The following takes place between 11pm and 12am
The soothing female computer voice on the other end of the line said “Assassinate this couple by twelve aye emm. A picture will download to your phone momentarily. They are located at “The Abbey Bar Three Oh Three Reid Street, De Pere.”
Ok, assassination. Not so soothing.
I threw the car into gear as the pictured downloaded, surfed over to my maps app and punched in the address. Not too far. Fifteen minutes if I didn’t break any laws.
Webster Avenue was very similar to the neighborhood down by the river where I’d bought the Nissan. Grand ol’ houses all glowing soft and warm inside, the occasional blue-white flicker of a TV on a living room ceiling the only harsh light around. Up on this ridge overlooking the river the property must’ve been at a premium price, ALL the houses were large. Not mansions, but upper upper middle class.
We raced along the road at speeds approaching ridiculous. The tires chewed up the pavement behind the stretch of headlights that cut through the muggy night air.
Eventually we passed into a commercial district. Surprise surprise, more vacant buildings. Lots of banks though. Funny how that worked.
I took a right onto Allouez Avenue, cruised through some more expensive houses. Mostly ranches this time though. We passed a cemetery on the right. Well, that was morbid. Selling a house around here had to SUCK.
Left onto Riverside Drive, and the houses got even nicer, once you got out of the commercial district. Mortgage and insurance companies mostly, tastefully-sized signs hulking up out of nicely manicured islands of flowers and bushes.
And then it got weird.
It was like the zoning committee had spent a considerable amount of time on hallucinogenic drugs. Nursing home, pet care center, insurance company, ice cream stand, gravestone store, football field, nature park, and then I was driving through some of the nicest, most expensive houses I’d seen in this state. Old money houses that looked like historical sites. Massive sprawling mansions that filled yards that could accurately be called estates. And they were everywhere. To the right the houses that backed up against the river were a little nicer, but not noticeably more so than the ones on the left.
We passed through the rich district at a high rate of speed, and then we were downtown. Past a library I could see a waterfront park on the right. A Shopko sat squat and ugly on the left. A fountain burbled quietly as it changed colors, underwater lights set in the concrete rotating through color palette. I slowed as I cruised through the downtown area, taking a moment to marvel at the ancient looking buildings, to soak in the warm night air and the muted sounds of the nightlife.
I’d never seen a giant roundabout before, and stopped at the entrance. “What the hell is this?” I asked no one in particular. I looked at it distrustfully and tried to figure out how it worked.
“It’s a roundabout,” Keith replied from the passenger seat. “They’re European, and they’re all the rage up here right now.”
“So that’s why I instinctively hate them,” I muttered. Glancing at my phone’s GPS, I guessed I needed to cross the bridge that lay to the right of the multilane circle. When there were no cars coming, I just hung a hard right, probably breaking half a dozen traffic laws in the process.
The bridge was quiet and peaceful, the rushing of water underneath a nice white-noise background. The sidewalks were filled with people, mostly young. Across the river and slightly left was a set of massive buildings that looked like a campus. It was nearly time for them to be returning…
The GPS showed me a circuitous route.
I wound through the downtown buildings – mostly bars and restaurants – taking a couple of lefts. Almost passed the two story building sitting on the corner, and turned a hard right into the parking lot, nearly taking off the bottom of the car as the driver’s side tires rode up on the median. I pulled a Rockford-reverse and backed into a parking spot, then pulled up the pictures on my phone.
The first was of a woman in her early to mid twenties. Tan skin, hair a few shades darker, and light blue eyes. Though the photo was from the shoulders up, I could tell she was slim. Decently attractive, certainly not me though, I thought with a smile. Black type at the bottom of her photo stated her name as Kyra MacGregor.
Clicking over to the next photo, I found myself looking into eyes I wanted to look away from. Sad, dead eyes. Very sad. Very dead. Squarish face and short, wavy brown hair that matched the color of his eyes. A few days beard stubble completed his almost vagrant look. His name was Jared Grey.
Great. Crowded bar, I was hunting the girl next door and an average looking emotional wreck.
I considered the atmosphere I was walking into, and left the Vanquisher in the car.
Music blared in the hot night air, and moving bodies up on the second story balcony were backlit from behind. Dancing, party on the second floor. The building was sided except for around the lower level door, that was bricked. I pushed the heavy, weathered door in, did a quick confirm on the guy who walked out past me, and evaluated my surroundings.
Dimly lit dining room to the right, through another door. Red walls, high backed wooden booths that looked more like pews than anything that belonged in a restaurant. Lots of sports and alcohol advertisements on the walls, lots of people at the tables.
The lobby I was in was plastered with handmade signs and contained a fake fichus tree that looked like – despite its artificial status – it was still wilting away.
I pushed through the door to the left and entered the bar. Long, long as the building. Back wall and half of the right side was all shelving units containing liquor bottles. Sports memorabilia hung on the walls, and one spot was noticeably empty. Spraypainted onto the bright white wall were the words “The traitor number four’s jersey hung here.” I’d heard of that drama queen before. Man squandered his own legend.
Pool tables sat in the middle of the floor, and small tables lined the left side under a few tall, thin windows. The bar was vaguely heart-shaped, and angled into the room from the middle of the right side. There was a staircase going up to the second level along the right hand wall, right by the entrance to the dining room. Lots of people were in here tonight, crowded around the bar, pool tables, sitting along the wall, just generally milling around on the floor. I adjusted the hang of the satchel against my side, flipping the wide flap over the handle of the Triple Shot stuffed inside.
I took a breath, then another, and put myself in the same mindset I’d been in strolling through the crowd outside Liquid Eight. Pretty, vapid, here for alcohol and maybe a hookup. I motioned Keith back with a hand, and then threaded through the crowd, my awareness of my surroundings running like a subroutine in the back of my mind.
I took an empty seat at the bar, and sighed theatrically as I pretended to study the bottles lined up on the shelves behind the bartender. Like many bars, the wall behind the bottles was mirrored. Around and sometimes through the bottles, I could see the clientele sitting around me without actively scanning them like a paranoid at a trenchcoat convention.
The bartender said something to me I didn’t pay attention to, and I shook my head. “Nah, I’m waiting for someone.”
I kept my glance dancing over the reflections. Didn’t want anyone to know I was looking at them. Neither of my prey was here. I slid off the seat and strolled the tabled side of the bar, feigning interest in the pool games when it gave me a chance to look around. I circled the room to the entrance to the restrooms.
Women’s was deserted. The guy washing his hands in the Men’s said “What the hell?” annoyed-like. I held up a hand and swayed. “Sorry, wrong…door.” I backed out with a stumble and wove my way back to Keith. “Not here.”
The dining room was equally packed. Every table was occupied by at least two people, usually more. A massive banquet table set deep in the inside corner had more than a dozen people around it, packed like sardines onto the benches around it.
Keith and I wandered aimlessly, like we were looking for a free table, even though it was obvious from the door that there wasn’t one. None of the people in the room were Jared or Kyra.
“Think we’ll find them together?” I asked Keith as we re-entered the bar.
“I suspect so,” he said gravely. “Why don’t I stay down here and keep an eye out while you go upstairs?”
I shook my hair out of my eyes. “Fine.”
He angled out into the crowd, and I lost track of him as I climbed the stairs. That guy could just plain disappear sometimes.
The second floor was a little different from the first. Leather couches were arranged so as to create a more intimate meeting area, four facing inwards with a table in the center. There were probably four or five of these setups, all occupied, with a dilapidated arcade machine in the corner, and a few feet of floor between the couches and the front wall of the building. The floor was tightly packed with people who swayed in time to the music, half dancing, half standing, all trying to hold conversations while weaving in place like a drunk.
I’m a little taller than most, so I stood on tiptoe and surveyed the couches. There. Kyra Macgregor was seated along the back wall, talking with a man sitting kitty-corner from her. She was wearing jeans and a green Abercombie polo, him black dress pants and a white button up. The back of his nearly buzzed head didn’t look anything like Jared’s. I’d have to rib Keith about his failed intuition. The people around them appeared to be part of the conversation, not lookouts for her team or anything so intelligent. Tall blond guy, a shorter guy in a corduroy sportcoat, a goofy grin on his face, I tuned out the rest as I moved through the crowd.
I should’ve had some inkling about the control they had of the situation by the setup. Back of the room, only approach through the sofas…where everyone else was SITTING. I wasn’t thinking that deep though. I just excused myself as I moved to stand in front of the sofa behind Buzz-cut.
I was standing directly behind Buzz-cut before I put my hand on the grip of the pistol in my satchel. Kyra’s eyes flicked to me as I drew. It was a good draw, smooth, not catching on the bag or anything in it.
Michael Mann incorporates the same line – or a variation of it – into any movie that features polices officers. “Get clean shots, watch your backgrounds.”
Though his characters are typically receiving that advice regarding ballistic weapons, it’s good advice when dealing with water guns as well. Nobody like collateral soakage.
My first shot was from my hip, and it hit her square in the stomach. I could’ve stopped there, but my mind was already committed to the action. My hands came up to eye level, and I aimed rudimentarily at her for a minute before splashing her in the face with water.
Someone rose in vision, turning as they did so, and then I felt hands on my wrists. I was face to face with Buzz-cut for a moment and he had the same face as Jared Grey. The hair was shorter – probably an old picture – but the biggest difference was the eyes. No longer dead and flat. There was still intensity there, but this guy was walking the world of the living and liked being there.
Jared pushed me backwards and I tripped over a table and bounced off a couch before landing on my side on the floor. He, meanwhile, was off and running, weaving between the couches, heading for the stairs. I apologized to the people who’s drinking I’d interrupted with my fall and sprinted after him.
He was polite, he wove around the couches. I was less so, and hurtled them in unoccupied sections. He beat me to the staircase and pounded down it, turning the corner impossibly fast and heading for the front door. If I wasn’t following him when he got outside, this was probably over. Halfway down, I grabbed the railing and vaulted over the side. My heart rose in my throat and slammed back down again as my feet hit the floor with a crash. I staggered against a pool table and a guy playing pool, and looked around for my target. He’d frozen, staring with something like shock at Keith, who’d positioned himself by the door. Upon seeing me, Keith pointed at the man. “There he is!”
“Yes, I can see that.”
Jared took off running again, pushing a couple out of the way as they opened the door, and then he was outside and out of sight.
I made it out about five seconds later, just in time to see him heading east towards the college campus.
He sprinted like a Kenyan athlete, cutting across the street and onto the college property in just a few seconds. I was pretty fast too. Now I just had to catch up.