Blood of the Assassin - By Russell Blake

Chapter 1

Sweat streamed down Heinrich Vogel’s face in spite of the chill air gusting through the Berlin streets. The crisp wind sliced through his suit trousers, the heavy overcoat he hugged tight against his slim frame of little use. His footfalls echoed dully off the three a.m. façades of the gray apartment buildings framing both sides of the darkened Obenstrautstrase, the ponderous branches of the surrounding trees rustling overhead as he made his way from shadow to shadow, clinging to the night like a lover. He felt his mind playing tricks on him – no surprise after twenty-four hours like those he’d just had. At the next intersection, he paused, ears straining for any hint of pursuit. Nothing. It was all in his imagination.

A noise from down the block froze Heinrich in his tracks. Logic said it was impossible that he’d been followed – he had been meticulously careful, except for the one calculated risk he’d been forced to chance in order to get the information. A risk that may prove to be my undoing, he thought grimly.

When his informant had turned up dead of an apparent heroin overdose that morning, only hours after their meeting, he’d been immediately suspicious, although the police were treating it as just another dead junkie in a city battling an insidious wave of drug abuse among its former East German population. Unemployment was endemic in whole segments of the demographic, and an entire generation had grown up without prospects after the Wall had come down, leaving Berlin with a lasting legacy of intravenous drug use and crime.

But Heinrich knew that for all his informant’s faults, he hadn’t been a junkie. Perhaps it had been the only vice the man hadn’t embraced. The death had therefore served as an early warning to Heinrich – it was without question a murder, and the timing was too coincidental for him to brush off. After hearing the news, he had spent all day going about his business, filling out tedious reports, the hours crawling past in seeming slow motion in the busy offices of the metropolitan police where he worked as a civilian staffer. When it hit quitting time, he had stayed late, waiting until the day shift disappeared, and then had made his way to a quiet restaurant a few blocks from the huge building that housed his offices, as he did most nights – he was single, no steady relationship, so nobody waiting at home for him with a hot meal and a warm smile.

He’d been pushing the food around his plate and sipping at his Bitburger pilsner for ten minutes when he’d spotted another solitary diner at the far end of the restaurant, who had seemed completely uninterested in him – except for a telltale glance over his book when he’d thought Heinrich wasn’t watching.

That had been enough.

Without hurrying, Heinrich had slipped some euros under his glass and gone to the rear of the restaurant to use the bathroom. Once he had been out of sight of the dining room, he’d made a quick dash for the rear service door, surprising the wait staff moving into the adjacent kitchen, but he’d bluffed his way through, holding his phone out as though it explained everything.

Once through the heavy steel door he’d found himself in an alley, overflowing garbage cans stacked by the back exits that lined the sidewalks, and he’d hurried away from the restaurant to the more crowded plaza a block north.

Behind him, the restaurant door had slammed shut again, confirming his worst fears – somehow, some way, he’d been blown, and now they would want to discover how much he knew.

He’d picked up his pace, afraid to look over his shoulder, debating his options. He couldn’t chance going to his apartment. It was a guarantee that they would be waiting for him. His bolting out of the restaurant had stripped any veneer of deniability from him – innocent men didn’t run from strangers eating schnitzel among a hundred others.

As he’d turned the corner onto the busy boulevard that fronted the plaza, he’d caught a glimpse of the man from the restaurant a hundred yards down the alley. He’d bee-lined for a fast food restaurant where a throng of teens was loitering, and then had slipped out into traffic, jaywalking to get across to the far curb before his pursuer emerged from the alley’s mouth.

A VW Passat had almost collided with him, but he’d dodged out of the way just in time, the sleek anthracite bumper