Chapter 3 : New Friends
R. John Quisenberry

Several nights later, in another part of town, a shadow hung over an alley. A black ceramic blade caressed a pale, slender throat at the sealed end of the alley. Just as flowered fabric was torn from silky flesh, the shadow leaped over the place the man stood. The ceramic knife fell to the ground, shattering, closely followed by the man’s head.

The girl screamed until the flashing red lights bathed her naked form.

“This alley should be closed off for good!” said detective McIntyre.

“Yeah, at least two street girls get a forced freebie every week in this alley. At least this one didn’t get too far…” replied his partner Detective Filbert. “The last five victims got opened up collar to crotch and their organs spread around them. This victim wasn’t even harmed by whoever got the rapist.”

“Just means we have a vigilante running around. Let me know when forensics has something for us to go on… I have to get back to our other case.”

“What have we got on that one so far?”

“It looked like just another case of one criminal killing another. We found some skin, hair and blood samples, but the DNA showed it was all from one of the victim’s thugs. Then, forensics looks closer at the DNA, all of the cells were cancerous. The thug that matched the DNA doesn’t have cancer. The cells aren’t just cancerous. The lab says that anyone these cells came from would be terminal.”

“Terminal?”

” ‘Days to live’ terminal.”

“So, what you are telling me is, a terminal cancer patient with days to live, who is an exact genetic match to one of this guy’s body guards, broke in there, without leaving any evidence of forced entry, killed the man with a poison it has taken us four days to isolate, delivered in a way that we can not figure out, and walked out past his guards without any of them even remembering his ever being there. I need some coffee…”

As he stepped from the bar where his informer had insisted on meeting, Sam noticed a dark figure at the corner. The informer had turned out to be a fake with nothing useful to say. The majority of the block was burned out offices and deserted storefronts. So a figure that stood at the corner neither going to or from the bar was an anomaly that could not be ignored. As Sam crossed the street, the figure changed it’s stance to keep him in view.

Ducking into a nearby alley, Sam quickly climbed up the bricks of the decrepit structure and into the remains of a second floor room. Carefully peeking out of the window facing the bar, he looked down, and straight into the smiling face of a slight silver haired man who seemed to be looking directly into his eyes, brushing nonexistant dirt from his black, suede jacket and dark chinos. This was wrong. The man could not have gotten so far in so short a time. Something was up. Moving at his fastest enhanced speed now, Sam vaulted back into the alley and landed running. He called up a display of the layout of this part of the city in a corner of his vision, but was forced to make it translucent to avoid blocking out part of his vision that he might need in a tough situation. Moving rapidly now, Sam cut left and right through alleys and abandoned streets heading for the free zone. He knew the zones pretty well between where he was and the Winston Salem Free Zone. The free zone would be perfect. It was all prefab that was put up to replace downtown after the chemical spill ten years past. All buildings, including the historic old Moravian village, had been leveled for several miles in the cleanup. The entire area had the first ten feet of dirt removed and put through a stringent cleaning.

Sam overrode the alarm system of the first parked car he came to and took off for the WSFZ. He did not see the dark figure in a nearby alley. He also missed the knowing smirk on the person’s face as the vehicle sped away.

Sam ditched his stolen vehicle at the edge of the free zone. It would be found soon enough and returned, minus the customary stereo, seats, wheels, engine, and transmission of course.

Cutting through an unlighted park, Sam began his long, indirect route to his base. He began with four random turns, then started a spiraling course with random doubling back to insure he was not followed to his second floor apartment. So, it was with some shock that Sam found a silver haired stranger sitting in his living room.

“It took you longer than I expected. I hope you didn’t take the long way home for my sake!” the stranger quipped.

Carefully Sam closed the door behind him. A brief glance around the room yielded no more guests. “Well, if I had expected a visitor, I would have hurried home and cleaned up a little. Is there a reason why I should not call the police?” he responded as he pointed to the wall phone only inches from his hand.

“You wouldn’t do that.” the stranger answered with a knowing smile. “You are too interested in knowing how I managed to tail you here.”

“I can live in suspense.”

“OK. How about, you don’t want me to tell the police what you were up to six nights ago.”

A chill went through him as Sam realized the fat bastard had been right, grandstanding was for suicidal freaks. Ghost, as always, was in perfect sync with Sam, the big owl came diving diagonally across the intervening space between the stranger and Sam spewing billows of thick smoke. Sam immediately threw a tight spread of knives where the intruder had been and to either side.

He heard one impact for certain. As the smoke was sucked out by the ventilation system, Sam’s ego took another blow. The man was still sitting there and was balancing one of Sam’s knives on one extended finger. “If we are done playing ‘catch’, can we get to the reason for my visit?” the man said disdainfully as he allowed the knife to fall and embed itself in the wood floor.

“I don’t seem to have a choice.”

“We always have a choice.” replied the stranger. “We just may not like most of the options we have to choose from. By the way, I’m Alan Theus. I’ve come to invite you to join me and a couple of gentlemen for tea.”

“And if I do not choose to join you?”

“Why would you turn down a traditional Japanese tea ceremony?” said Alan arching his left eyebrow.

“And who will be my host at this social event?”

“A gentleman who has enjoyed certain business benefits from your activities and wishes to show his gratitude.”

“Why?”

With an exasperated shake of his head and a sigh he answered,”Respect. The man desires your friendship and I strongly advise you to offer it.”

Walking over to the couch and extracting one of the recently embedded knives, Sam replied, “Well since you put it that way… How could I walk away from such a unique invitation?”

“Fantastic!” said Alan with a grin. “Now we just have to go get Grey and we can go introduce you to your host, Jeremiah.” and with that he headed out the door.

Sam hastily closed and locked the door behind them and sprinted after Alan. He was exiting through the heavy first floor fire door on the first floor when Sam caught up to him. As they stepped into the street, amidst the miasma of spoiled milk and former fresh fruit fermenting, was a man. Just an ordinary man. Extraordinarily ordinary in fact. The man was wearing an ordinary gray suit. He seemed to be waiting patiently while fervently ignoring the blue-bottle flies swarming around the fish head to his left.

Strolling over, Alan bowed to the man and said in a clear voice “Kanichi-wa, Grey San! How are you? I hope you have not waited long.” Half turning to Sam, he smiled and said “Grey, I am proud to introduce Mr. Samuel Oroboros. He came rather close to killing me a short while ago.”

“Really!? How impressive. What was his choice of weapon?” Grey asked with bland interest.

“Throwing knives. I caught the blade an inch from my sternum.”

“Either you are slipping, or this is a very unique young man.”

At this, Alan’s smile was a bit sheepish as he answered “He is a talented young fellow. He used a combination distraction, smoke screen. Not bad for a beginner.”

Addressing Sam for the first time, Grey said, “Oroboros San. It is a pleasure to meet you at last. I have been following your accomplishments for the last few months. I must say, you have done quite well so far. I am becoming something of a fan. On top of that, you seem to have come closer to killing Alan than I did when I met him.” Then the man bowed to him. As he ended the bow, he came forward to Sam and offered his hand. Not knowing what else to do, Sam took and shook the offered hand.

“Now that we have established that the ‘Attempting To Kill Each other’ part of the evening is over, we need to get going.”

Taking point, Alan led them to a black sedan at the end of the block. Alan took the driver’s seat and Sam followed Grey into the back seat.

After the car had been moving for a while, Grey turned to partially face Sam. “Young Sam, tell me, what is the purpose of all of this bloodshed? I can see no direct profit for you in eliminating the targets you have chosen.” said Grey as the car began to move forward.

“Revenge.”

“For what are you seeking revenge?”

“The death of my family and friends.”

“A truly honorable motivation. How did you verify their guilt?”

Sam was silent for a moment. “Most of my information comes from my benefactor. He saved my life, and I see that as a good reason to trust him. Besides, I doubt the world will cry for the loss of men like that.”

“Spoken like a truly idealistic assassin.”

“Grey favors professional detachment. I, myself tend to consider what I do as a form of public service.”put in Alan from the front seat.

“I am not an assassin!”

“What do you call killing a total stranger, in his own home, while killing almost none of his guards and leaving no useful clues?” replied Grey. “I find no shame in admitting the truth. If I found shame in what I did, I would not continue doing it.”

“Now Grey, the boy means no disrespect to the profession. He is just confused about terms.” and to Sam he said, “I understand. You see the word ASSASSIN as meaning a dirty murderer for hire. That is the definition of a CUTTHROAT. Many assassins have been noble people who took supreme risk in removing somebody who was harmful to society in the only way they could be. The ancient Greeks called it ‘REGISCIDE’ and it was a valid way of ridding the world of bad rulers.”

“I beg your pardon, Sam. I am sometimes over sensitive. However you see your actions, they seem honorable to both myself and my employer.”

“Thank you. I did not mean to insult either. I look forward to meeting your employer.”

“Good!” replied Alan from the front seat. “Because we are almost there!”

Alan pulled the car into a shed that connected to the corroded shell of a warehouse. The shed was painted in mottled browns and reds to blend in with it’s larger sibling. As the car came to a full stop inside, the doors slid soundlessly closed.

“Shall we proceed?” inquired Grey as a door opened in the shed wall closest to the warehouse.

“Lead on my friend!” replied Alan as he slid out from behind the wheel and stood to the side of the car.

Grey led them through the doorway and into a short hall. The door at the end of the hall looked as corroded and battered as the outside of the warehouse had been.

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