I HAD been paid to kill a man with no name. All there was to go from was a blurry mobile photo and that photo did not match the face of the man I just shot.
“Bollocks,” I hissed, still sighted down my gun where the fellow with the foul mouth had just been. Under him lay the man he’d been totting about, currently unconscious—a man that I suspected was my target. A man that I had boldly claimed as mine, which then led to the confrontation with Mr. Smelly here.
I stared a moment, the world holding its breath as reality set in, and when it did, I lowered the gun, took in a deep, deep breath and then let out a loud, “Damnation!”
Very aware of my surroundings, I rushed to dig the unconscious man from under the dead one. I tossed the man and his bag over my shoulder and walked around the corner to wedge him just inside the parking structure, out of sight before rushing back out, heart pounding to gather the other one. The one I’d killed.
I hissed a small oath as I slipped into a pair of sheepskin gloves lined in soft rabbit. I bent down and collected the dead man, gagging when the man’s stink permeated my sinuses.
“Good god man, do American’s not understand the complexities of a proper bath?”
Of course the body wouldn’t answer me, but I often spoke to things incapable. Most of living society was like that anyway, brain-dead sheep. Explained their newest obsession with that designer drug, hellseher, anyway.
The drug wasn’t ultimately the reason for my being in this bloody annoying country, but my true purpose would have to wait. This city, it birthed hellseher and now that I was here, I would find its father. This job in particular was supposed to be my way in, to verify the truth my instincts had led me towards. And if I was correct, than that meant the man—the boy I’d been hired to find, was an important key in the hellseher formula.
And I found him, the boy from the photo, but he wasn’t alone. Which led me to this moment, with a dead man needing to be disposed of and the one I was paid to kill lying unconscious in a car park.
My car was several blocks away and needing an out now, I quickly perused the car park for a vehicle to haul off my new companions. Of course the sort of vehicle that fit my refined sense of fashion had too little trunk space and too much look-at-me. Grudgingly, I chose a beat up gold Honda with dull gold rims—it had big enough back end on it, if nothing else.
Breaking in was like popping open a soda can, even with one hundred and ninety pounds of stinking dead meat slung over my shoulder. I opened the driver’s door and knelt for the boot release when a new stink hit me.
“Good god!” I exclaimed loud enough that my voice echoed in the cement structure. I stumbled back, dropping the dead man so that his head hit the cement with a sickly crack. “Are all American’s so bloody foul!”
The stink inside the car was a mixture of moldy tacos and stale weed. And diseased feet. I stood and brushed off my suit, a nervous gesture I refused to fully acknowledge. When I noticed my new, and very expensive, shoes were scuffed I made an angry noise and spun to the dead man, delivering a swift kick to his ribs. “Rotten bugger!”
Done with my terribly childish mini temper tantrum, I huffed and released the boot latch to deposit the dead man inside. I had to fold the smelly fellow in half to make him fit, but it was done. I then returned to retrieve, well, let’s call the boy what he was: my mark. The poor sod I was paid to kill.
The kid was where I’d left him, slumped forward, chin to chest, looking like a homeless fellow taking a nap on the footway. Feeling a sudden fit of uncertainty, I flung back the grey hood to show the boy’s face and confirm he was really the one I’d been hired to kill. “The Jap Boy”, as my current employer had so callously called him, looked exactly like his photo under the freshly new dark marks on his face where someone had hit him recently.
But, oh my, the young man was attractive—sans the unsightly blemish, of course, and his unkempt appearance. He had smooth skin, slight features and silky black hair. Rather delicate, actually. He might have been older, but he looked to hardly to manhood.
I’d been staring and cleared my throat when I realised it. “Right, come on, then.” I scooped up the unconscious Oriental and carried him back to the car. Since my plan was now shot and pronounced dead, I decided my first order of business was to take care of the deceased man.
If there was ever a time to curse, a gritty, all-encompassing curse, it was now. The day had only just started and already things were a total cock up. My composure was unraveling, something that hadn’t happening in an age. I needed to take a moment and relax, gather my senses but there was no time, dawn had past and soon these streets would be full of curious eyes.
After wiring the stink box car, and cleaning off the front seat of the old food wrappers and other junk for the boy to sit, I pulled out into traffic. The street, which was quiet up until the moment I picked up the kid minutes ago, was now bustling with morning commuters and early tourist. I was thankful my luck wasn’t so bad that I was caught doing unsavory things by decent society.
By the time I reached my destination, I was predictably cross. Not only had the radio not worked, neither had the climate system and the heat was stuck on high. To make matters worse, rub it in my bloody face as it were, the window buttons were rendered inoperable, making the little shitbox stink to high hell. Perhaps the stink would never leave my person, baked in so. I grumbled to myself the entire way across town about bloody stupid cars, smelly wankers, fat Germans and the like. The boy never stirred.
I’d grudgingly called ahead to warn Misha of my arrival. The Russian was already in a foul mood himself and not happy to hear from me. We were not friends so much as indentured business partners. Misha was a member of very exclusive group of people I trusted. I wondered if it were more than luck that Misha happened to set up shop in the same city I had ended up in—this city lost to hellseher. I would never suggest such a thing to the man though.
Misha was standing outside the workshop when I arrived, smoking a hand rolled fag. I had to smile at the familiar scowl on the man’s hard face.
“Morning, ole chap,” I greeted cheerily as I walked towards him. “Haven’t seen you for an age… all right, then?”
Misha grunted, squinting up at me and dropped his half-smoked fag to the ground. “What so good ‘bout shit morning, huh?”
I smiled to myself thinking Misha never changed. “About the same for you, then? Right, well, bit of a pickle this morning.” Putting it mildly.
“Why else you come bother Misha?” The man grunted. “Where it at?”
Right to business, good man. No questions, less embarrassment. I guided the Russian to the car.
“What piece of shit,” he muttered.
I chuckled softly. “That it is. Can you dispose of ‘piece-of-shit’ and that?” I said as I popped the boot and frowned at the body I’d stuffed inside.
Misha made a surprised little noise. “You have…” The man made a motion with his hands and I knew he was trying to find the right English word. “Disagree?”
“You know the bloke?”
Mischa grunted again, a strange sort of frown on his face. “Cassie.”
“Huh,” I grumbled ineloquently. I’d heard plenty of the American killer, rather revered, actually. Never thought I’d mistake the infamous Cassie Winters for a homeless junkie. At any rate, it explained our unfortunate run-in; we were both after the same boy. “Right, well… can’t be helped.”
Misha made a low noise in his throat that might have been a laugh, nodding his answer and picked up the body. He started to turn away, but stopped when he saw the shadow in the car. “That one too?”
I lifted a brow at the man, hoping my message was understood. “That one is still breathing.”
The Russian scowled harder. “Misha no do live, агент.”
I scowled, knowing the word all too well and all that it could mean if someone overheard it. In a low tone I warned, “Mind yourself, ole chap.”
Mischa gave me a slight nod, acknowledging everything in our past, and our current convoluted present. Mischa wasn’t wrong in calling me… that. I wasn’t the only one with a nickname, but something about The Cleaner calling me by it made it sound dirty. Too raw. Indeed, I was not over that part of my life yet.
Misha turned away with the dead body. I wasn’t entirely sure what the man did with such rubbish but had a fairly good notion. The small building Misha worked out of was on the far end of a very large car park that separated it from the main structure, a meat processing plant. Misha owned that plant. So... right.
I turned to the car with a sigh. Just as I opened the passenger door of the car I hoped died a gloriously grotesque death and laid eyes on the boys’ bag at his feet, a voice called out behind me that made me cringe.
I shut my eyes, heaved a sigh. Counted—one, two, three, bloody four… Nope. No good. No matter what, the girl always grated my nerves. She was the youngest professional killer I had ever met, though not by much—that is, if she were an actual killer. Sure, she touted such a title, and loudly, but I knew the truth of where her talents lie. And I was professional enough to keep her truth to myself, but wasn’t past using such information should I come to an impasse with the girl.
Cherry red hair, dark make-up, tight leather, fishnet, piercings and tattoos, she preferred the punk look to something more subtle. I never understood how she made a living looking so flashy. Or perhaps it was her flashiness that drew her clients to her. Bloody men.
I turned slowly and greeted the decidedly unwanted guest with a severe smile. “Good morning, Theo.”
“Awfully early for a hit, ain’t it?”
Ugh, American slang, so harsh on sensible ears. I ignored the jab and foolishly slung one back without a thought. “Never too early to do one’s job.”
She laughed, flipping her bright hair over her shoulder. “Ah-huh, and Misha? It’s definitely too early to be visiting The Cleaner.”
If she wanted to play childish and petty, I could too. Yet with more class. “Theodora, my dear—”
“No! Dude.” She stomped a high heeled boot against the ground and pulled a gun from under her motorcycle jacket. “I told you I’d fucking shoot you if you called me that again. In. The. Face.”
I chuckled softly. “I remember, darling. And you remember what I said I’d do to you if you pulled on me again, do you not?” Her expression fell and she even paled a little as she slipped her gun away, nodding fervently. She was oh so young and ridiculously impressionable. My simple, but graphic threats had stuck with her. I’d never actually done any of the things I described, but had often witnessed them, the horrors others inflicted upon their fellow man.
“Tell me, what are you visiting The Cleaner for so early?”
Theo shrugged and shoved a stick of gum into her mouth. She was trying to look cool but I could see that she was still shaken by the threat and I nearly felt rotten for it. Nearly.
“Was bored. There’s no jobs at all lately. Well,” she said smacking her gum. “Except from that pedophile German, but you’d have to be a fucking monkey’s ass to work for him. Man, I tell you—”
“The German?” I said without giving the troublesome girl a chance to finish speaking, full of apprehension. “What do you mean?”
“Well,” She smacked that blasted gum again. “I heard that the last two hired guns that worked for him ended up—” She made the chopping gesture across the front of her neck.
My pulse sped up. Yes. I knew of them. And perhaps now there was a third if Cassie Winters, professional assassin, had been hired by the German too. But yes, I knew of the others before accepting the job from Schafer. I knew plenty about Herr Schafer.
Indeed, to the public Luther Schafer was nothing more than an importer/exporter of foreign treasure. How he ever managed to maintain such a gross façade, I had yet to fully understand. For the man’s treasures weren’t always limited to fine art. No, I knew first hand that the chubby German bastard had an eye for foreign skin. Young skin. The man loved children and not in the fatherly sort of way.
However, during my one and only visit to the Schafer mansion, to accept this job, I found myself leaving plagued with troubling thoughts. Something was profoundly wrong with the whole bloody place—all those clone bodyguards and the angry looks they gave the half-naked boy servants, there was something more happening there.
I cleared my throat and needlessly prompted, “What precisely happened?”
She shrugged and shoved her hands into her back pockets and rocked back on her heels. “Don’t know. I mean, one was black… and bi—you know, liked both men and women. Apparently, Schafer didn’t like that. Hmm, oh and the other dude was an out-of-towner, so, dunno what the deal is. Just that there’s a ton of weird shit going on with Schafer Industries lately, is all.” She shrugged again.
I was an out-of-towner myself, even if I’d been squatting here for nearly a year. But then, Edmund Hughes’ reputation was such that even someone like Schafer couldn’t ignore. Again, there was that niggling that something was wrong with the whole situation. I knew about the other two assassins. And, yes, the possibility that the one died simply for having dark skin and tendencies I myself had, had occurred to me. But then, why? He had all of those children he collected, children of all races, male children. What was I missing?
“Theo, are you—”
There was a surprised Russian exclamation and both Theo and I turned to look at Misha. His gruff face was drawn into a deep frown. He lifted an arm and pointed. “Your bunny is run off.”
I turned in time to see “the bunny” stumbling off, tripping on clunky wooden shoes.
“Bugger me,” I muttered and started after the boy.
Theo laughed and yelled after me, “I’ll take you up on that offer!”
I rolled my eyes and kept running.
“Oh!” she chirped behind me. “Nice bag... Huh, what’s this?”
I ran as fast my long legs would propel me. I couldn’t lose the boy with no name, there was too much at stake. I was no longer a young man, but I liked to think my daily activities kept me in decent enough shape. I quickly caught up to the boy and grabbed him, wrapping the small frame tightly in my arms. The boy let out a scream that gave me gooseflesh. He’d screamed like this before, when Cassie hit him to render him unconscious earlier.
“Bloody hell, not this again. Listen, boy, belt up or I’ll give you a right whack.” The boy continued to writhe and scream, but when I pulled out the small leather Billy club, a beloved gift from an old friend, the boy seemed to realise I was serious. He fell still, gasping for air and glaring at the club in my hand.
“Good boy,” I whispered close to the Oriental’s ear and he gave me a lovely shudder in response. I couldn’t help but smile. “You listen to me, boy. I don’t plan to hurt you but if you insist on carrying on, screaming like a sodding loon, running and the like then I will knock you on your arse. Am I understood?”
The boy only gasped, making a half-hearted attempt to get away.
I sighed, wondering if the boy even spoke English, and hauled him back with me to the car to find the others ogling a bit of paper Theo had found in the boy’s rucksack. I cringed and hoped they weren’t seeing something they weren’t meant to.
“What’s that you’ve found, Theo?” Did I sound as casual about it as I hoped?
Theo waved a placket of papers in my face. “I think you should see this.”
“Bloody hell,” I muttered and moved to pass the boy over to Mischa for a moment.
My left forearm burst into pain. I cried out but managed to hold onto the boy, realising in a moment what had happened when I saw the knife in his hand stained with blood. It’d been careless not to pat the kid down before.
Theo let out a surprised yip and jumped back. I let out an angry growl and grabbed the boy’s hand, crushing it, making him scream and drop the knife. I caught the weapon before it fell and turned it around on the kid, pressing it to his delicate throat. The boy froze, eyes wide and wild, scared yet fiercely angry and I couldn’t help be feel a sizzle of pleasure at his silent defiance.
“Hold still or you’ll be cut,” I said sweetly. “I’ve seen how much blood the human body holds, but perhaps you’d like a personal demonstration.” This time the boy whimpered, ceasing his thrashing, giving way to tremors of rage and fear. Even Theo’s eyes widened. Must have sounded pretty bloody convincing.
I sighed and looked at my aching arm. I couldn’t tell how deep the wound was only that it stung like hell. “You’ve ruined my favorite jacket.” I shoved the boy at Mischa and Theo jumped past them and right at me.
“Duuuude,” Theo drawled out. “This is so not cool. I don’t want anything to do with this, notah.” She shoved the papers against my chest so that I was forced to take them.
“What?” I asked, looking to Misha.
The older man was scowling more than usual and it worried me. “Girl with loud mouth right.”
“What are you on about?” I asked, impatience rising.
Theo motioned frantically at the papers she’d shoved at me as she took up a line of nervous pacing. The front page had foreign writing on it and a diagram. While I couldn’t read any of words, I knew that bloody picture, that icon and my pulse jumped. That was a chemical formula there on that first page, wasn’t it? And that logo there, the big, bold dragonfly was as familiar as any popular, legal, household brand.
Theo stopped and turned frantic, wide blue eyes onto me. “Dude, he’s a hellseher pimp! We’re all so fucking dead!”