I have to do this.
Not just for the money. Not just for the husband that said I was perfect for the job. But, for my son. My oblivious son, not even two, left with the husband. He left stretchmarks on my waist when he was in my belly but the husband told me that wouldn’t ruin the proceedings much. They weren’t too visible.
We needed money badly. My son had worn out all his clothes. He had no toys but what I could sneak out of family bins. In a few years, I’d need to get him school things.
“It’s your own fault, Naomi.” Mother’s voice was made even pricklier through the telephone when I called her during my first panic, “You wanted to drop out of school. You chose to run off with that singer. I didn’t drive you out of the house or any other nonsense you might have heard from the neighbours. Well, I’m not going to talk about the past. I’m not bitter. You’re my daughter and I did everything I could for you and I’ll keep doing it. My house has been too empty since your father died and I miss having children around. You should send your son to me. I’ll take care of him and you can party and screw around to your heart’s content.”
Just for acting like the last five years had never happened, I determined not to give up my son to my mother. Or, take a single coin from her. My husband, for all his problems, agreed and got me into this job. It would be nasty. It would be unpleasant but it would keep my son away from that…woman and in my arms.
So, I went to the Blessed Peace hotel, just as the seven o’clock bus went past the huge revolving glass doors. It was after home time. No children would see me and wonder what a small plain brown woman with too much softness in her middle was doing walking into the most glittering posh hotel in the city.
I tried not to sound as shaky as I felt when I give the receptionist the surname of the man I’d be attending. She reaches underneath her desk and gave me a room number. She smiles at me with glistening teeth and wishes me a nice day. She has to deal with people like me every day. She’s learned not to show her knowledge of what I’m really here for. I could almost hear the gossip she was planning with the staff about my presence as I entered the lift.
The room was near the roof. That meant a long ride up, feeling like my stomach was lagging about two floors below me. My legs became more and more jelly-like with every floor I passed. That was a word my son was trying to say, jelly. I think he enjoyed getting it wrong more than trying to get it right. I know I found it funny and, despite everything, I smiled as the floor number crept above 10.
By the time we reached floor 20, however, I had to lean against the wall to support myself. The lift doors began to close and, knowing what would happen if I didn’t move, pushed myself off from the wall and into the empty corridor. The passage seemed to yawn before me, its artistic lampshades with spiked edges looking more like teeth every second.
I shook myself. I summoned up the image of my sweet son. I had left him asleep, hoping that he would stay asleep until I returned. He was too young to ask questions. Once he was, he would be used to his mother going out ‘to work’ by then and wouldn’t think it was strange.
I found the right room and knocked. The man was a long time answering. God, it was as if he knew how much agony the suspense was. When he at last opened the door and I got my first look at him, he didn’t look like my sweet son. Any sweetness he’d had when he was young was gone, hardened into a square jawline, wide shoulders like a gorilla and grey-green eyes as cold-looking as my old postcard of the Alps in winter (the closest thing I had to a painting).
“Nice and early.” Even his voice sounded hard, as if it was generated by a computer and even harder than my mother, “Good. Come on in. You look as eager as I am.”
My husband’s training must be paying off then. I certainly hadn’t meant to look eager. I entered the suite. The place was bigger than my whole apartment and the huge television alone could probably feed us for a week. Everything seemed to radiate rich gold. The walls were a pristine primrose yellow, the carpet a soft cream and the golden stitching in the huge cushions on the suede sofas sent glitters into every dark corner. The lamp was not lit yet. The sun was still fairly high in the sky.
“So, you’re a new girl, are you?” The man asks from behind me, making me start. That makes him laugh, “You must be. Good, I hate those shameless sluts who’ve done it hundreds of times before. You don’t know where they’ve been. I pride myself on having standards so you’ll be sorry to hear that you won’t see me for long. Yes, it’s sad but you’ll just have to make it last.”
I wished I could have had the courage and the permission to slap him, punch him and put his face through the glass coffee table. Instead, I straightened my back, pushed out my chest (it needed all the help it could get to look larger) and said, “I hope I don’t disappoint you, sir.”
The man laughs again, “Pure and nice manners. Still, we need to lay down the ground rules. Now, my coworkers call me ‘sir’ and you’re no coworker so you call me Adrian. You understand?”
“Excellent, excellent. Right, shall we start off the proceedings with a bang?” He chuckled again so I contorted my face into a smile too. Men like to think they can be funny, my husband had said. I had worn a button down shirt and a loose skirt, both of which were dropped in next to no time. I expected the man to walk around me and make comments on my appearance. But, for all his talk on having standards, he just dropped his own trousers and stretched himself out on the bed. He kept his shirt on, though, and I thought I could pick out a little pudge around his belly.
But, I would have time to laugh at that later. One out-of-place giggle and I was done.
My hesitation didn’t go unnoticed. He gave a smile, “Nervous? Don’t want to disappoint me? Oh, I think I’m going to like you a lot, you lucky thing. See how much I like you?”
It was becoming very obvious without any trousers to obscure it. I swallowed hard, summoned up a picture of my husband in my mind and tried to project it onto the man. My husband had a rounder face and no gut to speak of but the eyes were the same warm hazel so it worked eventually and it helped a lot.
I climbed up onto the bed. The sheets even felt expensive and I almost recoiled, feeling not good enough to be touching them. Like I really was stealing something from some other woman. Probably, the woman who had given him that solid gold ring on his finger.
I reached back, unhooked my bra and, with one swift motion, brought the knife down squarely into the side of his neck. Just where my knife blows had landed in the mannequin during training. Straight in, then straight out with only a small swipe of blood on the pillow to show for it.
If only the man looked as unemotional and unbothered as that mannequin. His eyes seemed ready to explode out of his head, swelling to almost three times their natural size. His mouth unhinged and he tried to scream but only a gooey wet gurgle emerged.
The man’s arm, half-raised as if trying to grab me, flopped back onto the expensive sheets. I kept my eyes right on his, maintaining a hard glare. People in films would make it clear to their victims why they were murdered but my tongue, like his, was dead in my mouth.
His pupils blew up, almost taking up the whole of the colour, and, when I found the small torch in the bedside table and shone the light in his eyes, they did not shrink.
That was what they told me to look for. My husband had told me that, once the pupils stopped shrinking, I had to leave as soon as possible, “No point getting your fingerprints over more places than you need to. The clean-up crew won’t thank you for that.”
My body moved away from the bed but like it wasn’t my own. Like I was commanding a character in a film.
Good, good, hold onto that thought. Think of brightly-coloured children’s films. Ones with talking fish and happy princesses that never needed to murder and princes that were kind. That’s better than thinking about other things. When it’s done, you need to focus on the present, that’s what they said. Look back and you’ll make a mistake. Make a mistake and you’ll be dealt with.
So, I scrubbed off the red from my fingers and left the dagger in the sink. Someone would pick that up later and replace it with an identical one with the wrong fingerprints or so I was told.
I had to trust the clean-up crew. They were my protectors more than any mole in the police or target tracker. They were ones keeping me outside of prison and my son away from my mother. He was probably awake by now. He might even be crying for food. My husband would thank me with an insult barrage for leaving him to do woman’s work if that happened.
I left the room, placed the ‘please clean this room’ sign on the doorknob and went straight to the fire door.
I got to the ground floor via the emergency staircases (the alarms had been deactivated for the occasion) and went out into the alley between a pair of large dustbins. I straightened my blouse, did up the top button for good measure and walked as normally as I could through the backways until I reached the street directly behind Blessed Peace.
There would be no rendezvous. I was told to go straight home and not to talk about it with anyone, even my husband. My performance would be evaluated by that night and the boss would tell me if I had earned my payment.
Please, let it be a good payment. Please, let me have done a good job. I don’t want to have to do this again.