishly in beautiful formation. Colony of water ducks, paddling along the taxis. A good artist could arrest in his drawing, the serene ethereal beauty of the dazzling scene. It moved him like good music.
            Along the streets, double-trams waved by, without hooting of horns or squealing of brakes, for everyone was patient. Above the two sides of the bridge, the spires of the two old Cathedrals, St. Peter and Lady Cathedral arrowed through the evening skyline like daggers. The Cathedrals standing antagonistically facing each other like fighting Gladiators. Balmain made towards Bethovenstrasse, walking leisurely until he arrived at Kirchgasse Street. From here, he flagged a taxi down and gave the cabbie the address of the hotel in Zollikon. The evening air was becoming parky, and his English Mackintosh failed to curb off the chilly numbing Zurich autumn.
            The Prince was donning his silken evening gown, when Balmain looked in at the posh suite on the third floor of the ritzy hotel. He was as usual, doped to the eyeballs and his bloodshot eyes rolled like bearings as he peered wondrously at Balmain.
              There were other two men with him. One was Mohammed, his interpreter, who was busy conversing in hushed tone to a Zurich potly man. Who strained his ears avidly at what Mohammed was yammering out in broken English, as though all his life depended on it.
            “Ah! My friend, Balmain!” Mohammed yelled in high cavorting tone that had a little risqué behind it.
            “Bonsoir, Mohammed!”
            “Meet Herr Franz of Sousse Banque”.
            “Hello Mr. Franz” Balmain groused, shoving his hand out for a handshake. The banker’s stomach was like a keg of beer and his handshake as cold as a dead fish. There was an oleaginous sluggishness on him that revolted Balmain, as though, he was looking at a hibernating python. And it was easy from here, for Balmain to hate the man, with a corrosive chemical hatred. In a way, the man now stood between him and the Arabs.
            “Mohammed was just telling me about you” the corpulent man hissed. His voice was low and husky. A surreptitious tone that had double meaning on each word.
            “What and what is he intimating you with?”
            “Oh! nothing below water. Your exploits and the wild revelries you organised for my Prince”.
            Already his Prince, Balmain thought. The burning xenophobia inside Balmain clotted his throat and he waited for the deep bitterness to clear from his throat before he could speak. He knew Zurich was a crown city of surreptitious accounts. And thieving floundering nations with rich mineral oils made it their second heaven.
            There were according to record more banks here than New York and London put together. Offering full range of financial services from floating of high-interest loans to stashing away untraceable millions. And their customers were drug pushers, munition merchants and kleptomaniac presidents and ministers of third World Countries.
            “Mohammed!” Balmain changed the subject, “tell the Prince I want to talk to him in private”.
            “Allah Ak’bar! Prince sick today, no talk, come back tomorrow”, that infuriated Balmain where he was and his next words came in rasps and gasps.
            “Tell him unless he comes out of his delirium and listen to me, he could be a dead man come tomorrow”.
            “You tell him, yourself” Mohammed riposted, his funny manner becoming serious, as the shock of what Balmain said pushed down him like goose-bumps.
            “He can’t hear me otherwise; I wouldn’t be wasting my time with you”.
            “Call me waste time, eh!” Mohammed fumed.
            “This is no time for foolish talks, Mohammed, I want to see the Prince”.
            “Me, foolish man! is your mother foolish, talk Prince yourself, I'm foolish”.
            “Okay! I take back my words, Mohammed. Let’s not quarrel over trivial things. Let us save the Prince’s life first”.
            At once, the Prince raised his head, clearing his tone with a scratch. His beaky Bedouin nose stood red like radish under his sparkling dope-eyes. He nodded to Mohammed to come forward and lowered his head on his chest once more.
            In fervent exchange of Arabic, the Prince reproached Mohammed and then asked him, what it was all about. Still fuming as though a brewing beer. Mohammed narrated to the Prince, what Balmain had said.  There was a tension-ridden pause, then the Prince sighed heavily and staggered up. He waved to Balmain to follow him and Mohammed dejectedly took the rear, until they walked into the vast bedroom with a manicured wooded area behind.
            “The Prince seeks to know, why die”. Mohammed started without preamble, still angry like a foolish virgin.
            “Tell the Prince, it’s to do with his son”. Hurriedly Mohammed interpreted the words to the Prince and a sharp light replaced the sluggish opened eyes of the Prince. With sparkling curiosity burning in his eyes, he stared at Balmain, so Balmain went on.
            “It was all in the French Soir, before I left Nante.”
            “How?” Mohammed asked a question, he grabbed directly from the Prince’s mouth.
            “He told the press, that the Prince murdered his wife”.
            “You murdered her not Prince”. Corrected Mohammed.
            “The Prince had the motive. As far as the police are concerned, I'm just a stooge”.
            “What do you mean, Balmain?”
            “It’s like that in every civilized society. They look for motive, not the physical killer”.
            “You can’t get away with it, if you’ve planned it”, howled Mohammed.
            “Shut your mouth and tell the Prince, what I said”.
            “You, rogue! Murderer! Ass of a Carmel, idiot! I kill you”.
            Mohammed started lunatically towards Balmain, but the Prince stopped him without raising his voice.
            “The Prince, asked, what to do!” there was a shaky stance in Mohammed’s voice. As though the words were scratching somewhere off his liver.
            “Tell the Prince, I've not finished what I want to say.”
            “Go on!”
            “He wants to take revenge on him, tell him that.”
            “Prince asked, why! why!
            “He said, he’ll look for the Prince all over the world.”
            “Arab brotherhood, so deep, said Prince, my son can’t kill me for a woman.”
            “Tell the Prince, his son meant every word and had already hired assassins for him”.
            “How you know?”
            “I heard from my underground grapevines.”
            “Who?”
            “My informant”
            “Who are they?”
            “That’s not the question, Mohammed. Tell Prince to be discreet in all his affairs right from now”.
            “Prince said, I can’t believe it.”
            “Then, I've done my job.” Shrugged Balmain.
            “Prince asked what you can do.”
            “Nothing, tell him, practically nothing.”
            “Prince insisted you stay with him.”
            “Why! I can’t stop the bullets.”
            “He said, you know the men. Therefore must guide him against them.”
            “I don't know anybody, I heard from my spies, can’t you understand, Mohammed?”
            “Prince said, he’ll hand you over to the police, if you refuse him.”
              “He’s making the matter worse, by talking like that. Tell him.”
            “The matter already worse said Prince.”
            “There’s nothing we will gain by sticking together.”
            From the door, a sharp cough stopped them cold and they all started around to see the potbellied banker, standing at the door. He was spotting a snout-mouthed dark menaceful Beretta 10.mm pistol in his pudgy hand. His creepy eyes glittering   like the coil of a monstrous   moulting mamba. A vein in his plump neck, twitching wretchedly as he spitted out words like a venomous snake.
            Outside, in the trimmed verdant wood, a wild falcon screeched, its shrieks, ripping into the tension-ridden atmosphere. The clamorous call of the bird was followed closely with the opening chorus of the wind on the tall trees of the wood. It reached the French window with silky touch, fluffing the tapestry expensive curtains in shiver like ecstasy.
            From somewhere downstairs in the hotel foyer, a faint hilarious voice reached them but was much torn by the wind to be coherent.
            “You make up big pieces of assholes!” the banker hissed in a low husky tone above a whisper like the seductive meowing of a tabby cat.
            “What’s all the show for?” smirked Balmain.
            “Cut the crap and turn around Mr. Balmain.”
            “Put the damn gun down and let’s talk it out.” Balmain persuaded with a wheedling cordial tone.
            “I'll be shooting, the next time I say anything.” The deadly crow of the sinuous low purr, washing over Balmain like a flood of iced water. His legs quivered in the overwhelming fear that pricked his scruff, as he stood backing the portly man. From the corner of his eye, Balmain caught the Prince, gibbering in Arabic to Mohammed, then Mohammed cleared his tone and addressed the banker.
            “Herr Franz, Prince angry with you.” Mohammed flared in a condescending tone that carried no fire of his anger.
            “Don’t talk bulls, Mohammed! tell your goddamn Prince to go on shit his trouser.”
            “Allah Ak’bar! Herr Franz, talking to Prince like this!”
            “Tell him, I'm in control right from now.”
            “You tell him yourself. He no hear nonsense.”
            There was a smoldering fear that roamed in the Prince’s eyes, as he watched the exchange between Mohammed and Herr Franz. His heart jumped into his mouth as the banker stuck the pistol into Mohammed’s prickling left ear.
            The Prince died a little, waiting for the blow up of the brain and the skull. But nothing happened and when he blinked again, the gun was out of the danger zone. He spoke frantically to Mohammed in sweep of Arab.
            “Prince said how much?” Mohammed succumbed, his voice weak and defeated.
            “Tell the freak, it’s all the money he has with my bank. Go on tell him, be snappy about it.”
            “He won’t hear it. He says to give you ten million dollars.”
            “Are you deaf or dumb? Go on. I'll shoot you. Mohammed. Don't think I'm joking. Make one more slip and you get it.”
            “The Prince no talk.”
            “Tell him, I'll maim him before the coppers get here.”
            “No need, Prince no listen.”
            “Don't joke with me. Mohammed, I'll shoot the Prince first. Look here, here!” and the banker lifted the safety catch with a clicking smack and pointed the gun at the Prince’s legs.
            There was a horrid awkward situation, as the Prince shook and nearly buckled up on the rug. His legs started shivering uncontrollably through the silken evening gown he was wearing.
            “Okay, don't shoot the Prince, I'll talk to him to write off the whole account he has with your banque.”
            “Prince said account belongs to family.”
            “He’s making me angry and soon I won’t wait to shoot, tell him that, quickly.”
            “Money belong to many people.”
            “You’ll be blamed, if I’ve to lose my temper, Mohammed.”
            “No need, money sign by two people.”
            There was a deadening thud of an automatic screwed with a silence and then, an unearthly shrill that corded it with mortal dread. Then a sharp command and the shriek ceased.
            The sudden silence, explosive and static with palpable wad of fear. With blood-curdling sound, the Prince flopped like a fell-bird on the rug. His right leg twisting in an awkward angle. Warm red blood, spurting out of the wound, like a spring. Heart wrenching whimpering, punctuated by Allah ak’bar’ sizzling through the room.
            “Mohammed, do you wish now to speak to Prince, or do I go on and shoot the second leg?”
            “Allah have mercy! don’t shoot, I'll talk Prince.”
            And Mohammed crawled like a beast, crying and scratching his head as though a madman, until he reached where the Prince was still fighting the electricity of pain that seized his muscles. He flattened out, and whispered hoarsely to the Prince in a word that carried throughout the room. It had the required result at once. The Prince nodded in acquiescence, shaking off a wave of pain that shuddered through his body.
            “Prince accept, take money.”
            “Not easy like that,” smirked Herr Franz.
            “Prince sign document now.”
            “That’s what I want to hear.”
            “No shoot Prince, Prince sign everything.”
            “I'll hold my part of the bargain, provided you be snappy about it. Here look below those lines.” He invited Mohammed, “that’s exactly where he’ll sign. Make no mistake about it and sign accurate signature here?” Mohammed pointed at the lines to be sure, his face shiny with cold bead of sweat.
            “Yes, below that line. I'll give you up to five counts to start shooting.”
            Mohammed flattened out and spread the document in front of the sprawling tortured Prince. With feverish hand, the Prince squiggled his signatures through the documents, pushed the papers over to Mohammed.
            Balmain watched the banker’s little insensate dark eyes lit up, as the small man gawked dreamily at the signed document. Suddenly his eyes tripped and he blinked angrily, pointing at an unsigned space in the last document. In his anger and greed, he forgot to cover Balmain, as he stooped low to point out the space to the whimpering Prince.
            Balmain reached him like a lightening. And his hand snapped, as an instinct warned the banker and whipped round. A blow that was meant for the side of the head smashed into the upturned face of the potly man.
            The force of the blow, flinging him backwards and blinding him with a sizzling darkness. Before he could ride the dizziness that blindfolded him, Balmain jumped up and landed with a crushing force on the pudgy hand that held the gun. The fingers around the butt of the gun, flung open in a jerk of unconsciousness and the gun sprang out and hit the end of the wall.
            As the two men fought with sinuous pumping, each struggling to reach the gun. Mohammed ran to the Prince and scooped him up laboriously on his back. Herr Franz had caught Balmain on the legs. With frantic vicious kicking and smacking, Balmain fought with the iron clad pudgy hands that seized his legs as though the powerful coil of a matured python.
            Balmain was gaining a little, when he felt his Achilles tendon snap like a guitar, and the shock sent stringing   pains   in   his   nerves. He lost his head and keeled backwards, his knees buckling first, before he collapsed on top of Herr Franz.
            With the agility of a vervet monkey, the fat man twisted and heaved. Powerfully, he jerked Balmain off. Like a gut split leopard, the man crawled in a rush on hands and knees and reached the gun, before Balmain could wave off the swirling oblivion that caught him up.
            And then the whole room shuddered with the bang of the automatic. Balmain closed his eyes hard, as another bang sizzled like hot iron through his ears. Then a fall that shook the whole building, followed by a heavy crash on the door. The door flung up and two policemen jumped into the room.
            The first one caught the slugs in his lungs, his shriek like the bellow of a dying bull. The second police reached Mr.  Franz   before   he could turn towards him, and there was a smashing ominous sound, like when a watermelon bursts with a hard hurl on the concrete wall. And there was silence except for the tickling of the clock in the lounge of the suit.
            Then suddenly, the room was filled with policemen and terrified loungers. The policemen seized Balmain and flung him facing the wall. With professional hands, they frisked him down to the pant, then handcuffed him, before turning to the corpses that strewn the rug.
            The Prince was shot at the small of the back. His fat lacquered moustache, covered with blood. Huge cloth of blood, foaming in his nostrils. There was blood in his ears and mouth and the bullet wound was stark open up to his throat. His trachea smashed in pulps of bone and blood up to the neck.
            Mohammed was coiled in a foetal stance, his hands dipped between his thighs. His eyes looked sightlessly with ecstatic terror in his death. It was when one of the cops turned him with his leg that Balmain saw the hole that opened directly on his genitals. He was shot through the waist.



7


            IT WAS MIDNIGHT. A solid insensate darkness covering the cloud. Earth was besieged by a ripping shrieking stormy wind. Afar off, the deep rumble of thunder, rolled across the sky like an unsecured cargo in the high sea.

            Zurich ghetto of Universitat-strasse, sprawled impressive in the night. The random tangle of dingy brothels, unsavoury liquor bars and troupe of con men covered by the dark night. Except for the mournful shrill of the wind, and fading echoes of television  sets,   the   night   was   eerie  and  silent.

            Pierre Balmain startled awake with the hysterical moan of the storm.

            He was enshrouded in cold sweat. Repulsive, gummy substance that stank to high heaven of corruption. His breath thick and raspy, washed his face with fetid odour of decay.

            He was alone in the room. He could hear the whispering pines outside, stabbing with red hot spear into furious storm. And the stink of formaldehyde and other disinfectant were rank in the room. He made to move and felt his limbs as heavy as a sack of leads. A painful throbbing started somewhere in his brain. Then spreading like ripples on top of a quiet lake, until it crashed violently on forehead.

            The room was in semi-darkness. And one of his legs was swamped in thick plaster of Paris. The light blue hospital uniform on his body drenched in cold sweat, sticking on him as though sweet on a baby’s blanket. He was about to try sitting, when he heard noises outside his door. He collapsed back on the bed and closed his gritty eyes.

            “What the fuck were you playing at? You stood me up yesterday at the restaurant!” It was a male voice, edgy with anger.

            “You just don't know, what you’re missing, Mara! We could get married, if that’s what you want.”

            “You must be off your damn head. What happens to your wife and two lovely cubs?”

            “Look Mara!, For you, I can get converted into Islam. I like the idea of two or more wives.”
             “Don’t try to turn every damn thing into a jest. My dear Muller!, We’ve had a good sweet time while it lasted. I strongly feel it’s time to surge ahead.”
            “Don't gemme that crap. I got you in my blood like a malaria parasite. I can’t forget all those soft moans and wild happiness in a jiffy.”
            “Let’s not talk about it at all. By the way, how’s your patient?”
            “Which of them?”
            “The one brought by the cops. I heard he personally bushwhacked Herr Franz.”
            “And what about him? You got a hot pant for the fink? Let me give you a tip, he could slash his mother’s neck for a dime.”
            “What do you call me Muller? You men are all assholes.”
            “Just be sure, you don't go near that door. The goddamn fella is a murderer, a father of twenty children and has a solid bad breath.”
            “Men like that, are truly up my creek, Muller! I know he is something of a superman, the first time I set my eyes on him.”
            “You’re not serious, Mara?”
            “Deadly serious. Men like that excite me to no end. I demand an introduction.”
            “You can’t get it from me. Go inside there and introduce yourself. Tell him, you want to test the bulge between his damn thighs. He wouldn’t turn you down.”
            “I saw two plain cloth men outside. Is he still in trouble?”
            “He got it up to his teeth. They’re just waiting to whisk him away to prison.”
            “Did he really murder anybody?”
            “Yeah! He killed the innocent man with his bare hands. He has nails like a lion and he can tear a man up with those nails.”
            “You make one scary. Anyway, I will be on my way.”
            “And my request?”
            “Gone with the wind. Keep your damn strength for the wife. She needs it more than I do. I ain’t making any baby.”
            “You’re incorrigible. Okay! I'll introduce you, but don't end up into the man’s pant.”
            “Duty calls! roll the damn introduction and stick  it  up your shirt front.”
            Pierre Balmain strained his ears, as the female footstep faded into the echo of the storm. He  felt  like  crawling  out  of  his  skin  into another person’s body. The cops were bunch of hunting dogs with the scent of the game clinging in their nostrils. They would stop at nothing to nail him with Herr Franz’s murder, though the freak walked straight into death. His road to freedom, stopped at this hospital. After here, he was a dead duck. As he was still thinking, the door opened and doctor Muller entered into the room.
            The dim light, cast a tall humanoid figure, with a full bullfighter’s stance. A powerful wide chest as though a barn and a large violent head.
            He had a strong presence that moved before him like an evil force. And it ceased the air of the room, until the white pin-clear flush of the bulb-overhead threw everything in dazzling flash. The two men stared at each other with hackles raised like two angry dogs.
            “You’ve come through at last.”
            Balmain stared vacuously at the doctor without a word. His instinct for survival moving at red alert. The word cop, kept bubbling in his brain, like a drink of soda.
            “Where the hell is this?” Balmain rasped in a heated voice, strained with fear and deadly intention.
            “You’re in the American Missionary hospital in Universitat strasse.”
            Doctor Muller approached and swung over Balmain to take his pulse. His stethoscope braced ready to jam into Balmain’s chest. A whiff of Babe perfume hit Balmain straight on the nose and he flinched. The perfume reminded him greatly of his last whore. She was a mercenary bitch, with a violent need for money.  They had fought each day of the one horrible week,   they   had   been   together.  At last, he had thrown the frisky cow out in the middle of the night. He could still imagine her hoarse drunk voice heaping curses on him. Since then he had hated babe perfume with a vicious force.
            “There are some gentlemen who are waiting to speak with you. I hope you wouldn’t mind.” Pierre Balmain felt his stomach cease with a violent cramp. His testicles crashing with a force into his tummy. Then he completely lost control. Doctor Muller was glimmering with suspicion. He recognized, when Blamain went over the edge and he heaved up as if touched by electricity. But he was a fraction too late.
            Balmain’s fist crashed with deadly force into his lenses, riding straight to his nose. It was a killer punch and it drove Doctor Muller off his tall legs into the only single sofa in the room. His nose shattered like a ripe melon hurled against a concrete wall. Like a pressurized tomato tin, the blood burst out as though a breached dam and covered the doctor’s face.
            He was gurgling in his pool of blood when Balmain reached him. He snatched the stethoscope off the doctor’s trembling hands and went for his neck. Doctor Muller was drowning in his blood, a cloud of oblivion fast befuddling his brain. But like a wild horse on a head halter, his big body spasmed violently almost throwing Balmain off.
            The explosion of blood inside the doctor’s brain increased his death throes and Balmain pushed the stethoscope harder. Doctor Muller could feel the life draining out of him. His kicks becoming feeble,   as  the  stethoscope  smashed  his  carotid  artery. His tongue crashed between his locked teeth and he relaxed into death.
            Quick like a drunk lunatic, Balmain striped the doctor to his pants. He was of the same bulk with Doctor Muller. Except for the trouser, the white clinical gown fitted Balmain like a second body.
            There was no soul in the long corridor. Balmain trod with trembling limbs. His wounded leg, thrilling with excruciating pain. He was almost dragging his leg when he hit the end of the corridor. And came to an abrupt stop.
            A fat matron in a white crisply pressed uniform with large red web-belt around her vast waist, was rolling down like a barrel. Her heavy fat legs, scratching the floor, as she heaved her way forward.
            Balmain whipped round, and dove into a utility room. The bitch was lumbering with the noise of a pregnant elephant and Balmain waited, smell of disinfectant heavy in the room. When he was sure the woman had disappeared down the corridor he sneaked out and reached the back exit in a jiffy.
            Darkness had engulfed the back of the hospital. The pines lining the back exit, singing weird songs that drilled through the nerves. Balmain stood shivering with pain. A weak bulb diffused dim light across the parking lot.
            The night chill was slowly creeping in. Balmain gathered the white clinical coat about him. He could see the two detectives, squatting nonchalantly, conversing in low tones, at one end of the hospital car park. A whiff of cigarette, signifying that one of them was smoking.
            With heart thumping in wild spasm, and legs heavy like leads, he started towards the car park. The men were facing the front of the hospital, where dazzling pin-clear light shone in carnival array. And from a white ambulance, two hospital interns were busy aiding a patient out.
            Balmain reached the first car in the row. It was a Ford Tourer with the insignia of the hospital plastered on the body. His mouth was scorched as a raisin and there was a sensational marrow shattering nausea gripping his inside. As he made to touch the car, a hysterical shrill tore through the cold night. Hi heart smashed into his mouth and he dove under the car. The matron had discovered the body of the doctor.
            All hell was broken loose. The two detectives ran  wild  like  bulls  at  matadors’  capes  inside  the hospital. There were more screams and the lights  came on in full force at the back exit. A shrieking siren started somewhere inside the hospital. Balmain waited under the car, his stomach churning in wild spasms. He could feel the siren gnawing inside his brain as though a talon claw. From his position, he watched the debacle and  one mind told him he was a dead duck.
            Then he saw the two detectives rush out of the hospital. One was making a call, while the other made towards the car park. Balmain watched the detective slash out a 7.62mm Tokarev Pistol. Then he started through the cars one by one. His canvas suede shoes, making little or no noise as worked the cars splay-legged. The snout mouthed pistol held with two hands.
            The old pines started a wild heart renting song. A vagrant breeze bushing across Balmain’s face. The wind careered along in humanoid shrills, spreading the car park with the tiny dried leaves of the pines. It was all Balmain could do, not to lay an egg. Even the detective working the cars, got rattled and swore under his breath. Then everything was quiet, except the minute noise made by the detective’s shoes as he approached.
            From his vantage point, Balmain watched him. He was tall, handsome and dressed in a basic touch-all style. He had an Armani suit, Gucci tie, a Turnbull and Asser shirt and his shoe was spit-shined. The Tokarev in his hand, reflecting to the pilot bulbs in the parking lot.
            Soon, he drew nearer, leaving only the sparkling shine of his Gucci shoes visible to Balmain. The shrieking siren inside, tore the atmosphere asunder, Balmain felt the seat of his spine melting to the sound. He was going to climb a tree, when the man walked up to him. His tall legs, moving, athletically, like a tennis professional.
            With hands that shook in mild palsy and heart thumping to crush his ribs, Balmain shot out at once. His hands grasped the man’s legs, and the detective crashed down with a sound that shook the ground. Balmain rushed out of his cover, but he was a fraction too late. He had underestimated the detective, who came like a hurricane in full swing. And their heads met with a crack like a breaking oak branch. The gun jumped out of the man’s hand and he howled like a moon sick dog.
            Balmain kicked out with all his power behind his good leg and heard the painful gasps. It was a lucky kick, that landed between the man’s thighs, putting him out of action. Suddenly, an uproarious scream came from the hospital frontage and Balmain looked up. The man’s colleague and two hospital interns were bearing down on him. As he made to snatch the detective’s gun, a deadening bang of an automatic blocked his ear. And he heard the bullet wheeze across his head, and thudded into the body of the detective beside him. The man jerked in spasmodic throes, like an epileptic and blood spurted as though from a fountain over Balmain’s face. Then Balmain was shooting with the lunatic zeal of a berserker.
            His first bullet caught the approaching man on the left eye, punching off his eyes and he fell with a blood curdling scream. The two interns whipped round to run back into the hospital, and Balmain hit one on the small of the back. His wild hysterical shrill as he fell, mingling with the police siren that shattered the atmosphere.
            Smoke of cordite, hanging like fog, as Balmain jumped into the Ford Tourer and made towards the back exit, locked in keys. The Ford crashed into the gate at a speed of over 120km and the irons flew apart. He pressed down the accelerator, and the Tourer rushed into the open darkness and disappeared out of sight.
8
            THE DAWN CAUGHT HIM in the verdant flawless rolling country side of Biilach Bahnhof. He had switched cars twice. All the radio crawling with his description. As he peeked famished like a hunting wild cat, the dawn-spread in a splendour of beautiful lilac and orange hues. He was making over 140km. He loved cars, with great power under their hoods.
            Suddenly, his right foot jerked on the accelerator. He strained hard and the picture, like a dust mote, broadened into a humanoid shape. His heart did a frantic paradiddle and he swallowed hard. A police rider, swaddled in a large jerkin was rushing down on him in a deadly speed. From the rearview mirror, the powerful bike swallowed up the asphalt in quick succession.
            The coarse voice of a loud hailer, hit him like a sledge hammer under the heart. He peered with great trepidation at the rearview mirror. The motorbike was almost on him. He watched the cop, raise the loud hailer once more.
            “This is the police, stop”.
            Balmain jumped hard on the accelerator and then surged forward in great rush, quickly expanding the gap. The cop, hung the loud-hailer on a hook and roared with force, and in a crabbing rush over took the car. The cop ran a pole ahead, and switched on his stop light, sitting tight in the middle of the road. 
            Balmain released his foot from the accelerator instantly. And leaned the palm of his hand on the horn. The strident blare of the horn, tore the serene morning air into shreds. The cop flung out a heavy Liama M-82 DA pistol, a 19mm Parabellem. The sight of the big powerful gun made Balmain to waver. Then he came in a demonic rush. Before the cop could raise the gun, he crushed violently into the back of the motorbike.
            The collision threw the car off balance, raising the cop up into the air with a wild scream until he smashed on the tarmac. Balmain lost control of the steering and the car skidded in two wheels before tumbling into a wooded valley below. Sounds of jangling steel and smash of glasses, filling the air until a loud bang deposited the car in the valley.
            The silence was horrid, Balmain felt his whole body numbed with excruciating pain. He made to stretch, but it seemed like he had lost control of his limbs. He tried once again, and felt the hardness of an iron on his left side. His limbs came alive once more, a rush of blood circulating over his body. But his body felt as heavy as a sack of corn. A swirling dizziness, riding to overwhelm him. He remained quiescent for some time, then moved his hand against the door. It was jammed in with great force outside. And the other door was jacked up in an awkward angle.
            Then a rush of panic grasped him when he noticed the blood sliding down from his head. With trembling fingers, he reached the wound on his skull and it was a deep gush. And thick clotted blood followed his fingers slippery out. His panic increased and he frantically search for the gun on his waist. The Tokarev pistol was still wedged on his waist band. Desperately he flung it out and smashed the butt against the windscreen. The glass chattered into webs. He smashed again and again, until he made enough gap.
            Then summoning all his energy, he pushed his bleeding skull through the gap. Though he was bone-tired and raw with fear, he managed to crawl out onto the bonnet, Perching breathlessly on the bonnet, he slid sideways and crashed on the grass. He was out of breath and great clouds of oblivion was clouding over him. He allowed the sweet fog of nothingness to carry him away as he closed his eyes sweetly.
9

            HE WAS AWOKEN BY the sound of a female voice and he jerked up. His unfocussed eyes, roamed wildly and the memory of the last event surged into his mind. He came fully, awake. A loud taunting panic ceasing him. Then he beheld the young woman bending over him. It was like in one of his reveries and he shook his head. The woman was holding a container of water over his head. Allowing the water to trickle slowly over his face.
           “I'm Frau Schlosberg! You speak English?”
            The young woman had the soprano of an angel and Balmain blinked again like it was in a dream.
            “Yes, I speak!” he hissed in a husky voice devoid of resonance.
            “I heard the crash, so I walked down to check”.

            She was pretty, with a long corn-coloured hair and an honourable face.

            “Where am I?” muttered Balmain, his mouth dried like tar.

            “You’re in Bruder knoll. Lie down, you’re bleeding profusely I’ve sent for help” her deep blue eyes roaming over Balmain’s face; as Balmain started up with that word.
            “Where is the road? I'm heading to the airport.   Just be kind enough, take me to the airport.”
            “Oh! no, you ain’t fit to move at all. You’ve a big gash on your skull”.
            “I want to get to the airport immediately, it’s important.”
            The sound of a cough started both of them. And they whipped round to see a young man staring wondrously at them. The young man spoke rapidly in Swiss and bent over Balmain. He was strong like a bull, with his arms ridged with the lean taut muscles of hard physical labour. From his dressing, Balmain could see he was a help-hand. He carried Balmain with ease, the young woman prattling along like a kid. And soon they emerged in a narrow pathway that led to a big cottage.
            As they approached, an elderly man sneaked out from behind the cottage and started towards them. He was tall, handsome and walked fluidly like a boxer. His worried face converged into wrinkles. A shock of graying corn coloured hair sitting like a crown over his skull. As he approached, Balmain could notice the same intelligent combative deep blue eyes. Nothing left to doubt, that he was the girl’s father.
            The cottage stood in a rolling malachite landscape, sensational lawns of greenery, staring from every direction. A beautiful flawless cultivated farmland spread unending in the eastern wing of the plush clean cottage. And as Balmain blinked, the old man walked up to them.
            “Hey! Schlosberg! It looks like you’ve found another stray animal!”
            And there was a slight amusement beneath his words.
            “Dad! The poor fella got his car skid off the edge. It’s a miracle he’s alive.”
            The way she spoke showed spirit and ballsiness and her father watched the help hand lug Balmain into the house.
            “It’s the damn weather. Every grass is as slippery as a lathered marble. Knocked himself about so much? I can see the blood on his head.”
            “You can say that again. He got a deep head gash and I'm sure he might’ve bled like a stug pig.”
            Now that the old man was nearer, Balmain could see he had a face like a fragile hawk. He was handsome in an edgy offhand senile way. An old time guy, who got little or no active life, except watching his beautiful daughter.
            He stood covering the mahogany door of the cottage still staring wondrously at Balmain.  His daughter soon reappeared with a bowel of water, and a medical chest. She leaned over Balmain. Using a water soaked towel, she cleaned out the face of the wound. The pain sizzled through Balmain’s body. He clenched his teeth hard, feeling the soaring pain on his jaw. The gentle hand of the girl, moving clinically over him. Her youthful fragrance filling his head and rousing a fire between his thighs.
            Then an excruciating pain gnawed through his marrow, as the iodine oxide touched the wound. Balmain clenched his teeth hard and his whole body started to quake like leaves caught by a wind storm. She bandaged the wound cleanly and stepped aside to watch.
            “You’ve done a good job. Get me a bottle.”
            “Dad! he can’t manage it now. He is still fighting the pain” the girl rebuked, packing up the scissor and cotton wool.
            “That whisky could wake a corpse, He needs it more than anything Strauss!!” He raised his voice and soon the help hand lounged out with a bottle of whisky. He had a clean glass over the cover.
            With great enthusiasm, the old man poured a large portion inside the glass. Threw the whisky into his mouth shook his head and smacked his lips. Then he poured for Balmain. He leaned over him and allowed the glass between his trembling lips. Balmain gulped the fiery liquid, coughed and the whisky sent a tingling warmth circulate over him. He blinked and stared at the old man.
            “Hello! Pa!!”
            “What a magic?”
            The old man called out at his daughter who had gone inside.
            “Strauss!!, come and get him something to eat. The whisky has done a miracle again.”
            Then his daughter emerged, carrying a cup of coffee.
            “Dad! We better allow the man to rest. We still have the potatoes to carry into the barn. Why don't you and Strauss, see about it, while I get something ready for lunch”
            “Always handling the crammy end of the stick. I think I'm beginning to like this man. He looked like a vintage hack for me. Move boy, where’s Strauss? get the truck and don't waste more of my time. I need to be around when my friend wakes up”
            And the old man made to pour another whisky, but his daughter snatched the bottle out of his hand.
            “What now?” he howled humourously, “I need it for the weather outside.”
            “Dad! remember what the doctor said. You ain’t fit for it.”
            Schlosberg cajoled, closing the bottle and walking away with it. The old man stared at her back like a pet dog watching its owner leave him. Then shook his head and stood up. Strauss followed him with the key of the truck dangling on his finger. Balmain opened one of his eyes, to peek at them as they disappeared down the vast lawn that led to the farm.
10
            THE NEXT DAY WAS sunshine yellow before 9.00am. And as Balmain watched the old man, his daughter and the help hand waddle down the vast lawn towards the farm, he felt relaxed. Though the pain, came on from time to time, he was healing fast. The girl had done a good job. And his strength was fast surging back. He was already beginning to think, how he will urge the old man to drive him out to the airport. He had learnt from Schlosberg it was a mere twenty kilometers off. Feeling urbane and secured here, he had pushed the thought down his mind.   But   now,   as  he  sat  alone  in  front of  the cottage, peeking into the verdant climbing horizon, that seemed to stretch unendingly, his thought returned.
            The girl Schlosberg had made an incredible mark on his mind. She was beautiful, with a slim body and sensuous mouth. Her flawless olive skin as smooth as a nautilus shell. The few times their body had touched, had seemed like an electric current was passed through his body. She was innocently orgasmic and responded to ordinary touch. A sensibly passionate broad. He had felt about pretty girls as a Lawyer heard his phone range and knew it can only mean trouble. But Schlosberg was different.
            His mind visualized the intense powerful deep blue eyes that made his heart increase in velocity. And he swallowed hard. But the old man looked like one who watched all the feather from a sparrow’s tail. The girl had been all alone with him until when she retired next door to his room. His mind was still conjuring amorous desires upon desires when it was shattered by the heavy sound of a car.
            As he stared along the drive-in, a rickety maroon Volvo, slipped out of the long road and started up to the cottage. He felt his heart stop, then rushed out again, and was thumping like a mad man’s drum. His one thought, was to beat it, but when he saw a lone driver inside the car, he felt a bit relieved. With his bad health, he could take any man. The Volvo roused a power of dust as it squealed to a clanging break in front of him.
            A young man, tall and dressed in a combo, polo-rock star-hippie style, crumbled out of the car. He jammed the door noisily and turned to stare fixedly at Balmain. He had red freckless all over his face and had the intense dark eyes of a rattle snake. He came slowly, walking like a hibernating python up to Balmain.
            “Hi! Mister!” he intoned in a high-pitched voice. His teeth even and sparkling white. He could’ve been handsome if not for the freckless that spread over his face like a weed choking meadow.
            “Hello!” Balmain replied, his eyes taking in the lanky frame with rounded shoulders. His patched dirty jeans tucked inside brown long boots.
            “I am looking for Herr Sullenburen.” It was like a tightly corded guitar had snapped. His voice thrilled inside the cottage.
            “The old man is up in the farm.”
            Balmain raised his voice, which was lacking in timbre.
            “Oh! You the man staying with the family?”
            “Yeah! I am Bock!”
            “I know, Schlosberg told me. Of course I'm her fiancee. Herr Fromm is the name.”
            It was like a sharp dagger was stabbed directly into Balmain’s heart. His heart squeezing out breath like he had asthma.
            “You either join them in the farm or wait here with me.”
            His voice sounded as if it was coming out of the ground. The potential venom of jealousy, crawling into his throat to strangle him. Herr Fromm stared in surprise, then hissed in this high-pitched voice.
            “I better join them in the farm.”
            And he whipped round and started down the manicured lawn that emptied into the farm. Afar off, Balmain could hear the sound of the farm tractor and the scratching of sound as the tractor harvested the potatoes. He stood up and his eyes followed the young man.
            He was still staring when he saw Schloesberg running towards the man. Her laugh tingling like berg of ice underfoot. It was all Balmain could do not to collapse and die, as the two hugged in a happy kiss. The old man was happy to see the young man. He had left the tractor to Strauss and was coming behind his daughter and Herr Fromm.
            Before they got to the cottage Balmain had disappeared inside his room. From his room, he could hear the three cavorting like children in a Juddy Paunch show. The old man was loudest, because it was another opportunity to soak up once again. His laugh hitting the cottage like a time bomb.
            “We haven’t seen you for sometime Fromm, what is wrong? He tottered, uncorking the whisky bottle.
            “Too busy, pop! But I called Schloesberg every day. She didn’t tell you?” He asked throwing a curious glance at Schloesberg sitting beside him.
            “The farm hands had left, remaining only Struass and Dad. And the potatoes are out in the field without anyone to put them into the barn. He got busy too, honey! I don't want to disturb him.” A tint of sarcasm creeping into Schloesberg’s soprano voice.
            “I met Herr Bock outside. Where is he?” Fromm asked anxiously peeking around to see if the wounded man was still there.
            “He’s still convalescing honey!” Not strong enough to bear all the whisky Dad’s pumping inside him. I better check his room.
            “Oh! No don’t disturb his rest. He’s quite a strong man, to have fallen all the way down the valley without killing himself” Fromm smirked seriously in his monosyllabic  voice.
            “You need to see his car.” rasped Schloesberg.
            “He told me, he’s been a soldier in France. I love strong men, very reliable and good companions.” Herr Sullenburen concluded, pouring a large finger of whisky in the glass. Schloesberg looked admonishingly at him. But the old man threw the fiery liquid in one gulp and smacked his tongue.
            “Is he from France?” asked Fromm.
            “Yes, the most civilized nation in the world.”
            “I love France and I love Herr Bock Mork.” intoned the old man, making for the bottle once more. But Schloesberg beat him to it.
            “That’s enough!” She snapped.
            “You don't want to give Fromm something to drink?”
            The old man asked watching Herr Fromm.
            “Pop!, too early for me. Are you sure he’s from France?” There was an air of anxiety about Fromm that caught the two watching him.
            “He came from Nante.” Schloesberg answered, staring curiously at Herr Fromm.
            “Anyway, I'm sure it wouldn’t have anything to do with Herr Bock. There was an announcement over the radio at last night.”
            “About what? Herr Bock was heading towards the airport when his car skidded off the slippery edge and tumbled into the valley below. May be a relation is trying to trace him.” Schlosberg could feel the tense air of the lounge, like a heavy cotton wool and her reply fell as a ball thrown against a concrete wall on Herr Fromm.
            “I'm quite sure, it had nothing to do with Herr Bock. The man over in the radio was wanted for random murder.”
            “Himm!!” the old man gasped in surprise. And Schloesberg stared with great terror at Fromm. Her two hands ramming over her mouth in a shock.
            “You said, he’s wanted for several murders?” She asked in a cold whisper.
            “He murdered a doctor in cold blood and also shot two police officers.”
            “Enough of that madness!” and they all turned to see Balmain leaning on the door stanchion.
            A sinister dark Tokarev 7.62 pistol trained on them. The gun banged once, hitting Herr Fromm square on the forehead. It punched the bean pole off his seat, opening his forehead like a saucer and he went down like an oaken tree fallen to the axe. Smell of cordite choked up the room, the hysterical purl of Schloesberg mingling with the hissing echo of the gunshot. Another bang plastered the old man violently against the sofa. Killing him instantly without pain, his eyes opened surprisingly in death.
11
            THE DEAFENING BANG OF the automatic shocked Strauss out of his wits. He jerked the tractor into a stop and jumped down. His heart palpitating wildly like a cornfield seized by stormy wind. The sound had shaken the ground, smashing into a loud crescendo over the tall horizon. He was certain; it had come from the cottage.
            With legs that shook like an epileptic, he started towards the cottage. He hadn’t taken a few steps, when the second bang stopped him on his track. And a piercing shrill, tore the ambience into flinders.   A   blood   curdling sound. He could recognize that voice even in death. An excruciating scream that tore through his heart like a bur            Then Strauss lost his common sense and started out at a rush towards the cottage. He was shocked beyond words. The fire of his fury, burning under his legs with crushing heat. He scaled the heap of potatoes and small tubers in full sail, crushing roots and small tubers as he made in a blind rush towards the cottage.
            He was a stone throw to the cottage. The tall frame of Balmain holding Schloesberg on her hair, visible to him through the open lounge mahogany door. They were backing him. And Balmain was finding it hard to control Schloesberg. She was struggling wildly like a wild horse on a headgear, her painful whimpering, cutting through the air with horror.
            Suddenly, Balmain whipped round and the bang of the automatic rattled the cottage. The furious wheeze, wheeze of the bullet as it hissed across ricocheting on the door with flying wooden debris. Strauss dove on the ground. A wooden plank, hitting him violently on the chest. As he rolled sideways, the second bullet smashed near his head. And he was running like if pursued by a legion of demons. The bullets wheezing across his head like angry bees.
            Then the bullets stopped, but he ran hysterically until he rushed into valley. Then he collapsed on the grass, his breath rushing through his mouth as though a breached dam. He remained in that position, not caring for anything until he gained back his senses.  Gathering his quaking body, he started towards a neighbouring farm over twenty kilometers away over the hidden horizon.
    
                                    *                       *                       *

            Schloesberg felt the violent recoil of the automatic inside her brain. The gun was held near her ear, when it went off. Her tympanum singing wild songs and booming echoes choking up her head. She went mad again, struggling against the powerful hand that was like steel over her hair. Then the gun was banging rapidly, totally numbing her senses. She had lost count of the sound that elongated into one tall resounding echo. Rattling her brain on its root, and quacking the cottage like a volcano.  The  cordite smoke of bullet, blinding and choking her into heart renting cough. Then as the gun started, it suddenly came to a stop. The tall ringing in her ears, unending and sensational.
            “The hacky son-of-a-bitch.” The Frenchman swore over her head. His words sounding like drums played in a deep tunnel. And his hand clutched more tightly on her hair.
            “Recreant knave” let me go!” Schloesberg screamed with pain, gnawing through her skull. He was pulling her hair violently from the root. And the powerful pain moved like needle all over her body.
            “One move out of turn and you will get it, you bitch!”
            Balmain snapped through clenched teeth. He could have nailed the beast, if not for this girl. His anger boiled in him, and he stretched his free hand and hit Schloesberg a trilling backhand, that knocked the girl into quiescent. She was shocked with the blow. No one had ever touched her body. His knuckles had crashed into her incisors filling her mouth with blood. All the fight left her body and she was terrified with solid fear. Her deep blue eyes went a shade darker.
            “Now! Come with me.” and the Frenchman dragged her mercilessly into one of the rooms. He drew the curtain and manacled her wrists together. Then he tied her legs and with a towel gagged her mouth. It was her father’s room. His masculine odour, she had loved since she was a child, seeping out of the divan. Then the man was out, leaving her to wallow through the poignant thrilling pain that rushed down her body.
12
            THE NIGHT ARRIVED LIKE raiding Viking over the gate of a medieval city on the farm. Pierre Balmain clambered down from the tree, where he had remained as though an osprey through the rest of the day. The tall flowering tree commanded a view of the whole valley. And stood about ten yards off the cottage. It’s branches were verdant and the rich leaves offered strict hide out. He had waited for Strauss or the coppers, whom he knew will be besieging the farm soon. The bowels of dumpling and strudel he had found in the kitchen had sufficed his hunger.  He had given some to the girl, but the bitch had stubbornly refused to eat. She needed her energy, when they made for the escape. She was his escape line.
            Darkness had finally enshrouded the farm, when he started back to the cottage. He traipsed wearily his bored legs careful not to step over a snake or one of those slippery wicked stingers. He made the cottage in less than two minutes. At the door of the lounge, he stood watching the blurring black night that grasped the whole farm. His imagination soaring wild with every noise that rose in the night. He listened to the chittering and whistling of nocturnal night lives. A sharp call of a squirrel cutting like knife, through the night. Assuring himself he had nothing to bother about, he slipped into the lounge and locked up the door hard on its bolt.
            He listened further more through the thick mahogany door then started towards the room he had left Schloesberg. His suede footstep sounding like hand grenade in the close confine of the cottage. He had earlier switched off the whole cottage from the main. As he came to the sofas, where he had laid the two cadavers, his heart did a frantic paradiddle. He could give anything to see the corpses. But the risk was weighed against him. He had grown past ghost anxiety. He probed his way passed the sofa and built up to Herr Sullenburen’s room.
            His hand crushed into sudden vacuum as he felt for the door. And his breath stopped suddenly. He felt a sensational thrill seize his head. It seemed like his head had pumped larger like a balloon. With a rushing stampede, he breezed into the room. It was dark, but an instinct warned him something had gone wrong.
            The room was darker than he had expected. And like a conjuror’s trick, the contour of the room disappeared completely in his vagrant mind. Then a vivid imagination of the girl, sprawling dead infiltrated into his head and he lost control. Like a night bat, he probed and crashed into iron filters of the divan. One wild circling of the bed with his trembling hands told him. Schloesberg was gone. His planlessness surged down his body like a chilly shower. He could have been where the bitch was. A wild scrambling like a vervet monkey up a tree had denied him escape-line. He was a dead duck.
            A rushing noise started him. And he strained into the darkness. Listening to the outside, where the noise had emanated from. It became the whooshing sound of the breeze. And a little while later, a chittering strident noise of crickets. He was hopelessly worn out. Then a thought warned him that the girl, might not have gone far, and he straddled up.
            He needed light as he never needed anything in his life. Damn the coppers, damn Strauss. The darkness was driving him crazy. With the agility of a leopard hunting in the dark, he scrambled on to the lounge.
            He could know the contours of the lounge even in death, but his brain was reeling in confusion. He sauntered forward without caring and crashed with an abandoned violence into a sofa. He keeled over like if shot out of a gun and smashed into coldness like putty under him. It took him a second to gain back his breath. Then his hand pushed into  a  dead face and eyes and mouth and he jumped up.  He spurted himself full of adrenaline, and felt his heart jump into his mouth. His nerves as though an open sore.
            He was building to climb a tree, when he got to the main switch. With floundering fingers, he jacked the switch up and the lounge dissolved into light. The first thing he saw, were the two corpses sprawling on the floor. Herr Sullenburen was staring with horrid shock at him and he flinched. It was like the old man was watching him. Then he saw the tiny trail of blood that moved from the old man’s room towards the kitchen.
            His hand rushed to the Tokarev pistol and he slashed it out.
            Stealthily moving like a leopard, he came to the door of the kitchen. It was closed. He couldn’t remember having closed that door. He waited, listening into the door, but no noise came. Ducking on one side, he crashed into the door and came to a Standstill. Schloesberg was sprawling provocatively on the floor of the kitchen. Her skirt jacking up to expose white rounded thighs. She had cut off the cord on her hands and was working frantically on the one between her legs. Her blue eyes turned into color of indigo, roaming wildly like that of a caged animal. She exuded a shocked whimper as Balmain rushed into the room.
            “So this is how far you’ve gone?” He rasped in a blood curdling voice. Schloesberg shrunk like a snail poked with a sharp object. Her eyes swimming in terror.
            “I bet, appearance could be deceitful sometimes. Who could have thought a home broad like you, could play at bravery? Well! This is the last time you ever play such a game.”
            And Balmain moved forward watching the kitchen knife in her hand.
            “Drop that damn knife, or I am going to shoot you!” he snapped in a cold voice. But Schloesberg was gone beyond fear, her eyes wild like that of a lunatic. She held the knife ready for attack. Her legs getting in her way, she made to stand up and fell back awkwardly.
            Then Balmain reached her in one instant. He flung a vicious kick, that landed on Schloesberg’s shoulder, paralyzing her. She felt as though her shoulders were socketed out of joint. And the knife slipped out of her hand. Balmain leaned over and hit her across the face. The force of the blow threw her head against the wall and she collapsed in a bundle. All fights gone out of her.
            He knelt down and gathered her in his arms. She was semi-concious. Her feeble struggle weak and incoherent as he carried her across the lounge  into  Herr  Sullenburen’s large  room.  He dumped her on the Atlantic sized divan. His eyes roaming over her rounded white thighs. As he stared, his loins started to throb like the fin of a landed fish. He felt his phallus becoming turgid between his thighs. Throwing all caution to the wind, he stripped off his clothes.
            Though she was crawling out of oblivion, there was little resistance. And when he thrusted deep into her, her body shuddered like a St. Bernard dog shaking off water droplets. He hadn’t played hide the sausage down the waterside, so he climbed very high, before peaking in a shattering, orgasm that desiccated all his moisture. He was asleep before he could spell his name.


13

 


            HE STARTLED UP TO THE whack, whack, whack of a powerful helicopter in the sky. The dawn had broken, streaks of weak sunlight infiltrating through the window crevices. Outside, against the sound of the chopper, he could hear the early bird singing and twittering happily. He stretched languorously and his satiated mind focused into the present, and he jerked up like a spring. He looked wildly around him and Schloesberg was recumbent beside him naked.

            The sound of the helicopter drew nearer and nearer, rattling the windows and doors. With a crabbing rush, he gained the door of the lounge. And as he opened it, he saw the powerful chopper sparkling in the morning sunshine. The splash of Swiss police, unmistakable on the body. It was still few poles off, but the powerful Skorsky moved with a noise that shook the serene ambience.

            With tongue dried like raisin and the top of his mouth numbed. Balmain lounged back into the bedroom. The time had caught him napping like a pet dog sitting on its owner’s laps. Schloesberg stretched and cried out with great horror as Balmain rushed into the room.
            “Get up, bitch!” And he reached her in a terrible violence,  his  hand rang out like 22 calibre on her  bare buttocks. Schloesberg moaned with pain and shrunk against the wall.
            “You deaf or something? put something on, or I'll give you a thrashing you wouldn’t forget in a life time".
            The sound of the chopper climbed over the cottage rattling windows and furniture. And a sudden blazing light jumped into Schloesberg beautiful eyes. She tumbled over the bed and crashed on the floor. As she made to stand up, Balmain hit out fast like a striking rattler but she ducked her head and rushed to the window. The morning sunshine covered the room, as she heaved the curtain aside. And her voice rang with tingling vitality into the morning sky.
            Balmain could see the black powerful Skorsky almost on top of the cottage. The white shocked eye of the police pilot and the two armed beefs squatting behind him stared at him. Then he dove with a viciousness that shot Schloesberg out of the window. She crashed onto the floor in a sound that shook the whole house. The chopper circled twice over the house, then lifted up and the sound dwindled into obscurity.
            “You fucking bitch! You’ll pay for this!”
            And Balmain rammed his steel hands round her neck. It was like a mature python strangling a victim. Schloesberg went into a frenzied struggle, kicking and hitting out her limbs. The more she struggled the harder the steel rods closed her breathing. Then she relaxed and felt the hands loosened. The first pump of air inside her lungs, made her to go into fits of coughs. Balmain slapped her back and front. Laying his weals on her Beautiful cheeks. He continued until she lost all fights and numbed with pain stared vacuously at him.
            “You’ll die, if you ever try such stupidity. I'll skin you bit by bit. Do you get my drift?” He snapped in a cold sinister voice. But Schloesberg stared unseeingly at him. He shook her and slapped her head and she nodded frantically shrinking away with dread.
            “Get up and put something on. We’re going for a ride. Be snappy and don't allow me to hit you again.”
            With violent force, he dragged Schloesberg up. Her regular features, languorous in her pains. She made to crumble up, but he held her. Then pushed her viciously toward a large wardrobe inside the room.
            An over-sized jeans and sweat polyester made Schloesberg appear like a mannequin. Then using a curtain cord, he tied her up. And as he was knotting the cord, a screaming Siren started. The siren was shrilling from all angles. He became terrified with confusion, as he rushed out of the room, towards the lounge door.

14

                        POLICE CAPTAIN, HERR Bismare Gosenberg alighted from the car. The sound of the screaming siren was making an oral exchange impossible. He moved with gusto, towards the second car. Surrounding the cottage were over ten police cars with sirens blaring to high heaven. He was a thick-set man, with irregular features. He had an extra-ordinary mobile face that seemed to smile all the time. Doors were splinting open and the lawn swimming with coppers when Bismare got to the next car.
            “The reconnoiter pilot did an accurate one this time.” he hissed to the police officer, scampering out of the second car.
            “They said the bastard is holed up with Frau Schloesberg, the daughter of the farmer.”
            He was a head taller than Bismare. With ascetically thin features and a scholarly demeanor. His crispily pressed uniform, like a second body.
            “If not, we could’ve gone in straight ahead.” There was a sparkling violence in Bismare’s tone and he moved like a man in battle.
            “But now sir, we got to take the Frau into consideration.” His subordinate showed on a constipated smile to appease the captain.
            “Consideration or not, we take him by nightfall. The guy is hot and French gendarme are already running riot. He mowed down a top French model.” the captain smirked in a terminal tone.
            “They may shout and yell, sir! We still got to protect the life of the young girl,  a Swiss citizen.”
            “Spread your men round the cottage. Then use the loud hailer to smoke the bastard out. We need the skunk as fast as possible.”
            Herr Levinsky Bergdorf moved to carry out the orders. His thin aneoric face converged in worries. The rakish Herr captain Bismare had an ugly proclivity for impatience. And that could bring down the wrath of the public on the police. His intension to bid for ministerial post could be marred by just such a mistake. As far as he remained in command of the boys, the girl must be taken alive. He had the awkward job, to tell the public where he belonged. With the aristocrats or the mad plebeians.
            The cottage was adequately manned, when he switched on the loud hailer. He stood behind a patrol jeep and looked inside the cottage, coughing nervously into the speaker. There was an electrical static that cleared the way for his staccato voice.
            “This is the police! Come out slowly with hands raised. We know you’re there with the Frau!!”
            A cold pause ensued. Heavy harsh tension that hung like dust motes. A silence you hang your clothes on.


                                    *                       *                       *                       *

            When the harsh amplified blare of the loud hailer stopped, a sensational silence crawled into the vacuum. Even the chittering chirrup of birds ceased. The soft whimpering from Schloesberg, sounding out like an artillery barrage inside the room. The sun had climbed over its zenith, bleeding red and orange flame through the curtain. Throwing dancing shadows across the floor of the room.
            Balmain walked back from the curtain, massaging his neck. He had stood behind that curtain for over an hour, listening to the harsh staccato voice of the loud-hailer. The Tokarev pistol ready beside him. His nerves strung like guitar. Something telling him the bastards could attempt to take the cottage in the night. He had watched it often and on in the movies. Hostage sieges within the darkness of the night.
            The sapping psychological nervous state had drained his energy. He now felt as hungry as a starved elephant. They may yell and scream off their heads, without breaking in. He had the bitch and that alone could put them off, until he was ready to move. Feeling save, he made towards the door. At the end, he turned to stare at the sulking girl.
            “Won’t you give up, you scrubber! You’ve nearly gotten us killed. What is it with you? Or you want more thrashing?”

            Schloesberg raised her head and stared at her tormentor. Her fingers shivering as she raised it to her mouth.
            “Why don't you kill me? I want to die” her voice rang out, hitting Balmain like a straight punch.
            “What stupid broad. If I want you dead, you could’ve been singing with your papa up there in the moon. Now come with me. I wouldn’t trust you to be alone.”
            Balmain reached her in one instant and dragged her up. She resisted, but his bestial power subdued her. He flung her violently forward and she hit the door and collapsed. With an infernal strength, he forced her up and grasped her hair viciously from behind. He shooed her out of the room.
            There was a mouth watering chunk of beef inside the old Jenn Air oven. Large cakes and bratwurst. Balmain pushed Schloesberg into the chair and held her hand. When he felt he was sapped of all resistance, he made towards the oven. Using  a  bowie  kitchen  knife, he sliced some meat into a plate and pushed the plate  over  to  the trembling girl. Then he fell on the beef, and hungrily ravaged almost half belching as he wolved the meat.
            He found some Swiss wine inside the fridge and gulped down two bottles before he turned to Schloesberg. She had her hands over her face and she was whimpering in a heart wrenching sound. He smacked the empty bottle of wine with violence on the kitchen cabinet and lumbered over to her.
            “I’m going to force the damn meat down your bitchy throat, if you don't do it yourself” he snorted over her. With shivering hand, Schloesberg picked one slice of beef, but it fell from her hand. Balmain picked the piece of meat and forced it into her mouth. Overcrowding her with seething intensity, he   made her gulp down   the food.  Then he dragged her back to the lounge.
            It was creeping down to 6.p.m the chorus of the evening song-birds hanging over the smoldering air. Balmain watched the clock over the mantel shelf strike the hour. With heart floundering like landed trout he peeked outside. The police vehicles stood as ever before. Orange flame of the sinking sun, moving intricate patterns on top of the cars.
            Earlier, he had watched one of the vehicles drive off. Once the darkness webbed the cottage, the coppers will creep in. He had plans laid out. And he made to start out at once.
            As he came to Schloesberg, the girl raised her head and stared in horror. He stopped on his track and eyed the girl. He could see, she had some light back into her eyes. The deep blue eyes crawling with   utmost   intensity   over   Balmain’s. There was something in those eyes that made Balmain’s   loin start throbbing. A crabbing sexual urge overcrowding his senses.
            He stooped lower and the girl flinched like if pocked with a sharp needle. Her fresh, pink generous lips, inviting, and succulent. Balmain eyed her amorously and touched her cheek, but she shrunk away as though punched on the cheek. The spasmodic jerk of her body further inflamed Balmain’s libido and he reached her with violent savagery. Grasping her hair viciously, he pulled off the jeans and her pale white rounded thighs, shot a spurt of adrenaline inside Balmain. His phallus pushing turgidly against his zipper.
            He slapped her violently to scare her resistance, and then mounted her like a bull in terrible heat. She moaned bitterly as he forced his way into her, numbing her  thighs  with  pains. But he was beyond care. His insatiable weapon ramming in like sledge hammer. He was climbing to fall over the mountain, when a dried scratchy sound curbed off his seed. Naked, he jumped off the bed and picked up his pants. Then he was rushing to the window to check.
            The sun had finally gone to rest, and the night crawling in with a crabbing rush. The blurred cloudy absence of the sun, hanging over the atmosphere.
            He knelt beside the window and stealthily raised the curtain. A sharp movement like a lightening caught his eyes. He raised the curtain further more and there were two roughnecks creeping on their bellies as though fat mambas. His hand went for the Tokarev, and he pulled it out. It will be an easy shot.
            The heavy automatic, poked through the slight opening  in the curtain. He could hear the two cops clearly. The scratching noise as they labored forward was like the wiggle of gravels held in a bag. Like a leopard waited for an antelope at the drinking hole, he waited for them.
            Suddenly he noticed that the scratching noise had stopped. With seething anxiety, he peeked outside. And was in time, to see a bean-pole in officers’ uniform waving frantically at the men. As he watched, the two cops stood up, stared hard at the lounge window. Then retreated hurriedly, joining the tall lean officer behind the police vehicle.
            Balmain could hear the agitated voice of the officer, who was certainly boiling with anger. Nothing left to doubt, that the two coppers were on heroic rampage without orders.
            Darkness had swallowed the last light of the day. The floodlit searchlights mounted on the copper’s vehicle, already sweeping the compound. Balmain used a cord to hold the semi-concoius girl, and then went in search of the store. It was a big cottage and the store was tugged away in the back.
15

            HERR LIEUTNANT LEVINSKY BERGDORF ran frantically over to the two coppers. His thin face shivering with fury.

            “You must be out of your minds. Whatever gave you the reason to behave so outrageously? Do you know what you’ve done to the little Frau?”
            “There is an order, to prowl closer and attempt penetration through the lounge, Sir.” One of the offending cops answered.
            “Whose order?” Levinsky shrilled with madness doting his eyes.
            “The captain gave the order before he left”
            “Listen and listen good! On no account should you cause more harm to the Frau. We make the attempt, when and only when I give the order! Now, go back to your posts.”
            The two coppers scampered away. Happy to have gotten out of it scot-free. Their footsteps plodding away in the lawn grass, until they disappeared from the periphery of the searchlight.
            The capacious hold-all stank to high heaven of corruption. Acrid nauseous odour of animal manure, rank as Balmain poked his nose inside the hold-all. But that was the least of his worries. The darkness had engulfed the cottage. He knew it was pure lunatism to switch on electricity. His golden dunhill lighter, flickered   on   and   off   until   he sauntered into the lounge.
            A cold intimidating quietness crouched like a bull frog over the lounge. His lighter flickered and there was Schloesberg mourning over the body of her father. She was holding the old man’s head on her laps her naked back quaking in the light. Balmain felt a sensational thrill, like a deadly reptile was crawling down his body. She knew he was behind her, but she didn’t bother to turn. Her body quaking to the scorching sorrow that tore her apart.
            “He got it coming! I didn’t invite your schmuck. He came poking his nose where he’s not wanted. We got things to do, so shove the soft soap up your pretty boobs and come with me.”
            She ignored him, her body jerking in spasmodic throes to the seething abrasion inside her. With hands that felt like steel traps, he grabbed her and viciously lifted her up. He snarled into her face.
            “From now on, you got to really watch it. You’re sure getting on my nerves. And I wouldn’t be losing anything I haven’t lost by sticking a bullet into your bitchy face.” He dragged her viciously to a sofa and flung the oversized jeans at her. The lighter burnt his finger and he cursed angrily under his breath. He needed to be alone to attend to his purpose. Dragging Schloesberg off the lounge he locked her up in the tiny cubby-hole he had stayed. The box room had just two tiny vents up the ceiling.
            He needed some drinks, to be able to face the corpses.   And   he found a couple  of  fresh   finest whiskies tucked away inside the kitchen drawer. It was the same buster, he had enjoyed with the old-man. He poured a generous portion, and quaffed it down like a landed fish that suddenly found itself in the river. His eyes watery and the effect of the whisky invading his blood like a deadly virus. When he felt the heat reach his brain, he knew he was ready.
            He was beyond ghost anxiety. And he kept reminding himself that deadmen were harmless. The lounge stank of animal manure and he nearly thought it was the bodies. With legs that weighed down like leads and hands shivering as though he had cerebral palsy he reached the two bodies.
            The cadavers were deep in rigor mortis. Herr Sellenburen’s  limbs stiff and rigid as though steel. Balmain needed someone, who could fit his description and Schloesberg’s fiancee was too lanky to serve the purpose. Therefore, he made back to the store-room. He found carpentry saw among the junks. Working with the blunt rusty saw, he disjoined the metatarsal bones and also sawed through the bones of the metacarpals. When the joints were flexible, he stuck the corpse inside the hold-all and closed the lip.
            He was breathing like one who had ran one thousand kilometer, and his shoulder blades were as if socketed out of joint. He had listened to the rousing echoes of the police loud-hailers. He knew they were waiting to take the cottage during the resting hours. When human energy was at its lowest ebb. They will wait and die waiting. He was walking into them right away.
            The time was already 10:00 o’clock night, when he decided to make a move. He went through his plans once again. Then noting he wasn’t forgetting anything, he made to the room, where he had left Schloesberg. She was sitting on the divan, staring vacuously.
            “We’re making a move” he rasped in a blood curdling husky voice. The whisky injecting an unearthly hardness inside him. And he discovered that all sentiments were driven from his scruples. He was aching for action.
            “This is my home, make your move alone. I cannot go with you” it was like her mellifluous voice, had been filed down with abrasive sands. And it caught Balmain like a sucker-punch.
            “What did you just say?” His anger, strangling his voice.
            “You go, I'll not go with you” she slobbered an incoherent tone.
             With the speed of an attacking lion he reached her. His hand went viciously to her hair and violently he yanked her head backwards. The flickering lighter, making a hissing noise as it licked the flesh of Schloesberg’s neck. Acrid smell of burning flesh filled the room. The pain shook and numbed her senses. Then she was screaming like a moon sick lunatic. Her body heaving in spasm, with the terrible pain that seized her. He struck her on the mouth and she collapsed against him. He knew he had little or no time. The scream could be heard outside.
            He   was   losing   patience   with   the girl.  He could kill her.  If she failed to come out of her unconsciousness.  As he flung out the heavy Tokarev pistol, the girl sneezed and opened her eyes. She rattled when she saw the gun trained on her forehead.
            “Now are you coming or not?” He snarled into her face, the gun poked harder into her forehead. A dreadful horror jumped into Schloesberg’s deep blue eyes and she hurried up on her legs. With the gun stuck on her neck. Balmain pushed her towards the lounge.



16

            HERR BERGDORF STOOD IN crumbling anxiety. His men ready to strike. He had lost the game and the seed of a lost siege was death at random. He had thought the French man could give up himself. But now, he could see that the only option left, was to take the cottage. His men were tired of inaction and were rearing to go.
            And  the  captain  had  called  twice  to  know if  the  siege  was  completed,   but  Levinsky had fed him false news. Now, standing like a man bereaved of his beloved wife, he felt his political career crumbling like a sheet of paper before his eyes. He wouldn’t smell the ministerial post, if those murderers killed the Frau in a shoot-out.
            Then suddenly, his heart jumped into his mouth. The door that led into the cottage was opening up. The search light picked up the Frau first with a pin – clear view. Then the heavy gun sticking on the girl’s neck. And at last the French man. With a heavy hold-all over his left shoulder. They stood under the astounding powerful search-light for some time, before the French man nudged the girl forward with the gun.
            Herr Levinsky ran with his heart thumping wretchedly to the car with the loud – hailer. “Drop the gun, Monsieure! You’re surrounded. Drop the gun and I'll assure you a Fair hearing”
            Balmain ignored the loud – hailer and kept nudging the Frau Forward! With the tip of his eyes, he took in the surrounding. He found out that he was unafraid. His mouth furred with whisky. The hold-all covered his back and before him was Schloesberg, quivering like an arrow. The old man’s body was getting heavier, but he still got about few yards to cover before they could hear him. When he got to the point required, he stopped. Then raising his voice, he yelled into the cloying tension of the night.
            “Clear out of the way and give me a car!!
            “You make an impossible request. Drop the gun and I'll give you a chance to leave Switzerland”.
            The loud – hailer scratched in electrical static. The bang of the automatic rattled Herr Levinsky where he was. He felt his heart give a jump and dove like the rest of his boys. He thought the girl was dead, but he was relieved when he noticed the Frau still standing on her feet. The French man pointing the gun on her jaw line.
            “OK! We’ll give you a car, but you must promise not to touch the Frau.” Herr Levinsky felt his voice shaking with dread.
            He was confronting a dangerous killer, who had murdered more than four persons including the French model. But he still had a chance of attaining his political dream. He could arrange a man – hunt that was unheard of in the whole country. But first of all, he will do everything possible to take the Frau alive. With her, the position of the minister for police was assured.
            Balmain nudged Schloesberg towards the passenger’s door. He yelled furiously at her to open the door. It was a sedan police car with engine purring. As the girl opened the door, he pushed her into the car and jumped in beside her. The heavy hold-all covering the door. He forced the girl into the driving seat and then sticking the gun on her head, he commanded her to move the car.
            A banshee of screaming siren followed the car, as it left the farm settlement. But two vicious bangs of the Tokarev automatic frozen the atmosphere. The gun – shots drove Schloesberg insane with fear and she drove like a lunatic, until they hit the highway. Balmain could see the jewels of light that came in their wake. He waited, until they got to the highway, then he started shooting randomly. When he was sure the flickering jewels of light had disappeared, he jumped into the back of the car.
            Working like a hierographics at a cyclops’ eye, he strapped the body of Herr Sullenburen on the passenger’s seat. Then poured quantity of gasoline on the corpse. Schloesberg whimpered and he hit her across the face. He spread the gasoline inside Herr Sullenburen’s body. The girl peered at him terribly scared. He foot trembling on the accelerator. He hit her viciously on the back of the head with the gun and she slumped forward. He took control, before the car could swerve off the road and cleared on the curb. He could see the light of the police cars speeding towards him. And somewhere above, the noisy throb of helicopter.
            The girl was bleeding copiously where he had hit her, and was unconscious. He tied her on the driver’s seat and emptied the can of gasoline on her. Then jerking the gear into neutral, he flickered his lighter and ignited a small paper.
            With his bestial strength, he pushed the car towards a gaping gulch beside the road. As he flung the burning paper inside, he saw the chopper appear with lights burning. The car tumbled into the gulch and disappeared with an explosion that shook the ground. He ran across the road, and hid in a heavy shrub bordering the curb and the highway.
 

*                                   *                                               *

            Balmain scooped the crystal Stuart, of vintage Chanteau Margaux wine and gulped down half the glass. He was a pale shadow that retreated before the sunshine of his ugly memory. From Bougon Airfield in Nante, to setting a record of murder in-affable in the whole. A golden fish had no hiding place.  Wanted   by the American FBI and almost half the coppers in the world, it was a time for reckoning. And when he looked back, he had wondered what had been, despite all the killings and escapes.
            Marriage brought security and balance into a man’s life. And he had aspired to become a normal fella. He could have made it in the French broad, Chantelle, but the scrambler was a mercenary bitch. When she discovered he was on the run, she took the way of all women.
            The Lake Tohoe Hotel, was a good joint to take a quick decision. With eyes blazing of exquisite luxury. The lounge of his suit lit by many huge chandeliers had a blush haze. The light drifted in intricate choreographed pattern around the posh setting.
            He had lived the life and now had to pay the price. His suicide letter, packed in a dog - eared envelop, had all, the details. From Bougon to Zurich and his hot two months in San Francisco. He picked up the Wessen and Smith Colt and felt the gun heavy like a bag of leads. His hand was steady as he placed the barrel on his head. The cold steel, sensational over his skin. His fingers encircled the trigger and slowly he started to depress it. A thought flashed in his mind like a highway sign and he made to retrieve his hand. But was a fraction too late as the gun banged with violence. He watched the bullet hit with clangour on the steel wardrobe inside the room. He was still alive and he felt relieved.
17
           
 
            AROUND THE POSH flamboyant lake tavern suite, Balmain stared with fluttering heart, at the modcons and the dazzling bar stuffed with assorted drinks. He swallowed hard, feeling his sputum grudged down his gullet. He raised the crystal stuart glass in his hand and watched the corruscating bumbles of the pregnoir champagne, yet it failed to give him succour. He was as thirsty as hell in the midst of drinks.
            Lake Tahoe Tavern though basking in Westec security outfit, was not enough to guide him against Rahaab. He knew he had trode on gun powder, but that was history now. From his French window, he captured the razzmatazz picturesque scene, a sight that could inspire happiness. But his happiness was erased a long time ago like a chalkmark on the blackboard. Erased also was his freedom as a human being. Sighing, he whaffed down the smooth expensive champagne. At least, he was still kicking. After all, what has he got to lose, he hadn’t lost already. He had lived the life and now it’s time for reckoning.
            Suddenly, a frantic snap of safety catch startled him. He couldn’t place the sound. But something warned him, it was at the door of his suite. He relaxed his ears and strained to grasp even the movement of air. He was rewarded because a menaceful snap of fluent Arabic followed like a discordant music.
            Balmain stood up instantly. His ears ticking like a grandfather clock. He was short of breath. Where the fucking hell is the hotel security? His thought whirling in confusion. He was moving towards his wardrobe for his gun, when the bang of automatic startled him out of his wits and he stopped on his track. Someone was in deep pain outside, the heavy grunt and blood curdling sob, giving him away. Balmain yanked the wardrobe open, and then reached for his Tokarev pistol, shoved inside the pocket of his suit. The heavy gun restored half of his confidence. As he made stealthily towards the door, another heavy bang of automatic shook the ceiling plaster off his suite. Then followed by a vicious kick on the mahogany door of the suite.
            Holding the Tokarev in two hands, Balmain slided behind the quaking double door of the suite. His legs shivering in mild palsy. There was a cloying heaviness that grasped his heart with talon claws. He felt his air cutting short. He was still gambling to gain his breath back when the door burst open. His heart launched frantically and stopped. Then went on violently, as though it was going to jump out of his mouth. There was a clogging purr settling down on his tongue. He could give anything for a drop of water on his tongue.
            Two wild-eyed Arabs burst into the suite. One was a living giant, with the mark of a thug smeared across his face. While the other was slight and a cautious snake. He was swarthy with hooked Bedouin nose that hung like a foreign body on his face.
            The bang of the heavy Tokarev took them off guard. The slight one turned like a rattler and fled outside. But the giant was a fraction too late. The heavy bullet caught him in midstride on the neck, and flung him off his stand like a discarded duty rag and he landed with a sound that shook the house. He was dead before he touched the ground.
            Then heaven was broken loose. The hysterical rattling of AK rifle seized the air and the heavy mahogany door burst into flinders. Balmain rushed into the bedroom and made for the long French window. He could see some early swimmers in the hotel swimming pool. All were looking up towards his suite. It was a long way down but he either took the risk or become a dead duck in another two second. He knew the management was already hollering for the bulls. He could die or live, he had nothing to loose. Two bang of automatic on the bedroom door nearly nailed him. The bullets wheezing across like angry bees.
            Balmain retrieved his wallet from his hip pocket, and thrusted it into his pants. Then he jumped without looking down. He felt the wind snatched at his body, tearing him apart. Then he landed with surprising shock on the pool. The swimmers had watched him jump out of the window. They dispersed like chicks at the clunk of a mother hen against the hawk. So he sailed through and went down into the pool.
            Tracers pierced the warm water, whistling like legion of demon inside the water. He knew the Arabs were shooting from the balcony of his suite. Swimming in frenetic panic, he hit the end of the pool. The rattling of the automatic had stopped. And he wondered why, until he heard the strident siren of the cops. He surfaced and climbed out of the pool, soaked like a vagrant cat. All the folks had distanced themselves away from the atlantic-sized pool. He watched them staring at him with terrified eyes.
            The last people he needed to nail his coffin were the bulls. Almost half of the world was after him. They couldn’t even look at him a second time. He was a plum pear, ready for picking. Jinking a run like a wild antelope, he reached the vast car port. His car was parked in the last row. He saw an old Fond Mustang in good shape and hotwired it, after what looked like eternity. He was revising the jap, when another engine revved up with violence. One look behind, made his heart smack against his rib cage. There was no mistaking it, the corded headdress of the driver.
 18
           
THE RICKETY MUSTANG dangled with loose parts and screeching tyres up to the abandoned gate. Shouts of terrified customers and the wild thrilling siren set the atmosphere on fire. From the gate, Balmain watched the Arabs came in his wake. He stared at the rear view mirror and felt his body shake with goose-bumps. They had a powerful Lexus jeep. Frantically, he swerved the junk into the road, nearly missing an ugly truck. With screeching of tyres he gave the Mustang all it had. There was hardly any power under its hood. Flattening the accelerator, he felt the car shake as though it was tearing apart then leaped up like a spring suddenly allowed to run.
            Behind him, the jeep rushed over his rear mirror as though a bull at the fling of a matador’s red cape. He started doing what he hadn’t done for twenty years. The line was blurred in his vague mind. He couldn’t remember all the lines of the paternoster he had formed into a song, when he was a gawky little kid. But he could’ve been praying to the devil himself because the jeep maneuvered over some cars and sat like a war ship on his buttocks.
            Then, he watched one of the Arabs raise a rifle from the passenger’s seat. Balmain swerved desperately to offset his aim. A short snap of aurnatic rattled, and there was a deafening bust. Balmain lost control, swerving from side to side, until he rammed into a heavy steel, refuse collector. The force of the collision flung him off the steering, nailing his head on the windscreen. He felt his flesh give way on his forehead, warm saline tasting blood dripping into his mouth.
            Hands grasped him and flung him out of the wretch. Sparkling tiny glasses glistening all over his face. Balmain felt his numbed body heave into another car, then the police siren filled the air. He wondered whether he was in a dream, until the heavy smoke of hashish filled the car. The police cars were squealing into noisy brakes around the jeep, the Arabs had dropped. Balmain wanted to scream, but choked under  the smudgy smoke inside the car.
            The Sedan De Loren tourer, shot through the golden bridge and descended into a low file neighborhood just under the bridge. The sun was out, and Balmain watched cloying fingers of sunlight throwing sick pattern on his body. He was bleeding heavily and that worried him to hell. He felt lightheaded and in dire need of a tourniquet. The sharp wire holding his hand, shot red weals around his wrists. The sedan squealed to a brake in front of an old bungalow with a fading front view bourgamvillea garden.
            “Here’s the punk! You didn’t say the son-of-a-bitch carries a rod. Anyway, he whacked Ibrahim”. It was a tastefully decorated lounge with oriental arts festooming the walls. Balmain was kicked into one corner, a wild discordant Indian song, thrilling the atmosphere.
            “I swear by the beard of Mohammed, it never crossed my mind. What is gonna happen to Ibrahim’s wife, Zainab? She had called every second for the past thirty minutes.” Rahaab was donned in western tunic of jeans and white sweat-polo. His handsome face appeared worn out with stress. He was tall and built like a greyhound. His dark curls, shone as though each strand was treated with alabaster oil.
            “She couldn’t bear it. A quaint duck with pretty body. She got me going the first day I sent my eyes on her”
            “Cut the crap! As the Americans will say and let’s get our acts together before she calls again. Something tells me the bitch already smelt trouble, the way she is going” Rahaab changed suddenly into the musical thwart of tongue that characterized the Arab language.
            “We can get rid of her, if she gets in the way” the man hissed, his forehead wrinkled in thought.
            “Just don’t say such shit. She’ll get over it.”
            “How secured is this hole?” Rahaab asked, reaching for the tapestry losh striped curtain. He took a cursory view of the outside. A red mini-van with heavily tinted glasses was parked on the curb.
            “Ruel, the black honcho and Murktar. Formidable duo, Yusuf and Mohammed encounced behind. Besides, we shook off the cops.”
            “So let’s get started. I want the son-of-a-bitch piece by piece for Luceille, my wife. Did you grab the giant pinches in the garages, Benhazar?”
            Balmain wondered what they needed such tool for. He knew what he was up against, barbarian wierdos. His mind flew to his cock, and he touched it with dread. He was shivering with anxiety, when he saw Benhazar appear with an ugly rusty pinches with blue coated handles. They both moved towards Balmain.
            “When you took the damn risk to assassinate my Luceille, you signed a warrant to die the most painful death ever meted on any man. I’m going to take you apart with these pinches and watch you bleed to death.”
            Benhazar kicked Balmain viciously, almost breaking his limbs. Then he flung him against the wall  and loosed the sharp wires on his wrist. A rope materialized, and Balmain flung his clenched fist at the beanpole called Banhazar. Of course, that was a mistake. The butt of a gun-exploded with violence on Balmain’s head. He felt something break inside his brain, then smelt the cordite odour from the snut mouth of the shiny pistol.
            “First pick all his finger. I want them crushed one after the other.”
            The rope secured Balmain, with the gun leveled on his forehead, Benhazar prepared the pinches to take the first finger. He had tied up Balmain’s hands tightly in front, the fingers held out clearly.
            “Do we need this?” Benhazar look at Rahaab. “Time is fleeing like quick silver. I need to make the airport before the cops get wise at me. I got a fucking record to watch”
            “Fuck the cops, Benhazar. I’ve waited for this day, and now it’s here. Do you want to deny me the pleasure? We could make the airport under one hour. I have my pilot on standby, pick his fingers and don’t sleep out on me.
            “It’s fucking gruesome picking. Why don’t we just shoot the cretin and take off? He ain’t worth all this mystery.”
            “Just do it and shut your lid.”
            Benhazar lifted the gaint pinches, looked again at Rahaab and laid it before Balmain’s fingers. At the sight of the tool, Balmain went into frenzy. His body covered with cold sweat. He was still struggling when the tool grasped his first finger. It was like nails were jammed into his flesh. The pain drove sharp needles up his brain, dark sparkling stars roaming before his eyes. The harsh break of bone rang like a gun shot in the close confine of the lounge.
            It was like a hot spear, was rammed into his heart, because his breathing checked, then came as though thunder. The sound blocked his ears, so that he hardly heard the hysterical scream that tore his gullet and shook his body to its root. The thrilling pain numbed his senses.
            “Gag him up! We don’t need to tell the whole neighbourhood our story” Benhazar pushed a sleazy rag inside Balmain’s mouth and held it with thick cello tape. Then he grasped the second finger. The blood flowed like in an abattoir. It was a messy job, which he couldn’t have handled if he was in his element. Right now, he needed money like he had never needed anything in his life. And the prince was paying good.
            Sighing, he jammed the blue handles of the pinches and heard the bone cracked with violence under pressure. The pain rode up and exploded in bumbles of tiny stars in Balmain’s brain. It was unbearable. He fought the searing pain with all his being. His teeth grudged with it rattling like beads inside his mouth. Benhazar was running out of patience. He grabbed the third finger and as he aimed the handle, a car squealed to brake in front of the bungalow. Rahaab reached the window and watched Zainab step out of a dark glittering Camry. A car he had heard Ibrahim talked unendingly about.
            Benhazar dragged the shivering almost unconscious body of Balmain into a room and locked up the door. He mopped the blood on the marble floor of the lounge, and then gave Rahaab sign to open the door. Zainab clearly cut, in Indian sari walked into the lounge.
            “Salam alaykum!” she greeted Rahaab, bowing.
            “Have you heard from Ibrahim, your highness?” she asked, her eyes circling on a pinkish smear on the floor. Her eyes lit up when she noticed it was blood. She could see a tiny line of thick red blood at the end of the wall.
            “You better come with me!” Rahaab hissed incoherently.
            “I hope nothing has gone wrong?” Cold fear gripping the woman inside. Just then, Benhazar walked out of the bathroom, his face like a dragon drawn in front of Chinese temple. One look at him set Zainab off guard. She began to tremble as she noticed a patch of blood on Benhazar’s right hand cuff.
            “I wouldn’t wait any longer. I got to be shifting.” Benhazar announced.
            “So?” Rahaab snapped.
            “I want my payment.”
            “You want to walk or have your money.”
            “Make it snappy, I got a flight to catch. Of course, I want both.” Benhazar was sure running out of patience. Then he noticed that Zainab was staring at his cuffs and raised his hand. The clot of blood was unmistakable. He got rattled and hid his right cuff. Rahaab followed the reaction with dread. He left the two, made straight to the bedroom. The snap of a portfolio followed; soon he walked back with some bundles of green backs.
            “The bonus, Rahaab?” Asked Benhazar.                                                                      
            “Hundred grand in all” he hissed, handing the money over to Benhazar.
            “Fuck the Bonus. I’ll see you in Paris.” Rahaab turned and went into the bedroom with the shivering woman on his wake.
            “I must be straight with you, Ibrahim is in deep shit.”
            “Don’t be coy with me, is he dead?”
            “Yeah, but you ain’t got anything to loose. You’ll receive all his payment and more.”
            Zainab made to scream but jammed her hands into her mouth. Benhazar stood on the door, a heavy automatic in his hand. The prince was shocked out of his life. He stood mouth agaped.
            “Put that rod away, don’t complicate issues” snapped Rahaab, his voice lack resonance. He was scared out of his wits. His dark eyes blurred with uncertainty.
            “Don’t allow me to use this gun! I took the crappy shits and now this!” He shoved the wads of dollar in gesticulation.
            “Let’s have the portfolio” Benhazar shoved the gun forward and leveled it on Rahaab’s head.
            Balmain startled awake. The fluent thwack of tongue hit him like a time bomb and he listened to the angry rasp that floated in from the next room. The stumps of his crushed fingers shot a stringing pain through his marrows. He remained mute to ride home the pains, and then started crouching towards the only chair in the room. There was a short dagger sheath on the chair. With hands tied, he wobbled as though a repugnant warm up to the chair.
            At the chair, he paused to gain back his breath. His mouth furred with thick dirt from the sleazy rag used by Benhazar. He wondered why the Arabs had removed the gag. Pushing forward, he tried to pick up the sheath with his mouth. It was heavy and fell off. Sweating profusely, he went to work and soon had the shiny sharp dagger out on the floor. He had lost a lot of blood, his head buzzing like an apiary. There was a resounding thunder in his heart. His chest bouncing with his palpitating heart. Wedging the knife under the chair leg, he cut off the rope on his hands, then his legs and stood up. He shoved the dangerous knife in his waist band and started to the door.
            The bang of automatic took him off guard. A deep painful grunt followed. Then the hysterical scream of a woman tore the roof of the house into shred. Another bang shook the house and the scream stopped. Balmain stealthily opened the door and tip-toed to the next room.
            The smell of cordite, hit him as he neared the door. Suddenly, Benhazar rushed out of the room, Louis Viutton portvolio dangling on his left hand, while a shiny heavy pistol covered his right hand. He came to stop as he walked into Balmain. They stared at each other, and the automatic banged with spite. The heavy bullet lifted Balmain off the floor and he came down with a sound that shook out plasters from the ceiling. Benhazar levelled the gun on Balmain’s head to release another shot, but paused, because the wild strident siren of the cops filled the atmosphere. He shoved the gun into his pocket and ran with alarm towards the kitchen.
            There were cops everywhere. He could even hear the quack! quack! sound of police helicopter above the house. He was trapped, he thought with panic. Raising his gun, he took aim at the nearest police car, where he saw the police captain spotting a loud hailer. At once, he shoved the tapestry curtain off, and pressed the trigger. The bullet hit the target with violence. The captain keeled over and took the ground. Then heaven was broken loose, as the cops breached the house and Benhazar’s body was rippled with bullets. He died clutching the new Louis Viutton case on his chest.
19
            The close confine of the giant cupboard in the dinette was stifling like a charged furnace. Zainab could hear the cops ransacking the bungalow banging into anything that stood in their way. She knew once they get to the bedroom, the giant cupboard would be the first target. Her heart started fluttering as though wings of a wicked bat. She could even smell the cops. Their presence filled the whole house, suffocating her with nausea.
            Suddenly, the door of the dinette burst open. A lone cop walked into the room. He was burly, with huge bulging neckline. Thick sparkling .45 police special dotting his pudgy hand. He stopped at the cupboard and Zainab watched him with cold fear gripping her inside. She could smell the stale cigarette odour of the cop. His cautious stride, warned Zainab, she got a company to watch.
            With shivering manicured hand, she raised the skirt of her sari and removed her 9mm automatic from her thigh holster. A present from Ibrahim, which she had learnt to use. It was a lethal weapon with heavy bullet. Once, when she was forced to use it, she had shot a mugger into shreds. He had attempted raping her. And she felt the same way right now.
            The cupboard banged open with violence and the thickset cop put in his head to check. Zainab pressed the trigger and the 9mm banged with force. Blood, bones and brain tissues spattering all over her. She pushed the man off and walked into the dinette. The gun shot had alerted the other cops, Zainab knew they were waiting for her. She released two more deafening shots at the door and ran into the bathroom.
            Walking fast, she opened the window. There were cops everywhere. She counted five of them, patrolling the back of the house. A heavy bang at the door, decided her. With trembling legs, she scaled over the window and fell into the lush azealea bed with wild creepen.
            She waited to regain her breath then set out stealthily towards the next property. Of course, that was a place she couldn’t find refuge. The Jamaican owner hated all Arabs. He had petitioned several times when Ibrahim bought the property next to him for the organisation. Zainab reached the high fence without being observed. But as she grabbed a nearby shrub to scale over the fence, a bullet wheezed across and recocheted on the wall beside her. She touched the shrub once and landed into the next compound.
            W.J Worth was leaning on his tall French window watching the proceeding in the Arab domain. He wished they bloody cops will for once turn down money to do a good job of riddance. The vermins were contaminating the whole neighbourhood. Suddenly, he heard a thudding sound inside his quiet compound. It was like someone had fallen into his compound.
            With dried mouth and heart fluttering like a bird held in wicked boys cage, he took a bold step. Then came to an abrupt stop, mouth opened in shock. A woman was pointing a heavy automatic on him. He knew her and had seen her around. She had dark velvety sloe eyes, with flawless olive skin. And WJ Worth had admired her greatly.
            “Hey! Put down that rod. It’s dangerous” he stammered in an incoherent voice devoid of resonance.
            “Shut your lid, punk! And put your hands up” Zainab reached him, and stuck the gun into his neck. WJ Worth was a regular guy with eyes of a spy. He could tell of every citizen in his neighbourhood. Only he looked out for something to gossip about them. He was hitting sixty, with horrible bald head that shone in the sun. A beanpole with a wicked moustache that formed his identity. His piercing caucasian blue eyes, unblinking like those of a deadly python.
            Zainab pushed him towards his large indoor garage. A maroon Ford Pickup sprawled clean and shimmering with new paint.
            “Where’s the fucking key?” Zainab snapped at the trembling man.
            “On the ignition. Just gemme a break. I ain’t done no wrong, man!” He had known something like this was bound to happen, the very day he watched these Arabs parking into the next property. He had cried wolf, but he was a lone doomsayer in the neighbourhood. The corrupt authority took money from the Arab and looked the other way.
            Zainab flung the steel butt of the 9mm and it crashed with violence on the man’s head. It was a vicious blow that snuffed the man off like a candle. He wasn’t built for such shocking blows. He crumpled like a paper mache and remained mute.
            The pickup whined alive, and Zainab drove the car carefully to the gate. The gate was locked. She stared outside, where the cops took up every perimeter of the road. Like a gazelle, she alighted from the car and felt exposed as she ran to open the gate.
            Then it happened, one of the cops sitting across the street sighted her and started toward the gate. Zainab hurried over and jumped into the cab. The cop noticed her haste and broke into a run. But he was a fraction too late, as Zainab swept past him, nearly running him over. Of course, that attracted the rest of the squad.
            There was a sedan, swerving out of an alley; Zainab rammed the Ford into the car. She put the Ford in reverse and rammed into a police vehicle behind her, then jumped on the accelerator and the Ford rushed with screeching tyre into the road. A banshee of siren filled the atmosphere. Zainab ran as if pursued by one million demons, jumping traffic lights and driving other road users crazy.
            Above, she could hear the whack-whack! of the helicopter sitting over her. They were screaming to her to stop. She ran further more and swerved into a wood guiding a ranch. The lush verdant trees rose to cover her from the clattering helicopter above. The Ford crashed into a tree trunk, and stopped. She took her gun and set off into the wood.
            She hadn’t covered few poles, when she noticed that she was followed. She tore the hampering Sari off and ran in stampeding panic, crashing into twigs and thorny brambles. Her skin yielding to the sharp blades of some shrubs. Suddenly she came into a clearing. Two beefy cops rushed out of  the thickets.
            The 9mm automatic banged in deafening sound one of cops flew off the ground and came down dead. The other opened fire, but Zainab had run back into the heavy thicket. By now, the wood was alive. She ran frantically, not knowing where it’ll all end up. The wood was breathing with twigs snapping from here and there. Zainab shot at a near-by shrub, watching the bullets thrash the undulating leave like knife slicing through vegetable.
            The wood expanded into thick foliages that hung as though dangerous pythons. She was bleeding all over. Her designer versace shoes hooked into a shrub and she keeled over and hit the ground in a shock. A shot rang through the wood, burrowing into a tree trunk nearby. She started up, pulling off the offensive shoes. She flung them off, picked up her gun and set off once more, the snapping of twigs filling the wood.
            Then she heard one horrible snarl that shot adrenaline into her system. She could recognise that sound even in a dream. It was the snarl of police dog. If there was one thing she dreaded more than anything, it was the insensate trained alsatians with fangs of lions. All her life, she had hated dogs with great passion. They gave her creeps.
            Slipping into a thick shrub, she lay quiet panting frantically from fear and exhaustion. The 9mm automatic raised for action. Suddenly, she saw the brute, tongues kicking out of its mouth, as it cavorted jubilantly flinging its tail. It was certain from its mood, that it had scented the quarry.
            Zainab aimed carefully and pressed the trigger. The bullet shot at close quarters, hit the brute with violence. It spunned round then took the ground. Its limb, jerked in spasmodic throes like that of an epileptic and it was quiet. The bang of the automatic got quick responses from the thickets around. Wheezing of bullets like the buzz of bees over her head. Sharp snap of branches, crackling throughout the wood. Like a cornered ferret, she lay shivering as though a malarial victim. Her sloe eyes, burning like hot arrow into the humanoid brushes.
            “You’re surrounded, come out and raise your hands up. The game is over, give yourself up!”
            She was startled with the thundering loud hailer that shook the wood. The silence after the voice was deafening. Zainab could feel a thrilling coldness, piercing her body.
            Then she saw a cop, breaking out of a heavy thicket, a shiny thick .45 police special filled his hands. He was strutty, boobish and had straight regular shape of a trouble maker. He came like in a movie, splay-legged and spunning the gun around to cover himself.
            Zainab raised the heavy 9mm automatic. She could notice her hands shaking in mild palsy. And that distorted her aim. The cop whipped round from an instinct of self preservation, and saw Zainab at the same time. She pressed the trigger, and watched the bullet fling the man off his stand. His scream tore the roof of the wood echoing afar off.
            Crawling out of the thicket, Zainab started out on a run. Then heaven was broken loose, sharp reports of gunshot flying from all direction. She dove inside a manure pit, her body pulsating with dread. Above her, bullets wheezed across like angry bees. Smell of cordite filling the wood.
            She felt trapped. Suddenly, she began to cry. She couldn’t believe this was happening to her. She cried for her lover, Ibrahim, her heart bleeding blood. The foetus growing in her womb, kicking out in her distress. She wouldn’t give herself up. She had lost everything in a twinkle of an eye. Her husband and her freedom. There was nothing left to cling on. She was bare like sun bleached grassland. And her parents in Baltimore could never accept her after flaunting their order to marry Ibrahim Hussein.
            As an American citizen, she could have taken her choice of professional Arabs in America. But then came Ibrahim with more money than she could believe. He worshipped her and bought most expensive items for her. His kindness definitely did the job and before Zainab could pronounce her name, she was deeply in love with him.
            That was when her father, Professor Idris Murktar walked into the picture. He was a senior lecturer at the University of Baltimore, a research fellow with many awards in his kitty. He strongly disapproved the union and passionately forbade Zainab from seeing her lover. It was of course, a serious mistake, because Zainab had already lost her head. They eloped and landed in San Francisco. Her parents did not look for her, may be they took it as a good riddance.
            Suddenly, she heard footsteps above her and snapped out of her reverie. Soon, she heard some coppers whispering above her.
            “The fucking bitch is an Arabian” hissed one of the cops.
            “And so what? She has mowed down more than five good quality men. I am aching to set my eyes on the bitch. I could tear her in pieces with my bare hands.”
            “Hey! Remember the broad is dangerous.”
            “And I’m dangerous too. I could even marry the Arab. After all, birds of the same feather flock together.”
            Then they walked up to the ditch. As Zainab raised her gun, one of them saw her and pushed the other off the violent bullet that wheezed across.
            “Glen! Watch out, she’s in the ditch.” Zainab heard them shout to their colleague. She waited, panting like one who had ran a hundred mile. Her heart smacking against her rib cage.
            Above her, the whack-whack-whack of the helicopter filled the air. She release a shot, that breezed away aimlessly. Then something like a net, started descending from the helicopter. She shot frantically aiming at the machine and soon her bullet chamber clicked empty. The ditch was at once surrounded by over a hundred policemen. She was dragged out of the ditch, handcuffed and taken away. Her semi-nude state, a great admiration for the men who gawked at her.
           

 


 

 

.........to be continued
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