The French Connection: Part 1

Steven Hunter stepped out of the dry warmth of Moscow's Sheremetyevo International Airport and into an arctic breeze, freezing mid-step when he saw the slender woman midway down the snow-caked taxi rank.

Even in the dark, there was no mistaking that black hair, so full and rich, cascading down her back; the bronzed glow of her skin; the long dark eyelashes; the sharp line of her nose. Her large chestnut brown eyes met his and then shifted away to the distance. Seductive. Threatening. Impenetrable. Aurelie Gagnon hadn't changed at all.

Steven burrowed his chin into his tartan scarf, scanning the taxis picking up travellers desperate to get out of the cold and into the city center. Of all the agents French intelligence could have sent, they sent her, the most infuriating bitch he'd ever had the pleasure of working with. A part of him wished he could turn around and take the next return flight to London.

A taxi pulled away a meter from him, churning up a sheet of slush that narrowly missed his spotless oxfords.

He checked his watch.

The rookie was late.

He pulled his scarf tighter and lit a cigarette, savoring the feeling of the warm smoke filling his lungs and trying not to think about how this mission was supposed to work with Aurelie.

After a minute of watching the thick mist escape his lips and evaporate into the black sky, he noticed a man standing in the dull yellow light of a lamppost at the far end of the taxi rank. He was scrolling on his phone. Steven felt a thorn of unease. The only people braving this unbearable temperature were those trying to get a ride. No Muscovite or tourist would expose themselves to the elements at this time of year just to read the news or check their Twitter feed.

He considered warning Aurelie. But the man might not know who she was. If he gave her a signal, he could expose her. Still, it was dangerous if he didn't warn her. No one inside Russia should have any idea about what he and Aurelie were doing there. He tapped his feet, a bad habit he'd never been able to rid himself of. He needed to make a decision.

He cursed and walked toward her and ran his finger along the edge of his flat cap as he passed. With his other hand tucked close to his coat, he gestured in the direction of the man. She looked over and then nodded to no one in particular. When he was well past her, Steven threw his cigarette onto the ground and stole a quick glance back down the rank as he stomped it out. There were too many people waiting at the curb blocking his view. But then he saw the man striding through the crowd toward them. Fuck, he thought. Where the hell was Lucy?

As if on cue, a battered taxi pulled up in front of him, and the passenger door swung open. Anyone expecting a sullen taxi driver reeking of vodka would have done a double take. A young woman with a blonde bob and too much mascara, wrapped in a pink tank top, black glossy miniskirt, and wearing knee-length white leather boots smiled at him. "Sorry I'm late Sir."

Steven couldn't suppress a smirk. Lucy was as green as they come, but she always came through. She didn't even look half-bad dressed as a cheap Russian whore. He nodded to Aurelie, who scurried over to the passenger seat and raised an eyebrow at him when she saw what Lucy was wearing.

"I'll explain later."

He looked once more down the rank. The man was gone. He ran his eyes down the crowd back to the revolving doors. Nothing. Only a group of teenagers and an old man struggling to pull his luggage fast enough to avoid stalling the door.

"What's wrong Sir?"

Steven shook his head. "There was a--"

Something hissed by his ear. A split-second later, he heard the blast of the gunshot. Swinging himself into the front passenger seat, he shouted,

"Go! Go! Go!"

Lucy hit the gas, and he slammed the door as they screeched away, soiled snowdrift spraying out from behind the car as they lurched and swerved between the convoy of taxis. Another gunshot cracked behind them as they smashed through a barrier at the end of the taxi tank. Steven braced himself against the door as the car veered onto the entrance ramp to the highway.

"Merde! Who the fuck was that?" Aurelie's accent was always thicker when she was emotional. Lying across the backseat, she pulled out a Beretta handgun with a long silencer from somewhere in her coat and risked a quick look out the back window.

"Anyone following us?" said Steven. He opened the glove compartment and pulled out his cherished Nagant revolver.

"I think we're clear."

He held his breath and counted silently to five. His heartbeat calmed, and he turned to Lucy. Her blue eyes were wide, pupils dilated. She'd never forget the adrenaline surge from being fired at for the first time in her life. He hadn't. But that didn't matter. He needed her to focus on driving them to safety. 

"Are you hurt?"

She didn't respond.

"Lucy."

"No. Sir. Sorry. That was my first..."

"You're doing fine. Just keep your eyes on the road and get us to the apartment."

On the radio, the Russian Newsreader ran through the headlines. "Poland says it will stop at nothing to bring those responsible for the alleged assassination of its president, Czeslaw Nowak..."

He turned down the volume and he looked over his shoulder at Aurelie. Something was bothering her, but he didn't want to ask.

Steven spent the rest of the fifty-minute drive down the main highway looking out for police cars. The airport CCTV had footage of their license plate. It was a stolen car, but if the plate number got to any patrol car between here and the safe-house before they arrived, things could become unpleasant very quickly.

When they exited the highway and began navigating the central avenues toward Ulitsa Yefremova, he told himself to relax. The likelihood of running into a patrol car now was low and falling by the second. In five minutes, they'd be safe.

They halted at a red light. A few cars halted beside and behind them. Two pedestrians shuffled across the street. Nothing unusual.

Then he saw them.

They were in a police car parked in a sidebay along the opposing lane. Steven cursed under his breath. He could just make out two young men staring through the condensation on the windshield.

"What do we do now?" said Lucy, clearly trying her best to remain calm.

"Just drive. For all we know, they might not be looking for us."

The light turned green, and Lucy released the clutch a second early. The car shuddered. Trying to stop the motor from stalling, she pressed hard on the gas, revving the motor as it swept past the patrol car.

Steven kept his eyes on the rear view mirror. The lane behind them was clear. But then, as they neared the traffic lights at the next intersection, the patrol car pulled out of its bay and did a u-turn onto their lane.

"I think we're fucked," Aurelie said, still peering out the back window. "What would Agent Hunter suggest we do now?"

Steven hated it when she mocked him with faux formality. 
His eyes darted from Lucy to the intersection and then back to Lucy. "Take a left here and then turn into the first alleyway you see and stop."

"Stop, Sir?"

"I have an idea. Cut the motor and..." He peered back at Aurelie, who seemed as utterly confused as Lucy. He took a deep breath. "...and then lean over and act as if you're blowing me."

Aurelie burst out laughing. "You are not serious. Why would a girl dressed like me be sitting in the back of a taxi while a whore like her sucks your cock?"

True. They wouldn't buy it. An image of Aurelie joining in by leaning over the gearstick popped into his head. No way would they buy that either. "You get out and hide in the alleyway."

A minute later, they were surrounded by a narrow darkness. The faint light of the adjacent street they had exited barely illuminated a line of trash containers along the wall to their right.

Aurelie opened the door, but before she could get out, two  headlights swerved into the alleyway. She shut the door and gave Steven a wry smile. "No good. Looks like I get to watch."

Steven's foot tapped against the floor. Improvisation. He didn't like it. It was messy. But he'd done it before, and he needed to do it again. He put the revolver in the glove compartment box and flipped the lid shut. He nodded to Lucy, and she lowered her face into his lap and began to bob her head up and down. His cock hardened despite the absurdity of the situation.

"You're my wife," he blurted out to Aurelie. The thought hadn't even crystallized in his mind before he had said it.

She scoffed. "What?"

"My wife. You're a voyer. You like to watch me with prostitutes. Just run with it."

She narrowed her eyes and shook her head. The edges of her mouth were curled ever so slightly upwards. "Really Steven. I never knew you had such a dirty--"

"Shut the fuck up. They're approaching."

Steven shielded his eyes from the beams of the two flashlights reflecting in the rear view mirror. He placed his fingers around the window crank, bracing himself for the exchange, when he realized his stupidity: The officer would see Lucy was just acting this out.

The two men were now only a meter from the rear. Fuck it, thought Steven. It's not like she hasn't done this before. He yanked his zip down and in one swift movement pulled his cock out and stuffed it into her small mouth, jerking when he felt the wet rim of her lips descend over the taut skin of his shaft.

Lucy's head remained motionless for a second, no doubt due to shock, and then started rising and lowering to the sound of her wet lips running up and down his meat. Steven groaned.

Thick knuckles rapped the passenger window. Steven feigned surprise and then cranked it down. The flashlight was pointed directly at his eyes. He couldn't see the officer's face. In flawless Russian, Steven said,

"I'm sorry, is there something wrong?"

The policeman lowered the beam slightly, allowing Steven to see who he was dealing with. The officer's mouth fell open when he saw what was happening. He waved to his partner.

"Sergei, check this out."

Steven gasped. Lucy was working her lips lower and lower with each slide down his cock. He was starting to feel his tip brushing past her tonsils.

Sergei came around to the window and peered in. A smile spread on his face and he gave a full throated laugh. "We thought you looked suspicious. But we never imaged it was because you were looking for a place to be blown!"

Steven grinned and nodded. He needed to keep the banter going. What would a lowlife in this town say in a situation like this?

"She's the best cocksucker in Moscow." He grabbed a tuft of hair and yanked her head off his cock and pressed her face up to the officers. The flashlights lit up the globs of drool collecting on her chin. "Aren't you, whore?"

She nodded and gave a devious smile. In perfect Muscovite dialect, she cried out, "He loves to fuck my face in front of his wife."

The younger officer stiffened. Then he shone the flashlight into the back of the car at Aurelie. He couldn't believe what was happening.

Sergei burst out laughing again. "Your wife encourages this?"

Aurelie leaned over suggestively as she opened the window. Fluttering her eyelashes, she said, "Oh, he's quite right. There's nothing I enjoy more than watching him shoot his hot load into a dirty slut's mouth."

Aurelie's intervention was more than Steven could take. He slammed Lucy's head down and felt his cock hit the back of her throat. She gagged and coughed as her back jerked up and down. A second later, she sprayed the base of his cock with bubble-specked strings of spit.

"Especially when they don't enjoy it," said Aurelie, winking at the policemen.

She was playing this role too well, thought Steven. If she didn't hold back, he'd blow his load into Lucy in the next thirty seconds. He held Lucy's hair with both hands and got a rhythm going with quick thrusts into her convulsing throat. "Will that be all, officers?"

Both men grinned.

"Yes," said Sergei. "You enjoy yourself. That's one hell of a wife you got."

Steven suddenly tensed in anticipation. He grabbed the door handle and told himself not to scream.

The policemen started walking back to the patrol car.

Steven clenched his toes. He was so close.

At the patrol car, the younger officer pulled out a walkie talkie.

Steven arched his back.

The policeman looked back to the taxi. 

Really close.

The policeman nodded at his partner. 

Steven jerked his knee up and to the side.

Both men were treading back to the taxi.

Steven's fingers trembled.

The younger officer stopped by the front passenger window. His entire body was still and tense.

Steven saw the open glove compartment a second before every muscle, tendon, and ligament in his body violently contracted. The revolver was lying on the downturned lid. Then the lightening struck down the length of his cock.

The younger officer reached for his pistol, but two high-pitched hisses stopped him before his fingers could reach the grip. Sergei, frozen with shock, watched the punctured body crumple to the ground. Then there was another hiss, and his head snapped to one side. He swayed for a few seconds, blood trickling from a small rupture in his temple, then fell to the floor.

Aurelie peered over the smoking barrel in her outstretched arm. Whether to make sure they were dead or admire her aim, Steven couldn't tell. He looked down at Lucy. Her head was still bobbing up and down his now rapidly shrinking cock, lapping up the last driblets of cum. He pulled her mouth off. She gulped down the blubber loud enough for him to hear and then fell back in her seat.

Aurelie placed the gun in her coat and leaned back. "I thought you said it would be an act. Did this girl get a bit too greedy for you, Agent Hunter?"

The sarcasm seemed to contain a hint of anger. Or was it frustration? Whatever. The situation was awkward enough. They needed to get out of here. "We're five minutes out," said Steven. "Let's go."

When they parked in Ulitsa Yefremova, Steven checked the coast was clear, then ushered the women into the building and up to the third floor. The safehouse was a barebones Soviet-era apartment, grey and devoid of any character. Steven slumped onto the fraying brown fabric of the stained sofa and lit a cigarette.

Aurelie hung her coat on the cheap rack by the front door and walked over to the dining table. Her black jeans were so tight around her hips and legs that they seemed to be a thin layer of skin. Her white blouse was plain and loose, but combined with her  jeans, hair, and face, she looked typically chic. Only a woman like Aurelie Gagnon could manage to look like that ten minutes after killing two policemen in a Moscow back alley.

"Who fucked up?" she said, glaring at Lucy while twirling strands of hair with her finger.

Steven scowled. Like all agents of France's DGSE, Aurelie believed foreign intelligence agencies were incompetent. The British most of all.

"No one fucked up. It wasn't anyone from the Russian government; It was single shooter. The professor can't have hired him. He doesn't even know we're here."

"Then who did?"

Steven shrugged. "Whoever the professor is working with."

Lucy turned to Steven. "Excuse me Sir, but I haven't been briefed yet. London only told me to get dressed and pick you up at the airport. I presume this concerns the assassination in Paris two days ago?"

Steven wasn't sure how to engage her after what had happened in the car. Without making eye contact, he nodded and regurgitated the briefing he'd received at MI6 headquarters.

The assassin who killed the Polish president in his hotel suite had used Novichok to do it. The nerve agent had come from a laboratory on the outskirts of Moscow, according to MI6 agents. That and Russia's proclivity for using Novichok to kill dissidents on foreign soil raised suspicions that Russian military intelligence were behind the assassination.

But trusted British sources in the Kremlin were adamant it hadn't been a sanctioned kill. They believe someone within the Russian military had gone rogue and given the Novichok to the assassin, who had then escaped. The assassin's identity was still unknown.

Britain and France have unofficially accepted this "rogue" theory. They think the assassin got the Novichok from Professor Mikhail Kuznetsov, a chemical weapons expert who had recently been fired from the Moscow laboratory after he'd exposed himself to two female colleagues at an office party. Kuznetsov had also voiced criticism of the Polish president in the weeks leading up to his termination.

Based on this information, Steven was told to take the next flight to Moscow and aid the French agent tasked with finding and interrogating Kuznetsov.

Lucy raised her eyebrows and looked at Aurelie. "Did they tell you it would be her?"

Steven sighed. "Unfortunately not. I was only told our French friends would be sending an experienced agent to lead the mission."

"I don't even know why you're involved," said Aurelie. "It happened on French soil and the trail leads to Russia, not Britain."

"You needed our help in identifying the origin of the Novichok. You also relied on our sources to zero in on Kuznetsov. Besides, we have as much interest in discovering who was behind this as you. The British Prime Minister could be the next target for all we know."

Aurelie made a dismissive gesture. "I don't need your help or her help. I can deal with  Kuznetsov alone. You two can stay here. I'm sure you'd like to  continue the fun you started in the car."

Steven could feel his pulse throbbing in his temples. She was just as he remembered: an insolent, infuriating bitch. As he opened his mouth to reply, Lucy said,

"What exactly was Kuznetsov saying about the Polish president before he was fired?"

"He complained about a new law in Poland outlawing pornography, prostitution, and sex education," said Aurelie. "Kuznetsov didn't like it. He told colleagues it was part of an 'anti-sex' conspiracy taking over Europe and North America."

"But why would he care about Poland? He was Russian."

Steven spoke before Aurelie could reply. "Because he also told his colleagues that the best whores were in Warsaw."

Lucy nodded and stared at her feet. Steven felt pity for her. There was very little dignity in a young MI6 agent sitting in this apartment, dressed like the cheapest whore this side of Berlin, listening to a briefing about a perverted Russian scientist who had a taste for Polish flesh.

"Despite what happened at the airport, nothing changes," he said. "We find Kuznetsov, drug him, and then bring him back here for interrogation."

Aurelie stretched herself over the table, groaning. The muscles in her upper back protruded through the blouse like two rounded peaks separated by a shallow valley.

"Do we know where Kuznetsov is?" said Lucy.

"Yes. It's a Saturday night. He'll be at his usual joint: Sinful Pleasures."

"Oh. So that's why I'm dressed like this."

***

Steven was relieved to lose sight of Aurelie in the strobelighted mass of sweating flesh bouncing and gyrating on the dance floor around him. He couldn't stand to look a second longer at her in that fishnet top, transparent enough to reveal the black lace bra beneath, and the leather skirt that barely had enough length to qualify as a belt.

Lucy tapped him on the shoulder. As he turned, she stepped up to him and looked deep into his eyes. He was unsure about how to react. The bass thumping through his body was far too loud to crack a self-deprecating joke.  He smirked and looked at her quivering lips. She'd already had a few shots. They all had.

She took his hand and leaned up to his ear. "Let's get another drink," she said, almost shouting. He remained still. He couldn't let this -- whatever it was -- complicate the mission. Personal entanglements, romantic ones above all, nearly always went awry in the lonely world of international espionage. Besides, they couldn't get too intoxicated. They were here to apprehend Kuznetsov.

But he let her take him to the bar anyway. In the lurid glow of the indigo lighting behind the wall of liquor, they clinked their vodka shots. She knocked hers down in one go. He sipped his and placed it back down on the bar. Again, she stared at him, her eyes brimming with latent recklessness.

"Is this just a cover or are you trying to seduce me now that our French friend is gone?" Steven said, hoping she understood it as a joke.

She didn't laugh. She bit her bottom lip and said, "Sir, I wanted to thank you."

Steven raised both eyebrows. "What on Earth for?"

"I was so intimidated by you when I started. I mean, you're Steven Hunter. You're one of the most decorated agents MI6 has ever had. I couldn't believe my luck when I was told my first posting was under your wing in Moscow."

Steven half-smirked and took another sip of the vodka. He never knew how to take compliments without acting awkwardly. "You're too kind."

"No, Sir. I'm not. I admire you." She edged closer to him, running her fingers over his wrist. "And I have something to confess."

Steven held his breath. Don't do it, Lucy. Leave it.

She leaned to his ear and whispered, "I've never tasted anyone like you before."

The comment hung in the air for a few seconds as Steven sipped the rest of his shot.

"Lucy, listen to me. Whatever you're trying to tell me, please stop. I... I'd be lying if I said I didn't enjoy it. I did. But it was a necessary action given the circumstances. We can't endanger the mission. We need to stay focused."

He thought she'd withdraw, hurt by his semi-rebuff. But she didn't. She leaned in closer and ran her tongue across her upper lip.

"But I want to suck your dick again Sir."

His cock swelled. He had to fight the vodka-and-lust-induced haze concentrating in his mind.

"Lucy. Please."

"Order me to suck your cock Sir. Right here. Right now."

Steven pulled back when he saw Aurelie emerge from the dance floor, her hips swaying to the prying eyes of the men and quite a few of the women she passed. When she got to Steven and Lucy, she eyed them suspiciously. "I'm surprised she hasn't tried to start blowing you again."

"And?" said Steven. He could feel the gravitational pull of her breasts on his gaze. "Have you found him?"

She nodded.

Kuznetsov, naked save for a black collar around his chubby neck, was sprawled on a sofa on the club's upper level, a barely lit space filled with shadows thrusting to a chorus of growls and high-pitched moans. A girl was impaling herself on Kuznetsov's cock, shrieking every time he spanked her jiggling asscheeks.

As the three spies approached, Steven fingered the small vial in his pocket. Aurelie and Lucy each had their own vial hidden within their hair. Two drops. That was all that was needed.

Kuznetsov's eyes rolled back and he cried out at the ceiling, his thick fingers pressing deep into the girl's pale ass flesh. When he was done, he wiped heavy beads of sweat from his wrinkled brow and threw the girl from his lap. He tossed several ruble notes at her legs, which she collected like a paranoid beggar.

"Not bad," said Steven, raising his eyebrows at the girl as she left. "But I think I have something you might enjoy even more."

Kuznetsov eyed him skeptically, but then realized Steven was referring to the two women standing beside him. He smacked his fat lips as his gaze drifted down the length of Aurelie's body.

"How much for her?" he said.

Of course the bastard would pick Aurelie. Steven wished he hadn't, but ignored this and chuckled. "This one's fresh from France."

Kuznetsov smirked. There was a hint of uncertainty in his expression. "A French girl? She must be... expensive."

"Oh, she will be. Just look at that ass."

Aurelie threw him an icy glance. He couldn't read it. Was she offended at being objectified? Or was she pissed off that his compliment was part of a pitch to whore her out to this fat bastard? Either way, she shouldn't be breaking by glaring at him like that.

"This mademoiselle is new to this game. She needs... experience. And I need to get some... how should I put it? Customer feedback."

Kuznetsov nodded. The hesitancy in his eyes had disappeared. "Then come here, Mademoiselle. I can be very constructive in my criticism." He pointed to the floor by his feet.

Aurelie smiled like a waitress to a customer, presented herself, and then knelt between Kuznetsov's hairy thighs. "What will it be Sir?"

"Take that top off."

She pulled the fishnet over her head, her shoulder muscles tensing and relaxing beneath the flawless plain of her skin.

"Now the bra."

Her long fingers reached for the clasp and, in one subtle flick of her thumbs, the straps slid away. From where he was standing, Steven could just see the shadowed mound of her breast behind her upper arm.

Kuznetsov grabbed his flaccid cock and began beating himself off. It quickly became obvious that he wasn't going to get hard again. He gave up and yelled, "Fuck!"

Steven exchanged a glance with Lucy. They hadn't planned for this. How were they going to spike his drink if he wasn't losing himself inside Aurelie?

"Suck his dick," growled Kuznetsov. He was pointing at Steven.

Aurelie shot Steven a look. For the first time since they had met all those years ago, he saw fear in those brown eyes. He felt it too. It was mixed with an unhinged desire to punish her body. 

Kuznetsov snarled, "If I'm not going to enjoy her directly, I'll least get to see her in action with someone else."

"But wait," said Lucy. "Wouldn't you like to see her with me? Two girls are--"

"No." Kuznetsov held up his hand. "This slut needs cock, not pussy."

Steven's meat was so swollen that it was beginning to hurt. Aurelie's tongue. Her lips. Her breasts. Her stomach. Her ass. Her cunt. Her wet, tight cunt. All of it mixed with his exasperation for who she had been. Who she was. Who she still would be. It was surreal. Obscenely surreal.

"Well," said Kuznetsov. "Get on with it!"

Aurelie stood up, eyes downcast, and stepped up to Steven. She was almost level with him. He stared at her lips, which were slightly parted, and lifted his thumb to them. Aurelie caught his wrist before he could touch her, meeting his gaze with a look of reproach.

"Oh fucking get on with it," said Kuznetsov.

They stood there frozen in each other's eyes for a few more seconds before Aurelie lowered herself to her knees. Steven turned his head slightly to Lucy, but she refused to acknowledge him, instead staring into the distance. He needed her to move in on Kuznetsov.

"Be polite to our friend, Lucy."

She hesitated, then seemed to snap herself out of her brooding. She sat next to Kuznetsov while Aurelie reached into Steven's pants. He jolted when he felt the fingers, long and hot and soft and delicate, wrap around his pulsating shaft.

He couldn't look down. He couldn't look into her eyes while his cock slid back and forth between her lips. He braced himself for the warm moisture to surround him.

"What the fuck do you think you're doing, you cunt!"

Lucy was sprawled on the floor holding her cheek, the vial by her feet. Kuznetsov was standing over her. His body was trembling with latent violence.

"Are you trying to poison me? Who the fuck are you?"

Kuznetsov frowned. He glanced at Steven and then down at Aurelie. "Wait. You're in on this. You all are. Who the fuck are you? What--"

He peered over his shoulder to the staircase and then to the coat hanging over the back of the sofa. No one moved. Then he grabbed the coat and bolted, moving remarkably fast for a man his size.

Steven rushed after him and tried to tuck his cock away as he dodged the crowds of vertical shadows watching the horizontal shadows fucking on the floor.

At the bottom of the stairs, Kuznetsov passed a bouncer and pointed at Steven coming down. The bouncer spoke into his earpiece and lifted his fists. Steven, seeing a railing to his right, grabbed it with both hands and launched his feet into the air and slammed them into the man's chest. When he landed, he saw Kuznetsov barreling through a throng of skimpily dressed girls near the entrance. Several bouncers were storming toward Steven from the bar. Aurelie and Lucy appeared beside him.

"We'll hold them down," said Aurelie. "Get Kuznetsov."

Steven darted for the door. Outside, Steven saw Kuznetsov sprinting around the corner at the intersection some twenty meters down the street. Steven gave chase, and within a minute, he'd caught up and tackled the panting Russian to the icy asphalt. Steven held Kuznetsov's arms behind his back and leaned his body weight into the knee on Kuznetsov's back.

"Who the fuck are you? I have powerful friends! You'll regret this, you fucking son of a whore!"

A few cars slowed as they passed the two men. But this being Moscow, the drivers knew better than to stop and ask what was going on.

The cold air burned Steven's sweating forehead. Still, he was glad the run had warmed him up. The chill would have otherwise spread into every crevice of his body by now.

A car screeched somewhere in the distance. Please let that be Aurelie and Lucy, he thought. He looked back at the way he came. Faint rays of light lit the light snowfall by the traffic lights at the intersection. The unseen motor whirred louder and louder as it approached the junction. Then, just as the pitch of the motor sounded as if it couldn't rev any higher, the taxi burst past the traffic lights, skidding as it swerved into his street. A few seconds later, it was by him.

"Quick, get him in!" Steven said.

Aurelie helped heave the naked mass into the back seat. Lucy, sitting in the driver's seat, held a pistol aimed at Kuznetsov's heart. He spat at her.

"Don't do anything stupid," said Steven, shutting the front passenger door. He picked up his Nagant from the glove compartment and trained it on Kuznetsov. Lucy put her gun away and hit the gas.

"I won't tell you anything."

"We have ways of making you talk," said Aurelie, who was sitting next to him.

"Fuck you, whore."

She grabbed his throat and dug her nails into the blobby flesh. He squealed.

"I don't like being called that." Her eyes darted momentarily at Steven, then refocused on Kuznetsov. "Definitely not by a man like you." She let him go and he gasped for air like a man who'd just been saved from drowning.

"Novichok. Paris. Polish president," said Steven. "We know you handed it to the assassin."

Kuznetsov spat at his feet. "And I'm fucking glad I did. That reactionary bastard deserved to die."

"Who did you give it to?"

"I'm a dead man if I tell you that."

"You're a dead man if we hand you over to the Polish government as well."

Kuznetsov scowled and stared out of the window at the Moscow nightscape passing them by.

"You don't understand. These people. They... They won't just kill me. I have a mother. She's old. She's--"

Years later, Steven would only remember the sudden feeling of weightlessness as the car lost all traction to the road. In the moment, his peripheral vision picked up that the they were moving forward. But it also seemed that the street was revolving around them rather than passing by.

The impression didn't last long. Seemingly all at once, he heard a loud crunch of metal against metal, the crackling of the windows shattering into thousands of pieces, and the sound of the broken hulk of metal screeching as it slid and sparked against the asphalt before coming to a stop.

Steven was sprawled against the roof. It took him a few seconds to realize the car had completely overturned. His first instinct was to check the back seat. Aurelie was against the roof like him. Cuts, some small and shallow, some large and deep, covered her legs and arms. She winced as she shifted.

"Are you okay?"

"I'm fine."

Kuznetsov's upper body was half way out the broken rear window. Steven reached back and pulled on the Russian's feet. The legs didn't budge. "Check his pulse."

Aurelie strained to see the upper half of Kuznetsov's body. "Fuck. He's dead."

"How do you know?"

"There's a huge piece of glass deep in his neck and lots of blood on the street."

Shit. What the hell had happened? Steven couldn't recall Lucy breaking suddenly or the car hitting...

Lucy.

She was suspended  in her seat belt beside him, not moving. Steven's heart lurched. He reached out and felt her wrist for a pulse. It was weak. He kicked what remained of the windshield onto the street and crawled out, dragging Lucy behind him with as much care as he could muster.

Aurelie pushed herself out of the side and then helped him up. They slung Lucy's arms around their necks and staggered to the side of the street.

"What are we going to do now?" said Aurelie as they lowered Lucy beneath a nearby bus stop overhang. "We're fucked without Kuznetsov, and she needs a doctor."

Half of Lucy's pink tank top was stained a reddish brown. Steven lifted the fabric and saw dark blood oozing out from an inch-diameter metal bolt lodged deep below the skin of her armpit. He pulled out his phone, groaning at the pain he suddenly felt in his back and elbows. As he scrolled through his contacts, he said,  "I know a nurse who can help us."

The image of Kuznetsov grabbing the coat in the club popped into his mind as he listened to the ringtone. He told Aurelie to check the coat's pockets.

There was click on the other end. "Hello?" Natasha's voice was like a warm blanket to his ear.

"It's Steven. I need a favor. A friend is badly hurt. I can't tell you any more on the phone."

Aurelie waved at him and gestured to a phone in her hand. He did a thumbs up to her.

"Natasha, pick us up outside Serpukhovskaya metro station. I'll explain everything later."

"Of course, Steven. See you there in thirty minutes."

He hung up and went to Aurelie. She was leaning over Kuznetsov's arm and holding the chubby thumb against the phone.

"Check the messages. Recent phone calls."

Her thumb flicked up and down the white rectangular glare.

"Not much. Only Moscow numbers. Calls from his mother, some whores, and... Wait. There's a call from a week ago from an unknown Belgian number. It lasted two minutes. There's also a message sent six hours after the phone call. It says 'Ignore prior message. Drop off now at 5 p.m. Don't reply.'"

Sirens whined somewhere in the distance. They were getting louder.

"We need to get to Serpukhovskaya metro station," said Steven. "My friend can help Lucy. Let's hope we can trace that number once we're back at the safe-house."

To be continued...

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