A few weeks had passed since that night with Ashley. Everything that followed was about as bad as I could have expected. After getting all the tears out, she got dressed and stormed out of my place. Having gone back over to Emily’s, I got an absolute earful from the kiddo the next day about how much I had hurt her cousin and how she was so angry with me. Though not just for hurting Ash. She was also mad at me because I was about to kill myself. That part I understood. All the crying and yelling and asking me how I could do that. Asking if I even thought about how she’d feel if she found out I had done that. The words hurt. They bit at my soul. Between bouts of crying and yelling, she told me that if I was just gonna kill myself to not talk to her anymore.
And that’s how our PT and everything else ended. My sources told me she had kept up with swimming. In fact, she seemed to be doing it harder than ever. That part made me happy. At least some good came from our time together. I’d take that. As for me, I found slipping back into old routine had become pretty simple. Shadow still joined me on my morning runs. He loved it. That made me happy. I had him taken to a groomer here in town to have him trimmed. A golden retriever mutt was a big responsibility. The German Shepherd in him made the hair not grow as long as you’d think, but still longer than I wanted.
Before I had met Emily, and all this had happened, each day passed as uninteresting as the next. I would do any research or procuring I needed for my next job. There was one in my queue. This one was admittedly a little interesting. Killing a corporate executive, in a manner that absolutely had to look like an accident. My sources were getting a dossier prepared on the target, and then we could have a meeting on possible methods of elimination. A German man. Such a shame, that one of the greatest warriors on Earth was being paid a king’s ransom to eliminate him. Oh well.
I would go for my morning PT, spend some time playing with Natayo, do some work stuff, then have the rest of the day where I would watch movies or some other form of escapism. Such standard days. Nothing even remotely interesting happened. Would have to think about how I could have my pets looked after when I went on a mission. Maybe I could hit up Crow. This was a nice place, and I could trust she wouldn’t trash it. My pets loved all my sisters.
All of the good feelings in my life were slipping away. Couldn’t talk to Jean’s family. Didn’t even want to think about them. They told me we were starting over, but what her father said was so fresh in my mind. What if he blamed me too? I didn’t like sleeping after the night of the dream. Insomnia was all over me, but that was fine. Meant that my pupper didn’t get to have a good night in bed like usual. He was an unhappy camper, but he would get to chill with me on the couch, so he couldn’t be too unhappy. Watching whatever stupid show was on Netflix.
For so long, I thought that I had it all figured out. Then this young person came into my life, and everything I had was all fucked up. My world was turned upside down, and I didn’t know who I was anymore. And just when I feel like I had this shit figured out and could move forward, this happens. What had I done?
Fate has a funny way of getting back at me at the strangest times. She’s a mean bitch, and I had done her wrong before. As it happened, I was getting materials ready for my next job. I had a general idea of what I was going to do, but it hadn’t taken shape yet. Poison was the word. There are so many of them. The one I was looking for had its roots in the Amazon (what little is left now), able to kill quietly and leave no trace of itself. Would look like a typical infection. By the time they knew what had happened, it would be too late. The perfect tool for the criteria they gave me.
My phone rang. Picked it up and saw kiddo’s name there. What did she want?
“Hey,” I answered.
“You at home?” she asked.
“Aye. What’s up?”
“I left my report at home. It’s sitting on my bed. Can you grab it for me?” Her tone was so deadpan. Only called me because she needed something. Oh well.
“Sure. Be there in 30.”
A step in the right direction? A woman can hope. I jogged down to her place and knocked on the door. Best to see if Betty’s there instead of just busting in, right? Turns out, she wasn’t. That’s when it hit me – she called me because Betty was gone. The feeling of hope faded out, but part of me figured it’s best to try and make lemonade out of this situation. She did call me, after all. I missed my friend.
When I got to Olympia High School, I saw that this wasn’t much to look at. The exterior was unassuming. Because this is Washington, it was nice to look at from the outside. There were kids chilling outside. Guess they let kids go off campus at lunch. Reminded me of where I grew up. In fact, that’s the feeling I got here. It really was like something I grew up with way back in the day. Made me feel a little old as I stared at the entrance and the sign with the clock above it and thought back to when I was a kid. Before everything went to shit, and I was a pariah. Over half my life ago now. At least from when I started. How nuts is that?!
Being a freshman was the worst. You go from being at the top of the stack in middle school to this. It sucked. Now I was stuck in another alien place that I had to learn all about, with people who probably were going to be dicks to me. Only one of my friends was here. The other two either were in a different school, or in the case of Cassie had moved. It was hella hard, watching her leave. Cried for ages. Felt like I was losing more than a friend. She was one of the few black girls in this town, and when you’re a minority in farming country, that can be a little sticky. But she was such a great friend. And the older I got, the more I thought something else about her. It was strange, but with me all the same. Maybe someday I’d figure it out.
At least big sis was here. Though, would she want her little sister around? I hoped so. Lulu was glad he wouldn’t be going into this by himself, but having a big sister to watch my back sounded nice. I pulled my backpack up and started toward the door. Guess we’d find out what school was going to be for me soon enough. Hopefully it didn’t suck. In fact, I would do my best to make it exciting. Cute boys, maybe having a car someday, and lots of fun girls to get to know. That last thought stuck with me. Daddy always said I was friendly. Who knows who I’d meet. Positive attitude time! It was a new day. Let’s see what happens next.
As fate would have it, things would go wrong for me in all kinds of ways. But that was history now. A long, depressing history of how Lady Luck had fucked me over five ways ’til Sunday. I had the paperwork she needed, in a manila envelope. Time to head inside. Something caught my eye, as I headed in. A kid, with a look on his face that I had seen before. Maybe he’s emo? I know I am out of touch, so maybe I’m just reading into it. He wore this ratty brown coat, and had a duffel bag hanging down at his side. All the alarms in my head were going off. Something was off about this kid. No, this was all just nerves. Kids can be weird as fuck. I knew plenty that people thought were serial killer types that just were misunderstood. Had to get kiddo her paper.
I had texted her that I was arriving and she told me to RV with her at the entrance. That worked. Looking around at the various things hanging on the walls. A trophy case with Lacrosse, rugby, track, swimming, and soccer trophies. Not bad. Back in my school, it was all about football and basketball. Midwest to West Coast. A larger gap then you’d think. In more ways then one. A TV monitor on the wall, with changing displays of things like the school lunch menu, hot items at the school store, various sporting and school events. People looked at me like I was some kid’s mom. I’m not that old! Christ.
That’s when I saw kiddo heading down the hall toward me. She had been talking to some girl. Seeing me, her friend broke off and left. Guess she figured we needed some privacy. Courteous of her.
“Hey,” I greeted.
“Hey.” There was a bit of awkwardness there. “So, do you have my report?”
“Aye.” Gave her the manila envelope.
“Thanks. You’re a life-saver! I was pretty fucked without it. DIdn’t wanna call dad. He’d give me an earful about forgetting it.”
I nodded. “Well, your secret’s safe with me.”
She couldn’t help but smile. “Thanks.”
We stood there for a bit. Time to bow out?
“Well, I guess I should be going,” I said, finally.
Looking up. “Wait! So, are you doing okay?”
Thought for a moment. “It’s another day, you know?”
Kiddo looked down. “So, you’re not gonna, you know…?”
Felt pain inside. “I’m still here, aren’t I?”
She nodded, then looked up. “Yeah. Maybe we could chill sometime? I’ve been kind of cooped up at home.”
Felt so much better. We were still friends, even now. “Aye. I got nothing going on for the next few days.”
“Cool. Guess I’d better get to class.”
“Aye. See you later.”
That’s when I saw it again. The kid from before. He was walking in, hand inside the duffel bag. Alarms were going off in my head. Something was wrong here!
“Kiddo!” I said, quietly, “Get behind me. Do it now!”
Immediately she was on edge. “Why?! What’s wrong?!”
“Just do what I say! Something’s about to happen.”
Emily ran to my backside, grabbing my shoulder. She could see what I was looking at. From the duffel bag, the kid from before produced a 12 gauge Remington shotgun. The entire hallway was staring, with kids either running or too scared to run. He took aim at a pretty young brunette.
Instantly my hand was inside my jacket. From a concealed holster I pulled out my Glock26.
“Drop it!” I shouted. “Drop the weapon!”
He looked right at me, this expression that’s hard to put into words on his face. Like, when an animal is cornered, but not backing down. Desperate, angry, dangerous. A whole bunch of things.
“You shoot me and I’ll blow her brains out!” he shouted back. Cracking voice. What was this kid’s deal?
It was a bit of a standoff. Washington didn’t have guards at their schools. The shootings you see virtually everywhere else hadn’t really caught up to this state. So for the moment it was just us. This was bad. His weapon was loaded for bear. At this range, if he fired, that girl’s guts were gonna spray the floor. Shaking hands, but his finger was on the trigger, and at this range he couldn’t possibly miss. There was no doubt I could land a head-shot, but my range was further, and by the time I fire, so would he. Yup, this was bad. Really, really bad. What were my options? A thousand ways I could kill this kid. Young skull. Bullet would kill him, no doubt. Maybe wound him? No, then he would still kill the girl he’s aiming at. There was no possible scenario of me firing that doesn’t result in him killing his target. What do I do? Kiddo was behind me, clutching me tight. I could hear her crying.
For the hostage, she was bawling, losing her ability to stand and dropping to the floor. Kid had pissed herself. A sad day for that cute long skirt she was wearing. Faculty were trying to get kids away, but I could see that plenty who had been too scared to run were glued where they stood. There was a surreal quiet to this moment. My training was telling me a thousand possible ways to make this kid dead, but none of them had it where that poor girl didn’t get her head or chest destroyed.
Another option presented itself – I had to keep this guy talking. Maybe, if I could keep him busy long enough, the cops could assist in this endeavor. Plus, there was something about him. The look on his face, scared angry, like panicking. If I could calm him down, maybe there was a chance. Okay. I could do this.
“Why do you wanna to kill that girl?” I asked. For the first time in 15 years, my Midwest asserted itself. This was a strange feeling.
“She’s one of them. These fucking kids at this fucking school.”
“So you wanna kill more people?”
“Yes!” Shaking, but talking.
“Why? Why do you wanna kill the kids here?”
“They’re all the same! Plastic people who you can’t tell apart! I hate them all!”
I could feel there was more to it.
“Plastic? What do you mean by that?”
“Fake! They’re not real! Everybody’s on their fucking phones all fucking day! They all listen to the same music and do the same shit. I can’t stand it. None of them will give anyone who isn’t like them the time of day. They’re fucking robots!”
“They won’t give you the time of day? Is that it?”
He got defensive. This look as he stood there, deliberating whether to tell more or not. Something in his mind was clicking. Thoughts telling him that he was on the right path.
“Yes! I mean, no! They just suck!”
Had to be insistent. Some part of him was looking to talk. “You said yes! Are they not talking to you?”
“Of course not! I’m that weird kid. The smelly kid. The kid who likes hunting and guns and has a poor family. Nobody gives me the time of day.”
Okay, we were making progress. “So why do this? Why come in here and kill all these people? You gonna kill the teachers too?”
“Damn right! They treat me like shit too.”
Teenage angst. All the drama. But then, I knew at least a little of that. “So, you kill people. What then?”
“Then everybody’s talking about me! Then I’m not just the weird kid that nobody cares about. Everybody wants to know why I did it! The news will cover it all day for fucking weeks and every person in the country will want to know all about me!”
So that’s it. Suddenly I hated this kid a lot less. Couldn’t let him do what he’s planning, but his motivations were starting to come into focus.
“Fuckin’ A, kid. Being a kid nowadays must really suck. Everywhere you go, everyone’s online or on the phone or whatever. The Internet was supposed to connect eerybody, but instead it just pushed eeryone apart. Can’t imagine how lonely it must be to grow up today. Friends that exist on screens, but you have no connection to in real life.”
His hands were shaking a bit more, but his finger was off the trigger. “So why shouldn’t I do it?! Why shouldn’t I kill them and get them ALL talking about me!”
I shook my head. “Kid, if you do this, yeah, they’ll all talk about you. But you know what they’re gonna say? What a piece of shit you are. Asking why you are such a monster. At least for a little while. Then the news will start yellin’ about guns and schools and they won’t be talking about you anymore. You’ll just be part of the news cycle.”
Tears started flowing down his face. “So then what should I do?! What the fuck should I do?! Kill news people?! Kill politicians?! Who do I have to kill to get people paying attention to me?!”
I shook my head. “Listen, kiddo, killing people isn’t gonna help you. It’s not gonna make your loneliness better. It’s not gonna make the pain go away. Take it from me, it’s gonna make it a whole hell of a lot worse.”
Now he wasn’t looking at his target. He was looking right at me. “How would you know?!”
Lowering my weapon, I looked past him. “Because I’ve been killing people for a very long time.”
He was confused. “What? What you do you mean?”
“When I joined the military, I did it to get out of where I was and see if there was a better life out there. Joined the Navy because I figured the best way to see the world was behind a cannon. When my CPO asked me if I wanted to get into STARS, I figured it was a good way to do something fun. It was a new program to show what women could do. I didn’t realize what that meant. They trained me to kill, then expected me to. At first it was just when we had to, but then they realized that we had skill as assassins. That I had skill. It was a genuine gift I had, being able to know when and how to kill someone.
“At first it was hard. I rationalized it, try to reason it away, but it never did. Kept biting at me more and more and more. But then I met someone. Someone wonderful who changed my life. I gave them my heart and swore that I would love until death do we part. And that’s what happened. Now all I had was the killing. It’s all I know how to do. All I’m good at. Through a PMC company I run, I make a killing off it. A king’s ransom.” The pain was back inside. “But I can’t keep doing this. Each day I wake up, there is a little less of me inside than there was the day before. I go through life, and I think about how I would and could kill people. Even now, my brain is going through all the ways I can take you out, trying to find a way to save the hostage.
“I need this to stop. Because if the day ever comes that I can’t stop myself from killing, then the last body I’ll take down is my own. That’s better than becoming a monster, who will be hated by the people I care about.”
Emily grabbed my arm, holding tight.
The armed kid looked at me, then back down at his target. The girl was a red, teary mess. Then he looked at his weapon.
“So what am I supposed to do? If everybody already doesn’t like me, what the fuck am I supposed to do?”
I let out a sigh. “You start talking to people. Maybe a whole bunch won’t like you. But I bet there are plenty of kids who feel just as lonely and want someone to talk to them. Though, for now you’re gonna go away. You done fucked up. Still, you’re young. It ain’t too late for a new heading to your life.”
That’s when he looked back at me. “Maybe for you too?”
Smiling a bit, I nodded. “Yeah. Maybe.”
Letting out a deep breath, the kid started lowering his gun. Success! Now I just had to get him to put it down, and then this could be all over. I looked to Emily, motioning for her to stay put.
Walking over, I saw looks of approval from everybody who was viewing this from where they were either hiding or hadn’t been able to run from. Had I just done something heroic? There was a stellar thought. Former killer, STARS assassin, saving lives. Hell yeah!
Suddenly, the kid looked pale. “Mike, don’t!”
I turned in a flash to see another kid standing there, in a camo jacket with messy blonde hair. An accomplice! He had a loaded .44 pistol. Kid fired right into my gut. In a flash, my weapon came to bear. Blasted a hole right into his head. He hit the deck, brain matter leaking out. I fell to the ground, hearing Emily screaming and running over. She put her hand on my gut. Blood was pouring out.
“No! Quinn! Please God no.” She just kept saying no over and over again and she tore up her shirt to ball up and put on my wound.
Felt the life draining out of me. So this was it. This was how the life of a STAR ends. Not too shabby. Saved a bunch of lives. Not a bad way to go. The voices of people who came running over and others was getting more and more distant. This was it. The end. Everything was fading to black.
I woke up in the bedroom of my house. It was a nice, clear, sunny day outside. Not the cloudy and rainy mess it had been. What’s going on? Getting up, I saw that I was wearing this cute flannel number that Jean had got me for Christmas a few years back. Thought that burned up with the house.
Walking into my kitchen to make coffee, I suddenly saw someone sitting in a chair in my living room, facing out at the ocean. Jean! She was in matching PJs, a mug in her lap.
“You’re up!” she greeted.
Until next time, a quote,
“End? No, the journey doesn’t end here. Death is just another path. One that we all must take.” – Gandalf, The Lord of the Rings: Return of the King