Authors: Jack Kilborn
hey shoot cheaters at The Nile.
Blaine lost his mentor that way, a counter named Roarke. Didn’t even have a chance to get ahead before the eye in the sky locked on, videotaping skills that took years to master. Then it was burly men and a room without windows. One between the eyes, tossed out with the trash.
Poor bastard deserved better.
Blaine pushed back the worry. He was dressed like a tourist, from his sandals to his Nile Casino T-shirt. Made sure to spill some beer from the paper cup down his chin when he took a sip. Sat by a loud slot machine called Pyramids and plunked in quarters, trying to look angry when he lost. Ugly American. Probably had a job in the auto industry.
When the coins ran out, he frowned, scratched himself, and made a show of looking around. He’d had an eye on a particular Blackjack dealer for the last two hours. Surfer guy, looked like a tan version of the Hulk, too young to have been in the business long.
Blaine wandered over to the table, pretended to think it over, then sat down and fished some cash out of his shorts. Three hundred to start.
He took it slow. Six deck shoe, sixteen tens per deck. Too many to keep track of mentally. But no need to. Every counter had his tally method.
Roarke had been one of the best. Subtle. See a ten, adjust the elbow. Ace, move the foot. Depending on his body position, Roarke knew if the shoe was heavy or light with face cards.
But the silver globes in the ceiling caught him just an hour into his game. Roarke was found a few days later in an alley, the offending foot and elbow smashed. Back of his head was missing, and no one bothered to look for it.
Blaine was a counter as well, but his tally couldn’t be seen by the cameras. No tapping feet or odd posture. Pit boss could be taking a dump on his shoulder, wouldn’t notice a thing.
He bet small, safe. Won a few, lost a few. Turned more cash into chips and bided time until he got a nice, fat shoe. Then it was payday.
Thirty minutes. Twelve thousand dollars.
He lost a grand, on purpose, before tipping the Hulk a hundred bucks and calling it quits for the night.
Blaine walked out of the casino happy, not needing to fake that particular emotion. He’d be off this tropic isle tomorrow. Back to his wife, laden with money. A memorable and profitable trip.
The goons grabbed him in the parking lot. Nile Security. Guys with scars who were paid to give them.
“What the hell’s going on?”
No answer. They dragged Blaine back inside. Past the crowd. Down a hall. To a room without windows.
Panic stitched through his veins. He fought to stay in character. Hackles and indignation.
“I’m calling the police! I’m an American!”
The door slammed. A bare bulb hung from the ceiling, casting harsh shadows. The pit boss forced Blaine to his knees. Big guy, a walrus in Armani, breath like rotten meat.
“We shoot card counters here.”
“What are you talking about? I won the money fair!”
The blow knocked Blaine off his feet. Concrete was sticky under his palms. Old stains.
“Camera caught it. Under the table.”
The blood in Blaine’s mouth contrasted sharply with his blanched face. The pit boss reached down, pulled at Blaine’s shorts, his underwear.
Blaine stared down between his naked legs. The abacus was along his thigh, taped to the right of his testicles.
The pit boss ripped it off, a thousand curly hairs screaming.
“This belong in your shorts?”
“How did that get there?” Blaine tried for confused. “I swear, I borrowed this underwear. I have no idea how that got on me.”
His explanation was met with a kick in the head. Blaine kissed the mottled floor, his vision a carousel. He flashed back to Roarke’s funeral, closed casket, the promise he made. “I’ll beat the Nile for you, old buddy.”
Should have stuck with Vegas.
The pit boss dug a hand inside his sport coat. “Never saw a guy count cards with his dick before. Man with your talent, should have gone into porno.”
The gun was cool against Blaine’s temple.
“No one cheats the Nile.”
Blaine’s wife cried for seven weeks straight when she learned of his death.
The title, and much of the plot, is a nod to my friend Barry Eisler and his John Rain series. But this is also a satire of the entire hitman sub-genre, where tough guy assassins with exotic pasts follow strict codes and kill in bizarre ways with common, everyday objects to get the job done.
he mark knelt next to a garbage can, two hands unsuccessfully trying to plug nine holes in his face, neck, and upper body. A gambler, late in his payments, with one second-chance too many. I didn’t have all of the details.
Rule #1: Don’t make it personal.
Knowing too much made it personal.
He dropped onto his face and spent a minute imitating a lawn sprinkler—a lawn sprinkler that sprayed blood and cried for his mama. I kept my distance.
Rule #8: Don’t get all icky with the victim’s fluids.
When all movement ceased, I moved in and planted the killing corkscrew in his left hand. In his right, I placed a bottle of 1997 Claude Chonion Merlot. His death would look like an unfortunate uncorking accident.
Rule #2: Make it look natural.
I ditched the latex gloves in the Dumpster and spun on my heels, practically bumping into the bum entering the mouth of the alley. Ragged clothes. A strong smell of urine. Wide eyes.
I reached into the inner pocket of his trench coat, tugged out another pair of latex gloves.
Rule #3: No witnesses.
“Who’re you?” the bum asked.
“I’m John,” I lied.
Rule #19: Never give your real name.
My real name was Bob. Bob Drizzle. I’m half Japanese. The other half is also Japanese. I also have a bit of Irish in me, which accounts for my red hair. Plus some Serbo-Croatian, a touch of Samoan, a dab of Nordic, a sprinkling of Cheyenne, and some Masi from my mother’s side.
But I blend invisibly into all cultures, where I ply my unique trade. I’m a paid assassin. A paid assassin who kills people for money.
I gave the bum a sad frown and said, “Sorry, buddy.”
The gloves didn’t go on easy—the previous pair had left my hands sweaty, and my palms fought with the rubber. The bum watched the struggle, his stance unsteady. I considered going back to the dead gambler and retrieving the corkscrew, to make the scene look like a fight for Merlot gone deadly.
Instead, I pulled out a pocketful of skinny balloons.
“I’m unemployed,” the bum said.
I shoved the multicolored mélange of latex into his filthy mouth, and while he sputtered and choked I blew up a pink one and expertly twisted it into a horsey. I dropped it by his twitching corpse. Street person dies making balloon animals. We’ve all seen it on the news many times.
I tugged off the gloves, balled them up inside out, and shot the three pointer at the open can.
“What’s going on?”
A man. Joe Busybody, sticking his nose in other people’s business, watching from the sidewalk. Linebacker body, gone soft with age.
I reached for another pair of gloves. “Sir, this is police business. Would you like to give a statement?”
The guy backpedaled.
“You’re no cop.”
I didn’t bother with the second glove. I removed the aluminum mallet from my holster. That, along with a little seasoning salt and the pork chop I kept in my shoe, would make his death mimic a meat tenderizing gone wrong.
But before I had a chance to tartare his ass, he took off.
I keep in shape.
Rule #13: Stay fit.
Any self-respecting hitman worth his contract fee has to workout these days. Marks were becoming more and more health conscious. Sometimes they ran. Sometimes they refused to die. Sometimes they even had the gall to fight back.
I do Pilates, and have one of those abdominal exercisers they sell on late night television. I bought it at a thrift store, with cash.
Rule #22: Don’t leave a paper trail.
The witness had a head start, but I quickly closed the distance. When the guy glanced, wide-eyed, over his shoulder, I was able to smash the mallet on his forehead.
See ya. Wouldn’t wanna be ya.
The mark stumbled, and I had to leap over the falling body. I skidded to a stop on thick rubber soles.
Rule #26: Shoes should be silent and have good traction, and good arch support.
I took a moment to scan the street. No one seemed to be watching.
I played Emeril on the mark’s face, then put the mallet in his right hand and the pork chop in his left.
I was sprinkling on the Mrs. Dash when I heard something behind me.
My head snapped up at the sound, and I peered over my shoulder. The number 332 commuter bus had stopped at my curb. Right next to the big sign that said BUS STOP.
I cursed under my breath for breaking Rule #86: Don’t kill anyone where people are likely to congregate, like bus stops.
I stared. A handful of riders, noses pressed to window glass, stared back.
The bus driver, a heavy-set woman wearing a White Sox hat, scrambled to close the bus door.
But I was fast. In three steps I’d mounted the stairs and withdrawn a can of oven cleaner from my holster. Nasty stuff, oven cleaner. The label is crammed full of warnings. The bus driver stared at the can and got wide-eyed.
“Drive,” I told her.
I faced the terrified group of riders. Two were children. Three were elderly. One was a nun with an eye patch.
Rule #7: No sympathy.
I snapped on another latex glove.
After counting them twice, I came up with nine people total. Just enough for a soccer team.
I removed the uninflated ball and the bicycle pump from my holster. Soccer games got rowdy. Casualties were common.
After screwing some cleats into the bottoms of my thick, rubber soled shoes, I spent a good ten minutes stomping on the group. The nun was especially tough. But I had training. I was a fuscia belt in Jin Dog Doo, the ancient Japanese art of killing a man using only your hands and feet and edged weapons and blunt weapons and common household appliances and guns.
Eventually, even the nun succumbed. Some torn goal netting and a discarded ref’s whistle completed the illusion. Only one last thing left to do.
“Stop the bus!” I yelled at the driver.
The driver didn’t stop. She accelerated.
Rule #89: Don’t attract attention.
This bus was attracting more than its share. Besides speeding, the driver had just run a red light, prompting honks and screeching brakes from cross-town traffic.
This simple hit had become a bit more complicated than I’d anticipated.
“Slow down!” I ordered the driver.
My command went unheeded. I took a Chilean Sea Bass out of my holster. It used to be called the Pantagonian Toothfish, but some savvy marketers changed its name and it’s currently the hottest fish on the five star menus of the world. So hot, that overfishing has brought the Chilean Sea Bass/Pantagonian Toothfish to the brink of extinction.
Beating the driver to death with the fish would look somewhat…well…fishy. At first. But when I planted a deboning knife and a few slices of lemon in her pockets, the cops would get the picture. Just another endangered species taking revenge.
I walked up to the front of the bus and tried to recall if “The Complete Amateur’s Guide to Contract Killing” had a rule about whacking a driver while you were a passenger. Nothing sprang to mind.
Still, it didn’t seem like a wise idea. I tried another tactic.
“Stop the bus, and I’ll let you go.”
That was Rule #17: Lie to the mark to put her at ease.
Or was that Rule #18?
I reached for the cheat card that came with the book, folded up in my pants pocket.
Rule #18: Lie to the mark. Rule #17: Get in and out as quickly as possible.
I’d sure blown that rule to hell.
I shook the thought out of my head, recalling Rule #25: Stay focused.
I put the crib sheet back in my pocket and poked the driver in the hat with the bass.
“Stop the bus, and you’ll live. I give you my word.”
Rule #241: Disarm them with a smile.
The driver hit the brakes, catapulting me forward. I bounced off the front window and into her back. The Sea Bass—my weapon—went flying, which broke Rule #98 and Rule #104 and possibly Rule #206.
Dazed, I sat up, watching as the driver shoved open the door and ran off, screaming.
I did a quick search for the Toothfish, but couldn’t find it amid the soccer massacre. I’d have to leave it behind, a blatant disregard for Rule #47. Luckily, the fish had been wiped clean of prints (Rule #11) and was unregistered (Rule #12) so it wouldn’t lead back to me.
Now for the driver.
I sprang from the bus and saw her beelining for Comiskey Park, where the White Sox played baseball. There was the usual activity around the stadium; fans, hotdog vendors, people selling programs, and no one seemed to pay any attention to me or the screaming fat lady.