This story is by Georgina Ballantine and was part of our 2016 Winter Writing Contest. You can find all the Winter Writing Contest stories here.
The morning after the worst night of her life, Jane slipped into Dr Marlo’s deserted reception area, hoping to catch him before appointments commenced. The door to the examination room stood open, a rhythmic creaking coming from within.
‘Uncle Randall?’ she said, but the only reply was a throaty murmuring, coupled with startling moans. Jane smirked, switching her wristcam to ‘Record’ function.
‘Hey there, Dr Randy. Got a minute?’ she said, leaning against the doorframe. The brunette straddling the corpulent doctor shrieked as Dr Randall Marlo rolled off the examination table, struggling to zip his fly.
‘Jane, dammit. How dare you barge in here?’ He turned to the brunette, ‘Renée, I’m sorry, sweetheart. This is the niece I told you about. The one with no damn respect for boundaries.’
As Renée streaked from the room, Jane blinked against the early morning sunlight streaming through wall-to-ceiling windows. The air conditioning creaked above her, stirring the lingering scents of sweat and cloying perfume.
Randall Marlo finished buttoning his shirt. He did not motion her to sit. Instead he closed the door firmly and rounded on her, eyes narrowed.
‘I shall not waste my time with pleasantries,’ he said. ‘If you require necromancy, I suggest you consult Dr LaChaise, down the hall. She has no qualms about working with murderers such as yourself.’
Jane laughed. ‘Necromancy’s illegal, Uncle. You’re in no position to judge me.’
Randall waved her comments aside. ‘I restore life, Jane. Life. I cannot condone your sadistic occupation.’
Jane rolled her eyes. ‘Don’t give me that crap, Randall. You’re as much a killer as I am, cherry picking from the rich, white dead. Let the children from the ghettoes rot, eh? Is that your philosophy?’
Randall glowered. ‘So, Jane, I hear you murdered your brother. That can’t be helping your reputation.’
‘I didn’t murder Ethan,’ Jane snapped. ‘It was a mistake. He wasn’t supposed to be there. I need him resurrected, and fast. It’s Mum’s 60th on Saturday. And if you don’t help me, your sex tape goes viral.’ She dangled her wristcam in front of his face.
The doctor sighed, shaking his head. ‘Always so unreasonable,’ he muttered. He moved to his desk and sat down, locating a notepad.
‘Age of deceased and time since death?’ he said, pen poised.
‘27. He died 15 hours ago,’
Randall’s pen scratched across the page. ‘Is the corpse whole?’
Jane leaned forward, eyes flashing. ‘Of course it’s whole. What, you think I’d chop off his head as a memento?’
The doctor laid the notepad aside, steepling his thick fingers. ‘In cases of excessive violence, with which you should be intimately familiar, the dismembered parts and fluids often remain dispersed.’
‘Apart from the crater in his chest, he was in one piece.’ Jane’s stomach clenched at the memory. Blood, so much blood.
‘So you fired at close range?’
‘I was hunting a rogue shaman, OK?’ Jane said, guilt fueling her volume. ‘Remember, the one who redirected the Metro Line into a hellmouth? I had no idea Ethan was following me.’
Randall regarded her with obvious skepticism. ‘Indeed. So, whose life will you forfeit against your brother’s resurrection?’
The silence that followed was broken only by the distant rumble of a lawn mower. ‘Are you telling me,’ Jane snarled, ‘that I need to take a life to resurrect one? And you think my job is sadistic? Hypocrisy, Randall. It’s a big word. Look it up’
‘You’ve killed hundreds, Jane. I require one death only.’
Jane approached the desk, crossing her arms. ‘I’m on vacation.’
‘Remember, a gradual, painful demise is best.’ A hint of glee entered the doctor’s voice. ‘The threat of death causes elevation of the synapses. The more fear, the greater the life energy at my disposal.’
Jane felt bile rise inside her as she visualized her uncle junking on a dying victim’s lifeflow. Her nausea changed to panic as she imagined herself torturing his victim. After the events of last night, how would she end another life? ‘Maybe I could take out a herd of elephants instead?’ she said. ‘Or a blue whale?’
Randall frowned. ‘The price of resurrection is a human life. I can arrange a reputable assassin to assist you., should you prefer?’
‘I’ll do my own dirty work,’ she said. Ha, a reputable assassin, Jane thought. That’s an oxymoron if ever I heard one.
‘As you wish. I have a number of urgent assassinations pending. Perhaps that dreadful politician, George Atfantis? You went to university together, I believe?’
‘I choose my own contracts, Randall. My kill, my choice.’
‘Then choose, Jane, but if your victim is not on my approved list, our time here is done.’
So much for family solidarity. Jane wondered if there was a way to avoid explaining her reluctance to kill. No, it was time to swallow her pride and switch her voice to cajoling mode.
‘Off the record, Uncle Randall, I missed three hits after sundown yesterday. The agency’s put me on sick leave. Post-traumatic stress disorder from shooting Ethan.’ She gave a nervous laugh.
‘Can’t even squash a cockroach at the moment.’
Randall raised one eyebrow. ‘Oh come now, Jane. Kingston’s infamous assassin, incapacitated? That would be so…pathetic.’
Jane’s anxiety switched instantly to anger. ‘I killed my own brother, you bastard. You think that was easy?’
‘Alright, alright.’ Randall spread his hands wide. ‘But the science holds true, a death for a life. Here’s my hit list.’ He handed her a sheet of paper and a stoppered blue glass test-tube. ‘This is a miasma vial. When your victim dies, un-stopper the tube and the life energy will slide right in. If you do it correctly, the glass turns green.’
Jane stared at the proffered items. She took a deep, slow breath. ‘Randall, we’re family. If that means anything to you, please, tell me. Is there really no other way?’
Randall snorted, clearly enjoying her discomfort. ‘Jane, as you know, your Aunt and I separated weeks ago. You’ve met Renée, my new partner, delightful in so many ways your aunt lacked. She’s also astonishingly rich. Your worthless family is no longer my business. Now go. I have calls to make.’ He waved his hand in dismissal.
Jane ached to land a punch on his smug mouth. Instead she dug her nails into her palms and bit back her response.
‘Oh, and Jane? Hurry. You have around 36 hours left before decay renders Ethan’s body a partial corpse. Resurrection would then require three deaths, minimum.’
Jane grabbed the tube and paper, stalking from the room. Back in the waiting area, she slammed Randall’s door and slumped against the wall, exhaling pent-up breath. Jane Frenecki, she thought, notorious assassin, killer of abhorrent villains. How long before word gets out of your ineptitude, before the bounty hunters come to claim you?
Eyes watched her from across the room. A smirk played around Renée’s full lips as she regarded Jane with open contempt. Had she been listening in?
Jane left through the side door, willing Renée to drop dead.
The next morning, Jane strode into the empty waiting area. Within seconds she was airborne, her foot connecting with Randall’s door. As the wood collapsed inwards, she sauntered inside.
Jane found her uncle backed up against the corner bookcase, brandishing a letter opener.
‘Ah, it’s you, Jane,’ he said. ‘We had a break-in last night and I’m a bit on edge.’
‘Yeah, that was me raiding your supplies.’ She set her backpack down on the desk, exposing the contents. ‘47 tubes, green to the last.’
The blade slipped from Randall’s fingers, clattering on the hardwood floor. Lips parted in astonishment, he approached the desk.
‘But how?’ he gasped. ‘You killed this many?’
‘Self-defense, naturally,’ Jane said, inspecting her nails. ‘Your cuddle bunny ratted me out to the bounty hunters. Pity, really. Some of them were mates.’
‘Renée? No, no, she wouldn’t. She’s running late today, but when she arrives I’ll ask…’ His eyes widened in horror as Jane held up a test-tube, the letter R visible in black marker.
‘Aw, your face, Randy.’ Jane laughed. ‘Darling Renée did me a favor. A knife through her treacherous heart, and boom! Sick leave cancelled. Here, catch!’
The test-tube sailed up into the air. Randall propelled himself across the room in pursuit. ‘Noooooo,’ he cried as it smashed against the bookcase.
‘Whoops!’ Jane said. ‘Maybe she’s in here?’ A second R-marked test-tube sped towards the window.
‘Stop! Please, stop!’ cried Randall, as the tube shattered against the glass pane. ‘I’ll do it. I’ll resurrect Ethan, right now.’
Jane withdrew a red folder from her bag. ‘Here’s my list, Randy. 43 names, plus Ethan. Dead ghetto kids, waiting for their second chance.’ She scattered the test-tubes across the desk, all marked with the letter R. ‘And maybe, if you get the job done, I’ll let you bring your playmate back to life.’ She grinned, spinning a test-tube round her finger. If I can just remember where I put her…’