Some Crazy Notes: Sorry for the utter horridness of this; I wrote it essentially in one sitting. Reviews appreciated. AND YES I KNOW I USE THE SAME TWO PEOPLE ALL THE TIME.
He was a monster.
But, oh, was he ever a beautiful monster. Red hair, red hair that fell in thick, rounded waves and framed his face. Wide eyes, wide, scared hazel eyes, eyes that watched their surroundings with a melancholy sense to them. Narrow nose, narrow cheeks, sloping down into his skinny neck and broad shoulders. Full, rounded lips with a prominent Cupid's bow, lips that were slightly girlish, and yet retained some masculinity to them.
Thomas pressed his hand to the mirror, wiping away a bit more of the condensation. The glass was cold, cold just like her hands had been. Slowly, he reached up and brushed a stray lock of hair from his face, looping it behind his ear. He sighed, deeply, his shoulders sagging, as if the life were draining from him.
"Bitte, Gott, gib mir Kraft," he whispered to himself. He hadn't meant to say it in German; that part was an accident. But the message was the same. Please, God, give me strength.
He took a step back from the mirror, dropping the towel from his hips, and hearing it hit the floor with a soft pat. His skin was pale, milky white, but not in a sickly manner. Rather, he looked delicate, frail, something that concealed his true nature. He stared at himself in the mirror, surveying the damage. Thick, purple bruises coated the left side of his chest, spanning downward to his thigh. There was a long, shallow gash down his right side, one that didn't require stitches but certainly warranted a bandage of some sort. His arms were black and blue as well, with a smaller cut on his left shoulder. Thankfully, his face had been spared.
He finished dressing, black pants, white oxford shirt, his fingers nimbly moving over the buttons. He glanced at the tie left hanging over the doorknob of the bathroom door, debating whether or not to wear it. It seemed too formal, too chaste, and so he left his shirt with the top two buttons undone, exposing a bit of his neck. Donning his black jacket, he stepped from the bathroom and out into the apartment.
His shoes tapped along the mahogany floor, each step vaguely reminiscent of a clock counting down, a metronome to his slow waltz. He strode into the kitchen, staring at the contents on the table. With one slender hand, he reached out, grasping his car keys and settling them into his pocket. The other hand reached for the gun.
It was a Ruger MK II, a .22 caliber, with a silencer replacing the suppressor and the barrel. All in all, a beautiful piece of machinery, even if it was just a peashooter. But it also had sentimental value to him. As he picked up the gun, he turned it over, staring at the number engraved into the barrel.
Her name was Einundzwanzig.
At least, that was what her minions called her. It was German for twenty-one, that much was certain. However, why she had chosen it was beyond everyone. He had never met someone who knew the true story of her namesake, but he had met many a man who knew a rumor of it. They were wild tales, ranging from the simple (she was, in fact, only twenty-one years old) to the ridiculous (that she had murdered twenty one men in a barfight). But none quite fit, none quite seemed right, none could explain the enigmatic woman who was referred to as E.
To him, she was always E. Right from the day he had met her he had called her that. Just E. Nothing more. She didn't seem mortal enough to possess a normal name.
How they had crossed paths, however, was an eerie twist of fate, one so surreal that no matter how he pondered it the story still seemed more fiction than fact. What had he been before this, before his new, dark, monstrous life? He had been average, ordinary, just a boy, a boy who had fallen off his path and gotten involved with some very dangerous people.
He'd finished art school, holing up in a small studio apartment on the north side of the city, scraping together what little money he earned to pay the rent and utilities. His teaching job didn't pay much, but he'd tried to make do with what he could. And then he'd stumbled upon his vice, perhaps by accident, but more, he assumed, by fate.
In school he'd smoked a joint here or there, but he'd never hit anything hard. He was grateful he hadn't back then, because he knew he'd have never finished school if he had. The first time he snorted cocaine was the day that the dark time of his life began. Before long, he was strung out, homeless, an addict on the streets, selling himself to support an addiction. And a short while later, he became property of Victor Batista, a pimp who kept many women and a few men under his thumb to exploit for his own avaricious purposes.
Perhaps it was just bad karma, or perhaps a fortuitous twist of events, but at the exact moment E had strolled in, Thomas was getting the shit kicked out of him by Victor. He'd secretly pocketed an extra fifty from his earnings that night, one spent walking the street, and he planned to buy himself a smidge of heroin, just enough to get him through the night. Victor had him pinned down, Thomas bloody and beaten and semi-conscious, cognoscente of what could occur next- rape, mutilation, or perhaps worse.
And then E strode in the door. He wasn't sure exactly how she had gotten in the room; it seemed as though she had just appeared, as if by osmosis. She looked perfectly calm, perfectly relaxed, and immaculate in her goddamn suit. With a bored, apathetic expression, she lifted her gun and put three slugs into Victor, two into his chest and one into his skull. The deceased flopped to Thomas' left, but he didn't care; Tom was too weak to really do anything about it.
He felt someone pick him up, carrying him, his emaciated frame fitting neatly into her arms. It wouldn't be until later that he would truly see E's physical strength, but he sensed it now. The last thing he saw were her green eyes looking down at him as she carried him to the car, eyes that were snakelike, dead, unreadable, almost haunting.
He'd woken the next morning to the sound of rain. His head pounded, and there was a cast on his left arm, and some stitches in his side, but he knew he was alive. And whole. His blurry vision cleared after a moment, and he was able to discern E's figure as she stood in front of the window, watching the rain.
She was tall, with thick, solid shoulders, and an almost stocky body. He could see from her arms that she was rather well-built, muscular, a woman who knew a hard day's labor. Her hair was blonde, shaggy, parted over her left eye. It framed her small face, her narrow eyes giving way to sharp cheekbones and a long nose.
"What's your name?" she asked. He was surprised; she was American. He expected German, maybe Russian, from the looks of her. But American, no.
"Your name?" she said. "I know you speak English."
"I'm Thomas," he blurted out suddenly. "My name's…Thomas."
She turned to face him, smiling briefly. "I'm E."
He stared up at her from the bed. "What's that short for?"
"Einundzwanzig." She sat down on the bed beside him. "I'm going to make you an offer, Thomas. You can return to your life, if you do so like, but I'm going to offer you something… better. Albeit different, but better. You can stay here with me, if you want. But there's a catch. If you do, you'll learn my profession, my trade. You'll hold the lives of men in your hands."
He tilted his head. "I'll kill people?" he repeated.
It wasn't him. It wasn't him at all. He was the good boy, before he'd gotten mixed up in all of this. What had happened to him? This wasn't him, he wasn't a heroin addict who let men fuck him by night. He was his mother's little painter, the artistic kid whom everyone secretly wanted to be like. He suddenly felt the need to vomit.
"Can I have a day to think about it?" he asked.
She nodded, gazing at him with the dead eyes, the eyes that seemed to crack him open like a walnut and see his innermost thoughts, his innermost secrets. But no matter how hard he stared back, he couldn't seem to crack her.
Withdrawal was hell.
He puked his guts out, he shook like a leaf, his skin itched and crawled. His body felt so cold that E fetched him her entire store of blankets, wrapping him up like a snowman, and then his body was set on fire, so much so that he stripped off all of his clothes and lay on her bathroom floor, the tiles cold and comforting. He hallucinated, he screamed and begged for drugs, for anything, but E kept him locked in the bathroom. He never suspected that getting clean would be this hard.
Eventually, he fell asleep, curled up on her floor, half-naked. When he woke, his headache was gone and he could breathe, finally knowing that the worst of the storm was over. He found the door unlocked, and he slipped out, silently.
He found himself in the bedroom he'd been in before. Dark, blue, and yet substantially large, it was vacant except for the king-sized bed and the vanity, along with a dresser in the corner. Sighing, he meandered to the bed, finding some clothes folded there for him. He put them on, finding some slacks and a crimson-red oxford shirt.
Still sleepy and a bit disoriented, he stumbled into the kitchen, finding E setting out some plates. "I made waffles," she said. "Are waffles okay or do you want pancakes?"
He found it difficult to believe that this was the woman who had shot Victor Batista in cold blood two days prior. But there she stood, holding a plate to her chest, almost innocently, while she waited for his answer.
"Waffles are fine," he answered, scratching at the base of his cast.
"Good," she retorted, setting the plate down. He sat at one of the place settings at the table, rubbing at his eye. She returned with a plate of waffles, along with one of cut strawberries. "Hope you're not allergic," she added.
"No, no," he continued. She stepped back and watched him, momentarily, and he knew she was crawling into his head, trying to see what he'd decided.
"Before I ask you if you're staying or going, I think I ought to warn you." He froze abruptly, in the process of reaching for a strawberry. "What I do is dangerous. I work with bad, bad people. And I work for some very atrocious people. And I'll tell you now- I haven't gotten a good night's sleep in six years. It weighs on your conscience." Her nature returned to its serious state, the one he preferred. She stared at him, reading the book that was his hodgepodge of disoriented thoughts.
He took a moment to seriously consider her offer. What was at stake, currently on the table in front of him, was a life of violent criminal activity. It was also a way to grandeur, to splendor, and to power. But at what cost? His morals? His conscience? Perhaps his life?
His history teacher, in tenth grade, had asked him if he could, hypothetically, go back in time and kill Adolf Hitler, would he do it? Yes, he'd answered. But that was different. Hitler was an evil man, and with his death, one could make the case that millions of lives were saved.
And yet, hadn't Victor Batista been an evil man?
"Are you going to take the plunge, kiddo?" she said.
He looked up at her, still uncertain. His answer was half-yes, half-no, and entirely unspoken.
E was an excellent teacher.
The way she moved, graceful, and yet with reserved power, a certain darkness concealed behind her eyes, one so inviting and alluring that he longed to know its origin. She was a beautiful murder machine, morbid and swift, efficient and yet somewhat sentimental. He watched the way she surveyed people, crawled into their heads and raided their thoughts, a plunderer and pirate of men's secrets. She was a genius, well professed in human nature.
Besides humanity, E was learned in many other fields. She spoke at least five languages that Tom had confirmed, from the papers on her desk- Italian, French, Russian, English, and her favorite, German. Her bookshelves were lined with old tomes, dusty, but each thumbed, dog-eared, a sure sign she'd read them. E was ever eclectic.
Her specialty, however, was in bloodshed, as he would quickly learn. She was an excellent shot, both right and left handed (always be prepared, she told him). She taught him how to throw a knife in one fluid motion, practicing in the evenings with watermelons and cantaloupes she bought. Strings and wires became nooses in her hands. Even without a weapon, E was still not at a loss. She taught him to defend himself, surprising him when he least suspected it, knocking his legs out from under him.
Once, he recalled, he'd complained that she had an unfair advantage. And so, she challenged him to best her while she wore handcuffs as a handicap. He still hadn't lasted long. She'd gotten the cuffs wrapped around his neck in about a minute and a half, he remembered.
But he learned. He was never as good as a shot as she was ("Don't worry," she comforted. "It'll be close range, or though a scope. You needn't be perfect."), but he could throw a knife almost as well. He discovered that while he wasn't as swift as E was, he had more power, due to the fact that he was, obviously, of the male gender.
Time passed. He began to grow accustomed to E's crowd, a gang of murderers and thieves, each more despicable than the last. They knew his name, his face, but to them, he still remained E's kept boy, nothing more than a piece of furniture. She told him that once he established him, it would be forgotten, but he had to prove himself in order to get a reputation.
He learned the nuances of illegal trades. He quickly familiarized himself with the various factions- the Mafioso, the Red Mafiya (his personal favorite), the Yakuza, as well as more up-and-coming ones, and a few independents.
One night, they stood on the deck of E's summer home, out in Wales, listening to the waves crash on the beach a few hundred yards away. She leaned on the railing, carefree, her sleeves rolled to the elbow, and her tie absent. The wind blew her hair, ruffling it, a gentle breeze sweeping along the seashore.
He stood beside her, ever at a distance from her, never truly getting close to the enigmatic woman. He wondered, truly, why she never let anyone get close to her, why she never told her story. There was a wall sealing her off, keeping her locked in some invisible tower. Slowly, he reached over, and grasped her hand, finding it as cold as ever. She glanced at him.
"E," he said, without making eye contact, running his thumb along her knuckles, "E, do you want to…do you want to go to bed with me?"
"What?" she said, mildly bemused.
"Go to bed. As in, sex." He turned to face her, completely serious. "I'm very good. Turning tricks teaches you something, trust me."
"Don't be silly," she said. "What, you really think you're my little kept boy? That I'll toss you out if you're not fucking me? If I wanted a kept boy, I'd have my pick of half the world. But that's not what I'm looking for."
She started to turn away from him, heading back toward the door.
"E, then what are you looking for? A replacement?"
She stopped. "A companion," she answered, heading back inside.
He needed to know who she was.
What was the mystery that lay behind her eyes? Who was she had how had she fallen in with criminals such as these? Who had been there to teach her how to throw knives, how to stare down the scope of a sniper rifle, how strangle someone with handcuffs? Why was she able to see so easily into the hearts of men?
Back in the apartment, in the city, things were changing. People were beginning to notice E's new trainee, starting to take him seriously. He had never been given an assignment of his own, but he'd tagged along on more than a few of hers and seen how it was done. He longed, and feared, the day when she would set him out on his own. He was scared of losing E, of losing the woman who had dragged him from his own dark world straight into hers.
E was changing. She could no longer protect him from those who would seek to weed him out, she knew that. But it was hard, abandoning him without his knowledge. And yet she knew he had to learn somehow. The stress was showing on her. She was withdrawn, melancholy, more dangerous than ever. She would prevent him from meeting his untimely end prematurely, but she wouldn't stop him from being tossed around a bit. She wouldn't let him drown, but she had to let him swim.
"E," he said to her, one day, after dinner. "E, what's your real name?"
"Well, you must have a real name. Or had one, at some point."
"Come on, E," he protested. "I've been here two years and I know almost nothing about you."
"Aright," she said, sitting beside him at the table. And then, the story followed. "My real name, when I was a little kid, was Samantha Penelope Nolan. Now I say when I was a little kid because I haven't used that name in forever. My parents…Let's just say my momma never loved me and my daddy never cared. They left me under an overpass when I was five years old. I don't really remember anything about them, and I don't care to.
"After I spent a week on the streets, I fell in with a family. A family, in that sense, being a bunch of homeless kids who stick together. These kids got into some nasty shit, including stealing drugs from a kingpin to sell for food. Well, this kingpin wasn't too happy about it. He had most of us wiped out by a man I knew only as Louis. That was it. Just Louis. Why Louis spared me I don't know. He took me in. I was seven years old at the time.
"He got me into school. He taught me how to live a normal life. It wasn't so bad. He put me through college and everything. I knew what he did, though. I couldn't forget. But I couldn't condemn it, either. And that was why I came home after graduation and told him to teach me everything. He didn't want to, obviously, but I kept pestering him until he finally broke down.
"He taught me everything I taught you. Of course, he didn't teach me how to study people; that was something I've had from the beginning. It's not something you can learn, really. It's just there.
"When I was ready, he let me make my debut into the world. And I fought, tooth and nail, to secure my reputation. I've done a lot of bad things in life, kid. And that was where it started.
"Louis died a few years later. He wasn't killed, before you ask. He committed suicide. Shot himself." Her lips pursed together, in thought.
"Where does the Einundzwanzig part come in?"
"Where did I get it from?" she asked. "There are twenty-one letters in my name."
He scowled. She laughed.
"What, you were expecting something more exciting?"
"Well, yes, actually."
The snake-like grin was back on her face. "Not everything in life is what it appears to be, kid."
Three weeks later they came for him.
He was getting out of his car, the Benz she'd bought for him, and he felt someone sneak up behind him. There was a sharp pain in his neck, like he'd been jabbed with a needle, and then blackness.
When he awoke again, he was in a bare room, white, duct taped to a chair and missing his jacket. His head swam, still woozy from whatever they'd drugged him with, and he was thirsty. But mostly, he was scared. He had seen the corpses, he had seen what some of these people, the ones who enjoyed killing, who took sick pleasure in it, had done to the bodies. And it wasn't pretty. He was genuinely afraid now, afraid of whoever had taken him.
He heard a door open, and it had to be from behind him, because there was no door on any of the walls he could see. There were seven footsteps, and then Thomas could see a pair of neat black shoes standing before him. Cautiously, he looked up.
It was a man, mid-thirties, tired-looking, with an impatient air to him. His arms were folded behind him, and as he straightened up, Thomas heard the man's back snap.
"Good morning, Tom. How'd you sleep?" the man asked. "I'm Darryl, in case you were curious. Not like it matters, but I thought I'd do a dying man a courtesy."
"Fuck you," Tom spat. Darryl's arm snapped out, almost faster than what seemed possible, and grabbed Tom's throat and jaw in his hand.
"I'd cut your tongue out, but I'm curious to hear what kind of a dying confession you'll make." Darryl smiled, sadistically. He took a few steps, circling around Tom's chair, and returning with a metal cart, holding trays that contained sharp, nasty looking instruments. "We'll save these for later, won't we?"
"Now, I have one question for you, Tom," Darryl continued. "I want to know where E is."
Tom shook his head no.
Without warning, Darryl slapped him across the face. "Little fag," he whispered.
Tom stared at the floor, blood running down his lip. He heard Darryl futzing around with the cart again, producing a syringe. "Do you know what this is, Tommy boy?" he said, pressing the syringe into Tom's neck. "Rohypnol. Let's see how you fight back with this."
A familiar sense of wooziness swept over him. His limbs turned to lead, and he merely slumped forward onto the floor as Darryl cut him out of the chair. "Now, where's E, Tom?" he said, savagely kicking him in the ribs. Tom cringed, coughing, but managed to spit out, "I won't tell."
"Like hell you won't," Darryl retorted, kicking him again. He viciously dragged him to his feet, ramming Tom into the wall. The redhead saw stars for a moment, but quickly snapped out of it. Darryl flung him to the floor, kicking him again. "Where is she, Tom?" he asked again in a sing-song voice.
He tossed him around again, beating on him, almost as bad as Batista had all those years ago. And then they were interrupted by three gunshots, and Darryl fell down in his own blood. The last thing Tom remembered was seeing the 21 engraved on the silencer of E's gun as she stood over him.
All of it came back to him with the 21.
He'd woken up alone a few hours later, finding the apartment bare. There was a note beside the bed, one from E. He unfolded the paper, skimming the words on the inside.
Tom, it read.
Time to take the plunge.
I've gone back to Berlin.
Find me when you're finished.
Scrawled neatly at the bottom, in haste, was one last line: Remember this: Alle Männer haben einen schlecte Tag.
Everybody has a bad day.
He smiled when he read it.
And so, he'd formed a plan. He knew whom Darryl worked for; Darryl was an Englishman, property of a man named Nicholas Dredger, an independent who ran a small gunrunning operation in Europe. Dredger was always looking to bump off anyone who threatened him, however, and E fell under that umbrella. But Dredger had his vices, as did every man.
It was a well-known fact from the grapevine that Dredger was a blatant homosexual, who often brought men back to his hotel room, men who were never seen again. Thomas had never met Dredger in person, as E didn't associate with his kind, which was something he could use to his advantage.
As he stood there, hovering beside the table, he knew this was the last day he would be Thomas, the beautiful fallen boy, picked up by a woman named Samantha. Now he would be Thomas, the monster, a fate he had avoided far too long.
It was time to go to work.
He tracked down Dredger's current hotel by calling in a favor to a few friends, who were happy to oblige, mostly he assumed because of E's legacy. It was within the city, an hour away, a little ritzy place that was too expensive for the average tourist. As Tom strode through the doors, heading for the hotel restaurant's bar, he felt the Ruger in his belt, cold against his body, even through his shirt. His heart sounded in his ears, a metronome to his waltz of damnation.
He spotted Dredger at the end of the bar, absentmindedly drinking a beer and evaluating the local population. Dredger shot him a glance as he approached the bar, one which Tom shyly averted, smiling slightly. Dredger was a handsome man in his mid-thirties, tall, with messy brown hair and aloof eyes. A bit of stubble clung to his sharply defined jawline, but not enough to make him look unkempt.
Tom flagged down the bartender and ordered a beer himself. He hadn't drunk anything like this in a long while; E's choice of liquor was whisky or preferably bourbon. As he drank, however, he was constantly aware of Dredger's eyes, carefully evaluating him. He was halfway through his second beer when Dredger got up, wandered down the bar, and sat beside him.
"Hi," Tom said, wryly.
Dredger smiled. "I'm Nick," he said.
"Tom." He extended his hand, a bit flirtatious. He didn't mind doing this, not for his sake, not for E's.
They talked, chatted, made conversation about dull things such as the weather, sports, movies. They both knew it was just small talk; Tom knew exactly where Dredger wanted to take this. And so, when Dredger cautiously took Tom's left hand, which had been resting on the bar, he didn't pull away.
"You know," Dredger said, "I've got a room here. Fourth floor."
Tom smiled, practicing the beautifully shark-like grin E was known for. It held just the right of danger, the right amount of mystery to it, coupled with a bit of smugness and vanity, Tom's two contributions. "Then why are we still sitting here?" he whispered, leaning close to Dredger's ear.
They took the elevator up, walking down the hallway together, Nick's arm around Tom's waist. He laughed when Nick pulled him closer as he swiped the keycard to undo the lock, and then slipped inside the room, holding Dredger's hand and dragging him inside.
As the door shut, Dredger shoved him against the wall, pressing their bodies together, and kissed him on the mouth. Hard. Tom moaned softly. He hadn't been kissed in a long while, and it felt good. He didn't care that Dredger was another man.
"Pretty boy," Nick whispered between kisses. "How did you get so pretty?"
"Doesn't matter," Tom hissed. Dredger's right hand was in his hair, the left rested on Tom's belt. "All I know is I want to do it with you until the sun comes up." They broke, Tom grinning wildly, fire in his eyes. Nick led him to the bed, falling backwards, pulling Tom on top.
They embraced again, Nick's hands struggling to undo Tom's shirt while they kissed. Suddenly, Tom paused, staring Dredger straight in the eye. "You've got condoms, right?"
Nick nodded. "Bathroom. In the little blue case."
Tom pressed a slender finger to Nick's lips. "Be right back," he said. He climbed from the bed to the floor, stumbling across the room to the bathroom. He shut the door behind him, flipping on the light as he did so. Sighing, he leaned against the door, his back pressed to it. He could feel the Ruger pressing into his back, calling to him, whispering his name oh so softly and oh so sweetly.
He reached into his belt and pulled it out. Cold, heavy, it was the gun that had guided E so many times, and it was about to become his compass. He felt sick, shaky, unsure of himself. He had mentally walked this path a thousand times, envisioning his first night out. It was all fun and games in his head, but now, now it was real. Now it was life or death, sink or swim. And E wasn't here to save him from drowning.
He traced the 21 on the silencer. "Jesus Christ," he whispered to himself. "Jesus fucking Christ." He considered simply stashing the gun, hiding it in the bathroom, and abandoning this plan. He'd go back, fool around with Dredger some more, and then…
And then what?
Let Dredger fuck him like those men had all those years ago? Let Nick rape him, and then mutilate and kill him like the others? No. That wasn't an option. It was kill or be killed, and this man had already tried to wipe him off the map.
He wondered if it got easier after this. Once he could pull the trigger on Dredger, did that mean he could kill anyone? Did this initial step strip him of whatever was holding him back, of whatever tattered shield of morals he still possessed?
With shaky hands, he pulled open the door.
"Not everything in life is what it appears to be, kid."
Dredger was still laying in bed, and he turned his head to look at Tom as he entered. Tom saw fear flash into Dredger's brown eyes, turning them starkly serious, as Nick caught sight of the gun. "What are you…?"
"Sorry," Tom whispered, and the three shots followed. Two hit Dredger in the chest, the final struck him in the forehead. He slumped backwards, leaning against the headrest.
It was over.
Tom's shoulders fell, and he nearly struggled for breath, gasping, ready to scream and sob. He retreated to the bathroom, vomiting violently into the sink, running the water while he tried to come to grips with himself. He started to cry, sinking down against the counter, mourning not for Dredger, but for the boy he had used to be, before this, before E.
He didn't want this. He didn't want this life. He didn't want to go home with blood on his hands, even if it was the blood of a bad, bad man. He didn't want to be the wolf; he'd grown accustomed to being the sheep. But he realized that he needed E. She was his crutch, his savior, his guardian. He was lost without her, and so he knew he could do it, for her. After all, wouldn't she do the same for him?
Hadn't she done the same for him?
He eventually regained composure of himself, calming himself down after a while. He wiped the smatter and blood from his face, trying to get the redness to leave his eyes. He haphazardly combed his hair, straightened his clothes, and headed for the door.
He wasn't ready.
He knew it.
He wasn't ready for this kind of work.
But that didn't matter anymore.
Berlin was calling.