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Chapter 1

Kramer & Partners

The underground Metro train rattled along the line, with bursts of light illuminating the tunnel walls as sparks flashed from the rails. Interspersed with a constant, loud electric buzz was the clickety-click of the wheels over the track joints, which drowned out almost all other sounds. Not that there were many people who were chatting. Most of the commuters read their daily newspaper while on their journey to work on auto-pilot, or were dreaming of their holiday on a sun-drenched beach under a clear blue sky in some far off, foreign resort. For the younger ones, they perhaps thought of the sexual athletics they had performed last night, or possibly the ones they hoped to achieve that night.

Standing together in the crowded train were two women, who lived close to each other, and over time had become friends when they saw both of them taking the same journey to work each day. Those unable to gain a seat clutched tightly on to roof straps and swayed from side to side, as the train coursed its way through the dark tunnels. Once in a while the two women’s eyes met as they waited patiently in silence for the train to reach their destination. Every few minutes, light from another station burst in, and when the doors opened more people crammed into the carriage, before the train again rattled along on its buffeting journey. The carriage was full, as it always was at this rush hour time early in the morning, and to keep upright and avoid the embarrassment of barging into anyone, was an art that regular commuters had learnt to master over the years.
A screech, when the brakes were applied and bodies inevitably lurched forwards, indicated the train’s approach to the next station on its route. The two women looked at each other and gave a gentle nod to confirm that this was Nieuwemarkt, the stop where they were both to alight.
The train ground to a halt, and the doors parted and disgorged many of its passengers. Little more than a handful of others waited to take their place. In the station, the hum of the train receded into the distance as it travelled on its way to Centraal Station, the final stop on its long journey.
At journey’s end, a clattering of shoes echoed around the station as passengers barged their way up the crowded stairways and escalators to hurry through the turnstiles. They finally emerged into fresh air and freedom in the crowded streets of the Dutch city of Amsterdam.
Basking in the early Monday morning sunlight of May, this bustling street in the centre of Amsterdam was the pathway that carried many office and shop workers to their place of employment.

The two women spoke for a brief moment, before they parted and went their separate ways on the final stretch of their journey to work. They stepped over tram rails in the street, and dodged the screaming bromfietsen – the motorised cycles, and the hoards of bicycles, whose riders rang the bells to warn pedestrians of their impending approach. The trams, which provided one of the easiest methods of touring the city, bustled with passengers; a common sight in Amsterdam.
Claire turned south to journey down St. Antoniesbreestraat and Anna, in her mid-thirties, an attractive, part-time worker, headed west to cross three of the canal bridges to Damstraat and make her way towards the white stone column of the Nationaal Monument. The brisk ten minute walk, through streets that bristled with new life at the start of another working week, took her to Rokin, a street that held the premises where she had a job as a clerk for two full and one half day each week.

The office where Anna was employed, like so many others in this neighbourhood, was situated above a shop in an area that throbbed with life from early morning to late at night. She approached the street level door, and pressed the security buzzer to talk via the intercom to Michelle, a full time assistant manager. She was, as always on a Monday morning, already in the building and making preparations for the weeks trading.
Michelle answered the call. ‘Hello.’
‘Hello. It’s Anna,’ she declared, speaking into the grill of the box mounted on the wall, its white paint now discoloured, flaked away with years of neglect.
‘Okay,’ came the tinny reply. ‘Come on up.’
A metallic buzz, followed by a gentle click, released the door and Anna pushed her way in. Before she had time to turn and close it, she heard a sudden rush of noise behind her and was violently shoved into the inner hallway. The force sent her staggering forwards and propelled her to her knees. She recovered, half rose and turned, only to feel a stinging blow to the side of her head as a man, wearing a ski mask that showed only his steel-grey eyes, cracked her with his gun before he slammed the door shut. Half crying, Anna sank back to her knees and felt an open gash on the side of her face. Her fingers became sticky with blood oozing from the wound. Grabbed by her hair, she yelled out in pain as the man dragged her back to her feet. Anna stared at the barrel of his gun, menacingly held only a few inches from her face.
‘Shut up, or you’re dead,’ the man hissed in an accent that Anna did not recognise, but instinctively knew was not Dutch. ‘You want to live, don’t you?’
Fear swamped every fibre of her body, so much so that she could hardly speak and mouthed the word ‘Yes’, as she nodded and felt a trickle of blood run down the side of her face.
‘Then do exactly as I say, and you will be able to go home tonight. Otherwise …’ His words trailed off as he pointed the gun at her, his unfinished sentence delivered with enough menace to convey his evil intentions.

The bruise on Anna’s face was already beginning to hurt, and she wished now that she had taken a moment to check if anyone lurked suspiciously nearby before she pressed the buzzer, though she doubted if it would have made any difference. Once, she was diligent enough to check every time but, as time passed and nothing untoward happened, she became slack and through complacency she stopped checking.

The man shoved her up the steep, dimly lit stairs to the first floor landing. There, on the solid-looking door was painted the name, ‘Kramer & Partners – Diamond Merchants – Please ring the bell and wait’.
He dug her with the barrel of his gun and ordered, ‘Press the bell.’
Anna’s finger trembled as she pressed the bell mounted on the doorframe, and the door immediately buzzed and opened without any further request to ask who was there. Michelle knew that Anna had just entered the building, and she too had long ago not bothered to check again, although she was regularly instructed to do so by her boss.

The masked man pushed Anna into a small, enclosed checking area where a video camera, mounted high up in one corner, stared down at the occupants. He squeezed himself into the corner below the camera to avoid being seen, not that Michelle checked the monitor. She released the inner door bolt and was about to grab the handle when the door crashed open and missed smashing her in the face by inches. Anna tripped as she was shoved into the room by the masked man and she stumbled towards Michelle who grabbed her, almost knocking the pair of them to the floor.
Michelle, a woman in her late thirties, had worked in Jan Kramer’s workshop for many years. Her crisply ironed white blouse, smart tailored trousers and hair tightly clipped in place gave her the appearance of efficiency that she wished to portray, and had helped her to secure the position of Assistant Manager, which she cherished.

She clutched on to Anna, and looked in horror at the man who wielded a gun.
‘What do you want?’ Michelle asked nervously. ‘We can’t get into the safe. It’s on a timer lock. Only the manager can open it,’ she defended, in anticipation of his question.
The masked man ignored her remarks, closed the door and looked around the room. Two desks stood against the far wall, each held a computer. Below the window, a bench that held Kramer’s diamond cutting and polishing equipment spanned the length of the room where daylight helped to illuminate his intricate work. In the rear wall were two closed doors.
‘Where does this door lead to?’ the gunman demanded. He pointed to the first door.
‘The toilets and fire escape,’ Michelle responded.
‘And this one?’
‘That’s the stockroom, but we don’t keep anything valuable in there.’
Michelle and Anna held onto each other and trembled. Neither knew what to do and both were terrified at the situation they found themselves caught up in. They had always dreaded that this might happen one day, but neither believed that it would become a reality. This day, that belief had undergone a dramatic change.
The masked man twisted the key to unlock the stockroom door, tugged the fluorescent light cord with his gloved hand and peered inside. It was very small, more like a cupboard than a room, and contained a row of shelves that held stationery and box-files filled with letters and transactions.
‘Get in,’ he demanded, waving his gun in the direction of the room.
The two wide-eyed women sidled towards the door and were shoved inside the musty stockroom. The man slammed the door behind them and turned the key. It left them to stand in the confined space with little more than enough room to turn around in. Anna removed her coat and put it down on a stack of box files.
‘Your poor head,’ Michelle stated.
She took a handkerchief from her pocket and wiped away the drying trail of blood from Anna’s face. Anna flinched at the attention; a bruise was beginning to swell up on the side of her head. The two women stood, wondering what the gunman’s next move would be as their pounding heart rates gradually subsided to a more normal level.
Anna knelt to look through the keyhole.
‘What can you see?’ whispered Michelle.
‘Not a lot. The key is blocking most of my view. What do you think is going to happen when Mr Kramer arrives?’
‘I hope he will be gone by then.’
‘And if he isn’t?’
‘If we’re not there to answer the door, then he will know that something is wrong and call the police,’ Michelle answered in a positive way to give comfort to the pair of them.
Anna looked at her watch. ‘Mr Kramer won’t be here for another half an hour,’ she proclaimed.
‘Do you think the man is waiting for him?’
‘I don’t know. Mr Kramer is very punctual on Monday mornings. He likes to get the week off to a good start, he always says. I hope that awful man doesn’t hurt him.’
Locked in the tiny room, they listened at the door, and tried to decide what the masked man was doing. They strained to hear any sound from the room above the traffic noise from outside that drifted in through a window that Michelle had opened to allow in some fresh air.
They heard a beep.
‘I think he’s switched the computer on,’ said Anna. ‘And now he’s talking to someone. He must be using the telephone. He’s turned on the printer.’
She listened to the machine run through its noisy diagnostic checks before it was ready to print.
‘I wonder why he’s done that?’ questioned Michelle.
Anna merely shrugged.
For the next twenty-five minutes they anxiously waited. They heard little or no sound of movement, and wondered what was happening. Suddenly the key rattled in the lock and their door was opened.
The masked man pointed to Michelle. ‘You, come out here.’
‘What do you want with me?’ she asked in a shaky voice.
Michelle took a tentative step forward and the man grabbed her blouse, yanked her out, slammed the door shut and locked it.
‘When the buzzer goes let the boss in, and don’t try to warn him or I’ll kill both of you. Do you understand?’
Michelle nodded. Anna’s bruised and blooded face had convinced her that he was ruthless and would carry out his threat if she did not do as instructed. She realised that he had watched the shop because he knew their routine, and he was bound to know that Mr Kramer always arrived promptly at half past nine on Monday mornings. But, did he know that she had instructions to signal Mr Kramer in a special way if there was a problem? Worse still, did she dare to use it? After all, diamonds could be replaced, their lives could not, and the safe rarely contained many precious stones on a Monday morning.

Minutes ticked by. The hands on the wall clock dragged down to the number six extra slowly for Michelle. She waited with fear and trepidation as her heart thumped. With a scared look, she nervously rubbed her sweaty palms while she watched the time for her boss to arrive creep closer and closer. Her mouth was dry and she could hardly swallow. At precisely half past nine, Jan Kramer pressed the buzzer.

The man pushed Michelle towards the intercom on the wall and waved his gun at her. ‘Answer the call.’
Michelle pressed the answer button. ‘Yes, who is it?’
‘It’s Mr Kramer, Michelle. Open the door, please.’
‘Come in, Jan,’ she said, and pressed the switch to release the outside door.
She waited for the bell from the inside door to ring while the masked man gripped her by the arm, his gun shoved hard into her back.
‘What’s happening?’ he asked. ‘He’s taking a long time.’
‘Jan Kramer is an old man and cannot climb the difficult stairs quickly,’ Michelle replied, as the second buzz sounded.
She answered the call. ‘Yes.’
‘It’s me again. Please open the door, Michelle.’
The intruder watched while Michelle pressed the door release to unlock the outer door. The familiar buzz sounded and the masked man waved his gun at the bolted inner door to indicate that Michelle should open it. She obeyed, and a man in his late sixties, with one hand buried deep into his coat pocket and the other clutching a walking stick, sauntered slowly through the checking area and into the room.

He looked startled when the door was slammed shut behind him. He turned to discover the reason, and Jan Kramer stood speechless, but defiant as he stared at the man in a ski mask holding a gun pointing at him.
‘What do you want? There’s nothing of much value here,’ he boldly declared.
The man ignored him.
‘You, get back into the stockroom,’ Michelle was instructed.
She stared at Kramer with a look that said, ‘There’s nothing I can do about him,’ and was pushed back into the stockroom and locked in.
The two women pressed their ears to the door, desperate to hear what was happening.
‘I think I heard the safe opening,’ Michelle stated. ‘Perhaps he’ll leave once he’s got what he came for.’
‘I hope so. There’s something nasty about that man,’ Anna suggested. ‘He’s got cold eyes, and I think he enjoyed hitting me.’
The masked intruder manhandled Kramer into a seat in front of his computer while he answered a double buzz on the door intercom. Shortly, a second man, who had kept watch outside, quietly entered the room and the pair helped themselves to everything in the safe.
‘Another man’s joined them now and I think someone’s on the computer again,’ said Anna, as she listened to the familiar rattle of the keyboard.
‘What’s on earth can he be doing?’ asked Michelle. ‘I don’t know why they want to use the computer at all.’

Little more than five minutes had passed, when suddenly the air was disturbed by the sound of police sirens wailing in the distance. They became louder until, with a screech of burning rubber, vehicles skidded to a halt outside the building and the crash of the outer door being smashed open reverberated in the shop.

The women heard angry shouts from the masked men and Kramer pleading, ‘No, no,’ followed by two or three muffled shots from a silenced gun.
‘Oh, my God! I think he’s shot Mr Kramer,’ Anna declared, behind a hand that covered her mouth as if it could stop the agonised words from being spoken.
Michelle stood in shocked silence as tears began to well up in her eyes. ‘Oh no, I hope not. It’ll be my fault if he’s been hurt. I warned him when he rang the bell.’
‘Warned him? How?’
‘I called him Jan instead of Mr Kramer. That’s the signal to let him know that something is wrong. He must have used his mobile telephone to call the police; that’s why he took so long to reach the top of the stairs.’
They heard the fire escape door crash open followed by frantic hammering on the office outer door. The lock was smashed, and soon the inner door was breached. Raised voices came from the room as armed policemen ran through the open rear doorway, and chased after the two men who made their getaway down the fire escape. Outside, shots were fired as the first policeman reached the rear steps.
‘Armed police. Halt or I fire,’ shouted the helmeted sergeant, clad in his bullet-proof vest.
He clattered down the fire escape and vaulted the last three steps, running towards a colleague who had approached the building from the rear and who lay on the ground injured, with a bullet wound to his leg.
‘I’m okay. It’s only a flesh wound. Get after them,’ he said, clutching the wound to stem the flow of blood.

The sergeant strode down the brick-sided rear passageway to the corner, closely followed by a colleague. He rounded the corner, only to draw back quickly when one of the fugitives turned and fired. He missed his target by only inches. The bullet carved a lump out of the wall as the gunman spun on his heels and ran after his accomplice with all the speed that he could muster.
The two men dashed into Kalver-Straat, the pedestrian mall that bristled with early morning shoppers and tourists. They barged their way through the crowds, and knocked people to the ground in their mad dash to escape the lawmen chasing after them.

Momentarily stopped by the shot, the sergeant turned the corner and saw one man heading towards the vast Amsterdam Historish Museum, whilst the other crashed his way past pedestrians, and made for one of the bridges over the canal.
He waved to his colleague, ‘Alex, you take that one.’ He pointed to the man who tore down Jonge Roelen-Straat towards the bridge. ‘I’ll go after this maniac.’
‘Okay, Vim. Be careful,’ he implored, dashing after his man.
Back in the shop, the women banged on the stockroom door and shouted to be let out. A Special Forces armed policeman, who looked daunting in his helmet and all black protective gear, unlocked the door.
‘Who are you?’
‘We work in this office. Where is Mr Kramer?’ demanded Michelle.
She moved to look beyond the policeman and drew a sharp breath. ‘Oh, no!’ she declared, as tears filled her eyes and bubbled down her cheeks.
The policeman put his arm out and guided the women towards the outer door. ‘Don’t look. It’s not pleasant.’
Their boss was slumped over the keyboard in front of the computer, with a bullet hole through his forehead, his eyes wide and staring into space. The computer monitor had been hit by one of the shots, tearing a hole in its screen.
Both women were led away, in a state of shock, and driven by ambulance to the local hospital for a check-up. The cuts and bruises on Anna’s face were attended to, and both were given a tranquilliser and rested to calm their shattered nerves. Later, they were transferred to the local police station for questioning, though both were still dazed and in a confused state at the horrors they had witnessed.

In the commercial heart of Amsterdam, with its bustling street life, shoppers and tourists shrieked at the sight of a masked man brandishing a gun as he fled from an armed policeman in hot pursuit. The gunman tried to enter the vast Amsterdam Historish Museum, but the locked door held him at bay. He turned and fired at the approaching policeman. The bullet hit a woman shopper and scattered the screaming crowds in all directions. The officer dropped to the ground, reluctant to fire in return for fear that he may hit one of the many panic-stricken fleeing pedestrians.
After he failed to gain entry to the museum, the gunman continued his charge down Gedempte Begijnen-sloot, into Spui and through to the Begijnhof precinct, a small grass quadrangle surrounded by almshouses and two churches. He ran through the tiny, well kept front garden of a house and charged through the open front door. Inside, the elderly woman who rented the property was indignant at the gun-waving masked man who had burst into her home.
‘Get out of my house,’ she demanded.
The gunman grabbed her to use as a shield. ‘Don’t give me any trouble you old bat or you’re likely to wind up dead.’
The policeman stopped outside the house, raised his visor and called out, ‘Give yourself up. You can’t get away. More policemen are arriving and the house will be completely surrounded soon. There is no escape.’
Meanwhile, the second gunman was still being pursued by the other officer, who had chased him over three bridges, and he was beginning to tire. The policeman was gaining on him with each stride that he took.

At the next bridge, the gunman barged into a group of tourists and was knocked to the ground, causing a temporary halt to his escape. He scrambled to his feet, grabbed a woman to hide behind and fired a volley of shots at the policeman as he ran over the brow of the bridge. The policeman lunged to one side to avoid the bullets, but he was struck in the arm and leg, and crashed to the ground with his weapon slipping from his grasp. Before he could recover, the gunman threw the woman to one side and ran up to the policeman. He fired his last round at point blank range through the officer’s visor into his head, killing him instantly.
Among screams from shocked tourists, he charged down the street, tore off his ski mask, stuffed it in his pocket and was out of sight before other policemen who followed caught up with their colleague. By the time they arrived, the gunman had hurriedly made his way to a nearby railway station.

Back at the Begijnhof quadrangle, unaware of what was happening to his friend, Sergeant Vim Rheimerman tried to persuade the other gunman of the futility of continuing, and hoped that he would give himself up before more drastic action needed to be taken.
‘Get outta my way, bink. I’m coming out and I’ve got an old biddy with me, so back off,’ the gunman growled.
He shoved the old woman towards her front door. The policeman backed away and stood off at ten yards. The gunman appeared at the front door with his arm around the old woman’s throat and his gun held to her head.
‘Put the gun down. That’s the only way you’ll get out of this quadrangle alive,’ maintained the policeman.
He lowered his weapon.
Several more policemen discreetly slipped into the quadrangle, and ushered pedestrians, who had stopped to stare, out of the danger area. They took cover. The gunman nervously watched them spread out to guard the exits. Amongst them was a sharpshooter who carried his rifle with telescopic sights attached. He quietly took up position, lying face down on the pavement, with a clear view of the gunman and his hostage. He settled down and made himself comfortable.
‘I said get out of my way and tell the others to do the same if you don’t want this old lady to get hurt.’
The gunman shoved the woman a few paces forward. The sergeant backed away slowly while he listened to a message through the earpiece in his helmet. The sharpshooter informed him that he was in position, with a clear shot at the gunman and waited for him to give the signal to fire.
‘I repeat. If you do not give your weapon up and surrender, you will not get out of this quadrangle alive.’
‘Shoot the bugger,’ demanded the grey-haired old lady as she struggled to get free. ‘I’ll take my chances.’
The gunman held on to her more tightly.
‘You keep calm, my dear, and we’ll get you safely out of this. How about it?’ asked the policeman ‘Give me your weapon and we’ll talk things over.’
He stretched out his left hand in a gesture to accept the weapon.
‘I can’t. I’ve already shot a pedestrian and anyway, if I give up, he’ll kill me.’
‘Who will kill you? Whoever he is, we can protect you.’
‘No, not from him you can’t. He’s got contacts. He can get to anyone and will keep searching until he finds me. He’s not the sort to let go.’
‘Who can? Who are you talking about?’ the policeman asked, attempting to keep his man talking for as long as he could, using methods he was taught during the intensive training he received to combat this type of hostage situation.
‘Never you mind. Just get out of my way,’ the gunman insisted.
The quadrangle fell into an eerie quietness, with only a few birds that fluttered from tree to tree to break the silence. Even the sounds of traffic outside seemed to be dulled as the gunman and policeman faced each other in a deadly standoff that both were determined not to back away from.
The policeman stood firm.
‘You cannot be allowed to roam the streets of Amsterdam with a gun. You have already hit an innocent shopper. This situation will stop here, one way or another. How you leave this quadrangle is your choice. Give me your weapon and walk out of here alive.’ He again extended his free hand. ‘If not, you will certainly die!’
The gunman hesitated for a split second, before he snapped to a decision. ‘Sure – you want my gun - bullets first.’
He swung the weapon around to aim at the policeman.
The sergeant reacted quickly. He turned sideways and raised his gun. Two shots rang out almost simultaneously, one from his weapon and one from the sharpshooter’s rifle. Both bullets zipped past the old woman and struck the gunman in the head. The force of the shots catapulted him to the ground and he dragged the old lady with him. The gun remained firmly grasped in his hand, but stayed silent – he had already fired his last shot.
The policeman pulled off his helmet and rushed to the old lady’s side. ‘Are you all right?’ he asked, helping the woman to her feet.
‘Of course I am, young man,’ she berated, brushing herself down. ‘Is he dead?’
The policeman removed the gunman’s mask. ‘I’m afraid so. With his refusal to surrender, there was little else we could do.’
‘Good. That’s one less thug to worry about,’ proclaimed the old woman.
She turned to step over the body and returned to her house.
‘Perhaps you should consider keeping your front door closed,’ the policeman suggested, as his colleagues joined him.
‘Not in this nice weather. I’ll leave my front door open whenever I’ve a mind to, sonny,’ the old woman replied, before she disappeared through her doorway.
The sergeant smiled.
The sharpshooter looked at the body and turned to him. ‘You were taking a bit of a risk, letting him raise his gun to shoot at you.’
‘Yes, I know. But I wanted him to have every chance to give himself up before killing him became necessary.’
‘Why didn’t he? He was facing certain death otherwise.’
‘It seems that he was more afraid of his boss than he was of us, and felt that he had no choice.’
‘His boss must be damn mean.’
‘I guess so. It's a shame that we couldn't find out who he is. No chance of that now. Do you know what happened to the other fugitive?’
‘Yes. I’ve just heard over the intercom that he got away. We’re launching an all-out murder hunt for him.’
‘That’s too bad. I’d hoped Alex would catch him.’
‘HQ said he shot the policeman who was chasing him.’
‘Alexis! Is he all right?’
‘No, I’m sorry – I believe they’ve found Sergeant Oosterman dead.’

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