Nicolas knew many things, about the world, about himself. He knew that he was one of the best in what he did for living, he could pick out the best gun, or a rifle, among a hundred. In the calender he hung on the wall of the small corridor between the kitchen and the bathroom, it said that the sun rose at 5:30 a.m. That was not accurate. The first light pierced the night at 5:00 am sharp. He knew it because dawn for some reason had always fascinated him. He spoke French, Spanish, Russian and English; his native tongue would remain a mystery to him.
He could tell an assassin from a regular human being, from the way they held themselves and how their eyes took in their surroundings. He knew that in their world the gun should be their soul mate, and that getting a job done without any lead tracing it back to them was the one thing that was worth thinking about. In that line of work, they were known by numbers –assassin no.159, assassin no.203– not with names, for it was a first nature to them. Because, they were told, that was their purpose here on Earth. They were free to do whatever else they wanted to do when there were not messages of new assignments.
He also knew that each one of them had a second nature, it was common among them, they did not have to speak it It did not usually reveal itself by will, it just happened; it soaked through their beings and became an indispensable escape. Something they would definitely go mad without.
Sometimes a musical instrument spoke to one, a paint brush and colors spoke to another.
To Nicolas, it was running.
There was nothing like it. It wasn’t the running of a prey, or the frightened flight of a target. Running to Nicolas was the seeking of pleasure in the act itself. Nothing could compare to the power he felt as he ran just because he wanted to, the sound of his trainers beating the asphalt almost soundlessly, the controlled breathing, the challenge when increasing speed and finding that his body was up to every dare, and a thousand and one other things that made running something he did without thinking, like breathing.
At 7:30 in the morning, he took the road up the mountain. The road was smooth, and not traveled this time of the day. The vast expanse of the ocean on his right was sending the pure air, mingled with the sweet scent of salt, into his lungs. The air here was probably the main reason why he came here almost every day. That and the solitude. His legs set a strong rhythm that fit the supple upward recline of the road as he went on.
One, two, three, four
An inhale through the nose. An exhale buffing through the mouth.
One, two, three, four
The noise of the jostling water in the canteen he held in hand was just another feature of the familiar many around him, a distant sound like the crashing waves he could not hear at this distance.
One, two, three, four
It had hypnotic powers that forced the negative energy from his body and let his mind wonder away from this world.
That was the time when there was only him, the road rushing beneath his feet and the coastal clean air. If there should be a cramp somewhere in his body or a burn in his lungs, he could not feel it.
He slowed down as he saw the curve where he always rested and looked out through the tall trees at the endless ocean coming up. His chest rising and falling a bit uncontrollably, he took a long drink from his canteen, almost sucking the liquid if he hadn’t remember the jog back down the road to where he had parked his car. He braced his forearms onto the cool metal rail that bordered the edges of the road. It was thick and many lives were saved because it could handle the force of a car slamming into its body. But of course, some lives were not so lucky.
But he didn’t think about that now, he stood there leaning against the rail, flexing his ankles as he tossed his canteen from one hand to the other.
He thought of nothing, a rare moment in a world like his, and closed his eyes trying to imagine the roar of the waves as they exploded into foam against the sand of the beach. It had been so long since he had last been to a beach and he decided to go after his next assignment. He didn’t know how, but he was almost sure that he would receive a message any time between tonight and tomorrow.
It was an intuition that only mothers seemed to have.
He kept his eyes closed, letting a slow smile tug at his lips, and enjoying the fine air, when suddenly the tips of his ears pricked. His eyes snapped open.
Maybe it was his body telling him that it was time to jog back… or maybe it was the sudden sensation of not being alone any more.
He turned around so that his back was to the rail. It didn’t take a whole minutes till the regular bumping of another runner came to him. Nicolas straightened to his full length, surprised that someone would be here other than him when, in all the years he had been coming here, no one ever did. Not at this time of the day, any way.
The runner was now coming around the broad curve in the mountain that concealed Nicolas from view. Strangely, Nicolas’ heart quickened in his chest, but when he saw who the runner was, all his heart could do was to trip over every beat.
He first saw legs clad in mid-thigh shorts, the exposed skin taut showing fading tan and strong muscles one did not see often on a female, yet they did not lose their feminine touch. Then a ray of sun shine passed over her head, turning her hair to dark golden fire for a second.
Good God, that hair…
Then, as she approached, their eyes met, a fleeting glance from a complete stranger with big hazel orbs tinged with smithereens of green, yet it seemed to squeeze Nicolas windpipes.
Just a glance.
It was all it took to immobilize him in place, staring after her.