Very few people knew of his existence.
Of those few, all but one were dead.
Which is why it was such a surprise when he heard the heartbeat-quick rap on his door.
Slowly, ever so slowly, the grizzled man shifted from his seated position. His joints cracked as he stood, turtle-slow, and yet the way with which he moved seemed to reflect the man he had once been, a man who could, whisper-silent, slip through the shadows. Yes, his younger self did show- reflected in a warped funhouse mirror.
He paused, staring at the door with his unnaturally golden eyes. How easy it would be for him to sink back into his padded armchair, to rest for yet another year…
Another knock, this one louder, more insistent. His wrinkled hand moved towards the ornate doorknob, then hesitated.
Another sharp rap. The door quivered.
His decision made, he swung the door open. The rusty hinges squealed in protest- the man had not left his apartment for quite a long time. Too long.
A woman stood in front of him. She was classically beautiful, the sort of woman who, with a toss of her ruby tresses, could enchant the taxi driver into letting her ride, free of charge. She was also the sort of woman to take advantage of that. So the man summed up, in his aged but razor-sharp mind, the siren now standing in front of him.
“Countess Anastasia Lissandrelli,” she purred, extending a well- manicured hand.
Her nails were like claws.
The man coolly examined her outstretched hand, and shook it. Once. She raised an eyebrow, waiting for him to offer his name in return.
He said nothing. The man did not deal in pleasantries. She swept into the cramped room in a swish of lace skirts. His feeble body slowly made its way across the room to join the Countess by the smoldering fire.
Easy, yes, a very easy man to underestimate, thought the Countess, a secret smile curving her painted lips. Easy if you merely looked at his body, perhaps. But glance at his golden eyes- fierce. Deadly.
She realized with a momentary touch of surprise that he had been speaking to her.
“Apologies, my dear Sir, but my head was elsewhere…” Oh, how she loved this game!
His cursory glance registered the barest hint of impatience.
“I said, what brings you here, Countess? It has been… long, since I have seen you.”
Polite words, yes. But his stomach clenched at the thought of what the reason for her visit might be.
“Why, Sir, this is merely a friendly call.”
He raised an eyebrow. His hand twitched- a nervous tick he could never quite rid himself of. The Countess Lissandrelli did not, as a rule, make friendly calls. No, he reflected, this deadly woman, master of subtleties- she most certainly does not.
“Anastasia.” His scratched-record voice was hard, and his gold eyes flashed. The ordinarily unruffled Countess drew back slightly, reminded in his harshness of her reason for coming. “Anastasia, I will only say this once more. What. Do. You. Want?”
Her eyes widened slightly, but she disguised her surprise with a short laugh. At least, she thought she did. Very little got past the man.
“You got me,” she purred, flashing a smile of purest white. Her smooth, sultry voice turned to iciest steel. Her glossy shark lips parted to release the very word he’d been dreading.
“You owe me a favor,”
He knew those dagger words were coming, but they still hit him like a punch to the chest. But the man stood, fire in his eyes, and glared at the Countess.
“Well, come out of retirement. You’re the expert.” Her lips twisted in a cruel smile. “Or, of course, I could always go to the police.”
“And bring yourself down with me? I don’t think you would. Oh, yes, Anastasia, I never forgot the Junebug job.”
“And here I was thinking you’d had so many- jobs, are we calling them?- that you wouldn’t remember mine. It matters not. Who do you think the police would believe?”
Oh, he remembered her job, of course. How could he not? It was one of the cruelest…jobs… he’d ever taken on. But she was right- there had been many, dozens even, in those days. He’d thought nothing of it. The itch had been there, as always. And of course, the compensation had been generous.
Her voice called him out of his remembrances. She was holding a knife. It gleamed as she held it out to him, light from the crackling fire reflecting off the silver blade. The blade was thin, strong, deadly. His fingers itched for it, longed for it, begged to hold the smooth handle once again. Yet, the Countess was holding it just out of his reach.
“Yes,” she hissed, her ruby lips forming the tantalizing word. “You are, the expert, though it’s been- a decade? More? Since your last assassination.” The word slid through her throat, ripe with the iron taste of blood.
“Killing. Since the last killing.”
“Tomato, tomahto.” She handed him the curved, deadly knife, and his hand seemed to vibrate with necessity, with bloodlust.
Countess Lissandrelli smiled a snake smile, her arched brows tilted. She held a glossy picture in front of him. Her shining nails tap tap tapped against the image of a young girl with shining dark pigtails, her smiling face looking up at the two standing above.
The old man froze.
“Anastasia, you- you know I don’t - well- assassinate kids.”
His wrinkled lips were curved into a scowl as bramble hair worry lines threaded his forehead. He could still remember the one- the only- time he’d taken a job on a kid. He remembered it vividly, as though watching an endless movie, one filled with death and gore that you could never turn off. He’d been so close, barely inches away, even breaths marking his heartbeat as he’d held the dagger to the sleeping boy’s throat.
Since then, he didn’t do children.
The Countess smirked at his indecision.
“I could ruin you. How many have you killed, old friend? Dozens? More?” her voice hummed, silky smooth, cat like. “But, of course, I won’t. If you take this job.” Teasing, taunting, her cool voice stretched on.
The knife was almost humming in the old man’s hand. It had been far too long. The itch was almost overwhelming- never, in all his years, had he been able to suppress it. It was all consuming, overpowering…
Countess Anastasia Lissandrelli’s ruby lips began to form mocking words she never got to say.
Very few people knew of his existence.
Of the few, all were dead.