CHAPTER 2: The Quick and the Dead
Silence. It was the dead of night in Paris, in the seedy part of the city, and Agent Smythe could hear his own heart beating. He could probably scream at the top of his lungs, and nobody would hear him. There was no one here to help him—help them. Valeri. Agent Valeri Trove. They had just met, just a few minutes ago. Minutes! He may have possibly thrown this whole mission away, risked it all, and lost everything, for a woman—a mere rookie—whom he had just met, minutes ago. A wave of confusion rushed through his mind. This is not the Jonathan Smythe that he had grown accustomed to, the cold-hearted bastard that he had molded himself into, the self-righteous killer without a conscience. This was the kind of thing that was done by someone who has a heart. Someone who cares.
‘What am I doing?’
Breathing became harder as he ran towards the ruptured guard-rail ahead of him—every step was agony. He could still smell the smoke from the wreckage of the burning black van that he had deserted behind him, giving up on the chase and allowing the shadowy figure and the man with the red eyes to get away with their prize unharmed. He had made the previously unthinkable decision to run back and to try to help Agent Trove… if there was anything left of her.
As he approached the guard-rail, he smelled the familiar scent of smoke and burning wreckage. He held his breath as he drew closer to the edge, ready for the worst. Would she be dead, thrown from the destroyed vehicle and torn to shreds on the concrete outcroppings below? Or would she end up in the water, he corpse carried away by the current to an unknown destination? Smythe shook his head as he tried to rid himself of these morbid scenarios, and peered over the edge.
A chill ran down his spine. The smoldering wreckage of the silver sports car lay upside down on the concrete that lined the side of the waterway. It was covered in small flames and smoke billowed up from it. This was one of Smythe’s worst fears: failing the people who were near him and who depended on him. A wave of regret and despair flew through him—they had only met, just minutes ago.
Suddenly, there was hope. There was movement, and movement was definitely hope. Hope was definitely a step up from regret and despair. For a split-second, Smythe thought that he had seen an arm grasping outside from the driver side window, disappearing just a moment afterwards. But it had only been a split-second.
It was enough. Smythe quickly grabbed the grappling hook and the thin nylon rappelling gear that was standard on all Echelon utility belts, and, with a newfound energy, he began to prepare for a quick descent. He was no longer thinking or feeling, but was operating on pure instinct, as if his actions were programmed into him like a machine. Just a few seconds later, he was over the edge, and he began rappelling downwards as fast as he could. The chilling air of this October night sent shivers through his whole body, but he didn’t let that slight discomfort delay him from reaching her as fast as humanly possible. To reach her and be seconds too late would be a pain too great to bear. The rope began to burn through his hands as he kicked harder and harder on the wall. As he drew closer to the bottom he could hear coughing coming from within the sports car. She was alive. Just barely, as it sounded, but alive. There was definitely something about this woman. She was definitely strong.
He landed with a thud on the concrete passage next to the waterway, the overturned car just a few feet away. Fumbling with the rope that was hooked onto his belt, Smythe cursed loudly. Finally freeing himself from it, he tossed the rope aside and ran to the driver side of the car. Down on his hands and knees, he peered through the broken glass of the window.
“Valeri?” he shouted.
Looking back at him with terrified eyes was Ms. Trove. Her hair was now thrown about her face and her dress was torn. She struggled, upside-down, still strapped to the driver’s seat. Her seat belt had become mangled and was preventing her from escaping the wreckage, but no doubt it had saved her life.
“Jonathan! Help me, please!” she screamed in terror as her eyes grew wide with panic. The flames that were engulfing the car had grown, and the whole vehicle was now on the verge of exploding.
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