From his table just outside the café on the Rue de la Tour, the agent could see across the busy Rue de la Pompe as the plan unfolded. He could also see that the plan was in trouble.
He calmly sipped coffee from its small cup and added the variables. The writer, his wife and their 20-year-old daughter had emerged from the Le Chalet following lunch and were now strolling with their handlers up the narrow and crowded Parisian street, cloudy with encroaching rain in the air. But there was not a single handler as was expected, there were three, plus the driver waiting at the double-parked Citroen. Two of the handlers he recognized as specialists of the security service; tough nuts to crack, but he doubted they would recognize him, giving him a small advantage. The writer’s family moved slowly, happily gawking, as might be expected having been shut away under house arrest for a decade-plus. Reviled by his country’s authoritarian government for his criticisms, the writer was internationally recognized and respected – that’s why he was still alive. Allowed, after international outcry, to attend a literary symposium, it was the job of the handlers to make sure he and his family were returned to their country, and to house arrest, without incident.
The agent’s job, as he placed his coffee cup on the table and dabbed a napkin to his lips, was to facilitate their escape.
He folded his newspaper under his arm and strolled towards the scene, suavely stepping around pedestrians, nonchalantly reaching quickly into his jacket to hit the safety on his Walther. Right on cue the writer’s wife seemed to spy something in the window of a small art gallery just past the Franprix Paris and backtracked towards it. The writer and daughter followed. The handlers tried to discourage them and move them into the double-parked Citroen. A minor argument ensued. The wife dismissed the handlers with a wave of her hand and entered the gallery. The writer and daughter followed. The handlers shrugged. They indicated to the double-parked driver he should circle the block, then the two specialists he recognized followed them inside leaving the third handler to stand guard outside.
By now, the agent had reached the gallery. The handler raised a hand to slow his entry; the last thing they wanted was a crowded gallery. He gave the handler an angry look, barked at him in his most annoyed Parisian accent that he had business inside, and the handler eased back. He entered. The extremely attractive gallery attendant, who was not really a gallery attendant, was already attempting to distract the two agents. His other colleague – if there had only been one handler he could have taken care of this himself – was nervous off to the side, trying to signal to the family towards the little side room. He’d be spotted in another few seconds. The walls of the gallery were crowded with modern art hung almost on top of each other; the window facing the street likewise mostly obscured. One of the specialists seemed to be scanning the art, his back turned to the second as the attendant flirted with him – that was the one about a half second from figuring this out, he thought. He pulled his Walther and smashed its butt behind the right ear of first specialist, knocking him cold to the floor, then quickly turned the barrel against the temple of the second. “No”, he told him, and the specialist’s initial muscle twitches towards the gun in his own coat froze. The attendant gasped, her eyes fixed on the specialist whose own eyes were moving rapidly back and forth. “Go”, he told her as he reached into the specialist’s coat and disarmed him. She did. In back, he knew she’d be slipping through and then closing the panel that had been cut in the back wall which, hopefully, the writer and family had already been escorted through by his colleague – it would be difficult but not impossible to find the panel later. They would exit the building, cross a courtyard, and meet their escape car waiting on the Avenue Henri Martin. “Look at the painting,” he told the specialist, who had seemed to calm after his initial shock. The agent knew the specialist would be calculating a counterattack. It would take the family roughly two minutes to cross the courtyard and find the escape car; perhaps longer if they were addled. He doubted he had two minutes before this unraveled. “Some people”, he said to the specialist, “Get a headache looking at modern art,” and with that he smashed his Walther against the back of his skull, sending him unconscious on the floor as well. Handler outside the window still hadn’t noticed the activity behind the obstructions. The agent pulled the weapon from the coat of the first specialist, put both their weapons in his coat as well as his own.
A painting was already wrapped against the counter, and he took it and left the gallery. He gave another angry frown to the handler. “Pig,” he called him in Parisian, then turned his back and waked back up the Rue de la Tour. He reached the corner with the Rue de la Pompe as the Citroen returned. He looked towards the intersection with the Avenue Henri Martin and saw the escape car move through it. He’d been supposed to be in it. He’d have to make his own way back.
Figured he had another several minutes. He ditched the painting, crossed the Rue de la Pompe and entered the Café de la mairie, and was at a window table with a vodka martini, ordering the foie gras de canard maison as the handlers, one with blood dripping down his neck, began a frantic search along the streets.
All my life I have had to learn to do things differently. To see the world differently.