‘You’re full of surprises, aren’t you?’
The hooded man stood alone in the rain. In his gloved left hand he gripped a pair of folded sunglasses; rendered useless by the night and droplets clinging to its curved Perspex lenses. At other times they served to hide, to obscure his true nature from prying eyes. Without them his surroundings looked brighter than he was accustomed to in years.
It was a fitting paradox he felt liberated without them in the downpour, which reduced the world to blur and shadow. And yet he was not sentimental, rather he was filled with a morbid curiosity tonight. And a surging sense of elation. The rush which could only come from the discovery of a kindred spirit in a world of seven billion strangers. A potential equal.
The rain picked up, beating incessantly against his hooded windbreaker as he watched the kneeling figure 50 yards across the darkened plaza through his binoculars, held in his gloved right hand. A quick survey of the abandoned city square revealed four bodies sprawled around her, lifeless, unaware of her sobs. Even at this distance he picked up the smell of blood and cordite, mingled with that moist scent of rain. A small, dark object lay beside her, visible by the ripples it formed in the puddle welling around it as a result of the downpour. The handgun explained the presence of the corpses but not the events that transpired in the previous three minutes.
He had arrived late, a consequence of tailing her loosely, ensuring he’d stayed out of sight. He’d driven with headlamps off; on a rainy March night. He’d kept pace with his quarry through keen ears and an intimate knowledge of the DC streets.
He’d heard the crash and the subsequent gunshots two streets ahead. His sense of caution prevailed as he’d parked his car and approached the scene on foot, blending into the shadows as a second volley of shots rang out. The eerie silence returned and he’d pulled out his binoculars, surveying the scene from a distance.
One girl, four armed men. Beyond them hummed the battered forms of a dark SUV and a DC metro taxi; headlamps still on, engines still running. His only conclusion, deduced quicker than the average man’s impulse to blink- was that she killed them.
To a simpler mind it defied logic. To a superior mind it was a welcome confirmation of his suspicions.
‘I can use this.’
He walked back to his car and grabbed a camera bag from the passenger seat. He released its contents; attached a waterproof hood to the lens and raised the camera to eye level. The night-time resolution was slightly inferior to that of the binoculars but was still adequate for the job at hand. He returned to the death scene with a renewed sense of urgency. If his instincts were correct her handlers would arrive in minutes.
He was not a journalist, nor was he a private investigator. He was something darker; a predator; a prowler; a shadow on the edge of her reality. She was his obsession; the key to a grand puzzle; he took pictures of her alone and with his lens trained on her he was in his element.
A familiar sound interrupted his thoughts and intruded on his privacy. The sound of rolling rubber on wet tarmac, accompanied by the quiet rumble of an engine. He strained to hear it.
Yes, definitely coming his way.
She heard it too, even at this distance he felt her sobs subside as her shoulders stiffened.
He shrunk into the shadows just before a dark saloon pulled up behind her, the light from its headlamps threw her profile into sharp relief. The back door opened and a man stepped out; coat collars framed his wrinkled face as he knelt beside the girl, shaking her shoulders, urging her to look at him. The driver and a bodyguard had pulled out handguns as they scrambled out of the front seats and now looked down at the dead bodies in disbelief.
The hooded man took pictures of it all, and then let the camera rest on his chest, along with the binoculars. The images from tonight were burned into his mind more accurately than any camera could capture.
He calmly pushed a gloved hand into the inner pocket of his windbreaker and pulled out two small items. With practiced ease he brought both hands to his face. His hood obscured his face from any unlikely observer as a flame illuminated it for the briefest of moments. He sucked on the cigarette; savouring its flavor like a connoisseur sampled a glass of wine.
He wondered what explanation could possibly be given for this turn of events. He cast one more glance at the girl, who was now crying on the shoulder of her comforter, then he turned to leave.
He would return. She was no use to him for now. The human mind is a fragile thing. Her innocence was lost in an instant, and the resulting wounds would take time to heal.
For now there was a more pressing matter, a flighty and enigmatic target. He would have to move quickly… and play his cards right.
He smiled at the pun.
As for the girl; if he pushed the right buttons perhaps she would come after him too…
And wouldn’t that be fun?