The Game (Tom Wood) - By Tom Wood


Algiers, Algeria

The killer was good. He moved with a fluidity and economy of motion that made him seem relaxed, almost carefree, yet he was ever aware of his surroundings and always alert. He had a lean, forgettable face that looked a little older than his thirty-five years. He was tall, but of average height for a native of the tallest nation on the planet. A resident of Amsterdam, Felix Kooi worked as a freelance assassin with no allegiances. He sold his services to the highest bidder, whatever the job, in a career that had endured at least ten years. That career was about to come to an end.

Kooi had a room at the El Aurassi hotel but spent little of his time there, always leaving shortly after dawn and returning only during the evening, never using the same route or the same entrance twice in a row. Each day he ventured around the city like a tourist, always walking, never visiting the same location more than once, but exploring every medieval mosque, museum and sightseer destination Algiers had to offer. He ate in restaurants and cafés, but only those serving Algerian and North African food. He walked on the seafront but never lazed on the beach.

Today Kooi was in the old town – the Casbah – and had spent an hour wandering around the market near the El Jidid mosque. The market was a huge, sprawling arrangement of tented stalls selling everything from wicker baskets to live chickens. It was centred on an irregular square and seeped along the numerous adjoining alleys and side streets. He seemed to do nothing beyond browsing; enjoying the sights, sounds and smells of such a vibrant gathering of people and merchandise.

Victor had followed Kooi for three days. In that time he had learned that Kooi was good, but he wasn’t exceptional. Because he had made a mistake. A mistake that was going to kill him.

Victor’s CIA employer didn’t know the reason for Kooi’s cover as a tourist in Algiers. Procter didn’t know if the Dutch assassin was preparing for a contract, meeting a broker or client, obtaining supplies, or lying low from one of the many enemies he had no doubt made in a decade-long career as a hired killer. Victor had followed him for three days as much to determine that reason as to devise the best way to kill him, even though he didn’t need to know it in order to fulfil the contract. Such knowledge was important because maybe someone was as keen for Kooi to live as Victor’s employer was for him to die. Getting caught in the middle of such a tug of war was not something Victor was eager to repeat.

Three days shadowing Kooi around the city had been a necessary aspect of the precautionary measures Victor employed to stay alive in the world’s most dangerous profession, but unnecessary because there was no secret to uncover. Kooi wasn’t working. He wasn’t meeting a contact. He wasn’t on the run. He was on vacation. He was acting like a tourist because he was a tourist.

And that was his mistake. He was a tourist. He was in Algiers to relax and have a good time, to explore and see the sights, and too much of his focus was on being a tourist to effectively protect himself from someone like Victor.

A merchant selling carved wooden statuettes caught Kooi’s attention and he listened and nodded and pointed and examined the man’s wares. He said nothing in return, because he didn’t speak French, or else didn’t want the trader to know he did. Victor watched from a distance of twenty metres. Kooi was easy enough to see, being at least half a head taller than the locals occupying the space between him and Victor, and Victor’s similar height ensured that his line of sight was rarely interrupted unless he chose for it to be.

Kooi was aware and alert but he was a tourist and his counter-surveillance techniques were basic, and basic had never been a problem for Victor. He was more cautious in return, and Kooi hadn’t come close to identifying the threat. He had seen Victor, because Kooi was good, and like Kooi, Victor’s height and ethnicity made him stand out in Algiers, but because he was only good and not exceptional, he hadn’t marked Victor as anything other than a tourist. Victor knew this because Kooi’s behaviour hadn’t changed, and no one who learned an assassin was following them acted exactly the