“What was that?”
The Chairman folds his hands on the table in front of him, the polished wood reflecting the face of his gold watch and manicured nails.
“I said, do try to not get killed. This child has proven…difficult.”
I open the file folder to see the face of a young girl, black and white, her face framed by tangled hair. It lists the pertinent information on one side and a list of failed contracts taken out on her.
I scan the names and let out a low whistle. Declan, he would have been the first they called on to take out a kid. Two rounds to the back of the head, phut phut and it was all over but the burial. He didn’t quibble about age either. The coldest man in the industry.
Killed by a twelve-year-old girl.
“Are you willing to take on this contract?” The Chairman asks, probably because of the whistle. I have a sinking feeling that the edge to his words isn’t brought on by concern. He doesn’t mind that they’ve lost eleven killers before me and he doesn’t mind how many they may have to send after.
I don’t think I get to leave the room if I say no.
“Yeah. I’ll take it. Anything I should know?”
He smiles at me and I do not like it. It doesn’t come close to touching his eyes. I kill people for a living and that smile makes me feel uncomfortable.
“Just remember to be careful with this one. She will die, that is not in question. Only who delivers the final blow is. In this case, it is in your best interest that you succeed.”
I close the folder and stand.
The smile disappears. The disgust on his face does touch his eyes. The Chairman never did like the backtalk. I’m his twelfth pick for a reason.
“Do try not to fuck this one up, hmm?”
I smile at him, wink and pull off a very relaxed finger gun.
He disapproves but I let the door close before he can express it. That’s the best way I’ve found to deal with him, it’s just easier not to. His hulking bodyguards don’t even spare me a glance as I leave the top floor of the glass monstrosity. Subtle, the Agency is not.
They must have hired the same engineer and architect as Dracula, damn thing just looks like an evil building, towering in Chicago.
The elevator doors let out their slightly too loud ding and slide shut. Leaving me in the steel cage, descending to what is shaping up to be my last job. Not in a good way either. This isn’t the “Bahamas retirement” style job. It’s the “pine box and worms” kind.
I flip open the file again and scan those eleven names. Some friends. Some enemies. All dead. I close it and look at the polished doors just as the elevator slows at the lobby level.
And just before they slide open again, I say it.
It can’t possibly be that hard to kill a kid, right?
Man, my parents would be so disappointed in what I’ve become, wondering that. If it weren’t for the hefty bank account I might be in the same boat.
I’ve flown to Philly to track her down. Every time someone comes after her she ends up shuffled into the system. This is where she ended up.
This girl is some high priority for the Agency. Someone is paying a lot of money for her to no longer be sucking air. I would ask why but that’s not why they pay me the big bucks.
But…I mean…eleven? Eleven hired guns downed by a twelve-year-old? There’s got to be something there.
She doesn’t look like much. It wasn’t hard to find her, kids have school. School ends at 2:25. She walks home. Eleven attempts on her life and she still goes to school. Tough kid. I like it.
My sedan blends right in, middle class America y’all. I bet that that idiot Rantley rolled up in a SUV with the big guns he was so fond of. Made a hell of a mess everywhere. It’s not suitable for a killer.
That’s why he’s dead. By her hands. Or however she’s doing it.
She’s tall for a kid. I think. I never had any so this is a whole new world. Like real people but younger.
No wonder I never had any, thinking like that.
She’s wearing a blue hoodie, hood up, and a faded backpack with some cartoon characters on the back. She walks with her hands shoved into the pouch, moving quickly on gangly legs. I watch, trying my best not to be creepy, it wouldn’t serve me to get spotted by a crossing guard or nosy parent.
She walks about a block past the school and makes a left and I lose sight.
I ease out into traffic and try not to run any of the other little idiots over, that would also not be good for the whole “subtle assassin” look I’m going for.
I make the left turn and see her, crossing a convenience store parking lot. I follow carefully but I probably don’t have to, she’s not even looking back or up. Just walking with her head down.
Quite suddenly she looks up and turns around. She stops walking. And she looks at me. Her eyes narrow and she looks right at me. I reach over for the suppressed handgun on the passenger seat, tucked under a sweater and a few items that make it look like any average slob is driving. My breath catches in my chest.
She couldn’t have possibly known I was following her. Could she?
My hand touches the comforting butt of the weapon and I feel a little better. Until she raises her hands, one arm outstretched and palm facing me, the other bent at the elbow and fingers held as if they were holding an invisible golf ball.
I… I don’t know what that means. I start to lift the gun. All over the span of a few heartbeats and the thought hits me.
For the first time in my career I am one thousand percent sure it’s over. I’m going to be number twelve. And that’s when the squealing tires shatter the relative calm of the area, three SUVs barreling towards her and coming to dangerously rapid halts. Men in full tactical gear pile out and begin to shoot at her. I duck down behind the dash as the invasion of suburban Philly begins.
When the gunfire fades out and the dozen or so men reload, I see her. She’s on one knee now, hands in front of herself like a boxer. Fists, forearms facing out. Completely, utterly, shockingly unharmed. Those guys could have taken Lithuania with how much they just unloaded on this twelve-year-old.
She flicks one hand at the lead man who was in shock and forgot to reload, this little girl was supposed to be nothing but red mist and bone chips by now. I think it’s a crumpled piece of lead that hits him after the flick, flinging him back with a sickening explosion of red out the back of his vest.
And that’s when it really gets going.
My hearing starts to return and the screaming hits me, civilians running from the light show while this little girl just keeps marching at the tactical goons. Two more go down and I don’t even know how the hell that happened. I count ten more still standing.
While it’s going down I find myself having another thought, just one more rarity in a day of insane shit. I wasn’t the twelfth. I was the distraction.
The Chairman wanted me to die.
And that, well that I just cannot abide. I get out of my subtle car and drop the subtle act.
There’s eight still standing, a few have reloaded and begin to empty their magazines at her. Short, controlled bursts as the tactical professionals they are. She ducks behind one of the SUVs and a second or two later a tactical rag doll is flung out from behind the vehicle.
Seven, I guess.
I drop two more, putting rounds into the base of their jaws and necks, least armor there after all.
She leaps the SUV and latches on to the back of another goon, he shrieks and she fires a handgun point blank into the top of his helmet.
That would be four.
I hit a knee and a shotgun blast goes where my head had been. He isn’t as quick, that’s my gimmick, and my bullet hits him just under his helmet and between his eyes.
She slides right between a goon’s legs and empties that handgun into his groin. I flinch.
I block a thick arm with my forearm, grab it and twist it against my body. He grunts as his shoulder dislocates but the discomfort won’t last long. I place my pistol under my shoulder and against his chest and squeeze until it stops.
“Ha!” I shout and that’s when I see the barrel of a MP5. That’s very, very bad.
I forgot there was one. Lost count. There is a moment of time slowing where I see his finger tensing on the trigger and I am certain this is how it ends. I’m not even sure what I’m doing here other than I really hate being set up.
The knife that appears isn’t supposed to be there. Knives don’t belong in necks. He jerks and squeezes the trigger, but his body isn’t listening to him. The burst hits one of the SUVs and sparks fly as his body hits the ground.
I pat my chest and my hands come away bloodless. That’s good.
I look at the girl and she looks at me.
“You’re supposed to kill me?” She says. I nod. I am clearly outclassed, plus my gun is empty anyway. I mentally cross my fingers.
“Cool stuff, you’re not so bad.” She says, finally, nodding to the bodies.
“Thanks,” I say. I wonder why I can’t catch my breath though. I’m pretty fit. This shouldn’t have…oh.
“You’re bleeding.” She says.
“Yup!” I say, looking down to where there is a neat hole right where my lung is supposed to be. Two holes.
Oh, wait. Three.
And what’s left of my lung. Blood isn’t supposed to do what it’s doing to my body right now.
Leaving it. And going into places it’s not meant to be.
I hold up a finger and she arches an eyebrow at me, tucking her hands back into that hoodie. And I try to say something while pointing at my car, while hearing both sirens and more tires squealing. More goons, probably.
I take a deep breath in through my nose and feel sudden, searing pain in my chest. And her face is no longer right side up, it’s tilting to the side.
No. It’s not her that’s tilting.
That’s when I hit the ground and the cool embrace of the unconscious world embraces me.
I’m floating. It feels fantastic. It’s warm and comfortable like that moment when you wake up and you can’t get out of bed. The inky black feels like dense water and I float along in it.
I hear a distant voice yelling at me. How rude. I’m enjoying myself. Please leave me alone.
“Wake up!” the voice says, over and over. It’s getting louder and the darkness and warmth fades under a blinding white light and flood of cold. All of it becomes nothing when the pain in my chest thunders through my body, like a red-hot poker shoved under my skin and between my ribs.
I oblige the voice.
I wake up.
I wake up in spectacular fashion, screaming and thrashing and cursing a word that would make my mother blush. I clutch at the pain in my chest and I see the city moving by at a rapid clip. And I see a twelve-year-old girl driving my car.
I’m sprawled in the back seat and I think I was set on fire. I look down and remember the pieces. The burst of gunfire that punched three holes in my precious body.
“Well the car is going to be ruined.” I say and suddenly I am shoved back down onto the seat by a small hand. I want to chastise her but the bullets that shred the passenger headrest, where my head had just been, puts that thought behind me.
“Can you do something about that?”
She turns the wheel and my mouth is suddenly pressed against the back of the passenger seat as my body is tossed around. I grimace at the pain and mumble something through a mouthful of fabric.
“Is that a yes?” She is so loud. How can she possibly be so loud?
How can I be awake right now? I should be dead. The holes aren’t pumping life force out anymore. Then I see it. The blood is trying to come out, but something is holding it in place, just at the edge of the three wounds. It shimmers and moves, as if it’s against plastic wrap.
I scream again. She hits me.
“Is. That. A. Yes!”
I manage an “uh-huh” and get to work, trying to push the image out of my head of the impossible status of my wounds. I’m dead. I must be dead. Cause this isn’t real.
I paw under the passenger seat for the compact shotgun I keep there, for emergencies. It’s a pistol grip, nice and short, it’ll do. I tug it out and sit up, taking aim at the closest pursuit vehicle. The solid slug tears through the windshield and the SUV swerves off and away from us.
“Hold on!” She says it but we’re already in the turn, so my head bounces off the back window and I curse again.
I flex my jaw to try and fight off the burst of stars in my eyes, nursing what is likely a concussion. Bad, bad day. I pump the spent shell out and take aim at the second vehicle, of what looks like four. I shoot, pump, shoot, and repeat. They back off just a fraction as slugs wing off their hoods or punch holes through glass. Sometimes through people. But we’ve still got three after us.
“Glove box!” I shout at her, trying desperately to load loose shells in as they roll around. A consequence of her terrifying driving. I hit my head again and spit one more inappropriate word. I should probably try to tone it down, but she’s killed men, today, so I think I’m good.
The grenade lands in my lap and I yelp.
The pin is already out. The spoon pings off when she tosses it.
“Shit, shit, shit, shit!” I shout, hefting it up and out the back window like a shot-put champ. It bounces off the road, hard, and flings up and settles into a shattered portion of windshield. The driver hits the brakes and it comes off the windshield just a fraction of an inch before everything turns upside down.
Fragmentation grenades are not giant fireballs. They go bang, and little pieces of metal go in all sorts of directions. It’s nasty. I keep that as a last resort. Like for this sort of thing.
It goes bang. Along with the driver. His passenger. The engine. And something whizzes by my head and sinks into the remnants of the passenger headrest. It’s about half an inch of steaming metal from the grenade hull.
“Neat.” I manage, swallowing the bile that has been threatening to come out for…since I woke up I guess.
There’s still two of them on us, careening wildly through the streets and drawing all sorts of attention.
“You suck at this,” she says, and I want to say something clever, but I have no time. She snatches the now loaded shotgun out of my lap and hitting the brakes, cranking the wheel to the side and sending us into a spin.
I scream, I’m not ashamed of that, as we turn. And everything goes slow again. She is completely and terrifyingly relaxed about this whole thing, resting the shotgun on the driver’s side door as we spin. She takes a slow, deep breath and fires.
The front tire of the lead SUV explodes under the slug and she keeps at it, pumping round after round out with reality defying speed. The driver loses control and noses into the final SUV, pushing in against the side of the vehicle. They’re going too fast. It happens too fast.
One of them slams into a parked car in a shuddering mess of glass and metal. The other spins out of control and goes into an ass over teakettle flip. It’s really cool right up until it flips into the plate glass front of a laundromat. Then I feel bad.
We sort of just sit there in the street, listening to the hiss of dying cars and the screaming of terrified civilians. I make eye contact and I think my eyes are enormous because she looks confused.
“What the fuck?!” I shout at her. “What…I don’t even…but…how…what the fuck?!”
“Stop cursing.” She shifts into reverse, gets us pointed in the right direction, and we ease out leaving behind a crowd of very scared and confused people. And one very angry laundromat owner.
“Who are you?” is about the best I can manage. She looks at me in the rear view and points at my chest.
“The girl that saved your life because you tried to save hers.”
I suppose that’s a decent answer. But I have more questions.
“Also, how the f-”
She glares at me. I clear my throat and try again.
“-how did…you know…all of that?!”
She shrugs. A less decent answer.
“You’re a killer, right? Do you know a shady doctor that can help with…you know, all that?” She says it while waving her hand at the three bullet holes that shimmer with blood, stopped somehow. I lay back down and give her an address, she seems capable. She can find it.
“Yeah. He’s not going to be happy though.” I mutter.
I can hear her asking the question without asking it. She wants to know why. Nosy little snot.
“I tried to kill him a few months ago.” I explain it. Best I can on short notice. It’s a long story.
She laughs, a lot. I wait.
“You’re not a very good assassin, are you?” She finally says, when she’s done laughing at my misfortune. I roll my eyes and prod at one of the holes, gently. I don’t want to answer that.
Because no, I am a terrible assassin. And that kind of hurts my professional and personal feelings.