Excerpt from: Dead Reckoning

Washington DC, 1956

Dead Reckoning

The clickity clack of the train and the distant toning of the engine’s horn carried through the fresh air as Ethan Rainer walked from his car to his apartment building.  He thought it odd to be able to hear a train in his part of town.  But, he decided, it was one of those crisp Fall nights that seems to allow smells and sounds to travel much further than in the heat haze of summer.  At this thought he stopped suddenly and looked up into the crystal clear sky.  The stars were bright in their sea of black expanse and they twinkled happily back at him.  Ethan took in a deep breath of refreshingly cold October air and savored it, holding his breath before exhaling slowly.

That’s more like it, he thought to himself.  A far cry better than where I’ve been for the last two weeks; blasted jungle.  Ethan sighed heavily at the thought of his last assignment.

Ethan had finally come to the weary end of a messy assignment in South America.  He never considered an assignment truly over until he was home and in bed.  And how he longed for this assignment to be over.

His body ached and his mind was numb.  The long flight from South America to Panama to Mexico to Atlanta and finally to Washington DC had sapped his body of energy and spirit.  Each step closer to his apartment was taken under the control of his mind’s auto pilot.  Ethan could barely even remembered driving home from the airport.  He had gotten to his car, turned onto the bypass and was suddenly home.  The active part of his brain simply shut off and the built in auto pilot had taken over.  He knew this to be dangerous for a man in his line of work.  Concentration on one’s surroundings was the core of his profession.  But he was almost home, so what harm could come of it?

Taking the stairs to his fifth floor apartment, the stairs because the elevator was out of order, Ethan finally, legs burning, reached his door and dug for the keys in his hip pocket.  He sighed wearily as they slipped from his tired fingers and landed with an obnoxious metallic clank between his feet.

Entering the dark room Ethan flicked the door closed behind him and tossed his brown, rather worn leather duffle bag, into the corner by the coat tree and set his keys down next to the phone.  The room was cold and still, for the heat had not been on since he had left.  Lit only by the dim ambient glow of the city which cast thin slivers of pale orange light through the window shades, the room yawned innocuously back at him.  Ethan returned the yawn and, for the first time in weeks, finally felt at home.

As he walked through the apartment, on his way to the kitchen, Ethan shed layers of clothing, letting them fall where they may, until he was down to his trousers.  Reaching the small, galley kitchen, he opened the ice box and reached in for a bottle of his favorite beer.  And after prying the cap off and taking a long drink, he stopped by the back window on his way to the shower.  He slid the window up and looked out across the maze of streets and lights that was Washington DC.  The cold night air blasted across his chest and filled the room with the clean smell of Autumn.

Just then the neighborhood cat that seemed to belong to no one, hopped down onto the fire escape outside Ethan’s window.  “Hey there cat.” Ethan said.  There came a very quite “meew” in response.

The cat and Ethan had a good working relationship: Neither expected much of the other and were in no way committed to hold up either end of any kind of deal.  Ethan fed him from time to time and the cat kept the mice population at zero.  Ethan sometimes mused that he and the cat were a lot alike; loners by nature and gone for days at a time, but always liked knowing there was a dry place to call home should they need it.

Ethan stroked the cat rather roughly and headed off to the bathroom and a much anticipated, very hot shower.

The dark bedroom lay waiting, its soft bed offering itself unabashedly to Ethan.  Ethan switched on the radio on the night stand.  The face lit and a slow melodic tune from a few years back lingered through the room.  He set down the bottle on his night stand and headed for the closet.

Suddenly there came a soft phut sound and Ethan felt a sharp burning sting in his right shoulder.

“What the hell!” He exclaimed under his breath, as he groped for the source of the pain.

He whirled around searching the darkness of his room.  His vision suddenly went blurry and his head began to swim.  He placed a hand up to his throbbing forehead and stumbled to the end of the bed.  Then, without warning, the room tipped on end and the floor rushed up, smashing into his face.  He rolled over on his back and moaned, sick to his stomach.

Ethan lay there, trying to make sense of it.  His body was alive with alarm, yet he could not move.  He was in mortal peril and knew it; every nerve screamed “danger – danger!”

Then, from the corner, a slim, dark silhouette, as if made of shadow itself, melted out into the room.  It slowly glided over to Ethan and stood, looking down at his helpless body.

Ethan blinked, trying to clear his vision.  The dark, lithe, figure stepped over his body and sat on top of him, straddling his torso.  Powerful thighs gripped his sides and a hand reached out grabbing him below the jaw turning his head from side to side.  The grasp was firm and the gloved hand was small.  The hand finally released his jaw and slid down his chest, resting over his heart.

Ethan struggled to speak.  “Who are you?”  His voice came out as a bare whisper before being cut off by his constricted throat.  Ethan’s vision was rapidly diminishing and he felt his consciousness slipping, but in those last few seconds of awareness, Ethan watched as the figure reached up to its head and pulled something away.  That something released thick locks of long dark hair that cascaded down over broad shoulders.  Then the figure spoke softly with a husky European accent,  “Hello agent Rainer.  It’s been a long time.”


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