Autumn air pushed in through the coffee shop door behind the stranger, carrying with it a few errant leaves and the smell of car exhaust. A too-skinny hipster girl waiting in line for her morning coffee looked over her shoulder and gave him a dirty look. He was dressed in sweatpants and a grey hoodie, his face was smooth, almost too smooth.
He moved past everyone in line, all of them grunting, cursing under their breath, shooting him daggers with bloodshot eyes. The barista called out to him that there was a line, and that he was skipping it, unfairly. He stopped at the counter, and began to do a silent dance, moving lightly from one foot to another, glancing occasionally at his crotch. The barista, with a roll of his eyes, got the message. A key was handed over, accepted by a hand that seemed almost too dainty for the body to which it was attached.
The stranger disappeared into the bathroom, his bag heaved over his shoulder. Then the stranger disappeared out the small window that provided some summertime ventilation, leaving the bag behind.
Nobody investigating the ensuing explosion, which leveled 8 buildings, would connect it with suburban meth-house explosion from 8 hours earlier.
Against medical advice, Brian Oliver checked himself out of the hospital. Before leaving he stopped by the ICU, kissing his wife on the forehead and saying goodbye. He hoped it wasn’t forever, but he couldn’t be sure.
The air smelled decidedly not like autumn outside. There was a chemical smell, a charred, bad smell. Off to his right the setting sun was gone. A black cloud rose from the street not even half a mile away. There was already a crowd of emergency vehicles, and police were setting up a barrier too far from the actual fire. Olivia! The name screamed across his brain, aggravating his already severe headache.
He headed off in the opposite direction of the fire, looking over his shoulder to see if she was following him. He burst through the door of an over-sized CVS Pharmacy, banging the door hard against the opposing wall. The resulting bang was loud, but no one seemed to notice. All their attention was focused on the windows, on the chaos down the road. The entire Western skyline seemed to have been swallowed by black smoke. Brian grabbed a cheap, pay as you go phone and a phone card and shouted for the cashier’s attention.
He paid cash, snatched the receipt from the register himself, and ran back out the door. Down the street he ran, ducking down an alley between two office buildings and hiding behind a dumpster marked with a never-ending circle of white arrows. He tore open the plastic packaging, set up the phone and dialed a number he hadn’t dialed in 12 years.
“Yes.” A moment of silence, Brian could almost see the recognition dawning over his face.”Brian?”
“Can we talk?”
Another moment of silence, it almost sounded like he had palmed the phone, blocking the microphone. “Aren’t we talking, now?”
“Not on the phone. She could be listening.”
“Who could be listening?” But Tom Killian knew the answer, and Brian Oliver knew he knew.
“Olivia. I think she’s trying to kill me.”
There was a thump on the other end of the line, and a staccato, sharp striking sound. Tom Killian had dropped the phone, possibly even fainted. “Tom,” he shouted into the phone, hoping to be heard, “Can you hear me?”
Some shuffling, then Tom’s breath in his ear, “Yes, I hear you.”
“Can you get away?”
“Yes. What do we do?”
“First thing, we have to find Nick. Where are you?”
The stranger watched from the roof of a modest office building as Brian ran down the street, ducking behind a rent-a-suite office complex. The stranger removed the hoodie and sweatpants, followed by several pounds of padding, and the silicone face mask. Olivia quickly untied her metal stilts, and shook off a layer of sweat. Her dark curls blew in the breeze, the acrid smell of her work bringing a broad smile to her face. Her ear piece beeped to life, and she listened to the sound it picked up.
Tom Killian? Can we talk? Not on the phone. She could be listening… She pulled the ear piece out, she’d heard enough. Brian Oliver knew she was coming, and he was gathering the other targets for her. This was going to be easier than she thought.