When you receive a bundle of papers giving you the permission to kill somebody, you do not take it lightly. You take it seriously. But when you receive a bundle of papers giving you the permission to kill two somebodies, you do not take it lightly either. You must take it very seriously like you’re taking the biggest dump of your life.
Over a month ago, I received the permission to kill Mr. and Mrs. Verisan, a plain middle aged couple making the most of their life and their money by taking the world one five-star hotel at a time. But they are no ordinary tourists. They are runners, deceivers and the best of their kind. They blend perfectly into society and hide out in the open. They are people of the business world that thrive on the trade of flour that conceal packets of white powder that make bums instead of buns under the company name CRACKER CO. and man, did Pentagon find a lot of crack.
But we don't kill drug dealers, we arrest them. The ones we kill are the type that have pulled the trigger on almost a hundred people, police included, and would burn a wing of federal prison just to keep their business booming. And yes, this tourist couple is exactly that type.
They’ve changed names, bank accounts, and credit cards to make them invisible to the police. Even their properties are distributed and retitled to different people who are, without a doubt, nonexistent. But those who are invisible to the police are still visible to the Pentagon and it’s a good thing that I can see through their eyes.
Pentagon isn't one tangible thing or a group of people who sit around a table with five sides. Pentagon is an invisible, intangible connection between the greatest minds who live by the words "écrasons l'infâme" which in English equals five words: Let Us Crush The Infamous.
I glanced at my watch to check the time. 5:30 pm. It’s time to crush these infamous ones.
I reached for the little controller on top of the coffee table and flicked the light switch in its center. In the movies it would have been a big red button. But in real life, it’s got to be a tiny boring thing. Normal is safe. That’s what most people would think. But as cliché as this would sound, I have to tell you that I’m not most people. I’ve been taught that sometimes, normality can kill.
Sadly, tonight isn’t the night I blow up something big. It’s just a teeny tiny bomb the size of a fingernail and it won’t even make much of a sound when it lights up but when it does, it can make a wasp hive fall off a tree – just enough to do the job.
I start counting.
I put on a coat over my flowing lavender dress then grabbed my purse from the bed. Before heading out, I checked my hair in the mirror. I always hated hair extensions and I hated them most when they had to be bangs. They were itchy and they make my forehead sweat a lot. It was difficult to match the color of the extensions with the current shade of brown that I dyed my hair in but I managed to make a way or else I had to dye both the bangs and my hair and that would have taken up a lot of time.
I walk out the door in my black pencil heels. If you can’t wear sneakers, wear heels. That way, even if you can’t run at your fastest, you can at least kick and stab your opponent at the same time. Trust me, it works.
I walked to the little café in front of El Grande Residencia, the eleventh hotel that Mr. and Mrs. Verisan have checked in ever since I kept an eye on them. Eleven hotels in five weeks. Let’s just say that chasing after them without being recognized wasn’t simple. I’ve stopped counting the hours I’ve spent in different bath rooms just to recolor or restyle my hair and the tanning salon was an entirely new experience.
The café was almost empty when I got there. There were only three customers – an old man who was deep in his thoughts as he answered the daily crossword puzzle on the newspaper and a middle aged couple who sat in comfortable silence. I take a seat at one of the tables outside the café and ordered a cinnamon latte from a waiter who smelled like freshly baked bread.
Mrs. Verisar walked out of the hotel in her work out clothes. She took a forty-five minute walk everyday regardless of what city they found themselves in.
I watched her as she turned at the end of the street and disappeared from view before I started counting again from zero.
The waiter arrived with my cinnamon latte. I took a sip and let the warm coffee creep down my throat then I stood up to cross the street and head towards the hotel’s grand entrance.
I was at the entrance of El Grande Residencia and as I admired its grand five-star façade, Mrs. Verisan would have rendezvoused with the homeless wasps by then.
I count again from zero and walked up to the front desk, waiting for flashing red and blue lights but none came.
“Good evening, miss.” I said to the girl behind the desk. “I have a reservation at the restaurant.”
“Good evening, ma’am. Of course. May I please ask for the name of your reservation?” She said.
“Grace Ferguson.” I said as I envisioned the ID I used when I made the reservation. I’ve used that name only once before and I think that was way back when I was on my second case.
The girl types something into the computer in front of her and I’m sure she saw the name on the list.
The Pentagon has an ever expanding list of names that we shuffle around like poker cards while we’re on the field. It’s been almost two months since anyone called me by my name. But I’ve always thought twice when someone asked for my name. Before Joseph took me in, I was Elizabeth Gocher. But when my mother died and my father lost his mind, all traces of Elizabeth Gocher were dissolved into the abyss and Emerald became my name. Just Emerald. I never needed a family name. When I needed one I could always choose from the long list of names of the Pentagon.
“Please use the elevator in the hallway, ma’am. Enjoy your evening.” She said as she gestured to the hallway at the other end of the floor.
This hotel made my job a little bit easier by having a special elevator that led to three specific floors. The 37th floor was where the suites were located, the 38th floor had the pool and the spa and the 39th floor had the restaurant.
I kept my pace slow as I walked to the elevator, waiting for the pieces to fall into place. Just a few seconds before I stopped in front of the elevator, I heard the sound of wheels on marble behind me. I pressed the up button and a waiter who was pushing a cart with someone’s dinner stopped beside me.
30 seconds. No sign of an ambulance. I stopped counting.
The elevator dinged and opened in front of us and the waiter gestured for me to step inside. He was young, probably just a year older than me if he wasn’t my age, curly auburn hair and a flaccid physique.
“Thank you.” I said as I got on.
He pushed the cart in after me and got on the elevator as well. We were in the elevator - me, the cart, and the waiter – in that order. I lifted my arm a little to adjust my coat and hit my hand on the cart making the contents of my purse spill to the floor. My things started rolling all over the elevator floor and I gave some of them a little kick to get them on the other side of the cart - lipstick, a compact powder, perfume, a brush, tampons (just to make the waiter lose his cool for a few seconds), sanitizer, and moisturizer. The waiter leaned down and started to pick up the things which were on his side of the elevator.
“How embarrassing. You don’t have to. I’ll get them.” I said as I leaned over the cart to look at the mess at the waiter’s feet, shielding my hands from the view of the surveillance camera as I quickly poured a translucent powder into the pot of coffee.
“I’ll be happy to help ma’am.” He replied, his face turning a shade of pink as he picked up the tampons. Five-star service is always so reliable.
I started to pick up the few things that were left on my side of the elevator and returned them into my purse. When I straightened myself again, the waiter handed me the things he had picked up.
“Thank you. Your service is exceptional.” I said, smiling.
“You’re welcome ma’am. Enjoy your time with us.” He replied to me, smiling as well.
The elevator opened on the 37th floor and he rolled his cart off with him.
The habits of Mr. and Mrs. Verisan were predictable in terms of what they did on a daily basis, and it made things exponentially easier for me.
At sunset everyday Mrs. Verisan goes out for a walk in one of her floral or animal print exercise clothes. She would either walk counter-clockwise around the hotel block or clockwise around the block opposite the hotel but always, she turned to her left once she walked out of the hotel doors. She wears a black belt bag around her waist where she keeps one epipen as first aid in case of a wasp encounter. When she took a visit to the doctor two months ago, she was told that she needed to exercise and that some fresh air would be good for her and so, Mrs. Verisan who treasured three things in the world namely her money, her life and her husband, took those daily walks religiously. On the other hand, her husband, Mr. Verisan, has a problem maintaining healthy cholesterol levels and normal blood pressure and so his wife controls his diet and makes sure he takes his medicine on time. However, Mr. Verisan likes to cheat both on his wife and on his diet. When his wife leaves for her daily walk, he calls for room service which was afternoon coffee with a pastry and some meat. Definitely not good on his cholesterol. He could clear everything in thirty minutes and he calls for the cart to be taken from his room before his wife could come back.
A little over an hour after a great dinner at the hotel’s restaurant, I was back in the motel ready to burn my hair extensions but before anything else, I turned on the TV that came with the room and tuned it to the local news station then took out the can of diet coke I bought earlier that morning. I went into the bathroom and kept the door open so that I could hear the reporter clearly. I turned on the light and the exhaust fan before opening the can of coke and poured the contents into the toilet bowl.
“Breaking News.” The voice of the reporter filled the room. “At six o’clock this afternoon, a middle aged woman was found dead on the sidewalk at 25 Yerring & Bale Street after acquiring five wasp stings. The woman was reported to have an allergic reaction to wasp stings and by the epipen in her grasp when she was found, the epinephrine shot was not enough to save her from the five stings.”
Anaphylatic shock. They say one sting is deadly, two even worse. Five is definitely overkill but that part was beyond my control.
I took out a pin from my hair and used the sharp end to open the top of the can as I kept listening to the news report.
“According to police reports, this woman is Alina Verisan. She and her husband, Jackson Verisan, have been checked in at El Grande Residencia for the past few days however, thirty minutes after Mrs. Verisan was found dead on the sidewalk, her husband was rushed to the hospital after being found unconscious in their room by hotel staff but was declared dead on arrival.”
The voice changed into that of a shaky guy’s. “He called room service just like he did yesterday and the day before that. He asked for the cart to be taken out of their room since he’s finished eating.”
I glanced at the TV screen and saw that it was that waiter who was with me on the elevator. The guy must be shaken. This must be his first time seeing a dying man like that. But come to think of it, it wasn’t even much. There would have been no blood. Just a little convulsing then the body would grow cold.
I returned my gaze to the mirror and went back to taking the hair extensions off.
“That was all I was going to do b-but when I knocked, no one opened the door so I called maintenance to bring the key and open the door for me bb-but when we went in, he was on the floor.”
I sighed as I finally took off the extensions from my hair and wiped the sweat from my forehead. People die. Everybody knows that people die every day and yet when they see it in front of their eyes they are so surprised – terrified even.
The voice from the TV changed and I peeked to see who it is. “We highly suspect Mr. Verisan’s case to be a drug overdose.” A policeman was speaking. “This couple has multiple records involving illegal drugs and it very likely that they themselves are users.”
I turned the pin over and lifted the cover from the blunt end to open a lighter. I started burning the end of the extensions and waited for the fire to reach halfway before putting it into the can. The smell of burning hair reached my nose but it wasn’t as strong as it was supposed to be thanks to the exhaust fan. After I was sure that all of it was ashes, I poured the contents of the can into the toilet and flushed it down.
Ten minutes after that, I was in a taxi headed to the airport.
I handed a few bills to the taxi driver and I was about to step out but he insisted on giving me the change. I should have caught something different about that then. Taxi drivers never refused the tip. Instead of handing me my change, he gave me a tiny piece of paper with very few words.
“002 See Joseph.”
That is nowhere near Prague.
Eighteen hours later with black hair instead of brown and a black backpack that contained all of my belongings I stood at the front door of the man who killed my mother.
I pressed the doorbell again and heard the buzz resound. Maybe Joseph’s out back. It is a pretty impressive beach house. I should know since I designed most of it. This is the closest thing I could call a home even if I’ve never stepped in it more so slept in it. Tonight might be the first.
Where is that old man? I thought. I’ve been on his doorstep for almost five minutes now. It’s not like him.
I pressed the doorbell again and didn’t let go until it reached the point I thought would irritate a fifty year old and still, no answer.
“JOSEPH!” I called out. “I will break this very pretty front door of yours if you still don’t open it.” He should know that I am more than capable of doing just that but we both wouldn’t want to get to that point. It really is a pretty door.
“Stop pressing that button! I’m not deaf.” A voice finally called out in reply.
“Then what is it? Are you ready to say your old now?” I called out.
Finally the door opened and a man with a balding head frowned at me. He stood tall, definitely a six-foot something, and he was still buffed, his build blocking the entrance. Only the lines on his forehead and his balding head gave away signs that he isn’t as youthful as he used to be.
“Do you have to be so irritating?” He asked.
“Do you have to take so long?” I countered.
He stepped aside to let me in. “It’s nice to see you too, Emerald. I was taking a bath.” He shrugged. “I like reading in the bath tub until the water gets cold and my toes get wrinkly.”
“At five in the afternoon? Is that how it is to be old and rich?” I laughed as I entered the spacious living room and dropped my bag on the white L-couch.
“No. I am not as old as you accuse me to be. But this is how it is to be retired.” He replied.
I couldn’t help but smile as I looked around. Maybe this old man does listen to me from time to time since he seems to have kept this place well cared for which makes everything blend well in a mixture of light wood, grey stone, white to beige shades with a mixture of greys and murky blues. Of course the ceiling was high. Both Joseph and I love to work with an abundance of space. To me it felt like I could somehow breathe easier. Long twisting wires hung low from the high ceiling holding simple light bulbs a little larger than your average light bulb gave the room a simple but sophisticated touch. It’s almost as good as I pictured it would be in my head.
Joseph saw the smile on my face and couldn’t help but be proud. “I did a good job, didn’t I?” He asked. “It’s probably not a hundred percent pronto to your designs but it’s the closest I could get. What do you think?” He asked, taking a seat on the couch and leaned back, draping his arms over the chair. He looked like a proud artist showing off his work of art.
“Eh.” I said, pretending to be unimpressed. “It’s better than I expected from you.”
“Come on. Give me some credit.”
I smiled and walked over to him and sat down beside him. “It’s great.” I leaned back and took in a deep breath of sea air from the breeze that entered the room from the open glass doors. The curtains danced with the wind and beyond the curtains and the open doors was an amazing view of the sea. “And that is one great view! No wonder it was so expensive.”
“The sea was one of the things that pushed me to sign that check. But it’s not like you ever cared about the numbers, Em.” He said, patting my head. “I have no objections if I were to die here.”
“That’s not going to happen any time soon.” I replied quickly because I was sure. This man was as tough as the golden eggs of the magical goose. Or was that a duck?
I owed most of who I am to Joseph. After all the chaos with what happened to my parents, he took me in and gave me a roof over my head, good education, and a friendship that would last a lifetime. I was a feisty five year old and he was a forty-five year old who had no idea how to raise a child. We were quite a pair.
“Let me guess what you’re trying to be right now.” He said as he took a good look at me. I knew I looked horrible. The only thing that probably looked presentable with me was my hair after I got it trimmed and dyed back to black on the five hours I had between the flights. Everything else I had on was by bitter luck. But considering that my wardrobe for the past five weeks could fit into one backpack, I’m quite proud of myself for still being able to pull off looks that could get me into a five-star hotel. The number of clothes I had to either burn or leave at an orphanage could equal the amount of clothes I could have worn on two separate cases.
“You’re a homeless middle-class teenager who ran away from home because your parents are forcing you to be a lawyer but you want to be…” I looked up with a thoughtful look on his face, searching for the right word. “…a stoner?”
I hit him hard on the shoulder but not hard enough to cause pain. “Do I look that bad?” I asked.
“Darling, you look like an accomplished agent – rugged and tainted with war!” I wasn’t sure if that was a compliment or a sugar-coated insult so I let it pass.
“You look tired. How about dinner?” He stood up and turned toward the kitchen.
“How about my next case?” I asked. “I mean, it must be urgent since they sent me here right after my last one.”
There is a trend when it comes to case assignments. After you close a case, you’re usually given one to two weeks to rest. That’s why I was considering Prague. Then somehow the files on our next case would reach us and we’re given a certain amount of time to prepare before setting of on our next case wherever in the world it may be. So it’s unusual that after closing the case with the Verisans, I received a code immediately.
“#2.” Code 2 in the Code of Agents: Case Open. I was being assigned on a new case.
“Trust me. You need to eat dinner and down a few drinks before you hear that one.” Joseph said.
Dinner tasted better than it probably should. It’s been a while since I’ve had anything homemade. I sat on the back porch watching the sea and the sky as the colors danced to bid the sun goodbye.
“How about you surprise me with a drink, Em?” Mixing drinks for each other was a little game of ours. Joseph taught me everything he knew about alcohol. If he were an average fifty-eight year old, he would have been an alcoholic. I think my first alcohol lesson was when I was thirteen. There is no such thing as underage drinking in the Project. We were trained to learn every kind of drink and handle whatever percentage of alcohol they gave us. Alcohol tolerance was essential. The last thing we want is a drunk Agent confessing about the Project at some local bar.
I stood up and walked to his fully stocked home bar and thought of what I felt like drinking. I took out a triple sec, a few limes, and a bottle of vodka.
“A kamikaze?” He asked, seeing what I’ve set up on the counter. “It’s been a while since I’ve had that.”
I walked to him with two glasses in my hands and gave him one. We drank our drinks in silence as we took in the scene before us – the transition of light to dark. Maybe the sunset it proof that reality is better than ideas. With a rational mind one could say the light would fade into darkness through shades of gray like smoke consuming purity. Maybe the light isn’t so pure.
Some would find it unusual that I could be so familiar with the man who killed my mother and even have dinner and then drinks with him but we are one of many odd pairs of people that I know. Joseph is – or was, as Agent just like me. The easiest way to lay this down is to say that we are assassins. However, if you take the term seriously, we aren’t. “You are target killers, not assassins.” That was the first thing we were taught – to kill by the law. We kill level one criminals, the ones that the police can’t handle and must be handled at once. There are many kinds of cases. Codes 20 to 31 in the Pentagon Code enumerate the kinds of cases an Agent could land. There could be one to infinite number of targets that can be identified or unidentified with known or unknown locations. The worst among them are the Special Cases because they can be a combination of any of the other kinds.
“So what is this about?” I asked Joseph, breaking the silence.
“What do you think?” He knew I had something in mind but a case with an unidentified target is something I always prayed to never have.
“23?” Code 23: Single target unidentified, location unknown. It was in that kind of case that Joseph was assigned to when he killed my mother who was nothing close to a criminal. She took pedestrian lanes very seriously. In short, Joseph killed the wrong person. That doesn’t happen very often to an Agent. In fact, in the record books, it has happened only thrice, Joseph’s case being the third. If I were him, I would retire early too.
He shook his head slowly and looked at me when he said the next two words that most Agents would hate to hear. “Special Case.”
Joseph handed me a thick sealed envelope that had the symbol of the Libra Project saying, “I suggest you drink with me for a while before you read that.”
He looked at me and tried to read my expression. “You’ll be okay, kid.” He said. “I’m sure.”
An hour later, I shut myself in the room that was supposed to be mine. An array of papers lay before me on the floor.
To C089, Emerald,
Greetings from the Pentagon.
Case File 02B87: Trium
Leadership: 3 pillars as symbolized in the symbol for Trium (three lines/ three columns side by side)
Abraham Rivers (1969-2015): Founder. Deceased. Conspiracy and solicitation, drug trafficking, assault and battery, illegal detention, embezzlement, arson
Lucia Lisao (1975- present): Conspiracy and solicitation, pimping, human trafficking, assault and battery, extortion, forgery, arson, second degree murder
Gale Web (1974-present): Conspiracy and solicitation, arson, assault and battery, illegal detention, first and second degree murder, false pretense, extortion, embezzlement
Unidentified (unknown - present): Replaced A. Rivers. Conspiracy and solicitation, drug trafficking, assault and battery, first and second degree murder
029: Special Case
Locate and identify the successor of A. Rivers. Permission to terminate approved with request for confirmation.
Interim target: Caleb Rivers
Caleb Rivers (1995- Present): see attached file
011: Permission to terminate all necessary.
Permission granted when life and security of the Pentagon is threatened. Confirmation optional. Doubtful intention will be submitted for trial.
032: Unspecified Time Frame
I read the rest of the papers in a rush, not quite believing what I was getting into this time. Countless papers went into detailed accounts of the offenses of Trium and I couldn’t help but think that these people seemed to break all the rules for a living. The case file code started with a “02” – potential terrorist files. I would be more than willing to dutifully beat these people up. There was a rough map of the next city I would fly to in two weeks’ time – Algenheim.
At the bottom of the pile of papers I’ve gone through were three pictures. One was of Lucia Lisao walking out of a white Audi. Just looking at her made me feel uneasy but I had a feeling I’m going to have to meet her eventually even if she isn’t my target. Her eyes were striking and she reminded me of cats or snakes at how svelte she seemed. Slim, elegant, confident. The second picture was of Gale Web who looked less terrifying than Miss Lisao with the way he looked just like an average guy who drove an expensive pick-up. But then having learned from experience, the discreet ones are the deadlier ones. The third picture was the graduation photo of Caleb Rivers. “Asian guy” was all I could say from what I could see and nothing close to a potential threat to the security of the society but then, it was a graduation photo. What could you expect?
I read through the papers one more time, committing everything into memory before burning them one by one in the fireplace that warmed my room. The burning papers gave off a familiar smell but one that I’ve never encountered anywhere else but in the burning of Pentagon files. I’ve always wondered what was in those papers and for sure they weren’t the kind that could be disposed of easily that’s why we were taught to always make sure that every last bit of the papers where unidentifiable.
My job’s a very unusual one. Most people won’t even consider it possible for such a line of work to exist. It’s a difficult and complicated job that took most of my life to prepare for. But I’ve built my life around this job to the point that the distinction between my job and my life was close to nothing. This is all that I know how to do properly, the reason I willingly open my eyes in the morning. I never chose to be a target killer for the Pentagon and in one way or another, I felt relieved that I wasn’t old enough to really make a choice for myself when the Pentagon chose me.
I took a deep breath as I realized what I was about to go through. I was about to find my next target in the last place I thought I would find myself – college.
I haven’t been nervous for a long time. I think I almost forgot what it feels like. But running on the sidewalk to the gates of Algenheim University, my heart was pounding in my chest. I’m pretty sure it’s not because of fatigue from running because it would take more than a two minute jog to make my heart want to break out of my chest and I cannot explain why I kept getting the urge to crack my knuckles.
That’s funny. I thought as I slowed down as the gate of AU came into view. I never feel anything close to this when I beat people up.
Maybe that’s because I’ve been taught how to properly beat people up and ever since I became good at it, I did it a lot. But nobody taught me how to properly be in school and I’m not sure if I’m going to be “good at it” considering the last time I was in a real school was when I was five.
Believe it or not, I’ve Googled “how to survive college” and “what to do on first day of college” and there were quite a lot of blogs and articles about it although most, if not all of it, could not apply to me. For example, “be yourself”. Be myself and tell people I can kill them in forty different ways without blinking an eye? I don’t think that would go well.
I started running again when I saw a group of people were already gathered outside the Admission Hall. As I drew nearer I spotted Caleb Rivers. He was standing at the back of the group in ripped jeans and a synthetic leather jacket. I measured him from afar and he was taller than I thought he would be and also toned but not buff. I expected him to be the type to spend on his appearance considering how his bank account goes beyond seven digits but he seems simple. A few nights ago, I hacked into AU’s website and enlisted myself on the same day that Caleb Rivers was taking the tour. The faster I got this done, the shorter my time in college will be. That’s easier said than done.
So this is it. This is how I start this case. I told myself as I tried to shake off my nerves.
I let my sneakers drag along the pebbled ground as I suddenly halted my steps and let my shoulder bump into Caleb Rivers. I turned to look into his surprised face and registered his features into my memory, making sure I took in the things that weren’t obvious in the photo I received. The tilt in his eyes was undeniably Asian (no doubt from his mother with a Chinese background) but it was only that – his eyes – that my eyes lingered on for a little over a heartbeat but everything else didn’t stand out. He had subtle cheek bones and an average forehead. Even the puff to his lips wasn’t too much or too little. I normally have a string of opinions after taking account of the features of my targets but this one I could not critic and so I simply tuck the facts into my mind and looked away after half a second.
“Sorry.” I mumbled as I turned to look at the woman in front who stood out from the crowd. She was pretty enough, probably in her early thirties, and she was wearing a black pencil skirt and a blouse with butterfly sleeves which was definitely a few steps more formal than what the rest of us were wearing.
“What?” The guy who’s name, according to my data, is Caleb Rivers said.
I turned to look at him with an irritated look. “I said, sorry.”
He gave me a weird look but before he could say anything more, I looked away. Do not attract attention.
“Good morning.” The girl in front said to draw the group’s attention. “I am Ms. Tucker and I am going to be with you for the duration of your school tour. Before I start showing you around let’s do a roll call to see if we have anybody missing from the group.”
Then she started calling out names. I mentally reminded myself of my current name which wasn’t hard to remember. I’ve decided to go by my mother’s name – Emma.
“Emma Winthrop.” The girl called out. I raised my hand to be recognized then put it back down after she gave me a curt nod.
“Nice to meet you, Emma.” A happy voice said right at my ear and I was suddenly very aware of Caleb Rivers standing so close I can practically hear him breathe.
“Hello.” I said, taking a step away from him. I know, I shouldn’t have said anything at all. “Hello” encourages conversation and my intention was to not encourage him into having a conversation with me but I didn’t know what else to say.
“Aren’t you going to ask me what my name is and say you also find it nice meeting me?” He asked, the corner of his lips lifting.
“Okay. Then, let me introduce myself.” There is no stopping this guy. “I’m Caleb.”
I turned to give him a blank look.
“Okay.” I said before I returned my gaze to the woman in front.
“So, what course are you in?” He asked, unfazed.
“Nice. Me too.” Yes, I know.
Silence. If only he knew that I was here to kill him, he wouldn’t be so friendly.
“Okay.” The woman in front said after saying something I didn’t catch. “Let’s proceed to the closest building from here, the George Jackson Hall named after our generous alumnus. This is where students go for career advice as well as counseling.”
The group started to move and I ended up at the back with no other than Caleb by my side.
“You seem to be a woman of few words.” I say nothing. “Is that your trick?” He asked.
“What?” I asked, confused. Trick? This school tour is not part of my “get access to Trium” plan. And it’s not like I expect him to talk about his father’s illegal agenda, so what trick?
“You know, those things girls do to make guys go after them.”
“You think I’m trying to make you “go after me”?” I asked, making quotations in the air with my hands. This guy’s ego is unbelievable.
“No, no. It isn’t that.” He was waving his hands to intensify how it isn’t that. “But this kind of feels like that’s exactly what I’m doing.”
“And what exactly do you feel like you’re doing?” This guy is getting on my nerves.
“Going after you?” He said, his hand finding its way to the back of his neck like he was ashamed of saying it. If he was then he shouldn’t have said it at all.
“Then stop.” I said bluntly.
“Stop?” He asked, his eyebrows lifting in question. Is this what smart guys sound like? I know he managed to get an academic scholarship to get into AU even if he could afford it.
“You don’t have to talk to me.” I tried to sound as uninterested as I could without sounding mean.
“Is that what you want?” I didn’t answer because what exactly was I supposed to say to that? It sounded too familiar.
“I’m sorry that came out rude. What I meant was that we’ve just met and, you know.” No, I don’t know.
“It’s okay.” I say because I was well aware that I was actually being ruder than he was. But right after the words slipped past my lips, I was telling myself I should’ve just lied and said, “yes, it was rude” so that he would stop being nice but he made me feel like making him feel bad would also make me feel bad. And that doesn’t make sense because I was supposed to find a way to kill him which would be exponentially worse than just making him feel bad.
I ignored Caleb after that and focused on memorizing the halls and doors we passed, taking note of emergency exits, storage rooms and paths that seemed to be less used.
“Those of you in the media and communication courses, this is where you’ll find most of your major classes.” Ms. Tucker said as we walked through the hall of the Media Building.
There were quite a lot of places to sneak into but considering these rooms and hallways will be brimming with students once classes are in full swing, I have to look for safer places. There isn’t really a specific reason why I would need a space to sneak into but eventually there might be.
Lesson eleven in Preparing for Long Term Location Assignments: Get to know your environment. That means knowing the routine and the trend in your location and finding weak spots where you’ll have to run and strong spots where you can hide.
I have a very large location to deal with and I have to be extra diligent in mapping it down. It’s not just this school. It’s the entire city of Algenheim that I have to map. And I have to because that’s what you’re supposed to do on long term assignments. And by long term I mean no less than three months.
By the time we reached the cafeteria for lunch, most of the students in the group were huffing and complaining about sore feet from all the walking. We’ve been walking hallways and crossing fields all morning.
“I know you guys are tired so we’ll take a break for about forty-five minutes. Eat your lunch and take a look at the café and the stores if you wish but be here at a quarter to one.” Ms. Tucker said when we entered the quiet cafeteria.
I walked to a random concessionaire and ordered a patty melt out of their extensive list of burgers then sat at the far end of the cafeteria where I could see everybody else. The wall on one side of the cafeteria was glass and I could see the wide field and the statue of a kid on his knees with a candle in his hands, trying to keep it alight. Ms. Tucker said it was supposed to be a symbol of the willingness to learn despite any circumstance and I guess it’s pretty inspiring. Maybe that’s why many great students come from AU. When you see this statue at a time when you don’t feel like studying you’ll definitely feel like all your failures are your fault.
I watched as Caleb carried a tray with food similar to mine except he had a can of soda instead of the orange juice that I had. He walked to a table where three people were seated – two guys and a girl. They seemed to know each other from before and I wondered why he didn’t talk to them earlier. I was expecting him to sit with them but he didn’t. Instead, he turned and started walking in my direction.
I quickly averted my gaze to the food stalls and started counting them – twelve including the smoothie bar. It was quite a large menu to choose from and I would have taken longer in choosing my food if I had more appetite.
“Hey.” Caleb said as he put down his food and sat on the seat across me.
“Aren’t you going to sit with them?” I asked, pointing to the group he was talking to.
“They’re art and advertising students.”
I gave him an idon’tgetwhatyoumean look as I touched the cold metal pin in my hair.
“We’re business students.” He said like it’s supposed to be obvious.
“Are those how cliques go here? You have to stick to your course?”
“I meant that I wanted to keep talking to you since we’re going to be in the same course and probably be together in some classes. I think we’ll see each other often.” That makes sense.
But that still doesn’t mean we have to talk – I wanted to say. But I kept my mouth shut.
“You seem quiet. I haven’t seen you talk to anyone else. Are you shy?” He asked as he lifted a French fry to his mouth.
“No.” I said with a sigh. “I just don’t know what to say and I don’t feel the need to say anything.”
“I don’t get it. Why do you need a reason to speak to people?” His space between his eyebrows wrinkled, a confused look filled his face. I studied his face again now that I had a clearer view.
I realized that his eyes were a deep green and I could almost swear they were emerald, just like my name.
“What do you get when you talk to people about useless things?”
“A good time.” He said with a shrug. “Maybe even friends. And those conversations aren’t entirely pointless.”
“’Seems pointless to me.” I said before taking a long sip of orange juice.
He clasped his hands together, his elbows supporting the weight of his arms, and leaned in a little closer just like a man about to offer a deal. “Let’s try. Let me ask you a question.”
I stayed quiet because I had a feeling he would still ask no matter what my response would be.
“Why did you order a patty melt?” He asked.
“I don’t know.”
He said nothing and kept looking at me like he was expecting me to say more.
“It was the first thing I saw on the long menu.” I said.
“Okay. From that I could say that you’re adventurous.” I wanted to ask why he thought so but then I reminded myself that I wanted this conversation to be short so I held my tongue. “Now, why don’t you ask me a question?” He added.
“Are you asking me or are you telling me?”
“Is that you’re question?” He asked as he watched me flatten my burger a little.
“What if it is?” I said before taking a bite off my burger.
“You’re funny.” That was the fifth time he tried to define me.
“You’re not.” I said, because it’s true.
He laughed, his eyes becoming tiny slits in his head and the corners folded up like his eyes too were smiling. “And you’re also very straight forward.” Six. “It’s a good thing that I also don’t find myself that funny or else I might’ve been hurt.” He added.
“Why are you trying to judge me?” I asked.
“You’re willingly asking me a question now. We’re making progress!” He was smiling and I noticed that he had nice teeth like that of a rich guy’s who paid the dentist a visit on schedule.
“Answer the question.”
“Who says I’m judging you?” His eyebrows rose in question.
“I say you’re judging me.”
I said nothing and he said nothing. The silence stretched a little longer and it felt very awkward sitting across someone I’ve just met in silence so I just kept eating. Plus, he kept looking at me like he was searching for a sign on my face. “I’m sorry. I guess I’m pretty bad at making new acquaintances.” He looked genuinely sorry and I felt a little bad having to treat him this way.
“It wasn’t offending because you did it unconsciously.”
“How could you know what’s going on in my unconscious mind when I wasn’t even aware of it?” Smartass.
“Because I felt the effect.”
“So you felt judged?” He seemed amused with the irritated look on my face.
I sighed in reply. Some people like him would find this conversation amusing. Maybe I would’ve found it amusing if this Caleb Rivers in front of me was a different guy from the Caleb Rivers I’m supposed to find a way to kill. Maybe there are two guys named Caleb Rivers in Algenheim City and they both look the same. I know that’s highly unlikely but the guy sitting in front of me with an amused look on his face really doesn’t seem like the mastermind of a terrorist group.
Probably sensing my exasperation, he laughed and raised his arms in surrender. “Okay, okay. Ask me a real question this time.” He said.
“Why did you order a patty melt?” I asked. I had a lot of questions that he could have answers to but now wasn’t the time for me to find answers to them.
He laughed, again. He seems to be laughing a lot in this conversation and that could mean that he was actually having fun. That makes one of us. I really don’t want to enjoy laughing with my target.
“To be honest, I saw you order that patty melt and it looked good so I ordered it too.” His words echoed in my mind and I mentally slapped myself repeatedly. I fought the urge to burry my head in my hands or stab myself with my own pin. “What do you think you could say from that?” He asked.
“You were watching me.” I said looking right at his eyes which reminded me not just of I was but also of how a forest from far away would look like on a stormy day.
“And what do you think that means?” He asked.
It means I was distracted enough not to notice.
“It means you’re a creep.” I said instead and he laughed.