The time of day?
It was a thing to ponder as he waited. The ever-changing curfews and the random rotation of Commonwealth clock dials had done their work. Personal time pieces were forbidden. Time-Knowing was crime. He stood on a cold corner with the slow world nearly deserted, in what might have once been a 10am light filtering through the fog and coal smoke.
Waiting had been the greater part of the job, since the beginning. He waited and saw. Waited for the right moments to attack and retreat, always being careful. A moment wasn’t a minute. A minute was mutiny.
But he dreamed in moments like these, the dead immense moments before a kill, of doors opening into the Greater Plan. Of being offered a place within it, from which he’d emerge and be magnificent. But first, this. Always this first. This, wrapped in limitless moments.
Now his right fist clenched the smoky snub-nosed revolver in his coat pocket. Small and of indeterminate calibre. He hadn’t bothered to look, but knew it had the blunt blue character of a weapon that had killed before. A hand-me-down loaded by a stranger and slid to him across a tabletop, with an envelope of dirty currency. It was made of iron. It could kill forever. Been lost ten thousand years, like something precious, and found once more to kill again. A cheap ouroboros, an unwelcome eternal return.
There were a few ageing black automobiles parked at the curb, and the occasional pedestrian walking quickly past the dingy storefronts. Civil servants. There’d be permits in their pockets, allowing them to be out. They had that privilege, and the consequential dread held tightly somewhere inside. In the gut or wrapped tightly round the heart. Privilege was sedition, when one’s moment finally arrived.
He checked the action of the revolver’s hammer by pulling it back with his thumb, then gently easing it forward with his finger on the trigger. Stiff, gritty.
Then a man stepped out of a café across the street. Ugly but well dressed, familiar from a photograph. Suddenly the revolver felt unmanageable in Noah’s hand. He thought of running, as he always did at moments like these, but crossed the street instead, and met the man at the door of his car. And in a fluid movement, he drew the gun and squeezed the trigger—the sound of it surprising them both. Snap! it said. He cocked and squeezed the trigger again. Snap! Empty chambers? Impossible. Why hadn’t he checked? He was no amateur. A gun slid across a tabletop for an assignment was always loaded.
His target sneered. In seconds it might have been a grin.
Noah looked down at the revolver in his hand rather into the ugly man’s face. Then, desperately and without aim, he squeezed the trigger once more. “Bam!” it said this time, and the ugly man stepped back, eyes wide, hands grasping at the now bloody, empty space where his genitals had been seconds before.
“Oh shit,” Noah said, “I…. I didn’t mean….” …to shoot you there, he wanted to say. But then took more careful aim and, “Bam!” put a hole in the ugly man’s head, over the left eye, causing the eyeball to pop out at speed, and hang gluey from the socket by its optic nerve. Smoke swirled in the mist as the ugly man staggered against the car, falling dead onto the sidewalk. Right eye still open. The left looking away.
Privilege was sedition.
* * *
“The first two chambers were empty,” he said over the telephone in his room. “Was that some kind of fucking joke?”
“Are you laughing?” It was a woman’s voice. Familiar from nightmares and previous phone calls.
“Not much of a joke then, eh?” she said.
“Yeah, well fuck you.”
He nearly hung-up, but then heard the woman say, “You want into the Greater Plan, I hear. Your Assigned Intermediary says that he sees it in you.”
“The fat fuck who gave me the gun, you mean?”
“And the money, dear,” the woman said. “The filthy filthy money. The Fat One thinks that you might make a sound candidate. You’re just bustin’ to move up, according to him.”
It was true. He was.
“When?” he said.
“When your moment comes.”
“Well when the hell’s that, a week, a month?”
There was a pause, a hush. He heard the very faint sound of a man shouting on a separate, very distant connection.
Then the woman said, “Don’t push yer luck, boyo.”