Eric was the man you called when you needed a hitman to kill another hitman. If you were to pass him in the street you would have guessed he was an accountant, he did not stand out in the crowd, bland at the best of times. He stood five foot five inches tall, he wore glasses that were surrounded by the free frames on offer in any high street opticians. His jacket was brown hounds tooth, with plain grey trousers, his shoes, while highly shined, were nondescript black brogues, more than likely mail order. To finish this timeless piece of couture was a white shirt with a beige check, and a tie of uninspiring brown. Where he differed from your average accountant was contained within his brown briefcase, a custom built sniper riffle that was collapsed down in one half, and in the other half he had a selection of toxins in syringes, a .50 caliber semi automatic pistol, a garrotting wire, several pairs of disposable gloves and a number of perfectly weighted and stunningly sharp knives, so sharp it took thirty to sixty seconds for your brain to grasp your imminent demise, sliding through flesh almost frictionless. It was his blandness that made him good at what he did, no one ever saw him coming, or going, he was no more tangible than the early morning mist. He had a number of exactly the same briefcase’s in a multitude of country’s in safety deposits boxes, he never had to worry about getting his tools through customs, as he didn’t think it would go down too well.
For a section of the population who make their living from stopping others living, the hitmen and women, he was a ghost story you told on a quiet night waiting for your mark to show, too give your spotter a fright or sleepless night. No one knew who he was, or what he looked like, and you were dead before you even knew there was a price on your head. Not an easy task, if there was one group of men and women who expected to be killed on a hourly basis, it was them, they could spot another in their line of work from a mile away. So, for Eric, being bland was exactly what he needed to be. The new job he had picked up this morning would be his two hundredth kill, once he had done it, anyway. He was a man who prided himself on being one step ahead, sometimes even two, it was important to him that the job was done before the assassins grapevine started to vibrate with paranoia.
Outside of his work he was just like any normal person, he liked to drink, a little too much, he liked to party, and let his hair down, and dressed more in with the in crowd. This beige ensemble was just his work uniform, and as soon as he had straightened his tie and buttoned his jacket, his whole persona changed, he described it to himself as letting a totally different person take the controls of driving his body, he just stepped aside from the wheel, his voice changed, his gait changed and his shoulders hunched a little, just enough to make him look less of a threat. He had wondered if consulting a therapist was a good idea, just in case it was a split personality, but then he could not tell a therapist of his continued law breaking, maybe in his retirement, but by then his alter ego would no longer be needed, or at least he hoped not. He had a fair sum stashed away, in bullion, currency’s may crash, but bullion was a safe choice. He was a control freak, he had his whole life planned to the tiniest fraction, he left nothing for others to sort out, and he was fine with that, he knew he had no trust in others, no one can look after your interests better than you can.
He did not set out in life to kill, two hundred souls was just the hitmen he had taken out, he had done jobs for most governments around the world, he had no political beliefs, the only thing he believed in was that gold was always going to increase in value, and only took payment in gold, bars, coins or nuggets, he was not fussy. He had no bank accounts, no paper trail, almost no online presence, nothing to show he existed. He had two dozen passports, all in different names and nationality’s. The time length to complete the jobs were mostly time spent making back alley deals on private transport, as he tried to travel under the radar, no big ports, airports or stations, just private planes, boats and the purchase of a cheap second hand car when on the right landmass, which when finished he would dump and set fire to it.
Today’s job was to hunt down a hitman who had chosen to ‘retire’, the hired gun union were always worried if members were to retire, they could be tempted to turn evidence against the union or their clients. The clients too were worried about loose ends and were more than happy to donate toward Erics fee. Dave Hoskins had been last seen in California, staying in a hotel on the coast, from there no one had any clue, as to, if he had driven away, sailed of in to the sunset or been abducted by aliens. After two days spent casually asking around the area of the hotel and marina, if anyone knew his ‘friend’, or knew where he went, he spent another week talking to bar and restaurant owners, street vendors and buskers, and was no nearer finding his mark than he was when he arrived in the United States. His best lead was that Dave may have been seen on a boat, who’s name nobody remembered, going where no one knew, some time in the last six to twelve months. He slumped on to his hotel bed, frustrated, angry and dejected, the assassins grapevine would be humming by now, his window of stealth was diminishing by the hour. As he lay there, hypnotised by the ceiling fan, the idea of Dave Hoskins sailing away in to the sunset seemed to be the only plausible theory. Erics heart sunk, could this be his white whale, he could search the coastlines of this world from sun up to sun down and always be one step behind his prey. He reached for the brown paper bag on the bedside table, pulled his bottle of Kentucky rye from it, snapped open the screw cap, and drew his first long drag from its slender neck, it was going to be a long night, as he pondered and planned his next move.
Once out in the open ocean, Dave Hoskins could have gone anywhere, not knowing about the boat, he had no idea how often it would need to refuel, to give a few options of direction to Eric, and at this moment he had to admit he was done, and unless a sighting from one of his many contacts around the world came in for him, he may just be beaten. He consoled himself with a few good meals and plenty to drink over the following week, and tried his best to relax. At the end of his second week his phone rang, it was his old friend Chan, an immigration officer in Taiwan,
“Hey Chan, hows it hanging” Eric said upon answering the call,
“HaHa, low, very low, my brass monkeys are like a two bowling balls in a sports sock, hahaha. That guy you were looking for, he is here. Don’t know how long for, but I have the name of his yacht and model details, like you asked” Chan said, unable to control his excitement,
“Fantastic, send them to me, you little beauty” Eric said jubilantly to his contact,
“Money first Mr Eric, money first” Chan replied sternly,
“Yep, it will be with you in an hour, sending it via western union, will give you the details once its done” and with that Eric hung up the phone, broke open a new roll of Krugerrand’s and dropped them in to his pocket, picked up his phone and sunglasses and went to sort the transfer of funds. He also went to an Internet café to organise his flight, as pleasant as this stop over had been, he was hoping to be in Taiwan in the next twenty four hours, the game was once more on again.
Dave Hoskins was not your average hitman, for a man with such extensive OCD, nothing was left to chance. Even his retirement had been planned and scrutinised. It is said that even when trying to be random in your actions and motivations, it was impossible not to give away your plans. He did not know if it were true, or another urban myth like, dogs cant look up, or, cows can not walk down stairs. His plan for his retirement was not to plan his destinations and over night stays, he would take his next destination from the first country he read about in the local papers, unfortunately for this plan, the fact that Donald Trump was now the president of the USA, and was always the in the news, he would never have left the American coast line. He now chose the first country, other than America, that he read about in the news. Once having chosen the country of his destination, he chose a main tourist location, believing he could disappear in the crowd. He had heard the story’s of the ghost, the man called in to cut free any loose ends, he did believe in the theory, you would not want a hitman going in to witness protection to avoid a custodial sentence, but the fact there was one man to do the job was as likely as the existence of the Loch Ness monster, which also relies wholeheartedly on belief over proof. His whole retirement plan was to avoid a premature meeting with his maker, he would enter the country on one passport, and leave under another. He would change his hair colour to suit whichever identity he chose to be, he also did something which would ultimately save his life.
After an uneventful fourteen hours of flying, Eric was glad to have the freedom to stretch, move his legs, but most of all a he was delighted to have a smoke. He loved to smoke, the click of the Zippo lid as it opened, the smell of the lighter fluid, the rasp of wheel against flint, the gasp of oxygen as it is devoured by the flame, and clunk of the lid as he flicked it closed, he loved the feel of the lighter in his hand, the weight from an all metal construction, the shape and how cool he felt it made him look, it was the single least bland thing about his alter ego. He arrived in the hotel an hour or so later, stripped and walked in to the shower to rid himself of the myriad of peoples dead skin cells, mucus and filth you pick up just sitting in a seat while flying, first he had called his contact Chan and arranged a meeting in the hotel bar that evening. Once wrapped up in a white hotel bathrobe he flicked on the TV and went out on to the balcony for another smoke. He watched the crowds passing beneath his window, and if viewed without the aid of his spectacles it looked like a sea that ebbed and flowed, for the twenty minutes he stood there he thought that at no point was there room to slide a fag paper between the bodies. He finished his smoke, continually reminding himself not to flick the butt over the balcony, there was no way he could miss hitting at least one person. Retuning to the room he laid on the bed, the hum of humanity still audible above the sound of the TV, and at some point he drifted off.
Twenty minutes before Chan was due, Eric had stepped in to the hotel bar for quick shot of bourbon to release that last unrelaxed band of muscles just across the backs of his shoulders. With five minutes before the due start of his meeting he stepped outside the hotel for a quick smoke, the change between the air conditioned hotel lobby and the hot humid outside air hit him in the same way bending down to remove a roast from the oven does, and being hit by the escaping hot air, it seemed to just envelop him. This air was hot and humid, with the unpleasant stench of humanity, he felt as though his shirt and suit were drenched through by the time Chan arrived, they greeted each other warmly, and Eric was more than relieved to back in an air condition environment, and welcomed that chill that speeds down your spine when hot sweat turns to icy cold shards. The exchange of information took less than ten minutes, the rest of the time they spent catching up. Chan had been one of Erics friends while he was posted in Taiwan, if truth be told, all his contact were friends he made in his time with the British secret service. When Eric said farewell to his old friend, he was a little more inebriated than he was generally comfortable with, but not so far gone to be spending the evening call god on the great white telephone. Once back in his room he flicked on the TV again, settled back on the bed and opened his duty free bottle of Jack, the discomfort of drunkenness downstairs was being seen to be lacking motor control, or viewed as vulnerable, behind closed doors he would drink until he passed out, every night of the week. He drank daily, he was in his own view an alcoholic, but it help keep the ghosts of his passed subdued, there were so many he was beginning to believe he would have to build an extension to house them all.
The early morning sun was streaming through the window when Eric awoke, piercing his mind like red hot arrows. He reached for his phone first, fumbling on the bedside table for a proper grip, as he got older and his arthritis worsened, the big phone manufacturers seemed to be making their phones smaller and thinner, it was enough to make him exclaim out loud,
“Fucking, blood, come, don’t be shitting with me this morning, ya fucker” he almost frightened himself with the volume that this slipped out. Finally having got a grip on it he turned it on to see that he had not missed any calls and the only emails he had were junk. After two nurofen, a shower and dressed in his ‘casual wandering around’ clothes, he was ready just in time to receive his room service breakfast and newspaper. He sat and enjoyed the breakfast and read his news paper, leisurely, he had plans to work out, but that could wait. Once caught up on the hate in the world, and a wonderful breakfast, he thought it was right up there in one of the best ever, he sat down on the sofa, and opened the laptop on the coffee table. He spent an hour going over the evidence he had gathered so far, and by 11am he was ready to venture out on to the mean streets, destination the harbour, camera ready. He had a good feeling he would be bring this hunt to the end by this time tomorrow.
The yacht he was looking for was called ‘Empress of the Seas’, it had come in to port three days ago, intending to be here a week, Lvdaoshilang marina, berth seventy two. He purchased a cold drink from a sea front vendor and strolled down the wooden gangplank to the marina births, as he looked out over the marina he began to wish his target had rented a berth a little closer, in this heat a wander down to berth twenty would be far to far, but he had a job to do, and from being at a dead end three day days ago, he would just have to get it done, he could be a rich man, or richer man, by sundown. He reached the mid sixties when he hit empty berths, and from sixty nine through to seventy five, the berths were all empty. He wandered back down to sixty eight, had a nose around, and lit a smoke,
“Hi, can I help you?” A voice called to him, making Eric jump a little,
“Err, yeah, I’m looking for my friend, his yacht is called the Empress of the Seas, he told me he was at berth seventy two, have you seen anyone there?” Eric asked in his best feeble accountant mode, and with a wave he was invited aboard for a drink.
“I am Tony” the owner of the boat told Eric,
“I am Eric, please to meet you” Eric replied to his host, Eric gave him a good look over, and surveyed the surroundings, this was the type of yacht he was looking for, a Silver Yacht, but unfortunately not the one he was looking for. Over the blisteringly hot afternoon they had many drinks, while sitting on the shaded deck, they talked about all sorts, both were English, and had a love of football, the put their cases forward to providing smaller teams the means to compete against the quartet of top club, both support one of those teams that yo-yo between the premiership and championship divisions, neither solved the quandary over the afternoon. Tony even took him down to the entrance of the marina in his little tender to save Eric a long walk back. They even swapped numbers, to arrange a day out cruising along the coast a few days later. Eric hailed a cab and returned to his hotel, ordered room service, and mulled over the events of the day. He may not have found his target, but he had met a rather pleasant new friend, and an alibi for him hanging around the marina, but Tony knew something that Eric did not.
Tony knew all about the ‘Empress of the Seas’, this was the magnetic stick on name he used bringing his yacht in to port. No sooner had his entry been cleared, he removed the false name, and became ‘Silver Lady’ once more. Tony was Dave, and Dave never trusted anyone. He would use small amounts of Vaseline to lightly hold strands of hair to his door and door frame, to show him if the door had been opened while he had been out, the same with desk draws, hotel room doors and any where he felt a little vulnerability. Dave also knew that his mystery guest today had been the fabled ‘Ghost’, a chill had shot through him from head to toe when Eric had asked about the other yacht. He had to use his best poker face during the long afternoon, and while Erics G&T’s were very generous on the G’s, Dave’s own drinks had been more T’s than G’s, spending the entire meeting hellishly sober. He knew he could play the Tony personality as convincingly as being himself, almost like he too had a split personality, with an ease to switching between the two. He was planning an escape, a permanent escape. He could not deny he has had one eye over his shoulder during his retirement for this man, myth or not. There was always too much evidence for him to be a myth, and to have the man sitting on his deck today, was a bit of a relief to be honest. Dave was sure he had not let anything slip, he played the part of an internet billionaire, hoping the jargon of computers and the internet were not Eric specialist subject, the were not, thankfully. He could see the alcoholic behind Erics smile, Dave’s father had been an alcoholic, and even once he was on the wagon, the ghosts of alcohol still remained behind his eyes. There is an emptiness inside an alcoholic, that never leaves, and stands out like a greasy fingerprint on a shard of glass. This would be the weakness he would target, after an afternoon plying him with drink he knew the depth of this demon inside Eric.
Forty eight hours later these two men were once again together on the Silver Lady, enjoying a drink. Around midday, Tony pulled in to a secluded bay and dropped anchor. The two men stood by the giant barbecue grill, and Eric watched in awe as Tony cooked steaks, shellfish and vegetables on the grill, preparing salads, and cooking his own bread in the oven. They sat and enjoyed a beautiful bottle of Italian red wine, and the food, finishing with a cheeseboard. After the finish of a second bottle of wine, the men both switched back to the G&T’s, the gin was not the only thing going in heavy, Tony had also administered a large splash of Succinylcholine, a medical grade muscle relaxant. He had no idea on how quick it would take to work, but as he was on his way to the galley with his second armful of dishes he heard the shatter of a dropped glass. When Tony went to see his guest, there, completely unable to move was Eric, the only thing he could do was to show the fear in his eyes. For someone who never wanted to show vulnerability around others, this was hell, it suddenly dawned on Eric that this was indeed the man he was looking for. How had Eric let him slip under the radar, he thought back to their first meeting, he had a terrible hangover, not pleasant in this oppressive climate, also hampered by the long walk and not enough fluids, but really Eric just felt he had been just far too complacent. Now sitting here with some unknown drug raging around his body he had no muscle control at all, and whether it was the drug or fear, Eric felt the shame hit his befuddled mind as his bowels and bladder let go of their grip. As he sat there he watched Tony revert back to Dave Hoskins, his whole demeanor changed before Erics eyes. Tony, who had now been replaced by Dave’s personality, quickly bound up his unfortunate victim with nylon cable ties, carried him over his shoulder to the back of the boat, and hooked Eric up to the winch bolted to the stern of the boat. Eric watched helplessly as Dave disappeared back inside the boat, returning with two ten kilo weightlifting discs, which he proceeded to attach to Eric’s legs with more nylon cable ties, and then disappeared again.
When Dave returned for the final time, he came back with a chair hooked on to his forearm, whisky and a large cigar. To add insult to injury, Dave lit the cigar with Eric’s prized Zippo. He sat back in the chair, happily puffing away on his smoke and drinking his single malt, and just gloating, patting himself on the back and waiting to relax enough to not laugh while he tried to speak solemnly to his guest.
“So, you are the hitman’s hitman, I never really made up my mind on your existence while I was working, but since I have retired, I have always worried about you finding me” he began,
“I have know a few of the guy they reckoned you disappeared, they were highly skilled, to catch them unawares you must have been hot shit” he continued, pausing to let out a little chuckle,
“Don’t try and speak, I don’t think you will be able to with that crap I put in your drink, just listen………..”
“………look…..its nothing personal, it just survival. I cant let you go, you could never promise to stop, you have your orders, and part payment, not to mention your 100% record, one of the two of us will be dead by the time the first stars grace the night sky, and I am betting its not going to be me” and with this he rose from the chair, grabbed the controls of the winch swung it out over the water, he pulled a large knife from the sheath attached to his belt,
“I am sorry about this, there are sharks in these waters, so I am going to have to stab you to get the blood flowing” and with that Dave cut a large furrow from the cheek of Erics left buttock down his thigh and stopping at the knee, he then leant forward to cut the rope free from the winch hook, dropping Eric in to the ocean, leaving just red bubbles bursting on the surface of the water as the pressure squeezed the oxygen from Eric’s lungs, as the only evidence of his crime. Dave placed his knife in the dishwasher with the remnants of lunch, and set it off on its cycle, and returned to the bridge. He had not planned to return to the marina tonight, and sailed back in to the bay where they had their lunch and anchored up for the night. He loved this place, no light pollution piercing the darkness, too be totally surrounded by the dark black night, watching the stars refract like diamonds on black velvet.
He arrived back at his marina berth a little after nine in the morning, and took a trip to Erics hotel, he asked the receptionist for ‘his’ room key. Once in Erics room, Dave packed up everything, laptop, clothes, anything he found in the bathroom and returned to reception to check out. By noon he was sitting on the deck of the Silver lady, with a drink, lunch and Erics laptop. He had no trouble getting through the password, and none of the vital information Dave needed seemed to be secured behind any form of encryption. Eric had admitted to Dave that he had no idea about computers he just used them as a tool to help in in his work. Dave had thought this man to be lying about the ignorance of modern technology, but this was proved by the ease at which Dave assumed Erics minimal online identity, effortlessly, to let the employers know Eric had completed the task and to receive his payment. He located the whereabouts of the gold stash Eric had built up, and Erics home address. His plans were to now sail away, sell up Erics possessions, collect his stash and disappear in to the sunset a wealthier man than he already was. First stop was to have Erics photograph removed from his passport and have it expertly replaced with his own picture. He had a man in town, know throughout the underworld as the best at his craft, the whole reason for Dave’s visit to Taiwan was to increase his collection of identities, one more would not break the bank.
Six months later there was no trace left of Eric Travis, all his possessions were sold off, his gold had been moved and properties were on the market. It had been a while since Dave last visited the country of his birth, and the drizzle had not been something he missed, if it was going to rain, then rain, drops the size of £2 coins, bang, proper rain, and with that he thought of Auckland for his next stop, maybe a tour of both islands coastlines, see the penguins, where a thirty second rain burst on a scorchingly hot day can flood a road. He returned to his boat a week after arriving, having done all he had to do, his plan had been to set sail that afternoon, but the dense sea fog had put paid to that idea. He spent the rest of the day planning his route across the oceans, checked the long range forecasts and relaxed. By 10am the following morning he was on his way, with a plan at stopping at a few choice locations on the European coast, Morocco, miss out Africa, he didn’t fancy that, Equatorial Guinea would have to be a brief refuel, Madagascar on to Australia, do the coastline a bit, then on to his chosen destination. For the first time since he joined the army at eighteen, he felt true relaxation flow over him, tonight he would treat himself to a nice meal in a french coastal town, and for the first time in years a grin spread across his face and a small tear rolled from his left eye.