Selah stood, motionless, at the alley's edge, just behind a rusty unstable fire escape, her dark eyes alert, scanning the length of the wide area before her. Her muscles were tense with concentration, and she resisted the edgy, itchy feeling of her skin to move- or at least tug the hem or her tight red sequined halter down a little further. No matter how many times she'd masqueraded as a hooker on the job- and she'd done so more times than she could remember- she could not get used to the costumes. 21

The tight black pants were low-rise enough that she had to wear a thong or go commando; Selah had learned that the more comfortable option was going commando. The purposely messy hair and way, way too much makeup completed the image she wished to portray to him, her target.32

Now, if he would only get here.43

She'd been waiting for the target for nearly 45 minutes now, growing more and more restless as the minutes dragged on. Not to mention a little anxious. The longer she hung around, the greater risk there was of someone seeing her- and remembering her. Already she'd had to hide herself twice from two homeless guys passing by. Luckily they were both too high and/or crazy to see her, but she couldn't hope for such luck for much longer.54

The target damn well better show up soon.65

She hadn't been too keen about this assignment in the first place, not to use a cringe worthy old phrase of her late father's. Her contact, Lucian, or so he went by with her, usually gave her much more specific hits to carry out, with locations and times that were not nearly so vague, open-ended, and potentially subject to her exposure. Because she was young and a relatively new assassin- she had worked three years, though she had trained for most of her life- he usually was careful to reserve the more risky hits for contacts more experienced than she was. Ones who were older and inevitably male. 76

For Selah was the only female assassin she knew of- but then, in their field of business, this meant little. Everyone kept identities as anonymous as possible. She had never met her head contact, Lucian- nor had her father, for that matter. Everything operated with tremendous discretion, through lesser contacts and men she thought of as Lucian's henchmen. Just as she did not know Lucian's true identity, he did not know hers. Or so she hoped, for anything was possible in the field as far as higher contact's amount of knowledge went. Regardless, Lucian knew her as Trinity, a name she had borrowed from the Matrix movies. It was an alias she used more often than her true name, Selah Topher.87

Lucian had called Selah a few days ago on the cell phone she had cloned from one of her targets, a man whose body she had disposed of in a way that made it seem as if he had simply disappeared, his cell phone along with him. For every similar hit she was directed to carry out, hits where the body was to be "vanished," she took and cloned the target's cell phone to use to contact Lucian and other contacts. Between such frequent phone changes and calls from pay phones, it made it difficult for anyone to track their calls.98

Lucian had told her in his call that the target passed through this area every night and around ten pm, nearly always alone. And yet in spite of this, she needed to take care of him on a specific night- tonight. It had sounded like an odd assignment to her, not to mention one that could be bungled easily. For instance, what if the target did not pass through the area on that particular night? What if he did, but was not alone? Why did he walk through there anyway? Were there people who could see him nearby?109

Once Lucian named the price, however, Selah's reservations had dissipated. She didn't care what the target was up to or why she had to do the hit the way Lucian insisted upon. All she cared about was doing her job, this job- and of course, receiving the rest of her much-larger-than-usual deposit.1110

Even as Selah held herself still, fighting against her own impatience, she could feel the way her heart beat rapidly, excitedly, the way her pulse raced. Three years of this and she still enjoyed it; the rush, the flood of adrenaline that overtook her as she waited for her target, as she carried out the hit. She had felt it yesterday, when she had followed him, hiding in the same spot she now stood as he passed through the alley and continued on down the street further ahead, into a nearly deserted strip of town to wherever the hell he went every night. She felt it now, as she stayed unmoving, awaiting his approach…1211

Her eyes widened slightly as Selah made out a human figure entering the alley, walking at a moderate pace, seeming distracted, hardly likely to notice her without a little nudge. It was him- her target, the man Lucian had referred to only as Talis. Men and alleys- did they ever learn?1312

No, Selah's experience had told her repeatedly.1413

She had been told that this target, Talis, was a ne'er-do-weller, a wife beater and a serial adulterer. Why he should spend each night alone if this was true, she didn't know, but she couldn't question that. It was what she had been told, and Selah believed it, worked with it. If the target considered himself such a lady's man, then he should take her bait as a prostitute with no problem.1514

The target had nearly come abreast with her when Selah chose to show herself, walking toward him with her chest thrust out, her cleavage easily visible, and moving her hips in an exaggerated swing as she approached him. She smiled slowly, doing her best to look sexy, blowzy, and hookerish.1615

"Hey, big boy," she purred, "Want to have a good time?"1716

It's simply amazing how often that tired cliché still works, Selah thought dryly as the target's eyes widened, quickly looking over her up and down. But then again, I guess men never change…1817

The target's eyes were on her nearly exposed breasts as he grinned widely.1918

"Always," he said, somewhat more smoothly than she had expected. "What do you suggest?"2019

Selah stepped closer to him, sliding one hand slowly and insinuatingly down his arm, and then across his chest, feeling the surprisingly hard muscles beneath. Her other hand she kept close to her side, close the dagger, hidden, folded up, between her breasts. 2120

She loved this particular weapon; it could fold several times to fit into even a very small place in such a way that it would not cut her by accident, and yet she could easily cause it to extend to various lengths. It had been a gift from one of the contacts who had continued her training before she had become a full-fledged assassin. A contact who had later become her lover- but then, that was far from unusual. The only thing about words like "lover" in Selah's life, was that love had nothing to do with it.2221

Still idly stroking the muscle of the target's chest, hearing and enjoying the sound of his quickening breathing, the feel of his chest rising and falling beneath her hand, Selah smiled suggestively.2322

"Let's go somewhere a little more… private."2423

The target turned willingly enough as she began to lead him further back into the alley, further away from the front streets. Selah kept an arm cozily around his waist, both to hold the pretense of her proposition and to keep him close to her, within easy grasp. She was just thinking how gullible men were, how extraordinarily blind when it came to a woman's charms- even a hooker's- when she saw it. The target was subtly reaching inside his jacket, withdrawing something…2524

Oh shit! What the hell- it was a weapon, some kind of blade. Selah could see it glint even in the darkness of the alley, a passage lit only dimly by the evening moon and stars. What the hell- Lucian hadn't mentioned that the target might be armed! Had he somehow guessed her intention, seen her weapon?2625

Like it mattered now. There was no more need for pretense- she had to get the job done, and quickly.2726

Selah spun away from him, extracting herself from his reach as she simultaneously pulled out and extended the blade of her knife. Now this was going to be different- it had been a long time since she had been in any kind of battle where the opponent also had a weapon.2827

She feinted a lunging stab at him, which he moved to deflect. Jeez, she was only now beginning to appreciate how tall the target was. What had Lucian called him- Talis. Well this Talis appeared to be in great shape, and he didn't seem at all unwilling- or unprepared- to defend himself. Or worse, attack her first- which was, after all, what he'd been preparing to do.2928

Talis moved to ward off her faked blow, and she took the opportunity to aim a hefty kick to his side, a hit that should have sent him sprawling to the ground- if she had succeeded in landing it. But apparently the man had much better reflexes than she had anticipated, for he caught her ankle in one hand, twisting it, and the rest of her body along with it, in toward him and then pushing her down to the ground. Selah landed hard on her hands and knees, the shock jarring her arms and causing her teeth to clamp hard together, almost making her bite her tongue. A sharp stinging pain in her left palm and a fast glance at it made her realize she had just cut it on shards of broken glass.3029

Oh shit, oh holy shit… get up, get UP…3130

She tried to scramble to her feet, gritting her teeth at the pain in her left hand as she placed pressure on it, but the target- the target who was now targeting HER- was standing right over her, watching with his face so self-satisified it almost glowed. He didn't even seem out of breath or excited- just extraordinarily PLEASED… and where was her knife? Where the hell had it gone?! 3231

Somehow Selah had dropped her knife, and as she looked around frantically, she could not see it. Had he taken it, the target?3332

She was backing away from him quickly as he moved in on her slowly, taking his time, as if he were savoring the moments before an inevitable kill. Her eyes darted about with increasing panic, looking for her knife, or any other weapon, anything she could use to kill or injure him with. Sure, she'd been trained to fight, but he was bigger, stronger, and he had a weapon, possibly two if he had hers. What the hell could she do to stop him, to escape?3433

She saw what he did before she saw him. Suddenly the target- Talis- had been yanked away from her from behind, and some man had flung him across the alley with a strength that was almost unreal. As Talis fell to the floor, then attempted to get to his feet, momentarily stunned, the stranger was upon him, aiming a well-placed and powerful kick that sent the knife skittering across the alley as Talis dropped it, doubling over with a hissing gasp. 3534

Seeing her opportunity, Selah ran to grab it, but within seconds the stranger was at her side, grabbing her wrists. Selah yanked, panic and frustration rising in her throat, moving to kick him- what the hell was going on, what was he trying to do?! The man deflected her easily- too easily, she thought- but in a way that did not hurt her.3635

"Leave it!" he said, not yelling, but with an intensity that stilled her. "Come with me, NOW!"3736

There was nothing about his words that indicated a request; still, Selah hesitated, torn. She didn't want to go with this stranger, a stranger who had appeared from seemingly nowhere, and who was doing god knows what in this area at this time of night. She had never in her life backed down from anyone who challenged her, let alone fled like a frightened child, as if she could not handle herself- had not been taught for most of her life how to. More importantly, she had never failed to finish off her targets. How could she tell him that she had failed? How could she live with herself and the standards she set for herself?3837

Then again, there was several other factors to consider. For one thing, this stranger would see her kill him. For the first time, there would be a witness to one of her hits- a witness she would probably have to finish off as well, for he would be able to describe not only her, but also the way she had disguised herself as a hooker. She wasn't even certain that she would be able to catch him by enough surprise to take him out. He was taller than her and clearly very strong, judging from the way he had attacked her target. She would have to get the knife from Talis first- and even then, his reflexes might protect him, even harm her.3938

After all, Selah was not sure how much this man had seen. He had come so suddenly; maybe he thought Talis was attacking her. Had she lost her knife before he came? Maybe he didn't realize what she was. Of course he didn't- there was no way he could know. And it was best to keep it that way- even if it meant not finishing a hit.4039

Plus there was the fact that although Talis was bleeding from a head wound the stranger had given him, he was also still struggling to his feet with unsteady but determined movements, fury now alight in his eyes. There was a knife still at his side, a knife he was bound to pick up soon.4140

All this reasoning ran through Selah's mind in under ten seconds, a rapid stream of logic and reasoning that years of practice had caused her to develop. One must for her profession was learning to think on your feet.4241

Decision made, she nodded quickly at the stranger, and he barely had time to register her agreement before he had one strong hand firmly grasping her hand, pulling her after him as they exited the alley.