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“I’m here to kill your flatmate,” this guy said with his gun, standing in my doorway, feet well spaced, and calm. I did my best to look unimpressed. I shrugged. I pulled an upside-down smile.
“He’s not in,” I said. “He’s at Waitrose. Give him about ten minutes.”
[private]I shut the door in a pleasant, politely slow motion and went back to finish scanning the property programmes on 4OD. In an hour I’d managed two episodes of Relocation, Relocation set in foreign capitals – Berlin and Budapest – and half a boring one of Grand Designs. A retired couple in Surrey were commissioning a HufHaus that looked like a conservatory in their garden, not so grandreally. I got up for another a bowl of cereal, then rememberedwe had no milk. “James,” I’d asked my flatmate, “James, go toWaitrose, get more milk, it’s your turn.” Jesus, Sunday morning was a yawn. Apart from TV and the internet what was there to do?
I walked back to the door and opened it.
“Do you want a coffee or tea or something while you wait?” I asked him. He was sitting on the floor, his back up against the wall, outstretched legs blocking the narrow stairs up to our dingy little slice of corridor. The painted walls had chipped, in sections, leaving pinky chunks of plaster exposed in a trail down to his head. His gun was gone, maybe in his rucksack.
“You sure? I’ve got my own teabags,” he said. “In my rucksack.”
“The thing is. Well, we don’t have any milk,” I said. It was embarrassing really. James and I weren’t students any more, yet here we were in our ramshackle flat with an empty fridge.
“That’s fine. They’re peppermint.”
“No problem then. I’ll bring you some hot water.” I turned back for the kitchen, then reconsidered. That sounded like a faff. “Actually, why don’t you just come in? James’ll be back in ten minutes. You guys can get it over with.”
My flatmate was an assassin. An assassin and a trainee accountant. Assassins was basically like this game, James had explained after the first incident, only the most amazing game ever because it was real – real time, real people, real life. You joined. And then you were given the name of someone else who’d joined. Just their name and passport photo. You had to find them, track them down with no information other than a pseudonym and a face, and finally mock kill them with a plastic gun, knife or samurai sword. Two months ago he’d told me this because I’d opened the door of our flat and nearly wet myself. Charlotte, a thirty-six year-old midwife from Finchley, had been standing there, poised, with a small black revolver aimed right at my head.
“On your knees motherfucker,” she’d said.
And I’d gasped as my lungs threw out all their air. The floor had been so hard, solid, against my knees and the light from the bulb hanging behind her, so bright like the fucking sun. I’d put my hands behind my head without even being told to, and squinted up at it.
“Hang on,” she’d stopped “You’re not Agent Iron.” And then luckily James, who’d heard this commotion, had leapt from behind the door screaming his battle cry, and plunged his sabre inches from her heart. She was shocked, and knocked out of the game.
“I’m pretty good at this,” James had said after we’d offered her a biscuit and she’d left, for her bus. “In a couple of weeks I’ll have won.”
It must be nearly finished, I thought, watching this guy fumble in a rucksack and produce his own mug and teabag (rude no? As if our crockery wasn’t clean enough). Charlotte’s death had been three weeks ago. There couldn’t be that many of them dashing around London, smuggling weapons from Toys R Us on the tube. James’s daft game should be ending soon. I tried to think of something to say.
“What’s your name? No wait. You can’t tell me right?” I said to him. More to break the silence really.
“Mr X,” he shrugged.
I felt a little bad. This thing meant a lot to James, and I realised that in letting Mr X into our apartment I’d probably given him an unfair advantage. James would probably die, but, then again, James was taking the piss. After Charlotte, I’d answered the door to all kinds of weirdos. “You get it,” James said every time, hiding in the bathroom whenever there was a knock. One man threw a lime in our living room, right over my shoulder, which counted as a grenade. A twelve-year-old Japanese girl had twirled nunchukas, inches from my face, and on Friday, right after I’d got back from nine hours of work, a very strange looking Polish man had prodded me, lightly, with an imitation axe.
“I’ve had enough of this,” I’d told James that evening. “This is getting crap now. I feel like I’m just your … your human shield.”
“It’s nearly finished,” he’d said “just a couple more people to kill, and then they’ll crown me the champion.”
Mr X finished his tea and made a big show of wiping the mug with a napkin before putting everything back into his bag. I wondered about the teabag, and then thought maybe he’d swallowed it – these people were, after all, very strange.
“So how’d you find Ja … I mean Agent Iron? How did you find Agent Iron?” I asked, “through Facebook or something? Or do you find out from one of the others? Do you ask one of your … mates?”
James had grilled Charlotte, right there on that sofa, while she’d sipped a glass of water and crunched on a ginger nut. She’d told him that the Vixen, the name of his next kill, lived in Dulwich and right afterwards he’d got the number 40 bus southwards to go and cross her off.
“I’ve got my methods,” he said.
“How many people have you killed?”
“Hundreds,” he said, and scratched his nose.
“And if you get my flatmate …” I went on, “that’s it right, the end? I mean, no more people will turn up here looking for him.”
He looked confused, frowned, nodded slowly. “That is usually what happens, yes.” I felt stupid.
“Look,” I said. “I’ve got an idea. See, I’m a bit fed up with this. I’d be quite happy if James was, well, you know …” I dramatised a man being shot in the head. A mime. Two fingers as a gun. “Why don’t you wait in his bedroom, that way you’ll definitely have the element of surprise?” It was a clever lie. Honestly, I just didn’t want to witness the spectacle of two men play killing each other, like children. It would be embarrassing to watch and this way I could stay where I was.
“That’s a good idea,”
“James will be pissed off with me,” I said. “But at least it’ll be over.”
Two minutes later James came back in. “You owe me fifty pence,” he said and put the milk on the table. I made some coffee while he disappeared to check his e-mails. Check his e-mails, I thought, he says that five times a day so he can pretend he’s not having a wank. Who would e-mail James on a Sunday? I drank my coffee, watched Supersize vs Superskinny, was genuinely moved by the plight of a group of recovering anorexics, and nodded “See you,” to Mr X as he walked out of the door.
“Thanks for the water,” he said, and was gone.
I’m going to make something of today, I thought when it got to one o’clock. I should call Emma or Sophie for a wander around Spitalfields Market. We could buy sushi off a stall or get sausages at S&M. I got dressed, and found some spare change in an old pair of jeans.
“James,” I said, walking into his room when he didn’t answer to my calls or knocks at his door. “Here’s your fifty pence before I forget.” But there was a lot of blood on the laminate, dark and sticky and I almost slipped on it. Thin rays of light fingered through the blind slats, playing with the dust like some strange kind of snow. It was so still in there, but I could barely hold my phone straight to dial 999.[/private]
Originally a South Londoner (leafy Dulwich actually), Ralph Williams is 22 years old and currently lives in Berlin, with a stupendous view of the Fernsehturm and several kebab shops. A collection of his short stories appeared in Ganymede Magazine, a New York based arts journal, and others were published in Fun & Beautiful Journal in 2009.