Authors: Nick Stephenson
THE RECOIL FROM the .338 Lapua Magnum round was mostly absorbed by the rifle’s sturdy seventeen pound frame, but Reiniger could still feel the kick as the bullet tore out of the muzzle at three times the speed of sound. Within seconds of his first target hitting the floor, the panic had already started – meaning his next shots would be all the more difficult to make in the noise and commotion.
From his position at the top of the cathedral, Reiniger had a decent view of the plaza below and the metro station’s subterranean stairwell a little further beyond. Taking a split second to catch his breath, the assassin peered through the scope for a second time and located his next target; a middle-aged woman wearing a frumpy summer top who was screaming at the top of her lungs next to the corpse of the first victim.
Allowing the air to leave his lungs in a slow, controlled exhale, Reiniger lined up his shot and felt himself moving in precise rhythm with the woman, feeling her movements curse through his body as though they were his own. He caressed the trigger and felt a jolt in his shoulder as the round left his weapon. Almost instantly, he saw the frumpy woman’s head explode in a shower of crimson, her lifeless body twirling in mid-air before hitting the sidewalk.
Shutting out the noise of the crowd two hundred feet below him, Reiniger reloaded the bolt action AX338 in one quick, smooth motion, sliding a fresh round into the chamber. Through the scope, he saw his next target emerge from the station stairwell, bobbing up and down as he walked. The man wore a cheap suit and his face dropped to the floor as he stepped out into the sunshine. With a careful breath, Reiniger ended his life with a gentle squeeze of the trigger. The target buckled as the bullet tore through his chest and punched a hole in his abdomen the size of a basketball. Next, Reiniger felled a Japanese tourist who tried to run away. He hit the mark squarely in the neck, almost severing the man’s head from his shoulders.
Ignoring a policeman who had sprinted onto the scene – it was always a bad idea to kill a cop – Reiniger spotted his final target emerge from the staircase, a skinny woman dressed in expensive clothes. He made the shot and she hit the ground hard, dead before she even realized what was happening. The assassin had brought his total to five kills in less than a minute.
Without pausing to observe the chaos, Reiniger wiped down the rifle with a rag and a squirt of ethanol before disassembling the weapon and zipping it up in the carry case. He repeated the cleanup job on his luggage, making sure to thoroughly scrub his DNA from every surface. Satisfied any trace of him had been removed, the German pulled a small metallic case from his pocket and opened the clasp to reveal a thin strip of transparent film. Holding the strip up to the sunlight, Reiniger could see the fingerprint branded onto the plastic. He knelt down next to the abandoned rifle and pressed the strip against one of the smoother pieces of stonework, hoping the porous surface would allow for a satisfactory impression.
With no time to inspect his work, Reiniger dashed across the roof of the tower and through the makeshift entryway into the cathedral’s interior, making his way down the stairs to the belfry with the rifle case slung over his shoulder. He descended into the bell tower and caught the scent of old timber and iron as the cool air hit his nose. Thankful that the tour groups were restricted to the other tower, the assassin strode quickly and silently across the dusty floor toward the main stairs that led down to ground level, keeping his eyes locked ahead as he went.
His heart rate barely elevated, Reiniger reached the spectacular main hall in a little over thirty seconds, glad that his level of fitness kept him from looking out of breath. Ignoring the cathedral employees urging everyone to stay inside, the assassin strode toward the main doors and stepped out into the hot sun, keeping his eyes down. He wove in and out of the panicked crowd of tourists toward the Rue du Cloître, a quiet road that ran parallel to the cathedral.
The street was deserted, as expected, the majority of the pedestrians having run in the direction of the commotion – a human trait that Reiniger had never quite understood. The assassin kept moving, putting as much distance between him and the commotion as he could without breaking into a run.
” a voice shouted from somewhere behind him as he reached a shadier part of the road.
Reiniger slowed his pace and turned his head to see a policeman running in his direction, the same policeman he had seen in the rifle scope minutes earlier.
“Ou allez vous?
” the cop demanded as he drew close:
where are you going?
Reiniger noticed the policeman was unarmed, but he was wearing a radio. “You speak English?” the assassin asked, attempting to hide his German accent. He eyed the policeman’s name tag, which read “Laurent.”
The cop nodded. “
. Please stop walking, sir. I need to ask you to come with me please.”
“I’m late for a lunch meeting, I’m afraid I need to be on my way. What’s this all about?”
“Most people are trying to see what is going on, and you’re worried about a lunch appointment? And what is that?” Officer Laurent pointed to the black carry case.
“I’ll need to see your I.D. please.”
“I don’t have any on me, I’m sorry.”
“Then you will need to come with me to the station. I can’t have –”
Officer Laurent never had a chance to finish his sentence. With practiced speed, the assassin whipped out the KA-BAR clippoint knife hidden beneath his jacket and drove the steel blade into policeman’s throat, twisting the handle as he withdrew. Reiniger wasted no time in shoving the cop into the bushes before the arterial blood could start spurting. Laurent’s body fell silently through the foliage, hitting the soil with a muffled
as Reiniger slipped the knife back to its sheath.
Glancing around to make sure nobody was watching, the assassin checked his clothes for any blood spatter and started walking once again, keen to get out of sight as quickly as possible. At the end of the block, Reiniger spotted his car – a black VW Passat with tinted windows and a fake license plate.
Climbing into the driver’s seat, the assassin started the engine and rolled the car out onto the Rue du Cloître, keeping the speed under thirty. Reiniger crossed the nearby bridge onto Île Saint-Louis and soon found himself cruising along the main highway that led toward Charles de Gaulle Airport, a thirty minute drive away. As the dominating view of the cathedral recessed into the distance, Reiniger allowed himself a flicker of a smile.
Just one more loose end to tie up.
THE SCRUFFY MONTMARTRE backstreets were overlooked by the white dome of the Basilica of the Sacré Cœur, which sat atop the highest point in the whole of Paris. Most of the summer crowds were milling around the grassy lawns at the base of the hill, while others sat on the steps, taking advantage of the sunshine and fresh air while they finished their packed lunches and watched their children run up and down the stairs.
Leopold and Jerome trekked deeper into the trendy neighborhood, grateful for the cool shade offered by the terraced apartment buildings. Most of the architecture was old, slightly worn, but nonetheless possessing a charm that was unique to the French capital.
“It should be just up here,” said Jerome, inspecting the GPS display on his cell phone. “Less than a minute’s walk.”
The discussion with the personnel department at the Louvre had been quicker than Leopold had expected, and the information they needed had been handed over without much fuss. Apparently, namedropping director Dubois opened a lot of doors. Having an armed bodyguard along for the ride didn’t hurt, either. The clerk had printed out a short list of names based on the consultant’s criteria, and Leopold had picked the most likely match: an employee with the art restoration department who had called in sick for the last few days.
“We’re looking for the number nineteen,” said Leopold, wiping his brow with the back of his sleeve. “Apartment number three.”
“Sophie Bardot,” nodded Jerome. “We got a picture?”
“No, the clerk only printed out the name and address. If she doesn’t answer, we’ll camp out and wait for her.” He pointed at a café a little further down the street, nestled on the corner with the familiar Parisian canopy and outdoor chairs.
“Definitely more comfortable than staking out a place in the car. Here we are.”
They walked up to one of the terraced apartment blocks and Leopold hit the buzzer. After the third jab, a voice crackled into life through the intercom.
Oui, vous aider?
” the voice asked.
Leopold leaned in to the grille. “Mademoiselle Bardot?”
A short pause. “
” he asked.
Do you speak English?
“Yes. Who is this?”
“My name is Leopold Blake. My associate and I are here from the New York Art Review Magazine. We were hoping to catch you at work, but the museum said you would be at home. We found your address online.” He waited for a response, hoping the lie would hold.
A short pause. “And what can I help you with?”
“We hoped to trouble you for a short interview. It would be a great opportunity for us to create a candid behind the scenes look at what goes on behind the walls of the Louvre. We want to show the world your talents, Mlle. Bardot. Will you spare us a few minutes?”
Another pause. “
I am not feeling too well. Please give me one moment.”
After almost a minute of silence, “
You can come on up. Third floor.”
With a loud buzz, the door lock disengaged and the consultant pushed through into the communal hallway, a dark, cool passage sparsely decorated with white paint and a tile floor. The old wooden stairs leading up to Sophie’s apartment were toward the back of the room, and the steps creaked with over a century’s worth of warping as they climbed.
On the third floor Sophie Bardot was waiting, a tall, slim, young-looking woman with jet black hair and green eyes. She was dressed in a pair of loose fitting jeans and a printed tee shirt, and wore a look of impatience on her otherwise attractive face.
“Mlle. Bardot?” offered Leopold. “May we come inside?”
Nodding, Sophie waved them both inside and shut the door. Her apartment was outfitted in typical Parisian style, most of the furniture looked as though it had been reclaimed from junk yards and garage sales. The living area was small, just about big enough for a couch and armchair, with a bookshelf containing a few scattered titles and a kitchenette separated from the main room by an archway. An open window facing out onto the city took up most of the back wall, framed by a set of thin curtains that billowed gently in the breeze. Thanks to the elevation, the view over Paris was spectacular.
“Please, take a seat,” said Sophie. “Let me fetch you something to drink.”
“That would be perfect.”
Their hostess smiled, all traces of irritation gone. She fetched a large jug of pale lemonade from the fridge and nestled it on the tiny coffee table along with three glasses. She poured out three generous measures before helping herself, settling back into the armchair. Leopold took a sip. The flavors were magnificent, with just enough sugar to take the edge off without being too sweet.
“Thank you, it’s delicious,” he said, raising his glass. “Do you mind if we begin the interview?”
“Of course. Ask your questions.”
“Okay, first of all, tell me about your role at the museum. What is it that an art restorer does, exactly?”
Sophie sat up in her chair, taking a long sip of lemonade. “Most of the paintings in the Renaissance galleries are exposed to the atmosphere. It is only for a very select few pieces, such as the Mona Lisa, that we go to the expense of sealing them in an airtight UV-filtered case. Because of this, most of the artwork will begin to deteriorate over time as the moisture and sunlight gets into the paint. My job at the gallery is to clean and restore the paintings, as well as to preserve and protect them for the future.”