Chapter 1. Broken Bulbs
The room was dark and smoky. Abandoned chairs sat around a small table, and a broken light bulb dangled uselessly above it. Moments ago, the light had been lit, until the commotion had broken out and shattered all sense of peace.
The sounds of the gunfire still seemed to resonate within the walls.
A man wearing a dark coat stepped from the shadows. His black hair was well oiled, and between this and his coat, he had about him the appearance of someone classy yet distant, clean-cut yet sinister. His lips twitched cruelly into a smile as he looked at the scene around him. He had succeeded in his endeavor.
The bodies of several men, men who had considered the standing figure a friend, laid on the floor, blood pouring from their now-lifeless forms and pooling around them as their glazed eyes looked emptily to the heavens.
The figure walked amongst the carnage, slowly stepping around the bodies. As he looked at their lifelessness, he seemed pleased with himself, finally having accomplished his mission.
Oh, how foolish they had been to trust him all these years. Hadn’t they figured out that someday he would no longer need them?
He chuckled at this thought, yet stopped when he saw one of the men on the floor was still breathing, clutching at the hole in his chest and making a feeble attempt to get up.
The figure approached him, shooting him again in the chest. That should do it. He watched as the man withered in pain and his face became still.
There. His job was finished.
Now there would be no one stopping him, no one taking away from the glory that would follow.
Chapter 2. The Mission
Snowflakes swirled in front of Jenna’s face as she stared out over the edge of the bridge and at the horizon. The sun was just rising over the chilly water, and the sky was dim with the darkness of morning. The sun was like a flame cutting through the cold winter night, spreading its warm orange fingers across the sky and caressing the clouds.
Jenna’s light brown hair whipped in front of her face from underneath her green striped wool hat, and she brushed these stray strands behind her ears. She smiled at the scene before her, taken aback by the beauty of the new day’s beginning. She loved watching the sun rise. It was her favorite way to start the day, a brief moment of relaxation before she would begin her busy day.
She breathed out slowly, noticing the way that her breath made steam in the air. The day was new, and this meant that there were infinite possibilities for it. The wind was cold against her nose, and she was thankful that she was wearing such a thick coat.
Jenna briefly considered everything that was happening at this moment, a moment when the world was just waking up, wiping the sleep from her eyes. At this moment, many days were beginning, many days that would hold many different events, both good and bad –
Jenna’s reverie was broken by the sound of her colleague and best friend, Neville, walking up behind her.
“Jenna! Wait up!” He called to her.
Jenna looked back and him – sweating and panting – and smiled.
“Maybe if you actually used the gym membership I bought you last Christmas, you’d be able to keep up with me.”
Neville stopped near Jenna and panted,
He put his hands on his hips as he tried to catch his breath, then stared out at the sun, which was stretching further into the sky.
“Besides, I wanted to see the sunrise.” Jenna added, setting her hands on the cold metal railing of the bridge.
Neville sighed, finally catching his breath.
“It is beautiful.” He agreed. “But if we don’t get back to the car soon, we’re going to be late. And you know what Malloy’s like when we’re late.”
Jenna reluctantly turned around, heading in the direction of the car, which was parked at the other end of the bridge. Neville had pulled over there to examine whether the little-used bridge was too snowed over to cross, and when Jenna saw the sun just beginning to rise, she leapt from the car to watch it, both because she wanted to and because she knew it would annoy Neville.
As the two friends walked back towards the car, Jenna did her best imitation of their boss, Susan Malloy.
“Hello! Where have you been?” Jenna imitated. “You’re late again. Did you realize that? If you continue to be late, you will have to work extra hard to make up for what you’ve missed, and the both of you know, that will not be pleasant.”
Malloy was strict and strong, and could be quite kind, that is, if her rules were followed exactly. If someone put so much as a toe out of line, they would receive an hour lecture about it.
Neville and Jenna got in the car and drove off in the early morning light.
Ten minutes later, Jenna and Neville pulled up outside of the indiscreet and plain brick building, which sat in the middle of the sprawling semi-industrial property. Well, you could call it indiscreet if you didn’t count the barbed wire fence and armed guards which surrounded it.
The guards let the black compact car pass, waving to Jenna and Neville as they drove through the gates. One of the guards tapped his wrist, pointing out the fact that the two friends were a little late, and Jenna nodded and shrugged. She knew that no matter how irritated Malloy became, she would never fire either of them. Despite her tough, heartless exterior, she had developed a soft spot for Neville and Jenna.
Jenna had seen the exterior of the building so many times that she could draw it in her sleep. After all, she had lived there for ten years.
They got out of their car and approached the building. Neville opened the door and let Jenna enter ahead of him.
The air inside the building was cold and crisp, just the way Malloy liked it. At least it was warmer than it was outside, which was very welcoming to Jenna and Neville after the time they’d spent in the coolness of early morning. Jenna felt as though she were thawing out as she entered.
They walked through the hallway. Jenna looked over at Neville, who looked tense and flustered.
“Chill out, seriously.” She said to him.
“Maybe a trip back into the cold would be good for you.” The nasally yet cool voice cut through the front of the building as Malloy stepped from her office, her mouth drawn into a thin line.
Susan Malloy was tall, thin, and was in her early fifties. Her brown hair was graying slightly, although this was hard to see as she always kept her hair in a tight, small bun on the back of her head. She wore a crisp, dark blue suit consisting of a blazer, ironed white shirt, tie, and an a-line skirt, as well as a pair of dark blue heels, which made her loom even higher over everyone in the office.
Jenna and Neville stood up straighter, Jenna looking slightly sheepish and Neville looking highly apologetic.
“I tried to get her to hurry.” Neville said with an authority that comes with being slightly older than someone.
Malloy stared down her long, thin nose and at the friends with a strong look of disapproval. She sniffed haughtily and said,
“What do you say?”
After Malloy said that, she realized how silly it sounded to be asking such a question. She sounded like she was speaking to a couple of five-year-olds rather than a twenty-one and twenty-three-year-old. She had to stop treating them like children, although she still thought of them that way. After all, she had played a big part in raising them, and almost every day she’d known them, they’d been late for something.
“I’m sorry, Ms. Malloy.” Jenna said, rubbing the toe of her boot into the ground.
“We’re both very sorry. And we won’t let it happen again.” Neville said pointedly, eying Jenna sharply at this.
But Malloy knew they certainly would be late again. How many times had Neville promised her that he and Jenna would begin being on time consistently?
“I would come up with some sort of punishment for your lack of consideration for the time,” Malloy adjusted her wire-rimmed glasses, which had began sliding down her nose. “But we have a more important matter at hand. Something which requires immediate attention.”
Jenna’s ears perked up. She felt both excited and frightened at the same time, wondering what it was Malloy wanted to tell them.
“Step into my office.” Malloy said.
Neville and Jenna entered the large room, which was as crisp and clean as Malloy’s appearance. Her desk filled up a good portion of the room, and there were a few chairs surrounding it. Every time Jenna entered the office, she was always amazed by how clean Malloy kept her desk. Not a pencil was out of line, not a paper sitting stray on the ebony surface. This starkly contrasted Jenna’s own desk, which was usually such a mess that she couldn’t find what she was looking for. Often times, she’d try organizing it, only to find it was just as messy days later.
Malloy gestured for them to sit down. Jenna picked the chair nearest to the wall, the place where she usually sat. Her eyes were bright with wonder and her heart was pounding in anticipation. What was Malloy going to tell them? What was so exciting that she would forgo her usual lecture and punishment for them being late and simply tell them something? Neville sat down in the other chair, smoothing his rich brown hair back.
Malloy sat down, her posture perfectly straight. Sitting incredibly stiffly and upright was a habit she had learned in the military and had kept ever since.
As Malloy began to speak, her face looked grim.
“Last night, seven people were found dead in the office of an abandoned warehouse. Apparently, some sort of meeting had gone on there, as we found a table and chairs in the center of the warehouse. This meeting seems to have lasted several hours, judging by the cigar stubs littering the floor. We don’t know what they talked about, or why they were there – we only know that it was all a set up. Around three in the morning, someone there shot everyone at the meeting, then escaped without a trace. We found the bodies of the murdered men this morning.”
At this, the terrible thought that often plagued Jenna’s mind took hold of her. Her breath caught in her throat and her heart pounded in her chest.
The black Mercedes sped through the street, driving recklessly towards a red convertible with a laughing couple in it. As the convertible turned the corner, the cars reached the same point in the road at the same time –
Suddenly Jenna felt Neville poking her in the ankle with his shoe. With fear in her eyes, she looked over at him, noticing the concern on Neville’s face.
Malloy, oblivious to what had just occurred, continued.
“The killer is yet to be caught. We have our top detectives looking into this. The police have a few leads, but personally, I don’t think questioning these people will be conclusive.”
Jenna swallowed hard and nodded, trying to conceal the fading fear in her eyes. Neville nodded as well.
“Now that we’ve covered that, we can proceed to our other business.” She paused for a moment. “I have a mission for you.” Malloy smiled, if you could call it that. Jenna couldn’t remember a time where Malloy had actually smiled a genuine smile, not the excuse for a smile she used when she felt she should be pleased with something.
Neville looked slightly annoyed as he got up, understanding that, at this point, he was supposed to leave the room. He shut the door behind him, leaving Malloy and Jenna behind.
Jenna’s pulse quickened. A mission. Malloy hadn’t assigned her a mission in more than two years. Jenna hadn’t wanted to go on a mission in that period of time, nor did she want to go on one now. In fact, Jenna was ready to say no if what Malloy suggested made her feel at all uncomfortable.
Malloy stared at Jenna, giving her another one of the fake smiles.
“There’s a man named Michael Dunes. He’s a genius inventor, and he’s going to be selling his house very soon. You’re going to go over there later and help him out with that. You’re a realtor today, and your name will be Charlotte Wilson.”
Jenna groaned, although it was more from drama than from actual annoyance. She was pleased to know that this mission didn’t seem very important at all, and the thought of going to somebody’s house and pretending to be a realtor didn’t bother her at all. It sounded like the type of thing that would be almost impossible to ruin if she made a mistake, and any mistakes she might make wouldn’t be that detrimental.
Malloy reached into her desk and removed a small silver wristwatch. She held this out to Jenna and said,
“Here’s a watch. If there’s ever an emergency, move back the face on the watch, push this button, and we’ll be there in five minutes. I don’t think you’ll need it today though.”
Jenna, slightly curious as to why Malloy thought she needed this, but relieved all the same, took the watch from Malloy.
“Fashionable.” Jenna commented, putting the watch on and suddenly feeling awkward.
“Yes,” Malloy replied. “It will go well with the rest of your ensemble.”
“I suppose I have to dress just like you.” Jenna replied, smiling sarcastically at Malloy.
“Yes, you do.” Malloy said in her typical deadpan way as she smiled snidely. “That’s your punishment for being late.”