To Where I Once Belonged

Prologue

Nicholas Saucier sprinted through the darkened side streets of west Paris, turning his head frantically to and fro while trying to navigate his way through the numerous tree lines and landscaping that littered the path before him. Unfamiliar back lots and alleyways became twice as confounding under the shade of darkness, but he couldn't stop, not even for a moment.

His lungs burned and white spots clouded his vision. Fatigue and hopelessness washed over him, until off in the distance he finally spotted his destination. The Frenchmen was less than a block away from his apartment when his legs finally gave out and he crashed to the ground, sending the local alley cats that prowled the Parisian streets scurrying in all directions. Saucier painfully rose to his knees, ducking behind one of the parked cars that lined the road, barely avoiding the oncoming headlights of some other weary traveler trying to make his way home. He was close, but once he made his way inside he knew his journey was just beginning.

He listened intently for the sounds of pursuit, scanning every street corner, every shaded nook between where he stood and the three story cobblestone building before him. Finding the coast clear, he raced to the main entrance of the apartment complex, his feet barely touching the landing as he ran to the second floor.

He wiped the heavy perspiration from his brow and took a deep breath before inserting his key into the deadbolt, turning it ever so carefully .The muzzle of his Beretta eased its way in first to the apartment as the Frenchman nervously stepped inside the small two bedroom unit, recklessly aiming the gun in all directions searching for intruders. His palms sweat, making it difficult to grip the weapon, not that it would have mattered much, in all the years he'd owned the gun he'd only fired it once, and that was for recreation.

Thankfully he found the apartment empty. He paused for a moment to catch his breath and considered his situation.

"How could I have been so stupid " he cursed himself, knowing full well the answer to that question was weakness, it had always been weakness. Years of gambling and womanizing had finally caught up to him and with mounting debt and a third divorce on the horizon, he had very little choice. That's how they worked.

He was approached by their representative stationed in France, assuring him his debts could be washed away, and his divorce finalized quickly and tidy. This organization just wanted a certain level of influence on minor decisions made within the French parliament. Initially their interests were only in a few minor amendments, freeing up trades and tariffs, but soon escalated into law making and national security. Some would call it spying, most would call it treason, either title did not sit well, but by then he was in too deep. Saucier soon realized that when you make a deal with the devil, there's was no such word as no.

When he'd reached his breaking point, when he'd grown exhausted of the waiting, the wondering if today would be the day authorities would barge into his office and take him into custody, he finally realized what he had to do. Psychologists refer to it as Acute Stress Response or the Hyperarousal Reflex, but its most commonly known as Flight or Fight; a reaction that occurs in living creatures in response to a perceived harmful event, attack, or threat to survival. That response is made in seconds within the sympathetic nervous system. Saucier's choice took even less time. He chose flight. Literally

He didn't dare turn on a light, assured it would stand out like a beacon to whomever might be looking for him, so instead he stumbled through the darkness until found the closet in his bedroom that contained his safe.

Saucier began entering the combination into the keypad, having to start over three times because of the poor lighting and his nerves. Tucked away inside were his two passports, one real, one forged, along with ten thousand Euro's, and one small velvet bag, or more specifically the contents inside; the diamonds.

His fence had assured him it was the smartest and safest way to move his fortune, to forgo the normal money launderers and liquidate his cash into fine untraceable stones, far safer than his first choice of bearer bonds. There wasn't a jeweler in the world who wouldn't be interested in his inventory, allowing him to easily sell them individually or in mass, any method that would guarantee him quick cash on hand and draw the least suspicion.

All had been going according to plan until he stopped by the store to purchase the last set of stones, only to find the jeweler dead. A frantic call to the fence who'd introduced them was answered by the Paris police, who Saucier quickly hung up on and ran as fast as he could from the store, not stopping until he'd finally reached his apartment this night.

The Frenchman could be at the Paris Charles de Gaulle Airport within the hour, discarding his credit cards and I.D. before purchasing his ticket. The destination didn't matter. A country that wouldn't extradite would be ideal, but more importantly was a flight that would be disembarking sometime within the next few hours. He'd figure out the particulars later, but for now the most important thing was leaving France alive.

Once he'd gathered his belongings from the safe, he felt his way through the darkness back to the den, searching the wall mount for his keys. A cold chill blew through the room and when he turned to seek out and close the open window, he felt a sudden stinging sensation emanating from the side of his neck. Almost immediately his head began to ache and his limbs went numb. He crashed to the floor just as the sensations of dizziness and nausea washed over his body. He tried to get back to his feet only to fall right back to the floor, his muscles painfully constricting involuntarily.

On the farthest edge of his field of vision, he saw the figure seated in the plush chair next to the window, the moonlight dancing off her long blonde hair. He tried to beg, to plead for his life, but no sounds could escape his throat. His lungs burned and he frantically tried to breathe, finding that task impossible as well. He lay on the floor immobile, paralyzed, dying. His last moments on earth were the thundering sounds of his heart beating, and then silence

Artemis Crock rose from the chair, walking over and kneeling down next to the body. She placed two fingers on his carotid artery, feeling no pulse. She glanced down at her work, taking no satisfaction in the targets death. He'd done nothing to her; she'd never even met the man before tonight. He was just another name; another name on a very long list that just seemed to get longer and longer.

She reached to his throat and retrieved the poison dart, placing it back in its case and into her bag. Next she removed the burner phone from her belt and took the man's picture, reviewing the image before typing in the coded message and sending it. Proof of receipt appeared on the display and she promptly broke the phone in half, destroying any evidence of the evening's activities.

Before she stood, she glanced down once more at the target, shaking her head despondently and sighing. Did he have a wife or a child? she wondered. Would anyone miss him when he was gone? None of that mattered now, the job was done. She leaned closer, resting two fingers on his eyelids and closing them for the last time, whispering in his ear…..

"No one escapes the Shadows."

She knew that lesson better than anyone.