I am being followed. At least, I think I am. Who or why, I haven’t the foggiest. Yet.
I try not to change my pace as I walk down the cracked sidewalk. If I speed up or turn around, whoever it is that’s following me could panic. I can’t have that. I need more time to feel out their intentions before I can act. A blast of wind blows in, an avalanche of cold air and rain billowing my trench coat open and soaking me to the bone. I have to keep a hand on my wide-brimmed hat to keep it from blowing away. I decide to take this opportunity to readjust my coat, the normally tan cloth so darkened by the incessant rain it may as well have been black, and pull it closer to me. This allows me to place my other hand near my revolver, hopefully without arousing any suspicion.
But before I can do anything about my pursuers, I need to know how many are tailing me. I steady my breathing and stretch out my awareness, listening closely to the ambient sounds of the dark city borough. I slowly parse out the car horns and engine noise; I hear people yelling at each other and tune them out; I pick up the sound of the heavy autumn rain rattling against tin rooftops and move past it; there’s a heavy splash through a puddle— There! A second splash follows, along with a stifled curse, coming from behind me.
Ahead of me I see a battered old coupe parked in front of a shuttered apothecary, and just beyond, the entrance to a small alleyway. I make my way toward the alleyway, hearing the footsteps behind me gradually getting louder. They’re speeding up. I wonder if they are on a deadline, or if they’re afraid I was about to make a break for it. Judging from the volume of their tread, though, they were still a good ways behind me, and they hadn’t yet broken their speedy stride into a run. As I come up on the parked coupe, I fix my eyes on the apothecary’s windows. In their grimy and faded reflection I could make out myself, and then two smaller shapes at least a dozen paces back. I pass the shop and turn the corner into the shadowy alley. Hiding from these two shouldn’t be a problem here. I find a shallow alcove just past the corner and disappear into the darkness, waiting. I hear both pursuers enter the alley, their boots scraping against the slick pavement. Their voices bounce off the walls of this manmade canyon, echoing loudly. Perfect. They’ve thrown quiet caution to the wind, and in their haste, I can make my move. I ease my revolver out of its holster.
A shadow stalks toward my hiding place, swearing and not even bothering to lower his voice. I let him pass without incident, marveling at his lack of awareness. These guys were rank amateurs, and I had to wonder who would’ve been desperate enough to hire them to do anything, much less trail me. A second shadow passes by and promptly drops like a sack of rocks when my gun comes down across the back of his head. The body splashes down into a puddle and I wince at the sound.
The first pursuer pauses and begins to turn around. “Hey, Bolton, did you hear that? It sounded like a—“
“Hold it right there,” I say. To his credit, the first pursuer freezes in place, hands stretched out from his body timidly. He is a thin man, dressed in the standard black coat and matching hat that most hired goons in this city seem to find fashionable. His partner is much more solidly built, and I’m glad that he was the first to fall into my impromptu ambush. Big Boy could have been trouble.
I keep my revolver trained squarely on him, and step back from the downed thug. I couldn’t afford to be surprised by Big Boy playing possum. “Turn around. Slowly. Keep your hands up.” Thin Man starts to turn and hesitates. Was he going to make a move? I can’t give him time to think. I have to keep him off-kilter. “Now.” I raise my voice, putting some force behind it. The Thin Man obeys and briefly locks eyes with me before seeing his partner’s body in a mud puddle between us.
“Damn, man, you didn’t have to kill him!” He starts forward toward his partner, until I clear my throat and wave my gun at him. He looks back up to me as I shake my head slowly.
“He’ll live. He’s gonna have a hell of a headache when he wakes up, though. Now, are you carrying?” Thin Man shakes his head violently. “Is your friend?” Another shake of the head. I raise my voice, just to throw him off balance, “If I ask you a question, you don’t just shake your head. You answer me.”
“No! No, we don’t have any guns. I don’t even own one.” Thin Man’s words fall out in a nervous jumble, his hands shaking. “Please, you misunderstand, we were just sent to find you.”
“You could have put in a call to my office.”
Thin Man cocks his head. “We didn’t know you had an office…”
“I don’t. Never mind. The point is, stalking a man down an empty street at night ain’t exactly the safest way to approach him. Why, he may even think you mean to do him some sort of harm. And who knows how said man may react in that situation.” I nod toward Big Boy, who let out a pained groan and began to stir.
Thin Man’s eyes twitch down to his partner. “I… see your point.”
“Good.” I clear my throat, bringing Thin Man’s eyes back up to mine. I grin, making sure to show far too many teeth. Thin Man gulps. “Now walk.”