The Exquisite Corpse of Ava Cotto: Part 6

Chapter 6
There are rules to murder. Things you learn when you pick up the trade. Not big abstract concepts mind you. Immediate practical realities. Killing is a practical trade. Governed by real world concerns. Pavel Leonard reflects on these rules, these practical realities, as he edges the knife out of the guard he has just finished killing.
The first rule is to show mercy. Which is to say, kill quickly. Slow killing can be safer. Can be more emotionally rewarding. But when doing a job you need to focus on outcomes, and slow killing is a good way to fuck up the task at hand. The men who trained him taught him mercy by teaching him empathy. He feels for the people he kills. Feels for them, and wishes to save them suffering. So he kills them quickly. After a life time of murdering people he knows with real certainty that it’s better not to see if coming, and if you do see it coming, better to have it over with quickly than to drag it out.
As he drops the guards body to the floor he realizes he never learned the mans name. He knew him. Knew him on sight. Saw him in the cafeteria. The locker room. Passed him in the halls. Six years of silent glances and tacit acknowledgment and now its gone. One fewer person in the world who knows Pavel. Knows what he looks like. By the time he is finished today there will be none left in this place who know him.
It’s part of the nature of the job. Murder is deletion. Every person in all the world has a pencil with which they write out their story on the world, and Pavel is a universal eraser. Each buried knife and pulled trigger excises a portion of the universal record.
An extraordinary power. Pavel has to force himself to squelch down the heady feeling of it as he approaches the almost unguarded door of the Directors office. A guard at the door. One inside, three members of the family, and the Director himself. A guard at the elevator to watch the hall, and no more. Pavel has killed the man at the elevator, slits his throat as he passed him in the hallway on the way out of the elevator.
Laughably open. That’s how you would describe the halls of the agency. Fortress syndrome. An open attack would be murderous and bloody. Lots of time to escape for all the people who matter. But one man on the inside, patiently waiting for his opportunity to matter at a critical juncture?
Andrew is the man at the door. Pavel plays cards with him every so often. That little familiarity gives Pavel the opportunity he needs to grab the wrist Andrew extends to receive Pavels ID card. His other hand darts out and buries the knife in Andrews eye, ending the matter silently. Pavel immediately drops his now open hand to Andrews lapel
and grabs it, holding the man up, then slowly and silently lowering him to the floor.
Pavel draws a breath as he leans against the door. He can hear the Director inside, bloviating about the Engine. How it works. About the scraps of knowledge gleaned from ancient scrolls that make it possible. The ludicrous implausibility of it all.
He can see in his mind the broad motions the Director is making with his arms as he explains how one man in Ancient Rome made all of this possible, his identity gleaned from the markers on the chest that hold the documents. He imagines the single cocked eyebrow the Director will use to accent important points. Drawing attention to his own studied detachment. A part of the old man saying to the people around him that they should feel safe believing his words. He too thought it was ridiculous when he first heard it. He too couldn’t believe it. But now, having had every opportunity to study the matter, he knows what they must accept. That it’s all true. Proven.
Pavel doesn’t listen for the rest. He readies his pistol, chambers a round, and kicks the door open. The guard on the other side of the room, not expecting any of this, does his level best. Forsom. Pavel only knows his last name. Forsom. And he almost gets a shot off, but Pavel is faster. Prepared in a way Forsom isn’t.
And then Forsom is gone. Not taken out of the fight. Not wounded. Gone. Transfigured to an empty sack of meat and bones by a minute chunk of copper and zinc. And the rest of the people in the room?
Pavel almost laughs. The looks on their faces. The Director, stupefied. Uncomprehending. The look on his face as Pavel turns on him. That ancient jackass. Pavel knows as he meets the old mans eyes, as he looks in them, as he faces him for the tiny indescribable moment before he pulls the trigger that the old man truly didn’t see this coming. He truly hadn’t expected any of this. And that certainty makes all of the effort, all of the struggle to get this far worth it.
Pavel shot the old man first for a reason. The other three have no formal combat training. Academics, really. Well, two academics and a child. No threat he decided. Which is what really makes it all so damned confusing when someone bowls Pavel over and presses him close up against the old mans desk. Pavel turns as he falls to see the man, St. John, charging into him. The hell does he think he is doing? Pavel pistol whips him once, expecting him to drop, but he doesn’t. He actually throws a punch of his own.
Such absolute god damned cheek. Pavel bashes him with the pistol again before kneeing him in the groin. That drops him. Pavel pushes St. John fully off of him only to catch a blur coming at him, slamming into him with real force.
There’s a sudden pain in his chest. Pavel whips his arms around blindly for a moment, his discipline breaking as he reacts. He looks around as he knocks the unexpected weight of of himself and sees the girl, the child, stumbling back and off of him, blood leaking from her nose.
The kid? Not just the old man but the kid? What is wrong with these people? Academics aren’t supposed to fight back. The spies he took care of without incident, but the academics make him work for it? The world is out of joint.
Pavel tries to draw down on the girl, but his arm won’t lift. He looks at it, uncomprehending. But there’s no apparent cause. No visible damage, not to either arm. Or any of him except that pain in his chest that won’t go away and when he looks at it, at the space in his chest that stabs like a knife, all he can see is the very tail end of a ballpoint pen sticking out of his shirt. A fucking pen.
Blood has begun to collect at the site of it. A moment away from beginning to drip. But now he can’t stand and the reality of what has happened has finally penetrated his mind with real effect.
Pavel is only able to speak a few words before the sudden gush of blood from the wound drops him to the floor. Looking at the girl. Meeting her eyes. He speaks.
“You’ve killed me with a fucking pen?”