Dylan’s retinas nearly burned to a crisp when he stepped out of his newest shithole apartment into the sun. It was a rare cloudless day in London, bright blue sky smiling down on the millions of people scuttling around. It was still too cold to melt the snow that had piled up, but the roads were clear and most of the sidewalks were dry.
Dylan went right back up the stairs to grab his sunglasses.
He’d gotten in the habit of using the Underground and returned his rental car to Heathrow. Finding a place to park the thing was more trouble than it was worth. He’d taken to just slipping an old parking ticket under the wiper whenever he had to leave it somewhere for longer than an hour. An old trick he’d learned from college.
It was an odd time of day, so the trains weren’t as packed as they could have been. He could have walked straight to the café but the sun was just too fucking cheerful. His phone, with its shiny new British SIM card, buzzed with a text from the newest number he’d programmed into it.
Have a table near the front by the window.
Dylan saw Alec through the window the café from across the street. He was reading the newspaper, his gold watch glinting in the majestic sun. He wore a navy suit with a tie snugged up properly to his neck and a Burberry scarf sitting open down his chest. Dylan was certain the suit had been tailored within an inch of its life.
He ran his fingers through his hair and hoped it didn’t look too greasy.
A delicate chime sounded when he entered the café and a dozen eyes flicked his way, no doubt disapproving of his leather jacket and artfully torn jeans.
“Isn’t this a quaint place,” he said, sitting in the open seat across from Alec.
“One of my favorites in the area.” He folded his paper and tucked it into the outside pocket of the bag he’d hung across the back of his chair.
A sunny waitress popped over to the table. “Can I grab you anything to drink?”
“Just a tea, for me.”
“A bloody mary, please,” Dylan said. “And extra of whatever you top it with.”
“It’s one o’clock on a Thursday,” Alec said once she’d left their table, disapproval clear in his pompous voice.
“Are you hungover?”
Dylan slid his sunglasses down his nose to glare properly. “Does that sound like any of your business?”
“If we’re going to be partners, I’d certainly need to feel like I could rely on you to back me up at a moment’s notice.”
“Darling,” he patronized. “I’ve killed men with worse hangovers than this. You’ve got nothing to worry about.”
The waitress returned with Dylan’s ordered bloody mary, topped with celery, olives, and two strips of bacon. She set down Alec’s respectable cup of tea with a smile.
They ordered sandwiches and Dylan requested extra chips. Greasy, salty things were so helpful in times like this. “So, what did you find?”
“Nothing we didn’t already know,” he said, stirring two packets of sugar into his tea. “No one has heard from Mette in nearly a year. Multiple sources reported he was assassinated by a mercenary a few weeks after the subway bombing and his criminal workings were taken over by his second in command: Richard Bailey.”
Dylan ate an olive off the toothpick they were on. “Well, that’s something new. I haven’t heard that name before.”
“I didn’t find much on him besides a few petty theft charges from over ten years ago. He graduated from university in 2005 with a degree in finance, worked in a bank for most of that time. Rose through the ranks to an account manager, which is my best guess as to how he came into contact with Mette. Otherwise, he seems boring.”
Dylan took the file Alec held out. “Or he has someone on his payroll who is very good at making it look that way.”
“Yes,” Alec agreed. “And with a degree in finance, his payroll might be quite difficult to come across.”
“Any hacker worth the money can trace bank accounts.” His thumb left a salty grease mark on one of the pages as he flipped through the file.
“I don’t think we’re quite there yet. There is a list of known associates in the back of that, some from my time in MI6 and others from the contacts I met with. It’s by no means a comprehensive list bu--.”
“It’s quite the start.” There were nearly twenty names on the list.
“I thought so.”
Dylan rolled his eyes at the self-satisfied smirk on Alec’s face. “Are we going to start from the top, then?”
Alec took the file back and slipped it into the same bag he’d tucked his newspaper. “Seems logical.”
“How does tonight sound?”
Dylan smiled. “It’s a date.”
The first name on the list was connected to a safe house in Lambeth along the river, not far from where Dylan’s past place of refuge sat. He knew the area well, knew the darkness of it, the moving shadows. He knew not to trust anyone who made eye contact this late at night.
“You couldn’t have worn something a little less noticeable?” he said to Alec, trotting down the broken sidewalk in the same navy suit from lunch. At least it was a dark color.
“It’s my battle dress,” he said. “Old habits and all.”
Dylan couldn’t fault him that. He turned up the collar of his leather jacket against the wind and drew his gun. “The house should be at the end of the row.”
“We don’t have much of a plan.”
“Don’t get shot.”
Alec took his own gun out of its holster, checked the chamber. “Fair enough.”
They passed the front door and hopped the short gate to go around the side. The lights were on inside, windows covered in sheets so they couldn’t see anything but shadows. Dylan smelled cigarette smoke.
Someone was outside.
He held a fist up for Alec to see, hoping it was a universal symbol. If Dylan counted correctly, there were about five people inside and the one smoking. The odds could be better. “If we take out the guy outside,” he whispered. “All hell’ll break loose.”
Alec cocked his gun.
Dylan creeped closer, doing his best to avoid twigs and sticks but the fucking tree near the back had just shed a thousand acorns and the motherfuckers crunched under foot. The sound instantly attracted the asshole out back.
Dylan shot him before he even touched his weapon.
Alec jumped into action, rounding the back of the house and firing two shots. He kicked the door as another man rushed outside, knocked the gun from his outstretched hand as he lost his balance. Alec put one bullet under his thick chin and another through the open door.
Dylan picked up the discarded gun and followed him inside.
The kitchen was old, peeling yellow wallpaper and matching tile around the counters. Dylan wasn’t sure if it was from age or cigarette smoke. Half-drank beers sat on the round table to their left, playing cards scattered around them. A narrow hall led to the front room, but it’d be a death wish to make a run for it, nowhere to hide from a bullet.
They didn’t have long to stand around and think about it. The barrel of a shotgun whipped around the corner and Dylan just barely saw it in time to shove Alec out of the way of the shot. He dove for the table, knocking it over to use as a shield.
It wouldn’t hold long against a fucking 12-gauge.
They were trapped liked this, Alec behind the table and Dylan pressed up against the kitchen counters, just barely out of the crosshairs. Shot after shot rang into the kitchen until one finally pierced through the table, just narrowly missing Alec’s shoulder. He took his chances, taking aim over the top of the table and getting off a couple rounds.
Dylan did the same, stepping around the corner and aiming higher. Hoping to hit someone standing up.
Eventually the shotgun would run out of ammo. The silent eye of the gunfire hurricane. That would be their chance. They just had to wait.
Alec wasn’t any fucking good at waiting. He wasted his entire magazine firing aimlessly down the hallway. Dylan rolled his eyes and slid him the extra gun he’d picked up outside.
Alec pulled ammo out of his suitcoat pocket with a smile and quickly reloaded his Walther.
That’s when the quiet hit.
Dylan snapped his fingers, they had to move. Now.
He lead the way, rushed down the skinny death hall and put a bullet in the rifleman’s head. Alec took care of the guy on the stairs, three to the chest.
And then there was one.
“Might I suggest you set your gun down,” Alec said, both of his weapons pointed to the man’s heart.
“Why the fuck would I do that?” His accent was thick and Dylan noticed quite a few missing teeth as he spoke.
“Because we could be willing to trade your life for information.”
“If I give you anything, my life won’t be worth shit.”
“What do you know about Angus Mette,” Dylan said. It’s a bad neighborhood but someone’s bound to have called the police by now. They don’t have the luxury of a lengthy chat.
“Nothing I plan to tell you.”
“Is he alive?” Dylan pressed.
The man flicked his eyes from Dylan to Alec and back again. “I’ve got nothing to say to you.” He swung his gun to Alec and Dylan shot him before he could squeeze the trigger.
Alec kicked the gun away from his limp hand. Dylan hadn’t taken a kill shot so he laid there and gasped for breath, his left lung filling up with blood.
“What about now?” Alec asked, pressing the toe of his oxford shoe to the wound.
The man grimaced in agony, a guttural cry tearing from his throat.
Alec crouched down over his chest and pressed his gun to his temple. “Is Mette alive?” he asked, each word spaced out for maximum effectiveness.
Dylan heard sirens in the distance. Their time was almost up.
“Dead,” the man hissed through gritted teeth. “He’s dead. P-picked off…by someone l-like you.”
“Alec…” he warned, the sirens approaching fast.
He shot him point blank and stood, not a flicker of emotion on his face. He holstered his gun and buttoned his suit jacket.
“Seems like you can pull a trigger just fine,” Dylan said.
“Let’s get the fuck out of here.”
They stepped over the lumps of fallen bodies and the splintered dining table to get to the back door. Red and blue lights were close enough to see in the darkness as they ran for the river. Alec threw the extra gun toward the water and listened for the splash. He clenched and released his trigger hand, shook it out.
Dylan wondered if the adrenaline of a battle helped or encouraged the tremor.
“You up for another go at it?” Alec asked once they’d rounded the corner and couldn’t see the police flashers anymore. “There’s another address on the list that isn’t far from here.”
“You memorized the list?”
“It wasn’t that difficult to do.”
Dylan scoffed and slipped his gun back under his jacket. “There were a lot of names on that list.”
“Did no one teach you memory tricks in the United States Military?”
Dylan wrinkled his nose. “What makes you think I was military?”
“Literally everything about you.”
Dylan didn’t believe him. He’d spent a considerable amount of time ripping every last piece of that life from his body, along with some shrapnel and a bullet. “You’re wrong.”
Alec kept walking but turned his head, dipped his eyes down to Dylan’s feet and back up to his face. He squinted. “Liar.”
They stepped out of the shadows onto a well-lit path. In the mornings, Dylan could imagine it packed with runners getting in their workout before heading to the office.
“Thanks for taking the shot,” Alec said, not looking at Dylan as they headed for Vauxhall bridge. “It was a good read.”
“It was just instinct.”
“Either way. Someone trained you well.”
They held their composure for about fifteen seconds before both bursting into laughter. What a wild fucking night.