NEARLY A DECADE after its inception, the “dark web” remains a mystery to the vast majority of online users. Inaccessible via traditional search engines, this sinister shadowland of the World Wide Web provides anonymous access to a mind-boggling menu of illegal goods and services.
From its humble beginning hosting Silk Road—the first online black market to sell illegal drugs—the dark web blossomed into a massive network of illicit sites dealing in weapons, child pornography, political secrets, and even professionals for hire, including prostitutes, hackers, spies, terrorists, and assassins.
Every week, the dark web hosted literally millions of transactions, and tonight, outside the ruin bars of Budapest, one of those transactions was about to be completed.
The man in the baseball cap and blue jeans moved stealthily along Kazinczy Street, staying in the shadows as he tracked his prey. Missions like this one had become his bread and butter over the past few years and were always negotiated through a handful of popular networks—Unfriendly Solution, Hitman Network, and BesaMafia.
Assassination for hire was a billion-dollar industry and growing daily, due primarily to the dark web’s guarantee of anonymous negotiations and untraceable payment via Bitcoin. Most hits involved insurance fraud, bad business partnerships, or turbulent marriages, but the rationale was never the concern of the person carrying out the job.
No questions, the killer mused. That is the unspoken rule that makes my business work.
Tonight’s job was one he had accepted several days ago. His anonymous employer had offered him 150,000 euros for staking out the home of an old rabbi and remaining “on call” in case action needed to be taken. Action, in this case, meant breaking into the man’s home and injecting him with potassium chloride, resulting in immediate death from an apparent heart attack.
Tonight, unexpectedly, the rabbi had left his home in the middle of the night and taken a city bus to a seedy neighborhood. The assassin had tailed him and then used the encrypted overlay program on his smart-phone to inform his employer of the development.
Target has exited home. Traveled to bar district.
Possibly meeting someone?
His employer’s response was almost immediate.
Now, among the ruin bars and dark alleyways, what had begun as a stakeout had become a deadly game of cat and mouse.
Rabbi Yehuda Köves was sweating and out of breath as he made his way along Kazinczy Street. His lungs burned, and he felt as if his aging bladder were about to burst.
All I need is a toilet and some rest, he thought, pausing among a crowd congregating outside Bar Szimpla—one of Budapest’s largest and most famous ruin bars. The patrons here were such a diverse mix of ages and professions that nobody gave the old rabbi a second look.
I’ll stop just for a moment, he decided, moving toward the bar.
Once a spectacular stone mansion with elegant balconies and tall windows, the Bar Szimpla was now a dilapidated shell covered with graffiti. As Köves moved through the wide portico of this once grand city residence, he passed through a doorway inscribed with an encoded message: EGG-ESH-AY-GED-REH!
It took him a moment to realize that it was nothing but the phonetic spelling of the Hungarian word egészségedre—meaning “cheers!”
Entering, Köves stared in disbelief at the bar’s cavernous interior. The derelict mansion was built around a sprawling courtyard dotted with some of the strangest objects the rabbi had ever seen—a couch made from a bathtub, mannequins riding bicycles suspended in the air, and a gutted East German Trabant sedan, which now served as makeshift seating for patrons.
The courtyard was enclosed by high walls adorned with a patchwork of spray-painted graffiti, Soviet-era posters, classical sculptures, and hanging plants that spilled over interior balconies packed with patrons who all swayed to the thumping music. The air smelled of cigarettes and beer. Young couples kissed passionately in plain sight while others discreetly smoked from small pipes and drank shots of pálinka, a popular fruit brandy bottled in Hungary.
Köves always found it ironic that humans, despite being God’s most sublime creation, were still just animals at the core, their behavior driven to a great extent by a quest for creature comforts. We comfort our physical bodies in hopes our souls will follow. Köves spent much of his time counseling those who overindulged in the animal temptations of the body—primarily food and sex—and with the rise of Internet addiction and cheap designer drugs, his job had grown more challenging every day.
The only creature comfort Köves needed at the moment was a restroom, and so he was dismayed to find a line ten people deep. Unable to wait, he gingerly climbed the stairs, where he was told he would find numerous other restrooms. On the second floor of the mansion, the rabbi moved through a labyrinth of adjoining sitting rooms and bedrooms, each with its own little bar or seating area. He asked one of the bartenders about a bathroom, and the man pointed to a hallway a good distance away, apparently accessible along a balcony walkway that overlooked the courtyard.
Köves quickly made his way to the balcony, placing a steadying hand on the railing as he moved along it. As he walked, he peered absently into the bustling courtyard below, where a sea of young people gyrated in rhythm to the deep pulse of the music.
Then Köves saw it.
He stopped short, his blood turning cold.
There, in the middle of the crowd, the man in the baseball cap and jeans was staring directly up at him. For one brief instant, the two men locked eyes. Then, with the speed of a panther, the man in the cap sprang into action, pushing his way past patrons and sprinting up the staircase.
The assassin bounded up the stairs, scrutinizing every face he passed. Bar Szimpla was quite familiar to him, and he quickly made his way to the balcony where his target had been standing.
The rabbi was gone.
I did not pass you, the killer thought, which means you moved deeper into the building.
Raising his gaze to a darkened corridor ahead, the assassin smiled, suspecting he knew precisely where his mark would try to hide.
The corridor was cramped and smelled of urine. At the far end was a warped wooden door.
The killer padded loudly down the corridor and banged on the door.
He knocked again.
A deep voice inside grunted that the room was occupied.
“Bocsásson meg!” the killer apologized in a chirpy voice, and made a show of loudly moving away. Then he silently turned around and came back to the door, pressing his ear to the wood. Inside, he could hear the rabbi whispering desperately in Hungarian.
“Someone is trying to kill me! He was outside my house! Now he has trapped me inside Bar Szimpla in Budapest! Please! Send help!”
Apparently, his target had dialed 112—Budapest’s equivalent of 911. Response times were notoriously slow, but nonetheless, the killer had heard enough.
Glancing behind him to make sure he was alone, he leveled his muscular shoulder toward the door, leaned back, and synchronized his attack with the thunderous beat of the music.
The old butterfly latch exploded on the first try. The door flew open. The killer stepped inside, closed the door behind him, and faced his prey.
The man cowering in the corner looked as confused as he did terrified.
The killer took the rabbi’s phone, ended the call, and tossed the phone into the toilet.
“Wh-who sent you?!” the rabbi stammered.
“The beauty of my situation,” the man replied, “is that I have no way to know.”
The old man was wheezing now, sweating profusely. He suddenly began to gasp, his eyes bulging out as he reached up and seized his own chest with both hands.
Really? the killer thought, smiling. He’s having a heart attack?
On the bathroom floor, the old man writhed and choked, his eyes pleading for compassion as his face turned red and he clawed at his chest. Finally, he pitched face-first onto the grimy tile, where he lay trembling and shuddering as his bladder emptied itself into his pants, a trickle of urine now running across the floor.
Finally, the rabbi was still.
The killer crouched down and listened for breathing. Not a sound.
Then he stood up, smirking. “You made my job far easier than I anticipated.”
With that, the killer strode toward the door.
Rabbi Köves’s lungs strained for air.
He had just given the performance of a lifetime.
Teetering near unconsciousness, he lay motionless and listened as his attacker’s footsteps retreated across the bathroom floor. The door creaked open and then clicked closed.
Köves forced himself to wait another couple of seconds to ensure that his attacker had walked down the hall out of earshot. Then, unable to wait another instant, Köves exhaled and began pulling in deep life-giving breaths. Even the stale air of the bathroom tasted heaven-sent.
Slowly, he opened his eyes, his vision hazy from lack of oxygen. As Köves raised his throbbing head, his vision began to clear. To his bewilderment, he saw a dark figure standing just inside the closed door.
The man in the baseball cap was smiling down at him.
Köves froze. He never left the room.
The killer took two long strides to the rabbi, and with a viselike grip, he grabbed the rabbi’s neck and shoved his face back into the tile floor.
“You could stop your breathing,” snarled the killer, “but you couldn’t stop your heart.” He laughed. “Not to worry, I can help you with that.”
An instant later, a searing point of heat tore into the side of Köves’s neck. A molten fire seemed to flow down his throat and up over his skull. This time, when his heart seized, he knew it was for real.
After dedicating much of his life to the mysteries of Shamayim—the dwelling place of God and the righteous dead—Rabbi Yehuda Köves knew that all the answers were just a heartbeat away.在线阅读网：http://www.yUedu88.com/