Galine checked the street. No people. No cars. It was a cool, damp morning. She pulled up a frayed collar to shield her face from the weather and waited.
In a shabby apartment in a gray-faced building, Bryan Waller dressed for work. His mother called to wish him a happy birthday. She also thanked him for kicking out his whore of a wife earlier that year. He hadn’t. It was easier to let her think he had. She wasn’t a whore, either, or any of the other choice words his mother called her, but he certainly wasn’t any much the worse for her leaving.
Forty years old, newly single, no kids, less than twenty thousand to his name and a middling career in a middling civil service job. His one and only leg up in life was the chief of police, an old school playmate lately trying his hand in real estate on the side. He helped get Bryan a spot on the planning and zoning board. It provided a small stipend and allowed Bryan to pull the occasional vote in the chief’s favor in exchange for minimal monetary reward. There was an important vote set for that night’s board meeting. The chief had called twice in recent days just to be sure it would go the way it should. He needn’t have worried. Bryan’s corruptness was the easy going, uninquisitive type. It was only zoning, after all, not anything important. If nothing else, it gave him ready access to a police patrol to run off vagrants from the homeless shelter down the street.
Bryan exited the building in a piddling rain and fumbled with his umbrella on the sidewalk. Once, when he was a young boy, a wasp stung him. He suddenly felt a similar burning sensation in the center of his chest. He looked down to see a small hole in the middle of his tie. Behind that was another small hole in his shirt. Something trickled down his stomach and collected in a pool at his belt line. He swayed and collapsed.
Galine took a moment to appreciate her accuracy. She pocketed a small, narrow thing that might have seemed a toy gun to anyone who didn’t know better. A few minutes later, she vanished.
Bryan woke with a start, clutching his chest, sweating. He was in his shabby apartment in bed. He wasn’t dressed, hadn’t talked to his mother, or been killed in the street. It sure had seemed real, he thought.
He got up and showered. He selected the same clothes to wear as in his dream. They were the only clean clothes he had. His mother called to wish him a happy birthday and berate his ex-wife in absentia. It was raining outside. He noticed a figure under the awning of the shop across the street as he fumbled with his umbrella. Then he felt a familiar burning, stinging sensation in the center of his chest. He swayed and collapsed. The figure vanished.
Bryan woke with a start, clutching his chest, cursing loudly. He got up, shook it off and looked outside. It wasn’t raining, yet. There was no one under the bodega canopy across the street. No one he could see.
He showered and dressed, briefly contemplating a dirty dress shirt or a different tie. His mother called. He knew the exact words she would use and in what order. With some anxiety, and after a long hard look in the mirror to be certain he wasn’t dreaming again, he stepped outside. He didn’t have a chance to fumble with the umbrella. Galine shot him through the head before his feet hit the sidewalk. She crossed the street, shot him again in the heart and was gone.
Bryan continued waking from the dream until, exhausted and distraught, convinced sanity had abandoned him, he refused to believe he was really awake. By his count, he had been murdered seventeen times.
The first five or six deaths were fairly repetitious. Get ready for work, go outside, get shot. Sometimes a young woman in a battered black and gray long coat approached to make certain she inflicted the killing shot. She switched to blades after bullets proved ineffectual. He was perversely appreciative when, after several painful efforts, she returned to using a gun.
As his mental state unwound with each recurrence, he realized his assassin also seemed to be showing signs of the strain. Her steely-eyed mechanical efficiency gradually gave way to desperation. The last time, number seventeen, she pushed him into traffic. How unoriginal, he thought as he fell. How needlessly public and messy. Almost worse than knives. He spun around before the grill of the truck splattered him on the pavement. The woman, panic visible in her red eyes, uttered the only word he had heard her say. There was no menace to it. It came as a request, like a wish from a forlorn child who already knows to expect disappointment.