I couldn’t help but think about what a funny thing fate was as I followed Rue, the petite Asian girl on the opposite side of the street. No matter what I did, someone was going to die; my job was to make sure it was the right person.
The cool evening air had brought plenty of witnesses and bystanders out. Everywhere I looked, couples walked hand in hand as they went in and out of stores. Kids, too, ran up and down the sidewalk, dodging through clusters of adults and teenagers.
Every dozen feet or so, trees sprung up from the sidewalk. Their leaves had just begun to change colors and almost seemed to glow in the approaching sunset. If I hadn’t been working, I would have loved nothing more than to sit on a bench and soak up the night.
Unfortunately, I couldn’t let myself get distracted. Rue was already far enough ahead of me that I could barely see her. She wore a light pair of jeans and a green, oversized windbreaker that helped her blend in with the crowd. In order to draw attention away from her face, however, she also wore a fluorescent pink beanie. I knew she would have to ditch it the next time we turned a corner but, until then, I was grateful for the easy beacon. It was rare for Rue to do anything that made my life easier, even if by accident, so I intended to enjoy it while it lasted.
I was careful not to keep my eyes locked on her. The last thing I wanted to do was draw attention to either of us by looking like a creep. Instead, I only glanced at her now and again as I leisurely walked down the sidewalk. The rest of the time, I either watched the crowd or stopped and peered through store windows with feigned interest.
As I turned away from a bookstore and looked for Rue’s fluorescent pink hat, my heart froze. She was gone. How had I missed her? Had something happened? I took a few quick steps forward and then slowed down to scan the other side of the street. After a few terrifying seconds, I caught a glimpse of what I thought was her hat behind a group of slow-moving thirteen-year-old girls.
Sure enough, once the group moved out of the way, Rue came back into view. She was kneeling on the ground, taking her sweet time tying her left shoe. That was the sign I’d been waiting for.
I increased my pace and removed my baseball hat. As I passed an almost empty garbage can, I tossed the hat into it and slid a pair of wire rim reading glasses from my pocket. Once they were in place, I ran my fingers through my messy, black hair to smooth it out a little. By the time I was done, I had passed Rue’s position and arrived at an intersection. I turned left and continued down the sidewalk without so much as glancing behind me.
I knew Rue was back there, following me as I had her, but I couldn’t risk drawing attention to that fact. Although my navy blue hoodie wasn’t eye catching like her pink hat, I didn’t worry about losing her. We’d practiced tailing one another so many times that we could do it in our sleep. My only focus was on remaining unnoticed by our target who was a short distance ahead of me and on the opposite side of the street.
The man was older, somewhere in his late thirties, and had short, brown hair and a trimmed goatee. Unlike Rue and I, he hadn’t changed his appearance the entire evening. He wore plain jeans and a brown leather jacket that didn’t look out of place at all. That was the point, I assumed. Based on the pictures Father Sebastian had shown us earlier that day, I knew very little about the man stood out. He looked completely average except for his eyes. Those were hard and cold; the eyes of an unconscionable killer.
Over the course of the previous few weeks, we’d followed and killed two others like him. They were unlike any targets we’d dealt with before; each of the men were prepared, deadly. It was clear they were professionals. Their body language was what gave them away; they were constantly on the lookout for threats. Fortunately, they hadn’t seen me, a seventeen year old guy, or Rue, a skinny, sixteen year old girl, as dangerous until it was too late.
That wasn’t surprising. Most kids our age hadn’t spent their lives training like us. When Father Vincent and Father Sebastian told us they had jobs that would truly put our training to the test, Rue and I were excited. Father Vincent always said we were doing God’s will by eliminating our targets but, according to him, these jobs were special. They were far more important than anything we had ever done. To fail at them would be to fail God Himself. That, clearly, wasn’t an option.
The first two jobs were relatively straight forward. Once we found our targets, we discreetly followed them until they led us to their hotels. From there, we were able to regroup and return with a specific plan to kill them. Father Vincent had something else in mind for the third man, however. Rather than take him out, we had to bring him to Saint Helens, our orphanage. Father Vincent had questions he hoped the man could answer.
Ahead of me, the man slowed down and nonchalantly looked around. To an untrained eye, he appeared to be lost and looking at the building numbers and street signs, but I knew better. He was actually trying to make sure he wasn’t being followed.
Although there was a street, several parked cars, and multiple groups of people between us, I slowed down and walked in step with a nearby group of three other guys. Rue and I had already switched places several times in order to avoid being spotted but, for all we knew, we might have to follow him for a few more hours. If he recognized either of us, things would get bad quickly.
Once his surveillance check was complete, he continued forward. Thirty feet or so ahead of him was a short, fat man in a suit jacket. He was in his late forties and had short, graying hair along with a thick beard. Aside from our target, he was the only other person we had consistently seen during the operation. Wherever the man went, our target seemed to follow. I wasn’t sure what he wanted with the fat man, but it didn’t matter. If it was important, Father Vincent would get the answer out of him.
The plump man turned right at the next intersection and disappeared from view behind a tall hotel. When he did, our target sped up to close the distance so that he didn’t lose sight of the man. I made my move, as well, and covered my mouth with my right hand as I pretended to yawn. That was my signal for Rue to alter her appearance and take the lead again at the intersection.
I slowed down, but continued forward so that I could keep our target in sight. By the time I made it to the crosswalk at the intersection, Rue had almost caught up with me. As I crossed the street and reached the sidewalk once more, I saw the big man turn and enter a building. I couldn’t see much from where I was, but judging from the green, white, and red sign that read “Tony’s”, I assumed it was an Italian restaurant. That wasn’t good. Our target continued walking, but I knew my luck wouldn’t hold.
I was still a dozen feet ahead of Rue. She hadn’t turned the corner yet, so I cracked my neck left and then right to let her know not to follow me. I was afraid our target was going to stop and wait on the man he was tailing. If he did and we both walked past him, our only choice would be to abort the mission. It was too likely he’d recognize us after that.
Sure enough, our target looked both ways and ran across the street toward the side I was on. Once he made it, he then walked directly toward an empty bus stop and sat down on its wooden bench. The bus stop itself butted up against an old, brick pizza place. As I approached the building, a group of kids stepped out from the restaurant. Unfortunately, none of them walked over to the bus stop to distract the man so that I could get by.
If I wanted to continue forward, I had no choice but to walk directly past him. I considered turning around or even crossing the street for a moment, but decided not to. The last thing I needed to do was draw even more attention to myself.
My only other option was to duck into the pizza place, but the bus stop was so close that the man would get a good look at me, anyway. Instead, I took a deep breath and silently prayed that Rue hadn’t followed me down the street. Then, without changing my pace, I looked straight ahead and continued past our target. If he was any good, I knew he’d log my appearance in the back of his mind so that alarm bells would go off if he saw me again. We just had to finish the job before that happened.
I could feel the tension ease in my body when I came to the next crosswalk and spotted Rue approaching from my left. She hadn’t followed me. We didn’t have to call the job off. I looked away as soon as I knew she was there and coughed. She acknowledged it with a thin smile and kept walking, making her way back to our van.
I maintained my pace down the street until I came to a dumpy Chinese restaurant on the next block and abruptly stopped. The white, painted bricks were filthy, but menu pages were plastered to its grimy window, which gave me an excuse to stand there without looking too suspicious.
After a few minutes of staring at the menu and stealing the occasional glance at our target to make sure he hadn’t moved, my cell phone began to vibrate.
“Hello,” I said as I answered it.
“Where are you?” Rue asked.
“I’m in front of a Chinese restaurant checking out their menu. It’s the one just a block down from the bus stop.”
“Walk to the end of the block and take a left. I’ll meet you there in three minutes,” she said. Before I could respond, she hung up.
“Okay, nice talking to you,” I mumbled into my phone. As I put it away, I couldn’t help but sigh. I didn’t know why she always had to be so unpleasant. The job had been stressful, but there was no reason to take it out on each other. Then again, I doubted Rue cared. She was just naturally difficult.
It didn’t take long for me to make it to the corner where Rue wanted to meet. Its atmosphere was completely different from the previous block. Most of the buildings consisted of offices or banks, and the only people around moved with a sense of purpose. Since it was out of our target’s line of sight, I just stood there and awkwardly waited for a minute. Soon enough, a white van pockmarked with small dents and a few spots of rust rounded the corner and stopped in front of me.
I immediately opened the front passenger side door and got in. True to form, Rue barely gave me time to close the door before she pulled away from the sidewalk.
“You didn’t lose him, did you?” she asked.
I glanced over at her. The pink hat was gone and her hair was pulled back in a short ponytail. “No. He’s sitting at a bus stop.”
“Good. Now’s our chance. Get in the back and get ready.”
I shook my head. “You’re going to have to grab him.”
“What?” she asked as she gave me a sharp look. “No. It’s my turn to drive.”
I could only shrug. “Sorry. I had to walk past him.”
“So? Just get changed. It will be fine.”
“Rue, come on, you can’t be serious. Pull over and—”
“No!” she shouted as she glared at me with murder in her eyes. “I told you – I’m driving.”
“Don’t be such a baby.” As soon as the words were out of my mouth, I knew they’d been a mistake.
Her nostrils flared and she smacked the steering wheel, no doubt pretending it was me. “I’m not a baby; you’re just an asshole.”
My eyes went wide and I involuntarily glanced around, holding my breath as I prayed a ruler-wielding nun wasn’t coming straight for us.
“And you call me a baby? Look at you; you’re ready to shit your pants because I said a bad word.”
“Rue, you know you shouldn’t talk like that.”
“Shit, damn, hell, bast—”
“Fine, stop, you win,” I said before she could continue. I’d made the mistake of swearing in front of the nuns at Saint Helens one too many times. Sister Martha, the head nun, heard me once, and that was the end of it. Her ruler hurt enough that I was afraid to even be in the same room as someone who was swearing after that. The last thing I needed was to be accused of it and have my knuckles beaten raw. Again.
I unbuckled my seatbelt and turned around. A thick, black curtain separated the van’s cargo area from the front seats. As I pushed it open enough to slide through, I glanced at Rue. “We’re out here doing God’s work. You really shouldn’t talk like that.”
She scoffed and pulled into a movie theater’s parking lot. A man and a woman, along with a band of kids, stepped out in front of us as they made their way toward the building. For a moment, I was afraid Rue wasn’t going to stop, but then she decided to at the last second. The woman glared at her as she as she protectively rushed the kids past. Rue smiled back sourly and didn’t even bother to look at me. “I’ll say whatever I want, Drake. Now hurry up and get changed before the target gets away. We’re not going to disappoint Vincent.”
I sighed and stepped behind the curtain as she pulled forward once more and found a parking spot. Afraid that the woman Rue had almost run down would complain and send security out to look for us, I stripped and put my next disguise on as fast as I could. It was a dark blue police uniform, complete with a badge and a hat.
“Hurry up,” Rue snapped from the front as I finished buckling my duty belt.
I ignored her and tucked a pair of handcuffs into the front of my belt along with a Taser. I also secured my gun into its holster and made sure I had two knives hidden on either side of my waist under the belt. While our primary goal was to capture the target, Father Sebastian had made sure I knew it wasn’t worth getting hurt, or worse, over.
Once I was sure I had everything I would need, I emerged from behind the curtain and got back into the passenger seat. “Let’s get this over with.”
“Finally,” Rue said as she threw the van into reverse and backed out of her parking space.
I forced myself not to say anything. She always seemed hostile, but arguing wasn’t worth it. Winning was impossible.
As we neared our target, I pulled my Saint Michael necklace out from under my police uniform and rubbed it. Meryl, my best friend and the girl I’d loved for years, had given it to me. Because she was intrigued by magic and things like that, the amulet didn’t have the traditional depiction of Saint Michael on it. On one side was a set of wings below an interlocking triangle and circle, while the other side was covered in weird, rune-like symbols. Since I wasn’t allowed to carry anything related to the church with me during a job, it was perfect.
Rue began to slow down and glanced over at me. I quickly made the sign of the cross and said a short prayer before kissing the amulet for luck.
She shook her head. “Really? You’re still doing that?”
“Of course,” I said. Not only did I know Saint Michael would protect me from physical harm, but he would protect me from spiritual harm, as well. I wasn’t particularly worried about our target as long as he was alive; it was his ghost that terrified me. If things went wrong and I had to kill him, I didn’t want to end up haunted.
“You’re so weird. When are you going to grow up and—”
I opened the door and stepped out onto the sidewalk. “Two minutes,” I said, interrupting her. Before she could argue, I shut it and walked away.
I was far too young to be a real police officer, but I didn’t let that shake my confidence. Instead, I walked down the sidewalk with an air of authority. All people would see when they looked at me was the uniform; nothing more.
As I turned the corner and stepped back onto the block where I’d last seen our target, I let out a sigh of relief. He hadn’t gone anywhere; he was still at the bus stop, alone. There were bystanders going in and out of restaurants, of course, but even their numbers had thinned with the setting sun. No matter how much I would have preferred not to go through with the job while witnesses were around, that wasn’t going to happen. All I could do was work with the situation.
My heart began to race as I walked past two girls in their early twenties. As they talked with one another, they briefly glanced at me and then resumed their conversation a little quieter. It was the police uniform at work.
The girls weren’t what made me nervous – it was my target. He’d already seen me once, so it was stupid, not to mention dangerous, that I was the one who had to subdue him. Ever since Rue had gotten her driver’s license, she’d become impossible. Any time a car was involved, she demanded to drive regardless of the situation.
If Father Vincent or Father Sebastian found out she’d put the plan in jeopardy because of it, they would be furious. Still, that didn’t stop her. I had complained to Father Sebastian in the past and he’d talked to her about it, but that didn’t help. In fact, after that, she had gone out of her way to make my life miserable for weeks. I didn’t want a repeat performance.
I glanced down at my watch and did my best to focus. There were thirty seconds left until Rue came to pick me up. My hands started to sweat and my heartbeat continued to rise, but I kept the tension off of my face. I was thirty feet away from our target. There was no doubt he was armed. If I spooked him, I was as good as dead.
I felt, rather than saw, the man’s eyes study me as I got within twenty feet. His glance was cursory at first, just marking my presence. Then it changed and he stared at me with more interest.
I was a little over twelve feet away when our eyes met. When they did, recognition crossed his face. My grey eyes, the one notable part of my body, had given me away.
The man reached behind his back and began to get up from the bench in one fluid motion. I knew exactly what that meant.
My training took over. I tore the Taser from my duty belt and fired it. The probes punched through the man’s leather jacket and embedded themselves into his chest. I pulled the trigger and he immediately fell to the ground, incapacitated thanks to the electrical shock. As he did, a handgun slid from his grip and clattered to the sidewalk harmlessly beside him.
Before any of the nearby people even realized what was happening, I ran toward him and kept my finger on the trigger so that I could deliver another shock. When I reached him, I kicked the gun away.
Just then, I heard the sound of a vehicle screeching down the road as it came straight toward us. Without thinking, I glanced up from our target and saw that it was Rue, right on time. That’s when the man grunted and tried to force himself up to lunge at me. Before he got the chance, I pulled the trigger again and sent another shock through his body.
“You have the right to remain silent,” I said as I released the trigger and dug the handcuffs out of my duty belt. Several teenagers and even a few older adults had stopped to look at the ongoing scene as I handcuffed him. Cops always said that on TV, so it seemed like the appropriate thing to say.
Rue slammed on the brakes just in front of us and threw the side door open.
“You son of a bitch,” our target yelled as I hauled him to his feet. He thrashed around and tried to kick me, but I was prepared and shoved him into the van. Then, before jumping in myself, I grabbed the gun he had dropped without making eye contact with any of the dazed witnesses. I was barely inside when Rue took off again, forcing me to close the door as she drove.
“What the hell is going on?” the man demanded. “Do you—”
“Shut up,” Rue said.
The man was unfazed. “Do you have any idea what you’ve done? Do you know who I am?”
I looked into his eyes for a moment. “Yes. You’re the one God has chosen to die tonight.”
“What?” he asked as he stared at me with unadulterated hatred.
“You’ll find out soon enough.” Before he could reply, I pulled the trigger and shocked him once more. Then, I secured his feet with zip ties and gagged him. Father Vincent was the one who wanted to talk to him, not me. As far as I was concerned, he didn’t need to say a word until then.
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