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DAY 22 | 0400 HOURS


She blew at the stray hair stuck to her lip with a puff of exasperation and eyed the corndog turning on a greasy roller at the cut-rate gas station. The meat products looked questionable. The store smelled of motor oil and mop water. She took short breaths to keep from inhaling the stench. Her stomach rumbled with a gurgled sigh. She’d been tracking nonstop for forty-eight hours which meant two things: she was hungry and her target was dead.

She fingered the plastic cap of the used syringe tucked deep in the pocket of her gray zip-up hoodie. It needed to go. So did she.


“Yeah?” The clerk asked. He barely glanced her way. There was no need to. She was as average as a woman could be—not too tall or short, not too large or small. Her hair wasn’t blonde, it wasn’t brown. She was neither beautiful nor homely. She was everyone and no one at all. “Can I help you?” The fleshy, unshaven man’s scowl spoke volumes of unhappiness over his quiet tone and stained wife-beater. She sized him up from head to toe. Autopilot. Always prepared. Always alert. She took in every detail of the lone cashier and her surroundings. The front door was five paces left, the gun under the counter, one.


“Key to the bathroom.” She made the request with no inflection in her voice. She was calm. Quiet. Unassuming. Hungry. Her stomach groaned loud enough for the clerk to take notice. “And a corndog.”


“Dollar and four cents.” He placed the key on the counter with a thud. It hung from a long, squared block of wood that proclaimed the washroom rules: no funny business, no smoking, no crack, no banging dope, no smoking meth, no sex and no sleeping.  

Digging four quarters and a nickel from the front pocket of her jeans, she placed the coins on the counter. He grumbled something under his breath. She didn’t listen. She didn’t care. Slipping a thin sheet of wax paper from the cardboard box covered in mustard stains, she opened the lid to the hotdog roaster, taking the last corndog from the spinning cylinder by its stick.


Exiting the double glass doors, three rusty bells jingled overhead and she took a quick left to the dented metal and weather-beaten door marked NOmen in black Sharpie over the female stick figure. The key had to be jiggled. She placed the corndog in her mouth and used both hands.


Inside, the cracked florescent light flickered above, illuminating the dirty room that smelled of rotten eggs to a greenish glow. She rehashed the idea of taking a pee when she saw the disgusting toilet. It had been just as bad in the Men’s Room.


Taking the syringe from her pocket, she cracked her stiff neck left and right. Her target had gained weight while she cased him and planned his demise. The job had gone on longer than she’d planned, and eliminating him had turned into a bigger job—literally.


She’d killed him on an equally nasty toilet next door, watching the life drain from his face without contrition. His bathroom key had the same rules as hers with the exception of sleeping. Apparently, the men were allowed to nap at the Circle M Quick Stop on the outskirts of Dallas. The women, not so much.


 A quick and lethal dose of succinylcholine or sux to the back of the shoulder after following him into the crapper was the beginning of his end. She’d managed to drop his pants to his ankles and rest his lifeless body on the dirty commode before he drew his final breath. It was over quickly as it should’ve been, the entire scenario unfolding in less than a minute. The planning had taken longer. Twenty-two days to be exact.


Carefully cased, she knew her target frequented the location to conduct simple drug deals for the same reason she chose it to be his deathbed—anonymity.  The gas station and convenience store had no security system in place to document her presence, only large mirrors and fake cameras in the corners of the store to deter shoplifters. The Circle M employed a long-held belief and tradition in Texas—God and guns. If you were a thief, you’d meet both. Hence, the only security on the property was a sawed-off shotgun under the counter and employees who appreciated judicious marksmanship.


She stretched her shoulders, shrugging off the tension in her tight body. Her target was dead, but in the process, she’d wrenched her neck. Now she’d suffer the consequences all because a suicide bomber who wanted to kill hundreds at the oldest Rodeo in the country couldn’t lay off the burritos.

Snapping the cap and needle to the syringe, she tossed it into the toilet and kick-flushed with her boot before peering into the trashcan in the corner. A similarly wrecked needle sat atop the pile of paper towels and rubbish, evidence that a heartbroken junkie would need to find a new way to get high.

Using the last scraps of toilet paper to shield her hand, she unlocked the door and turned the handle—the corn dog still resting between her lips.

Placing the wooden block with the bathroom rules under her armpit, she pulled a small plastic bottle of hand sanitizer from the back pocket of her jeans, squirting a glob into her palm. The smell of rubbing alcohol filled her nose and she took a deep breath before biting off the end of the corn dog she’d waited so patiently to eat.


Backing into the store butt first, she leaned over the counter allowing the key to drop from her armpit with a clank.

The attendant looked her way for the first time. She didn’t make eye contact and backed out the same way she came in. She’d walk the two miles to a furnished apartment to gather the backpack by the door which contained a change of clothes, an ancient iPod filled with opera music, cash, essential supplies, and an overdue library book left on her doorstep two days ago concealed inside a postal service shipping box from her only link to each assignment, Crow. She didn’t know the identity of her contact, whether it was a man or a woman. She didn’t care. Crow watched from above. Crow gave the orders. She followed them.

She’d be wheels rolling on the next bus out of the dusty town before anyone would miss number Seven on the kill list—a man known to have masterminded two separate terrorist attacks in London and Turkey. His plans for Texas were now merely notes and an unarmed bomb sitting quietly in the room he rented over a Tex-Mex dive. Seven was now slumped forward on the toilet seat, dead from a heart attack while burning a mule—at least that would be the official coroner’s report.


Dubbing the accomplished mission as The King, she began her two mile walk to the ramshackle space she’d called home for twenty-two days, humming the only Elvis song she could recall, Suspicious Minds. She didn’t look back. She never looked back.

She chewed the final bite of her corndog before slipping the empty stick into her pocket. She was an assassin, not a litterbug.

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