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WAS IT LUCK, REALLY? SOME MIGHT CALL IT FATE. OTHERS THE MANIFEST presence of God’s guiding hand. He almost missed her. Between the dark and the trees and the cars parked up on the grass verge, his headlights caught a flash of white top and the gleam of something gold. He’d never have seen her if he hadn’t been in the van, sitting high up. By the time it hit him full-on, he’d driven past. But he knew the road well, the quiet residential estates behind laid out in a grid. He took the next left, then three rights, and he was back out on the main road again—behind her now, taking it slowly.
She’d got barely thirty yards further, sauntering along like all of them did, like there was no tomorrow. He glanced in the rear-view mirror. Nothing. Scanned ahead. Not a ghost in sight but her. No need even to stop and ask. As he passed her again, he tried to get a better look, but a lamp post was in the way and he only caught a glimpse. It was enough, though. He gave it fifty yards or so, then pulled up on the verge, nice and easy, cut the engine and lights. Then it was just a matter of slipping into the back, checking the gauge on the cylinder, and making sure everything was in place.
Watching her through the square tinted windows at the back, he could tell she hadn’t noticed him stopping. Wasn’t noticing much by the look of it. Excitement gripped his breath as each step brought her closer, slowly, until he got his first clear look at her. Dark hair, shoulder-length and glossy, a white crop top flattening out her chest, a slash of bare belly, a tiny slip of skirt only just covering her. The gleam of precious metal on her neck. Typical.
He struggled to keep his breathing slow, forced himself to relax using the technique the doctor had shown him. Concentrating, making sure he got it right this time. He’d practised it over and over in his head, but experience had taught him to make allowances for the unpredictable in these matters and be prepared to react accordingly. Only the last few yards now. He closed his eyes, blessed himself, and began counting down. It was easier that way. Left hand holding the sack, right hand gripping the handle of the side panel door. He’d spent hours getting the sliding action smooth. Then he was out, landing perfectly, just a couple of feet in front of her, and his right hand was a fist now, flying like a missile straight at her face, so startled she didn’t have time to take a step back—or even be frightened.
© 2011 Gerard O’Donovan