Disclaimer: I own nothing of Phantom of the Opera or Susan Kay's Phantom

A/N This is a modern Phantom story, and my first, so please bear with me. I should have another chapter out by the end of the week.

Paris, France

He heard the man moving quietly in the darkness toward him; he was making very little noise, but Erik's acute hearing could pick up sounds that others couldn't. The man's clothing was making a minute rustling; he knew it was male from the heavier tread of his feet, and he was quiet, but not nearly enough. Erik waited for the right moment, and it came when the man turned and headed toward the stage.

He moved quickly then, and the lasso did its deadly work, settling around the man's neck and cinching tight, but not enough to kill- not yet. The man struggled with the catgut knowing it was useless, but still he tried to get his fingers between it and his neck, the thin cord cutting into his throat enough to bleed, and in a bizarre way it resembled a gruesome type of ruby necklace. Tendrils of panic, along with the pain were rapidly taking hold.

"I realized rather quickly what you were about. You have followed me quite diligently these last few days." he hissed softly, observing his quarry.

He leaned further down and wagged his head, putting a gloved finger to his lips. "It would have been so much better for your health if you had remained just a little quieter, my friend. I know who you are and the name of your employer. He has my undivided attention now, does he not? Enlighten me then. Why were you following me?"

The man stared with horror at the glow of those unnatural eyes. He shook his head rapidly, knowing he didn't dare say a word. But either way, he was doomed.

"Won't talk? I could make you, if I wished. But I don't have the time or inclination. And so I will have to use you as an example. He smiled at the man, a smile that was as cold as Arctic ice. "But unfortunately, that means you will have to die."

The man renewed the struggle, only weaker this time, his bloodshot eyes bulging outwards- the fight to get air was almost spent. The Punjab was being applied with more pressure and death was very near; his last sight would be the deadly eyes of the Phantom. It was true then, he thought vaguely before consciousness left him forever. They are a hellish sight.

He bent down and slipped the lasso from the man's neck. "He was alone."

His business associate and sometime comrade, Nadir Khan, stepped into the faint glow from the stage's ghost light and looked down at the dead man. "He's been following us for quite a while."

"Yes." Erik straightened after wiping the Punjab clean, and slipped the lasso back inside his jacket.

"I'll take care of the body."

"Put it in the storage room at the end of the hall. I will dispose of it later. I'll be in the manager's office."

He left Nadir to his work, and quickly walked to Moncharmin's office on the second floor of the opulent theatre. At one time, the opera house was the largest in the world. He truly believed he could navigate his way around the Garnier with his eyes blind-folded. The silence was deep and tomb-like and the shadows were thick, creating pools of deeper blackness relieved here and there by the dull glimmer of a bronze Pegasus figure or a pair of gold nymphs. They seemingly leaped out of the darkness at him, but he was familiar with the baroque interior of the opera house and maneuvered through it easily.

Dressed as he was in black, he merged with the darkness that made others so anxious- it amused him no end. He was quite at home with the absence of light, and very soon he was standing in front of the door he was seeking. He removed the lock pick from his pocket and made short work of the door, opening it in mere seconds. He worked his particular brand of magic on the office safe, and finding nothing of interest there, he strode over to the desk and snapped on the lamp. Quickly, he began going through the drawers, nothing catching his eye until he reached the very bottom one. It was locked and he picked that one as well. He pulled the drawer out and began rifling through it. First thing he noticed was a flight itinerary. He was studying it when the door opened and Nadir entered the room.

"Anything?"

The Persian observed his friend. Erik's bony fingers grasped the itinerary and Nadir wondered for the hundredth time, how he navigated his way through the world hampered by the flesh tone mask that covered most of his face. It ended just above a nearly non-existent upper lip. For some, it would require a second glance, but for the sharp-eyed, they would notice rather quickly that facial muscles were noticeably absent, and his friend's face was curiously immobile. Blank. Void of expression except for an oddly disturbing vapidness. It never ceased to amaze him, the self-imposed prison Erik lived behind. It was a clever mask, but still- just a mask.

He finally looked at Nadir. "I'm not sure, but I find it interesting that Moncharmin is planning a trip to the same town as the president, don't you? And at nearly the same time! What are the odds?" he said, voice laced heavily with sarcasm.

He indicated the paper with a flick of his finger. "Aside from the upcoming visit, are you familiar with this town at all?"

"No. Should I be?"

He shrugged. "Only if you're interested in world history. Which I know for a fact, you are not."

The Persian shot him a sharp look. "I don't claim to be a scholar. That is your expertise."

Erik's mouth curved slightly. "Yes. I know."

He tapped the itinerary. "What is André up to now? And why lock this away? Hardly state secrets." He grunted. "Or his pitiful love affairs for that matter." He stared at the paper. "He is leaving little clues for me to find, I think. Useless and of no importance. But why?"

The Persian glanced thoughtfully at him. "Do you think his presence there has something to do with the president?"

"Possibly."

"Moncharmin has been many things, Erik, but an assassin?" He shook his head. "Ridiculous."

Erik shrugged. "I never said that. You did." He picked up the calendar sitting on André's desk and looked at the date and name circled in red ink. "At least now I do not have to waste my time looking for him. I believe I know where he's staying."

Nadir glanced at the name on the calendar, and regarded his friend. "Are you traveling alone?"

"Yes, I need you here for the moment. Visit Andre's apartment and see what you can find."

The Persian nodded. "Shall I get a charter flight readied for you?"

He shook his head and prepared to exit the office. "If I leave by tomorrow night, it will suffice." He committed the itinerary to memory and replaced it in the drawer. "I'm not sure what his game is, and he would hardly have told the late Monsieur Buquet, would he? But keeping an eye on him will accomplish three things." When Nadir said nothing, merely looking steadily back at him, he sighed. "You are woefully short of curiosity, daroga," and proceeded to tick them off on long fingers. "One- if he is involved, finding out in what capacity. Two- neutralizing the threat if there is one. And three- enjoying myself at his expense."

"How?"

"He's terrified of me," he replied, with the ghost of a smile, "and I can get quite a bit of satisfaction from that little nugget."

"You really do have an odd sense of humor."

"Yes. So I've heard." Snapping out the light he moved toward the door followed by Nadir. They walked quickly and silently to one of the side doors of the Garnier and slipped into the night.

"I will be in touch." Erik said softly.

Nadir watched him walk off into the waiting darkness, then turned and headed to his car. He wondered what his companion would find in the U.S. Hopefully, Allah willing, this would be over soon.

One could only hope.