[This was originally published in Underground Experts United Issue #387 and mirrored on attrition.org. The exact publish date is not known.]
The thump of the bass shook the walls throughout the club giving the perception it was in a foreign land. Fluid movement across the dance floor spilled out by the hundred or so bodies gyrating in near unison. No one had entered the club for nearly an hour and just a handful had left. Every week for the past year Tric had come here to dance away the week’s frustration that built up within.
Tonight was a good night, one of his best. As he moved around slipping into his musical trance, his hand continually strayed down to his left pocket guaranteeing the lump was still there. It was unlikely he would lose it in the club, but it wasn’t every day you walked around with five thousand in cash. He thought back to the seventy hours he had worked to get the money this week, and the delight of his employer. Well, the delight part was just a guess, it was always hard to tell the real mood of someone through email. Hacking for foreign governments was a very profitable venture.
Drums assaulted the crowd as the singer’s voice cut out and a heavy base line kicked in. Strobe lights began their own dance over the mass of teenagers in the club. As a wide variety of sounds struck out loud, the strobes quickened in pace. Tric snapped his head up and opened his eyes looking straight ahead into the wall. His quick moves of dance morphed into a new form as he shook violently.
A lone figure wrapped in shadows walked out of the club. Tric looked down to his empty pocket as he reached around to feel his back drenched in sweat. The figure in black put on his sunglasses and continued walking down the street. Bringing his hand back around, Tric noticed it wasn’t sweat, but his own blood on the freshly removed knife. One hundred yards down the road the man in black flipped through the wad of cash and checked to make sure his second knife was still secure. Tric fell to the dance floor, dead.
Four blocks away the assassin sat down at a coffee shop and ordered a glass of water. Even though he had done this hundreds of times in the past, his heart beat furiously as he surveyed his surroundings. Ten minutes passed before the first police car sped by followed shortly by an ambulance. He grinned as he watched the ambulance pass since he knew it wouldn’t be too helpful. Even if the mark survived the knife, he had to deal with poison that laced the blade.
Detestable was the only word to describe Draper. He had all of the fine qualities of a wart hog, and the personality to match. Even in the freezing weather surrounding the resort, Draper somehow managed to sweat. Coupled with the old sweat suit three sizes too small, and his lack of bathing for two weeks, he was outright disgusting.
About the only thing he had going for him was his ability to launder money. Somehow his past had taught him subtle tricks in covering his tracks in the financial system, and turned it into a lucrative career. His contacts refused to meet with him because of his hygiene, not secrecy, and that was the way he liked it. Draper had only dealt with a few members of an unnamed government agency in his past, and planned on keeping it that way.
His three night stay in Vail was almost at end. His work had only taken a few hours the first night, but he always demanded time off to “recover” as he liked to say. He packed his bags with a fervor that didn’t match his demeanor. Once done he grabbed his bags after throwing the room key on the table. In the distance he heard the steady beat of the helicopter that would take him back to his home in New York.
Downstairs he stopped at a candy machine hoping for a bag of chips and a Sprite for the helicopter ride. He fumbled for the change needed to get the chips almost dropping one of his bags in the process. The first quarter dropped in the machine with a few clicks. The second followed but had bigger results. A split second before Draper went deaf from the explosion, thousands of shards of glass from the machine sliced through his face and chest.
Draper was dead before he hit the floor. Seconds later, a black Miata sped out of the parking lot, a slight grin on his face. He picked up the mobile fun and speed dialed. As the remote line rang, he turned up the music to drown out everything else. He couldn’t hear the other end pick up the phone, but he knew they would, and the music delivered the message. He would collect the other half of his payment later that day.
Down time was always fun for him. A person can only take so much killing before they have to take a break and smell the roses along the path of life. Movies was his answer. He loved nothing more than a good movie to escape into, often imagining he was the hero or occasionally the villain. Either way, it was his fun time.
The Majestic Theatre was his favorite place to check out the newest movies. He felt as if he owned the place because of the amount of time he spent there, and had considered buying the theatre when he went legite. Until then, more new movies. Today’s movie of choice had the appearance of a typical action flick with lots of guns and mindless violence. Not his favorite, but typically amusing enough to life his spirits.
Today he was accompanied by Juli who worked over at the 82nd Street Deli. Not his first date with her, but he couldn’t dedicate any feeling to her because of his job and lifestyle. She knew it though, and enjoyed his company. Good for him, she was very tolerant and didn’t ask questions about his work, or some past incidents. As the lights dimmed they both kicked their feet up and positioned themselves to enjoy the film.
The previews rolled by displaying upcoming nights where he would be in the same place, at about the same time, maybe even with the same company. Juli nudged him away from his thoughts after she noticed him zoning out, he smiled in return. Seconds after the last preview something happened that he wasn’t quite expecting, his pager went off. For most people this was a typical occurrence, for him, it was much worse.
In less than a second he jumped up as if his seat had caught on fire. Half leaning over, he whispered to Juli while handing her his pager and some money. He gave her a quick kiss on the cheek before running down the aisle and out the side door. A small sigh is all Juli could do as she clipped the pager on her belt, pocketed the money, and sat back counting the minutes pass.
Exactly ten minutes later, the theatre burst into living hell as twenty armed federal agents stormed the aisles. Juli acted quite surprised at the intrusion and cooperated with the big armed men. Even answering all the questions about the strange man trying to pick up on her, it still took two hours before they were satisfied with all of her answers.
She walked home with a small grin on her face, impressed that he always managed to get away like that. It was only a matter of days before he called her again, asking to make it up to her, which always turned out to be a nicer night than any of the movies. Until then, work as usual.. and puzzlement over who always paged him like that, why he was wanted, and how he always managed to get away.
Since the first time he received that page, he couldn’t help but wonder who his guardian angel was. Like other parts of his life, the near busts were almost like clockwork, coming once every three months, almost to the day. Someone high up saw it in his or her best interest to keep him alive.. he just wanted to know who and why. Was it his employers looking out for a good employee? Or perhaps someone else higher up that sanctioned his actions.
Each time the page came it only said “escape”. The first time it had happened he almost didn’t make it out in time because he was unsure of what it meant exactly. His latest was unexpected only because he had forgotten it was a leap year. He was expecting it tomorrow even though he had no idea where he would have been.
Two days later he walked into the deli where Juli worked and asked for a BLT and diet coke. Juli smiled warmly at him before telling him it would be another hour before she was off. As usual the place was fairly busy serving the lunch crowd of surrounding businesses. Since Juli opened every weekday morning, she was always off by early afternoon leaving the rest of the day for whatever.
Two o’clock rolled around as she finished up the midday duties. A few minutes after she came out from behind the counter and sat next to him. She seemed quite happy to see him which always brought a smile to his face. He cleaned up his lunch mess before they headed out to spend the day together. Making it up to her was always enjoyable since he usually spent the entire day out on the town with her. From past conversations, he had gathered that she didn’t get out much which would explain her good mood each time they spent the day together. Either way, there was something else about her today that seemed different.
Their first stop was a small café a few blocks away on 91st Street. The café was nothing more than a hole in the wall, but the coffee was outstanding and the place was littered with old computers hooked in to the internet. Since he never bought a computer of his own, but maintained several email addresses to stay in touch with various contacts, trips to the café were frequent. He liked the anonymous access this place gave him. Julie liked to hang out on IRC and chat with a few friends from Texas where she used to live.
Juli enjoyed a Latte while she chatted on “#texas” while he went to each of his accounts checking mail. There were only a handful of people this early in the day, each scattered about drinking and chatting about daily affairs. It ended up taking the better part of two hours to finish everything up. He threw down a twenty to cover their tab and left the rest as a tip for the computer time. From there, they headed toward the zoo.
Despite the beautiful surroundings and the exotic wildlife, the two walked hand in hand throughout the zoo very slowly. Conversation seemed to turn back to a variety of daily chat rather than their normal deeper conversations. Every time he looked at her she seemed to glance away as if she had been studying him. He had a feeling this would come some day or another, not that he was ready for it by any means.
His mouth opened several times but shut a split second later each time. Everything he thought to say to start the conversation on his terms just didn’t sound right after his mouth opened. She saw his nervousness and grinned. Realizing he just couldn’t get things started, she began.
“I’ll start, not that I know where to begin really. I guess you are probably expecting this to come some day or another. Hope you understand where I am coming from with this.”
He nodded and smiled to himself, impressed with her strength, as she continued on.
“Ever since we met I could tell you valued your privacy, and I know you offer what information or feelings that you can, but I want to know you better. I mean, I know you can’t talk about your job much for whatever reasons, but I know you can tell me more about you.”
It took him several minutes to digest what she said and plan his typical carefully worded reply. They continued walking while he figured out what to say to her. Even after thinking of how to start, it took a poke in the ribs to actually begin.
“Well, you’re right about the job. I can’t talk about it for a lot of reasons, some personal, some professional. What you don’t understand is that the personal reasons keep me distant, not the professional reasons. I don’t know how to explain this really. I guess its a really big catch 22 of sorts.”
He took a pause from his confusion and led her down a path toward the aquariums. While he walked he couldn’t help but to look down at his feet, unable to make eye contact with her. Squeezing her hand tightly in his, he continued on.
“As for my past, its the typical college drop out story or something. Been on my own since I was sixteen. Finished high school before working as a computer technician for a while. Started contracting for some interesting groups who did some different things. Ended up doing a little college while I worked for them, but dropped out because the money was better. While I worked there they kept training me in different areas, and here I am.”
She half squinted one eye and looked at him as he told his story. She could tell he was leaving the most interesting parts out, but that was fine. It was more than obvious he couldn’t talk about a lot of it. She figured it had to do with one of the secret government agencies or another, and because of his use of computers she guessed it had to do with hacking or spying or something. She didn’t really care to know since he made sure it never affected her.
Even though they had only known each other for ten or eleven months, she felt a deep liking for him. Every time she thought about the whole thing, she could never really tell if it was love until she was with him. Then, she couldn’t deny it.
“Well, that’s a start I guess, but certainly not the finish.”
She smiled really big letting him know she was happy with his explanation for now. Not wanting to let him off the hook so easily, she kept going.
“First off, can I assume that you haven’t seen anyone else since we started hanging out? And if not, why not?”
He looked over at her surprised at how straight forward she was and laughed quietly. At least this was an easy question to answer.
“The reason I am never with anyone is because I need complete and unconditional acceptance from them. But I can’t make them promise that without knowing all about me.. which I can’t tell them without that unconditional acceptance. So I am always in a bind of sorts. This goes back to the Catch 22 and why I don’t talk about certain things. If I could somehow manage to find someone willing to accept me at face value, and to unconditionally accept who I am, then I guess I could be a little more open. Just a matter of finding that person who can truthfully do that. And let me tell you, it would be a little more than ‘disturbing’ what I would tell that person. Do you see what I mean?“
He wasn’t sure if she could ever fully comprehend what he just said, and even less sure she would respond positively to it.
“Basically, I would tell that person a lot of really frightening things, and have to rely on them to accept them, and then accept me afterwards. Since I know what I would tell them, it gives me a good basis for never telling anyone.”
He glanced at her trying to measure her response, silently hoping this would be it. He had desperately wanted to find a companion in life, someone who could share his dark past and his dark present. Someone that could look past that and see the whole story. He had given up on finding anyone long ago because of the weird nature of his work. The smile slipped away from her as she considered what he said. They both knew it was an offer of sorts, but she wasn’t sure what was to come if she said ‘yes’.
“Well, it’s kind of hard for me too. I can’t promise that I will accept it since I don’t know what it is. There are some things that I don’t like and I refuse to deal with. On the other hand there are a few things most people consider ‘twisted’ that I have always looked past.”
Her ability to reason and look at all points of a problem had always been appealing. She knew exactly what was up and just had to decide whether or not if she wanted to take that chance. He gave a sincere smile to her to try to comfort her. She hesitated with her response but finally managed to continue.
“Let me think about it tonight. I can see it in your face that this isn’t some trivial bullshit, and that it is something I really have to consider. Do you mind?”
“Of course not! Take all the time you need….shit..I’m getting paged.”
He checked his pager to see a message indicating his services were needed once again. Of course he would get paged right now.
“I have to go. I probably won’t be able to see you for two or three days but when I get back I will find you.”
“I understand. I guess this works out for both of us. It will give me time to think about it, and time for you to worry about my answer.”
She gave him a big mischievous smile after her response. Better keep him on his toes she figured. They said their goodbye’s and took off in opposite directions, more because it felt like a parting of ways, not because they were really going different directions. Both walked with the weight on their shoulders.
It was three days before he returned to town, happy with his performance during the job. The time to wind down was definitely upon him because of minor complications over the past three days. He took some time to clean his place up a little, grab a few days worth of snacks in case he spent time at his place, and to ready himself for Juli’s answer. He actually hadn’t thought about it much because of everything else happening, but now it was the only thing on his mind.
He picked up and set down the phone at least five times before he could muster the nerve to call her. The conversation went a little roughly because of the nervousness on both sides, but he managed to pick a time and place to meet her. Now, he had to find a way to pass the hours before they met. Those hours seemed longer than anything he had ever encountered.
He walked into the restaurant with a fear he had never faced before. The feeling unnerved him to the point he almost couldn’t go through with it. To top it off, his mind raced trying to figure out why he was losing control of himself like this. It was just one woman! He looked around nervously trying to find her, unsure if she had already shown up. He wandered around the various sections to see if she had already grabbed a table.
After walking through the entire place he headed back up to the front to wait for her. As he walked into the lobby he saw her walking through the front door. His heart stopped beating while they took a few more steps to stand face to face. Sweat dripped down from his armpits and his hands were very moist. He wasn’t sure why this was such a big deal, but nothing he did could make his body quit reacting like it was.
They both said ‘hi’ and turned to head toward a table. He glanced over at her and couldn’t help but wonder about the look on her face. She had a very intent look in her eyes which betrayed the half smile she showed. His mind read it as an extreme; either very good or very bad. Something about the way she was smiling today made him wonder about her intentions. This was quite different for him as he was accustomed to reading her like a book.
After the standard procedure of ordering drinks, appetizers, and the main course, it came down to it. He had made idle chat with her waiting for them to be alone for a little bit. Unable to contain himself, he started off.
“I take it you have had time to think about our talk the other day…“
Before he could finish she was nodding ‘yes’.
“So.. after thinking about things.. I mean.. damn you! You’re enjoying this aren’t you?”
A big smile crept over her face as he said that since that was exactly her plan.
“So throw caution to the wind..“
He scooted up and leaned on the table anxious as he had ever for anything. His hands kept clinching back and forth, sweating like mad. His left foot was tapping quickly to some other beat or thought he had been having. His mind played out every scenario for every possible answer she could give. His heart screamed as he waited for her to say something. It was then that he realized what had made him lose control over all of this. One simple little thing. True and unconditional love for her. Now he only had to wait half a second more before he knew if the feeling was mutual…
Another day on the job. He never knew what order it would be in, just that he would kill, escape, and get paid. It had been like that for years now which was mutually beneficial to both he and his employers. Not that he really knew who they were, nor did he care. Some gut feeling told him that if he did know, someone like him would be hired to pass him along. Oh well, another day… but now, it would be another day with someone who accepted him for who he was. And that meant everything in the world.