Perhaps a third of the seats in the auditorium – which is all the vast room really was, no matter what grandiose designations it was given by its occupants – were occupied as Mr. Weber quietly entered by one of the side doors at the rear. The large, formal, grand podium was in abeyance, as it was only used for high-profile convocations at which a large and maleable newsie presence would be guaranteed; in its place on the dias stood a fairly modest lectern, emblazoned, of course, with a stylized version of the body’s official seal. Absent any such media presence, the pair of enormous holo-vid displays hanging on the wall at the back of the dias were blank.

The man at the lectern was prattling on about some topic or other that was clearly dear to his heart, judging from the overall level of animation he displayed as he spoke. His audience, such as it was and what there was of it, clearly did not share either his passion for or dedication to his subject matter: most of them were shuffling papers, carrying on conversations without so much as the courtesy of lowered voices, or chattering away on their comlinks. A few even appeared to be dozing. Pages, couriers, and low-level functionaries scurried back and forth, doing their best to look diligent. All in all it was a masterful scene of bureaucracy in action – the deliberately unwilling led by the willingly unknowing doing essentially nothing for absolutely no one, all carried out with great purpose and solemnity….

Weber took all of this in, processed it, and discarded it as irrelevant to his reason for being here today. Always the perfectionist, he planned and prepared each of his “projects,” as he called them, with a meticulousness usually reserved for military operations. While this sort of attention to detail had long been ascribed to many people in Weber’s profession, the truth was that all too often their actions were closer to the well-worn and frankly tired tropes of novels, holo-vids, and streamers. The ones where the “deadly assassin,” always a gunman (or gunwoman, as the case may be) with near-superhuman shooting skills, “thoroughly prepared” for their task by spending a few minutes examining the proposed sight of the action through a pair of binoculars – perhaps even some video or even satellite imagery, or an hour’s study of online floorplans and blueprints if the incident were to take place indoors.

If the writer – or director – truly wanted to impress upon the audience that this person was really professional, the assassin then went to a remote, usually “secret,” firing range to confirm that their weapon of choice – invariably an exotic, high-tech, customized or even custom-made rifle – was shooting true. Without further ado they then showed up at the appointed time and place, calmly dispatched their target, and made their getaway.

That so many “contract killers” worked in precisely such an imprecise fashion was a large reason why most “hired guns” were essentially ten a pfennig and would work for as little as five– or even four- figure fees. It was only half in jest that Weber sometimes wondered how long it would be before he would see some shabby individual standing at a busy intersection, holding a sign that read, “Will do Contract Hits for Food.” He, on the other hand, was actually as thorough as those others pretended to be.

Today was a perfect case in point. He had already pored over plans and blueprints of the entire complex, not merely this building, and not just the original builders’ drawings that dated back to the mid-1930s, but those of the subsequent modifications and expansions as well, along with detailed photos of the auditorium taken from every available angle. This was his seventh foray into the building itself, having already been here twice dressed as a janitor, twice pretending to be a tourist, once as a maintenance electrician, and once as a newsie – and each time wearing a different face.

Today he was dressed in a dark blue blazer, black trousers, white shirt, and a necktie of the organizations’ trademarked shade of blue – the standard uniform of the internal security force, right down to the embroidered insignia on the left breast pocket of his jacket and the coded ID card dangling from the lanyard around his neck. His cheeks sagged slightly with the promise of jowls of a sort that would one day do a basset hound proud, his hair was dark and wiry, and he sported three moustaches – one on his upper lip, along with one above each eye; the eyes themselves were a muddy brown. All in all, it was the face of a non-entity in a building full of similar non-entities.

Weber had already memorized every possible route out of the auditorium and out of the building. He’d even found three that officially didn’t exist, but that connected unused airshafts and abandoned passageways which eventually led to the open-air exits outside the perimeter of the building’s grounds. Inside, he’d calculated that it would take one-hundred twenty-seven steps – one-hundred fifty seconds – to go from the auditorium side door he’d chosen as his entry point to a point which he’d determined would be the nearest he could draw to the target without raising undue suspicion. It would be a slow, deliberate approach, as to all appearances he would be scanning the assembled delegates just as any good security guard was expected to do. Just now he was walking down the side aisle, a solid wall at his left side, approaching the main floor at the front of the immense room. Ninety-three steps: so far, so good. Another two dozen paces brought him to a point almost exactly twenty-five feet from where the current speaker continued his sonorous droning and where, four days hence, the grand podium – and the target – would be standing. There, Weber casually looked about the room, just one more insignificant cog in the security machinery of the building, going through the meaningless motions of his job; no one gave him so much as a second glance.

In point of fact, he was carefully confirming one final time the positions of various lights, including those that would be switched on during the target’s special address, the better to light her for the media cameras. He wanted to be absolutely certain that none were pointed directly at this spot, so that when the time came for him to act he wouldn’t dazzled and half-blinded by some unexpected flood- or fill- light. It took a total of seven seconds to complete the scan, and when he was finished Weber was satisfied that all of his preparations and arrangements were complete: no unexpected details had reared their ugly heads, all of his calculations as to time and distance were correct within a second and nearly to the inch. If he got this close – and he would – the target would most assuredly be dead.

Weber casually turned to his left and walked through the exit door by the steps leading up to the dias, careful to make no unnecessary noise, just one more glorified rent-a-cop doing his best to look importantly unimportant. This was his final walk-through for the project, what he thought of as the “dress rehearsal,” and now began the only part of his entire plan in which the element of uncertainty could be minimized no further. He knew he would have surprise on his side – the sheer shock of his action would buy him two, possibly two and one-half seconds before anyone could begin to effectively react, and a man like himself could accomplish a great deal in two seconds. But the route he chose to escape the building and then the entire complex would be determined to some degree by the speed and efficiency with which the security forces – the legitimate security forces – reacted to the incident he would have just created. His “uniform” would provide him with a certain element of camouflage: just as all cats appear gray at night, all security guards tend to look alike to most people. Weber, of course, was the past master of making certain there was no distinctive detail to whatever persona he happened to be wearing at any given moment, so there would be a brief window of opportunity where one would have an immediate reason to suspect that he was anything other than what he appeared to be.

Gradually, however, that advantage would erode as Weber moved further and further away from the actual scene of the assassination and word began to spread that someone in the security force was responsible. The chance that someone who could not be easily dismissed or disposed of might accost Weber and demand he make an accounting for himself at the time of the murder would rise dramatically. That would be disastrous, as his entire methodology was built around evading detection rather than trying to bluff his way through it. Which was why today he was leaving the building and eventually the entire campus through a route that consisted mainly of service hallways, abandoned ventilation shafts, and ultimately drain tunnels, which eventually gave out into the Parc de l’Impératrice – safely out of sight of curious eyes attached to curious minds. Weber devoutly hoped that it wouldn’t be raining when the contract was carried out on Tuesday.  He hated getting wet.

As he walked down the corridors and tunnels, methodically counting hit steps in each segment of the route, the musing about rain brought Weber to another thought. As a man who by temperament disliked loose ends and found them deeply annoying, Weber found one niggling little detail about this project kept haunting him. The target was currently in the United States, and at present wasn’t scheduled to return to Geneva for at least a week, let alone to address the Assembly on Tuesday. Weber’s employer had decreed the day, time, and place were the deed must be done: how could his employer be so certain that the target would be here – and what was it she would be saying when she died?


Preview #2 <<== The Achilles Gambit ==>> (( Preview #4 coming soon ))