Smoke , a short story by pieterh. Date added: 2008-10-10. Times viewed: 1634.
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- Intro: Everyone has a secret, and it can be fatal.
- I miss Dad. He died, before I was five. I remember smiles, laughter, a house of wood and plaster, Mum happy. It was a Freak Accident, he was crossing the road, truck driver had a fit and his truck hit Dad. Made a mess of everything. Dad worked so hard, Mum said. Never stopped working, making money for the family. We were not rich but we lived ok, Mum said. When he died it made a mess of things. Mummy had to go do his job, she was away a lot. She started to worry about the money.
Then, my step-father, Bill... he was bad. I never knew what Mum saw in him. Nice dresser, he spent more time with his bar girls than with us. He had money, good family, and we lived in a large house. When he came back, drunk and angry, he and Mum would argue, then he would shout at her and hit her. I remember her screams, of rage, the sounds of his fists. She was tough but he was large, strong, the sporty type. I could not bear to listen to her crying so I would sneak into her room and hold her, just like she held me when I was a baby. She never stopped loving him, Dad, and Bill knew it. One day he hit her until she broke. She never woke up, and died in hospital. He blamed it on muggers, was arrested, let out on bail. He had money and very good lawyers. On the day his trial ended, he celebrated and came back very drunk. I was fifteen and had to live there. He was my legal guardian. He raped me, and fell asleep in my bed. I tied his arms and legs to the bed with electrical wiring, poured a bottle of whisky over him, set light to it, and packed my case as he shrieked and twisted in the blue flames.
I left him there, then watched from outside as the fire began to lick at the windows, then smoke began to whiten the dark sky. Regrets. I should have not have used wiring.
They call me beautiful. I look in the mirror. What do I see? I see a face, tan, my mother's eyes, my father's nose and cheeks, and my own smile, borrowed from some ancestor. When you look at my eyes you can see a hundred miles, all the distance and suffering of a million lives. You can see steel and fire, and you can see war and you can see peace.
My eyes are the gateway to my soul, and I know this because every morning for a year when I was twelve or so, I practised in front of the mirror until I had the whole distance, suffering, steel and war, absolutely perfect. It's a trick. And I'm a natural.
I'm nineteen. It's been four... long years. I have done some things during this time. I have learned some useful skills. I have travelled to some interesting places, and met some unusual people. I have earned a little money and invested it carefully.
After my little Bill-b-que, I walk around the block and then go to the police who are there by that time, and I tell them what I'd done. They take me to the police station, I make a full statement, and then I spend the night in a cell. The next day, they take me to an office and I wait. Later, a man arrives. He has the eyes too. You can tell right away. It's a kind of non-expression. Most people blink, twitch, look around when there is noise or movement. But he does not. He looks at me for a while, sits, and opens a file.
He takes a photograph and shows it to me. Nice work, good angle. It shows the whole bed, or what's left of it, with the grilled corpse in the middle, still tied to the four bedposts.
"You do that?" he asks. "Yes," I answer. "You have anything you want to say," he asks? I think about it. "I should have used something else. The wire did not burn. Too obvious, I should have made it look like he was smoking in bed". "Like what?" he asks. "Maybe just wrapping him in a sheet would have worked," I said, "but I did not want to take the risk."
The man looks at me again. "Any regrets?" he asks. I look at him, answer slowly. "Yes, and no."
"OK, beautiful" he says, "here's the deal. You can do twenty to forty for murder, maybe the jury will be gentle because he raped you, but the man was found innocent of murder. And you tied him up, so it was premeditated. In Texas you'd get death."
"Or," he pauses, then continues, "you can come work for me."
I do it because of the eyes. There's something there that interests me. It's not like I have a choice, anyhow.
Dylan is his name. He's a spook. That's what he calls himself. I do not know who he works for, and I can't see any obvious agenda in the work he does. It's mostly wet work. That's what he calls the killings. Me, I don't go out. He says "maybe, one day", but the truth is I'm far more useful remote, here, with the computers. We make a good team. I discovered his files (of course!) within a few days, and studied his previous partners. Quite a few. I look at a couple of the files. They end with, "resolved". I wonder if he's a kind of bluebeard, a serial killer. It seems unlikely. I stare at the faces, they blur.
He does not enjoy the killing, does not attempt to justify it, does not pretend they're not people. He says, "it's a dirty job, Beautiful, and you're lucky to be here with your toys." I ask him why he does it, and he answers, "because I'm good at it, and it's a kind of art." This is true. There are so many elegant ways to take a life. Take distance and any life is meaningless, just an ant among billions, insignificant. I don't feel much connection to any of those ants. Society has largely been my enemy, and Dylan and me pay it back. Yes, I'm bitter. I was orphaned and raped by my step-father. Bitter is not half of it!
We worked a lot in Europe. We had different passports. I was French, British, and Spanish. Je suis Angelique, from Martinique! I spoke French and English (and German) when I was young, and learning Spanish was fun. We spent three months in Barcelona. Two jobs and lots of shopping. I learn fast. I'm now studying Hungarian, which is the first language that I actually find difficult.
This is usually how it goes. We get the target, who is some random man. Always men. Lawyer, doctor, politician, old, young. No obvious patterns. It's never women, children, nor animals. Goldfish of the world, relax! I do the intel, getting the data off the net, then planting the cams around the target's house or work to be able to follow him. Then we study him or her for a week or two, Dylan on site, and me remote. I find out what he does, where he works, where he drinks, where he sleeps, where he cheats. After a couple of weeks, I know him better than his wife.
Part of the specs, maybe the most important part, is the way it must happen. Sometimes an accident. Sometimes a violent mugging. Sometimes it even has to look like a murder. Those are the hardest to do because forensics these days is so good that they can tell exactly who was in a room, and when, just from the air. It's supposed to be impossible to frame someone for murder. It takes split-second timing, superb planning, and there's no room for a second chance. Sometimes it's like I'm really there, when it's going down.
It is distressingly easy to take a life, and people are so careless. You'd think they would look after it but no, they leave their windows unlocked, they live predictable schedules, they let their names and addresses get all over the net, they make friends with all the wrong people.
One time I ask Dylan, "how was it?", and he answers, "he looked at me," and I ask, "how did he look," and Dylan answers, "surprised."
I like Dylan, partly because he works a lot. I think a man who works a lot must be decent, because there are so many other ways to spend your time and most of them are not decent. But maybe Dylan just reminds me a little of my father.
Dylan is not young but he hides it well. Sometimes I get a flash of the old man inside him, a little stiffness, a squint in those perfect eyes.
Maybe he should retire. But who would I work with then? And what else would I do? We would hardly go and live at the coast, buy a little cottage, shoot tourists for fun. There's not really a pension plan for spooks.
I go to Dylan one cool autumn night. I am just eighteen, legal. He is a very moral man, in a certain way. He is gentle, but silent, and I can feel his eyes on me, invisible but piercing, in the dark.
We form a loose couple. It is a natural extension to the work. Sometimes when he goes out I have the urge to say, "have a nice day at work, dear!" But Dylan does not really have a sense of humour. He does not recognise a punchline. Sometimes he tries to tell a joke and I laugh and then I explain that it's not funny because of the joke, but because of the way he tells it. Or, perhaps it's me that does not have the sense of humour. These things get complex.
The months pass. I'm pregnant. Dylan does not know what to do. It's the first time I see him unsure. So I take control, which is what I do best. It is a smooth pregnancy, I get fat and eat constantly, and after many months and sleepless nights and what seems like a full day of pain, I have my baby, a little girl, with my eyes and Dylan's nose. I call her "Vanessa", which was my mother's name. We sign at the hospital, and then again at the British embassy, using our UK passports. Vanessa is now British.
We celebrate. Dylan has too much to drink and falls asleep on my bed. He has been smoking a cigar and its stub is still smouldering in the ashtray. I hobble his hands and legs carefully using some fine cloth. It will burn away, leaving no trace. I roll him in the bedsheet, pour the bottle of vodka over him, light it with the cigar stub.
He screams and rolls, but the bed covering is a kind of plastic and is melting and sticking to him. The more he rolls around the more burning molten plastic sticks to him. Finally, he rolls off the bed and falls, immobile and sizzling, to the floor. The bed is in flames now, and I take Vanessa downstairs and call the emergency line.
As I stand outside, with Vanessa in my arms, I see the gray smoke billowing into the night sky.
We live quite nicely. Hungary is a civilised country and the people are welcoming of strangers. Even lowly-paid spooks can have life insurance policies, and Dylan had several. He was such a considerate man, and I often tell Vanessa about him. He worked very hard. Earned good money for us. I smile and tell her about all the good things in life.
On the mantelpiece, a photograph of Vanessa, who is growing up to be a lovely, clever, beautiful child. Beside her picture, a picture of Mummy, and one of Daddy. They are a bit fuzzy, but then the originals in Dylan's files were rather small.
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