Cotton Candy Carnival
Big circus tents. A massive, festive, restless crowd moving in a multitude of currents past booth after booth of cheap games, cheap prices, cheap thrills.
Towering over the tents, like a gigantic metal monolith, a gigantic Ferris Wheel. Lit up so brightly surely the denizens living on Mars could see it with the naked eye.
People laughing. Children strolling along beside their parents eating wads of cotton candy or slurping down gallons of soda from long straws. Or more children, minus parents, running almost out of control toward one carnival ride or another oblivious to others as they dodge in and out of the crowd recklessly
A late August night filled with static electricity. In the distance the flash of lightning from an approaching thunderstorm. But the old, the young, the young lovers strolling about hand-in-hand–none worried about the approaching storm. The night was young. The storm far away. What worries had they at the moment?
Pausing in front of a booth he peeled three bucks off a wad of cash and shoved it toward the bored kid who, in turn, handed him a large fluff ball of pink Cotton Candy. Nodding to the kid, the dark brown eyes of the neatly dressed man hid his face with the Cotton Candy and started walking again. Blending into the flow of humanity moving more or less in one direction. Almost disappearing from sight in the process.
In his line of work disappearing in the middle of a crowd was a valuable asset. Working his magic unseen and silently was a prime commodity to those who needed his services. Like tonight.
Quiet but ruthless work. Needed to be done without drawing attention from anyone. And certainly not from the intended targets. They, above all others, needed to be completely left out of it if at all possible.
Three of them. An old man and two small boys. The intended targets. Marked for death sometime tonight here in the carnival. Three pawns in a massive political chess match being played out in some Middle Eastern country between two warring factions. The old man and his two grandsons became the trip-wire that would finally hurl the opposing parties into an all-out war.
And neither the old man nor his grandson had a clue they had been selected as the chosen sacrifices to start this holy war.
It was his job to kill the killers.
That’s what he was being paid to do. Take out the assassins as quietly as possible and make sure no harm came to the old man nor his grandsons. Paid handsomely. From a government agency who wished not to be identified. An agency he had–off and on–worked for on a contract basis.
“Smitty, all we know is there is a team assigned to this task.”
The day before yesterday he had been sitting in a plain-looking Ford Taurus in a parking space in the downtown section of this small mid-west city. His contact–someone whom he knew–was sitting behind the wheel of the Taurus and talking but not looking at the dark-eyed man. The man had a growing bald spot, wore heavy-looking horn-rimmed glasses, had a big nose.
He looked like an office manager for a local QuikPrint franchise. But the dark-eyed man knew better. His contact was not bald. The nose was fake and the man had 20/20 vision. Still . . . spooks had to keep up appearances, after all.
“The old man is a Saudi immigrant; a chemist, working for a small firm here in town. Here in the States, he’s just Joe Blow. Mister Average. Works hard pays his taxes; the head of a large family. But his extended family back in the home country is something altogether different. His cousins and uncles are the leaders of one terrorist faction or another. Rabid Islamic nationalists. They’ve been trying to overthrow various Muslim governments for decades. Including Saudi Arabia.
But this guy isn’t one of them. He and his family came to the States to get away from that. And that’s the problem. The family back home aren’t happy about it.”
Smitty eyed the man behind the wheel but said nothing. Said nothing but quietly waited. Waited for the other shoe to fall.
“Last week we got the word they’ve decided to remove this stain from the family name. They dispatched a team of assassins to come over here, find this guy, and take out him and as many of his family as they could. Do it violently. Make a big splash in the headlines. Can’t have that, Smitty. Can’t let something like that happen here at
“So take them out yourself,” the dark-eyed man said, his soft whisper for a voice breaking his self-imposed silence. “Or have the FBI come in and protect the old man and his family.”
The bald, big-nosed, bespectacled spook shook his head no and sighed, still not looking at Smitty as he talked.
“Can’t. We have no evidence. We don’t know what the team looks like. We don’t know how they are going to strike. So we can’t pass anything off to the FBI. And you know we can’t do any kind of operations within the country. But we’re convinced they’re here in town. And we’re betting they’re going to do something loud at the carnival.
That’s why the brass decided to bring you in. Your . . uh . . . reputation of removing assets quietly and efficiently is appreciated in certain sections of the agency. You do the job and get it done quietly and efficiently, well . . . fine and dandy. You do the job and fuck it up and get caught. Well, you know the score on that.”
Two days ago wasn’t much of a briefing. But it was enough. In the time frame before the carnival, the silent killer worked his trade. Moved around the small college community and made some observations. And made discoveries.
One being his agency contact forgot to tell him there was a detachment of FBI agents in town keeping tabs on the professor. The second being a large number of fellow expatriates visited the professor’s home during the day. Young and old.
Rich and poor. Coming and going. Seemingly not random but as if meeting some kind of schedule. An observation that struck the dark-eyed quiet man as most peculiar.
He followed both the good professor and his grandchildren, along with the FBItagalongs, to the carnival unnoticed.
And like everyone else they immediately dived into the milling crowd and immersed themselves in all the carnival rides and sideshows with enthusiasm.
But not the silent shadow following them. Dark eyes swept through the crowds in search of a potential assassin. Or assassins. As the night wore on he identified and logged in his mind the three FBI agents assigned tonight to watch the professor and his grandchildren.
He watched closely those who approached the elderly professor and spoke to him as they stood in the middle of the moving crowds. Nothing at first seemed amiss. No one seemed to pay the professor and his grandchildren any particular interest. Those who approached the old man were friends and colleagues from the university.
No one of foreign birth.
But he did notice the professor checking the time on his watch on a regular basis. And with each passing moment seeing the professor’s irritation mounting. And his dark eyes noticed something else. Not five paces behind the three FBI agents encircling the professor and his grandkids were young men with clenched fists, eyes fixated on the agents in front of them and scowls on their faces.
There was no time to hesitate. No time to think. Smitty moved. Like a shark slipping through a school of unsuspecting tuna, the dark-eyed assassin moved toward the nearest FBI agent and the person following him. Around him, the crowd moved at its normal pace. People talked. People laughed. Told jokes. Kids romped around and looked at the sights with wide eyes as they crunched on popcorn or slurped on their sodas. Life seemed absolutely normal and innocent. Innocent and safe.
But Smitty knew better. Knew what was going down. Knew he was the only one who could stop it. Approaching from behind the dark-complexioned young man following the FBI agent he saw the man slip a hand into a trouser pocket and pull out with something dark and slim in his hands.
There was a soft click and a flash of chrome
steel and suddenly the young man began to rapidly approach the back of the FBI agent with a bared stiletto in hand–with the look of murder in his eyes.
“Hiya, pal! Long time no see!”
The loud, obnoxious bark of a drunk almost in his ear made the young man half turn. A hand–hard as steel and as strong as a vice-grip–clamped down on his shoulder and roughly yanked him to one side and away from the back of the FBI agent.
“Say, want a drink? I got a fine bottle of Johnny Walker in my car. Whatta says we go get it and celebrate?”
The young man tried to break free from the drunk’s grip. But it was a useless gesture. The drunk–a dark-eyed, dark-haired stranger–was incredibly strong and quite determined. Still, he tried to break free as he was half dragged, half carried away from the crowd . . . away from his intended target . . . and hauled around to the backside of a large circus tent.
The first blow in the solar plexus stunned him and bent him over gasping for air. The second blow was the edge of a calloused hand on the back of the neck. A blow hard enough to snap the spinal cord like a match stick. When the young assassin dropped into the dried grass of the fairgrounds Smitty didn’t waste any time moving away.
Swiftly, yet remarkably without rousing anyone’s interest, the dark-eyed killer found a second FBI agent and the assigned killer following him. With grim determination he started moving toward them, glancing at the professor at the same time.
The professor and his grandkids stood in the long snaking line of the waiting Ferris Wheel riders looking with clear irritation at his watch. Dropping his hand the professor looked up and eyed the crowd surrounding him. Irritated . . . even angry . . . looking for someone who should have acted by now.
Smitty turned his attention back to this next target. He looked remarkably like the first killer. Dark complexioned. Definitely Saudi. Definitely fixated on the back of the FBI agent in front of him. Definitely too fixated on the back of the FBI agent to feel the approaching danger from behind him.
When the blade of the stiletto in Smitty’s hands flashed open he muffled the sound of the blade snapping open with his hands just before stumbled into the young Saudi.
“Oh, sorry pal! I tripped over my own big feet!” Smitty snapped good-naturedly, laughing, as one hand slapped on the man’s shoulder to catch himself and the other–the one holding the stiletto–sank the blade deep into the Saudi’s thigh.
The man winced in pain and half bent over as color drained from his face. Smitty stepped back, still laughing, offered his apologies for his big feet, and waved a hand goodbye. The young Saudi, both hands gripping his thigh, made no movement and stared down at the copious amount of blood beginning to seep through his fingers and stain his blue jeans.
The blade had slicked through muscle and bit deep into the Femoral artery. He had, at best, a few moments to live if he did not seek out immediate medical help. But he couldn’t seek out help since he was a known terrorist wanted by the FBI and several other Federal agencies He felt himself growing weak. He thought he heard someone screaming . . . .
The third FBI agent had no one following him anymore. Apparently, the screams and shouts of people hurrying over to the bleeding man behind Smitty was enough to scare the third Saudi away. But the old professor . . . now without his grandsons at his side . . . was moving.
Moving rapidly toward the line of cars setting in the semi-darkness of the grassy fairgrounds, his head down, and glancing furtively left and right as he hurried away from the crowds. Hurrying down the long line of cars he came to his dark blue Mercedes, fumbled keys in his hands quickly unlocked the driver’s side door slid into the silence of his car and closed the door.
And almost screamed in mindless terror when he glanced to his right and saw the black figure sitting in the right side passenger’s seat. A compact, dark, featureless creature who seemed to breathe the aura of Death itself. He did let out a yelp of suppressed terror when the creature rumble a soft chuckle in the darkness.
“Congratulations, professor. You’ve fooled everyone. The CIA. The FBI. The Department of Homeland Security. Everyone thought you were the victim running away from his terrorist-inspired family. But in fact you are the family’s patriarch. The prime mover in the terrorist activities the family involves itself in.
You design, plan, and implement the family while here in the States using the disguise as an ordinary American citizen. I must say it was a brilliantly
conceived plan. But no longer, professor. Your plan for a terrorist attack in the heart of the country didn’t work.
And you’re stay here in the States is over. Goodbye, professor. Enjoy the rest of your life.”
The passenger door opened and Smitty slipped out into the night, closing the door behind him. Without glancing back he started walking briskly away from the car. Ten steps . . . twenty steps . . . thirty steps and then it happened.
A ten steps the professor turned on the car’s headlights and started the engine. At twenty steps the professor put the Mercedes in reverse and started to back out of the line of cars around him. At thirty steps the car came to a stop between the line of parked cars and the Mercedes’ horn started blaring loudly and without let up. And kept on blaring.
Hours later he was sitting again in the Ford Taurus of the man with the fat nose and horn-rimmed glasses.
“How did you do it?” the contact asked, turning in the darkness to stare irritably at Smitty.
“You should know that. Your agency developed the poison and have used it before. No matter. You’re safe. The agency is safe. Since no one expects anything amiss the autopsy will conclude the old man had a massive heart attack. A normal occurrence these days.”
“Huh. I’ll be damn,” the contact grunted, shaking his head in disbelief. “The second assassin lived by the way. And he’s singing a merry tune. We caught the third Saudi terrorist as he was trying to leave town. You did a good job tonight, Smitty. A very good job.”
Smitty almost smiled as he got out of the car and closed the door softly. Walking away from the dark Taurus he disappeared into the darkness. Never once looking back.