Mikael Ruskoff sipped the scotch. He wished he could make the shot last longer, but it was time to go. The sooner he got home, the sooner he could try to smooth his wife’s ruffled feathers. Even now he could hear her complaints in his head. ‘You’re never home. Your son doesn’t even know who you are anymore.’ Blah, blah, blah.
He couldn’t tell her the truth. She’d never believe it. Besides, the truth might drive an even bigger wedge between them because the minute he told her the truth, she’d be pissed over everything he had thrown away. And if he told all the truth, they’d come after her and his son. No, she was safer not knowing.
To be honest, none of this was her fault. It was his fault alone. He hadn’t considered his wife or his son when he had made his pact.
Back then, he had turned himself inside out over his inability to capture the monster torturing those innocent girls. Catching that serial killer had driven him to make the pact; it had been his only consideration.
Mikael glanced around him. The bar was near empty now. Hell, it’s no fun drinking alone. It was time he headed on home. He slapped a ten-spot on the bar top and nodded to the bartender as he counted out the slim pickings in his tip jar. Times were tough, but Mikael had never seen the place so barren, so often. He slapped a twenty on top of the ten-spot.
As he stood up, he made sure his Walther PPK handgun was secure in the pancake holster on his waistband; and then patted his belt, forgetting that he didn’t wear a badge anymore. Mikael had left it, the day he took an extended leave. But old habits never die, he decided. They just keep popping up to annoy the crap out of you.
Mikael pushed the front door open and strolled outside the tavern. The fall was bringing a cool crispness to the air that he used to love. But now it served to remind him that the days were getting short and soon, another year would be gone. Jesus, he was just cracking forty and already thinking like one of those old dudes playing bocce ball in the park.
He glanced from left to right and left again. It was the one old habit Mikael didn’t regret keeping. The perimeter was clear of immediate danger but his cop’s intuition, gnawed on him to be wary; telling him there was something out there.
Mikael palmed the Walther and started across the street. Ten feet out when he thought he heard the smallest sound, a clicking noise, metal on metal. He turned to look but he didn’t see anyone or what could have caused the noise.
His heart fluttered and skipped a beat. Mikael shook it off. He told himself to focus on getting the hell of here. His car was a block and a half down the street so he picked up his stride. He was worried enough that he pulled his one remaining vial from his pocket with his free hand. The vial was nearly empty. He prayed there’d be enough if that noise turned out to be what he thought it was.
The noise came again, this time louder. Now there was no doubt, someone was taunting him.
Of course, it was them. But how did they find him? He had covered his tracks the entire day. He wondered who they sent this time. He hoped it’d be a new one. They were the easiest to handle.
Keeping to the dark side of the street, he did a low jog toward his car. He transferred the vial to his gun hand and felt in his pocket for his keys, found the leather tab and pulled on it. They clattered to the pavement. Jesus, he was acting like a rookie. Mikael fell to his knees, fumbling around on the pavement. Where the hell were they?
Then the footsteps came. They were slow, deliberate and male.
The bastard was toying with him. It had to be someone he knew. A new one would be more careful. A name flashed through his head. No, it could not be him. He didn’t dare to look. Mikael focused on finding those damn keys. There they are. He snatched them up and sprinted the last few feet. Mikael fumbled the keys into the driver’s door’s lock and ripped the door open.
He chanced a quick look back. There he was, marching out of the shadows. Tossing a red vial up in the air and then snatching it out of thin air, over and over.
His vial! No. He must have dropped it when he dropped the keys. No. No.
Mikael scrambled into the car. He locked the doors. His hand shook so hard he couldn’t get the keys into the ignition. He jammed them in and tossed the Walther on his leg. It slipped off his thigh and clunked onto the floorboard near his feet. He reached to grab it but the damn thing was stuck on something.
Come on Mikael, grab the damn Walter and shoot the bastard’s face off. Jesus, what was wrong with him? This was nothing new. He had faced death many times.
Shoot him before he tags you.
Something crashed against his window, shattering the glass. The car’s alarm system screamed. Splintered glass exploded into the car.
A meaty ham hock of a hand reached through the driver’s window and grabbed the collar of his jacket.
An inhuman screech pierced the air... and then he realized that it was his screech.
Mikael shouted to himself, “Get a grip. Fight back. Damn it. Fight back.”
He forced himself to consider the potential implications for his son. Did he want the bastard coming for Ivan? Because that’s exactly what the bastard would do if he thought it might get him leverage with the Master. That thought pushed Mikael into high gear, kicking in his training.
Mikael pulled away. He grabbed the first thing he saw and threw it at the attacker. The attacker cursed and then laughed. Then Mikael realized that he had thrown his dinner leftovers from the Corner Stable at him.
He started to move over to the other side of the car and had nearly gotten himself over to the passenger seat, when he was dragged back across the seat.
He threw a wild punch out the window. Mikael was unable to twist his neck enough see where to aim but miraculously his punch connected to something solid. The blow must have hit a vulnerable spot because attacker grunted and loosened his grip on Mikael’s collar. Other sounds suggested that the attacker staggered backwards a step.
Mikael shrugged off his jacket. It flew out the window.
Moments ticked by. Mikael decided the man was either reconsidering his options, or had accomplished his mission. Mikael wished he knew which it was.
“Mikael... Mikael,” The voice spoke his name with his native accent, taunting him.
“Did the old man send you or did you come on your own?” Mikael pulled to get the Walther loose but whatever it was hooked on wouldn’t give.
“Why does it matter? You know what you’ve done. Tick tock, Mikael. Tick tock.”
Mikael didn’t have the luxury of taking a breath. He jammed the ignition key to the right and rammed the gear shift into drive in one swift movement.
“Tell him you failed. Next time I’ll send you to hell,” Mikael shouted out the window as his car roared to life. He slammed it into gear and screeched down the street.
The man didn’t follow. It didn’t matter, he’d be coming again.
As he raced away, Mikael felt something on his face. He glanced in the rearview mirror. Without a doubt, there was movement just under his left eye. Was it a twitch? It had to be.
It moved again, this time near the side of his nose. His eyes froze on the movement. Jesus, it was real. It was happening.
And then Mikael’s face settled back into normalcy. It must have been his imagination. The stress of the attack had caused his imagination to run wild.
Well, he was done fooling himself. This attack proved to him that they weren’t going to let him leave. When they came for him again, they would not find a sniveling coward making mistake after mistake.
He’d have to kill his way out or die.
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