DAY 1 - Monday, 7:12 p.m.
WERNER SHAFT drove through the gathering darkness, singing along with the radio, his head bobbing back and forth. His fingers tapped out a rhythm on the steering wheel as the first shot blasted a hole through the driver side window. Unfortunately, Shaft wasn’t destined to live long enough to appreciate the science behind the deflection of a bullet through glass, often causing it to miss its intended target.
Suffice it to say, the first bullet missed.
And so did the second. By then Shaft had hit the brakes with all his weight, causing the 2010 Corolla to spin fully around on the pavement, its headlights cutting through the late evening fog, now facing back toward the warehouse area of the city and the back-breaking job he had left but a few minutes before.
Though he heard the shot, the second projectile was lost somewhere in the darkness, its target no longer viable as Shaft ducked down in the front seat. He frantically unlatched the passenger door and pushed it open with one hand while the other dug for a pistol held securely in place by an underarm holster.
The shot had come from the open window of another vehicle. He hadn’t seen the danger, had never so much as glanced at the car in the lane beside him, never suspecting it held a killer.
He wormed out the open door, rolled to the ground, and crouched by the rear fender of his vehicle, his pistol cocked and ready to bring down the shooter.
His would-be assassin pulled over to the shoulder and stopped the car thirty feet ahead. Water vapor puffed from the tailpipe, red lights glowed from the rear, and the driver side door hung open, the interior light of the now empty vehicle splashing onto the pavement beside the car.
But the shooter was nowhere to be seen.
Shaft wished he’d stayed in his vehicle and tried a run for safety. His chances would’ve been better than what he now faced. Or rather, didn’t face, because there was no indication where the would-be killer was hiding.
The third shot blasted its way through the taillight, inches from his head, sending shards of glass and metal to the ground at his feet.
He raised his weapon, poked his head around the shattered light, and chanced a glance to where the shot appeared to have come from. He saw no one. The muffler of his vehicle rumbled noisily beside him, the car engine still running, and he heard the distinct crackle of footsteps on loose gravel somewhere to his left.
He dove back the length of the vehicle, keeping low, and crawled to a safe spot at the front of the car. Safe for now that is, but for how long? He couldn’t see his assailant, and perhaps there were more than one.
They’d caught up with him, coming to claim his life in lieu of the cash. Retribution.
He wondered if they had already got to Norton. Perhaps his partner was dead already. The whole thing was a fiasco from the beginning, but he had been certain they made good their escape nonetheless. Now he wasn’t so certain.
A car whipped by, slowed a moment, and then sped off. Another car followed, both drivers unaware of the gunman stalking Shaft from somewhere in the darkness. The lack of streetlights was a detriment to his safety, putting him at a distinct disadvantage.
He licked his dry lips and wiped his brow with a free hand. He was sweating despite the chilly evening. His hand trembled and he wished he’d shut off the engine. Then he might have a chance of hearing his pursuer.
With his back to the front bumper, crouching low, he looked left, then right, each time swinging the pistol in rhythm with his head.
Where was the gunman?
Bullet number four grazed his shoulder as he made a dive for the sidewalk. He gritted his teeth and dashed over the patch of grass that separated the street from the adjoining building, a shoe store, now closed for the night.
Number five missed as his feet hit the gravel in the alleyway by the side of the shop. He heard running behind him. His pursuer was catching up. He stumbled once, caught himself, and ran headlong down the alley to the rear corner of the building.
He whipped around the corner, then spun back, leveled his weapon, peered around, and took a shot. He was shooting blind and must have missed the unseen target. He was never good with these things. The crunch on gravel continued and he fired again, dashing to his left. His thoughts were only to get as far away as possible.
A sudden panic overtook him as he dashed along the rear of the building. They tracked him this far, and they would track him forever, relentlessly pursuing until he was dead.
He needed to run and never stop until he was out of the city, maybe the country—that is, if he survived this night.
Shaft spun around a big blue dumpster at the rear of the building, narrowly missing it in the darkness. His shoulder was burning like crazy where the bullet entered, but that was the least of his worries. It could’ve been a leg, or worse. At least he could still run, and run he did, past the dumpster, around a parked car, all the while knowing his pursuer was mere seconds behind.
He dropped to a crouch, spun on one heel, leveled his gun, and squeezed the trigger.
No one was there. He heard a chuckle. Where was it coming from? Behind the dumpster, perhaps?
He straightened slowly and backed up, keeping his gun ready, finally reaching the far corner of the building.
It was another alleyway, leading back to the street, empty and bare. There would be no form of protection. He would need to be careful, and perhaps he might be lucky enough to make it the distance.
He backed into the alley, his weapon raised, ready at a second’s notice to pull the trigger. Step by step he retreated, watching, waiting, hoping to see the assassin step into his line of fire.
Except for the pistol shaking in his unsteady hand and the thumping of his heart, he felt tense and stiff. He could hardly breathe, managing short, quick breaths as he moved slowly toward a safer place.
Then from behind him, a footstep and a chuckle. The killer had retreated, circled the building, and now came at him from behind.
He cursed his own stupidity as bullet number six bit into his back, burrowed through his spinal cord, and entered his left lung.
He sank to the ground and lay flat on his destroyed back, shards of gravel biting the back of his head, his body numb, in shock, and his mind in turmoil.
He looked up at his murderer through dimming eyes. He saw a face, and a pistol grasped in a steady hand, its barrel aimed toward his skull, and then utter darkness as his eyesight faded to black.
Number seven had his name on it. The one destined to end his worthless life.
Werner Shaft took one last breath and spoke his final words, one second before bullet number seven left the assassin’s gun and made its way into the inner recesses of his brain.
“It’s you. Why?”
He didn’t hear the answer, if perchance there was one.
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