Kathryn Krane shut the freezer door and listened. The whir of the cooling fan above her. The hum of the kitchen lights to her left. The sounds of the party on the main floor of the restaurant one flight up. The rich aroma of catered food. Shot-glasses clinking. Bottles being slammed down on tables. Loud men making toasts in Russian.
“One less loud man after tonight,” she muttered, glancing at the shining silver door to the freezer and wondering if she should lock it. Yuri Gorka had been drinking all evening, and she’d made sure she lured him back to the empty restaurant pantry and its dark freezer rooms before he’d had a chance to eat from the lavish buffet dinner that had been brought in by the outside caterers. The cold would take him faster this way.
She’d planned it perfectly, arriving as the date of a minor Russian businessman who was soundly in the CIA’s pocket. Not that he had any idea who she was anyway. And she’d made sure she looked unremarkable. Very little makeup. Dull black dress that mostly hid her curves. Not much eye contact with anyone besides Yuri.
Yuri Gorka. The man privately slated to be the next mayor of the important Russian city of Sevastopol. A man still not on the radar for most of the world’s media. But the CIA had its own radar, and Gorka had been on it for some time now.
“The man is old school, old world,” her handler in the CIA had told her when they’d set this up. “Our strategists think he’s pegged to be a major player in the next few years. If any man has the potential to draw the United States into another catastrophic war ten years from now, it’s him. We’re going to take him out before he gets too big.”
“Like they say,” Kathryn had said, her expression barely changing, her full lips twitching for a whisper of a moment, “an ounce of prevention . . .”
A pre-emptive strike. The CIA’s bread and butter. Under the radar. Behind the curtains. In the shadows.
“And I am that shadow,” whispered Kathryn as she glanced at the lock on the freezer door and shook her head. She couldn’t lock the door. She had to trust the process. She had to trust the plan. She had to trust herself.
“Hypnotism? Hah! I do not engage in party tricks. But why not. Let us see what you can do,” Yuri had growled when she’d led him to the stairs through the side entrance down a corridor from the restrooms. Yuri had brought his wife to the party, and so Kathryn knew he’d be careful not to be seen. And he was drunk enough now. Drunk enough that what she’d learned about hypnotherapy in her previous training as a psychiatrist would work.
So she took off her dress without being asked, and when Yuri gasped at the sight of her smooth curves under the yellow light of the empty kitchen, her dark red nipples and brown triangle on full display, she smiled and whispered in Russian:
“Snova i snova. Levo i pravo. Vverkh i vniz,” she said, touching one nipple and then the other, back and forth until she was rhythmically circling each crown in a slow, consistent pattern. The specifics didn’t matter so much in hypnotism, she knew. You just needed to focus the subject on some repetitive movement. No pendulum? No worries. Circling your nipples will do just fine.
“I am drunk and you are beautiful, but I do not cheat on my wife,” Yuri had whispered as his mouth hung open for a moment. “Yet I want to follow you. Who are you?”
He’d taken a step forward, and she’d almost lost her concentration when she heard him say he didn’t cheat. She’d pegged him for a wild womanizer, and his CIA profile confirmed it. But whatever. He was probably also a world-class liar. She got a hold of herself and kept going, speaking softly in Russian, circling her big red nipples as he slipped into a subtle trance.
It’s science even though it looks like magic, she’d told herself as she watched the familiar telltale flutter of his eyelids that signaled Yuri would be extraordinarily open to suggestion now. Should she ask him to jump out of a window? Maybe have him pull out the Glock .17 she knew he carried in a shoulder holster? Get him to pull the trigger, blow his own brains out? Perhaps get him to write a suicide note too! Wouldn’t it be nice if she could actually do that. Would have made things a lot easier over the years. Too bad hypnotism didn’t work to that extent in real life. But it was a nice fantasy.
And anyway, a fake suicide wouldn’t work. The CIA had profiled him, and he wasn’t the type. It wouldn’t fit, and she’d agreed with their assessment. This had to be an accident. And a simple accident, at that. A drunk man at a party wandering into the subzero meat freezer and falling asleep? A bit strange, but certainly within the range of things drunk men do, yes? And when they found no sign of drugs or sedatives in his system, no evidence of violence, no signs of anyone else being on the scene, the headline would be simple: Drunk Meathead Dies in Meat Locker!
Which meant she couldn’t lock the door. It was twelve degrees below zero Fahrenheit in there, and in three hours Yuri would be dead. It was only ten in the evening. This was a high-powered gathering, and Yuri’s wife was used to her husband stepping away for private discussions with other heavy hitters. Bodyguards were not a concern because the party was closed-door, and everyone in the room had been cleared beforehand. There were no regular restaurant staff either—just the trusted caterers—which meant the kitchen floor was empty. So the wife, Nisha Gorka, would be the only one who’d eventually notice, but by then it would be too late. Poof.
“Yes,” she’d whispered as she backed her way into the freezer, shivering slightly as her nipples puckered up from the chilled air. She asked him to sit. She asked him to relax. She watched as he leaned his head against the metal walls and smiled glassy-eyed at her.
Yes, she thought as she waited a moment before leaving him there. It’s science even though it looks like magic. She took a breath and glanced down at her naked body, shaking her head as she quickly dressed and slipped back out to the party. And it’s murder even though it’s just my job.