(The estimated reading time for this is 17 minutes)
It occurred to me as I wrote the second draft of Left To Darkness, the one where an author figures out what the hell it is that he’s trying to say, that if there’s a point to this novel, this series, it’s this:
God doesn’t choose his champions. They choose themselves.
And with that thought, here’s a short story I wanted to include here. Hopefully you’ll find it adds to the world of Left To Darkness.
So, here goes.
Frank Liebowicz was a big man with few vices. Just the two, really. Vodka, and killing people.
He liked plenty of things in life. A good book, like he had on his lap right now. Music (he didn’t like to listen to anything but his own breathing when he read).
Frank didn’t like a lot of noise when he read. He didn’t read in coffee shops or bars, or in the park, like he saw some people do. Seemed like it was kind of a private thing, for Frank. Like showing off your sexuality in public, or like those young men who wore sleeveless shirts, proud of their gym-bought muscles. Frank wasn’t particularly prudish, or uptight. He just liked things in their place. Like, muscles, beneath a shirt. Music through headphones, or in a concert hall, rather than in a car with the windows wound down.
Things he didn’t like?
The telephone ringing while he was deep in a book.
“Fuck’s sake,” he said. He was a little drunk, but he didn’t slur, or stumble when he stood to answer the call. Frank was a well-put together man.
“Hello?” he said. He didn’t speak with an accent, or much of one, despite growing to manhood in Poland’s underworld.
“Frank?” Muller, Frank’s handler, on the other end. Frank wasn’t overly keen on the man, but he provided steady work, and Frank liked to work.
“What is it?”
“You doing anything?”
“Was reading,” said Frank.
“What you reading?” Like Muller gave a shit. Frank thought about telling him. Murakami, he’d say. What, that shit where you make shit out of paper? Muller would reply.
“A book,” said Frank.
“Anyway…got a job for you. Got to be tonight. You want it?”
“What’s the job?”
“I’ll take it,” said Frank.
“Usual deal, okay?”
“Fine with me,” said Frank. He hung up, then walked to his kitchen counter and switched on his laptop. While he waited for the thing to boot, he tidied away his shot glass, greasy with the dregs of clear alcohol and still cold. He took his book from the couch, closed it and put that on the counter next to the laptop.
He checked the file he’d been sent. Downloaded it to a flash drive and took it into his study to decrypt the file on his PC.
Read the file. Pursed his lips, nodded.
Just a job, like any other. Maybe a little quirky. But a job was a job. Beat the shit out of sleeping off a drunk.
* * *
Frank didn’t like guns. He wasn’t allergic. Nothing like that. Just didn’t like them. Little guns were kind of embarrassing in his big old hands that were a few years shy of fifty years old. Big guns were kind of noisy. A big gun felt like showing off your cock in a public toilet. A little gun felt stupidly ineffectual. He’d just never found a gun that worked for him, on a personal level. He’d used them, sure. Maybe the best, most comfortable thing he’d used was a machine gun from an armored scout vehicle from WWII. Someone had taken the gun, once mounted on the back of a car, and reconditioned it. Fucking thing had probably weighed in at around forty kilos with ammunition. Big fat shells, bigger than cigars. Damn near deafened him. He’d taken down most of a building with it and still missed his mark. He’d had to go into the rubble after and kill the man with a knife, like he should have in the first place.
But that was the old country. Poland was a long time ago.
Frank, tooled up, wasn’t a showy thing. He carried a wire with wooden handles at each end—a garrotte—homemade. A penknife—nothing flashy, just a Swiss Army knife. It wasn’t much of a weapon, but it was pretty useful. At the small of his back he wore a knife, a real one, for business.
The rest was just him. 250 lbs. or so of Frank.
Frank closed the door to his flat and took the elevator to the ground floor, then set to walking out in the early morning, across London town. It was a Saturday night, but oddly, nobody really bothered Frank. If anyone ever had a ‘do not disturb’ sign right there on their aura, it was Frank, and it was fucking neon.
* * *
The thing is, when you’re going to kill a man, you never exactly know what you’re going to find.
Might be a little more complicated than you expect, or a little less. Don’t figure on finding the poor fuckers gone and killed himself first, though. Don’t plan on much, sure. But don’t plan on that, first and foremost.
So, Frank hadn’t really planned on finding the fat bastard sitting in the full lotus position, asphyxiated, when he stepped into the man’s bedroom.
Dead, fat, purple Buddha, right there on the bed.
He didn’t expect to find a young lad, maybe eleven or twelve, holding his knees tight up against his chest in the corner either.
Frank hadn’t expected any of these things because he didn’t plan, he didn’t have rules, and above all, he was never, ever surprised.
Maybe he had two rules. Maybe. Not so much hard and fast, but just things he kind of did without thinking. One was that he didn’t run. The other? Never hold back. Never go half, or three quarters. Hit hard, hit often, and follow it through to the end.
So, it turned out Frank was a little surprised, after all, because the little kid was still ticking, quietly, in the corner, and Frank hadn’t killed him. He didn’t quite know why.
Purple Buddha, naked, belt round his neck.
Young kid, naked, kind of trying to be a turtle in the corner.
Frank’s mind filled in the blanks. He didn’t like his mind, so much, right then. But he figured the guy was dead and the kid would get over it.
“Kid,” he said. He wasn’t harsh or brusque, but he didn’t fuck about. Dead guy was dead, the kid wasn’t. Could go either way, though. Depended on the kid.
“Kid,” he said again. The kid looked up. Frank shook his head and reassessed. The boy was no more than nine, for sure. Maybe even seven or eight, but a little lanky looking, for his age. Faces didn’t lie, though.
He didn’t look like he’d been crying. It looked like shit was deeper down than tears.
Frank swore, softly, but the kid still heard and flinched.
“It’s alright kid. I’m here…”
Here to what? To kill the dead guy?
“I’m here to help. Okay? So, you listen. I’ll talk. We’ll see how things pan out. Deal?”
The kid didn’t look at Frank, but he did nod, with his head tight back where he’d started, right against his knees.
Frank knew full well what he should do. He should slit the kid’s throat and get gone. No mess, no questions, no witnesses…but then, he hadn’t killed the guy, had he?
So, he routed around in the bedroom and found a pack of cigarettes and a lighter. Didn’t find an ashtray, but he thought the dead guy wouldn’t mind, and if he did, fuck him.
“Smoke?” The boy probably didn’t, but then, he might. Might set him at ease, if only a little.
Turned out he did. The kid nodded and Frank held out the smokes, full arm’s length, not getting close or crowding in. Just passing something like the time of day.
The boy lit up, took a drag. His hands shook, but not so much.
Frank wondered what the boy had seen, done, in his life. Wondered if he was a pro, a white slave, or just some kid off the street.
Frank thought the last the least likely. The kid wasn’t crying. He’d been around the block.
“You know what I do?”
The kid looked up through his eyebrows. Assessed Frank. Not like a kid off the street.
“Good,” said Frank. “You know why I’m here?”
“Gonna clean up,” said the boy. Not a single trace of emotion. That told Frank plenty. The boy wasn’t a pro. He was broken. White slave, maybe. Seen a lot, been used a lot. Too much, probably. Might as well be dead.
But Frank wasn’t going to kill him.
“No,” he said. “I was here for him. You kill him?”
The boy, looking younger for the cigarette rather than older, shook his head. “Kink thing.”
White slave, a long time.
The kid nodded, smoked, and looked like he wanted to die.
Frank had been around the block a time or two himself. Not like this kid. But he’d never seen someone who wanted to die. Until now. Until this night, with purple Buddha grinning with his fat dead face just beside them.
“Ain’t going to happen like that, okay? Just so you know. I’m not here to kill you. I’m getting paid for the fat cunt. I don’t work for free. Do we understand each other?”
The boy shrugged and didn’t look up.
“Doesn’t matter,” he said, finally. Just a young lad, but he sounded old. Really old.
Bodhisattva, thought Frank. Like a tiny fucking smoking guru.
“Why doesn’t it matter, kid?”
“I ain’t got a name.”
“I never been given a name. Growed up a whore. I’ll die a whore.”
“Fuck that,” said Frank. “There’s no man, no woman, no child, ever been a whore. Fat cunt’s a whore. You’re a kid. Got a future, too, if you want it.”
The kid shrugged, but he was listening, alright. He was listening.
Frank didn’t smile, didn’t move. Just stood, at the corner of the bed. In front of the kid, the dead guy to his left. A chest of drawers on his right, the kid in between. Frank hardly ever smoked, but sometimes it just felt right, so he took one of the cigarettes from the packet he’d found and lit it. He smoked, didn’t cough. It felt right, right there, at that time. Sharing a smoke with a little kid, dead guy on the bed. That part, maybe, wasn’t quite right, but the smoking? Sure.
“What’s the going rate, kid?”
The kid shrugged. He did that a lot.
“Don’t know. I’ve never seen any money.”
“You know who the Prime Minister is?”
“I’ve got a television.”
“You know how much a house costs?”
“Depends were you live?”
“Where’d you get your food?”
“They bring it to me.”
Shrug. “Guys. Different guys. A woman, too. She’s kind. But she’s dead, too…you know?”
“You know what a nihilist is?”
“You want to find out?”
“I’m going to teach you anyway,” said Frank, and motioned for the kid to follow him.
He waited out in the hall for three minutes.
And follow he did.
* * *
Frank didn’t drive anywhere. Even though he was perfectly capable of driving, he didn’t like it. He walked, or, if he was in a real rush, he walked a little faster.
So Frank and the kid walked. The kid didn’t know where he came from. Someone always drove him. He had weak legs, because he didn’t do much in the way of exercise. But he was a kid, and Frank figured he could shake it off. If he wanted to.
The kid didn’t know where he was going, but Frank had a pretty good idea.
Frank didn’t like guns. The kid was too weak to use a knife, or a chair, or a brick, or anything much of anything. Probably too weak to use a gun, too, but Frank knew where to get one, and a gun was the kid’s best bet.
He knew where to get a gun, and where he was going, because he knew a woman called Marikova who was dead inside. She’d be dead right through come morning.
So, he knocked on the door to the building where the woman called Marikova lived and did her work, then, stood back. The peephole darkened. The chain across the door was taken off (Frank heard it) and the door was opened, because if Frank Liebowicz paid you a visit and you knew what the fuck was what, you opened the fucking door. Frank stepped in, leaving the nameless kid to one side of the doorway, and planted his knife in the man’s skull, by way of his jaw.
Frank knelt down and took a gun out of the man’s trousers, stuffed down from belt to cock. He thought about pulling the trigger, but figured it was too early in the game to be shooting off people’s cocks. He didn’t want the attention. CCTV cameras covered the front door, but not the lobby.
“Kid,” he said. The kid came in. Frank gave him the gun.
The boy was scrawny and underfed, but with two hands, he could hold the gun. It was big, it was heavy, but the kid wasn’t as weak as he looked.
“Let’s go to work,” said Frank, and led the way into the whorehouse.
* * *
Marikova was working when they found her. Some fucker was balls deep. Frank stood by the door, didn’t say a word, but kind of stepped back a little way for the kid to get into the room. Marikova and her client didn’t even notice the door open. The kid was quiet. Quiet could be taught, but to some it was natural. Just like pulling a trigger or cutting a man. Sometimes it came natural.
The kid had it. Had that thing that Frank had. He didn’t run, and he didn’t hold back.
The kid didn’t, like Frank expected, shit himself and lay down the gun, run away.
He didn’t, either, stand at the door and wave the gun around, blasting holes out of the ceiling plaster.
No. He walked—quiet feet—right up to the fucking pair. He put the gun against the nearest thing to him—the man’s bucking ass cheeks—and pulled the trigger.
The gun was a revolver. Pull the trigger, the hammer comes back and then drops. He pulled twice, quick, blowing a hole in the man’s ass and on the second shot blowing the man’s balls off. Two handed, the gun bucked hard and the kid was weak, but he rolled with it. Like a pro.
Two shots. A beat. The third. Through Marikova’s chest.
Now, footsteps. Heavy and hard, guys who were built, like Frank. Well, not, maybe, quite like Frank, because very few people were built exactly like Frank. But heavy.
The kid turned. Frank held out a hand.
“Hold on,” he said.
The first guy came through and Frank took his left hamstring out with his knife. The man dropped to the floor. Frank stepped back, figuring on another two guys.
“You’re up,” he said to the kid.
Three shots, deafening.
No more bullets.
One missed, two hit. Two dead guys and the hamstrung man writhing on the soiled carpet.
Frank stabbed down through the man’s spine and ended it. Not breathing hard, but listening to the building, listening for anyone else working or waiting or holding on for a lull.
He didn’t hear anything. More importantly, perhaps, he didn’t feel anything.
But did the kid?
Time for that in a minute. Frank stepped out into the corridor, over the two gunshot bodies, and double checked, not room to room, like in the movies, but with his senses, like in real life.
The building felt completely empty.
He didn’t smile or grin. It was just a thing.
He turned round and there was the kid, pointing the gun at him.
The kid didn’t smile or grin, and neither did Frank.
“Fair play, kid,” said Frank, and held up his hands like he figured a kid who watched too much TV might expect. Turned out he was wrong.
* * *
‘Stupid fuck,” said the kid.
Frank wondered, right then, if the gun in the kid’s hand was the same revolver that’d fired six shots, or if, while he’d been turned around, the kid had picked up another gun.
“What do you want?” said Frank. Kind of stalling for time, because he’d given the kid a chance, and now he’d pretty much lost all patience.
“You think I’m a fucking idiot?”
Frank didn’t. He didn’t think the kid was an idiot, or stupid. In fact, if anything, he thought the kid was probably very, very, smart indeed.
“I don’t get you,” said Frank, because it was true and because he was stalling for time, wondering how big a calibre the gun was, and if he could take a shot.
“I didn’t kill the fat guy on the bed, kid. There weren’t any witnesses.”
“Are you really dim?”
Frank was beginning to wonder if maybe he was.
“You killed him?”
“Duh,” said the kid.
Duh, thought Frank.
I’m the fucking witness.
“Kid, you’re free. Scot fucking free. You really want to fuck it all now, with the door right there?”
The kid didn’t answer the question, but carried right on talking, like he had all the time in the world. Which he did, pretty much. Because he had a gun, maybe holding six bullets, or maybe holding none. Frank didn’t know. Frank was also in a corridor with nowhere to run.
The kid did, in fact, have all the time in the world.
Smarter than Frank? Frank wasn’t under any illusions. He didn’t think he was smart. He wasn’t an idiot. But he wasn’t a candidate for mensa or NASA or anything.
Fucking outsmarted by a little kid.
Bluster? Bum rush? Throw his knife?
No. Not yet. See it through. See it pan out.
“I don’t kill kids,” he said.
“I don’t care,” said the boy. “I kill grown-ups.”
Kid’s going to shoot me.
Frank tried to think, wondering if anyone had ever got the drop on him quite so perfectly as this little bastard.
He didn’t think anyone ever had.
But the boy wasn’t done surprising Frank. Frank was ready, in his soul, for the bullet. But it never came.
“Fuck you,” said the little kid, and put the barrel of the gun in his mouth.
“No!’ Frank shouted. He didn’t understand himself, right then. It was him, or the kid.
He didn’t want it to be the kid.
The kid pulled the trigger.
Turned out, it wasn’t the same gun he’d done Marikova with. He’d taken it off one of the bodies while Frank had been out in the hall. The gun wasn’t a dud. The bullet wasn’t a dud.
The kid was free.
* * *
Frank burned the whorehouse to the ground. Then, smelling of petrol and smoke and blood, he walked across London town and burned down the house with the purple Buddha.
When he got home he turned his heating on high, showered for a long time, and then, as the sun rose, sat naked on his couch, reading his book.
“Fucked that up, didn’t you?” Muller said.
“I’m reading,” said Frank. “Shh.”
“Murakami,” said Frank. And thought, fuck you.
© 2015 – 2016, DarkFuse & individual contributors. All rights reserved.