(This is part of a story, I guess, or a novel, that has been simmering at the back of my head for a while. Since it won’t let me sleep, or work, or concentrate on my other projects, I thought I’d share what I have so far. Enjoy!)
There was a muffled sound, like someone clapping his hands while wearing thick gloves, and a strange, burnt smell.
The old man came out of my parents’ bedroom and told me that I had to come with him. He was not that old, I guess, but he had fine lines around his eyes and at the corners of his mouth, and he looked at me with something that might have been amusement, or might have been curiosity. Back then I was five. I did not question his order. Instead I grabbed my emergency backpack and Mr. Teddy, and we left.
My emergency backpack contained everything I needed, in case I ever had to run away from home. There was some clean underwear, two snickers bars and my favorite comic books. I dragged it down the stairs. We left the dark house, passed my parents‘ BMW in the driveway – engine still ticking – and got into a dark grey car with worn seats. I got to sit in the front. The old man belted me in. I looked out of the window as we drove away, but rain had begun to fall, and I could not make out a single shape in the dark.
Looking back, I do not understand why he didn’t kill me on the spot. The job was big money, and he really didn’t need a child. Especially not in his line of work. But he kept me around, never talking much, teaching me everything I needed to know. I grew from quiet boy to stubborn teenager, hardly ever thinking about my parents. In the beginning I accepted that they had sent me to live with the old man, and later – guess I never really thought about what had happened to them.
Don’t know when I picked up what exactly we were doing for a living. I remember endless lines of cheap motel rooms, or sleeping in the car, practicing my spelling while I waited for Mike to return. Then we would order hamburgers, and I would learn how to properly clean the weapons and get blood stains out of his favorite shirt.
Our ways parted when I was twenty-three, stubborn and silent and no longer willing to wait for “my time”, as he called it. I had killed by then, and tortured to learn rich people’s secrets, and had decided that this was not how I wanted to make a living. I wanted to see more of the world, find my own way.
Like so often, chance found me while I was trying to figure out what to do next. I had spent my last money on a dirty room in the outskirts of Singapore, a curvy whore with straw-colored hair and a bottle or bourbon. There was a knock on the door. The person in the hallway wanted to know whether I could find my way around the jungle. Just a short tour, easy money.
I had never been to the jungle.
Of course I said yes.
Three days later I had killed my first beast – a three-headed snake that was the stuff of legends, or nightmares. The client took the trophy and left a tall stack of money. I got as drunk as I had never been in my life, and a week later I took the next couple of guys on their special adventure.
See, if it can kill you, someone will want to shoot it. But with most beasts, the main problem is where to find them. You have to know the right people to show you the way, and the right people to help you get the weapons and the trophies from one country to the next. All this costs money. My clients don’t bother with the small stuff. As long as I deliver the adventure, everything is fine.
Funny how this job finally peaked my interest in old books. I try to locate new beasts, rare and dangerous, and learn the right ways to defeat them. Sometimes it is a powder with special ingredients, other times brute force will do the job. I am the expert, I am supposed to know these things.
This tour is no different. I have hired carriers from a man I trust, rented two jeeps, bought the equipment. Now I am waiting to pick up my client at Agadir Airport. It is late, the sun will be gone in a few moments. With calculated movements I light another cigarette. Unnecessary exhaustion has to be avoided at all costs. The coming days are going to be tough, and Fatima has taken her toll on me as well. I think of her dollar-sized nipples and her smile, and the fact that there is not a single hair left on her body except for that luscious black mane. We stayed up all night. I paid her generously.
The plane has touched ground a while ago, but everything takes its time in Morocco. By the time the person I think is my client steps out of the modern, rose-colored building, the stars have come out. The night is going to be cold. I step away from the jeep and grab her luggage. “Thank the gods you don’t have to pay me by the hour”, I tell the woman.
Her black hair falls to her shoulders like a helmet. Huge sunglasses cover most of her face. Which is ridiculous, considering the fact that it is night, and has been for some time. I let my eyes travel down and up her tiny frame. Expensive clothes, but practical. High heels. Hope she has brought sensible shoes.
“Don’t whine. Are we starting tonight?”
“I have booked a hotel in town. We will leave at dawn.”
Without another word she climbs into the passenger seat. We make our way into Agadir. Cars get in our way all the time. Instead of braking, I honk. My client does not even acknowledge the other people on the road. We might be the last two persons on earth.
The sweat on my back has chilled me to the bone by the time we reach our hotel. The club next door is open, and I glimpse Fatima dancing. I wave and escort my client into the hotel. The keys are in my pocket, and generous tips have made sure no questions are asked.
When I had my client the key card to her room, she stops me with the touch of her hand. “Where do I get a drink?”
“You don’t.” I look at her until her hand drops away from me. “If I have to wait for you, you’ll pay me extra. Good night.”
Still it is almost noon when I finally see her coming out of the hotel. The jeep, parked in the shadows, is nevertheless as hot as an oven. I haven’t slept well, tossing and turning between the cheap sheets, counting the tiles on the walls. Moroccan TV does not interest me. I got up before dawn, packed my stuff in the cars and have waited for her ever since, dozing on the back seat reserved for her luggage.
She only brings a tiny bag. Today her clothes are worn and practical, and she is wearing boots. From the distance already I can smell vodka on her lips.
We leave without another word. One of the carriers is driving the second jeep. He knows where we are going, so I do not worry about losing him in heavy traffic. I step on the gas pedal and head for the mountains.
We drive all day, only stopping once when we need new gas. The villages start disappearing. This is a forgotten country, even with the new highways and thousands of tourists pouring over the borders every year. The real county is about to get lost, and only adventurous wanderers glimpse its beauty. People like us.
Later that night we fuck in her tent. Her fingers are white against my skin, and surprisingly soft. She pushes me back on the blankets and mounts me, riding as if she had to escape from the desert. We rest, and then I roll her around and press my chest against her back. Her smell intoxicates me. It does not take long, and our moans echo from the rocks.
Morning finds us stretched out next to each other, and she idly caresses my chest. “I like my men with more hair”, she says in a purr. “Not that I am complaining.” Her pale finger traces the scar running down the right side of my body. “Angry client?”
“Angry troll”, I reply. The client was just a nuisance. He didn’t listen, almost died and put more holes in the troll’s pelt than you’d expect in an old wool blanket in a brothel. I later shot him when he would not pay as agreed, and sold the troll fur on the black market.
She scoots down next to me, and the next thing I know her lips are around my shaft, and she is sucking. At first I am not sure whether I still have the energy left for this, but then everything is finished in a matter of minutes.
“Why are you doing this?” she asks, gesturing vaguely. Her naked body is framed by the early sunlight. Her nipples cast prominent shadows. The mountain air is cold. “You could be a movie star, or a model.”
“Why are you here?” I ask in return, “you could be at home, fucking your millionaire husband until he drops from exhaustion and waste his money on strippers.” I hold her gaze. Her lips have gone white. “Of course I know who you are. We can never be careful enough. But don’t worry, your secret’s safe with me.” I get up, put on my pants and leave the tent. The stale smell disgusts me. Besides, it is time to get to work.
Legends were not clear, so I had to experiment with one of the few manticores living in captivity. The problem with putting them in zoos is not that they are hard to care for, for they do not die the way most exotic beings would. Instead they fade. The one I killed, in the end, was barely more than a shadow against the wall. A burning arrow did the trick. Wild manticores should be – more, somehow, I guess. More of a fight. Put the fear of gods in those humans who see them, right before they tear them apart. Manticores have been extinct in Greece and the Middle East for centuries, but somehow a small population has survived here, in the mountains. If everything goes according to plan, tomorrow there will be one less. Its head will make a lovely addition to someone’s collection. I bet she has a collection at home, hidden away from spying eyes. Does her husband know? Who cares.