Close Personal Protection

I like Mr. Gianarelli. He’s a nice guy, but anyone doing my job tonight would be nervous. Paul was late coming back from the armed cash delivery, which meant I’d have to start alone. I sat on the end of the couch and talked with the driver, Danny the Chinaman. The lights were low, but the room was lit up by the light emanating from the pool. The floor-to-ceiling windows had a bluish tint, as though the pool light had stained them. Gianarelli emerged, pursued by his wife, who draped an overcoat across his shoulders.

“Okay, okay,” he said, walking faster as she reached up to smooth his hair. “Boys, let’s go.”

In the limo, I sat up front with Danny. We didn’t talk.

Upon arrival, I opened the door for the old man and walked up the stairs behind him at a subtle distance. A breeze threaded itself through the night air. I needed it; I sweat like a pig in a suit. Two bouncers flanked a diminutive woman with a clipboard.

“Good evening gentlemen,” she said, greeting us with a smile that was so hard it was brittle. “Your names are?”

“Gianarelli, Giovanni.” He jerked a thumb back over his shoulder at me. “This is my son.”

“Good evening,” I said, turning on the professional courtesy and spraying it all over the three of them. I made a mental note of their security numbers as I strode through the doorway.

Generally, body-guard work is best done in pairs. One guy monitors the crowd while the other checks out the building. This is particularly important when you’re going somewhere new. With famous people, it’s more crowd-control and stalkers. But the kind of people who will come for Gianarelli know what they’re doing. And they’ll kill you as a matter of course.

I don’t buy all that ‘Tony Soprano’ bullshit. Gianarelli was nice to me, and courteous, and seemed to have all his marbles. But I’m scared of anyone who trades in the suffering of other people. That said, I was more worried about Paul turning up quickly. I always feel better with Paul around on jobs like this; he’s the one with the gun.

Gianarelli walked into the vestibule at the front of the restaurant bar. I followed to the door and, to make myself look less conspicuous, sat at a nearby table. Some people who hire bodyguards use them as a perverse kind of accessory. For Gianarelli, it was tantamount to having a sign around his neck that read, ‘professional criminal’. Nothing happening, he just stood around, the most well-dressed in a group of guys that looked like Jerry’s parents from Seinfeld. I rang Paul’s mobile. It was switched off.

I didn’t want to leave Gianarelli, but I was eager to check the place out. See what the security was like, where the points of exit and entry were, locate telephones, fire extinguishers, that sort of thing.     

It was the kind of tattoo that you’d be able to see through a t-shirt, let alone a cocktail dress. Blue and purple and black and red and green ink showed through the plaited strands of blonde hair that fell upon her shoulder, just beside her neck. She moved and was obscured by a copse of bodies. I headed for the bar and wandered towards the left, leaning back after checking to avoid wetting the elbow of my jacket. She had a Chinese dragon clutching her back, teeth bared. Most of the head was visible, except for the snout, which must have been just above the cleft of her butt. She held a long glass of something sweating in her hand. I approached from behind.

“Nice tatt.”

“Thank you,” she said, turning, throwing the warmth of a genuine smile. Her eyes were green and sharp and large. The small freckles over the bridge of her nose partially obscured by make up. Her teeth were brighter than the lights. The outline of a barbell through her left nipple was visible through the sheerness of her dress. I’d have thought she was a model, except for the dragon.

“I’m Sam. You are…?” I extended a hand to shake.

“Sandra.” She took it and gripped gently, but like a man.

“Who are you with?” she asked me.

“Old guy over there,” I told her, nodding towards Giannarelli. “You?”

“The old guy he’s talking to.”

“What do you do?” she asked.

“Close personal protection.”

“Like a bodyguard?”

“Kind of,” I replied, trying to steer away from the thug connotation. “Paid to watch his back.”

“Everyone needs someone to watch their back,” she said, smiling. I noticed she’d turned the toe of one stiletto shoe out to the side. A shaft of tanned flesh was visible.

“Whose back are you watching?” I asked, waving the stem of my champagne glass at her body. She shook her head.

“Companionship only.” Ah, I thought. A hooker.

“What do you do?” I asked, interested to hear what kind of lie she’d tell.

“Waitress.”

“And companion. Like a lapdog.” That hit the floor like a boxful of Christmas decorations. Her smile faltered and fell.

“I’m sorry, that was a stupid thing to say.”

“That’s okay.” She wasn’t offended. Worse; she was hurt.

“No, it’s not okay. That was a dumb thing to say. Do you have a card?”

“No.”

“What about a number?”

“Uh, I can’t. Unprofessional.” She extended her hand to shake mine. “Nice to meet you. Have a good night.”

As she walked away, the dragon eyed me off, unblinking. It hadn’t been fooled by a word I’d said. It knew what I was up to – it saw through me all along.

“Hiya, big fella,” Paul said, clapping me on the shoulder.

“Where have you been?”

“Parking the car. Got here as quick as I could.” I wasn’t impressed and told him so.

“C’mon, I’ve just come from Sandown and I forgot my suit. Had to get changed in the car park. Fucking hot, eh?” He pulled at his tie, revealing the elastic that held it on. I’d offered to teach him the Windsor knot, but he’d declined to learn. “Have you secured the building?”

“Nope. I can’t leave him alone, you know that. I’ve been waiting for you.”

“So I’m here. You want to do the securing or will I?”

“I’ll do it. You sit here.” Paul planted himself in the booth. I took the sunglasses off the top of his head put them on the table.

“Thanks, chief.” His jacket was buttoned and bulged when he sat down. The butt of the Glock glinted as the overhead lights flowed along it, its snout buried in his armpit. I don’t like guns. They attract other guns.

The restaurant was filling with guests, which is a bad time to be doing your research. Good security in this instance is low-profile. Not to mention that you want to know what’s going on before the threat arrives. Exits at both rear corners. Each door led to a fire door which was alarmed, behind which was the car park.

The kitchen was a large, well-lit, stainless steel affair. I could tell the head chef from the way he set his jaw, like a territorial Cockerspaniel.

“Good evening, how are you?” I asked, not extending my hand, expecting that he wouldn’t want to touch it.

“Fine,” he said, with that ‘get-the-fuck-out-of-my-kitchen’ air.

“I don’t mean to get in the way, but I’m working here tonight and the manager has asked me to look around and inspect the quality of the security. Do you mind if I take a look down the back?”

“Certainly. The goods entrance is through the ‘fridge. I’ll show you.” Experience has taught me that manners are the great social lubricator.

The fridge was so cold, even the air was still. Brown, waxed-cardboard boxes of fruit and vegetables were stacked against the walls and neatly either side of the heavy insulated door at the back. Racks with bowls and boxes and containers, some open like mouths. A box of vegetables, the spring onions standing up on top like hair. The insulated door was secured by a black steel clasp with a padlock threaded through it.

“Who has the key for the lock?”

“I do,” the chef answered, pulling out a ring of keys and opening the padlock before I asked. I walked out into the night. The car park was a lonely expanse of bitumen, a couple of puddles of street-light standing on its surface. I looked above the door; no security camera. I walked around the building to the fire exits. No cameras there, either. There was a dumpster gaping flies and stink to the left of the door.

“Thanks,” the chef put his hand out and I shook it. “Might be back later, if that’s okay.”

“No worry. You want a meal?”

“Actually, yeah. That’d be terrific.”

The crowd had swelled and was trickling towards the tables in the main room. It was a function for some cable television channel which Giannarelli had put some money into. I found him sitting at the bar with Paul behind him in the booth. Sandra was with her partner and turned towards me as I entered. I looked away just as her gaze crossed mine.

“Have you seen the blonde with the giant tattoo?” Paul gasped.

“Yeah. So what?”

There is a saying; the longer you go without trouble, the closer you get to it. At the climax of the evening, Bardot performed their latest single, which was as dreadful as you’d expect, and the half-starved bimbos stalked offstage. Paul went to the door first and I followed with Giannarelli. The driveway was jammed with cars; two taxis sitting at the head of the queue. Paul instructed Danny to drive around the back and we’d come out through the kitchen.

This wasn’t an unusual step to take. With a client of this kind, you don’t want to be standing around. A crowd is like a jungle and people become the trees. The chef  opened the fridge for us. As we stepped out into the night, we were fixed by two sets of headlights, coming from opposite corners of the lot. As the left set drew closer, I saw the black of the limo standing behind the glare. Danny pulled up and opened the door for the old man. The other car drew closer still. I put my hand up to shield my eyes and held down the panic. The lights hit high-beam as both driver and passenger doors opened.

“Paul!” I yelled, and then I saw the firey efflorescence of muzzle flashes.

I’d never been shot at before. It’s a funny thing; when you look at a gun head-on and see the flash, you know that the bullets are intended for you. The sound comes slightly after, but you have to wait for the pain to tell if you’ve been shot.

More shots from behind me – Paul returning fire. The guys got back into the car and as it turned away, I noted that the brake lights were configured like a VL Commodore. Paul ran after it, pumping shots out of the Glock. Glass shattering; lead smacking holes in the body. I gingerly returned to my feet, expecting pain or blood or something. Gianarelli crouched in the doorway of the fridge. I took him by the arm and led him towards the open limo. I don’t think this was the first time he’d been shot at; he took it better than me. But as we got close to the car, I felt something behind me. I let go of his arm and as I turned, pulled the AS baton out from under my shirt and flicked it open.

I don’t carry a gun, but I carry some other stuff. Perspex knuckle dusters, capsicum spray and a baton. The dusters are plastic, so they don’t go off in metal detectors. The capsicum spray will disable anything that breathes and the baton is a particularly nasty piece of equipment. It’s extendable, fifty centimeters long, and comes down to a point; focused, like a golf club. It generates so much force that you can shatter bones with it, even large ones like the humerus in the upper arm.

So far, I’d never been stabbed, either.

The guy had a large handlebar moustache and came towards me in a boxer’s crouch with a long knife in either hand. The one in his left was double-edged, like a commando knife. The other had a drop point like a skinning knife with serrations all along the back of the blade. I didn’t know what they were for, but they suggested ripping and tearing.

He had the look of abstracted focus you see on the face of a basketballer taking a foul shot from the quay. Paul says it’s best not to look your assailant in the eye. Keeps the personal aspect out of the altercation. It’s never personal; it’s just a part of the job. However, if someone wants to wound or maim me, I take it very fucking personally indeed.

I saw adrenalin, concentration, fear and excitement turning in the centrifuge of his eye. I met it with hatred; the kind of hatred that would give me the presence of mind to maim and wound. The light fell. My assailant’s face was clothed in darkness as Danny wheeled the limo around and drove away.

First off, I wanted to do something about the knives. I reached into the band of my trousers and slipped on the duster. I closed my fist and felt its reassuring rigidity bite into the heel of my hand. Ordinarily I put the duster on my right, being the preferred hand to crush and break bone. But to disarm him, I needed the accuracy of my favored hand.

There were no side-to-side feints like in Michael Jackson’s Beat It video; the guy waded in swinging the knives in small, tightly controlled arcs. I bought the baton down towards his wrist, flicking the point. It struck the commando knife and shattered the blade into fragments that rang on the bitumen with an abstract musicality. He drove the other knife into my thigh, ten inches below my hip.

It didn’t hurt; it felt like being punched. I head-butted him in the temple, but he was intent on building his advantage. He grasped the hilt of the knife with both hands and started to rip it up towards my hip, tearing a great trench through my quadriceps. The blood was running down my leg and into my shoe like water from a backyard tap. He was trying to get the blade into my hip to burst the joint. I dropped the baton on the asphalt and gripped his hand with both of mine to arrest its progress.

Wisps of light fell on his face. His jaw was set; sweat coursing down his cheeks and forehead, clinging to the hair that hung down over his eyes. He didn’t look at me; it might have damaged his resolve. Neither of us said anything aside from the occasional curse.

The dumpster rang like a huge Oriental gong as the big .357 slugs slapped against it. The guy released his hold on the knife and took off across the parking lot. I fell onto my side. The pain was starting to glow in my thigh, as if waves of heat emanated from the blade. If I held it perfectly straight with a fist clenched under my knee to keep it that way, it wasn’t too bad. But as soon as I rolled one way or another – agony. Paul bent over me, gun in hand.

“Fuck – you should have seen it – back window shattered all over them! Like on t.v.! Fuck!” Paul started walking in circles, talking to himself. Then he stopped. “I should get you an ambulance.”

“Please. Actually, go inside and get a tablecloth,” I told him. He scuttled through the kitchen door. I reached under me for my mobile to call an ambulance. It came out of the breast pocket in fragments.

If I was going to complain about Paul as a partner, then I had to take a share of the responsibility, because I had chosen to continue working with him. And we had formed something of a complimentary alliance; he carried the gun and I had the first aid. I was going to have to explain the donut compression bandage. It’d be easier to teach a dog to tap dance.

“You’ve got to make a compression bandage to stop the bleeding,” I told him when he re-emerged through the ‘fridge. The linen cloth was a blessing; better restaurant, more substantial tablecloths.

I touched the handle of the knife. The blade was three-quarters buried in the meat and stood out stiff. Paul reached down and yanked on the handle. It moved a little and I could actually feel the serrations on the back of the blade snapping the fibres of the muscle.

“Let go!” I yelled, the sickness swelling like a tornado out of my stomach and whirling up in front of my eyes. I closed my eyes and held on to consciousness.

“Don’t pull it out – you’ll burst my hip.”

Then I passed out.

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One Response to “Close Personal Protection”

  1. Pulled me in. Well done.

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