“How can you live with yourself?”

My mother had asked me a few months ago after I had finally told her what I did for a living. Then, I had given her my fake smile and had shrugged it off, saying that the money kept the nightmares and my conscious away. But the truth was that it was getting harder to live within my own skin. As the months crept by and the days stretched endlessly, every breath was harder than the last. I had stopped looking at myself in the mirror what I saw there more often than not made me sick. I had learned how to live with my actions and my thoughts as a purely survival instinct, and it was that alone that kept me from ending my own life. Surviving at any cost had been drilled into me mercilessly that fighting against my conscious had become second nature.

The nightmares hadn’t started yet, but I knew that it was only a matter of time before the small amount of sleep I got would be disturbed by images I would soon rather forget. I knew this for a fact because keeping those images from my mind while I was wide-awake was getting harder and harder. I would be waiting in line at the bank, close my eyes briefly and be bombarded by images covered in blood and terror. I knew that if I didn’t change something soon I would go insane. Although I always believed that sanity was highly overrated, I was terrified that my insanity would be marked by even more violence.

I was a violent person by nature; at a young age I learned that if you were willing to bloody a few lips and break a few noses, people would mostly leave you alone. I’m not a big people fan, which is why I got into my current profession to begin with. I thought that I could go endlessly without feeling any guilt or pain, I was wrong, and by being wrong I started down the path that would sooner or later lead to my destruction.

The first time I had killed someone for money I had felt nothing. No small twinge of guilt as I saw the life drain out of his eyes. No thoughts of whether or not the mark had family, friends that would miss him. Nothing. To me he had been a means to a very lucrative end. The second time was even easier than the first. The fact that I felt nothing soon stopped scaring me; I was happy that I didn’t feel anything while I watched life leave a person. I could have gone like this indefinitely and I would have if it hadn’t been for Marcus.

The money for Marcus was enough that I could have gone on a long vacation in any city of the world. On paper it was a rather simple hit. An old friend of mine, Jonathan, wanted Marcus dead, but for some odd reason he didn’t want to take him out himself. Make it look like an accident, he had told me when he proposed the job to me.

Jonathan and I were sitting in a quiet café, sipping lattes and nibbling on biscotti all very civilized even if the topic was murder.

“The only stipulation is that you have to make it look like an accident,” Jonathan was saying, in his quiet voice, “it doesn’t really matter what type of accident as long as it’s believable and there is no sort of police investigation. We really don’t want the police to look to closely at Marcus, or his death will be in vain.”

“Why don’t you just take him out?” I asked. It wasn’t that I was all that curious I just wanted to make sure that I was getting all the important facts. “Why go outside the organization and enlist a third party? If you wanted whatever or whoever this Marcus person is to be all hush-hush why trust anyone else to take care of him?”

“Marcus cannot in anyway be linked back to me; if his accident is investigated there can’t be any possible way for the authorities to trace it back to me. And besides there is no one else I trust more than you.”

I don’t have many friends; hell Jonathan was just about it, so I couldn’t say no to him especially after he used the trust card. In my business you don’t trust anybody because as soon as you do they’ll take a knife to your back and laugh as you bleed to death. The fact that Jonathan had said that he could trust me should have been a warning as clear as the church bells on a quiet Sunday morning. But I’m female enough for that simple statement to have penetrated my shields, and for me to agree to kill Marcus.

I spent a week with the slim file that Jonathan had given me about Marcus while I sat outside of his house following him from his house to any number of everyday errands that most human beings are forced to attend to. I knew what time he woke up, what time he went to bed and with whom, I even knew what time he brushed his teeth. I knew his tendency to drive too fast on curving roads; I had a plan, and yet I waited. Jonathan telling me he trusted me kept repeating itself in the back of my brain. I knew Jonathan didn’t trust me; the man wouldn’t trust a nun.

Running the whole conversation back in my mind, I pinpointed exactly what had been bothering me. Jonathan never mentioned the organization, I did. He had only said that he didn’t want the death traced back to him. With suspicion clouding my thoughts, I checked out Marcus. His whole name was Marcus Sandoval, Jr., son of the crime boss Jonathan worked for. He was brilliant; he had started his company and amassed millions without help from his father, but also without denying the family connection. Most within the organization thought that he would take over for his father when the time was right no matter how much he denied being involved in the family business. He was close to his family, visited his mother almost every Sunday, and he was the only thing standing between Jonathan and an empire.

Having all the information that Jonathan conveniently forgot to mention didn’t change the fact that I had been hired to do a job. No matter how much it hurt to know that Jonathan was using me as his own personal career ladder, I still had a job to complete. Call it a twisted sense of work ethic, but I couldn’t leave a job unfinished.

I called Jonathan Friday night told him that I would get rid of Marcus Sandoval, Jr. for him if he would guarantee me a position within the organization. I told him that I wanted stability. He agreed quickly. We agreed to meet Sunday, after Mass, we both had too many sins on our souls to consider skipping the service, so that I could receive payment for a job well done.

I followed Marcus all day on Saturday. He left his apartment at six; went to his office until three then returned home. He stayed inside until eight then went to go pick up his date. She was blonde; her name was Cynthia. They drove up the coast to a trendy restaurant overlooking cliffs and ocean. While they were inside, eating fresh seafood, I worked on his car. I cut the brakes not really caring about making it look like an accident now.

It started raining as I stood in the shadows waiting for them to exit the restaurant. I looked towards the sky, smiling, thinking that God was finally cooperating with me. I stood in the rain for an hour before Marcus and Cynthia walked out of the restaurant. I watched them get in the car and drive off. I could hear the screeching of tires as Marcus sped up. I followed, more slowly several minutes later.

I was a couple of miles behind them when I heard metal hitting metal. Not hurrying, I arrived just in time to see the car fly over the embankment towards the ocean. I heard car hit water as I drove away.

Breaking news interrupted my Seinfield rerun to inform the entire coast that Marcus Sandoval, Jr. had died in a car accident. He was 33, owner and president of one of the fastest growing companies of new computer technology. But most importantly, he was the son and heir apparent of Marcus Sandoval, Sr., leader of the biggest and most lucrative drug and crime organization in the western part of the United States.

I walked into Jonathan’s house with my hand touching the butt of my gun. It wasn’t as though I was willing to trust my one and only friend. He was sitting comfortably, one leg crossed over the other, his eyes watching me as I made my way into his living room. Jonathan slowly licked his lips before smiling only with his mouth; his eyes were dead. I kept my eyes on his, daring him, taunting him with my knowledge.

On the table in front of Jonathan was an open briefcase, two million dollars was in it. I didn’t have to count it to be sure; if nothing else, Jonathan was honest. Even while he was setting me up to murder an innocent man for him. Jonathan stood slowly, his body relaxed, prepared for whatever came.

“There’s the money we agreed on,” he said softly, “two mil, take it, go to an island somewhere, get a tan.”

I nodded, making my way around the coffee table, ignoring the money, never taking my eyes away from Jonathan. He smiled then, a real smile that made it all the way to his eyes.

“You and your damn honor,” he whispered as he took his gun out of his holster. The gun was silver, beautiful, and pointed directly at my heart.

My eyes flickered to the gun before moving back to his eyes, smiling, I said, “This has nothing to do with honor. You used me. Like some two-bit thug. Why didn’t you just hire someone off the street? It would have been cheaper.”

Jonathan’s soft laughter caressed my spine, “You silly girl, I needed you. I knew that you would do a good job, and I needed to know where your loyalty was. I know you. I knew you would be unable to keep yourself from investigating Marcus. I needed to know if you would betray me.”

I nodded as I took another step towards him. “And now, because I didn’t betray you, you’re going to kill me?”

“I have to. I’ll be saddened, of course. I truly thought of you as a friend. But business must always come first.”

Hearing him admit that he was willing to kill me, I battled with myself. My heart rejoiced, finally a way out no more bloody hands or bloody thoughts. But my mind recoiled at the very thought of standing there, dying, without trying to at least save myself. ‘Survival,’ my mind whispered, ‘we must survive or take him with us to hell as we try.’

I took another step towards him, he was only a foot away, “Go ahead, shoot, or would you prefer I get off your expensive carpet first, we wouldn’t want to ruin it.”

Jonathan’s gaze moved down to his carpet. I took the opportunity to attack. Moving my hand up, I knocked it across his elbow, twisted. The gun fell from his grasp, as I folded his arm in a direction it didn’t really want to go. His other hand came up towards me, even as a cracking sound filled the room. His fist connected squarely with my jaw, I let go of his arm, stumbled backwards, pulled my gun out of the holster, and aimed it at his heart.

Smiling, my eyes dead, I pulled the trigger twice, watched his eyes open in surprise as blood seeped from his heart. Jonathan’s biggest problem had always been underestimating the female mind. I walked towards him after he hit the carpet, my gun still steady. His eyes were open, but there was no life there. “You should have killed me when you had the chance,” I whispered to the corpse. I holstered my gun, picked up his, stuffed it into the back of my black jeans, and closed the suitcase. I took my payment for killing Marcus and walked out of Jonathan’s house without so much as a glance back.

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