When Naomi opened the door to him and smiled with happy anticipation, he forgot all about it. She had also dressed casually in dark blue jeans and a light grey empire-waist tunic; her hair was down and looked silky. Her eyes were sparkling, and the only make-up she wore was some dark red lipstick that set off her clear skin. Paul swallowed and felt his heartbeat quicken.
A very nice table had been reserved at the Italian restaurant, and the food was delicious. Apparently Marcus had been right, Naomi certainly gave the impression that she was enjoying herself, and for the first time in months Paul forgot all about work. Conversation had been easy and general so far when Naomi carefully asked about Marcus.
Paul’s heart dropped. “Why are you asking?” he stalled wondering what to tell her.
“Well”, she said slowly, “he was rather strange yesterday once you were gone. He turned all P. G. Wodehouse on me. Then ten minutes later he had a phone-call and said there was a family emergency, and he had to leave.” She didn’t believe in the family emergency for one second. He had turned so aloof and arrogant just before that that she had started asking herself why she had invited him in the first place. On the other hand, she’d had the impression that he was running away and had been quite frustrated by that, wondering what signals she was sending out to men these days if that was the reaction she got.
“Yes, eh, I think he’s had to leave town. I only had a short message on my answer-phone too. A shame really, isn’t it?” Then he successfully steered the conversation to the topic of the concert, claiming he had no idea what they were in for and asked her to enlighten him.
Paul loved the natural way Naomi had with her conversation and also enjoyed that she didn’t fuss about eating. He’d been out with too many women in recent years who basically made you ashamed of eating at all. Naomi ordered desert and enjoyed it, almost purring when she finally put down the spoon.
They made it to the Apollo barely in time, and rushed into the place, laughing. Paul found he even enjoyed the concert, especially since Naomi had been pulling him along in their hurry and did not ask for her hand back until after the third song. Paul would have enjoyed people scratching chalk on blackboards after that. He was on cloud nine. She didn’t pull away from him when he became brave and put his arms around her during the quiet songs.
When the concert was over, there was an awkward silence, and they were among the last people to file out of the building. It was late Sunday night, and the streets were quickly emptying.
Paul cleared his throat. “Are you sure you’re warm enough? Let’s get to the car as quick as we can, ok?” She nodded to this.
They had taken up Marcus’ recommendation of a parking space in an alley behind the Italian and were walking toward it when the hair on Paul’s neck started rising. His policeman’s instinct told him they were being followed. He quickly checked his surroundings. This was not good. The alley was a dead end, and the walls on either side were windowless. Only the emergency door of a shop – long closed by now – opened out to this place, and the kitchen exit from the restaurant which had its rubbish bins out here. The restaurant would be closed at this hour as well, Paul thought with frustration, no more light could be seen in the door’s glass window. He had not brought his gun to the concert either. He’d once done that and got into a really dicey spot with hall security for it. Tonight he hadn’t wanted any trouble, so he’d left it in his drawer at home. Now he hoped he was just being paranoid, because if he wasn’t, they were well and truly trapped.
He pulled Naomi close to him and turned around when he felt something cold pressed to his cheek and Naomi being pulled away from him.
“Let go of her,“ a hiss sounded in his left ear. He raised his hands saying “You’re holding up a Scotland Yard detective, not a good idea.” Then he caught a glimpse of his attackers in the light of a streetlamp, and his insides turned cold. Lynd’s killers, the fake detectives. How had they found them in this out of the way spot? Paul’s mind went into overdrive, trying to figure out what had led them to this death trap and how they could get out of it, when he came to a disturbing conclusion: He realised who had known exactly where they were, who had organised the whole evening and – the only thing to his credit – had not been happy about it. Marcus had been leading them on for three days now controlling their every step and getting hold of the papers too that way. Damn! He had even told them he had been to Africa himself. Clive Lynd’s evidence – if it could be called that – had him at the murder victim’s flat, too. Paul sighed. How could he have been so naïve and trusting? They must have been employing Marcus from the start. Only – what did they want now?
One of the men was trying to pull Naomi along with him toward the street. She didn’t like that at all. “Don’t touch me!” Naomi exploded at the man who had taken hold of her. When he did not let go, he suddenly found himself thrown to the ground. Naomi turned and put her foot on his neck. “Paul?” she called out.
The man who had Paul snickered at that, stepped forward very fast and took hold of her, giving the gun to his accomplice, coldly saying “You take him!”
Naomi tried in vain to shake off this man. She was surprised when none of her moves worked against him, but did not give up, fighting and screaming.
“No. Tell them everything they want!” Paul called out to her, helplessly watching. Then he made a decision and punched in the direction of his attacker’s nose, whose gun arm flailed upwards.
At that moment all hell broke lose, and the man was pulled from him and thrown across the narrow alley. There was a sickening sound of bone against stone, then silence.
Marcus had appeared out of nowhere. He threw his keys at Paul, shouting “Get her to my place as soon as you can!” Paul blinked. He had known Marcus must be strong from the way he had dealt with Naomi’s door, but literally throwing a grown man across an alley was a different category. Now what? Either this was the best show Marcus had put on so far, or his reasoning had been wrong. However he was definitely happy that the odds seemed to have evened out in their favour. Together they could certainly get Naomi out of here.
Marcus had by now turned on the man holding Naomi. “Let her go!”
He was using a voice that Paul had not heard before. In his surprise, the other man let go of Naomi for a moment, and Marcus quickly pulled her behind him.
“Why should I let you get in my way?” The other man asked confidently as a reaction, clearly not prepared to give up.
“Excuse me?!” Naomi piped up incredulously.
No one paid her any attention.
“Leave, this is too public, and you’re not winning this one,“ Marcus stated in the same cold voice.
The other man scoffed. “Dream on, pretty boy!” He was still blocking their way out of the alley.
Marcus cursed and pushed Naomi towards Paul. “As soon as I tell you, you take her and run for my place. Is that clear?” He sounded very determined. “I’ll explain everything there.”
“Explaining you call it? That’s a new one!” The stranger scoffed amusedly. The next minute Marcus lunged at him.
When Paul saw the way out was free, he pulled Naomi toward his car, but they had not gone two steps when they found the stranger in their path again, raising an amused eyebrow. The friends were still wondering how he had got there so fast, when they saw Marcus take hold of the other man and throw him against the wall as well. “I told you to wait for me to tell you!” He was tense and had turned to where the man had landed, even though Paul was sure that he wouldn’t be getting up in a while.
“What the hell is going on?” Paul asked impatiently, but got no answer. Then a gasp by Naomi caught his attention: The stranger had gotten up, shaken himself and was coming toward them again.
“Impressive”, he nodded at Marcus, “but is that all you got?”
Paul had by now picked up the gun and levelled it at his attacker. “You, Sir, are going to accompany me to the Yard and give some explanations for your behaviour. Naomi, there are handcuffs in my glove compartment, could you get them.” When the stranger laughed, Paul was irritated. “This is no laughing matter. I want your hands up!”
The stranger snickered again. “You wouldn’t shoot an unarmed man, would you, Detective Usher?”
Paul cocked the gun confidently, but Marcus got in his way. “No, Paul!” Marcus flicked the gun away impatiently and stopped Naomi from moving. He pushed them farther back, trying to get as much distance between them and the stranger as possible. He crouched and – Paul was irritated by that – growled at other man, who looked at him with a cocked head and said “Interesting!” and did the same thing.
Then he started fighting Marcus in a way Paul had never seen before. They were both unarmed but there could be no doubt about their intentions of killing each other by going straight for each other’s throats or trying to rip the other apart. Gravity didn’t seem to affect them, neither did the stone walls of the alley, and they sounded more like angry wildcats than men.
The fight went on at such a speed that the shapes became blurred, and the only thing Paul and Naomi could see with any clarity was that Marcus was very careful to always stay in between them and his opponent, parrying every attempt of the other to come closer to them.
There was not telling how this would end and Paul felt Naomi’s fingers clamped around his forearm, her eyes were panicked. They were both rooted to the spot, looking on incredulously until Marcus pushed his opponent into the wall by his neck, sending plaster dust raining down around them, and screamed in frustration. “Now! What are you waiting for? Don’t watch, run!”