Ten Thirty Seven
“Oh, come on, it’s just for fun. These things aren’t real, ya know it.”
So against my better judgement I let her pull me into the fortune teller’s tent. As a matter of habit, I quickly scanned the interior of the small tent as I stepped inside, sidling to the side as I did so. Debbie’s barely concealed grimace didn’t bother me, I’d gotten used to it by now. The entrance, another exit almost directly opposite, a table, five chairs with a thin, bony lady in one with the four chairs opposite her on the other side of the table. A dim overhead bare bulb, a crystal ball nestled in a tripod arrangement of three sticks and a deck of cards made up the rest of the details.
“Be seated dears, be seated” said the lady. Dressed as the stereotypical gypsy, she seemed a bit thin, but this was a travelling circus after all. Without obvious premeditation, I sat in one of the two chairs that allowed me to keep an eye on both exits. Debbie sat beside me with a shake of her head and the gypsy looked at me briefly then turned to Debbie. “And how, my dear, do you want your fortune told? There’s your palm, and the cards and ball also await. Debbie selected having her palm read and got pretty much the standard quote of long life, some disappointments, marriage, grandchildren (four to be exact). Then she turned to me, “Sir, and you?”
Feeling funny, I selected the crystal ball. After the customary, obligatory passes and caresses of the ball, she began to give me a similar spiel. Towards the end, she looked intently into the ball, intently at me, and asked, “Does the word Leo mean anything to you?” At my shake of the head, she looked at me sadly and said softly, so softly I barely heard it: “Beware Leoi who is Death.”
I thought it strange that she was reluctant to pick up the money from the table, instead pushing it back towards me. I simply stood and we left. As I looked back I saw her sigh sadly.
The rest of the evening passed normally, like any other date to the circus: rides, games, food, back to her apartment for some necking, then home to my apartment and sleep.
In the morning I was up promptly at 7. Following my normal routine, I dialed the number at exactly 7:17. “Xerox,” said the earpiece, followed immediately by a click as it hung up on the other end. Damn. Only a week since I’d gotten back from the last activation call. I’d hoped for a month before the twin Xs sounded in my ear again. After a shower, shave and quick breakfast I called Debbie and spent 15 minutes commiserating with her about my stupid bosses sending me on another business trip. “But that’s the nature of being a top computer systems recovery expert. It shouldn’t be more than a week or so ’til I’m back. I’ll call sometime Friday if it’s going to be longer. Bye, love you.”
That taken care of I secured the apartment and went to headquarters. There had been a panic going on there when I’d arrived. I’d been briefed by the Deputy personally, put on the company jet, and flown to La Guardia. There, I’d caught a commercial flight to Edinburgh. There I’d met with Inspector Gunleigh and been filled in on the situation.
Fed information from my own sources, the company, Scotland Yard, and Interpol, it had taken me two weeks to track my quarry to a cabin on the slopes of Ben Loyal. After spending the pre-dawn hours slowly approaching the cabin, I’d managed to reach cover in some rocks among the heather without spooking my quarry. Slowly the time passed and eventually the cabin’s occupant revealed that the cabin was indeed occupied. But still, no sign if the target was in the cabin. Just as the rocks became unbearable, the curtains across the window parted briefly and a face looked out. Through my binoculars I confirmed the target. Now how to cross the remaining hundred yards without alerting my quarry? I had no choice but to await darkness, or the departure of the quarry.
Around three in the afternoon an old truck came rattling up the road, if you could call it that. One person, who got out banged on the door. The door opened a crack and then as my quarry recognized the driver it opened further. Too far away and stiff to move. Damn it. Snatches of the brief conversation drifted to me. “103”, “main road through Coldbackie”, “glycerin”, “plastique”, “no one else”, and then nothing as they both climbed into the truck and drove away. After five minutes for safety, I pried myself up from the rocks, every muscle screaming from the enforced still vigil. An hour later I reached a vantage point just in time to see the truck disappear heading North on the road along the Firth of Tongue. Half an hour later I was in my truck and on my way to Coldbackie.
In Tongue I’d stopped for haggis and ale and to call Scotland Yard. After filling them in, I searched the main road of Tongue before heading on to Coldbackie. It was getting late when I finally located the place in Coldbackie where my quarry was. I called and left directions to be radioed to Inspector Gunleigh, who was on his way with a group from the Special Service via RAF gunships.
From my post outside the building I saw a man walk up to the door and knock. There was a spot of light as the cover of the door’s peephole was lifted then the door opened partly, revealing my target. Again, snatches of conversation: “half hour”, “no choice”, “Yard”, “No! We must”, “half hour, take it or no”. Then the man turned and left. Through my glasses I saw anger clearly on her face. She glared at his back then quickly shut the door.
I checked my watch. Gunleigh’s META was 45 minutes away, optimistic ETA an hour. Say fifteen minutes to get to here. Given the conversational snatches, the vital need to take this target, Gunleigh’s ETA, I had no choice but to go in alone. I already knew she’d made a fatal mistake, or rather her associates had. The only door was the front, and the windows in back looked as if they couldn’t be opened. I’d have to chance it. I’d seen no indication of any other person inside and that would match her modus operandi. I drew my automatic, worked the action, and studied the building across the street some more. The door looked too solid, so drawing a deep breath, I ran across the street and dove into the window.
My forearms and the leather jacket took the brunt of the force. Then I was through and the curtains were ripping loose. I hit the floor rolling and shed the curtains as I rolled to my feet, eyes darting. No-one was in the room and I rushed into the hallway. For a brief moment our eyes locked then she turned and ducked back into the room opposite. Trapped at last! sprang into my mind.
I kicked in the door hard enough to make it bounce hard against the wall as it opened. I went in and dropped to a crouch against the wall on the same side as the doorknob. The door slowly swung almost closed from the force of the kick. My gun centered automatically on her forehead as my eyes took int he room and the situation. Slowly I arose, gun steady.
“Thunder. I’d wondered when they’d send you.”
“Give up. There’s no way out but past me. You know that. Your man will probably see the broken window and leave. You’re alone. Dead or alive is the only choice you have now.”
“I know. All things come to an end. But, I can’t be taken alive. For me, that’s death anyway. So, this switch.”
“No matter where you shoot, and if you shift your aim….” She raised the hand holding the switch slightly. “Even move forward….” Like a vixen, she grinned.
And so we stood as time went by. Then from outside came “Blohm!” Gunleigh! Her smile broadened. A hit on the door and it broadened even more.
I didn’t even think. Almost the same time my gun roared, I dropped and the room went blindingly white. The blast lifted me bodily against the wall and dropped me on my back over the overturned couch with my head hanging down towards the floor. As my sight dimmed and I lost consciousness, I whispered, “Ah…Leoi…we…meet…” as I looked at the digital clock still intact on the wall in front of my eyes.
And the clock replied redly, “10:37.”
This story was written as part of a regular practice of writing based on some single word or item, randomly picked from a dictionary, magazine, book, or some such.
The word for this one was taken from the time on the clock at that very instant: 10:37.
Originally written 4.09.95, the actual story and words have not been changed in any way. The only changes made have been to fix any typos and to format it better.