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View Full Version : [NSW-Fic] Heart of the Assassin; full work


machievelli
12-25-2008, 03:14 PM
Heart of the Assassin

Now

I felt the trigger break clean, the gentle cough of the silenced weapon, the round already halfway to its target. The man fell forward and I waited a moment before approaching.

He wasn’t who I was after. Bodyguards cover my usual targets, and this guy had just accepted the wrong man’s money.

As often as you see it in the movies, a gun cannot be completely silent unless you accept some serious drawbacks. The bullet has to be sub-sonic so it doesn’t make a noise as it travels. That means you have to be a good shot. Second, you can’t use a revolver; the gaps in the cylinder allow the noise out. Automatics are the weapons of last resort, and you lose the ‘automatic’ part because the slide cycling first lets out noise, and even if it did not the click of the cycle would. So you use the slide block to stop it. Felt recoil is greater because the gas that would initiate the cycle has to go forward into the suppressor. You end up with a silent single shot pistol that has to be cycled by hand.

I picked him up, lifting the dead weight and leaning him against the windshield of the car he had been guarding. I crossed his arms, tilting his head down bent forward as if asleep or deep in thought, one leg bent on the hood, the other hanging down. To someone who didn’t expect trouble, he looked like he was merely relaxing. My opponents might be fooled, but if they were worth what they were paid, not for more than a second.

I slid out the Dutch made mini grenade, sliding it between his back and the glass, the spoon against his back. Then I eased out the pin. I had cased this job very carefully as I had been taught. La Rive Gauche was one of the best eateries in the city. Try a hundred dollar a plate dinners of rich French food. Imported wine that would pay your rent for a week, that kind of thing. It was on the third floor of the building, with a good view of the harbor.

I knew that because I had eaten there less than a week ago on my internal sweep. That was how I knew that someone eating even at one of the window tables could not see the street directly. There were only two ways out of the high-class restaurant, the main door, and the back stairs. I had this side covered.

I moved nonchalantly down to the alley, slipping around the corner then flipped on my Blackberry. I keyed in the sequence that brought the four cameras up. One covered the rear entrance, another the roof, the other two different angles on the car. I know that cell phone companies ban the use of their systems for this kind of work. I won’t tell them if you won’t. I waited.

The door started to open, and I saw one of the travel team guards freeze in the door then back up. Standard procedure, if switching from an enclosed space to an open one send one guy ahead on point at least five meters ahead of the principle. Anything wrong, he merely backs up, and you go for plan B. Or he eats it and you go for ‘run like hell’. There was a long moment then the same man came out of the door, walking rapidly toward the car.

My estimation of the competition went up a notch. They had obviously scoped out the rear entrance and didn’t like it at all. Narrow alley; forgive the pun but a straight shot either direction for 20 meters or so. The only cover was the two dumpsters one on either side of the door. Doable if you were up against one man, but against a team a deathtrap. When I saw the section of the Movie Sin City named the Big Fat Kill I knew what was going to happen to the mobsters.

Spoiled the movie for me.

But if they could get to the car, they might be safe. An armored Mercedes Benz would stop just about anything.

The man looked at his late partner, then nudged him. He had less than a second to realize that he had been booby-trapped before the grenade erased him from existence. I had replaced the standard five to six-second fuse with one out of a smoke grenade, which has a delay of just one second. Mercedes won the bet, because as two bodies were blown across the street, I could see that the car was dented and scratched, but the hood and windshield stood up to the explosion. I pressed the button. There was a thump of metal, the back of the car bounced once sharply on its shocks. An instant later the back of the car suddenly opened up like a flower of metal as the .50 caliber armor piercing bullet punched down, the depleted uranium exploding into a fireball engulfing the gas tank.

Like I said, almost anything.

I could almost read the team leader’s mind.

So there were two of us, eh? One close one far; now the back door must look pretty good. I drew my pistol, cycling it, catching the brass before it could hit the ground.

Now it was a toss up. Try the front in a rush, get to another street and grab a car? Or out the back like bunnies, run down it to the street and again acquire a vehicle? I was covered either way, so it really didn’t matter.

I saw the back door open, a head sticking out. A waiter. They had grabbed him obviously to shove out in case I was standing out there gun in hand like some idjit out of a bad movie. Then the waiter disappeared, and I saw the team leader take a quick look. He came out, his remaining partner popping out back to back, each aiming in opposite directions, eyes checking not only the alley itself, but the overhead too. You wouldn’t believe how many people die because they forget an enemy can be above or below them. There was a motion, and the target came into view. Pierre La Batiste, a mob boss of the Union Corse, the French version of the Mafia.

They started to move down the alley, one man ahead, the other behind looking at the back trail as they started to run. I pressed the second button. The three claymores I had planted went off pretty much simultaneously.

That’s right three. Two had been placed on opposite sides of the door on those dumpsters, the third on a trashcan across from the restaurant. 600 balls the size of a BB swept death across the two scenes, and all three went down in a bloody mass. I ran down the alley, turning into the crossing one they were in. I checked them all. If one of the guards had been alive I would have left them, but I wasn’t going to let them shoot me in the back.
All dead.

I walked down the alley toward the cross alley, and pulled the slippers out of my inner pocket. I took off the bloody shoes, slipped on the new footwear, and cat footed it down an alley to my car. I popped the trunk, setting the shoes on a piece of plastic, and took out the boots that were there putting them on. The bloody shoes were bound and sealed into a plastic bag. The police would know someone had run down that alley to the bodies. Any idiot in forensics could tell them how tall I was from the stride distance. But they would be looking for evidence such as a bloody pair of shoes.

I climbed in setting the package on the passenger seat, started the car, and drove.

First I stopped at the building where I had set up the Barrett a klick and a half away. Couldn’t leave that… I liked that gun.
I passed a trash truck five kilometers away on its route, and as the men moved onto the curb to pick up I flung the package into the open maw of the compactor, pulling off half a block up and waiting. They dumped the cans, one of them flipping the switch and the shoes disappeared into the truck’s back. There were fifty trucks moving around at any hour of the day or night, and they all dumped in the same landfill. What do you think the odds are that they might find those shoes now?

Good enough that I wouldn’t lose any sleep over it.

I headed home.

Then

I was perfect for them. I had no family, no links to the world. I was a foundling who grew up in an orphanage. Unless you have spent time in one you cannot imagine what it is like in an orphanage. Picture the worst prison movie you have ever seen then shrink all of the characters to children from newborn to eighteen. Now consider that our only crimes were that we didn’t know who our parents were. The same stereotypes emerge, the same degradation, only writ small.

I was always a fighter. I fought back even if the size disparity was so great that I could never win. Picture a seven year old throwing himself at an older teenager like a wolverine. That was me.

When I turned ten I became smarter. As David Weber said in the book Crown of Slaves, if sheer righteous fury could accomplish anything worthwhile the wolverine would have inherited the Earth. It wasn’t that sheer ferocity would not succeed. But why throw yourself at the enemy, pinning his defenses so that others would win through? It is more satisfying to be the one who lived to gain all of those advantages. Who is better remembered, the ones who died in the battle, or those that survived Agincourt?

I became more like the shrew, an animal that must hunt just to survive. The same unquenchable ferocity in something that tiny should be amusing until you see them hunt. A shrew must eat it’s own weight every day just to avoid starving to death. A dime shrew, a tenth of an ounce will attack a mouse that weighs more than an ounce if the choice is death or survival. But it preys on animals sometimes a hundred times it’s own weight and must attack from ambush to succeed.

I would ambush them instead. Even an eighteen year old was smaller if they didn’t know you were coming. Soon the bullies knew that to mess with me was worth their lives. A couple of near fatal ‘accidents’ were enough to convince them of that. Yet I violated the hierarchy of such places. I did not myself become the new oppressor. I would remove the ‘king’ and leave the kingdom without him until another foolishly tried to take his place. Somewhere inside part of my mind all those years ago I had drawn a line through humanity. Above were those who needed to be protected, below those who oppressed, who were my prey. I was the sole being in my view who lived in that shadowland between being the oppressors and the oppressed.

Were my services necessary? Ask the oppressed, or better yet, ask the oppressor.

Before the original Gulf War, the army had a slogan; ‘be all that you can be’. You might say I took those words to heart. When I turned eighteen I went to the recruiting center and enlisted.

I was a terrible soldier. Within weeks of being assigned to a unit my sergeant was unsure what to do with me. It wasn’t that I didn’t learn or couldn’t understand the regimen. I soaked up why physical training weapons training, hand-to-hand combat and even small unit tactics were important like a sponge. If you looked at those scores I should have been assigned as corporal.

But if I wasn’t in charge those lives weren’t important to me. When it was ‘my’ fire team we waltzed through a sim with little loss. If someone else was in charge we won, though sometimes I was the last man standing. Others in the squad would try to convince me to work with them. Sometimes these ‘motivational chats’ would get ugly.

I dealt with them the same way I did in the orphanage. After the first month the ‘chats’ stopped.

I had a chance to see my psych profile from then much later. I was ‘unwilling to accept command authority’. I tended to ‘question orders from any superior’ and was ‘a loner’.

In a war, I would have been decorated with more gongs than anyone but Audie Murphy. In a peacetime army I was a bomb waiting to blow at any moment.

Then some guy with the Agency saw me. I was separated with a General under Honorable Conditions discharge, and my new life began.

The first thing you have to remember is that the CIA among other agencies are not allowed to assassinate the people they defined as enemies. Not since Gerald Ford signed the Executive Order in the mid 1970s. Have you ever wondered how men like Saddam Hussein Yasser Arafat and Osama Bin Ladon became dangers to America when the ‘Agency’ was supposed to protect us? Look to Gerald Ford, better known for disabling golf opponents than enemies during his tenure.

But there were ways around that stricture. The Agency created a school that trained operatives from around the world in diplomatic protection. Driving, spotting and eliminating the designated enemy. And at the same time, the faculty looked for people like me. Out of every hundred maybe two were tapped as I was. The others went on to do exactly what they were trained to do, freelance professional security officers. But those two percent…

Who better to penetrate such security than someone trained in its organization? Those special student were never trained in groups, once one of us was chosen, we received much more personal handling. A year of that, and I was ready.

So I was listed as a ‘security specialist’ and became by definition a freelance operative. But my job wasn’t protection. It was assassination.

I was once your government tax dollars in action.

It’s funny really. The Director of the CIA could sit in front of the Joint subcommittee and swear that the CIA did not fund assassins. Because my money came from where ever they needed it to shunt it. I killed two who were probably targeted by Health Education and Welfare of all people. They couldn’t go after the big dogs, but there were a lot of small mutts they could squash. I was trained to kill them from any range, with any weapon from the pen sitting on your desk to the Barrett sniper rifle that can reach out and touch someone two kilometers away.

They didn’t just pick me because I was good at killing; they also picked me for my looks and build. My hair was a sandy brown; light hazel eyes in a nondescript face. I could walk by you on the street and thirty seconds later I was forgotten. By using something as simple as contact lenses, glasses and parting my hair differently I could walk by again and you would not recognize me from before, and I was still as forgettable. If I added hair dye I was essentially invisible.

Once I had graduated. I spent five years operating in a lot of countries and meeting a lot of people. All of them remembered those meetings. At least for the seconds before they died.

But in one of those rare dichotomies while my skills made me one of their best pupils, it again made me a rogue. You see while to the military I was a loose cannon, to the men who trained us I was too moral. I wouldn’t kill on command, regardless of why. I loathed the users, the parasites, some of which are the best supporters of America.

People think hired killers are a rare breed. In fact we are not. It’s just a matter of quality versus quantity. 90% were what I can charitably call idiots. People who thought of killing as a sport. Have you ever seen a movie entitled ‘I love you to death’? The lower echelons are those types, fools that took payment for kills, but weren’t smart enough to keep their mouths shut afterward. The upper echelon are the actual mob ‘hit men’ that blow each other away in gay abandon and almost no efficiency.

Then you have those hamstrung by ideology. Whether by government or religion, another 9%, some are pretty good, but your targets are chosen because of your beliefs. Even timing is chosen by them a lot of times. So good men die because they ideology is different from yours, and for no other reason.

That leaves the 1% who truly are professional. People like me. The type of man I killed was more important than the money. I killed the users and abusers.

The Agency and I had a falling out of sorts right before the Younger Bush took office. So I left, and put up my shingle as it were.

Now

My pied a terre in Philadelphia was a small condo on the east side, about $350,000 worth even with today’s depressed market.

The one thing I had taken to heart; you need someplace safe, no matter where you were. So if I operated in a city, I bought a place there. None of them were ostentatious; the largest was a two-bedroom house on five acres in the Colorado mountains, the smallest a studio in Marin County. This one was a one bedroom with attached office. A Swiss bank that watched the local real estate markets handled all of them. If I retired, I had several million dollars worth of property that I could liquidate as necessary, and even in the worst nations all of them would go up in value rather than down. Me? I was merely Herr Marco Lauren, the real estate agent with an international portfolio.

There was only one thing in my apartments that went everywhere I went. A laptop.

I took a shower, toweling my hair dry as I booted up. The system I had was specially designed. No matter where I was in the world, customers could find me. Originally a programmer working for the NSA had done the programming. I wasn’t stupid enough to believe they would stay true in their loyalty to me. Sometimes throwing someone like me to the wolf-pack would salvage a political career.

So I went to a kid I knew from the home. He had ended up on the wrong side of the law because of his skills. So far on the wrong side that legally he couldn’t even touch a touch-tone telephone until he finished college.

For fifty thousand dollars he had decompiled the NSA program, then built an almost an exact duplicate. What he left out were any backdoors or ways to access the system without having the unit in you hands. I had warned him as if we were still inmates, I mean ‘orphans’ that if I ever even thought he had added one of his own, I would remove the only person who could access it personally, and he believed me.

He had also created the computer equivalent of a suicide pill. Any attempt to access the system from outside, or putting in the wrong password twice set off an automatic reformat of the system. Even removing the drive would do that. As it booted up the system automatically checked all of the peripherals. If it didn’t have exactly the same hardware or software, right down to the battery, it would also eliminate all evidence. The system had been set to accept my own typing speed and style. I never learned how to type with ten fingers I had always used two though I typed relatively fast. So a skilled typist would set off the same alarm.

All they would get is a blank hard drive. I had promised if he kept his nose clean, I would let him do any upgrades. Clean meaning he might finally accept a Federal paycheck, but if he ever told them about me, he’d get a bullet and a shallow grave

One of the upgrades was the system used to allow clients to contact me. All of us had code names, but if you happened to put ‘Angel of Death’ in Google, you would find me if you followed the right links. ‘God of Death’ gives you about the same. Everyone in the know whichever side of the street they worked on knew that. It is the persistence that pays off. Each site had a lot of pages that lead to boring treatises about Azrael, the angel that is supposed to have been in charge when Moses struck Egypt with the last plague, to Pluto, god of the underworld.

But if you kept looking, all would lead to a button marked ‘contact us’. I got all of those e-mails through a maze of subsidiary e-mail addresses. Each would be encrypted with a special cipher. If you’re interested it is called a rotating dynamic random system. The cipher changed literally every few minutes. Without knowing the exact second it had been sent, you couldn’t read it without several hours of work with a Sun Microsystems mainframe.

Once encrypted they were sent, shunted here, shunted there, shunted everywhere… but finally to me. All required a ‘valid’ e-mail address for me to reply, and I would ask what they wanted. Those in the know knew they must specify whom they wanted dead. I would look over the situation, then reply with a price for my assistance. No haggling, no quibbling. Once I accepted, one third would go into my escrow account in Switzerland, the rest on completion.

Believe it or not, there are rules in what we do on the professional level. Don’t target each other unless we actively interfered. Don’t poach other professionals’ targets, don’t kill families and don’t kill anyone you weren’t paid to kill.

Of course there were those that thought ‘professional killer’ meant stupid. Hire you for the job, then kill you so they don’t have to pay. Or they hire someone else to kill you.

If anyone tried to track me down, they found themselves looking through a farrago of e-mail sites, none of which was my own. But every one warned me that someone was trying to back-trace me. I knew that because that tripwire was what told me when someone was trying to find but not contact me. Those that tried to find me met me on my own terms.

Not what an intelligent person would ask for.

The ISP automatically checked for anyone snooping around, then routed itself through a dozen different nets before accessing my mail. I sighed, sitting with a glass of wine, looking at it.

There were job offers galore. If I had been willing to kill significant others of sexual or financial stripe I could have worked 24/7. The assorted wives, lovers, business partners et al would have filled my days with bodies.

Those were for the idjits.

Then the ideological pleas. ‘Please kill [insert name] here because his death will help nation [insert name] here.’

Those were for the 9%.

Then the ones who lived only because someone like me had not yet been hired to remove them from existence. Parasites, monsters; things that belonged in whatever your religion’s version of hell was. Those beyond the law; beyond politics, beyond ideology, beyond something as mundane as love or money. They were my bread and butter. Not worth the powder that would put a bullet through their brains as people. But they had money, bodyguards, weapons, protection from politicians, even laws to defend themselves. They were not taken easily so they were premium price targets.

There was one. A weapons dealer deported back to France by the US in 1971. He still had connections, and through links to his own organization he supplied weapons to terrorists. He supplied them to anyone and everyone without caring who they might kill. He lived in Marseille now, growing fat as people died everywhere. There was no proof he had done anything since middlemen handled everything. The US could not touch him, his connections reached even into the French Parliament and intelligence networks.

I looked over the situation. He had half a dozen of the local mob bosses in his pocket. They supplied muscle to protect him. The State Department’s ‘Special Ops’ section, those trained like I was had tried to take him down, and they’d left bodies laying across the Cote De Azure. Unfortunately, most of those bodies were their own men. They had failed miserably.

But while money will buy you out of any problem money will buy you a solution as well. A man’s son had become a victim of a terrorist bomb. A very wealthy man, willing to spend anything to have the weapons cut off at their source.

And he was willing to spend it, Try a million US worth. Two if you would videotape the target’s death by torture. I almost went past it. The rich man wanted him dead too badly. But I looked at it, and went over what my own files had on the target. While tough his security was not impenetrable. I could do it.

And if anyone deserved to die, it was Guido Camarecchi. He was supposed to be in Paris in three weeks for a meeting with his bankers.

I arranged tickets. Philly to New York; New York to London; London to Paris. I would arrive at least two weeks before he did, and have a chance to scout out the area.

Satisfied, I went to bed.

Now

Six time zones, eleven hours of travel. I arrived in Paris well rested. I almost always sleep on such flights. I had arrived and was through customs before I remembered the date.

17 July. A day I remembered very well. I found a flower shop, and bought a dozen Belladonna lilies. Then I asked the proprietor where the local cemetery was. As I rode the cab over, I looked at the flowers. Bella donna; beautiful lady in Italian. There is a plant by the same name that they used in the Renaissance to make a woman more attractive. It makes the eyes wide and doe-like. It is also a deadly poison in higher concentrations. The lily and the plant are not related.

I stepped from the cab, looking at the flowers for a long moment.

People like me should never visit cemeteries. We have spent so much time in our lives being the grim reaper the other side eagerly awaits our arrival. It wouldn’t be dying; it would be going home. If we were religious, we might even think that all those we had sent on were waiting; ready to drag us into a grave we passed.

But I had always celebrated her death in this way. By laying flowers on a grave; it didn’t matter whose. After all she never had one that I knew of.

I picked a stone that felt right, kneeling to set the flowers beside the grave marker.

“I know this isn’t your grave.” I whispered. “But when this day comes, I must mourn you.”

God I missed her. She had been my chance to walk away from my life, to be rather than just exist. I stood, then walked away from the grave. Ahead of me was a woman. She carried a bouquet, and paused, then knelt with unconscious grace to set them on a grave. I started to turn onto another path and I caught a glimpse of her profile.

It felt like someone had shoved a knife in my heart and twisted it. It couldn’t be her.

I didn’t change my course; I gave no outward sign of what struck me. I kept walking. At the next footpath I turned, looking at the stones as if searching for a name. I could see more of her face now, but still I didn’t react. It couldn’t be her. I picked up my pace, merely a man who had finished his family duty and now was heading home. I cursed that part of me that had hoped it was really her. I cursed my own heart, the one I was sure I didn’t have except for moments like this.

It couldn’t be her. Fujiko was dead. She had been dead for two years today. I knew it because I had heard her die.

machievelli
12-25-2008, 03:49 PM
Then

When you’re ‘working’ for the government it’s easier. Every expense is paid, you work maybe twice a year, because they don’t want you to burn out. But when you really start working on your own another set of statistics come into play.

The biggest problem with my job is you burn out fast. The average life expectancy in my line of work is five years. Either you die or quit by then. Some go a lot farther, but not many. It takes a special person to do this on the average of once every two months for five years.

A lot of them quit. The average payment per job is about $100,000 a job. If you bank it all - carefully mind you - and live on cheeseburgers, you have just under half a million at the end of a year, just under three million after five years. With careful investments, you can live out your life on that much money.

The rest die. The reason some die is they become so sure of their own superiority. You get sloppy; you get a pine box without a headstone.

Worse yet, you can get addicted to the kill instead of the hunt. You start enjoying that little squirt of adrenaline when you see the man’s head explode as a bullet punches through it.

Face it; you have those who get hooked on drugs, or god, or whatever you want to OD on. In my line of work, you get hooked on death as it were. You need that jolt to keep your heart going. Maybe you accept that commission where the buyer wants you to gut the man like a fish, that kind of thing.

After seeing what my targets had done there were times I was almost willing to send them to a hell where what I did to them before they arrived seemed tame in comparison.

But others… They get sick of it. You don’t want to pull the trigger, even when you know you have to. You hesitate, and again it’s pine box time.

I was at that point. Not that I had become sloppy or enjoying it, just that I was sick of it. Every death was a weight on my soul, dragging me down. What good was I doing? If you have ever read about Hercules’ labors, you remember the Hydra, a monster with nine heads, one immortal, the others dividing every time you chopped one off. Hercules succeeded by burning the stumps of the mortal heads, and burying the immortal one beneath a stone.

That analogy was almost perfect, but there is another way to look at it. If you have ever studied mythology, you might have heard of King Canute, a legendary Saxon war chief who thought he was master of the world. Someone told him that the sea was greater than he was, and for forty years, he went down every day to battle the sea, as he grew older and older.
I knew exactly how Canute and Hercules felt. Every time I killed a monster another would take his place. I could kill for my entire life and still be where I was this very minute. What was I to do? I did not have the strength or the infinite patience that admittedly rather stupid demi-god had. I also wasn’t as stubborn as Canute. I knew my work was a stopgap, nothing more.

I was starting to burn out.

*****

I had been setting up for a job in New York when I first met her. My target this time called himself the General. The highest rank he had ever reached when his little African nation was still a colony had been private first class. Back in the 60s he had been in the forefront of his people’s push for independence. The then president had promoted him to sergeant, then to captain. He had proven ruthless in carrying out whatever the president had ordered. According to the UN, he had been instrumental in the destruction of two entire tribes in his homeland.

The president ran afoul of a surface to air missile one bright day, and the new president had tried to purge the poisonous insect. The General, as he had started to call himself at that time then had begun an insurgency; a terrorist organization in everything but name. For twenty years he had slaughtered anyone who stood in his path.

The Security Council and General Assembly had been unable to gather support for official action. After all, the last time the UN had sent in troops it had been when they forced Katanga to remain part of what is now Zaire. The war dragged on, and the only ones who were enjoying it were arms merchants, and diamond smugglers who were selling hundreds of carats of ‘blood diamonds’.

The UN had sent in medical teams in the first five years, trying to undercut his authority. In retaliation, the General had sent in his men. The children recently vaccinated against ills children in other nations didn’t have to worry about had been gathered; their arms chopped off with pangas, the razor sharp knives used to cut paths in the bush.

Finally the UN had given up. Without their support, and most of the world busy with their own problems, the General had taken over the country and instituted a reign of terror that made the French ‘Reign of Terror’, Stalin’s purges and the massacre by Pol Pot look like minor disagreements. By the UN’s own estimates he had reduced the population by more than half in the last decade.

Then by chance, the idiot hit a UN convoy. One of the victims of the attack was a man little known outside Africa.

His name was Ubrio Sacoro. He had become a Franciscan monk in the 60s, and had been the first African from his country to be put forward as a possible archbishop. Like all Franciscans he had taken oaths not only of poverty but also of nonviolence.

I can almost picture the quiet little black man, advancing with all the strength of his faith against the attackers. I didn’t have to picture what had been done to him. Every man had been disemboweled, their genitals stuffed in their mouths, throats cut and eyes ripped from their sockets. Later forensic testing had proven that the man now called a true martyr of the faith had died from blood loss from the same treatment. All of it had been done to him while he still lived. Every woman in the convoy had been raped repeatedly. According to the UN strike team that had found the convoy, not even the seven-year-old daughter of one of the aid workers had been spared.

That more than anything had focused the people of the region on one enemy. A popular uprising had smashed the General’s henchmen, put most of them in the grave, and left the survivors to flee to America.

Here he was the ‘legitimate government in exile’ and all the State Department could do was grit their teeth. After all, there was a core of African American ‘Nationalists’ who didn’t care if their golden man was a monster. Not when there was proof that the ‘oppressors’ had hired white mercenaries to train their new army. He was living high on the money looted, and as long as he lived, that nation would never be able to get it back.

That’s where I came in. The people of that nation wanted vengeance. They were offering just under a million dollars if I killed him, twice as much if I used a panga to dismantle him, three times if I did it on camera.

I knew I should have gone past. This was one of those ‘Idjit’ contracts. But I had looked at the picture of that child they had killed. I had read the coroner’s report of what that saintly man had endured, and I had thought of what kind of monster would not only commit such an atrocity on those innocent bodies, but also what kind of demon would order it.

I had clicked ACCEPT.

It took less than a week to plan. The only time he was out in the open was when he met his girlfriend. I had a few days left before he would visit her again, so I decided to relax. My cover was as a post grad student. If anyone asked I could bore them to tears about levels of pollution from the 16th century to the present.

So I went to a nice restaurant.

Just having money and training doesn’t make you fit into the upper echelon who paid most of our bills, it is a matter of honing that training, using it to learn to fit in. I had learned to pretend to be the dilettante I appeared to be. I could out-snob a French maitre de, pick the best wine to go with any dish, sneer with the best of them. When I was working I was the part. I was not pretending to be that snobbish little prick; I was the prick.

I had gone to the restaurant primarily to maintain my cover. A spoiled little rich brat on the town. I had stopped for dinner, and was finishing my after dinner Armangac when I noticed Fujiko. They had come in as I finished my main course, the tall husky man with the almost miniscule Asian woman on his arm. From what I could hear she had a delicate accent, probably native Japanese. She was with the stereotypical boorish American. All he needed was gold bling to make him a lounge lizard.

He started an argument just after they had finished the main course and I had signaled for the check. It had begun as a low voiced disagreement and had reached the point where he was loud enough to disturb the other diners though her voice never rose above a low tone. The maitre de was headed over to ask them to leave when the woman just got up and walked out.

I paid the bill, and had reached the street when I caught up with them. He was beside a Lexus, and was berating her when I exited. From the commentary it sounded like the blind date from hell. He’d expected to get laid, and all that had gotten laid was his dreams. She still spoke softly. While his end of the conversation was loud enough to hear across the street, hers was not.

He stalked around the vehicle, climbed in, and roared off. She watched him go with as much emotion as she had shown inside when she had walked away.

I walked to my car, clicking the alarm off. Her head snapped around like a turret locking on target. I looked after the car, then my eyes came back to her. “It appears you have been stranded. I am going to Third Avenue and Park. Would you like a lift?”

She regarded me, then her head nodded gently. “Please.”

I walked around, opening the passenger door. She slid in all long leg and sinuous curves. If I hadn’t have business in town, I would have enjoyed this chase a lot more. As much as people concentrate on the end, I love the chase more. Like hunting, I enjoy the preparations more than the kill. I don’t get off on that perfect shot. If the prey was easy I couldn’t see the reason for it. I enjoy the stalk, finding the best place to make that shot from. Everything culminated in the clean break of the trigger, but if that was all you enjoyed, you missed the real fun.

Because my prey not only thought but fought back.

In sexual relations it was the same. I enjoyed the chase. It wasn’t the end of it that interested me. That didn’t mean I was a love ‘em and leave ‘em type. It was just that I wasn’t that emotional. Women would be around me then left, usually in puzzlement. I was there, but I wasn’t really there if you understand what I mean.

“Where can I drop you?” I asked as I started the car.

“4th and Park.” She told me. That is where I parked before…that.”

“I wish I could erase that.” I sighed. New Yorkers are almost as bad as drivers in Tokyo. A lot of my attention was ahead of me. But I noticed that she was watching me. “Bad enough that you have to meet the ugly American, but right in front of me.”

“I have found some Americans to be…kind.” She said.

“What did you think of the food?”

“Excellent, but overpriced. Nothing like I am used to.”

I pulled up at the parking structure, climbing out to open her door. She swung her legs from the car as gracefully as she had gotten in. I held out my hand silently, and she looked at my face for a long moment before taking it. She stood, about an inch shorter than I, eyes downcast. Oriental women tend to be shy with men; their society makes them that way. But if they are attracted…

She looked up just a little to see if I was looking at her.

“If you had not just gone through such a trial, I would invite you to dinner another time.” Her eyebrow quirked. “Or make it for you instead.”

“Make?” A brief smile. “You are a cook as well as a knight errant?”

“Yes.” I said. “When I am not tilting at windmills I sometimes cook. But I need someone to cook for. Otherwise it’s just fuel, and I don’t care what I eat.”

“Ah.” I felt she was enjoying this as much as I was.

“But I specialize. I can make chili for any palate, though I like it rough. I make proper Chicken Kiev or Beef Stroganoff, and I can make spaghetti and mousaka.”

“Why proper Russian dishes but the others are merely named?”

“Because Stroganoff is properly served with Russian Fries or steamed potatoes while most Americans eat it over noodles, and Chicken Kiev is served a lot of times with noodles though is best with rice. Besides most Americans wouldn’t know a decent mousaka if it bit them, and think you can use any kind of pasta and still call it spaghetti.”

“I understand.” She considered. “I have never tried mousaka.”

“Stewed lamb over baked noodles.” I said. “Served with a salad topped by calamata olives and feta cheese.”

“It sounds… interesting. You said if.” She looked down, then back at me. “Is there a when attached?”

“I am free tomorrow.”

“I am not. But Saturday I am.”

“Then let us meet here. I live a block that way, and if you feel pressed beyond your wishes you are close enough to walk.”

“Agreed. Say eight?”

“May I ask your name?” I asked.

“Maritoko Fujiko.” She replied.

“Paolo Santos.” I gave her my cover name.

She nodded, and walked into the structure.

A proper dinner needs preparation. I spent an hour preparing it, making the stewed lamb from fresh ingredients. I spread it over the noodles, sliding the dish into the oven to bake. I hadn‘t spent this much time on preparation for about three years. I had a brief fling. She had seemed to be an excellent audience for a home cooked meal, but she had assumed dinner meant sex. When I had not ‘made my move’ she had assumed something was wrong and it turned ugly.

Picture the argument I mentioned above. Now place me in the woman’s place, and move it to an apartment complex hall.

So this is not something I did often.

I walked down the block, and she was there, a long black cloth coat shrouding her form. If it were a fantasy world I would think of a vampire bride or an Oriental Buffy the Vampire Slayer. She looked up seeing me, and turned. The coat was open, her hands deep in her pockets. Beneath it was a knee length chengosam with sandals.

I offered my arm, and she took it. “I brought wine if that is all right.”

“As long as it is a proper wine for the meal.”

“I believe it is called retsina.”

“You do know what retsina is?” I asked.

“A resined white or rose wine. Originally it was to make it easier to transport and store but now it is tradition.” Fujiko replied pedantically.
We walked down the block to my building. I took her coat, hanging it, and brought her into the kitchen as I made the salads. I motioned, and she sampled the olives as I opened the wine.

“A good choice.” I said, setting a jar of water between the glasses. “It’s not your everyday Kourtaki.” I looked at her, and she smiled.

“From a little village in Attica.” She acknowledged admiring the pale golden color and pine resin aroma.

“Very expensive tastes.” I said. Retsina is an acquired taste, like single malt scotch. But nothing goes better with Mediterranean cuisine.

I poured two wine glasses and we sipped as I moved the salads to the dining table. We ate appreciatively, making small talk. I found her grasp of history as broad as mine. Politically she was a bit away from me, though neither of us really liked the modern crop of politicians. Our tastes in music were so close as to be frightening. We both liked Fleetwood Mac for example.

Yes, we agreed, Mick Fleetwood would make an excellent president; as long as they let Stevie Nicks be his vice president. Better than the man jokingly called the ‘Shrub’ who now sat in that office.

She sighed as she finished her dinner, leaning on the table with both elbows. “Wonderful. My compliments to the chef.”

“Why thank you my dear lady.” I cleared the table. “I have baklava, though it is from a deli. My pastry leaves much to be desired.”

“I will let that slide.” She murmured in appreciation at the pastry.

I put the kettle on. “Tea?” I asked.

“Please.”

“It is in bags, or I can make a pot of green tea if you wish.”

“That sounds fine.”

I made the tea, and adjourned to the living room. She was looking at my books as I brought the tea service in. “Interesting collection. History, science fiction, fantasy, poetry… little else.”

“Not much else I am interested in.” I commented.

The evening wore on, both of us enjoying the small talk. I walked her back to her car at midnight.

We parted without doing more than touching hands. We met three times more and every time I felt closer to her. A woman with her own darkness I never got to penetrate. She would be dead less than a week after that first meeting, something that in retrospect made every moment more poignant to me.

The last time we met, I hugged her. For a long moment, she merely let me, then her own arms encircled me and we stood silent in the early morning darkness beside the same parking structure. I felt at peace for the first time in my life.

She died the next evening.

Now

As I said above, the most fun is the stalk and set up. Camarecchi stayed in one of two places when he was in Paris. Sometimes, at the George Cinq near the Champs-Elysees, the rest of the time at a ‘cottage’ on the outskirts. Both had their own advantages, and disadvantages. The hotel was centrally located, more refined, and easier for his contacts to enter and leave. The sightlines were shorter and cluttered, requiring his security to restrict their fire. There had been one attempt to kill him there. Some idjit who thought doing good would carry him through.

It might have worked if the idjit had been willing to die.

If you have studied the assassinations of American presidents, you will see that all were carried out by lone gunmen. Let’s not look too closely at John Kennedy. In every case but his, the killer was usually within arm’s length. It is a statistical certainty that if you are willing to get that close, you can guarantee the death of your target. But only if you are willing to die yourself.

We’ll never know what the young man, Francois Lambier, was thinking. He had dressed as a waiter, walking down the hall in the opposite direction, and had stumbled through Camarecchi’s security line. For one brief second, he was there. All he had to do was draw his weapon and shoot his target.

But he was busy looking for an exit line, and one of the guards noticed it. He had started to draw, and was cut down.

The cottage was even more difficult. While called a cottage, summerhouse would be more like it. Five bedrooms, an office, dining room and parlor, carriage house, barn, usually six servants when he stayed there just for relaxation. When he had a meeting there were just his associates, and their guards. Nine when he and his family were there, thirty if it was business.

I drove by the land, looking at it from a safe distance.

The main building stood in the middle of fifteen acres of land worked by a local family. They grew walnuts, grapes for a rather interesting vintage, and grain. The family split the profits from the sales as if they were 1920s sharecroppers. This time of year almost half was under cultivation. That made it harder either to approach or to watch the approaches. A careful man could slide through the grain fields or the orchards, but a smart defender knew they could. The only way to guarantee getting to the house was straight down the drive, and that was a deathtrap. On top of that was a 100 meter circle with nothing to hide behind. An obvious kill zone.

I stopped at a small inn and ate a ploughman’s lunch, bread cheese and sausage washed down with a rough vin du pays. I could slip into the house, provided I did it before Camarecchi arrived. But could I stash something in the house they would not notice?

Of course I could.

But that was only one option. Never focus on only one when there are other possibilities.

As I drove, I happened to look toward the hills. Up there I could see a flash of light. The road turned, and I lost sight of it. If I had been working for the other side…

Disturbing.

*****

First rule of security, you have to understand the mentality of your opponent. A professional assassin must do three things, get into position, carry out the operation, and most importantly get out alive. So he had to know his target intimately. Looking from a distance to see the best approach or fire line. Checking the target’s schedule, knowing where the target would be, then choosing the best place for the kill.

As the person stopping him you have to extend your search further out. Is that hill within a kilometer and a half? Then an enemy can set up a .50 caliber sniper rifle. You set up a counter-sniper to take him out. Does the person have the proper IDs? That was the glaring mistake at the George Cinq; no one had checked the IDs of the hotel staff. I couldn’t use that route now of course.

So first you figure where he can be hit from, then you place teams where they can catch the killer. As much as it looks good in the papers to nail a killer while approaching, it’s more satisfying to dump the body of the one you never reported. After asking him who sent him, of course.

*****

I moved further back, considering. Let’s say he was really that paranoid. So sure that someone like me was already working out how to kill him. His normal schedule was a help to me and a hindrance to those who protected him. He had to be here at one time, here at another, and here to finalize whatever he planned. If his security had any real say he would be locked in the wine cellar on his estates and only allowed out on random weekends.

That didn’t mean they couldn’t cover him, only that if they wanted to cover every single threat they’d need a battalion of troops.

Of course that is an exaggeration, but not by much. Picture this; the next time you are out walking, stop and take a look around. How many buildings are high enough that the roof or top floor is in clear view? How many cars come by? How many straight lines can you draw from where you are to those places? Because to someone who is a target every one of them is a potential place for someone like me to be waiting. Why do you think the Secret Service floods any venue the President or Vice President are going to visit with hundreds of agents a week or more before he arrives?

But the only ways to guarantee nothing happens is to place agents in all of those places, or assure they cannot be used. So you check them first. By the same token, if you are the killer, you know where they might look.

I first divided the possible target venues. The cottage was first, the bank second, the George Cinq third. I set them in that order for only one reason, the amount of possible collateral damage. It is just a euphemism for unnecessary casualties, but it fit. A gun battle in a hotel would risk a half a hundred lives. The bank would risk maybe half that many. But if I had set up the hit at the cottage there would be little or no bystanders. Even if he kept the cook and a butler, that would mean only two innocents.

I picked some spots watching my secondary target; the bank where he kept his records and funds. First I checked the area using a map. If you knew what to look for, there were places to watch from there too. I placed ‘dime’ cameras at each, looking into the openings where someone would have to be to watch my possible approach. Then I considered that someone trained as I had been might watch from a bit farther back, and placed cameras there as well. All of them transmitted to a central location, and I could review up to twenty-four hours of recordings by accessing them. Also, the recordings were rigged so that any attempt to access them dumped them to yet another location and deleted the originals. I set up three such emergency dumps.

Before I made my reconnoiter the next day, I did some quick disguise work. Not much really, just some shabby clothes, an old shirt above faded denims and rundown sneakers. My hair had been slicked down with grease so that it looked as if I hadn’t washed it in weeks I walked the street past the bank; eyes downcast, one of the many lower working class that wander the world. I had a bag of food I had brought at one of the shops nearby with a copy of Le Figaro tucked under an arm, to all the world a man heading home after a hard day’s work.

The bank was on a wide street. It was a structure rebuilt to old standards, with guards who also acted as doormen. Inside I knew they would have much better security. When Camarecchi was in town his own men flooded the place and were armed well enough to stop a terrorist hit squad. They would have checked every building within a 900 meter standoff to stop someone from using an RPG, and within a kilometer and a half to avoid pesky little people with high powered sniper rifles up to .50 caliber.

I wasn’t going to attack him here. The sightlines were long enough for the weapons I have named, but by the same token they’d had years to figure out where to watch. My cameras were placed in four of those spots, each at different ranges.

I made only one pass. If I had made more I would create a pattern.

Patterns are important to a security officer. An enemy will have to check everything, and no matter how good his disguise, you will spot him.

Example, picture yourself standing on a street corner; your entire purpose is to watch the opposite corner. Record anyone who passes more than once. If you try it on a smaller scale, say for an hour or two, you will notice patterns. If you do it for days, they begin to emerge more clearly. A person will change his clothing every day, but you will recognize him from the way he walks, perhaps the way he stands. Maybe he reads all the time, or is impatient, looking at his watch. Not even training will change this. It is the nature of that specific beast.

I once watched myself in a ten-hour training exercise where I was reconnoitering a target. I changed disguises ten times during that period each disguise chosen by someone else, yet I was able to spot myself every time, not from the disguise, but from my own normal movements. It was sobering. If I had been on an op, I would have been dead.

I went back to my safe house, and waited. I had always enjoyed French wine. I poured a glass, and considered if this would bear any fruit. Were they going to check it that carefully?

The next morning I checked my traps.

Most of the recordings were empty or worthless, of course. A lot of the spots an assassin might pick were too close and easily monitored by the enemy. Three came up empty. The last though…

I saw the slight flash of movement, not enough to make you suspicious, then a hand, and the camera inside the door went out. I leaned forward, watching from the second camera. All it had caught was an arm in a black coat with a gloved hand. A few moments later, the second camera also went out. Whoever it was had seen the first camera before the angle could catch the intruder. Then the intruder had slipped below the camera angle, slid in and taken the second.

Classy work. This one would stretch my capabilities.

I switched to the camera outside. The figure approached slowly, extending a small hand mirror. All I could see was a person in a long coat and hair in a braided fall. Small, slim, a woman or a small man. The mirror disappeared, and the figure pressed into the wall. Definitely a woman. She reached around; feeling, then the hand came back, the camera, a device a cube only the size of a postage stamp clenched in the fist. Then it was slammed to the ground, and her foot came down hard, crushing it. Again with the mirror; now she dropped almost to the floor, scuttling inside. Very classy.

She came back out, and I froze the image, staring at the face.

It couldn’t be.

Fujiko, a look of concentration on her face looked back at me.

I definitely needed a drink.

machievelli
12-25-2008, 03:50 PM
Then

She had been pensive that last night we spent together. We had spent the day wandering. Though there was no way she could have known, I had completed my assignment the night before.

It had been a pain, but worth it from the esthetics view. The General spent the night alone with his girl. No ifs ands or buts. The security men had prevailed in getting sheets of lexan to replace her windows, but they didn’t know about one pet foible of our friend the General. He liked to sit looking out the window as his girl serviced him on her knees. In the summer he did it with open windows. Only an inch or so, but enough for a shot.

I had picked the lock of the apartment across the street, less than 200 feet away a few days earlier, and watched him at his play. His security chief always stationed a man there. The man obviously forgot the first rule of ops such as ours. I had been in position an hour and a half before the security man arrived. He didn’t bother to check the owner’s belongings; after all it had been almost 18 months since the General had begun this little tryst.

When I slid the closet door open, the security guard was too busy watching the show across the street. He caught one bullet in the back of the head, and collapsed like a boneless puppet. Unlike the average revolver, which is made to point naturally, most automatics require you to learn to alter your grip to get the same accuracy. I had taken to carrying a Walther model 99. The design with the easy to modify grip made it perfect. Light pull, easy to point, easy to clean, highly accurate. A certain little techno-dweeb made a silencer that made it about as loud as a movie one as long as you kept the slide lock up. I pulled out the FN FAL rifle. He had made this one too.

The target was in the midst of it when I knelt, and put one silenced bullet through that black heart. The girl didn’t notice for several seconds. By the time she began screaming, I had gone over the roof to the next building, then another before I went down into the street. I had a gym bag with the rifle broken down in it. I pulled out my cell phone, dialing the contact number.

“It’s done.” I said.

“Good. The funds will be transferred by tomorrow night.”

I slept the sleep of the just. The next day Fujiko and I wandered the streets, seeing the sites. I promised her chili, and this time she got to watch me make it. The beans had been made the night before, and she watched as I diced tomatoes, fried shredded beef in chili sauce, then allowed it to simmer as I poured a beer into a glass. I didn’t drink a Lone Star. Instead I sipped a Newcastle.

“No wine?” she asked.

I gave her the look you might have expected. “You can drink wine with it.” I said gently. “But chili is proper with beer. Which would you prefer?”

She settled for red and I poured her a Rioja. She sipped the sweet wine as I mixed the meat and beans, spicing it, then let her taste in a small bowl. She gave a sigh of delight.

“Now that is the wimpy chili.” I said. I repeated it, this time I sprinkled some cayenne pepper and a dash of habanera on it. “This is proper chili.” She took this bit with more caution, and I saw her eyes widen. I handed her a glass of milk, which she chugged.

“I think I will eat it wimpy.”

“Wimpy chili and wine.” I sighed, shaking my head. “I am spending time with a Philistine.”

She started to retort, but then she stiffened. Her hand pulled out her cell phone, and she motioned. I nodded, turning back to the stove as she spoke softly. I heard her sigh, and turned back. She looked sad.

“Trouble?”

“My reason for being in the city is over. I must go home very soon.”

“Must you?” I said softly. She looked up at me. “Fujiko, we’ve spent so little time together. I wish I had time to know you better.”

“I do not think you would like the person I am, Paolo.” She replied.

“I’d like the chance to find out.”

“There is still tonight, perhaps tomorrow as well.” She said after a time. She reached out, resting her hand on mine. “Treasure this time.”

Dinner was somber. I watched her, and part of me wanted to take her by the shoulders, shake her until she listened. Ask her to stay. No beg her to! I was sick of this and I had more than enough money to never work again.

I couldn’t see her eyes. She looked down, never meeting my eyes the rest of that evening. I walked her to the parking structure.

“Fujiko.” She stopped, turning to face me. “Please.”

“What, Paolo?”

“Come tomorrow, please. Give me a chance.”

She nodded, still looking down. I hugged her, and after a long time she returned it. I felt her shiver. Then she pulled away.

*****

I decided I would tell her the truth. Everything. Maybe she would accept it. Maybe she would walk away. But I was sick to death of killing.

I didn’t make dinner. I wasn’t sure she would be willing to be with me when she learned the truth. But if she did I had already decided we would leave, it didn’t matter where. Go somewhere we could be together.

I was impatient. The sun didn’t set fast enough as far as I was concerned. Once the money was in Zurich, I would be leaving town anyway. My cell phone rang, and I answered it.

“Mister Lauren, this is Herr Brinkman in Zurich.”

“I have been expecting your call.”

“Not this one, sir. Someone tried to access your accounts from America to withdraw the money in it. The code they used was the same one you gave us for the expected deposit.”

I felt a chill. Only two people knew that code. I was one. The other was…

I was still standing at the window when a movement caught my eye. Fujiko was walking toward my apartment

A car slammed to a stop, and a man leaped out, a gun in hand right in front of her. He drew down.

I was running toward the door as I heard three shots.

I didn’t wait for the elevator; I hit the stairs running, my pistol already out. I charged down the four flights, kicked out the fire door and raced toward the street. I saw the car race past, and turned at the end of the alley, punching the alarm button on my key chain.

It had been pure chance that I had hit the button so early. Chance and my fury saved my life.

The explosion lifted me up and away as my car exploded. I rolled with the force, tumbling like a scrap of paper before the wind.

I was on automatic. I scrambled to my feet and headed down the street. If this had been a normal situation, I would have completed the evasive action. A quick trip to the airport, use the passport I always had in my jacket. I would be half a world away before they knew for sure I wasn’t dead.

But I knew who had set this up.

*****

I gave them two days. Letting them think I was dead. I didn’t hide, I had checked out my employer just as efficiently as my original target. The new regime had its own enemies, and a desire for something more vicious than rifles and cannons. I had checked their operation out, and decided that their weapon of choice was poetic justice.

The embassy was a joke. Most of the African nations have associate nations that allow them to use existing embassies, like the Palestinians using the Libyan and Saudi embassies before they returned to their still embattled homeland.

But that little African nation didn’t have a lot of friends willing to admit it in public. The State Department had finally given them permission to use an entire floor in a small downtown hotel. I had checked them out when they had first hired me. Their security was not too shabby. A dozen mercenaries who were little better than thugs patrolled the floor with assault rifles. The ‘Ambassador’ was little better than the General I had killed. Another military man with delusions of competence.

I took the elevator to the roof, then worked my way down. They knew someone might attack; they had planned for anything from a lone gunman shooting from across the street to a full sized platoon level assault.

Their security was wired through the entire building, cameras on every landing of the stairwell, the fire escape, and the elevator.

A pity they hadn’t factored in someone like me. I called my computer expert, and explained what I needed. He sent me a computer disc. All I had to do was connect into their wireless router, something you can do anywhere within a hundred meters. I didn’t believe it, the idiots had an unsecured router!

With that program I hacked into their security, and set up loops on every camera on the stairs. The only one getting a true feed from them was my Palm Treo. There were cameras on the floor as well, and I watched the four mercs on duty. One was in the security room watching the monitors. Another manned the security desk right in front of the elevator. The other two were supposed to be patrolling the halls.

Supposed to be was because one was kicked back having coffee with a newspaper, the other had found a place to snooze. Sure they had set up alarms, but all of them fed into the security system like the cameras. Well within my ability to loop or disconnect.

I picked the lock and opened the door of the stairwell, looking out. The security room was right beside it. Bad location, because the ‘panic button’ that would alert the other guards asleep in the room two doors down was in that room. I opened the door behind the guard on security watch and the gun hissed death. I stepped up, pushing the man back into the chair. I moved down the hall, taking out the canister. I opened the door of the barracks, tapped the button, and set it down as I closed the door. I could hear the hiss of gas as I stripped off duct tape to seal the cracks.

Then I walked down to the sleeper. He never heard me coming, and I left him unable to hear. The coffee drinker was next. I left him crumpled over his newspaper.

The guard at the elevator was the only one truly alert. He saw me coming, and started to stand, but he was outclassed. I shot him as I stalked past.

Then I dealt with the rest of the staff.

The first the Ambassador knew about me was when he came awake in his office, with me sitting across the table from him.

“Uh, we need to talk.” He started to say.

“Do we.” I replied. He watched me as if I were a boomslang.

“You won’t get out of here.” He blustered. He hit the button on his desk. The fact that I didn’t move or shoot him was a surprise.

“Perhaps I should fill you in. The guards are all lined up at St Peter’s desk trying to think of a way to get past the pearly gates. Most of them thanks to that little chemical warfare organization you’re funding over in Brooklyn.

“So we can get on with our business. You did a very bad thing deciding not to pay me. It was even more stupid to try to get your money back.” I motioned. “This is the result. A nice quiet talk between a killer and an idiot who thinks he is a better killer. Surrounded by your dead. So what shall we discuss first? The three quarter million dollars you still owe me? Or the odds that you will not leave this room alive?”

He grinned. “Money! I have money! I’ll just get the key for the safe.” He opened the drawer of his desk, snatching out the pistol. He aimed it and pulled the trigger. He flinched when it snapped on an empty chamber. I shook my head sadly.

“Did you really think I was that stupid? I emptied all of the guns in that desk. And we both know your safe has a combination lock.” I pointed at the garish picture on the wall. “Right there.”

“I have money in there. Diamonds, bearer bonds, cash. You can have it all.”

I pondered. “The odds of you getting out of here have improved. Would you indulge me please?” I waved again toward safe. He stood, walking over, and pulling the painting open. I stood, reaching behind me.

He snapped open the safe, grasped the gun I had anticipated, and aimed. I swung my arm sharply.

He looked astonished that the gun hadn’t fired. Then he noticed that the gun, and the hand that had held it lay on the floor, blood spraying like a hose from the severed wrist. He clutched it frantically, trying to scream, but all he could do was whine piteously. I showed him the machete, a matte black half meter of steel with a razor edge.

“Remember what you offered? A million to kill him, two if I cut him to pieces. I decided to save the very best just for you.”

He screamed then.

There was money in the safe, and diamonds and bearer bonds. More than enough to cover what he owed me; almost three million dollars. But it was ash in my mouth. I had let him get under my skin. Most of those that died that night had been innocents.


I had become the monster. I was no longer worthy of anything else.

A week later I found her killer. He never felt it. I left him lying beside his car as I left the city I promised never to visit again.

Now

I pulled back to think about it. I knew Camarecchi had protection, but this was a step beyond paranoia. A full two weeks before he was to be here, and they were already gearing up.

The problem I had most was Fujiko. Was it her? Either she was real or was this woman a fake?

She could be a ‘security’ specialist like me. A killer hired to act as one layer of that protection. But that would not explain why she had been in New York.

Sherlock Holmes always divided his problems by how many pipes he thought he would smoke as he pondered them. I don’t smoke a pipe, so this was a three shot problem. I took out a bottle of cognac, poured a snifter, and began to think.

Precept one; the woman is not Fujiko. She is just some woman who happened to be there and my mind had for some reason put Fujiko’s face on her.

Odds? Unlikely. If I had been prone to delusions, there had been two years since her death. Why would I suddenly be doing this now? Maybe I still wished she was alive, and this woman who happened to be Oriental had triggered it. But I had seen a lot of women over those years that had triggered those memories. A flip of long black hair, a silhouette, a soft voice, a black coat with the hair walking away. A giggle that cut to my heart; the heart I had never thought I still had. Not a simple pump, but something that held my emotions.

But this woman brought it back like New York was yesterday. No one had reached that far into me.

Precept two; this is a twin of some kind. Someone who looks something like her, but is also in my line of work. Odds? Slightly more likely. I saw someone in Dayton once who looked enough like me to scare me. The odds that someone who looked like Fujiko was out there were not too bad, but the question was what were the odds that this ‘twin’ was also in my line of work?

That pretty much shot down precept two.

Precept three; this as really Fujiko, but that led to precepts four and five.

Precept four; It is Fujiko and she is still alive. Why had she disappeared from my life? I suddenly realized that while the scene had been set, the man with the gun aiming at her, the shots I had heard. While I had known intellectually that she was dead I hadn’t really seen her die. No body. The professional in me had assumed automatically a quick flip into the trunk, then dumping the remains. If that was all stage-managed why?

One reason came to mind immediately. The General had hired her. She had stalked me as professionally as I had stalked the General but when he died the contract had died with him. There was no reason for her to kill me then. All she had to do was find a way to get away from me before I discovered her assignment. If that was what had happened, the scene, and her faked death made sense. Can’t have me looking for her, right?

Odds? I felt cold. Too good.

Precept five; It is Fujiko she is still alive and suddenly come back into my life. Why would she be here?

Answer, because Camarecchi had hired her to see if someone had been hired this time. If someone had been, it was her job to find and either capture or eliminate them. Most likely capture. You can’t convince an enemy to stop bothering you if you weren’t sure whom to frighten. They needed to have me alive, at least long enough to find out who sent me.

Odds? I would bet them with my life.

I looked at the bottle. I hadn’t used the entire half a liter. Pretty good, considering.

Now assume precept five is valid. How do I stop her from killing me?

Answer one; I kill Camarecchi before she can set me up to be captured or killed. Once he’s dead, the same rule applies.

You have to remember, a professional doesn’t go out and kill someone in a fit of pique. Not only bad for the image, but it also it gives the clients the idea that we’d kill someone extra just because we wanted to. I still remembered the New York job. I had to kill the four between the Ambassador and me, but the rest had been unnecessary. I had eleven men, nine women and three children who were not in my way on my soul there. I won’t use the ‘nits make lice’ argument. I will not assume them all to be as evil as their superior. No one is born to be evil; it is a process that takes a lifetime to come to fruition. That lifetime may be short, but there are evil children of the old ‘bad seed’ attitude and men older than I who have made that passage.

It was for god to decide. I merely sent them on.

Answer two; I kill Fujiko.

I quailed at the thought. Even if she had been assigned to kill me before and was setting up to kill me now, she had never aimed a weapon at me. I couldn’t-

Wait a minute, yes I could. If she was between my target and me, and she was armed that made her a legitimate target as well.

Wait another damn minute! As much as I knew that she was an opponent. That she might be able to draw down and blow me away, was I willing to sight in on her face? Could I apply 3.5 pounds of pressure to the trigger while looking into her eyes and put a 9mm slug in her head?

I poured. I had wanted her to be with me, to be… what?

I hadn’t considered it back then. What was she to me? All we had ever done was talk; touch hands, and that one hug. It was like that stupid western From Noon until 3. We had spent so little time together we might as well have been complete strangers. Why had she been so important back then? Why was she so important to me now?

When it came to women, I was still that kid from the orphanage. Women on the whole were a complete mystery to me. Not that I didn’t know about sex, but I didn’t understand love.

Did I love her? I had nothing to compare it to. I yearned after her the way a nun is supposed to yearn for the son of god she has symbolically married. For all I know I was reacting with the same instinct that drove salmon upstream to spawn and die.

I had felt… comfortable with her. A commodity more precious than you might imagine. But I had wanted so much more. I wanted to hold her, wanted to find a place away from the world to be with her. When I had thought her dead I had gone berserk. I had slaughtered all of those people in New York in retaliation because I had thought they had killed her as well. I don’t know if that is love.

So, I had to avoid being caught, kill Camarecchi, capture her and oh, yeah, avoid getting killed.

No help for it. I had to set up faster than I ever had before.

*****

I had sent a package along by messenger and it was waiting for me at my residence in Paris. It wasn’t that big, about the size of a laptop computer in length and breadth, and twice as thick. I had sent it through a very special connection.

I love techno-dweebs. Tell them what you want, and if it is possible, they will make it. I had watched a movie named Underworld Evolution, and they had shown off an interesting weapon, a fuel air explosive grenade small enough to hold in your hand.

The principle is simple really; you mix a gaseous fuel with oxygen, and then ignite it. The result is something all out of proportion to its contents. The US Air Force showed it off the first time during the Vietnam War as the ‘Daisy Cutter; a bomb used primarily to clear the double and triple canopy trees to make landing zones for helicopters. It wasn’t until they actually deployed one on a ‘hot’ or enemy covered LZ that they realized what they had. With the small 2,000 pound units they used during Vietnam they could kill everything within a 400 meter circle just from the overpressure. During the Gulf war they showcased the larger version. They nicknamed it the MOAB, or, satirically, the Mother of All Bombs. A 20,000 pound container loaded with propane dropped on an enemy position. That 20,000 pounds exploded with all of the force of a 10 kiloton atomic bomb.

The US Air Force considered the propaganda angle when they deployed it. Leaflets were dropped on an Iraqi Republican guard unit. They warned that the US would drop a bomb of such magnitude that few if any would survive. They gave the exact day and time that it would be detonated and warned that anyone who wished to live should flee.

Two days later a C130 Hercules transport flew over. The MOAB is large and bulky. The Hercules was the only aircraft in the inventory that could carry it in this manner. The bomb slid out, hung on its parachutes for several minutes, then at about 1,000 feet it detonated. One Iraqi regiment, 1,500 men, were obliterated. There were few survivors, and even before the Iraqis could claim that we had nuked them, the press was informed of the nature of the device.

They gave the stunned Iraqi military two days to comprehend what had happened then, another unit was pelted with leaflets. They would be next in two more days.

When Desert Storm began two days later, the enemy position was empty. The troops had panicked; shooting the few officers and men that had tried to stop their flight.

This was MOAB’s baby brother. Eight ounces of plastic and small metal canisters of propane with a flash capacitor and two electrodes, it looked like a toy. There was a ten second delay, primarily because the fuel had to be dumped into the atmosphere, and the capacitor had to charge. When it had charged the capacitor would fire and ignite the gas cloud.

Push the button, slide it on the floor, then move like hell because when it went off, it had the effect of a 100 pound bomb. I had made sure they could also be used as either a booby trap or a planted bomb as well with remote detonation capability.
I was going to get a good chance to see how well they worked.

Now

A dark moonless night. I sprawled in the ghillie suit. I held the ‘big ears’ cone, aimed at the house as the sun set three nights later. I could hear the acrimonious argument as the cook’s husband explained how he had used some fancy chess move the evening before and his wife replied that maybe he should make some fancy moves on her instead of playing chess all the time. From the sound of it, he hadn‘t touched her since De Gaulle died, and she for one was frustrated.

The servants in the house had their own schedules. They went to bed at set times. Got up at set times, and one of the guards tended to go into town to drink three times a week. I knew this from the briefing packet I had received. From what I had already seen and heard in the last week of observation, it was true.

I was moving along the edge of the grain field outside the cottage two hours later.

At night there are only two ways to spot someone. One is by movement, the other by infrared. Starlight or infrared equipment used to be both expensive and bulky. I remembered reading about the coffee can sized light enhancing scopes they had issued back during Vietnam. You needed an aperture almost four inches across to get them to work properly way back then.

The infrared scopes used to be even worse, literally a nine-inch infrared searchlight with a riflescope attached. Aim and see by the searchlight, all in pitch black to the human eye.

Thanks for modern times. The modern nations had ‘starlight’ scopes barely an inch and a half across now, and goggles that either made it light enough to read by, or would show the heat of a human body at 500 meters without external infrared sources. They’d been around for years, and you could pick them up on the black market.

But whenever they find a way to make it easier to see an enemy, that enemy finds ways to conceal himself. The ghillie suit was developed by Scottish gamekeepers to use as a portable hunting blind. The name comes from the Scots Gaelic gille for lad or servant. The first military unit that used them were the Lovat Scouts, a Highland regiment deployed during the Second Boer War. Humans are shaped oddly for a forest environment, too large and angular. In areas where men had hunted for centuries, the animals got used to recognizing the shape of a human as an immediate threat to flee.

The hunters adapted as well. A ghillie suit consists of ragged strips of cloth that break up the human outline, making a man look like a pile of fallen rotting leaves perhaps.

It worked well enough that armies still issued them to snipers. The newest version cuts down on infrared, and by moving slowly, you defeat the low light scopes as well. But like everything else, there were trade offs. If you waited too long, the suit couldn’t cover enough of your heat signature. If you moved too soon, the mark one eyeball might see you moving.

What I was doing is the equivalent of crawling across a pool table dressed in green baize.

Three hundred meters, two hundred, one hundred, fifty; I paused there. The one guard had already left. He wouldn’t be back for four hours. The cook had gone to bed, as had the gardener, maids and majordomo. The other guard would go to bed when his fellow returned. He patrolled occasionally, but never more often than once every half hour. I watched him tramp by, sucking on a cigarette.

Bad move. His night vision was shot every time he took a drag.

He grumbled, crushing out the cigarette, and went in through the front door into the lighted hall. An even worse idea. You go from bright light to total darkness, and there are a few fatal seconds when you can’t see anything.

I gave him time to get to the kitchen. He and the cook’s husband played chess every night.

It was important that I got all the way in and all the way out without setting off any alarms. If they knew I was there, they would clear out and not come back until they were sure I was either gone or dead. They would use Fujiko to hunt me down, hire others to do the same. One on one I had a chance. Against four or more trained as I was, it was a crapshoot, and I for one had never liked the game.

I pulled out my impedance detector, and ran it along the door to the root cellar. Yes, alarms here and here attached to the hasp of the lock so lifting it would set it off, another on the hinges. I slid in the clip, and caught the wire. Then I clipped the other one. Only then did I touch the lock. It was so old I almost drew my boot knife to pick it. I squeezed a spray of graphite powder into the keyhole and along the yoke, making sure to wipe the excess off. If I were checking the lock, I would be looking for that slight amount of over-spray.

The lock clicked gently. The impedance detector didn’t twitch. I breathed a sigh of relief. I slid the optical fiber through the tiny gap, picking infrared.

All right, they weren’t completely trusting. Three whisker thin laser light beams; I break one, and the guard would hit the panic button and load up on weapons. I switched to ambient light, and could see them. Pathetic. If they had been CO2 lasers, they would have been invisible. The good thing was that they couldn’t use a light sensitive alarm, because that would pick up the scatter from the lasers. I slid the door just far enough open to move inside.

I slid on the goggles, flipping the switch. There was a whine as the light sensitive diodes cooled. Then the lenses cleared, and I could see. I used the infrared to slip past the lasers. Once I was past them I breathed easier.

I picked spots that were so odd that I would not look there. Above the racks of wine between the joists, beneath the steps of the staircase out of the cellar both into the house and to the outside, one right near the emitters for the lasers but around the corner between the wine rack and the wall.
I left as quietly as I entered.

Now

Now it was fun. I started setting up my fallbacks. I contacted the underground, and picked up some equipment; a good rifle I didn't need anymore and an RPG. I set it up just a little too far out, far enough that the enemy hadn’t checked the locations. I didn’t hide, but by the same token, I didn’t start checking out my options. They could watch until the second coming and see nothing because I wasn’t doing anything.

I watched as the outriders scrambled into position. Fujiko was already there and she walked out, leading half a dozen others. I could see from their reactions that she was with them, but not part of the unit. The three with her included her in their sweeps for possible threats. The limo pulled into the George Sanq when the rifle fired. I could see the men frantically diving for cover. Fujiko didn’t duck. She had seen the bulletproof windshield star as the bullet ricocheted. She was looking for the shooter as her associates dived for cover and the limo screamed away.

She began rapping out orders like a professional soldier. The men began running as she pointed. She was calm, but I could almost feel her frustration. The guards had gotten sloppy, and my ‘attack’ had highlighted a weak spot in their defense. I smiled, and got out of position fast. They would find the Dragunov rifle with the armor piercing ammunition, and assume the killer had overreacted.

My first attempt failed, Of course. I had not really intended to kill him here. I knew the round would not penetrate.

Two days later, his limo arrived outside the bank right before one in the afternoon. There was a flash 950 meters away. I watched as they aimed, knowing that they were too far away. Then I waited. Forty meters before it hit the warhead exploded, the charge smashing forward, wasting itself on air. How many of my enemy knew that an RPG7 had a self-destruct range of exactly 900 meters? I knew there was one at least. I watched as Fujiko arrived, pointing out positions to the regular guards. She took off at a brisk walk on an almost direct route toward the missile tube. She was dressed in a woman's business suit under a long black trench coat with the jacket open.

Less than four minutes after the missile fired, she was there. She froze as my silencer touched her head. “I don’t want to do this. Please don’t make me.” I whispered.

She froze. Her hands moved pointedly away from her body. I leaned forward, the loop of tape snapping tight around her wrist. I looped it around the other, and her head leaned forward as she accepted that I had trapped her.

I went through the pockets. A silenced Beretta 93R, two clips, a blade eighteen centimeters long down her back, two knives between 10 and 11 centimeters long, balanced for throwing one in each boot. I felt a metal frame on her right wrist. I caught her arm above the elbow, felt her body tighten. My other hand caught her coat at the wrist. I bent her arm then snapped it out sharply. A ten-inch blade popped out, set to fit her hand; the clip retracting when she would have grabbed it.

I whistled softly. “Impressive. Yang Shu’s work?”

She nodded.

“A master in his own right.” I popped the blade out of it its retainer. Everything went into a briefcase.

“Move and I kill you.” I whispered. I used her armpit to lift her to her feet. “Run and I blow you away.” I pulled her backwards, and then propelled her down the stairs. We walked down, me less than a meter behind her directing her to my car. I opened the passenger door, turning her. She saw my face, and I saw her reaction, the pupils shrinking to almost nothing then back to normal. I pushed her down, and motioned. She complied, swinging those legs into the passenger compartment. I closed the door walked around the front, and climbed in.

“First rule. Do what I say or I kill you.” I told her. “Understood?” She looked at me; those eyes boring into me like the lasers at the farm. Then she nodded. I pulled into traffic, headed out of the city south. I pulled off the road ten klicks past Camarecchi’ cottage. I climbed out, opening her door. She looked up at me. “If you’re going to kill me, I will go no further.”

“I promise I won’t kill you unless you force me. My word of honor.”

She looked at me for a long time then slid her legs out. She ignored my hand, standing with unconscious grace.

We paced through the trees. I had chosen this side because it was too far out for anything but a recoilless rifle too large for me to carry alone. We stopped, almost four kilometers from the cottage. We could see it, but only a trained artilleryman could guarantee hitting it from here.

I slid her carefully to the ground. “Ringside seat.” I commented. I took the bag I had carried, opening it. I pulled out a sliced baguette, cheese and sausage sandwich, and a bottle of vin du pays. “Hungry?”

She looked at me then away.

“Now that’s almost insulting. After I made you how many dinners? Were they all that bad?”

She stared toward the house. I shrugged. I bit into the half I had set aside. I liked the meal. I liked the simpler things. She kept looking at me, then away. I poured, offering her a cup, which she also ignored. I shrugged.
“What are we waiting for?” She asked.

“Someone tries at the George Sanq, maybe they will try again.” I poured another cup, “Someone tries at the bank, and maybe they will try again.” I motioned toward the distant house. “No one has tried here. Unless it’s a team they can’t hump in enough firepower to take this place. Thirty odd guards. At least two high-powered rifles that will reach out and touch someone at two klicks.”

I turned, looking toward the cottage. “This is the one place no one has ever tried to hit him, you know. Can’t say that about any other place he has lived.” I lifted my binoculars. “First team’s arriving.”

Down below two Mercedes sedans pulled up, and ten men got out. Everyone had a weapon, ; primarily MP5 submachine guns and assault rifles, and their eyes were scanning. They would have needed binoculars to see us. One of them signaled and four men ran into the building. As one man returned with several pairs of field glasses, two others were hurrying the staff out.

“We’re going to move back.” She looked at me in silent query. “One thing they will do is look for someone, even out here. So we move back about thirty paces. Far enough that our outline is not obvious.”

I seated her, and she shifted uncomfortably. I sighed then pulled out my knife. Her eyes locked on it, then on my face. I leaned her forward, slicing open the tape. I caught her left wrist, pulling out the tape. “Promise to behave, and will leave you untied. If I can kill him this isn't your fight.” She looked at me then held both wrists together silently.

“Stubborn.” I said tying her hands again, and then tied her ankles. “I knew you were stubborn, but I didn’t know how stubborn.” She gave me an empty questioning look. “Most women would have lightened up in the time we knew each other. We only knew each other for a week but you never lightened up.”

She gave me that empty look again. I set the sandwich and a cup of wine beside her. “In case you feel hungry.”

I used my binoculars, and nodded. “Camarecchi arriving.” I said with satisfaction. “Now we wait.”

I sat, facing the cottage, occasionally looking at her. She picked up the sandwich, and ate hungrily. I filled the cup for her twice as we waited.

“What do you think of the wine?” I asked. She shrugged. “I agree, a bit bland. But we can thank our friend down there.” I picked up the binoculars. The only weakness in the plan was Camarecchi. He might decide to leave. I kept track of it. The placement with the 300-meter kill-zone helped. He couldn’t leave before dark without my noticing.

She watched me, checking out the tape the surroundings, anything she could use as a weapon.

“I want to be clear.” I said when she started to try the tape. “If I even think you are going to escape, I will kill you.”

I won’t say she became meek. But she stopped being obvious about her options. It was an hour to dark.

“What are we doing?” She asked.

“Waiting for the best moment.” I poured another cup of wine for her then for me. “I will miss this.”

“What?”

“The wine.” I sipped. “The other night, when I was in the wine cellar, I picked up a couple of bottles of Camarecchi’s vintage. When he’s gone someone else will put their name on it.”

“Gone?” She looked toward the edge of the trees. From where she was she could not see the house. Then her eyes snapped around. “You said ‘the other night, when I was in the wine cellar’…”

I smiled and pushed the button. She looked at me for several seconds. Then she smiled. “You were bluff-“

The house exploded, coming apart like a flower. Four fuel air grenades… A 500 lb bomb had been set off when I pushed that button. Ten seconds after the bombs went off, there was a rumble as the sound reached us.

“Time for dinner.” I said.

machievelli
12-25-2008, 03:51 PM
Now

I went to safe house two, a small hotel ten kilometers north of the target. I pulled into the parking area. I stopped, looking at her.

“We can do this hard or semi hard or soft. Semi hard is we pull a few kilometers farther south, stay in the park, you can lie in the trunk, and get fed when I decide to feed you. Maybe you lose a hand or foot because I have to tie you tight.

“Hard, you make a scene. I put one through your liver. While everyone is panicking I walk out, and I’m gone before they call the police. You might live.

“Soft, you pretend you’re my loving wife on our honeymoon. You don’t have a weapon, and I won’t be stupid enough to leave you one. You behave, you’re alive when the job is done.” I looked at her. “Choose now.”

She wouldn’t look at me. Her shoulders sagged just a bit. “Soft.” She whispered.

“Promise.”

She looked through her hair at me. “What?”

“Give me your word.”

“You would trust my word?” I nodded. She kept watching me, then nodded. “I give you my word.”

I had her raise her hands and cut the tape. She rubbed her wrists as I pulled up to the entrance. “As my loving wife, I would know your name.” I said.

She glared at me. “Chiyeko.” She snarled.

“Remember, love, you’re my new wife.” I climbed out, walked around, and opened her door, to all the world her doting husband. She looked at me, then extended her hand. I handed her out, walking arm in arm into the small building. To an observer we were a loving couple. We both knew otherwise. We walked up to the registry desk, and I motioned. “Chiyeko, my love, would you sign us in, please?”

She looked at me, and I could see murder in her eyes. Then she looked down. “Of course, dear.” She took the book, signing it with a flourish.

We went to our room, her arm in mine. Primarily, I will admit, because I held her wrist. They closed the door, and she sprung away from me.

“You promised soft.” I warned.

She glared at me, and then relaxed. “Yes, I did.” She sat on the bed. I could tell from her restrained movement that she wanted to cross her arms and flounce. She looked around the room. “Charming.”

“Be nice.”

She looked at me. “I am being nice.” She moved her arm, waving toward the room. “The kind of place I would have liked to live when I was younger. Something simple. Somewhere I could be alone.” She stood touching the table gently, as if petting a cat. It looked as if it had been lovingly made by a craftsman.

“I know the feeling.” I smiled. “Institutional gray, everything pressed wood made in Texas prisons.” I looked at her face. “Not Texas for you, obviously.”

“Virginia.” She whispered. “St Francis home for Girls.”

“Two orphans.” I sighed. “The Agency got you. Like they did me.”

“Yes.”

“They trained you.”

“Yes.” She looked at me.

I reached out, but she didn’t move. I lowered my hand.

“In New York. Why didn’t you kill me?”

She shook her head. “The General was already dead. The contract died with him.”

“No. Before that.” I asked,

“What part did you not understand?”

“Parts plural.” I said. “The first meeting?”

“A friend of a friend.” She commented. “I expressed an interest in having companionship, she suggested him.”

“But it didn’t work.”

She shook her head, smiling ruefully. “He was so upset. I was busy paying attention to someone at another table.” I quirked an eyebrow, and she chuckled. “I was watching my target, and he thought I was watching an ex-boyfriend.”

“Me.”

“Yes.”

“And outside?”

He left, and you offered me a ride.”

“Why didn’t you kill me there? Or at my apartment?”

“You never let your guard down.”

I sighed. “It wasn’t a matter of being on guard. I never had experience with women before. An orphanage is not the best place to meet them. When I meet women I am attracted to, I tend to be a shy old-fashioned gentleman. I never assume the woman wishes more than polite company.” I returned the same rueful smile. I have had times when they thought I was asexual or gay.

“Why did you fake your death?”

“When the General died, the contract did as well. I had been considering another contract when I took his, and I accepted it. The call I received when I was with you last was from my client. There was a time constraint on the target, so I had to leave quickly. I could not be with you, even though part of me wished it. So I had to disappear in such a way you would accept it.

“Almost five years now, and I have never failed.” She looked away, then back. Only you still live of my targets.”

“And the flowers?” She looked at me. “Every year on the anniversary of your death I put flowers on a grave in memorial. Who do you leave flowers for on that day?”

“My dreams.” She replied softly.

“What is your real name.” I asked softly.

“What’s the point?” She asked. Her head came up eyes on me. There was no fear. I considered her.

“Maybe I am just curious.”

Kirika.” She replied.

“Marco.” I replied.

I picked up the gun, sliding out the clip. Then I slid it back in, jacking the chamber. “You haven’t failed yet.” I said. I flipped the gun down so that all I touched it with was my forefinger. I extended my arm. She looked at the extended gun, then at my face. She looked at me for a long moment, not moving. Then she reached out. I let her take the pistol, and it settled into her hand like an old friend. Her eyes never left my face.

“You can keep your record. All you have to do is shoot me.” I stepped back, sitting in the chair. She continued to look at me. She raised it, aiming at my face.

For a long moment, she looked at me. I watched her patiently. She knew I was armed, but I did not reach for my own gun. There was nothing to stop her. She looked down that barrel, and I thought I might have seen something. Regret? Longing? I might never know. In the next instant a 9mm bullet would send me to the other side, and I would not even know if it happened.

Then the weapon lowered, sliding away from me. It was aimed at her 10 o’clock, well away from me, and she pulled the trigger.

The weapon snapped upward, the bullet hitting the wall, burying itself in the wall. Finally a response; for the first time I saw a real reaction, surprise as the gun fired. She had obviously thought I had made sure there was no bullet under the hammer. She stared at the wall in shock, then her eyes snapped to me.

“A gift.” I said. I stood. “I am quitting. I am sick of this life.” I stood up. “If you ever get sick of it, find me. I will hide, but not so well that you can’t find me.” I walked past her, feeling her eyes tracking on my back. I opened the door. Her voice, so soft that I could not even swear she had spoken stopped me.

“And if I come to kill you instead?”

“I will be waiting for that day.” I closed the door.

Autumn

Colorado in autumn is beautiful. The deciduous trees had scattered their leaves in a flurry of red and gold before turning brown and falling. The first winter since I had seen her was approaching, and part of me died every day she did not come. Maybe I wasn’t important enough to kill, or to love. A big part of me felt dead when I considered that. Once I left the business, I might have become an open target. But most of us didn’t go after the retired ones unless they decided to write books about what they had done.

No worries there. I couldn’t write a paragraph more entertaining than what you might expect to fit in a military after action report even if you put a gun to my head.

But that didn’t mean I was unprotected. I had laid an elaborate net of sensors tied to my home computer that would let me know if anyone tried to approach. I didn’t have the long kill zone sight lines, the beech and poplar blocked them. But I had a small arsenal inside. Each of the guns were ones I had actually used on jobs, so they were mementoes of a sort. The others, duplicates I had bought to have a collection in each city had been sold off when I took in my shingle. My properties were appreciating so I had decades before I had to worry about spending money.

The locals knew me merely as the retired man who owned at the old Stetler place, as they called my home. I was just a man who wanted his privacy, and they were polite enough to give it to me.

The alarm on my security system went off, and I checked my Treo. A car with one person in it pulled up at the gate. The driver climbed out walking up to open it. I saw her face, and part of me wanted to run inside for a gun. But I put the PDA away, walked out onto the porch, and sat in the old rocker that someone had left when I bought the property.

Had she found the heart within the assassin? The one I had found? Was she here to kill me or join me?

The car pulled up, far enough away that I would need a long gun to shoot her; a long gun like the ones in my gun rack, not at my side. It wasn’t that I could not kill her. It was that I didn’t want to. I took out my old friend, the Walther that had been my only true companion for so many years, then put it on the table, and sat with my hands in my lap.

She climbed out, her long black coat brushing the blowing leaves, her long black hair blowing in the gentle breeze. She waited for a long time, then started toward me, her hands still in her pockets. She walked closer; close enough to kill by a steady hand with a pistol. Closer, close enough that the shadow of the house now shrouded her. Then she stopped at the bottom of those stairs.

And if I come to kill you instead?

I will be waiting for that day.

I would find out in the next few moments.

Rev7
12-25-2008, 03:53 PM
Wow, that was amazing mach. Thank you! I really liked how you described how the kid duplicated the NSA program and protected it, and how this assassin does his work, and how 'clean' he does it. I liked the end, where he went to the cemetary especially when you put in, "People like me should never visit cemeteries. We have spent so much time in our lives being the grim reaper the other side eagerly awaits our arrival." Great touch, and I look forward to reading more! :)

That is after reading the first chapter, BTW.

machievelli
12-25-2008, 03:57 PM
Wow, that was amazing mach. Thank you! I really liked how you described how the kid duplicated the NSA program and protected it, and how this assassin does his work, and how 'clean' he does it. I liked the end, where he went to the cemetary especially when you put in, "People like me should never visit cemeteries. We have spent so much time in our lives being the grim reaper the other side eagerly awaits our arrival." Great touch, and I look forward to reading more! :)

That is after reading the first chapter, BTW.

read on. as you were posting I was finishing, albeit with the system saying I had to trim every bloody post.

The line was one I took from the Anime series Noir. The assassin in it puts flowers on a grave because she cannot return to Corsica where her family are buried. When she kills another assassin near the end of the episode, the dying woman says the first part, and Mirelle (Pronounced miri-elle) says the second.

Rev7
12-26-2008, 01:44 AM
read on. as you were posting I was finishing, albeit with the system saying I had to trim every bloody post.

Well, I just finished what you have posted, and I thought that it was brillant, to be frank. The best part is when Marco gave Kirika the gun and told her that she still had a chance to keep her record. Then she aimed at the wall at pulled the trigger, and how surprised she was when there was actually a bullet in the chamber. What a way to say that you quit. Magnificent work mach, very entertaining. What I have gotten from this is that everyone has a heart even the people that seem cold, and ruthless. They still have a heart and still love. They have a human side, even though murder could be considered a human characteristic, so is love and compassion. I look forward to more!
The line was one I took from the Anime series Noir. The assassin in it puts flowers on a grave because she cannot return to Corsica where her family are buried. When she kills another assassin near the end of the episode, the dying woman says the first part, and Mirelle (Pronounced miri-elle) says the second.
Well, I guess that I would not have recognized where you got that from because I don't watch anime. I do have to say that it sounds familar. It probably sounds so familar because I saw it in a movie of some sorts. Still, it highlights the story.

machievelli
12-26-2008, 04:45 PM
This one surprised me. My personal best to date was Family of choice, with 21 hits a day.

But this one has over 50 hits in one day.

My thanks to all who read it. Now all you have to do is actually say something, good bad indifferent :)