Shortly before the tired locomotive settled into its place just shy of the platform, a slight figure wrapped in a plain shawl strode carefully across the deck of the baggage loading dock. The afternoon light was fading into amber as shadows lengthened between buildings into stretched caricatures. The veiled woman passed without reaction through the coughs of steam from the dull black workhouse’s cylinders as it breathed an overdue sigh of rest.
A small boy in stained ruddy rags looked up at the woman as she passed the end of the baggage platform and walked without hesitation toward the depot agent’s office. As she passed him, she flashed her eyes to those of the young boy and calmly whispered, “Run…” Without breaking stride or turning her head she heard the boy scrambling to flee and maintained her gait through the door.
Stopping methodically at a precise point on the floor, midway between the room’s only prior occupant and the door she stood with her left foot slightly ahead of the right and her upper body rotated 30 degrees to the left. Having trained for this moment for most of her adolescence, the cloaked woman had never assumed this pose in action once in her career. It was not a movement she had imagined she would ever exercise in practice because its singular objective was at odds with her image of the very purpose of her calling… before today
The rotund, overall-clad creature behind the desk in the dingy office slowly reacted and turned to see two barely visible hazel eyes peer hauntingly from the bulk of cloth. At first the gruff agent spat an annoyed rebuke. “You’re lost. What are—“
An emotionless, hollow voice emanated from the wrapped apparition in a cold monotone, “You’re found.”
As he froze, the room seemed to darken into frigid twilight as the two remained motionless. He hadn’t recognized the voice, and yet… he somehow knew who, or at least what she was. He understood her stature and knew he had time for nothing. Should he beg? Her voice had said that there was no hope, without any more than those two words. He had always known there was this chance… well, this certainty. Greed has neither conscience nor discretion, and so it had inevitably claimed another.
The visitor stood counting time, waiting for the shift she knew was coming. She had already carefully considered where this moment would lead. It could have two possible consequences. In one event, she would lose her life; a life that had seen her family’s fortune crumble at her own insistence on honesty and fair-play—integrity, whatever that was. A life that had seen her lose her friends, her professional future, her very desire to continue it. A life that had seen her shatter her family for principles evidently shared by none within it. In the second event, she might begin a new life, a new career; a new beginning; a rare opportunity in the life of a spook for redemption. In either event she saw neither plus nor minus, only change. As it falls, so be it.
Finally the agent’s desperate shaky voice called out, almost pleadingly, “Can I ask… how you found me?…”
It was the signal she had waited for. It signalled his reaction. As he reached for something behind the desk, she flatly whispered, “No.” A glint of blued steel appeared only momentarily from between the folds of the shadowed woman’s cloak and there was a soft but insistent pop. Before he had even processed the movement, his feet blew out from beneath him as his shoulders flew backward and dropped.
The empty hazel eyes monitored coldly as the depot agent landed in a gasping mass of writhing panic. The projectile had entered through the right ventricle of the heart and shattered the shoulder blade on its way through the wall into both of their destinies. Slow and heavy, but silent for close range. She had paid attention in weaponry class after all, and always insisted on pressing her own cartridges.
She used the 2 or 3 minutes she expected him to remain alive and conscious to calmly, indeed coldly conclude her answer: “I’m done being the only person in this town with no secrets. I know how I found you; in your position the detail has no more relevance than any other.” As she then turned toward the door, she paused and slowly turned to set her gaze on his eyes as they began fading into oblivion. A faint trace of frown turned the corner of her mouth to the floor in her first hint of sentiment as she then added with some focused intensity, “Consider your life inequitable exchange for my innocence. You’ve had a bargain, traitor…”By the time those words had ceased reverberation throughout the small chamber, only one life remained in the room.
All was still for a moment before she turned to exit calmly, no thought in her mind but wondering whether she might ever need that assassin’s pose again in her career, should that career continue after this fateful afternoon. Without any further such thought she strode out the door as she had entered and into whatever future fate would offer her, without any concern for the first time in her life.