Sixteen: A “Quiet” Chat
Rudi the Russian leaned against the wall smoking a cigarette, the assurance of his Yarygin Grach pistol hard against his back. Across the road and down a bit, an attractive woman with an athletic build and fine, fair hair read a paperback and sipped at tea. Boyle called her Cascade. She was an ESPer. Inside the handbag on the table would be her silenced Beretta 96 with an extended magazine. Rudi had never seen her use it, but given that she worked with Boyle, he imagined she had some degree of skill.
His map held loose in his free hand, Rudi flicked the ashes of his cigarette. He should have left Kathmandu long ago. He should never have come. His easy life in Burma was gone. Easy life gone, full stop.
And up the street, walking with a slow and easy grace came a factor of Rudi’s misfortune—at least, the most recent chapter of it. Usually, Boyle’s ethnicity, if not his very short hair, craggy face and cold eyes, would have marked him on that street. These days, the foreigners almost outnumbered the locals. The Thamel was being overrun.
No one seemed to notice Boyle, leather briefcase hanging off his shoulder. He wore a loose fitting, light-coloured suit under which he had done an exceptional job of hiding his SIG Sauer pistol. Inside that briefcase would be further surprises, maybe grenades, definitely his HK53 short assault rifle.
All that artillery and yet this was supposed to be a simple chat with someone named Rajendra, apparently a local and also apparently a source for Tangible Stream.
Even the simplest of chats could turn explosive with the Stream involved. Boyle had said he expected this might “go kinetic.” An interesting turn of phrase, and one Rudi had decided to use at some future date.
Some future date. And what did Rudi’s future hold? With the Burmese trough empty, he’d have to find something else. That wouldn’t take long, not for a man of Rudi’s experience, with his skills. He had begun to wonder, though, if his skills had not atrophied. Had his comfortable time in Burma dulled his edge?
If it had, Kathmandu would certainly sharpen it.
The Thamel was aimed directly at tourists, especially backpackers and mountaineers, but it had its charms. Rudi had appreciated it. He had been there before a few times. The traffic that day was light, though the crowds were not. How many of those foreign faces belonged to journalists? How many were the curious or thrill-seekers? How many were actually dangerous?
Boyle liked the Thamel because it allowed him to blend in. Rudi wasn’t sure how much Boyle would blend in anywhere on the planet. No matter what he wore or what he did, he had a killer’s eyes and a soldier’s gait. The walk, he had worked on. He looked casual, looked at ease. But those eyes–there was nothing he could do about those eyes.
In front of the small restaurant in which he was to meet Rajendra, Boyle paused for a heartbeat, maybe two. Did he mentally catalogue his options should the meet get messy? Was he mapping out escapes? Could he feel the weapons on his body, deciding which should be the first out? Likely, he would be doing all these things. The mind and the body were taught by repetition and experience.
The moment passed, and in Boyle went. Rudi folded up his map and dropped his cigarette, stubbing it out with his toe. He went to peruse the menu on the restaurant, posted on the window. He noted Boyle sitting at a table in the middle of the room, the other occupant being a local.
There was no way Rudi could walk in there without being noticed. The store next door, though, was attached to the restaurant. Unlike the restaurant, the store had other patrons. Rudi slid in, the bell over the door tinkling weakly. No one bothered him as he flipped through foreign magazines on a rack beside the entry into the restaurant.
Nothing in Russian. Of course.
The conversation between Boyle and the local–Rajendra?–had died while the waitress brought tea. It now continued. Boyle looked relaxed. He always looked relaxed. Rajendra leaned forward and spoke quickly. His eyes darted around the restaurant for the third time in the last minute. Boyle said something to him that grabbed his attention. He looked down at his hands on the table. Was he getting a scolding?
This was no professional. This was a nobody. Too many amateurs involved in this game. They didn’t know the rules, didn’t how to play the game. You get amateurs involved, you get bodies. Professionals killed, yes, but never as an opening gambit and only when doing so accrued some advantage.
Lost in his thoughts, leafing through a German mountaineering magazine, Rudi almost missed it. What was that? That twinge? The lightest of touches, but a touch none the less.
Rudi concentrated, tried to isolate it. Nothing. Just a momentary sensation. He put down the magazine. Someone in the store? He walked a slow, perimeter. No one set off his radar.
Could it have been unintentional? No, not in Kathmandu. Only someone with one of those devices could crack the silence. He exited the store.
On the street, Rudi locked eyes with a mass of flesh entering the restaurant. The man had the build of a power-lifter. It would be hell to be hit by such a man, but such a man rarely hit one, if one were careful. He didn’t quite look local. He looked more Indian. Imported muscle?
The man walking beside Mr. Lifter looked vaguely Chinese. Rudi was never good at distinguishing ethnicities, but the shorter fellow didn’t look local. Asian, yes, but north Asian–Chinese, Korean, maybe Japanese.
And then the two were in the restaurant.
Rudi stood, the weight of his pistol at his back, and a nagging suspicion that things were about to go kinetic infusing his nerves. He risked a glance at Cascade. They locked eyes, and then she was back in her paperback. She put down her tea and touched her handbag.
With a steadying breath, Rudi entered the restaurant. As the door swung open, He mentally catalogued his options should the situation get messy–Mr. Lifter could wait, Little Guy got one in the head and two in the chest first, careful of background but very few bystanders. He mapped out escapes–front door was the best with Cascade watching it, but both the restaurant and the store beside it had rear entrances and second floors. He had easy access to the Yarygin Grach at his back, and then there were the knife on his shin and the punch dagger on his forearm. Hopefully, he wouldn’t get in close enough for the knives–two seconds for the Little Guy, two seconds for Mr. Lifter, then a sweep for further targets.
When he had been in the store, he hadn’t noticed the smells, the foods frying, the grease, the stale cigarette smoke. He hadn’t noticed the slightly cooler air. Mr. Lifter and the Little Guy sat at a table against the wall, opposite the entry to the store. Mr. Lifter watched Rudi, but Rudi ignored him. Rudi sat at the table beside the store entrance, back to the kitchen since Boyle’s back was to the front.
The informer and Boyle silently drank their tea. They would have gone quiet when the Little Guy and company had entered. The informer wouldn’t know Rudi, wouldn’t know if he’d just been bracketed by those intending harm. He didn’t look up at Boyle, maybe wondering if Boyle had set this all up.
Rudi noted all that through in his peripheral vision, his eyes on the menu, not really seeing it.
Mr. Lifter moved. He surged up and drew an autoloader pistol from somewhere–Rudi had been certain neither had carried on the street. Three shots into Rajendra. Boyle threw himself back, rolled from the table. Rudi had his weapon out.
The Little Guy’s eyes widened as he looked down the barrel of the Yarygin Grach, his eyes framing the front blade of the sights.
Mr. Lifter was pivoting, his gun–a Browning? A cheap Chinese knockoff of the same?–swinging to Rudi.
Rudi’s finger started to squeeze the trigger. Boyle had his SIG out.
On the Little Guy’s left ear, one of the devices. That feeling of someone grabbing hold of him, like holding Rudi’s soul. Rudi couldn’t act. Boyle immobile as well. No one in Rudi’s sight moved, except for Mr. Lifter and the Little Guy. Mr. Lifter had his weapon trained on Rudi while the Little Guy smiled.
“You’re getting too close,” the Little Guy said in perfect English with a Californian accent. “Let’s find out how that happened, okay? Then? Well, then you’re just going to be a couple of husks lying on this floor, totally brain-dead, a couple of vegetables.”
The Little Guy took a step toward Boyle. “Let’s start with you.”
Followed by Seventeen: Foibles