The following takes place between 1am and 2am
The automated voice on the other end of the line gave me my assignment. “Assassinate this woman by two aye emm. A picture will download to your phone momentarily. They are located at twenty six hundred Larson Street, Green Bay. You are their target. Call this number again when you complete your mission.” I punched the coordinates into the maps app while the target’s picture downloaded. Green Bay Botanical Gardens, quite a ways away. Fortunately most of it was by highway, and I planned to cut the travel time considerably on the straight-aways.
I checked the picture as I headed for the highway. I was surprised by who I saw.
Or rather, a young woman who looked quite like me. The only real difference was nearly albino white hair instead of my thick mane of brown. Other than that, she had the same strong, square-ish face, the same hard set to her eyes. The second picture was full-body, and again, she could’ve been my twin, lithe and muscular.
Her clothing seemed a dark mirror of my own though, almost exact. White jeans instead of my black, black longsleeved t-shirt with a white tanktop over it, opposed to my white t-shirt and black vest. I shook my head. Human beings look for patterns where there aren’t any.
“Allison Frank,” I said aloud as I turned onto Highway Forty One. “Nice to meet you.”
“Who did you say?” Keith inquired, suddenly roused from his passenger-seat-stupor to something approaching interest.
“Allison Frank. I gotta shoot her this hour. Supposedly she’s gonna be hanging out in a park or something.”
Keith chuckled, and it was an unsettling sound.
“My guy at yousoak gave me a couple of choices when it came to photography subjects. You were the top of the list, Allison Frank was second.”
“Besides the aesthetic part – as I said earlier, you are exactly what customers and advertisers want to see, you both have high numbers of complaints due to your…how shall I say…unorthodox tactics.”
“What’d she do that’s complaint worthy?” Mentally I reviewed the long list of possible grievances that I might’ve racked up. Ok, yeah, unorthodox was a good descriptor.
“For one, she shot up a grocery store. According to the surveillance footage that I ‘just happened’ to get my hands on, she favors a really old, really long Super Soaker that can dish out quite the soaking. Someone got it into their head to run through a crowd, that crowd didn’t know when to duck…
“Two, she did a reservoir dump into a man’s convertible when he complained about her sneak attack tactics. Probably ruined the interior.
“And that doesn’t even include the complaints we got because no one can accept the fact that she’s just…better…than them.”
“Sounds like a sweetheart,” I said. “My kinda girl.”
The Mazda tore up the highway at a leisurely hundred, wind screaming in the open windows as the tires devoured the concrete. The scenery changed constantly – businesses, homes, forests, fields all passed by to the right and left. The road was deserted this time of night, and in the absence of traffic, I gave the race car more gas.
I was going so fast I nearly missed the off-ramp to bring me up onto Mason Street. As we waited at the stoplight for the left turn, the Pizza Hut sitting squat in front of the ancient and abandoned Circuit City building reminded my stomach that the last food I’d had I’d yakked up onto Renard Island with about a gallon of rancid bay water.
When would I get to eat again?
And how did Jack Bauer do it?
The light didn’t take long to turn, and I took Mason at fifty instead of the recommended thirty five. Grocery stores, a Wal-Mart, and gas stations dominated the right side of the street, while a hospital glowed brightly against the backdrop of a massive forest on the left, a few restaurants half hidden among the trees as well.
Mason climbed to quite the elevation, and I could see a huge arched bridge in my rear view as we crested the hill. Right at the top, and we whipped down Packerland past canneries and banks and metalworking shops. Strangely industrial out here, right off a commercial district.
The app said left at the next lights, and the car climbed another hill. I scoffed at the posted speed limit of twenty five. What a joke.
Green Bay Botanical Gardens was fenced off from the rest of the world by – at least here – wrought iron. Further down I could see chain link as high as these eight foot posts, but close to the entrance, it was all fancy fencing.
The parking lot was half full – oh joy of joys – and I backed the car into a spot. Combat parking I’ve heard it called. Never enter a gas station if you see someone parked out front like this. You only park like this if you expect to have to un-ass the area of operations in a major hurry.
I grabbed both soakers, slung the Vanquisher, tucked the nearly empty Triple Shot into my satchel, and then Keith and I got out. Without the rush of it past the car, the night air quickly became oppressively warm and sticky. Given the exertions of the past hour, I knew I should be sweating, but the suffocating atmosphere exacerbated that to a greater degree.
I carried the Vanquisher up and ready, finger off the trigger but alongside it. Some warning bell clanging in the back of my head told me that this was going to be a tough assignment.
There was a wooden door set into a brick wall along the garden’s edge. Locked. The main building a few yards right was dark. Seeing as a wall or fence wrapped around the garden, it was probably the only way in that didn’t involve climbing equipment.
The entrance was not locked, and I threw the glass doors open, moving quickly inside. The interior was two stories tall, with a peaked ceiling, white walls, and blond wood trim. The lights were off, and shadows started collecting along the floor, compounding in darkness the closer they got to the ceiling. Doors along the right led to what looked like classrooms, there was a gift shop close by on the left, and a hallway leading out of sight. The whole back wall of the building was windows looking out on the gardens. Not only were they lit by moonlight, but in several places it looked like there were tea-lights set in the manicured trees and shrubbery, and perhaps a bonfire or two.
A sign stood at the main desk, propped up by a bowl of wax-paper wrapped caramels. “No shooting indoors. Caramels, one dollar.”
I took two, ate one, stuck the other in my pocket for later. “Don’t mind if I do.”
The hallway to the left led into the main gardens, and we were halfway down it when Keith said “Stop.”
“This probably isn’t the best way to go. This is like…the main entrance.”
We retraced our footsteps, headed down the staircase behind the admissions desk, and found ourselves in a glass-walled meeting or lounge area looking out on the clearing behind the building. I posted up alongside frame of the sliding glass door and looked out.
A bonfire roared in the center of the clearing, throwing spooky shadows on trees that ringed the area. A hill climbed to the main gardens along the left side of the clearing and from what I could see, there were at least two smaller clearings set into trees further up the slope.
A wide path was cut through the forest heading straight back, while to the right it looked like a prairie-style field had been cultivated in a multi-acre clearing. Several paths wrapped around the hill to the left, leading to the main gardens.
“Got any ideas how we’re gonna find Allison?” I asked Keith.
His smile was ghostly in the darkness. “I’d say it’s pretty likely she’ll find us first. If not…we’ll just have to wander until we find her.”
I opened the patio door and slipped out into the night, staying in the shadow and concealment of the wall. I came under fire almost immediately, water splashing off the siding next to me, launched from further up the hill. At night, with no sights….yeah, I had no prayer of aiming. I did hit them though, taking a little longer on the trigger and angling the Vanquisher upwards like a grenade launcher. I tracked the water onto them as they pumped, and they stopped charging their watergun, moving away through the trees.
“Was that her?” I inquired.
Keith shook his head. “You’ll know her when you see her.”
“You’re really doing a lot for my confidence, you know that?”
He didn’t answer that other than to say “We should get moving.”
If we were going to be looking for Allison, it made sense to go where there were people. We should approach from an oblique angle of course. I started jogging up one of the roundabout paths, Keith following behind.
Halfway up, I nearly walked into a beam of water as thick as my arm. The path was cut into the side of the hill, a three foot embankment on the left, thick forest descending to a cut clearing on the right. I ducked, dropping below the level of the embankment. It was forested too, so I had to guess that whoever was shooting at me was a decent shot. “Can you see anything?” I hissed at Keith, who was still standing.
“No.” His head rotated back and forth slowly as he scanned for my assailant.
A glowing light appeared overhead, and then fell through the canopy to drop onto the path nearby. A foot-long rod of plastic radiating bright yellow.
Another one pinwheeled overhead and dropped on the path behind me.
Keith smiled, and the effect was creepy in the weird light. “Now that’d probably be Allison.”
Screw this. Only crazy people threw chemlights in a waterfight. No way I was going up against a crazy person.
I broke right, catching trees and high-stepping my way down the hill in an attempt to keep from falling over. The terrain was uneven, fallen branches and roots impeding my footwork. I bounced off trees, stepped off the grade, and promptly stumbled. The clearing was filled with white plastic chairs all facing the back, and a bonfire burned in the center. Probably a wedding tomorrow.
I hurtled the chairs and sprinted further into treeline on the other side, ducking branches and hopping the small ravines that cut through the forest floor. The trees thinned, and I broke through into another clearing. Giant pillars rose from the manicured grass, metal ribbons cut with words connecting the tops in intricate loops. Brick planters were randomly scattered throughout the clearing, and I hurtled those like I’d done the chairs.
A female voice shouted my name from well behind me. I ignored her, continued my mad dash across the clearing. The far side was open – no trees – and I descended the grade down to a woodchip covered path at the bottom of a steep hill. Left or right? Right was more or less back to the visitor’s center. Back to Allison.
Left, of course.