Sylvia and Jack sat across from each other at a colorful square table in a fast food restaurant. The establishment was fairly small, with waiters in white uniforms smattered with blue and red dots. It was busy but not boisterously loud. Jack was eating a roasted chicken sandwich and taking pulls from a plastic cup full of soda.
“Are you going to eat or not?” He asked in between bites.
Sylvia said nothing and just continued with her unbroken, piercing stare. She sat slumped back in her chair, arms crossed. Her powder blue peacoat had come uncinched to reveal a pink turtleneck underneath it. It was bothering her, but she refused to avert her angry glare directed at Jack.
“Look, are you going to give me the cold shoulder the whole day? I understand why you’re mad at me, ok, but I’ll have you know that men have done far worse things than what I did.” Jack continued to a stone-faced Sylvia. He grabbed a handful of potato chips and shoved them in his mouth.
“At least have a few crisps would ya’? It’s not good to do a job on an empty stomach. Or is the food at a high-class establishment such as…” He paused and reached over at a passing waiter, grabbing a handful of his shirt to see the logo of the restaurant. “The Breast Stop… not good enough for you?” He asked. Still silence.
There was a television in the corner that was playing the Dodger’s game.
“Are you a Dodger’s fan or an Angels fan? Jack asked
“I’m a Hiroshima Carp fan. You know that.” Sylvia replied begrudgingly
“I knew baseball would get you to talk. For some reason, you love that stupid sport. Now boxing, that’s a real man’s game. You know, I could have been a professional boxer if I hadn’t joined the IRA.” He mused, taking another bite of his sandwich. “Last chance if you want any of this.”
“I prefer not to eat before a job. It makes you sluggish and unfocused.” Sylvia replied while finally fixing her coat.
“Girl, you shouldn’t even engage with him.” Janice said in Sylvia’s head “You’re too good for him.”
“Well ok, but don’t complain to me when you get hungry.” Jack replied smugly, finishing off his sandwich.
“Hunger is not a problem. When I was at the Sun-Jin academy, we had 1 night a week where we would not be permitted to eat or drink anything for an entire day of training until dinner the next day. It taught us discipline and focus, to ignore the pain and distractions of our bodies and concentrate on the fight at hand.” Sylvia responded stoically.
“Jeez, your training sounds hardcore. You know how my training went? They said ‘do you hate the government? Good, here’s a gun’”
Jack was hoping that would draw more of a response out of Sylvia than it did. The two sat quietly as Jack finished his bag of chips then brought his tray to the trash and placed it on the small shelf above it. Sylvia met him at the exit and the two walked out together.
“Thank you for coming to The Breast Stop, have a good breast of your day. Also please kill me.” A young female employee sighed as they left.
“Look, I get that you’re upset, but did we really have to take separate cars?” Jack asked
“I don’t know, did you HAVE to make me trust you for a second time and then leave again?” Sylvia spat back as she put her motorcycle helmet on and got on her bike.
The two arrived separately at Black Star Guns and Ammunition. Sylvia parked her silver and blue motorcycle in font of the store and removed her helmet. She placed it on the handle bars and caught up to Jack as he walked in. He held the door open for her and she walked in without looking at him or thanking him. The store was white floor to ceiling with bright florescent lights. There were racks of accessories and all the guns were held behind the counter, displayed on the walls. There was a shooting range in the back, but it was empty. There was only one other person in the store. The two heard a laugh and before they knew it, a large Hispanic man was hugging both of them. “Jack, Sylvia, what brings the Black Star’s best power couple in today?” He beamed. Jack and Sylvia were less than amused.
“We’re looking for weapons Guillermo.” Sylvia said simply.
“What’s wrong? Are you not happy with that beautiful Hi-Power I sold you a few years ago? See, I always knew you were a Walther PPK kind of girl.” Guillermo stated
The man in the store indicated he was ready to check out and the 3 walked over to the counter so they could continue their conversation while he was being rung up.
“No, it’s great, I still shoot it.” Sylvia responded.
“Well then, do you need ammo or accessories? Or did you two just come to check up on your old friend Guillermo?” he laughed
“Well, I am happy to see you again Gizmo but we need some… Heavy artillery.” Jack said
Guillermo looked over at the man who was just beginning to walk to the front door with his purchase.
“I’m sorry, we don’t sell Assault rifles here. By California state law it is ille…” Guillermo started loudly, then as the man walked out, he stopped and his expression changed. “Follow me you two.” He said, pressing a button to lock the front door.
They went to the back of the storage room of the store, where it was more dimly lit and full of dusty shelves stocked with left over inventory ready to be put out. As they reached the back wall, there was an old Winchester repeater mounted to the wall. Guillermo pulled on the lever and the wall opened up to reveal a much more well-lit room filled from top to bottom with expensive and large guns.
“So, what is it you guys need?” Guillermo asked
“I need a shotgun and he needs a military grade assault rifle.” Sylvia answered quickly.
“I have just the thing.” He replied and went to one of the glass display cases holding a shotgun. He removed it and handed it to Sylvia.
“This is the Benelli M1 Super 90. An Italian classic. The Ferrari of shotguns.” Guillermo smiled. Sylvia took the gun and looked it over. The black matte finished gun felt great in her hands.
“It comes equipped with a barrel choke to tighten the spread and a mag-na port to reduce the recoil, as well as a custom stock and reflex sight.”
Sylvia was moving it around as if she was readying it to be fired. She quickly flipped it over and opened the chamber and acted as if she was reloading it, the stock pushed up under her chin. There was a row of shells lined up in a small holster on the side of the gun ready to be used.
“I would usually ask around $9000 for it, but since I like you guys, I’ll take 7 grand.” Guillermo said happily.
“Done. Jack, hurry up, I’ll meet you outside.” Sylvia replied.
“And for you Jack…” Guillermo started as he walked over to another case. “The H and K G36. A modern assault rifle. Comes standard with canted iron sights, a holographic scope, and a fire rate selector, semi, full auto and 3 round burst. Plus, I can throw in a drum mag too if you so choose.”
Jack picked up the gun and readied it in a shooting position. He pulled the trigger a few times after taking the safety off. “How many rounds in the drum mag?” He asked
“180.” Guillermo replied
“And how difficult is it to carry another one… You know, in case I need to reload?”
“Mr. Flaherty, if you have to shoot more than 180 rounds, you’ve got bigger problems than reload speed.” Guillermo answered with a laugh.
“Fair enough. I’ll take it.” Jack replied. The pair walked out to the front of the store where Guillermo was paid in gold.
Jack carried the two guns in their cases out to the parking lot where Sylvia was leaning up against her motorcycle.
“Can you be at least a little more civil please? Or you know, at least a thank you for spending 7 grand on your stupid Italian gun” Jack asked, Sylvia ignored him.
“Look, I don’t expect you to forgive me. But I need to know I can trust you during the job. Do you have my back?” Jack asked sternly.
“Yes. I’m upset with you; I don’t want you dead.” Sylvia replied quietly.
“Good. I’ll take these. Meet you at the site.”
“See ya.” Sylvia responded as she hopped back on her bike.
They arrived at the job site, a large warehouse in downtown. It sat on the low point of a hill and Sylvia and Jack had met on top of the slope overlooking it. Sylvia took off her helmet and shook her long black hair until it fixed itself. She was checking her shotgun and then her sidearm. She racked the slide on her Browning Hi-Power to check if a round had been chambered, then turned to Jack.
“Ready?” Sylvia asked
“As ready as I ever will be love.” Jack replied with a wry smile.
They walked down the hill to the warehouse where 2 men were standing guard by the door. Sylvia and Jacked looked at each other quickly and they both shot the one on their respective sides. Sylvia holstered her pistol and readied her shotgun as the stood by the door to the warehouse.
“I know I’m mad at you, but I have to say, there’s nobody else I’d rather be fighting with than you.” Sylvia said to Jack.
“And I you.” Jack replied “See you on the other side love.” The two kissed each other on the lips quickly. They both pulled their facemasks up over their mouths and noses.
Sylvia kicked open the door. There was a barrage of bullets as Jack unloaded on the warehouse full of men. Sylvia placed three rounds into the chests of the security guards by the doors and then moved to a pillar on the far side of the room. There was a line of people sitting at a table packaging what appeared to be heroin. They turned around as Sylvia shot at them from around the pillar. Some of them drew guns, but they were quickly dispatched in a rain of bullets from Jack. Three men had hidden behind an overturned table on the opposite side of the warehouse from Sylvia and were returning fire. Sylvia put a slug into one of them, then fired another shot into the table. There was a door near the pillar Sylvia was hidden behind and as she went to reload her shotgun, the door flew open. She had the gun turned upside down under her chin and was sliding the shells into the shotgun when a man burst through the door. She instinctively stopped mid-action and quick drew her pistol, firing it from the hip before the man could get off a shot, hitting him twice in the chest.
Jack was engaged in a fight with the other two men while Sylvia lined up next to the door awaiting others to file in as she heard footsteps on the stairs. Another man came out and Sylvia grabbed his arm, pulled him towards her and gave him a swift chop to the neck. She then judo threw him to the ground, rolling over and putting her weight on his back with her knee. Another man ran through the door and she shot him twice in the chest. The man on the floor tried to grab her to throw her off of him, but she shifted her weight and used her leg to knock his hand away and roll over, putting a bullet into the center of his forehead. Sylvia got up and another man came through the doorway. She swung down on his arm and knocked the gun away, then hit him in the throat with her pistol as she went to reload. She flicked the mag but the man recovered and knocked her gun away from her. She reached for her katana but the man pulled out a sword of his own and was about to slice it down on top of her, but as he wound up, Jack appeared and grabbed the blade with his mechanical hand, the sword cutting through the leather of his glove and making a metallic scraping noise against his prosthetic. Sylvia took the moment to duck out of the way and pull her shotgun up. She chambered the slug then pumped it and shot the man in the chest, leaving a massive cavity and blood spatter on the walls. Sylvia reloaded her shotgun with the remaining shells, then she ran to pick up her pistol which had skidded across the cold cement floor. She picked it up and put a mag in. She racked the slide but nothing was in the chamber.
“Intel didn’t say there’d be this many guys.” Jack panted, trying to catch his breath.
“Yeah, no shit. I’ve only got 4 shells left and my pistol’s fucked. It won’t chamber a round.” Sylvia replied
“Here, take mine.” Jack offered, holding out his revolver.
“Keep it, I can make do.” Sylvia responded, reaching down to show a throwing knife in a sheath on her ankle.
The two walked up the stairs slowly, rounding the corner. They got to the top of the stairs and waited outside the door. Jack looked at her and pushed the knob down, Sylvia burst through the door, firing off all four of her rounds into the guards with professional precision. Two more guards emerged from the office door and started firing at them. Sylvia rolled behind a pillar while Jack offered suppressing fire. She grabbed her throwing knife and unsheathed her katana, holding one in each hand. She waited until the two were focused on Jack to flank them. She came up to the pillar next to them and then attacked. She threw her knife at one of the men, hitting him square in the temple, embedding itself deep in his head. The second one turned and fired as Sylvia slid on her knees towards him. He shot once, which grazed Sylvia in the side. She slid into him, slicing the back of his leg with her katana. As he fell to the ground, she grabbed him around the shoulders and shoved her katana in the gap between his clavicle and his neck, killing him instantly. Sylvia reached down and grabbed her side, which was bleeding, but the bullet hadn’t hit her squarely. She got up and Jack was right by her side.
“Are you ok?” He asked
“I’m fine Jack.” Sylvia replied
He helped her up then they walked over to the office. There was a large window overlooking the city and an Asian man sat at the desk.
“It’s over Sakuro.” Jack said, lowing his face mask.
“I knew this would come. As soon as I crossed Mr. Mason, I knew my days were numbered.” The man said solemnly.
“Who the hell is Mr. Mason?” Jack asked
“Ah of course. You know him as ‘The Boss’” Sakuro chuckled mockingly “The man really does fancy himself a super villain, doesn’t he? Does he still make you talk to him through the speaker?”
“How the hell do you know so much about the Black Star society?” Sylvia butted in
“Ms. Yamazaki, I was once a part of your society.” He said in Japanese, holding up his wrist to show a tattoo of the black star. “I was once a puppet just like you, too blinded by the money to see the strings. And you’ll see it one day. The Boss doesn’t care about the business, he just wants to have control over people. The society is unsustainable, and when it falls, The Boss will stand and watch his empire burn like Nero watching Rome.”
“What makes you think that and why should I believe a traitor like you?” Sylvia replied in her native language.
Sakuro laughed and said “Because you just killed 25 people unflinchingly for nothing more than a fucking glass pineapple.”
He grabbed the glass pineapple off his desk and placed it closer to the pair of assassins.
“Go ahead, do as you must, like good little puppets.” Jack pulled out his revolver and went to fire it, clicking back the hammer. Sylvia stuck her hand out and stopped him from shooting. “I only ask that I be killed by a Sun-Jin student. It would be an honor, Yamazaki Chan, to be killed by a true shinobi.”
Sylvia placed her hand on her katana’s hilt and used her thumb to push the blade up until it was slightly unsheathed.
“Don’t do it. He’s right you know. You are being used.” Janice said in her head.
“Shut up Janice. Just fucking kill him. It’s good for ya’” Angel responded
The two voices continued to argue in her head as Sylvia went to pull out her blade . As soon as she unsheathed her blade, her mind was clear again in the fleeting moment when her blade flashed across the desk. Sakuro’s head was cut clean off and rolled off the chair to the side, leaving a large swath of blood on the desk. Sylvia cleaned the sword off on her arm and sheathed it as Jack grabbed the pineapple off the desk, rubbing some blood off of it with his thumb.
“C’mon, let’s go before the police show up.” Jack said and the two walked out of the warehouse cautiously.
Sylvia sat on her bed, looking up at the ceiling. She had wrapped a bandage around her waist to stop the bleeding. There was a knock at her door. She stood up and walked over, reaching down for the pistol on the door side table before looking out the peep hole and seeing Jack. She opened the door.
“Hey. I got your money for you.” Jack said, handing her a hefty silver briefcase. Sylvia unlocked it then quickly counted the stacks freshly minted gold. It was all there, 700,000 dollars in bars stamped with the Black Star mark
“Thanks for dropping it by for me.” She replied
“No problem. Boss said we could keep the pineapple too; do you want it?”
“No, it’s tacky. You keep it.” Sylvia answered
“Figured you wouldn’t want it. You never struck me as much of a collector.” Jack said, looking around her house, which was basically empty.
“I try to live a minimalist lifestyle, my head is already too cluttered, so why have a cluttered house?” Sylvia replied.
“Your side, are you ok?” Jack asked
“Yeah, it was just a graze.”
“You sure, let me see.” Jack reached down and touched her hip.
“Jack, it’s nothing. Really.” She said sternly, grabbing his hand. But her hand lingered on his. He pulled her in and the two kissed passionately for a moment.
“Jack, I’m not doing this again.” Sylvia said, pulling away from him.
“C’mon, not even one spank? Just to remind us of the good old days?” He replied with a mischievous grin
“Fine, but just one. And only because your stupid robot hand did kind of save my life back there.” Sylvia conceded.
Jack walked inside and sat on Sylvia’s bed. Sylvia came in a moment later with her katana. She unsheathed it and then started tapping it against her open palm.
“Go on, say it. I’ve been a bad boy.” Jack started
“You have been a very naughty boy Jack.” Sylvia replied, seductively mimicking his Irish accent.
“Look, I know you don’t want to do this, but I’m sorry, we have to. It’s standard protocol for everyone coming back from active duty, so just try to make yourself comfortable and we’ll get through this as fast as we can.”
Katarina was sitting on a red velvet couch, her legs slightly hanging over the edge of the arm. There was a novelty Felix the Cat clock on the wall with huge eyes that moved back and forth with the seconds of the clock. The ticking was abnormally loud and it echoed throughout the room.
“Are you having any suicidal thoughts or actions?”
“Do you believe that Superheroes or super powered beings exist among us and are being kept secret from the public by world governments?” The psychologist asked
“What? No.” Katarina said again with increasing annoyance.
The psychologist marked the box by the word no next to “paranoid thoughts” with an X.
“Alright, now just talk about your mother and father a bit.”
“Seriously? You want to give me Rorschach test too while you’re at it?” Katarina scoffed
“If you think it would help.” The psychologist suggested
“Do you bill by the minute or something doc?” Katarina asked
“Look, can you just do what I ask so we can get you on your way?”
“Fine.” Katarina paused, pulling at the hem of her white stockings. Her left leg was placed on the arm of the couch, her right leg crossed over it, knee pointing upwards. “My mother wasn’t around much. I hardly knew her. My father raised me.” She said
“Ok, good. Go on.” The psychologist prodded her forward. “What about your father?”
Katarina waited a moment, looking up at the clock and listening to it tick. She twirled a strand of her blonde locks in her finger..
“My father was a professional ballet instructor. He tell me ‘Katarina, I will make you greatest ballet dancer in all of Ukraine.’ And we trained 8 hours every day. My whole life was going to school and then coming home to train for ballet. One day we get into argument, I tell him ‘I don’t want to do ballet, why are you making me?’ he said that he understood he wasn’t a good parent, so he made me do ballet to teach me lessons about hard work and discipline the only way he knew how. And he was right, I did learn all those things. And I used them, just not for ballet.” Katarina paused and looked at the clock again. “He left right before I went into the army and I never talked to him again.”
“Ok, thank you. Now, I just have a few more questions.” The doctor asked, scribbling more writings in her notepad.
“You were reprimanded once by a commanding officer for tampering with ammunition. Care to tell me about that?”
“Sure. In Islam, they are forbidden from eating or touching the blood of swine. I dip my sniper bullets in pig’s blood so that the insurgents I killed wouldn’t go to paradise.” Katarina answered solemnly
“…Right. Well Ms. Kovalyov one last question for you. Your eye, do you mind talking about it a bit? How did you injure it?”
Katarina ran her gloved hand over the top of her white and red eyepatch.
“Some people think I was injured in Afghanistan. Some people think I was born with it like this. Some people think Ukrainian women are all liars. You decide for yourself.” She said, standing up.
The psychiatrist sat there for a moment not saying anything as Katarina walked to the door.
“…Alright, we’ll process this for you and have you out of here in a few minutes, please go sit in the waiting room until we’re ready, thanks.” She finally said
Katarina walked out the door and down the gray hall to the waiting room. The room was full of adults and children, sitting patiently waiting. Katarina walked into the gray carpeted area and there were no seats available except at the kid’s table. She pulled out a colorful yellow plastic chair and sat down, her long legs hanging far over the edge and onto the ground. There was a table that went up to her waist with coloring books and small toys strewn across it. She crossed her legs and looked across the table where a small boy was staring at her in awe.
“Are you a pirate?” He asked
She looked back at him with an icy glare as a voice came over the speaker.
“You’re still rockin’ with Candice. This is Cat’s in the Cradle on KIRNY, LA’s most ironic radio station.”
Katarina finally broke her gaze with the little boy as the song began to hit the chorus. She looked up at the clock, which was loudly ticking as well.
Sylvia was resting her head on Jack’s bare chest. His breathing was wavering up and down.
“Sorry I don’t have much to say.” Sylvia said
“That’s fine, you can just tell me a joke.” Jack replied
“I don’t know many jokes. I mean, I can come up with snarky quips occasionally, but I don’t know many strict jokes.”
“I’m sure you have one.” Jack responded
“Fine. It’s not a very good one, it’s not exactly funny.”
“Just tell me it.” Jack laughed
“Ok. So, three criminals die and go before God to be judged. God sits in front of the pearly gates and says to the first man ‘What are the crimes you’re accused of my son?’ The man says ‘I raped 6 women’ God thinks for a moment and says ‘I’m sorry, my son, but I have to send you to hell.’ The man tries to plead his case, but God snaps and the man disappears. The second man says ‘I stole a loaf of bread to feed my family.’ God thinks for even longer and says ‘I’m sorry my son, but stealing is a sin. I have to send you to hell.’ The man tries to plead his case, but God doesn’t change his mind. He snaps and the man disappears. Finally, he gets to the last person, a woman and says…”
Sylvia stopped suddenly and looked up at Jack.
“Sorry, I forget the ending of the joke.” She said
“That’s fine love.” Jack smiled again. “We don’t have to talk at all, we can just enjoy each other’s presence quietly. I’m tired anyway.” He said
Sylvia smiled and laid her head back down on his breast. “Me too.” She replied, closing her eyes.
Sylvia woke up the next morning, her head on the soft silk of her pillow. There was a chill in the air and as she got up, she looked around but Jack was nowhere to be seen. She stood up and put her sweater on. She looked around her house but nobody was there. Dejected, she walked back into the room and on the bedside table, she saw there was a note written hastily on a torn scrap of paper. She picked it up and read it.
“To Sylvia,” It said “I’m sorry to do this again. You should know by now that this will never work, fool me once shame on you fool me twice etc… It’s not your fault that I’ll never be good enough for you. That’s not the kind of man I am and I’m not the kind of man you deserve. I mean, us assassins are all kind of fucked in the head anyway right? I know you’ll probably never forgive me if we ever do cross paths again, so I just wanted to say I’m sorry for using you the way I have over the years and I hope it doesn’t change the way you view the memories made together. The best of luck to you,
Sylvia placed the piece of paper down on the dresser behind her as tears started welling in her eyes. A single tear drop fell onto the paper, leaving a mark. She wiped her eyes and then picked up the phone. It rang twice.
“Black Star Cabaret, this is Victor how may I help you?”
Sylvia composed herself and said “Hey Victor, have you seen Jack at all today?”
“Sorry, haven’t seen him. I can take down a message I can relay to him if I do see him.” Victor offered.
“Sure.” Sylvia replied simply
“Alright what do you want to tell him?”
Sylvia paused for a moment “Tell him that I remembered the punchline of the joke. So God gets to the third person, a woman and says ‘what crime are you accused of my daughter.’ The girl looks up and says ‘I’m mentally ill and the voices in my head told me to kill 10 people’ God thinks for a moment and starts to speak but the girl interrupts him. ‘Just send me to hell where I belong’ she says ‘Why do you not want to plead your case my daughter?’ god asks ‘Because, I no longer fear hell, you’ve put me through it every day.’” Sylvia pressed her finger down on the receiver, hanging up the phone.
“I told you this was going to happen, didn’t I.” Janice said
“Oh, shut it. You know what we need? Some therapy. Killing somebody would probably be good for you right now.” Angel replied
“You know what Angel?” Sylvia started, grabbing a knife from the top drawer of her dresser and spinning it around in her fingers “I think you’re right. Killing some motherfuckers would be rather therapeutic right now.” She smiled, slamming the knife down into the wood of the desk through the piece of paper.