Category Archives: Mark Cooper

Sandpit

Listen instead!
Listen instead!

The park was empty as Lisa sat on a weathered bench watching her two-year old twins jostle back and forth in the sandbox. Her hair flailed around her pale face from the warm July breeze, and overhead, a flock of small birds soared toward their unknown destinations.
+++++Her boys, Jack and Evan, were typical toddlers. They loved to watch cartoons and play with their trucks, while constantly at odds with each other to see who could get more attention. Jack had a bit of a temper, which surfaced more frequently than Lisa would have liked. Evan on the other hand was a quieter child, usually content to play by himself. And her husband, Frank, was at work, as usual. It seemed that whenever Lisa had something bothering her, he wasn’t there. She knew what she was signing up for by marrying a detective, but it was still difficult to deal with.
+++++Leaning back on the bench, Lisa took a deep breath. She wished for a cigarette or a winning lottery ticket, or both, but knew that neither would be possible. She quit smoking when she got pregnant with the twins, and rarely played the lottery. Her mind began to wander, affixing weird scenarios to any passing thought. She looked at the twins in the sandbox, playing with their trucks; building sand castles; digging holes. They seemed to be having so much fun.
+++++Sand pits can have a solid bottom, or be built directly onto the soil.
+++++The strange thought and the sudden onset of it startled Lisa. She didn’t know where it came from; it just sort of popped into her head. In an attempt to dispel it, she focused on her children and their playing. Evan was busy filling a small plastic bucket with sand. Jack was pushing one of his toy trucks through a small mound in the box. Neither was aware of their mother watching them. Lisa yawned deeply and stretched. She was feeling the effects of the fresh air; it always relaxed her, sometimes the point of making her sleepy.
+++++And then she noticed it.
+++++It was small, so much so that at first she thought she imagined it. But when she leaned forward and looked, she knew it wasn’t just in her mind. Jack’s truck was pushed into a mound of sand up to its little plastic windshield. He was trying to nudge it forward, but couldn’t. Something was stopping it.
+++++Something in the sand.
+++++And Lisa saw what that something was a finger, or more accurately, a couple of fingers. They jutted up from their grainy home about an inch or so, and were blocking the path of the toy truck. Tiny flecks of sand dotted the mouldering appendages. Lisa felt a scream take root in her gut, and begin to work its way up to her mouth. Eventually, her comprehension of what she was seeing would catch up to the rising scream and all come out in one big cry.
+++++Jack didn’t notice his mother. He was too busy trying to force his truck into the sand. But Evan saw her. He dropped his plastic bucket, intent on running over to her.
+++++Lisa screamed when the fingers rose up from the sand, showing the grey, skeletal hands they were attached to. Dripping fungus oozed from the terrible things, forming grainy clots of sand. One hand snatched the toy truck from Jack’s grasp, neatly snapping it in two before yanking the remains into the sand. And another pulled Evans bucket onto its side, its chipped nails gouging into the frail plastic. It too was pulled into the sand.
+++++But that was not what scared Lisa the most. It was when three new hands sprouted up from a corner of the sandbox, and went directly for Evan’s feet, and before she could react, pulled one of her little boys kicking and screaming to an impossible death. Jack started to cry. Lisa jumped to her feet, and despite being handicapped by the crushing grief over Evan, sprinted straight for the sandbox. By then, her remaining son was himself in the powerful grip of two of the hands.
+++++Lisa dove headfirst for the reaching arms of Jack. She saw his tiny face contorted into an expression of pain and disbelief as he was forcibly yanked, first down to his waist, and then up his neck. And all in a split second.
+++++“Help me Mommy!” The last time Lisa saw her son he was crying the words – and then he too, like his brother, was gone.
+++++Lisa fell face-first onto the ground next to the sandbox. She was numb with grief, and shock threatened to overtake her. Her anguished sobs were muffled by the grass. Reaching into her pocket, she slipped her cell phone out. She fumbled with the buttons, but knew she had to call for help. She also knew that nobody would believe her, but that didn’t matter. All that did was getting help.
+++++Sandpits can have solid bottoms, or be built directly onto the soil.
+++++With shaking hands she dialed 9-1-1. A dispatcher answered after the first ring.
+++++“This is 9-1-1 Dispatch. Can you tell me the nature of your emergency? Hello? Hello? Is anybody there?” But Lisa couldn’t answer. All she could do was gasp for air. The hands had shot out of the sand and wrapped themselves around her throat with brutal efficiency. And then, in seconds, she was unconscious. And then dead. Her body was pulled into the sandbox, leaving only her cell phone behind.

 

***

 

“Hey, someone left their bag here,” Andy called out as he strayed away from his friends, moving towards the bench. The sun was starting to dip towards the horizon and they had decided to cut through the park on their way to the party at Scott’s house. Greg put the six-pack of beer down on the ground at the edge of the sandpit, then noticed something wedged up against the wooden surround.
+++++“Someone dropped their phone here too,” He added, stooping down to pick it up. “It’s not locked.”
+++++“Any interesting photos on it?” Andy replied as he rifled through the bag’s contents. Locating a purse he opened it – finding a driver’s license within seconds.
+++++“No, but there’s a message,” Greg responded. He began to retrieve the message before he paused for a second. “Did you hear that?”
+++++“What?” “Some sort of scratching sound.” He explained as he put the handset to his ear. “Probably a squirrel.”
+++++“Hi Honey. It’s me, Frank. I’ll be home late tonight. I have to go to Stellar’s Beach. It seems that a couple of kids have gone missing there. Witnesses say they vanished right on the beach. I have to go now. Love you.” The message ended as abruptly as it started.
+++++“I know this woman,” Andy said as he ventured across to his friend, holding up the driver’s license in one hand and the purse in the other. “She lives over on Elm – husband’s a cop from what I remember.”
+++++“Any money in it?” Greg joked as he looked around quizzically at the ground.
+++++“Are you nuts? My parents would kill me…what’s wrong?”
+++++“Did you just pick up the beer?”
+++++“No,” Andy half-laughed. “You had it.”
+++++“I know – I put it down just there…” he pointed to the spot next to the sand pit. “I swear, I…”
+++++“Come on, let’s get out of here.” Andy said, the tone of his voice suddenly different, more insistent. “I always hated this place as a kid, used to creep me the fuck out.” Greg moved around the sandpit, still looking for the six-pack. “Greg, let’s go.”
+++++“Okay, okay, I’m coming.” He said, giving up his search. He looked at his friend with an expression of pure confusion. “Is it true what they said about this place? With the kids going missing and all that?”
+++++“I don’t know,” Andy said, grabbing Greg’s arm and finally dragging him away. “But I don’t want to stay here and find out.”

Dangerous Curves

It was one of those things you say in the heat of the moment that, if you’re lucky, you get chance to regret. She looked at me with what I’d normally call bedroom eyes, sultry and dark with black lining and thick lashes. Realistically she was the type of woman you took home for one night and spent the rest of your life dreaming about; not the type you took home to present to your mother. Not that this had anything to do with me, mind you. I wasn’t going to be taking her home for the night and I was most certainly never going to introduce her to my mother, god rest her soul.
++++ She gracefully rose from the chair when I entered the office, unfurling long limbs in all her dark glory. Her hair tumbled down to her shoulders, dark chocolate coloured tresses framing her face perfectly. She curled those full lips in an ironic smile and the expression fit her. She extended her hand to me and I shook it – her grip was surprisingly firm.
++++ As I sat down I could feel my shirt sticking to the back of my neck. The chair was comfortable and provided her with a slightly elevated position in relation to me, no doubt to ensure that she held a position of superiority during our discussion. She was definitely not to be underestimated under the circumstances.
++++ “Don’t forget to breath Mr Waltham,” her voice was smooth and a tad deeper than I expected, yet it was almost intoxicating. “I don’t want you passing out on me in my office.” She was right – I’d been holding my breath, partly out of anticipation but mostly due to nerves.
++++ “Thanks…I…” I struggled for the words. She smiled at me and gestured towards the clear jug of water on her desk.
++++ “Would you like a drink Mr Waltham?” she asked. I nodded; taking advantage of the opportunity it presented me. She poured me a glass of water and I took a deep drink from it. “Then just take a deep breath – I can appreciate that this is an uncomfortable situation for you and I don’t want you to feel any more nervous than necessary.” Her smile was disarmingly comforting in a strange manner. “However, before we begin I’m curious to know how you found out about me?”
++++ “Do you know a guy by the name of Kirk Rasmussen?” My question was met with a nod. “Well, his brother Joey and I go way back. Joey’s gambling habits had gotten him into trouble with some Russian’s lately and I helped him out. I got talking to Kirk over a couple of beers the night I paid them off and things just went from there.” Her facial expression told me all I needed to know. If I knew the Rasmussen’s to that degree then I knew the sort of circle of friends they kept – clearly that spoke volumes to her.
++++ “So Joey’s been getting himself into trouble again then?” She mused, running her index finger across the edge of her desk. “I’m not surprised – for all Kirk’s attempts to keep him on the straight and narrow it never lasts for long. So to business Mr Waltham; just what is it that you think I can help you with?”
++++ “I…” I was starting to feel like a fool. I closed my eyes and tried again. “I…I want you to do away with my business partner.” I opened my eyes. She was looking at me with a gleam in her eyes, like a cat when it toys with the mouse.
++++ “Do away with? Who on earth uses that phrase?” She mocked. “Say it again Mr Waltham,” her tone was firm. “Only this time with your eyes open.” I looked into them, those steely-grey orbs that were locked with mine. They seemed to draw the words out of me, coaxing them from my lips.
++++ “I want you to kill my business partner, Trent Edwards.” I said, trying to match her tone and demeanour with my own. She tilted her head slightly and the edge of her lips curled upward.
++++ “I’m impressed,” she answered. “Normally it takes someone four to five attempts to get to that stage.” She looked down at a notepad on her desk. “Okay, what’s he been doing? Embezzling funds? Selling corporate secrets? Planning to kick you off the board?”
++++ “No,” I growled. “He’s screwing my wife.” She looked up at me and nodded. I looked down at the floor for a moment, recalling the moment I saw my wife in our bed with him – the slightly younger, slightly fitter business partner. Didn’t she vow to forsake all others, to be with me in sickness and in health, for richer or poorer? She liked the richer part – the company had been set up using several bank loans and a modest amount of venture capital we’d been able to secure and she’d enjoyed the perks that had come with that, yet she’d also taken advantage of the time I’d spent building up the company from scratch. They both had – Trent always dealt with the PR side of things better than I did and in turn I managed the product development. While he was away attending business lunches with prospective investors I was building the system from the ground up.
++++ “Interesting.” She didn’t seem surprised. “Would you like me to take care of your wife too? A double costs extra, and as you already know, I’m not cheap.” I could feel the anger boiling up inside me.
++++ “No, I love my wife,” I shot back, not fearing the consequences of this reaction to her question. “However, she loves him now. You have no idea how much that realisation hurts – it feels like someone has reached into my chest and crushed my heart with their bare hands. I couldn’t live without her, so I figure it’s going to tear her apart knowing she can’t be with him.” It slipped out, my anger and my hatred at the situation; her betrayal and my own stupidity for allowing myself to feel like this, for allowing someone else to have this control over me. I looked at her – her face was alive as she carefully placed the pen down on the pad.
++++ “How deliciously evil,” the words dripped from her mouth – her voice was having a disturbing effect on me. I shuffled in my seat, hoping she hadn’t noticed. She held my gaze for a few precious seconds before she was all-business again. “So, how would you like it done?”
++++ “I…I don’t know,” I stuttered again. “I thought something that looked like natural causes.” She shook her head.
++++ “Natural is difficult,” she answered as she leaned back in her chair. “That usually involves some exotic poison and in this day and age with the advances in forensic science you can never be too sure.” She twirled the pen between her fingers. “Suicide?”
++++ “No, no one would buy that.” I answered – my mind swirling at the ease of my response. “He’s too…vibrant.”
++++ “Let me guess, young, rich and handsome? Pretty girls dotted around the place, all at his beck and call, even if they are with someone else?” the air of disdain was clear in her voice.
++++ “Something like that.” I answered. She gave me a wicked grin.
++++ “I might be doing the world a favour then,” she said. “No one likes someone who has it all and still isn’t satisfied.” I realised that I could get to like this woman – from a safe distance of course. She looked at the notepad. “Is there anything else you’d like to tell me?”
++++ “Well…if…if possible it needs to be done before the end of the month.” I said, involuntarily wringing my hands. “The company is going public on the 30th…”
++++ “…And his death will affect your share price?” She presumed. I shook my head.
++++ “No – his death will produce a minor fluctuation in the share price, nothing more than four to six percentage points for a couple of days at most,” I said. “There’s a clause in the company constitution that if one or the other of us dies before the company moves out of joint ownership then others sole holdings in the company pass to them rather than to the collective ownership of the board once the floatation has happened.” I took another drink of water. “The bastard might have taken my wife, but I want his part of the company.” She nodded once more.
++++ “I understand that your company is doing a series of press junkets across Europe in the run up to a software launch at the end of this quarter,” I struggled to contain my surprise. She had done her homework. “Might I suggest that Mr Edwards is the victim of a random act of violence, an unfortunately fatal robbery maybe, in his hotel room one night?”
++++ “That…that’s brilliant.” I answered. “And…and none of this can be traced back to me?”
++++ “Mr Waltham, I’m a professional,” She said as she stood up. “If this gets traced back to you then I’m at risk of exposing myself.” I stood up a moment later. She extended her hand to me again. “Once we go down this route, there’s no turning back, you understand that? No refunds, no cancelling the contract. Are you sure you want me to do this?”
++++ “Yes, yes,” I answered emphatically. “I want you to do this.”
++++ “That’s all I needed to hear.” She said.
++++ “I’ve paid the first half of the money as directed,” I said as she walked me to the plain and unassuming door of her office. “When do you…?”
++++ “I will be in touch once the work is completed.” She replied. “Then we will make further arrangements Mr Waltham.”
++++ “Thank you.” It felt strange to use those words in connection with the conversation we had just completed. “Thanks for your time…?”
++++ ”Miss Vincent,” She answered. “However, under the circumstances, you can call me Cassandra.” She patted me on the back as I left the office. “Don’t worry Mr Waltham; the deed is as good as done.”

****

Belgrade
Serbia

It was the waiting that she had always disliked. As she sat in the comfortable hotel suite and looked down at the time on her mobile phone, Cassandra found herself drumming her fingers against the arm of the chair she occupied. The set up was one she’d used before countless times – something that was tried and trusted in her opinion and had yet to let her down. Finally her patience began to wear thin, prompting her to get up from the chair. Taking a moment to brush off several flecks of fluff from the left leg of her trouser suit, she approached the overnight bag she had placed on the bed upon first arriving in the room just over an hour ago.
++++ Opening it, she carefully unpacked the evening dress and hung it up in the wardrobe. As far as anyone was aware she was attending a function at the hotel for representatives of the International Monetary Fund at the five-star hotel and the faux invitation made it clear that evening wear was mandatory. After admiring the deep red creation on the hanger for a moment Cassandra returned to the bag, removing a small black box. Prying the security catch free, her hand reached into the container and pulled out the sleek, deadly form of a TALO P345. Cassandra took a moment to admire the pistol, one of only 500 ever produced – a gift to her from her mentor over a decade ago. The moment of indulgence engulfed her as Cassandra allowed her fingers to glide across the barrel. The grip was adorned with a small 24 carat gold embellishment in the shape of a phoenix, producing a brief smile on Cassandra’s lips. The mythological bird had been something of a private joke between the pair of them.
++++ The buzzing tone of her Blackberry message service drew Cassandra’s attention away from the pistol. Looking at it, she could see that she’d received a text message. On our way up it read. Cassandra shook her mind free of her memories and focused on what was about to happen. She picked up the suppressor from the box and began to meticulously attach it to the compact barrel of the side-arm, carefully lining it up the screw threads before slowly twisting it into place.
++++ Cassandra glanced down at the phone again. It was nearly ten past. She smiled as she put the pistol down on the bed and pulled out a pair of black leather gloves from the bag. Pulling them on her mind registered that she had nearly finished her preparations for the evening’s activities – and that her target had less than twenty minutes to live.

****

Trent Edwards couldn’t believe his luck.
++++ Despite his healthy reputation when it came to securing the company of attractive women, rarely did he find himself confronted with one quite so forward. When the young woman introduced herself to him as Alessia, who was the living embodiment of the stereotypical blonde bombshell, in the bar just over thirty minutes ago, he was initially dismissive of her advances. Trent viewed himself as a hunter; he was always the one who liked to do the chasing. Upon meeting someone who – on the surface of it all – seemed to be equally as enticed by the prospect of the thrill of the hunt, he gradually found himself captivated by her.
++++ Encouraged by her advances, he eagerly lapped them up as they made their way up to Alessia’s suite. Once inside she pounced on him – it was clear that in this situation he was the lamb and she was the slaughter – and a myriad of fantasy scenarios filled Trent’s mind.
++++ Almost exactly twenty minutes later, Cassandra exited her own room and moved swiftly to the door of the suite next to hers, inserting the duplicate room key card into the door and carefully opening it. Dressed in a long coat that covered her slate grey business suit, Cassandra was the very vision of confidence and professional detachment as she followed the moans to the bedroom. She pushed the door open and saw Alessia on top of Trent. Cassandra smiled and looked at the two of them going at it. Of course, Alessia was a professional, someone that Cassandra had hired for just this one job. Cassandra could tell she was faking it. Normally she would have thought it amusing, but right now Cassandra was in the mood for killing.
++++ Cassandra walked to the foot of the bed grabbed Alessia by her long blonde hair and snatched her sharply backwards. She screamed crashed to the floor, barely registering what was happening as Cassandra dropped down to a knee and banged Alessia’s head into the mock wooden panelling hard twice. Trent – clearly panicked – tried to roll off the bed, landing awkwardly on the carpet. Cassandra moved quickly, stepping around the bed and driving a strong kick to the side of his head. His muscular arms and gym-sculpted body fell to the floor. Trent managed to push himself up to his knees and held out his hands, pleading with her.
++++ “Please, look, I didn’t know…” Cassandra wasn’t in the mood for a discussion – she knew that Trent’s pleading would only get more desperate from this point onward.
++++ “Don’t make this harder than it has to be.” She said swiftly drew the pistol from the inside of her coat and took aim. Trent looked down, and then back up at Cassandra’s beautiful face, being met by the steely cold glare in her eyes.
++++ “No! No! Don’t ki…!”
++++ Pfft! Pfft!
++++ Cassandra frowned and pulled the trigger twice, both bullets striking Trent in his designer chest. The body slumped forward. Her aim adjusted accordingly before a third shot to the back of his head echoed around the room. Turning to leave, Cassandra stepped over Alessia’s naked body. She looked down at her, noting the areas on her body that had gone under the surgeon’s knife. Cassandra stood over her for a second before making a decision.
++++ Pfft!
++++ The single shot to Alessia’s head was enough to finish the job. Cassandra took a few minutes to scoop up various items from the room – a laptop, iPhone, wallet – before knocking over the bedside table and smashing the ornate lamp to make sure that the scene would look like a simple case of a botched robbery. She had already identified a dumpster in a less salubrious area of the city where she could ditch the items later that evening. Taking a final look around the scene to ensure she had achieved the desired effect, Cassandra left the hotel suite without looking back. After all, she still had to get dressed for a party to attend.

****

England

It’s easy to turn a blind eye to things when you’re sleepwalking through your life. All I had to do was maintain the façade for another few weeks and it would be over. The news came through at about 5 am on the 25th. The phone rang and I answered it. Speaking through bleary eyes to the manager of the promotional tour the details became clear. While in the Serbian leg of the tour, Trent and his female companion for the evening had been the victims of a tragic accident – a simple case of a burglar breaking into the wrong suite at the wrong time.
++++ There were no witnesses to the crime and the local police had struggled to make any progress in the investigation – which I had expected. No one suspected me of any involvement in his death, after all why should they? I was the best part of fifteen hundred miles away ironing out bugs in our new office suite that we’d discovered during the final phase of our beta testing. Naturally everyone in the company was upset and rallied around me as the de-facto figurehead of the organisation. The public launch of the company happened in a blaze of publicity as a result of Trent’s death – the memorial service was particularly touching. The share offering was heavily over-subscribed; I could have sold three times the stock we had and still not met the demand.
++++ Liz took his death badly – her behaviour became increasingly erratic. Mood swings, increased alcohol consumption and prolonged periods of isolation within the house. I tried as best as I could to help her through this, however it was only prolonging the inevitable.

****

The benefit was a high profile affair. The donations the company made were always good for the community, and since the death of Trent our public profile had soared. After the public speaking had finished the group moved to the more informal aspect of the night – drink and dancing. I watched as people began to pair up as the alcohol flowed and inhibitions waned.
++++ “What a surprise to see you here Mr Waltham.” The voice stunned me for a moment then I turned my head to see her standing there in a full length, dark green evening dress. “Or would you prefer it if I called you James under the circumstances?”
++++ “Cassandra,” I said as I stood up and politely shook her hand. “What a surprise.”
++++ “A pleasant one I do hope,” her demeanour seemed warmer than before. “I see your company has flourished somewhat since our last meeting.”
++++ “You might say that,” I answered, eyeing her suspiciously. “How did you know about this thing?”
++++ “Oh, I have my sources,” Cassandra replied. “You look good in that suit.” Her complement caught me off-guard somewhat.
++++ “Thank you. Would…would you care to dance?”

****

I didn’t care who saw us, within a few weeks the divorce would be finalised and it wouldn’t matter. A myriad of questions flew around my mind as I held her close to me.
++++ “I understand that your divorce isn’t going well.” Cassandra whispered into my ear. I pulled back slightly – there was that same wicked grin on her face that I had seen once before.
++++ “Is there anything you don’t know?”
++++ “I find it pays to stay abreast of current events.” She answered as she rested her head on my shoulder. The song was slow and our movements matched it. “I also believe you owe me some money.”
++++ “I was wondering when you’d get around to mentioning that.” I answered. “How and when?”
++++ “After your divorce is finalised,” she said. “Although, it would be a shame if your soon-to-be-ex wife had an accident, all alone in that large house, drinking heavily…” I looked at Cassandra. Those stormy grey eyes looked into mine. “I’m sure we can come to some sort of arrangement, although I think we should continue this discussion in private…don’t you?”

****

I don’t know why I followed her up to her room – it could have been any one of a number of things; guilty conscience; innate desire to put myself in danger; simple animal magnetism. Whatever it was, I was finding myself being drawn to Cassandra like a moth to a flame. The room itself was one of the hotel’s more exclusive suites – opulent and reeking of old-world decadence. Once we were inside, I felt a strange sense of calm, possibly a sense of resignation to my fate – that I was literally putting my life into her hands.
++++ “Would you like a drink?” Her question drew me out of the dream-like state I had entered into. Suddenly everything felt real again.
++++ “Yes…” I murmured as I moved into the main room. Cassandra was pouring two drinks, her back towards me. “Yes please.”
++++ “You’re so well-mannered James,” Cassandra said as she turned around, the light in the room projecting forwards around her. “And you’re so trusting too. I mean, for all you know I could have done anything to the drinks while you weren’t watching.” I could tell that both glasses appeared to contain some sort of whiskey or similar looking derivative.
++++ “Well, as I still owe you a considerable amount of money,” I replied, suddenly feeling emboldened in her presence. “I figure you’ll want to keep me around for a while yet.” She gave me that faint smile, the slightest curl of her lips, as she approached me. As she handed me the drink her fingers brushed against mine. The sensation was electric. She lingered close to me for a moment before stepping back, leaning back against the small sofa as she continued to hold my gaze.
++++ “Ah yes, the remainder of my fee…” She mused as she knocked back her drink in one quick motion. The glass was discarded casually as she licked her lips again, savouring the taste once more. “I meant what I said you know.” My eyebrows must have twitched slightly, giving away my momentary confusion. “Regarding your wife and her current…predicament.” She took a slow step towards me, her hands reaching behind her back. “Lots of people find themselves behind the wheel of a car when they are inebriated – their senses are dulled and they just don’t react in time to something small, something innocuous.”
++++ I could hear the sound of a zipper being undone as she moved towards me, the shoulders of her dress suddenly became loose with each passing step. I took a swig from the glass – my taste buds registering the fact that it was bourbon. “She might take one too many tablets to help her sleep, resulting in a fatal overdose when combined with the level of alcohol in her blood stream – that’s always a personal favourite of mine,” Cassandra was less than ten feet from me now as the dress fell away from her body. I swallowed hard – the alcohol burned my throat.
++++ Her figure was encased in a smooth black body; her legs were sheathed in thigh-high hold up stockings; the heels of her shoes seemed to provide a punctuation point to everything she said to me as she moved up close to me, holding herself against my body. I desperately wanted to reach out and touch her, to take her in all her glory there and then against the back of that sofa, yet the fear of overstepping my mark held me in check.
++++ “She could take a nasty fall in that house of yours, tumble down those stairs and break her neck when drunk,” Cassandra was whispering now, her hands moving across the shirt that covered my chest. “Of course, the fall itself won’t actually break her neck – I’ll do that before hand. I’ll wrap my arms around her head and slowly twist it around. Did you know it only takes just over ten pounds of pressure to dislocate cervical vertebrae? I’ll even let you watch if you like, I don’t know if you’re partial to a little girl on girl action…”
++++ I couldn’t hold myself back any longer, grabbing her and kissing her passionately. I don’t know how long I kissed her for but I never felt so intoxicated by a woman before in my life.
++++ “Why James,” she whispered as she momentarily broke the kiss. “I think we just sealed the deal…”

****

Théâtre Mogador
Paris

The stage of the recently refurbished theatre was lit up by a complex series of stage lighting arrays that dangled from the ceiling of the grand old building. All the eyes of those in attendance were focused on the solitary female figure taking centre-stage, standing in front of the microphone and holding an ornate golden statue. Tears were running down her cheeks as she held the statue up and spoke.
++++ “All my life I have dreamed of this moment, standing here and accepting a Molière award…” She said in her soft, lilting voice in-between taking huge gulps of air to try and recover from the shock of wining. The young blonde woman was looking around at the full auditorium, basking in the applause. “I just want to take this opportunity…”
++++ In the dark recess of one of the small private boxes two men sat and watched the awards show. As they watched the young woman complete her speech, the older of the two leaned towards his younger companion somewhat. The sound of the applause in the auditorium easily drowned out his words to all but the most perceptive ears.
++++ “I’m glad you could make it.” His American accent was a stark contrast to the French-speaking voices around them. “We were concerned that you wouldn’t show.”
++++ “Well considering what it is that you want doing I could hardly pass up the opportunity to talk to you could I?” The younger man replied; his voice held a clearly British accent. The older man nodded before handing him an envelope. “Have you approached anyone else regarding this…endeavour?”
++++ “No – we evaluated all the suitable candidates and decided to contact you first.” The older man paused for a moment. “Those are the details that we’ve managed to glean from our source.” He said. “I trust you’ll be able to make the necessary arrangements to complete the contract?”
++++ “Relax Mr Henderson – I’m a professional.” His British counterpart tried to assure him, his tone coming across as condescending.
++++ “Well, Mr Alexander, I’m sure you can appreciate that my associates and I are somewhat nervous about this, after all it’s not every day that…” The American began to bite back at him, only to find his barbed comment sternly cut off in mid sentence.
++++ “I said relax!” The British man hissed, his face twisting into a scowl. A moment passed between the pair of them and then his demeanour suddenly changed – his facial expression now a placid mask of calm. “I’m just as invested in this little enterprise as your group is – after all it’s not often that someone in my line of work gets the opportunity to make history like this.” He sat back in his chair. As he did so, the American got up.
++++ “I have an early flight to catch so I will be in touch with you as soon as I get more information.” He said as he left. “Enjoy the rest of your evening.”
++++ “Oh, I will do Mr Henderson.” The British man said as he looked at the envelope in his hand. “I will do.”

Special

I’ve been told that I’m special – right now, I don’t quite see it.
+++++I’m in a basement of a building filled with dead men. They don’t know it yet, but by the time I’m done everyone here will have had a very bad day indeed.
+++++Why the basement you ask? Well, that’s where the wall is thinnest of course and it was the only place that I had a photograph of that allowed me to visualise the space without any issues – but more about that later. I do this job and I’m set up for life. It did occur to me that the reason why the price on this guy’s head is so high is because he appears to be untouchable.
+++++Steven Kenson used to work as a research analyst for META-4, the government run Agency that watches over everyone that’s classed as a Neo. You’ve heard of the FBI and the CIA? Well, these guys were above and beyond even them. You’ve heard of Black Ops? META-4 makes them look positively white in comparison.
+++++Why does someone want Kenson dead? I don’t know, and I don’t care – all I’m bothered about is the money. Like I said, I do this job and I’m set for life.
+++++The Glock nestles comfortably in the holster on my hip as I pull out and re-order the fuses to the power for the building. Everything goes dark for a minute – good job I’ve got the night vision goggles with me today. I know the back-up generators will kick in after about fifteen minutes, but that’s all the time I’ll need. It creates just enough confusion and uncertainty amongst those in the building to unnerve them – and that’s exactly what I want. Everyone on edge, twitchy, anxious. Makes it all the more easier for me when it comes to picking them off.
+++++I had a life once – a boyfriend, a cat, an apartment. I was training to be a nurse – I wanted to save lives – now all I do is take them. Funny how things can turn out, isn’t it? That was before everything changed. Before Dr Tachyon. He called it the Wild Card process – everyone else knows it as the forerunner to DNAscent; the forced evolution of the human genome. I guess I was one of the lucky ones – they theorised that because I’m a woman I must have pulled an ace from the pack due to my genetic makeup. Fifty percent of people who underwent the process were killed by it.
+++++If you ask me, they were the lucky ones.
+++++Now it’s been refined and “mastered”, the government uses it to create super-soldiers to fight their precious war on terror. I wonder how long it will be before the “bad guys” get their hands on the same technology. I could apply my talents elsewhere and make a fortune if I wanted to.
+++++Not that I would – I might be a killer, you understand, but I’m also a patriot.
+++++When they said that the Raven had caught Tachyon I was so angry – I wanted to be the one who got to him first, not that do-gooder bitch. I wanted to see the look in his eyes as I killed him. I guess I still could – he’s only in Ravenstone Prison after all, but everyone has to move on with their life. Take the hand you’re dealt and roll with it as best as you can.
+++++Like I said, people tell me I’m special. We’ll see.
+++++The door to the basement opens – two figures enter, waving torches around. They’re moaning about the power outage, their forms illuminated clearly by the red emergency light in the far corner of the room even without my goggles. Despite the fact my body is completely covered in this light absorbent suit, I’m still nervous. As they look at the fuse box I make my move – I drive the knife into the base of the skull of the first guy, and then I grab the second guy by the shoulders, forcibly throwing him to the ground on his back. I keep hold of his arm as my foot stomps down onto his throat. I then pull his arm upwards, jerking his body towards me while my foot holds his neck in place. I hear the sound of bone breaking and in the alien green hue of the goggles I watch him twitch spasmodically for a minute before confirming he’s dead. Retracting the knife, I wipe the blood from the blade on the first guy’s jacket before I climb the stairs out of the basement.
+++++I need to move quickly – the two in the basement will be missed soon and the element of surprise will be lost. I should just go straight to the third floor – but I can’t afford to get caught out. Plus as I don’t know what’s up there I could just appear in the middle of a wall or something – then who would look stupid? That’s the problem with teleportation – you need to “know” where you’re going otherwise things just get messy, hence the need for the photograph to get into the basement. I sweep around the first and second floors, finding them empty as I expected. The power disruption has wiped out the elevator – not that I need it, but I use the stairs in case I run into anyone coming down them.
+++++I reach the third floor and carefully open the door from the stairwell. Thank god for well-oiled hinges. As I slowly open the door, I can see a guy at the vending machine. He’s fumbling with change in his hands as he tries to simultaneously balance the torch under his arm and count up the selection of coins he’s extracted from his pocket. I wait – if I move now the sound of the coins hitting the floor could alert people to my presence. I can afford to be patient. Plus the vending machine is practically an antique – it’s an old Hertzberg model, the sort that work off a crank handle mechanism like the ones they have at Coney Island. It would be a crime to damage it after someone has clearly taken their time restoring it. For a minute I’m six years old again with my Dad at the fair, pleading with him for a raspberry Slurpee and a cone of nuts before we get on the Ferris wheel.
+++++Six dimes and three nickels later, he’s lighting up the candy dispenser with his torch. I step forward, approaching him in his blind spot – the silencer on the end of the Glock looks almost ridiculous compared to the size of the subcompact pistol in my grasp. I’ve always liked the Glock 26 and the later 29 versions – it’s perfect for concealment in a purse or a jacket pocket and thus, perfect for my line of work, even if it only holds ten rounds in the magazine. My hands are an average size, yet this almost miniaturised weapon looks wrong almost – like it’s a child’s toy in the hands of a woman.
+++++He’s still trying to decide which can of soda to purchase as the extended barrel edges closer to him. He has no idea what’s about to happen as he reaches out for the over-sized wheel that he needs to twist to finalise his selection – I can feel the anticipation building inside me, my mind is racing – the pressure of my finger on the trigger is increasing slowly, building to a climax. He reaches out, his hand just touching the rim of the wheel now…
+++++Pfhtt!
+++++I place the shot just behind his right ear, upwards into the skull. Somehow I manage to catch the torch before it hits the floor as the red and white decorative logo on the vending machine gets an impromptu paint job of blood and brain matter. That’s a shame – they’ll need to repaint it as you’ll never get that out with just soap and water. Bleach might do it. His body hits the floor with a soft thud – the carpet deadening the sound.
+++++There’s only one door in this hallway – and Kenson must be behind it, along with whoever is left babysitting him. They’ll be expecting their colleague to come back shortly – I don’t disappoint them.
+++++He’s heavy – heavy enough that once I lean his corpse up against the door it starts to open. As he falls through it, pandemonium erupts inside – the beams of torchlight illuminating their fallen colleague.
+++++One of them rushes forward – I put a bullet into his skull before I dance out of the way of a series of gunshots that tear through the flimsy wooden structure. All those years of ballet and gymnastics as a child paid off. I hear the voices – some urging restraint, some hollering for revenge. The remnants of the door are shattered as one, two, three men rush out, sweeping the hall with their torches.
+++++They are the first to go – one shot into each barrel, shattering the bulbs and robbing them of their perceived advantage. The knife is out of my hand and buried in the throat of one man before the others can react – bullets strike their foreheads a moment later. Everything goes quiet – everyone is waiting for the other to make the next move.
+++++There’s a rattling sound, then something rolls into the hallway. Smoke begins to fill the confined space – two shadowy figures dart out, towards the stairs. I take a second to focus, and then fire two quick shots into the back of the trailing figure – he falls to the floor, catching the trailing leg of the second figure.
+++++I can hear him coughing as I approach him. Through my green-filtered eyes I can make out his features – it’s Kenson; and he looks scared.
+++++I kneel down and jab the barrel of the pistol into the underside of his chin – he’s crying now, pleading with me for his life. If only it were that simple.
+++++I slowly pull the pistol away, and then drop it theatrically to the floor next to him. Something in his eyes seems to click – he thinks I’m giving him a chance. He’s wrong of course – but that’s what makes the next bit so delicious. I grab the lapels of his obscenely expensive jacket and I close my eyes.
+++++They say I’m special. I’m not so sure.
+++++The next time I open them I’m four hundred feet above the city streets. My hands are still gripping Kenson’s jacket as his screams fill my ears. I can feel the rush of the wind through my suit, giving me goose bumps across my body. We’re falling at a terminal velocity of thirty-two feet per second – the asphalt beneath us is getting ever closer and closer. I pull him towards me and speak for the first time that evening.
+++++“I hope you can fly.”
+++++Then I close my eyes and let go. When I open them I’m standing on the sidewalk – I see Kenson falling through the air, then watch as he smashes into the tarmac, just behind a yellow taxicab that’s dropped off its last fare of the night. I casually walk over to the impact site, ignoring the shocked people standing on the sidewalk, mouths a jar at what they’ve just witnessed – it’s amazing how much the human body resembles a melon when it’s dropped from a great height.
+++++I pull my mask off and run my hand through my dirty blonde hair. I realise that what I want right now is a long soak in a hot bath. Then I close my eyes and in a heartbeat, I’m back at home.
+++++They tell me I’m special. Maybe they’re right.

Payback – Part 3: The Greater Good

Koff! Koff! Koff!
+++++Where am I?
+++++Gaakkkk!
+++++Oh shit – blood – shit. Oh god, here…
+++++Gaakkk! Koff! Koff!
+++++That’s the second time I’ve thrown up in two minutes…the smell is terrible – it’s in my hair and on my clothes…feels like there’s another waiting to come up. Jesus…can’t see straight…feel sick as a dog…right hand side of my body feels numb – no, not numb, dead.
+++++Last thing I remember – the airport – the car with Natasha…talking to her then I get cattle prodded from behind and looks like they’ve shoved me in the boot. Then…yes – someone, no, two others fried me again. Oh shit, here it comes again…
+++++Gaakkk! Gaakkk!
+++++Shit – just dry heaving now. That explains the splitting sensation running through my skull, the lights before my eyes and the fact that my right leg seems to have taken on a life of it’s own. Okay, think Amy – what would Mom and Dad do in a situation like this? Probably have never gotten themselves into this situation in the first place.
+++++What the fuck was I thinking, walking out of the airport like that in broad daylight. Should have come up with a disguise. Stupid stupid stupid! Should have turned and ran the minute I saw Natasha.

****

“Well, that’s one loose end tied up.” Courtney said as she focused on the road ahead of them. The lights on the bridge were out again, meaning that driving along it would require her undivided concentration. “That should cheer Adrian up.”
+++++“I don’t think he really cares either way,” Kelly replied. “He’s just focused on the business.”
+++++“Wouldn’t you be?” Courtney asked. “I mean, if you think about…”
+++++“Cut the chatter girls,” Natasha snapped from the back seat. “Just get us to the farm house – we’ll dump the car in the river far enough away from the bridge that it won’t be noticed. The odds of anyone finding the body there are almost nil.”
+++++“Aww, looks like you lucked out on cleaning out the trunk this time sis…” Kelly chirped.

****

Think Amy, think!
+++++Good thing I lifted that security guard’s pistol at the airport. If I shoot the lock off from here the bullet will more than likely deflect straight back at me. If I wait for them to stop to retrieve me then I’ll be outnumbered. Of course, there’s always the chance that they’ll just dump the car into a river or push it off a cliff…
+++++Either way – I have to try something. So, here goes nothing! Hate trying to aim with my left – I was always terrible with it compared to my right.
+++++Blam! Blam! Blam!

****

“Wha…?” The first gunshot rang out inside the car, narrowly missing Natasha as the bullet tore through the back seat. It smashed into the windshield, prompting Courtney to twist the wheel sharply. The second shot punched a hole through the roof of the sedan, while the third punched a hole in Courtney’s skull, painting the remaining portion of the front windshield with blood and brain matter.
+++++“Courtney!” Kelly screamed as she saw her sister slump over the steering wheel, her scream simply increased as the car skewed violently to the left and pierced the protective barrier that usually stopped vehicles from simply pitching over the edge of the road and into the raging torrent of water below.
+++++For a few seconds, everyone felt that sensation of weightlessness that came with a sudden, sharp free fall. The sedan twisted, rolling over on its self as it hung in the air. The vehicle slammed into the riverbank, skidding on its side and filling the air with a crunching noise usually heard by the participants in a head on collision a fraction of a second before the engine tore through into the passenger compartment.
+++++The air was suddenly still – the only sound was the noise of a few birds in the trees that lined the riverbank itself. There was a brief flicker of movement from the car as Natasha tried to haul herself out of the passenger compartment. As she pushed the door open and dragged her bruised and bloodied body from the car, she fell into the shallow water of the river. As she pulled her face out of the cold water, she saw it was coloured with her blood.
+++++“…Mom…”
+++++She heard Kelly’s weak voice from somewhere behind her. Struggling to get to her feet, Natasha half-stumbled, half-crawled around the wreckage of the car. Kelly was lying in the water, her head resting on a large stone where a pool of her blood was forming.
+++++“…Mom…I can’t see anything…”
+++++“I’m right here baby – I’ll go and get us some help.” Natasha said as she reached her daughter, cradling her in her arm.
+++++“Mom huh?” Natasha looked up – Amy was standing less than six feet away from her, pistol raised in her left hand and pointing it straight at the pair of them. Even in her current condition, Natasha could see that Amy wasn’t exactly one hundred percent either. “You know, normally this would be a very touching scene, but in light of the last two weeks I can’t think of a better way to make you suffer than to make you watch your own daughter die slowly.” Amy wobbled slightly, the sensation in her right leg still not enough to be counted on.
+++++Natasha sprung at her, knocking away her pistol with one hand while grabbing at Amy’s throat with the other. The force of her bull-rush knocked them down into the shallow water.
+++++“I’m going to kill you for what you’ve done bitch!” Natasha screamed as she pulled Amy’s head up, only to smash it back down against the rock-strewn surface beneath her.
+++++“NO!” Amy screamed, managing to get her left leg up under their bodies and push Natasha off her with whatever force she could muster. Amy heard some sort of grunting sound as she tried to clear her head whilst trying to get to her feet in anticipation of Natasha’s next strike.
+++++Amy’s vision was still blurry but she saw Natasha slumped against the underside of the sedan with a large spike of metal that was protruding from her stomach. Amy wobbled as she scooped the pistol up out of the water, and then turned to face Natasha. Blood was oozing out of her mouth.
+++++“I’ll do you a deal – you answer my questions and I promise you that I will get help for your daughter,” Amy said. “Refuse and I’ll kill you both right now.”
+++++“What’s it matter – I’m as good as dead already,” Natasha half laughed. “How do I know you’ll keep your end of the deal?”
+++++“You don’t – you’ll just have to hope that you tell me what I want to know.”
+++++“Okay…koff!…okay,” Natasha said, looking over towards Kelly. “I’ll tell you everything…”
+++++And she did.
+++++Natasha told me how my father had faked her death a number of times to flush out rogue agents within the Agency.
+++++How Knotmann had taken my mother’s work after she had left and tweaked it a little until it was worth more than anyone could possibly imagine. They called it the Bellerophon Project. The Ravenstone Foundation was born out of this and became their primary focus once the spy game had gotten old. Medical technology became the main source of income. The key members took their knowledge with them and became millionaires the legitimate way.
+++++Apart from the odd piece of wet work here and there, Natasha and Stone were the company’s lion tamers. Their job was to deal with former agents that posed a threat to the future of the business.
+++++“So, why chase down my parents? You knew they would never come out of hiding – why didn’t you just leave them alone?” By now Amy had lowered her pistol. Natasha looked pale – her blouse was stained with her blood.
+++++“Uuuhhgh…they had to be eliminated…don’t you understand? Everything was based on your mother’s research…no matter how successful we were…there was always the risk it would all come tumbling down…it was too important…”
+++++“So important that people had to die for it? People that were your friends?” Amy spat. “Is that how you repaid them? By killing them?”
+++++“…koff!…you’re so naïve – your parent’s knew the risks when they left…this was bigger than all of us…”
+++++“Who gave the order to kill my parents?” Amy said, kneeling down at Natasha’s side. “I need to know so I can end all this and get on with my own life.”
+++++“Knotmann…died on the island…you killed Stone…I’m last on the list…”
+++++“I really doubt that the chain ends with you – my mother warned me to watch out for you…buy you don’t look like much now.” Amy spat.
+++++“You still don’t get it do you? Jesus, this is it! This is your pitiful life that you’re living right now!” Natasha seemed to be fuelled by something else now. “Just…save my daughter…koff.”
+++++“Like you saved my parents?” Amy said, standing up. “You’re dead in a minute from my gun, then I’m going to go and finish off that daughter of yours over there, nice and slowly. Then I’m going to find out who’s behind all this and take care of them too. Just know that you bought this all on yourself. You and your little crew took away the only thing that mattered to me.”
+++++Koff…koff…tell it to someone who gives a shit bitch!” Natasha spat with a smile on her face. “You’re as good as dead when you walk away from here – they’ll hunt you down…”
+++++Blam! Blam! Blam! Blam!

****

2 days later

The funny thing is, after killing Natasha I felt even more detached than before. Rather than feeling good about it I realise that I feel sad. She was right – this is my pitiful life and there’s no one to blame about the course I’ve taken other than the reflection in the mirror. I have to finish what I’ve started – one way or the other.
+++++I called an ambulance for Kelly – I know now that we have a lot in common. We’re both products of our environment. There’s no reason for her to pay for her mother’s sins so dearly. Courtney on the other hand…well, nobody’s perfect.
+++++When I got to the hotel I found two surprises waiting for me.
+++++The first was Ethan. He told me how he had tracked me to New York using some of his father’s equipment. I wanted to tell him to turn and run – to get away from me as fast as he could because the longer he’s around me, the greater the chance that he’ll get hurt.
+++++The second was a complete dossier on the Ravenstone Foundation that he had compiled. The last two days have been spent deciding what to do. As I sit on my motorcycle, heading towards my destiny, his last words before I left still float around my head.
+++++“You may have bitten off more than you can chew,” Ethan said to me as I lay in bed with him. It’s getting to be a habit of mine, sleeping with him, but it’s one I don’t want to break. “I mean, you’re only one person.”
+++++“I have to finish what I’ve started.” I said, my voice wasn’t convincing.
+++++“You’re questioning if this is a good idea aren’t you?”
+++++“How did you know?”
+++++“You’re shaking slightly.” Ethan said, pulling me closer to him. He smells so good, so warm and safe.
+++++“Please…you shouldn’t have come here…”
+++++“Amy, I can take care of myself – besides, you needed my help whether you realised it or not.” He’s right – the dossier. That would have taken me weeks to compile.
+++++“Well Dorothy, I hope you find what you’re looking for at the end of this particular yellow brick road,” He said as he got up. “Because I don’t feel like attending your funeral just yet.” He begins to get dressed. Neither of us speak for the moment. “Look, there’s some equipment in the suitcase by the door – you might find it useful, plus there’s a bike downstairs for you to use.” He grabs a bag from the couch and moves towards the door. “I’ll be at Dad’s place if you want to talk about…this…when it’s all over.”
+++++So, here I am – standing at the front door of the Ravenstone Foundation. The last person I need to deal with is sitting in the penthouse of this building. I hope he’s enjoying his last day on Earth.
+++++I walk into the lobby – there’s one guard on the front desk. Before he gets a chance to speak I fire a bullet into his skull. Taking the master key to the elevator I override the controls and head straight to the penthouse. As the door opens I have both pistols drawn. The two goons in suits barely have time to register what’s going on before I blow their brains out. Surely I should feel something at my casual lack of regard for these men’s lives – but I don’t. Have I fallen so far that there’s no way back now?
+++++I head straight towards the double door at the end of the corridor. As I push it open, I expect there to be armed security personnel swooping down on me as I enter.
+++++“Welcome Ms Tempest, please come in. We have much to discuss.”
+++++I find myself alone in the room with one man.
+++++Adrian Stone.

****

He lifted the glass in his hand, examined the liquid within it and drank from it slowly, savouring the taste. As Adrian returned the glass to the table, he turned and looked out of the window, surveying the city below the headquarters of the Ravenstone Foundation.
+++++“Ms Tempest, please put your weapons away.” Adrian said. “This room is constantly monitored, should you choose to shoot me then the security complement will destroy this penthouse, resulting in your death as well as mine, so I don’t see why we can’t discuss things like sensible adults.”
+++++“You must understand why I’m here.” Amy said, refusing to relinquish her aim.
+++++“I want to say up front that as far as I am concerned, all the business you had with my business partners is over. I’m told that if you hadn’t called for assistance when you did, my sister Kelly would be dead now.” He said, turning to face Amy. “I thank you for that. My mother – on the other hand – deserved what she had coming to her, as did my father.”
+++++“What? Mother?” Amy said. “Well…sorry – not that knowing this would have made any difference.” Her stomach suddenly churned.
+++++“I understand. I asked my family and co-workers to leave all that business behind them when I joined the board. However, they persisted against my wishes.” Adrian replied. He looked at the pistols, which were still pointed at his face. “Well, now that we’re here, what’s you next step?”
+++++“What happened to my mother’s work – the Bellerophon Project? Did you turn it into some sort of biological weapon?” Adrian laughed at Amy’s suggestion.
+++++“Nothing so mundane, I can assure you – there’s limited profit and extensive jail time for that sort of endeavour.” He said. “No, your mother’s work created something with a far greater influence than that.” He got up out of the chair and scooped up the remote control from his desk. Amy felt herself tense, and then she saw the large screen behind him wink into life.
+++++“The Bellerophon Project is the proverbial golden goose of the medical world. It has allowed us to develop a drug called Temerax – which will inhibit and eventually reverse the production of cancer cell growth within the human body.” Amy felt her stomach drop. She lowered both of her pistols as Adrian explained more.
+++++“You see, we’re basically a giant pharmaceutical company. Over the years, we have been gradually phasing out our older drugs and replacing them with newer, stronger ones. Eventually we will get to the final drug – but in the mean time, there’s money to be made.”
+++++“You mean you let people suffer and die while you sit on the cure?” Amy was horrified. “That’s okay with you? Don’t you understand that by not preventing those deaths you are responsible for them?”
+++++”Oh, I understand completely my dear.” Adrian replied. “I have always made it a personal point to see the suffering of the masses at first hand, to feel their pain for myself, to understand their sacrifice. They are the martyrs for our cause, for the greater good if you will.”
+++++“However, the money we are earning is being put towards other projects. You have to understand, if we release Temerax in its final form right away, there will be a population explosion. The economic and societal infrastructure of the world just isn’t ready for the pressure that would bring to bear upon it, and in case you hadn’t noticed, there are very few places on this planet where one can be alone anymore. Part of the Foundation’s goals are to plough our profits into construction programs across the globe, education centres in the third world countries and trying to stabilise the more…contentious regimes on the planet.” He paused for a moment. “Unfortunately, people have been blinded by the materialistic gains they have achieved and allowed selfish, base desires to rule them and it has dragged the Foundation off course so to speak.”
+++++“And…my mother’s work…”
+++++“Will – in time – end the pain and suffering of millions.” Adrian said, walking towards Amy and taking hold of the pistols in her hands. He gently eased them free of her grip and looked her in the eyes. “Ms Tempest, I am truly sorry for what was done to you, but all of this violence can stop now. There is a suitcase by the door containing enough money to live three lifetimes over. I want you to take it, go back to Mr Saunders and become that which your parent’s wanted you to be.”
+++++“How do I know you won’t try to kill me?” Amy said. Adrian smiled at her.
+++++“What purpose would that serve? To be brutally honest, you’re nobody and I have much greater things to concern myself with. As far as I’m concerned you no longer exist.” Adrian said, extending his hand.
+++++We shook on it – and I knew he was right. It was over – the people who killed my parents had been punished and I finally felt something for the first time in weeks.
+++++Relief. Relief that it was all over. As I entered the lift I looked at Adrian Stone and realised he wasn’t a better person than me, he was just different. Just like Ethan.

****

As Adrian Stone watched Amy Tempest drive away on her motorcycle, the door to his office opened.
+++++“She’s clear of the building now,” His assistant said.
+++++“Thank you Iris.”
+++++“Should I arrange for her termination?” Iris said as she placed several newspapers on his desk.
+++++“Didn’t you hear a word I said on the radio? We’re leaving her alone.” Adrian replied as he opened the Financial Times. “Besides, we may need her services in the future. Now, what’s happening in the world today?”

Payback – Part 2: Safehouse

I rub my temples as I sit in the dark kitchen. I can hear the rain outside, like some sort of incessant drum beat to a song no one truly understands.
+++++The light flicks on and I instinctively shield my eyes.
+++++“How are you feeling?”
+++++The voice belongs to Malcolm Saunders – my father’s best friend in life and a man who owed his life, and those of his family, to my mother. He was always Uncle Mac to me.
+++++“It’s funny – I thought I’d feel different after watching Stone die.” I replied. He walked across to the kettle and switched it on.
+++++“Take it from me Amy, revenge is a hollow act,” Mac said as he dropped a teabag into the mug. “It never makes you feel better. How many sugars do you take?”
+++++“Two.” I said. “I don’t want to feel better – I just want them to pay.” Yeah, I sound bitter but then I think I have a right to.
+++++“And just where do you stop?” The second voice entered the room. I turned around. It was Ethan, Malcolm’s son. “Where do you draw the line Amy? At what point do you decide that you’re going to step outside of the circle of blood?”
+++++Ethan Saunders – Ethan is three years and a half older than me – so that makes him around 24 now. He was literally the only other person I interacted with while growing up. Ethan was my best friend – hell, he was my only friend. Whenever he and Uncle Mac came to the island I could barely contain myself. My parents knew I needed some sort of social interaction with another person my own age as I was growing up…and as I became older I tried to hide the fact that he’s the first man I’ve ever been in love with. If I’m being honest, I’ve had a crush on Ethan since I was twelve years old.
+++++And I don’t know what to do about it. It’s just another one of those things that Mom and Dad never got the chance to tell me about.
+++++I find myself holding back the tears as I look at Ethan. I know he means well, but he doesn’t understand.
+++++Actually, that’s a lie – he understands exactly what I’m going through – if there’s one person on the planet that knows precisely how I feel, then it’s Ethan. Only he chose a different path to me. Does that make him a better person?
+++++Two years ago THEY found Uncle Mac and Aunt Mary-Ann in the small town in Ireland they were living in at the time. They used a car bomb – about fucking typical of those bastards. Somehow Uncle Mac was thrown clear – Aunt Mary-Ann wasn’t so lucky. Mom managed to manipulate the hospital records to show that Uncle Mac died as a result of his injuries while Dad got him out of there. Ethan was staying with us for the summer – I remember hearing him crying himself to sleep some nights.
+++++I was too scared to go into his room at first – I didn’t know what to say to him. Then one night I found him sitting in the kitchen just like I am now. We talked until the sun rose – and I can remember every single word of that conversation. That was also the first time I ever kissed a boy too. I felt bad about it until Ethan told me not to, but he didn’t want to “take things further” until “he knew what he wanted to do with his life and until I was older.”
+++++“I’ll stop when it’s over.” I answer him – my voice is flat and I try to keep it free of emotion. Uncle Mac hands me the cup of tea. It sears the inside of my mouth as I take a sip from it – no one makes a cup of tea like Uncle Mac. Ethan says something to him – I can’t catch it – and Uncle Mac makes his way out of the kitchen, leaving me alone with Ethan.
+++++“How’s his hip these days?” I ask once I’m certain that we’re alone.
+++++“Not so bad as you’d notice, they got most of the remaining fragments out when they installed the new replacement six months ago,” Ethan replies, looking into my eyes with an intensity that makes me feel uncomfortable. “You’re expecting a lecture aren’t you?” I nod. “Well you’re looking at the wrong person for that.”
+++++“Aren’t you going to tell me to forget about it all and move on with my life?” I ask. Ethan shakes his head.
+++++“We’re different people Amy – you need to do this, I didn’t.” He said. I broke eye contact with him; something feels strange in my stomach when I look at him. “All I will say is that I want you to be careful, and you know that none of this will bring them back.”
+++++“I can’t forgive and forget…” My teeth are gritted together as I feel the tears starting to roll down my face. “I…I…just…”
+++++“Amy, it’s okay,” I can hear the sound of the chair Ethan is sitting in scrape against the stone floor. I can feel his arms around me – he wraps me inside his arms and it feels so warm, so safe, that I can’t hold it back anymore.
+++++I cry. I cry so much that Ethan’s shirt is stained with my tears where I bury my head in his chest in some sort of twisted reflection of my face. I can feel my legs starting to sag and he takes up the slack, literally holding me up in his arms.
+++++“Come on, you need to get some sleep,” His voice is quiet and calm. He picks me up and carries me upstairs into their guest bedroom. I’ve stopped crying now – I just feel weak, empty and alone. He turns to leave and I put my hand on his shoulder.
+++++“Ethan…I…I don’t want to be alone…”

****

I didn’t want to get out of the bed. There in Ethan’s arms I almost forgot about the sequence of events I’d set in motion. Almost. Reluctantly I pulled the covers back and began to get dressed. I noticed that there were the first few cracks of sun sneaking in through the blind on the window. I was in my underwear before Ethan woke up.
+++++“Every time there was a sound during the night you woke up,” He said. “Amy, you’re safe here – no one is going to…”
+++++“I thought I was safe on the island and look how that turned out.” Neither of us said anything for a minute. “I should go, I’ve risked too much by staying here.”
+++++“What?” Ethan said as he got out of bed. “You’re not making any sense.” I pulled my shirt on over my head and looked at him – his hair was a mess and he had put his boxer shorts on backwards.
+++++“I’ve lost everything – I can’t risk losing you too.” I said. He looked shocked, he was about to say something but my hand on his mouth stopped him.  “I need to go now, but I promise you I’ll be back. Say goodbye to your Dad for me.” I button up my jeans and leave the room before my resolve wavers. I didn’t say anything else to him before I left. As I pulled away on my bike I saw him watching me from the bedroom window.

****

 

new-york-city-12345New York
8 hours later

“Can you zoom in any closer?”
+++++“It’s from a satellite for god’s sake Courtney, it’s already blurred badly enough.”
+++++Both of them looked at the image that had been relayed to them from a contact in France. They then compared it to several other images from the surveillance cameras of the buildings surrounding the alley that Alex Stone’s car had been found in.
+++++“I’d say that’s our girl.”
+++++“At least Alex had something nice to look at before he checked out.”
+++++“Mmm…we’ve just got some imported video from Heathrow…that’s her. Looks like she’s coming our way.”
+++++“Okay, blow up whatever you can and print it off – I’ll go and warn Natasha.”

****

“There was a time when David Tempest and I were lovers. Did you know that?” Natasha Nicolov said as she felt the water running down her back. Behind her there was a snort of disgust as Kelly shook her head.
+++++“That’s gross! What makes you think I want to hear about that?”
+++++“It was a long time ago and far, far away. If it weren’t for his help I wouldn’t be where I am today.” Natasha said as she savoured the sensation of the sauna.
+++++“You have some way of showing your gratitude to him.” Kelly replied.
+++++“Hush little girl, there’s so much you have yet to learn…” Natasha’s comment was cut off by the door to the sauna opening. The rush of cold air accompanied Courtney’s entrance like a reality check.
+++++“Save it for another day. We’ve just got confirmation that the Tempest girl is heading our way. My guess is that she’ll be landing in forty five minutes with some unfinished business.” Both Natasha and Kelly stopped what they were doing. Natasha stood up and grabbed a robe from the wall.
+++++“Get the photos to my office – I told Adrian that this loose end needed to be dealt with but he wouldn’t listen to me.” Natasha said as she looked at the two young women standing before her. Courtney was every inch the sophisticated raven-haired temptress she was while Kelly looked more like a mall rat with her short spiked red hair. Despite both of the girls being nearly twenty-one, Natasha was surprised just how different they were from each other. “Follow me.”

****

The boardroom had a strange green hue to it. The table that occupied the middle of the room looked almost lost amidst the myriad of faces looking down at the lone occupant from an oversized screen with the word Ravenstone hanging above it in slate grey letters some eight inches in height. Dressed in a sharp suit and tie, Adrian Stone never took his eyes off the screen as he engaged his virtual participants in discussion.
+++++“…and at what point do we anticipate that Temerax will be viable for sale?” Adrian asked. A man occupying the bottom quadrant of the screen coughed and adjusted his tie.
+++++“We believe that the product will be ready by the end of the next financial quarter – subject to FDA approval.” He said. Adrian nodded.
+++++“Can we speed up the process? I’d like to make the announcement at the next shareholder meeting if at all possible.” The severe looking woman in the top right quadrant spoke up.
+++++“We can try Mr Stone – we would just need to go to human trials a month earlier than anticipated.” Adrian nodded at her response.
+++++“Very good, now to other business…” the sound of the door to the boardroom being thrown open caused Adrian to turn around. Natasha strode into the boardroom dressed in her robe, flanked by Courtney and Kelly. “Ladies and Gentlemen, we’ll pick this up later.” He pressed a button on his desk and the screen winked off.
+++++“Adrian, we need to talk…” Natasha sounded authoritarian. Adrian sat down on his chair.
+++++“Save your breath, I already know what this is about.” He said. “Like my father and his predecessor, your obsession with the Tempest’s has gotten out of hand. For whatever reason you’ve held this grudge over them for nearly two decades, please remember that we are trying to run a business here.” Adrian twisted around on his chair, staring at the screen as a stream of data began to flow across it. “A business that does not need to attract any unwanted and unnecessary attention to itself.”
+++++“I am sorry about the death of your father Adrian,” Natasha said. “I’m simply looking to avenge it.”
+++++“Natasha, whilst I may grieve for my father privately I am under no illusions as to the deeply despicable flaws within his character,” Adrian said. “I am sure that his death was something that was long overdue. Now, if you wish to try and clean up this mess that you’ve instigated then do so – only please try to do so without drawing any attention to yourselves.”

****

 

Flight 261
London to New York
35,000 feet above the Atlantic Ocean

The flight is boring – even in business class. I’ve been sleeping as much as I can – this is only the second time I’ve been on an aeroplane in my life and it’s a new sensation to me.
+++++My sleep is filled with dreams that play through my head like the movies on the in-flight entertainment – only unlike the effects laden blockbusters produced by Hollywood, these are all too real…
+++++I’m sitting on a bench with Mom – we’re looking out over the sea and she tells me everything. I’m 15 years old and suddenly everything makes sense. The training, the drills, the incessant secrecy and the sense that we were living on borrowed time. It all falls into place.

Amsterdam
20 years ago

“Mr Knotmann wants the latest batch of the test serum for delivery to his office this afternoon.” Mary-Ann said to Katie as she entered the lab.
+++++“What? But it’s nowhere near ready – we haven’t even got the results from the latest animal tests back yet?” Katie replied, looking at her friend with an expression of bewilderment etched on her features.
+++++“I know – however it turns out that they have some guinea pig to trial it upon in the hospital wing.” Mary-Ann replied. “Looks like someone ended up on the top of the expendable list.”
+++++“Poor bastard,” Katie said. “Well, I’ll deliver the serum to Knotmann in a few minutes. I have a few more things to document.”

****

Knotmann peered over his glasses at the tray of test tubes filled with a reddish-brown fluid. He stroked the small tuft of hair on his chin obsessively whenever he was deep in thought. Seemingly satisfied with the samples, he handed them to one of the young research assistants – a man Katie knew went by the name of Moore.
+++++“Excuse me Mr Knotmann, but what exactly are you planning to do with the serum?” Katie said, feeling uneasy as she watched Moore walk out of the office. “It’s still highly unstable at the moment; as head of the research department any new trials should fall under my supervision.”
+++++“Indeed they should Doctor Westland,” Knotmann replied. “However, I’m taking personal charge of this project now. You will be briefed in full when the time is right. Now, I’m sure that you’re a busy person and I wouldn’t want to keep you from your work.” Katie recognised when she was being dismissed from something. Katie knew that any form of dissent was treated harshly by the Agency, yet as she got up and left Knotmann’s office the sensation in her stomach began to grow in intensity.

****

By the time Katie had returned to her office, she found Mary-Ann in an agitated state. She was visibly upset and the moment she laid eyes on Katie she dragged her into the ladies room.
+++++“What’s wrong?” Katie asked. Mary-Ann looked like she was on the verge of tears. She was gulping down big breaths of air as she was trying to stop herself from hyperventilating.
+++++“It’s David…”
+++++“What? What about David?” Katie asked, the knot in her stomach nearly doubling her over now.
+++++“He was shot…in the park…” Katie could feel her head starting to swim as the words started to sink in. “Katie…he’s the test subject.” Something clicked inside Katie, switching her over to autopilot.
+++++“I have to get him out of here – that serum will kill him.”
+++++“How?” Mary-Ann asked. Katie looked at Mary-Ann.
+++++“Okay, this is how we’ll do it…”
+++++Five minutes later, Katie headed directly back to the lab. As she stood at the door she could see Moore inside loading up the vials of serum. Entering the lab without saying a word, Katie went directly to the refrigerator. Inside she removed a series of tinted vitamin B shots that looked just enough like the serum to pass to the untrained eye.
+++++“I think that Doctor Evans wants to see you,” Moore nodded and walked out of the lab. Mary-Ann had agreed to distract Moore for just long enough to allow Katie to do what she needed to do. As she switched the vials over Katie realised that at least one was missing already. Cursing under her breath, she placed the vials in her jacket pocket and walked out of the Agency building.
+++++Lunchtime was spent at the bank, withdrawing half of her savings in cash and transferring the other half to a friend in Scotland. Katie went back to her rented apartment and cleared out everything of value to her; three photographs of her family, a necklace her mother had given her and her gun.
+++++As soon as she returned to the Agency building, Katie made an immediate detour to the hospital wing. Nothing could have prepared her for the sight she would encounter.
+++++David Tempest was barely conscious. His pupils were dilated yet he managed to recognise Katie’s face as she knelt down beside his bed.
+++++“I’m going to get you out of here,” She whispered. “Please hang on.” Katie felt David’s hand squeeze hers. A faint sign of understanding and life.
+++++Heading directly to her locker, Katie smiled when she saw the package in there that Mary-Ann had left for her. If things were going according to plan then her colleague would already be out of the building. Putting the small brown packet in her lab coat pocket, Katie just needed one more thing.
+++++A disguise.

****

The building was in chaos – the explosion had torn a whole through the power grid and everything was going into lockdown. The internal security personnel had orders to account for everyone going out of the building – yet they were drowning in a sea of people fearing for their lives.
+++++“Please, I’ve got to get this man to a hospital,” Katie said as she struggled to carry the security guard through the throng of people. One of the desk staff tried to stop her.
+++++“Dr Westland, where are…?”
+++++“He was caught in the initial explosion,” Katie explained to the guard – a man she knew as Curtis, she had no clue if that was his Christian name or his surname. “He’s got burns and took a nasty blast of Halon gas from the fire suppression system.”
+++++“Okay, go!” Curtis said, pushing Katie and the injured guard through ahead of the others clambering to get out of the building. The fresh air hit Katie like a brick, prompting her companion to cough as well. Once she managed to get to her car she pulled the baseball cap off the security guard and fired the engine to life.
+++++Looking over at David Tempest, she knew he wasn’t out of the woods yet, but at least they had a chance. Her foot pushed down on the accelerator and Katie never looked back.

****

 

Rusk Holm Island
Off the coast of Scotland
Two and a half weeks ago

The shadowy figures seemed moved in tandem, covering each other as they approached the small balcony. As one opened the door the other stepped in, the stub-nosed rifle held in his hands and aimed at the bed. Joined by his colleague a moment later, he motioned towards the bed.
+++++“Hey, that’s a…”
+++++“Stone said to clear the island,” The other replied. “No questions.” He gestured to his partner towards the bed.
+++++“Excuse me,” The woman’s voice made both men turn around. “That’s my daughter you’re talking about.”
+++++Phfft! Phfft! Phfft! Phfft!
+++++Amy woke up as the two now very dead bodies hit her bed. Suddenly realising what was going on, she saw her mother standing at the bottom of the bed.
+++++“Come on Amy, it’s time.”
+++++Following her mother through the house, Amy found herself stepping over or around dead bodies. She was at a loss for words as they made their way down the stairs to the ground floor. As Katie reloaded her pistol while she walked, David limped made his way up from the basement.
+++++“We clear?” He asked.
+++++“We’re clear.” Katie confirmed. He nodded and lifted open he access door that was cut into the floor.
+++++“Mom, Dad…what’s going on?” Amy asked as Katie ushered her into the basement. David handed her a wetsuit and breathing apparatus.
+++++“They’ve found us.” Katie said. “You need to go.”
+++++“What? What do you mean, I need to go?”
+++++“You need to get out of here,” David said. “They don’t know about you and it’s us they are looking for.” Amy watched her mother load an automatic rifle.
+++++“But…the three of us…we could escape…”
+++++“We would just be delaying the inevitable.” David replied as he gently pushed Amy into the small opening in the floor that led out to the ocean. “Baby, we love you, but we can’t protect you anymore.”
+++++“You need to leave – get to Uncle Mac’s on the mainland, take the money that’s in your bank account and live your life.” Katie said, holding her daughter in her arms for the last time. “I want you to turn around, leave and never, ever look back.”
+++++“But…” Amy couldn’t see clearly through the goggles her mother had pushed over her head. She couldn’t determine if it was the condensation inside them or the tears that were streaming from her eyes. “I…I can’t do this…”
+++++“Yes you can,” David said. “Now go!” Amy turned and sank into the water. Before her head disappeared under the waves she saw her parents kiss.
+++++“Now, I figure there’s about two dozen of them,” David said as he slammed home a magazine into his pistol. Katie handed him a shotgun that he slung across his back as she began to load up her bag with grenades. “If we split up and work around the island in opposite directions we should be okay.”
+++++“You’re such an optimist,” Katie’s expression was grim. “Just promise me that you’ll meet me at the gazebo – I want to be in your arms at the end.”
+++++“I love you Mrs Tempest.”
+++++“I love you too.” Katie replied, kissing David again. “Now, let’s get this over and done with.”

****

I awake with a start as the plane touches down. By the time I’m through customs and making my way through the arrivals lounge I realise that I’ve picked up a shadow. She’s about my height, long dark hair and a glare that looks like it could melt glass. I make a few calculated stops at a several of the concessions just to confirm that she is actually following me then I decide to act when she’s pretending to look through the European copy of Vogue.
+++++“Excuse me,” I attract the attention of one of the security personnel. I stand close to him so she can’t see what I’m doing. “I’m really sorry about this, but can you see a woman with dark hair standing about thirty five feet behind me at the news stand?”
+++++“Yes ma’am,” He replied, casting a glance over his shoulder before looking back at me. The clasp on his holster is easy enough to pry loose.
+++++“Well, I overheard her talking to her friend about pick-pocketing some of the business class arrivals,” My lie is seamless as he returns his attention to the woman. My hand is ready to act.
+++++“Thank you ma’am, appreciate that.” The security guard replies and then moves towards her. As he brushes past me I manage to lift the pistol out of his holster and stash it inside my bag. Perfect! The guard has no idea that his weapon isn’t where he thinks it is. I head towards the airport exit without a second glance, confident that the delay will be enough to shake her.
+++++Once outside I head for the taxi rank. I’ve got a short stop planned at a hotel in downtown Manhattan before…
+++++The large black sedan screeches to a halt in front of me. The window opens and a woman is looking at me. I recognise her face from somewhere – maybe one of Dad’s files?
+++++“Amy Tempest, I presume?” Her voice is clipped and I realise who it is.
+++++Natasha.
+++++I think about pulling the gun from my bag – however I feel something stinging in the base of my spine. I have a fraction of second to realise what’s happening before I lose consciousness and slump to the concrete.
+++++“She’s one cocky bitch,” Kelly said as she returned the taser to her bag. Courtney walked out of the arrivals lounge to she her sister lifting the unconscious figure of Amy and dragging her towards the trunk.
+++++“Yeah, but we’ll soon knock that out of her.” Courtney said as she helped Kelly.
+++++“Hurry up you two, I want to get out to the farmhouse before sunset.” Natasha barked. Courtney nudged Kelly as she looked at Amy in the trunk.
+++++“I think you should zap her again, just to be on the safe side.” She said. Kelly had a wicked grin on her face.
+++++“I’m glad we’re on the same side.” Kelly said as she pulled the taser out of her bag again. “You’re an evil bitch.”
+++++“Takes one to know one.” Courtney replied as she slammed the trunk shut. “I call shotgun.”
+++++“I call nine millimetre.” Kelly snapped back as she hopped into the car.

Payback

Paris, France

I had so much confidence two days ago; 48 hours later and I’m a mess. If I can only stop shaking…just…just long enough to take the shot.
+++++I’ve spent the best part of twenty years of my life on an island off the coast of Scotland with two of the most loving people on earth. Now I find myself forcibly abandoned in an environment of hostility and bitterness.
+++++Some of this is my fault – I have to admit that. I chose to take this step – I chose to take it further, to follow it through to the bitter end.
+++++My parents have been warning me about this, protecting me as best they could since I was an infant. I simply have no choice. It’s either them or me – and after what they did to my parents – to my life – it’s going to be them.
+++++I intercepted a string of mobile phone calls that led me to this moment. I am sure that on any other day it would be impossible not to fall in love with this city…the architecture…the history…its people…on any other day. But not today.
+++++Seven floors above the street I wait – for a light to come on, for a man to enter the room and then…then what? I planned this down to the last detail. I’m ready for anything – everything – I’ve got a plan B and a plan C. I’ve got a quick out and an alibi ready if I need it, all set up and ready to go…
+++++So why can’t I stop shaking? Why does every bone in my body scream at me to get down from here, take the money my parent’s left me and disappear into the English countryside and try to forget what’s happened? I already know the answer – and to back it up I look at the photograph again.
+++++Happy days – days that are long gone but never forgotten.
+++++For them I have to be strong, I have to balance the scales.
+++++For them I will endure.

****

Amsterdam, 20 years ago

amsterdam 03To anyone else walking through the park, they were just another couple in love. He was tall, dark and handsome, she was a svelte red-head with quick eyes and an even quicker mind. As he held her in his arms, she whispered in his ear.
+++++“You know David, sometimes you can be a real ass…”
+++++“Is that any way to speak to the man you love?” He replied.
+++++“This is so dangerous – stupid even – exposing ourselves in public no less.”
+++++“Danger is my middle name cupcake,”
+++++“Among twenty others I don’t care to repeat.” She snapped back at him as her lips closed on his.
+++++“Well, you have a point,” he broke away from the kiss. “But I had to see you, even for only a second away from the Agency.”
+++++“I think love is clouding our judgement.” She said as she nestled herself in his arms. “What time is your meeting?”
+++++“In about forty minutes.”
+++++“Then you’d better hurry. I know you’re meeting with that Natasha woman – I’m not thrilled about it – you know how I feel about her…”
+++++“Katie, you know that it’s all in the name of freedom and all that poppycock. She means nothing to me.”
+++++“Right. Freedom. Now I’m convinced.” She shot back at him. He felt her fingers grip him tighter.
+++++“Ha ha, you know me too well – I assure you, that was the old me. I’m a new man because of you darling.”
+++++“Convince me then.” He met her challenge with a passionate kiss. She reluctantly pulled away from him.
+++++“You’d better get back to the lab before someone suspects something.” He said lightly smacking her on the bum as she turned away.
+++++“Suspect? David, you know who we work for.” She smiled. “Be careful.”
+++++“Done.”
+++++An hour later, David Tempest was still sitting on the bench waiting. He took another look at his watch and scanned the surroundings once more with eagle eyes. They eventually settled down on a figure skipping along the path. It struck him how much her near-white coloured hair reminded him of an avalanche running down the side of a mountain. Dressed in what appeared to be a short blue dress with a wide white belt and matching white boots, Natasha made little attempt to shy away from attracting attention to her with her entrance.
+++++“I’m sorry I’m late David – I had to find the right boots and gloves to go with my new Gucci dress. What do you think?” Her accented English was clear to hear to those around them. Several people looked around; a Russian? In Amsterdam?
+++++“When it comes to ladies wear, I tend to think that less is more.” David replied.
+++++Status red – Natasha has entered the park – be on alert for anything odd – we don’t want to give away our position
+++++“So Natasha, do you have the microfilm you promised me?” David asked as they walked through the park. Natasha giggled like a schoolgirl.
+++++“All business today aren’t we? Last night I couldn’t get you to talk about work…”
+++++“Well today I’m on the clock and up against a deadline. We need to know what type of technology we are up against…”
+++++“You are a bigger fool than I thought,” Natasha laughed. “You think you can wine and dine me and I’m just going to roll over on my country. Please, you weren’t that good in bed.”
+++++“Well if your way of complaining is to moan loud enough to wake the neighbours then I must have been pretty bad,” David scowled at her. “Give me the microfilm.” His voice was a growl now. Natasha smiled.
+++++“Make me.” Her riposte was met by his hand slapping her face. The force of the blow was enough to knock her to the floor. As she wiped the faint trickle of blood from her mouth she looked up at him. “Does that make you feel good? Does it make you feel powerful, slapping me?”
+++++“There was a time when you begged me for that and more,” David spat. “I need that microfilm.”
+++++K1 to Eagle Eye – we have a visual on the two of them – awaiting your word.
+++++“Bastard,” Natasha hissed. “I wonder if these are bullet proof?” David didn’t even see her draw the pistol – the first thing he knew about it was when he saw it pointing at his groin. Grabbing her wrist, he managed to alter Natasha’s aim enough so that she only succeeded in shooting him in the leg. Sulphurous curses spewed from his mouth as he hit the floor. Natasha got to her feet.
+++++“Dear David, looks like it’s your day to die,” she cooed. David saw he eyes go wide as she realised that he had reacted to the situation in the only way he knew how.
+++++“Not today my dear!” He said as the department issued Walther PPK fired once. Natasha felt something in her stomach. She touched it – her eyes looked down and saw her white gloves stained with blood.
+++++Her blood.
+++++She felt the world begin to spin and Natasha Nicolov collapsed to the warm grass beneath her feet.
+++++Natasha is down. Repeat, Natasha is down – K1 get into that park and kill Tempest
+++++From a small car on the edge of the park, two men got out. They moved quickly and with purpose as they approached the clearing where David Tempest was struggling to get to his feet. Both men were experienced agents and they drew their weapons as they moved towards David.
+++++“Careful Sergi, Tempest is the best they’ve got.” Yuri said as approached the man who was trying to get back onto his feet with little success.
+++++“Remind me to slap you later Yuri,” Sergi muttered as he lifted his pistol and fired two shots in quick succession.
+++++If I can just get to the trees, David thought as he stumbled, then feel back to the grass, I can take cover…The ground next to him exploded in a puff of soil and grass. David rolled onto his back and aimed quickly, letting off three rounds in response. Sergi fell to the floor – two bullets lodged in his chest.
+++++Yuri lifted his own pistol as he saw David switch his aim towards him. Bracing himself for the gunshots to come, Yuri fired wildly, the bullet hitting the ground by David’s feet. David pulled the trigger on the Walter.
+++++Click! Click! Click!
+++++Both Yuri and David couldn’t believe it. David tried to pull the slide back on the compact little pistol, realizing that somehow the firing mechanism had become jammed. Yuri walked up to him and stopped when he was within six feet of David’s prone position.
+++++“Looks like your luck has just run out Tempest,” Yuri said as he checked his Russian issued Makarov one last time. He took aim and a gunshot rang out.
+++++Yuri Demetriov fell to the ground with a bullet wound in his head.
+++++David looked back at the trees and saw a familiar figure step out with a smile on his face. Dressed in a drab brown trench coat, Alex Stone took the opportunity to light a cigarette before either man spoke.
+++++“Alex, nice to see you.” David said, looking up at his friend and colleague. “Thanks for saving my arse again.”
+++++“Don’t mention it,” Alex replied. “After all, what are friends for?” He walked around to examine the dead Russian, then looked over at David. “Can you walk?”
+++++”Doubtful,” David replied. Alex nodded, then aimed his pistol straight at David. “Alex? What are…?” His question was cut off by the gunshot. David felt the grass beneath his body as he looked up at his friend with disbelief written across his face.
+++++“I probably should have let the Russian kill you, but where’s the fun in that for me?” Alex said as David felt himself sinking into shock. “Anyway, I have to run, people to see, secrets to sell, money to make – you know the routine.” Alex took a step away from David before stopping. “Oh, and I’ll make sure that I look after Katie for you.”

****

Paris, France

paris02Got to remember what Mom taught me…breathe normally…relax…exhale on the squeeze…focus on the job at hand, take a step out of your own head and make the weapon an extension of yourself. Turn on the laser scope and read out the type of glass.
+++++Reading…
+++++Four inches thick, probably high-impact bulletproof glass. Need to make an adjustment to factor in the density, projection and speed. Movement inside…come on, turn on the light.
+++++Bingo! If my calculations are correct, Alex Stone is going to have the headache of his life.
+++++Relax…breathe…come on, easy does it…the rain isn’t helping…come on Amy, shape up…remember, this is one of the people you hate the most in the whole wide world…he’s partly responsible for everything that’s happened…he deserves what’s coming to him…that’s it Alex, one step closer…
+++++From within his office, Alex Stone heard the sound of the glass shattering a fraction of a second before he felt the stinging sensation tearing at his left ear. His hand flew up to it instinctively – and realized that there was next to nothing left there.
+++++“Son of a bitch!” He screamed, the fingers of his right hand stabbing at the intercom on his desk. “Charlie! Charlie! Get security up here now!” Alex looked over at the shattered pane of glass. “Bulletproof glass my ass!”
+++++Not exactly where I wanted it, but if I play him right, plan B will work out just as well.
+++++I unhook the zip line and fire it across the gap between the two buildings – the small, gas powered device drags me out into the Paris night…on any other day I could spend an eternity walking around here…on any other day.
+++++I reach the roof of Stone’s building and head straight for the emergency exit – if I’m right, he’ll be squealing for help right about now.
+++++“Wilson? Where the fuck are you? Get your fat ass out of the car! Someone has just tried to kill me!” Alex screamed into the intercom.
+++++“On it boss – coming through the front door…Boss, someone seems to have put something on the elevator doors and they’re welded shut…same for the stairs…it doesn’t look fresh either…”
+++++“Which means whichever dumb fuck is trying to kill me is in the building!” Stone said, killing the intercom feed and pulling his pistol from the holster inside his jacket. Tilting his head and trying to ignore the pain, he heard something.
+++++Nine gunshots rang out, peppering the door and tearing huge holes through the wood. Alex stood still for a moment before he heard a voice. A young woman’s voice.
+++++“Clip is empty Alex.”
+++++“Whoever you are, my men are on their way up – it’s only a matter of time…” something rolled through one of the bullet holes he had made – accompanied by a hissing sound. He coughed several times before his vision began to fail. As Alex fell to the floor, the door to his office opened and Amy Tempest entered. Dressed from head to toe in black, her face covered with a gasmask, she walked over to Alex and looked down at him.
+++++Could kill him now, but then I’ll have wasted the last two weeks of my life.

****

“Where to sir?” Wilson asked as the car pulled out of the garage. “Should I take you to the hospital or to one of the company facilities?” Alex was holding the hastily constructed bandage to his ear.
+++++“Hospital.” Alex’s brusque response told Wilson all he needed to hear.
+++++“Who do you think she was working for?”
+++++“Fuck knows – I’ve crossed sides so often it would be easier to figure out who it isn’t. The puzzling thing is if she didn’t want to kill me what was she looking for? And did she find it?”
+++++“Well, whoever she is she sure did a thorough job. Not only was every doorway sealed but the front office downstairs said that the power was cut to the surveillance room, which means that there’s no surveillance tapes of her. The hard drive on the computer looks like it was downloaded to some sort of external device, but it will be a couple of hours before we know exactly what she took.”
+++++“Sounds like you want to form a fan club Wilson.” The female voice startled both men. The barrel of a pistol was pushed into Wilson’s neck. “Take a right at the next set of lights, then another quick right into an alley. Do it now or I paint the windscreen with your brains.” Wilson did what Amy asked, bringing the car to a halt in the dark alley, surrounded by buildings on three sides. “Now turn off the engine and both of you put your hands on the dashboard slowly…turn around and I will be the last thing you ever see.”
+++++“Now slow down little lady, let’s just take a minute and talk about this…” Wilson said. Amy noticed a twitch in the movement of his hand as it strayed towards the inside of his jacket.
+++++“Stupid.” The gunshot sounded so much louder in the confined space. The windscreen shattered with the shockwave. Wilson’s dead body slumped against the steering wheel.
+++++“Let’s try this one more time.” Amy said, addressing Alex with the warm barrel pushed into his neck. “I want you to reach into your jacket pocket slowly.” Alex did as she asked – and found a photograph therein.
+++++“David and Katie Tempest? What have they got to do with this?” Alex said, confused by the turn of events.
+++++“Everything.”
+++++“Everything?” Alex asked, and then a look of recognition swept across his face. “I get it – you’re their kid, right? Did you know that I’m the guy that almost put your Dad six-feet under years ago? We were close back then, hell, we were friends – shared everything, except your dear old Mom. She was so beautiful, bit of a slut too from what I recall – now there’s barely enough of both of them to fill an ashtray.” Amy slammed the butt of the pistol against the back of his head.
+++++“Shut up!” She said, lifting her arm to strike him again. Alex reacted quicker this time, grabbing her arm and pulling her forwards, throwing Amy out of the broken windshield and out over the bonnet of the car. He struggled with his seatbelt, eventually unbuckling it after what felt like an eternity. He got out of the car and scrambled around to the front with his gun in his hand, expecting to see Amy on the floor.
+++++Nothing – she’d vanished, he realized as he looked around the car, searching for her. He grabbed his mobile and keyed a number into it.
+++++“Natasha, it’s Alex, listen…” The call was cut off. “Bitch!” he dialed again. “Don’t you dare hang up on me Natasha! We’ve got a problem – it’s Tempest’s daughter – she surfaced. She’s raided my office, killed Wilson and blown one of my fucking ears off!” Alex looked around the alley, wondering where Amy had disappeared too. “She knows about us, about Ravenstone…don’t tell me to shut up bitch! We’ve got a situation on our hands…”
+++++“Are you finished?” I can hear everything they are saying – modern technology is amazing – and he hasn’t got a clue where I am. “As she’s Tempest’s daughter we can assume that she’s not stupid – unlike you Alex. You’ve compromised my location with your call – this is the last time we’ll talk. As far as I’m concerned, you no longer exist. If she doesn’t kill you then I promise you that I will.” Bingo! Thanks Alex. Oooh, someone’s making friends all over the place today.
+++++There was a reason why I chose this alley – it’s the other side of the building that I shot Alex from. I can see him now, panicking. He knows he’s in trouble – and it’s not just me who’s looking to kill him. I lift the rifle up and take aim again.
+++++“Bitch!” Alex said, looking around – the car was useless and he knew that he had to get out of the city. He heard a cracking sound, then felt the impact of the bullet tearing at his right ear. “Fuck!” He screamed, stumbling out of the alley. “I’m gonna kill you, you fucking…” Alex Stone felt the vibrations on the road beneath his feet – he looked up and found himself staring into the headlights of a large lorry bearing down on him at an unstoppable speed. “…bitch…”
+++++I wince at the impact of the truck as it hits Alex Stone head on. I can see his body hit the floor and despite the best efforts of the driver, the large lorry drives over him, tires breaking bones and crushing organs. I’m sure he’s dead, but I hang around on the rooftop for a while to make sure. When they start hosing down the blood off the street I resolve to call it a night.
+++++After all, I have eighteen hours until I fly back to England – I might as well enjoy the rest of my time in Paris.