By Milton Lyles
The sea and sky were equally grey and the wispy strands of rain obliterated any semblance of separation. The only sound was the constant banging of the Pacific Ocean against the rocky shore. The noise level rose and fell on the capricious whim of the wind. Had anyone, by some remote chance, seen the old man walking the rugged path that skirted the beach they might have thought him to be an eccentric tourist, but most probably they would not have not thought of him at all. He was remarkably unobtrusive and not the least bit memorable; the kind of man who is seen and never noticed because he does nothing to draw attention to himself. There was on the beach at a good distance beyond the old man, who was not at all an old man, a woman with red hair walking with two handsome dogs. The man, whose walk paralleled the path she took along the black sand that lined the beach studied her every move carefully, in the manner that a lion on the stalk studies its prey. His being in that place at that time had but one purpose. He was there to watch the woman, until he decreed the time and place and method of her dying.
Harry Shay had surreptitiously watched the woman for three days. He was a very good watcher, and he knew, even after a short period of watching, with an uncanny degree of certainty that there was no overt pattern or purpose to her life. She lived in splendid isolation. He had once been told that kindergarten teachers could, with about ninety-five percent accuracy, place children in ability groups by the seventh day of school. They accomplish this feat mostly by subjective evaluation, and by their ability to build rapport with individual students. The children by words, actions, and the friends they choose defined who they were.
The difference between Harry and the kindergarten teachers was that they were supposedly into the extending of ability and he was totally in the extinguishing business. Teachers, by the nature of their work, got physically and emotionally very close to their young charges. Harry, by the nature of his work and the emotional demands it placed upon him, could only allow himself to view people for what he believed them to be-the worst beast in the jungle. He counted no man as his friend and no woman as his lover.
An excellent mentor, his father had taught him to be a killer. Harry had been a talented and dedicated apprentice. He was, and it may have been the result of breeding, uniquely suited to his chosen craft. There seems to be a sorting process to life through which truly talented people find their nitch, and Harry could not have been content as a carpenter, or button clerk, or great chef. The key to his success, as he well knew, was to be found in his ability to be totally nondescript in action and appearance, to leave nothing to chance, to never view his victim as a human being, and to eliminate any margin for error. As his father had taught him, mistakes do not just happen-they are the product of emotions, carelessness, fatigue, distraction, or a lack of planning.
There was, of course, a code of ethics in what Harry did. There were lines that could not be crossed. If that were not the case, he would have long ago surrendered to madness and depravity. Harry would not take contracts on young children or the mothers of babies. He would not kill any cops or clergymen of any faith. He had even went so far as to put himself at risk with his patron, Tony Gambino, because he turned down a contract for twenty-five thousand dollars to kill a parish priest who had molested five boys from the Gambino family. The priest was a thoroughly bad man beyond redemption, but he fell beyond the parameters of Harry’s code, and as such no amount of money could dissuade Harry.
In making his refusal Harry carefully explained to Mr. Gambino his reason for refusing such an important and necessary contract. He said, “Mr. Gambino, I and my father are greatly in your debt, but I hope you will see my refusal for what it is. I do not refuse because it is not enough money. I would do this thing for you for nothing, except for this. You and your associates live by a code. That code is the essential law of your family. I too live by a code. I have to live and work within my code of beliefs.” He explained his code, and how he saw himself as an ascetic of the highest order, and how he did not believe in God, heaven, or hell. He did not believe in reincarnation. He believed that the thing that separated men from sanity and madness was a man’s ability to hold true to a code of beliefs that defined him.
When he had finished his explanation, Mr. Gambino smiled at him it was a fatherly smile of understanding and acceptance. Harry had seen that smile bestowed on other men who did not fare well. Mr. Gambino told Harry he was profoundly disappointed, but that he understood where Harry was coming from, and that no more would be said about it.
It was three months before Mr. Gambino called upon Harry again for services. The assignment came at an inconvenient time. Harry’s father was dying, and his impending death had brought about the most unexpected changes in the old man. After years of denying the existence of God, the old man developed a profound interest in religion. He researched eastern and western philosophies and in the end chose to go back that which he had learned as a youth the Catholic faith. He undertook his new found faith with the passion of a true convert; he worried not only after his own soul, but also that of his son’s. Harry’s worry was that his father’s desire to purge himself of his sins before the cancer in his brain ate away his will to reason would cause Tony Gambino to silence him. He feared the possibility that Tony might call upon him to do it because his father clearly did not fall within the boundaries that Harry had established for his work. If harry refused such a request, it would sign both his and his father’s death notices. Harry was almost relieved when r. Gambino gave him the assignment in California. When he went to visit his father, there was to the meeting a sense of finality. The old man begged Harry to accept Jesus as his Lord and savior in one breath and cursed his own painful dying in the next. There were lengthy minutes when he id not know who Harry was. The male nurse assigned to his father’s private room told Harry that the old man’s confusion was as much a result of the effects of the medication as it was from the progress of the disease. The nurse told Harry that his dad was getting the best possible care with round the clock nurses paid for by Mr. Gambino who valued his old friend greatly.
Harry did not happened with the lady with the two dogs on the beach to his father’s situation. He had long ago put away the last vestiges of love for his father, but now on this that he knew to be his last job, Harry’s mind had began to drift. He knew, without fully comprehending how he knew, that it was time for him to cease being a killer. There was an island off the coast of the Yucatan Peninsula so small and so remote that no one would find him there in a thousand years. He did not lack for money.
Thoughts that were not previously permitted began to permeate his brain just as cancer had infiltrated his father’s. He should not have allowed himself to, but he began to admire the woman with the two dogs. He allowed her to become in his eyes human.
He had as a part of his preparation slipped into her empty house. He admired the beautiful simplicity of it. It had a well stocked pantry. The furniture she had selected was not designed to be elegant. It was functional, well-made, and fit the house as though it had been made for no other purpose except to be there in that space to be use by her. The bookshelves were well-stocked with titles that Harry knew and loved \. Of all the clients that harry had been asked to service, the beach lady was most akin to him. He knew as he stood in her bedroom and smelled the unique blend of perfumes, powders, oils, and bath salts that he wanted that which was unforgivable. He wanted to make love to her. The lie he told himself was that afterwards he could still muster the will to kill her.
It was one of the dogs that made it happen. They were spirited dogs, a mother black as night and a daughter as golden brown as a waffle. The mother was the wilder of the two. On one of the beach walks, the big black dog slipped out of its harness and sprinted up the beach. The woman and the brown dog raced after her in hot pursuit. The black dog charged up the narrow stairway that led to the ridge above the beach, Harry blocked the dog’s only line of escape. The dog skidded to a stop and Harry stooped down and began to talk to the dog in his quiet low voice of authority. The black dog lay on its belly and crawled to Harry’s feet just as the red head came up behind the dog. She watched as the black dog licked Harry’s out-stretched hand. She smiled the warmest smile that harry had ever seen. He knew in that instant that she was the woman he must have for his island escape. His killing days were done.
Harry and the red head had two delightful days. In those two days he grew to love her beyond belief. It was as though his life before her had been without meaning or purpose. It was while in this state of euphoria that he asked her to give up all that she had and to go away with him to Mexico. He told her of the island in Mexico that far exceeded the beauty of her beloved Shelter Cove. It was a place where the dogs could run free and the two of them could enjoy each other in the remote obscurity that they both desired. She cried and accepted his offer. He told her about his father and his newly found faith. She did not press him for details about his life or how he came into hers. He was grateful for that. Finally, late into the second night, she invited him into her bed.
How warm she felt in the softness of the feather bed. As his hands explored the smoothness of her body, she responded to his touch with turns and twists and soft moans. The bringing of joy to her brought even greater joy to him. When the two of them had kissed and touched and teased their sexes to the point of delirium, she allowed him to enter her. She lay supine on her belly. The two of them fit together like pieces of a well-crafted Chinese puzzle. He straddled her buttocks. His weight carried on the knees of his flexed legs and entered her cautiously. The rhythmic moving of their two bodies was accentuated by her soft moans. The wiggling, grasping, and releasing movement of her buttocks controlled the pace of their coupling as she held him inside her female parts and took him to places he had never been. When she was done with him, when he had noisily expended his passion, he collapsed on the bed beside her his breath coming in ragged gasps.
She slipped out of bed and opened the balcony door allowing the roar of the ocean on the rocks below and the swirl of night breeze to fill the room. Harry was a man fulfilled and content as she slipped into bed beside him. Her body felt cool next to his. She encased him gently in her arms and legs and Harry, his passion spent, knew that he was on the edge of a good and loving
sleep for the first time in his life.
She waited with the patience that only a woman possesses. She measured his breathing against the endless beat of the ocean on the rocks and sands of Black Beach. She felt in his body the exact moment when he crossed from wakefulness to sleep. It was at that instant that she drew the dagger from between the feather mattress and the box springs, a movement that she had practiced at least a hundred times. As her legs tightened around Harry, her left hand grasped his head, her forefinger and index finger ripped into his eye sockets. And his head was jerked painfully back. He was astounded by the strength in the red head’s arms and legs. The last thing Harry heard before the red rush of pain slashed across his throat was the red head saying, “no one ever says no to Tony Gambino,”
In that last instant of his life, Harry realized one of the great truths of the world. That the red head knew or did not know the purpose of his coming to her was of no consequence. All that mattered was that Harry had come and put himself in the most vulnerable of all roles, that of a trusting lover for true love begins when there is nothing left of self to betray