This story is not part of the Valentine's Day contest, even if characters and topics are tangental to the subject.
I looked through the Zeiss Rangefinder-binoculars again. The distance wasn't a problem — 25 yards is easily within range. The difficulty was that when you are in the man-made Grand Canyon that is mid-town Manhattan, you suffer from every other complication imaginable. Lighting — the buildings create visual effects of every kind: shadows, bright light, reflections.
Winds — don't even ask me about the winds. In the city environment, winds come from nowhere and go in unpredictable directions; up, down, around. Every bus and truck screws around with the wind. You would be surprised what a factor the wind can be, even at such a short distance. People walking by interfering with your shot, cluttering up your sight picture. For shooting, the city sucks.
They call me 'Spotter.' It's who I am, and what I do. Part of a two-man team, I spot, he shoots.
And right now, I was wishing that I was in Iraq or in Afghanistan in the tribal regions, rather than here in the middle of New York City. But we don't pick our assignments, we just do what we're told, and try to make it through, day-by-day.
For one thing, in New York, I'm not hiding behind some nice, clean, cold rocks in the mountains, or in the shadows of some long-abandoned building. I'm sitting next to a trash container, using an old, smelly cardboard box for concealment, hoping that it's not piss I smell on the wall that I'm leaning against. My shooter looks like he's asleep, but he's not. He's waiting for my signal to go. I just hope that I don't have to fight off another bum who wants to grab my fucking box.
Suddenly the target appears, coming swiftly out of the building that we've had under surveillance. I elbow my shooter,
"Target in sight," I whisper.
"Huh, what, uh," he mumbles.
Oh, for gods sake. He really was sleeping. Dumb shit.
"Target in sight, you've got about two seconds before she's gone," I urged him on.
"Twenty-five yards, wind from the left at two clicks, target moving right," I told him, giving him the data.
"OK, OK, I've acquired the target," he replied.
"Shoot at will," I said, giving him the go-ahead.
I heard the twang, but I kept my eyes on the target. I didn't see a hit. The target was completely untouched. I scanned with the binoculars. There it was, Shooter had hit something, but it wasn't the objective.
It was a fucking Poodle, quietly walking down the street, looking for a lamppost to pee on. Only now the dog has an arrow sticking out of his rear haunch. The dog looks up, and the first thing it sees is our target, Anya Petrova, one of the emerging supermodels in the world, as she steps to the curb, looking for a taxi. Goddamn optimist.
"Oh, fuck," I quietly mouthed to myself, putting my hand over my eyes. I peeked through my fingers.
The dog looks at Anya, and then reacting to the arrow, it comes after her. Anya hasn't even seen the damn dog yet. It gets within a couple of steps, and jumps towards her.
The fucking, oversexed dog is grabbing her with his paws, holding on, trying to hump Anya's leg.
I turned to Shooter in a complete rage, only to find him bent over in half, he's laughing so hard.
"You fuck. You fucking asshole. You did that intentionally!" I exclaimed, no longer worried about concealment, stealth, or skill.
I look back to see Anya kicking the miniature poodle off her leg, which the dog immediately tries to remount, and I see the tall, handsome, young up-and-coming politician passing her on the sidewalk, completely unnoticed, unloved. The whole damn operation screwed.
Quickly we retreat out the other end of the alley, or I should say, I retreat pulling my shooter behind me, since fuckface still can't walk by himself for laughing.
Our get-away vehicle is there, the driver waiting for us. It is disguised as a taxi, so no one will remember it, no matter how crazy the driver acts. I open the rear door and drag my partner in after me. As soon as the door is closed, the driver takes off. He's wearing a turban and has a beard. Talk about camouflage.
Then I turn back to turd-brain.
"Exactly what did you just do out there?" I demanded.
Cupid turns to me, and once more started laughing. After a couple of minutes, he tried to speak again.
"That was hysterical! Did you, HA HA HA, did you see the damn, HA HA, dog, trying to hump her, HA HA HA, leg?" came his almost incomprehensible reply. He went back to simply shaking with laughter, holding most of the sound in, his arms wrapped around himself, his whole body rolling back and forth on the bench seat.
"Do you understand that your stupid sense of humor just botched the operation? Instead of Anya falling in love with her intended mate, you inspired a FUCKING poodle to fall in doggie lust with her," I explained, shaking my head, wondering how I could transmit my complete disgust at his actions.
"Hey Spotter, don't take it so hard. HA, HA, HA, HA ,HA. You know how short a dog's memory is — it won't be in lust for more than a day or two. And most likely, it's already transferred its desire to some other dog. Or some other woman. HA, HA, HA!" Cupid tells me, trying to placate my offended sense of duty.
"The damn DOG isn't the problem, shit-for-brains. It's setting up the situation so that Anya is perfectly intersected with that stupid city councilman, Golden, or Golder, or Goldman — you know, whatever his name is," I explained as if I hadn't been through this a million times before. The surprise is that I don't suffer from sky-high blood pressure dealing with this oaf.
"Not to worry, Spotter. I got us covered. They are both completely anal about being on time, so they are in the same place, at the same time, every day!" Cupid paused, "Actually, I'm surprised that the powers-that-be need to send us out there at all. You would think that they would have noticed each other without our help."
He shook his head, contemplating the situation.
"Anyway, all we gotta do is show up at the same time, same place tomorrow, and I'll take her out then. Situation all fixed, Spotter happy," he concluded.
I knew better than that. It never works out that easy.
"It was just a harmless prank," came Cupid's next attempt at a justification.
"Oh, yea. A harmless prank. Don't I recall you telling me that it was just a harmless prank when you shot Queen Tatiana with the arrow — just in time for her to wake up and see that moron with the donkey head? You know, I still cross the street to avoid Oberon because of that. You pissed him off royally," I recalled.
"First, Nick Bottom didn't have a donkey head, it was a spell. Anyway, I laid it off on Puck. Oberon was in on it from the start, you know," came Cupid's hot retort.
"How can you delude yourself so? It is an open secret that you and 'Puck' are one-and-the-same, EVERYONE knows! And Oberon is like all of the rest of that fairy crew; they remember what they want, and they remember things the way they want them to be, not how it was. So, according to his version, it was you and me who screwed the pooch. Didn't he claim that you were using some sort of eye drops, or something, not arrows?" I asked.
Cupid waved his hand in dismissal.
"Fairies!" he sniffed.
I finally just gave up and gave in.
"OK, OK, I'll put it aside. But tomorrow, we do her, and this time no jokes," I insisted.
Cupid put up his hand, and I (reluctantly) gave him a high-five.
"Tomorrow," he agreed.
The rest of the day, thank the Gods, was uneventful.
The waitress and the guy who worked for Con-Edison was easy. We got him right as she was handing him his piece of apple pie. Twang went the bow. The only difference for him was, instead of falling in love with his pie, like he did every other day; he looked up instead of down, and fell in love with the waitress. Easy as pie, to coin a phrase.
The computer geek and the sales girl in the flower shop was harder. The geek was so shy, that he wouldn't even go into the shop; he'd stand there looking in at her through the window. She would never come out of the place, even for a break. Things could have gotten desperate, until I came up with a brilliant idea. I tossed a flare into the back of the shop, and pulled the fire alarm.
After that, it was a classic.
She hears the alarm, comes rushing out the door; twang goes the bow; she's hit, and then almost runs over our geek in her panic to escape. They both fall down, look at each other, and he helps her get back up. Thank god, she started talking to him, asking him if he was OK, could he use some coffee, was he hurt. I don't think we could have gotten him to say a word, that was how shy he was. But at last glance, she was leading him by the hand across the street to a coffee place, talking his ear off the whole way.
If you don't mind, I want to clarify something here, before I go on.
Shooter and I are NOT sent out every time someone is going to fall in love. We are, if you don't mind the analogy, the SWAT team of love — only needed in dire circumstances.
I hate to disappoint you, but just because you fell in love doesn't mean that Cupid and me are responsible. Most of the time, we aren't needed, you manage to take care of the love-thing by yourselves. Although, given the 50% divorce rate, maybe you're not doin' too good, either.
Not my problem.
Let me give you an example of the kind of jobs we get: Victoria and Albert was one of our gigs.
You have NO idea what an up-tight little thing Victoria was. Without ever having met Albert, she was ready to put her foot down and make it clear that she was the Queen, and she wasn't going to allow any of that 'fooling around' stuff. She was ready; she'd even practiced her line. As soon as Albert whipped out the old tool, she was going to look down at it and say, "Dass amüsieren uns night!" ("We are NOT amused!") Can you imagine? What a put down. They would have never recovered as a couple.
Instead, the powers that be sent in Cupid and me.
Albert walks up to be introduced, and 'twang' went the bow. Vicky looks up at him, and falls so hard, that she could hardly wait to drag Al into the bed chamber. She was just panting for it. I'm not supposed to talk about what goes on when the lights go out, so to speak, but I'll tell you this: between the sheets, Vicky was no 'Victorian' lady, she was a hot mama. That's why you never saw Albert without a big smile on his face, and Victoria turned into one of the Royal baby-making machines of the century.
The funny thing is, it seems like to me, that the straighter the subject of one of our operations is, the harder they fall when they take the hit. Victoria was one example, from straight-laced to wanton hussy — at least in the privacy of her bedroom.
Even worse was Isabella's daughter, Juana. It was a tricky op, since we had to make the hit over the shoulder of her husband-to-be, from a ship that was rocking and rolling just off the North Sea in the Spanish Netherlands. The ocean winds were blowing like crazy. But, twang went the bow, and it was mission accomplished.
Juana and her man actually demanded that a priest perform a marriage ceremony for them right then, because otherwise they we going to start doing it immediately there on the dock! She was just crazy for that guy. That was even her nickname, 'Juana, La Loca', because after he died, she took his coffin with her wherever she went, so she could talk to him in the evenings. It's true — look it up!
In any case, you get the point. Cupid and I are good at what we do, and we've been doing it for a long time. I suppose that's one of the reasons that every now and then, Cupid goes off the reservation and does some dumb-ass thing just to amuse himself. But it doesn't make it any easier on me.
The next morning found us back, huddled under a cardboard box, next to the same filthy dumpster, waiting. Shooter was awake and alert this time, and I was watching the clock, and using my Zeiss binocs again to spot Anya as she exited her condo.
"Roughly two minutes," I whispered.
"I'm ready and waiting," came Shooter's reply. No sleeping on the job today.
The seconds dragged past.
I kept my eyes glued to the entrance, expecting Anya at any second. Suddenly I recognized the Councilman walking past the building, like he did every morning.
"Get set," I hissed. Then I waited. And I waited. And I waited some more.
Golden, or whatever his name was, had long since passed, but no Anya!
"Fuck, where is she?" came Shooter's voice in my ear. "Did you miss her?"
I turned to him,
"She didn't show. You didn't take her yesterday, and today she doesn't show. We're fucked!"
"What do we do now?" Cupid finally asked, "There's no point waiting if he isn't here too."
I thought about it for a second.
"We're going to have to reconnoiter. Find out where she is, and set up another time for the hit," I explained. "It might be a black-bag job."
We started walking back down the alley to our taxi.
"I'm getting a bad feeling about this whole op," I said. Shooter knew what I meant.
"Hey, Spotter, I'm really sorry that I didn't just do her yesterday, like I was supposed to," Cupid told me.
I was surprised, Shooter doesn't apologize very often. The last time was when he shot Samson, not his assigned target, Delilah. Instead of Delilah being desperately in love with Samson, Samson was desperately in love with her. But she never changed, never loved Samson, and was still a money-hungry bitch, and sold him out (sans hair) to the Philistines. SNAFU.
The afternoon found us in front of Anya's building, in little blue and gold uniforms, with a brown bag full of cookies. Yeah, that's right; we were disguised as Cub Scouts. We were so cute, it was nauseating. Believe me, it was Cupid's idea. He told me that we were 'way too short' to try passing ourselves off as NYPD, my preferred approach.
I have to admit, however annoying I found the disguise, it worked like a charm.
We walked right up to the doorman, in the middle of the day, and said,
"We're here to deliver the cookies to Mrs. Patterson that she ordered."
The doorman looked us over, and started to say something,
"I thought that the Girl Scouts sold the cookies... Well, never mind, the old memory isn't what it used to be. Can I trust you two young fellers to find your way up to Mrs. Patterson's by yourselves?" Then he winked at us.
That fucking Cupid always has to walk the thin line, so what does he say?
"Jeez, mister," he says, "Of course. We've got a compass and a map and everything!"
Then he actually pulls out a compass and a map out of his pocket, and looks up at the guy and gives him a big grin. The doorman grinned back, and patted Cupid on the head, like some damn dog, opened the door and said,
"All right. You two go in there and give Mrs. Patterson her cookies. You know, if you're real nice to her, I'll bet she'll give you some milk and share some of those cookies with you!"
"Wow, you really think so?" Cupid replied, with all of the enthusiasm of a ten-year-old chocolate-chip addict.
"You betchum, young feller. Mrs. Patterson's a real jewel. And tell her to save some for me, too!" he said, as he touched the brim of his hat and closed the door behind us.
Thank God Shooter hadn't let me carry my NYPD-issue Glock; I would have used it. At least we didn't have to tip the guy.
So we were in. We hurried over to the elevator, but instead of going to the seventh floor and Mrs. Paterson, we headed to Anya Petrova's condo on the ninth.
The lobby of the building hadn't been anything much to brag about — very utilitarian, with laminated tile floors, walls painted in one of those colors so bland that they are always on sale when you go to the paint store.
But once you stepped out of the elevator into one of the hallways, they were carpeted in thick plush wall-to-wall, the walls painted in warm tones intended to sooth the savage beasts, and make one forget the daily struggle with taxis, subways, and walking on the dirty NYC streets.
We walked up briskly to Anya's condo, number 9C, which you could tell, even from the hall, would have windows on two sides. Très chic, and beaucoup bucks!
First, we rang the doorbell. If she came to the door, we would fall back on the 'Mrs. Patterson's cookies' thing, apologize and be on our way. If she looked sick or something, we would get guidance from higher-up. But neither was the case — there was no answer, and we couldn't hear anything moving in the apartment.
We conferred for a second, and then I stood there, holding the bag with the cookies, trying to block Shooter from view, while he got down on his knees and started working on the lock.
Shooter is really good with locks, funny as it sounds. He can open literally almost any lock. But he doesn't do it with lock picks or anything mechanical. No, he 'thinks' them open. He gets on an eye level with the keyhole, and visualizes the mechanism, and 'convinces' the pins and tumblers to align correctly, and voila! The lock opens. At least that's how he claims he does it. Not my field of expertise, so I just have to take his word for it.
But it does take a little time, say 30 seconds to a minute of his complete concentration.
Of course, after about ten seconds, a neighbor in the next condo down opens the door and sticks his head out into the hall, and looks directly at us.
"Hey," he calls, "what are you boys doing?"
At this point he sees a couple of Cub Scouts standing in the hall, so he's not too worried or panicked, but he wants an answer, or we could be trouble.
"We're here to deliver the cookies that Miss Petrova ordered," I told him, with my best cheerful, loyal courteous, kind, and helpful voice. I smiled at him, too. You don't know how much that cost me.
"Hmmm...," came his reply, "I thought that the cookies were sold by Girl Scouts."
I wish that Cupid was a little more careful when he put together our cover stories; it's always the little details that screw you up.
"The Girl Scouts sell the cookies, but we do the deliveries for them. We cooperate. You know — change, hope, that kind of thing" I bluffed.
"What kind of cookies are they? They sold us the most wonderful thin-mints last year," the guy asks, with a wistful look in his face.
"HENRY!" came a woman's voice from the room, "Don't you dare buy any of those cookies. You know they are NOT on your diet."
"Yes, dear," he called back to her, but he didn't go back into his condo.
I quickly took out a pack of the thin mints, and tossed them to him. He caught them.
"Here take 'em, just don't say anything to Miss Petrova. She bought so many, she won't notice one missing package," I whispered to him.
"OK, great. Thanks!" he whispered back, and then he tucked the cookies under his bathrobe.
Then in a stage voice, he said to us,
"Thanks guys, but we won't be needing any cookies this year!" Then he winked at me, and went back in to his condo and closed the door.
By then, Shooter had the lock open, and we slipped into Anya Petrova's condo.
Just as we had suspected, the place was plush. Windows on two sides, so there was plenty of natural light. The rooms all had that professional decorator feel, just waiting for Architectural Digest to notice Anya and do a spread on how the average supermodel lives.
The art on the wall looked authentic, mostly modern pieces that I could take or leave, but the Hogarth prints in the hallway got my attention. Tough; I didn't have time for art appreciation.
We did a quick run through first, just to be sure that we were alone. We were — nobody home. Then a fast glance at the closets and drawers to check on whether it looked like her clothes were all there. Every closet was full, and it was expensive stuff. I guess I should have expected it: designer clothes, enough shoes to open a store (all of them those custom Italian, made-to-order variety), and I'm pretty sure that in addition to the run-of-the-mill minks, and fox pieces, that there was a full-length Russian Sable coat hanging there. Oh, the PETA people would have just choked.