The Crime Readers' Association

THE FIRST HIT by Jeff Dowson

The black Lexus was parked overlooking the Gorge. On the Heights. The uber-expensive, everyone else can piss off, privately policed domain which sat above the heaving mass of the old town. Close enough for residents to eavesdrop on the real world below, but far enough away for them not to have to care.

A bomber’s moon lit up the night. The sky was clear and pocked with stars.

Sitting in the car, David Baron, 62 years old, grey haired and dark eyed, lifted his left hand, pressed the navigation light rocker switch above his shoulder and looked at his wrist watch. 11.58…

On cue, the Lexus was bathed in light from some distance behind. Baron pressed the rocker switch again, leaned back in his seat and waited. A black BMW coupé glided past, turned into the kerb and stopped. The rear lights went out. The driver’s door opened. A man in his late twenties, dressed in a dark blue city coat, slid out of the BMW and ambled the few paces back to the Lexus. Baron pressed a button to his right and his window slid down. The man dropped his head, looked into the car and smiled with at least fifty teeth.

“You must be Mr Baron,” he said.

Baron looked at him dead centre. “Mr Earl. On time, that’s good.”

The man’s smile stayed fixed. “Never be late for a first date.”

“We’ll take my car,” Baron said.

Earl straightened up, pointed the key fob in his right hand in the direction of the BMW. The interior light rose and dipped again. The rear indicators flashed, the car beeped, and all the lights were extinguished. This magic accomplished, Earl moved around the front of the Lexus, opened the passenger door and eased himself into the car. Baron’s eyes followed him the whole way. He waited for Earl to settle.

“Ready?” he asked.


“Then let’s go.”

 * * *

Less than five minutes later, the Lexus turned into an avenue of houses set in their own landscaped grounds. Baron slowed the motor and pulled up outside a detached faux-regency place. The substantial lawn in front of it stretched towards the avenue, bordered by a wall of creamy Bath stone. There were stone lions on posts each side of the wrought iron gates; lights in windows on the ground floor.

“Master bedroom above,” Baron said. “We’ll wait.”

Earl took in the scene, saying nothing.

Then his coat burst into life. The mobile in the inside pocket rang out into the silence. A startled Earl shoved his right hand inside his coat and flailed away at the technology. Baron could not believe what he was witnessing.

“What the hell are you doing?”

Earl fished the mobile out of his coat and answered the call.


“Earl…” Baron managed to say.

Long past the moment for excuses, Earl talked into the phone.

“Who?… No… No… You’ve got the wrong number… Well, bollocks to you too.”

He cancelled the call. Baron, way beyond furious, glared at him.

“What the hell do you think this is?

Earl said, “Sorry.”

“Sorry? Is that what you’re going to do in there. Apologise? When the phone rings in his bedroom.” He pointed at the mobile. “Give it to me… Come on.”

Earl took a deep breath. Opened his mouth to say something. Baron beat him to it.

“And anything else you’re carrying which can identify you.” He pointed to a huge, ugly Rolex on Earl’s left wrist.  “How many people know you wear that?”

“I don’t know. It’s a knock-off anyway”

Baron held out his hand. Earl unclipped the Rolex and handed it to Baron, who went on with all the patience he could muster. “It’s just possible you might get this wrong. And if you end up face down in the Axminster, we want the police to spend as long as possible, prodding at your corpse and scratching their heads.” He looked Earl straight in the eyes. “You have to be untraceable.”

“And that’s how it is.  I’m Earl. The only one who knows who I really am is me.”

“So to ensure it stays that way, empty your pockets.”

Earl produced a set of keys, some coins and his wallet. Baron kept on talking.

“If I could pull your teeth out, I’d do it. No one gets anything wrong while in my care. Not the first time, or the hundred and first. Mr Anonymous is what you have to be. Now and every time you take a contract.” He nodded across the space between them. “Open the glove box.”

Earl did so. Baron leaned across him. Stored the watch, wallet, keys and coins in the glove compartment and straightened up again.

“Now, please take this in the spirit it’s offered. I wish you a long and successful career.  I hope you live to a ripe old age and die an extremely wealthy man.”

“Thank you,” Earl said.

“However, my most fervent desire is that after tonight, I never see you again.  For this, I will happily trade a double lotto rollover. No offence.”

“None taken”

Baron, a little short on respect now, stared at Earl.

“You think this is just any old line of work?”

“No of course not. We’re specialists.

Baron shook his head.

“You’re missing the point. This is ungodly stuff we do. We have to give it substance. We are going to go to hell, of course we are… But we should be troubled by the prospect.”

Earl rolled his eyes.

“Look, I didn’t come here for a lecture. The training is over. I know the difference between right and wrong for God’s sake… You just take the job, you do it and you move on.”

“Indeed you do.”

Earl was genuinely confused now. He stared at Baron. Who sighed.

“Do you really get this?”

Earl pondered for a moment, then opens his mouth to speak. Baron beat him to it.

“Look, you can be young, arrogant, fearless, and you’re all of those… But if you don’t care, you make mistakes.” He finished with some emphasis. “That’s the point.”

In return, Earl offered another of his smiles. Asked him if he had always done this work. Baron seemed offended.

“It’s a simple question,” Earl said. “Answering won’t hurt surely. I’m not asking for your life history.”

“No,” Baron said. “I haven’t always done this kind of work.”

“So what did you do before? Secret Service, Special Forces, a mercenary… What?”

“I was a priest.”

Earl stared at him. Then snorted with laughter.

“That’s a joke, right?… I mean, how the hell do you get from priest to killer?”

Baron stared at him. Impassive. Earl ploughed on.

“You’re not going to tell me that… Still, I suppose it’s the same thing only different. Another version of the life and death business… Do you believe in God?


“But you did once?”

“For a while.”

“So what went wrong?”

Baron shook his head, refusing to elaborate. Earl subsided into silence. Baron shifted the conversation. He asked Earl when he decided to be a killer.

“At school. The notion crept up on me after my GCSEs. I didn’t enjoy years 11 and 12.”

“You did finish school though?”

“A levels in maths and physics. Just before the exams the careers teacher summoning me to a meeting. ‘It’s time you thought about this,’ he said.”

“So you told him you wanted to be an assassin?”

“I said I wanted to join the army. He asked me why and I told him I wanted to fight. He was shocked. ‘You mean you want to kill people?’ he said. When I suggested that was what the army was all about, he shook his head and said, ‘Oh no no no… there are lots of jobs in the army’.”

So there are.”

Earl nodded at him. “Engineers, drivers, doctors, IT programmers…” He gestured at Baron. “Priests… Accountants, store managers… All jobs you can get in the real world, with a little application and effort. Two qualities I didn’t aspire to. Killing people however, I relate to that. Requires minimal personal input. Just a matter of knowing how to shoot a gun.”

“And you think there’s nothing significant in that?”

“Look, it’s simple. Your gun, has earned you everything you have.”

“So tell me what that is.”

Earl considered for a moment.

“One of the characters in The Magnificent Seven says… ‘People with a hold on you none. Men you step aside for none. Insults swallowed none’.”

Baron smiled at him.

“Remember the rest of the scene?… Steve McQueen says ‘Home none, wife none, kids none, prospects zero’.”

“Yeah well,” Earl said. “Relationships… they’re…”

He searched for what he wanted to say. Baron interrupts.

“Impossible in this calling. Unless you spend your whole life living a series of lies. What do you say when asked ‘Where are you going today? What are you doing tomorrow? Why don’t we invite your Boss around for supper?’”

“Relationships are over-rated.”

Baron sighed. Looked ahead through the windscreen. Earl brightened up.

“When I make my first big pay day, I’m going to buy Mum a new house.” He waved out of the car window. “Round here maybe. This looks like an up-market hood.”

“Except it’s full of the kind of people you’ll get to hate.”

“What, rich and successful? No. Never likely to hate that.”

The street lamps went out. The world fell into darkness. Both men waited for their eyes to adjust to the new light level. Then Baron spoke.

“Midnight exactly.”

Earl leaned forward in his seat. Looked across the car towards the house.

“The lights are still on.”

Baron scrutinised what he could see of Earl’s face.

“Are you getting nervous?”

“No. Iced water in my veins.”

“Let’s hope so. Make no bones about it, this is one hell of a step you’re taking. Accomplish this and there’s no way back. You will have killed. For money. A cold, calculated act.”

Earl looked at Baron, dead centre.

“Bring it on.”

“Okay,” Baron said. “Your final tutorial,” he said. Took two pairs of surgical gloves from a jacket pocket and handed them to Earl.

“Put them on. Both pairs.”


“Before you handle the gun, and before you get out of the car.”

Earl began to put on the gloves. Baron continued with his directions.

“And before you step inside the house…” He looked own into the foot well.

“Twist your feet round in circles. Crack both ankles… Like this… Then once you’re inside, don’t creep about. Don’t tiptoe. There’s no point. The quicker you move, the less time it takes. Walk quickly and carefully and get there fast.”

Earl held up his hands. Put them each side of his head and wiggled them about like a singer in a minstrel show.

“How I love ya, How I love ya, My dear ole—”

Baron reached up and switched the car interior light on. Pulled a 9mm automatic pistol from the inside pocket of his jacket. Earl stopped singing.

“You know this?”

“Browning 9mm automatic,” Earl said.

Baron handed the gun to him. Earl pulled out the clip and inspected it.

“Two bullets?”

“That’s all you need. If you do it right. You don’t have to empty the magazine into him. It’s unprofessional.”

Earl snapped the clip back into place.  Weighed the gun in his right hand, passed his left hand over it in a caress. He gripped it tightly, lifted it, aimed it through the windscreen, sighted along the barrel, lowered the gun and looked at it.

“Nice. Bang bang and he’s dead.”

Baron tried to keep his annoyance level down.

“Let me give you one last piece of advice my young friend. If you’re going to screw up that’s when you’ll do it. At the last moment. Don’t hesitate at the bedroom door. Go straight to the bedside. If he wakes up don’t worry, he won’t have time to react. Unless you let him.  Point the gun at his head and fire both shots. Don’t wait. Just pull the trigger.”

Earl nodded. Suddenly beginning to get nervous. Baron moved on.

“And don’t stop to admire the work. Make sure you leave the house as quickly as you went in.”

Earl swallowed. Baron picked that up.

“Nervous now?”

“Who me?…”

“That’s good. At least for the first time. Keeps you focussed.”

Downstairs in the house, the lights began to go out. Then one bloomed in a first storey room.

“His bedroom,” Baron said. “We’ll wait until he switches that light off.”

Earl shifted in his seat. Stared ahead through the windscreen. Then looked back Baron.

“Tell me about your first time.”

Baron stared at him. Took a long time to respond.

“The man was a loan shark. 62 years old, short, bald, arthritis in his left shoulder. He’d annoyed some crime boss. And that could not go un-punished. He was in his dining room, eating lunch. Vegetable pasta. As I stepped into the room he turned and looked at me. I fired at him and missed.”


“The bullet smashed the plate on the table in front of him.  Pasta went everywhere… My second shot hit him in the chest. I walked across the room and put the third into the side of his head.”

“Not one for the training manual, then?”

“You, however, as we have already agreed, will make no mistakes.”

In the house, the bedroom light was switched off.

“Check the gun once more,” Baron said.

Earl inspected the Browning. Ejected the clip, looked at it, then put it back. He checked the safety catch.

“Take that off before you go into the house. And don’t grip the gun too tightly. Always a temptation, but you’ll just sweat more, and it’ll get heavier. Firm but comfortable.”

Earl nodded. Sucked in breath.

“Sit back,” Baron said. “Breath slowly. And softly… You’ve rationalised everything. You’ve worked out the time and the method. You’ve eliminated all the problems. You’re nervous, but that’s okay, because you’re totally prepared.”

Earl breathed in and out.

“Just do what you came to do.”

“I need a piss.”

“No you don’t,” Baron said. “You just think you do.”

“That’s not how it feels.”

“Trust me.”

Earl looked down at the gun in his right hand. Then across the car at Baron. “See you in a few minutes.”

He opened the passenger door and slid out of the seat. Closed the door quietly, walked around the bonnet, and stepped onto the pavement.

In less than a minute, he was over the boundary wall and across the garden. He moved along the side of the house, turned to his left and stepped onto the terrace at the rear. Suddenly bathed in a white glow of moonlight, he stopped and froze. He fought against the rising heartrate thumping in his chest, and concentrated on his breathing again.

He moved towards the glass sliding doors which looked from the dining room onto the lawn. The curtains were drawn back, the room lit by moonlight. He began to work on the door lock. He counted four metallic clicks, slid the left-hand door open, and listened for sounds of movement inside the house.

At ease, he stepped into the dining room, looked down at the gun and released the safety catch. He took a step forward, then remembered Baron’s recommendation. He rotated his right ankle. It cracked. He repeated the process with his left. Then moved swiftly across the room.

He reached the first-floor landing thirty seconds later. No thumping heart now. Mind and intelligence concentrated on the task. Outside the bedroom door, he reached for the door knob with his left hand, gripped it firmly, turned it, opened the door and stepped into the bedroom.

He allowed a couple of seconds for his eyes to adjust to the light. Located the ornately carved ormolu bed. Gave into surprise. He hadn’t imagined this huge piece of French nonsense. And he lost a second of purpose.

Time enough for the man in the bed.

Earl heard a rustle. The bedside light clicked on. Illuminating the man propped against the pillows, one hand still on the light switch, the other holding another automatic pistol. Again, enough of a surprise to disconnect Earl momentarily from the job in hand. And time for the man in bed to pull the trigger.


In the car, Baron waited. Watching the bedroom window. The shadow of a burly man, a little on the short side, passed across the curtains. Two arms were raised and the curtains parted. The man paused, silhouetted for a moment or two, then drew the curtains closed.

Baron turned the car ignition key, lit up the dipped headlights, gently revved the engine. The Lexus pulled away from the kerb.


Find out more about author Jeff Dowson here.


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