Adrenaline still pumping through his veins from the successful hit, Ben tried to survey the best way out. The rounded battlement of the Dubrovnik Old City fortications had only two options, traversing back around the walls or using a staircase leading to the city. Or there was always plummeting over into the sea like the target… Seeing the guards rounding the walls, Ben knew there was only one choice. Unless we feel like taking on the whole Dubrovnik garrison, that is. Glancing over at Dante, Ben looked at his mentor and knew with the big man by his side they stood a fighting chance, but he didn’t think it was worth the risk. Dante seemed to agree, gesturing to Ben to follow. A crowd was now gathering near the spot where the target had made his unceremonious plummet, and Ben just hoped a few of their own pursuers would veer that way.
Hearing more and more shouts as he raced toward the staircase with Dante, Ben knew they still had quite a few people on their tail. Luckily, it was the height of tourist season and a large group of visitors was coming up the stairs. Being polite, but firm, Dante and Ben wended their way through the huddle of people, hoping that the police would be bottlenecked. They weren’t. As soon as Ben and Dante made their way through the throng, they could already see uniforms nearly clearing the crowd. Taking a quick turn, Ben almost lost his footing, the stone stairs proving slipperier than he had anticipated. His balance held, though, and he avoided a fall which would have all but guaranteed capture. Rounding the bend, they saw the harbor, but Ben instantly discounted the idea of taking a boat. The water was choppy from the morning rain, and no boats were going out. Besides, a sea getaway would be too slow.
The original plan had been to use motorcycles to slip away to nearby Montenegro or Bosnia, but they hadn’t counted on a pursuit. Almost as if Dante was reading his mind, the assassin said, “We have to stick with the plan. The wheels are already greased to get us out of Croatia. We just need to lose our tail.”
Ben was about to ask how, when Dante walked straight through the Old City gate, away from the harbor and ships and into the city streets filled with tourists. While it was a straight shot to the single road adjacent to the Old City, Dante didn’t head that way, instead hanging a left, almost backtracking, though on a lower level. Ben knew that Dante had the experience to get them out of there, so he didn’t ask questions. Seeing Dante leading them toward a group of three Croatian policemen in the distance, however, Ben’s certainty wavered. He thought Dante must be searching for one of the narrow cobblestone paths that crisscrossed the city, but he didn’t see anything but a straight route into the three men who were searching the crowd.
Nearly reaching the trio of cops, Ben risked a backward glance and could see another contingent of policemen storming through the harbor gate and scanning the crowd. We’re going to be trapped. Turning his focus forward, he saw the three officers were less than five feet away, and one of them had spotted Dante. Ben faltered in his step, unsure of what to do next. Dante did not hesitate, however, barreling into the closest cop. As the man flew to the ground, Dante pivoted and lashed out with a brutal left hook on the next officer. The blow caught the man square on the jaw, turning out the lights. The hitman then turned his attention to the third man, but the stunned cop on the ground began reaching for his radio and Dante shifted his focus back to him, diving on top of the officer. That was all the opportunity the last cop standing needed, jumping onto Dante’s back. The officer was burly and strong, sinking one hand under Dante’s neck, trying to secure a chokehold. The hitman reeled back, trying to fight the cop off, but he’d been taken unaware.
Knowing he had to help, Ben rushed forward, sneaking up on the cop from behind. Securing a chokehold of his own, Ben quickly put the officer to sleep, even as Dante gasped for air. Ben moved to help, but Dante waved him off, sucking in a deep breath and then landing a hammerfist strike to the last conscious officer, sending him to dreamland. Ben turned to scan for the other officers, knowing that they must be nearing. He readied himself for another fight as Dante regained his wind. Ben sank into a fighting stance, knowing they were vastly outnumbered. When he turned to Dante, though, he saw the big man had not yet risen. Puzzled, Ben watched as Dante reached over and grabbed the prone officer’s radio. Pressing down the button he uttered a few quick phrases in Croatian, disguising his voice. Hearing a confirmation over the radio, Dante stood up and motioned for Ben to follow. They walked at a fast clip, but not a run, trying to blend in with the many tourists walking the streets. To Ben’s horror, however, he saw that Dante was heading back to the harbor gates.
“They’re cops that way, Dante, I saw them,” Ben sputtered.
The assassin shot him a sly grin. “Not anymore.”
True to his word, there were no officers in the vicinity as they hung a hard left, heading down the main thoroughfare toward their bikes and freedom. “What did you say?”
“I told them that we spotted the hitmen ducking into one of the boats,” Dante said with satisfaction.
“I didn’t know you spoke Croatian,” Ben observed.
“I’m full of surprises,” Dante said with a laugh, “but I can tell you your education’s starting right now. Lesson number one is always have a backup plan, and for me that meant picking up a couple phrases that might come in handy if we were compromised.”
Ben looked at him with genuine admiration as they made their way out of the main entrance their motorcycles in sight. “I’ll keep that in mind.”
“Now,” Dante said, walking over to the bike and firing it up. “Let’s bid a fond farewell to Dubrovink for the moment. Ben nodded and followed his mentor’s lead, revving up his own ride. Before they headed out, though, Dante leaned over. “You did well today, Ben,” he said, “you’re going to have a bright future with the Syndicate.” Ben’s cheeks flushed and a large grin came over his face, but Dante didn’t seem to notice, or if he did, he didn’t comment on it. “Now let’s hit the road.”
Moments later, the majestic Old City walls were fading in Ben’s rearview mirror, but he knew the memory of what he’d accomplished never would. Now it’s time to make more memories with the Syndicate…
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