I wake up to a light rolling tap on my window. Like impatient children's fingernails. It's raining outside. The bulk of the storm must've blasted through the mid-morning. I can see the debris of wind-torn branches and scattered leaves. The dying oil-rainbow gutter streams. The trees slowly rising as the water-weight slicks off of their limbs. The world's covered in a soft rain. The kind that makes couples cuddle close and watch sitcoms or a flavor of the week movie. The kind that makes people on the street half-ass jog as they move from the shops to parking lots, and the homeless trudge from one block corner to another as they scavenge trash cans and beg passersby.
The drug store digital clock on my end table reads a quarter after two. I watch the street for another ten minutes. Living vicariously through the city's veins.
I get out of bed and stretch. Fall to the ground and do a series of push-ups and leg lifts. Hit the pull up bar over my bathroom door until my arms start shaking. Quick exercises to get the blood rush going. I check the black S&W .40 I keep holstered in metal mold along my bed frame. I pull the slide and make sure the breach is clean. Drop the magazine and pop out the bullets and load them again and stash the gun back. I turn the shower on to searing and watch the waved glass door fog. I move into the kitchen and turn on the coffeemaker. The built-in grinder drowns out the hiss of the shower. The maker spills out a four cup measurement into the filter and siphons water up from a hose connected to a hot-water spigot on the sink.
I let the Guatemalan blend brew and go back to the bathroom. The sterile white diamond tile is slick with settling steam. I strip off my boxers and step into the boiling waterfall. My skin goes dark pink. My black ink grows bolder. I let the burning relax my muscles. I let it strip away the guilt and filth from my work. I let it clear out the sick and empty feelings. After the soap and shampoo, my body gets rebuilt into something tough and Teflon-coated. A different man steps out, soaked and naked and untouchable. The darkness is beat back down into my guts. The hints of remorse and fear that tell me I'm human, those things drip away with the tiny rivers rolling down my back.
I dry off with a cotton towel. The coffee timer goes off. I throw on a pair of green plaid boxers, carpenter jeans, and a gray T printed with an old 1970s cover of Ray Bradbury's "Fahrenheit 451". "Read and Destroy" is plastered across my chest. I lace up a pair of dark-mud colored Gripfast boots, steel-toed and heavy and riveted to last through Armageddon. I go back to the kitchen and flip the maker to standby. Pour a cup of black coffee into a handmade street-vendor ceramic cup. I lace it with a few second pour of fine sugar. Sip it as I finish my OCD prep.
I go to my closet and punch in the code to the gun-safe built into the back wall. Crank the spin-handle with one hand. The army olive inch-thick steel double-doors creak open. There's a Mossberg persuader, M-14 semi-auto, and navy spec MP-5 stocked in the rifle slots, about a dozen pistols and revolvers, boxes of brand-name and custom ammunition, and a misplaced flak-jacket along the shelves. It's enough ordnance to properly raid a police precinct - precautions and tools for the other parts of my job description.
I check the Ruger that I picked up less than twelve hours ago. Same way I did the S&W. I unload it and put the bullets in a white cardboard box marked "9mm". The dull copper casings clank against other dull copper casings. I store the handgun and magazine next to each other on one of the shelves, next to a couple of forged passports and driver's licenses. There's about fifty grand in bills stacked on the shelf underneath. Next to a filing box filled with records and confessions covering every underground job I've ever worked. Backup blackmail in case things go south. One thing I know from my short life is that everything eventually goes south.
I take the folded payment that I got from Lucy and shove it into a cream envelope, and slip the envelope into my back pocket. I close the gun-safe. The doors suck in air and the lock-bars clang into place. I go back to my bathroom and open one of the vanity drawers. There's a row of straight-razors resting on top of a pile of folded bandanas. I check the razor with an ebony handle. Slip out a black-and-white bandana and wipe down the blade. The razor goes into my left jean pocket, the bandana in the matching back pocket – remnant of my street punk days.
I put on a pair of slim glasses. Titanium frames and a calligraphic X-scratch on the left lens. I'm a little near-sighted, and the glasses misdirect my appearance.
I slip on a black Navy P-coat, custom lined with nylon straps to hold tools and weapons. It's light and silent, and could conceal a short-barrel scattergun without giving off a hint. I don't load up anything that could get me dragged away in cuffs.
I grab my day-to-day key ring off a hook next to the exit door. It's on a gray carabiner that clips around my back left belt-loop. I open the drawer of a small lacquer foyer table. Inside are a row of oil-shined flick-knives lined in red felt grooves. I pick a wood-handled stiletto and slip it inside my pocket and close the drawer. I do a quick pat down and double-check, then I'm out the door.
The clock on the stove reads a quarter after three.
I roll heel-toe down the hall. It's cream walls and thin carpet and looks nice enough. There are two other units on my floor. A single female lawyer lives in 3A. She's nice and quiet and struggles day to day at her firm. I've had dinner with her a few times, quiet and friendly. I think she likes me because I'm quiet and busy too. A cop family lives in 3B. A young guy who's put away five years working the vice beat. He's working on his detective badge. His wife is a few months pregnant. They're happier about the child than anything else. I keep things cordial and distant. We've only met once outside of the building, when he had to visit the morgue over a body he called in.
I take the stairs down. Worn steel steps and washed concrete. The garage smells of mildew and motor oil and exhaust. I keep the Olds a couple blocks away in a month-pass public garage. My second ride is a compact Toyota pickup. It's young and clean and sleeping in its spot. I unlock it, climb in, and crank the engine to a growl. I dropped a heavy torque Hemi inside right after I bought it. You never know when you need a little extra muscle. I keep a .40 Glock-17 in a quick-release rig under the driver's seat with a spare magazine. I adjust the rearview mirror, the Forensics Center parking badge bounces from its elastic string. The truck cranks to life with a snarl. The stereo turns on and gritty Texas Blues roars through the speakers.
I pull out of the underground garage onto Riverside and weave through traffic for a bit. I diagonal park at my bank. It's an independent trust located in Midtown off Union. The manager is a squat Greek in a blue mid-level suit and brown comb-over. His enamel nametag reads "Frank Kopolis". He walks up to me smiling.
"Mr. Kinsey, showing up for your daily deposit?" He says, smiling and holding out his hand. We shake and I nod.
"Kinsey" is not my real name. Most of my fake names are taken from famous scientists and thinkers. It's a little inside joke that only I know.
"Yeah, I want to go to my deposit box first."
"Of course. Same as always."
"Same as always."
Kopolis leads me to the safe and unlocks the box housing. He slides out the reinforced metal container and we walk to a private booth. The desk is oak and sheltered by built in privacy walls. There's a wool cushioned chair built out of the same wood. I sit down and ignore him. He stays for a second then walks away, nervous in the silence. I select the right key off my carabiner ring and open the box. There's a Beretta Px4 .45 and around three hundred thousand in cash resting against the bottom. I take out my cash envelope and count out four-eighty on the desk. I stack the remaining bills along with their cousins and close the lockbox back up.
I wave for Kopolis to come over, and stand up. He picks up the brushed metal lockbox, we walk over together to the safe, and I watch as he slides it back into its slot.
I step over to my regular teller, "Clarice". It says her name on the plaque in front of her booth. She's in a yellow-and-white flower sundress and light grey blazer. Her hair shines auburn in the cloud-cover light streaming through the bank windows. She has a shy smile and her blue eyes light up like jewels in a display case when I speak.
"Afternoon, Clarice" I say. I'm as disarming as I can be. My voice amicable. I'm giving a half-grin in the window reflection behind her.
"Afternoon, Charlie. Four-eighty deposit to savings, again?"
"You know it. Another piece of my stipend going away for a day like this." She giggles at the lame joke.
I slide the four-eighty in twenties across the safety-glass partition. I always deposit just under five hundred. Like I learned in prison. Keeps the cash flow invisible to the feds. She counts them fast and precise and scrawls out a deposit slip then runs it through the printer next to her till monitor. She runs another slip and hands it to me, my new balance printed on the back.
"Thank you for your business, Mr. Kinsey. See you again tomorrow?" Her voice perks up as she says it.
"Like clockwork. Maybe one of these days we can have a meeting outside of these walls, though?" I ask.
A big smile crawls across her face.
"Maybe one of these days. You have my card."
I do. It's stuck to a corkboard in my bedroom. Calling her for a night out crosses my mind almost every day. Then the memories of my side work shut that down. The images of corpses, mangled and twisted and rotting. Targets begging for mercy as they crawl on shattered shins. Targets crying as I line a gaping barrel to their temple. My victims soaked in blood and shrapnel bones. Yeah, I gave up the hope for a normal life too long ago.
I leave with a nod and my new bank balance in my pocket, climb back into the pickup, and drive off calm. I snake through the city to my "day job". I'm due in at five and as I've learned, the dead don't like to wait.