His name was Citizen.

His parents had named him in some hippie haze, he presumed. He had never known them well enough to ask them. He wouldn’t change it or abbreviate it. He bore his name with the same stoic discipline he did everything else. His was a world of absolutes and total obedience to authority. He was a very lethal weapon.

Taken early from the children’s home, chosen for his tendency to violence and disengagement from emotion, he had become very successful. No relationship, no lasting friends, no permanent home. The perfect soldier, the perfect undercover agent, the perfect killer.

He was not connected to anyone in his life, except perhaps for these three people, these men, only boys when he had known them, who had been his coterie at the children’s home. Acolytes, followers, whatever the terminology, these three people knew him from before.

He had been given an assignment to test him. His loyalty, his abilities, his judgement, and he was sure, his obedience.

He had, for the first time in his working life, been given the choice to take the assignment or not. But Citizen had been in this dark world and knew that that “choice” was merely the first part of his test.

Still, there was some small thread of something in his mind that actually did consider both the yes and the no option. He said yes, but, perhaps for the very first time, not 100 percent to please his masters. He was actually looking forward to seeing his old roomie Wade. So he had gotten in touch and they had gathered to meet him, they to renew an old friendship, he to do a job.


He had to make a choice; he knew that. Which of his long-term acquaintances was the most expendable? Which had the least to offer this cage fight called life?

He didn’t revel in this part of his job, but did, dispassionately, accept the necessity for it.

Sometimes, in a frivolous mood, he felt like an ancient priest, choosing a sacrifice for his God.

On his non-frivolous, normal days, he saw it as similar to the old time gangland killings initiates had to perform to prove their loyalty to some thug or other.

His “thug” of the moment, of all of his moments since training, was the government.

Citizen shifted his weight on the tatty low couch belonging to his oldest acquaintance Wade.

 He profiled Wade in his mind: simple man; simple life; kindly person.

He and Wade were reluctantly listening to the drivel coming out of their mutual acquaintance Bill’s mouth.

“I tell you, C.K., she was a real little firecracker in the sack.”

Bill’s light skinny voice matched his light skinny self.

He was easily summed up: an ass.

Clearly it had to be him, with his uncouth attitude toward women. But he was being unprofessional, hasty; he was going to be judged on the choices he made here today, judged suitable or no longer suitable to continue his work.

This was important; he had to make up for that one mistake on the last job he did. Didn’t he?

Did hitmen retire? Citizen mused. Or were they removed by someone eager to replace them?

He had to be sensible, not make decisions with this newly arrived sentiment he had suddenly been afflicted by.

Bill was a brilliant computer tech, useful to the nation to some degree at least. Anyway, he should wait until the last of their party arrived. Josh. Pretty boy Josh was always late. The fact that he had gone into and then as quickly out of the military didn’t surprise him, but he did think that even a light brush with the discipline would have cured him of tardiness.

Citizen’s eyes flicked back to Bill briefly and almost imperceptibly narrowed in distaste. He’d never liked slime. It was tempting to just go with his gut reaction, his personal preferences.

His eyes lost their focus for a moment. Here he was sitting in a drab little semi-detached 1960’s townhouse in a drab part of Chicago, meeting with his drab old playmates. He was here as judge, jury, and executioner in one.

Why not just “rub him out,” as they used to say in the old movies?

Perhaps he was losing it? He’d only agreed to this ‘test’ because he longed to go home in some small uncontrolled part of him. He had longed to lay his eyes on a Frank Lloyd Wright house again, longed to smell the cold whipping off the lake.

“C.K., You listening?”

“Sorry, Bill, what did you say?”

Bill and Wade exchanged a glance. True, they hadn’t seen Citizen in years, but even so, they had never known their old friend to tune out.

Citizen had been the leader of their boyhood escapades. The top student, the only one who’d made it all the way out. They didn’t know quite what he did, only that he had some high-powered government job and jet-setted around the world. They were all still in awe of him.

Was their hero losing his edge? Getting old? Fun as it was to catch him out, what did that mean for them? How far along in the mortal shuffle did that place them?

Wade swallowed; consciousness of death was always with him, of course it was, what with his heart and all…but he didn’t like it in the forefront of his mind.

“Shall we go to Betty’s Bar?” Bill repeated. It was a trendy place with an English-themed restaurant, the Elizabeth. They had discussed earlier that it might suit their old friend’s globetrotting lifestyle. Bill had been thrown by Citizen, too; since when had he become prudish? Was that due to the creeping fingers of time? He shook his head. Bill didn’t like thoughts of anything much to filter into his head, least of all of mortality. He liked to fill his head with anything else: bits, bytes, breasts, anything other than the journey from one end of life to the other.

“I don’t think I can wait for Josh,” answered Citizen, carrying on from his own monologue. “I think, gentlemen, that my mind’s made up. Tonight, I’m going to let my gut feeling, my personal preferences, not cloud, but illuminate my choice.”

Citizen felt like he was flying, it had been many years since he had spoken so many unguarded words.

In one quick movement, the flash of an eye, Bill was dead.

There was a neat hole in the middle of his forehead, a look of surprise on his face. Blood seeped from the back of his head.

Wade’s old dog Gin Rummy was barking in the other room. Wade himself was sitting with his mouth agape.

“Wha—what?” je stuttered.

“Go settle old Gin Rummy and I’ll explain. Better yet, let’s take the old boy for a walk before dinner.”

Citizen swept his coat off the coatrack, then grabbed Wade’s old warm jacket next to it and tossed it to his still gaping…friend.

My friend, he thought, trying it on like one of the coats.

But there were things to be done,

“Wade, the dog!”

Wade nodded, rose, and shrugged into his jacket, all without taking his eyes off Citizen nor closing his mouth. He didn’t close it until he entered the bedroom door to his madly barking, then madly licking old dog.

“It’s alright, Rummy. I’m fine. It’s alright, boy.”

Citizen was just opening the back door; eddies of snow were whirling over the garbage cans,

Wade called to him, “I have to get Rummy’s coat, Citizen.”

Citizen nodded “Sure. Don’t lock the doors, though.” And he smiled down at the dog who had come to look outside. He was sitting now, looking up at Citizen and thumping his tail.

Citizen was just about to call his cleaner on his burner phone when they heard the gasp and the thud.

The dog beat Citizen into the bedroom and began furiously licking Wade, who had crumpled to the floor, the dog’s coat still clutched in the hand that pressed against his chest.

Wade gasped at Citizen, “Did you..?”

“No. I didn’t do this. I’m calling an ambulance.”

“But…” said Wade and slid his eyes to the living room.

Citizen waved his hand. “That won’t matter. He’ll be gone shortly.”

Wade held his free hand out to Citizen, who took it.


“It’s okay, Wade, I’ll look after him. I need to call an ambulance now.” He reached for his phone again, but Wade slapped his hand away and pulled himself up to a half-seated position. Citizen tried to help him, but Wade shrugged him off and grabbed his hand again, stopping him from using the phone.

“Wait!” he said with great effort, and he looked into Citizen’s eyes searching for some truth and maybe some remnant of his old friend. He did see a truth there in those eyes, the frightening, ugly truth of all that Citizen had seen and done, but he knew in that blaze of horror that there also remained a kernel of tenderness, for himself, perhaps, and by extension, hopefully for Rummy. His dog would be okay. He had no choice but to believe it.

Rummy whined and shivered as he looked between the two men; he knew it was important, he knew they were talking about him, and he knew his Master, his lovely Wade, his family, his pack, was dying.

He whined again and lay down on the floor with his head on Wade’s leg, and his uncertain eyes on Citizen.

Wade pulled himself up with Citizen’s help, and, unable to use his left arm, he hugged his dog to him clumsily for one last time. He smelled the lovely musty old-dog smell, then his body arched as his heart constricted again, his breath sighed out of him, and he slumped back to the floor.

Rummy licked his face and pawed his chest. Citizen took his pulse.

“I’m sorry, Rummy,” said Citizen gently, “this wasn’t part of the plan.”

The old black dog with grey on his muzzle whined again, then growled as Citizen went to pick up the dog coat. “Okay, boy,” said Citizen, then he heard the faintest creak behind him, the smallest shadow of a shadow by the open door.

In no time, Citizen had leapt up from where he was and grasped another man around the neck.

“Ah. Hello, Josh. They thought to send you, did they? My goodness, they must think I’m past it. Good to see you again.” And with a quick movement, he snapped the man’s neck.

Rummy whined.

“I’m sorry, Rummy. That’s the last one, I think…” He quickly located the dog’s lead hanging on the coat rack and clipped it to the old dog’s collar. Rummy allowed himself to be led, but kept his eyes glued on Wade until the very last minute.

Once they were outside, Rummy sniffed Citizen’s proffered hand and shivered. “I know, I know. We’ll get you a new coat, and…and a new life for me. They’d never let me keep you, you know. I mustn’t care for anything.” Rummy looked up.

Citizen crouched down in the snow. “It’s okay. I’m going to look after you. Wade was a good man, a kind man…I’ve done…” He stroked the dog’s head. “Well, it doesn’t matter. It’s just you and me now. I’d like to be a good man; maybe you can teach me to be like Wade. We’ve got to go.”

He called the only number on his burner phone, he apologised into it, said “there are three now,” and as he was about to hang up, he smiled and added, “Oh, by the way, I resign.”

He smashed the phone under the heel of his boot, to the great interest of Rummy, gathered its bits, and turfed them into a dumpster.

He smiled at the dog, and he and Rummy walked into the dark of a Chicago winter to find a hotel that took dogs and a shop that sold dog coats.