Pontius Genet leaned over the rotten windowsill and breathed in the thick, viscous city air. It smelled of recent rain, among other, less pleasant things. He looked down from the window of the council flat and saw his friendly neighbour, Reginald Johnson. Today would be the day, Genet reflected, that he had been blackmailing Johnson for exactly five hundred days. Oh, he'd wanted to wait until his favourite number was up, five hundred and twelve. But Genet had been working very hard recently, and he thought he deserved his little treat.
All right. So. First things first. Genet leaned back from the windowsill, watched Johnson disappear from sight, and flexed his fingers. That bloody drug-infused Johnson, he thought. He always paid his money on demand, but...Genet frowned, trying to articulate a feeling to himself. It was something in the way Johnson walked down the street - no, strutted down the goddamn street, swinging his arms and holding that stupid suitcase like a proper ponce...all the while, his watery blue eyes darting this way and that...watching...searching for the greater of two fears, between whom he could not decide...the police, or the wrath of Pontius Genet...
A sound akin to a drum roll caught Genet's attention. A great, hulking man, of animalistic and stooping countenance, with an appearance that was saturnine and frightening, had appeared at the door. Genet turned and smiled. "Ah, Ramon," he said calmly. "My elderflower is ready."
Ramon de Sade had been involved in an unspecified accident at sea several years ago, and resulting damage to parts of his brain rendered him incapable of talking. He had washed up on the beach at Zeebrugge, and had travelled to Amsterdam, where he and Genet had met, and since worked together. Nobody knew of his past or upbringing, and, of course, Ramon had never been able to tell them. It had been Genet who had given Ramon his name: like a faithful hound he had been given an accolade, that of 'de Sade' - the Marquis de Sade, after whom sadism is named after.
Ramon prepared the elderflower tea for Genet, who allowed nobody else to do it. After his tea, and his usual look out of the translucent kitchen window to the crumbling, leaning houses of Amsterdam, Genet went to his cupboard in the living-room and opened it. Inside grew several pots of a seven-leafed plant. "Grow, my sweethearts," said Genet, crouching down, knowing that the greatest gardening satisfaction can come from chatting to one's plants. "Grow, my dears. Soon Heijn will come to take you away."
Genet stared into the cannabis plants. How to tackle the problem of Johnson and his cocaine habit? He had already decided that he was sick of the same old idiot walking along the boulevard underneath his window every day. He wanted somebody else to move in...someone who was a little richer, better looking, perhaps. And Johnson knew he was in trouble at the hands of Genet, anyway.
Ramon drum-knocked. Genet turned away from the plants, and turned towards the giant. "What's that, Ramon?" he asked, indicating to the white letter in his hand. "Give it to me."
He held the paper in his hand. Heavy paper, paid for by those who had money. Cursive, handwritten script, written in darkish liquid that was not ink. A scent about the letter that gave the final sign - strawberries.
"The damned ISSK," said Genet. "What do they want now?"
He opened the letter. It was very brief, covered in petroleum for ease of combustion, and said, "Godverdomme. Ramon, I'll have to go abroad again. They want me to go to the Russian Offices..."
A fact now came to the surface of Genet's consciousness. "Ramon," he called. The great man appeared, limping, from the kitchen. "Ramon, could you open my poison store for me?"
Twenty minutes later, Genet was leaving Johnson's house. He sauntered along the canal, in full view of all, the nondescript stranger, with dark brown hair and weathered skin, with the assortment of clothes bought either from the charity shop or the dumpster...squalid, dirty-looking and poor, Genet blended in well with his background.
He looked back very quickly - and his heart leapt. Johnson was approaching his house, fumbling for the keys, and unlocking the door. He'll invariably want to snort a line after a day at the office, thought Genet. He knew his Johnson: the man always left a line out ready on the table for when he was home. It had been the first thing Genet had used against him.
He turned back and carried on walking. That won't be a line of cocaine you'll be taking up the nose, Johnson, he thought gleefully, holding the bag for reselling later. It's anthrax.
That night saw Genet in the giant auditorium of the Russian Offices. It was cold in the room, and Genet's uniform - that he had re-dyed black for meetings such as this - was somewhat heavy. Genet tapped his boot impatiently, and looked over at his fellows; these annoying, ridiculous, rude, officious, obscene and disgusting people he was forced to share a room with. He looked over to his left, a beautiful woman in a very red fedora. Genet looked up - there was always someone hiding in the rafters at meetings like these - but could see very little, though he knew someone was up there.
The Praetor of the ISSK began to speak. Momentarily, Genet imagined throwing a knife straight into his chest - and a great firework of blood erupting from his heart and his mouth. But he dismissed it. He was here for a reason.
Genet checked his watch, and back at the Praetor, and across to a smiling figure somewhere in the front row, at a diagonal to him. That fool was grinning at his last ten minutes alive. That, Genet had decided, was certain.