The wrong man is murdered in a café in Istanbul. A feared Russian assassin, mortified by his mistake, vows to put it right. Harry Fingle’s lover becomes over-inquisitive, and his spy-friend tells him to watch out.
Tension mounts. The Russians hire a Serbian hitman as a back-up executioner, and Harry questions his trusted spy-friend’s loyalties.
Snow, ten centimetres deep, covered the top of the black coffin. At 7:00 a.m., just after dawn, a tall man–dressed in a black overcoat and wearing a scarf, gloves, and a black Astrakhan hat–stepped out of a government Mercedes and walked briskly up the snow-covered path to where four undertakers stood by a recently dug, ten-metre-deep, empty grave. The head undertaker greeted the man. ‘We’re ready, sir,’ he said in Russian. The tall man nodded, and watched on as the four men prepared to lower the wooden box down into the cold, black hole. The light snow that had been falling all morning turned into heavy flakes, and settled on the men’s dark clothing in seconds. They brushed the snow from their faces and took hold of the straps that supported the coffin, lifted it up, and lowered it into the grave. Once it had reached the bottom, they released the straps and let them drop with a solid plop onto the top of the coffin. Each picked up a spade and shovelled earth, as fast as they could, from the nearby mound into the hole. It took them five minutes to make the grave undistinguishable from the snow-clad surroundings. The head undertaker dropped his spade. An icy blast blew snow into his face. He ignored it, reached into his pocket, and pulled out a small slip of paper. He handed it to the tall man. ‘Please sign, sir,’ the undertaker said.
The man obliged, handed the paper back, turned up the collar of his coat, covered half his face with his scarf, and left. ‘It’s done,’ he said into his phone as he walked away to his waiting car.
A few deaths
Blood splattered all over the wall. Large blobs and spots of the stuff spread over an area about two-by-three metres. Uneven, red streaks dribbled down the shiny, tiled surface. It was a shocking, ghastly sight, and Harry Fingle felt all colour drain from his face. He gagged and put a hand up to his mouth. He hadn’t heard the gunshot, or seen the victim crumple to the floor with his head blown apart. He’d just seen the blood, and heard a woman shriek and start to wail.
Oh my God, he thought, and jumped to his feet and turned towards the throng of people from Istanbul’s Grand Bazaar who’d gathered around. He caught sight of a tall, thin man–wearing a black, casual jacket–pushing his way through the crowd, racing off down one of many passages, and disappearing into the distance. Harry turned back to face the terrified expression of the café owner and his wife as they gathered around the table where the man had been shot. He watched as the owner tried to help and comfort the woman who cradled the poor man in her lap. Her face and clothes were soaked in his blood and gore. Gruesome segments of his brain clung to her. She wept loudly and continuously.
He’s dead. No doubt about that, Harry thought as he glanced at the remains of the man’s shattered head and the grisly mess. He felt sick; he looked away and came face-to-face with four policemen, who pushed him aside, brushed past, and rushed towards the murder scene.
One of the policemen shouted out instructions in Turkish, and the other occupants of the café sat down at their tables, all with serious expressions. Harry guessed the policeman had told them to stay where they were and not leave. He did the same. Nobody knew where to look. Everybody glanced down and away from the incident. Harry noticed the expressions of shock and horror on all the faces. A busy, popular café–where tourists and Istanbul’s residents would stop for a rest, refreshments, and a break from the bustle and constant barter of the city’s famous Grand Bazaar–had been turned into a morgue-like room, full of people so shocked and traumatised that they looked as though they’d seen a ghost walk over their graves.
The medics arrived and started to deal with the victim and comfort his female compatriot, whose cries had turned into long, wailing sobs. One of the policemen stood and addressed the café’s customers in Turkish and English. He said the police wanted to interview everyone who’d been in the café at the time of the incident. No one was allowed to leave. The interviewing officers would talk to everyone as quickly as possible. The policeman asked for patience.
Harry had been sitting on his own, gazing at the beauty of the mosaic tiles on the now-bloodstained wall, when the shooting took place. He put a hand up to his face, rubbed his stubbly chin, and looked down at his untouched cup of coffee and slice of baklava. He couldn’t stomach either, and pushed the cup and plate away from him. He clasped his hands together and started to think.
He’d come to Istanbul on his own for a four-day break. He had a friend who worked at the British Consulate, and he was due to meet up with him later in the day. Harry had arrived in the city late the previous evening. He’d taken a taxi straight to his hotel, and gone to bed. When he woke, he skipped breakfast, and decided to make the Grand Bazaar his first visit of the day. He’d pulled on a pair of shorts, slipped into a T-shirt, stepped into his Converse sneakers, and rushed from his room, asking the hotel receptionist for directions as he passed. He’d stopped off to buy an espresso and a croissant, and ate them en route.
The Grand Bazaar is one of the largest and oldest covered markets in the world, with sixty-one covered streets and over three thousand shops. It’s located in the ancient, walled city of Istanbul, and attracts between two-hundred-and-fifty and four hundred thousand visitors daily, and is a maze of narrow, cobbled streets with domed ceilings, covered with tiny mosaic tiles, and crammed with small, vibrant shops that sell clothing, jewellery, oriental carpets, luggage, musical instruments, cutlery and crockery, and more. It’s busy and lively, with a loud, bustling atmosphere brought about by the traders who shout, hassle, and barter with the many, multinational visitors who pass by. After Harry had walked around for two hours, he stumbled on the small, pretty coffee shop–full of people–and had decided to take a break.
He was nearly forty, and an investigative journalist for The Morning Times. He’d worked for them for some years, but after an enforced absence from the newspaper for eighteen months–after he was set-up and charged for a crime he didn’t commit, and subsequently acquitted–he’d rejoined them six months previously. He had just finished an exhaustive assignment and had looked forward to the short break in Istanbul, and to meeting up with his old friend again. After witnessing the bloody murder, he wasn’t so sure.
As the wait to be interviewed dragged on, he started to think more about what had happened. He glanced to where the victim had been murdered. The body had been removed. The person’s distraught, female compatriot had left, or been taken away, and the table and surrounding area had been screened off to hide the gory scene and the work being done by the police forensic officers. It was then that he realised he sat within a few millimetres of the bullet’s fatal trajectory. He shivered and felt a little shaky.