The city was already asleep as Linus crept down the alleyway, toolkit in hand. He was sleight, short, sharp featured and dressed all in black, perfectly at home in the dark, preferring the cloak of night to the stark revealing glare of the day. And besides, it was when he carried out the majority of his business. And a lucrative business it was, he reminded himself, stopping below a first story window, and he was very good at it.
With a flick of his wrist he shook open his bag, revealing the tools of his trade within. Reaching inside, he pulled out a screwdriver and a curved metal prong, a length of climbers rope and a small velvet pouch. Tossing the prong skywards, he waited until he heard a low satisfying clunk and pulled the rope taught, attaching it at the bottom to his belt. Another device emerged from his bag, this time a sort of clamp, which Linus attached to the rope and used to quickly pull himself upwards without sliding down. He had done this more times than he could count.
On reaching the window, the real fun could start. He jammed the screwdriver hard under the base of the sliding sash, and at the same time smacked a point at the top with his open palm. With a pop, the window jolted slightly upwards, and he was in. Obviously the pouch of lock picks would not be required. He’d always wondered why people bothered with legal jobs when you could do something as fun as this. As far as Linus was concerned, he got out in the fresh air a lot, saw the inside of a lot of different buildings and handled a lot of valuable and interesting objects. Anybody’s dream job, surely.
Chuckling to himself, he heaved the window fully open and slid inside, bending his knees as he touched down on the worn carpet. Looking around, he worked out his exits (useful if he had to leave in a hurry), and slipped on his soft gloves before venturing further in to the flat. There weren’t any valuables here, of course. If there were any, they would be in the bedroom, probably next to the sleeping form of the occupant. Dangerous, sure, but worth it. Linus was the best of the best; if he couldn’t do a job without disturbing the collateral, then nobody could.
He padded across the carpet, taking note of the layout. If things went south it could be to his advantage to know the flat as well as the owner. But it wouldn’t come to that. He reached the bedroom door, opening it silently, catlike. Except, he thought, not like a cat, I hate cats. They scratch and hiss and leave a mess and kill for fun. He was more like a sea anemone; quiet and unassuming but essential in providing other species with a solution to their problems, a symbiotic relationship with very different sorts of people. Except people had different problems to clownfish. Or so he assumed, anyway, he’d never had the opportunity to ask.
There were two bulges in the bed, and the sound of low, unconscious breathing floated across the room towards him. The occupant and the loot, safe together. Almost gliding over, he placed his toolkit on the floor by his feet. He needed two more tools to gather the valuables and finish the job. His hand dove into the bag, then raised again as he bent over the first sleeping figure and squeezed his finger over the trigger of the silenced pistol. One cough and a speeding bullet, and the breathing quietened.
He was about to collect his prize, when the other bulge stirred. Quick as a flash, he jabbed out his left hand and drove the stiletto he was grasping into the neck of the woman beside his target. She exhaled sharply, the air gurgling at her throat, and Linus twisted the knife and pulled it back, wiping her life from the blade with the sheet on which she began her eternal sleep. He frowned and straightened up. He hated having to dispatch the collateral, it felt unnecessary and unprofessional. He was a surgeon, not a butcher. It ruined the image.
One more flash of the stiletto blade and he wrapped up a little parcel of flesh in a silk handkerchief. He’d always felt that the ear was the best token of proof. Putting away his tools, he straightened up and went back into the living room. Though, of course, now he was the only one living. He sat down in the armchair, picking up yesterdays paper and scanned it cover to cover. Tucking it under his arm, he hopped back over the windowsill, grabbed the rope and pushed the sash window shut again.
Linus slid down to the alley floor, gave a flick to dislodge the rope, coiled it away and zipped shut the toolkit. He gave his shoes a quick rub with his sleeve, and donned a suit jacket over his sweater. Looking back and forth, he strolled out the alley the way he had come, merging with the early morning commuters, just another guy on the street. The difference was he had an ear worth thousands in his bag, and unlike them, he wasn’t on his way to the day job.