It was three PM when he finally spotted her, the first time he’d seen her since their brief, angry exchange in the park a week before. She was standing inside a bus stop, across the two-lane street. Today the ice queen had long dark brown hair that cascaded down over the broad collar of a light blue Fall coat that came down mid-thigh. Even with the wig and the makeup she could never hide from him. He was sure he could always recognize her and when a flutter of doubt crossed his mind he summarily dismissed it. He wasn’t going to cross the street to be absolutely certain. The way she held her left hand over her shoulder bag told him she was packing and ready for any sort of trouble. He’d seen her in action too many times to doubt her speed and accuracy with the 45. If she spotted him coming across the street, and she would, he wouldn’t make it halfway.
He was leaning on an oak tree, partially hidden, far enough to remain safe. Though in the moment he utterly hated her, he couldn’t help admiring the tall, slim, straight-backed form and the long bare legs that set his heart pumping and managed to shatter his confidence.
He was safe right where he was. This was she, the ice queen; he could sense the aura of her. She was danger, like a wave pulsing across the street, bouncing off the store front behind him; the worst kind of danger. Danger by the feelings she engendered in all men. Danger by association. Danger by attraction. Danger by profession.
The bus arrived, finally. He stared hard between gaps in traffic but didn’t see her get on board. The bus left an empty stop. She was gone, heading south, towards the port. He tried to see in his mind who was waiting there for her. He knew, of course, there was someone, but who? If it was the colonel then she had taken the assignment. From the marina a fast cruiser would take her around past the point and from there she’d scuba dive and swim to land, on the far side of the border. If she got caught he’d never see her alive again. Such a waste. Such a stupid waste. He hated himself for refusing to go on assignment with her but he was sick and tired. He had lost his taste for the excitement of her cat and mouse games. But not for her. He was in double jeopardy: he both hated and loved her with equal passion, one never overcoming the other unless or until she died.
She’d told him in the park, “If you’re not with me, you’re against me.” When she looked at him, he’d shaken his head and he’d felt the icy hatred she spat in the one word: “Coward!” and walked away. That was the last word they had spoken.
“I better make that call,” and he pulled out a cell phone, hit a button, spoke one word: “Elk” and casually threw the phone under the wheels of a passing truck.
Then it hit him as hard as if he’d walked into an on-coming car: Misdirection. She never got on the bus. But the message was sent, the phone was destroyed and a totally innocent girl would go to her death tonight because of him, because he didn’t cross the street; because he really was a coward, not because she tricked him.
He threw up in the gutter.