By D. B. Hall
He didn’t look like anything or anyone that would stand out in a crowd, very nondescript and subtle. I suppose that would be a great advantage in his line of work. I only came to recognize him when he sat near me at the café and gave me the “code word” I was given, when I paid the five grand it took just to set up this meeting.
“Aleister Crowley was a genius.” He said, referring to the book I was to be reading while waiting for his approach. Crowley’s The Book of Lies was what I was holding so as to inform this man that I was his client. Quite innocent on the average appearance but elaborate as well in a way, as it took me sometime to find this very book, having discovered it at last in a small bookstore, in a quaint neighborhood just outside the city’s center.
“Yes,” I replied, “I’m beginning to see that, though I’m just a few chapters into this book.” I felt out of place talking about a book I had just picked up, preferring to save my judgments until I’ve finished the read. “I find his use of form a great way of plucking at the English language and its malleability. Maybe that reflects on his understanding of human nature, though I’m not sure I share all his ideals.” This statement wasn’t scripted as were the first two. I wanted to be honest with this man I had hired, just as I wanted his honest effort when it came to my reason for his employment. Serious matters should always be founded upon the Altar of Honesty; why else call them serious if they aren’t found within the truth?
A few moments of silence stirred between us then. The outside traffic continued its drone and the sounds of a mildly busy café were all that was needed to help settle the moment into the conversation that was now to take place.
“Are you sure?” He asked me in a mild voice, as if a moment of reflection had paused. I looked out the window at nothing particular, taking it all in nevertheless. The autumn leaves still on the trees and the slight wind tugging at those left behind lingering on twisted branches distracted me slightly, only because I love a sense of irony, and I find the autumn season so very ironic, for all my own reasons.
“Yes.” I said, wishing instantly that my voice hadn’t cracked a little when I did, so I repeated myself after clearing my throat, trying to show more confidence. “Yes, I’ve made up my mind and it’s what I want. I wouldn’t be here at this point if I wasn’t clear on my intentions.”
“I understand, but it’s part of my job, for my own security, my own protection, that We have a clear understanding. There’s a point of no return, and it happens the moment I walk away from this table. You need to be clear on that, Once I’ve set out on my…” Here he hesitated slightly, as if to let the point sink in further, “on this task, there’s no turning back. I’ll do what I’m paid to do.”
“I understand.” again sounding less confident than I wanted to, but frankly I was too worn out to carry on with much more subterfuge or any other nuances. I was spent and you could now hear it in my voice.
I was about to get up and leave the table before he could, but his next question stopped me. “Is it cancer?” he asked in a very mild tone, nondescript, once again, much like everything else about him. Maybe it was his neutral appearance and attitude that convinced me to reply to this question. I was hoping that after all I had gone through to make this appointment, and the reasons for it, that I wouldn’t have to elaborate once I found a solution. I did have to answer a few questions to get to this point, just to prove my intent and that I had the resources. I supposed that a few more answers wouldn’t be out of line. “No, it’s not cancer,” I replied with a bit of humor, “At least not a cancer of the body or brain, more of a cancer of the mind, if you want to look at it that way.”
Oddly, he smiled and it was a very warm smile, quite surprising in its own way, from what I was expecting of this man. “Doesn’t matter how I look at it,” he stated matter-of-factly, “I just wanted to have an idea of what you might be looking at. I don’t have much interaction with my…” here he paused again, like as before, continuing on only after a moment, “With the clients; for obvious reasons. You’re a rare bird that I get to talk with, before I go to work. Most never know I was working at all.”
“But that’s your job,” I retorted sharply, “is it not? I frankly didn’t want to make this meeting, but I was told that nothing would happen unless I did. I understand the risks involved; this is no small matter and not a subject really for small talk.” Again I came off entirely out of phase with what I was thinking, or even how I would normally act for that matter. I was struggling at this point. I just wanted to be clear and be done with it. I was worn out and this conversation seemed to be feeding itself, like a grass fire, and I didn’t like that idea very much. Grass fires get out of control very quickly.
He just sat there and smiled. I think that irritated me more than anything up to this point. He wasn’t being smug, I could tell, in fact his smile seemed genuine with a touch of warmth to it. How could this man just smile at me, like I was his friend? He knew why we were both here, that was explained long before this meeting, and I still didn’t know why this meeting had to take place at all. So I asked.
“Why was this necessary, this meeting between you and I? I thought I made myself well understood to your… contemporaries, what I needed done and why. I didn’t think it at all necessary for you and I to ever meet. Frankly, I’m taken aback and quite dismayed at this whole process. I didn’t know what to expect, but this is quite out of the ordinary and I can’t say that I care for it in the least.”
Still he sat there, smiling in such a nonthreatening manner I almost felt abashed at my outburst, and it instantly seemed quite rude in hindsight. This man at my table exuded calmness despite my behavior, and once he saw that I had calmed down somewhat, he leaned forward and asked me again, in a gentle voice. “Are you sure? You don’t seem like someone who gives up easily and yes, this meeting was important and I’ll tell you why. You’re not my typical clientele, on any level of what my clientele usually consist of, in that… well, I meet a lot of unsavory people in my line of work, and you seem, nice, well adjusted, not the kind of people you see in my line of work.”
He pause then, as a waitress was offering us more coffee. She smiled and we thanked her and then as she walked away he turned back to me and told me something I should have assumed but in my single-mindedness, I had overlooked. “I’ve been watching you, for some time now. Started the day I got the call. Seems you went to some lengths to find someone in my line of work, and you did it without bringing much attention to yourself. You also found me through channels that are somewhat exclusive, that got my attention as well, and you found the book. I thought you’d have it completely read by now, after searching for it so hard. You could have just ordered a copy on-line. That in and of itself was intriguing enough for me to want to meet you. Even so, I wanted to get to know a little more about this guy, you, that would go through so much effort, when you could do the job yourself. Thousands do it every day and they don’t need someone, like me, to… help. That’s why I asked if it was cancer or something along those lines, that would make sense. I could live with that.” He then finished with a sip of his coffee, to sit back in his chair and smile at me again, in that very nondescript way he had about him.
Oh heavens, was I ever annoyed at this point. I felt like I was shaking uncontrollably but looking down to my cup I was still and steady, like a stone.
“He could live with that…” rolled over and over in my mind, until I was dizzy with the thought. I felt faint and sick and I just didn’t want to be there right then. Hell, I didn’t want to be anywhere at all, right then. All I wanted was the job done, the contract concluded and an end to this and all other conversations. I was sick, that was all that I needed to tell him, I could ease his mind and be done. I meant to say as much, though I wanted to tell him in great detail what I was going through, why I was needing someone like him and why I couldn’t bear to linger any longer in a conversation I didn’t want to have to begin with, and that was the whole reason for paying all this money I’d paid, but all I wanted to know at this point, was he going to do the job or not.
“Look, I’m not well. I haven’t been well for some time and I’m not likely to get any better.” I finally said, hoping to give him enough of whatever he was looking for, so as to speed things along. “I’d do it myself, and I guess in a way I am, but I’ve never had the stomach for violence.”
My thoughts were stolen away at this point and I found myself thinking, “I’ve never killed any animal outright, but I’ve eaten thousands. Cows, chickens, pigs, fish. I didn’t kill them, not a single one, but I had my hand in that dirty work, just as I have a dirty hand in this bit of business.”
“I don’t think you want this,” He said, breaking my train of thought. “Go home, get some rest. I’ll have your money back to you by morning, minus the finder’s fee. You don’t know what you’re doing and I’m not going to be a part of someone else’s misguided nature.”
I was furious but I didn’t want to make a scene. “Goddamn it!” I whispered while leaning into him, “You can’t back out now. I’ve gone through far too much trouble to have to start all over. I want this done and I want it done cleanly, with no inquiries, no investigations. Accidents happen every day, that’s what you’ve been paid to do, so get on with it and stop jerking my chain.”
I was still in a whisper when I finished, but my words had hit him like a fist. His smile was gone, and he looked very dour and dark in that instance. “So be it then. You’re the boss.” He said this to me, in a bit of a quip. He then paid his check, leaving a generous tip and bid me, “Good Day.”
I felt as if I had just been dealing with a madman, though it was I who carried all the madness. I wasn’t myself at all. My thoughts were a jumble and this latest encounter had set my senses into a daunting struggle with consciousness. I stumbled down the street, the roar of traffic and the endless tussle with pedestrians making my mood worse and my head hurt so bad I thought I was going to retch. I stopped and leaned on a lamppost to regain my strength and sort out my bearings, when I heard a recently familiar voice say kindly to me, “Here, let me help.”
That was that last thing I heard, as I was shoved into the path of a speeding bus. When the police arrived to call for the coroner, a witness said I had stumbled, others said I might have been pushed. No one could give a good account of who it could have been though, as it seemed the person who may have did the pushing, was very nondescript.