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Chapter Six

The order was backed up by a metallic click that Don Brawn instinctively identified as coming from the hammer of a Heckler & Koch USP Compact handgun.

“I know who you are,” said the man’s voice, “and I am not stood within range of your unquestionably lethal skills as an unarmed combatant. Do not doubt my ability to make a killing, or painfully disabling shot even at a distance.”

“If you were permitted to kill me, we wouldn’t be speaking,” Brawn muttered. “And if you have to keep me alive it’s doubtful you’ll score many points for leaving me crippled.”

“Take the risk, if you want to. But you have-” The man broke off as Brawn let out a cough, as if struck, staggering. His slackening fingers let the earth clotted package drop at his feet. He swayed, queasily, then toppled forward full length across Naim’s grave, his head missing the stone by little more than a hair’s breadth.

When Brawn fell, the gunman reacted in a very specific way. He was an ageless mid-thirties, skin drawn so tightly over efficient musculature by a scientific regimen of diet and exercise that he looked almost gaunt. Before Brawn had hit the ground he had lunged sideways, low, landing stable in a sharp-shooter’s squat, his gun trained on target unwaveringly despite his own dynamic motion.

One second. As he saw Brawn land the signature marks of unconsciousness or death were apparent in the rag-doll movement of a body no longer under directed control – combined with the nearly warning free impact, his training allowed few possibilities, one likelihood: supersonic round, long range sniper.

Two seconds. Without moving the gun a millimetre the gunman quickly scanned the lines of sight: not good – open ground, low rooftops and thin tree line intermittently obscuring his view randomly around the compass. He waited for the echo to show the direction of attack and prepared to move.

Three seconds.

No echo.

In fact, after Brawn’s impact, the only sound had been that of the gunman’s own landing.

Brawn launched himself backwards, full length, his arms pistoning against the ground with the power of an Olympic sprinter at the starter’s pistol. He flew into the gunman feet-first, striking his gun arm and one kneecap simultaneously – a cry of surprised pain preceded the skitter of the falling weapon – and he landed on both palms again, arms springing and baring his weight with amazing grace, twisting him over face up and swinging his legs into a flurry of gravity-defying flares.

They struck three blows before the gunman fell backwards out of the way, lurching upright, one leg numb and unresponsive. Brawn pivoted up into a handstand, smoothly lowering himself onto his feet again. They faced each other now, Brawn with quiet confidence, the other with still greater caution.

The gunman glanced quickly to where his H&K lay, just close enough to lunge for. He glanced back.

“You can try it,” Brawn agreed, “but you’ve lost your stability, and that leg may skew your dive. You’d better not miss your grab, and you’d better not miss your shot – because I am carrying as well.”

“We have another option here,” said the gunman – and his hand darted to the small of his back.

Brawn’s right hand went across his chest, aiming high on his left flank. The custom holster rested against a shallow dip over the absent floating ribs on that side, remnant of a very close shave eight years ago – a dip which now conveniently masked the tell-tale bulge of a hand-modified Sig Sauer P226 Navy, serial number NSW0003. It seemed to leap into Brawn’s palm. Brawn dropped to one knee, his sights locked on the gunman as he clawed for his weapon – as the flexing of his shoulder proved he’d grasped it.

“Don’t do it,” Don Brawn said, calmly.

The gunman’s arm flashed out. Brawn put him down.

A flock of birds roared from the tree line as the shots echoed and faded.

Brawn recovered the package and slotted it into a hidden pocket in the inner seam of his jacket, keeping the gun trained on the body throughout. Then he crossed to him, quickly searched for ID he knew he wouldn’t find, and instead took the man by the head and turned his face this way and that, memorising it carefully. Lastly he claimed the man’s backup gun, plus the hip holster and two spare clips of ammo for the H&K lying nearby. As he started away he took that too.

Behind him the nameless gunman lay still, like the abandoned shadow of one of the graveyard’s silent residents.


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