The cold hits me first, then the water, then the rock beneath the surface. I feel my ribs crack but cannot count how many have been damaged. As the tide swirls me around, my mind is drawn to how I have come to this predicament. Never have I pulled the trigger on impulse, always am I sure of my shot, but his eyes seemed to burrow right down into my skin. And that cold smile, did he know I was there? My feet find some purchase so I push in the direction I think is up. I break the surface and sweet, sweet oxygen bursts into my lungs but before I can get my bearings, a wave pushes me back towards the shore sending tides of shooting pain from my broken ribs across my whole body. Only the salt water in my mouth stops me from crying out in agony. The second wave forces me into unconsciousness for what seems like only a moment and I’m smacked awake again as I am dumped head first into the shingle on the beach. I rise before the next wave can batter me some more and pull my revolver.
One of the guards is following me down on my rope so I put three rounds into him. I hear his body hit the ocean as I hold my stance waiting for the next man to follow. My error becomes apparent as the footfall on the sand beside me reveals that he was not the first man down after me but the second. Training is the key to such moments, but my ribs hinder my movement and my revolver is lost to the dark as a fist makes contact with my wrist. The lay of the shoreline has me slightly on the higher ground which proves as always to be the advantage. His second strike doesn’t hit home but my left knee finds his throat with graceful ease. As I return to my feet he hits the floor gasping for air just as the tide hits a second blow right down onto his upper torso.
I leave at a sprint hoping to get some distance on him before he regains his composure.
Rifle, revolver and knife all lost. Not a successful night.
My car is where I left it though and soon I am on the road and away from the worst work of my career.
The bath water was helping, but not much. I would need to go see someone about my ribs but not at this location. I will need to relocate twice before I can receive medical help. For now I will have to rely on my own field knowledge, which is more than adequate but not ideal.
Relocating will have to wait for now as an email has brought my night’s less than convincing performance to the front of all future tasks. The Employer is pleased and wishes to meet and thank me for my excellent work. My suspicions are high and I decide to soak some more before formulating a response.
A ping from my laptop announces that the Employer is a less than patient person. The message expresses his absolute desire to meet and includes a payment option for the face to face which amounts to a sum four times the payment for the initial contract. Money is of little consequence to me, but this exchange would see me into a nice relaxing retirement. For a time I sit back and let the water ease my strained muscles.
Another ping of a different tone sounds, which distinguishes my emails from my bank account details, the money has already been wired.
Conflict resides in my thoughts for the next hour.
Do I take the money, run and go against all my own codes of client loyalty?
Kindly reject the offer and return the money? Once wired, the money was gone and never going back to the client so a drop off would have to be arranged.
Or take the payment and go against all of my instincts that it is a set up?
For my sins, I respond with where would you like to meet?
Multi-story car parks have never been a favoured form of architecture to me and this one was no exception. Upon retirement though, I would never have to experience one again. So I enter, keeping to as many shadows as the halogen lights allow.
As I wait in the darkest corner my instincts are telling me to leave, forget the money and just go, that amount of money can be achieved again. Not nearly as quickly though. Seven or eight contracts over a three year period would probably see the amount reached, but only just. I have a few years left in me yet, although a recovery period for the broken ribs would more than likely leave me a good six months where working at a hundred per cent would just not be possible. And if I am not at the top of my game, I do not play.
Before I can dwell on the dilemma any longer a vehicle engine cuts the silence.
A long black Limousine coasts into the empty lot and waits with its motor still running, the driver’s door opens and the chauffeur steps out. Without pause he is at the passenger door and it is opened. A man steps out his features are hidden by a deep hood that covers his whole head. He nods his head to the chauffeur and walks towards the front of the car. The driver’s door shuts as he returns to behind the wheel.
The hooded figure walks twenty feet in front of the vehicle and turns to face me from my hidden position.
How is that possible? Perhaps I have grown lax in my camouflage training of late. Practise will be required on all of my skills after this escapade. But will they? Retirement looms and much earlier than I had planned. All that can wait. Let me get through this meeting first.
I decide to approach sticking to the shadows until the last possible moment. Fifteen yards away is close enough and I step just out into the light.
‘You wanted to see me? Well here I stand.’
A long pause and no response trouble me.
‘Do I not deserve a reply?’
The figure’s hand raises towards his hood and my hand reaches for my sidearm.
‘I will not be played with.’ I bark at him. ‘Answer me.’
The removal of his hood reveals his dilemma. The face before me is not a face at all. Its cheekbones and eye sockets are where they should be but no other features remained. Nose, eyes and mouth all void, a completely blank canvas of a face.
‘It is not he who wishes to meet you,’ a voice from the dark interjected.
I draw my weapon and turn towards the source of the voice.
‘You have no need for that,’ he continued.
I glance back at the featureless man but he has vanished without so much as a sound. Movement takes my attention as the speaker steps into the light. His face is so familiar it turns my stomach, bringing forth a feeling I have not felt in a number of years, Fear.
I feel my grip loosen on my weapon, doubt and disbelief flooding over me.
His face smiles at me, a smile I had torn in two not twenty four hours previously. My client standing before me living and breathing and not a scratch upon his face.
Words fail me, but not he.
With a grin that could charm the world he states ‘I think I may have a job for you.’