Chapter Five:

I was tired, sleep was starting to come easier. It had been a while since the incident. I was nearly slipping into dreamland while I counted twenties. Hopefully, they were unmarked bills, but I didn't even know what that meant, let alone how to tell if they were or not.

My mind started to wander, while I sorted them into piles of a hundred dollars each. There were so many things I could buy now.

I finished with the fifth pile, and looked over the money. There was part of me that was nervous about taking the payment, I wasn't the one who killed him, but I guess my employer didn't really care that much. That or he just didn't know.

"Is that all they paid you?" a deep masculine voice asked from the doorway.

I flinched and snapped my gaze up to him, before looking back down at the piles of money. "It's a lot of money for me. And it was my first job, I'm lucky to have gotten anything for it."

The masked man leaned against my doorway. There was something in his posture that bothered me. It was different somehow.

"I should take it from you, considering the circumstances," he grumbled. "But I'll let you keep it if you do me a favor."

My silence urged him to continue, which he eventually did.

"I need you to remove something from my back," he explained. "No questions asked."

I stared up at him. "Why… should I?"

The mask snapped down to glare at me, but it had no eyes. I didn't know how it was possible for him to see anything. "You know very well that I could easily kill you right now."

My teeth gritted. "Fine. But you'll owe me something."

"Like what?" came his retort.

"I don't know yet. But if you want to keep a truce then we have to keep ourselves equally indebted. Otherwise the imbalance could push one or the other to squawk. I don't think you want that."

He hesitated before sighing. "That's fair."

I started collecting the money back together and carefully slid it back into its original envelope. He watched me for a moment as I went about this.

"What is it that I need to remove from your back?" I asked.

"Splinter," he said simply, with no further explanation.

"Okay." I got off my bed and led him through the house. I had him sit in one of the dining room chairs while I fetched the first aid kit from the medicine cabinet.

He glanced up from his post when I returned and stood.

I went to tell him to sit down but he started to lift his shirt up a bit, revealing his pale lower back. He sat sideways on the chair, so the back of it didn't get in the way.

I saw the issue immediately. It was a splinter, but it looked more like a shard of old and dirty wood, stained a deep red by his blood. Lodged just to the right of his spine, and surrounded by angry swollen and purple marks.

The general mood around this issue made me know better than to ask. Instead I asked, "won't it hurt to remove this?"

"I can take it."

I swallowed before grasping it in my hand and carefully looking around the entrance wound. At least, it didn't look like any pieces had broken off. I took one last deep breath, hoping it wouldn't be my last before pulling. The skin stretched, not wanting to let go of the wood, and fresh blood started to well up around the edges. His fist clenched on the table. It made a sickening sound when it finally released, somewhere between the sound of smacking a wet towel on the floor and the release of a suction cup.

He exhaled slowly, and I was still stunned by the size of the shard in my hand. It had been imbedded a solid two inches.

My momentary transfixion vanished as I noticed how much blood was dripping down his back and my hand grabbed a towel before pressing it to the wound.

He flinched.

"Sorry," I muttered.

"It's okay."

He waited patiently while the bleeding slowed, and eventually stopped. When it had I wiped all of the brown-red smears away with warm water and taped a wad of gauze over the gaping hole.

As soon as I had finished he pulled away and fixed his shirt.

"Thanks," he mumbled. "I guess I do owe you."

"I know. I'm not sure how you can make it up though."

My house was still dim, even with the lights on. It made it that much harder to try and make out any kind of emotion in him. Any attempt to see what was going through his head was hopeless.

"How about I teach you some things," he offered. "For your future jobs."

"Like what?"

"For starters, you really need to wear gloves. Especially since it's this cold outside."

"But they'll just get all bloody," I protested.

"If possible you should avoid spilling blood. But I know your physical strength isn't greater than the average adult male. Which kind of leads into the other thing. Never use a switchblade as a murder weapon."

"But it's just a knife-"

"It's not really a knife," he cut me off. "A real knife has a tang in the handle where they're secured. But a switch blade only has a single small bolt across. That's why yours broke so easily. Had you gotten the blade as well, you'd see it's very beat up, too. Switch blades are one of the worst possible weapons."

"I see."

He stood and straightened his shirt again. "I should go," he told me. "Before any of your family members comes back."

"It's actually…" I started, which made him turn around to look at me. "Just my mom and I."

"You don't have any other family?" he asked.

"Not that live with us." I tried to pick out any kind of emotion in his body language but he seemed decent at hiding that too.

"Either way, I should go." This time, I let him leave.

He climbed out a window in the living room, and hopped to the ground before turning around and shutting it behind him. I was stunned at the ease and silence he had while doing it. Somehow this guy, who didn't seem much more mature than I was, could do these ninja-like moves.

There was part of me that was curious enough to think about following him, but he was gone before I could do anything.