“Justine, what’s your business here?’

“What do you mean? I already told you.”

“Wrong answer.” He administers another cut, a few millimetres apart from the previous ones, and pulls away the skin with the knife, like a peel from an apple. Once more she cries out in pain.

“I met someone…a man, who was involved.”

“Who, I want names.”

“He’s a writer.”

“Wrong answer.” He makes a third incision on her calf. The woman howls before the knife touches the skin. Anticipation can often be more painful, he thinks.

“Cyril, Cyril Monfort.”

“Cyril…yes Cyril. Why did he involve you?”

“He invited me to an apartment. 160 Rue de l’Université.” She sobs at her admission. “Then he took me to an underground crypt. The catacombs. He had found something there. Jewellery. He asked me to find out who it belonged to.”

“Go on, I’m listening.” He lights a cigar and puffs on it to fuel the burning.

“I did some research and reported it back. In return Cyril provided me with further information. He got me the members list and a letter written by a former member.”

“Why did he contact you Justine?”

“Because I am a historical investigator. I met him at a party and we started to talk. It was all professional.”

“And that’s it? Because Cyril told quite a different story, one of course you are not aware of.” He watches the reaction of Justine, yet casually squashes a bug with one of his hands as it flies by only centimetres away from his face.

“What have you done to Cyril?”

“I don’t think you are in a position to barter intel with me. Let’s just get this straight here, shall we? I’m the one with the questions, you stick to the truth.”

“No wait, wait. Sorry, I’ll tell you everything. I swear, I swear. Just please don’t hurt me.” She catches her breath before she continues. “I talked to a woman. A BDSM mistress. She is a member I believe. The letter was sent to her.”

“What’s her name?”

“Madame Douleur.”

“How did you get to her?”

Silence.

“I want names Justine. Names.”

“A prostitute name Blue.” He takes out his knife and begins to carve a fourth incision, next to the third. She wrenches, twisting her body so that the cut takes a slightly crooked shape.

“No!” she cries. “I promise, I met her at a brothel downtown. Sin City. She never told me her name. I swear.” She sobs so much her voice is becoming raw. Mr. Nemo never feels pity for his victims, but he knows when they tell the truth. He decides that she is.

In the moment he contemplates his next question his phone goes off. He can hear it buzzing on the desk in the adjoining room. Fuck, he has to take it. His work is coming to an end, and that means all loose ends need to be wrapped up.

“Excuse me,” he apologizes to the woman, as if she is a business acquaintance he has to leave in a meeting.

The phone is one ring away from going to a voicemail, which is no voicemail at all but just the end to a potential conversation that never would take place.

“Yes.”

“What is the status?”

“Douleur has been taken care.” He decided against telling about Justine just yet.

“Very well. However we have an issue you need to take into account. The Police are already at the scene. Check the news.”

The phone goes silent.

Mr. Nemo turns on France2 for the latest news. It is already three in the morning, but due to the interest in the case the broadcasters are using their midnight slots to air the latest developments. Mr. Nemo looks on as boxes are being carried out from the address of 160 Rue de l’Université. He tries to think of anything that could lead the discovery to him or the Organisation. It was more than twelve years ago. He had been meticulous in wearing gloves and a mask that not only concealed his face but also his hair. He is in no database registry, and if, against all odds, he somehow were, it would be linked to one of the many identities he has used – all of which are now inactive.

The apartment of Cyril had been cleared. The computer was gone along with the jewellery box, the letter and his body. It would never be found again as it was already residing in a deep cesspit of acid and mercury that sat on the terrain. He admits there had been no time for a more meticulous disposal. It has, after all, been one of his most intense days since a Bosnian operation fifteen years ago. His body is perhaps not what it used to be either. Signs of aging are slowly starting to appear. He can still do his twenty chin-ups, but his twenty-kilometre runs are now accompanied by pain in the knees, and his eyesight is beginning to falter. Two years ago he took up the habit of wearing glasses, but only when needed.

He runs through the events in his head. There are no open leads. He has taken care of everything with the exception of the safety deposit box of Madame Douleur. The security tapes have been erased, and the intel of the Hedge-Fund Man had all been followed up on and destroyed. The last piece of the puzzle was Justine who, despite her physical value, would have to go too. He is tired, so her end will have to come swiftly and without mercy.

 

 

“Draw them in by the prospect of gain, take them by confusion” ~Sun Tzu, The Art of War

 

The Supreme Master is in his villa on the Côte d’Azur. It is dark and windy, the first signs of spring still a few weeks away. He stands in his conservatory, looking out over the sea. The sea has a calming effect on him. As the waves beat the coastline, they not only chip away years of built-up sediment, but also the obstacles and problems that pose a threat to his carefully constructed world. What remains is the core of the problem, and to that the solution comes as swiftly as it does expediently, in a stroke of genius. He feels content.

His business has done him well. He owns villas, castles and city mansions around the world. He is respectable. He comes from a family of Swiss civil servants and has worked himself up through the chain of command in the world of private banking. He has served men well, invested their money, and come up with stratagems that would safeguard their interests without the prying eyes of the authorities. He has a good reputation and people trust him.

But he was once young and adventurous too. He saw his clients getting richer than he could ever expect to become. So he decided to cut a deal with the devil. When his clients were over, he dined and wooed them, serving them the best French and Swiss wines that would turn even the most sober into raving drunks. And rave they did. In their need to ease their hearts, they were more than happy to tell of their feats. After all, the man who sat opposite them was intelligent, accomplished and knew their financial secrets anyways. He was considered a friend. The Master — no master yet but a mere apprentice — took notes, memorized the people that were name-dropped and formed his own understanding of the underworld.

It took him five years before he summoned up the courage to venture into the world he had up until now only served as an adviser to. He started with a low-risk business, where only small investments needed to be made, and if something went wrong, he wouldn’t be looking at a hefty jail sentence or, worse, a bullet in his head. It was the time of the Balkan wars, and women and children from Bosnia were queuing to get out of the war-torn country. At first it was a simple operation of people smuggling. Those with money were handed fake passports and a new life in a country such as Italy, Germany or Sweden. But he soon noticed there were more lucrative ways of doing business.

His agents would scout for poor but beautiful girls, often already ravaged by the nature of war, they clung onto the only thing they had left: hope. Hope was something the Master could provide in abundance, and in many ways the life he offered was vastly better than any prospects their precarious situations offered. He bought properties in Geneva, Bern and Zurich where girls were installed to serve clients, sometimes as many as twenty a day. It was a profitable business, and many of his customers were high-ranking officers in the international arena. They brought him protection. And so he learned perhaps the most valuable lesson of all: we all are in debt to one another, and as long as someone’s indiscretion is recorded, it provides the perfect insurance. It made him untouchable, for his discretion only went so far.

The Master now had the answer to his problem. So he went back to bed and to his young wife, who was sleeping soundly in the light of the moon.