by Leo King

Approx. 1650 Words


As I walk up to the London townhome, ready to complete my current assignment, I wonder how the job will go.

Some may hate their job, but I don’t hate mine. In many ways, I love my job. I get to travel to such interesting places and meet such interesting people. I hate none of that. No, what I hate is the ending of each assignment. I always walk away feeling like I’ve lost a friend. I should be used to it. It comes with the territory. I guess I’m just sentimental.

As I stand on the front door of the townhome, I think a moment about the subject. He’s a pretty good fellow. Like all of my assignments, I’ve spent the last few weeks getting to know him, spending time with him over drinks at the local pub, discussing his favorite hobbies, or trading tips for the Sunday derby. I enjoy the “getting acquainted” phase of my assignments; it’s what comes next that is usually unpleasant.

I ring the doorbell and wait only a few minutes for a maid to answer. Producing my calling card, I introduce myself and say, “Your master has invited me for dinner with his family. Am I too early?”

The maid is a middle aged woman. This job is likely her primary source of income. She smiles cheerfully enough and lets me in, saying, “Course, luv, the master and mistress is waiting for you in the drawing room!”

The maid shows me inside, taking my coat, top hat, and cane, before showing me to the room where my host and hostess are waiting. Calvin Whitmore, owner of Whitmore’s Furniture, and his wife, are in splendid evening attire, his plump frame making her thin one look all the more so. Along with their evening clothes and the nicely decorated drawing room, I begin to confirm a suspicion I’ve held about Calvin for weeks – that he does indeed live well beyond his means. I will see if this is true.

“Arthur, glad you could make it, and on such short notice,” Calvin says, greeting me with a firm handshake. He seems relaxed, as if he has not a care in the world. For a brief moment, I feel a little bad. I have come to know him as a genuinely likable fellow. He’s a bit too quick to follow unsound betting tips, but tells utterly hilarious stories after having a drop of good scotch.

“This is my wife, Meriel,” he says, introducing me to the thin young lady at his side. She is quite lovely; long chocolate locks spun in twists that frame her face and cascade down her back. Her doe-brown eyes shimmer with a kind of vitality that only a newlywed has. I recall Calvin telling me that this is his second wife, the first having left after something or other. He seems to have done well for himself.

I smile and nod at Meriel, saying, “A pleasure, my lady. Thank you for inviting me into your home.”

Meriel curtsies politely, saying, “Any friend of my husband’s is a friend of mine.”

I smile and nod again, then look over at Calvin, “Where are your two children? The ones you’ve told me so much about?”

“Ah well,” Calvin says with a bit of flush to his cheeks, “Timothy is at his mother’s for the week. You know how that goes. Can’t control the courts, mind you. Thomas is off studying for his Bar Admission. Frightfully clever lad. I suppose he’ll be in Parliament some day.”

I nod towards Calvin, noting that his children are not here tonight. Again, I feel a little bad, but it passes. These things do happen.

We make small talk for a while over a bottle of Chablis. The flavor is very full bodied, and I enjoy it as much as I enjoy the company of Calvin and his wife. They are very talkative, with lots to say about the local businesses and politics. Well learned for the middle class. I can appreciate that. I follow along the conversation, noting that Calvin intentionally steers the conversation far from the derby.

That little exclusion explains a lot to me.

Dinner is simply amazing, with tomato basil soup, roast beef with Yorkshire pudding, and baked potatoes. All this is served with a bottle of Shiraz, which pairs perfectly with the meal. Dessert is flaming custard, caramelized to perfection. I enjoy every bite of every course. The meal just confirms my suspicions that Calvin is indeed living way beyond his means. I suppose this is why my supervisors assigned me to him. If I may boast, I have a high level of success with subjects like him.

Dinner is soon over, and I find myself sitting in Calvin’s study enjoying a glass of Brandy. Calvin’s desk looks quite stark. I surmise he cleaned it off earlier today, most likely hiding bills and collection notices.

Once we settle in, Calvin leans forward and offers me a cigar. I accept and we light up. He really is going all out. Again, I feel a little bad. Calvin must have made a grossly incorrect assumption as to why I am here tonight.

“Well, Arthur,” Calvin says, puffing on his cigar with the smugness of a cat in a butcher shop, “you wanted to meet with me tonight. I’ve invited you into my home and shared my very best with you. So then…”

Again Calvin leans forward, “What did you want to talk with me about?”

I offer my calm smile, flicking off a few stray ashes into the nearest ashtray and saying, “Actually, I’ve come here to offer you some relief. I’ve gotten to know you these past few weeks, and you seem like a good chap. You’ve just made some very poor decisions.”

“Indeed,” Calvin says, his face putting on a show of faux remorse. He shakes his head and says, “It’s those damnable races, you see. Never could get my big win. Don’t worry, I’ve kicked the urge. Ready to shoot straight, you see. Just need a bit of a windfall to get through these tough times. Bills and all.”

I nod to him, keeping up my smile. This just confirms my suspicions that Calvin incorrectly assumes why I am here.

“So what is it then,” Calvin says, settling back comfortably, “a private loan, an investment in my furniture store, a gift between friends?”

“None of those,” I say pleasantly, puffing on the cigar for a long few moments. Reaching into my vest pocket, I pull out a letter and hand it to him. It’s the same letter I had all my subjects. It simply informs them of who I am and what is about to happen. I watch him carefully as he unfolds the letter with suspicion. The next few moments will show me the real Calvin Whitmore.

He reads the letter and then folds it up. His face is pale, but he keeps his composure. I’m pleasantly surprised by his non-reaction.

“So that’s it, then,” he says, looking over at me.

I nod.

“I don’t suppose you can be persuaded not to, then,” Calvin asks. Already, it’s starting to happen. Calvin’s eyes start to get a distant, glazed look and his face starts to get paler by every moment.

“No, I’m afraid not,” I say, a hint of sadness in my voice. Even the bravest of men always ask me that question.

“Can I…” Calvin asks, loosening his necktie and leaning forward on his desk, his breathing getting labored, “at least say goodbye to my beloved Meriel?”

Again I shake my head, “You know I can’t let you do that, Calvin. I’m sorry.”

Calvin slides forward on the desk. His eyes are starting to bug-out and his face is getting redder. “I wish I had seen my children again, you know…”

“I know, Calvin, I know,” I say, getting up and putting out my cigar. It is almost time. The end of my assignment is seconds away. “I’m sure they will remember you fondly.”

Calvin’s breath starts to become raspy. His fists clench in pain. I know he’s suffering, but I just watch. I can’t do anything until the appointed moment. “I should’ve taken better care of myself. I made some bad choices. I didn’t want…to mess up this badly…Arthur…”

“No one ever does,” I say, standing by his side. He won’t go alone. No one ever does.

“I did the best I could…”

“I know you did. Goodbye, my friend.”

Reaching forward, I touch Calvin’s shoulder gently. He gives a strangled gasp and falls over, his suffering at an end. I watch as a small spherical light very briefly flees skyward from his body. It’s a beautiful sight only I and my associates can see.

“Rest well, Calvin. You were a brave one. I respect that.”

Some call us monsters, some hate and revile us. Throughout history, we have had every type of image cast upon us – from angels to cloaked corpses with sickles. But we are none of those things. We are simply a part of the natural process of life, neither good nor evil. Besides, without us being there at the appointed moment for the subject, they would just linger in unending torment. Even something as natural as the heart attack that claimed my dear friend Calvin would be unending and unyielding.

And nobody wants that.

As I leave Calvin’s study, I take one more cigar and dip it in the brandy. Something tells me that Calvin wouldn’t mind.

I collect my coat, cane, and hat on the way out. Neither Meriel nor the maid pays me any attention. I doubt they’ll even remember my name. People always forget me right after an assignment ends.

As I hit the streets of London, a raven lands on a nearby fence. In its beak, it holds a piece of rolled up paper. On that paper is a name, an address, and a date and time. My next assignment.

I head off with a satisfied saunter to my step. I love my job.

 


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