10:30 a.m. Typical Duluth weather. Fingers of fog creeping up West 1st. Colder than the bottom bottle of Bud in the ice chest. Somewhere high above Lake Superior, ghostly, riding the moisture, a sweet melodic voice: “Stop children, what’s that sound, ever-body look what’s goin’ down...”
Quentin Hawk’s old red Explorer rattled along icy I-35, windows open wide, CD player cranked high as it would go. Quent wasn’t really into Old School, but his policeman father had just sent him an oldies CD for his 37th birthday. And he was dutifully following the old man’s scribbled admonition. “Rap’s for crap, Boyo. Stick this in that pile of junk you drive and turn it up. This is real music.”
Joseph Quentin Hawk was on his way home from a little game of three-man with his buds. He drained the last bit of yellow from a bottle of Gatorade, did a half-genuflect at the 2nd Street stop sign and hung a quick right into the handicapped zone at Parkland Pharmacy. He jumped down from his truck and left the motor running.
Only take a minute. Pushing through the automatic door, Quent jogged to the freezer and thumped a frosty yellow bottle out of its tray.
Before the refrigerator door had re-sealed, he was standing at the front register, gulping down the cool sweetness.
With his free hand, he ripped a wrinkled fiver out of his gym shorts and slapped it down in front of the young purple-haired checker.
She looked up into his compelling green eyes. The silver spikes poking through her lip flashed in the neon overheads.
“Anything else I can get for you, sir? Anything at all?” she cooed.
Sexualin-your-end-ohs. 6th grade humor fromQuent’s little sister, Mary Kate, when she noticed her girlfriends had started acting weird around her handsome older brother. At the time, both of them were still kids in grammar school. But the phenomenon had continued non-stop.
Over the years, Mary Kate had witnessed a ton of startled women caught doe-like in the lure of big brother’s notorious green orbs.
To his credit, Quent remained honestly oblivious to his own appeal, which only served to make him all the more appealing.
“HELP! Somebody! Help me!” A woman’s terrified scream ripped through the silence of the Pharmacy, ruining Miss Purple-Hair’s big moment. Quent was already running toward the cry.
“Hel...” The sharp crack of breaking glass cut the woman’s second scream in half.
As Quent reached the last aisle of the store he froze in mid step. He could see the bruised head of the pharmacy girl laying in a pool of blood on the cracked counter. A huge man in a triple X muscle shirt was standing over her, a foamy white smear of saliva bubbling on his lips. The man’s neck was wider than his head, the bulging arms heavily veined and tattooed. The giant oaf was hopping back and forth from one foot to the other like the floor was on fire, his bloated calves jiggling like fat brown balloons.
The big man screamed down at the girl’s unconscious form, howling like a wounded bull, his words distorted, “Euw supid bitch gurk!”
Then, suddenly, he seemed to lose consciousness. His eyes glazed. He stood motionless, staring into space as if his system had crashed.
Then, just as suddenly, he came back to life, spun away from the counter, and awkwardly lurched down the aisle toward the prescription window.
Quentin leapt over the counter and caught the injured girl just as she was sliding off the blood soaked counter. Her eyes fluttered open. He could see from her vacant stare that she was in shock.
Then another fearsome howl. Over by prescription counter, “Gob-lin. Goblin. You hab lis?”
Quent could see the white-haired pharmacist trembling behind the counter, raw panic in his eyes.
“You hab lis. I know. Gib heow to mee. Now. I’ll uck euw up geud...”
The old man forced his lips into a tremulous smile. “Certainly sir, now if you could repeat...”
A massive hand shot over the glass and grabbed him by the throat. The words died in his windpipe. He coughed and squirmed and lunged sideways, trying to pull himself away.
But the giant’s other hand caught hold of his tie and jerked him off his feet like a rag doll. The old man’s head made a dull nauseating thump as it punched through the glass partition.
The big hands lifted him up off the floor so the angry words would go directly into the old man’s ear. The garbled scream pitched into a furious whine. “Gob-lin. You hab. I wunt it! Gib me neow. I sweaaa I kill euw.”
Quentin was hunched behind the counter packing Kleenex into the gash on the girl’s head.
"Syringes, where’re the syringes?" he whispered.
Her eyes opened wide, unblinking. Unresponsive. Quent pulled her head close and spoke directly into her ear.
She raised a shaking hand and pointed. He crawled toward a stack of cardboard file boxes and looked back at the girl. She nodded. He pulled out the bottom drawer and grabbed the largest needle he could find. Snatching two vials of liquid off a shelf, he jammed them into his pocket and raced back to the girl and pressed her hand firmly against the wound. “Hang on. I’ll get help”
Then he hurdled the counter and ran to his left.
The giant weightlifter was holding the old man’s limp body high above his head, slamming him against the “Prescriptions” sign.
"Hey GATOR," shouted Quent, calling the big man by his professional name. The oversized head whipped around in Quent’s direction, one hand still holding the druggist off the ground.
He strained to see who’d called him by name, his eyes blinking the sweat away. “Whah?!” he bellowed.
"I'm a doctor," said Quent, moving toward him. “Sports medicine. Dude, you’ve been stacking. Synthol, Dianabol prob’ly. I can fix it. Let me get this into your arm. Now!”
Quent held up the syringe and the two vials of liquid. "Nubain! Like oxymorphone. Stop the pain. Guaranteed, man. Two minutes. You need it. Let me give it to you.”
There was immediate recognition from the big man. He had already ingested a pharmacy full of enhancement drugs. He knew their names as well as he knew his own. He knew their antidotes as well.
Gator Jennings, professional Pride Fighter, dropped the pharmacist on the floor like a weightless T-shirt and lumbered towards Quent, his eyes jigging in their sockets. He stopped awkwardly in front of Quent. And like some huge obedient child, knelt down on one knee, pushed up the sleeve of his sweatshirt and stuck out his huge right arm. It looked like a giant, bloated, purple-veined sausage.
Quentin took a step in closer. He raised one of the vials to eye level, examining the liquid, ready to insert the syringe. Then, without warning, he slammed downward and plunged the long hypodermic needle directly into the center of the monster’s right bicep.
The pain was instant, intense, and debilitating. Gator Jennings screamed in pain and grabbed at the syringe with his left hand. Quentin reached to his right, caught the top of a red fire extinguisher, and swung it as hard as he could into the left temple of the giant head. Gator crumpled to the ground, face up.
Quentin dropped to the floor and slammed both of his legs across Gator’s throat. He grabbed the big left arm and levered it backward across his own knees, hoping to set the hold before his opponent regained consciousness. Quentin leaned back to get maximum leverage and pushed down hard on the massive arm. Gator came to – screaming, the pain causing him a moment of articulate clarity.
“Stop. Enuf. I give. I give. Stop!”
“Move and I’ll break it,” shouted Quent. He released the pressure – but only slightly.
Behind him, there was a rush of commotion: metal hitting the ground; stamping of feet; the squawk of a radio.
Something hard jammed into the back of Quent’s left ear. "Let him go asshole!” said a male voice. "Parkland Police. It’s over. You’re a bad ass, okay? Took the big man down. But it’s over. Let him go. Now!”
The barrel of the cop’s revolver jammed repeatedly into the skin behind Quent’s ear. “You hear me, asshole?” yelled the cop. “Let him go. Now!"
"He’s a juicehead,” shouted Quent. “It’s roid rage. You better cuff him before I let him go."
"Who the hell are you? Doctor Seuss?" A second policeman un-holstered his weapon.
“CIA. I’m with the god damn CIA. Agent Quentin Hawk. My badge’s out in the car.”
“Yeah. And I’m the Easter Bunny. Put your arms behind your head jerkwad and step over here. Slow.”
CIA Satellite Office, Duluth Minnesota
Agent Joseph Quentin Hawk entered the Fremont Building on West 34th Street, shoved his I.D. card into the slot at the back of Elevator 3, and rode up to the penthouse level. Dark oak panels spanned the length of the reception area. In the center of the polished wood, the familiar blue and gold insignia, the name deeply etched in two-dimensional letters:
Central Intelligence Agency
Charles Fontina, District Director A dark-haired, middle-aged woman looked up from behind the marble counter and smiled. "Good morning, Agent Hawk."
"Morning Diane, I hear Chucky Cheese wants to see me.”
"The Director is waiting for you. He’s in a bit of a mood. I wouldn't let him hear you call him that."
"You mean I’m on the shit list again? Gee, what a surprise,” Hawk smirked. “Thanks for the warning, Di.” He walked to the chief’s door, knocked firmly and entered.
At 5’5,” 145 pounds, Director Charles Fontina was a small man...with an even smaller brain. One of several colorful descriptions offered by Agent Hawk when dining with his buddies at the Oktoberfest Bar and Grille. To say that Hawk and his boss didn’t exactly get along was an immediate cause of laughter among field agents at the CIA’s Duluth office.
Chucky Cheese was crouched behind his massive brown desk, holding an incident report in front of his 59-year-old face. His opening words came from behind the report.
"You picked a fight in the back of a Rite Aid drug store out in Parkland? Is that right, Agent Hawk?"
"I’m sure, sir, after you’ve have time to read my report, you'll see that's not what happened.” Quent had chosen to begin with an appeasement approach.
As usual, it wasn’t going to work for him. Director Fontina’s response came back heavy with condescension. “Where was your weapon when all this happened?"
"The guy's a Pride Fighter, sir. Name’s Gator Jennings. 6'7,” weighs in about 340. I've seen him fight. When I got there, he was in the middle of steroid rage. Strangling the pharmacist; holding the guy’s ass about three feet off the ground.” Quent demonstrated with his hands. “My gun wouldn't have done me any good, sir."
”An agent is never to be without his piece in public.” replied Fontina, unmoved. “Where was yours?”
”I was on my way home from the gym, sir. Little intra-agency half court game. We play every Tuesday. Ya see, I was still wearing my shorts, so I left my gun...”
Hawk could see he was wasting his breath. So, he reverted to form. “Not trying to brag, sir, but there isn't enough room in my jock strap for me and my gun at the same time. You know what I’m sayin’? Besides, sometimes it falls out in the middle of my jump shot.”
Director Fontina’s face colored slightly. His teeth clamped down hard several times before he responded. "Agent Hawk, while you’re serving out your two-week suspension from duty without pay for that last insubordination, you might consider this. The U.S. Government has a strict code of behavior for its law enforcement agents. You took an oath to uphold that code when you joined. We of the Central Intelligence Agency are just that, an intelligence gathering organization. We’re not a gang of street fighters.”
Before Quent could respond, Fontina held up his hand for silence. “This is not the first time you’ve received a suspension for ‘acting in a manner unbefitting an agent in the service of his government.’ You’re skating on thin ice.”
“So, what was I was supposed to do, sir? Just walk away and let this juicehead kill the druggist? Maybe a couple of women and kids too?”
“Fist fights are for the local police. Next time you see some domestic violence, call the cops, and butt the hell out! Is that clear? And stay out of Parkland. We don’t go there. It’s not our kind of area.”
Director Fontina slammed the incident report into the out box at the top of his desk, a look of disgust on his ferret face. “Leave your badge with my assistant on your way out, Hawk. Dismissed.”
The Garden of Doves – The 7PthP Arrondissement
She had chosen the tiny café Jardin des Colombes (the Garden of Doves), four little tables set in a sun-dappled courtyard behind the old bakery Vieux Moulin. Each table had its own umbrella of sun-yellow sailboats on a sea of Provence blue.
At the edge of the huge courtyard stood a little white lattice gazebo overflowing with fresh flowers. He arrived 10 minutes early, and on a whim, stepped inside and ordered a small bouquet.
“How about some white peonies and fracas?” suggested the sensuous old vendor, a gypsy-like woman, bedecked from head to toe in colorful scarves. Her eyes were bright, her smile charged with mischief. “Guaranteed to cast a spell.”
“Merci, Madame.” He stepped aside to watch as she carefully gathered the fragrant bundle. With a great flourish, the old woman set about wrapping and tying the bouquet. Only in Paris, he thought, concealing a smile; then he turned away and looked out through the lattice.
And saw her!
He couldn’t believe his own reaction; he’d actually drawn in his breath. Her beauty was devastating. His thoughts started piling into each other like cars on a fog-bound freeway.
Like most career soldiers, he had had his share of women; some local, some foreign; but in the looks department, most of them had been 4s and 5s.
He peeked out through the ivy twined lattice. Whoa! This one’s an 11. God, the color of her eyes!They’re turquoise!
He drew in a deep breath and walked straight out of the gazebo forgetting the flowers he’d ordered.
She sat at a small table, oblivious to her surroundings, sipping her coffee, studiously reading through a stack of morning newspapers. She wore a white linen suit, its jacket open to the waist with an emerald green blouse casually knotted just above a very tan bare midriff.
She looked up and saw him approaching. Her lips, a dark cinnamon color, served up a cover girl smile from the shadow of the umbrella. She stepped out into the light to greet him. The sun hit her face. The result was spectacular; her amazing turquoise eyes deepened as did the copper tone of her skin.
When he extended his hand, she gracefully slipped past it, stepped forward and placed both of her hands on his forearms. She pulled herself next to him, then turned her cheek slightly to greet him in the more intimate European fashion.
Later he would insist the move had saved his life.
As he turned his head sideways to complete the touch of cheeks, his eye caught the sudden flash of sun on steel – to the right, 70 yards across the square. He saw it clearly – a long silver tube with a black silencer screwed onto its end.
His emotions went cold! The capillaries in his brain ballooned with a rush of chemicals: casomorphin, endorphin, adrenaline. His response was immediate. Instinctive.
The clarions in his head sounded the alarm. His memory banks instantly fired.
Attack! Defend! Attack! Defend!
Time braked into stop-action – one slow frame at a time. His periphery went big screen, widening to 180. His mind flashed back to a thousand similar incidents in his military life; Vietnam, the rice paddies, the sun flashing off the barrels of the Cong 47s. He saw them again, hanging in the trees like brown monkeys, raining death down on his men.
He saw the movement as one long perception; the arc of the silver tube in the stranger’s hand; the sun glinting on the silencer – coming to rest on the doorjamb; the blue Mini Cooper breaking sideways into a four wheel drift; the door swinging open, the eyes of the enemy; his tennis shoes slamming the pavement as he leapt from the car, the gun pointing as the enemy ran headlong toward them.
All of this superimposed against the upturned cheek of this gorgeous woman. The sound of water dripping in the stone fountain behind her was sending little clicks of warning to his brain.
Move now. Move now! Move.
Pure instinct. His fingers locked on to her forearms. His arms shot forward like pistons, thrusting her backwards out of the line of fire. The backs of her knees hit the bull-nosed edge of the fountain. The force of the contact twisted her body and dropped her into the dark water.
Simultaneously, he hit the ground, flattened his body and rolled to the left. Zing! A bullet ripped through the umbrella where their heads were a millisecond earlier.
"Stay down," he shouted. And rolled violently back to the right looking for cover. A second bullet slammed into the umbrella’s aluminum pole and snapped it off with a loud crack.
The umbrella spun to the ground. Momentary cover. He sprang to his feet behind it. Head down, running as hard as he could, he raced back toward the gazebo.
It was an 8-second eternity before he dodged inside. No shots fired.
The old florist smiled, "I thought you'd be back for these,” she said, extending the bouquet of peonies. But he was already down on his knees, peering through the lattice looking back toward the gunman.
“Get down!” he shouted, his eyes riveted, scanning the square. It was crowded with locals going about their daily chores. And for a moment, everything looked normal. Then, off to the left, 40 yards from the gazebo he saw the commotion. Two people fell to the ground; two more spun awkwardly to the left, jolted by the impact of an onrushing body.
A hooded figure emerged!
He was about 6 feet tall, dressed in a dark blue tracksuit, the hood pulled tightly around his head, running full force, holding the long-nosed hand gun at waist level.
He heard the thunk of a bullet behind him. He spun around and reached out for the flower peddler. The white peonies in her hand had already changed color, stained red. There was a jagged hole above the first tracheal cartilage where the bullet had ripped into her throat.
Too late to stop her body’s forward momentum. The old woman collapsed heavily on top of him. And for a few seconds, her heart continued to pump, drenching the side of his face in sickening warmth. One final shudder and the flower lady went still.
Thump. Thump. Her dead body lurched; a second and third bullet ripping into her corpse. She was shielding him from death.
He pushed violently upward, launched her body into the air, and rolled out from under it. He rose to his knees, grimacing in expectation of the next bullet. For a moment, there was no sound.
Suddenly, the fat nose of the killer’s gun smashed violently through the lattice. The obscene eye jerked left to right, searching.
Charging like a bull, he aimed his body to the left of the protruding gun muzzle. His shoulder drove straight through and into the killer’s stomach. The wooden lattice blew apart and the man went down hard on his back, carrying the entire back wall of the gazebo down on top of him.
As more of the structure collapsed, a section of latticework locked around the gunman’s forearm. It forced his gun arm straight up out of the rubble. As the heavy mass of lumber started to settle, it began slowly bending the arm backwards into an impossible angle. The gunman’s screams built to a crescendo, like the shriek of a skill saw caught in the middle of a wet two-by-four.
As the pain worsened, so did the horrid screams.
Crack; the snapping of the ulna. Snap; the ugly crunch of the radius. Then an ugly staccato of small bones as each one fractured and began poking through the flesh of the arm.
Finish it! The voice in his head.Years of Special Forces training: take advantage of an enemy’s injury. End it now.
Crashing through the chest-high pile of debris, he moved in quickly toward his attacker. The man’s right forearm was sticking straight up through the rubble like a naked flag pole – the pistol frozen in the grasp of his traumatized fingers.
When he bent down to reach for the gun barrel, he heard a high pitched creak behind him. Wood against wood. Splintering. The rest of the gazebo was about to collapse.
He hurled his body to the left, turning his face away, arms thrown up to protect his head. With a dramatic groan, the entire rotted wooden structure collapsed inward, launching nails and jagged struts outward in all directions. A 10” wooden shard stabbed into his shoulder as he rolled on the ground.
Unaware of the pain, he scrambled to his feet and whirled around to face the fountain. She was there, submerged in the fountain’s moat of water, peering at him over the wet stone edge.
He shouted across the square, "Run! That way!"
When he saw her safely out of the fountain, he turned away from the gazebo and began running in the opposite direction. Too late to go for the killer.Take cover. Reassess.
Running hard, he reached the safety of the square’s entrance and ducked behind its stone archway. Only then did he look back toward the wreckage of the gazebo. What he saw was inconceivable; a scene from a cheap horror film.
The killer’s right arm was sticking straight up from the rubble, still clutching the weapon. But as he watched in disbelief, the killer's left hand punched upward through the debris and began prying his own locked fingers away from the gun butt.
Screaming in pain from the effort, the man wrestled the gun away from his dead right hand and pushed it into his left.
He began firing wildly in all directions. Two young children enjoying the excitement suddenly went over backwards, blood spurting from their stomachs. The next shot slammed into the wall just six inches above He’s head. The son of a bitch is gonna get loose.
Running full force, arms pumping, legs churning, He charged blindly into the heart of the massive five-way intersection of Rue Antoine Arnauld. Lurching left then right, narrowly avoiding the crush of wheels, he set off a crescendo of screeching tires and shouted obscenities. Cars and trucks began slamming together like dominoes, reacting to the apparent crazy man zigzagging through their midst.
His body struggling for air, he stuck a violent straight-arm into the hood of a speeding green van and tried to push himself to the right. The momentum spun him off balance and knocked him to the ground, rolling like a pinball. The green van jammed its brakes and crashed under the tailgate of a pickup in front of it.
Fingers, arms and feet slapping and digging into the graveled concrete for purchase, He fought to stop his momentum. Finally coming to rest on his bloody hands and knees, he sucked in a huge gasp of breath. He pushed down hard he stood up again; disoriented.
Which way was I running?
Pop! Pop! Two bullets punctured a Citroën headlight to his right. He sprung wildly to the left in front of an old Renault and ducked down along the driver’s side. The Renault’s windshield exploded. The driver’s head slammed into the steering wheel.
The sounds of multiple collisions accelerated, echoing down the narrow alleys off the intersection. A rapid fusillade of bullets sprayed across the windshields surrounding him. But he heard none of it! The sudden ringing in his right ear was deafening. One of the shots had nicked his temple. The impact dropped him behind the tailgate of an enormous black Hummer. Out cold, but only for an instant.
The pain stabbed him back to consciousness.
Slowly he pulled himself up by holding on to the chrome nerf bar at the back of the behemoth truck. He peered cautiously around its fender trying to get a glimpse of his assailant.
Nothing. Then he saw the blue cap 20 yards off, coming hard; the left hand extended. Bang! The Hummer’s right front tire exploded. The huge vehicle lurched forward, falling to one knee like a wounded rhino.
Above the screaming pain in his right ear, He could hear the sound of sirens. He saw the tiny French police car cutting across the intersection. As it skidded to a halt, the door flew open and the uniformed gendarme leapt out, weapon in hand. Instantly, a bullet struck him in the pit of the stomach. He collapsed in the street vomiting blood.
Run! Harder. Blindly, he ran toward a side street…