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The car's parked at the end of the street. It's just there, an ordinary car that looks no more out of place than the station wagon parked a few meters away from it. Two minutes ago, a man got out of the car and walked into the house. He was wearing Sunday casuals, the open-collar shirt and brown trousers that scream 'middle-class suburbian'.

You sit in the station wagon. Watching. Around you, the houses line the street. There's a kid cycling and another one roller-blading, going down the street and up again, doing nothing but still having fun on a boring Sunday afternoon. The leaves haven't quite caught up with the season, still more green than brown although a few litter the ground whenever an early fall wind blows.

A dog barks. There's a snap. Cigarette lighter.

Light, inhale, exhale.

"I hate dogs."

You nod, not really paying attention to anything except to the door that the man disappeared into a few minutes ago, and the gun on the seat. Long, black, sleek. Of course, it has a silencer fitted onto the barrel, as all of them do. Every gun that's hidden in this car, in the trunk or under the seat in front of you looks exactly like the one you're using right now. Down to the obliterated serial number, filed away meticulously by hands whose owner is right now face down in a mound of leaves somewhere far away from here.

You look at your watch. You've been here for a month of Sundays, always parked in your usual spot, where you can see the door of house no. 16, the brass numbers on green. He usually stays there for five minutes before heading out and driving away, laughing and shaking the hand of an elderly man to whom he bears more than a passing resemblance.

Maybe they're brothers or maybe a father and son. Maybe you don't really care. Maybe you know who the man is and because of that, you don't care.

You don't care that this man has a family in another house in another quiet neighborhood, just like this one. Two kids, a boy and a girl. The boy loves baseball and teasing his sister. The girl's been raised to play with her Barbie dolls and look pretty in white dresses and blond pigtails. His wife, a blond bombshell of a housewife, model turned mother. On a day like this, they'll set up the picnic table in the yard with the pretty flowers being arranged in the vase she got from her mother as an anniversary present. He'll play tag with the kids and she'll put out paper cups and plates, dainty sandwiches and orange squash.

You don't care that right now, the kids are hanging on the gate, laughing in the afternoon sun as they wait for daddy to come home. The grass is always perfect, freshly mown, and the leaves that fell last night were raked up and piled in a corner, to be stuffed into trash bags later. The boy runs to the pile and dives into it, the leaves sticking in his chestnut-brown hair as he laughs and throws them in the air.

You just don't care. Again, you pick up the gun on the seat, running your gloved fingers along its fine details, ignoring the strong smell of cigarette smoke and sweat in the car. Something you've gotten so used to that you feel uneasy when you don't sense those odors in the air.

It's almost five minutes.

Almost show time.

The mask sits on the seat, one of those black ski masks that everyone in this job wears. Holes in it, not for identification but for necessity. The whole purpose of wearing a mask is to hamper identification. Sure, in the movies, for some reason the guy pulls off his mask too early so that some horrified kid catches a glimpse of his face and there goes the whole wild goose chase. But those are the movies and this is not Hollywood. There is no happily ever after with the bad guy behind bars.

You don't remove your mask; you never remove your mask too soon. You're going to have that mask on your face for a good period of time, until you're far from this neighborhood, far from the family, far from the man lying face down in a pile of leaves with his face full of bullet holes and his fingerprints filed off in the same way as the serial number on the gun. Might as well get used to it now.

4 minutes, 39 seconds.

The car shudders as it springs to life, easing slowly out of the cramped parking space between the Nissan and the old Volvo. You roll the window down as you slide over to it, gun in the left hand, right resting on the doorframe. Black gloved fingers on shiny paint. If there was one image to be the opposite of suburban bliss it would be you, the stereotypical suburban intruder. A man with a gun. Everyone's nightmare.

4 minutes, 46 seconds.

The car moves towards the house slowly, trundling along well within the speed limit, a rarity. You fumble in your pocket for the photograph, the only connection you have with the man in Sunday casuals. The faces of everyone else in the happy family photo have been blackened out, black marker crosses over all of them, uncle Pete and cousin Louis. It's only him and a little boy who remain, a little boy with a big grin and his father's high school ring on a string around his neck. Systematic elimination, they call it. Remove all others until you get to the core. The root of everything.

This isn't the first time. Maybe it'll be your last... maybe. After all, X marks the spot and there's only one spot left to go.

4 minutes, 57 seconds.

You're in front of the house now, and as you move so the barrel of the gun barely sticks out of the window, the ring that hangs around your neck on the black weathered string hits your chest. You've worn that ring for twenty years now. Twenty years ago, the man in the photo gave you the ring, and a promise that you would always be daddy's little boy, his favorite. A lie. Twenty years ago, you came home from your fifth birthday party with your dad, holding his hand and smiling whenever he said that you were his tiger.

Twenty years ago, you woke up at night when two bullets tore through the silence of your home and your mother's stomach, killing her and your unborn brother. When you got to her room, she was on the floor, still alive, and he held the gun, still smoking, she cried out and he pointed the gun at her again and fired. You only watched as her brains spattered on the cupboard door and you knew that she would have been upset because she hated seeing a mess. Those were three bullets.

You knew where the other three bullets would go when he pointed the gun at you, only five years old that night in your superman pajamas with your teddy held by the scruff of the neck.

5 minutes, 03 seconds.

The door of the house opens and you get ready, watching as the man laughs at some joke. He's balding and his belly protrudes over the waistline of his pants, wobbling slightly. Your average middle-aged man. He shakes that old hand he always shakes, him and his damn routine. You could do this with your eyes closed but there's only satisfaction to be gained in watching the blood spill over. He turns around, pauses on the first step.

You pull the trigger. One bullet in the leg.

That night, you dragged yourself across the floor of the house, your face streaked with tears and blood, your right leg shattered to bits by the force of the blast. Teddy was long gone, a headless bundle of fluff that was stuck to your pajamas, and in the little light there was that night, it looked like Teddy was bleeding on the bedroom floor with your mother while you shed red tears of pain. Now, you only watch as he topples off the step, and you nod to the old man who peers through the window of the front room, smiling softly as he gives you a grin. Mouths, 'go get him, tiger' as the man tries to drag himself up the steps to the partially closed door before it slams in front of his eyes. The old familiar feeling of been there, done that.

It's your trademark, perhaps. Or it could just be the whole cliched idea of giving someone what's due unto them. Pity he only has one life to give in return for the two he took.

Again, you steady yourself, feeling the ring hit against your chest as you pull the trigger, feel the recoil of the gun. One bullet in the stomach.

You can remember when your grandfather took you to the funeral, two coffins being laid side by side. One was so tiny that you didn't know if anything could fit in there. Your grandfather only shook his head then, lifted you out of your wheelchair and pointed to the gravestone. His name was Jeremy, and his birthday was actually a day after he died.

It made perfect sense to you then, and it makes perfect sense to you now. You watch as he grimaces in pain, eyes dilated, looking for what was going on, staring right at you but not seeing you from only a few feet away. His hand covers the wound, bright red seeping blood dying his fingers. In a way you're disappointed because you can remember seeing him through the red haze that covered everything, seeing him panic and seeing him run. You'd like to him to see you, see you just standing there and being a man, something he never was.

Ready, aim, fire. One bullet to the head.

You don't even have to look at him to see what a mess his brains make on the concrete stairs. You know that brains are hard to scrape off once they attach themselves to surfaces and you make a mental note to send a check to the old man and an apology note for ruining his front porch. They're not really pink like in those cartoons that parents don't really know their kids are watching, the cartoons that work in minds of little children. Your Saturday morning violence, served with cornflakes and orange juice. Would you like a slice of bread and butter?

His brains are gray and you're actually mildly surprised at the picture. It all looks so... so... neat, so organized. It's not chaotic destruction and neither is it gruesome. Packaged death in three easy steps. It looks more like Teddy's been bleeding on the porch steps again, gray fluff and bloodstains.

5 minutes, 21 seconds.

You fall back into the car as it speeds off, gun falling, hand clutching ring. Tires squealing and a wide-eyed kid staring at the car, reflected in the rear-view mirror. Another black cross and now the photograph is complete, it's not just a photo anymore. It's a work of art. There's only one detail missing, and you crumple it in your hands, then out the window it goes. Crumpled black crosses floating away, the little boy's grin crushed under the wheels of a station wagon.


You look up, glance at eyes in the mirror. Shrug. "Not really. Nothing I've never seen before."

"Still. I couldn't. I mean... spatter my old man over a porch step."

"Just shut up and drive."



© Marziya Mohammedali, 2001-2013