Dear Mr. Marshall,
I hope that you will forgive the atypical nature of my present correspondence. However, I am of the opinion that the matter at hand is of too great import to be communicated through newspaper filings and gum-wrappers.
It has been nearly a decade since the beginning of our partnership, during which time our organization has expanded considerably. No longer solely the toast of London, it is now among the most exclusive and elite clubs in the world. For a price, we bring to the world things rare and exotic, catering to those with the tastes and means for true wonder. This expansion has been, in no small part, due to information I have provided to you and your associates. This arrangement has proven highly beneficial to both parties, and you have seen your fortunes, both financial and otherwise, wax significantly. However, were this arrangement to be suspended, I have no doubt that I would be capable of finding another party just as, if not more, interested in my services. You and your associates, on the other hand, would find yourselves quickly reduced to near-destitution, as it became clear that your ability to cater to the exclusive tastes of your clientele was almost entirely removed. Nevertheless, I am quite comfortable with the current state of affairs, as, I imagine, are you. To that end, I propose that you take an action on my behalf, as you have done in the past, to maintain our arrangement.
For some time now, Mr. Carter has been endeavoring to ascertain facts about my person, apparently unaware that I have been observing him all the while. I had hoped that I might lead him to a false conclusion or else discourage him from further pursuing his line of inquiry. Unfortunately, my hopes were not realized, and I am now quite sure that he will not be swayed from his current path. Mr. Carter's actions are in direct violation of our initial agreement, and I would be entirely without fault were I to immediately terminate our partnership. However, I respect you enough as a man of commerce to hope that we might find a more agreeable outcome.
You must kill Mr. Carter.
This is not a request; it is a statement of fact. This is not a joke. This is not a test of your loyalty. Do not warn Mr. Carter. Do not incapacitate Mr. Carter. Do not attempt to reason with Mr. Carter.
You will find Mr. Carter quite alone at his apartment this evening from seven until ten thirty. His neighbors will be out, as will the doorman. Any method you choose should be sufficient. You need not worry about disposal of the remains; I will see to them. Do not worry about Mr. Carter's absence; it will not be of any ultimate consequence.
I shall be observing tonight's events with great interest.
P.S. When you have the chance, contact a Mr. Samesh of 471 Kings Way. He may prove useful in opening the markets of Hindoostan to our organization.
Marshall rapped on the door with a smooth white hand. He waited several seconds for a reply. Again he knocked, this time with a greater urgency. The sound of muffled footsteps came from behind the door. This was it. It felt as though his heart were pumping pure adrenaline.
"Hold on a moment!" came a voice from the apartment, "Who's t-" There was a pause followed by the sound of a deadbolt turning. The door swung inward, revealing a heavy-set man in an oxford shirt and a dark red vest. His face was not arranged for smiling, so he greeted Marshall with a short nod.
"Marshall! To what do I owe the privilege?" His eyebrows were arched in surprise. No, thought Marshall, that's just how Carter looks. He doesn't know he doesn't know he doesn't know.
Marshall stood just outside the threshold for several seconds silently repeating the mantra to himself. He suddenly felt very, very cold.
"Carter," he began. He paused, trying to phrase the sentence properly. "M-mind if I come in? There are a few, um, a few… a few things I want to talk about. It's Dark." He nodded as he spoke.
Carter knitted his brow. "Are you alright?" A note of concern colored his voice. "You look like hell."
Marshall forced a laugh. "Yes. I'm fine. I'm fine. Just a devil of a cold, I think."
Carter nodded and motioned for Marshall to enter. After a moment's hesitation, Marshall moved across the threshold. As he took in the elegant furnishings, he realized that after all these years as partners, this was the first time he had actually visited Carter. He nodded to himself, noting the deep brown of the finished oak… everything, the gently worn leather of the chairs in front of the empty fire place, the tastefully placed Egyptian scroll. Carter had always struck him as somewhat boorish, but now this… He wondered why he hadn't visited Carter earlier.
"Can I get you anything?" Carter asked. Marshall jumped and gave a small shout. It took him a moment to recover his wits. Carter gave him a look.
"Uh… uhmmm… a brandy. Yes, I think a brandy would be just the thing…" he said, wiping his brow. Carter nodded and began to walk into the next room. Marshall followed as quietly as he could manage. He slid a hand into the jacket pocket and felt the handle of the knife, all alien and cold, between his fingers. Every vein in his arm began to sing as he felt the adrenaline course through him. He took the knife out and moved to Carter.
Carter took two glass snifters and began to pour the amber brandy into one. "You said something about Dark, yes?"
"Y-yes." Marshall wiped a sleeve across his brow and moved behind his associate.
"I've been researching him a-"
Marshall clumsily thrust the knife into Carter's back. The blade twisted slightly as it glanced off a rib. As Marshall prised the knife loose, a dark stain began to grow across Carter's shirt. Marshall jammed the knife into Carter again, catching him under the ribs. He squeezed his eyes shut and twisted it, prepared for Carter's screams of pain. Carter made no sound. He felt his arm go shaky as he pulled the blade out.
"Christ, Carter," he murmured. He clumsily grabbed at his partner's head and pushed it forward, pinning him against the wall. Carter made no effort to resist. Marshall struck blindly at his neck, cutting several deep gashes. The last blow plunged the knife in nearly halfway. Marshall pulled the knife out and stood back, his chest heaving. Carter pressed his hand against his neck, blood flowing freely between his fingers. His eyes showed no sense of betrayal, no accusation, no fear, as he looked at Marshall. Just a cold, appraising stare. Carter groaned and fell over with a loud thud. Marshall stood over his body for a moment, sucking in air. The knife fell to the ground. He started at the sound, and suddenly felt awake again. He looked over his suit for blood stains and adjusted his tie. Just to be sure, he took Carter's pulse. Nothing. Taking a moment to retrieve the knife, he ran from the apartment, closing the door behind him.
Both men started at the sound of the pistol. Marshall could only hear a high ringing. His eyes darted around the room as he dropped the gun to the floor. He looked at the mounted heads on the wall. Such a collection, he marveled, of creatures from darkest Africa and the Orient. Some from beyond. After a second, the ringing began to fade. The sound of Carter's considerable bulk crumpling to the floor brought him back to attention. He laid sprawled on his side, beads of perspiration beginning to rise from his face. The only sound was Carter's labored breathing as he attempted to breath through his perforated lung.
Marshall shook his head and stooped until he was almost level with associate. He picked up the gun. "Carter," he said, putting the barrel to the man's forehead, "You always were a fool. A god damned fool." Carter screwed shut his eyes but kept silent.
The pistol's report caused Marshall to flinch slightly. Bracing himself against his knees, he brought himself to a standing position. As he closed the door, he gave a brief glance at the body of his erstwhile partner, just to be sure. The body remained where it was. He nodded to himself and exited the apartment, shutting the door behind him.
"Well, don't just stand there. Come in and shut the door behind you! It's damnably cold, even in the hallway." Carter stood aside from the door, revealing a roaring fire in the fireplace. There was a hint of impatience in his voice. Marshall frowned as he entered the apartment, shutting the door behind him.
"Ah, Christ, that's better!" Carter exclaimed as the door closed, "Now, what brings you around this time of night?"
Marshall scratched his ear, his fingers brushing his thinning hair. "Dark. I wanted to talk about Dark."
Carter's mouth curled into an approximation of a smile and he nodded slowly. "Yes… Dark. You know, I've been researching the man. I've found some very interesting things about our… benefactor." He turned away and began to move to the liquor cabinet.
The anger hit so suddenly and so hard that Marshall became dizzy. He was no longer paying attention to the words filling the air. All he could concentrate on was the roiling sensation in his stomach and his fury that was flooding inside every centimeter of his body. Anger at Dark, anger at the situation, anger at himself. But most of all, anger at Carter. Carter, with his airs, with his conceited smile, with his fat fucking face, with his still thick red hair, with the way that he would never have to do this. Marshall could hear the blood rushing through his veins.
It was a moment before he realized what he was doing. With an animal scream, Marshall lunged at Carter, catching him in the throat with something thin and black. A distant part of his brain recognized the object as a fire poker. Carter gave a strangled cry and fell to the floor. A cry sprang from Marshall's clenched jaw as he brought down the poker on Carter's head. Again and again and again he swung, smashing Carter in the face, in the chest, in the gut. His chest heaved violently. As he swung, specks of blood began to dot the ceiling. There was a soft squishing sound as the prone man's head collapsed under the rain of blows. Marshall kept on swinging, ignoring the acid coursing through his system.
A bead of sweat rolling down his face finally broke the spell. He dropped the iron and backed away jerkily from the body. All around the floor were teeth and fragments of bone. Bits of brain stuck to the end of the poker. Marshall turned away, panting. After catching his breath, he dashed unsteadily out of the apartment, leaving the door wide open. He didn't look back.
The two men sat in their chairs, appreciatively sipping their scotch in silence. The younger one looked to be in his thirties, with blazing red hair and a large frame. The older one was totally bald, with wrinkled, mottled skin. Neither seemed to be looking at anything in particular. After a while, the older one stirred.
"I'm getting another. I'll freshen up yours as well," Marshall said, pushing himself up from his seat.
Carter gave a noncommittal nod, but made no effort to stop the old man from taking up his drink. Clutching both snifters in his right hand, Marshall made his way to the counter. His left hand held a small unmarked bottle. As he set down the snifters next to the whisky, he unscrewed the bottle and poured its clear contents into the fuller of the two snifters. Marshall was careful to keep Carter's drink slightly more full than his own. He made his way back to his seat and handed Carter his drink.
"Thanks," murmured Carter. The scene lapsed into silence once more as the two partners enjoyed their drinks.
As he finished his drink, Marshall turned to his associate. The snifter hand fallen onto Carter's trousers, soaking them a dark brown. His eyes looked blankly forward, and Marshall could hear no breathing. The older man leaned over and felt his partner's pulse. Nothing. He stood up and began to put on his coat.
"Goodbye, Carter," he said as he walked to the door, "Until next time." He turned to look at Carter's body. On his face, Marshall could swear he saw a mocking smile. It was simply rigor mortis, he assured himself as he shut the door.
c denuo 830
Marshall let the scrap of paper fall to his desk. There was no mistaking the straight neat letters of the text nor the intricately curled signature; it was Dark. He sighed as he unlocked the filing cabinet, pausing as the exotic locks clicked around the key. His mottled fingers ran through the files until he found the one he was looking for. He took the file and opened it on his desk. Inside were dozens of Dark's periodic communications, first letters, then sentences, and now finally scraps. Each relayed the same command. None ever provided an explanation. He slid the latest message into the file and replaced it in the cabinet.
Tonight he had another meeting with Mr. Carter. Just as every time before, he would kill Carter. And just as every time before, Carter would be there the next day, totally unharmed and unremembering. Indeed, after each death, Carter appeared healthier than before. Despite being Marshall's elder by several years, the man never looked a day over forty. Marshall's body, however, had deteriorated over the sixty years of their partnership. Likely, he would die before Carter. Perhaps, he reflected, that was the source of Carter's queer smiles.
Had he ever paid Carter a visit outside of these arrangements? He doubted it.
His mind ran through possible methods. After a moment of idle review, he realized that he didn't particularly care. Painless or savage, Carter's death would be forgotten by morning. At least by Carter. The information would continue to flow and all would be as it was before.
Marshall had long since given up trying to decipher Dark's motivations for the arrangement. All that mattered was that the information continued to come in, and with it the wealth and prestige. The role of partners in business, Marshall thought as he took his coat, was to ensure the health of the venture. If anything, Carter was the one who benefited, staying forever young. Once upon a time, these thoughts had enraged Marshall with their injustice. Now they seemed simple facts, as self-evident and unquestionable as the blueness of the sky or the darkness of Carter's blood.
Taking his hat, he shuffled into the hallway and shut the office door behind him.