The grocery store’s flickering lights bathe the aisles in a sickly yellow, but there are no security cameras. Good. He goes without his baseball cap in public for the first time in weeks. His greasy hair clumps together as he pushes his fingers through it, but his appearance no longer attracts unnecessary attention.
Discovering the specifics of personal hygiene after splinter-memories of being ordered around and manhandled like a wax doll has been an…interesting experience.
This late at night, there’s only one cash register open, and this particular 24-hour store has yet to upgrade to self-checkout, so he waits in the only available line. The man in front, whoever he is, has apparently decided that two o’clock on a Wednesday morning was the perfect time to do his entire month’s shopping; the conveyor belt is loaded up with canned vegetables and boxes of rice and pasta.
Not that he’s one to judge. His cart only has four jugs of bleach and three microwavable meals of frozen spaghetti in meat sauce. Not exactly gourmet standard.
An elderly lady shuffles into line behind him and reaches past him for one of the small periodicals by the register.
‘Sudoku,’ she grins.
He looks at her. Says nothing.
‘Sudoku,’ she repeats, and waves the periodical at him. Her voice sounds like each syllable forcing open an ancient, rusted door out of her throat, creaking and unsteady. ‘Do you do sudoku? You should. Good for the mind, y’know. Keeps you sharp. Word puzzles too.’
He grunts, edges away from her. The cashier scans another can of tuna fish.
‘My sister does the crosswords, y’know, but you can’t do your taxes by knowing which actor’s which, so I do sudoku.’
Beep. Another can of tuna fish. He mentally rechecks the amount of bleach he’ll need, given the amount of blood currently congealing in his target’s shower, but he should have enough with some to spare. It’ll be the caulking and the corners that’ll be difficult – this particular handler had a shower stall instead of a bathtub.
He hates shower stalls.
‘Everybody needs a hobby,’ the old woman says knowingly, and tosses the sudoku book into his cart with a wink.
He pays for it anyway, using his target’s money, because at least it shuts the old woman up.
Turns out, there’s something surprisingly calming about sudoku. Maybe it’s getting the numbers in precisely the right order to serve their purpose, or just the repetitiveness of the action, but he actually finds himself enjoying it. It makes a particularly good cover on reconnaissance missions.
And sometimes interrogations take time and finesse to be done just right, and it’s nice to be able to break up the monotony a bit.
His next target directed him on a covert op a few months back. An assassination intended to intimidate; the agency wanted something from a businessman and, as leverage, had the asset shoot out the tires in his fourteen-year-old daughter’s Mini. The steering column had crushed her ribcage and he’d watched blood bubble from her mouth, desperate gasping breaths until her gurgling stopped. Her father did what they wanted after that, because he had two more daughters and a son.
Black blood on ripped denim. Spreading. Staining.
A desperate hand, fingers reaching, pleading, falling slack.
Bright blue eyes, going dim, going dark.
A hissing death-rattle.
So yeah. No rush. No quick merciful neck-snap. He’ll take it slow, this time.
His captive starts breathing heavier when the asset gets out the sudoku book, and his terror turns to blank confusion then to nerve-shredding terror again as the asset ignores him to work doggedly on a puzzle grid for about ten minutes.
‘What – ‘ the target rasps, until his voice, scraped hoarse from screaming, trails off.
‘I’m taking a break,’ he shrugs, letting his voice stay crisp. He flips his pencil around like a knife and carefully erases a two, putting it one cell over. Bullet casings clink in his pocket like spare change. ‘I’ve got nowhere to be.’ He looks up and holds the target’s gaze for a long moment until, abruptly, the target bursts into tears.
Half an hour later, when he has everything he needs from his blubbering victim and is screwing the silencer onto his gun, he reflects that this may be an interrogation technique worth using later.
Maybe he’ll try knitting next. He’s heard it’s really relaxing.