Dust shimmered in the haze across the tarmac of the runway, settling into patterns of mirages like water flowing in the arid desert environment. The flight had been a long one, on which tourists had mingled with those for whom pleasure would have to take a back seat, for now.
Every bump of the time-worn surface vibrated up through the structure of the aircraft, more suited to flying high in the sky than this ungainly waddle towards the terminal building.
Lily glanced through the tiny Perspex window, taking in every detail of this new place that was to be home for a while. Until now she had never been further on Earth than the southern boarders, but times were changing and it was time to move on.
The plane came to a silent halt, then for what seemed like an age she watched with a degree of disinterest as ground-staff hustled around the belly of the plane, making ready fuel bowsers and opening up the hold to start throwing the baggage out to waiting handlers.
"Even the baggage gets better treatment, getting off this crate ahead of the rest of us," she mused in her mind.
Harsh, she reflected, but then it had been a rough journey all the way down across Europe cramped into tourist class. Still, those she had come to follow were all pampered up in first, and that was one good reason not to be there.
Surprise was the best weapon in an Assassin's arsenal, and it was one best to be kept from being squandered. So she waited patiently, passing the time by looking beyond the shimmering haze at the mountain ranges that rose up in the distance.
Eventually the stewardesses indicated that everything was ready for the passengers to disembark, and she took her turn in the slow-shuffling queue towards the door.
After the air conditioned journey from colder climates, the searing brightness heat hit her like a blowtorch at the door, but all it prompted her to do was to take out her sunglasses and slip them on before walking the stairs to the tarmac.
Baggage reclaiming was another hustle, this time amongst the many people who seemed to be in a hurry to do everything first, pushing and shoving their way over the crush of bags on the slowly revolving carousel. Lily held her small hand luggage by her side - it was always best to travel as light as possible. 'Travel light, move fast', was the motto that the Syndicate Assassins used, and for good reason. In the crowd she saw her targets picking over the baggage looking for their own. Not a good time to be in there amongst them, so she held back from the crowds, making her way through passport control. It didn't matter; they would be along in time. There was no hurry.
Sipping the cool Gin and Tonic she watched them pass from the anonymity of the airport bar. Together as a group, they seemed oblivious to those around them. Sloppy, very sloppy. It never ceased to amaze her that some think that going to another country somehow makes them invisible to those who would take interest. Still, it made her job an awful lot easier.
Sipping the last of her drink, she enjoyed the tang from the slice of lime. Slipping an ATM-fresh note under the glass, she picked her bag from the adjacent chair and slipped out into the crowds, following the party towards the main entrance.
She noted the licence number of the cab all three piled into, making sure to memorise the detail such as the chipped paint and the dented fender. She also took note of the rugged features of the driver, in case such information might come in useful later. Not a bad looker and probably good in bed too, she mused, although now was not a time to be distracted by the thoughts of sex.
Then in a cloud of dust the car pulled away and was gone, heading for the interstate highway junction, and from there, who knew? She watched the car until it could no longer be discerned from the rest of the steady ribbon of traffic then turned and made her way back into the shade of the canopy over the entrance.
"You want a ride, miss?" asked a voice.
Looking around she saw the voice belonged to a cab driver, leaning on the open door of a cab smoking a hand-rolled cigarette.
"Fastest ride in town." He sneered, eyeing her up and down.
She felt the rush of indignation. He was flirting, and he wasn't even subtle about it.
"Maybe I am, maybe not." She replied curtly.
The man seemed a little taken aback, as if he wasn't expecting a rebuttal. Maybe action was easy to come by on this island she thought, but she kept that thought to herself.
He glanced to the highway, and pointed with his cigarette to the disappearing traffic.
"You are going to have to do something to stay up with your friends. That is, if you don't want to stay here all alone."
She felt her heart flutter. How did he know! It was not exactly as if she had been obvious through the airport. Her brief had been simple - the hit was not to take place here in the open; there was time enough for other plans to be set in motion. Look but don't touch.
She looked the man up and down, paying more attention to the detail in her analytical mind. He was fairly unkempt, though clean. Tanned a healthy dark brown, just like the rest of the locals he had clearly been on the island some time. Other than that, nothing else stood out.
"Okay, I'll take that ride."
The man smiled, and reached out to take her bag from her.
"Wouldn't want a lady straining herself there, would we?"
She caught the wicked look in his eye, but didn't rise to the challenge.
"Not likely." She ducked into the cab, ignoring any offers of help and slammed the door shut before the man was inclined to offer any other feeble attempts to flirt. Positioning herself comfortably into the seat, she watched him toss her bag into the boot, and wink.
Finishing his task, he slammed the lid down and swaggered back to the driver’s seat. Ignoring the stale scent of his after-shave, she glanced to the airport road from the terminal and noted the other car was now long gone.
The driver glanced at her in the rear view mirror and sneered.
“You want to follow your friend?”
She tried to avoid those eyes.
He laughed, and slipped the car into gear.
“Don’t worry. I’ll not tell. You’re Assassin, right?”
She felt the shiver shoot up her spine, and found herself glaring back at the man’s reflection.
“Those that ask too many questions find out the hard way,” she found herself retorting, but it seemed such an empty threat, defused by the probing sarcasm in those eyes.
The feeling of powerlessness washed over her. He wasn’t afraid of her, and the way that disarmed her most powerful tool of fear left her feeling almost nakéd in his gaze.
The car pulled out into the road and moved off smoothly. His eyes moved from hers to the road, but his smile never faded. He seemed to enjoy the flicker of uncertainty that he had caused on his fare.
Recomposing herself, she turned her attention to the job in hand. She seriously doubted the taxi driver could catch up with her target, but it didn’t matter. She took a Palmtop from her purse and flicked it on.
“Take me to the hotel Carrabachio.”
“And your friend?”
She glanced up briefly but refused to meat the man’s gaze in the mirror.
“He is not my friend. Just drive.”
She gleaned some satisfaction from his crestfallen look before turning her attention back to the Palmtop. On its small screen she called up the files she needed. Citybase had been thorough – there was nothing left for the imagination in her brief. Whether or not she kept up with the target now was insignificant. She knew where he was staying, and it was not her intention to take him down right now. Higher control at Citybase had been clear on that.
In the file in front of her she saw the details scroll across the screen and took them in with barely a blink.
He had to make the first drop. There were files, and he needed to be seen to pick them up from his contact. Scanning further she saw that it would be a local man; he was to be left to leave thinking he had made the exchange. Any change or deviation to the scheme they had hatched would be reported back and arouse suspicion. That was not to be allowed.
No, he would go knowing only that his job had been a success.
From there Lily’s work was to manipulate a chain of events of misinformation and slight. There was to be other meetings, and he must make them all. His contacts would accept no substitute, however he must not be allowed to hand over the information that he thought he was there to give. One by one she had to breach the chain of those he was to meet, and to switch and change documents without those who dealt in the electronic bounty being aware that they were being manipulated as pawns in a greater game.
At the end of the chain, and only then, was the man she had followed to be disposed of before he could learn of the deception and take action upon it.
“You got a man in your life?”
She looked up and shuddered as she saw his inquisitive eyes in the mirror again.
A smile slithered briefly.
“No.” she snapped, more indignantly this time.
“A good looking girl like you, alone and single in this World. Now there’s a perfect crime.”
Silently she wished that he would put as much attention into his driving as he was giving to her. Through the cracked glass of the windscreen she could see the edge of the road come and go perilously close. Too close for comfort.
“Just drive.” She snapped at last, flipping the Palmtop shut and sliding it back into her bag.
“You are all the same.”
She found herself caught in curiosity. What did he mean?
“You sound like you have met me before,” she began slowly and carefully, “but I know I have not met you.”
“Assassin,” he sneered.
She felt the shiver again. The first time he had said she had begun to think maybe it might have been a slip of the tongue for her to read too much into. Now he had repeated it, and there was no doubt.
“I have met your kind before,” he continued, letting his eyes move back to the road where they belonged, “You interest me. I know what you do.”
She felt curiosity rising. Who had worked the islands before? Who had let a normal learn too much? A part of her suddenly longed to find out.
“What makes you so certain?”
She knew she still had to be guarded; there was every possibility that he was bluffing. Sometimes they did: the normals. Sometimes they fancied themselves as sleuths in an otherwise boring World, getting involved in events that otherwise were like movies played out on the news bulletins.
She had been warned about them. Sometimes there were those who yearned for the perceived glamour of being involved in something exciting. Perhaps he was one.
“The eyes. I recognise those eyes anywhere.”
Another shiver. She was aware of the deep green of her eyes, and all of a sudden she was acutely self-conscious of the other tell-tales her eyes might give. There were many ways to spot an Assassin, to those who knew.
It was likely, she thought, that he had found out through the network, about Assassins. They were not the best kept secret, and it stood to reason that over time the underground word would eventually out them to those who cared. Some groups of hackers took pride in finding out what others did not want to become common knowledge. It was a hidden economy in information where the nobodies tried for their five minutes of fame to become a somebody with that little bit extra.
The unease in the cab grew, as she avoided his probing stare, but it was hard. Why did he have to keep up that insane grin every time he looked in the mirror? Despite her programming Lily realised it was making her uncomfortable.
“It’s a nice place.”
The comment caught her off guard.
“What did you say?”
“Hotel Carrabachio. You said you were staying there.”
She watched the rocky landscape go by out of the window of the cab, refusing to make eye contact.
“That’s where I’m going,” she replied flatly.
“Your friend? He’s going there too?”
The question hung in the air and a shudder went down her spine. Was he probing for information?
“I never said he was my friend,” she snapped.
“Yes! You are Assassin all right. Tight-lipped to the end. Anyway, it is not so far now. We will be nearly there.”
She ignored him, waiting for the last of the journey to flash by, hoping that it might pass quicker than she knew it would; anything to be away from this man.