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The instant that the glass front of the restaurant shattered under impact, Derek knew he was too late. As screams echoed around the sidewalk and people ducked, he was running across the slick asphalt of the street in the direction that he guessed that the bullet had come from. His eyes scanned the roofs of the building, searching for movement, but the rain and darkness blurred edges and hid motion. He forced himself to stop, wiped the sheen of rainwater off his face and squinted, looking for a clue. A clang echoed from an alley to his left. He looked and saw a narrow form drop from the fire escape of the building directly across from the restaurant and onto the lid of a closed dumpster. He wondered briefly which agent they had sent this time.
The figure, dressed all in black with a dark hood over its head, was moving quickly up the street, sticking to the shadows and trying to stay out of sight. Derek elbowed a man impatiently out of his way and began to tail the shooter, knowing he could not let him leave this street. He could hear the wail of sirens in the distance; the police and paramedics were on their way. He knew they would be too late. Amir Abdul-Jabbar, the man in the restaurant who Derek had been hired to protect, was already dead. The agents he combated, the men he fought every day, never missed when they fired.
Abdul-Jabbar was a Saudi Arabian diplomat that was spending two months in the United States as part of a routine visit. Relations between the United States and Saudi were strong which was why Derek had been confused upon receiving his assignment. Abdul-Jabbar was a short, beady-eyed man who liked the sound of his own voice and smoked too many cigars. He was devout in both politics and religion and disliked opposition.
Derek had no idea why the Agency would want Abdul-Jabbar dead; he would have to ask the shooter that when he took him down. The streets emptied as the shooter left the busy thoroughfares of downtown and moved to enter the darker streets of a nearby warehouse district. Increasing his speed and closing the distance, Derek moved to overtake the shooter. Before he had taken five steps, the figure broke into a run.
Derek cursed, certain he had not given himself away, and began to give chase. The shooter twisted around and fired, the shot going wide only because Derek had been expecting it. He skinned his knee on the pavement as he rolled to his feet, but did not care. He withdrew his own weapon and cocked it.
“Stop and drop your weapon!” His pistol was trained on the shooter’s back, but the other man did not slow or glance back. Derek swore again and fired, knowing as he did so that the shooter was out of range.
As he splashed through a puddle of dirty water, the shooter whipped around a corner and out of sight. Derek pressed himself up against the side of the building in a semi-crouch and then quickly turned the corner, gun raised. The narrow lane between the industrial warehouses was empty. Derek blinked rain water out of his eyes and cautiously moved into the center of the street, trying to use the light at the far corner of the building to the best of his advantage.
Derek felt the barrel of the gun at the back of his head at the exact moment that he heard movement behind him.
“Drop it.” The voice was quiet, barely audible over the steady rainfall.
Swallowing heavily as he fought to catch his breath, Derek raised his hands in the air, the gun dangling by its trigger on his finger.
“Why did you kill Abdul-Jabbar?” Derek asked the question boldly, not really expecting an answer.
“Shut up.” The barrel pressed harder against the back of his head. “I said drop your weapon. Throw it away on the ground.”
Derek tossed the gun away, trying to suppress his hatred of the man behind him. “Do you work for the Agency?”
“That’s not important.”
Derek’s jaw clenched and he began to fidget with the gold band on his left hand, an act that usually calmed him down. He needed to keep a level head if he wanted to get out of this alive. He decided to test the shooter to see if he could get him to reveal himself.
“If I were to tell you that I’m Bravo 5 what would you say?”
There came the sound of the safety being clicked off of the gun. “I would tell you to enjoy your trip to hell.”
There were only two instances in Derek’s life where time seemed to stop. The first was the first time he had kissed his wife and the second was when his father had died. In both instances he had moved as if trapped in the Dali painting, the one with the drooping clocks. As he spun to wrest the gun from the shooter’s grasp, the turn felt as if it took hours to complete. His fist moved in slow motion as he struck the shooter in the face, forcing the other man to his knees. His arm rose almost with an eerie sort of grace (when had he gotten hold of the gun?) and the barrel settled right between the shooter’s eyes.
Then time seemed to speed up and he snapped back into reality like a rubber band regaining its shape. On his knees before him was a man who represented the Agency, the core of killers who worked around the globe for those who had the deepest pockets. They were nothing more than organized guns for hire and Derek had long ago pledged his life to fighting them. He knew he was one of their most hunted enemies and somehow, no matter where he moved, they had always managed to keep up with him. The Agency knew that whoever Derek protected was someone who needed to be destroyed. Perhaps that was why Abdul-Jabbar had been killed.
As Derek looked at the man on his knees in the muddy streets of the dark warehouse district, he finally allowed all the anger and grief of the past several years to overwhelm him. He had within his power to do whatever he wanted to the shooter without fear of retribution. He was bound by no law and no consequences. The whole life with his wife Selena that he had tried to build on top of the tatters of his past was suddenly forgotten. As he stared at the man who represented the force and might of his enemy, Derek knew he could never let him walk free.
“I don’t know who you are,” Derek began. “I don’t know where you stand on the Agency totem pole, but know this: you represent the embodiment of the people that you work for. You represent the evil that prevents people from being able to live their lives the way that they want to. You are the reason that little girls and boys have to go to bed every night without the company of their parents because those parents have been murdered by the selfish interests of others. You are the reason that there is such chaos in the world. But most of all, you are the reason that I cannot live with my wife the way that I want to and it is for all of those reasons that I am able to what I am going to do and then sleep soundly tonight.”
Derek had heard that there were some people who found it difficult to look down the barrel of a gun and end the life of the person at the other end. He had heard that looking into their eyes made your hand seize up and stiffen so that you could not pull the trigger, but the shooter was wearing a hood that hid his face. The man’s anonymity only added to the beauty of the metaphor that Derek had spun and he aimed and fired between the shooter’s eyes, imagining that he was firing into the head of the Agency itself.
The crack of the shot echoed around the warehouses like thunder and the shooter fell back onto the street, the rain falling on his upturned face.
Derek slowly lowered the gun, as the blood rushing in his ears subsided. He took a few careful steps toward the body, suddenly wanting to see the face of the man that he had killed. He knew most of the Agency’s assassins by sight; he needed to know if he had killed someone high in command. He shoved his gun in the waistband of his jeans and knelt down, grasping the top of the nylon hood and pulling it free in one smooth movement.
The sight that greeted him was that of a statue – the shooter had not been a man, but a woman; a woman with sculpted features and blue eyes that were widened in shock. Her brown hair was tousled, matted with sweat and blood, and her face held a look of astonishment that would be forever preserved in death.
Derek fell back on the street with a cry of pain. The Agency assassin who had killed Amir Abdul-Jabbar, who had fired on him as he had chased her, who represented everything that he hated and despised and who now lay dead in the street by his hand had the face of an angel. She wasn’t just any angel, she was his angel. She was his Selena, his beloved wife.