After I finished my sandwich, I walked west and crossed Fifth Avenue, continuing uptown toward the zoo. I was on the sidewalk opposite Central Park, which provided a good location to check out whoever arrived to attend the meeting. It also provided a good place to make a run for it if the situation demanded a hasty retreat.
Because it was June, it was still daylight at 7:53 PM. I slowed as I neared the southern part of the zoo at 63rd Street. People strolled in both directions on both sides of Fifth Avenue. That was comforting. It meant that the bad guys were less likely to do anything rash. Anything that would be damaging to my health.
Speaking of bad guys, there they were. Ol’ Buzz Cut and my first friend, Trench Coat, paced near one of the benches along the stone wall that separated the park from the sidewalk. I could see the upper part of the brick buildings of the zoo beyond the wall. The park was lower than Fifth Avenue, and the side of the wall along the sidewalk was considerably shorter than the side facing into the Central Park. I scanned the parked cars on my side of Fifth Avenue and didn’t see anymore of Mr. X’s―I mean Vadim’s―team lurking, but I knew they could easily be there. I checked my watch; it was 7:57. What the hell, I’d be early.
I jaywalked across Fifth Avenue and walked directly up to Buzz Cut. His eyes went wide when he recognized me. Trench Coat also recognized me and reached inside his coat for his gun.
“Don’t,” I said.
“I’ll drop you where you stand if you don’t take your hand out of your coat right now.”
He was considering testing me―I could see it in his eyes. But he had no idea how fast I was and decided not to find out. I was relieved. I had no idea if I was fast enough to carry out my threat, but I doubted it.
“What are you doing here?” Buzz Cut growled at me.
“I’m here for Richard. Did you have instructions for him?”
“For him. Not you.”
“I’d be happy to give him a message.”
“Well, if that’s your attitude, I have a message from Richard. As of now, he doesn’t work for Mr. Bezukhov. Would you please inform Mr. B of that fact?”
“How the hell did—?”
“Shut up,” I interrupted. “You only need to tell Bezukhov that I know what he’s doing. Tell him that Richard isn’t helping him anymore. He needs to leave Richard alone. Got it?”
“Who the fuck do you think you are?”
“I’m the guy who took five of you out the other night. I’ll do it permanently if I have to. You’re the guy who’s going to inform Bezukhov that Richard’s not working for him. You also need to tell him that he’s finished. No more killing.”
“Or what?” Buzz Cut was clearly unimpressed with me.
“Or I’ll stop him.”
“You think you can stop my boss?” he snorted derisively. “You and what army?”
“You do not want to mess with my army.” Please let that be true, Harry. Please. I said to Buzz Cut, “Believe me.”
“Sure,” he smirked, shrugged, and swung hard for my gut with his right fist.
I parried his fist to my right and stomped on his left knee with my right foot. He grunted in pain as he went down, automatically grabbing his knee. I spun toward Trench Coat, who was pulling a gun from under his coat. I kicked out toward his arm with my left foot. I connected but without the time to plant my right foot, I was only able to stop his gun hand from emerging. The gun went off with a phitp sound, an almost silent burp, tearing a hole through his coat. The bullet hit the park’s stone wall and ricocheted up into the overhanging trees.
My right hand clawed at his eyes, slamming into his cheekbones, forehead, and his left eye. He screamed in pain, and I kneed him in the balls. He fell to the sidewalk, and his gun, a Glock pistol, clattered on the ground.
Around us, people were shouting and scurrying back and forth. A few people had their smart phones up and were video-recording the fight. Just what I needed: video of me brawling with dangerous men on YouTube.
I kicked the Glock out of Trench Coat’s reach then twisted toward Buzz Cut, who was running downtown. Well, he was hobbling actually. It seemed I’d done quite a number on his knee. I grabbed the Glock and took off after Buzz Cut.
He scrambled over the wall and dropped into the park near 62nd Street. I went over the wall about thirty feet uptown of him—I wasn’t following right behind him as I had no desire to get shot. He ran to the nearest path and headed uptown. I cut through the bushes and trees, running hard, and lunged at from the bushes. I hit him around the shoulders and tackled him in the middle of the path.
I pulled his arms behind him, pinning them to him by kneeling on his back, grabbed his hair and bounced his face off the ground to make sure I had his attention.
“I don’t ever want to see you or any of Bezukhov’s guys again, got it?” I was breathing hard and the words came out in a savage almost-whisper. “Tell Bezukhov he’s finished.”
I bounced Buzz Cut’s head off the path again, rolled him over, and pulled a Glock from under his jacket. Then I stood up and walked west as fast as I could. I stopped in the middle of the bridge at the northern end of the Pond (another charmless name of a Central Park feature), wiped the two Glocks down, and dropped them into the water below. At the rate I was going, I was personally driving a sales increase in Glock pistols. But I didn’t linger on the bridge with that thought. I ran off, zigzagging through the southern part of Central Park as the evening twilight descended. I checked my back trail, saw no one following, and left the park at Columbus Circle. I hurried down into the subway station and caught a downtown A Train.
As the subway pulled out, I said, “Harry?”
Faster than I could blink, or think for that matter, he was there. Standing next to me, hanging off the same passenger grab bar.
“Harry, some bystanders took video of me brawling near the zoo, I need—”
He cut me off. “You won’t be identifiable.”
“Are you sure?”
His reply was a look that would have melted rock. “Why did you confront those men? Wouldn’t it have been better to follow them to Bezukhov?”
“One guy—me—trying to follow two guys who don’t want to be followed? Not much point in trying. I knew going into this meeting that the only thing I could accomplish was to stir Vadim’s pot. So I stirred.”
“You mess things up for someone, it forces them to take action they might not have wanted to take. Forces them into the open. Makes them vulnerable. At least, that’s what I’m hoping for.”
“But you didn’t find what they wanted from Richard.”
“They wanted him to kill someone else.”
“And you don’t know who that is.”
“They were never going to tell me that. But now someone else will have to do the killing.”
“Creating greater exposure for them.”
“Exactly.” I stared out the subway window and watched the darkness outside rush past. “I wish I could stop the next one.”
“Maybe you will.”
“Not unless I get very lucky. Or you help me.”
“I’m not a prophet. I don’t know who’s next.”
“Couldn’t you ask the Chairman?”
“He wouldn’t tell me.”
“Why not?” But before he could answer, I said, “Free will, right? All the players involved in this make their own choices. Even if some people have to die.”
“Free will is a double-edged tool. It allows for happiness and joy, and it causes sorrow and pain.”
“That’s not very comforting when someone is going to be killed.”
“No, it’s not.”
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