bookmark_borderChapter 6

He stands back and looks at the scene, a young man surveying the carnage of the broken man seated before him. Something doesn’t fit here, something isn’t quite right, misplaced or forgotten, he’s not sure which and knows that it is too late for such worries.

A dull moan from the chair, scarlet red lines fall from vivid wounds, slashed through flesh. Blood seeps from him in a slow gentle ooze, a dozen or more thin lines adding to the macabre vision. He looks down at the man, tortured and throbbing with dark pain, spent and pleading for his executioner to end it, pleading for release, pleading for his life. He watches as the man makes another exhaused attempt to free himself and once more is met with the same resistance as before, the bloodied ropes cuttnig ever deeper.

He turns to the table behind him, takes a sip of cold water then turns and throws it over the seated man. Another shock of cold, a gasping breath.

He is puzzled now and closes his eyes for a moment, gathering himself. He revisits the plan, the training and a spark of guilt flares within. This isn’t what was meant to happen. This is wrong.

Concentrating hard, he casts his mind back, how did he end up here?

He remembers some details perfectly, breaking into this apartment, waiting quietly, patiently until they came home. It should’ve been the simplest of executions as they sat down to watch TV. Two shots and then he’d turn and leave. Yet, he was still here.

Squeezing his eyes tight he can see arcs of red as she slumps forward, can hear the cries, instant shock and anger, as the man succumbs to fear and rage. He can see his own arm outstretched, can feel the weight of the gun and yet, nothing. That is all he has, until now.

He reaches out to hold the mans face, fingers on slick cheeks, cupping his chin. He looks him straight in the eye.

“Who are you?” he asks. A simple enough question.

The man in the chair looks up, confused, startled at the softness of the voice.

“Who are you?” he asks again, already growing weary of all of this.

The man in the chair starts to speak, his mouth opens but no sound is made.

He is growing tired now, and can feel the light in the room changing. He was told this would happen, but still something isn’t right, this isn’t what was meant to happen.

Slowly he walks behind the man, reaches down and starts to untie him. In a soft quiet voice he starts to mumble.

“I don’t know why I’m here, I’m sorry for what I’ve done, this isn’t right, I’m sorry for what I’ve done. I don’t know why I’m here. You should go now. I’m sorry for what I’ve done. I should go now, I should be somewhere else now. You shouldn’t be here. Are you sorry for what you’ve done? I will go. Do you know why I’m here? I’m sorry for what I’ve done. You should go now”.

He stands back and lets the ropes fall, and watches the man rise unsteadily and without looking back, stumble out through the door. He hears him start to scream, a low beastly noise that makes him smile. He can feel the light and warmth in the air on his skin, and turns to the window to bask for a moment in the sunlight.

He steps closer to the window and watches as onlookers turn and stare, their eyes searching for the source of that awful noise.

He smiles. He knows this isn’t the way it should be, knows that something has gone wrong but each passing moment tells him something has changed. He hears the man screaming as he leaves the building, dashing out into the busy street below. And finally he realises what is wrong.

His mind skips back to that building, the long corridor, the cramped office and the young man sitting behind the desk, telling him the stories of the building, telling him that nothing is ever truly right in this world. He can remember the dulling darkness that descended after that day, that he walked in for so long with the sunlight unable to penetrate. He can remember it all.

He looks down again at the street, watching the man stumble onwards, the onlookers starting to point as the man stumbles out into the road. A man still alive.

He smiles.

He closes his eyes and lifts his face to the sun, feeling the warmth spread across his cheeks, he too feels alive, so very alive. His senses reverberate anew, and he wonders what will happen next.

Down in the street the man falters and falls forward. A bus driver slams on his brakes, more screams fill the air.

Stood at the window he looks down, all of this happening in an instant. The bus skids, the brakes fail to hold. The man lies prone, no-one can save him.

And then he remembers the inscription above the door of the office, throws his head back and screams.

In a small cluttered office a young man sits behind a desk. He rarely speaks, for he has no-one to speak to most days, so he just sits there doing his job. His gaze remains flat as he monitors the goings on of the building, the to-ing and fro-ing of his working day, the machinations that play out at his behest.

Suddenly he looks up at the doorframe, and with a contented sigh reads the faded inscription once more.

“Trust in Fate”.

bookmark_borderChapter 5

As he walks towards the entrance the nerves swell in his stomach. He remembers a phrase his Dad used for such occasions, “healthy fear” he used to called it, uttering it before every football game, exam and even on the night of his first date.

He reaches for the doorknob just as the door swings open, and a tall dark haired girl totters past him, heels clicking on concrete. He turns his head to catch a final glimpse of her as he steps forward through the open door.

The dull light of the corridor mirrors the smell of age and he wonders again why he is here, why he said yes after all those strange questions, why he found himself accepting the job without fully understanding what it entails. At the far end of the corridor a small light flickers and he walks toward it.

Upstairs, sitting behind a large dark wood desk sits an ageing man. He has been sitting there for some time now, quietly contemplating the past, considering his future and has come to realise how soon the end will come, far sooner than he’d been told. He accepts his fate willingly as he knew it would arrive someday and so he counts off the hours, then the minutes until his death. Quiet solace that he has done all that has been asked of him.

He knows that by the end of this day his chair will be filled by another, a younger man, fresh and confused, just as he was on his first day in this strange job. He smiles as he recalls his first day, the nerves building in that long elevator ride to the 31st floor, the slow steps along the creaking wooden corridor and can almost feel the weight of the door to the very office in which he now sits.

He listens intently and recognises the faint rattle of the elevator door opening, hears every groan and croak of each footstep, and finds himself holding his breath, his eyes fixed on the cold metal doorknob as it slowly starts to turn.

“Ummm hello?” says a voice from the other side of the door, “anyone here?”

“Come on young man, the door is not locked”.

The door swings open and, finally, the office is complete.

Standing in the doorway, Alan looks around the cramped office, bookshelves piled high and at the centre of the mayhem a large wooden desk, behind which sits Mr.Bachman.

“Ohh hi Mr.Bachman, sorry if I’m a bit late, but there aren’t any signs so … yeah I wasn’t sure I had the right office..”, nervously he glances round the tiny room.

“Ahh, but you found your way here nevertheless, a good start I think, yes yes, a good start. Now tell me, have you had breakfast? Would you like some coffee, perhaps? Or are you a man who likes to charge onwards, I think, yes yes, I think perhaps you are, so please sit and let us talk of this place”.

And so they sit, both men, young and old, at opposites sides of the desk and so the story begins.

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bookmark_borderChapter 4

‘Why not’, he thinks as he circles the advert in bold red ink, ‘I’ve tried everything else’.

Wanted: People who can find lost things.

He’d always been pretty good at figuring things out, liked reading detective novels when he was younger, and he never failed to find his Christmas presents no matter how ingeniously his parents hid them. Yeah, this might finally be the job for him. God knows he’d tried just about everything else, and had the scars to prove it.

With nothing else catching his eye, he scoffs down the last bite of his pastry, washes it down with the last of his coffee and hustles over to the payphone in the corner.

“Yes?” a brusque voice answers.

“Ohh hi, I’m.. eh.. phoning about the job advert in the paper today?”

“Which one?”

“Well it just says ‘Wanted: People who can find lost things’ so, I guess, that one?”

“Ahhhh yes, of course,” the voice softens “yes yes, when can you come speak with us? Are you free this afternoon? It would be great if you were as we are very keen to get people started, especially smart and on-the-ball individuals like yourself.”

“Ohhh right, well I’m free all day so, yeah, I can meet with you this afternoon if you like.”

“That’s wonderful, yes yes, tell me, do you know the cafe on Mitchell Street, just up from the laundrette on the corner of 4th?”

“Well sure Mister, I’m standing in it right now.”

“You are! Ohh how delightful! Yes yes yes, I wonder, yes, perhaps I could pop over now and have a chat with you? Would that be acceptable? I realise it’s very short notice but time is always of the essence, isn’t it Mr. … Mr…??”

“Finch, Alan Finch.”

“Excellent, Mr. Finch, so if I could trouble you to order me a coffee, black, no sugar, I’ll be over presently to have a little chat. Yes yes this could work out quite well I think”

“Sure thing, you want anything else with that?”

His question echoes down the line and the dial tone confirms the reply.

He hangs up and as he walks back to his seat he realises that he doesn’t know who he is meeting, or what he looks like. He turns to eye the street outside, looking for… well he doesn’t know who but he looks anyway.

The waitress idles over and he turns and orders two black coffees. As she leaves she glances down at the paper, the advert circled prominently and as the hint of a smile starts creeping across her face, turns to fetch his coffee.

He is still staring out of the window when a voice interrupts him.

‘Mr. Finch, Mr. Alan Finch?’

Startled he turns, his elbow catches his empty coffee mug and sends it hurtling towards the floor. The man standing there deftly reaches out and plucks it from the air, then places it firmly down on table.

‘Wow, Mister, good catch!’ he says, only now looking up and into the face of who he presumes is the man he spoke to on the phone mere moments ago.

‘Yes yes, I suppose it was, just a reaction thing I guess, always been quite good at that kind of thing. Do you mind if I sit down?’

As he sits he draws a business card from his pocket, holding it out with long powerful looking fingers, ‘My name is Bachman, Richard Bachman, thank you so very much for meeting me at such short notice’.

The business card has the same name on it, with the same phone number listed for the advert. Nothing else.

He takes the business card, flips it over and back again, looking for some sort of clue of what this might be about. He is just about to ask that very question when the waitress arrives, steam billowing from white china mugs. She plonks them down on the table, and in a flat drawl tells them to enjoy their beverages.

Alan looks up at her as she turns to walk away and he’s sure she winks at the man sitting opposite. Alan turns his attention to the strange man sitting there, taking in the thin yet powerful looking body, and the weary looking face offset by the most piercing grey eyes he’d ever seen.

‘So young man, I’m guessing you are wondering what the advert is all about? Yes yes I can see it in your eyes already, itching for knowledge, for answers. Well don’t worry I will tell you everything in good time, but first a question for you, do you mind if I ask you a question Alan?’

‘Of course not, fire away’.

‘Alan, and I need to you be very very honest, if you lie I will know and that will be the end of the interview. OK, you do understand that, don’t you Alan? I do not like time wasters and have seen enough to know when that is the case, do not lie to me’.

‘I won’t, look I need a job, you are advertising for… well, something, I don’t know what, but I need the work so I’ve no reason to lie, do I?’

‘Excellent! You are quite right, yes yes of course you have no reason to lie, yet people do for a myriad of reasons, right and wrong. But yes, you are candid and honest, good qualities, ones I like and that have taken you a step closer to being successfully chosen for this position. Yes yes I feel this is going very well already, now that question, it may sound odd, it may sound … what is the word now, oh yes, macabre, yes a delicious word but not one you’d hear at many a job interview, is that right? Yes of course it is, so, yes, that question, are you ready for the question Alan? Ready to answer truthfully?’

In his mind he was already beginning to regret making that phone call, and that the man sitting opposite him might not be completely sane… but what other options did he have? None, he knew it and he sensed this odd man sitting across from him knew it too. He had no other choices, no cards left to play.

‘Yes, I’m ready to answer truthfully’.

With that the man leans forward, his face hardens and his eyes seem to glow. In a low clear voice he asks the question. The question that will change everything.

‘Alan, have you ever looked into a dying man’s eyes?’

bookmark_borderChapter 3

Hands sore from the cold, she carefully places the carry-basket on the counter and murmurs quietly, soothing her old friend inside. A paw reaches out through the bars, and she reassures with soft strokes of the dark fur. She feels suddenly sad and old, but knows that it was always going to come to this moment. Life always does.

The soft face of the young girl behind the counter tries to reassure her, but she is beyond that, has been beyond that for a long time. She knows death, understands it better than most and knows too that she must go. She says one final goodbye, turns away and walks to the door, her eyes brimming with silent tears. She pauses there, catches herself and corrals her emotions with a long deep and purposeful breath.

She remembers her past, remembers how she once was and feels the swagger of times gone by return as she steps out into white flurries of cold, the surge of adrenalin pumping through her body, completely alive, completely now. Determined to be strong, knowing she has been stronger, she hopes her courage will return once more and bring with it the headstrong and foolish girl she was once. She pauses once more and leans on her cane as passersby swerve to avoid her, invisible as she is, an old woman in her long grey winter coat.

She stands there on the pavement for the longest time and slowly realises that she unsure of what to do next, the building realisation that what she was has long since passed and all that there is now are some more steps along this path. She turns slightly, looking this way and that and before long the cold wind pushes her to a decision. She decides to walk a block or two and see what comes of that.

She takes her time, feet less certain than they were despite the help of her cane, hindered by the cold and patches of ice hidden under snow. Concentrating hard she slowly makes her way across the road, happy to be outside for now, happy to have something else to concentrate on, something else to fill her mind.

She passes steep stairs leading to old apartment buildings, shop fronts loudly declaring the latest offers and garish new products, an old laundrette purrs gently as she passes and the homily smells of apple pie and fresh baked bread creep across the street, catching her as she inhales. She stops and turns, and in looking across the street her mind shifts suddenly, history and reality flood her senses.

The familiarity is overwhelming, she has been here once before. She lifts her head and gazes around as passersby hurry past, huddled against the wind, shrouded in speckles of snow. An old woman is all they see, possibly lost, possibly senile, standing in their way.

Her eyes cast over the buildings, the shopkeepers and bank tellers glimpsed through windows, the patrons of the cafe across the road with their steaming mugs of coffee, wholesome slices of fresh apple pie, the regulars repeating their repartee, the waitresses laughing and flirting on cue, all wide hips and generous smiles.

She hears a sound further ahead and through the biting wind spots a recess, no, a doorway dark in the murky daylight. The stark lines of the door frame picked out by the blaze of neon in the street, the deep recess broken only by a glimpse of a face. Startled, her cane falls from her grasp, clattering and cracking on frozen stone. Around her heads turn to the sharp noise, and the face in the doorway doesn’t move.

“Ma’am? Ma’am, are you ok?” says a distant voice, fading as the world tilts once more, murky daylight replaced by blooming black.

Moments later she blinks her eyes open. Lying on the pavement, the cold seeping through her bones she stares through the legs of her samaritans, she watches as the face emerges from the doorway and starts across the street. Every muscle in her wants to scream out, every instinct is fight, every moment crawls as the face is slowly revealed, burned blue and orange by streetlight and shop sign. She knows she must do something but all she can manage is her last breathe.

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bookmark_borderChapter 2

Her hair ruffles gently in his breath, deep and slow. Waking from slumber he dares not move his arm for fear of waking her, instead he lies there quietly holding her safe from harm. He savours moments like these, the gentle companionship of sleep holding her there with him and he feels the soft glow lighting inside. Slowly he gazes over her, taking in the sweep of her neck, the curve of her hips, the silk sheen of downy hairs that catch the light.

She snuffles and pulls his arm tighter, wrapping herself in him like a blanket, so content she almost purrs, and in that instant his heart explodes all over again.

A yawn now and pale eyes turn to gaze at him, sleepy and soft she blinks through the morning light which turns her skin golden, gently bathing the room through soft billowing curtains. It’s almost too idyllic, he thinks, as he lowers his face to hers, a gentle kiss to welcome another day.

Sleepily they doze on, happy and content to be there and now, existing only with each other. The morning starts to unfold around them, the sounds of neighbours getting ready for their day, the distant clatter of plates, the thunk of toasters and burbling motors churn away down the street. Pet sounds join the bird song and the melody is complete.

“We should get up” she murmurs, a quiet lie to herself.

“We should” he agrees, content that she won’t stir yet, that he has a few more precious seconds and with that thought he wills her back to sleep, desperate to keep her there forever.

Her breathing deepens again and he relaxes with her. His view shifts to the photos on the wall, the happy strangers and their blank stares. The sunlight casting soft echoes across the room, fluttering on the breeze, sliding smoothly up the wall. He knows the patterns of the morning well, the change in the air as the sun pulls itself up and over the balcony, the glow becoming warmth, and the growing babble in the street below permeates the room before being silenced by her presence; taboo sounds of everyday life jostle and bustle on the extremities but know better than to disturb such sacred tranquility.

Movement startles him back to reality as she stretches, feline and supple, and once more he enjoys the sensuous lines of her body, she uncurls from him and her tousled hair drops to her shoulders as she turns to sit on the edge of the bed.

She murmurs something he doesn’t catch and, with a pause, is upright and padding to the bathroom. He watches her go, laughing to himself as the corny line leaps into his head, he does hate to see her go but could spend hours watching her leave.

He rolls onto his back and shakes out his sleeping arm, enjoying the pins and needles and the final remnants of warmth in her bedsheets. He yawns, stretches and finally gives in, dropping his feet over the edge of the bed as he pulls himself up.

“Hey sleepyhead” she purrs as she walks into the room, “what do you fancy for breakfast… and don’t say me”.

With a quiet chuckle he stands and turns to face her, his mouth opens to form the usual reply but as she watches his eyes suddenly slacken. With a tilt he collapses forward, catching the edge of the bed as he spins and slumps heavily to the floor.

The room erupts in noise as she empties her lungs to the air. She frantically scrabbles her way over the bed and lands on the floor next to him, hauling him faceup whilst screaming his name. She feels something wet on her hands, letting him go in horror as the blood begins to flow, a small well of red at the base of his neck, weeping scarlet.

Across the street the sun mirrors off broken glass, jagged in a window frame, and a flicker of movement beyond is captured, a fleeting glimpse as the assasin retreats to the safety of the shadows.

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bookmark_borderChapter 1

From a darkened doorway she peers through the drizzle to the steamy window of the cafe across the street, eyes flickering nervously from table to table, idle patrons chatting in their booths. A couple laughing at a shared joke, an old man staring out at the dull sky as steam spirals from the chipped mug clasped between wizened hands, a lone woman chewing her pen in contemplation, her notepad empty. Nothing of suspect. No-one of note.

She reaches into her pocket once more to check the cold steel in her pocket and, glancing sideways, she starts across the street. She is wary of movement, wondering if he is watching her whilst she searches for him. She wonders if they are both being watched by others.

She pushes the door open and warm air rushes to embrace her, smells of coffee and fried food. An everyday place that catering to the needs of the masses without fuss or pretence. A timeless place, confidently content to remain motionless, eschewing all advances, the happy old maid amongst the garish neon of the young pretenders.

A waitress whirls through her thoughts, and she catches herself before heading to a dark corner, past the laughing innocence, the knowing silence, the emptiness. Sliding into the booth she deliberately sits away from the window, out of the light and partially hidden from view. With her back to the far wall all she can see over the booth walls are heads and shoulders, busts of nobody.

She wonders how many things this cafe has seen. How often had it felt heartache and betrayal, witnessed comedy and blood? The wooden railings and tiled floor seem to reek of past events, ghosts bounce and dance alongside the slow turn of the ceiling fan. She starts to wonder why this place was chosen, what forces are at play, why history has pulled her here.

Her mind races on.

She is still unsure, she realises. Despite having thought of nothing else these past few days, despite the aching and longing that brought her here, she now understands that she still has a choice, still has a moment to pause. She wonders if it will achieve everything of which she has dreamt, wonders if the chains will loosen or whether the walls will crumble, an illusion heightened as she lowers her head.

The kitchen door flick-flacks on hinges and pulls her from her thoughts, sweet pastry wafts from the kitchen and the gentle chatter and clink of crockery complete the scene. This is nothing more than an everyday moment in a forgettable place.

She watches the waitress busily tend to the customers, practiced smiles and manners switching on and off, efficiently friendly. When it’s her turn she plays her part, nods for coffee and cream, refuses the gentle sell of pastry, all the while knowing the mug will remain where placed, untouched and unsullied as events unfold around it, unaware and innocent.

She knows this place, she has been here before in a different time and a different place. She knows the friendly familiarity of the regular customers, the quirks and routines they have. She knows the waitresses, downtrodden and stoic, who hide it all as they bustle about their day, understanding their place as counsellor, slave and friend.

She remains lost in her revellery, reliving her faded past until a movement outside snatches her gaze. Outside a man stalks past, huddled against the drench, dark and dripping beneath his hat. She loses sight and turns her gaze to the door, waiting for him, sensing his approach, feral now, alert and bright and ready.

She realises that finally the moment is near, it has begun.

Paused inside the doorway he shakes off the worst of the rain and removes his hat. Revealed are the dark, brooding, pensive features that she knows so well, the very face that brought her here.

He turns away from her and removes his jacket, hanging it by the door, his hat pulled roughly onto the peg above before turning back and moving heavily, deliberate and steady, to an empty seat at the counter, the stool creaking beneath him.

Watching him sitting there she reveals herself to the truth; this is real, he is real and no longer the illusion she has maintained for so long. He remains, constant and unmoving from this place. The sudden awareness of all of this grabs her thoughts, contorting and twisting them, wrenching them from her control in a final act of duplicity. Then, with a blip of sudden confusion, she is back to the present; the walls, stains over white, remind her and bring her back to the moment, to her version of reality.

She maintains her uncaring and brazen gaze as she watches him chat to the waitress, all smiles and wholesome. Watches the careful flirting from both sides, the playful familiarity, vulgar and wretched. As she takes all this in she begins to realise she is nervous, time presses on her and as her emotions slowly build her surroundings start to vibrate as if filled with light, everything is suddenly vivid, more real than she’d ever imagined.

Her coffee arrives and the aroma stains the air sweet and dark before her, a haze through which everything distorts. She reaches, unthinking, for the sugar, spooning pure white crystals that glint in the light, a million sweet glistens. She looks down as she stirs, the whirlpool ripples with sharp liquid edges, a slick coating on the sides of the mug as she pours silk white cream into the vortex.

As she raises the mug to her mouth she inhales deeply before taking a first, final and delicious mouthful. A brief pause to savour the rich bittersweet liquid before, her decision made, she swallows and clunks the mug down. A dollar bill lands next to it, a final debt paid.

Then she’s standing and the room moves beneath her, propelling her forward, forward, forward until she is there, exactly where she should be. She pauses briefly to watch him breathe, his shoulders rising and falling slowly, methodically. Unaware, unsuspecting, off-guard.

She reaches into her pocket, clasps the hilt of the blade and in a smooth motion slides it from her pocket and gently leans into him as if to whisper in his ear.

An instant before he feels the thin steel he is aware of her presence, but before he can react he knows it is too late, paralysed as the blade finds it’s mark. His eyes widen, screaming in silence, his mouth mute, jaw slack as she efficiently, silently and almost effortlessly kills him. His body tightens, muscles lock him upright in his seat, and then it is over.

She kisses him gently on the ear and, without a word, turns and heads outside. A surge of adrenalin explodes through her body, she is completely alive, completely now. Power races through her and she holds her head in a confident swagger as she steps out into the drizzle.

Standing there as the rain dapples her face she wonders what will happen now, what future will unfold before her and she suddenly realises she is lost, far from anything she would call home, in a strange land with blood on her hands.

Inside the cafe a glass topples from a tray and shatters into a million dazzles of light as the screaming begins.