The cello case was old. Its black lacquered wood, once polished to a shine, was now dulled by dozens of scratches and scuffs. Frayed duct tape covered a long split along its front. A weathered leather strap was wrapped around it like a belt. It groaned with every movement, straining to keep the two halves together. No self-respecting musician would ever trust their instrument to its wonky latches and worn-out felt insides. But the old man was not a musician. He was an assassin, and his case carried instruments of an entirely different kind.
He enjoyed making use of the cliché and chuckled whenever it popped up in movies. No cop would ever think to look for hidden weapons in such an obvious place.
The old man emerged from his brownstone building and dragged the case down five low steps. It was relatively light today. It held only one weapon, loaded with a single bullet. It was all he needed. He was very good at his job.
The house stood in one of the city’s better neighborhoods, where trees bathed in small flower gardens and potholes were filled in as soon as they formed. Looking like he did, the old man stuck out like a sore thumb. But only for a few seconds. As soon as he hit the pavement, he blended into the city streets like an owl into the canopy.
He wore an outfit carefully selected from thrift store offerings. In his brown shoes and grey suit, his ancient, stained trench coat, and oversized woolly hat, he looked like an artist, over-the-hill, down on his luck, and possibly about to beg for money. Or worse, play for it. Eyes glanced over him like they would over a mound of trash on the sidewalk. People half-acknowledged him, accepting his kind as part of life in the city. But none spared him any more than a second’s attention before focusing on something nicer. Like a tree. Or, these days, whatever was happening on their phones. The few smiling Samaritans he occasionally encountered were easily scared off by his well-practiced scowl.
The day was cold and dry, but overcast. The wind bit every exposed part of him. By the time he arrived at his workplace for the day, it had dried out his knuckles until they cracked and bled.
This was a neighborhood of an entirely different kind. No one lived here except those who had no choice. The cars were old and tired. Loose garbage carpeted the sidewalks. Every other window was busted, covered up with cardboard.
He entered an empty alley and stepped through a door with a broken lock. No one saw him go in.
He took his time going up the stairs, resting the case on every step. Sharp pains stabbed his legs, and his back constantly complained. The joys of old age. He was very careful. A fall here would mean a broken hip and a slow death. No one would find him. No help would come.
He made it to the third floor. Another door, another broken lock. Inside were two things. Dust, and a small folding chair by a window. The latter was his. No new tracks on the floor, other than his own. He would not be disturbed.
He checked his watch. He was a firm believer that one is either early, or late. No such thing as on time. In this case, he was early. An hour to go. He put down the case, sat himself down in the chair, and melted into his surroundings. Waiting.
The old man had no website. No social media accounts. He couldn’t be found in a phone book. If you needed his services, you were referred by someone who had worked with him before. Word of mouth. Effective and free. You’d place an ad in the paper, asking for help moving a ‘vintage 1930s Chesterville Deluxe’ – something that sounded like it existed, but most definitely did not. You’d specify a time and place to meet. Somewhere out in the open. Sometime between sunrise and sunset.
He would arrive, wearing his costume, invisible. Not until he spoke would you know he was even there. You’d give him an envelope containing a stack of bills, a slip of paper with a name, and a photograph. He’d memorize the latter two and hand them back. The money went into a pocket. That would be the last you saw of him. He never worked for the same person twice.
Maybe his continued use of the paper was to blame for the recent dropoff in jobs. All he knew about the Dark Web was what he learned from television. He had no clue if it was even real, let alone how to go about offering his services there.
Or maybe it was because of the growing preference for blunt instruments like car bombs and drive-by shootings over the precision of an assassin’s scalpel.
Maybe he was just too expensive. He had no idea what the going rates were, these days. People in his line of work didn’t exactly compare notes at conventions.
He sat in what little grey light passed through the dirty window and wrapped his coat tightly around him. He sighed contentedly and watched his breath hang in the air. Today was Sunday. He liked Sundays. He worked on any old day of the week, it didn’t matter to him, so he had no use for concepts like weekends. Still, the idea of Sunday being a day of rest had been ingrained at a young age, and it wouldn’t leave him even now. His being here was a choice. He could have gone to a service, instead. He’d liked church, as a kid. The quiet, mostly. He could have stayed home. But the quiet of those rooms was too loud, these days. It was the quiet of absence. Of high ceilings and expensive things that went mostly unused. Of choices made, of roads not taken.
It was quiet here, too, but this was a silence of choice. Of determination. Every few minutes a siren rang out somewhere far away. Barely audible. Other than that, the streets were still.
Another glance at the watch. Five minutes. He stood up, grabbed the window handles, and slid the pane upwards. It moved smoothly. He’d oiled the rails. Turning to the case, he undid the belt and opened this, too.
The case contained whatever tool was appropriate for the job. Some days it would be a sniper rifle. Others, a shotgun. Today’s offering had been fired only a few times, at a range just outside of town. With practiced ease, he took the weapon apart, checked its components, reassembled it, loaded the lone bullet.
One thing he liked about technology was the ability to track weather on a pretty much minute-by-minute basis. He had checked the reports on his desktop computer and planned accordingly. Like clockwork, the clouds moved past the sun and its light got a chance to shine uninterrupted. The rays fell on his face, warming it. He smiled.
The old man opened his mouth, placed the revolver’s cold barrel on his tongue, and closed his eyes.
He always loved Sundays.