The lavatory in the lobby of the Hotel de Louvre is magnificent. Just superb. One of my favourites. The flush mechanism is like on a plane. Strong, swift and discrete. An absolute joy to use. The room is not just clean, it’s also light, spacious and secure. It has a massive mirror. It also has a narrow awning window above the stall in the far left corner from the entrance that is all too easy to open from the outside.
Naturally this was my way in. Jacques was right. They would almost certainly be waiting for me. Walking in through the lobby was out of the question. Checking in not an option. Even with a phony ID, they’ve probably paid off the receptionist. Last time I stayed here, it was some slimy little toad who mocked my wingtips. I got back at him though, but that’s another story. Fortunately for me, I have spent so many nights in this particular establishment, I know every inch. Time wasn’t on my side and, as I said, I really needed the toilet, so it was perfect. Two birds. One stone.
Take a tip from one who knows. The trick to sneaking into the basement toilet at the de Louvre is to duck down in the alley behind the building, find said window, then apply the right amount of pressure on the base of the wooden frame. The whole thing is rotten. Not enough to notice in passing, but if you have experience breaking into houses, you can spot the signs in the paint work. I pressed down at just the right spot, cracked the window, reached in, unlatched it from the outside and silently pulled open the awning. Easy. That’s the thing about these old buildings. They’re old. I probably should have checked to see if anyone was using the services upon my descent, but I was so pleased with my brilliant plan, I forgot to look down.
As I lowered myself onto the man’s face, he was as surprised as me. More frightened than angry, but definitely upset. In situations like this, I am grateful to have inherited my grandmother’s cat-like reflexes. One swift kick and he was done. He slumped against the wall of the stall and slid down unconscious and half dressed onto the cold marble floor. I never kill unless I have to. Certainly not when I need the toilet.
Moments later I was prepared for anything. Light, fresh, ready to go. I emerged from the stall and washed my hands in the sink, eyeing myself in the generous mirror. That’s when I saw the bathroom attendant. A slim man in his sixties. Elderly. Confused. Makes sense. He had seen one man go into a stall and a much more handsome man emerge. Probably the most exciting thing that’s happened to him in years. He’ll talk. Do I silence him too? Seems unsporting. Besides, I believe that if you throw enough money at a problem it usually goes away, so I heavily tipped the old gent with all I had left from the cabbie. Smart move.
Gesturing to the toilet cubicle, I told him I wouldn’t go in there for a while if I were him. At least an hour, just to be on the safe side. It was more time than I needed, but it’s always best to be thorough. He looked horrified but he handed me a fresh towel nonetheless. I smiled. I never get tired of this sort of thing. I finished checking my reflection, readjusted my belt, smoothed down my hair, said ‘merci et au revoir’ to my new chum, felt in my hip pocket for my gun, then glided out of the room.
The entrance to the ground floor bathroom at the de Louvre is right next to a service door which leads directly to a back stairwell. It’s never locked. Typical French. If you had the time and inclination, you could stroll into every apartment in Paris without breaking as much as a sweat. I knew the drill. My mission brief would be waiting for me in the Gaston Strompf Suite. To be specific, it would be secreted inside the pages of a Gideon Bible in the top drawer of the night stand on the let hand side of the sturdy king-size in the master bedroom. Standard. All I had to do was infiltrate, retrieve brief, exit, then meet with Jacques at the usual place at 2pm. I glanced at my watch. 12:34. Shouldn’t be too hard. Not for me.
The suite was on the sixth floor. To this day I have no idea who Gaston Strompf was. Someone did tell me. A particularly waspish blonde I brought back here one New Year’s Eve. She was an expert in Parisian political history, a subject I was particularly interested in that night. I listened to her waffle on by the fire long enough for me to seal the deal, then was off at first light to silence an Amish forger with a weakness for Dutch Blitz. But that’s another story. Anyway. I had break into the suite with the stealth of a cougar. Fortunately, I have the stealth of a fox, which is better.
I ascended the stairwell and squeezed open the door onto sixth. Shabby corridor. Art deco. Authentic. Not to my tastes, but there you go. It was a short scamper past a handful of rooms on either side before the corridor turned sharply to the right. The suite was at the very end. Even before turning the corner, I could sense there was at least one hulking goon outside the door, sent to mean me harm. Fifteen years in this game, you can smell the creamy taste of danger a mile away and there were two full-fat scoops of the stuff outside my room. Two of them. One of me. Should be fun.
For such a situation, they train you to divide and conquer. Isolate and exploit. Separate and eliminate. By any means necessary. Easier said than done. What was the alternative? I could just shoot them both in the head. Quick and certain. But it would be messy. Exploding brains often has a trajectory that’s hard to predict. Also, disposing of bodies is not as straightforward as you might think; there’s only so many corpses you can stuff into a laundry cupboard before it just gets daft. The last thing I wanted was to be rumbled by some innocent maid as I hauled a pair of freshly-offed goons across the carpet. You try dragging anyone over thick hotel shag. It’s hard work, dead or otherwise.
I stood there momentarily pondering my next move, but the decision was made for me. The elevator pinged behind me. A waiter from the hotel restaurant emerged, pushing a trolley laden with food. He was roughly my height and build. Handy that. I approached the unfortunate stooge and casually punched him in the face. Catching him before he hit the deck, I dragged him into a nearby laundry cupboard, silently closing the door behind us.
In the cramped dark I removed his apron and waiter’s jacket. I slipped off my Kilgour and made the swap. Turns out he wasn’t exactly my size – not quite as broad across the chest – but it would do. When I silently cracked open the door, the shaft of light illuminated a pristine silver Zippo that had fallen out of the waiter’s pocket and onto the floor. I’ll be having that. Merci buckets!
I crept back out into the corridor, hoping no one had removed the abandoned trolley. It was still there. I couldn’t resist. I lifted the silver cloche. Boeuf Bourguignon with potato gratin and buttery beans. There was also a freshly-opened bottle of something heavy and red. God, I was hungry.
I took one potato and washed it down with a generous swig of wine. Well. You would, wouldn’t you? As I wiped my mouth a panicked thought occurred. I still had my face. The face they would be looking for. I had to do something. After all, this face is hard to forget. I noticed the cork of the open red lying on the trolley next to the bottle. Perfect. I dug out the Zippo and charred one end of the cork. I then smeared the blackened end several times across my top lip to fashion a superb makeshift French moustache. Did I tell you I’m a master of disguise? Well I am.
With boosted confidence, I re-pocketed the Zippo, rolled the trolley round the corner and towards the door to my suite. Towards the two armed men. Who wanted me dead. Here I was, hiding in plain site, dressed as a proper Frenchman. This was finally getting exciting.
Now, my French isn’t what it was. It had proved useful in Normandy, but mainly for persuading farmers’ wives to part with much-needed provisions. Or their bloomers. I was young then. Not as classy as I am now, but you’ve got to remember, it was a different time. We made the best of a really bad business. Twenty years on and it all seems a bit silly now. Back then, some things were easier. There were clear lines. We were the goodies, Hitler’s yobs the baddies. These days I’ll be damned if I could tell you who’s on whose side.
Six months ago I had to work with a Japanese chap in Shanghai. Can you imagine? Dreadful. After that, I informed Top Floor that if I was going to be saddled with a partner, he had to be over a certain height. I never heard back, but I’m pretty sure they took my point. Anyway. My lingua franca was more likely to blow my cover than reinforce it. I can understand fine, but speaking it is another matter. As I approached the pair of heavies at the door, I decided not to attempt the native tongue. Instead I chose to speak English but in my best French accent. Fool proof. Ingenious. It was the last thing anyone would expect. Despite my pounding headache, I was clearly still firing on all cylinders.
So far so good. The thug on the left spoke first.
‘Qu’est-ce que vous faites? Personne ne commandé nourriture ici!’
‘I believe ze gent oo iz stayin’ ‘ere’ pheuned ahead for rheum servize.’
The thug on the right piped up.
‘Qu’est-ce que sur votre lèvre supérieure?’
Damn. Somehow my cover had been blown. Time to move. With my left hand I grabbed the cloche and smashed the edge in Left Thug’s throat. He reeled back and to the side, choking for breath. Flummoxed, Right Thug fumbled for his gun but I was already two steps ahead. Kicking back the trolley behind us, I snatched the tray with my right hand and hurled steaming beef dinner right into his eyes. Blinded by piping hot jus, Right Thug dropped his weapon and fell back towards the door to the suite.
Harnessing his momentum, I took a step forward and barged my shoulder into his nose. Hard. Blood went everywhere, his head crashed against the door, both broke open and the fiend was down. Not quite out, but the blow bought me enough time. Meanwhile, Left Thug had regained his breath and was coming for me, hard and heavy. I wheeled round, regained my balance, shifted my weight, then landed a hard left jab to Left Thug’s temple and wound up a whirlwind haymaker with my right. Sloppy finish I know, but I made it count. His body hit the trolley then the carpet, he was out for the count.
I could hear Right Thug groaning from the floor in the room. I turned and entered, silencing him with a swift kick to the side of the head. It was over in seconds. Hugo Dean: 2, Hired Thugs: 0. That’s the thing about me. Sometimes I just punch them in the face, sometimes I actually fight.
The pair of fallen goons were little more than glorified doormen but from the look of them, they were used to a scrap. They would come round soon enough. I took another two glugs of wine from the trolley then raced through to the master bedroom, opened the drawer of the nightstand and, sure enough, the familiar sealed manila envelope was tucked inside the Bible. I grabbed the brief then made a swift exit via the supply cupboard to retrieve my Kilgour.
I tore off the apron, now stained with sauce, oil and blood, and tossed it onto the still-unconscious waiter. I grabbed my jacket and made my way down the back stairs, discarding the waiter’s coat down the stairwell. I emerged onto the first floor, exhilarated by my recent fisticuff victory. Striding through the hotel lobby, I swirled my Kilgour back on over my shoulders without missing a step, strolled past reception and out into the city. Now I needed two things: get to Jacques and get a proper drink. And a croque monsieur. Three things.
 No need to go into it now, but let’s just say he won’t be putting his shoes on in a hurry for a long while. See also the concierge with the limp at the Grosvenor and the head chef at the Algonquin who burnt my Dover Sole.
 A fast-paced card game that’s destroyed the faith of many a devout Christian. Similar to Nertz, only without the violence.
 Special agent Haruki Koki of the Japanese Secret Service. Tiny. Looked like a child. A deadly child. Flew off the handle whenever I ruffled his hair. Perished in Kobe Marina. Only partially my fault.
 At the time I only got the gist of what he said. This translation has been since checked and verified by Marie in Finance. God bless you. I owe you a long wet lunch.