It’s easier, being freelance; I haven’t got a full-time boss to please, I can accept commissions that I want to do, and there are far fewer moral ambiguities. I do whatever I want, as long as the price is right. It’s nice if it’s a commission is against someone bad, but that’s an optional extra; if the person paying me can afford my fee, then we’ll talk. It’s very egalitarian that way.
But, up to now, my career has always been very humdrum and ordinary. Death is my business, and I’ve become very good at ending someone’s life. With this assignment, however things have changed; a whole new world – literally – has opened up right now. This is an … odd commission, to put it mildly.
I’ve been introduced to the Dream Walkers. When my employer first told me about this, I assumed it was just something from a series of fantasy books (don’t go stealing my idea, or you owe me copyright fees, alright?), but apparently it’s real. There’s a group of people who can actually enter the dreams of anyone they choose and do all sorts of things inside their heads … including kill them.
Why am I trying to kill someone through their dreams? Because they’re too well-defended in the real world. It happens a lot, although you wouldn’t suspect it; the sudden deaths – the ones who pass away in their sleep, or when watching TV, or just staring out into space – can usually be traced back to a Dream Walker. Not in every single case – sometimes people just die, and there’s nothing else you can say about that – but more than seventy percent are killed by Dream Walkers. And when someone wants to kill a person with bodyguards, their dreams are always unguarded; everyone has to close their eyes and doze eventually, don’t they?
Anyway, down to business. My client is the prime minister. The prime minister! I really have gone up in the world. He’s made a lot of enemies, so it’s not really that surprising, I guess. This is my first Dream Walk, and I couldn’t bear the thought of it being my last; it’s like a drug, the feelings that you get from being inside someone else’s mind. It’s addictive; now I want to do all my jobs like this. It’s so much cleaner and more effective; it’s the perfect alibi.
So, I’ve been commissioned to take this guy out by someone who really doesn’t like him – I don’t know why, I never ask many questions aside from, “How are you going to pay?” – and so here I am, walking through a city street in someone else’s dreams, and everything looks … weird. The colours are more vivid and potent than in the real world; the sun is a more intense yellow than I’ve ever seen. The people around me look so real, despite being created by my target’s vivid imagination.
Most Dream Walkers, like my employer – Marcus, although that’s undoubtedly a fake name; most people give me a fake name, and a few even try to give me fake bank notes, although they don’t last very long after I’ve been round to have a quiet little chat – can enter dreams naturally. It’s a talent they’re born with and, now I’ve experienced it, I can understand now why they never want to give this up, although I don’t have the natural talent to enter dreams by myself. I’m one of the fortunate few, however, that can enter the dream world with the aid of a powerful substance secreted by the bullwark frog of Papua New Guinea. I never knew I was so special, but I am; Marcus could sense it the minute he met me; the cream rises to the top, I guess.
Here’s the target, coming towards me now. He’s a ‘man of the people’, or at least that’s how he likes to describe himself. In reality, he’s just another politician, no different than all the others out there; in it for themselves, except this one’s got a half-decent smile and a good enough lead in bullshit to last a lifetime. He thinks he’s got a common touch, the pathetic idiot, so much so that he even dreams about his apparent ability to connect with everyone. I mean, look at him; it’s pathetic, isn’t it? He’s bloody dreaming that he’s talking to voters. What a sad arsehole But there he goes, walking down the street right towards me, smiling at some people and shaking hands with others who were, I presume, more photogenic.
I was so fascinated by the saddo that I didn’t realise how close he was; distance had to be different here in the dream world, but I guess you can do anything you want if you’re controlling the dream. All of a sudden, there was the prime minister, standing right in front of me; he’d been forced to stop as I was right in his way.
Automatically, the man beamed his most pop star smile – as beaming wide as he could possibly accomplish, so that he looked like a Cheshire cat – and stretched out a hand to shake mine. I had to think – and act – fast. I’d never have another opportunity to act with the target who was right there in front of me, completely unsuspecting, and so my brain clicked onto autopilot. It’s like muscle memory most of the time; I knew I would be able to do it, because that’s what I’ve always done.
My hands snaked into my jacket pocket and, before his bodyguards could react to what I was doing, I swung it out and aimed the gun directly at his head. By then, I was aware that the dream-guards were reacting – shouting instructions like guards in the real world would do, because that’s all they’re really good for – but I ignored them. I was a few seconds ahead of their game, and that was all I needed; a few seconds.
The gun exploded, expelling a bullet from a chamber and burying it right between his eyes. It was beautifully clean, quite the sight to see, and I still thrill at the sound of his dead body slumping uselessly to the ground. There was a moment’s pause as the world seemed to hold its breath, as always happened with a clean, unexpected death. I nodded in satisfaction, a professional examining his handiwork. If I was being assessed, that would easily be a ten.
I should have vanished straight away and, when I didn’t, a fragment of doubt chinked my solid, indisputable armour. Marcus, who knows all about this kind of stuff, told me that I’d leave the dream state immediately, which made perfect sense; after all, as soon as I’d pulled the metaphorical trigger, there wouldn’t be any consciousness left to create the dream world.
I pressed my eyes tightly closed and shifted on my feet, enjoying the sensation of cobbles beneath the soles of my shoes one last time before I woke up, back in the bed in some anonymous hotel room I had found myself in with Marcus a short while ago. I wanted to savour every moment of being in someone else’s dream as the final electrical impulses died inside the prime minister’s brain.
But the bed didn’t appear. My mind remained resolutely fixed in the dream world, not moving from inside this imaginary body that was such a perfect replica of the real thing. A headache started to thrum heavily inside my skull, and the colours began to intensify as I opened my eyes again and I realised that nothing had changed – except that the colours around me had intensified ten-fold, and a wave of nausea flooded over me.
I was frozen, rooted to the spot, as hands roughly grabbed me from behind, pinning each of my arms tightly to my body. I tried to kick out, but more hands wrapped tightly around them too, and I was being pushed bodily to the ground, my face slamming into the concrete and causing something to crack loudly in my ear. Could I feel pain in a dream? Clearly, but how? Why was I still trapped here, despite Marcus’ assurances? What was going on?
There was one person who knew precisely what was going on; Marcus, the man behind this deed and the commission. The gullible idiot who had taken the kill had been entirely right, of course; Marcus wasn’t his real name. That would have been political suicide, especially when the killer was captured and later questioned by the security forces surrounding the prime minister; nothing, absolutely nothing, could link Timothy Anderson to the man known as Marcus. He had made perfectly sure that he had worn a balaclava to their meeting today, along with high shoes that added at least three inches to his height, and spoken using a digital voice distorter.
The killer had absorbed it all, the stupid bloody fool, and Timothy had marvelled at his storytelling ability. In many ways, it was the perfect crime; a drug-addled life criminal high on a rare drug, shooting the prime minister in the face – and for what? Because a masked man called Marcus told him to? That would not get him very far at all, and it was a wonderful thing to know that Timothy could get away with being the ghost in his imagination.
Dream Walkers, he thought smugly. I like the sound of that. I could start a new career as a fantasy writer if this one doesn’t work out.
But this career would work out, of course, so he dismissed everything else from his mind. The money he’d paid the killer – who was now being dragged unceremoniously away down the street against a backdrop of screams and shouts from everyone around – had been in used bank notes, and he knew precisely where they had been hidden. Within the hour, they would be back in his possession, and the only expense would then have been the rare hallucinogen he had acquired from a well-known local dealer who would, if he played his cards right, be transformed into the big time very soon. He wouldn’t squeal; he knew which way his bread was buttered, and he recognised Timothy’s power and influence.
From his hiding place in the shadows, hidden down a side street that kept his face in total darkness, Timothy Anderson allowed himself a smile. It would have put anyone who was watching in mind of a shark; a deadly predator that savoured the cruel, capricious nature of life and was determined to manipulate it for his own ends.
The prime minister was dead. There was no deputy prime minister, so the deputy leader of the party would take over on an interim basis. The deputy party leader, of course, was also the home secretary – a post from which which, the incumbent had despaired, he would never rise beyond due to the incredible popularity of the current prime minister, and his apparent determination to stay in power for as long as he possibly could.
Well, he had done, Timothy reasoned; he had remained in power for two years, and now it was the home secretary’s done. My turn.
For Timothy Anderson had succeeded to the position of home secretary eighteen months ago and to the deputy leadership a year ago. His intense ambition had always been there, however. Now he would take charge; he could manipulate the country, the voters, into giving him more power, until elections became unnecessary, but right now, he could ride the waves.
Prime Minister Timothy Anderson. His smile widened. Yes, that really did have a very nice ring to it. He turned and slipped away into the darkness; he had places he needed to be.