Tuesday, 29 April 2014

Cassidy meets Dmitri: Murder in Moscow excerpt

Chapter Three

Dmitri saw her get up and waved but she was gone before he could catch her eye
        “I win!” Ivo laughed.
        But Dmitri was pushing his way through the crowd. “Back in a sec.”
        He wasn’t sure why he was following her. He had a liking for redheads but chasing them about wasn’t his usual style. This one had something special about her that called to him.
        It wasn’t the willowy body, although that was worth a second and third look. It wasn’t the face either. She had lovely large eyes but the eyebrows were uncompromisingly straight. The aquiline nose, high cheekbones and sweetly curved mouth might have been beautiful if it hadn’t been for her closed, remote expression.
        It was the look in those large slanting hazel eyes, he decided. She looked a little sad, wistful even, but she stood tall, alert and straight shouldered. It was the look of a soldier. The whole look was an odd combination of vulnerability and strength. A steel Bambi
        He was no more than a few seconds behind her going out of the door but when he looked up and down the street, she had vanished.
        “Looking for the redhead?” one of the bouncers asked knowledgeably. “She went around the corner.”
        “Bloody hell! Into the alley?”
        “Yup. Walking fast too.”
        Cassidy was moving down the alley. A few steps down from the street she passed a large dumpster. It was full to the brim with bottles. Revelry’s empties, she thought. They were clearly doing a roaring business.
        As she moved away from the well-lit road, the alley became pitch black. Just as she judged she was half way down, she spotted the steel streetlight. It shed no light. Cassidy’s heart beat faster. Glancing up, she saw the bulb was smashed. It was second nature to double-check; the light was clean. It had been broken recently. The dark was calculated.
        She could see a shape coming towards her.
        “This way,” a hoarse whisper said in Russian.
        Cautiously she walked forward, her nerves on edge. Somehow she’d expected English. She framed her query carefully, speaking softly so her accent wouldn’t be too obvious. “Got a question for me?” Sometimes people freaked at this point and needed a reminder
        There was a chuckle in the dark. Cassidy froze. Something was wrong. This was going pear-shaped. And like a fool, she didn’t have a weapon.
        Cassidy began to back up slowly and quietly. A tiny flare of moonlight, peeking between the rain clouds, briefly illuminated the alley. To her horror she saw not one silhouette in front of her but two. A split second later a noise behind her told her there was another one stepping out from behind the dumpster. From the sound of a zip, he’d been quietly peeing there, invisible in the dark. Now he was blocking her retreat
        Cassidy’s heart was trying to jump out of her throat. This wasn’t just going pear-shaped; it was a major fucking disaster. She carefully took a lungful of air and willed herself to relax. This wasn’t a time to panic; this was a time to plan
        From their concerted movements, the three silhouettes were a pack.
        “Man, you only have to whistle and they come running, Maxim,” the one behind her sniggered
        Not agents but robbers, Cassidy thought.
        It was a huge relief. Professionals were fast and to the point; amateurs were easily distracted. She reached into the small shoulder bag she’d slung diagonally across her chest to frustrate Moscow’s pickpockets, took out her purse and threw it at the two in front of her. “Here’s all I’ve got,” she said. She half turned, managing to keep them all within her sight as she inched towards to bright street beckoning beyond the alley
        She could see the two men looking to the ground for her purse. Unbeknownst to them, she now had her office keys in her hand. The bunch was comfortingly heavy; the metal poking out from between her fingers.
        It was too dark to see. The two cursed loudly as they gave up looking for her purse. Thank God her dark trouser suit provided good cover. She wasn’t sure how well they could see her. Maybe if she faked out the one behind her, she could get past him and out into the open where she’d be safe. Meanwhile the two in front of her were becoming more and more confident of their prey.
        “Here pretty, pretty,” one of them hissed
        “Come on, let’s party.” That was the chuckler. He was edging closer to her
        Cassidy came to a swift decision. “Please don’t hurt me,” she whimpered. “Please!”
        Rough laughter from both sides caused her to back to the wall. “Oh please,” she whined again, her voice shaky with fear. “Oh my God, please.”
        Her ruse worked beautifully. Now supremely confident that their prey was weak, frightened, and helpless, the three men moved in - and within range. As one reached out to grab her shoulder, Cassidy leaned back and aimed a front snap at his crotch. He screamed and dropped to the ground, clutching himself and moaning
        Cassidy took half a step forward, and then lashed out, her foot circling up high and round in a powerful crescent strike. Unfortunately, he saw her move and stepped back rapidly. By his smooth action, Cassidy realised he had some martial arts training. He also outweighed her by 20 kilos and she’d lost the advantage of surprise. Time to act fast.
        The third man stood still. He hadn’t expected her to fight back and now he wasn’t sure what to do. He was the weakest point. It was time to crush him and exit
        Cassidy feigned a hook kick to his hip and when he took the bait and half turned to avoid it, punched him in the throat. He twisted at the last second so it hardly connected but the keys in her hand punctured the skin. The second he felt the blood trickling down his skin, he panicked.
        “You fucking bitch!” he screamed. “I’ll kill you.”
        The fight had moved them closer to the street. In the dim light that filtered through into the alley, Cassidy could now see the two men quite clearly. Unfortunately, they were too close to her. There was no way she could cut and run. They’d catch her in a second. Worse, as they were now on their guard, Cassidy knew her chances of fighting it out and winning were diminishing fast. She’d try a scissor strike. If she could lure them in closer, she could take these two out in one go
        She heard the sound of running feet coming towards her
        More trouble, Cassidy thought. If they had reinforcements, she was definitely dead.
        The one with the martial arts training was fumbling in his pocket. Frightened he had a gun, Cassidy knew she had no more time for trickery and deception. She went in fast and close and took him in the solar plexus with a swift eagle strike. As he slumped, his hand came up with a knife.
        The sight of it produced a surge of fear that provided an extra spurt of strength and determination. Cassidy moved in close and banged her hands over his ears, bursting his eardrums while she kneed him in the balls. He folded like a sack, retching with a high squealing sound
        “Are you all right?” With surprise Cassidy saw it was Dmitri. He moved lightly, stepping over the unconscious man at his feet. Cassidy hadn’t seen him go down. It must have been fast. As her first victim stirred and tried to sit up, Dmitri gave him a casual kick in the ribs. “Stay down,” he ordered. It was a hard voice, used to command. The man slumped instinctively
        Police, Cassidy thought. He must be plainclothes division.
        Looking around he smiled at her. “That was great,” he said. “Karate with a bit of Muay Thai improv. Or was it taekwondo? Either way, love it!”
        “Thanks,” Cassidy said warily. Having done routine paperwork like converting her drivers’ license and getting her residence card, her experience was that the Moscow police always had their hand out. She wondered how much this would cost her
        Dmitri saw with interest that his redhead was completely unmoved both by the attack or his appearance. She was breathing a little fast but otherwise she looked cool and composed; as if it was completely normal to stand about talking while three muggers were heaving their guts up all over the street. She really was something. He grinned companionably at her. “Let’s get this scum cleared away, huh?”
        He put his fingers in his mouth and whistled. Instantly there was an answering call
        Shit, Cassidy thought. She didn’t want to be mixed up with official reports even though clearly the handover was off
        Dmitri saw her wariness and thought she might not remember him. Men were probably trying to get her attention all the time. “Remember me? I’m Dmitri. We met earlier. Can I buy you a drink?”
        Cassidy stared at him. “What?”
        “A drink. I really wanted to ask you to dance but after this you must be thirsty, so drinks first and a dance later?”
        He was drunk, Cassidy decided. No sober man would ask her for a drink while stepping around three semiconscious, retching, groaning men. Dmitri looked sober but he must be plastered. Cassidy stifled a groan. A clandestine meet that had been a complete fuckup and now a tanked up copper looking for a date. Terrific. This just couldn’t get worse
        Three of the bouncers came running down the alley. With a few terse instructions from Dmitri they grasped the fallen attackers by their arms and began dragging them rather ungently towards the street.
        “They will keep an eye on them while we call the cops,” Dmitri said cheerfully. He stooped and picked up her wallet. “Yours, I think?”
        She couldn’t catch it all as he spoke quickly but she got the general gist. “Thanks.”
        As the small procession began walking slowly up the alley, Dmitri took Cassidy’s arm, tucking it into his. Her first impulse was to pull away. She couldn’t remember the last time someone had touched her. Then the warmth of his hand as he gently rubbed her arm sent a shiver through her. The tiny movement of his fingers on her arm set her heart beating faster. She had a sudden wish to lean into him and kiss him
        For a moment, Cassidy stared at him, totally confused.
        “You still haven’t told me your name, beautiful girl,” he said companionably
        “It’s Cassidy.”
        He instantly switched to English. “You speak terrific Russian! What are doing in dark alleys? Are you a spy?” Dmitri chuckled as she stiffened. “Just kidding!”
        “I took a wrong turning,” Cassidy said lamely
        “Right. It’s so hard to tell the difference between a well lit main road and a dark alley,” he said cheerfully. “It’s ok, I’m very discreet. I won’t ask any more questions. So where are you from exactly? And are you married? I hope not. I’m single and very available. I also love redheads. Do you like Russian food? Can I take you for dinner tomorrow?”
        His flirtatious chattiness was such a contrast to the tense scene before that Cassidy felt a bubble of laughter rise in her; she giggled
        Dmitri looked at her and felt his heart skip a beat. The giggle was deliciously bubbly and came with a smile that lit up her face. The cool detached ice-queen vanished, revealing an elfin girl with a mischievous smile and an engaging sparkle in her hazel eyes. The transformation was almost magical.
        This is what he’d sensed when he’d first seen her. This is what had made him go after her. Dmitri resolved that he wouldn’t let her rush off again; he wanted this mysterious, wonderful, exciting girl.
        Back in the brightly lit street, the queue in front of Revelry gazed with interest as the bouncers dragged the three groaning men to the kerb and dumped them there unceremoniously. Spotting a police van cruising by, Dmitri gave them a friendly wave. They immediately stopped, pulling up in front of the trio on thepavement. “These three attacked my friend,” Dmitri announced.
        Two uniformed cops instantly examined Cassidy. “What happened?” one of them asked
        “I...erm...” Cassidy thought fast. She had no explanation of why she’d turned into the alley
        “She’s a bit drunk,” Dmitri said, “and she’s with me.”
        Instantly the suspicious looks vanished. Without asking another question, they cuffed Cassidy’s assailants and bundled them roughly into the van
        Dmitri casually handed them some cash. “Can we come and make statements later?” he said. “We need a drink.”
        “Any time,” one of the officers assured him. “We’ll keep them on ice. In fact, come tomorrow. We’re too busy tonight to do paperwork and these bastards can rot for a while.”
        “Terrific, thanks.”
        “Erm, Dmitri, did you mess them up?” the policeman asked apologetically. “We don’t want another death in custody. We’ve had two this week and the boss is fed up with paperwork.”
        Cassidy blinked. She knew she’d understood him properly. She also knew from the newspapers and stories told at the office that Moscow police could be very heavy-handed yet this openness was shocking. She would never get used to the casual way Russians accepted flagrant breaches of human rights.
        Dmitri was about to tell him to ask Cassidy but a glance at her face made him change his mind. It was the ice princess standing next to him again. Clearly she wasn’t happy about this turn of events. It didn’t occur to him to question her; he instinctively covered for her. “It’s not serious,” he said evasively. “A few kicks and a neck wound that’s more bloody than dangerous.”
        “Right. Drop by tomorrow, ok?”
        “And you too,” the policeman said to Cassidy. “We need you as a witness.”
        She nodded, glad they’d assumed Dmitri had taken them all out by himself. He must be a well-known martial arts expert, she thought. He must be quite senior too by the respectful way they deferred to him
        The policeman looked at the trio in the van. “I know this lot,” he said darkly. “I shall be glad to have a word with them later myself.”
        Cassidy knew she ought to be appalled by the implication. This time though, she was secretly rather pleased. From the way these had moved in, it was obvious they had worked as a team before. Cassidy was certain there were women out there, not as lucky as her, who’d been attacked and raped by them. Human rights be damned, she thought to herself. Knowing they’d be beaten “while resisting arrest” was giving her a warm glow of satisfaction.
        The police drove off, waving in a friendly way
        “You’re on the force?” Cassidy asked Dmitri
        “Like Star Wars?”
        “Like copper. Police.”
        “Nope, I’m ex army though. And I’m local so they know me.”
        “Oh, right.”
        “Let’s have that drink.”
        “I should go.”
        “We have to get our story straight,” Dmitri reminded her. As Cassidy hesitated, he gestured to Revelry’s front door. “Just one drink.” She was still keyed up from the fight but not in shock. This was one tough girl, Dmitri thought. He patted her on the arm, adding persuasively, “It wouldn’t do to make them suspicious by presenting different stories.”
        He was right. Her instinct was telling her to get out fast but she knew that was just a reaction from the ‘flight or fight’ response caused by the attack. This wasn’t the time to listen to her body; this was where her brain had to lead. She had to follow through as if it were a mugging or they’d be suspicious.
        Cassidy quietly cursed Sparrow-Hayes. This was getting way too complicated. “All right.”

Want to read the whole story?
Murder in Moscow at Amazon   
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