How to get rid of your boyfriend. 26 black letters marring the pristine white of the search bar, a warped and deadly alphabet. Jenny cast a fearful glance toward her dorm's locked door, praying to every god she used to adore that her nosy roommate stay the hell out.
Her hands tingled, went numb. Like they'd been burned by the damning words they felt so compelled to type.
There were...so many results. At least two 13-step wikiHows. Myriad articles from as many websites: girly blogs, fashion hubs, . Youtube videos, Reddit threads- all meant to help girls push their men away, break their hearts. But nothing, not one hit out of 2,600,000 said anything about taking their lives.
She had met Brian four years ago, as one faceless freshman among a thousand. No longer was she the wealthiest girl in school, and certainly not the prettiest, but all of Brian's friends would later insist that at that orientation a Capella concert, his eyes had met hers, and he'd never looked away. He'd been a junior then: handsome, charming, just a bit goofy. Co-captain of the soccer team, a Capella baritone, jazz band drummer. Loving brother to all- so much so that no one could bear to dislike him.
Eight years before that, in a rare sober moment, her mother had warned her about men like Brian. Those nice, charming guys, she claimed, were monsters in hiding: either playboys, deadbeats, rapists, abusive jerks, or gold diggers. Like your father, she would moan, exhausted from her game of cuss-Dad-out-into-the-beer-till-you-cry. Nothing better, nothing more. Her mother's posse of disaffected forty-somethings used to regale her with a litany of sordid stories involving affairs, drunken rages, divorce courts, and the sheer, exhilarating freedom of single life. In high school she'd stood uselessly by as her best friend Amber committed suicide, driven to despair when her boyfriend knocked her up and left her for some college bitch. For a while she'd blamed her, for not being strong enough to leave- how could she have been so stupid, to think the fault didn't lay with the guy when it always did? That had been enough to turn her off any semblance of romantic attachment; frankly, it all seemed like more trouble than it was worth. What was the point of loving someone, opening yourself up to them and giving them your full trust, your full heart, when biology seemed to guarantee they'd break it all without remorse? She'd become accustomed to turning down the numerous requests for kisses and dates, but when Brian had first approached her- when he'd kept returning, deaf to her pointed, distancing remarks...she'd become...intrigued. Attracted, even. And that was unacceptable.
She had spent the past four years on tenterhooks, sanity and meager patience wearing thin as she waited for the pleasant mask to slip, for the cleverly concealed cruelty to emerge. And it did, God, it did, but hadn't she expected as much? So he was secretly depressed: occasionally alcoholic, occasionally violent, weren't they all? No man on earth could possibly be eternally patient with a woman, eternally understanding when every other part of himself was a mess. Seeing him like that, in those moments of weakness at war with the gentleness he showed her sober- she'd been so sure of herself. So confident in her ability to remain aloof, unbound by the chains of love. She was failing. It seemed so wrong, somehow, to resist. Some long-buried romantic in her cried, helplessly, that imperfect, desperate Brian was the best she could do in this sorry world, that she would be an idiot to let him go when she'd turned everyone else away. That this antipathy she felt towards him was irrational: a generalization of fear-inducing childhood stimuli or some similar thing her currently useless psych major could explain away. That she was insane, for hating Brian, or any man, for being man, for being fallible. But she couldn't bear to believe any of those things. To do so would be to leave herself vulnerable. Liable to be robbed. Hurt, like her mother. Killed, like Amber.
Unless she struck first. God knows she was getting sick of waiting.
Six-bit band. Contract killers for hire, operating in US, UK, India, and former USSR. Will respond within 24 hours of first contact. WILL NOT ACCEPT REQUESTS TO ELIMINATE MINORS UNDER 18. Please convert all monetary compensation to Bitcoin units. Minimum fee $7,500 USD. Public/political figures available only for a minimum of $35,000 USD- we're amoral, not stupid.
It had taken her a week to work up the courage to do it all. Download the Tor browser. Create a new email address with the requisite end-to-end encryption. Slog through the deep web's various blogs, sites, and ads until she found those offering contract kills- no. Hits. Kills sounded far too...cruel, final, for her, no matter that she'd set her mind on this with no intention of backing out. Dammit, it wasn't like she'd done anything like this before! That, at least, she could admit without compunction. Sure, she'd never considered herself a particularly nice person- girls, especially those of her station, didn't really have to be, and as a kid she'd embraced the stereotype and stigma of the "rich bitch" wholeheartedly. She could live with that: with being considered ruthless, heartless, class-conscious, snobby, cold- any of those crude (but not undeserved) monikers she'd amassed over the years. But to be a murderer, in name if not in deed...the thought wasn't a pleasant one.
On the other hand, it wouldn't be her. That was the whole point of the contract: to keep her name anonymous, never to be connected with Brian's...disappearance. She could get whomever came through to make everything seem accidental. She wouldn't even have to know when it happened as long as she provided a reasonable deadline. So there was no reason why she would be called a murderer.
"I want you, cold-hearted, hmm-hmm-hmm, I want...you…."
"Brian, you're drunk." Sighing, Jenny shrugged his limp hand off of her shoulder, tried to re-immerse herself in the ABC News Twitter feed as his singing faded into an incoherent mumble. "Again."
"No'm." He dropped his flushed face into the armrest of the couch, body shaking: with laughter, or with tears. She told herself she didn't care which it was. "Can't get drunk. You already poisoned me."
"No, no, no, 's simple." Now he did laugh, long and low, as he slowly drained the bottle, eyes flickering manically from her face to his white-knuckled fist. "I love you, you don't love me, I do everything waiting for you to love me, you never do, never will, it's poison-"
"POISON!" His outflung arm caught her in the chest as the bottle careened towards the far wall, an explosion of dark glass against the dull white wall. Her strangled scream met the echoes of his roar midair; his hands fumbled for hers, clung to them even as she strained to back away from his rage, his madness, his tears. "I don't want to hurt you. I don't want to hurt you Jenny, my God, why do you make it so easy for me to hurt you?"
She could answer him only with her own tears, sliding down her cheeks and onto their joined hands.
Message from to 6bb. PM platform. I need your help. Message logged at 12:36 AM, US Eastern Time.
"Got one on your side of th' pond, chief."
"If it's another state senator's intern, Brooke, I swear I'm hanging this damn phone up right now."
"Christ no, y' daft sod, I wouldn't 'ave called if it was. No, 's a girl this time."
"We get girls all the time. This merits a call at one in the fucking morning...why, exactly?"
"Six round 'ere, mate. Honest working man's hours."
"Oh, we're honest working men now? Funny, I never got wind of the sea change."
"Oi, leave off the nautical metaphors, man, I get it; you're Greek. The puns are overworn."
"My God, he has an undergraduate vocabulary."
"Gladly. So? To the point."
"Wha- you're the one got me off it, ya bloody-"
"Fine, man. Like I said, 's a girl. Wants to off her bloke, same's all the rest, but this one's a bit...special."
"Right. She wants to meet her hired man in person. Meaning, 'course, you. I tried tellin' her that wasn't how things were done- fact is, that's a one-way street to a cell for all 'f us, but our darling Girleen was insistent. Gave me everything else alright, description, address, encryption, the lot, but she wouldn't budge on meeting you."
"She say why?"
"D'you want me to tell her off again? We have enough right now for you to go find this fella yourself, or send Morlov out for it, but-"
"No. Get Morlov out of the way, sure, but I want this girl's info. She wants a meeting, she can have one."
"Chief- Theo, you- you've gotta be bloody joking, man!"
"Not at all."
"But why the Hell would you-"
"Curiosity, Brooke. Makes suicides of us all."
Brian Lucznik. Age 26, graduate student of "computing, entrepreneurship, and innovation" at NYU. Residence: off-campus 2-room apartment, shared with an Octavius Garnett. BL returns to apartment between 9 PM and midnight, to bed before 2 AM. OG spends Tuesday nights and weekends elsewhere. BL keeps a military-issue pistol in his sock drawer, antidepressants in bathroom cabinet: these have been untouched for a while, AEB OG's constant nagging. Prescription sleeping pills belong to OG. BL is no stranger to stealing some. Surveillance time: 5 days. Break-ins required: 0. Windows exploited: 2. Report by: Анатолий Морлов, 0104, for Theodoros Laskaris, 01.
Molly Webb had never liked that old saying, the one about eyes being windows to the soul. It just didn't make sense. How could a part of the body she never looked at tell her anything about a person? All she ever saw in eyes was judgement, and even without eyes she could sense when that was aimed her way.
The only good way to see into people's' souls was to watch them when they thought they were alone. The expression ought to have gone something like "windows open to you the soul," because whole life stories could be glimpsed in the seconds one spent passing under a window. Provided someone was watching, of course. Preferably someone like herself, someone with vision. Someone who could look through people without ever having to look at them.
She'd been staying with her brother and his wife since the fall's Epic College Breakdown, the one no one talked to her about or thought she remembered. One year spent deaf to Philip's desperate pleas and Michelle's cruel jibes, drowning out the unwelcome sounds with musical soundtracks and folk rock. One year spent staring: out the dirty, leaded panes of the guest room window, down at everyone living their passing lives below. She knew them all by now. To make up names, families, jobs for them would be sacrilege, worse than lying, but she knew their hearts better than anyone else on this street. Because only she chose to look when and where no one else dared.
The two boys lived next door, would always romp around outside, playing games involving dragons and knights and monsters, scrambling to finish homework at the same time. The older one had to be around her age, 18 or maybe younger, the little one only seven or eight: both small and skinny, like they'd spent years living off scraps. Their father, who left the house at midnight after kissing both of his sleeping sons and didn't come back until four the next afternoon, looked much the same. But none of them seemed unhappy- if they were, she didn't see it. Didn't want to see it.
The garbage collector was a Chinese man with a pleasant face, who spoke almost no English but wouldn't let that keep him from singing along to whatever was playing on his Walkman as he worked. Usually it was something she knew: the Beatles, Rolling Stones, Pink Floyd, Edward Sharpe. A lot of Queen, a little less Cream. Jethro Tull on one occasion; the look of confused glee on his face had been worthy of a photograph. One she kep hidden in her pillowcase out of a vague sense of shame society told her she ought to feel.
Dame Dachshund came by every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday at 10:34 AM on the nose, strutting down the street with those ridiculous tiny heels, her sausage body stuffed into a leather coat too rich for this two-bit street. Her dogs looked like her: five fat wieners all jostling each other on the hot pink leash, tongues lolling as they strained to go faster than either their stubby legs or their owner's meager stamina would let them. If she wasn't cooing at the dogs and begging them to go easy on her "poor delicate feet," she was screaming into her cellphone in what sounded like German. Very profane, angry German. Probably she'd be throwing pots at whomever was on the other end if she had any on hand.
The man with the mandolin and the ragged clothes always laughed when the Dame passed, if he was around to see her. Sometimes he stayed away for days, weeks on end, but when he returned he would take over the low wall by the light pole as though nothing had changed. On good days he would sit there for hours: strumming, singing, ready to heckle any passerby with a joke, a jig, a wink: anything for a coin or ten. Sometimes he would direct his songs up to her, making sure to call her out by name. Irish Molly-O, Molly's Chamber, Molly Malone, he had an impressive arsenal. On bad days he would never sing, just pluck idly at the strings, the wandering tunes growing evermore melancholy as the bottle by his side grew empty. Those were the days when he'd lift his gaze to meet hers- not for a serenade but a mocking two-fingered salute, a silent toast. Somehow it never bothered her, to know he knew she was watching. In a way it felt comforting. Like how having a friend might feel.
When the older girl arrived, the air was heavy, charged with the promise of an imminent storm. Shaking for reasons she couldn't quite comprehend, Molly yanked the blind down, crouching beneath the sill as though hiding would protect her from the sense of wrong creeping through her veins like slow frost. She, oblivious, frowned at the street sign for a moment before moving to the wall. It was empty- the mandolin man had left his post early, and now the strangersat down without a thought, worrying the cuffs of her designer denim jacket as sheglared balefully into space. She wasbeautiful, in the way a washed-out and time-worn painting was beautiful- brown hair falling in tired curls to her elbows, pale, chiselled features delicately shadowed, like marble carved too thin. She wouldn't be out of place in some Gothic romance novel- nothing like herself, stuttering and clumsy with a too-small face and too-fleshy body, cropped hair dyed cobalt blue. She was different. Like the clique girls at school: the athletes, the rich ones, the ones who made you feel like dirt by simply brushing against you in the hallway and recoiling when they realized just who- what it was they'd touched. And yet on this shabby street it was she who didn't belong.
Neither did the man. His face was one you might pass a hundred times in any given city on any given day- dark hair, strong nose, stubbled beard, tired mien- but there was something almost cruel in the way the afternoon shadows deepened the hollows of his cheeks and eyes, played at the sardonic curl of his lips. He was the man women feared to meet in a dark alley, the man they wished would warm their lonely sheets. And he was making straight for this girl. A predator, stalking hapless prey and enjoying every second of the chase.
"Jenny Osbourne?" He had a smoker's voice, the quiet rasp almost impossible to hear from her little window.
The girl- Jenny- jumped, but she met the man's eyes unafraid, perfectly groomed eyebrows arching in cool appraisal. "You're late," she snapped, crossing her arms defensively over her ample chest. Not so hapless after all. "And you're being too loud."
"This was your idea, sweetheart. You chose this spot. Should've done it our way if it was privacy you wanted."
"The police never patrol anywhere near here. It's safe enough."
"Safe enough gets you caught, in my experience." The man's smirk widened slightly as he took a step back, spreading his hands with a slow, airy grace, but the gesture looked strangely forced. Like something you'd see in an old and weary actor, trapped in a role he'd played too many times. "You think I don't know what I'm doing?"
"'Amoral, not stupid,' I-I know. " Jenny ran both hands down her face once, letting them linger a moment too long over her mouth as she kept the man pinned with her gaze. "I could let you go at any time, you realize that? I'm not beholden to you. You want your money, you-"
"Put up and shut up no matter how foolish the whim, like a good little headhunter should, yes, " he muttered, chuckling. "You're far from the first spoiled little girl to demand I do her dirty work for her. Daresay I know this drill a sight better than you could ever dream of doing."
Jenny sighed, heavily. "You make it sound so easy. So...inconsequential."
"Only thing 'inconsequential' in this game's your man, girlie, otherwise I wouldn't be here." But the man sighed, too, bringing thumb and forefinger to the corners of his eye sockets as he dug through his coat pockets for a cigarette and lighter. "Look. You don't want this, tell me now. You haven't paid, you haven't even given me a reason. Every other girl's got some sob story or other. They know what they want, I do what they want; I get paid, they get free. 'S how it works. No place for last-minute regrets. You're either 100% sure you want him taken care of, or not."
"And what if I'm not?" The girl lifted her chin and squared her shoulders, trying, failing to seem brave, confident, callous. "You're an amoral man, what would you do then?"
"I'd leave. No questions asked." The man's face was shuttered now, voice cold. Almost guarded. "Most of those others, they tell me they've been raped, abused, whatever- most of them are lying. But the one thing they also are, is certain. Can't argue with the intent any more than I can with the money. Better I do it than those girls themselves, because most of them would. Not you, though; no damn way, am I right?"
"Am I? Hm?" Agitated, the man dropped his cigarette butt, letting it smolder on the ground as he grabbed Jenny roughly by the shoulder, heedless of the watering of her eyes, the trembling of her voice. "Has he done anything to you? Anything at all to warrant this?"
She was choking, gasping for breath; her tearstained cheeks flamed. "You have no right-"
"To what?" he growled. "Ask questions? Keep your flimsy morality intact, keep my ass out of prison? Hon, I think I have every fucking right to-"
"No," she hissed. "No, he's done nothing, is that what you wanted to hear? And I don't know if he ever will- I don't want to know, are you happy now? I never want to know." Silence, broken only by her ragged breathing, the audible click of the man's clenched teeth. "So yes. I am certain. I want it done tonight."
Jenny Osbourne had fled an hour ago, her weeping tinged with a strange, pathetic sort of madness that Molly found sickening. Philip had come in not long after, all careful concern: "Moll, what are you staring at, it's freezing in here with that open, why don't you come downstairs for dinner?" But she remained at the window, motionless. The man was still smoking by the wall, eyes closed, blind to the shadow of the coming dusk. She wondered if he would go, tonight. To kill that man, that doomed, innocent man. She wondered what kind of monster thought even less of humanity than she did, that he would let himself get paid to play God. She wondered why he was so much more of a monster than the girls who sought his services- why the act was so much more despicable than the ill will driving it. She wondered when such questions had started meaning so much. Had started meaning anything at all.
Morlov was an idiot. However. He was also the only one of his guys close enough to Brian Lucznik to provide even the semblance of a prelim file. Not that the guy had brains enough to ferret intel out of an autistic farm boy, but...well. Life had a way of fucking with him like that. At least Marlov had done his job right for once.
That seemed to be a common theme lately: life, the cheeky bastard, giving him the finger. Getting shot by that accountant's wife in Michigan had been bad enough, but now this girl was demanding a face-to-face setup with the hit, throwing the entire system out of whack- though...no, she wasn't wholly at fault. Brooke was right, he could and should have said no. Were he a man less given to introspection he might have been baffled at himself, at his uncharacteristic impulsivity.
But there came a point in every man's life when he tired of whatever niche he'd boxed himself into. I'm 35 years old and I'm nowhere. A borrowed line, sure, from another place and another time, but the sentiment was apt enough; it stared him square in the face, reflected in the nebulous haze of cigarette smoke and cold-steamed breath drifting gingerly in the air before him. Half his life gone, probably more, and what had he to show for it? No degree, no family, no home, car, tax debt, cards- no semblance of a public identity. Only the shadows, the hits. The countless figures rendered nameless and faceless the moment bullet met brain. When those things had ceased to be enough, had begun doing him more harm than good, he couldn't have guessed. Was too tired to guess. In this business repeated misfortune was indicative of either loss of skill or a need for change- or else he was simply projecting his own desire for change onto said misfortune, which...wasn't entirely improbable. He'd called his father a sentimental fool so often for believing in omens and signs, but all this- these accidents, these goings-wrong- had to mean something. The game was done with him, and he with it. Wears out his time, much like his master's ass, for aught but provender; and when he's old, cashiered. Another old and storied line, as applicable as the last. For he was his own master, had been for 20 years, and some quiet part of him had had enough. Old and cashiered he truly was- there was no thrill in the hunt anymore, no patience for living hand to mouth, on the run, though he'd reveled in such noir-esque freedom for so long. A hired gun without bullets was more useless than a nancy-boy suburban cop. The same hired gun, without the will to even load that gun...what did that make him?
Only a life sentence awaited him on the other side- that, or his own class-A suicide stunt pulled right. Bleak prospects. The thought should have discomfited him more than it did, but he knew, more fully than he'd known anything else thus far, that Brian Lucznik would be his last. The swan song, the great huzzah, the magnum opus, whichever: fitting, that an innocent would do him in. Almost poetic. But he'd never been overly fond of art imitating life.
Brian Lucznik was found on his living room sofa, P-83 Wanad dangling limply from his blood-smeared hand. An empty bottle of Jack Daniels was shattered against the opposite wall, amber shards glistening against the dull black of the television. His roommate's Estazolam sat forlorn on the bathroom counter, open, four pills missing. His roommate's boyfriend took one look at the indelibly stained upholstery, muttered bet he gave it all up for a girl, fucking sorry cuck, and checked downstairs to make sure the CCTV was working (it wasn't) before calling the police. The death was ruled a suicide. Poorly managed and worsening depression coupled with chemical dependence and constant relationship trouble. Textbook case, closed.
The news report mentioned a girlfriend only briefly, but still, Molly knew. It was too much of a coincidence to think that this Brian guy, just the right age to be crazy Jenny's boyfriend, had killed himself the same night that the hit on him had been ordered. Steady but troubled relationship, her ass, the idiot county cops weren't even trying to look deeper. Not that they had any reason to. Apparently no murderers around here were smart enough to make it look like their victims had committed suicide, but in her opinion worst-case scenario pessimism should've been a mandated personality trait in law enforcement personnel. Better they take the initiative than put stumbling, frightened witnesses on the spot.
That, of course, was precisely the problem; she was one of those witnesses now. Keeping silent had done her more good than harm over the years, but now it could get her slammed for obstruction of justice, never mind the whole moral quandary involved. I overheard some girl conspiring with a hitman to murder her boyfriend; I saw it through the window...she was fairly certain no sane person would keep something like that hidden, it was too much to bear alone. Not that she was alone. Philip sat beside her, neither too close nor too far away like always: flicked off the TV, stared down at the uneaten dinner and unopened book balancing on his lap like they held the answers to all the world's madness.
She could tell him. Could trust him. He would take what she said to the police, because he was too law-abiding for his own good, but that meant she wouldn't have to. The less she had to talk, the better. It was just a matter of...starting. It was always a matter of starting.
"You're staring again, Moll."
The sound of his voice made her jump, though inwardly she thanked him for speaking first. "I...yeah. Just...thinking about that guy. The one who-"
"Right. Jesus." Philip sighed, stabbing viciously at a cherry tomato. "I hate seeing things like that. He was so young-"
"He threw his life away." Hearing the censure in his voice, Molly choked a little on her own salad. It wasn't his fault, she wanted to cry, it wasn't even him, but the words wouldn't come. Still, her brother missed nothing. Sometimes she hated him for it. "What? Am I wrong?"
"I don't…." What if he'd asked her that? Last year, when everything had fallen apart, would he have blamed her, too? "Yes." Conviction felt good. Strong. Far better, far more cathartic than the wretched silence. "It wasn't his fault. It never is, for any of them, but him...it wasn't even him."
"What do you mean?" He spoke slowly, half lost inside his head as he tried to work out her meaning. "You didn't know him, Moll, how could you-"
"I saw...him. Her. Them. I saw them-"
She bit her lip, placed her tray on the coffee table, buttoned and unbuttoned the cuffs of her shirt. Keep the hands busy, and the mind couldn't follow. "You know who."
He was about to refuse, she could see it; silently she begged him to stop talking and just think, the way so many people couldn't. Think, think, please, think…. "This is about the window. Isn't it."
"What about it?" His hand crept toward his back pocket, unlocked his phone; she closed her eyes against the sight, picturing him typing NYSP Troop E Bureau of Criminal Investigations phone number into the Google search bar. The image was more reassuring than she'd thought it would be. "Tell me everything, Molly. Like I'm not even here."
This affidavit is being submitted in support of a criminal complaint, calling for the issue of an arrest warrant for Genevieve "Jenny" OSBOURNE and Theodoros LASKARIS, in collusion with Iain BROOKE, Anatoliy MORLOV, Tom BROADCHURCH, Kaspar GAGARIN, and Vishal KAPOOR, for violation of 18 U.S.C § 1958 (a): conspiracy and use of interstate commerce facilities in the commission of murder-for-hire.
Of course Brian's mother was the one to break the news to her. That harpy had hated her from the start. When the call came she'd sounded almost gleefully vindictive, demanding to know what she'd done to him, you whore, I'll bet my life it was you drove my poor son to it- and in a way she was right, but Jenny couldn't quite bear hearing that truth. Not in that way, from that mouth.
Because she'd had no choice in the matter. The rum had dulled a lot of things, but that one remained clear and utterly sensible. She'd had to do it. She didn't value Brian's life above her own. And if he'd been planning to kill himself anyway, like the idiot she'd always assumed he was, wasn't it better that someone more experienced had beaten him to it? Put him out of his apparent misery, and hers. Unless Brian had done it himself. Which meant that damned Greek had lied- just taken her $10,000 and let Nature run its course. Though he'd have had no way of knowing Brian would do that, he'd never even met him. Presumably. Even she hadn't known that much; that would mean she'd have cared. The point of this had been to prevent herself from caring. Now that it was done, she should've felt safer. Happier. That eighth shot she'd brought to her lips ought to have been a celebratory drink, not one that made her so reflective, that sorrow or shame or whatever this thick, choking thing in her throat was could take the place of justified and justifiable relief-
Yet here she sat. Shaking, alone, mind numb to everything but the thoughts and the tears tracking slow, blistering paths down her cheeks. Tears for herself, and, yes, tears for Brian- gentle, sweet Brian, who had devoted every part of himself to her, put himself aside time and time again to make room for her volatile moods, her criticisms, her petty complaints. He'd wasted himself on her- she was incapable of loving any man, she'd told him so. Wasn't it his mistake, then, to have stayed? You don't need to love me back, hadn't he said that? He had lived for the good times, when the guilt of her poort treatment of him overwhelmed her and she allowed herself to take the love he gave her so freely. Doing all he could for her without ever asking for anything in return, it was stupid. Fucking stupid. Outlook like a martyr's, he'd practically let her guide that finger to the trigger. And if that were the case, how was she guilty of anything?