Job had come home early and found me drunk and weeping. The phone calls had been going all night, and when all was said and done, the whole of the body had passed out except him. When Job walked into the house, the man in the dark bedroom slipped his hand under the blankets and stroked the knife laying at his side. He closed his eyes and he knew.
He knew what room Job was in. He knew that he still carried his coat in his hand. He knew that Job was hungry and he knew that he was eager. The night had been hard, and Job wanted a drink.
When Job entered the kitchen, the man was up. He stood in the doorway, watching Job walk to the fridge and get a bottle of Gentlemen Jack. When Job stepped back into the kitchen, he was greeted with a scowl.
“Hey,” Job said. “How did it go?”
“Revealing, heartbreaking, quiet and dark. The night was one of nightmare and tears. Then I came.”
Job poured himself a shot and slammed it. He grabbed a mug and poured two shots of Gentlemen Jack, six ice cubes, and a can of Dr. Pepper in it. He handed it to the man he stood before and nodded.
“Try it,” Job said.
The man sipped and scowled.
“You like it, don’t you?”
“Figured out the recipe the other day. Have a drink with me,” Job said.
We walked into the living room and both men sat down. The room was dark, lit only by the glare of the next door neighbor’s outside light. Job lit a candle and burned a cigarette off of it. He handed the pack, but it was denied.
“Never met you before,” Job said. He took a deep drag and smiled. “Wanna talk?”
“You are Job, Shadow’s friend.”
“Yeah, Shadow’s and a few other people’s.”
“Are you Shadow’s kind of people?” he asked.
“Yeah, Shadow’s and a few other people’s.” Both men laughed.
“You going to tell me who you are?” Job asked. “You’re new.”
“Where is my wife?”
“Don’t know who that would be. Are you talking about Regina?”
The man’s face did not change, but the darkness of the room grew more severe. The whole of the room grew darker and, from the man, a sound issued. It was a drawing of breath, a sigh and a grunt. It was an expression of anger and bliss, a declaration of purpose and intent.
“So that is a ‘no’ then?” Job said with a laugh.
“I will cut off her lips if she kisses him again. I give you my solemn vow that will happen.”
“Guardian might try to stop you,” Job said. “I won’t.”
Both men laughed.
“I have a guess.”
“As to who you are,” Job said. “I think I know you, though we have never met. If I’m right, you’re kind of a legend.”
“What would you call me if you had to guess?”
“You’re Assassin.” Job took in a deep draw. “Tell me I’m wrong.”
“You gonna try to kill me?”
“I’ve no reason to,” Assassin said. “You haven’t earned a death.”
“By your reckoning, has anyone else?”
“Anyone we know?”
“Your father?” Job said. “If any man ever earned a death, it would be that useless fuck.” Job nodded and drained his drink. “You wanna kill him?”
“I was crafted for the job. Honed to be the one that killed him. We knew that one day we would have to do that job. It was going to come down to him or the Child. I was created to snatch the life out of him.”
“Why didn’t you?” Job asked.
Assassin fell silent. He hung his head and shook it. “I tried. I failed.”
“Yeah, I see that, but how old were you?” Job asked. “What age were you when you tried to kill a grown man?”
“Wanna tell me about it?”
Silence for a long time before Assassin nodded. He drained his drink and he heaved a great sigh.
“I was taught to kill by him. He pulled me into his room one day and closed the door. Shush drew back in horror. Pain went far in, pulling back to nothing but shades and smoke. This was the day I was born. This is how I came to be….”
Dan opened his safe and reached in to pull out a revolver. He pointed it at me and I flinched back. He pulled the trigger and the hammer clicked. That was the moment I was born.
“You’re gonna have to protect her,” he said. “She is not safe.”
He was talking about his dream, his love. his daughter. She was his world. He loved her intensely and since birth he had been raising us to protect her. He had crafted Guardian for the purpose. He had hammered it into his head that her life was worth protecting, even as he taught us that ours wasn’t.
He looked at the gun for a long time before he smiled and bent to kiss it. “You’re gonna have to do it if I can’t. This gun is your weapon. This is how you load it,” Dan said.
He opened the chamber and slipped bullets into the slot. He thumbed the chamber back into place and he smiled. “You will do this for me. I will teach you to work this gun. You will keep her safe even when—” His eyes trailed off. He stared at the loaded gun for a long beat before nodding. He hugged the weapon to his body. “Even if I can’t.”
He backhanded me and opened the gun again. I glowered at him. But I did not move. He unloaded the gun and handed it to me.
I slid the chamber open and slid the bullets in slowly. I slipped it back and pointed it at him. He grinned. He snatched the gun from my hands and smiled.
“You learn fast, Killer. You’re gonna do just fine.” He replaced the gun in the safe and kicked it closed. He rolled the knob and gripped me by the back of the neck and pinched hard. I took it with rage building in my heart. My life made sense then. It all came together at that moment. He was cruel. He was petty and he was dangerous. One day, he would kill the Child if I didn’t stop him. One day, he would hurt us too bad to recover from. I closed off my heart from his. Since then, I have known only hate.
“Until her,” Assassin said.
“Want to tell me about her? Your wife. Want to tell me who you are talking about?”
“She is the only one that soothes me. My life has been failure and darkness. She is all that I have ever had. She is sunshine. She is air. Her touch is healing and her smile has summoned me back from the edge. She is a reason to be, a reason to live.”
“You’re talking about Bekah,” Job said.
Assassin went quiet. Job rose to make Assassin another drink.
They talked for a while longer before Job made Assassin laugh. Job was good at that. He made the great killer feel at ease, and soon Assassin grinned and looked at him.
“I’m glad I haven’t killed you yet,” Assassin said.
“Was that up for debate?” Job asked.
“Many nights, I have stood over your bed, with my knife in my hand, and I have tried to hold back the blade. I talked for long minutes to myself about how unsafe you are, but in the end, I walked away every time.”
“You shine,” Assassin said.
“Shine how?” Job asked.
“Yes, how indeed.”
They kept drinking. They kept talking. They talked of women; they talked of men. they talked of darkness and they talked of killing. When the sun came up, Job still sat drinking.
“He set me up to fail,” Assassin said. “He taught half of the lesson. Part of him knew that he would do to her what he had done to Shush. Part of him knew he was not going to be able to hold back. So he trained me to kill him. But he is as divided as we. He has his shades of mind, and within him is a beast who did not want to die.
“She was up there with him. Up in the attic. Child had been set in front of a movie. He had been told to watch it to the end, and the two of them had vanished. Child sat happily singing to Robin Hood while vile deeds were being committed.
“I knew. I rose, to the safe and I opened it. To the gun and I loaded it. It was heavy.” Assassin was crying now. They were slow tears, tears of regret and loss. Loss of purpose, loss of a life. But more than anything else, they were the tears of loss of destiny. For Assassin would forever be hounded by the tale he now told….
I carried the gun up the stairs. It was heavy and felt good in my hands. I took up the stairs and stopped outside the door to the terrible room that only Shush knew. I called for him in a child’s voice.
“Daddy,” I said.
Gasping breath. “Go away, Jesse! I told you not to bother us! You’re sister and I need some alone time. You have to go back down stairs or I’m gonna—”
My resolve hardened. “Get out here,” I said.
Nothing and silence. There was no response for a long time, and I began to think I would have to go in after him. But then I heard the clink of his belt being refastened, and he jerked open the door. He stared at me. Then he gave me a sad kind of smile.
“I pointed the gun. And I pulled the trigger.”
Job went quiet. He took another long, slow drag from his cigarette and pushed it out. “Safety,” Job said.
“He had not taught me all of it. He had allowed himself a door away. I pulled the trigger again and he stomped toward me. I tossed the gun at him and fought to run away. But he was faster. When the beating came, I had to go within. I was not built for shame. They needed to keep me honed and ready. They needed to keep me strong. The day was coming when I would get another chance. The day was coming when protecting the Child would demand I kill this man.
“I left. I had failed. My chance would come again.
“But it didn’t. So I sit unused, unfulfilled. A wasted weapon. A gun never fired. A blade never cutting. I wait for my next chance and I stay ready. I can’t let him live. It is him or me. One day he will die by my hand. There is no other way.”