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London, July, 1996
A sudden blue flash dazzled Alessandro’s eyes, momentarily blinding him in its vivid colour. Before he could determine its source, the ground beneath his feet shook and the world around him began to explode and splinter. Air rushed from the darkness to punch him hard in the chest. The last thing he remembered was being thrown backwards up into the air to be dashed against the wall of an office building.
Moments later, he regained consciousness to find an assortment of glass, plaster and paper debris lying over his fallen crumpled body. He put his hand to his aching head as he made a stiff effort to sit up. He turned his head sharply to the source of hurried footsteps approaching from the top end of the London alleyway in which he had been walking. Vainly, he attempted to focus his blurring vision on the figure.
The figure cleared to reveal a man passing by, blooding streaming in a torrent down his face. He was crying loudly and didn’t seem to know where he was going as he stumbled on and out of the small street. The faintly lit evening had turned grey with smoke and there was a smell of gas. For a moment, Alessandro thought he was dreaming. None of it seemed real, it couldn’t be, he wasn’t sure. He wiped at the small trickle of blood coming from his forehead and considered how lucky he was at having survived the explosion.
He cleared away the debris and slowly stood, wiping the dust and plaster from his navy suit. There was a distant wail of police sirens and a chorus of car alarms going off as he hurriedly made his way to the opposite end of the alley wondering if the man he had arranged to meet outside a restaurant in the next street was still alive.
Alessandro heard a woman shouting as he rounded the corner. Quickly he looked for her and spied her leaning over the prostrate form of a man lying in the middle of a road. She was desperately trying to revive him with mouth to mouth and heart massage. The small Italian restaurant he’d frequented so often was blown through and its huge glass windows lay in shards all over the road. A large one lay imbedded in the injured man’s chest. He was a bloody mess and Alessandro doubted whether the woman’s efforts to save his life weren’t a waste of time.
He made his way towards her, stepping over the rubble. A street lamp was bent double, the light holder having been broken but the light was still shining. It creaked eerily in the warm July evening breeze, casting shadows of yellow light in the grey cloud that now hung low all around him. He found himself stopping to step over the body of a young woman and two of her severed limbs. There were several other bodies littering the street all in the same state of dissection.
Finally, he reached the frantic brunette counting out loud as she continued to give the injured man heart massage. Alessandro Maderno was no stranger to death or those who sought to set its curse upon others. He was often one of its messengers in his line of work, but still he found himself wincing at the futility of death’s random set of innocent victims. At least when he brought death to an individual, there was a reason, a purpose, a due to be paid, even a justice to it.
He felt blood dampen his forehead and ran his fingers through his soft black hair finding the cut. He would need stitches. He was lucky that was all he had needed. Not many people seemed to have survived the explosion in this street. He would be damn lucky if his informant was alive. More than likely he was lying in several pieces just like the others strewn around him. He approached the woman and felt the warmth of a blazing fire against his face. He turned to stare into the glow of flames that roared in the gutted hole of what used to be one of his favourite restaurants. He needed to get her away from it. The smell of gas was much stronger here.
He looked down at the man and cursed under his breath. It was his informant, Paul Wakem. The man’s eyes were staring wide and vacant of life, yet still the pretty young woman was doing all she could to save him and refusing to admit defeat.
He called down to her, but she didn’t seem to hear him or even notice his presence. He bent down and took Paul’s pulse in his wrist just to make sure. He was gone.
“He’s dead. You need to stop now. There is nothing more you can do for him,” he told the woman gently, laying his hand lightly on her arm.
It was of little use. She was in shock. Her hands were covered in blood as she continued resuscitation and tears streamed unnoticed down her cheeks. His heart leapt out in sympathy. He leaned over and more firmly took hold of her arms commanding her to stop. She looked up at him with confused and startled brown eyes as if she had only just realised he was there. Bewildered and dazed with shock and no doubt blood loss from the large wound in her forehead, she allowed him to prise her hands away from Paul’s body.
“Is he really dead?” she asked. “I tried but I couldn’t seem to help him. What kind of a doctor am I? I tried but I couldn’t help anyone here,” she told him with a shaky voice that was on the verge of cracking into hysteria. “Maybe I shouldn’t give up like I did with that man and that little girl over there.”
Alessandro gave her a sympathetic look as he glanced at the mangled bodies she referred to. No wonder she was traumatised. He caught hold of her shoulders as she moved away from him to work on Paul again. This time, he wasn’t giving her any choice. He pulled her roughly towards him, his intention to get her on her feet and away from the fire that raged in what was left of the restaurant before something blew in there. But the lady was a fighter and wasn’t going to come easily.
“He’s dead. There’s nothing more you can do,” he shouted at her, giving her a shake when she struggled fiercely in his hold. “I can smell gas. That restaurant is going to blow any second. I am not going to let you die.”
He wondered if she would be able to stand. Her body was trembling like a pneumatic drill and her head kept tilting backwards as though she were about to lose consciousness. That nasty gash to her forehead was streaming with blood. She needed a doctor quick.
“I can’t just leave him there. I don’t even know who he is...”
“Lady, you are testing my patience. Stay put. I will find out who he is...”
It was a great excuse to look in Paul’s jacket pockets. Paul was supposed to bring him something tonight. Hard evidence he said, “Enough for you to bring down your grandfather and start a war between all the families. Just what you’ve always wanted.”
It had been an effort to wait until that evening. He searched in Paul’s pockets but there was nothing. He turned and looked at the woman, wondering. Had she taken it? No, it was a crazy thought. She was distraught. Besides, she didn’t know anything. Still he had an uneasy feeling at the way she avoided his eyes when he looked at her.
“He hasn’t got any ID. I don’t know who he is,” he told her, standing, watching her fold and unfold her arms in an agitated restless manner.
“I want to stay with them until the paramedics come. I don’t want to leave them on their own. I shouldn’t. I’m a doctor,” she told him, running her hands through her short chestnut flicked out hair.
He had to get her out of there. She was going a nasty shade of white. He stood up and swept his hand around her face gently lifting it to him to capture her dazed attention.
Alessandro spoke softly but with determination. “No. I am not letting you stay here. You’ve done all you could. You need medical attention. And it’s dangerous.”
The moment he spoke, another explosion echoed from the distance somewhere in the city. The woman jumped as the ground shook once more. Alessandro found himself impulsively pulling her into the safety of his arms, holding her protectively against him.
“What was that?” she asked against his shoulder, tears in her voice.
“What’s happening to us?”
“Someone is trying to make a point and overdoing it,” he informed her coldly. “Come on, let’s get out of here.”
He swept his arm around her waist, keeping her close and supported, conscious she was ready to pass out and began leading her back the way he came. Relieved she was now too weak to offer him any resistance. They hadn’t reached the end of the street when Alessandro heard the pounding of heavy feet through the debris and the fire of a handgun. Instinctively, he pushed the woman against the side of one of the buildings out of the way as he pulled out his own gun, but it was too late. The bullet sliced through her arm raising an anguished squeal of unexpected pain. He caught her over his arm as she slumped and pushed her down into the shadow cast by the wall of the building closest to them in the heavy smog. He stood in front of her, gun aimed, waiting for the men to come out of the fog. It seemed his grandfather was on to him and not even a terrorist bomb was going to stop him from making his grandson see the error of his ways.