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Thriller – Part three


(Following submission by Joe Prentis)

Alex tried not to react to Milo Broucek’s unexpected appearance, but he realized that he had hesitated too long before making his denial. The small silver pen clipped to the lapel pocket of this man’s suit had once adorned the cap of a Nazi SS officer during World War II. This was to identify him as his contact, but it was obvious that there was something wrong. Was this man drunk? Why had he approached him so openly? He could smell alcohol and the odor of cheap tobacco, and could see a bulge that was probably a pistol underneath his coat. He took a careful look around the restaurant, seeing an elderly woman with a child occupying a table in the corner. The child was playing with a pack of cigarettes, tapping them against the top of the table. The woman was watching indulgently, a half-smile playing around the corners of her lips. Four young adults at a nearby table were leaned forward, engaged in an animated conversation. They did not seem to be aware of anything going on around them. One of the men said something and the blonde one threw back her head and laughed. He decided that they were probably what they appeared to be, college students on a weekend outing. Through the double doors on his left, the concourse was almost empty with only a few stragglers making their weary way toward the exit. A soldier with an AK47 was strolling slowly past. He glanced through the open doorway, but did not see anything that aroused his curiosity.

“Where is Katka?” Alex demanded when the soldier moved along without stopping.

Broucek’s eyes shifted slightly to the left and downward, the betraying action of a practiced liar. “I am afraid that Miss Katka has suffered an unfortunate accident.”

“What kind of accident?” Alex was watching carefully for his reaction.

He made a sighing sound, but did not look like he was sorry. “Her car left the road. She was not seriously injured, but she will be under medical supervision for the next few weeks. Some of our roads are terrible, not what you are accustomed to in England.”

“Then I will need to see her immediately.”

“I am afraid that is impossible. It will be my pleasure, however, to escort you to your hotel. I will be completely at your disposal while you are here. If you will let me have your bag, I have a car waiting outside.”

Alex had no intention of surrendering the bag or the canvas it contained to this stranger. When he grabbed at the handle, he turned quickly away, blocking the movement with his hip. Broucek took a step backward but continued to stare down at Alex’s wrist where the handcuffs were hidden underneath the cuff of his jacket. He had evidently seen the glint of metal as he turned. When he looked up, Broucek’s face was flushed, the anger glittering in his eyes.

“Don’t you trust us?” Broucek asked, trying to make it appear that he was offended but only managed to look evasive.

“It isn’t a matter of trust. Do I have to remind you what a Matisse is worth on today’s market?”

Alex saw the little flicker of his eyelids and realized that they had not told him what he was carrying. A masterpiece worth eight million pounds was enough to tempt anyone and it was obvious that this man would be tempted by far less. Alex realized that he was looking across his shoulder into the corner of the room. This meant that there were at least two of them, maybe more. He felt a moment of sadness, and a vague, undefined sense of regret. He would have to kill Broucek and the man working with him, and then he would have to find Katka.

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