Dufort sat at an outdoor table at the café, directly behind his target, an informant for a rival intelligence agency but in the service of the same government he worked for. Dufort used the massive picture window of the café to see who came to visit the man, what newspaper he read, maybe he’d steal his camera to see what the film hid; they were back-to-back, close enough he could hear the man talking, should he do so, but the man made no noise apart from softly whistling and humming pop songs like some sort of child or imbecile. Nothing happened. Waiters came and went with empty and refilled cups and plates. Dufort saw the man flinch at the sound of his voice when he ordered a coffee, probably his particular accent, one associated with the Imperial City, the bureaucratic classes especially. Maybe the shudder was something else. An old, errant thought. Who could say.

Dufort squinted for a moment, tired, then stared directly into his coffee cup, at the oil-black filling, making out the contours of his own head, and his hair being tossed lightly in a gentle wind before something emerged from behind his silhouette and loomed over him. Dufort looked up into the picture window and for a moment thought it was merely a passing cloud, but it was a man, another man different from his target, large, vast, actually, wearing a trench coat and an executioner’s hood.

Dufort went for his sidearm but it was too late. A loud explosion, then his head was slathered all over the table, like it been slopped from a bucket. One of his teeth was embedded in a woman’s forehead. Blood was everywhere. But the first thing anyone noticed was how unbelievably loud that explosion was, the gunshot. No one realized it was a gunshot at first. Most people just cringed, covered their ears, those close enough to the explosion having the tiny bones in their middle ears painfully snapped, tinnitus spreading like a virus. They looked around for the overturned truck, or the building ripped through with flame from a faulty gas main. But then they saw the mostly headless corpse, they saw his blood and scalp dripping from the table, and the screaming began.

According to witnesses, the gunman then turned to Dufort’s target, who was himself like a few others frozen utterly still in an unbelieving shock while considerably many more on the Reu d’Assad scattered in a panic, overturning chairs and tables and street vendors’ booths in their flight, and shouted to the man over the din of the collective ear-ringing that he must’ve put the silencer on the pistol backward as it was twice as loud as without a silencer. He laughed and vowed never to make that silly mistake again, then laughed a second time and roughly looted Dufort’s pockets, taking at least his wallet and service weapon among other unknown quantities, eventually knocking the body to the ground, his hand still stuck in one of its pockets, a sloppy sucking sound from the gaping, blown-open skull as its remains shattered against brick. Sirens could now be heard bleating and echoing from far off, mired in smog and traffic.

The gunman got into a Citroën DS with the number plate “Bästard” and drove off. There were others in the car, unmasked but so bland as to be indescribable. They were simply just there. On the point of the license plate, despite its patent absurdity, two witnesses were insistent, pleadingly so. Both were taken into custody, suspected of trying to mislead investigators.

At their walled headquarters, the director gathered all the agents and reminded them of their purpose, of how this embarrassment deprived them of that.

He reminded them, forcefully, rapping a rattan walking stick against the edge of his desk with each emphatically hurled syllable: the role of the policeman is to wield power over secrets.

So, we will now descend upon them and eventually come to know more than they do. The cobblestones of the dungeons’ floors would be slaked with blood and skin lashed and shredded from backs, legs, and asses with whips fashioned from rusted concertina wire. Screams would issue from the dungeons’ sewer grates and filthy, delinquent children playing in the dirty streets above would laugh and scream back while urinating down them. Of the original detainees, Witness One would be committed to an asylum, his scrotum engorged to the size of a watermelon after days of repeated kicks, screaming something about a license plate that could not possibly have been issued, and having an awareness of this, yet an insistence that it was real, that it is real, that it is out there somewhere in the Colonial City stalking another man who shall soon be headless, his insides gushing forth to feed the dull, dusty concrete. The other witness died, accidentally strangled when he was hogtied ankles to neck, his interrogator demoted and given desk duty for his abject carelessness. Money would change hands, as would threats and extortion. None of it would bring them any closer to finding Dufort’s assassin. On top of it all, they lost track of the informant Dufort had discovered.


For all installments of “The Ambush,” click here.

Previous installments:

  1. Part 1: The Body