She entered the restaurant and checked her coat. As she held onto her purse she brushed the long red dress flat against her body, smoothing out the few creases. The Maitre d' approached her as she walked towards the main dining area.
"Hello there, I'm meeting a friend here for dinner, an Englishman…" she said. The smartly dressed man behind the podium held his hand up to interrupt her.
"Mister Pendleton is waiting for you Miss Howell," he said. "If you'd like to follow me." He guided her through the restaurant. As she followed him she noticed several heads turn and watch her movement through the guests. She bowed her head slightly, hoping to remain forgetable, however it struck her that her choice of dress was hardly helping in that respect.
They arrived at a table in the centre of the room, directly beneath an ornate chandelier. As they approached, the man sitting at the table stood. She looked at him – his face was clean-shaven with short hair to match. His physique was nothing remarkable – a solid six feet tall and a pleasant demeanour that had baffled her initially. However, despite his exterior she knew that there was something beyond that.
"Tessa, so glad you could make it," he said as she reached the table. They embraced and he kissed her lightly on the cheek.
"I'm glad I could make it too William," she said as the Maitre d' pulled out a chair for her. She sat down, placing her purse at the side of the chair.
"Henry, can we get a bottle of wine please?" Will said. The Maitre d' nodded politely.
"Anything in particular Mister Pendleton?" he asked. Will waved him away.
"No, I'll leave the choice to you my friend – your taste in wine has never failed me yet."
"Very good sir." As he departed, the Maitre d' clicked his fingers. Two junior staff members brought across menus to the table, handing one to each of the guests.
"So, how was your day?" Will asked. Tessa shrugged.
"Oh, you know – the same old thing," she replied. "The life of a venture capitalist is just one long thrill ride of mergers and acquisitions."
"Never a truer word spoken," Will said as he opened up his menu. "Now, let's order."
The food was delicious, she thought as the plates were taken away from the table. Will leaned back in his seat slightly, adjusting his tie. As they sat in silence for a moment the Maitre d' came across to the table.
"Excuse me sir, but you have a telephone call," he said. Will stood up.
"Why thank you Henry, although who would be ringing me here?" he asked in an almost absent minded, playful tone. Tessa watched as Will followed Henry across the other side of the restaurant.
The telephone call was her cue to act. She reached down into her purse and removed a small capsule. She reached across to Will's glass and broke the contents into it. The drug was designed to simulate a massive heart attack in the victim within seconds of ingestion. It was completely untraceable to current forensics tests. She swirled the glass around to hide the powdery substance and discarded the gelatine capsule under the table.
Will returned. He sat back down with a slightly perturbed expression on his face. Tessa suddenly changed her evaluation – it was more like disappointment than anything else, like a child opening his Christmas present to find it wasn't what they were expecting.
"Are you okay?" she asked. Will nodded.
"Yes," he replied. "It was strange, but there wasn't anyone on the other end of the phone." He picked up the wine glass. "Okay, what do you say to getting out of here?" He brought the glass to his lips and emptied its contents down his throat. Tessa's gaze remained fixed on the glass as he tilted it, draining every last drop from it.
"That sounds like a good idea," she replied, awaiting the inevitable reaction. Will put the glass back down on the table, then felt something in his chest. He began to cough. "Will, are you okay?" Tessa asked. He continued to cough and began to pound his chest. He held his hand up, nodded and looked at her with watery eyes. The coughing continued for a few seconds, forcing to double over slightly before he sat upright again. Will cleared his throat and patted himself on the chest a few more times before feeling the coughing sensation subside. The commotion had drawn attention to the central table – so much that Henry came across checking on them.
"Do you need medical assistance, Mister Pendleton?" Henry asked. Tessa began to feel nervous.
"No, I'm okay thanks Henry," Will said as he shook his head and stood up. "I think I just had a bit of indigestion – probably ate the steak too quickly. We'll be leaving in a minute Henry, so if you could get Miss Howell's coat for me I'd be extremely grateful."
"Of course sir." Henry nodded, happy that his guest was not unduly troubled.
The apartment building on West Fifth Avenue was a traditional New York art deco design. The reception area was a grand sweeping affair with a large desk at one end and a series of elevators and staircases at the other. Will swiped the door with his key card and opened the glass barrier to allow Tessa inside. They walked in silence towards the furthest elevator.
"Mister Pendleton," the voice came from the concierge desk. Will stopped and turned towards it. "There's a package waiting for you outside your suite."
"Thank you," Will said and resumed his passage towards the elevators. He looked across to Tessa. "You seem quiet? Are you alright?"
"Oh, yes," she replied through a forced smile. "It's just been a busy day." Will nodded as the elevator pinged and the brushed steel doors opened.
"Ah yes, acquisitions and mergers," he muttered. The elevator doors closed after they got in. Will thumbed a knob on the control panel – moments later they ascended. In the space of forty five seconds the elevator had reached it's destination – the penthouse. Pausing only to pick up the package outside his door, Will escorted Tessa inside.
"I…I just need to check in with the office." Tessa's tone was slightly flustered. Will looked at her and nodded.
"You can get a better signal on the terrace." He gestured towards the glass double doors at the end of the main living space. "I'm just going to get us a drink." Tessa nodded and made her way out to the rooftop. The fresh night air filled her lungs as she pressed a series of keys on the cell phone from her purse. The call was picked up at the other end.
"The drug failed," she said bluntly.
"What?" the response was equally abrupt.
"It was useless – it just gave him a small coughing fit for a minute," she continued.
"Okay – move to option beta." The call ended as the sound of the doors opening greeted her ears. She returned the phone to her purse as Will handed her a small glass with a clear liquid in it.
"Vodka for you my dear," he said. "Whereas I'm sticking to my whiskey – something about that wine disagreed with my stomach terribly." Will studied her as she took a sip from the glass. He then looked out into the night.
"It's amazing really – when you look at them," he mused. Tessa looked at him, then followed his gaze down across the city. "They're like ants from up here, scurrying about their lives without a care in the world."
"It's a beautiful night," Tessa said, looking up at the stars. Will nodded.
"Indeed it is," Will said as he joined in her appreciation of them. "The stars are almost right…"
"Right? Right for what?" Tessa asked. Will waved the question away.
"Oh, nothing, just the absent minded musings of a dreamer," he replied.
"What was your package?" Tessa changed the subject.
"Just something a friend had sent me – some tribal mask he found in Kenya a week ago," Will said. "So, I propose a toast – to us and the future." Tessa held up her glass and smiled. She knocked back the vodka and then reached into her purse.
The first bullet slammed into William's chest, tearing through the flesh and bone before ripping apart the organs beneath. The second bullet crashed through his skull and ejected a good deal of brain matter from the exit wound. His body fell backwards to the floor as Tessa returned the snub-nosed pistol to her purse. She stepped across the body and placed two fingers against William's cooling neck to confirm the absence of a pulse.
Tessa went back inside the apartment. She paused for a moment as she plucked her cell phone out of her purse. As she dialled she scanned the room for the package Will had received. She saw it as the call was connected.
"It's done," she said.
"Yes – target was eliminated. Tell Hendricks that I've not been able to confirm what happened to the previous agents but I've got a package that was delivered to him today which may help."
"Okay – retrieval in an hour at Penn Station." Tessa put the phone away and picked up the brown box that sat on the table. Inside was a grotesque looking mask that seemed to resemble an effigy of a human face. Except, this face had what looked like a third eye in the forehead and strange tendril like protrusions where there would normally be hair. Tessa looked at it for a moment and felt a cold shudder down her spine.
"Clumsy." The voice behind her made Tessa spin around. Her mind raced for a minute as she tried to understand the sight before her. Logical assumptions flew through her mind and rationalisations buzzed around her head, yet she was presented with the same inescapable truth.
Standing in front of her, with a hole in his chest and another in his forehead, was William Pendleton. Her mouth opened, only no words came out.
"The gun – it was clumsy," Will said again. "Although not as clumsy as the drug in the restaurant." As she looked at him the bullet holes in his body began to shrink and contract. In a few seconds they were gone, leaving no trace except for the hole in his jacket and shirt. "That was like something out of amateur hour. Now, I'm, all for originality – for example, Cleopatra used Egyptian Asp venom in her final gambit, and if you'd used a Mi-Go electric gun or maybe the Blade of Cykranosh then that might have been different…""
Again, she reacted instinctively and pulled the .38 pistol from her purse. Her finger squeezed the trigger. The bullets flew across the confined space of the apartment and found their target. Each of them tore a hole in Will's torso – however this time he simply stood there.
"Really, I mean, come on," he said. "Shooting me? It didn't work the first time so what makes you think it will work second time around? What is it with you people and guns? And I really liked this jacket." Will coughed, bringing his hand up to his mouth in the process. As he drew his clenched fist away from his face he opened it to reveal the four bullets that had been buried inside his body.
Tessa's mind shut down – none of this made sense to her. As it swirled to understand what was happening Will took a few steps towards her. She scampered away from him, bumping into the fireplace in the process. The clattering sound of metal hitting the floor made her look around – and upon seeing the poker she picked it up.
Will studied the bullets before he dropped them onto the floor. He looked up just in time to see the poker arcing downward towards the side of his head. The force of the impact made him step back slightly – the second blow struck the other side of his head. Blood splattered up the wall to his left. This time he stood his ground as Tessa pulled the poker back and thrust it into his chest.
"Okay, this has gone far enough," Will said as Tessa tried to pull the poker free from his body. Will looked at Tessa and held her gaze for a second. She saw something dark flash out in the corner of her eye before she was violently thrown across the room. Her body slammed into wall across from them and stayed there. Her shoes fell to the floor and clattered against the wooden flooring. She struggled to move, only to find her mass held fast around four feet from the floor by some sort of semi-viscous black goo that flowed across her body.
"Don't bother trying to move," he said as he stepped across the room towards her. Tessa could see that the substance holding her in place extended from William's body, growing from the back of him. The poker remained buried in his chest as he stood and studied her. "They didn't tell you anything about me did they?" Will's question was met with a blank gaze, a mixture of fear and incomprehension. "Okay, just calm down for a minute and I'll run through what I think is going on. Then you can fill in the blanks…if your primitive mind can do that."
He turned and the black protuberance detached itself from him, holding her against the wall like some bizarre form of malevolent play dough. Will walked away and poured himself another glass of whiskey before returning to sit down in front of his impromptu wall decoration.
"So, they tell you to get close to me, find out what you can and then dispose of me in such a way as can be written off as some natural sequence of events, right?" Will stared at her. A section of the oppressive black mass pushed up against the side of her head. She was surprised at how warm it felt against her skin. Tessa then felt something creeping around her skull, almost like someone was inside it with her. "Only, you couldn't find anything on me…and they ordered you to eliminate me anyway, saying I was a threat to National Security…" the conversation between Tessa and her superiors flashed through her mind.
"Oh yes…yes, yes, yes…"
"Wh…wha…w…?" The half-formed words fell from Tessa's mouth.
"Oh, the tool speaks," Will taunted her. "Was that going to be who am I or what am I?" he took another drink before continuing. "Well, the who is easy – I'm William Harrison Pendleton – exactly as it says on the tin. The what is slightly more complex," he paused again. "But I'll try to make it easy for you to understand."
"I am the living embodiment of the Messenger of the Outer Gods. I am the Haunter of the Dark, the Black Pharaoh Nephren Ka, the Great Ahtu and many, many more things to a myriad of cultures upon this globe." He said as he stood up and wrenched the poker from his chest. The blood dropped onto the carpet. Will looked at it for a moment and shook his head. "That's going to be a bitch to clean." He returned his attention to Tessa. "Do you know how many times your organisation alone has tried to kill me?" There was silence from Tessa as something within her held back from spilling the information she held within her mind.
"Oh don't act all coy with me," the tone in Will's voice was subtle, but Tessa picked up on the venom within his words. "Because you can either tell me or I'll just tear it from that apelike brain of yours."
"Four." The word blurted out from Tessa's lips.
"That you know of," Will countered. "There have been eleven attempts on my life that I can recall by Delta Green." He took another sip from the glass of whiskey. "That's not counting that bombing in Boston a year ago that you covered up as an act of terrorism." He paused for a moment. "Tell me Tessa, why do you think I'm a threat?"
"I…I…" the words struggled to form in her head. "I don't know." Her head slumped, defeat now ever present in her thoughts.
"No, you don't do you? You have absolutely no clue," Will said as he took a final drink from his glass. He smiled at her – she thought that it seemed to be an almost sympathetic expression. "You just go where they tell you and kill who they want you to, without question." He shook his head. "Now, what do I do with you?"
As the words tumbled from his mouth there was a faint humming sound that filled the air. Tessa could feel the difference in pressure inside her ears as she hung from the wall. The fireplace began to dissolve and was replaced by a wall of shimmering light. As she strained her eyes to see it clearly, two figures stepped from within. The first was that of a woman; tall, lean and with long tresses of black hair cascading down her back. The second was a man, shrouded in a grubby looking robe. The light in the room reflected softly from his baldhead as he held within his hands a large ruby red shining trapezoid. Watching them enter Tessa felt pure fear in her stomach as she viewed the woman. The fireplace returned to normal and the object in the man's hands ceases to glow.
"I see you have company," the unidentified woman said. Will nodded.
"I wasn't expecting you this early my dear," Will replied. "However, it's fortuitous that you're here now."
"She is another would-be assassin?" The man took his turn to speak. Will nodded.
"Indeed," he said. "However, I'm forgetting my manners." Will addressed Tessa. "Tessa Howell, this is Lillith," he indicated to the woman, whose eyes blazed with hatred towards the suspended operative. "And this is Tawil – otherwise known as the Gate and the Key. Lillith, Tawil – this is Tessa Howell, member of Delta Green and from what I can gather from a cursory examination of her surface memories, something of a specialist in "wet work" as they call it."
"A specialist," Lillith mused as she stepped forward to look at Tessa more closely. "And yet, here she is trapped like an insignificant insect." The device that Tawil held in his hands began to glow once more.
"What shall we do with this one?" Tawil asked. Will shrugged his shoulders, stood up and approached Tessa. He looked into her eyes.
"She believes that we're about to kill her," he said. "However I haven't got the same casual attitude towards murder that she has." Will paused for a moment. "But, I have a message for your superiors – it's really simple so you should be able to remember it. Leave. Me. Alone. Otherwise I might decide that it's time to bring forward my plans for this miserable little mud ball and it's inhabitants. Then you'll see a war to end all time." Will then hurled images of desolate, lifeless plains into Tessa's head as he allowed her body to fall to the floor. "Tell them this is what awaits them if they continue to try and oppose me at this point."
As she lay crumpled on the floor he looked at Tawil. "Drop her somewhere cold and remote – and I don't mean Pluto this time." Tawil nodded as the trapezoid glowed more intently.
The air hit Tessa's lungs like a sledgehammer at the same time as her exposed skin felt the ice against it. Her eyes shot open – everything around her was white. The sun blazed down on her but offered no warmth. As she struggled to get to her feet she heard something grumbling behind her. Turning slowly, she saw the adult Polar Bear some twenty feet away from her advancing deliberately in her direction. As she backed up she suddenly realised that her shoes were on her feet once more.
"The Blade of Cykranosh?" Tawil muttered as he opened the refrigerator door. "You know that doesn't exist don't you?"
"Exactly," Will replied with a smile on his face. "If she manages to survive and get back to civilisation she'll tell her employers about it. In turn, they will devote resources to locate this mythical weapon. That will distract them long enough for me to locate the other angles of dissolution."
"And then it begins?" Lillith asked.
"Yes," Will said as he turned and looked out of the window again, bathing in the beauty of the stars above them. "Then it will be time to watch the world burn."