Our Duty
L.M. Alder


And I heard a voice from heaven, saying, “Write, ‘Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord from now on!’” “Yes,” says the Spirit, “so that they may rest from their labors, for their deeds follow with them.” – Revelation 14:13

***

“This is Wolf,” said my boss. “He’ll be the shooter tonight.”

Behind endless hair sat a sunken, gaunt face connected to a pale, emaciated body. Wearing nothing but cut-off jeans, shirtless and shoeless, his long, gnarled toenails looked fungal. A rifle was slung across his back.

“Joe’s got the door, and you’ve got the watch. You’ll all get your normal fee.”

No one ever questioned Jimmy, so we hit the road, Wolf in the backseat, Joe driving, me in the passenger’s seat. I’d worked with Joe before. He could open any locked door like he was popping the top off a beer bottle, except so quietly the target wouldn’t even put down his magazine or turn off the TV.

Wolf, cross-legged in the back, hadn’t said a word.

“Ever work with him before?”

“Plenty of times,” Joe said. “He’s a damn good shot.”

“What’s his deal?”

“Dishonorably discharged – friendly fire. After a few times it doesn’t seem so friendly anymore. Tried to nail him, but nothing stuck. Works for free.”

“What kind of a jackass does this shit for free?”

Wolf perked up. “I don’t need the money.”

“Yeah, sure, that’s fine. But why risk your ass for nothin’?”

“Jimmy helps me with my work.”

“And what work is that?”

“Killing.”

Joe stepped in. “Leave him be.” He handed me a slip of paper.

Target: Donald A. Samson, 43, self-employed. White male, approximately 6 feet, 200 pounds. Gambling addict. One ex-wife, one kid, estranged. Lives alone. 436 Rosedale Drive.

We left the car running outside, lights off. Joe worked his magic and Wolf and I pulled out our guns. Donald was one of the smart ones. When we walked in, guns drawn, he knew. He didn’t even try to move, but he wouldn’t have gotten far anyway. He seemed ready, almost bored. Wolf shot him twice in the heart and once between the eyes before his pupils had even finished dilating, then rushed over and caught him still slumping, easing him down like it wasn’t murder, but assisted suicide.

“Give him a minute or two,” said Joe.

“What-the-fuck for?” Sticking around is not part of a hit man’s job.

“He’s got rituals.”

“Bullshit!” I shouted. “Does this look like a game? We’ve –“

“Just let him do his thing. The more we talk the longer it’ll take.” Joe handed me a cigarette. “Calm down.”

“Fuck you,” I said, lighting the smoke. Joe looked bored. “You’ll understand soon enough.”

I doubted it. Smoke plumed around my eyes while I watched Wolf. He was kneeling by Donald’s sofa. It looked like he was praying, but I couldn’t hear what he was saying – just that it was musical and repetitive, and that I had heard it before. He laid Donald out perfectly straight on the sofa, took off his socks and shoes, and tossed them aside. I’d never stuck around long enough to really get a good look at a guy I’d killed before.

“Yo, Wolf, can we wrap this up?”

“I’m almost finished,” he said. His voice was soft, almost sweet. He pulled two gold coins out of his back pocket, and put one over each of Donald’s eyes. Wolf bowed his head, again as if in prayer.

“Okay, time to go boys.”

Joe was a bit gentler. “Let’s go, Wolf.”

Wolf didn’t say a word as he walked back to the car. We followed, I was eager to hit the road. I watched as Wolf’s chest filled up with air and emptied again and again, always with the same rhythm. He was perfectly calm, like no one I had ever met before.

“Hey Wolf. Why do you do it?”

“Kill?”

“Yeah. I can see doing it to get by, or to make a quick buck, but I see those guys on TV who take a few people out for no reason, and what for?”

“I can’t speak for anyone else.”

“So speak for yourself.”

He stared at me. His eyes were like knives, silver-gray and incisive.

“It is my duty. Our duty.”

I laughed. “Man, you really are sick. Where did they find you?”

“I found Jimmy.”

“What’s with the rituals?”

“Just leave him be,” said Joe, a bit uneasily. “It’s simple. He does his work, and we leave him be.”

The ride was quiet as we wound around the empty interstate. I couldn’t stop looking at Wolf. He seemed so familiar, but I felt like I had never met him before. The more I looked, stealing glances in the rearview mirror, the harder it was to look away. It looked like he was floating, the sun just behind him, making him shine, and the light got brighter until I couldn’t see a thing, and then there were two suns, one over each of his shoulders, and it looked like they were coming straight for me. Just when I was almost blinded I heard a snap, and felt, for an instant, an unbearable pain. I knew where it was I had seen him before.

Gripped by the plague and gasping, I had seen him in London. Surrounded by family, I had seen him in Calcutta. In America – still just a child, covered in rashes, attended to gently by mother. In a forest, lying panicked on the ground. He had gazed at me, calculating, when I was just a boy. I had seen him in the morning, afternoon, and night. I had seen him during childbirth. He had flown with countless bullets and sliced through air and flesh with swords and spears. He was a back-room whisper and a gilded finger pointing. He was the echo of an echo.

I reached up and felt at my eyes expectantly and pulled away two gold coins. I saw Donald sitting next to Wolf in the backseat; they were talking like old friends, and I wondered why it had taken me so long to remember, and whether this time would be the last.



L.M. Alder’s work has appeared or is forthcoming in theNewerYork, Mobius, Asimov’s, Ghost Town, decomP and elsewhere.