I hope you enjoy the following excerpt
I must have dosed off sometime after three and slept heavily until woken by the smell of coffee. Karen laid a cup on the scruffy bedside cabinet, then sat in a chair watching me. It made me feel awkward. Mornings with her always did. At night it seemed more normal. She had none of the usual signs of sleep, her hair was brushed and her face appeared freshly scrubbed and lightly made up. She was smiling as she sipped her drink and it was easy to smile back at her. She was thirty years old at most and I was pushing mid-forties, but it didn’t seem to matter. Despite how we met, I liked her, and she seemed to like me. Okay, I was still paying her the nightly fee, but our times together seemed to transcend business alone. At least that’s how I saw it at the time.
We sat in silence drinking coffee until she laid her cup on the chest of drawers and said, ‘What will you do today, Mike?’
‘Tommy, you should call me Tommy just in case.’ I drained my cup. ‘At around lunchtime I have to collect my papers from your friend.’
‘And then you will leave?’
Her eyes dropped slightly when I nodded.
‘And the other thing … the gun? Will you go without it?’
‘I think that’ll be best. I really don’t want to involve you in that. And even if I do it alone, people know we’ve been together so you’ll be involved just because of that. If I really feel I need one I’ll find one in Spain I guess.’ I got out of bed and pulled on my jeans and said, ‘Is there anymore coffee?’
She took the cup from my hand picked up her own and returned to the kitchen. I’d just finished getting dressed when there was a heavy knock on the door. Then a loud persistent knocking backed up by a guttural male voice.
By the time I stepped into the hallway Karen was at the door speaking rapidly in French through a small gap limited by a chain. I stepped close behind her and asked if everything was okay. She didn’t answer but from the look on her face it wasn’t.
The door flew open snapping the chain and knocking Karen backwards into me. The man pushed through and came at us with a murderous look on his face. I grabbed Karen’s arm and pulled her roughly behind me. A fist hit me a hammer blow to the face. Before I could react, he punched me under the ribs. I was gasping for air and struggling to get out of his reach. Kicking his knee slowed him but far from disabled him. Karen was shouting in French and he roared back and spat at her. Another blow to the side of my head and I was struggling to stay on my feet. We grappled as he tried to bash my head against a wall. With all the fight I had left I dragged him into the sitting room.
Then he fell.
Everything went quiet and Karen was looking down at him holding a stone sculpture in her right hand. Blood leaked out of his head and spread across the floor. For a five beat we both just looked down at him, not moving, not speaking. I squatted beside him, there was a deep gaping gash in the back of his head and no pulse. What the hell had just happened? We went from morning coffee to murder in under thirty seconds.
Karen was staring wide-eyed, seemingly unable to speak.
‘Who is he? What was he saying?’
‘Benni. He is my controller. A pimp as you say in English. He was furious that I was going to get a gun. He thought I would use it against him.’
‘How did he know about it?’
‘It is a small world here in Marseille. Any number of people might have told him. Gaspard would have told them I was coming with you.’
‘The forger. Gaspard. It was him who arranged that I should show you where to go, and be your interpreter.’ She hung her head and turned away from the body of her former pimp.
‘Would he have told Benni?’
‘How do I know? And it doesn’t matter now. Benni is dead, and I’m a murderer.’
‘We have to get out of here. Is this your place or is it rented?’
‘Rented. What will you do?’
‘We. We have to get out of Marseille. You can’t call the police and claim self-defence because his head’s bashed in from behind. You’ll do fifteen years at best.’
I pinched the bridge of my nose trying to blot out the chaos and think clearly. Cleaning the apartment and dumping the body was out of the question. Blood was already soaking into the wooden floorboards. It would take a forensic team less than two minutes to discover all the blood. The only option was to run.
‘What are you doing?’ she asked as I turned the body over.
‘Looking for a gun. Does he carry a gun? If he thought I might have one, he’d probably be armed himself.’
I carried on feeling all along his body and found his wallet which I removed. Then I felt a hard lump in an inside jacket pocket. It was a short-nosed revolver, all black, with black insulating tape around the handgrip. Karen was watching me intently. I had no real plan other than to get out of France as quickly as possible and take her with me. I laid the gun and wallet on the table and finished searching Benni finding nothing more of value.
The wallet held about a thousand euros and a few credit cards. I took the cash and dropped the rest.
‘What will you do?’ she asked again.
‘We both have to leave Marseille today. Quickly pack whatever you want to take with you, but just one travel bag. Can you do that?’
She was close to tears when she said, ‘Oui.’
‘Then do it now.’