You could always tell a Sunday morning from the other days of the week. Sundays were lazy; Sundays were restful. People slept in, enjoying the respite from the working week or recovering from an alcohol-drenched Saturday night. Offices were closed and retail businesses opened later. There were those who attended church services, of course, but that was at regularly scheduled times, not generating the usual continuous flow of vehicles. The whole city had a sense of quiet abandonment. It was as if the streets were sleeping in, too.
Not everyone was able to take advantage of the general laziness of this late September morning, however. There were always a few unlucky ones called out to work, such as the electrician working at the signal box controlling the traffic light at the usually busy intersection of Converse and 12th. He had the signals on red flash now, occasionally retrieving some tool or other from the open canvas tool bag at his feet. A few yards away another workman dressed in jeans and a faded flannel shirt sat with his arms spread out across the top of a bench provided by the city's transit system, a rounded black lunch bucket at his side as he waited for his bus. In the row of storefronts set back from the street, a woman polished the front window of a cheery little coffee shop, perhaps hoping to draw either of them in for something to go. Neither of them noticed her.
The only thing to make this quiet, normal urban scene at all unusual was the advent of a polished black limousine making its stately way down the boulevard, its tinted windows glistening in the bright sunlight. Inside, a woman fidgeted on the plush back seat. She looked to be in her late twenties, dressed well but casually in an expensive-looking embroidered denim jacket over a solid lemon cotton top with a mock turtle collar, and matching designer jeans tapering into ankle-high, low heeled leather boots. Her shift drew a glance from the man sitting on the seat opposite her. When she did not speak he turned back to the window, scanning the passing street with an experienced eye. Like the two men in the front seat, his powerful build and watchful demeanor identified him as a professional bodyguard.
The idea of having bodyguards was something she was becoming adjusted to, although she still chafed a bit at the restrictions involved. She chose not to dwell on it, turning her thoughts to more pleasant things. For the first time in almost three years, she was going home. With one thing or another there hadn't been time to make the trip, but she had finally managed to crowbar some vacation time into her schedule. She couldn't wait to see her parents, to see their faces when she told them her exciting news. She turned to the window, watching familiar landmarks roll by, noting the occasional new shop here and there, taking in the scene as a whole and the few people on the streets to populate it in a general way, her growing eagerness relegating most of what she saw to the background of her mind.
The stoplight at Converse and 12th turned to a solid red, evidently manipulated from a flashing red by an electrician working at the signal box. As the car slowed, he suddenly turned and made an odd gesture with his hands. An invisible wave of energy slammed into them with the impact of a tsunami, stopping the limo as if it had been suddenly mired in molasses and throwing her forward against the bodyguard on the opposite seat. In the next instant two diamond-hard arms crashed through both passenger windows, spraying glass everywhere. The hands opened, dropping canisters which began gushing white, billowing plumes of smoke. Ambush!
The two suited men in front reacted instantly. The one riding shotgun flung open his door, reaching down to grab for the canister to get rid of it while the other hand dived into his jacket for his gun. A rock-hard fist slammed into his chin, blasting him into dreamland before the gun could clear the holster. The driver had a second or two more. When attempting to gun the engine turned out to be futile, he got his door open and was trying to reach clear air when the electrician, now wearing a gas mask, gave him a chop across the back of the neck with the bottom of a strange, boxlike weapon. Down he went, slumping half in and half out of the car.
The bodyguard in back had grabbed the woman in that first instant and flung her back and away from the smoke, reaching for his weapon, but the canisters weren't merely smoke bombs. They were filled with a powerful knock-out agent, and the one in the back had been dropped right at his feet. Feeling the full brunt of the gas's debilitating effects hitting him and knowing he had only a second to act, the bodyguard croaked, "Go!" to the woman and flung his body onto the canister, trying to muffle its effects. It was the last thing he knew.
The bodyguard's heroic action had allowed the woman to the opportunity to take and hold one relatively untainted breath, and she wasn't about to waste it. She snatched the door handle and flung it open, only to find the electrician blocking her escape. She leaned back on her arm and lashed out with her foot, catching him squarely in the solar plexus. He fell back against the door with a wuff sound. She tried to scramble past him, but the bus rider had flung open the passenger door and lunged after her. Grabbing her wrist, he yanked her across the seat toward the still-gushing canister, hauling the guard out of the way with his other hand, his sleeve pulling up to expose the tattoo of a coiled red snake on his arm. The woman saw his gas mask and knew she was running out of time. She dropped her head and bit down savagely on his now-normal hand, drawing blood and bringing a howl of pain from him as he released her. Before she could capitalize on her freedom, the weight of a hurtling body crashed onto her back, driving the breath from her lungs; the electrician had recovered. She snapped her free elbow into his stomach. Cursing and shaking his bitten hand, the bus rider seized her thick burgundy hair, forcing her face back into the heart of the smoke. The electrician flourished the strange weapon, pressed its short barrel into the back of her neck, and pulled the trigger. Paralysis and pain screamed through her nervous system, robbing her of the little breath she had left. She inhaled sharply, sucking in a lungful of the smoke. She tried to hold it there, keep it from spreading, to continue fighting, and in fact managed another feeble kick at the electrician's shin, but to no avail. The gas worked its insidious way through her system. She slid into oblivion.
Panting, the electrician hauled her out of the limo. A nondescript white van that had been waiting nearby screeched to a halt beside them. The bus rider, wiping the blood from his bitten hand on his jeans, came around and opened the van's side door before reaching down and grabbing her legs. Together the two men threw her in and leaped in after her. The door closed with a slam and the van squealed away, leaving the black limo, its remaining unconscious passengers and the white face of the woman in the coffee shop wreathed in the slowly dissipating smoke.