Sharpe put on the hunting cap and turned up his collar before he got off the crowded tram. The Warsaw night was biting. He rushed up the slush covered steps and into the jam-packed KFC, his glasses immediately steaming up.
He was starving but he didn’t have to wait too long for his food. The blonde girl with the piercings, who stood behind the counter, recognised him from previous visits. She smiled. In minutes, he sat demolishing a burger and a pint of Carlsberg.
The crowds were mostly men watching football on the flat screen television. Poland were playing Germany and not doing so well, it would seem by the shouting. Not that Sharpe was interested in sports.
He had work to do.
He finished his food and lager, burped and gazed out of the window at Aleja Jana Pawla II.
The street was named after the late Pope, Poland’s most famous son. For weeks after he died, it had been lined with a constellation of candles. Now it was lit up with neon signs from the pubs, kebab shops and twenty-four hour off-licenses.
And peep shows.
He felt more settled as he left, nodding to the blonde girl.
He was resigned, ready.
The room was painted pink. It smelt of air freshener, with an underlying odour of sweat. Worn, red velvet curtains hung over a doorway. At one end of the room was a large smudged mirror and at the other a small kitchen chair.
Sharpe sat on the chair and waited. The air conditioning kicked in and an old Madonna song started to play.
After a moment, Greta staggered through the curtains, grinning.
She was wearing a red plastic kimono and a black wig, cut into a bob. In her hand was a large black dildo.
The Diver Pub was just across the street; the first port of call for the guilt wracked peepshow punters. Sharpe sat at the corner of the bar, nearing the end of his second pint of Warka Strong.
‘Where in England do you come from?’ said Aneta, the Barby-esque manager. She was only in her mid-twenties but plastic surgery had given her the appearance of a middle aged woman trying to look like a teen.
Her husband , Lech, was the owner of the pub and he’d bought it as a birthday present for Aneta when the previous owners, Mr and Mrs Nowak, had been actively persuaded to give it up. Lech owned a number of the local peep shows and a couple of the 24 hour off licenses. He’d wanted to take over a pub for some time and jumped at the chance when Mr Nowak fell through a window of opportunity.
‘I’m from London,’ said Sharpe. ‘But I was born in Leeds.’
‘I love London,’ said Aneta. ‘What do you do in Warsaw?’
‘I’m a journalist,’ he said. ‘I contribute to a series of travel guides that focus on major cities at night. Prague By Night, Paris By Night. That sort of thing.’
‘Sounds like an interesting job.’
‘Well, the pays not fantastic,’ he said, finishing his beer ‘but the travel’s great. And it has its perks.’
‘What are … perks?’
‘Little bonuses . Little extras.’
Sharpe avoided looking out of the glass walled lift, once it started to ascend. He’d always had problems with heights which had sometimes made his job difficult.
Greta seemed pleased with the view of Warsaw’s ever expending skyline, though.
‘This is a real city, eh?’ she said, grinning as the lift reached the twentieth floor.
‘It’s not like this in your place in Lithuania, then?’ said Sharpe. He was tensed, like a rattlesnake ready to strike.
‘Ha!’ said, Greta, a dark cloud passing over her expression.
Lech’s office was like something from an Eighties porn film set, all chrome and black leather. His leather jacket creaked as he stood and poured the vodka shots. Behind him, a no-necked skinhead, eyes as black as bullet holes, breathed slowly and heavily. Greta waited outside.
‘Na zdrowia!’ said Lech.
‘Cheers,’ said Sharpe.
He knocked back the shot and shook hands with Lech.
The deal was sealed. Lech had given Greta permission to leave his employ. For a price. And
Sharpe had paid.
Lech took Greta’s passport from a safe and handed it over to Sharpe who pushed the briefcase full of cash across the table.
Lech’s brow furrowed as he scrutinised the notes, perhaps realising that they were forged.
‘Is…’ was all Lech managed to say before Sharpe pulled out the pistol that was strapped to his ankle and shot Lech and his minder. Twice in the heart, once between the eyes.
A true professional.
But, then, that was what Mrs Nowak had paid him for, after all.