Tick, tock. Tick, tock. My gaze remains trained on the seemingly vile clock across the room, watching the hands travel around relentlessly in a continuous circle. It's all I can bring myself to do, stare and wander aimlessly through my dark thoughts. Tick, tock. Tick, tock. Life is a monster, a growling hungry thing, ready to devour anything in its wake. I have felt the warmth of its rank breath wash over me more than once, seen its razor sharp teeth, glistening white like flawless ivory, barred and ready to kill. I have seen this beast again tonight.
Tick, tock. Tonight's fatality, Karen's demise. You're fault.
Tick, tock. The mission was only supposed to be a simple delivery, she and I, being elites, were not usually assigned such operations; they're left for those in training. You're fault.
Tick, tock. Why is that symbol nagging my thoughts, staying there like a constant aggravating itch? Did I really recognize it or was I just seeing things?
Tick, tock. Tick, tock. Squeezing my eyes shut I attempt to cage the sound effect in the back of my mind; attempt to focus on something, anything, other than the minutes wasting away. But it only gets worse, as I remember Scar Face's strong rebuke toward the failure. The time where my near Father looked at me with a twisted expression of disgust, eyes narrowed into a glare of disappointment and an inability to forgive me ever again...
Standing erect, back arched, head held high, I'm ready to take these words with dignity. Scar Face circles around me, like a shark closing in on a wounded seal floundering in the ocean, drawing out the inevitable beat down I'm going to receive. However, I will not greet his words with contempt; whatever he states will be the truth.
"Do you understand what you've done?" He asks, continuing to pace around me, the hollow sound of his footsteps echoing against the aluminum, the low tempo keeping in tune with my escalated heartbeat.
In spite of my reaction to his booming voice I keep my gaze firmly planted on the wall in front of me, not allowing my eyes to follow him. "Yes sir," I reply curtly.
Seemingly oblivious at my failed attempt at respect he continues to belittle me, "You disobeyed a direct order."
This next claim hits me in ways I could never imagine. Unable to resist my eyes skitter at him for a moment, forming into a glare, before my stare down with the wall continues to ensue, making me hope that small look will go unnoticed. He will not view my anger as just, although I know that it is; I've been many things, but never disloyal.
Swallowing down the persistent knot rising up, a figurative blockage wedged tightly against my vocal chords, snatching away the ability to speak, I clear my throat and miraculously manage to choke out, tone tightened with effort, "Yes sir."
Remaining frighteningly level toned he continues, "Karen's death was tragic and..."
His grating voice, making me feel a cringing sensation one would receive if nails were scraped harshly against a chalk board, thankfully fades into the background as I slip away into different places of my mind. Your fault. I don't need to be told twice, I don't need to relive my failure.
Your fault. I should have gone with her; I should have been there to help. But I wasn't, no, instead I was climbing hedges and talking to irrelevant girls. I'm more professional than that, but I'd been the fool who treated this job as a lesser thing, minute in my troubled mind.
And now Karen's dead.
"Are you listening to me Shayne?"
The pointed question breaks me out of my reverie and I nod slightly, falsely leading him to believe that I heard everything he said, while at the same time buying myself some time to gather my bearings. "Yes sir."
"Good." He comes to an abrupt halt, turning to face me, staring me down with his dark laser eyes, an unnerving effect that I have to force myself not to retaliate from. "Please learn from your mistakes and improve for the next time.
"Dutifully noted, sir," being so polite makes me feel like a robot, programmed to succumb to the fear of being brutally struck down, but it's the right thing to do after such a failure, so I add, keeping the same bland tone I started with to avoid unnecessary complication toward improper translation of my true emotion, "it won't happen again."
He nods, his only sign of approval before thankfully changing the subject, accusation toned down to brisk business-like conversing. "I have another job for you Shayne, you're the most apt to complete it at its fullest."
"Thank you again, sir, I'm honored that you still trust me after such a mistake."
For a second I see something glint in his eye, a slight upward curve of his lips, something like gratification. Was he pleased that Karen was gone? A quick blink solves the troublesome issue; the expression vanishes from his face without a trace.
"I'm sure you'll ensure such an act won't occur again?"
"Yes sir," I meet the challenge of his unwavering stare, stating with firm finality, "it won't happen again."
"I'm sure it won't." He replies, pausing for a moment, thoughtfully rubbing a hand through his scraggly beard as he often does, before he suddenly claps his hands together, emitting a sharp boom upon connection that causes me to wince, all too familiar with the sound of cruel skin to skin contact. Thankfully my reaction goes unnoticed and he adds, "Now, down to business..."
The houses that we live in are scattered among the trees surrounding the agency, a barrier provided by Mother Nature dividing the organization from the rest of Vera, where most people are oblivious to what goes on in the woods outside their naive little town. We, the assassins, are secluded, and secretive, making it the only place where we're truly safe.
The place I call home is nothing comparable to the grandeur of the one I visited last night. Its four slabs of metal constructed in an open square with a wooden roof to guard the interior from the unfriendly Washington forecast, nothing more. Thankfully most of my time is spent away from this crude place, completing jobs and training with the others.
At present I'm taking my frustration out on an unfortunate punching bag; six rapid punches, then a swift kick, sending it rocking wildly back and forth from the chain it dangles from off the ceiling. This is probably the best thing at my use, I can never defeat it and it never ceases to give me the chance to vent out my fury.
Breathing hard I rest my hands gently against the bag, making it come to rest. After a moment's pause I turn in the direction of the miniature bathroom, tucked in the far corner. Switching the knob for the faucet, cupping my hands under the steady flow and splashing water on my face, I attempt to clear my head, but the thoughts stay hot on my heels, refusing to be just simply shaken off.
Straightening from my crouch brings me face to face with my reflection in the mirror. I blink, shocked at the sudden strong feeling of remorse churning deep inside me, an angry rabid animal pounding against the walls of my head, urgently attempting to break free. Your fault.
Squeezing my eyes shut, desperate to flee from the constant claims of the haunting whisper restlessly tormenting me, I grip onto the edge of the sink tightly, porcelain frigid against my skin. Really it's the only concrete form of reality, providing some clarity beyond the hectic thoughts of last night's fatality.
Taking in a deep gulp of air I draw back, retreating from the bathroom, plopping down on the cot nearby, sinking low on the crappy mattress, but choosing to ignore this discomfort, loosening the tightening in my muscles holding me upright, lying flat on my back, analyzing my home again.
My bed is the one place where I can see the whole room, all of my home; the single window near the punching bag which is really only a slit in the wall with a dirtied white sheet for protection from the elements, and the bathroom in the corner covered in a similar manner. I've never felt distaste toward this place before, but the sensation is sudden and startling in its intensity. My eyes, skittering rapidly to the left, then the right, come to rest on the clock hanging lopsided on the far wall and I stare intently on the spinning hands.
Despite focusing on the object, my rope of reality, something I just have to reach out and grab to save myself, I don't, instead I collapse under pressure, allowing the thoughts to run wild, barreling through my reality like a determined monsoon swiping a town off the map. Most of the catastrophe stems from Karen, about what she said about being a warrior. Why don't we question Scar Face? Because he was our Father? He didn't have enough respect for us to even tell anyone his name. How are we supposed to trust him if he doesn't grant us the same curtesy?
Near suffocating from the weight of these bothersome issues I jerk upright, sitting in a rigid, uncomfortable position, tense and on edge. It's more than likely that I'm just freaking out about nothing, yet even as I attempt to convince myself of this my questions keep bubbling to the surface, like a science experiment out of control, foaming white liquid oozing out of the limited confinements of the jar it was foolishly placed in. What about Karen's death? I could tell that the men who attacked me had some form of training. Why were we sent to an empty house to deliver something stolen?
Before my mutiny can travel any further a loud jangling breaks through my focus and I jerk my head to the left, alarmed. When I realize that the sudden sound is the plain, simple ringtone assigned to my cell phone I feel silly for allowing myself to be startled, if only for a brief second. Once connecting the sing song tone with the source I jump to my feet, stepping lightly over toward the front door where my black leather jacket dangles from the knob.
Once retrieving my phone from the pocket I stare at the blinking front screen for a moment before answering, silently wondering if I really want to be updated on tonight's job, for I'm certain that this is what it's about. "Hello?" I snap, driven past respect after today's rigorous interrogation.
"How are you?" The familiar rumble of Scar Face's voice rattles harshly through the speakers, bringing with it the strong urge to hang up.
"Yeah," as I respond I glance around my home yet again, "just living the dream. All I need is some beer in a coconut."
Shaking my head at his inability to understand, and not even knowing why I said such an outrageous thing, I simply assure him with a curt, "Never mind."
Sighing he asks, "Remember those thugs I told you about?"
"Yes sir." Recalling our conversation I add, "And the banquet tonight?"
"Are you prepared to leave?"
"Fully sir." Not really.
The line goes dead, blasting the dial tone in my ear. Jerking the phone away from my ear I flip it closed with a sharp clap upon connection. Now down to business all thoughts of Karen are chased away, scattered like dust in the wind. Spinning around on my heel I approach the bathroom again, stride sure and lengthened with purpose. Swiping the curtain aside I enter, kneeling down, and analyzing the floor with careful scrutiny.
At a slightly upraised area, selected seemingly at random, I reach out, hefting upward with all the strength I can muster, and the floorboards raise, proving to be a secret door of sorts. A shrill shriek emits from protestant hinges in serious need of repair, a hatch opened to reveal a dark mouth leading down to my biggest secrets. Wooden stairs creaking under my footfalls I venture downward, into the throat of the gloom, moving with familiarized confidence.
Upon reaching the bottom I outstretch my arm instinctively, a protrusion from the wall resting against my palm. Shoving the switch upward a bulb, dangling from the ceiling is turned on, illuminating the room. If one were to simply look down from the top of the stairs one would only see the table situated expertly toward the doorway, but entering the room tells a whole other story.
Two racks, nailed at opposite ends, one on the West wall, the other on the East, provide storage for an array of weaponry and explosive material, from automatic rifles, sniper rifles, pistols, and grenade launchers. This is where you belong, Shayne. Nodding slightly in acceptance to this realization, providing some clarity I continue forward, lowering down on the chair, closely analyzing the map of Vera spread out on the table top.
Here is my safe haven, here is my true home.