"Rome had Caesar, a man of remarkable governing talents, although it must be said that a ruler who arouses opponents to resort to assassination is probably not as smart as he ought to be." Barbara W. Tuchman.
He arrived early that evening. I was enjoying a quiet dinner in the lobby restaurant, where I had a view of the registration desk, and made him in an instant. He was small in stature for being part American, probably even in height with myself. Taunt, muscular build. In his left hand he held what looked like a computer briefcase, something in black leather, and I caught a flash of an expensive watch encircling his wrist. But despite the accessories and the jewelry, there was no element of fusiness about him. On the contrary, his presence was relaxed, and powerful, and maybe even a little bored.
He looked like the kind of guy who wouldn't have to raise his voice when speaking to subordinates. Someone who could command the attention of strangers with only a look or a gesture. Someone who wouldn't need to threaten violence to get what he wanted, if only because the hint of it would be enough.
Even if I hadn't had access to his CIA file, my instincts would have told me plenty. This guy was dangerous. It wouldn't be enough just to complete the mission, like my instructors had indoctrinated into my head; this time, I couldn't make any mistakes. The file had shown me that he wasn't just smart, he was capable.
Gaara had been born of an American Army officer on leave and an Irish woman (neither of whom, probably, saw each other again after leave time). Lacking a father figure hadn't seemed to slow the boy down, though, and he had excelled in school, both academically and athletically. His fluent language skills, particularly Arabic, had made him a natural for overseas assignments when he joined the Irish Special Forces. Eventually he wound up stationed in Iran and immediately deserted, no pun intended. Playing among his contacts on both sides of the never-ending wars there, Gaara became a conduit for small arms deals to various Middle Eastern hot spots. His latest efforts were concentrated in Southeast Asia, where various emerging militant groups had formed a sizeable, and growing, consumer base.
He was also known to have a taste for the finer things, as well as a nasty gambling habit.
When he walked in to the lobby and made his way for the front check-in desk, I was glad I was privy to such information. A "Ninja Assassin," as me and my kind are nicknamed, doesn't take chances. Especially when you operate alone like me.
Two bodyguards followed him in, wearing suits and large in frame. Great, hired guns. One of them started a visual security sweep of the vicinity, checking for anything that triggered his radar, but Gaara didn't rely solely on him. Instead, he did his own sweep of the room and its occupants. I watched with my peripheral vision and, when I sensed that he was finished, looked back over just in time to see Gaara's date arrive through the front doors.
She was a pretty girl. She was wearing a dark red dress and pumps that shared a message of practical, yet very classy. What you'd expect on a traveler with a first-class ticket. She was shorter than Gaara, with long legs and a trim body that spoke of serious gym time. Something that surprised me, though, was that she started her own visual inspection of the room. I hadn't expected that, and looked down at my menu while her gaze passed over. When I glanced back, she was standing beside Gaara, her arm linked through his.
Something about her presence was as comfortable as his. Everything about her seemed natural: her hair, her clothes, her face. Very odd when it came to modern girls. The guy must've had a taste for rare finds.
The gang's all here, I thought to myself. The villain, the hired muscle, and the eye candy.
A few minutes passed while their rooms were secured. Then all four finished and made their way to the elevators. I gave them four minutes, then paid my check and left, digging out my cell phone and dialing the number for the hotel.
The answer was quick and in Chinese. I asked, in English, to be connected to the presidential suite.
"One moment please."
There was a silence, then two rings before the phone was picked up. "Hello,"a man's voice stated.
"Hello, this is the front desk," I said, doing a fairly decent Chinese accent. Languages were just as effective a disguise as any mask or prosthetic. "Is there anything we can be doing to make Mr. Gaara's stay with us more comfortable?"
"No, we're fine," the voice said.
"Very good. Please enjoy your stay."
I hung up the cell, turned it off, pocketed it, and made my way to my room. Presidential suite. Gotcha.
The next day, I decided to enjoy a little gambling at the Lisboa Casino. I couldn't continually set up for Gaara in the hotel lobby without drawing attention to myself. So I decided that the best way to get to him was not to follow him around, but to anticipate where he would wind up.
This is actually easier than it sounds. All you have to do is put yourself in the other guy's shoes: If I were him, what would I do? How would I view the world, where would I go, how would I behave? Performing this kind of exercise with someone like Gaara was tougher than usual, because someone as security-cautious as he would probably tend to favor randomness. Random times, random routes, random destinations. They deliberately avoid getting into routines or developing behavioral patterns, because that can be deadly in this game.
But his security wasn't perfect. Everyone has a security flaw; in this case it would definitely be a compulsion to gamble. And the city had some of the best casinos in the world. If you're addicted to high-stakes poker and the finer things in life, there really wasn't any better place than the Lisboa Casino. He would gamble, all right, and rationalize by telling himself that there was nothing to worry about, that no one knew where he was, and besides, he always traveled with his bodyguards, just in case.
Personally, I don't like casinos. The entrances and exits tend to be too tightly controlled, for one thing. The cameras and surveillance there are the best in the world, for another. Every move you make is recorded by a hundred unblinking eyes and stored on tape for a minimum of two weeks. And I don't even like having my picture taken for fake ID.
I bought chips worth four hundred thousand Hong Kong dollars (about sixty thousand US) and then wandered the high rollers level, room to room, never actually entering a game until I found what I was looking for.
Outside the Lisboa's most exclusive VIP room were the two bodyguards, flanking the entrance. Gaara must've felt pretty safe inside not to bother with having them right next to his arm at every moment. And sure, the guards could effectively monitor whoever decided to watch or play in the room, and deal appropriately with anyone they deem suspicious.
Too bad for them. I'm not a suspicious-looking guy.
I walked past both of them and into the room, and there they were. Gaara and the girl, both dressed tastefully, and a bit more stylishly than the other players at the table. There were other players at the table, but Gaara and his date had empty seats to either side of them. I walked over and took the seat to his right, so that he would naturally have to look away from me to talk to the girl. The black computer briefcase was nestled against his leg.
He turned to me. "I've seen you, haven't I?" he said. It was an interesting accent, one that didn't really reveal a nationality, more like a hybrid mix. He sounded like he was both recollecting a memory, or accusing me. And saying something like that as a greeting was a breach of high roller etiquette; you were supposed to respect the other players' anonymity.
"Maybe at the tables downstairs," I answered. "I have to build up my bankroll before a trip to the VIP rooms."
He nodded and placed his bet, returning to the game and whispering something in the ear of the girl. I saw from his movement that he wasn't really concerned about me; if he had been, then his back wouldn't be turned.
The dealer dealt out cards to each of us. As he did so, I leaned forward and crossed my hands, my right finders settling across the watch I was wearing on my left wrist. On the underside of the watch was a thumbnail-sized squib containing a little cocktail. The concoction in question was made up primarily of staphylococcus aureus--food poison--and chloral hydrate, which causes nausea, disorientation, and unconsciousness within one to four hours. The first would get Gaara back to his hotel room in a hurry. The second would ensure that he slept soundly when he got there.
The symptoms of staph infection set in so quickly that there was a good chance Gaara would return to the hotel room without, or at least ahead of, the girl. He might not even allow her to spend the night with him--a rebellious stomach was nothing you wanted a beautiful woman privy to witness.
I won the first round. So far so good; my budget for this particular job wasn't inexhaustible, and there was no telling how long it would take to find the right opportunity to strike. I eased the squib free and held it at the junction of my right middle and forefinger. I'd wait for the right moment--one of his head-turns, a big win or loss from one of the other players, or some such distraction--and then make my move.
She leaned toward Gaara. "I'm going to try the blackjack tables. I'll be back in a little while." She got up and left.
I stole a glance, just a quick one, the kind that no one would find surprising or disrespectful. Her legs were definitely stunning, and she walked with the confidence of someone who long ago came to terms with the fact that she is beautiful, and today finds the fact neither remarkable nor worthy of flaunting.
A pretty attendant came by with drinks, carrying them on a silver tray. She placed one of them, a simple glass of tonic water, on the table next to Gaara, then leaned forward to do the same with mine. He was watching the dealer, who was shuffling and getting ready to deal.
I half rose from my seat, reaching for the drink with both hands as though I were concerned that no spillage should occur during transfer. As my right hand passed over Gaara's glass, I paused for an instant and squeezed the squib. Using my torso as a shield from the overhead cameras, who were always watching but unfortunately not all-seeing, I eased back in the seat, my own glass in hand.
Hard part's over.
He ignored the drink for the next round, and the round after. At the end of the fifth round, he picked it up and drank. One sip. A pause, then another sip. He put the glass down.
Time to go.
I played one more hand, and then picked up my chips. "Good luck," I said to everyone, and moved to stand.
"So soon?" he asked. God, that voice of his was unnerving.
I'd been there for less than an hour--no time at all, by the standards of regular poker diehards. He was probing, I could see. The guy had a cop's eye for irregularities.
"The bad part about gambling is, eventually you lose," I told him, holding up my chips. "I've learned to quit while I'm ahead."
His gaze was ice cool. "Yes, that's usually wise. Good luck."
There was no smile in my voice when I said, "Same to you."
Hello again, and welcome to the re-posting of Ninja Assassin.
A few months back this fic was deleted entirely, under circumstances that I'd rather not reveal at this point. Plenty of people were disappointed, but that's all done and over with now, thanks to a friend of mine. Note to all writers on this site: if you want to keep your work safe, keep copies of it hidden.
So if you are a first-time reader of this fic, welcome and enjoy. You'll find that this is a story that goes pretty in-depth when it comes to techniques used by spies and assassins—but I'm warning you all right now that you should be wary before attempting to use ANY of what you might learn from here. This fic is meant for pure entertainment purposes.
So, without further ado, let's continue on with the story.