Please see Ch 1 for disclaimers…
The box was heavy, cardboard and impersonal. At first glance it looked exactly as it had when the Hunter had sent it on its way.
The courier watched him sign with dilated pupils, one hand scratching thick, springy hair threaded with grey. The Hunter could read his story in the haggard hollows of his cheeks. He had met this man many times before with a different face, accent, skin color and height and he would meet him again in the future.
Humankind could be rather clichéd.
After watching the car drive slowly out of the parking lot, the Hunter lugged the box to the bed. Charlie finally roused as the mattress dipped sharply and thumped his tail against the comforter. Canine eyes closed quickly as he stroked the soft brown fur for several moments. Tired old dog bones always found rest quickly after their long morning walk.
Methodically he checked for tampering in the packaging. The courier service was discreet but there was always desperation and curiosity to contend with. His new pocket knife sliced easily through the packing tape until he could lift the box nestled inside.
This one he ran his hands over, fingertips finding the three folds of tape along the bottom. He rolled the box over and carefully cut the piece of tape away to hold it up to the lamp. Against the light he could make out the signature double S made out of fishing line.
Similar bits of fishing line were on each side and the top. Each S was exactly as he had made it and placed it. Circumspection cost nothing and could save everything.
Relaxing now, he pulled out the compact, plastic casing of the first container. Rough thumbs quickly swept over the pebbled surface before pulling his wallet out. He felt along the leather until he found where the key had wedged itself. His pinky finger was just small enough to slip into the hole between the leather and the lining, easing the small bit of metal out.
Two quick turns and the sharp sound of trunk clasps flipping up echoed in his ears. As he pried the lid up relief washed over him. He touched each piece of metal ritualistically as the familiar smell comforted him.
Satisfied that everything was as it should be, he moved to the floor and placed the case in front of him. He shifted into a crouch and flexed his hands. Concentrating on the rhythm of his breathing he remained immobile until he was aware of feel of his pulse in his hands. He was ready.
He inhaled sharply.
Practiced hands moved against each piece, pulling and twisting until there was a final click. Exhale. Inhale, hold it, untwist, click, pulling everything apart. Exhale.
Frowning he stared at the gun parts in his lap. By the tightness in his chest before letting out his breath he knew had taken much too long.
His mentor had always been clear. The difference between success and failure could come down to a moment of hesitation. You had to breathe. Let your body be your guide. You wanted to stay breathing.
Unsatisfied he pulled everything into his lap and closed his eyes. This time muscle memory took over and his fingers rapidly moved over and around. He exhaled at the final click.
Inhale again. This time the movements came faster, the only sound was Charlie's snoring as the last piece came apart. He couldn't help the smile. No change in heart rate, no moment of needing air.
The Hunter opened his eyes and pulled his cleaning kit out of the case. The methodical motions of cloth and oil relaxed him. This had been a particularly good week.
Time and repetition built familiarity. By now Charlie knew which direction to head off in the minute they started out. He knew which street to turn up. He had even figured out that they would linger at the telephone pole in front of the old woman's house.
It had taken awhile. At first he would make eye contact and smile. She'd meet his gaze and refuse to look away until he moved on. One morning Charlie had explored her fence and he'd picked up her morning paper off the sidewalk and tossed it up on her porch. The door had opened and she'd studied him for a moment before nodding in his direction. The next morning she'd returned his wave before turning away to continue to sweep her already clean steps.
This should have been enough. He was familiar now.
Yet earlier this week he had been walking by and there she was up on a step ladder by her porch light. Bulb in one hand with a finger poking the brass fixture from the other. He knew what he was supposed to do.
Walk by. He was not supposed to call out. Not supposed to open the metal gate. He should have never turned Charlie loose on her front lawn and walked up the steps. It may not have been his real name but it was still a name that came from his lips. It was something that changed him from part of the landscape into a person with a voice.
It was against the protocol. It was risk.
She'd accepted his help to creep down the step ladder. Her hand was thickly calloused and knotted from use and time. Up close she was smaller than he realized. Her eyes were steel and probing. The bulb apparently was new. The fixture however would not light.
For him this was a boon. A providence of fate. One less light on the street offered another set of shadows to melt into.
Objectively he still could not rationalize why he offered to fix it. But he had. How easy it had been to claim he was an electrician. Not exactly untrue but not exactly the truth and certainly too revealing. How amusing it had been to see her refuse to let him inside her house as she fetched a box of tools and shut off the electric main. He held back the smile until she walked away.
Why did people assume they could control their existence? It was a sham polite society allowed people to believe. TV, print, always had so many recommendations on how to stay safe. How to survive. It was little more than a fairytale to hide the monster under the bed.
He held no such illusions. He existed until someone decided he should not. If his life was never taken, time would have him in the end. There was something almost comforting in the absolute.
When the old woman came back and handed him the battered metal box he admired the ripples time had carved into her face. It was beautiful.
She'd crossed her arms and returned his scrutiny. Took her time to look him up and down. He wondered what she saw that made her offer her hand.
Her name was Viola.
Up on the ladder the reason was clear. Time, corrosion had won but he could fix it. Offered quickly to go to the hardware store and buy a new fixture.
She'd been adamant. "I'm going with you. We only use Peterson's Hardware and I pick what goes on my house young man."
He knew she lived alone and he wondered about the 'we'. Who that person or people were. The tools probably belonged to a husband. They were the kind that lasted with metal handles and a few even had polished wood grips. The kind you couldn't buy at Peterson's anymore.
But he didn't ask. Having questions, being curious, he was not supposed to have those thoughts. Since he was already ignoring enough of his own protocol he had merely called Charlie to his side. Together he had followed her out of the yard and down the street.
The shop clerk was a middle aged man who shared a few words and squinted at him. The Hunter noted the price at the register was less than the tag on the box. Viola was well known here. Next time he would not go with her. Not to this store.
The bungalow electric system was knob and tube. It took a bit longer than he had planned to manipulate the old wires. When the light flipped on Viola had clasped her hands and a smile bent the lines on her cheeks and creased deeply up near her eyes. Delighted, she insisted that he stay for lunch.
He looked up to create an excuse when he realized he could see the driveway and front porch of the New Englander up the street. This was an opportunity he must take. He nodded his thanks and sat down to wait.
He knew from his weeks of watching and walking by that the New Englander with the fresh paint was most likely empty at the moment. The woman would not return until at least 7pm. There was a boyfriend but she lived alone. The house had been inherited. The analyst had a 30,000 equity loan for home repairs and school loans. She had wanted to be a professor but industry was lucrative and there were school loans to pay.
The more he had confirmed the more he relaxed. The analyst was the perfect target. She appeared driven by work and a person seemingly naturally content with their own solitude. More importantly, the job had been portrayed honestly. At times, in his profession, honesty was not an easy commodity to come by. He appreciated honesty. Even when it appeared in his opposition.
The Hunter carefully ran the cotton cloth over the smooth metal in his hands, warming the barrel with his fingers as he rubbed the surface to an acceptable shine. In his review and planning he had found Viola to be honest.
The morning after lunch she had been waiting by her gate as he started up the street. She'd waved him over and on the small porch table there was coffee and breakfast.
She'd pointed to her railing with the peeling paint and broken dowel. She had wanted to know if he'd like a job. Cash and meals to paint the porch and fix anything that needed repair. He glanced up the street with a smile.
There had been only one answer to this gift of providence.
And it was becoming apparent that he liked Viola. He'd arrive for breakfast. Work on the porch and watch the street until lunch. She'd hand him cash and send him on his way.
He'd gleaned from a comment about the repairs outstanding on the little house that there had been a husband. He had expected that she would ask if he had family but she didn't.
Viola seemed to appreciate privacy. Whether it was part of her nature or a lesson learned he could not decide. But it didn't matter. What he liked is that she didn't say much. Content to share a few words and eat together as the world slowly moved by in the neighborhood.
In fact it was becoming hard at times to remember she was one of his risks.
So much so that earlier that morning as they sat down for coffee on her porch he had almost been tempted to ask Viola if she knew her neighbor and that would have been imbecilic.
It was at that moment that he realized he would need human companionship soon and for that he needed his courier service to deliver his packages.
But now as he stowed the first gun and picked up the second box he had everything that he needed.
His game, his rules. It was time to start playing.
A/N: Upcoming: the story remembers Jane & Maura exist ;)
Much love to CharlietheCAG, beta babe extraordinaire - Charlie… I want all the pats on the head for NOT altering before posting;)