Norm 7PM

CROWDS CAN BE GATHERINGS instead of regiments or conflicts. A shell went off when Carol and I were separated. A motorcycle engine exploded and people pushed over each other, the instinct to escape.

I called out her name and cursed myself for not having earlier established a rendezvous point.

When I start up the tower an Angel with an eye patch tugs at the leg of my pants. He scowls up with thick arms crossed, frowning and chewing his downcurled moustache. At bottom, what he means is where do you think you're going?

I kick him in the larynx. The maneuver is quick and clean enough to prevent attracting the attention of anybody else in his company. The Angel wobbles on his feet for a second, then slips thickly down the metal bars, settling softly into a slump against the base of the stage. When later he comes to, the Angel will be unable to speak for a few hours, much less (a guess from the dilation of his pupils) remember what happened.

I make it to the scaffolding. The lone overhead light man looks at me uneasily, but is too preoccupied by the troubled sea of people below to gesture any warning or disapproval at my unauthorized climb. Maybe he is relieved to be no longer alone, sitting duck above the choppy shark pit before the stage. He keeps a shaky spot on the stage.

Both of us know that if things in the crowd get much more ornery the ramshackle platform could be toppled in seconds, and the towers and light scaffolding with it.

A skirmish out front stopped the music and the musicians blink impotently against the blaze of our wattage. I watched a cameraman on top of the truck train his glass eye on the problem 10 meters from the stage. The army is beating a kid bad. He wears iridescent green and looks like a rag doll getting thrashed. It brings the ferrous taste to my mouth and as such instigated an odd Pavlovian experience that at once confuses and exhilarates. It isn't a flashback--that would be too romantic for my unexceptional faculties. It's just that the nerves wake and fill me with the dread and ecstasy of the last time I watched death. I know they are going to do it. Means and mechanisms much coarser than the tactical tantrums of Marines, but their fury and resolve as methodical and more maniacal than any I saw in twelve months of combat and indexing intelligence.

There is Carol, turned the other way. Not even aware of what is happening only thirty meters from her, calling for someone in the indifferentiable crowd. I can only watch as Carol makes her way past the row of motorcycles and into the thinning mass at the side of the stage, many still spinning in place although the music has stopped and the singer is babbling. A few scowl or shouted for more in response to the rupture in the revery.

I recognize the message, and unhesitatingly I embrace my mission. Balancing the weapon on an outstretched forearm, I take aim from my position in the metal tree.

Snik. The hammer falls on a hollow chamber. A perfect shot. Satisfied at the kill, I put the pistol inside my jacket and make my way swiftly, darkly back down the tower, leaving the light man trembling at his post. Onstage, the star shivers in the limelight's tremulous blaze.

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