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Dharmendra focused on the sounds coming from the gun. To his ears it was a complete complex split-second symphony, and every component registered precisely. The scrape of alloy on alloy, its metallic resonance partially damped by a fleshy palm and the ball of a thumb and the side of an index finger, the grateful expansion of a magazine spring, the smack of a brass-cased shell socketing home, the return of the slide. Those sounds took about a thirtieth of a second to reach his ears and he spent maybe another thirtieth of a second processing them.

His life and his history lacked many things. He had never known stability or normality or comfort or convention. As a superbly trained bodyguard he had never counted on anything except surprise and unpredictability and danger. He took things exactly as they came, for exactly what they were. Therefore Dharmendra heard the slide rack back and felt no disabling shock. No panic. No stab of disbelief. It seemed entirely natural and reasonable to him that he should be standing on the first floor of a half-constructed hotel on a Sunday afternoon and listening to a man preparing to shoot him and his boss and others around him in the back.

There was no hesitation, no second-guessing, no self-doubt, no inhibition. There was just evidence of a purely mechanical problem laid out behind him like an invisible four-dimensional diagram showing time and space and targets and fast bullets and slow bodies.

And then there was reaction, another thirtieth of a second later.

He knew where the first bullet would be aimed, he knew that any reasonable attacker would want to put the biggest target down first. That was nothing more than common sense. So the first shot would be aimed at him.

Or possibly at his boss. Gautam Parekh was also a big man, and obviously the main target of the would-be assassin. And if Gautam was not the main target – then Tejwant was….

Better be safe than sorry.

Dharmendra used his left arm and shoved Gautam Parekh hard in the right shoulder and sent him sprawling into his brother and then fell away in the opposite direction and crashed into Tejwant Rastogi. They both stumbled and as he was going down to his knees he heard the gun fire behind him and felt the bullet pass through the V-shaped void of empty air where the centre of his back had been just a split second before.

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