Turn Card

(unedited) One of the problems to being an assassin (and there are several) is that despite your high level of sincerity, it can be difficult to get your friends to trust you. No matter how deep my relationships lye, I have come to understand that my friends often can’t help but think of enemies they may have made in their life, and wonder if by some unlucky chance, a certain nemesis of theirs has hired me to do away with them. For many years I struggled to understand this thought process. My friend Devin is a stockbroker in Bend, Oregon, and when we traipse out to the local pub, I don’t worry that he’ll try and get me to buy a mutual fund. But such is life, at least, my life, and this aspect simply happens to be par for the course, or so they say. At any rate, problems do arise from killing people for a living, and as you read on, I imagine you’ll come to understand what those problems are; in the event I am neglectful in pointing them out. Which brings us to the point that there is a story ahead of you. Of that I’m sure you would assume, since it is not often one picks up a book only to discover that events strung together to make a tale are missing from the story, with only white pieces of paper available to peruse. So I can say with confidence, that if you are reading this now, there are pages ahead of you, and that makes me happy because it means that I was able to gather the thoughts that flow in and out of my head and properly put them down into words. On with the story. As I mentioned earlier, I am an assassin. I kill people for people who pay me money. And though the life of an assassin may seem fast-paced and constantly full of thrills, I am here to inform you that while there are moments that would make a rock star blush, most of the time, time is spent waiting. I have heard of bands on the road, playing sold out arenas, describing their time on tour as a roller coaster, in that the waiting precedes the exciting descent, and lasts much longer than the rush that is realized in just a few, short seconds. I guess the same could be said for the life of an assassin. Well let me tell you that there is nothing exciting about being huddled against a rusted aluminum trash can on a cold night in Reno, Nevada, waiting for Mike to walk out of the bar, get to his car and reach for his keys. Especially when I have shown up promptly at 10:15pm, and Mike has chosen to close the bar down at 2:00am. No, there are few ESPN highlights with the job that I have made my career. On another particular night, I was fortunate enough to have the day off, and with my free day, I decided to do the most productive thing I could think of-I went to the bar.

The Belly Up was built around 1925, during the Roaring 20’s period, and what was once a beacon of intoxicating prosperity, had now been stripped down to a bare and stench filled watering hole, full of hopeless alcoholics, and a jukebox transported from the past. I heard Steve Miller’s ‘Fly Like an Eagle’ over the muffled speakers from the rear of the bar as I made my way through the back door. From the back door not because I was being careful, mind you, but because the Belly Up was a mere three blocks from my apartment, and the end of the third block funneled me in to where I was standing at this moment. Now, you might be wondering to yourself, ‘Why would an assassin, who needs to keep his wits about him, seem to gravitate to a bar and drink? Is he a drunk? Does he not have a girlfriend? Maybe both and he’s just not a good assassin?” Well, I take offence to all three, and while the first two choices are debatable, I can tell you without pride that I just happen to be a member of the 1st tier assassin rank; an accord I garnered through years of hard work, luck, and skill. No, this night brought me here because I had been very busy the last four evenings and I needed a break. A fitting reward for a job that I was first employed to carry out 12 months ago. This particular job had taken a hiatus, when upon word of his planned demise; Mike had decided to leave the country and head to a nice island, where his 5 million dollars would see him through his remaining years. Unfortunately for Mike, his mother passed away three weeks ago here in the states, and like a fool, he came back to pay his last respects. Since I was under contract, and had already received fifty percent of my rate up front, I had the vocational obligation to see to it that I honored my commitment and earn the rest of my wage. Without going into much detail, suffice it to say that I finished the job. I walked past the door of the decrepit bathroom of the Belly Up, and as I did, I’m quite sure friends and family of Mike were planning his own farewell sendoff. As I approached the all too familiar bar of the bar, I saw the first friendly face I had seen in some time. “Gin and Tonic?” Pete asked rhetorically, looking down as he wiped the suds off the counter in front of me. “Double,” I replied. “And a tall glass this time.” I watched as Pete rested his weight on the balls of his feet for just a second, only to quickly pick them up as he headed to the main section of the bar, and reach for the bottle of Sapphire. I first met Pete about three years ago, and not at the Belly Up, as you might imagine. The local ‘Block Party’ in our town was a festival held once a year on Garnet Street, where traffic was always blocked, and road space upon road space was filled with merchants hocking the latest label rip-offs and crappy original art-work this side of Tijuana. Pete had been one of the merchants that day; selling dream catchers made of yarn for $30 a

piece. I purchased one on a whim during a conversation I struck up with him when I realized no one was flocking to his booth. When he told me he managed a bar nearby known as the Belly Up, and to stop by for a free drink, I immediately took a liking to him and considered my purchase a wise investment. “Haven’t seen you in a while,” Pete remarked, as he placed the coaster on the bar and rested my complimentary beverage on top of it. I consider Pete a friend, in that I can count on him if I were to ever get in a jam, along with the fact that he knew how I paid my rent. I wondered if at this moment he was thinking of who he might have upset in his life right now. The truth was I hadn’t been to the Belly Up in some time. Much longer than four days ago, this was not typical of my routine. I was in the process of ending a three month relationship with a girl who, during our short courting, could never understood why I never revealed much about what I did with most of my time. I guess you could say I didn’t consider her a friend. “I’ve been busy,” I replied, as I lifted the heavy glass and balanced it between my left hand and the edge of my bottom lip. Pete just smiled and turned away, heading toward a couple who just found their own seat on the other side of the bar. As I set my drink down, I glanced around the bar; curious to see if by some odd chance, Pete decided to redecorate the walls. I wasn’t surprised to see the same beer posters and various knick knacks strewn about the establishment. A site I had come to know and expect. It seemed as if the only decoration that changed was the schedule of the local team, as each football season began. “Good team this year, wouldn’t you say?” said a man I had not yet noticed who had decided to occupy the empty seat to my right. “Ugh, yeah, they look pretty good,” was all I could offer in my mildly surprised state. The truth was I knew very little about football anymore, only that it still seemed to turn most men’s attention away from their significant other 4 months out of the year. I had once been immersed in the sport, following every move of the team my father rooted for. When he passed, I quickly found myself completely bored by the whole concept of athletics. My interest in football dying along with my Dad. “You know, I never gave much hope for them, along with the critics. But this year they’re surprising everyone, including myself.” Since this was not a topic I was up to date on, and he was a stranger to me, I offered no reply. I discovered a long time ago that when your job consists of committing felonious crimes, its best not to offer up too much to people you don’t know. Plus I was more concerned with emptying the glass I had before me. My head started to sway as I motioned to Pete for another, like a gambler telling the dealer to hit them again.

Minutes passed while the stranger stared at TV, which was secured in the top corner of the bar. I had no interest in talking to this individual, but I had gotten used to sizing up people who chose to occupy space near me, and I relied on my peripheral vision to get a look at who was sitting next to me. At about 6 feet tall, and around 175 pounds, the man was not noticeably apparent. His shoulders sagged as he sat, and the gray sprouts in his hair indicated he was not fresh out of high school. As I looked at his face, I noticed something. A scar that ran down the entire left side of his face. It started about half an inch from his left eye, and settled at the edge of his jaw. The healed wound was only about 2 millimeters in width, and gave the indication that it had occupied his face for many years. Of note was the lack of ‘railroad’ appearance, which occurs when the wound is not stitched, leaving the scar without the typical flesh dots that appear alongside. I surmised quickly that this fellow had either grown up tough, or without the availability of a nearby doctor. Once I felt that I had an appropriate read on the man, I turned toward the game that he was apparently watching. No sooner did I turn away than did he speak for the first time in several minutes. “Your name is Sean, right?” he said. Stunned, but not off kilter, I set the Gin and Tonic I had just sipped from down and turned away from the TV, toward Pete, who was chatting it up with a cute brunette who couldn’t decide what type of rum she wanted with her coke. “Yes,” was all I said, not looking at the man. “I know who you are and I know what you do,” the stranger with the scar said, forgetting all about the football game that seemed to have engrossed him only moments ago. As he spoke, the fingers on my right hand crawled toward my side, toward my belt which was currently home to a 7 inch steel blade. I’ve been caught off guard when my identity had been exposed many times in the past, and I learned early on to play it cool. My biceps, which would have once tightened, remained loose, providing me the quick release I may have needed to draw the blade and wedge it firmly between the stranger’s left stomach area, right between the end of his rib cage and his pelvic bone. “What do you want?” I asked politely. “My name is Damien,” the stranger replied, “and I am here for business. You have something that belongs to my boss, and I need it back.” Deciphering cryptic messages has never been a specialty of mine, and on the contrary, I found it quite insulting that this gentleman wasn’t getting to the point. The knife at my side pulsated, as if it had personified, and developed its own palpitating heart.

Boom, boom, boom was all it said. The man with the scar continued. “Five years ago, you were set out to do a job. You completed that job, only you took with you the item that bore reason for the job in the first place.” “What item do you speak of?” I asked. “I believe you know, or at least, you should have some idea. At the minimum, the merchant you probably sold it to must have clued you in.” The truth was I didn’t know what scar-faced was talking about. One perk to killing people is that you get first pick of their belongings. As an assassin who uses his feet as his primary method of transportation, the items I usually took were small and easily transportable. Now that I could somewhat narrow down what he was talking about, I at least could safely assume that it wasn’t an SUV. The stranger continued. “I am not here to barter, or plea, but have instead been sent to see that this item is recovered by my boss and returned to its intended home.” “Sorry to disappoint you,” I told him, “but in my line of work I don’t hold on to possessions too long, and when I find a buyer, I make it a point to forget the faces and names I pass those possessions along to.” In a manner of just a quick second, my head hit the rotting floor of the Belly Up and the stranger’s feet were straddled around my waist as he stood over; his right foot nestled tightly against the blade I still had nudged at my side. As my eyes slowly started to close, I could see the stranger hovering over me, along with a startled Pete right behind him, oblivious to the Gin and Tonic he had finally brought me, slowly spilling out over his right hand. This was not the way I had planned to spend my day off. Chapter 2 In the world of the assassin there are ranks; which I loosely touched upon in the first chapter. Three tiers comprise the official ranking system. Daggeer (pronounced dagjeeer) is considered rank number three. Those who hold this rank are without question, the most eclectic group of assassins in regard to skill, potential and accomplishments. Unlike a title, rankings in the assassin world can fluctuate for an assassin, depending on his current ability at the time. Daggeers can consist of one time top assassins, whose ability has diminished over the years, to emerging prodigies who lack the experience necessary to hold a higher rank. Still, there are those who, regardless of effort, simply don’t have the innate qualities to move up, and are forced to fumble around, desperately trying to find employers who are willing to pay a lesser fee to kill an enemy. The biggest

fear of a Daggeer is that he will one day fall out of the good graces of the Assassin rank, and lose the prestige that comes from being in this profession. The second rank in this lonely establishment is that of the Orenkin. Like the Daggeers, Orenkins consist of many up and coming marvels, all of whom have surpassed the first rank through well executed assignments. An Orenkin may have achieved his status by killing a heavily guarded and high profile mark, or by the trials he had to endure during the assignment, such as locating hard to find Mikes or cleverly using new or perhaps unique methods. Orenkins look down lowly upon the Draggeers, and if you ask an Orenkin, they will tell you that it is because they feel contempt to lesser qualified assassins, but the truth is that they fear once again wearing the Draggeer labels themselves, should their ability slip. Orenkins comprise, from what I hear, around 30% of the Assassin family. Draggers make up about 67%. If you do the math, that means that only about 3% of assassins can boast of the most prestigious ranking; one that elicits a fair amount of respect. The ranking I write of is of course, the Alkaveeds. Little is known by lower levels about the identity of Alkaveeds, only that those who are skillful enough to claim the title possess an ability to carry out assignments with skillful grace, and always, always without fail. Three hundred years of rumors have convinced many that an Alkaveed is of a higher breed; one created for the sole purpose of being the ultimate mercenary. If you happen to run into an Alkaveeds, I suggest you be nice. As an Alkaveed, I am here to tell you that I am not aware of any higher bloodline and more than I know why it is I do what I do. I have faults, but I do know that I am very good at killing people and I seem to impress those who make the decision to hand out the rankings, the Genori Group. Like the worst hang-over ever (and there have been many, but they mesh into one, horrible, horrible pain), I lay helplessly on a cold concrete floor of what I hoped was someone’s outdoor basketball gym. I hoped that it was a gym so that I could just attempt to give my brain enough crowd cheering support to open my eyes and survey my surroundings. But alas, I was alone. And when I mean alone, I really mean alone. The tiny room I suddenly found myself in was bare and desolate. A light that I had seen before, once powering the rickety bathroom of my fraternity home, had now been transported into this dingy place, and shed the only visibility that I would know for the next two hours. The corners of the room meshed with the gray concrete of the ceiling. Off to the side I saw the remnants of a daddy longlegs’ web, spun probably weeks ago, which had now succumbed to the inhabitancy of my new chamber. I wondered how long I had been there. The immediate bareness left me with nothing but my imagination. I conjured up exciting times of my past, most notably, the time I had spent with Jessica. Those were good times. Good times filled with the occasional drunken outburst, push and then punch. And then repeat. But after so many blows to my head, who was I to think that my current situation was anything but out of the ordinary.

But I lay, and lay I did. I mean, what are you supposed to do when one minute you’re enjoying the best gin this side of my house has to offer, and the next, some weirdo goon is probing you for questions, and content only when he has laying backside on the ground of the bar, just praying for sleep. My eyelids opened, and as they did, I could feel the transfer of pain, as it shifted from my face down to my lower back. My neck attempted to lift my head, while the rest of my body lay motionless on the ground. I surveyed my surroundings, and once I grasped the disparity of having a bunch of gray walls, roof and floor, I decided that I was better off laying completing as I was; an inconspicuous prisoner of some sort of war, just waiting it out so he could go home. I had no such luck. What seemed like only minutes actually equated to an hour in real time, and a door that I had never noticed before opened, almost magically, as if it had been there all along. In my line of work, it is quite frowned upon to sink your organs and lay privy to what may happen. If one were to do that, one would not make it as an assassin. One would be dead. But low and behold, here I found myself, a member in the elite core, a young strapping assassin who knew of no danger, now faced with a predicament that he did not know how to get out of. For some reason, I expected the door to open all the way, but it didn’t. It stopped at a 45 degree angle, and I looked up to the top of the door, expecting to see a face, but once again I assumed wrong. Several feet below the top of the door, a right foot emerged first, followed by the rest of the body, pretty much at the same time. To my amazement, attached to the body was a pair of breasts. If you talk to some of the old Alkaveeds, they’ll tell you that a woman has no business involved in any sort of mischeivings, and right now I had to agree. I didn’t want anyone involved in the sort of predicament I found myself in. With anyone involved, I didn’t have much to worry about, I could take care of myself. Unfortunately, I didn’t have a choice. As she made her way toward my battered body, she lifted her right leg past my stomach and hovered over me. For fucks sake, did they all have to do that? “Hi Sean,” came a voice I hadn’t heard in some time. My eyes moved past my lifeless body, up to the woman who had just uttered that familiar voice. “Oh, hey,” was the best I could offer.

Before me stood (I mean actually ‘stood’) the most gorgeous woman my eyes had ever come across. As she hovered over my battered body, I stared at her. There are certain types of staring one can do. For example, when you look at someone who is talking to you, you often look directly into their eyes, or if that’s too awkward, you cross your eyes slightly so that their face becomes almost blurred, but clear enough to still recognize them. The other type of staring occurs when you pinpoint a certain feature on their body, usually somewhere on their face, and you stay on target, focusing intently on whatever part of their anatomy you happen to be looking at. This was the type of staring I did. I knew who was hovered above me. I knew her name. I knew where she grew up. I knew that in bed she used to cross one leg over the other when she slept. Because I knew all this I wasn’t bothered by the task of figuring out who she was. So instead I focused on her nose. There’s not much you can really say about a person’s nose. We all have them and they look pretty much the same. Perhaps if I were a better writer I could tell you that the protrusion of the nose came together, sort of like the end of an ice cream cone, or that the freckles at the top of her nose formed an Orion like pattern; strewn carelessly from one side to the other. Of note, I did see that her nostrils were flaring. Having the advantage of knowing who this person was, I knew that her nostrils weren’t always in that shape. At this moment, they were flared, and they were flared because she was nervous. ‘Mika,’ I said. ‘If this is about that time you found me in the back pew with the Sunday school teacher, I swear to God she was teaching me Christianity.’ Mika (that’s her name) and I used to work together, and during the course of our business relationship, we found that we were quite fond of one another. So fond that she came close to becoming my wife, and I became closer to leaving this business. ‘Sean,’ Mika replied, ignoring my comment, ‘you know why you are here. I don’t want you to be here longer than you have to, so I’m going to ask you nice and once only, comply with the request, and you can go on your way.’ As she spoke, I could see her right hand tremble ever so lightly. As an Alkaveed, Mika knew better than that, but I suppose given the current situation, she had a right to be a little nervous. After all, I did shoot her three times in the chest when we were last together. ‘I’ll tell you what I told that hairy guy with the Napoleon complex, I don’t know what it is you want.’ This was the truth. I am not keeping anything from you. I really had no goddamn clue why I was here.

‘The book, Sean.’ Mika said. ‘In the interest of time, I will spell it out for you so that we can both be on our way. Where is the book?’ Oh, the book. It’s cute how people create word games, whereby certain, very specific objects, are defined by general terms that allow for the people who are in on the game to have an entire conversation centered around something so vague say as a chair, or in this case, a book, without anyone being the wiser. Cute. Suddenly things became a little clearer. Despite my throbbing head, which was throbbing quite nicely mind you, I was very much aware of what she was referring to, and why it was that people might be after me. Why she was here, was another story. I hoped that I would live long enough to find that out. One thing I’ve always been fascinated by is the idiosyncratic traits that are specific to each person. As a whole, we are all pretty much the same. We all eat to maintain our body’s functionality. We speak to communicate with one another. We reproduce so that future generations can keep the cycle going. And yet, we each have our little quirks and views that make us uniquely different from each other. There are few people that know how I earn my living, and those that do each have their own take on it. While a hypothetical survey of a random group of people asked if what I do is moral, right, etc. might all tell you that it isn’t, I’ve had quite a different reaction from the people I know. I’ve had relationships with friends end once my vocation became exposed, and I’ve had very accepting acknowledgments from others. There’s a lot to be said for personal ties, they often transcend moral beliefs and thoughts because at the core is a decision. Do I either disapprove of what a person is doing, or do I accept it and continue on with the friendship? I’ve had this reaction from many of the people who know the real me. I guess it’s similar to a racist disliking a particular ethnicity, but embracing the one friend who is of that race. I wouldn’t go so far as to call the people I know racists, but their subtle defiance and yet embracement of me as a person in some way validates what it is that I do. If I was completely isolated because of this profession, I’m not sure I would stick with it. So by some measure, through transitive property, the death of anyone I encounter may be linked to the friends I have who accept what it is that I do. And then again, maybe I just like killing people. At any rate, it’s too late to change what I have done, and my chemical make-up has been defined. If I were to stop now and devote my life to social service, the fact would still remain that I’ve been the reason for many deaths, and the trauma that plagued the families and loved ones of those whose life I took. As much as I enjoy being insightful now wasn’t the time to speculate on why I do what I do. No, there was no time for that because at that moment, a very beautiful and familiar face had asked me a question, and the heel digging into my spleen reminded me that times a wasting. This ‘book’ that my dear old friend referenced, was actually a spiral notebook, similar to the one a student may take notes in, only instead of math equations and scribbles, this spiral notebook contained a variety of crudely constructed drawings and pieces of

information that some may find extremely valuable. It was my guess that either Stacy or someone she was working for happened to be one of those people who found this book of worth. At this moment, I imagine you’re scratching your head, saying ‘Godamnitt Sean, shut up already and tell us what’s in the book’. Well, I’ll have you know that I haven’t a clue as to what was contained in this book, only that it has been spoken of in clandestine circles, among the most prestigious and admired members of the Genori Group. The Genori Group is the regulatory body of the assassin. They keep close tabs on everyone from the meagerest of the Daggeer to the most acclaimed of the Alkaveed. If you fail to act in a manner fitting to the organization, you will at the very least be verbally reprimanded, and at the very most, your soul will forever burn in the fiery pit that is, well, the truth is they’ll just flat out impale you. A long time ago, (1,200 hundred years at least, I’ve heard), the Genori Group was formed when it was decided that authoritative law no longer commanded the respect and swift hand that was necessary in times stricken with war. Unlike many groups who would at that time rise up in an attempt to overthrow whatever government was in charge, the Genori Group kept their ears to stone, and their eyes firmly planted on the events that were unfolding during the mutiny. Instead, acting on calculated decisions, the Genori Group would piece by piece, terminate certain members of both sides in an attempt to produce a result that best suited their needs. There were no geographical constraints to the groups, and many sects were involved with events that were specific to their own culture and religion. The common denominator among them all was an epiphanorial event that, which, if you believe, occurred on a certain day, and caused everyone that would become the Genori Group, to act in the manner that they would become accustomed to, which was secret meeting, a universal symbol branded below their right clavicle and the almost miraculous sticks that were thrown into the spokes that are our everyday lives. While the Genori hand out the ranks to the assassins, actually being in the presence of one is quite rare (I’ve had 3 encounters, one that didn’t go so well). If you do happen to see one, though, the same tattered cloak is always worn, with a scarf strewn across their chest, beginning from the left shoulder, through the armpit of the right arm, carefully concealing their symbol of membership. During the course of my adulthood, I had from time to time heard minor references to the book, by other members of my circle and I had never paid much attention to it, since it didn’t concern me in any way, until one day when I was asked to do a job. Several years ago, I was employed by an anonymous person to carry out what I perceived to be a routine job. The mark was a 35 year old business executive who I learned through my research at the time, was a gallivanting playboy (or so he would have liked to think) whose penchant for woman was only slightly overshadowed by a stronger desire to stuff whatever he could up his nose. Knowing this helped me expedite the entire process, which made me quite content. I was paid the same amount on all jobs, regardless of how long it took. A quick finish to a kill meant that I could move on to the next project and keep killing people.

One night I approached the mark at an exclusive club that I already knew he frequented. As the night went on, and the drinks kept flowing, I made my move and sparked up a conversation. “This is a pretty nice place,’ I said, doing my best to look as innocent as possible. With little more than a nod, this man turned his head away from me and turned his attention back to the gorgeous blond he had been talking to. I was not about to be discouraged. Calmly, I continued talking, despite the fact that I was now facing the back of his head. “I was supposed to meet a friend of mine here. He had put an order in for some snow but he didn’t show up. Now I’m stuck with a great bag of blow and no one to sell it to.’ I was not surprised to see his head turn until he was now facing me. A few seconds passed as he surveyed me, up and down, trying to figure me out. “I’m all set,’ he said, ‘thanks.’ ‘I don’t think you are,’ I replied. ‘No matter what you have, this shit is going to make you feel like you’re banging your high school crush.’ “How much,” was all he said. Motioning to the back door, he and I left the establishment, into a side parking lot that had only one light, which appeared to have burned out. The night before, after the bar had closed, I had switched the light with one that had just enough juice to last a few hours so that when he and I were to leave the bar, it would have just burned out. I walked in front of him (walking behind would have made him nervous). I stepped out first and he soon followed into a dark lot. Since I knew there was likely chance that there might be smokers taking a puff, I had planned to take him to a car that I would have told him was mine. I would have simply informed him that for security reasons, I kept the stuff in my car. I didn’t have to ask him to go to ‘my’ car since there were no smokers around. I continued walking past the dumpster and settled between it and the wall of the hair salon, which was connected to the bar. He followed. “So let’s get this over with,” he said, sniffing. Apparently he did have his own blow. With my right hand, I reached into my pocket, pretending to grab the product. As he glanced down in excitement, I felt the handle of my 6 inch blade positioned ever so perfectly in-between the back side of my belt and my jeans. In micro seconds I pulled both hands out in front of me, my right hand closed like a fist and my left hand positioned around the handle of the blade. As both hands come out, I caught him in the lower ventricles of the heart, positioning the blade up so that it would hit the vital area.

Still focused on the imaginary coke that was in my right hand, the man’s legs buckled and in a two step process, he landed on the neglected asphalt with both knees, and then met the ground with his face as he fell over. As he lay on his stomach, bleeding from his gut, I saw the item that I had been set out to retrieve, curled snugly in the back right pocket of his slacks. I reached for it while at the same time tucking my knife into its case. With this dilapidated spiral notebook in hand, I casually walked up the alley until I rounded a corner, where my real car was parked. It was time to get paid. “I got to be honest with you, Mika,” I answered back, in response to her question about the book. “You look extremely sexy. Where did we go wrong?” There is never a good time to get kicked in the stomach, even when the person who’s attached to the foot is absolutely stunning. As I groaned once more, Mika stepped back several feet and began walking around me, to the point where she became out of my view. With a few foot taps that produced a hollow sound, two men came in from another door behind me that I had apparently not noticed before. The first gentleman (and I hoped he would be gentle) stood over six feet but not by much. He wore a burgundy tunic that covered his muscular frame. The bulge above his right pocket indicated a firearm. He glowered at me as I lay on the floor while the second man stared at him, as if waiting for instruction. I could tell instantly who made the decisions between the two. Mika, meanwhile, had stepped back into my view, though now several feet further away. As she lit a cigarette, smoke began to circle underneath my nose and I was reminded of the seedy bars I had frequented in my younger years. With an indiscernible accent that could have come from a Die Hard movie, the man in the tunic spoke for the first time. “At tis very moment, you have the fortunate ‘vantage of deciding wether you choose to live or die,” he informed me. “Personally, I cood not care, as killing you would bring me great joy, while getting you to tal me what we need to know would make boss happy. I would be pleased with either situashun.” There are many movies that place the protagonist in a scenario in which all hope for escape with one’s own life seems futile, and yet, without much as producing a sweat, these heroes find a way each time to conquer their challenge and move on to the next death-defying stunt. As a proven and experienced Alkaveed, I had had few moments like this, and to be honest, this predicament looked grim, and I knew that there was a very good chance that unless I acted accordingly, my life, full of 28 years of adventures, mistakes and joy, could all end. I rose up so that I was now sitting on my butt, instead of laying on the floor. I had just severely improved my situation.

“I sold the book,” I explained, telling them something of actual truth for the first time since I had woken up in this strange room. “Now ve are getting somewhere,” tunic man said, letting a mild grin form at the edge of his mouth. “Who did you sell book to?” My brain began to race, trying to determine what response would yield a satisfactory answer. Knowing that the real truth would result in a fearsome blow to my skull, I quickly came up with a piece of semi- fiction, hoping to stall just long enough to decide my next move. “Victor,” I stated, doing my best to look as believable as possible. “He was a merchant of sin in the GasLamp in San Diego. This was about two years ago. He paid me $5,000 to recover the book from some cokehead who had acquired it somehow from someone I don’t know.” I knew there was a good chance that they were aware of the man who I took the book from. Hoping that this statement of truth would cause them to believe the rest of my statement was my best chance at earning credibility, and getting out of here alive. “Victor,” repeated the man, almost lost in thought. “Victor.” As the foreign man reached in his pocket, I saw a Desert Eagle emerge. My heart began to palpitate and as I looked over at Mika, I saw for the first time a hint of emotion which I assumed was affection toward me. Her eyes met the gun as well and I knew that while she no longer was on my side, at the very least she didn’t want to be standing by as pieces of my skull were carelessly splattered across the room. To my surprise, instead of holding the gun normally, with the index finger planted in front of the trigger, the barrel was wrapped inside his hand, leaving the butt of the Desert Eagle exposed. “I know Victor,” the strange man said, now smiling. And with that, the bottom of the gun came crashing down on my forehead. The last thing I recalled from this moment was the sharp pain that seemed to travel down my forehead to my neck. For the second time in one day, I was knocked unconscious. You might think that as an assassin, I don’t have much regard for human life, including those closest to me. I can’t speak for everyone, but this is not true in my case. While rare, there have been certain people whose demise affected me very personally, leaving wounds that to this day remain opened. I think the knowledge that they could only one day become scars has prevented me from moving on. “What the hell happened to you?” Dazed, I forced my eyes to open in order to survey my surroundings. I discovered that I was in my office, a modest dwelling in the ghetto that I had been renting for several years

now. The voice had come from Jake, my assistant. Somewhere in his early thirties, Jake was a normal looking guy who a while back had tried to make it as an assassin. He realized early on that he had neither the skill nor mental strength to be successful. Upon finding this out, I had asked him to work for me, as I met him several times prior, and decided that while he wasn’t cut out for the life of killing others, he had other uses, which I imagine you’ll be informed of as the story continues. “Can you hand me a wet towel,” I asked, rubbing my forehead with my right hand. Jake had already walked over to the bar and began running the water. “Did you get in a bar fight?” Jake wanted to know. “No, some guy at the Belly Up, Mika, another few guys. Strange room,” I mumbled, still trying to gather my thoughts together. I moved over to my luxurious desk and sat down in my comfortable leather chair. The cushion felt nice, and represented the first moment of comfort I had experienced since I had made the decision to go to that god forsaken bar. “Mika?” Jake exclaimed. “She did this to you? Who were the guys, what the fuck happened?” As he walked toward the desk, drops from the towel fell on the keyboard of my computer. I thought about turning it over to let the water drain, but decided the effort was too great. “No, some crazy Russian guy, well actually it was two guys, one at the Belly Up, and the Russian guy hit me with his gun. I’ll tell you what, let me get my thoughts together and tell you the whole story later. In the meantime, how are things here?” Jake handled many of my business affairs. All clients who are in need of my services go to Jake and more or less plead their case. He makes sure that the job won’t lead me to my funeral, that it’s not a conflict of interest, that it pays well, etc. Before I embark on a job, Jake and I go over the details and he assists with planning the entire event. “Things, yeah, they’re pretty good,” he answered. “The second half of the Gruber installment came in yesterday. Ten large.” Gruber was a client who had hired me to take care of a business associate of his who had been funneling funds to the Caribbean. I didn’t much care for him and was glad that he paid up. “Good,” I remarked. “How’s your sister?” Jake’s sister had a debilitating disease that confined her to a wheelchair. She lived with her parents but made frequent visits to the hospital when her body would shut down. She was the sweetest girl, about 23 I think. I would go with Jake once a month to visit her

and every time we would stop by the store where I would pick up a box of Milk Duds, her favorite. When she would look away to talk to Jake or her parents, I’d slip the box in her medicine pouch that was attached to the wheelchair. “She’s fine, Sean,” he replied. “Had another trip to the hospital last night, but she got out this morning, and was able to make it to church.” Jake would often be called away when Lisa would have one of her episodes. Given his position, which required him to be on call for me 24 hours a day, there had been times when I needed him and he wasn’t available. I understood and accepted that I would lose out when it came down to his sister and me. So far it hadn’t posed a big problem, but I knew that one of these days I would find myself in a jam and require his services when he was caring to her. I hoped that whenever that day came, I will have accomplished everything I meant to do in this life. Though my head was still pounding, I decided I had enough rest at that point and proceeded to rise up from my chair. As the blood rushed to my head, I figured I best stay back down and in doing so, I motioned to Jake to have a seat as well. I filled him in on the previous day’s events. I was still wondering how the hell I had gotten back to my office. “Wow, Victor?” Jake asked with a surprised smile on his face. “That cocksucker who owes us forty grand?” “That’s the one,” I answered back. Victor was in fact a real person and a merchant of sin. He dealt in the smuggling of people, drugs, gambling, you name it. A real low-life. Six months ago I sold him a diamond ring that I had acquired through a job I had done. I had it appraised before I gave it to him, and the ninety thousand dollar price tag meant that he was getting a good deal for fifty grand. He gave me ten thousand up front and promised that he would deliver the remaining bulk a month after. Well, of course he never paid up, despite Jake’s repeated attempts to get in touch with him. Normally, I would have paid a visit myself, but the truth was I didn’t much like going to the GasLamp and I had been busy with work. My office was in the ghetto, but the crime and debauchery that went on in my area was fairly minor, and I could handle anything thrown my way. The GasLamp was something else entirely. It was known for all sorts of licentious behavior, full of prostitutes, drugs and pretty much anything illegal. In the last several years I had made my fair amount of enemies, and the GasLamp was home to many of them. Suffice it to say I didn’t like going down there very much. “But Victor doesn’t have the book,” Jake stated, slightly puzzled. “I know,” I replied. Jake sat up on the edge of the chair leaving about a foot in-between his waist and the back of his seat. His left hand moved up to his head and lightly he scratched the remaining hair he had on his head.

I watched as he thought for a few seconds, and as I figured, his mouth curled up into a smile as he put it together. With every ounce of strength I had, I leaned over my desk and patted the head of a man five or six years my senior. When the crazy Russian had asked me who I had sold the book to, I immediately thought of people who weren’t in my good graces. Victor was the obvious choice since he not only owed me money, but was the type of guy to procure valuable objects. Plus, I had planned on killing him anyway. “You’re mind works magic in the clutch,” Jake praised me. The compliment, while nice, made me feel a little guilty. Jake had a very high opinion of me, I think in part because I became the assassin that he had always hoped to be. Plus, there was a huge, gaping hole to my concoction. I wondered if Jake would pick up on it. To my pleasure, he realized it quick. “Wait,” he asked. “What happens when these guys visit Victor and finds out that he doesn’t have the book, let alone any part of this whole deal?” “Glad you asked,” I said smiling. “Because I’m not sure on that either.” I knew that essentially I had two options. The first was to hope that when Victor was paid a visit by these gentlemen, he would not be believed when he told them that he doesn’t have the book, and likely be executed. The second was to do it myself, before the Russian, Mika, the scar-faced guy from the Belly Up, and everyone else who is involved in this mess got to him. “Why don’t we just pay a friendly visit to the GasLamp, see if we can get paid, and then pop him?” My indecisive nature welcomed his suggestion and feeling much better, I rose from my chair and Jake did the same, recognizing my non-verbal agreement with his idea. As we both headed to the door, I stopped and kneeled to the side of the carpet that tied the room together. As Jake walked out, I lifted up the carpet and double checked the safe I had installed many years ago. Confirming that it was locked, I got up and followed Jake out the door. I just hoped that we would get to Victor first. Many, many years ago, I was a wayward Junior in college, living life to the fullest, meaning I drank myself into a black hole on any given occasion. One night happened to be that occasion and I found myself at 2 in the morning quietly nursing a stale beer with my newly acquired roommate on my newly acquired porch. The crowd that had attended our party that night had eventually found their way back to their respective homes and I was left to survey the night on my porch while casually munching down on an aged piece of pepperoni pizza that had been begging to be let out of our refrigerator for at least 2 weeks. All of this while my roommate sat close by, desperately trying to salvage what he

though to be one last hit off his germ ridden marijuana pipe. After a few minutes of idle chit chat, “oh did you see the rack on that freshman”, and so forth, I spotted a black cat snooping around our front yard. I love animals and seeing this harmless gift of God, I thought of all the natural and pure things that we as an entity have been blessed with. After staring at the creature for a few minutes, my acclimation to our down trodden contemporary society had emerged and I of course immediately nudged my roommate before I let fly the last of my mold plagued pizza. Now, I like to appear to be as cruel and heartless as the next individual, but my instinctive nature calls for a more mellow and compassionate response to any sort of moment life decides to throw my way. That being said, I still wanted to impress my roommate, but do it any a way that not only secured my spot in the race of supreme coolness, but also allowed for a little humanity. That’s why I carefully threw the pizza crust a few feet to the left of the cat. I was under the quick assumption that this would satisfy both parts of my character. What I didn’t assume, however, were three things. One that the cat would get spooked and dart off the lawn, and into the middle of the road. The next was the random chance that a car might be traveling at 60 m.p.h. along the same stretch of road. The third, being of course, that both could happen simultaneously and I would be left with a vision of watching the cat I chased away being struck by some lead-footed rice rocket who apparently had to be somewhere right away. As I watched the cat collide with the speeding car I quickly turned my brain onto shock mode. There’s no way that this could possibly be happening, I thought. At least not to the extent that the cat would meet such an abrupt and sudden end. My last thought was temporarily confirmed, I was glad to see, when it managed to make it to the other side of the rode, despite having a two thousand pound monstrosity come into contact with the same piece of asphalt. As I saw this poor helpless creature scurry off to the other side of the road, desperately trying to reach a safe haven, I felt relived that a body, given to any species, could mend its wounds appropriately. At least, this is what I had hoped for. I came to find out later that cats have a unique ability to keep moving, despite the most inescapable of injuries, so that they may run off and die in peace. Now, I never confirmed that this actually happened to the cat. I didn’t take a walk to find out if it had in fact found a quiet place to say goodbye, but upon further consideration, I came to the conclusion that that is in fact what happened. At that moment, I grew callous to the demise of others, at least most people. If I recall correctly, that’s the moment I decided what I wanted to do with my life. Jake and I piled in to his brand new Audi A6, an extravagant purchase he made several months ago when I had given him his well deserved quarterly bonus. I had a car, a beat up Chevrolet Blazer that I rarely used which happened to be parked outside the office, but there was never an issue regarding who drove. Jake took great delight in his car. Upon purchasing the sixty thousand dollar vehicle in cash, he immediately drove it over to his parent’s home, and proudly displayed it in front of his family as a sign of accomplishment. I heard of this later, when he came back into the office that day. I selfishly grinned while he spoke with such great excitement about his new vehicle. Over

the years I thought about upgrading my car, but with this recent purchase, I didn’t want to overshadow his joy. I also didn’t care much for showing off and knew that with regards to my occupation, a low profile best suited my needs. As we headed south, the ocean followed and reminded me of the reason why I moved to San Diego. Great weather, beautiful girls, and enough business to keep me fat for quite some time. I had always viewed every day as borrowed time and as I stared at the vibrant blue water I did my best to soak as much up as I could. For the first time a several minutes, Jake spoke. “The personal code was used to gain access into the office,” Jake remarked, breaking the silence and interrupting my thoughts. I knew what he had meant and my appearance on the floor of my office suddenly made sense. “Yeah, well like I said, Mika was involved.” There were only three people who knew the code to get in to the office. Jake, myself and Mika. When Mika and I had been a team, she would use the office as a home base. I had been meaning to change the access code, but subconsciously I thought that doing so would close the chapter on a tumultuous, but enjoyable, period of time her and I shared. I considered the possibility that she dropped me off because she was concerned about my well being and wanted me to be safe. I also knew that there was just a likely chance that she was simply doing what she was told and wanted to get rid of me. The sun began to slowly sink as we made our way into the GasLamp. I had thought about waiting until later at night to confront Victor, but knew that time was sensitive, and if I were to get to him before the others did, I had to act quickly. The variable was of course the whereabouts of the people who ruffed me up. For all I knew they would already be at Victor’s place of establishment, and if that happened, I didn’t know what I would do. Jake parked several blocks away from Victor’s, though we drove by it first and parking was ample. Not parking in front meant that we could leave without anyone catching the license plate in the event bystanders were to sense something was amiss. The walk over was calm, as was I. Despite my nervousness, I knew that I had a job to do and my prowess as an assassin kicked in. There was no talk between Jake and I as we approached the entrance to the building. With nothing more than a nod, Jake walked several feet past the door, lit up a cigarette and pretended to talk on his cell phone. Meanwhile, I walked up the short flight of concrete stairs and opened the door. Victor was a man of many trades, but his façade was that of a massage parlor, which fit perfectly in the GasLamp. While massages from Eastern woman did take place on a

daily basis, the real source of income was the selling of stolen goods, contracts for hits (which he did amateurly) and other illegal activities. For fifty bucks or so, you could get a nice finish to your massage, but with the health reports of some of these woman, I wouldn’t recommend it. Since it was early in the evening, there were few people in the joint. A handful of strung out degenerates who couldn’t tell you which direction the ocean faced, and a bunch of bored “masseuses” who were counting down the minutes until they could leave. A very attractive blond sat at the reception desk and smiled at me as I walked up. “Here for a massage?” she asked me, chewing a piece of gum. “Not today,” I replied, smiling. “I’m actually here to see Victor, my name is Sean.” I had met the young girl when I delivered the diamond to her boss. Based on her reaction toward my presence, I assumed that she did not remember who I was. “Mr. Spadea is actually busy at the moment,” she informed me. “The rest of his schedule is blocked off for the rest of the day.” With that, she turned back to her computer and began typing on her Instant Messenger. I closed my eyes and opened them again as I let forth a heavy sigh. “I have a small delivery that he asked me to personally deliver today. He mentioned something about a few meetings but said that it quite alright to meet with him when I arrived.” Frowning, the girl stopped typing and buzzed the door that would lead to ‘Mr. Spadea’s” office. I defused her frown with a genuine smile and proceeded through the door. I had no more stepped foot into the room when a crying Asian girl ran past me and took a seat in the entrance way, sniveling while another girl wrapped her arms around. “Another happy customer,” I remarked, staring at Victor. I glanced around the room to make sure no one else was in there, like the crazy Russian and his crew. The door closed by itself and I sat down, assured of the fact that they had not been there yet. Jake’s presences outside the door provided additional confidence that if they were to show up, I’d at least have notice. My trusted dagger felt restless in my belt, and I knew that in a few minutes it was about to be called into action. “Sean, my friend, surprised to see you in GasLamp.” Victor said. “I have been meaning to see you, yes?”

Victor came from another country (his accent clued me in) but if you were to ask me what country I would have to plead ignorance. I was never concerned about the past of a person’s life, only with the situations that found me before them. “Well, I’m sure you’ve been busy,” I said, “with your business enterprise.” “Yes, yes,” he said nervously, shuffling the papers off of the nearby chair. “Have a seat, please?” Scratching the back of my head, I decided that politeness had no business in this verbal exchange. “Where’s my fucking money?” I asked Victor. “Sean, I know, I owe you but I was only able to sell that for pennies on what I promised you and things have been tough since. I will have it soon, I promise you.” I had come here in the hopes of first collecting the money and then doing away with Victor. If he was truthful about his debt, I would have to leave here with only the latter. For a few seconds I glanced around, looking to see if there was anything worth taking. For someone who dealt with valuable items (among other things) I was disappointed to find that he surrounded himself with a bunch of junk. I reached for the blade in my waist. At that moment my phone rang, and I picked it up quickly, keeping a watchful eye on my friend. It was Jake. Knowing that he wasn’t calling to ask how I was doing, I assumed that it meant the people I had tried to out beat were close. Very close. I flipped the receive portion of the phone up to connect the call and listened to the voice on the other end. “Yeah, boss, they’re here.” With a look of surprise, Victor leaned back as I plunged the six inch blade through his right eye. Normally I would have planted it firmly through his stomach, but I was upset that not only didn’t he have my money, but that a group of mongrels were about to enter the room. Before he dropped to the ground, I bolted through the exit door he had in his office. As I wandered through the hallway, I could hear a faint voice reply, “De man, he is dead.” I grabbed Jake as I entered the street and toward the car we ran.