Enrique Allmers was on his way to the La Vela restaurant when the young woman barreled into him. He hadn't heard her coming. She'd come through the archway that connected the fish market with the Buttstreet, just as Enrique strolled past and their paths crossed. She collided with him at full speed, knocking down and then tumbling onto the man who had so suddenly and unexpectedly appeared in front of her. As they both got to their feet, Enrique realized why he hadn't heard the woman coming. She wasn't wearing any shoes.
She was barefoot.
In a split-second he took in the important details--something he was used to doing: early to mid-twenties, shoulder-length dark hair, knee-length, dark dress. Uninjured but exhausted, and with a terrified expression on her face.
But before he could say anything, he heard the sound of running footsteps, also coming from the Buttstreet and getting louder. He also realized that it was two pairs of feet, their sturdy shoes rapidly approaching on the cobblestone street.
The young woman looked briefly in the direction she'd been heading, but it was instantly obvious that she'd given up any idea of continuing her escape. Instead, she took hold of Enrique's arm and shielded herself with his body.
Suddenly, the men appeared.
Enrique Allmers knew these types. Large, broad-shouldered, with short-cropped hair and oily, round heads. Expensive black suits, black vests, black ties. Wireless and cellphone earplugs. The holsters under their jackets were remarkably slim, but they certainly didn't escape his notice. His eye was well-trained for such details. He was also not surprised that neither of them were out of breath. They were in very good shape.
Enrique felt the trembling of the small hands clinging to him.
"Hit the road," the pursuer on the right growled at him.
"What's wrong?" Enrique whispered to the woman who cowered behind his back, but there was no answer. Instead, the second man spoke up:
"Are you deaf? Beat it!"
With a quick and experienced grip of his left hand, he gently loosened the fingers of the woman who was still clinging to his upper arm. Then he left her standing there and took a step toward the men.
"I'm sure you can see that it would be impossible for me to simply leave now," he said in a calm and relaxed voice. The two of them at first looked puzzled, then they moved toward him. Slowly, the space between the pair increased, presenting Enrique with two distinct targets. He observed with relief, however, that neither one of them made a move to draw their guns from their shoulder holsters. They were clearly convinced that intimidation--or, if necessary, a quick shove or a fist to the gut--would surely convince him to clear out.
But they were deceiving themselves.
As they closed in on him, he dashed into the gap that they'd left between themselves. Then they did precisely what he'd expected them to do. They turned to face him.
Enrique Allmers took advantage of it. He caught the one on the right with a haymaker to the temple that caused him to totter. He looked as though he was about to drop to the pavement like a wet sack, so Enrique immediately grabbed him under the arms and held him upright, using him as a shield.
He quickly reached into the jacket of the now-unconscious man, pulled the weapon from its holster and pointed it, under the arm of his victim, at the other man. The whole thing took less than three seconds, so the second man had had no time to react. Instead, he stood there, slowly raised his arms, and said:
"Don't fuck with us! You don't know who you're dealing with."
Enrique Allmers motioned with the barrel of his gun in the direction of the man's jacket--and the weapon that it concealed. He pulled it out gently with his thumb and forefinger, placed it on the pavement and shoved wit