Home > Uncategorized > Day Ninety-eight: Back in the Saddle

Day Ninety-eight: Back in the Saddle

Loren held the phone to her ear with her shoulder as she worked. “I just don’t know if I can get back into it for good, Anna,” she said. The hotel room was dark and stifling, but had an excellent view overlooking the street. She sat by the window with a little folding table, working as she talked.

“You’ve already made a great first step,” Anna said. “You’re back at work, back out there. You’ll probably pick up right where you left off.”

“Yeah, right,” Loren said. “Just like falling off a bicycle.”

“Exactly,” Anna said. “It’s – Wait, what?”

“Nothing. Just something my ex-boyfriend used to say.” She switched the phone to the other ear. “I don’t know, Anna, I just don’t feel it anymore, y’know? All that enthusiasm has just gone… Bleh.”

She could hear something on the other end. It sounded like Anna was in the kitchen. “You know, Lo, when I took that time off after Alton was born, I thought I’d never get back to work. I was away from teaching for six years. Six!” It sounded like she was chopping. “A whole graduating class had come and gone by the time I managed to get back to work. I thought I was going to be eaten alive by those kids, and you know what?”

Loren held the phone up while she fished around on the floor for the pin she’d dropped. “What?”

“I just walked in there like I owned the place, Lo. I shut down all those little nagging voices in my head and held my head up high and took charge.”

“That’s great, Anna, but I think my scene is a little different.” She peeked through the curtains at the office tower across the street. There was a long black town car parked in front and a bored-looking man in an ill-fitting suit leaning against the door. Loren checked her watch. Probably another fifteen minutes, which was just enough time.

“Well sure,” Anna said. “But the principle is the same, right? You’re a professional, aren’t you?”

“You know I am, Anna.”

“Exactly. Hold on.” There was the loud whine of a blender for about thirty seconds that gave Loren a little window of focus to start reassembly. “You still there?” Anna asked.

“Yup, still here.”

“Good. So like I was saying – you’ve done this a million times, Lo.”

“Eighty-one, Anna.” She snapped the bolt action into the barrel and tested it out. It came back smoothly and snapped forward. Perfect. She glanced down at her watch. Ten more minutes to finish and get set up.

“Fine, eighty-one. You should be an old hand at this by now.”

“I know,” Loren said. “I guess it’s just the jitters, right?” She started feeding rounds into the magazine, quietly counting as she did so. “I have a reputation – four, five – right?”

“You do, and it’s a good one.” Loren could hear the tick-tick-WHOOMPH of a gas stove being lit. “Can you tell me who it is?”

“You know I can’t, Anna,” Loren said. She held the rifle up to her shoulder and sighted along the barrel. “Rules are rules.”

“Fine, be a spoilsport,” she said.

“Well, that is in my job description.” Loren took the scope out of its case and cupped a hand over the end as she peered down onto the street. The guy leaning against the car jumped closer in her view, and she was pretty sure he had a gun holstered under his jacket. She adjusted the focus a bit, but it didn’t really need it. She snapped it in place, put the gun on her bed and started repacking her go-bag. “Look, Anna, I really appreciate this, but I have to go. Time’s a-wasting.”

“No problem, sis,” Anna said. “Happy shooting.”

“Thanks, Anna. Save some for me, okay?” She snapped the phone closed before either of them had to say “good-bye” and started preparing in earnest. The gun was ready and waiting, all she had to do was prepare for a quick exit. There were enough other tall buildings on this side of the street that her position wouldn’t be immediately obvious, but still – a good sniper never lingers. Rule number one.

The battered backpack was laid out and ready. All she had to do was break down the gun, throw the parts inside, and she’d be ready to go. She was dressed in her suburban mom clothes and hadn’t showered yet. If everything worked out, she’d be gone before Brant Laidler’s brains were finished sliding down the wall behind him.

She turned the seat around, steadied her arm on the folding table and let the curtains peek open just enough to get a good view of the door across the street. Laidler would be coming out any minute, on his way to merger talks with Munin Scientific that her employer didn’t want him to make. Loren took a deep breath and started counting doubles in her head along with her heartbeat, which she could just barely feel. She got to 16,384 before she lost count and had to start again. The second time, she made it up to 65,536. Her third run was interrupted when Brant Laidler walked out the door of his office building, chatting jovially with an assistant. He had a thin white combover and a paunch, but he looked like a nice enough guy. Someone’s uncle, maybe. Probably liked to tell jokes to children.

Loren stopped counting, centered the scope on his face, and took a deep breath.

She let it out slowly, feeling all the nervous energy, tension, doubt and fear rise away from her like a vapor. It left her still, quiet and sure. She put the crosshairs right between his eyebrows, and squeezed the trigger.

Loren didn’t need to see his head explode into a red mist to know she’d made the shot. In an instant, she was up, her hands twisting and unmaking the rifle and throwing the parts into the bag. She took off the extra shirts she was wearing and stuffed them in as well, then zipped up the bag, ran her hands through her hair and left the room. There was no one in the hallway to watch her leave, but she kept her face a sleepy, harried mask. By the time she got to the front entrance, her steps had slowed down and she was flipping intently through a local guidebook. No one said anything to her as she left, and she didn’t even lift her head to look at the police cars and the ambulance that raced by in the opposite direction.

Later, as she was melting the hotel keycard with a cigarette lighter, she would finally allow herself a moment of glee. She giggled quietly to herself and resolved to call Anna back once she reached the safehouse. “Yup,” she whispered as she tossed the small, blackened lump of plastic down a sewer drain. “I still got it.”

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