The assassin showed no signs of stopping. The way he barreled down the sidewalk—his pistol making him a path—, one would think he knew something of Bridge’s reputation. If so, he had to be aware that even though the man had taken a bullet, Bridge could only be slowed down for so long. Once he recovered, he’d be mad as all hell.
The smart play was for the killer to make himself scarce. He was doing his best, but the rain wasn’t helping. His range of vision was diminished, and his unruly hair was constantly in his eyes, blinding him. The occasional look over his shoulder most likely gave him some reassurance that no one was pursuing him, but it was a false sense of security at best. His eyes should have been on the path ahead because when he turned back to it, he ran face first into a red, metal octagon.
Given the fact that the assassin dropped like a sack of potatoes, it wasn’t vital that Bridge tell him to “Stop,” but he said it anyway, dropping the signpost he’d used like a Louisville Slugger to the ground. The pistol on the sidewalk confirmed the killer’s identity. That, and the stench. Truth be told, Bridge had hit the only guy he’d seen running and hoped for the best. It was blind luck he’d made the right pick. With a flick of his foot, he sent the gun skittering into a nearby storm drain.
Afterward, Bridge grabbed the assassin by the lapels on his coat, pulling him to his feet and backing him up against a parked car. It was odd that the rain didn’t seem to have any effect on the smell. At this range, Bridge was instantly caught up in the man’s haze of funk. He considered holding a cloth over his mouth and nose, but he needed to ask questions, the first of which was “Who are you?”
No answer. The killer’s head lolled against his chest. Of all the things he’d done that afternoon, this was his first forgivable offense. He had just taken a stop sign to the face. It was no surprise that he nodded off afterward. The thing that did surprise Bridge was the man’s weight. His rumpled suit hid the fact that there was very little to him. His pants pockets were empty—no ID—, and the only thing inside the coat was a cell phone. Bridge pocketed this, just in case, and then delivered a slap that was meant to rouse the sleeper.
It wasn’t until the assassin raised his head and locked eyes with him that Bridge began to better understand the situation. At first glance, it appeared that the man’s lips were drawn back from his teeth. A second look showed that the lips were in fact missing altogether. When he placed a hand on Bridge’s arm, his fingernails were far longer than they should have been, dirt buried deep underneath, clear down to the cuticles.
Bridge hadn’t lied to Laura when he’d told her he was no detective, but the picture was starting to become clear, even for him. Long hair and filthy fingernails. Dark suit. Half his face missing. There was a damned good reason the assassin stunk to high heaven.
He was dead.
Or at least he had been.
Whether he meant to moan or answer Bridge’s question, when the killer opened his mouth, his teeth poured out like lemmings throwing themselves off a cliff. The dead man didn’t seem to notice until he saw them hit the sidewalk. He had enough of his wits about him by then to reach for them, but Bridge held him firm, repeating his question. This time, the answer came in the form of an unintelligible collection of vowel sounds as rain threatened to fill up the gaping hole in the assassin’s face.
“Damn.” Not only had Bridge knocked all the man’s teeth out of his head, but—judging by the way it hung open—the killer’s jaw was broken in at least three different places, rendering the owner incapable of coherent speech. If Bridge intended to get any answers at all, he’d need to come up with an alternate form of communication.
Just before he started hunting down an ink pen, he remembered the man’s cell in his pocket. Placing it in the killer’s bony hands while avoiding contact with the overlong fingernails, he told the man to “Type.” Without hesitation, thumbs started clicking, and the man turned the screen around.
“Is that a first or last name?” The killer made a gesture with the phone that indicated Bridge was dealing with the Aristotle of undead hitmen. So far, it had been a day for single names. No matter. It wasn’t his identity that was important. It was the individual or individuals who’d put him on the job in the first place. “Who sent you?” Bridge asked.
dont know This was quickly followed by calld m It took a moment for Bridge to fill in the missing letter e. It wasn’t clear whether it was the keyboard that had been damaged or the assassin’s brain, but Rook anticipated the next question by typing blockd #. Despite the dead man’s willingness to comply, there was no way in hell Bridge would simply take Rook’s word for it. Grabbing the phone back, he checked both the ingoing and outgoing lists only to find that the former was empty and the latter consisted of one call whose number came up as UNKNOWN. Rook might as well have typed dad nd because that’s what the cell amounted to.
Of course, there was still one more option, though it was strictly a last resort move. Holding his breath, Bridge drew the killer closer until they were nearly eyeball-to-eyeball. Then he said the magic word. “Polly.” After that, all that was left was to wait for Rook’s mind to open up to him, divulging any and all secrets he might have been withholding.
But nothing happened. Bridge said the word again, nearly choking on the stench that forced its way into his open mouth. Still, Rook stared back blankly, waiting for whatever was supposed to happen to do so. It wasn’t until Bridge checked the sidewalk around his feet that he realized what was missing, why the word hadn’t worked. The cat was nowhere to be found.
Bridge pushed Rook back from him, tossing the man his cell phone and moving away toward fresher air. He looked skyward and ran his hands over his wet face as if to wash it clean in the rain. If there was one thing he disliked about his work, it was when it called for reasoning. Nine times out of ten, he’d rather solve a problem with his fists.
From behind him came the sound of the killer clearing his throat. Bridge wasn’t certain whether the man was trying to get his attention or it was the only sound he could still make. Rook held his phone out again, one more message typed on its face.
u lft hr alon
Bridge was a split-second from firing back with “The hell I did” and choking whatever life was left in him out of the dead man when it dawned on him just what the man meant. He wasn’t saying that Bridge’s negligence had led to Laura’s death. Instead, he was attempting to point out that while the two of them were jawing outside in a downpour, the blonde’s body had been left unattended.
It took no time at all for a legion of horrific images to flash through Bridge’s mind, and he knew that he had to make his way back to The Bethany, back to the thirteenth floor, right now. But what was he supposed to do about Rook in the meantime?
“Are you right-handed?” Bridge asked, not really expecting an answer. The assassin cocked his head like a dog watching from the foot of the bed as his master had sex. He didn’t know what to make of the question and by the time he’d figured it out, Bridge was already making his way back to the hotel. Though he probably should have killed Rook for what he’d done, there was no way of knowing how long that might take.
Instead of the assassin’s life, Bridge took his livelihood, snapping off the trigger fingers from both the man’s left and right hands and placing them in his pocket along with the killer’s cell phone. If the bastard wanted them back, he knew where to find them, and odds were Bridge would smell him coming.