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Zach

“Littleford’s dead, isn’t he?” says Zach. “Guess I have to find a new job.”

“Not necessarily.” She rubs her buzz cut. “I, um, inherited the business from him.”

“Oh,” says Zach, parsing that. “Oh! So, is Phalanger your mom’s last name, or–”

“It’s not anybody’s name, Zach.”

“I knew that,” he says.

“The guys at the agency, they may… object to me taking over. I could use a lieutenant. Somebody tough. Somebody like the man who killed Hidebound.”

A pause; the plane’s engines are singing.

“I just did the website,” says Zach.

“Not anymore,” she says, and kisses his unscarred cheek.

Zach

Instead, Hidebound steps forward and picks up Zach by the throat. Sara scrambles to her feet. Hidebound shoots her in the knee. She goes down again, screaming between her teeth, but no one in the hospital wants to hear. Shouldn’t the nurses handle that?

Hidebound grinds Zach’s face into shattered fruit bowl on the floor. It’s glass. Zach’s screaming too, until Hidebound finally pulls him upright with the silencer to his cheek.

Vode, molim,” mumbles Zach through bloody lips.

“What?” says Hidebound.

The little girl sweeps aside the curtain, snarling Croatian curses, and pulls Zach’s stolen gun from between her pillows.

Zach

“Everything that’s happened was my fault,” says Sara.

“No,” says Zach, “it’s mine,” and feels a dizzying tilt to the world with that admission. He leans over to steady himself on the bedfoot, which is why Hidebound’s bullet burns his ear in passing on its way to spiderweb the window. The zweep of his silencer is somehow inappropriate.

Zach, for once, doesn’t scream.

Sara spins with the nearest available weapon, a fruit bowl, which shatters on Hidebound’s head. He shakes off blood and throws her at Zach, who sort of catches her. They fall.

Hidebound resists mightily the urge to monologue.

Zach

“This thing seems busted, huh?” says Zach, clicking the call button. “Man, Europe.”

The girl finishes her water and hands him the glass. “Ti si nježan idiot,” she says agreeably.

“You’re welcome,” says Zach, unsure about that last word. She puts one hand on her pillow, one beneath it, like a child in a picture book.

Sara steps into the hall from the stairs, pocketing lockpicks. Visiting hours are definitely over, but there’s no one here to catch her. Odd.

Yards away, Hidebound finishes strangling the second of the on-call nurses. Room 503 has been buzzing. He decides to attend.

Zach

Night, and the demonstrations in Budapest have peaked and begun to decline. The summit leaders will be gone by morning, in private jets and motorcades; the kids in black are straggling home.

Sara’s agents have tracked down Zach. She leaves István to his grief and comforts. Nasser is on a jet of his own, but he’s left Hidebound with a new sense of purpose. The bleeding has stopped and he’s got a fresh clean high.

Sara and Hidebound set out in the dusk, hooded and alone, in converging directions.

They are going to the hospital.

They are going to say goodbye.

Nasser

The first thing Nasser says to Hidebound is “it’s about damn time,” upon Hidebound’s entry into the holding cell; this despite the fact that Nasser has no idea who Hidebound is. It’s the kind of thing Nasser does.

He’s right annoyingly often.

Hidebound’s got a thick bandage over one ear and one drug interaction or another has made things alarmingly clear and bright, but he kills a sufficient number of prisoners and police officers to effect their escape.

“There have been complications,” he says, “in eliminating the girl.”

“Forget her,” says Nasser. “I’ll pay you double for her little American fuck.”

The Vulpine Phalanger

This guy Iakob has had a bad day: the girl’s enforcer crippled him and dragged off his boss in a dynamite undershirt, and Hidebound must have followed to torture said boss’s whereabouts from him. This would explain why the Vulpine Phalanger finds him huddled over the toilet, choking and snorting.

“You know why I’m here, right?” she says gently.

He shudders and nods, but something’s wrong: a chink of metal on porcelain. He’s cuffed here. A reflection, in the bowl, of something white and doughy wired into his mouth.

Three steps; the blast hits. The Vulpine Phalanger tastes blood and darkness.

Zach

“Are you a relative?” asks the triage doctor in Hungarian, Romanian, German and English.

“Oh! No! I don’t know her.”

“Angel of mercy,” she smiles.

“I shot her.”

The smile drops. “You are armed?”

“Yeah.” Zach checks his pants. “Whoops! No. Crap!”

“Your bulletproof vest. Police?”

“No, no, assassin. I was hired to kill this girl. Not that girl. Another girl. But she’s got this mommy complex so she left me with these guys, but then Hidebound, who’s supposed to be my–”

“You have a concussion,” she sighs.

“I’m still technically an intern,” says Zach, choking up for some stupid reason.

The Vulpine Phalanger

Most fights go to the ground, especially fights that begin with tackles, and on the ground strength beats quickness. The Vulpine Phalanger knows this, which is why she’s got her punch dagger out. Hidebound’s block is insufficient. He and his ear come to a parting of the ways.

He levers her off and several yards back in a fit of screaming strength. The police, single-tracked and spooked, spray them with rubber bullets. Rubber bullets hurt like regular bullets without the common decency to break your skin. The two withdraw in haste and opposite directions.

One of them leaves a trail.

Zach

“Oh Jesus oh fuck,” says Zach, stumbling through a panicky crowd. The police, hair-triggered, have pounded into the square with shields high; kids with vinegar kerchiefs are squeezing through gaps to whip masonry at them. Gas and smashed vegetables underfoot. One of the cops pulls off his mask and becomes Hidebound, looming, grinning, aiming, and then the Vulpine Phalanger hits him so hard they both tumble back into the ranks.

Zach scrambles up, takes a rock to the head, blinks away light and blood and gets up again. There. Finally.

The kid he shot makes a mess of his shirt.

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