It was the blue light that woke James. It pulled him from a twilight sleep; that sleep where you knew you were dreaming but unable to pull yourself completely out. He was alone in bed when he opened his eyes. It took a few seconds longer to register the fact the blue light bouncing off the walls in the darkened room was coming from outside and not a product of his dream as he first suspected. He pushed the covers away, the air conditioning a little too cool against his naked skin, and walked to the window. Andra had a room on the 17th floor and even with his forehead pressed against the cool glass he couldn't see what was responsible for the blue strobes. It didn't matter really. He already had an idea what was parked in front of the hotel.
James turned from the window and pulled on the khaki pants he had worn on the flight into the Cairo. He had no reason to feel rushed, but something in the back of his mind kept trying to force him to. Maybe it was the fact he had woken up alone. Maybe it was the fact the entire room was much too dark; a glance to the crack under the bedroom door told no lights burned beyond, nor did they illuminate the bathroom off to the left. Maybe it was the fact Andra's affects were gone from the nightstand. And if he looked into the wardrobe, he felt fairly certain her suitcase would be absent as well. He had no reason to feel this way, but he did.
After pulling the polo over his head, he stepped out of the bedroom, barefoot, pulling one arm into the sleeves at a time. The sitting room was dark and still, just as expected, the air still heavy from the afternoon heat. James remembered the air conditioning had been turned off soon after he and Andra had retired to her room.
The courtesy phone rang shrilly. James stared at it for a moment, slightly confused, before answering at the beginning of the fourth ring.
"I apologize for waking you, sir." The voice on the other end sounded cheery and alert, even at the late hour.
"You didn't" James answered flatly.
"I've been tasked with calling our guests to let them know they needn't be concerned, sir. About the police activity outside the hotel." The voice, slightly accented, continued. "Some of the other guests with rooms facing the street have called to complain the lights were keeping them awake." The voice paused. "Another guest had an accident. I apologize for disturbing you. If you wish, I can move you to another room, away from the street."
"That won't be necessary, thank you." James replaced the phone on its cradle and took another peek outside before returning to the bedroom. The first police car, still hidden from view under the immense concrete overhang, was now accompanied by another. A flash of lights turned the corner, this time an ambulance, joining the police cars up front.
James flipped on the light to the bedroom, slipping his bare feet into his shoes, thoughts turning slowly in his mind. Had it been Andra who had the "accident"? Not likely considering the room was now devoid of her presence. Had it been Andra who had caused the "accident"? Much more likely.
Except Andra had been on her own for over a year now. She no longer had ties to the CIA; the US Government had declared her dead soon after their last meet.
A knock at the door pulled him from his thoughts. It was quickly followed by a harsher pounding, much rougher than the polite tap that had preceded it. He stopped and listened, hoping for Andra's melodic voice to waft in from the hallway, asking to be let in. It wasn't her voice, however, that came from behind the door.
He grabbed his wallet from the nightstand and his passport from his carry-on and tucked it into his back pocket before answering the door. Everything in his body screamed for him to ignore the knock, maybe find some other way to exit because that voice on the other side didn't sound as cheery or as polite as the voice on the phone had been, but there wasn't. The hotel windows were designed not to open, and even if he could get out, he'd be mad to walk along the narrow edge beneath the window seventeen floors above unforgiving concrete.
But that phone call had been odd enough, and to be followed so quickly by a knock at the door. With Andra missing, it was safe to assume opening the door would not be in his best interest.
But he did so anyway.
In the hallway stood two uniformed police officers, each with their weapons drawn and held at the ready. Behind them stood a wiry man dressed in a moderately priced suit and wearing a gold name tag above his left breast. He peered over the shoulders of the uniformed men curiously, eyeing James with a mixture of awe and rebuke.
The elder of the two uniforms raised his gun, the muzzle aimed at James' chest, and advanced, shouldering his way into the room, yelling in a language James did not understand. James held his hands out from his sides, palms facing the officer. He stepped back twice before the officer came close enough to grab James by the wrist. With a twist, James' hand was behind his back and James was now facing the bedroom. The younger officer was now in front of him, his gun still hanging in front of him, at the ready, nowhere near on point as the older officer's had been.
Behind him, the older officer ordered a string of what James thought might have been commands. The grip on his captured wrist tightened and James' arm was pulled further up his back. James lurched forward involuntarily, but quickly recovered, throwing his head back with a force strong enough to garner a spongy crack when the nose of the older officer broke on contact. The hand on James' wrist loosened just enough to allow James to pivot on his foot and wrap a forearm around the neck of his captor, pulling the officer in front of him, using him as a shield as the younger officer's gun raised.
James pulled the officer's gun from his holster and pointed it at the man across from him in one swift movement, his eyes boring into the pale green ones belonging to the younger man. He saw in those eyes terror and stopped himself from pulling the trigger. This man would be no problem to him.
"Drop your gun." James said slowly and clearly, unsure but indifferent to whether the younger officer could understand the words or not. The man hesitated, looking to his partner, then to James and back again, his gun lowering a few inches, only to be yanked up again a moment later. "I said 'drop your gun'. I will not tell you again." James squeezed the trigger slightly, a motion the younger man caught. The officer immediately lowered his gun, allowing it to slip from his grasp and to the floor, his dark eyes wide and moist. "Step away." James ordered, taking a step toward the frightened man. The man did as he was told, even if he understood the words or not, taking several steps backward until his back collided with the wall behind him.
James, still very much aware of the body behind him, placed his left foot on the fallen gun as he tightened the hold around the older man. The officer, who had been still and complacent until that point began to struggle. His fingernails clawed at the flesh of James' arm and his body bucked against him. James held steady until long after the older officer stopped moving.
James released his grip and was able to pick up the fallen gun before the unconscious man slid completely to the ground. The younger officer groaned loudly, whispering quietly. "Quiet, I'm not going to kill you." James muttered before swinging the hand that cupped the older man's gun wide and crashing it directly against the left temple of the younger man. Those dark eyes rolled back into their sockets and the younger officer fell gracelessly to the floor, his body making a soft thud as it connected with the carpeting. James stripped the bodies of their radios, which had suddenly begun to squawk with life. James turned and made strides for the door, noticing the suited man was long gone and possibly the reason for the renewed radio life.
A precautionary look down the hallway revealed it was still clear, but he still had no idea what floor the back-up to the unfortunate door knockers were stationed. James played a quick game of heads or tails in his head and after the imaginary coin landed on heads, he chose the fire escape on his right to head down. He pushed open the door, glanced quickly above and then down before taking the stairs two at a time down. A door clashed and voices rang out, bouncing off the concrete walls of the stairwell, reverberating up, down, and back up again and making it nearly impossible to tell where the sound was coming from immediately. The radio in his hand—the other hand been dropped as soon as he entered the stairwell—screamed, adding to the noise and disorientating him more. James paused, listening to the footfalls. They were thankfully coming from above. James continued his journey down, sometimes skipping three stairs at a time, trying to mask his footfalls with those of the Graz police. He made it thankfully to the bottom floor, noticed it continued on into a basement and floored the steps down. He drew himself as close to the wall as physics would allow when the first floor emergency exit flew open, allowing five more police officers to run through. Not one glanced down; if they had, they would have seen James, or the knees on down at least.
His luck ran out when he tried to pull the basement door open and it refused to budge. James pushed then pulled again, with the same disappointing result. He kicked the door out of frustration and anger before taking a closer look at the lock. There were a total of two, and each was as high end and secure as the hotel itself. No luck trying to jimmy it open there. Wanting to kick the door a second time and forcibly resisting the urge, James walked back up to the first floor door, then to the second and finally to the third. He entered the hallway, and walked quickly and quietly to the elevators. He pushed the down arrow and waited no more than three second before the elevator welcomed him warmly. He pushed the '1' button and rode silently to the bottom, his stomach a tight lump in his throat. There would be more officers on the ground floor, but with any luck they wouldn't recognize him. But if they didn't, the desk clerk who had called just before the intrusion would.
But there wasn't much choice, was there?
The elevator opened smoothly. There was no one else on the ground floor except him and the desk clerk. Whatever back-up there might be was possibly still outside, or hadn't even arrived yet.
The desk clerk eyes widened suddenly as James approached. James thought they couldn't possibly get any bigger until the clerk noticed the gun in James' hand (the other had been tucked into his waistband soon after he exited his room).
"Sir..." the clerk began.
"I want to know the back way out of here." James ordered calmly, his eyes fixated on the clerk's.
"There's an exit out into the pool area down there." The same heavily accent English rolled out, this time not nearly as cheerily, but just as alert. The clerk had waved off to his right, down the hallway past the grand dining area.
"Fine." James continued his hurried stride sown the hallway and out the back door, exiting just as the clerk had said into the pool area. The lights were off, giving him a good deal of concealment and as far as he could tell, he was alone. James took off into a run at this revelation, hopping neatly over the waist high fence protecting the pool from the private yard behind it. Sirens echoed in the night, approaching the hotel from all sides it seemed. James tucked the gun into his pocket and kept running.
She dressed in the dark so as not to disturb him. She could hear him breathing, slow and rhythmic. She grabbed her suitcase from the closet where James had also tossed his luggage, and rolled it out to the living area where she could situate herself without much fear of waking the sleeping Brit.
She laid the suitcase down by the door and unzipped it. Inside, beneath a thick layer of clothing, she found the only three things she cared about. She retrieved the satchel she had stored beside the couch her first day in Austria and dumped the three items inside. She zipped up the suitcase and stood, grabbing the double breasted Burberry she hadn't found much use for since leaving Amsterdam and slipping it over her body. Belted tightly, it hung just at her knee. She grabbed the heels she had kicked off soon after bringing James to her room and held onto them, not wanting to put them on until she was in the hall.
She took one last look around the room. Satisfied, she grabbed the handle of her suitcase and slung the satchel over her shoulder before exiting out into the hallway. The floor was quiet; not unusual for a few minutes after midnight. She slipped the heels onto her feet and walked toward the elevator, careful not to look up directly at the cameras that watched the entrance to the elevator at each floor. She pressed the up button and waited as the elevator rushed to the 17th floor. The doors opened. She was glad to see she was still alone.
Once inside the elevator, she pushed the button for the 20th floor, the top floor; the floor above the one her assignment was on.
She had watched her target for a week straight, quickly learning his schedule as he wasn't one to deviate unless absolutely necessary. A few runs by the 19th floor taught her the hallway leading to his room was out; four men stood guard twenty four hours a day, whether her target was in the room or not. One man also stood by the elevator, ID'ing everyone who exited, finding out who did and didn't belong.
She had thought about poison, but quickly dismissed the idea. One so paranoid would certainly not eat anything made by anyone less than his own personal chef, who happened to be roomed right next door to her target. She also learned whatever the chef made from him came from ingredients stored somewhere outside the hotel and she really didn't have the time, nor the patience to find out where.
His car was also a no-go. Stored off-site and driven in every morning by his driver, the Mercedes was armored, protected against high powered rifles and IED's as well as equipped with runflat tires and special casing around the car's most vulnerable areas. Given enough time, she could probably work around all that, too, but she just didn't have it; the target was supposed to be back in the States in two days.
Instead, she would have to do it the hard way. Which was just the way she liked it.
The elevator stopped and opened to her floor. She exited, dragging the suitcase along behind her. She immediately ducked into the emergency stairwell, leaving the suitcase just inside the doorway before taking the stairs to the roof. She shed her coat, unzipped the satchel and tucked it inside. She rolled down the legs of her pants and slipped off the heels, tossing them in with her jacket before retrieving the sneakers she had placed inside just a day before. After slipping the sneakers onto her feet, she grabbed the climbing rope and piano wire she had taken from her suitcase. She slipped the satchel over one shoulder once again and stepped onto the roof. It took only a moment to locate her target's room and hook one end of the climbing rope to the side of the roof. After affixing the rope to her body, she reached into the satchel, pulling out a pair of well-worn leather gloves and a fleece cap. She tucked her hair beneath the cap and slid her hands into the gloves before beginning the climb to her assignment's window.
She took her time, no need to rush and possibly slip. He would be alone in the room. Asleep. The hotel's building schematics showed the room in which he was staying was laid out exactly as her room on the 17th floor. She would be able to slip in through the main window, a window that didn't properly lock, according to the hotel maintenance reports she had scanned.
The climb down took nearly ten minutes. It took another five to get a good enough hold on the window to force it open. She opened it just enough to allow her to slide through sideways, unhooking herself from the rope the moment she had a good grip on the windowsill. Once inside, she closed the window, not wanting the sounds from the street below to wake her assignment. The room was hot and stuffy, causing her to sweat beneath her clothes. The living area was cluttered with paperwork, a laptop lay open on the couch, its screensaver casting a glow on the small area around it. A suit jacket was draped over a chair, dress shoes laid on the ground next to it.
She continued on into the bedroom, pushing open the divider that separated the two areas. She froze when she saw the bed empty. Her eyes darted around the bedroom when a sound drew her attention to the bathroom on the right. No light shone beneath the door. A cough confirmed someone was inside nonetheless. She moved toward the bathroom , unwrapping the wire she had tucked into her waistband before the climb.
A toilet flushed and a few beats later, the bathroom door opened. Her target exited, still looking half asleep and wobbling slightly as he walked toward the bed. She waited until he passed before bringing her arms up and pulling the wire tight across his neck. Her target was half a foot taller than she, which made things slightly awkward. As she pulled the wire tighter, her target stumbled back, caught unaware and soon struggling to free himself. She spread her feet to brace her target's excess weight and brought her hands together so they were touching. Her target thrashed, his arms flailing backwards in vain. She went to her knees, bringing her assignment with her, where he ended up falling onto his behind quite hard. She listened, blocking out the sound of her assignment's struggling, for the sound of his bodyguards coming through the door. Hearing none, she was relieved. The sound her target had made falling to the ground wasn't as loud as she had thought.
Her target was weakening. His arms no longer flailed in attempt to stop his attacker. The gurgling in his throat, now mixed with a sort of a wet sound, lessened and his legs stopped moving altogether. She waited until his breathing completely stopped before letting go of the wire completely and pushing the body away from her. Her target slumped over to his side. She stepped over his body and into the bathroom, where she rinsed and dried her gloves before retreating the way she had come. She slid open the window once more, reattached the rope that dangled just outside, slid the window shut behind her and made the climb back up. After making back to the roof, she collected the rope and her suitcase. She didn't risk being caught on camera yet again, so she took the fire exit stairs all the way to the first floor, stopping only once at the third to roll up her pant legs, slip on the trench and let her hair loose from the cap. She transitioned once again to heels before breezing into the main hallway of the hotel. She walked through the lobby, careful not to look at the half dozen security cameras as she exited. Once outside, she quickened her steps just slightly and reached into the pocket of her coat. She pulled out a cell phone and a set of keys and continued on, her suitcase rolling loudly on the concrete behind her. Parked in the main lot was the Opel Zafira she had rented a week before. She hit the unlock as she dialed 112 into her cell. She didn't wait for the voice on the other end to finish before saying "Something's wrong at the Bad Blumau." She stammered in unaccented German, the panic and terror in her voice sounding true. "There was a sound of a struggle in the room next to me and I just saw a man…blonde hair and blue eyes about 178 centimeters covered in sweat and I think blood. Room 1902." and slamming the phone shut. She tossed it to the ground and stepped on it a half dozen times, completely smashing the phone to pieces, before slipping into the car.