Chapter One: On the Job
Zhang Hong looked up at the Eiffel Tower and sighed. The pride of France peered over the rooftops and the trees of a park, beckoning to him. This was his fourth time in Paris. And like all the times before, he was working. No time for the most visited landmark in France. He set his cup of coffee on the table just outside the little bistro. It was charming, but he chose it because its location. It was directly across rue the Léo Delibes Street from the unassuming Cheuvreux office building.
He checked his watch, a real Rolex and not a cheap knockoff so many of his comrades wore. It read 5:36. Time to go to work. He straightened his dark gray suit’s coat and after allowing a late model Peugeot to go by, walked across the street. His dark eyes narrowed as he checked the foot traffic. No one seemed to be paying any undue attention to the lean, well-dressed Asian man entering an office building. He drew out the cloned ID card needed for entry. Confidently, he swiped the card through a reader beside the glass doors. A satisfying buzz sounded and he was in. The building was an eight story brick front, just another office building in the business district of Paris. Of course, he knew everything about this building. For example, currently only three people were inside: A Nigerian immigrant serving as a custodian, a retired cop – now the building night shift security, and of course, the target. If everything went to plan, Zhang would not encounter the janitor or guard. Which suited him just fine – he didn’t get paid for collateral damage.
Once in the lobby, he turned to the stairwell just to his right. He took the steps two at a time. As he passed the fifth floor, he heard the muffled sounds of American hip-hop. That would be the janitor. So far, so good. If his observations of the building were solid, the security guard was on his first break in the basement.
Zhang got to the eighth floor, only a little winded. He entered a hallway of five closed doors, two on either side and a double glass door at the end of the hall. He pushed through the glass doors and entered a reception area. To the right, an oak door barred his way to the target. He pulled a suppressed Makarov pistol from his suit’s coat pocket and paused at the door for a moment, listening. From within, a man’s voice spoke rapidly in French. The target.
Zhang opened the door. On the far side of a ridiculously huge office, a fat man sat behind an equally huge desk. At the sight of Zhang, he dropped his cell phone and extended his arms, palms out.
“Wait! Wait,” the fat man said in English, “No shoot. We can-”
Zhang squeezed the trigger creating a sound like a heavy book striking the floor. The bullet impacted the fat man, snapping his neck back. He was probably dead, but Zhang still adjusted his aim and fired twice into the man’s chest. The man tumbled to the floor, vanishing behind the desk. Zhang walked around the desk and stood over the corpse. Two more shots to the back of the head.
Send a message, the instructions read.
He looked out of the broad window behind the desk. Twilight loomed. Despite the gore and blood trailing down, no one outside would have seen anything. The office building had security windows, so no one could see in. How thoughtful.
He left the building the same way he came. On five, he heard hip-hop again, this time further down the hall. Still no sign of the cop turned security guard. Thirteen minutes after entering, he was back on the street. He passed a garbage can and threw away his pass card. He drew out a cheap burner phone bought earlier that day from a street vendor and dialed its only programed number. After two rings, a familiar male voice picked up.
“It’s done,” Zhang said in the same language.
“And the message?”
The line went dead. Zhang continued down the street, mentally running down the list of things to do before he left the country. The lights surrounding the Eiffel Tower winked on ahead of him. He sighed as the structure glowed invitingly.
“Ah, well. Perhaps next time.”
She was weightless in his arms. Beneath the tender surface, he could feel her muscles tightened. Not just with the effort they exerted, but with anticipation.
“Ready?” he asked.
“Only if you are.”
The grip of his right hand tensed. His other hand squeezed gently on hers. He felt her hold grow stronger as well. He looked into her eyes and at the exact moment, she fixed her gaze on his. There was no going back now and somehow, they both knew it. Her next breath was a gasp, silent but still he managed to hear it. She had to be afraid and yet at the same time excited.
“Here we go.” He leaned forward and all of her weight was held by his right arm. Down she went in a smooth yet rapid plunge. She stopped suddenly and her eyes widened. Her hair, just barely touched the ground below her. She had only a moment to appreciate the buoyancy she felt, when he pulled her back just as swiftly. She was drawn to his embrace again and the air left her lungs. They were nose to nose. He smiled knowing full well the trip he had taken her on had the desired effects: thrilling, shocking, arousing. Her red lips split into a full smile.
And everyone applauded.
Jordan T. Noble III didn’t intend to become the center of attention at someone else’s event, he just wanted to dip Samantha Wu. Eagerly anticipated, the soft opening of the fourth casino in Detroit, Motown Magic Casino and Hotel, was finally here. The tower of glass and steel was once the home of a tire factory. Decades ago, the factory closed and the lot had been empty, despite its prized riverfront location. One of the major problems was the cost of cleanup. The factory had been a site of industry waste and no one wanted to pick up the tab. It eventually transformed into a jungle of weeds the size of trees. For years, the city and local business promised to do something with the lot – hotel, condos, apartments…something. It wasn’t until the White Knight in the person of former professional football star, Duane ‘D’ Porter came forward.
“Come on,” Jordan whispered to Wu, “let’s sit down.”
They walked across the hotel’s ballroom to the ovations of their admirers. The praise continued until they returned to their table. Jordan pulled out Wu’s chair. She sat, twisting to see him.
“I should have believed you,” she said, “I guess you really can dance.”
“I can’t believe you doubted me,” he said taking his place next to her. The table had all the adornments expected of a big ticket event like this one. The table cloth was, of course, white and the six place settings all had the appropriate number of highly polished silverware and bone white plates, bowls and chargers. The occupants were two other couples. The men were Jordan’s friends and partners, Don Ross and Malcolm Ewing. They represented the leadership of the UrbanKnights Investigation and Security Services, and went back years with Jordan. Don was accompanied by the woman he had been dating for the past few months, Cecelia, a member of his church. While Cecelia was attractive, she was hard pressed against Malcolm’s companion. The tall dark bald woman was introduced only as ‘Z’.
“Jordan Noble steals the show,” Malcolm said. He leaned across the table, hand raised for a high five. The shortest at the table, male or female, wore a brown tuxedo straight out of the latest urban contemporary magazine. Jordan made a face and refused the hand clasp.
“Come on, man,” Don said, “You threw down.” Jordan’s larger partner was equally suited but in a dark gray striped number.
Jordan felt a bit of embarrassment crept across his face. He was trying to show off a bit for Wu. He didn’t, however, want to steal the show. He chastised himself for failing to be aware of his surroundings. They were surrounded by an older, mostly white crowd. His brows knitted as he thought he shouldn’t have drawn so much attention to his African-American (except for Wu) group. Fancy party or no, he had no interest in playing to the stereotype of a black man vying for attention.
“Oh, don’t beat up on yourself so much, major,” Wu said. She put a hand on his shoulder. “So you’re a showoff, it’s not a big deal.” She smiled warmly. Jordan felt a little better. Then again, it was hard to feel anything but good in Wu’s presence. She addressed him by his Air Force rank as a good natured tease, more than a show of respect. Her eyes, like a pair of some until now undiscovered jade jewels, smiled in humor. Her long black hair framed her angelic face like a river of night. And not that she needed it, but the cocktail dress highlighted her toned legs.
“Showoff?” Jordan said as he straightened the lapels of his dark tuxedo. “I don’t think so.”
“Of course not, Noble,” Cecelia said, “You really thought no one would notice that move.” She had only been a part of this social circle for a short time, but she was already getting comfortable and fitting in. Her dress of pearl was the longest of all the women.
“Do not listen to them,” Z said a bit too loud. “You have a gift. A gift of dance. You should share it with the world and not be ashamed.” She leaned back in her chair, fixed the shoulder of her royal blue nearly not-there dress, and crossed her arms as if she had made some bold proclamation. The table fell silent. In the back of his mind, Jordan remembered Malcolm saying something about her being a model. She had a physique like she had been trained since birth to defend the Black Panther.
“Yeah, OK…” Wu said. “Take a walk with me, major?”
“Sure.” They got up again and headed out of the ballroom. Just before the double doors to the hall was a scale model of the building. The Motown Magic Casino was a six-story semicircle, not too different from a horseshoe. Each floor was slightly larger than the one below it, creating a contouring circles effect. Anchored on either side were two taller buildings. One was the twenty-story hotel they were in now. Wu led Jordan to a large window at the end of the hall. Beyond the glass, the cloak of night settled on the city. The Detroit River looked peaceful three floors down as it drew a watery boundary between Michigan and the almost rural Canada to the south. She pressed her back to the window. Her eyes on him with a hint of devilment. Jordan came next to her and was sure he was the luckiest man in the building. Samantha Wu was easily the most beautiful woman he ever dated. She did something with her mouth, it was slight but he felt her magic working on him. She was an agent with the Department of Homeland Security but before that, she was in the Army. During her time in the service, she was in psychological warfare. More exactly, she was an interrogator. She specialized in unbalancing men by using her feminine wiles even more effectively than most women. She hadn’t lost her touch.
“It’s a beautiful night,” she said.
“Yeah, the weather really cooperated.”
She turned to look outside, her bare shoulder grazed his. She looked over the same shoulder at him. “How did you get into this event?”
He arched his right eyebrow. The soft opening doubled as a fund raiser for local charities close to Duane Porter’s heart. As such, each ticket was a thousand dollars each. Jordan covered the cost for his whole table. “You saying I ain’t got the juice to go to big shot dinners?”
She mirrored his look. “Do you?”
“And then some.” He paused to allow his bravado sink in. She was a shameless flirt and he loved it. “But I am here in a somewhat official capacity.”
“The Banner case?”
He nodded and looked out onto the strait dividing two countries. Banner was a retired Detroit Police deputy chief murdered in a complicated plot to preserve one man’s, Thomas Napier, secrets. Napier had long been the power behind the throne, inserting himself into the working of Southeast Michigan politics for decades. The riches of his company, Prometheus International, bought him that access. The case turned out to be a bit more personal than Jordan bargained.
“You think that this D Porter is somehow connected?”
He turned back to her. “Dunno. The case came to an end right here.” He went back in his mind, how Napier at this very spot dealt with his mole in the city’s government, the chief of police. For their efforts, Napier got shot and the chief got dead.
Wu folded her arms. “Yeah, but it was just an empty lot then.”
An eye roll. “Fine. Still, it’s just a coincidence.”
He went back to the window. “There’s no such thing.”
Music drifted from the ballroom, some variation of Kool and the Gang’s “Joanna”. Voices and laughter rolled together to form an audio undercurrent. He felt her hand’s gentle grip his shoulder. He turned into a beaming smile. The sex just flowed off of her and he wanted it. But he had made a promise to her to take things slow.
“So, D Porter,” she said, “some sort of patron saint of Detroit?”
“More like football legend.”
“Ah. And how long has that been going on?”
“Since I was in college, so about a million years.”
She giggled. “You are not that old.”
“I’ve preserved well.”
“That you did.” Her eyes caressed over his gray almost black Brioni suit.
“You’re frisky tonight.”
She threw her head back like she was shrugging off a bad thought. “Sorry. I don’t get out often. Fact is, this is only the third time I’ve been out after eight that’s not work related since I got here.”
“Well, you’ve been crazy busy.” Wu had arrived in the city only four months back to join the Immigration Control Enforcement task force. Jordan knew full well the demands on her time ICE made. She was no mere Immigration agent, but a member of the Department’s anti-terrorism unit. He was a special contractor working with the same unit and she was his liaison officer.
From their first meeting, it was plain more than liaising was on either of their minds. The attraction was almost instant. For Jordan it was easy to understand. But why Wu was so taken by him wasn’t so clear. Maybe he was just her type. He could have taken the shortest path leading to her bed, but his track record of late with the fairer sex hadn’t done well with that approach. Thus, the whole taking it slow thing.
“You still have that meeting later?” she asked.
“You know it. Porter wants to have a chat with my team after he shows off his pretty new building.”
“It is pretty. You know,” Wu said, “it’s risky inviting a woman to a high-end affair on a first date.”
He considered that. He also considered as his liaison, they were in contact almost every weekday, either by phone, email or meeting…something. “We’ve been to lunch a few times – doesn’t that count?”
“A chili dog between meetings does not count.”
“I like coneys.” He gave her a stare to emphasize the correct name for the local version of the hot dog.
“This. Is. Our. First. Date,” she said, stabbing him in the chest with each word. Overtly it was to hammer home her point, but Jordan knew it was just an excuse to touch him. Not that she needed one.
“Yes, ma’am. But to be honest, if I thought for a moment bringing you here would fill your head with thoughts of white picket fences…”
“So, you know me so well, you knew I would understand there was no hidden agenda?”
“Well, you are an intelligent woman, Army.” Jordan occasionally used his personal nickname for her. It was something of a tradition with him. He liked having a name no one else used for the women in his life. She smiled and blushed a little demonstrating the name was having the desired effect.
“Whatever reason you brought me here, I plan on dancing and drinking way too much.”
Jordan chuckled then turned away from her as he heard a familiar fanfare of trumpets play.
“Uh, oh,” he said. “We have to go.” He took her by the hand and led her back to the ballroom. Half running, half dragged, Wu called to him. “Wait. What? What’s going on?”
Jordan looked over his shoulder. “That song? It’s “My Eyes Don’t Cry”. You have to do the Hustle when it plays.”
He stopped for a moment, which sent her nearly crashing into him. “The Hustle,” he said, “It’s a line dance. Like the Electric Slide?”
She nodded. “So we have to…hustle, is it?”
He had her by the hand again and brought her into the ballroom. The hundred guests in their long flowing grooms and tuxedoes were all lined up, dancing in step to Stevie Wonder’s song. At the front, Don, Malcolm and their dates led the charge.
“Yup,” Jordan said, “Local ordinance. Come on.”