Chapter 1 – Failed Mission

The first time I see her, in a mirror, I think I’m dreaming. It’s a shock, that hair, those eyes, that pale skin. She’s not me, it’s a shock.

I’m expecting a sun ripened face, lopsided, a beard, jeans and t-shirt; nothing exciting at the end of a day bumming around the house, writing. That’s what I do when I’m not killing people, for money. A lot of money. Important people, people who can afford protection. Important. People.

And then, when I’m not preparing for it, or doing it, or recovering from it, I write. Romantic novels. Trashy romantic novels. Because it makes money, enough to live on if work is light. It means I don’t have to be seen much, don’t have to mix. I’m an author, my neighbours know me, I hold little parties every now and again. We have a foursome for bridge.

I’m a prolific writer, I can usually find an excuse to be in whatever country I need to be in. I charge a lot of money for my real work. Governments use me. It’s a dirty world out there. I have a cat.

I see her standing there as though she’s me, moving like me, not like me, she’s graceful, I’m not. She’s cute, but young, in this warped day and age she could be fourteen to thirty, but I convince myself she’s about twenty-two, teenagers move less carefully, with less assurance. Her hair is black and long, really long, cascading over her short, tight fitting black dress. Hah, look at me, I see a strange girl in the mirror and I’m interested in how she dresses. This isn’t the inspiration for a romance, it’s a mental aberration, I’m hallucinating. I can’t afford it, I have be focused, either to write, or the other thing.

I go into the bath room and splash some cold water on my face. My beard seems wrong, she’s not in this mirror, but my beard seems wrong. I fish around in the bathroom cabinet behind the mirror, I have some shaving gear there. It’s a bowl and a brush, there were safety razors, but they don’t look all that safe now. There is a straight razor and a strop.

I hang the strop on the peg, pulling it to be sure it won’t come off. It’s not dusty, it’s been rolled up, so it curls annoyingly. I roll it the other way carefully. The straight razor still looks sharp, it’s always sharp. I strop it well, it takes some time to get that edge, that glint and shine. A hair splits, but it’s not good enough, I run the water freely into the sink without a plug, so that it gets hot, and strop the razor some more. I don’t put the plug in until the water steams. Then it’s too hot, add a little cold, because I don’t want to burn, but I need it hot, hot as I can.

I look again, to check she isn’t there. It’s still me, and that beard still looks wrong. It’s a year or more of growth. More. Since.

Never mind.

I take the razor to under my nose, a trace of shake before I begin, I recognise it for what it is and damp it down. I cut each hair cleanly away, the slight pain and the scraping noise telling me as a I close my eyes where I’m shaving and how close. It feels good. I have always done it thus, blind, I know where my face is, where all the hair is, as I know where everything is, once I have seen it. It’s why I’m such good marksman.

It’s gone, my beard lying in the sink, in the water. I look up to the mirror to see what I look like and she’s there, turning her head this way and that as if inspecting my shave, my face as if she is me. I drop the blade, and with a start I hear the noise, a glance down, and she is gone again.

I have work. And a book published in Hong Kong, for which I have to visit. I get a woman, Jessica, to sign books for me, they; the public, think it’s her. But the publisher says I must be there. For questions. It’s arranged.

The target, a wealthy businessman. Dirty, in the business sense. Wife and kid. Pity, soon to be a widow. It’s cruel, but that’s not my business. Someone else would do it. I have rules, others don’t. I have to make sure this idiot provided for them before he goes. My clients, they don’t like that sometimes, the notice needed, the research. I’m a burglar and forger too, paper and electronics; and because of that, I have to know about law. To get it right. It’s an ethical matter, you wouldn’t understand.

These people, the ones I kill; they’re above the law, sometimes, beyond the reach of normal assassins. These ethics, they cost, they cost me a lot; but you can’t let go of them, or we’re nothing.

I can’t get the image of the girl out of my head. I see her wherever I go, in darkened windows, mirrors. I’m not focused, it’s bad. I consider putting the job off, difficult, but not impossible. I could reduce my fee, the client would understand. I’ve had sick leave, you can’t have a sneezy assassin. It would be unprofessional.

What could I say though? I’m seeing a girl in my waking dreams, I’ll have to put it off a few days? For a cold or ‘flu they would get it. Not for this. I have to carry on.


I never bother trying to smuggle guns, if I was going to do that I might as well just a put a flag up. Sometimes I transport a weapon in the hold, declared, as a weapon for a club. I’m a member of several internationally. It’s a hobby.

Here, to Hong Kong, I don’t. I just buy something on the black market in cases like this. Oh I could arrange an accident, but who would know that the interred has annoyed someone. It would just be an accident. There would be no point.

The place is busy, it’s always busy, but there are spaces in every city where it is quiet, I soon find mine. My contact meets me, Pierre; supposed to be French, an oily little stain of a man, but a good gun runner. All the French people I meet back home have a little class, they think they’re better, and maybe they are. They can cook for a start.

He talks almost constantly, about his health, his wife, his daughter in a broad French accent that seems to have no region. He gives away too much always, or too little, but I guess he’s at least telling the truth; his stories and complaints have a history and an inconsistency that tell me he misremembers something and edits others.

I walk around town.

The next day is bright and sunny. The little paved streets are warm underfoot, the red and silver taxis lazily buzzing through the narrow alleys, tyres thudding over the paving slabs. People walk around sometimes peering at me curiously, I use a little broken Cantonese to get some food, a noodle soup. There are signs in English, “Hair Avenue” and blue poles outside a barber’s shop, shuttered at this time of day.

The day saves me for a while, I don’t see her reflection, my reflection, in the glass of shop fronts; but then I catch sight of her wearing that same black dress, putting her shoe back on, in exactly the same attitude and position as I have taking a piece of gum off my shoe. I catch this out of the corner of my eye, as does she, and our eyes meet at the point where I should be looking at myself. I’m not; I see her, and she is tall, as tall as me in her heels; she’s putting her hand up to the side of her face, I feel my lack of beard, the unaccustomed smoothness.

An old lady asks me if I’m ok and I turn to her seeing my companion turn as well. I’m ok, I think I’m ok, I tell this old dear, and she carries on walking, drawing me with her and when I look up the window is gone and light has changed, so when I disengage it’s just me standing there, looking. The old lady looks back at me again and I start moving, saying “Xia xia” in passing, she bows uncertainly at the westerner trying to be polite.

Unless you have been to Hong Kong, it’s difficult to relate how narrow and busy the streets can be, how odd it is that they go up and down and up again in a pale imitation of San Francisco, except that it’s no imitation, it’s just a circumstance. I don’t place too much emphasis on coincidence, the world is large, things happen.

I’m alone in the crowd. I’m looking for that high vantage point, the unlikely place, far from my target. I’m lucky, it’s one of the things that makes me so good at what I do, there is always somewhere from me to work from, some apartment I can hole up in for a few days. Someone is always away.

I settle myself in, jimmying the door was the work of a few seconds, and the sheet of glass took care of the alarm.

There’s nothing to do but wait. I’m used to waiting. I make some arrangements. A tape over the door, just sticky tape, careful not to leave a print or anything as crass as that. That little tearing sound will warn me if it open unexpectedly. A fire-starter, easily removed but effective, for a quick exit. A rope and a brake. Never used. Just in case. I settle down to write, why waste the time? Another romance, a sauciness I don’t usually put in. A description of her creeps in, I erase it.

Hong Kong is never really dark and I let the light flood in, but live in the dark for tonight. The brightness of the screen lights my face and the keyboard, but there is only that. I write and write, the words pouring from me like a river, I’ve been able to touch type for years and I let my mind drift as the well-worn passages are wrestled into new shapes, new titillations, some of it erotic, but it leaves me cold; I can be touched, I’ve been with women, I enjoy it, but writing, making it up, it’s a profession, not a turn on.

I don’t need much sleep and it’s three in the morning before I feel the first touch of fatigue hit me, my fingers stumble on the keyboard and I know it is time to stop. The old routines take me, I pack everything into the rucksack, make up the bed with clean sheets and sleep in it. The police never check even if they find these places. There is nothing left of me, the gun is packed up and I go to brush my teeth before hitting the sack. There is a mirror. There is always a mirror, not so much because humanity is vain any more, but because of health. We like to see our teeth clean. When I look up she is there, hair tied back, black pyjamas protecting her modesty, she moves her face like me, grimaces like me. I still have a mouth full of toothpaste and saliva and go, she bobs her head down to spit, and so do I. It’s not a volitional act, I do it because I’m doing it, and her too it seems. I have a wrinkle near my eye, I check it and pull it, not as young as I used to be any more, she is doing all these things, she hasn’t a wrinkle I’m sure, it’s all imaginary.

It’s all imaginary, I can’t be seeing her, she’s not there.

She. Is. Not. There.

I resist the movements in the mirror, try not to do what she is doing, but that damned eyebrow hair has been annoying me, it will put me off my shot tomorrow, I scrabble around in the bathroom cabinet for tweezers, as I close it she brings them up to our eyebrow and plucks, just the once. A relief, I won’t worry about this. I smile involuntarily as she does, for me it is like seeing the sun come up, she is dazzling, perfect; but I’m done and we turn away from the mirror. I don’t see her leave. She’s not there, it’s all imaginary.

I sleep fitfully.

Dawn comes and I’m up, exercising, it’s important when cooped up, exercise, stretch, don’t be inactive. I drink coffee, one cup; then tea.

I go to brush my teeth again, she’s not there, just me. I’m disappointed. A bitter little feeling comes. I push it away, today I take a life. I have done everything, those left are well provided for, I have nothing to fear. I wash up for the last time, I think I catch a reflection of her in a glass, but it’s momentary and I have better things to do than chase ghosts.

Not better things, more important things. Let’s not kid ourselves, I’m no angel. I do something important. But I’m no angel.

There isn’t any more time. With perfect assurance I take out the components of the gun and begin to assemble it. It’s big, I take some time, everything must be perfect. There’s a knock at the door, I ignore it, but I’m still. This is the worst time, the most risk, when I’m assembling equipment, it’s when I’m most vulnerable. The apartment is one big room, a bedroom and a bathroom, I silently pick up my stuff and move into the bedroom. The knock doesn’t repeat, but a few minutes later I hear a faint scrape, and as I pull me head back in, a tiny mirror slides under the door. I already know that this job won’t be completed. That’s a more sophisticated approach than the local police would take. There is no sound from the door. I have no idea what they are doing, because I’ve never been here before, they have never been this close, or even had a clue.

I realise that the gun is lost. I take the pieces that are most identifiable and pocket them. I risk a glance from the window. I’m lucky, they’re trying to be discreet, so they haven’t covered everything in line of sight. I’ll get a few seconds from the bedroom window. I open it, shoving hard against the safety stop, and alarm goes off. It’s a fire alarm, the windows are rigged, that’s new, I hadn’t counted on that. The is a furious banging on the door as I clip the brake on to the rope. I can hear the heavy wood starting to splinter, for some reason I feel compelled to count the bangs. There is rapid speech on radios and on bang number four I jump out the window the rope running through the brake feely. I’ve chosen a seventeenth story apartment, it now looks very far up but I fall and fall, squeezing on the brake about halfway down. The is a little sound and something tugs sharply at my clothes.

I’m going too fast and I turn my face up to see, to see…

She’s there, falling with me, in that window. Time slows as I see her hair floating upwards as she falls I catch every detail, every strand of hair, the glint in her eye, her broken dress strap, I see it all and note, she has no rope.

A powerful rush of adrenaline inside me and time slows again I see another bullet roll lazily past me and I start to reach out to her my hand moving with glacial slowness, but I have to try, I have to try.

Another pane of glass and she is reaching out out out towards me and our fingertips brush the glass for a moment, a shock, it’s warm, yielding, like touching a person not a reflection, and then the moment is gone and she falls and I hit the ground with a bone shattering crash, and for a while, I leave the world.

Leave a Reply