The street was quiet save for a few late commuters walking home from their government jobs, and the steady flow of traffic moving up Irving Street into Columbia Heights. Spring was imminent in Washington DC, but a late winter chill had yet to release its hold on the city. In a black government-style suburban, two men sat watching and waiting. Their quarry had patterns, and over the last few weeks, they had learned her habits well. Monday through Friday, she rose early and took brisk walks through her tree-lined neighborhood, frequently finishing at the corner coffee and bakery shop where she purchased a caffe americano and a pastry. Upon returning home, she would dress quickly, then depart for her job at Youth for Life, a non-denominational charity dedicated to helping autistic children integrate into society. She would depart work between five and five thirty and return home. One Monday, Wednesday and Friday, she would proceed to the six o’clock yoga class at District Yogi nearby. Tuesdays she took a oil painting class at the Smithsonian. Thursdays were either meditation or meeting friends. Today was Wednesday, and the two men watched as Devan Rhodes returned home from her yoga class, mat under one arm, water bottle in hand.
Brother Burke admired Devan Rhode’s dedication to fitness, although she should cut out the coffee and sweets in the morning. Despite this shortcoming, Burke admired her figure, her full but trim bottom highlighted by her tight yoga pants. Her curly black hair was pulled back in a ponytail, showcasing her wide, dark Persian eyes. No doubt about it, she was a hottie and Burke wanted her.
He loved that yoga pants were in style as they basically showed what women looked like naked. And the women wearing them were usually trim and tight, just like Devan. But even the heavier girls looked good. The pants held everything together and smoothed over all the messy cellulite and such.
He flexed his meaty fingers on the underside of the steering wheel. The tattoos across his knuckles, pain on the left hand, hurt on the right, pulsated. He’d been watching Devan for some time now. Eventually, he would take her.
His partner, Brother Ferrier, nodded slightly. “There’s our girl,” he said softly, “ten minutes in the shower and then she’ll make dinner. Think she’ll go out tonight?”
“Not tonight. Tonight she’ll call her auntie.” Brother Able had hacked into Devan’s cell phone records and put together a comprehensive picture of her whereabouts. The general public had no idea how much of their privacy they voluntarily gave away by carrying their mobile phones with them. By plotting cell tower and GPS data on a map, Able had reconstructed all of Devan’s movements for the last year. She rarely went out at night during the week, didn’t have a boyfriend anymore and loved her family — what remained of them.
Burke always yearned for a dedicated woman, but his own lack of fidelity was apparent and apparently repellent to the type of woman he desired. Perhaps it was the tattoos, his steroid enhanced muscles or his lifestyle that only attracted low self-esteem bimbos. All three perhaps. Women who only love men with big muscles are as shallow as men who only like big tits. And Burke had some big knockers.
Burke and Ferrier watched Devan enter her house, the only thirty seconds of excitement they anticipated tonight. When the door closed, Burke reached into the console and turned up the intensity on his electromyostimulater. His pectorals cramped and stitched as the machine sent energy into the electrode patches glued to the sides of his chest. He turned the machine to level twenty and gritted his teeth as the electricity coursing through his pecs forced the muscle fibers to activate and try to rip themselves apart. Typical users would find level twenty excruciating at best, damaging at worst. Brother Burke just wondered why he didn’t bring his more powerful stimulator.
Brother Ferrier, the man sitting next to Burke, looked at his grunting and grimacing distastefully. “Jesus, Burke, why don’t you just jerk off like the rest of us?” he said.
“EMS got me to the Ultimate Fighting Championship,” Burke said in a controlled voice, still twitching about the chest.
“Yeah, where you got your ass pummeled,” Ferrier said. “I saw the video. Ray Downey used you as his pinata for ten minutes.”
“You know I was not in control,” Burke said, sipping his custom blended energy-nutrition shake as his chest throbbed, “otherwise I could have put Ray Downey freshness in the hospital or the morgue. Perhaps you would like to go a few rounds sometime and try yourself.”
Ferrier laughed. “No thanks Burke. I don’t want to have ‘pain’ and ‘hurt’ stamped into my cheekbones for the rest of my life. That’s why I carry a gun. So I don’t have to fight goons like you.”
Brother Burke regarded his colleague. Like Burke, Brother Ferrier was ex-special operations, but old enough that he left for the private sector before Iraq. Before he joined the Freedmen, Ferrier had been a private security contractor for Krell Corporation, a D.C. beltway bandit that provided ‘special services’ to the U.S. intelligence agencies. Although approaching fifty and nearly fully grey, he could probably destroy most fit thirty-two year olds in a street fight. But Bother Burke was not most thirty-two year olds.
Burke was a fighter from birth. Born in blue collar Baltimore, the fourth son of a Catholic father and a black mother, Burke never knew where the next punch would come from — his alcoholic father, the ignorant pricks at school that beat him for being a half-breed, or his own brothers who punished him for being several shades lighter than them, like his father. Perhaps it was the only way they could fight back against him, using his nearly white face and African features as a proxy for the father they never dared cross. At least not until his eldest brother Solomon borrowed a friend’s .22 pistol and put three rounds into their father’s heart during an alcoholic rage.
Solomon went to prison, as did Paul for a series of petty larcenies. Albert worked as a shipfitter and had three kids which only spent time with Burke under close supervision. Wife’s orders. Burke became a fighter. First on the streets, then at McAllen’s gym on North Avenue. But a regional Golden Gloves championship wasn’t enough to keep him in Baltimore boxing, and when 9/11 happened, he saw the opportunity to be a part of an even bigger fight. And he’d get to kill people.
Four tours in the Navy, three with the Teams, taught him everything he needed to know about ending human life. It also allowed him to refine his unarmed combat skills, which he turned into a lucrative post-military career in mixed martial arts. He was preparing for the fight of his life against Ray Downey when they came for him. And by the time they were done using him, he lost his only professional match, one sparring partner was dead, another would never walk again, and he had a lifetime ban from Ultimate Fighting.
They only used you once. Being taken was the one fight he could never rematch and that burned a tiny sun of hatred and pain deep in his core. He longed to fight that battle over, the one he didn’t see coming. He knew it was unlikely, but if he ever got the chance again, he’d be ready.
“Brother Ferrier,” Burke said, his speech now coming in waves as his violently contracting chest muscles spasmed his diaphragm, “how did you come to be with us? I never heard.”
“When did they get me?”
“Hmmf.” Ferrier squirmed uncomfortably in his seat and gazed out the window at the multi-colored row-houses. Several apartment lights were on, including Devan’s. “I was running a close protection team for the Brits down in Basra. They had already pulled back to the airport and didn’t go out much. They just hunkered down and shot back at whoever fired on their base. It was a standard diplomatic run, escorting a couple of their political officers to the governor’s compound. Four armored SUVs, gun trucks on either end, and a little bird overhead for air cover. The last thing I remember was leaving the airport. The next thing I know I’m on a flight back to London.”
“A bunch of civvies were killed in that one right?”
“Yeah,” Ferrier said, “ forty three dead, another dozen or so seriously injured. The inquiry found I gave the order to open fire in the square and ordered the team to resist in place. I guess they never found any evidence that the surrounding buildings had any insurgents in them, or that we took any incoming fire.”
“And you didn’t remember nuthin?” Burke asked.
“Not a thing. The press jumped all over that, claiming I was being obstructionist…conveniently forgetting. Cost me my contract. No one would hire me.” Ferrier chuckled. “Unless I wanted to help a bunch of South Africans overthrow some West African dictator. Not my game.”
“That’s when Max found you?”
“Yep, that’s when our dear Brother Maximilian found me and made me the man I am today. A glorified stalker. Its interesting how no one remembers being used,” Ferrier reflected. “I wonder where we all went when they were running things.”
“Shangra la,” Burke said, flipping off the electromyostimulation and taking a deep cleansing, breath. ” Shangra-fucking la de da.” Burke nodded toward’s Devan’s house. “And all we need is to get the little dove there to coo a bit, draw those fuckers out, and then smack them down.”
“Ought Six or the Users?” Ferrier asked.
“We can dream,” Ferrier said.
“Hope is not a plan of action,” Burke said. “We should grab her right now.”
Burke chewed his gum intently and focused his gaze upstairs, hoping to catch a glimpse of Devan undressing behind her translucent curtain.
Klaus Hahn turned the corner onto Irving street and casually strolled. His lanky frame made long but slow strides down the sidewalk as he took in the early spring night. The cherry trees were already in bloom, casting purple shadows on the sidewalk where the streetlights illuminated them. He kept his hands in the pockets of his light jacket as he walked past a black Suburban parked on the side of the street. The vehicle was pointed away from him, so he did not see the occupants focusing on him as he passed in front of Devan’s apartment.
“Jesus Christ,” Ferrier said as he watched the man pass by their vehicle, “was that him?”
Burke had already reached under the seat for his HK semi-auto. “Don’t blasphemy Brother Ferrier, it isn’t nice.” Burke and Ferrier slid down in their seats, conveniently hidden in the shadow created by the broken streetlight they had shot with a pellet gun three weeks earlier. They watched Klaus Hahn walk past Devan’s apartment, proceed thirty feet down the sidewalk, and then turn abruptly, heading back in their direction.
“Shit, do you think he sees us?”
“No,” Burke said. “Watch.” The man’s body language did not speak of fear, and if Hahn knew they were there watching, he would be most alarmed.
Hahn walked down the sidewalk, stopped in front of Devan’s apartment and looked up. Her lights were on, but her curtains closed. He opened her gate and walked to the tree in her front yard. He seemed to be looking for something. After a few moments, he retreated to the street, closing the gate behind him.
He looked both ways down the street, then up at Devan’s room. Satisfied, Hahn turned and continued walking down the street.
“We should snatch him right now too,” Burke said.
“You know we’re not authorized, so don’t even think about it.”
“What do you think he’s doing here.”
“Same as we are…watching the girl.”
Burke craned his head at the window, watching Hahn depart. “He turned the corner. Maybe he’s just cruising us, trying to flush us out?”
“Could be. Let’s call it in and see what the boss wants to do.”
Burke flicked the ESM machine back on, torquing his pecs with electricity, but left the HK tucked under his leg where he could access it. He looked at his partner.
“You know,” Burke said, “if Ought Six is interested in this girl too, she’s probably the one Max is looking for.”
“Maybe,” Ferrier said.
“If it is her, then the plan can move ahead faster than we thought.”
“The protocol?” Ferrier asked. “You don’t really believe in that do you?”
“I do,” Burke said, settling into his seat. “I don’t know what took me or where it came from, but what I know didn’t matter then and it doesn’t matter now. What matters is what I believe. And I do believe they’re out there.”
“Yeah, well, hopefully this is our little Easter Egg and we can get their attention. I’ll call the boss.” Ferrier pulled out his phone and dialed. Burke scanned the area around the SUV and confirmed the street was clear of threats before returning his attention to the upstairs window and his fantasies about the dove that roosted there.