After ten years, you get used to their screams, their pleas for mercy or forgiveness. It was not my forgiveness they were after. I got a lump sum and made a decent living on those who found them not worth forgiving. Typically, it was not the offender that lost their life, but I took something dear to them. Sometimes a pet. Other times, not. Never children, though. I did not have a particular fondness for children, but even a killer has her limits.
It was easy for my knife to find its mark between her ribs because she was slender. She was scared. She had cried and pleaded along with her husband. I nodded to her hoping she would understand, but she turned to him instead. It was his fault she was here, but it was a little late for blame. I had never met the man before, and in a few days, his face would turn into a blur like the rest.
I focused on the woman, but the gentleman struggled so much against his restraints that he was hard to ignore. His face twisted in grief as life left his wife’s body. I wondered if he felt guilty for the being the cause of her early demise. I never asked why they wanted a hit done. My clients liked it that way: professional.
In a room with the couple tied to separate chairs, big muscle bound men stood near the crying young man while I waited to check her pulse. Stabbing the heart directly is less messy than slitting a throat, but still quite bloody. It takes about three and a half minutes for a human to lose enough blood for the heart to run out of anything to pump, but it is the brain that shuts everything down. Once the brain lacks oxygen rich blood for two minutes, the cells begin to die and the other systems follow. I would like to think that it is not as painful as other ways. Torturous, yes, but it gives them an opportunity to make peace with whatever they believe in. I had requests for far more gruesome tasks, but, again, I did have some morals.
I did not worry about retribution for the things I had done. No one knew who I was. I did not appear as myself, anyway. I removed only my bloody gloves after leaving the room, but never my disguise. I had yet to develop a clean technique. I would like to say this was due to lack of practice. If you needed a contracted execution, you call my alias: John Smith. If you needed a trust fund daughter of a scientist, you call me: Sylvia Gardner.
My father developed technology for the CIA that gave disguises for their agents. This technology changed the actual genetic makeup of the wearer to look, feel, and even smell like a different person. That was how I was able to be John Smith. The Federal Government thought he was an estranged boyfriend. Every time he paid me a visit, my father wired me money to relocate. By my father, I mean the Swiss account my clients used to wire their payments. My relocation fee I included in my price. It was an elaborate cover, but it kept my name clean for a decade.
From the hit in San Francisco, I moved to Memphis. It was a small enough city that my money went far, but big enough that I would not draw attention to myself. Here I could take some time off before taking another job and do some people watching. My favorite place to sit was at the Peabody Hotel. I would grab a glass of wine and sit in the lobby. I liked to guess how people lived. I would muse at what their daily routines were like, guess if their travel companions were spouses or secret lovers. I would get lost in their story, but never pursue. It took more energy than I had to find out if my back stories were accurate. If they spent enough time at the bar, I would get the satisfaction of knowing. Otherwise, I was happy with the fiction I created.
“Is this seat taken?” a male voice asked, startling me out of my daydream.
“No, but there are plenty in the lobby. Must you sit right next to the only person occupying a seat?” I was extremely annoyed with the young man. He was ruining my afternoon hobby. He looked familiar, but he could have been anyone. He could frequent the hotel enough to see me sitting here on occasion. Either way, he was not put off by my disapproval of his company.
“You look familiar.” He said sounding very rehearsed. I could tell he was holding his breath for my response. He was quite a nervous young man, but handsome in his right.
“Come here often,” I replied rolling my eyes. I very pointedly finished my glass of wine and stood to leave. Men complicate things in my profession. I am not above having a fling now and then, but he seemed far too interested and too familiar.
“Wait. Please. I wanted to ask you to dinner.” He jumped up. The desperation in his voice was unsettling.
“Tomorrow night. Seven PM. Meet me here.” I said flatly before continuing my path out of the front door of the hotel. Something inside of me screamed in protest. I knew something was not right. I still needed to figure out where I had seen his face before. I did not care to know his name. I was sure he would tell me in some boring conversation the next evening.
I picked a modest cocktail dress and showed up an hour early to ensure I was the first of the two of us at the hotel bar. That screaming voice inside of me prayed he would not show up. I had spent hours the night before trying to find out who this young man was to no avail. I should have caught his name. I glanced at the clock above the bar. I sipped my wine and slowly spun my seat to face the entrance of the lobby. He still had five minutes, but I suspected he was a gentleman and would not keep a lady waiting.
There he was, standing across the room leaning against a pillar. I imagined that was what it felt like to be caught by your husband cheating. I froze; color left my face. I wanted to run. I wanted to be sick. It was not the young man I saw the day before, but a face I knew better than I knew my own. The only man I dreamt of at night. The only man I ever wanted but could never have was staring at me across the room. He knew me. He was there for me. John Smith.
When we made eye contact, he stood up away from the pillar, straightened his jacket and walked casually over. I knew he was not real. He had to be the young man. I designed John Smith with my father’s technology. He was not a real person, but that meant that the young man knew my secret. He knew who I was. I did not run. It was the only chance I had to take him out first.
“Hello, John,” I said unimpressed. I fought my voice not to quiver. Such a dirty trick to play on a girl.
“Sylvia.” He nodded like an old friend and my throat went dry and I caught my breath. I had to play cool. There were only two ways this could end.
“So are you a thief? Breaking in and stealing a lady’s things?” I wish I had poison to slip into the Scotch he ordered.
“Good guess, but no. It took me years to duplicate your programing. Even in that short time of our meeting I memorized your alias’ face. What I thought was your face.” A job. He had been a job. How did he find me?
“Then you must be CIA. They gave me a hit on an agent. Guess we have similar luck.” Then it came to me. The young man in San Francisco. His wife was the mark. I immediately knew that I would never make it out of that lobby.
“Her name was Grace. We found out that morning that she was five weeks pregnant. I wanted you to know that before you died.” He did not break eye contact as he told me, with his deep, smooth voice that I listened to some nights to help me sleep. He kept his gaze even as a tear left my eye and fell onto the bar.
I looked down at my wine glass. It tasted the same and went down as easy as ever, but the young man had planted the poison before I even came in. I could feel my throat closing, my pulse slowing, and my head getting heavy. If this were my end, I would end it with this man. He was not my John Smith, but he would do. I reached up, touched his face, and kissed the man I knew so well.
I was the only one I ever loved.