A Final Gift
® 2011 D. Paul Angel
He awoke suddenly with the feeling that something was deeply amiss. The curtains of his motel leaked the parking lot lights through just enough to give a dim, glowering shading to the spartan room. He slowly moved his eyes across the part of the room that he could see while staying just as still as as sleep. He focused and calmed his breathing to avoid letting an enemy know he was now awake. After a few minutes he put a hitch in his breathing and fitfully rolled over in the bed. As he brought his breathing back he saw that this side of the room was also clear.
He reached under the pillow and grabbed the Kel-Tec .380. It wouldn't stop someone in their tracks like a .45, but it could still disable them or, if his aim was good enough, kill. As he looked around the room again he noticed a shape on the night stand that shouldn't be there. Illuminated by his BlackBerry's luminous clock, he saw the vague, shadowy outline of a box. With, a bow?
He weighed his options carefully. If it was someone in the room, they could've already shot him. Or worse. If the box was a bomb, waiting only prolonged the chances of detonation. He didn't bother trying to figure out who was behind it, there were simply too many. 19 years as an operative had certainly seen to that, he thought. As did the parade of dead faces he saw every, single, night before he went to sleep. They didn't appear unbidden, he had to force them up from the depths of his memories. He had read that the guilty were constantly haunted by remembrances of their victims, so he brought them up as a penance. There were dozens of them now, scattered across 5 Continents. He watched the slow march of their eyes behind his every night and felt, Nothing.
My edge is gone, he realized. He wasn't even sure exactly when it had left. He had chalked the close call in Rome up to the accumulation of chance. A byproduct of the Gambler's Fallacy to be sure, but it had a ring of veracity about it nonetheless. Uganda had also been close, but that was more about the hesitation than anything. Women, he knew all too well, could be just as evil as men; but that didn't stop him from brief hesitations here and there. In Uganda though, he felt his own hesitancy. Thinking in his game was a mixed blessing. Absolutely necessary for planning, for ad-libbing, helping with both incursion and, especially, excursion. But, when it came to the act itself, it was a hindrance.
Perhaps he had just been in the job too long? Too old? Unable to lock his mind down, to excise all options save the single necessary path of termination; "That's going to kill you someday, Johnny," he muttered softly. Perhaps it already has...
There, on the end table, was a box with a ribbon on it that had not been there before. He hadn't woken when it was delivered, nor when the person left. If they had wanted him dead, he would be. And yet, he didn't care. Having taken so much life, even for the best of reasons, had taken its toll on him. He had known before every mission that he was expendable, but that was different. That was a known, weighed risk for a short time. This was far more permanent. Almost apathy, but more just sadness.
It was true when not on a mission that he had known a lifetime of intimate pleasures, and had he had certainly never gone to bed alone except by choice. And yet, that too had trailed off recently. It was all the same after awhile. The prelude and epilogue were always part of the game, but now even the game itself seemed to lack in substance. His experience may have been wider than most save rock stars, but it had never been any deeper than a handful of inches. All those scores, hundreds really, and the only one he desired was the one who had said, "No." It wasn't the rejection itself, he'd known enough of those, and this was for, "professional," reasons. It was that he lost the only one he had ever truly cared for.
Even as he realized it was time for him to retire, he knew he wasn't ready to simply give up yet, either. Not your time, yet. Not today. He pulled the gun from under the pillow threw the blanket one way and rolled the other. He quickly and efficiently cleared the room, twice, and only then did he allow himself to inspect the box. With a single quick sigh he sat at the edge of the bed, turned on the lamp, and set his .380 on the pillow beside him.
The box was a white cube, four inches to the side. A single red bow was atop of it. He picked it up and found it quite light with a slight rattle. Whatever it was, it was not a bomb. He opened it to find an airline ticket to Barbados, hotel key there, and airport locker key. Then he noticed the simple handwritten note under the lid,
I'm officially retired. No more Winter's,
no more coldness. Just Warmth. Just life.
Join me. I left you the way, I just hope
you can take the same path I have.
I love you. You are my One.
Another chance. was all he had thought before there was a soft, almost hesitant knock on the door. He went and opened it, leaving the gun on the pillow, and all caution aside, and he opened the door in ungaurded hope.
A man stood there. He had cold, blue eyes, rough Slavic features, a straggly Chesterfield, and a fatalist's resignation.
"Johnny?" he asked with temerity, leaving the sentence unfinished.
"Of course I'll come Boris," he answered grinning, "you were always the one for me."