times — in the gut, chest, and neck where the ruptured carotid artery sprayed the wall with long crimson arcs. He was trying to crawl away, his mouth open as if screaming for help but making no sound.

Victor ignored him and reached inside the dead man’s jacket, searching unsuccessfully for a wallet. He went to take the man’s radio receiver, but it was in pieces, a bullet having passed straight through on the way to his heart. In a shoulder holster Victor found a 9 mm Beretta 92F handgun and two spare magazines in a pocket. The Beretta was a good, reliable weapon with a fifteenround mag, but a heavy, bulky gun that, even without the attached suppressor, was impossible to conceal completely. With subsonic ammunition the stopping power wasn’t great either. For this kind of work it was a poor choice of pistol. If the guy wasn’t dead Victor might have told him so.

The Beretta wouldn’t normally have been his preference but at times like this there was no such thing as too many guns. Victor took the weapon and tucked it into the back of his suit pants, the grip supported by his belt, the suppressor down by his coccyx. The body jerked suddenly, perhaps from some muscle spasm, and tipped forward. The jaw fell open and a cascade of collected blood poured out, followed by half a bitten-through tongue flopping onto the carpet. Victor stepped away and turned his attention to the one who wasn’t dead. Yet.

He stopped crawling when Victor’s heel pressed down between his shoulder blades. Victor rolled the man onto his back and squatted down next to him, pushing the Five-seveN’s suppressor hard into the man’s cheek. He forced his head to one side to keep the violent arterial spray directed at the wall and away from himself. Where it hit, the pressurized blood tore at the floral paper.

The man was trying to speak but could only manage a wheezing exhale. The bullet in his neck had ripped through his larynx, and he could make only the most basic of sounds. He tugged at Victor’s sleeve, tried to claw at him, not giving up the fight despite the inevitability of the wound. Victor respected his perseverance.

Like his partner, he was also armed with a Beretta but no radio and earpiece. Victor unloaded the gun and checked the rest of his pockets. They were empty except for a few sticks of chewing gum, more ammo, and a crumpled receipt. He took the gum and the receipt, seeing it was for half a dozen coffees and discarded it. Victor unwrapped one of the sticks of gum and folded it into his mouth. Peppermint. He nodded his approval.


He shook off the hand and moved to the stairwell to check for others. No sign of any more assassins but voices carried up from below, female, complaining about the elevator. Victor made his way back down the corridor, careful to avoid the dark stains on the carpet and moved the fire extinguisher from between the elevator doors. He stepped inside and pressed the button for the lobby. He’d left some of his belongings in the room, but he wasn’t concerned. The toiletries were brand-new, the clothes hadn’t yet been worn, and everything that had been handled would be free from fingerprints thanks to the silicone solution on his hands.

In the corridor the dying man had at last ceased his thrashing. Blood no longer spurted from his neck but simply oozed out onto the drenched carpet. Victor couldn’t help but admire the pattern of red on the wall above the corpse. The criss-crossed lines had a certain aesthetic quality that reminded him of a Jackson Pollock.

Victor examined his reflection in the mirrored elevator walls and took a moment to straighten his appearance. In his current surroundings if he looked anything but presentable he would be noted. The elevator doors closed as a shrill scream echoed from the direction of the stairwell. Someone had just received something of a surprise.

Victor guessed she wasn’t a great fan of Pollock’s work.


08:34 CET

In the lobby Victor waited patiently as panic erupted around him. The hotel manager, a short slim man with a surprisingly loud voice, had to shout just to be heard above the frightened guests. Some were only half-dressed, rudely pulled from their beds by screams of a massacre. The manager was trying to explain that the police were on the way and everyone should remain calm. But it was far too late for that.

Victor sat in one of the luxurious leather armchairs in a corner of the lobby. It was very comfortable. He’d angled the chair so he could watch the main entrance in the middle of the far wall and most of the lobby without moving his head. He kept the entrance to the hotel bar and stairwell in his peripheral vision. He doubted anyone would use the elevators to his right, but if they did he was close enough to see them exiting before they noticed him.

The police would arrive soon, and the remaining members of the kill team were quickly running out of time to fulfil their contract. They would be panicking by now, having worked out that two of their men were dead. Either they would escape, which Victor didn’t expect, or they would try and finish the job. In the melee of guests and staff members fleeing the lobby it would be too crowded to kill him on the streets outside and too risky with cops on the way.

It took about a minute, longer than Victor had anticipated, and he marked their skills down a notch for the delay. He spotted them easily, first one man trying to negotiate his way through the crowd desperately struggling to get out. A moment later the second rushed into the lobby from a ground-floor corridor. The first man had blond hair, his right hand wedged into the pocket of his black leather jacket, his left outstretched, trying to guide himself through the horde of people. The other guy was tall, heavy set with a dark beard. Bulky jacket. He used both hands to shove people out of his path, no pretence of subtlety. Victor therefore deduced the blond man to be higher up the food chain and hence far more appetizing.

They reached each other in the centre of the lobby and conferred briefly. They made a cursory look around the room, quickly glancing into the bar as they passed through the lobby, the blond man heading for the stairs, the big guy to the elevator. Given the mass of people between them and Victor it was an understandable mistake not to spot him, but one that was going to cost them all the same.

Victor stood, timed his movements so a family exiting the elevator shielded him from the big guy’s view as they passed each other, and headed for the stairwell door. Victor was fast, coming up behind the man in the leather jacket just as he was pushing through.

The blond man saw the approaching shadow too late. He tried to pull out his gun but stopped immediately when a suppressor pushed against his ribs. Victor angled it upward, aiming at the heart. In the same instant Victor’s left hand grabbed hold of the guy’s testicles and squeezed with much of his considerable strength.

The man gasped and almost dropped to the floor under the sudden excruciating pain. Victor pushed him through the doorway and whispered into his ear in French.

‘Right hand — take it out of your pocket. Leave the gun.’

The man obeyed.

‘How many of you are there?’ Victor demanded.

The man struggled to remain standing, fought to keep his breathing steady enough to speak. He was terrified. Victor didn’t blame him. He only managed to form a single word.


Victor guided him up the first flight of stairs, tightening his grip on the man’s balls to dismiss any thoughts of his trying something foolish. It was hardly necessary.

‘This way.’

They continued up the next flight and over to the door on the first floor.

‘Through there. Open it.’

The man reached out a shaking hand and turned the handle. The door was half open when Victor pushed him through and headed down the hallway. They passed a maid hurrying along to the stairwell. An old woman, hair pulled tightly back in a bun, barely five feet tall. Victor heard her gasp — maybe due to the man’s contorted face or the hand clamped to his groin. Victor kept his own head positioned behind his prisoner’s so she couldn’t see his face.

He could kill her just for extra prudence, but another corpse in a corridor would only cause him more problems, and it wasn’t her fault she happened to be there. By the time she’d told someone who mattered he would be long gone.

They turned a corner into another corridor. It was quiet, every guest now congregated in the lobby or in the street outside.

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