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Shooter

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Poison is the easiest way to kill someone.

Poison makes the job clean. When you slip the right kind of it in someone’s drink, the transition is so smooth that you’re enabled to doubt if you really brought it on. Poisoning lacks that split-second pang of regret you feel after firing a gun at someone; the self-loathsome swell in your chest as you watch their enfeebled body hit the ground, and you realize that you, only you, were behind it. Right before the victim becomes an insignificant inanimate object and the world continues on without them.

I set a timer to generate a gunshot sound effect and place it beneath a couch in a corner of the coffee shop while pretending to feel around for dropped money. It will go off in five minutes.
Any longer than five minutes would make me antsy. I don’t like observing the people I kill for long periods of time before they die.

Instead I get a three minute and fifty second sneak preview into my victim’s life while I drink my latte at the table across the aisle from him. His name is Bernie. He’s fat, old and balding and dressed like a perfectly wholesome, everyday, independent elderly man. Maybe he is. Maybe not. There’s really no way of knowing. But it doesn’t matter. He’s a goner either way.

Bernie is having a lackluster conversation with a young blonde girl about managing her workload in college. I assume he’s her professor. I wish he knew he was about to get killed, because he would probably be talking about something more interesting, somewhere else, with someone far more important to him.

When the faux fire cracks into the air, everyone screams and drops to their knees as if brought down by a sudden gravitational pull. I join them, pretending to grab on to the table across from me for support while subtly dropping a handful strychnine crystals in Bernie’s coffee cup.

Once everyone realizes there isn’t actually a gunman present, they start to rush out of the coffee shop, careful not to forget their beverages when they go. That thoughtless human predisposition is what makes this hit successful. Because when Bernie finally pushes himself to his feet, he grabs his coffee and hobbles out of the shop.

I exit behind him, and head across the parking lot.
I hear it the moment the poison takes effect, because he gurgles, and involuntarily slams his head into the window of his Ford. I continue to walk as his body throws itself repeatedly into the vehicle, and I’m too far away from him to hear the thud as his convulsive body hits the pavement.

I don’t look back. I’ve got money to collect.


I didn’t always want to kill people. I still don’t, in fact--which is to say I don’t necessarily enjoy the work--but I do it anyway.

I used to be afraid of death. I cried for the insects that met their deaths inside the cloud of poisonous fume that my dad sprayed them when they wandered into my house. But that stopped after my dad punched me in the face and told me to quit being such a pussy.

I used to dream my dad was trying to kill me with broken spirit bottles. I ran into our tiny shed out back and retrieved a baseball bat, then hit him in the face with it when he came stumbling through the doorway to catch me. And I kept hitting him until blood started to spurt out of every hole on his head and cover his face, and about halfway through the dream it had more to do with me killing him than it ever did protecting myself.

Waking up was always the worst part.

My dad taught me how to shoot a gun when I was nine, because he thought getting a feel for a manly activity would increase my atypically low level of testosterone, which was the obvious reason I didn’t want bugs to have to die. Every time I pulled the trigger, I shut my eyes and gasped as the gun kicked back in my hands. My dad’s sturdy hands would clamp down on top of my weak ones, and he’d steady me, and shout at me to stop being such a pussy, and to shoot straight. When his hands left mine, they would feel cold and contaminated.

My dad is still alive, but I haven’t seen him since I graduated high school four years ago. I never plan to see him again, but if I do happen to stumble upon him in the street, I will fire a gun right between his eyes without a moment’s hesitation, and show him just how straight I can shoot now.


I grab a newspaper from the kiosk in front of my apartment the next morning, and find an article about Bernie in the bottom right corner of the second page. There’s a picture of a sobbing woman in the center of the passage. She was Bernie’s wife, Rosemary. She is devastated, and a quote beneath her picture says how she does not know who would do such a thing because Bernie was a sweet man with no enemies. She does not know if she’ll be able to live on without him.

Rosemary is the one who hired me for the hit.

The evil hidden behind innocent faces used to astonish me, but I’ve gotten used to it. Now it only makes me laugh, because the human psyche is so screwed up that it’s funny. Normally, one wouldn’t expect a little old lady to arrange for her husband of thirty years to be taken out, but it’s really not that surprising for me. A little old lady with a squeaky clean track record is not all that different from a criminal who dedicates his life to getting what he wants.
Bernie’s wife did not want to punish him. She still loved him, and he wanted someone else, but she couldn’t live knowing that, so he couldn’t live, period. We are all selfish. Some people are just more proactive--or perhaps braver--than others.

Selfishness is at the very core of my work. I do what I do because I get a lot of money for very little work done. I figure the people I kill deserve to die just as much as they deserve to be spared by the people who want them dead. But if they’re spared, I get no money, so it has to be the way it is.
The way I see it, taking hackneyed people out of their circular lives is something of a favor. People think they want to live, but that’s only because they’re afraid of what might come in death. The world is a terrible place. I watch the secret pain linger behind the bogus satisfaction in people’s eyes as they wait for something in life they’ll never find, because the truth is, what they’re looking for doesn’t exist. And by the time they figure that out, they’re old and about to die anyway.
And at the end of it all, it really doesn’t matter what people deserve, because nothing is fair. I would kill a content person with just as little hesitation as I would a suicidal one. Because bad things happen to good people and that’s just the way it is. None of it really means anything.
It’s a dog eat dog world. And I grew tired of being eaten. So now I eat.


I only have one missed call from my mother come nightfall, which is a wonder.
My mother has called me multiple times a day for a full year and two months. I’ve never answered or listened to her messages. I don’t know how she got my new cell number, but I’ll have to change it again when I get around to it.
My mother was a failure in a less active sort of way than my father. Her favorite pastime was frowning idly into space while my dad beat me with leather and cutlery until the skin burned off my bare legs.
I assume she’s better now, and wants to reconnect with me.
I believe forgiveness is a virtue, but I accepted a long time ago that my morals aren’t to be respected. What my father did shaped who I am. What my mother didn’t do shaped who I am. And no amount of mending can change that now.
I’m not a good person. But so far that’s worked out all right for me.

My next hit requires a little more dexterity.
My client leaves a pizza delivery man outfit and a fake pizza box at the desk of the apartment building I’m meant to eliminate the victim in. I use the restroom to dress, and head up to the highest floor, where the victim lives.
I’ve been a contract killer for two years, and I’ve killed somewhere around 24 people, but I still get nervous when I have to shoot a gun. I feel my father behind me every time, and a trinket of the vulnerability I’ve actively repressed is accessed in the moments before I pull the trigger. I am a kid once again, wondering why my father hates me, why missing the target is a valid reason for him to beat me senseless, and why my mom won’t do anything to stop it.

With every step I take down the hallway, I feel the cold handle of the pistol tapping against my lower back. And then I knock on the door my victim lives in, careful to keep my right hand to my side, and trying to convince myself to stop being such a pussy.

The door swings open before I finish knocking, and standing before me is a semicircle of men, all holding guns much bigger than the one wedged in the back of my pants. I’m staring into the dark barrels of six M16 rifles with silencers, and I’m too overwhelmed to see what the people holding them look like, and all I do is smile.
This is it. My escape.
The pizza box slides delicately out of my hands and softly hits the floor as I stretch out my arms and bend my neck back to the ceiling.

I died on a Wednesday. It was a beautiful night. I was 22.
I’m finding that death is a lot like life. I can still see people in blurry mirages, but they can’t see me. When they move through me, it’s like I’m floating through a fountain of ice.
I no longer have to worry about money, but the benefit is pointless, because nothing in the world is tangible now. Most dead people choose to sleep for eternity in the place their families chose to bury them. I don’t have that option, because after I died my killers attached an anchor to my legs, dragged my body into a river and left me to sink to the bottom. It has been a year and my parents still don’t know I’m dead.
I spend most of my time wandering the streets for no reason in particular, just watching people walk, wondering where they could be going, and what banal embroidery of life their minds are stitched into in the moment that my dead eyes connect with theirs.
I locate Bernie by accident somewhere along the way. All he does is lie awake on top of the hole his family buried him in, staring at the sky, lost in his own mind.
My killers are still alive out there. I don’t know how they knew who I was, or why they wanted me dead. It doesn’t matter, and I’m not upset with them.
I’m sure it was nothing personal.




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