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Conflict

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It was night, and the moon was full. It was cold, and late. Two silhouettes stood by the railings of a dock facing the sea, a man and a woman, invisible to passing eyes.

She was beautiful. Those chocolate brown eyes; her flowing auburn hair. The musty, semi-sweet scent of her olive skin. No, he could not lose her. And yet...

"Julia, I'm sorry. It's just that...you're all I have..." he could barely even hear himself.

"I have my own life to deal with," was her reply. She turned away, not bearing to look him in the eye.

He swallowed, fighting back the tears.

"I understand." He waited...for a sign, for anything...

There was none.

"Alright," he said, turning to leave. "I'll be going now."

She did not reply, and he took her silence as confirmation that it was over. And as he walked away from her, struggling not to look back, he finally allowed himself a little tear.

*** *** ***

Two years later...

Adrian Gilfer strolled down a cobblestone street, whistling. It was something he would not normally do-- whistling--but perhaps today he just felt like it.

He came to an arching wooden door with no sign, and tapped lightly on it. A second later, a man greeted him with a hug, ushering him through the door.

The house, which belonged to Issac Jacobs, was spacious and smelled like warm, toasted bread. It was painted a refreshing peach, bright enough to lift one's spirits, and dull enough to be pleasing to the eye. A strategically- placed lamp lit the house well, giving
it a homely feel. Issac had always been incredible with home decor.

Adrian sat down on the couch, leaning back without hesitation. "Old sofas are still the best, eh old pal?"

Issac, who had disappeared into the kitchen, laughed, "They definitely are. As I recall, that one was a gift."

"From yours truly," said Adrian with a grin as Issac returned with a plate of garlic toast. "I knew I smelled baked bread."

Sitting on the rocking chair beside the sofa, Issac took a slice, biting into it. Adrian did the same.

"So," began the host, "what brings the great Adrian Gilfer to my humble abode?"

"I don't remember 'great' in my resume," Adrian said jokingly, but Issac just watched him with those piercing blue eyes.

Adrian gave up. "Alright, I need a favor."

"A job?" said Issac immediately.

Gilfer nodded. "The target has several aliases, but this time she goes by the name 'Patricia Hayden'--"

"Wait a minute," interjected Issac, manly chauvinism kicking in. "She?"

Nodding again, Adrian continued, "That's right. Hayden is a major hitter in the South and North-west districts. She has a job tonight: Jeremy Irons."

"Steel Man?"

Jeremy Irons was a legend to people like Gilfer and Jacobs. He was known as the Steel Man, or the Iron Will. His hit record was never accurate, for somewhere after twenty thousand kills, someone lost count. Now, he was old, retired and filthy rich. Nobody knew where he was.

"Yep," said Adrian. The ghost of a smile flitted onto his face. "We take her down, pay old man Irons a visit, and collect three mil'. How 'bout it?"

"Got a picture?"

"Dude," Adrian said, "she's a girl. Who needs a picture?"

Jacobs rubbed his chin thoughtfully. Then he stood. "Let me get my guns."

*** *** ***

They were at the docks, a place Gilfer knew very well. It was mid-autumn, and he wrapped a coat around himself. It served two purposes: to keep out the numbing cold, and to hide his guns.

He crouched, hidden in the shadows of a large crate, away from the pesky glow of the full moon. Ah, the full moon. What memories it brought.

The communicator on his wrist buzzed soundlessly. Issac's voice said, "What would Irons be doing here, anyway?"

"No idea. Drowning his sorrows maybe?" whispered Adrian.

Silence. Then, "Not funny, Adrian."

"Sue me, I'm getting chaffed down here!"

Issac said obviously, "Told you to wear your own pants." He grew quiet, leaving Adrian alone for awhile, then his voice returned, urgently this time, "Target approaching!"

"Gotcha, heading skyward. Don't act till I give you the signal," Adrian said into his watch, clambering up a ladder, still concealed by darkness.

He was now on top of a large freighter. Moving stealthily, he approached the other end of it, towards Issac's location.

Just then, something hit Issac. He tapped his communicator. "If the target is here, where's Steel Man?"

Before Adrian could reply, a powerful blow knocked him to his hands and knees, nearly rendering him unconscious. His vision blurred and returned, littered with white spots. He sensed another impending attack, and rolled aside.

Something clanged onto the freighter's metallic flooring. As his sight cleared, Adrian saw his attacker rushing at him, weapon raised. He pulled out a gun and fired.

With a bang suppressed by a silencer, his hulking foe crumbled to the ground.

"Adrian, are you okay?" came Issac's frantic voice.

Adrian clutched his throbbing head, saying, "Dude, you're supposed to say 'What's your status, Gilfer?' And yeah, I'm alright."

He examined his attacker, found his face unfamiliar, then moved to check out the
weapon. It was a crowbar, rusted and old. Adrian could feel his own blood on it, sticky and warm.

"He used a crowbar, Issac...he didn't want to attract attention," said Adrian. He could feel his world spinning as he spoke: that attack was more damaging than he thought.

"We better abort," Issac said. "Something's not right..."

"Where's the target?"

Issac hesitated. "She's still here, but I can't get a clear shot without revealing myself."

"Don't give me that bullsh**, Issac," grunted Adrian, struggling to stay conscious. "Shoot...her..."

"Adrian?"

"Yeah?"

"I'm sorry."

Adrian whipped round, lifting his gun, but he was too slow. A bullet to his hand, and he dropped his weapon. Another to his leg, and he fell, pain engulfing his body.

"You set me up, didn't you?" said Issac, kneeling down to face his betrayer.

Adrian's reply was an agonized, unintelligible grunt.

"How long have you been planning this?" Issac continued, his voice murderously soft.

Through his pain, Adrian found the energy to smile. He stared into the eyes of the man who used to be his friend, whispering the words, "Two years..."

Shivering furiously, Issac placed the muzzle of his gun on Adrian's temple, pulling the trigger without thinking. As soon as Gilfer's limp body hit the floor, Issac jumped up, dodging a speedy bullet. He raised his gun.

Out of the shadows stepped Patricia Hayden, or, as Issac remembered, Julian Rose.

"You tricked me," Issac said.

"As did you," retorted Julia. "Jacob Irons."

Issac bit his lip. She was as he remembered: brown hair, brown eyes and olive skin. She was still as beautiful as ever...

It had begun to rain, but neither of the assassins moved.

"How much were they offering for me?" was all Issac could manage.

"Twenty million," Julia said.

There was a momentary silence, during which both killers had their guns poised and ready. Issac's mind was racing. She had caused him to fall madly in love with her, then left him feeling lonely and dejected, then ended off their relationship. All just to throw him off-track? Or was it something else?

He finally found the courage to ask, "Did you ever love me?"

Her face was soaked in the rain, and he could not tell if she was crying, or if her eyes were red: the moon was now hidden behind a bank of clouds. He waited for her reply, but she gave none.

Two silenced gunshots went off that rainy night. The moon's glow returned, a beautiful, full orb in the darkened sky...





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