We lay naked on the couch when he walked in on us. Talk about awkward. His couch, his house. His woman.
Colin let his gaze travel over the two of us, lingering in particular on her breasts and hard, glistening nipples. I’d been teasing them with my lips and tongue just moments before he’d stepped into the room. “You’ve been at it all bloody evening, then?”
“No,” I said. It was a lie.
He nodded and, after a thoughtful pause, bent to scoop up the remote control from the floor. The telly flared to life. “The game’s on. Mind if I watch?”
“Um ... about this ...”
A curt wave of his hand silenced me. “While you were out working last night, I was with her, a real marathon session. It’s your turn, mate.”
A pang of jealousy stabbed my chest, which was stupid. She didn’t belong to me. She belonged to him. Nevertheless, I couldn’t keep an edge out of my voice. “How generous of you.”
Colin didn’t bother to look away from the television. “That’s how it works, Charlie. We take turns.”
Sighing, I disentangled myself from her arms and legs. “Well, it’s not working for me.”
“Why not?” he murmured. “We both get what we need ... a nice bit o’ tail, without the nagging what usually goes along with it.”
“What’s she get out of it?” I asked, pointing to the young woman. “She’s not something to be used, to be passed around like a blow-up sex doll. Christ, she’s a human being!”
“Don’t be an arse. She’s fucking brain dead.” Colin spun to face me, angry at last. “She can’t cook; she can’t clean. She can’t even take care of herself. This is the only way she can repay me. If not for me, she’d be in hospital, sedated until she drools. And she’s a damn sight better off than when I found her, chained naked to the floor in a dark, dank basement, with whip marks all over her body. Look at her, Charlie. Look!”
Grabbing me by the shoulders, he forcibly turned me toward her. “I found her,” he breathed in my ear. “Finders, keepers. And we take good care of the kitten. See? She might be crazy, but she’s crazy about us, my friend. She’s happy here.”
That’s what he called her, “the kitten.” He never once told me her real name.
She smiled, beckoning me to her arms. I hated myself for the lewd thoughts that raced through my mind. But he was right about one thing, at least – sex was the only thing that seemed to bring her out of her mental fog. That’s when she came alive. Her poor, pathetic life was spent waiting for times like these. If we let her, she’d just sit in a chair, staring off into space, until it was time to get undressed again.
She blew me a kiss, then reached between her legs to spread herself, a crude, if irresistible, invitation. Another sigh escaped me, and I lay back down to finish what I’d started.
Colin sprawled in the recliner chair nearby, half watching us, half watching a stupid football game. “Bloody hell,” he’d mutter from time to time. There were no disparaging comments directed toward us, mind you. Just the telly. He saved his ire for the Manchester United players. For us, there were simple grunts of approval, except for the one time his guttural vocalizations actually formed words:
“Give it to ‘er, Yank. She likes it hard and fast.”
That was said as he masturbated. I’m not sure at what point we had become more interesting than the game. He had his pants down and was pleasuring himself, while I took my pleasure with the woman.
I think we all came at once.
My next job was easy. The IRA twit wasted his last evening on earth in a pub, getting soused. All I had to do was nurse a beer and wait for my opportunity. Dreadfully boring work. I couldn’t wait to get back to the States, where beer is served ice cold, the way God intended it to be.
My target finally made the inevitable trip to the loo, a dingy, one-toilet facility at the back of the pub. After a moment I followed, easing the door open a crack so I could slip inside.
There he stood, pissing like a race horse. “Occupied,” he snarled, glancing over a shoulder. “Wait yer turn.”
Obviously, he expected me to excuse myself and leave. When I didn’t, he turned, not quite stopping his stream in time. Urine splashed on the floor. “Didn’t you bloody hear me? Occupied, I said! What are ya, queer?” The drunken slur dribbled off his lips like the last few drops of piss from his sagging old cock.
His belligerence faded when he saw the gun, a SIG-Sauer automatic fitted with a homemade silencer. I put the bullet right between his eyes. Not into his groin, where he deserved it for calling me queer. I’m a professional. He dropped to the filthy floor, dead as a doornail.
After disposing of the gun, I took a meandering route back home, careful not to bring a tail. Of course, it wasn’t really my home. It was Colin’s. She was waiting for me between the sheets. I hadn’t expected it, thinking she’d be in his bed. In his arms. It was his turn.
I was too tired to screw, so we just cuddled. She made little mewling sounds as I nuzzled her breasts. Then I started falling asleep. As I drifted off, I could see her sweet, gentle smile in the moonlight streaming in between the carelessly closed drapes.
Maybe it’s not the sex she comes alive for, I thought, a certain lucidity invading my drowsy delirium. Maybe it’s the closeness, the intimacy that brings her out of that damn shell she crawls into.
The following night, I met my case officer at a gentlemen’s club in Mayfair called For Your Eyes Only. His choice, not mine. I couldn’t suppress a smile – the name did have a certain appropriateness to it, all things considered.
As strip clubs go, it was a bit on the fancy side for my tastes. Mayfair is one of London’s more fashionable districts. Wouldn’t do to have a run-of-the-mill titty bar in that neighborhood, now, would it? You want skanky, go elsewhere. You want swanky, go to a joint like this. It cost me fifteen pounds just to get in the damn door.
Apparently, Nevil Swafford was a regular at the club, because the girls seemed to love him. Me, they scowled at a great deal. Guess I didn’t tip well enough.
He finally shooed the ladies away, and we got down to business. Clumsily discreet, he showed me a photograph. “Saleh Hakim.”
“I’m familiar with the name, and the face.” The CIA had wanted this guy for years. I wondered if the job would get me back in their good graces.
Swafford slid a plain, buff-colored envelope across the table to me.
I pocketed it unopened. “Where can I find him?”
“He’s staying at the Millennium Hotel, here in Mayfair, near Grosvenor Square.” Swafford gave me the alias Hakim was using and the room number he’d checked into.
“How convenient,” I said with a smile.
“Quite so.” His dark eyes sparkled, reflecting the stage lights. “Don’t bother with an interrogation. We used a honey pot to learn what we needed. She’ll let you into the room. Just ... tidy up.”
The Millennium is a nice hotel. As coincidence would have it, I’d stayed there once before, during my days working for Langley. So I was familiar with the place. When checking in that first time, the desk clerk had boasted, “When Wellington defeated Napoleon, they announced it right here, on this very spot.”
Big fucking deal, I’d thought. I was young and rash back then, impatient to save the world. To hell with culture and history and all that rubbish. Well, I’m a little older, a little wiser now. This time around, I stood outside the building for a long moment, admiring the Georgian fašade, before entering. Things proceeded quickly from that point. I finished the assignment and returned to the club.
Swafford looked surprised when he saw me. “Back so soon?”
I dropped into one of the cushy loveseats. “Time is money. Why waste either?”
“I’ll require proof, of course. A picture, perhaps, or ...”
I tossed him Hakim’s right ear. It was in a plastic baggie, but for the noise Swafford made, you would think I’d thrown it to him bare and still covered in blood. After recovering his composure, he paid me the other half of my fee.
7:30 AM is too freaking early for breakfast. But that’s when Colin wanted breakfast, so we were up, all of us. His house, his domain. His rules.
“The kitten” was more animated than I’d ever seen her. When I first started living with Colin, she’d been damn near catatonic most of the time, except when making love. The day I moved in, Colin had asked me to feed her – hand feed her that is – like you would an infant. She’d perked up a little when I made dumb jokes and smiled at her, but I don’t think she got the jokes. She was just reacting to my smiling face. Colin never smiled at her much, unless she was doing him. He simply treated her like a pet, one that he wasn’t even particularly fond of, unless it was time to fuck.
It didn’t seem fair to me, so I’d started showing her a little extra kindness whenever I could. And now, after a month, it seemed to be working. She looked ... I don’t know. Healthier, I guess you’d say, for wont of a better word.
Fetching the teapot from the stove, Colin noticed the improvement. “She’s chipper today, ain’t she?” he said, watching her bring a spoonful of porridge to her mouth, a careful, unsure maneuver, like it wasn’t new to her, but rather one she was out of practice with.
Biting into a muffin, I nodded. “Yep.”
“How’d the job go last night?”
He raised his brows, a questioning look. “What’s that supposed to mean?”
I took a sip of tea. “I mean, it went fine.”
“Hey.” He sat down across the table from me. “Cat got your tongue this morning? C’mon, Charlie. Talk to me. Are you all right?”
I shrugged. “I’m just felling a bit ... y’know. Melancholy.”
“Why?” he asked, an expression of puzzlement settling across his unremarkable features. That’s the kind of person the recruiters look for in this line of work, someone you’d never give a second glance. Someone nondescript, a face you might have difficulty remembering, should the police ask.
Someone like me.
“Colin, I killed a man last night, and another the night before that. I’m always down for a day or two afterward.”
“Bloody hell,” he spat. “You’re familiar with Hakim’s history. And that IRA scum you’re mourning killed seven people Thursday last. Planted a bomb under a bus. Three o’ the dead were kiddies!”
“I know. I read the file.”
“One of the kids was a ‘special needs’ case, not unlike that lass sittin’ there at yer side. A poor retard, what never hurt nobody in Ireland. A helpless innocent.” Colin laid a hand over mine, a gesture meant to be reassuring. “Men like him don’t deserve your sympathy. Good riddance, I say. Killed him for Queen and Country, you did. It’s a noble thing.”
“You’re a loyal subject,” I said. “I’m not English. I’m just a hired gun. You do it for ‘Queen and Country,’ while I do it for money. Period.”
“Do you think terrorism is acceptable?” he asked in a soft tone, his eyes boring into mine. He had slate-gray eyes that could look so cold sometimes, but right now, they burned with compassion. Colin sensed my anguish, and he wanted to make it all better.
He cared about me?
Yes, I could see it in his eyes. He actually gave a shit, though we’d been complete strangers just a month ago. I didn’t get it. Why didn’t he care about her like that?
I answered his question. “No, I do not think terror is an acceptable means for achieving a political goal. But what do you call government-sanctioned hit men who assassinate terrorists for a living? Reverse terrorists?”
“Heroes,” he said, grinning. “I’d say we’re bloody fucking heroes. Now shut up and eat your breakfast. Your banger’s getting cold. When you finish cleaning up the kitchen, take the kitten to the loo and get her cleaned up, too.”
I nodded. I had my marching orders, the same ones he gave every morning.
He left for the office. SIS headquarters, I guess – I wasn’t sure. I was just a mercenary, a hired killer. A wet work specialist. The British government didn’t officially recognize blokes like me. We didn’t go to the office. We met our case officers in slimy back alleys and strip clubs and got paid cash in a plain envelope.
Blokes? Damn, I’ve been in the UK too long. I’m starting to think like a Brit.
While the shower got all nice and steamy hot, I stripped us both down. She smiled. Taking her by the hand, I stepped into the enclosure and drew her to my side. Her smile grew bigger.
Once we were good and wet, I turned the water down so I could lather her. About the time I was soaping her breasts, I started getting hard. By the time I got to her feet, I was fully engorged. I helped her rinse off and hurriedly washed myself, eager to sate the angry beast bobbing against my belly. We dried off with a pair of the big, fluffy bath towels I’d bought during my first week there, after I’d realized what a threadbare mess Colin’s linens were. It was a kind of “thank you” present to Colin for letting me bunk at his place.
Now that we were clean and fresh, I led her by the hand to the guest room. My room. She was already giggling. She loved the after-shower oral sex, a kind of morning ritual we’d settled into. I laid her down and crawled into position beside her, my head toward the foot of the bed. She eagerly started licking me like it was a lollipop. I gave her a series of soft kisses and ran my tongue up and down her naked cleft. Colin liked a little hair on a woman’s mound, he said. If it were up to me, I would have shaved the whole thing bare, but she belonged to him, so I hadn’t. I’d just trimmed her bush down and shaved the parts where I liked to put my mouth. Moaning, she writhed when I started sucking her, and she sucked me in return.
Afterward, we napped for a bit, then went out shopping. The fridge looked mighty bare, and the pantry was just about empty of anything edible. So it was off to the market with us. But first, I took her to a ladies’ boutique for a new outfit or three. Her closet seemed as barren as the pantry.
I helped her pick out a dress. She squealed in delight, the first thing I’d ever heard her utter outside the bedroom. And when I put the hat on her – it was one of those ridiculous, wide-brimmed, feminine-looking things – she just about went bananas, throwing her arms around my neck and kissing me furiously.
“Such a pretty young lady. Doesn’t talk much, though, does she?” the saleswoman observed as I paid. Two sundresses, a pair of Levi’s, some shoes, the hat ... the bill was a whopper.
“She had an accident,” I explained, surreptitiously touching the tip of my trigger finger to my temple.
“Oh.” The saleswoman gave me a bittersweet smile. “It’s nice of you to be so kind to the poor thing. I can see why she adores you.”
The entire time this exchange took place, the young lady in question beamed at me from under the brim of that silly hat, and that’s when it hit me.
She was in love.
And damn it, I was, too.
That night, I sat Colin down at the kitchen table and gave him the bad news. I’d made a decision, one he wasn’t going to like much.
“You’ve never even told me her name,” I said.
“If I knew her name,” he said whilst leaning to one side so he could scratch his bum, “don’t you think I would’ve told you by now?”
“Colin, she needs help – psychological help – to find out what’s gone wrong inside her head. She’s been traumatized or something.”
“She’s daft, that’s what the trouble is. Don’t make waves, Charlie. They’ll just take her away from us and lock her up in a funny farm.”
I shook my head. “I don’t think she’s crazy.”
“Then why won’t she talk?” he demanded. “Why won’t she do anything, except eat, sleep, and fuck?”
I glanced at her, and he followed my gaze. She was in the front room, very slowly, very methodically sweeping the floor. I’d been chasing dust bunnies earlier, a losing proposition in that house, and she’d followed my every move with rapt fascination. Now, she was trying to finish the task.
Colin sat watching her for a long moment. “I’ll be damned ... maybe they could help her. In the States. We’ll take her there for treatment.”
“Why can’t they help her here?” I asked. “I’m sure the English have reputable clinics for this kind of thing.”
“I’ve been rationalizing, I suppose. It’s just that – oh, hell, Charlie. I don’t want to lose her.” Screwing his eyes closed, he rubbed his forehead. “I found her during a job I had a few months ago. Killed her previous owner. Brought her back here, to clean her up a bit before turning her over to the proper authorities, and ... well, I just never got around to it. I wasn’t going to keep her forever, but then you came along. We formed a bond, you and I. We’re a lot alike. I’d like to think we’re friends. Friends share things, right?”
“Colin, I’ve fallen in love with her.”
He looked at me with sad eyes. “I know.”
Sighing, he heaved himself up and went to the stove to fiddle with the teapot. Then he began rummaging in a cabinet. “Where’d I put that special tea?” he muttered, but I knew what he was up to. When he turned around, he had a gun, aimed right at my chest. “I’m sorry, Charlie. I really am.”
He pulled the trigger.
“So you had removed the firing pins from all his guns. Good idea, that. How did you know he’d try to kill you?” Nevil Swafford looked down at the body. A single neat, round puncture wound marred the smoothness of Colin’s brow.
“Colin is – was – a psychopath. Hell, we all are. We’re trained to kill, to think nothing of blowing out a man’s brains.” But when I thought about what I was saying, I realized it wasn’t necessarily so. “Scratch that. He did feel bad about what he intended to do. But I was threatening his little world and, for a guy like him ... like me ... there is only one solution.”
I knew I sounded disgusted with the whole sordid business. And I was. My time was done. I’d used up my cache of hate, of anger, of everything but...
Love. I’d fallen in love, with a pretty little daft girl no less, and it had driven out all the other emotions. Sooner or later, most wet work specialists finally tire of the killing. When they do, they retire.
Colin was my last assignment.
“He’s gone over the edge,” Swafford had told me on my first day in London. “Lull him into a false sense of security, see what skeletons he has in his closet, then cancel his contract. It shouldn’t take long, a month or so at most.”
British Intel can’t find a shred of information about the young lady. Her fingerprints failed to match any known record, and they couldn’t find a DNA match, either. We don’t even know her nationality. She’s getting help at a day clinic just outside London, but they won’t let me take her out of the country. So for now at least, I’m stuck here, in the UK.
I call her Melody now. She’s started singing lately, wordless little tunes, while helping me cook or clean the cottage or tend to the flower garden.
She has the sweetest voice.
Copyright © 2006 by Curtis Hoffmeister. All rights reserved.
I belong to the Horror Writers Association and the Midwestern Writers of Horror. By day I work as a Registered Pharmacist, but by night I write vampire and werewolf tales. “Wet Work” was something of a departure for me. My first story published was a twisted little piece called “Tasty Goth Chicks.” It appeared in a 2004 anthology entitled Open Graves. In 2005, three of my short stories were published by Tigress Press: “Behind the Veil of an Odalisque” is still available for download at http://www.tigresspress.com, and along with “Cruel Destiny” and “Jade” it appeared in a print collection titled Thicker Than Water. Each of the past four years I have attended the World Horror Convention, and I play blues guitar in my spare time.
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