Barker watched from his car with morbid sense of curiosity as the mark crossed the dual carriageway and went into the greasy spoon café opposite. Barker had been on the trail of the mark for almost a month before finally catching up just outside of Glasgow. Dragging on the last of his cigarette, he flicked it out the car window and killed the engine. Leaning over to the passenger side, Barker picked up the Brown file and opened it, studying the photo once more. It was her alright. But something just didn’t feel right about all this. I mean, not the fact that he had been hired to kill someone, that was his chosen profession after all, but it was the mark in question that still had him biting his bottom lip and his stomach twitching with nervousness even after he had accepted the job. Though Barker was a cold-blooded killer and for the right price would kill just about anyone who he was asked to, he did have some moral fibre in his being and there were some rules that he lived by. He always saw a job through to the end and he didn’t kill animals or children unless he had no other choice. And from the brief flashes of skin he saw just below her parker coat and the side profile of her face from behind the hood she had up, she looked no more than a teenager of seventeen.
‘I have rules you see that I live by, not many but these I stick to with absolute clarity.’
‘How very admirable of you, considering your line of work.’ replied the figure from behind the large mahogany desk. Barker could hear the thick tone of sarcasm in her voice, but he didn’t let it rile him.
Clearing his throat, Barker stood before his latest employer in a vast library on a grand estate just outside Surrey. The library was full of weird and strange artefacts; glass jars with mutated foetal pigs in them, jars of two-headed snakes and other reptiles, skeletal remains of animals he could not quite recognise and a wall of beheaded animals and books, hundreds of them.
‘I also request half of the money upfront and then half when the job is done.’
‘Naturally.’ the figure replied smiling thinly as she used one bony hand to slide a brown file across the desk to Barker as he picked it up and opened it as his eyes went wide and his face went pale.
‘I told you, I don’t kill “those” kinds of things.’ Barker said closing the file and turning away to leave.
‘Two hundred thousand pounds.’ the figure said as Barker looked over his shoulder at the figure behind the desk as his eyes met hers as he stared straight into her grey soul less eyes.
‘This person must really have done a number on you then missy?’ smiled Barker as he turned back to face her as she looked him over as a curious smile began to creep across her pale face.
‘More than you know Mr Barker, more than you know. Now, will you take the job or will I have to find someone else to do the deed?’
‘I will.’ Barker replied reluctantly as the figure’s smile grew longer as she held out one long bony hand to shake Barker’s.
‘Thank you Mr Barker,’ the figure said before sitting back down. ‘Oh there is just one more thing; I require proof that the job was done.’
‘Proof, as in photographic proof?’ replied Barker. ‘I can do that.’
‘That would help but more importantly, I want the head and a jar of blood. That won’t be a problem will it?’
‘No, it won’t’ replied Barker through his teeth.
‘Good. My man servant will sort out the final details, good night Mr Barker.’
Tucking the file inside his jacket, Barker wound up the window and opened the driver side door and got out, locking it behind him. He pulled the collar of his jacket up high to cover his neck, there was a damp chill in the air as a thick layer of fog hugged the road. Barker slowly made his way over the dual carriageway towards the greasy spoon Tango Café, opening the door and stepping inside, the smell of hot chip oil, boiled and re-boiled tea and coffee and stale cigarette smoke flared his nostrils as he found a small table by the window and sat down as a portly waitress with fat burns on her forearms and a cigarette hanging off her bottom lip came over to take his order. Barker ordered a large bowl of bubble and squeak and a large pot of extra strong tea. The waitress took his order, grunted and then shuffled away back towards the kitchen as Barker took the Brown file from out of his jacket and put it down on the table as the portly waitress returned with a battered pot of tea and a cup and saucer, placing them on the table before shuffling away once more. Barker turned the cup over and picked up the battered tea pot and poured himself out a measure. Putting the tea pot down, he opened the file and glanced over it once more as he picked up the cup of tea and took a generous sip. It looked like dishwater and tasted like vinegar, but beggars couldn’t be choosers. Finishing off the cup of tea, Barker closed the file and put it away before putting down the cup as he casually looked across the café at the mark who was huddled in a corner booth clutching at what Barker assumed was a mug of hot chocolate. Though he had come this far and wasn‘t about to give up now; I always see a job through to the end no matter what- he told himself, but there was something not right about all this. She looked so frail, gaunt. Her eyes were a pale blue that were full of so much sadness that Barker almost began to feel sorry for her. Barker watched on as the portly waitress with the fat burns on her forearms brought the girl a plate with a full English breakfast with all the trimmings. And no sooner had the waitress turned to leave, the girl began to devour the plate with the ravenous appetite of a wild animal. Barker continued to watch the girl with great interest as the portly waitress shuffled over to his table with his bubble and squeak, dropping it in front of him before once more shuffling away. Barker picked up the salt shaker and generously sprinkled it over his meal before tucking in. It was better than the tea, but not by much. Taking a mouthful of his food, Barker continued to watch the girl claw her way through the food on her plate. He had never seen anything like it. Her appetite was un parallel for someone so frail and small. Barker turned away and continued to eat, taking in huge mouthfuls at a time. Barker made quick work of the bubble and squeak and as he pushed the bowl away and picked up the battered tea pot to pour himself out another cup of vinegar tasting, watered down dishwater looking tea, he saw out the corner of his eye that the girl had gone.
Bolting out of his chair, Barker fumbled in his pocket for change to pay for the tea and meal and swiftly went out the door of the café. Stepping outside, Barker frantically began to look for her, but she was nowhere to be seen. Then out the corner of his eye, he saw someone leaning up against the driver’s door of his car. It was the girl. Barker had to stop himself from laughing as he slowly made his way across the café’s parking area and back across the dual carriageway to where the girl was waiting for him.
‘You knew I was watching you?’ Baker said as the girl looked up at him and nodded.
‘Then, you must know why I am here?’ said Barker as the girl removed the hood from her head to reveal a very young and pale face. Her eyes were much bluer than they had looked before but they were sunken back into her face so deep that they made her look old and tired instead of young and beautiful.
‘I do. You have been sent here to either bring me home, or to kill me.’
Barker stayed silent as he moved the girl to one side and unlocked the driver’s door.
‘Get in.’ Barker said as the girl replaced her hood and picked up her bag and made her way around the car to the passenger side and opened the door and got it, tossing her bag on the back seat. Getting in the car, Barker closed the door and put the keys in the ignition and started the car up as the engine rattled and hummed.
‘Where are we going?’ said the girl as Barker picked up the packet of cigarettes that were on the dashboard and took one out, offering it to the girl.
‘They will kill you those things.’ she said as Barker smiled thinly and put the cigarette in his mouth and tossed the pack back onto the dashboard.
‘We will all be killed by something in the end my dear, it’s just a matter of what and when.’
‘That is quite profound, if not a little morbid.’ the girl replied as Barker snorted and chuckled under his breath. ’But you didn’t answer my question, where are we going?’
‘The end of the line sweet thing,’ replied Barker as he suddenly leant over and put a rag over the girl’s nose and mouth as she struggled to get free, but soon her eyes rolled into the back of her head and her arms became limp as she eventually passed out.
‘I’m sorry my dear, but I can’t have you knowing where I am taking you.’ Barker said as he threw the rag onto the back seat as he turned back and gently stroked her face.
‘What have you done to deserve such a horrible fate as this?’ Barker muttered to himself as he put the car in gear and pulled out into traffic.
Several hours had passed since Barker had picked up the girl and rendered her unconscious. After a five hours on the road, Barker stopped as a services area just outside Birmingham to refuel, get some more cigarettes and get a cup of coffee for the road. He put the girl on the back seat and used her parker as a blanket and her bag as a pillow. Removing her Parker, Barker saw that her arms and her thighs were riddle with cuts and burns. Barker could feel the tug of his heart strings but he put it out of his mind. He had a job to do and there was no turning back now. Getting back on the road, Barker made good time and was just outside north London before the sun rose. Barker made his way round the back streets, cutting out all the traffic and was back home in Camden a short while after. Pulling into a small compound round the corner from the lock, Barker killed the engine and got out. He made his way across the cobbled courtyard and closed the wooden gates behind him, sliding a large wooden sleeper across the doors. Walking back to the car, Barker stopped at the boot and watched as the girl begin to stir on the back seat.
Barker made his way round the side of the car and opened the back passenger door and took hold of the girl’s ankles and began to gently pull her out of the car as the girl began to groan and wince. Pulling her far enough out, Barker hoisted her up onto his shoulder and stepped away from the car, shutting the door with his hip. Turning away from the car, Barker made his way across the cobbles to a small door that was concealed under a porch in the corner of the courtyard. As he reached the door, Barker began to fumble in his pocket, eventually pulling out a ring of keys. Finding the one he needed, he put the key in the lock and turned it as the lock’s mechanisms snapped into place as the door creaked open of it’s own accord as the girl stirred once more.
‘Where am I?’
‘The end of the line my dear.’ Barker replied as he stepped inside and breathed in the room before putting the girl down on the foldout bed nearby as he turned back and shut the door.
‘Its not much to look at, but it’ll do for now.’ Barker said as he flicked the light switch as the bulb above them flashed and flickered, hurting the girl’s eyes before finally settling down as an ambient glow came out of the bulb filling the room with light.
‘What did you do to me?’ the girl moaned as she tried to sit up but felt her head go light.
‘Chloroform. It leaves you with a sting in your head but I couldn’t have you knowing the way here.’ Barker replied as he made his way over to the sink as the girl was able to sit upright as she regained her bearings. Looking round the room, the girl saw that it was full of cobwebs, dust and dank; one-one had been living here for a very long time. With his focus away from the girl, she tried to move to the edge of the bed as she began to feel queasy.
‘Don’t try to move too much.’ said Barker, never turning away from the sink. ‘You’re going to be feeling the side effects of the chloroform for a wee bit.’
The girl stopped trying to move and sat still as Barker came back over towards her carrying two battered tin cups as he offered one out to her as she tried to move back.
‘If I wanted to kill you missy, you’d already be dead and in the Thames by now, but I‘m more interested in what you have done to find yourself in this predicament.’ replied Barker as he offered the cup once more as the girl took it with both hands as Barker pulled out a wooden chair from the table near by and set it down in front of the bed as he sat down and made himself comfortable as the girl sniffed the cup and turned her head away in disgust.
‘Whiskey, for your head and nerves lass. Drink up, we’ve got a lot to talk about.’
The girl took a sip of the whiskey as her eyes squinted and she stuck her tongue out, flinching in horror at the taste as Barker sat there smiling.
‘Hair of the dog that is, it’ll put hair’s on your chest for sure!’ Barker laughed as the girl drank some more and still wincing and flinching.
‘Now, down to business.’ said Barker as he drank his cup down in one unflinching move and set the cup down on the table.
‘What I want to know is, how does a young girl like you get in so much trouble that someone like me has to be hired to “fix” the problem. Care to shed some light on this for me lass as you don’t look like the kind of person who has killed, so what is it?’ said Barker as the girl drank up and handed back the cup to Barker as he put it on the table next to him.
‘What is your name?’ the girl said as Barker leant forward, placing his hands on his knees.
‘Names are irrelevant.’ Barker replied as the girl looked at him unsure of his body language.
‘But you know my name, I know you do. It was in that brown file I saw you looking over in the café where you were watching me.’ the girl replied as Barker leant back into the chair and twisted his lips.
‘You are a clever girl,’ Barker said almost smiling at the girl’s gusto and bravado. ‘Yes, I do know your name- Amanda Palmer. Well, I guess it won’t hurt that you know mine. You can call me Barker.’
‘Very well, Barker.’ The girl replied smiling. ‘Who hired you to come after me and ultimately kill me?’
‘I can’t see what importance that is…’
‘She was gaunt looking woman wasn’t she? Her hair and skin was pale and sickly and her eyes were grey, almost soulless were they not? You met her on a large estate in the countryside didn’t you? In a room, most likely a library, full of jars with strange creatures in them? And of course, she wanted you to bring back proof of my death as well didn‘t she?’ The girl said as Barker’s eyes suddenly went wide and his face went pale and sickly.
‘How did you…’
‘Come now Mr Barker, this is not the first time that she has hired someone to come after me, but you’ll be happy to know that you are the first one I have allowed to get this close.’
‘Allowed?’ said Barker as the girl suddenly sprung off the bed and before Barker had a chance to move, the girl put her hand on his shoulder and squeezed down as Barker felt a surge of pain shoot through his entire body as he tried to lift his arm but all his strength had gone.
‘Don’t worry, I’m not going to kill you, yet.’ The girl said smiling as she walked back over to the bed and sat down opposite Barker. ‘I mean I will kill you eventually you can be sure of that. But first, I want to talk.’ said the girl as with a flick of her wrist, Barker could suddenly move his head and was able to speak.
‘How did you do that?’
‘There are more things in this heaven and earth that are dreamt of in your philosophy Horatio.’ the girl said smiling coyly as she crossed her legs one over the other.
‘Did you not think it strange when she succumbed to your demands so easily?’
‘Not really.’ replied Barker as he clicked his jaw back and forth to get the feeling back. ‘If someone has to hired me to “fix” a problem for them, then they know my reputation and my methods and are usually very accommodating.’
‘And yet you agreed to the job, knowing that it broke one of the cardinal rules you “supposedly” live by- I don’t kill animals or children unless there is no other choice.’ the girl said perfectly mimicking Barker’s voice.
‘You had a choice, you could have just walked away, your reputation in tact. But you not only chose to accept the job, you actually demanded more money. Now, how do you think that makes me feel?’
‘At this point, I don’t care how you feel.’ snarled Barker as the smile faded from the girl’s face.
‘Well, that’s disappointing. Because that’s not the way you felt earlier?’ the girl said as Barker’s face drained of colour.
‘What are you? How do you know what I was thinking?’
‘I’m rather disappointed in you Mr Barker,’ the girl said as she got up from the bed and walked over to the open space the other side of the bed near the sink. ‘Have you not figured it all out yet? Those jars in her library, they were not just for show. They were trophies. Trophies she had collected from all around the world, trophies of creatures she had captured. Not just normal creatures, but creatures of myth and legend- pixies, fairies, unicorns, goblins, trolls, ogres- get the picture?’
‘You cannot be serious?’ Barker said as the girl stared at him with confident eyes. ‘Such things are not possible.’
‘You have such a limited imagination Mr Barker. How I envy you, to be so caught up in your own little world that you cannot see the woods through the trees. Maybe this will change your mind.’ said the girl as she closed her eyes as her body began to twist and contort as Barker looked on in horror as the girl’s legs began to extend and her fingers began to elongate as sharp talons grew out of the end of her now bony fingers.
‘Sweet merciful heavens.’ Barker muttered under his breath.
But the horror was not over yet as the girl raised her head up as Barker saw her eyes had become oval shape and the pale blue that was once in her eyes was now replaced by emerald green as Barker could now see the beginnings of a tail extend from the back of the girl/thing.
Arching her back out and standing up straight, the girl/thing stood almost eight feet tall with it’s head almost touching the ceiling. As the girl/thing began to move towards Barker, he tried to move but his body was still paralysed under the touch from the girl/thing.
‘Is your mind confidently changed now?” the girl/thing said as Barker sat there in shock, still unable to move.
‘You see now why she succumbed to your demands so easily, it was not because of your reputation, impressive as it is. I knew who you were the second I set eyes on you- no, it was because she thought that seeing you and the striking resemblance you have to my father who, thanks to your employer- my mother, would play to my human frailty and would ultimately cause me to let my guard down, allowing you to finish me off.’
‘She is your mother?’ Barker said as he felt some feeling in his left fingers.
‘Tragic really isn’t it? That a mother would be so ashamed of her own child that she would have sent so many after her to kill her, to rid her of this horrible burden. But as you can see, I still live while the rest have fallen.’ The girl/thing said smiling as she stepped closer towards Barker as she/it loomed high above him.
‘She didn’t count on my resilience and my ability to adapt in order to survive. I mean in the end, that’s what it’s all about- survival. One of the only things I learned from my father before she had him killed, was to survive by any means necessary.’
‘So, are you going to kill me now?’ said Barker as the feeling began to come back into his left hand and then his arm as he tried to reach into his pocket for the pocket knife he had in there.
‘Regrettably yes, I feel I must kill you now. But unlike the others, I will give you a choice; slow and painful or quick and merciful.’
Barker kept quiet for a moment as his fingers touched the handle of the pocket knife.
‘I choose to live!’ Barker yelled as he grabbed onto the pocket knife and pulled it out of his pocket and thrust it forwards towards the girl/thing. But the girl/thing was ready as her/its tail came thrashing round, knocking the knife out of his hand, leaving him stung and bleeding.
‘You disappoint me again.’ the girl/thing said shaking her/its head. ‘I guess it will have to be slow and painful then.’ The girl/thing said as her/its tail slowly began to coil round Barker’s neck as he grabbed at the tail, struggling to breath.
‘Don’t struggle, it’ll only make it worse.’ the girl/thing said as Barker’s face began to go from Red, to Purple, eventually turning Blue as his eyes rolled over into the back of his head as his body went limp.
Dropping him to the floor in a heap, the girl/thing returned to her human form as she bent over Barker’s body and went into his pockets, fishing for the keys to the car, eventually pulling them out. Stepping over him and making her way to the door. Pulling the door open, the girl made her way across the cobbles to the car, opening the back passengers door and taking out her bag before shutting it again and walking back. Stepping back inside, the girl closed the door behind her and set her bag on the bed as she tossed the keys nearby. Opening her bag, the girl took out a fabric roll of tools from the bag and opened it up, laying it across the bed. There were all kinds of tools in the roll- knives, scalpels, tweezers and all other manner of macabre things.
‘Enie meenie miney mo,’ the girl said eventually taking the scalpel out of the roll and as she turned her attention back to Barker who was lying on the floor.
‘I promise, this will only hurt for a second. Then a little bit longer.’ the girl said smiling as she ripped open Barker’s shirt and made the first cut just underneath his throat.
‘Madam, there’s a phone call for you.’ the man servant said entering the library as she looked up from her correspondents and smiled.
‘Very good, you may go.’ she replied as the man servant bowed and made his leave as she picked up the phone with one bony hand and put the receiver to her ear.
‘Mr Barker, I trust all is well?’ she said into the phone, but there was only silence.
‘Mr Barker?’ she said once more but another voice spoke at the other end of the line.
‘Mr Barker has been unavoidably detained.’ the voice said as she suddenly rose up out of her large leather chair and clutched at the mahogany desk with the other.
‘Surprised to hear my voice mother?’ Amanda replied as she managed to sit back down, reaching for the crystal decanter of Brandy close by and pouring out some in to the tumbler close by.
‘Not at all, I was just surprised to hear from you so soon that’s all?’
‘Don’t play dumb mother, it’s beneath you.’ Amanda replied as she took hold of the tumbler and drank the Brandy down whole.
‘Fine. What have you done to him?’
‘We’ll get to him soon enough.’
‘So what now? Are you going to kill me too?’ She said as the sound of laughter echoed down the phone line.
‘Oh mother, such limited imagination. If I wanted to kill you, I would have done it while you slept last night. You looked so peaceful, like a child.’ Said Amanda as she bolted out of the chair, knocking the tumbler over. ‘When I find you, I will skin you alive you hear me you little shit!’
‘Temper temper mother, don’t work yourself up too much or you’ll have to take one of those little pills you keep in the desk drawer next to you.’ Amanda said as she slumped back down into the chair as the sound of Amanda laughing again echoed through the phone.
‘Poor mother, so alone in that big estate, so venerable, never knowing when her next breath will be her last…’
‘You can’t do this to me, I am your mother!’ she screamed down the phone as she picked up the tumbler and threw it across the room.
‘That privilege was the lost the first time you tried to kill me in my crib.’ Amanda replied as she could feel the tears well up in her eyes.
‘So, where is Mr Barker?’ she said as wiped away the tears.
‘The police will find most of him eventually, spread across the countryside. But, if you still want to see him, look out your window, I’ve left a little present for you.’ Amanda said before hanging up.
Putting the phone down, she got up and went to the window and pulled back one of the curtains to see something flying from the flag pole that stood near the fountain at the foot of the stone steps. Taking the pair of binoculars that sat on the end of the desk, she put them up to her eyes and looked across the courtyard to see at the top of the flag pole, the skin of Barker flying in the wind.