It was a dangerous game he played, a perverse rendition of cat-and-mouse, life and death relegated to vulgar chess moves. In this arena of obliviousness, with unknowing pieces sliding across an invisible board, someone will die before nightfall. He just had to make sure it happened in the correct way. Someone like him, a perfectionist of sorts, would never forgive himself unless he got it right.
To punish the deserving.
From just a look, you wouldn't be able to tell how old he was, or where he came from. Too old to be young yet too young to be old, with the kind of face that people look at but don't ever see. On careful inspection, if anyone were to bother, you could almost say he was Asian. Almost. But then, who could say for sure?
He wasn't tall, but he wasn't short either. If anything, he is the epitome of "average height", whatever that means. In fact, that was decidedly no way to describe this man. Not tall, not short. Not handsome, not ugly. Not fat, not skinny. Even his clothes were a uniform of the ordinary: a dull gray jacket, dull black pants, stark black shirt, unassuming shoes. Whatever he was, he was in between. Stick this guy in a crowd and he'd disappear—which, in this case, was precisely the idea.
Invisibility is a soldier's most primitive advantage.
Punish the deserving.
There was just one thing about him that stood out. Clichéd as it may sound; his eyes marked him as different from normal men. It's nothing specific, just an unspeakable something, a hint of a feeling, a shadow of a doubt. Take a picture of them and they would seem perfectly ordinary brown eyes, yet in his sockets they were something else. The kind that gives shivers when you make eye contact. He tries not to make eye contact.
Unless it's to the deserving.
Punish the deserving.
He could almost smell his prey now, the nostrils of his decidedly average nose flared, seeking to draw in the scent. It was nonsense, of course, he wasn't a dog, he just sometimes felt like one. Particularly when he was on the hunt. He couldn't actually smell anything, but he could see perfectly. Those piercing brown eyes stared placidly yet fixedly at his target.
He could see his target clearly now, a short, squat piece of work shuffling his way through the crowd. Balding, somewhat porky, dressed in a brown suit that didn't fit too well, in other words: impossible to miss. The poor fool moved obliviously through the masses, entirely unaware of his rapidly dwindling lifespan. The Hunter delighted in a moment of megalomania, letting the delicious power associated with the role of the predator flow through him. This was his element, his mission, his sole purpose.
He moved, melting into the crowd, his absolute lack of distinctiveness becoming his natural camouflage. He was invisible.
Punish the deserving.
Back and forth through the crowd they weaved, playing their deadly game. Like a predator stalking his prey through a moving, breathing forest. The quarry, for his part, did not render himself easy pickings. He acted the mouse nicely, jumping at every shadow and darting his beady eyes toward every crevice. Fear oozed from his very pores, and the very scent of it fed the Hunter's anticipation. Closer and closer he came, the distance and people between them ebbed away by the second. All that was left now was the perfect place and the perfect time to strike.
A silent, sweet conclusion to the many months of pursuit; a faultless culmination of their great game.
His hand snaked into his jacket; steady fingers caressed the ivory grip of death, itching for the kill. Closer…closer… tighten the grip. He could see where to strike now, the exposed flesh between hair and collar, bulging with fat and trickling sweat. The metal instrument seemed to strain against its holster, stretching leather buckles and quivering against his chest. Soon now, soon it would end with a flash of white and a spray of pink.
Punish the deserving. PUNISH the deserving!
Strike now, his instincts said, and he almost did. His hand slid out of its hiding place, drawing the steel-stamped weapon in its grasp. The gray jaws of demise surged forward to take its victim... and were pulled back with a sharp jerk. The Hunter's anticipation took a subtle turn into wariness; the game had changed. The scent of his prey had rendered him anosmic to all else, and he hadn't detected the second trail until almost too late.
A third player had entered the game, which is quite against the rules.
Quickly, almost inconspicuously, the Hunter withdrew his hand. He glanced at his prey, the moment had gone and the worm was already getting farther away. The nondescript man shook his head; this prey will have to wait for another time. Someone was trying to turn the hunt on its head, but a hunter was not easily stalked. His prey had been stolen from him, but perhaps another who fancies himself a hunter would make good consolation prize.
Patiently his eyes swept the rooftops and searched the crowd. A minute passed… and another… and another… A single drop of sweat beaded over the Hunter's forehead. Too long, and he had still not spotted his quarry. Worse still, it seems as though his opposition knew exactly where he was.
Back into the crowd he went, back into that that moving, breathing forest. Yet, for some inexplicable reason, a change has come over him and he could not disappear. For all his gray invisibility the roving multitudes offered no camouflage. Wariness wavered and gave way to anxiety. Not quite fear yet, but the closest he has ever come to it. While still vainly attempting to play the role of predator, the old Hunter had become prey.
Odd it may seem, but he played the part well and did not make himself easy pickings. Piercing eyes flashed in every direction, tense yet sinuous strides carried him through the sea of humanity like a caged tiger. Like most hunters would testify, hunters make the best game.
A glint: a godsend that revealed the predator's position to his prey. The gray man turned plunged forward like a cornered beast, all his cool fury at being forced into someone else's game straining at the leash. The fool should never have relied on his rifle on a sunny day.
Like a snake through the weeds he wound through the crowd, the confidence and deadliness of the hunter surging back into his limbs. The rifleman two stories above would soon regret robbing him of his quarry.
The sandstone structure glowed a golden brown in the sunlight. Black domed windows seemed thin veils for the assassin within, spoiling the otherwise splendid vista. The wooden door that guarded the entrance was bolted with an old, rusty lock. Finesse gave way to haste and the lock fell away with the muffled report of a suppressed pistol. One last glance reassured the Hunter that the alley was clear and he eased himself into the monster's lair.
He cursed himself as soon as he entered. The interior of the house was completely dark and he hadn't given himself enough time to adjust. Too late to berate himself for that now, he would have to rely on speed. Up the rickety stairs he went, taking the steps two at the time with his weapon leveled before him. He had seen the ugly black silhouette of the rifle's muzzle still protruding from the third floor windowsill, so the luckless bastard was probably still crouched over his scope, fruitlessly scanning the crowd for his target.
Look no further.
The lock to the upper room fell in the same way as the door on the first floor. In he swept: icy death with maws agape, intent on finding a victim. But a different kind of iciness crept up the Hunter's spine when he saw the shooter-less black instrument propped against windowsill, it scope positioned precisely to reflect the sunlight.
His mind took a moment to process what his eyes captured. For the first time in his life, black slimy fear took him. Fear without all the self-berating anger that usually presented itself simultaneously. He'd been lured into a trap. Like a perfect mouse, the Hunter had been flawlessly manipulated into his own demise. Soft, booted footsteps sounded behind him and the mouse spun to meet the cat.
Time did not stop, his heart kept beating. There was simply a chilling calm that stole over one who had gone from Predator to Prey in just a few precious moments.
A brilliant flash of white and he knew no more. The game had ended, and the hunter savored his kill.