“Transmitting video in ten seconds,” Agent Smith’s voice crackled. “We’re dropping every other frame as well as audio‑we’ll run as close to real time as possible.”
Everyone on the podium stood silent, watching, waiting. Jabba typed a few keys and rearranged the video wall. Tankado’s message appeared on the far left:
ONLY THE TRUTH WILL SAVE YOU NOW
On the right of the wall was the static interior shot of the van with Becker and the two agents huddled around the camera. In the center, a fuzzy frame appeared. It dissolved into static and then into a black and white image of a park.
“Transmitting,” Agent Smith announced.
The shot looked like an old movie. It was stilted and jerky‑a by‑product of frame‑dropping, a process that halved the amount of information sent and enabled faster transmission.
The shot panned out across an enormous concourse enclosed on one end by a semicircular facade‑the Seville Ayuntamiento. There were trees in the foreground. The park was empty.
“X‑eleven’s are down!” a technician called out. “This bad boy’s hungry!”
Smith began to narrate. His commentary had the detachment of a seasoned agent. “This is shot from the van,” he said, “about fifty meters from the kill zone. Tankado is approaching from the right. Hulohot’s in the trees to the left.”
“We’ve got a time crunch here,” Fontaine pressed. “Let’s get to the meat of it.”
Agent Coliander touched a few buttons, and the frame speed increased.
Everyone on the podium watched in anticipation as their former associate, Ensei Tankado, came into the frame. The accelerated video made the whole image seem comic. Tankado shuffled jerkily out onto the concourse, apparently taking in the scenery. He shielded his eyes and gazed up at the spires of the huge facade.
“This is it,” Smith warned. “Hulohot’s a pro. He took his first open shot.”
Smith was right. There was a flash of light from behind the trees on the left of the screen. An instant later Tankado clutched his chest. He staggered momentarily. The camera zoomed in on him, unstable‑in and out of focus.
As the footage rolled in high speed, Smith coldly continued his narration. “As you can see, Tankado is instantly in cardiac arrest.”
Susan felt ill watching the images. Tankado clutched at his chest with crippled hands, a confused look of terror on his face.
“You’ll notice,” Smith added, “his eyes are focused downward, at himself. Not once does he look around.”
“And that’s important?” Jabba half stated, half inquired.
“Very,” Smith said. “If Tankado suspected foul play of any kind, he would instinctively search the area. But as you can see, he does not.”
On the screen, Tankado dropped to his knees, still clutching his chest. He never once looked up. Ensei Tankado was a man alone, dying a private, natural death.
“It’s odd,” Smith said, puzzled. “Trauma pods usually won’t kill this quickly. Sometimes, if the target’s big enough, they don’t kill at all.”
“Bad heart,” Fontaine said flatly.
Smith arched his eyebrows, impressed. “Fine choice of weapon, then.”
Susan watched as Tankado toppled from his knees to his side and finally onto his back. He lay, staring upward, grabbing at his chest. Suddenly the camera wheeled away from him back toward the grove of trees. A man appeared. He was wearing wire‑rim glasses and carrying an oversize briefcase. As he approached the concourse and the writhing Tankado, his fingers began tapping in a strange silent dance on a mechanism attached to his hand.
“He’s working his Monocle,” Smith announced. “Sending a message that Tankado is terminated.” Smith turned to Becker and chuckled. “Looks like Hulohot had a bad habit of transmitting kills before his victim actually expired.”
Coliander sped the film up some more, and the camera followed Hulohot as he began moving toward his victim. Suddenly an elderly man rushed out of a nearby courtyard, ran over to Tankado, and knelt beside him. Hulohot slowed his approach. A moment later two more people appeared from the courtyard‑an obese man and a red‑haired woman. They also came to Tankado’s side.
“Unfortunate choice of kill zone,” Smith said. “Hulohot thought he had the victim isolated.”
On the screen, Hulohot watched for a moment and then shrank back into the trees, apparently to wait.
“Here comes the handoff,” Smith prompted. “We didn’t notice it the first time around.”
Susan gazed up at the sickening image on the screen. Tankado was gasping for breath, apparently trying communicate something to the Samaritans kneeling beside him. Then, in desperation, he thrust his left hand above him, almost hitting the old man in the face. He held the crippled appendage outward before the old man’s eyes. The camera tightened on Tankado’s three deformed fingers, and on one of them, clearly glistening in the Spanish sun, was the golden ring. Tankado thrust it out again. The old man recoiled. Tankado turned to the woman. He held his three deformed fingers directly in front of her face, as if begging her to understand. The ring glinted in the sun. The woman looked away. Tankado, now choking, unable to make a sound, turned to the obese man and tried one last time.
The elderly man suddenly stood and dashed off, presumably to get help. Tankado seemed to be weakening, but he was still holding the ring in the fat man’s face. The fat man reached out and held the dying man’s wrist, supporting it. Tankado seemed to gaze upward at his own fingers, at his own ring, and then to the man’s eyes. As a final plea before death, Ensei Tankado gave the man an almost imperceptible nod, as if to say yes.
Then Tankado fell limp.
“Jesus.” Jabba moaned.
Suddenly the camera swept to where Hulohot had been hiding. The assassin was gone. A police motorcycle appeared, tearing up Avenida Firelli. The camera wheeled back to where Tankado was lying. The woman kneeling beside him apparently heard the police sirens; she glanced around nervously and then began pulling at her obese companion, begging him to leave. The two hurried off.
The camera tightened on Tankado, his hands folded on his lifeless chest. The ring on his finger was gone.