Friday, December 17, 2021

Jimmy the Kid

Short Story

Jimmy the Kid

(Originally published in The Ramblings of a Condemned Man, NEVER STOP NEVER QUIT, 2018)

He was just a kid.

I wonder if I looked that young when I made my first kill. Must’ve been…how many years ago? God, I can’t believe it’s been so long. It still feels like yesterday.

The old coot could barely move, just sitting around all day in his Barcalounger, waiting for someone to come drag him to bed when it was time to go to sleep. I just remember being so scared, slinking around the nursing home, sure I’d get caught. But I finally found his room.

He jumped as soon as he saw me barrel through the door, one ring on the end of a wire saw hanging over each index finger. I got to him before he could get up, but he still put up one hell of a fight—until I got that wire around his neck. That always slows ‘em down. It took me over three minutes to cut all the way through. I almost had to stop a couple of times; the sight was making me sick, but I remembered the instructions my teacher gave me: “Make it gruesome. Send a message.”

All too often, he had to correct me and clean up after my mistakes.

“Not enough blood.”

“You left a fingerprint.”

“Never draw attention to yourself.”

The normal five-kill training cycle wasn’t enough for me. I needed eight to become certified and cleared to work on my own. With Jimmy, I would’ve signed him off after his first kill and sent him on his way, if only to get some distance between us.

The kid scares me.

They assigned him to me five weeks ago, when he was fresh out of Phase 2: Screening and Aptitude. They figured I was a good fit for him because we already knew each other from before Phase 1. How the hell they usually pick ‘em is beyond me. It’s not like there’s a “Contract Killer” section in the classifieds. They sure don’t have their own booth on career day. I was born into the trade myself; a legacy. Like father, like son.

Not with Jimmy though: he tracked them down. Well, tracked me down, that is. Right after I did the Gatling job in July, this guy—Jimmy, as I later found out—walked up to me on Morris Street. I didn’t know him, and he didn’t know me, at least I thought he didn’t. He was holding a newspaper in his hand, and just as I was getting out of my car, he stuck the front page right under my nose. “Hey!” he said. “Did you see today’s paper?”

I’m sure the grainy black-and-white photograph of a bloodstained sheet covering Gatling’s body sent the proper message. They probably spent a long time looking for the rest of her. That was a fun job. I just turned away from the kid.

Then, right down the street, Jimmy just blurted out, “How much did they pay you for this?” The kid blew my mind.

I mumbled something like, “Get the hell outta here with that,” and went on my way. Jimmy didn’t follow. He just stood there and yelled out, “Tell them I want in!” I kept walking, didn’t even acknowledge he was still yelling at me. How the hell did he know?

Of course, I had to report the incident. I told them absolutely everything I knew—which was nothing. No one was around when I went into Gatling’s shop that night. There was no way this kid, or anyone, could have followed me. No way at all.

They picked up Jimmy later that week for Phase 1: Identification. That’s when they dig in deep to find out who you really are and how willing you are to get your hands dirty. This line of work isn’t for everybody. Actually, it’s not for anyone decent.

Before putting you in the program, they walk you through some gruesome past jobs, some of the messiest ones we’ve done, with photos and all, just to see if you can handle it. If you pass Phase 1, they set you up with a couple of mock scenarios. That’s Phase 2. Usually, it’s just an animal or some random homeless guy who won’t be missed. They test and grade you on your strength, technique, and staying power—your ability to stomach the sight and smell. If you pass, you move on to live training exercises. If you fail, you disappear. Jimmy passed with flying colors.

He must have told them how my cover was blown, but they never mentioned it to me. I knew better than to ask Jimmy. Besides, once he’s up and running, I’m retired.

His first kill was much like my own: a nobody, a random target who was of no interest to our foundation. It was just a practice kill, to see if you could execute when the rubber met the road. The objective was to stage it like a real job, and to make it gruesome, send a message.

He picked a seventy-six-year-old widow with no immediate family (closest was her niece, a fourth-grade schoolteacher). Jimmy was quiet when he broke into her home and slipped an ice pick through the base of her skull as she slept in the rocking chair. That was smart. Making it gruesome doesn’t mean you have to make it difficult. Man, if I had known that on my first kill, life would’ve been so much easier. You can always add gruesome—after they’re dead. Jimmy wasted no time proving he had both the stomach and the creativity for the job. He actually positioned Aunt Wendy’s body parts on the floor to spell out the words “U DID THIS,” as a message for whoever stepped foot into the blood-soaked living room.

His next test was a moving hit. Jimmy waited for me to radio in the target from his hide site, seven hundred feet from the freeway. “Motorcycle. Red helmet. Southbound. Go.” I timed my call so he would have about ten seconds before the mark passed from his field of view.

Jimmy did it in four. I wasn’t sure how to take it when I heard him say, “Watch the hands.” Well, not until I saw the pigeon careen back, sending both him and his bike sprawling across the road at sixty-five miles an hour. Jimmy hit the bastard on his right hand. If the shot didn’t kill him, the spectacular crash would. Of course, the freight truck jackknifing over the top of the poor bastard was just icing on the cake. Figuring he had earned a bit of praise, I radioed, “Good one, kid. Where’d you learn to shoot like that?”

“I’m not a kid,” was his only reply. Asshole. He was probably an arcade nerd growing up. Shoot-em-up games, that’s my guess.

The third test was multiple targets. I gave Jimmy the names: Mr. and Mrs. Andrew Vines of Oakdale Retirement Community. The rest was up to him, but he had to complete the assignment by nine o’clock that night, and it was five thirty in the afternoon when the clock started. The Vines lived in a secure high-rise apartment forty-five minutes away.

The kid didn’t even blink an eye; he just walked out the door.

At 8:35 p.m., Jimmy came strolling back in. His pants were ripped at the knee and up the side. “Mission accomplished?” I asked.

“Mission accomplished,” he snickered.

“How did you get in the building?”

“Easy,” he said. “I tore my jeans, then told some old lady I crashed my bike and had somehow lost my keys. She bought it and let me in. No questions asked other than, ‘Are you okay, Sonny?’” I complimented him on the trick, but Jimmy just dismissed my words.

“And how did you get into the target’s apartment?”

Jimmy smiled and shrugged his shoulders. “I just told them I couldn’t find the family I was looking for. People always want to help a stranger in need, I guess. I can look pretty sappy if I have to.”

I shuddered as I asked the next question. “Did you make it gruesome?” The kid didn’t say a word and just handed me a plastic bag. Inside were three fingers, an ear, and four little bloodied disks. “What are these?” They almost looked like seashells.

“Kneecaps!” he boasted with a haunting smile. “It’ll have the cops racking their brains for weeks trying to figure out the motive for this one.” The kid really scares me. I mean, who the hell thinks of that shit, especially someone so new to this kind of work?

To join the organization, you have to prove your willingness to sacrifice anything. Number four was a test of Jimmy’s dedication. “How long have you lived in Bakers?” I asked, easing into the task.

“All my life,” Jimmy replied with an air of indifference. “In fact, I live just a few miles from the house I was born in. There’s not much here, but what the hell. I figured I’d stay until a better opportunity comes along. One boring place is as good as another, I guess.”

I followed up with, “Do you have any close relationships?” He looked down, squirming uncomfortably as he rubbed a pattern on the rug with his foot.

“Not really. I tend to keep to myself. Sure, I’m friendly with the people I’m around. It seems like every year or so, I drift away and hook up with new mates. I never really break up with the old ones…they just go away and spend their time with other guys.” I could see Jimmy’s discomfort. His social life was a strain; it’s probably what brought him to us in the first place. Sometimes, a man finds living a barbarian’s life in the shadows is preferred to blending in to normalcy alongside every other cog.

Then I sharpened my focus. “What’s your longest relationship?” Jimmy’s eyes lit up like the lifeless wooden doll who had just taken his first breath, infused with the spirit of a fairy princess.

“Sue Ellen Kapict,” he cooed. “I’ve had a crush on her forever. We met way back in the first grade and have been friends ever since.” Jimmy closed his eyes and appeared to drift off, maybe reminiscing about moments in the past or dreaming of wonderment yet to come. “I always tried to push for more,” he sighed. “She hasn’t given in yet; says she’s worried about losing the family she has now—losing what we have as ‘friends’ over some short-lived fling. I’ve always told myself, ‘Someday, you’re going to show Sue Ellen you’re the one for her. You’re the one for her…and she’s the one for you!’” I could feel Jimmy straining to share just a bit of his long-ago-buried bliss with me.

Sometimes I really hate my job. I act on someone else’s arbitrary decisions—someone I don’t know and will probably never meet. The contracts are filtered down to me for execution, sometimes relayed through a contact I trust, or maybe in a note secured for my eyes only. I have no knowledge of the circumstances leading to my orders, nor do I know what the aftermath will be—except that the decision will end a life and ruin countless others.

I used to wonder why my boss never dealt with me in person. Meeting face-to-face would help me get a better feel for the impact of my work, and it would give them the opportunity to relish in the masterpieces I create for them.

Now I know why. They don’t want any part of what Jimmy and I do.

“She’s your target.”

I can’t begin to imagine the mountain of emotions and questions pouring through Jimmy’s mind. Maybe I didn’t want to know because I didn’t want to think about how I would react if I were in his shoes.


“Can’t we pick someone else?”

“What if I can’t do this?”


But, Jimmy showed none of those reactions, no emotion at all. His only tell was the change in his eyes. With a renewed lifeless stare, he asked one question only.

“By when?”

I gave him until noon the next day. He tracked down Sue Ellen Kapict early. Apparently, she loved quiet time in her garden and spent every Saturday morning, from eight to eleven o’clock, caring for her plants and flowers.

For our after-action review, I chose to go without details. All I needed to know was asked and answered in one question. “Was it gruesome?” Jimmy’s eyes lit up once more as his smile spread from ear to ear.

“Oh, yeah,” he cooed, “and I definitely sent a message.”

Sue Ellen’s death hit that quaint town hard, more so than the other recent murders. Of course, there was talk of a connection between the killings. Residents were afraid to walk the streets alone. Police had no leads. They couldn’t even come up with a motive. Finally, the town rose up. It was if they all screamed in unison, “Enough!” To help fade the stain of yet another gruesome murder in Bakers, Todd Kapict organized Bakers Township Community Day, with a parade, a genuine county fair, and capped off by a sweetheart dance in the evening. The event was scheduled for the nineteenth, a mere three weeks after Sue Ellen was murdered. Three weeks was pretty quick considering everything Todd had to accomplish: bury his love, start a new life alone, and plan this event.

Twenty-one days was hardly enough time.

For Jimmy, twenty-one days was an eternity. He marveled at his accomplishments during the previous seven, eyes sparkling with the recollection of every blade strike…every inch of skin peeled from the bitch who had rejected him so many times. Now, as he prepared to celebrate his retribution, he worked side by side with Todd to ensure everything was just right. Todd was indebted to Jimmy for rounding up Sue Ellen’s old friends and encouraging them to participate in the day’s festivities.

“You were always good to her, Jimmy,” Todd softly sobbed. “Thank you.”

Jimmy smiled. “I just want to continue to be a big part of this.”

The night before the festivities, I sat down with Jimmy and asked him, “Are you ready for this?”

“Ready for what?” Jimmy squared his jaw, taking a deep breath of the stale country air. “Community Day? I fucking love it. I’m going to enjoy watching these people fake happiness through their bloodshot eyes, welled up with tears.” He struck a mock pose of monumental sorrow hiding under a whisper-thin veil of cheer. I figured that was going to be his look for Community Day.

Everything was set up perfectly for the plan, if I do say so myself. The time had come to rattle Jimmy’s cage. Payback for being such an asshole, for being so good at this job. “Tomorrow’s the date.”

With his head cocked to the side, like that RCA dog staring at the phonograph, he asked, “Date for what?”

“Kill number five. In a public place. The dance.” The kid was cold. He had no reaction, no flinch of surprise or look of concern.

Again, he had just one question. “Who’s the target?”

My instructions were simple. I told him, “Your pick, Jimmy. The only requirement is it’s gotta be at the sweetheart dance. Everything else is up to you. Just brief me on the details when the job is done.” The corner of Jimmy’s mouth turned up into a smirk as his eyes closed softly. Slowly rocking his head, he seemed to be in full agreement with the plan he was unfolding. I could tell the kid already had his pigeon in mind.

The need to justify my existence, to at least pretend I was teaching my pupil something, forced me to keep talking. “You’ll need a woman, you know. Can’t really go to a sweetheart dance on your own now, can you?”

“I already got one.” Of course he did. “Might as well go with the obvious choice,” he affirmed.

“She doesn’t know anything about your training, right?” I just couldn’t stop talking.

“She’s dumb as a box of rocks. That’s probably why her first husband left her a few years back.”

Jimmy and I parted, set to meet a week after the kill. If all went according to plan, Bakers Township would be a hornet’s nest of activity. It was not exactly a good place or time to be a stranger walking around town, especially one with so many accomplishments under his belt. No matter how perfectly you covered your tracks, after so many jobs, inevitably a pattern would begin to emerge—they’d find that one piece and everything would fall into place. I needed to be long gone before someone had a chance to find mine. I left town immediately. Jimmy would disappear at some point after the hit.

I figured if Jimmy met me today, his plan had worked out. He disappeared, just another victim of the Bakers Township’s killer, never to be seen again—as he started a storied career with the foundation. If it hadn’t gone well, I’d move on. There’s always another trainee waiting in the wings.

But, all went well.

From my booth in Diorgio’s Coffee Shop, I had a clear view of the parking lot as well as the street feeding customers in. It was the perfect place to meet. Diorgio’s has the best bagels and lox in this part of the country. Plus, it’s a little over two hundred miles away from Bakers Township, well outside of the search area they had set up.

If it weren’t for that dopey walk of his, I wouldn’t have even recognized Jimmy when he turned the corner and shot a straight line for the door. He was empty-handed and dressed for a casual Saturday afternoon in town. A curly mop top, dark with just a hint of tangerine, covered up his blond buzz cut. The winter had been unseasonably cold, yet Jimmy’s bronzed tan gave the impression that he lived in or had just returned from the islands. I just looked the same as before.

Jimmy asked the waitress for a cup of coffee—black, no sugar—as he slid into the booth across from me. “So, what’s it now?” I asked. “James? Jim?” I offered alternatives in a playful tone. “Peter? Antonio?” His only response was that lopsided smirk. Our waitress served him his coffee; he wrapped his hands around the mug.

“Fuck, it’s cold out,” was his opener. “I think I’ll stick with Jimmy.”

Gently tapping my near-empty cup, I whispered an announcement to the coffee shop’s patrons, “Well, here’s to the coronation of Jimmy the Kid!” Jimmy blushed, sheepishly lowering his eyes to the table. That humble gesture was one of the rare times I saw anything other than the devil himself in the kid. Satan returned, however, the instant I started his debrief.

“Walk me through it.”

Jimmy looked straight through me. With no inflection in his voice, no emotion, he detailed Community Day. “I chose Todd Kapict because he was definitely the highest-profile target at the time. I figured no better way to send the message than by striking at the heart of our fair community. Besides, he had nothing left. I honestly felt sorry for the poor bastard, probably did him a favor.”

“You’re a saint,” I joked. You’re the devil made flesh, I thought. But Jimmy was in a trance. My sarcasm was lost on him. He needed to tell his story, to relive his glory.

“With Gina as my puppet, we were the perfect combination. Blending in like we did, no one thought we were there for any reason other than to celebrate Community Day. We also stuck out just enough, with Gina’s knockout body and her sad story. She acted like she was crazy about me. Everyone will remember our genuine love for each other. One of us actually believing that ruse made it look so much better.”

Jimmy described how he worked the room, solidifying his fictional account and clouding the timeline so his momentary absence during the dance went unnoticed. Later, when the police interviewed witnesses, Christine remembered that she talked to Jimmy and he had told her about how sad Mike was. Mike had talked about Jimmy consoling Christine right after he had been joking with Bobby. Bobby remembered…

Witness statements, especially concerning violent crimes, tend to have a lot of holes. He was just a kid. It took me years to develop a knack for pre-staging a crime scene like that. Jimmy was already putting me to shame.

He told me how Todd was in a world of his own, attending to every little detail and ensuring the guests were having a great time. Did they like the food? Did they need more to drink? What song did they want to hear next?

“I followed Todd,” Jimmy continued, “out the back of the building. He was hauling another one of those big trash bags. You know, the one where you stick four or five garbage-can-sized bags into one? Anyway, we got to talking about Sue Ellen. I opened up about the love I’d felt for her all these years. I talked about my desire to be with her, to give everything to her and take all that she had. The poor sap, he didn’t even get offended by my talk of carnal desire for his girl. He just felt my pain.”

Jimmy’s eyes lit up again.

“Todd leaned in to console me. That’s when I struck!” he said, wrapping his left arm around an imaginary neck while he thrust his right fist up through an imaginary middle. “I used my trusty pick again, right to the back of his skull. Instant. No mess. I still wanted gruesome, although I had to be careful not to get anything on me. Going back to the dance with Todd’s blood all over my suit would not be a smart move now, would it?”

“No,” I confirmed, “it would not.”

“So, anyway, I’m guessing you saw the pictures.”

“I did, Jimmy. Great job. They’re disgusting,” I said, full of praise. You’re disgusting, I thought, detesting him.

“Thanks,” he beamed, deaf to my inner words, though I’m sure he would savor my disgust so much more than any praise I could offer.

“So, you made it back to Gina, no problem?”

“Well…I did get caught going back in.”

“What?” Jimmy’s confession caught me off guard for sure. “What the hell happened?”

“I was back in the building, walking down the hallway, when that old jackass, Mr. Stynes, ran into me.”

Before I could ask him more questions, he started to laugh uncontrollably.

“He’s the facilities manager…the janitor! He was just picking up the few remnants Todd overlooked when he was cleaning. Anyway, Stynes wanted to know what I was doing away from the party.”

“‘I was just going to the bathroom, Mr. Stynes,’ I told him. I was fully prepared to use my ice pick again.”

“Did you have to?” I tried to recall reading anything about a second killing.

“No,” Jimmy snorted in between a full-blown case of the giggles. “He just said, ‘Well, you just get back in the auditorium. I know your mother, and she would not be happy to find you roaming the hallways. Now, get!’” Jimmy could barely finish a sentence, let alone string two of them together. He was finding comedic undertones everywhere. “I was laughing so hard when I went back in, Mom kept asking me, ‘What’s so funny? What’s so funny?’ I just told her I was dead tired and wanted to go home. I was almost in control of myself by the time we left the building.” He paused, raising one finger before finishing his thought. “Then, I looked at the banner Todd had me paint.” The kid could barely gasp enough air. “You remember the one, right?” The nonsensical images had taken complete control of Jimmy.

“Yeah, I remember the banner.”


Parent-Student Sweetheart Dance

Open your heart to your kids and they will open theirs for you

Jimmy damn near fell out of the booth as he pounded his hand flat on the table again and again. “Get it?”

I got it, Jimmy.

He leaned in close to let me in on the punch line, figuring grown-ups just don’t get the real funny stuff. “Get it? He opened his heart to Sue Ellen!”

I got it, Jimmy.

“Just like she did!”

He was just a kid.

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