Fifteen years ago.
Eli was bored. He had been waiting for close to an hour, but the airport security never seemed to be done with their checks. He closed his eyes, listening to the music booming through his earbuds, bobbing his head in rhythm with the sound. Suddenly he was shoved forward, making him stumble. “What the hell man, I’ve been waiting just as long as you’ve been!” The man behind him glared and pointed forwards.
The man looked weird, like really old fashioned, and when he spoke Eli didn’t understand him. He turned around and his eyes became big, this wasn’t the airport. “Next!” A voice called out. “What the fuck.” He softly whispered to himself. It was as if he had stepped into a Charles Dickens movie. Everybody wore shitty clothing and seemed underfed. “I said next, you deaf immigrant.” A voice yelled at him.
Eli turned to the man that had just insulted him. The man was sitting at a table, taking down names or something and he was glaring at him. Eli hesitantly walked towards the man. “Name, country of origin and ordination.” The man barked. “Eli de Winter, United States of America, what’s an ordination?” The man glared. “United what now? What kind of backwards country are you from?” Eli was about to tell the man he could fuck off, but the man was no longer listening. Instead he films in the form, leaving his country of origin open.
“Listen barbarian, you are to be ordained, get in that line and wait for instructions. Got it? Good. Welcome to the Mercian Bureaucracy. Next!” The man that had been standing behind him shoved Eli aside. As Eli moved to his designated line the man started shouting in his incomprehensible language. “Speak Mercian you Monarchial freak!” More shouting in the foreign language. “Name! Country of origin and ordination, you piece of shit, in Mercian or I will have you fucking deported!”
Eli tried to distance himself from the immigration officer and the foreign man as quickly as he could. “What the fuck, what the fuck, what the fuck.” He kept whispering to himself. Wherever he was it wasn’t any place he had been intending to go. There wasn’t any sign of his friends either, just rows upon rows of dirty, desperate looking people.
The line he was standing in was slowly moving forwards. Behind Eli the conflict had escalated. The immigrations officer was fighting the foreign man. Both were bleeding, but neither seemed to want to give up. Around Eli people started to exchange bets on who would win. He however didn’t stick around to see the fight end. The people in front of him had all disappeared into a closed of hallway and some official or other waved him to come over as well. The woman waved again, and he complied.
“Good evening sir, please follow me.” She said politely as we walked down the hallway, passing several doors before halting before one. “Please step inside and await your ordination, welcome to Mercia.” Eli opened the door and stepped inside.
It was dark, apart from a single glowing lamp. “Please take a seat, I will be with you in a moment.” A tired voice said, making Eli startle. He sat down, a bit twitchy as he waited for the owner of the voice to appear. When he did he was surprisingly young, barely older than Eli. The man was clad in robes, which didn’t hide how thin he was. Even if they had, the man’s hollow cheeks would have betrayed him.
The man gave him a kind smile. “There is no reason to worry about your ordination, it won’t hurt, and nobody will judge you, regardless of the results.” Eli nodded and swallowed. “Whatever this ordination was, it apparently was important. “Shall we start?” Eli nodded again.
The man reached out and touched Eli’s forehead. His fingers were cold. Not just human hands cold but ice cold, as if they were made of ice. Eli breathed in deeply, surprised by the sudden cold. A moment later the man removed his hand. “I’m sorry for that, it took a bit longer to find your path. I hope it wasn’t to unpleasant?” Eli shook his head. “It was okay.” He assured the man. He got a grateful smile in return. “I have good news for you. Your path is a relatively rare one, giving you the opportunity to be of great value to the bureaucracy.” Eli tilted his head. “What did I get?” The man scribbled some things down on a piece of paper before beaming at him. “You are an ordained assassin, you will help purge the dangerous obsolete from our society.”
It has been two weeks since the Shaw job, I haven’t taken any new contracts. Not because there aren’t any clients, there are always clients, but because the available jobs don’t meet my standards. My ordination requires me to take the jobs involving the execution of obsoletes, the necessary deaths. I’m free to choose the unnecessary deaths, which is why I’m quite picky. A long time ago I decided that if I was going to do this I wasn’t just going to kill for anyone who walked through the doors of my office. No, I have rules.
If you want me to kill someone you must prove that the person in question is guilty of a crime. My standard of proof is of course different than the one of the courts. Everybody knows that the scales of lady justice in this city are tilted towards the rich. Going through the courts is pointless, unless you have the cash to back up what you’re saying.
Secondly, I don’t kill children, I never have, and I never will, period. I know that some of my colleagues don’t think the same way, but my mind is set.
Lastly, I never take on a job which involves killing more than two targets. I’m in the assassination business, I don’t organize massacres. Again, more than a few colleagues disagree, but they would argue that collateral damage isn’t a big deal. When it comes down to it we might all be ordained assassins, but we are all very different.
Jesse knocks on the door and I give her permission to enter. “Something the matter?” I ask. “Not really, I just came to see if you needed anything.” She doesn’t come into the office often, it is not appropriate, or something. She gives my LP collection a curious glance, before darting over to see if I have anything new. I continue reading the paper. “Have you heard about the butcher of the south?” she asks. “The serial killer or the general?” I respond, looking up from my newspaper. “The general, I thought the serial killer got killed?” I shrug, it is not my job to hunt serial killers down. “What about him?”
Jesse is turned away from me, so I can’t see her face. “My brother serves beneath him, and apparently they are redeploying the butcher’s army in Armes.” She sounds worried, making me want to comfort her. “He will probably be alright, according to the paper the war will be over soon. Armes’ forces are depleted, and their allies aren’t showing up.” Jesse nods but when she responds she still sounds worried. “I know, but you know how things go. Officers make mistakes, generals give the wrong orders, it is the grunts who get screwed in the process.” She isn’t wrong, especially with ordained officers running around, fucking things up. “Send your brother a letter, ask how he is doing.”
She twitches. “What if I don’t get one back?” she asks. “Then you should probably add extra paper since he couldn’t get hold of some.” She nods and smiles. “I will, thanks.” For the first time she looks straight at me and I see the dark rings around her eyes. “It will probably turn out alright, the butcher will probably be doing mop up duty.” She nods again. “Yeah, he probably will.” I put the paper down and stand up. “You’re going somewhere?” It is my turn to nod. “I will take the cycle to the club, see if there is anything urgent they need me to take care of.”
“I will grab your jacket and helmet.” I rummage around in my desk, my thoughts still focused on the war. It has been a quick one, lasting a little over a year. The Armian army is outdated and has bad equipment. It is the sort of war the bureaucracy specializes in, fought on foreign land against an inferior enemy. The bureaucracy has great support for the war effort, both domestic and abroad. Victoria’s bureaucrats, of course, support any and every military action. The city is the main manufacturer of arms and ammunition in the country, so it is only logical.
I find my gloves and I leave the office, where Jesse is already waiting with my helmet and jacket. A few minutes later I take off on my motorcycle. Ever since I was a child I’ve wanted to own a Harley Davidson. There is just something about the chrome skeleton of the bike that pulls me in. They unfortunately have no equivalent here, so I got the next best thing, the Katsuen S-60. It isn’t the fastest bike on the market, or the sturdiest. You can’t travel across the country with it or ride off-road. But it looks amazing, and rides like a dream as well. I never take the Katsuen on jobs, out of fear that it will be damaged.
The drive to the club takes a while, but I enjoy it, so I don’t consider it wasted time. I give my bike to the valet waiting in front of the club. I’m confident he won’t do something to it, he knows what kind of people frequent this establishment. Still, as I walk up the steps to the enormous, ornamental building I track the valet’s movement. Eventually he disappears out of sight and I have to let the matter go. If I can’t trust the staff with my bike I shouldn’t have brought it here in the first place.
The club is as extravagant inside as it is outside. The biggest difference is that inside you’re confronted with the clientele. The Victorian elite are every bit as ostentatious as you would expect from a mixed group of aristocrats, factory owners and high government functionaries. The bureaucracy doesn’t pay its officials all that much, but people who are so close to the center of power always find a way to benefit.
The hallway I’m walking through is lined with alcoves in which all kinds of people are partaking in different kinds of vices. Sex, drugs, possibly illegal dealings with all kinds of shady people, all are common occurrences in the most exclusive club in Victoria, possibly Mercia. Not that I’ve seen much of the country I’ve been living in for the past fifteen years. Apart from a few business trips to the capital I’ve stuck to Victoria’s filthy streets.
I leave the main hallway, heading for the room where my colleagues usually hang out. Room is maybe the wrong word, it is more of a bar really. I open the door, immediately coming face to face with Moose. “Eli, you came!” She hugs me tightly, almost crushing my spine. “Moose, I’m dying.” I wheeze. “Oh right, sorry.” The woman says, grinning, clearly not sorry. She motions me over to one of the unoccupied tables. The other assassins present make no move to greet me. When Moose monopolizes someone you would be an idiot to butt in.
Moose stands over two meters tall, one massive block of muscle. She can crush a horse’s skull between her hands, fire a shotgun with one hand and lift a car with only a little effort. Betraying her appearance Moos is, there is no other word for it, bubbly. It is as if somebody took a little girl, who dreams of riding a unicorn and being a pretty princess, and put her in an indestructible machine of death and destruction. That is of course an overstatement, but you get the picture. In her own, scatterbrained way, Moose is very effective.
As we sit down the bartender comes over and hands Moose a pitcher of ale and me a cup of coffee. “Thanks Jim.” I say as Moose takes a big gulp. The bartender nods and walks away. “So, what do you have for me Moose?” She holds up her hand, motioning for me to wait, as she takes another gulp. “How did you know I have a job for you?” She then asks, a bit disappointed, as if I spoiled the surprise. “Because we always do this, every time I get in.” I say, raising my eyebrows. She becomes a little red, scratching her neck in embarrassment. “Sorry about that, I was just excited, that’s all.” I wave her apology away. “I don’t mind, it isn’t often I’m greeted with so much enthusiasm.”
She starts nodding furiously. “You know, before you came in I told Birdie the same thing. We should all act friendlier towards another, we aren’t getting it somewhere else. We are sort of like family after all. Somebody should be happy to see us, you know?” At the sound of her name I see Birdie look up from her round of cards. She sees me and waves, I wave back. Birdie and Moose are the two nicest people here and I get along with them well. The same however can’t be said for a number of my “family” members.
Moose shakes her head. “Alright, back to business, the job, it is straight up your alley. The contract is for Elizabeth Aksokov, an unnecessary death.” I wait for her to continue. “Aksokov has been flooding the lower districts with bad quality snuff. Her clients are dying, but she refuses to cut back on karach levels.” I take a sip from my coffee. “Killing off your clientele doesn’t sound profitable, why’s she doing it?” Moose shrugs. “Word is that she’s found a new market, something to do with the war, but those are just rumors.” Poisoning a bunch of junks is enough of a justification for me, her death won’t keep me up at night. “What’s the pay?” Moose beams at me. “I knew you would do it. Two big now and another five big upon completion.”
I nod, the price is reasonable, most contracts range between five and fifteen. “Who’s setting the contract?” Moose takes another big gulp, emptying the pitcher. “The Syndicate, they don’t want bad quality snuff circulating, it is destroying the franchise.” Moose stands up, dropping a few crowns on the table, the red notes land in a small puddle of ale. “I’ll introduce you to the contractor, he is in one of the conference rooms.”
I follow Moose out of the bar, back into the main hallway. It has gotten busier since I arrived, the party spilling from the alcoves into the hallway. Moose however, can clear a path through any crowd. People jump out of the way as the enormous woman strides through the hallway. Moose never wanted to be an assassin, she never liked the sneaking around in the shadows all by her lonesome. She always wanted to be soldier, like her brothers and parents. In the end she found a way to be both. Moose is the only assassin I know who works with a team. Sure, we all team up with each other from time to time, but at its core our profession is a lonely one. Not so for Moose, she has her own strike force, specializing in acquiring and eliminating targets behind enemy lines. Basically, she has her own black ops unit.
I can only imagine what it must be like to have an entire team backing you up, the security that comes with it. It does have its drawbacks, from a business point of view. Only large organizations like the Syndicate or the Mercian government can afford to hire Moose and her team. Her choice in contracts is severely limited by that. “You’ve been to the front lately?” I ask, casually. “I just got back, the fighting is winding down. Now that the butcher has been deployed I reckon that peace talks will start soon.” I nodded. “You’re going to the butcher’s regiment any time soon?”
Moose raises her eyebrows at me. “You’re interested in joining my team? I can always use another able hand.” I shake my head. “No, I’m perfectly happy in the city. A friend of mine has family serving, she’s worried about her brother.” Moose nods sagely. “We’re all worried about our serving family. If you give me his name, rank and serial number I can ask around when the team goes back in.” I thank her.
“So, with the war drawing to an end what kind of contracts do you have to look forward to?” Moose grimaces. “We’re probably going to deploy in the colonies again.” She sighs. “Months of sludging through swamps and jungles, getting crawled on by bugs, all the while being shot at by the natives.” I shudder, it sounds horrible. “But you never know, peace talks might fail, the war might drag on until we’ve conquered every square meter of Armes.” Her voice sounds hopeful.
“We’re here.” She announces happily, the swamps and jungles of the future already forgotten. She slams the door open, where a surprised man in a suit is waiting. “Ahh miss Clayton, I see you’ve found your friend.” Moose happily nods. “Mister East meet Eli de Winter, he’s the man you need for this job.” I offer my hand which mister East shakes. “My apologies for the fake name mister de Winter, but you can’t be too careful in my occupation. Cigarette?” I appreciatively take the cigarette, which is of a far better quality than my own brand. Moose refuses, she only drinks.
“Straight to business then?” East asks, while shoving a file towards me. I sometimes wonder how many different sets of files there are in Victoria. Take for instance my own files, those only contain a few people of interest, mostly my colleagues, and the necessary deaths I orchestrated, for tax purposes. The bureaucracy has a file on every registered person, yet it has another set used only by the intelligence agencies. Then there are large companies, the Syndicate and private concerns who all keep their own files. With all these circulating files it isn’t surprising that Mercia is known as the bureaucracy.
I open the file on Elizabeth Aksokov and am surprised by its detail. They have done nearly all the prep work. Staked out Aksokov’s holdings, all of them. Connected her to several residences on both the lowest level as well as in the factory district. I frown, I know one of the buildings on the list. It is Shaw’s apartment building. I narrow my eyes and glance suspiciously at mister East. “Something wrong?” He asks nonchalantly. “just one thing, why is it that both Aksokov and I are connected to this building.” I point at it on the list. East gives it a once over and then shrugs. “Coincidence? Frankly I don’t know. We weren’t aware that the hit carried out there recently was you.”
I take back the file and notice something. “You don’t have an address for me, or a place of business?” East shakes his head. “We couldn’t pin down her exact location, she moves around a lot, making it hard to track her.” I sigh, finding her is going to be a chore, creating a window to take a shot even more so. “No reason to look so annoyed mister de Winter. We might not know where she is, but we know where she is going to be two nights from now.” East gives me a smug smile before handing me the ashtray, pointedly looking at the small heap that has piled on the table.
“Point of fact it is one of the reasons we want to hire you, instead of Moose. We need a long-range specialist, and Moose told us you are the best candidate.” One of the reasons. It makes me wonder what those other reasons may be. East shoves a second file to me, a much thinner one. “We have scouted the area and marked several spots from which you might be able to take the shot. The target will be moving throughout this warehouse. The Syndicate also wishes for a clean hit, we only want the target dead, no collateral.” I look at the map, it isn’t detailed enough to make a decision, I will have to go look myself.
“When you go over the second file you will find some instructions as to how things are to play out.” I quickly skip to that part, arching my eyebrows as I read the extra instructions. “What do you think mister de Winter, can you do it?” I look up from the files and nod. “Consider it done.” Mister East smiles broadly. “Excellent, how would you receive your payment, cash or account?” I put out the cigarette. “Account, both now and after.” East smiles, offers his hand, which I shake and we part ways.
“Very professional, aren’t they?” Moose asks. “Very professional indeed, I get why you work with them.” Moose puts her arms behind her head. “If you don’t fuck this up they might send more work your way.” Somehow, I doubt that, but I don’t tell Moose that. “They might, yeah.” I start walking towards the exit. “You’re not staying for another drink, play a hand of cards with Birdie?” Moose sounds hopeful. “Come on, it’s been so long, and I will be shipping out again soon.” She pushes as she sees me contemplating the idea. “Sure, why not, it isn’t as if I had other plans.” I give in. Moose lets out a very girly weeh, which I take at face value.
“El, are you sure about this?” Thomas asks, carefully as to not upset her. El gets upset easily these days, the years have been hard on her. “It should all be alright Thom, one more deal and we’re done.” El sounds tired and there are dark circles around her eyes. “Remember dad Thom? He would have been proud of what we’re going to accomplish. I promised him Thom, do you remember that I promised it to him?”
Thomas nods, he remembers. “But why are we killing the clients?” He doesn’t understand. He often doesn’t, it is one of the problems he can’t get around. Things were going well, they were making a lot of money, El got to run her side projects and he got to fight. Killing the clients would end all that. “Dad would have liked the money, that’s all I’m saying.” He says defensively as El glares.
“Just one more deal and then it is all over.” El sighs. Yesterday she sold her side project to some men with green scarfs, maybe that’s why they’re selling the last snuff. Thomas signals to one of the men sitting on the roof of a truck, a rifle over his legs. Fighting, guns, men and trucks, those are things Thomas understands. He’s a bruiser in the truest sense of the word. A car, followed by two trucks drive into the warehouse.
Thomas signals his men to stand ready, besides him El straightens. “Dad would have laughed so hard if he knew what was going to happen.” Thomas doesn’t have the foggiest what she is talking about. Dad wouldn’t have laughed about a shipment of raw, uncut snuff.
A man steps out of the car, he wears a nice suit, Thomas wishes he had such a suit. “Are you the representative of the Syndicate?” El asks. “Yes, I am, my name is East.” El snorts in the way she does when she thinks somebody is full of shit. “Do you have my money mister East?” East a man of action waves towards the car. Two men exit, each carrying a briefcase. They present it to him and he opens them, revealing the red notes within. “Two hundred thousand, as we agreed on. Can I see the product?”
El leads the man around the truck, he will probably want to taste for impurities. Thomas patiently waits for them to return, signaling the men to hold steady. He is supposed to look intimidating, like an aggressive dog. He always wanted one of those dangerous dogs, but El wouldn’t let him have one. There are a lot of things El keeps him from doing, which annoys him. El however is smarter and older, so she probably knows best.
Mister East and El come from behind the truck. El looks tired but satisfied, mister East looks happy. “We have a deal then?” Thomas asks. “We do, you may take the money.” Mister East says, and Thomas complies. With the money in his possession he gives the men the sign to hand over the truck. Before the Syndicate’s members can take it however the deal is interrupted by a gunshot.
The warehouse erupted into chaos as El collapsed. Everybody was shouting, but Thomas had only eyes for his sister. El had a surprised expression on her face and a large hole in her forehead. One of his men came running, waving his pistol around, shouting. Thomas just handed him the two briefcases. “Bring them to the car, I will be with you soon.” He waved the man away and ignored the truck with product that drove past him. A second later he was holding his sister.
She was very light in his hands, so very light. With shaking hands he closes her eyes and lifts her up. “Dad would have been proud.” He whispers at her as he carries her to the waiting car. He holds her still as he sits down in the back seat. He doesn’t know exactly what dad would have been proud of, but El has been working so hard to achieve it. Forgetting to eat and to sleep, working with powders and numbers day and night.
It is halfway through the trip back home that Thomas realizes something. He is the head of the family now. He will have to make the decisions from now on. Unlike El he doesn’t want to get out of the snuff business. All the people are in the right place, they have a nice thing going, why not continue? as the shock of his sister’s death slowly fades the new head of the Aksokov family starts planning. El’s thinking was too small. Just snuff and a few apartment buildings aren’t going to cut it, it is time the family branched out. “You will see sister, I will make you proud.” He whispers.
There is a telephone ringing in an ornate wooden office in arguably the most beautiful apartment building in Victoria. Of course, it is just an apartment building, not one of the stately mansion, so the people living within are only of relative importance. A few higher placed bureaucrats, some wealthy single traders, a few wealthy shareholders, a couple of lobbyists and a number of gangsters.
A phone is ringing and if somebody doesn’t pick up they will soon have to deal with an angry assassin in person. Thankfully someone does pick up. “I take it I’m speaking with mister de Winter?” Mister East’s cultured voice says. “Why the hell where you there? What kind of idiot creates a crime scene where they were present themselves?” An angry voice responds, skipping common courtesies.
“Now, now, now, mister de Winter, how impolite. The small issue of my presence matters very little. You performed the service you were hired to do, and if you are a professional as you claim to be none of this should trace back to you.” Mister East doesn’t sound even remotely worried. “You will receive payment per account as you requested for a job well done. Isn’t that all that matters?” He is of course right. After all, mister East makes it his business to be in the right.
“Can you tell me why you ordered me to take out one of your business partners?” Mister de Winter knows that the question is unprofessional, but maybe the situation has rattled him, he’s rather paranoid. “There is no harm in telling you, I suppose. The Aksokovs were planning on pulling out of the snuff business, at least Elizabeth was. We are confident that with her removal the family will keep operating, cornering a market that we like to see cornered. It’s all just business, the Syndicate consists out of ordained merchants after all.”
Mister de Winter remains silent on the other line. “Was that all mister de Winter?” East asks a bit tired of the day’s events. “Yes, my apologies for inquiring. This call should conclude our business.” It seems mister de Winter has recovered his professionalism, good for him. “Indeed, it should. Good night mister de Winter.”