The Hallorens owned a large amount of the North End Businesses. A wealthy former business owner who’d been driven out of the North End had paid me half of my commission already to kill Rand Halloren.
“Don’t worry yourselves,” said Magistrate Bennison. “We’ve taken care of it. I‘m personally seeing to an increase in guard presence in the North End.”
Lady Halloren sighed. “To think, just five years ago, you didn’t need a single armed guard in the North End and now it’s filled with barbarism.” She trailed off continuing her complaints.
“Well, we appreciate anything you can do for us, Magistrate,” Rand said over his wife.
“As do I,” I put in. “As a property owner with residents coming to me with concerns, I appreciate your steps, Magistrate. I can’t have people moving out of my property. Where would I find money to keep myself comfortable?”
Watching upper and lower class citizens alike showed me a long time ago how cruel the upper class had become. I generally felt no remorse for the jobs I performed when I needed to kill an aristocrat or landlord. It’s difficult enough to live in this City without the greed of the upper class weighing you down.
Still, in my current place and role, I needed to portray a man as cruel and greedy as the people sitting around me. My comment about keeping myself comfortable brought a jolly laugh from the table.
“It is not a problem,” said Bennison. “You all know my feelings towards the assassin infection. We will cure the city of it.”
“We believe in you, Magistrate,” said Lucy Fallon of the Lower East Side Fallons.
I looked around the table at the aristocratic gathering I so often participated in. I knew all of these people intimately. In fact, I had done jobs for them in the past though none of them knew I was the assassin they’d hired. Part of my success as an assassin was my connection to the aristocracy. Once I started accumulating property, the upper class began targeting me as a potential comrade. I had been quite young then, telling a story of an orphan who had inherited a fortune from a rich German relative. Of course anyone who didn’t live in the City didn’t matter to the nobles, so they didn’t look into the validity of a foreign uncle. The pigs ate it up. My ability to display hate for the lower class tied me to them even more.
“I found a tenant the other day whose clothes kept falling off his clothesline into the street.” I looked around the table dramatically. “I had a nearby guard pile the fallen clothing up in the middle of the street and set it on fire.” I laughed casually, as if I’d merely been exercising my god-given right. “I can’t have dirty clothes on the street, getting in the way of carts and couriers.”
“I know just what you mean, Master Bolland,” said Jersey Middleton, a widow from the North End. “I often have to discipline my tenants.” Landlords own the title Master due to the fact that business owners make much more money than Landlords. Business owners tended to be addressed with only a “sir,” or “miss.”
“Absolutely,” I agreed. I, of course, had not actually punished any tenant of mine.
Dinner had been finished for nearly fifteen minutes now. Bennison was obviously growing tired of after dinner small talk. “Enough of this,” he said forcefully, yet with poise. “Let us get to the matter at hand. The dignitaries from Hawthorne are here and we’ve gathered to speak about the current state of the caravans.”
At this point, I managed to zone out for the serious talk. I owned more land than any other landlord, which meant I needed to be represented at this meeting, but I wasn’t a trader, so the caravans didn’t concern me. In aristocratic fashion, I laughed at the jokes and shook my head at the problems, and everyone continued on as usual. We had a couple rounds of coffee and some after dinner spirits and then the meeting concluded with a toast to the aristocracy.
This meeting was only one of many going on each night in the City. Magistrate Bennison had managed to get a firm hold on the City’s government for the time being, and so it was crucial for me to be by his side. Though any of these nobles would consider me the devil if they knew my other side, I considered all of them the devil. And anyone knows being the right hand man of the devil is the safest man to be. As the Hawthorne dignitaries filed out of the hall, the rest of us stood around in small groups of common interest. The Magistrate and a few of his most devoted sycophants stood in front of the massive hearth at the north end of the hall. I chatted with Delilah Endi, a fellow landlord. She owned many buildings in the Southern Blocks. Many considered her as un-noble as the poor tenants she claimed since she didn’t own any upper class property. But a landlord is a landlord in the City and so she deserved representation. I didn’t mind Delilah. In fact, I liked her more than the other landlords attending this meeting. She kept her rents low and I’d never heard of her punishing any of her tenants.
The Magistrate walked past me, leaving his group by the fire, and tapped my shoulder. I excused myself, followed him obediently. He led me out to the large half-moon balcony that overlooked the mansion’s courtyard. In the distance, the Great Sea cut a straight horizon across the night sky. The stars twinkled off the shimmering water.
“A fine evening, tonight,” I said. I didn’t hate the Magistrate because he was not corrupt, merely misguided. He stood up for the corruption because he believed in the aristocracy. Often I thought about how close of friends we would be if we’d both been nobles or both been assassins. I also often feared that I would one day be paid to kill him.
Bennison went to the banister and looked out at the sprawling city beyond the western wing of the mansion. He stood tall, over six feet, and very slender. His chestnut hair was combed just so and his sharp angular face gave him a severe look of authority. He always looked regal in his formal dress suit with its gilded trim and shining buttons. He turned his hazel eyes on me.
“It is indeed a fine evening,” he said. “I appreciate your being here even though we didn’t speak of property and tenants. Even though the Hawthorne dignitaries were here for trade talk, I always enjoy your company. In a group of greedy hateful leaders, you stand out as calm, collected, and just ruthless enough to fit in.”
I raised my eyebrows, slightly taken aback at this comment. “Am I not cruel enough for you, sir?”
“On the contrary, Apollo, I find your presence always very refreshing. I didn’t become a Magistrate to be wealthy. I had visions of deleting corruption from the streets of our City. It will take longer than I had planned. I fear the assassin business has too many members who are far too expert at never being caught.”
“Oh, I’m sure you’ll get them all, sir. Someday. Politicians can never make good on timelines. It’s simply impossible. The assassin business will go away. I have faith in you.”
Bennison smiled at me. “I know you do, Apollo. We’ve known each other for three years, ever since I was elected. I trust you.”
“And I trust you, sir.”
“As you should. This is precisely why I am appointing you to a position in my pay.”
I furrowed my brow, trying to predict what he wanted me to do.
“I want you to head up the next phase of exterminating the assassins. I want you to find them, individually. And bring them to me. Dead or alive.”
It took all I had to keep myself composed. I hadn’t anticipated this. I would not have guessed this in a million years.
“Well?” Bennison said cheerfully. “What do you say?”
“What can I say, sir?” I replied, doing all I could not to stammer. “I’m honored you believe in me so fully. I will do my absolute best.”
Bennison smiled so wide I thought his ears were going to pop off his head. “Wonderful. We’re going to keep this between you and I until you come up with some dead or alive assassins. Then we will announce this new movement to the entire City. The mayor will be delighted to see results. Thank you, Apollo. Now, I must be back to my guests.” Magistrate Bennison shook my hand before leaving the balcony.
I shivered with fright. I was the best assassin. Everyone knew when I killed someone. No doubt, Bennison would want me to bring myself to him. This was a problem I could not have prepared for. What could I possibly do? I didn’t have friends in the assassin community. It was an unwritten rule that we didn’t become friends as assassins. But I had acquaintances. Some I’d known for a long time. Standing there, I feared some of them would end up at Bennison’s feet because of me. I also feared that the only way to ultimately save myself from this new witch-hunt would be to kill Magistrate Bennison himself.
I stood at the edge of the balcony and brought out a letter from my pocket. It told me that Senator Bayliss would be leaving this meeting at midnight. That left me an hour to leave and get into position. The wax seal on the letter depicted the crest of none other than Rand Halloren himself, the same Rand Halloren I would be killing in the coming days. Apparently, the Senator was siphoning off funds from Halloren’s businesses. I laughed to myself at the wild, unchecked greed of this City. I wished the Magistrate would see the corruption in the leaders he shared dinner with. The assassin’s weren’t the bad guys. We tried to rid the City of the crooked ones. I’d never assassinate Delilah Endi. She was one of the good ones. Unfortunately, there was only one Delilah to every twenty or so Rand Hallorens.
I excused myself and said goodbye to everyone still at the meeting, including the Senator. I went to a house I owned a few blocks away to change. As a Landlord I wore a dressing suit with royal blue trim, sliver buttons, and polished black shoes with soles that made me two inches taller than my actual height. As an assassin I wore a lightweight black robe with wide sleeves and concealed pockets. I also wore silent slippers. I kept five small knives hidden throughout my robe as well as one larger knife that I used primarily for the jobs.
The letter from Rand told me the route the Senator took to go home. Midnight was approaching, so I went to the roof the house, waited until the side street was clear, and then climbed down. I pulled a hooded mask over my head. The mask was featureless aside from eyeholes. When I kill people, the last face they ever see is my white mask.
I cut through an empty park to intercept the Senator. As the letter had read, he walked alone. As an assassin, I didn’t waste time. I waited behind a bush and slipped out into the street behind him. I knew the exploits of Senator Bayliss, and so this job brought me a lot of pleasure. Well known as one of the worst men in the City, I had been waiting for someone to hire me to kill him. A womanizer, a cheat, a thief, he didn’t deserve to be a leader of this City.
I smiled behind my mask as I grabbed him from behind and tumbled out of sight into a group of bushes. I covered his mouth with a gloved hand and held him down hard to the cold ground. His eyes showed the fear he’d not felt for decades as a fat, greedy Senator. I didn’t speak, but I hoped my eyes showed him how much I enjoyed this.
Crouching over him, I drew my knife out and slid it into his neck in one smooth motion.