Two

If there's one thing he appreciates, it's a job done right, the first time. It is for this reason that he is armed with four silenced pistols, two throwing knives, and a grenade as he steps into the empty elevator.

"Penthouse, please," he says to the woman who has entered behind him.

"Certainly. I like your shades."

He smiles an acknowledgement and runs a gloved finger down the arm of his three-hundred dollar sunglasses, the style of which has been made popular a few months, ever since the release of his favorite film, The Matrix.

The woman exits at the sixteenth floor, leaving him alone in the elevator. He takes this opportunity to adjust the holster, which, strapped to his right thigh, has begun to dig painfully into his crotch.

The elevator stops at the top floor, but the doors remain closed. He reaches into his jacket and withdraws a thin, rectangular key. It fits perfectly, as promised, into an illuminated keyslot discreetly located below the EMERGENCY STOP button.

He turns the key and, a second later, when the steel doors slide open, he is ready, mind alert and focused, conscience and emotion routinely displaced.

He steps out into a wide, sparsely furnished hall with marble floors. Somewhere in the house, a piano, automated, judging by the technical precision, plays a piece he recognizes but cannot name. He draws two of the pistols, the nine millimeters that he currently favors, and begins to move slowly down the hallway. The music grows louder, and he sees that the hall opens into an expansive, decadent living room. Mahler's Fifth, he realizes quite unexpectedly.

Two weeks earlier, sitting in an upscale restaurant, not the franchised, inexpensive type he frequents, he had received three items from his current contractor: his usual five-digit retainer, a monochrome photo of his mark -- a twenty-something blonde woman with a dazzling smile, the kind of woman orthodontists must fantasize about, and five seconds-worth of instructions.

"You are to be brutal. Make it look like a hate crime." The Asian woman that had instructed him from across the table looked old enough to be his grandmother. Her voice, as confident and reserved as her demeanor, had made him shiver.

Money, photo, instructions, but no floor plan. He regrets that now, as he moves closer. The polished, ebon form of a piano placed against the right wall of the living room comes into view.

He is about to move on, when a golden glint makes him freeze.

There she is, seated at the piano, flawlessly playing Mahler's Fifth, her head tilted towards the keys, long blonde bangs hanging down. A scene from Shine plays behind his eyes as he takes a step forward.

Her head flies up, and their eyes lock. A split-second of silence, and then he opens fire.

Bullets tear through the piano in a spray of shattered splinters, but she is already in motion. He rushes left, strafing sideways to get a better angle, but by now she is airborne, at the zenith of a perfectly executed back flip. He pivots, guns following her movement, spitting flame and chaos.

Somewhere in the air she has spun, and she lands facing away from the piano. As soon as her feet hit the ground, she is moving again, dashing unharmed towards a tall wooden door he had failed to notice. Bullet trails mark her path, arrowing through space she occupied milliseconds earlier. She tugs the heavy door open, toward him, and he sees that he will have one chance, one perfect opportunity to finish this now.

He takes it, squeezing both triggers simultaneously.

C-Click.

Two sounds, echoing reports of emptiness, nearly overlap. He drops the pistols, throws off his shades, and swears.

"No names, as little information as possible" has always been his policy regarding targets. It has made things easier, conscience-wise, but he is now beginning to wonder if it was such a good idea.

He rips the remaining pistols, the forty-fives he does not particularly enjoy firing, free from their holsters and refuses to give any thought to the fact that he has just seen his target perform a feat he deems quite physically impossible.

He moves quickly to the door and, back pressed against the adjacent wall, cautiously tests the doorknob. It turns silently in his grip. He moves to the opposite side of the doorway, reaches past hinge and frame, and again turns the handle. He exhales a silent prayer and pulls.

The door swings toward him in a cacophony of gunfire that confirms his worst suspicions. He shakes his head grimly and, for a brief second, considers cutting his losses and getting out. The old woman will be pissed, and my reputation'll be shit, but I'll still be in one piece, he reasons.

Unfortunately, if there's one thing he appreciates, it's a job done right, the first time.

He steps away from the wall, turns to face it, and strafes past the open doorway. He glimpses a massive bookshelf and a sturdy-looking oak desk (behind which the woman is invariably hiding) and manages to fire a few yeah, you better stay down rounds into its thick frame as he passes.

He returns to his original position, back pressed against the textured wall, breathing heavily. Entering the room is too dangerous, he decides. He is devising a way to lure her out (she's only a woman, after all) when he remembers the grenade.

"You are to be brutal. Make it look like a hate crime," his contractor had said.

Nothing says brutal like a grenade, he decides, holstering one gun. He carefully withdraws the explosive from his jacket pocket. He hesitates for a moment, then tugs the ring loose, lobs the grenade into the room, slams the door shut, and runs. He is almost to the hallway when the study explodes. He turns in time to see the charred door burst off its hinges, propelled by the rush of flame behind it.

He drops his gun.

Clinging to the back of the door is the blonde, her clothes undamaged, her hair looking better than in the photo. A split-second before the door glances off the ruined piano and slams into a glass-framed painting, the woman shoves off, launching herself at him like a pouncing cat. He has seen something like this before, a woman in leather performing impossible stunts, but before he can connect memory and stimuli, she crashes fists-first into him.

He topples backward, and his head strikes hard against the marble floor. His vision is blurred and blood-filmed, but he is able to make out her diffused form, crouched on all fours above him. Her bangs hang down in his face and brush tauntingly against his cheek. He watches in stunned silence as she reaches behind her back and pulls a pistol from her waistband.

He tries to speak, but his lips are sluggish, thick with hormonal anesthesia. She shakes her head, and he can tell she's feigning sadness.

"Why'd you go and do that?" she asks, beautiful lips pouting. Her voice has a sultry quality that makes him think of a coffee-house singer, of that girl from Casablanca.

A franc for your thoughts...well, I'm willing to be overcharged and a sharp metallic chill against his forehead catalyzes thought.

"Who…are…you?" he manages to gasp between labored breaths and the sound of Sam playing that song he told him to never, ever play again.

Sue," she says, and he's never heard a more beautiful name. "Mary Sue."

His eyes widen with understanding. He gets it.

And then, he gets it.

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Author's Note: I doubt everyone will know what/who a Mary Sue is. I will deal with it, I suppose. This is my first legitimate attempt at writing action/adventure. More than structure or plot (like there's that much), I would like feedback related to diction, flow, and especially whether or not the description provided a clear mental picture.

Lastly, there is an excellent accompanying piece, written by somebody else, here on FP.net. Since my FP hates hyper links, the storyid is 1131807. Check it out.

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