This is a sequel to my short story, ‘Of Red and its Irony’. This story makes more sense if you go back and read the other one.
My favorite color used to be red, but I never told her why.
Joining the UEA was supposed to be the happiest day of my life. No one knows when, where, or who started the Underground Extermination Agency, or UEA, which was on purpose. The only reason why I know that name is because I was a member. My great-grandfather was the first in my family to join, with a couple uncles and my father joining. Growing up, I always looked up to these people. The brave people in the UEA were my role models.
They were my secret role models, of course.
I remember being so excited when my father came home from Exterminating. Sometimes he would leave after I went to bed and return before I woke up. Sometimes he would let me help destroy the evidence or clean the blood splatters off his shirt. I knew that this was technically assassination, but I was taught from birth that it was for the greater good of society. Only bad people were Exterminated. They were rapists and murderers who didn’t have enough evidence against them to go to prison. They were abusive spouses or partners, or leaders who took advantage of the people under them. And besides, there was an intense thrill of dealing justice like a vigilante under the radar.
I started dating Molly in high school, and it didn’t take long for me to realize I would never find another Molly. She was my best friend, giving me the best years of my life. I also knew I couldn’t be a member of the UEA and continue to date her. My heart couldn’t do that to her.
She was accepted into her dream college, and it was obvious she was going there. I told her I would be going to a different college, even though I would be soon joining the UEA and not attending college at all. Her tears broke my heart, but it had to be done.
A few days before graduation, I overheard Molly and her best friend, Perrie, talking about college. She was going to attend the college I chose. My heart broke again, but I knew Perrie secretly had a crush on me. After the graduation ceremony, I made sure I could see Molly coming in the distance, pushed Perrie against the side of a building, and started passionately kissing her.
I hated every second of it. I hated the hands that ran through my hair and pulled me closer, but I opened my eyes just a crack to see Molly standing ten feet away, staring shocked at us. I unlatched myself from Perrie’s tentacle fingers as soon as Molly ran. Without giving Perrie a second look, I quickly walked away and never talked to her again.
As soon as I graduated high school, I began the training for the UEA. Molly soon became distant in my mind as I went through the brutal but necessary training, essential for making sure the target was always Eliminated and the UEA was never discovered.
I was so proud of myself when my first target was Eliminated. He was abusive, nearly killing his girlfriend and successfully killing his unborn child. His girlfriend was scared and didn’t press charges, but we knew what happened. He was dead by the time she was discharged from the hospital, and I was able to enjoy the satisfaction of seeing his red blood slowly dripping from his lips. I know it might sound like I’m a psychopath, but red was my favorite color because it made me think of blood, of justice, and of the greater good.
I first began to question the UEA when my target was a teenager.
“What did he do?” I asked as I skimmed through the information the agency already had.
“He robbed a small convenience store, putting many people’s livelihoods at risk.” My commander must have seen the skepticism as her blue eyes scanned my face. “This is for the greater good, George.”
I obediently repeated, “For the greater good.” For my entire life, I was told the UEA only Eliminated the worst of society. But didn’t this kid deserve a second chance? After all, he’s only fifteen. He still has time to turn his life around with proper help.
The target was Eliminated with poison. Thinking of seeing his blood made my stomach turn, but if I didn’t successfully Eliminate the target, questions would be raised against me. If I was found guilty of going against the UEA, even if there was only a smudge of evidence, I would be Eliminated immediately.
Eleven years after I joined, my commander gave me another target. “Molly Lawrence has been doing some digging on targets Eliminated by the UEA,” she said as she handed me a manila envelope. A ball dropped to the bottom of my stomach. Dread crawled across my chest and squeezed my heart as my commander kept talking. “She’s a detective who could compromise the secrecy of the agency. The target must be Eliminated within the next week. Are you up for the task for the greater good?”
I forced the air to move from my lungs. “Yes,” I said, keeping my voice level and pretending to scan the documents in the envelope.
Research on the target--my high school sweetheart--began immediately. UEA agencies were set up in big cities all over the country, disguised as small investing companies. Some of the members do investing, which is how we earn money, while the others research their targets and plan Eliminations.
After the debriefing with my commander, I stepped into the elevator, joining a woman already in it. She had the same caramel skin as Molly. Guilt kept my eyes glued to the carpet as the elevator soared upwards, dropping us both off at the sixth floor. I quickly stept out, weaving my way through the desks, computers, and fellow members of the agency to my desk. A few people said hello, but I barely acknowledged them. It would be better to get this over with.
An hour of digging later, I determined the two places Molly most regularly went were the police station, where she worked as a detective, and the grocery store. I obviously couldn’t Eliminate her in the police station surrounded by cops, and she lived in an apartment, so the grocery store would be the easiest place.
Using the agency’s resources to hack into security camera footage outside the grocery store, I figured out Molly’s shopping pattern: Thursday evenings after work, usually a little after 5:00. She usually took about half an hour.
The next morning and afternoon was a blur. Before I knew it, I was sitting in my car close to the grocery store entrance, waiting for Molly to arrive. All my supplies sat next to me in the passenger seat. My heart rushed every time I saw headlights pull in and out of the parking lot. The clock changed to 5:10 before I saw Molly’s small grey car park. She stepped out of the car, her long, black hair waving behind her as her wide, confident steps led her to the front doors. I realized this was the first time I had seen her since high school. She looked so mature now, so grown up, probably even more lovely than before . . .
I forced myself to snap out of it. This would also be the last time I’d see her. I quickly slid out of my car, taking the other entrance and grabbing a basket for a few random items. I walked calmly but with purpose--just like I’d done on many other Eliminations--through the store to the opposite end, looking down each row to see where Molly was.
There she was, scanning the bread aisle. I slowly walked halfway down the aisle, pretending to be interested in the foods while keeping Molly in the corner of my eye. Her arm grabbed a loaf of bread, then froze midair. A moment later, she forced her paralyzed arm to move, placing the bread in the front of her cart and trying to make a quick u-turn. Now was the time to act.
“Molly?” I knew she could hear me, but she pretended not to and pushed her squeaky cart away from me. No surprise there. I trotted up behind her, grabbing her arm.
“Molly, is that you?” She pursed her lips and slowly lifted her gaze to meet mine. She forced a pained smile.
“Hi, George.” Her voice came out sickly sweet. She looked back at her cart, pushing it forward even faster.
“Molly, wait!” She stopped and turned again, her patience waning.
“What? What do you want?”
I lifted my eyebrows in fake surprise at the sharpness in her tone. I’d become very good at lying with nonverbal cues. “I-I just wanted to see how you were doing, and if you want to, maybe, go out sometime.” My ears turned red, but it wasn’t fake this time. If she agreed to go out with me, I could poison her drink. I would prefer that simpler method.
“Thanks for the offer, but I have a boyfriend.”
“Eleven years have passed, and you’re still mad at your high school sweetheart for going to a different college than you?” She didn’t know I never actually went to college.
“No, I’m mad because eleven years ago my high school sweetheart cheated on me with my best friend.” I could feel my face turning red, also legitimate. It had to be done, but it still hurt.
“Yeah, I saw you two making out after graduation, and I wonder how long you two were together before that.”
“We-we weren’t dating anymore,” I said, adding nervousness to my voice and ran my fingers through my hair.
“We hadn’t officially broken up, and I was going to tell you I would change colleges for you. So you still broke my heart.” She briskly walked away, not waiting for a response.
She didn’t see my face change as she turned. It was time for Elimination, and my mind had to be in the game.
Immediately I went to the self checkout, knowing I still had about twenty minutes before she would be done shopping. My movements were calm and composed, just second nature by now. I dropped off the random foods in my car before putting on my black sweatshirt, beanie, and gloves. Just a thin but strong cord stared up at me in the passenger seat. My arm froze as I reached for it, momentarily questioning why I was doing this, but I quickly brushed it aside and shoved it into my pocket.
The sun had already set, perfect for me to sneak around unnoticed. I hunched over, quietly jogging over to Molly’s car and finding it unlocked. She was always so trusting. “You’re betraying an incredible person. There will never be a replacement for what you’re taking away,” said a voice in the back of my mind. “For the greater good,” my mind screamed back, silencing the thought.
Within seconds I had slithered onto the floor of her car, melting into the shadows and becoming as still as stone. I’m not sure how long I waited, but eventually the passenger door opened as I heard the rustle of grocery bags being loaded onto the seat. Without a single sound I slowly sat up, wrapping the cord around my hands. Before Molly could put her keys into the ignition, her head was forced back against the headrest. She struggled and choked, clawing at her neck in desperation. She was stronger than I expected. I had to pull back harder as a wave of hot anger rushed over me. Her deep, brown eyes widened in recognition as we both looked in the rear view mirror. Her fingernails turned red from tearing into her own skin.
My grip relaxed as her body slowed down, eventually slumping over with her head on the window. The anger vanished as quickly as it had come, being replaced with a tumult of emotions and thoughts. My breathing slowed down as I looked at Molly’s body, her fingernails painted red and a single drop of blood trickling down the front of her neck. That blood brought me no joy. That blood was innocent. My hands involuntarily covered my mouth. “What have I done?” I breathed into them. Guilt, shame, shock, horror, anger, and regret all combined into nausea. My stomach relieved its contents onto the car floor.
At that moment, sitting in a car with a dead body and vomit, my mind changed. It started with my great-grandfather, and it would end with me. I would call the police, tell them I was a murderer, and give them all the information I had on the UEA. I slowly pulled my phone out of my pocket and dialed 911.
By then it was too late for Molly, but it didn't have to be too late for others.
Red is now my least favorite color.