The rifle was awkward to carry, even loaded like it was in the gym bag. The Hitman lugged it over his shoulder, almost limping on one side from the weight. Not as heavy as the barbells he lifted in his routine, but sluggish and unwieldy like full bags of groceries. He remembered the assault rifle he’d carried in the army, and how light they’d felt compared to this.
No matter, he thought, a heavy burden requires an equally heavy cure.
The mall was as disgusting as the Hitman remembered it. It reminded him of times long gone. Before he was ever rich; before he was a homeless washout, before the military – when he was just a boy with an absent father – he used to visit the mall. He used to wander up and down its long halls and quadrants. He would look through the enormous windows at toys and clothes he couldn’t afford and swear to himself that one day he would have them. Now he regarded those same sights, dressed in an Armani suit and carrying a ten thousand dollar rifle. He found that he was sickened to see the windows he used to dream of. They were windows into a painful past, and he didn’t want to linger in front of them.
The Hitman heaved the bag through the mall. The air-conditioned hallways brought cool relief from the sweat building on his back. He walked past all the glass windows and big signs, through the artificial garden and down another long corridor. At the end, he reached a small door marked ‘Staff only.’
He looked around. People would glance at him, of course, but they’d just see a man in a suit heading into a staff door. Nothing unusual. He pushed it open and headed through.
Inside he was greeted by a tall set of stairs. Up he went, cursing under his breath at the weight of the bag. 26 pounds was starting to feel more like 100. At the top of the staircase he entered yet another room. It was the security room. A huge array of CCTV monitors in a darkened room high up in the mall. A huge tinted window gave him a grand view across the entire complex.
The window was impossible to discern from the outside. If looked at from the ground floor it would seem like the same mirrored tiles used across the rest of the roof. But from behind it, the Hitman could see everything. A full mile of stores. In the very distance, he could see the Shopkeeper’s store, its big bold red lettering above the door ‘Larry’s laughter emporium.’
A toy merchant. Of course he was. The Hitman would have laughed if he knew how to. Instead, he unpacked the bag and removed the rifle. A weighty thing that had cost him a hefty chunk of his last hit. Well, a small fortune for someone on less than a quarter of a million per job. Still, the $12,000 CheyTac M200 was a hell of a machine. He briefly wondered how many Melissa-style $23.42 hits it’d take to afford the rifle. A smile fluttered past his lips, then died off.
Not quite a knife, or something close-up. But this sick fuck is the lowest of them all. He doesn’t deserve my touch.
The Hitman assembled the rifle and rested it neatly on a bipod. He gave the room another once over. The security guards who worked here had been easy to bribe. He just had to look up their details and had leaft them an envelope through the letterbox of their homes. Inside he’d pushed three grand per guard and the words ‘Take the day off.’
The Hitman couldn’t suppress another smile. They must have took the advice. He was doing someone some good today.
He thought back to last night. After the Doctor, the chat-room was getting extremely tense. The shopkeeper was panicking. Trust-fund was unusually quiet. The Hitman knew computer wizard was on to something. He was completely gone, his records erased. Fragments of the conversations they all had were slowly vanishing. The Hitman was being shut out. But the Shopkeeper kept panicking, kept typing messages that barely concealed his terror.
He had good reason to be afraid.
The Hitman slid open the window, just a fraction. It opened only slightly, designed to let in air but not reveal the deception to the shoppers below. He pointed the tip of the rifle out of the window. He adjusted the sight and watched through the scope as the fat shopkeeper made his rounds, laughing and joking with his customers and their children. Larry. He sickened the Hitman most of all. At least the others had the decency to admit to themselves that they were paedophiles. Larry referred to their targets as ‘his kids.’ He said he entertained them. He thought he was making them happy. The Hitman clenched his teeth and tasted blood on his lip.
The Hitman’s finger tightened on the trigger. The least consequential of them, this one. He had no say in their targets, their organisation or even their methods. But he was a vampire, sucking on their strength and using it to get what he desired. Larry’s laughter emporium. What a fucking joke.
The scope lined up with the Shopkeepers chest. Thoughts of his ill-fated military days drifted through his brain. The head is too small a target. Aim for central body mass.
The shopkeeper laughed, leaning down to brush a young girls hair while he showed her a toy bear. She didn’t look much older than Melissa.
He stood back up, leaving the girl now holding the you. Even through the scope the Hitman could see the predator’s eyes linger on her as she wandered away. The military instructor he’d served under came swimming back through his mind, barking instructions on how to shoot.
The Hitman took a deep breath. The Shopkeeper moved away from the child, into the clear. Into his sights.
He squeezed the trigger.
The Shopkeeper exploded as the .408 hit him, a shower of blood and revenge so loud that the Hitman almost jumped. Holy shit. The noise of the gunshot, the shattered glass of the shop and the peadophile lying in bits of himself caused the mall to explode into panic. People shrieked and fled, taking cover behind planters and screaming frantically ‘gunman! Get down! Someone is shooting at us!’
How wrong, the Hitman thought as he packed up his weapon, taking a second to appreciate the impact it had caused. He’d only shot once. Not a subtle thing, the rifle.
The Hitman felt no remorse for the Shopkeeper he had killed so impersonally from such a distance. Larry had deserved nothing better. He was the lowest of the low, a bottom feeder. The Hitman left the mall, walking through the fleeing crowds with no struggle. The bag didn’t feel heavy anymore. Three left.
The Hitman got back to his apartment in less than an hour. Something felt wrong. Off. He parked his car across the street and crossed the black tarmac to his door. He’d opened the door thousands of times, the system of locks a calming routine for him.
One was unlocked.
The Hitman reached inside his suit and pulled out his pistol, slowly unlocking the remaining barriers to his home. His sanctum. Each time one of the locks clicked, he anticipated a shout, a call, a shot from the intruder inside.
It didn’t come.
He held his breath and waited. Silence. The Hitman crept into his apartment and found it brightly lit. The Teacher’s laptop was smashed on his table. Atop it sat a note. The sight of it made the Hitman’s blood boil. It was written in the same handwriting as one he’d received about a week ago. A note pleading for help. Melissa’s note.
He picked it up and read it, his hand squeezed tight around the metal handle of his pistol. It dug into his skin:
‘S-sorry. T-they have my mommy and me. They say you have to come get me. That you gived urself up by log in on to my d-daddys laptop. They hurt me and mommy – I had to tell them about u. They s-said if you ever want to see me again, yu have to come to…’
Melissa’s handwriting ended there. Another hand had written the address. The Hitman recognised the address from newspapers. And from the research he’d done. Of course.
The address was a mansion that belonged to trust-fund. Rich enough to do whatever he wanted. Rich enough to join their little circle and finance all their child snatching endeavours. Rich enough, even, to have hired the Hitman in the past.
The paper finished with the bold, lettering spelling out the words: “COME ALONE.”
The Hitman would have laughed at that. If he hadn’t been thinking of Melissa. How fucked up this situation was. Why he even cared about her. Why didn’t he just laugh off her silly letter and stick to his high paying targets.
The little girl’s teary face swam into his memory. Her pale skin and blonde hair behind her window, staring out into eternity. An eternity of abuse from the monster that lived with her. He thought back to his own childhood, his own empty stares and his own demons. Nobody ever came to save him.
The Hitman read over the letter a few times. He made sure the address was burned into his memory.
Then, he started to pack his gear.
Written by Craig Thomas Boyle