I looked at the guy sitting across from me and gave a mental-headshake. The guy had spiked, jet-black hair and was slouched in the booth, his long black duster open, revealing a black Punisher t-shirt. Expensive sunglasses hid his eyes, which only served to make him look even more conspicuous in the already dimly lit bar. Obvious, much?
In short, he looked like a reject from every crappy action movie ever made. His voice was a very ragged and very practiced whisper, “Sit down.”
I wondered how long I could bear to keep from rolling my eyes at him. This was supposed to be the man known only as Mr. Hunter? Part assassin-part monster?
I said, “They say Mr. Hunter has quite a reputation.”
He smiled thinly, “They say a lot of things.”
I settled back into the hard cushion of the booth, brushing my hand through my short, sand-colored hair. A look around the bar revealed we were among the very few patrons at this hour, the afternoon sun shone right in through the front window leaving everyone dazzled. Well everyone except for Mr. ‘Too Cool For School’ in the booth with me. A crowd would have been better though, less chance of being remembered, less chance of being noticed.
“They say Mr. Hunter can do the impossible.” I pressed on.
“Nothing…” He shifted position, moving slowly like a recently fed housecat, “…is impossible.”
That was it, time to cut to the chase, “I’m having a problem with someone.”
“Aren’t we all?” The smile faded. “Lover? Business associate?”
“A thief.” I sipped my iced water. Cold. Perfect.
“Shouldn’t you go to the local law enforcement then?”
“I prefer this matter to be handled...discreetly.”
He gave a self-satisfied nod and gestured for me to continue.
I explained, “Someone has stolen my identity.”
Another nod. We were so in sync.
“I don’t mean credit cards, bank accounts or your normal identity theft.” I felt anger starting to bleed into my voice. I paused before going on, “I mean, he’s claiming to be me. He’s living my life.”
“And you want him removed?”
“I want him dead.”
“Start at the beginning.” He sat up, seeming to finally take an interest.
Someone kicked on the jukebox. Don Williams began to sing to the Lord, hoping the day would be good. I could share the sentiment. “I first began hearing from associates about someone doing business under my name. Just small stuff here and there. Given my line of work, it wasn’t enough to trip any alarms. You get copycats now and again. Most don’t last very long.”
“What is your line of work, if I may ask?”
“I thought Mr. Hunter would be more understanding of the need for discretion. There are certain things I cannot compromise at this time.”
This elicited a fresh nod, but was that a trace of annoyance I saw in his face? This was a man used to getting his own way. “Not a legal business then?” He said, “The price goes up.”
“Price is not an issue.” I ran my fingertips on the side of my water glass, leaving trails in the frost. I met his sunglasses. “Not to get into semantics I don’t want my reputation ruined by some amateur.”
“You said they don’t usually last long.” He scratched his chin in a thinking manner. “But then you also say this one is posing a problem.”
“He is better then most that I’ve come across. Just the fact that he’s still breathing is a testament to that. Under other circumstances, he might have even made a good partner, well an assistant maybe.” I sighed and took another sip of water. The silence stretched between us. Gordon Lightfoot came up next, singing about rooms where you do things that you don’t confess. “But he’s made some mistakes. Getting noticed. That’s not good. Not good for either of us.”
Stony silence answered me, I wanted to prod him and see if he was awake. Suddenly a long, skinny smile stretched out his thin lips. “You said price was not an issue?”
“For me it never is.”
“Well…” He leaned forward, his thin smile turning bloodless with greed, “then we won’t play around. How do you want it done? A garrote? Knives? The black rites of Agramon. That one is very dramatic, but messy.”
I raised my hand, “Wait, wait. I just need him gone. This is business, not revenge.”
He leaned back in the booth and made a show of seeming impatient. Who knew death incarnate could be so petulant?
“Besides,” I continued, “Doesn’t Mr. Hunter have …other ways to take care of these things?”
A sweet young thing in short shorts walked through the door, he watched her pass, his gaze crawling over her, “No guns. I never use guns.”
“Of course not, but there is another way, isn’t there?”
He pulled off his sunglasses and gave me his best glare, “What are you talking about?”
I looked as pleadingly as I could into those murky brown eyes, “You know, the way that got Mr. Hunter his reputation in the first place. The mindkill.”
“I don’t ordinarily…”
“Oh I know, my sources have told me the mindkill can take years off the practitioners’ life- but what’s a few years to a man like Mr. Hunter? What do you say?” I met his eyes through the dark shades.
He didn’t say anything. he just slumped forward, his head hitting the table with a subdued thump, knocking his shades off. Blood was trickling out of his nose and his eyes were glassy and vacant.
But he was still alive, oh yes. He would be conscious for hours, immobile, helpless and to all outward appearances, dead. True death would only come when terror overwhelmed his mind and I had to wonder when that would be, when they zipped him in his bodybag? When he got to the morgue? I think sometimes the best part is I never really know.
I stood up as nonchalantly as I could but I needn’t have worried, everyone in the bar was still watching Ms Short Shorts as she engaged in a battle of wits with the jukebox. My reflection caught my eye as I turned to go and ran my fingers through my hair. I spared one last glance at my imposter and on a lark grabbed the sunglasses on the table. I slipped them on and risked a glance at my reflection again.
“Hey.” I said to myself, “Not bad.”