Gerard stepped out of the shop doorway, his zipped, dark blue jacket, black baseball cap, and black chinos rendering him almost invisible in the darkness of night. Occasional streetlamps flickered, picking out a dark beard, grey flecked, against the strong line of his jaw. He strode purposefully, but not speedily, along the pavement.
In front of him, no more than 200 metres, was another figure, the only other figure out along these quiet streets at 3.30am.
Gerard kept one eye on the figure, the other looking ahead for hiding spots–the figure was suspicious, and each time it looked around, Gerard needed to be hidden, else this would turn into a footrace.
The figure turned down an alley that Gerard happened to know was a dead end. The back of a Chinese restaurant opened onto it, but that was long closed. There were no other buildings, and the far end was blocked off by a high fence with razor wire at the top.
Still. Gerard sped up, not wanting to allow the figure time to do whatever it was they were trying to do.
Arriving around the corner no more than 20 seconds later, Gerard saw an empty alley.
He supposed the figure could have found a way over the fence, but beyond it was nothing but an abandoned lot, with a clear viewpoint that showed nobody anywhere around.
Gerard tested the door to the restaurant, but it only opened from the inside, and there was no sign of forced entry.
On the wall beside the door, the brick rippled slightly and Gerard groaned in annoyance.
He unzipped his jacket far enough to grab his stylus from an inside pocket, and drew a shape in the air. It fizzed for a moment, a fiery orange outlined in black, and the ripple coalesced into a message.
It was short and to the point, and Gerard’s next groan was louder.
You’re bad at this. Try again! I’ll be at Pickerings Plaza in two hours, just need to finiish the job first.
This was not going to go down well wth the person who hired him. He was supposed to be an excellent tracker, a spy, and a whole lot of other things besides. It was literally how he’d been made. Nobody had ever gotten away from him.
Gerard had been hired to catch this human, to stop them from doing more damage, but they had gotten away and were doing something that would cause problems and hurt people.
He couldn’t let his employer hear about this elsewhere, even though he knew it would mean problems for him. He brought up a video chat on his HUD and told it to call Darryl Namby.
“Gerard,” came her crisp, clear voice almost at once. Her video appeared, and he saw she was preparing for bed: no makeup; no jewellery; her hair weave removed revealing short, tight curls; dressed in a towelling robe and not much–if anything–else. “Your report?”
“Mz Namby, good evening, I’m sorry to disturb you at this hour-”
“I presume something has either gone right, or gone wrong,” she interrupted impatiently. Social niceties were not her strong point. “So get on with it.”
“Yes,” Gerard nodded. “I followed the suspect as far as I could. However, they turned down an alley, and though I was there mere seconds later, all I could find was this message.”
He showed the text, floating just above the wall in light blue, outlined in yellow.
“Well. That’s not good,” was her first reply. She was calm on the surface, as always, but those green eyes held a glint of steel. “What do you plan to do about this?”
“I can scan for traces of the transport device. If there are any, I may be able to follow them.”
“And if you cannot?”
“Then I will have to try again at Pickering’s Plaza.”
“And any injuries or deaths are on your head.”
“Hmpf. Very well. Your fee has been reduced, and will reduce further for any person injured or killed.”
“Of course. I will call when I have more news.”
Darryl ended the call without a goodbye–which she did even when she wasn’t angry. Gerard thought he’d gotten off lightly. A reduction in fee was acceptable. But he would still try everything he could to follow the transport.
He brought out his stylus and drew a number of shapes, which swirled around the alley at his direction.
Slowly, the shapes formed into a pattern, a shortform set of directions and coordinates that Gerard absorbed at once. He allowed the shapes to dissemble and blinked once, flicking through all of the knowledge he contained.
There. If he moved fast, he could be where his target had gone in 20 minutes. Hopefully that would be enough time to figure out how to stop whatever was going to happen. His target had to leave enough time to make it to Pickering’s Plaza through what he presumed would be a certain amount of chaos. This severely limited the amount of time available to Gerard, but he was made for tenacity, never giving up, never letting go.
He fired up the humming coils built into his lower legs, raising from the ground until he was above the buildings surrounding him, his hands flaring with small bursts as he stabilised, pointed himself in the right direction, and set off.
Landing just a few metres from the final coordinates, Gerard scanned for his target. Unfortunately the chosen space for whatever was to happen was busy. Not crowded, few parks are in the middle of the afternoon in a work week, but it was a nice local park. Not huge, but big to support a duck pond, picnic area, and lots of paths and grass. It was open to the public, with no gates or fences, nothing to block the view. But Gerard had to assume his target’s appearance had been altered by now. And looking for someone axting suspicious was unlikely to work here.
Gerard had to admit to himself that his target was probably already gone. Which meant it was up to him to figure out what was primed to happen, and how to stop it.
Flicking his HUD into a multiscan mode which could check for signs of explosives, poisons, and hopefully anything else that might be hidden here somehow, Gerard began a brisk walk around the park, nodding politely at anyone who nodded a greeting at him first.
His scans, eventually, picked up a trace reading of something he would have to analyse later, but definitely contained something that would be bad for the ducks. Whose pond water it was currently diffusing through.
Quickly, Gerard flicked his HUD open and called an old friend and colleague.
“Hey Ger, what’s up?” Ram was cheerful as always, his.pleasure and grin genuine.
“Got a poisonous substance, can’t quite work out what it’s made of right this second but it’s in water that’ll be drunk by animals. Here’s a snapshot,” Gerard sent over the information his scans had gathered. “Anything you can help me with to fix this quietly?”
“Hoooo damn, dog! This is some hardcore shit! Stuff in here even I can’t translate!” Ram turned his eyes, glowing as he sorted through the different layers, back to Gerard. “Man, you can get quietly or you can get quickly. Obviously you’ll always get good.”
Gerard swore, gaining him a glare from a man passing by with two youngsters in tow.
“Alright then, quick it is.”
Ram nodded, “I gotcha. Gimme ten, and I’ll be sending over a package to your location, maybe 5 more for it to get there. It’ll do exactly what your thing is doing, but backwards. Unfortunately it will also turn the water a nasty colour until all the bad shit is gone. Just drop it in and get out before anyone noticee.”
“I’ll take it. Thanks Ram, usual percentage point coming your way when I get paid.”
“Yeah man, good stuff,” Ram hung up, his mind already wherever it went when he threw things like this together.
Gerard waited. Pacing around the pond, he tried to subtly shoo away any annimals that got too close, ignoring the odd looks this was getting him.
At 15 minutes on the dot, a package dropped to the grass at his feet with a humming sound, settling and going silent as it landed carefully.
Gerard picked it up and scanned his thumbprint on the seal. The small box opened, revealing a test tube full of murky water that seemed to be moving by itself.
“Lovely. Ram you always come through,” he murmured, kneeling down by the tiny metal hoops that pretended to be a safety fence. Reaching over, Gerard dipped both hands into the water, held one end of the tube in each hand, and applied pressure at the back with his thumbs.
The tube cracked open in the middle and Gerard stood as soon as the black murk had exited, stashing the tube in an inner pocket and throwing the package down an incinerator bin nearby. That done, Gerard exited the park and, as discreetly as possible, flew himself to the meeting place his target had suggested.
There was little reason to hide now. They knew about each other, and Gerard wasn’t in possession of a kill order. They’d know that. Their mother would never allow her only child to be assassinated, no matter how many others she hurt or killed in her ‘fun’. Darryl wanted her daughter home if possible, and if not, for an explanation and an end to the seemingly-random stunts.
It’s the type of action Gerard was made for. No messy kill–unless forced. An opportunity to work some of his outreach and social care muscles. And a potential, if unlikely, resolution that everyone was happy with.
If those all failed, then he had other pieces in his arsenal, hidden just out of sight. He could, and would, kill. But he always hoped that wouldn’t become necessary.
With a few minutes to spare, he got himself a 7up, travelled up an escalator, sat on a bench with his back to the clear glass balcony, set his scanners to detect his target, and waited.
When his scanners pinged, he dropped the empty bottle into the recycling bin next to the bench, and took off his baseball cap, revealing a short, scruffy, dirty blond hairdo, already turning into curls at an inch-and-a-half long.
A few moments later, his target dropped down next to him on the bench and turned the same shrewd, watchful eyes on him as Darryl had earlier.
“I’m Gerard,” he said amiably.
“Yep. And I’m Claire. I don’t do small talk so let’s just get to it, eh? What has my darling mother sent this time? You’re not the same as the rest…” she studied him as carefully as he studied her.
Beneath his mop of hair, Gerard’s eyes were dark, his skin smooth and creamy, with barely a blemish. His nose dipped slightly at the end, and his mouth ran in a tight line in the centre of a short beard, slightly darker than his hair. He was nondescript. Someone nobody would remember. It was how he was made.
Claire, on the other hand, when she emerged from her deeply hooded jacket, had black hair, shorn close to the scalp. Her eyes, so like her mother’s, were only one facet of her ice cold, white, upper class, breeding. Her long face, all sharp angles and hauteur, with a small slash of mouth–currently locked in a sardonic grin–dared him to try and get her.
Gerard dared, and he matched her forced grin with a more genuine one of his own as he shifted on the bench, bringing up his left leg to perch there, foot stuck out in midair.
“All I’ve got is what I was assigned, and there’s no reason for me not to tell you everything I was given.
“About 5 years ago you left home, with barely more than a single change of clothes, some food, and the cash you’d been stockpiling for at least 6 months. First you went off the grid, waiting for your mother to have the search for you called off–something she did the moment she could without any embarrassment. It was so kept to such a low profile that hardly anyone even knew you were missing, much less not found.
“Then you re-emerged with some excellent fake IDs, and began a series of odd events. Usually designed to hurt, sometimes designed to kill, and always designed to create attention, especially when your tag started showing up and people found your social media network. Nice job on keeping that all hidden, by the way, your mother has been paying top dollar–but you know that.
“You have, so far, escaped 3 attempts on your life. And I use the term ‘escaped’ loosely here. You made them trail you until their guard dropped just a little, then you beat them bloody and left them to live or die. Clearly this was not a working scenario. So, your mother dug further into what I’m certain she thinks of as a barrel of ordure, until she found me.
“I’m not a hired killer. Don’t get me wrong, I both injure amd kill if the situation requires it, but usually I’m the negotiator. I’m here to offer something to you. You say no and we part ways in peace, then I get paid and your mother decides what she’ll do next.
“So. Are you willing to give me a few more moments to listen?”
“You know…I could also pay you handsomely,” Claire laughed at Gerard’s face stared stonily back at her. “I had to try, the others all went for it–or thought they did, anyway. Fine. I was impressed by your work at the duck pond, that buys you the right to give me my mother’s list of demands. And don’t worry, I promise not to try and shoot the messenger,” Claire’s smile slid from sardonic to genuine at this and Gerard nodded.
She was softening. Maybe.
“Your mother asks, in what I have judged to be her descending order of priority:
“That you stop showing her up to the whole world.
“That you stop these dangerous pranks immediately.
“That you return home, and remain on the grounds, where you can be given sanctuary for your crimes.
“That you at least call her to try and work things out.”
Gerard finished his recital and waited patiently for a reply.
“Oh wow, she’s really got some fucking guts, you know it? Her first priority is that I quit making her look bad. And really you could have stopped at that one, they’re all based on the same theme and I know it well,” Claire gave a bitter laugh. “Had it drummed in since I was old enough to understand words. ‘Go on into your first day at nursery honey, and don’t do anything to embarrass me’. Repeat that about ten times a day for two decades and see what you do. Fucking bitch. Tell her I’ll do the last one, alright? Only so I can tell her–again–to fuck off.”
Gerard nodded. “Response noted and recorded. Is there anything else you wish for me to tell her?”
“Tell her I said to pay you in full, with bonuses. I know she’s been finding ways to dock you–she loves that play. Offer a generous payday, then whittle it down. She used to do it to my pocket money too. Hah! Alright, I need to set up some stuff so she can’t track me, then I’ll call her.
Gerard nodded again and rose to his feet, “Then I believe we are done here. Thank you for accommodating me, Claire.” Gerard nodded and walked to the down escalator, not looking back. As soon as he made it outside and around the back of the large shopping centre, he called Darryl.
She answered almost at once, like usual, “Gerard. An update?”
“A completion, Mz Namby.”
“Ah. Then please report.”
Gerard filled her in on the conversation and its outcome.
“Also, Mz Namby, I want to note that while her prank was set up to poison any creature drinking from that pond, she was also quite reasonable and amiable towards me. Possibly because I assured her right away that I was there just to talk. It suggests there is hope yet, if your conversation goes well.”
“I appreciate your analysis, Gerard. Full payment plus bonuses are on their way to you right now.”
Gerard’s HUD blipped to inform him of a deposit made to gis account.
“Payment received, thank you. Take care, Mz Namby.”
Darryl ended the call, and Gerard made his way to his apartment. He was ready for a meal, a good book, and some good sleep.
I really need coffee
Buy me a cup?
Writing Prompt used: