Paris Love Match - By Nigel Blackwell

Chapter 1

Boucher Brunwald stepped onto the balcony of his penthouse suite. The October air chilled the dictator’s lungs and washed the last of a good night’s sleep from his face. He buttoned his coat and stared down the Champs-Élysées. It was six-thirty in the morning and already Maître d’s were fussing over white tablecloths and packing patrons knee-to-knee in tiny cafés. Between the rows of bare trees, crepe stands did a brisk trade. It was business as usual in Paris.

The day was dawning in his country too. The country that, even though he technically still ruled, he wouldn’t be going back to. He’d enjoyed the luxurious lifestyle of a dictator and the power of ruling with an iron fist. But the country was nearly broke and its citizens ready to revolt.

The door behind him opened, and his bodyguard stepped onto the balcony. He was a giant of a man dressed in a black suit that barely concealed his holstered Glock. The man cracked his knuckles. “You shouldn’t be out here.”

Brunwald grunted. Kuznik never relaxed. Even now, he could see the man’s eyes scanning the building opposite, looking for faces at windows or chinks in the glass that might conceal a rifle. But Kuznik wasn’t the boss and they were hours from success. Brunwald cleared his throat. “I needed the air.”

Kuznik kept his eyes scanning. “It’s always dangerous in a city.”

Brunwald gave a short laugh. “Paris is not a city.”

Kuznik sneered, his eyes examining a dark patch in a window to their right.

Brunwald brought his fingers to a point. “It’s an idea, a dream, a hope.”

Kuznik surveyed the street below. “If you say so.”

“There is no doubt about it. The French don’t love Paris.” Brunwald spread his arms. “They love the idea of Paris. They love the idea of the architecture, of the people, of the glamour and fame. That’s what makes this place special. That’s what makes the people here special.”

“The fame?”

“No! The love of an idea.”

Kuznik grimaced.

Brunwald laughed then raised his eyebrows. “Which is why it is better to sell the painting here.”

“We should have sold it yesterday in Copenhagen.”

Brunwald shook his head. “They offered twice as much here. And it’s a simple business transaction. We meet the mob, we trade the painting for diamonds, and we’re on our way to South America to live out the rest of our days on a beach surrounded by luxury. What could go wrong?”

“If we had sold it yesterday with the other national treasures, we would already be in South America. Now we have to deal with another set of idiots. And when you’re dealing with idiots, lots of things can go wrong.”

Brunwald waved his hand. “You worry too much. You have more men and more firepower, and, as you say, they’re idiots.”

“Even idiots can get lucky.”

Brunwald stared straight at Kuznik, and dropped his voice an octave. “Then don’t give them the chance.” He straightened his back. “You’ve briefed the men?”

“To the letter.”

“I won’t tolerate failure. Warn them.”

“They know, sir.”

Brunwald looked back out at the view down the Champs-Élysées. “That man, the one who failed us in Copenhagen …”

“With the speeding ticket?”

Brunwald grunted his agreement. “It was an unnecessary risk to the operation. Details like that leave tracks. We don’t want to leave tracks.”

“I took care of it. I sent him home.”

Brunwald whipped around and glowered. “Home! How?”

“Second class, sir.”

Brunwald eyes remained locked on Kuznik’s.

Kuznik smiled. “Face down in a box.”

Brunwald’s glower melted and he gave a single slow nod. “And the men?”

Kuznik shrugged. “Believe I sent him home.”

Brunwald took a deep breath. “Excellent. One more day and we will be done. Then you and I can leave this miserable cold continent once and for all.”

“And the men?”

“They will have to go home, too.” Brunwald turned and stared Kuznik in the eye. “Second class. No tracks.”

Chapter 2

Piers Chapman gazed across the river to Notre Dame cathedral and cursed to himself. In his rush to catch his train, he’d left his Nikon in the kitchen of his London apartment. On the opposite bank, the morning light mixed with a faint mist and wrapped the centuries-old Gothic masterpiece in a heartbreakingly beautiful bleakness. The French and the tourists, on the other hand, wrapped the place in trash and graffiti. Nothing, he grinned, that Photoshop couldn’t fix.

His phone buzzed. Despite having the latest in mobiles, he couldn’t bear its stupid musical ring tones. He’d hacked into it the night he had bought it and replaced the lot.

A French number glowed on the display. He pressed talk.