I. The Square Peg
There was nothing outwardly special about the house. It was old. It was in Vermont, and it often found itself being rented out to people who enjoyed skiing and putting maple syrup on everything. Tonight something else was going on inside. What that something was was secret, and the current inhabitants had gone to great lengths to ensure that it would remain that way.
A nameless man, who was minding his own business and at the same time guarding the rear door to the house thought he heard something but then decided he had been mistaken.
“It was nothing,” he said to himself while undoing the safety on his rifle and placing his finger on the trigger anyway because sometimes nothing turns out to be something after all.
It turns out, the nothing was something. It was death. His death. And it was quiet, almost silent.
The last thing the man heard was a bit of a “whoosh” coming from behind his left ear. That sound was the index finger of one Vincent Harris smoothly entering the back of the nameless man’s head like it was nothing more than wet sand, the action made a sound somewhere between a smush and a crunch. A gurgle and some blood bubbles oozed out of man’s mouth before he began slumping to the ground, never to get up. Vincent withdrew his finger from the inside the man’s head and wiped some goo on the recently deceased’s jacket. His face indicated his displeasure towards the goo.
Ten years of killing people with his finger and he still couldn’t get used to the goo. It smelled bad. It stayed on him even after it was wiped off. It was gross. Dogs loved it and bothered him constantly, licking his hands and wagging their tails while smiling dog smiles. It was too weird. He didn’t like it.
He’d been covered in just about everything that’s supposed to stay on the inside of the human body at some time, or another and back of the head brain goo was the worst. Different parts of the brain feel different ways. For example, the frontal lobe was a little meatier while the spot between the hemispheres was really gritty. These differences weren’t something he noticed right away. It had taken a few years before it became apparent to him.
Eyeballs, on the other hand, were a whole other story. As long as he went into the eye socket from the side and didn’t pop the eyeball, it wasn’t so bad. Eyeball popping was easy to avoid. The index finger to the back of the head scenario was far more common, much to the near constant disappointment of Vincent Harris.
Goo wasn’t the only thing he found it difficult to get used to. The weird diet he was forced to follow was a nightmare and the strange sex powers that were by-products of his training annoyed him.
He ate no vegetables. No meat except for the occasional fish. Lots of coconuts and kale. No alcohol, except twice a year just to remind himself why he doesn’t drink more often. No sugar. Eggs were ok, but only duck eggs. The list went on and on, and it made enjoying a meal at a restaurant nearly impossible.
The strange sex powers were a disappointment. They came in handy here and there, but he long ago parted ways with sex as a means to pleasure. His training had transformed his notion of pleasure and introduced him to ecstatic states he’d never bothered to dream of. Intimacy, in any of its forms, wasn’t something a person in his position could afford.
Everything he could do he could do because he knew how to breathe and how to think correctly. Most people are capable of thinking and breathing, but not of thinking and breathing correctly. The correctly part makes all the difference. There’s a little more to it, but not much. It has to do with the nervous system and alchemy.
If that sounds like bullshit, it’s because it does.
Under the irritatingly watchful eye of his teacher Mu, Vincent was transformed from a worthless wino into something hardly human. He was now someone who existed at the very limit of human potential. This wasn’t your mother’s mindfulness crap; it was something else entirely. It had no name, so it could never be spoken of.
This insured it remained a secret. For centuries the teachings of this nameless art were handed down from master to pupil. Those few who have encountered its masters and survived tended not to speak of the encounter. The feats of this nameless art’s practitioners were beyond words. To even attempt to speak of them would result in one being branded a lunatic or worse.
He couldn’t get used to any of it, no matter how hard he tried to resolve himself to his fate, he couldn’t. It normally didn’t bother him so much. But it was cold tonight, and Vermont was weird, like Texas but different. He was supposed to be on vacation, but this mission cut it short. He was two states over and napping just a few hours ago. Now he was here, doing this. If he had been permitted to stay where he was and allowed to finish reading his Destroyer novel. Had he been permitted to take a long hot shower like he planned and do this killing stuff tomorrow, he might not have minded so much. That wasn’t the case. He turned his attention back to where he was.
Vincent checked the dead body for a wallet. He didn’t find one, not that he thought he would. These were pros. After hiding the dead man behind a pile of wood, he walked back to the house and slipped through the door without a sound. It was locked, but that never mattered. Doors were easier to open with his fingers than skulls were.
Vincent Harris soon found himself in a poorly lit kitchen. He stood still. He adjusted his eyes to the available lighting and looked around. His heartbeat slowly, his breathing was undetectable. If he chooses to move, he will do so in silence. He heard a pair of women’s voices coming from the basement but couldn’t make out what they were saying. He smelled a man and could hear him breathing, but he wasn’t currently speaking. He knew there was nothing going on upstairs.
Nothing was weird or unusual about the kitchen he stood in. A table with two chairs. A third chair against the wall, under a cabinet. The sink was empty save for an empty wine bottle.
He began to make his way towards the basement, towards the voices. His footsteps made no sounds. A cat walked right past him, without even registering his presence. Even though he was visible in the poorly lit kitchen, he cast no shadow, and no one- not even cats- would notice him unless he wanted them to. Hiding his shadow was old hat now, but the trick gave him plenty of trouble when he first started out.
Vincent Harris opened the basement door with the same silence that he had done everything else with this evening and eyeballed the staircase. The women’s voices could still be heard. The man he smelled was still silent.
Pausing for a moment, Vincent sniffed the air, and a puzzled look came across his face. Blinking twice, he reached into his pocket and pulled out something that resembled a small hand grenade. It was filled with sleeping gas instead of a potential explosion. He pulled the pin and tossed it down the steps. He stepped back and shut the door, while he began to count.
When he reached fifty, he re-opened the door and walked down the steps like it was his house. It might as well have been. The lights were on, but nobody was home.
Turning right at the bottom of the staircase, he saw exactly what he thought he would see. An unconscious, over weight, bald man in a cheap gray suit. He had a briefcase next to him, and there was a half-full wine glass sitting in front of him. A few feet away, on an end table that had obviously been fished out of the trash under the pretense of refinishing it, was a tape player. From the tape player came the voices of two women.
Vincent Harris knew what he was going to see and was not the least bit surprised by anything in his view. That didn’t mean he knew what was going on. He didn’t know why the man was playing a recording of two women talking, why there was an armed guard out back. He didn’t know what was in the brief case or why he was ordered to retrieve it and return it without viewing its contents.
His job wasn’t to know things. His job was to kill who he was told to kill. He was just doing a job, nothing more. Some people answer phones; some people work at a desk, he did this. He might not always like it but he didn’t have to like it, he just had to do it.
He grabbed the briefcase, broke the sleeping man’s neck and walked out like he was heading home from an annoying day at the office. That’s all this was to him.
Once outside, he retrieved the dead body from the wood pile and brought it into the kitchen. He then planted several explosive charges around the house. When he was finished, and far enough away, he detonated them.
The charges had a special chemical signature which when discovered by investigators, would let them know they should halt their investigation immediately.
“What a day,” Vincent said to himself while staring at the moon. “You know what I mean?” The moon looked back at him like it didn’t even hear him. He shook his head and hid in the trees surrounding the burning house and watched. He wasn’t looking for anything in particular, just making sure that no one came running out of the house as it finished burning.
About fifteen minutes after the explosion Vincent watched as a non-descript rental car pulled up to the what remained of the flaming house.
“That’s probably not supposed to be happening” he muttered.
A woman stepped out of the car, noted with a disappointed stare that something had gone horribly wrong and pulled a cell phone from her coat pocket.
She dialed a number and waited for three rings before someone picked up on the other end.
“Agent 34 on site.” She whispered into the phone “Something went wrong. House on fire. Please advise.” She hung up the phone, placed it back where it came from, got into the car and drove away.