Short Story: The Secret Keeper

My hands are covered in blood, black and blue with bruises so I wipe them like an auto-mechanic with a shop towel. That metaphor feels the most apt, especially given I just worked the sunuvabitch over like a mechanic works a rust-bucket. He’s tied to a chair, jogging pants and wife-beater splattered with wide trails of blood. Between the sheen of sweat that covers his body like a greased hog, and the swollen-red bits of flesh beneath it, he has that same worn-out, beat-up look of a decades-old Ford that’s worked one too many days.

I don’t care why he’s tied to the chair. I never do. I just do my job.

As usual they brought me in after they’d nabbed the poor bastard in the night. They’d given him just about every other type of treatment known short of the MK Ultra-style drug and plug, and he’d still kept his mouth shut. That’s why I got the call. That’s always why I get the call. You know the one. It goes something like this: There’s a click as I thumb my burner-phone, half clothed in a towel and wet from a still-running shower or some other, mundane bullshit task of life. Then, there’s a deep, male voice– or maybe it’s high and feminine. Either way there’s a voice and it says; “we have a problem.”

That’s it. The phone clicks off. I finish my shower, lunch, or whatever, and leave. I toss the burner in a dumpster down the street during my walk to the pick-up point. It’s always the corner of eighth and Main. I picked it ’cause most days I can watch the petite book-shop owner across the street shuffle back and forth at the counter. She’s always leading with her left foot, but writing with her right hand.

It used to be I’d just stare at her ass, watch it buck left and right with those supple hips. Now though, I try to imagine what’s on her mind. Is it something good, bad? Maybe heartbreaking or even arousing? I’m never quite sure. Must be a sign of getting older and mellowing out. You think less about pussy and instead the person around it. There’s a lotta’ pussies in the world, half as many as there are bodies, but people are rarer. I’m not talking about a human creature. There’s more than enough of those to go around. No, I mean people– personalities and thoughts and dreams worth a god damn.

I always snuff my cigarette out with my left foot as the black sedan rolls up to the crosswalk. I never do it like that anywhere else, only when I’m watching her. The brakes on the sedan squeak as I give her frosted, platinum blonde hair a final look, then angle down into the car’s back-seat.

From there, each call’s a little different. Some days its a car-ride across town to an abandoned warehouse, or maybe a dry-docked tanker in for repairs at the harbor. Hell, we even used a hotel room once; rented out the whole damn floor so no-one would here the guy’s screams. What a waste of cash. He cracked like a damn egg and I’d barely touched him!

Sometimes though, when the situation calls for it, I get to really enjoy myself. Not in the torture, though in my line of work you find ways to enjoy what you do. Why live and work– and do your job well at that– if you can’t enjoy yourself? I mean I get to enjoy the life that accompanies the really swanky places they put me up in. We’re talking billionaire, yacht-club, coke from a G-an-hour stripper’s tit-crack level of swank. It’s the kind of shit you think only exists in movies ’til your numb face is between her plastic tits and shes pumpin’ you on the suite couch.

I’ve seen all of those types of places too. Not the places themselves. I’m not needed that often. But I’ve seen all their types; the tit-job, coked-out party places, the tea and crumpets, dusty-muff-stink places. Hell, even the ones where people address you as sir– because they know slavery’s still alive and well, and black, white, brown or flaming red, they’re whipped into sucking you off and thanking you for the privilege.

It’s the life to live when you’re young. You’ll never see anything like it unless you’re working for the black-box government-types like me, or get in deep with the hardcore mafioso like my bloody friend there. Let me tell you, take the former; the latter, always, always gets busted eventually. Even if they don’t– even if they’re one of the infinitesimally small numbers that slip through our fingers ’cause they’re greasier than a whore in tub of petroleum jelly– they still die younger than us. They spend half their lives looking over their shoulders for guys like me, hoping their time doesn’t come sooner than its planned to.

As for the poor fuck tied to the chair? Like I said, I don’t care why he’s here. Sure, I am too, but I just do the rough stuff. They ask the questions. Who are they? Pray you never find out, ’cause you’re either gonna’ be the one being asked, pissing yourself– oh yeah, a lot of ’em do that too, trust me– or you’re gonna’ be the one asking. There’s no two ways about it unless you hear about “them” and never more than that.

There’s a lot of people, mostly those bleeding-hearts who like to pretend their shit don’t stink. They “object” to my methods and line of work. Funny, they’re usually the ones begging us most to do this shit when their asses are on the line. I digress.

I do what I do because I’m good at it, and I’m good at it ’cause I like to push a person’s limits. It’s freeing. Something you can only understand after unleashing hell on a guy– or a chick, hey I don’t discriminate blood’s blood– and finding out his face is harder than you thought, and ending up with lacerated knuckles or torn tendons.

But it’s freeing for the mark, too. You have any idea what it’s like to keep secrets that’ll have you murdered if you tell them? No. How could you? Having that shit hanging over your head isn’t healthy. Eventually you reach a point where you’re helping ’em more than you’re hurting ’em. Which, even I know is a lot, but think how much better they’ll feel once they heal up in Witness Relocation and their conscience is clear. Not all of them make it there, but the doesn’t change facts. If they choose to give up what they’ve got, I get to free them of that burden.

I’m a secret-keeper; a sort of new-age sin-eater that swallows up all of these fuckers’ pain, bleeds it out the knuckles while I’m hammerin’ on ’em. In a way, I’m the one that suffers most for knowing what I do. Thank fuck for worker’s-comp and mandatory psych-evals. Maybe one day they’ll straighten me out enough to cover up my recurring wounds, then I can ask that cute minx out at the bookstore. I thought about saying I was a boxer once, but then realized I’d have to keep that cover by actually boxing. What fun is it when the other guy hits back?

There I go, digressing again. Anyway, that’s what I do. I beat the piss out of people for ol’ Uncle Sam, free them from their burdens, even help make the world a little safer in the process. I guess whatever my real title is, I’ll always just be the secret-keeper. Who knows, maybe even the minx has some secrets to tell.

Short Story: The Waltz

It began with a waltz. Two bodies entwined over the winds that punctuated light strings with their one-and rhythm. The harmony swelled to a crescendo over the curl of a silken dress and the silent shuffle of shoes on polished marble. The one-and gathered speed, burst into sixteenth notes guided the silken curl in a graceful bob and weave along the polished, marble floor. The swell sank only to gather more brass, bass, and rhythm that rose and fell with the movements of the bodies. Then, she spun; a tender hand on her dress while a lone pair of fingers pivoted her again along his hand. They rejoined to take the room in grand, wide undulations that circled them around the countless other ball-goers.

The motions were captivating, breath-taking, the audience enthralled. They paid no mind to their champagne, their partners, or the gradual inclusion of the rest of the orchestra. They were hypnotized, literally. As the dance carried on, the room swayed with their movements, as if the very beat of the Waltz had seized the minds from their bodies.

In a pivot, she spun away, did not return. He continued without her, his movements as fluid as ever. The people could never have noticed. Nor could they have heard the chirp of the microscopic implant in her ear as it connected the bone-conduction two-way radio to her handler outside.

His voice resonated in her head, vibrated the bones in her ear, “You’ve got two minutes before the waltz is over.”

She twirled to the edge of the crowd. Then, once out of sight, broke form to push through a solid, wooden door nearly hidden in the walnut walls. She slipped into a harsh, florescent light that bounded along a narrow, concrete corridor. The drab gray only emboldened the luxury she’d left behind.

In a moment, she was at the corridor’s end, a door barred with a magnetic, key card lock. A hand pressed the door. Her eyes closed. The square security room suddenly appeared behind her lids, situated beyond in cool infrared. A half-dozen monitors glowed green at the back of the room, split into two banks between two, red signatures. By the gentle sway of their red-hot, thermals, the plan had worked; security had been mesmerized too.

The mass-hypnosis was the furthest thing from her thoughts. She was secure in her accomplice’s ability to maintain the ruse, he’d done it before, though he didn’t know it. She was lucky to remember– or perhaps not, depending on one’s perspective.

“One forty-five,” the transmitter chirped.

Her hand went to the magnetic key-card reader in the door jamb. A spark of electricity arced from her flattened palm with a thought. The reader’s light from red to green, and the door slid open with a hiss.

She was in. It didn’t need to be said. The high-resolution remote-viewers back at HQ had already hard-wired themselves into the computer system weeks before. Her handler could see everything as if he were there now. In a breath, she crossed the room to a safe, her heart steady, her nerves steel.

“There’s an ocular scanner on the safe with neural-imprint software,” the voice reported. “You need to make direct eye contact with one of the guards and let your optic-augs record his imprint and reform your iris. You’ve got one minute left.” She stepped for the first guard, a hand at the back of his chair. The voice sounded again, “And be alert, once he breaks eye-contact with the screen, he’s live again.”

She huffed, her jaw tight. The otherwise warm confidence of her steel-blue eyes frosted over. In a single action, she spun the chair around, broke the guard’s eye-contact with the screen. He shook off a confused lethargy, her hand already at his throat. Her teeth grit, her grip tightened. The Electro-augs in her palm surged just enough electricity to keep him still. His eyes went wide, locked on hers. In a flitted survey of his iris, her optical augments recorded his neural imprint on the microscopic hard-drive embedded in her neck. Terrabytes coursed along the minute, fiber-optic line that twisted and turned within her head. In a moment that saw his eyes about to pop, her left iris reformed to match his.

A sideways flick of her wrist snapped his neck. She was at the safe before he went limp, stood before its scanner.

“Good. Once you have the weapon, return to the Waltz. You’ve got forty-five seconds.”

The safe’s digital eye thrummed beside it in the wall. A slight flicker of laser-light, then a flash-bulb to scan her neural imprint. At the same instant, her optics had flashed too, instituted the fiber-optic hack that falsified the stored imprint. It was deleted before the safe hissed, belched dry-ice fog through its broken seals.
A lone vial of black, viscous fluid stood upright in the center of the safe. She reached for it quickly as her ear chirped. “Careful. One drop of that stuff’s enough to kill everyone in that building if it touches you.” She slowed her approach, slid her hand in carefully to retrieve the vial. “If that seal breaks, you’re screwed. It’ll suck all the moisture out of your body in a micro-second, use it as fuel to spread through the air. The whole building would be contaminated in less than a minute.”

She slipped a hand between her breasts, drew out a small, metal cylinder, only slightly larger than the vial. With a twist, a lid popped off one end, and the vial filled the cylinder. A second twist replaced the cap.

“Twenty seconds.”

A quick whirl for the door and a slight of hand deposited the cylinder back between her breasts. She was gone from the room with a long gait, re-entered the ballroom to weave through the crowd and slip back into place with her accomplice. The waltz ended with a final spin and a deep dip. The crowd left their stupor with applause. The two bowed, parted into the sea of bodies as the orchestra launched into an interlude.

Before anyone could think to search for her, she was in the ballroom’s ornate lobby of marble and gold fixtures. The glass doors gave way to the chilly air of a wintry, Moscow night. Amid the darkness beside a burned out lamp-post, a man approached her. She was still, stiff as the dead with her neck rigid and her eyes ablaze.

He approached with a light, Russian accent that hardened the more lisped of his syllables, “You ‘ave done well.” He stopped a few feet from her, held out a hand, “The vial.”

She reached into her dress, produced the cylinder, her body mechanical. The pleased look in his eyes gave way to wide terror; the vial was tossed underhand through the air. He dove. The wind left his chest as he flopped onto his belly, the vial safely nestled in his hands.

She was over him in an instant, a stiletto heel poised over the back of his hand. He stared up in horror.

“Surprised?” She dug the heel in to a yelp. “I promise, that’s the least of the pain you’ll endure if you ever try to use me again. Your programming’s failed. I saw to that myself.”

He groaned, “I’ve no idea what you’re–”

She dug the heel in deeper, felt bone crack, crunch, “You and your people thought you could hack my neural software the way you hack everyone else’s, use me to do your bidding. You put on this big, elaborate show, and that man in there will never remember what he did, or why. Just as you planned it.” Her eyes were lethal, “Just as you had planned to do with me.” She laid her weight into her leg, knelt with the other to whisper at him, “Do it again, and I promise; that weapon’s effects will be a reprieve from what I will do.”

She eased back up, the man in tears as he cradled the cylinder and his bloody hand.

She turned to step away, hesitated, “There are billions with neural software and body-augs. Find someone else to do your dirty work.” Her bone-mic activated in her ear with a thought, addressed her handler, “And that includes you too; lose this frequency.”