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Monday, April 4, 2016

The New Mentor: Short Story

View a modified version of this story on /r/nosleep

Generally, Melanie required 24 hours notice. 48-36 hours for trips out-of-state. One week for overseas. 4-6 months advance notice for high-profile celebrities.

This one was a simple, a 24-hour gig. Melanie was a bit old-school: she preferred receiving information on her prospects in writing. She maintained a drop box at the local post office. For some, this might be seen as risky, but Melanie maintained cordial relations with the local police chief -- he had enlisted her services earlier to take care of a particularly greedy ex-wife. She suspected that he knew he sometimes investigated her hits, but it was never a problem – “a professional never leaves evidence,” that was one of the mantras of her mentor. Melanie was well-versed in digital encryption techniques, but felt that maintaining a paper trail was easier: papers could be burned. Digital files couldn't.

She had walked through the doors at promptly 4pm to check her mail. She had been expecting this hit -- she had received a call on her sat phone last night from the capo of the local mob. A city councilman had been causing trouble regarding a profitable business investment. He needed to be taken out before the council vote on Friday, and the capo’s persuasion techniques had proven unfruitful.

Melanie smiled, replaced the papers in the envelope, and tucked it carefully into her glove compartment. The councilman had reservations tomorrow night at a restaurant downtown. She tapped her manicured nails on the steering wheel as she drove home, considering the possibilities. The councilman made it a point to be involved in the local community; she favored quick, clean, execution-style hits, but she wouldn't be able to get him alone to get a clean shot without being seen.

Melanie turned into her development and pressed her garage-door opener with a slender finger, thoughtfully. It'd been a while since she'd done a poisoning, and she wanted to stay on top of her game. Murders are linked together based on the killer’s style, her mentor had said. If you have no style, you can’t be tracked.

Melanie's home was clean, modern, and bare. Everything was immaculate and neat. It was more room than she needed, truly, but she knew that a display of her wealth would serve to deter her enemies. Money was power, after all. Melanie would work for anyone with the cash.

Her "lab" was the second guest bedroom. Melanie had never finished school, but her lethal knowledge base was vast and expansive. She had access to drugs both exotic and common. She ordered from online laboratories and drug dealers; personal contacts and anonymous industries.

She pondered her options: an overdose always made an excellent hit that was rarely questioned by the authorities. Unfortunately, this councilman was one of the few who truly was drug-free. Something more subtle was needed.

Melanie thoughtfully walked over to a plain metal cabinet and found it, in alphabetical order, on the second shelf from the top. Barium sulfide: stored in a tightly closed container in a dry space; water soluble; poisonous and nearly undetectable. It would look like a heart attack.

~

At 5pm the following day, Melanie showered. She slicked her wet jet-black hair back with maximum hold styling gel, catching the rest in a hairnet. The lump of extra hair would be hidden beneath the trendy waves of a mousy brown wig. Brown hair makes up the majority of the population, her mentor had explained: if you want to be inconspicuous, go brunette.

Usually Melanie had more refined tastes, but she knew that to blend in completely you had to succumb to the part. The dress code was a button-down white top with black bottoms. She made a face at the feel of the polyester against her thighs, but quickly smiled brightly into the mirror. Cheap eyeliner and clumping mascara obscured her eyes; she made her foundation a few shades darker than usual, blended down her neck.

She arrived at the restaurant at 6:00. The councilman's reservations were for 7. Busy kitchens always have employees coming and going; this was not the first time she had done a hit from this location, anyway.

Bussing tables is an easy way to blend. You don't have much interaction with the customers, and it's easy to dash about undetected. The councilman and his wife meandered in at a respectable 7:10; Melanie could tell as the waitstaff's backs straightened. Fighting against a rising tide of handshakes, the councilman made his way to his table at the rear of the dining room, secluded from the plebians' hustle and bustle.

The wine order was the recommended pairing with the main course. Typical - the councilman didn't have the sense to make the choice for himself.

Melanie's face never twitched a muscle as she judged the beverage with the taste of a sommelier. "Will that be all?"

They needed more time to review the menus, so Melanie excused herself and left to go supply their wine.

Barium was best dispensed in a powdered form; back in her lab, Melanie had carefully spooned a fatal dose into a capsule she had tucked into the pocket of her button-down shirt. She slipped it out of her pocket and into her palm before she picked up the tray and made her way back to the table.

Her mentor had drilled her regularly in sleight-of-hand, essential for any assassin; she remembered long evenings, one motel room blending into another, when he made her perform 100 tricks before bed. “Again,” he would command, his face impassive and eyes blank. “I saw that one. Too obvious. Again.”

How grateful she was for that effortless muscle memory now, as she snapped the capsule open and poured the powder into the councilman’s glass, lost among the deep burgundy swirl of his wine.

She was out of the building long before his heart stopped.

~

Melanie hummed quietly to herself as she walked up to check her P.O. box. Some song she had heard on the radio; she generally wasn’t a fan of modern music, but this one was particularly catchy. Her key caught the lock with a faint metallic clink in time with an upbeat.

Just one envelope today – she stopped as she turned it over.

Most of her clients had the sense to handwrite their letters, since typing a document on a computer would only leave more digital evidence, but this was the first time someone had made a child write the letter for them. This was an all new low!

Melanie chuckled to herself and slipped the letter in her purse to read at home. She smiled all the way to her car.

She opened the letter at home, away from curious eyes and CCTV cameras. She set her purse on her ultramodern table in her dine-in kitchen and slit the envelope with a blood-red fingernail. Out spilled a handful of coins. With a clatter, dimes, nickels, and even pennies rained down on her table and onto the floor. “Shit!” Melanie cried, stepping back as if to pick them up, but then turned her attention back to the envelope. She pulled out a ten, a five, eight ones, and a letter.

The letter was written in crayon, in the heavy-handed, awkward scrawl of a primary-school-aged child.



Dear Lady,

I’ve watched you and I know what you do and I would like to hire you. I do not have much money so I hope this is enough.

The person is:

Harold Thompson
23 Round Hollow Road


Thank you,
Stacy



Melanie understood immediately. The address was on her street – the opposite side, two houses down, to the right. But how…?

She was so careful. How could anyone have figured it out – let alone a child? “Harold Thompson” wasn’t in the business. She wasn’t familiar with the lower-level mafiosos, but they would have no idea where she was -- the kid couldn’t have picked it up that way. Still, though, she should check for leaks. She pulled out her phone, intending to call the local boss, but tapped it against her cheek as she thought instead.

Could a child have figured it out? Her hours were varied and often late at night. She parked her car in her garage to make it difficult for others to tell when she was home. Obviously, if what the child said was true, and she did figure out Melanie’s profession from watching her, she would have had to watch Melanie leaving and match the times up with missing persons cases. She hid the disappearances well, and it often took weeks, if not months, for some targets to even be reported as missing… most of them never even made the news. How would the child learn of them? Was Harold Thompson a cop?

Almost on autopilot as her mind spun wildly, Melanie fetched her laptop from her study and booted it up at the kitchen table, to check the local police’s personnel files. To catch her leaving for work… how much time did this kid spend at home, looking out the window? Did she ever sleep? Did she go to school? Did she leave the house?

Melanie tapped her finger against the paper as her computer churned out its results, studying the letter. She wasn’t an expert, but from what she could tell, the letter was genuinely written by a child. She had a handwriting guy she could consult, but she wouldn’t dare let anyone else know about this. She must not have any weaknesses.

Harold Thompson was not a cop. There were no cops with the last name of Thompson in her city. No lawyers. She texted a mob connection from a burner phone – Howard was not a made man. He was, however, definitely her neighbor. Divorced. Ex-wife was in prison. Drugs. He worked as a foreman at a steel mill in a town about a half-hour away. She ran his record. It wasn’t pretty. Similar to his ex-wife’s. Ran with a rough crowd.

One daughter. Stacy. 9 years old.

Melanie drummed a pen she had been using to take notes on the table. What if it was a child, alone all day, watching her home? Even if a case had no media attention, all missing persons reports were readily available online. Melanie could easily have worked it out when she was nine, but most children were not like Melanie.

The assassin shook her head, as if that would shake these troubling thoughts free from her skull. Mere speculation would get her nowhere. It was time to surveil her neighbor.

At least that would be easy.

~

Melanie yawned widely and stretched, cracking her back. She’d been reviewing the surveillance footage of her neighbor’s house from the past week. The results were modest, yet troubling.

Harold was a simple man. He left for work early in the morning and returned home around 6pm, unless he went out to the local dive bar. He didn’t stay out too late, and there didn’t seem to be any current drug use or gangland connections.

His daughter was what troubled the assassin.

She could see Stacy’s face in the windows often, but Stacy never left the house. She never went to school, never had friends over to play, never so much as set foot in her father’s backyard.

Melanie set her jaw as she zoomed in on the footage of the pale little face in the window.

She had made up her mind.

~

Friday night. Melanie tucked her black turtleneck into her black chinos, smoothing the fabric mindlessly as she completed the ritual. She slipped her holster over her black leather belt, pinned up her curls, and jammed a knit cap onto her head. Time to party.

At 5:40pm she crossed the street and slipped into her neighbor’s backyard. She easily picked the lock to the back door and waited quietly in the kitchen, listening. The house was quiet. Melanie suspected that Stacy was hiding – she certainly remembering doing the same when she was a young girl.

Harold’s aged Ford pickup grumbled into the driveway at precisely 5:59pm.

The front door opened. Melanie held her breath, feeling her pulse rise even after all these years. She heard Harold pulling off his work boots with heavy grunts, the thud of each boot carelessly thrown to the floor. A thick cough rattled through the foreman’s struggling lungs. Finally, she heard the front door close.

She crossed the room with three quick steps, and stepped into the hallway, facing a surprised Harold on his way to the living room. She fired two shots from her silenced Glock into his chest, stepped forward and placed a foot on his sternum, where the two bright cherries of bulletholes had barely begun to bloom, and fired a final third shot into his head.

When she looked up, the little girl was standing at the foot of the stairs. Her tiny, pale limbs were a map of bruises, and her eyes were huge as she took in Melanie standing over the corpse of her father.

Melanie smiled, remembering the day she met her mentor.

He had stepped over the bodies of her parents with disdain, the way a celebrity disembarking a limo steps over the sewers of New York. He was silhouetted in a sliver of light that had found its way through the ragged curtains of the crackhouse. She recalled his next words clearly, as she repeated them now:

“What do you feel?” she asked the girl.

“Nothing,” she replied, barely more than a whisper.

Melanie smiled and held out her hand.

Together, they walked away into the night.

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