I step out of the black sedan and into the midnight rain that’s drenching all of Paris tonight. The raindrops roll down my black leather jacket, trailing down my gloved hands to trickle in thin drops onto the dark cobblestone of the streets beneath my feet.
It’s past midnight, and most people are already either sleeping or shuffling out of the bars to get ready for the next day’s drudgery in the city of lights.
The apartment building in front of me is an upscale kind of place, not unusual for some of the city’s wealthier residents. The stone on the outside might have been white once, but it is now faded, the lion statues near the entrance having lost their bite long ago. As I step towards the door and swipe the cardkey, the glass doors open for me, and I make my way in swiftly, my weapon low at my side.
I pull my collar up and keep my gaze down as I make my way to the stairs leading below ground level. I have one stop to make before seeing to the main event for tonight. A short flight of stairs brings me to a door, and I can hear a television playing behind it. Raising a fist, I pound on the door.
“What?” comes the superintendent's surly French voice from within the room. I wait a moment before pounding on the door again, a little more demanding this time. I hear an angry groan from the other side before footsteps approach the door. “If the internet is out again, it can wait for the morning,” he says as he opens the door, but his eyes widen at the sight of me for only an instant before I’m upon him with a cloth to his mouth and nose, his whole body seizing up as he draws a sharp breath before slipping into unconsciousness.
Closing the door behind me, I carry the limp body back to the chair he’d been sitting in. There are reruns of old football matches playing on the television, giving me a backdrop while I shuffle through the man’s belongings, knowing I only have a small window of time to find what I’m after.
In another few seconds, I discover the apartment master key sitting under a soiled napkin, and I take it, leaving the room as swiftly and silently as a phantom.
My footsteps make little noise as I ascend the staircase, key clenched in my hand. The stairs go in a spiral up the side of the building, and a glass pane window gives me a full view of the world outside as I move.
As I near the top floor, my gaze glances out over the cityscape to my right, and the soft glow of the remaining city lights hover over the Parisian skyline like a corona. I slow my steps for just a moment, my cold gaze pausing to appreciate the tarnished jewel of Europe before I pick up my pace again.
The soft glow of the city lights have only an instant to shine on a glint of metal on the silenced-pistol I’m drawing from my jacket pocket.
I soften my steps to near-silence as I reach the top floor, a wide and polished foyer leading to a single ornate door with a large man posted outside it, his arms folded as he thumbs through a dirty magazine.
He has time only to raise his head while I raise my pistol. When he crumples to the ground a second later, I wonder if he even had time for fear to swell up in his heart. His is the only life I might have had a shred of remorse for taking tonight, if I hadn’t hardened my heart to such business long, long ago.
I walk over to the man’s body, and the roaring laughter and music coming from inside the door tells me that not a soul heard my approach. I bend down to check the bullet hole in the guard’s head before pressing an ear to the door.
The voices within are mostly older men, some slurred, some merry, but all speaking in Russian, my mother tongue. But I hear some of them speaking to women.
“Boris, tell that bitch of yours to bring another beer and take a seat on me.”
“She doesn’t speak Russian yet —the only language these French girls understand is cock, don’t you know?”
“Well shit, she’d better start giving me some poetry then, unless she wants to be given to the help outside!”
There’s a sound of a terrified, quiet voice in French I can’t quite make out, but it’s followed by laughter from the men. “Hey, maybe she should meet her date for tonight, go get the guard and have him come strip her for us, I’m bored with poker for tonight.”
As they’ve been speaking, I’ve been sliding the master key into the lock and turning it quietly, slowly. My muscles tense as I hear heavy footsteps approaching the door, and I see that my chance is coming faster than I expected.
Just before the footsteps reach the door, I throw it open, cracking the corner against the face of whomever was being sent to fetch the dead guard, and he crumples to the ground as I move in and bring my heel down on his throat and hold up my pistol.
The room is a haze of cigar smoke in the palpably tense instants I enter the penthouse. It’s a luxurious suite, with marble floors and mahogany furniture giving the place the look of an upscale antique store. There’s some art hanging on the walls, all rather high-quality forgeries. At least ten men turn their eyes to me, many of them in recognition. Some are old, some are young. Three are sitting around a table, playing poker. Another few men are sitting around on couches and armchairs, apparently having been talking before I came in. There are two women in the room, one of them on a man’s lap in an armchair, the other holding a tray of cocktails.