The Killer’s Vow by Aria R. Blue
“Do you understand why you’re here, Simon?”
“Why don’t you fill me in?” I ask, leaning back on the couch and settling in. I have a feeling this blond psychologist is going to try to unravel the inner workings of my mind today.
She won’t be the first to try.
“There are concerns about your state of mind,” she says, crossing her legs.
“Is that right?”
“Your last few jobs have gotten out of control.”
“You think so?”
She turns to the man seated next to her. “He’s great at deflecting questions.”
Vladimir’s eyes bore into me, venom seeping through because of last week’s incident. “At least he’s great at something.”
I smirk, letting the insult slide.
After all, he’s the one who needs me.
“You only had one target,” the psychologist says. “Why didn’t you stick with that?”
My eyes drift to the window behind her.
Heavy snow blankets the streets of Moscow, cloaking it like a thick carpet. A man in a worn wool coat shovels snow out of the driveway.
A sudden gust of wind makes the surface snow lift and swirl in circles before it lands back down.
“Simon? I just asked you a question.”
I grind my teeth, letting my gaze fall on the walls.
They’re void of any personal touches. One glance at the desk behind them shows that it doesn’t have any family photographs either.
“You should hire an interior decorator,” I say, glancing back at the psychologist. “It’ll make the place more welcoming.”
Something shifts in her eyes.
But she buries the emotion before it can reach the surface. In that fraction of a second, I understand everything I need to know about her.
And she’s trying to hide it.
“Have you been taking your prescribed medication, Simon?”
“Always,” I say, holding her dark gaze as something violent simmers to life inside me.
“You know you can’t go without it,” she says. “You’ll only end up being a threat to yourself and to others.”
“You’re worried I’ll expose all of you,” I say, giving her my full attention just to make her fidget.
I learned at a young age that I have an effect on people.
They find it haunting when I hold eye contact for too long.
Maybe it’s because I have my mother’s aquamarine eyes. Or maybe it’s more complex than that.
“You should hang some pictures of your son,” I say, scanning the empty walls again. “Maybe the one with his rugby team.”
“Simon,” Vladimir chastises.
He hates it when I do this.
I glance back at the psychologist to find her sweating profusely. In the middle of a Russian winter.
“I’m particularly fond of the one at the dacha, where he’s standing next to that pine tree.” Many Russians, including the woman in front of me, have dachas—countryside cottages.
“Enough,” Vladimir hisses.
I cock my head at him. “What? I’m just giving her some free advice. Her office could really use a makeover.”
“Ignore him, Anoushka,” Vladimir says, tipping his silver head toward her as he lowers his voice. “He’s harmless.”
I wink at the psychologist.
Her hands start to shake.
Too bad she doesn’t realize that I’m just playing.
But because she’s a professional and everything, she takes a deep breath and composes herself. “Do you want to tell us about last week’s incident?”
“Mmm...” I pretend to think about it. “Not really.”
“Let me rephrase,” she says, gathering courage as Vladimir nods at her reassuringly. “Tell us about last week’s incident.”
“If you insist.” I sigh. “I had a good time for the most part. I’ve always wanted to experience the Middle East. Saudi was fun, but I think Vlad here could have done a better job than the shitty hotel he put me in. If I didn’t know any better, I’d think you guys were running out of funds.”
“Incredible,” the psychologist muses. “He’s deflecting again.”
Vladimir’s face darkens. “Simon, you and I both know she’s asking about what happened at the club.”
I widen my eyes. “Oh, that. You should’ve said so earlier. There’s not much to say. It was all very unfortunate.”
“Who was your target, Simon?” she asks.
“One of the Saudi royals,” I say.
“And what did you do?”
“I did my job. I killed him.”
“What else did you do?”
“I got rid of witnesses.”
“You had twenty-five witnesses?”
“Yes. As I said, it was all very unfortunate.”
Vladimir’s right eye twitches the way it does when he’s really pissed off.
“It’s all over the news, Simon,” he says. “They have footage.”
“They didn’t get my face, though,” I say.
“And how do you know that?”
“I disabled the cameras facing me.”
“And you didn’t consider disabling the cameras behind you?”
“Where’s the fun in that?”
Vladimir’s right eye twitches twice.
Sometimes, I like to push people just to see what it will take to make them pop.
“You’re working for the Russian government, Simon. This is a serious job,” Vladimir says.
“You’re not supposed to be enjoying this.”
“And you’re not supposed to be hiring killers to do your bidding. But here we are anyway.”
I earn another twitch. “I can replace you.”
“This isn’t a joke, Simon. You went too far this time.”
“You wouldn’t be saying that if you had seen what I had,” I say, thinking about the shady shit that happened behind the club’s closed doors.
The psychologist’s eyes widen.
She’s surprised that I have emotions that go deeper than bloodlust.
Vladimir isn’t amused, though. “Your job is to do what we tell you to.”
“I just wanted to do a little extra.” I frown. “To give you more bang for your buck.”
“Simon, what did you see at that club?” the psychologist finally asks.
Red dresses. Birthday cake. Muffled screams. And that auction.
They were selling women like they were livestock.
It’s all painted inside my mind now, whether I like it or not.
“It wasn’t that memorable,” I say instead. “But I had the best hummus there. The magic is all in the topping.”
She ignores me just like I ignore her. “What was going on in your mind when you killed all those men?”
I’m quiet for a moment. “It’s called za’atar. It’s a blend of spices and seeds that makes literally any dish exciting. I brought some home with me. If you’d like, I could send a sample to your home address.”
She stiffens at the subtle threat.
I’m a killer who knows way too much about her personal life. She has every right to be afraid of me.
“Simon, I’ll have to cancel your next assignment if you don’t take this seriously,” Vlad threatens.
“You wouldn’t,” I say.
“You’re not the only assassin who works for me,” he says.
“But I’m your favorite.”
“Sure,” he says dryly.
“And your best.”
This time, he doesn’t say anything. Because it’s true. I’m the only one he sends out to high-profile individuals.
Vladimir sighs. “Simon, I can’t give you any more marks if you don’t get approved by a psychologist first.”
I glance back out at the snow.
The sun is climbing higher into the sky, making the city look like it’s made of tiny little diamonds scattered everywhere.
The man outside is still hard at work, shoveling the snow all by himself.
As if he can sense eyes on him, he straightens and meets my gaze. I look at him for a second before turning back to the psychologist.
“Are we done here?” I ask.
“We’re just getting started,” she replies.
“Fine. Ask me what you need to.”
“What is your relationship like with your parents?”
“I don’t remember them,” I lie.
“You were at the Institute, correct?”
“Correct.” The Institute was an orphanage that provided shelter and basic necessities for children like me.
“How would you describe your years there?”
“I was bored most of the time.”
“Is that something that happens often?”
“No, but it seems to be more frequent when Vlad is around. He sucks all the life out of a room.”
“What made you want to work for Russian intelligence?”
“They saw how smart I was and recruited me,” I reply.
“Do you enjoy all aspects of the job?” she asks, looking down at her papers.
This is the question that all of her previous questions have been leading up to. And she’s trying to make it look like it’s not a big deal.
“You want to know if I enjoy the killing,” I say, rephrasing her words.
“I like the hotels and the locations, but I can’t say that killing makes me happy. As much as you’d like to believe otherwise, I’m not a sociopath, Anoushka. I’m just a regular man. Like your banker husband.”
The papers in her hand tremble when I mention her significant other.
Vlad lets out a frustrated sigh. “This is hopeless.”
Two hours later, the psych evaluation is done. Anoushka darts out of her own office like a scared little mouse.
“I don’t think she likes me very much,” I comment.
“Yes. I wonder why,” Vlad says, securing his scarf around his thick neck.
“Do you have another project for me?” I ask, draping my coat over my forearm.
Vlad stares at the coat I’m not wearing but doesn’t comment on it. “I’ll give it to you when you’re ready.”
“I’m ready now,” I say. “And Anoushka declared I was mentally sound too.”
"We’ve had men snap before, Simon,” he says, pushing open the doors. An icy draft greets us, slicing through every layer of clothing to settle in our bones. “And you’re exhibiting the same patterns as them.”
We cross the clean walkway.
I tap the shoulder of the man with the flimsy coat. He’s still busy shoveling.
“I want you to have this,” I say in Russian, handing him my coat. I intentionally tucked a few thousand rubles into one of the coat pockets.
The man swallows. “It’s cold. You need one too.”
“I’ll have yours then.”
He stares at me for another beat before shrugging out of his current coat.
“Bolshoyespasibo.” Thank you.
I accept his coat, placing it over my shoulders as I cross the road.
Vlad keeps up with my long strides. “You don’t blink before deciding to kill twenty-five men, but you show kindness to strangers on the street?”
“It’s simple, really. Some men deserve to die,” I say, not telling him the real reason I care about the underprivileged.
The only reason my heart is still beating today is because a stranger stopped to take notice of me.
Vlad is quiet as we get into our Mercedes.
“Who’s next?” I ask after rolling up the partition between the driver and us.
“It’s in the States,” he says.
“East Coast or West?”
“Does it matter?”
“Yes. I prefer somewhere warm, and also, I want to pick my own hotel this time.”
“Promise to only stick to the one target?” he pleads.
“Depends on how annoying his friends are.”
“Her,” he whispers, making the sign of the cross as we pass by a church.
I let him have his devout moment.
“A woman?” I ask after a brief pause.
He glances at me. “Yes.”
“This is new,” I say, leaning my back against the corner of the seat as I watch him. The worn wool coat is soft against my arms.
“Do you have a problem with it?”
“I’m a feminist,” I say. “I don’t discriminate between men and women.”
“Yes, this is exactly the kind of equality women of the past were fighting for.”
“What’s her name?” I ask.
For some strange reason, a surge of adrenaline courses through me.
Usually, I don’t care much about the targets, but it feels different this time.
Something is pushing me in this direction.
There’s a whisper telling me to cross continents and traverse oceans to explore this energy I feel vibrating in my spine.
Vladimir pulls out his yellow file and hands me a photograph like he always does.
“Her name is Vera,” he announces.
She’s a brunette in lumpy, shapeless clothing. Her hair is frizzy and wild. Her bangs cover her eyes, but I think I can make out a sliver of gray underneath. Her lips are big and chapped.
I can’t look away from the photograph.
“She’s not exactly a beauty,” Vlad grunts.
Suddenly, I have a violent urge to put a bullet between his eyes for saying that.
“How old is she?” I ask.
“And how exactly is a twenty-three-year-old a threat to our country?”
“I don’t remember you asking me so many questions before.”
“Is there some rule against asking questions?”
He sighs. “She’s a Bratva princess.”
If she’s high-profile and lives in America, he could only be referring to one family.
“She’s Maxim Reznikov’s daughter?” I ask, looking at her through brand new eyes.
The Reznikovs are notorious for their involvement in the underworld. They operate between the two countries—Russia and America—wreaking havoc on both.
“Yes,” he says. “She’s getting married this Sunday. And I want you to wait until she’s at the altar to kill her.”
My eyebrows shoot up. “That’ll leave hundreds of witnesses. They’ll know it’s a murder.”
“The Reznikovs have more enemies than they have friends. They won’t know who to suspect.”
“Is there a reason you want me to kill her in broad daylight?”
“Is there a reason you have a hundred questions about this?”
I take a deep breath.
After the things I’ve been through when I was young, nothing gets under my skin anymore. After walking through the fires of hell, I’m not afraid of little flames.
If Vlad won’t give me answers, I’ll have to do my own research.
“Don’t make me regret this, Simon,” he says, frowning at me like I messed up already.
I smirk at him. “Did I ever let you down, boss?”