Our family home is the brightest house I have ever seen. I pull the curtains down to drown out some of the sun's gaze. I have been in many uneasy spots in my life but never was I as jumpy as I am now. The Laurence family will soon assemble in the living room, curious about the unusual rendezvous. I had used the ruse of growing distance and preoccupation to gather my far and wide family to enjoy a family retreat. My 'Retreat' nosedived from the start when my understanding of family fell short of my mom's version. She invited all the cousins, aunts and uncles. Luckily for me, for the very reasons I had used to bait them into coming to the retreat, only my father's cousins: Ben and Belinda, and; my cousin Tim who occasionally sojourns at our place were the only guests. Unluckily for me, Ben is the worst gossiper and Belinda has strong views on the matter I wish to discuss. Well, it won't be a discussion. I want to reveal my well-thought decision to my family and convince them (if possible) to support me. Belinda has already taken her place on the sofa. She tells me how very impressed she is with my work and that she expects more from me. My gut is tingling, but not in a good way.
Upstairs in their bedroom, Mr. and Mrs. Laurence are getting ready for the family. When Mark introduced the idea of a retreat, Anne thought it was very mature of him to think of the family. Her husband was more skeptical and is presently airing his suspicions to his wife.
"That boy has never needed his family or wanted any of us. I don't believe him to have discovered fraternity all at once. I am telling you he messed up big time and needs our help. But is too bashful to ask for it directly. He was lying through his teeth in that email. A sentimental Mark," Graham Laurence chuckles gleefully, "It is a miracle he can stand the two of us; he sure hates Helen."
"Our children don't hate each other. They simply disagree on…everything. He wants to introduce a girl. Even Mark knows better that his partner should hold the standards of the family... That is why I am putting on my best gowns. I suggest you do the same. We have to impress the girl as much as she has to wow us."
The sight of my parents in their best evening clothes tells me that they have grossly underestimated the situation. They are bedizened from head to toe. They examine the room for someone and soon realizes that they could have mistaken.
"I did not know we had to look startling," said Uncle Ben.
"You made no mistake, Ben. Graham and I enjoy the sporadic decking up. If you have been together for as long as us and still have to spend days apart, one has to find things to do together. You will find us golfing in the evening although I hate golf." My mother places her hand on my father. It might have been a cherishing hand or a warning one to prevent him from destroying her save.
Good save Mom, I thought though I did not know what they could have been expecting. I clear my throat to begin my monologue. There is no need to delay. My parents and I are in the same room after two years and after today it is doubtful if they would want to see me ever again .
"Do you see your sister here, Mark? She is sorry she couldn't make it here on time. She had urgent business. She will be here in a minute." My father was lying. Helen would never apologize to me. I sit down with a huff. I can be patient today. He is rummaging the kitchen cupboards.
"Where is the bloody tea? I swear I had some in this cupboard."
"That was a year ago, dear. Check the closet.”
"Still, tea doesn't grow a pair and walk off", he angrily eyes the sleeping figure of Tim.
"Leave the boy alone, Graham. He tries. His job doesn't allow much sleep.”
My father opens the closet and the slumped body of the mayor hits the ground, upsetting my mom from her chair.
"TIM LAURENCE…," she screeched, yanking Tim out of his beanbag, "Why do you have a man in my closet? I have a perfectly good basement for that."
"Look at the size of that man. I am half of him. Anyway, he is only here for one more hour before they come to pick him up,” Tim protests.
My mother would not hear it. Tim looks beseechingly at the rest of the family for aid. Only my father met his eyes but he has no intention to help the poor boy. He is relishing the boy's plight and is glad that his wife who has always viewed the boy with great sympathy, was berating him. When I raise my eyes, it meets Tim's and I grudgingly help him carry the mayor to the basement.
I trudge the stairs, exhausted from carrying the bulky mayor. It has been a long time since I carried anyone. In my line of work, we leave bodies plain at sight. I see my sister slouching in the doorway. I expect her to slander me but she chose to kiss Tim who I am sure she doesn't even remember. In a minute, it will be hard for her to ignore me, I think grimly.
I did not waste another moment and announces: "Leeuwenhoek was my last assignment. I will no longer work as an assassin. I have tied up all loose ends. There is no way the Agency would be led to me and I look forward to a peaceful retirement. I understand that this might be difficult for you to process but I assure you I am sane enough to have made this choice.
"Blasphemy," cried Uncle Ben.
My sister, who I thought would be glad asks, "Did you grow a conscience?"
"Is it because of me? I was prudent in teaching the new generation the perils of association with ordinary self-righteous folk. Your life would be a mimicry for you will never belong there." Aunt Belinda shook her head aggressively and turning to my parents, declaring "I promise I haven't put any silly ideas in your son's head!”
"We have been thieves and conspirators and assassins from ancient times. Never has there been an evil intent without our family at the vortex of it. We fell into hard times a lot. The opportunities you have had is the goodwill of your ancestors. And here you stand besmirching their good name. Never has a Laurence turned their backs on their family.”
"Grandpa Rick was an accountant. He had never committed any fraud or theft although he was in a convenient spot."
"How dare you use my father to justify your selfishness. The poor man wanted to steal, if not for his heart. He wished he could but he was born with a guilty conscience. No one can succeed with that. You, on the other hand, was blessed with an untarnished conscience and a malevolent heart. Yet you choose to smear us."
"Is it me?" cried Aunt Belinda. I choose to ignore her for a little longer as my father's roaring laughter is confusing me. I had expected him to explode and accuse me of insubordination and selfishness.
"You are proving me right again, young man. Your mother has never dealt with this lunacy. You inherit it from my side of the family. I have had uncles and great uncles and aunts… and cousin" he looks pointedly at Aunt Belinda," to waver to the other side. Most came running back to the family, others perished or were the cause of our endangerment."
"Arthur McArthur is the bane of our existence. He is incessant in his search for us when many before him dismissed us as an enigma." Uncle Ben was talking more to his sister than to me, “I love you, sis but your taste in men is pernicious to us and you."
"He had a shiny little head. I have a thing for shiny little heads," Aunt Belinda said explaining herself. She is uncomfortably close to me that our noses meet. "I was in love and our love made us go cuckoo," she whispers sinisterly. I try to get away from her but her hands are around me. Aunt Belinda's modus operandi involves twisting the necks of her victims. "But we were who we are: criminal and saint; and we tried to change each other. That was a mistake. He is now a mad hound, hunting us." She looks over half expecting her ex-lover to pounce on our little party. "So, whoever this woman of yours is, run boy, run." Her wide-open eyes terrified me so much that I managed to wriggle away.
"There is no woman…. And my decision has nothing to do with you," I tell Aunt Belinda, who does not look convinced. I turn to address the rest of the family, "I am bored with my job. There is no thrill anymore. Everything is so monotonous. I don't want to regret it later in life."
My sister interjects, "What? You want a Tom to your Jerry. A Sherlock to your Moriarty?”
"That is stupid. Do not engage with chasing adversaries. That is the second rule of the family” Uncle Ben looks at me with a queer expression like I am some silly little boy.
"I do not want to make anything interesting. I am done with it. It was pretty decent of me to inform you rather than leaving you blindsided."
"How very decent," said my father sarcastically, "Please enlighten us with your plans."
"If you say 'Eat. Pray. Travel', I will puke." I promise myself that I will smother Helen the next time she makes a sarcastic comment and continues, “I think I will go to college. I will figure things along the way. I have enough money to give me a start.”
"Please say Law, so that I can smack that empty head of yours." My sister cannot keep her mouth shut. Fortunately, I have more restraint than I anticipated and looks at my mother. She looks like she has a lot to say but my revelation was unforeseen and she is having difficulty citing reasons to stop me from throwing my career away.
“You cannot strangle a professor over bad grades. You were never good with book knowledge. They were tremendously confusing to you. You can’t do much good in college.”
“Thanks for the vote of confidence, Mom,” I retort.
“You cannot blackmail, deal, or gamble. Nor can you extort from prom funds or any frats. If you get in trouble, we are no longer present to protect you,” she continues paying no attention to my remark.
I speak before she could go on naming the ‘can don’ts’ if one doesn’t have the protection of a formidable criminal family. “I have no sinister plans for college and I am perfectly capable of looking after myself if at all I get in trouble."
Helen puts on her most sympathetic face and take my hand to hers, “Did you develop hemophobia during the last assignment? Please allow us to understand your predicament. Or did you think you peaked out already?”
“Sod off, Helen. You are not fooling anybody. Your eyes betray your relief to have me gone finally. Mum and Dad will have to be satisfied with your mediocrity from now on.”
"Prick," she spits and comes at me with a knife. Helen swishes the knife around like a madwoman. She might be the best hacker but her fighting skill is adequate at best. She plunges once again. This time, Uncle Ben trying to stop us from killing each other, prevents my movement and the knife cuts my cheek. I hold my bleeding cheek and then with that bloody hand, I punch Helen; her face is splattered with blood: hers and mine.
Mum and Dad are sipping their tea, without taking their eyes off us but never bothering to stop us. Our instincts to impress our parents take over, we are fighting for approval. I have my sister in a death knot when, we hear the alarm followed by a warning.
"BREACH ON GATE 2"
"BREACH ON GATE 2"
"INITIATING ESCAPE PROTOCOL. PLEASE EVACUATE"
"It is that dog…. He has found us," says Dad looking at the monitor. My parents refuse to call Arthur McArthur by his blood-curdling nickname 'The Hound'. They reject the man’s intelligence and patience. Arthur did deserve more than credit for he has cornered us. Dad points to the two of us. "Clean the blood. Burn your effects. We leave in five minutes. Tim, get the mayor.”
"Why? My employers plan to kill him anyway. He would only slow us down," objects Tim.
Holding Tim by the collar my dad says, "Laurences always finish the job. You don't get to make the rules. Belinda, Help the boy.” My aunt was sitting on the floor, pale. Tim drags her with him.
"We have to split. Helen and Tim with Graham," pointing menacingly at me she says, "You with me. Ben and Belinda will take the third exit."
"You want me to bump off my poor sister?” murmurs Uncle Ben with great feeling, “We would be doing her mercy. With the hound pursuing her, she has lost most of her game and all her peace. He plots to annihilate us along with her. Bel has been a liability for a long time. I know the family has been discussing her future. I would prefer if I could eliminate her. A brother’s gentle hand… "
"Ben, do not talk about killing your sibling in front of my kids." Mum prods her lean fingers on the big man's chest," I don't want them to think murdering their sibling is okay." I wouldn't murder Helen, I think. There are other ways to hurt her. I look at her and the sinister smile she has makes me unsure whether the feeling is reciprocated.
We enter the tunnels beneath the mansion and spilts, taking one of the many passages. They are dark and cold. We are to make contact with the others once the coast is clear. It is sad to abandon our family home. But, in seconds, it would be crawling with every agency in this world, and in minutes, they would discover the tunnel. We do not stop running. Behind me, I hear a blast. All of the evidence of our presence vanished with it. We did burn our stuff but one can never be too sure. Hence, burning the mansion down was necessary. We are at the end of the tunnel. It is pitch dark outside.
I say to my mother, "Think 'the hound' would have been killed in the blast?"
"If the dog isn't dead. You make sure he is. Then we will talk about your early retirement. Till then, you owe us. I know you don't realize that and I don't have time to explain. See to that it is done."
With that, my mum walks into the night and becomes the night herself. I forget that she is a very dangerous woman; I was reminded of that fact just now. I can see freedom on the horizon without obligations; within my grasp, for the hound is a dead man.