Nebraska Center for Writers

by Gayle Lynds

IN ONE OF HIS TRADEMARK CONSERVATIVE SUITS, Gino Malko strolled through the rue Sa"nte-Catherine area in the heart of the lower city, enjoying the cool sunlight of the northern spring as he swung his special ebony cane with the silver handle. From time to time, he threw back his head, shut his eyes, and let the sun warm his face, somehow avoiding the other walkers as if he had built-in radar.
Eventually, he turned into a café, Le Cerf Agile, and sat at an outdoor table covered in white lace.
The eager waiter bustled over. "Good morning again, monsieur. Another fine day, eh?" he asked in English. "Your usual?"
"Thank you, Ruud," Malko said, smiling, playing his role.
Malko was a heavy tipper, so the waiter returned quickly with café au lait and a Belgian pastry. Malko nodded his appreciation, poured from the two silver pitchers, stirred, and bit into the pastry. He leaned back at his ease to watch the passing throng of locals, NATO personnel, businessmen, tourists, and EU staff members. It was early for tourists, but the fine spring weather had attracted a swarm.
He was on his second pastry when he spotted the target. He casually picked up his cane and moved naturally into the stream of pedestrians. Apparently, the density of the crowd forced him to hold the cane upright.
In the normal course of things, he bumped into one or two people, including his target, expressed his horrified regrets each time, and finally, as ifthe crush were too much, turned back toward the café.
A woman screamed. Everyone looked in her direction. Near her, a tall, slender man with a Mediterranean complexion had collapsed on the sidewalk, his hand clutching his chest. As Brussels' thick traffic surged past, people converged. They shouted in French, Flemish, and English.
"Give him air!"
"Call the paramedics!"
"Can anyone administer CPR?"
"I'm a doctor — stand aside!"
Now back at his table at the café, Malko sipped coffee and chewed his pastry and watched as the doctor dove into the riveted throng. The spectators whispered into one another's ears and peered down. As Malko finished his pastry and dusted his fingers, a shiver of horror swept around the circle.
Almost immediately, a man in shirtsleeves fought his way out, dialing a cell. His face was pink with excitement. "There's been a tragedy on the street in the rue Sa"nte-Catherine district!" he reported in French. "Heart attack — a doctor just said so. What? Yes, he's dead. Important? Hold your hat: It's EU Competition Commissioner Franco Peri! Get it on the air at once. Yes, the lead. Pull whatever else you have off!"
Gino Malko smiled, left euros on the lace-covered table, and headed off, cane swinging. He would be back in his hotel in five minutes. Checked out in ten. And in fifteen, taxiing to the airport.

Reprinted with permission
from The Coil
Copyright © 2004
by Gayle Lynds
St Martin's P

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