He wanted to know if I had ever killed a man.
"Personally or impersonally?"
I sighed and drew my pistol.
"If I shot you, right here, right now, that would be personally. If I turned your head into an impressionist painting spattered across your wall, that would be personally."
His eyes were wide and spoke for him. How'd you get a gun up, oh Jesus, he wouldn't would he?
I smiled coolly and put away my snub-nosed revolver. I twisted my mind sideways and my eyes rolled back in their sockets. I heard his gasp and grinned. They were here.
My eyes returned to normal but my mind was still wracked with the strain of maintaining their presence. The world slowly came back into focus.
Mr. Rook stood beside me. He dusted stray pebbles from his suit coat and adjusted his bow tie. A stone hand delicately held a saucer, while he sipped green tea from a porcelain cup larger than my head.
Trevor sat on the corner of Mr. Esk's desk. He was polishing his twin Colt .45s. Trevor winked at me, his sunglasses sliding down his furred nose.
James, Manfred, Charles, and Whitfield had already begun to lay waste to Mr. Esk's office. James was busy flourishing his knives, carving obscenities into the wall, promptly forgetting the few spelling lessons I had given. Manfred and Whitfield were busy laying wire about the office. This didn't concern me until I realized it was detonator cord. Charles was, for once, behaving himself. We had gone over beforehand how bad an idea it would be to torch Mr. Esk's office. However, this did not stop the reddish purple imp from toying with his 8-Ball lighter.
Finally, there was Mr. Jonathan. He was silent as usual, top hat and cravat in impeccable condition. His long coat was strain-free and had been meticulously attended to. As a result, the wool overcoat seemed to drink in the cheap light of Mr. Esk's office. Mr. Jonathan had his straight-razor out and lightly pressed against Mr. Esk's plump throat.
"Present." Landslide. Avalanche. Cave-In.
A series of explosions. A knife embedded in a family photo. A burning patch of carpet.
"Heah boss." Driftwood. Tumbleweed. Iron Horse.
"Mr. Jonathan Wulf."
"Accounted for." Big Ben. Fog. Body under a streetlight.
Mr. Esk dripped with sweat, his porcine face drained of blood.
"This, sir, is the other half of your inquiry. If I let my associates deal with you, that would be killing you impersonally."
"N-no... They'd... they'd be killing me."
Mr. Jonathan promptly corrected him.
"Mr. Esk, you fail to understand Mr. Nod. We are in his head. Therefore, we are him. If I slit your throat from ear to ear, it would be no different than if he did it himself."
Mr. Esk's eyes looked to me.
"It's true. These are my dreams, Mr. Esk; the ones that came to me when my dear brother put me in a coma. They now come when I call and do as I ask."
Another series of explosions took the door off its hinges and most of the south wall with it.
"What... what do you want?"
"You had a job offer for me as I recall. You also asked me a question, which I believe is now answered. Therefore, all that is required is your answer to this question; do you require our services?"
Everyone grew still, leaning into the black hole of Mr. Esk's silence.
The imps erupted with glee, dancing about, chanting vulgar punk songs that they barely remembered. The Brothers Wulf shook hands, grinning through razor teeth. Mr. Rook stood silently, finishing off his cup of tea. I released my mind and they were gone.
But James' knife was still buried in Mr. Esk's family photo. The entire east wall was pockmarked with craters, there were some places punched all the way through. His personal assistant watched us fearfully from the other side.
"Near enough. I take it you accept our bid then?"
He shook his head, jowls wobbling.
"Nod, I told you, the fee goes to the successful party. You and another party have been contracted for this. Only one collects. First to terminate the target gets their bid."
"I see. Any briefing materials?"
He reached into his desk and drew out a manila envelope.
"Everything you'll need to know is in there."
"Good day to you Mr. Esk. We will be seeing you."
I tipped my bowler and left his office. As I walked away, I heard him talking to his assistant.
"I hate dealing with goddamned twelve year-olds."
I couldn't help but smile.
He rode the elevator for the third time. The attendant didn't
recognize him this time either. This time, when the doors closed, he
stayed on board.
He crushed the attendant's windpipe 2.3 seconds after the elevator doors slid shut. He then snapped the attendant's neck. 4 seconds after the doors shut. He flipped open the floor compartment with the toe of his shoe as he peeled the attendant's jacket off. He then traded trousers with the corpse before kicking it into the compartment. 9 seconds. He was already standing by the board of controls when the doors slid open again. 11 seconds. A single executive, Tomas Carmichael, boarded the elevator. He was 6 minutes away from punching back in from lunch.
"What's your name again? You know, I've worked here since the place was built and I don't know your name. I keep drawing a complete..."
"Right. Right. Drawing a blank."
The executive's phone rang.
"Excuse me, this'll take a minute."
Jefferson Blank nodded. It always took 3 minutes, 14 seconds for Mr. Carmichael's afternoon call from his wife. In 3 minutes, 20 seconds, he would be dead and stuffed into the floor compartment as well.
In 2 days, 3 hours, 14 minutes, and 11 seconds, Jefferson Blank would have worked
his way through enough officials and would be at his target's door.
Jefferson Blank had a job to do.
Jefferson Blank was just a face in the crowd.
Jefferson Blank did not exist.
"Hey, what's-your-name, this is my stop."
He hung up his phone.