Jade waited in the back room, and I jerked a thumb toward the door. “Hit the road, honey. I don’t need the trouble.” She put both hands up, as if to ward off blows she suspected were coming, and she shook her head no.
“They will kill me.”
“Lady, I will kill you. Get out of my house.”
She stood and tears slipped from her eyes. Crap, here we go again. Another woman, another cause, another fight. I can’t win for freaking losing. She walked past me, and I rolled my eyes. I’m a sucker for a damsel in distress. Sucker being the operative word in that sentence. I could feel her eyes upon my back, but I refused to turn around and face her.
“Well, thanks for not turning me over to them. Have a nice life.”
Just let her go. This isn’t your fight, and for once, you should stay out of it.
Idiot! All you had to do was wait for her to leave, but nooo. You’ve gotta play Captain Save-A-Ho.
I rubbed my bald head and closed my eyes. For several moments I breathed in through my nose and out my mouth, as to let the stress drain from my body. “Yes,” she said. “What is it?”
“Who’s after you? And most importantly, why are they after you?”
“I don’t know, honest.”
I turned and faced Jade. She refused to meet my eyes, and I scoffed. It took me two steps to close the distance between us. I grabbed her face with my left hand and tilted her eyes upward until we locked eyes.
“Look at me. I’m not playing with you, Jade. You tell me the truth-the whole truth-and you best not leave anything out. Otherwise, you’re gonna wish you had gone with them instead of staying here with me.”
Jade began to cry, in earnest now, and I waited for her to stop. I’ll never understand why people cry. It doesn’t solve anything. Shut up and tell me the truth. We can figure out a workaround, or just say screw it. Crying is the last thing a person should do.
“Jason Brander works as an enforcer for my master. I’m an illegal immigrant, and I was sold to General Ric Mathias. He got me pregnant, and I ran away. I had my child and sent her off with my parents, now he wants both of us back.”
Of all the crap in my life I don’t need, this I don’t need. Oh, the Council of Assassins will love this. I can hear their ridicule from here. “You thought you could quit, walk away from what you are, but here you are again.”
“You need to disappear. It’s the only way your, um, baby daddy will ever let you go.”
“I’m not a whore. I had no choice!”
There’s always a choice, I thought, but I kept my mouth shut. She faced a world of hurt, and she didn’t need me to pile on. Her donor was not the type of man to let his property escape. I sighed and let my breath out slowly.
I wanted a life of peace, of solitude and stillness, but I had leapt headfirst into a new puddle of trouble without a moment’s hesitation. So much for peace and quiet. Brander will return, and this time, they’ll come for me.
In the distance, I heard the rumble of the turbocharged Hemi. The crunch of gravel underneath tires and heavy vehicles alerted me to their return. “Get in the closet and stay there until we leave. Once we’re gone, you hightail it out of here. Do you understand?”
“Yes,” Jade responded. “What about you?”
“Don’t worry about me.”
“Okay, if you insist.”
I heard the doors slam, and I walked out on my porch to greet my company.
“Hello, Colonel Brander. That didn’t take long.”
Brander gave me a fake smile and wagged his finger at me. “You, you left some information out when we spoke last.”
“You’re an assassin. You said you never served.”
“Negative, Colonel. I said I never served in the military.”
Brander laughed, a dry chortle that sounded like sun-drained bones when a kid banged them together, and he wagged his finger again.
“Technically, that’s true, but you should’ve told me. You need to come with me. Someone important wants to speak to you.”
“Well, I suppose that means I should go with you.”
“Indeed it does. After you,” Brander said motioning for me to lead. I grinned, and he gave me a wolfish grin in return. “Sure,” I said, stepping off the porch. “Which vehicle?”
“You can ride with me,” he said, leading the way to the Charger.
I followed him. A soldier opened the back door, and I climbed in. She slammed it shut, the sunlight glinting off the black of her armor. Tendrils of dirt spread across the windshield obstructing the view. The vehicle smelled of smoke and sweat.
We rode to the military base in silence. Brander didn’t turn on the radio, and I was thankful for that. The Golden Age of music had ended in the wails of death metal and gangsta rap.
At Gate 1-9, Brander showed his ID to a lower enlisted member, who handed his ID back to him and rendered a snappy salute. Brander returned a half-hearted salute and drove to headquarters.
He and the soldier got out, and the soldier opened the back door. “Hands behind your back, assassin.” I stared at the soldier and shook my head no. “I don’t think so. I’m retired.” She smiled a cold smile and put her hand on her sidearm. “I said put your hands behind your back, or did they not teach you any better?”
“They taught me to kill you with what you’re wearing. If I wanted to hurt you, or God forbid kill you, I could’ve done it any time I wanted.”
Brander laughed and waved me to follow him. “Leave the assassin alone, trooper. He’s not an assassin any longer.”
I followed Brander into the building. Double staircases led to the second floor, and a horse shoe desk sat in the middle of the floor, facing the door, and manned by two runners and sergeant. Brander led me to the desk, and said, “My friend needs to sign in.”
“ID,” the runner said.
I reached for my wallet and pulled out my identification and handed it over. After scanning it in, he handed it back to me. Brander said, “follow me.” He led me upstairs. A young woman, her face wet with tears, scrubbed the tile floor with a brush. Her eyes were swollen, almost shut, and blood trickled from her mouth, and she avoided our eyes. Brander and the soldier laughed, and Brander snarked, “General Mathias is rough on ‘em, eh?”
I didn’t respond to the bait, and we walked into an expansive office that offered a commanding view of the base. General Mathias sat behind a mid-century desk, a corncob pipe hung from the right corner of his mouth, and he looked up when we approached.
Pictures of Douglas MacArthur, Eisenhower, Patton, and more adorned the walls. Mathis looked nothing like the fighting men on the walls. Instead, he had a soft, pale, pudgy body that spoke of years in academia. He ran his tongue over his top lip and motioned for me to sit down. The rest of him wasn’t in any better shape. He had thin, pink lips, gray eyes, and thinning brown hair. His thin hands had blood on them, and he picked up a handkerchief and dabbed at the blood lightly.
“Brander, what is this?”
“Sir, this is a real life assassin. He lived next to the slave, Jade.”
“That’s interesting,” Mathias said.
“Sir, this is a real life assassin. He lived next to the slave, Jade.”
“That’s interesting,” Mathias squealed. “An assassin, you said? I thought The Council of Assassins had died in obscurity.”
“I’m retired,” I said.
Brander and Mathias laughed. I joined in with them. Both stopped laughing and stared at me. “Where’s Jade?”
“I don’t know.”
Brander smiled a cold smile and lit his pipe. A tendril of smoke wafted toward the ceiling. “I don’t believe you. You lived next to her, but you don’t know her? How does that happen?”
“Um, the world is a dump. People don’t meet their neighbors anymore. I met her one time, once, at our mailboxes. I never spoke to her again.”
“Why would I lie? I haven’t seen her.”
Brander slammed his hand on the desk and leaned over it to glare at me. Brander grinned and remained silent. He had zero respect for Mathias, but because of his rank he feigned submission. Mathias got off on the game, but Brander tried to avoid any interactions with the man.
He was enjoying Mathias getting upset at me. A smug grin stretched across his face, and his green eyes remained cold. “Sir,” Brander said. “Maybe you could hire the assassin to find her,” he suggested.
“I don’t accept assignments anymore,” I replied, I had had about enough of their game.
“You will do this one,” Mathias snapped. “What is your rate?”
“What part of ‘I’m retired’ don’t either of you get? The Council of Assassins no longer accepts
or performs jobs.”
“You will do it, or you will die assassin. Make your choice,” Mathias screamed, his voice rising and the veins in his forehead began to throb.
Brander leaned forward in his chair, his eyes upon me. I took a deep breath and released it through my nose. “Name your price, assassin. You’re not leaving if you don’t.”
“You can’t afford me.”
“Come on, assassin. Do the job, if for no other reason than to leave already,” Brander said.
“I want the slave outside that you beat, plus my daily expense rate of 1,000 gold, and a performance bonus of 100,000 gold.”
Brander laughed and shook his head, but Mathias met my glare. He scoffed and then said, “Fine, assassin. You start now,” he said, tossing the coin onto the desk. “I expect daily updates. Failure to comply will result in your death.”
I shrugged and scooped up the coin. “May I catch a ride home, Colonel Brander?” He gave me a fake smile and nodded. “Sure, will your property join us?” I cut my eyes to Brander, and started to make a sarcastic remark until I remembered the slave girl.
“Yes, she comes with us.”
The girl, no older than fifteen, was still on her knees scrubbing the floor when I stepped out of the office. I knelt beside her.
“If you want to live a free life, come with me,” I whispered.
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