Wilson said, “Reilly here will be your contact.”
Hull glanced at the kid, who was so full of himself he looked as if he might go off like a firecracker at any second.
He nodded. “Reilly.”
The kid mirrored him. “Hull.”
“He’ll give you whatever you need to get rolling.”
Khadra said, “I need to go to the loo.”
Hull looked at her. She might, but that’s not why she was going. She was giving Hull room to check out Reilly. He gave her a flicker of a grin.
“And I have business to which I must attend,” Wilson said. “Show Hull around,” he said to Reilly.
After Wilson was gone and Hull and Reilly were alone -- more or less, since every room in the building was wired for sound and video, including the bathrooms -- Hull said, “So, what’s new since I left?”
Reilly smiled, as only the young and truly ignorant can.
“Well, things have changed a little since your time. We have, like, running water and flush toilets and electricity and all.”
Hull smiled in return. Had he ever been that young and full of himself? Probably worse. Well. Might as well set the tone for this now. “Really? Wow. I’m impressed. You’re a computer guy, right?”
If Reilly was any cockier, they could draw his blood and make it into Viagra. “Yeah, I am.”
“Ever heard of the online game, The Man Who Never Missed?”
Reilly blinked. “Yeah. I play that one. First-person shooter.”
“What’s your high score?”
The kid was smart enough to sense the trap, but still sure that he was God’s gift to the future. Even so, he hedged it: “I can get through Level Fourteen.”
Hull’s grin increased. “Not bad.” If he’d been any more condescending in his tone, you could use it to etch glass.
“What the fuck do you mean, ‘Not bad?’ That’s a solid score, better than ninety percent of the players out there!”
“What are you saying here, Hull?”
Hull picked up a yellow sticky pad and a pencil from the desk, wrote something on the pad, handed it to Reilly.
Reilly stared at the pad is if it had turned into a trilobyte in his hand. “No fucking way!”
It was the total number of enemy troops that Khadaji, the VP shooter in TMWNM took out by himself. The only way to know that was to finish the game, which had fifteen levels.
“You use the cheats?”
Reilly looked uncomfortable. He couldn’t see where Hull was going with it. That he even knew the name of the game was unexpected. That he claimed to have finished the sucker? You could see the disbelief in Reilly’s eyes. “Couple times.”
“Remember the URL where you got them?”
Reilly pulled out his iPhone and tapped the screen. He looked at the device.
“Scroll down to the bottom. Who does the credit list for the advanced cheats?”
“Olra Hülse. So? Somebody from Sweden? Norway?”
“Reverse the letters in the first name.”
The light began to dawn on the kid’s face, and Hull had to admit he was enjoying the view. “Tap in your German dictionary and look up the last name.”
Reilly keyed the iPhone’s screen. A few seconds went by as the phone’s language ap found the dictionary. Reilly typed the name in with his right thumb and forefinger.
There came the sun ...
“Motherfucker,” the kid said.
Hull grinned. “Running water, flush toilets, electricity and all. My, my. Not like in my day, where we had to hike fifty miles to school in the snow. Uphill. Both ways. Fighting off attacks by dinosaurs.”
“I get it,” Reilly said. He could barely keep his voice civil. “You made your point.”
Hull figured, what the hell, might as well get the rest of it out of the way. Sooner or later, the kid had to learn, and he was sure that was why Wilson had stuck him with Reilly anyhow.
He said, “You want to try me, don’t you? Go a couple rounds and see if all the hype is real? If an old fart like me has anything left?”
Reilly grinned, but lost it quickly, then said, “No, nothing like that.”
“Wilson told you to walk on eggshells around me?”
“He allowed as how I need to mind my manners. Show proper respect.”
“You look fit enough,” Hull said. “Which way is the gym? Let’s go dance a little, hey? See you can lay a hand on me like you think you can.”
Reilly almost bounced up and down he was so excited. “Follow me,” he said.
As soon as he turned his back, Hull clocked him. It was a good hit, a solid hammer fist to the temple, not too hard, just enough to stagger him. While Reilly was trying to figure out what the fuck had happened to him, Hull moved in, did a sweep using his knee, and held on so Reilly wouldn’t hit the carpet too hard. Even so, he smacked it pretty good. He was a big kid, and Hull didn’t want to pull something trying to make the landing too easy. The knee was bad enough, he didn’t want to screw up his back, too.
Reilly lay there, stunned.
Hull backed off a couple of steps, turned a chair around, and straddled it.
Reilly faked being groggy a couple seconds after he recovered. He tried to be subtle about it, but it was easy to see. He gathered himself, muscles flexing to leap. As he rolled up, Hull lifted his weight and shoved the chair in front of the younger man --
Reilly tried to avoid it, almost made it, but tripped, sprawled, and by the time he rolled up again, Hull had his revolver out and pointing at the floor between them.
“Bang,” he said, his voice quiet. “You’re dead. And I could have shot you as soon as you turned your back on me.”
Reilly eased up. He shook his head.
Hull looked at him. “Are we done?”
Hull reholstered his weapon. “Now you you know, right?”
“Yeah. Reilly rubbed at his neck, didn’t say anything else.
“Old and treacherous beats young and skillful every time, kid.”
“One-on-one in the gym -- "
“Not ever gonna happen. I’m creaky, slow, and too old to dick around with a jock like you. If I knew you were coming heavy, I’d shoot you in your sleep the night before. If I didn’t see you until you got close, I’d do something else. I know your teacher, and I know he told you we don’t do fair here. We aren’t duelists, son, we are assassins. Best case scenario, your target dies without ever knowing you exist. If you want to square off in the ring, join a boxing club, or take up Mixed Martial Arts. That’s not what we do.”
Amazing how fast the “we” came back. Just like that.
Reilly blew out a sigh. “Yeah. I know.”
“That’s only part of it,” Hull said, “You gave me something. A gift.”
Reilly looked at him.
“A while back, there was a big-name movie star on the set of a film. They were doing a scene, and somebody off-camera was moving around. It distracted the star, and pissed him off.”
“I heard about that. Lost his cool, blew up at the guy, screaming, cursing.”
Hull nodded. “Right. The actor is calling the guy seven kinds of motherfucker and asshole, telling people trying to calm him down to shut the fuck up, threatening to get the offender fired. Went totally ballistic.”
“Yeah. So ... ?”
“So the actor comes across as a prima donna. A short-tempered asshole. He’s apologized all over the place, mea culpa, no excuses, and that’s probably the end of it. Couple rounds on the late night show monologues, done. America loves to knock the high-and-mighty off their perches, but they also are willing to forgive ‘em and let them climb back up if they beg properly.”
“But -- say you are on the set of his next movie and you want to pull his chain? Knock over a light during a scene, break his concentration, he might lose it again. He gave half of America the tool, and somebody out there might be in a position to use it someday.”
Hull said, “You are smart, fit, trained, and dedicated. You should go far -- if you don’t shoot yourself in the foot. You wanted to see how good I was, and you found out more than you wanted to know. But it was an easy lesson. I could have killed you. There was a time when I might have, and justified it to myself or anybody who asked, like stepping on a bug.
“Don’t give anything away about yourself unless you have to, kid. In this business, that’s a bad idea. If you want to get rid of me, shoot me in the back when I’m not looking. But don’t offer a stand-up fight, because while you might win it, it won’t ever get there if it is up to me.”
Maybe it took, maybe it didn’t, it was hard to tell with young ops.
“Good. Let’s move on. Show me what intel you have on Milos.”