Written by: Zeronova
Started on: 5-10-2005

Summary: This story is one that doesn't make exceptions. If you despise length, think that the heroes should be cool, or believe that a story should exist to make you feel good, you should look elsewhere. Arcadia is about a mercenary and a Russian businessmen who get wrapped up in events bigger than themselves, and must stand each side for a world in which they can change, or hold onto the edges of the old. It might be slow, but if it doesn't suit you, please do not read. Influenced by authors such as Tom Clancy, Robert Ludlum, Clive Cussler, James Patterson, and Craig Dirgo, I try to make it interesting and gripping, not to mention uncompromising, like a true novel. I hope that it can make you think, make you quease, or make you cheer, depending on how you want to view the story, but please, do not view it lightly. I feel I have put more depth into this than most stories (from simple things like characters to allegory, stylistic experimentation, methodical plotting, rhythmic pacing, philosophy, etc.), so I hope you, the reader, enjoy what I offer.

Update: March 19th, 2006 - Chapter 1 through 6 have been edited, and a few new bits have been added, as well as certain things changed (i.e. Nastasha's hair has a definite color now, not bouncing back and forth). They should be nearly free of grammatical, spelling, or story errors, but if there are any, please notify me, Zeronova, at the e-mail on my profile. Thank you, and enjoy your read!

Update: January 10th, 2007 - Edited up some more, chapter 7 to 14. I think 1 to 14 fits a nice chunk, like an arc. Yep. More edits and chapters rolling along soon!

The cab veered off with little care for whom it just dropped off. The day was bright, bristling with activity and life, and he had many other fares to attend to. The guy he just dropped off dropped out of his memory as quickly as the money was in his hand. It was no err of the cabbie, but expected, seeing as how Thomas York was painfully average. That was what he had manifested himself to be, and it is what the world saw. It was perfect for his job, and everything he stood for. Another face in the crowd, some guy in a cab that got dropped off in the Tech Center district of downtown Toronto, and that was all he was.

He stared around for a moment, hearing the cab jump off, kicking up a small clutter of the sludge piled at the edges of the street and sidewalk, quickly cutting off in front of another pedestrian who gladly got in. York watched the scene, making an affirmatory note in his head that he'd not be remembered. He was standing in front of his target, scoping the surroundings, like any good mercenary would. It was his job, and it was why he was hired. There was something simple in the complexity that surrounded his job, and he made it such that it boiled down into the component parts of what was needed, not what was supposed to be important. There was no maybe, only absolute of yes and no, as was his job indeterminably basic. A bullet was what he was supposed to deliver, and he'd not be in breach of contract to do such an elementary task.

Idle steps paced the sidewalk, his eyes scanning over to his left, in front of the building where his mark was. Howard Tufton was inside, sitting in some comfortable chair in the executive room of his multi-million dollar company, Raptor Communications Inc. That didn't matter, though. He was just a man who was wanted dead. Thomas eventually turned into an adjacent building, walking slowly through the metal detectors at the front, laying his heavy briefcase on the x-ray machine. Most buildings in those sectors had guards at the front that would make sure that the multi-tiered corporate offices were safe. The precaution was worthless, seeing as how the many businesses inside those districts indirectly paid for the security, and any business minimizes costs, so the security was half-assed.

The obese men sitting at the sensors would welcome in the regulars, then stand up at a new face, grabbing their belt up from under their gut, and assume an ersatz authority that only served to compound their foolishness. But, York obliged, letting his case slip through, and then him walking through the detector. It ticked, and the men shrugged, pulling out a magnetized paddle.

"My watch," York said, monotone and uncaring, rolling his sleeve back. They examined it, waving the wand, then nodded for him to continue, grabbing his case on the opposite side of the detector. He rolled his sleeve back down, covering the simplistic watch. It wasn't expensive or any big brand name. The watch served its purpose in keeping perfect time, as well as being light-weight and entirely pragmatic. The use of flashy or plutonian vanity was unwarranted and worthless to those who served the idealism of absolutes. If something didn't cater to his personally perfected style, then it didn't need to exist.

Expensive suits, luxurious cars, castles on hillsides and butlers, they were all worthless. They served only to waste time, money, and serve the ego of the man who hadn't the realization that execution was all that mattered, not presentation, or so York thought. He didn't think very often, and when he did, it wasn't anything more than pragmatism or observation, not the introspection of a world-weary traveler or a philosopher. The fleeting thoughts of criticism ran quickly from him as he turned into one of the elevators, watching the guards assume their positions around the flimsy sensors, picking back up their magazines and conversation.

Thomas clicked the thirty-third floor, not caring about the many business names scrabbled on small brass tiles next to each of the buttons, telling which businesses occupied which floors. The briefcase silently found its way to the floor, leaving his leather gloved hand. He was wearing his favorite pair, as favorite as the ultimate pragmatist could find. They were comfortable, but at the same time, allowed him to feel everything through their cover, and still hid his fingerprints, as they should have. He still had to use his hands in such ways as if he was wearing nothing, and the thin "butter soft" gloves, as the tag would have labeled them, worked perfectly for that. He didn't move, not an inch, as the elevator clicked the floors off, finally stopping at his stop.

Stepping off with his briefcase, he turned to the right, not even needing to see where he was going under the brim of his baseball cap, and pushed open the fire escape door, methodically placing a foot above the other as he progressed up the stairs. He didn't show any emotion for each step, only stepped above them in a nearly mechanical fashion, not over-stepping one foot over the other or showing any exaggeration of his movement. He wasted no effort or time in doing anything which didn't matter, including a flawless execution of walking up stairs. That flawless execution carried over into his wardrobe.

A blue baseball cap sat over his face, lacking any advertisements or logos. People would only notice some baseball cap, which is what he wanted. A unremarkable t-shirt sat under a loose-fitting brown leather bomber, sitting worn and unassuming over his lithe frame. A pair of jeans that fit him like any other man's also adorned his lanky legs. The only telling feature was the cap's bulge, from an unwieldy amount of hair underneath. For what initial loss of accuracy a mass of hair might amount to, it helped to cover his face, which was another boon. The blonde hair, sitting in a scraggly mass, seeped its way from the edges of the constricting, unbiased hat, covering his face to the middle of his nose in the front, and a hanging number of tufts behind, tucked into the back of the coat. Hidden underneath the impenetrable blonde hair were a pair of verdant eyes, acting only as another piece of flesh towards an organism with drive, not the poetic windows.

Reaching the top of the stairwell, York fished out a small bronze key from his pocket, inserting it in the lock, then proceeding out, leaving it in there as the door whined shut behind him. It had been provided for the job, as had the entire file he had sitting back home. It was a standard type of operation he was supplied. The name, the target, where he was, and when he would be there, it was all provided. Pictures of the man, his ride, his driver, his patterns, and the most important part, a price, were what he was given. It would be deposited, like all of the other jobs. He grabbed a small item from the inside of his jacket, then brought it to his face.

Binoculars shifted under two meaty hands, twisting to clarify the zoom. Visibility was nearly infinite on the cloudless, sunny day presented. Almost too perfect, he thought. The spot that he had picked was almost perfect as well, exactly angled to the limo, and then the criss-cross of streets to the highway, allowing him every possible angle to make the mission a success.

The day was bright, a brazenly clear sky with one of those bright type of suns that seems to cover all of the vast blue from even looking into the blinding azure straddled across the horizon. His view was purely at an angle of descent though, towards the street below him, set upon sidewalks laced with people and the foundations of buildings with large corporate logos and inviting glass doors.

York lowered the binoculars from under his brim mechanically. He took a look with his own naked eye sight, looking around with a fuzzy, but more realistic view of the limo over six-hundred yards away. The plain brown bomber jacket, going just past his belt, and modestly fitting with a slight bloom in the chest, concealed his muscular top half. But, due to its wear and tear, which had transformed the hard leather into a giving smoothness, nothing more could be deduced, except the obvios: he wasn't obese. It fit perfectly into the unassuming average wardrobe.

Thinking back, he probably didn't need the coat, it was a warm day anyway, but the occasional gust laced with the fleeting crystals of ice lingering in the return of spring lent him the idea he might need it. All lingering carcasses of winter's war on natural vitality was being burned by a fruitful sun as it were, the small clumps of slush accumulated on the edges of sidewalks and buildings evidence of that. The briefcase in his left hand was another piece of the simple wardrobe. He was a decent height, five-foot-eleven, had a square face that wasn't too chiseled or too fat, thin and lithe, but not a skeleton either; he had an good deal of strength and toned muscle as well. Thomas York was the typical face in the crowd a person loses once they walk past him.

Tucking the set of binoculars into his coat pocket, he dropped the suitcase in his left hand, feeling the grip of it leave his gloved hands. York walked over to the edge of the top of the building he stood on, the gravel underneath his foot rustling and bounding around as he did. It was standard issue for buildings to have a light gravel coat at the top, to absorb all the avian treats that would fall on it, as well as it being the style for most modern architecture. The door behind him still had the bronze key in its lock, the counterfeit, but he knew no one was following him, and left it there for a quick retreat. He was thirty-three stories up, on an adjacent building to the one in front of him, which held his goal. York would silently thank his own immoral apathy for not making him scared of heights, if he had had the ability to do so.

Through an unblinking set of eyes, pale with somewhat drooping eyelids fastened in a dreary state with green irises, he looked at the scene. With his eyes, he could measure, roughly, the distance between him and a target. He could tell windage by the hairs on his arms and how it swept by his nose. The reflection of the innumerable glass panes of the metropolis, arcing into the sky, would hurt his aim, but he'd have to accommodate for it. The timing had to be right, from where he was to the limo. His eyes were perfect measuring instruments, the lifeless verdant pair of utensils as useful to this man as an architect with a protractor.

Feeling accomplished, he smiled a slight twinge out of the side of his mouth, a smile that faded half a second later as if wiped from him as he was walking back. He picked up his briefcase, walking back to the edge. A foot-high girder ran around the edge of the building, probably just for insurance purposes, since it served next to no purpose. The building had a streamlined floor plan, a streamlined look, and a streamlined construction. Everything in it had been done factory preset, put together like an erector set upon arrival. It was a cookie cutter city, which only helped an assassin.

It took a man of insignificant stature to do something extraordinary and not be remembered. That's why York preferred the simplicity.

Unlatching the briefcase sides with the turn of a key, he laid it down on the small protecting rail of cement on the rooftop. He could hear the hiss of the whirling exhaust vents behind him, the heated air escaping through the decorational spinning tops of Russian descent, clanking with their aluminum edges along their rotating axis. He strained out the noise though, instead focusing on the briefcase.

Upon first opening, it looked like any normal briefcase, but he grabbed a small latch on the underside, flipping it up, revealing something much different. The edges were compacted lead, letting in only a few x-rays that would see the top layer of the briefcase, not the canceling foam underneath or the weapon of choice.

The secret compartment had a foam lining, with small cut out shapes where a multitude of small technical parts lie. A side set of screws with a screwdriver stood out, along with one long barrel. He pulled out each piece in order, snapping something together, twisting, screwing, slipping another piece back and in, a twist of another, a screwdriver to tighten it, and he was nearing the form of a rifle. It was a automated process he followed, one of steps and articulate handling, not of art. His thoughts led him like a diagram to what he had practiced a hundred times. Spin the stock onto the main frame of the weapon, attach the compression silencer to the custom barrel, thread the scope, slap in a clip, rack the cocking mechanism and a .50-caliber shell would be in the chamber from the clip, he thought. He slipped on the tripod, then let it rest with the butt on the floor and the barrel skyward. All he had to do now was wait.

The Barrett 95M bolt-action rifle was one of the finest sniper rifles, and York had it only through excess money, since it was military only. The job depended on the type of power it provided over a 7.62 millimeter rifle, like a Heckler & Koch G3A3, which he had left home. The only problem would be the tank-like boom it would have, which is where the compression silencer on the front came into play. It was custom, and bulky, but specifically tuned to be accurate, as well as effective. No normal silencer could hush the blast of a .50-caliber rifle, so it required something much more powerful. A silencer like that costs more than any standard gun, but it was worth it, and York knew why. It also required a high-tension mount tripod that would allow the bulk of the weapon to swing freely, and not rip off its base, like a standard bipod would, and Thomas had one of those, as well.

According to the information he received, this guy was nothing spectacular. Howard Tufton was a high level worker in some communications company, one that was recently going through a merger to acquire more market share, possibly monopolize it. It was of no consequence to the ordinary man, for his average life had no meaning on corporate affairs. York occasionally wondered if anyone ever thought that it was always the "average guy" who would walk around with a four-foot sniper rifle in his briefcase.

Thomas mind continued to search, wondernig what was going on under him. He didn't notice or care, beyond wanting to know for his own betterment, but he did walk over back to the single door, peeking his head into the corridor, then back out to the flat and level roof, gravel lined and with some sprouting weed-like ventilation ducts. Twisting the bronze key so that the door locked, he removed the key and put it in his pocket. This was one of those easy jobs where the client gave him everything up front to make it simple and easy for him. York enjoyed these the least though, because there was no fun in it, or as much enjoyment as one such as he could ascertain. It was simply go, do it, go back. Enjoyment to him was something more of challenge and how much he had to think outside of what he knew, not a true edge to having to smile or feel happiness, no, that was something else entirely to Thomas York.

The hits he enjoyed more, both for the sake of higher pay and the adventure, were those of vague lines. They usually specified one client, and not anything else. It was up to him to find everything and arrange it. It gave him more time to do it, and also provided him a chance to get out more often. Thomas didn't really have a feeling one way or the other on the acceptance of jobs, he just knew which he preferred. As long as he got his greenbacks, he wasn't much of a fuss, nor was he ever. York was too mellow, too calm, and too soft spoken to be a nuisance. He never spoke, actually, and he hardly ever made any acknowledgments, except for when it was necessary.

The mission was simple. Kill a man named Howard Tufton. He was a rising CEO in that communications company, mainly a cell phone provider, but branching out to internet, cable, and who knows what else with their new merger. Possibly he was hired by an opposing firm to halt transactions. One man's life could save the entire industry, or maybe they thought. Regardless, York's rifle would make it happen.

He had one goal, one simple one: kill Tufton. Tufton's limo picked him up everyday; Howard knew the driver personally, their kids were on the same soccer team. He had been riding in that same limo with that same driver everyday for three years now, and not once had he got into one problem. The limo driver was clean as well, being one of the most decorated of the transport service he was employed for. He usually got off work at around 5:30 P.M., would exit the front door, get in his limo, and have his chauffeur ferry him homewards. Thomas York would wait until he popped his head outside, under the small sunroof of the pull-in front desk area of the business. One simple clean shot and he'd be gone.

If he missed, highly unlikely though, he would have to improvise, and he had three clips in the briefcase, lying dejected still on the railing a few feet down. He was always prepared, and he preferred sniping. He had never not fulfilled a long-range contract. His emotionless disposition lead to very minimal shaking, and he found himself very accurate in every endeavor he ever took upon himself. Perfection was the goal of which he would only mark as only half-succeeding.

York waited patiently, just waiting and thinking. His thoughts were rather void though, just on the mission. He silently ran the facts he knew through his mind. How the target lives, his name, address, habits, telltale signs of it being the target, which included a pin-striped suit, as well as anything else he could recall from the file. He made it his job to memorize everything there, so that there was never any evidence linking the kill to whoever hired him. It was all he could do anyway, since even if he left the roof for a moment, the target could somehow escape by. A true worker of York's business put everything behind him when it came to getting the job done, and he was a true worker.

Taking one step back to stretch out his arms, he could feel the cold metal of a bullet rubbing against his chest. It was on a necklace, a weathered and old leather string, with a double knot in back, and a bored hole through the top of the round. The slug itself had been shot, the ruptured front and bent form of the metal signifying it had hit something before being jewelry. It only served to give him more incentive to never let the target out of sight.

Slowly, the sun set on Toronto. The drooping clouds on the horizon signaled that it would be a rainy night, and an ugly one as well. If he were anyone else, York could have thanked God, if He even existed, that the weather was relatively stagnant at this moment. Had it been windy, rainy, or any combination of foul weather, it would make his job harder. He had done it in the worst of climates, the worst of conditions, and the worst of ways, but it didn't mean he enjoyed it. Being able to do something is different from liking to do it, and York knew that good conditions begot good jobs.

A bird landed on the rim of the building, squawking for a few seconds. Thomas only stared at it, its beak pecking the ground slowly, looking around, repeating, then flying off to another cooing companion. Birds, he thought. He couldn't think of an adjective, a feeling, nothing, except to know what it was: a bird. He was as emotionless, humanless, and flat lined as a corpse, but a corpse that was entirely aesthetically normal.

He walked over to where his rifle was sitting skyward, the tripod holding the barrel as if to shoot the setting sun out of its descent, to hurry it up until it hit 5:30 P.M. He had a while to wait, but he didn't care, he'd set up anyway. He preferred long range, it was less personal, took more skill, and offered him a much better escape and a much better view of the kill. If he was close, he could get caught, fired back upon, and people might see him. This way it was quick, lethal, and anonymous.

The bustle of people inside of the building he was perched on could be heard through the ventilation shafts on the roof, littered like hairs on a bald man's head. They were packing up, saying goodbye, and getting ready for the morning. He could even faintly hear the jingle of a few Latino tunes, obviously being played by one of the janitors who left the stereo blaring as they worked. The parking garage under the building saw a mass exodus of cars, all either of Lexus, Acura, or Mercedes, shiny with new paint jobs and a distinguished sense in their taste and style. Not one of the cars was older than five years. It suited the up-scale, well-paying part of town York was in, but almost contradictory to the average people who walked by the fronts of the buildings, and even the hobo lying down in the alley between his current building and another. That homeless man was another thing York had to notice, but file away into the back of his mind, like so many other small facts about every moment of a job.

Finally, he retired himself to his tool of the mission. Picking up the butt of the rifle, he slowly swiveled it upward on the oiled free-movement ball joints of the tripod. He securely wrestled the pit of his arm to the butt, feeling the familiar metallic curve and affixed rubber pad to make it more comfortable. He had custom sized the weapon to his grip, his other hand perfectly reaching out the snatch the handle and wrapping a delicate finger on the carbon-reinforced trigger, a trigger that had set him back a few hundred alone. This was one of his favorite weapons, by and far, but it was like every other gun he owned: personalized. But the personalization was only for the sake of efficiency, and the pursuit of the better kill, not to taste. His taste was irrelevant, he had no affection to looking good or having that sort of thing, he customized only to the needs of his business and the efficient use of his tools. Also, the gun was his favorite for its ability, not because of preference; he hadn't the capacity to endure preference, it was all about efficiency.

He had springs adjusted in triggers to his exact specification, he had guns shortened or lengthened, he had barrels replaced, he had slides weighted or trimmed to make the perfect recoil, and he used bullets he specifically picked out and put, by hand, into his clips. Possibly an obsessive-compulsive trait of his job, but it was merely something that streamlined his work. His work sustained him with life, so he was obligated to make sure his work was perfect, as well as the instruments with which he gave his work to his clients. Style, fashion, or the simple "like" of how something looked was irrelevant. The real purpose of a gun was to kill, and if it wasn't perfectly suited to do the job, it needed maintenance until it became a finely-tuned and crafted weapon that would impress even Vulcan, the blacksmith of the old Roman gods.

His cheek rested on the butt of his rifle, where he had strapped a small rubber pad to, not unlike the one on the far back of the butt. His cheek had been molded, through a five-hour session with a Swiss pocket knife and pressing it to his face, to fit perfectly in the curve of the rubber so that his eyes could stare perfectly down the scope, a scope that he had expertly aligned, lengthened, and angled so his eyes were always in its perfect range. A knife had carved small notches onto the barrel where he needed the scope for his measurements, and when he screwed it on, it met those notches. A small contraption hooked to the scope, like a parasite, read in a red LED to him the distance of the object that the barrel was currently pointed at, ranking in at one-thousand-nine-hundred-seventy-two-point-eight-nine feet.

The watch on his hand beeped once, the single tone he had allotted it. It, too, was an instrument of exactitude and minimalism. Nothing fancy, but a simple, silver watch, perfectly fit to his wrist and suited for its job. 5:30 P.M, it screamed in a dactylic whine. Any moment now, York thought, training an unblinking eye through his scope. He tensed his finger slightly, seeing the doors open to the building across the street. His angle would allow him a near perfect shot of the head, and at this angle, nearly anything would kill, even if he hit his body, since it would penetrate down through many organs, perforating anything in the way. It helped Thomas had scored the bullet with small screw-like indents with a knife prior, since it would make it more aerodynamic and crawl through the body at an even better pace. The smallest of adjustments would make a huge difference, especially when traveling at those speeds; any connoisseur of death knew that.

And, there he was: Howard Tufton. He walked out of the front of the communications building, smiling as he waved to an unseen receptionist, and then reached for a cell phone that was undoubtedly serviced by his company. York read his lips through the scope; he said hello. Then, a smile split his lips, turning his head and walking off. It had to be his daughter or wife, someone who would make him happy. He had a coat folded over one arm, the hand holding a briefcase at the bottom, and his other holding the phone. Tufton was old, maybe forty-five, with a receding hairline and a graying scalp that revealed his pale top.

Thomas York had a renewed sense of vigor and adrenaline, or as much as one without feeling could ascertain. Anyone watching him would never know, since his muscle didn't twitch, his eye never blinked, and the only thing that moved were the flaps of his coat in the brushing wind. He only shifted slightly, turning the muzzle of the rifle slightly, the LED on the side of the scope reading out new numbers for every minute direction he turned.

Tufton put down his briefcase, reaching with his open hand to the door of the limo. His driver had gotten out to get it for him, but he waved him off, smiling. He was the type of man who didn't need someone to open the door for him. Now.

York squeezed the trigger on the rifle, the silencer on the front rattling as the bullet clawed through its suppressed clinches, but it came out as a straddling, guttural sound, somewhere between a muffled growl and a violent whisper. Tufton leaned down to put his briefcase in the car before he got in, the subsequent turn leaving an open shoulder, and not the head that he had aimed for, and the distance the bullet had to travel made sure that the error was seen. Tufton dropped the cellular phone as his face erupted in pain and a howling scream that York could hear from almost a half-mile away lightly grazed his ears. The recoil of the rifle was brutal, knocking the mercenary back, his head popping off of the cheek rest, his hand swiftly and with practiced-perfection sliding the shell release backwards, the smoking brass ejecting with a slight tink as he slammed it forward, the next large caliber bullet replacing it.

Tufton's shoulder was a bloody mess, his arm hanging on by loose threads of sinew and muscle, since his entire collarbone structure had been splattered in twenty feet from the direction of the bullet. His driver looked out of the window with a concerned face of the scream, then rushed to and tossed Tufton into the open limo door, swinging back to his, shifting gears, and the limo was moving. The limo driver was quick, as if he had done it before. Perhaps he had saved other V.I.P. lives like this, or perhaps he was a NASCAR pit-stop crewman, but either way, in the time it took to reload the gun, which was only a second and some fractions, the doors slammed, locked, and the car started to move.

The gun spat out one more bullet, rippling across the roof of the vehicle, the metal denting inward where the bullet entered, leaving a sizable hole and the glass windows shattering from the crunching roof. York lost his angle though, the limo was quickly speeding off, and it had merged onto the highway ramp in a few mere seconds. The highway was relatively close to the front of the building, and they were quickly on it.

Picking the rifle up like a baby, Thomas sprinted over to the other side of the building, setting it down with unparalleled agility, coupled with a softness that seemed almost impossible for doing something that fast. Thomas quickly realigned his grip and cheek, perfectly fit and practiced, aiming at the limo again. It was merging onto the freeway, and would be out of his sight in only about five seconds. He fired off another bullet, blasting out the wheel, the tire well, the rim, and parts of the back suspension with the well-placed bullet.

Spinning out of control, the weighty stretch flew into two lanes of traffic, knocking two other forgettable cars into its side, as well as finally being crunched into the side cement girder. Cars squealed and rubber burned as they tried to avoid the crash, only more cars piling up. An internal satisfaction arose in him, but he wasn't done yet. Not blinking, moving, or taking his eyes off of his scope, his hand swept to reload it, then the crosshairs trained on the back of the limo, and York fired again. This time, he had aimed below the back passenger area, knowing the doors were now inescapable, being crunched in by adjacent traffic. But, that didn't mean the occupant was dead.

He would be in a moment, though. The shot crunched in the trunk with the force of impact, the back end sinking down for a moment before being shot up. The bullet rattled through the fuel tank on the under carriage, hitting the cement moments later, igniting it, and the entire backside of the limo shot up into the air thirty feet. A few cars around were launched equally around, shattering glass and the angry, innocent drivers who had exited their vehicles to curse one another. They were all violently flung around, amongst their mutilated automobiles. The back end of the limo came back down with frightful force, the remaining tire on the back suspension popping off and bouncing out of sight. The windows were gone, the backseat an inferno, and the front half of the limo was also being wrapped in the scorching fingers of death as the plume raced up to snare the engine and driver.

The average man smiled, standing up. Thomas looked with his naked eye for a moment, making sure the carnage on the highway was the completion of the mission, then into his scope again. No one could have lived that, and even if he had escaped during the crash, he couldn't have got far enough away from the explosion, or traffic, to not be killed. He stood up, confident, holding his rifle by the barrel and walking back to his briefcase on the other edge. Lingering smoke filtered out of the brushed steel of the barrel, warm to the touch, and still echoing the whisper of the four shots that had made Howard Tufton no more.

Twisting the barrel, unhooking the butt, slipping the clip out, unscrewing the sight, unscrewing the pieces of the main body of the rifle, and slipping it all back into his open case, he disassembled it. In a matter of half a minute, he had successfully broken it down to its component parts, sliding it into the sound-proof and x-ray proof foam lining of the briefcase, each piece fitting perfectly with his surgical hands never missing a single position, angle, or piece placement. Shutting the lid, he picked it up, and walked back over to the stairwell door. Turning the bronze-plated counterfeit key, he opened the door, shut it behind him, and walked out of the building thirty-three stories below.

There was a mass of gathered people, stopped cabs, and cars honking with wild heads screaming, all vying for sonic superiority, piled in front of the building. A few had gathered around the blood splatter of bone and carnage from where Tufton's shoulder had once been, asking each other for answers no one had as cop sirens quickly blazed through the claustrophobic building blocks, bounding off and around the metallic frames of stereotypical office complexes. Their reaction time wasn't bad at all, Thomas inwardly commented.

Other people were pointing up to the highway, a large pillar of black smoke rustling its way to the heavens, to join its equally dark brethren on the east horizon, which would soon rain down on the burning wreck and wash the blood into the gutters. York slowly slipped off his gloves, putting them into his pockets, then walked off down the street. York opened the back door of one of the screaming cabbies, sitting down inside, his briefcase on his lap.

"Hey man, it's busy like shit out here!" the Mexican man said turning, looking at his recently acquired fare. He only saw the tilted head, held over by a blue baseball cap with no logo, and a plain coat over it, the only thing telling about him was the silver briefcase, and even that was sickeningly average. "Well, I won't put you on the meter till we get moving, but where you going?"

"I'm going to the airport. Get me there within the hour, and you'll have made yourself a bonus," he said flatly, monotonously, looking up at the driver. His square, normal sized nose was set perfectly on his square, average face, and the emerald eyes reflecting the dull luster of the black column in the distance, lacking any vitality of its own, displaced of emotion, or feeling. "I've got to inform my clients of the status of their current associate."

"Ah, businessman?" he asked tentatively, eyeing the average man, since he had not a suit to his average sized body.

"I work in a type of business. The airport, please," his voice droned again, the tone of it raising not an inkling, and no life in the words, as if a computer had read them, only with the fluidity of a human, and not the broken syllables of a the technological counterpart. He indeed had business, and he was assured his clients would be gratified with the current status of their deceased associate. And he would accept their thanks in the form of a hefty load of currency.