I remember once one of my colleagues asked me how it felt to be a hired assassin, shortly after I was promoted for the fourth time. I replied, “It’s just like any other job; you need a cool head, fast reflexes, and the determination to get the job done.” Maybe I even believed the words at the time. But I never would’ve guessed that those words would be flung back in my face several years later by someone I loved.
I met Alex shortly after my 26th birthday. He was the manager of a telecommunications company, and I told him I was a vet, an alias I often used since I had a soft spot for animals.
“A vet? Really?” He ran a hand through his baby-white hair, grinned lopsidedly. “You don’t look like you could handle blood.”
“I’ve got a good stomach,” I said. I thought of the banker I’d shot in the back of the head just that morning, and smiled. “A really good stomach.”
We hit it off then and there, at my best friend’s Cuban-themed house warming. He was everything I wished I was: intense, imaginative, yet simultaneously down to earth. The kind of person whose life burns unapologetically bright, like a shooting star streaking across the sky.
It’s tough to find a knight in shining armour when you know how to kill a man thirty-six different ways just using your bare hands. Somehow, Alex made me forget it all, made me feel ladylike. On holiday in Prague, when a teenager stole my purse, it was Alex who ran after him and rugby-tackled him to the floor.
He brought the kid out in me, too. I remember our first Christmas together, living in the same house. We had planned a quiet dinner on Christmas Eve, and were impatient for the juicy turkey in the oven to finish cooking. Neither of us could sit still, so we decided to go out for a short walk. As I was taking a photo of the snow-capped trees, Alex snuck up behind me and smeared a snowball into my face. I returned the favour, with interest.
We returned home several hours later to a frantic fire alarm. All that was left of our meal was black unrecognizable lumps and enough smoke to get high off of. We ordered pizza, and it was perfect. Our hips brushed as we washed up together, and I remember thinking: this is love.
What I’d pushed to the back of my mind was my mentor John’s favourite saying. He’d rub the swirl of white hair on the side of his head, chewing on a toothpick, and say, “There’s no room for humanity in a job like ours, kiddo,” except each time he’d say it he’d replace ‘humanity’ with a different word: love, hate, distractions, error…. The list went on.
John’s lesson only really sank in after my first victim. Nevermind that it was a mercy killing, that the woman on the hospital bed was begging to die. In the end, when her body lay limp and still on the tangled sheets, she looked so damn vulnerable that I was sick in the plant pot. All the honor and adventure that had so interested me in the job disappeared. There was nothing else left for me to do. I kept working.
The second killing was easier. By the time I killed my fifth victim, I didn’t even dream about it. I’d learnt not to let them get to me. I’d learnt not to ever, ever let anyone in. Everyone except Alex. He wasn’t the most good-looking man I’d ever met, but I felt comfortable with him. I felt safe and human and alive.
We’d been together two years when Alex came home one evening, pulled out a gun, and levelled it at my head. “Sorry, love,” he said, not looking sorry at all. “It’s just a job.” The words were a smack in the face, made all the more bitter by the fact that I had said them myself years earlier. I remember looking at his face, so calm and serious as he held the gun pointed towards my heart, and realizing he was ready to kill me.
No room for distractions. I pushed aside the pain, leant against the kitchen counter, feeling behind me for the bread knife. “So much for working in telecomm.”
He shrugged with one shoulder. “So much for being a vet.”
That shrug saved my life. I threw myself to the side, heard the roar of the gun and the shattering of glass.
I rolled under the kitchen table, leapt to my feet and launched the bread knife. The heavy metal blade was sharp enough to tear right into his head. He dropped down to the ground — dead, dying, it didn’t matter — and I called in a few favours to get the body removed.
Being an assassin was just a job like any other, but Alex ruined it, made it personal. I’ll never forgive him for that.
The prompt was: write page 247 of an autobiography.