Somebody had to die. That was always the case when the secure, untraceable line of my cell phone buzzed. The SIM card to its predecessor self-destructed into a wisp of smoke at the end of the last job. And the ones before that.
“Love,” he said in his Kiwi accent. He wasn’t using it as a term of affection. It was my code name, but not how I felt about the job. I needed to find something else to do with my time, but I was caught up in the lifestyle of death.
“Harbinger,” I responded emotionlessly. His name sounded like failed superhero from a dime store comic book. Unlike the steroid-pumped, masked, and caped character that came to mind, this guy was real. I’d seen him in action and knew he was good at what he did. He was my handler.
“Got something for you.”
“You all ever hear of a vacation?” I was irritable and needed some time off. But an unused knife eventually went dull. I sighed.
He was smiling through the phone. “We’ve taken you all over the world. Had you ever been to Paris before us?”
“London? Portugal? Copenhagen?”
Of course I had been to those places, as well as dozens of others, to include a Sumatran shithole almost ended me. Didn’t want to reimagine that visit. I sighed, considering my last quick tour of Rome, in which I only saw the Trevi Fountain in passing. When tracking a mark, there was no time for snapping photos of the Leaning Tower of Pisa, shopping near the Champs-Elysses in Paris, or touring the Great Wall of China. There was only time to kill and my bosses were going to ensure I made the most of it.
In a sarcastic way, he was right. My cover was that of a flight attendant, wife, and soccer mom with blue collar husband whose ambitions rarely rose above watching the game on television. With the demands of our family, we couldn’t readily afford trips abroad. Heck, we were stretching it by taking the drive to Wisconsin Dells the previous summer.
The company—for whom my husband knew I worked, but had no clue of what I really did—had sent me around the world and back. Oblivious to the fact that I did more than fluff pillows or pass out peanuts to passengers, Gerald was understanding and kissed me on the forehead each time I absconded for a last-minute trip. Hayley, our daughter, looked up at me with big, brown eyes, and would always ask, “Mommy, when will you be back?”
I’d always promise to return in a few days. We’d exchange butterfly kisses with our eyelashes and I’d tell her we’d have a tea party or rearrange the furniture in her dollhouse when I returned.
My husband didn’t kick up a fuss, though the sudden commitments often meant rescheduling or canceling a date night. With him, I assured him I’d make it up, which usually meant a wild romp between the sheets. What he didn’t know was that I needed that sort of release after the things I’d have to do while plying my trade.
I’d been conditioned to relegate kills into a separate mental compartment, but their attachment was real. I adored my dependable, albeit boring husband and my baby girl. I usually couldn’t stop thinking about the task at hand or lying to my family, but there was something else that was on my mind: I was late.
“Where to this time,” I asked my supervisor.
“Something close to home for you.”
I didn’t like the fact that they knew where I lived, where my husband worked, and where my daughter attended school. They were aware of more than that, since it was their business to know. With their agents, tracking algorithms, and technology assuring me Big Brother was always watching, I wondered if they could tell my period had yet to arrive this month.
“That’s a relief,” I said, playing the role.
“I’ll send the package your way. Are you logged in yet?”
I’d already gotten out of the bed, unwrapping myself from Gerald’s snoring embrace, and made my way downstairs to the study. I connected the phone into the USB port and it lit blue to let me know the communication was encrypted. “I’m in. Got it.”
The laptop completed its download and asked for authentication. I typed in the password, fingers moving lightning fast over the keyboard. I could just as easily use my phone, but the larger screen of the computer made the details easier to read. Not that I needed much background information, but it helped to know the proclivities of the mark.
The dude was a cockroach. Those were some of the few creatures that would survive to skitter about a post-apocalypse landscape. I’d seen him before, so he was someone of note. Even we Milwaukeeans could tune in to the Chicago news for the latest tales of political corruption below the border. An alderman who owned several daycare centers throughout the metropolitan area, the mark had been accused of not only money laundering, misuse of campaign funds, and had purported Mafia ties—standard for Windy City high rollers—but he’d also been charged with several counts of child molestation. And, true to form, he’d slithered his way out. I was watching video of a press conference he held after beating the last conviction.
“We have a client who wants to send a message. There’s a bonus in it for you, which is good with Christmas being around the corner and all. Hayley could—”
“Don’t say my daughter’s name,” I told him in a curt voice.
He chuckled, his subtle threat conveyed. My family was always in the crosshairs if I’d ever failed. The company relished having that insurance policy to keep operatives from going rogue or pulling a disappearing act.
My nipples were extra-sensitive against my housecoat. I dismissed the symptoms of a menses that wasn’t going to happen. My body went through some of the same signs before I found out Gerald and I were going to be parents the first time. But I couldn’t think about the life that was stirring about inside of me at the moment.
I thought to warn my handler again to never say the names of my husband, daughter, or anyone else whom I held dear. But it didn’t bear repeating. His smugness on the other end of the line was going to get Harbinger rubbed out one day. And I had just the eraser to do the job.
“So what do you think,” he asked. “You have the right of first refusal.” That was his way of letting me know that others had gotten killed and moved out the way, giving me seniority for my pool of agents.
I studied the beady little eyes of Alderman Beloit Kidd—probably the worst name for a pedophile proprietor of nursery schools… They were soulless and cold, vacant of anything approaching true empathy. He walked around displaying a wide, plastic smile for the cameras, but something in his eyes never grinned. There was no way in hell I’d ever send my babies to Kidd’s World Daycare.
“I see no need for refusal,” I stated. I wanted to kill that bastard, and that was a unique thing about my position: follow-through on fulfillment. When I wanted someone dead and the light turned green, it happened. I could assure Beloit’s untimely demise before the sun peeked past the horizon. Harbinger would have to wait his turn.
“Good,” he said, “we have a vehicle you can pick up at the welcome center on the Illinois side of the border. Your weapons and other details will be in the in the trunk. Keys will be in the third stall in the women’s room.”
We’d used the pickup point before and my tools were always in the trunk of the car. All I cared about was the money. I had college tuitions I wanted to purchase at today’s prices. “And the bonus?”
“You’ll get the standard rate, plus an additional 25% if you carry it out before his press conference tomorrow. The cleanup crew will trail you, so you don’t have to worry about that. You’re free to make it as messy as you’d like.”
I hadn’t asked about the cleaners or the standard rate; I was concerned only with the bonus. He was volunteering information on stuff I already knew, which meant he was trying too hard to sell this. It was never out of my head that the company occasionally “retired” its agents early. This wasn’t done with the regular going-away party that all your family and friends could attend, because doing a slide show of your greatest pieces of handiwork didn’t go over too well family photo album. On this type of job, the danger wasn’t only from the mark and his or her protective detail; it was also from fellow agents.
“Am I scheduled for forced retirement?” I was straightforward when I asked, so I could gauge his response. My hormones had me acting out of sorts.
There was a brief pause and he chuckled slightly before he answered. “Retirement? What would ever give you a crazy idea like that, Love?”
Because raindrops falling on my head shouldn’t be warm or smell like an old, pissy mattress, I thought. We women were already attuned to sudden frequency shifts and unnecessary vocal inflection—that’s how we caught men cheating and knew when Little Johnny broke the lamp. Harbinger was lying to me. He had no need to answer my question with a question. Now, I knew he had to die.
“Okay, just checking,” I said with a fake smile in my tone. I was almost ready for politics.
“You’re one of our best operators.”
Buttering me up and going too far. Damned liar. Well, no, he wasn’t lying about me being one of the best. The lie was in the fact that he was tossing out the accolade like a doggie treat, hoping I’d be distracted by the bait. Chasing tail was a puppy’s game and I was a full-grown bitch.
“Why, thank you,” I blushed, using my own program to calculate his possible whereabouts. He could be waiting in the backseat of my car, like bad guys did in cheesy horror flicks, waiting to pounce. His pistol’s silencer or the throat-slitting knife would make no noise to wake the neighbors.
“He’ll be dead before dawn,” I assured him. I wanted him to think I was concerned about that bonus and not his sleight-of-hand trickery.
“I’d expect nothing less from the best.”
“Yeah,” I said, pressing the button to disconnect the call.
As much as I would’ve enjoyed it, I wasn’t going to Chicago to snuff the alderman. I wasn’t even leaving the house that night. I headed upstairs to tell my husband what he needed to know. After all, we were in for a long night and there was wet work to do. I’d been lying to Gerald since before we got married, so there would be a lot to hash out at the counselor’s office. There was Hayley and our unborn child to consider. That and the fact that I was crazy about his lackluster, dependable, blue collar ass.
If he ever tried to leave me, I’d kill him, too.
– Artwork and Story Copyright by Don Miskel