Collapsing to my knees, I saw the Vietnamese man realise that he could always come back later for his free money, and that one kitchen knife wasn’t going to help him against three intruders. Besides, one of those intruders seemed about to deal with another of them for him. The clatter of the knife and the slap of sandals on the tiled floor was harsh on my ears as I gasped for breath.
A booted foot slammed into my ribs and I rolled over and slid a few feet. The wall stopped me going any further, but damage had already been done. Breathing now hurt and I was sure one of my ribs was broken.
Mas’ud had started towards the door, but the other Iranian had blocked his escape. Words were exchanged in Arabic, and I could tell that the hunter was very much teasing the hunted. Without understanding the exact phrasing, the fact that Mas’ud was visibly starting the shake and look sick told me that he was being told in no uncertain terms what was to happen to him.
I breathed slowly and prodded my ribs. Sharp pain engulfed me, but I gritted my teeth. I could handle it, but only just. I certainly wasn’t going to go five rounds with anyone stronger than a new-born in this condition.
Mas’ud had backed up into a corner, shaking his head. He looked lost. Distraught, even. What had the other man said?
With an almost audible snap, Mas’ud’s expression turned from one of horror to one of anger. His moans turned to growls. His teeth bared, he leapt at the other man. A move that seemed to surprise the hitman as much as it did me.
You can train a fighter or a soldier. But to prepare them for undisciplined, violent, primitive rage is one of the hardest tasks. There’s no pattern to attacks, no technique that can be countered. It’s simply a matter of defence and damage limitation until the attacker runs out of energy. Violent assaults like this are usually adrenaline-fuelled and short-lived.
Mas’ud, though, seemed unstoppable. The wide-eyed, fleeing scientist of a few minutes ago was a screaming, enraged beast.
His hands clawed at the other man’s face. I saw blood being drawn before the surprised gunman got his hands up in defence. Mas’ud kicked him repeatedly in the shins while battering the back of his now-bowed head with fists and elbows.
Few strikes made contact, but they were so numerous and fierce that those which did staggered the other man. Every time he attempted to lift his head to see where the next attack would come from, he took a blow and had to duck again.
Finally, a lifted knee slammed into his temple and forced him almost upright. His hands dropped in surprise. Mas’ud leapt and slammed his forehead into the man’s face. Probably more by luck than judgement he scored a direct his on the bridge of the nose.
The gunman collapsed backwards, his eyes rolling around in his head and a scream about to form on his lips. Mas’ud didn’t give him the chance to expel it. He leapt on the other Iranian’s chest, pinning his arms to the floor. It looked like two children fighting in a playground, one about to warn the other what would happen to him if he didn’t return a toy.
And then the blows rained down again. Punch after punch smashed cheekbones and teeth. The blood flowing belonged to both men as cuts and welts opened on Mas’ud’s hands, but he didn’t seem to notice.
He grabbed the man’s hair and slammed the back of his head violently off the tiled floor. Once. Twice. With the third contact, there was blood flowing through the grout.
Realising the man wasn’t going to fight back any more, Mas’ud stood. His battered opponent lay on the ground. I could hear him breath. It sounded like he was trying to suck air through a jelly. His eyes were closed and the tissue around them already starting to swell.
Mas’ud stepped back and looked down at the man. Then he spat on him.
Then he raised his foot high in the air and brought his heel down with unerring accuracy on the man’s throat.
Cartilage was ground to fragments as he twisted his foot back and forth.
The man’s hands instinctively clawed at the foot, but Mas’ud simply leaned his weight down harder. The gunman’s eyes flew open but he made no noise. He couldn’t. There was simply no way for air to pass into or out of his lungs any more.
Mas’ud stood and watched as his former pursuer suffocated. The struggling became weaker and weaker until the man’s eyes rolled up in his head showing only the whites. With one last lurch, he lay still.