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Chapter One

Harrison Gamble sat motionless. He gripped the armrest with white knuckles and got religious. Another pocket of turbulence rattled the Delta 747, causing several overhead bins to burst open.  He despised flying.  It was only out of necessity that he put himself through the anguish.

The cabin tocsin sounded as passengers called for assistance or simply for assurance.  Flight attendants shuffled unsteadily through the aisles with facial expressions that belied their choice of occupation.  Suddenly, the plane plunged and bucked.  Several passengers cried out at the sudden loss of altitude.  To further complicate the moment, the captain announced their final approach into Logan International Airport – a landing most pilots considered challenging due to the unusually short runways.

Gamble paused in his supplication to glance out the window.  It was a cloudless morning with a brilliant sun rising from the east.  “What a great day to be attacked by turbulence,” he griped.

The plane rocked from side to side as the nose descended, followed by a violent quake as if something gripped the plane intent on emptying its contents.  The captain’s voice came over the speaker and assured the passengers they would be on the ground shortly.  But alive?  Gamble wondered.

He felt the rumble of the landing gear emerge from the bowels of the plane.  He watched from his window as the Boston skyline grew closer. More shakes.  More rattles.  The pilot tried to steady the aircraft as it swayed left and right.  As he had many times before, Gamble swore he would never fly again.

Below him, Boston Harbor rushed by, followed by a rocky beach and then the rubber-streaked tarmac.  The plane touched down roughly, favoring its right side for what seemed forever.  A plenary silence usurped the cabin; it became a group prayer.

The plane finally leveled out and accepted the runway.  Sighs of relief echoed throughout the cabin, followed by a wave of deafening applause.  He wasn’t sure whether they were applauding the captain or the fact that they were still in one piece.  Gamble tried to loosen his stiff neck and open his hearing passages. As he swallowed and tilted his head to one side, he noticed the businessman next to him had slept through the entire ordeal.  “Asshole,” Gamble murmured enviously before giving the man a nudge.  “Hey, bud, last stop…Montreal.”

The man awoke startled.  “What?  Montreal?  I wanted Boston.”

“Sorry, but you slept right though that stop,” Gamble said, standing now with the other passengers as the plane rested at the arrival gate.

The man became fully alert.  Rubbing his eyes, he frantically looked out the window at the Boston skyline.

“That’s Boston!” he said relieved.  “Christ, I almost had a heart attack, buddy.”

“Yeah, well that makes two of us,” Gamble replied, as he stepped into the aisle.

The passengers were moving briskly out of the plane, yet each thanked the captain before deplaning.  Gamble thought about kissing the flight attendant passionately for her diligence during their ordeal.  He always suffered from anomalous impulses after agonizing flights.  Impending death had a way of messing with his mind.  Smiling, he winked at the flight attendant, bid farewell to the captain (you’ll never see me again!), then exited onto the jetway.

He made his way through the arrivals/departures area to the closest restroom.  After a moment of relief, he turned to the washbasin and refreshed himself with cold water.  In the mirror, he noticed the businessman from the plane enter with another man.  They took positions on opposite sides of him.  The businessman looked at Gamble, feigned surprise, and said smiling, “Montreal!”

Gamble smiled back, stepped away, and punched the machine to blow-dry his hands.  Looking back, he noticed the men exchange a glance.  The man from the plane wore an insipid gray suit with a frayed tie and scuffed shoes.  The other man was dressed in black jeans and a black turtleneck. Gamble ignored the urge to form a judgment by their appearance, but the apparent bulge from the lower back of the man in black spelled trouble.

He left the restroom and continued through the airport until he reached the exit leading to central parking.  Looking back, he observed the two men standing by the idle baggage claim conveyor.  The scene didn’t fit.

He checked his parking ticket: Level C, Blue-37.  He stepped through the automatic doors and proceeded up the stairs toward the garage elevator.  The bubble-enclosed concrete walkway stretched across the busy airport roads below and connected the parking garage to the terminals.  The passageway was active. People passed by and he could hear the sounds of boisterous children behind him.

He arrived at the elevator and pushed the illuminated arrow button.  In seconds, the doors separated, overwhelming him with the stale scent of urine.  He turned away, inhaled deeply, and then stepped inside.  As the doors were closing, he saw the two men enter the elevator area.  With the space between the doors quickly expiring, he made eye contact with the businessman.

“Montreal?” the man asked, peering through the opening.

The doors converged and the elevator began to ascend.  Gamble shook his head.  The guy was beginning to annoy him.

The elevator opened on Level C and Gamble stepped out.  He looked for the designated blue parking area, but saw only yellow numbers painted on the cement columns.  The blue area was at the opposite end of the garage.  He was alone among the rows of stilled vehicles as he began his lengthy journey across the parking lot.  The garage was as reticent as a darkened church; his footsteps echoed throughout the concrete edifice.

Moments later, the sound of opening elevator doors reverberated around him.  Gamble waited several seconds before glancing over his shoulder.  An uncomfortable feeling flowed through him.  The elevator rested with both doors wide open, waiting to serve, but he saw no one enter or leave.  Just as he was about to turn away, the staircase door adjacent to the elevator burst open.  From under the exit sign, the businessman and his cohort emerged and began surveying the parking garage.

Gamble maneuvered between two parked cars and watched.  He wondered whether these two were a serious threat or just a couple of irrational boys looking for trouble.  Either way, he wished he had his Glock 9mm, but it was secured in his car over in blue-37.  He gazed at the adjacent column and realized he still stood within the yellow section.

The businessman spotted him first.  He tapped his buddy and pointed toward Gamble.  Both men began walking briskly in his direction.

“This day gives new meaning to I should have stayed in bed,” he muttered.  He stepped out from between the cars and continued toward section blue.

From the depths of the garage, an engine started up, followed by the screeching rubber of a quick exit.  As Gamble stretched to see the whereabouts of his car, he also peered back to see the men quickening their pace.  He began to run across the yellow section, weaving between parked vehicles for cover.  When he arrived at section green, he paused against a pillar to catch his breath.

Crouching down, he wondered why these two men were after him.  Either the city of Montreal really pissed this guy off, or it was a case of mistaken identity.  Maybe, he feared, they knew who Harrison Gamble was.  He quickly extinguished the thought because he never left loose ends that could come back to haunt him.

His temporary respite ended when he heard the slap of leather against the pavement get closer.  Sneakers, he thought.  He would’ve worn sneakers to pursue.  The less analytical component of his brain urged him to move.

Gamble hunched over and moved between the vehicles, looking up at the columns every few seconds to see what color he was in.  When he reached the edge of section blue, he paused again.

There were fewer vehicles parked in the blue section, which meant less coverage.  Following the stenciled numbers on the concrete columns, he estimated his Mazda RX-8 sat parked behind a Dodge Caravan.  He couldn’t see it from his vantage point, and that spike of discomfort made him think of strike three: his anxiety-filled flight, the two guys chasing him, and his car being stolen.

From between the two cars, Gamble watched as his potential combatants approached.  Each had become serious; handguns were drawn.  He looked back at section blue to map the best route to his car.  He doubted they knew which car was his, so he decided to lead them away and then double back.  He strapped his travel bag around his shoulder and gripped his car keys.  It would have to be a quick move.

Both men slowed to a walk while checking under vehicles as they stalked.  When Gamble noticed both of them preoccupied with the underneath of the Ford F150 truck, he rose quickly and began to run.  Immediately, he slipped on spilled motor oil, losing his balance and banging his leg against the fender of a car.

Within the confines of the indoor parking garage, the noise created by his slip echoed throughout the cavernous structure like a dropped book in a library.  Both adversaries, a dozen vehicles away, began running toward the clamor.  Gamble adjusted himself and darted out in temporary view of both men.

“Hey Montreal!  Last stop, bud!”  the businessman yelled.

Gamble ran along the roadway in the direction of an exposed outside railing.  His plan was to lead the men down this road, then take a sharp right around the last column and race back to his car.  He felt confident about outrunning these two.  He’d need the extra few seconds to start his car.

As he approached the railing, he could hear the roar of jet engines warming up.  The landscape beyond the railing consisted of two airport hangars and four circular heliports with an idled Eye-In-The-Sky traffic helicopter occupying one of the landings.

The fact that the two men had yet to use their weapons surprised him.  Not even a warning shot.  He followed the yellow exit arrows painted on the pavement until he reached the last column.  He rounded it and stopped short against a recently constructed plywood wall.  A sign read, PLEASE EXCUSE OUR APPEARANCE DURING RENOVATIONS.  He kicked the wooden barrier then turned and leaned over the railing.

Three stories below, traffic moved steadily through the garage underpass.  He estimated a jump from that height would certainly ruin his day.  He was trapped; it was time to negotiate with these guys.  He turned to confront the men as they slowed their pursuit, realizing their prey had been cornered.

“Hey!  Here we are, last stop!” the businessman said.

“What’s your problem?”  Gamble asked.

“You’re our problem,” the man in black replied as he bent over to catch his breath.

Gamble watched as the man from the plane lowered into a crouch and steadied his gun with both hands. With the businessman standing no more than twenty feet in front of him, Gamble realized he had a front row seat to an irrational set of events.

“Alright,” Gamble said, slowly raising his arms to surrender. “Tell me what you want.”

The businessman fired his gun.

Gamble froze in disbelief.  The gun’s report, masked by thunderous jet engines nearby, exploded as he watched the bullet emerge from the chamber.  He turned to jump the railing, but his feet were inert; his body apathetic. A look back and he expected the lead missile to impale him, but the scene astounded him.  Like a slow motion replay, the bullet cruised slowly through the air.  He could see the heat bubbles embracing the bullet and could clearly define its shape.  Maybe he had already died and a time-out was called to review the play?  Gamble stood mystified.

Beyond the bullet, the two men clapped each other on the back, howling with laughter, one calling the other by name – Malcolm.  He desperately wanted to bust their heads if only he could move and dodge the sluggish bullet. Over ten seconds had passed since discharge.

Suddenly, the bullet accelerated and slammed into his chest, propelling him backward until he flipped over the railing. He was free-falling slowly, tumbling and spinning carefree like a feather.  Below him, traffic flowed at a normal pace, people walked briskly, yet he continued his descent in slow motion.

Gamble glanced skyward and saw the two men leaning over the railing, laughing.  The businessman cupped his hands and yelled, “Last stop, bud!”

There was no pain, no blood, as he drifted toward the street.  It confused him. A taxi passed below, followed by an airport shuttle bus with an advertisement of a grinning flight attendant.  The caption read, “Come fly with me.”

Something warm and moist raked his face.

He continued to tumble until his fall became headfirst.  There was nothing to disrupt his descent, nothing he could reach out for.  And suddenly his fall quickened just as the bullet had into his chest.  What bullet?

Again, the wet sensation caressed his face.  Blood?

His heart pounded furiously as the illusion became reality; he was spiraling down to a splattering death.

Traffic had temporarily stalled, leaving the roof of another shuttle bus in his path.  He thought he might survive the fall onto the bus, until the shuttle moved and a tow truck took its place.  The top of the metal hoist lined up exactly with his plunge.

Falling faster.  The ground was rushing up to grab him, the metal hoist positioned to sever his body.  He waved his arms frantically.  Faster.  Faster. A downward spiral.  He realized certain death and screamed.

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