Extract from Moscow Bound

Scott sat alone in a booth by the window of the Tutti Frutti lounge in Pushkin Square. It was the quietest place in the restaurant, away from the Japanese DJ’s obsession with Freddy Cannon’s Palisades Park. It was Tom’s favorite eatery in Moscow; he’d told Scott that he’d been brought up on 50s rock, thanks to a fanatical uncle. Scott began writing in his pocket notepad drafting a letter of condolence to Tom’s two daughters.

A waiter brought his order to the table: a café latte, a blueberry muffin and a glass of water.

A man slid into the booth on the bench opposite him. ‘Mind if I sit here?’ the man asked. ‘I like to watch the world go by.’

Scott looked up and stopped writing. He felt queasy. The man, in his thirties, had ginger hair in tight curls and a face full of freckles; an unusual, though not unique, complexion for a Russian. Two of the adjacent booths also had vacant window seats. ‘Can’t you sit—’

‘Look at your chest,’ Ginger said.

Scott obliged, and swallowed hard. A red dot roved around the left side of his upper torso. He’d seen the dot before, in the movies. He clenched his fists and froze.

‘He’s on the roof across the street.’ Ginger looked out of the window.

Scott scanned the buildings; he couldn’t see the marksman.

‘And if you’re thinking of making a run for it when a pedestrian blocks the line of sight, forget it.’ Ginger squinted. ‘Down below.’

Scott leant back and peered under the table. His eyes met a pistol barrel with an extended silencer inches from his crotch. He sat up. If they, whoever they were, wanted to kill him, the sniper could easily have picked him off on the sidewalk earlier. They wanted something from him. It wasn’t the time to show his fear. He leant into Ginger’s face. ‘Okay, so you can kill me in the blink of an eye. Who are you and what do you want?’

‘The list of names.’

Scott gulped.

Ginger’s gun hand remained out of sight.

Scott broke the muffin into pieces on his plate. Had Ginger and his sniper friend killed the poor lad from Kiev? ‘What list of names?’ He ate some of the muffin; determined not to show anxiety.

‘We don’t have time to play cat and mouse,’ Ginger said.

Scott looked at his chest again. The red dot had settled on his heart. Would they kill him without collecting the list? No. The list was more important to them than his life. ‘I haven’t got it with me.’

‘We have transport. Get up. And walk towards the door.’

Ginger turned his head. He was wearing an earpiece.

Scott pocketed his notepad, stood up, threw some ruble notes on the table, and walked to the door, where he took his coat from a peg. He peered again at his chest. The red dot had disappeared. He could feel Ginger’s hot breath on his neck. He assumed the gun was hidden in Ginger’s pocket, and pointing at one of his kidneys. He hesitated. What would happen if he were to drop to the floor, clutching his chest and screaming? He felt a prod in his back with a hard object. He walked outside, and stopped.

‘Keep moving,’ Ginger said.

He felt another jab in his back. ‘Which way?’

‘See that white truck to your right, parked by the street sign?’ Ginger asked.

‘Yes.’

‘Walk over to the rear doors. Take it easy, and don’t look back.’

Scott glanced at his chest for the fourth time. The red dot was back in place. The street was crowded with lunchtime office workers and shoppers; he could lose his tail and the red dot with relative ease. But how many innocent bystanders would get shot in the ensuing drama?

‘You haven’t told me who you are. I’ll need your name and address for the receipt.’

‘Shut up.’

He felt two sharp prods in the back. He stopped at the rear doors of the truck. ‘Now what?’

Ginger stepped up to Scott’s side and raised his hand as if to rap on the door, but he hesitated.

Scott watched as Ginger turned and looked skyward, across the street.

Three whip-like cracks resounded across the square. Scott and Ginger turned to see the pedestrians staring at the rooftops. Scott followed their eye line.

Silence.

Everything turned to slow motion.

A body had fallen from the roof and was floating like a feather towards the ground, arms and legs gently flailing in limbo.

The onlookers appeared to be wading through treacle as they parted.

The blood-soaked body kissed the sidewalk without a sound.

Scott blinked and people’s screams pierced the air. The truck’s rear doors crashed open and knocked Scott to his knees.

Groggy, he looked up.

Two people wearing balaclavas hauled Ginger inside the truck and pulled the doors to.

The truck sped away. Scott rose to his feet.

Two hundred meters down the road, the truck screeched to a halt.

The doors flew open again. Ginger rolled out onto the road. The truck sped away.

Ginger didn’t move.

Scott stood rooted to the curbside.

His stomach turned somersaults.

His cellphone rang.

The screen was blank.

His hand was shaking.

‘Hello, Scott Mitchell speaking,’ he said in English. His native tongue gave him a momentary sense of sanity on Moscow’s streets.

‘Scott, this is Lieutenant-General Pravda.’ He also spoke in English. ‘It is time for you to come in from the cold.’