MYSTERY HANGS OVER LAS VEGAS SHOOTING
October 9, 2019
Nearly one year after sixty-six people were killed in the nation’s worst mass shooting incident, the FBI announced last week that it had concluded its investigation into the tragedy. However, the agency’s report, which offers no clues about the motive of the killer, seems to leave the public with more questions than answers.
On November 3, 2018, Charles Hackman opened fire from a room on the nineteenth floor of the Lucky Nickel hotel in downtown Las Vegas. Targeting a crowd of more than five thousand men, women, and children gathered for an antique car show, Hackman killed or wounded dozens of people during an eighteen-minute shooting spree before being shot and killed by police.
Hackman, a fifty-four-year-old actuary from Summerlin, Nevada, had no prior criminal record and no history of mental illness or substance abuse. Despite what the FBI called an exhaustive investigation of Hackman’s personal background and behavior, the agency was unable to identify any political, ethnic, or religious motive behind the shooting. The agency said it found no evidence that Hackman had been a member of any extremist organization and concluded that he acted alone.
But with no explanation for what caused a seemingly unremarkable man to commit the nation’s worst act of mass murder, the FBI’s report has prompted a flood of online conspiracy theories and accusations that the agency is covering up what really happened. Despite attempts by social media platforms to limit the spread of “fake news,” millions of people have now read and shared articles suggesting without evidence that Hackman was either a jihadist recruit or the victim of a government frame-up.
Even the number of victims in the tragedy has become a subject of controversy. While the official death toll was set at sixty-six in the days following the incident, the hashtag “#66or67” has begun trending this week, reflecting allegations from anonymous sources in the government that a missing victim was not counted in the final total and may have been the first person targeted in the shooting…
@abbeylaurent_ 4/9/20 4:12pm
Live-tweeting: Ready for Congresswoman Sofia Ortiz to speak on tech privacy abuse in New York’s Washington Square Park. Huge crowd, lots of chanting, lots of signs. Intersections blocked, traffic at a standstill.
@abbeylaurent_ 4/9/20 4:28pm
Still waiting. No sign of her yet.
@abbeylaurent_ 4/9/20 4:29pm
Want more on Ortiz? Check out my full profile of the first-term New York Congresswoman in the online magazine The Fort. tinyurl.com/yxl8mpdo
@abbeylaurent_ 4/9/20 4:39pm
Here she is. Cheers are deafening. Ortiz wasting no time working up the crowd. “We’re here to tell Big Tech that WE own our personal data, not them, and we’re taking it back!”
@abbeylaurent_ 4/9/20 4:43pm
Ortiz confirming what my source told me last week. She’s accusing tech companies of covering up a massive data hack. Source unknown, could be foreign. “Affecting nearly every American.”
@abbeylaurent_ 4/9/20 4:46 pm
Ortiz now calling for expansive new federal regulations and oversight. “Biggest change to privacy laws in a generation.” Says tech giants have proven they can’t be trusted.
@abbeylaurent_ 4/9/20 4:47pm
Crowd really getting riled up. People spilling into the street, some confrontations with cops. Ortiz is asking for peaceful protest – WAIT – OMG!!!!!!!
@abbeylaurent_ 4/9/20 4:48pm
ORTIZ SHOT!!!!!! CONGRESSWOMAN ORTIZ HAS BEEN SHOT!!!!!
@abbeylaurent_ 4/9/20 4:50pm
Ortiz is down twenty feet away from me. Blood everywhere. It’s pandemonium. Crowd charging the stage. MORE GUNFIRE! GUNFIRE IN THE CROWD!
@abbeylaurent_ 4/9/20 4:52 pm
Have to move. Not safe here.
@abbeylaurent_ 4/9/20 5:21pm
Riot!! Guns, bottles, knives being used as weapons. I can see two bodies in the street and eight cars on fire. Looting too, numerous store windows broken.
@abbeylaurent_ 4/9/20 5:32 pm
STAY AWAY from the Washington Square area.
@abbeylaurent_ 4/9/20 5:41pm
Anarchists leading the violence, masks over their faces. Not sure where they came from. Police nowhere close to getting this under control. Have to move again.
@abbeylaurent_ 4/9/20 5:56pm
Police rounding up everyone on the street. Mass arrests, including yours truly. Anyone got bail?
@abbeylaurent_ 4/10/20 7:05am
Okay I’m out. Got my phone back. Update: Five confirmed dead from last night’s riot, area still locked down. Congresswoman Sofia Ortiz killed from a shot to the throat by a sniper. FBI calling it an assassination.
@abbeylaurent_ 4/10/20 8:35am
My source telling me there is a suspect in the Ortiz assassination. NOT in custody, location unknown, armed and dangerous.
@abbeylaurent_ 4/10/20 8:37am
Suspect is ex-government operative gone rogue, believed to be part of a radical anarchist group. No identity yet, just the code name Cain.
@abbeylaurent_ 4/10/20 8:38am
Who is Cain? PART ONE 1
The man in black lifted his binoculars and studied the rain-swept boardwalk. The benches that stretched along Dufferin Terrace, on the cliff-side looming over the lower town and the St. Lawrence River, were empty. His contact hadn’t arrived yet, but that was to be expected. It was only nine-fifteen, and he’d told her to be on the boardwalk at ten o’clock. He wanted the extra time to survey the meeting-ground and see if he was walking into a trap.
He’d left a car behind near the port and then taken the funicular to the Haute-Ville
. Now he stood like an invisible man in the darkness, behind a stone wall on the hill of the Citadel. Cold rain sheeted from the sky, blurring the nighttime lights of Quebec City. A fierce wind rattled the winter skeletons of the trees, drowning out the other sounds with its moan. In front of him, the Chateau Frontenac hotel rose like a medieval castle. At the base of the cliff, the lower town’s ribbon of lights glittered beside the great dark stain of the river. Along the boardwalk, a row of antique cannons aimed their muzzles out over the water, as if anticipating the return of American invaders.
The cannons weren’t wrong.
The Americans were here somewhere. Looking for him. Where are you hiding?
He waited, patient and motionless, not reacting to the cold or the wetness of his clothes or the bite of the wind. He’d trained himself to be immune to such things. He used the binoculars to examine every window, every doorway, every shadow or corner where someone could hide. Even the best operatives usually made mistakes. The flicker of a match as a cigarette was lit. The swish of a curtain. A footprint in the mud. When he’d completed his survey, he repeated it two more times, and he still saw nothing to alarm him.
He was starting to feel safe.
Then someone screamed.
He tensed, but this was a happy scream, mixed with laughter. A young couple, drenched by the downpour, ran hand in hand along the glistening boardwalk below him. They took shelter under one of the canopies next to the cliff, where they began kissing passionately. He zoomed in on their faces under the gazebo lights. Both were in their twenties, both attractive. The woman had pink-and-blond hair that was pasted over her face, and she had the lean, strong build of a runner, wearing skin-tight leggings. The man with her was several inches taller and had black hair and a long, deep scar on his cheek.
He tried to decide who they were.
Two harmless tourists.
Or two killers.
The truth was usually in the eyes. He watched carefully to see if either of them broke cover long enough to throw a surreptitious glance at their surroundings, but if this was a performance for his benefit, they stayed in character. When they’d kissed for a while, they walked back into the rain. Each looked at the other with a hungry grin, the way lovers would. They headed north toward the grand hotel.
That was when he saw his contact arrive on the boardwalk. She was early. She walked down the steps from Governor’s Park, seemingly not bothered by the rain that pummeled her. A large leather satchel purse hung from her shoulder. She reached the walkway just as the young couple passed in front of her, and he worried that the timing was too perfect. He could picture it all happening. A pistol in the hand of the man with the scar. One shot, no chance to run, his contact collapsing with a bullet in her throat. He yanked his own gun into his hand and prepared to dive down the Citadel slope, even though he was too far away to stop what was about to happen.
Except he was wrong.
The young couple waved at the woman. She smiled back. They were simply three strangers enjoying the romance of the rain. There was no ambush, no gunfire. He watched the couple continue on their way to Chateau Frontenac, and his contact crossed the boardwalk to the gazebo where he’d told her to wait. She grabbed her phone from her purse and checked the time. Then she stared at the hillside in his direction with her hands on her hips. He knew she couldn’t see him, but she had the look of someone who could feel that she was being watched.
He examined her closely through the binoculars.
The journalist named Abbey Laurent was a couple of years past thirty, medium-height and a little skinny. She wore a waist-length jean jacket over a white T-shirt, forest green cargo pants, and black calf boots. Her hair was colored to a deep dark red, falling in wet strands to her shoulders and across her forehead in spiky bangs. She wore lipstick that was as dark red as her hair, and her mouth was folded into a curious smirk, as if she were enjoying the excitement of what she was doing. Her eyes were dark, and they were smart eyes that didn’t miss a thing.
She pushed some of the buttons on her phone. A second later, his own phone buzzed. She’d sent him a text. I’m here, mystery man.
He allowed himself a tight smile. He liked this woman. But liking and trusting were two different things.
He let her wait without replying to her message, and meanwhile, he did another thorough check of the area through the binoculars. They were alone. The young couple on the boardwalk had long since disappeared. He saw no sign that the woman was being watched, but even so, he let their meeting time come and go. Ten o’clock. Ten-fifteen. Ten-thirty. She sent more texts, which grew annoyed and impatient as time wore on. Hey, where are you? You’re late. I’m here getting soaked and you don’t show up? Seriously? I’m not going to wait forever.
And she didn’t. At ten-forty, he watched her lips form a loud swear word. She stamped out of the gazebo into the rain, past the old cannons and into the wet grass of the park beside the Chateau Frontenac. When she disappeared from view, he sprang into action. He slipped his gun into his jacket pocket and hurried to the base of the Citadel hill, where Quebec City’s old stone buildings faced each other across narrow, hilly streets. He jogged down Rue des Grisons for one block and waited in the doorway of a small guest hotel, where he couldn’t be seen.
At the end of the street, the redheaded journalist crossed the intersection. She walked with purpose, not looking back, not concerned with being followed. He ran to the next corner and saw her hike past the art conservatory into the cobblestoned paths of the Parc du Cavalier du Moulin. He accelerated, falling in behind her, closing the distance between them. She was half a block away, unaware of his presence.
This was how he’d been trained. Always let the first meeting go by. Let anyone who is watching assume it’s a bust, and then intercept the contact afterward for the real meeting.
But the ones who had trained him were also the ones who were looking for him now.
They knew his every move.
As he climbed toward the park where Abbey Laurent had disappeared, he saw that the street light ahead of him was broken. His instincts screamed a warning, but he was too late to retreat. A man appeared from the shadows in front of him. It was the tall man with the scar from the boardwalk, and the man held a Beretta with a suppressor on the barrel, aimed across the twenty feet between them.
He didn’t have time to pull his own gun. With a grunt of exertion, he shunted sideways and dove to the wet ground, rolling until he slammed against the brick wall of the nearest building. The low pop of the Beretta and the splash of bullets on the asphalt chased him. He pushed off his knees and ran, bent over, then threw himself behind a blue panel van parked on the sidewalk.
The van provided cover as he drew his pistol. The rain poured over his face and drained loudly through the gutters, making a flood down the street. There was no light. He couldn’t hear or see. Slowly, cautiously, he crept around the rear of the van. As he spun into the street, he pulled the trigger three times in quick succession. The man with the scar was there. One of the bullets tore into the man’s gun arm, causing him to fire back wildly. Bleeding, the would-be assassin lurched away behind the other side of the van.
He only had a few seconds, and he knew what he had to do. Get away! Get to the car!
Quebec had been a mistake. The meeting with Abbey Laurent had been a trap from the beginning.
He backed away with his gun trained on the van. There was an alley behind him, where he could run. He blinked, trying to clear rain from his eyes. The wind tunneling between the buildings roared in his head. His senses were focused on the van as he waited for the man with the scar to unleash another round of gunfire. Only at the last second did a breath of motion alert him to a deadly new threat behind him.
The young woman with the pink-and-blond hair pounced from the alley. She swung a long-bladed knife toward his neck, and he jerked back in time to avoid having his carotid artery cut open. He lashed out with one leg, kicking her in the stomach, driving her backward. She shook off the blow, bared her teeth, and charged again, leading with the knife aimed at his throat. He had a split-second to grab her wrist and twist hard. The bone broke; the knife fell to the street. Before he could bring his gun around and fire, she uncoiled like a spring, driving her skull into the base of his chin with a loud crack. His head snapped back, and he tasted blood in his mouth. He let go of her, momentarily dizzy.
More pops, like muffled fireworks, exploded around him. The man with the scar leaped from cover and fired again with his injured arm. One shot shattered a window in the stone building on the other side of the street; another ricocheted off the sidewalk. He grabbed the young woman by her broken wrist and yanked her in front of him. She screamed in pain, but the scream cut off as the next bullet, which otherwise would have landed in the middle of his chest, burned into the back of the woman’s head.
The man who’d been kissing her on the boardwalk a few minutes ago had just killed her.
Still holding on to the woman, who was dead weight, he raised his own gun and fired a precise shot that struck the man with the scar under his chin. A kill-shot directly through the throat. Just like Sofia Ortiz
He stood there, the pungent smell of smoke filling his nose. The dead woman dangled at the end of his arm like a grotesque doll, and he lowered her body to the wet street. Her eyes were open and fixed, staring at him. Blood pooled behind her head, but the rain quickly washed it away into the rivers that flowed along the curb. Get away! Get to the car!
The jaws of the trap were springing shut.
He saw the shimmer of the boardwalk lights at the east end of the street. He headed that way, staying close to the stone walls. At the next corner, he surveyed the cross-street and assessed the trees scattered like soldiers through Governor’s Park. He wasn’t alone. He felt it. But he couldn’t see where the threat was. He measured out his breaths one by one, then burst from cover, sprinted across the street, and dove into the muddy grass of the park.
Bullets spat at him from two directions. As he slithered through the grass, he spotted one man on the steps of a guest hotel behind him, another in the darkness of a parking tunnel under the Chateau Frontenac. He got up, zigzagged as the crossfire zeroed in on him, then swiveled and fired four shots into the blackness of the tunnel. The assassin in the parking garage collapsed, but the man on the hotel steps continued to fire. When a hot spike burned in his upper chest, he knew he’d been hit. He dragged himself to the shelter of an ash tree and ripped open the flap of his shirt to see the bloody ring of the bullet hole.
More fire rained down from the man on the steps. He waited until there was a pause as the man emptied his magazine, and at that moment, he broke from cover and fired back, six more shots.
The other shooter rolled down the hotel steps to the street.
There was no time to tend to his wound. More men would be here soon. He swapped his gun to his left hand and applied pressure to his chest. He was numb, but that wouldn’t last long. Marching through the park, head down, he passed the Chateau Frontenac and hurried down the steps to the boardwalk. Lights gleamed on the far shore of the river. The rain and wind assaulted the cliff-side. He limped to the far side of the boardwalk and clung to the metal railing to steady himself. The rock of the cliff face went down more than one hundred and fifty feet below him, with a nest of bare trees climbing toward him from the old town. He closed his eyes, feeling faint, knowing he was losing blood quickly.
The words hissed at him from a few feet away.
And then another word. “Traitor
His eyes shot open. He lifted his gun with a jolt of pain. He wasn’t alone; he’d missed someone hiding in the shadows. A man in a gray trench coat and fedora stood near the gazebo, and he had a gun, too, pointed at him through the downpour. The other man was older by fifteen years, shorter than Bourne but as tough and weathered as a husk dried in the sun. He knew Nash Rollins well. In another life, he would have called him a friend, but not anymore.
Not since Las Vegas.
And now this man was here to kill him. Or be killed. Those were the only two options.
Bourne had kept count. There was one cartridge left in the magazine of his gun, but one was all he needed to kill an old friend. Pull the trigger. Watch him die. His brain weighed his options and assessed his strategy. His heart debated whether he could really kill the man in front of him.
Rollins had obviously wanted to be here personally for the take-down. That was a mistake. He hadn’t been in the field in years. Showdowns were about concentration, about not being distracted, and that was hard to do when your skills were rusty. As the stare-down continued between them, Bourne waited for the older man to give him an opening, because he knew it would come. A surge of wind whipped into the man’s body and made him flinch. The lapse in his attention lasted barely longer than a blink, but that was enough.
Bourne fired. He shot into the flesh of Rollins’s thigh, causing the man’s leg to collapse under him. His friend toppled, unleashing a bitter wail of pain, but in another second, the old man would realize he was still alive, and he wouldn’t bother to wonder why he’d been spared. He would simply raise his own gun and fire back.
With nowhere to run, Bourne dropped his empty gun, took hold of the boardwalk railing with both hands, and threw himself over the cliff’s edge. The agony of his chest coursed through his body. Gravity grabbed hold of him, but he hovered in the air for a micro-second like a skeet target. His old friend, writhing on the ground, found enough strength to bring up his gun and fire. One shot.
One shot that grazed a burning, bloody path across his skull.
Jason Bourne fell into darkness. He was a meteor streaking through a cold universe, a tiny fragment lost in empty space. The ground far below him was like an alien planet, new and unexplored, roaring toward him at what felt like light speed. At the moment of impact, everything went black.
The Canadian ambulance crew wanted to take Nash Rollins to the hospital, but he refused to leave the boardwalk. He wasn’t going anywhere until they’d found the man on the cliff. He leaned on a cane that one of the paramedics had given him and bit his tongue to try to take his mind off the pain that pulsed through his leg.
Below him, the lights of searchers bobbed in the cobblestoned streets of the Basse-Ville
, hunting for the wounded American killer. Rollins knew he’d hit him as he fell. He’d seen the red cloud spray from his head. It seemed impossible to think the man had survived the gunshot and the fall, but so far, they’d found no body, only a blood trail that came to a sudden stop on the Rue du Petit Champlain. The man had simply disappeared.
Bourne was a ghost. Impossible to kill.
But then, that was what they’d trained him to be.
Rollins felt no guilt about what he’d done. He’d brought his team to do a job, and the job wasn’t finished. His prior relationship with the man didn’t matter at all. The fact that the man had spared his life by shooting him in the leg, not the head or the chest, also didn’t matter. The only thing that was important was to stop him!
He took his phone out of his pocket. When he dialed, a woman answered on the other end with a single word.
“Go secure,” Rollins requested.
“You’re secure,” she replied after a moment of dead air on the line. “What’s the situation in Quebec? Were you correct? Is it Cain?”
“Yes, it’s him. Just like I told you.”
“Has he been neutralized?”
“No, it seems that he’s still alive.”
“That’s unfortunate,” the woman lectured him coldly. “You assured us that you’d deal with this. Director Shaw is concerned. If Bourne is linked to the assassination in New York, it puts the whole Treadstone resurrection in jeopardy.”
Rollins grimaced as pain stabbed through his leg again. The pain was going to make him collapse soon, but he didn’t care. “Don’t worry, tell Shaw that I’ll find Bourne. He’s wounded, and he can’t go far. I’ll find him, and I’ll kill him myself.” 2
Late-night drinkers packed the pub on Rue Saint-Angèle at one in the morning. Abbey Laurent sat at the bar in the semi-darkness, under a low ceiling studded with rough-hewn beams. Her clothes and her mahogany-colored hair were still damp, making her shiver. Her fingers tapped on the keyboard of her laptop, in a tempo greased by the rhythm of the jazz quartet playing a few feet away. She owed her editor, Jacques, three thousand words for the next online edition of The Fort. The article was due first thing in the morning, but she’d waited until now to write it, hoping that the mystery man would give her a story.
Instead, he’d left her standing alone in the rain.
Every few sentences, she took a swig from the bottle of beer in front of her. She found it hard to concentrate on her work. Her problem wasn’t the noise or the crowd; she thrived on those things. She could bang out a story in the middle of the World Cup final. No, she kept thinking about the man who’d stood her up.
Who was he? Where
Why had he gone through an elaborate series of secret contacts to meet with her, only to not show up?
Abbey grabbed her phone and did what she’d already done half a dozen times since she got to the bar. She scrolled back to the very first contact he’d made with her, one week ago, three days after the murder of Sofia Ortiz in New York. It was a text message sent from an unknown phone number. We need to meet. I can help you get the answers you want.
As a journalist, she received cold calls like that all the time. Most were hoaxes, sent by conspiracy nuts or men who wanted to meet the woman they’d seen in the photograph next to her byline. But something about this man was different. Intriguing. He knew things. He provided her with details about the shooting that the police and FBI had never released. When she checked it out, she discovered that everything he’d said was true.
Her reporter’s radar was pinging.
But Jacques had told her that the meeting was too dangerous. Her editor was nervous by nature, and he was still hyperventilating about the Ortiz assassination and the Washington Square riot. However, Abbey had never been one to let fear stop her from doing anything. Okay
, she’d written back to the mystery man. Your place or mine?
They’d agreed on her place. Quebec City in three days.
She didn’t know his name, or what he looked like, or anything about who he was. He was obsessive about protecting his anonymity and cautious to the point of paranoia. He’d sent her elaborate instructions for making sure she wasn’t followed, and he’d given her an exchange of code phrases so they would know each other in person, like they were spies in some Cold War rendezvous.
She’d say: What do you like most about Quebec?
He’d reply: Those wonderful little maple candies.
And after all that, he’d been a no-show. It didn’t make sense. She checked her messages again, hoping he’d sent her a text to explain, but all she saw were the unanswered notes she’d sent him from the boardwalk.
Abbey sighed with defeat, because she wasn’t getting anything done tonight. Jacques would have to wait for the story. She shut down her laptop and turned around at the bar to finish her beer and listen to the music. The boys in the band all waved to her. This was her place, her neighborhood. Her office at The Fort was four blocks away, and her studio apartment was six blocks away. She traveled constantly, but when she was home, she typically wrote her stories here at the bar until closing time. As a writer, she made almost no money, but the bartender slipped her the occasional drink for free, and in return, she threw them a mention in the magazine whenever she could.
The bar door opened, letting in cold damp air. A few people left; a few others pushed their way inside. She examined the faces of the new arrivals. As comfortable as she always felt here, tonight she had an odd sense of unease. It was the same sensation she’d had on the boardwalk, that multiple sets of eyes were watching her. This was more than the usual attention she got from guys looking for a hook-up. No one in the bar looked suspicious, but the feeling didn’t go away, and her lips pushed into a frown.
She felt paranoid. Just like the mystery man. Where are you?
Even the mellow jazz music didn’t calm her nerves. The bassist was a slinky Spanish woman named Emilia, who had magic fingers. On most nights, Abbey loved listening to her play. The trouble was, when she saw her face now, it wasn’t Emilia she saw. It was Sofia Ortiz in Washington Square Park. Her memory replayed that awful moment over and over, when the woman’s neck exploded in a shower of blood, when she pitched backward to the stage, when the screaming began, when the crowd surged out of control. An assassin had murdered
a Congresswoman right in front of her.
Her source said the killer was a former U.S. intelligence agent codenamed Cain.
Who was Cain?
She hadn’t told Jacques the truth about how bad the night had been. There was blood on her shirt after it happened; that was how close she’d been to Ortiz. Then, in the riot that followed, she’d nearly been killed herself. There was gunfire everywhere, craziness, madness! She’d seen one of the anarchists aiming a pistol at her
, and she’d only survived because someone in the crowd had run into her at that exact moment and they’d both tumbled to the ground. By the time she got up, the shooter had disappeared, but she could still remember his black hood and the gun pointed at her head.
With her hand trembling slightly, Abbey finished her beer. She got up from the bar, but at that moment, over the noise of the band and the crowd, she picked out two words from someone’s conversation.
It was no louder than a whisper. “Chateau Frontenac
And then two other words. “Dead. Shot
Abbey tried to isolate the conversation. Who was it?
She grabbed her laptop and shoved it in her bag. As she waded into the crowd, her ears pricked up to eavesdrop on what everyone was saying. She picked up snippets of talk about sports and drugs and drinks and sex, but nothing about the hotel castle on the cliff. Nothing about murder. And yet she knew, she knew
, that something had happened.
And she knew that in some way it was connected to her.
There! Two burly young men, one black, one white, both in Nordiques jerseys, were squeezed into a corner booth behind the band. Their voices carried over the crowd. She shoved her way through the bar and bent over their table. A dim sconce light cast shadows on their faces.
The two men stopped their conversation and sized her up from behind their beers. They liked what they saw. “What’s up, baby doll?” one of them said.
“Did I hear you say that something happened at Chateau Frontenac?”
“Oh, yeah,” the white Nordiques fan replied. “I was just up there. Whole area’s shut down.”
“What’s going on?”
“Dunno. I heard people saying there were bodies in the street. Some kind of shooting. Hey, why don’t you sit down, and we can – ”
But Abbey was already gone.
She threaded through the mass of people toward the bar door. She needed to get back to Chateau Frontenac right now
and find out what had happened.
When she got outside, the chill hit her wet clothes, and she shivered again. The rain had stopped, but the pavement was still damp. Rue Saint-Angèle climbed sharply in the darkness, and she began to head up the street. As she did, a man crossed the road to intercept her. He’d obviously been waiting for her.
She glanced nervously both ways. She was conscious of the fact that the two of them were alone on the empty street. Her hand covered the latch on her bag, in case she needed to reach for the Taser she kept inside. Her reporting often took her to uncomfortable places, and she’d learned to be prepared for anything.
The man gave her a bland smile and repeated his question. “You are
Abbey Laurent, aren’t you? The reporter?”
“What’s this about? Who are you?”
“We had a meeting. I apologize for being late.”
” She reacted with surprise. “You’re the mystery man?”
“Well, where the hell were you?”
“I’m sorry. I was detained. It was unavoidable.”
Abbey relaxed a little, but she studied him with a faint disappointment. He wasn’t what she’d expected. He was tall and solidly built, with thinning blond hair and gold-rimmed glasses that pinched the bridge of his nose. He wore a brown raincoat over a neat, expensive beige suit and tie. He looked like a middle-aged accountant, not a spy, and she’d pictured her intriguing mystery man as more Chris Pine than Jonah Hill.
“I’m glad I was able to find you,” he added in a voice that was almost sugary in its politeness. “Obviously, I went through a lot of trouble to meet you.”
you find me?”
“Everyone leaves a footprint online, Ms. Laurent. Routines are easy to track. We know a lot about you. We’ve followed your reporting for some time.”
“I’m a member of an influential group. You said you wanted a story, didn’t you? They’re part of the story.” He gave her another of his bland smiles and waved toward the end of the street. “Shall we take a walk?”
The two of them headed side by side to the intersection where Rue Saint-Angèle met Rue Saint-Jean. They walked down the middle of the cobblestoned street past trendy shops and restaurants that were closed for the night. There was no traffic and no other pedestrians. Her mystery man kept his hands in the pockets of his raincoat, and Abbey noticed that he never looked directly at her. However, his eyes moved constantly, examining the shadows around them.
“Looking for someone?” she asked.
“Just being careful.”
“Are you expecting trouble?”
“I always expect trouble.”
“I heard there was an incident near Chateau Frontenac,” she said. “People were killed.”
“Is that why you were late?”
“Was this because of our meeting? Was I in danger?”
“There were dangerous men near the hotel,” the man replied, “but they were looking for me, not you. They were hoping you would lead them to me.”
“And did you kill them?”
This time he stopped and looked at her. She saw that he had icy blue eyes behind his gold-rimmed glasses. “Is that what you think I am? A killer?”
“I don’t know what you are. I don’t even know your name.”
“Names are unimportant.”
“Except you know my name,” Abbey said.
“True enough, Ms. Laurent.”
They reached the old stone wall at Artillery Park, part of the city’s fortifications that had been built three hundred years earlier when the British and French were battling for the land. Without asking, the man led her down the stairs into the park, and then he stopped near the grassy hill under the wall. He lit a cigarette and blew smoke into the air. He smiled at her again, and she decided that she didn’t like his smile. The location where they’d stopped was hidden from the view of other buildings in the area. Alarm bells went off in her head.
“What does this have to do with the murder of Congresswoman Ortiz?” she demanded impatiently. “You said you’d help me get answers. I want to know why she was killed. And who shot her.”
He held his cigarette delicately between two fingers. “That was a terrible night.”
“Yes, it was.”
“You were near the Congresswoman when she was shot, weren’t you?”
“That’s right. I was. Do you know who did it?
“The American government thinks it was Cain,” he replied.
“Who is Cain?” Abbey asked. Then she added with an undercurrent of horror, “Is it you? Did you kill Sofia Ortiz?”
The question seemed to amuse him. “Me? Hardly. I’m not in his league. Cain is a ghost. A legend. I’m simply flesh and blood.”
She realized he was playing with her. Toying with her, the way a cat plays with a mouse before it bares its claws. This whole meeting felt off
. He’d promised her a story, and now he was dancing around all of her questions. The way he looked, the way he talked, the way he acted, none of it felt like the same man who’d texted her.
And then she remembered.
She hadn’t used the code phrase the mystery man had given her. She’d never confirmed that he
was the man she was supposed to meet.
Abbey summoned a casual smile to her face. “So what do you like most about Quebec?”
He stared at her, his brow creased with puzzlement. “I’m sorry?”
“We ask that of all the tourists. Canadians are very polite, you know. What do you like most about Quebec? I mean, I know there’s so much.”
She needed to hear him say the words. Those wonderful little maple candies.
She held her breath, waiting. Say it!
He threw his cigarette to the ground and crushed it under his foot. He took off his gold-rimmed glasses, wiped them carefully with a handkerchief from his suit pocket, and re-positioned them on his face. His hands returned to the deep pockets of his raincoat. “I guess the lower town,” he said. “So picturesque.”
She tried to stay calm and not give anything away. She reminded herself to keep smiling and to keep the terror she felt off her face. It wasn’t him
. This wasn’t her mystery man. He was a stranger, and more than that, she knew he was a killer.
He was here to kill her
“I could use a cigarette, too,” Abbey said, unlatching her satchel purse so she could reach inside.
But he wasn’t fooled at all.
Her hand dove inside her purse, her fingers clawing for the plastic grip of the Taser. As she drew it out, the man with the gold-rimmed glasses slipped his own hand out of his raincoat pocket. He held a black pistol with a long barrel, and his blue eyes had the sharp gaze of a hawk. Abbey squeezed her eyes shut and yanked the trigger, and the wires of the Taser ejected, filling the man’s body with fifty-thousand volts. His arm lurched; he fired his gun into the air, making her scream. She pulled the trigger again, delivering more electric shocks. He collapsed to the ground, wriggling and jerking in fits, the gun spilling from his hand.
Abbey threw the Taser down.
She ran blindly from the park, making a zigzag path around dark corners to get away, losing herself in the deserted old streets of the city.
Copyright © 2020 by Brian Freeman. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.