Hello everyone! As part of Short Story Saturday, I have posted another short story, this one entitled Thane Drapetevo. Please enjoy. Also, if you haven’t already checked out my FAQ on my upcoming book, Magic Once Removed, please check that out as well. Thanks again!
He took off his gloves and wiped his hands against his vest. It was unseasonably warm and his dapper suit simply wasn’t conducive to the heat. For once, though, he blended in rather than stood out when he was amongst them. The other guests at the business conference, the one he was attending under a pseudonym, indeed donned similar garb. Its theme, he slightly recalled, was mergers.
The man then looked around. It was clear. Not another person was in sight. Nothing was stopping him, then, from crawling up the fire escape to the roof. There, he put his gloves back on. A hand was placed on the recoil pad and the other positioned itself on the grip of his sniper rifle. He then aimed at the floral shop below. His mind wandered and he reminisced on what led him there.
A few days before, he was alone in his one-bedroom apartment on the bad side of town. He was sitting beside an antique teakwood table, which had an exquisitely designed porcelain kettle and a saucer on top of it, while sipping tea from an ornate teacup. In front of him was a black armchair identical to the one he was sitting on. A single lamp above his head provided the room’s only illumination. The apartment’s dilapidation was otherwise hidden in the shadows.
His home was in shambles. Its ever-growing mold problem spread from the floor to small crevices in the ceiling. A pungent smell of wood rot emanated throughout. Maintenance was apparently not a priority. It was exactly how he wanted it. Such conditions dissuaded visitors which was perfect for considering his profession. Only those who were desperate for a man of his abilities ever dared to enter. That was why he already had an inkling as to the reason why his otherwise tranquil evening was interrupted by a knock at the door.
He responded by pressing a button beneath his seat. Several dials were turned and locks were disengaged with a series of loud clangs. Afterward, he called out to the person behind the door in between a pair of sips of tea. “It is now unlocked. You may enter.”
A young woman opened the door slowly and deliberately, starting with a slight crack until it was eventually fully opened. She took a whiff of the surroundings. Her hands reflexively covered her nose. The door then slammed behind her upon her entry which caused her to jump in place. After taking a moment to recompose herself, and while still remaining in the shadows she asked with a raspy, wavering voice just above a whisper. “Are you Mr. Drapetévo?”
“Please, it is unnecessary to be so formal. Thane is fine. And please, there is no need for you to hide. I assure you that you are completely safe.” The man set down his tea cup and adjusted his bowler hat as was his custom when meeting guests before extending a hand to the seat in front of him.
The thin young woman with chestnut brown hair tied into a ponytail walked across the warped and dank wooden floor before sitting down. Her soft pink lips struggled to display a strong smile. Both cheeks seemed permanently stained with tears. “Is it true what they say?”
He smiled. “It depends on what they say.”
“That you don’t require payment for, you know.”
“The work that I would be contracted to do, yes. However, I must contradict that statement and elucidate. I may not require financial compensation but it would be inaccurate to say that I do not require any sort of recompense. I do charge what many have asserted is an unusual expense, more akin to a request than a fee.”
“A story, right?”
“More accurately I would like a reason you require my services. If I find it satisfactory, I will perform the deed.”
He grinned. “My mentor taught me never to do any activity pro bono.”
The young woman vehemently shook her head. “No, that’s not what I mean. Why don’t you want money? I mean, I know I’m being nosy and all, but I just find the whole thing weird. Don’t guys like you, I mean, well, you know what I mean, want money? Have you made so much you don’t care about it anymore? Are you trying to atone for sins? Do you do bad things for good people? Like, I don’t get it.”
Thane’s face grew stern. He silently grabbed his cup and took another sip. “I think it would be best if you didn’t ask any more questions and simply told me why you would like to procure my services.”
She smiled meekly. “Sorry. I just get so curious, you know, like, I just don’t know when to quit. I don’t mean to pry so that was wrong of me to do so I’m sorry.”
“Stop apologizing and tell me why you are here,” Thane growled.
She let out a heavy sigh. The young woman started to tell her story but then stopped. This occurred several times. With every abandoned attempt, she did her best to collect her thoughts and restart. Her predicament was deeply personal and concerned someone she loved or at least, thought she loved. Finding the words proved difficult. Finding the courage was harder still.
During all of this, Thane silently drank his tea. When he finished a cup, he simply poured another. He continued this taciturn practice until his fifth cup when she was finally able to recite her tale.
“You see, at first, things were great…but then…” The woman then went into an account that included verbal and physical abuse and how when she’d return home late or it seemed too friendly with another man, the two would get into an altercation which would always escalate to physical abuse. At first, it was just a rough grasp or a push, a little aggressive but nothing too serious. However, it soon rose to the point he no longer hesitated to slap or punch or even throw her into bookcases, doors, short steps, or even into windows or kitchen tables and chairs.
Her boyfriend was emotionally manipulative as well. Whenever the young woman told him she wanted to leave him or that she was about to call the police, he would threaten to kill himself. He on more than one occasion even went so far as placing a revolver to the side of his head and telling her that his blood would be on her hands.
Despite this, once she did somehow find the strength to leave intending to never return.
Only she did. He had apologized through a text message that also told her he was waiting at their doorway with a bouquet of her favorite flowers in his arms.
That was always her problem. She would always relent. It was as if she were soft putty in his hands. She would always go back to him trusting that his apologetic gesture meant that his violent or psychological mistreatment of her would never happen again. Only it always did, over and over and over again.
Thane set down his cup of tea. He closed his eyes as he overlapped his fingers with each hand and rested them against his chin. His austere expression belied his shattering heart. “Your words move me deeply. Still, I must inform you that I am a bit apprehensive about taking this job.”
“I know what you mean. Killing someone can’t be easy no matter who it is. And besides, there’s all the planning you have to do to not get caught. Not to mention, like, oh my god, all the stress and everything and-”
He raised his right index finger in the air, a motion that she interpreted correctly was an appeal to stop. “It’s not that. Whether he deserves his fate or how I would proceed is not what vexes me. You deserve to be free. And I have done this kind of work for a long time. It’ll be simple compared to what I’ve done in the past.”
She leaned forward in her seat. “Then what’s bothering you?”
“Killing him won’t set you free.”
“What do you mean?”
“I mean exactly what I said.”
“If he’s dead, won’t I have a clean slate and be able to start again, right?”
“Naturally, and you’ll find someone else, and that is the problem.”
She looked at him quizzically. “What’s that supposed to mean?” The woman pondered for a moment. Suddenly, her brow furrowed and her eyes narrowed as she became overwhelmed by an inferno of rage. Her arms flayed wildly as she pointed to herself, to the man, and various random parts of his home as she ranted and raved.
“Oh, I get it! Let me tell you something, you’re wrong! Once my boyfriend’s out of the picture, this kind of thing will never, I repeat, never, happen to me again! I just need to start over! All I need is to start over! Why won’t you let me start over?”
Thane remained silent. For a while, the only noise in the apartment was the woman’s heavy, exasperated breathing.
“I’m sorry,” the young woman finally said after she finally calmed. “I shouldn’t have yelled. But I’ve made up my mind and you won’t be able to talk me out of it. You’ve heard my story. You agree he deserves to die. I must insist that you fulfill your end of the bargain.”
Thane nodded. “I understand. I assure you that I have no intention of not fulfilling the contract. Perhaps it would be best if we did not speak of the issue further and concentrate fully on the task at hand.”
She agreed and then told Thane where her boyfriend liked to shop to buy those dozen red roses he always purchased to apologize for whatever abuse or another sort of malevolent action he had inflicted on his long-suffering girlfriend. That was how the man found himself on that roof.
He had scouted the man for well over two months by that point. Thane had learned that her boyfriend’s visits to that florist by that point had become an almost weekly affair. When a ten-day conference came into town, he decided it was the opportunity to strike as it would provide him ample cover to make his escape. On the seventh day of the aforementioned conference, the boyfriend visited the shop to make his purchase for the final time.
With only a glance, the shopkeeper knew what he wanted. She went to the section of the store where she kept her best red roses and prepared a bouquet. The boyfriend did not have to say a word. After all, he was her best customer.
Thane lined the shot with the scope. When the boyfriend’s head was just to the right of the salesperson, just before payment could be made, the assassin gently squeezed the trigger. Glass shattered. Brain matter and blood exploded from the boyfriend’s head and spread against the walls, the floor, and the merchant who let out a horrified squeal. His lifeless mass crumbled to the ground.
The shopkeeper’s trauma was a bit of collateral damage but Thane did not feel particularly guilty about it. She knew what was happening and chose to look the other way for profit. Perhaps her newly bestowed mental scarring was justified.
Panic emerged on the streets below. Many desperately fled from the perceived danger having apparently no qualms plowing into and over their fellow man or woman while doing so. Several more froze in place with a couple losing the contents of their last meal, through the mouth and elsewhere, after witnessing the ghastly scene. Those of a stronger constitution gathered into a burgeoning crowd around the shop. Some indeed wanted to see whether they could help even though that time had long passed. Others, though, had a ghoulish desire to see the corpse and what remained.
By the time someone directed attention to the building above where the shot originated, Thane was already hidden from view in the middle of putting his rifle away in his briefcase behind one of the parapets. By the time the police arrived and ordered the facility to shut down and declared no one was allowed to leave as they needed to speak with each of the guests, he was already gone. Thane had already used the commotion within the building as a means to escape. After all, amongst over a hundred stampeding businessmen, nothing separates one from a sea of dapper suits and briefcases from another. The police were able to find the bullet and match it to his gun’s make and model but they were still unable to trace it to him. He made sure of that.
Thane also used a fake name and identity with realistic false paperwork and identification to aid in the subterfuge. Additionally, his disguises were not greatly varied but caused enough confusion amongst witnesses that no one was able to provide a matching description. For all intents and purposes, he was a phantasmagoria, a specter, an angel of death. He was very good at his job and this one wasn’t particularly difficult. There was no way he would be caught or could be caught.
Before he returned home, he stopped by the post office and sent his client a postcard. It read, “It is done.”
He received a reply a few days later. It was another postcard. “Thank you and thank God. Now, I am free.”
The man shook his head and tossed in the corner of his room with the rest of the pile.
Years later, the man once again sat alone in his one-bedroom apartment underneath the single lamp that hung above his head that provided the room’s only illumination. Its ever-growing mold problem had spread even further such that it covered the entire ceiling. The pungent smell of wood rot had only gotten worse. Maintenance was obviously still not a priority.
Once again, he heard a knock at the door. As before, the man reached down and pressed a button underneath his seat. Several dials were turned and locks were disengaged. He called out to the person behind the door in between sips of tea. “It is now unlocked. You may enter.”
The young woman entered timidly and remained in the shadows as she spoke. “Mr. Drapetévo?”
“Please, I’ve told you it is unnecessary to be so formal. Thane is fine. And again, there is no need for you to hide. You are still completely safe.” The man set his teacup down and adjusted his bowler hat, which was his custom when meeting guests, and extended a hand to the seat in front of him.
The thin young woman with chestnut brown hair tied into a ponytail walked across the warped and dank wooden floor before sitting down. Her soft pink lips struggled to display a strong smile. “Do you still do jobs for stories? I’ve met someone else but, well, I suppose you know it hasn’t quite been working out if I’m here. It’s strange. You see, at first, things were great…”
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