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8


It was a quarter past twelve. I was still nervously sitting in my car and I wondered what to do. Some twenty minutes ago, a black limo and a jeep had come to the Red Dragon and stopped at the curb. The limo was still quiet but a bunch of eight people—all of them heavily armed—had poured out of the jeep and started ransacking the area around the restaurant. They almost turned over every pavement tile in search of bombs or anything that might pose a threat to their boss. Then they lined up along the sidewalk, blocking it for pedestrians, who by the way were not present, and there they waited without moving.

Shortly after that, I had tried to park my car a little bit closer to the red telephone booth, which was across the street, about ten meters away from the restaurant, but unfortunately, some jerk made it there before me. His car was a new model of Hondsu with ball and socket wheels transmission, and he slipped his vehicle sideward into the only vacant place before I had even shifted my old-fashioned Beijing into reverse. I had nothing else to do but to go back to my former place, thirty meters up the street. It was too far away from the booth if anything went wrong, but I had no choice.

I waited a few more minutes for the situation to change but it didn’t. The driver in the Hondsu didn’t move. Eventually, I sighed with despair, grabbed my ridiculously bulky cameras, clutching them to my chest, and reluctantly stepped out of my car. If digital, the cameras would have been the size of a cigarette lighter each, but unfortunately, this was not the case. I started along the sidewalk, feeling like a dockworker trying to steal a refrigerator under his jacket when his shift was over! Naturally, I had ditched all the zoom lenses back in my Ford because I would have looked even more ridiculous with them. I tensely passed by the jerk who had stolen my parking place and glared at him for a second. He was smoking stolidly in his car without doing anything in particular. It was not that he actually needed the place so badly. He glanced back at me but then quickly turned his head in the other direction and started to pick his nose.

I went by, wary of the thugs across the street. Luckily, there was a line of trees along the curb, and the backside of the booth was turned to the restaurant so it shielded me. When I slipped inside, I nervously looked around. Nobody was paying any attention to me. The side window provided a perfect view of the Red Dragon and the glass was so dirty that I felt perfectly safe—just as Sharon had promised. I just had to use my finger and draw a little dot in order to serve as a peephole and I was good to go. My only problem was, which camera I was supposed to install for the first shot—I obviously couldn’t operate them simultaneously!

I had just finished my technical preparations, carefully arranging the spying equipment at hand, adjusting the blends and everything, when I saw the front doors of the limo suddenly open and two more thugs leaped out—each with a machine-gun in his hands. One of the men looked anxiously around and then he cautiously opened the back door of the car.

A tacky crocodile skin shoe appeared out of the vehicle, promptly followed by a leg in fancy gray trousers. The shoe and the trousers definitely didn’t match so I wondered what type of person might think they did. After a brief moment, the second shoe came out and it immediately doubled the overall effect of mismatch. I feverishly raised one of my cameras and adjusted it to the peephole, ready to shoot.

The man who soon followed his tacky shoes really turned out to be quite a character! The stylish trousers he was wearing were part of a luxury silver-gray suit, which he wore over a Hawaiian shirt. A pair of sunglasses were balanced on the guy’s nose, and round his neck hung a whole lot of jewelry. The man was Ernesto Chavez in all his glory, and his appearance was almost identical to the photo Bobby had shown me. There was a small difference, however—the guy was aware he was going to a meeting and so he had his shirt buttoned all the way up. I quickly snapped a few pictures through the hole, changed the cameras, and snapped again.

The boss of Greenspace slowly went around the huge front hood of the limo, closely followed by his thugs who were nervously looking around, and then they all went through the line of thugs who were guarding the sidewalk. By the time the entire group had reached the front door of the restaurant, three surprisingly big Chins had come out of it to meet them. They too had machine-guns in their hands. The six men paused in front of the door and scrutinized one another’s weapons as if to reassure themselves they were heavy enough for the occasion. This actually gave me time to snap a whole lot of pictures. Then the men stepped inside—the guests were first, and the hosts followed behind.

The thugs that stayed outside on the sidewalk kept the restaurant and the people inside at close watch. The shades of the big French windows were open and their task was easy enough. Incidentally, I had never seen mafia bosses having a meeting in the presence of so much heavy weaponry before. In my experience, they usually had it the other way around and assured there were no weapons on the table!

I nervously snapped a few more pictures, managing to entangle the straps of my cameras as I switched from one to the other. I should say here that I didn’t expect operating two cameras to be so hard. I mean, I knew it would be difficult, but it actually exceeded every expectation of mine. I had never felt so awkward in my entire life. Besides, I wasn’t even sure if the pictures were going to be good enough without the zoom lenses. The distance to the restaurant was about ten meters and it was likely too far for delicate details, like faces and expressions, to show up. I hesitantly turned my head back to the car but it was already too late for me to go back for the extensions. The Beijing was too far away and it would have looked suspicious to the thugs if I had done so. I decided to stay in the booth.

Meanwhile, the meeting in the restaurant went on. Chavez took his seat at a table by one of the windows and assured himself he had visual contact with his thugs outside, just as Bobby had presumed. A very short Chin appeared and sat down across the table from Chavez. It was Li Jin Tao, I gathered—the main character in the GBI file I had read that morning. He looked just like every other Chinese gang member in Greenland: wearing a sports outfit and a pair of sunglasses. I just didn’t know why but after the disintegration of China, all the Chinese in Nuuk started copying the style of Bruce Lee again—like in the old times. The guy also had something in his right hand—a bunch of paper sheets. I snapped them with my cameras.

The meeting went on for some twenty minutes with the two bosses just talking. The thugs with machine-guns stood alert and upright, each group behind their respective boss. At some point, I grew accustomed to the shooting and I figured out what the best tactics for operating two devices simultaneously would be. In order to be effective, I had to draw a line on the dirty glass instead of the dot. The trick was to hold both the cameras pressed tightly together and watch through the viewfinder of just one of them. In this case, the second camera retained just a slightly different angle and it was relatively safe for me to shoot blindly this way. Soon I really unleashed myself and started feeling sixty grand crawling up my jeans legs into my pockets!

There was one minor problem with this technique, however. Since I was snapping like crazy and trying to compensate the luck of quality for abundance of quantity, eventually I lost track of which camera belonged to Bobby and which one to Sharon. I completely entangled their straps. On the other hand, it didn’t matter that much because the sole difference between the two was the picture of Sharon, which I had taken the previous night. Both my clients were going to be mad at me anyway because of the quality of the shots so I was simply going to say I had snapped a picture of a strange woman by accident if the problematic camera went to Bobby in the end.

After a couple of minutes more, I noticed some change in the restaurant. Chavez discretely waved a hand toward one of his guards out on the street, and the latter promptly went to the jeep where a black briefcase was handed to him from inside. I gathered it contained samples. The thug took it to the restaurant door, and one of Chavez’s other thugs, accompanied by one of the Chins, took it from him there. I quickly put my double snapping machinery together and got ready for a huge session of almost identical pictures, feeling my pockets overflowing with money. Unfortunately, as it always happens when I feel hopeful about something, my luck was about to give out on me. In that moment, it betrayed me so badly that at first, I didn’t even realize the extent of the betrayal. I found it out just later.

Suddenly I heard a horrific knocking too close to my ears as if someone was tapping on the glass window on my right. I jumped up, terrified, and dropped one of the cameras, and thank God, the straps had fastened together because I would have lost it for good. The next second, I noticed an old Chinese man standing outside. He seemed angry with me and he obviously wanted to get in. I looked at him, confused. Even in my worst fears, I hadn’t expected to see a person who would want to use a wired telephone in the twenty-first century. And even less had I expected that he would want to use it while I was in there! The situation was extremely delicate because Chavez’s thugs were standing ten meters away from us across the street with huge guns in their holsters, which they lovingly caressed every now and then.

I cautiously opened the door and asked the guy to wait for a while, which was stupid anyway because if he waited, I was not going to be able to take more pictures. In that moment, I couldn’t think properly, however. To make the things worse, the fucking bastard refused to speak my language in my country and he was way too noisy at that! He started screaming something in Chinese and his high-pitched voice was so loud that I had no other option but to try gagging his mouth by giving him my cellphone. Unfortunately, he wouldn’t take it. He wanted to use the booth, which I needed to shoot more pictures.

It all suddenly became very complicated. It almost felt like a Mexican standoff. The jerk was out and he wanted to get in; I was in and didn’t want to get out; and the thugs were across the street, and even though they wanted to come here and see what was going on, they couldn’t because they shouldn’t leave their boss behind. Nevertheless, one thing had the potential to break this stalemate quite soon, and that was if the racket reached Chavez. When that happened, I would be doomed!

Everything quickly escalated into a hideous quarrel quite soon. After a few minutes, I completely forgot about the briefcase and the need to snap pictures and instead, I concentrated entirely on the task of hiding the bulky cameras under my tiny jacket because I was somehow sure it was vitally important for me to do it as soon as possible. The only problem was that my mission was simply not possible! I couldn’t detangle the straps, for one thing. And just when I thought things couldn’t become worse, they actually did. I heard a weird and highly disturbing noise again, only it was not so close to me now. Since I was so nervous, however, it sent unpleasant thrills through my body as if it had sounded right next to my ear.

I sharply turned my head to the left, shivering. Between the awful shrieks of the nasty Chinese man, I had heard the sound of a car door shutting and it made me remember the jerk who had been sitting in his car nearby. The possibility that he might be an undercover cop flashed across my mind. His idling suddenly made perfect sense, and if my presumption was right, more cops were probably going to appear very soon. It was going to make a terrible mess out of my stupid case!

I anxiously thrust my head outside because the glass window was too dirty and tried to look up the street. It really was the guy in the Hondsu who had made the noise. He was out of the car now, but interestingly enough, he was not coming my way. He was going up the street toward my car. When he reached my Beijing, he stopped, furtively looked around for a brief moment, and then looked inside the vehicle. In that second, I already knew perfectly well what he was doing: he was not a fucking cop; he was a fucking thief!

I simply couldn’t believe my eyes. I sharply pushed the door open, shoving the Chin away, just in time to see the stupid jerk getting into my Beijing. He immediately started the engine and drove toward us and my beloved beauty didn’t even complain about it! She betrayed me without a single cough, or puff, or any other form of reluctance. I was so dumbfounded I didn’t even move further before the bastard had come half the distance between us. Only then did I suddenly come alive.

Without thinking at all, I jumped out on the street and tried to block his way as if I could stop him with my fists and reproach alone! It was too late though even for such desperate measures. The thief peacefully drove by without even looking at me, and the only thing I was able to do was to snap a picture of him. Then, when he reached the restaurant, he slowed down, and to my amazement, pointed a handgun out of the side window and shot randomly at the Red Dragon windows. Then the jerk sharply stepped on the gas and the car zipped down the street before Chavez’s thugs had even had the chance to take their weapons out!

I found myself shocked and completely unable to move. I stood there, frozen, and at first, I didn’t even grasp the scope of the situation I had gotten into. And it was quite hideous, in fact! I was in the middle of the street, a few meters away from eight heavily armed thugs, in a very threatening proximity to the place where mafia bosses were having a secret meeting, and I was holding not just one but two cameras in my hands. I was thoroughly fucked!

As soon as I realized this, I stopped even breathing. I was not the only one who was surprised by the situation, however. Chavez’s bodyguards stood still too, their eyes popping out, and although their hands held the guns now, they were clearly not sure what they were supposed to do with the weapons. It had all happened so quickly that they weren’t able to assimilate the events and decide whether I had any connection to the shooter or whether I was just a stupid pedestrian. Although the situation turned out to be lagging, it was surely not going to last forever. At some point, I would have to react, and somewhere in the depths of my mind, I knew that if I reacted by running, it would be taken as an admission of guilt!

I slowly crept out of my stupor and began to move, but without having any idea what I was going to do. I tried to walk away but with my cameras, I looked rather like a safari idiot who had picked the wrong savanna! I must have walked quite weirdly too—mostly because of my muscle soreness—because the thugs promptly pointed their guns at me. Now when I think about it, given their intense agitation, I realize they must have thought I was attacking them with my snapping devices and exotic martial art movements! I would have actually died the very next second, if another sudden change hadn’t happened right then.

The side door, which led directly to the restaurant kitchen, burst open loudly and thousands of shards of glass flew wildly in every possible direction, like shrapnel. Moments later, a whole bunch of Chinese people jumped out, their shrill voices so high, and their arms and legs so severely flying around to demonstrate hostile intentions, that they looked like crazy ballet-dancers from the Beijing Opera who were staging a play in praise of the Revolution. Each of them held kitchen utensils appropriate for the occasion, and although they looked a bit funny, they were still harmful enough.

I found myself staggering for a third time, while the thugs in front of me looked utterly confused. With the guns in their hands, they sharply turned to the left; then some of them turned back to me; then some of them—to the left again. Eventually, all of them found the newcomers more dangerous than I was, and the newcomers, for their part, wrongly took the former for the shooters at the windows. Right after that, more thugs with weapons poured out onto the street from the main restaurant door and this next change immediately made the group with the kitchen utensils even more nervous. Just having the “weapons” in their hands was suddenly not enough now, and they started assuming very threatening poses with them. The situation quickly spiraled completely out of control because too many people had come out without anyone knowing how many enemies he was about to fight against. This confusion actually saved my poor ass.

In the commotion, I turned around unnoticed and ran as I had never run before. I ran like hell! I didn’t know where I was going and it didn’t even matter. I just wanted to be as far away as possible. Very soon, the first shots echoed behind me but they were not for me. The thugs were obviously exchanging a little fire before grasping the simple fact that they were all on the same team and that the shooter had been a different party.

Meanwhile, I had already run through half of Nuuk, breaking nine Olympic records, exceeding a dozen speed limits, and violating many other traffic rules! I just couldn’t stop, and I didn’t stop until I found myself home and buried my head deeply under the bed cover. Even then, I kept running in my mind all night long, trembling!


©2016 S.T. Fargo
ALL RIGHTS RESERVED!
(www.stfargo.com)

Eurasian Gambit—Chapter 8 | a science-fiction crime novel by S.T. Fargo

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