I felt bad that I never even thought to check the rooftops, not even perfunctorily.
It could just as easily have been me, but he was a much larger target, and the guy could’ve hit him anywhere, but he wanted it high impact and dramatic.
He achieved that in spades.
My contact’s body wobbled a bit, then toppled over into the mess his brains made on the sidewalk.
I’d already taken cover, but there was no second shot.
Seemed I wouldn’t need to leave after all; he’d come here to me, on my home turf.
Kind of admired that, but it was a stupid thing to do, even if he did his research on the city, and he should’ve shot me first, because now he’d lost the element of surprise.
And I knew what he looked like now.
I also had a sense of how good he was, how merciless, and the type of equipment he used; like mine, it was high end, not prone to error and chance.
The gunslinger tale played out in the city, in modern times.
And the ending always changes, depending on who’s better: the young gun gets put back in his place, and maybe dies, or the old gun relinquishes his crown, and maybe dies.
It was tragedy no matter who won.
As of now, I had no idea which way this would play, but I was never one to leave the table before the game was finally done.
The cop cars came in droves, people stampeded, and the streets were empty in no time,
I couldn’t show my face, so I slipped into a ragtag end of stragglers, and did some reconnaissance when I got back to the garage, taking some time to look down over the rooftops I could see, but he was long gone, and didn’t leave anything behind.
Professional, then, but showy.
I wasn’t worried about him being in the garage; he wanted to make a statement, make me some sort of example that he wasn’t to be trifled with, so he wanted an audience when he killed me.
I never treated anyone out to kill me as a trifle.
Okay, kid. Let’s get the ball rolling.
I made a call.
“Hey, beautiful as always.”
“Hey, handsome as ever.”
My old partner, Krista. Seemed like a lifetime ago, but we packed a lot into the five years we traveled and killed.
It wasn’t love, exactly, but it was as close as we’d ever get.
My drink was waiting.
“So,” she said, her eyes bright with amusement, “the bell tolls for thee?”
“He looks like he’s twelve. When I find him, I’ll spank him before I shoot his brains out.”
“Well, if you want, you could, y’know…” she glanced down and behind her, “practice.”
I smiled and shook my head. “Don’t tempt the devil.”
She sighed, put on a mock sad face. “Your loss, hero. Okay, so what’s my role in all this?”
“Follow me, and get him if he gets me.”
She’d been in profile, but now she turned, facing me.
“Why would I do that? I’ve been out of the life for a while, Neal.”
I winced, and she rolled her eyes upward in playful exasperation.
“I’m not calling you by that pretentiously cryptic ‘agent’ name.”
I shrugged. “My mother does.”
She laughed.“You’re an idiot.”
She turned back to profile, and I sipped my drink, watching her sip hers.
She became aware of me staring, and a light flush crept into her cheeks. She chuckled, shook her head and put her hand up to hide it.
"Stop it, Neal. That's rude."
“Sorry. Can't help it; it’s really good to see you".
“Same here,” she put her drink back on the bar, gave a sigh, and the flush left her, and she stared at the glass. “But I’ll need to think about your proposal. What’s in it for me?”
“The price my agency’s placed on his head. All yours, if I don’t make it out.”
She faced me again, her expression somewhere between concern and business.
“And if you do?”
“We split even.”
“What’s the price?”
I told her, and she actually did a soft ‘wolf whistle.’
“Yeah,” I said.
“When do we start?”
“After dinner and…whatever you’d like.”
I got the smile back.
“Are you hitting on me, sir?”
“If you’re flirting with me, madam.”
She winked at me, raised her glass, and we clinked, and ordered dinner, and picked up the threads of our lives and knit them back together, at least for the rest of the night.
It was fun, and good, and it felt right.
And when it was all over, part of me foolishly hoped we’d get to walk into the sunset.
But guys like me should never hope.
© Alfred W. Smith Jr.