0134 Local Time
The Baroness Anastasia Cisarovna walked through her dimly lit penthouse. The suite's current light source was from the moon that shone through from the skylight above. She had kicked her heels off at the door and now padded barefoot across the plush carpet floor. In one hand was a chilled bottle of wine, a 1990 Camuzet Vosne Romanee, and in the other hand were two long-stemmed wineglasses. She came into the suite's master bedroom and stopped in front of the ornate four poster bed with the golden satin sheets. She placed the wine and glasses on the bedsheet before sliding the shoulder straps of her gown off. The black fabric pooled down at her feet. Her pale and lean body was clad in black lace undergarments, a black demi-cup brassiere and matching boyshorts with a small red bow in the front.
The Baroness placed the bottle and glasses on the nightstand beside her tablet. She tossed the sheets of the bed back and climbed in. She ruffled her raven black hair and leaned against the pillow to wait for the arrival of the Englishman she had just only met a half hour earlier. Her contacts had warned her of doing the thing she was about to do. Keeping a low profile was key to the success of Operation: Midas, and jumping into bed with a strange man or two could mean trouble. The Russian was in adjoining room, her personal protection if the man got rough or proved to be something that he wasn't. Even if the Russian wasn't shadowing her, there was something about the man that made the risk worth it. His blue-gray eyes and the air of sheer confidence around him. If he made love the same way he gambled, with the same cool demeanor and headstrong decisiveness, then she would be in for a memorable night. A soft smile crossed her lips at the the hope that she would make out better in the bedroom than she had at the baccarat table.
There came a soft buzz on the nightstand, a soft light cutting through the dimness. Her tablet flashed an alert, an incoming call. The caller's picture was blank. The caller ID gave only one character for the identity: 2. She leaned out and pulled the tablet from the bed and took the call.
"Yes," she said, holding the tablet up so the pinhole camera wouldn't show her current state of undress.
The stoic face of Number 2 stared back at her, his rich olive skin covered with sweat. Just over his shoulder was a blooming and ornate garden illuminated with LED lights strung up on poles. Wherever he was, it was far removed from the cold night outside the Baroness' window.
"We have a problem. An interloper with the British Secret Service."
Her nails clicked against the back of the tablet in agitation. She had a sneaking suspicion Number 2's interloper and her soon to be lover were related. Number 2's face disappeared from the screen, replaced by a black and white surveillance photo of a man in a peacoat walking down a sidewalk. He had short, jet black hair with high cheek bones and a lopsided mouth. It was too far away to see his eyes, but she knew they were same blue-grey.
"His name is Bond. James Bond. Have you see this man?"
"Yes," she said. That was as far as the Baroness was willing to go. She had disobeyed SPECTRE's orders by a man up to her room. The organization did not suffer disobedience lightly, especially if the man she was planning to sleep with was a secret agent. The photo disappeared and Number 2's stone face was back. She felt like he was trying to read her body language.
"You and the Russian are to leave the city as soon as possible. When's will the casino have the next batch of cash ready?"
"Within the hour. It was going to be flown out to the site in the morning."
"Move it up to tonight. The two of you will fly aboard the plane to the site."
"What about our plans involving the US currency?"
"It will have to wait. We have at least three times the bare minimum to carry out Midas' European operation."
"And the spy?"
"That is being taken care of as we speak. If you see him again, kill him on sight. No playful banter, no toying with him. Two shots in the head. We will speak when you're out of Belarus and on the ground in Switzerland."
"One more thing... Lukashenka. How much does he know?"
"Next to nothing. He thinks we are upscale counterfeiters, but he knows nothing of Midas."
"He has seen your face, knows one of your aliases. Kill him before you depart."
The Baroness hung up and placed the tablet on the nightstand with a sigh. She rolled over in bed and reached behind her pillow. Her hand came out from behind it with a tiny Beretta 418 in her hands. Grumbling to herself, the Baroness tucked the gun into the waistband of her shorts and climbed out of bed to get dressed. As she crossed across the carpet, there was a loud crash from somewhere far below that was followed by a soft shaking.
"What the hell?"
Bond sat in the passenger's seat of his rental car and dug through the glove compartment. If he was going to bed this woman tonight, he was going to need some protection. He found what he was looking for, pulling his Walther PPS from the glove compartment. With it he pulled out a dissolvable node. When the time came, he would stick the node into his mouth and let the tiny nanomachines dissolve on the tip his tongue. In the throes of passion, he would then kiss or lick the Baroness somewhere on her body and mark her with the nanites. In turn, the microscopic particles would act as a GPS tracker. He tucked the Walther it into his shoulder holster, placed the node in his coat pocket, and checked his mobile one more time. No reply from Q yet. He had used the phone's scanning feature to map out every detail of the Euros he had won in the casino. Q's people would examine them thoroughly to determine if they were counterfeits, and if so of what quality the fakes were exactly.
With no word from Q, Bond climbed out the car and walked through the casino parking lot towards the posh hotel that lay across the street from the Belaya Vezha. He went through the lobby and caught the lift. He pressed the top button and waited for the doors to close. They were nearly shut when a hand reached through and caused the automatic doors to spring back open. A dark-haired man in a tuxedo gave Bond his thanks and selected his floor before the doors finally closed.
Bond gave him a glance out the corner of his eye. His tuxedo was of a baggy cut, but he could tell the cloth hid a muscular frame underneath. His dark hair, which was gelled and combed back, had bits of gray in it. There was a thick black goatee on his face. There was something oddly familiar about him, and Bond was overcome with the sense of deja vu by just glancing at the man's profile. He kept his eyes forward, but his body language told Bond that he was on-alert and focused on something. A cold, numb sensation began in the pit of Bond's stomach. He was not a believer of things like a sixth sense or telepathy, but his time in the navy and in MI6 had given him an acute sense of recognizing danger and when it was imminent.
He flung himself backwards just as the man's large fist moved to strike his side. Bond grabbed his wrist with one hand to try and twist it backwards behind his back, but the man's muscles tightened and flexed. He smacked Bond hard against the face with the open palm of his free hand. He reeled backwards and slammed against the lift's wall. While he recovered, the assassin slapped the emergency stop button at the tenth floor and began to encroach towards Bond.
Bond pulled his Walther from its shoulder holster and was preparing to aim it when the man's powerful hands slapped it out of his grip. It clattered to the floor as the man got his hands around Bond's neck and lifted him upwards. The top of his head smashed against the elevator's ceiling, knocking a light fixture loose and popping the florescent lightbulb. The small space was now basked in half-shadow as the man throttled Bond's neck. His tough hands scratched at Bond's throat the way sandpaper scratches at wood. He kept his eyes forward and watched Bond with gleeful anticipation as he squeezed the life out of him.
Flailing, Bond's foot connected with the man's chest. The shock caused him to drop his prey and stumble backwards holding his chest. Bond slammed against the floor of the lift and coughed violently as air returned to his lungs. He looked up and saw the man sucking for air as well. The Walter was in the far corner beside the assassin. Bond stood just as the man was standing.
"Suppose we can't talk this out like men?" he asked the man in a rough voice.
"Talking is for cowards," he said in a thick Russian accent. "But we will talk like the real men used to."
Like that, he was back on Bond with his wide fist cutting through the air. Bond held his arm up and blocked the blow with his left forearm. The blow sent shockwaves of pain through his arm, but it didn't effect his aim as he struck the man in the face with a right hook. The blow knocked the man unbalanced, and Bond kept up the barrage with a series to body blows to the chest and sides. He had the man backed up against the side of the lift, but any advantage he had evaporated when he grabbed one of Bond's blows with an open palm and flipped him hard on to the lift floor. The wind rushed out of Bond's lungs and he gasped for air. While he struggled, the man stood over him.
"Not bad," he said with a slight bow. "I have encountered better, but not many. You were nearly a worthy opponent, Mister Bond, but you were not good enough."
The man raised his leg and was bringing it down when Bond rolled to his right. The foot came down on the lift's metal floor. Bond swept his legs, knocking the man to the ground. Out the corner of his eye, he saw the Walter on the floor. Bond rolled in its direction, picking it up in his hand. Before he could turn, he felt the powerful assassin's hands around the back of his neck. Bond swung the gun behind his head and felt the gun strike the man square on the head.
The blow didn't appear to phase him, as his powerful hands reached out to take the gun from Bond. They struggled with each other, rolling in the floor. In their tug of war, one of them squeezed the gun's trigger. It went off straight up in the air, first a three round burst then the rest of the rounds were emptied. Bond kicked away from the killer and yanked the Walther from his grip. Turning, he struck him again with the gun barrel, this time straight across the face. He screamed out as the gun's iron sight scratched across his eye.
There came a loud metallic twang from above, followed by a groan. Both Bond and the assassin looked up. The gunshots had pierced the lift's ceiling, one of them must have damaged the cables that operated the lift. Both Bond and his would-be killer exchanged looks before they tried to strike. While the assassin reared back for another punch, Bond used his left hand to poke him in the scratched eye. He screamed again, falling back to the floor. There was another twang, this one shaking the lift. Bond carefully stood while his killer rolled on the ground. He tried to pry open the lift's doors as gently as he could while the man tried to regain his composure. He was on his hands in knees when Bond kicked him in the face and dropped him to the floor. With a wedge big enough to pass through, Bond stomped down on the lift's floor hard before he slid through the opening. He came through the doors and out on the tenth floor just as the lift's cable gave a loud twang and a snap, the man's scream was loud at first, but got smaller and smaller as the car fell down towards the lobby.
Breathing hard, Bond bent down and rubbed his sore neck with his hands. He heard a crash and a rumble far below him. "Looks like he found his floor," he said softly to himself.
Bond stood and hurried down the hallway towards the stairwell. From there, he hurried down to the eighth floor and caught the second lift down towards the lobby. His tongue touched the back tooth in his mouth in a careful sequence that activated the microphone.
"007 to Black Widow," he wheezed. "Where are you?"
"Lukashenka's office," she replied. "I think I may have a lead."
Natalia sat on the edge of Lukashenka's office and gave the man her best seductive smile. He had invited her up here after personally escorting her to the cashier's cage. Her winnings, which she had thought to be substantial, had only turned out to cover to ten Euros. Lukashenaka had used the excuse of extending her house credit to invite her up here. And now, here she was. The office was mid-sized and sparsely decorated with a sofa and a few landscape paintings of the Belarusian countryside. What caught Natalia's eye was behind Lukashenka. A large back of television monitors, some twenty in all, that displayed the live security camera feeds around the casino. Curiously, there was a row of four televisions that were turned off.
"So, my dear," Lukashenka asked in Russian, pulling a bottle of vodka from his desk. "Would you like a drink?"
"Yes," she said playfully. "You know how we Russians love our vodka."
"I do indeed." He pulled a pair of shot glasses from the same desk drawer and filled them with the clear liquid.
"It is not just you, my dear. Here in Belarus, we can put them back just as good as you Russians can."
They held up the shots and clinked glasses before downing the liquid in one gulp. Natalia made a slight face. Despite her Russian heritage, she had never fully developed a taste for the stuff. When Lukashenka saw her face, he laugh heartily. "I thought you Russians loved your vodka?"
"We do," she said with a slight grin. "But goddamn the taste."
"Anybody who likes vodka for the taste is a damn fool. Tell me, would you be more comfortable if we were to move." He nodded towards the sofa across the room and she nodded.
"May I ask a question?"
"Of course," he said as he stood and grabbed the vodka and glasses.
"Those cameras? Why are they blank?"
"They aren't in use because that part of the building is under construction. Our basement was damaged by a flood last spring."
She flopped down on the couch, kicking her shoes off as Lukashenka sat down beside her. He placed his right hand on her left knee and rubbed softly against the wine-colored fabric. "If this makes you uncomfortable, let me know."
"It doesn't," she said in a husky voice. "In fact, if you would come closer..."
Lukashenka leaned back and towards her as Natalia parted her lips. She inched her face closer to his as she placed her left hand on Lukashenka's cheek. She slid the palm of her hand down and cocked her wrist at the man's neck. There was a soft pop of compressed air as something flew from her bracelet. A tiny dart struck Lukashenka in the neck. He recoiled in pain and began to speak, but his eyes rolled in the back of his head and he slumped against the couch. He was snoring heavily by the time Natalia picked herself up off the couch and slid her shoes back on.
"007 to Black Widow,"came Bond's ragged voice. "Where are you?"
"Lukashenka's office," replied Natalia. "I think I may have a lead."
"I found something out as well."
"Judging from how out of breath you are, I assume it's where your new friend is ticklish."
"I never made it up to her room. On the ride up, a man tried to kill me."
"Are you okay? Where's the assassin?"
"I'm fine, can't say the same for him. I gave him the shaft."
"What do you mean?"
"I gave him the shaft, if you know what I mean."
"No, I don't... Do you mean you cheated him or?"
"I dropped him down a bloody lift shaft," yelled an annoyed Bond.
"Oh. Why not just say that?"
"Because it's not a pun... Never mind. I don't know what's going on, but I assume the woman and her large friend are at the center of it. What's your lead?"
"Meet me outside the casino in ten minutes and I'll show you."
Natalia disconnected and checked Lukashenka one last time. The tranquilizer she had shot him with would keep him unconscious for at least another six hours. She took the vodka bottle from his lap and took a long swig off of it before pocketing the spare shot glass in her purse. Natalia turned to leave, satisfied that it appeared like Lukashenka had passed out while drinking alone. She calmly walked out the office and headed towards the bright lights and loud noises of the casino floor.