(Released as the 387th file for uXu [Underground Experts United])


                        scenes of the assassin
                        ----------------------

                                <***>

        The thump of the bass shook the walls throughout the club giving
the perception it was in a foreign land. Fluid movement across the
dance floor spilled out by the hundred or so bodies gyrating in near
unison. No one had entered the club for nearly an hour and just a
handful had left. Every week for the past year Tric had come here
to dance away the week's frustration that built up within.
        Tonight was a good night, one of his best. As he moved around
slipping into his musical trance, his hand continually strayed down
to his left pocket guaranteeing the lump was still there. It was
unlikely he would lose it in the club, but it wasn't every day you
walked around with five thousand in cash. He thought back to the
seventy hours he had worked to get the money this week, and the delight
of his employer. Well, the delight part was just a guess, it was
always hard to tell the real mood of someone through email. Hacking
for foreign governments was a very profitable venture.
        Drums assaulted the crowd as the singer's voice cut out and
a heavy base line kicked in. Strobe lights began their own dance
over the mass of teenagers in the club. As a wide variety of sounds
struck out loud, the strobes quickened in pace. Tric snapped his head
up and openend his eyes looking straight ahead into the wall. His
quick moves of dance morphed into a new form as he shook violently.
        A lone figure wrapped in shadows walked out of the club.
Tric looked down to his empty pocket as he reached around to feel
his back drenched in sweat. The figure in black put on his sunglasses
and continued walking down the street. Bringing his hand back around,
Tric noticed it wasn't sweat, but his own blood on the freshly
removed knife. One hundred yards down the road the man in black flipped
through the wad of cash and checked to make sure his second knife was
still secure. Tric fell to the dance floor, dead.
        Four blocks away the assassin sat down at a coffee shop and
ordered a glass of water. Even though he had done this hundreds of times
in the past, his heart beat furiously as he surveyed his surroundings.
Ten minutes passed before the first police car sped by followed shortly
by an ambulance. He grinned as he watched the ambulance pass since he
knew it wouldn't be too helpful. Even if the mark survived the knife,
he had to deal with poison that laced the blade.

                                <***>

        Detestable was the only word to describe Draper. He had all
of the fine qualities of a wart hog, and the personality to match.
Even in the freezing weather surrounding the resort, Draper somehow
managed to sweat. Coupled with the old sweatsuit three sizes too small,
and his lack of bathing for two weeks, he was outright disgusting.
        About the only thing he had going for him was his ability to
launder money. Somehow his past had taught him subtle tricks in covering
his tracks in the financial system, and turned it into a lucritive
career. His contacts refused to meet with him because of his hygeine,
not secrecy, and that was the way he liked it. Draper had only dealt
with a few members of an unamed government agency in his past, and
planned on keeping it that way.
        His three night stay in Vail was almost at end. His work had
only taken a few hours the first night, but he always demanded time
off to "recover" as he liked to say. He packed his bags with a fervor
that didn't match his demeanor. Once done he grabbed his bags after
throwing the room key on the table. In the distance he heard the
steady beat of the helicopter that would take him back to his home
in New York.
        Downstairs he stopped at a candy machine hoping for a bag of
chips and a Sprite for the helicopter ride. He fumbled for the change
needed to get the chips almost dropping one of his bags in the process.
The first quarter dropped in the machine with a few clicks. The second
followed but had bigger results. A split second before Draper went
deaf from the explosion, thousands of shards of glass from the machine
sliced through his face and chest.
        Draper was dead before he hit the floor. Seconds later, a black
Miata sped out of the parking lot, a slight grin on his face. He picked
up the mobile fun and speed dialed. As the remote line rang, he turned
up the music to drown out everything else. He couldn't hear the other
end pick up the phone, but he knew they would, and the music delivered
the message. He would collect the other half of his payment later
that day.

                                <***>

        Down time was always fun for him. A person can only take so
much killing before they have to take a break and smell the roses
along the path of life. Movies was his answer. He loved nothing more
than a good movie to escape into, often imagining he was the hero
or occasionally the villain. Either way, it was his fun time.
        The Majestic Theatre was his favorite place to check out the
newest movies. He felt as if he owned the place because of the amount
of time he spent there, and had considered buying the theatre when
he went legite. Until then, more new movies. Today's movie of choice
had the appearance of a typical action flick with lots of guns and
mindless violence. Not his favorite, but typically amusing enough
to life his spirits.
        Today he was occompanied by Juli who worked over at the 82nd
Street Deli. Not his first date with her, but he couldn't dedicate
any feeling to her because of his job and lifestyle. She knew it though,
and enjoyed his company. Good for him, she was very tolerant and didn't
ask questions about his work, or some past incidents. As the lights
dimmed they both kicked their feet up and positioned themselves to
enjoy the film.
        The previews rolled by displaying upcoming nights where he
would be in the same place, at about the same time, maybe even
with the same company. Juli nudged him away from his thoughts after
she noticed him zoning out, he smiled in return. Seconds after the
last preview something happened that he wasn't quite expecting, his
pager went off. For most people this was a typical occurance, for him,
it was much worse.
        In less than a second he jumped up as if his seat had caught on
fire. Half leaning over, he whispered to Juli while handing her his pager
and some money. He gave her a quick kiss on the cheek before running down
the aisle and out the side door. A small sigh is all Juli could do as
she clipped the pager on her belt, pocketed the money, and sat back
counting the minutes pass.
        Exactly ten minutes later, the theatre burst into living hell
as twenty armed federal agents stormed the aisles. Juli acted quite
surprised at the intrusion and cooperated with the big armed men.
Even answering all the questions about the strange man trying to pick
up on her, it still took two hours before they were satisfied with
all of her answers.
        She walked home with a small grin on her face, impressed
that he always managed to get away like that. It was only a matter of
days before he called her again, asking to make it up to her, which
always turned out to be a nicer night than any of the movies. Until
then, work as usual.. and puzzlement over who always paged him like
that, why he was wanted, and how he always managed to get away.

                                <***>

        Since the first time he received that page, he couldn't help
but wonder who his guardian angel was. Like other parts of his life,
the near busts were almost like clockwork, coming once every three months,
almost to the day. Someone high up saw it in his or her best interest
to keep him alive.. he just wanted to know who and why. Was it his
employers looking out for a good employee? Or perhaps someone else higher
up that sanctioned his actions.
        Each time the page came it only said "escape". The first time
it had happened he almost didn't make it out in time because he was
unsure of what it meant exactly. His latest was unexpected only because
he had forgotten it was a leap year. He was expecting it tomorrow even
though he had no idea where he would have been.
        Two days later he walked into the deli where Juli worked and
asked for a BLT and diet coke. Juli smiled warmly at him before telling
him it would be another hour before she was off. As usual the place
was fairly busy serving the lunch crowd of surrounding businesses. Since
Juli opened every weekday morning, she was always off by early afternoon
leaving the rest of the day for whatever.
        Two o'clock rolled around as she finished up the midday
duties. A few minutes after she came out from behind the counter and
sat next to him. She seemed quite happy to see him which always brought
a smile to his face. He cleaned up his lunch mess before they headed
out to spend the day together. Making it up to her was always enjoyable
since he usually spent the entire day out on the town with her. From
past conversations, he had gathered that she didn't get out much which
would explain her good mood each time they spent the day together. Either
way, there was something else about her today that seemed different.

                                <***>

        Their first stop was a small cafe a few blocks away on 91st
Street. The cafe was nothing more than a hole in the wall, but the
coffee was outstanding and the place was littered with old computers
hooked in to the internet. Since he never bought a computer of his own,
but maintained several email addresses to stay in touch with various
contacts, trips to the cafe were frequent. He liked the anonymous access
this place gave him. Julie liked to hang out on IRC and chat with a 
few friends from Texas where she used to live.
        Juli enjoyed a Latte while she chatted on "#texas" while he went
to each of his accounts checking mail. There were only a handful of people
this early in the day, each scattered about drinking and chatting about
daily affairs. It ended up taking the better part of two hours to finish 
everything up. He threw down a twenty to cover their tab and left the rest
as a tip for the computer time. From there, they headed toward the zoo.

                                <***>

        Despite the beautiful surroundings and the exotic wildlife,
the two walked hand in hand throughout the zoo very slowly. Conversation
seemed to turn back to a variety of daily chat rather than their normal
deeper conversations. Everytime he looked at her she seemed to glance
away as if she had been studying him. He had a feeling this would come
some day or another, not that he was ready for it by any means.
        His mouth opened several times but shut a split second later
each time. Everything he thought to say to start the conversation on
his terms just didn't sound right after his mouth opened. She saw
his nervousness and grinned. Realizing he just couldn't get things
started, she began.

        "I'll start, not that I know where to begin really. I guess
        you are probably expecting this to come some day or another.
        Hope you understand where I am coming from with this."

        He nodded and smiled to himself, impressed with her strength,
as she continued on.

        "Ever since we met I could tell you valued your privacy, and
        I know you offer what information or feelings that you can,
        but I want to know you better. I mean, I know you can't talk
        about your job much for whatever reasons, but I know you can
        tell me more about you."

        It took him several minutes to digest what she said and plan
his typical carefully worded reply. They continued walking while he
figured out what to say to her. Even after thinking of how to start,
it took a poke in the ribs to actually begin.

        "Well, you're right about the job. I can't talk about it for
        a lot of reasons, some personal, some professional. What you
        don't understand is that the personal reasons keep me distant,
        not the professional reasons. I don't know how to explain this
        really. I guess its a really big catch 22 of sorts."

        He took a pause from his confusion and led her down a path
toward the aquariums. While he walked he couldn't help but to look
down at his feet, unable to make eye contact with her. Squeezing
her hand tightly in his, he continued on.

        "As for my past, its the typical college drop out story
        or something. Been on my own since I was sixteen. Finished high
        school before working as a computer technician for a while.
        Started contracting for some interesting groups who did some
        different things. Ended up doing a little college while I worked
        for them, but dropped out because the money was better. While I
        worked there they kept training me in different areas, and here
        I am."

        She half squinted one eye and looked at him as he told
his story. She could tell he was leaving the most interesting parts
out, but that was fine. It was more than obvious he couldn't talk
about a lot of it. She figured it had to do with one of the secret
government agencies or another, and because of his use of computers
she guessed it had to do with hacking or spying or something. She
didn't really care to know since he made sure it never affected
her.
        Even though they had only known each other for ten or eleven
months, she felt a deep liking for him. Every time she thought about
the whole thing, she could never really tell if it was love until
she was with him. Then, she couldn't deny it.

        "Well, that's a start I guess, but certainly not the finish."

        She smiled really big letting him know she was happy with
his explanation for now. Not wanting to let him off the hook so easily,
she kept going.

        "First off, can I assume that you haven't seen anyone else
since we started hanging out? And if not, why not?"

        He looked over at her surprised at how straight forward
she was and laughed quietly. At least this was an easy question
to answer.

        "The reason I am never with anyone is because I need complete
        and unconditional acceptance from them. But I can't make them
        promise that without knowing all about me.. which I can't
        tell them without that uncondtional acceptance. So I am always
        in a bind of sorts. This goes back to the Catch 22 and why
        I don't talk about certain things. If I could somehow manage
        to find someone willing to accept me at face value, and to
        unconditionally accept who I am, then I guess I could be
        a little more open. Just a matter of finding that person who
        can truthfully do that. And let me tell you, it would be a
        little more than 'disturbing' what I would tell that person.
        Do you see what I mean?"

        He wasn't sure if she could ever fully comprehend what he
just said, and even less sure she would respond positively to it.

        "Basically, I would tell that person a lot of really frightening
        things, and have to rely on them to accept them, and then accept
        me afterwards. Since I know what I would tell them, it gives me a
        good basis for never telling anyone."

        He glanced at her trying to measure her response, silently
hoping this would be it. He had desperately wanted to find a companion
in life, someone who could share his dark past and his dark present.
Someone that could look past that and see the whole story. He had given
up on finding anyone long ago because of the weird nature of his work.
The smile slipped away from her as she considered what he said. They
both knew it was an offer of sorts, but she wasn't sure what was to come
if she said 'yes'.

        "Well, it's kind of hard for me too. I can't promise that I will
        accept it since I don't know what it is. There are some things
        that I don't like and I refuse to deal with. On the other hand
        there are a few things most people consider 'twisted' that I
        have always looked past."

        Her ability to reason and look at all points of a problem had always
been appealing. She knew exactly what was up and just had to decide
whether or not if she wanted to take that chance. He gave a sincere
smile to her to try to comfort her. She hesitated with her response
but finally managed to continue.

        "Let me think about it tonight. I can see it in your face that
this isn't some trivial bullshit, and that it is something I really
have to consider. Do you mind?"

        "Of course not! Take all the time you need....shit..I'm getting
paged."

        He checked his pager to see a message indicating his services
were needed once again. Of course he would get paged right now.

        "I have to go. I probably won't be able to see you for two or
three days but when I get back I will find you."

        "I understand. I guess this works out for both of us. It will
give me time to think about it, and time for you to worry about my
answer."

        She gave him a big mischievous smile after her response. Better
keep him on his toes she figured. They said their goodbye's and took
off in opposite directions, more because it felt like a parting of ways,
not because they were really going different directions. Both walked
with the weight on their shoulders.


                                <***>

        It was three days before he returned to town, happy with his
performance during the job. The time to wind down was definitely upon
him because of minor complications over the past three days. He took
some time to clean his place up a little, grab a few days worth of
snacks in case he spent time at his place, and to ready himself for
Juli's answer. He actually hadn't thought about it much because of
everything else happening, but now it was the only thing on his mind.
        He picked up and set down the phone at least five times before
he could muster the nerve to call her. The conversation went a little
roughly because of the nervousness on both sides, but he managed to
pick a time and place to meet her. Now, he had to find a way to pass
the hours before they met. Those hours seemed longer than anything
he had ever encountered.

        He walked into the restaurant with a fear he had never faced
before. The feeling unnerved him to the point he almost couldn't go
through with it. To top it off, his mind raced trying to figure out
why he was losing control of himself like this. It was just one woman!
He looked around nervously trying to find her, unsure if she had
already shown up. He wandered around the various sections to see if
she had already grabbed a table.
        After walking throught the entire place he headed back up to
the front to wait for her. As he walked into the lobby he saw her walking
through the front door. His heart stopped beating while they took a few
more steps to stand face to face. Sweat dripped down from his armpits
and his hands were very moist. He wasn't sure why this was such a big
deal, but nothing he did could make his body quit reacting like it was.
        They both said 'hi' and turned to head toward a table. He glanced
over at her and couldn't help but wonder about the look on her face. She
had a very intent look in her eyes which betrayed the half smile she
showed. His mind read it as an extreme; either very good or very bad.
Something about the way she was smiling today made him wonder about her
intentions. This was quite different for him as he was accustomed to
reading her like a book.
        After the standard procedure of ordering drinks, appetizers, and
the main course, it came down to it. He had made idle chat with her
waiting for them to be alone for a little bit. Unable to contain himself,
he started off.

        "I take it you have had time to think about our talk the
        other day..."

        Before he could finish she was nodding 'yes'.

        "So.. after thinking about things.. I mean.. damn you!
        You're enjoying this aren't you?"

        A big smile crept over her face as he said that since that
was exactly her plan.

        "So throw caution to the wind.."

        He scooted up and leaned on the table anxious as he had ever
for anything. His hands cept clinching back and forth, sweating like
mad. His left foot was tapping quickly to some other beat or thought
he had been having. His mind played out every scenario for every possible
answer she could give. His heart screamed as he waited for her to say
something. It was then that he realized what had made him lose control
over all of this. One simple little thing. True and unconditional love
for her. Now he only had to wait half a second more before he knew if
the feeling was mutual...


                                <***>

        Another day on the job. He never knew what order it would be in,
just that he would kill, escape, and get paid. It had been like that
for years now which was mutually beneficial to both he and his employers.
Not that he really knew who they were, nor did he care. Some gut feeling
told him that if he did know, someone like him would be hired to pass
him along. Oh well, another day... but now, it would be another day with 
someone who accepted him for who he was. And that meant everying in the
world.