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Short Story: In the Absence of Light...

Jacob turns restlessly in his narrow cot, a sliver of light peeks over the lazily drawn blinds in his scarcely furnished room. It is barely morning, just a few minutes past dawn, yet he has barely slept a wink. He turns over again and sighs. It is not the uncomfortable cot digging into his ribs and back that has kept him up all night, no, he is used to much worse, in his years of service to his commander-cum-warlord, narrow cots have been staple and sometimes, during bleaker times, a luxury.

Despite the dawn chill, he still lies there, in nothing but gray crisp boxers, his sinewy chest heaving as he draws deep deliberate breaths. A scar runs halfway across his right pectoral, and sometimes, when he is lost in thought, he brings a long finger up and traces it absently. It reminds him darkly that every breath is a gift, ironic considering the kind of “work” he often has to do for his employer. The scar also starkly reminds him of the one who gave it to him. Yes. Her. When he falls asleep, it’s not the horrors of war or the faces of his victims that haunt his dreams, but hers, and with it a sweet-bitter feeling in the pit of his stomach when he wakes.

Yet he still lies there, thinking of everything, and thinking of nothing at all. He reaches over and picks up his wrist watch, an obviously expensive and once glamorous timepiece, a perk of the job, the illuminated hands on the watch’s beaten face tell him that it’s a little past five. It is barely light out, he sighs heavily and in one fluid motion gets up from the cot and walks to the little inelegant table near the door. The floor is cold and tiled, and Jacob walks barefoot and confident, not giving the slightest indication that the cold bothers him, in fact, no cold seems to bother him. He gets to the table in two long strides, grabs a bottle of gin resting on its top, a stained, dirty glass and pours himself a generous amount. In one gulp he empties the glass and places it back on the table, instead grabbing the bottle by the neck and walking back to the cot he had just vacated.

He sits back down on the cot heavily, taking a long swig from his bottle. His usually sharp and attentive eyes appear dull and unfocused, he is about to take another swig when there’s a sudden sharp knock on the door. He stops with the bottle halfway to his mouth, with his left hand he reaches under his pillow and pulls out a Walther PPK and releases the safety. He is rather attached to this particular firearm, it reminds him of all the James Bond movies he’d grown up watching with his father. Happier times, times that now seemed a couple lifetimes ago. Still clutching his bottle, he slowly and deliberately walks to the door. His bare feet barely make a sound on the floor as he stalks to the door. He looks through the peephole and visibly relaxes.

“I thought I told you no contact until the job was done.” He calls out as he throws back the deadbolt, turns the key and swings open the door. He barely has time to register the silvery flash caught in the dim morning light as a sudden searing pain flares in his chest and something warm and wet spurts forth and slowly drips down, seeping into his gray boxers and down his leg. In shock and disbelief he looks down at the hilt of the cold cruel object embedded just below his chest, then looks up at a face he knows so well, his mouth opens, trying to form the syllables to a lingering unanswered question, then his legs give way and he topples backwards, to the cold tile floor…

His assailant still stands there, a silhouette in the struggling morning light, framed by the door. His fedora pulled low over his face and his trench-coat collar turned up against the biting morning chill. He stares, unmoving, at a spasming Jacob on the floor, till suddenly he goes still. A silent nothingness engulfs the small room, the only sound is the faint breathing of the man framed by the door, staring down at Jacob, who now stares, unseeing, at the peeling, beige-painted ceiling.

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