Friday, July 28, 2017

Make the Villain a Hero Challenge: "Don't Fear the Reaper"- by Hazel B. West



Don’t Fear the Reaper
By Hazel B. West

Author’s Note
I have always loved assassins. Especially the kinds you find in fantasy novels. But for a long time I’ve really wanted to write a modern hitman style assassin because they rarely ever get a cool highlight in stories. After reading the Grey Man in Maggie Stiefvater’s Raven Cycle I wanted to write an assassin like that. Someone more like James Bond (but lets face it, Bond just isn’t cool enough). So The Reaper was born, and of course I had to throw someone unsuspected at him to show that deep down, he actually was a good guy. Or, well, you know, in all the best ways.
I really hope to some day continue Reaper and JJ’s story. I found I really loved writing them and I hope you enjoy this too!


A spoonful of sugar, a dab a cream. I inhaled the aromatic steam contentedly as I stirred, then finally raised the cup to my lips. Ah, nothing quite so satisfying as a cup of tea.
            But then came the inevitable buzz from my phone from where it sat next to the saucer. I let out a small sigh and picked it up.
            Subject marked, the text read along with an address. Clear the room.
            Another text came in, Funds on the way as agreed.
            Another ping sounded alerting me to a deposit to my Swiss bank account.
            I quickly tapped out a message. Perfect. Shall clean up the spill ASAP.
            Back to business. I suppose I would have to enjoy my cup of tea later.
            I stood, buttoning my suit jacket and straightening my tie, before laying several pounds on the table for the tea.
            I went out to my car, a Black Badge Rolls-Royce Ghost, and slid into the leather seat, started it up and flipped on the sound system. I think it was a day for Wagner.
***
The address was across from a rundown hotel, the perfect place to snipe from. I parked a couple blocks away, and opened my boot.
            First, the suit jacket was replaced with my leather one, buttoned up to the throat, then came the leather driving gloves—tight so I could work, but would not leave fingerprints. Then I pulled up the false panel in the bottom of the boot and opened my case of weapons.
            First came the briefcase with my rifle. Then I took out my backup Sig Sauer with the silencer attached, and tucked it into the shoulder holster in my jacket.
            Rule number one: Always carry a backup.
            After that, I strode toward the hotel and into the lobby. Places like this, if you slip the manager enough bills, he will forget your face. Decide you’re only a businessman meeting with a mistress, perhaps. For a few more, he will give you the exact room you want.
            My preferred spot was always one floor up from the target. It could sometimes prove more difficult getting the proper angle, but people rarely looked up and therefor, detection was less of a possibility.
            I quickly set up, crouched next to the window, glancing over at the other building, an abandoned apartment. I could see movement inside, and I was counting how many. My instruction had been to ‘clear the room’, which meant more than one target. It looked like three men, probably the leader and two lackeys.
            I methodically put my rifle together, screwing the pieces into place and loading the ammo. Then I got into position, and popped the window open a few inches to ease the barrel out.
            Through the scope, I could see the occupants in the room better—there were indeed three men—and it looked like one was rather agitated (obviously the leader) and yelling at the two others (the lackeys). They were all in the perfect position, and I wasted no time.
            The lackeys with the guns went down first, then a fraction of a second later, the main target. I stayed still for a few seconds, making sure there were no more people in the room who had not shown themselves before, but when I was sure there weren’t, I pulled my rifle back, closed the window, and carefully took the gun apart, setting it back into its case.
            I took the back stairs out of the hotel so the clerk would have no reason to see my face again, then put my rifle case back in my car before crossing the street toward the apartment building.
            Rule Number Two: Always check your work.
            If you wanted to be a successful assassin, it would never do to find out weeks later that your target wasn’t actually dead.
            I climbed up several flights of stairs, and found the right room. Three bodies on the floor, officially deceased, and the scattered remains of whatever operation they had been running: computers, weapons, what looked to be fake passports, lying on the table.
            I never checked identifications unless I was given a name instead of an address. I just went where I was sent, did my job, and got paid. I was good at it, and the people who hired me knew that.
            I swiftly pulled my phone from my pocket and texted my anonymous client.
            It’s done.
            A few seconds later, a reply came: Pleasure doing business as always, Reaper.
            Another ping announced the rest of the funds sliding into my account.
            I frowned slightly at the text. Must have been a repeat client. Like I didn’t need to know the identities of the people I killed, I did not need to know who sent me either. That was dangerous for everyone involved. Especially since most of them were probably high up in the government and I didn’t want to get tangled in the intrigue that would involve.
            I was about to head back out, back to my flat to enjoy that cup of tea, but there was a thumping sound in the next room.
            My spare gun was in my hand in a second, and I carefully went through toward one of the bedrooms. The room was dark, and bare but for a bed without a mattress, and an old armoire. The sound came again, and this time I could tell it was from the closet.
            I slid silently across the carpeted floor toward the door. Perhaps it was just a rodent, but it never hurt to be sure…
            I flung the door open.
            I was not expecting to see what I did find there.
            Wide, frightened eyes looked up at me from the face of a girl. She couldn’t have been older than nine or ten, wearing a red sweatshirt, and bound and gagged.
            A hostage? No one had mentioned a hostage. Perhaps my client hadn’t known either. What then…
            The girl made a sound, and wriggled insistently, kicking her heels against the floor. I stood there dumbly for a few more seconds, unsure of what to do. I wondered vaguely if she was part of the instruction to ‘clear the room’ but somehow that didn’t seem right.
            She grunted again, and I finally crouched down and slipped a knife from a sheath hidden under my trouser leg, working on the ropes that bound her.
            Once her hands were free, she tore the gag from her mouth with a gasp.
            “About time!” she accused in a high London accent. “Are you the police?”
            I was taken aback. First of all that she didn’t seem very afraid for a child in her situation, and second that she thought I was the police. “No,” I replied.
            “MI-5, then?” she asked. “Did my dad send you?”
            I shook my head. “No.” Although, I suppose the latter was possible.
            “Then who are you?” she demanded as she pulled herself to her feet, rubbing the spots where the ropes had dug into her skin.
            “I could ask the same of you,” I said, narrowing my eyes as I slid my knife back into its sheath and stood, still holding my gun. “What are you doing here?”
            “Those men wanted money from my daddy so they took me. But I knew what to do. I’ve been warned this might happen.”
            I frowned. So perhaps she was a diplomat’s daughter, or her father was a parliamentarian. That would make sense.
            “If you didn’t come to save me, then what are you here for?” she asked.
            “Just doing my job,” I told her.
            “Well, can you take me back home then?”
            I blanched. “I’ll drop you at the nearest tube station, can you find your way home from there?”
            She folded her arms over her chest, giving me a look. “I just got kidnapped and you want to put me on the tube and let me find my own way home? What kind of spy are you?”
            I huffed, finally tucking my gun back into my jacket. “I’m not a spy, I’m an assassin, and you weren’t part of the bargain.”
            Her eyes widened at that. “An assassin? You don’t look like one.”
            “Well, that’s kind of the point, darling,” I told her, wondering what an assassin was supposed to look like. “So either you come with me now, or I leave you here.”
            She glared at me with a piercing blue gaze and then finally nodded. “Fine. I guess I’ll just have to find my own way home.”
            I ushered her out of the room, wanting to get this over with as quickly as possible, but she stopped, eyes widening as they landed on the dead men.
            “Are they dead? Did you kill them?” she asked incredulously.
            “Ah…” I said, quickly pushing her along. “Let’s just go, alright?”
            Oddly enough, even that didn’t seem to faze her. Perhaps she was still in shock. She just sighed and continued on at my urging as I led her out of the apartment and down the stairs.
            As we entered the stairwell though, I heard voices from below. Several, at least three, possibly four, and heavy bootsteps to back them up.
            “It’s one more floor. Can you not even count, moron?”
            I stopped at the sound of that voice. I knew it well, an old rival.
            The Ghost.
            “What are—” the little girl began but I quickly clapped a hand over her mouth and hauled her out of the stairwell, back up into the hallway.
            She struggled, but I hushed her with a firm shake. “Do not speak or we will both die, just do what I say, and follow me.”
            Her eyes widened over my hand, but she nodded and I grabbed her shoulder, hustling her down the hallway, making it to the end just as the doorway to the stairwell swung open. I pulled the girl around the corner out of sight, and slipped my Sig Sauer out of my jacket again. I could take the shot, take out Ghost now, but with this gun and with his backup, I wouldn’t get out unscathed. Besides it was always better not to take chances.
            Rule Number Three: If it looked like trouble, run.
            “Come,” I hissed at the girl and took hold on her again, dragging her down this hallway to another flight of stairs. This one was clear and we flew down them and out onto the street.
            “Who was that?” she asked as we got out into daylight again. “Were they working with the men you killed?”
            “No,” I snapped, already leading her toward the street I had left my car on. “He is a very dangerous man. A rival assassin.”
            “So your nemesis?” she asked, running to keep up.
            I grit my teeth. “I suppose, if that’s what you want to call him.”
            “Where are we going now?” she asked.
            I groaned in the back of my throat. “Can you stop asking questions? In case you haven’t noticed, we are on the run at the moment!”
            “Sorry,” she said.
            At least that had shut her up. And we were almost to my car. I saw it parked up ahead and was instantly glad that I had parked it where I did so Ghost hadn’t seen it. That would likely have meant slashed tires.
            There was also the problem with how he had ended up at the site of my target right after I had made the kill but I didn’t have time to think about that now. If there was even a chance he had been there looking for me, and not the more likely possibility that he was there to make some sort of deal with the kidnappers, then I wasn’t going to spent precious escape time worrying over it.
            I dug my keys from my pocket as we got to the car and unlocked it. “Get in,” I snapped to the girl.
            She did as she was told—at least I could say that for her—and slid into the passenger seat as I went around to the driver’s side.
            I didn’t even waste time for her to put a seatbelt on, just started the car and tore off down the street. She was silent for a few seconds while I navigated back streets and retraced several times, making sure no one could track my direction, even if they checked traffic cameras.
            “Since there’s still men after me, will you take me home now?” she demanded.
            I glanced over at her. “We don’t know those men were after you.”
            She frowned, then looked over at me. “You should wear a seatbelt, you know. It’s dangerous not to. Especially with your driving.”
            I narrowed my eyes but didn’t reply.
            After a few more seconds of silence, she asked. “What’s your name, anyway?”
            “I don’t have one,” I told her.
            “Everyone has a name,” she insisted. “Mine’s Janice Joyce, which I think is terrible, so everyone just calls me JJ.” After a few more seconds, she added. “If you don’t tell me, I’ll make one up for you. And it will be worse than Janice.”
            I huffed in defeat. “Fine, you can call me Reaper.”
            She furrowed her brow. “Reaper? That’s not a name.”
            “It is in my profession. Names are dangerous.”
            “Okay, then, I’ll just call you Mr. Grim, how do you like that?”
            “I don’t care,” I told her.
            “Okay then. Where are we going, Mr. Grim?”
            I tightened my grip on the wheel, trying to keep my patience. “For the moment, somewhere safe. Then I’ll see about a way to get you home.”
            She smiled and leaned back against the seat. “See, even an assassin can be nice.”
            I simply grunted noncommittally. This mission was already turning out to be far more taxing than any I had been on before.
***
My flat was in an out of the way corner of West London, where, if you had enough money—which I did, thanks to my profession—you could have a place in relative seclusion where no one else bothered you.
            I parked my Rolls in the parking garage and nodded for the girl to get out. I led her quickly toward the elevator, not wanting any of my seldom seen neighbors to choose this moment to get chatty, and made it up to my floor.
            My flat was at the very top of the building, a fine penthouse, with tasteful furniture, pieces of fine artwork—originals, not prints—on the wall and a stereo system with speakers good enough to pick up all the fine nuances of a classical opera. I listened to it all the time when I wasn’t going to see them live.
            Even now, as I walked in, I picked up the remote and turned on the CD of Carmen that was in the player. The familiar overture started up and filled the apartment, instantly making the space seem less empty.
            “Is this really where you live?”
            I suppressed a sigh, having almost forgotten my young charge. “Yes.”
            “This doesn’t look like the sort of place a dangerous assassin would live,” she commented.
            I narrowed my eyes. “And what should one look like then?”
            She shrugged. “I don’t know. Dark, gross. Maybe in the sewers or abandoned tube tunnels.”
            I snorted. “Not likely. Why would I live there when I make enough to live in a place like this, drive a Rolls, and have a closet full of designer suits?”
            “Doesn’t it bother you to get paid so much to kill people?”
            I thought about it a moment and shook my head. “No, it’s my job. And most of the men I kill deserve to die.” Not all of them. Nor were all of them men, but I had learned long ago not to dwell on that. I had chosen the life, there wasn’t any point in moaning about it.
            “Whatever makes you feel better about yourself,” she replied.
            Well, even I had to admit she was sort of a funny kid.
            “So, Mr. Grim, you have anything to eat? I’m starving.”
            “We’re not staying here, I just came here to regroup. You need to tell me who your father is and how I get you back home, which is what I thought you wanted.”
            “My father isn’t even in the country right now,” she replied, folding her arms over her chest. “And I haven’t eaten since yesterday!”
            I huffed. “Fine, food is in the kitchen. But once you eat, we talk.”
            “Okay,” she smiled and hopped toward the kitchen. I clenched my jaw and shook my head before turning toward the bedroom. What had I gotten myself into here?
            I took a few minutes to shower and change, putting my suit aside for the dry cleaning pile. All the while, I thought about the implications behind the fact that Ghost had been right behind me. Had he been tipped off too? Was he also hired for this hit? For the first time, I truly wondered who had sent me the job in the first place and why. More importantly, did they know it was a hostage situation?
            In my career, I certainly knew it wasn’t uncommon for government officials to take out hits on people, but could it have been the girl’s own father who had sent me to take down the kidnappers instead of calling in the police or MI-5? It seemed unlikely, but again, I didn’t know the whole story. Perhaps there were complications. It was always a delicate situation when a member of parliament was targeted, especially when it was part of their family.
            But the more I thought about it, the less I decided it was my problem. I would get the girl back home, but that was it. After that, I would simply go back to existing as I always did. Job to job, and relaxing as much as possible in between.
            Speaking of relaxing, I could really do with a nice cup of tea.
            I figured I would make a cuppa and grill the girl, now that she had hopefully eaten, but as I got back out to the main room, I found her curled up on the couch, fast asleep.
            I just stood there for a long second, looking at her. She was so small—when she wasn’t talking—and looked even younger now in slumber. And the red sweatshirt, with matching Converse and pink ruffled skirt and leggings looked very out of place in my apartment.
            Something twitched deep inside my chest, and I wasn’t sure exactly what, but after that, I found myself turning the music down to a low hum, and finding a blanket to put over the girl.
            JJ. She’d said her name was JJ.
            I sighed deeply and ran a hand over my face. No, I wasn’t going to go soft.
            Rule Number Four: Never form attachments.
            Of course, that was a little early, still…I couldn’t help but realize that I seemed to be the only thing that stood between this child and the men who wanted her for whatever reason. I may be an assassin, but I was still a red-blooded human. It wasn’t like I was just going to throw a girl already in danger out on the street.
            I made myself that cup of tea, and then grabbed my laptop. If JJ wouldn’t be forthcoming about who she was, I would just have to resort to using the internet.
            She hadn’t given a last name, but when I typed in ‘Janice Joyce’ it was filled in for me.

Janice Joyce Carter. Daughter of MP Bernard and Pricilla (deceased) Carter. Born July 5th, 2008.

            What I found interesting as I looked further was that there were no reports on her kidnapping. Though, obviously, that was sometimes knowledge that was kept under wraps anyway due to the delicacy of the matter.
            I began to hack into the databases for MI-5, looking for any information, and that was where I found the reports of JJ’s disappearance.
            Apparently, she had been taken from school three days ago, completely slipped through everyone’s fingers. Her father, in Europe on business, hadn’t known anything had happened since his people were trying to find her before they were forced to tell him they had screwed up royally. He had then received a call without any warning from the kidnappers demanding ransom. What was even more interesting, was that they seemed to have no leads on who the kidnappers were, or how they had managed to get to JJ in the first place since the school was supposed to be secure.
            I sipped my tea thoughtfully. If even Scotland Yard or MI-5 didn’t know who had her when they were sitting right in the middle of London, then how had the person who called me for the hit known? Unless the hit had been for an entirely different reason. The men had seemed like the sort of thugs, men with lots of money hired when they didn’t want to get their hands dirty. I had a feeling this was closer to home than maybe even MI-5 wanted to realize.
            But again, I’d found the information I needed to get JJ back where she belonged. There was no reason to ponder the matter further.
            I checked the time, saw it was getting late. Nighttime would be the best time to leave. I always tried to do things at night when possible. I glanced over my shoulder at the girl sleeping on the couch and decided to leave her for now. It wouldn’t hurt her to sleep.
            After a little while, I made a late supper and JJ woke on her own at the smell of food. She came into the kitchen, rubbing her eyes as she sat at the counter.
            “So, are you going to take me home then, Mr. Grim?” she asked.
            “Your father is out of town. Where is the best place for you to go?” I asked her.
            She shrugged. “Don’t know. Maybe just take me to Scotland Yard.” She was silent a long moment, then asked. “Mr. Grim, is my father in danger?”
            I dished up two plates, placing one in front of her and taking a seat on another stool myself. “I don’t know why you were kidnapped. But I think whoever did it wants money from your father more than anything.”
            “But why?”
            It was my turn to shrug. “Many reasons. Maybe they feel they were wronged in some way. Perhaps it’s not about money at all, maybe your father is holding something over them. Either way, I don’t think you’ll be in danger again once you are back where you belong. I don’t think they’ll want to try for you twice.”
            JJ looked contemplative for a moment, staring at her plate.
            “Eat up,” I told her, picking up my own fork. “We’ll leave afterward.”
            She did as she was told and I watched her out of the corner of my eye. It was actually very odd to see a child act like this, so calm under a situation such as this. Most adults would be in hysterics by now. But there did always seem to be something about children that was extra resilient.
            I furrowed my brow, glancing over at her. “Tell me one thing; why are you not scared of being alone with an assassin?”
            She looked at me like I had said some ridiculous. “Because you’re not bad.”
            “I kill people for a living.”
            “You might have done bad things but that doesn’t mean you’re bad. It’s just a job, right? That’s what you told me. Sometimes my dad has to do things that hurt people too, but that doesn’t make him bad.”
            I was taken aback at that. Leave it to a child to make things so simple. I shook my head and picked up my fork again. “Well, I guess I’ll have to take your word for that.”
***
After I cleaned up the dishes, I pulled on a clean suit jacket and tie, black on black, and JJ and I made our way out to the garage again.
            “Where are you going to take me?” she asked as we got into the Rolls.
            “Scotland Yard may not be a bad idea,” I told her honestly. “They’ll be able to keep you safe. But I can’t go in with you.”
            “That’s okay. I understand,” she said.
            I started the car and drove out of the garage into the night streets of London, the streetlights glinting off the puddles made from an earlier rain.
            “Thank you,” JJ told me, breaking the silence as I drove.
            “For what?” I asked.
            “For saving me,” she said.
            “It wasn’t exactly intentional.”
            She shrugged. “You still did. That’s another reason I know you’re not bad. You could have killed me too, especially since I was there when you killed the men who took me. But you got me out of there and got me away from those other men too. So, thanks.”
            I snorted slightly. “Well, don’t thank me until I get you to safety. You’re not out of the woods yet.”
            As if that was some sort of omen, I glanced into my rearview mirror and saw another car a few lengths behind us on the mostly deserted streets of London. I frowned, but didn’t think much of it until another vehicle showed up, a black SUV, coming up in the other lane and going far over the speed limit. The other car directly behind began to speed up as well, and that was when I knew we were in trouble.
            I pressed my foot more firmly into the gas and the Rolls responded well, leaping forward and powering down the road.
            “What’s wrong?” JJ asked, glancing behind us.
            “I think we picked up a follower,” I told her. “But don’t worry. Just hang on.”
            She glanced over at me. “You really should wear a seatbelt.”
            “It will wrinkle my suit,” I told her. “It is Armani. Now quiet, I have to concentrate.”
            I quickly tapped my stereo system on and Wagner began playing “Flight of the Valkyries”.
            I sped around a car in front of me, one of the few civilians out this time of night, and surged forward, my tails still firmly in place.
            The SUV had no hope of keeping up with me and it lagged pretty quickly, but the other car, a Mercedes, was well equipped in the engine department and was shadowing every move I made.
            “Hold on,” I gritted out and made a swift turn down a side street. JJ grabbed the door and did as I said. I sped forward, the engine a low growl as it revved. The Mercedes was still behind though, and I swiftly changed direction again with a screech of tires, going even further off the beaten path, but my shadow was still firmly stuck.
            Just then, the SUV lumbered out of a side street right in front of me, and I just barely swerved in time to avoid hitting it. Unfortunately, that forced me down another street that turned out to be a dead end, and by the time I realized that, the Mercedes and the SUV were already blocking me in.
            JJ glanced behind us. “What do we do now?” she demanded. “Who is that, Mr. Grim?”
            I saw several men, bruisers, piling out of the SUV. Normally, I would run, but there was nowhere to run.
            Rule Number Five: If there’s nowhere left to run. Shoot.
            I reached under my seat and pulled out my backup Sig. “Let me handle this, stay in the car and stay down.”
            “But what if you get killed!”
            “Stay here, JJ!” I commanded and got out of the car, gun held casually by my side as the men formed up.
            “What do you want?” I demanded as the men gathered closer.
            The sound of an engine revving cut into the conversation and a motorcycle drove around the corner, stopping next to the Mercedes. The rider got off, striding toward the group. He was dressed in black pants, combat boots and leather jacket. My eyes narrowed. I knew who he was even before he reached up to take his helmet off.
            Blond hair was revealed, as well as a crooked smirk. “Ah, Reaper. So good to see you again.”
            “Ghost,” I said, unable to help my lip curling. “What are you playing at?”
            Ghost tsked. “Don’t be like that. It’s all business, right? That’s what you always say. Well, just so happens you have part of my business.”
            I frowned, but saw Ghost looking pointedly over my shoulder to the Rolls where JJ had climbed into the back seat and was watching wide-eyed out the window. I cursed inwardly. Why couldn’t she have had the sense to stay down?
            “The girl?” I asked Ghost. “What do you want with her?”
            Ghost shrugged. “Just business.” He turned and nodded to his waiting lackeys. “Gentlemen.”
            There were seven men total, including the driver of the Mercedes, and they all started forward.
            I raised my gun, pointing it directly between Ghost’s eyes. “Stop. I won’t hesitate.”
            “Neither will Serge,” Ghost replied and a red dot appeared in the center of my chest, right over my heart Eight men, then. “And you know how much I would regret having you die so quickly, Reaper.”
            I snarled, almost ready to take the shot anyway, but the men were at the Rolls, dragging the door open, and reaching inside for JJ who was screaming and trying to kick at them. I surged toward them, but two of Ghost’s men caught me, quickly ridding me of my gun, and locking my arms behind my back. I watched helplessly as the others grabbed JJ, tying her hands and feet and carrying her off to the waiting vehicles.
            “Mr. Grim! Don’t let them take me!” she cried.
            “JJ, just hang on!” I replied. “I’ll get you out of this!”
            “Aww, how sweet,” Ghost said mockingly, as he came around to face me. “Reaper, have you gone soft? I should have known. When you didn’t kill her outright.” He shook his head, tsking again. “I always knew you didn’t really have the guts for this job, but I never realized you were so sloppy.”
            I narrowed my eyes. “Wait, how do you know that?”
            Ghost pulled out his own gun, and shrugged a small smile on his lips. “Think about it. I believe you already know the answer.”
            But before I could think about it any more, Ghost brought the butt of his pistol against the side of my head and a night sky with stars exploded in front of my eyes.
***
I woke with a shock of cold, gasping and spluttering on the water that was dripping down my face. Someone grabbed a fistful of my hair and wrenched my head back.
            “Are you awake now, Reaper?” Ghost’s mocking voice came through my ringing ears as he slapped me on the shoulder. “Good.”
            I grunted, forcing my eyes open. My head was pounding, and I could taste blood mixing with the water dripping into my mouth. I was tied to a chair, wrists secured firmly behind it, and ankles tied to the front legs. It wouldn’t be impossible to get out of with some work, but Ghost knew that. Obviously, he would have his men ready if I tried to break free.
            Besides… I looked over and saw JJ huddled in a corner of the place—what looked to be an abandoned warehouse of some kind. She was tied up and gagged, and two of Ghost’s lackeys were keeping a close eye on her.
            “So this was all you, the whole time?” I asked ghost as he came around my chair to look at me. “You organized the kidnapping?”
            “Oh, please,” Ghost scoffed. “No. The initial kidnapping was orchestrated by my client, but they weren’t satisfied with how it was working out. Apparently the original man hired to do the job was nothing more than a thug, more interested in money than getting the job done properly. So my client got in contact with me, knew I could do better.”
            The text addressing me directly as ‘Reaper’ that I had gotten after the hit came to me then as understanding dawned. “You called the hit out on the kidnappers.”
            Ghost grinned. “Of course. It was so much more efficient for you to do it. Get them out of my way before I came to claim the prize—you can keep the money too, of course. I’ll be fully reimbursed. But then you had to go and find the girl yourself.” He glanced over at JJ who glowered at him over the top of her gag. “Minor setback, which will soon be remedied.”
            “Who hired you?” I asked him.
            “Oh Reaper, you know we never discuss business,” Ghost said. “I don’t even know all the details. Just someone who was willing to pay an awful lot to do as much damage to MP Carter as possible.”
            “And what are you going to do with the girl now?” I demanded.
            “Deliver her up to the highest bidder,” Ghost said. “I’m taking over the hostage negotiations. My client doesn’t want it to trace back to the original source.”
            I pulled at my bindings. Ghost watched my struggles with amusement.
            “You, on the other hand, are not getting out of here. I can’t really have you being a thorn in my side any longer.” He pulled his gun out with a heavy sigh, pointing it between my eyes. “I do regret having to kill you, I would love to take my time with it, but I suppose I’ll have to settle for this.” He lowered the gun suddenly and shot.
            Pain ripped through my middle and I cried out at the same time JJ gave a muffled scream. Blood blossomed on my white shirt, soaking into my lap.
            “Takes an awful long time to bleed out from the gut,” Ghost commented. “Perhaps you’ll still be alive when I get back. But if not…” He leaned over and gripped my chin, forcing my eyes up to look into his cold grey ones, a small smirk on his face. “So long, Reaper. You’ve been a worthy opponent.”
            He patted my cheek and nodded to his men. “Take the girl. We’re going to the safe house.”
            I glanced up just in time to see one of the men grab JJ by the arm and haul her outside. She glanced back at me, her eyes wide, and for a moment I caught her gaze and tried to let her know I’d come for her.
            Because I would.
            Rule Number Six: You always finish a job you start.
            Even when you were gutshot, bleeding out, and tied to a chair.
***
I suppose in the long run it was a small blessing that Ghost had been in such a hurry. He’d even failed to take the knife that I kept strapped to my left leg.
            I twisted my hands in the ropes, and realized they were tighter than I had thought at first. But I worked them as hard as I could, and the water that they had dumped over me was actually allowing them to stretch. It would be enough.
            Taking several deep breaths, I braced myself and then with a jerk I slammed my left thumb against the back of the chair, dislocating it. Pain sang up my arm, but I was able to fold my hand and pull it from the binding.
            It took only a few minutes then to grab my knife and make short work of the rest. I snapped my thumb back as well as I could. It would be messed up for a while, but it was worth it.
            Of course, the bullet wound was the thing that was going to prove problematic.
            I groaned through gritted teeth as I forced myself upright, gripping the back of the chair as I breathed through the pain, one hand pressed to the wound so I wouldn’t lose more blood. After a few seconds, I had gathered myself and started out of the warehouse.
            Amazingly, we were not far from where Ghost had trapped my car. Just several streets over. I staggered the whole way and almost breathed a sigh of relief when I saw my Rolls sitting there waiting.
            She was opened up, but untouched, and my keys were sitting on the ground by the driver’s door where I must have dropped them in the struggle. I grabbed them quickly and hurried to the boot.
            First I stripped to the waist, finally looking down at the bullet wound. Few inches over my hip—painful, but nothing vital had been hit. I’d be okay for long enough as long as I could stop the bleeding.
            Step one, get the bullet out.
            I threw my bloody clothes—ruined—into the trunk and dragged my kit out. I fished around it in, until I found a pair of forceps. I grabbed a handkerchief, twisting it into a knot, and put it between my teeth then I opened the flask of liquor I kept in my kit and poured it over my wound and the forceps, hissing at the sting.
            Then it was just a matter of digging the bullet out.
            It wasn’t pleasant, but I managed it, fishing out the tiny metal object that you wouldn’t think would hurt that much.
            Step two, stop the bleeding.
            I didn’t have time for sutures, and really, if it came to a fight, they’d probably be popped anyway, so that left the next best thing.
            Duct tape.
            I pulled out a roll of it, then cleaned my wound of as much blood as possible before ripping off a piece and pressing it firmly over the wound. I added another one across it for good measure. Yes it would hurt getting it off, but it was better than bleeding out in the meantime, and it was holding, so I wasn’t going to complain.
            I quickly wiped the blood from my hands and grabbed fresh clothes. Black shirt, black tie, long black trench—a Reaper had to dress appropriately, after all.
            What Ghost probably didn’t realize was that I knew him a lot better than he probably wanted me to. I knew his habits, I knew where he would hide. When he said ‘safe house’ I had a very good idea of where he was going, and I was going to get there.
            Another thing he probably didn’t realize was that Death was coming. And he drove a Rolls Royce.
***
Turned out my intuition proved correct.
            I parked the Rolls down the street from the old, abandoned factory that I had taken to be Ghost’s safe house of choice and saw some of his lackeys on the perimeter.
            My instincts were based on one of the first times I tangled with the other assassin. He’d tried to break in on my hit, and we’d tangled. He’d gotten away with the cargo I had been sent to retrieve in addition to the assassination, and I’d been forced to track it down or leave the country as my client wasn’t a forgiving man. I’d eventually found him, squirreled away in one of his ‘safe houses’ that he kept around London and though I’d won that day, he left with the parting words,
            “I do keep my safe houses all over the city. I guarantee you won’t find the next one.”
            But I had. I’d found them all. I had done a little research, looked at the name of the property owner of the one I had found, and found that several abandoned placed around the city were owned by a ‘Spector Property Holdings’. Ghost was never very covert. And he was far too confident in his own abilities. But his problem was that he didn’t work alone, he had lackeys, and he left traces of himself everywhere, so he had no guarantee that I wouldn’t find the next safe house. Obviously.
            Now it was just a matter of figuring out how to get in.
            I was outgunned, and worse, Ghost has a hostage. But he wasn’t expecting me to show up either. For all he knew I could have long bled out by now.
            Death was typically an advantage more than a hindrance in my line of work.
            And if I was going for the surprise, then I might as well go all the way.
            I got out of the car and went to the boot. I lifted up my secret compartment and glanced through my stash of weaponry. I grabbed my Sig Sauer, tucking it into my shoulder holster, then pulled on my gloves and plucked my rifle case out of its spot.
            I opened it, assembled the gun and then went to the front of my car. I crouched down, propped the rifle on the bonnet and sighted on Ghost’s guards. It didn’t hurt to take out some of the competition.
            Two squeezes, two touches, and two more souls reaped.
            Now came the fun part.
            My Sig and my backup gun close at hand, I climbed once more into the driver’s seat, and flipped through my playlist. I thought Don Giovanni was appropriate. That always got the blood pumping.
            With the heroic notes ringing in my ears, I threw the Rolls in gear, and tore around the corner. I slammed my foot into the gas pedal and it jumped forward, barreling straight for the door to the abandoned factory.
            The Rolls crashed through right on a crescendo, and I threw it into a swift 180 before screeching to a halt, opening my door and stepping out of the car almost before I came to a complete stop.
            My arm came up, gun already blaring, taking down the rest of the lackeys before they even knew what was happening.
            Pretty soon, it was only Ghost and I—and JJ—standing in the middle of the factory. The echoes of the gunshots rang through the empty space and Don Giovanni still blared from the Rolls’ speakers.
            I stood there, coat and tie swaying in a breeze I couldn’t quite place, gun trained directly on Ghost.
            Ghost stood with his arm around JJ’s neck and his gun pressed against the side of her head, a wicked grin on his face.
            “Well, well, I guess you’re more resilient than I took you to be,” Ghost said, a wild gleam in his eye. “I’m glad. Now I’ll get a chance to truly take my time with you. I’ll tell you what. Put the gun down now and I won’t blow the little girl’s brains out.”
            “Don’t listen to him, Mr. Grim!” JJ shouted, no longer gagged. I almost smirked.
            Ghost pressed his arm tighter against her throat, cutting off her words. “I’m not bluffing.”
            “Really?” I asked, raising an eyebrow, pretending to be unconcerned. “Because why would you get rid of your precious cargo like that? Just to get at me? I’m flattered, but you and I both know that’s not good business.”
            Ghost chuckled. “The transaction is already made as of ten minutes ago. Her father already thinks she’s alive. I was supposed to let her go…” He shrugged, then tapped the gun to the side of JJ’s head. “But if an accident were to happen…it’s not really of import.”
            “And your client? What will he say when the money doesn’t come in?”
            She will just have to blame someone else,” Ghost said with a grin. “Someone like, you. I can craft a fantastic story about how you tried to get in on the deal, steal the money for yourself, and the girl, tragically, just happened to get caught in the crossfire.”
            I narrowed my eyes. “I’m sure you can. But I think there’s something else here you’re not seeing clearly.” I caught JJ’s eyes for one second, and she nodded imperceptibly.
            Ghost quirked a pale eyebrow. “Oh really? Pray tell, what is that?”
            JJ made her move, and slammed an elbow into Ghost’s groin. He cried out, doubling over and I shot him in the shoulder as JJ leapt out of the way. Ghost shouted again, his gun falling from his lax hand as he sprawled on his knees, clutching a hand to his bleeding wound.
            I strode over to him, kicking his gun far out of reach. He stared up at me, teeth bared, seething in anger.
            “You see,” I told him. “I’m the Reaper. I take lives that are already finished. And you,” I cocked my gun again, pointing it directly between his eyes. “You’re a Ghost. Which means that you’re already dead.”
            The shot echoed through the empty warehouse and Ghost fell limp on the floor with a newly acquired third eye between the two pale ones staring up at the ceiling.
            I finally let out a shuddering breath, gritting my teeth at the pain of my own wound, pressing a hand to it and wondering how much longer the duct tape would hold. Adrenaline can only keep you going for so long.
            I looked over at JJ who was standing off to one side. She looked a little rough and there was a bruise on her cheek as if someone had slapped her, but she was okay. She was staring at Ghost before looking back up at me.
            “I told you I’d get you home,” I told her, not knowing what else to say.
            She simply stood there, and then took several running steps forward and threw her arms around my waist, burying her face against me.
            I grunted, the impact jarring my wound painfully, but I didn’t push her away either. I tucked my gun into my pocket, and put one hand on her back, the other on the top of her head.
            I wasn’t sure I really bought into her whole idea that I was actually a good guy, but I suppose that I wasn’t the despicable human being that Ghost was either, so if there was still a line there that even I wouldn’t cross, I guess I couldn’t truly be all that bad.
            JJ finally lifted her head and looked up at me. “I think I want to go home now, Mr. Grim,” she said simply, true exhaustion showing in her eyes and making her look her age for once.
            I smiled and held out my hand. “Let’s go then.”
            She placed her hand in mine and we walked through the carnage to the Rolls.
***
I parked a bit away from Scotland Yard. It was dawn now, it had been a long night, and the little girl sitting beside me was surprisingly quiet, just staring out the window.
            “What’s wrong?” I asked her finally. “Aren’t you ready to turn yourself in yet?”
            She huffed before turning back to me. “Will I ever see you again?”
            “Probably not,” I replied truthfully. “Which is probably a good thing.”
            “But what if…what if I need help again?” she asked, her voice small and somewhat unsure.
            I cocked my head to one side, studying her. “Then I’m sure you’ll find it.”
            She clenched her fists. “But Scotland Yard, MI-5, they didn’t find me when I was in trouble—you did. What if they had never found me? Then I would be with Ghost, I would probably be dead!” I felt a slight pang at that, especially when I realized she was right. She lifted a finger, jabbing it at me. “Promise me, Mr. Grim. Promise me that if I need help you’ll come for me.”
            “What if I’m working a job? I don’t always stay in London,” I told her.
            “You’ll find a way. I know it,” she said firmly, crossing her arms over her chest.
            “But how will I know you’re in trouble?”
            “You’ll know,” she said, so sure of herself.
            I almost smiled, then I did smile. Then I actually chuckled a little. “Okay then. I promise that if you are in trouble I will be there.”
            “Promise?” she asked incredulously.
            “Rule Number Seven,” I told her solemnly. “An assassin always keeps his word.”
            “Okay then,” she said, the looked down at her lap. “I’ll still miss you.”
            “No you won’t,” I told her.
            “I will too.”
            I smiled again, and reached across to squeeze her shoulder. “You’ll be okay. Remember, you’ll have a Reaper watching out for you.”
            That got a grin out of her and she surged over the center console and threw her arms around me in a tight embrace. “Thank you, Mr. Grim.”
            “Now go, before there are too many people around,” I told her after returning the embrace a bit awkwardly.
            She smiled at me one more time before she pushed the door open and hopped out, waving one last time before she turned.
            I watched her as she made her way into the gates of Scotland Yard where several bobbies instantly converged on her and pulled her in to safety.
            Something tugged inside my chest as I watched her go, and this time I didn’t try so hard to suppress it.
            Rule Number Eight: Sometimes it was a good thing to have comrades.
            I started the Rolls and drove off toward my flat again. I could seriously use a cup of tea.
***
Later that night when JJ was back home, waiting for her father to return after long hours of questioning by the Yard, she found a small package waiting under her pillow which she discovered when she lay down to sleep.
            Inside she found a mobile phone with one number on it, and a card that didn’t say anything, but had a small drawing of a scythe.
            She smiled and tucked the phone under her pillow to sleep, feeling safe knowing she had a Reaper to protect her.

The End

Copyright 2017 by Hazel B. West


~~~~~~~~~~
Suggested Listening:

"Flight of the Valkyries"
Selections from "Carmen"
Selections from "Don Giovanni"
"Don't Fear the Reaper" -Blue Oyster Cult 

8 comments:

  1. This is quite the story! I hope you do write more about these characters. I really enjoyed how the Reaper drove a Rolls Royce, drank tea, wore Armani, and played music to fit the overall mood. A rather fun assassin if ever there was one.

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    1. I'm glad you liked him, I was very fond of his pastimes as well--when he wasn't going on hits :P Thanks!

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  2. This was good! The Reaper and JJ were very interesting.

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    1. Thanks you! I'm glad you enjoyed them :)

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  3. I loved it! It was exciting and JJ was very cute, and of course it was awesome that the Reaper would play dramatic classical music for his life's soundtrack. And I'm very curious about the "she" Ghost referred to.

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    1. As am I, haha ;) I would love to explore it later if I get time to write more of this story. I'm glad you enjoyed it though, thanks :)

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  4. Loved this so much! Brilliant writing, Hazel. The Reaper guy is cool.

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    1. I'm glad you enjoyed it :) I had a lot of fun writing this, so I hope to continue the story someday.

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