Hit

Hit was originally published in HandHeldCrime, a great little eZine that, sadly, is no longer around.

I met Anne on my 50th birthday and put her in the ground a week past my 56th. Six years. The only six years of my life I wish I could relive. She was a kind and loving woman and the cancer took her down hard. Her final breaths were ragged and coarse. I could feel her dry lips brush my cheek as I strained to hear her last words but her ravaged throat couldn’t form them. In the end she left me in silence without even her breathing to pass the time.

The apartment is empty now. In all the years of occupying this tiny space I’d never realized how quiet it could be. I had never paid it much attention before Anne. It was a place to sleep, a place to hang my clothes and get my messages.

The afternoon sun is shining through the French windows on the west wall, flowing across the floor like rich honey. My breath catches in my chest. That window with its sunlight had been Anne’s favorite place to sit. I turn away from the memory of her, making one last tour of the apartment. The leather soles of my shoes echo off the hardwood floor like a Poe heartbeat.

The late summer sun is warm on my face as I walk to the car I’ve rented. I’ve never owned a car. In my line of work I’ve never seen the point. Anne had never understood this, how a boy who’d been born and raised in the motor city could be without a car. She never understood that taxis, air planes and rented cars were all I needed to get around. But then, she didn’t know what I’d been before, that in my world the less you owned, the less you had to walk away from. And she would never know what I was to be again, one final time, now that she was gone.

The leather seats of the maroon Cadillac are sun warmed. The engine starts with a key turn and I flip the lever for the air conditioning to high. The blast of air from the vents turns quickly from hot to cold and I close the door. I sit at the curb as the temperature in the car drops, staring down the street without seeing what is there. I have other things on my mind. There is an unwritten law that a hitter never hits in his own territory and I am about to violate that law.

I merge into the southern flow of traffic on Woodward Avenue, heading toward Detroit. Birmingham, my home for twenty five years, grows distant in the rear view mirror without a notice. My mind is on the Hit, on what he’d be doing now. I glance at the dashboard clock. 4:30. He’d be at the park with his family, a phalanx of guards patrolling the grounds around him while his wife and daughter swing on the swings and he plays catch with his son. I had sat in that park last Sunday, across the lagoon, feeding the ducks and watching him as I had watched his every move for a week prior and for the week since. I knew nearly every moment of his day.

This devotion to detail drives some of my clients crazy. But knowledge is not just power, it’s safety too. I have never failed to complete an assignment, never been caught, never so much as questioned. I always look as if I belong wherever I am. I smile when smiling is called for, I’m slow to anger and feel comfortable with conversation whether its serious or casual. I am a blue eyed dark angel with grey streaked, barber cut hair, wearing silk ties over Italian cut wool suits in winter, pale linen in summer. I have a fondness for tasseled Gucci loafers wrapped about dark silk socks. If you want someone dead, I am the man to see, provided you can meet my price and the way in which I work. Those who wanted this man dead had agreed to both.

I have his file in my briefcase. It used to be a real task to dig up information on my Hits but the Internet has changed all that. I have no great love for computers, nor competence, they are just another tool, like a good sniper rifle or a set of lock picks. But I can do in a day now what it used to take me a week to do which gives me more time to observe the Hit’s movements, the nuances of what make up their last days. And I like the personal information on them, though I have never understood why. It’s nothing morbid. I never try to meet them, talk to them. I don’t take souvenirs. I rarely think of them once the hit is complete. It’s just something I need to get the hit done and I long ago accepted that.

The Hit is 49 years old, an Aries. His wife’s name is Laura. She’s 44 and Gemini. Anne was 45 when I met her. The two women are similar in appearance, a fact which has shaken me some. Both are blond with shoulder length hair worn loose, both with dark green, gold flecked eyes, though Laura’s breasts and hips bear testament to the children she’s borne, something Anne had never experienced. I wonder how Laura will feel when she hears the news. Will they phone her? Send someone to her door? Will she scream? Faint? Break down sobbing to the floor or take it with stoicism? Will she comfort the children or they her?

I wheel the Caddy into the Huron Center garage feeling a faint hint of unease at the thoughts floating through my mind. I insert a card into the parking machine and enter the depths of the underground garage. I have never considered the aftermath of a hit before, never thought of those who would be left behind by the passing of my scythe. As I pull into a parking spot I feel a sudden empathy with the woman I will soon make a widow. I understand loss now in a way I have never understood it before.

The garage is nearly empty, smelling of concrete dust and stale exhaust. The light is dim, the overhead fluorescents being off for the weekend. Pale glowing light fixtures along the wall cast eerie shadows across the oil stained, tire streaked pavement. I remove a vinyl garment bag and a black rectangular case from the trunk of the Caddy.

There is a small service room alongside the elevator. I pick the lock quickly and step inside. I add a beard to my appearance and a mustache. A wig changes the color and style of my hair while contacts change the color of my eyes. Foam rubber inserts give me baggy cheeks and change the timbre of my voice while hard rubber inserts add inches to my height. The garment bag contains padding for my midriff, an off the rack Sears suit complete with polyester shirt and tie and a pair of well worn, thrift store wingtips. I change quickly, all the while still thinking of Laura, of what her life will become by this time tomorrow. I try to shake her from my thoughts, try to replace her face with that of Anne but Anne will not come. With a deepening uneasiness, I step from the small room and onto the elevator, watching claustrophobically as the doors slide slowly closed.

The Hit’s son is 17. His name is Darren and like his father he’s an Aries. He plays varsity baseball for Grosse Pointe High. I watched him pitch a game. He has a confidence and assurance on the mound that is almost eerie for one his age. Several major league teams have scouted him as have several colleges. Like his father, though, he will go to Yale. He doesn’t need the scholarship money offered by the colleges and his potential net worth tomorrow will be considerably more than any major league team could match.

I slide my key card through the slot outside my office and the door opens with a muted snap. The place is sparsely furnished. A small metal desk sits toward the middle of the room flanked by a small, fake oak credenza on one wall and a matching bookshelf on the other, all rented by the month. There is a calendar on the desk and nothing else. The drawers are empty as is the credenza. The bookshelf is lined with business books I’d purchased at a garage sale. I have a similar office on the 47th floor and the opposite side of the tower. One floor up from there I have leased a third, vacant space.

Once the hit goes down I will make my way to the vacant office, change and dump the disguise. From there I will slip down to the other office where I will stay until lunch time, leaving when everyone else leaves. I have practiced this move a dozen times over the last week and can make the trip in under fifteen minutes. The Hit is closely protected by professional guards and the Huron Center security is amongst the best of any high rise complex. I anticipate that it will take them only moments to determine where the bullet came from and but moments more before all exits from this tower are blocked. By the time I’m in my new office, this floor will be swarming with guards. I plan to be sitting at my desk earnestly working when that happens.

I stand at the window watching the sun set. They would be home now, the Hit and his family. Eating dinner? Watching TV? A video, maybe? I wonder what they do when they are behind the walls of their stately home. Do they all go off to separate rooms, think their separate thoughts? Or are they as family-like beyond the eyes of strangers as they are in the park? I think of Darren again, and of the son I never had. Until Anne I had never felt the need or desire for family. Children were something other people had. But now, as the last golden edge of sun drowns below the horizon, its futilely outstretched arms of light grasping at the clouds, I feel a knife edge draw of regret for never having fathered.

My hands feel hot and they itch. I wear soft leather gloves whenever I am in this room. My fingerprints are on file because of my military duty and I have no desire to leave a single print behind. I pull the gloves off and rub my hands together, smiling over the irony that it was the military that taught me the use of the sniper rifle during my stint as an ‘adviser’ in Viet Nam.

The Hit’s daughter’s name is Angelina, a Cancer like Anne. Her hair is the color of a wheat field at sunset, her eyes the blue of the ocean off St. Thomas island on a warm summer day. At 13 she is in that strange hormonal stage between girl and woman, budding breasts a whisper of their future, a faint roundness to her hips and thighs, a gawky walk that shows the hint of the sway to come. She is an all A student like her brother and is captain of the girls Soccer team.

The images from a dream I had of her several nights ago rush into my consciousness with an ache of remembrance. We were in a park, swinging side by side when suddenly she dug her heels into the soft brown earth, jumped from the swing and turned to face me, legs spread, fists curled at her side. She stared at me with those deep blue eyes so filled with hate that the stare was like nails piercing my skin. Then, without a word, she turned and ran and I found myself helpless to stop the sway of the swing or to jump to the ground to chase her.

Nightfall over Detroit. The twin tower of the Huron Center across from me is a dark outline against a dark starless sky. There are random lights scattered across its face like squares on a game show playing board. I watch a container ship move slowly up the Detroit River until it disappears out of sight. I wonder what the dream means? I wonder what it would have been like to have a daughter? I wonder how Angelina will feel when she finds her father is gone?

I turn away from the window, kick off the wingtips, remove my suit jacket and lay it across the desk. The wig and beard follow. I pull the padding from beneath my shirt and cheeks and rub my face. I scratch my itching scalp until my fingers ache. From my briefcase I retrieve a travel alarm and set it for 4 a.m. The sun will rise at half past five and I have preparations to make before it does. The hit is planned for seven o’clock, before the sun turns the glass wall of the adjacent tower to a blinding glare. I have brought along a book to read to pass the time, a James Lee Burke novel, Dixie City Jam. As I’m stretched out on the carpeted floor I wonder if Burke’s Dave Robicheaux could prevent this hit and I decide that he probably could not.

A sadness sweeps over me with the heavy weight of sleep.

I dream that Anne is desperately trying to drag me away from a burning house I am determined to enter, a house that I myself set aflame. The cries of children are screaming in my head, dwarfing the conflagration’s roar. Tears are flowing from Anne’s eyes, tiny oblong diamonds gleaming with fire. She grasps at my shirt sleeve, shouting words I can not hear. I pull violently away from her and she stumbles to the ground. Her anguished cry cuts through me like a sword as I lunge for a door dissolving in flames.

I awake bathed in sweat. The pitted surface of the acoustic ceiling tiles slowly resolve in the dark room. I can still hear the roar of the fire, the children’s screams, though they grow faint against the silence that surrounds me. I turn my head and stare at the dimly lit dial of the clock. I have forgotten to remove the contact lenses and my eyes feel as if they have been buried in sand. As I blink away the dryness, the tiny clock’s melodic chime begins to sound. I rise slowly, feeling my age in the stiffness of my muscles, the snapping of my joints. Dawn will break in just over an hour and I have much to do.

With an effort I push the heavy desk over to the window. I have already marked the spot where the glass cutter must go. I retrieve it from my briefcase and use the suction cup to attach it over the mark I’ve made. I measure off six inches on the graded wire, clamp it to the spindle and in moments I’ve scored a perfect twelve inch circle on the thick glass. A sharp tap on the handle and the circle pulls free. The morning wind rushes in with the damp heavy smell of the river.

I open the gun case and retrieve the Walther WA2000 sniper rifle from its foam padding. The Walther is a heavy weapon, nearly sixteen pounds but I have always liked its heft and the wooden, thumb-hole stock. It holds six rounds, spitting them out a twenty six inch barrel with an effective range of over a thousand meters.

I unfold its front support and set it on the desk. The sun is beginning to lighten the sky and I can see the reflection of false dawn in the windows of the opposite tower. From the case I remove a Schmidt & Bender 2.5-10x56mm scope and attach it to the Walther. I curl the rifle into firing position and sight down the scope through the hole I’ve cut. The windows of the adjacent tower leap into view. I’ve added a polarizing filter to the front of the sight to neutralize the glare and I turn it until I can see faintly into the offices across the way. I find the right floor and swivel the rifle to the left to locate the edge of the tower. Slowly I swivel back, counting off fourteen windows and stop. Staring hard, I can just make out the soft lines of the espresso maker in the room, see the faint glow of the ready light. I lower the rifle and retrieve the magazine from the case. Six Teflon coated, full metal jacket, .300 caliber Winchester Mags. I insert the magazine and chamber a round.

The Hit will arrive in his limo at half past six, entering the building through the front entrance. I don’t know what fills his next half hour but at precisely seven o’clock he will appear at the espresso machine. I have watched him ten mornings and each of the ten have been a duplicate of the one before. His security people should be fired for allowing him such a rigid routine. A moot point now since at 7:01 their client will be dead and by 7:05 the Walther will be back in its case and I will be on my way to an empty office nine floors up.

As I reapply my disguise in the adjacent washroom I wonder what this man has done to call down a quarter mil hit. A quarter of a million dollars. One big one up front, one and a half on completion, wired to my Swiss account when the hit is confirmed. I have never heard of such a price being paid and can’t begin to imagine what he must have done, who he must scare the living hell out of. Even Kennedy’s hitter didn’t get that much. A hundred grand, from what I’ve heard. A hundred grand may have been a lot in ‘63 but still, Kennedy was the president of the United States. You’d think someone like that would go for at least a mil, even with a patsy in place to take the fall.

The Hit is the CEO of a company called ICE, initials which don’t seem to mean anything that I have been able to find. Neither he nor the company have any obvious political connections, campaign contributions being equally divided between both the major parties. ICE develops computer security and encryption systems for military and non-military uses which may have something to do with the heat that’s coming his way but I haven’t been able to find a hint of what it might be. As always, my client came through an intermediary so I have no idea who they might be. Unlike his private life, which is not so private, the Hit’s professional life is shrouded in darkness and I have been unable to penetrate it very deeply.

I stare at the face staring back at me from the mirror. My eyes are puffy from too little sleep, red from having worn the contacts all night. I wonder what it was that Anne had seen in me. It was something she could never explain. I have never considered myself a ladies’ man, never had time for much more than the casual affair. I had always lived a solitary life, neither happy or sad.

I had met Anne in Chicago. I hadn’t meant to actually meet her face to face. I’d been following her for days. I was sitting at the bar watching the exit in the mirror with my back to the room. I smelled her before I felt her take the seat next to mine. I had begun to smell her perfume everywhere I went and it was stirring something in me I had never felt before.

Her knees brushed my hip as she turned to ask me for a light. I no longer smoke but I always carry my Zippo around out of habit. I use it like worry beads, snapping it open and closed. I lit her cigarette and snapped the lighter shut, wanting desperately to flip the top open again.

I had never been that close to her. Her skin was creamy pale and she had lines at the corners of her eyes that made them look like they were smiling. I had the strongest urge to touch those lines, run my fingers across her closed lids and down her nose to her soft lips. As the bar got noisier we leaned into each other to continue our conversation, our shoulders touching. The scent of her this close made the breath catch in my throat. When she discovered it was my birthday she bought a bottle of expensive champagne and we sat until the bar closed drinking every drop. Outside we exchanged numbers and caught separate cabs, she to home and me to O’Hare.

Back in Detroit I called in a favor or two and got her off the hit. It was a small thing anyway, a jealous ex who convinced a Boss that maybe the woman knew too much. It should never have gone down in the first place and I told the Boss that. This ex was a loose cannon. Bringing down a hit on something this petty was total overreaction. The Boss agreed and the hit was canceled. I heard they found the ex floating in the Chicago River a week later. I never mentioned any of this to Anne.

I started turning down hits, flying every weekend to Chicago to see her. Word got around that I was retired and the offers stopped coming. That was fine by me, I had better things to do. Six months after we met she visited me in Birmingham. She never left.

The sun is up when I return to the office. I feel as if the padding I have slipped beneath my shirt is made of lead. Is it age this tiredness, this hollow feeling like a hunger in the center of my chest? I wish I could cry. I wish I knew how. I haven’t shed a single tear; not for her sickness, not for her pain, not even for her dying. I have moved from moment to moment neither living nor dead. I stop in the middle of the room and stare out the window. Will she feel this way, his wife, Laura? Will Darren and Angelina lose their purpose, drift, fall down some dark hole inside themselves as I have fallen?

I shift my attention to the clock. It’s a quarter to seven and I feel my heart begin to race. I do a quick walk around the room to assure myself that I will be leaving nothing behind. The briefcase and garment bag are by the door. I can have the Walther in its case in less than a minute.

I move to the window and curl the Walther into firing position. Images of the Hit and his family are racing through my mind, mixing with images of Anne and me. I can feel the sweat beading on my forehead. My heart is trip hammering. I glance at the clock. The final minute slips away. I sight down the scope, finding the espresso machine. There are lights on across the way and I can see almost clearly into the room. I spot movement and begin to track the blurred image. The image stops at the espresso machine and the face of the Hit resolves itself in the cross-hairs as he stares out the window, his eyes searching as if he knows I’m out there.

I take a deep breath, hold it, and gently squeeze the trigger.

August 2000 – June 2001
Guerneville, California

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