Something always happens when you order a set of knives--the kind not made for food. The kind with pretty hilts and almost transparently sharp blades. Sold on sites only a handful of people knew existed.
Yup, the very idea promised trouble.
But needs are needs, and after a couple years, every set needs its due replacement. Eventually blood doesn’t want to scrub off anymore, stubbornly clinging with its special penny perfume despite her laborious efforts to make them sparkle. The hilts start to fade and tarnish, pretty designs rubbing away under her palms. Luckily, she was a part of the handful that knew.
Her and the others knew, like all assassins should, the sites to shop on and the ones to add to that never-ending list, one that lived in their heads, straining with names.
A coworker of sorts tipped her off to the perfect site, one that didn’t steal bank information yet still deterred the occasional internet wanderer with its shady products and confusing links. Connie’s Cutlery, it was called. Connie probably didn’t exist, but her cutlery sure did.
Whoever Connie really was, they knew their stuff. They knew how to live low and sell low, supplying bad people with the best sharp pieces of metal they could ever dare hope for.
And today, Henrie expected her second ever package from Connie’s Cutlery.
It cost a couple month’s mortgage, but she needed them to keep paying the mortgage, so that part didn’t really matter. Rory lined her up with another job, one he promised would earn her one of the biggest checks of her career.
Royalty drove her price up, way up. But Rory promised she could do it, and she believed him. He was normally exact on that account.
This princess wasn’t your typical ballgowns and handsome men type, no. Princess Laurie, though she was aging remarkably well, was old. Forgotten by the small country she vaguely led with her shriveled husband and her younger brother, who was king. Americans didn’t even know the name of the country, much less the name Princess Laurie. She made for one simple, pricey hit.
Henrie wondered who hired her and why, being that Laurie was one strong gust of wind away from death. But hatred made people do crazier things, that she knew. Some said that was in fact love, but after ten years, Henrie knew it was anything but. Love didn’t make people crazy. It didn’t drive them crazy. It drives them to suicide. One dies so the other can live.
Hatred brings this concept to another level, a level where one actually interacts with another person. It backs every dollar deposited into her account and it lines each silk jacket slipped over sleazy shoulders.
Enough to free her from ever working in retail again, and enough to flee the claustrophobic city some liked to call home. Minneapolis wasn’t home, sure as hell wasn’t. Home feels safe.
Her Victorian two-story in a small lake town embodied that feeling. Even on the nights she came home with a sheen of dry blood crackling over her skin, wearier and more bruised than she could ever recall being, the sight of the light blue siding and lacy cream edges always gave her heart a reassuring thump.
When she first saw Rory’s ad ten years ago, she thought it was a joke. How could it not be?
In search of female interpreter. Must be over 5’ 8” and 140lbs. Must be fluent in Russian and French. Contract work.
The first glaringly odd detail was the height and weight requirements--for an interpreter. But double shifts got old fast. And she was tall enough, weighed enough. Best of all, she knew five languages, French and Russian included. The only real gift she ever thought she had.
Until she met Rory. Until she realized she wouldn’t be doing much interpreting. Until he put a gun in her hand and asked her to shoot.
He gave her the job and promised a steady stream of small jobs, each paying what she made in two weeks working at Verizon. She accepted without hesitation.
Ten years later, her name got passed around in hushed whispers, fear catching in people's throats. Rory named her Jinx, smiling when he described it as both a promise and a warning. And, he added, just a lot more interesting than Henrie.
Henrie waited with ebbing patience for the familiar rumble of the mail truck, stirring cream into her third cup of coffee. Looking down, she realized she hadn’t scrubbed her fingers well enough after last night. Little red crusts hunkered under her nails, some of the last remnants of a Mr. Harry Spurrow. He owed money to the wrong people. People that actually paid her much more than he owed, but Rory said that was common. Hate is blind, even to numbers.
Princess Laurie promised to be a complicated mission, but Henrie looked forward to it. Complicated happened less and less as more years went by, and it somehow made everything feel dull, meaningless. The buzz left, replaced with a vague sense of purpose that she wondered might lie in other places now. Like in a real life. A spouse, someone to fill the space.
Henrie thought about it more often with each dissolving year. Now that money wasn’t an issue, she’d earned enough to never work another day in her life, nothing really stood in the way. Nothing besides who she let herself become. But what could any suitor expect? Trauma does different things to different people, and people knew that now more than ever. Still, she supposed it was naïve to expect Mr. Perfect to look past all the bodies trailing behind her. She guessed they formed a mile long stretch by now. Hard to ignore.
She drained the cup, dry tongue bitter after three cups of coffee made the special way -- with an extra scoop or so of grounds. Then the rumble came.
Henrie got to her feet, setting her mug by the sink and peering out of her kitchen’s front window. Mail guy was at her neighbors, shoving an interestingly large wad of letters into their mailbox. He shut it, then she watched him crank the gear into drive and loop to the other side of the street, braking at her box. He deposited a couple letters into her box then leaned, grabbing something from the back.
Henrie stepped away from the window, letting the lacy curtain swoop back over it. She waited by her front door, listening for the sound of his feet on her brick walkway. There was a longer pause than she expected, but he came crunching up all the same, dry yellow leaves scuttling aside with his footfall. He knocked and promptly walked away. She waited a beat before unlocking the deadbolts and opening the door.
Henrie stared down at her doormat. Two packages sat on it, one unmarked and heavily taped and the other covered in some sort of gift wrap. It might as well have been covered in blood.
Heart picking up, Henrie took the packages inside, sliding the bolts back in place. The one was definitely the knives, the other could be a bomb. She debated calling Rory.
What? What’d you say? A package? You have a package? Oh. Why’s it matter if it’s wrapped?
Yeah, pointless. If it really was a bomb it’d probably be heavier, anyway. Henrie set down the knives, gauging the weight and size of the other package. Maybe a pound? Less, once the thick brown paper decorated with gold polka dots came off.
Connie’s long awaited Cutlery forgotten, Henrie ripped off the paper. The box had a lid, like the boxes fancy stores sent your stuff home in, no extra charge. She lifted it off.
A teddy bear stared up at her, its scratched and dull eyes conveying the most sinister expression she’d ever seen. Maybe that just came from everything else about it, though. Teddy nestled in red tissue paper, his light brown body disheveled and worn, proving that he was either well-loved or just prey to a family dog. A square of white paper rested on his tummy.
Henrie reached for it, unable to determine what felt so wrong about it. She unfolded the square.
Remember this, Jinx? If you do, you’ll remember me. Do you? Maybe you’ll remember my mother. Candice Felix. I’m coming to pick up Bruce.
Candice Felix. The little boy in the passenger seat, the one she briefly felt bad for as she walked by their car, the crowded downtown street hiding the carefully aimed barrel of her gun. Candice was one of her firsts, almost ten years ago. Henrie looked down at the bear again.
He wore something around his neck, a thin red ribbon. She slipped her finger under it, raising the little plastic tag barely holding on to the ribbon. She turned it over.
Henrie shook her head once. It didn’t make sense. She picked up Bruce, raising him to the morning sun cheerly slanting through her kitchen window. The extra light revealed nothing more than what he was, a teddy bear. She set Bruce aside.
Something else sat in the box, right under where Bruce lay. Another piece of white paper. Henrie grabbed it, flipping it over in her hand. A picture. Rory.
Dead. Sprawled face first on carpet she recognized. Carpet he asked her opinion on before he installed it in his massive living room.
The picture began to tremble in her hand. Henrie dropped it in the box, hurriedly grabbing for its lid before she remembered. Bruce.
He stared at her ceiling, dead eyes gouged and scratched. She picked him up, supporting his limp body to stare at those eyes. They seemed to breathe, speak even.
It's your turn.