A thousand ideas bounced through Karen Ayers's head, none of them attached to any significant chance of success. She just hadn't expected Simmons here - who would have? - and now he was reaping the reward of going against expectations. Of course, she figured, if he went out of his way to ambush her, which must have been worth the incredible risk of getting caught. There was only one reasonable inference. He was here to kill her, no doubt because she had proven herself dangerous.
"Relax," he said, reading the tension in her body like an open book. "I don't mean to hurt you."
That kept her from screaming right there, but didn't make her move - or speak. He raised his eyebrows, waiting for a response, then shook his head softly.
"I've got something for you," he said. "Took me a while to get why you thought I killed Berkovitz."
"Come on now," she said, in a death-defying sort of mocking inflection, "you're here to tell me that there's one man you didn't kill? What difference does it make to you?"
"I see I'm not being obvious enough," he said. "Sit down, please. I'll explain."
Inviting her to have a seat in her own home. Great. Karen obeyed, after a fashion, when she sat down on the carpet and crossed her legs, fixing a "Story time?" look at Mark. The hitman crouched down in response, ready to spring up and run for it. Good, good; at least he didn't feel safe.
"A couple of questions," he began, "just to make sure I'm on the right track. First off, Berkovitz's body has been found."
"A week ago, actually. We didn't get a positive ID until after you killed Detective Collins."
"And with that ID came the evidence that I killed him? From Whitton?"
"Does that strike you as convenient?"
Mark reached under his coat. He pulled out a plastic bag with a Makarov PB in it, then tossed it onto the floor.
"Nikolai Danko killed Berkovitz," he said. "I have a witness, and this is Danko's gun."
"Where'd you get this? We took the whole BAT apart looking for that."
"Danko dropped it before I killed him. I thought it'd make a good souvenir."
"Alright. And that witness would be..."
"That doesn't help your case at all. Anybody who caught Matlock last Friday could nail Dolvitch with something if he showed up in court," she said, "and the gun..."
A pause. Mark's face showed a slight grin.
"I know it's no good for prints or profile," he explained, "but just how did I get tied to Berkovitz? Let me guess, there was a slug..."
"...a .45 slug, matched the ballistic profile on the Colt you shot Collins with. Whitton must've kept that bullet from one of your earlier targets." She looked at Mark. "That wasn't very smart of you, to keep using the same gun..."
"Call me sentimental," Mark said. "Besides, it's in the evidence room now, so you can sleep soundly knowing that I won't be using that Colt any longer. The point is, Whitton needed a good explanation for Berkovitz and I was an easy target. But he screwed this one up. The gun can prove it."
"No, it can't," Ayers said, sighing. "It can't. ME's report says it was a large-caliber subsonic..."
"Then you have to ask yourself, why is that guy lying?"
Karen considered that for a moment, gears grinding despite the exhaustion. Why wouldn't Whitton have an ME on retainer? He would have to, just to keep the deaths of sanctioned criminals under the radar...
"I'm not saying this is 100%", Mark continued, "but it's a start. You're clever, you can use this. Lean on the examiner. If Whitton could pressure him, he's got dirty laundry. And if you can find that, get him to testify, you've got Whitton on the ropes."
She nodded, finally. He rose from the ground, walking past her.
"This doesn't help you," she said.
"Didn't expect it to," he replied. "See you."
And while she wondered whether that was a parting phrase or a threat, he left her apartment, closing the door behind himself. She listened to his footsteps growing weak with distance. An elevator pinging open, a short delay, then the dull thump of closing doors. She waited until she couldn't hear the whirr of the elevator's winch any longer, then got up, walked over to her phone and called 911. Her eyes never left the pistol on the ground.
If nothing else, it was worth a little head start.
Vincent Ratioli stood before the statue of Abraham Lincoln, a heavy fur-lined coat protecting him. It was the morning of the 27th, and Christmas was officially over. The 80s only had a few more days left themselves. Prospect Park was quiet around him, no visitors the concert grove at such a time. The sky was clear, perhaps the best weather New York City had seen in the last few days - no snow, no heavy wind. The footsteps behind him were ponderous, but he knew that they did not belong to Mark.
"A strange man," Boris Dolvitch said, his eyes locked on the Lincoln statue.
"I never understood it myself," Vincent admitted.
"How is your boss?"
And so they waited, with nothing to say. Eventually, the chirping of Vincent's watch broke the silence.
"8?" Boris asked; Vincent nodded. "Perhaps," Boris mused, "Marcus meant 8 in the evening."
"I doubt that," Vincent said.
They waited five minutes, then ten, without moving from their spots; they still stood there when a fresh pair of footsteps approached. These stopped beside Vincent; he chanced a glance to the side and spotted Mark, whose eyes were fixed firmly on the statue.
"I knew you'd come," Vincent said.
"I didn't," Mark said. "But that's how it is. Every step along the way, you hesitate...but you walk it."
"A good man doubts," Boris added, "a good soldier does."
"Boris," Mark said, "if you could give us a minute..."
The old soldier nodded, walking off to his car. It was better this way, he thought, an old man like him shouldn't be standing around in the cold...
"I'm just letting you know that I'm leaving the city," Mark said. "Don't know when I'll be back."
"You're gambling with your life," Vincent said. "You didn't tell Alex that you would be here."
"Did you tell her, then?"
"No," Vince admitted. "Not my place to say. She didn't want to see you, anyway."
Mark bit his lip.
"She didn't want to see me, either. Or anyone, for that matter."
"So who's watching her now?" Mark asked.
"Done's on the job. He's a stranger, so she doesn't mind him so much."
"Did she tell you..." Mark began, then caught himself. "No. She didn't."
Vincent shook his head.
"Tell me what? And why can't you tell me?" he asked wistfully. "Why are we so busy keeping secrets from each other?"
"It wouldn't change anything."
"It would change everything," Vince said quietly. "I'm not stupid, Mark. I think you're running from what you've done, and what she's done. Alex betrayed us, didn't she? That would make you a free man..."
"No," Mark said. "No." He took a deep breath through clenched teeth, all his strength focused on this one point...
"You know how this works, Mark. Either she did it then or you're doing it now."
It wasn't a wetness, nor dirt in his eyes. Tears streamed down his face, first a few, then a few more. His breathing grew ragged and his shoulders slumped. It was like watching a building, under assault from the elements for decades, finally give in. First a crack, immaterial by itself but growing, then it spread out, grew, until the whole thing began to sag into itself. The terrible inevitability, the moment it breaks so hard to pin down - only knowing when it has passed. This, then, was a broken man: standing like a marionette, every fiber shouting for truth and every fiber shouting for loyalty.
"Protect her," he managed to whisper, "protect her."
And at that, the tears...just stopped. The feeling stayed, but something forced him back up, the same old power dragging him by the strings.
"Goodbye," Mark said, never meeting Vincent's eyes. And as he turned away and walked, Vincent's gaze remained with Lincoln. If he had watched Mark get into Boris's car, that would have been grounds for going to war with Dolvitch; if he had known where Mark was going, it would have been the first target for as many assassins as he could find. More secrets. More looking away at the wrong time. By the time Boris's car left the parking lot, Vincent's stare was burning holes through the statue. And yet, no matter how much he wanted to, there was nothing he could change. He closed his eyes, listened to the nothing around him and shivered. In the end, the winter was all that remained.
New York City was cold.