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The assassin and the poppies

by Nadia Cowperthwaite 7 months ago in fiction

Adapt or die...

The assassin and the poppies
Photo by Egor Myznik on Unsplash

The assassin leapt from rooftop to rooftop, her footing sure as she nimbly ran, jumped, landed and ran again. The night was dark and the streets were at their quietest. Her plan was simple, in and out, pick up her money and on to the sailboat currently anchored on the horizon.

She’d run this route several times over the last week. She’d scoped out the house and the mark from the roof across the road, from the cafe down the street and through the house when he’d gone out and his butler had left for the market.

A large stand alone house next to a block of four conjoined houses, it stood out compared to the rest of the street. A high brick fence surrounded the property and there was a single guard seated on the inside of the wrought iron gate. The guards were rotated every six hours but never went farther into the yard than the small gate house.

As always, the assassin didn’t ask for the story behind her mark. She learnt early on that the less she knew about them the better. A name, address and description was all she worked with.

Grady Williams - above average height, slim build, short blonde hair, clean shaven.

She jumped the last two meter gap and landed silently. She ducked down and went around to the back of the home. Holding on to the gutter she lowered herself down until her feet were on the window sill. One arm at a time, she reached down and grasped the wood of the window with her fingertips then gently lifted it high enough to slip in.

She landed silently on the plush carpet of a spare bedroom and looked out the door into the dark hallway. The assassin tip-toed towards the room that she could hear snoring coming from then turned the door handle. It made a soft click and she froze, not even breathing, until she heard his snoring resume.

Luckily the hinges were silent as the door swung open. As she stepped into the room something caught her eye on the dresser. A gold pocket watch that she felt she’d seen before. She pushed the thought aside and removed the dagger from her belt, lots of men own gold pocket watches.

As she edged around the bed a floor board creaked beneath her foot and the eyes of the man laying in front of her shot open. Recognition sparked in her mind and she took a step back.

“Cyrene?” He said sleepily then confusion hit him as he woke up completely and sat up. “What are you doing here? In my room?”

“Charlie?” The assassin could feel her heart beating in her chest and a myriad of possible outcomes opened in her mind’s eye, none of them good. “You... What are you doing here?”

“Me? This is my house. What are you doing here?” He was starting to get angry now that he was awake and there was a woman dressed in black in his room.

“Who is Grady?” She asked, dodging his question.

“My brother?” he said rubbing his face in confusion.

“Why would someone want him dead?” Cyrene asked, peeking out the window from behind the curtain.

“Dead? What?” His voice started to get louder.

“Shhhh!”

“Tell me what is going on, Cyrene,” he said slowly.

She sat on the edge of the bed breaking all of her rules, her plan was ruined so she may as well lay it out and re-plan.

She’d met Charlie three times previously. Introduced as Charles the Merchant at a ball a month ago, then again at the opera two weeks later and three days ago while leaving a dress shop. They’d chatted and she had felt a spark but her life didn’t allow for her to stay in a city for more than a few months.

“I was hired to kill Grady,” she stated matter-of-factly.

“Why?” He asked getting noticeably nervous.

“I don’t know. I get a small amount of information and I carry out the commands.”

“You’ve done this before?” The nervousness was turning to panic.

“What does he do? What do you do?” She refused to get into the rest.

“He doesn’t even live in the city. He owns this house but he lives down the coast, a few days ride away. He buys and sells fabric from all over the world. That’s why I was at the dress shop this week. I go to stores and tailors to sell different cloth,” he said.

“This doesn’t make sense,” she said, then added, “then why do you have a guard?”

“Grady said it’s for my protection.” He looked at Cyrene. “Didn’t do much good.”

“We need to go. Get dressed,” she said standing and going to the door.

“What are we going to do?” He asked pulling on his boots after hastily getting dressed.

“We need to get out of this house first then out of the city before we both end up dead. What’s the best way out?”

“I’ve never tried it but my brother said there’s a tunnel in the basement for emergencies.”

“Well, I guess you’ll see it tonight. Only take what you can put in your pockets,” she told him, “and don’t make a sound.”

They slunk down the staircase and Charlie grabbed a skeleton key from a hook and unlocked the basement door.

There was candle light flickering in the basement and they edged down the stairs, Cyrene going first.

Boxes lined the walls with a small poppy stamped next to writing in another language and the puzzle pieces fell into place in Cyrene’s mind.

“What is all this?” Charlie asked looking at the wooden crates.

“Opium,” she said offhandedly.

There was footsteps behind the door that must have led to the tunnel.

Cyrene motioned for Charlie to stay back and stood with her back to the wall next to the door hinges, waiting for it to open.

The door swung open and covered her. Shuffling feet could be heard. One person, she thought, carrying something heavy.

A large bald man stepped forwards and bent over to put the two boxes he was carrying down. She leapt and in one fluid motion wrapped her right arm around his neck and her legs around his waist. Locking her right hand into her left elbow, she pushed his head forward with her left hand. His hands came up to her arms but he lost consciousness within seconds falling forwards.

The pair ducked out through the door and into the tunnel. It was raw earth with a candle halfway down.

“Do you know where this goes?” Cyrene asked.

“Just the alley, I think,” he replied.

There was no ladder at the end but a door that was ajar. Edging through they saw more boxes on the ground. Hopefully the bald man was working alone tonight.

They went up the stairs and found themselves in the closed kitchen of the inn the next street over.

Cyrene looked out the back door into the alley to see a horse and cart and two men unloading more boxes.

She pointed towards the front. The inn, long since closed, was deserted and they were able to sneak out the front door into the street.

As they walked down the street, Cyrene weighed up her options. Dawn wasn't far away and she needed to make a decision.

"I need to get out of the city," she said turning a corner into an alley and walking to a pile of rubbish halfway down the darkened lane. She'd stowed a bag that contained two changes of clothes and a few other travel items. She started to pull a simple dress on over the top of her black clothes and let her hair down.

"We need to go to my brother," Charlie said.

"The opium merchant?" Cyrene said sardonically.

Charlie sighed, "There's got to be more to this. That's where I'm going and you can come if you want. Can you try and talk to the... person? Tell them there was a misunderstanding?"

"Ha! What does your brother look like? Unless you are twins, they think you're him," she replied.

"No, he's a bit older than me with a moustache and darker hair."

They walked out the opposite end of the alleyway and headed towards the gates of the city as people started emerging on to the streets. They didn't talk as they rushed to the stables.

Charlie had filled his pockets with money and was able to purchase two horses without Cyrene having to touch her stash.

"Charlie!" a voice called as they were leading the horses out of the stables.

Cyrene kept her head angled down letting her hair block her face and kept walking towards the gate, now just mere metres away but Charlie stopped and turned. He obviously knew the man as he smiled with relief and took a step towards him.

The man grabbed him under the arm and started to tow him back into the city. Cyrene could hear Charlie's voice changing as he realised he was in trouble. She spent a split second contemplating riding off but jumped on her horse and turned around.

Galloping down the street, she kicked the man in the face as he turned towards the noise of the horse, knocking him out cold.

"Get on your horse!" she yelled at Charlie and they took off down the street and out the gate.

After several minutes they slowed their horses and Charlie looked like he might faint.

"We need to travel off the road," Cyrene said guiding her mare into the forest that was on the left side of the road.

"Who was that?" Cyrene asked Charlie after riding in silence for an hour.

"Lord Harrington. He was the first person I met when I moved here. He got me invited to the balls and introduced me to society," he said in quiet voice.

"How'd you meet?" she asked.

"On the street out the front of my house on the first day I moved in." He looked up through the canopy to the sky. He continued, "we'd bumped into each other and he started talking to me and I didn't know anyone else... It was set up wasn't it?"

Cyrene looked at him silently and he shook his head and rubbed his face.

"We're not completely out of trouble yet, Charlie, but at least we're out of immediate danger for now."

__________________________________________________

Would you like to hear more about Cyrene's exploits? Let me know with a heart, a share on your socials or a little tip.

fiction

Nadia Cowperthwaite

Aussie mum living in the Outback with a passion to share stories and articles.

I have degrees in journalism and media, and an MBA.

Instagram: @nadiacowper

Twitter: @nadiacowper

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