The sirens wake me. They usually do. I spring to my feet and run, ignoring the red-and-blue light display on the brick wall behind me. Graffiti flashes by in serpentine coils until I swerve free, the heat of adrenaline crackling upon contact with the cool evening air. Bystanders hover around the mouth of the alley, but I am less than a ghost. My shallow gasps of fatigue go unnoticed. They are lost in the harsh curiosity of the bystanders, bathrobes cinched tight around their thick waists and sleepy children by their sides.

I walk home. Police cars trundle past me in slow motion. My apartment is safe and dark. I climb the stairs, enter my room and lie down on the bed. After a Job, I'm always physically drained, but sleep and I have an unspoken agreement: I never pray for it, and it never comes. It's a hard deal, but that's just one of the many rules I have to live with.

Light windmills through the window. It's going to be one of those nights. I get up and do calisthenics for about an hour. This empties what little energy remains from my body, but my brain mutters clockwork incentives and the gears start up again.

I pace.

The light below my window dies without ceremony, but the city itself rumbles onwards, like a tank without its driver. I am running on empty, but running nonetheless. I dread the Job, but I also fear its absence, the way a prisoner fears his interrogators long after they've left him alone in his cell.

I have no fear of going outside, but the Job demands that I stay indoors until I am clean. There is no way of telling when this would be; I only know that I would know. Luckily, the cops aren't going to look too closely when it comes to an assault on a pedophile; as long as they've caught a bad guy, nobody really cares what else is going on.

Until my trail goes cold, I am well equipped for boredom. There are paperback novels and card games randomly scattered throughout my apartment. I've got a laptop that I use mainly for downloading music I don't listen to and movies I don't watch. I even have a Playstation 2 hooked up to a cheap television set in the main room. It is the most expensive object in my possession that I can't aim and fire. I switch it on. Then I switch it off and wander into the kitchen.

I stand in the doorway, dramatically backlit, surveying my domain. The kitchen is easily the cleanest room in the apartment. The refrigerator snarls with steely arrogance as I walk past, almost daring me to open it and be disgusted by the contents of a jar I haven't opened since 1999. The sink is empty; so are most of the cupboards. The knife rack holds my gaze the longest, though. Blades buried in a block of wood. My fingers twitch.

To occupy myself, I open the phonebook at random. Tiny names for tiny people. There are so many of them, like ants, each assigned a number for identification. I look myself up. I pick up the phone and dial. What would I say to myself if I answered?

Nothing. Static. A feedback loop. I hang up.

My finger runs of its own accord down the page. I am in the 'S's. Secord, Setterman, Shusterman, Sinclair. My mind begins to hum as I go down the list:

Sachs. Teacher at a local high school who broke her husband's arm. She's been arrested twice- once for child abuse, and another for sexual harassment. Both charges were dropped.

Seabach. Alcoholic whose frequently bloody car accidents may be more than just accidents caused by the bottle.

Sorrel. AIDS-positive, but continues to lie to his sexual partners about it, both male and female.

Stadelbauer. Only five, but has already begun to manifest signs of an antisocial personality disorder.

Swaine. Killed his younger sister by stuffing a pillow over her head. Is now on the run with his fourteen-year old girlfriend and over ten thousand dollars taken from his parent's bank account. He feels no remorse.

I close the heavy tome. Those stories are all in my head; I don't know who my next Job is, nor do I know why they've been targeted. All I know is that I'm the tool. Even after all these years, it helps to rationalize possible reasons, even if I have to pull made-up shit out of a big book that has less meaning to most people than a dinner menu.

When I was nineteen and living alone in a small apartment building west of the library, there were these kids who used to sneak onto the grounds at night and throw rocks through the windows while people slept. The tenants complained, but nobody did anything. Nobody, that is, until one night where I got fed up and started throwing the rocks back. The kids ran off, hooting obscenities. As they ran, one of them cried, "I'm fucking bleeding, you motherfucker! I'll call the police on your ass!", laughing as he said it.

I couldn't reply. My throat felt clogged with raw sewage.

Though they never came back, I often had fantasies of the things I would do to them if I ever saw them again. Though it made my neighbors happy, their continuing absence was like a pincushion in my gut. I couldn't sleep, couldn't eat. I kept waiting for the hail of rocks to come crashing through the night and wake me from my spit-thin slumber, so I could rise up and crush their throats. I wanted to see them suffer, or at least scare them off with a razor sharp comeback. The fact that I knew it was an irrational obsession didn't help; I wanted closure so badly I could feel my stomach eating itself raw.

The fantasies got elaborate enough that I began to get scared. I didn't tell anyone. I stayed indoors, terrified that somehow passerby on the street would be able to read my mind. My favorite daydream involved confronting the gang in the street and pulling a switchblade on them. Unlike some of my darker visions, this one never persisted beyond that point. It was just the flicking open of the knife, hearing the snikt noise as the blade slide into view, and seeing the gang's expressions of smug apathy turn to incredulity and then terror. Then, the best part, they would all plead for mercy. Sometimes the leader would piss his pants. I could hear their voices very clearly, even smell the bile rising in their throats, just before I drifted back to reality.

"What's that? Is that a knife? Oh god, Mickey, he has a knife..."

"You've gotta be shitting me. That ain't real."

"It's fucking real. Oh fuck, he's going to kill us. Please, we were just fooling around. Please let us go. Oh god..."

One day as I was crashed out on the couch, fingering the scenario over and over until it bled, I realized I had an erection. I literally jumped out of my seat and ran to the bathroom, where I pinched my arms through my shirt until I had bruises big enough to alarm the harmless old lady next door who thought I was being abused by someone. She wasn't wrong.

Sometimes I think about that moment: that instant of realizing you will never tell anyone, the instant you decide to throw away the key. A huge burden suddenly descends upon you, and it's a very real weight. All the heavier if you have people you trust, whom would love you even if they knew. I had a few of those people, and I betrayed them all in that instant.

Even though I live in a neighborhood much quieter and cleaner than the one I saw my nineteenth year through, I'm still afraid. I'm afraid that if those kids come back, those phantom punks with their smirks and handfuls of gravel, my fantasies will come true. It's already starting to come true; I have the switchblade I used to dream about, the Job demanding that I be prepared for any eventuality. And sometimes the Job requires more work than a gun is equipped for.

If they come back, the Job might call for me. The blade will come out, and I will be forced into my role like a horse driven by night-drenched spurs. I'm not so close to the edge that I can't tell reality from fantasy. Where once I was empty, I am now loaded with a single bullet and the chamber randomly spun. If they ever return, I might have my revenge whether I want to or not. And here's the million-dollar question:

Would I still have bought that switchblade if I hadn't dreamt it first?
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