The sun played tag with the shadows in the copse. He shone in it, glorious golden hair and golden skin lying in the soft grass. Eyes I knew were hazel were hidden behind closed eyelids. Long, unnaturally dark lashes swept down over his perfectly sculpted cheekbones. Full lips lay parted slightly and the softest of snores purred from his mouth. His long legs twitched while he dreamed. I stared down at his naked body and decided that I loved him in that moment. Thinking that, I slid a knife into his chest and held on till he stopped thrashing. I cleaned the knife on his discarded shirt and left the trees as quietly as I’d come.
It was harder this time. I always did the job, but each time was a new worst and I knew my time was coming. Every shadow was an unseen hand with a knife at my back, every sound a younger, wilier competitor. But today not even a passing vehicle interrupted my solitude. My paranoia, always finely honed to keep me alive, was one day going to make me insane, if somebody didn’t kill me first. I slid onto the scooter I had left just off the road in the woods and started back to my room in town. Voices in my head warred. Logic dictated that I was just tired, worn out from job on top of job. Fear screamed that I was already dead and simply waiting for the blow. My nerves hummed and my pulse pounded as I pulled up to the hotel I’d chosen to stay at; a sunny, waterfront resort with a view of the ocean from my room. I remembered because the perky, blonde with the big tits at the front desk had mentioned it three times as I’d checked in.
I still hadn’t seen the ocean, even through a week of stalking my prey. I’d only seen him. Bathing in his villa; the attention to the details of his designer clothes; dancing with a pretty dark-haired girl he met out drinking; screwing her in the alley behind the nightclub. The sight, scent, taste of him filled me like a passionate lover. Now he was gone, leaving a void in my stomach that the next job would fill. It was always like this. It had to be.
I swiped my key and entered the room, glancing at the table where the next envelope would be waiting. No job, just flowers, a bouquet of chrysanthemums and daisies. Any other time I would have liked them. Today they were the harbingers of bad luck.
I walked over to the bed, just in case. There was just a coverlet that had not yet been turned down. I turned on my phone, checked for messages. Nothing. No one had missed me over the last week while I had been incommunicado. No one ever missed me. I’d never missed anyone. Not a target, not the family I didn’t have, not a single friend made or lost. Mostly, I was good with that. But now, as the panic began to return, I thought about the average life span of a professional killer. I’d outlived anyone I’d ever known. Outlived all the greatest, the most renown…no surprise really, being known was never top of the “ways to survive” list. I was old for my field, but still fast, strong, crafty.
Then again, somewhere along the way, 30 had melted into 40 and I’d forgotten to keep track of the years anymore. Maybe that was part of the problem. I’d stopped paying attention. It was always the job, always the target. I couldn’t remember the last time I had gotten laid. Couldn’t think of the last meal I’d tasted, or the last shot of booze that had burned its way to my gut. There was nothing. More than that, there was the realization that I had nothing to remember. I lived for death. I’d caused it more times than I would ever be able to count and it had filled me. But it didn’t fill me for long, and lately, I was ready for the next hit before I was done with the last.
I sat on the couch and stared at the malevolent display of flowers mocking me from the coffee table. They were dead too, smiling and happy and bright. They were dead and didn’t even know it. I jumped up from the settee and paced the room, always keeping those damned flowers in my line of sight. What did they mean staring back at me? I racked my brain trying to think of anyone I knew who had use a floral calling card, but no self-respecting pro left calling cards anymore. No self-respecting, cold-blooded killer broke into a sweat at an arrangement of mums either. I hefted the vase in one hand and checked it for devices. Nothing. Just to be sure, I heaved the bouquet, crystal vase and all, out the door to the rocks below the deck.
Outside, the air smelled like salt and kelp. I leaned out the door and looked around. Rocks, ocean, driftwood, no sign of any human interference. I sniffed again. I could swear I smelled gunpowder and sulfur. That would be the end for me. A quick flash from the business end of a gun and it would be sulfur for eternity. That’s what my old man told me and I’m sure he was right. But not today damnit.
No more jobs. What does an old dog like me do without a job? There is no happy retirement for an old junkie like me. We don’t lie down and catch rays, drinking martinis and eating the early bird special at some family diner. What difference does it make to keep on when life has long-since passed you by? I dialed a number memorized long ago. Two rings and it switches to voice mail. I leave a message to call back and hang up. My shirt’s damp from sweat and I stink of it. Never been truly scared before, not like this. I pull the t-shirt over my head and strip down. Everything will be okay, just need to wash the stink of fear off me. It’s like a disease, fear, and if you let it get in your skin it worms its way straight to your heart.
I rinse off under ice cold water. Try to shake this feeling of doom, but I can’t quite make my neck hair lay flat. I wrap a towel around me and look in the mirror. I see a familiar expression staring back at me. I’ve seen it countless times before the kill, my target beginning to sense that something is wrong, something bad is coming. They are always right. Self-fulfilling prophecy in that look. Never thought I’d see it on my face.
Finally, I hear it. That sound that gives us all away, no matter how quiet we try to be. The click of a hammer outside the bathroom door. I listen for more, watch under the door for movement. Nothing, just the sound of my own shallow breathing as I wait. Don’t feel much like waiting anymore. I reach for the gun under the cabinet. There’s a scrape along the wall outside the door, so soft I barely caught it.
I throw the door open and take in the whole room in a glance as I drop to my knees and slide back and against the wall, leaving my towel behind. No one is in the room. I check the closets, all my safeguards. They’re still just as I left them. Finally, I check the ocean-side deck. No signs of life but the birds fishing just offshore. The voices start chattering again as I try to keep calm. Where is he? What am I doing naked out on the deck? The sweat starts again, beading down my back and legs. No one’s here.
Voices getting louder in my head, can’t think straight. Can’t teach an old dog; just biding time; need a fix. Ain’t no way I’m gonna let some upstart do me, make me a rung on his corporate ladder. Never was much room for a girl like me. Maybe it’s for the best. The old man always said females were too high strung for it. Maybe he was right. Nothing left for a woman who was never a girl anyway. No June Cleaver bullshit for me. I get to go my way, just like I lived, and they can all damn themselves. No one takes me out. Gun is loaded, might as well use it one last time.
Hurts more than I thought. I hear ‘em knocking, can’t see a damned thing and my legs are gone already. Hear him whisper in the phone. Trouble. Man down. The voices go quiet and I hear him as the trembling stops and breathing gets hard. Shit. Everybody has a time to go. Wish I had taken one last hit.