My suit was ruined. Normally I’d be livid, but right now I had other things on my mind. Like the friend dying in my arms. Jacques had cheated death many times. He’s a warhorse with a will of iron and claret for blood, most of which was now gushing onto my fine woollen trousers. I’m no medical man but I’ve been doing this long enough to tell from the crimson he was gargling, at least one lung was punctured. We both knew he was done for. As I cradled his head, Jacques coughed up a hoarse whisper:
‘Rue d’Assas. Douze…’
Jacques thrust a set of keys into my hand and his eyes glazed over. He was gone. But the killer was not.
No time to grieve. Not my style. Nor Jacques’ actually. We’ve seen comrades fall over the years. Good people. Deaths processed and filed away as ‘collateral’. Why should ours be any different? I may be absolutely fabulous, but I’m not completely deluded. I am a tool of the trade. Just another statistic. A really handsome one.
I leapt up. The shattered window at the front of the café gave me clean access onto the street, where as you’d expect, an altercation had begun outside. Two people scrabbling around on the ground. Only one of them had a gun.
Some noble passer-by had wrestled the assassin to the ground to stop him fleeing the scene. Brave. Stupid, but brave. Still, even if the killer wasn’t rolling around on the pavement, his clobber made him easy to spot in a crowd: jet black blazer and trousers, crimson shirt and tie. More a uniform than a suit. Like a waiter in a cheap Florentine nightspot. Curious. Even more curious, the assassin wasn’t a ‘he’ at all. Even amongst such a frantic fracas I spied athletic but familiar, distinct curves. Long, jet hair scraped back into a tight ponytail. Stunning, in a murderous kind of way. If that’s your thing. I’ve had encounters with female agents in my time. Mostly professional, some romantic, none positive. Don’t get me wrong. Women have a distinct advantage over men in the field – and I’ll tell you why.
Now, what I’m about to disclose is a bit of a trade secret. Not many will admit this, so good thing you’ve got old Hugo Dean here to spill the beans. And you better pour yourself a stiff drink to go with those beans. Here it comes. Ready? Good. Women are stronger than men.
Why? They’re great survivors. Excellent exit strategists. Gives them that lethal edge. Men just blunder from one bloody mess to the next. We are drawn to the excitement, to the bright lights. We have no idea what’s coming and we rely on charm, fists and a fat gin to get us out of a jam. We improvise. We’re great at that. We love playing all those silly little games along the way – even if it lands us in a jam. Women are all about the long game. They do what they have to do to get where they need to be. And they do it all the time. It’s really quite admirable. Men always get stuck on the rules of whatever game we’re playing. That’s our great weakness. Fair play. Sportsmanship. It’s maddening, because even I know there’s no place for fair play in this game. So ask a woman to do the job, she’s not distracted by such trifles. She’s focused. Razor sharp. To do whatever it takes. That’s the difference. So why are men still on top? Why are we winning? Simple. We won’t let them know they’re stronger. We keep them down. Some women have cottoned on – and that’s the most deadly kind there is – but for most women, it’s a daily grind, men are doing the grinding and we’re doing a bang up job.
The closest I ever came to having my ticket punched was also the one time a woman was sent in to do the punching. I was in Denmark during the back end of the 40s, helping Foggy and the Princes round up any Nazi snitches still lurking about Copenhagen. Many had gone to ground and it was a swine of a job. Didn’t help that those pesky Ruskies were making a play for any wretched, flattened grey country now up for grabs after Hitler put a bullet in his face.
Places like Vienna and Warsaw got the worst of it, but straight after the War even those placid Scandis fell under the cosh of the Soviet crime tsars – and they didn’t appreciate chaps like me sniffing around the place, still doing our bit for King and Country. It was a bad business, but the herring was top notch.
Anyway. I was enjoying a much-needed beer in a grubby little basement bodega when a ferocious vixen on Stalin’s payroll got the drop on me. I should have seen it coming and I took one in the leg as punishment. She strolled in and sprayed the entire establishment with rounds from a PPS. Took out the barman and entire clientele in the process. It was a bloodbath.
I escaped by diving behind the bar to avoid all the bullets and seized the moment when she reloaded to take her out by hurling a full bottle of snaps in her vague direction. I was hurling blind but the noise and ceasefire told me I’d got lucky. Ghastly stuff, snaps by the way. Tastes like medicine and compost. No tears over that loss. She was down and out, so I got the hell out of there. I hobbled across town with all the discretion I could muster and patched myself up in one of Foggy’s safe houses by the Lakes.
Point is, that woman got closer than anyone before or since. In that sort of job, a gentleman would consider how to take down the target with as little mess as possible. Not her. She didn’t think twice about murdering innocent bystanders. She did what she had to do to get to me. She played the end game. She gave me my only bullet hole. And I wasn’t going to hang about to get a second.
Quick as a flash, I dove out of the window, accidentally taking a table with me. Clumsy. By the time I’d freed myself from the furniture, Black Suit had escaped the fumbling clutches of this have-a-go hero and she was up and running. So was I. She was fast. So was I. It had been a while and my knees aren’t what they were, but these legs secured me the position of left wing for the Charterhouse First XV back in the day, and I’m proud to say they’ve lost none of their pace.
As we raced down the street I thought about firing off a shot to the leg there and then. Too many people. I couldn’t afford any more collateral damage. The paperwork alone is a bitch. Besides, who knows what this villain would do when backed into a corner? Cyanide works faster than answers. I had to bring her down the old-fashioned way. I had to make her think she could outrun me. That she had a chance. Which, of course, she didn’t.
Black Suit swerved left down Rue Bonaparte. She was heading for the river. She feigned left again, but switched right down a side street, striking an old woman and a pigeon in her path. Baguettes and feathers everywhere. I jumped over the fallen heap of confusion and kept on her heels. It would have helped had she been in heels. She was as agile as a panther, able to bank sharp turns much more efficiently than this lumbering juggernaut.
Left down an alley she raced. Trying to shake me off. Nice try. I skidded around the corner, only to be met with gunfire. The devious witch had found an alcove halfway down the alley and was waiting for me. I had run straight into a burst of bullets like a bally amateur. Word to the wise. If you’re ever thinking to pursue a professional assassin at high speed, on foot, with half a bottle of bourbon inside you, don’t. The heartburn is brutal.
I leapt behind a dustbin for cover, grabbing the lid and hurling in the vague direction of my quarry. A desperate move I admit, but I wanted to catch her off balance and buy me more time. I couldn’t make out what weapon she had. The blunted, flat sound told me it was some sort of snub-nosed pistol. Probably a PPK. Nifty little toys those. Accurate and discreet. Sticks a bit but overall, a sound choice. It was certainly working for my crimson-tie chum right now.
A bullet zinged through the metal, slamming into the brickwork above my head. I drew my Beretta and, still crouched behind the bins, returned a couple of rounds. No good. She was dug in. The only shot I could get would be a headshot. She knew that. Clever. More bullets scorched the ground before me, deliberately to keep me pinned down, then she turned and made a sharp right. I gave chase once more. This alley opened up soon onto the Seine, where it would be too open for another exchange of lead. The sprint was back on.
Black Suit motored across the road, launching herself over at least one car bonnet towards the bank of the river. Dodging the oncoming traffic, I hit the far pavement. She had wheeled right, towards Notre Dame. I followed. In the open I soon gained ground. Any moment now I could easily bring her down with a swift tackle and get answers.
My heart pounded, my lungs a furnace, but I kept on going. Before I could land my prey, Black Suit did something that surprised everyone. Turning sharp left onto the bridge across the river, she stopped sharp and grabbed a street artist from his little stool. Black Suit spun the terrified man round in front, her arm round his throat. She was using his writhing body as a human shield.
Just as I made it onto the bridge, she fired a single shot which whistled past my ear. Jesus! I did one of my fancy forward rolls to avoid any more shots and stopped short, about twenty feet from Black Suit. People had fled the bridge. Panic. But no more gunshots. I rose to confront my target on the bridge, my gun by my side. Now it was only us.
Black Suit stood stock still before me, her gun held to the temple of the poor artist. I was right, it was a PPK. She waited for me to react. This was the first time I got a good look at her. Sharp features, full crimson lips, large dark, angry eyes. Southern European maybe? Italian? Catching my breath, I assessed the situation.
The hostage was one of those irritating street scribblers who charge a fortune to sketch a portrait of you that doesn’t look like you. I hate those rogues. Maybe one less on the streets of Paris would be no bad thing. And the brief did say I was to complete my mission by ‘any means’. Black Suit knew exactly how to stand to ensure I couldn’t hit her without also taking down her captive. Then again, I could shoot the artist first then bring down Black Suit.
I raised my gun and took aim. I tightened my grip. My breath slowed, levelling the sight. We stood on the bridge in silence. Eyes locked. Frozen. Stalemate. Who would make the first move?
‘Power to the Commonwealth!’ screamed Black Suit. And with that, she shot herself in the head.
Read Chapter Five here
 Foggy, AKA Mogens Fog. Big wig in the Danish Resistance. Clever bastard. For a more detailed account read my thrilling romp Cold Shoulder. But you’ll have to wait. It’s not finished. Trust me, it’s worth the wait.
 58 caps, 69 tries, 16 minor injuries and 12 scores with the girls’ convent school down the road.