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Iakob

Nasser’s man Iakob–the one whose knee was recently reconfigured by István’s claw hammer–would recognize Zach if he saw him. They met last week, when Iakob came to Littleford’s agency to hire a killer. He wasn’t supposed to get a good one. Nasser just wanted to pull Sara’s hair.

Now Littleford is dead, and Pál is dead, and Zach and Iakob are in tremendous pain. Nasser can’t tell Sara what she wants to know; Zach knows very, very little.

Nasser’s smile is cold and sweaty, the smile of a man whose reach exceeds his grasp. Hidebound doesn’t smile at all.

Zach

There are plenty of booths at the job fair, but only MAYHEM INCORPORATED has Ray-Bans and Tasers snarling at anyone who approaches. Consequently it also has by far the longest line of curious students.

Zach didn’t mean to join it; he thought the line led to the bathroom.

“Puny,” snarls Littleford, kicking his legs under the table. “Next. ROTC? Are you kidding me? Next. Next. Next!”

Zach finds himself at the front and automatically hands over a resume. Littleford glances at his name.

“You make websites, kid?” he snaps.

Zach blinks. “My computer has FrontPage.”

Littleford smiles like the Grinch.

Zach

When Zach sinks into the first-class armchair on his flight to Budapest, he is wrong to believe he’s the only one on board connected to his mission. There’s Hidebound, for instance, incognito in aviators, crammed into two seats in the last row of coach. There are the three independent agents assigned to Hidebound at all times (FBI, CIA and FDA–it’s complicated). There’s Littleford, body stiffening slowly in an insulated camp cooler, down amongst the checked bags.

And in Zach’s black silicone wallet, a girl’s face, unaware that it’s being photographed: hastily xeroxed, in case they want the dossier back.

Zach

“This is called a dossier,” says Littleford patiently. “A full background workup, daily routines, brief precis of family and friends.” He scatters the contents of the red envelope.

“She’s a girl?” says Zach, a little startled.

“She’s an activist who’s making things very uncomfortable for certain Syrian… interests,” says Littleford. “The client’s actually done a lot of work for you, here. And they want it messy. Anything else?”

“I think,” Zach frowns, “I’m going to need more surveillance photos. Like, at her gym? Maybe in the shower.”

Littleford squints at him.

“Or at least more from the waist down,” Zach adds.

Zach

“Quite a selection,” says the man in the black suit.

“We maintain the finest merc stable on the continent.” Littleford gestures. “Black Eye. Recoil. Hidebound. The Vulpine Phalanger.” The men and women in their piecemeal armor nod in turn. “The one with the chainsaw is Slapjack; that’s Psyclown and his partner Scarnage. And this is Zach.”

The black suit takes him in: lanky, glasses, no armor, no gun. “The most lethal of all,” he breathes. “Yes. Give him the contract, no matter the cost!” He strides out.

“I just–I just run the website,” says Zach hesitantly.

“Not anymore,” Littleford snaps.

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