At the front door of the townhouse, John glanced around, seeing no one, he pulled a pair of steel picks from a case and knelt in front of the door. Although he'd worked this lock a couple of days earlier, breaking and entering was never easy when his thick fingers had to manipulate the delicate picks. His teeth clenched as though that would help make the tumblers align. The last one lifted into place and he rotated the lock. The bolt slid back with a soft klack. He exhaled softly. John stowed the picks and stood. He aimed a small silver case at the LED on the door's security panel and pressed its only switch. The case transmitted a series of signals and the LED shifted from red to green. He slipped inside and closed the door behind him. A single low wattage bulb barely illuminated the faded print of tiny blue birds in the wallpaper. A pair of doors led to the left and a narrow set of stairs went up the right hand wall. The air smelled of garlic and spices from Chinese takeout. John listened. The townhouse was quiet save for the soft bubbling of an aquarium pump. He closed the door and climbed the stairs.
The stairs had groaned with his weight on his first visit. This trip John kept his feet close to the wall. At the upper floor, he paused in the hallway. The image in his sunglasses showed Blevins hadn't moved. John stowed the glasses in his shirt pocket.
Moving slower, listening, careful of every step, he crept down the hallway toward the only room with a light on. As he drew near he could hear Blevins typing on a keyboard.
John's hand went to his belt and detached a foot long metal rod. Holding it behind him in his right hand, he stepped into the doorway. Blevins hunched over the computer screen. Five steps before John reached him, the man reacted. Whirling toward John, he reached under his jacket.
"Don't," John said and took another step. Blevins didn't reply, but metal glinted in his emerging hand. John snapped the telescoping baton its full length and lunged forward. His hand swept upward and chopped the weighted baton against Blevins' fingers.
Blevins uttered a single a cry of pain, dropped a small revolver to the floor, and yanked his injured hand back. Without hesitating, Blevins stood and jabbed at John's face with a left. John blocked the blow with his raised forearm. When Blevins followed up with a right cross, John slashed downward.
A bleat of pain followed the sharp crack of breaking bone. Blevins backed away, holding his wrist. "My arm. My arm. You son of a bitch, you broke my arm!"
"I warned you." He followed Blevins step for step at a safe distance. Blevins backed up until he reached a table with a heavy brass lamp. He turned, grabbed the lamp with his good hand, and swung at John's head. John ducked as the base of the lamp swung past him and hit with the baton. The first blow caught Blevins' left knee and the second caressed his temple as he fell. The lamp left Blevins' hand and crashed out a front window showering glass onto the sidewalk below. Blevins lay on the floor, temporarily stunned. John stood over him for a moment, waiting for another attack. But Blevins had had enough.
John collapsed the baton and jammed it back into his belt. Turning toward the computer, John hit the switch on the power strip. He removed a pair of snips from a jacket pocket and quickly cut all the cables leading to the computer.
With a wary eye on Blevins, John took a trash bag from another pocket and ransacked the desk for disks. When he had all of them in the bag he tied the end in a knot and set it on top of the computer. Blevins rolled over and sat up. He made the mistake of trying to use his right hand and let out a little screech. John turned to face him. "You know who I am?"
Blevins nodded. "Then you know you're getting off easy this time. If I run into you again, I won't be as forgiving. Either find another line of work or another state to work in."
He paused. Blevins' face gave no indication that he had understood. John pulled out the baton and snapped it into extension. Blevins eyes widened. He nodded his head slowly.
"That's better." John collapsed the baton and stowed it again. He lifted the trash bag in one hand and the computer in the other. The hair on his neck tingled. Then he saw what his subconscious had already noticed, a shadowy movement in the aquarium. Not the fish. A reflection, at the door, behind him.
Without turning, John dove over the desk as a gunshot thundered behind him. He scrambled around; groping for the gun Blevins had dropped. Another gunshot and splinters flew from the desk near his head. John flattened.
Where was that damn gun? He could have sworn it fell right here. His hand brushed cold metal. Instantly, his fingers tightened around the barrel. John drew the gun toward him even as his head twisted to find the shooter. Still on the floor, he could see beneath the desk. Past dust bunnies and a discarded candy wrapper, he saw a pair of shoes near the door.
Rotating the revolver in his hand, John aimed and fired in one quick motion. He missed and the shooter's feet disappeared through the doorway before John could get off a second round.
"What's the matter asshole?" John taunted. "Don't go away mad, the party's just starting." He held his breath, his gun aimed for the open door, and he waited for the shoes to reappear.
"I've got all night," John said. "But you know someone's called the police by now. Give yourself up before they get here. They don't have to know you were trying to kill me. A little corporate espionage will only get you three to five, attempted murder will get you ten to fifteen." No reply. John glanced over at Blevins. The geek still held his broken wrist.
The man met his gaze and John smiled at him. "Suit yourself. I'm sure Blevins can work a plea bargain and get off if he turns you in." Blevins panicked. "No, he's lying. I wouldn't do that. Honest you know me better than that. I'd never"
The gunshot that opened a hole in Blevins' head stopped his protest. Blevins sagged back against the wall like a scarecrow without its magic.
John swung back toward the door, too late. He could hear footsteps pounding down the hall. He lept to his feet and rushed to the door. The hallway was empty. Had the killer run down the stairs or was he waiting for John to step into the open?
His ears still rang from the blast of the gunshots, but he thought he heard the creak of the stairs. John flicked the lights off and stepped into the hall. He crept forward, the revolver pointed at the top of the stairwell. Halfway down the hall he heard the front door slam. John walked to the top of the stairs and looked around the corner. The killer would want to be long gone before the police arrived and he could already hear sirens in the distance. John took a deep breath. Lowering his weapon, he returned to the upstairs office.
Blevins hadn't moved. His dead eyes stared accusingly at John. To the right company, the patent for what Blevins stole was a multimillion dollar jackpot, to Blevins it was a one way ticket to the grave. John set Blevins' revolver on the desk and went outside to wait for the police.