The assignment is a simple one: Kill the woman in the photograph. Leave behind a spectacularly gory crime scene, but make the body disappear. 47 would ordinarily opt for something more challenging, but his quarry is staying in an isolated cabin on a mountain lake, and he decides it's a way to combine business with something resembling relaxation.
The first two elements of the assignment shouldn't prove to be a problem, and he's come up with what he thinks is an innovative way to accomplish the third. The property where the target is sequestered is within reasonable hiking distance of a rock-face—several, in fact, but he's found one particular cliff overhang that promises to collapse with the help of a small explosive charge, thoroughly burying the remains.
Making preparations involves several hours of rock-climbing, nothing he hasn't done before. He sets the charge so that when he returns with the body, he won't have to remain in the area afterward, on the off-chance that anyone hears the resulting rockslide. This shouldn't be an issue: He's checked; there are no other cabins in the vicinity, no ranger stations, no resorts, camp sites...it's just him and his target…but not for long.
47 has studied her picture. Female, red hair, late twenties…judging by the way she's dressed, it's a wedding picture, not more than a year or so old. The only sign of a groom is a narrow strip of black tuxedo. The rest of the figure has been cropped.
He's set up surveillance in a stand of trees in a small cove across from the cabin, and wonders idly if her husband is behind his employment. Not that it matters who the money comes from
There's a hot tub on the back deck, and beyond it a wall of glass so the cabin's occupants can look out over the lake to the mountains. This far from anywhere, the occupants haven't bothered with any privacy measures. Raising the scope to his eye, 47 can clearly see into the living room
His target stands there, folding towels into a basket piled high with towels and—
47's lips tighten.
He's been lied to.
She's not alone.
He continues to study her. She pauses in her task, straightening up for a moment, one hand going to her back. Her lips move, soundless at this distance. He could carry out his assignment; in terms of disposal, well, there's more than enough rock overhang to do the job.
On the other hand, he dislikes being lied to, and he especially detests people who think they can take advantage of him. There are no "buy one, get one free" specials in his profession.
Sitting there, staring into the cabin like a Peeping Tim is distasteful to him. 47 prefers offense to defense, so his next actions seem clear; direct contact is something he generally avoids, but since this job obviously isn't going to go off as planned, why not do the unexpected?
Twenty minutes and a short hike later, he's knocking on the front door of the cabin.
Up close, she has blue eyes, and seems delighted to see him, flashing a bright smile which is as radiant as the one she wore on her wedding day.
"I'm so glad you came, Dr. Bridges. I wasn't sure you'd get my message in time. I'm Naomi, I'm so glad we're finally getting to meet, your reputation is so great, I'm sure it'll all work out,"
He doesn't correct her mistaken assumption. If she is naïve enough to let a complete stranger in without verifying his bona fides, more fool she.
The static wedding photo didn't do justice to her hummingbird energy. Her friendly greeting, offer of refreshment and a place to sit come in rapid succession, welcoming with a near-manic joy.
47 remains calm. One of them has to.
"I'm so excited!" she says, as ice cubes clatter into the glass she's holding.
"Really?" he says dryly.
She adds water from the dispenser on the door. "You probably think I'm making a lot of fuss," she says, offering him the glass. "You see it all the time, of course. It's nothing new to you."
"Everyone is different." A noncommittal response, but true enough. His career has shown him a panorama of life and death, and how many ways people plead for one when faced with the other. He's killed men and women alike, old and young, sick and healthy…but he has never before killed a pregnant woman.
"I know it's all perfectly natural," she says, and sighs, playing with her rings. "It's just…this baby is the only thing that's kept me going since David died."
His attention sharpens. "Your husband?" he asks, just to clarify the matter. She nods, and now he's curious. If not her husband, who would order the death of a woman in her condition?
"I'm sorry to hear about that. Was there an underlying medical condition?" That's a safe enough question, in light of his assumed doctor status..
"No, he went down in a small private plane." A shadow dims her liveliness. "There was an investigation, of course, but the results were inconclusive."
"Inconclusive" in a case like this translates to "Someone was paid off.".
"They narrowed it down to pilot error, because they couldn't find anything wrong with the plane, but I don't believe that for a minute! David was a wonderful pilot, he'd been flying for years and he was always careful. He didn't make mistakes!" She gives a little gasp. "I'm starting to think today's the day," she says shakily. "I've been having these…pangs…about every ten minutes."
Clearly, she expects him to help her deliver the baby. The irony isn't lost on 47.
However, he can make the circumstances work for him. Right now, she's alert and would probably put up quite a fight on behalf of her unborn child. Exhausted after labor, lulled into trusting him by their shared experience, she'll be easier to subdue.
As for the child, it can disappear into The Organization. 47 will simply deliver it to one of his contacts and they can channel it into Indoctrination and Training. They'll get the fee for the hit, and a little something extra.
When she takes him out to the deck and tells him she intends to give birth in the hot tub, he pauses, but her chatter about the ease of water birthing more than masks his silence. He nods and she keeps talking as she sheds her shift and slides into the water.
47 is more curious than ever about who ordered her death. She directs him to the tray of supplies she's prepared, and while he's getting them, he has a chance to glance through a booklet about "Your Home Birth". He has to do what to see how far along she is? He's not getting paid enough for this.
"Are you going to have family coming to help you with the baby?" he asks when he returns to the deck. He's still debating how best to set the stage for maximum effect; knowing who may be the first on the scene may be helpful. If, for instance, a family member is in law enforcement….
Her parents are dead, she discloses. "I was on the swim team in college, and in my senior year, they were on their way home from my final match of the season…some old guy had a heart attack, he crossed the center line and hit them head-on.
"David, we'd been dating, but that all changed after they died, he got very protective of me and I was so happy when he proposed. He was such a sweet guy, and I thought, 'I'm going to have a family again!'. We had five wonderful years, and then—" She stops, breathing rapidly as another contraction catches her.
"Are you close to his family?" asks 47 when she relaxes again. This place looks like money, and money is usually a good motive for murder.
"His dad's an angel. He gave us a house as a wedding present, and he's been very generous. Bambi, not so much. She's one of those women who fawns over men, but doesn't much care for other women. I think she sees them as competition. I was really surprised when she invited me to come here before the baby was born. I wasn't sure if I wanted to—this was where we had our honeymoon, but I—"
She gazes out across the lake for a moment, breathing deeply. "They're getting more intense. And closer."
"Try to relax into the water," he counsels her. He's done hydro-therapy to recover from injuries over the years, and he knows it can be very soothing. "Let's see how you're doing…." He's going to have to get in there with her, there's no other way. He sheds his boots and shirt and is soon hip-deep in the tub—this is not in his job description; he's going to demand hazard pay.
The sooner this is over, the sooner he can complete his assignment, which is laughably far from the easy job he'd expected. "It was very kind of your husband's mother to provide such a serene place for you for your special time." It's a fatuous comment, and he knows it, but he has to say something to take his mind off where his hand is right now.
"Mother? Oh no, she's his step-mother." She grimaces, looking toward the mountains as if she's not too comfortable with his explorations either. "Bambi's only about five years older than I am."
Everything slots into place then. He'll wager that the dead husband was an only child-with him and his potential offspring out of the way, the step-mother and any progeny she produces are first in line to inherit. After that, her husband's life expectancy doesn't look good.
"You know, there's something I've always thought was strange," he says lightly as a distraction. "I've seen that movie, Bambi." He'd spent hours concealed in Mike Whittier's home, and his daughters had watched that and The Lion King before bedtime. "Bambi was a stag—a male deer. So why do people use it as a girl's name?"
Her blue eyes are round with surprise for a moment, then she starts to laugh, and is still laughing as the next contraction hits. She's fully dilated, and panting hard. Her hands grasp the sides of the hot tub and she grimaces with concentration.
Something rounded is starting to emerge from between her legs. She's stopped laughing and started pushing.
47 leans forward to explore. The head seems to be out, and he tries to ease what feels like a shoulder. "Almost there," he encourages the laboring woman.
With a grunt, she bears down, and suddenly, the little body slides free.
47 finds himself holding a small, squirming mass, instinctively lifting it out of the water. A fleshy rope emerges from the center of its torso and extends back into the birth passage. It doesn't look human, more like a tiny, wrinkled alien. The spindly limbs wave lazily and it's preternaturally calm as it tests its new world.
The new mother stretches out her arms, and 47 yields the alien willingly. "Mommy's right here, sweet baby boy," she coos. She's looking at the alien with more happiness than 47 can credit.
The kit she's assembled has dental floss and scissors, so he can sever the umbilical. By the time he retrieves the tray, the alien is suckling at her breast, and she's gazing down at it with a joyful, exultant expression.
The medical masquerade is successful; 47 ties off the umbilical cord and cuts it as if he's performed the procedure a thousand times, and maintains a stoic demeanor while tugging the placenta free and assisting the patient out of the tub. .
The water in the tub is crimson now. It will certainly help set the stage for goriness as requested by the client. Now that he knows the background, the disappearance of the body makes more sense: Spill enough blood, and death is a logical conclusion—but without a body, murder can't be proven, much let tied to anyone in particular.
She's a little wobbly, but they make it to the couch safely, and he quickly pads it with towels. What is he doing? It's going to be a bloodbath soon enough.
"David," she says, looking at the slumbering alien. "But I still haven't decided on a middle name."
"You mentioned his grandfather was a good man," 47 suggests. He can "borrow" a knife from the kitchen and cut her throat, that would provide the requisite special effects. Although that much arterial spray might be overkill. No, between that and the blood in the hot tub, there won't be any reasonable doubt that she's dead.
She chuckles and winces. "Already spoken for. My husband was David Wincanton III. This little guy will be David IV."
Wincanton of Wincanton Industries? No wonder Bambi is willing to kill; gaining control of a privately-held multinational conglomerate worth several billion dollars tends to encourage that sort of thing..
"What do you think?" she asks. "Give me a name, Dr. Bridges. I owe you."
Oh, the irony—him being asked to come up with a name. 47 the fourth? A suitable appellation occurs to him. "Cliff."
"David Clifford Wincanton the fourth. I like it, thank you."
Cliff, Clifford—close enough. It's an ironic joke, and in five minutes, it's not going to matter anyway.
"Let me just clean him up," 47 says, taking the bundle from her. "It won't take long. Rest."
Carrying the alien, 47 enters the kitchen. Yes, there's a block of wood with knife handles protruding from it. He'll just rinse this thing off first; it's gummy with blood and mucus, which offends his sense of hygiene.
The head fits into the palm of his hand, the torso balances the length of his forearm, little legs dangling on either side. It's surprisingly easy. He turns on the faucet, waits for the water to reach what he considers a suitable temperature.
It may be a bit on the cool side; his charge rouses with little mewling noises as he daubs at the delicate skin with a moistened towel. Cleansed of bodily fluids, it looks less like an alien and more like a tiny old man, squinting against the light…no, he's asleep again already. There's a faint, gingery fuzz on his scalp, as if he's going to have his mother's red hair someday.
For a moment, 47 stands motionless, water still gurgling into the sink, tasting bile in his mouth. Looking at the petal-soft skin and reddish fuzz, he swallows hard. Scoring a bar code into the back of that tiny head would be obscene.
From his earliest days, he has been told that he and his peers began as rejects, disposable and unwanted. Orphans, his handlers have said—but clearly this child is wanted, and will only be an orphan if 47 makes him one. What if, all those years ago, some woman held him tenderly, while some man like him had decided that he was fated to be 47?
He blots David Cliff dry with another towel, and reenters the living room. There's an infant carrier ready to receive him, and 47 tucks the sleeping baby into it carefully.
When he glances over at the couch, Naomi is watching him. "Is everything all right?" she asks. "Is he okay?"
"He's fine. He's beautiful," 47 answers honestly. "Naomi, I have to go now. I have…rounds to make. Don't worry, everything's going to be okay."
47 hikes back to where he left his rented SUV, Rounds...he's pleased with that; it's in keeping with his cover persona, and it's a tongue-in-cheek euphemism for 'I have to go kill your scheming step-mother-in-law before the Organization gets someone else to complete the contract on you'.
Somewhere out there is a woman with the improbable name of Bambi. But not for long.
Another vehicle is coming down the road toward him. He stops the SUV, and the other car halts alongside him. The driver is several years older than 47, with curly brown hair starting to grey at the temples.
"Are you Doctor Bridges?"
"Congratulations," says 47, taking his foot off the brake. "It's a boy."