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The Man in the Black Suit
Author: Sylvain Reynard


Prologue


   Cassirer Foundation Museum

Cologny, Switzerland

December 2007


“STOP PESTERING ME,” the museum curator scolded. She smiled at the telephone handset. “I’m almost finished.”

   She was careful not to groan as she surveyed the files that covered her workspace. Her office was dark, illuminated only by the old-fashioned banker’s lamp on her desk. But the lighting was as she preferred it. Fluorescent lights gave her headaches.

   “I’m coming to get you.” Her younger brother’s voice through the phone was tinged with exasperation. “We’ve been waiting an hour.”

   “We?” All thoughts of files and their contents evaporated. The curator straightened in her chair, and the vertebrae in her spine snapped to attention.

   Her brother paused, and she fancied she heard the sound of footsteps as he walked to a more private area. “There’s someone I want you to meet.”

   The curator grinned. “You brought someone home? Have you introduced her to Maman and Papa?”

   “Yes, and I would have introduced her to you already if you’d arrived home when you said you would,” he huffed. “Is the security system on?”

   “I always keep it on after hours. Thierry is here, doing his rounds.” She glanced at her desk once again. “As soon as I hang up, I’m on my way.”

   “See you soon. Drive safely.”

   She could hear the smile in her brother’s parting words, and she chuckled as she hung up. He worked in London while she curated the family art collection in Cologny. Clearly, he’d met someone special.

   She was happy for him.

   She tidied her desk and organized the files into three neat stacks. She called Thierry, the security guard, and asked him to escort her through the building and outside to her car.

   With a last look at her desk, she retrieved her handbag and coat. Ten minutes later, she glanced at her watch. Thierry still hadn’t appeared.

   She dialed his extension again, but he didn’t answer.

   Conscious of the fact that her brother and his evidently serious girlfriend were waiting, the curator quickly switched off the desk lamp. She walked to the door and entered the hallway. Thierry was still not to be found.

   She checked the doorknob to ensure the office was locked and made her way down the dark corridor. The museum lighting was always dim, so as to preserve the collection. Individual pieces received special, targeted lighting during regular hours but were left to repose in darkness afterward.

   “Sleep well, old friends,” she murmured as she passed one of the exhibition rooms.

   Her heels tapped across the floor as she pulled on her coat and adjusted her handbag. She flicked her long, red hair over her collar as she approached the main exhibit hall.

   Something flickered in her peripheral vision. Startled, she turned her head.

   Flashlights streaked the pitch-blackness of the hall. She could just make out the outlines of figures—some holding flashlights while others tore artwork from the walls.

   They were dressed in dark clothing and wore ski masks. A beam of light glinted off a long knife as an intruder slashed a painting from its frame, damaging the masterpiece irreparably.

   The curator cried out at the carnage. She clasped a terrified hand over her mouth as the sound escaped her lips.

   One of the figures turned and shone a flashlight into her eyes.

   Blinded, she jerked backward, unsteady on high heels.

   Loud footsteps echoed as the intruder raced toward her. She fought to regain her balance and turned, preparing to run.

   He grabbed hold of her hair and yanked her backward.

   “No!” She dropped her handbag, arms flailing, and tried to free herself. She screamed and sought to elbow him in the ribs.

   He avoided her elbows and struck her with the flashlight. She continued to scream and clasped her hands over his, struggling violently.

   He lifted the flashlight and brought it down on her head.

   Her hands went slack as she slumped against him. She felt herself fall to the floor.

   Everything went dark.

 

 

Chapter One


   Paris, France

Present Day


THE MAN IN THE BLACK SUIT exited the limousine in front of the Hotel Victoire on the beautiful Avenue George V, a short distance from the Champs-Élysées.

   Dark sunglasses shielded the man’s eyes. He surveyed the area as he buttoned his suit jacket before walking in step with his bodyguard. The man’s cell phone buzzed as he entered the hotel.

   He removed his sunglasses and stared at the screen. His footsteps ground to a halt, as did his bodyguard, who stood watch.

   The man’s thumb skated across the screen as he scrolled through a series of photographs. His expression darkened. He jabbed a finger at the phone and placed it to his ear.

   “Freeze Silke’s accounts and change the locks on her flat.” He spoke in German, his tone low and commanding. “No, don’t notify her. She’s violated the terms of our agreement in the most egregious way possible. She knows what she’s done.”

   The man ended his call and continued his walk toward the reservations desk. He moved with the kind of fluidity and command that caused heads to turn—as if he were a professional athlete.

   He was very tall with dark hair, large, dark eyes, and a lean, athletic form. With the exception of one glaring deficiency, he would have been termed attractive, even handsome.

   Céline, one of the front desk agents, smiled at him widely. “Welcome back to Hotel Victoire, Monsieur Breckman.” She spoke in French, taking care to look straight into his eyes. “We’ve prepared your usual suite.”

   The man nodded.

   Céline glanced behind him and noted the presence of the large, burly bodyguard. “Will Mademoiselle Rainier be arriving later?”

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