She pushed open the door to the precinct, her jaw working on the new lump of gum she had just slipped into her mouth. Her heels clacked on the tile floor towards the ‘Wanted’ board currently surrounded by men dressed all in black, her sundress as pink as the bubblegum she was chewing streaming behind her. Her teeth ground over the pink mass as her tongue pushed against it. All she could smell anymore was bubblegum. Oddly soothing, that. To have all other scents erased by that one childishly sweet aroma.
“You take it,” said a burly man about the wanted poster that hung front and center.
Fifty-grand reward. Cha-Ching.
“No way, they say one touch from him will kill you,” answered a taller, broad shouldered man with a wallet chain.
“He uses poison, like a bitch,” said a third man, chomping on a toothpick.
The group of men began to notice her, stepping aside to make space for this walking bottle of Pepto-Bismol. They watched as she formed a bubble between her cherry red lips, then quirked an eyebrow in surprise as she reached forward and snatched the wanted poster from the board.
She was a bounty hunter, and even this man with poisoned fingers didn’t scare her.
It happened in less than two seconds.
Krone even counted this time as Asher unholstered his weapon, took aim at the target, and pulled the trigger. No hesitation, no remorse and it gave Krone chills of pleasure.
Asher’s face held no expression. No laughter, no love, no emotion, no soul, and it gave Krone chills.
He put the ‘cold’ in ‘cold-blooded’ and Krone only hoped one day he’d be as dedicated, as poised, as toxic as Asher. Though he held little hope of achieving such greatness.
Krone slapped a manila folder down onto the shooting range counter before his hired personal assassin. “The target’s name is Emery Wilson, serial rapist and murderer. One bad SOB which is why we’re sending you,” Krone complimented, watching Asher reload his gun. He took his time even though Krone had seen him reload as quickly as he could shoot. He slowly slipped the clip into the butt of his weapon. Like watching a powerful white tiger stalking unsuspecting prey, slow and controlled, though Krone knew he could be equally fast and powerful. It was erotic somehow. A build of suspense. “Supposedly he kills his victims through touch, poisoning them.”
Asher took aim almost like a game, slowly once again even though he could have hit his mark ages ago. “I guess I can’t let him touch me,” came Asher’s deep voice, before pulling the trigger and shattering the paper target before him.
Unable to prevent his smile of pleasure, he said, “You have your orders from The Company, kill well and don’t let me down.” As if you ever would.
Krone couldn’t resist clipping the shorter, more deadly man on the shoulder before turning his back. Sometimes he enjoyed tempting the reaper, turning his back on death itself. It excited him.
Asher, however, barely felt the touch. Barely registered the affection coming from his handler. He had never disappointed so he knew Krone would never doubt him, his words were more a game and one Asher didn’t take part in. Didn’t really understand. He was told to kill so he killed, not much thinking involved, not much preparation to be taken. Two rules were all Asher knew: always kill the target given, and never get caught doing so.
He was given more details with Emery Wilson than usual. Typically, when handed a file it was filled with pictures and wiped out material with only an address visible. Asher usually knew the who and the where, but never the why.
Asher flipped open the file, holstering his weapon but keeping it close. Always keeping it close. As usual, a few pictures and paperwork with long black lines. Nothing about his victims and nothing about why he was now on The Company’s hit list. Krone had shared that information himself.
Asher knew Krone to be manipulative, if there was something he could say to better motivate Asher, he would say it. That’s probably why he had shared confidential information so casually even knowing Asher would get the job done regardless.
Incidentally, Asher did feel motivated.
He felt that even the name of his target was unnecessary information at times, he typically disregarded it and gave the hit a name of his own. He would call Emery Wilson ‘The Snake’,’ from then on.
There wasn’t typically much stalking to be done. The targets Asher was given were usually predictable enough that The Company knew their whereabouts rather specifically, so no further research was necessary to complete the job. They didn’t want Asher digging too deep into the hits he was assigned, so usually all that remained was the hit itself.
Asher had several hours before night fell and his target would be where the folder alleged. He had a certain routine during his downtime, but he also tried not to be too predictable. As a hitman, he loved commuters. Those who stuck to a schedule were always the easiest hits. The folder was never wrong with commuters.
As a hitman he strived to not be as easy to track.
He never had his day planned in advance; he let his body decide on a whim what it wanted. Did it want food? He would grab takeout or go to some random bar filled with people that sold quick sustenance. He was not a regular at any food establishment, however.
Did it want to work out? He would take himself to the gym.
Did it want to rest? He would return to his penthouse apartment, which overlooked Miami.
He had sacrificed some of his non-predictability by only having one apartment. He wasn’t there every night, but the location was too perfect to move. It wasn’t a high-end neighborhood, too many people would notice him if it were. Rich or well-off people always had too much time to pay close attention to their neighbors. His neighborhood was loud, active, crowds always bustling through the streets. This was good, too much going on around him for anyone to notice him specifically. A lot of people also meant a lot of warning if something went wrong. Like a flock of birds in the woods, always screaming when a cat was lurking around.
There was one entrance to his apartment but several exits, making it the perfect home for him. If anyone made the foolish decision to attack him while he was in the one place he frequented, they wouldn’t last long, and he would have several escape plans in place.
His body chose to work out. This didn’t surprise Asher, after the shooting range he was more energized, more anxious to move. He was pumped, and he decided he was pumped enough for kickboxing.
He held memberships at several gyms, all with an emphasis on self-defense. He needed his skills to be sharp and lethal. Kickboxing was one of his lesser talents in the fighting arts however, too much direct force. He was far more skilled in the manipulative types of fighting where an opponent’s weight and size were used against them. Wrestling for instance.
In kickboxing he was fast, quick jabs that proved to be just as deadly as strength, but he didn’t have the size to back up brute force. He stood around five-foot-nine, but with toned muscle that sat lean beneath his tight shirt. Defined pectorals tugged at the fabric along with toned deltoids and biceps, tight abdominals and glutes to match. He was not a stranger to the gym. Physical fitness was a must in his profession.
Asher wasn’t exceptionally tall, but he was exceptionally handsome.
His eyes were a piercing shade of blue. Deep, swimmable pools of aqua that appeared frozen over. Cold and icy.
His hair was a dark shade of brown and it sat businesslike at the top of his skull, trimmed tighter as it gradually traveled down to the base. His facial shape was pleasant he had been told: strong jawline and cheekbones with a cleft chin he kept hidden beneath a hefty amount of stubble. Without the tightly trimmed beard he appeared much younger than he was, so he kept some facial hair to hide his more noticeable features. The less that could identify him, the better.
The gym was busy as usual, so he had no issue finding a sparring partner. He never conversed with any of the members other than to ask them to spar then thank them after he had overpowered them. Another safety precaution. Never get too close, not to anyone. No one knew him even in passing, he was there so rarely. Staying invisible was necessary.
He sparred for an hour, incorporating a warmup and cool down through other activities such as jogging lightly or self-training on a punching bag. When his lean body was thoroughly drenched with sweat, he left and returned to his apartment for a shower.
His apartment building was heavily graffitied, the hallway leading to his apartment musty though inside his apartment it smelled of citrus cleaning supplies. He was tidy, he didn’t deep clean often, but each of his items had a very specific place with a very specific position.
If anyone were ever in his apartment, he’d know immediately. If not because something was slightly askew from its perfect positioning, then because of the many precautions he took to alert him of an intruder. A small red string for instance could be even more useful than a surveillance system. Not that he didn’t have one of those too. Nothing seemed better than the little red string he closed into the doorjamb, however. If anyone other than he opened the door and didn’t reset the string, he’d know someone had trespassed even before opening his door.
He took a long step over the subtle powder lying on the hardwood at his feet. He sprinkled a mixture of flour and glow-powder at the archway of the front door, patio door, and before every window so any footsteps that traipsed through it would be easily distinguished by a blacklight. Repositioning the string, he closed his front door and locked the three deadbolts before undressing for his shower.
As the water heated, he took some vitamins to prevent muscle fatigue after his workout. Though staying fit was exceedingly important, being too sore to protect himself was deadly, so he took handfuls of different vitamins to keep his body strong and limber. He usually didn’t engage with a target, but there had been once or twice that a scuffle directly following leg day had nearly cost Asher his life, so now he took precautions.
He didn’t linger in the shower; he didn’t feel safe confined behind the curtain, unable to see what was beyond it. After he had scrubbed the sweat from his skin and patted himself dry, he moved into the bedroom, which was simple. He didn’t bother with furnishings or comfortable home décor; a mattress on the floor suited him fine. He had removed the walls around his bedroom so he could survey the whole apartment even as he slept. The closet even hung open, its doors removed. The bathroom door, the patio door and the front door were the only doors in the apartment. The kitchen and bedroom were joined now, and the small space the apartment deemed a living room was empty. Naked hardwood floor covered that section of the landing.
He sifted through the contents of his closet. He had his basketball shorts and tees for working out, his casual attire and his suits. When he performed a hit, he was representing The Company, so he dressed the part. A three-piece suit and a well-groomed appearance to match.
He buttoned up the white collared shirt and slipped the black jacket around his broad shoulders then moved into the bathroom to position his hair atop his head properly. For now it hung in strands around his forehead, wet against his skin. That certainly would not do.
As he polished his appearance before a hit, Cora was also getting into her routine before her bounty hunt.
She’d returned to her apartment in a much more suitable part of town with her wanted poster folded into her palm. Unlike Asher, Cora actually liked her nosy neighbors. She liked it when they stared at her as she passed, working up the courage to ask her what she did for a living while glancing frequently at her poorly concealed gun, which usually sat strapped to her ankle or thigh just beneath her flowing dress.
She felt no need to be below the radar. Then again, she wasn’t doing anything illegal.
“What is it that you do?” Her snooty neighbor had asked her while giving her a once over, taking in her sundress though inevitably focusing on the Glock 42 she had strapped just below her dress’ skirt.
“I’m a bounty hunter, Sue,” she had said casually, a satisfied smile uplifting her face at Sue’s round eyes. Weren’t expectin’ that were ya, Sue? “What do you do?”
“T-Taxes,” Sue had stuttered, clearing her throat before muttering, “I’m an accountant.”
“Sounds cool.” More sounded like a job that would make Cora want to use her Glock 42 on herself.
“Thanks, um, do you have to carry a gun into the building? We have a lot of residents here who are against guns—”
“Then they shouldn’t get one,” Cora interrupted with a smile. A weapon was only as good as its handler and somehow Cora couldn’t imagine Sue the accountant being a very calm shot, but people had surprised her before. She’d swept to the side to pass Sue back to her own apartment where there was work to be done.
Also unlike Asher, her apartment was filled with possessions and material things. None of which she was attached to. Every room was designed and modeled after the Pottery Barn catalog. She liked those pictures of ‘the perfect modern home’ enough to want to live in them, so she had modeled everything to match those pointlessly quaint yet enticing catalog pictures.
Her sizable kitchen held several glass jars containing several varieties of dried noodles or other such decorative nonsense. A bowl of sculpted glass lemons sat on the gray granite countertop that “tied the room together,” or so the interior designer had said. Cora had to admit, the yellow did make the royal blue backsplash and walls look more intentional.
Her living room was hardly lived in. Her mahogany coffee table was free of rings, couch cushions free of dents, and pillows fluffed and picture perfectly positioned. Mostly because when she wanted to relax she’d have a pint of ice cream in bed and watch reruns of her favorite sappy soap operas rather than bundle up in the living room.
The only other room she frequented was her office. It was the only room in her apartment that carried the wear that only a lived-in room could. She had fallen asleep at that desk as mahogany as her coffee table, this one however did have rings from careless cups of liquid spilling over as she worked. All her researching was done at that desk, overlooking laminated maps and corkboards filled with victim’s pictures and newspaper articles for those especially elusive bounties. This bounty seemed pretty cut and dry however, surprising for the reward being advertised. Usually for fifty thousand she had to work a lot harder than she suspected she would to catch this poison fingered fuck.
She unfolded the flier and tacked it to the corkboard hanging over her desk. The board was just as worn as her desk however, so one of the tacks wouldn’t stay.
She made a mental note to buy another with her reward when she caught this bounty. Though she had done the same with the last few bounties, so she was under no disillusion that she would buy something as simple as a new corkboard with any of the reward money. Her money was always better spent on other things. Like food.
The last few bounties had been small time, she liked to do the little two grand bounties for fun to keep her skills current but preferred the whales at least once a year. Fifty grand or more. They weren’t incredibly rare, but they also weren’t incredibly common, so when one appeared on the board, she nabbed it.
Emery Wilson. A cool name for such an ugly man. She wondered why the criminals always got the cool names. Did their parents know their life was going to be shit, so they strived to soften the blow?
She giggled to herself as she unwrapped a lollipop from her desk drawer and positioned it against her tongue, twirling it this way and that as she sized up the black-and-white image on the poster. Not that it mattered, but he wasn’t actually an ugly man. In fact with a little TLC he could be quite a handsome man. His beard was scruffy and overgrown, his hair clearly unwashed for several weeks and noticeable even in black-and-white, but his bone structure was sound. There was however something in his eyes, something feral and disgusting that couldn’t ever be fixed. He was a monster. A monster she intended to lock away.
It took a certain level of finesse when hunting a bounty. She could overpower few but outsmart many. She always went forward with a plan in place, though that plan was loosely constructed and never solid. She preferred to improvise, though she always had some semblance of a plan on how to take down her bounties.
She pulled a laminated map of Miami from her desk and uncapped a dry-erase marker. She knew the who and why, now she just needed to know the where and how.
She started by researching suspected victims and putting a dot on the map where they’d been last seen. Emery hadn’t been convicted yet so all the ‘evidence’ was circumstantial, but even suspected murderers were allowed out on bail if the extensive fee could be paid, and Emery hadn’t shown up for his trial. He’d jumped bail, and perhaps Cora would thank him for it when she caught him. His shenanigans would make her fifty-grand richer after all.
Five girls that they knew of were dosed with a paralytic, raped, then overdosed on that same paralytic. Aconitum, also known as Wolf’s Bane, was Emery’s poison of choice. A few drops of concentrate to paralyze a victim, a few more to poison them.
“You really are a bitch, aren’t you Wilson?” she mumbled, shooting a pointed glare at the black-and-white photo containing the kind of guy she’d like to kiss with a chainsaw. Instead she would give him a taste of his own medicine, so to speak.
The victims’ bodies had all been dumped at construction sites. She put more dots on the map where the bodies had been discovered, then connected the dots. Surprise, surprise, they formed a circle. She connected the victim’s dots next and once again a circle formed. There were only a few buildings in the center of both circles and one stood out to her, screaming ‘villain hideout’.’ It was an old abandoned warehouse, which used to store medical supplies, of all things.
“Gotcha,” she said through her lollipop, which clanked against her teeth as she twirled her tongue around it.
She copied the address onto a sticky note and slipped it into her pocket then went to get ready. Around the same time Asher was getting into the shower, Cora was moving her Glock to her ankle and strapping a throwing dagger onto her thigh high enough to be perfectly concealed by her Pepto-Bismol pink dress. She moved to the door where all of her shoes sat tucked into little cubbies beneath yet another mahogany piece of furniture. A bench with shelves for multiple pairs of shoes. Sitting down on the platform, she pulled her leather boots from their spot of honor and slipped them on with careful precision, positioning her right boot around her gun to conceal it professionally.
They were slim and comfy, her boots; with little support without the insoles she inserted herself. They were still a bit on the dressy side, more fashionable leather boots than practical ones, but they made her feel invincible. They were dark brown, which masked blood and were the only thing she owned that was leather enough to be considered bounty hunter worthy. She always wore them on the job. She called them her ‘ass-kicking boots’, because when it came to kicking ass they hadn’t let her down yet.
As Asher was preparing to leave his apartment, Cora was calling an herbalist who lived down the street to ask about Wolf’s Bane. After a briefly pleasant conversation the herbalist agreed to sell her some, but only a very distinct dosage. Not enough to kill anyone, which Cora assured her wasn’t a problem.
Cora and Asher both locked their apartment doors around the same time and headed towards the same warehouse to take down Emery Wilson, though with two completely different motives.
The warehouse was outside of the city. A medical supply warehouse wasn’t exactly a tourist attraction, so it was hidden from view. As were most all of the crimes that happened in Miami. Wouldn’t want people getting the wrong idea that the city containing one of the highest crime rates in America would be dangerous. That would be bad for business, so like the abandoned warehouse it was hidden from view. This made the warehouse a prime spot for illegal activity of course, and especially enticing to someone like The Snake.
At least that’s what Asher was thinking as he rolled up to the warehouse and stepped from his vehicle, his ears and eyes alert to anything out of the ordinary. The remnants of the building contained boarded up windows, rotted wood, rusted metal frames, faded company print, and graffiti. Though there were other buildings around, it was mostly a construction zone long abandoned, some city project which lost funding no doubt.
Now the buildings were home to rats and homeless drug addicts. He couldn’t hear any scuffling around however, the night was quiet. Eerily so.
His boots did scuff against the asphalt however as he stepped casually towards the building. The entrance was unblocked and only when he was concealed by it did he remove his gun from its holster. A Beretta 92FS was his gun of choice for this hit. It was among the most durable, accurate and dependable pistols in his current arsenal. That particular model had never jammed on him though previous ones had in the past. It was rare, but it happened, and it was never fun when it did. He always brought a backup and a few knives of various curves and lengths just in case he’d have to deviate from his constant plan of attack: get in, kill, and get out unscathed and unseen.
He moved slowly through the building, cautiously stepping over piles of broken glass and drywall. He listened for any movement, but only heard the near inaudible tap of his boots against the floor. He kept his knees bent; his gun aimed towards the floor but ready to fire as soon as he raised it for his target. There was only one level to the warehouse other than the rafters overhead, but rows and rows of tall racks stretched to the ceiling and though they were rusted, they still held molded boxes that blocked his view of what may be lurking beyond them.
He passed a few more racks before movement caught his eye. He felt his ears prick in that direction, head swiveling to try to pick up any sound, but the quick glimpse of color had been on the other side of the warehouse. He changed course towards it, his gun still positioned downward and eyes keen to seeing any further movement.
He did as he rounded another rusted rack, a flash of pink just visible through the boxes and bars which further blocked his view of whatever the object that had captured his attention was. Whatever it was, it was headed towards him and as it approached, he could just decipher the steady tap tap tap of boot-steps much like his own.
He hunched down at the end of the rack, blocked by the molded boxes and listened rather than saw someone approach. He held his breath, his heartbeat falling into the same rhythm as the steady steps until they were right around the corner. He swung out, lunging from behind the rack and raised his gun on an inhale, ready to shoot on his next exhale as soon as he confirmed it was his target—
A girl stood before him, not The Snake.
Her brown-hazel eyes were slightly round with surprise, and he noticed that she had quickly slammed her posture into a fighting stance when he’d lunged from his hiding place. They faced each other, still and staring, measuring the level of threat each posed to the other.
She stared down the barrel of his gun silently as he inspected her. She wasn’t his target, maybe a victim? She was pretty enough to attract The Snake’s attention. Her golden-brown hair pulled back behind her head in a loose ponytail that flowed in gentle waves and rested right between her shoulder blades. She was Latina if he could venture a guess, with full lips painted red, and caramel skin enhanced by the Miami sun.
Her physique was fit; Asher noticed the toned bulges of muscle beneath her caramel skin. Not The Snake’s usual preferred physique for his victims, Asher guessed. She didn’t strike him as an easy victim, but what else could she be doing there?
There was a clang up above and both Asher and Cora looked up to see The Snake running clumsily along the rafters, trying to be quick without falling to his death. He’d seen Asher’s gun and knew he was there to either kill him or capture him.
To Asher’s surprise, the girl swept by him as if the gun pointed at her chest was a toy and sprinted down the aisle after The Snake. She didn’t bother guarding her steps however, keeping her gaze up above her and fixed on Emery Wilson’s movements.
That’s when Asher noticed her gun poking from her boot, the concealing leather falling away and exposing it as she sprinted.
“Shit,” he cursed then sprinted after her, his own harsh steps echoing through the warehouse.
She dove down to one knee to grab her gun from her holster, then took aim quickly as The Snake was approaching an opening in the metal plated ceiling. He intended to roof hop his escape, and Asher knew he’d be gone by the time he got to that level.
Two shots blasted from the girl’s Glock however, and landed on an unsteady beam at The Snake’s feet. It gave way and he fell ten feet onto one of the more secure storage racks. She continued running towards the rack and with no hesitation grabbed the rusted, unsteady material and hoisted her way up as if it were a ladder.
Asher grabbed hold and began climbing up after her. She reached the landing before him however, and he watched as she holstered her weapon back into her boot while simultaneously pulling a vial the size of her thumb from her pocket. She released a dagger from her thigh and clamped it between her teeth so she could uncap the vial then pour the contents of the small glass container onto the dagger.
She held it away from herself as if the steel intended to bite her, letting the liquid she had just sprinkled onto the blade drip off the sharpened dagger as she approached the collapsed boxes cautiously. The Snake groaned and shoved himself to his feet, facing the girl, cockily assessing her from head to toe with a leer on his face before Asher pulled himself up behind her. The Snake dropped then, retreating by grabbing hold of one of the metal bars and sliding down like a firefighter on a pole.
The girl took aim, dagger raised, her other hand angled to help her depth perception before she whipped her arm and released the blade, letting it soar end-over-end into The Snake’s hand. He yelped then hissed as if he were a snake, and the girl clucked her tongue, pleased with herself.
Asher looked at her, confused. She’d missed his vital organs, spine, head and neck, so why was she pleased when she had clearly missed her mark? Then as The Snake hit the floor, instead of turning to make his escape, he collapsed into a heap as if the collision of feet to concrete was too much and he crumpled.
Poison, Asher concluded. Not quite the delicate little flower she appeared to be. Interesting.
He watched her as she twirled on her heels, her pink skirt catching the air and fanning around her elegantly. She moved towards the makeshift metal ladder they had both climbed and Asher let her, his blue eyes capturing her hazel ones only for a brief moment. Long enough to register the triumph within, but he couldn’t let The Snake leave the building. Clearly it was her intention to capture him alive, but it was Asher’s to kill him, and kill him he must.
Asher’s eyes reluctantly pulled free from her’s as she passed him and began her descent, then settled on The Snake who was spazzing wildly twenty feet or so from reach. Twitching as he tried to regain control of his body. Asher pulled his gun, drawing it as quickly as he had at the shooting range. He heard the girl cry out, an incoherent sound of protest but still he pulled the trigger. One shot, straight through the heart.
He turned to her only for a moment, his face passive and unreadable. Her face was all that was visible to him now, her lower half already down the ladder. Her expression had changed, triumph had brought out the green hue in her dark hazel eyes that were almost brown if not for the thin green and gold layers, rage made them muddy, however. Her mouth hung open, red lips parted revealing pearled teeth.
He turned away from her and grabbed the same rod The Snake had used to slide down. Holding tight he slid those twenty feet and landed on dry concrete before the steadily growing pool of blood could drench the floor. Bending down, he checked The Snake for a pulse, pressing two fingers into the neck beneath the ear. A precaution he needn’t take, but he was a professional and always checked to make absolutely certain the job was done.
He heard the quiet boot taps of the girl approach behind him. He didn’t turn to her however, instead he listened closely for her to draw her weapon. His hand rested on his pistol where he had holstered it inside his jacket, waiting for the shootout he was sure would come.
Instead she spoke for the first time, revealing a slight accent. Jersey? New York? One of those that barely registered the existence of the letter R. “You just robbed me of fifty-grand,” she started behind him, her boot scuffs stopping ten feet away, “you better be prepared to pay me back.”
Asher released his weapon and stood to his full height. He didn’t turn to her again, keeping his back firmly positioned between them as he started towards the door, stepping over The Snake’s body. “Send me a bill,” he said dryly to the open air, but even with his back to her he knew she’d heard him.
What he didn’t know was she intended to.