Pay The Piper 1
“This is the end of the road, Joe.”
No response. Probably because I was alone and talking to myself had become an annoying habit. Three weeks, three weeks I had been tracking this mark, much to my chagrin. Even more unsettling, the thing that set my golf-ball-sized ulcer ablaze, were my orders. No diplomacy, no negotiation, just an order to terminate. I’d shot people before but this…this felt like the first time. I had become accustomed to shooting only in self-defense. What if this mark didn’t fight back? I shook my head hard and yanked open the door to the abandoned building. I stepped in quietly, leading with my gun in case this place was not as abandoned as it seemed.
The warehouse was dark; the only light a small lamp next to a cot in the corner. Not quite the setting I was expecting. I couldn’t let the look of this dismal location deceive me. Many criminals had “crash pads”. Hell, I had one, what did that make me? My “crash pad” was a small, nondescript hideout I used for stashing money, passports, you name it. Every spy, noble or otherwise needed a backup plan, an “out” if you will. This was probably just a place to catch some rest before leaving the country. I scanned the rest of the open space. There was very little to take in. No booby-traps, though. To my left was a small table and chair. I sat down, laying my weapon on the table. This had to end tonight. Those were my orders, like it or not. I decided to wait. When the mark entered several minutes later, her disbelief was palpable.
“How’d you find this place?”
“That’s not important. Sit. Let’s have a little chat.” She approached the table cautiously relaxing a little when she saw my weapon revealed. My cards were on the table, so to speak. “You’ve been busy…”
She stiffened. We both knew why I was here. Her…“activities” had come to someone’s attention; the kind of someone who knew all my deepest, darkest secrets. The kind of someone who would lay them bare if I didn’t handle this tonight. Action had to be taken. I could see the wheels turning in her head; the mental inventory of all the ways she could kill me and escape. I, too, was running the scenarios and when she made her move, I thought I was prepared.
“I’m not going back!”
She lunged forward, slamming the table into my stomach in an attempt to grab my gun! I rolled with the attack, narrowly avoiding broken ribs, and barely maintaining my balance as my chair tipped. I took two quick steps back as the mark whirled to train my own gun on me. Just before she pulled the trigger, I grabbed her wrist and pulled her toward me. The gun fired wildly over my left shoulder. I twisted her wrist trying to wrench the gun from it but she was as stubborn as I. She pulled the trigger again and this bullet nearly left a hole in my Prada suit coat!
That was it! You do not play with a fashionista’s outfit. The fight had moved us closer to the cot and lamp. I reached blindly behind me and was rewarded when my fingers closed around the firm pole of the lamp. I swung it wildly, sweeping her feet from beneath her with a thud. Tossing the broken lamp to the side, I quickly disarmed her with my left hand, drawing my other fully loaded weapon with the right. She was instantly on her knees, begging.
“Please! Why are you doing this?!”
A fair question, to be sure. I had asked myself that same question half a dozen times during tonight’s exploits and had settled upon only one reasonable answer: Because I had to. I had made a very rash decision that led me to this point and this was my penance. All that was required of me was the will to follow thru. The woman kneeled before began to sob uncontrollably, shaking my resolve.
“This isn’t personal. It never was. I have my orders and they say only one of us can walk out of here tonight. I promise you Joanna, it will be me.”
“You’re a heartless bitch, Sparrow! You always were! All you have is this job. It’s more than you deserve.”
“That’s where you’re wrong Joe. I want a real life! And I can only have it if I take care of this; of you. No matter what you believe, I wish things could be different.”
“Do it! Save yourself. I know who sent you and if you think this is the end. You’re wrong. DEAD wrong.” She spat the words at me like venom, her façade of wanting mercy ripped off like a Halloween mask.
I began to raise the custom nine-millimeter, the silencer softly caressing her forehead. This wasn’t just for me; it was for my family. I had chosen this life out of selfish disregard. If I failed tonight the fallout would extend well beyond me. Could I live with what I was about to do? Maybe. But I was absolutely certain I couldn’t live without my family. As I deliberated Josie took advantage of my distraction. She charged me full force as I raised my weapon to eye-level! A knee-jerk reaction.
I flinched when the hammer dropped. Turning in a state of shock and disbelief, I quickly removed myself from the scene leaving Joanna staring into the night sky. Surely someone had heard the scuffle, the wild gunshots. The authorities were no doubt on their way as I made a hasty retreat down a gloom-filled, filthy alley.
Stopping at a broken window, I checked my appearance, more out of habit than necessity. As always, things were in place. My brown skin looked flawless even in the poorly lit alley. My shoulder length black hair descended from a meticulously trimmed set of bangs. The two sparrows tattooed on either side of my chest were barely visible beneath my crisp white Ralph Lauren blouse. These sparrows meant so much more than aesthetics. They were permanent reminders of a life-debt to my former team and the two women who risked everything to save me. My well-tailored Armani ebony suit hung over me in an exquisite draping evidence of a designer-quality even with the label hidden. I gave myself an approving nod and moved down the alley with sirens blaring at my back careful not to scratch my black suede Yeezy 2’s on the uneven terrain.
Who am I? How can I take a life simply to preserve my own? I am closer than you think. Closer than you could ever imagine. It would be so easy to call me a “monster” but, terrifyingly enough, I was once like you. Are you worried yet? You should be. I bet you don’t even get it. You will.