Chapter 1:- 1
Alvira Pradgett saw the body in the cupboard under the stairs. This made her forget the umbrella she was looking for. It was Neil's body, and Neil was her host this weekend.
The cupboard was lit by a single bulb, and because the bulb was environmentally friendly it illuminated the body faintly at first, like the soft filters used by wedding photographers. By the time the bulb gained its maximum brightness, Alvira was worried. This was unusual, as she was familiar with dead bodies. She was Alvira Pradgett, proprietor of Professional Assassins Extraordinaire, expert in knowing exactly how to dispatch each client from life with dignity and minimum fuss.
One's mind does curious things. At first, hers refused to think about the body before her. It thought instead about her aching back. She had put it out yesterday and bending in the cold, cramped cupboard was not helping. She forced herself to check that Neil was stiff and really dead. Then she stood up and automatically assumed her singing posture. The late Maurice Toendeff, opera singer and professional assassin, had believed that the art of singing was the solution to every problem in life. It was credible that this should apply to one's problems of posture but she found herself, not for the first time, questioning its universal application.
The body in the cupboard had all the signs of an assassin at work – even down to the tiny 'MAA' logo branded onto the ankle. This was a legal requirement for killings authorized by the Master Assassins Association. She was tempted to examine the body further, to find out which of the five allowable methods of killing had been used. But she would wait. It wasn't wise to annoy the police.
What worried her was the obviousness with which the body was hidden. Professional assassins are usually skilled at hiding evidence pointing to murder. Here though were what looked like carelessness and disrespect for the job. It made her feel like she had this morning, when she had driven here in her yellow Folkstation. She had been enjoying the flowing dance of the freeway with the trains in the middle and trees on either side. And then he had overtaken her, the hoon in his black SV6, going a hundred and twenty at least, leaning back in his seat, right arm dangling from his window. One should respect the freeway and other users of it, and she felt this driver did neither. What if the white van in front of her suddenly pulled out? The hoon would need both hands on the wheel to avoid hitting it.
She brought her wayward mind to the present. She must call the police, and the ambulance too. She shut the door quietly and walked to the telephone, wondering who the assassin was.
But more than anything, why? Neil did not seem the sort of unwanted person whose assassination would be approved by the MAA. A rogue assassin then. Still, this didn't explain the careless clean-up afterwards. No assassin would want the publicity of a murder investigation.
Assassins get to know each other in the course of business. She could have sworn there was no other assassin, rogue or otherwise, within five miles of the place.
Realisation hit her with a force that stopped her walk. There was one assassin in the vicinity. And that assassin was her.