“Two!? I’d been told it was one…y-you sure?”
“You were misinformed. The price is two.”
“Two hundred grand? You better be good.”
The man laughed into the receiver, a deep chuckle that died softly almost as soon as it had begun.
“I’m the best.”
Rule one: Don’t ever sell yourself cheap.
Another day, another phonecall. The man shook his head as he hung up the payphone. He liked to take calls at payphones – in an age of convenience and, more importantly, surveillance, a payphone was an innocuous choice and it meant people were rarely late. If he told them to call x payphone at n time, they’d call. Rule two: Be careful and precise.
He lit a cigarette in the phonebooth, dark sunglasses letting him observe the crowds rushing around the busy city centre. To him, they looked like ants, scurrying around with their busy lives. To him, any normal life was a thing to be observed, critiqued, mocked.
His own life was far simpler. Or more complex, depending on the angle you viewed it from. His working life was about completion. His targets and bonuses were around one goal. His 9-5 about training, stalking, executing. Rule three: Research and know your target.
His business was death, and business was good.
The hitman had been doing this for a long time. Long enough to know there is a price on every man’s head. Long enough to know that no one dies for free. Long enough to be the best, or one of them. Which meant, of course, his price was high. Two hundred thousand dollars a hit, rising in doubles for riskier or higher profile targets.
He had killed doctors, lawyers, lovers, fighters, escorts, strippers, judges, policemen, politicians, leaders. One thing was the same. He had never killed a man for less than his price. At least, he thought, not since the first.
He’d been an ex-military washout, desperate for work. He’d looked everywhere, travelling state to state in an attempt to pick up jobs as a security guard or bodyguard. Overnight stays in shanty towns and campsites, rubbing shoulders with the homeless and the degenerate. Things had gotten desperate, and a man had tried to take his food. That was his first kill. He’d gotten him in his sleep. No one suspected a thing. Another man had been his rival, and paid the hitman a hundred dollars. That was his first hit, and ever since his price had been high.
Then he’d found it.
It was simple really. Laughably so. On one of his many properties there was a small purple box wrapped like a cartoon gift, a pink ribbon bow tied around the top. Left on the doorstep of the back porch. At first, the hitman had been tempted to throw it away. It could have been a bomb, a deterrent, a threat. Anything.
But for some reason, some insane reason, he’d taken it inside.
He couldn’t have told you why. He couldn’t have told himself why. The obscenely cutesy gift, a child-like idea of what a gift should look like. It sat on his metallic table worktop, garishly out of place amongst the guns and knives littered in his apartment.
He’d opened it after some consideration, his fingers neatly undoing the bow and chuckling at the care someone had put into this. Perhaps it was because he’d never received a gift, merely saw them in cartoons. Perhaps it was the feeling it gave him: an excited, giddy rise in his belly that threatened to compromise everything he’d worked so hard to contain.
Inside had been a note, handwritten in the untidy scrawlings of a child. Alongside the note was a crumpled ten dollar bill and coins. He added them up slowly. They totalled $13.42. Added to the scruffy bill that was just over twenty dollars. He laid out the money on the table and turned back to the note.
Mister It said. I think you can help me i have a problem and i think you can help me The hitman looked around, his empty apartment chilly. He almost felt embarrassed to be reading the note. It was as if eyes were on him, knowing his lizard-like slits should not be cast across something as innocent as a child’s note. Almost guiltily, he continued. My daddy is a bad man. He hurts my mommy and he hurts me some nights he comes in my room and he tells me he loves me and hurts me in the bad way. mommy cries alot. she tells me well run away but then he always comes back.
Mister. I live near you and ive seen you soemtimes. i know u hide but ive seen your guns.
Please mister. I saved all my money that mommy tries to give me. my daddy takes it away to buy more bottles but i hided some.
Please mister my daddy needs to go away. he says he is gonna kill my mommy and ill be his new woman when i growed up. he says hes gonna put a baby in me but thats silly im a kid i cant have a baby. i dont want a baby mister.
here is all my money mister. i know you make people disappereah. please make my daddy disappere.
we live at 31 Oakfelt drive, autumn boulevard. daddy comes home late every night and works in the city. he is a teacher.
The hitman put the letter down, blinking back tears. He traced the lazy scrawl of the girls handwriting with the tip of his finger, imagining her writing it. Desperate, rushed. It would have been neater, he could tell, if she’d not been so afraid. The dots were absent, the curvature of her writing tilted right down as though she’d been writing flat-out. Against the clock, sort to speak.
She was against the clock, he understood that. She was probably waiting for him to visit her room again, her tiny body shaking in fear as she wrote this plea to him.
He shook his head, sitting down on his leather sofa. It had cost him ten thousand dollars, that sofa. A luxury easily afforded due to his rules. Rule one: Don’t sell yourself cheap. A life was worth two hundred grand, minimum.
He thought of her letter. He picked it back up and looked at it for a long time, staring at the foot of the page.
Love from Melissa.
P.s dont worry i wont tell. i dont want a daddy anyway. daddys are mean
The hitman found his fist clenching, the paper crumpling in his hand. Tears gathered in his face and he stared at the last few words, hastily scribbled out by the girl. He noticed dark blotches on the paper, where tears had fallen and been stained forever into the sheet.
He thought back to his own father, a ghost of a man who was neither here nor there, ever-scornful and frightening but so often absent that the man had grown old thinking his father might have been imagined, rather than real.
He thought back to this desperate little girl, scrounging scraps of change to try and pay him.
Rule number one: Don’t sell yourself cheap.
A kill might have been worth two hundred grand to the hitman he thought to himself. But, as he sat and read the note one last time,some kills are worth more than money.
No more rule number one. This time, the job cost $23.42. This time, the job would be worth that young girls life.
Written by Craig Thomas Boyle