“In today’s fragile economy, earning a living wage is murder, so why can’t murder earn you a living wage?”
For the past 40 years, I’ve been a professional contract killer — and a damn good one at that, perhaps even one of the best alive today — and that question passes through my mind every time I perform a hit, like a bullet through a target’s skull. It’s simple, it’s elegant.
Really, I try not to intellectualize it all too much. For someone like me, death is just a job: nothing more, nothing less.
You might assume from the fact that I kill people for a living I don’t have the most ‘glowing’ perspective on humanity, and sure, I wade through plenty of human garbage on the job. I’ve dealt with jilted lovers who want me to slide blades into the brainstems of their unfaithful partners, and their whole families. Worse still are the sniveling pieces of shit who are willing to offer up their children’s lives just so they can snort coke and fuck hookers another day. They’re mostly politicians, incidentally.
I’ve worked for and eliminated all sorts of people, until I just started feeling utterly numb to it all.
The serial killer Ted Bundy once compared killing someone to changing a tire — the first time, he said, you’ll be nice and careful, but by the thirtieth time, you’ve forgotten where you put the lug wrench. Then again, Bundy always was sloppy; he killed for kicks and got his scrawny ass caught and fried over it. Me? I don’t feel that level of connection to my victims, they’re all just numbers on my end-of-month balance sheet.
Delete. Delete. Delete.
I could wax poetic about the futility of human endeavor until I sounded like some acne-scarred teenager on an internet forum, but that’s not why I’m here today. You see, one of the promises I made to myself was to never get too involved with a job, to always keep my distance, to keep it clean and professional.
If you can push aside all your bleeding-heart moral reservations for a second and think of me the way you would a handyman, you’d understand the value I place on professionalism. The kind of people who hire me don’t want a cowboy, they want a tradesman: someone who they know can get the job done, and get it done right. That’s why I can take home from $60,000 to $100,000 a hit.
That used to be the algorithm of my existence: get a contract, kill the target, get paid. It was like a second thread that ran parallel to my sham of a public life, like some cheesy real-estate-agent-grin you dust off for colleagues and casual acquaintances. But last week, I think I killed my last target — I don’t think I can cope. Hell, I don’t even really know who I am anymore.
Sorry, I’ve been drinking a lot lately, and it’s given me a tendency to ramble. Let’s start back at the beginning.
First of all, you won’t find an assassin worth jack shit on the internet. Those ads you see on the deep web are either Feds or Serbian knuckleheads who’ll blow their cock off while they’re trying to pull their gun out of their pants. If you want someone dead and you want them dead right, someone you know will contact someone like me. Everyone knows someone who knows a person like me.
You’ll make the arrangements, and an associate of mine will make sure that the dossier finds its way to my dinner table. I always remain once-removed from the people I’m killing for. They don’t even need to see my face.
Last Monday, I was doing what I always do in the mornings: sipping from a cup of coffee, eating a croissant, and poring over my upcoming projects. The manila folder that was marked “Urgent” was open in front of me, and I was familiarizing myself with the details. Dates, offers, photographs, and any additional gratuities that come with the job.
This job was different, though. My clients write their own requests, and, typically, you can feel their disdain for the target just bleeding through the page, or their awkward attempts to appear all professional and business-like. This contract wasn’t written anything like that; it felt so bizarrely cold and transactional, as though it was written by a computer. After forty years of being able to interpret the motivation for a hit from the client’s letter alone, I finally found one that seemed utterly impersonal.
“You will dispose of Anton and Olivia Dreyfus. Be discreet, but do not move the bodies. Leave the girl. Additional details will be within the dossier.”
Anton and Olivia Dreyfus. I’d never heard of them before, but apparently they were real power-players on the international investment market. Trust-fund babies, the both of them, born from rich families and met in their fancy, Ivy League finishing schools. Whoever compiled the dossier could have been their goddamn biographer — there’s no need to know someone’s life story before you write its abrupt and unceremonious ending.
The client had included some photographs: Anton had 1930s movie star good looks, a real Clark Gable-looking bastard. Olivia had a Romanesque profile, as if her likeness belonged on an ancient coin. I don’t normally think about the targets with such discriminating detail — beyond how I’m going to kill them, of course — but I found myself enraptured by every facet of the case.
In particular, the reward.
$2.5 million, for some dead socialites. I almost crushed my coffee cup in my hand when I saw it. This was big and I wasn’t getting any younger, and what could be a better swan song than this?
Better that than going down in flames over some botched political assassination in the Balkans.
In case you’re wondering, “the girl” was Anna Dreyfus. For reasons unknown to myself at the time, the client had included a picture of her: she was just ten years old, one of those wispy little girls that look like they’re only just there. Pale skin, paler hair, and a white, silk dress. I couldn’t tell whether the Dreyfuses had given birth to her or cut her from a set of paper dolls. All that mattered was that when I blew the parents away, I didn’t harm a hair on her little head.
Normally, I’d consider a demand like that to be a slap in the face, but for $2.5 million I’d be willing to offer them the other cheek as well. I suppressed my enthusiasm until I made a phone call to my go-between, who assured me that the client had wired him an advance of $100,000, so it was nothing if not a legitimate offer.
Then came the planning. I had to adhere to an abridged version of my typical preparation scheme with so little time to play with, but if a job’s worth doing, yadda yadda yadda…
I got floor plans for the property and had a skeleton key cut by a friend of mine (I could get one cut for pretty much any door, it’s all about who you know) not to mention every invoice and bank statement pertaining to the couple’s activity in the last two months. To the best of my knowledge, there were no firearms on the premises, and no guards – armed or otherwise.
These people had no idea someone wanted them dead. It’s funny, in a tragic kind of way.
Of course, I had to give the place a cursory inspection first-hand. Their home was a palatial mansion just outside the city, a place decked out for royalty and wreathed in well-groomed rose bushes. It could have been ripped from the pages of a fairy-tale picture book. I glanced at it through the window of my Beamer, binoculars in hand.
Anton would step out onto the balcony now and then and look over his little kingdom, occasionally joined by his queen, who would give him a little peck on the cheek. They were a day away from rotting in the ground, and they didn’t have a goddamn clue.
The little girl, Anna, would sometimes come out at night and walk among the rose bushes. There was a strange sadness to her, in the way she looked and moved. It didn’t cross my mind often, but I couldn’t help but wonder who I was working for, and why they didn’t want this little girl dead too. Were they watching her as I was watching her? Did they love her?
It was an almost silly notion. I’d been doing this for too long to be getting sentimental.
Friday. The big day was finally upon us. I’d oiled my trusty Beretta 92FS with a fixed suppressor, and gave it a few shots down at the range to make sure I wouldn’t be having any embarrassing dysfunctions at the Dreyfus place that night. But, not wanting to be caught unawares if anything fucked up, I packed a seven inch Ka-Bar to slit some throats, if necessary.
The contract just said “disposed of”: the hows and whys weren’t part of the equation.
I parked a good mile away from the property and walked the rest of the distance, not wanting my car to get caught on any security camera footage. People don’t often appreciate a good midnight stroll these days. It really wakes you up inside, clears the cobwebs out of you. I’ve done it so many times now it’s almost impossible to separate the sensation of the night air on my skin from that coppery stench of drying blood.
I’m a big guy — six foot four, two hundred and sixty pounds, built like a goddamn gorilla — but I’m light on my feet. There’s no way in hell you’d see me coming if I didn’t want you to, and I could attest to a good few hundred dead people who could validate that statement for me.
The house was as gorgeous inside as it was out (a real testament to their ostentatious wealth and taste) but I paid little mind to it. The pistol was clenched tightly in my gloved fists, held just below shoulder-height, primed to pump a round into either half of the Dreyfus couple the second one of them reared their pretty little head. I moved through the ornate halls of the Dreyfus mansion like a deadly phantom, waiting to bring another wraith into the fold with surgical efficiency.
In what I assume was the main hall, there hung a great, big oil painting of frail little Anna. Her sad, dark eyes hung lazily over the room, in a constant state of disapproval. You’d think the painter would have taken some artistic license with a grimace like that.
Trying to tune out these distractions like they were white noise, I drifted from room to room with murder on my mind. My soft-soled loafers moved silently, so I knew that any creaks or clacks on the wooden floorboards weren’t coming from me. When I heard the first slap of bare feet on the hard surface, I knew I was no longer alone.
Olivia Dreyfus had meandered into the kitchen and opened the fridge to get herself a midnight snack. She looked every bit as beautiful as she did in the picture, with her long, blonde hair swinging down just beyond her shoulders, letting me catch brief glimpses of her dignified profile.
I leveled the pistol and drew a bead on the side of her head. I pulled the trigger twice in quick succession and heard the satisfying crack of suppressed gunfire. Red splatters hit the white inner door of the fridge and Mrs Dreyfus collapsed to the ground, the two holes in the side of her head spitting twin arcs of blood as she fell.
Exhaling, I stepped a little closer to ascertain the obvious: Olivia was dead. One down, one to go.
As I prepared to fire a third shot, Anton Dreyfus, his movie star face contorted in terror, sped into the open archway just to the left of the fridge. When I saw the glint of shimmering metal in his hand, I fired twice — almost instinctually — clipping him in the stomach and shoulder, knocking him off his feet.
Pausing to keep my pistol trained on the incapacitated Anton, I saw that the only weapon the poor bastard was packing was some kind of flimsy letter opener. Now all he seemed to do was shiver and spit blood, I could only imagine the agony he must have been in.
Stepping closer to him, I realized that Anton was able to speak, though only just. He was forcing out pained whispers from his bloody lips.
“Why?” He choked out between red coughs.
I raised the pistol and drew a bead on his forehead.
“It doesn’t matter.” I replied.
Crack. Thump. Goodbye, Anton.
It took a second or two for his body to stop spasming, but, true to form, Anton had given his final gasp less than a minute later.
The job was done, and when all the paperwork was sorted out, I’d be $2.5 million dollars richer, for what could have been one of the most by-the-numbers hits I’d ever performed.
In the silence of death, I heard a quiet clapping sound, like some small bird beating its wings.
My chest tightened and my eyes flitted from side to side in panic, trying to detect the source of the noise. There weren’t meant to be guards, there weren’t meant to be witnesses, there was only Anton, Olivia, and the girl.
Anna Dreyfus stepped out of the darkness, dressed in sky-blue pajamas, her stringy, white hair hanging all over. She was so goddamn small, so feeble, but her eyes looked like they were cut from coal.
And she was clapping.
“Fantastic job,” she said with cold indifference, her dark eyes sweeping from Mommy’s corpse to Daddy’s corpse, and then back to me. “You’ve exceeded expectations. You were well worth the money.”
My throat was dry, and the words I needed just weren’t coming. I grumbled in quiet disbelief.
“Did they suffer?” she asked, her head cocked ever so slightly sideways.
I shook my head. It was all I could do.
“Good. It’s a dirty business, but it needed to be done,” she said, her tone never changing, her cold gaze never faltering, “You’re dismissed. Thank you for your service, the $2.5 million will be wired to your account, as promised.”
My whole body felt like it was made out of wood, but I was able to move again, just when she wanted me to.
“Leave the girl.” The contract had said.
She was ordering a murder, not a suicide.
Once my faculties had caught up with me, I left the mansion and trudged back to my car, feeling like I was carrying the weight of the world on top of me. I’d killed so many people in my life, and not given a rat’s ass about any of them, but for a little girl to order the death of her own loving parents — and for me to be a fucking part of it, to be used by her! — it’s just not…human.
She wired me the money, but I didn’t want to touch it. It felt dirty, it felt unnatural. I dropped all my contacts and threw my gun into a river on the way back. They had her on the news the next day, bawling her eyes out with the most convincing little crocodile tears.
I’m not cut out to be a hitman anymore. I’m not sure if I’m cut out to be a person anymore, because after seeing that, I just don’t know what to believe now, it’s all changed. All I can do is drink to forget, but I never do. I just remember her toneless voice, her icy stare.
“Fantastic job. You’ve exceeded expectations.”
In “No Exit”, Sartre wrote that hell is other people. I’m convinced that’s what I saw, I saw hell when I stared into that little girl’s dark eyes, I saw hell and everyone in it staring right at me. When I die, I wonder if I’ll be staring through the eyes of Anna Dreyfus too.