The man with the socks on his hands was a terrible assassin. It went beyond the lack of fine motor skills, too. As he sat on the bus with his hands wrapped in burgundy, the man looked embarrassed, and good assassins never look anything but deadly.
“May I?” asked a young woman in a frayed skirt, pointing to the set next to him. Behind her, a thick-set punk with a large artificial tree tried to navigate the aisle, knocking fellow passengers to and fro as he fought for his footing.
The man stared at the woman, his sunken eyes cold like the rain outside. Or at least that’s how he imagined them. To him, cruelty was a cruel mistress.
“You may,” he said, moving his bag off the seat, but he dropped it, and something metal hit the ground. The woman ducked down, scooped it up for him, and paused, a frown on her face.
“A branding iron,” he said as darkly as he could, and snatched it back. “Thank you.”
“Why do you need a branding iron?” she asked, sitting next to him, rustling in her purse.
“I am branding things,” he said.
“What kinds of things?” she asked, oblivious to his vicious misdemeanour.
“Evil things. Dead things. Human things,” he said. “I must silence and brand someone this evening, in order to maintain my position at the pinnacle of the assassin’s guild.”
That wasn’t strictly true, but he was too heartless to care.
“Cool,” said the woman, and pulled out a little pudding cup, opened it up and started eating. It smelled strongly of bananas. Bananas reminded the man of his mother, of the blood in the puddles as the thieves—
“I’m in school,” the woman said happily. “Criminal psychology. It’s heavy stuff. Gonna be a profiler one day.”
The man just stared at her. She had banana pudding on her nose. She was exactly the kind of person he would want to have assassinated, if he were the one calling the shots. But tonight, with his mission…
“What do you do?” she asked.
He looked away as he spoke.
“I am a cleaner,” he said.
“Is that why you have socks on your hands?”
“No,” he said.
“No,” he said.
“Lobster hands?” she smiled.
He stared at her, tears welling in his eyes.
Her smile disappeared.
“I clean the world of impurities,” he said. “Of recklessness and naïveté. Of lust and infidelity. Of—”
“Douglas Street!” called the driver.
“This is my stop,” said the man, getting up and pushing past the woman’s knees, clutching his bag close to his chest. He waited by the doors, right behind her, and felt the handle of the knife he kept in his jacket, the rough blade calling out for blood, the woman’s spine so exposed, so pure and clean and desperate to be stabbed… All he needed was one kill… one kill to become certified. One kill to claim his place at the top of the assassin’s guild…
The bus pulled up to the stop and he made his move. In a quick motion, he gripped the knife in his socked hand, pulled back and—
—fell onto the sidewalk with a mouthful of pine needles. Plastic ones, too. The knife plugged itself neatly into his chest, and he stared at it in disbelief, like he had not given it permission to be there, and it was due for a solid scolding.
“Dude!” gasped the man with the tree. “Oh my god, are you hurt?”
But before he could answer, the doors closed again, and the bus drove away, kicking filthy water at his face as it went.
The man with the socks on his hands sat there at the bus stop, knowing he’d failed… failed to assassinate anyone… anyone but himself.
And that wasn’t strictly true, either. The guy with the tree’d done it.
“Shit,” he grumbled, and died.
Tonight's Topic Tag comes from @tenaciousN, and relates to Desert Bus For Hope