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BOOK: Nobody Dies For Free
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Be careful with the
civilians!” Mr. Nine snapped.


Winter knows to lead him
clear of the crowd, sir, for just a second. All the time I need.
And you know what kind of shot I am.”


I’m willing to trust you.
You haven’t disappointed me yet. I just ask one thing.”


What’s that,
sir?”


Call me when you’re in
position on your balcony. I want phone contact when it happens. Use
your earpiece. I want to know what’s happening and I want immediate
confirmation that you’ve made the shot and cleared yourself from
the scene as quickly as possible.”


Of course, sir, I’m happy
to have the audience.”


Then I’ll talk to you this
evening. Now go make your preparations.”

Click.

 

***

 

That afternoon, for the
first time since arrival in Paris, Winter Willows and Richard
Monroe went their separate ways. Something had changed now and they
trusted each other, as if an unspoken bargain had been made—a
mutual oath that they would see things through to their conclusion.
They each had preparations to make and so they split up, leaving
the hotel together and then parting on the sidewalk to go and
acquire the tools of their respective trades: seduction and
execution.

 

***

 

The Opera Bastille, as the
current home of the Paris Opera is known, was erected in the
nineteen-eighties and is a much more modern structure than the
classic Palais Garnier which was made famous in the various film
versions of the novel,
Phantom of the Opera
. Despite its
newer face and more contemporary architectural style, the Opera
Bastille is still an impressive building.

Across the wide avenue from
the opera house is a modern office building, filled with
businessmen and their clients during daylight hours but abandoned
at night. Richard Monroe had no difficulty breaking into the
building, for he had vast experience in getting past even the most
modern and expensive security systems. Disabling the alarms was
child’s play. He made his way in and ascended by elevator to one of
the higher floors, then made his way through various office areas,
past cubicles and more proper desks, and into the private
suite-sized office of one of the firm’s highest-ranking executives.
Ignoring the stylish office and all its extravagant amenities,
Monroe slid open the glass doors and stepped out onto the balcony.
He looked across the street and down and saw the people beginning
to gather before the steps of the Opera Bastille in anticipation of
entering for the evening’s performance.

Monroe was dressed in
tight-fitting black from head to foot, only his eyes exposed
through the windows of the ski-mask. He carried a long bag with
him, bulkier than its contents to disguise the fact that it
contained death-made-easy.

Monroe knelt down on the
balcony, glanced around to make sure the shadows gave him proper
cover, and, feeling secure and confident, took out his one
necessary tool. He had bought it earlier that day from an old
contact, a retired French colonel. It was a high-powered precision
sniper rifle of a model Monroe had used before. The rifle was
equipped with a night-vision scope and notable for its great
accuracy. Monroe would not have wanted any other design in his
hands on this night. He trusted the weapon and had utter confidence
that it would not let him down. He practiced perching it on the
balcony railing a dozen times before he found the spot that felt
perfectly balanced to his instincts. He marked the spot with a
piece of chalk and sat down to wait, taking out his night-vision
binoculars—his nocturnal version of opera glasses, he thought with
a grim smile—to scan the crowd.

He checked the time, saw
that he was ahead of schedule, and remembered Mr. Nine. He took out
the phone, dialed, and then placed it back inside his shirt. The
answer came through his earpiece a second later.


Are you high up and out of
sight?”


Affirmative,” Monroe
said.


Have they
arrived?”


Not yet, sir, but I expect
them any minute now.”


Good,” Mr. Nine said.
“Remember what I said earlier: careful of the crowd and get out of
there as soon as you do what you have to do. Don’t sit around
admiring your work.”


Understood, sir,” Monroe
said. “I’m not a rookie.”


I know, but your emotions
play a role in this show and that can get in your way if you’re not
careful.”


I’ll be fine, sir. Done
talking, here they come!”

Monroe visually identified
the car’s license plate number as it pulled up to the curb to let
its passengers out. A man and a woman disembarked and the car
rolled away. The man was large and athletically built and the woman
slim and fit. He was clad in a tuxedo and she in a graceful gown
with a shawl around her shoulders, her freshly arranged hair up and
elegant. The woman raised her right hand and patted it against the
back of her head three times as if checking to make sure her hair
was in place; that was the signal Winter and Monroe had agreed upon
for identity verification.

Monroe dropped the
binoculars and reached for the rifle, placed it on the railing and
looked through the scope. The scope provided just as clear and
accurate a view as the glasses had and he watched as Khan and
Winter, now holding hands, began to merge with the crowd and head
toward the front doors of the opera house. Monroe waited for Winter
to change their course as had been worked out in advance. He hoped
the choreography of the night would stay on schedule.

Winter stopped. Khan stopped
too, turned to look at her, the annoyance on his face visible even
to Monroe from high above. Winter flashed a “please forgive me”
smile, reached into her bag, took out her cell phone, fiddled with
it for a second, shook her head, spoke, and turned to walk back the
way they had come, holding the phone up in front of her face as she
walked, searching for a stronger signal. Khan, having let go of
Winter’s hand but determined to stay close to her, followed along
like a usually-independent wolf suddenly turned into a leashed
poodle.

They walked to the very edge
of the crowd and then Winter glanced up and to her right, stared at
a spot at the corner of the front of the building where there was
no congregation of opera-goers gathered, and took hold of Khan’s
hand again to lead him in that direction. Winter seemed determined
to get the phone to work and determined to have her date come
along.


Good girl,” Monroe muttered
to himself, aware that Mr. Nine could hear the comment, but not
caring. He watched the couple move away from the thickness of the
crowd and closer and closer to open ground. All he needed was a few
feet of clearance on each side, a little circle of safety in which
to send the bullet home.

They were clear then, just
the two of them apart from the rest of the crowd. Monroe watched as
Winter stepped to the side, setting up the kill zone. He focused
his sights on Khan as the criminal king stood there with a mixture
of boredom and exasperation on his face. At that moment, Monroe
decided to aim for the head, take no chances at inflicting injury
but not death. The king was about to be swiftly and surely knocked
down from his high horse. If poor Winter got splattered with blood
and brain, so be it. All the gore would come out in the
wash.

Monroe had his sights set
and his finger began to squeeze.


Monroe, stop!” said the
voice of Mr. Nine.

The finger went
further.


Monroe, abort!”

Monroe paused, relaxed the
finger just a fraction.


No!” Monroe cried
out.


I said
stop
! Let the
trigger go! Put the damn rifle down!”

Monroe had no choice. He
wanted Khan dead but, as Mr. Nine had once said, there was not an
ounce of treason in Monroe’s blood. Orders were orders, not that he
had to like it.

The rifle fell from the
railing and into Monroe’s lap as he slumped back against the
balcony’s glass doors.


God damn it!
Why?”


I’m sorry,” the voice of
Mr. Nine said, calmly and clearly but tinged with regret, “but
something just came through on my end of things. We need the target
alive.”

Monroe let out a cry of
anguish, frustration, disappointment. He howled for a second and
then fell silent. He grabbed the binoculars and looked down and
across the street. Winter knew the shot should have come but had
not. She put the phone away in her handbag and walked beside
Garrett Khan as they resumed their journey in to see the
performance.

Monroe shook as he sat upon
his perch, the opportunity he had wanted so badly now having
slipped away like slick sand between greedy fingers.


What now?” Monroe asked. He
intentionally pushed his anger down deep and tried to focus on
professional concerns. “I have to get Winter out of there. I can’t
leave her alone with that monster!”


Monroe,” Mr. Nine said,
“you have to relax. Breathe. The woman is not alone. She’s inside
the opera with two-thousand other people. Even if Khan knew who she
really is, he’s not going to do anything to her with an audience.
The French are on their way now. They’ll take the bastard into
custody. Stay where you are until they have him. Don’t move from
that balcony until I say so…and don’t do anything
stupid.”


But why stop me now, sir?
What can Khan possibly have that you need so badly?”


Garrett Khan,” Mr. Nine
said, “and this was just confirmed, so I’m sorry about the timing,
very possibly has information on a certain terrorist organization
that’s been plaguing us in the Middle East something terribly in
recent weeks. For now, you’re just going to have to settle for the
fact that your quest for revenge is second to the good of American
troops in a zone of considerable conflict.”


Of course, sir,” Monroe
said. “That’s understood.”

Monroe sat quietly for the
next ten minutes. His connection with Mr. Nine was still open but
neither man said anything. Monroe finally moved when he heard car
doors slamming across the street. He stood up on the balcony, put
the binoculars to his eyes again, and watched six men in black
suits rushing into the opera house. He saw that one was Geoffrey
and knew that they were Arnaud Lafleur’s men from the
DGSE.

Less than five minutes after
that, they reemerged, this time with a prisoner. Garrett Khan was
there, hands cuffed behind his back, a smug look of defiance on his
face. They shoved him into the van and sped off into the night.
Winter Willows came out next, calm and slow, walking out of the
building and to the curb where she hailed a passing cab and got in.
The cab disappeared down the street.


That’s that,” Mr. Nine
said. “You can move now, Monroe. Go back to your suite. Punch the
wall or get drunk or ravage that lady friend of yours or do
whatever you have to do to blow off your steam. I’ll be in
touch.”

Click.


Damn it all,” Monroe spat,
and collected his gear.

 

***

 

By the time Winter Willows
let herself into the hotel room, Monroe was halfway through his
bottle of room service scotch. Winter found him on the couch, still
in his jacket, staring into space with the bottle in his
hands.


What happened, Richard?”
She was loud, visibly upset.


Things got in the way,”
Monroe mumbled.


Things got in the way,”
Winter repeated, heavy on the sarcasm. “I waited for you to shoot
the bastard and the shot never came! I had no idea what happened to
you. And then I had to go inside with Khan and sit through the
start of that opera wondering if you were going to leave me with
him and he was going to force himself on me after the show. Then
these men in black come busting in like they just walked out of
The X-Files
and drag Khan out of the place and there I am
all alone wondering what to do or if more goons were coming for me.
So I decided to get the hell out of there and I got a cab and
circled around for a while before I decided I might as well chance
coming back here. And here I am and I find you just sitting there
with that stupid bottle in your hand like you’re an overgrown baby!
What happened? Shit, Richard, I just risked my life to help you
out. At least you can fill me in.”

Monroe took a swig of the
scotch and set the bottle on the table beside the couch. He stood
up, walked over to Winter, and put his arms around her, pulled her
close, hugged her for a moment, whispered, “I’m sorry. It didn’t
work out the way it should have…but thank you for doing what you
did.”

He let her go, went back to
the couch. She sat down beside him now, kicked her shoes off,
leaned back against the cushions, stretched her legs out in front
of her and flexed her toes, glad to be out of those
heels.


So the French just decided
they wanted him, right then?”


No,” Monroe said. “It’s a
little more complicated. It seems our guys—the Americans, I
mean—just learned that Garrett Khan’s been dealing or at least
communicating with some other factions of interest. They needed him
alive for interrogation. I had no choice, I had to stop. I hated to
stop, but business is business and personal pain can’t be allowed
to get in the way.”

BOOK: Nobody Dies For Free
12.93Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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