“Kneel and look at the floor.”
In the shadows of the apartment behind her the voice was only a whisper. The barest of audible sounds. Yet there was . . . harsh malevolence. The ring of unforgiving cold steel. The certainty of death.
In the darkness of the semi-barren apartment the trembling young girl, clutching her one year old baby sobbed, tears running freely down her cheeks. Tenderly . . . lovingly . . . she kissed her daughter’s forehead before kneeling and bending her head down slightly. A black silhouette, narrow and compact, seemed to materialize out of the inky black of a deserted closet. In his right hand was the ugly mass of a Russian made 9 mm ‘Strizh’ semi-automatic with the long ugly snout of a silencer attached to the end of the barrel. Moving toward the kneeling woman the black form came to a halt just behind her and her child. For a moment or two he didn’t move. Stood motionless. Almost seemed to dissipate into the darkness of the apartment itself.
The woman sobbed.
The baby cried. A dry, sucking cry of a sick baby. The baby had been sick for a week. And hungry. The girl hadn’t been able to buy food for either of them for days. He knew. He had watched her for days. Followed her every move since accepting the contract. Knew her friends. Knew her favorite hang outs. Knew the places where she applied for a job.
Knew her for what she was . . .
The gun held lose and naturally, like nothing more than an extension of his arm, froze in mid motion as it aimed at its intended target. One second ticked by. And then two. And then . . Phfffft! . . . Phffff!
Blood seeping underneath the space of a closed door and across the scared, nicked rough wooden floor of the cheap apartment. The bodies contorted and twisted in a wild assortment of splayed arms and legs. Like two discarded rag dolls no one wanted anymore. Another set of kills. Two more notches on his resume of successful hits. Another job well done.
His employer might even be pleased . . .
“Smitty, she’s the one selling the info. There’s no one else.”
The two of them stood against the wall of a large bank and watched a young woman with long flowing brown hair walk around a corner of a building and come to a halt beside a bus stop bench. She was maybe twenty five. Petite. Dressed in a simple but fashionable dress. With long, slender legs. In one hand was small briefcase. Old and battered.
“How do you know?” came the reply.
The voice was a low whisper. A rumbling escape of breath barely into the range of audible hearing. Coming from a man compact in build dressed in pair of tailored slacks, a dark mocha colored shirt and matching sport coat.
“She’s the only one who had access to his files. When she worked for him it was her job to retrieve the files every morning and lay them out on his desk for him to examine first thing in the morning. She was the only one allowed to touch them. Only Freddy and her.”
The other man was a balding, slightly overweight man wearing a brown suit badly wrinkled and in need of a cleaning. He stood half facing the dark eyed man beside him, holding a styrofoam cup full of seeped coffee in one hand. He had bags under his red rimmed eyes. His shoulders sagged. He looked like a traveling salesman who had been driving twenty straight hours to get back home.
But this wasn’t home.
This was a job. A messy job that had to be done that would give his bosses a wide margin of plausible deniability. The kind of job only a hit man like Smitty could do.
“Freddy’s dead. A friend of mine. And a damn good research analysis maven. Blown into a thousand little pieces of shushi last month. Someone planted a bomb underneath the driver’s seat of his car. The bomb was big enough to wreck half the underground parking lot in the office building he worked in. Wasn’t enough of him left to fill this coffee cup. Poor bastard.”
Smitty watched the woman standing behind the crowded bench waiting for the next bus. She had a upturned little nose filled with freckles. And a quick smile of friendliness whenever one of the waiting standing or sitting beside her glanced at her. No wedding band on her finger. No jewelry at all to disturb the her natural beauty.
“What were so important about the files?”
“Uh . . . well . . . that’s on a Need To Know basis, Smitty.” the bald headed man said after clearing his thought and glancing worried at the dark eyed man beside him. “Let’s just say it was about money. Lots of money. And who received it.”
“You think she stole the files and is now selling them to the highest bidder?”
“That’s the only possible conclusion. Associates who . . . received . . . their funds are turning up dead. And movement of a few foreign agents we’ve been keeping tabs on have spiked lately. Coming and going from here. Has to be her.”
The dark abyss for eyes narrowed thoughtfully as he watched her wait for the long line of commuters to board the bus in front of her. It had to be her. Unless . . .
“Same arrangements for payment? No questions asked?”
“Just get the job done, Smitty. Clean and fast. The money will be in your account an hour after we’ve confirmed the hit.”
Smitty didn’t say a word as he turned and disappeared into a mass of exiting bank employees hurrying off for their thirty minute lunch break. In the blink of an eye. Gone. As if he had never been there.
Grinning limpidly, the bald headed man shook his head in amazement and dumped the cup of coffee into the street and tossed the styrofoam cup into the gutter as he turned and walked away. The bastard was a ghost. A fracken ghost that could scare the hell outta you. And did. Often.
It didn’t take long for Smitty. Just three days. Watching her almost twenty-four seven. Where she went. Where she ate. Where she lived. All the places she went to apply for a job. Not long at all to find out she had been without a job the moment her boss had been blown to bits. Not long to find out she was a single mother. A mother of a baby girl who needed medical help. A mother desperately trying to find a job that would offer insurance.
A young woman who was being followed by others as well.
On the second day as she left from the office of a group of attorneys in need of a legal research specialist he saw him. A big man with black curly hair. Badly in need of a shave. Dressed in something straight off the racks of a Wal-Mart. But a man who had that certain look to him. The way he moved. The way his eyes kept playing across every street and alley he passed as he trailed her. The way his jaw was clinched. That look.
The look of a killer.
He changed his target from the girl to the killer. Twelve hours later he had his answers. All it took was to tap the unsuspecting killer on the head with a crowbar, strap him into a wooden chair with one hand tied a savagely down on an armrest, a dull knife, and a bottle of hydrochloric acid.
It was astonishing how people talked when a little acid was properly applied to an open wound. Just astonishing.
In the apartment of the girl. Waiting. Waiting in the darkness with the big 9 mm Russian semi-auto in his hand. Waiting to hear the girl climbing the two flights of stairs leading up to the apartment, holding the baby in her arms tenderly and speaking nonsense talk only a loving mother can to her only child. Not knowing this was the night she and her daughter was supposed to die.
When he heard her insert her apartment key into the door he moved quietly to the darkness of an open closet directly across the door and waited. Black on black, he watched her, holding the baby with one arm close to her, move into the apartment and turn to close the door behind her. The moment her back was turned to him he came out of the closet.
“Kneel and look at the floor,” came the sound of a terror of whisper behind her. “This is for a fried of yours.”
Sobbing . . . terrified . . . clutching her baby . . . she complied. Behind her she felt the cold steel of a gun slide up and touch the back of her head. And then move away just as, in front of her, the heavy treads of two sets of feet slowly climbing the stairs came to her. The sounds of two men in the hall moving to her apartment door came distinctly to her ears. And then . . CRASH! The door to her apartment flew open with a loud thump as one of the men used a big foot to kick in the door.
Phfffft! . . . . Phfffft!
Two soft whispers of death. Two men thudding into the hall way. Blood seeping into across the door sill and into her apartment. And she, kneeling and clutching her baby, shaking violently from terror unable to scream.
“Keep your head down. Don’t move,” came the harsh whisper behind her. A black shadow materialized from out of the darkness to the side of her. It moved around her and came to a halt in the doorway of the apartment. Shaking violently she stared at the floor. But she saw the black form toss a gigantic gun onto the floor beside one of the bodies and then turn toward her.
“We’re leaving. It’s no longer safe for you here. Grab the baby’s bag and let’s go.”
She moved. Coming to her feet she complied without uttering a sound. But as she bent down beside the door to grab the pink canvas bag that contained the baby’s belonging she glanced at the bodies lying in the hallway. And yelped in surprise.
Two hours later the tired bureaucrat with the red eyes and baggy suit sat in a cafeteria with a cell phone pressed to his ear. On his face was both surprise and irritation. And relief.
“How the hell did you know? How? How!”
“You gave me the first inkling,” the hiss of a voice coming out of the phone. Soft and menacing. “Only two people had access to the file. The girl and . . .”
“Freddy!! It was Freddy selling the info! He faked his own death! And was using her as the fall guy. But still, how . . . ?”
“Oh, I can be persuasive when I have to be. Now tell me. What are you going to do with her?”
“Don’t worry about that,” the bald headed man sighed, suddenly grinning. “So happens I’m needing a personal assistant in my office back in D.C. She’s perfectly qualified for the job. She and the baby are on a flight as we speak. I’ve made arrangements for her to be picked up and taken to a small apartment that has a lease in her name. She starts Monday.”
“And my fee?”
“In your account as we speak,” the bureaucrat answered, his grin widening. “And might I add the boss is very pleased with the results. Apparently our friends in a certain country are going crazy trying to figure out who put the hit on their best source of information. Leaving that Strizh with the fingerprints of one of their field agents on it was a stroke of genius! How did you do that?”
“Like I said. I can be persuasive.”
B.R. Stateham is old enough to know better, but still writes dark noir just to be obstinate. You can find two anthologies of Smitty stories on Amazon if you’re interested in getting to know this dark eyed killer. Or not . . . but don’t deny you weren’t warned.