I know what you’re thinking. Most of the time, it’s not impressive. Trust me.
Dozens of people move around me on the sidewalks in L.A.’s financial district, all of them on autopilot. Plugged into their phones, eyes locked on their screens, half-listening to the person on the other end, sleepwalking as they head for their jobs or their first hits of caffeine. The stuff inside their heads can barely even be called thoughts: slogans and buzzwords; half-remembered songs; the latest domestic cage match with whoever they left at home; dramas and gossip involving people they’ll never meet in real life. And sex. Lots and lots of sex.
That’s what I live with, constantly, all around me like audible smog.
Most of the time, it’s just annoying. But today, it makes it easy to find my targets. They’re fully awake, jangling with adrenaline and anxiety. They stand out, hard and bright, a couple of rhinestones glittering in the usual muck.
I cross Fifth Street to the outdoor courtyard where the first guy is waiting at a table, empty Starbucks cup in one hand. I’m supposed to see him.
The one I’m not supposed to see is watching from a half a block over and twenty stories up, on the roof of a nearby building. I can feel him sight me through the rifle scope. I backtrack along his focus on me, reeling it in like a fishing line, until I’m inside his head. He’s lying down, the barrel of the gun resting on the edge of the roof, the cool stock against his cheek, grit under his belly. His vision is narrowed to one eye looking through crosshairs, scanning over all the people below him. If I push a little deeper, I can even see the wedge he placed in the access door a dozen feet behind him. He taps his finger on the trigger and goes over his escape route every five seconds or so.
They’re both nervous. This is their first kidnapping, after all.
But I’m in kind of a bad mood, so I’m not inclined to make it any easier. I get my coffee first—the line is a wave of pure need, battering impotently against the stoned boredom of the baristas—and then walk back out.
Time to go to work.
I take the open seat across from the guy at the table. I dressed down for this meeting—black jacket, white oxford, standard khakis, everything fresh from the hangers at Gap so I won’t stand out—but I still look like an insurance salesman compared to him. He’s wearing a T-shirt and baggy shorts, with earbuds wired into his skull beneath his hoodie. Nobody dresses for business anymore.
“Seat’s taken,” he says. “I’m meeting someone.”
I put down my coffee and tap the screen on my phone. His buzzes in response immediately.
He looks baffled. He doesn’t get it. I try not to roll my eyes. In real life, there are no Lex Luthors.
“That’s me,” I tell him. “I’m your meeting.”
He covers pretty well. He doesn’t ask how I knew him, even as he fumbles to shut down the phone. It’s a burner. That headset in his ears? It leads down to his personal phone, keeping a direct line open to his buddy up on the roof. If this conversation doesn’t end with them substantially richer, he only has to say one word and his friend will blow my head off my shoulders.
So he still thinks he’s got the