Disclaimer: Buffy the Vampire Slayer, The Bourne Supremacy, and Eastern Promises belong to their respective creators, Joss Whedon, Paul Greengrass/Universal Studios, and David Cronenberg/Steven Knight.
It was nothing.
"There is a new face in the city," said Semyon one day, as he was getting into the car. He paused as he bent, the snow scattering against his black coat. "His name is Kirill. Russian secret service. No one knows what he's doing here, not even Moscow."
A rat, from the Motherland nonetheless. "I will deal with it," said Nikolai, because that was what was expected.
"Make sure," said Semyon, and that was that.
He had to put some effort into looking for this Kirill. The rat really was lying low, not talking to anyone, as if he were trying to fall completely off the radar. He did such a good job of it that Nikolai couldn't figure out how Semyon had heard of him, and himself only found the rat by accident.
There was a bakery owned by an elderly man and his wife, émigrés from the Ukraine, down the street from several buildings of flats in the Bloomsbury neighborhood. Kirill showed up there every day, at about five-thirty or so in the morning. He bought croissants, bagels, the occasional kalach
, always paying cash, exchanged news and greetings with the man or the woman, whoever happened to be at the counter. He wore mostly black. Every now and then a girl, the couple's granddaughter, would be there, and then she would smile and flirt shamelessly with Kirill, who smiled back very politely and declined coffee.
Afterward, Kirill would go back up the row, to one of the newer buildings, and there he would take the stair to the fifth floor. He would stay there for the rest of the day. A girl with long brown hair and the look of a student would come out of the same flat and leave at fifteen to seven, driving off in a good-looking Porsche. Sometimes she came back the same day, sometimes not. Kirill would not come out again.
For two days, that was all Nikolai saw happen. He heard nothing about Kirill trying to establish contact with anybody, in the community or out, and the only explanation he could come up with was that the rat was fucking a girl young enough to be his daughter and was in town for no other reason than that he was enamored. That hadn't seemed like Kirill's style, even if he had only been watching for a few days, but it didn't matter to him. There was no reason to dig further than he had. Semyon wanted this interloper taken care of, and that was reason enough to kill him, regardless of whatever it was he spent his time at. Moscow had washed their hands of him, denied any knowledge of any agent named Kirill, entirely disowning him, so he was meat for who wanted it.
The third day, he came back with the intention of waiting until the girl had left for class and then going up the stairs to the flat on the fifth floor and killing the rat. He stayed in his car this time, a gun with a silencer at his back and his knife in his coat. He had made sure to arrive after Kirill would have already gone up, but still parked at awkward angles to the flat, in case Kirill was more paranoid than he seemed.
The girl came down. She wore a large brown coat, a bizarre hat, and carried a file box of papers. She was singing along to whatever it was she was listening to with her earphones, and didn't give a glance up or down the street. Pretty, but still more girl than woman. Nikolai couldn't see what it was that had turned Kirill's head enough that he would risk his life to come and take up her bed. He supposed every man had his own tastes.
Once the girl had gone, Nikolai waited for several more minutes. The street was quiet, a mostly residential area. He would rather have left the gun behind, but he'd heard about these government "assets," and decided it wouldn't do to underestimate him. If he could shoot the rat in the back of the head and walk away, he'd do it.
He was about to get out of the car, was reaching for the handle, when he stopped, his eyes caught.
A woman had just come out of the building.
He hadn't seen her before.
She was small, and blonde. She wore black.
She came down the steps at the front of the building, adjusting her leather jacket.
Nikolai watched her walk down to the sidewalk, squinting to see her through the glare on the windshield. He watched the way she held herself, the way the light touched her skin. He watched the way she moved.
At the curb, the woman stopped. She turned her head, looked up the street.
From nearly ten cars away, she looked through the tempered glass and met his eyes.
Nikolai sat back. His breathing was steady and even, his hands very still.
The woman looked at him. For a long, silent moment.
Then she turned and walked away, toward the station down the street in the direction opposite him. He watched her as long as he could, until she went around the corner of a shop and disappeared through a gray, mote-filled shaft of light.
He sat thinking for a while. The rat on the fifth floor was almost completely dismissed from his mind. A few minutes later, he turned the key in the ignition, pulled out into the street, and left.
Nikolai did not go to Semyon. He wanted information.
He asked some questions. He was given some answers.
The flat was let to a girl named Dawn Summers, an American attending the University of London with an internship to the British Museum. She was eighteen, and had come to London with her older sister, Buffy Summers, nearly three years before.
No one could tell him anything about her. He checked all his usual sources of information. He got a vague description—blonde, small—and was told that she was frequently seen around the area of the docks, but for what, nobody knew. She did not do narcotics, or anything else illegal, or if she did it was buried so deep that none of the regular criminals were involved or knew about it. She had money but did not hold a job, at least not that anyone could tell him. She was not a prostitute.
She was nothing.
When he came to a dead end of what he could find out by asking questions, he went back to Semyon.
"Someone is protecting him," Nikolai told him.
The old man looked at him. The restaurant was quiet, dark, long since closed. The lights from outside glimmered yellow in the glasses on the table. "Who?"
"I don't know."
Semyon's expression was indecipherable.
It was on his tongue to tell his boss what he had found out, about the girls, about the flat and some organization only known as the Council that deposited money into Dawn Summers's bank account every two weeks. It was in his mouth to tell Semyon about the woman, the blonde woman, who had seen him when the Russian assassin had not.
Yet something held him back.
"Find out," said Semyon. "Find out who. I don't like this Kirill. You know Gretkov? He's in prison now, because of this Kirill's mistakes. If they were mistakes. Kirill is supposed to be dead."
"Gretkov," said Nikolai. "He is the one that got in trouble with the CIA over money? Then it's no surprise Kirill quit the government."
Semyon gave him a quelling, cutting look. "Don't begin to like this Kirill. One is enough trouble, I do not need this other boy, too."
"No," said Nikolai quietly, thinking of a woman, small and blonde, coming down the steps of a building. "No, don't worry, Boss. I don't think I like this Kirill."