Spoilers: Some of 2-4 and 1-5.
Warnings: None really, I don't think. Apart from talk of murdering and the like, but there's no actual murder.
Author's Note: Has a strange feel to it, it's odd.
People had a lot of reasons for wanting someone killed. Shelly de Killer had probably heard almost all of them.
He'd done his share of political assassinations, ranging from the local to the national scale. People that were in someone else's way, people who'd meddled too much in someone else's private business, people who were too close to revealing an unpleasant truth. Several people involved in law enforcement had fallen before him, at the whim of people more entangled in the criminal element of city life than he felt comfortable with. His was solitary work, and most of those who employed him respected that. To protect an investment, to ensure an election. Murders of convenience, of necessity to ease his client's current state of life or ensure their future success.
Revenge was a more common motivation for people to seek out his services; usually for some slight, real or imagined, or some other more personal reason they didn't see fit to disclose. Shelly didn't particularly care either way... As long as they were trustworthy, there was little need to know exactly why his clients wanted someone permanently erased. It was not information he needed to complete his work.
Not to mention that explaining their exact motivation for requiring his services some clients dreadfully uncomfortable, and Shelly disliked making his clients uncomfortable. He was a professional, after all.
Anyone who passed by a radio or a television that summer heard about the Darke killings. Shelly was no exception. He had at first merely relegated it to a curiousity; another man with no talent, no appreciation for the craft, unhinged and resorting to rash, unplanned actions. Shameful, really. There was an art to this kind of thing after all. Shelly knew that better than anyone. That was why he had his formidable reputation, and was still alive and free to perpetuate it. He was an expert. Darke was an amateur, and would face the fate of all amateurs soon enough.
A call for his services during the height of fear and paranoia over the murders. A name had been released, a possible motive but no one knew for sure. The name "Joe Darke" hovered over the city like a black cloud, permeated every news broadcast on any medium. Interesting that someone should ask for his services in such a climate, and once he spoke to her, it wasn't entirely hard to see why she would.
Mrs. Moss wanted vengeance for her daughter.
Shelly expected something like this. He'd often been called upon under similar circumstances, to visit death upon those who had granted it so sloppily without any consideration. Mrs. Moss was simply the only person with the means or information to contact him from the victim's families so far.
He met with her at her home, discussed what was to be done. Her penthouse was well decorated, tasteful. Someone with culture and breeding. Shelly preferred dealing with clients who had some kind of refinement. An appreciation for the art, but Mrs. Moss did not have that. All she wanted was Joe Darke dead. She barely kept her emotions in check as she expounded upon why at length, even though Shelly had the tact not to ask her to in the first place.
Joe Darke, the monster, had taken her only daughter, her most precious treasure, from her without warning, and she wanted him to pay the price. The police were useless, the killings had been going on for weeks without any more leads than a name, and the possibility of Joe Darke escaping justice at the hands of the unpredictable court system burned within her. She would not let that happen. Joe Darke would die, at her request.
Shelly assured her that it would done, as long as they could trust one another to fulfill their side of the agreement. He doubted that Mrs. Moss would want to reveal their involvement, but Shelly felt it best to make things clear. To assure his client that he would perform the duties that had been asked of him, as long as he was rightfully compensated and trusted to do just that, and she kept his involvement strictly to herself. Mrs. Moss agreed eagerly to his terms, desperate for Darke's death. Understandable. It didn't take much to want another person dead, and having a member of your family murdered definitely tended to turn one's thoughts to blood.
Shelly had heard it all before.
Pact made, Shelly began his research. While Joe Darke had been spontaenous, "spastic" as one of Shelly's older clients may have described, he managed to cover up his trail with a strange amount of skill. The police weren't having much luck, not that they were very competent to begin with, so it took Shelly a bit more effort than usual to get information about the budding serial killer.
A businessman, involved in a car wreck. The trail of blood started there. It was easy to see he was trying to cover his tracks, but he was doing such a poor job of it. Killing all the witnesses? Almost disgraceful in the lack of foresight. Still, he had eluded the police so far. Perhaps Joe Darke tended to be lucky, in some very strange areas of his life.
Smoothly infiltrating building after building, tracking down surviving families, finding clues and hints here and there. Some people in the police department weren't completely useless... that cowboy detective and his friends had found some particularly interesting pieces of information that he added to his growing profile.
Tracked him down to a dingy hotel, going under an alias. Aokage. Transparent, but Darke didn't strike him as being particularly bright, or the kind to think things through. He simply acted, then reacted. Foolish. This should be easy.
Shelly was inside Mr. Darke's room with some fresh towels when he felt his reciever phone vibrate.
Darke, hunched over on the bed and facing away from him, apparently did not notice the sound. He was in fairly bad shape when he'd come in after all, inebriated and exhausted. Shelly ducked into the bathroom and shut the door behind him, completely silent. He had enough confidence in his abilities to keep the reciever phone on his person when performing his work. The momentary distraction was easily glossed over, and even if his quarry had been alerted to his presence, Shelly knew enough ways to kill a person over such varying distances that it would hardly matter.
If his client needed to contact him, he needed to be available. His client came first.
He answered his phone quietly, voice calm. Mrs. Moss was hysterical and sobbing, almost incoherent. She didn't explain why, just repeated that she didn't want Darke dead any more, she wanted it called off.
Shelly didn't pry. He merely confirmed, several times, that that was what she wanted, and Mrs. Moss was resolute. For whatever reason, she had changed her mind. Shelly didn't know why, and in the end, it didn't matter. He would obey his client as long as they were in collusion together, and he told her that he would follow her orders and that he would speak with her again shortly. His voice was calm and steady throughout, too quiet to be heard through the door. Shelly was an expert at infiltration, at stealth, and he knew how loud his voice could be before he attracted attention. He'd done this kind of thing countless times, after all.
He put his reciever phone away, and mentally plotted his route out of the hotel. No complications that he could see. Should be simple. He'd call Mrs. Moss when she'd calmed down some.
Shelly stepped out of the bathroom, glancing over at his intended victim. Darke remained where he'd last seen him, hunched at the foot of the bed, staring at the opposite wall.
Shelly turned to leave, then recalled he'd left a card on top of the towels he'd brought in. It wouldn't do to leave something like that when he hadn't even completed his work, so he took a few steps into the room to retrieve it from the desk where he'd set the towels.
Darke turned around, not because Shelly had given him any reason to do so but for some reason that wasn't readily apparent, and stared at him. Shelly stopped moving, straightened up and regarded Darke coolly.
"Who are you?" Darke's voice was hoarse. In the dim light it was difficult to make out his features, but Shelly could see his face was thin, somewhat pulled and tight. Stress from his own thoughtless behavior no doubt. He tilted his head slightly. "Are you here to kill me?"
Shelly bowed politely, and kept his tone precise and professional.
"That was my intention, yes, but there's been a change of plans." That wasn't exactly common, but it had happened before. "I didn't intend to disturb you. I'll be on my way shortly."
"A change of plans? What do you mean, a change of plans?" Darke sounded incredulous, exhausted, and he barely moved.
"My client decided not to... complete our transaction." Shelly adjusted his monocle.
"It's not my business to pry, Mr. Darke. I merely perform a valuable service to some, and it's not required of me tonight."
Shelly moved to leave, but Darke spoke again and he stopped. It'd be rude to walk away while someone was talking.
"Who asked you to?"
"I'm afraid confidentiality is a primary concern for both me and my clients, Mr. Darke."
"...It was one of the people I killed, wasn't it?" Darke raised a hand slowly and ran it through his thinning hair. "It was, I bet it was. No one would want me dead more than them."
"I suppose not, Mr. Darke."
Darke didn't say anything for a few seconds, and Shelly regarded him carefully. He in no way considered Darke any kind of threat, not that there was a great deal that Shelly de Killer considered a threat, but Darke had an element of unpredictability about him, and it never hurt to be cautious.
"...And he called it off?"
"...So I'm still alive then." Darke laughed weakly, humorlessly. "I shouldn't be, but I am. Sitting here talking with a hitman."
Shelly cleared his throat slightly. "I prefer the term 'assassin', if you will."
"What am I going to do..." Darke buried his head in his hands, a moment of weakness clear even in the relative darkness, and Shelly did not react. "What am I going to do, I can't keep doing this, I keep seeing them, I keep hearing their faces, I can't live with this anymore-"
"If you feel remorse for what you've done, I'd recommend you turn yourself in to the police. I'm sure that would give the city some peace of mind, as well as the families of your work."
"The police? You're telling me to go to the police?"
"If you regret what you've done and don't want to kill again, then yes, I believe you should." Shelly adjusted his monocle again. "That would be the course of action most beneficial to the families in the long run, if that's what you are concerned about."
Darke slowly stood, wobbling on his feet. Shelly made a quick mental count of how many weapons he had at hand with the way he was currently standing. A fraction of a second, and Darke would be no more. Without the contract though, the art was meaningless. Only in self-defense in these kind of circumstances.
Darke made his way over to Shelly haltingly, feet stumbling in the darkness. He stopped some short distance in front of Shelly, staring at him with thin, angry eyes. Easier to make out his features now, with their relative proximity. Sunken, thin face with burning eyes and sharply defined cheekbones. Shelly kept a hand by his hip, the other held behind his back.
"Who are you?" Darke said, his words stumbling a bit. Shelly smiled just briefly.
"As I said earlier, confidentiality is most important for me and my clients. I have no name."
"No name, huh? A John Doe..." Darke smirked, blinking at Shelly blearily. "Alright, John, you came here to kill me?"
Still intoxicated from whatever chemicals he had poured into his body. How thoughtless. "That was my intention."
"Had to be one of them, one of them who knew...want me dead..." Darke said, more to himself than anything else. "Hey, is there something...you got stitches down your face, don't you?"
Shelly blinked mildly, tone still professional as always. "Yes, you might say it's one of my more defining features. I'm surprised at your vision in such poor light, Mr. Darke."
"What happened?" Darke's voice still rough and unfocused, blurring on the edge of words. Shelly adjusted his monocle once again, sniffed once.
"I'm afraid it's none of your business, Mr. Darke."
"Someone do that to you before you killed 'em off? Brave guy." Darke ran a hand through his thinning hair.
"I'm sure your encounters with your victims left their mark on you as well," Shelly said calmly.
Darke looked stricken for a moment. Shelly thought again of the panicky nature of his killings, the obvious trail of blood and attempt to cover up what was probably an accident in the first place. Not used to murder. Darke had it in his blood, that was obvious enough. Otherwise he wouldn't have killed so many, but he'd need time and practice before he could develop any kind of skill.
"I do suggest you go to the police. This isn't your field."
"And it's yours?" Darke said, spiteful. Trying to wound Shelly for the words that had cut him so deeply. Shelly answered the question without hesitation, voice calm and steady.
"I am an assassin, Mr. Darke. It's my chosen profession, and one with a long and respectable history-"
"We are not the same, you and I." Shelly tilted his head slightly. "I treat it as an art, and for you it seems to be an accident. The result of poor planning and impulsive, bad decisions."
Darke raised a fist, lips tightened into a thin line and face tensed with anger. Shelly predicted his movement, saw how he shifted his weight, and moved. Darke's fist hit the wall, and in a few moments, his face followed. Shelly balanced his weight, kept Darke's arm tightly pinned behind his back. Darke struggled for a few moments, but the futility of doing so was clear almost immediately.
"Mr. Darke, I do not have the motivation to kill you, but I have the means." Shelly's voice hadn't changed in speed or tone. "I'd rather you not provide me with the former."
Darke didn't move or struggle, and his voice was soft.
"I didn't mean to do this. To kill this many people, I didn't...I didn't know what else to do, I just..."
"Turn yourself in to the police. That's all the advice I can offer you." Shelly slowly loosened his grip. Darke remained against the wall, his momentary resistance now over. Shelly took a step back and adjusted his clothing, straightened out his jacket.
Darke slumped down against the wall, shaking. Shelly hoped he wasn't crying. People were so unattractive when they wept, particularly when begging for their lives. There was no dignity in it.
"I have other things I need to attend to, Mr. Darke. If you will excuse me, I'll take my leave."
Shelly took a few steps, felt something clutch at his pant leg.
Shelly turned to look down at Darke, who was still kneeling on the floor.
"I just...how do you make it stop? How do you make the guilt stop? I can't sleep, I can't eat, I can't think, the guilt just eats away at me..."
Shelly stared at him for a few seconds, tilted his head again slightly.
"I don't understand what you mean."
"Killing someone!" Darke's voice cracked. "How do you do it? How can you do that and not...not have it just...not have it kill you too?"
Oddly poetic. Shelly wouldn't have expected it of him. He tugged at Darke's grip, but he refused to let go.
"You merely have to exercise caution when carrying out the act-"
"Don't you feel bad about it at all?" Darke's voice was small. "Don't you feel anything?"
Shelly made a thoughtful hum for a few seconds, then shook his head.
"It's my work, my profession. My craft. Performing the duties entrusted to me by my mentor, and his before him, and so on throughout the ages. Someday I'll pass down my knowledge to another." Shelly paused. "I'm afraid I don't quite understand your question. Why would I feel bad about my work, as you put it?"
Darke didn't say anything, still hanging on to Shelly's pant leg. He looked down slowly, head weaving unsteadily back and forth.
"I just want it to stop eating at me...their eyes, I keep seeing them..."
Shelly waited a few moments, then tugged his leg free. Darke didn't try to grab it again. "Turn yourself in, Mr. Darke. You're not suited for what it takes to run."
Darke stayed there, kneeling on the floor, small and shaking, and Shelly turned and walked to the door. Darke did not follow him or say anything further. Finally.
Shelly left as quietly as he had entered, and there was nothing left to show he had been there at all.