From the Ground Up
35 floors up – Pt. 1
Whoops, there goes his lunch. He tried to hold it back, but now released, he felt a little better. The nerves began to regulate, the nausea subsiding. The balance stabilizing in his head. Deep breaths. Inhale, exhale. He stopped looking at the vomit, it wasn't helping.
He got up off his knees and stretched his arms toward the clear skies above. The winds were blowing harshly up here. 35 floors high can cause vertigo to some, so his vomiting would be understandable. Except the vomiting wasn't vertigo induced. It was his impending fate. But more on that later.
He walked across the rooftop, past a pigeon coup sans pigeons. Tons of pigeon shit however. He opened the cage's gate and swung it back shut with a clank. Wiped his hand on his pants, don't get any on ya buddy. He walked past an air vent blowing steam periodically. The wind was picking up, his blonde hair sweeping with the gusts, off his forehead, giving him a silly part in his hair.
He spit away some residual spew that was lingering. Then swished around as if invisible mouthwash was being gurgled. He peered over the side of the building. It was a silent street, a few parked cars, storefronts gated shut, a clothing boutique, a jewelry store. He walked methodically over to the other side of the building. Across the rooftop 500 feet, one foot after the other.
He arrived at his position which he had abandoned. It was the position that made him ill as well. He looked at his watch and nodded. He had time. Walking away was the right thing. His heart rate was slowing down. Another monster sized deep breath and he crouched down on bended right knee.
He adjusted the rifle. Made sure it felt comfortable in his trembling hands. He pulled back the spiked feet that it rested on to a more focused position and lied out on the ground, legs sprawled out behind. He shifted a bit and closed his right eye, peered through the rear scope. Through the cross hairs he observed the road below. He rotated the rifle, eye still on the scope, left and right. He was in prime position, whenever the white Lincoln Navigator arrived, prime position. He checked his watch again. 11:34am. Should be soon.
He was amped up. Trying to steady his shaky right hand. He could barely keep his right index finger on the trigger without it tapping. Nerves were raw, alive, electric. His stomach was doing complete somersaults and he kept swallowing hard to keep his heart down in his chest, rather than up in his throat. All with good reason. This was atypical behavior by the way. Richard was always completely professional, grace under fire. Blood pressure rarely rising about moderate. He was decorated, long sought after for the most difficult, bat-shit insane missions. His track record was flawless. Richard Gravista was, in the sniper world, the crème de le crème. He thought back to a few days ago, a vivid, clear memory forming...
Commander Elliot's Headquarters -
The door to Commander Elliot's office closed behind Richard. He was alone, outside in the hallway. He looked around, observing the dank quarters, all furniture from the 70's, ugly colors, mold on the walls. He was dressed impeccably, hoping for great news. It was an important job, well paid, but risky. And personal. Commander Elliot shot him straight, knowing of his past with Katherine. He laid out the details, all typed out on yellow paper. And he left Richard with a note from Lt. Garcia. Richard clutched that note now in his hands. He walked down the hall and out of the building and plopped down outside on the top step of the facility. He pulled the letter out of its envelope and unfolded it. It read -
Dear Mister Gravista. We have summoned you for the Katherine Gibbons assignment. Our apologies in advance. We do believe though, that this job will give you the much needed closure that has so far alluded you, which is one reason we thought of you. We understand it ended messy. This may settle some mental scores and evade those personal demons, which continue to haunt.
Of course, it's a primo project, hunting for Katherine has been a decade long headache and this tip simply fell in our laps. You can use the money, you can use the closure.
The other reason we thought of you is, for lack of better terms, you are the best. It shouldn't be, it doesn't make sense, but your record indicates otherwise. Your incredible rifle skills, your superhuman vision, sense of smell, animal instincts...it's scary. I wouldn't want to be with anyone else in a fox hole Richard. You've proved everyone wrong. Even with your disability, you've beaten all the odds.
Please accept this job – Project #2336 – Katherine Gibbons.
Commander Elliot has the specifics.
Richard folded the letter and put it back in its envelope. He squinted up at the sky, his eyes welling with tears. It's been 13 years. Katherine was a master secret keeper, at first anyways. By the end, she was into some bad shit, running with the wrong crowds, trusting the wrong dudes, always listening to the devil in her left ear, not the angel in her right. He got himself into some hot water due to his association with Kat. He fooled himself for a while, though in his heart of hearts he knew something was amiss, afoul. The wrong path was walked. The love was pure though. Time healed some. Could he do this? If you love someone, you gotta set them free, right? Richard stood up and wiped his eyes. He about-faced and headed back into the building, his mind made up.
35 floors up – Pt. 2
Richard shook out of the daze of the memory. The sun was blaring down on him. The wind still blowing. He shook his head, jarring the haziness. His legs were cramped and he stretched them out. He thought of Katherine. Those glorious summer mornings, the windows opened and the sweet air penetrating through the bedroom. Her in his arms, rising out out of sleep. Kissing her neck, and sweeping the hair off her shoulder. The perfect comfort of those moments, those mornings. The room an isolated cavern for just the two of them to share.
He tried to hang on to that memory, but his mind's eye shifted to that dingy basement, his wrist held down on the table, Kat screaming, Richard's head turned toward her, looking up at her, feeling betrayed, hurt..the steel pipe being raised, Richard observing it through the shadow on the wall, the pipe's shadow about 30 feet long and being brought down on his hand in a savage thrust, WHAMP!
Ok, Ok. It wasn't her fault he thought. Not entirely. Richard looked at his hand, opening and closing the fingers, see? No permanent damage. On rainy days it wails out like a demon possessed but still...
He put his finger back on the trigger. He played the game he always does when sniping. The counting game. Count the vehicles that drive past you. 1 point for a car, 2 points for a truck, 3 points for a motorcycle. And each car that drove past, he'd line up the driver in the cross-hairs, follow the path with rifle and mentally pull said trigger. He was good, smart, and confident enough to know with ease, he could lay them all to waste, one after the next. Like a video game.
There goes a truck. 2 points. Follow, follow, follow. The driver was a fat man with a beard, eating a bagel, poppy seed. 20/20 baby. Follow, follow...Bam. Dead. The truck turned the corner. How many points for a white Lincoln Navigator? Fuck it. Fuck this game.
He pulled a single, gold, shimmering rifle bullet from a small cardboard box at his side. It was gleaming in the sun, glistening like dolphin skin does, reflecting colored prisms. It was beautiful. Richard eased the bullet into the chamber and snapped it shut. No more games. He checked his watch. 11:58am.
His guts were churning. Think, think...
She never loved me. She's asking for it. It's deserved. Memory is distorting reality. You can't re-write history. This is what it is. It's a job. Hell, it's YOUR job. 11:59am.
Richard and Katherine's House -
“Richard, look at me! I'm talking to you, you have to look at me!” Richard looked up pitifully at her from the couch.
“Please baby, we can re-do this all. I fucked up so bad, I know I did. I want to start fresh. What we had, we can get back. Just have to work back to it, from the ground up. Please don't, don't.”
Tears spilled out of Katherine. She looked defeated, words spilling out of her mouth as quickly as the tears left her eyes. Richard got up from the couch and walked towards her. He's seen and heard it all before.
He arrived at where she stood and held ground, eye to eye with her. She was shaking her head agonizingly, mouthing words, making sounds that were inconceivable. Richard reached into the belt of his pants, with his unbandaged, good hand and pulled out a gun.
“Nooo!!” Katherine shrieked. Richard started to raise it and point it. His hand steady as a wolf in the woods, on the hunt.
“Please Go”, Richard said.
35 floors up – Pt. 3
It was all an act, he was certain. She was a brilliant manipulator. He did the right thing, and now here we are. If it wasn't an act, he wouldn't be here right now, in this unbelievable situation. 12:04pm. Sonofabitch, what if, maybe? Just as he began to think, just possibly it's an audible called, he saw a long shadow crawl around the corner, a large hood. Right behind, was a white Lincoln Navigator pulling into the street's alleyway.
His breath escaped him in a silent hiss. He stared, mesmerized at the Lincoln, stared with his own eyes, his 20/20 vision piercing down, not through the gun's site. The vehicle lumbered down the alley and came to a halt in front of the jewelry store. After a non-eventful minute, a tall, thin white man in a suit emerged from the backseat, along with Katherine, behind him. She looked the same, just as he had remembered but something was a touch different. Same hair, same posture, same walk, same fashionable business suit attire. Maybe it was her complete lack of warmth, he could sense that from 35 stories up, after viewing her for 12 seconds. The warmth was removed now. Shut out completely.
They walked into the jewelry store, Katherine opening the door and scuffling inside. The largerman in the driver's seat sat still, the Nav's engine still running. Richard crouched down further in his position. He got in full sniper mode. His cross-hairs directly on the front door of the store. If she emerged first, FIRE, then the tall man. Let the fat driver speed away and tell the tale. He would let him go. His heart was thumping away in his chest like a jackhammer. His entire body ached from the adrenaline. He was known to be able to fire off 2 directly accurate rounds in 4.2 seconds from his rifle. And disappear. His trigger finger was now getting itchy. And it was steady. Years and years of lies and despair and anger were going to be swept away and perhaps Garcia was correct, it was the most extreme method of closure, but somehow appropriate and fateful for him, a man in his position.
They emerged from the store, the thin man first. Katherine directly behind. She was carrying an envelope folded in her left hand. She put her sunglasses on. Richards finger began to squeeze back the trigger, sweat glistening on his forehead, his breath held, hands steady as a painters, her forehead in the center of his rifles vision. Here goes...
He then saw her laugh at something the tall man said and his heart ached. That laugh brought back the sweet thoughts and the coldness of her demeanor melted away, like an ice cube on the rug. It was warm and inviting and so human, as the good memories flooded back into his brain. She was giggling softly and even touching his shoulder as she moved toward the backseat of the Nav.
It brought tears to his eyes and his index finger came off of the trigger, unbeknownst to him. His finger was now a singular specimen, suddenly operating on its own, outside his body. That was Katherine, not wholly Katherine, but enough of Katherine to make up his mind. The laugh that saved her life, he thought ridiculously. The Navigator pulled away and smoothly made it's way down the alley and turned right and out of sight.
Richard let out a sigh of relief and exhaustion. He began to disassemble the weapon. He looked at his watch again. 12:11pm. His mind was a racing freight train, but he felt good. Maybe even happy. He may have found his closure after all. He stood up and stretched his arms toward the sky once more in his Jesus Christ pose, the wind shifting the part in his blonde hair.
That's when he felt the bullet tear into his neck. A sudden burst of tissue and bone were splattered on the rooftop. His body lunged forward with a fearsome force. Another bullet tore into his scalp, exploding and tearing off hair and brains, spraying every which way. It was over in 8.5 seconds, not quite “Richard skill”, but not bad.
The shooter emerged from his crouched position behind the entrance platform doorway which led to the rooftop. He was here before Richard, arriving at about 8:30am and didn't move for 3 hours and 40 minutes.
The doorway opened and Katherine came out. She removed her sunglasses and looked at Richards' body, strewn about like a rag doll. The blood pooling around his shoulders. She walked toward him and said a quiet prayer under her breath.
The shooter came around the doorway with his gun still smoking. The air smelled of burnt charcoal and blood.
“It was too easy. He was a wreck though Kat. He was having fits and doubts.”
She handed Cesar the envelope,
He said “How was it so smooth? How did you know?”
“Let's just say Garcia and myself have become confidants to some degree.”
She winked and smirked but there was pain underneath.
“Man, I swear Kat, I saw the second he decided to spare you. I saw the tension release from his body. Once I saw that in his shoulders, I knew you'd be OK”.
“I knew it too, I always knew it.” Her voice took on a tragic tone. She looked at Richard one last time and turned away.
“Ok, let's get out of here, the crew will be here in 6 minutes for removal. I'm not in the mood for them and their questions.”.
They began to walk toward the doorway leading to the stairwell.
“Kat, he was the best huh? I could sense that. A real natural. I had a few moments of fear you know, I thought he saw me. He looked in my direction. I thought I was about to emerge in a fire fight with him, ha-ha, at one point.”
“I told you, you'd be safe, as long as you didn't make any movements where he could see you. As long as you remained perfectly still, his peripheral wasn't going to pick you up.”
“Yeah, perfectly still and perfectly quiet. There was a moment when I couldn't quite suppress a cough, I thought that gave me away, no shit.”
“Cesar, Richard was never going to hear you. That's as sure a thing as death and taxes”.
“No, Richard is completely deaf. Has been since birth.”
Cesar stopped in his tracks, mouth agape.
“Close your mouth asshole, you'll catch flies”.
Katherine lead the way down the stairwell with Cesar behind her. The door swung shut. A couple of pigeons flew down from the sky, landed on their cage and squawked and cried out, into the clear, crisp day.