I don’t believe in being trapped. There is always a way out, even if it’s a frontal assault on whatever is blocking you in a corner. I had one problem with that this time, though, and that was a lack of firearm.
We had been informed that there was no way that Mas’ud’s home nation could have caught up with him as quickly as we did. To ensure we got him out of the country as quickly as possible, we needed the cooperation of the Vietnamese and they had been insistent that they didn’t want guns on their streets. What was the need, they argued, when I was there to collect an unarmed man?
Well, now I had a need but hindsight wasn’t going to help us.
Scanning the interior of the building I could see light filtering in from high up on the walls. Mas’ud was right, there were no other obvious doorways but that didn’t mean there were no exits.
A set of heavy drapes hung from a rail on the wall opposite the doorway. Above them was one of the features which permitted light to enter the chamber. A simple set of slats designed to illuminate but not allow rainwater to pour in during the wet season.
While the interior had been well kept, I was banking on the areas well out of reach being skipped as far as regular maintenance was concerned. I rushed over and pulled hard on the drapes. They seemed well enough attached so I put my full weight on them and started to climb.
They held and I pulled myself up, hand over hand until I was level with the vent.
Our luck was in. The paint had cracked and split a long time ago, and the water they were designed to protect against had soaked into the wood. They weren’t rotten, but they were definitely frail.
I thrust a flattened palm at one as if I was trying to break someone’s nose and the wood gave way with a satisfying crack. Yanking it out of the way I hammered down on the next, then the next. Within seconds I had a hole large enough for either of us to get through.
Glancing back at the doorway, I could see the urn I had moved starting to wobble alarmingly as the door was being shoved rhythmically. Half a minute at most and it would roll or topple.
I leapt down and helped Mas’ud climb up to the opening. He was halfway through when a loud crash told me that the main entrance had been breached. I dived behind a large Buddha statue and hid in the shadows.
Iranian 1 leapt into the room, looking around with his gun arm outstretched searching for a target. I flung a couple of coins from my pocket to the corner opposite me to distract him from the legs quickly vanishing through the vent above my head.
He fired in their direction, the echo from the gunshot deafening in the small, reverberant chamber. His companion stepped in behind them and they exchanged words I couldn’t hear. Number 1 pointed to the corner where he’d tried to assassinate 2500 đồng in coinage and started to creep forwards. Number 2, his gun also out in front of him, took a couple of steps to the side and also began to move in.
Fortunately for me they were moving in on exactly the wrong place. Mas’ud had vanished – I hoped not for good – and they were manoeuvring themselves into the far corner, with their backs to me.
There was still no way I could make it up those drapes and out of the window, though.
Then, luck gave me a helping hand that I just knew I would have to pay back one day. Two of Hanoi’s finest sprinted into the temple building doing their best impressions of officious amateurs who didn’t really have a clue what the actual situation was. Either nobody had warned them that guns were involved or they didn’t care.
They slid to a halt and dove to the side as the Iranians opened fire. One managed to find shelter, but his colleague was not so lucky – taking a round in the leg. It took him a second to realise that he’d been hit and he began to scream.
With their attention now on the front of the buildings, the hitmen didn’t see me making my way up the drapes and to the smashed vent. Not until the uninjured policeman pointed at me and started yelling, anyway. He’d obviously figured, correctly, that these two gun-wielding maniacs were more interested in their quarry than him.
I leapt from the drapes to the vent and scrabbled up as fast as I could, realising that I was placing myself in a very exposed position by doing so. On another day I’d have slid down and taken my chances hand-to-hand, but orders are orders and I couldn’t risk Mas’ud disappearing again.
I don’t know what training they give hired thugs in Iran, but I’d actually put my money on an Imperial Stormtrooper over them any day. Several shots went wide of the mark as I slid through the hole I’d made and into the hot, sweaty daylight.