Hearts rushed into the apartment complex, away from the unbearable summer heat. She pulled off her grey sweater, before scaling the stairs, two steps at a time. Blonde had just called demanding she return to their apartment, immediately.
Hearts went through every possible reason for her tone, and decided each was as hard to believe as the next. She had met Blonde while turning tricks on the streets with Red, her other roommate. Blonde was of model height and had model looks. She had blonde hair which stopped just short of her shoulders and a perpetual pout on her lips. Her eyes were a piercing grey-blue, and her luck with men had been shot from the start. Not that Blonde cared. Men, according to her, were only worth the wealth they could afford her.
Hearts frowned, wondering where King had disappeared to. He was the only man Blonde could stand, and the only person she trusted completely. He was their sometimes roommate, and he paid his portion of rent periodically. He crashed at their apartment whenever he happened to be in the neighborhood.
King had spent most of his life on the streets, dodging the swings and stray spit of the local elderly, and delinquents. Once, he had the bad luck of crossing paths with a gang, who were offended by his dark skin and bright eyes. They took it upon themselves to fix his face, but poor little Red was there, and managed to save both their skins.
Red had brown hair, and green eyes. She was not too tall, but not short, either. Her fair skin always seemed ready to burn under the sun, but never did. She had somehow remained close with King, even after her wretched experiences on the streets, as a bang for a buck. She was always worried of abandonment and of an untimely death. She dreaded death and feared that when she died, she would be just another body lying in a ditch found a few days late. Not Red, anymore.
When Hearts arrived at the door to their apartment, she understood Blonde’s worried tone. There, tied in a bow around the front doorknob, was a black ribbon. King must have left it. Though this may have struck many as odd, it was not that out of the ordinary for them. They often left coded messages for each other, as it was the safest form of communication when any of them was on a job for the Underground.
The Underground was a nameless entity that had ongoing operations in every major country, political group, and crime syndicate. Hearts, Blonde, Red and King all worked for this nameless organization, with the hope of somehow leaving the gutter they had been born in.
Hearts rapped her knuckles on the door, before pushing it open carefully. She hurried towards the living room, stopping briefly to throw her backpack on the floor near the entrance.
“Well?” Hearts demanded.
Blonde looked up from her tattered copy of ‘Through the Looking Glass’. “Did you see it?” she asked.
Hearts rolled her eyes in annoyance. “Of course. Why? It wasn’t unexpected.”
Blonde tilted her head to the side in acknowledgement of Hearts’ words. King had mentioned earlier that day his interest in leaving for an undetermined period. He had left with a promise to keep them posted. Before she could fully respond to Hearts’ questions, however, the door slammed open. Red stormed inside, with a scowl on her face, clutching the black ribbon in her left hand.
“What is this?!” She demanded, as she compulsively wrapped the ribbon around her wrist like a make-shift bracelet.
There was no reply.
The ribbon had been tied in a bow: King was in a lot of trouble. The ribbon was black: King might not come back.
While Hearts was running up the stairs worried about Blonde’s tone, and sweating from the heat, King was walking out of the elevator and onto the streets.
He tried to imagine the looks on the girls’ faces when they discovered his parting gift. He wondered when they would notice it, and if Red would understand the message it was intended to bear.
King looked around at the other pedestrians while quickly making his way towards the Cathedral.
As he walked inside he kept his hands clasped together in front of him, and his head bowed down towards the floor. He made his way towards the altar, at the back of the Church. Slowly, as his legs were shaking, he knelt and began to pray.
“Soul of Christ, make me holy”
King tried to find meaning in these words, though he came up empty, as usual. He was a sinner and had never, yet, experienced remorse for his actions.
“Body of Christ, be my salvation”
He, often when drunk, made loud claims of being of the few God left out. Even when sober, he failed to grasp how even a god who was always watching, and understood everything could ever spare him. When King was barely a couple feet tall and still running barefoot on the dirty streets of London, he had promised himself that he would find a way to wealth and power, no matter what the cost.
“Blood of Christ, let me drink your wine
Water flowing from the side of Christ, wash me clean”
King gripped his hands together tightly, and tried to keep his lip from trembling. He had been recently warned that he had been marked by the organization as a liability. It was only a matter of time before he was deemed completely expendable.
King chuckled darkly. It had been such a small mistake, and yet the assignment had come from the First Circle of Hell, in France. He had been found lacking. He did not know if he should worry too much. There had only been a few witnesses who, he was sure, could easily be bought. Sometimes, he hated to think of the man he had become. He hoped someday to figure out how to wash the dirt and blood from his skin.
“Passion of Christ, strengthen me
Kind Jesus, hear my prayer
Hide me within your wounds
And keep me close to you”
He snuck a look at his watch and made a note of the time. He couldn’t afford to delay. King had been found to have ties with the Organization, a well-known rival syndicate of the First Circle of Hell based in Italy. As a result, he had broken off communication with all his contacts. He hoped to find a way to reconcile himself to both groups, before they began to thirst for his blood.
“Defend me from the evil enemy
And call me at the hour of my death
To the fellowship of your saints”
King brought his hands down and upon his knees, and contemplated how much longer he would live. He desired Death in many ways, but at the same time feared it greatly. He would never understand those ‘wise’ men who claimed Death was nothing to fear. After all, not all sins are forgiven, and if there was a God, there must be a hell, King reasoned.
“That I might sing your praise
With them for all eternity.”
King stood up stiffly, having been kneeling for quite some time. He spared one last look at the stained-glass windows, the altar, and the crucified Christ before walking down the aisles, towards the large doors. As he made his way out onto the crowded streets, King worried over his sorry state, and if he would make the next train.
King turned his attention to the people hurrying past him. As they walked past, he attempted to gauge the value of each person. His sticky-fingers ached for a purse or other luxury to occupy them.
Finally, King focused in on a young man in a tailored suit, walking with his back ramrod straight. He examined the suit’s stiff features and chose the soon-to-be-sorry suit as his target. The suit opened his messenger bag, and began rummaging through it. His eyes remained directed towards the map detail, which was bolted to supports near a bench. Finally, he pulled out a book and began looking through it with a frown on his face.
King kept a close eye on the suit’s hands and line of vision, while silently sneaking a hand into the bag. He carefully undid the side zipper and came away with the suit’s wallet. He hurriedly removed the credit cards, and cash. He, then, closed the bag after returning the wallet – it was not designer.
Maybe now the suit would not be able to buy a ticket for his train ride home? King smirked, holding back a laugh, and thought, ‘Shame God frowns upon this way of life.’ He leaned against a support beam with a fresh wad of cash in hand, the credit cards already stuffed in his coat. King gave a sideways glance at the arriving train, and mouthed with a smile,