The man sat down on the park bench next to the middle-aged woman reading a newspaper. He petulantly snapped open his own newspaper to the middle of the sports section.
“What is so important we had to meet right before the job?” he asked with quiet asperity.
The man clenched his newspaper more tightly, wrinkling it. He stared straight ahead, not seeing a word.
“May I ask why?”
“Need to know.”
“I have spent two months getting into position to do the job and now I am told, only two hours before it is to happen, that it is canceled. I think I have a need to know.”
“Settle down,” the woman said. “Lots of people put time into projects that don’t pan out. You’re no different.”
“Lots of people aren’t bad-tempered government assassins.”
“You’re still being paid. I’ll even arrange a little bonus for canceling. In the writing world, that’s called a kill fee. Isn’t that amusing?” She didn’t sound amused, and he certainly wasn’t.
“Money isn’t the point. I’m a professional. I don’t appreciate spending my valuable time only to be jerked back like a dog on a leash.”
“Sometimes the faucet works again and the plumber is told not to come. Understudies never get on stage.”
“Again, my line of work is somewhat different. Why Code Prism and why so late? I want the truth.”
” ‘Need to know’ applies to me, too.”
“You’re the bureau chief,” he protested.
“Most days I’m the bureau chief; today I’m a messenger and the message is Code Prism.” There was the slightest trace of uncontrolled testiness in her voice, which intrigued him.
“The decision must have been made at a very high level,” he said.
She pretended to read her newspaper.
“Either they’ve found a way to use the target,” he continued, “or someone got cold feet.”
“Not our concern. Acknowledge Code Prism.”
He huffed angrily but said, “Acknowledging Code Prism.”
“As I said, you’ll get a bonus. Don’t take the shot just to show us you can.” She folded her newspaper and stood up, walking away as though she didn’t know him.
He continued to stare at the newspaper, idly noting a hockey score he’d missed.
Twenty minutes later, a seeing-eye collie led another man to the park bench and he sat.
“What was that about?” asked the dog’s owner.
“My services are, rather suddenly, not required,” he replied.
“Does she know why?”
“She said she doesn’t.” He thought a moment. “I believe her. She’s displeased.”
“She’s in good company.” He snorted. “The Carnivore gets to live another day. This is no way to run a revolution.”
“Don’t worry, my friend. The Carnivore will die before the end of the week.”
“They will kill you, then.”
“I’ll use a bomb,” the assassin said. “They’ll never suspect me of using such a déclassé method. It’s unprofessional. And they know that I am a professional and have my dignity to uphold. Also, it will allow me to be in their sight when The Carnivore dies.”
“Why do you think they stopped you?”
“Obviously they’ve found a way to put The Carnivore on their payroll. This offends me, as they already have a deranged killer under contract: me.”
The man with the collie chuckled slightly and stood up. The dog led him on down the block.
The assassin folded his paper and watched people go by. It was fun playing both sides of the street, he mused. The pay was better and there were more people to kill – the very things he got into the business for.