A Lesson In Death

 

The man half-turned to face Rodin, then the drug started to work. He lost control of his muscles, lost consciousness, and crashed to the ground in an untidy heap.

Rodin could’ve supported the man as he fell, but he didn’t want to get too close to the stink that poured from the over-sized body. He’d come up behind and used his lance almost at arm’s length, the thin needle finding a path through the rolls of skin covering the target’s neck.

But he had to get closer for the final part of the contract. He took a breath and unsheathed a blade. He bent down, holding the breath in, and tilted the man’s head back, exposing his throat. Normally there was no need for this, but with that much loose flesh it was a necessity. Rodin wondered what the man had done to deserve a contract. Maybe he’d eaten too much of his client’s food.

“Whatchya doin’, mister?”

Rodin turned, looking to the alley entrance, where a weak streetlight cast a flickering glow onto a small figure. The figure had one hand to his mouth, probably biting a nail. What the hell was a kid doing here?

“None of your business. Get lost.” Rodin turned back to the stinky fat man.

“Is he dead? D’ya kill him?”

The kid was a couple of steps closer, leaning forward in an attempt to see over Rodin’s shoulders. Rodin brought the blade back from the man’s flesh.

“Doesn’t concern you, but no, he’s not dead.”

“Oh.” There was disappointment in the lad’s voice. Rodin waited for the sound of retreating footsteps, but instead the rustle of clothing grew closer.

“You got somewhere you should be?” Rodin turned.

Two scrawny shoulders hunched in a shrug. The boy had dirt on his face and a bad haircut, and his clothes looked like they could do with a wash. Heck, the kid himself needed a wash. Give him twenty years and a diet of crap, and he could be the fat man.

“I’m busy. Scram.”

“You gonna rob him?”

“What?”

“He don’t look like he’s got much money. Not in them clothes.”

What the hell did the kid know of clothes?

“I’m not going to rob him.”

“What, then? You gonna pull down his trousers?”

Why would someone think something like that? What was wrong with this runt?

“My mate Ferron says some people do that. They pull down their trousers, and then they do things with their bum.” The kid shrugged again. “I think Ferron’s talking crap, though. He can’t even do the five-wall run. He only talks so much ‘cos he knows we’ll beat him up otherwise. Like when we was snickering stuff from Twitchy’s store, and he stuffed a whole bottle down his trousers, and it dropped out and smashed on the floor.” The kid giggled. “It was all fizzy, and Twitchy came out from the back room and he looked mad, all red and stuff, and he yelled, but he weren’t saying no words, just all this garbled stuff. Not swears, either, ‘cos I know all them.”

“I’m not going anywhere near his trousers. Last thing I want is to touch him.”

“So what ya gonna do?”

The boy was what, eight? Maybe younger. Maybe he was older, and underfed. He looked like a street kid, but he talked about stealing from shops like it was a game. He didn’t have a clue. Any normal person, seeing one figure crouched over another in a dark alleyway, would’ve walked on‌—‌someone else’s problem, best to stay out of it. But the kid was inquisitive.

Sticking your nose in, especially round here, could get you killed.

But the kid didn’t know that. Nobody had told him how things really worked.

Rodin took a breath, surprised at how easily he made the decision.

“You want to know what I’m going to do?”

“Sure.”

“Come here.”

The kid took a step closer, and Rodin saw a flicker of uncertainty. Good. Maybe he’d learn something from this.

“Crouch down, like I am. Next to the man.”

The kid did as Rodin asked. “He stinks.”

“Yep.”

“So what now? Why’ve you got a blade?”

“This?” Rodin held the blade up, twisting it for effect. “This is what I’m going to use. See, this man annoyed someone. And that someone decided he wanted recompense. So he hired me to sort things out. That’s my job.”

“You’re a mercencary?”

“Mercenary,” Rodin corrected. “Yes. And my job, right now, is to kill this man.”

Rodin saw the colour drain from the kid’s face.

“O-okay.” The boy started moving about. “I should be going.” He went to stand, but Rodin reached out, grabbing a wrist. He could circle his thumb and a finger right round it.

“No, I think you need to watch.”

The boy twitched, but Rodin held him tight. Rodin waved the blade in the air, and he heard a whimper. He could smell urine.

Rodin brought his arm down and sliced, hard. He felt the blade biting into something solid, and he saw a dark jet well up, spraying the kid’s face. The kid yelled and tried to pull away, but Rodin held him steady.

“This is what happens when you don’t think about what you’re doing. This is what happens when you’re not careful.”

Rodin unclenched his hand and the kid fell back, screaming. Somebody might come, but Rodin doubted it. A scream from an alley? Who’d want to get involved in that?

The kid found his feet, turned and ran.

Rodin watched him round the corner, and felt a smile inside.


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