Poisoned Ivy

Rodriquez Sanchez habitually looked right, left, and right again before getting into his bulletproof limousine. The high-velocity bullet entered his skull five centimetres above his left ear. Up till that moment, he was one of the most wanted men on the planet.

Amongst the dense greenery eight hundred metres away, the assassin lay perfectly still.

“Rest in peace, Susan.” Emma remained in her firing position for another minute, ignoring the tears running down her cheeks. She thought of her dear, younger sister as she observed the driver and two bodyguards in the distance.

They were running around, pointing their weapons in various directions, sometimes pausing, as if they had seen something to shoot. Each had a favourite weapon, but it didn’t matter if it were a Magnum, an Uzi or a Kalashnikov, without a target it was a chunk of metal.

From her firing practise with the British-made L115A3 Long Range Rifle, known affectionately as ‘The Long,’ Emma was confident of a kill at up to twelve hundred metres. She checked her wristwatch. If she were going to be seen, it would have been during the minute immediately after her target fell.

She wiped her tears, reached forward, and retrieved the empty cartridge case. When she had the small brass cylinder safely in her possession, she raised the weapon a little and closed the bipod. She lifted the rifle with both hands, and using her elbows and knees, eased back from the place where she had lain in wait for two hours.

A rapid brush with a loose branch lifted the flattened grass, so the only evidence of her visit was the small piece of metal now lodged in her target’s brain.

At twenty-three years old, Emma took great pride in her ability with a firearm and was fastidious when it came to reconnaissance, setting up, or moving out. Until she’d shot Sanchez, her targets had all been dummies, but she’d treated each like the real thing. In as short a time as possible, she intended to build up a reputation for being the best. When she had received the brief on the target, her handler had to be confident of success.

In the Colombian forest, Emma was not as relaxed as she might otherwise be, mainly due to the heat, but she managed to regain her normal mindset during what she considered the mental ‘conversion.’ This was the stage where she would change from camouflaged assassin to a cute scientist looking at local flora and fauna. She worked quickly, but methodically.

She had been trained with a variety of firearms. In each case, she had completed practise of stripping and assembling the weapons in daylight, and in a pitch-black environment. It provided thorough familiarisation, and self-confidence.

In less than five minutes of squeezing the trigger, Emma had the rifle dismantled and packed away in the velvet-lined waterproof case. It was joined by the used cartridge casing. She changed her outfit rapidly, then left the scene, and located the hollowed out tree where the weapon had been left for her. Emma hid all items related to the shooting.

The recovery team would come when they were assured of a trouble-free retrieval of both weapon and clothing.

A few minutes after the shooting, Emma had paced herself one hundred metres west of the location. As she unfolded her map, the sights and smells of her environment created a calming effect. Emma paused long enough to study the contour lines on the map.

Apart from her skill with firearms, she was an exceptional map reader. When Emma looked at the symbols, it was like studying a large photograph. Contour lines to many people were thin, curving lines, but to Emma, a glance told her if she’d be going uphill, downhill, or following a gradient around a feature.

* * *

As a teenager, Emma had been an Army Cadet, enjoying physical fitness training, shooting, and map-reading. She was the youngest marksman ever to win the coveted ‘Top Shot’ at the Bisley Shooting Championships. Although her interest in military skills was nurtured, she was discouraged from joining the regular Armed Forces.

Instead, it was suggested she should join the Territorial Army and Volunteer Reserve (TAVR). This would mean she could continue with her military interests and her studies as a civilian simultaneously. Her tutors at the university were aware of her part-time soldiering but were only interested in her ability to soak up knowledge in her special subject. She excelled in botanical studies.

Botany had been Emma’s main interest since childhood, and when she graduated from university, she was recognised as a name for the future. She celebrated her twenty-third birthday with a job offer from the London Botanical Gardens, a good job with excellent prospects. Meanwhile, her other skills had also been recognised, and monitored, by a government agency.

The young woman was sent to Sniper’s School for a week, supposedly sponsored by the TAVR as a treat due to her shooting successes. Unknown to Emma, she was being observed by a handful of men whose job it was to spot natural talent, and they had arranged her ‘treat.’

At the end of the course, she was introduced to two men in Saville Row suits. They spent a short time questioning her knowledge of the sniper’s role, her political beliefs, her linguistic ability and knowledge of international affairs. At first, she refused to be drawn into their discussion, but when National Security was mentioned, it sparked something deep within her. She could see where the conversation was going and recognised that she fitted the profile.

“I have no desire to kill,” Emma had said.

The committee represented by these men felt she was an ideal candidate for their ongoing operations. Apart from her marksmanship, she spoke Spanish and German fluently and had a working knowledge of French. The recruiters knew their job and had done their homework.

One of the men explained that they knew about the murder of Emma’s teenage sister and according to him, it was no accident. The murderer, he said, had organised nineteen-year-old Susan’s abduction. She had disappeared while on holiday in Colombia, and three days later, her body had been found by an old woman near a forest track.

Six months had passed since her sister’s death, but for Emma, the emotion was still raw. The two girls had been close as they grew up. Listening to the recruiters, and what they knew about her sister’s death, Emma was hooked and asked questions. The agents spared most of the details, but when they told her of the nature of the injuries her sister had sustained, something touched Emma deep inside.

It took two more sessions with the young botanist, and during the second interview, she was shown photographic evidence connecting a notorious drug baron to Susan. The recruiters could see that Emma had a burning desire to avenge her sister’s death. If however, they authorised her to execute the hit, she would be considered part of the team. The killing of her sister’s murderer would not be her only task.

If recruited, she would earn a lot of undeclared money, and travel around the world, ostensibly in her role as a botanist. Assassinations would not be cold-blooded killings because all targets were sanctioned by the secret government committee.

Emma agreed to join the team, but with two provisions; she would only remove the scum of the earth, and in each case, she would see credible evidence about the target’s crimes.

The terms were agreed.

* * *

Less than fifteen minutes after the death of their boss, the three men from the Sanchez mansion were combing all the roads in the nearby hills. The large black Chrysler’s tyres screeched as it took each bend, stone chippings drumming against the gleaming bodywork. The men knew they had to get a result quickly. The boss’s son Andreas was in Switzerland, on a business trip. When he heard about his father’s assassination, he would want to meet the perpetrator in person.

If Andreas returned, and there was no one on which to wreak vengeance, he would have the driver and bodyguards buried alive, each with a loved one. The horrific ritual was a Sanchez family tradition, which all employees knew about, and some had witnessed.

The Chrysler came around a bend high in the forest. All three occupants were scanning every verge and break in the dense greenery.

The car skidded to a halt beside a narrow, overgrown track.

From the tree-line, a young woman stepped out. She looked directly at the men as they piled out of the car and turned back towards her. Emma stood five—ten. She had a blue bandana tied around her shoulder length fair hair. She was no skinny catwalk model, and her well-proportioned curves were accentuated by her outfit.

The sleeveless denim safari jacket hung open displaying a white T-shirt which bulged in the right places. The snug ‘Daisy Duke’s’ were designed for legs like hers, and the hiking boots declared her an outdoor girl. The suntanned face was a picture of health, but though her teeth gleamed as she smiled, her brown eyes showed no emotion. The pose suggested she was ready for anything.

Emma stood with her right hand on her hip, and her left hand holding her backpack.

Something was alluring about the woman, an Amazon quality, which all three gangsters recognised. The men slowed their advance to take in the unexpected, and welcome view.

“What are you doing here?” The tallest man asked the question in Spanish, while making an obvious assessment of the stranger.

Emma replied in impeccable Spanish. “I’m an English botanist, studying rare plants and flowers.” She lowered her backpack to the ground and bent down to open it. Apart from impressing them by replying in their native tongue, she knew the men would be watching her closely. She lifted out her digital camera and journal.

The chief bodyguard came forward, inspected the backpack, and dropped it on the ground. He took and checked the camera, then stared into Emma’s eyes as he dropped it. When it landed in the backpack, his lips twisted into a grin. He next looked through the pages of the journal to find pressed flowers, sketches, and notes in Latin. He dropped the journal into the backpack.

He held out his right hand. “Phone!” He spoke in English, and without emotion.

Emma reached into her safari jacket and handed over a simple mobile phone.

The man examined the device and dropped it into her backpack. “Let me see your hands.” He gripped Emma’s right wrist, and leant forward to sniff her fingers.

“What the hell is this all about?” Emma’s brow furrowed as she looked from one man to the next.

“Now, the other hand.” The man ignored the question. His eyes squinted as he sniffed at Emma’s left hand, and for the second time, he caught the powerful aroma of a local herb.

“Satisfied?” Emma cocked her head to one side.

“Clean.” The man let go of her wrist, albeit with some reluctance. There was no telltale smell of gunpowder residue, but he was suspicious, and enjoyed the touch of her hands.

One of the others called out. “Who is with you?”

“Nobody—I work alone.”

The senior bodyguard observed her slowly, from bandana to boots, slowing his gaze at her ample chest and shapely thighs.

Emma could smell cigar smoke on his breath, and it added to the feeling of nausea his lechery was creating.

“This little lady is all alone,” the driver shouted. “Perhaps we should take her back to the mansion, and show her some hospitality?”

“Maybe.” The leader glanced over his shoulder. He turned back to face Emma. “First we find the shooter.”

“Have you lost a gun?” Emma stared, wide-eyed.

The tall man gazed into her eyes for a few seconds, turned to go, and stopped. “You are some distance from a town, Englishwoman. What transport do you have?”

Emma used open hands to slap both her bare thighs at once. “These are my transport.” She noted that all three men ogled her even more.

“I also notice you do not have many samples of flowers or plants.”

“I collect and press more on the way back.” She paused. “I walk to keep me fit.”

None of the men could argue with that statement.

The leader stepped closer. “I think we will be looking for you later. You will come with us to the house, and we will have fun together.” He turned and walked a few steps. “Yes, we will come back and find you, before you get to town … fit Englishwoman.”

Emma watched without emotion as the three gangsters climbed into the limousine. She lifted the camera from the backpack. When the car had travelled fifty metres, she pressed two buttons simultaneously and stepped behind the nearest tree.

The thunderous explosion destroyed the tranquillity of the forest and shook the foliage over a considerable distance. The birds fell silent.

Emma remained behind the tree until she heard the last parts of the disintegrated Chrysler, and the remains of its occupants land on the ground.

She had left nothing to chance.

It was a short walk to her car, and she drove to the nearest town to use a public phone. She dialled an international number and spoke rapidly, but clearly. “This is Ivy. Sample collected, but with collateral damage. The price should not be affected.”

“Thank you,” a well-educated Englishman said.

The call ended.

The End

Selected from Temptation: and other stories

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