|Source: Wikimedia Commons|
Nakim sat up and swung his legs over the edge of the bed; looking back at the supine form snoring lightly on the mattress, he pulled out a crumpled cigarette from his pocket and lit it. A crescent moon floated serenely in the sky, casting a milky glow over the night-blue of the bedroom; the room was otherwise unlit, and the objects in the room were all cast in the same dark blue, alleviated slightly by the moonlight.
Jasmine turned in her sleep; Nakim gazed back at her, absorbing the curves of her body. She lay facing away from him, sleeping on her stomach; the sheets had drifted down her body, revealing a single buttock: the other was covered by the sheets. His eyes drifted up the arch of her spine—a dark mocha skin, cast in blue—, starting at the dimples of her lower back and moving up towards the nape of her neck. Her hair, a sweep of crow’s black, lay spread over the pillow, glowing almost green in the milky light. One arm lay crooked beside her head, her forearm forming a right angle with her bicep; the other lay at her side. She sighed contentedly in her sleep; the marks on her back, remnants of teenage acne, skidded across the skin of her back as she shifted slightly.
Nakim took a second drag on the cigarette, feeling the smoke enter his lungs and kick off a small jitter in his hands. He didn’t normally smoke—the agency forbade it, its members needed to be in excellent shape—and the rush was scintillating. The moonlight cast a milky glow on his body; it was lean, without an ounce of fat: years of martial arts as a child, followed by a decade of gruelling training and service with the agency. His body was an efficient machine, fine-tuned, and ready to pounce at the slightest provocation. He took another drag.
The chase for Jasmine had been, to his surprise, exhilarating and more difficult than expected. The file that Ralph had handed him—sitting imperiously behind his mahogany desk, the man had gained weight since he had taken the pencil-pushing job, but he still looked like a vending machine with legs—had described what Nakim had imagined would be an easy enough job. Jasmine Dellacarte: the only daughter of an ambitious ambassador for the US government. She was slightly above average-looking, but something mysterious in her face made you look twice; some attributed it to the curious chocolate-brown colour of her eyes, others to the depth of her black hair. Nakim, personally, thought it was the slightly crooked shape of her nose. With enough smarts to get by in life without much help from her influential father, she entered a career in public relations, where she developed a reputation as a shrewd manipulator, with no qualms about handing out sexual favours to the men (and women—if you believed the rumours) who could advance her station in life.
Having read the file, Nakim had decided to shadow Jasmine for several weeks in order to get himself under the skin of her daily routine: to understand what made her tick. Surprisingly, for a high-powered, high-heeled woman, her life was quite mundane. She woke every day at five a.m., and spent half an hour doing yoga. She ate a breakfast of muesli and fruit—judging by her trash contents—, and was in work by six-thirty; she had a Starbucks (decaf mocha with skimmed milk) at twelve and salad for lunch, and was out of the office at seven p.m. A quick cocktail with a client or friend, and she was home and in bed by eleven. A pretty bog-standard life, by any measure. It seemed that Madame Dellacarte was nowhere near as random in her schedule as her rather more erratic father, whose daily schedule read like Don Corleone’s itinerary.
Finally, he had decided to introduce himself to Jasmine; after work one night, he followed her into a cocktail bar, where she was sipping margaritas and talking business with the head of public relations of a Fortune 500 company. Sitting by himself at the bar, he drank neat whisky and watched her in the mirror. Towards the end of the night, as she stood paying the bill at the bar, he lifted her phone from her bag as her attention was momentarily distracted.
Waiting thirty seconds after she left the bar, he followed her down the street and introduced himself under the pretence of returning her lost phone. He pretended to recognise her from a recent magazine article on the fifty most powerful women in Washington, and the conversation flowed naturally from there. He was surprised by her ease and approachability, and her startlingly loud laugh was open and human; he found himself trying to think of things to say to make her laugh. Before he knew quite what was happening, he had been standing in the street at one-thirty in the morning, kissing her hard on the lips and hailing a taxi to take them back to her place.
Staring at her sleeping form, he felt a surge of confusion and regret at the situation that he had gotten himself into. He should never have approached her in the first place: it was highly unprofessional, and his emotions were complicating the job that he had to do. Unfortunately for Jasmine, her father had recently been caught downloading secure files from restricted US sites, but had yet to do anything with them; in a preëmptive move, the US government had contacted Nakim’s agency—a private organisation, which could be denied in the event of an inquest—and hired them to kidnap Jasmine and hold her hostage, in order to prevent her father from passing on the sensitive information.
He realised that this mission was going to be more difficult than he had previously thought: he would find it difficult to abuse Jasmine in any way, given what had happened. His only option, it seemed, would be to convince his superiors that sleeping with her had been the best way to keep an eye on her, and possibly get closer to her father.
Lifting himself off the bed, he dressed himself silently and, before slipping out the door, left her a note with his number.