Barely an hour had passed after Shelia’s conversation with the Blitzkrieg when a silver, Ford van pulled into the rest area and parked directly behind the black Dodge she had rolled up in. The high beams on the big Ford blazed to life, bathing Shelia’s van in even more light. ‘Thanks,’ she thought. ‘That makes it even easier to kill you.’ Moments later, both the driver’s and passenger’s side front doors of the van flung open, and men in black jumpsuits carrying assault rifles with flashlights connected to their barrels hopped out. The sliding door on the passenger side of the van slid open at the same time, and four similarly equipped men poured out. All of them looked like special ops dressed for combat, from their boots to their backpacks and black masks. They moved like special ops too, securing the area and silently communicating with hand gestures. The Blitzkrieg, or whoever was pulling his strings, wasn’t playing. They had sent a strike team in.
One of the men who had exited the rear of the van looked up at Shelia. She held her breath and remained completely still as they made eye contact. It felt like they were staring at each other for several minutes. ‘Oh shit, can he see me?’ she thought. Her hiding spot was only a few hundred feet from where he was standing and his eyes were looking directly at hers. Those eyes squinted slightly as the beam from the flashlight on the barrel of his rifle slowly swept toward the tree. Shelia remained completely still until just before the beam of light reached the spot she was crouching in. By the time it hit the small break in the branches that she had been watching them through, she had rolled backwards and landed in a prone position. Glancing up, she could see the beam of light directly above her head. It was motionless for several seconds. Good. If he had spotted her, it would be bouncing with his footsteps as he approached. She counted, 1…2…3…4… It moved away. She released the breath that she had been holding long enough to make her lungs burn, as slowly and silently as she could.
Just as Shelia was about to rise back up to a crouch, the fireworks started. The silence of the rest area was shattered as the thunder of six automatic assault rifles ripped through the still air. Bullets shredding the van sounded like small hammers striking tiny bells. ‘Of course,’ Shelia thought as she slowly lifted herself high enough to peer back into the parking lot, ‘armor piercing bullets.’ The revelation didn’t surprise her. She knew she was working with pros. They wouldn’t take any chances. By the time the gunfire ceased, the van was riddled with holes. The man who had nearly spotted Shelia in her hiding spot raised the first two fingers of his right hand and flicked them twice toward the van. As soon as he had completed the gesture, a soldier near the front, passenger side of the van charged up to the passenger door, shoved the barrel of his gun inside, and fired off several more rounds. Immediately after he stopped firing, the rest of the group charged up to the van. They had all of its doors open in less than five seconds.
Shelia stowed all of her gear in the backpack lying next to her and set it behind the trunk of the pine she was hiding under. Then she jumped up to a branch about a foot above her head, quickly pulling herself onto it, and crouching low. The strike team would know momentarily that she hadn’t died in their barrage of bullets. Then they would fan out into the trees and begin their search. It would probably be less than two minutes before she had to engage them. She found another small break in the branches and watched.
A guy with a red bandana tied around his left arm charged around from the driver side of the van toward the fellow with all of the hand gestures. “Van’s empty, Knuckles,” the red bandana guy said as he jogged over.
Shelia made a mental note of the name, Knuckles, maybe he was boxer. In any event, she had never heard of him. He did appear to be the leader of the small strike force though.
Knuckles replied, “Of course not. That’s fine. Let’s hunt this bitch then.” He pointed at the red bandana guy and said, “Boom Boom, you and Kamikaze sweep the trees to the south.” Then he pointed to the two men crawling out of the back of the van, “Hawk and Beretta, you two cover the field to the west. Bingo, you’re with me. Remember, this bitch has been out of the game for a while, but she’s a pro. Slack and your head will be lying on the ground looking up at your body wondering why you aren’t dead yet. She’s quick, efficient, and mad as hell about what the Rosattis did to her family. You know the stories. This bitch is like a ghost. Stay alert. We regroup here in fifteen. If she doesn’t turn up we sweep the other side of the highway. Now move.”
Shelia noted all of the colorful names that came out of Knuckle’s mouth while he was giving orders to his team, but only one of them mattered to her at that point, Rosatti. Blitzkrieg was a killer. He was no boss, just muscle. The son of a bitch would get in her way, but he wasn’t the ultimate goal. There were precious few moments to contemplate the importance of that name as Knuckles and Bingo stalked toward the tree she was hiding in, the lights on their guns shining directly at her former hiding spot. Those moments numbered long enough to allow the realization that the name belonged to Alyssa’s biological father and his family plenty of time to sink in. A long, slow sigh finished leaving her lips just as the beam from Knuckles light flooded the ground beneath her. Ten seconds until show time. Shelia slowly slipped her tactical dagger out of the sheath that was strapped to her right leg, took a reverse grip on it, and brought it up under her chin.
The slightly bouncing light shining through the trees paused. Shelia figured that Knuckles was giving Bingo directions, probably more hand signals. One would enter from the front where the light was shining and the other would enter from the rear. Knuckles would keep his light shining on that same spot to draw her attention, but Bingo would be moving around to take her from behind. They would enter together. Hopefully they wouldn’t look up until they were both under the hanging branches of the tree. Shelia drew a deep, slow breath in and held it. When was the last time she was so acutely aware of her heartbeat? Probably the last time she killed someone. The Rosatti family had hired her to do that hit. That was the last time she worked with Danny. Not too long after that, she discovered that she was pregnant…
Knuckles and Bingo breaching her hiding spot ripped Shelia off of memory lane and dropped her back in the present. They both stopped short once they were under the branches, sweeping the needle-filled ground beneath the tree with their lights. They were too far apart for her to get them both cleanly. Knuckles was closer. Shelia’s plan had just begun to come together as she slipped off the branch she was crouching on. A split second passed before her legs were wrapped around Knuckles waist and her blade was six inches deep in his throat. The blood pumping out of him and painting the pine needles red assured her that after over thirteen years without a kill, she could still find the carotid artery.
The beam from Bingo’s flashlight was moving up Knuckle’s legs far more quickly than Shelia was prepared for. That light was strapped to the barrel of a rifle that would be belching lead at her in moments. She pulled the blade out of Knuckles neck, flipped it over in her hand, and fired it at Bingo a moment before his finger squeezed the trigger. Only one shot got off before he dropped his rifle and both of his hands went to his throat. Shit. All of the gurgling and stomping that he was doing meant it wasn’t a clean hit. The dome of light from the flashlight – that had fallen to the ground with all of the pine needles – offered enough visibility for Shelia to see that her knife wasn’t sticking out of his throat, and there wasn’t enough blood for a severed artery. Her wrist must have gotten weaker over the years. Based on the sounds he was making, the blade must have clipped his windpipe. He would suffocate in a minute, but she didn’t have time to wait for that. More lights were coming. Though the gunshot had been suppressed, it was still loud enough in the silence to alert the rest of the team that the target had been found. After three steps and a quick snap, Bingo’s neck was broken. Shelia grabbed her backpack, rolled out from under the pine branches, away from the approaching flashlights, and ran fifty yards deeper into the trees.
By the time Shelia heard a voice yell, “Fuck,” she was ten feet up in another pine that offered an ample view of her original hiding spot. The thought of climbing higher briefly entered her mind, but she wanted to stay close enough to the ground to jump down and take off if the need arose. As rusty as she was, it probably would.
The same voice said, “Bingo’s dead. Knuckles ain’t but he will be soon.”
Another voice asked, “Boom Boom, how the fuck did she do them both with one bullet? I only heard one shot.”
“There was only one shot,” the first voice replied, “and she didn’t fire it. Bingo did.”
Shelia unconsciously noted that the first voice belonged to the one they called Boom Boom as she pulled a retractable bow out of her pack and nocked an arrow in it. She drew the bowstring back slowly. The two talkers were on the other side of the tree, out of her line of sight. The other two men stood at either side of the tree that Knuckles and Bingo were under. Both of their guns were aimed at the tree. “I’m not there anymore,” she whispered as she drew back her bowstring, drew a deep, steady breath in, took aim at the man to her right, and gently released the string. Two seconds later that man was falling in a heap with an arrow jutting out of his throat. Before the bloke on the left side of the tree had any idea what was happening, Shelia had nocked another arrow and put it through his neck. Two more down, it was all coming back, just like riding a bike. Shelia stowed her bow, jumped down from the branch she was crouching on, moved to a point fifty yards to her left, and scrambled up into another pine.
By the time Shelia had settled in her new perch, Boom Boom and the other remaining soldier were on the move. She thought for a moment, Kamikaze. That’s what Knuckles had said. Boom Boom went with Kamikaze. Not that it mattered. Both those fuckers would be dead in a minute. Still, keeping a lucid mind would help her stay ahead of her enemies. It helped to exercise her brain. Helping kids with math homework was the only exercise her mind had been getting the past few years.
Shelia had another arrow ready by the time Boom Boom and Kamikaze found the next body. They had moved around the left side of the tree and nearly tripped over him. Shelia couldn’t be sure if it was Hawk or Beretta until she heard Boom Boom say, “Son of a bitch! She got Beretta.”
‘There you go,’ she thought as she put an arrow through Kamikaze’s throat, ‘Beretta’s dead.’
“What the fuck?” Boom Boom shouted as Kamikaze’s hand shot out and gripped his shoulder. Then he aimed his gun at the trees about ten yards too far to the left to spy Shelia’s position and shouted, “I’m going to kill you, bitch! Why don’t you come out…”
Boom Boom’s shouting melted into a pained howl as an arrow tore through his right thigh. Just as he brought his gun up to start firing in the general direction that the arrow had come from, another arrow punched through his right shoulder. “Fuck,” he shouted, as he grabbed his rifle with his left hand and started spraying the trees. The firing lasted only moments before an arrow sliced into his left arm at the wrist and ripped up his forearm, perfectly splitting his radius and his ulna before embedding itself in his elbow. The garbled nonsense coming out of his mouth as he dropped his rifle to the ground and hopped around in pain could hardly be considered language of any kind.
Boom Boom was still shouting and carrying on as Shelia slipped out of the tree and jogged over to him. By the time she reached him, he was tugging at the arrow in his left arm. Every time he pulled, his screams grew louder.
“Ouch,” Shelia said calmly. “That looks like it hurts.”
“Fuck you bitch,” Boom Boom cried. Tears streamed down his face as he reached for her with his right hand. “I’ll fucking kill you.”
Shelia grabbed the hand that was reaching for her, twisted it backward while pulling him closer, and hammered the right side of his face with a back-handed chop. Then she stepped back and fired a front kick into his sternum that was hard enough to knock him down. “You aren’t killing anyone, Boom Boom. You’re going to give me some answers. First of all, what kind of name is Boom Boom? What, do you like to blow shit up, big guy?” She nodded as she continued. “Yep, I’ll bet that’s exactly what it is. You were the bomb maker of the group. That makes sense.” Then she shrugged and finished with, “Not that it matters why they call you what they call you. Nobody will be calling you anything pretty soon.”
“Fuck you, you fucking cunt.” Boom Boom stopped struggling and gave into the sobs.
Shelia shook her head. “Are you kidding me? Quit crying.” She paused for a few moments, listening to Boom Boom’s tears before adding, “I swear to god. You have to quit that fucking crying or I’m going to put another arrow in you. I mean it. I’ve been through too much. I can’t sit here and listen to somebody who is supposed to be some kind of killer cry like a child. Come on now, Boom Boom. Pull it together.”
“You’ve got no chance, bitch,” Boom Boom sneered through his sniffles. “They’ve got so many guns. There are hundreds more just like us.”
“I can see why I should be frightened,” Shelia smiled. “You guys certainly gave me a run for my money. Hell, I didn’t even have to pull my guns out.” Shelia paused for a few moments, waiting for Boom Boom to say something else. When he didn’t, she continued, “Look, I know you’re in a lot of pain right now, and I’d really like to end that for you. I already have the name I need. I know you were hired by the Rosattis. Just tell me where I can find them, and I’ll end your suffering.”
Boom Boom laughed, “Even if I knew, I wouldn’t tell you shit.”
“I thought you would say that,” Shelia began, “and I believe you. The only one of you that probably knew anything was Knuckles, and I’m not going to be able to get it out of him.” She paused as she reached behind her, slipped another blade out of her backpack, and held it up in front of Boom Boom’s face. “Do you see this blade, see how thin it is? This is a stiletto. It probably doesn’t look like what you would call a stiletto, does it? I bet it doesn’t. When you hear the word stiletto, you probably think of a switchblade, a ballistic knife, or something else like that. That’s an American thing. This blade is a true stiletto. It’s an old one too. This blade is from sixteenth century Italy. Obviously it has been restored, but it is still worth a ton. Do you want to know why they call it a stiletto? I’ll give you a hint. It has to do with the shape. Do you see how it comes to a point like that?”
Boom Boom didn’t respond. His eyes were taking on a faraway stare. Blood loss was getting the better of him.
Shelia shrugged. “I guess you’re all done talking. Fine, I’ll wrap this up quickly then. It’s named for the Latin stilus. You know, the thing they used to carve clay tablets with. No, you don’t know?” She shook her head. “Well, anyway, it has to with the shape.”
As the last word left Shelia’s mouth, she slipped the blade into Boom Boom’s throat. There wasn’t much pressure behind the blood pumping out of him, and didn’t take long for his eyes to gray over. She slipped the blade back out, wiped it off on Boom Boom’s shirt, and stowed it back in her pack. Then she picked up his rifle and used the flashlight to sweep the ground and retrieve her tactical knife. The stiletto was good for a poke and a quick kill, but a tactical knife was far more effective in a fight.
Once she had all of her gear back – including the arrows – she rifled through the gear on all of the corpses. It would have been better to properly dispose of them, but there wasn’t time. The sun would be coming up soon and she needed to be far away from all of the bodies. None of them were carrying anything useful except for Boom Boom. He had van keys. Those would be helpful considering they shot up the Dodge.
It took her roughly ten minutes to move all of her gear from the shattered Dodge into the Ford. It had already been loaded up pretty good too. That was a nice surprise. They had a lot of guns. What they weren’t carrying on their persons was stowed in their van. Added to what she already had to work with, Shelia was ready for war. She needed to be. The Rosattis would give her one.
As Shelia pulled back out onto highway 41, she held up a black box with a red button at its center. The sky lit up and the ground shook when she pushed that button. The black Dodge Rufus had given her was no more. When the state patrol finally arrived, probably within the hour, the charred bits that were left of it wouldn’t give them anything to work with. Still, she needed to find a place to lay low and do a proper search of her new van. There probably wasn’t much, but she would take anything she could get; a name, a rendezvous point, a cell phone. Hell, even a notebook would be helpful, anything to get her closer to where Danny and his family were holding her kids. What did he want with them anyway? He wasn’t interested when she told him she was pregnant all those years ago. The reason didn’t really matter. He had them and she had to find them.