Water swirled in the rusted bathtub, cascading down its walls with a warmth akin to late-night tears.
Lucie’s slender fingers trailed through the surface of the water with an air of utmost nonchalance; a pair of spindly claws leaving only nail polish and the taste of aged wine in their wake. With her free hand, the woman lifted a cigarette to her cardinal-red lips, inhaling slowly, and exhaling in rhythm with the tears welling in her eyes. She told herself calmly, as she'd told herself many nights before, that they were not tears of sadness. Any emotion can provoke tears, she reminded herself, even emotions one has yet to come to terms with. Lucie had many things to come to terms with, as well as many things she longed desperately to forget before she could understand.
A hazy ring of smoke framed her painted lips, dispersing more quickly than it had arrived. Smoking was forbidden in Lucie’s apartment complex, or rather it had been, when people lived there. Now it was only Lucie and the bareness of her yellowing wallpaper, the coolness of the draft, but most persistently, the murky water swirling in the bathtub. They were all simple pleasures, nothing more, but pleasures nonetheless and frankly all Lucie required to live in comfort.
Her high-heeled shoes fell to the floor with a vociferous clamor that reverberated off every wall. She plucked petals from a pair of withering roses in the translucent vase perched at the window-sill, scattering them through the warm water as though throwing bread crumbs to a cluster of pigeons. She pursed her lips languidly at her own mockery of grandeur, lowering her legs into the rusty water. She pulled a damp washcloth over her eyes, tilting her head backward. Her chin rose up toward the crumbled plaster of her ceiling, and a smile played at her lips--a smile so mottled with pain and remorse that it seemed hardly a smile at all, and only a twisted grimace clothed in smeared, stolen lipstick.
The mockery of grandeur; that's all her life was now-- a foolish, deceitful game with no intentions of betraying vulnerability. The tears continued to well in her eyes, building and rolling and disappearing into the bathwater.
Perhaps they were tears of sadness, but not even a gun to her forehead would prompt Lucie to admit it.
Darkness fell across Lucie's flat as the sun stooped below the horizon.
Neon storefront lights flickered to life, buzzing persistently just beyond her bathroom window. Lipstick wasn't the only valuable Lucie had stolen in her recent years, and the number of glaring neon signs strewn throughout her living space served as proof. She'd taken to propping her favorites around the bare mattress she slept on each night; the silken sheets she'd once draped across the mattress' stained surface now lay at the bottom of the apartment garage, soaked with someone else's blood. Many of Lucie's belongings ended up this way, but it was a misfortune she perceived as merely an occupational hazard.
The bathwater was drained momentarily, and Lucie reached for the bathrobe draped across the radiator. Cloaked in a fluffy, faded display of ostentation, she felt akin to royalty as she strode to the living room.
Archaic lamps bearing odd patterns on their lampshades sat strewn across the floor, some nestled between tall piles of books Lucie had never read. She hadn't read a book in years, but fancied to think of herself as someone who might read someday. If, perhaps, her future allowed enough spare time to indulge in such an authentic pleasure. Lucie had found herself considerably busy with work as of late; she thrived when common folk plummeted, as such was the nature of her work.
Sprawled across the mattress, Lucie shut her eyes against the lamps, the withered rose petals, and the soft, incessant drone of the neon lights. And as her consciousness fell away into the night, she felt as though some part of her was joining them-- her clients-- in the strange place they must dwell now that she'd done business with them. In the cold and the darkness, and the whole-hearted nothingness-- the place that scared her into a dreamless slumber for hours until morning.
For such is the toil of an assassin, regardless of her beauty. She was a hitman, an executioner.
A spoiled murderer living out a deceitfully sophisticated lie.
“Lucie, don't do this, please…”
Broken glass littered the kitchen floor, the pungent smell of blood lingered heavily in the air. Lucie’s vision swam as she fought the urge to black out; it was becoming too much, she'd thought it would've been easier, but it was too much. Her mother's hand extended, sweeping past splintered dishes and chairs. Tears crawled to her chin. Lucie forced herself to look away; things couldn't go back to the way they'd been. Not now, not after this. Her mother cried out, Lucie turned on her heel and stormed off in the opposite direction. She had no choice but to leave it all behind, she couldn't have stayed-- not after everything she'd done. She was an evil girl, so terribly, disgustingly wicked.
And as her pleading screams rang out in the darkness, Lucie told herself it was all her mother's fault.
The following morning began the same way many of Lucie's mornings did, with a tinny yet familiar voice crackling to life on her answering machine.
Half-empty wine bottles concealed the caller ID from view, but she knew who it was; it was the same nameless voice that had stirred her awake for the past six months. Lucie absently tossed her auburn hair with one hand, awaiting her weekly instructions.
"I have three names for you, Landrow. You have 48 hours."
Lucie rested her chin on one hand, pallid fingers abreast of her jaw as she struggled to keep herself from being lulled into another half-slumber. A usual workload constituted a minimum of four victims per day. Bitterness rose up in her throat as she entertained the fleeting thought that her employers were losing faith in her, but she knew very well that such would never be the case. Even in the earliest days of her professional life, she received tempestuous praise on the skill with which she executed each task; how she puzzled her employers with her promptness, her eagerness, and the purely inhumane traits that allowed her to effectuate her work with ease.
Lucie knew very well that she was commonly perceived as a wickedly useful freak of nature, virtually void of any characteristic that would complicate the task of murder. And to put it simply, murder had never been complicated for Lucie. It was only the swish of a blade, the flick of a switch, the deft placement of a bullet or two. It was dirty work she made certain to carry out in only the most elegant manner-- such was her trademark, her calling card, and the idiosyncrasy that had moved her employers so much as to label her evil. The word always sent a strange, sick feeling rattling through her chest, but it was a feeling the taste of tea and cigarettes could diminish just as easily as any other adversed sensation. It was only very rarely that the word was spoken directly to her face; it had long since been predetermined that frequent encounters with her employers would be unsafe. Keeping to herself most of the time was bound to avert suspicion, and though she was entirely the opposite of a vigilante, it had gone without saying that staving off attention from locals would permit her a conventional social life. The notion always brought remnants of a smile to her pursed, delicate lips. Her life was not normal in any sense of the word, but she liked to think that such was the case for every human being, regardless of whether they committed mass murder on the daily.
Lucie swung her legs over the side of the mattress as her employer hung up, casting her bathrobe aside as she dressed herself in formal clothes that smelled heavily of moth-balls and abandonment. Just like every other day, Lucie carried herself with utmost pride and sophistication as her footfalls reverberated throughout the empty apartment complex. The small, velvet purse in which she kept her favorite weapons hung from a keyring beside her front door; she unclipped it from the metallic ring and slung it over her shoulder. She peered inside and examined its contents briefly, making certain that everything remained the way she had left it. She reached inside and allowed her fingers to fall across the shape of her favorite pistol, nestled in a secret compartment at the bottom of the purse. She hadn't used it in quite a while; the long-term nature of her profession allowed her to experiment with unconventional methods of murder, and she had since taken it upon herself to avoid killing her clients the same way every time. Now the pistol remained only as a final resort, and though she'd made certain not to use it, she couldn't fight the temptation of a quick yet satisfactory kill-- merely pulling a trigger and watching a face contort with pain.
Lucie descended the dust-laden staircase, circling downward until she arrived at the lobby. A slew of sullen beggars skulked just beyond it, and Lucie’s heart convulsed with disgust as she recognized one of them. She was certain she’d known his name once but hadn’t bothered to remember it; he was like all the other beggars strewn throughout the city streets. She knew without a doubt that these beggars would soon become clients. It was evident in their weathered faces, it was written in marker on their cardboard signs. They needed money to evade their inevitable fates, money to pay for the tax that sent so many victims sprawling at Lucie's feet. It was their misfortune that brought her work, it was her very occupation to end their lives.
As she stepped out into the open air, inhaling pollution and the pungent odor of drug-infused smoke, the familiar beggar staggered toward her, arms outstretched helplessly.
"Please, ma'am, can you spare me some money?" he croaked, his eyes bloodshot and welling with tears, "if I don't get enough money to pay the Lifeline Tax this week, they're going to send one of those assassins after me."
Lucie said nothing-- she had never been slick with words. Perhaps it was an internal fear she carried, the thought that a simple slip of the tongue could expose her.
"Ma'am," his cry was desperate, but comparatively more aggressive as he reached forward and caught hold of Lucie's sleeve. She fixed him with a fierce stare, jerking her arm away, but to no avail. The beggar clutched on tightly, his dirty fingernails digging into the fabric of her blouse.
"Let go of me," Lucie snarled, slapping his hand-- an abrupt warning. She had seen this man many times before, but never had he dared to interfere. Never this much, at least. And she could see it, the desperation in his eyes. His time was running short, his expiration date rapidly approaching. She wondered how his face would fall if she was assigned to his case, how his dirty hands would wring, how apologies and excuses would tumble from his lips as she lifted a blade close to his neck. His hand fell away, nearly in shame. He lowered his chin and dispersed into the crowd.
"It isn't fair, is it? How the government decides who lives and who dies? Who's idea was it, anyway, to put a tax on the human heartbeat itself? It was once the only blessing that came freely, now they've taken that, too."
The words ringing in Lucie's mind were not her own. No, she had tried to forget them long ago-- words spoken from the only beggar Lucie had ever dared to listen to. She had been a young girl, the same age Lucie had been when she had claimed her own independence. Her freckled face bore bruises and scars, yet she did not ask for money, only for someone to listen.
"The Lifeline Tax is wrong! How many lives will the government and its cold-blooded assassins claim before they realize it's a crime? They should be ashamed of themselves, compensating for their over-spending by robbing us of all we have left!"
Though it hurt to behold her honesty, Lucie had told herself she disagreed with the delusional beggar. Yet every morning the girl stood at the corner, screaming for justice whilst passersby glared. It was only a matter of months ago that she disappeared.
And Lucie knew as well as anyone what became of her.