Mat lay face down on the floor with his cheek pressed against the cold wood. His cheek was the only thing that felt cool as the poison ripped through his body like fire. He groaned as his eyes opened and closed. He could barely keep them open he felt so weak. He would have kept them closed too, and just died, if it wasn't for her. Her face was only inches from his. Her black hair with the pink streak. He had thought it was cute when he brought her home from the club. It would have stood out like a beacon against the hazy circle of her face if he could see past her eyes. They scared him. Orbs of ice. It wasn't that she was enjoying his torment. That would at least have brought a spark of life to her eyes. No, she watched him like he was some dog that might do a trick, but probably wouldn't.
After what seemed like an eternity, the woman flipped Mat over and held his head up as she poured a liquid down his swollen throat. She did it slowly; with great care. Like she had done this before. Mat barely coughed any of it up. The fire started to die away as Mat gasped and coughed on his back. He felt himself being lifted. Then oblivion took him.
The eyes swam in front of him.
With a start, Mat jerked awake. He was laying in his bed. He could still see her eyes. In the dream there had been flashing lights and the sound of music. When the music stopped, there was only pain. Mat put his hand to his forehead, which pounded underneath it. Pain. Maybe it had just been a dream. Maybe he had slept through the headache. But when he put his hand down again, it hit metal.
Mat Pulled a metal strong box towards him. Carefully, he turned the key left in its lock. Inside was an envelope. He picked it up and pulled out the contents.
"Hi! I was so glad to meet you last night! I just had such a wonderful time. I like the slow acting poisons the best. It took a long time to make! I'm so glad you got to appreciate it as much as I did."
Mat put the letter down while he tried not to vomit over the side of his bed. What was this woman? He kept reading:
"Guess what? I didn't give you all the antidote! Aw :( Don't look sad! I'll give it to you tonight! Btw, there is a picture of a guy in the envelope. I want you to kill him for me. He goes to the same barber shop the third of every month. That's today :) It's not far from your apartment either. That's lucky. Then you're going to go somewhere for me! Don't be late. It's not safe to drive while your muscles are constricting :P"
This time Mat did vomit. His hand shook as he reread the letter. He eventually reached into the envelope and pulled out the black and white picture. It looked like it came straight from a P.I. show where someone had done a stake-out with a zoom lens. There was a man, going slightly grey, in a suit. He was just leaving a barber shop Mat passed by every day going to work. He read the letter one more time and put his head in his hands.
He got there twenty minutes early. He had never hot wired a car before. But hey, that's what the internet was for, right? The instructions had been clear, but it had still taken him longer then he thought it would. Well, his hands had shaken the whole time.
With the stolen car a short walk away, Mat opened the barber shop door. A little bell announced his arrival. An old man sat in one of the waiting chairs by the door, reading an old newspaper. He glanced up and slowly put the paper aside.
"Hmm. Hello!" The old barber got up and shook Mat's hand. Then he walked over to the chair and lifted the cover off.
"Take a load off. How can I help you today?"
Mat sat down and the barber threw the cover over him; tying it behind his neck. Then he swiveled the chair around so Mat could look at himself in the mirror.
"Just make it look neat, if you could," Mat said.
"Hmm, certainly." The barber swiveled the chair back towards the door and worked the pump with his foot. The chair jerked upwards a few times until he was satisfied with the height. Mat saw the old man take a pair of scissors out of a jar and watched the street to little metallic clicks.
He almost jumped when the bell rang out. The door clicked shut and a man in a suit took a seat in front of the window.
"Barry," the barber said.
"Rodney," the man replied; picking up the discarded newspaper.
Mat made eye contact briefly with Barry, who smiled weakly at him before raising the paper in front of his face.
Mat smiled back. He realized he was holding his breath.
"So," said the barber, "any one you're tidying up for?"
"Ah," said Mat.
"A young lady perhaps?"
"I met a girl last night."
"Hmm?' Said the barber, "seeing her again tonight?"
'Well," Mat thought about it, "to be honest, I don't think I could go on if I didn't."
"Hmm, that serious, is it?"
Mat didn't reply and they sat in silence for a while. No sounds but the mechanical snipping of the scissors and the occasional rustle of paper from the man Mat would have to kill.
The barber, a master of small talk by trade, filled the silence eventually.
"I used to have a young woman once myself, you know."
"Really," said Matt.
"Yea. Time changes a lot though. She hasn't been young in awhile. Or me, come to think of it." the barber chuckled.
"She ran off with the mailman a few years after we were married. He even delivered the divorce papers himself."
Mat didn't know what to say, "that kind of sucks."
The barber chuckled, "I just watch the people walk by my window. Have done for forty years."
"You need a shovel for the bull," chimed in Barry, "come here more often and he'll tell you about all his girlfriends."
The barber chuckled again and pulled a comb over Mat's head. When he was done, he twisted the chair back before the mirror and let his work be inspected.
"It's good," said Mat, as cheerfully as he could make himself.
"You better believe it," the old man replied.
Mat paid the barber and walked out of the shop as quickly as he could. He looked at his watch outside. The whole ordeal had taken twenty minutes. Palms sweating, face pale; he walked back to the car.
Twenty minutes. How long would Barry..., no. No names. How long would his haircut take? If they knew each other well, they might chat more. But if he cut his hair every week, it might take less time. Mat pulled on some gloves to open the door and got in.
After a ten minute wait that took forever, Mat pulled the car nearer to the shop. He parked in a spot along the side of the road and watched the shop door. He remembered the man's face. It was the same as in the picture. But seeing it in person was so... different. Hearing the man speak.
Mat shook his head and tried to think of other things. He remembered two jars on a shelf over the shop door. Two dolls were stuffed inside them. One was an old man, the other an old woman. Stuffed in the glass they looked wrinkled; their noses flattened. One looked like the old man. The other..., he kept seeing the eyes. Not the doll's eyes. Her eyes. They glared at him. Cold.
It wouldn't be fast; dieing of the poison. It would be slow. So was the wait. Nothing about this was fast. Could he kill him? If he waited long enough the problem would take care of itself...
The door opened. Mat realized he must be in the same place she had been when she took the picture. A feeling of deja vu washed over him. He shook a little as the man walked down the street.
He walked slow, so Mat waited where he was. After a minute, he pulled out and followed him. The man in the suit stopped at a cross walk, looked both ways, and went. Before Mat knew it, he was speeding up.
The spot was a parking lot. It was getting dark out. Mat sat in his own car; the back seat, as instructed in the letter. He didn't even remember where he put the stolen car. He briefly remembered seeing blood on the front bumper. He had walked the long way home.
It was cold out, but Mat was feeling warm. In fact, he was sweating. He could just feel the pain building under his skin. A slight itch now, like when he had been driving her to his place from the club. She must have spiked his drink. The shaking started soon after.
He didn't notice the door open, but suddenly she was sitting beside him. He saw the streak of pink out of the corner of his eye. That's all he wanted to see, but she stradled him.
Her face close to his; her hands by his head, she spoke, "so, what happened?"
She seemed excited now. Mat didn't look her in the eyes.
"I... ran him over."
She pulled his face towards her, "yes?" she said.
Mat remembered getting nearer and nearer. He remembered the man looking at him. The look of surprise in his eyes. Their eyes had met, even more briefly than in the shop. He had closed his eyes from that point on. He remembered the crash, and the bump. He remembered the noise. And, of course, two sets of eyes would haunt his dreams now. He would almost rather look into hers.
"If you wanted the experience you should have killed him yourself!" Mat snapped.
The woman frowned and pushed the vial of antidote at Mat roughly. He caught it in trembling hands and tried to get the stopper out while she sat back beside him.
"You have one more place to go, and one more vial of antidote to get."
Mat's hands were shaking too much to bring the vial to his lips, so he had to bring his lips to the vial. He swallowed it in one gulp.
"You'll know what to do when you get there."
By the time he recovered from his coughing fit, she had disappeared.
Mat slept in the car that night, curled up in the back seat. He woke up midmorning with the same headache; clutching a piece of paper. On it was an address, and a name. The trip took a few hours, and he arrived at noon. He knew it was noon because the place was a church. The bells tolled as he parked the car. Ten..., eleven..., twelve times.
Mat walked into the building. It was quite small, for a church. His hand rested on a basin of holy water. He didn't know what to do with it, so he ignored it. There was a table not far away, with a book on it. Mat walked up to it. Beside the book was a pen, and a vase of flowers. The book itself was a list of names. Mat raised the paper he was given. Barry Manchus. Sure enough, the name was on the page. Other names had been crossed off. Five of them. All men. Mat picked up the pen and, hands shaking, crossed off Barry Manchus.
"I was afraid of that."
Mat started and looked up at a priest, "I... are they all dead?" He asked.
"I'm afraid so," answered the priest, folding his hands together, "the book appears sometimes. After the sermon. I still haven't caught anyone putting it there, but sure enough, someone comes to cross out a name."
Mat looked more closely at the page. It was the guest book for the funeral of a Summer Smith.
"She is dead. It was an open casket funeral. I spoke over her grave myself. I don't know the young girl who sent you."
"Was she murdered?" Mat asked.
"Some say she was. The police called it an accident. Oh, here, this always turns up somewhere," the priest handed Mat a vial.
Mat pulled the stopper, "Thanks."
He drank it.