living by the sword
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King of Kings
by Andrew Lee-Hart





Surely it is the definition of futility to spend an hour listening to someone who you know is destined to die moments after she leaves the office; her murderers already in place, just waiting for my signal.  I could grant her a reprieve, but that won’t happen; I just want her to stop talking and to leave.


She was pretty, certainly when compared to most of the women I had to deal with and clever – a Double First in Classics from Cambridge no less -, but irredeemably careless and she knew too much. She was talking about the M.P. I had asked her to follow; telling me how he had spent the weekend, which I already knew from a more reliable employee. I nodded and pretended to make notes, whilst outside people I did not know waited in the November cold, for this woman to hurry up and meet her doom.


“Is that okay?” she asked, her monologue having at last come to a finish.

I smiled at her, “yes, you have done well. Keep up the good work.”

I don’t actually mind lying; it serves a purpose, and if you cannot lie convincingly then where are you? In fact I seem to spend most of my life doing it, but that’s the nature of my work and I don’t really care.


She looked around her.

“This is new, I had to use the A-Z to find it. It feels barely used.”

I nodded, and for a moment felt sorry for her, who would soon be a thing without consciousness, but only for a moment, as I was anxious to leave and get on with my day.

“Yes, we have only just moved in, it is in a good position; nice and quiet.”

She gave me a look then, just a glance, but in it I saw fear and I wondered if she had guessed that she was about to die.


I shook her hand briefly and she left, giving me another anxious smile, as she turned for a final time. She smelt of something pleasant, a perfume that I recognised, and it lingered in the office, as I quickly packed up my things. I wondered if I would hear the gunshots from the office, and for a moment I stopped and listened, and there they were, two pops, unnoticeable unless you were concentrating, and then silence, not even a scream.


By the time I had taken the lift down to the front door, the small road on which the office stood, looked as if nothing had happened.  It was quiet, hidden behind a main road, with just a few offices, which looked unused. I walked past an alley and glancing down, I could see what seemed to be a blood stain just at its entrance, and I wondered if this was where the deed had been done, hopefully it would be cleaned up within a few minutes, no point in being careless.


By now, Linda, my administrator, who I had never met, and who worked who knew where, would have erased all the woman’s files, and it would be as if she had never existed; apart from an empty flat somewhere, with unanswered letters and unpaid bills. I hoped it had been quick and painless, after all I am not a vindictive man, just efficient and methodical, which is how I got where I am.





There was an email from Linda waiting for me, sent at five that morning (did she ever sleep?).

“re. Michelle Rushworth. The subject has no political affiliation.  She is 47, divorced and has nothing to do with her ex-husband. She has two children, neither of whom live with her….”


Who was Michelle Rushworth, I wondered. The name sounded vaguely familiar, was she a new operative or a target? I was about to email Linda back for clarification, but then made myself a coffee, as often when I give my brain time to think, things come back to me. I was in my latest office, just outside the city, despite the window being closed, I could hear non-stop traffic as commuters drove into London.


And then as I sipped my coffee, I remembered who she was; I had been in a bar one evening, having a lonely drink and got talking with this woman, who was on a work’s night out.

“I don’t like them much at the best of times” she told me, “and now they are all drunk and even more boring than usual…I don’t know why I came out, just lonely I guess.”

I could see her companions at the other end of the bar; mostly young women dressed up for a night on the town. I would quite like to have colleagues such as these; whereas I had thugs and psychopaths, most of whom I saw once or twice at most.


“They are all much younger than me; I can bear them at work, but all evening….”

I smiled and asked her about herself, using interrogation techniques from work, and she told me about her ex-husband, her children and her job, the details of which Linda had now confirmed. Eventually we discretely left together, and got the tube to her house, out in Highgate, where we drank wine in the garden and eventually drunken sex, which next morning I could barely remember.


I had promised to call her, I had enjoyed her company and found her attractive. But I knew I should do things by the book, after all I expect my underlings to do the same, so I had reported it all to Linda and asked for Michelle to be given a Level One check. And now here it was, and she had passed.


Perhaps I should give her a call then and there, but then I thought she was probably at work and I would have to wait until the evening. And then I realised, that I had met Michelle when I was shadowing that member of the CBI, was it last August? That would be five months ago, I could hardly call her back after all that time. And then, as I finished my coffee and tried to ignore the traffic, I thought back and realised it was actually the summer before.  How could I have forgotten? It had been so warm, and I could hear that Everything but the Girl track which had been such a hit playing from someone’s garden, whilst Michelle told me about her life, and we drank wine and became more and more drunk and romantic.


Why had I reported it? I could at least have waited until I knew the relationship was going somewhere. I am in charge of the organisation, surely if anyone can bend the rules I can. I wondered what had happened to Michelle; and hoped that she was happy. Had she realised that the young men following her about, the aggressive salesmen and her children’s new friends, were all due to me? Hopefully she had forgotten about me, dismissed me as someone who was just after a bit of sex, and nothing more. I deleted the email with a sigh and got on with my work.


When I had finished, at about eight or so I left the office which we hired by the week; it was almost Christmas and I noticed that other people who had rooms in the building had put up decorations. I smiled at one of the cleaners, the only people left in the building, before heading to the car park. My car had been changed; a blue Mondeo this time, parked where my Ford Estate had been this morning.


I found the keys, where I had been told they would be. Unfortunately, whoever had swapped the cars had not seen my cigarettes and put them in the new car, not that I smoked regularly…but sometimes I needed one. With a sigh of regret I set off for home.


I was almost there before I realised that I was driving to my previous flat just outside Brixton, so I reversed and got home for ten. There was nothing in the kitchen so I rang for a takeaway, and ate a Hawaiian Pizza in a cold kitchen, with Radio 3 playing quietly so as not to disturb my neighbours who I had never met and never would.





There was just a voice on the end of the telephone, at least he was ringing from a payphone.

“We have found him.”

“You know what you have to do.  Why ring me?”

There was a pause, and then “but he has a wife, and there are two children in the house, from her previous marriage.”


“But we don’t have to kill them…not children? They are only young.”

“We are not running an adoption agency,” I told him and put the phone down.


Immediately I sent a long email to Linda about the operative who I had never met and whose name I did not know. We needed people who did not question and who I should not have to repeat myself to. And how had he known my number? He had sounded young, so he had time to learn. Perhaps a Disciplinary Hearing would be all he needed this time, but any further mistakes and that would be it of course; I allowed employees one mistake at most.


I took a sleeping pill before I went to bed, something powerful that our pharmacy department had procured for me as it was stronger than anything available in the UK. But even so I dreamt disturbing dreams; a family sat in front of the television, chatting and laughing. Just an ordinary family; the mother in her dressing gown and her hair down, the children happy after having done their homework. Then the knock on the door.


“Don’t answer it” I cried out, but our former agent, with a resigned look at his wife, got up to see who it was, and was shot where he stood, and by the time he had slumped to the floor, his killers were in the house. I tried not to watch as his rather plain looking wife and her two dark-haired children were shot before they had time to realise what was happening, and then the killers were gone; all dealt with in less than a minute.


Awake, after my nightmare, but still feeling tired I decided to get up.  I sat at my kitchen table with breakfast; decaffeinated coffee and sugar free muesli with skimmed milk whilst my dream faded away. I usually wait until I get to the office before I check my emails, work life balance and all that, but I wanted to know whether the agent had carried out his job.  Sure enough there was an email from Linda; “Last night’s mission complete. Do you still want me to arrange a Disciplinary Hearing?”

“Yes” I responded, and then after a moment added, “but not too harsh.” Which was code for “make sure he survives.”





I walked from the station; it was about two miles to the care home, and after spending most of my time sitting in one of our various offices I felt every step, but the sun was shining and the Yorkshire countryside either side of me was beautiful; long golden fields leading to green hills in the distance, so I enjoyed the walk despite my sore legs. 


Twice I had to stand aside as cars drove past, and then a young woman stopped and offered me a lift.

“I am going to Newhaven, it is a Care Home” I told her.

She smiled, “oh yes, I know it, I am going past it. Get in.”

“Are you visiting a relative?”

“Just my Aunt.”

She nodded. She smelt of perfume, which was rather beautiful and I was intensely aware of her bare legs close to mine. On the radio something jolly and with a tune was playing, although nothing I recognised.


I visited my mother at least once a month. Now that she had dementia, she did not recognise me, so I was perfectly safe, although why I bothered, only a psychologist would be able to tell me.

“Ah Mr Browne,” the receptionist recognised me.

“Yes I have come to see my Aunt.”

She smiled, “her son is already here with her and the children.”

“Oh, I will give them a few minutes,” I muttered and hurried out.


Sitting in the park opposite, I waited for them to emerge and drive away. Security should have told me that they might be visiting today; it just goes to show that even the best of us get lax. I wondered if David would have recognised me; it was twenty years since he saw me last, and I had never met his wife nor his children; my two nieces, although security kept me abreast of their lives. 


Eventually I saw them emerge; David striding in front and getting in the car, his rather tall wife just behind and then their two daughters, looking bored, and who could blame them? For a moment my heart melted and I pictured another life where I saw them regularly, and was still in touch with my brother.  But that was not for me, and I did not regret it, not really.  They swiftly drove away, off to get on with their lives, whilst I got up and headed back into the Home.


She was sitting in the dining room, television blaring out, as it was in every room I had walked past.

“Good afternoon Aunt.”

She looked up at me for a moment but did not say anything. A young nurse came over.

“She is probably tired.  You have had lots of visitors today haven’t you?”

My mother nodded slightly and chewed.

“Would you like a cup of tea?” I suggested.

She said nothing, but the nurse said that she would get one for both of us.


“You saw your son and your grandchildren.”

She smiled slightly. At least she looked and smelt clean, one hears horror stories, even of the most expensive care homes, and this was one of the most expensive. After a few moments of searching for something to say, I realised that she was dozing, and so I drank my tea and watched the television, something about antiques. It would be good to have a hobby, I thought, an interest.   Maybe when I retired….


“I am going to go now mum” I told her, and then realised my mistake, but there was nobody else within earshot.  She looked up at me, her eyes met mine.

“Thank you for visiting” she said her voice, as clear as when I was a child, “thank you Mark, thank you.”

And I left her and for a moment I felt a wave of sadness before I pulled myself together and prepared for the long walk back to the railway station.





It was good to think that nobody knew where I was, an exceedingly rare feeling; Linda probably thought I was still in my office, whilst I had managed to lose my “chaperone” on the tube. No doubt I would get a stinging email from the head of security talking about responsibility and “employee safety”, but I did not care, I wanted to enjoy my freedom. After all what was the point of having this power if you were in thrall to administrators and underlings?


I was queueing outside the House of Commons, the heart of government, or so people thought. It was a sunny day, despite being early March, and I had felt like going to out to survey my domains.


As the security guards ushered me through the detection device there seemed to be a brief hold up and out of the corner of my eye, I saw the two women briefly look at each other, before letting me go through and in.  On another day I would have been nervous and probably left, but I knew that hold ups happen all the time and that I had nothing to be scared of; I was untouchable.


It was Tuesday, and the first Prime Minister’s Questions of the week. I sat watching M.P.s crowd into the chamber, which always surprised me with how small it was. And then the Prime Minister walked in with the Home Secretary by her side.  She looked regal and in control as she sat down and began to deal with the questions thrown at her, as if she were the most important person present.


Looking down on them I felt contempt for those suited representative of the people. So many of these Members of Parliament – on all sides – were employed by me; asking the questions that I wanted them to, voting how they were told and resigning when they stopped being useful. Even a couple of them had been murdered at my behest, when they threatened to become a problem. 


I laughed out loud as I sat there, the country’s government, even members of the Cabinet, in the palm of my hand, doing exactly what I tell them to. Me, the most important man in the world; Empires crumble before me, Kings and Princes do my will.  Is there anybody who I don’t control?


My back was beginning to feel sore – perhaps a reminder of my mortality – so I got up and left, wincing as I did so. This was a beautiful day, and I walked along the Thames, appearing to be just an ordinary man escaping work for an hour or two, enjoying the bright sun, that warmed me to my soul. Eventually I would head back to the office, back onto the radar…but not just yet.





It is only a small flat in one of the poorer districts of Naples; despite the marble it was unpleasantly hot, and the neighbours were noisy, particularly the large family, whose flat was below mine. I had been ordered to move to a small village in the south of Sicily, where there was a house waiting for me, but I knew that would leave me conspicuous, so I had disobeyed orders and found this flat, where I hopefully blended in and was safe, for at least a bit longer.


It is another rainy day; all week the rain has continued almost without a break. Every morning I go out for a long walk and then back to my flat, where I hang my clothes up on the shower rail to dry and then check my emails. I really should get rid of my computer; I am sure that they can trace it but without it I would be lost.


Linda has gone now; I hope that she has just been moved, or been allowed to retire, one of the few who is given that privilege. But I fear for her; she knew much of what went on, and I cannot imagine her being allowed to live with all that knowledge, but then what did I know of her?  Just a name affixed to the bottom of emails, a name that was undoubtedly false.


It is someone called Denis who emails me now, demanding to know why I made this decision or that. Why did we kill this agent or this policeman? All these questions, and even when I answer them more and more come to my Inbox. Many of them I refer to things I cannot remember or don’t want to. But Denis is a persistent man and will not let go, cutting through my excuses and lies, with more questions.  I imagine him as an assertive middle-aged man with schedules to meet and forms to be completed.


They will come for me eventually, with more questions and then with a bullet. Perhaps I will get to meet Denis at last, but I suspect not. It will be two hired killers, who have no idea who I am or what I have done, and are just paid to do their job, and who will eventually be disposed of in their turn.


Restless and hungry I get up and leave the flat. I walk towards the harbour, where I go most mornings; the rain has eased now, and the sun is trying to come out. I love this city where I am anonymous and powerless, I hope that I am allowed a bit of time to live, because I am actually happy, more so than I have ever been. If only I could savour each minute without having to worry about the future, and those questions without end.


I sit in the bar that I go to most days, and swallow an expresso, eat a pastry and then sit and ponder. I recognise the woman who served me, and the old man who is sitting at the back smoking, but other than “buongiorno” I have never spoken to them and am happy that way. I don’t need to socialise, but I like the fact that they are starting to recognise me, and perhaps might wonder where I have gone, after the inevitable happens and I disappear.


Two young men walk in and do not bother to disguise the fact that they recognise me; sitting at the closest table to me and continually looking in my direction as they drink their coffee. I pretend to be lost in my thoughts, unaware of the two men, but of course I am aware of their every movement.  After a few minutes I pretend to make for the toilet, but there is a back door which I have noticed previously, so I hurriedly slip through it and am free.


I think of heading back to my flat to grab necessities, but I know that chances are somebody will be there waiting for me. There is the railway station, but I cannot face the walk all the way into the city, and where would I go? I feel a heaviness in my bladder and wish I had used the toilet whilst I had the opportunity.


They must have realised that I had escaped by now, and gone looking for me, and I should hurry away I have a couple of minutes and at least I know the area, but I have no idea where to go, or to be more exact, am too tired to bother. They are young and I am old, and eventually they will get me.


I head down the long road that heads away from the docks towards my flat, on either side closed houses, looking grey in the dreary weather. Perhaps there will be nobody at the flat, and perhaps the two young men were just friendly and bored. I had got used to being over-cautious, that I could never relax. Was the whole thing my imagination?


And then in front of me I see two figures, waiting, looking directly at me. How did they get there so fast? I hesitate for a moment and think about turning around and running, but I cannot do it, I am paralysed by fear or just weariness, and by now I desperately need to piss, a need that overwhelms everything else.


After hesitating for a moment, I take a breath, and then walk towards the two men, my hands outstretched as if for mercy or if offering them forgiveness.



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