I stare at the face on the vidscreen before me. In all my years in the profession, I’ve never contracted to kill somebody I know before.
It’s a strange and leaves a bit of a queasy feeling in the pit of my stomach.
I look at his face. A face I haven’t seen in more than twenty years. Though he’s a little grayer and perhaps has a few more lines on his face than I remember, he remarkably looks the same as he did all those years ago. Though I doubt that the passage of time made him any less of a son of a bitch. Saying I “know” him might be stretching things a bit, I suppose. I mostly know what I know of him by reading the papers and listening to the gossip like everybody else. I suspect that the only people who truly “know” this man are all corpses.
“The offer is two hundred fifty thousand dollars,” the computer modulated voice intones. “Will you accept?”
“Stand by,” I say into my voice modulation unit.
I lean back in my seat and look at the night sky beyond my office windows. Dozens, maybe even hundreds of aircars race as people are busy living their little lives. The lights are bright and garish and the city itself is noisy, crowded and filthy. I hate living here. But this is where the work is. Perhaps with this payday, I can move off-planet for a while. Maybe go somewhere more remote, perhaps even tropical. I call up my bank account on a separate vidscreen. Though I don’t know that I could exactly retire from the game altogether, the pay from this job will give me a nice cushion that could buy me a hell of a lot of peace and quiet somewhere else for a while.
I lean forward again and speak into my voice modulation unit. “Offer accepted,” I say. “Half deposited into a designated account immediately, the other half upon completion of the job.”
There is silence for a long moment before the speaker crackles to life. “Your terms are acceptable. Transfer of funds will begin immediately.”
I cut off communication with my client and check my account. True to their word, half of my fee had been deposited already. As uneasy as it made me, I guess I had a job to do.
There are a lot of reasons people want to kill one another. Religion, politics, infidelity are big ones. But most of the time it boils down to greed, power and money. Unlike some of my fellow assassins, I refuse to involve myself in marital or domestic disputes and focus only on the higher-profile contracts. Politicians, religious figures, businessmen… the people whose deaths make the headlines. Killers in the city are a dime a dozen and most are just street thugs who would cut your throat for five bucks. Skilled and lethal assassins, those of us who can get to the people the common street thugs can’t, are a bit rarer. And among my esteemed brethren, I’m even more of an oddity because there just aren’t very many women in the game. As a result, I’m able to blend in better, sometimes even gain access to places the boys can’t. Nobody would ever suspect that somebody who looks as feminine as I do could be one of the most ruthless and efficient killers on the streets. It‘s an advantage and one I exploit to the fullest possible extent.
The man I’d contracted to kill is a powerful businessman with ties to some of the most corrupt politicians in the city. Some of his business interests are legitimate but most aren’t. He’s methodical, calculating, ruthless and a cold-blooded killer who doesn’t think twice about stabbing somebody in the back to get ahead and increase his bottom line. He’s purely profit-driven and cares far more about money than people. The last rumor I heard is that he began dabbling in human trafficking. With so many homeless and runaways throughout the city, he was sweeping up some to selling into slavery or the sex-trade off-planet. The man will do anything or turn on anybody to make a buck.
Which of course, makes him a prime candidate for assassination. Either by the people who want his slice of the pie or somebody whose daughter or little sister he sold as a concubine. Thus far though, his challengers and rivals have had a nasty habit of disappearing and never being heard from again.
I am keeping this all in mind as I watch him, try to pick up his patterns and figure out the best way of going about fulfilling my contract. The problem is that he is cautious, perhaps even paranoid. He rarely ventures outside of his compound and when he does, it’s never with less than a dozen bodyguards.
The hit will be difficult. At best.
I sit on a rooftop surveying his compound through my binocs. High, thick walls no doubt outfitted with cameras and military-grade monitoring equipment. A dozen armed guards patrolling the grounds that I can see and who knows how many others I can’t see. A frontal assault wouldn’t work. I’d be cut to shreds in a heartbeat. Attempting to sneak into the compound would likely get me just as dead. So what was left? Tunneling in from beneath? Parachuting in from above?
“Dammit, focus. Solve the problem.”
Figuring out how to kill somebody without being detected is more than just a job for me. It is a puzzle to be solved. If there is one thing I inherited from my father, it’s a mind that thinks logically and perhaps even a bit mechanically. I can take things apart and just “see” how they all fit back together again. When faced with a puzzle or a problem, I have the ability to shut down all emotion and think it through to its conclusion. Until now. Now, emotion is clouding my brain and leaving me in a fog where the logical conclusion is veiled, muddied and just beyond my reach.
I shake my head, trying to clear my thoughts.
Fortune favors the bold.
One of my father’s favorite sayings and one I remember hearing countless times as a child. A vague idea began taking shape in my head. Something bold, something crazy. And as it came into sharper relief, I see just how crazy it is.
“Kaitlyn,” I say to the man at the gate. “Kaitlyn Warner.”
He steps back into his armored booth and I can hear him talking, pitching his voice low so I can’t hear what he’s saying. He pokes his head back out and looks at me for a long moment.
“Kaitlyn Warner you said?”
I nod my head as a cool breeze flows gently by me and I try to calm the butterfly wings beating the inside of my chest. My heart is thundering and I can feel the sweat, slick and greasy, sliding down my back. I projected and air of calm and patience but I was bursting with nervous energy inside. Everything about this job is wrong. If I was smart, I’d turn around and head back the way I came. Quickly. I’d give back the deposit on the job, say it was no good and fund my vacation off-planet another way. Emotions are the number one reason people in my profession get themselves killed. If you can’t control them, you’re going to make a mistake that ends up killing you. It’s a matter of when and not if. So logically speaking, if I want to survive this encounter, I’d turn around and get the hell out of here.
I turn, muscles tensed and ready myself to sprint off into the darkness when the guard’s voice stops me.
“Ms. Warner,” he said. “Come with us please.”
Two large men in black body armor with wicked looking plasma assault rifles at the ready stood behind the gate guard.
“These men will escort you into the house.”
I adjust the strap of my purse on my shoulder and nod. “Thank you.”
One several paces ahead of me and one several paces behind, I am led through a maze of twisting corridors in what is a beautifully decorated palatial estate. There is artwork from many different planets represented and the riot of colors and designs somehow morphs into a stunning visual display. And though I can’t see them, I know that there are eyes on me every step of the way. I look around as if I am admiring the décor trying and failing to pick out the sensors and monitors that are watching me.
The first guard stops outside a massive wooden door, knocks and takes a position on the left. It looks like it belongs in one of the castles I used to read about. The guard behind me took his position on the right. They looked like a pair of lethal bookends.
“Come.” The voice was muffled by the heavy wood but still unmistakable.
Hesitantly, I reach out with a slightly trembling hand and open the door. I silently chastise myself for my fear and try to cage the beast inside of me before it runs out of control. This is a job like any other job I’ve contracted to do. Get ahold of yourself.
Except that it’s not like any other job.
I step into what is obviously a large office and library. Dark, oak shelves covered three of the four walls floor to ceiling and were filled with hundreds, maybe even thousands of books. The fourth wall was glass and looked out over the ocean. It was truly stunning.
“Kaitlyn?” The man behind the desk as he stood. “Is that really you?”
He is tall and fit with salt and pepper hair and a neatly trimmed beard to match. If I didn’t know what he did for a living, I would have called him distinguished looking. He looked at me with something like genuine surprise and a touch of suspicion in his eyes. I simply nod and smile back at him, suppressing the urge to wrap my hands around his neck and choke the life out of him. Though I know that if I do, I’ll be dead before I ever open the door to leave.
“Hello, father,” I say.
He steps around the desk and comes toward me with a device in his hand. I expect as much and hold out my arm, turning my hand over, baring my wrist to him. A DNA scanner. He looks slightly embarrassed as he presses it against my skin and activates it. A few moments later, the machine beeps and a green light flashes.
“I’m sorry,” he says. “A man in my position can’t take too many chances.”
“It’s fine. I understand.”
“Please, sit,” he says and guides me to a pair of wingback chairs that stand in front of a fireplace. I set my purse down under my chair and take a seat in the soft, plush chair. “Drink?”
“Yes, please. Scotch if you have it.”
He smiles at me. “The fruit apparently does not fall too far from the tree.”
A few moments later, he returns, hands me my glass and sits in the chair across from me. He sips as he looks at me and I can see his mind working.
“Don’t worry,” I say. “I’m not here for money.”
He shrugs. “I can’t say I’d blame you if you were,” he says. “After your mother took you off-planet, I didn’t think I’d ever see you again. I knew that you’d come back. I was sure of it. And now that you have, I couldn’t be happier.”
I fight back the urge to shudder and violently suppress the emotions inside of me. I remind myself that this man was less of a father to me than the man who brought me into the profession had been. What we did may be tasteless to some but at least there is some small amount of honor it. What this man does is evil.
“I’m surprised to be sitting here too,” I say.
He leans back in his chair. “So what brought you here tonight?”
“I don’t know,” I say. “It’s just that…"
He raises his eyebrows and takes another sip of his drink, content to wait me out.
“I’m leaving. Off-planet. And I don’t know if I’ll be back,” I recite the story I’d come up with. “And I don’t have many memories of you at all. I didn’t even remember what you looked like.”
“Leaving?” There is a touch of sadness in his voice.
I nod. “I have a job.”
He finishes his drink, stands and goes to fetch other. When he returns, he’s got the bottle in his hand, touches up my drink and sits back down. He looks at me for a long moment.
“What if I were to offer you a job, Kaitlyn?” He asks. “I don’t’ know what skills you have but we can certainly find out. And I can pay you whatever you wish.”
My emotions battle inside of me once more. Things I don’t recognize and things I’d rather remain ignorant to.
“Why would you do that?” I ask quietly.
“I’ve never had any other children,” he says evenly. “So that makes you the heir to my business. Plus, you’re my daughter and I want to catch up on all the time we missed.”
I look at him and can see the open affection for me in his eyes. It’s completely at odds with the monster that he really is. My heart beats faster, wants that connection with my father that I never had and yet, the cold and calculating profession in me keeps reminding me that he is a monster and I have a job I need to finish.
“Th- that’s very generous of you,” I say.
He reaches across and takes my hand. “Kaitlyn,” he says. “When your mother took you away from me, I was heartbroken. Believe me. But we have a chance to be a family again and I want that more than anything.”
I finish my drink and stand, walking over and setting the glass down on the table. I look at him and see how hopeful he looks, how much he means what he’s saying. He really thinks that we can pick up and be a family. And I silently curse that part of my heart that wants it too.
“I’ll be around for a few more days,” I say. “Can I think about it?”
He looks disappointed for a moment before he composes himself. “Of course,” he says. “Take all the time you need. There is no expiration date on this offer.”
“I should go.”
“Please stay,” he says. “Have dinner with me tonight. Let’s catch up.”
He suddenly looks like an old man, desperate to keep his family together rather than the calculating beast that sells children into bondage. My head is spinning and my heart is hammering away.
“Tomorrow,” I say. “We can have dinner tomorrow.”
He takes my hand and escorts me out of the house and all the way to the gate himself, his armed shadow following discretely behind. At the gate, he envelops me in a hug and I can smell the same aftershave and the scent of cigars I remember from when I was a very young girl. The memories detonate in my head like atomic blasts and I can feel the tears rising and sliding down my cheek. He takes my hand, gently kissing the back of it.
“Tomorrow then,” he says. “I’m already looking forward to it.”
I walk away in a daze, a mash-up of emotions I’d never expected to surface but are now wreaking havoc inside of my head and my heart. The tears, warm and salty flow unchecked as I make my way back to the rooftop of the building where I kept my office.
From this vantage point, I have a clear line of sight to my father’s compound. I imagine what he was doing right that moment, what he was feeling, who he might be talking to and what he might be saying. Slipping the small box out of my pocket, I pondered it for some long minutes.
I so desperately wanted a father and a family. Things that tear at my soul because I never really had either. But at what cost to myself? Could I knowingly lay down everything I knew about my father, ignore all of the evil and atrocities he’s committed? Become a part of that?
Fresh tears fall as I press the button signaling the powerful bomb hidden in the purse I’d left beneath the chair. The resulting blast lights up the sky like it's noon and the shockwave breaks the glass windows in buildings as far as the one I'm standing on.
I bite back the tears. It's a job and if nothing else, I am a professional.
This has been my entry for therealljidol Season 8, Topic 36C(D): Explode. As always, thank you so much for your continued support. I have no clue what sort of madness to expect but it should be interesting. Thank you, guys. You keeping me in this game means the world to me!