Who Are You? (A Smitty Story)

In the darkness the hushed voice of someone sobbing.
+++++Quietly.
+++++Softly.  Desperately trying to stop.  Like a child scolded severely might whimper alone in their bed.  Dabbing her eyes with a kerchief she sat in the semi-darkness in the backseat of the cab and held a cell phone to her ear.  Through the night the cab drove.  Fast.  With intent.  With a cold purpose as of yet unsaid.   Like some madman’s demonic kaleidoscope the interior of the cab lit up with the dull orange orbs of street lights exploding in a rapid staccato rhythm.
+++++But in her despair she sat huddled against the left rear door of the cab like a beaten pup hugging an immovable wall.
+++++An almost  pretty woman in her mid-thirties.  Conservatively but tastefully dressed in a skirt, a white blouse, with a navy blue jacket covering her bare arms.  Around her neck was a necklace with one very large black pearl hanging delicately just at the beginning of her cleavage.
+++++Her hair was pulled back behind her head and tied down into a tight bun.  Fair complexioned.  Neither beautiful nor unattractive.  A woman with a career.  A woman who did her job well and neither asked for nor expected anything out of the ordinary to happen to her.
+++++But tonight her hushed whisper for a voice sounded strained and her petite frame shook with emotion as she sat in the backseat of a cab at three in the morning talking on her cell phone.
+++++“I don’t know why he left, mother.  He just left!  Didn’t take a thing with him. Left his clothes . . . his toiletries . . . everything at the apartment.  But he wrote a note and left it on the bed.  Said he had to leave.  Had to get away. For my own sake.  Johnny never gave me a hint, never said a thing to indicate something was bothering him. It’s like . . . it’s like this just came out of the sky blue like a lightning bolt!”
+++++Johnny.
+++++Coal black eyes shot up to stare into the rear view mirror.  Eyes as black as sin itself.  Hard eyes.  Eyes filled with little mercy.  With a hand on the wheel the silent man drove the cab over semi-deserted streets, an occasional spike of light momentarily illuminating his face.  A face as hard as chiseled granite.  With sharp angles.  High cheek bones.  A razor thin nose.  And those eyes.  Those deadly dark eyes.
+++++Johnny . . .
+++++Years ago . . . a lifetime ago . . . he once had been called Johnny.
It had been a long time since he had heard that name.  A time much earlier in his life.  So many years past.  So many sins committed.  Layers of artificial amnesia encapsulating and then regulating that name and all the emotions which went with it into a part of his mind never to be opened again.  The name . . . the pain it always stirred within him . . . pushed aside and forgotten.
+++++Until tonight.
+++++“But . . . but Johnny wouldn’t do that, mother!  He wouldn’t just leave me!  He wouldn’t take all the money out of our savings account and just leave me!  I . . . I’m telling you something is terrible wrong.  Something terrible has happened!”
+++++In the silence of the cab the indecipherable voice of a mother scolding her child clearly written on the woman’s tear-streaked face.  Pain.  Fear. Worry.  Desolation.  All strokes of the emotional brush clearly seen the moment the interior of the cab lit up eerily from a street lamp.  As he eyed her through the rear view mirror he kept driving. And listening.
+++++“But mother, why would he do that?  Yesterday we went out and bought engagement rings!  Sat down with a local minister and talked with him about the wedding!  Now he’s . . . he’s gone.  Just left me.  Why?  Why?”
+++++A louder scolding voice coming out of her cell phone.  A flash of anger and with one smooth motion she threw the phone into her purse sitting on her lap and  set the purse on the seat beside her.  With her face streaked with black mascara and tears she turned to stare out into the night
+++++“What’s his name, lady.”
+++++A soft voice.  A gentle voice . . . but one edged with something else.  More a soft whisper.  Coming from the front of the cab.  From the dark shadow sitting behind the steering wheel.
+++++“Wha . . . what?  What did you say?” she asked, turning to look at the back of the shadows dark silhouette.
+++++“What’s your boyfriend’s name.  I heard a Johnny for a first name.  People used to call me that once.  Johnny.  Just wondered what  his last name was.”
+++++“Uh . . . uh . . (sob) . . . Menlow.  John Menlow.  Oh.  I’m sorry you heard all this.  I apologize for sounding so emotional.”
+++++“No need to apologies, lady.  I know how hard this ole’ world is.  I hear about it all the time in this cab.  What did your boyfriend do for work?”
+++++“Worked in an investment firm.”
+++++“Pretty good at it?”  the hiss of the soft . . . strange . . . whisper.  “Made some money at it?”
+++++She took the time to use a Kleenex to wipe tears from her eyes.  An odd warble of sound came out of her throat for an answer.
+++++“Jeesh,  shame he ran off will all your dough.  I’d be pissed.  Did you call the cops?”
+++++She shook her head no and covered the lower part of her face with the Kleenex.  She began shaking in silent agony as streams of tears flowed from her large eyes.  Dark eyes . . . as dark as infinity . . . watched her for a moment or two in the rear view mirror.
+++++Conversation ceased for the remainder of the ride.  When the cab pulled up to the curb of a large apartment complex he watched the woman climb out of the car, close the rear door of the car and step up on the curb.  When she tried to hand him the fare he lifted a hand up and pushed the money away.
+++++“You’ve had a rough day, lady.  Keep your money.  But tell me, you think this John Menlow is in trouble?  He’s in trouble and that’s why he ran off with your money?”
+++++“I . . . I think so,” she nodded, wiping mascara from her face.  “I know he loves me.  I can’t think of a reason why he would do anything like this unless something terrible has happened.”
+++++She stopped cleaning the mascara from her face with the Kleenex and frowned and looked at the cab driver for the first time.  Yet there was nothing to see.  The darkness of the street hid his face completely.
+++++“Say . . . who are you?  And why am I telling you everything about my personal life?”
+++++“Just a cabby, lady.  Just a cabby.  People tell me their problems all day long.  I’m like a priest.  I hear confessions all the time.  Hope things work out for you.  Maybe your Johnny might come back to you.”
+++++“I hope so, fella.  I really hope so.”
+++++Smitty watched her turn and walk toward her apartment building, head down, a Kleenex masking her face as she cried silently in great heaving jerks of her body.  He sat in the cab, black eyes unblinking, one hand riding high on the steering wheel, an elbow laying across the gaping hole of an open driver’s side window, and watched as she disappeared into the building.
+++++Johnny.
+++++So long ago.  A lifetime.  Another time.  Another place.
+++++Memories almost forgotten.
+++++Johnny.
+++++Into the night the cab disappeared.  Into the night  death began his relentless search for Johnny.  Some have the talents of an artist.  They paint on a canvas, or write on paper, masterpieces of wonder with color or with words.  Some men are good with their hands.  With hammers and chisels they can take a piece of freshly hewn wood and build magnificent mansions or . . . in stone . . . carve statues so breathtakingly life-like that,  to the naked eye, seem to breath and move as if made of bone, muscle and flesh.   Some men are gifted the eloquence so grand, so stirring, their words rouse passions and dreams in the hearts of all who may listen to them.
+++++But some men . . .  some men were born to inhabit the night.  To troll among the miscreants. The malevolent.  The homicidal unseen and unsuspected.  Born to hunt.  To stalk.  To seek out their prey and run them to ground in such a way their quarry never suspects their lives are about to change.  Or end.  Violently.
+++++It took Smitty twenty four hours to find Johnny Menlow.
+++++A hallowed out little man sitting on an empty bench in an empty, cavernous bus station.  The smell of diesel fumes strong in the air.  The black and white tiles of the floor in need of a severe scrubbing and a fresh coat of wax.  Figures here and there, dressed in various forms of the traveler and toting heavy looking suitcases and bags moved with the motions of the disillusioned.  Staring at the world with blank eyes.  Exhausted eyes of people long since forgotten.
+++++Jon Menlow sat on an empty wooden bench in the middle of the hollowed temple of the dead, bent forward, arms resting on his legs; hands moving constantly in slow motion.  Head bent down, eyes staring at the tile floor but not seeing.  Sat like a man  deep in his thoughts . . . deep in his damnations that were slowly, irrevocably, eating away his soul.
+++++Smitty stood several feet away and behind the back of John Menlow and eyed the man and the scene around him carefully.  In a huge building of this size there were no more than ten souls visible.  Yet John Menlow sat in the middle of the building and about as far as he could get from the set of wide double doors leading out to the rows upon rows of waiting buses.
+++++There were no bags or suitcases waiting silently beside him as he sat bent forward and hunched over.  John Menlow wasn’t going anywhere.  He was waiting.  Waiting like a condemned criminal waiting on death row for that final walk.  Waiting.  Stewing.  Remembering.  Remembering those he loved.  Those he had harmed.
+++++Smitty’s dark eyes narrowed as he slid a hand into the right trousers pocket and gripped the long, thin handle of a switch-blade.  Looking slowly to his left and then to his right he scrutinized each and ever individual near him carefully before returning his black eyes back to his quarry.
+++++John Menlow wasn’t sitting in a semi-deserted bus station waiting for a bus to take him into oblivion.  John Menlow was waiting for someone.  Waiting . . . and dreading . . . the moment when that someone finally appeared.
+++++Curious Smitty turned and walked to his left toward a stand of newspaper racks. Shelling out some coins he bought a day old paper and then moved to his right.  Moved to an empty bench some six benches directly behind John Menlow.  Sitting down and crossing one leg over the other casually he opened the paper and began reading as if he was someone waiting for a loved one’s bus to arrive.  But there was no reading the paper this night.  Tonight the hunter hid in plain sight and waited.  Waited to see what terror held this guilt-racked man to his wooden bench as firmly as guilt always did to a trapped man.
+++++Smitty did not wait for long.  Ten minutes later four men dressed in expensive casual sport coats and slacks, draped in gold chains and large gold and diamond studded rings on their fingers—creatures who never otherwise be caught in a bus station—passed him as he sat with the paper open in front of him and moved toward John Menlow.
+++++Four men used to money.  Power.  Death.
+++++Two men separated for the pack and moved silently off to the right and sat down on a bench.  The other two moved toward John Menlow.  One, a man with wavy black hair graying around the temples, with a small scar decorating his chin, was the pack leader.  The man in charge.  He had the look Smitty was all too familiar with.  The look of a killer.
+++++When they appeared in front of John Menlow the much younger man sat bolt upright and stared up at them.  Across the face of the dark man with the graying temples a cruel snarl played across thin lips.  He said something in a soft voice too faint for Smitty to hear.  Menlow, pale and moving with sudden, jerking, movements, nodded and reached inside his coat for something.
+++++The man with the graying temples snarled even wider as the man dressed beside him reached inside his coat menacingly.  Menlow pulled his hand out and reached up toward the smiling man.  +++++The smiling man offered an open palm and the small, brass colored form of a key momentarily appeared.  Menlow dropped the key into the smiling man’s open palm.  The gray haired mobster looked at the key for a second or two and nodded.  Handing the key to the man beside him he watched in an idle, almost bored fashion as the bigger man walked away and toward a long line of storage racks.  Carefully counting down the racks the big man came to the one he was hunting for and inserted the key into the lock.  With a twist of the wrist the gunsel opened the door and reached in for something.
+++++Out came a heavy blue canvas carrying bag.  A very heavy blue canvas carrying bag.  The man grunted when he pulled the bag out of the bin and dropped it to his side.  Closing the door to the bin he turned and stared across the station at his boss and nodded.
+++++The smiling man with the gray temples nodded and looked at John Menlow.  Something was said which made Menlow nod and then slump over and drop his head into his hands in anguished relief.  The smiling man laughed.  Laughed and turned to walk away.  But as he did his eyes turned toward the two men who had peeled away just a moment earlier.  Ever so slightly the smiling man nodded.
+++++And John Menlow’s death sentence had been officially decreed.
+++++Smiling man and his shadow walked out of the bus depot, passing Smitty sitting on his bench in the process and never looked back.  Lowering the paper the black eyes of death watched the back of John Menlow and waited.  Menlow, after visibly sobbing a few times, came to his feet, shoulders slumped over and head down, turned and began shuffling toward the exit.  He never saw the two rough looking, tanned creatures with their expensive clothes and gold chains stand up and begin moving toward him.
+++++Menlow shuffled past the dark eyed man sitting on the bench.  Seconds later the two heavy set, darkly tanned thugs of the smiling man walked past, neither taking any interest of the compact, thin looking man sitting at the bench folding his paper carefully in place and lying it on the bench beside him.  Their eyes were on their soon to be victim.  Neither had a thought in mind that anyone would dare disturb them in their grisly assignment.
+++++Smitty stood up and slid a hand into his trousers pocket as he turned and began walking toward the bus station’s wide exit.  In front of him, maybe ten paces away, were the back of the two thugs.  They followed Menlow out of the door and into the night.  Neither heard the silent footsteps of the compact, light framed man walking directly behind them.  Turning to their right they continued to follow John Menlow into the dimly lit wide expanse of the bus station’s parking lot.
+++++The night’s warm, muggy summer’s night breeze played across Smitty’s cold, angular face.  It would be raining soon.  A hard summer squall was blowing in.  Rain hard enough to wash away blood.  Wash away evidence.  Wash away the smell of death.  Silently Smitty pulled from his trousers pocket the folded form of thin handled switch-blade just as one of the two men in front of him slid a hand inside his sport coat for something while his other hand removed a long cylindrical object from a different coat pocket.
+++++From out of the man’s coat came the ugly black form of a long barreled revolver.  From the side pocket the cylindrical shaped object was quickly screwed onto the end of the revolver’s barrel.  But the man didn’t raise the revolver and its silencer just yet.  Menlow kept walking deeper into the semi-deserted parking lot toward a small sedan parked underneath a lonely, tall, brightly lit light pole rising up into the gathering gloom.
+++++Fumbling for keys Menlow stopped beside the driver’s side door of the sedan, back facing the two dark forms half hidden in the parking lot’s darkness.  The two had stopped only eight feet away.  Right at the edge of the bubble of light the single parking lot light pole threw into the darkness.   The two gunmen stood in the darkness and eyed Menlow emotionlessly.  Then the one with the silenced revolver lifted the weapon up and aimed it at the back of Menlow’s head.
+++++“Hey, fellas.  Either one of you two got a match?”
+++++The soft whisper of a voice came out of the darkness behind them.  Unexpectedly.  Unnervingly eerie to their ears.  Making both of them jump instinctively and turn to face the intrusion.
+++++“Listen, asshole . . . ” the one with the gun in his hand snarled viciously, dropping the weapon in his hand quickly to hide it behind his leg as he turned and faced the voice.
+++++He never finished his sentence.  Something long . . . thin . . . sharp . . . came out of the night and bit deep into his throat.  Fear, surprise, shock . . . all lit up the man’s hidden face at the same time.  Something tasting hot, salty, like brackish saltwater,  began to fill his mouth.  He felt like he was drowning.  He felt himself becoming light headed.  Dropping the gun from his hands he threw both of them up to his throat and felt the handle of the switch-blade, covered in blood, jutting out of his throat.
+++++“Jesus!”  the second gunman as he turned to look at his partner drop to his knees and then keel over, face first, into the pavement.  “What the fu . . . .!”
+++++Crack!
+++++The gunman’s right knee snapped in two from a blow like that of a sledgehammer smashing though a plaster wall.  He screamed, almost fell but caught himself, and bent over form the sheer excruciating pain.  It was his last living act.  The edge of a hand, like the edge of an axe, came out of the night and bit into the back of his neck.  There was another loud crack!  And he too dropped . . .  dead . . . onto the pavement with a broken neck.
+++++John Menlow was about to slide into his car when he paused, frowned, and turned to look behind him.  He thought he heard the muffled voice of someone.  Leaving the car door open Menlow took a couple steps toward the edge of the light and peered out at the darkness.
+++++“Hello.  Is there someone out there?”
+++++Silence.
+++++“Really. Is someone hurt out there?”
+++++Silence.
+++++And then behind him he heard a car door open and quickly slam shut.  Standing up straight, wide-eyed and thoroughly frightened,  Menlow slowly turned around and,  with eyes blinking wildly, stared at his car.
+++++A small, thin, but will built little man sat in the front passenger seat of his car and stared up at him with black eyes.  Amazingly black eyes.  Lying on the man’s left thigh was the cold blue steel of a Ruger .357 caliber revolver.  At the end of the six inch barrel of the weapon was the long round tube of what had to be a silencer.
+++++“Get in,” the strange man said in a soft, yet quite clear voice. “We need to leave, John.  Leave now!”
+++++John Menlow blinked a couple of times and then walked back to the open door of his car and slid in behind the steering wheel.  He didn’t say a word.  Starting the car he shifted down into Drive and drove.
+++++“We don’t have much time.  So you need to talk and talk fast.  How much was in that blue tote bag you had stashed in the locker.  And why did you hand it over to someone who so convincingly frightened you.”
+++++“Who are you?  And why . . . why are you wanting to know about my business?”
+++++Smitty turned his dark eyes toward the pale, ghost like features of John Menlow and stared.  Sat silently and stared.  The silence . . . those hypnotic, cobra-black eyes visibly sent chills down Menlow’s spine.
+++++“Okay,  okay!  I’ll tell you!  I’m an investor.  I work at a small firm ran by a guy named Clark Harris.  Just a small firm of Harris, myself, and five other agents.  Last week Clark disappeared.  Disappeared with two million dollars of investor’s money.  The day after it was confirmed Clark was gone and he had the money, a guy by the name of Nick Carsons came by the office.  Said that two million was his money and he wanted it back.  If he didn’t get it back by tonight he was going to kill all of us.  Kill us and our families as well.  I gathered up all I could find.  More like stole all I could.  Three-quarters of a million.  That’s all I could scrounge up.”
+++++“Stole money to save your friends and your girl friend.”
+++++“Yes!  How . . . how do know Marcia?  I mean, is she safe!  Is she all right?”
+++++There was panic in Menlow’s voice.  Terror etched a haggard look across his normally average face as he turned to stare at the dark eyed man.
+++++“She’s safe,” the soft voice replied in the darkness of that was the passenger’s seat.  “For now.  But you’ve got to go to her.  Now.  Take her and leave her apartment.  There’s a motel out on Highway 60 called The Goodnight’s Inn.  Take her there and wait for my call.”
+++++“But . . . but  I can’t go back to her.  I stole her money!  I stole a lot of people’s money!  She must hate my guts by now!”
+++++“She doesn’t,” the voice in the blackness hissed.  “Stop the car and let me out.  And then go to the woman who loves you.  Do what I told you to do.  Wait for my call.  I’ll take care of this mess.”
+++++John Menlow started to protest.  But those eyes . . . those eyes.
+++++He stopped the car and watched the small man slid out into the night and close the door behind him.  And he left.  Left Death standing in the darkness watching the bright red of the car’s tail lights fade into the night.
+++++Two hours later Smitty was sitting in the leather bucket seat of a CTS Cadillac parked parallel beside a street curb.  In one gloved hand was a cheap throwaway cell phone.   He was looking to his left.  Down a long street lined on both sides with cars parked and empty.  The night was lit up with bright neon signs of several bars and nightclubs lining both sides of the street.  But at the far end of the street was a black line of brownstone apartment buildings.
+++++Smitty was waiting.  Waiting for the lights of one particular brownstone to snap on.  When it did he used a gloved thumb to punch in numbers of a private residential number.
+++++“Yeah, Nick Carson’s residence,” a voice . . . not Nick Carson’s . . . answered in a bored fashion.
+++++“Let me talk to your boss,” a soft whisper drifted across the ethernet.
+++++“Who’s calling?”
+++++“Tell him the guy who just stole the three-quarters of a million John Menlow just gave him wants to talk to him.  I’m sure that will tickle Nick’s interest some.”
+++++“What . . . . !”
+++++There was the noise of a phone dropping onto a table.  Noise of heavy feet running across a hardwood floor.  A door slamming.  Seconds later the explosion of voices screaming invectives and foul language.
+++++And then Nick Carson voice screaming into the phone.
+++++“I don’t you who you are . . . I don’t know how that little bastard could have hired you!  But I’m gonna find you, you little prick!  I’m gonna find you and cut your heart out!  Steal my money, will you!  I’ll cut your heart out and then I’m going after this Menlow creep and his girlfriend and I’m gonna cut their hearts out!  Where the fuck is my money. asshole!”
+++++“Go to the window and pull the curtain back,” Smitty said softly.  Casually.
+++++From his vantage point directly opposite Carson’s brownstone he saw the second story curtains of Carson’s office flash open and the form of the man with the gray temples standing in the middle of the window.
+++++“Look down the block.  See the black car that’s turning on its headlights now?  That’s me.  I have your money.  And I plan to return it back to all of those who had it stolen from them.   Say goodnight, Nick.  And by the way.  You won’t be hurting anyone ever again.”
+++++A cruel little smile played across Smitty’s lips as he  pulled the phone away from his ear and stared at the glowing numbers of the phone’s dial.  A thumb moved slide across the face of the dialer and paused over the number eight.  Glancing down the street again he saw the form of Nick Carson still at the window.  The smile on Smitty’s lips widened as he pressed number eight firmly.
+++++The explosion was staggering.
+++++A ball of fire shot out of the second story window of the Carson residence and roared half way down the street.  The shock wave from the explosion was physical enough to rock every car violently.  Car alarms, by the hundreds, rose up into the night with a cacophonous clatter.  Glass, wood, pieces of brick shrapnel rained from the heavens.
+++++Almost instantly from all over the city police and fire alarms began wailing.  People flooded out of the night club and bars and ran into the street to stare at the burning crater that once was Nick Carson’s brownstone.
+++++Behind the gawking crowds a black CTS Caddy pulls away from the curb gently and moves away.  Black fading into black.  Like a ghost.  Like a wraith.  Like the Angel of Death himself.

 

Pursuit

They ran screaming from him, scattering to all points of the compass. Their young minds calculating the best way to escaper their pursuer. He selected one girl as his target and focused in on her. She was eight and was one of the least athletic children present that day. She would provide the easiest catch as her chubby waistline would make her slow and unwieldy.
+++++Her bulk was nearly as great as his, which meant he’d have a realistic chance of catching her. She was running away from him as fast as her legs would take her. Pigtails and shrieks flew over her shoulder towards him.
+++++The father observed with pride as the son hunted down his prey.
Now only thirty feet separated them and the girl was looking increasing fearful as she knew she was gaining ground. The only sounds coming from her mouth were gasping asthmatic breaths. No scream or shrieks came now. Every mouthful of air was forced into her lungs to oxygenate the driving pistons that were her legs.
+++++She was terrified of being caught by her pursuer as she knew exactly what his intentions were.
+++++Twenty feet behind her, the thumping of his superior weight sent great echo’s forward to increase her desperation. She had an idea and veered towards the creek.
+++++By the time she had crested the ridge which started the slope down to the burbling water the gap had closed to ten feet.
+++++She heard the shout of encouragement as his father drove him on after her. She’d never trusted the old man with his pointy face and stinky breath.
+++++Now she was heading down a steeper slope and was struggling to keep both legs below her torso. The mysterious force which was called gravity gave her upper body the extra propulsion the lower half lacked. A fall now would signal the end of her escape attempt.
+++++She glanced over her shoulder to see where he was. Her eyes opened wider as she saw he was now within a couple of feet of her. He saw the panic in her pupils and laughed a cruel laugh which further twisted the knot of nerves in her stomach.
+++++Her attention snapped back to her chosen route. A sapling tree lay straight in front of her so she veered left and executed her plan.
+++++As the tree drew level with her shoulder, she flung out an arm and used the infant oak as a pivot. Her momentum carried her through one hundred and eighty degrees and sent her panting back up the slope.
+++++The move worked, as her hunter shot past the tree before copying the trick with another tree and resuming the chase. She had gained herself twenty feet with the manoeuvre and his breathing was becoming more ragged by the second, as he too toiled up the slope.
+++++She didn’t look back until she reached the top of the slope. The glimpse she afforded herself was fatal, as her tired legs no longer fully obeyed her demands. Left and right legs collided when he was a mere five feet behind her.
+++++He paused gasping for air while as she hauled herself back to her feet with unshed tears in pleading eyes. When she was stood beside him, he simply touched her arm and said one damning word.
+++++‘Tig.’

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.

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