The rooftops of the fallen city were always gorgeous. Darkness was a fact of life for Londoners, and in their mad drive for light had erected a constellation of illumination. Gas lamps refueled by clockwork mechanisms sent up a chorus of ticks whenever their precious fuel flowed down engraved piping, scattering bats on the hour. Candles of every size, shape, and make burned in window sills, a common method of reckoning who owned what house. Gilded beeswax lit the desks of clerks, black numbers tended to draw in dark folk in darker places, smoky nubs rendered from drippings splattered urchins and beggars, and the white-wax threepennies were the stuff of the everyman. For the more artistic types, strings of insects housed in bottles and jars were prized. For the much less artistic, a good fire did the trick and had much lower risk of stings, thankyouverymuch. Electricals were the stuff of legend, but some could be glimpsed in the highest spires, brightening secret rooms and things best left undiscovered. Shadows still clung doggedly to their corners, but most of the buildings and streets of London shone with every color and brightness one could imagine, and several one can’t. It could be truly dizzying, and on occasion could make it damnably hard to orient oneself without a decent set of signs and the occasional cup of-
A tired set of eyes flicked from the rooftops to a cup placed on what they reckoned was the most expensive saucer they would ever lay themselves on. The ancient butler had a habit of materializing whenever he was needed, quite literally. The most experienced of staff tended to be of an otherworldly nature. The difficulties of negotiating payments in souls tended to be outweighed by the sort of ineffable service only the inferno could provide.
“Ah, yes. On the table, if you please.”
“As you wish, Sir. Master bid me to remind you that he wishes for Monsieur Renoix to be struck in the chest. It would be terribly improper to have him attend his next soiree without his face, as one would expect.”
There was moment of shared annoyance involving endless repetition and a great deal of hand-wringing. This had been the fourteenth such reminder, and the tea table had begun listing under the weight of so many pieces of china. One would think his charge had never hired an assassin before.
“Mhm. Thank you for the tea”.
The scuffed brim of a Union kepi lowered once more. Preparations had been completed, as simple as they were to him. Brass fittings polished, dark wood oiled, lenses wiped, every knob fiddled with to the shooter’s satisfaction, even that sticky one that nobody could figure out. He had drunk his special tea to keep the little tremors at bay and had a nice tune playing beside him to clear his mind, and had chosen a lovely spot in the rooftop garden to go to work. It had taken the good part of an hour, and could have easily been done beforehand, but doing it on-site was just as important to his employers as it was to him. His clients tended to be a bit put-off if he didn’t go through the right ceremonies. Image was important to these sorts, and when your chosen recipient tended to get back up after the job was done, it paid to make their demise seem dignified. He had once received a very heated letter from someone he had laid to rest with an unpolished bullet, and it had been a point of shame for many days. That had been decades ago when he was young and foolish. Now he was prized. A decent shot to the chest from him tended to be held in the same light as a perfumed letter: Rarely gotten, but dearly cherished.
The sharpshooter adjusted himself, tripod biting gently into the marble railing. Through the twinkling lights of London, his target gazed out of his window. It was lovely estate, a mirror image of the one he found himself in. The binoculars were slightly off-putting, but they weren’t trained on him. His client was doing the same from one of the many windows lining his estate. Why the pair had this long-standing tradition, he didn’t know. What he did know was that he was to fire upon this Renoix when he began to involve the trout. He wasn’t going to question it, even though he found himself transfixed by that array of molluscs now in play. Professionalism returned. His right eye narrowed slowly. The rear trigger clicked quietly. It was a lovely sound, possessing a finality only rivaled by the one that tended to come after it. Almost time, now. Right at the crescendo of the music, that had been the sign to ready himself. Not this one, the second movement after the flutist had that stroke on-stage, but it was still good form to exhale and get that single beat of sweat going. Had to-
“So wos this lot done, then?”
The measured breathe gave way to a patient sigh. The cat had returned for both his tea and his time. She wasn’t an unwanted presence, far from it, but the mood of the whole affair was getting dreadfully hard to maintain. It proved to be very difficult to appear aloof and dangerous when conversing with a peasant-accented feline that now smelled strongly of chamomile and varnish. It had taken him a good ten minutes to unstick her from the stock of his rifle and another twenty to remind her that marking things was all well and good most days, but not this day and not this thing. Nevertheless, he was glad to have someone ask him questions so bluntly. Everyone was so keen on codes and ciphers he was fairly certain someone had been writing him messages on his fish-wrappings. He looked at the whip-thin whiteness set upon his tea and turned back to his rifle as politely as he could. There was something carnal about the whole thing that he didn’t feel at home with. Cats shouldn’t moan like that.
“Angered somebody. Something about baccarat and a snuff-box, I believe.”
The slurping continued for a few moments until the cat had taken her place on the railing beside him, absentmindedly batting at where the tripod was biting into the stone.
“So ‘e’s due for a shot, is he? From Columbard Marksman, I see. Old Tasslelips must be steamed good and hot, eh?”
He shrugged. Death was cheap, even at his rates. He’d have to block the nickname out, as accurate as it was. His employer was awfully sensitive.
“I suppose. Triple rates, for what it’s worth.”
He didn’t catch himself in time and cursed it. That did it. The sharp intake of breath that he had learned preceded the sort of elated babbling that came about when you gave an urchin a roll of echoes for sweets came and went.
“Really now!? We’ll have a time, you and I! Fish and cream and whiskey and wine and steak and snuff and whores and-”
The look he gave silenced her. He had gotten good at it, and it was more efficient than shushing the thing. His throat would be hoarse within minutes, otherwise. His old accent tended to spring up when he got upset, which was rare and jarring enough to get the job done by itself. Never hurt to have a good glare, though.
“If I can make the shot with you yowling my ear off, we might. You’re a married cat, anyway, and I’m not allowed in the brothel anymore.”
“There’s always the Red Lan-”
“The good brothel.”
“Y’know th’ wife won’t have me in the house after last week anyway.”
“She literally chewed my ear off about it, mog. Now hush. I can hear the flute getting wonky.”
He inhaled again as the music swelled madly. It was time. The lights froze and the world grew silent in his mind. He had loved this ever since he was a boy. Nothing, not even being trapped in this foreign place for so long, could ever dampen it. Seeing the light and the flame when he pulled that trigger, it was his sun, his little bit of the surface. Grinning at his little private moment, he heard one last question in his ear.
“Wot d’you miss most ‘bout home, you foreign git?”
Memories came back unbidden, and he pushed them away. Later, when the money had come though and the night was theirs, then he would let them play out. They would be used then in full. Grass. Clouds. The flag. He’d wished he’d been there, when they’d won the war. See his family smile then, he’d reckon. Lord knows it had been too long. He sighed quietly, wrapping his finger around the trigger of the rifle he’d brought down with him all those years ago.
His little sun rose. Red splashed on white. Clean and proper. Silence settled.
For a little while.
“Christ, yes. Help me nab these saucers, will you?”
edited by SynapticError on 12/15/2017