Mathilda lay in bed. Remembering. Her first practice mark, the councilman jogging in central park. How much fun it had been, watching the splash of red dye, wishing it was real.
Her next “mark,” the guy running a drug lab in his own apartment. God, how she wished Leon had let her kill him. At least the drugs went up in flames with the rest of the place.
The first person she actually killed--her former boss--not even a mark, just an attempted rapist. The long string of faces since then, some she couldn’t even picture clearly. Just one more job, after numerous other jobs. How many? Mathilda couldn’t even count. And not even Tony knew about all of them.
Mathilda had hoped that the job would help fill the empty place inside her. But it hadn’t. Throwing more and more bodies into the void just seemed to make it that much bigger inside her.
She got up and silently padded out to the ratty chair in the main room. She stared out the window, until the sky began to brighten.
* * *
Tony looked up from his plate of linguini. “And to what do I owe the pleasure?”
Matty looked at him over the tops of her sunglasses. “I’d like you to hold on for something for awhile for me.” She reached down and slid Leon’s old rifle case across the floor.
Tony grimaced. “Never understood why you kept it all this time.”
“I think you know.”
“Yeah.” A sip of wine. “Okay.”
The silence stretched. Mathilda spoke again. “Did you get what I asked for?”
Tony studied her for long seconds while she waited. “Yeah. What do you need it for?”
Mathilda smiled and took the thick envelope Tony slid across the table. “I thought I’d travel a little, see the country. You know: take a vacation.”
Tony chose his next words with care. “I think...that he would have wanted you to do that.”
Mathilda’s face was inscrutable. She gazed at Tony. “I think so, too.”
“Hmm, well,” Tony looked somewhat embarrassed, as if the admission made him uncomfortable. He chased a last piece of pasta around the plate with his fork. “Just remember ol’ Tony has the rest of your money, safe and sound. And kid?”
“If you don’t come back--if you retire permanently--I can always wire it to you.”
Mathilda stood suddenly, her chair scraped harshly against the tile floor. Tony’s eyes, normally so steady, opened wide in shock as the Cleaner leaned across the table and kissed him on the cheek. “Thanks Tony.”
“Well, just don’t let word leak out. People’ll think ol’ Tony’s going soft.”
“Wouldn’t dream of it, Tony. Goodbye.”
Tony watched her walk out of his restaurant.
* * *
Mathilda walked into the gas station-convenience store- used to be a restaurant in Small Town, Nowhere. She noted the store was empty save for the clerk. She grabbed a couple of plastic quarts of milk from the cooler and placed them on the counter.
Mattie pulled a few bills out of her wallet at handed them at the boy behind the counter. His nametag read ‘Hi, my name is Vince’ and he was doing his best not to drool at the most attractive customer he’d had all day.
The door slammed inwards suddenly and a man walked in trying to cover both Mattie and the clerk with his pistol at the same time. “Gimme the fuckin’ money! And don’t try to be a hero.” The robber looked at Mathilda as the clerk opened the cash register.
Mathilda eyed the man coolly, trying to look non-threatening.
The robber reached across the counter for the wad of bills the clerk thrust in his direction, and his eyes flicked to the money. In that moment Mathilda reached. Her hand dipped into her purse, came out with her small .357 as she leapt forward and then socketed the muzzle at the base of the robber’s skull.
“Oh, shit,” the would-be robber moaned. “Oh fuck, no.” He dropped his cheap automatic on the counter. “I’m so, so sorry.”
“Not yet, but you will be.” The Cleaner began to pull back the trigger. In that instant Mathilda took it all in: the shocked look on the face of the clerk, the smell of body odor and terror on the robber, the cheesy muzak playing on the cheap speakers. She relaxed her pull on the trigger, and whipped the revolver across the base of the man’s skull nearly as hard as she could.
The robber slumped to the floor. The clerk looked at her in awe. “You could have killed him.”
“I don’t kill people I don’t have to anymore.” Mathilda was surprised her voice was even as she spoke, so great was her inner turmoil. Two witnesses who could identify her. Plus the video camera. Matty wasn’t sure she could let them go.
The store clerk watched the former Cleaner walk out of the store, get into her car, and drive off. Then he kicked the unconscious and drooling robber in the ribs, hit the silent alarm button, and settled down to wait for the police.