The back of the van was unbearably hot. Sweat was running down the necks of the four men who had the misfortune of sitting there. Despite the heat, none of them said a word. They were too professional for that. On the left side: Brian, a lanky Irish terrier with a bad temper and an even worse accent, and Mohammed, a barn of a hyena from Kenya who took up most of the space. On the right side: Jacob, a proper gentleman bulldog from the United Kingdom with a passion for imported cigarettes, and in the front, driving the van, was Vlad, a wolf-hound and ex-KGB asset who hadn't taken too kindly to retirement.
The reason for their silence was lying between the four men in the back, tied up, drugged and gagged with a black bag over her head. Don Estacada had faxed Jacob the picture this morning along with orders that she was to be dead by the evening. He gave no reason why, but then again, they never needed one. The Don's word was more than enough.
Once they'd all been informed, they went to fetch her. They'd found her in a public park, feeding pigeons. She hadn't even looked up as Mohammed moved to grab her. It was almost as if she had been expecting them. Even after they'd tied her up, she didn't struggle. She just laid there, her only sound being her breath through the cloth around her mouth. Her strange behaviour was unnerving and had the whole group on edge. Still, they reasoned, they were nearly there and then it would be over.
There was a parking lot on the far side of town which they often used for jobs like this. It was attached to an abandoned shopping mall and was quiet and isolated, the perfect place for what they needed to do. Vlad drove the van to the top of the complex and parked it gently in the corner, up against the wall.
"Och, it's aboot bloody time!" cried Brian as he swung the doors of the van open, only to have them smash back at him. Vlad had parked the van backwards.
"Vlad!" screamed Brian as he rubbed his aching nose.
"Sorry, Brian!" Vlad called from the front.
"What the hell you laughing at, eh?" Brian snapped at Mohammed, whose sides were now shaking.
"I'm sorry, man," Mohammed said weakly "It is pretty funny."
"Would it still be funny if I cut yer nuts off and force 'em down yer bloody throat, you big oaf?"
"Now, now gents," Jacob intervened gently. "There's no need for this."
"Oh, screw you cap'n."
"Vatch it, Brian." Vlad added. "Don't do somethink you'll regret."
"Bring it on, ye commie bastard." Thankfully Vlad managed to rearrange the van before things could escalate. Brian pushed the door open, taking care to do it slowly, and quickly got out, followed by Jacob, Vlad and Mohammed, whose exit caused the van to leap about a foot in the air. Jacob didn't waste time taking charge.
"Brian, Vladimir, be good chaps and retrieve our guest." Brian and Vlad grabbed the woman and propped her against the back of the garage. With a flick of his wrist, Vlad deftly removed the hood covering her face. Their "guest" was a young feline – Vlad had guessed her to be still in her early twenties – and despite all circumstances, she seemed nonplussed about all the excitement around her. In fact, thought Jacob a little uneasily, it almost looked like she was smiling beneath that gag around her mouth. He passed the thought off with a shrug. In a few seconds, she'll be dead. Brian, Vlad and Mohammed moved to join him, each one pulling a handgun from their holsters. Jacob did the same.
"I just want to apologise, madam, that it should come to this," he said as he loaded a shell into the barrel. "I also want you to know that it is nothing personal, it's just business, and all that." Brian rolled his eyes.
"For Chrissake, can we just get on wit it already?" Jacob shot him a venomous glance out of the corner of his eye.
"Forgive me, Brian, for showing politeness in front of our guest."
"What are you on aboot? We're here to plug her, ye flippin' idiot, not sit down wit her and have tea 'n biscuits."
"You know something, Brian? You really have no sense of-"
"What?" Jacob and Brian chorused.
"She's loose." Indeed she was. While Jacob and Brian had been arguing, their 'guest' had somehow managed to slip out of the bonds they had tied on her. Jacob was right. She had been smiling under the gag.
"What the bloody hell?" whispered Brian. "How'd she do that?"
"I don't know," Jacob whispered back.
"Well, what now, cap'n?"
"Guys, look," Mohammed whispered before Jacob could answer. The guest had lifted her right arm in the air and had made a gun shape with her fingers, which she now pointed at Mohammed.
"Mohammed, what's she doing?" With deliberate slowness the guest moved her fingers to Brian. As she did so, Mohammed lifted his gun up and swung it around until he was aiming directly for Brian's heart. Brian just stood there, too terrified to move.
"Mo, what the hell are you doing?" Mohammed didn't answer; he just kept his gun aimed squarely at Brian's chest.
"Come on now, mate. This isn't funny." Brian tried to sidestep but Mohammed followed him closely.
"Cap'n, a little help would be nice." Jacob didn't answer.
"Cap'n?" Brian peeked nervously around Mohammed's massive bulk and saw why the captain didn't answer. The woman had lifted her other hand and was holding her fingers to her head. The captain was copying her, only it was his gun against his head instead of fingers. 'Christ,' Brian thought. 'What have we got ourselves into?' He never got the time to find out. A sudden blow to the chest made him realise that he'd been shot. As he slumped to the floor, he watched in horror as Mohammed turned the still-smoking gun on himself.
"Oh God," spluttered Brian, blood foaming in his mouth. A second later Mohammed's brains lay scattered around the pavement next to him. A second bang heralded Jacob's demise. As darkness started closing in around the edges of Brian's vision, the last thing he heard before it enveloped him was the woman's chilling voice: "It's nothing personal, and all that."