Rocco threw the baby against the wall knocking a cigar from its mouth. His beady eyes grew wide as the baby stood and shook its head.
“Damn,” the baby muttered. It looked up at Rocco with fiery red eyes.
“I’ll get you, you Goddamn assassin!” The baby charged and grabbed hold of Rocco’s left leg. Rocco reach for the gun in his shoulder holster, but the force of the baby knocked him backwards. His hat flew off and he crashed to the floor, dazed.
The baby stood up and stared dumbfounded at the aluminum leg in his two small pudgy hands. “A crip?”
Rocco sat up, his back pulsing with pain. “Gimmie back my leg!”
Rocco’s punched the baby square in the jaw knocking it unconscious and sprawled on the blue shag carpet.
Rocco pulled up his pants leg and reattached his prosthetic leg while never taking his eyes off the little cloth diaper clad body. He reached for his straw hat and pulled himself to his feet. After dusting himself off, Rocco pushed back his speckled white hair and place his hat on his head. The hat had an orange band that matched his orange bow tie and beige plaid suit that cover his aging frame.
Today was not going as planned. Today was one of the worst days in Rocco’s life. Worse than the day his first kid was born. It was that bad.
A sense of isolation and vulnerability clouded his mind. Like heavy traffic in a fog, his thoughts slowed and the once clear road before him disappeared in a cloud. For a few precious moments, he stared at the still figure of the baby. He was unable to think, unable to do, unable to pull out his gun and complete the contract. The world died around him. The world melted away until there was nothing but a darkened stage with two spotlights shining down upon two lone actors. Rocco and the baby were all that existed, and both were impotent.
“Kill a little kid,” his boss had told him, “pretty simple.”
No problem. In the back door and out the same. The nanny wasn’t a problem. The old woman’s soft brown eyes and gentle wrinkles disappeared from the impact of a hollow tipped round. Rocco cursed when her blood splattered him. Thinking there was no one else at home except a defenseless baby, he cleaned up in the bathroom. Wiping his face with a towel, he found the baby, standing right in front of him as he turned from the sink.
Rocco snapped out of his daze. He aimed his gun at the still body face down on the floor. He could feel the cold trigger on the pad of his index finger. He was about to squeeze when the front door opened, and a swath of sunlight cut into the living room. A man walked in carrying a sack of groceries. He recognized the droopy faced man framed by sticks of celery and carrot stalks as Doug Lawningston. Lawningston stopped when he saw Rocco. His eyes widened under the bushy brows jutting forward like thatched awnings. A red coat of terror and fear washed over his pale features. The celery and carrot stalks jumped up and down as the grocery bag trembled in his hands.
“What the heck do you think you’re doing,” Lawningston asked. His casual tone implied a fearlessness contradicted by his body language.
Rocco spun towards the front door and fired his gun and part of the door frame exploded in a hail of splinters. Lawningston threw the sack in the air, the contents flying like chaff, and dove backwards through the open door. Rocco fired again, but the round slipped through the doorway and out into the warm sunlight.
Rocco cursed as he turned to deliver the fatal round to the baby’s blond down head. The baby was gone. A brilliant white flash exploded behind his eyes. Pure anger knotted Rocco’s features into a demonic visage.
“Little boy,” Rocco yelled. “Little…”
The cocking of a double-barreled shotgun cut Rocco off.
A tall blonde woman stood in the doorway holding a shotgun across her chest with both hands. Her shadow fell across Rocco and he could not see her face until she stepped through the door and out of the light. The woman’s face was a homogeneous mix of feminine beauty and masculine power. Her long and lean body possessed an erotic aura that could make violent deaths pleasurable. An electric intensity emanated from her rigid stance and her blue eyes burned from her tanned face.
“Where’s my son, old man?”
Any power the woman might have held over Rocco disappeared in an instant. His eyes narrowed.
“Did you say old?”
The woman replied by bringing the shotgun to bear on Rocco. Rocco hurled himself back into the kitchen a moment before she fired. The wall that had been behind him, disintegrated into a snow of white plaster and paint dust. He slid along the bloody ceramic tile floor stopping against the nanny’s body.
The mother rumbled around the corner, confident in murder, but slipped on the blood-slick tile and lost her balance. She grabbed onto the door frame and the shotgun lost its aim on Rocco.
Rocco fired two rounds in quick succession. The first bullet caught her in the right shoulder. A puff of red sprayed out the back of her green sweater. The second round hit her square in the chest. Her finger jerked as the bullet propelled her backwards firing the last shell into the floor. Kitchen tile exploded into hundreds of razor-sharp ceramic fragments. A cloud of white dust spiraled through.
The blood from a dozen small wounds traced red through the white powder clinging to Rocco’s face. The sound of the dust settling sounded like falling snow, the first snow of a long and bitter winter.
The mother lay slumped against the wall, blood pouring from her shoulder wound. Rocco aimed, intending to finish off someone today, but jumped to his feet when he heard the sound of a car starting. He stumbled outside as a small blue sports car backed out of the driveway and took off down the street. Rocco noted the license plate number and hoped it would be enough for now.
The skyline of the City was a group of tired graying old men. The dirty haze of their factory cigars and exhaust pipe cigarettes hung over their heads. Their bodies racked with a death cough the existence of which they denied. Brown tinged the air like dead leaves.
The gray toned phallus of the Amalgamated Assassins building towered eighty stories over the pavement.
Inside, Rocco descended in an elevator. He appeared to be in a trance. His head seemed to totter on his neck and his eyes cast about aimless. His shoulders sagged beneath an invisible weight that threatened to force him to his knees. A sliver of red tongue was visible in the shadow of his half-opened mouth.
The clack of the elevator kept an off time beat with a samba tune that seeped from the overhead speaker like melting ice cream.
Rocco had just left Mr. Warner’s office.
From the wound of that one word sprung forth a mental pain and anguish greater than the physical pain that held his body hostage. The word isolated Rocco’s soul. It tore him apart from the world that he knew and locked it deep down inside his decaying old body.
Dried blood, Rocco’s own, formed a pattern of lines and furrows on his face and his clothing. He had not had time to clean himself.
“A blue sports car. About two years old. A convertible,” Rocco stammered before Mr. Warner who had yet to look up at him.
Mr. Warner, hunched over his desk, scribbled on the report.
Mr. Warner’s pen stopped moving. He waited for an answer.
Rocco froze. He could feel the scrap of paper on which he had written the license number. His sweaty palms rolled in his fist, then let it go. He pulled his empty hand out of his pocket.
Mr. Warner raised his head and regarded Rocco with nothing less than contempt.
Rocco was suspended and Mr. Warner ordered him to receive a full medical examination by the end of the week. Then he would make his final decision.
“A baby and a bitch tripped you up. We can’t let something like that go without looking into things.” Mr. Warner’s words were even and calm; his palms pressed on the desk. “Doesn’t matter what you’re done for this corporation and it doesn’t matter how long you’ve been with us. We can’t have the company receiving bad publicity through such errors in judgment. We have a reputation and the law is strict for those it is loose.”
The elevator doors began to close before Rocco realized they were open.
The atonal commotion of the lobby replaced the melancholy samba of the elevator. Stained glass windows shot narrow rectangles up five stories over a line of revolving doors. People moved. People waited and people talked innumerable conversations that proclaimed power and importance. Most of the people were office workers who spent their careers balancing numbers into harmonious rows and columns. Others picked up the trash. The Assassins darting among these people were easy to spot. Some such as Rocco were members of the Old Guard. They dressed with a certain class and style like the old men that they were, but they were a minority. The new generation of Assassins, youngsters with the right to kill for profit as long as they died for profit, dominated the lobby. Their style was black: black hats, black suits, black trench coats, and black glasses. Rocco thought they tried to intimidate to make up for their lack of expertise and skill. They were all style, no substance.
Rocco pushed through the chaos for the street. He tried not to notice the looks he received from everyone. Some were jovial while others pitied, but they all communicated that they knew. Rocco’s head began to pound. He needed a drink.
“Hey Rocco,” yelled the unmistakable voice of a young man.
Rocco looked up and saw a white smile and a waving hand. He stopped and waited for Marvin Martins to walk over. Rocco prepared for the worst.
“What do you want Marv?”
“Hey sorry old pal.” Marvin placed his hand on Rocco’s shoulder.
Rocco reeled from the touch, stepping backwards.
“Hey, sorry there old timer. Just being your friend.”
Marvin pulled back his hand and his smile grew.
He knows. They all do.
Rocco felt paralyzed and wished he could disappear. An inaudible squawk came from his throat like a puppy too scared to yelp.
“I heard what happened today. I really can’t say I believe what happened. You’ve got nothing to be ashamed of though, you beat the average age by ten years!”
Rocco squawked a little louder this time.
“I can only hope that I’m there when they retire you.” He slapped Rocco on the side. “I’m sure it’s going to be a bloodbath!”
As Marvin turned to walk, away a commotion arose at the front door. One of the younger assassins stumbled through the door out of breath but with a big smile on his face. He turned as a coterie of large armed men in flak suits rushed up to the glass windows. The young man began jumping around in a silly manner before the windows before turning his back and showing the angry looking men his ass. One of them spit on the window and made a rude gesture before leading the others back down the sidewalk.
“Almost got pinched by the BUGS. He’ll be out of contracts for the time being.”
“They’re not BUGS, they’re MUGS,” said Rocco with more than a hint of agitation in his voice.
“Oh, come on, not this conversation again.”
Marvin shook his head, turned and fused with the crowd.
MUGS were what the older crew called the Mobile Urban Government Services. Plain and simple, use the first letters. The youngsters felt the need to remake everything. Since many of them had not been captured by the MUGS, they did not think well of them. More of a nuisance than a threat, they were rechristened BUGS. This ass exposing young assassin would be in lock down in the building for a few months till the statute of limitations expired, or somebody paid somebody something.
Rocco got over his annoyance and looked around at the pairs of eyes throwing him glances. He felt vulnerable out in the open, under all those predatory eyes. Though his throat was dry he lost all desire for a drink. He did not want to be out in public anymore. He wanted to be in the one place where there was stability, loyalty and safety.
Rocco went home.
The peace of dinner shattered when Rocco leaned over the table and punched his wife in the face. Styx, his oldest son, screamed in rage and fell from his chair.
Rocco kicked his chair out from underneath him. Child Two and Child Three fled the dining room. Rocco circled around the table and began to kick his wife in the stomach.
Styx squirmed towards Rocco. His green eyes burned. Since he didn’t have arms, he propelled himself forward by kicking his feet out behind him. He bit at Rocco’s feet but instead of tearing flesh, he only moistened his father’s shoe with saliva, tears and snot.
Rocco stopped kicking his wife and looked down at his pathetic child.
Rocco stomped Styx in the face and knocked him out. He picked Styx up by his shirt collar and dragged him to his room where the other two children were cowering. His back strained with the weight of the thirteen-year-old, but his anger provided him the strength. He slammed the steel door shut and locked the children in their place.
He returned to the dining room. His wife stood as he approached. She straightened her apron and her hair which until a few moments ago had been in a bun. He black locks cascaded down onto her shoulders. She ran her hands across her bloody face and wiped them on the apron. She smiled.
“I’m sorry honey. I love you.”
Rocco grabbed her by the throat with both of his hands and throttled her into the kitchen and down onto the floor. A vein popped out on his forehead as he squeezed her neck. Her face was like twilight as it turned a light red before deepening into shades of blue and purple. She did not resist, and her arms lay out to her side. Sweat poured off of Rocco’s face, darting in and out of the maze of wrinkles grouped together at the corners of his eyes, his chin and his forehead. When her lips turned black, he released her grip. Rocco slumped against the wall and gulped in air more than she. He felt dizzy and a wash of green filled his vision. He hands pulsed in pain. His wife tenderly rubbed her swollen and bruised neck. She fought the urge to cough.
I’m so happy with HIM.
“Don’t ever suggest that again. Do you understand?”
Rocco’s voice was a whisper. He took her moan as an affirmative.
The disciplining ignited when his wife suggested that they buy artificial arms for Styx.
“As the oldest he is your heir, dear.”
Rocco spent good money when she was first pregnant on drugs to create child deformities. He thought he could make some good money selling it to a circus. The drugs had been of poor quality and only resulted in a lack of arms. Unable to make any money back he kept him and named him Styx. The price for naming his child had so enraged Rocco that he swore he would never again pay all the fees to those bastards at Peoplez Namez Inc. There ought to be a law, he thought.
Rocco crawled to his wife and looked down into her face. Her eyes were full of tears and they streamed down her chubby cheeks and curved to her chin.
Rocco stared into them with his beady eyes and scowled.
A signal implanted into her mind when she was young, back when she was still on the Farm, shot out of her subconscious. “Make love to me,” she whispered through he almost crushed windpipe and held out her arms to embrace her husband.
Rocco smiled and stuck his hand up her skirt. He loosened his belt and pulled down his pants. He climbed between her legs, going through the motions of sex, but only able to dry hump. After a few moments of this, she passed out.
Satisfied, Rocco left her on the floor with her hiked up skirt exposing bruised and cut legs and headed into the kitchen.
Rocco was not a quitter and took out the paper with the license number on it. His salvation lay in the scribble of numbers and letters. A plan emerged.
Rocco made a few phone calls and collected on a few old debts. In a day or two, he’d get what he wanted.
When his wife came around, he told her of his plan. She said she’d go along with it. She didn’t have a choice.
“Would you just stop smiling for once,” Rocco snarled at his wife in the passenger seat of the car.
“You know I would if I could honey.”
Thunder rolled over the city. Ashen gray skies hovered overhead releasing a steady drizzle of rain. Every minute or so Rocco turned on the windshield wipers.
They had been sitting in the parked car for two hours. Rocco and his wife were dressed alike: black trench coats and black hats. A paper bag stuffed with something sat on her lap. His wife knew why they were dressed identically, but that did not change her cheery disposition that shone through the black attire like the sun which sporadically poked through the low hanging clouds. When Rocco first told her what was going to happen, her eyes drifted, but her smile remained constant.
Another half hour passed. Rocco swore to himself that he could hear her smile creaking like ice on a frozen pond. He could feel it. He didn’t like it.
“Punch yourself, dear.”
His wife punched herself in her nose. A line of blood sputtered from it and into her mouth and dripped off her chin.
Rocco giggled. “Again.”
Rocco laughed for about another ten seconds. When they first married, such a request would have kept Rocco in stitches for an hour, but now it only caused brief satiation. Like an addict, Rocco needed a bigger fix to feel any satisfaction.
He’d soon be the most satisfied husband in the world.
Rocco was about to tell her to stop when the baby and its family walked out onto the front landing of an apartment house half a block away. Already back on her feet, the Amazonian pushed the baby carriage. The father moved ahead to unlock the door of the car.
Through his contacts, Rocco discovered that the father was a renegade mad scientist named Lawningston. He specialized in genetic mutations purchased by everyone from the super-rich to circuses to governments. The Amazonian wife was quite an achievement. The baby was his masterpiece.
This would be like burning the Louvre down, thought Rocco, as he felt something splash on his face. He turned to see his wife, her face covered in blood, unconscious. Rocco turned red and pulled his wife’s head up.
“Wake up! You’ve got work to do!”
Her eyes opened and her smile reappeared stark and vibrant through all the blood. She felt nothing but love.
“Get out and around the corner now!”
She nodded and stumbled from the car carrying the paper bag. Rocco watched through the veil of drizzle until she rounded the corner. He got out of the car and approached the Lawningstons from behind.
The Amazonian’s back was to him as he pulled his gun from the holster. He pressed the gun to her head and pulled the trigger. A shower of brain and blood inundated the little monster in the carriage.
Lawningston spun on his heels. He watched as the Amazonian’s faceless corpse, blood spewing like a fountain, crumpled onto the wet pavement. He reached for his own gun.
Rocco fired at Lawningston who was standing between two parked cars on the curb. The bullet caught Lawningston at the base of the throat and hurled him against the back of a car. Unable to breathe and choking on his own blood, he stumbled out into traffic. Tires squealed as a car hit Lawningston and flung him into the path of another car. The second car skidded and plowed into the cars parked across the street with Lawningston under everything.
Rocco wished he had a camera as he turned and smashed the baby’s face with butt of his gun. He grabbed the handles of the carriage and ran towards the corner around which his wife waited. Behind him he heard someone shout out for the police.
“He’s going that way!”
Rocco glanced back over his shoulder and saw an old woman pointing in his direction for the benefit of several machine gun toting MUGS.
Rocco ignored the command and kept running. He heard a mass of clicking as he turned the corner.
Rocco’s wife waited in silence as he slid out of the trench coat and pulled the baby out of the carriage. She slipped the bag into the carriage, grabbed the handle and started running. Rocco caught a glimpse of her smile as he ducked down the adjacent subway entrance. He stopped a few steps down and peered over the rim of the stairwell as the MUGS turned the corner onto the street.
Rocco watched as a spray of bullets ripped his wife into a million pieces. She collapsed onto the pavement, the carriage rolling a few feet further on before stopping. The MUGS didn’t hesitate at all, but like fools raced to the carriage. Rocco turned and descended the stairwell almost falling in his haste. As he reached the bottom step, he heard yelling and closed his eyes as the bomb in the carriage exploded. As he sat down in the subway car and the doors closed with a hiss, he realized he had his first erection in three years.
Rocco’s prey lay upon the dining room table, tied down. The torture had gone on long enough and Rocco put down the electrical cables. Nero, the baby’s name was Nero, had talked, pleaded, screamed and choked himself hoarse. Rocco knew so many things now, things he did not care about at all. He took off his insulated gloves and picked up a meat cleaver.
Rocco wanted it to go on longer, but exhaustion forced him to end it early. Anyway, the neighbors were complaining about the noise.
The baby looked at him and mouthed a curse with the little energy left to it.
“Let’s see what makes you tick.”
The cleaver severed the head in a clean sweep. It rolled off the table and thudded upon the floor.
His eyes closed and his head back, Rocco’s spirited laughter filled the apartment. It was a life defining image of man’s ultimate victory over justice and of truth. Then he opened his eyes and his laughter died.
There was no blood. The anticipated red spewing of life forces that had caused Rocco’s downfall wasn’t happening. Rocco creeped his way around the table to peer down the stump of the baby’s neck. There was nothing though. The baby was hollow.
Rocco covered his eyes with his hands and thought he was crazy.
Suddenly, a quiet whisper of a voice filled Rocco’s ears.
“Can’t kill me.”
Rocco uncovered his eyes and watched in silence as a river of vibrant glowing red mist tumbled from the opened neck and spilled to the floor. Like a snake it flowed through the apartment. Rocco followed it hunched over and mouth ajar. It flowed out of the kitchen and into the living room, down the hall and underneath the children’s room door.
Rocco crouched before the steel door, his eyes wide and his face lifeless as the giggling of children began.
Now, Rocco sits before the window staring. He missed his medical examination the day before and assumes the retirement paperwork is traveling across desks gathering signatures. He waits for the call that will inform him that he has a week before the exit interview team visits.
He listens to endless laughter emanating from the children’s room. He can hear the baby whispering from inside. It has been two days since the baby died and the children haven’t eaten since then.
He listens as they plan out loud what to do to him.
Soon, he’ll open the door himself. What’s the point of keeping it closed? They no longer fear him.
He holds his gun close to his chest and watches the day turn into night. A storm moves in from the sea and hides the yellow disc of the sun behind coal black clouds. The storm mutes the twilight and it is long after the sun has set beneath the horizon that Rocco realizes it is gone.
The Assassin is the third title of this story that will not leave me alone. Originally called Rocco and the Baby, the title morphed into Twilight a good decade before our sparkly friends sucked the joy out of life. The Assassin attempts to finish the triptych of titles foisted up this poor ragged story and our anti-hero.
I loath to use the word “hero” at all regarding Rocco, but he is the hero of his own story. May that serve him well in hell.
The idea for this story started as a challenge between me and a friend in college named Suzy. An aspiring author herself, we found ourselves with differing opinions about what made a good story and what consisted of literature. I tended toward the zany and sarcastic while she took things more serious and always spoke of symbolism. She was also, or still is as I haven’t spoken to her in a million years, a fan of John Cheever. I think of her every time I watch Seinfeld.
During a drive into Dallas one afternoon we hatched a challenge for ourselves. We would come up with a sentence and then each of us would write our own story using it as the opening. Without thinking I blurted out the first sentence of this short story. Suzy exclaimed that she would never write anything featuring such a sentence. Rather than offer up her own idea, she called off the challenge.
By forfeit, I declare myself the winner of the challenge no one cared about.