Yes – I read the first chapter and you can see that on my Facebook author page – https://www.facebook.com/martelle2/videos/10223172720130238/
Or… You could read it right here.
“All the world’s a stage, and all the men and women merely players: they have their exits and their entrances; and one man in his time plays many parts…” William Shakespeare
I am not until I have to be.
I kill bad people for money. Not a lot of people, but a lot of money. Maybe one day I’ll retire, but I think I have not yet reached the top of my game. Make no mistake, it is a game. But a deadly one. I like the game. I get to do what they wouldn’t let me do in the Marines. Rid the world of bad people.
Someday, I’ll settle down with a wife who would love to see the world. Be a tourist. Be a nobody and not have to work anymore. Retirement. It’s not on my radar. Not yet.
I’m still in the game.
I was on my way to my next job. The Peace Archive had accepted my bid and put a hard limit at two weeks. That gave me thirteen days to find my target’s schedule, find the weaknesses, and one day to satisfy the contract.
Satisfy it by changing his status from living to dead. Confirmation would earn me the second half of a substantial fee.
The Peace Archive. A name that misled. A clearinghouse for hired killers.
My thoughts focused on today. Plan for tomorrow, but lived in the here and now.
I clicked my wipers to high. The car, a late model beater. A Ford, I think, but I didn’t care. As long as it ran.
The car was a tool, like any other tool. Purchased when needed, used, and dumped once I was done with it. It was my way. I have no need for material wealth. I have no one to flaunt it to. Only a job to complete. Make the world a better place. And then move on to the next job.
The rain pummeled the windshield. I was tired of the deluge assaulting me on the approach to Seattle, although it had only started fifteen minutes ago. Well-lit restaurant signs shone at the end of the off-ramp. I looked over my shoulder, signaled, and exited. I selected the biggest restaurant of the bunch, the one with the most people. It was easier to disappear in a crowd.
I parked in the middle of the lot, not too close for anyone to notice. Not too far, either. Nondescript. I let the car run while I waited for Rush’s Limelight to finish. Listening to the words. I touched reality in a different way, no dream to be in the limelight. I preferred living outside the camera’s eye.
I pulled my floppy hat tightly over my head and buttoned my overcoat. I can’t have people remembering me, or if they do, without a description. I want to be the nice guy next door. Kept to himself. Always a kind word, quick smile, or helping hand.
That’s me. Somewhere.
The restaurant was only a third full. Camera globes dotted the ceiling. They were hard to miss. Probably half of them didn’t work, and no one had bothered to get them fixed. Too much cost. Too little gain. Resolution too low to be any good except in reducing insurance premiums.
A run-of-the-mill burger joint. Common. Predictable. A place where everyone goes but no one knows anyone else.
It had a touchscreen ordering system and automated delivery. The few employees working behind the counter bustled here and there. Machines did most of the real work.
I kept my head down while ordering, my hat pulled tightly around my face to help me avoid the camera at the top of the screen. All the dome video feeds stuffed into an overused digital storage space being overwritten every couple hours because the restaurant refused to pay for more. This one was different and the only one of sufficient clarity to get a good picture of me. No one needed to know I was here. I kept my head down and used my knuckle to tap the touchscreen.
I ordered, paid with a gift card, took my number, and waited.
I watched those around me. It was my way.
A girl with dimples and a boy in his best blue jeans and a clean t-shirt. They giggled and laughed but weren’t holding hands. Maybe a first date. An elderly couple. She steadied herself on one arm while he worked his cane with the other. Going out for a treat. Workers in their high-viz vests. A family of five looking haggard, counting their money to see what they could get. And a bunch like me, dripping wet, trying to read a menu they knew by heart or waiting for their order.
Same old eat-and-go. A little bit of everything. The door opened delivering new customers while the rain sounded like white noise, a background din.
In walked two young men who had the look—sunken but darting eyes, shifting stance as if torn between running or fighting. A fist in a pocket around an obvious shape.
They were casing the place, and they were bad at it. Druggies needing cash quick to fund their next fix. And they were about to mess with my lunch.
A robbery meant someone would call 911. I had no intention of being interviewed by the police. My food hadn’t come yet, and I wasn’t going to leave without it. At the count of three, they were going to ruin my day.
Walk away. Go to a different place, I told myself. I was the worst at taking damn good advice. I could smell the burgers and fries. I wasn’t ready to head back into the rain.
I made the decision and strolled up to the two before they split up to gain a tactical advantage like they’d seen on TV. As I said, bad at it. I grabbed their wrists. “You are not going to rob this place. Not now. Not ever. Get the hell out of here.” I used a low voice. I meant business. There could be no doubt.
A ding sounded behind me. My fries were ready.
When I stared them down, it wasn’t the look of a normal person making a hollow threat. There was something different about people who had taken another’s life. A part of my soul was missing, the part that said it gets easier the next time. And the next. Most could sense it. Some, like these crackheads, could not. They started to struggle. One tried to push away and pulled his hand from his pocket. An old-time police special, .38 caliber, well-worn. Probably passed from doper to crackhead for decades after one of them had stolen it from his old man, a cop.
The one with the .38 needed the most attention.
I had to remove the first junkie from the equation. A quick finger strike to the throat sent him staggering back, both hands reflexively snapped around his bruised windpipe while he gasped for air. This freed me to deal with Mister Aggressive. I still had him by the left wrist, but he was right-handed. The pistol was coming up. His head was completely unprotected.
Generating power from my waist, I hammered a heel strike to his temple, right behind his eye. His body went slack, and the .38 fell from numb fingers. He started to go down. I caught him, pushed him back into a bench seat intended for those waiting for their orders. The pistol clattered across the floor. I arranged him to look like he was napping.
In a way, he was. Everyone near the counter watched. Not what I wanted, but it was better than having the police show up. I smiled at the employees behind the counter and picked up the pistol by the diamond grip. I unloaded it and prepared to toss it in the trash. The second crackhead was already out the door, running as fast as he could while still holding his throat.
Two weren’t as good as one who knew what he was doing. Crime wasn’t their profession. I’d bought them another day free from the gray-bar motel.
The patrons had stopped to watch the exchange. The old man nodded to me while his wife looked on in horror. The family clutched their cash and stared at the ceiling, praying in thanks that they had not lost the last of their money. The kids had not noticed.
Good for them. It was nice to be young and innocent. I reached toward the trash can’s opening.
A hand stopped me. It wasn’t the hand of another druggie. An overweight man stood there. He fished in his pocket and pulled out a badge. He had been in line near me. I had missed that he was a cop. That kind of stuff could get me killed. He was a greater threat to me than the crackheads, but only if he wasn’t managed. The more official, the easier to manage. Everyone had their leverage points.
I gave him the tight nod of brothers in arms.
“Don’t want to leave that laying around for someone else to find.” He gestured to hand it over.
I turned it butt first and gave it to him, making sure I didn’t touch anything that would leave a print. Waiting with the six bullets from the old revolver, I rolled them in my hand to smudge any marks. The officer pocketed the pistol. He didn’t seem to care about the ammunition.
“If we could keep this between us, I hate the paperwork,” I offered. “I just wanna eat in peace.”
“Me, too, pal. Nice work.” The man was an old hand. He faced the other patrons. “Nothing to see here, enjoy your meals.” He gestured for calm with an easy look and resumed his place in line, taking in the menu over the counter. He preferred to order in person rather than use the touchscreen. I scanned the delivery area for my order. It had not yet appeared. The employees stared at me.
I waved my ticket and smiled again. Robots shouldn’t need encouragement.
“Coming right up, mister,” one of the flesh-and-blood workers said. A young kid with a college degree. Management.
He snagged my order from the conveyor and threw in an extra burger, double super-sized fries, and a large chocolate shake. “Thanks,” the young man said while pushing it toward me.
“Can you make that to-go, please?” I wanted to eat in a dry place that smelled less like a wet dog than my car, but some things were not meant to be. It was time to go.
The manager bagged it and set the bounty before me.
“Much obliged. Take care of your employees, and they’ll take care of you,” I advised before claiming my lunch. On the way out, I slipped a twenty into the hands of the praying family and kept walking. No need to look back. I knew everyone was watching.
It was still better than a formal police interview.
I stuffed the bag inside my jacket and let the rain fall on my shake. I wouldn’t drink it, but I wouldn’t toss it while they were watching me. I had to look appropriately appreciative of their appreciation. It was a way to keep them loyal. I needed strangers to be loyal to me.
How to be a leader while working alone.