written by: Michael McCarthy
I’m standing in front of a café where I’m meeting somebody, behind me is a sparsely peopled beach and then the calm sea. It’s summer but the sun seems reluctant to show itself.
I always wait for a moment before entering any form of building, even those I’m familiar with. I like to compose myself and check out my surroundings.
Whenever I have a commission, I always meet my contact at this café. I’m a creature of habit.
I go inside, the bell on the door announcing my arrival; the café is quite spacious with twenty or so tables, most of which are occupied by singles and couples of all ages. I know this place well, it’s very old fashioned, which suits me.
I don’t have to pay for anything here; we go back a long way, but when I leave, I always place some bank notes on the counter, and they put them in a charity collection box.
They don’t make a fuss of me, but there are gestures and looks; a nod or holding eye contact just that little bit longer, but seldom words. It speaks volumes, on both sides. We know what we have but we don’t take it for granted, that would mean the end of something.
I like routine, so when I come here, I order a pot of Earl Grey and a slice of homemade apple cake; take my usual table by the window, it’s always empty although there’s no reserved sign on it; read through past editions of the local paper; I’m originally from around here so I like to see what’s been going on in my absences.
I’m an irregular regular customer, but they can rely on me. When I’ve finished my tea and cake and read the papers from cover to cover, I look out of the window. I like to look at the sea. It humbles me and I need that sometimes. If a storm is brewing, the waves rearing up bent on destruction, I might even order another tea and watch nature give us an object lesson in the natural order of things. We all need to be put in our place, every now and again.
Today, because of my appointment, I’ll dispense with my usual practice. I don’t know the person I’m meeting; my regular contact is unavailable, there’s a constant turnover of staff in this business, it’s inevitable.
I also know that I’ll recognize his replacement when I see him or her. The same applies to him or her, I’m sure.
That must be him, the man who’s pretending not to look around, and he’s sitting at a table, nursing a glass of orange juice, right at the back under a large oil painting depicting a huge storm that hit here long before my time. I take a seat opposite him and wait for my tea, they won’t bring me cake if I’m meeting someone. As I said, they know me here.
The first thing we do is lock eyes like two boxers trying to psyche each other out for the benefit of a not so gullible public. One of us will, inevitably, look away first. That’ll probably be me. After all, I don’t have anything to prove. His eyes are searching mine. He won’t see much. I’ve been in this business much longer than him, I sense that. We break eye contact simultaneously and get down to business.
There’s a brown A4 size envelope lying on the table between us, with the tip of his index finger he pushes it closer to me.
I say, “Thank you.” I’m always polite. In my experience it pays dividends; it can lull people into a false sense of security.
I pull out four folded sheets of paper from the envelope, on them is detailed information on the target. I insist on this. I can afford to. No info, no hit. I enjoy an excellent reputation. I read through the details slowly and think unhurriedly about each one. I sense his impatience and decide to linger over some points. When I’m good and ready, I put the papers back into the envelope, fold it and put it in my inside pocket. I’ll read through these facts again later, they know that, but up to now, they’ve always been straight with me.
Our eyes don’t really meet again, but something has been understood between us. I get up to go.
I’m not paying for his juice. He can. That’s also understood. By me. I don’t look at him as I leave but I’m sure he’s looking at me; I know he expected to run this meeting, his pride’s been hurt. I may have made an enemy of him.
People in this game can be very petty and sensitive and are known for harboring grudges.
As I leave the café the sun finally breaks through the banks of cloud. I walk along the beach to the right until I come to a small, locked, dirty, old bunker like building. Behind it is a patch of overgrown land. I spend a few minutes squeezing through a mass of rocks and wild growing bushes, trees and weeds before I find myself on a trail which is apparently invisible to the casual holiday maker and, it would seem, the locals.
Eventually I come to a huge dirty yellow rock formation facing the sea, it’s veined with a series of thin rock pathways, ‘my place’.
It’s a natural phenomenon. Perhaps it’s the result of erosion, either way it’s a fragile looking thing of haunting beauty.
The first time I came here I scaled it and crawled my way through it until I reached a recess, like a seat, on the left, which wasn’t visible from my point of entry, or anywhere else for that matter.
I found ‘my place’ because I needed to, not because I was looking for it.
After I complete a mission, I go to the café and then, ‘my place’. I call it ‘my place’, because I’ve never seen anybody else here.
It’s always warm and late afternoon when I come here. When the weather is inclement, I don’t come and I don’t work, full stop.
I sit here and I think and meditate, luxuriating in the heat of the sun.
I meditate on what I do and why I do it. I try to look into my heart, my soul and my mind. I’ve come to the conclusion that they’re all one and the same so maybe I should expend a little less effort on the navel gazing. I contemplate my assignments and ponder whether I need to justify what I do. I don’t. That’s why I insist on a list of details of the target’s life; reason for the hit, family, place of birth, life history, health details, habits etc. I only deal with people who deserve what’s coming to them.
Some people are better off dead. Some are possibly even happier.
I’ve never seen or heard or felt the presence of another person in all my visits here. The only sounds I’ve detected are the keening of sea birds in the blue sky, the gentle lapping of the waves, or the whispering of the wind.
Otherwise I’m alone. I prefer it that way.
One day I’ll get out of this business. When I get tired of it.
Then I’ll come here and decide what to do next.
I don’t think that day will be long in coming. There comes a time in this business, usually when you start, when you know the end is coming.
We all think we’ll get out, that there’ll be ‘just one last assignment,’ then we’ll quit. By that time your replacement is already breathing down your neck.
Few, if any, make it.
When I do leave, I’ll come here.
Nobody will ever find me.
I make my way back and, walking across the sand, I can still make out my earlier footprints.
As usual my assignment went like clockwork. They always do. The secret is, I’m well prepared. I don’t leave anything to chance.
As is my custom after completion of a commission I go back to the café. It’s closed. That’s strange.
I go to ‘my place’. I’ve never known it to be this tranquil. It’s more beautiful than ever.
You can have too much of a good thing. I decide to leave.
As I retrace my steps, I notice the sand is unblemished. I look back and see it’s completely smooth, as though I haven’t been here.
That feels right.
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