Short story – The Lesson

Kinder looked at his apprentice, “Usually the most difficult part of this job is getting rid of the bodies.” He wasn’t one for grumbling and especially not in front of an underling but professional pride prompted him to add, “Yes, anyone can do all the rest of it but it takes a professional to be able to clean up properly afterwards. There are very few occasions when we need to leave a ‘message’.” He made the air quotes sign with his hands.

“Yes, sir. Do we bury or burn?” Wilfred, the apprentice in question, indicated the recently deceased cadaver in front of them. It was quite clean, there was hardly a trace of blood around the neat circular incision just below the ribcage. 

The stiletto was, in fact, the only item that they had brought with them. That and the garrotte, and a few knives as well as the various poisons and potions that no self-respecting assassin would leave home without. 

“On this occasion,” the older man replied, “we do have an easy option. The client does want to leave a message for his… ahem, …for his competitors. Not that he wants to put them out of business, you understand. Competition is to be encouraged of course. But he feels the need to indicate some limits beyond which they should not stray.” He looked around the sumptuously furnished apartment as if to illustrate his point. 

The scantily clad courtesan lay across a divan, sleeping soundly as a result of the sleeping draught that had been slipped into her wine. It would, he thought, not be the gentlemanly thing to leave a lady to deal with the consequences of their, transaction, with the recently deceased Mister DeBorn.

He thought for a moment and then spoke, with his usual pompous tone. “Now then young man, a little test for you. What do you suggest we do on this occasion and in these circumstances?” He indicated the sleeping figure. The apprentice program required ‘on the job’ testing and reporting. And young master Wilfred here wasn’t doing very well so far.

Wilfred thought for a moment. He was very aware of his shortcomings and knew the penalty for failure. He needed a good answer to bring his score average back into the acceptable range. “Well sir, we could simply leave the stiletto over there with the lady. That would remove suspicion from us.” Kinder didn’t respond. His training wouldn’t let him show any emotion, so frowning internally, he waited. Patience is one of the best weapons of the great assassin. And he knew he was a great assassin.

“But I don’t think that would be very fair on the lady, nor in the end believable. We could leave Mister DeBorn here and take the lady with us. And leave her somewhere safe.” Still, Kinder waited, he was pleased that the apprentice was at least considering a range of options. He watched the boy as he puzzled through the possibilities.

“I think sir, that we should leave as we arrived, without giving any sign of our presence, but on the way out we should create an obvious entry point and so make people think that an unauthorised entry had been made by the people responsible, and so remove suspicion from the lady.” He finished with a rush.

Kinder was a little disappointed. He would have to consider very carefully how many marks that answer deserved.

“And if we do that then people will believe that common criminals had deceased Mister DeBorn?” He arched an eyebrow at the apprentice. “That would hardly leave a message now, would it? I’m sure that would not please our client. Although I might accept that some measure of suspicion could be removed from this lady. Think again, and consider your position.” Nothing wrong with putting a little pressure on the boy, he thought.

Wilfred looked down. He’d thought that he had the answer, but clearly not. It wouldn’t do to argue for an already refused solution, yet he knew that there must be a better way. Finally, he allowed his eyes to wander around the room. He’d been studiously ignoring the lady, her lack of clothing would have distracted him no end if he had allowed himself to gaze too long on her. But now, in extremis, he cast his eye on her sleeping form. She’d hardly moved since they had entered the room. The divan on which she was so elegantly draped was actually a chaise longue, the shorter cushion held upright against the longer by a twisted silk rope.

The answer came to him. “We should tie up the lady, using that rope,” he indicated the rope. “Making sure that she could not possibly have been involved in the demise of Mister DeBorn and then leave as we entered.” He looked for approval from his Master. “That would leave a message that we were here, but no-one would know how or who. Those who know Mister DeBorn would still know the why of it though.”

“A little slow but we get there, in the end, my boy.” Kinder nodded, “Never be afraid to improvise with the facilities that we find around us in our work. We shouldn’t bring too many items with us as they may be left behind or merely hinder us in our task, but always be ready to utilise what good fortune delivers to us.

As they made their way to their exit point Kinder paused, ‘Seven point five,’ he decided. Enough to give a pass but not a distinction. There were far more able students in the class who would have spotted the rope much sooner and not wasted time like young Master Wilfred.