Another shot rang out across the cobblestone courtyard and another bullet shattered the ancient stucco near the agent’s head. They were getting better, he thought, one of these times, they might actually hit me. He waited for a count of twenty and another shot followed, this one lower than the last, ricocheting off the stones at his feet as well. Better but still predictable.
With twenty seconds to spare before the next assault, Agent Lazarus leaped out from his cover and trained his Glocks on the top of the distant clothier where the barking report of his assailant’s firearm had given away its position. There, hidden between the crenelations of the rooftop, he could see the rough outline of a field jacket and gloved hand. Aiming with a casual grace, he squeezed each trigger once, sending a deadly messenger from each barrel and then slid behind a nearby vegetable cart. Just as he settled into a comfortable crouch near the fragrant edibles, a startled and agonized cry broke the small interlude of silence, followed by the clatter of a sniper rifle hitting cobblestone. The agent began another slow countdown in his head and, as it neared thirty, he carefully raised his right hand over the vegetables and fired once more. Only the soft, distant sound of impact greeted the final shot and then the market square was quiet once more.
Agent Lazarus looked at his wrist and cursed. He stood up, holstering his weapons under the ebony flaps of his coat. Taking one more look around him, a keen eye on the building tops and windows, he briskly walked toward the shadows of a nearby alley where a sleek black and silver Ducati Panigale waited like a crouching panther. He climbed into the seat and flicked a small switch between the handlebars.
“Talk to me, Vic.” The agent’s voice was even, smooth and deep, the kind of voice that commanded attention even at the lowest decibels.
“You’re getting slow, Lazarus,” a voice piped from the motorcycle, “that was almost eight minutes.”
Lazarus shrugged. “What can I say? It only feels fair to give them a fighting chance.”
“You’re such a giver,” the voice droned.
The agent chuckled as he pulled on a pair of driving gloves. “Is the party still on schedule?”
There was a pause and the sound of typing from the speaker. “Looks like it. Monroe is set to appear at eight, like clockwork.”
Lazarus rolled his eyes. “Clever, Vic. You’re quite the comedian.” He grabbed an earpiece hidden from the console of the bike, pushed it into his ear and then put on a pair of sunglasses. Satisfied with the prep work, he gripped the throttle of the bike and the engine roared to life. “Stay on coms and let me know if anything changes.”
“You got it boss.”
Lazarus threw the motorcycle into gear, spun the back tire around in a full circle and sped off like a shadow running from the rising sun.
* * * * * * * * * * *
The visions always began with a flash of lightning and the smell of freshly turned soil. Dark pervaded everything and the sense of drowning was overwhelming. A lesser man would experience panic but mostly there was just confusion and anger, like he had been so close to something and had it torn away in the last possible moment. If he could only figure out what it had been, what it was that had meant so much to him, perhaps he could fight to get it back. But there was only the loss and the lightning and the soil and the ever lessening dark.
“On your six, Lazarus.”
Agent Lazarus shook his head to clear it, refocusing his attention on the pavement flying by. Damn it, he growled at himself, focus. The mission is what matters.
“Yeah, I saw them.”
He had picked up the three gunmetal SUVs about ten miles back and they were steadily closing the distance. He could outrun them without much of a thought, the Ducati was already a beast on its own before Vic had added a little something special to mix, but that would just bring them in hot when he reached the Manse. No, he needed his tail squeaky clean when he arrived and that meant taking care of business here and now.
“You got a plan?” Vic’s voice asked in his ear.
“Don’t I always?” He replied with a smug grin. He reached up with his right hand, keeping the hurtling bike steady with the other, and pressed a small button on the side of his sunglasses. The left lens displayed an image of his three pursuers with a digital readout of their speed and distance. Keeping it steady, he thought, good boys. He revved the engine of the Ducati and pulled up around the next corner. The SUVs, probably tracking him by their own methods, picked up their pace as well. Lazarus grinned wider.
The road they were on was nestled between a seaside cliff on the left and a series of hills on the right. As he pulled the bike around the corner, the incline of the right side gave way a bit, becoming more gradual. The agent flipped a switch near his left thumb, one that would mask his actual position while projecting a false one, and then spun the bike off the road and up the hill. Slowing only enough to manage the terrain and bring himself back around in a tight 180, he crested the hill near the road to see the SUVs flying by below him. He waited long enough for them to get a good lead and then shot back onto the road again, this time as predator instead of prey.
The grey vehicles were all lined up on the right side of the road, following basic driving laws to avoid the kind of attention that made things messy, so Lazarus was able to pull up behind last one without the others noticing. He ducked low and quickly considered his options. A quick shot to the tires of the trailing SUV would rid him of one problem but then exacerbate the other two. No, he thought, two birds, one stone. Reaching into his coat with his right hand, he revved the engine with the other and shot out into the left lane. As he came around past the last vehicle, he made eye contact with the surprised driver. He saluted with the gun and pulled past to the second SUV. As soon as he was up near the front tires, he fired two quick shots into the rubber. The tire exploded and sparks flew as the rim hit the pavement. Lazarus took off just as its front end twisted to the right and the back end lifted from the road. Behind him he heard the screeching of tires as the third truck tried desperately to avoid the wreck and the metal on metal scream as it failed. Two down.
The agent’s victory was short lived. The sound of automatic gunfire echoed against the hills and bullets whined around his head, a couple pinging off the armor of the motorcycle. Lazarus swept behind the SUV, avoiding another barrage from the thug hanging out of the window behind the driver. He veered to the right and another rifle met him there. He was stuck and he wondered how long it would be before a barrel appeared out the back. If he couldn’t go left and he couldn’t go right and going back, based on his timetable, was not an option either, there was only one place to go.
“Sorry Vic,” he muttered.
“What? Why?” There was a pause as Vic must have been checking the situation on his own monitors. “No, oh no, Lazarus...not my baby.”
The agent didn’t reply but just gunned the engine. The motorcycle raced toward the back of the SUV. Lazarus set the throttle on full and then deftly jumped up to stand on the seat, filling each hand with a pistol and balancing as the Ducati accelerated. Just before the front wheel slammed into the bumper of the truck, he leaped forward, arms crossed before his face, and shot through the rear window in an explosion of glass.
What followed was chaos. Lazarus spun in the air to land on his back on the floor of the hollowed out SUV just as the motorcycle caught under the back tires. The rear of the SUV rose into the air momentarily and the agent aimed at the men trying to pull their rifles from the windows. He fired three times into the one on his left, dropping him instantly, but the one on his right was better prepared. As the first shot went off, he kicked out and knocked the gun from Lazarus’ hand, losing his position as he did. Both men were now lying prone in opposite directions. Lazarus swung his foot at the other man’s head, a blow that would have broke his nose if the driver hadn’t been veering back and forth trying to bring the vehicle under control. Instead, it glanced off his forehead, forcing him back into the door. Before his enemy could get a better position, Lazarus spun, pulled himself onto his knees and reached for the handle to the door. The man trapped against it looked up in fear.
“This is where you get off,” the agent spat and pulled the door open. The thug dropped from the SUV without a sound and disappeared behind them. Lazarus pulled the door shut with his left hand and pressed the barrel of his remaining weapon to the back of the driver’s head with his right. “Let’s not do anything stupid, shall we?” The driver slammed on the gas pedal and twisted the wheel to the left. Lazarus tumbled to the other side of the SUV, gun still in hand. He looked up to see the ocean hurtling toward them through the windshield. “Or I suppose we could.” He gripped the door behind him and threw it open, lunging backwards through the opening just as the SUV broke free from the road and plummeted off the cliff to the waves below.
“Lazarus? Are you there? Lazarus?!”
Agent Lazarus stood up, holstered his weapon and brushed the dust from his suit. “I’m here, Vic.”
“Are you all right?”
He removed the thick shards of glass that were still embedded in his forearms. “I’m fine.”
“Fine?! I’m showing multiple lacerations, two broken ribs and...is there something lodged in the back of your head?”
Lazarus felt around the back of his skull and found the offending object, pulling it free. He examined it idly. “A rock. It was just a rock, Vic.”
“Oh, is that all?”
The agent continued cleaning off his suit until he felt it was passable and then looked up the road to the outline of the Manse in the distance. “All right,” he said, “let’s go to a party.”
* * * * * * * * * * *
Knowing that it would raise eyebrows if he arrived at the party on foot, Lazarus had Vic air drop him a BMW just out of sight of the Manse. Lazarus drove it up the long, winding drive and stepped out to hand the valet the keys.
“Keep it somewhere close,” he said. The valet nodded curtly and drove off. Lazarus stood before the wide, marble steps leading up to the entryway, scanning the front of the building to allow Vic to gather as much intel as possible. “Is he on sight?”
“Monroe is there, yeah,” Vic said, “but he’s not alone.”
Lazarus tightened his bow tie and buttoned his jacket. “He never is.”
Various celebrities, heads of crime families and international somebodies were milling around the ostentatiously sized entryway to the mansion. Many nodded to him as he passed, either out of respect, fear or amusement, but he continued walking. He passed through the ivory and glass doors and stepped into a room the size of a small theater, lit with row upon row of delicate glass chandeliers and long, white candles in golden sconces. Like the man or not, he thought, Monroe had impeccable taste.
“Mister Lazarus,” a silky voice purred from his left. He turned to see a tall, elegant woman in a bright red dress glide across the floor toward him. She was beautiful in a way that time couldn’t touch, in a way that surgery didn’t create. Her eyes devoured him and the smile that played on her mouth was predatory. “So kind of you to grace us with your presence.”
“The pleasure is all mine, Miss..?”
“Rathbone. Elandria Rathbone,” she replied and held out a creamy, long fingered hand. Lazarus took it and kissed it lightly. The woman’s eyes flared with hunger. “This being your first time here, perhaps I could take you on a tour…” She motioned to the wide staircase behind her that led to the more private areas of the mansion.
Lazarus smile with reluctance. “My sincerest apologies, Ms Rathbone, but I have an appointment to keep. Besides,” he let her hand go gently, “I’m not entirely sure you would enjoy my company.”
Instead of looking offended, Elandria only grinned wider. “Oh, I know all about your unique sense of...taste, Mister Lazarus.” She leaned forward so that only he could hear her. “It is that very thing that intrigues me.”
With her face so close to his, the scent of her filled his nostrils.
“Whoa, there,” Vic said in his ear, “I don’t like what I’m seeing over here. Let’s find our mark, shall we?” Lazarus stared at the woman, into her eyes, past them, behind them, to what he really wanted. “Lazarus? Shake it off, boss. We have things to do.”
Elandria held his gaze and for a moment, she drew him in, daring him. But as he kept eye contact, as he felt the need growing in him, her expression slipped into something more like hesitation, closer to fear.
Lazarus pulled away. “Ah, Ms. Rathbone, I think you are biting off more than you can chew.” He said it with a smile, a wolfish smile, one he had practiced over and over again to ensure he kept as many people at arm’s length as possible. It worked. She shrank back, relieved and disappointed, and turned away.
“Oh La...La...Lazarus, what have you done now?”
Lazarus looked up at the sound of the metallic, stuttering voice. Doctor Montgomery Monroe stood in the archway of the foyer, braced on either side by rows of armed guards. He hadn’t changed at all in the years since Lazarus had last seen him. He had been a tall man before the experiments and was even more so now. A monocle was gripped in his bright green right eye, bolted there by five small pins above a long handlebar mustache, but the rest of his face looked almost human. It was what was hidden beneath the long coat he wore, what whirred and clicked and hummed, that set him apart. And it was his obsession with that very technology that brought Lazarus to his front door once more.
“Oh, you know me Monroe, making friends and influencing people,” he said calmly, casually pushing his hands into his pockets.
“There’s that deh...deh...deadpan humor I missed so much!” Monroe said and a handful of guests chortled at the joke. He grinned and stepped forward, the motion spastic and broken, the noises beneath his coat louder with the effort. “But now that I see you again, I...I...I actually think you should be on your way.”
Lazarus smiled and took a step forward, his hands slipping around the hidden triggers. “Oh, but I just got here.” He flipped up the protective covers to the buttons under his thumbs. “Plus, I brought you something.”
Monroe squinted at him and as the monocle spun around his eye to alter his vision, his expression turned from confusion to horror. “Shoot him! Sh...sh...shoot him!!”
“See you on the other side, doctor,” Lazarus muttered. As the guards raised their rifles to fire, he pushed both thumbs into the tiny hidden buttons and the entire world went white.
* * * * * * * * * * *
The smell of fresh dirt.
Darkness and longing and loss and anger.
Lazarus woke up.
Vic was standing over him, a thick needle and wire in one hand, an all too familiar stapler in the other.
“Hey boss,” he said.
Lazarus blinked, shutting out the light, feeling that loss just a little longer, and then took a deep breath. “How bad was it?”
Vic shrugged. “They were able to get most of you back in one piece. It wasn’t nearly as bad as the job in Norway. I mean, when you took that plane down, it was…” Lazarus glared at his partner. “Right, sorry.”
Lazarus sat up and looked himself over, tracing the long stitches and dull metal staples scattered across the dull white of his skin. “Did we get him?” Vic didn’t respond. The agent sighed. “What happened?”
Vic shook his head. “His people pulled him back, threw themselves on him. The explosion took most of the building, a lot of the guests, and what we can only guess is most of his...apparatus. But they got his head out in time.”
Lazarus closed his eyes again, felt the emptiness of his being, the dead weight of his limbs. He wanted to give in, to lay down and not get up. He deserved that. But that wasn’t what he was going to do. This mission is what mattered.
“Then we’ll get him next time,” he said.
Vic grinned slightly. “Yeah, next time.”
Lazarus nodded his head and swung his legs off the operating table. He reached for the new suit waiting nearby, pulled it on slowly, and strapped the two pistols to his side. He stood up and straightened his tie.
“All right...let’s go to a party.”