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The bar is humming with electricity from the crowd. I’m growing giddier with every step I take. The decor is very new age, from the wall hangings, to the furniture. Everything is very geometrical in shape. The fashion is amazing. All the people look so beautiful, especially to someone who’s been reduced to wearing sweats for the last eighteen months. There’s so much to take in, and everything is grabbing my eye. Michael fits in perfectly here, but this place takes my attention from him. It’s Saturday night, and business is good. He leads me to a cozy niche in the corner where it’s a little quieter. Where we will be able to have a conversation, I’m hoping. As soon as we are seated comfortably, the server greets us. She takes one look at Michael and has to catch her breath as she stares at him. It’s the funniest thing I’ve ever seen. I sit here, amused as I watch the young girl scramble to find her words. I hope I didn’t look like that when I first met him. He must be used to it because he doesn’t react at all.

“Oh my God, I am so sorry. I didn’t mean to . . . I mean, I’m not like that,” she professes, trying so hard to apologize to me.

“It’s okay. I’m sure he gets that a lot,” I say, trying to make the poor girl feel better. After a few minutes of her trying to apologize, I start to feel bad for her. She gives a faint smile.

“What can I get you?”

“I’ll take a glass of Riesling,” I respond.

“And for you, Sir?” She asks, without looking at Michael again.

“I’ll have a scotch on the rocks.”

The girl nods, closes her book, and quickly walks away. I wait until she’s out of earshot before I break out laughing. As much as I try, I can’t hold it in any longer.

“What’s so funny?” Michael asks, glaring at me.

“You actually had that girl speechless. I’ve seen many things, but that was a first for me,” I continue laughing.

“Yeah, well it doesn’t work on everyone. You were quite immune to my charms,” Michael countered.

“No, I wasn’t, but I’m an FBI-” I stop. “I was an FBI agent, and I trust no one. Don’t you know most serial killers are good looking men your age? I had to do my homework on you first.”

“Is that what you did . . . your homework?” he asks, sarcastically.

“Apparently, not well enough,” I say, softly.

He had me there.

“Don’t feel too bad. You wouldn’t have found anything I didn’t want you to find,” he smirks.

I understand that now, but looking back, it unnerves me. I always considered myself to be a very cautious person. The thought of not having control, even back then, freaks me out. The server comes with our drinks, setting them on the table before quickly walking away.

“I think she’s still embarrassed,” I comment.

Michael shrugs as to say he doesn’t care how she feels, which I’m sure is very accurate. He takes a swig of his scotch before reaching under the table, pulling out a beautiful cherry wood box. He sits it on the table in front of me.

“What’s that? You didn’t have that when you walked in,” I ask, staring down at it.

“It’s a gift to say: congratulations on moving on to the next phase.”

My mouth damn near hit the floor. Being here with Michael is all the congratulations I need. Not to mention the fact, I didn’t think he gave a damn whether I moved on or not. A million things fly through my mind as I stare at the box, wondering what could be inside. The box itself is a treasure.

“Before you open it, I would like to make a toast,” he says as he raises his glass. “Shyira, I know your potential, and it’s great, or I wouldn’t have brought you here. You can do this job, and I need you to believe it with everything you have. Remember your training, and whatever you do, never doubt yourself. The easy part is over. The hard part is about to begin, and it will continue for the rest of your life.” Michael moves his glass in. “Be great, Shy.”

We touch glasses and drink. I take a deep breath, steadying myself before opening the box. I sit quietly for several seconds, staring at what’s resting inside the smooth red velvet of the box. The Bersa .380 and extra magazine sit, taunting me. Too many things are running through my head. The first of which is: oh shit, is this really happening? They want me to kill someone, tonight!

The nausea instantly sets in. I feel like I’m on a boat drifting out to sea on extremely rocky waters. Michael’s quiet. No surprise there. He sits damn near motionless. If not for his breathing one would think he wasn’t alive. Is he allowing me to digest what’s in front of me? Then again, he could be laughing at me. I can never begin to imagine what goes through that man’s mind. I look up, finding my voice. I narrow my eyes at him as I ask, “What is this, Michael?” I nervously await his answer.

“There is a man at the bar to your right. He’s wearing a tan sport coat. Inside the sport coat, in the inner left breast pocket is a phone that contains information we need. You’re to retrieve the phone-’’

“Is this some kind of joke?” I choke out.

“This man is a member of Red Sky. A terrorist cell we’ve been trying to take out for several years now, and every time they evade us. If we get that phone we can take out several members of their group. Once you get the phone make your way to the kitchen. There is a door that leads to the alley, which is where the limo will be waiting for you. You have ten minutes to retrieve the phone and make your way to the limo, or it will leave without you. You don’t want to find out what happens if it leaves without you,” he finishes.

“And if I refuse?” I have to ask.

“If you want to live, you’ll do this.”

His words are deafening, cutting me to my core. I don’t know if it’s fear, hurt, betrayal, or just plain anger that cause the tears to form in my eyes. I feel every single one of those emotions. I just don’t know which one is leading the pack at the moment. All I know is, I can’t stop them. My hands begin to shake as I close the box. The emotions are all too much to keep contained. I look up at him as one tear betrays me, falling down my cheek.

“You could’ve told me this was a job, Michael. You didn’t have to pretend you were enjoying my company.”

I’m furious as I reopen the box. I stick with anger. Anger will help me push through this. I will use my fury to get me through this mission. More focused, I take the gun out, checking the mag. Popping it back in, I try to stand. My legs are jello, but I force myself to my feet. Michael grabs my hand before I can walk away.

“Wait until I’m gone before you make your move.”

He downs the rest of his drink. There’s no emotion coming from him. I can’t believe how stupid I am to believe his lies. He stands, buttoning his coat. He walks out, leaving me alone to either live or die. My eyes follow him as he leaves the bar without as much as a backwards glance. I sit there for a moment longer, steadying myself as I wipe the last of my treacherous tears from my cheeks. In my awe of being out, I don’t do what I was trained to do. Notice my surroundings. With Michael here, I was afforded a false sense of security. I’ve never relied on a man for protection, not even my partner while in the FBI. Knowing that only fuels my anger. I’m laser focused as everything becomes clear. My exits, roughly how many people are between me and my exit, and who is a threat. I play out all scenarios in my head before making my move.

I’m not dying here tonight. There’s no way in hell I’m giving him the satisfaction. I grab the extra magazine and put it in my clutch, downing the last of my Riesling. I stand discreetly, cocking the gun to check the chamber as I walk toward my target. The gun is tucked at my side. I hate leaving the box, stupid I know, but it’s the only beautiful thing to come out of this night. I stand next to my target. I face the bar with the gun underneath it, pointing at him.

“The phone in your inner left pocket, give it to me,” I demand.

He looks at me callously. “Excuse me?”

“You heard me, and I only ask once,” I said, turning to face him so he can see the gun pointed in his direction.

“Little girl, you have no idea who you’re messing with,” he spits out.

“I guess that’s my problem, isn’t it? Now give me the damn phone.”

I raise the gun to his head. I’m no longer concerned with who sees. My time is running out, and I need that phone, now.

“You’ll never get out of here alive. My men are stationed all over this bar,” he says, as he slowly reaches in his coat pocket.

“Let me worry about that—hurry up!” I yell. The gun starts to shake in my hand.

“Look how your hand shakes. You don’t have what it takes to kill me, do you, little girl?” He mocks, removing his hand from his pocket.

“Fuck this.”

I know he’s right, but I’m getting that phone no matter what. I reach into his pocket to retrieve the phone myself. There’s a commotion in the crowd. I see people being pushed aside as three huge men, forcefully make their way through the sea of people. My gun hand is still shaking as I stuff the phone into my clutch. As soon as it’s secure, I hit the target in the head hard enough to knock him out. His forehead immediately splits. A woman screams as he falls to the floor. His head is bleeding profusely. One of the bodyguards sees his boss go down, and opens fire. The sound blasts through the room, slightly muffled by the noise of the bar. More screams erupt from the crowd as gunfire rings out. If it isn’t the gun shots--due to the music--that gets people’s attention, it’s the falling bodies that do. As the crowd starts to panic, it makes it harder for the assassins to hit me as I make my way to the kitchen. In this moment I remember Michael’s words: chaos is the best cover.

I duck, running as bullets whiz by my head as the men continue to shoot into the crowd of people. I don’t think I’ve ever been so scared in my life, even in the FBI. I’ve been in some pretty scary situations, but I knew I could count on my backup. In here, I’m alone. I refuse to shoot back. I will not kill innocent people. I bust through the doors of the kitchen, startling the workers. They all turn, giving me dirty looks. It isn’t until they see my gun do they start to panic, and try to make their way out the door. The stainless-steel cabinets make the perfect cover. I crouch down behind them as the gunmen come barreling through the door. I hear more earth-shattering booms as bullets erupt through the kitchen. The cooks drop like flies. My cramped position makes my bladder feel like it’s going to give out any minute as I crawl to the other side of the cabinets to get a better look at the door leading to the limo. My heart drops. It’s too far, I’ll never make it without a diversion. They’re closing in on me, circling like vultures. I unstrap my shoes, kicking them off. I get onto the balls of my feet with my gun in the ready position. Peeking around the corner, I spot one of the gunmen. I fire off two shots, hitting him in his legs and dropping him. I hear more gunfire as bullets slam into the steel next to, and across from me. My hands automatically fly up to my face, half shielding, half trying to protect my ears. The sound is hard. Sharp. Deafening. It finally goes quiet long enough for me to hear them walking. Closing my eyes, I listen. Listen for their movement. I can hear where they are. One is right behind me. I place my arms over the counter, and fire. I don’t need to see him to know he’s there. Three bullets center mass, and he’s dead. Two down, three to go. It has to happen now. Whatever I’m going to do, it has to be now. There’s no more time. I spot the burners behind me. That’s my way out. I’ve been counting my bullets. Shit, I only have three left. That won’t be enough to cause an explosion. Pointing the gun toward the sky, I fire two wild shots to make them take cover. I quickly cock the gun, sending the final bullet into the chamber before discarding the mag. Finding the extra magazine in my clutch, I pop it into the gun. Eyeing the stove, I take aim and fire. The explosion is thunderous, like Zeus himself encased a lightning bolt in the last bullet to enter the stove. Sweat descends down my face. For a split-second doubt shrouds me, I don’t think it’s going to work. The force of the explosion blows the hostiles back and me forward, toward the door. I lie on the floor for several seconds, dazed and motionless. My ears are ringing, and my right eye is blurry from blood. There’s too much blood. My heart is in my throat. God, my head is pounding.

I reach up, feeling a small gash on my head. I can’t believe this small cut is the source of all the blood. Carefully, I push myself to my feet with my empty gun still in hand. Slowly limping to the door, I bend over to retrieve my clutch. Looking down, I see why my leg feels as if it’s being seared with a hot poker. There’s a huge laceration down the front of my knee, and because the skin is so thin across the knee it exposes some of the bone.

I fling the door open, letting the cold hit me. It feels like sweet kisses, caressing my bloody, sweat-soaked body. I spot the limo at the end of the alley. I limp over as quickly as I can toward it. I fling the limo door open, practically throwing myself inside. Michael sits calmly across from me unscathed, and I hate him for it. He nods to the driver and I hear the partition go up as we drive off. Mentally and physically exhausted, I can’t move as I try to catch my breath. My whole body is numb. It takes a few seconds before I can reach into my clutch to retrieve the phone. I take out this thing that almost cost me my life. It feels like a brick in my hand. I almost died over so small a thing. I stare at it for a few seconds before throwing it at Michael. Shit, I missed. He doesn’t pick it up. He doesn’t even look at it, only watches me intently. He leaves the golden ticket where it lands on the seat next to him.

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