PART I: DYING IN PARIS
Death came to visit on Tuesday. Pulled into the parking lot in his red Porsche Boxster, top down, and backed into a handicap parking space. He checked his reflection in the rear-view mirror, tossed off the seat belt and raised his lanky frame fluidly out of the car. He flicked the door shut with his fingertips and pointed the key fob at the fender, eliciting a double-chirp from beneath the hood. He pocketed the keys, pulled at the lapels of his grey suit and adjusted the knot of his tie. He ran a hand through his silver hair, squinted up in the general direction of the sun, and strode into the building through the glass front doors, which slid away to either side with a barely audible hiss as he approached.
He moved with purpose through the large atrium of the lobby, and took an elevator to the third floor. As he emerged, he paused, as if to mentally prepare himself for his routine. His “rounds” as he referred to them. He then systematically wandered down each corridor, back and forth, on each of the third through tenth floors. He glanced into rooms with their doors standing open, occasionally pausing to rest his hand on the metal handle of a closed door. His pale blue eyes scanned room numbers as he walked, his fingers sometimes lightly touching the dark wood molding that ran waist-high along the corridors. He liked this place, all sleek glass and heavy wood. Very modern and austere. Sterile. More than once he placed the palm of his hand, fingers splayed, on the gray plastic box mounted on the wall next to each room containing the patient records, pausing slightly as if listening for faint sounds in the quiet, carpeted hallway.
On the top floor, near the end of his journey, he entered a room, quietly opening the partially closed door. He stood at the foot of the bed, watching a very elderly woman as she slept. She made quiet noises, small expirations of air between her pale lips, and he observed her in silence. His slender fingers caressed the hard plastic which encased the frame at the foot of the bed, his hand coming to rest on the clean white sheets. The woman stirred, rotating her head slightly, moving her white hair across the surface of the pillow. Then she stilled, slipping back into the depths of sleep. He pulled at the edge of the sheet where it hung along the bed frame, smoothing it down on the edge of the mattress, patted it twice, then turned and left the room, pulling the door back into its semi-closed position behind him.
The bullet, from a NATO 7.62x39mm round with a 122-grain projectile, left the muzzle of the Kalashnikov AK-104 rifle at a velocity of 1,555 feet per second, spinning from the barrel rifling with a 1-in-9.45-inch twist. It smashed through the wooden back slats of a chair, which altered the shape and trajectory of the copper-jacketed missile slightly. It tore through the fabric of the woman's light jacket and the silk of her blouse, piercing her skin just below and behind her right breast. It nicked a rib, throwing it into a tumble as it tore through the tissue of her right lung, and into the right ventricle of her heart, crushing the tricuspid valve. It spun forward, expanding as it advanced, exiting the heart through the lower portion of the left ventricle and continuing on through the left lung. It then chipped out a section of the fifth rib and burst out through the left chest wall, leaving behind a gaping exit wound roughly three inches in diameter. It traveled through the air another twenty-four feet, punching a hole through some tinted plate glass and smashing a 12-by-16-inch window pane before lodging in the wood frame of a glass-fronted pastry case. The woman slumped forward onto the small table in front of her, causing it to topple under her weight, falling with her toward the ground. Her chair, with the damaged back slats, slid sideways from beneath her, spinning off to her left and under the adjacent table. She was dead before she hit the sidewalk, before the chair had stopped rotating.