“Your coffee, sir.”
Bexley nodded his thanks as the waitress placed the cup on his table. His training kicked in, and he noticed the scar on her wrist, almost hidden by her tight white linen blouse. She wore her blonde hair too short, like she was trying to provoke a reaction.
Attractive, but damaged. Yet she smiled at him, and her face was not unkind.
“Anything else, sir?” There was a trace of an Eastern European accent, but that wasn’t uncommon any more.
She nodded, and turned to leave his table. But not before she’d winked. And that seemed a strange gesture, far too forward. If he hadn’t been on a job, he might have followed it up.
But he couldn’t afford distractions. Kanatova would be here soon, and Bexley needed everything to run according to the plan.
He added cream to his coffee and sipped it, savouring the bitter/sweet combination as he cast his gaze over the square. One of the reasons he’d suggested this cafe was the vantage point its outside seating provided. With only a slight turn of his head, Bexley could watch the joggers in the park to the east, or observe the comings and goings in the boutiques and eateries around the other edges. He could view the two streets, one by the park and the other to the west, or focus on the imposing church and the throng of tourists by its steps.
Of course, he’d checked the area out already, and was confident that things would go without a hitch. It wasn’t like anyone would try anything, not with so many potential witnesses around.
A moped sputtered loudly from the west, belching out a cloud of fumes, and someone yelled. Bexley’s heart thumped, his chest constricting. There was swearing, in at least two languages, loud enough for Bexley to hear. Rapid insults, but he understood them. He relaxed—nothing but the usual hot-headed locals.
He turned to the park, and there was Kanatova, rounding the corner by the sandwich shop. He wore a casual grey suit and carried a slim metallic briefcase. It took Bexley a moment to spot the subtle bulge of the cuff around his wrist, and the chain running down to the case itself.
He pushed his wire-frame glasses back up his nose, and his eyes darted around. The man was nervous.
Bexley took another sip of coffee, the steam clouding his vision for a moment. The sun was getting warmer, or maybe the liquid was too hot, and for a moment his head spun.
“Can I get you anything else, sir?”
The waitress stood to his left, her hair hanging down over her shoulders. “A top-up maybe?” She held the filter jug in her hand, but the aroma was slightly stale.
“No, thanks.” He forced a smile. The sun was behind her, and his eyes started to water.
“Call if you want anything.”
“I will. Thanks.”
She walked off, her thigh bumping against his chair. Clumsy. Bexley couldn’t imagine his first waitress doing that.
Kanatova walked across the square, scattering a group of pigeons some lad and his mother were feeding. Their flapping made him jump, and Bexley heard the child laughing. Kanatova held a hand up in apology, and the mother pulled her child in close. Kanatova apologised once more, then continued to walk into the square.
He didn’t do nonchalant well. His lips were pursed, almost like he was whistling. Bexley thought he even caught the noise, but it was too high pitched.
The whine, he realised, was coming from his own ears, and he tilted his head, prodding with one finger. That simple movement was enough to make him feel slightly nauseous.
But there was no need to be nervous. Bexley knew how things would go. Kanatova would come over, they’d greet each other like old business colleagues, Bexley would offer a seat to Kanatova, who would eventually accept. They’d spend a few minutes talking affably, and then Kanatova would excuse himself. He’d leave, and after a couple of minutes so would Bexley—carrying a slim metallic briefcase.
He took another sip of his coffee. He should’ve added sugar—the roast was too strong for this time of day. Already he felt heartburn building.
Kanatova turned as someone spoke to him. Probably a tourist, wanting a photo taken. Kanatova said something, and took a step to one side, allowing Bexley to see the woman. She touched his arm, and he flinched. She ran a hand through her spiky blonde hair.
Bexley’s stomach rumbled. He glanced around, feeling embarrassed. But the action of moving his head hurt, and he closed his eyes until the feeling passed.
When he opened them, the woman with the short hair was leading Kanatova away. Behind them, on the road, a white car pulled up. The shape was familiar, but the make escaped Bexley. Audi? BMW?
Maybe it was the sun, but everything appeared blurred. He couldn’t tell how many occupants were in the car.
The rear door opened, and the woman pushed Kanatova toward it, the sleeve of her white blouse pulling back from her wrist.
Bexley stood. At least he tried to, but the world lurched, and he crashed back down into his chair, his breath short. It felt like someone was crushing his chest.
He glanced up, shielding his eyes from the sun’s glare. The woman put a hand on Kanatova’s head as he entered the car. Then she turned to Bexley and winked.
Bexley groaned, and his stomach clenched as pain coursed through his body. His head, suddenly heavy, lolled forward, and his vision blurred.
A car drove off, and someone asked if he was okay. He tried to shake his head, didn’t know if he managed it or not.
He stared at his empty coffee cup. The bitter aftertaste rose in his dry mouth, and his throat tightened as he fell forward and the world turned black.
Pushing The Limits
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…if you only walk long enough