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all in the gutter

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It wasn’t uncommon for people to be lingering around in seedy, partially obscured alleyways in New York City, but it was uncommon to see people who looked like Charles Freeman there, and there alone. The man was tall and built in appearance yet squirrel-like in nature, dressed in a suit that at first glance looked decent but under scrutiny showed itself to be cheap and off the rack; too long in the arms, too boxy. He was waiting for someone, clearly, given that he kept checking his watch – far too elegant a piece for the usual crowd that occupied this kind of place. And oddly enough, there was no usual crowd. The alleyway, one that provided ample coverage from the rain coming down in bullets, was deserted save for Mr Freeman.

Alec saw all this and more.

From his vantage point on a fire escape across the street, he watched Freeman head further down the alley, likely paranoid about being seen before his little rendezvous arrived. Alec’s jacket protected him from the worst of the weather, hood obscuring a little of his face and scarf covering most of the rest. His gloved hands rubbed at each other; a nervous habit he’d never been able to shake, as he waited for the perfect moment.

Cars didn’t often come down this way, which he was grateful for; the less people around, the better, but also it was fortunate that the area wasn’t completely vacant as he was less likely to stand out that way. A small liquor store on the corner had been entertaining a steady stream of customers for the past three hours, and Alec had taken to watching them, analysing them, practising his ability to pick up small facts and tie them together.

For instance, a young woman, tipsy approaching drunk; college student based on the heavy bag she still had with her; clearly underage; stress of finals getting to her, perhaps? Came from money given the coat she wore was Burberry. Based on the other woman watching her intently, she’d be losing whatever valuables she had on her later on; traumatic, but an appeal to Daddy could replace the material. Unfortunate, Alec thought, that he couldn’t help her out – he hated to see innocent people hurt in his city – but he had to compartmentalise. There were bigger things to handle tonight.

The mix of street lamps and headlights and garish neon signs coloured the city at both ends of the road; rain fell and landed in shades of blue and yellow, and the roads and buildings were its canvas. There was a certain serenity to cities bathed in night and rain.

His earpiece signalled; 23:04. It was time to meet Freeman.

He swung down from the escape with ease, landing on the balls of his feet and lessening the impact of dropping two storeys. As he’d planned, the security cameras trained down the road both moved in their calculated arcs – a flaw in their systems causing them to be slightly out of sync, giving him around fifteen seconds to dash across the road unseen.

It was time enough for Alec, professional as he was.

He moved almost silently down the alleyway he’d been observing since night fell, keeping to the shadows and near invisible. Freeman was an amateur, Alec had already worked out, given that he responded to Alec’s anonymous messages alone and without backup. Had he not already realised that, he would now, given that Freeman had his back to both him and the opening of the alleyway.

Fucking moron.

Stepping out of the shadows, knife in hand, Alec immediately grabbed Freeman by the face, hand clamped onto his mouth, before wheeling him around and delivering a quick, precise stab to the abdomen. This was as easy as breathing, for him.

Walking a wide-eyed Freeman backwards towards the wall, Alec manoeuvred him onto the ground behind a dumpster, blocking them from view of the street. He removed his hand slowly from Freeman’s mouth, ready to put it back should he prove a noisy victim.

“I’m meeting someone… back up here any minute…” Freeman gasped, knife still lodged in his body.

“I’m the guy you’re meeting, dumbass. Tell me something useful and I’ll kill you now instead of later,” Alec growled, not exactly pitching his voice down but certainly altering it – he often found it useful to tone down his strong New York accent, at least a little.

“You-“ Alec twisted the knife, and Freeman yelped ungraciously. “What the fuck do you want?!”

“I want Pangborn.”

“Sonuvabitch! Fuck him, fuck Blackwell and fuck you too,” he said, teeth gritting.

“So he’s working closely with Blackwell, huh?”

Freeman groaned again.

“I could make this really painful, you know. Or I could just slit your throat and it’d be over in seconds. Your choice, Charles. You’re covering minor arms trafficking, so they’re covering….” Alec prompted, eyes boring into the very core of Freeman’s being.

“Drugs! Fucking, ah, drugs, that’s all I got on them, please.” Freeman had moved past anger onto pleading remarkably quickly, Alec thought. Searching his face, he knew that Freeman really was barely on the ladder of Valentine’s syndicate; he’d caused enough chaos and injury to make him worth Alec’s time and services, yes, but any more time spent here with him and he’d be making a loss. Patting him down, Alec pulled out Freeman’s wallet and phone, and quickly undid his watch as his other hand twisted the knife again, jerking it upwards, and sliding it out.

“You- Who hired- Fucking-“

“A robbery gone wrong. Such a shame, huh Charles? You’ll bleed out a lot faster than if I’d left that in there, though. You’re welcome,” Alec said, voice level and monotonous. He wasn’t supposed to feel emotion; yet every time, he couldn’t help the sense of righteousness running through him at the dispatch of another member of one of the most lethal crime groups to ever hit New York. His targets never needed to know that, though.

He stood, quickly, stashing the knife in a plastic bag he’d kept in his pocket and sliding the bag up his sleeve. He had another short window of surveillance blind spots coming up on the other side of the alley’s back wall; not ideal, but he managed to scale it without scraping his clothes against the rough surface. He would, of course, be burning them later, but better to be as clean as possible about it.

As he left Freeman to breathe a last, ragged breath, and vacated the area, he formulated the evening’s plan: first, destroy the phone, take the cash from the wallet, dump both and the watch in the Hudson. Get home, incinerate gloves and jeans, deep clean knife and retire it for a little while. Add information gained about Pangborn and Blackwell to the list, take a shower, and attend to the day job..

Maybe he’d write the young woman from earlier briefly into his latest work; an apology of sorts, for not protecting her. He tried not to consider that he was, perhaps, merely apologising to himself.