It was a good night for a killing.
Those were the first thoughts of the assassin known as the Scorpion, as he quietly entered the darkened room of the rented rundown apartment. He set down the thick black canvas bag on the dirty rug. His muscles were cramped, so he stretched his shoulders and slowly rotated his neck until he could feel the discomfort easing.
Crouching down, he crawled over to the window and peered out. The neon lights of the brothel on the opposite side of the street blinked on and off, slightly illuminating the apartment.
But the Scorpion remained in the shadows. There was no real need to worry - there was zero chance of the target’s bodyguards noticing him up there on the fifth floor. He had been observing them for almost a week, and he had rapidly come to the conclusion that they were all inept idiots, hired for their brawn, rather than their brains.
But the Scorpion hadn’t survived this long by taking unnecessary risks. In fact, he was excessive in the amount of caution he took, as well as the preparation time before he carried out a job.
He took off his expensive dark suede jacket and folded it neatly, placing it beside him, despite the grime that covered the floor. The meticulousness of the process calmed him before each job, each routine having an important place in his mind. Any disruption to this routine deeply disturbed him. Superstition was a weakness of his, although he would be loathe to admit it.
The absence of the jacket revealed that he was a muscular athletic man. He had a chiseled chin, a buzzcut haircut, skin tight around the face, and a dark brown suntan, courtesy of the French Foreign Legion. But nobody knew of his Legion background. Nor did anyone know his real name. He had taken steps after coming out of the Legion to ensure all traces of his existence had been totally wiped out. He remained a shadow, living on the fringes of society. Those in the business that live a high profile are the ones begging to be arrested. The Scorpion had no such desire to end up like that.
He flipped up the catches on his case and opened the lid, to reveal a sniper’s rifle inside. Lightweight and with a range of just over 700 metres, the battered rifle had always been his weapon of choice. It had never let him down once, and had travelled the world with him. He had lost count of the number of kills he had managed to achieve with it. There was something almost sexual by the way he stroked it and examined it minutely. It had never jammed on him and had saved his life on more than one occasion.
Realising he was wasting precious time with his thoughts, he screwed a silencer onto the end of the barrel, then methodically began to load the gun with high-calibre ammunition. All the time, he periodically peered out of the window to make sure things were as they should be outside.
When he was satisfied the gun was ready, he moved over to the window and opened it. He had been back earlier that day to oil the hinges to ensure the window frame didn’t squeak, and sure enough, it soundlessly swung open a slight crack. The Scorpion smiled. So far, so good.
The room was stifling hot, so the sudden breeze from outside brushed against his face and felt very pleasant. He tilted his face back and forth against the cold air until the cloying sweat on his forehead began to disappear. He then carefully and slowly swung up the gun, and checking the street once more, pushed the gun barrel through the crack of the open window.
Looking through the telescopic sights, he turned on the night-vision and everything in the street suddenly turned green and brought into sharp contrast. He slowly moved the gun around, taking in the entire area. Then he saw a glow, and eventually realised it was a couple of men standing in the shadows of the adjacent alleyway smoking. At first he thought they were customers or just plain drunks taking a detour on the next stop to a bar. But then he realised it was the target's bodyguards.
Amateurs, he snorted in derision. They had just given their position away with their nicotine cravings. Ah well, their idiocy would be his gain. He now knew exactly where the hired help was.
He swung the gun back to the entrance. The door opened, and the Scorpion tensed, with his finger hovering near the trigger guard. But when the man came out, he could see that it was not who he had been contracted to take out. Instead it was a drunk and sated businessman who had experienced the illicit pleasures of the flesh, and was now going home to lie to his wife about where he had been. The Scorpion took a deep breath and slowly moved his index finger away from the trigger.
As he continued scanning the street down below, he thought to himself that the longer he waited here, the more chance there was of one of the bodyguards looking up, and seeing him. But then he remembered his wait wouldn’t be long, as his client was preparing to lure the target out into the Scorpion's waiting arms. They were both keen to get it done quickly, so the client was going to provide a big nudge towards the door.
Vladimir Rostov was considered by Interpol to be one of the biggest crime bosses in the whole of Europe. But he preferred to think of himself as an "aggressive entrepreneur". The tentacles of his empire stretched all over the continent and into Russia. Drugs, guns, women, gambling….he was basically into anything that guaranteed a fast easy buck. Hell, for the right price, he would even kill someone. It didn’t take a lot of skill to stab someone in the back or push them in front of a car. But the one thing he would not do was anything that acted against the best interests of the Russian state. Whatever else he might be, Rostov was a patriot.
He was in his late forties, but looked at least ten years older. Excessive amounts of vodka tended to do that to people. But he didn’t care. In his line of work, you needed something to stay calm and take the edge off. People he worked with snorted drugs up their nose, but all he needed was a good bottle of spirits. Plus in his business, you didn’t live to a ripe old age anyway.
His phone started buzzing in his pocket. He pulled it out, frowned when he saw the number on the caller ID screen, and eventually pressed the green ‘call’ button.
"Yes? Why the hell are you calling me? What do you want?"
"I need to see you" said the voice at the other end, "it’s urgent. Can you meet me now?"
"Meet you? Why would I meet you? I have better things to do" he said abruptly, and prepared to hang up.
"Wait!" snapped the voice. "I've found out someone is stealing from you.”
Being stolen from always got his attention. If there was one thing he didn’t like, it was other people stealing his money. The irony was lost on him that he had stolen the money from someone else first.
He slowly put the phone back to his ear.
"Alright, it was probably you, but I'll bite. You’ve piqued my interest. Keep talking.”
"Not on the phone. It’s too risky. Meet me outside the Adlon Hotel in 30 minutes. We’ll talk in the back of your car.”
Rostov's eyes looked upwards, as he silently counted to three, and then sighed heavily. "Fine, but if this is a waste of my time, your head will be on a rusty metal spike. Understand?"
"30 minutes" said the other man, and hung up.
Rostov swore softly. It was bloody cold outside and he had no desire to go halfway across the city just to see that leech. But if he was really getting ripped off, he had to find out who it was.
He signalled to the bodyguard standing inside the door.
"Get the car round. I’m meeting someone at the Adlon.”
The Scorpion was patiently waiting. Finally, his patience was rewarded by a text message on his burner phone. The target was coming out.
He once again rested his eye against the telescopic sight, and breathed in deeply to steady his hands. He placed his finger next to the trigger guard, ready to take the shot.
Suddenly the door of the brothel creaked open, and there was a short burst of loud noise from inside, which abruptly stopped again when the door slammed closed. Rostov was now standing on the pavement, looking thoroughly unhappy, as if he really wanted someone to suffer for his inconveniences. The assassin smiled as he thought about how permanently unhappy Rostov was going to be in a moment.
Who said he couldn’t take a perverse pleasure in his work?
The bodyguards who were standing in the shadows hurriedly stamped out their cigarettes when they saw their employer clearly in a bad temper. The back door of the car was opened and Rostov moved forward to get in.
But he never made it. Suddenly a whizzing and popping sound could be heard and a bullet slammed into Rostov’s head. The top of the skull disintegrated, and the bodyguard behind him had the unfortunate experience of being sprayed with Rostov’s blood and brain matter. Rostov spiralled to the ground like a yo-yo, with a look of utter surprise on what was left of his face.
Suddenly time seemed to stand still. The bodyguards looked at Rostov’s corpse lying in a pool of his own blood. Their shock made them unable to immediately react. Which was all the time the Scorpion needed. Several more pops could be heard in quick succession, and all three bodyguards fell dead on top of their boss. Their blood mingled together on the ground and onto the roadside.
Six seconds. Damn, he was good. But now he had to get out of there before Rostov’s men from inside discovered the bodies, and figured out where the shots had come from.
The Scorpion calmly picked up his brass cartridges from the floor, placed the rifle inside the case again, and put his jacket on. As he opened the door, he cautiously peered out and saw the hallway was empty. The last thing he needed was for a neighbour to take a late night stroll.
Seeing nobody, he closed the door as quietly as he could, walked quickly to the ground floor, and headed for the fire exit at the back. As he walked out the door, he could already hear females screaming coming from out front. Probably one of the workers had gone for a cigarette break and found more than she bargained for. The Scorpion considered screaming the sound of success.
Moments later, he was gone. Gone to collect the rest of his money and to move on to the next assignment. It was a busy life sending people to their deaths.