“This is Commander Spice from the AIM speaking. We would like to receive a disproof or a confirmation of the mercenary named Mike being shot to death three months ago on the Arulko ground. Please, contact us if you have any information.”
That wasn't the first message from the AIM. They wanted to have the information first-hand, even though they obviously had quite a few witnesses. Mike shook his head – who do they think the information would come from, if he were dead? Or they expect him having a wife? Or kids? Or, maybe, a butler?
It should be hard to confirm his death, considering he never existed. Well, in this world, if you don't have a surname and any records, you don't exist. In fact he has a couple of surnames for utility purposes – you can't store your money in a bank without any documents and he wasn't going to keep his money buried in the ground as some kind of treasure from the adventure stories. Yet he made sure no one would track his accounts back to him.
He left the answering machine alone, leaning back in a brown leather chair. Three month have passed since he was badly wounded in Arulko. Almost the double amount of time he would normally give himself to recover. He wasn't sure whether it was the closest near-death experience he ever had, but certainly this one had the most long-lasting consequences. He was still unable to walk without a cane. Normally he would overexercise himself, force to overcome the trauma. This time it didn't work – twice he tried, twice he ended up hurting his knee and collapsing. That was exactly what he was told by his surgeon. He got used to prove himself an exception. Not in this case, apparently.
The consequences of the punctured lung were still apparent as well. Maybe he was actually getting too old for that kind of game? He never even considered that before. He, the rational person, had the nave belief in his own invincibility. Other people get killed, other people get old. He is too good for all that. Is he rational at all? Or a lunatic on the never-ending hunt for money?
He nervously grabbed the cane and stood up – this forced vacation has started to become unbearable. He was never a self-reflective person, but when you are all alone twenty-four seven with no job to do, your brain ask for some exercise and slowly chewing your own weaknesses in your mind fits perfectly. He walked to the window and observed the typical suburban view – evening skies over the small houses roofs. That was his 'official' residence – the place he can be contacted at. What's the best way to stay unnoticed – to become one of the crowd. His phone number was tied to this address and was available to the AIM, not to the clients directly – thanks to the organization, they allowed calling mercenaries only via their web-page.
When he recovered enough after the latest wounds, he kept changing places (luckily he could afford quite a few), feeling trapped. That was the first time he decided to visit his official residence since he got shot – enough time had passed and it was unlikely he was still at risk of letting anyone to uncover the fact he was alive.
People outside of his window were living their lives – kids playing in the yard, a woman enjoying her hot drink on the porch of her house, a man walking a dog. Life seems so simple, predictable and safe for them. The 'normal' life, something that Scully tried to advertise to him many times, 'though Mike always found it quite debatable coming from someone who has been divorced seven times. Scully was a born optimist in everything, including his private life. After another tearful break-up he managed to find a new “love of his life” astonishingly quickly, once in a matter of hours.
Now Scully had seven ex-wives, eight children and a lot of child support to pay. Mike, on the contrary, had no one. Accumulating his wealth and no one to spend it on. 'You are a dragon sleeping on your gold' – the comparison that made him shiver – too close to the truth. He was like that legendary creature – feared, sometimes admired and all the best 'knights' would love to cut his head off. To obtain the status of the fairy tale beast wasn't easy at all – it all came through hard work and great achievements. Was it all worth it? - the dreaded question. You set yourself a goal – you achieve it. He never thought what happens next in this little scheme. Normally, it would be another goal to achieve. What's his goal now? He is god damn rich, probably permanently physically damaged and in his fifties.
He took a glass of scotch from the table and sat back in the chair. He didn't drink often – most of the time he preferred to keep his head clear, but sometimes he needed to smudge his vision of reality and needed it badly. Scully, coming from a mixed English-American family, introduced him to scotch and it remained his favourite drink ever since.
His hand reached for the answering machine.
“You have 2 new messages,” mechanical voice kept him company, “yesterday at one PM.”
Speaking with youngish emotional female voice, the machine said, “Please, pick up the phone. I know you ain't dead. I have a job offer for you. The payment is negotiable. Please call me back on...”
That wasn't a first message from a mysterious lady who “knows he ain't dead”. She left six more messages in the past two weeks, the content of which stayed the same from one message to another - “I know you are alive” or “it's impossible you've actually been shot” convinced Mike she didn't really know anything and that “job offer” thing and promises of a big pay check were meaningless since he wasn't fit enough to take any sort of assignment.
“Today at 10 AM”, said the machine and started speaking with Scully's voice, “Hey, mate, are you alive there? Don't you think it's unfair to keep me in the dark. Call me back or even better - pick up the damn phone!”
Yes, it is actually unfair, thought Mike. Scully was the only person who had all his phone numbers and who was able to reach him any time. Not this time though. Mike didn't want even his best friend to know what state he is in. He was far too confused himself about the future outlook to let anyone in. Maybe he is wrong, maybe it is exactly the time to talk, to seek advice. Maybe the friendly, easy-going and insightful Scully, could help him. But that overwhelming quality of Mike's own character – his arrogance – was getting better of him. No way he is going to accept the failure publicly, even if the 'public' is represented only by his best friend.
Scotch's done the job fine, Mike was half-asleep in the chair.
The sudden sound of the door bell returned him to the reality. He put the empty glass to the table. The ringing of the door bell persisted.
Who the hell could it be? Scully? He never comes unannounced. On the other hand, Mike never before tried to disappear off Scully's radar. What if it's not Scully? What if someone tries to uncover the fact he is alive? AIM? No way they would be that intrusive. Then who?
He quietly walked down the stairs to the front door. If that weren't weird for a safe area like this one, he would put a video camera outside, but to keep his cover, he used a door with small square mirrors. The mirrors they were for the person on the outside, from the inside you could see through them well enough. Sometimes the simple solution is the best one.
Through the door now he could see a small woman in her late twenties. She was hardly 5 ft 5 tall, dressed casually and had curly red hair. And he definitely didn't know her. That was as much information as he could get. A neighbour? Possibly. For the neighbours he was a businessman from NY, who likes to come to his suburban house now and then. They didn't bother him a lot, but sometimes when someone was moving in to the street, the newcomers were introducing themselves to the new neighbours. And it was better to look normal and not keep your door shut when your lights are obviously on.
Still, she might not have been a neighbour. There was only one way to find out – after all, he will leave the house at some point and it would be worse, if she were spying on him then. He pulled his gun out from under the denim jacket he was wearing, checked it and hid it away again. Hardly she is a killer – who would operate in a place like this? But Mike preferred to consider every possibility.
The woman was pretty persistent, keeping on ringing the door bell and getting on his nerves.
He came to the door, paused and pulled the door handle.
The woman looked up to see his face.
“I knew you are alive!”
A great start – thought Mike.
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