It was a dirty job, but somebody had to do it.

Staring down at the contorted face of a man he only knew as "Black Edward", Joachim Kelley was impressed by the humor of the situation. Here he was, standing over the still-warm body of one of the largest illegal arms dealers in the states, and the bullet that had pierced the man's forehead had been shot from one of his own guns. Ironic, that a man's life would be doomed by the way he made a living.

Taking a drag from his cigarette, Joachim flicked the ash onto the floor and stepped over Black Edward to the well-worn ledger on the mahogany desk. Blood had splattered over the edge of the dark wood; blood, brain matter, and part of Black Edward's skull. Such was the aftermath of point-blank range and close quarters. With a grimace, Joachim pulled a few tissues from the box that sat innocuously over a gun on the desk and wiped the grime from the pages of the ledger.

He could hear the blare of the jukebox and the erratic dinging of the arcade games through the wall. Penny's Arcade was a front for black-market dealings; the high-traffic area covered all the comings and goings of potential buyers, and the noise overpowered even the blast of a sawed-off shotgun. As for Penny... well.

She was a smart, tiny little whippet of a blonde with a smile that deflected cops and bad guys for miles around. Nobody would ever suspect that behind those innocent blue eyes and the cotton-candy lipstick lay a mind of pure calculation and a heart as hard as a rock.

Shoving the ledger into his bag, Joachim took a moment to admire his handiwork.

Black Edward's frame had fallen heavily on the wood floor; his cigar rolled in the scarlet pool beside his bald head, and his nicely tucked tie had flung itself across his chest with wild abandon. Mouth slack, eyes glazed, he lay in eternal shock of the neat, blackened hole that had punctuated his broad forehead. It wasn't a pretty sight.

Then again, death never was.

Taking one last puff of his cigarette, Joachim tossed it into the tissue box and retracted his hand into his black coatsleeve to open the door. The tissues would catch fire in a few seconds, and once the flame had devoured that source, it would go on to the alcohol-soaked desk, the dusty old floors, the peeling wallpaper, and, eventually, the entire joint would go down like a dry pile of sticks. It was a pity for Penny that she hadn't installed fire alarms or sprinklers in the old dump.

The snowy alleyway was completely empty when Joachim stepped out, but for the alley cat that huddled in a box by the wall, hissing at him as he walked by. Its mangy fur rose up like spines on a porcupine, greasy from the streets and so dirty he wasn't sure what color the animal had been originally. With a vicious snarl, it spat at him.

He kicked snow at it. Joachim had never liked cats.

Angling away from the arcade, he headed for the 1951 Ford pickup that sat waiting for him by the curb. She was ornery and rusty, and she coughed when he started her up, but Bernette was the love of his life. When she roared into consciousness, Joachim patted her dashboard and eased into the street. He caught a flare in his rearview mirror, and saw that the back of the arcade was starting to flame up. A short blonde ran into the snow and glared after him.

He smiled. Penny had too many secrets to go reporting him to the cops and firemen that would show up at the scene. If she brought him down, he could bring her down and she knew it. The best thing for her to do now would be to let the arcade burn to the ground, along with the thousands of dollars stuffed in the walls from Black Edward's dealings. It was lucky for her that Black Edward kept his guns in a separate warehouse.

It was there that Joachim was headed next. His contact- a faceless, voiceless note-sender who refused to meet him until the job was done- was waiting with his payment. It was a little too much to hope that he would also get a please and thank you for a job quickly done, but Joachim could always dream.

Then again, how would one express gratitude to an assassin? He couldn't very well expect a cute little card signed with a smile and a kiss. Or a "Gee, thanks Kelley, that illegal arms dealer was really getting on my nerves. Couldn't have done it without ya," because he was just as expendable as anyone else. And nobody liked to look into the eye of a killer, no matter which side he was on.

Turning towards the industrial part of town, Joachim glanced at the edge of the ledger that poked from his bag. It contained the names of every man or woman Black Edward had ever sold to. How many of them were involved in the mob? How many of them would have paid him double the money to leave Black Edward alive? It was tempting to strike out on his own, sleuth out the buyers, threaten them for money.

But that would have been stupid. One buyer usually led to ten gunmen, and as good as he was even Joachim couldn't take out ten at once. Not without careful planning and a lot of money to buy himself a cover and bribe a few snitches. It was better to settle for the amount promised him than squabble for a few dollars more.

Warehouse number fourteen loomed ahead of him, and he pulled up beside a sleek red 1965 Mustang with an admiring grunt. Whoever his contact was, he had good taste. The Mustang was in mint condition, waxed to a perfect shine, and made his old Ford look like a chewed up boot. He stroked Bernette's beat up leather seats as he got out.

"Don't worry, Bernie, you'll always be my girl," he said, lighting another cigarette behind the door before he closed it. The wind was picking up.

Adjusting the strap of his bag over his shoulder, Joachim cautiously approached the warehouse. The snow was disturbed along the path; his contact was possibly a gimp. One footprint dragged slightly behind the other. And they were small prints for a man. Midget?

Joachim chuckled. That would be a first.

He knocked on the door before he opened it. "Anybody home?" His voice echoed in the vast darkness of the warehouse. It took a few moments for his eyes to adjust, and his nose was greeted by the rank smell of molding canvas, the earthy scent of wooden crates, and the the metallic familiarity of firearms.

Suddenly, his peripheral vision caught movement, and he was aware of another scent; something delicate, as unexpected as the flash of light and the woman behind the lantern. She smiled at him, her lips a slash of red in the circle of white skin.

"Joachim Kelley?" Her pronunciation of his name was precise and low.

"I wouldn't want to be anybody else." He cleared his throat. It had been a long time since he'd smelled something as sweet as her. He suddenly felt guilty blowing smoke into the peach-scented air, and he put his cigarette out hurriedly on the cement floor.

"I'm sorry for the sudden light," she said. "I wanted to be sure you had the ledger with you before I showed myself."

Quickly, he pulled it from his back. "Right here, as requested." He handed it to her, and she nodded her thanks.

"Would you mind holding this?" She gave him the lantern.

"Oh, of course." Joachim took it. She would want to check that it was the real thing, and not a random book he'd grabbed just to get the money. "Sorry for the, ah... blood on the pages. All in the line of duty, I suppose."

Eyes flitting over the lines of names, she nodded. "Yes," she said. "I see."

From nowhere, a weight slammed into his chest. Pain seared his lungs, and he looked down to see blood shining in his shirt and sticking to his coat.

"What the...?" Joachim felt his head go fuzzy, and he saw the slight shimmer of light off the silver barrel of a 44 Magnum as he fell backwards onto the floor. His arms felt like lead, and he couldn't seem to focus on the woman's white face.

She stood over him, gun pointed at his head. "Sorry," she said, and she shrugged. "All in the line of duty."

Joachim coughed, felt blood bubble up into his throat and trickle down his cheeks. She would not know why he smiled, why he tried to laugh before she pulled the trigger that would be his death. A waft of deliciously sweet air blew down, mingling with the acrid smell of gunsmoke and the salty taste of blood on his lips.

"Ironic," he said.

And she pulled the trigger.

___

Written (just now, in two hours or less) for last week's Weekly Writing Challenge Photo I post every Monday on my blog. Tune in tomorrow on the blog for a new picture!