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    Bucharest, Romania

"Talking with you has been great," I whisper.

The man looks at me but cannot respond. Duct tape covers his mouth. His hands bound and tied to the headboard in a way that makes escape impossible. His ankles tied together. He has no shirt, no pants; only boxers that cover his sensitive area. At least he does not sleep in the nude. That would be awkward. He mumbles and squirms to no avail.

I sit Indian style next to him. My long brown hair extends past my shoulders. I move it out of the way and move my red scarf away from my mouth. The man's eyes grow wide. With muffled screams, he tries to back away. Sweat drips down his face. 

My lower face is riddled with cuts, scars, and burns. I am horrifying to look at. I run my knife across my face and feel the permanent injuries. My lips, chin, and lower cheeks are a mess with injuries that never properly healed. I use my horrific look to strike terror into my targets before I complete my contract. I look down at my knife with its serrated edges. The blade is long and illegal in many countries. It is reverse-curved in an almost impossible fashion. The handle is black with a spherical center made of glass. Inside, the blood of my husband. I twirl the blade around and watch the blood splash back and forth. This is the knife I used. My husband was a target. It was halfway into his throat before I stopped and tended to his wounds.

"I love spending time with my victims," I say. "Like a get-to-know-you before I end your life. It feels calming; to the point I can easily send you into the light. Or darkness. That isn't my call and is dependent on how you lived your life."

The man tries to scream again. The bed rocks from his constant squirming, leaving scrapes on the hardwood floor. I shrug. "This was fun. But I am on a tight schedule." I put the knife into my mouth and move closer to him. My black, leather pants stretch against my skin. They are tight, but at the same time comfortable. A leather vest covers the upper portion of my body with a zipper lowered to fit my comfort. If that makes me show a little cleavage then so be it. I always do jobs barefoot. Shoes squeak and make noise. Socks slide and have no traction. Barefoot is silent. Judge me as you will. I do not care.

I straddle the man's chest. I run my tongue across my knife and coat it with my saliva. It drips from the knife like rain off a gun. I lean down, inches from his face. Smiling causes my facial scars and cuts to shift position. My smile morphs into a grin, baring my white teeth. I put the knife against his neck. I dig in. The knife cuts across his throat. Blood pours and fills his mouth, but the duct tape prevents its escape. He struggles as breathing becomes harder. He tries to breathe through his nose. I pinch it. The blood has no where to go. He drowns in it before the cut kills him. He falls silent. His squirming stops and all goes quiet.

I remove my knife and wipe it off using the bed sheet. I get up and walk over to the dresser mirror. I look at the dead body in the reflection and then my own. If you look into the mirror and do not recognize who you are, are you responsible for what you become? That question has haunted me for my entire life. My name is Adriana Surva. I am the Whisperer.

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Chapter 1

"This room was registered to a controversial, currently seated United States Congressman by the name of Xander Wallson," a Romanian police enforcer explains. "Evidence of the Whisperer was found."

Interpol agent, Mark Evans, grabs the notepad from the enforcer's hand. "So, she has come back to her home country. What was this Mr. Wallson doing here?" He runs his hand through his slick, dark hair. Not many guys use hair product anymore, but Mark does. He wants to look his best no matter where his work leads him. At 30 years old, he is one of the best and most recommended investigators in Interpol. Operating out of the United Kingdom at the start of his career, his crime solving rate was 100%. That is, until the Whisperer file crossed his desk two years ago. The Whisperer is the one he can never catch than the one that got away.

"We sorted through his briefcase. Long story short, he has family here," the enforcer explains.

"Thanks, that will be all whatever-your-name-is," Mark says, shrugging him away. The enforcer scowls and walks out of the room. The room is luxurious, the best you can afford. Antique describes the majority of the furniture in the room. The room has a musky, old-fashioned feel to it with magenta covered walls. A patio door leads to a balcony that overlooks the city of Bucharest. The sun is just setting beyond the horizon. A beautiful scene that a majority of the world population could never afford. This room is the so called presidential suite of the hotels in the world. "Alright, everyone out of the room."

No one hears him. Crime scene analysts and forensic techs continue to process the scene. Mark clears his throat and speaks again, this time louder, "Everybody out!"

The personnel in the room perk to life. Some run for the door while others take their time. Mark's team is used to his unusual requests and demands. That's part of what makes him unique and an excellent problem solver. "Two years I've been tracking you," he says out loud to himself. "I have never seen your face. I have no general description of you. Funny thing is though, we have your DNA and fingerprints. But of course, they don't reveal anything across the numerous criminal databases," he says, continuing his soliloquy.

Mark walks over to the dresser. He looks down at the hand and fingerprints that were revealed from the dusting of the room. He places his hands on the dresser in the appropriate positions. He looks into the mirror. "Why are you so obsessed with mirrors?" he asks his reflection. He pauses, expecting a response. The room remains silent.

He turns away from the mirror and approaches the king size bed. Scratches and scrapes surround the bed's four supporting legs. The bed was rocked and shook violently. He smirks, "It always looks like you ride your target into the sunset. But that's not what you do is it? Those markings are evidence of your victims trying to escape. You toy with your targets. Play with them. Get to know them before making them drown in their own blood. How do you torture them to make them want to escape so desperately?"

Mark gets onto the bed and lies down in the exact position the body was discovered in. He moves his arms up to the bedpost. He presses his ankles together. "Why do you talk to me? What's in it for you? Is getting to know your contracts your way of humanizing yourself?" He looks around the room. But nothing catches his eye. He gets off the bed and walks back over to the dresser and mirror. He looks into the room through the mirror's reflection. He runs his hand over the mirror's surface. His fingers feel various degrees of smudging and dirt. But there's a pattern. He takes his hand off the mirror and rubs his two fingers together. "Lipstick."

Mark walks over and turns the lights off. The setting Bucharest sun is the only light entering the room. Letters appear on the mirror. He reads them out loud, "Mark, if you look into the mirror and don't recognize yourself, are you responsible for what you become?"

He sighs. "Well, she knows who I am then. Too bad I've never met you though."

"Then allow me to introduce myself," I say from the patio doors. Mark whorls around. He immediately attempts to size me up. My red scarf covers the lower portion of my face and my hair covers a majority of my eyes. Between the scarf and hair, my face is hidden from view. I'm still wearing my leather vest and pants. I have not changed clothes since I executed the contract on poor Mr. Wallson. Actually, I never left. I knew returning to Romania would be the best time to talk to this Mark, who has been tracking me for the past two years. That is why I took on this contract. "Hello, Mark," I say.

Mark runs over and reaches for the lights. The minute his foot moves in that direction, I lunge forward using the darkened portions of the room to maneuver. Fortunately for me, the setting sun does not illuminate the entire room. I run forward and grab the pole of the bed and sling shot around. Mark hears it and reaches for his gun. I complete my swing and kick it out of his hand. The gun lands on the other side of the room. Knowing his gun is out of range, he lunges for the light switch. I leap behind him. I grab his bulletproof vest from behind and pull him straight into my open arm and a headlock. I align my elbow with his chin and squeeze his neck and bring my knife up to the side of his face. He struggles against my grip and upon realizing he cannot do anything says, "What do you want?!"

I feel his breathing and pulse skyrocket. "What? I'm not allowed to meet the man who has been tracking me for two years?" I say into his ear.

"Being in an assassin's death grip who is responsible for 26 kills across Europe wasn't exactly how I wanted to meet you. I prefer you behind bars, in prison, on the other side of glass, you know."

"26? You only found 26? My God. And they say you are the top investigator in all of Interpol. That's a bunch of crap," I say. I tighten my lock on his head as he squirms and struggles in an attempt to break free. I push intense pressure onto his neck. "Stop fighting or the pressure will increase," I warn.

He keeps fidgeting. "I cannot stop struggling. I am not used to being handled like this. Let alone from a woman," he spits. "So how many kills are you responsible for then, Whisperer?"

I kick him in the back of the knee so he starts to falter. "I have lost count. At least triple digits. I've been an assassin since I was very young. I cannot recall the age Pathogen started extending contracts to me. Now that I am well-known, I accept any contract if the price is right. Though, my services are costly."

Mark coughs. "Did you say Pathogen?"

"Ahh. I have your interest now, yes? I belong to the underground syndicate known as Pathogen that operates on a global level. I am going to bring them down. Which brings me to the reason for this little meeting."

Mark tries to elbow me. I press the knife against his face. "Which is?" he asks.

"You are going to search Interpol for anything related to Pathogen and their various associates. The world police organisation is the only area where I do not have access. But you do."

"What makes you think I am going to help an assassin that has apparently killed hundreds of people worldwide?"

"I don't. I am taking a risk on you. Do not make me regret it. To even the score, I will give you a chance." I release him from his headlock and kick him hard in the back. He flies forward. He gets up and faces me. "Show me what an Interpol agent can do against a Pathogen assassin."

The setting sun shines light onto his face. His eyes light up. His eyebrows are scrunched together. He bites his lip. Man, he is really pissed. Without saying another word, he runs at me. I start to backpedal. Right before he lunges, I grab his upper right arm with my left hand and his wrist with my right and use it as momentum to pull myself up. I extend my legs outward and curve my body, pulling his arm between my legs as my left leg crosses his face and right leg crosses his chest. The forward momentum allows me to flip him over. He lands on his back. I grab his wrist and pull his arm up. My legs extend out over his chest from the side. 

I dislocate his shoulder. "If Pathogen has taught me anything, fight with a calm mind. You will always win against someone who fights with emotion." His screams fill the room. It will not be long now until the remaining personnel from his team barge into the room guns blazing.

"I am... Not helping you," he manages to spit out. He grabs my leg with his free hand. He can't break this arm bar even if he tried.

"Keep fighting and I break it." I pull and extend his arm further.

He screams out again. "Stop!" he begs. He continues to try and move my leg, but the pressure he exerts decreases by the second.    

"It is up to you if you want to help me. I will keep killing. I have people to provide for. However, if you wish to put a stop to the organization responsible, I will be in touch." Continuing to keep his arm in check, I move one of my legs behind his head; up against the back of his neck. I move my other up, underneath his chin and collapse his throat between my legs. I squeeze, putting intense pressure on both of his carotid arteries. I continue to extend his arm to make sure he does not try to fight back. He passes out in a few seconds.

I get up and hear several pairs of footsteps run down the hall. I run through the patio door and jump off the balcony. Upon landing, I blend into the crowd in front of me. Poof.

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Chapter 2

"That bitch!" Mark yells. He throws a vase across the hotel room that costs more than he makes in a year. He is not paying for it. Half of his team stares at him while the other half go back to processing the scene. One of the medics checks him over.

"We're going to have to pop your arm back in place. Sooner rather than later. The longer we wait the more likely you will suffer from permanent damage," the medic says.

"Fine, just do it," Mark demands.

The medic nods his head and immediately pops Mark's arm back into its socket. He screams out for a brief second. Popping the arm back in hurts more than when the Whisperer dislocated it. "I'll take a look at your arm again in a little bit to make sure everything is okay. Now, you were unconscious when we got up here. I need to take a look at your neck as well."

Mark sighs. "Hurry up."

His protege walks over to him. "What the hell happened to you?"

"Nice of you to provide backup, Oliver," Mark spits out. Oliver is young, having been recruited into Interpol due to his unique crime solving skills at the young age of 18. He has short blond hair with dark blue eyes and always dresses without a care. He never follows the dress code or any other policy or rule for that matter. He wears jeans and a button-down, plaid shirt; an odd combination for an investigator to wear. Oliver reminds Mark of himself when he first started out his career. After Mark read a report on him, he took him under his wing. Mark became Oliver's mentor a little over one year ago. 

"Hey old man, you were the one who demanded that everyone get out of the room. So do not go blaming us for the fact you were knocked unconscious."

"I am 30 years old, Oliver. Hardly an old man."

"Still an old man in my books," he retorts. "What happened anyway? You neglected to fill us in."

The medic examines Mark's neck, eyeing the bruising and red portions indicating that something was pressed against it. "Were you choked?" the medic asks.

Oliver chuckles. "Seriously? You let someone get the drop on you?"

"Shut up, kid," he boasts. "She caught me off guard."

"SHE?! Ha. Now you're really an old man. Who was it?"

Mark pauses for a moment. "The Whisperer."

"...oh," Oliver manages to say after a pause. He reaches into his pocket and pulls out a sucker. He takes off the wrapper and pops it into his mouth. Cherry-flavored I would imagine. "You actually had a run-in with the Whisperer? Did she talk to you? What did she say? Or more importantly, how did she kick your ass?"

"All she did was taunt me," Mark lies. "Saying how I still could not catch her for two years. How she was right here with me in this very same room. She asked me how it felt to have my ass kicked by the mark I have been chasing for two years."

"Sounds like a hard ass," Oliver answers. "That is a chick with a pair of balls. I wonder where she got her training."

"She will reveal that information when we catch her," Mark lies, again. "I am not sure which direction she went after leaving. Nor do I know how long I was unconscious."

"Only a couple of minutes," the medic answers.

"You also have not explained how she got the jump on you. I mean yes you are a great investigator, but you also know how to take care of yourself. What happened?" Oliver asks.

"Great thing about my job is that I outrank you. Which means I do not have to tell you crap," he answers.

Oliver shrugs. "Fine then. Obviously, the only reason you do not want to talk about it is because of the embarrassment. So, I will ask the question a different way. What is so embarrassing that you do not want to give us the juicy details?"

"It is not important. What is important is the fact that she is still in this city. What is even more important is that we do not know if she has other contracts in Bucharest. If she doesn't, she may be making plans to head to her next destination. Or who knows, she may even be on a plane already getting the hell out of here."

"Did you get a look at her? Do we at least have a description to go with? I mean up until now, these past two years she has been a ghost," Oliver explains.

"Yes, I am well aware of that. She used the darkness to conceal herself." Mark stands up having been given the okay from the medic. "I can describe some of her physical features though. She is fit and athletic. When I engaged with her, I felt a leather vest and leather pants. She has long, brown hair that covers a large portion of her face; it mostly conceals her cold eyes. I couldn't tell the color of them due to little light. A red scarf covered the lower portion of her face below the nose." Mark pauses and thinks.

"Anything else?" Oliver asks. "That is a pretty damn vague description, even from you."

"There was one other thing. She was barefoot. But that won't help you find her." Mark walks over to the patio doors and steps onto the balcony.

Oliver follows and stands beside him. "How many assassins throughout history have ever executed contracts while barefoot?"

"None that I know of. But I can see her logic behind it. Shoes are never 100% reliable since they can squeak, make noise, and give your position away. Just wearing socks would be insanely stupid as well since you'd slide everywhere and Bucharest has hardwood floors in practically every building. Plus, socks provide little, if any, traction. You can't fight in them. Barefoot seems like the only logical choice. Honestly, it is really smart of her to fight like that. That's probably how she was trained. Though, it's common for martial artists and fighters alike to fight like that. But that's inside a cage or a ring."

"This is true. So basically who you just described is an athletically fit girl, with a red scarf, long brown hair, a black outfit, and she travels without shoes or socks. Is that right?"

Mark sighs. "Pretty much."

"I will put an APB out for every young woman in Bucharest. Anything else, sir?" Oliver says with a sarcastic tone.

"You know, you would not be such a dick if it were you in that room alone with the Whisperer." Mark takes out a cigarette and lights it. He tilts his head up and blows smoke into the dawning Romanian sky.

"True. But at least this description is a start. Would you be able to work with a sketch artist?" he asks.

Mark takes another puff of his cigarette. "Possibly, but like I said I did not get a great view of her face. I only got details about her clothes and physical characteristics."

"Better than what we had on her before; which was nothing." Oliver snaps his fingers at a group of idling team members who apparently have finished their work processing the scene. "You three, the Whisperer left this exact location no more than 10 minutes ago. The normal perimeter to be covered is two miles given that she is on foot. Being the Whisperer, we aren't going to take that chance. Extend the perimeter to six miles and close all streets." Oliver takes out a piece of paper and writes down Mark's vague description. "This is what she was last seen wearing. Spread this to the locals and our team as well. If you see her, do not approach her. You'll die before you realized what is going on. Clear?"

"Yes, sir." A man grabs the paper from Oliver and bolts off in the opposite direction.

Mark places his pack of cigarettes back into his pocket. A piece of paper brushes up against his hand. He pauses for a second before pulling it out. He opens it and laughs.

"What is it?" Oliver asks. Mark hands him the paper. He turns it the right way and reads it out loud, "Cigarettes are going to kill you before I do. -W. I'm assuming W stands for the Whisperer."

Mark turns and looks at him. "I can't believe we pay you when you say stupid things like that. She must have slipped it into my pocket."

"Did she take anything?"

Mark is silent as he huffs on his cigarette. "I actually had not thought to check. I was so angry earlier I was not thinking clearly." A light bulb goes off in his head as the Whisperer's words pop back into focus. He chuckles to himself. He rummages through his pockets and pulls out his Interpol identification and wallet. He flips through each of them, not finding anything missing or out of place.

"What about your phone?" Oliver suggests.

He reaches into his other pocket and pulls out his phone. It is a smart phone, but of the lowest quality money can buy. Mark does not want those fancy new smart phones that cost enough money to feed an entire village for a year. A phone is meant for talking to someone; not communicating with another person through sending words on a screen. He inputs his security code and Interpol identification number and swipes through his phone. "Nothing seems to be out of the ordinary here either."

"That's strange. You would think she would leave some kind of tracking device on you or something." Oliver shrugs. "Guess not. Maybe she has something else planned for you."

The sun disappears beneath the horizon. Darkness has engulfed the city. The headlights from the cars come into focus. Lights in random office building windows signify that people work way too hard at their job. "I have been tracking her for two years, and only now I come face to face with her. What's changed?" Mark asks more to himself than to his partner.

Oliver looks out into the city. "She's out there somewhere. Right now, doing who knows what. Probably accepting another contract. I wonder-"

"She said that she has people she needs to provide for," Mark interrupts.

"What?" Oliver turns to him.

"I think she has a family. She said she will keep killing in order to provide for them. My guess is that they are very well protected. And that includes identity protection as well. Though, we need to determine the Whisperer's real name to see if we are able to track down those she cares for. Let's see how she likes it when we go after the people that drives her passion. Bringing those she cares for into the investigation will definitely get her attention." Mark walks up and places his arms on the railing at the edge of the balcony.

"True. But look what she did to you without being pissed or angry," Oliver adds.

"Yes, but she fights without emotion. She told me so when she dislocated my arm. If we can get her to fight with emotion, we'll have the edge." Mark explains. He takes one last puff of his cigarette and tosses it over the balcony. He looks around. No one sees him.

Oliver puts his hands into his pockets. "I see where you're going with this. Though, going after those she holds dear may do nothing if she is a sociopath; only they can feel nothing in the presence of something that demands to be felt."

"We will see what happens. I believe I know where to start. I want you to head back to headquarters in Lyon and see if we have any active or expired files that involve the organization known as Pathogen."

"Never heard of it," Oliver answers. "I'll be on the next flight out. Call me should you need anything." He pats Mark on the back before heading back into the room.

Mark continues to stare out into the city. "Knowing you, you came here for more than just the chance to use me to get your information. Where are you right now?"

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