The dawn has brought clouds. When the fresh sun breaks them, the reflective letters on the side of the helicopter flash like a titty-bar marquee: the flaming sword of retribution and justice. Alone in the cockpit, the assassin sings the sexy part of “Ride of the Valkyries,” backed by a symphony of engine noise. The origin of this flight is as much a mystery as the assassin’s name, which is in turn as much a mystery as the language of the runes. But the destination is very close now.
At 7:45 a.m., The Flaming Sword of Retribution and Justice lands in the middle of a residential street, nearly on top of a group of school-bound children. The children scatter like spilt M&M’s. The violent crosswind of the landing helicopter blows the crossing guard’s hat into a tree, and her unsuccessful attempts to retrieve it remind her that she is alone.
The assassin checks the file. “The mark’s home is a traditional A-frame. One step above a starter home, any compliments it inspires will likely be insincere.” This is the place. He grabs his gear bag, removes the axe, stops. The blades of the helicopter make their final revolutions. Standing on the lawn, watching the sun dance on the blade of the axe, the assassin blows to bits any doubt that a sociopath can be quixotic. Bloodlust and sense of duty eventually break his reverie, and he goes to work on the power line.
An hour later, the line falls like a flaming sword of retribution and justice, crashing into a neighboring house and splitting it into two equal parts. This might be serendipitous, though, since the married occupants of the house were one more produce-section fistfight away (“Red Delicious!” “Golden Delicious!” “You’ve been a whore all your life!” “At least I got something people want!”) from dividing up the house anyway, like Lucy did when she found that roll of masking tape.
The more important consequence is the blackout of electric, phone, and cable television service for an area of three square miles. The stage is set, and a metaphorical curtain rises on a playlet of killing. The assassin tries the front door. It’s unlocked, but the murderer’s heart says “no.” Always one to trust irrational hunches, he opts for a different entry point.
He pulls out three AK-47s and opens fire on the side of the house. Eleven minutes and thirteen magazine changes later, an assassin-shaped chunk of wall falls into the house, crashing through an aquarium full of cheap, dirty fish. Three hours from now, a burned beta will be found under the sofa, and bagged as evidence in a case that will never be solved. The assassin contorts himself into the position dictated by his bullet-forged outline, sort of an airborne spread-eagle, and dives into the house, tucking into a neat roll and emerging in a neater crouch. The assassin is still singing “Ride of the Valkyries” softly to himself as he sweeps the living room with his two Uzis named Will and Jada Pinkett.
“Bum Bum Ba Ba Bum Bum.”
The time is 9:03 a.m. He lowers the night-vision goggles and commences a sweep of the living room, kitchen, and nook. Convinced his mark is not cowering in the pantry or concealed beneath a sofa cushion, he tiptoes toward the hallway.
The next few events happen quickly. The mark stumbles into the hallway from an adjoining bedroom, slamming the door back against the wall. He’s drunk and dirty and looks like the type of man who ogles cupcakes through the window of the Erotic Bakery. He’s wearing a T-shirt with the words, this is the t-shirt I want to die in printed on it. From the bedroom behind him, the willowy chords of guitar god Carlos Santana’s collaboration with pomade god Rob Thomas stream into the hallway.
You got the kind of lovin’ that could be so smooth, yeah.
“Who let you in here?”
Give me your heart,
“BUM BUM BA BA BUM BUM!”
Two shots in each knee and shoulder.
make it real,
The mark falls to the carpet.
or just forget about it.
The hallway fills with smoke, and the assassin trades his night-vision goggles for thermal goggles and a gas mask. To a normal man, on a regular day, the sight of a grown man collapsed on the carpet, crying and bleeding and making a fool of himself, would be pitiful and sad. But today, viewed through the heartless lenses of murder-for-hire and thermal goggles, he’s just a twitching red blob wearing a T-shirt made of poetic justice.
The assassin, whose movements have been described as “like a wisp of smoke,” moves thusly through the smoke, removing a garrote from the fifth pocket of his flat-front assassin pants. The garrote is custom-made with a catgut string from the racket Pete Sampras used to lose an Australian Open.
It’s short work. Blood loss, shock, and crying-induced dehydration keep the struggle brief. The assassin leaves the body and opens some windows to let the smoke out. He pulls the mark’s sofa to the entrance of the hallway, forming a barrier between the two sections of the house. Using the sofa as a shield, he sits on the living room floor and tosses grenade after grenade towards the dead body at the end of the hall. The explosions that follow reduce the mark’s body to dust, and render the back half of the house unlivable until renovations can be made.
The assassin pushes the couch back into the living room, guiding it into place using the indentations in the carpet.
From his vast mental files, the assassin calls forward his favorite stroganoff recipe. Noodles, paprika, chicken apple sausage. Oven set to 400˚. The assassin’s hands move with the preternatural skill of a chef who is also an assassin. Before placing the dish in the oven he executes another masterful improvisation, spreading the mark’s still-smoking remains evenly over the top.
Back in the living room, he locks the front door. The assassin exits his mark’s home via jetpack, leaving a differently angled outline in the ceiling. “Bum Bum Ba Ba Bum Bum.” From the air he surveys the scene: the lyrically-named helicopter at rest in the street, a tattered crossing-guard hat caught in a tree, the felled power line and bisected house, a front lawn littered with spent weapons and shell casings, the fish on the flooded carpet nearly ready to give up their struggle, the two silhouettes that served faithfully as his improvised entry and exit, his mark’s burnt shoes standing like little memorials among the twisted rubble of the A-frame’s rear half, and the noodle dish in the oven which will soon burn it all. He is the same as a teacher’s pet admiring a freshly finished diorama.
A specific memory always comes to the assassin at this point in his missions: It’s a childhood trip to Yellowstone National Park, a guided bird-watching excursion. While his group admires one of nature’s most graceful creations, the trumpeter swan (Cygnus buccinator), the prepubescent assassin-to-be spots an eagle flying tight circles over the dawn-tinged marsh. He does not blink as the eagle drops from the sky to attack an oblivious muskrat. Eagle vs. muskrat. Talons vs. claws. Gleaming beak vs. formidable rodent incisors. The mêlée lasts fifteen minutes, and leaves behind only strewn feathers, far-flung rodent pieces, and a first taste of lust for a formerly confused young boy.
Twenty-five years later, a content assassin presses a button on his jetpack and rockets into the bright midmorning sky, the scent of stroganoff rich in his nose.