A CIA agent in Europe, a very old demon, and a very large bomb.
"In my time, the magistrate and the captain of the guard would conspire to fool the king. They would slaughter everyone in a village on the coast, and leave the curved swords of the Moors on the ground. Fearing attack, the king would give coins for more men."
Some things never change...
The race is on, a race across Europe to uncover the truth, to stop a city from being devastated, and for the truth to be revealed.
'Kobus?' came an American accent.
'Hello, Kobus, you there?'
'Still here, boss, bad line,' Kobus said with a slight accent evident, a hint of his Afrikaans roots.
'Where are you?'
'Outside of Sophia, well outside of it; they still use horses and carts around here, and Donny Osmond is in the charts.'
'Donny Osmond? Hell, he's still going. And I went to some of his concerts in high school! Any sign of our boy?'
'He's sat stuffing his face with some dodgy looking lady.'
'I'll have a word after he's finished stuffing his face with his dodgy looking lady.'
'Will that be a quiet word?'
'No, because I'm f**ked off with this stupid country and its dated plumbing.'
'Let me know.' The line went dead.
Kobus van der Schule lowered his mobile phone, pressing the red button just to make sure that the call had been cut.
Stepping into a run-down provincial cafe, just as it started to rain, he ordered food by pointing at it on the menu - a few words in German used, a coffee requested. He settled down, adjusting the jacket of his well-worn black suit, a sandwich soon brought out and placed down, the tablecloth having seen better days. The walls had also seen better days, the blood-spattered remains of many swatted flies making their own decorative patterns, interrupted by the faded edges of posters long since pulled down. It did nothing for his appetite.
Easing forwards from where he sat, and around the edge of a small square table that wobbled, he was afforded a good view of the mark. The man now sat across the street and in another cafe, chatting to a pale and skinny girl that looked like a Russian hooker, and not a local girl; they had a darker complexion. Kobus sipped his coffee.
Needing to use the bathroom, he eased up, edging past a few bored-looking locals tackling soup, and ducked sideways through a narrow opening and into a dark corridor, a hatch on the right displaying the kitchen - and the earnest cooking going on within. A strong smell of boiled cabbage assaulted his nostrils as he peered through the dark for the gent's toilet. The toilet signs were in Bulgarian, but he knew the difference between ladies and gents in Bulgarian from previous visits this charming country.
Pushing the door for "Maze", he squeezed sideways into a cramped and tatty toilet, cursing the pungent aroma. With the door closed he regarded the flimsy lock, not bothering with it. He peed into the bowl, his urine stirring fag-ends floating in a dark brown pool. When finished, he didn't bother to flush. Since it looked like no one else had flushed the toilet since the establishment had opened, why should he bother.
A cracked mirror above a small corner sink presented Kobus with his own image, the slight variance in the angle of the broken glass pieces making his face seem a little thinner. 'You've lost weight, boy,' he told himself.
He ducked his head, and moved to where the larger of the mirror fragments offered him a full, yet slanted view of his own face. He took in his forty-two year old features, the lines around his eyes, his tanned olive skin, the scar below his hairline and his dyed-black hair; his roots would need doing in a week or so. Making a face, he gave his own image a peeved look.
Back at his table he eased down, his coffee cooling, his sandwich unappetising. The mark was still sat eating, but the girl was now gone. Staring at the mark, and focusing on the face of his target, the mark turned his head, and stared straight back into Kobus's eyes.
A click registered.
Kobus managed to get his hand inside his jacket as the shot rang out, the sharp movement forwards saving his life. The cafe's window shattered as a scream went up. Turning, and drawing his pistol, Kobus could see the fair-skinned girl from over the road, standing now behind him, and taking careful aim with both hands. Focused on the end of the barrel, that small black circle, he imagined a bullet being released in slow motion - and how it might feel as it impacted him.
Kobus's pistol had been lifting up in slow motion, and had lined up with her mid section as she stared at him in surprise, her features turning quickly to abject terror. With his pistol horizontal he fired, his arm still rising. She was knocked back and bent double, a hit just below her heart, the report of the discharge sounding odd in the confined space of the cafe. Kobus had straightened, and was moving towards her before the spent 9mm cartridge had even tinkled off the lino floor.
It had all taken little more than two seconds, Kobus now beginning the move to leap over her before she had even hit the floor and settled. His foot landed just beyond her shoulder, gained purchase, and allowed him to continue onwards, straight into the kitchens. The chef was now staring at the girl's unnatural form as she lay on the cafe's lino floor, a horrified look etched into his face as Kobus picked up speed.
The kitchen aisle wasn't big enough for two.
A shoulder from Kobus, and the chef - along with several boiling hot pans - went flying, a scream issued, a flare of flame caught from the corner of Kobus's eye as he focused on the open back door - and on freedom. He could see that the door was wedged open by a seat, a waiter now sat on it having a cigarette. The young man looked up with wild eyes as Kobus moved closer, the waiter soon throwing himself the out of the gunman's way and towards a line of cardboard boxes.
Cool fresh air signified a safe exit, but was anyone waiting? A split second choice, and Kobus chose the bushes and trees over an open door in a brick wall, ducking left and right as he ran through the back yard. Moist branches caressed his cheeks and he ran, assuming the worst; assuming that the girl had an accomplice, and that a shot would probably ring out any time now. He tore through the bushes and straddled a crumbling stone wall, halting once over and spinning, bringing his pistol to bear on the rear of the cafe.
Only now did he notice his own rapid breathing and pounding heart as he scanned the garden. No one visible, it was clear. He turned and ran.
He knew the layout of the area in general, and the cafe in particular, and he knew the exits. He had at least done that part of his homework right.
The lane he had reached now led him to the end of the block of shops and cafes, and he turned left, not towards his hire car. He sprinted to the end of the block, an old lady seeing the gun in his hand, but he didn't care; he was now up against the clock. Reaching the main street and halting, a van and car drove noisily past, and between them he glimpsed the mark ducking down the side of the cafe that the man had been sat in.
Through the traffic, Kobus sprinted across the main road and kept going, pistol in hand, now on a parallel course to the mark and six shops away. An alley presented itself. He turned into it at speed, breathing heavily, and made ten fast paces before he saw the mark reach a car, a black BMW saloon. The mark stopped, and stared at the image of Kobus charging towards him, the man soon reaching into his jacket.
Kobus fired twice as he ran, neither shot being well aimed, but one found flesh, the mark doubled up and knocked backwards as Kobus charged forwards. Reaching the mark, the man now on his back and grimacing - holding his stomach where his appendix might be, Kobus quickly put a round into the man's knee, dropping his weight onto the man, a knee onto the man's thigh causing a burst of air.
'Where's the exchange?' Kobus shouted. 'I know you speak English, f**k face! Where's the exchange!' Kobus thrust his pistol into the bloodied appendix area, eliciting an oddly unnatural sound from the man.
'Paper,' the man cried out, reaching for a jacket pocket, his features contorted.
Kobus got there first with his left hand, pulling out a folded piece of paper, which he shook by a corner till open. It revealed a map and directions. Stuffing the paper into his jacket pocket, Kobus relived the man of a silver .45 pistol, finally grabbing the car keys, which had been lying on the damp ground.
Back on his feet, Kobus glanced over his shoulder and down the alley, noticing now several people staring towards him from the road as he moved towards the driver's side of the black BMW. Pressing the OPEN button on the key, the manual door button clicked up, the door opened a second later, the seat claimed. Key in the ignition, engine started and revved, Kobus selected R-Reverse and floored the pedal. A loud bump, and the rising of the car, confirmed the position of the mark, and the fact that he was still lying prone, a second bump signifying the front wheels making contact.
Five yards down the alley, and braking hard, Kobus could now see the body of the mark through a rain-spattered windscreen, one leg across another in an unnatural position. He turned the wipers on, selected D-Drive and sped forwards, two jolts signifying contact.
'Double tap,' Kobus said with some satisfaction, soon reaching the end of the alley and joining what passed for a main road around rural Bulgaria. He cut in front of a small white car, almost forcing it off the road, and sped off being tooted.
On the main highway, heading back towards Sofia, and now catching his breath, he called in to his CIA handler, Riggs.
Riggs worked for yet another newly formed taskforce, this particular new task force responsible for gun running through the former Soviet Block countries, he and his team working out of Amsterdam. The Dutch capital was close enough to be close, but far enough across an ocean and a jurisdictional border to allow for some plausible deniability; a rented office, no IDs carried, jobs paid for in Euros. They were a long way from a Congressional Oversight Committee.
Bulgaria had been the responsibility of the CIA's former Russian Section - Europe/East, which had little to occupy its time with these days. The good jobs, and the good staff, all worked in the Mid East section, save that few really wanted to work in the Mid East section these days. And, since this particular job had started in Greece - the assigned territory of Kobus, he had been allowed to follow his lead into Bulgaria. It was not far on the map, as he had reported the fact. Hardly an inch. A thumbnail in distance.