Cactus Drop

Thorne sighed when he noticed the missing information. He looked up at his contact across the table. They met in a 24-hour diner on the 24th hour. Both men wore suits. Thorne’s bright cactus-green suit looked clownish when compared to the man’s elegant black suit. He was only a butler, but he was far more refined than Thorne could ever hope to be.

“I can’t take the job, I don’t have enough information,” Thorne said. He glanced down at the picture of a smiling, 7-year-old brunette. In the past, he would have jumped on the case for free, but one of those jobs opened him up to a much broader, more dangerous world. He would not take that chance again. The butler across the table laughed and shook his head.

“You’re really serious?” he asked. He filled in the information himself and knew what was missing. He assumed it was some sort of joke question; assassins tended to have an odd sense of humor. “You’d skip out on a payday like this just because of a little thing like that?” Thorne nodded. He knew how important it was even if his client did not. “If it’s that important to you, it’s three,” the butler said.

“Are you sure?” Thorne asked. The butler sighed and reached into his suit pocket. He pulled out his node, swiped at it a couple of times, then held it up to Thorne’s face. The 7-year-old girl was giggling at the camera.

“What’s your favorite number?” the butler’s voice asked behind the camera.

“THREE!” the girl chirped. Then the video stopped. Thorne nodded. He reached into his own green suit and pulled out a small notebook. He flipped through a couple of pages that had numbers and notes until he stopped on one page.

“#03. La Dama.” He mumbled the rest of the notes to himself. “…affects Zeros….”  He closed the book and nodded.

“I’ll do the job,” he said.

“Wonderful,” the butler said. Now that their business was done he stood from the table and left Thorne to his meal. The next day Thorne was parked in front of the girl’s school when the bell rang. After a few minutes, he spotted her come out of the front of the school and sit down on a bench to wait.

“Hi, Erica,” Thorne said as he approached the dark-haired girl with his best smile. She returned his smile with the innocence of a girl who felt completely safe. She was on school grounds in broad daylight surrounded by friends and faculty. “George couldn’t make it today, he asked me if I could pick you up.” Her eyes narrowed in an instant.

“What’s the password?” she asked.

If only all my jobs could be this easy,” Thorne chuckled internally but shook his head.

“There is no password, I asked. And he told me your favorite number is three.” Thorne stopped a couple of feet from her and waited with a patient smile. “Do I pass, or do you want to double-check with George?” he asked. Having George in on it made everything much easier. She shook her head but didn’t otherwise move from her seat.

“George sent you?” she asked suddenly. Though that was already established she sounded like she was asking an entirely different question somehow.

“Yeah,” Thorne nodded. “I said that, remember?” The girl immediately burst into a fit of giggles.

“You know what would be funny?” she asked. She gave him permission to come closer with a wave of her hand, but she didn’t move to stand.

“What?” Thorne relaxed, smiled and took a step forward.

“If you fell…,” she said. As far as Thorne knew, he planted one foot firmly on the ground and lifted the other for his next step, then he landed, forehead-first, on the ground. What everyone that was now laughing at him, students and teachers alike, saw was both of his feet trying to take a step at the same time. He did not jump exactly; somehow he just decided to lift both feet up at the same time and kissed the sidewalk. He recovered quickly, then climbed up to sit next to the little girl. The laughter faded as everyone went different ways again.

“He sent you to kill me,” the girl said. Thorne forced fake laughter out.

“That’s ridiculou-“

“It’d be funny if you fell again,” she said quickly. Thorne’s mind suddenly decided he needed to be on the ground again; he practically threw himself off the bench. In the back of his mind, Thorne decided to amend his notes for La Dama if he lived through this.

She can definitely affect Uniques,” he thought. He climbed back on the bench and sat next to her.

“It’s not his fault,” she said. Her voice dropped. She sounded sad; almost wistful. “I told him it would be funny if he hired a killer.”

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