Gilett's cannonball of a head was inches from Jackson's. Close enough for him to catch the heavy sour stench of rum on his breath. Jackson tried to sink his teeth into a cheek. Gilett pulled away and butted him.
His nose bone cracked and blinded him with pain. Blood poured into his mouth and resistance started to drain from him. With only seconds to live, all he could think about was how he should have anticipated something like this. Jackson, how dumb can you be?
Drawing on the last of his reserves, he brought his knee up into the black man's groin and was rewarded with a grunt and a slight loosening of the grip on his arm.
It was enough. He grabbed another handful of hair, jerking Gilett's head backward to expose his throat.
Jackson rose on his toes and sank his teeth into the vulnerable larynx. He felt the crack as a bridge of bone and cartilage gave way.
The two men twisted around and stumbled. Gilett's head cracked against the toilet. The stiletto went skidding across the floor. Jackson stretched for it.
Gilett's hand reached it first and he turned and sank the blade into the fleshy part of Jackson's thigh. His body went rigid and he screamed in agony, but the pain brought renewed strength and he drove a fist into Gilett's damaged throat. Gilett let go the knife to protect his damaged larynx.
Jackson used the rim of the sink to haul himself off the floor, the knife protruding from his leg like some evil, black leech. He limped into the bedroom and collapsed on the bed.
Above the music Jackson caught the gagging sounds of his former ally fighting for breath. A cold fury exploded deep inside him. Fuck them and their treachery! Damned if he was going to make it easy for those cocksuckers.
Jackson gingerly touched the hilt of the knife and a wave of dizzy pain swept through him. He had seconds before Gilett would recover and come at him again.
Removing the knife would give him a weapon, but he was already in poor shape and could pass out from the effort. Even if he remained conscious, he was far from certain that a knife would be enough of an advantage.
He could make a run for it, but how far could he get with a knife in his leg, blood pouring from his nose and a gash in his shoulder?
His living room? The door of his apartment? If he could get that far, he could make the elevator. He might make even make it to his car. At least then he would have a chance.
Val Bosanquet knew right off that his brother intended to ask a favor of him, and a big one at that.
The phone call earlier that Sunday morning had taken Val by surprise - it had been two years since they had last spoken, twice that since they had met face to face - but the venue and the timing of the meeting intrigued him enough to agree to his brother's request.
He knew that Marcus's only possible reason for suggesting Jackson Square was the fond associations the place held for them both. Memories of other Sunday mornings long ago back when they were kids. Of their mother attending mass in St Louis Cathedral while the three men in her life waited outside in the square. Their father would find a shaded bench to read the sports section, while Marcus and Val played at soldiers, their marching feet raising clouds of dust on what had once been the parade ground of the New Orleans Militia.
When mass was over, they would walk through Pirate's Alley, find a table at a banquette cafe and order chocolate and beignets. It was a cherished memory from a childhood that had little to commend it, but one that Marcus was not beyond invoking when it suited him.
The cathedral bells starting to peal snapped Val's thoughts back to the present and he quickly scanned the square. Little had changed. Swarms of rubbernecking tourists, clutching complimentary street maps in front of them like divining rods, were passing through on their way to the French Quarter, pausing briefly to admire the art hung along the wrought-iron railings. Outside the park, tired mules stood between the shafts of their buggies, flicking their tails at the pestering flies. A white-faced mime artist performed her routine in front of a group of twenty camera-festooned Japanese conventioneers.
Val had arrived early, knowing that Marcus would show up dead on time. They were both creatures of habit.
He picked him out the moment he entered the park. Catalogue Man. Two years spent in Oxford as a Rhodes Scholar had left a deep impression on Marcus. He brought back an affection for a dress style peculiarly British.