Whippersnapper

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“I hate when it rains. Reduces visibility.” That was my uninformed, upstart of a partner running his mouth again, not knowing a damn thing about anything that mattered.

“You talk too fuckin’ much,” I said gruffly. Stakeout tête-à-tête made the time go by, but it was only when that conversation wasn’t for the sake of creating carbon dioxide. “What’d I tell you about that?”

He sighed like a frustrated little brat that’d been relegated to the nearest corner when all he wanted to do was play.

“Rain is a good thing,” I informed him. “Reduced visibility makes it harder for witnesses to make out detail…and it washes away evidence, too. Lemme see your piece.”

I didn’t particularly like breaking in the new guys, tagging along so they didn’t make the stupid mistakes not covered in class. However, it was us older cats—me being one of the most ancient still able to work in the field—that pulled the coattails of the irreverent ranks.

He unholstered his firearm—a huge, gaudy monstrosity that would make a movie action hero soil himself with delight. He was trying to overcompensate and impress me. The organization already knew he had the basic skills to do the job; it was left to me to get the tyke fine-tuned.

“.50 cal, huh?”

He nodded proudly, big stupid grin extending upward to his rosy cheeks.

“We ain’t huntin’ buffalo, kid.”

His smile faded a shade and his brow creased ever-so-slightly. To him, I was a crotchety old relic that should’ve retired around the time his daddy refused to pull out the kid’s whore of a mother. I could’ve said something to the beat of the best part of him went running down Mama’s thighs and gummed up the sheets, but I didn’t. This was a learning opportunity for the youngster. I reached into my belt and pulled out my primary: an easily concealable, smaller caliber wheel gun.

“Whatcha gonna do with that, Pops,” the kid demanded to know. He was determined to let me know he had the cajones, smarts, and speed to get the job done. It was yet another teaching moment, of which the night seemed to have no shortage. “Rob stagecoaches?”

To that, he guffawed, still gripping the butt of his hand cannon. I smirked, since I could appreciate a good sense of humor. Besides, it would take more than remarks about my age or tools of the trade to get me seeing red.

“You’re funny, son. I like that.” A silence settled between us and I didn’t blink. “How many rounds does that thing carry?”

“Twelve,” he said with a defiant nod. “Twice as many as your old peacemaker.”

“Twice as likely to get your hopes up and twice as likely to get you killed, too. I have exactly six chances to get the job done right. That means I take my time and aim, remembering my fundamentals. I breathe, apply even pressure on the trigger, and pull it smoothly to the rear. Each round counts.”

“Takes too long,” he exclaimed dismissively. “By the time you fire your second shot, I’d already have emptied the clip and begun my reload.”

“You’re right. And there would be empty shell casings all over for the cops to find and accidentally wounded bystanders for them to question.” I leaned back a bit, squaring him up. “I’ll bet you even shoot sideways, like you’re in some in-the-‘hood gangster flick.”

His smartass expression said, Yeah and so what, old man?! It was his blatantly disrespectful attitude that made me decide just how to capitalize on the moment. After all, lion cubs had to be groomed to one day lead the pride.

“Let me tell you a story,” I began, much to his chagrin. He stifled the breath he wanted to huff, thinking better of it. “I was probably about your age…”

“Back in the days when they invented the wheel and Moses rode the ark, right?”

I shot him a glare, not bothering to correct him on the fact that it was Noah. But Sunday School was a class I hadn’t been paid to teach.

“Mind if I finish?”

He nodded. “Please…by all means, carry on.”

“I was arrogant like you when I was your age. I was fresh out of Force Recon when I was recruited by the organization. Had done a good share of wet-works by then, too.”

The kid exhaled, his eyes bugging as if to say, Is this gonna be a long story? I got shit to do, man!”

However, the only shit he had to do was whatever I told him. And, regardless of his insolence, I had to issue the story as a preamble. It was only right to give him a chance.

I continued: “My field training officer seemed more ancient then than I am now. Had a buzz cut of white needles framing his leathery face. Never smiled. Growled a lot, though…”

Yeah, yeah, yeah! And, as he lay dying in your arms, he passed on some sort of profound knowledge concerning this job. That’s it, right?! You don’t hafta go describing the type of aftershave he wore or the repressed homosexual urges you all shared. Just get to the fuckin’ point, man!”

I chuckled, looking through the windshield at the rain coming down in sheets. “Why don’t you step outta the car, youngster?”

To that, he exploded. “Ya know what, Gramps? I ain’t yer son, I ain’t a kid, and I ain’t here to listen to some tired old windbag relive his friggin’ glory days!”

I calmed myself, slowing my heart rate, taking time to breathe. This is what I did before engaging a target with a weapon or in hand-to-hand. Though I could easily leave the kid with a knife through his windpipe or a smoking hole in his temple, I still wanted to give the kid a chance. I liked him. “Step out,” I repeated, unbuttoning my jacket and opening the door.

Five minutes later, he was huffing and puffing, the fingers of his right hand broken to resemble a windmill. I’d hung that miniaturized missile launcher off his trigger finger, which he couldn’t bend. I’d told him not to reach for it, as I just wanted to knock him around a bit to prove a point. He didn’t believe fat meat was greasy and had to find out the hard way.

“M-may I please have a cigarette,” he begged. He was dripping wet from the rain, cradling his useless arm with his left. I didn’t break his elbow as much as I’d given it a nice hyperextension to reinforce some respect for his elders.

“No smoking when you’re with me. Cigarette butts leave a trail like breadcrumbs.”

“I-I-I’m sorry,” he said through bruised gums and clenched teeth. Though tempted to knock them out and leave them on the pavement like candy-coated tablets of chewing gum, I didn’t. The organization had an excellent dental plan, but he’d already be exercising the medical benefits that night.

“I know,” I said coolly, looking at his humbled countenance from the driver’s seat. “Now, may I please continue on with my story?”

His swollen lips drooled blood and saliva onto his dark shirt. The white of one eye was discolored from a nice blow to the temple. A little harder and I could’ve made his eye pop out altogether. Hell, I’d done it before.

He nodded. “Please do, sir. Please do.”

I cleared my throat, watching the rain, which had muffled his screams, washing any remnants of blood into the gutter. “As I was saying, I was also arrogant at your age, until I ran afoul of my mentor.”

The kid’s eyes blinked and he sat up straight, giving me his rapt attention.

I displayed my right hand, opening and closing the fist. “In fact, my arthritis flares up whenever it rains.”

The whippersnapper frowned at his own hand, the tips of each finger snapped to point leftward. His thumb, which I’d broken inward on itself, remained balled up against the palm. It was the same type of learning moment that’d enlightened me over 20 years before. It was a lesson that, if he was lucky, the kid would one day pass on to another aspiring assassin that’d been left in his care.

© Don Miskel, 2014.

Image courtesy of kellieelmore.com

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The Forgone Conclusion

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Erick's Logo Artwork

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?”

“No.”

“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.

Fucker.

“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