If You Can See It, You Can Kill It
Emily’s coat helped her fit in with the hotel hookers. That was one reason for it. It also happened to be ideal for concealing a compact personal defense weapon. In this case a PDW that fired .45 caliber hollow points.
She didn’t make a habit of bringing major firepower to business meetings. Usually a plain vanilla Glock got the job done. This time was different. They had both narcos and regular street hoods to deal with. Both could be equally trigger-happy.
When the shooting started Emily dropped immediately. That was all reflex.
Keep your ass down Number Eleven or this .50 cal will blow your head up like a fucking melon! That particular training exercise killed Number Three. He lost his nerve, started screaming (let me out! I want fucking out!), then bolted upright. Him slumped over the wire with bits of brain oozing out a smoking hole in his skull was the only lesson Emily ever needed on the supreme importance of keeping your goddamn head down.
When the shooting stopped she rolled up on one knee with the PDW at her shoulder, then emptied a clip into the precise location where the bullets stopped coming through the wall. Then she was up and moving toward the door, gun still at her shoulder, wielding it not as an object but an extension of her body.
Emily ducked outside and swept the hallway clear. A body lay in the corridor next to an antique AK. One of those cheap Chinese knock-offs. The shooter wore a red bandana over his nose and mouth.
A fire alarm wailed in the background.
Emily caught movement at the far end of the corridor. She squeezed off a short burst, thought she might have hit someone but couldn’t be sure. Only then did she consider it might have been be a hotel guest.
Shit. The last thing she needed was another Compliance write-up. Shit. Fuck. Shit.
Emily took off down the corridor.
At the far end she found blood spattered along the wall and carpet. She followed the trail to the stairs. It had been years since her last close-quarters battle refresher. Hopefully any other pain-in-the-ass innocent bystanders had the sense to stay put and take cover.
Emily followed the blood trail down the stairs into the lobby.
On the way the shooter took a shot at her from behind a roulette table. She knew from the sound the shot was high and wild. That didn’t mean the next one would be, so Emily went low. She slid feet-first into a bank of slot machines, then got up on her haunches with her back flat against reassuringly solid metal.
Finally a moment to take stock.
Other than revenge she struggled to justify killing him. He was either with the cartels or some flunky they’d hired out of the slums. They’d stuck a gun and a wad of cash in his hand — more to follow once he wasted the gringos. He wasn’t a tradesman. Not like her. If not for the element of surprise he would hardly have rated as a threat. If she let him go he would run. The cartels would handle revenge on her own.
On top of that the military police would pitch a fit if they kicked in the doors to find her standing over yet another corpse. A sure ticket to another compliance call.
But then came her nagging professional conscience. The cops were nowhere in sight (no coincidence), and even an amateur might possess some valuable nugget of local intel…
Emily peeked round the corner.
The two roulette tables sat in the center of the machines. Her shooter had taken cover behind the first. A terrible mistake. He should have run into the street and tossed his pistol down the nearest sewer. People were good at forgetting things in this part of town. He might have lived to tell the tale over a mason jar full of slum hooch.
The most obvious problem with the shooter’s position, from a tactical perspective, was that he’d backed into a corner. No avenue for retreat. Also his position offered more concealment than cover — there was a gap between the bottom of the roulette table and the floor.
Maybe he wanted one more shot at her. Maybe he was too jacked on adrenaline to think straight. Maybe he was just plain stupid. Bottom line: his legs were clearly visible through the gap between the table and the floor.
If you could see it, you could kill it.
Again the voice of her drill instructor: You are dead Number Eleven. Do not pass fucking Go! Do not collect two hundred fucking dollars! Go straight to the fucking incinerator in the cheapest-ass goddamn box we’ve got!
Emily blind-fired around the slot machine. She heard a scream, a clattering sound, a low, sustained moan. Then came a higher-pitched sound she hadn’t heard in quite some time and might actually have been a whimper.
Were he a more capable adversary Emily would have let off another burst before making any demands, just to prove she was pissed off and not to be dicked around with. But these guys weren’t exactly Syrian Republican Guard. Plus, the more time she wasted posturing the more likely he’d bleed out.
The shooter answered in piercing, high-pitched Spanish.
Emily fumbled inside her coat for her Rosetta Stone. She hooked the earpiece and mic around her ear and flicked it on. There was a brief moment of feedback before the translation came through: “…Please do not kill me…” in a monotone. The Rosetta Stone was rigid about grammar. It didn’t care for slang.
A human translator always worked better at times like this, but Emily’s happened to be lying dead upstairs.
“Slide the gun toward me along the floor,” she said. “If you have more than one then send them all. If I think you’re lying, or you’re fucking with me I’m going to shoot you dead.”
Something came skidding across the floor. A handgun sailed past Emily toward the front desk. Gradually it lost momentum, slowed, ground to a halt.
“So you remember the part about me shooting you dead if you fuck with me?”
Emily poked her head out from behind the slots. No sign of anyone else. Just her new compadre lying flat behind the roulette table.
She got to her feet and crept toward the shooter with the PDW up at the ready. She didn’t lower it till she rounded the corner of the roulette table and found her shooter lying there with blood pooled the length of her right leg.
A young woman. Very thin. Emily couldn’t settle on wiry or malnourished. Like the dead man upstairs she wore a red bandana over her nose and mouth. In all the excitement it had ridden up to expose her neck. A large, X-shaped scar ran the length of it. Her brand. “Please do not kill me,” she said.
“Let me see your face.”
The shooter tugged the bandana down below her chin. Her jaw quivered. The muscles in her face and neck went taught. Her eyes were alive with pain. Dark circles ringed her eyes. Not the purple kind you got after a sleepless night but the black, permanent rings that gradually seeped deep into your skin like tattoo ink binge after binge after binge.
“Here’s how it’s going to be,” Emily said. “I’ll ask questions. You’ll answer. If I don’t like your answers I’m going to hurt you. Understand?”
“Sample question: Who are you?”
“Wrong answer.” Emily shot Lela in the leg.
The girl shrieked like she’d stepped in a bear trap. Emily had seen that once – somewhere outside Grozny. It surprised her someone who’d made it from the slums to adulthood via Las Ninas could react so intensely to pain. Especially a woman. That level of sensitivity ought to have been beaten or gangbanged out of her years ago.
“Who are you?” Emily repeated.
“Ninas!” Lela howled.
“Who sent you?”
Emily paused for a moment, unsure whether Lela meant “the boss” as in “my boss” or “El Jefe” as proper name. The latter being street for the casino operator/money launderer/sometime narco flunky/black market tech broker who’d helped arrange this fucked-up buy. “Why’d he trade us out?”
“I do not know,” Lela wailed. “They tell me go and do, I go and do. They get phone calls. Plans from other bosses. The others say there is a man who tells them things. No one sees him. He stays locked in the room.”
“Is he one of you?”
Emily recognized Fulton’s voice so she didn’t bother turning. She never put her back to a shooter, even one so disarmed and pathetic as this. She translated the question.
“Please!” Lela exclaimed. “I do not know I just hear things. I need a doctor I am dying here.”
“Who sees him?” Fulton asked.
“I told you before no one here sees him. They are just stories anyway. They might be making them up.”
Emily looked to Fulton over her shoulder, careful to keep Lela in her peripheral vision. Take your eyes off the enemy and you will be dead, Number Eleven. Stone fucking dead on your way to the incinerator in that cheap-ass goddamn box. “Anything more questions?”
A police siren kicked on in the distance. The cops had finally checked their watches, sighed, tossed their half-smoked cigarettes. A bribe only bought so much time. They had to show up eventually.
“I’d like a moment to think,” Fulton said.
“No time.” Emily turned back to Lela and put a bullet through her forehead.