Tom Cain

Part 1

Ten Years Ago


Carver sat astride the girl’s broad hips and ran his cool green eyes over her naked torso. Her belly was by no means fat, but it had a proper female curve to it. Her breasts were full and weighty. Her features were anything but delicate: the nose a little too big, the jaw perhaps too heavy. But her mouth was a vivid slash of blood-red lips that parted to reveal strong white teeth, and her eyes were bright with spirit and life.

He leaned forward, reached out his right arm and very gently, experimentally, allowing barely any contact between her skin and his, brushed his hand across her left nipple. She shivered and gave a little gasp as it hardened against his palm. She threw her arms back on the pillow, the wrists crossed above her head as if tied by invisible cords to his bedframe. Her fists had clenched at Carver’s first touch. He smiled and gave her other breast exactly the same treatment.

Then, he placed a hand on each breast, a little more firmly now. Taking all the strain in his back and stomach, so that his hands did not press down too hard, he lowered his head and let his lips and tongue play where his hands had just been. He felt her hips move beneath him and tightened the grip of his thighs, restricting her movements and increasing her frustration. She moaned as he took one of her nipples between his teeth and toyed with it, biting her with delicate precision, just enough to hurt a very little.

Now Carver ran his hands down both sides of her ribcage till they settled in the dip of her waist. His mouth delivered weightless kisses to the undersides of her breasts and the downy, peachy skin that surrounded her belly button. He explored that with his tongue for a second, tickling her, and then shifted position so that his arms moved off her body on to the mattress, taking his weight as his legs slipped between hers and slowly but inexorably forced her thighs apart. She put up a token, playful resistance. She was strong, but he was stronger. They both knew this was a contest he was always going to win.

His mouth brushed against the thin strip of pubic hair, just a few wisps to toy with as she tilted her pelvis to bring herself closer to him. There was another moan now, a little louder this time, in anticipation of the feel of his tongue inside her. She moved her own hands down to his head, almost cradling it as she ran her fingers through his hair, trying to guide him to her, but Carver wasn’t in any hurry. Instead of carrying on down, he teased her a little, kissing the insides of her thighs, right at the very top, so that he was breathing in the smell of her, feeling her heat.

His own hips were moving now and he could feel his hardness between his body and the sheets. He was frustrating himself as much as her, but that was just part of the fun, seeing who could hold out the longest. Her fingernails were digging into his scalp, scratching the skin, urging him on. The moment was getting closer. He placed his lips against her, tasted her for the first time, and then…

And then a thought suddenly dropped, unbidden and unwanted, into his brain: he had absolutely no idea at all what the woman beneath him was called.

The realization hit him like a bucket of ice-cold water, killing the moment stone dead. Had he really come to this? A drunken pick-up in a crowded club; going through the motions of a cynical, anonymous fuck: was this his idea of a great night out? He’d always thought he was better than that.

He shrivelled with disgust and self-loathing and pushed himself away from her.

She must have thought this was just another one of his teases because for a couple of seconds she didn’t react. Then she raised herself on her elbows.

‘What’s the matter, baby?’ she said.

Her accent was Italian. It didn’t help him remember her name any better.

She giggled enticingly. ‘Come back here. What you do feels so good, so hot. Don’t be mean, boy. Don’t stop now.’

Carver ignored her. He sat on the edge of the mattress and rubbed a hand across his eyes. Now that the buzz of sexual excitement had gone, he was just another sleepless man at half-past four in the morning, on the cusp between intoxication and the inevitable hangover.

He got to his feet, taking a moment to get his balance before padding through to the kitchen.

‘Hey! Where you going, leave me here?’ she shouted after him, then muttered something in Italian. It didn’t sound like much of a compliment.

He stopped in the corridor and turned back towards the bedroom door. ‘You want some coffee?’

She gave him the finger.

Carver shrugged and continued on his way. As he poured water into the coffee-machine he could hear her stomping and cursing in the distance, letting him know how she felt as she searched for her discarded clothing and got dressed.

He looked out at the rooftops of the Old Town as they turned from black to battleship grey in the first watery light of the false dawn. It struck him that he was ravenously hungry. He hadn’t eaten anything last night, and he wasn’t about to eat now. There was nothing in the fridge apart from an old half-empty bottle of Sancerre and an ancient lump of Gruyere now roughly the consistency of heavy-duty plastic and thickly encrusted with green and white mould.

The coffee-machine was making gurgling noises that suggested the water had boiled. Carver slid a cup under the spout. The cup still had the dried brown remnants of yesterday morning’s multiple espressos in it. What the hell, boiling water would kill any germs, no need to bother washing it now.

By the time he’d poured his coffee and left the kitchen, she was making her way to the door.

‘What your problem?’ she sneered when she noticed him watching her. ‘Can’t do it? No woody? Puh!’

He downed his espresso and opened the door for her. ‘Here, allow me.’

‘Oh thank you, Mr English Gentleman.’ The sarcasm was laid on with a spade.

‘Just before you go,’ Carver said, putting an arm across the open door. ‘What’s my name?’

She gave him a withering look. ‘I don’ know. Don’ care. Never wanna see you again.’

‘So we’re even.’

He let his arm fall and she walked past, not even sparing him a backward glance. He closed the door behind her and wandered back to the coffee-maker, wondering when it was that he’d let it all slide. Not just the girl, everything.

Stupid question. He knew exactly when it had happened. He could date it to the second. Another woman walking through the same door, the finality as it closed behind her, ripping out his heart.

Even now, months later, there were moments when Carver thought he saw Alix Petrova again. All it took was a flash of gold hair in the sunlight that caught his eye, but was not hers; a waft of her scent on the air, but sprayed on another woman’s body; a voice that sounded like hers but came from another’s mouth.

No matter how often it happened, he was helpless to stop the surge of hope, or the crushing pain when those hopes were dashed.

Carver pulled on some clothes and went out in search of a bakery that would sell him a couple of slices of pizza or a croque-monsieur. Both maybe. He’d need the energy because as soon as he’d eaten and showered he planned on driving up into the mountains. He was going to run through woods and across meadows, run till he’d burned the alcohol from his body and the poison from his soul. And tomorrow he’d do it again.

It was time he got his edge back, time he regained focus. But all the physical fitness in the world would only get him so far.

What Samuel Carver really needed was a job, an assignment that would allow him to exercise his very particular, deadly skills. And several thousand miles away, in the landlocked African state of Malemba, that need

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