Chapter 8: Alex Finds his Dream House

A/N: Can't promise anything for future updates, they will probably only come when I am really bored which doesn't happen a lot nowadays. But anyway, thanks to America's fast (free!) internet, here's the next chapter!

The question wasn't really whether Alex would leave; it was when he would go. And what he would take with him. After deciding that there was nothing worth watching on TV – everything was in Russian and boring to boot – Alex pocketed his cell phone and dental floss and left the room. He had debated whether or not to take the Stunglasses, and decided against it. It was too dark to wear them and it would only raise suspicion.

From what Yassen had told him, the area of St. Petersburg that the hotel was in was not a particularly good one. If this was anything like similar areas of London, Alex thought it would be rather easy find drug dealers on the street corners. It might, however, be a bit more difficult to find Mafiya members who knew about an assassin from the Triads who was somehow connected with Iran and the FSB. Especially when one didn't speak Russian.

None of this was enough to stop Alex, of course. His natural penchant for getting into trouble, if nothing else, would be sure to lead him in the right direction. At the present moment this meant left down the street and alongside the canal. Maybe he would see a speedboat with a cobra on it.

After wandering for about half an hour, Alex was bored. Nothing had happened, except that the sun had set and the temperature had plunged. He shivered. It was late summer and already cold. He was beginning to question his decision to go out in the first place.

But since he was here, with honestly nothing better to do, Alex decided that he jolly well wasn't going to freeze his tail off for nothing. Either he would find the Mafiyah or – the more likely scenario – they would find him. The problem, he decided, was not finding drug dealers and assorted other lowlifes. He was certain those would appear as the night progressed. What he really wanted was someone who knew things. That someone, he supposed, would be fairly rich. He would probably not live in this part of the city.

Alex signaled a cab, and prayed that the driver spoke English. He expressed this in his extremely broken, half-forgotten Russian, but the driver was either polite enough or greedy enough to wait patiently through the American tourists' garbled attempts before answering him in English. Alex gave him the name of a street, and the cabby's eyes widened. It was in one of the richest neighborhoods of St. Petersburg; perhaps this boy was a relation of one of those millionaire types. There would be a good tip tonight!

Alex was determined to form a plan on the way there, but by the time the cab stopped, he still hadn't the faintest idea of what to do next. He paid the driver, tipping generously so as not to arouse suspicion. At least, he hoped it was generous. He had no idea what constituted a proper gratuity in Russia.

Alex stared at the wide gates separating himself from the residential area. If I were a rich, paranoid Mafiyah boss, he asked himself, what type of house would I have?

Well, it would be either in a gated community like this or in a penthouse somewhere. Mrs. Jones' apartment came to mind, and Alex squirmed uncomfortably. No, he would assume that in a country that valued land and copious amounts thereof, an actual house would be more of a status symbol than an apartment. And gated communities were a very Western idea; Yassen had told Alex that many in the Russian elite, though outwardly scorning Western fashions, were fanatic consumers of them, if only to separate themselves from the people they ruled.

The obvious problem with gated communities, of course, was the gates. Alex went a few meters down the sidewalk, checked for cameras and lights, and then casually walked into the hedges near the fence. There were no signs saying it was electrified – at least, none that Alex could read. But since his hair wasn't standing on end yet, Alex thought it safe to say there was none. He took out his cell phone. Two minutes later, there were a few missing bars in the fence, a fact handily concealed by the hedge.

Walking down the street, Alex noted that it wasn't terribly well lit. This he didn't mind at all. He supposed the residents could have afforded to floodlight the place, but perhaps they preferred their privacy. This was a good sign. Alex continued pondering his ideal criminal palace as he moved on. If he were the overconfident type, he wouldn't have a fence. Instead there would be laser tripwires and ... dogs. Or guards, or both. The house itself would be ostentatious and well-lit, perhaps even welcoming to fool the visitor into a false sense of ease. But there would be cameras everywhere, and maybe even an automatic weapons mount somewhere. Lots of cover in the yard, too, hidden artistically with landscaping. And a circular driveway for quick entries and exits – though in the back, not the front. The front drive would be narrow and lined by hedges, at an angle to the house. Concealed tire shredders would be optional.

I should be an architect, Alex thought proudly, and then froze. He blinked. The next house on the block was almost exactly what he had imagined.

It did look perfectly welcoming – by far the nicest looking place Alex had yet seen in Russia. For a second he was convinced that he had made some mistake; surely this was a place inhabited by someone's rich but elderly parents, maybe a retired politician-turned-artist. But then, in the evening ground-mist that would only last minutes before the temperature dropped even further, Alex saw the thin, almost-invisible thread of a laser.

On impulse, he moved. The mist would not last, so Alex only had one chance. Stepping carefully into the shadow of a great tree, he ran along the edge of the property until he saw what looked like a side door. It was nearer to the front of the house than the back – a fact Alex appreciated because he had caught a glimpse of the rear entrance, which reminded him of a fortress.

Using the cover of the landscape and the help of the ground mist, Alex slowly crossed the lawn. There were no dogs, much to his relief. If there had, he would have been caught by now. Alex attributed his success mostly to luck as he finally crouched in a flowerbed near the door. Hopefully, he mused, he hadn't triggered a silent alarm somewhere along the way. The ground mist was hardly uniform and it was entirely possible he had walked across something he hadn't seen.

It was, of course, no use for him to concern himself with this now. He was more interested with the immediate problem of getting himself into the house. Since most British schools don't offer a course on Breaking and Entering, the only real experience Alex had with this sort of thing was a basic outline from his uncle Ian and a mostly-slept-through workshop from the SAS.

There would be an alarm, of course. Some type of security system. Ian Rider had explained their own to Alex, showing him how most home systems were tied directly into the bolt of the door. Alex had no idea if this was also true in Russia or, most importantly, in this house in particular. He could only hope for the best as he took out his cell phone and started cutting not at the bolt, but at the hinges the door hung on.

After a few minutes the door settled with a small rumble; Alex carefully pushed it open and slid through before putting it back in its place as best he could. Looking around, he found himself in a dimly lit back hallway. There were what looked like two closets to his right and left, and a narrow staircase straight ahead. Alex checked both the closets – gardening tools and a locked one he assumed was electricity – before cautiously heading up the wooden stairs, trying his best not to make a sound.

At the top was another narrow hall with thin carpeting. Small rooms flanked it on either side, two with light shining from beneath them. Alex guessed it could be quarters for domestic workers; this was good because it meant there had to be easy access to the main house from here, but bad because they could include security guards. He started walking cautiously forward, and was immensely grateful when he found a small corridor just after the first lit door that lead to a small but still lavishly decorated sitting room.

A decorative screen masked his entrance to the empty, dimly lit room. Alex checked for cameras, found one, and stayed in its blind spot as he made for the exit. He found himself back on wood again, in a grand hall. A chandelier – did it have real candles? - was glowing ten meters away, where he presumed the front of the mansion was, but the rest was mostly dark save for a half dozen gas-style lights set in the walls. Alex crept forward, passing a billiards room, a library (without a computer, he noted – and what kind of a library is that anyway?), and another sitting room, searching for anything that was more functional than decorative. Nearing the back of the hall, he came upon a staircase, grand in his opinion but probably merely passable for whoever lived there. Alex climbed quietly up, hoping that the first floor would yield more information than the ground floor had.

He was not disappointed. There were bedrooms, mostly vacant and dark, for guests he supposed. Lights were on in one and as he passed by, heart pounding, he heard the sounds of a TV series coming from behind the door. As he approached the lights in the hallway ahead, Alex ducked into a spare bedroom to collect himself.

What was he actually doing here? What was he really looking for? And what on earth was he hoping to accomplish? Alex thought for a second, then decided against it. Just find a study, an office, something, and he was sure he would find something that would give him his next step. So what if he was trusting to luck, he could always say he was a lost American tourist...

Before he could think himself out of doing anything, Alex dashed into the lit hall, thankful for the thick carpet that silenced his footsteps. Past what seemed a large room with the light on, then another large one, and was that a shower running? Quick glances to his right and left, further down the hall and...that was a lock and keypad on the door.

There was no one around, but Alex didn't know how long that would last. He punched in 999. The red light flickered. He frowned, tried the country codes for Russia, the UK, and the USA, and started getting worried. He tried the area codes for London, Glasgow, and Dublin, all the while desperately trying to remember what Yassen had briefly mentioned about codes for St. Petersburg and Moscow. Alex tried to keep his calm, but even though there were no cameras that he could see watching him, he knew that every second he stayed here was getting dangerously close to too long. He pressed in 212, the area code for New York, and to his surprise the light blinked green and the lock opened with a soft buzz.

Alex breathed a sigh of relief and slipped through the door, quickly breathing a thank-you to God or fate or whoever made things tick for MI6 agents, and closed the door. After confirming that the room was empty as he'd expected, he took out his cell phone and used the light of its screen to navigate to the desk. He quickly started riffling through the papers on top; something about oil, charts and graphs showing 'productivity up' in cheerful fonts, an invitation to a theatre show, a serviette with a woman's email address and a smudge of lipstick, more Financial Times type articles, and a printed out email or two that didn't seem important.

Alex moved on to the desk drawers, which were unlocked, and found the top one a haphazard array of office equipment and scraps of papers. The next one was slightly better organized, though a lot of it seemed to be personal correspondence with the man – Joseph Illyich, Alex had found – and his extended family.

Come on Alex, the boy thought, there has to be something here. You don't have lasers in your yard if you're a nice businessman. Now, where are you hiding, ,and what are you?

Too late, Alex heard the humm of the lock opening. The light flicked on a split second later and Alex, temporarily blinded, had only an instant to do the first thing that came to mind and duck under a desk. Great, he thought, weeks of SAS training and all I can think of to do is the same thing a six-year-old caught with the cookie jar can.

A bullet whizzed through the fine mahogany just to his right, and Alex stopped making comparisons with himself and a six-year-old. At least nobody shot at them. But he had nowhere to go, and he really, really did not want to get shot again, or even shot at.

"Stop!" he yelled, pitching his voice higher than usual. "Please, don't shoot!"

"Show yourself now!" a thickly accented voice commanded, and Alex didn't see how he could do anything but reply. Slowly, he stood up, wishing Smithers hadn't taken the tranquilizing dart out of his phone design. He found himself facing a 9 millimeter held by a man in uniform – security guard, he guessed – two meters away. Behind him was the man he recognized from the photo on the desk, a gray-haired, slightly stocky man who nevertheless looked as if he had been an athlete in his day. Joseph Illyich. Alex slowly raised his hands above his head, belatedly realizing he was still clutching some of the man's emails.

"I'm a lost American tourist?" he tried.