Peer Review by ALangford (United Kingdom)

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By: W31rdK1ds


FREE WRITING

I didn't sign up for this. 

Well, technically, I didn't sign up for any of it, but after 20 years in the business, you learn to stop questioning and just take the money. Get the job done. 

Quick, clean, impersonal. Because that’s what it is; Business. Because everyone has to make a living. Because, it’s just how the world works. And sometimes that means getting your hands dirty.

But this… This was too far. Even in matters such as these, there was a line (a rather morally ambiguous line, sure, but there was still a line) and his request didn't just cross it. His words were like a demolition blast. With every syllable, they eradicated that line and any evidence it had ever been there in the first place.

There we were, early hours of the morning, in a part of town even the rats that ran the warehouse floors would think twice before venturing into. I’d describe him for you if I could, but standing purposefully in the shadows, the angular lines that made up his looming silhouette were all I could make out. He had insisted on shaking my hand, a gesture that wouldn’t be questioned by an onlooker, but was most unnerving given the type of business we were dealing in. On the one hand, the handshake seemed almost trivial, as if we were negotiating a car sale, or investment deal, rather than matters of life and death. On the other, the stranger’s hand in mine felt heavy; the sinister knowledge of what was occurring weighing it down. Or maybe that was just me? Because for a man who had just asked me to make a man disappear, among other things, his demeanour was disturbingly calm.
Did I mention there was also a gun pointed at him? But even still, his breathing remained even, and his gaze never faltered. 

Not that I could actually see his eyes. But I could feel his stare as if it were burning a hole in me. 

If it weren't for that handshake, and the rather extensive file he handed to me afterwards, I would’ve questioned if he was really there at all. Maybe he was just a figment of my imagination. My tired eyes and caffeine-wired brain making sinister, elaborate stories out of the shadows. It wouldn't even have been the first time. But no, both he and his order were very real. And to be perfectly honest, I think I would've preferred to be going crazy. 

My entire life, this job required me to trust the word of those who could be classed as the most questionable people on the planet, of those who had quite possibly never spoken a word of truth in their lives. I had to take the word of those who were monsters, or lived like ghosts, and carry out the deeds that even they themselves could not do. What can I say? It pays well. But in return, they also had to trust me, and believe me, I’m no saint either. It was an agreement made, always, out of necessity. 
There’s a contract. A code. 


It was the money that put me on the rooftop the next evening. 

After we had gone our separate ways, I had spent hours soaking up all the information that file had to offer. I could tell you where my mark got his morning coffee, or the trail he used to cut short his daily run, the name and address of everyone he’d called in the past 2 months, the numbers in his offshore accounts, hell, by that point I could’ve probably told you what colour socks he was wearing. But I also found that after reading through every dark and miserable detail of this man’s existence, I had no qualms about pulling my trigger the instant he stepped into my line of fire. 
 
I didn’t spare the man another glance. He was of no more use to me. He was just another one on a long list of men who got what they deserved, I had long ago given up any guilt I once had about cutting their lives short. 

I dusted off my gloves as I rose from my position on the rooftop. There was no one around, it was late, there wouldn’t be more than a few lonely souls wandering these streets for a few hours at least. I took my time carefully dismantling the graceful weapon at my feet, then made my way back down to street level, knowing, and dreading what was to occur next.


It was the code, and only the code, that put me in the driveway later that night. 

It hadn’t been hard to manufacture a message telling the young, restless babysitter to put the boy to bed and go home early, and it had been all too easy to lift the man’s keys before he’d even entered his building earlier that morning. But sitting in front of the house, completely blacked out, save for what I could only assume was the soft glow of the boy’s nightlight in one window, for the first time in my life, I couldn't move. My legs had turned to lead, and my feet encased in concrete.

Never, not in 20 years, had I been sent with the orders of killing a child. 

I closed my eyes and clenched my fists; steeling myself for the inevitable. Taking a sharp breath of cold air woke me up. Snapped me out of whatever daze I’d found myself in, because who was I kidding? It didn't matter what I thought, it didn't matter that this completely obliterated any moral standard I could've said I still had intact. I didn’t have a choice. But funnily enough, this realisation didn't make the steps towards the door any easier, they were so tentative they may as well have been my first.

My hands were shaking. It took me three tries to open the door. 

Frustrated, I probably opened the door with more force than was strictly necessary, resulting in a loud bang resonating in the surprisingly bare hallway. Inwardly, I cursed myself for allowing personal reservations to interfere with a job. Without sparing even a moment to survey the room, I laid a hand on the silencer in my coat pocket, and made my way silently up the staircase and towards what was obviously the boy’s room. I stopped short. 

Spencer

I made a point of never learning my mark’s name unless absolutely necessary, but when it was spelled out in animal print letters across their bedroom door, it’s rather hard to miss. An uncomfortable weight settled in my stomach as I just stared at the door. I’m not even sure myself of how long I stood there, rereading that single seven letter word. At some point, my subconscious must’ve taken over, because I don't remember lifting my arm, but somehow I found myself tracing over the familiar letters.

Another memory that escapes me is just how and when exactly I actually managed to unstick my feet from the floor and enter the boy’s - Spencer’s - room, but somehow I remember taking in every inch of it. It was the only room I’d seen in the whole house that actually looked lived in. The rest vaguely resembled something out of a real estate catalogue; all too neat and put together, most of the furniture looked like it had never been touched, never mind been home to a 6 year old boy. But this room, this room was a child’s room. The walls were covered in drawings that could be of various animals, if you looked at them from a certain angle. And of course, it was a mess. There were stuffed animals and plastic trucks strewn all across the floor, and the small desk in the corner looked like it had been hit by a miniature hurricane, paper and a selection of various stationary covering every available surface; something I found as I took a step, and heard the unmistakable sound of crayons being crushed into the carpet. Against my will, a smile found its way to my lips as I took in the room under the pale blue glow of the light. Then I remembered what I was there for, and a smile had never disappeared so fast. I turned to the one part of the room that I hadn’t allowed myself to lay eyes upon, and took in the peaceful sight. Spencer, apparently, was a boy with unruly, dark hair, clutching a worn, brown bear to his chest. He was the picture of tranquility, of innocence. 

I had no reservations about killing men, I had yet to meet a mark that didn't deserve what was coming to him. It was their own choices that led me to them, they had written their own fates. But a boy? He hadn’t been given the chance to make those decisions yet, he had never made the mistakes that allowed me to so comfortably pull the trigger. There was nothing I could use to justify what I had been asked - no, ordered -  to do.

The cold steel of the barrel pressed lightly against the soft skin just behind the boy’s ear. At least this way it would be painless. Instant. It was the most I could offer him. I looked away as I pulled the trigger. 


Walking away from the, now completely dark, house, I’m not even sure where my mind was. The next thing I remember, it was 5:32am, and I was standing by the river, clutching a crudely drawn picture of an old, brown bear. I slammed my hands down on the railing. Taking a deep breath as I turned to walk away, I shook my head and began to peel off my gloves. My voice sounded foreign to my own ears.

“Never again, Spence. Never. You’re done.”


Message to Readers

Just tell me what you think :)


Peer Review

The repetition of the structure used both in "it was the money that put me on the rooftop that evening" and "it was the code, and only the code, that put me on the driveway that night". This shows perfectly the internal conflict of the narrator which is so beautifully described throughout. It also draws back to a common theme of necessity, which, in turn, the writer makes sure to question constantly - what can be necessary about the act they have been asked to commit. It's an excellent moral dilemma for a person whom most would portray as completely amoral.


As I say, the use of extremely raw imagery towards the end even provokes a feeling of guilt and shame in the reader themselves. I felt as though I had witnessed the actual event itself.


Leading on from the last point, in what format does this kind of monologue appear? Is it just the narrator's thoughts? Is the narrator relating this to a particular person? Is it a journal? I think this is exceedingly important to consider as the reader is directly addressed at some points


Reviewer Comments

I love this piece of writing, well done!