Friday, July 6, 2012

The First 6 Chapters of Broken

These are the first few chapters of the rough draft (very rough draft) of my book. Please don't steal any of my ideas, thank you. Enjoy and let me know what you think! I'd love some feedback.

Chapter One

My world had crumbled under the weight of one simple question. What next?
It all started while I was getting ready for my last business engagement. I was setting up all of my equipment when the question first entered my mind.
What next? whispered a small voice in the back of my mind. I attempted to push the question out of my head with my usual answer to such qualms. Phillip has the answer.
What if Phillip doesn't have the answer? the voice said. What if Phillip has no answers? the voice continued.
But that was ridiculous, laughable really. Phillip had always answered all of my questions in the past.
But what if those were just lies? the voice pressed.
Well, I was forced to admit that Phillip did lie--quite a bit actually, but he was always so fervent, so persuasive when he answered questions like this.
It was now time to proceed with the task at hand, but I was unable to concentrate. My panic grew until it sent a tremor through my bones. Sweat broke out on my forehead and trickled into my eyes. This wasn't good. My vision was blurred and my fingers were shaking. I knew I couldn't follow through with the engagement, but I knew that I couldn't fail either.
I tried to concentrate.
Thanks to the silencer all anyone would hear was a soft pft! Unfortunately I saw it all--the senator clutching his chest, the small red hole in his nice black suit, and the armed guards rushing to their fallen charge.
It was painfully obvious to my well trained eye that my bullet had gone high. The senator from Illinois would survive. I, on the other hand, probably would not. After my years of training and over a hundred successful engagements, I had failed and Phillip would kill me for it. I was like a prized thoroughbred that broke its leg before the last Triple Crown race. I was dead meat.
I packed up my tools with trembling hands trying desperately to remain calm. If I looked even half as jittery as I felt when I walked out of this building the security guards would have me collared in an instant. I took a moment to steel my nerves and quiet my body. I grabbed my gear and trotted down the stairs. At the bottom of the stairs I was faced with a decision--I could either go out the front or back entrance. The back entrance was tempting, but not ideal. Even though I was less likely to be seen leaving the building from there I would look very suspicious if spotted. The front entrance had its own set of risks. And benefits. I thought. More people could be just as good as bad. I could blend in and I wouldn't appear any more suspicious than anyone else... hopefully. I went out the front entrance at a brisk pace and headed back to the office.
I found Phillip in his office, awaiting my return like he always did--with a knife in one hand and a gun in the other. The knife was my reward for a job well done and the gun was my punishment for mistakes. During my eighteen-year career at The Organization I had earned over a hundred of the ornate collector's knives and only one bullet. Fourteen years later I still walked with a limp because of that one foolish blunder.
I swallowed hard. I could tell by the look in Phillip's eyes that he had already heard of my failure. I would be better off if I concocted some story about poor conditions, but if I mentioned my latest question I would be dead.
I had always respected Phillip as the intelligent and authoritative brains behind The Company, but my respect turned to fear a little over 14 years ago when he beat me for the first time. I would have left then and there, but I was in too deep. After that I was the scapegoat and the beatings became a part of regular life. The beatings were Phillip's version of persuasive arguments. He was very persuasive.
"Hello Justin." Phillip said while drilling me with an ice-cold stare.
My first thought was, Yeah, I'm dead meat. But I only said, "Hello Phillip."
"You failed." It was a statement not a question. Phillip never questioned.
"Yes." I admitted.
I took an unsteady step forward. My bones ached and my heartbeat slowed in anticipation of the beating that was surely coming.
Suddenly, Phillip leapt to his feet and in two steps he was beside me. His dark brown eyes flashed in anger. He was enraged.
I never even saw the first blow coming. Crack! Phillip landed a solid blow to the back of my head with the gun. I staggered forward under the weight of the hit. As I fell, I head the breath knocked out of by a knee to my gut. My vision began to dim. I hit the floor hard. I rolled to my back just in time to see Phillip coming at me with the knife. Something inside me snapped then and there. I received three cuts before I could shake him.
I jumped to my feet and bolted to the door.
Pft! I groaned as pain exploded in my right shoulder. He shot me. Phillip finally shot me. I thought as I pounded away.
"Come back here you little turncoat! You're dead meat!" Phillip shouted after me.
My thoughts exactly, I'm dead meat.
I just kept running. I flew down the stairs and out the lobby doors. I ran as far from The Company as possible in my current condition.
I finally came to my senses and realized just how suspicious I looked running around in downtown Atlanta. I stopped and hailed a taxi.
"Where to?" The driver asked gruffly. "Dude! You need to go to the ER!" Exclaimed after catching a glimpse of me in his mirror and seeing all of the blood on me.
"No," I said using my nine millimeter to make my point. "I am not going to the hospital. Just take me away from here and to the smallest town you can think of. And if you feel like talking just stuff one of these in your mouth," I said handing him a wad of hundred dollar bills easily adding up to two thousand dollars or more. "There's more for you if--" my speech slurred and I lost consciousness.

Chapter Two

Julietta went about her normal routine. She had rolled out of bed at five in the morning and started caring for her menagerie of animal. After everyone else had received food, water and love, Julietta moved into the kitchen to prepare her own morning meal--oatmeal with blueberries and a mug full of peppermint tea accented by honey and lemon.
As the hot water washed over her hands and she scrubbed them clean, she allowed her mind to wander. Her perpetual smile faltered as she thought about the events of yesterday.
Julietta hated to shop. She usually refused to go to the local stores and instead ordered everything online and had it shipped to her house. Unfortunately, yesterday she was forced to make an unscheduled trip to the local Wal-Mart in order to buy some fresh fruits and vegetables. She debated over which bunch of bananas to buy as she stood in the produce section. She noticed two women nearby casting furtive glances and whispered comments her way.
She knew immediately that they not only knew who she was, but that they were talking about her. She'd been in this same situation many times before. It seemed like almost everything about her provided fuel for the local gossips. Of course, her appearance alone was odd enough, but that's not what really had people talking. Most people wagged their tongues about her home, her collections and her past.
Her home is best described as a hobbit house, which it was. At a young age Julietta had fallen in love with Tolkien's tales about the delightful little shire folk and their happy little homes. After reading the books, Julietta had sworn to build herself a hobbit house when she grew up. She had fulfilled that promise 5 years ago. Her home was the genuine article--round doors and windows, mud daubed wall, grass covered roof, and all!
Julietta's collections are unique to say the least. She collects the broken. Broken animals and things find healing and purpose in her hands. A cracked teapot became a flower pot, a stray dog turned into a loving companion and a pile of torn and tattered rags were miraculously transformed into a beautiful quilt.
Her past was mostly unknown except for the fact that her father had mysteriously disappeared and left her a very large sum of money. The lack of facts and details seemed to provide the gossipers with just the kind of creative freedom they had always dreamed of. As soon as Julietta had moved into the small town every person had concocted their own story about her history.
Julietta had shaken the thoughts from her mind, ignored the gossips, selected her bananas, and moved on.
Julietta's smile returned when she remembered the look on the cahiers face when she had seen her strange getup. That multicolored shirt and those neon purple skinny jeans coupled with her worn cowboy boots made up her favorite outfit.
Julietta waved away the memories of yesterday as she sat down to eat her oatmeal, sip her tea and read her book.
Bing bong! Sounded the doorbell.
"Bing bong! Somebody's here! Somebody's here!" announced Pedro, Julietta's African Gray Parrot. Pedro began flapping his bandaged wing frantically.
"Shh! Shh!" Julietta hushed the bird trying to keep him from hurting his already broken wing. "Quiet down, Pedro. It's alright. It's just another addition to the family. Please calm down, pretty bird." Julietta called to the worried bird as she rose from her seat and headed toward the front door.
After moving here five years ago Julietta had become accustomed to having to check her front porch every day. Everyone in the little town of Jersey and the surrounding area brought every broken thing and animal they found to her house. If anyone broke a dish, hit a deer, had a useless lame horse, or found any kind of stray creature, they brought it here.
Julietta padded up to the circular door in her bare feet and turned the knob without peeking through the peep hole. She expected to find a box of broken dishes, an abandoned kitten or the furry victim of a hit and run, but what she found was the last thing she could have ever expected. She pulled back the door and saw a broken man curled up on her doorstep.
Julietta gasped and stood back and stared at the good as dead stranger lying on her front porch. Out of the corner of her eye she saw a bright yellow taxi tear down her long driveway and fly out of sight.
"What the--" she started, but didn't finish.
It only took her a moment to overcome her shock. Soon her instincts kicked in at high gear. I have to get him inside! She thought.
With more than a little effort, the five foot two Julietta dragged the bloodied stranger through her foyer and living room and gently laid him down on the floor in her sunroom.
Now, how the heck am I going to get him on the table? Hurriedly Julietta ran into her sunroom and cleared the table. Pots and plants were quickly and haphazardly stacked against the end wall.
"It's a good thing you're already unconscious," she said aloud, "because this is not going to be easy."
Julietta grabbed the man under his arms and half hoisted, half dragged his dead weight onto the table. She took a moment to survey the damage.
The stranger on her table looked to be about two or three years older than her, which would make him Thirty-two or thirty-three. He was a good foot taller than her too. At first glance, the young man with the shaggy, dirty blond hair, strong arms and handsome face looked like he had been hit by a car--or maybe even a train. He was battered and bruised. And definitely broken, she concluded. Then she saw the source of most of the blood. There it was: one neat, little, round, red hole in his right shoulder. Julietta's mind exploded with the dawning realization that he had been shot. Luckily, the past had prepared her for this day.
Julietta ran her fingers through her short brown hair as she ran around her house gathering all of the supplies she would need. She sighed and pushed away the last of the thoughts and questions nagging at the back of her mind as she grabbed a bottle of antiseptic, the last of the tools she would need.
~ ~ ~

"Ugh." I could hear myself groan. Pain erupted from my right shoulder and sent a wave of nausea rolling through my gut. I could feel reality pulling at me, but I didn't want to go. I knew I might die, but what did that matter? My life was hell. I felt safe here in this warm, dark corner of my mind. My well trained brain had hollowed out this place long ago. It was my hiding place--the only place safe from the memories and realities that came with living and killing. I welcomed the familiar pain and used it to push myself deeper into the darkness. Slowly I began drifting back into the sweet nothingness. My muscles stopped trying to raise my lids.
I slept.
He had only stirred once. Right after Julietta had removed the bullet and bandaged the wound. The stranger had only uttered one soft groan before dropping back into unconsciousness. After his most grievous wound had been attended to, Julietta turned her attention to his other injuries.
There was one deep cut on his chest. It was at least eight inches long and stretched from one side of his chest to the other. Each of his forearms bore a shorter and shallower cut. He had at least two broken ribs on his left side. There were bruises everywhere and more scars than she could count. Some were new and some were several years old. Most of the scars were ugly and bunched, clear signs that they had never been treated by a doctor. The last wound she found was a large gash on the back of his head.
Julietta's hands deftly cleaned, stitched and bandaged all of the cuts with the expertise that came with years of experience as a veterinarian. Unfortunately, there was nothing she could do about his broken ribs, bruises or scars except give him another dose of pain killers.
After her work was done, Julietta removed her rubber gloves and began cleaning up. She threw away her dirty gloves along with empty gauze packages and all of the bloodied rages, she washed and disinfected all of her surgical instruments and put them back in there places and finally she scrubbed the floors to remove the trail of blood that the stranger had left on his way in. After those messy jobs were finished she returned to her patient. Julietta surveyed him once more to assure herself that, barring any unforeseen complications, he would, indeed, survive.
Satisfied, Julietta moved into the kitchen. She scrubbed her hands clean, dried them and applied a liberal amount of lotion. She walked over to the cupboard and selected her favorite tea pot, the yellow one with the little pink flowers, filled it with water and sat it on the stove to boil. While she waited she grabbed two mugs from the dishwasher and two tea bags along with a bottle of honey from the pantry and a teaspoon from the drawer and sat them on the counter. When everything was ready she prepared a cup of peppermint tea for herself and sat at one of the barstools at the counter.
Thankfully, she had been much too busy taking care of the broken young stranger to think about him. She hadn't had a moment to spend dwelling on the whos, whys, whats, and hows that had been nagging at the edge of her mind since she had unexpectedly found the dieing stranger on her doorstep a few hours ago. Now that her work was done, however, all of those questions came rushing to the forefront of her mind.
Who is he?
Why is he here?
Who did this to him?
What happened to him?
What am I going to do with him?
How did he get here?
Seeing that there were no immediate answers to be had, Julietta pushed the thoughts away again with a shake of her head. She opened an issue of Horse Illustrated magazine and took another sip of her tea trying to distract herself. Well, I hope he likes peppermint tea. She thought.

Julietta had just finished her tea and magazine and walked back into her sunroom in time to barely see the streak of fuzzy white as it flashed from its hiding place on top of the nearby bookcase and pounce on the sleeping stranger.
The man groaned on impact.

I was pulled out of my safe place by a sharp and sudden pain coming from my chest and shoulder. I opened my eyes to find myself face to face with a white cat that only had one dazzling green eye.
"I'm so sorry!" exclaimed a voice behind me. Just then a girl appeared. She rushed over to me, gently scooped the kitten from its perch on my chest and cradled it in her arms. "You''re awake! Hi, my name is Julietta Kiefe and this is Remko." Her voice was soft and lilting with a little bit of a southern twang. Her dark blue eyes sparkled and her kind smile revealed a mouthful of perfect, straight white teeth. "Remko doesn't usually just pounce on people like that." She continued apologetically. "What's you're name, stranger?" she asked with a smile.
For one blessed moment I could not remember a single thing about my past. I just gave her a blank stare for a moment.
"How's your shoulder doing?" she asked.
I glanced at my shoulder, saw the bloodstained bandage there and was flooded with unwelcome memories. Images of the events of yesterday flashed through my mind. My first failed engagement, the look in Phillip's eyes, the knife against my flesh, and the gun smoking in Phillip's hand. Suddenly I remembered everything. My name was Justin Karson, I was a twenty five year old professional assassin, and I was dead meat.
"Justin Karson." I heard myself croak. I didn't worry about giving her my name. Justin Karson was just my favorite name, but still an alias like all of my other names--I hadn't used my real name in ages.
"Well, Justin Karson," she said it as if tasting the words for the first time. "Would you like some tea?" she asked as she sat the Remko, the kitten, in my lap and helped me sit up on the table.
 just nodded, trying to shake the fog from my mind.
The girl left me alone while she went to get me a cup of tea. The kitten purred contentedly in my arms.
The pain in my shoulder and my chest had died down to a dull ache. Gradually I was able to regain my focus and I began to systematically survey my surroundings.
There was only one exit: a large round doorway behind me. There were four round windows in the wall to my left that looked out on a lush green pasture where a dozen or more horses grazed alongside a small herd of sheep and a couple of deer. Directly ahead of me at the end of the sunroom were stacks of rubber and clay pots, a bag of soil and several flowering plants. A bookcase covered the right wall. Those were the big things and my mind absorbed them all in one sweeping glance. Now I moved on to the details. The table on which I sat was dark and stained with my blood. There was a disinfectant smell in the air that made me think of hospitals. The bookcase was full and contained books by a myriad of authors--Ted Dekker, J.R.R. Tolkien, Alexandre Dumas, Jane Austen, Frank E. Peretti, Beverly Lewis, Laura Ingles Wilder, Ken Ham, Terri Farley, Steven King, and many others. There was also a large collection of green leather volumes without titles. Probably journals, I thought. The floors were polished hardwood; the walls were rounded and earthy.
There were no camera lenses watching, no listening devices that I could see, and no snipers in the distance. I sighed, satisfied that I was safe enough for now. My hand slipped down to my left pocket out of habit. I was pleasantly surprised to find that my gun was still there. Now I had a very handy little piece of leverage to get what I need, which was information.
Slowly I began to feel like myself again. Gone was my uncertainty--I was a man with a plan. I had always been good at coming up with brilliantly simple plans on the fly. This one was incredibly simple even for me: I would get the information that I needed to survive at all costs. This girl seemed fake--too calm and pleasant----she was probably hired by Phillip. Paid to fix me up just enough to be worthy of dieing at Phillip's own hand.
Julietta walked in with a steaming mug of tea. She looked up and was startled to find me standing in front of her with a nine millimeter pistol trained on her. I could see the surprise in her eyes, but she smothered it immediately. Silently, she walked over to the table and sat down the cup of tea, keeping her deep blue eyes fixed on me. Steady and calm at first glance, but deep and tumultuous just beneath the surface--like the sea. A real "still waters run deep" kind of person. I thought. I was unsure where the thought came from.
The sweet aroma of peppermint and honey filled my nostrils.
Julietta seemed calm enough now, but I seriously doubted her ability to keep her cool once I cranked up the heat.
"I need information. I need answers." I said, doing my best to sound authoritative--like Phillip.
"So, I will ask and you will answer--honestly." I paused, thinking what Phillip would say. "Failure will result in punishment." That was a rule I had always lived by it seemed fitting that she should live by it too. "One mistake will result in one beating or bullet." I wasn't sure if I could follow through with the beating part. "Do you understand?""
Julietta slowly nodded.
"Please, have a seat."
She sat without saying a word.
All of a sudden I felt light headed and dizzy, my strength was waning. I limped closer to the table and leaned against it for support.
"Who are you really?"
"I thought we went over this earlier. My name is Julietta Renee Kiefe."
"Go on." I urged.
"I'm twenty three, five foot two, I live out here on my hundred acre farm with around fifty animals of all kinds, and I'm a veterinarian."
"Interesting. Where am I?"
"You are here, on my hundred acre farm, Paradise Acres in the microscopic town of Jersey, Georgia."
Good. I had never heard of Jersey .
"If I lower my gun, will you stay?" I asked, suddenly realizing how desperate I was for her to say yes. I didn't want to be alone and for once I didn't really want to kill.
"Good. Just remember: one false move and you're in trouble." I said, but it was a lame and empty threat. I didn't want to shoot her. "Do you have anything to eat?"
"Of course, what would you like?"
"Do you have any steak?"
"Unfortunately, no, I'm a vegetarian." She said.
"Oh, well, whatever you have will be fine. I'm starving." I slipped my gun behind my back and tucked it under my belt. My stomach rumbled. I really was famished.
Julietta silently led the way into the kitchen, arms folded, eyes smoldering. She was obviously displeased at finding herself a prisoner in her own home. I didn't find joy or pleasure in my control over her, but I did find purpose and stability. I was back in familiar territory--even if I didn't quite know what that was. My mind was beginning to right itself. I thought about the oddity of it all. It was like playing house. All politeness and calm despite our ridiculous circumstances. If she really did work for Phillip she was good. A good actress, calm and probably a killer instead of the kind of bimbo Phillip usually hired. If she didn't work for Phillip she was one special individual.
I limped slowly into the kitchen with Remko right on my heels.
I sank heavily into one of the barstools. My body was failing, but my mind was working in over time.
Julietta didn't know why she complied with her patient's demands, but she did. Sure she was surprised and upset and a little frightened about being turned into a hostage, but there was something about that pleading, lost look in his eyes that made her want to give him a hug. He was broken, he was lost, he was alone, and he was desperate. It was her life''s work to fix things like him. Besides, she'd been in this place before. She had looked down the barrel of a gun before and lived to tell. She wasn't really afraid.
Julietta walked into the kitchen arms folded and deep in thought. As she turned around the corner she caught sight of Justin limping behind her. She didn't remember seeing an injury to his leg and wondered if she'd missed something, but no, she had made sure his legs were okay. He limped over to a barstool and fell more than sat down.
"How about a veggie burger?" She asked.

Chapter Three

We ate in perfect, uninterrupted silence. I wolfed down my meal of a veggie burger, sweet potato fries and salad in a matter of minutes while she ate slowly. I had been starving, but now I was finally leaning toward full. I pushed my plate away quietly and sat back.
Awkward doesn't even begin to describe the situation. The dizzying details alone were borderline insane before you factored in our odd behavior. Captor and captive sat calmly at the kitchen counter eating dinner together. If anyone had walked in on us they probably would have assumed that we were old friends just enjoying the meal and each other's company. Even I was at a loss for words to explain my own behavior.
At first I had pinned Julietta as another one of Phillip's bimbos, but that suspicion was quickly fading now. My reasoning was thus: Phillip couldn't have known my mind; he couldn't have known I would fail. If he didn't expect me to fail then a person like Julietta and a place like this--so real and obviously having been in use for quite some time--would be useless. Phillip didn't do useless. But her behavior was so--unnatural and somehow genuine at the same time. My old suspicion was not only fading, it was being replaced. Julietta was either who she said she was or she was a really good actress. I couldn't be certain and either way she could be a formidable adversary. I decided that I'd better play it safe.
"I'm sorry." I whispered.
Julietta looked up from her plate slowly; a fork full of salad was halfway to her mouth. Her brow furrowed and lips pursed quizzically. She remained silent.
"I'm sorry." I repeated a little bit louder.
"Don't worry about it." She finally said, going back to eating her salad. "I've been around enough cornered animals to know that they lash out when they feel cornered. I guess you felt like you were out of options." She paused, looking me over. "You've obviously been through a lot. I can't really blame you for panicking.
I didn't know what to say. I had expected rage or tears not forgiveness. I recovered enough to say, "Well, thank you. You're not really a hostage anymore. I would appreciate it if you didn't run to the cops though."" I said lamely.
"That sure is comforting." She laughed. "Now I'm just sort of a hostage."
I was stunned once again by her seemingly easy going nature.
"Let's leave the past in the past, okay? Do you feel like going for a walk?" She asked, innocently changing the subject.
"Yeah, let's walk." I said.
She and I walked slowly through one of the lush, green pastures. I was limping a step or two behind her--my lack of energy and increase of pain made my bum leg all the more obvious. I was deep in thought and still suspicious. Julietta practically skipped ahead, apparently pleased. My eyes roved the countryside looking for anything unusual--the telltale reflection of sunlight on metal or glass, whispered voices, the static of a radio, anything that meant danger was near.
Suddenly Julietta stopped and turned around. Her big blue eyes shining up at mine as if by some secret light of their own. Her soft, pink lips curved into a genuine smile. "And that," she said pointing to a large red barn a couple hundred yards ahead of us. "is one of my favorite places."
I gazed at the barn. It was a typical wooden barn painted red and trimmed in white--it was the only conventional thing that I had seen on Julietta's farm.
She whistled a loud, peculiar tune and was rewarded by a happy nicker from one of the barn's inhabitants.
"C'mon!" she called out jogging ahead of me. I hurried my pace and reached the barn just as she flipped on the lights.
My quick eye picked up all of the details--twelve stalls; six on each side, one closed room to my right marked by a hand painted sign that read, "Feed, Tack & Office", and directly to my left was what appeared to be a giant shower. Twelve horses all had their heads sticking out over the half doors of their stalls. The barn smelled sweet and musty. A mix of molasses, oats, hay, sweat, and leather hung in the air. Julietta's leather cowboy boots clacked on the concrete isle.
"I'll introduce you to everyone." She said, beaming like an excited child and walking up to the first stall on the right.
A big, solid black stallion with a long wavy mane and forelock looked at us with large, intelligent eyes. "This is Frederick, my Friesian. I got him from a circus that was passing through town. He had gotten into the nasty habit of tossing all of his riders and the circus was going to put him down. When I heard about it I rushed over and purchased him and all of his equipment from them just in the nick of time! Turns out it wasn''t even Fred's fault that he was bucking." She paused, rubbing the big horse's velvety nose. "The saddle they had been using had an exposed nail underneath it that would dig in and poke him when someone got on. I got a new saddle for him and he hasn't bucked since."
I petted Frederick's forehead and then we were on to the next stall. A chestnut gelding named Joker, who was anything but a trickster. He was a gentle, laid back Morgan horse that had been too spirited for the children at a local riding camp. "He's my first horse and will always be my favorite."" She said with a smile. "I got him a long time before I moved here. He and I have been partners for almost ten years. You might say that he was the one that taught me to fix the broken--you might even say that he fixed me. " She said. Joker nickered as we walked by.
The rest of the horses were abuse, abandonment or neglect cases where Julietta had swooped in to save them.
We spent the rest of our time walking leisurely around her property. She got to introduce me to her menagerie of animals and I got the perfect opportunity to scope the place out.
Forty five acres of fenced and cross fenced pastureland lay on rolling hills before the hobbit house and five acres of hardwood forest crisscrossed by winding trails were behind it. A long driveway snaked away from the house, through the pastures and out of sight. There were no other houses as far as I could see. There were also no telephone or power lines. I did, however, spot quite a few solar panels and even a couple of windmills along with a well instead of public water. Apparently Julietta liked being off the grid. I wondered why.
By six o'clock we had wandered our way back to her home. The doorstep was stilled stained dark by my blood.
We stepped inside and sat on the couch in the living room.
Could today possibly get any weirder? I wondered.

Julietta and Justin sat in silence together. Silence seemed to be the only thing that Justin was comfortable with. His jaw was clinched, his lips flattened into a thin line and his brows furrowed, but he seemed as relaxed as she had ever seen him. She was content for the most part to just let him be. She was able to make many observations as he sat on the couch deep in thought.
She could tell by the brooding look in his blue gray eyes that his mind was working hard.
He was obviously still suspicious of her despite what he said and she didn't doubt for a second that if she gave him cause, the gun would come back.
He was definitely broken--beaten, bruised and misused.
Finally she sighed and gave into her growing curiosity. She risked asking the question she'd been thinking since she had first discovered him on her porch.
"So, what on earth happened to you?" she asked.
Justin seemed temporarily stunned. The time ticked by slowly as he tried to compose an answer. She let him take his time and just as she began to wonder if he would ever speak, he did.
"I don't really know." He began slowly. "Sure I know the hows and whens and wheres, but I don't ever know if I''ll ever know why." He paused and looked at his hands, which were fidgeting in his lap.
Julietta looked on and listened quietly, trying to fight back the growing urge to hug him.

I don't know how it happened, but I was sitting on Julietta's couch and suddenly I was telling her the truth--or at least a part of the truth. While my soul, if I had one, wasn't quite ready for that kind of total baring, it was obviously ready to share some things. I was sharing thoughts with her that I had voiced only in my head.
"I'm an assassin, a hit man, a gun for hire. A human being dehumanized, trained to kill without thought or reason--without question." I heard myself admitting. "I've been a very successful one too. One of if not the best, I've been told. Unfortunately I ask questions sometimes. My employer doesn't put up with being questioned. He always answers... emphatically."" I continued, indicating a few of my more visible scars on my left arm. I sighed. "Did I mention that I never failed?" I asked.
She shook her head.
"Well, at least I had never failed until yesterday. I, the hardened, thoughtless killer began to question everything. It wasn't even one of my typical moral questions. It was a generic, but powerful question that sent a tremble through my bones while I was closing in on an engagement. The tremble was uncontrollable--even for me. I took the shot, but unfortunately for me, Senator Stabler will survive." I paused to catch my breath, which was coming in rushed and ragged puffs. "I returned to my employer like the loyal dog that I am." I continued, suddenly disgusted with myself. ""My employer punished me for my failure..." I drifted off, aware that I had gone too far.
Way too far.

FBI agent Levi Darcy paced his office glancing nervously at the large stack of thin manila folders on his desk. The stack was easily a foot and a half tall. He pored over those files every day and always came up empty handed. Each of the seventy five folders was practically empty. Every one of them contained a single piece of paper describing an obviously professional hit. No physical evidence was every found at any of the crime scenes, many different murder weapons, at least ten different states, victims of all kinds, and little to no kind of M.O. on the killer. The only thing tying all of these cases together was one calling card--an actual calling card. At every scene a plain white business card with "Courtesy of The Organization." typed on it in black ink was found.
The Bureau now had a hit man or several hit men with at least eight years and seventy five kills under their belt. The Bureau was getting nervous; it had been a while since the U.S. had seen a hit man operation on this scale. Levi was nervous because the Bureau had given him the case--nervous and excited. This could make or break him. And he had no intention of being broken.
"Sir," called Samantha, Levi's secretary, as she waltzed into his office in her stiletto heels and roused him from his reverie.
"Yes, Samantha?" he answered wearily.
"Another file for you, sir." She said curtly, tossing another manila file onto the stack.
Levi straightened his navy blue tie as he walked over and greedily snatched up the file. "Thanks!" he called after Samantha as she turned and left him alone in his office.
The contents of the file were unusual compared to all of the others. There was a senator from Illinois shot, but surviving and a familiar calling card found in the empty apartment from which the shot had come. The gunman had escaped.
"So," Levi whispered. "Someone from The Organization has finally failed."

Levi sped toward Emory Hospital in Atlanta in his black SUV. This was it. The lead he had been dreaming of and the miraculous break he had so desperately needed.
He yanked the steering wheel and swung into hospital's parking lot. He found a space and hurried to the big white building, walking a little faster than decorum allowed.
Once inside he slowed his pace, assuming a more dignified and less eager expression. Up the elevator and straight down the hall to the heavily guarded room 202 he went.
Levi flashed his badge and stepped in unhindered.
Senator Stabler sat up in a hospital bed hooked up to several different machines, which were beeping and flashing.
If Levi hadn't known any better he never would have guessed that the smug and plump man before him had been shot this very day.
"Hello Senator Stabler." Levi said presenting his badge. "I'm agent Levi Darcy from the FBI."
"Well, it's about time that you people started investigating." Stabler said flippantly
Levi ignored the comment. "Sir, do you know why anyone might want you dead? Do you know of anyone that wants you dead?" he began, flipping open his notebook and putting his pen to the page.
"Not really. I'm a pretty likable guy if I do say so myself." He replied.
You're probably the only one who would say it. Levi thought.
"Sir, it's very important that you give this a lot of thought and that you answer truthfully." He said coolly.
"So maybe I've ticked off a few people here or there, but I can't imagine anyone of them being mad enough to kill me."
"Obviously someone wants your death and wants it enough to pay a professional to do the job."
The senator seemed shocked into silence.
Levi cleared his throat and started again, trying not to sound as agitated and irritated as he really was. "Senator Stabler, can you give me a list of people that you may have had an altercation with and who may still have animosity toward you?"
"Fine, but I'm sure it will be a short list." He said gruffly.
"That would make my job easy then." Levi replied.
Unfortunately, the senator's list of angry and possibly angry persons was quite long. Levi's job would be anything but easy.
After receiving the list and getting a few more questions answered Levi left.
The drive back to his office was quiet and uneventful.
When he reached his office there was yet another happy surprise waiting for him. A body guard that had seen a man fleeing the hotel that the shot had come from had come forward to give a description.
"Hello," Levi began, flashing his badge. "I'm agent Levi Darcy. And you are?"
"John Marley." The big man said.
"Thank you for coming, John. I hear that you think you may have seen our shooter. Would you mind giving me all of the details?" Levi said flipping the recorder on.
"Sure." John said.
"Begin as soon as you're ready. I'll record you statement."
"So, the senator gets shot and I'm standing there. Everyone else has rushed to his side, but I was a little further out than everyone else--crowd control, ya know? So, like I was sayin' I saw that they were already doin'' what they could for the senator. They'd called the cops and had an ambulance on its way and everything so I thought I would keep my eyes peeled in case I saw the perp. Well, sure enough as I'm walkin' toward the street this young dude with a big gym bag thrown over his shoulder comes flyin' outta the hotel that the shots were fired from. He was also lookin' around sorta nervously like he was afraid of getting caught by somebody. Of course that looks really suspicious so I follow him a ways and get a real good look at him." John stated.
"What did he look like?"
"He was tall--about six three or so. He had that shaggy hair cut that all the girls now a days are always fawning over and it was blond. He was muscular, young, nice strong features, nice clothes too."
"Anything else?" Levi asked, getting excited.
"Yeah, yeah!" John said loudly. "I just remembered! He limped! He sure did! Like there was something wrong with his left knee. Not so bad that he couldn't move around quick, but it was still noticeable."
Cha-ching! Levi thought. "Thank you so much, John. My secretary will take you to our sketch artist so we can get a real good idea of the guy. " He said aloud.
What a break! They would release the sketch to the public and would probably have a good lead by the end of the week.

"You okay?" Julietta asked me when I had stopped talking.
"Define 'okay.'" I replied.
"Are you going to make it?"  
"Sure. I always have and I always will, but what does that really get me? I live another day, breathe a few more breaths, take another life, bleed a little more, fight harder, and struggle to repeat the cycle--for what? Why?" I closed my eyes and rubbed my temples, suddenly struck by the monotonous game of cat and mouse that was my life.
"Or," she began. "You can fight and bleed and breathe and live and maybe even kill, but all for a reason. I don't do anything without a reason--you don't either, you just don't know it. There's always a reason. So, what reason are you doing all this for? To live? To breathe? To repeat? Are any of those good reasons? A good reason, in my humble opinion, has to be something that can sustain you when there's nothing else. When the world has gone dark and cold and shut you out and you wonder why you shouldn't just end yourself then and there, you have to be able to think on the reason why you do what you do and it has to be enough to keep you going."
I didn't know what to say. Surviving had always been the reason that fueled my existence, but why did I want to survive? I guess she could tell what I was thinking by the pained look on my face because she spoke up again--quieter and almost with a tremble in her voice.
"Justin, surviving is not a good enough reason."
"Then what is a good reason?" I asked.
"You'll have to figure that out for yourself. I can't tell you." She said rising from her seat and walking toward the kitchen. "C''mon." she called back to me looking over her shoulder and changing the subject. "It's about time to eat."
I followed thinking that she would begin fixing our evening meal, but I was mistaken. Once in the kitchen she busied herself preparing various meals for all of her creatures. All sorts of fruit, vegetables, kibble and even meat were all prepared, portioned and placed into their designated bowls or feeding toys. I asked her about the meat.
"I'm the vegetarian. I can't expect all of my critters to be as into the whole meatless thing as I am." She laughed. "What would Dillon, my bobcat, think if I sat a big salad down in front of him? And the hawks would be really disappointed if I didn't give them meat. "
Remko jumped up onto the counter and purred loudly, obviously glad to see us fixing his food. He gazed up at me with that one big gorgeous green eye like he knew all about me. It was an unnerving feeling. I put his bowl of kitty kibble on the floor by my feet. He dropped down gracefully and hunkered down wrapping his fluffy tail around himself. Remko gave me one last thoughtful glance before eating.
We passed out the dishes to everyone as they all waited patiently. After everyone in and around the house had been cared for Julietta told me we would head down to the barn. I assumed we would walk like before, but Julietta must have noticed how tired I was even though I tried to hide it because to my surprise she headed over to her purple Ford F-250 and jumped in.
We rode down her long bumpy drive and pulled over by a gate leading to the barn.
"You don't have to get out." She said.
"I don't mind." I replied, thinking for the hundredth time that day that we were too cordial.
She opened the gate and ushered me into the pasture. She latched the gate behind us and we walked into the barn. All of the horses looked at us expectantly; they obviously knew that it was dinner time. Julietta whispered her greetings to each and every one of them as we walked by. She stopped in front of the "Tack, Feed and Office" room and had to solve the combination lock before going in.
The room went from dark to twilight when she flipped on the switch. Feed bins and buckets sat along the wall to our right, saddles of various makes and styles hung on the walls ahead of us and the one to the left. Each was accompanied by a matching bit and bridle. A desk with a lamp on top of it and filing cabinets underneath it was against the wall behind us. The bookcase on the wall above it contained books about vet care, feeding and nutrition and business management along with human and equine first aid kits. The atmosphere was thick and sweet filled with the scents I had experienced in the barn earlier except intensified.
I was pulled from my contemplative thoughts by the sound of feed being scooped into plastic buckets. I walked closer and watched as Julietta filled the buckets with different kinds of feed and different amounts.
Once she was done with that I followed her as she passed out the buckets. Then she checked and filled every water bucket. We stood around and waited until they had all finished eating and then she let them all out one by one.
As we drove back up to her house I began to think that if Julietta was for real, I might be able to get used to this life.
Maybe I don't ever have to go back. I thought.

Chapter Four
Phillip sat back in the plush leather chair in his top floor office. He folded his hands contemplatively and looked out of the floor to ceiling window with his back to his desk. If anyone had seen him there, they would have supposed him a well to do real estate tycoon--which he was--not the leader of a hit man company--which he also was, on the side. Heck, Phillip even gave to charity--more than fifty percent of his legitimate business' profits. The city of Atlanta viewed him as its guardian angel as he went about, bestowing money and gifts to all sorts of worthy causes. Of course Phillip didn't particularly care about the causes. To him it was just about keeping up appearances and covering his own rear. Besides, all of those charity banquets would make wonderful alibis if he ever did come under suspicion for anything.
Ah, yes, Phillip Gregson was the epitome of success both over and under the table. Sure, he made millions buying and selling property, but it takes money to make money in the real estate business so, where do you think he got those original millions? From The Organization, of course. Gregson Realty was really just a front for The Organization, which was the more lucrative of the two companies.
Phillip Gregson, reputable business man on the outside, heartless killer on the inside--just like his businesses.
Phillip spun his chair around so that he was facing his massive, dark stained oak desk. He yanked open the bottom drawer and pulled out a bottle of Vodka and threw back a swig with an angry curse. He was in trouble. A gun for hire company could only last so long without a finger to pull the trigger. Justin had been just such a finger, but now he'd run off.
"Stupid, stupid..." Phillip hissed under his breath.
A quiet rapping sound came from his office door.
"Come in." he called.
A thin blond in high heels walked in, hips swinging, gum smacking.
"What is it, Victoria ?" he asked gruffly.
"Oh, just an update report on that property you want. It might be going on the market soon." She said it in code, but Phillip knew exactly what she was talking about and it hit a nerve.
"Really?" he said trying to sound calm.
"Yeah, there's another interested party, though."
So, Justin is still around and bound to surface. The feds want him and apparently they even have a lead. This could be a problem--or it could be a blessing. Phillip thought to himself.
"Well, thank you, Victoria. Would you please bring me the file?" he said out loud as he straightened his tie and put the bottle back in its drawer. Maybe he wouldn't need so much alcohol today after all.
"Of course." She replied exiting his office to retrieve the file on Justin. She was back in a flash and handed him the file and left, throwing him a flirtatious smile over her shoulder.
He flipped the file open and read it hungrily. According to the file Justin had slipped up. In his rush to leave the failed crime scene he dropped one of their infamous business cards. He had also been glimpsed as he left by a body guard of the fallen senator. The FBI now had more than enough to go by. They now knew Justin was a young blond Caucasian man. They even had sketch done by a sketch artist thanks to the observance of one John Marley. Phillip had to admit that the sketch was a pretty good likeness of Justin. Unfortunately, said young man had disappeared.
Phillip sat and contemplated his next move. He could either track down Justin himself or let the FBI do it for him. Either way, once Justin was found and caught he could: A. Punish Justin and let him back into The Organization, B. Kill Justin as soon as he found him, or C. Let the FBI find Justin and do as they please with him.
"I think I'll let the FBI find him for me. " He mused aloud. "Sure, it may not be done perfectly, but it will be done--and with little to no effort on my part. I'll just give them a push in the right direction when I can." He laughed. "This should be fun to watch."
He pulled out his untraceable cellphone and dialed the number for Levi Darcy's office. Phillip was anxious for the young agent in charge of the case to answer the phone.

The phone in Levi's office rang. He was tempted to just let it go to the machine instead of pausing his work to answer it. But, he thought, It might be one of my superiors and they wouldn't be too happy if I just ignored them. Finally on the fourth or fifth ring he decided in favor of answering and snatched the phone off of its cradle.
"Yes? This is agent Levi Darcy." He said flatly not even trying to hide the distraction and annoyance in his voice.
"I have some information about the young man that shot the senator that you might be interested in hearing." The voice said.
"Really?" Levi asked, laying his papers aside. The caller now had his full attention. He turned on the recording device and put his phone on speaker.
"Yes," the caller paused. "I've got the sketch of your suspect right here and I just remembered that I saw just such a man running south down Peach Tree Street yesterday. He was limping just like the description said."
"Do you have any more info for me?" Levi pursued, obviously greedy for any bite of information he could get.
"Yes, he was also bleeding profusely from his right shoulder. And I saw him get in a Yellow Taxi."
"Do you have the cab number?" Levi asked.
"Of course. Nine, seven, five, four." The caller enunciated slowly.
The line went dead.
Levi Darcy was ecstatic. In twenty four hours the case had gone from dead to practically solved. He ran out the door hopped in his SUV and sped off in the direction of the Yellow Taxi Company headquarters in Atlanta .
After a fifteen minute drive Levi arrived. He flashed his badge, introduced himself to the superintendent. Levi asked him where he could find cab number 9754.
"It's your lucky day. James Duffy is off duty and sittin' in the parkin' lot." The superintendent said flinging his thumb in the general direction of the parking lot.
"Thanks." Levi called behind him as he strode toward the parking lot.
Taxi number 9754 was a plain looking cab; fairly new, fairly clean. Its driver was a young punk of a kid in tight red skinny jeans, a black v-neck t-shirt and black Converse All-stars without the laces. He was dozing off in the driver's seat with his feet propped up on the passenger's side dash. Skull Candy ear buds were stuffed in his ears. Shaggy brown hair covered his eyes while he slept.
Levi knocked on the window loudly and startled the kid, who jumped in his seat, bumped his head and yanked the ear buds out of his ears and stuffed them into his pocket. Levi motioned for him to roll down the window. The kid obeyed.
"Who--" James started.
"I'm agent Levi Darcy with the FBI." Levi said producing his badge for what seemed like the hundredth time that week."
"Hey, if this is about that music I downloaded illegally--"
"It's not." Levi cut him off.
The kid relaxed. "Good. 'Cause I didn't download anything anyway." He said.
"Well, that's nice to hear."
"So, what are you here for?" James asked, his curiosity getting the better of him.
"I'm here to see if you've seen this man." Levi answered, handing him a sketch of the suspect.
"Man, oh man." The boy mumbled. "Yeah, yeah, I've seen him alright."
"Yesterday. He jumped in my cab and just told me to drive. I looked back and saw that he was bleeding--man was he bleeding--and I told him he needed to go to a hospital. He wouldn't let me take him to one though. Instead he handed me a couple thousand dollars and pointed a gun at me."
"Where did he want you to take him?" Levi asked.
"Is he in trouble?" the kid asked.
"He may be, but he also might be the cause of some trouble." Levi said.
"Well, he didn't know where he wanted to go."
"Surely you dropped him off somewhere." Levi said growing impatient.
"Yeah." The kid conceded.
"Where then?" he demanded.
"Well, he asked me to take him to the smallest town I could think of."
"And that would be?"
"Where my folks grew up. We visit every once in a while." He said.
Levi looked at him coolly. "What's the name of the town?"
"Jersey." The kid finally coughed out after a long pause.
"Where exactly in Jersey ?" Levi pressed.
"Well, there's this girl--about my age--that lives out on this farm on the outskirts of town all by herself. She's kinda weird. Her house is like what those hobbits in The Lord of the Ring movies live in. Really strange. And she's like off the grid. Well, anyway she takes in all kinds of injured stray animals and she's like a great vet--everyone in town takes their hurt animals there when they're real bad off and even some of the people go to her too when they don't want to go to the hospital. She even does it all for free! Well, I figured it was the closest thing to a hospital I could get him to." The boy explained.
"I see." Levi said getting more and more excited. "Thank you for your time. You may be helping us catch a cold blooded killer."
"Whoa, really? Even with the gun and all I totally would've pinned him as a good guy. A real Jack Bauer type, ya know?" the kid said, genuinely surprised.
"Hmm." Was all Levi could say. The observation by the kid threw him for moment. Apparently their suspect had a good guy vibe. Strange sure, but not impossible.
Dangerous too. Levi thought.
No matter, Levi had a case to close and a career to make. He made a call back to his office, requesting back up to meet him in Jersey, Georgia, alerting them to the fact that their suspect was now known to be armed and dangerous. Levi was wishing all the while that he didn't have to waste precious time waiting on back up to meet him there.

We were back at her kitchen counter eating once again. This time it was vegetarian taco salad with black beans and corn instead of ground beef. I must admit that it was good. We ate in the now typical silence. I was really quite thankful for it. Having to answer questions was painful and I was in enough pain. Thankfully, Julietta hadn't called the cops on me yet, despite my confession. Maybe she wouldn't ever.
Maybe we could live here in secret forever. Was one of my many crazy thoughts.
At Julietta's farm I was more at peace than I had ever been. I finally felt like I could breathe. But in the back of my mind I knew it couldn't last. I knew that I wasn't cut out for this; that one day, Phillip would find me.
I should leave. Was one of my more solemn thoughts. It was true, I couldn't deny it. I was growing to like Julietta as a person, maybe even as a friend, even if I didn't like her romantically--at least not yet--I did feel a strange attraction to her that I just couldn't name. The sad truth was that the longer I stayed, the more danger I put her in. I would leave--just not yet.
I took another bite of my vegetarian taco salad and chewed it slowly, wishing that my life had been different. If only I had grown up here and met Julietta. If only I had never become a killer. If only, if only, if only. Maybe I could have been happy under different circumstances, but not now. I don't even know if I could stand peace and happiness.
"Do you like it?" Julietta asked.
"Yeah, it's good." I replied.
"Would you like desert?" she queried.
"Sure." I said.
"Do you like brownies?" she asked.
I nodded in the affirmative.
"Good because I have some homemade brownies in the oven." She said.
We resumed eating quietly. The silence was only disturbed by the occasional clanking of silverware and sipping of water.
"I can't wait to introduce you to Dawn. She's my apprentice. She takes care of all my fur children when I'm away and in exchange I give her riding lessons and taught her everything she knows about animals. She''s coming tomorrow to stay for a while because I suspect I may be forced to vacate my premises at some point." She said the last sentence with a twinkle in her eye. Like she thought I was crazy enough to take her with me if I had to flee. I couldn't help but smile inwardly. I decided not to tell her just how preposterous her thought was.
Suddenly a loud knock sounded at the front door. I dropped my fork and Julietta slowly rose from her seat and crept toward the door. I palmed my gun--just in case.
The knock at the door wasn't really all that out of place. Since my arrival several people had come and dropped off newly broken things and animals. My suspicion, however, did not wear off quickly; I drew my gun every time and put it away only when I was sure that there was no threat.
Pedro squawked, noisily announcing the visitor. Remko followed us, nonchalantly twitching the tip of his tail.
Every muscle in my body was tense as I moved silently on bare feet into position beside the door ready to pull the trigger at any second.

Levi and several other agents stood by their SUVs at the end of a long dirt drive way that wound up through pastures and then out of sight. Their suspect was thought to be inside.
"Sir," said agent Jenkins. "what's the plan?" he asked despite the fact that he and everyone else gathered there already knew the plan. He really just asked the question to fill the silence. Levi still wasn't used to being called sir.
"We're going to sneak up toward the house, surround it and move in." Levi said giving the simplest version of the plan possible.
No one argued.
After another minute of failed attempting to calm nerves that felt like they had been set on fire Levi gave the signal and they began to execute the plan. They fanned out and crept low to the ground up toward the house. Snipers moved into position and Levi led the way directly to the front door, decked out in a bulletproof vest and with his gun drawn.
He approached cautiously, paused and knocked. The squawking of a bird broke the evening's silence. Levi listened carefully and thought that he could detect the sound of footsteps and the shushing of a female voice just on the other side of the big round oak door in front of him. He took a deep breath and prepared to face whoever or whatever might be on the other side of the door. A deadbolt slid slowly out of place and the door creaked as it was pulled inwardly open.
"Hello?" a quietly sweet and unwavering voice said as a short, thin girl poked her head out at the three agents outside her house, all with their pistols drawn and aimed at her. Her blue eyes widened and her delicate pink lips parted in a silent gasp. She swept her messy brown bangs from her face and spoke again. "May I help y'all?" She said, concern putting an edge in her voice.
Levi had known that a young woman lived here, but he had also thought of her as ugly and coarse because of her well known reclusive habits. This lovely creature was nothing of the sort. She was everything delicate and beautiful. He was stunned to find himself holding such a person at gunpoint. He instinctively lowered his gun slightly.
"Yes," Levi said clearing his voice. He pulled out his badge. "I'm agent Levi Darcy with the FBI." He paused searching for the best words. ""We're here in search of a suspected serial killer. Our informant told us that he may be here. We're here to search your premises." Levi fell silent once again as he fished a piece of paper out of his pocked and handed it to the girl with a flourish. ""Have you seen this man?" he asked as she studied the sketch in her hands.

Darcy? Why does that name sound so familiar? I quickly put the thought aside and stored it in my memory for later.
I groaned inwardly dreading the confrontation that was about to take place. The FBI was here and looking for me. I could run or I could fight. Neither option was very appealing. In my present condition both would be difficult and painful if not impossible. I would probably have to fight just to get the opportunity to run anyways so I decided that I might as well stick around, kick some FBI butt and go out in a blaze of glory if I had to go out at all.
I figured there were at least three agents on the porch and a couple of snipers positioned behind and to the side of the house. The snipers, while dangerous, were the least of my concerns. I needed to take down the agents here first and quietly so that the snipers would be none the wiser until it was too late. I also needed to work fast.
Suddenly, as I began to think through the more minute details of my plan, I had a delightful idea. Who needs to fight when no one is fighting back? All I had to do was work the system and no one would get hurt. A mischievous grin tugged at the corners of my mouth--this was going to be easier than I had originally thought. I was feeling confident and decided to allow the conversation continue for a bit longer. I'd reveal myself soon enough.

Julietta's heart pounded as she debated over what to say and do. She could lie or tell the truth--save Justin or send him to slaughter. The FBI man was waiting for her answer. She was running out of time. If she remained silent much longer the guy would probably be able to guess why. She took a deep breath. An idea began to bloom in her mind. Thank you! She thought.
"Yes." Julietta said, her eyes still glued to the paper in her hands. She pretended to look at the picture carefully, which was unnecessary. The sketch really did bear an incredible resemblance to Justin. She knew it was him the instant she first laid eyes on it. "Yes,"" she repeated slowly. "I have seen this man before."
Julietta hoped desperately that Justin would react the way she wanted him to. She glanced quickly and hopefully nonchalantly behind the door where Justin was hiding. His face was unreadable. What else did you expect? She asked herself.
"Where? When?" The FBI agent named Levi Darcy wanted to know.
"Here. Today." She replied simply. The man seemed taken aback.
"Is he still here?"
"Of course." She said. "Where else could he go?"
Justin probably hates me right now. She thought to herself.
The FBI agent first turned pale and then red. So, this man is at least a little afraid of Justin, definitely angry, and completely shocked.
"Where is he?" Agent Darcy demanded, obviously wanting a more specific location.
Julietta decided to throw him a bone. "In the house. Why, here he is behind the door!"

I was intrigued by Julietta's behavior. I hadn't pinned her as the kind of person to rat me out and I had been hoping, maybe even borderline praying, that she wouldn't ever since I had met her and told her my "story."" Standing behind the door with my new plan of action in mind I suddenly found myself wishing she would spill the beans and announce my presence. It would fit perfectly with my plans. No sooner had I wished it, it came true. Sure it was an odd performance, but so was everything else the girl did. She stood at the door, relatively relaxed and chatted with the FBI agent in charge. Instead of the running scared routine I had thought of, she was simply stating the facts to an incredulous Agent Darcy. She'd even glanced at me once with a casual look.
I listened carefully as the agent asked whether or not she had seen me, when she had seen me, where she had seen me, and where I was now. Julietta slowly and deliberately answered every question with the bluntest honesty. The agent seemed taken by surprise. I smirked. I especially liked the bit about "where else could he go?"
Agent Levi Darcy had obviously toned down his behavior the moment he caught sight of the beautiful proprietor of the farm. He became less and less by the book by the second. I could really tell this change by his voice because his voice had taken on a decidedly softer tone. If I was lucky he had dropped his gun along with his protocol when he met Julietta.
I prepared myself for action. The time was growing near. I was growing cocky. I knew what to do and more importantly, I knew what they would do. This was a welcome feeling--knowing that I had a plan and knowing beyond a reasonable doubt that I would succeed.
I heard Julietta say casually, "Why, here he is behind the door!" and I knew immediately that this was my chance. While Agent Darcy and his goons were between dubious and suspicious I would make my move. In as fluid a movement as my battered and bruised body could make I jumped out from behind the door, gently grabbed Julietta around the waist with my bad arm and put my cocked and loaded {{Insert gun name here}} to her temple with my other.
Julietta gasped and struggled for a moment. When she looked up a saw my gun to her head she became still. She glanced up at me and for a moment a look of pleased satisfaction crossed her face. She looked away and acted terrified; she began to shake visibly and unshed tears misted her eyes--I started to doubt whether or not I had ever really seen that look in her eyes.
The feds stood still, eyes wide in shock and guns still raised. They obviously hadn't expected me to pop out of nowhere and claim a hostage. I grinned inwardly, feeling that comforting warmth that came over me when I had the upper hand. I hadn't felt this way in a while--especially since my run in with Phillip and my stay at Julietta's. I gave myself over to the feeling--hoping it would dull the ache I felt inside like it usually did--and the change in my personality was instant. This was the side of me that I both loved and hated. I loved it for the power, strength and security it gave me. I hated it for the pain and hatred it caused myself and others. Today I loved it. I was being me and it felt something like good only badder.
"Greetings." I said with a twisted smile. "Please, all of you lower your weapons before someone gets hurt."
They complied. Each and every one of them slowly lowered their pistols to the ground.
"Now, if you would be so kind, kick them over to me so that none of you will be tempted to do something stupid."
I commanded, they obeyed--just like I had known they would. The FBI was trained to protect civilians at almost any cost and so these did.
"If your sniper buddies--yes, I know they're here--radio in asking for permission to kill me order them to stand down. Do you understand?" I said, never raising my voice.
"Can't we talk this over?" Agent Levi Darcy asked.
"Sure, but what's the point?" I challenged.
"Maybe we can come to an agreement."
"Like what? That I'm a terrible human being? Fine! I agree. Plus, I believe we've already come to an agreement albeit an unspoken one; I live she lives, I die she dies." I said.
"But why don't we at least discuss a few facts?"
"Okay." I said, feeling cocky, ready for a game. I was fully embracing my real self now. "I have time to kill." I said with a low chuckle.
"Who are you?" Darcy asked.
"Ha." I scoffed. "You don't know?"
"Not yet." He answered truthfully.
"Well, I'm no one particularly special. I'm just a killer, a hit man, a hired gun. I kill to live and live to kill. I was born, bred and raised for my job. I'm the best." I said simply, like a confession. "But if you're really interested in justice you should look for my employer." I added.
"Any chance you'll tell me who you work for?"
"Unfortunately I have a big enough target on my back already without giving away such privileged information. Try another question."
"How many have you killed?" he asked, obviously for some unknown personal reason because these were not FBI questions.
"Oh, I don't know... over a hundred at least." That was a lie. I knew exactly how many lives I had taken. Each engagement was permanently burned into my memory as if by a white-hot iron. One hundred and two was the running body count that I had left in my wake. One hundred and two lives cut short, one hundred and two graves, one hundred and one families weeping; their lives irreparably changed for the worst. All of this was because of me--because of the orders I had blindly followed. I was haunted day and night by this reality. Many nights I lay awake thinking of all of the things in the world that were now different or gone because of the lives I had erased from the Earth. Of course surrounded by Phillip and his goons I had moments where I took pride in killing, but now my pride was deflating like a popped balloon. The only thing left was sadness and an emptiness inside me that felt more than big enough to swallow me whole.
"Why?" Darcy asked quietly.
Why? I thought. Suddenly I felt sick to my stomach, horrified by myself. Sickened by who I was and what I did. I was filled with self-loathing. In order to survive, to make Phillip happy. I answered in my heart. But I knew that answer wasn't good enough--not good enough to take lives.
I had begun this plan in order to rescue myself and Julietta, but my desire for power had taken over. My hunger for blood had covered what little bit of my soul remained and begun playing its sick little came. I hated my real self--the part of me that desired power and actually took pride in killing. I shrugged of the remainder of that side of me, which was already fading fast.
I glanced down at Julietta, my hostage. She must have felt my eyes on her because she looked up. The fake tears were gone and replaced with a look of true sadness and maybe even a tinge of fear. How could I do this? I would rescue her and be done. Done.
"I don't know." I finally answered, my voice quiet, my tone softening, my shoulders drooping. "I really don't know."" I said, my voice cracking under the weight of the emotion that had engulfed me.
Darcy must have been thrown off by my change in tone and attitude because he remained silent for a long time.
"I'm going to leave now." I said quietly, the killer in me completely gone now. "Please don't follow me. If my demands are met, I guarantee that she will be safe." I cleared my throat. "I keep my promises." I added.
Darcy glared at me, murder in his eyes, wanting to pick up his gun and shoot me, but knowing that he couldn't as long as I had Julietta in my sights.
I walked past them, shoving Julietta ahead of me. We reached her truck and she handed me her keys, I handed them back to her. She shrugged and unlocked the driver's side door. I kept my gun leveled at her as she climbed in. Then I quickly limped around the front of the Ford with me gun trained on her through the windshield's glass. I jumped in gingerly and made a show of keeping my sights locked on her as we drove away. As soon as we were out of sight I lowered my gun.

Chapter Five

"God, what am I going to do?" I whispered under my breath as we sped away. God had nothing to do with this, I was sure. For the last hour Julietta and I had been heading north, trying to put as many miles as possible between Agent Levi Darcy and ourselves as humanly possible. My arm ached, my heart ached.
I closed my eyes and rubbed my left temple with my good hand. I slowed my breathing and my heart beat in a futile attempted to collect my thoughts. I desperately needed a plan and I needed one now. Normally this wouldn't have been a problem, but my mind was currently filled to the brim with a huge roiling mass of disconnected thoughts--thoughts of self-loathing for what I was, prideful thoughts at my effortless ability to outwit the feds, thoughts of hopelessness, of death and release, questions, and so much more. Unfortunately none of these thoughts helped me form a plan. I once again willed myself to relax. I slowly, but successfully cleared my mind and moved myself deeper into my safe haven, closing out the outside world for a brief moment.
Suddenly, I knew what to do.
"Keep heading north." I said.
"Sure thing," was Julietta's easy going reply.
Her remarks or lack thereof never ceased to amaze me. She was so calm, cool and collected. It was truly amazing. No questions asked, just a simple go with the bizarre flow attitude.
"You know it's okay, right?" she asked out of the blue.
"What is?" I replied.
"What you did back there." She paused. "I understand."
I remained silent, unsure what to say.
Julietta looked over at me with sorrow in her eyes.
"Watch the road." I said quietly.
She averted her eyes and went back to staring blankly at the road. Pretending to be paying attention to the task at hand she let the subject drop and we continued our drive in silence.
I was exhausted. Sleep crept up on me and I closed my eyes. I gave in, hoping for a reprieve from the troubles of my mind. Of course, even sleep couldn't offer me peace. Instead I dreamed or rather I remembered the past and replayed it on the walls of my mind while I slept.

Chapter Six

I was thirteen, tall, muscular, ruggedly handsome, and cocky--and I had every right to be all of those things. I had spent the majority of my childhood in grueling training. Learning to survive, learning to kill. My body was tuned to perfection and I was ready for a chance to prove my superiority to my employer.
During The Organization's earliest years the Employer, Phillip was the killer and I was just the assassin's apprentice. Now the apprentice had just been handed his first real engagement and if I did this right--which I knew I would--I would become a fully-fledged partner in The Organization. Failure was not an option.
I walked quickly toward the outskirts of town. At my brisk pace I reached my destination in no time. Here it was. It was an older three bedroom, two and a half bath ranch house. I crouched in the edge of the woods across the street from the well-kept home and waited for the last light to go off in the house. At last the master bedroom light went out. I stood up and walked to the edge of the road where I paused. There I stood on the side of a narrow line both figuratively and literally.