From the street outside the figure was impossible to identify, until the neon sign flickered halfheartedly into life. Buzzing on for a second at a time, giving you a small chance to make out anything. Without the flickering glare it was just a human shape, a darker shade of grey against a dull light.
With the sickly green flashes from the motel sign, you could just about tell that it was female. Something about the face, but event then, you wouldn’t wager more than beer money on it. She was well built, with short cropped hair and a hard expression. One hand on the upper frame of the open window, the other on a hip that lacked any feminine curve. Wearing loose sports shorts and a grey vest that may in the past had more than a passing friendship with the colour white.
In this part of the City, it wasn’t healthy to advertise that you were a women living alone. True, being a man alone was far from risk free, but with softer targets out there, she felt reasonably safe. Picking on the weak was a popular past time here, and within a night of booking into this fleapit she had assured some not so friendly neighbours that she was not weak.
Turning her back on the street life, she sat on the ledge, enjoying the cool breeze on her skin, still slick with sweat from her exercise routine. Her night time activities required not only skill and athletic dexterity, but an upper body strength that allowed her to bench press a decent sized motorcycle. She had worked harder tonight, partly out of annoyance with herself, but also because it kept her occupied. And it stopped her eyes drifting once again to the front page story that no one knew was about her.
This City. Full of criminals doing despicable things every minute of every day, but you put a mask on and ‘bang’, you make the front page. Hers was no more than a black balaclava and existed for no other reason than to hide her face, but it had piqued the interest of the news vultures. The artist’s impression brought a sneer to her face, but in the long run was probably not that bad a thing. It looked like the Bugle had hired a cartoonist instead of an artist, and not a very good one at that. As long as the Big Man didn’t start getting interested…
All of this was because of one bit of bad luck. She had scoped the place out for weeks, sleeping – when she had to – on the stained mattress with its rusty springs that she was currently walking over to. Mostly during the day, when the summer heat was stifling and free running was an activity carried out for fun, not profit. The City was great for parkour, almost designed for it. Even Paris wasn’t a match, and she learned everything she new about free running a hundred feet above the French capitol. It was easy to see why He liked it here…
Every Thursday night, at the witching hour, there would two security guards playing cards in their office. There were cameras all over the place, but all the feeds went to this room, and putting two poker buddies on the night shift was a mistake that someone was going to regret.
So last night she had gotten ready to go out. Wearing dark grey, light clothes. Tight to her skin to stop them snagging on anything, and breathable to stop her getting to warm from her exertions. She had played around with some kind of body armour for a while, knowing how dangerous the City could be, but even a little extra weight was an inconvenience she could do without. And lets face it, if she was worried about getting shot or stabbed, she had clearly already screwed up the job in a big bad way. The best thing to do was just never get in the sights of a weapon, and in a close up fight? Well, Paris had taught her plenty about that too…
She knew her route backwards and upside down. Knew that just one camera needed to be knocked out before she made it to the security office. Knew that the two buddies would be at the table, paying enough attention to their hands of cards she could practically walk to their side and put them down before they knew what was going on.
The locks were good, and took about five minutes each to get through. Some were harder than others as she needed to hold her weight off the ground with either one arm or both of her legs to keep as much of self out of sight as possible. Awkward to say the least, but killing another three camera feeds was a lot more likely to get her noticed a lot soon than he would have liked. Plus, she had never cared for maintaining a womanly curve on any inch of her body, when raw power and athleticism suited her line of work an awful lot better.
Soon she was in the corridor, her small light club in her right hand and the left delicately testing the door handle of the security office. She only needed the night watchmen to go down for the count, and killing attracted far too much attention. Of course, some criminals in this City seemed to crave the attention. It was a wonder they ever managed to turn a profit. Not her though, with no hint of grandstanding she pushed open the door, and in half a second she was inside, swinging the club towards the jaw of the closest man.
The metal rod caught him squarely, and she felt the impact run up her arm. He was out for the count, and unless she was very much mistaken, he had not only lost a tooth, but also managed to bite his tongue with the ones he had left. Still, he was alive, and would hopefully have at least dental cover.
The second man had barely glanced over the top of his hand when the club whistled through the air towards him. The metal rang slightly as it connected with his skull and he slumped in his chair. Both were bleeding from her attack, but barring a headache and a lisp, both would be fine. For now though, she figured they would be out for at least an hour. She knew where she was going from here, and would be out the door within twenty…
Someone else was breathing in this room. Quick gasps, panicked. From her right.
She turned to see a third man. Sat with a beer can falling impossibly slowly from his slackened fist as he gawped at her like a confused fish, lower lip trembling. She had no weapon to hand so just started towards him, covering the couple of meters in no time at all, but his slow motion movement still continued as he rose from his chair. She lifted her left leg and placed the sole of her foot just above the kneecap before transferring most of her weight to it. At this he started to crumple, but not before her other foot shot skyward, connecting just below the chin and rattling his teeth.
For anyone else, that would have been enough. But he was built of stronger stuff this one, and as she landed she realised his face was familiar. Another guard maybe, come round to get away from a nagging wife or a bar tab he couldn’t clear ’til month’s end. He had the build of someone who traded on his physique too. Probably played high school football, and realised that after high school, nobody cared at all how many touchdowns you’d scored in that game against the local rivals. Right now though, he was a problem that needed dealing with.
She spun quickly back into a fighting position and continued the movement into a back handed punch, raking the metal spikes of her modified knuckle-duster cross his cheek before he finally dropped back to his seat, a second or two after the beer he had dropped. She had aimed for his jaw, hoping to knock him out as easily as she had done the other two, but he was quick too. Not too bright though, and it looked like his brain had finally caught up to his body, and even though the last impact had missed its mark, the combined assaults had obviously been enough. He slumped back, the four deep gouges already leaking blood down his stubbled jaw.
Alone in her room the next night, looking at the caricature of herself with ludicrous claws protruding from her finger tips, she gave a wry smile. Who on this planet would be foolish enough to wear such an adornment? They would offer no advantage other than surprise, and make everything else so hard, it wouldn’t be worth even considering such a foolish affectation. Even forming a hand into a fist would be risky, let alone using the fist to do anything…
Last night, she never even considered just getting on with the job at that point. Three unconscious men made no more difference than two, and she needed this score. It was not to be though. As she checked the pulse of the unexpected watchman, she spotted a flashing light on the security console he had been sitting in front of. He must have seen her on camera after being knocked out from a hand of cards. Why he hadn’t raised this with the other two was a mystery that may never be solved, but the silent alarm had been triggered. She had no idea how long ago the switch had been flipped, but sticking around would be at the very least, career suicide. She quickly deleted the last half an hour of footage to play it safe, and was gone.
She left the way she had arrived. Cursing under her breath as she climbed onto the roof and away. She had slept fitfully, not knowing how much had been seen by the guard and how much of it could be used against her.
She had awoken the next afternoon, already sticky from the heat. Before even showering she had had thrown some loose clothes on and made her way to the corner store. Picking up some cold cuts, coffee and a newspaper. She had gone deathly pale while handing over the few dollars to the kindly woman behind the counter when she saw the front page of the Globe. She hadn’t dared read anything until she was alone and could be sure of betraying nothing with her expression.
All day long she had poured over article. The sun had set on her and the City as she either exercised or re-read the front page. She couldn’t help but love this City. The guard had told the kind of story it loved. Either that or the hacks had turned it into what their readers expected. On paper she was lithe and sexual, ‘cavorting across the sleeping rooftops’ no less…
The scratches on his face had been caused by ‘razor sharp claws’, and the large blackening bruise had been ignored as it didn’t fit with the romance of the story. The skin tight outfit they had gotten mostly correct, but had added a push-up bra and stiletto healed thigh boots for some unfathomable reason.
All in all, it bore as much resemblance to her as it did the Indian lady who had sold her the paper. That had put her mind at ease a little, but it did open up a whole new world of potential problems. She had been in the City for over a year now after leaving Paris, and had been working constantly since she had arrived. She had avoided any unwanted attention by being very good at her job, and being thoroughly uninteresting, especially when compared to ludicrous rogues gallery that habitually operated here.
The front page meant that that could very much be over now. And once you got interesting, the Big Man started to pay attention. She crossed the tiny motel room once more to stand at the window as she thought.
In the sky, flickering across what few clouds graced to night, she saw that city was wanting him to come out and play. She would stay in tonight, and keep her distance from the Big Man. If she wanted to carry on working in the City, Celine would have to play it very safe from her on in.