Monday, February 20, 2012

Showcase: The Target

            Special Agent Harold Rathbone was no stranger to high risk situations. It also wasn’t the first time someone he watched wouldn’t heed advice. The Senator wanted to go to a magic show with his son. Security was going to be a nightmare, but the Senator had promised his son the outing. No matter what Agent Rathbone had to say, they were going.
            Agent Rathbone briefed his team on the concert hall and best exits to take depending on where a threat might come from. The concert hall had no cameras and far too many ways in and out for the comfort of any agent. If it weren’t part of a historic district, the place would have been torn down years ago. Still, with intense preparation, they loaded into the limousine and SUV’s to go to the show.
            To Rathbone’s chagrin, the concert hall was packed. He and his team had to push an opening into the crowd to get the Senator and his son to their seats up in the balconies. A crowd like this set his teeth on edge. He scanned the crowds for anyone who might be staring up at them. Then he looked across at other balconies to make sure that no one seemed to be hiding or acting strangely. All he saw were smiles and laughter. The smile on the face of the Senator’s boy was almost comforting in light of it all.
            His earpiece radio crackled to life with his team checking in from various positions. Twenty men were watching from various angles throughout the hall. Agent Rathbone went through the paces of hearing from each of them. As the crowd quieted for the show, it almost seemed like all would be well.
            The magician took the stage and Rathbone couldn’t remember the last time he saw someone who looked like such a slob. Maybe it was part of the act and he was supposed to be some kind of clown or hobo. The magician wore a top hat with tuxedo, but his shirt was dirty and his pants were ragged. His assistant was beautiful, however, with a shiny outfit, tuxedo coat, and fishnet stockings. Her rainbow colored bowler hat was a bit distracting, yet somehow familiar. For his looks, the magician wowed the audience time and again with his tricks. Birds flew from scarves, cards appeared from his fingertips, and orbs of flame floated around him like old friends.
            After several tricks and check-ins his ear radio crackled.
            “Sir, I have something near the stage exit you need to see,” came the voice of one of his men.
            “I’m on my way,” Agent Rathbone nodded to another man in the balcony who moved forward to take watch.
            Rathbone moved quickly down the corridors and stairs to get to the point he was called to. He would have to go across the main floor, through the crowd, and to a back stair for the stage. He pushed his way through standing patrons to get into the main seating area and walked down the wide aisle.
            “And now for my most famous trick of all!” the bearded magician shouted, “I’m going to blow myself to smithereens!”
            There wasn’t even time for the words to sink in as the blast rocked the concert hall and filled it with smoke and screaming.  Agent Rathbone hit the floor hard from the concussive force and scrambled to move. If he didn’t get to his feet fast, he would be trampled by panicked patrons.
            “Get them out of here!” Rathbone shouted into the microphone on his collar as he ran through the smoke. No one could see more than a foot or so in the dense choking clouds and Rathbone pushed past several people who were going for the door.  He had to meet up with the Senator and get the two charges to safety. Once he was sure he made it back into a corridor, he turned right and shoved his way through the surge of bodies. He stumbled over steps and ran as best he could. All the while he barked orders over the microphone and could hear his men struggling to comply. He thought he heard that the Senator was on the move. He turned again in the smoke, thinking he found his way to the balcony, but as he stepped through, the smoke cleared. He drew his weapon and kept aim ready. He was standing on the center of the stage.
            Through the dissipating smoke, he could see that the seats were empty and a few bodies were lifeless or severely injured on the floor. A single sound of hands clapping distracted him to look up at the balconies.
            “Bravo! Good show!” the man shouted from the same balcony the Senator once sat in. He stood tall with black hair and a black diamond shape painted over his right eye. He was sharp dressed and Rathbone now knew why the girl had seemed familiar. He read reports about the Carnival of Fear and how they took down targets under these guises and shows. He cursed himself for missing it earlier.
            The man stepped out of sight from the edge of the balcony and came out from behind the curtain on the left side of the stage. Rathbone kept his weapon trained on the one called Showmaster who still clapped his hands a couple of times as he stepped into view.
            “Great show indeed, Special Agent Rathbone,” Showmaster said with a distinct English accent.
            Rathbone’s mic crackled again, the Senator was clear and on the way home. They wondered where he was, but they couldn’t get back in through the crowd.
            “You failed,” Rathbone said, “We got the Senator and his son out.”
            “The Senator?” Showmaster said, “His son? Who said we were after them?”
            Rathbone stared in confusion, “Me? Why would anyone target me?”
            “Oh, you’ve thwarted one too many assassination attempts in your career, Special Agent. One could say, you’ve gotten too good.”
            The magician, known as Mage, stepped into view and held out a hand. Rathbone’s gun flew to the magician’s grasp.
            “And your men, won’t make it back in time, I’m afraid. My girl has the crowd in such a panic they’ll be busy for far too long. But it really was a good show, wasn’t it?”
            Showmaster brought up a sub-machine gun weapon and it was the last thing Rathbone ever saw.
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