A Hired Hand

The blade was so sharp, Wang was tempted to run it against his thumb. Blood fascinated him. Even his own. He was a cutter long before they came up with the term. In his case, however, it wasn’t a form of self-punishment; it was pure self-pleasure to experience that split second between the slice and the flow of blood. An inexplicable joy. And then the taste of the blood. That always gave him a little shiver of pleasure as well as he sucked it in.

He sat in the dark, resting easy, but not too easy, in the rocking chair that faced the front door. The only light came from a street lamp outside the window to his right. Every little while he would look at the window, admire how clean the glass was, almost as if it weren’t there at all.

Eyes on the door, he rocked for a minute. Stopped. This sensation was pleasurable, too. It reminded him of his very early childhood when he would hold onto the bars on both sides of his crib and throw himself from side to side until he was tired enough to sleep. Nowadays, when the insomnia was bad, he’d lie in bed and rock his head from side to side, not trying to tire himself but only to lull his mind enough to drop off.

He rocked again, slowly. More slowly. More.

The sound of the key in the lock woke him, made him sit upright. He watched the door swing open in slow motion. The man entered, a tallish, dark figure against the ambient light from the street.

The man reached for the wall and flipped the light switch. Momentarily blinded, Wang squeezed his eyes tight. Rocking, dozing. It was a tactical blunder he’d foolishly allowed to happen.

Before he could open his eyes again, Wang heard the sound of the bullet coming and dove to the floor, but the shot managed to hit him in the left shoulder.

David Chan dove to the right and fired again as he fell to the floor. This bullet hit Wang in the left thigh. Still, he gripped the knife in his right hand and looked for a sheltering place to which he could roll on the floor.

Chan stood up and ran to the place where Wang lay bleeding. Looking down at the man Chan saw the knife he’d seen the minute the light came on. Putting his foot down on Wang’s wrist, he bent down and snatched the weapon from the man’s hand. It was an expensive throwing knife, very sharp and perfectly balanced. Even with no practice, Chan thought he might be able to throw this weapon and hit his target.

“Who are you?” Chan asked.

Wang smiled. “Someone who’s come to kill a man who’s now going to kill me instead.” He laughed.

Chan shook his head. “I’m certainly not going to kill you.”

Wang sneered. “I would if I were you,” he said. “I don’t give up easily.”

With lightning speed, Wang’s good arm shot for Chan’s left ankle, gripped it with enormous strength, and yanked hard. Chan went down to the floor. His head slammed on the bare wood, and his gun flew off over his head. But he still held the knife. Thrusting blindly, he swiped at where Wang’s arm might be.

The very sharp blade made contact. Wang cried out. Chan, dizzy, tried to focus. Blood spurted from the place where Wang’s right hand had been.

“David, I got the beer,” said Sergeant Bobby Stillman, coming through the door. “What the hell?”

Stillman drew his revolver and put a bullet through Wang’s head. The gore splattered across Chan’s face.

Stillman ran to Chan’s side. “Who’s this?” he asked.

“Someone who’s not going to be playing poker with us tonight,” said Chan.

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