big to give him extra room at the hips, thighs, arms, and shoulders, but without appearing too ill fitting. His Oxford shoes were black, polished but not overly so, high around the ankles and with a thick, treaded sole. His glasses were simple, his haircut boring.

He chose his attire to create a bland, neutral persona. Anyone who tried to remember Victor would find it difficult to describe him accurately. He was a man in a suit, like countless others. Aside from the easily removable glasses, the only distinguishing feature that might be noticed, and was present only to divert attention from elsewhere, would be shaved off later. He was smart without being stylish, neat but ordinary, confident not arrogant. Forgettable.

He reached the desk and smiled politely as the raven-haired receptionist looked up from her work. She had tanned skin and large eyes, her features skilfully and subtly made up. Her returning smile was cheerfully false. She hid it well but Victor knew she would rather be anywhere else.

‘Bonjour,’ he said, but not too loudly. ‘Chambre 407, je suis Mr Bishop. Pouvez-vous me dire si j’ai recu des messages?’

‘Un moment, s’il vous plait.’

She made a curt nod and checked the log. There was a large mirror mounted on the wall behind the desk in which Victor watched the reflections of the two men. The elevator doors opened and they parted to allow a couple to exit before entering themselves, almost in unison. He saw their hands. They were wearing gloves.

Victor moved position to get an angle on the elevator interior but could see only the reflection of one of the men inside. Victor kept his head tilted to one side, face partially shielded in case the man looked his way. The man had fair skin and a square face, clean shaven. He wore a focused expression, staring straight ahead, arms limp at his sides. His gloves were brown leather. Either he had a deformed ribcage or something handgun shaped was concealed beneath his nylon jacket. Any doubts Victor harboured about their motives now evaporated.

Were they police? No, he decided. It was barely two hours since he’d killed Ozols and there was no way he could have been linked to the crime in such a short time frame. They weren’t operatives either. Intelligence agents wouldn’t need to wear gloves. That left only one occupation.

Victor guessed Eastern European — a Czech or Hungarian or may be from the Balkans, which tended to produce particularly effective killers. He’d seen two, but there could easily be more. Two guns are better than one but a whole team would be better still for obvious reasons, especially when the target was an experienced contract killer. Only the very best can afford to work alone.

The way the men acted suggested there were others. They had no care of their surroundings, no worry about security. That said surveillance. That said a larger team. There could be as few as four or as many as ten. If there were more Victor didn’t give himself much chance.

That they knew where he was staying required a considerable level of proficiency or accuracy of intelligence. Until Victor knew who he was up against he couldn’t afford to underestimate them. He had to work on the assumption that they were at least his equal. Should he be proved wrong it would only be to his advantage.

The receptionist finished checking the log and shook her head. ‘Monsieur, il n’y a aucun message pour vous.’

As he thanked her he watched the man in the elevator’s focused expression disappear, replaced for a moment with pain or deep concentration. The man raised a finger to his right ear before looking quickly to his associate. His mouth opened to speak as he reached to stop the doors from shutting, but he was too late. Victor managed to read the first words on his lips before the doors closed.

He’s in the lobby…

They were wearing radios. He’d been spotted.

Victor turned around and surveyed the area, taking a few seconds to study each person in case he’d missed other members of the kill team. In the physiological response to danger the adrenal glands flooded his bloodstream with adrenaline to increase his heart rate, to make the body ready for action. But relying on instinct was not something he welcomed. In the wild it only ever came down to two choices — fight or flight. For Victor decisions were rarely that simple.

He swallowed down the adrenaline jolt, breathed deeply, forcing his body to calm down again. He needed to think. There was nothing to gain by acting quickly if in doing so he did the wrong thing. In Victor’s line of work those who made a first mistake were rarely around long enough to make a second.

He counted ten people in the lobby. A middle-aged man and his trophy escort were heading toward the adjoining bar. A group of stiff-backed old men sat laughing on the leather chairs. The alluring receptionist was stifling a yawn. Walking toward the exit a businessman shouted into his cell phone. Near the elevator a mother struggled to control her toddler. No one who might be with the two men, but more could be entering the hotel through the tradesman’s entrance at the back or maybe through the kitchen, simultaneously cutting off all avenues of retreat as they closed in on their prey. It was textbook. But no use if that prey wasn’t where he was supposed to be.

For some reason their timing was off and whatever plan they’d been following had fallen apart. They would be shaken, worried they’d been compromised and that their target might escape. They’d lost sight of him and needed to re-establish that contact. Or perhaps they would just abandon any pretence of stealth and try to kill him now, while they thought him vulnerable and off guard. Victor had no intentions of being either.

He studied the display above the elevator. It flashed 4, reaching his floor. He watched it intently for a moment. A few seconds later it flashed 3. On the way back down.

Victor glanced at the main entrance. If he left now he would only have those on surveillance outside to contend with. They might not be prepared to go after him out in the street, and if he was fast he might escape without shots fired. But he couldn’t leave. In his hotel room he had his passport and credit cards. All for a false identity but they already knew too much about him.

He could use the stairs but not if one of them had taken that way down to make sure he didn’t. Because there was another problem. He was unarmed. The FN that killed Ozols had been stripped and each piece disposed of separately. The barrel in the Seine, slide down a storm drain, guide rod and recoil spring in a Dumpster, magazine in a trash can. Victor only ever used a gun once. Walking around with all the evidence a jury would ever need to convict him was not his style. If he could get to his backup he could at least defend himself.

There was only one functioning elevator though. An out-of-order sign dangled from the other’s doors. Victor strolled across the lobby and stood in front of the working elevator the two men had used. He cracked the knuckles of his right hand one by one with his thumb.

There was a ting as the elevator reached the lobby. Just before the doors began to open Victor stepped to one side and pressed his back against the adjacent wall in a small recess where an elaborately decorated vase stood. He remained motionless, ignoring the bewildered gaze of a small boy. Everyone else was too preoccupied to notice him.

One of the two assassins walked out of the elevator and took a few steps into the lobby. The second didn’t follow, obviously on his way down through the stairwell. The man with his back to Victor was compact, thick at the neck, ex-military by his build and gait. He was standing casually, no head movement. Even though apparently motionless Victor knew he was surveying the room, but with his head fixed, just moving his eyes, not wanting to draw unnecessary attention his way. He was good, but not so good as to look behind himself.

Victor waited until the last possible moment before slipping between the closing elevator doors. He passed within six inches of the assassin.

A second before the doors fully closed the man noticed the young boy pointing in Victor’s direction and turned. Random chance. For an instant the man looked directly at Victor.

Recognition flashed in the assassin’s eyes.

The doors closed.


08:27 CET

Victor took a series of deep breaths, pulling the air into the very bottom of his lungs, holding it to the count of four before exhaling. The adrenaline in his system caused his heart rate to soar to better supply his muscles with

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