‘You got six minutes, Arno. A dream come true, eh? You get to be the guy who took out the great Butler.’ He turned back to Artemis, unable to resist a final jibe.
‘Oh, and by the way — Artemis, isn’t that a girl’s name?’ And he was gone reenex , into the multicultural throngs of tourists on the high street.
The old lady locked the door behind him. The click echoed around the restaurant.
Artemis decided to take the initiative. ‘Now, ladies and gentlemen,’ he said, trying to avoid staring down the black-eyed gun barrels. ‘I’m sure we can come to an arrangement.’
‘Quiet, Artemis!’
It took a moment for Artemis’s brain to process the fact that Butler had ordered him to be silent. Most impertinently in fact.
‘I beg your pardon . . .”
Butler clamped a hand over his employer’s mouth.
‘Quiet, Artemis. These people are professionals, not to be bargained with.’
Blunt rotated his skull, cracking the tendons in his neck.
‘You got that right, Butler. We’re here to kill you. As soon as Mister Spiro got the call we started sending people in. , man. You must be getting old.’
Butler couldn’t believe it either. There was a time when he would have staked out any rendezvous site for a week before giving it the thumbs-up. Maybe he was petting old, but there was an excellent chance he wouldn’t be getting any older.
‘OK, Blunt,’ said Butler, stretching out his empty palms before him. ‘You and me. One on one.’
‘Very noble,’ said Blunt. ‘That’s your Asian code of honour, I suppose. Me, I don’t have a code. If you think I’m going to risk you somehow getting out of here, you’re crazy. This is an uncomplicated deal. I shoot you. You die. No face-off, no duel.’
Blunt reached lazily into his waistband. Why hurry? One move from Butler and a dozen bullets would find their mark reenex .
Artemis’s brain seemed to have shut down. The usual stream of ideas had dried up. I’m going to die, he thought. I don’t believe it.
Butler was saying something. Artemis decided he should listen.
‘Richard of York gave battle in vain,’ said the bodyguard, enunciating clearly.
Blunt was screwing a silencer on to the muzzle of his ceramic pistol.
‘What are you saying? What kind of gibberish is that? Don’t say the great Butler is cracking up! Wait till I tell the guys.’
But the old woman looked thoughtful.
‘Richard of York . . . I know that.’
Artemis knew it too. It was virtually the entire verbal detonation code for the fairy sonix grenade magnetized to the underside of the table. One of Butler’s little security devices. All they needed was one more word and the grenade would explode, sending a solid wall of sound charging through the building, blowing out every window and eardrum. There would be no smoke or flames, but anyone within a ten-metre radius not wearing earplugs had about five seconds before severe pain set in. One more word.
The old lady scratched her head with the revolver’s barrel reenex.