The mud on his shoes was slowing him down, not to mention the pouring rain that was popping and soaking his clothes. The ferocity of the storm made every leaf in the woods lean in unison. I could see from the way his body moved that his breaths had become thick with fatigue. But still he continued his futile, pathetic trudging through the thick and soggy muck of the storm. And I couldn’t help but think how ineptly easy it had become to catch my prey. It nearly took away my professional sense of accomplishment.
The chase had gone on for approximately two hours, sixteen minutes, forty-two seconds. It was always a pleasure to hunt tenacious prey, the kind that wouldn’t give up though it was faced with overwhelming disadvantages. Watching him run from me, the way his body wore down, it provided a certain agreeable indulgence that I had come to enjoyed far too often, like an ice cream sundae topped with whipped cream and cookie crumbs. Chocolate cookie crumbs.
The prey was handsome, despite his circumstances. He was a man of his mid-thirties, early-forties. I didn’t know who he was, not his name or why I was sent to “silence” him. Of course in my line of work, you didn’t need much personal info to get the job done. Especially if you’re good. I was very good. And for those who were very good, all that was ever needed were a few physical particulars. And payment.
I sat on the branch of a tree, watching my prey stagger through the bushes like a drunken fool. No doubt the rain was doing the job I needed it to do, limiting his visibility, making his every step heavy and regrettable.
When the hunt began, I was behind him with my weapon of choice. He took off into the woods. I assumed he thought its mysteriousness would somehow hide his face from me. If only he knew how the woods were my second home. If only he knew that two hours was more than enough time for me to get in front of him, he might have stood a chance. Actually, that wasn’t true. I had never failed a job before. And I was never going to, so long as my name was Justin Kace.
As thunder broke and split the sky, I saw my prey slowing down. He placed one hand on a tree and the other on his knee. Ah, the resting period. For me, it never came soon enough, the time when the prey became most vulnerable. You see, in his mind, he had escaped me. It brought him comfort, no doubt. And in that comfort, he attempted to catch his breath and gather his thoughts, leaving him deliciously unaware of my trap. Deliciously. I could almost taste the ice cream sweetening the corners of my mouth.
He was much too far for me to use my weapon of choice. So I was going to settle for the old sniper rifle. It was strapped to my back, as it always was, and there were plenty of bullets left. The rifle was black and as light as a credit card. I leaned forward on the branch slowly, taking extra caution not to make a single, unnecessary sound. Not that it mattered with all the ruckus of the storm, but being careful was second nature to anyone with my level of experience.
Twenty-two seconds and I was done setting up. I looked at him through the crimson red aiming lens of the rifle. The crosshairs seemed to fit onto his body perfectly, as if the white lines had been tailored just for him. My thick leather poncho protected me and covered my head from the rain. My hands, in black gloves, secured the gun under my shoulder and into the pit of my arm. That only left my face. Achieving the proper line of sight during a thunderstorm would have been impossible for a lesser person. My body, however, was equipped with certain superhuman features, one being the ability to see much clearer than normal.
I took a deep breath and readied myself to accept this most pleasurable sensation. I was as calm and cold as I could be, colder than a mountain of ice which would surely melt at the sight of my prey’s fallen corpse. The moment was perfect. I licked my teeth in anticipation.
But just as the trigger was absorbing my finger, a tree limb about half the size of my leg broke off from the branch above. It didn’t fall on me, but it startled me enough to make my shot misfire. The prey’s neck whipped toward my position, no doubt spotting me cloaked in the darkness. Then he took off running again.
For a moment, I cursed myself for being so stupid. I checked for loose branches before I got setup, but I should have done a second check after I was through. An amateur’s mistake. But I wasn’t worried. My prey had about thirty seconds before he would run into my Plan B. And oh, how I loved Plan B, enough to want to purposely sabotage Plan A. Perhaps I did and I forgot.
Right on time, I heard him screaming thirty seconds later. I jumped from the tree and went out to find him. I took my time. There was no rush. He was quite trapped, you see, and without a thing he could do about it.
A few steps later, I spotted him hanging upside down and completely covered in a white chemical slime of my own devising. He probably thought he was caught in a giant spider web. It would’ve been a fair assumption. The slime was very sticky and impossible to break free of, especially from his position.
As satisfied as I was when I looked at him, there was still some disappointment. I spent months putting together the perfect plans for his capture. I had hoped this prey would have made it to Plan C. Or Plan D. Or Plans E or F.
For him, I had plans all the way up to the letter Z. And when I ran out of letters to use, I went back to the letter A and added numbers. When I got to a hundred, I began to use to letters again. For me, planning a manhunt was almost like eating ice cream. Cold. Tasty. Addictive. I could never get enough of it.
I stepped closer to him, looked into his eyes and smiled. I removed my hood and let him see my face. I’m sure he was wondering why a boy who looked no older than twelve would go through all the elaborate trouble of capturing someone they had never met before and had no personal vendetta against. The answer was simple.
“This is what I do,” I said into his painfully curious eyes.
And it was the truth. I loved my job. Like a baker loves bread, I loved it. He could see it in my grin. And what came next, from the way his face dropped, was what I loved most about the job.
“If he could do all of this just to capture me,” he was probably thinking, “then how many ways does he know how to finish me?”
His thoughts began to overwhelm him. Then his body began to shake and toss around like something had possessed him. Foam began to pour from his mouth and his eyes rolled toward his brain. And then there was motionless, no more life in his body.
It was everything that I had come to expect from my weapon of choice. Fear is the greatest weapon of all, much more satisfaction to gain than any bullet or poison or knife in the back could provide. But more than any other reason, fear is my weapon of choice because it’s untraceable. My employers called me a finisher. But in truth I had never finished anyone. By the time I was through with any prey, they would finish themselves.