"Tell me what I want to know," he said finally. "And you know damn well what that is."
The Hunter fidgeted slightly. Then, raising his chin up, drawing weight onto his bulky shoulders, he said, "Fuck what you want to know."
George felt the outline of the knife in his pocket, just to make sure it was still there. "Tell me, you bastard," he snarled.
The Hunter simply stared at him. It was hard to say whether there was anger or confusion in his eyes, as if he was really thinking it over.
"Too late," George said under his breath, but not before he brought the knife up to The Hunter's neck and--
The Hunter swerved it from his wrist suddenly in a motion too fast for his eyes to capture, and in a blur of images turned so that George's back was to him, and The Hunter drew his forearm around his neck, the cold touch of steel sending a shiver down his back. Kicking The Hunter's shin with the back of his shoe, he grabbed violently at the knife and struggled to wrest it into his grasp. The Hunter wailed out, and threw a fist into George's face that momentarily blinded him and sent the knife spinning off to the side. George swore and flung his body to the knife, when he heard a shout come from behind one of the large white marble pillars that held up the building.
"I thought you were dead," said the man, slowly coming into view.
In an instant George recognized the voice, and all the strength in his arms suddenly went out as his heart dropped like an anvil.
"Yes, cut the surprise. It's me," said Michael. He was the man behind all of this. But George couldn't figure out why, and his mind wrestled with putting all the pieces of the puzzle together. But there were some missing.
"How...?" was all that he could say.
"It's quite easy, really. But oh George, it's so sad that you didn't listen to me. Tragic, really. Didn't I tell you to trust no one?"
"Think about it. Did I not tell you, before I sent you off on your mission, that you would be involved in one of the biggest operations carried out for years? I don't think it ever came to you the immense magnitude of it."
"I still don't understand. Why you? What could you get out of this?"
"Ah, well that's the simple part. The Hunter here sent one of his--terrifying, I must say--men to my office, offering a truce. The terms were a little to skimpy for my taste, but I could see reward off in the distance, a bit far-fetched, yes, but I was halfway through the tunnel and the light was getting closer. I felt this--have you ever felt anything like it?--nagging feeling in my gut, like half anxiety half ambition. It's a stomach thing, buried deep in there. It's so intense that you can't eat, that you can't think about anything else. And you think of the reward--oh, the time I spent daydreaming..." For a moment he stopped, as if to do precisely what he was describing. His eyes, grey as ever, looked suddenly like a stranger's, and all George felt in that moment was sad.
Not even disappointment or betrayal, not then. Only sadness. Betrayal was merely the action, the movement that set everything off, but it was not what he felt now. Betrayal wasn't something you could feel. Betrayal is meaningless if there is no output or medium through which you translate it into a pseudo-tangible feeling. And the output now was sadness, sadness for the friendship with this man he had thought he had, destroyed so abruptly, so insensibly. And it was a hopeless sadness, so deeply penetrating and utterly bleak that it seemed to spread to every inch of his body like pitch-dark, dense, thick oil. It left him impotent in its wake.
"Yes," Michael continued, "and I grabbed hold of the opportunity. But can you guess the obstacle in my path that prevented me from getting my reward? Can you guess who that was?" Not waiting for an answer, he went on, "Yes, it was you. You, who still thought that it was your mission, your duty to get rid of The Hunter and his posse of barbarians," he put extra emphasis on the word duty, as it if was something completely stupid and childish, something that only the helpless and deluded strive for.
"Well why didn't you just kill me then?" George spat. "That would've made everything a hell of a lot easier for you. You lying bastard, why didn't you just kill me!"
"Can't you at least figure that one out? Why would I subject myself to a torrent of investigations that would eventually lead to me, when I could make it look as if you got yourself killed on your own? And that's where The Hunter here came in."
No, George thought. This would not be his coup de grace. He would not die here, not now. He sprang up.
And Michael fell down.
It came without thought or warning, and George jumped backward when he heard the gunshot, thinking it was aimed at him.
But it was Michael who fell. The bullet went straight through the back of his head, and killed him instantly.
Another gunshot, and The Hunter, who had been standing there by the side in case George tried anything, fell too.
For a moment he thought he would be next. They had killed (whoever they were) two already, why not him? He quickly scanned his surroundings to look for a hiding place, and saw one behind a large pillar in front of him. He almost began toward it but his head was still intact, at least as far as he could tell. And as he looked around for his savior, he spotted Emily emerging from the darkness.
And he smiled.