Sullivan rounded an old brick building, desperate to catch her breath. After a short second, she inched to the corner and snuck a peek. The midday crowd on the street barely noticed her exit. The man in the green shirt, however, was still running in her direction. The gun he was carrying was only barely concealed from those around him.
Who the hell was this guy? She’d been doing some routine surveillance when suddenly Greenshirt jumped her. She’d avoided getting immediately shot, but the ensuing fight could have gone better. He was deceptively quick, especially for his size. The man exploded into a violent flurry of fists. Sullivan blocked and dodged as best she could, but couldn’t get a hit in. Crashing through the second story window into the alley dislocated her arm, but at least she’d survive a little longer.
That was fifteen minutes ago and that guy was still on her tail. He didn’t ask any questions. He was in for the kill. This had to be the work of whoever had been trying to kill her recently. This was bad. She’d only barely survived that last encounter. Her ribs still hadn’t fully healed and the pins in her leg were looking to be a permanent accessory. Fixing her arm would have to wait. She needed a place to hide. She hid behind a dumpster as the green shirted man jogged past. A list of friendly areas flashed through Sullivan’s mind. Everything she knew of was too far to walk with her injuries and someone trying to finish her off.
Wait. Wasn’t there an old safe house a few blocks from here?
She slipped out the back of the alley, clutching her useless arm close to her frame. There was no sign of her attacker, but she knew all too well that he could turn up at any moment. She raced down the busy streets toward the building that might keep her alive. At least, long enough to figure this out and patch herself up.
The safe house was in a dilapidated apartment. Crumbling bricks and rotting wood made it a place for most to avoid, but perfect for someone on the run. If a person approached, they were more than likely coming for you. She checked the street one last time for Greenshirt and stepped inside. On the fourth floor, at the end of the hall, was the apartment. She’d used it as a base of operations nearly seven years ago. Very little had changed, except a growing blanket of dust.
After checking the street once more through the blinds, she could finally get that arm back in place. She took a deep breath. Playing medic was always her least favorite part. If a problem couldn’t be fixed with a word or a gun, she didn’t have any business there.
She sat on the cold tile floor and locked her fingers around her left knee. She clenched her teeth like a vice as she waited for the telltale pop. There! A rush of pain swept over her body. She tested a few slow movements to make sure the mechanics would work if she was threatened before it healed. She stood up to check the freezer for an ice pack. A package of blue-tinted meat greeted her. She coughed through the cloud of rotten food smell. No power, then. Was this place still even on the company’s radar?
Sullivan pulled out her phone. She needed backup. A helicopter would be even better. But for any of that to happen, somebody had to pick up the damned call. On the sixth ring, there was a burst of static and a young male voice.
“This is Sullivan. I’m in need of immediate assistance.”
“Agent Sullivan. What’s the situation? Where are you?”
Something felt off, but she couldn’t quite place it.
“During Project Sparrow, I was attacked by a large male. I’ll fill in the details to whoever’s available to help. I’d take an extraction, if you can.”
“What’s your location? We’ll have someone there within the hour.”
Didn’t they know? The voice had sounded familiar at first, but the kid who usually picked up her distress calls was a lot less formal than this.
“Who is this?”
“Pardon? Agent Sullivan, I need your location.”
The amount of static, the long time before they picked up, this had the hallmarks of a trap. Whoever was after her had somehow gotten to her phone. All they needed was enough time or information in order to come finish the job. She couldn’t let that happen.
Sullivan immediately ended the call. She placed it on the wooden table while she considered her options. The phone vibrated. Those posing as the agency were calling back. She grabbed the phone and threw it to the floor. A few stomps from her boot exposed the electronics within. No bug? They must have done it through software. Well, any signal her phone was sending would be dead now. She scooped up the broken pieces and dropped them in the waste bucket.
Only time would tell if she’d been on the phone long enough for them to discover where she was. Or maybe they already knew by following her and were just trying to rattle her nerves. If so, it worked.
Sullivan stared at the dusty apartment. It was all familiar, yet foreign. Like a childhood friend seen decades later. The cracked tile, fifth from the sink, held a hidden compartment beneath it. She pried it up and inspected the emergency pistol she’d stashed there. Once again, something felt… off. She knew of two other missions in the region since she was there. Why hadn’t the agency used this place again? And why was it still vacant? Untouched?
That was when she noticed arced lines in the dust. The crooked chair at the kitchen table had been moved recently. The safe house was compromised. Now that she was looking, the outlines of cautious footsteps could be seen on the various hard surfaces. They crisscrossed the rooms, disappearing on the dingy bedroom carpet and reappearing in the hall.
Her heartbeat quickened as she followed the steps. The stashed pistol was cocked and ready in her hand. She tore open every door, bracing herself for booby traps and hidden attackers. But nothing came. It looked like whoever was there had gone and left no evidence behind.
Or maybe they were just playing the long game.
The search was on once more, this time for listening devices and cameras. When her search turned up empty again, Sullivan leaned into the shadow near the window and surveyed the street below. Something was very wrong here. It had to be. Nothing was adding up today.
She stayed by the window for the rest of the day. In the late evening, a dark van pulled up. A lanky man in a leather jacket emerged. She shifted the curtain just enough to watch him storm inside. Sullivan shifted over to the door. Wiping the peephole clean, she saw the shape of the man stomping up the stairs to her floor. He cracked his knuckles as he walked toward her.
He stopped suddenly in front of the apartment next door. One hard knock brought a hefty old man to the door. The visitor leaned in close and whispered. It must have been a password, because the door swung open. Coincidences were all too rare in this profession. He was there to get close to her. She thought about getting out and finding somewhere else to lay low, but the idea of getting some intel on her attackers was irresistible.
Once inside, there was a long conversation in a language Sullivan couldn’t quite decipher. She listened through the thin walls, hoping for a clue that would tell her who was after her. All she could tell was that they were discussing a woman. Someone who’d given both of them a lot of grief. Sullivan could only assume they were planning their next attack against her.
An hour later, the conversation quieted. Were they also waiting for backup? She went back to the window to plan her next move. She couldn’t stay there. But looking outside, she wasn’t sure she could leave, either.
More conspicuous vehicles appeared since she last checked. She wished a pair of binoculars were stashed with the pistol. The streetlights were dim at best. She could swear someone was watching her. She couldn’t leave the safe house. She’d be too exposed, even in the dead of night. So many buildings surrounded this one. A clever shooter could be perched in or on any of them, just waiting for her to make a move.
Maybe she could climb out a window they didn’t expect. The bedroom faced another building, with barely a gap between them. She opened the window and reached out. Her arm felt like it was going to explode when she braced herself against the walls of the gap. Her recently dislocated shoulder meant climbing was out. She was trapped until the men in the next apartment made their move. The inevitable chaos of a fight would give her more options.
Davis had told her not to go out into the field again so soon after her ordeal in the Arabian Desert. She had to think of her mental and physical health.’ She insisted she would be fine, but Sullivan was starting to think he was right. None of her missions were secure until the threat to her life could be dealt with. Once she got out of this mess, she was going to hunt down those sons of bitches.
Murky tap water poured into cupped hands. Some she drank, while the rest was splashed on her face. She had to stay alert to stay alive. She spotted an unusual pair on the uneven sidewalk. A man and a woman, both wearing dark clothing, strolled down the road like it was a sunny spring day. Sullivan went for the gun left by the sink. Anyone at ease on a night like this was dangerous. The woman stared up at the windows. Sullivan ducked into the shadows, careful not to be seen.
One of them had to know who was behind the attacks. She glanced again but the pair had gone inside. She could hear the soft shuffling of feet coming up the stairs. Sullivan tipped the kitchen table on its side and crouched down.
The footsteps grew louder.
There was a knock at the door. Sullivan waited. If she made a noise, it would only give away her position. The knocking grew more insistent. The man cleared his throat.
“Delivery for a Ms. Sullivan.”
She pointed her weapon at the door. She heard the handle rattle, followed by the rusty-hinged screech of the door opening. This was it. Sullivan furrowed her brow. These two would be kept alive just long enough to talk.