L. C. Hessel probably had the last decent hotel room in Seoul. On the battle field he would sleep anywhere. In the Falkland Islands it was under a dead sheep for two days. On a job he never took anything less than a suite.
The foreign bankers that had left this dusty city cold during the crisis were back now, like so many cell-phoned fruit flies. No doubt some of these bankers belonged to Pirenzi. Whether they knew it or not was another matter. Men of action, they probably fancied themselves. Real men of action don’t run around like hysterics buying twenty-dollar glasses of whiskey for each other. Real men of real action know that you wait and wait and then it happens so fast you can barely see it. Hessel was waiting for a man of action – a Ghurka. A strapping Nepalese lad, he was a bit unpredictable, but then that’s why the regiment had suggested that he use his talents elsewhere. He had. Hessel first used him on the recommendation of a South African gentleman.
For the moment there was no mission. Pirenzi had simply thrust a plane ticket at him after the “no report”. Hessel was smart enough not to quiz him about the arrangements. On the back he found the number of a bank account. It had quite a large balance and that worried Hessel. He called the Ghurka in case the situation got “wet”.
There was a knock on the door and Hessel drew his gun and picked up his bulletproof vest. He slipped his arm through the straps and, holding it like a shield, laid it against the door. He cocked his gun and held it just behind the edge of the door, pointing at whoever was on the other side. It was the masseuse. Hessel shook his head and said in Korean “a half hour, thirty minutes more.” She bowed and walked on. The flight from Katmandu was a bitch, late as usual, and he knew the Ghurka would appreciate a massage (or the masseuse herself) and a bottle of Japanese whiskey. Awful stuff but the Ghurka loved it.
Funny, he always had to get drunk the first day away from Nepal. Maybe he was a different man when he was in those mountains and he needed an anesthetic to ease the transition. He was a brute at this altitude, that’s for sure. Hessel laughed to himself.
There was another knock at the door. Maybe the self-same brute? He went through the same gun-and-vest procedure. No, the masseuse again. For an instant he noticed an odd look in her eyes and then he experienced the same sort of surprise as someone who steps over a log in a forest only to feel two burning pinpricks in his leg with something rattling in the dead leaves at the side of the path. A man’s left pinkie was caught between the hammer of his pistol and the cartridge he had instinctively tried to fire. He tried to force the door closed but the man had wedged the dazed masseuse into the doorframe. There was no use anyway. The hand that gripped his revolver, a left hand still impassive despite Hessel’s struggle, had all the fingers the same length – a unique deformity. On the now-bleeding pinkie there was a ring with a platinum dragon set in gold. If K. K. B. Bang had wanted to kill Hessel this time, Hessel would be dead.
“Please Old Man, there’s no reason to bruise a perfectly good masseuse.” Hessel maintained his weight against the door. The masseuse was starting to look a little purple from the pressure.
“Quite right, Bang. You wouldn’t consider letting go of my gun, would you Old Boy? Your finger seems to be caught and I wouldn’t want to have to bite it off.”
“Well” Bang laughed “I would, but those American revolvers do make such frightful sound when they go off.” Hessel relented and broke off the struggle. He backed up, edging towards the bedroom.
“Tell me, Bang, how did you know it was an American revolver?” Bang was bent over the prostrate woman. He turned to Hessel and gave him a disapproving glance.
“Old Man, we both know a nine-millimeter is simply useless for shooting through the doors of better hotels-….” He was patting the Korean woman on the cheek who began to move now and make some noises “…there there, Dear, you’ll feel better,” turning back to Hessel he continued “…and, since you always buy retail-” He gave Hessel another disapproving glance “-I mean *really* Old Man I know you’re a soldier but couldn’t you get something decent made for yourself?” Hessel laughed “….still, if you’re going to use .357 Magnum even you wouldn’t buy *Brazilian*, I trust.” Hessel smiled at him and Bang looked down at the Brazilian Taurus revolver in his hand. Bang thumbed the hammer off his pinkie and laid it on the floor with some disgust. He looked back at Hessel “I mean *really*. You *must* be slipping.”
Hessel went behind the bar. He eyed the two Galil assault rifles stacked there but decided against the direct approach. He’d let Bang tell his story. “It must be this town. Drink, Bang? How about some Japanese whiskey?”
“My God, man, if-”
“Joking, Bang Old Top, only joking. Why not a brandy?”
“Might be the thing, ta. I know what you mean about this town, frightful place – the dust.”
“Indeed.” Hessel poured two snifters.
“I say Old Man between my nerve strike and your pushing on that bloody door we’ve practically squeezed the life out of this poor girl. Come help me lay her on the bed.”
“I was going to let the Ghurka do that.”
“Oh my, *listen* Old Man..” He cast his eyes heavenward and picked up the girl as easily as if he was picking up a puppy “…if you’re simply going to be *common* then…”
“Forget it, Bang, put her in there and come have a drink.” Hessel watched Bang as he carried the girl into the second bedroom. At 6′2″, wearing the Italian suits and expensive shoes he favored (he liked to go dancing between murders), Bang should have been more imposing, but that was his gift. He never made a clear impression on one. Well muscled, he had to be, but he gave neither the impression of fitness nor stoutness. His face was neither European nor Asian. On a job, he could be that Spanish businessman you saw talking on the telephone, the Russian construction worker twenty floors up or the Mongolian cab driver waiting in the lobby reading a newspaper. He never caught your eye the first time and for most of the people he dealt with there was no second glance. Hessel wasn’t going to ask Bang how he had become an Englishman. You didn’t ask as psychopath like Bang where he got his personality-of-the-month. Hessel sipped the Calvados and let the sharp sweetness fill his senses.
K. K. B. Bang was a rare and dangerous hybrid: a true man of action who did not wait. He was a shark cruising through the world’s waters and whether it was the capitalist carrion men like these bankers buzzed over or something with a little more wiggle to it, that didn’t matter to Bang so long as it was more – always more. In that bedroom, right now, he was equally likely to be wooing a Dutch heiress on the telephone, buying a controlling interest in a skyscraper complex or ravishing that poor masseuse. He might be taking aim at a hapless dignitary out the window. If he had his cell phone he might be doing all four simultaneously, for that matter. He had at least two offices that Hessel knew about where the secretaries and stenographers were as nervous as cats. They knew that when Mr. Bang arrived from Zurich there was no telling what the valise in his gloved hand might contain. It could be a bundle of highly-denominated deutschemarks, a non-disclosure agreement, some vintage 78’s of tango music for his collection, a black mamba snake for his other collection, or a human spleen for someone else’s collection.
Hessel would hear him out and then they would probably try to kill each other – again.
In London, the team was getting ready for a flight. In fact, Anders Inkling would never have pulled that cute taxi driver stunt himself if he hadn’t been about to leave. Inkling had known the Sikh would turn eventually and he knew it was happening when the big Indian had dragged the Countess into the limo and left the unconscious Gen-Tze. That didn’t worry him. Tereshkova was always going to have a back-up plan. Inkling had the Countess now and he would deal with the Sikh soon – harshly. Mary Kwan, the Korean who favored the bright suits, had a pretty good line on him already. Inkling was glad he had promoted her to senior account executive. What bothered him was that the Kalmyk had disappeared. Reviewing the tapes he saw her get in the limo with the Sikh and then the car had stopped, but out of the camera shot. She could have gotten out, the Sikh could have killed her or anything in between. Neither her actions nor her reasons were clear to Inkling at this time. It didn’t do his nerves any good to have her out there. It didn’t do his heart any good either. Inkling knew he was lost. Despite the constant anesthesia of intellect, vast ambition and cold-blooded violence, Inkling was in love with Anna the Kalmyk. He would get out of the city before that killed him.
They were headed to Korea – a former Buddhist monastery in the mountains that Inkling had converted into a retreat. He was to be in East Asia on business anyway, a thought that made him smile with the irony of the situation. In this new world where capital flowed like lymph across the globe and swallowed market inefficiency, financial institutions constantly morphed into new entities. It was in this new world that Anders Inkling found that he was now not only Count Pirenzi’s most bitter enemy, he was also his accountant.