Gifts From The Devil
August 30, 2012 in Wordsmoker Short Fiction
I know there’s a lot of gasoline on the floor right now. And it’s soaked through your clothes. You’re soaked right through. In gasoline. I’m not going to burn you right now. I figured your death about 10am, and it’s about 9.30 right now. That gives me thirty or so minutes. And you. Thirty or so minutes.
Your last thirty minutes.
I’m ahead of myself this morning. Beautiful morning.
Thirty minutes. I need a cigarette. So I’m going to stand over here at the door and have myself a cigarette. There’s fumes everywhere and later on today I’m going to shower for an hour or so to get rid of the smell. But right now? Right now on this beautiful morning? I need a cigarette.
Maybe we both need to relax a little.
Hey. You like this? This lighter? It’s not a Zippo. But it sure looks like one. I’ll tell you this – before I stand outside a little so I don’t blow us both up – this lighter? Given to me by the devil himself.
It was a gift.
It really is beautiful out here. You picked a nice place to hide. I mean – you hid well, for a while. There were other guys looking for you, but – between you and I? They’re kinda low-rent sorts. That’s why you lived for six months in glorious seclusion, out here. Did you eat breakfast on the porch? That’s what I would do if I was here. Look at that view! Are those cows over there? See how the clouds cast a shadow over the fields in the distance? I bet you can see weather coming from miles away. Days before it arrives.
Yep. A nice spot, indeed.
The low-rent guys missed you completely. Missed the tell-tale signs. Six months of nothing from them, I get the call.
Just to let you know – I’m expensive.
My daily rate is sky-fucking-high. For a reason. I’m good at what I do.
When I’m doing it? I don’t do anything else. I pack 48 hours into every 24. I rarely sleep more than 6 hours. I eat once a day. I don’t spend money on alcohol or hookers or narcotics.
I get the job done, and I get it done within a very reasonable time-frame. That’s why I’m expensive.
You took me eight days.
The longest has taken me fourteen. And he was in Nairobi.
It really is beautiful out here. I mean – it’s a real shame I’m going to burn everything here down to the ground just after 10am, but I hope someone comes along maybe in six months and looks past the charred wreckage of this place and sees the potential.
It’s worth it alone for the view. Beautiful.
Yeah. The lighter.
It’s a cheap copy of a Zippo. Chinese knock-off more than probably. Made in a town somewhere I can’t pronounce without help. Maybe it’s one of those Chinese towns that make only one thing? Anyway. The cost isn’t important. It lights my cigarettes, end of fucking story. It’s not engraved or anything. I’ve had it two years, and I like taking care of it. Unlike your throwaway gas lighters, these kind demand a sort of attention. You need to fill it regularly, change the flint, maintain the wick.
I like the attention it demands. It makes it more worthy. I respect it, and it respects me.
It usually lights first time.
You’ve got to respect that.
I’ve got a little hot-plate in the room I’m renting here. I’m just 10 miles down the road. This morning I got up really early and made myself some breakfast. I’d bought some sausage and some bacon the day before, and that morning I popped out for some freshly-baked bread. You maybe know the bakery I’m talking about. Mom and pop store. Delicious. I slow-cooked the sausage and bacon together in the same pan, just some pork fat for taste, nothing too heavy. Real butter on the bread, still warm.
I love slow-cooking food. It gives me time to think.
That was about 6am this morning. Just as the sun rose in this part of the world. Were you sleeping then? Strange, isn’t it. I’m there, cooking my breakfast at 6am, planning what I’m going to do with you this morning, and you’re probably sleeping, dreaming the dreams of the damned. Little did you know that after I ate my slow-cooked breakfast that I’d drive down here, strap you to one of those rather elegant chairs you have in your hall, and just as slowly as I cooked my breakfast, I’d cut off your toes and fingers, one by one, after dousing you in gasoline.
I joke, of course. Even a blind ME would find your dislocated, charred bones looking “kinda weird” if I’d done that.
But I am going to send a subtle signal.
You’re tied with a decent hessian rope. It’ll burn to nothing in the flames. Your flesh will blister, blacken. That will hide the marks where I’ve tied you. But you will have been sitting in a rather fine wooden chair while you died in agony. An antique, I guess? I bet you paid a good dollar for it in Portland or one of those places. This rather fine wooden chair, which I guess you paid a pretty-penny for – that will char, blacken and eventually collapse around you. What’s left of you – which won’t be a lot – will be lying on top of it.
If someone looks closer, they’ll know you died on purpose.
That you did someone wrong.
It’s a small signal.
It might not be picked up by low-level receivers, let’s say. An ME in a hurry. A fire chief with budget cuts on his mind. They might miss the fact that you died in agony, apparently comfortably seated, in your kitchen.
Oh – but if it gets referred up the chain? Say the Feds get involved? They’ll look into your background. Look for motive. They’ll scrub your darkest corners clean. That means your family, too. Your mother and father in Florida. Your ex-wife.
Eventually, everyone you’ve ever known in your life will know what you’ve done. And how you paid for it.
You see. There are some places, some people, you just don’t steal from. Some places where you can’t cream things off and simply get away with it.
Some people will notice.
Some people actually love watching the little details, and these are the ones you have to watch out for yourself. Because these people – perhaps because of their nature, the nature that allows them the gift for detail – don’t take kindly to details being simply wrong. When they notice this? They go back, and as humans do, they search for a pattern.
Sometimes? Sometimes the pattern is so complex, so opaque, so difficult to see, that when these people eventually get there – when they get their moment of clarity, to use an AA term – and they see what’s been going on? They get even angrier.
I think it’s the effort involved in covering up a crime. They see that effort as time-wasted. Time they were already paying you for. They literally see the time you took to cover up your crime as a double-whammy.
Paying you so you could steal from them.
You’re lucky you stole under a million over three years.
Over that? I’d be having the same conversation with your wife right now.
Over ten? Your kids would be joining in. And you’d be watching.
You stole from the man who gave me this lighter.
This cheap, Chinese Zippo-knock-off.
I remember the day he gave it to me. It was after my seventh job for him. We met in a park, as you do, and talked business. After business was done, we both stood up to go our separate ways in the world. That was usually it. No more conversation. No more normal faux-congeniality. Business was done. But after he told me about my eighth job, and we went on with things we had to do, he called me back.
He’d bought me a gift. This lighter.
As you know, he’s one of the richest people in the country, unofficially speaking.
I stood beside him – just two men in a park – and he handed me this lighter. He told me – even though I knew this – that even if I didn’t smoke, I should always carry a lighter. And I took it from him. It wasn’t packaged, or gift-wrapped. I spun it around once in my hand. Plain stainless steel, polished to a good shine. Nearly as shiny as you see it here, bar the odd scratch and nick.
He told me it was a thank you. For doing a good job well. Every time. For doing exactly as he said, when he said it should be done. He told me he appreciated my professionalism. That my loyalty was inferred from my actions. My future was secure because of it. That his loyalty was mine whenever I needed it.
As you know, he’s one of the richest people in the country, unofficially speaking. And these were big words, an important statement from a very powerful man. And I remember every word like a priest and the catechism. He said that every time I looked upon this cheap lighter, I’d remember those words.
And I do.
Well. Your final moments now.
After I set you on fire – with this lighter – I’m going back to my room and pack and leave a place that never knew I was there. There’s a distinct possibility that no-one will ever know how you died. What your final moments were. But if they do stumble across it?
They’ll work it out.
Your death will be excruciating, and now you know why. You simply don’t mess with some people. And you were smart enough to know that. That’s what makes it stupid.
So stupid it gets clever, powerful people angry.
This lighter. The one that’s going to light the fire that will kill you in one of the worst ways possible?
It was a gift.
Because it was a gift, I take good care of it. I think of the man who gave it to me when I hold it and think about it.
You should too.
Let’s see if it lights first time, shall we?