I’ve been playing with this one for a while. This is a rough idea for the mysterious woman who’s been after Sullivan.
Sullivan rounded an old brick building, desperate to catch her breath. After a short second, she inched to the corner and snuck a peek. The midday crowd on the street barely noticed her exit. The man in the green shirt, however, was still running in her direction. The gun he was carrying was only barely concealed from those around him.
Who the hell was this guy? She’d been doing some routine surveillance when suddenly Greenshirt jumped her. She’d avoided getting immediately shot, but the ensuing fight could have gone better. He was deceptively quick, especially for his size. The man exploded into a violent flurry of fists. Sullivan blocked and dodged as best she could, but couldn’t get a hit in. Crashing through the second story window into the alley dislocated her arm, but at least she’d survive a little longer.
That was fifteen minutes ago and that guy was still on her tail. He didn’t ask any questions. He was in for the kill. This had to be the work of whoever had been trying to kill her recently. This was bad. She’d only barely survived that last encounter. Her ribs still hadn’t fully healed and the pins in her leg were looking to be a permanent accessory. Fixing her arm would have to wait. She needed a place to hide. She hid behind a dumpster as the green shirted man jogged past. A list of friendly areas flashed through Sullivan’s mind. Everything she knew of was too far to walk with her injuries and someone trying to finish her off.
Wait. Wasn’t there an old safe house a few blocks from here?
She slipped out the back of the alley, clutching her useless arm close to her frame. There was no sign of her attacker, but she knew all too well that he could turn up at any moment. She raced down the busy streets toward the building that might keep her alive. At least, long enough to figure this out and patch herself up.
The safe house was in a dilapidated apartment. Crumbling bricks and rotting wood made it a place for most to avoid, but perfect for someone on the run. If a person approached, they were more than likely coming for you. She checked the street one last time for Greenshirt and stepped inside. On the fourth floor, at the end of the hall, was the apartment. She’d used it as a base of operations nearly seven years ago. Very little had changed, except a growing blanket of dust.
After checking the street once more through the blinds, she could finally get that arm back in place. She took a deep breath. Playing medic was always her least favorite part. If a problem couldn’t be fixed with a word or a gun, she didn’t have any business there.
She sat on the cold tile floor and locked her fingers around her left knee. She clenched her teeth like a vice as she waited for the telltale pop. There! A rush of pain swept over her body. She tested a few slow movements to make sure the mechanics would work if she was threatened before it healed. She stood up to check the freezer for an ice pack. A package of blue-tinted meat greeted her. She coughed through the cloud of rotten food smell. No power, then. Was this place still even on the company’s radar?
Sullivan pulled out her phone. She needed backup. A helicopter would be even better. But for any of that to happen, somebody had to pick up the damned call. On the sixth ring, there was a burst of static and a young male voice.
“This is Sullivan. I’m in need of immediate assistance.”
“Agent Sullivan. What’s the situation? Where are you?”
Something felt off, but she couldn’t quite place it.
“During Project Sparrow, I was attacked by a large male. I’ll fill in the details to whoever’s available to help. I’d take an extraction, if you can.”
“What’s your location? We’ll have someone there within the hour.”
Didn’t they know? The voice had sounded familiar at first, but the kid who usually picked up her distress calls was a lot less formal than this.
“Who is this?”
“Pardon? Agent Sullivan, I need your location.”
The amount of static, the long time before they picked up, this had the hallmarks of a trap. Whoever was after her had somehow gotten to her phone. All they needed was enough time or information in order to come finish the job. She couldn’t let that happen.
Sullivan immediately ended the call. She placed it on the wooden table while she considered her options. The phone vibrated. Those posing as the agency were calling back. She grabbed the phone and threw it to the floor. A few stomps from her boot exposed the electronics within. No bug? They must have done it through software. Well, any signal her phone was sending would be dead now. She scooped up the broken pieces and dropped them in the waste bucket.
Only time would tell if she’d been on the phone long enough for them to discover where she was. Or maybe they already knew by following her and were just trying to rattle her nerves. If so, it worked.
Sullivan stared at the dusty apartment. It was all familiar, yet foreign. Like a childhood friend seen decades later. The cracked tile, fifth from the sink, held a hidden compartment beneath it. She pried it up and inspected the emergency pistol she’d stashed there. Once again, something felt… off. She knew of two other missions in the region since she was there. Why hadn’t the agency used this place again? And why was it still vacant? Untouched?
That was when she noticed arced lines in the dust. The crooked chair at the kitchen table had been moved recently. The safe house was compromised. Now that she was looking, the outlines of cautious footsteps could be seen on the various hard surfaces. They crisscrossed the rooms, disappearing on the dingy bedroom carpet and reappearing in the hall.
Her heartbeat quickened as she followed the steps. The stashed pistol was cocked and ready in her hand. She tore open every door, bracing herself for booby traps and hidden attackers. But nothing came. It looked like whoever was there had gone and left no evidence behind.
Or maybe they were just playing the long game.
The search was on once more, this time for listening devices and cameras. When her search turned up empty again, Sullivan leaned into the shadow near the window and surveyed the street below. Something was very wrong here. It had to be. Nothing was adding up today.
She stayed by the window for the rest of the day. In the late evening, a dark van pulled up. A lanky man in a leather jacket emerged. She shifted the curtain just enough to watch him storm inside. Sullivan shifted over to the door. Wiping the peephole clean, she saw the shape of the man stomping up the stairs to her floor. He cracked his knuckles as he walked toward her.
He stopped suddenly in front of the apartment next door. One hard knock brought a hefty old man to the door. The visitor leaned in close and whispered. It must have been a password, because the door swung open. Coincidences were all too rare in this profession. He was there to get close to her. She thought about getting out and finding somewhere else to lay low, but the idea of getting some intel on her attackers was irresistible.
Once inside, there was a long conversation in a language Sullivan couldn’t quite decipher. She listened through the thin walls, hoping for a clue that would tell her who was after her. All she could tell was that they were discussing a woman. Someone who’d given both of them a lot of grief. Sullivan could only assume they were planning their next attack against her.
An hour later, the conversation quieted. Were they also waiting for backup? She went back to the window to plan her next move. She couldn’t stay there. But looking outside, she wasn’t sure she could leave, either.
More conspicuous vehicles appeared since she last checked. She wished a pair of binoculars were stashed with the pistol. The streetlights were dim at best. She could swear someone was watching her. She couldn’t leave the safe house. She’d be too exposed, even in the dead of night. So many buildings surrounded this one. A clever shooter could be perched in or on any of them, just waiting for her to make a move.
Maybe she could climb out a window they didn’t expect. The bedroom faced another building, with barely a gap between them. She opened the window and reached out. Her arm felt like it was going to explode when she braced herself against the walls of the gap. Her recently dislocated shoulder meant climbing was out. She was trapped until the men in the next apartment made their move. The inevitable chaos of a fight would give her more options.
Davis had told her not to go out into the field again so soon after her ordeal in the Arabian Desert. She had to think of her mental and physical health.’ She insisted she would be fine, but Sullivan was starting to think he was right. None of her missions were secure until the threat to her life could be dealt with. Once she got out of this mess, she was going to hunt down those sons of bitches.
Murky tap water poured into cupped hands. Some she drank, while the rest was splashed on her face. She had to stay alert to stay alive. She spotted an unusual pair on the uneven sidewalk. A man and a woman, both wearing dark clothing, strolled down the road like it was a sunny spring day. Sullivan went for the gun left by the sink. Anyone at ease on a night like this was dangerous. The woman stared up at the windows. Sullivan ducked into the shadows, careful not to be seen.
One of them had to know who was behind the attacks. She glanced again but the pair had gone inside. She could hear the soft shuffling of feet coming up the stairs. Sullivan tipped the kitchen table on its side and crouched down.
The footsteps grew louder.
There was a knock at the door. Sullivan waited. If she made a noise, it would only give away her position. The knocking grew more insistent. The man cleared his throat.
“Delivery for a Ms. Sullivan.”
She pointed her weapon at the door. She heard the handle rattle, followed by the rusty-hinged screech of the door opening. This was it. Sullivan furrowed her brow. These two would be kept alive just long enough to talk.
The tiny jet reeled.
Sullivan’s dossier spilled from her lap. Her drink crashed against the wall.
She’d already escorted the target to his embassy safely. Not only was the mission over, but she was the only passenger on this flight.
An oxygen mask dangled in front of her as she tore off her seatbelt. She frowned as she passed the unfortunate stewardess collapsed against a window. Blood trickled down the woman’s forehead.
The explosion had come from the cockpit. Sullivan held her breath and crashed through the door. A rush of air escaped the cabin, exiting through the shattered windshield.
What a mess.
The pilot lay charred and scattered over his controls. Smoke billowed out the windshield as the air stabilized with the outside. Ahead, a vast desert was quickly filling up the entire view. With no controls, her options were limited. She could jump, or die.
The damage didn’t have the hallmarks of a bomb. Somebody out in the desert was intent on blasting her out of the sky. Her mysterious attackers were after her head again. This time, they’d dragged two innocents into the fray.
HQ looked into the previous attempts on her life. No whos or whys popped up. No other agents were being targeted. But wherever Sullivan went, her invisible enemies were one step ahead.
Her face was blue by the time the air had stabilized. She gasped in a new lungful and returned to the cabin. She found the parachutes and grabbed the stewardess by the shoulder. The woman flopped closer. She’d passed out.
Sullivan yanked the nearest oxygen mask down and put it over the woman’s mouth. A quick slap across the face sped up the process. The stewardess opened one eye, then the other. That would have to do. The oxygen mask was removed and Sullivan strapped the parachute to the woman.
“You know how to use these, right?”
The stewardess looked down. She felt the parachute straps absently and nodded.
“We were attacked. Want to survive? Jump and let’s hope for the best.”
The woman swallowed hard. Sullivan kicked the emergency door open. The stewardess would go first. A quick shove was all it took. The stewardess screamed her way into the open air.
A second blast came from behind.
Sullivan grasped the edge of the emergency doorway for support. The jet was sent into a dangerous spin. If Sullivan wasn’t careful, she could get clipped by the craft. On top of that, the tilt had gotten much worse. She clung to the door frame just to keep herself from tumbling toward the cockpit.
She had to jump right now, but her enemies were waiting. As soon as she was out, they would fire. She had to make this count. Using a seat as a launchpad, she leapt from the jet.
The wind whipped against her face. She made her body as narrow as possible. The faster she went, the harder time they’d have shooting her. The dove down through the clear evening air like a hunting falcon. Bullets zipped through the air around her. Whoever was shooting had switched guns.
This couldn’t get too much worse. The new barrage wasn’t as visible or avoidable as what had knocked out the jet. Her parachute would be an easy target. But not opening it wasn’t an option either. She measured out the distance as best she could. She’d have to cut this close.
She yanked the cord that opened the chute. Her chest felt like somebody had dropped a tank on it. She hacked and wheezed as she worked to recover from the change in velocity. The sound of gunshots and wind and near-miss bullets filled her ears. A quick glance up said her chute wasn’t going to last very long. It was already riddled with holes.
The closer she got to the ground, the better her enemies’ aim. One of the bullets hit her leg. Another grazed her ribs.
Amid the stinging pain, Sullivan suddenly heard someone screaming. She’d nearly forgotten about the stewardess. The cries came from above. She had zipped right past the stewardess on her jump. Hopefully the woman could hang on up there. Once they were safely on the ground, Sullivan could sort out what to do.
Another bullet sliced through a lock of Sullivan’s hair. She scowled as the hair floated toward the ground with her. The ground which was getting very near now. She scanned the area below her. It was a desert, likely the Arabian. Rocks and brittle trees dotted the landscape. All of them would make good cover. Shots flew in from every direction. There was a very real chance she was surrounded.
The holes in her parachute were getting bigger, growing with each new bullet that missed hitting Sullivan herself. The wind howled as it passed through. She was picking up speed. Through one of the holes, she could see the frantic stewardess. The woman’s chute was also torn up. Being above Sullivan was only attracting danger.
“Shift away from me so you don’t get hit! We’re almost there.”
The woman made no sign that she heard. A shrill whistle was tried next. Even that was drown out by gunfire and the stewardess’s own frightened wailing. Sullivan tried to shift herself away instead, but the damage to her chute was too great. She was falling like a boulder and completely at the mercy of gravity.
Suddenly, the woman’s screaming stopped. Sullivan jerked her head up. The chute’s flailing in the wind prevented a clear view, but there was no need to guess what happened. The only thing to do now was make sure she didn’t die as well.
Sullivan took a slow breath to clear her head. She stared stone-faced at the ground. Armed men and women emerged around her landing site. Hopefully they wouldn’t be expecting this. The guns below took aim. She held a hand to the straps securing the parachute.
“I wouldn’t do that.”
Sullivan looked back at her dining companion. The deathly pale woman pursed her lips and tipped her head gently toward the door. A man in black gloves had replaced the maître d’. Out of the corner of her eye, Sullivan could see that several waiters were eying her. At least one of them was carrying a gun. The thin woman repeated her veiled threat and gestured to Sullivan’s now empty chair.
“Best not to try. So many innocent bystanders would die. Please sit, chat, and drink.”
She sat once more. The muscles in her jaw clenched tight as she glared at the woman across the table. She had been set to meet an important contact, someone who knew who was behind the various attempts at her life. They didn’t mention that the contact was the mysterious enemy.
“As I was saying, you have been… difficult.”
“I get that a lot.”
“Well, no longer. Let’s toast to your getting out of my hair once and for all.”
“I think I’ll pass. Have you considered maybe you’re the problem here?”
Sullivan leaned forward on the table and smirked. The closeness obviously disturbed the pale woman. Her papery lips quivered and she pulled out a handkerchief to dab above her barely visible eyebrows. The woman moved the handkerchief to her lap before bringing it back up covering her other hand which was now obviously holding a small handgun.
“You don’t seem like the type to do this kind of dirty work.”
A high-pitched sigh emerged from the slender woman’s lungs, hovered for a moment, and died.
“On a good day, no, but you’ve forced my hand.”
“You’re going to shoot me?”
“Oh, heavens no! You will taste that very special drink I have prepared for you.”
The glass in front of Sullivan was filled with what appeared to be a deep red wine. She understood now why the waiter insisted on pouring it, though she had only asked for water. This woman really loved drugging her. Or poisoning. It was supposed to be a permanent solution to her ‘meddling’ after all.
“Fine. I’ll drink, but you have to tell me what it is I’ve apparently done.”
“You mean you’ve forgotten Frankfurt? Mumbai? Damascus? New York? Paris?”
“Who could forget Paris? Those beautiful spring mornings?”
“It was the dead of winter, you…!”
The slender woman’s head twitched at an odd angle in her in rage. The man in black gloved hands made a motion toward their table, but she waved him off as she composed herself.
“I know who you are, spy, whether or not you will admit to it.”
“And if you’ve been desperately trying to kill the wrong person?”
“If I still run into trouble after you’ve died? I shall kill that person as well.”
“Well you’ve gotten this all figured out, haven’t you?”
“Of course. Now, I believe you’ve stalled enough. Take a drink.”
Using her napkin to pick up the glass, Sullivan studied its contents. This brought no objections from the woman, which meant the glass was probably safe and the liquid was the real trouble. She swirled the wine in connoisseur fashion and held her nose a few inches away. Almonds. They weren’t even trying to mask the cyanide. That was a very bad sign. They had enough confidence in their ability to escape unnoticed that they didn’t care about covering up the cause of death.
“Smells like a fine vintage, though maybe too sweet. Are you sure you won’t join me?”
The woman narrowed her eyes and motioned with her almost-hidden gun. Sullivan lifted the glass as if to drink, meanwhile watching the reactions of those that wanted her dead. The pale woman licked her lips absently. The waiters had relaxed slightly, as had the gloved man.
Just before the edge of the glass hit her lips, Sullivan flipped the drink back toward the woman. The poisoned wine splashed her face as well as her pristine white clothes. She shrieked, calling the attention of the entire room.
In an instant, Sullivan had her opponent’s gun and shot the glass window next to them. Thank goodness she was on the ground floor this time. The glass cracked in a large spiderweb pattern around the bullet hole. That white wisp couldn’t just carry a normal caliber gun, could she? She shot again, this time shattering the glass, but the waiters and the gloved man had started their attack in the time it had taken for that second shot.
Sullivan jumped out of the old restaurant onto the sidewalk. A few scratches from broken glass were an easy payment for her life. Outside, she discovered more of the slender woman’s associates were waiting for her. She quickly turned her jump into a roll, dodging the bulk of the incoming barrage of bullets. The few that did make impact were buried deep in muscle – nothing that couldn’t be fixed. An empty car waiting for the valet became her shield against further attack.
Through the broken window, Sullivan heard shrill and frantic orders.
Bullets glanced off the side of the car as Sullivan shifted her position to the street. She would hope for a taxi, but the gunfight had cleared the area. She could run across the road into the alley, but that would give her assailants an easy target.
Sullivan lifted her head to count how many were after her. Through the driver’s side window, she counted five men and two women – all armed. As she counted, a glint of silver caught her eye. The keys had been left in the ignition. She grinned at her wonderful luck. They made this too easy.
She removed her jacket and shot a few times over the hood of the car. At the same time, she carefully unlatched the car door. Sullivan took one last, deep breath before throwing her coat as high and far as possible and jumped into the vehicle. The distraction only lasted a split second, but it gave her time to turn the ignition.
The engine rumbled to life. One of the men approached the passenger door before Sullivan shot him in the chest. The others returned fire. She heard a rear tire get blown out just as the car swerved out of control. She fought for control and found a bumpy equilibrium. It only had to last a few more minutes. Once she was further away she would switch cars with one she’d kept for just this kind of situation.
Nearby, the woman’s associates were piling into their own trucks, ready for the chase. Sullivan laughed. Even like this, she could lose them. The slender woman, fuming and shouting through the broken window, was given one final parting gesture as Sullivan sped off into the night.
Sullivan shielded her eyes as they slowly adjusted to the midday sun. All around her crowds were streaming into the terminal, flying off to romantic getaways and business opportunities. Davis had told her a car would be there to pick her up. She took a moment to rifle through the small purse she brought. Her fingers guided her over familiar objects until she reached her plum-colored goal. She casually touched up her lipstick as she scanned the road for the appropriate vehicle.
A man standing in front of a black stretch limousine held up a placard with the name Nicole Masters. She hadn’t used that alias in years and from what she could recall, that name had a bad reputation. Apparently Davis thought enough time had passed. At least he made up for it in style; the limo was a nice touch.
The driver tipped his hat to her as she slipped into the back seat. There was something off about him, something in his lopsided grin and thin moustache. Davis was the most trustworthy person she knew and scrutinized over every person in his employ. Still, perhaps it would be worth keeping her guard up until this character proved himself to her. As she settled in, Sullivan noticed the champagne was her favorite brand. The corner of her lip pulled wryly to one side. Davis had been reading up on her again? He should know by now that she wouldn’t be swayed by these personal touches. Their fling had been just that and nothing more. She didn’t mind him trying, though.
She poured herself a glass and watched the countryside expand out to the horizon. It was going to be a long trip. Sullivan closed her eyes and focused on the meeting ahead of her. Some very important allies were threatening to cut all ties. She was brought in to stop them, either through incentives or coercion. The blueprints of her meeting place stood out clearly in her mind. If things went south, which they usually did, she would need to calculate her exits. When she opened her eyes again, she noticed the driver had taken a route close to the bay. She had studied the maps of the area as a part of her preparation. At this time of day, the bay route was slower by far. Why would he choose…?
The window between the driver’s area and her own opened. Good. It would be easier to sort this out face to face. She flattened the hem of her shirt and cleared her throat. She noticed that her mouth was becoming unusually dry. Leaning forward brought on a vertigo-like unsteadiness. Glancing back at the champagne, she knew she’d been drugged. The long, silenced barrel of a gun aimed through the little window at her head. “End of the road, miss.” Sullivan looked up at the driver through hazy eyes. Her reactions were dulled, but she could handle this. The driver squeezed the trigger as Sullivan ducked and rolled. The bullet grazed her shoulder, lodging into the seat behind her.
In an instant she wrenched the gun from his hand, immobilized his arm at the elbow, and threatened the driver with his own weapon. All the while, the limousine was approaching the long bridge spanning over the deep cerulean waters of the bay.
“Who’s behind this?”
The driver scowled and avoided her gaze. Sullivan dug the barrel of the gun further into the stubbled skin of his neck.
“Let me go and you’ll make it out of this alive. I don’t see any other options for you.”
“No, my choice has already been made.”
The limousine sped faster, passing the other cars in a race to the middle of the bridge. At the push of a button, the front windows cracked open. The wind whistled as the speedometer tapped against its maximum reading. The driver growled out a laugh.
“What will you do? If you shoot me, you risk crashing!”
Without flinching, the driver veered away from the road. They broke through the side barrier and dove into the waters below. The impact caused Sullivan’s head to slam against the wall between her and the driver. What didn’t happen, however, was the deployment of the driver’s airbag. The vehicle had been modified to ensure the driver didn’t walk away from his mission.
The limousine bobbed for a second before the engine-heavy front started sinking below the waves. Open windows welcomed the incoming water. Sullivan dropped the gun and climbed back to her seat to open her door while it was still above water. It was no use. The doors and windows had been locked.
She dropped back to the tiny window and tried to reach the controls, only to be blocked by the driver’s dead weight. Once again she eyed the champagne bottle. She grabbed it quickly and smashed it against one of the windows. The experiment ended in failure. The bottle shattered, spilling the drugged beverage. Whoever had designed this death trap had made the windows bulletproof from the inside.
Her options were decreasing with every soaked second. The water had reached her ankles. Her mind raced as she thought of ways out. Her attempted murderers were clever when it came to the vehicle’s shell, but had they thought about the dividing wall? She stomped at the edges of the tiny window, hoping to widen it enough to where she could wriggle her way through. No such luck. The cold liquid continued bubbling up and was now at her knees. She looked up toward the back seat she had been in minutes ago. Now there was an idea.
She snatched her purse floating nearby. Her favorite knife was nestled at the bottom. If she could carve her way through to the trunk, she might be able to break out of this mess. Still somewhat bleary from the drink, she propped herself up against the sidebar and started attacking the seat cushions. Little bits of fluff littered the surface of the miniature lake growing inside the limousine. Sullivan continued furiously slashing away until she reached the hard plastic separating the seat from the trunk.
Stabbing through to the other side produced new ripples of water entering the back seat. So, the trunk wasn’t watertight. That could be a good sign. Sullivan was running out of time and air. By the point that the hole was big enough to fit her frame, the water was at her eye level. The saltwater stung in her still-bleeding shoulder. As swiftly as she could, she squeezed through into the vehicle’s trunk and started working at the lock from the inside. The cold waters of the bay had a much easier time reaching the trunk than she had.
Despite getting ahead for a few seconds, Sullivan was soon underwater. She popped up in the highest corner of the trunk and took in as much air as she could before returning to her desperate work on the lock. The champagne had made her lightheaded to begin with and holding her breath only made her more so. She could hear the lock cracking inside and pressed harder. She was almost there. She wanted to laugh in victory, before her knife’s blade suddenly snapped in two. The section left in her hand wasn’t small enough to fit into the lock and the smaller point was drifting down past her.
She sucked in the last pocket of air that she could find and dove after it. Her fingertips barely caught the edge as it fell through the hole she had made. She plucked the blade from its descent and returned to the trunk. By now the air was gone. Whatever she had in her lungs would have to do until she could escape.
Sullivan shook off the thought of breathing as best she could. Her vision was growing dim and shadowy around the edges. She would only have one more shot at this. The blade was shaking in her hand as she dug and pried away.
* * *
On the shore of the bay, a slender figure watched from beneath a sprawling shade tree. White patent leather shoes reflected the sun shining through the leaves. The figure turned to the gloved man standing nearby and smiled with bright gleaming teeth. “Do make sure the job’s done this time?” The gloved man nodded solemnly and stalked away. The slender figure turned again to the bay. Several police cars were arriving on the bridge, but it would be far too late by now. The last bubbles rose up from the fallen vehicle and troublesome Sullivan would finally be silenced.
Sullivan blinked slowly as the red light in front of her came into focus. 2:43. 2:42. 2:41. How long had she been unconscious? She tried moving her arms. Rope fibers scraped against her skin. It was tight, but nothing she couldn’t handle. The real problem would be her legs. One knee was crusted with blood. She was bruised all over. Even if she did escape, how far could she get? She leaned forward as far as she could in the chair to get a view out the window. Her ribs ached. This trip hadn’t gone nearly as well as she had planned.
Through the shutters, she could see a pale pre-dawn sky. 2:28. 2:27. Behind her back, Sullivan’s hands began clumsily unraveling her restraints. The whole world was silent, aside from her strained breath and her fingernails digging at the rope. No hushed whispers or shuffling steps came from the hallway. No birds chattered outside. Even the wind had quieted down.
She focused on the countdown. 1:55. 1:54. 1:53. A bomb, more than likely. The red numbers blinked at her. With each second, the room was bathed in a dull glow. If she hadn’t passed out, she would have been in a better position against this threat. It didn’t make any sense. She never lost consciousness like that. There had to be… a needle. A memory of a gloved hand and a syringe edged in from the depths of her mind. They drugged her. Did she talk? How much do they know? Sullivan shook the thoughts from her head. She was too well trained. There was no chance of slipping.
Her hands fell limp. Whoever tied the knots was very good. It also didn’t help that her captors had broken three of her fingers. Sullivan glared at the clock. 1:31. 1:30. Maybe it was a test, or mental torture, and there was no real threat to the countdown. She heaved a raspy sigh and forced her fingers back to work. She couldn’t risk calling their bluff.
Sweat was beginning to bead on her forehead. 0:59. Her nails dug into a knot and wound their way through. The space grew larger by fractions of an inch each time she attacked it. She pulled her arms again. The rope groaned as she flexed. It would be enough. Sullivan tugged and squeezed her hands free and began untying her feet. It was easier to do when she could see the knot. 0:36. The frenzied pace led her finger to slip and snag on the thick fibers. Her nail snapped down the middle. She bit back the pain and pressed on. 0:32. Pulsing red light reflected in the fresh drops of blood on the floor.
If she could get a look at the mechanics of that clock, she would be able to tell what the danger was. Released from her bindings, Sullivan sprang up from the chair. Her legs immediately crumpled beneath her. Desperation was a killer. Only a calm, even mind would get her out of this. She dragged herself up to the machine with the clock display. 0:25. Prying the panel open, Sullivan’s fears were confirmed. She couldn’t disarm the bomb and didn’t have the strength to try shoving it out the window.
Sullivan scrambled for the door. 0:17. It was sturdy, metallic, and locked. Perhaps she could jump out the window instead. She pressed her shoulder against the shutters until they gave way and leaned against the sill. A five story drop onto a stone road was not exactly ideal. Sullivan scanned the room for anything that could help in her escape. Nothing. 0:13. The countdown winked mockingly at her.
Several blocks away, a tall building was caught in the first rays of sunlight.
A slender figure lurked just inside an open window.
The figure held up a pair of binoculars and lazily peered out.
Behind the shaded figure, a man with black gloved hands waited patiently for new orders.
In the distance, a blast erupted from an old apartment complex. Smoke was rising gently into the pink dawn sky. A papery smirk tilted beneath the figure’s thin nose. Everything was falling into place.