New Short – Night Work (and an appeal)

Hello! I have a ko-fi page – Buy Me a Coffee at ko-fi.com – and I’ve decided for every donation, you may request I do a flash fiction for you. Just send me one sentence, or name a couple of items, and I’ll write a flash fic for you!

This opening one is for Gillian, and I admit, it went a bit beyond flash length. But only because I kind of ran with the idea. Thanks, Gillian!

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Night Work

The library closed at nine on Thursdays. And that was when Julian’s second job began.

He made sure to always be working the last Thursday shift, which wasn’t hard. He and his contact had worked out a rotating system. His orders would be in the last book on the fourth shelf in whatever aisle corresponded with the week of the month. For instance, today was the second week of the month, so it was in the last book of the fourth shelf in aisle two, which was science fiction. Today, that book turned out to be a copy of Ray Bradbury’s The Illustrated Man. A good one, if he recalled it properly. Bradbury was one of his childhood favorites. Him and Jack London, which he had to admit was an odd combination.

It was placed more or less in the center, a plain piece of folded up notebook paper, with what looked like nonsense, but was in fact a coded message. It was a simple substitution cypher, and to decode it, you had to know the base word of the code, which was cygnet. Julian put the piece of paper in his pocket, and when he was done for the night, he sat in his car, and decoded it.

He knew he lived a very charmed life. His cover was impeccable. Who would ever suspect the nerdy male librarian, who wore glasses and had a rotating group of pop culture lanyards – today was Rick and Morty lanyard day – also moonlighted as an assassin? He knew six different ways to kill someone with a book. He wore baggy shirts and coats, hiding his physique. He was happy for people to think he was lumpy and out of shape, and never know that he had a private gym in the basement of the quaint little house he’d inherited from a nonexistent grandmother. He was a gay man who lived alone, and had a small garden that took the place of the former lawn, as it was more ecologically friendly. He was, by all appearances, the textbook definition of harmless. Which made his night work that much more satisfying.

Once he decoded the message, he was afraid he’d made a mistake, and went over it again. But he had made no mistake. Julian didn’t make errors like that. The message, in total, was typical from his contact, in that it was bare bones, and right to the point: seven five crawford street finn mcleod.

Finn McLeod? As in author Finn McLeod? He loved his stuff. He constantly recommended his books to anyone he thought might appreciate it. Okay, yeah, dark speculative fiction wasn’t everyone’s cup of tea, and you add gay to that list, and shit narrowed even more. But he was really good, and who in the fuck wanted him killed?

As a rule, Julian didn’t ask questions. That was baked into this whole thing – you got a name, an address, and five days to do the job. If the target was still alive on day six, there was a good chance you wouldn’t be. After a job was done, he got a wire transfer into a secret bank account he had under the name Simon Yeo. Amounts varied, depending on several factors, but he’d never received less than twenty thousand. Your price also went up depending on how good you were, and Julian prided himself on being very good indeed.

But what the hell was this? Who wanted a little known gay writer dead?

It bothered Julian a little that he had never cared about any of his other hits. But they all seemed to be men hiding secrets both disgusting and deadly. What was Finn hiding?

He had an address. Time to find out.

In the back of his car he had a gym bag full of his night work clothes. Everything black, including a ski mask he wore as a cap until the very last moment, because nothing screamed conspicuous like wearing a ski mask where there weren’t supposed to be any. He also had a gun with a silencer which, despite popular fiction, did not make the gun soundless. It simply deadened the noise, to the point where a bystander might honestly believed a balloon popped in another room, or perhaps someone outside set off some kind of low tier firecracker. It basically helped people who wanted to deny they heard something deny the shit out of it. People liked denial a whole bunch. It meant they never had to be responsible for anything.

Finn lived in a modest house in a suburban cul-de-sac, a house that looked very much like its neighbors. In the dark, they were anonymous cracker boxes, with all the personality of a cardboard cut out. He had his surname on his mailbox, though, which helped.

There were lights on, and a flicker of a screen through the curtains, so he was awake and home. Julian decided to go to the front door and knock. Why not?

After most of a minute had elapsed, he heard locks being released, and the door opened a crack. Through it, he could see one brown eye. “What is it?”

“Did you call a Lyft?” Julian asked. He was counting on him being caught off guard, and assuming this was a mistake. That usually made people more irritated and less concerned for their own safety.

“What?”

“I got a call for a Lyft at this address.”

He shook his head and opened the door wider. “No, you couldn’t have. I didn’t call for one.”

Julian pushed the door wide open with one hand, and with the other gave Finn a push to the chest. He stumbled backwards, and Julian was inside and had kicked the door shut before Finn had recovered. “Look, I don’t do this, but I’m a hired killer, and I’m a fan of your books. So I have to ask, who would hire me to kill you?”

Finn looked shocked and outraged, as anyone would. He was also dressed in sweatpants and a t-shirt with obvious food stains on them, so he wasn’t exactly prepared for company. “What the fuck ..? Is this some crazy fan scenario?”

Julian pulled out the gun, which usually quieted people. “No. I am a fan, but honestly, I’ve been hired to kill you.”

Finn scoffed, but it was weak, as he was trying – and failing – to cover up his fear. “Who in the hell would hire you to kill me? I mean, my editor, maybe …”

“You really can’t think of anyone?” Julian asked, genuinely curious. “Have you been up to some not so kosher things?”

Finn scowled at him. Julian noticed his hair was kind of messy, as if he hadn’t bothered to comb it. “What’s that supposed to mean?”

“Well, the last guy I killed was a dentist, who turned out to have a secret second life trading child porn on the internet.”

Finn made a noise of disgust. “Eww, gross. No, I’m not a child molester, or any sort of pervert. I’m desperately uninteresting. I just write, and procrastinate, and occasionally do a little I.T. work on the side to pay the bills.”

Julian had glanced around, but nothing was jumping out at him. Nothing screamed “I am a secret serial killer” or something. “I’m not cheap. Somebody really has a grudge against you, and they have money and/or resources. You really can’t think of anyone?”

Finn gave him a look best described as pissy, which Julian found personally amazing. He was the killer with the gun. Was this guy really giving him ‘tude in spite of that? He was kind of admiring his balls. His theoretical ones. His sweatpants gave away nothing. “No! Do you think I’d be here …” he trailed off, looking at a nothing point over his shoulder, and just from the frown on his face, Julian guessed he’d found a suspect. “Oh, fuck me. David.”

“David?”

“Heinz. A really clingy, jealous, assholish ex of mine. I mean, he’s threatened to kill me before, but I moved eight states away from him and left no forwarding address, so I figured I was safe enough. And that he wasn’t really serious.”

“Well, if it’s him, he’s fucking serious.”

“Son of a bitch,” Finn said, collapsing on his own sofa. “That fucking asshole.”

This was a real bummer. Sure, he was a hired killer, and as such didn’t have much in the way of a conscience, but still, he didn’t want to be used as an instrument of domestic violence against someone. Did he know for sure he hadn’t been used as such in the past? Sadly, he didn’t. But now that he knew he could be, it left a bad taste in his mouth.

Julian put his gun back in his hidden holster, and Finn looked at him dumbfounded. “Aren’t you going to kill me?”

“Do you know where David lives?”

“I think so. Why?”

“Wanna pay him a visit?” At Finn’s raised eyebrows, Julian said, “I really liked your last book.”

It was a flimsy reason for not killing someone. But sometimes, all you needed was a small nudge to change your life.

And they had five days before anyone realized he had gone rogue. Might as well make the best of it.

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