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Show Me Your Teeth
by Miimaas
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The black slush squished and splashed in icy clumps under scuffed black boots, scattering over the deserted city street as a dark-clothed man jaywalked across the deserted night street.

The ice sloshed the last of red-brown tinged evidence off the lip of his shoes, cleansing them of all that’s left of someone who thought running from a mafia was a good idea.

The frigid winter air rolled chills up and down his spine, biting at any skin it could reach, which isn’t much more than his neck, ears, and the little places poking between fabric and hair, but that didn’t stop it from trying to penetrate the thicker materials with cold thin fog.

A satisfying pop broke the icy air as he cracked his neck, hot breath misting in eerie puffs through the black mask concealing most of his cold face from exactly no one at this hour.

His mood was a little bitter tonight.

Killing people always makes a mess and it’s too easy to leave a trail, so he doesn’t like to do it, but he’s considerably good at it.

Part of the reason why the shadier powers of the nation — particularly here in his base city — hire him, is for the dirty and sensitive jobs that they don’t want to be traced back to them. The stuff that requires a delicate, invisible precision that’s beyond most people and requires a specialist like himself.

Sure, any gang can track down a traitor and help them move on from the world early, but vanishing someone without a trace is a job for someone with specific talents.

A deep, chilled breath was drawn through the cloth mask’s thin layer of protection, zinging up to the roots of his exposed teeth.

Twilight was his favorite time. Not quite daytime but not quite nighttime. He would never get enough of the quiet or the lack of people, but even so, it was colder than the stone age out here and it had been a long night. So, even as his favorite hour was coming to an end, he wasn’t displeased.

The small hours between day and night on the cusp of dawn, when most are at their deepest sleep and lowest energy, is without a doubt his preferred time to be both awake and getting a job done.

There was a strange sense of power and security that came from being the only one awake. Being the only person in a normally crowded area.

Especially when the targets are usually sleeping like the rest of the population, trying to snag a few hours of rest where they can.

Too bad for them that civilization likes light, and streetlamps have made people forget that nocturnal predators still exist.

It seems contradictory, but in all his years of doing this, he’s found that the smart ones are the ones who take their own lives and go out on their own terms before a person like him is sent looking.

If they’re in deep enough to have someone like him sent after them, it’s already too late for them.

His chilled hand hooked under the driver-side handle of an exceedingly generic black vehicle, popping it open and pulling it shut behind him after long legs were tucked under the dash.

The engine roared to life with no time wasted and black leather gloves slid over the dark steering wheel as he headed off to fetch the latter half of the payment from yet another job done, taking the occasional glance in the rearview to make sure he wasn’t being followed; even if there was no one left to follow from this job.

He wouldn’t say he necessarily likes his profession — it’s an awful lot of difficult and precarious work — but he doesn’t dislike it, and he’s good at it. So, his complaints were minimal.

A 9-5 would be far more torture than you could ever inflict on someone, without crossing into the realm of things like custody battles, and kids attending funerals for people they barely knew but not being allowed to play with the other kids who had been forced to attend.

There are some truly horrific things in this world but even he (who is more than familiar with a number of them) has to admit that nothing is more torturous than a mundane life, and it’s probably the number one reason that most of his targets fall into the situations they do. Haphazard thrill-seeking to spice up a boring life, and wind up biting off more than they can chew or getting too obsessed.

Fifteen minutes later, the car rolled to a stop along a street that ran under a three-lane highway and idled in front of a hideout that he had laid eyes on more than once.

Even now he found it reckless of these money-backed morons to not move locations when someone of his skill knows exactly where they are and how to get to them.

If some poor soul inside ever happened to end up being his target, there would be nothing they could do. And no, it doesn't count as ‘smart’ to only come here when they’re meeting with him when it was so easy to follow them back to their main house and within five minutes of circling the block, he figured out exactly how to get in & out of there too without being seen.

Dark, damp shoes carried the night roamer from his stolen vehicle to the side of the rundown brick building, and leather gloves pressed against the top of an overflowing dumpster lid and pulled himself up without so much as grazing the dumpster’s contents.

His hands hooked on the edge of a window and in just a few seconds he slipped onto the second floor, avoiding almost all of their “security measures”.

Immediately upon setting foot on the ratty red carpet, the smells of gasoline, blood, and rancid cigar smoke assaulted his nose.

He forced a breath out of his nose even though it never helps for more than a few seconds, but for his lungs, he tries anyway.

He moved down the familiar hallways with distinct strides, taking a different route than was expected of him (as usual).

His serious and almost bored gaze roamed everything from the grungy walls to the old light fixtures, to the molding corners of the dark-colored baseboards. The entire building could be described with a single word, old.

The whole place looked like something straight out of a 70’s American motel & casino, and to his misfortune, he knows exactly what that looks like.

Black gloved knuckles wrapped twice against the dark door — one of the few things in this building that isn’t cheap crap — and not a moment passed before a gruff smoker’s voice practically coughed and wheezed the words, “Come in.”

His jaw stretched with a bored yawn under his mask as he pushed the door open and walked into the smoke-filled room.

He was greeted by the sight of two old men with their cigars on either side of an old but no-doubt expensive antique redwood desk. Your typical old-world gangsters who have failed to move with the times and may have seen one too many cop shows. Some of the last of their kind, who have yet to be pushed out by the younger, smarter powers rising behind the scenes.

These geezers still pay nicely but if he were a gambler, he’d wager that within the next 8 months or so, he’ll be contracted by their own children — or grandchildren — to take their heads and clear the path to some long-coveted thrones for the new generations to play with.

The wrinkled tan man clad in a dark navy-blue suit behind the desk is already in his own son’s crosshairs. The only reason he isn’t gone yet is the old-timer knows the kid is gunning for him “behind his back”.

He paid almost half of his little syndicate’s entire yearly earnings to this very fixer just to reject the contract if it’s offered. Though he knows very well that if his own flesh & blood child offers more, the masked man will be paying him an unfavorable visit; Regardless of how many bills he’s thrown at him and how many dealings they’ve had in the past.

(A “fixer” is a freelance person for hire who specializes in fixing delicate, embarrassing, and most often illegal problems for people in power, or anyone with enough money to pay their fees.)

Lucky for this old-timer, it hasn’t reached that point yet, but unbeknownst to him, his son has already contacted his father’s favorite problem solver and paid to know how much it would take to flip him against the man.

It’s a tasty number. He can’t wait to see if the kid manages to come up with the funds.

“Is it done?” The old man puffed his cigar, looking at the familiar and favored contractor from his plush leather seat behind the desk.

He needn’t ask, but he always does. Even knowing the man (Arson) — that he seems to be hiring more & more lately — has never failed to hold up his end of the deal.

Sometimes it takes a little extra cash after the fact if it was messier or more work than expected, but not paying this dangerous individual is far worse than giving him a little extra. He can take it as a generous tip, for good service.

Despite Arson’s high prices, he earns every bit of it; unlike the rest of these greedy money-grubbers charging twice as much as their work is worth, and half-assing the job on top of it.

A small black box slid across the varnished wood into the old gangster’s hand. Much to the confusion of the other old-timer sitting across the desk.

A Thai “businessman” that Arson has had an eye on lately.

There are a handful of people out there who would be quite interested to know that he’s here right now, meeting the head of a syndicate that’s trying desperately not to become obsolete.

“Good work.” The syndicate head groaned, spewing smoke from his lungs as he sat forward and opened the box.

A smirk pulled across his face before he pushed a briefcase down the table, stopped by Arson’s gloved hand. Opening and closing the case, he found what he wanted inside and immediately turned to leave, ignoring the old man’s send-off, “I’ll see you again soon, my friend.”

He suppressed the scoff that wanted to break his professionalism as he closed the door without a sound.

Friends aren’t something he’s entertained in a long time. Especially not the likes of people who his older clients usually are. Let’s just say he has a fondness for assassinating these so-called “friends” at the behest of their own “allies”, their own men, and even their own family.

Keeping true to his cautious and invisible nature, he went out a different way than he came in to remain unpredictable and was once again offbeat from what the syndicate’s lower ranks were expecting. As a result, he didn’t see a single person — or rather — not a single person saw him come or go except for the two people in that room.

As soon as he was back in the car, he took off. The entire ordeal took less than ten minutes, minus the time it took to drive over.

At least there was one thing he liked about these old guys. They knew how to make deals. Quick and quiet, no fuss, and comparative to newer generations, they were far more trustworthy about keeping up their end.

They know how the game is played and don’t need to be reminded how these exchanges work, and as a bonus, they’re easy to predict. So, Arson’s precautions against being cheated were rarely needed for them.

A sigh warmed the cloth over his mouth as he ran a hand through his hair, wanting to rub the exhaustion from his eyes.

He was ready to be done with this day that turned out to be far longer than he expected, but it wasn’t over yet. There are still a few things to take care of.

Almost an hour outside of the city, the car pulled off onto an empty dirt road, surrounded by fields and stretches of trees. The countryside was even colder than the city, but it smelled nicer.

His teeth weren’t so happy about the crisp bite of the cold air, but it was a welcome companion to his lungs after breathing in that thick smoke.

Anyone who knows that actual dirt can smell cleaner than bleach has had the pleasure of being outside the scum of a city. Surrounded by fresh air and clear night skies — provided you’re not too close to a livestock field, where the stars can actually be seen twinkling above.

Pushing the car door open with his foot, his cold hand fixed a tracker to the briefcase before climbing out and grabbing a shovel from the trunk. He used the headlights to see what he was doing as he buried the case off to the side of this path that only himself and people who shouldn’t be here, will ever use.

He’s been doing this for a long time. A briefcase full of cash has never been less trouble than a wire transfer.

Cash is untraceable, yes, but it can also be stolen, tracked, and is difficult to transport in large quantities; and his payments are never small.

If all of his clients paid him in cash, he would need several medium-sized storage units to hold his monthly earnings and they would need to be in distributed locations around the city and nation. And sooner or later, at least half of them would be compromised. He would lose more than half of his money just trying to store it, and underground deals for supplies and the like are far more expensive than regular public businesses. It’s a little more complicated than ordering a bulk of printer paper and pens.

These old fools may be past their prime, but the people under them aren’t.

The old men he works with have proven that they are more than willing to adapt and learn new tricks, by the mere fact that they hire guys like him to do the more delicate and dirty jobs.

Wire transfers have their own issues, but he was plenty skilled and had a few contacts who had it in their best interest to make sure those payments went smoothly and remained invisible to snooping eyes. Be it other criminals or government bloodhounds.

You could call it a symbiotic relationship.

They need guys like him to get them out of sticky situations that they tend to get themselves into — especially when they get too cocky and piss off the wrong person — and there’s no one better for dealing with that than someone who can do it fast, clean, and leave nothing behind.

All in all, the hardest part about this job isn’t the hassle of the crimes themselves, or what kind of job it is, but the payment.

It’s always the payment where things go south, even if the rest of the job was smooth.

Payment carries the most risks and is the thing contractors of all kinds usually get screwed on.

Which is the reason he has a strict policy of getting half up-front, and the other half when it’s done. That way, even if he gets stiffed on the bill (or the client dies or is compromised before their transaction is finished) he doesn’t lose money doing it, and sometimes even turns a profit.

If someone isn’t willing to pay upfront, he doesn’t need the contract.

The stingy small fries are better suited to the small fish. He has no shortage of work.

Only big players seem to understand that you have to give something to get something with people in his field and are willing to pay the “security deposit” to have their shady dealings handled. There’s no shortage of people out there who will agree to his terms in a heartbeat.

Whether or not they realize that his method protects them too, in the (never happened before) event that he doesn’t get the job done, doesn’t really matter.

People who can afford him aren’t shy about their wealth. They revel in it. They brag and advertise it on their wrists, in their clothes, and the jewels decorating their throats.

Hell, some outright tell him how many billions they’ve got as if wanting to impress him. It never seems to occur to them how lucrative his job is, and that they do not stand out among his clients. All of them seem to think they are the best or richest or most famous client he’s ever had.

Those people are the type he raises his prices for.

Boasting is billable. So is being a pain in the ass; and the more trouble he goes through, the higher those numbers get.

Although...watching someone who thought they were untouchable and could get away with trying to double-cross their deal being choked by their own ruby necklace is a hell of a sight to see.

As soon as the briefcase was buried and the sweat on his back was chilling him even more, he slipped a glove off and tested the tracker’s signal on his phone before going back to the car.

He sat sideways in the driver’s seat, his feet planted in the gravel outside of the open door, and nearly black eyes scanned the bright screen in his palm.

He set the device on his knee and slipped the other glove off, digging into his jacket pocket for a small strip of paper about the size of a fortune cookie’s, with some contact information for the next client scribbled across it.

Once the paper was in hand, he picked up the device again and his thumb tapped the numbers into the device before taking a lighter from the same pocket and sparking it.

Orange light poured over the edges of his face, casting deep black shadows in ominous corners of his masked face while the piece of wrinkled paper dangled over the flickering light. A small bit of heat hitting his fingers where they were closest to the flame.

The white edges slowly curled under the heat, changing color as they shriveled until they caught fire and were finally devoured under the flame crawling up the paper, reaching for his fingers as he tilted it to be level with the ground and slow its crawl towards his flesh.

He released the paper and watched it flutter to the ground in front of him, like a burning ember cast from a campfire, and stared as the small fire burn itself out and all that remained was barely a flick of ash, before spinning his legs into the vehicle.

With that, he slammed the door and headed back to the city.

Because he was tired, when he was back in the city, he took a little longer to do his normal post-job routine of wiping down the stolen car for anything that could lead back to him and dropped it off at a corner with the keys inside; gift-wrapped and just needing to be picked up by someone from the chop shop.

The chop shop was one of the few clients he had done jobs for in exchange for a service instead of profit, and just like the hackers, they too have a mutually beneficial arrangement with one another.

Taking care of the other groups that encroached on the shop’s territory was one of the best and easiest jobs he’s ever done, and the deal that came out of it was even better because they have no reason to betray him, what with him bringing them a fairly steady supply of clean cars to “resell”, and the little helpings he provides once in a while to keep the cops and other people off their backs if need be.

In other words, their business has been booming and is easier than ever since striking that deal, and it’s taken quite a bit of work and exhaustion off of his plate as well; not having to deal with the cars after a job.

Plus, the shop knows better than to call unless they truly need him. They have a sense of pride that makes them want to deal with their problems themselves and only get help if necessary.

The shop’s head, Jinsoo, is one of the most sensible people he has ever worked with. He’s brilliant at what he does. A rare talent, and one of the few people in this world that Arson finds agreeable.

Jinsoo values having a certain loyalty to those who could set you on fire just as easily as scratching your back and wasn’t shy about stating his opinion on it.

It was worth more than a few dollars or a couple of teeth to be trustworthy to the people he works with, and he knew it. After all, without that principle, he wouldn’t have had the slightest chance to deal with Arson, who has made him more money than half of his crew combined.

After the car was dropped at one of the designated spots, a brisk walk through the dropping temperatures, even though the sun would rise soon, was once again in order.

His safe house in this area wasn’t too far, thankfully.

The day — or rather night — was finally over and he could put something in his stomach and get some shut-eye before his time came again.

Doing normal human things for the next 8 hours sounded like a dream come true.

A hot shower, food, and sleep were all that occupied his mind as he made the two-mile walk and soon stepped into a rundown building.

He headed to the old elevator that had a simple metal gate stretching across the front instead of doors.

It was a type of cargo elevator, not meant to carry people but heavy materials — usually in large crates, yet it hadn’t been used for that in a long time.

When the elevator reached the fourth floor — the only one that had any function in the entire six-story building — he pushed the cage door aside and headed into the bare-bones-decorated brick-walled apartment.

The building was tall, but it was small. It had been repurposed twice. Once when they cleared it out and turned every floor into decent-sized studio apartments and again after it was decommissioned, when he bought it.

Buying the entire building wasn’t difficult and it was exactly what he needed. So, even though it was expensive, it was worth it.

In the whole building, this was the only apartment that was remotely livable. He only needed one, so it wasn’t much of an inconvenience and the others were good for storing things and keeping difficult hostages.

It wasn’t homey, but it wasn’t meant to be, and it had the necessities covered.

There was a decent-sized black leather couch that had seen better days against the right wall, but rather than a gross feeling, it had a well-used one. A mini-fridge sat beside it that had a few long-term rations, some water bottles, maybe a box of old takeout if he had forgotten to toss it last time he was here, and a cheap microwave sat on top.

In the far-left corner, across from the elevator was an open closet with no doors on it, containing a few sets of generic dark clothing, as well as a bag tucked into the bottom corner for appearance changes, which he would be using before his next job tomorrow.

Despite the appearance, the innocuous kit was the most elaborate thing in the apartment.

It had everything from scissors and extensions to hair dye & bleach. Even special effects makeup for extreme transformations such as scars, fake tattoos, colored contacts, colored hair spray. Everything he could ever need to make sure he wasn’t recognizable, and he had used almost all of it at some point.

The hair stuff was unmatched in its usefulness. When your face is always covered, changing your hair color and clothes is enough to make you an entirely different person. This trick had never failed him and proven again and again to be the difference between a clean break and exposure.

He doesn’t often need to use the kit before a job, he’s good enough at this that he doesn’t need such drastic disguises usually, but they are extraordinarily useful for set-up jobs; where he must make it look like a specific person or party was responsible for something.

On another note, cutting & dying his own hair has become routine. It was always a good idea to change his appearance to some degree between the big and higher-risk jobs. Especially ones where he was seen by someone who didn’t wind up dead by the end of the job.

He’s gotten into the habit of changing his hair at least twice a month, and he’s destroyed it several times before, but even that can help when you’re trying to look like another person, and if you cut it often enough it doesn’t matter whether it’s destroyed or not.

With the caveat that, as it turns out, having a bad haircut is just as noticeable as one that’s too good. Unless you pair it with the right ratty clothing. It’s easy to pass for a druggie or being homeless if you do it right, and those are two types of people that are almost invisible. They’re actively ignored and dismissed by people.

He headed for the center of the left wall, where a queen-size bed with simple grey sheets was calling his name, but despite being dead tired, he wasn’t going to lay down in these grimy clothes, smelling like this.

He detoured around the bed, dropping his jacket on the couch, and set his phone on the table opposite to the foot of the bed, and toed his shoes off while he was at it before heading to the other side of the bed where a door frame without a door stood between the mattress and the closet.

He swiped a pair of clothes from the closet as he passed and paused to reach under the bed for the first aid kit. It had a few of his own additions, things for stitches and the like, that you would normally have to go to a hospital to get.

He hadn’t used it for anything more than minor injuries in a while.

Once the kit was in hand, he went straight to the shower.

The bathroom wasn’t huge. At most, there was a towel and stuff for dental hygiene, but it served its purpose.

Most of his safe houses were stocked like this one. Only the essentials for living, with maybe one or two differences between them, like hidden equipment that he might need for a specific area of the city, but other than that — and aside from layout and locations — they were pretty much identical to one another. He only had four that weren’t.

Those four were not just safe houses, they’re base camps, and are reserved for storing the bulk of his things and equipment that he didn’t need for every job.

Most of his emergency supplies were there too. Things for being on the run, for when he needed to lay low in one area for long periods of time, and special circumstances like an interrogation or holding hostages for more than one or two nights, but if he brings a hostage to one of these bases, that usually means something’s gone terribly wrong.

He doesn’t usually keep much food in these places; Convenience stores were made for a reason.

A stray pack of ramen or other was usually enough for the time he spent in these places, and in this dwelling, there was just that.

The only things all of them were kept stocked with, were water and maybe snacks that were meant to restore energy in a pinch. Whatever other edibles there were, were leftovers from the previous times he had been there.

This one is a safe house he visits frequently because it was right smack in the middle of everything, including his own web of safety nets and secret locations.

He could go so far as to start calling this place his residence if he spent even a touch more of his time here, but he made a point to avoid favoring one area of the city too much. That was a good way to become complacent.

The warm water hitting his skin melted the chill planted in his bones by the winter weather and made a shiver run up his spine as it was washed away. The water peeled the exhaustion off him like an orange and it felt like shedding an old skin that was no longer comfortable.

He stayed in the shower for a little longer than usual, enjoying the quiet downtime. He had been so busy these days, running around almost constantly. It’s been one job after another for eight months now. Even a workaholic like himself can’t keep that up forever, and he was starting to feel it.

After turning the soothing water off, he got out and dressed only in a pair of decently comfortable sweats, his aching muscles not putting up with anything else, and he took meticulous care of his teeth before walking out to snatch his phone and set an alarm, before dropping onto the bed like a sack of rice; falling asleep the moment his eyes closed.

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Jupiter /Enis

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avatar Xhak - 2021-06-25 08:41:26
a brilliant start to a whole new world of adventure ... i suspect this will be a wild one
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