Chapter 2 : The Audition
R. John Quisenberry

The dust of the alley swirled in the breeze, impregnating itself in the grime and garbage hidden in shadow. A figure stepped silently through the entrance, never once allowing the light of nearby street lamps to illuminate his features. A whisper of decaying paper, followed by silence was heard. The breeze became almost nonexistent. There was a blur of motion from a pile of trash to far right. The figure gracefully sidestepped as five discarding sabot rounds punched a perfect pentagram in the brick just behind where he had been standing. In one fluid motion, the figure flicked something from his left side closely followed by his right side. The gunman tumbled back into the heap of crumpled paper that he had used for concealment. Quickly the dark figure stooped over the lifeless body and removed the five exquisite daggers from the chest of the dead man. He was unaffected by the wheezing sound of his victim’s last breath escaping through the holes in his chest as the last reflexes finally stopped.

Having retrieved his weapons, the figure moved on down the alley. He used more caution now since he knew that his target knew he was coming. He noticed several motion detectors further down the alley, near a Dumpster. As the breeze picked up again, he saw the telltale latticework of red filaments of light made visible by the dust as it passed through the area and filled the air with the scent of mildew and decay. Just to see what would happen, he picked up a ball of crumpled paper and tossed it into the area. Nothing seemed to happen, but the ball of paper made no sound as it landed. His suspicions were confirmed by this lack of sound. Taking out another dagger, one of heavier design, he proceeded to tie one end of a coil of ultralight cable to the hilt. The flimsy looking filament was looped several times around the pommel and guard, sinking deep into the spongy wrapping of the hilt. Taking careful aim at a spot on the wall just beyond the trap, he made a flickering movement. The blade sank deep into the aged brick of the wall and hung there quivering like a tuning fork. Next he attached the other end of the cable to the wall behind him, but slightly higher than the other dagger. Pulling a small rod from his pocket, the figure put the object on top of the cable and, holding both ends, slid gently to the other side. As he passed over the trap, the image went out of focus and he saw through the hologram into the pit that had been dug into the asphalt. Six feet below the opening, the floor of the hole was paved with spikes coated with brown goo whose odor left no doubt as to its origin. As he approached the end of the cable, he noticed a subtle movement in the trash on either side of the alley close to where he had planned to land. Thinking quickly, he dismounted the cable in a perfect flip and carried it into a series of gymnastic turns, flips, and cartwheels, narrowly avoiding the impacts of hundreds of small darts now issuing from small mounds camouflaged in the piles of trash. The mounds were spaced at every ten feet alternating sides down the alley. His best guess was that the targeting system had to be mounted in small slits in the aged mortar of the buildings on either side of the alley. About twenty feet into this gauntlet, he tossed a handful of pellets down the alley. Each pellet burst open, spewing billows of black smoke which soon filled the entire alley. The sound of the darts ceased. He knew that this was only a delay. Soon the smoke would clear and the automatic targeting system would lock onto him. Even his speed and agility would be hard pressed to match such a system for long. Breaking into a headlong run for the safety of the place where the alley turned. He could hear the pattering of deadly darts as the far end of the passage began to clear. With a final heave he managed to lunge around the corner as the wall he had been next to was pounded with a hail of the little projectiles. As he scanned the area he had just entered he raised his hands in surrender. He was in a small cleared area that had been turned into a makeshift courtyard. On the fire escapes surrounding the courtyard were dozens of turrets with laser sights. His best guess was fifty caliber. There was a moment of stillness as the tracking computers locked each cannon onto a different part of his body. “None of this would be needed if you had called for an appointment.” boomed an authoritative voice that seemed to get its sarcasm from the very substance of his surroundings.

“I figured an audition was more in order in this case.” he responded in a casual tone. “By the way, who told you I was coming? I like to know who leaks info on me.”

“We have sources in all sorts of places. Please forgive my lack of manners, but what was the position you wanted to ‘audition for?”

“I figured you could use a body guard. I don’t have a strong resume, so I figured on impressing you with my skills.” he answered mater-of-factly.

“Remove all weapons and strip. I’ll let you in as soon as I feel safe. Then I’ll give you something to wear. Don’t worry. We will leave your things right where they are. You can get them later.”

He quickly followed the voice’s instructions, carefully placing all his things in a clear area where they would stay relatively clean. Once this was done, he stood waiting naked until a concealed door opened in a nearby wall. “Please, enter. You will find a jumpsuit that should fit you just inside the door. I’ll have you sent to me once you are dressed.” He strolled nonchalantly into the dark mouth of the doorway. Once inside, the door closed and he was bathed in blinding light for a few moments as he was scanned from head to toe. “Sorry for the discomfort, but one can’t be too careful with someone as tricky as you are.”

As the light dimmed to nonexistence, a door opened silently in the wall opposite the now sealed entrance. There, on a small table, in the hallway, was a bright green jumper neatly folded. As he put it on, he noticed the rough feel of the cloth. This was the same disposable stuff the hospitals used.

“Now that you are dressed, please proceed down the hall. No more tricks now. We have had quite enough of your ‘auditioning’ for one night. By the way, you might like to know that jumper is marked in special ways, basically, you are wearing a big suit of strategic targets. Any one of my men who have the right optics can spot you hundreds of yards away, and easily shoot any organ they choose.” The voice lapsed into silence as he reached the end of the hall. A door opened in the wall facing him and the lights went out in the hall revealing a somber glow through the new doorway. The door slid silently shut as he stepped out of the hallway. The young man found himself in a large room with no visible ceiling or walls. In the center of this room was an exquisite oak desk illuminated to the level of daylight by an overhead spotlight. Behind the desk was a rotund man in his middle age calmly reading his paper with what appeared to be a cigar in his hand. Slowly, the man behind the desk put down the paper as his guest approached. “Quite an entrance you made there. We figured something was going on when a virus ripped through my security computers and ate all the backup systems.” He lifted the cigar to his lips and an unseen source of red light caressed the tip from above. Smoke trickled from the tip, filling the air with the acrid scent of burning hemp. Heaving a sigh that disgorged a billow of blue-grey smoke, the man spoke again, ” So why should I waste my time on you? I run a major organization. Sure, my guys would be hard pressed to pull off a stunt like you did just now, even as a team. Then again, they wouldn’t get caught either. Grandstanding is for suicidal freaks.”

The young man calmly brushed back a strand of long black hair that had escaped from the neat ponytail at the back of his head. He cocked his head a moment as if considering his words. The room was deadly silent but for a small scuffing sound from an unseen guard/sniper somewhere above resettling into position. “Well…” he said with a smile “For one thing, you probably need to find out how I compromised your systems. You might also consider the fact that I did, in fact get two weapons in here with me, even with all of your security.” As he said this he grasped his own torso, just above the kidneys, on either side, and yanked the floating ribs out through the yielding flesh. As the ribs detached, breaking an electrical contact, they flexed into a rough blade shape. Holding the lethal little instruments gently in a neutral position, he let the folds of synthetic flesh that had concealed them fall to the ground. ” You see, I am resourceful as well as cocky and talented. I specialize in infiltration and single target removal. No wall can stop me and no cell can hold me.”

Lifting an eyebrow and inhaling hard on the joint, the man said,” Kid, you talk a good game, and I like that trick. My compliments to your surgeon… But I have all the talent I need right now. The security system will just be redone by morning. Tell you what I’ll do, I don’t need ya’ right now, but I’d hate to play this out again for real. So how about I hire you to NOT work for any of my competitors and leave town. Say about two hundred and fifty grand?” Just then the old man placed a bulky briefcase on the desktop, skewing the newspaper and dropping half the sports section on the floor.

“Well sir, I guess that will have to do. Thank you for giving me an interview though. May I shake your hand before I leave?” said the young man as he extended a hand to the older man.

Sighing again, almost as if in relief, he extended a meaty paw. “Maybe I’ll get in touch with you when I need a freelancer. Besides, this isn’t so bad a haul for one night’s work.”

An odd smile passed over the young man’s rugged features as their hands met. “But sir, I wasn’t auditioning for you. The odd numbness you’re feeling is the first stage of the poison you just got from my hand. It was a two-part poison. You gave yourself the first half of the poison this morning. Paralysis is almost instant. By the way, your snipers will be fine in a few hours. They just will not remember anything from the last hour.” Just then, a dark form glided out of the shadows to land on his shoulder. The dark mass of feathers resolved itself into a large owl looking intently at the fallen crime lord. ” This is my partner. He dealt with your men. If you will excuse me, I have to get back to your home and remove the rest of the evidence. I hope the mouthwash didn’t taste too bad. This stuff is supposed to be flavorless, but it’s not like anyone would be able to tell me.”

With the last of his strength the old man forced his final angry breath into a single question before all motor control left him “Why?…”

“Well, you were one of a group of men who made a score by killing my family five years ago. Thanks again for the money though. You really did need a body guard you know!”

With a grin the assassin picked up the cash and left through doors that opened as he approached. Outside he picked up his gear and calmly dressed before leaving in a quieter fashion than he had entered with.

Five minutes later, the police arrived answering an anonymous call.