Sunrise wrapped me in a warm glow, like the blanket of a kind mother, as left hand opened the door and my right hand steadied the silenced Beretta. The mark, a slightly fattish middle-class woman behind the counter, opened her mouth to say something, but there was no time and no one to hear.
I put two shots into center mass. The second one exploded the heart as subsonic 9mm bullets have an uncanny tendency to do. She slumped forward, and then I performed my finishing move, which is to slide the tip of the silencer right up against the base of the skull where the medula oblongata is, and then tip it upward so that the trajectory passes through the whole of the brain mass to the forehead. I squeezed one more time, which liquefied the brain, and her arms went as limp as they would be on the coroner’s slab. Removing a soft folding hat from my pocket, I slipped it over my head and left through the backdoor, walking past her employee who was loading boxes onto a dolly. He took one look at my black spectral form and fled.
There are, in my profession, excited debates about the correct way to go about removing a mark. For me, there is no question: two shots to the center mass, which through lungs, heart, veins or spine will cause blood pressure collapse and make the target go limp. Some guys think you should go for the head shot first, which to me is just a statistical game; hitting the head right the first time is tricky enough when you are moving, but often both you and the tango are in motion when you squeeze that trigger. I knew one kid, new in the business and fresh off a tar habit, who insisted on going for the lobotomy shot, straight through the forehead. This worked for his first two jobs, then he fired on a union stooge right as the guy moved his head, and succeed only in blowing off a corner of the skull. The mark flew into a screaming panic, whipping his head around and covering everything nearby in thick webs of blood, at which point my boy had to leg sweep the mark, kneel in his back and put two into the back of the head. That sloppy job meant he would not get hired again, because the point of a hit is to instill total fear and obedience, and if you cannot work as a hit man, you are a liability, so… he saw me coming, and just nodded. He knew. I put two in his chest and gave him a minute to die peacefully before I snuggled that silencer against the base of his skull and exploded his brain. The eyes went blank and I could tell from the pungent odor that he had vomited blood at the same moment the sphincters released, sitting in his chair at the back of a dive bar. I always feel good when I leave a horrible mess because people get paid really good money to clean up. I think of my mother, who worked afternoons as a high-end maid, and wonder if she gets any of the trickle-down income from a good splat. Of course I haven’t talked to her in years, but I think of her often.
Walking away from the scene of my latest kill, I kept my pace invariant and moderately fast but not hurried. I want to look like an asshole customer, not a killer, so I pinch my lips and put a somewhat irate expression on my face. This makes people clear out of my way and forget me, just glad that I am not coming to their shop, although for the wrong reasons. I wear a reversible jacket, and as soon as I can get to an area that is impoverished enough, I duck behind a car and reverse it and pull out the second hat, a blue one, which I swap for the first. Instead of a guy in a black coat and hat, they now see a man wearing a white jacket and blue hat who emerges from behind a line of trucks, walking entirely differently than the first. This guy is almost prancing, happy to have a day off on after a busy week, looking forward to the football game or the bar. I keep that act up, which is easy, until I can make it to the restaurant near the park. Buying a sandwich, I get it to go in a large bag, then wander through the bushes into the park. Somewhere in there, the gun and $500 went into the bag and the sandwich went into the bushes. Marco the delivery boy is waiting for me there on his moto. I pass him another five and the bag, and he zips off toward another moto which is coincidentally — and no one but a real fool believes in coincidences — coming our way, who somehow gets possession of that bag. It is headed to a local repair shop that has a forge, where it will be melted down and hammered into rugged steel sculptures for tourists. The evidence is part gone. I go another dozen blocks, then duck into the back of a dive bar. In the bathroom, I rummage in the ceiling tiles and find the bag of alternate clothing I had prepared. Now I am wearing a Hawaiian shirt, sunglasses, shorts and a camera. The old clothes and all of the makeup on my face — a false moustache, sideburns, some cheek lifts and a chin enhancement — go into the bag as well, which I pass over the bar with a five and watch as the bartender strolls into the kitchen and tosses it into the flames of their stove. This entire network is maintained both because people are well-paid and because there is one penalty for failure, namely that me or someone like me will come walking in the door, the nose of the silencer rising slowly under slight apologetic eyes.
Among those in the profession, there is also disagreement about what weapon should be used. Right now, following a certain successful movie, the de rigueur mode is the .22LR in a Ruger that is more silencer than pistol. I have a few objections to this. The same thing that makes this gun so distinctive is what makes it ineffective for the political task of a contract killing. What we do is terrorism. Our goal is to instill fear in others so that they obey the rules made by those who pay us. Our primary weapon is ambiguity. Someone does something out of line, and dies. Was it a paid hit? Or a robbery gone wrong? This is what makes people think about it, talk about it, and live in fear of it. If the hit is too obviously a contract job, then the ambiguity is gone, and people realize that all they have to do is fake obedience. When the hit comes out of nowhere, and no one knows from where or by whom, obedience becomes the law. The 9mm/.380 round is present in most unsolved deliberate murders. Even more, I like the heavier rounds. The riff about contract killers using the .22 LR because of greater accuracy is just that, a myth. Almost no one is that accurate. We are shooting while in motion at people who are most likely also in motion. Our real weapon is stealth. You never know where we are, or when we come. You cannot defend against us, because the minute you sit down and lift up a cup of tea, there is the dark figure walking in the door, silencer rising like a malevolent eye. We do not knock, and we show up randomly, then ensure you are gone. I have suggested to employers in the past that the most terrifying hit is for the person to simply vanish. Three guys show up with a dart gun, and snipe the person. They have about ten seconds before they slump over unconscious as the neurotoxin paralyzes them, then the other two guns run in and roll them up in a rug. That gets passed off to two other guys in a van, who drop it off with two other guys in another van, and so on across the country until we pass some guy in a funeral home a five and he loads them into a crematorium. Gas, flames, bones. Those are crushed into powder and dumped into the sea. People are pretty bad at cause/effect thinking, but when someone steps out of line, and then cannot be found all of a sudden, they get the message. Obey or become void.
I nurse a drink at the bar. Like all good operators, I have a cover story: I am a poor boy who takes care of his mother and has a war wound that prevents him from working, so they assume that I am on benefits and living poor. In reality, the “mother” is a series of recording, and the dingy apartment that I live in has a front room that looks like a tenement, and a back room and bedroom straight out an upscale condominium. I live well, considering that if I stage two removals a month, I am earning more than most professionals. Like most of us, I am saving up for two events: first, I want a few million in the bank so that I can retire at age fifty; second, I want a hundred thousand dollars so that I can fake my death — incinerated corpse in a car smashed against a brick wall on a country road, the ID for my work name in the athletic bag thrown free from the shattered car — and depart without my erstwhile employers knowing. If I forget what I know, I am at risk; if I leave the profession behind, I am also at risk, so the only solution is to die. I had a real name once, but thanks to the passage of money across counters at the periphery of the bureaucracy, he is long dead, and my new name is as legitimate as any. My fingerprints have been surgically altered, as has my face. I am no one because I am someone who does not really exist, and when it is time, he will also die and I will become a ghost, wandering this earth for my own reasons entirely, finally. To keep cover, I order a second beer, and drink it just as slowly, then another. I will kill the afternoon here because my time is not my own. Unlike petty criminals, I am a professional. I do what is necessary to get the job done well. This means that I must be invisible, deep within my cover and doing what he does. I hit another dive bar, then another, finally stop at the grocery store to pick up a bottle of bourbon and to make sure I look good and drunk when I do. I reek of cigarettes and alcohol, just another node of the urban detritus that makes this life so oblivious and ugly at the same time.
Among people of my profession, it is a matter of pride that we are working a job. Gutter criminals slouch through life looking for opportunities to exploit others, but it is part of their lifestyle. For us, our lifestyle is entirely removed from the job, as much as you can if you need to constantly maintain a false identity and sleep with at least one gun under your pillow. We do not commit crimes, except as is necessary for our cover identities, other than those we are hired to do. We stay physically fit, practice shooting, maintain networks of those who can offer related and necessary private services, and know that one risk of our profession is getting caught and sent to prison where we will most likely be terminated by another of our profession. This is the price we pay for receiving envelopes with enough cash to buy a decent automobile. Like any other profession, we have lore, and there is some debate about the right method to execute the kill. For me, the goal is to be invisible and reliable so that people feel there is no escape. This is why I am at the higher end of the pay scale, but not too high, because then you will not get enough jobs. If you mapped all the hit men in my city on a scale from highest to lowest price, I would be dead in the middle, plus one. The jobs keep coming and my offshore bank account takes every cent that I do not need to live. When I get home, I put the bottle of bourbon in the cabinet with the others. Each one represents a day living out my persona. Some are kills. Early on, I was tempted to buy something nice, but opted to stay in character instead. My guy buys middle-of-the-road bourbon to go home and drink himself asleep in front of the television while his aged mother’s CPAP unit wheezes in the next room. He is a loser. I am not.
Most of us have some story about how we came into this unusual line of work. For most, it begins with a tale of pity and woe. Their dad beat them or their mother ran out. I have no such excuse. The answer in my case was that I came from a normal middle class home, maybe one notch above dead middle, and started enjoying recreational substances in my tender teenage years. This led to an unfortunate habit, and then an unfortunate lifestyle where I sold large amounts of these weapons-grade stimulators of the pleasure centers of the brain, and that in turn led to an arrest because one of the guys I was working with could not keep his mouth shut. After several years in one of the infernal centers of mutual torture known as a correctional facility, I found myself at a bus station with fifty dollars and my clothes. I knew right away that they would be watching me, so I wasted another year of my youth as a food service technician, more generally known as a busboy, moving up to kitchen prep. My erstwhile friend was just relaxing, figuring that I was as weak as the rest of these idiots, when his car broke down on a lonely road. I had spent my time in the prison library and then, after a day of scraping wasted food from heavy porcelain plates, reading more at the public library. I had a used laptop I had acquired from from a friend, and loaned it freely, then used it myself to look up information of note on the internet. I still have a thumb drive of all of those texts, enough to spend a year reading, detailing the procedures and standards of my profession and related skills. I have much of them memorized, having spent countless hours in the night in my rented room in a tenement which I shared with a few others in my temporary profession, reading and re-reading until I had absorbed every quantum of vital information from them. My friend, who when stopped for a minor offense had rolled over on me so he could keep using — a curious term, common to those who smoke, snort or inject high-powered psychoactive substances: a transitive verb made intransitive, because when you use drugs there is only one purpose and one object to all actions — opened up the hood, nicely silhouetted by the headlights, and never felt what was coming next. He came to in the back of a truck I had borrowed, and would return unscratched and scrupulously cleaned in the morning, heading far into the country. His eyes pled with me but I showed no emotion as I double taped his mouth and put him on top of the seven-foot heap of alternately stacked firewood I had made in a pit far off the roads, deep in the woods. His muffled whimpers did not give me any satisfaction or induce any compassion as I soaked that wood first in diesel, next in gasoline, and then scattered the dust of a dozen crushed road flares over the mound.
I drew out my combat knife. “Nod twice if you want this to be relatively painless,” I said, but he was too panicked or angry to do anything but thrash. I put the knife away, lit a cigarette, and pitched it at the base of the mound from ten feet away, then watched until fire consumed the wood. His thrashing only lasted for about thirty seconds because the heat of forty gallons of mixed fuels and burning wood cooked him from within, his eyes squirting across his chest as the steam released from his broiling brain. I stepped into the shadows and watched until the mound burned down. Hours later, I took out a hammer and smashed any bones to dust, but found very little. The magnesium blazed with the gasoline and diesel, creating an inferno that was hot enough to melt his belt buckle, which I deposited in a nearby river. Any forensic scientist finding the ash would see nothing but fine grey powder. This did not stop me from scooping the cooling ash into a large metal trash can borrowed from a nearby park, and emptying it into a fast moving river. Now there is nothing but scorched dirt, and he will never be found. His car I cleaned thoroughly after parking it in front of a repair garage that I knew doubled as a chop-shop, keys in the ignition, a hundred dollar bill in the visor. I knew exactly what would happen and so he was recorded as missing, which allowed the police to pretend there was no crime, and keep their statistics looking good for the middle-class taxpayer, and his parents and friends to assume that he had run away to a life they would never imagine. The pretense of people is the greatest aid to my profession. Those who see a victim die will deny their own fear, and justify their obedience as a sensible business decision; his parents assumed that he was another drug casualty and never looked for him because finding him would lower their own social status. No one wants a wayward child. Perhaps someone missed him, or cried for him, but this was no concern to me. Those who wrong me face a singular penalty: total erasure, and a lingering fear in those around them that someone is watching, and stepping out of line brings a terrible price.
For the next few months, I looked around for something new. I never intended to spend my life in a restaurant, making meals for fatuous burghers gobbling burgers at high-end restaurants. With my record, I knew that I needed a new identity if I was to do anything but scrub floors or wash plates for the rest of my life, so I started saving up to invent myself a new cover story, and instead of living as me and venturing into that alternate life, living entirely as that life and having a third identity for when I was doing whatever I would do to earn money. I felt no particular sense of being evil, or doing wrong. In my view, I was reacting entirely plausibly to the world they had made. I grew up with parents smart enough to both know that our society was slowly collapsing into undead human ruins and false pretenses of authority, and to cleverly go into denial about that fact, inventing a religion of their own where somehow everyone would come to God and the gods of the market and stop acting like monkeys drunk on fermented fruit fallen at the base of their favorite trees. I could see the rottenness in everything but more importantly, I saw it in people. People would watch their communities fall apart, and do nothing, just because their home was not directly endangered. We all knew that high school was horrible, that the kids were sadists and the teachers only serious about producing enough obedient little robots to advance their own careers, but no one did anything. I could not imagine having a job as my father did, getting up every morning to go to some box of an office where most of what he did was keep dumb people from screwing up all of the time. There was no future, and so I got into drugs, and then the same people who had made the life into which I was born into Hell were afraid of me, and wanted me in jail, so that they could keep being miserable and hiding in their homes like mice.
When I put my killface on, and go out into the streets to find my target, shoot them until they fall and then liquefy their brains, it is the faces of the middle class that I see. The good obedient people who take society at face value and assume that everything will work out fine just so long as they keep earning enough money to be comfortable, by ignoring this dark underside in which I live, perpetuate the rottenness. Their leaders lie to them and they applaud. Those leaders are no different than me. They see a market, and they want their share. They know there is no Heaven, no judging God, and no right and wrong. There is only a predatory animal that can achieve its goal and be comfortable, and the rest of the stupid scared sheep who will let it happen by retreating to their homes, credit cards and job titles. They know that people like me are out here, and their only hope is to avoid us. This is what those who employ me count upon. The middle class business owner will run into problems, take out an emergency loan or ask for protection, and then think that he is clever because he has a nice house and a security guard out in front of his shop. That security guard sees me coming and he will take his break right then because he is not going to risk his life for someone who never did anything to make society better for all of the rest of us. Sure, they give money. They pay taxes. They care about the poor. But they do not care about the world in which we live, the factories pouring smoke and weird chemical blends into our rivers, the legal corruption of government and corporations, the dishonesty of most people, the horror of our institutions. They just want their own little slice and to hide when people like me come storming around, at least until the day when I raise my silenced pistol and line it up with a circle on their center body mass, squeezing the trigger like an inborn instinct, watching them fall and then ending the dance with a brain-stem coda.
At the last of the bars, I finish another watery beer. Time to buy bourbon and stumble home. I see a man in an expensive motorcar and he looks at me with a kind of pity: a loser, he thinks, because I do not have his bank account or job title. The fact is that I will be retired sooner, and if this man gets in the way of the invisible economy I protect, my eyes will be the last ones he looks into, searching for a reason as the copper-coated lead eats its way through his heart. At the grocery store, I make sure to look bored and disinterested. You have to look like the rest of them, which means pretending that you are the five feet and ten future minutes of space around you, and to be ignorant and uncaring about anything else. You do not want to make it better. You are unaware that it can get worse. All you want is your bourbon, and your television. My neighbors in the hood pity me as well. They see me as some beaten-down guy who gave up on life. At least this is honest, because they know many like me. We take a look at what is out there and realize that there is nothing. Nothing but more days just like the one before, until you retire and then no one cares what happens to you. My life changed a few weeks after I erased the witness against me. I was walking home, staying alert but looking stuporous and distracted like anyone else. As I passed a row of cars, a voice called out, quiet enough to be legally denied and rich with a grainy, deep undertone of resignation. “Hey, Houdini,” it said. I raised an eye in its direction.
“C’mere,” he said, from inside a darkened car, a puff of blue-grey cigar smoke emerging with the sound. I went and sat with him, because this was the type of man who you addressed according to his rules. I had met men like him in prison, and I knew that while I could kill him, or deceive him, that he was like the tip of a forest extending into a field, and that I could not see the legion that would follow. He was a man in an organization.
“I hear you’re good at making people disappear,” he said. I thought about how to respond, and after a moment, just gave him a broad smile. He explained the ground rules: every day, I had to be somewhere I could easily be found, at noon. Someone would come out of the lunch crowd and sit down next to me, then leave a bag of trash. In it would be a picture with a name and address written on the back. If I took the picture, I took the job. When it was done, they would find me the same way, and the bag would have money in it. The amount depended on how well I was regarded and the quality of the hit. There was no getting out. Once I took that first bag, I was in it for life, just like he was. I thought about it and told him a location. Some time later, maybe a year but perhaps less, I realized that I had come to enjoy it. In the midst of the rottenness, it felt good to be destroying, even if that might make me part of the rottenness. I am a force of chaos breaking down a rotten order and most days, it feels good:
Again, there’s no justification for the “diversity of tactics” approach to protesting (smashing and burning things). LeMaster seems concerned about the “baggage” anarchism has but she’s not asked to justify her decision to align herself with that baggage. Again, this seems like the obvious question to ask but it doesn’t get asked for some reason.
There’s more in the piece, including one anarchist who took it up after attending a punk rock show, but the article never does offer much of a justification for the violence which is the main distinctive of anarchist protests. As a reader, you’re left with the impression that participants feel there’s a certain outlaw romance to the whole thing, i.e. dressing in black, wearing a mask, breaking windows and breaking the law, running from police, etc. That kind of excitement tinged with the risk of being arrested must create a real adrenaline rush and some group solidarity among those who do it. You can imagine them sitting around later talking about all the chaos and replaying their role in it for friends.
Does any of that justify destroying Muhammad Ashraf’s limo or doing $100,000 worth of damage to buildings in the form of broken glass? I don’t think so but clearly, the anarchists must.
The names and locations blur together, but I keep a notebook. Each time I come home, I wait a few hours then go on down to the grocery for smokes. On the way, I visit a storage locker where I press my thumb on a pad that is mounted inside the unit I rent every month. It registers that I am alive and warm. If I fail to do that within a week, a file that is hidden in a dozen places on the internet will be mailed to every major news organization in the world. It is a list of the hits I have done, the times and the names, with the reasons why if I know them and a code-name for who did them. It does not matter that the real names are not there because it is easy to see who these would be, for those in the know at least. I do not expect the press to do anything with these, but I know they will float around, that will ruin the mystique. The kills are magical when they come out of nowhere, and a person who thought themselves untouchable in middle-class respectability is found dead with the characteristic pattern of shots. People fear the nameless power and obey it, just like they fear society but obey it, good little mice just interested in their own grain and to be able to hide silently in their holes while the terror continues. Every day they swallow that terror and hide it within themselves, and the denial makes them cancerous. That cancer made me take the path I did, and it makes it necessary that I do what I do. There is no escape as it grows in power, like clouds covering the earth, and soon it will take them too. I see the fear in their eyes as I raise the silencer. It is not that moment, but every other moment that they live in fear as I did as a child, that is my revenge.