A Biololigical Thriller by Kelly Owen
2009, Mexico City
A stifling, dust-filled breeze came through the glassless window, bringing with it the stench of sewage and rotting meat from the butcher shop below.
Kneeling on a filthy mattress just inside the opening, Michael LaCroix adjusted the rifle’s scope and checked the face of each man as he came out of the cinder block house at the far end of the street. The meeting had lasted less than half an hour. But unable to see what was going on inside, Michael had worried. It wasn’t until he saw Baby exit the building that Michael relaxed. As long as he could see the man, he could protect him.
Lowering the rifle, he did an unaided visual sweep of the narrow dirt street around the four men. In an opening where two alleys met, a group of boys wearing tattered shorts kicked a half-deflated soccer ball with bare feet. Further down, two women sat on an old car bench seat under a lean-to of corrugated tin.
He lifted the rifle and began a check of doorways and windows, the scope narrowing his world to a circle less than six feet across. First up the right-hand side of the street, then down the left. He examined each shadow, each fluttering curtain, his practiced eye able to differentiate a human silhouette from the background.
Every few seconds he paused to check on Baby, now walking beside a tall man wearing a white silk suit. That would be the leader, the man Baby had come to see. Judging by their expressions and gestures, the conversation was amicable, the men happy with whatever had been decided. Michael could only guess at what they talked about, but it must be important. Because the man designated Baby was one of the president’s highest ranking advisors.
Michael began to move the scope away, but a flash of silver at the tall man’s waist caught his attention. It vanished under the edge of the suit jacket before he could be sure, but it looked like the handle of knife. He watched for another few seconds, but the flash wasn’t repeated so he moved on.
A knife was the least of his worries in a city where cartel hit men carried machine guns. It was why the two bodyguards, following a dozen yards behind, had been hired to protect Baby. Michael noted that though both men carried Uzis slung from shoulder straps the short barrels were pointed at the ground. And engaged in a conversation of their own, they paid little attention to their surroundings.
He frowned at their lack of professionalism. The cardinal rule for a bodyguard was to assume there was always a threat and act accordingly. It was a lesson hammered into him by both training and experience.
Doing their job for them, he began another check of the street. He was halfway up the left side when the cell phone lying next to his knee began to vibrate. Irritated, he picked it up. Only one person had the number, and he knew to never distract Michael while on a job.
“What?” he said, his tone harsh.
“Sorry to call,” said a voice Michael didn’t recognize.
Michael’s heart rate began to climb. “Who the hell is this?”
“Look,” the voice said. “You don’t know me, but my name is Andrews.”
“Where’s Tinmen?” Michael said, his irritation switching to fear. “Let me speak to him.”
“He’s not here. That’s why I’m calling.”
This was all wrong. Tinmen would never leave the phone. It was the one requirement of a handler, always be available during an operation. No matter that Michael and Tinmen couldn’t stand each other, on the job they were an inseparable team. Till death do us part, and maybe not even then.
“I want to talk to Tinmen.”
“I told you, he’s not here.”
Michael made his decision. He would grab the president’s advisor and get out. The man wouldn’t like it, but they could sort that out later.
“I’m hanging up,” Michael said.
“It’s about your daughter, Angela.” Andrews blurted the words before Michael could move the phone away from his ear.
“Go on,” Michael said, his body stiff, the street below forgotten.
“She’s been taken to the emergency room.”
Michael felt his chest tighten. “What happened?”
“The doctor suspects a narcotic overdose.”
Michael was about to ask if Pam, his estranged wife, knew about it when a shout, followed by automatic weapons fire, drew his attention back to the street.
Through the window, he saw three men coming out of an alley engaged in a gun battle with the bodyguards. Baby was already down, thrashing out the last of his life and a lot of blood through a wide slash where his throat had been. There was no sign of the tall man he’d been walking with.
Michael dropped the phone and lifted his rifle. Andrews was still talking, but Michael could no longer hear him. Reflexes blanked everything else out, reality shrinking to the center of the scope where two hair-thin lines crossed. He drew a breath, squeezed the trigger, and a gunman died. He flipped the bolt open and closed, and another man died.
The third gunman was turning now, starting back into the cover of the alley. He had taken only one step when Michael fired again. The wall on the other side of the man’s head bloomed red as the exit wound opened.
Baby. Michael had to get him out before the police arrived. But first….
He picked up the phone. It was dead, Andrews no longer on the line. He pressed send, automatically dialing the only number it was programmed to call. He let it ring four times before hanging up. He was on his own.
He disassembled the rifle, stowing the parts in the case without seeing them, his mind on escape with Baby, or what was left of him.
Somewhere, from deep down, the voice of a little girl called to her father, begging to be heard. He turned it away. Not now. No time.
But as he left the room, the voice gave one last howl, telling him there would never be time. Not now, not ever.