Short Story: One Last Job

Tropical sun met azure blue and granulated beige along the island coast. It was one of the Caribbean islands, but he was no longer sure which. All that mattered was his presence there, beach-bumming beneath a frosty glass of something more fruity and liquored than an uptown gay bar on pride-day.

He’d been lost a week now, and figured civilization was due to rear its ugly head again. That was how vacations had always been, no matter where they were taken. Why would retirement be any different? A few days in a paradise, or a shit hole, depending on his mood at booking, then back to the grindstone of life, love, and the pursuit of flabbiness… or however that old adage went.

Americans, he’d never understood them. Being born one should’ve helped, but he was more a man of the world these days, without country, than anything specific really. Government work had a way of doing that. All the while, missing the irony.

He raised the drink to his lips and basked in the warm, tropical sun that gleamed across tanned limbs. He’d been sunburned the first few days he’d been on the island. It had since faded into the milieu of a tan, like so many bygone memories. Like them, he was glad to see it go. To take on the near-bronze of the islanders was to shed the moniker of main-lander and obscure himself all the more.

He’d never be an islander himself, but so few were these days. He didn’t mind. Didn’t have enough of the flexibility to his spine anymore anyhow. He’d just take on one of the million other adjectives expats like him got. What his would be, he wasn’t sure yet. It would come in time. That was just fine by him.

He settled back against the chaise lounge-chair, fruity drink resting on its arm. Left hand wrapped around it and cooled from slick condensation, it felt real, tangible. Not like the twenty years of government work, nor the bulk spent at a desk writing, re-writing, or redacting information in reports.

Sure, he’d taken in the sights, but mostly state-side and never long– and always during work hours. On those rare excursions, he’d do the job, do it well, then return for the paper-work. He’d only ever seen the world on his own time and dime. The other agents were on Uncle Sam’s. Not him. “The drag of a quiet life,” he’d always joked.

Now he had all the time in the world and all the dimes he’d ever need.

A shadow fell over his closed eyes. Some pompous bastard hoped to steal his sunlight. A near-silent rustle of polyester depressed his lungs in a sigh. There was only one type of creature around that had the gall to steal a man’s sun and don polyester rags on paradise’s beach; a US government worker. As far as he knew, he was the only one around. They’d found him for another, damned-fool reason.

“I’m retired. Go away.”

The shadow over his eyes remained in place, but he sensed its squirming. Great, a twitchy suit. They couldn’t even send a vet to bug me. He cleared his throat with an audible sternness, but the creature before him began to speak anyhow.

“Agent Frank Marshall?” A man’s voice asked.

“I said “go away.”

“Sir, I’m here to inform you your expertise is required state-side.”

Go. A. Way.

“Sir, I’ve been authorized to take you in, with force if necessary,” the kid said.

Marshall chewed on the corner of his mouth, pulled away his sunglasses and sat upright to view the kid in all his passive aggressive, be-ragged glory. “Listen when I say, boy, that you couldn’t if you tried. That being said, I’m comfortable where I am, and I’m not moving from this seat unless I have to piss. The resort staff will even bring me another drink if I wish.”

“Sir, I’m authorized to inform you that you have one more chance to comply before you are forced along.”

“Good luck, kid,” Marshall said, sinking back and slipping on his sunglasses to sip his drink.

The kid’s wrist flicked. Something bit Marshall’s neck. A moment later he was squinting against blurry eyes at a pink-feathered dart. The capsule in its center was an auto-injector, tip red from a lone drop of blood.

Probably one of Monty’s. Bastard.

He cast an upward look at the kid, “Damn.”

He went limp against the chair, fruity drink spilled off the arm of it. He woke to the obvious sounds of a dual-engine plane infecting his foggy head. He shook off the last of the drug, and blinked through semi-darkness to grasp his surroundings. The private jet took shape. It dissolved into bright light flooding his vision.

He blinked away water, rubbing a throbbing temple, “Could’a warned me first.”

The kid moved to sit before him. “Agent Marshall, I’m here to brief you.”

He rubbed his eyes “No shit.” He held a file-folder toward Marshall. “Just give me the cliff-notes, kid. I don’t care about your book report.”

The kid cleared his throat, clearly unhappy with his diminutive title. “You’re to enter the Royal Oakton Arms Hotel in Oakton, Ohio. There, you will retrieve a key for a fifth-floor room. Inside, you will find your equipment. You will then proceed to the roof to await the arrival of a certain, political figure, who will be taking residence in a hotel across the street. You must be ready to complete your mission as soon as your target arrives or–”

He rolled his eyes, “The agency will disavow, blah, blah, blah. Just give me the name, kid. This isn’t my first rodeo.”

Instead of speaking it, the kid opened the file-folder to the first page. Paper-clipped to a dossier and itinerary was a photo of a political figure. A big one. One with few rivals, in fact. The guy had made a name for himself in the media as a windbag. He had a big head and less bright ideas than a dead-light bulb. The former was good for Marshall, easier target. The latter was bad for everyone, making the former more important.

Still, Marshall winced at the image, surveyed the kid for any deception mistake. He found none. The kid was more stone-faced than he’d have thought him possible. Something in the kid’s face said this outcome was obvious to all involved. Straight up through the chain of command the little pissant clung to, decisions and agreements had been made: this one needed to be dealt with.

Marshall cleared his throat, resigned to his do his duty. “Alright. Fine.”

“One last job until retirement, sir. The agency has agreed never to contact you again provided you complete this mission,” he stated officially, unblinking.

My ass.

“Why would they want to?” Marshall said. The kid looked as if about to speak. He put his hand out, “That was rhetorical, kid. No-one’s gonna’ wanna’ touch this with a thirty foot cattle-prod. But I expect compensation, and a one way ticket back to my island.”

The kid nodded. The briefing ended; Marshall’s last, if Uncle Sam kept his promise. Of course, that was never a certainty in this day and age. Come to think of it, that was the reason the problem existed at all. The reason he was ever needed. Uncle Sam and promises were never quite what they seemed.

When the plane finally landed, the taxi took him to Oakton. Evidently, boredom remained a constant despite most believing it had been eradicated. When he found himself standing in his room, bag of gear on the bed, he remembered his first time offing someone for good ol’ Uncle Sam. That guy’d been a windbag too. But all of ‘em were. Difference was, the agency didn’t like the anti-war and peace talk he was spewing. This one was just a pain in the ass for all involved.

Marshall sneaked his way to the roof. Although the more he thought of it, the less he felt he had to. Hell, he’d probably be a national hero this time tomorrow. He arrived top-side, unpacked his gear, checked the wind, the time, and adjusted his scope to wait.

A few, short hours later, he found himself once more on a beach with a fruity drink. This one was even more colorful than the last, and sweeter. He liked it. The rest of the world was still reeling, or perhaps rejoicing was the better word. But Marshall didn’t think about it once, he merely deflated into his chair, doing his best to become as liquid as his drink. Maybe he’d get up, sooner or later, take a piss in the ocean. Or maybe he’d drift off, dreaming about the few melon-popping sessions between ungodly bouts of paper-work. So long as he remained island-bound, he couldn’t have cared less.

Short Story: Masquerade

His head was clear through the digital sights of her scope as she stalked him from the shadows of a fifth floor balcony outside an empty apartment. The building straight ahead was the usual conglomerate of department stores for the first three levels, the fourth jam-packed full of offices. The fifth story contained the high-class and fine cuisine the wealthy elite were so accustomed to. She knew he would find him here sooner or later, in this seat; it was his favorite place and seat, and this was his favorite time of day.

Overhead, lighting cracked in clouds that unleashed the torrential downpour between the two buildings. Somewhere below, cars splayed streaks of light across wet asphalt while people scurried like ants through the rain. She cared nothing for them or their existence. Her mind and gaze were fixed, her posture rigid. Her rifle’s bi-pod sat studiously atop the cement edge of the balcony wall, it and her beneath a specially-made poncho that masked her heat signature from any surrounding surveillance. In moments, she would make the hit, he would be dead.

The why didn’t matter to her. It was her job to kill, not to care. She did, however, know the man’s steel-gray hair and chiseled features from newscasts. He was Leo “The Lion” Wilco, CEO of the fortune five-hundred company Wilco Industries. The company was deeply embedded into every major manufacturing industry through either its own holdings or those of its subsidiaries. With proper motivation, Wilco was perfectly positioned to make a swift move, gain market share and monopolize all of those industries. Evidently someone believed it was about to.

Another crack of lightning. With it she racked the bolt on her rifle, placed her finger beside the trigger. All she needed was another strike. The thunder that followed would hide any remnant of sound that her rifle’s flash-sound suppressor left for prying ears. Through the scope she watched the minor shift of the wind indicator along its edge, inched the rifle back into alignment. The cross-hairs flashed red, a kill-shot centered on the left-side The Lion’s head.

He sat with his hands on the edge of the table, fingers-interlocked to await the arrival of his meal. His back was rigid, un-moving, but his jaw and face made the subtle hints of a low conversation. His mistress of the month curled a hand around her wine glass and sipped with a forward lean. She was clearly a trophy, arm-candy; all legs and tits that crossed and bulged beneath her crimson dress. She gleamed with millions of dollars worth of diamonds that decorated her ears, neck, and fingers.

The woman’s obvious vanity made the assassin sick, for a moment she thought of turning her rifle on the trophy. But it wasn’t her job. Eliminating gold-diggers and trophies was a job for street-thugs and heart-disease. That, and it never paid nearly well enough. No, her job was simple, fruitful; one breath, one round, one life. A hundred G’s was all it took to end the insanity Wilco was positioned to bring.

Unbeknownst to his assassin, The Lion’s head was sought for what was known but that he believed to be unknown. Wilco’s closest friend and associate, Robert Kiely, with him since the start of Wilco Industries and largely responsible for its success, had recently discovered that business had a way of separating those believed closest to one’s self. This information came in the form of a mysterious package Kiely had found on his doorstep in the middle of the night.

The forty-eight year old millionaire of modest home, was drawn from his bed in the wee hours of the morning by a ringing doorbell. Like any cautious homeowner, he answered the door with a 12-gauge shotgun in his hands, ready to bring hell to any would-be intruder. Instead, he found a small, brown-box with his name on it and nothing more. Kiely laid his shotgun on the island counter in his kitchen, tore open the box to find a lone SSD flash-drive. It took mere moments for Kiely to boot his laptop and sift through the contents.

Both video and text files alluded to a massive, off-the-books deal that would end with Wilco holding a monopoly over three separate industries; construction equipment manufacturing and sale, Northwestern US Logging, and West-coast Realty development. In essence, Wilco was ready to purchase, develop, and monopolize the entire West-coast of America. The how and why bothered Kiely much less than the final two snippets of information he found; information, that in time, would lead him to hire Wilco’s assassin.

The first snippet was a money trail to various contract lawyers. There was little to go on, but it was clear Wilco intended to cut Kiely out of the deal, and likely, out of Wilco Industries entirely. The next was a simple text file that offered a solution without explanation. The small notepad file enlarged onto his screen, readout; “We have a mutual problem. Bring $100,000 US to the address below. Tomorrow. Midnight.”

The address was somewhere in NorCal; a nondescript storage facility made of small, garage-like units. The moon overhead made a shadow of Kiely as he followed instructions that led him to the last unit in the back, right corner of the storage compound. It was open, dark, but from the way the shadows seemed to breathe outside the unit, clearly occupied by a man.

He lit a cigarette, his face showing only enough to hint at angry, European features despite his obvious, American accent, “Toss the money inside, and leave. The problem will be handled.”

And so here she knelt, in freezing rain, ready to correct the problem. It was her job. She was an assassin for the highest bidder. She did her job well, had eliminated more targets than most in her line of work. Partly, it was her handler that allowed her to get her work, and partly it was the fact that no-one suspected a small, ex-gymnast girl with a dyke spike and no tits could ever be a threat.

She smiled at the thought. Lightning cracked. Her finger laid over the trigger. Her breath stopped. The world around her was silent. For a moment, the thunder seemed not to come. She knew it would, even through a calm dispassion.

Then, the low rumble. The trigger was squeezed. A crack and the thunder apexed. The rifle recoiled with a thump and near-invisible flash from its barrel. It was hidden from view before Wilco’s brain finished splattering out the far-side of his head. The trophy’s screams signaled the successful hit as the rifle broke down into its few pieces, was deposited into the small backpack she kept it in. She slipped back inside the empty apartment in time for a group to gather around Wilco’s corpse.

Someone examined the tempered glass to locate the single, small hole while she made her way down in the elevator. It stopped at a random floor, her masquerade solid as a man entered and paid her no mind. Somewhere in her pack, the rifle was still warm with fresh powder, but no-one could ever know.

When the elevator opened in the lobby, police cruisers screamed past. She and the man from the elevator exited the building together.

He stopped to watch the cruisers fly past and around the corner, pulled on a set of gloves, and mused aloud, “Must’ve been an accident.”

She didn’t smirk, or smile, or anything else that would indicate inside knowledge. Instead, she was indifferent, stone-faced, “Guess so.”

She and the acquaintance parted ways. Off on their separate paths to their seemingly ordinary lives. Her job was done and it was time to collect payment. Lighting cracked overhead to blind anyone watching, but by the time their vision would have returned, she had disappeared into the rain-storm, and back into obscurity.