SWEET DREME Published November, 2016
I try not to kill women on Mondays, but for Monique Koronova I decided to make an exception.
I was 68 floors above Manhattan and about $68 million bucks away from being able to afford Koronova’s condo in New York City’s most exclusive new tower, One57, located on 57th Street, overlooking Central Park.
Just for frame of reference, the top two floors, 98 and 99, were recently sold to an anonymous buyer for over $100 million, making it the most expensive residence in New York City.
Every floor was occupied by a single tenant.
I couldn’t afford the sales brochure.
Koronova’s pad wasn’t exactly a walk-up tenement in the Bronx. There wasn’t a rat, crack whore or wino in sight. I ‘d never seen anything like it. I’m glad I wasn’t afraid of heights; her apartment took up the entire 68th level and was wrapped in floor-to-ceiling windows. The views were dizzying. And dazzling.
So were the call girls she was running; the most expensive escorts in the city, maybe in the world. At an average $25,000 per night, the companionship had better be spectacular.
Unfortunately, I had neither the time nor the money to indulge. My job was to kill her this evening, before the Metropolitan Opera at Lincoln Center let out.
I looked at the dead guy bleeding on the floor, grabbed him by the shoulders and struggled to hold his face up to the small screen at the front door. Jeez, he was heavy. Why couldn’t the Spetsnaz hire scrawny dudes? Glad I shot him in the heart rather than the face; otherwise I’d be screwed. I opened his dead eyes with my right hand and propped up his head in front of the facial recognition reader.
Readers only work about 80 percent of the time, which is OK for apartment buildings but not for airports. The machine recognized his features and the door clicked open. I stuck my foot in the door, let him slide to the floor and got my right hand smeared with a little of his blood. I thought of the germs he might have and felt faintly sick.
My foot also stepped in some of the blood pooling on the fancy grey carpet, so I tried to wipe my left shoe on the carpet a few times before I stepped in.
I stood at the door for a few seconds.
Koronova’s business was booming, but even at $25k a trick, it takes a lot of johns to fund an operation like hers; unless you are an agent for the KGB and your business is funded out of Moscow. She’d been a KGB agent for 20 of her 40 years and supposedly knew Putin personally. Very personally.
The KGB has been known by a number of different names since it was formed in 1917 by a homicidal maniac named Dzerzhinsky, but one constant has remained: the guys at Lubyanka Square are freaking good at what they do. They make torture, blackmail and assassination an art form.
Monique was no exception. When it came to blackmail, there was no one better than the startlingly beautiful redhead. Or as deadly.
File info on her youth was slim; not much is known about her early life. She was recruited after attending a university in Kiev, then rose through the Second Directorate ranks fast. In addition to special assassination skills, she developed unique bedroom skills. Her specialty was seducing and then blackmailing foreign diplomats.
The Ruskies call it a “honeypot” operation. Governments have been doing it for a thousand years. Nothing very sophisticated about the recipe: first, seduce a man or woman with one or more companions to suit their sexual taste, bake with a few photos or videos, then season with threats of exposure in exchange for some classified intelligence. Serve hot. Feeds a Russian government hungry for information.
Monique flourished. First in Moscow, then with stints in Athens, Madrid and Paris. There is no shortage of horny politicians and diplomats. And Monique specialized in catering to every need; if she didn’t do it herself, she would supply experienced specialists. Business boomed. And the secrets poured in.
She wasn’t just good in bed, she was good at killing. In the errand briefing file, there were several notes about five “dips,” otherwise known as diplomats, who had showed up very dead over the past three years after refusing to be compromised by Koronova and her friends. Our informants said that at least two dips, one Chinese and the other Italian, were personally dispatched by the redhead, who reportedly enjoys carving up wood and reluctant clients with a set of specialized knives.
Eighteen months ago, just before the United Nations went into session, Koronova set up shop in an Upper East Side townhome. Nice digs. Quiet, discreet and very capable in terms of being able to hide a bunch of six megapixel IP cameras, DVRs, two-way mirrors and assorted high-tech listening devices the size of fleas. Then three months ago, she decided to open a second location and moved to One57.
Together, both locations meant no waiting for a sexed-up clientele pressed for time between committee meetings. Over the years, Monique had supposedly compromised representatives from two dozen foreign governments, including a U.S. Assistant Secretary of State who passed information on CIA operations and other tasty chunks of HUMINT and SIGINT human and satellite information to her fellow KGB agents. The bodies of two CIA agents, one in Addis Ababa and another in Damascus, recently turned up in bad parts of those towns with their genitals cut off and other important bits missing. Their exposures and subsequent torture were a direct result of Koronova’s operation.
Langley had had enough.
I’d cased One57 for the past two days. As part of the errand package, I’d received a very complete set of blueprints of the place, including detailed elevations of every floor. I pretty much knew every inch of the building.
But it all meant jack shit. Knowing where the closets and stairwells are wasn’t necessarily going to be much help getting me by the cameras and guards throughout the building, including the three Armani-suited former GRU Spetsnaz agents guarding Koronova and the 68th floor.
In a cage match between a U.S. Seal team and a Spetsnaz squad, it would be an even bet. And the smart money may be on the vodka-swillers. Check out the YouTube videos: these Soviet creeps enjoy knocking each other unconscious just for kicks.
I didn’t want to be on the next highlight reel.
I was standing on the southeast corner at 56th street, on the south side of the building near the loading dock entrance wearing a Canali suit and tie. Two giant reinforced steel doors sealed off the entrance to the dock, I’d need a bazooka to penetrate the doors. To make it more interesting, each of the entrance doors had five huge steel cylinders that rose up out of the ground in front of each door in order to prevent a vehicle from slamming through them. The two guards on the dock would watch vehicles approach via cameras and monitors and then speak to the driver through a two-way speaker located at the doors.
If satisfied enough to let the vehicle enter, the guards would hit a switch to lower the steel cylinders back into the ground and another switch to open the door. Avigilon motion detection cameras in housings framed each of the doors. The front lobby was worse. Two armed guards at the entrance desk and an armed doorman carrying a Glock under his coat with gold epaulettes. Residents had to swipe an access control card to get through the front door, swipe again to call an elevator once they got past the security desk, and swipe a third time to gain entrance to their residence.
The place was tighter than the ass of an Iowa preacher’s wife. Not that I’ve ever been to Iowa.
It was cold, and I didn’t have a coat. I started to wheeze from the chilly air. I’ve got a touch of asthma. People brushed by me and didn’t give me a second look. It was just too damn cold. I’d taken a taxi downtown and then taken the Seventh Avenue subway uptown and walked from Third Avenue to Fifth Avenue.
I got colder with every step of the late November night. Why can’t I ever kill people in warmer climates?
I had a change of clothes and a Carhartt jacket in a big Walgreens plastic bag that I hid in a garbage can near the corner after I looked around. I may not use it but if I needed to change my clothes quickly, I had to hope that the smelly, homeless guys walking around didn’t decide to paw through the can and find a new outfit bonanza. But I thought it unlikely, it was simply too damn cold for the homeless to be out. Even the skels have enough sense come in from the cold unless the methadone hasn’t kicked in.
Another person hurried by me as I watched the garbage truck come up 56th at 7.35 pm, just like every night.
One57 was so exclusive it had garbage pick-up twice a day from a private garbage company owned by the New Jersey mob. A number of the owner’s relatives and business associates resided in the Meadowland’s marshes.
I’d watched the routine for the past two nights. First, the truck drove down 56th at 7:30 each night, made a small right turn in the driveway and pulled up to one of the steel doors. The bumper almost touched a couple of the steel cylinder barriers. The owners of One57 had installed the best of everything. The two-way speaker was of surprisingly good quality and I could hear the guards and the driver very clearly.
“Dude,” the guard said.
“Come on, man,” the driver said. “Gotta get home tonight. In a hurry.”
“What’s the rush?” the guard asked.
“In-laws. My wife’s mother is coming. Thanksgiving. On second thought, take your time,” the driver said.
The guard laughed. “Pin?”
“Oh, two, five, seventy-five.” The driver answered. I knew the pin changed with each delivery. The guard silently checked his clipboard for the night’s codes and the steel door began to open. Simultaneously, the big cylinders began to slide back into the ground. Several people walked around the back of the truck as the driver and guard talked, including me. I swung up on the rear handhold and waited for the driver to slowly enter the loading dock. If the guards saw anything, it was probably people walking behind the truck. One guy looked at me strangely but kept walking. This was New York City after all. If you see something, don’t say something. Just keep your fucking distance.
Once the overhead completely rolled up and the cylinders disappeared into the ground, the driver started up and drove into a well-lit cavernous space onto a turntable. I swung down on the right side and carefully hugged the side of the truck as it crept toward the first of the dumpsters. The guard station was on the driver’s side of the truck.
“All three,” the guard said, approaching the driver’s window.
The driver lowered the two huge overhead arms and rolled forward slightly. He expertly positioned the arms to swing down on the first bin. The arms hugged the bin and picked it up, swung it over the top of the truck and emptied the contents into the steaming interior. The noise was colossal. I couple of apple cores bounced off my shoulder. Time to move.
I noticed a parked blue SUV with an Allied Barton logo painted on the doors. The “guard-mobile.” I kept low and ran to the back of the car and hid behind the tailgate. The camera had to have seen me. The lights were brighter than a Broadway billboard. The security cameras on the One57 dock were clear enough to see my graying roots. I pulled my Glock from my shoulder holster and waited. Unbelievably, no running feet or shooting happened.
I watched the truck back up and repeat the procedure with two more bins. The good residents of One57 had a lot of garbage. When finished, the driver positioned the truck on the center of the turntable and the guard picked up a large remote control from a table near the door and held his finger on a button. The turntable started to revolve and when the driver was facing the exit, he took his finger off the button.
“Enjoy your mother-in-law,” he shouted to the driver. The driver gave him the finger and turned left onto 56th. The huge overhead doors and the cylinders moved back into place.
Now. When the guard turned to walk back into the glassed-in guard room I sprinted to a service elevator behind me. I held an access control card to the reader that was in my errand packet and the door opened. I crawled into the lift and waited for shouts and shots. The door closed quietly. I looked around at the padded interior and saw a small camera mounted in one corner. I held a small magnet in front of the lens. Magnets play hell with the guts of a camera. All the guards would see are lines and waves on a monitor and security company would have a service call scheduled for the following day.
I know what you’re thinking. How convenient to have an access card. What other crummy and contrived plot devices are coming as part of this story? But I’m here to tell you, an access card was the only thing that fell out of the errand envelope when I opened it, besides the schematics of One57 and what briefing info we had on Koronova. The card was lifted from the guard desk a week ago. Don’t ask me how. The brief said that as far as we knew, the card was still valid. Ordinarily I get zilch from my employers, I’m left to my feeble brain to figure out how to fulfill my errand. And I pay my own expenses. And bring my own equipment, like guns. If I screw up, that’s the end of Dreme. The CIA would laugh and say Dreme, who?
I’ve grown very fond of my forty-year old skin, so any help I can get I’m grateful for. The access card was just that, a card. How I used it and when was up to little ol’ me. I reckoned this was going to be one the toughest errands yet; and I’ve done over a hundred of them. Even hypochondriacs know the difference between a headache or a real, pain-filled Grade IV brain tumor. And this job was beyond a minor migraine. It was going to make my head explode— assuming I still had a head attached to my neck when it was over.
The Spetsnaz gave me the dry heaves and cold sweats just thinking about them.
I’d picked the smallest of the three freight elevators. The other two were enormous and designed to move furniture and interior construction materials for the resident’s condos. Even though this was the smallest, you could have easily fit two grand pianos into it. I punched 67.
The freights all opened on the southwest corner of each floor behind a mirrored wall designed to mask the unsightly doors. From the hallway, all the resident saw was a mirrored wall with two enormous doors. There was about six feet between the mirror doors and the elevator doors. There were two emergency stairwells in the building, on this side next to the freights and on the northeast side in the opposite corner. Mirrored doors the northeast side too.
I wanted to catch my breath one floor below Koronova’s and take the stairs up to her floor. Then come out shooting. The alternate was to take the elevator directly to 68, then come out shooting. Not much variation in the planning.
The doors opened on 67 and I stepped out, gun in hand. I carefully moved to the mirrored door and peeked out. No movement. I felt in my pocket and screwed a noise suppressor on my Glock and opened the door to the stairwell, glancing up before I entered. Didn’t see anything.
I held my magnet up to the lens on the stairwell security cameras on 67. When I got to the landing for 68, I did the same. Blank screens for the guards. Even though the temperature was about 45 degrees in the stairwell, I was sweating like I was in a sauna. I carefully cracked open the mirrored door on Koronova’s floor and looked out. Sure enough, a Spetsnaz guard was standing outside her door.
My clever plan was to sneak up behind him and knock him out, then hold his head up to the facial recognition device. But just as I stepped out into the corridor, my asthma kicked in and I coughed twice. Couldn’t help it. The guard’s head jerked around and then his body jerked as I shot him three times in the chest. He never had a chance to draw his weapon. Shit, next time I’ll bring my inhaler.
I stood still for a second and listened. No sounds. Thank God for the passionate moaning that took place behind the walls— the KGB spared no expense on the soundproofing.
After the door clicked open and I dropped his deadweight body back to the floor, I quietly looked through the opening. Didn’t see anyone but I heard a distant television. Sounded like a Top Chef rerun. The Spestnaz must like to look at Padma.
The front foyer was encased in bronze-tinted glass and mirrors. Bronze-tinted glass as far as I could see. I heard something about heavy cream in a soufflé’ coming from the TV. I tiptoed into the first room. White marble tile. No carpet. My shoe was leaving really great red footprints.
The intel file said it was projected to be a busy night. At least five bedrooms were in the apartment, and at least three of Koronova’s girls were going to be working. All were KGB.
A mid-level British embassy official who was passing bogus secrets to Koronova was expected around 10 p.m. after attending the premiere of the opera. MI6 knew he had been compromised and for the past four months they made sure he had access to complete bullshit intelligence files, which he dutifully passed to the KGB. The Brits had long-standing experience with disinformation and running double agents. They knew how to play the game and were really good at it. But the embassy guy was beginning to think it was too easy and had begun to smell a rat. My orders were not to kill him if I could help it because he may still be useful to the Brits at a later date.
The second guy was an arms dealer to Syria doing business out of Brussels. The Russians pumped him for information about Assad and local groups in Damascus sympathetic to ISIS. If I ran into him, the file said no big whoop if I killed him. He was expected in about 45 minutes.
A third guy was one-star assistant chief in the Philadelphia Police Department and second in command of head of its counter-terrorism task force. Very well-known guy with access to lots of U.S. counter-terrorism plans and protocols. Tons of fresh intelligence info was passed to his desk everyday. He quickly passed this golden intel to Koronova. The errand file was very specific— he was supposed to be here now and I had to kill him without hesitation. Along with pretty much everybody else I met.
I struggled to stifle the urge to cough again.
After reading the file, it was clear that I was going to need pretty much every Army Airborne ranger stationed at Ft. Bragg to accompany me on this errand and go in first. Along with plenty of Raptor drones with Hellfire missiles. Unfortunately, I have no way of getting in touch with Little Tyke to express my concerns. Little Tyke is my CIA handler who sounds like a seven-year-old girl thanks to electronic voice scrambling. After her initial phone call assigning the errand, it is impossible to reach her. Contact from Little Tyke is always short and very one-way. When it comes to errands, I’m always on my own. No help is ever offered. In this case, I was ready to beg for it.
I had a hard time orienting myself in the apartment. To much freaking bronze glass and mirrors, I felt like I was inside a huge chocolate diamond.
I rounded a corner and ran face to face into a blond woman wearing a nice white silk blouse and blue skirt. I shot her twice in the heart and caught her as she started to fall. She didn’t have time to make a noise. Attractive girl. About 130 pounds. I eased her to the floor. I mentally counted what was left in the clip.
Another corner and the TV grew louder. Two Spetsnaz were lounging on a white sofa in front of a 62” Samsung. The TV was fairly loud. Tom Colicchio was saying something about pesto sauce. I shot both Russians in the back of their heads. The white sofa and floor were no longer white.
Next, I walked through a dining room and glanced outside the windows. Unbelievable view of the park and the east and wide side of the city. Through the room and finally I found a hallway lined with mirrored doors. I started down the hallway as quietly as I could manage. My luck was running hot.
Then it ran out.
I listened at the first mirrored door and turned the handle slowly. Just as I peeked in, I saw the naked chief on his hands and knees behind a brunette. Her face was pressed to the mattress away from me. But his wasn’t and he saw me right away. He dropped her hips and reached for his service Glock on the nightstand just as I pushed the door open and fired two shots. I missed him both times and accidentally hit her once. He rolled to the floor next to the bed and managed to get his gun out of the holster. I fired again and hit the mattress in front of his head. He held his gun around the corner of the mattress with his left arm and cracked off three shots. All of them missed but they made a hell of a noise. The Philly PD doesn’t customarily issue suppressors.
The glass and mirrored walls exploded around me. I didn’t hesitate and jumped on the bed as he reached around the corner to fire again. I looked like a teenage girl jumping on her mattress during a pillow fight. I made it across in two bounces and shot him three times from above before he could react. One caught him in the face, the other two in his back. The girl didn’t look so good but I shot her again anyway. In the head this time.
I regained my footing and pulled the door open. No surprise now, I had to find Koronova fast.
I peaked out of the door just as the mirrored wall next to head shattered. Shit, I felt something hit my cheek. I wiped the back on my hand on the left side of my face and saw nothing but blood. Two more shots and I decided I had to move. Maybe get back into the TV room. I held my Glock out and fired unaimed down the hall, then sprinted to the other side of the white couch spattered with Spetsnaz brains. A bullet hit the floor-to-ceiling window next to me but surprisingly it didn’t shatter. The builders made sure to get the best exterior glass available. The building was designed to withstand 180 mile an hour winds. But a nice big bullet hole appeared and I could feel the fresh air stream in from the outside. I ducked behind the couch and tried to fit a new clip into my Glock.
A woman came running out of the hallway, firing six shots. Koronova. Two hit the cushions in front of me and one hit the body of a Spetsnaz. Four and five made two more holes in the window.
The sixth hit me. Some might call it a nick, but it dug a pretty good trench through the top of my upper left arm.
I’ve been shot before. Three times. Three separate occasions. The whens and hows are for other stories. Let’s just say that on two of the occasions I was lucky. The third occurrence required considerable recovery time. In each case, the gunshots hurt like a bitch. Only in the movies does the hero appear to shrug off a gunshot wound and keep fighting by applying a tourniquet with his teeth.
The bullet hit my upper left arm so hard it knocked me back and to my right. The pain was indescribable. It felt like someone had just bitten my arm off. I felt myself slipping into shock. I wanted to sleep. But I knew that Koronova would be on me in a second. I still had a full clip in my Glock.
“ Dobriy vyecher, miliy may,” Koronova said. “Good evening, my sweet.” Her voice sounded sultry, which under the circumstances was weird. She was on the other side of the TV wall. “I think I hit you, da?”
I struggled to lie on my right side and peeked around the right corner of the couch. The floor was slippery with blood from my arm. I was definitely lightheaded. Christ, I hurt. The white tile floor around the couch was a mess of blood and Spetsnaz brains. I could see one of the goons’ bodies directly in front of me. I cracked off three shots toward the edge of the TV wall.
The floor lamp’s light bulb near the TV shattered. The room went dark.
“Time to say spokoynoy, miliy may,” Koronova said. “Goodnight, my sweet.” She crouched low and took three steps into the room, firing two more times. Both shots hit the Spetsnaz’s body. Remind me to send him a thank-you note.
Then my luck turned again. Koronova took one more step into the room, slipped on some Spetsnaz blood and literally fell on her ass right in front of me. The irony of this hasn’t escaped me. Her gun arced off to the right behind her and shattered another mirrored wall.
“Yob tvoiu mat,” she yelled. The literal translation of which you can look up. Hint: it has something to do with mothers. Her feet scrabbled on the slick tile.
So, you’d think that it would have been an easy shot for me to put my last three bullets into her, especially because she was lying right in front of me about five feet away. But no, my luck turned to shit again. I tried to hoist myself up over the Spetsnaz body but my left arm was useless. No way I could lift a freaking thing, especially myself. I just had my right arm functioning. I was laying on it and it was preoccupied with the gun in its hand. As I was trying get above the body, Koronova moved again, this time to her left, close to the exterior glass.
“I think the best way will be with the nozh, da, miliy may?” She started toward me with a big 9-inch stiletto knife she pulled from a garter on her right thigh.
I was facing her on my right side as she came toward me. In a second she would be on me, slashing me with the ugly-looking thin blade. She turned the blade in her right hand and looked ready to jump on my chest with her right knee. I spun around on my side in the slippery blood just as she came abreast of me. I laid on my back and shot three rounds between my legs into the bullet-pocked big window immediately in front of me.
The window had already taken at least three or four shots, and three more caused a structural failure. The thing shattered and fell out the side of the building with a noise like a bomb went off. Monique was no more than a foot from the glass when it shattered. A huge piece of glass fell from the top of the window and sliced through her left shoulder. She screamed, stumbled sideways and pitched into the night.
An ice-cold wind howled through the apartment, creating a mini-tornado of papers, pillows, glass and scotch decanters. Contrary to popular belief, you don’t get sucked out of tall buildings if the glass breaks, but the wind is something else. I thought the wind would subside, but it didn’t. The November wind was ripping through the place like it was the top of Mount Washington.
I had to move. I began to crawl through the blood and glass back the way I came toward the entrance of the apartment. I had one more clip in my suit coat and I put it into the Glock just as the fat arms dealer and another blond came running out of the hall toward the entrance. I had completely forgotten about her and I didn’t know he was even here.
I shot and missed them both. He was dragging her along by her arm more for self-protection than chivalry. He tripped on the body of the Spetsnaz in the doorway and but made it to the private elevator as I was crawled toward them. She swiped her card and I saw their panicked faces as the doors closed and they descended uninjured to the lobby.
I didn’t fit the uninjured description.
I was bloody, torn, hurting like hell and looked like I had just crawled away from a plane crash. I’d lost a lot of blood. I managed to make it to my feet and through the mirrored freight elevator doors to the lift. When I reached the ground, I didn’t care if I was seen or could be identified anymore. When the door opened, I was planning to limp to the guardroom and have them raise the metal gates at gunpoint. But to my surprise the doors were all open. Apparently, the protocol for a building emergency at One57 is not to seal the entrances but to open all of them. There were no guards in the windowed guardroom. They all must have been on the other side of the building with the fallen window . I learned later that night on the late news that the falling debris killed the driver and occupant of an Uber car. I felt badly about that.
It took several days before Koronova’s body was discovered on a third floor rooftop of a Thai restaurant with four-star Yelp reviews for their peanut chicken.
I limped to the garbage can on 56th and found the drugstore bag full of my backup clothes. I limped back on the dock and in the shadow of the doors and revolving turntable changed into my clean clothes. I couldn’t tie anything around my left arm one-handed, so I had no alternative except keep bleeding. I had a heavy jacket to cover the mess so I could make it uptown to an all-night walk-in clinic I knew that for the right money, didn’t ask a lot of questions and didn’t worry about billing your insurance deductible.
Hundred dollar bills have a way of getting you the best in emergency medical care. And there was too much chance of getting a flesh-eating disease with a prolonged hospital stay.
I stuck my Glock in my waistband and wiped blood from the face of my watch on my left wrist. It was 9:45. The opera was just finishing. La Boheme. Puccini.
Too heavy for my taste.
I’d rather listen to NSync.