Never get involved.
He lived his life by that mantra. Kept his head down, never asked questions. Ever since he’d stumbled on that assassin five years ago, when he’d been a stupid interfering kid, when he’d been shown death. Ever since then, he’d avoided any kind of trouble.
So why he followed the woman, he had no idea. Every fibre of his body screamed at him to turn around, but he didn’t.
He stuck to the shadows, stayed well back. She wasn’t so much of a threat anyway, even though she’d held her own in that alley, with that slimy pair of thugs. Squared up against the tall one when he’d made some remark, leered at her. But she didn’t raise a hand, or draw one of the weapons on her hip. And the pair had backed down. They’d come to some kind of agreement, left her alone.
If she wasn’t intimidated by them, she could eat him alive. His stomach churned, and bile rose in his throat. But still he followed.
Earlier, she’d visited a house by the river, entered via the back-door, emerged an hour later. Someone lived in that house—he’d seen them once, when he’d been walking round, had seen them rush from the door to pick up something from the front yard. Male, small, with long hair. The kind of person who knew people who knew people, could act as a go-between.
And then she went to the old warehouse, or whatever it was. Big building, crates stacked haphazardly to one side, massive hole in the roof, broken windows in the office at the top of the metal staircase.
He’d watched from a hole in the wall, the one that was covered by the bush. Couldn’t remember when he’d found that—three weeks ago, maybe more. Just passing, and a couple of goons appeared, on the other side of the street. He’d sprinted across the weed-strewn paving, shoved himself behind the bush, felt his leg disappear behind him. Only when he crouched down—and only after the goons had walked on, and their loud voices no longer reached his ears—did he discover the hole, just large enough to crawl through. Not that he’d be that stupid.
But if he lay down, he could look inside.
There were other ways in, other doors. She used a wooden door round the back—he heard a sharp crack as she forced the lock—and strode into the building. She walked around, checking the place out. She investigated the stacks of crates, pulled them until they almost fell. She climbed the ladder, shook her head at the office room, climbed back down. And then she left.
There was no logical reason for him to squeeze through that hole and climb to the office, but he rested there for the remainder of the day. The door was closed. He left everything where it was—the old chair, that dented storage unit, the set of weights, the broken desk.
She returned an hour after nightfall, stood in the middle of the open space, waiting. He watched from the broken window, safe in the shadows—the moon came in at an oblique angle, lighting her in cold blue. Ten minutes later, the two men from the alley appeared. They walked toward her, stopped a couple of paces away.
But there were already others in the warehouse. He’d been aware of them shuffling about, had heard creaking and grunting, had remained on the floor of the office, silent, afraid to breathe loudly. And now, peering through the broken window, he saw one of them on top of the crates, almost directly beneath the office.
The man wore black, covered from head to toe. He lay flat, a long gun aimed at the woman.
She talked to the two men, clearly some deal. There were shaken heads, angry words, crossed arms. But then they agreed terms, and she reached into a back pocket, produced a small package, held it out. One of the men took it from her hand, and they turned to leave.
But not before the taller man, the one who had undressed the woman with his eyes in the alley, glanced at the crate, gave a nod. The man with the gun rested his head along the weapon’s sights.
This was nothing to do with him, but one of the weights tugged at his arm, his hand pale as he gripped it. He stood, still shielded by the shadows.
The air was dry, hit throat parched.
A door slammed as the two thugs left. The woman remained where she was, shoulders rounded, like she was relieved that was over.
But it wasn’t. The shooter on the crated shifted his body, lined up his shot.
The woman didn’t deserve this. He felt certain of that.
He stepped from the shadows and grunted as the weight left his hand. It fell rather than flew. There was a crash, then a groan as it hit the man, and a soft crack as his finger squeezed the trigger.
The woman ducked, spun round. Unharmed. She must have seen the gun protruding from the top of the crates, because she scrambled up them, drew her blade. The shooter didn’t move, but she made sure, blade across his throat.
And then she looked up at the office.
He ducked out of sight, into the shadows. He waited, listened to his thumping heart, the voices that said he was next, that she wouldn’t want witnesses. Just like the assassin, all those years ago.
When he peered through the broken window she was still there, still watching. As her eyes caught his she nodded, and smiled, before climbing down and disappearing.
He didn’t move for an hour, needed that long for the shakes to stop. And when he finally descended the metal staircase, he held his head high.
Always A Reason
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