The Agent

Prologue

It was three in the morning and the sun hadn't even considered rising. However, as the police vans pulled up outside the graffiti-covered block of flats on the outskirts of London, the Kevlar-clad men and women that jumped out them had been up for hours. This was the big one. Today, or tonight, they were going to arrest and capture The Assassin.

Following the hushed orders of the senior officers leaning over their cars across the street in their walkie-talkies, the strike force moved quickly but stealthily up the stairs and across the landings. Almost all of the officers present were armed with police-issue assault rifles, cumulating in a force strong enough to defeat a small country. That should be enough.

At nineteen seconds past eight minutes past three, they arrived at the appropriate door. On the top floor, in the dead centre of the corridor. There was a reason they had been chasing after this man for four whole years. It wasn't that he was good; no, he was great. He had purposely chosen the highest floor to wear them or whoever else wanted him out even if only slightly- to give him the advantage. He had then picked the middle apartment to get the most warning if anyone was approaching. There were stairs on both sides but no elevator.

The police waited for the man with the steel battering ram to join his comrades at the door and waited further for the signal. Tense seconds passed. A few of the officers began to sweat. What if the Assassin knew they were there? What if he was using this time to escape somehow, or prepare a counterattack?

Then it came.

"GO! GO! GO!" the detective inspector roared down the line, following a rush of static. Taking his cue, the man with the battering ram swung it back once and slammed it into the the cheap wood and glass door. It almost flew off its rusted hinges in his fervour. Before it had even hit the floor, the rest of the force were already rushing into the apartment.

They spilled into every room in the flat with the minimal amount of jostling. With all the metallic clicks from their guns and the lights from the attached torches, from the outside it probably looked more like an alien landing than a police raid.

There were only four rooms in the apartment, which only really had space for three. The bedroom consisted of a damp mattress, a table lamp- on the floor- and dirty clothes strewn over them both. The floor itself was covered in a rich shag carpet. No one had ever laid a carpet in that room. Some of the officers swore it moved when they weren't looking. However, no Assassin.

Opposite the bedroom was the bathroom. Green is a favoured colour scheme in bathroom décor. It makes things look fresh and is reminiscent of spring. However, the green in this bathroom was nowhere near fresh and the only thing it was reminiscent of was moss. Actually, it was moss. It was surprising how much of it could grow in such a confined space. One officer occupied the whole room just by entering it, before finding that he couldn't get out again. The sink was cracked with a deep fissure spreading down the basin. It was only a matter of time before it snapped in two. The shower was nothing more than an open drain that stuck out of the brickwork. Still, it was more than adequate for the considerably large fungus that was growing near the plughole. And the toilet? It was...no, no, even a mere description of it would be nauseating. It would be best for everyone if that particular part of the plumbing was conveniently skipped. However, no Assassin.

Next to the bathroom was the kitchen, though at first glance, there wasn't much difference between the two. Only one cupboard had a door to it, and even then it was falling off. There were no dishes or plates or cups or glasses in any of the cupboards. All the crockery that the Assassin owned was being washed in the sink. The water was brown. It looked like someone had attempted to clean them- once- but had given up after realising that raspberry jam was too hard to remove by hand. The floor was covered in food that hadn't quite made it to the plates. There was also evidence that the food had been enjoyed nonetheless by the resident family of rats. The fridge, which had long since broken, was home to a culture of yoghurt in a bottle of milk and a large slice of cheese that "matured"- that is, it had grown even more mouldy. However, no Assassin.

And lastly, the living room. This room was unlike the other three. The floor was bare except for a small radio in the corner. The walls were far from naked though. They were lined with paper, newspaper articles mostly. They detailed the deaths, the murders, of several dozen people. Next to each one, the obituaries of each person had been pinned to the flaking plaster. Behind the door, a small bin, filled with ashes, sat next to a near-empty box of matches. The whole room was a shrine to the Assassin. There was only one thing missing. The Assassin.

The whole flat, filled with police officers, was empty. It was devoid of the one person who should have been there. One of the officers in the living room reported their findings to their superiors on the walkie-talkie. Tinny swearing could be heard from the earpiece.

This was where Aldous Asquith lived, yet there was no Assassin.


At the same time, within a leafy district in the heart of London, people slept soundly in their beds. In Callaghan Street, two rows of terraced townhouses faced each other across the empty street. There were no gardens, at least at the front. Each house started with a set of upright black railings. Behind them, stairs going parallel to the street led down into the basements and cellars. Punctuating the lines of railings were the broader stone steps that led up to the respectably polished doors with their brass knockers and gilt numbers. Number 25 Callaghan Street was decorated as such. The door had recently been painted green and the wood was still shining in the lamplight.

The owner of Number 25 took considerable pride in his house, as he did with everything. The previous owners little or no sense of style or fashion. He also reckoned that they were colour-blind. He had spent most of his first year in the property undoing their work and returning the house to its deserved grandeur.

He had ripped up the detestable flowery carpets that they had laid throughout the house and polished and finished the floorboards underneath. Over this he had laid down a more refined red carpet, leaving a foot of bare corridor on either side. Though he much preferred his own company to that of others, the few guests he did entertain compared it to the première of the latest Hollywood blockbuster.

The dining room was dominated by three things; the mahogany dining table, which seated more than the owner was ever likely to entertain at once, the original marble fireplace, which the previous owners- in their madness, reasoned the current owner- had seen fit to block up, and the portrait of the owner that hung over it. Following the style at the time of its construction, the townhouse had been built with rather high ceilings. After negating most of what the previous owners had done to his home, the owner sat down to dinner one night and realised how bare the wall above the fireplace looked. What better to fill that gap than with himself? He thought it was a very good likeness, with the youthful brown hair, orderly unkempt, and the gleaming brown eyes.

The second door in the dining room led through to the kitchen. This was one of the few rooms that the owner had decided on keeping modern. Sitting snug under the smooth granite counter tops were a washing machine and dishwasher- top of the line, naturally. It was either that, or employ someone to wash his plates and clothes; the owner was a very private man. Of course, he could wash his own effects but that would have been a waste of his valuable time. Why should he do such mundane things by hand when he could be doing things that were much more interesting?

Joining the dishwasher and the washing machine were the refrigerator and fan-assisted electric oven, cutting through the counter tops like icebergs at sea. The owner liked to think of himself as rather good cook. He dabbled in the recipes in his newspapers and bought the occasional cookbook. In fact, he kept a small library of them in the corner, above the wine rack. All of his crockery and silverware came in one shining set. If one plate should break, or one glass should lose its gleam, he would dispose of the entire set and buy a new set. On the occasions when he mentioned this to his acquaintances, they laughed and asked him how he could afford such an affluent lifestyle- he did no visible work. Then it was the owner's turn to laugh and explained sagely the values of stockbroking and good interest.

The living room housed an expensive multimedia system, and an incredibly comfortable sofa on which to enjoy the former. The owner didn't watch much television, though he liked to keep up to date with the news. If there wasn't anything worth watching on television, and there frequently wasn't, even with a satellite dish installed on the slate roof above, he would content himself with a fine film. It was a fitting end to an evening after someone commented on the carpet in the hallway. Sometimes, he would just turn on the radio or listen to a CD as he pondered the deep, meaningful questions of life- that was usually good for half an hour before dinner.

Past the living room was the study. This room had taken a lot of work after he moved in. Apparently, the previous owners weren't big lovers of books. After restoring the antique bookshelves that lined the room to what they should be, the owner spent more time and money filling them. There were the usual volumes; the Encyclopaedia Britannica in its entirety, the complete works of Shakespeare (though he preferred Jonson), interesting years of selected newspapers, and few of the classics. There was a bureau in the middle of one wall of bookshelves. Though he had installed a computer with broadband internet access on it, he thought there was still plenty written correspondence had to offer.

At the end of the study, there was a set of doors in a small portico. These were the sole redeeming grace of the previous owners in the owner's eyes. Nothing had to be done to them. These led out into the garden. It could also be reached from a small glass conservatory past the kitchen where the owner has experimented in growing peas. Unfortunately, it was too dark to see much of the garden presently. It was long albeit thin, and there was table shaded by an umbrella at the end.

The red carpet continued up the stairs and led the corridor down the first floor. The room at the end was the bathroom. Decorated from floor to ceiling to floor to ceiling again in white porcelain, it positively shone. The shower and bath were separate; the owner used both, depending on the mood he was in. The shower was spacious with hot and cold water running efficiently. The bath was even more spacious with enough room to drown two people lengthwise- not that the owner considered that thought.

The middle room, which had been used as a second bedroom, was used as a private gym by the owner. He could have gone to any one of a number of gyms and leisure centres in the city that could have catered for him but he preferred to train himself. He had a supremely enviable body; it was his duty to maintain it. He certainly had the funds to do so.

The last room was the master bedroom, for the master of this domain. As befitting his affluence, he had bought a four-poster bed especially for the room. Like the crushed red carpet, which expanded to fill the entire room from the corridor, the drapes and sheets were an eloquent blend of scarlet, crimson and carmine red. The owner didn't know about softness but he did know that he slept soundly every night in the bed, which was exactly what he was doing at the present time.

Apart from the bed, there were the necessary bedside tables, cabinets, cupboards and chests of drawers, standard furniture for any bedroom. They were new to him, yet old in age. When he had bought the property, he moved in from no current address. As such, he had to buy pretty much everything from scratch to fill his new home. He figured if he was buying a life for himself, he might as well buy the best. It was the least he deserved.

At nineteen seconds past eight minutes past three in the morning, the owner of the house rolled over.

This was not where Aldous Asquith lived, yet here was the Assassin.