Since deciding to focus his life on being a vigilante, Nathan had rarely returned to the life of a mercenary. His war zones were now the cities and his enemies were not soldiers but drug dealers and the other gutter scum that destroyed lives like a cancer on society.
However when a third party made contact with him regarding “work” he was a little intrigued since everyone knew he was out of that game. Even more interesting was the contact wanted him to terminate a life which he thought was odd since he’d never been an assassin by trade. A one-time mob enforcer yes which did involve physical violence and the occasional usage of weapons but that was still different than a cold-blooded killer.
Nathan had informed the contact of those facts but the contact was still sure he was the right man for the job and the money on offer would set him up for life. As a sweetener to the deal he was given a third of the money upfront whether he took the job or not and was told the target, a woman and ex special forces operative, had killed her own comrades after selling them out. The latter he presumed was supposed to motivate his feelings of justice and relate to his own personal history when mob boss, Doug Claremont had tried to have him killed after years of loyal service.
For those reasons and the fact he had little else to do, Nathan took the job which was how he came to find himself in some backwater Eastern European country miles from civilisation. At least transport was also part of the deal and it did not take him too long to find his target. In fact it was the easiest work he’d ever done for she was right where he was told she would be on a particular date – walking around the grounds on an abandoned hospital. From his vantage point it would have been perfectly easy to pull the trigger at any time and with one bang become very rich but there was a problem. Nathan did not like things when they were too easy. He knew if he was going to end someone’s life then it had to be for a good reason. Above all he had to satisfy his own instincts which have arrived at the destination and seeing the target for the first time was telling him something was off. He therefore decided to wait and observe and only strike when he was one hundred percent sure
The target was a dark-skinned woman with wirey hair and he has no problem with that. His employer had told him she wore a mask over her face hence there were no facial details and it was the mask that was needed as proof that she had been eliminated. An odd request but so was being hired to kill someone.
The town he was in was little more than ruins. That’s what happened when criminal cartels clashed in the same area. The locals tended to get out when the guns started firing and then all that was left were either abandoned buildings and ruins. Finding a vantage point had been easy since there was a small apartment block overlooking the hospital and it was from the top floor that he spent a good hour watching her tour around the ruins.
She seemed to be looking, or rather searching for something but whatever it was he could not be sure and since he’d not been briefed he was left to try and figure that out for himself. One thing he had been told about was she was well trained with a gun and that explained why she was walking around with an assault rifle. However, Nathan was not too concerned about that since he knew he could take her out any time. For someone with weapons training he was a little confused as to why she was not showing any caution. Maybe she thought nobody was around but even he never dropped his guard to that extent.
Eventually the woman ended up at the front of the building where the destroyed reception area was situated. As this was right below him he got a perfect birds eye view of what was happening across the road from him.
She maintained her search, scratching in the dirt on what remained off the tiled floor and then she suddenly grabbed something and held it up to the light. The weak daylight glinted off something silver so Nathan looked down his telescopic sight to get a better view. They were dog tags and after examining them she put them around her neck and then crouched to the floor.
Intrigued, Nathan continued to watch and the woman took off her mask although he still could not see her face since she had turned so that the back of her head was facing at him. She continued to kneel and then it became apparent that she was paying her respects to someone. For the cold blooded sell out her actions did not seem to match what he’d been told. Though it was easy money for him to have ended it there and then he resisted the idea. There was no way he was going to kill someone if he’d been fed a pack of lies. Money mattered little to him if he was being played. However there was only one way he was going to find out the truth and that was to learn her side of the story.
Moving as quickly as he could he stealthily made his way down three flights of stairs and then across the road and in the general direction of her last position. That took a lot of extra time so he was more than a bit surprised to find the woman, still kneeling on the floor.
As soon as he stepped on the floor tiles she went for her weapon.
“Put that down right now” he ordered.
The woman moved her hand away from the gun at the side of her.
“Now stand up, with your arms in the air where I can see them” he barked.
Instead of doing as asked she began putting her mask back on.
“You got a hearing problem?” he asked.
“Only my friends get to see my face and you’re not one of those. So you can shoot me in the back or let me continue. Either way I don’t particularly care,” she replied in an Australian accent.
He considered arguing with her but once she was done she put her arms up.
“Now turn around,” shouted Nathan.
Slowly the woman turned around.
“You going to kill me already? As you’ve had plenty of chances already sat in the building watching me!”
Nathan was more than a little surprised that he’d been eyeballed and on any other day he would have been impressed by her skills.
“I’m considering it!” he replied.
“Then please get it over with. You’ll be doing me a favour, believe me.”
That was not the answer he had been accepting and despite the fact most of her face was covered with a mask he could tell that she seemed to be in some sort of deep emotional pain. He knew that though people could wear fake smiles and pretend all was well, the eyes never lied and he could see her eyes pretty good.
“If you feel that way why not simply eliminate yourself?”
“To kill myself would be a disgrace to those I lost. To be killed be an enemy combatant, well then…that’s different.”
“The way I heard it you killed your own team so how come your worried about your sense of honour?”
“Is that what you were told? Figures. I guess I made a mistake then trekking half way around the world with a target on my back just so I could come back for my team or what was left of them. Perhaps you should not believe everything your employer tell you then!”
“What do you know about my employer?” asked Nathan since he was curious.
“I don’t really know anything about who paid you. However I can take an educates guess that it’s someone that knows I would come back her to retrieve what belonged to the people under me. Presumably this same person is afraid that one day I might learn the whole truth and expose it. Best part about it is you are so gullible you fail to realise that such a person would eliminate you in the end since you will be another loose end to get rid of!”
“Care to enlighten me then lady?”
“I worked as team leader for a black ops group paid for by the Australian Government. We discovered a supply drugs coming into the country that originated in this region so they sent my team in to put a stop at the source, one of those hush hush operations that are off the books. Who’d have thought that a hospital would be acting as a warehouse for a drugs cartel?
When we got here and found where the drugs were being kept half of my team turned against me. Somebody back at home had obviously got to some of the newer members on my team. Those that stayed loyal to me were killed and I barely got away. I knew I could not go home because ‘they’ would be waiting for me so I spent the past year hunting down those on my team that had been corrupted. They would not tell me anything, any of them so after I dealt with the last one a month ago I felt it only right I should honour those that had fallen here.
Now that job is done and since I’m unlikely to ever find out who set me up there is nothing really left for me to do, so please just get this over with because I’m so sick and tired of this running and skulking in the shadows.”
Her voice sort of tailed off and Nathan found himself lowering his rifle instead of raising it. This was a turn of events he’d never anticipated and what was worse was he knew exactly how she was feeling after his own loyalty had been shattered years earlier in a similar manner when his own team were paid to turn against him.
“Do it!” she screamed.
“I-I can’t,” said Nathan, a little surprised by the fact he actually stammered.
“What the hell sort of assassin are you then?” she asked as which point she moved towards him until she pushed her chest against the business end of his rifle.
“I’m not an assassin. I’m the Leveller.”
“What the hell sort of name is that?”
“Descriptive I suppose since I even the odds when there’s some injustice that needs fixing. I guess whoever sent me on this jolly assumed I would be driven only by that motivation and never ask questions and now that I have, this is over!”
Nathan started to turn away.
“No, you got to do this!” she pleaded, “I can’t live with this crap inside me.”
“Then I suggest you don’t. Perhaps you should use what you feel to make whoever set you up pay for what they have done. And if you can’t do that then find the next baddest person and use them as a surrogate. Worked for me!”
“And what do you know about being set up?”
“Been there, done that and now I kick down doors and beat up the bad guys. If you ever get over your self pity …”
“How dare you!”
“You want me to kill you because life sent you to a dark hole and instead of climbing out you want to rot at the bottom of it? What else would you call it. I’d have thought someone with your training would have accepted that people get killed in your line of work. Yeah you got stabbed in the back by your own side so you give in. If it was me I’d want to get even. In fact it was me and I did get even, so instead of expecting me to end your suffering why not channel it into something more productive. Hell the world could use someone with your skills.”
Nathan was not big on speeches but he knew exactly how she felt and had wished that perhaps someone had said the same thing to him that way he would never have wasted so much time instead of getting one with what needed to be done.
“You make it sound oh so easy,” she argued.
“I never said it was easy but when you give in the scum that did this to you win. Now you can shoot yourself or I can put you in touch with people that will allow you to make a new start and start fighting back.” His reply seemed alien when it left his lips. He had been paid to kill her and was now offering her help. This was not how he imagined the day was supposed to turn out.
“Are you actually offering me a job?” she asked finally.
“Nope – I work alone,” he said and then began scribbling on a piece of paper. “Here’s some numbers you may find useful.”
Nathan paused briefly. “I am gonna need that mask though.”
“Some scumbag who tried to dupe me wanted that as proof you were dead, so it seems fitting that if they lied then they can pay up in full.
“Alright,” she said, “but please turn away.”
Nathan did as asked and when he turned away he heard the sound zippers being pulled and clasps opened.
“Here take it,” she said.
Nathan turned and took the mask from her outstretched arm. He still could see her face since she had obviously taken off her shirt from underneath her top and then covered hear head with it so that only her eyes were visible.
“You know whatever you are hiding underneath that will not scare me.”
“It probably won’t but I’m not prepared to let other people see my face, well not at this time.”
Nathan took the mask and the pair parted ways. He felt it best they did not move around together in case his employer had involved other mercs. It would be a little hard for him to explain why he was walking around with a dead body.
The ploy must have worked for upon handing over the mask he was paid up in full. Stealing from an employer that had lied to him felt quite satisfying but what was even more satisfying happened a few months later when he learned via his contacts that the woman had reached out and had returned to Australia where with a new identity and mask had begun cleaning the streets of New Tokyo operating under the name of Ozzy. It was slightly irritating she’d taken to doing what he did and so he had produced his own competition.
Later still she made contact with him. She had formed her own team called the Renegades and wanted him to be part of that. This was obviously her attempt at repaying him for his help but he politely declined since he had already told her he worked alone. That would eventually change…