Saturday, January 06, 2007

Childhood's End - Chapter 15

When you stand before a mountain, climb it.

Rowena fastened the straps on her gloves and hooked her hands into the tiny gaps of the brick wall in front of her, followed shortly by her feet. They were clad in a cross between moccasins and jika-tabi as interpreted by space-age materials - perfect climate control, mobility and a soft step, to boot. It wouldn't protect her if she were to step on a roofing nail, but for climbing a house wall? Just right. With every move, she felt the large-ish fanny pack shudder over her, well, fanny, packed tight with every bit of gear she had managed to cram in there. It was a light load, but it would be enough - and after five minutes of deliberate, slow movement, she'd hit the third floor.

The window was closed. Just her luck.

Stabilizing herself against the brickwork, she drew a knife from the sheath on her right hip and wedged the tip into the gap between the wooden frame and the window, watching the old wood splinter as she slowly worked it. Finally, it gave out with a crack - much too loud for her taste, but then again, she could hear her heartbeat - and released the window. Cautiously, she returned the knife to its sheath, climbed over to the window and slid in. Phase one.

She was in the ladies' restroom of a 'health club' now, a room with little apparent function - the clientel was almost exclusively male, and the staff had their own facilities. Indeed, up here there wasn't much traffic at all - just the private massage suites. Crouched down, she crept towards the hallway door and fumbled for a small device in the fanny pack; it was a smooth metal affair, rectangular and just big enough to fit in the palm of her hand. There was an indentation on one end and a not-very-glorious button on the other end; Rowena maneuvered said indentation over the lock and pressed the button with her thumb. The device attached itself to the metal with a CLANK, then the button started blinking a soft red. From beneath the door, soft clicking sounds echoed; finally, there was another, bigger CLICK and the button went green. Rowena pressed it again, removed the device and fished for the next one - a small fiberscope, which was the next thing through the lock. The hallway was clear; Rowena opened the door, closed it behind her and tiptoed towards the far side, her eyes darting between hallway and the staircase leading up to this floor. After a tense few seconds, she reached the first door; she grabbed a container full of organic fiber disks from the pack, slid one disk free and broke it in two before sliding the pieces under the door. The same process was repeated for each suite except the last; Rowena applied the lockpicker again and let herself in. The suite was like Mark had described; massage table in the middle, with a semi-seperated mini-bathroom featuring a sink and a shower, with attendant clothesbin in another corner. The AC was whirring just to keep the air moving inside - there were no windows here, and Rowena knew that they'd all been bricked up on this floor - except for, well, the bathrooms, which required more fresh air to keep the smell out. Speaking of which - the other rooms should be well stinking by now. This would be a disaster on most every day of the week, but today there were favorable circumstances - only one VIP to be taken care of, and the smell should be discovered when they go around opening the suites when they start their business day.

With a twist, Rowena locked the door behind her again. No need to make them suspicious.

Rowena spent an hour in the clothesbin, mercifully still empty; then the door moved, and she could hear the masseuse enter, followed by some Japanese words from a middle-aged man. She didn't speak Japanese well enough to understand him - beyond being certain that it was Japanese -, but that was all the confirmation she needed. Her target was there. Then came the massage. Rowena was not a child of innocence; she'd walked in on Done and Trinity and certainly heard them often enough, but now she was sitting there, contorted in ways that allowed her slender body to barely fit into the hiding spot, and she was listening to a middle-aged Yakuza oyabun screwing a prostitute-in-all-but-name. Rowena felt a bit saddened at her premature insight into the sex lives of strangers - she could tell the masseuse was faking it, and that didn't hit her with any disenchantment over the motivation of sex workers, but instead with a twinge of shame over her knowledge of what good sex sounded like. The whole thing was made worse by her inactivity; she wanted to step in and do the job right there, but all she could do was tense her muscles, keep the blood flowing to stop her limbs from falling asleep.

To think, she'd killed the first guy who may have been "It" three days ago. And now this fat fuck was giving her an extended radio drama on what sex shouldn't be like. Disgusting.

Eventually they stopped; the masseuse gathered her discarded clothing and left at once, presumably to clean up, while Mister Tezuka lost what scant amount of clothing he still wore and shambled off towards the shower. Finally, Rowena sprung into action; slowly, she opened the bin and climbed out, almost perfectly silent against the backdrop of running water. God, the bastard was singing in the shower, too; Rowena drew the .22 from her left hip holster and racked the slide slowly, then crept towards the shower. He wasn't even looking in her direction while he slathered soap all over his body - nice tattoos, though; Rowena guessed that this guy might've been handsome ten years ago. Now, the moment of truth: Rowena raised the .22, took aim and put her finger on the trigger.

It was easy.

With a whisper, the bullet entered his skull, rattling around in his skull until the brain was total mush. Muscles relaxed and some unidentifiable substance oozed from the entry wound as the Yakuza dropped to the ground, the water still running. Rowena packed up the gun again, grabbed the shower head and rinsed off the fallout of her action; the guy's last metabolized drink disappeared down the shower drain in what could've been the ultimate indignity. At least there was no involountary number two. No matter; Rowena kept the shower running to mask further sounds, then grabbed a small hedge trimmer from her pack and set to work on the guy's pinkie finger...


Mark was wasting his time away sitting in a Lincoln Continental Mark V - metallic baby blue with lovingly restored interior -, working through the crossword puzzle of his newspaper. Hm, Byzantine warship? Mark had to admit that his knowledge failed him here; he had a vague idea of galleys and such, but that was mostly from watching too many cheesy 50s flicks. With a bit of a sigh, he grabbed his smartphone, slid out the miniature keypad and started the webbrowser; a quick visit to the World Wide Web later, Mark was enlightened and filled in "dromon".

Played this way, it was quite possible to fill in the whole thing with a ballpoint pen.

Something stirred in the alley behind him; he watched Rowena climb out of the sewer access plate and started the car's engine. She entered the passenger side and dumped the pack onto the back seat while Mark pulled out and set a course for home.

"Got him?" he asked, his voice even.
"Yes, I killed him." Rowena's voice was slightly strained, protesting the use of euphemisms.
"Pinky finger?"
"Cut off."
"They pay extra for that, you know. It's a matter of honor for the Yakuza..."
"How long are we going to support the Triads?"
"A while," Mark said, shifting to third gear. "The Yellow Leaf tong is the lesser evil for the time being, and I say that as an expert on the topic. Really, it's pretty fucked up here, kid. These guys only do a protection racket and loansharking, and by 'only' I mean to imply that they're a step up from the scum that's running the city now."
"You're taking it well, kid. Cool, calm, collected."
"Well, I've only been born and bred for this. Besides, it's not the first time anymore."
"The first time you had a choice."
"Hey, are you trying to get me to whine? I killed him, I'm not shouting, woo-hah. You should be glad, fucking glad."
"Okay," Mark said and shut up.

They cruised down to her apartment in silence. Up in the loft, Mark noted that the bed was now well out of the window's line of sight.

"I was thinking, we could put in a fake wall there" - Rowena pointed to the far side of the loft - "and then put in a safe. A nice, big one."
"And replace the window," Mark added.
"Put in a new one. Straight-up armored glass instead of the reinforcement sheets."
"Sure. Listen, kid, I..."
"...I want to ask you something, and I need you to hear me out before you answer."
"Go on."
"I usually don't train people who are already as skilled as you. They usually bring too much baggage. But you did good, kid. You've got attitude, you learn fast and you've got some serious talent. Great things ahead of you and all that jazz. Now, technically, you graduate out of the program after the first successful kill, so if you want an official knighting or something, BAM!, you're a professional killer."

He grabbed a chair and sat down.

"If you want to call your Daddy and give him the good news, great. I didn't go easy on you, you're a worthy Umbrella field agent. However - and that's a big fucking however - I think we can go further."
"I won't lie to you, kid. I'm not getting younger. I'd like you to stick around. I have a few more things I need to wrap up and I'm starting to think I might not make it alone. I guarantee you, it won't be a cakewalk. I do big, scary shit and you ain't seen nothing yet. But you'll be playing the big leagues, kid. By the time you hit 20, you'll be a fucking legend."
"So you want me to be your...sidekick?"

Mark grinned.

"Sidekick's such an ugly word." He got up from the chair and walked towards Rowena; there was the flash of something true in his eyes. "More like...partner in crime."

1 comment:

Valentina said...

And so closes Rowena's official first willing steps into the shadows.
Bravo, bravo.

I don't know what to say.
Terrific stuff. I like Rowena more and more.
Win. =]